I'll Stand by You - by iiiionly
A/N: Jimmy Hoffa – for our non-US residents - was a well known labor leader in the 70’s who was believed to have had ties with crime syndicates such as the Mafia. He disappeared, presumed dead, in 1975, but his body was never found.
Warnings: This story deals with child abuse. Though it is neither graphic nor explicit it could cause emotional distress.
“Daniel?” Jack’s voice was thick with sleep. “What’s wrong?”
“Go back to sleep,” Dr. Jackson sighed. He turned over again, this time on his side, and shoved the feather pillow into something resembling a pyramid, flattening the triangle with an elbow.
“Haven’t made it to sleep yet,” Jack mumbled.
The side of the pillow now made a nice slanted surface as the archeologist lowered his cheek to the mattress.
“Then go to sleep,” Daniel mumbled back, hoping to ward off a game of twenty questions. The pillow was finally in a shape he could live with, but the darkness was congealing around him like a sticky cocoon, closing in as though the web master was reaching the end of the job.
A unexpected jerk on his wrist as he abruptly rolled out of bed nearly dislocated his shoulder. Yelping, Dr. Jackson yanked his hand free, rebounding off the mattress as the light came on dispersing the sticky, claustrophobic darkness instantly.
“What the hell is the matter with you?” Jack, leaning forward on an elbow, stared at him owlishly.
“Nothing.” Daniel winced, massaging his shoulder. “I was just getting up to go to the bathroom.”
“You went to the bathroom five minutes ago.”
“You’re keeping track?” Dr. Jackson huffed, not waiting for a response. He crossed the room quickly and shut the bathroom door, flipping on all the lights as he made for the toilet and closed the seat. Sinking down, he slumped forward to prop his elbows on his knees and slid his fingers into his hair, massaging ineffectually at the sleep deprivation headache hammering at the back of his skull.
He was beginning to come to the realization he couldn’t do this.
Atlantis had been a time out of time. Their tower abode, Jack’s flying his resignation through the Gate on a paper airplane, time to find their rhythm as partners without censorious eyes detracting from the pleasure of the process - it had all been bit surreal, especially looking back now.
Earth side reality was a lot different. He’d assumed if there were going to be ghosts, their presence would have been immediate, particularly as the ghosts he was most concerned about were born of his own insecurities. Either they’d been unable to follow him through the Gate, or something in the rarified air of the Pegasus galaxy had boosted his immunity to lingering self-doubts.
They had, however, made up for lost haunting time in the three weeks since arriving home.
Daniel stretched an arm along the counter and laid his head down. Most nights he managed to feign sleep long enough to lull Jack’s spidey sense; tonight the cold fingers had begun stalking his spine the moment the light had been extinguished.
An ancient fear of the dark that had resurfaced with a vengeance on his descension appeared to have reared its ugly head again, along with the return of the Living Nightmare. Combined, they were an indefatigable foe.
Turn out the light and that old feeling of claustrophobia was crawling up his ankles like fog on Halloween night. Let sleep catch him in the dark and he was ring transported into the middle of a seething mass of intertwining, overlapping, mixed together traumas aided and abetted by the timeless fluidity of the netherworld to shift through ages and planets and tragedies between a toss and a turn.
But there was an added dimension this time, a lurking presence that literally crawled into bed with him as soon as the light went out.
Perhaps because this was the one part of his psyche he could not bare to have touched, he was resisting mightily even trying to follow the twisted thread down to its roots. He knew instinctively he did not want to reencounter whatever lay at the end of the journey.
To make matters worse, Jack was exhibiting a patience Daniel would never previously have given the man credit for - there had been no counter moves, no cornering, no entrapment, not even confrontation when he’d backed away from physical intimacy the first week they’d been home. Jack had always had an uncanny knack for reading his team, in particular, the team linguist, but over the course of their stay in Atlantis that uncanny knack had somehow married up with uncanny perception. It was as if he’d inhabited Daniel’s shoes during those six months.
Intimacy, Dr. Jackson supposed, could do that for you; if you were perceptive enough. And he’d never had reason to accuse Jack of being dull-witted.
Jack knew more about him than anyone living or dead, but there were still secrets festering in the nadir of his past, secrets he’d buried and erased as successfully as someone had disposed of Jimmy Hoffa’s body.
Back on Earth, with the ghosts rising like steam from city grates on
a wintry day, it seemed worse than futile to try and fight for something
ordained from the start to burn itself out. For all his book learning
and people skills, Daniel had found himself repeating Relationships 101
A quiet knock, not exactly asking permission, more like announcing I’m coming in preceded the door opening.
