“Daniel, get a move on. I’d like to get there before dark.”
Daniel hastily shoved the camcorder into his backpack with one hand as he zipped the pack closed with the other hand. “We’ve just finished breakfast, Jack. It’s not going to take us all day to get there.” He lifted the pack and Jack helped him snap it into place.
“Consider it artistic license.” Jack adjusted the straps for Daniel, slapping the pack to signal that he was done.
“It would appear that your license has expired.”
Daniel grinned at Teal’c. After four years of living among the Tau’ri, the Jaffa had honed his deadpan humor to razor sharpness. People who didn’t know Teal’c the way his team mates did often weren’t sure whether he was joking or they missed the joke altogether. Sometimes Daniel thought Teal’c found that even more amusing than when people did get the joke.
Jack mock-smiled at Teal’c as he clipped his own pack into place. “That’s so funny I forgot to laugh.”
“Is forgetfulness not a sign of advancing age, O’Neill?” Teal’c made sure that the campfire was doused and secured the opening on the tent that he and Major Carter shared.
Jack adjusted his ball cap as he replied, “Why don’t you tell me, T. You’re like, what? One hundred and eleventy years old?”
Carter shared a grin with Daniel then chimed in. “Is that some new numbering system, Sir? Or have you forgotten how to count?” Her hands never slowed down as she prepared the sample case and other equipment that she and Teal’c would be using that day.
Jack fixed her with the pretend version of his Evil Eye. “What is this, National Pick On The Colonel Day?” he growled.
“If you’d just read your memos, Jack, you’d already know.” Daniel headed past the campfire stopping at the little trail that lead from the clearing.
“Very funny, all of you.” Jack did one last check of his weapons as he lingered in front of Carter and Teal’c. “Okay, Daniel and I will be on the hill checking out that rock for at least one day, maybe two, but we’re still just – “
“Just a phone call away,” interrupted Carter. “I know, Sir. You’ve mentioned that. Many times.”
Jack looked a bit disconcerted and Daniel couldn’t help teasing him one more time. “Jack, get a move on. I’d like to get there before dark.” He gestured for Jack to precede him down the trail.
Jack stepped forward, cuffing Daniel gently on the back of the head as he passed. “Cheeky bastard,” he muttered but his eyes twinkled with good humor. Without turning around, Jack yelled back to Carter and Teal’c. “Have fun with the mineral survey, kids!”
Daniel fell into step behind Jack and the two were soon well away from camp. Based on the UAV information, the planet was uninhabited. Yesterday, the four of them had checked out the first site that had been marked for mineral survey. Today, Carter and Teal’c would take samples at a second, less promising, site, while Daniel and Jack checked out a stele high up on a small mountain nearby. The UAV hadn’t been able to get a good enough view, so Daniel couldn’t even tell what language was on it. There was a small structure nearby, but no other buildings.
So far this had been a good mission. Jack had been in a cheerful mood, something that was becoming increasingly rare. Daniel remembered when lighthearted exchanges such as the one when they left camp used to be the norm. Now those were special times to be appreciated and treasured. As he hiked along behind Jack, Daniel wondered once more just what was going on in his friend’s mind that would cause such a change in attitude. In fact, Daniel wasn’t sure if Jack was still his friend, especially after the debacle of Euronda. Gone were the days when Jack would drop by Daniel’s place on a whim or invite Daniel over for pizza and hockey. Daniel never saw him outside of work anymore and recently Jack had started to pull away from the team as well.
Thinking about it, Daniel realized the distance between them started even before the visits ended. He couldn’t pinpoint when, but he knew that Jack had stopped all the friendly touches and pats to the shoulder. Funny how Daniel had hated it when Jack ruffled his hair until he stopped and now Daniel would give anything for Jack to do that again. That touch had come to mean friendship, comfort, and safety. Daniel didn’t want to examine why it had, he just knew he wanted it back. Maybe tonight he would take advantage of the isolation and Jack’s good mood and have a talk with him.
~ ~ ~
The path that had started out broad and flat had quickly become narrow, rocky, and steep. The dense forest that had been plentiful on the valley floor petered out the higher they climbed. The lightly wooded mountain was much sunnier and Daniel missed the coolness of the shade below.
It had taken him and Jack almost three hours to reach the site just below the crest of the hill where the path widened out. It was one of the few broad flat areas in the trail that they had come across. There were little patches of grass here and there, but mostly it was hard packed dirt. The hillside fell away sharply on one side so that they were looking into the upper canopy of the trees below them. On the other side, the exposed rock rose straight up like a wall for about 15 feet before blending back into the woods that covered the top of the mountain.
The stele, which sat in the middle of the path, was larger than it had appeared on the video from the UAV. At least eight feet tall, two feet thick, and five feet across, it was made of one solid piece of blue-grey rock. Every inch of the broad side facing out into the valley was carved with what looked like writing. The back of it had a few large images carved in the center with a decorative border at the top and bottom. The two short sides were completely blank.
Daniel wondered why the stele had been placed in such a difficult spot to access, but thought it might have something to do with the natural spring bubbling up next to the stele. The spring pool was tiny, no bigger than a kitchen sink, but the clear water flowed freely spilling over one edge to become a streamlet pouring down the side of the hill.
On the other side of the pool was a small wooden shack. The door had fallen outward, landing on an overturned metal tub. There was a hole in the roof and the entire shack listed to one side. Peeking inside they found a crudely made table, a broken chair, and a cot. Most of the rope and cloth in the cot had disintegrated with dry rot, leaving only the wooden frame. Cobwebs and dust were everywhere.
“Bit of a fixer-upper.” Jack cast a critical eye over everything. “But with a little spit and polish we can put our sleeping bags in here instead of setting up the tent.
Daniel started to reply but sneezed instead.
“Is that your subtle way of telling me you won’t be doing the dusting?’ Jack looked amused.
“It wasn’t intended to be, but if it gets me out of housekeeping I’ll go with it.” Daniel smiled; glad that Jack’s good mood was still in evidence.
“Once the perimeter’s set, I’ll tidy up like a good little hausfrau while you fiddle with your rock.”
