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Colonel Jack O'Neill, two l's, glanced at his watch for the fifth time in less than three minutes.  He'd heard the key in the lock, then a thud as something heavy hit the door. 

As he’d had lots of practice identifying the sound of Daniel Jackson's head hitting various immovable objects, Jack was relatively certain he could identify what body part had hit the door.  He was also relatively sure the thud, if not necessarily voluntary, at least hadn't been involuntary.  Which really only meant he didn't think Daniel had passed out in the hall in front of the apartment. 

But if Dr. Jackson didn't get his ass inside in the next thirty seconds, Colonel O'Neill was going into S&R mode.

He lifted his arm to look at his watch, ticking off seconds as he rose.  Okay, twenty-five was good enough. 

Two steps into his search and rescue mission, the door opened.  Jack stopped, uncharacteristically indecisive as to his course of action.   

Keys landed on the table with a discordant jangle.  A moment later, the kitchen faucet came on, followed by a peculiar, unidentifiable thud.  Almost immediately though, Daniel reappeared, tucked up inside one of those impressive self-hugs he’d perfected long before SG-1 had become part of his life. 

Apparently without conscious volition his feet marched him to the bedroom. 

It was a funny thing about Daniel, he could ignore you with the best of them when he was pissed, or hurt, or just being stubborn.  But it was occasionally hard to tell if he was ignoring you, or off in some esoteric meaning-of-life-stuff daze – or just dazed.

This was one of those times. 

When Frasier had informed him the newly-returned-to-civilian-life archeologist hadn’t stopped by for the usual snake-check after being off-world, Jack had gone hunting.  Finding no trace of his quarry on base, he’d enlisted Carter and Teal’c to check his own house, and any other known Daniel haunts, while he’d waited here.    

The whistle of the tea kettle refocused his scattered thoughts.  His search and rescue spidey sense still tingling, O’Neill headed for the kitchen.  At least the shrieking kettle explained the unidentifiable thud, and had the added benefit of giving him justifiable cause to follow through.

Cupboard doors snicked and banged as he rummaged for tea bags; herbal, no caffeine. 

Invariably, Frasier invoked the no-caffeine rule after a ribbon incident; not that she could enforce it now that Daniel had ostensibly quit the SGC.

In the silence of the apartment, even the teaspoon clinking in the mug sounded loud to Jack's ears, clanging like the Gate klaxon for off-world activation. 

The tea bag slipped off the spoon just as he managed the twist of his wrist that should have flipped the tail around the arc.  When the slippery bag plopped back into the liquid for the third time, he reached in and nipped the thing out with his fingers, opening the cupboard under the sink to drop it in the trash.

He stifled a sneeze against his shoulder as the minty smell tickled his nose, and another, as he sorted amongst the canisters on the back of the counter.  Finding sugar, he liberally laced the tea with sweetener. 

Since he'd made enough racket to wake the dead, Jack figured if he still surprised the archeologist, it was time for more drastic measures, like hauling his ass back to the infirmary whether he still worked in the Mountain or not. 

"Hey, tea's ready,” he announced, perching gingerly on the edge of the mattress.

No response, not even an acknowledgment of his presence, from the motionless form sprawled facedown across the bed.

"Daniel?"

"Do I need to spell it out?  I - want - to - be - left - alone."  Even lacking Daniel's usual animation, the evenly spaced, oddly uninflected words packed a punch.

"I hear ya, Garbo.  Unfortunately, you’re stuck with me tonight."  Jack took a sip of the tea, grimacing at the sweetness.  "Ugh.  You like this stuff?"

"Go away."

"Sorry," the Colonel replied gently, "not happening.  Come on, sit up and drink this before it gets cold." 

He watched the broad shoulders twitch as Daniel considered how best to get rid of him. 

"You can ignore me all night long.  I'm not going away."

The archeologist was processing perceptibly slower than normal; stress and fatigue had finally taken their toll.

"Sorry," Daniel muttered, banging knees as he turned over, obviously against his will.   "I don't want tea."

"You put the kettle on.  I'm happy to make coffee.  Got any decaf?"

"I don't want coffee."

"Okay.  I can see why you don't want this.  Why do you keep it in the house anyway?"

"Because it's good for you?" Daniel responded, rolling his eyes.  "Go away, Jack," he repeated, evidently hoping repetition would work where emotionless dismissal did not.  Shifting his shoulder, he turned back over and buried his face in an elbow.

"I'm willing to go as far as the living room."

"Go to your own living room,” the muffled voice sighed.

"Sure you don't want this?"  Jack asked, sloshing tea over the sides of the mug as he realized the kid was still wearing his shoes, and his jeans were soaked from the knees down.

Actually, frozen, was a better qualifier.
 