“I sleep better with the light on.”
“Why are you up?”
“Hmmm –” Jack scrubbed both hands through his short, silvering hair. “Cause you’re up? Come on, Daniel, I was never as dense as you liked to think.”
“Don’t kid yourself, you might have fooled me once with that ridiculous act, but I never underestimate an enemy twice.”
In his mind he could see Jack standing in the door, more than likely slumped against the frame, though the shoulders had squared with the last query. He could hear the man’s posture in his tone of voice. “Any unknown quantity is the enemy until proven otherwise,” the archeologist quoted verbatim. “You were certainly an unknown quantity on that first trip out, though I admit I didn’t know then, that made you the enemy.” Daniel opened his eyes.
Jack relaxed fractionally; his eyelids drooped and he yawned again, turning his chin into his shoulder to cover it. The brown eyes remained vigilant. “And now?”
“Go back to bed. These are my demons; you can’t slay them for me.”
“Hey, I don’t mind giving them whack.”
He could cope with surly Jack, commanding Jack, even arguing Jack; in fact, he could cope with just about any Jack that wasn’t being supportive. He didn’t have a handle on supportive Jack and the man showed up at the oddest times. Like now – at 12:30 p.m. - in the bathroom, for crying out loud.
Daniel sighed again.
“What happened?” Jack shoved off the door frame and wandered over to slide down the tile wall in front of the archeologist. He pulled his cranky knees up to his chest and propped his elbows on them.
“Happened?” Daniel echoed. He hated it, but he always folded in the face of the truly supportive. There had been so little of it in his life prior to SG-1, it had taken him a long time to recognize it. Maybe he’d be more successful if he kept reminding himself support in the moment could never change the past.
“Are you getting grief at work?” Jack had noticed the tension start to build right around the time Daniel had realized their time on Atlantis was rapidly drawing to a close. Even though the withdrawal hadn’t been unexpected – he was after all a strategist – it had hit much harder than he’d anticipated. Which spoke directly to the fact that he’d found more in this relationship than he’d ever expected or imagined.
“Grief at work?” Daniel parroted. “No more than usual.” There was always someone who thought he didn’t belong and wanted to remind him of his place in the natural order of things. That too was a lifelong pattern.
Daniel had tossed his own paper airplane through the Gate, with a request to be replaced on SG-1, and found Mitchell and Vala, as well as General Landry, waiting for him in the Gateroom, even though it had been the middle of the night by the time they’d exchanged farewells with the Daedalus crew, corralled their immediate stuff, and gated home.
He had not, Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell had informed Dr. Jackson, worked his tail off getting the band back together for nothing. Laundry, when appealed to, had merely shrugged and informed the good doctor that Colonel Mitchell had been most persuasive in his arguments against allowing Dr. Jackson to be reassigned, starting with the fact that Jackson, having opened the Stargate, would never fit in on another team. He was an icon, a byword, a symbol of . . .
With Jack smirking an I-told-you-so over his shoulder, Daniel had capitulated with more alacrity than politesse.
Vala had tagged along to the surface, carrying Daniel’s backpack as an excuse to accompany them, nattering on in her normal barely-less-than-intergalactic-speed-of-light fashion. In the space of a few hallways, two elevators, and the car waiting to take them home, she’d managed to cover shopping trips with Sam, the highlights of Mitchell’s highly amusing version of a weekend with General Landry, Chaka’s unexpected contact of the SGC – to which Daniel, who’d pretty much been zoning, had swung around and demanded to know why they hadn’t contacted him – Teal’c’s latest internet craze, and oh by the way, had she mentioned she’d missed Daniel to death, inserted without taking a breath in the middle of every scenario.
She’d foiled Dr. Jackson’s attempt to get into the car by handing off his backpack to the General and throwing her arms around him as she’d declared, yet again, how glad she’d been to have him back, that SG-1 hadn’t been the same without him, they’d needed their conscience, their voice, their talisman – okay, her talisman - she’d been afraid for her life every moment without him on her six and she’d been SO glad he was finally back.
Daniel had been touched, despite wondering what angle she was running, and extracted himself more kindly than he might have under the circumstances.
Jack’s insistent voice hooked him back into reality and present space and time.
“Earth to Dr. Jackson. It’s usually helpful, at least in most conversations, to have two parties involved.” Jack rocked forward onto his toes. “Though there are exceptions to every rule.” He laid his hands on Daniel’s knees. “Come back to bed. We can leave the light on. Maybe if you get some sleep, this will look different in the morning.” Unlikely, but if he could shoehorn his way into the linguist’s cogitations he might be able to follow the convoluted course Daniel had taken on the way to this particular decision, and Jack was relatively certain a decision had already been made, consciously or not.
