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Still Jack and Daniel Series I - Not in Kansas Anymore 5 - Walking the Line

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VIII

Walking the Line

I

“Do you require anything, DanielJackson?"

He shook his head. "Thank you, Teal'c."

"As you wish." One large hand on the kid's back, Teal'c led Daniel through the open front door into the living room and to the couch. Even after hours of sleep at the infirmary Daniel was still worn out. He felt like an empty balloon. Weak and shrunk. Which was ironically funny... shrunk... wasn't that exactly what he was? Shrunk from six feet down to... he didn't even exactly know how tall he was at the moment. Four feet something?

Janet hadn't been too worried about the light concussion. She had mainly kept him at the mountain because of his 'melt down' as they called it. His head was fine. On the outside. It was the inside everyone now worried about. Yay, he had advanced from being a pain in the ass to being a freak with mental issues. Not exactly progress, but development nevertheless.

He didn't object much to being coaxed gently to lie down by Teal'c. Sam had hurried into the kitchen to unpack the bags with food and groceries she had picked up on their way here. Daniel could hear her opening and closing cupboard doors.

"Just leave it on the counter," Jack called after her.

"I'll put the fresh things into the fridge," she replied.

Daniel tried a smile as his Jaffa friend pulled a blanket over him. Janet had told them rest was first priority now. And she had been very determined about starting therapy as soon as possible. “We all are at fault here,” she had said when the team had come in to take Daniel home. “Ever since he was downsized, we all expected him to bounce back on his own at one point like he usually did when he was still a man. I should have insisted on therapy right from the start when he came back through the gate as a child. Apparently the recent events on SG-1's last mission triggered some of Daniel's issues to surface at once. He can't deal with this alone and I'm glad you finally asked for help, Colonel. But we should have done this a long time ago.”

They had thought Daniel was asleep, but he hadn't been. He just couldn't face Jack, who had spent hours and hours at his bedside, joined by either Teal'c or Sam. Jack looked haggard and tired. After his breakdown Daniel had been hooked to an IV and slept on and off through the night. But he never slept well in the infirmary. Too many bad memories. That, and the dimmed light, the noises and the smell of antiseptic made him uncomfortable. So he kept waking up, but never opened his eyes. He didn't want to look into Jack's sad worried face or see the concern written all over Sam's.

He couldn't deal with that. With the heartache he was giving them all.

However, today the time of hiding was over. He couldn't pretend to sleep any longer this morning. He had needed the bathroom and didn't want to make them even more anxious by playing Sleeping Beauty. So he had faced them and their questions about how he felt and if he was hungry or thirsty... and the only thing he had asked for was to go home. Much to his surprise Janet hadn't objected. Her only conditions were that he should rest, eat and try to relax until his first appointment with Doctor Svenson.

Sam returned from the kitchen. She looked tired, too. "Are you sure we can leave the two of you alone?"

"Yeah, I guess. I know how to make chicken soup," Jack grinned.

"Well, that's good for you. Because I don't." She shrugged.

"It's easy. You open a can, dump soup into the pot and heat it up."

"Oh. And here I was thinking you have a recipe from your mom or something," she said, laughing.

Teal'c jumped in with his usual dignity. "I am able to cook a very nourishing and rich soup we often eat on Chulak. But I will not find the ingredients here."

Sam raised her eyebrows. "Wow. I had no idea you can cook, Teal'c."

"Jaffa Warriors do not have the luxury of MRE out in the field, MajorCarter."

"That's just great, T. Next time we're off world, you'll cook us some good ole’ soup." Jack grinned, clapping the Jaffa's shoulder.

Sam checked her watch and stiffed a yawn. "I think I could use some sleep, sir. We'll be here tomorrow around dinnertime. If you need us to do anything in between, just call, okay?” She came over to the couch and hugged Daniel. “Be good,” she whispered.

He smiled again. He could smile. Even though he didn't feel like it. But it made them happy when he smiled, so he made the effort. “Thank you, Sam.”

"I'll see to it that you'll have your hands full. Doing laundry and dusting and cleaning the basement. And the deck could use a scrubbing, too," Jack quipped and was rewarded with a deadly glare from her blue eyes.

"I'm going to cook for you," she threatened, her voice dangerous, but her mouth already twitching into a grin.

"Uh… then bring Janet along," Jack groaned in mock horror.

A few minutes later Sam and Teal'c said their goodbyes and left.

All of a sudden it was very quiet in the house.

Jack came over and looked down at him. “Hey.”

Daniel smiled again. “Hey.”

“Are you hungry?” Jack lifted Daniel's blanket-clad feet, sat down beside him and put his feet into his lap.

“I don't know,” Daniel said.

“Mmmmh, chicken soup,” Jack homer-ed.

They just sat there for a while. It was sunny outside and the whole room was flooded with light. Daniel's eyes focused on the chessboard on the coffee table.

Jack nudged Daniel's feet. “Wanna play?”

“No, thanks.”

Jack shouldn't be so nice to him. It didn't feel right. Jack should be annoyed and angry. Because... well, because Daniel was nothing but trouble. And he hadn't told Jack how bad his head hurt. Jack didn't like him to hold back stuff like that. And then there was the hearing... Jack had said they were going to talk about what had happened at the hearing. But Jack was probably just nice because Daniel had had a 'melt down'. Meaning Daniel needed to be treated with utmost care because he was... what? Fragile?

"What do you wanna do then?"

"I want to be alone for a while."

"What about the chicken soup? Fraiser said chicken soup and bed."

"Can I go to the tree house?" Daniel asked quietly, ignoring the chicken soup and bed order.

Jack rubbed his hands over his face. "Why don't you go to your room instead? You should rest and I'd rather have you close by after what happened yesterday."

"I'm fine," he said gloomily.

"Daniel, you had a breakdown."

He ducked his head and felt the lump in his throat grow again. He would start to cry if he didn't get out of here. And the last thing Daniel wanted was to break down again. He hadn't cried once since they had returnedto Earth. He had managed to keep his head up and not bawl like a baby. If he started crying now, Jack would feel sorry for him and cuddle him. Daniel didn't want to be cuddled. He didn't deserve cuddling.

"I'm okay and my head doesn't hurt anymore." Daniel swallowed when he felt Jack's hand cupping his face, making him look up and into worried brown eyes.

“Daniel, we'll get through this together, no matter what, okay?” Jack's voice was gentle and quiet and Daniel just couldn't stand gentle and quiet right now.

He shied away from the touch and rose quickly. “All I ask is for a little time alone out there.”

“You can have your alone time in your room,” Jack said.

"I’m really okay," he almost pleaded.

Jack heaved himself off the couch and reached for the crutches. "Sorry, Daniel, but I have no reason to believe you," he told him, an edge creeping into his voice.

Daniel felt the heat rise in his cheeks as he stared at Jack for a moment. There was sadness in his eyes. Another thing Daniel couldn't stand right now.

He bolted out of the living room.

***

Jack cursed as he made his way into the kitchen. No stress. That's what Fraiser had told him. And the first thing he managed to doafter he got Danny home was to upset him. But he felt so tense after the long restless night. And Daniel's attitude wasn't helping, either.

Jack felt old. He hurt physically and he wanted to throw the damn crutches against the wall. God, he was so fed up with the “I'm fine” line Daniel kept giving him over and over again. It used to make him mad when Daniel had been a man. And it was even worse now.

Why wouldn't he talk to Jack?

Well, d'oh. Jack wasn't exactly an open person himself. Maybe that was the whole dilemma. He understood Daniel's need to stay independent to some degree. Could even understand that Daniel didn't want to show weakness, especially now that he was little.

Oh, yeah, he was a tough guy.

Jack had seen Daniel whumped, wounded, addicted, traumatized and grieving. But not once had he been broken. There was an unbelievable strength in that man. He’d always bounced back. Had always recovered. And he’d never got bitter or lost his ability to see the good in people.

His ability to see human potential.

That was who Daniel was, how he ticked.

But there was a cold hand clutching Jack's gut. What if Daniel was going to lose this particular battle? The kid was trying so hard to fight against the life he was forced to live now. Jack feared Daniel wasn't able to get back on track this time.

