Jack threw his hands up in frustration. This was supposed to have been a wham, bam thank you, ma'am mission and he'd be home in time to watch The Simpsons' marathon.
"Daniel, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to pick out a present for Carter."
He was nailed to the spot with a scathing, over-the-top-of-the-glasses gaze by Daniel. "Therein lies the problem, Jack. We're buying a present for Sam, who really is in the category of," his fingers made air quotes, "rocket scientist."
"Here, buy this," Jack suggested, picking up a tiny, cut glass bottle with a stopper.
Gently, Daniel removed it from his hands, then turned it over and stuck it in Jack's face. "Whoa!" Jack exclaimed, rubbing his eyes and squinting at the tiny white sticker on the bottom. "Are those three numbers before the decimal point?"
"Circa 1880, Victorian cut glass perfume bottle." With exaggerated care, Daniel placed it back on the ornate, display counter.
"Carter wants that?"
"No, Jack," Daniel answered sarcastically. "Sam doesn't want that."
Jack scowled at Daniel's departing back then hurried to catch up. "You're wandering, not buying. You're supposed to be buying."
"No. *We're* supposed to be buying. Gift. Birthday. Surprise party tomorrow. Remember?"
"Daniel, this is the fifth junk store you've dragged me to."
"Antique store." Daniel lifted up his glasses with his thumb and pointer finger to massage the bridge of his nose, a sure sign either a headache was approaching or he was going to kill Jack.
Jack gently tugged on Daniel's T-shirt. "Come on. My treat for coffee, we'll make a new plan of attack."
"It's not a military maneuver."
Jack pulled harder, until Daniel had no choice but to follow him. "See, that's where you're wrong. Do we like shopping? No. Do we like..." Jack brought his voice down to a whisper as they exited the store. "...Fighting snakes?"
"No," Daniel answered.
"Do we not have a plan of attack when we go into battle?"
"No. We usually go to Plan B or Plan C, because the first idea never works."
"See!" Jack poked Daniel in the chest. "Your idea was the first one. Now I'm going to explain Plan B."
* * *
Jack stood with one hand on the door while Daniel blinked at him and then blinked at the store. Finally, he gulped a large portion of his coffee. "No way."
"Do you have a problem with this?" Jack asked impatiently.
"It's a hobby store, Jack." He pointed to the window. "There are trains and model cars... "
"And model rockets."
"You wouldn't? I'd almost rather buy the perfume bottle than a rocket."
"Daniel... Daniel..." Jack shook his head, opened the door and swept his arm across his body. "After you."
* * *
Daniel took a sip of coffee, grimaced and stuck it in the cup holder. "You're very proud of yourself, aren't you?"
"Damned straight," Jack agreed, pulling out of the parking space and into the flow of traffic. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder towards the back cab. "Look at that beauty."
Daniel looked over his shoulder, adjusted his glasses then smirked. "Yeah, a real beauty."
"Do I note a touch of sarcasm in your voice?"
"No. No sarcasm. Awe. That was awe."
"Good. Now since I chose the rocket, it's your job to get the wrapping paper and the card."
"This is ridiculous. I should have just gone shopping alone."
Jack looked at Daniel as if the idea had never occurred to him. "No way. We tried that last year and remember what happened?"
Daniel nodded, failing to hide the hint of a smile tugging at his lips.
Jack smiled as well. "Don't you remember how embarrassing it was?" He snorted. "You thought I was buying the gift. I thought you were buying the gift..." Jack shook his head. "We ended paying for an expensive dinner, accompanied by an even more expensive bottle of wine *and* front row theatre tickets to make up for our—"
"Okay, I see your point," Daniel interrupted, picking up his discarded coffee cup and swallowed the remainder, shuddering with revulsion when he finished.
"Why the hell did you drink that if it was so bad?"
"Because you have to buy a card and wrapping paper?"
"No, because Sam's going to kill us with the rocket." He gazed suspiciously over his shoulder into the back seat, narrowing his eyes at the two inches of rocket box sticking out of the white plastic shopping bag. "How long a range did the guy say the rocket had?"
Jack shook his head. "You are so wrong, Daniel. She's going to love it." He concentrated on driving and held his tongue in response to Daniel's 'yeahsureyabetcha'.
* * *
"Is this your idea of a joke?" Jack yielded the roll of wrapping paper like a staff weapon.
Daniel brushed a speck of imaginary lint from his shirt. "No. It thought it was quite apropos actually."
"There's fluffy little kittens on this paper."
"You bought paper with fluffy little kittens. That's girlie."
"Jack, in case you haven't noticed, Sam *is* a girl."
"I know that. But she's not a fluffy kitten kinda girl." Annoyed, Jack smacked Daniel on the arm with the roll. "We don't have time to argue. Hand me the tape so we can wrap this puppy."
"Did you see the card?" Daniel handed him the tape and the bag from the card store. "There are cute, cuddly puppies on the card."
Jack turned to Daniel, snatched the tape dispenser from his hand then gazed at the scissors on the table next to the rocket. "Do not kid someone who's going to be picking up a sharp instrument in a few seconds."
"I'm not kidding," Daniel deadpanned.
* * *
"Bye, Sam," Daniel said, kissing her on the cheek. "Happy birthday."
"Thank you for the gift, Daniel. Sir." She picked up her wrist and examined the antique bracelet adorning it. "This is perfect."
"Yeah, it is," Jack agreed.
"Loved the idea of the rocket, guys." She snorted, then gently punched Daniel in the bicep. She winked at Jack. "Do you think General Hammond will allow me to shoot it off through the 'gate?" Sam giggled, a combination of pure happiness and too much liquor. "Oh, and the wrapping paper and the card..." she took a sip of wine. "Pure inspiration. I didn't think you guys had it in you."
"Glad you could appreciate the sentiment."
Fraiser joined them by the front door, a glass of wine in her hand as well. "Yeah, for a second, when Sam was opening the gifts I thought the rocket *was* the gift."
"Come on, Doc," Jack flung his arm around Daniel's shoulder. "You should know us better by now. We would never just buy..."
"A rocket as a gift." Daniel smiled. "We just figured it was a good..."
"Gag gift," Jack interjected. "I mean, just check out the wrapping paper and card. How could you even take that seriously?"
The four shared a moment of laughter and Jack could only hope no one realized how forced his was. He stole a glance at Daniel, who smiled at him. Jack's secret was safe, no matter how much wine was consumed tonight.
* * *
Settling into the passenger seat, he yawned. "Nice party."
"I think she was surprised."
"Yup, that she was," Daniel agreed.
"It was great Fraiser volunteered her house." Jack started the truck. Turning on the radio, he adjusted the volume so it was background music. "She won't be left with that much of mess..."
"We helped clean up. She and Sam will just have to deal with their hangovers in the morning."
"You really covered my six." Jack backed out of the driveway, turning left at the corner.
"Covered your six?"
"The bracelet. Carter really seemed to—" Jack turned quickly and smiled at Daniel. "More than the rocket."
"Are you going to say I was right?"
"Hey," Jack chuckled. "I wouldn't take it that far. I guess I just never realized how much of a girl Carter was, though I still think the wrapping paper and card were a bit over the top.
They'd butted heads for over eight years. Intrinsically, Jack knew he and Daniel were as different as the proverbial night and day, but what he couldn't wrap his head around, was *why* each and every time they argued, Jack was surprised. Daniel wasn't. Jack looked up from the pad he was doodling on and caught Daniel's gaze. Nope, no surprise there. It was pure, unadulterated anger.
Different planet. Same scenario. Military man Jack versus the morally conscious Daniel. Lesson learned from today's mission - the more things change, the more they remain the same. The inhabitants went on, content in their century-long civil war. SG-1 returned home mentally and physically exhausted.
It was done. Over. Jack just wanted to go home and forget it. Hell, he just wanted to look on the bright side; all four of them were home and in one piece. Somewhere in Jack's book, once upon a time, that had been enough.
* * *
They had scattered to the winds the second the words 'dismissed' were out of the general's mouth. Jack remembered the second he laid down in bed, that an exhausted body wouldn't automatically silence an active mind. He tossed and turned for over an hour before getting up. The fact that his internal clock was off didn't help at all. There was sunlight. Even with the blinds drawn, the bright, late morning light streamed into the bedroom, illuminating every nook and cranny. He grumbled his dissatisfaction with the day and stomped into the kitchen.
Grabbing a beer, he threw together the safest food in the house, peanut butter and jelly on refrigerated bread. Dumping it on a plate, he headed out to the back deck. He refused to think about the mission, forcing himself to focus on his backyard, shaking his head in exasperation at the overgrown shrubbery and weeds choking the life out of the annuals. Clearing the backyard would be a big job. A backbreaking job; one that would drive his body past the point of exhaustion and force his mind to shut down. A two person job, actually. He hurriedly finished his lunch and got up to call the other person on his team, who he was positive wouldn't be sleeping either.