He’d been kicking himself from the moment an unreachable Daniel had walked in the front door several hours ago. He should have known better than to let the archeologist stew in his own juices for this length of time; he’d definitely waited too long.
It revolved around intimacy, sex to put it baldly, and neither of them was ready to tackle that subject in conversation. They’d figured out the no frills, standard fare relatively quickly and had quite a lot of fun experimenting with some of the ideas in the literature – if you could call it that – Daniel had found in the extensive and unique Atlantis library - without the help of any of the holographic librarians.
The Ancients, apparently still in their corporeal bodies, had known a thing or three about pleasure.
“Come on,” he repeated. “Come back to bed.”
“Can’t? Or won’t?”
“It amounts to the same thing,” Daniel responded wearily.
“I beg to differ. Won’t pretty much means – won’t. Can’t, on the other hand, has a whole plethora of unexplored connotations.”
“Two big words in the same sentence.” Dr. Jackson straightened, which, he realized a moment too late, was poor strategy. It meant he had little choice but to look down into those usually fathomless eyes; what he saw made his heart clench. “Showing off won’t change the options.” He still had a right to make a choice; even it was a bad one. Daniel raised a hand to his aching head. “I can’t sleep here.”
“Will you answer one question?”
“Please, Jack –“
“Just one question.”
“If I can give you an answer, I’ll be as honest as I can.” For a moment Daniel thought he wasn’t going to ask. It was another moment before he realized Jack was bracing himself for the response.
“Is it me?”
“No.” Daniel closed his eyes rather than face the pain in the gaze slanted up at him. He felt the silver head bow for just a moment against his knees, then the fingers that had leaned so quickly how to pleasure them both were sliding along his jaw, feather light, but insistent.
Swallowing painfully, the archeologist shook his head. “It’s not you,” he whispered hoarsely, forcing the words through silken-thread clogged air passages. The darkness might be gone, but the cold fingers of his nightmare were still crawling caterpillar-like up and down his spine. And no amount of intellectual hocus pocus had managed to keep those fingers from attaching themselves to Jack’s hands in his mind. It was ridiculous, stupid, totally without cause - and impossible to control.
He tried desperately, for weeks now, to eviscerate the ghost without channeling it. He was certain the end of that rattling chain led only to additional heartache and he had more of that than he could handle kneeling in front of him.
The fingers brushed through his hair, stilling as they came to rest lightly cupping his cheek and his skin crawled with the contact.
“Then we’ll figure it out. Just don’t shut me out. Please?” Jack tapped his index finger against the sculpted cheekbone.
Daniel opened his eyes, fighting the nearly uncontrollable urge to flinch back from the insistent touch. “I’ll try. But don’t count on it working.”
“That’s good enough for me. Come on, if we’re not going back to bed here, are we sleeping at your place tonight?” Jack levered himself up, borrowing the archeologist’s younger knees to compensate for his own.
“Jack –“ he tried again.
“Daniel.” Jack folded his arms over his chest. “I can give you space.” He paused briefly, looking down now, brown eyes tracking blue with the intensity of a honing missile. “But I can’t give you up. And I won’t give up on you.”
He wanted to whimper. Unfortunately, not only was it undignified, it was neither productive, nor appropriate. Especially in the face of Jack’s enormous sacrifice - introducing feelings into this sordid ménage et tois he wasn’t even aware of.
“This would be much easier if you would,” Daniel mumbled instead.
“What? And break our world record? Nothing’s ever easy with you.” Jack executed a left face and strolled out of the bathroom, adding over his shoulder, “I was fully aware of what I was getting myself into when I walked onto that ship. Now, where are we spending the rest of the night?”
He was an adult – capable of making his own choices – an adult, Daniel reminded himself – capable of asserting his will. “I’m going home.” He swallowed around the tiny feet now tickling the back of his throat. “Alone.”
Jack paused in the act of opening the dresser drawer containing sweats. He’d pushed hard, perhaps too hard; it was always a fine line with the linguist.
Daniel came to the door of the bathroom, wrapped up in one of his most impressive self-hugs and Jack straightened. They stared at each other for several seconds before Jack took a step forward, then two, then covered the distance between them.
Resisting the hand curled around the back of his neck would have been futile, Daniel was compelled forward into Jack’s personal space, but he went willingly, the infamous Space Monkey hug blazing like a falling star across his consciousness.