And what about himself? How could Jack have missed the signs that had led to yesterday’s breakdown? He had seen the guilt, the anxiety, how the kid had suffered. When Hammond and Jack had talked to him long before the official disciplinary hearing, Daniel nodded to everything and accepted his upcoming restrictions. But not once had he cried or opened up to anybody, about how he felt. He had bottled it all up.

Again.

Then Simmons had shown up at the hearing and that had probably been the straw that broke the camel's back.

Jack needed Daniel to talk. He couldn't allow him to shut down like this again. It had scared the hell out of him when he'd seen the pale little figure in the infirmary bed.

Things had to change.

But hadn't he made that vow so many times over the last few weeks? Things had to change. But how? How was he supposed to help if Daniel didn't want Jack's help in the first place? Or if he changed his mind about what he needed all the time? Sometimes Daniel acted like a kid, needed to be cuddled and supported like one. The next moment he snapped shut like a clam and retreated.

Maybe Jack just wasn't the right one to go through with this. Whenever he thought things were calming down and he could start to relax, Daniel worked himself up again and they were back at square one.

Fraiser assumed he probably had old childhood issues re-surfacing. Carter had told him Daniel had probably been abused in at least one of his foster homes. Or neglected at least... Oh, boy. That shrink would probably want to talk about that part of Daniel's life, too. Who knew what demons Doctor Svenson might wake if she started to press Daniel about his first childhood?

And of course there was always the danger of her finding out what they used to be before the downsizing. Fraiser had assured him Svenson was discreet and open - minded. But still... Whose wacky idea had the counseling been anyway?

"Ah, fuck," Jack cursed loudly at the thought of what the future might hold for them. Right now he wasn't sure he had the strength to fight against the demons of Daniel's past while he was still figuring out what Daniel's future might look like.

Nine months.

Nine damn months and they were still moving around in circles about too many things here.

He dumped the chicken soup into the pot. After he turned on the stove, he sliced some bread and put bowls on the kitchen table. Then he decided he’d better go look after the kid.

He hobbled down the hallway and knocked at Daniel's door. There was no answer. After calling Daniel's name twice, Jack pushed the door open and took a look inside, expecting to find him asleep.

No Daniel.

"Damn," Jack hissed, when he spotted the phone on the desk.

Great. Now he couldn't even call the Wretch to find out where he was.

They had established the phone rule after they had been released from the infirmary two weeks ago. If Daniel was up at his tree house he had to take his mobile with him, so Jack would be able to reach him anytime without having to make his way into the yard on his crutches. So far, the kid had actually followed that rule.

Until now, that was.

Not that Jack was surprised.

He turned back into the hallway and called for Daniel without expecting an answer. The house was still and quiet. Jack shuffled into the living room and out onto his porch. He managed the two steps down into the backyard and looked up at the tree house. He wouldn't be able to climb the stairs. So he tried yelling. After he'd yelled Daniel's name for the fourth time without getting an answer, he was torn between being worried and angry.

A state of mind he seemed to be in a lot lately.

"Dammit, Daniel! Let me know if you're up there, will ya?! I’ll call Fraiser! She's going to tie you to an infirmary bed!"

He was about to go back into the house when one of the windows opened and Daniel stuck his head out. "I'm here."

"Get down!"

"No. I mean, I will… just… not now."

Jack had to get his temper under control. Why was the Wretch doing this to him? Was he trying to drive him insane on purpose? "Soup's ready in a few minutes. You have to eat."

"I'm not hungry."

"Of course you're not! You'll eat. Get down here, now!"

"I need to think. I'm okay." The window was closed.

Cursing loudly, Jack marched back into the house as fast as he could with a bad leg. He turned off the stove and glared at the pot. What the hell was he going to do with the chicken soup and Daniel?

He'd just leave the damn soup on the counter and take his pain meds instead.

That done, Jack walked into his bedroom and locked the door firmly behind him. If Daniel needed his alone time, Jack would just sit on his bed and have some alone time as well.

He gazed at his closet for a moment. He needed….

Daniel. Grown up Daniel.

Jack scrambled to his feet and, carefully keeping his balance on one leg, opened the closet door. He rummaged around between his clothes until he found it. It was a large white cardboard box. Daniel had used those boxes when he moved in with Jack. With some effort, Jack was able to pull it from his closet. He sat down on the bed again, the box between his feet

When they had packed up Daniel's apartment after the downsizing Jack collected a couple of things and rescued them from going into trash. Daniel had been very firm about his stuff. He had taken most of his books, his journals, some of his artifacts, some personal things and everything he needed for his work. Some of his shelves and bed had gone into his new room at Jack's house. Then he'd just decided everything else should go in storage or trash. Some more boxes had ended up in Jack's basement though.

O'Neill had sat in front of this particular box several times during the lastmonths, but had always put it back into the closet unopened. Today… he somehow needed to connect to adult Daniel. Needed to get some comfort. Drawing in a deep breath, he opened it.

He went through its contents and finally held Daniel's creamy sweater in his hands. The one Daniel had loved so much. Jack just gazed at the cloth for a moment, stroking his fingertips over the soft fabric, then buried his face into it, breathing in the special Daniel scent that was still lingering in there. Daniel's shampoo, his after-shave… Even after all this time it smelled like Daniel once had.

Jack fell back on his bed, hugging the sweater to him like a precious treasure. Because it was all that was left from his lover. For several minutes he just clung to that bit of Daniel like a drowning man.

Finally sitting up again, he pulled out one of Daniel's bandanas. Wrapping the ends around his hands, he pulled the soft fabric apart, stretching it, remembering the things they used to do with bandannas and dog tags. Thrilling things. Things you only do with a partner you trust with everything there was.

Putting it aside, he rummaged around the box some more. There were his glasses. Jack held them for a minute, trying to remember how Daniel had looked… with these glasses and his sweater… and how he had looked beneath the sweater. Daniel had been …

"Gorgeous," Jack whispered in the stillness of his room.

Yes. Daniel had been gorgeous. Broad shoulders, wide biceps, flat abs. And those incredible hands. Masculine, yet soft and tender. Daniel's face... Jack could recall it so clearly now. With those full lips, blue eyes and the strong chin. He remembered Daniel's morning whiskers.

The eyes were still there. Brilliant and bright. Too old for the young face. And one day, one way or another, Daniel's face would be the same as it had once been… But someone else would be there to caress those dark eyebrows with his - or her - thumbs. Another mouth would make Daniel's lips swollen with kisses and other hands would undress him… explore that smooth, strong body… claiming Daniel…

Someone else would make Daniel – hopefully – happy. Because Jack had lost him when that flashy beam turned him into the little boy he was now. And Jack was left with the memories of how it used to be between them.

How Daniel used to be.

Daniel, who had been his. And, oh, yes… Jack had been possessive about that Daniel.

Had been jealous like hell, because everyone had loved Daniel and he suspected there had been at least a handful of other guys at the SGC who wanted Daniel. Then there used to be all the women who adored him. Daniel had been such a loveable guy; sensitive, gentle, funny, charming, shy… or at least he appeared to be shy from time to time. Daniel hadn't been shallow either. He had so much depth to his personality.

But Daniel had been his. And Jack had never quite believed his luck and often wondered why Daniel wanted to be with some fucked up grumpy USAF colonel with bad knees and worse humor.

When Jack closed his eyes, he could still hear himself growl over Daniel's outstretched body, leaving a trail of little bites on his neck and shoulders….

"Mine…"

And Daniel had tipped his head back and moaned, "No, you're mine, Jack O'Neill. Oh god... yeah... yours.”

And he had been Daniel's.

Had been Daniel's from the day he'd brought him home from Abydos. When Daniel had stood there at Jack's fireplace, beer in hand, so lost and lonely. Jack had felt himself fall right there and then. He didn't get it right away. He and Daniel used to be friends, tied to each other by what they had gone through together on Abydos. Only much later had Jack realized there was far more to it than friendship

And it had taken him two years until he'd finally had the guts to tell Daniel how he felt. To tell him that he had considered himself bi for the most part of his adult life.

He had rarely given in to his need for men. After Iraq he had even lost interest completely for a long time. And he had loved Sara so much. His life had been completed when they had become a family... until it all ended.