* * *
Jack flung open the door to a disheveled, confused Daniel, who sidestepped Jack into the foyer. "I rushed over here as fast as I—"
Jack slammed the door, turned away and stomped off. Okay, he had lied. Telling Daniel it was an emergency had been wrong. Jack may have even used the words 'life and death' to get him over to his house because Jack was pretty damn positive telling Daniel the two of them needed to work up a sweat to see past their anger just wouldn't have cut it.
He ignored Daniel's persistent inquiries and headed to the backyard with Daniel close at his heels. He shoved a rake into his friend's hands the second he stepped out onto the deck.
Jack indicated the far back corner. "Use the rake to pull out all the dead grass. The gloves are on the table for when you get down to the nitty gritty."
"Use the rake?" He slapped Jack in the thigh with the rake's prongs. "Yard work is the emergency?" Daniel threatened Jack with the rake. "I nearly killed myself breaking every land speed record to rush over—"
"Would you rather use the hedge trimmers first?"
* * *
"You gotta admit it looks good."
"Good." Daniel dragged the word out, slid lower in the deck chair and propped his feet on the railing.
Jack handed Daniel a beer then sat on the railing, pushing Daniel's feet aside with his ass. "So?"
Daniel palmed the bottle. "I'm too tired to be angry anymore, Jack. I ache in places that tomorrow are going to be hurting. I'm sweaty. Smelly. I need a shower." He took a swig of beer then shoved it towards Jack. "I'm going to take that shower and you're going to call for dinner. Your treat." Daniel stood, stretched, then took his beer back from Jack.
"My treat?" Jack sputtered.
Daniel saluted him with the beer bottle. "You got free labor. Only fair I get a free dinner. Oh, and I'll throw my dirty clothes in your hamper, you can wash them." Daniel pulled his sweaty shirt away from his body. "Do you have any—"
Jack sighed. "My bedroom. Third drawer. Help yourself to a pair of sweats. All right?"
* * *
Daniel coughed in his sleep, waking Jack from his slumber.
"Great," Jack groaned as he flicked the recliner into the upright position. "Daniel," he hissed.
Daniel rubbed his face in the couch cushion before pulling the afghan from the back of the couch onto his body. " 'Night," he mumbled.
Jack grimaced as he bent to shake Daniel's shoulder. "You'll be more comfortable in the spare room."
Daniel answered with the universal language of one finger speech.
"Don't complain to me when you're stiff and sore in the morning."
Daniel opened one eye. "I'm going to be stiff and sore no matter where I'm sleeping. I'm sleeping. Here. Leave me alone."
He opened both eyes then smiled up at him. "I know. Thanks for letting me use the rake."
This time Jack gave Daniel a sloppy salute. "See ya in the morning."
"Breakfast on the couch. Coffee. Starbucks."
"Breakfast. Kitchen. Maxwell House."
Fraiser was nuts. As he drove home, Jack divided his attention between the road and racking his brain. Why had the CMO thought releasing a tortured, injured, battered Daniel was a sane decision, only two days after his return to Colorado?
Jack understood the whole change of scenery, PTSS, and the fact that Daniel had recovered enough to drive her and her staff bonkers.
"I'm going to stay overnight."
Daniel slowly lifted his head from the passenger window and glared at Jack. "Why?"
"Because I saved your ass in that jungle so now I'm saving my ass against the wrath of the almighty one."
"Janet didn't ask you to stay overnight," Daniel huffed, obviously insulted.
"She didn't have to, Daniel. Sometimes orders are conveyed by the tilt of the head. The tenor of the voice. The gun pointed to one's temple."
"Janet released me. She said I was okay to go home."
"Ha!" Jack barked. "And that alone makes me think she's one syringe short of a dozen. I mean, look at you. You're—"
"One syringe short of a dozen?"
"You know what I mean."
"Oh yeah, I do. It means that *you* want to spend the night just to make sure everything is okay, but you won't admit it, so you're throwing the blame onto Janet's lap."
"I'm not even justifying that with an answer."
* * *
Daniel was sleeping. Jack shook his head in frustration. He wasn't supposed to be sleeping. He was supposed to be watching TV. Daniel had argued when Jack insisted that maybe he should lie down. He wasn't tired. He wasn't hungry. He wasn't anything but pissy and annoyed at having his space infringed upon.
Daniel was running a low-grade fever. Jack had already called Fraiser, who had given him the old 'to be expected, the antibiotics and Tylenol will take care of that and if it goes higher than one-hundred to call her' speech after stressing the importance of adhering to the antibiotic schedule. Jack checked his watch—which would be right about now.
* * *
Jack leaned against the bathroom doorframe watching Daniel as he vomited from a standing position.
It was one of the greatest mysteries of the world, that the man who had a cast iron stomach and could tolerate just about any food, on any world, at any time of night or day, always had a problem with antibiotics.
"Feeling any better?"
"I'm taking that as a no."
Daniel hopped over to the sink, brushed his teeth then rinsed his mouth out a few thousand times.
Jack waited until Daniel finished. "Based on Fraiser's rules, you needed the dose of antibiotics you just vomited up."
Grabbing a hand towel, Daniel wiped his mouth. "I'll retake the Tylenol and we'll call it even."
* * *
Daniel pushed the bowl of soup away. Jack shoved it right back. "Eat."
"I'm nauseous, not hungry *and* I'm not six."
"You're nauseous because of the antibiotics."
"Obviously," Daniel snarled.
"Look." Jack kept one hand on the bowl of soup and with the other pushed the antibiotic and two Tylenol to Daniel. "You feel lousy. You'd like nothing better than to pass out on your sorry excuse for a bed. You have a fever. Your stomach hurts and your leg aches. So to take care of the majority of those problems, have the soup. Crackers. The antibiotic. Some more soup, then the Tylenol. I promise you'll feel better."
"And if I don't?"
"I'll be cleaning up your puke."
* * *
Daniel didn't say goodnight. He finished his soup, took his meds then made a futile attempt to stomp off to his room, but with a limp and a cane his stomp was as lame as he was.
Jack allowed Daniel his privacy and puttered around his house, eventually ending up in the den, settling in with a beer and the remote. He was three quarters into an old Bruce Willis movie when Daniel wandered in and gingerly lowering himself onto the couch next to him.
"Sorry," he mumbled, more asleep than awake. "Bad dream."
Jack ruffled the sweaty hair on the bent head. "Hey, it's to be expected."
Daniel dropped his head backwards, trapping Jack's hand against the back of the couch. "I just needed to make sure I was really home. That you were here." He dropped his forearm over his eyes, drawing a shaky breath. "Sorry."
"Daniel. You were captured. Tortured. Can you cut yourself some slack?"
Jack pushed Daniel's head onto his shoulder, tsk'ing and patting the warm temple. "You did good."
Daniel laughed. "Good? I was one step away from getting skinned when you showed up."
"That's what the Calvary does, Daniel. We arrive in the nick of time to save the hero."
Daniel snorted. "Hero?"
"Hey, both Lee and I think you're a hero. You saved his ass. Got the two of you…" Jack moved his shoulder up and down. "Are you listening to me?"
"Listening," Daniel answered sleepily. "Hero. You. Me. Got it."
"Sure you do. Just go to sleep."
Summer was just settling in. Nights were warm. Days were filled with the laughter of children who have woken to realize school is fading into a distant memory and September too far away to contemplate. Backyard flowers were in full bloom and the night sky was filled with familiar constellations.
People shouldn't die in July. July wasn't a time for attending funerals. It's a time to plan vacations. Have barbeques. Enjoy the fireworks. It's a time for fishing in lakes that don't have fish and for enjoying a beer on the deck under the night sky.
July 26th, eighteen days since Daniel's surprise party. Eighteen days for a lifetime of changes to occur. Jack walked slowly around Fraiser's house, tidying up after the memorial service. Carter had taken Cassie home with her while Jack and Daniel stayed behind to clean up the remnants of the gathering. The house was quiet; the only sounds were the running water in the kitchen as Daniel washed the dishes and the crinkling of the big, black garbage bag Jack was filling.
Jack entered the kitchen and began to make small talk with Daniel, just because the house was too damn quiet. "Daniel?"
Daniel was shaking, even from three feet away, there was no missing the minute tremors of the hand holding the dish over the sink full of soapy water. He was clueless, totally unaware that Jack was in the room with him.
Jack left the garbage bag by the table and sidled up the counter next to the sink. "I saw the tape." Maybe that would be enough. Maybe Daniel would understand that Jack understood. And talk. Daniel needed to talk.
Daniel acknowledged Jack's statement with a shrug and he bent his head to the side, using a raised shoulder to push up his glasses. "Are you finished with the garbage?"
"Good. Janet—Sam. I mean, Sam left me the keys to lock up."
"Cassie's spending the night at her house?" Jack knew she was, but, hell, at this point any exchange counted as conversation.