“It’s not a ‘rock’, it’s a stele.” Daniel saw Jack open his mouth and knew a Marlon Brando imitation was imminent so he hastily added, “No, you may not do your Stanley Kowalski impression.” Jack inhaled and again Daniel cut him off, one finger raised for emphasis. “Ah-ah! Your Blanche Dubois is even worse.”
“Party pooper.” Jack smacked him playfully in the shoulder but then turned serious. “You can set up your stuff and start checking out the rock, but don’t move from there until I’ve established the perimeter. If bad guys show up while I’m gone you hide and key the mike three times and I’ll come running.”
“So, pretty much the same procedure we’ve followed every mission for, how many years?” Daniel’s words were teasing, but inside he was pleased. There was a warmth to Jack’s tone that had been missing of late. Too often it seemed that Jack looked out for him strictly out of duty. While he certainly didn’t want to be treated as someone who couldn’t take care of himself, Daniel liked to think that Jack watched over him because he cared what happened to Daniel not solely because it was his job.
“A timely reminder never goes amiss,” returned Jack archly. “Let’s get to work.”
With one last friendly pat, Jack headed out. Daniel watched until he was out of view and then went to set up.
~ ~ ~
Daniel stretched, trying to ease the ache in his neck and shoulders. The first thing he had done was make a complete detailed video record of every inch of every side of the stele. He had spent the afternoon taking rubbings of certain parts of the carvings to capture detail the video couldn’t pick up. At one point, Jack had forced him to take a break. Daniel wolfed down the MRE that Jack brought and sucked down half a canteen of water, then dived straight back into his work. He looked around now as he rolled his head, feeling his neck crack, and realized it was almost sunset. He bent over, put his hands on his knees and rounded his back which also cracked in several places.
“Ouch. I heard that.”
Startled, Daniel looked up. “Hey, Jack. Didn’t see you there.”
“Just finished another lap around the perimeter. You ready to call it a night?”
Daniel looked at the rapidly sinking sun. The light was much dimmer than it had been a few minutes ago. If they had been under the forest on the valley floor, instead of high up on a hill, it would have been fully dark long since. He glanced at his watch and raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“Oh! I guess I am ready.” Daniel began gathering up his tools, loading them all back in to the pack at his feet. He had meant to take some time today and think about how to approach Jack tonight. As usual, though, he had gotten so caught up in his work that he didn’t have room left over to think of anything else.
“Good.” Jack reached down, put the last rubbing on top of the others and picked up the whole pile. He noticed Daniel watching him. “Don’t worry. I know not to slide the papers together. They won’t smudge.”
Together, they walked over to the hut. Jack entered first, setting the rubbings down on the table and lit the lantern he had put there earlier. Daniel put his pack in the corner by the door. Jack had been busy between perimeter checks. The hut still looked neglected but at least now it was cleaner. The dust and cobwebs were all gone and the dirt floor looked as though it had been swept. The chair was pulled up to the table, its broken leg resting on an overturned bucket for support. The cot frame had been picked clean of all rope and fabric. Daniel frowned as he looked at it, wondering why it was still taking up room in the little hut. Jack answered the unspoken question.
“I was going to bust it up for firewood, but I wasn’t sure if it counted as an artifact or not.” Jack joked at first then shrugged. “I figured we could pull it up to the table and use it as a seat during dinner. Afterward we can chuck it outside to make room for our sleeping bags.”
Daniel cast a dubious glance at the cot. Essentially, it was an empty wooden frame with a short leg at each corner. Sitting on one side of it would be like squatting on a narrow board. “I dibs the chair.”
“Chair’s got a broken leg.”
“It’s better than breaking my ass on that thing.” Daniel pointed at the cot.
“Too late. Your ass is already broken.”
“What? What do you mean, it’s broken?” Daniel put one hand down to his butt, twisting as he tried to get a look at it. Had he split his pants?
“Of course it’s broken. It’s got a crack in it.” Jack grinned, clearly pleased with himself.
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Oh, ha-ha, Jack. Bet that was a real riot in kindergarten.”
As awful as the joke was, Daniel was glad to hear it. It meant that Jack was still in a very good mood. During dinner, Daniel would marshal his thoughts. Maybe tonight he would finally find out what was bothering Jack so much that he had to shut Daniel out of his life.
Daniel scooped up the stack of rubbings and secured them in his pack while Jack opened up two MRE’s. Daniel handed over his canteen so that Jack could activate the chemical heaters. Jack automatically swapped the packets with the rice and the fudge brownie that came with his meal for Daniel’s vanilla crème wafer and mashed potatoes. Daniel sat gingerly on the chair, uncertain at first that it would hold his weight. Jack hunkered down on the edge of the cot. They sat in companionable silence, eating dessert first as they waited for their main course to warm up. Once those were ready, they put the side dish into the heating pouch while they ate the entrée.
Jack shifted a few times on his perch, then frowned and put one hand on his left knee. Instantly, Daniel felt guilty for selfishly taking the better seat. No wonder Jack’s knee hurt, sitting all crouched down like that.
“Jack, why don’t you switch with me?”
“Nah, I’m fine.” Jack grimaced and clutched his knee again.
“Sitting down there is making your knee hurt.” Daniel stood up. “Sit here instead.”
Jack shook his head. “That’s okay. My knee actually started bugging me before we came in for the night. I guess traipsing over the hillside all day is catching up with me. I thought it would calm down once I got off of it, but it seems to be getting worse.”
Jack was getting that squinty look that meant he was in more pain than he’d admit to. It was hard to tell in the lantern light, but Daniel thought he looked paler than he had before dinner. Jack’s eye twitched and his lips pressed together for a second. He didn’t say anything, but Daniel knew he’d felt another twinge of pain.
“Do you want me to massage it for you? That used to help sometimes.” Jack’s knees had gotten worse each year and as SG-1 sat around their camp in the evening, Jack would try to rub out the kinks. But massage works better if someone else does it for you, so Daniel had begun to do it for him as the team relaxed together after dinner. As he made the offer Daniel realized that he hadn’t done that for Jack in months. He guessed it was part of the distance Jack was putting between them.
Jack grimaced. “Crap. Getting a Charlie horse.”
Daniel leaned forward, reaching for the knee.
“Don’t!” barked Jack. “Shit. Hurts to touch it.”