In the year after he had come home from Abydos the first time, he'd met Pierson who had lured him out of his self-chosen closet and showed him what it was like. What it could be like if it was done right. If it was done how it should be. It had been a one-time thing. But Jack hadn't been military anymore then and the time had been right to get over Iraq somehow. After that, he had known he could never go back to playing totally straight again. So he had fooled around for a little while. Hehad tried clubs and gone with guys - only to discover that while he liked the sex, a quick fuck wasn't what he was after.

Then the Air Force had hauled his ass back into active duty and Daniel had returned. A married, grieving Daniel, who's only goal and passion had been to get his beautiful wife back. And Jack, as his friend, had taken him under his wings. Made a promise to find her. Save her.

They had found her. Only they hadn't been able to save her.

Jack wasn't sure when he had started to look at Daniel and saw more in him than his best buddy. He knew they had still been looking for Shau’ri then. There was nothing Jack could have done about his feelings, so he had just pushed them away and gone on with life. Daniel had those incredible vulnerable eyes and… oh yeah, Jack had a real weakness for Daniel's ass – it was a great ass.

Had been anyway. Before.

Jack had started to fantasize about it long before he actually touched it for the first time. And Doctor Jackson had been … gay-curious. Jack had to laugh at that memory.

That's what Daniel had said. Gay-curious. Oh, and what were those labels all about anyway? He was an anthropologist and had seen a lot on temple walls of certain civilizations.

Of course there had been issues... Huge issues. Daniel had been married to Sha’uri, Jack to the military, Daniel had thrown Jack out of his apartment after they'd finally talked. In this special Daniel-way of his he had told Jack that while he was attracted to him too, he couldn't do anything about it for several reasons.

They had ended up being together anyway.

Being with Daniel had never been easy. But Jack knew it had always been give and take. And they had to be careful, had to hide the main part of their relationship. But they had coped with it, somehow. They had been each other's thorn in the side and still they had been perfect for each other. Until it had been stopped out of the blue by a little knob in a temple wall on a godforsaken deserted planet.

And now… now Jack had to say goodbye to that Daniel.

It was about time, wasn't it?

But it hurt so fucking much.

And Jack wasn't sure he was ready to let go just yet.

The next thing he got out of the box was an old rotten stuffed monkey. Jack glared at it and wondered where that had come from. Then he remembered it had been the only toy Daniel kept from his childhood. His mom had bought it on a bazaar in Egypt.

Jack put the monkey aside. He loved the kid, but right now he had no need for childhood things.

Then there was the picture.

It showed Daniel and Jack on Jack's deck. Carter had taken it at a team night. It wasn't a particularly interesting photo. Just Daniel with a glass of wine in his hand, sitting on the steps, his long legs outstretched. He was wearing a white, sleeveless shirt, blue pants, and his feet were bare.

Jack had always loved Daniel's bare feet. They had been incredibly erotic, somehow.

In the picture, O'Neill stood behind his lover, holding a beer bottle as though he was going to pour it out over Daniel's head. And Daniel rolled his eyes upwards, warning him to stop it right now.

Jack's fingers traced Daniel's face on the photo. He took in the relaxed grins on both their faces.

It was too much.

 

 

The picture fluttered from his shaking hands as he grabbed Daniel's sweater and let himself slump down on his bed. He wanted to crawl into it, to get just a piece of his lover back. Rubbing his hot face into the fabric, he took in deep breaths of that scent... his body reacting to the familiar stimulation of Daniel's smell...

Jack closed his eyes and, while still hugging the sweater to his body with one arm, his right hand crept down, settling on the front of his jeans. He fiddled with the zipper and, once he'd managed to open it, pushed his pants and boxers down until he could reach for his rapidly filling cock.

The smell of Daniel seemed to be everywhere now and all thinking just stopped. He didn't make up any fantasy, didn't try to imagine Daniel in his mind. He just drowned in the smell and the bittersweet feeling it triggered.

Daniel was with him… laughing softly into Jack's ear, nibbling a t his skin, rubbing his nose through his chest hair, kissing a trail down to his groin, giving him goose bumps and making him growl deep in his throat.

Jack rolled over on his side, buried his face into the sweater, brokenly whispering Daniel's name over and over again...

...Daniel's hand was stroking and pumping Jack's cock, his familiar fingers tracing the outlines of Jack's balls ever so softly in between... his voice slurred into Jack's ear…. "Come on, Flyboy… gonna be good… yeah… right now…"

… and Jack was panting and moaning, hoarsely responding to the caress with hitched breaths and little longing moans, semen shooting and splattering all over his groin and stomach. There were lights behind his eyes and he thought he was going to explode while he was still coming…

II

'Losses are acceptable. You will always lose. And you will always win again. Whenever there's a loss, there's a new beginning.'

Daniel mulled those words over and over again.

He was lying on the wooden floor of his tree house, staring at the ceiling. His dream catcher hung up there, catching dust rather than dreams. He could see the white-brown feathers sway a little. He should take it down into his bedroom. Maybe it would catch all the bad dreams, the old ones and the new ones.

'You will love. Don't dwell on the losses. Look at what you'll get.'

What did he get? A chance to start all over? Did he want to start all over? Nobody had asked him. Then again most things in life happened without fate knocking at your door and asking for permission first. He hadn't asked for his parents to die either. Or his wife.

And what about the good things in life? Finally he'd found some peace, some happiness in his old life. And it had been ripped away from him. As if he didn't have the right to be happy. Maybe he had done something horrible in an earlier life. Something he had to pay for now?

Same old, same old… he had been over this… Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, as Jack would say.

But he couldn’t stop thinking. It had been better for a while. But ever since he'd been home from Svartálfheim, it had started crashing down on him again. There used to be a time when he would've never allowed anyone into his life again. Everybody he had cared for, everybody he had loved was dead or taken by a Goa'uld.

But then he'd found love again.

It was odd. Before they had gotten together, Daniel thought he couldn't stand to lose another love to death or being snaked. Part of him had believed that if he showed his feelings for Jack, the Jackson-curse would strike his friend. But as time moved on, that fear had subsided. Sure, Daniel had still been worried, afraid from time to time. But deep inside he had always known Jack would survive. Because they had been together out there, watching out for each other. Because Jack was too stubborn and too tough to die or be taken by a symbiote. Jack always laughed death in the face and kicked Goa’uld butts.

But in Svatálfheim valley, down in that cave, Daniel had been scared like he'd never been before. There was absolutely nothing he could have done. If Pierson hadn’t been there…

It was pathetic. They had been in far more dangerous situations and Jack had been injured before. And yet it had been different. Daniel had been different. He'd never felt more like a child than in that cave, even after his memories had returned. He had walked right into Svartil's trap without a second thought. Jack had only been injured because of Daniel.

Sure, he had been the whumping-kid before. But at least he'd been able to fight his fights and watch his teammate's backs. He'd been equal. Now he wasn't. Even when they had to come and rescue him before, Daniel hadn't been helpless. Not like this anyway.

He hated to be helpless. He hated to know he was dependent on others so much.

So he knew what he had lost; Love, having sex, independence, gate travel… What would he get? Where was the bright side in this? Second Childhood? Not really… not with all his memories back in place. But he wasn't a real adult either.

His body and mind kept tricking him. He talked before thinking, he got in trouble, and he couldn't stop himself from wandering off. He was fighting against this childish streak in him every day. How long would it take Jack to realize that he'd made a big mistake in adopting him? Daniel had to face it. He had never fit in anywhere as a child. They had kept sending him away. He hadn't been cute enough or good at sports or whatever – they always found some reason for sending him away. Maybe it was him. Maybe he was not made to fit in. He had been smart and geeky and weird.

Like he was today. Weird.

Mixed up.

And, according to Janet, that's why he was going to therapy. To do what? To accept the kid in him? Or to force his adult mind to win over the kid? Or to forget that he used to be an adult?

Even after nine months, he was clueless about the meaning of all this. Well, there probably wasn't a meaning to this. It just happened. Wham, bam... you're it.

From time to time he couldn’t even "hear" his old voice anymore in his head. He tried to remember how he had sounded, how it had felt to have a grown up body, a grown up voice. He could still remember. But he forgot how it "really felt." Like the sex. He wasn't sure anymore why he had loved having sex so much. He knew he'd loved it and that it used to make him feel sated and happy. But the essence was gone. His old life seemed to slip through his fingers; his senses were seven – almost eight maybe.