"Yeah. She really wasn't comfortable being—yeah, she's staying with Sam."
Jack cleared the table. Pulling the bag shut, he took his anger out by tying the top of the plastic in a tight knot. It was nice to know not one iota of garbage was going to leak out of the opening. "I'll be right back, just gonna drop this in the—"
"Tomorrow is collection day."
As Jack took out his anger tying knots, Daniel took out his anger scrubbing and scraping a non-existent spot off a dish.
"I'll take the garbage pails to the front of the house."
* * *
Right now, Jack felt ancient. The staff weapon's discharge had caused a deep muscle ache. But Daniel... Daniel *looked* old, as if he had aged decades in the blink of an eye. He shuffled his feet along the walk, keeping his head bent, fumbling with the keys to the car.
"I don't want to go home," Jack blurted out.
"I couldn't even comfort Janet as she lay dying," Daniel answered back.
"Oh." Jack had been thinking a beer at Daniel's house. Pizza. Maybe two beers, a glass of wine, a bottle of wine if need be to get the guy to talk. He hadn't expected this so soon, it took him a second to regroup. "There was nothing you could have done."
"You know, I've heard those words more times in the past two days and can I tell you honestly, Jack, I never want to hear them again."
"They're the truth." Jack reached out to touch Daniel, only to have him pull his arm out of reach and head towards his car.
Daniel turned and began to walk backwards, still talking to Jack. "Yeah, they may be the truth. But they won't bring back Janet." He stopped. "I'm sorry you don't want to go home, but I don't want company right now. Maybe Sam and Cassie?" Daniel shrugged. "Bye, Jack."
* * *
It wasn't until Jack got home that he realized he really and truly didn't want to be here. Alone. He hadn't lied to Daniel, but he wasn't in the mood to be an emotional punching bag either. So he sat watching but not seeing the TV for almost two hours before he heard his front door open then slam shut. Familiar footsteps traveled into his kitchen, followed by the opening of the refrigerator, the clink of beer bottles and the thud of the refrigerator door closing.
He waited silently and patiently until Daniel found him in the den. "How did you know I wouldn't be sleeping?" Jack asked as he accepted the beer bottle from Daniel's outstretched hand.
Daniel snorted in response and tossed the cap of the beer bottle into the corner.
"Do you do that in your house?"
"No," Daniel answered, "but you do."
"I do not."
"Not. How do you know they aren't yours?"
"I drink wine at home. Last time I looked there were no corks in the corners. I only buy beer for you."
"You drink beer at my house."
" 'Cause there's no wine."
"Bring your own."
"I will," Daniel huffed, then sat on the small couch and gazed at the TV. "What's this crap you're watching?"
"Okay, Daniel. What gives? You come over here. Drink my beer. Throw bottle caps in the corner, insult my TV—"
"I'm sorry." Daniel slammed the bottle on the coffee table before standing. "This is ridiculous. I don't know why I'm here."
"Care to enlighten me?"
Jack stood and placed his beer next to Daniel's. "Because it doesn't go away when you go to sleep. Or when you close your eyes. In the quiet of your house you hear the staff weapon. The sound of the falling body. Your inability to help. You're powerless. And it hurts. Someone you cared about died and there wasn't a goddamned thing you could have done about it."
Daniel was shocked into tears. Slow moving moisture filling up then spilling out from under his lids. "I couldn't even—" He gulped, squeezing his eyes shut, increasing the speed of the tears. "I had to hold the IV. Janet entrusted me with the IV. I couldn't let her down."
"I saw the tape. You didn't fail her. You saved a man's life."
Daniel stumbled into Jack who had no choice but to throw his arms around him in an effort to remain upright. He shushed him, rocked him gently, surprised at the moisture trail he was leaving on Daniel's shirt. Ridiculous. Fraiser was a military colleague. She was a—she had been, he corrected—a friend. An unspoken fifth on SG-1, who had always watched their six even when on Earth. Jack was sorry he had never called her Janet. Or thanked her. Having no second chances in life sucked.
"Stay with me, Daniel," Jack commanded, lightly tapping his cheek.
Weakly, Daniel grabbed his hand. "Do that again and when we get out of here and both of us are cleared for duty, I'm doing to beat the crap out of you." His words were raspy, harsh, echoing dully in the small cave.
Jack snorted. He was glad to finally get a reaction from Daniel, who for the past thirty minutes had been unconscious. "You were out cold, I was just checking—"
"I wasn't out cold. I was—"
"Catching some zzz's?"
"Yeah," Daniel groaned, pulling himself away from Jack and leaning against the wall of the cave. "I was napping."
"You weren't snoring. You always snore when you nap."
"I do not," Daniel sighed with a slight cough.
"You do," Jack said, glad for the verbal sparring.
"How's the leg?"
Jack's pants were pulled tightly over his swollen kneecap. He gingerly touched the area, feeling the heat of injured tissues through the fabric.
"Jack? Your leg?"
"Nothing a few weeks fishing off a dock by a certain lake in Minnesota wouldn't take care of."
"You're going to need someone to push your wheelchair." Daniel coughed, a wet harsh sound that demanded medical attention and antibiotics, neither of which Jack had any hopes of obtaining in the near future.
Jack hated this planet, hated the damp, cold moisture penetrating every pore of his body. Two weeks they had been here. SG-1 had spent fourteen days working out a treaty, completely unaware and totally unprepared when a neighboring faction took offense when the head honcho's son had made eyes at *their* head honcho's daughter, and had launched an attack in the middle of negotiations.
Daniel had been injured in the attack, Jack had been injured trying to drag him to the safety of the nearby caves. They had become separated from Teal'c and Carter and Jack could only hope that they had understood his garbled radio transmission before contact had been lost. But there had been no sign of them for the past day and a half. Jack had done the mental calculations in his head, the time to get to the 'gate, brief the general then back to the caves. It should have taken a handful of hours, not over twenty-four. He was losing hope they had gotten off the planet alive.
Daniel coughed again, doubling over at the waist. Wordlessly, Jack rubbed his back, feeling the congestion under his fingers. Daniel turned sideways spitting a mouthful of phlegm onto the ground. "That was gross," he admitted hoarsely, slowly sinking back against the wall.
"How's the shoulder?"
Making a fist, Daniel slowly raised the arm a few inches. "Still works. Don't worry." He coughed as he leaned over and sloppily patted Jack's thigh. "I'll still be able to push your wheelchair."
Jack didn't mention the lines of painful concentration in the corners of Daniel's mouth, he just squeezed the hand on his thigh. "Wishful thinking. By the time Brightman allows our asses out of the infirmary we'll be too old…"
Daniel's head lolled onto Jack's shoulder.
"I'm listening," he gasped. "You talk. I'll listen."
"You've never listened to me before."
"First. Time. Everything." Daniel shivered then mewed in pain when the movement aggravated his injury.
Jack slid closer. "Let's try a little closeness. Body heat will help."
"Help?" Daniel gave a half laugh. "When Sam… Teal'c come back, they'll get the wrong idea. Ruin my reputation."
"Shut up," Jack warned. "You're supposed to be listening. *I'm* supposed to be the one talking. Besides," Jack said gently, wrapping his arm around Daniel's shoulders, careful to avoid the injury, "you don't have a reputation."
* * *
Jack woke up to hear Daniel talking in his sleep. Loudly. Flaying arms fighting demons only he was able to see in his fevered state. His arm smacked Jack's swollen knee. He yelped in pain and instinctively reached out to grab Daniel. In an effort to avoid Jack's hand, Daniel fell to the side, valiantly trying to crawl towards the entrance. Hacking and choking, his left arm collapsed under his weight, forcing him face first onto the dirt floor.
Jack tried to find purchase along the cave walls to stand, but there was nothing to grab onto and he knew without help there was no way his knee was going to support his weight. "Daniel!" he yelled, pounding the earth in frustration.
Daniel flopped onto his back in response. "Jack?" He reached out towards him, missed, his hand landing in a mud puddle. Daniel turned to the sound of the splash, his eyes glazed. "What happened?" Daniel's voice scared the crap outta Jack, it was phlegmy and thick. The voice of a man drowning in his own body fluids.
Necessity was the mother of invention, Daniel needed him. He needed to get to Daniel. Standing wasn't an option. The thought of crawling and putting pressure on his knee was inconceivable, so Jack used his ass and good leg to propel him. While the stretching wasn't anything to write home about, it was bearable.
He jerked Daniel up by the front of his shirt, forcing him to bend at the waist. Weakly, Daniel squirmed in protest.
"Cough, damnit," Jack commanded, pounding Daniel on the back with the heel of his hand.
* * *
"Thanks, I think." Once again Daniel was sitting up, leaning against the wall, listing against Jack. "Thought I was—"
"I would have put it a bit more eloquently."
"Of course you would've, you're a linguist." Jack put a hand to Daniel's cheek. "Fever."