Daniel examined Jack intently. The squinty look was more pronounced, his lips were thinned out, and he kept clenching his jaw. He was definitely pale and starting to look clammy.
“Jack this is more than just muscle fatigue.” Daniel was worried.
“Help me up.” Jack flung his hand out abruptly.
“Maybe you should-“
Daniel grabbed Jack’s hand and hustled him outside toward the trees. Jack barely made it past the end of the hut before he bent over to empty his stomach. Daniel could feel the muscles trembling as he rubbed Jack’s back in what he hoped was a soothing manner. When Jack spit a couple of times after he finished, Daniel wished he had had the presence of mind to bring the canteen so that Jack could rinse his mouth.
“All done?” Daniel asked quietly.
Still stooped over, hands on knees, Jack nodded in reply.
“Come on,” Daniel murmured. “Let’s get you back inside.”
Jack slowly straightened up, his face pale and damp, grimacing each time his left foot touched the ground. Daniel took as much of Jack’s weight as he could. Once inside, he maneuvered Jack into the chair, mindful of the bucket propping it up. A glance at the table showed a canteen within easy reach. Stepping to the other side of the table, Daniel grabbed the cot frame. He dragged it through the doorway, propping it against the wall outside, then went back in. He grabbed Jack’s sleeping bag and quickly spread it out on the floor were the cot had been.
In the short time it took Daniel to do that, Jack had gotten worse. He slumped at the table, eyes closed, his head resting on one hand. His other hand gripped his left leg just above the knee, his foot extended in front of him. A cold sweat drenched his head and shoulders. The quiver in his muscles was visible now.
Daniel knelt in front of Jack, lightly touching his good leg and whispered, “Hey. Does your knee still hurt?”
Eyes shut, lips clamped together, Jack nodded slightly.
“I think I’d better take a look at it.”
Carefully, Daniel pulled up Jack’s pant leg. As the fabric moved up to the top of the calf, Jack hissed, clenching the hand still gripping his thigh. Daniel paused instantly.
Daniel’s hands moved again, more slowly, until the fabric was just above the knee. Ducking his head, he tried to get a better look at the back of Jack’s leg without touching it. The skin at the top of the calf was blotchy, red, and hot. A few inches below the joint, in the meatiest part of the calf, there was a large welt, dark red with a small dark center. It looked as though Jack had been stung by something – something big.
~ ~ ~
Daniel pulled the sleeping bag up around Jack’s shoulders. It had taken longer than he thought to get Jack settled. Every move either sent stabbing pain through the leg, or set off another wave of muscle spasms. Daniel grabbed his radio, glanced back to be sure Jack wasn’t in distress, and stepped outside. The thin walls of the shack probably wouldn’t interfere with radio reception, but he didn’t want to disturb his friend. Even though it was almost midnight local time, Daniel knew that one of his team mates would be awake and on watch.
“Sam? Teal’c? Are you there? This is Daniel.”
“Daniel Jackson, it is I, Teal’c. Is all well with you and O’Neill?”
“No. No it’s not. Jack’s sick. I think he was stung by something and it made him very ill.”
“Did either of you observe the creature that was responsible?”
Daniel shook his head as he keyed the mic. “No. He said his knee had been bothering him, then after dinner he threw up. I checked his leg and found a big welt. He says there’s a burning sensation in the area around the sting and it’s painful to the slightest touch. Since then he’s had muscles spasms in his leg and abdomen and the lower leg is swelling up pretty badly. He’s been nauseated, but hasn’t thrown up again.”
“Daniel, this is Sam.” Her voice was rough, as though she’d been roused from sleep. “How is the Colonel’s breathing?”
“His breathing is fine, so I don’t think that this is an allergic reaction or at least not enough of a reaction to cause anaphylaxis. If anything, I think he’s been envenomed. It reminds me of the scorpion stings I saw when I was in Egypt.
“Is O’Neill able to return to the Stargate?”
“No. He can’t put any weight on that leg at all, it hurts so much. Just getting him into his sleeping bag tired him out.”
“It will take much longer at night, but we can probably get to you guys by daybreak.”
“Yes, but it will probably take just as long to get him down the mountain on a stretcher then we still have to get him to the gate. By the time we get him to the infirmary it will be at least a full day since he was stung.”
“Well, what else can we do, Daniel? We’ve got to get him there as quickly as we can. Teal’c and I won’t take the time to break camp, we’ll start up now.”
“Can you get to the gate instead?”
“The way is well marked and easy to traverse, even in darkness. There should be no difficulty.”
“Good. Go get Janet, or Doctor Warner or whoever’s available and bring them here. If you start up the mountain at first light, then Jack could have medical help first thing tomorrow morning instead of late tomorrow night.”
“I concur. Major Carter and I will leave without delay. We shall radio you as soon as we reach the Stargate.”
“Daniel, once we’re out of the immediate area the bulk of that hill you’re on will be in the direct line between the gate and your radio, so we may not be able to reach you. If you don’t hear from us, don’t worry.”
“I understand, Sam. Thanks guys.”
Daniel stood in the cool night air, trying not to think of all the things that could go wrong. Stop it, he scolded himself, there’s also a lot of things that could go right. So far, this seemed like a scorpion sting and although those could be fatal, most were not. Jack would be fine. Daniel would make sure of it. Taking a deep breath, he squared his shoulders and stepped back into the hut.
The first thing Daniel did was check the injured leg which was propped up on one of the backpacks. The entire lower leg was puffed and the swelling was slowly creeping above the knee. Jack shifted constantly, the unrelenting pain keeping him from settling down to rest. Daniel gave Jack an analgesic from the mini med kit they carried, but the pills came back up within minutes. Silently berating himself for forgetting about Jack’s upset stomach, he rummaged through the kit again. He found antacids, but nothing to quell the nausea.
“Well, better than nothing, I guess,” he muttered, putting a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Hey, I need you to chew these for me.”
Peering at Daniel through one half-raised eyelid, Jack opened his mouth in answer. Daniel put the tablets in his mouth and watched as Jack chewed them slowly, grimacing at the taste.
“Next time,” whispered Jack, “better flavor.”
“Nah. Beer.” Jack gave a weak grin, then groaned. “Crap. Gonna – “
Rolling Jack onto his side again, Daniel held his head as he vomited then cleaned him up when he was done.