He got excited about ice cream and scores on his Nintendo. He would sit on his swing, trying to reach the branches of the trees with his feet. And on if he’d give in to it he’d have fun building Lego temples and pyramids. Well… Jack loved to play with the Lego space station Daniel had gotten from Sam. So maybe that wasn't such a big deal anyway. But it was still odd.

He actually liked giggling over the little cartoons Jack sometimes drew during some briefings now. When he had been big, this lack of attention or interest had always annoyed him. Now it was fun. And he knew Jack was listening anyway, no matter how bored he appeared.

Not to mention this feeling of happiness and the urge to laugh when Jack tickled him. Or that habit of climbing Jack's lap that he still couldn't get over. He needed to touch and to be touched, but it felt all different than it used to.

It was gross.

But it was good and felt wonderful at the same time. He had lost all the security and love of a family and home so early the first time around. And Jack was giving him back so much. And while Daniel was still fighting it, he sometimes wished he could just accept and enjoy what was offered to him so freely.

But he couldn't. He couldn't even show Jack how grateful he was. How much he appreciated what Jack was doing for him. And one day Jack wouldn't put up with him anymore and…

“No," Daniel said to the still room. "Jack won't send me away. Not Jack. That's just still the effect of what Svartil wanted me to believe."

But the flicker of doubt lingered. It nagged at him. Daniel couldn't even blame Jack if he got fed up with him. Maybe they should find another way. He had been thinking about a solution all morning and come up with an idea. It was almost as scary as going into therapy. But just... almost. It would be something he could cope with better. Because he was used to going away and starting somewhere else. As long as he could stay on Earth and keep being in touch with the SGC so he could continue his research on the language to find the Eagle Stone...

Jack and him didn't work. If this was going to be long term – and right now Daniel had no idea if he would ever find the missing piece of the statue – Jack had to make too many compromises in his life.

Daniel had no right to expect something like that from him.

He swallowed hard. The lump was still in his throat.

Pierson had been wrong.

Daniel wasn't going to win anything.

He just lost.

As always.

And he couldn't stand to lose even more.

 

 

When his mind worked again, Jack blinked away the moisture in his eyes. His hand was still loosely wrapped around his now soft dick. There was semen everywhere on his pants and groin and shirt. And it was already getting cold.

Jack was lying there, gazing up to his ceiling and felt….

Good.

Tired and a little empty.

But good.

He grinned drowsily. It had happened. For the first time in… nine months.

There was light at the end of the tunnel. This particular tunnel anyway.

Suddenly he was aware it had gotten darker in the room. It wasn't night yet, but it had to be getting late. With a groan, he scrambled up until he was sitting.

Jack managed to get his jeans off, cursing and groaning when his bandaged knee protested during the process. He grabbed his crutches and pulled himself to his feet.

It took him an amount of time to get his clothes all off and into the laundry basket. He put the bandanna, the photo and Daniel's glasses back into the box. The sweater was sticky and needed to go into laundry, too. With a pang of regret Jack realized that, once it had been in the washer, it would lose the 'Daniel-scent'.

He heaved the box back into his closet and shut the door, then sat back down on his bed, cradling the sweater in his hands one more time. "Oh yes, Daniel…" he breathed. "It's not the real thing, but it's something."

And if it worked this way, he'd live with this "something" for a very long time....

He put the sweater in his hamper and got clean underwear, a pair of old sweatpants and a new t-shirt from his closet. He hobbled to the bathroom, cleaned himself up and dressed. Recharging time was over. Duty called.

He had to look after Daniel.

He vowed to give the kid some serious talking to without losing his temper. This, Jack knew, was one of his greatest faults in the relationship with little Daniel. He still didn't know how to play this game, how to walk the line. He wasn't consistent enough. Sometimes he humored Daniel too much, let him get away with too many things too easily – and then lost it at one point and came down on him pretty hard. It seemed impossible to juggle all those balls without dropping them and Jack had a feeling, with starting therapy, it was going to get worse before it'd get better.

Daniel was still up in his tree house.

When Jack was back in his living room and looked out into his garden, he saw a light up there, coming from the battery lamp he'd bought since there was no electricity in the house. He tried to decide if it was a good idea to force Daniel down. He still had to eat something. But he had tried the yelling thing and it hadn't worked.

So he just got himself a bottle of water and went out on his porch where he sat in one of the deck chairs. He took a sip, grimacing. He wanted a beer, but alcohol didn't mix well with his meds.

A few minutes later he saw the light going out between the trees.

When Daniel came down and crossed the yard to join him, Jack saw how pale the kid still was. His eyes behind the glasses seemed unnaturally big with dark circles underneath. Daniel sat on the deck stairs and leaned his back against the porch banister

"I feel like crap," he confessed after a while, a rare display of openness.

"You look like crap," Jack agreed mildly. He had planned to give Daniel a firm scolding for running off without his phone – or for not staying in his room as he was supposed to. But one look at the pale sad figure was enough to melt him.

Again he was indecisive. He knew there were a few things he needed to get straight with his pint-sized buddy, but shouldn't it wait until Danny was feeling better?

"Oh, thank you, Jack. That's just what I needed." But there was a little smile tugging at Daniel's lips.

"You want sandwiches? We have salad, cheese, bacon, eggs… whatever you like. Or I could heat up that chicken soup again."

Daniel shrugged. "You don't have to. I can do that myself. But I’m not…"

"Hungry, yes, I know.”

“You'll force it down my throat anyway, right?” Daniel sighed.

“You need to eat. Help me up. Leg's bitchy. Was a long day."

Daniel nodded and helped Jack into the house. "I can do it. You shouldn't…"

"Daniel, stop it. Sit. Wait." Jack watched the kid settle on the couch before he made his way into the kitchen and started putting together sandwiches.

"Do we have mayonnaise?" Daniel asked from behind him.

"Which part of sit and wait didn't you understand?" Jack tried hard to keep the irritation out of his voice. Why couldn't he just once do as he was told?

"I just want to help."

"I think Carter put the mayonnaise in the fridge."

They put their sandwiches together in silence. When there was a low growl coming from the kid's belly, Daniel blushed. "I guess, I am a little hungry, maybe."

"Ya think?" Jack grinned, relieved. This was better.

Daniel carried their plates into the living room and put them on the coffee table. They sat on the couch and started to eat.

"What do you think about going on vacation," Jack asked. He had toyed with that idea for a while now, thinking they probably needed a break before doing this shrink-thing.

Daniel frowned. "Vacation? As in… going somewhere?"

"Yeah. I'm planning to take some leave when my leg is healed. And as I said before, leave means that one should actually leave…"

"I don't want to go to the cabin," Daniel stated quietly.

"Doesn't have to be Minnesota.“

Daniel put his plate on the coffee table and leaned back on the couch, staring out of the dark window. After a moment he spoke. "I'm not sure that's such a good idea."

"Why not? We could both use some rest and fun, don't ya think?"

"Maybe it's you who needs a break from me."

O'Neill opened his mouth to protest, when Daniel stopped him with a gesture of his hand and continued, "Look Jack. I've been thinking. I could sign up for a gifted kids’ boarding school. There must be some facilities around here. The military has schools like that. The Air Force would pay for it and you'd still be my guardian. I could still work for the SGC as schoolwork would only be a cover. It might take me some time to figure out which language exactly I need to learn to find the code for the Svartálf dialect. And god knows how long it'll take me to find the Eagle stone. But in the meantime I'd be out of your way. You could manage my money and I'll visit during the holidays. I... I think it's a good idea."

Jack's jaw hit the floor with a THUD.

What the…? "I think it's the dumbest idea I've ever heard," he blurted out. Right. So much for staying calm and cool. Well done, O'Neill. Not. But for crying out loud...

“No. No, it's a good idea. You can go back to saving the world. SG-1 needs you and I'm only in the way. I could focus on my research. If the SGC allows me to work from that school by giving me access to the files on my computer at the office.”

Clearing his throat, Jack forced himself to school his features and voice back to being calm. “Okay, why don't you sleep on it and we'll talk about this tomorrow?“

“I was going to do some research on the net anyway.“ Daniel got up and carried their plates back into the kitchen.

