When Daniel's finally carried home -- broken, bloody, filthy, wrapped in bandages and the rags of his uniform, borne on a stretcher carried between two Marines whose grim faces say everything that needs to be said -- Jack counts ten heartbeats before he can breathe again. Carter and Teal'c are the last ones through, screeching to a halt on the ramp. The wormhole shuts behind them with a sucking finality. "Medical team," Carter shouts, waving her P-90 at the silent Gate as though the enemy might still follow them through. She's in shock; Jack can see it in the corners of her eyes.
"Already on the way," Walter says. Daniel has been in the hands of the Goa'uld Sobek for eleven days. If it had been anyone else, the point of the rescue op would have been to retrieve the body.
But this is Daniel.
Jack doesn't remember getting from the control room down to the Gateroom. The emergency trauma team follows hard on his heels, and he gets the fuck out of their way, but not before he can see the wreck that used to be Daniel, the way the blanket covering him rises and falls so shallowly.
Carter's eyes are dark smudges in her face, and Teal'c's fingers are clutching his staff weapon, as though he would fight Death herself for the right to take Daniel. Jack spares half a glance for the Marines wearing Daniel's blood, counts heads until he reaches the number he sent out, and dismisses them from his mind as though they never were. "Report," he says.
"He was --" Carter catches herself, wipes the mud off her cheek with the back of her hand. Tries to, at least; all she does is leave a smudge. She squares her shoulders and straightens her spine. "Sir, we found him right where the intel indicated. We believe Sobek had been torturing him for information that could be used in his attempt to seize power from Anubis. We penetrated the stronghold and made our way to a -- chamber, where Sobek was interrogating Daniel. We eliminated Sobek and most of his Jaffa, recovered Daniel, and returned through the Gate."
Simple. Clean. Bloodless. Jack's given a thousand of these reports; he knows what her words are hiding. She's holding herself together with spit and baling wire, and Jack does her the favor of being her commanding officer, not her friend. "Report to the infirmary for checking over," he says. "Debriefing in an hour, or whenever you're released."
He doesn't say that the infirmary will be busy. The trauma team is hanging IV bags and doing something complicated and messy around Daniel's throat. Jack watches the head paramedic turn her head and snap something at one of the nurses, then swear and call for intubation. He's not asking how bad it is. He doesn't want to know, and he doesn't want to make Carter have to tell him.
Teal'c says, quietly, "Daniel Jackson has been gravely injured, but I do not believe he acquiesced to his captor's demands."
Jack closes his eyes for a fraction of a second longer than a blink could excuse. He does not think of Ba'al, or of Kelowna, or of Carter's face when she came through the Gate eleven days ago and told them Daniel had been taken. "Good job, kids," he says, because Carter needs to hear it, and follows the trauma team as they run Daniel through the halls.
One of the very few good things about being the General is that there's nobody to order you out of the infirmary except the CMO, and Dr. Brightman's too scared of Jack to even try. Jack debriefs Carter and Teal'c from their beds -- Carter's got a fractured wrist and Teal'c is covered in staff weapon burns; neither of them had even noticed -- and then moves to the observation window of Surgery 2, where Bennet's working on Daniel.
Jack has bad memories of Surgery 2. It's where he lost Daniel the last time. He props his chin on his hands and tries to will his strength into Daniel through walls and glass windows. Maybe it works; six hours later, when Bennet strips off his latex gloves and drops, exhausted, into a chair, his face is at least cautiously hopeful.
When you're the General, nobody sends you home to get some sleep. Brightman explains that they're keeping Daniel in a coma; the swelling in Daniel's brain needs a chance to heal. Jack stays anyway, because when Daniel wakes up, he's going to need to see a friendly face to reassure him he's really home.
There's barely any Daniel visible underneath all the bandages. Brightman reels off Daniel's injuries -- cranial trauma, partially-crushed windpipe, massive blood loss, a host of broken bones. Burns from acid -- Jack keeps his face carefully schooled; Brightman's read his medical records but he never even told Fraiser the extent of Ba'al's torture. Internal injuries indicating blunt-force trauma. Each of Daniel's fingers is carefully, lovingly splinted; Jack can only hope that they were broken recently, instead of at the very beginning of Daniel's captivity, because permanent damage to Daniel's hands would kill him.