“I’m sorry.” Daniel brushed the hair back from Jack’s forehead. “I thought the tablets would help.”
“S’okay. Worth a try.” The words were faint and slurred.
“As long as you’re still throwing up, I can’t give you anything for the pain or the swelling.” Daniel gnawed anxiously at his bottom lip.
“I’m so sorry, Jack. I know you’re hurting but there’s nothing I can do.” It was frustrating to be so helpless.
Jack’s hand flopped against Daniel’s leg, moving feebly and Daniel realized his sick friend was trying to give him a consoling pat. Some caretaker he was, getting so upset that the patient was trying to tend to him. For some reason the gesture tore right through the heart of him. There was a lump in his throat and the backs of his eyes felt hot and scratchy. Wiping the worried look off of his face, he tried to project confidence as he took Jack’s hand. He needed to be here for his friend, not the other way around.
“I can’t give you any pills, but I’ll keep you as comfortable as I can until Janet gets here.” With his free hand he picked up the canteen. “How about a sip of water?” He propped Jack up and carefully tilted the canteen to his lips, barely wetting them before pulling the canteen away. He waited a minute then repeated the process, this time letting the man have a real sip. A few minutes later, when it was obvious the water was going to stay down, Daniel started to feel hopeful about Jack’s progress.
Then the muscle spasms began in earnest.
Daniel jerked awake. That was the second time he had dozed off as he sat on the floor next to Jack. His right hip ached from sitting on the hard dirt, his back hurt from kneeling to tend his injured friend, and despite drinking all the coffee from both of their MRE’s, he was weary from staying up all night. What had he been doing before he dozed off? He looked down at Jack trying to remember. Oh, right.
Daniel checked the temperature strip on Jack’s forehead. Damn. Still well over 105F. He peeled the strip off the damp skin and put it back in the first aid kit. He had given Jack the last of the aspirin over an hour ago but his temperature was still climbing. Thankfully, first the nausea and then the muscle spasms had subsided. In fact – Daniel looked at his watch – it had been well over an hour since the last of the spasms. Jack was an exhausted sweaty mess huddled inside his wet rumpled sleeping bag. Now that the spasms were over he had fallen into an uneasy sleep. When he did wake, he was agitated and confused. Still, Daniel knew that the worst was over and for a moment he felt almost giddy with relief.
Daniel hadn’t heard from his team mates since they left for the gate. He knew it was most likely due to interference from the mountain as Sam had suggested, but he couldn’t help worrying about them. Now that it seemed Jack would be okay, his imagination started showing him lurid pictures of what could have happened to Sam and Teal’c, which was silly. Not only were they competent soldiers, but this planet had no inhabitants or any large predators, much less the roving packs of grizzly bears his imagination had conjured up.
The heat radiated off of the sick man. Daniel had to get Jack’s fever down, but how? Too bad the spring outside had such a small pool, otherwise he could drag Jack over there and plop him in. Then again, the little biting gnats were bad out by the spring so Jack was better off in the rickety shack. From his vantage point on the floor, Daniel saw the bucket holding up the chair on the other side of the table. Suddenly he remembered the overturned tub outside. Rising quickly, he snatched up the bucket, examining it for holes. It seemed to be sound enough. Hopefully the tub, which was big enough for a man to sit in, would also pass inspection. It would take a while to fill it one bucket at a time in the dark. Daniel grabbed his flashlight and hurried outside to get started.
The early morning sun filtered through the cracks in the walls throwing strips of light inside the hut. Jack’s clothes were piled neatly on the table that had been shoved to one side. Daniel knelt on the dirt floor next to the big metal tub in the center of the hut. His t-shirt clung to him where it was wet and the dirt on his pants turned to mud every time water slopped over the edge of the tub.
“How come I’m still dressed?” Jack frowned in confusion and plucked at his sodden boxers. “You’re not supposed to wear clothes when you take a bath.”
“This isn’t that kind of bath,” Daniel said soothingly. “You have a fever.” He squeezed the excess water from the bandana and lightly wiped Jack’s face.
“I want to take them off.” Jack moved restlessly, the illness making him cranky. “Why can’t I take them off?” The water splashed as his hands clumsily reached for the waistband.
Daniel gently grabbed Jack’s hands and crossed Jack’s arms over his chest. “There’s a reason those are called private parts,” he said, still holding Jack’s wrists.
“What’s the matter? Afraid you might like what you see?” Switching suddenly from petulant to leering, Jack tried to waggle his eyebrow, but only ended up looking as though he had something stuck in his eye.
“I’m sure it’s impressive,” Daniel smiled, “but do you really think a cold bath is the best place to show it off?”
Jack’s face fell. “Oh,” he said in a very small voice.
“Besides,” continued Daniel quietly, “Sam and Teal’c should be here any minute now with Janet. You don’t want them to see, do you?”
Jack’s head shake was kind of wobbly. “No. Not them. Just you. Only you.”
Daniel was surprised. He had thought that Jack wanting to strip completely was part and parcel of being out of his head with fever – something he would have done regardless of who was in the room. But this…Daniel wondered who Jack saw in his fevered imagination. His ex-wife, Sara? Some old (or new) girlfriend? Please, don’t let it be Sam.
Then Jack reached out, softly touched his fingers to Daniel's face and said his name with such love and longing that it left no doubt as to whom Jack wanted.
Startled by the deep voice, for a moment Daniel thought that Teal’c was there in person and had seen Jack’s declaration. Then Daniel realized the sound had come from his radio. Relieved that Jack’s secret was still safe, he keyed the mic to reply.
“Hi, Teal’c. Are you guys almost here?”
“We are indeed. The dwelling is in sight. We shall arrive momentarily.”
“Great. See you in a minute. Daniel out.”
Daniel turned back to his friend. Jack was resting quietly in the water with his eyes closed. Daniel shook him gently to get his attention. “Jack?” The eyes opened sleepily. Daniel said his name more forcefully and the eyes seemed to focus on him. “Janet’s here, Jack. She’ll get you patched up and we’ll have you back to the infirmary in no time.”
Jack licked dry lips and frowned. “Janet here for me?”
“Yes, she’s here for you.”
Jack thought about that for a minute. “Sick?” he asked.