Jack called after him. "Hey! I said we'll talk about it tomorrow. Go to bed, Daniel.”

“I'm not tired,” Daniel's voice carried over from the dining room. “I'm fine.“ He returned to the living room, grabbed his laptop from the coffee table and hurried back out. “This won't take long,“ he called back over his shoulder.

“Fine my ass,“ Jack grumbled under his breath, already struggling to get to his feet, using one crutch as support. “Daniel!” He limped after him, trying not to fume.

A moment later, he pulled Daniel's door open after a short knock. He usually respected the kid's privacy, but right now he couldn't care less.

Daniel was on his bed, balancing his laptop on his knees. He looked a little startled when Jack barged in, closed the door and leaned heavily against it. "All right. Fraiser wants you to rest and I won't leave this room until you shut the laptop down and get ready for bed.“

“It's only...“

“I don't care how early it is. You should've taken a nap this afternoon and chose not to. You look like a ghost and I won't watch you falling asleep over that laptop from exhaustion. Bed. Now.“

“Or, what?” Daniel slammed his laptop shut, shooting Jack a dirty glare.

“Or I'm gonna haul your sorry ass back to the mountain so you can stay at the infirmary in Fraiser's tender care.“

“You won't!” But the look of horror on the tired little face indicated Daniel wasn't so sure of that.

Jack pointed at the closet. “Pack an overnight bag. Unless you want to wear one of those infirmary scrubs...“

Quietly Daniel scrambled from the bed and began undressing. Once he'd put on his sleep shirt and boxers, he cleared his throat, mumbling, “I need to brush my teeth.“

Stepping aside and sitting down on Daniel's bed, Jack watched the boy's small figure leave the room and cringed as the door was slammed.

Here we go again....

Daniel returned, his look one of determination. “I won't change my mind in the morning,” he warned tersely as he settled down beside Jack. “You can't make me stay with you.”

He gazed at the pyramid painting on the opposite wall and Jack's eyes followed Daniel's. They had done this together. The pyramid and the palms. It had been fun. In fact it had been one of the first rare moments after the incident where they actually had laughed together.

“No, I can't. And I respect you too much to force you to stay against your will. But you can't just decide to leave and that's it. I know we're going through some crappy times right now, but we're finally about to change things. And now you want to leave?“

“I thought… you would be relieved."

"Why?"

Daniel shrugged.

"What makes you think I don't want you here? What did I do?"

“You didn't do anything, Jack. It's… just better that way. Don't you think so, too?"

"No, I don't think so, Daniel. We'll fix it. It's going to be okay."

"It's been nine months. Nothing is okay,“ Daniel said darkly, biting his lip in distress.

Jack realized he couldn't just let this go, no matter how wrong the time and place for a discussion like this was. He knew the rational way to deal with this was to stick to his plan and postpone this argument to tomorrow when they were both rested. But Jack knew there was no point in trying to send the kid to bed now. They were both way too wound up already. They'd both end up lying awake, brooding, and then they'd be cranky and argumentative in the morning, too.

"That's why we’re doing the counseling. To fix it," he said after a pause.

"And then what? We'll live happily ever after? Do I introduce my first boyfriend to you one day? And how is it working for you, by the way?"

"What?"

"Do you… I mean, um… can you… do you get any… how do you…"

Jack's eyebrows hit the hairline. "Daniel? Linguist?"

"Yes, I know. But you'll probably freak if I just ask if it's enough for you to jerk off or something like that. I mean, it's not that I don't know how it works."

"Christ, Daniel… that's… that's…" Jack spluttered, having a Twilight Zone moment.

"I told you, you'd freak."

“Yeah, well… you… ah… oh, for crying out loud. So to satisfy your curiosity, I'm doing fine in the jerking off business. At least… once."

Daniel blinked. "What do you mean… once? Once, once? Just…. Once? In nine months?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"What?"

"Why just once in…"

"Daniel… will you just… can we please not talk about this?"

"But it's important that you talk about it. You're pushing me to talk about my feelings all the time. You always say it's good to talk and not swallow everything down. And if we are going to get counseling, we have to learn to talk about things like that,” Daniel said, apparently trying to make a point.

"We're not talking about whether or not I'm capable of jerking off, in therapy, Daniel. We leave the sex part out, remember?"

“You think that'll work? You think she won't figure it out eventually?”

“No. Not if we don't mention it.”

“She will want to know whether we've been friends before the downsizing. And what our relationship has been like,” Daniel pushed on, unyielding.

“And we're both smart enough not to walk into that trap, aren't we?” Jack was getting the point, loud and clear. But they needed help so badly, he was willing to play that game.

“So we'll lie. Won't that make the whole therapy thing useless?”

“No. Because the therapy isn't about what we used to be. It's about what we are now. About who you've become and how to cope with it. And about how I am supposed to help you and stay sane at the same time,” Jack said.

“You'd stay sane if I just go away.”

“I don't WANT you to go away!”

“But it'd be so much easier for both of us.” Daniel tipped his glasses up his nose and gave Jack a painful glance out of blue eyes much too old for the young face. "I'm hurting both of us. And I don't want to hurt anymore. And I don't want to hurt you anymore either. Whether or not I find that stone and grow up fast – we won't be together anymore. Maybe if I leave now we can at least try to be friends when I'm old enough again.“

"Daniel…"

"Please. You might not see it now but you'll feel better after a while. I have no right to make your life miserable."

"What about the counseling?"

"They said I have to do it if I ever want to go through the gate. And I wouldn't. Not until I find the location of the stone. If I agree to go to a boarding school, they might let it go, because they see I'm trying to adapt on my own.”

Jack had an epiphany just then. “So that's what this really is about? Avoiding therapy? Running away?"

"I don't…"

“That's exactly what you're going to do. You think if you start over somewhere new you can forget and suppress everything else. But it won’t work that way.” He gritted his teeth, trying to keep it calm. Yelling only led to more yelling and in the end there'd be tears on Daniel's side and Jack would feel like a jerk all over again.

"You won't want me around like this. You'll be frustrated. You ARE frustrated already. So am I. What good does it do us? I still want to be able to look you in the eye and be your equal when I'm big again. As a friend."

Oh god. "You can't run from this. Or hide."

"Says the guy who locked all his demons in a closet," Daniel snorted.

"Well, I shared a few of my demons with you," Jack said softly. Daniel took off his glasses and rubbed his nose. When he didn't answer, Jack reached for him to hug him. He needed to touch, needed the connection. But Daniel shied away, a "don't touch me" expression on his face. Fighting the feeling of rejection, Jack said, "This is different, Daniel. If you don't deal with it, it'll destroy you."

"No. Staying here and watching us change like this will destroy me. Both of us."

Jack couldn't say what hurt more; Daniel's defeated words or the ones Jack knew he was going to say next. He felt numb and burned out, the temptation to just give in and accept Daniel's “offer” to leave was suddenly very strong.

Maybe Daniel was right, maybe Jack was just too pig-headed to admit he couldn't play this game. But maybe that was all a load of bullshit and it was time for some hard truths instead. Knowing it was a harsh and hard blow, he said, "You've never been a coward. But if that's what you choose to be – fine. Run."

"Oh yes, I'm a coward. And a troublemaker. But that's not news, right? I'm not as strong as you are. Forgive me for being just a geek and a nutcase!" Daniel yelled.

"Self-pity, Danny-boy. All you're dwelling on is how much you suffer. You're not even trying to make this work! Whenever things get a little difficult, you shut down."

"It isn't working! It will never work!"

"Give us a chance! Get your head out of your ass and start living again."

“No. I can't. I tried. I can't. I need to be alone and work it out by myself.”

Jack saw the tears, the trembling lips, the wringing hands. He hated to be the cause of Daniel's pain, even though Daniel was inflicting most of his agony on himself by fighting against his new life so hard.

But Jack wouldn't falter this time. He would not open his arms and give in to the tears. Just this once Jack knew he had to stand his ground, no matter how much it hurt him, too. Daniel had to listen to this.

"You're closing your eyes, thinking if you wait it out, it will disappear. Well, here's news for you, Daniel. It won't go away. And the old Daniel – the Daniel I once knew – would never run away like this."