He realizes, as Brightman is talking, that he is thinking of things as though Daniel will be whole and well again. As thought the worst is over. He can't tell if it's intuition or wishful thinking.
Brightman's voice drops when she comes to the end of her litany. The phrase 'consistent with sexual abuse' makes Jack's stomach turn over.
"Classify that," he interrupts. "Eyes only. Your eyes only."
She looks like she might be about to protest, but lets it go. It won't be the first part of Daniel's medical records to be classified, and, please God, it won't be the last.
The universe being what it is, four days later, when Daniel finally wakes up, Jack is asleep on the bed next to his. He wakes to the sound of a rusty voice trying to form words, and is off the bed and standing at Daniel's side before Daniel can try again.
"It's okay," Jack says. He wants to hold Daniel's hand, but he can't, so he settles for touching the least bruised part of Daniel's arm he can find. "You're home."
Daniel's lips form the word Jack. Jack nods. "You're safe. It's all right. What hurts? I'll get the doctor."
"...no...hurt," Daniel manages, bit by painstaking bit.
"Yeah, they've got you pretty doped up." Jack lets his fingers stroke Daniel's skin, fractionally. Nobody's watching, he tells himself. It's for comfort. Nothing more. "But you're safe now."
Daniel lets his eyes drift shut again. "Didn't ... crack," he says.
It's hard to talk past the lump in his throat. "I know you didn't," Jack says. "Hang on. I'll get the doc."
"'m fine," Daniel says, and as Jack watches, drifts back off into unconsciousness again.
Of course Daniel is fine. Daniel is always fine.
Jack goes to get Brightman. Goes to tell Carter and Teal'c. It isn't until later, when he's sitting by Daniel's bedside again and wondering if he dreamed Daniel awake, that he realizes his hands have been shaking ever since Daniel woke up.
Daniel's discharged ten days later, on the condition that someone will be around to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn't strain his hands too badly. Carter offers to put Daniel up, but Jack overrules her. She's got her hands full with taking care of herself, and while Jack's pretty sure she'll be giving Daniel the full mother hen treatment, he doesn't think it'd be smart to make her the primary caretaker. He takes Daniel home and installs him in the spare bedroom, and he tries to start up a round of the familiar argument about what they're going to have for the first celebratory out-of-the-infirmary meal. Daniel doesn't fight back. It takes all the fun out of it, and Jack picks up takeout Lebanese from Daniel's favorite restaurant without any further protest.
He winds up feeding Daniel bits of hummus and tabouleh on pita bread, a bite at a time; he hadn't thought about the logistics of managing finger food with splinted fingers. Jack's pretty sure Daniel will be turning pages with his nose in a day or two, but he's not going to let Daniel get away with that where Jack can see. Brightman was very specific about what was and wasn't allowed.
"And you should talk to him about getting counseling," she'd added, quietly. "He's refusing to even think about it."
Jack settles Daniel in the spare bedroom, carts in the TV and makes noises about Carter offering to rig up a voice-activated remote control. Daniel smiles at him, pale and wan. "I'll be fine," he says. "Stop hovering, Jack."
"You don't look fine," Jack says, and then bites his tongue, because he promised himself he wouldn't yell. He crosses the room and sits at the foot of the bed, careful not to touch anything that had been fractured or burned or sliced open.
"Well," Daniel says, utterly patient, "I am. So you can stop doing your mother-hen impersonation."
Jack lets that one go. "Do you need another pain pill?" he asks. "It's been what, four hours?"
Daniel shakes his head. "No, really, I'm fine. It doesn't even hurt. I'll let you know."
"Drink? Bathroom? Book on tape?" Jack holds up a hand before Daniel can protest. "I'm hushing, I'm hushing."
Daniel smiles again at that; Jack's heart cracks a little at the sight of it. "I think I'll just take a little nap," Daniel says.
Jack nods. "All right. I'll just be in the other room. Ding the bell if you need me; don't try to shout."