Daniel nodded. “Yes, but you’re already getting better. You’re going to be fine.”
“The team’s fine. You got stung by something but everyone else is okay.” As he spoke, Daniel could hear the others enter the door behind him with Dr. Frasier leading the way.
“Well, Colonel, it looks like you’ve gotten yourself into a pickle.” Janet smiled at her patient as she knelt next to Daniel. Jack opened his eyes briefly, but seemed more interested in sleep than in the arrival of the doctor. She already had a thermometer out and tucked it into his ear. “104.6. Not bad but it could do with an improvement.” She continued to assess him as she questioned Daniel. “Has there been any change since the last update you gave me?”
“No. Still no spasms or nausea. He doesn’t seem to be in as much pain as before and the swelling above the knee seems to be going down. He was a little out of it for a while, but right before you got here he knew he was sick and asked about the team.” Daniel fidgeted with the hem of his wet t-shirt, suddenly unsure of what to do with his hands.
“Those are all good signs. I’m going to give him some steroids to reduce the inflammation and swelling.” She pricked Jack’s finger and smeared a drop of blood onto a test strip. “And some Lactate of Ringers to re-balance his electrolytes. Since we’re dealing with an unknown venom, all I can do is offer supportive care.”
“He’ll be okay, won’t he?’ Daniel’s hands were in continual motion, running over his BDU pants, picking at the dirt but only succeeding at grinding it in.
“Hey.” Janet put her hand on Daniel’s arm and the fidgeting stopped. “He’ll be fine thanks to you. Granted, I’ll have a better idea of his condition once we’re back at the SGC, but for now it seems as though you’ve gotten him through the worst of it. If you ever get tired of archeology, you’d make a great nurse.” She pulled the first IV kit out of her bag and had Jack hooked up within minutes.
For the first time, Daniel looked around and really noticed who had arrived. Nodding hello to Lieutenant Stepanovich he asked Teal’c, “Where’s Sam?”
“Major Carter stayed behind to assist Major Ferretti and the rest of SG-3 in packing up our camp site in the valley. Lieutenant Stepanovich and I will carry the stretcher to transport O’Neill back to the stargate.”
“Oh, I can help. Just give me a minute - ”
Teal’c interrupted by putting his hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “It is a long journey to the stargate and you are much in need of rest yourself. We will be happy to bear this burden, my friend.”
Daniel nodded in acquiescence. As quickly as he could, he gathered up his and Jack’s things. while Teal’c and Stepanovich got Jack out of the tub. They dried him off with the other sleeping bag then strapped into the stretcher under Janet’s supervision. Without further discussion, the group set off for the stargate.
When they returned to the SGC, Daniel stayed at Jack’s side until Janet had chased him off with orders to rest. He was reluctant to leave but almost two days without sleep had finally caught up with him. His knees hurt and the muscles in his butt and the backs of his thighs were sore from kneeling for hours. He felt like an old man. A very tired old man. Before agreeing to leave, he made sure that either Teal’c or Sam would be there so that Jack wouldn’t be alone if he woke up. After a quick shower and change of clothes, he bedded down in one of the bunk rooms and was out for twelve hours. Twice since then he’d stopped by the infirmary and spoken quietly to his still-sleeping friend then headed back to his office.
Daniel stared through the screen saver floating on his monitor. He really had tried to get some work done, but his attention kept wandering. Eyes open, gaze turned inward, he sat unmoving as his head swirled with images from the past few years. All of them centered around the man currently asleep in the infirmary. He thought of the many times that Jack had hugged him, patted him on the back, ruffled his hair, or tapped his shoulder. Sometimes Jack stood so closely that their bodies touched and Daniel could feel the heat of the man through the heavy layers of their BDU’s. Always, he came back to the memory of Jack’s hand drifting across his cheek and the way Jack murmured his name as though caressing it with his tongue as he spoke.
Based on all of that, it would seem that Jack liked him. Jack liked him a lot, and maybe…maybe even more than that. Daniel couldn’t say the word, even to himself. His mind would sidle right up to the edge of it, and then skitter off before he could really think it.
Besides, it couldn’t be true. Jack couldn’t really feel that way about him. For every warm moment shared between them, Daniel could counter with a memory of a confrontation. During the mission right before this one, they had had their memories wiped and been forced into slave labor. Jack didn’t even know who Daniel was, yet the antagonism was still there. In fact, Jack had actually gotten violent with him before they discovered their true identities.
For some reason, Jack kept blowing hot and cold, cozying up then shoving Daniel away - hard.
He switched from concerned friend to hostile opponent without warning until Daniel didn’t know how he would react anymore. In fact, recently there had been far more conflicts than friendly moments. They’d always clashed at times, but it was more a difference of viewpoints. Somehow those exchanges had turned ugly. Now there was an edge to them as though Jack was being deliberately hurtful.
Daniel first heard that caustic tone months ago on Euronda. It was bad enough that Jack told him to shut up, but to do it in front of Alar and his people was inexcusable. Sure, Jack had apologized later, but “sorry” is not a reset button. The terse apology couldn’t dissipate the hurt feelings caused by being treated with contempt in public by his friend and commanding officer. Jack acted as though everything was back to normal and Daniel had played along even though it wasn’t.
Then Daniel was captured by an Unas and dragged toward his death. Jack led the search, never giving up even when the search party was attacked by indigenous Goa’uld. SG-1 pushed on until they found him. Daniel remembered how anxious Jack was, checking his wounds, helping him walk, speaking soothing words of encouragement even as he hustled the team straight back to the gate as fast as Daniel could move. His every action showed Daniel that he cared.
And on the very next mission, Jack tried to blow up the Gadmeer ship knowing that Daniel was on it. Maybe that was retaliation for Daniel giving Major Davis the go-ahead to blow up the Russian sub when the Replicators overran it. No, that didn’t make sense. It was Jack’s order in the first place. Surely Jack couldn’t be mad at him for obeying? But thinking about it, it was after that mission that the trouble between them started.