“I said I’d give you space. I meant the space of the bed between us,” Jack whispered, enfolding his partner in a loose embrace. “Clearly you need something different right now.” God, this kid made him crazy. He resisted an impulse to kiss the ear near his lips. “There’s no law says I have to like it, but I’ll do . . .” He had to clear his throat before he could continue. “Whatever it is you need me to do. I need you to understand I have no intention of sitting back and letting this run its course. I’m gonna be in your face every day until we’ve resolved this.”
“So, no easy road,” Daniel murmured on another sigh, keeping his arms firmly crossed over his chest.
It was the perfect note to revert to Colonel mode. “Right,” Jack scoffed, stepping back. He plucked a pair of sweats and a t-shirt out of the open drawer, slammed it shut, and threw the bundled clothes at the archeologist. “Like you ever do anything the easy way. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Daniel stood holding the clothes; clothes that smelled like Jack. The man had probably done it on purpose, but he was grateful anyway. If he couldn’t sleep with him, he’d still have Jack wrapped around him in his own solitary bed.
“Oh, by the way?” Jack was already horizontal, pulling up the sheet and blanket; they kept it cool in the bedroom on purpose. “The package on your desk is from me.” He clicked the light off, turned on his side and balled the pillow under his head.
“A package? On my desk?” Daniel shook his head. He was really sounding like worn out recording tonight.
“You’ll know when you see it. Goodnight, Daniel.”
Maybe he wouldn’t go home after all. Curiosity had always been his besetting sin. Besides, he had no idea if sleeping alone would keep the nervy little nightmare at bay.
Daniel yanked Jack’s t-shirt over his head, found his BDU’s in the dark, collected his boots and tiptoed out of their bedroom.
The night was cool enough to whisk away the latent tendrils of sleep still hiding in his befogged brain as he closed and locked the front door. He slid his mind into neutral as he backed the car out of the driveway, flicking on the radio and rolling down the windows in an attempt to distract the thoughts wriggling up through his self-imposed shroud of gloom.
He went through the checkpoints on automatic, wondering what Jack could possibly have left for him at work.
“Dr. Jackson,” the shuttle driver greeted him with a raised eyebrow. “Kinda late for you to be coming back, isn’t it?”
Daniel smiled slightly. A year ago, no one would have thought it strange for him to turn up at 1:30 in the morning. “The Mountain never sleeps, Herb.”
“’Course not,” Herb winked. “And neither do you. How was your trip, Dr. Jackson?”
“Trip?” He was still in neutral.
“Abroad? Haven’t been in much at night since you got back. Haven’t had a chance to ask you if you enjoyed it.”
“Oh. Yeah. It was great.”
“Met somebody, did ya? Keeping you home at night finally.”
“General O’Neill,” Daniel drawled, not sure if he was doing it for shock value or because he was still edgy and bad tempered.
Herb glanced up to shoot him a grin in the rear-view mirror attached to the lowered visor. “Bout time the two of you figured that out. Good for you.”
Daniel’s jaw dropped. He shut it quickly and stared at the reflection still grinning at him. “Uhm . . . thanks – I guess.”
The shuttle driver chuckled affectionately. “Don’t ask, don’t tell, that’s my motto, sir. Secret’s safe with ‘ole Herb, here.”
“Thanks,” Daniel repeated weakly, suddenly aware of all he’d risked. “Really, thanks, Herb. That means a lot and I’m sorry I just dropped it like that.”
“Not a problem, Dr. Jackson. I’m happy for you both. Here’s your stop. Maybe I’ll see you later this evening, since I’m sure you’re not planning to stay long.”
Oh, God. What had he unleashed? Yet another Mother Hen? “Uh, I don’t expect to be going home again until this evening. A . . . a problem’s come up.”
Herb nodded sagely. “That deep space telemetry equipment acting up again, then. Well, you take care, Dr. Jackson. Don’t let them keep you here once the problem’s solved.”
“I won’t. Thanks, Herb.”
“Sure thing, sir.”
Daniel sucked in a deep breath as he exited the shuttle and headed for the Quonset hut entrance. Stupid, stupid, stupid, Jackson. He signed in, had his palm scanned, and literally ran into Teal’c at the elevators.
“Sorry.” Daniel shoved his glasses back up on his nose. “Sorry, Teal’c. I wasn’t paying attention, I guess.”
“Daniel Jackson. What brings you to these hallowed halls at this advanced hour of the evening?”
“It’s morning already. Jack called you, didn’t he?”