"For cryin' out loud, Daniel, have you been outside all this time?  Please tell me you weren't wandering around without a coat." 

"I just wanted to feel on the outside like I feel on the inside." 

More tea splashed over the sides as the bottom of the mug smacked the top of the nightstand.

Jack remembered only too well what it was like to be that cold; there was nothing anyone could say to thaw that kind of glacier chill. 

He had a moment’s déjà vu as he slid off the bed and knelt to strip off saturated shoes and socks.
 
It had been three years, nearly to the day, since he’d come home to find Daniel standing on his back deck, barefoot, in the middle of a snowstorm. 

That particular day was stamped in his mind with indelible India ink.

Jack supposed this one would be too. 

It had been a beautiful send off for Sha're.  Daniel had been in the middle of all of the mourning and much of the laughter; able to share his grief with his Abydonian family in a way he seemed unable to with his SGC family.

Though one of them had shadowed him constantly, they'd deliberately stayed in the background until Jack had seen Daniel was literally trembling with fatigue. 

He'd slung an arm around the drooping shoulders, steered the linguist to Kasuf, and made their apologies, reminding the patriarch that his goodson was only a couple of days out of the infirmary. 

Sighing, Jack flicked the comforter over bare feet, levered himself up off the floor, and went in search of something to wick the soaked jeans.  He had an idea he wouldn’t get very far trying to convince his friend to get up and change.

Juggling the half-empty mug, he pulled down the heirloom quilts Daniel kept in the top of the closet, away from detrimental light, and headed back to the kitchen.  The mug and its contents were dumped unceremoniously in the sink as he passed on his way to shove the quilts into the dryer.  With any luck, these babies would be back in their proper place long before the archeologist was in any shape to realize his artifacts were in play. 

As he was hunting for towels, he ran across one of those neck warmer thingies Carter had been passing out like candy a few months back, and threw it in the microwave.  He also retrieved the bottle of scotch squirreled way at the back of the cupboard over the stove.  Rinsing the mug, he replaced the tea with a much more effective source of interior warmth.

If he couldn’t coax Daniel to get into bed, he could at least make sure he was warm and covered.  On this he would not be dissuaded. 

Jack routed out a tumbler and poured himself a measure of memory loss as he waited for the quilts to warm up – though tonight, to find equanimity, he’d likely have to crawl into the bottle. 

Memories he’d managed to hold at bay all week were squirming around in his head like baby Goa’uld.  Jack eyed the tumbler sourly, wondering if he’d gotten the tequila by mistake, because the scotch appeared wormy. 

Teal’c carrying Sha’re’s lifeless body across the Abydonian sand.

The dead silence of the Gateroom as they’d at last ushered home Daniel and his wife.    

An upstairs room and another image, burned, like the negative frame of a crime scene photo, into his mind’s eye.

He shook his head, downed the whiskey, exchanged his tumbler for the mug, and went to retrieve the quilts from the dryer.

“Me again, but I promise to leave you alone if you’ll sit up and drink this.”

“No.”

“Yes.  Sit up and drink, or I’ll be forced to haul you up by your shirt collar and pour it down your throat.”

He thought for a moment the archeologist was going to make him follow through on his threat, and then Daniel rolled to his side, levered an elbow under himself and took the mug in both hands.

He coughed and sputtered at the first healthy swig, clearly expecting something else, before closing his eyes and swallowing the rest in one mouthful. 

Jack snatched the mug out of mid-air as Daniel just let go and slumped back down on his side. 

He drew his knees up and tucked his hands between them.  “Go away.”

“Almost gone,” Jack countered, ignoring the exasperated sigh as he inserted the neck warmer thingy inside the layered quilts he tucked around the bare feet.

He drew the covers up over the stiff shoulder, briefly laid a hand on Daniel’s head, and slipped quietly out of the room. 

Jack sank down on the sofa, slung a knee over the arm, and flopped backwards. 

Abydonian days were several hours longer than Earth days and they'd left early to make sure Daniel had a chance to say his last goodbyes and to work out the final details of the ceremony with Kasuf.  Then stayed for the village wake, which had involved vast quantities of food and drink and as much laughter as mourning.  

Rather than fight it, he slung an arm over his eyes and let the endlessly looping videotape in his head, rewind to start. 

The re-winder zzzzzzed and he mentally pressed the play button, if only to stop the buzzing.

When Dr. Langford had approached him, nearly five years ago - back when the Stargate program had been in its infancy; back when they’d had no idea what that big round, ring of stone was capable of - for permission to begin the background check on a civilian linguist/archeologist, he’d guardedly agreed.

You didn't get into a top-secret facility in the United States just by invitation. 

And Dr. Jackson’s expedited dossier had been chock full of reasons to keep him out of the Mountain.

A bonefide nutcase; one who believed the Egyptian pyramids were landing sites for alien spaces ships. 