Daniel thought of the incident that seemed to mark the change in Jack’s attitude towards him. He could easily picture Jack and Teal’c curled up on the floor of that Russian submarine, covered in Replicators as Jack gave the order to fire on his own position. It was pure luck that his two friends had survived and that scene had haunted Daniel’s nightmares for weeks afterwards. In Daniel’s experience, imminent death brought clarity of thought. What if at that moment, when it seemed that the best that Jack could hope for was to be blown up by a torpedo before the metal spiders could tear him apart, he had had an epiphany? And what if it was an epiphany Jack hadn’t expected and was fighting against?
Up on that mountain, out of his mind with fever, Jack had touched him with a lover’s hand, gazed at him with a lover’s eyes, and sighed his name with a lover’s voice. There. He’d said it. Love. Jack loved him. At least, Daniel thought he did although the evidence was admittedly circumstantial. But, did Daniel return the feelings?
Daniel tried to recall his reaction to Jack’s touch back on the planet. Surprise, definitely, but that was to be expected. He remembered wondering which woman Jack was imagining in Daniel’s place and thinking how lucky she would be to have Jack look at her that way. But there was something else, a fleeting feeling that he had quickly pushed away at the time. Daniel recognized it as the same feeling he pushed away unacknowledged every time he thought of how much he missed his friend. Daniel missed their friendship, missed being close to Jack, missed Jack’s touch. He wished that Jack would look at him with warm loving eyes. Oh, hell. He had an epiphany of his own.
Daniel was in love with his best friend.
The rest of his day went by in a blur. Daniel got almost nothing done. He stopped by the infirmary one last time before he left for the day. Although he had changed position, Jack was still asleep. Daniel stood by his bed for a long time, looking at the familiar face. Funny how a small shift in perspective had turned his whole life upside down. Suddenly mindful of the security cameras, Daniel fought the unexpected urge to cup Jack’s cheek and place a kiss on his forehead. Instead, he squeezed Jack’s hand and spoke softly to him as he usually did then said good night. He was torn between relief and disappointment when Jack never stirred.
Daniel signed out of the mountain and headed for home in a fog of distraction. He was emotionally involved with his friend, but a romantic relationship would need more than that. He unlocked the door to his apartment, barely able to remember the elevator ride to his floor, much less the drive home. His thoughts were totally given over to the idea of the physical aspect of a relationship. Was that something he wanted? Was that part of this new feeling he’d discovered? Never before had Daniel been attracted to a man in this way. Would he be able to find Jack physically desirable?
Daniel plopped onto the couch, tossing his keys onto the coffee table in front of him. He could admire another’s man looks the way he would admire a fine work of art – as something to be acknowledged in the abstract. Slouching into the couch cushions, he thought specifically about his friend. Jack was a good looking man – handsome even. Daniel already knew that. Jack looked good in his uniform, especially the dress blues. Heads always turned as he walked by wearing those. Daniel also knew that Jack was in good shape under that uniform since they shared a locker room and often showered at the same time. Long limbs, lean muscles, lightly furred olive skin, and more scars than any three normal people had – that was Jack. When he was in military mode he was closed off, cold, all intellect, strategy, and tactics. But that was only when the situation called for it. He was usually relaxed and often playful. When he was being mischievous, Jack’s eyes – hell, his whole face - would light up. He’d get that boyish grin and the O’Neill charm would hit overdrive and damn near ooze out of the man’s pores.
Suddenly Daniel felt a wave of pleasure roll through his body. Subconsciously, as he thought about Jack, he had begun rubbing the heel of his hand across his groin. Huh. That was an interesting thing for him to have done. He thought about his reaction then decided the best way to find out if he was truly attracted to Jack was to make a practice run, so to speak.
Still rubbing himself with one hand, he managed to undo his pants with the other, burrowing under his clothes to touch his half-hard penis. It was really strange to think of his friend and sex at the same time. He felt a confusing blend of excitement, embarrassment and shame, as though he was invading Jack’s privacy by picturing him. Daniel tried to ignore that, concentrating on the pleasure instead.
Spreading his knees for better access, he circled his cock with his thumb and the first two fingers of his hand, letting the bottom two fingers trail down the underside of his shaft. He slowly pumped himself as he moved his other hand into his underpants to fondle his balls. He recalled the times he’d seen Jack naked and felt his cock harden in response. The musky scent of his own arousal excited him further. He pretended that it was Jack’s hand clutching his dick, Jack’s thumb rubbing over the head with every stroke, Jack’s fingers rhythmically squeezing his balls as the sac wrinkled and pulled up tight against the bottom of the shaft. Maybe Jack would lean over and kiss him. At the imagined touch of Jack’s lips on his, Daniel came, semen spurting over his clothes. Still breathing hard, he used the tail of his soiled shirt to wipe his hands.
Ooookay. Wow. That answered that question. Daniel loved and was sexually attracted to his friend who loved and was sexually attracted to him. There was no reason the two of them should be lonely when they could take their friendship a step further. During his tenure at the SGC, Daniel had heard about ‘stress relief’. Jack had been in the service a long time, and been in some fairly desolate postings, so he’d probably done something like that before. Daniel was thankful that at least one of them knew what to do. Nodding his head decisively, he zipped his pants. The minute Jack got out of the infirmary; Daniel was going to have a talk with him.
Daniel slowly walked up the steps to Jack’s front door. After Jack had been sent home to recuperate a few days ago Daniel had come by after work each day to check on him and run errands if need be. Each time, Jack alternated between friendly banter and biting sarcasm verging on verbal abuse. Standing on the porch, hand raised and unmoving, Daniel hesitated to knock, not just because he wasn’t sure which Jack was going to open the door, but because once again he was starting to lose his nerve about confronting his friend.
Taking a deep breath, he brought his knuckles down on the door. After a minute or so, it swung open to show Jack, barefoot in jeans and a blue t-shirt. His hair was sticking up in the back and there was a crease across one cheek. Jack blinked to clear his vision, lazily scratching his chest.
“Hey, Daniel.” Jack opened the door wider and stepped aside, gesturing inside. “C’mon in.”
Daniel was relieved to see that Nice Jack was home. “Sorry if I woke you.” He followed Jack down the steps into the living room, watching him carefully for any sign of a limp.
“S’okay. I woke up a couple of minutes before you got here.” He rubbed his eyes, heading toward the couch, but Daniel put out a hand to stop him.
“I need to talk to you about something.” He let go of Jack’s arm and stuffed his hands in his pockets.