Daniel's eyeroll manages to convey his contempt for hearing the instructions for the thousandth time. "Yes, Jack," he says, fond and exasperated. He closes his eyes; Jack recognizes the feigning-tiredness-so-Jack-will-go-away gambit from many other post-injury sleepovers.
Jack lets his hand hover over Daniel's ankle for a minute, then draws it back and pushes himself off the bed. He keeps himself from smoothing Daniel's hair back from his forehead and turns to leave the room.
Then turns back, because he remembers things like this himself, and he knows Daniel would never say a word, but it needs to be said. "Brightman wants you to go see the shrink. I know you won't. I'll back you up on it on one condition: if you talk to me. About what happened. Because you have to tell someone; you can't just bottle it all up."
Daniel's voice is weary; he doesn't open his eyes. "I'm not bottling it up, Jack. I was captured. Sobek tortured me for eleven days. He wasn't particularly imaginative, or original, or even very good at it. He stuck to pain and attempted degradation as triggers, and you know that's never really gotten to me. It hurt like hell and it was, on the whole, a rather unpleasant vacation, one I'd really prefer not to repeat, but it hasn't left me emotionally scarred and I'm not repressing anything. Which is what I told Brightman, and it's what I'm telling you. I'm fine. Or I will be, as soon as everything finishes healing."
Jack grips the doorjamb with one hand. He can tell Daniel thinks he believes it; that's the worst part. He notices, out of the corner of his eye, that his knuckles are white.
"I'll tell you, if you insist," Daniel says. "I'd rather spare you."
Jack really doesn't want to hear it. He spent eleven days jumping every time the Gate alarm went off, tensing every time the base HVAC system started up and he felt the breeze of the air conditioning, holding his breath every time something happened that might have been intel about where Daniel was being held or a visit from Daniel Ascended once more or just someone bringing the fucking body home. He'd spent eleven days constructing worst-case scenarios in his head, and this is far from being the worst case. Maybe that's what makes it harder to bear.
"You can't just be fine like that," he says instead. Because if he started saying any of the rest of it, he'd snap.
"Bodies heal," Daniel says, curiously matter-of-fact. "If all they hurt is your body, you can put it back together again afterwards."
"What if you can't?" Jack said. Daniel's hands are healing. His throat's nearly healed. The broken rib's not rubbing against anything it shouldn't be. The swelling's almost gone and Brightman's happy about the way the bruising to his kidneys is subsiding and he hasn't even been pissing blood since he woke up. He'll heal fully. Probably.
"Can't what?" Daniel's got his eyes closed again, and he's starting to sound genuinely sleepy, not like he's faking it to get Jack to shut up. Jack's already counting the hours until he starts hearing the bitching about how the painkillers are making Daniel stupid.
"Can't put it back together afterwards. What if it's permanent?" Daniel's hands are healing. They'll always ache when the weather's changing, but he's going to be able to use them again. Jack doesn't want to think about what would have happened if he hadn't.
There's silence for a minute, and Jack thinks Daniel might have dropped off to sleep. Then Daniel says, like it's the most self-evident thing in the world, "You work around it. It's only a body. It's not like it really matters in the end."
Jack has no idea why that response makes him so angry, so all he does is turn around and let Daniel go to sleep.
He'd expected Daniel would drive him nuts pretty damn quickly, was almost looking forward to it in a way, but really, he almost never sees the guy. SG-1 is on standdown, so Carter and Teal'c are almost always around to lend a hand. Teal'c brings over endless stacks of DVDs; Carter's reading him the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and she's got Narnia and Harry Potter on tap for when they finish. Jack's role is limited to coming in at night after he gets back from the Mountain -- on the nights he gets back from the Mountain; he has a lot of things he put on hold for that two weeks when Daniel was his first thought -- and seeing if Daniel's still awake, seeing if he's eaten yet. He watches Daniel sleep a lot.
He shows up on Thursday to find Carter and her laptop having set up camp on his dining room table. He'll never figure out how she can type one-handed, but the fractured wrist is barely slowing her down. At her elbow, there's a Chinese food carton with chopsticks sticking out of it, looking forlorn. She's miles away, so he shuts the door a little harder than he otherwise would have.