"I'm not sure if it's pneumonia or sepsis from the wound. Figure I have a fifty-fifty chance of being right."
"Leave the betting to Brightman."
Daniel coughed, still congested but not the gurgling, struggling sound from before. "Hope Sam and Teal'c are okay."
As if on cue, Jack's radio crackled to life. "Colonel? Daniel?"
"Good to hear your voice, sir."
"Nice of you to pay us a visit. I think we're the fifth cave on the left."
Carter chuckled. "I brought the Cavalry and the medics as a house warming gift. Hope that's okay."
"Sure," Jack said. "Daniel and I will just set the table for a few more."
"It's really not that warm outside." Jack gazed down at Daniel who was lying on a blanket spread on the dock.
"Sun feels great."
Jack glanced skywards, raising his hand to shield his eyes. "It's not that warm," he repeated.
"I don't care." Eyes closed, Daniel pointed to the sky. "That's a real sun out there." He breathed deeply, then coughed a bit. "That's real air. Fresh air. I missed fresh air." Blindly, Daniel patted the blanket. "Come on and enjoy the day."
Jack couldn't help but laugh. "You and who else would help me stand after I sat down."
"Oh." Daniel squinted up at Jack. "Sorry. You're doing so well, I forgot."
"I didn't forget," Jack said, poking Daniel in the side with his cane. "I'm waiting for the promised wheelchair ride."
"You missed your chance."
"You volunteering to push me through the Stargate or around the infirmary at zero two hundred hours when you were high on pain killers, does *not* count."
"Show me a wheelchair and I'll gladly honor my promise."
"The kitchen chairs are on rollers."
"Doesn't count," Daniel said with a sigh. He closed his eyes again and lazily waved Jack to the side. "You're blocking my sun."
"I'm going to catch us some fish for dinner."
Daniel laughed, coughed, then sat up and reached for the water bottle, taking a long drink. "Did you thaw something for dinner just as a precaution?"
"I never knew you were such a pessimist."
"Not a pessimist." Daniel took another drink, before laying back down, the bottle resting on his stomach. "I'm practical."
* * *
Fishing pole in hand, his ass in a folding chair, his leg propped up on the empty ice chest, Jack leaned his head against the back of the chair, allowing the Minnesota sun to hit him full in the face. Daniel was right. It felt great. If it wasn't for the stiffness in his leg that had him pacing the floor at night and Daniel's lingering cough that had Daniel pacing the floor at night, Jack could pretend the two of them were just enjoying some downtime at his cabin.
Daniel coughed again. For the millionth time since the two of them returned from that hellhole, Jack wished it had been Fraiser waiting for them in the 'gate room and not Brightman. She was competent. She was a good doctor. She just wasn't Fraiser.
"You okay back there?"
* * *
"Don't expect fish every night."
Daniel shoveled in the last piece of fried filet. Looking up in surprise, he swallowed. "I didn't expect fish tonight, why would I be shocked if another piece doesn't grace my plate?" He contemplated Jack through narrowed lids. "I fell asleep. I never actually *saw* you catch this fish." His graze swept to the fridge. "Should I be checking the freezer for Mrs. Paul's?"
* * *
Daniel fell asleep on the couch. Jack fell asleep on the recliner. And they slept. Both of them. Through the night without a cough or a twinge of an aching knee waking them. Jack woke up to see Daniel staring at him.
"I know," Jack said, testing the water by bending his knee. Stiff, yes. But the ache had lessened a notch.
"Did we sleep through the night?"
Daniel coughed in response sheepishly gazing at Jack.
"Hey, don't look a gift horse in the mouth. You can cough all day for all I care, just so…"
Daniel sat up suddenly, coughed again, then apologized. "Sorry. I don't mean to keep you—"
"Don't even go there," Jack warned. "I meant so that you can sleep. My leg has been keeping us up as much as your coughing."
"Probably why Brightman let us leave the infirmary." Daniel stood and stretched. "We were keeping all the other patients awake. So she sent us far, far, away where the only people we could annoy would be each other."
"Hmm." Jack tapped his chin in contemplation. "I'm thinking the woman is smarter than I gave her credit for."
* * *
Daniel stood by the window. With slumped shoulders and his forehead pressed against the glass, he was the epitome of dejection.
"It's raining." His voice was as forlorn as a child whose Saturday at the beach had been ruined.
Jack slung his arm around Daniel's shoulder, whispering a "sorry" when Daniel jumped at the contact, annoyed that he had forgotten about Daniel's injury.
"It's okay," Daniel sighed, never taking his eyes from the downpour outside.
"It's Minnesota. It's September."
"But it's raining," Daniel complained.
"Pouting is one thing. I draw the line at whining."
"I'm not whining."
"Take it from me, you're whining. I know you wanted to go out and play today, but it's raining."
"I'm going to call Sam and Teal'c. They'll let me whine and won't complain."
Daniel sulked and grumbled through most of the day even though Jack tried his best to entertain him. He offered him his choice of DVDs, card games, TV, music, until Jack simply gave up and tuned out his griping with the new John Grisham book Carter had given him as a going away present.
Maybe it was the second glass of wine or the old, dusty plastic chess set Jack pulled out of the storage closet that turned things around. He had gotten royally beaten the first game and now with beer in hand, he was giving Daniel a run for his money in the second game.
"You know, you shouldn't be drinking beer."
"Look who's talking. That's your second helping of wine."
Daniel swirled the liquid around in his glass then took a sip. "Wine has medicinal purposes."
"Does that include keeping you quiet so you don't whine?"
"You know, Jack, I think we should grow old together."
Thankfully, he had just swallowed the beer in his mouth, otherwise Daniel and the chess pieces would have been covered in Budweiser. "I hope you don't mind if I ask you to clarify that statement."
"Clarify?" Daniel pushed his glasses up with the rim of his wine glass. "Why would I have to..." He shook his head and rolled his eyes. "No. Not that. Not only do you hog all of the covers but you snore too much to ever think of sharing a bed. I just meant in a best friend sort of way."
"Like Fred and Barney? Abbott and Costello? Felix and Oscar?"
"The Odd Couple? You think we're like the Odd Couple?"
"You brought it up, Daniel, not me."
"Am I Felix or Oscar?"
Jack clinked his bottle against Daniel's wine glass. "Don't ask. Don't tell."
Daniel huffed then made his move on the chessboard. "Check." He smiled wickedly at Jack and winked.
"Hey! You just distracted me with that getting married comment."
It was Daniel's turn to sputter. "I never said married. I mentioned growing old together."
"So you want to live together without the benefit of clergy?" Jack took another gulp of beer, moved his queen, then winked at Daniel. "Checkmate."
"Checkmate?" First Daniel gazed quizzically at the board, then at Jack. "I just mentioned the living together because," Daniel shrugged, "no one else seems to want to be around us when we're injured."
"That's because we're like two crotchety, old men. And that wonderful personality flaw," Jack began to set up the board again, "will probably only get worse as we get on in years. So you're right, Darwin's theory, survival of the fittest, we'll probably have no choice but to live together, 'cause no one else will want us."
"That's supposed to make me feel better?"
"Hell, don't look at me," Jack said as he moved his pawn. "You were the one that brought the whole conversation up, Felix."
"I'm coming," Jack groaned, rolling out of bed and falling to the floor in a heap. He squinted at the digital readout on the clock as he used the nightstand to heave himself upright. Shaking his head, he wondered who the hell had forgotten something so important they felt the need to return to his house at zero four hundred hours.
Thankfully, he was still wearing his pants and a T-shirt as he scrambled to answer the door. "Shit." He stubbed his big toe on a beer bottle on the floor and sent it spinning across the room. Damn, he knew there was a reason why cleaning up the day *after* a party was a bad idea. He grabbed his toe, hopped to the door, all the while shouting, "I'm coming" in response to the continuous banging.
He flung open the door. Daniel jerked in surprise, his hand still raised. "Oh, hi Jack," he said, pushing past him. "Did I miss the… oh." He turned towards Jack with a crestfallen expression on his face. "Everyone's gone?"
"Yes, Daniel, everyone's gone. Party's over." Jack tested the water with his injured foot and slowly lowered it the ground. He held the door open in case Daniel decided to leave, but the man seemed intent on searching out his house to make sure Jack wasn't hiding a birthday guest or two in any corner of the living room.
"Daniel." Jack spoke slowly as he pushed the door closed. "Everyone's gone. The party was a roaring success. As a matter of fact, I'm still feeling more than a bit of a buzz," he said, pointing towards the bedroom. "So if you don't mind, my hangover and I are going to go back to sleep." Jack managed two steps before he turned. "What the hell are you doing here? You're supposed to be off world with SG-11." Jack hurried over and pinched Daniel though his sweater.
"Ow." Daniel pulled his arm away from Jack, wrapping it tighter around the present he had clutched to his chest.
"Just making sure you weren't an Ascended apparition."