His friend stood looking at him thoughtfully. “Now why does that make me nervous?”
“How much do you remember from the planet?” Daniel spoke in a rush, trying to get the words out before he changed his mind.
Jack shrugged. “I remember it was a sweet mission until something tried to kill me,” he drawled.
“Do you remember anything from when you were sick?” Daniel could feel his heart thumping in his chest. It sounded loud in his ears and for a brief second he wondered if Jack could hear it too. So much depended on this conversation.
“Kind of.” One hand see-sawed. “I remember you dissed my Brando imitation. I remember not feeling so hot and puking. My leg hurting like a sonofabitch. Things get a little blurry after you got me bundled into my sleeping bag. Thanks for the help, by the way. I only have bits and pieces until I woke up in the infirmary a day later.” Jack seemed curious. “Why all the questions? Is there something I should know about?”
“Actually, Jack, that’s kind of my question to you. Is there something I should know about?” If he’d known how much his knees would shake, Daniel would have waited until they were sitting before starting this conversation.
“What do you mean?” Jack asked warily.
“When your fever was high you were, shall we say,” Daniel paused to find the right phrase, “out of it. You showed me something you’ve been trying to keep a secret.”
Jack froze for a moment, then carefully wiped all expression from his face. “What are you talking about Daniel?”
“You, um, you touched me, Jack.” Daniel licked his lips nervously. It took great effort not to cross his arms in a self-hug. “You touched my face and made it clear that I’m more than just a friend to you.”
“You’re mistaken” Jack’s voice was toneless, giving nothing away. He stayed very still, hands on hips, watching Daniel intently.
“No, I’m not.” Daniel shook his head “I know what I heard and what I saw.”
“Well, I didn’t see anything because I was too busy trying not to die.” Sarcasm dripped freely from Jack’s words.
“You may not remember but I do.” Daniel gave a fleeting grin as he remembered the playful sweetness of Jack’s come-on. “You offered me a peek at your privates.”
For a split second Jack looked shocked before slipping behind his mask of unconcern again. “Well, according to you I was completely off my rocker at the time.” One hand waved dismissively then was shoved deep into a pocket of the jeans. “Are you really going to take anything I did seriously?”
Despite the attempt at nonchalance, Daniel could tell Jack was getting agitated so he pressed the issue. “I already know so you might as well admit it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jack replied shortly.
“Yes you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do”
Daniel pushed one more time. “Jack, I know you have feelings for me.”
“So what?” snapped Jack. “What if I do? My feelings are none of your business,” he said harshly.
“None of my business?” gasped Daniel. “Those feelings are about me. Those feelings are also affecting how you treat me.”
“Fine, I have feelings for you, all right?” Jack pushed the words out through clenched teeth. “What did you expect me to do?
“You could have told me!”
Jack sneered, “Oh, right. ‘Hi, Daniel I fantasized about you again last night.’ Yeah, that’d go over well.”
“Obviously you wouldn’t just blurt it out,” began Daniel.
“Then how?” interrupted Jack. “How could I tell you? ‘Hey, Daniel, nice mission report. By the way, I think of you every time I whack off.’ That would get everybody’s attention, wouldn’t it?”
Daniel tried again. “I understand that it’s not the kind of discussion you’d want to have at the mountain-”
“It’s not the kind of discussion I want to have anywhere!” yelled Jack. He ran a hand through his hair, pacing the living room. “I don’t want this discussion, I don’t want these feelings, I don’t want to want you like this. I just…I want it all to go away.”
“Look, I understand it’s difficult to open up about something so personal, but don’t you even want to know how I feel?” Jack didn’t respond and from the stubborn set to his jaw, Daniel could tell he wasn’t going to. “If you’re not willing to talk about this then there’s no point in my being here, is there?” Jack still made no reply, so Daniel continued. “I’ve known you to be a lot of things, Jack, but I’ve never known you to be a coward. Until now.”
Jack just stared at him, eyes shuttered and unreadable. Daniel turned away, shoulders slumped in defeat. He had gambled and lost – big time. He was afraid that he’d lost not just the possibility of a deeper relationship with Jack, but that he had lost Jack’s friendship as well. He heard footsteps walking with him and guessed that Jack followed to make certain that he left. He reached for the doorknob.
“Daniel, wait.” Jack’s voice was strained. Daniel stopped but didn’t turn around.
“What for? So you can lash out at me some more?” Daniel shook his head. “You don’t want to talk to me? Fine. I’m done with this, Jack. I’m done with you.” Daniel put his hand on the doorknob.
“It’s like those dogs that chase cars.”
The words burst out of Jack and Daniel slowly turned to face him again. There was a panicked look in his eyes that Daniel had never seen before. He stared at Jack, trying to figure out where he was going with that analogy.
“Am I the dog in this,” he asked cautiously, “or the car?”
Jack said that quite confidently, as if it was a good thing to be the car. Daniel wasn’t sure that it was. At least the dog was a living being. A car was just a car. Unless maybe it mattered what kind of car he was.
“You don’t like cars.”
“Do not. You drive a truck.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t like cars.”
“You don’t like my car. You’ve said so.”
Jack tossed his hands in the air. “Fine! You can be a truck. Happy?”
Daniel stared at him suspiciously. “I’m not sure. Why am I a truck?”
“Because I’m the dog.” Jack replied as though the answer was completely obvious.
Daniel squinted at him for a moment. “Are we playing mental Monopoly or something? Because if we are, I’d rather be the thimble.”
“Oh, fer crying out –“ muttered Jack. “Do you have any idea how annoying you can be? I’m trying to open up here.”
“You called me a truck.”
“Well, yeah, but in a nice way.”
“A nice way.” Daniel’s tone was flat. “How is there a nice way to compare someone to a vehicle?”
“Look, just sit, will you?” ordered Jack. “I’d like you to stay and listen.” He gestured toward the living room.
“Sit? Stay? Are you sure I’m not the dog?” huffed Daniel. He was willing to listen, but he wasn’t going to move from the door.
“No, you’re not,” snapped Jack. “You’re not the dog. I’m the dog. I’m the dog that gets all excited and goes chasing after the car driving by. But if that dog ever caught the car, it wouldn’t know what to do with it. That’s me, okay? I get all excited, but I don’t,” Jack dropped his gaze and Daniel could barely hear the next words, “I don’t know what to do.”