She looks up. "Sir. I put the rest of the food in the fridge; I didn't know when you'd be home."
Jack counts to ten, because she can't know how much like Sara she sounded. It's his fucking house. He'd sworn he'd never live with anyone ever again, because having to be accountable to someone else for his comings and goings drives him up the fucking wall.
But Carter can't know. She's only trying to feed him. "Thanks," he says, and drops his briefcase on the floor and kicks it away. Daniel never fails to give him shit about how badly he treats the thing, but he hates having to carry one.
"I got you Szechuan beef and egg rolls. And there's some won ton soup, too. You'll have to heat it up, but Daniel wasn't hungry, so it's fair game."
She's watching him over the top of her laptop screen, almost pathetically eager. Like she wants him to pat her on the head and tell her "good job". He tries to remember the first time he royally fucked up a command and how long it'd taken him afterwards to stop looking for validation, any validation, from anybody.
"Thanks," Jack says again, and crosses into the kitchen. He's not exactly hungry; Walter had brought him sandwiches from the mess around eighteen hundred or so. Everyone's trying to feed him these days. He takes out the package of egg rolls anyway, brings them and a beer back over to the table.
She's quiet for a minute, and she's not quite looking at him, but he can tell she's not back into whatever she was working on. Jack sighs. He'd sent Carter to the counselor too, and she's smart enough to go and generally stable enough to get some use out of it, but it doesn't mean she's not still his responsibility.
"How're you holding up?" he finally asks.
She looks up. Smiles, but it's a strained expression, and he can see the dark circles under her eyes. "I'm okay," she says. It's her version of Daniel's 'I'm fine', but he'll allow her the lie, as long as she expands on it. She drags her palms over her face, rubs hard. "He's sleeping. Again. I'm almost getting worried. It's like he's not even there."
"Is he taking the Vicodin?" Jack takes a sip of the beer, suddenly decides he doesn't want any. He pushes it over the table to Carter.
She looks at it for a second, then seems to say what the hell and picks it up. "Yeah. He won't ask for them, but he takes them when I bring them. No fight."
Daniel's distaste for narcotics is legendary; he won't touch them unless the pain's an 11 on the 1 to 10. But thinking about it, Jack realizes that he hasn't heard a word of complaint. Daniel hasn't been asking for the pills, but he hasn't been arguing when he's handed them. Hasn't been expressing any kind of preferences, in fact, from what he wants to eat to what drugs he's willing to swallow to what he wants to do in the times he's awake. It's starting to worry Jack, and worry makes him short-tempered. But it's not Carter's fault, so he takes a good look at her and then sighs without letting her see it. "You been sleeping?" Jack asks. She doesn't look like she has.
She tries another smile. "No more than you have."
Jack nods. He'd thought he could recognize the telltales the dreams leave behind. "Got some pills in the medicine cabinet. Brightman keeps shoving them at me."
She can't quite hide the shudder of revulsion. "I'd ... really rather not. They make me groggy for days afterward."
"Then get some sleep. I could make it an order if it'd help." He knows that with her, it might. She's no submissive automaton, but sometimes it helps to hear your CO tell you it's okay to stand down for a while. And he'll probably be her CO for the rest of his life, even if they're stationed three continents or two galaxies apart or on projects that've never even been introduced to each other.
She shuts the laptop. Looks at the beer, then takes a sip. "It might," she says. "I'm not sure."
He pushes the other egg roll over the table, too. He's not going to eat it, and there's more food in the carton she was eating out of than he'd wager is in her. None of them have been eating right. "We got him back. You did everything right." She had; Jack had gone over the report until he'd practically memorized it, until he could visualize and reconstruct every movement, and Teal'c had confirmed that Carter had made all the right calls. Probably more right than Jack would have. He wonders if that's eating her up too. "It wasn't your fault. Get some sleep. It's an order if it has to be."
It's not the first time he's said it to her. Carter's a good soldier, not needy like some people might be, but she's a human being and she'll second-guess herself until the cows come home when she gets a chance. If he keeps saying it, sooner or later it might sink in.