Carter had been right, Jack realized. About the power he had over Daniel, emotionally. At this very moment, he couldn't have had more impact if he'd used his fists instead of words.

What Carter probably didn't know, however, was the equality of it. Daniel's power over Jack was just as strong, if not stronger. Intentionally or not, the kid – as had the man – knew exactly how to get to him. How to lure him out of his detachment, how to run down his walls and to get under his skin. And to turn him into mush, soften his edges and find a way inside. And how to push all his buttons.

The outraged kid barked out a laugh that made Jack wince. There was so much bitterness in the young voice, so much disgust and hurt. "The old Daniel is gone. And the new Daniel, the downgraded one? He's a freak. He's not the kid you'd want around! I make you mad all the time. Why do we have to torture each other like this? Let me go!"

"I'm not mad at you all the time. But you're lying and keep telling me you're okay when you're not. You're playing twenty guesses with me and you leave me hanging in mid air, not allowing me to help or to figure out how to deal with you." Jack shook his head. “I let you go if that's really what you want. But I don't think that's it. Am I right?“

Daniel wrenched his arms around his body in the all-famous self-hug, lowered his head and retreated into silence.

With a last attempt to keep his self-control, Jack tried again. "You are one of the toughest guys I've ever met. You were always searching for solutions. Right now you're just acting like a stubborn little brat. I know you're scared and angry and you want to lash out at someone, even yourself. But my old Daniel is still in there... and if you'd stop just one second and listen to him... He'd tell you to bite the bullet and get your life back on track. And don't you worry about me. I don't care how tall or small you are. I love you, Daniel. If that's not enough for you, I'm sorry. I just don't know how to make you believe it."

With that he left the room, unable to face the angry, sad little boy one moment longer. Closing the door quietly behind himself he made his way to his bedroom.

III

Later, Jack had no idea how much later it was, he jerked awake from a light doze when something tugged at his duvet. He tensed for a second and then relaxed, when a soft voice called his name. He turned and blinked. Daniel stood there, a shadowy figure in the dark room. There was light coming from the hallway, but Jack couldn't make out the expression on the kid's face.

"I… I came to - and I found this on the floor." He was holding something in his hands. "It's Amab. Where did you find him?"

Jack rubbed his eyes and tried to figure out what Daniel was talking about. Then he remembered the stuffed monkey from the box. He must have forgotten to put it back with the other things.

"He was in my closet. In a box."

"My… mom bought him when I was five. At a bazaar. In Giza," Daniel said softly.

"I know."

"I used to sleep with him when I was… little."

"You want him? He's yours. You might need him in that boarding school," Jack suggested quietly.

The kid stroked the shaggy fur of his old cuddly toy absently. "I didn't even know you kept him."

"Found him when we packed up your stuff."

He could see Daniel swallow. "Um, anyway, I couldn't sleep.”

“Nothing good on TV?” Jack switched on the bedside lamp and watched the timid little boy shuffling his bare feet. Daniel fiddled with the monkey between his hands, and tortured his lower lip with his teeth. Jack had to take his eyes off Daniel when he felt his resistance melt away at the sight of plain misery. "Go to bed. Or do whatever is on your mind. You're not listening to me anyway."

Daniel drew in a deep breath. "Can we talk?"

"About?"

"Just… talk… please?"

“We talked, Daniel. We've talked about this again and again. We won't get anywhere like this. I can't help you if you don't want to help yourself first. I'm tired. Why don't you go ahead and find a school you like if that's what you're planning to do.”

He waited for the outburst, the tears or the silent resentment. But Daniel just kept standing there. “I'm scared,” he whispered. “I'm falling into pieces.”

“Let me get my crutches,” Jack said, no longer able to ignore this. He knew how this was going down. Talk, tears, promises, hugs... until the next time. But he couldn't turn his back on him. “Let's move this to the kitchen.”

“Um, you don't have to get up on my account. I could...” Daniel tugged at the blankets.

“No, that's okay. I understand.”

“It's just a bed, right? I mean... it won't bite or anything.”

 

 

They exchanged a look and after a moment of silence Jack pulled away his duvet. "Hop in."

Daniel licked his lips nervously when he climbed into the bed and leaned back against the headboard. He reached for the covers and pulled them up. They were lying on their backs, staring at the ceiling. Daniel cradled the monkey to his chest.

"Jack?"

"Daniel?"

"I'm sorry."

"What for?"

“Everything.”

“That's a lot to be sorry for. I wish you'd stop being sorry – especially for yourself.“

“You said some pretty nasty things there,” Daniel went on. “So now not only don't you trust me anymore, you also think I'm a coward. And I thought I'm already enough of a freak. Especially after that cool melt-down I had at the mountain.”

“That was quite a show. Not as thrilling as your run in with Machello's inventions and the dead guy in your closet, though.”

“I'm good at drama, I guess.”

Jack held up a warning finger. “All right, stop it. We've been through all the self-loathing, guilt-ridden, depressing talks a hundred times over. We're both making mistakes here and we both suck at figuring this whole childhood thing out. Apparently we're truly fucked up. We need help. The difference is that I believe it's doable. And I want you to at least try to believe it, too.”

There was the flicker of a smile on Daniel's face, but it was gone fast. He stroked Amab and murmured, "You really shouldn't want me to stay, after... I mean… aren't you mad at me? You're knocked out for a long time, SG-1 is on stand down. I caused so much trouble." Daniel took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “You keep telling me to open up, to let you know what's bugging me and to cope with what has happened to me. But at the same time you're just as clueless as I am.”

“Yes, I am. That's why I'm willing to get help from the outside. Because we aren't doing too well on our own,” Jack said. “We've been running around in circles for months. This isn't going anywhere. But I don't want you to leave.”

“Not even after what happened on Svártil's planet? Not even now that you don't trust me anymore? How is this a good foundation to build on?”

“Daniel, will you come off this guilt trip already? The SGC disciplined you officially, you have to do counseling and are grounded from gate travel. What else do you want me to…“

Jack sat up more straight, when it suddenly dawned on him, what Daniel's problem might be. Could it be possible? It made sense in a crazy Daniel-ish way. "You want me to punish you on top of it all? Because I'm injured? Because you wandered off and got lost? That's what this is all about?"

Daniel gripped his monkey tighter between his small hands and groaned. "Yes… No. I don't know. All I know is, I feel bad. You could have died out there because of me. I... I thought you'd be so angry. But you weren't. And somehow that made it worse. I tried to make it up to you. I wanted to be useful, at least at home. When I fell from that chair, I felt even more stupid.”

Aw, crap.

Jack pulled Daniel into his arms, tucking the kid's head under his chin. This time there was no resistance. "Don't be so hard on yourself. You've been so miserable the whole time since we're been back. I figured letting the SGC deal with you is punishment enough. We talked about it. I told you, it's okay, didn't I? I told you to stop torturing yourself over it. And not all of it was your fault, kiddo."

“All the conditions and restrictions they've given me, I thought I'd feel better if I accepted all of it. But... I almost lost you on that planet. And it would've been my fault.”

Jack tightened his arms around the boy. “Daniel, it's all right. I'm right here. I'm not dead.“

Daniel sighed and pulled at the monkey's ears. When he spoke, Jack could hardly hear him. “But I don't feel any better. There's this lump in my throat. It's not going away.”

“It wasn't your fault Svártil attacked me. I was glad I found you. Your brain was mixed up by that bitch; she gave you something..."

But the kid shook his head. “You would never have ended up in that cave without me. If I hadn't gone into the building...”

“Pierson lured you in. We all make bad choices from time to time. You, me... even Carter. Well, maybe not Carter. But I mean it, Daniel. It's happened and we dealt with it. It's time to move on. Going away won't help you, or make anything undone. You know that.”

”I don't want to go away,” Daniel murmured, burying his face into the monkey's fur.

“And I won't make you go away.” Jack kissed the silky blond hair and rubbed Daniel's upper arms.

“Jack. I need you to… to…”

“What, Daniel? You need me to do what?”

Daniel freed himself from Jack's arms and turned around to look at him, his childish voice almost pleading when he said. “I don't know... just... do… something. You said you would… You said you were going to deal with my kid side if I screwed up. You said you wouldn't put up with me being a brat anymore. I don't want to be this way. It scares me. But I can't always stop myself. None of it would have happened if I hadn't been so mad about having to go back to Earth. I accused you of being possessive. I said horrible things. And you … you just walked away and that made me even more angry.”