Even before he'd met the long-haired, sneezing geek, Jack had done his best to sabotage Catherine's attempts to bring the archeologist on board, following along behind in her wake snipping every thread she wove with her Washington connections. 

Despite his best efforts, Dr. Langford had prevailed. 

One look at the ratty suitcases and the wrinkled, slightly damp garments had confirmed his worst nightmare.  A bonefide nutcase. 

And then Dr. Jackson had opened the Stargate; if you believed his version of the story, by stumbling onto the secret in an S.F.’s newspaper. 

Against his will, O’Neill had been impressed. 

And the Colonel had made his second mistake a propos Daniel Jackson.  He'd misinterpreted the younger man's eagerness to go through the Gate as a desire to escape nearly equal to his own. 

However, with the perfect clarity of 20/20 hindsight, it was obvious Daniel’s visionary instincts had been leading him unerringly towards his fate.

Dr. Jackson, holder of three PhD’s, and not a shred of common sense, had stepped through the Gate and into happily-ever-after. 

Though he’d had to rein in O’Neill’s suicidal tendencies, win over a unit of Air Force trained and hardened military types, and light the fire that ignited a long-suppressed rebellion against a false god - in order to claim it.

Fast forward the video through a year of troubled interpersonal relationships for one surly Colonel who’d unexpectedly found himself back on the Earth side of the Gate in one piece, and the Air Force was again knocking at his retirement abode with an invitation he couldn’t refuse. 

Colonel O’Neill had found himself back at the recently unburied Abydos Gate, amused, and a little surprised, to find the good doctor wildly happy and still living like a native among the Abydonians. 

And with a new find that topped the opening of the Stargate; that big round ring of – whatever it was – could send you all over the galaxy.

However, fate, as usual, had appointed Daniel only a sample of happily-ever-after. 

A year of bliss, followed by three long years of constant vigil, endless searching, and false leads, only to finally bring his wife home – dead.

‘If anyone can get her back, Jack can,’ Carter’s voice, reading from one of Daniel’s personal mission journals, repeated monotonously as the voiceover to the video.

Unconditional, unreserved, absolute faith; ‘If anyone can get her back, Jack can.’

End of tape. 

Automatic rewind.

If he’d had any soul left, Jack thought, pushing back the spectre of sleep gliding around the edges of his vision, this mission would have swallowed the remainder of it whole.   

He had gotten Sha're back all right; Sha're with a gaping hole in her midriff; a dead Sha're, but he’d brought her home.

They’d managed to bring Daniel home too, but there was no guarantee they could keep him this time.  If anything was going to push the archeologist over the edge, this would be it. 

zzzzzzzzzzz . . . Hit the play button.  When Dr. Langford had approached him . . .

He lost track of the number of times he was treated to his own private internal screening before he finally drifted off to sleep.

According to his watch it was after midnight when he woke again.  Jack eased his tortured knee off the arm of the sofa and sat up slowly. 

"Can't sleep?" 

He turned and leaned back, massaging the painful joint as he surveyed the shadowy presence standing in front of the sliding glass doors, arms wrapped tightly over his chest.

"Then go home."

"You can't sleep?" Jack repeated patiently.

"And why, exactly, would I want to sleep?" 

At least there was some inflection back in the voice, even if it was sharp-edged sarcasm. 

Jack captured the sigh that nearly escaped.  He understood what it was like to be so desperately alone; separated by that invisible wall so clearly delineating me from them

Daniel didn't need anyone else’s angst to deal with.  And he didn’t need words; especially not the lecture on sleep deprivation stalking Jack’s tongue so he nearly had to bite it to keep the words inside his mouth.

He rose, careful to test his knee before putting weight on it, and limped over to stand beside the archeologist.

The glow of the street lamps illuminated the snow-lit clouds in the hovering sky.  From the looks of it, they were in for more of the white stuff before morning.

Jack, unlike desert-born and bred Daniel, had grown up in Minnesota, and liked the snow.  

The way it created unexpected Stargates for the fanciful eye in a circle of glistening, snow-heavy branches; the squeak and crunch of it underfoot during a fast and furious snowball fight where Teal'c usually won because of his reach and aim, Daniel joined in if only as a means of self-defense, and Carter always ended up making snow angels.

He liked to stand on his back deck and listen to the hushed sound of snow falling on snow. 

Tonight, though, Jack saw only the fingers of frost spreading lethally inside his friend. 

He spread his fingers on the cold glass door, thinking again of Daniel tramping through the snow totally exposed to the elements, wanting to be as cold on the outside as he was on the inside. 

"Daniel," he began softly, "about Sha're's son . . ." 

He felt Daniel stiffen beside him.
 