"Yeah," she says. He can tell how tired she is; that usually would have been a "yes, sir." She unplugs the laptop and coils up the power cord, awkwardly, one-handed. "Will you be okay? I can call Teal'c, get him to come over --"
"I've got a lot of practice taking care of Daniel," Jack says. "Go away, Carter."
She knows him well enough that it actually makes her smile. This time she gives him the "yes, sir"; it sounds a lot more like herself.
He walks her out to her car, even though she's perfectly capable of walking herself. He doesn't like the thought of leaving Daniel alone, but he's just walking to the driveway, not to Siberia, and the smile Carter gives him says she noticed him taking care of her and appreciates it. He should have known better, because when he gets back inside, Daniel's standing in the kitchen, holding himself up against the open door of the refrigerator and peering inside.
Jack steps into the kitchen doorway. "What are you doing out of bed?" he asks.
Daniel looks like he's half zombie. His hair is sticking up in funny directions, and there's blanket marks on the side of his face and his arm. He doesn't smell as bad as he had yesterday, which means either he or Carter must have decided it was bathtime. "I thought I should probably drink something," he says.
"You know you're not supposed to be up and about." Jack's been wondering whether Daniel's been following those orders, actually, because usually you have to tie Daniel to a bed to get him to stay in it after he's been injured. But from everything Jack can see and everything Carter reports, Daniel's been content to be fetched-and-carried for this time. It's another trouble point, another piece of the puzzle Jack's trying to fit together. He's seen too many men slip into depression after something like what Daniel went through. He doesn't want to see Daniel do the same. "You tell me what you want," he says, "I'll get it for you. You go back to bed."
The look Daniel gives him could blister paint. "I've been in bed for two weeks. It's about time I came back now."
It's weird phrasing. Jack ignores it. "Besides, you aren't supposed to try to open things, not with your hands. Water? Tea? Juice?"
Daniel closes his eyes, sways on his feet for a minute. "Jack." When he opens his eyes again, they almost look a little defeated. "All right. I'll go sit on the couch. I'm not going back to that bed. Water. Please."
Jack nods, takes down a glass. He's been thinking a lot lately about how much he takes being able to do things like that for granted. Behind him, he can hear Daniel's uneven shuffle, making his slow and careful way into the living room. Jack brings two glasses of water out with him; Daniel doesn't thank him when he hands one over, just takes it two-handed between his palms and looks at it for a long minute before draining half of it down.
"How --" he starts, and Daniel gives him another death glare.
"If you ask me how I'm feeling, I'm going to throw this glass of water at you."
Jack regroups. "Okay," he says. Casts around for another topic of conversation. "What'd you and Carter do today?"
"For the parts of it I was conscious, she read me The Magician's Nephew. I'm pretty sure that's not in her assigned duties. You can let them go back to work, you know. I don't need a babysitter." Daniel's voice is simple, flat. Jack can't tell what he's thinking.
"They care," Jack says. "They want to make sure you're okay."
"I already said I was." Daniel sets the glass of water down on the table and reaches for his face, intending to push up the glasses that aren't there with the fingers he shouldn't be using. He catches himself halfway there and rests his hands in his lap again. "I'm sorry. I woke up in a horrible mood."
Jack had noticed, but he wasn't going to say anything. Anger or irritation is more than anyone's been able to get out of Daniel lately, and Jack will take it over the sleepwalking anyday. "When was the last time you took your drugs?"
Daniel shakes his head. "I don't know. It's okay. It doesn't hurt. I almost wish it did. I'm just -- ready for this to be over."
Sometimes Jack wishes he could climb inside Daniel's head, just for a little while, to find out all the things Daniel's not saying. There's something about the way Daniel uses words that always makes Jack suspect it's not the same thing as anyone else would mean by them. Jack treads as carefully as he knows how. "It doesn't just go away."
Daniel closes his eyes. "Actually, it does. The human body has an amazing capacity to put itself back together if you just get out of its way for long enough."
Jack puts his glass of water down on the table, more forcefully than he'd intended. "That's not what I'm talking about, and you know it." There are places inside his head that he won't go anymore. Not without a fucking good reason and a lot of booze to light the way, and even then it leaves him a wreck for weeks after. He'd thought those places would go away after a while. They never did. He isn't going to let Daniel do it too.