"It's me. Here. Happy Birthday." He thrust the present at Jack who gently pushed it right back to Daniel.
"No way. I'm taking that present on Tuesday."
"Tuesday's not your birthday."
"No," Jack explained. "We were—you're treating me to dinner on Tuesday. Today's Friday. Well, no not really. Now it's Saturday by about four hours and you're not supposed to be home until tomorrow."
Daniel's face was a mask of confusion.
"You were supposed to be home for the party, remember. But SG-11 needed you and to appease your guilt, I promised that you could take me to the most expensive restaurant in—Daniel? Is any of this sounding familiar?"
"I made reservations."
"Good." Jack walked around Daniel, his gaze roaming up and down his body, finally noticing what he missed before. "Daniel, are those scrubs you have on under your sweater?"
"Brightman didn't want to listen that it was your birthday."
"I'm sure she didn't."
"So I waited under she was distracted with Major Scott and I left. I went back to my office, grabbed my sweater, your present, and then I left."
"Why was Brightman distracted by Major Scott? Was he injured?"
"That's why SG-11 is back early, because Major Scott is ill?"
Daniel nodded vigorously. "Major Scott and Sergeant Peterson. Both sick."
"Sick as in?"
"Fever, vomiting, headache—"
"And you. Tell me you're not sick?"
Daniel thought a minute then shook his head. "I'm fine."
"Sure you are."
The phone rang. "Hold that thought, Daniel, I'm just going to see who else thinks I don't need to sleep tonight."
Jack kept an eye on Daniel as he went into the kitchen to answer the phone. "Lose an archeologist?" he said into the receiver.
"//I'm so sorry, sir. Dr. Jackson—//"
"You can apologize later when you explain how Daniel managed to slip past the infirmary personnel and the checkpoint guards—"
"//I understand, sir//."
"Good. I'm glad that's all straightened out. Now, what about—"
"//Dr. Jackson's sick, sir. He hasn't reached the stage—//"
"I'm bringing him in now—"
"//Negative, sir. You and Dr. Jackson need to stay where you are. We're sending a hazmat team to bring both of you in.//"
"Great. I'm thinking this means I'm not getting my expensive birthday dinner on Tuesday."
"Never mind," Jack sighed.
* * *
By the time the hazmat team showed up at Jack's house, Daniel was shivering despite the heavy sweatshirt and the blanket Jack had wrapped him in. "You don't want your present?" he asked through chattering teeth, patting the box he still had clutched in his arms.
"No." Jack tucked the blanket tighter around Daniel and the present, then went to open the door. "I'll open it in the infirmary."
* * *
Jack glanced over at the other bed in the Iso room. Daniel was adamantly protesting any intervention by the medical team.
"He's being a bit uncooperative," Jack mentioned to the nurse taking his blood pressure. "Hey, Daniel. Behave."
"Not, uncooperative, Dr. Jackson's a bit disorientated. It's one of the symptoms," Brightman remarked. She took the chart from the nurse with a dissmissive nod and flipped it open. "Did Dr. Jackson seem disorientated to you when he showed up at your house?"
Jack shrugged. "He was Daniel. He's distracted at the best of times. But disorientated…" Jack gazed over at the other bed and made a sharp hand movement indicating that Daniel should lie down. He nodded when Daniel obeyed. "Nope, not disorientated," he repeated.
"Colonel, I'm a bit concerned about your blood alcohol level."
"Hey, it was my birthday yesterday and a few friends came over to share the occasion with me."
"Not me," Daniel shouted from across the room. "I wasn't invited."
"Hey, that's not true," Jack yelled back. "You were too invited—"
* * *
"Eight weeks," Jack groused as he slid the cool washcloth over Daniel's forehead. "Could you please go eight goddamn weeks without having your sorry butt in the infirmary?"
Jack had spent yesterday marginally sick and headachy, Daniel had spent yesterday getting marginally sicker and vomiting. So today, while Jack's fever was hovering at the hundred degree mark, Daniel's was closer to baking a loaf of bread or a tray of cookies.
"Believe it or not, Dr. Jackson's doing better."
Jack dropped the towel into the basin of cool water and gave Brightman his full attention. The woman's monotone was hard enough to understand on a good day, when one smacked a face mask over her mouth, well, Jack was left with having to pay attention.
"Could you clarify doing better for me?" He tried to be nice. He truly did. But their two personalities didn't work well together. Brightman and Carter didn't click either. Teal'c tolerated her. Daniel spent most of his time unconscious so Jack wasn't counting his opinion.
"His fever's down."
"How's the rest of SG-11? And the archeological team?"
"Which means they're doing better than Daniel?"
Even behind the mask, there was no missing the glower. "It means they're recovering, sir. Their trip through the 'gate was unfortunately timed with a local summer fever the inhabitants of the planet have been exposed to for countless years. So it's only the youngest children and the…"
"Good old Earth folks who become infected. It's the same old, same old, of course. Been there done that, Daniel has about three of those T-shirts hanging in his closet." Jack moved closer to Daniel's bedside.
"You really need to be in bed yourself, Colonel."
"Maybe Daniel shouldn't have been out in the field. He'd barely recovered from the pneumonia and shoulder wound. You, Dr. Brightman, are the only one at the SGC who can override the general's orders to send someone offworld."
Angrily, Brightman snapped the chart in her hands closed.
"What!" Jack turned abruptly at the sudden tugging on his arm. "Daniel," his tone softened and he bent closer as Daniel continued to pull on him.
"Play nice," Daniel whispered in Jack's ear. "Her needles are bigger than Janet's."
* * *
"She's not Janet." Daniel handed Jack the tray of fine looking steaks.
Jack speared one and dropped it on the grill. Turing, he stabbed the remaining steak and waved the raw meat at Daniel. "What are you talking about?"
"Brightman. She's not Janet."
"I know that," Jack replied indignantly. He made a great show of placing the second steak on the grill, rearranging them, adding seasonings and drinking his beer.
"She asked to be reassigned."
"You can't punish her because of who she replaced. It wasn't her fault Janet..." Daniel paused then slid the tray onto the table. "...died."
"I won't have to punish her anymore. She'll be gone. No great loss."
"Did you treat Jonas the same way?"
Jack distractedly turned the steaks again. And again. Added even more seasoning. "Jonas was an ends to a mean. An ultimatum. I missed you more than I hated him."
"Oh. Couldn't get him to leave?"
Jack was all ready with a smart answer but the innocent smirk on Daniel's face threw a splash of water on his flame of anger.
"You did Brightman an injustice, Jack."
"She's a doctor. Nothing more. Nothing less. You expected more from her. You wanted her to be a friend because she replaced a friend."
"She wasn't Fraiser," Jack insisted like a petulant toddler.
"No, she wasn't." Daniel added more salt to the bigger of the two steaks. "That's the one I want."
"You? You're gonna eat that steak? That *whole* steak?" Jack gazed at Daniel. The man still had dark half moon smudges under both eyes. Jack pretended not to notice the squinty expression or the massaging of temples. "This morning two pieces of toast were a challenge."
"That was then, Jack. This is now."
"Smells good, sir."
Jack held the large plastic bags up. "Damn straight it does." He scanned the list of names. "Dr. Jackson hasn't signed out yet, Airman?"
The impossibly young guard shook his head. "Not on my watch, sir. Would you like me to call his—?"
"Don't bother," Jack said. "Hope you were able to have some turkey today."
The airman patted his stomach. "Yes, thank you, sir. I have to admit my sister's turned into a surprisingly good cook."
Jack placed the bags on the table and signed his name on the roster. "Hope you got some leftovers."
"There's a big slice of apple pie sitting on my counter just waiting for me to get home."
"Enjoy," Jack said with a wave.
* * *
Jack walked into Daniel's office and flicked on the overhead lights. "You're going to ruin your eyesight—"
"Aargh!" Daniel threw his hand over his eyes and groaned. "My eyesight is already ruined."
"See, that's what you get for working with just that tiny—"
"No." Daniel pushed his glasses on top of his head and scrubbed at his eyes. "I was doing fine until someone came in and blinded me by turning on the lights." He lowered his hand and squinted at Jack.
"We missed you."
Daniel checked his watch. "Aw, shit, Sam's gonna kill me."
"No, strangely enough, in a scientist sorta way, she understood. Teal'c, on the other hand, was pissed. Something about the Macy's parade."
"I'll make it up to him."
"Don't say it, okay?" Daniel pushed his glasses back into position. "Don't say let someone else handle it. Don't say it's Thanksgiving. Don't say—"
Jack plopped the bags on an open book sitting on the desk. "We missed you."
Daniel opened his mouth, shut it, then sniffed the air, pulling the closer of the two bags under his nose. "Is this what I think it is?" Daniel didn't wait for Jack to answer; he ripped into the plastic bag, smiling in anticipation.
"Wait!" Jack yelled. "Hold on one minute."