Teal’c raised an eyebrow. “I have not heard from O’Neill in several days. He is well, I presume?”
In all their years as teammates, Daniel had never been able to figure out if Jaffa never lied, or they were so good at it they never got caught. He eyed the towering alien morosely. He’d never have a moment’s privacy again if he left Jack. “He’s fine. If Jack didn’t call you, why are you out here at one-thirty in the morning?”
Teal’c turned just his head, stoic face firmly in place as he studied the archeologist until Daniel backed down on another sigh.
“Sorry.” He slid his access card through the reader, despite the fact Teal’c had obviously already done so. “None of my business.”
“Indeed,” the Jaffa murmured, returning his gaze to the numbers lighting up over the top of the elevator. “However, as you seem quite agitated, I will inform you that I have been ‘painting the town’ with Vala Maldoran.” His tone of voice supplied the quote marks without having to raise a finger.
“Vala?” The elevator doors opened and they both stepped inside. “You took Vala out?” A quick glanced registered a sport coat, nice slacks, and a leather jacket, in combination with a black fedora.
“Indeed,” Teal’c repeated, stretching an arm across the opening to keep the doors from closing.
Rapid, staccato footsteps, highlighted by clip clipping heels, formed an instant picture of Janet hurrying toward the elevator and Daniel looked up expectantly, then shook his head. Never mind neutral, his mind had apparently taken a little trip if he expected Janet to board the elevator.
“Daniel! How lovely! Perhaps we should wake Cameron and invite him to the party as well. He’ll be disappointed if we don’t.”
Teal’c withdrew his arm and Vala, slipping out of her shoes, used a stiletto heel to punch the button for the VIP suites.
“Thank you, dah’ling, for holding the elevator.” She bestowed a dazzling smile on her escort and turned to the linguist. “To what do we owe this wonderful surprise? I didn’t realize your keeper let you out at night anymore.”
Daniel slanted a look at her that quelled her instantly.
Though not traumatically. Vala zipped her lips and widened her eyes at him, then rolled them comically. “If you need to talk about it, you know where to find me,” she whispered out of the corner of her mouth, adding a saucy wink for good measure. “Coming in for a night cap, Teal’c?” she inquired, sashaying off the elevator at her stop.
“I have had an exceptional evening in your company Vala Maldoran; however, I believe I will retire. Another time perhaps.”
There was an implicit promise in the farewell Daniel couldn’t fail to miss, but he kept his mouth shut and his humor to himself as the elevator doors closed on Vala offering a miniscule wiggle of her fingers to the smirking Jaffa. And Teal’c was definitely smirking as he got off at his own stop and bade the archeologist goodnight.
Daniel tipped a two-fingered salute and slumped against the wall as the elevator took him on down to eighteen. It jolted to a stop, dinging as the doors slid open and a nasally voice in his head droned, Level 18, Ladies undergarments, please keep your hands inside the car at all times until we’ve come to a full and complete stop.
“You can run,” he muttered to himself, “but you can’t hide – dammit.” Daniel rounded the corner to his office, slid his card through the reader, pushed the door open and was nearly bowled over by the darkness slithering out of the opening.
He slapped the lights on, all of them, artifacts be damned, and stopped on the threshold, beleaguered on all sides.
He should have pulled the pillow over his head and tried a few deep breathing exercises, maybe given that astral plane stuff a whirl. Although going straight home might have been the best choice of all.
The thought crossed his mind no where was safe anymore. He refused to let it take root, weeding it out ruthlessly as he marched around the office turning on every lamp as well.
The circuit took him back to the counter he used as often as his desk, where space had been cleared for a large manila envelope stamped in bold red – For Eyes Only – and bright blue – Confidential – and dark green – DO NOT REMOVE FROM SITE.
He knew immediately what it was.
An inconsequential purple sticky sat blithely atop the envelope, oblivious
to the fact it should be totally awed by the top level security clearance
required just to touch its current abode.
Jack asked me to make this available to you, Dr. Jackson, and I’ve
granted his request. The military frowns on this kind of disclosure
to a civilian, but I’m sure he has his reasons and I have no
doubt you will honor the spirit of the giver by keeping his secrets. You
should know - I’ve temporarily suspended Vala’s access
card, as she will likely try to bludgeon you to death to find out what
it is you’re withholding from her – the purple note paper
belongs to her, by the way. Jack also asked me to tell you there
is a personal email he’d like you to read before you open the
He picked it up, the weight of it heavy in his hands, and moved to the desk and his personal laptop he’d purposely left behind when he’d gone home.