Jack sighed. He seemed to do that a lot lately. “I'm sorry I walked away, kiddo. But sometimes I'd rather walk away than continue a discussion that's only going to lead to more anger for both of us.”

“But back at the housewarming party... You promised me not to let me get out of hand like that again. And I hate it. I hate the thought of you acting like you are my father. But maybe they're right when they say what's best for us isn't always what we want.”

Brown eyes locked on blue ones. Jack wondered if he should just ground him to the house for a while. No tree house, no extra privileges... but he realized instantly that Daniel had long-term consequences enough to deal with.

Jack wasn't a shrink, but even he was hit by the clue bus. Now. Weeks after he should have dealt with this... should've known that for Daniel it wasn't enough to just being told things were okay. Not if he was on a guilt trip like this. For Daniel, this was about forgiveness and getting the guilt out of his system. And the SGC's official dressing down hadn't done the trick. Not when it was Jack who'd been hurt and not when Daniel insisted it was all his fault.

Daniel was fighting his kid side tooth and nails and at the same time needed a father so badly... needed structure, needed Jack to figure out how to be his dad and his friend. Needed Jack to learn how to walk this line.

Boy, they SO needed to talk to this shrink. ASAP.

Finally he said, “O-kay. Let's deal with this. You sure that's what you need?"

A nod was all he got.

Jack took a deep breath. He could do this. He had done it before. It'd be over soon and maybe, just maybe, they had both learned a thing or two from this. Maybe next time Daniel needed discipline more than cuddling Jack wouldn't cave and back out of it anymore. And maybe next time he would see the signs right and act before they'd end up having tantrums, verbal wars, days of sulking, or scary meltdowns.

"Let me get something straight here. I won't do this for the wrong reasons. And I’ll decide when it's over. You're not going to argue about it. Clear?”

“Yes.”

“This isn't about my injuries."

"It's not?"

"Nope. I said it wasn't your fault and I meant it. End of story. If anything, it's because you disobeyed a direct order by climbing into that temple and wandering off. And it's about holding back important information. And again about stretching the truth with me. About Pierson. This better not turn into a habit."

"But…"

"Don't 'but' me. I'm not finished. You know I don't want you to make me play twenty guesses, Daniel. I need you to tell me when something's bothering you. We've been through this before. In return I promise you to try and... be more consistent. I promise not to walk out on you ever again. Whether you want it or not.”

“Okay,” Daniel mumbled.

“Good.” Jack reached out, took the glasses from Daniel's hands and placed them on his nightstand. This wouldn't take much. It was a strange way of trying to put things right. But Jack was at his wits end and if this was what Daniel thought was going to help him...

***

Daniel closed his eyes when gentle hands took his shoulders and turned him over on his belly. He felt the covers being pulled away. His hands clutched the little monkey, the shaggy worn out fur tickled his face as he buried his nose into his childhood-toy.

Then Jack's left hand was on his upper back, patting him a few times, his voice calm and warm, when he asked, “You ready?”

“Um... yes... How... how many...?”

“As many as it takes to get this across to you.”

Daniel bit his lip. “Okay.”

He tried to be prepared, but when the first swat landed, he let out a yelp. Three crisp swats later, the sobs started. Daniel gasped for air and tried to fight the urge to cry. He needed to get a grip on himself. He deserved this, so he had to swallow it...

But Jack said, in between two more spanks, “Come on, Daniel... let it go.”

And when the colonel's hand smacked him again, the tears finally came and Amab, the monkey, got damp. But Jack didn't stop until the dam broke and Daniel was crying in full flow, squirming as the throbbing pain was growing with each resounding smack.

Finally, the stuffed toy was carefully removed from Daniel's hands and he was pulled up by his shoulders and found himself cradled against Jack's chest.

Everything he'd been holding back for so long finally poured out of him. His fears and the guilt he had carried over the last few weeks...

Both his fists clutched at Jack's shirt, like he always did when he got like this. And Jack was hugging him tight with his good arm, rubbing his back with one hand and stroking his hair with the other. Daniel couldn't talk, couldn't articulate any word, so he just let it all go and Jack rocked him while he wept.

“That's good. It's okay now. It's all over now, Danny, shhh... I've got you.” Jack whispered.

They sat like this for a long time. Finally Daniel trusted himself to speak again. He needed to talk now. “I was so scared for you on that pl... anet.”

“I was scared, too,” Jack said softly. “I had no idea where you'd gone and what had happened to you. Getting injured was a small price for having you back, Danny.”

He knew it was ridiculous, but he was little and he'd lost his parents once and he couldn't lose Jack. Daniel didn't care anymore what exactly they were for each other. Right now the most important thing on Earth was that Jack was here and would never leave him behind.

“I'll never leave you willingly. Wild horses and all... I'm right here for you. Always,” Jack promised, his voice thick with emotion.

Daniel closed his eyes and snuggled deeper into the arms holding him. He felt his heartbeat slow down and he could breathe more easily. When he finally loosened his death grip on Jack's shirt, Jack gently pushed him away a little. "Just give me a minute. Can you do that? I'll be right back.”

Sniffing, he nodded and laid down. Jack pulled the covers back over him before he got up and left the room. Daniel searched for Amab and found him somewhere between the sheets. He hugged the monkey to himself and waited for his friend's return.

When Jack appeared in the doorway, leaning on one crutch, holding a steaming mug in his other hand, Daniel quickly climbed out of bed and took it from him. Carefully he placed it on the nightstand. Then he slid back under the covers, squirming a bit to get comfortable despite his stinging backside, as he watched Jack changing his shirt and leave again.

A moment later he was back, holding a washcloth. He sat on the bed, cupped Daniel's chin in one hand and carefully wiped away his tears with the warm damp cloth. Then Jack reached into his nightstand, retrieving a box of tissues. Once Daniel was cleaned up, Jack put cloth and tissues away and stuffed the second pillow behind Daniel's back, then took the mug and put it into his hands. “My mom used to say, there's almost nothing that doesn't look better with hot chocolate.”

“My mom always gave me Shai bi-na'ana. It's tea with peppermint,” Daniel murmured. He remembered the taste and how it had always refreshed him and made him feel better. He'd acquired his craving for chocolate after he'd left Egypt.

He sipped the hot chocolate and felt very warm inside for the first time in a long time. The lump in his throat was gone. He took a deep breath and smiled. When he looked up at Jack, there was a smile on his friend's face, too.

“Better?”

“Yes. Thanks. Um... can... can I stay the night?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Daniel wanted to tell Jack that he loved him and that he'd try to go through with the counseling. He wanted to say a lot of things. But his thoughts were slipping away and his eyes started becoming too heavy to leave them open. Jack took the mug out of his hands and put an arm around his shoulders.

“There's just one thing I need to know.”

“What?”

“Why you call this monkey Amab.”

“It's his name.”

“Yeah, but it's a monkey, not a rabbit.”

Daniel blinked up at his friend. He knew Jack could speak a lot more Arabic than he let on. But every time he let that knowledge slip, Daniel was surprised all over again.

“You never cease to amaze me, Jack. I wanted a rabbit, but all they had on the bazaar were monkeys and camels. I already had a camel. So my mom got the monkey. And I pretended it was a rabbit for some time.”

“Ah. Makes sense.”

He pressed Amab to his chest, closed his eyes and smiled. Yes. He remembered how it had made sense to him then. His parents had laughed and thought it was cute. Jack wasn't laughing. If he said it made sense to him, it really did. And he wouldn't think Daniel was childish if he'd take his old friend Amab into bed again. Because Jack understood things like that.

Daniel snuggled into Jack's arms with a sigh and before he fell asleep, he wondered why he had thought he could ever be without Jack…

 

 

They were going to be okay eventually.


***

Jack woke up because something poked into his left thigh. There was pressure on his ribs, too. Groaning he turned around. A pointed elbow and a little foot tortured him. A heavy head was on his right arm, while small but strong fingers were in his hair.

“Ugh... Daniel...” he managed, trying to free his numb arm.

Daniel opened sleepy blue eyes and blinked up at him. “J'ck?”

”Mh?”