"Starving. Yeah, I'm sure you are. But we need a bit of ambiance." He began to clean an area of Daniel's desk, closing books, moving them aside, ignoring Daniel's protests. "Go wash up, you've been touching dirty tomes."
"I'm not a kid."
Jack closed his eyes in exasperation. "For once Daniel, just be quiet and go with the flow."
* * *
Jack had turned off the overhead office lights, completely cleared a place on Daniel's desk. He smiled at the look on Daniel's face when he saw the results.
Daniel closed his eyes in ecstasy and sniffed. "I'm starving."
With his shoulder, Jack pushed Daniel to take a seat. "Sit and enjoy before it gets cold." He didn't need to ask twice. Daniel sat, gazing in awe at the spread.
Daniel leaned over the plate of turkey and all the fixings. "Does it taste as good as it looks?"
"Yes, it does."
Tentatively, Daniel stuck his finger in the mashed potatoes and then into his mouth. His eyes widened in surprise. Eating slowly, he savored every bite. Orgasmically hmmming and ahhing over every forkful.
"We missed you."
"You thad thath awready."
Jack handed him a napkin. "Don't talk with your mouth full."
"Thorry." Daniel wiped his mouth, using his tongue to get the bits of gravy stuck in the corners. "Who cooked this?"
"I did," Jack answered proudly. "Though I will admit Carter whips up a mean mashed potato."
"I missed you guys. I missed having dinner with everyone," Daniel burst out, then ducked his head, embarrassed.
"I said that already."
"I know." Daniel pushed the empty dish away. "How about dessert?"
Jack peered first into one bag, then into another. "Nope. No dessert."
Jack made no comment that the grown man sitting across from him was actually pouting.
"There's really no dessert?'
Jack looked again. "Nope. Sorry."
"Well, the dinner was good—"
"Hey!" Jack cried with indignation. "The dinner was great. The turkey was moist and succulent and the potatoes—"
"That Sam made," Daniel added.
"Were lump free, the gravy, the biscuits—"
"Were all great," Daniel conceded.
"But still, you want dessert."
"Dessert would have been nice."
Jack stood, tossed the empty bags into the garbage then smiled at Daniel. "We're waiting dessert for you. Carter's house. Hot apple pie with caramel sauce and ice cream."
Daniel waved at the pile of books. "But I'm—"
"Almost done for the night."
"I'll meet you at Sam's in an hour?"
"I promise, Jack. Honest."
"I trust you. But if you're one minute past one hour, Teal'c's getting your piece of the pie." Jack removed the paper dishes from in front of Daniel and pushed the books back in their place. "Go do your job."
"Thanks, Jack." Daniel's head was already bowed over his books and he waved distractedly at Jack. "Turn on the overhead lights when you leave."
"No problem. And just so you know, or maybe this should be considered a warning, Teal'c taped the whole parade for the two of you to watch."
Daniel looked up and smiled broadly. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Carter's going to be pissed."
Daniel buckled the seatbelt and shook his head. "No, she's not. It's the holiday season. And," he said with a smug nod of his head. "I bought her a wonderful present."
"We're still late. No matter what you put under her Christmas tree, we've still ruined her dinner party."
"Sam's having a buffet. You can't ruin a buffet," Daniel answered distractedly, his attention drawn outside the passenger window. He smiled as he watched the decorated houses go by.
"We're forty-five minutes late."
"So blame me," Daniel sighed, plastering his face so tightly against the window it began to fog up.
"I will blame you. Because, honestly, you are the reason we're late."
"I needed to finish."
"Yeah, what was that all about? A Christmas tree. Decorations? I never remember you putting one of those red plants..."
"Yeah, whatever," Jack answered, annoyed at the car he was stuck behind, who was more intent on looking for a street than actually driving. He honked his horn repeatedly, pissed that traffic from the other direction prohibited him from swerving around the driver.
"Patience, Jack, it's Christmas Eve."
"Yeah, exactly. And people should be home with their... goddamn it!" Jack punched his horn when the driver stopped short. "Now, did you see that, Daniel? See! I almost slammed into—"
"People should be home with their what, Jack?" Daniel softly questioned.
"Their families." He swerved sharply around the car and hit the horn repeatedly as he passed.
"We're going out to be with our friends. Not everyone has all the people they hold important in their life under one roof."
"Be quiet," Jack ordered, but his words weren't harsh. Instead they were filled with the exasperation of a child who had gotten caught doing something he really shouldn't have been doing no matter how much fun it was. "I wanted to revel in my lack of holiday spirit."
Jack took a deep breath then exhaled loudly. "Done."
"Since when have you become so holiday spirited? If memory serves me right, on more than one occasion you were the Bah Humbugger."
"Now you have a tree. Lights. I'm sure there's even a Christmas carol CD hidden in your collection. Care to explain?"
"Okay, maybe later."
* * *
Jack found Daniel far from the maddening crowd milling around Carter's house. Standing on the back deck in the cold without a jacket, he was wearing the pyramid decorated scarf he had gotten as a gift.
"Warm scarf?" Jack picked up the end and flipped it through his fingers.
"Not that warm." Daniel chuckled, his breath made little puffs of clouds in the freezing night air.
"So come back inside." Jack tugged on the scarf.
"I will. In a minute." He plucked the scarf from between Jack's fingers then smoothed it back down against his chest. "You go in. It's cold out here."
"Too cold for a colonel, but not too cold for an archaeologist?"
"Oh, I am freezing."
"I wanted to think. It's a little—"
"Crowded?" Jack offered, canting his head towards the French doors. He had to admit that Carter's house had the surprisingly visual quality of the original Star Trek episode where they visited the planet that was overcrowded.
"Yeah, packed. Stifling."
"Not conducive to thinking?" Jack was prying, he knew it but there was something so interesting about a Daniel who, for the first time in seven years, decided to go whole hog with the Christmas spirit.
"No. Couldn't think," Daniel agreed.
"So outside is better conditions for thinking and catching pneumonia."
Daniel snorted. "Did that already this year."
"What?" Jack pushed his shoulder into Daniel's. "The thinking or the pneumonia?"
"Hey, cut me some slack. It *is* Christmas Eve."
Instantaneously, Daniel sobered. "Sorry." Daniel backed up, sat on one of the outside chairs, slumped down and stared upwards into the night sky.
Jack continued standing but followed Daniel's line of sight. "Pretty damn amazing, isn't it?"
"Impressive." Daniel was going to say more but Carter popped her head out the door.
"Come back inside," she ordered, "it's freezing out here."
"Okay," Daniel stood.
"So, you're done thinkin'?" Jack whispered.
"Yeah," Daniel whispered right back. "It's Christmas Eve. Even I have time off for the holidays."
* * *
The cold weather had given way to a heavy snowfall. Jack was concentrating on driving. He peered intently through the windshield, into the zero visibility night, thankful he hadn't had more than one beer at Carter's.
"Cassie gave me Janet's Christmas decorations."
Daniel had been busy humming a medley of Christmas songs, ignoring Jack's fixation on keeping the truck on the road, so it took him a moment to process exactly what Daniel had actually said. "Decorations?"
"Yeah. You asked why I had the house decorated. The tree. The spirit. It was Janet's doing."
"Well, I couldn't very well allow the decorations to just *sit* in the box, could I?"
Jack eased the truck to a slow stop at a red light two blocks before Daniel's house, testing the brakes. "No." Daniel could never leave anything in a temple or a tomb untouched so there was no reason to think he would have been able to keep his hands off a box or two of Christmas ornaments. Jack accelerated slowly even so, his rear tires slipped in the newly fallen snow.
"So to hang ornaments I needed a tree. A tree needed lights." Daniel shrugged, embarrassed. "The whole thing sort of snowballed."
Jack laughed. "Yeah, the holiday season is like that, Daniel."
"Cassie gave them to me because she thought I needed some holiday cheer." Daniel leaned back in the seat and shook his head. "Do you think I needed... never mind, forget I even asked that question."
Jack maneuvered the truck over the snow and pulled into Daniel's driveway. "You didn't need cheer. You needed to be reminded of what the holiday season was all about. Friends. Memories. Cassie's one smart gal." Jack got a hint of a smile for his revelation.
"Wow. It's really snowing."
Jack tugged on the scarf around Daniel's neck. "Observant, huh?"
"Stay the night." It wasn't a question, more of a command.
Surprisingly grateful, Jack turned off the truck. "Thanks."
"Mi couch es su couch."
"Your linguistic abilities astound me once again, Dr. Jackson."
Daniel slipped his gloves on, pulled down his hat and cocked his head in the direction of his house. "Hope you don't mind waking up here on Christmas morning."
"That's what friends are for. Couches in bad weather and pancakes in the morning."
"I said couch. I don't remember breakfast being part of the deal."
"You got the tree, the decorations, I'm sure somewhere tonight we can find 'It's a Wonderful Life' on television and in the morning I'm positive we can scrape up the ingredients for pancakes. Between me, Cassie, and Fraiser, we'll make sure you'll get into the Christmas season. Hell, it is the time for miracles."