Jack’s place would always be home, no matter what happened to them. Somewhere between his initial exposure to the house, the first night back from Abydos, and moving in for good on coming back from Atlantis, he and the house had imprinted.
Bonded. Connected. Linked.
For Daniel, Jack’s house meant safety and security, but most of all it meant home in a way he hadn’t thought of home since he’d been eight years old. Yeah, probably because Jack was there, but the house itself had enfolded him, made him welcome, and claimed him as a son of its roofs and walls and floors. It was one of the few places he felt like he belonged unconditionally. And he’d been in and out of that house more times than a repeat offender was remanded into custody.
He tapped the enter key and waited as his computer powered up, then typed in his password and opened the encryption program before opening his email.
You’ve got mail, Vala’s voice informed him, making him smile and roll his eyes at the same time. He hated changing his password. Because of her, it was frequently required, though he’d freely offered her own password protected space on the laptop.
He tapped a couple of keys, hit the enter button again, and Jack’s email opened like a flower in time dilation.
There was no header, no salutation, just a terse – You’ll probably think I’m doing this now because I think it might resolve whatever the hell it is that’s bugging you. Not true. I’ve been debating this move since before we came back. There are things in this file I’ve never told anyone – well, except for the guy who debriefed me and wrote these notes – so, anyone else, not even Sarah. I haven’t told you for a reason, Daniel - these are my demons. They’re locked away in a place I never visit for fear of unleashing a monster I won’t be able to control. You may very well be appalled by some of the things you read in here – I won’t make excuses, or apologies – it’s who am and what I’m capable of. Ultimately, I figured, I’ve read yours; you should have the opportunity to read mine. This isn’t required reading, by the way, you can take it or leave it at your discretion. And that was it, no signature, not even the initials that usually accompanied notes between them.
Daniel pushed back from the desk, propped his elbows on his knees and sat for a long time just holding the manila envelope in his hands. The longer he held it, the heavier it seemed to feel – the weight of Jack’s life – given into his hands for better or worse.
The computer powered down in sleep mode. The Gate klaxon clanged for off-world activation. Gravity sank his hands, and the package, lower between his knees. The night janitor and his mop wafted the smell of Mr. Clean into the office as they swished by in their nightly line dance, leaving behind clean floors and mountain fresh scent.
The flap bore Jack’s name, rank, and serial number and was wax-sealed across the width. He broke it cautiously, expecting every second to be the recipient of a Mrs. Weasley Howler, and drew out a sheaf of folders dating back to 1977.
Jack would have been twenty-five.
Every folder was stamped CONFIDENTIAL and every file but the first had the mission designation hand-written on the tab. The first file was O’Neill’s dossier, documenting from birth to the time he’d entered the military. They were the only typewritten notes in the file. The notes inside the remaining folders were handwritten as well, reinforcing the fact these were closely held secrets.
Dr. Jackson put everything back in the manila envelope and placed it carefully on his desk before getting up to start the coffee maker. He closed and locked his door, despite the immediate feeling of claustrophobia sealing him off from reality, and waited for the coffee to perk before pouring a cup and taking it back to his desk.
He sat staring at the repackaged file folders, wondering how it would feel to have his life documented inside a manila envelope – forgetting, in the moment, somewhere in the bowels of the mountain, another one bore his name.
He read until the words blurred on the page in front of him. Made more coffee and read until his eyelids began to twitch. Paused long enough to make a run on the night Mess, downed some No Doz, a sandwich and more coffee, and read until he reached the end - Jack’s folded and creased resignation letter, stapled to the back page of the binder that contained all the folders.
No novel could have captured the essence of the memoirs of Jack O’Neill encapsulated in the hard-won victories and bitter defeats recorded – not for posterity, but for the sake of keeping old soldiers honest – like sound bytes in those mission files.
In fact, Daniel thought, it would have been hard for anyone to imagine the depths of hell Jack had been called on to negotiate, repeatedly, in the service of his country. Insanity disguised as orders, Little Shops of Horror masquerading as command units, torture camouflaged as questioning, degradation shrouded as honoring one’s country, agony on a scale nearly impossible to comprehend – all of it blazed from the pristine black and white pages in living color.
Daniel shuffled the contents into order and shoved them back into the envelope. Carrying it with him, he hobbled over to the couch, groaning at the stiffness several hours of sitting in one place had imbued, and sank down, folding his hands carefully over the package.
Sliding an arm up over his eyes, he sank into the thoughts racing around in his head and began to separate the threads into various patterns, the better to glean the overall picture, but also, to come to terms with the insanity that had been Jack’s life until he’d been recruited for the Stargate program.