Suddenly things were a little clearer to Daniel. Apparently he was wrong about one of them already having experience. “I thought you said you fantasized about me? About us?”
“Yeah.” Jack’s reply was nearly inaudible and he wouldn’t meet Daniel’s eyes. Jack’s dark complexion hid it well, but Daniel could see that he was blushing.
“Well, um,” Daniel could feel his face heating up and knew that he was blushing, too, but he had to know. “What, um, what did you fantasize about?”
Jack shrugged one shoulder without looking up. Daniel waited this time, letting the silence build to pressure him into speaking – a trick he had learned from Jack himself. Daniel wished the man would look up so he could see his eyes.
Still staring at the floor, Jack finally replied in a low hesitant voice. “I just …I think about how much you mean to me and…and I picture your face when you’re concentrating on something or…or when it’s all lit up with a smile so big your eyes crinkle shut at the corners. I wonder what it would be like to…to kiss you…to touch you…to feel your skin under my fingertips. I wonder what it would feel like to…to have your hands on me…your tongue touching mine...” Jack trailed off.
Daniel was feeling warm again, but it wasn’t from blushing. His voice was husky as he prompted Jack. “And then what?”
Jack flicked his eyes back up to meet Daniel’s. “To be honest,” he said wryly, “That’s as far as I get before,” Jack flapped one hand and the blush deepened, “you know.”
“Before…? Oh! Right.” Daniel cleared his throat nervously. “If it helps, I’m, um, I’m that dog, too.”
“You mean, I’m your truck?” Jack’s eyes lit up when Daniel nodded. “Sweet. So, what did you fantasize about?”
“We’ll, I don’t really think that –“
“Hey. Mr. Open Dialogue. I spilled. It’s your turn now. What have you been thinking about for the past few months?”
“To be honest, Jack, it hasn’t been a few months.”
Jack raised his eyebrows and grinned. “Longer?”
The grin eased down a notch. “Shorter?”
Daniel shook his head.
Jack looked puzzled. “Then how long have you been thinking of me, you know, like that?”
Daniel suddenly understood Jack’s earlier fascination with the floorboards as he found himself unable to meet Jack’s eyes. “Oh, I finally figured it out a few days ago,” he admitted.
“Days? I’ve been hankering after you for months and you only just figured it out now?” Jack’s expression was a mixture of indignation and hurt.
Daniel’s eyes snapped up. “Well, I could hardly tell that you liked me when you were being such an asshole and pushing me away as hard as you could.”
Jack had the grace to look guilty. “I know I haven’t been very nice to you lately. It wasn’t…I didn’t…” He sighed and quietly started again. “For a long time, I loved you as a friend. Then somewhere along the way, I started to love you as something more but I didn’t understand that at first.” He took a deep breath and said in a rush, “I was confused and scared and I took it out on you. It wasn’t right and I’m sorry.”
Daniel nodded. “Something similar happened to me after you showed me how you felt when you were sick. I finally sat down and took a good hard look at myself. I also took a look at you. I can better understand your behavior now that I know what you were struggling with. But Jack,” Daniel’s voice hardened as he continued, “don’t ever do that again. I don’t deserve to be treated that way and I’m not going to put up with it.”
“I won’t” Jack promised.
For a moment they just looked at each other. Jack’s eyes were soft and warm. Daniel could see how much he cared and hoped Jack saw the same thing in his eyes. Then the moment stretched further and became awkward.
“So, um, what do we do now?” asked Daniel. “We can’t stand in your hallway forever.”
Jack perked up. “Well, we could always,” his eyebrows wiggled meaningfully, “ya know.”
“Oh? Oh! Um, sure, I guess, umm, maybe, because we’ve, uh, we’ve …” Now that the things he had fantasized might actually happen, Daniel was a bundle of nerves. He’d never done this before. Well, not with a guy. What if he wasn’t good at it? What if he did it wrong? What if he was so awful in bed that Jack changed his mind and didn’t want him anymore? Suddenly it was all very real and very scary. He could hear himself stammering nonsense but couldn’t stop it.
Jack reached up and put one finger across Daniel’s lips, gently halting the babble. Without thinking, Daniel pressed a kiss against the calloused finger and was rewarded with a sweet smile. Jack lightly caressed Daniel’s face with his fingertips before dropping his hand to Daniel’s shoulder. Jack tilted his head forward, eyes locked on Daniel’s mouth and for a moment Daniel thought he was going to kiss him. Then Jack moved his head back slightly, his eyes coming up to meet Daniel’s. There was a slight tremble in the hand on his shoulder, and Daniel could see the pulse pounding at the base of Jack’s throat. He found it oddly reassuring to know that Jack was as nervous as he was.
“You’re right,” whispered Jack. “We’re not quite ready for that yet.”
Daniel realized he was holding his breath and let it out slowly. “So, what should we do, then?”
Jack shrugged. “For now, let’s just hang out like we used to. I miss that.”
Daniel raised an eyebrow. “You miss sitting on the couch arguing over what to watch on TV and eating pizza until we have to unbutton our pants?”
“You’re such a hoot when you yell at the documentaries.”
“Oh, like you don’t shout at the hockey games.”
“You bounce up and down and curse in at least three different languages every time Zowie Whatsis comes on the screen.”
“It’s Zahi Hawass, you ass, and you make rude gestures as if the refs can actually see you.”
“Hey, if the refs could see I wouldn’t have to yell at them, now would I?”
They continued bickering as they moved back into the living room, Jack touching the small of his back to guide him toward the couch. This was it. This was what Daniel had missed – the instant understanding, the lighthearted fun, and the sense of not just being with Jack but being a part of him. For the first time in months, Daniel felt perfectly at ease and suddenly, that next big step didn’t seem so scary after all.
|Genres:||Drama, First Time, Hurt/Comfort|
|Summary:||An illness off-world shows Daniel more than Jack wanted him to see.|
Author's Chapter Notes:
Months ago I posted a one-scene ficlet and got feedback of More! This is the 'more'.
MANY thanks to my Betas: AnnO, Barb, and Mare
MANY thanks to my Betas: AnnO, Barb, and Mare