The weather was grey and dreary, the sun almost non-existent in the overcast, dismal sky. The snow was just as dirty and depressing as the day. As he stood on Daniel's doorstep, Jack couldn't help shivering in the dwindling daylight.
Christmas lights still adorned the windows. The wreath hanging on the door was frostbitten and dead. "Ah, crap." Jack could feel the weight of the whole situation drag his down shoulders and send his heart into the pit of his stomach.
Jack raised his hand to knock, then changed his mind, shifted the bag in his arms and fished Daniel's key out of his pocket. Fuckin' bad timing, that's what it was. His ass had been in Washington the same time Daniel's ass had been offworld as a guest archeologist with SG-12. While Jack was being bored shitless, jumping through hoops for the pencil pushers, Daniel and SG-12 were being entertained by the inhabitants of PX3-2R7 in a lovely cell trying to make amends for some unknown offense.
As soon as he returned, Jack read the reports. He had examined Daniel's dry, brittle words and read between the lines. A man had died and Daniel blamed himself. Okay, those exact words may not have been on the paper, but they didn't have to be. This was Daniel. And he knew Daniel.
Jack had called, knowing his friend wouldn't pick up the phone but he had to try. And try he did. From the SGC and on his cell phone as he drove over to Daniel's house. Even from the local store, he had tried him twice while standing in line.
Jack closed the door behind him, holding the knob so the action was virtually soundless. The house was bathed in semi-darkness but there was enough light to see the Christmas tree was one step away from kindling. It was practically naked, the needles were scattered around the floor. The ornaments hung precariously low on bent branches.
Putting the bag in the kitchen, Jack crossed to the den. Here, unlike the rest of the house, the lights were blazing. Daniel's desk was piled high with books. Papers were stuck in pages. Daniel himself appeared to be paused in mid-thought, the pencil in his hand hovering over the legal pad to his right, his nose within a hair's breadth of the computer monitor.
Daniel didn't shrug off Jack's supportive squeeze to the nape of his neck. "No matter how hard you look, Daniel, sometimes there's no answer."
"No, you're wrong," he said, moving even closer to the monitor. "There's always an answer."
There was no use arguing. If the situation had been reversed Jack would be doing what he usually did to soften his own burden of guilt. Pot. Kettle. Black It was the reason why he and Daniel had managed to maintain their friendship for so many years. He gave another quick squeeze, taking no insult when Daniel shrugged this one off and went to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee.
* * *
Dollars to donuts it was the smell of French toast and bacon that drew Daniel away from his computer.
Jack put two plates on the table, the bottle of syrup, the cinnamon and the container of orange juice, but Daniel didn't sit until Jack put the mug of coffee by his plate. Then, he sat and ate like a starving man, not uttering a sound until he came up for air and stole the last piece of bacon off Jack's plate.
"Is there any more?"
Jack gave him the last piece of French toast, pouring an over-abundance of syrup on top, stopping only when Daniel pushed his hand away.
Jack kept his comments to himself, drowning his words in a cup of coffee. He could see the answers to his questions in the way Daniel ate and drank the juice. The shadows under his eyes and a touch of five o'clock shadow on his cheeks were clear testaments to how the younger man was feeling.
Locating an opened bottle of whiskey under the cabinet Jack refilled both coffee mugs, rewarding the two of them with a healthy dose of liquor in their coffee. Gratefully, Daniel saluted Jack with the mug and gulped down half its contents. "Thanks."
Jack nodded, put the bottle away and grabbed the empty plates. "Gonna do the dishes then. Where's the box? I think it's about time the Christmas tree—"
"I'll do it." Daniel's voice was resigned and tired.
"No. I'll do it," Jack corrected. "You go finish what you were—"
"Okay," Daniel replied hurriedly and was gone before Jack could reiterate his request for the box.
* * *
Jack carefully wrapped the ornaments in week old newspapers, placing each one on the coffee table. Rolling up the light strands from the tree and the windows, he set them on the couch. Except for a few strips of tinsel, the tree was completely bare, the remaining needles were lying dejectedly in various piles under the branches.
"I'm sorry, you asked for the box?" Daniel stood in the doorway, holding a clear, plastic square tub by the handle.
"Thanks." Jack took it, started for the table then turned when he realized Daniel was still standing there. He pointed his chin towards the den. "Find what you were looking for?"
"No. I just needed a break."
Jack held back his 'I told you so' comment.
Daniel sighed, walked over to the tree and pinged an empty branch. "I couldn't bring myself to take the decorations down."
"Then I went offworld." He lifted his glasses, scrubbed his eyes with his thumb and pointer finger.
To Jack's surprise, Daniel did something he hadn't done in a number of years. He enveloped his body in a self-hug. His glasses dropped back into place.
"Even though 'tis the season, things happen," Jack sympathetically agreed.
"It was the season." Daniel scowled at the tree in disgust. "And things happened that shouldn't have happened."
"Hey, I'm sorry." Jack threw his arm over Daniel's shoulder and shook him just a little. "Sometimes there aren't any reasons."
"I know," Daniel replied sadly.
"And as far as the tree and the decorations... consider this Christmas a trial run. You've never done this before. For your first time outta the gate, I think you did damn well, Dr. Jackson."
"Yeah," Jack said, gazing at the dead pine needles surrounding his feet. "You just need some extra help. An expert, as you will—"
"Like you?" Daniel chuckled.
"Exactly like me," Jack agreed, puffing out his chest. "Someone who can show you these holiday ropes."
Jack shivered at the visual. "Not even for you, will I put on tights."
Jack had expected to end his career as leader of SG-1 in one of two ways. To him, the preferred way would have been to go down in a blaze of glory, dying in the heat of battle, sacrificing his life for team and country. The second, least desirable way, would have been to have lived to a ripe old age, where everyone would have pitied him and fought not to be the one to have to sit next to the old man at the dinner party. He didn't want to outlive his friends and be alone in the world. Hence, the dying scenario, in his mind, was so much better in the scheme of things.
"Slow down, Daniel," he hissed in his friend's ear as he was forced to put pressure on a blown knee to keep pace with Daniel's loping gait as they hurried to the Stargate.
"Damn. Sorry," Daniel apologized profusely and slowed for a second. Jack caught his breath then grunted in exasperation when Daniel readjusted Jack's arm around his neck and stepped up the pace again.
"Can I let you in on a little secret?" Jack grunted.
"Hmmm?" Daniel was focused on the Stargate in the distance.
"Daniel!" Jack forced his body to become dead weight, which in turn forced Daniel to stop and finally pay attention.
Jack slid his arm from around Daniel's shoulder and shrugged off his friend's supportive hold. He stood as straight as one possibly could on one leg and smoothed the jacket of his BDU. "For once, there are no Goa'uld on our asses. No evil inhabitants trying to kill us. The only person to blame for what happened here," Jack threw out a warning hand to Daniel, "is me."
"Nice way of putting that I screwed up." He peered at Daniel before tentatively leaning forward to touch the bruised side of his face. "Does it hurt?"
"Only when I'm dragging a certain colonel's butt to the Stargate."
"I'm really sorry, but you shouldn't have tried to tag me out."
"You shouldn't have tried to slide into home plate."
"Maybe I shouldn't have even tried to teach the kids the fine art of playing baseball?"
"No. You'll go down in the history books for this one." Daniel grabbed Jack's arm and pulled it around his shoulders.
"What, as the asshole who gave up his career to make a base hit into a home run?"
"Shut up and follow me."
Jack maneuvered his weight, trying to adjust his limping walk to Daniel's stride. "Daniel, did anyone ever tell you, not to give up your day job?"
"So, do you think Carter's going to hit the winning run for the team?" Jack threw a glance over his shoulder. "Maybe we should just go back and see?"
* * *
Just by the way Warner stood at the foot of his infirmary bed, Jack knew the light at the end of the tunnel was a freight train. "How's Daniel?" Jack asked, hoping for a slight derailment until the engine pulled into his station.
"As per the ophthalmologist's request—"
"An eye doctor? Whoa," Jack pulled himself into a sitting position. "Daniel can't see?" Taking himself out of the running was horrific enough but the thought that he had ruined Daniel's career with his stupidity.
The word sounded too ominous for Jack to find comfort. "Can he see?"
"Colonel O'Neill, at the moment, I believe you should be more concerned with—"
"My knee?" He impatiently tapped the bars on the bed. "Fraiser read me the riot act many moons ago. Her speech had been sprinkled with words like 'time bomb', 'playing with fire', 'permanent damage', and my oh so favorite, 'asshole'."
"That pretty much covers it."
"After the surgery and some physical therapy, I think you'll be up and around."
"So this wasn't the big one?"
Warner sighed in annoyance and rolled his eyes.
"Okay, 'nuf about me," Jack said, then adjusted his position in the bed. "What about Daniel?"