"I'll get over it . . . eventually . . . like I always do . . .just not tonight," the archeologist responded dully, slumping forward to rest his forehead against the glass.  “Please, Jack,” he implored, “just a few hours.  Come back in the morning.”

“I’m not leaving you alone."  Jack wrapped a hand around the back of Daniel's neck, the one he’d just had on the window, and was surprised to find there was very little difference between Daniel's body temperature and his fingers.

*           *           *
For a second, maybe two, Daniel leaned into the chilled hand, then impatiently jerked away. 

"I don't want, or need, a babysitter," he snapped, grinding his heel into the carpet as he executed a precision about-face. 

When the hand dropped to his shoulder, he shrugged it off, stepped automatically over a pile of books in his way, and headed for the bedroom.

His knees buckled and he sat abruptly on the side of the bed.  Exhaustion, like a black tide, swept away his will.  He slumped sideways, pulling his heavy, bare feet up one at a time, and buried his face in a pillow. 

He had managed, in the infirmary, through the initial surge of grief, to keep it to a single tear here and there, a few more when he'd finally been left alone, though those moments had been rare. 

He'd even held it together through the ceremony, speaking the ancient words for Sha're with dignity and pride as he sent his one true love off where he could not consciously choose to follow her. 

When he'd finally escaped to the privacy of his apartment, he'd been so cold inside the tears had frozen into diamond-edged shards of pain.  Instead of the release he'd expected to find in solitude, he'd found the sharp points relentlessly poking at the back of his eyeballs, unexpectedly spiking little shooting pains through his head as the ice inexorably expanded down his throat, into his chest and abdomen, past his knees, and clear down to his toes. 

He knew, intellectually at least, the sharp little shooting pains in his head were probably left over gifts from the ribbon device.  But as his blood thickened to slush, his heart was slowing incrementally too.  He could feel himself sliding into a welcome lethargy. 

Daniel jerked and rolled out from under Jack's hand as the mattress accommodatingly inclined to the weight of the Colonel settling on the side of the bed.   

He forced his eyes open to look up at his x-teammate. 

Jack looked as though he hadn't slept in days; the still face was ravaged with grief.    And the understanding in those usually fathomless brown eyes nearly broke his resolve immediately. 

Jack, and Sam, even Teal'c, would gladly shoulder as much of his grief as he would share, so the frighteningly heavy burden did not consume him. 

Right now, though, he wanted to be consumed.  Wanted to be burned up in the fire of anger and loss until there was nothing left but ice-cold ashes.

He wanted, needed, to be alone; was desperate to be just Daniel for the sake of Daniel and no one else. 

He'd spent the day being a grieving husband, a dutiful son-in-law, a linguist and an anthropologist, blending in like the chameleon he was. 

Tonight -- he needed time and space to just be Daniel. 

Worn down by his long search; frustrated and angry at fate for again snatching away something he held infinitely dear; a little frightened by the future yawning cavernously in front of him with no real touchstone to ground him anymore, he wanted more than anything to retreat into that space he kept hollowed out inside himself. 

A space reserved for times like this when dreams he'd learned long ago were best left unacknowledged, shattered against the immovable, unyielding force of fate. 

The glacier in his soul had even reached tentative fingers into that sacrosanct space; testing, probing, pushing forward against the resistance until his tattered and torn spirit finally yielded the hard fought ground.

There was no place left to retreat.

Warm fingers ghosted over his still cold cheek, slipped confidently into place around the back of his neck, and began to knead muscles tense with opposition and exhaustion. 

The will to resist had already begun to shrink in the face of Jack's steady, insistent pressure against the barricade Daniel was striving desperately to shore up. 

In a last ditch effort to rebuff the unwanted comfort, he turned on his side, wrapping his own arms around himself again. 

"Go home, Jack," he murmured wearily.  "At least one of us should get a decent night's sleep." 

He heard the thud of boots being levered off; felt the mattress give even more; and a warm body wrapped around him from knees to shoulders, absorbing the iciness - sucking the cold out of him like a vacuum. 

Deep inside his chest, the glacier began to thaw.

Without a word Jack had gifted him with a compassion born of the older man’s own sorrow and grief.

If he’d known what he needed, he could not have asked; if it had been offered, he would have said no.

But, Jack, as he often did, hadn’t bothered to ask.   

Daniel conceded the battle and let his tears baptize the shoulder pillowing his cheek.  

The thought took root, as Jack's warmth nurtured the nearly dormant seed of physical cognition, that he hadn't slept since Sha're had been taken at the Abydos Gate.

Slumber came gently now, stealing away the last token resistance as it smoothed out the small crease between his brows. 

He fell asleep in Jack's arms, a little surprised, and distinctly wary at how natural it felt to just let go and let Jack guard his sanity while he slept. 

It had been such a very long time . . .

~*~

 

 

 

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