“Missed this bed.“

Jack cracked one eye open. “Daniel? You're not going to sleep in here every night, right?”

“'s nice. Warm... safe... good,” Daniel slurred. Only his eyes and nose peeked out from under the covers.

“Yeah and yesterday you wanted to move out and get away from me as fast as possible,” Jack grumbled, pushing the kid away a little to yank his arm out from under him.

“That was yesterday. Things change.”

Jack sighed. “I hope you've made up your mind for good now. Get your feet away from my knee. Poking little buggers.”

Daniel turned around and his elbow banged into Jack's ribs once more.

“Daniel, if you want to kill me, do it with mercy.”

The Wretch rolled away from him, taking the blanket with him. “Sorry. Do you want breakfast? Toast? Coffee? Froot Loops?”

Jack snatched the blankets back. “Coffee, toast... no chair climbing.”

“No. I'm good.” Daniel hopped out of bed and Jack could hear his bare feet galloping down the hall. With the content feeling of having mastered yet another crisis at casa O'Neill, Jack allowed himself a few more minutes of dozing in the morning sun until...

Daniel returned, his tongue sticking out in concentration as he tried not to drop the tray he was balancing on his arms. There were two mugs of coffee and two plates with toast on it. He managed to get the tray to the bed where Jack helped to settle it down.

“Breakfast in bed. Sweet,” he said.

For a while they just enjoyed their breakfast, leaving crumbs everywhere as they ate their buttered toast with jam. Suddenly Daniel said, “Do you really think talking to a shrink is going to help us?”

Jack put his mug down and looked at him. “I don't know. It's like clutching for straws. But what else can we do? I'm pretty spooked at the whole concept.”

Daniel nodded, drawing a deep breath. “I'm not a coward. Despite of what you might think... I'm not.”

“I know you're not a coward.”

“But you said...”

“I said you never were a coward and that you shouldn't start acting like one, now.”

“Oh.” He nibbled at a corner of his toast, then placed it on the plate and glugged down some of his coffee. Finally he said, “The adoption… makes it too real. And counseling… working on this childhood thing. Figuring out how to really deal with it. Thinking about a future. That's huge. And... what if I'll find the missing piece of that Yggdrasil one day? What if I finally adapted to being what I am now and then find it?”

"I don't know, Danny. But we can't live our lives just waiting for it to happen. We have to move on, somehow. I don't want you to have any more breakdowns. I don't want us to struggle through our lives like this. I need us to get some peace."

“What about us? We've changed... and maybe we'll change even more. Could we just bounce back...? Because I don't think we can.”

Jack closed his eyes. He had no idea what to answer. “This is one bridge we'll have to cross when we get to it,” he said eventually, aware he was probably provoking another argument.

To his utter surprise and relief, Daniel cocked his head and looked at him for a moment, then said, “I agree. There's probably no use beating ourselves up over this now.”

“One thing's for sure though. Whatever happens, we're going through this together. Like it or not, I'm not sending you anywhere. And you know why?”

When Daniel just looked at him wide eyed, Jack bent down and whispered in his ear, “You're mine.”

Daniel smiled. It was a bittersweet smile, but a genuine one. “And you're mine, Jack O'Neill.”

“You bet.”

“Daniel Jackson-O'Neill,” Daniel said suddenly.

“What?”

“My name. On the adoption papers.”

“Oy. I wonder how fast Teal'c can say DanielJacksonO'Neill.” Jack grinned.

“He'll learn. And it almost sounds as if we were married. That's funny. I never would have been able to change my name like that as an adult.” Daniel actually snickered.

Jack rolled his eyes. “Don't tell me you wanted to be my little bride... We have both been married once. That's enough.”

Daniel poked a finger in Jack's chest. “Who would have been a little bride?’”

“Well, not me, obviously.” O'Neill snorted and tried to get away from the poking finger.

“I have news for you, Mr. Macho-man,” Daniel giggled, his finger finding a soft spot on Jack's belly. “I can make you squeal like a girl.”

“No, you won't,” Jack gasped.

“I will.”

“Nnnooo...”

Daniel gently prodded and tickled until Jack was laughing and squealing almost against his will. “Knock it off, munchkin! It makes my shoulder hurt!”

Daniel grabbed his ugly little monkey and slapped him playfully over the head with it. “I'm so not a munchkin!“

“Oh, you SO are.” Jack snatched the monkey back with his good hand. “The rabbit learns how to flyyyy,” It went flying across the room, crash-landing somewhere near the door.

Daniel bounced out of bed to get his rotten toy back.

"Hey, that's not fair. I can't come after you," Jack whined and fired his pillow after Daniel. A second later the pillow was flying Jack's way and almost hit him in the face, shortly followed by the monkey. Jack picked Amab up. "Hi, rabbit, how ya doin'? Wanna fly some more?" he asked the monkey, whirling it around by its tail, then let Amab answer in a squeaky voice, "Eeewww, ssstop it, Amab's going to throw up!"

Jack aimed at Daniel who was laughing. It was such a welcomed sound. So sorely missed in those last sorrowful weeks. Jack had almost forgotten how good it felt to hear him laugh. To see him relaxed in a way he hadn't been in a long time. To see the dark clouds move on for a while...

"Incoming puking monkey… Close the iris…"

Daniel caught the toy and bounced it from one hand to the other, yelling. "Oh my god, the iris won't close… what shall I do, Colonel? There's this monster coming through… look!”

“Activate Self destruct… send a nuke… blow it up," Jack chortled.

Daniel bounded through the room and let himself fall on the bed. “Nuke gone off,” he declared with a giggle. Jack managed to get his good arm around his little Wretch and kept him from accidentally falling on his bad leg. "I got you and your little monkey monster," he grinned. "I'm going to send you to Urgo."

"Uuuuh… Urrgooo… noooo," Daniel squealed. "Send us to the Tok'ra. They can put a symbiote in Amab. So I have at least one intelligent being to talk to."

"You want to stay with Anise? She loooves you. And she's going to love this ugly little monkey, too. Or maybe Freya will."

"Eww! Stop it… and Anise won't love me anymore, by the way. I'm too short now. Everywhere," Daniel quipped.

They both snorted with laughter until Jack realized this was the first time, Daniel had joked about his new looks without sarcasm or bitterness. He cuddled the boy and planted a hearty kiss to his forehead.

Daniel blinked. "What was that for?"

"Just because."


Much later they got up and called the base to let Janet know everything was fine with Daniel's head – inside and out. For now. Janet told them to take it easy a couple of days and to call Doctor Svenson as soon as possible to make an appointment.

Jack stuck Svenson's card to their fridge and Daniel scowled at it. “I don't like her.”

“You haven't even met her.”

“Yes, but I don't like her just for the job she chose. I bet she looks like Deanna Troi. Only without the sexy outfits. I bet she's all understanding and nice and I bet she wants me to play with toys and draw pictures and stuff. And I bet she's just yucky.”

“Ah, I bet she wants me to stare at black and white figures and tell her what I see in them. And I probably have to lie on a couch and I'm going to fall asleep during sessions. And I also bet she's taking notes about everything I say,” Jack joined in with the whining.

They looked at each other. “Do we REALLY want to do this?” Daniel asked.

“No,” Jack sighed.

“But we're doing it anyway, right?”

“Yes.”

“No chickening out?”

“Nope.”

Daniel chewed his bottom lip and kept scowling at the tiny white card with red letters for a moment longer. Then he leaned against Jack's side. “Tell me we're doing the right thing.”

Jack put an arm around the Wretch and hugged him close. “We're doing the right thing.”

“Okay. Now tell me you won't let me screw this up.”

“I won't let you screw this up,” Jack said dutifully.

“Even if I'm trying to get out of this. Not even if I'm throwing fits.”

“Not even then.”

“I am going to try to get out of this, you know? I never... never wanted to have to talk to a shrink again. And MacKenzie didn't help.”

“She's not Mac the Quack,” Jack reminded Daniel gently. “Give her a fair chance.”

“I'll try.”

And for now that was all Jack could ask for. For now they were good again. For now the dust had settled and they could attempt a new start at normal life... as normal as it would get around here. He had a feeling there was still a long way to go until life would truly be 'normal' again. But he hoped they were on the yellow brick road now, leading out of this mess.