"Orbital lobe x-rays. A precautionary and I *stress* the word precautionary evaluation by the ophthalmologist, and he'll have to contend with some spectacular bruising for a week or two." Warner shook his head in amazement. "All this was from a game of baseball?"
* * *
Loud snoring woke Jack. He stretched tentatively, feeling the pull of day old arthroscopic knee surgery. Slowly he shifted his position, blinking at the brightness, groggily remembering he had come into his bedroom to lie down in the hopes of escaping Daniel in mother-hen smothering mode.
Therefore, it was no surprise that Daniel must have followed Jack into the bedroom, managing to stay awake long enough to stretch out on the bed, shove a stack of pillows behind his head, power up his laptop and begin working. Grinning, Jack rolled over and peered at the laptop's screen. Obviously, Daniel had fallen asleep mid-thought with his fingers still on the keys. First lesson in mother henning, do not fall asleep while on duty.
The poor guy was exhausted. Physically he looked worse and probably felt worse than Jack. He had good drugs for the pain while Daniel had a damn impressive black eye and swollen cheekbone for his troubles. Jack whispered Daniel's name a few times. Receiving only soft grunts, he took the chance and pushed Daniel's fingers off the keyboard, hit the save button for safety's sake then powered down and closed the laptop. Daniel sighed once the weight was off his lap and to Jack's chagrin, slid down on the bed until the two of them were face to face.
Jack received a loud snore and snort in response. "Nice," he growled at his slumbering friend. "If you think we're going to grow old together you got another thing coming. Keep snoring like that, and I'll murder you before one of us retires." He poked Daniel's shoulder. "Better yet, I'll borrow a zat. Three times. And Dr. Daniel Jackson will be history."
The planet's weather was playing havoc on his knee. The intermittent ache had turned to out and out throbbing. Jack bit his bottom lip to stifle a groan as he stretched his knee under the food-laden table.
He caught Daniel's concerned gaze and forced a smile wagging his fingers to assure Daniel, who was sitting at the head table, that he was perfectly okay and not bored shitless and uncomfortable.
"I don't believe Daniel's buying your act for a minute, sir." Carter smiled at him then turned a full 100-watt grin at Daniel.
"Yes, he is, Major," Jack hissed, keeping his smile in place and speaking to her out of the side of his mouth. He handed his empty plate to his 2IC. "How about you get me some of that delicious looking cakey thing before Teal'c finishes it all." Jack waved the plate in the direction of the dessert sideboard Teal'c hadn't moved away from.
"Of course, Colonel." She took the plate from his outstretched hand. "Nice folks, aren't they?"
"Yeah, they are," Jack said, surveying the room. "Too bad the only thing they can offer us is their desserts and friendship."
"That works well enough for me."
"Me, too. It's Washington that may have a problem or two with the arrangement." As Carter left the table he tracked her before letting his gaze work the room. Carter was right, they were wonderful people, but after tonight's feast in honor of SG-1's visit they would be heading home, empty handed, probably never to return. His glance once again fell on Daniel. It was then that he saw the king's son, sitting to Daniel's right, pull a knife from his coat sleeve.
Jack scrabbled over the table calling out Daniel's name. Shit! His knee was sluggish in responding to his command to move and Jack wasn't going to be able to make it. He screamed to Teal'c and Carter but not before Daniel's face registered annoyance at the interruption mere seconds before the king's son plunged the dagger into his chest. Annoyance shifted to shock then slid into a grimace of pain as Daniel's fingers wrapped themselves around the handle of the knife. The room erupted into chaos and time slowed as Jack fought the people blocking his way. Limping. Dragging an unresponsive leg behind him.
Peripherally he heard the whine of Teal'c's staff weapon and the sound of a P-90. "Don't!" Jack yelled. He didn't want Teal'c or Carter to give the ruler's son an easy death. Jack didn't want to miss his opportunity to look into the man's eyes before he killed him.
When Jack reached him, Daniel blinked in surprise. Jack blinked back, amazed that with all the blood Daniel was still upright, but Daniel began to slip. Jack caught him just as he was going down, the weight dragged Jack and his failing knee to the ground. Daniel was dead before they hit the floor.
* * *
Jack awoke with a start. Panting, sweating in the darkness of the tent, his heart beating a painful staccato against his rib cage. There was no feast, no knife, no blood, no dead Daniel, the only thing Jack was left with was an aching knee and a decision he needed to make.
He used the edge of his T-shirt to mop up the sweat and listened to Teal'c's heavy but comforting footsteps as he performed his watch. The last watch of the night. Sun would be rising soon on this boring planet. No people. Nothing but ruins and soil samples for miles around.
Jack was well aware of the origins of the dream. These images were no garbage in, garbage out. This was your run of the mill, everyday nightmare that was trying to bring home a point. Maybe not tonight, but some time in the future Jack's knee was going to force his hand and someone was going to be the loser. The odds were not in his favor that he was going to go down in a blaze of glory. He was probably going to go down clothed in a blanket of guilt. Hammond had told Jack he would know when the time was right. And as always, George was correct. Jack was ready.
"Daniel," Jack whispered, sticking out his hand and blindly hitting the ground. Nothing. Jack leaned over, kept his balance with his right palm anchored to the ground and tipped over even more. He knew Daniel was okay, but the dream's visuals were a tad too vivid for Jack's comfort. "Daniel," he hissed through gritted teeth, slapping the hard packed earth until he made contact with his sleeping bag. "Wake up," he ordered, smacking Daniel up the length of his body, groping at his face.
Daniel moaned. Sputtered. Then cursed softly but distinctly.
"Are you awake?" Jack murmured.
"I am now."
He gave Daniel a moment before the inevitable.
"Are you okay, Jack?"
"Yeah. I was just thinking..."
Bless Daniel for not even skipping a beat or berating Jack for the time of night he chose to think. He could hear Daniel shifting in the darkness. It was a familiar sound of a body settling on the hard ground and the material of the sleeping bag. Jack grasped the sleeping bag and with a burst of strength, hauled Daniel closer to him.
"Oh, um… hi, Jack."
Jack crossed his hands behind his head, laid back down and settled in, keeping his gaze trained on the tent's ceiling. "Next month's Carter's birthday. Any gift ideas?" He could feel Daniel's eyes on him, assessing him.
"Yeah. I hate waiting until the last moment."
"If I remember correctly, you waited until the final second for Sam's last birthday."
"And I don't want that to happen again."
Daniel yawned. "No, of course not," he murmured, his words slow and lethargic.
"Do you think Carter would like to be promoted to Colonel for her birthday?"
"It's time, Daniel."
"For Sam to get a promotion?"
"Damn you!" Jack forced his voice to remain hushed. "You're going to make me say it, aren't you?"
"Yes," Daniel said softly.
"Hammond's been offered a position in Washington. I've been offered his position. He won't make the move unless I'm willing to sit in his chair."
"It's not the chair I'm complaining about, it's the three people who are going through the 'gate while my ass is in said chair."
"It's us, Jack. We've been doing this for a long time."
"Shit happens, Daniel."
"Yeah, it does."
"You could die…"
"Oh, that's comforting." Jack made a sound somewhere between a snort and a groan. "Teal'c—"
"Close enough to death that Janet panicked. Janet never panicked."
"Carter?" Jack waved his hand through the air. "Never mind. Killed her myself."
"And your point was... what? That we could die without you? Not to make you feel badly, Jack, but we already have."
"Jeeze. You always know how to make a guy feel better."
"I'm glad you're going to be sitting in that office." Daniel yawned again, then quickly apologized. "Nice to know that you're not going down in a blaze of glory. I don't think I could handle you—" Daniel paused, stuttering, he sat up, smiling at Jack in the morning light of the tent. "It's comforting to know you'll be keeping the candle in the window for us." Daniel leaned over and gently patted Jack's knee. "Hell, who the hell else am I going to grow old with? Teal'c?"
"He's already old," Jack quipped.
"No problem, as long as you do the cooking."
"Nah. Think I'll go with my first choice."
"Me, huh?" Jack was oddly at ease with the idea of spending his old age with Daniel.
Maybe that was it, Jack realized as he heard Carter's grateful voice as she thanked Teal'c for having a fresh pot of coffee brewing. Friends were people who worried more about you than you worried about yourself. People who planned for your future and worried about your welfare.
|Genres:||Friendship, Missing Scene/Episode-Related|
|Summary:||525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In 525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year in the life? ~~Seasons of Love, from the movie Rent
Takes place during Season 7 and beyond
Author's Chapter Notes:
This fic was originally written for Foundations 7 and has just recently timed out. 525,600 Minutes was a true labor of love and what I'd like to think happened behind the scenes. Thanks to Yum@ who trusted my words enough to invite me to write for Foundations, to the sisters of my heart and to jo, who is patient and understanding even after all these years. For her endless supply of red pens, her friendship and her ability to speak my language.