Not that their lives weren’t equally insane now, just in a different way.
Daniel fell asleep contemplating his own demons, who seemed, in light of what he’d just read, barely impish by comparison.
On the other side of town, Jack tossed the crossword puzzle on the nightstand, turned out the light, turned over, and reached to lay a hand on Daniel’s pillow. He fell asleep contemplating the connection that every day seemed a little more intense, a little more infallible, a little less like the fragile thing it was.
* * *
Daniel knocked on the General’s door and stuck his head around the frame.
“Ahhh, Dr. Jackson. Come in. Coffee?” Landry offered, holding up his cup.
“Thanks, I’ll pass.” He’d had experience with the General’s coffee. He liked his strong, just not strong enough to stand a spoon in it. “I think –” Daniel held out the manila envelope, “I’m supposed to return this to you, sir?”
“Yes. Thank you.” Landry took the package, slid it into a bottom draw, locked it and pocketed the key just as Vala waltzed in.
“Hey,you.” She draped herself over Daniel’s shoulder. “I’ve been looking for you. Want to take a girl to breakfast? Good morning, General. Could I interest you in breakfast, sir?”
“Had mine an hour ago, thank you,” Landry informed her, smiling pleasantly. “And here’s your access card back.” He opened his middle desk drawer, sorted through the paraphernalia and with an ahhhh, plucked out the key and handed it over.
Vala undraped herself to reach across the desk, glancing thoughtfully between the General and Daniel. “Secrets passed already, boys? That was rather fast, if I do so say myself.” She tapped the reacquired card against her bared teeth as she contemplated.
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome, Dr. Jackson,” the General returned simply. “Why don’t you take the lady to breakfast? You look like could use some sustenance yourself.”
“Not particularly hungry, sir.” Besides, he had other plans for his morning since they weren’t scheduled off-world.
“Then palm her off on Mitchell or Teal’c. By the way, how was your date last night, Vala?”
Daniel slipped his hands in his pockets and tried not to find it interesting Sam’s name hadn’t been on the General’s list. Maybe he knew she wasn’t in the Mountain yet.
“Dazzling, General. I could have danced the entire night. My escort, however, had other ideas. He kept mumbling something about Cinder Ella and glass slippers. Now I ask you, gentlemen - rhetorically, of course - how does one dance in glass slippers? But thanks for asking, sir. Do you dance?”
“Not in years.” Landry cocked his head in the general direction of the Mess. “You were headed for breakfast?”
Daniel took the hint and herded Vala towards the door, receiving a silent, “Thanks,” from Landry behind her back. He just nodded and pulled the door closed behind them.
“Why aren’t you going to breakfast?” Vala demanded two steps down the hall. “And you look horrible, Daniel. Don’t smell like a bed of roses either, you know. Did you sleep any last night? Or were you up all night working on Landry’s secret project?”
“It’s not a project,” Daniel answered vaguely, realizing the moment the words were out of his mouth, if he didn’t pay attention she would know exactly what he’d been doing all night before they’d reached the elevators.
“Not a project, then. Hmmmm.” She validated his thought immediately. “What could have been so top secret as to have locked me out of your office? You’re not hoarding treasure, are you? Without telling me?”
It was absurd and he knew she knew he knew it. So he just smiled and winked. “Can’t tell. See you later.”
“Where are you going?” Vala pouted. “I hate eating alone.”
“To shower, m’lady, and change. You’ve already made it clear my presence offends.” Daniel slapped a hand across the closing elevator doors and grabbed Vala by the arm. “Your carriage awaits.” He gave her a gentle shove to help her on board.
“But Daniel –“
He didn’t hear, he’d already headed for the stairwell and was rapidly ascending the concrete stairs up to level 18.
He showered, put on clean clothes, made a phone call, grabbed a new cup of coffee and headed for the surface, wondering all the while what had possessed him to make the phone call in the first place.
The drive over to the base hospital took ten minutes less than it usually did and the second hand on his watch was suddenly racing far too fast for his peace of mind – what there was left of his mind anyway. He pulled into a parking space and slumped forward over the steering wheel, debating whether he really wanted to do this.
A moment later, he straightened and shoved both hands through his still wet hair trying to flatten the cowlick while wondering why he cared. Because he didn’t – care that is – about his hair.
“Quit stalling,” he told his reflection in the rearview mirror and opened the car door.
The waiting room was unexpectedly empty, though the little sign on the
office door said, Quiet Please, In Session.
He was about at the end of his wait-ability when the door opened and Dr. MacKenzie stepped into the waiting area. “Hello, Dr. Jackson,” he greeted pleasantly. “Are you looking for someone?” he inquired, heading for the reception desk.
MacKenzie paused mid-stride and looked over the top of his glasses. “Me? You wanted to see me?”
The flash of surprise was erased so quickly, Daniel wondered if he hadn’t imagined it. “Yes.”
“I’m rather booked today and my secretary had to leave early.” The psychiatrist closed the distance to the reception desk and leaned over the high counter. “I’d be happy to make an appointment . . .” He trailed off as he picked up the appointment book. “Ah, I see I’ve had a cancellation and you have an appointment.” He put the book down and turned back, removing his glasses as he leaned an elbow on the counter and studied his newest client.
Daniel shoved his hands in his pockets rather than cross them defensively over his chest. “She asked it if was important. I accepted the spot before I could think about it.”
“I see. Why don’t you come in? Or have you changed your mind?”
“No.” The last time he’d had dealings with this physician, he’d wound up on the psyche ward in a padded cell. It wasn’t a feel good memory, but he was desperate and desperately in need of help.
MacKenzie eyed him thoughtfully before waving a hand toward the open doorway. “I was just prepping for my next client, but since he’s cancelled, please, come in. Are you here personally, or professionally, Dr. Jackson?” He ushered the young man through the open door, but remained standing in the doorway.
“Meaning?” Daniel darted a quick glance around the office, cataloging the unusually non-military décor.
“Can I get you some coffee?” MacKenzie offered.
“No, I already have too much caffeine in my system.” At least it was a good excuse for his shaking hands. What in the world had possessed him to seek out this man for help?
“Juice, then? Or water?”
“No. Thanks.” Daniel’s chest was constricting with every step further into the room and the feeling of claustrophobia he’d been encountering recently at night, crawled right inside his skin as the door closed behind him. “What did you mean is this personal or professional?” he repeated, wincing at the edge in his voice.
He’d been aiming for a bit of clinical detachment, not emotional desperation. He mentally body slammed his apprehension back in the closet and shoved a towel into the crack at the bottom. Unfortunately it oozed right back out the top. So he gave it up as a bad deal and crossed his arms. He was feeling defensive; why try to hide it?
“I meant are you here because of personal issues?” Dr. MacKenzie lingered by the door. “Or because of something that’s happening at the SGC? Would you like to sit down?”
“Do I have to?”
“No. Make yourself comfortable. Do you mind if I sit down?”
“I’m not . . .” Daniel hesitated. “Not nuts if that’s what you’re thinking. Well, not in so many words.” He flinched and shook his head. He was an adult – an adult who had made a rational choice to seek help. He could do this. He would do this.
Dr. MacKenzie took a seat on the sofa, leaving both chairs free. “Why don’t you tell me why you’re here, Dr. Jackson?”
The use of his title, again, calmed him a little and allowed his thoughts to coalesce with slightly more continuity. “Why would you think I was here for personal reasons?”
Dr. MacKenzie met his gaze steadily. “It’s a question I ask of all my SGC clients.”
There was something – some niggling little seed planted by tone of voice or maybe the slight hesitation before the psyche doc’s response – that started the trickle-down awareness effect. Daniel started paying attention.
“Has Jack been here?”
“I’m sure you’re aware, Dr. Jackson, whether or not General O’Neill has been to see me, client confidentiality precludes my sharing that information with you.”
“I don’t need to talk about Jack. Want,” Daniel corrected. “I don’t want to talk about Jack. Though I have to wonder if you can give me some insight into how someone who’s been through –“ He closed his eyes briefly. “What he has, could still be sane.”
“Insanity grounded in reality is the best some of us can hope for, Dr. Jackson. I don’t suppose I’m sharing anything classified or confidential by telling you O’Neill is firmly grounded in both reality and his own unique insanity. I’m sure you’re well aware of that, having known and worked with the man for the last ten years.”
“So you have seen Jack recently.” He didn’t make it a question.
“That information is confidential.”
“Which means the answer is yes.” Daniel began mapping the room with his feet.
MacKenzie merely watched him.
“Was he here because of me?”
“What would make you think that?”
Daniel shrugged. “He’s worried.”
“Suppose you tell me what’s worrying you,” MacKenzie offered.
The sofa and two wingback chairs were grouped in the middle of the room on a muted egg-plant purple rug laid over the non-descript military carpet.
Daniel circled the conversation area again, picking up and putting down any object that came to hand.