"I know what you're doing, Jack." Daniel doesn't even sound like Daniel anymore; Jack barely recognizes this listless stranger. "You're trying to fix me. And I appreciate the motives behind it, but you're not hearing what I'm saying." He opens his eyes again, stares at Jack. "I'm not having nightmares. I'm not repressing. I'm not refusing to think about it. I'm not replaying it constantly in my head. I was beaten, I was raped --" The word sounds ugly on Daniel's lips, ugly in Jack's ears, ugly just thrown out like that. Jack almost stops him, almost protests, but Daniel's still going. "--and I hated every second of it. But it's over. It didn't break me. It didn't change me. It just happened."
The two bites of egg roll he took are sitting like lead in Jack's stomach. "That sounds an awful lot like denial from where I'm sitting."
That, at least, finally gets some reaction out of Daniel, gets some passion back into his voice. He spits something low and guttural -- Jack thinks it might be one of the Goa'uld phrases Teal'c taught the Marines -- then stands up. A little too quickly, apparently; he looks like he might have to sit down again, until he gets control. Then, without saying anything else -- without even looking at Jack -- he walks into the kitchen.
It takes Jack a second to realize Daniel's heading for the phone. He makes it there just as Daniel's on the sixth number, fumbling to press each digit, and reaches over to put a finger down on the cradle to block the connection. "Who are you calling?" he asks.
"Teal'c." Daniel's face is calm. "Let go. I can't work my cell phone with my fingers still splinted."
Jack's said the exact wrong thing to Daniel more times than he can count, but this time, he doesn't even know what it was. "Why?"
"Because Teal'c doesn't think I'm some kind of fragile flower that needs to be protected." Daniel tries to wrap his hand around Jack's wrist and pull; he stops the minute he starts to squeeze, and there's a split-second flash of pain across his face. Oddly enough, it's followed near-immediately by something Jack's tempted to identify as relief. "He'll send someone with a car, and I'll go spend the night in the Mountain. I'm not staying here."
Jack closes his eyes for a second. Opens them again, takes the phone away from Daniel, and hangs it up. "Okay," he says, because he knows better than to argue with Daniel when he gets like this. The only way to get through to Daniel is to agree with him, and then present your case once he's off the defensive. It took Jack longer than he'd like to admit to realize that much. "Before you go, will you listen to me?"
Something flares in Daniel's face, something almost like interest, and it makes Jack happy to see the sign of life. "Okay," he says, and backs up, halfway across the kitchen, leaving a comfortable distance. He leans against the wall and crosses his arms over his chest.
Jack knows that position; Daniel's humoring him. He's got one chance to get Daniel to actually listen, and the only thing he can think of, the only thing that might possibly work, is to appeal to Daniel's curiosity. "I am trying to protect you," he says. The effort it takes to be honest, after so long, makes his teeth hurt, but he's pretty sure honesty is the only thing that will break through the fog that Daniel's using as a shield. "It has nothing to do with whether or not I think you're capable of handling things. It has nothing to do with whether or not I think you're weak. It's not even because it's my job to protect all of you."
Daniel is watching him, face distant but eyes curious, and the bruises are faded to yellow by now but Jack can still see every inch of where they were. "I should have been there," Jack says.
"It wouldn't have made a difference," Daniel says.
Maybe it would have, maybe it wouldn't have. Jack can't know. He's read all the reports, and Carter did the right things. Step by step, piece by piece. Still. "I should have been there," he repeats, "and I wasn't, and you got hurt."
Daniel tilts his head to one side. "I've been hurt before."
It's a simple statement, and it breaks Jack's heart, because it's true. Daniel, out of all of them, takes the brunt of things most often. Jack wonders why sometimes, except he knows, deep down. It's because Daniel doesn't follow anyone's rules but his own. "That doesn't mean it's right," he says.
"No," Daniel says. "But it also doesn't mean I don't know how to deal with it."
"You shouldn't have to," Jack says.
Daniel's eyebrows go up. It takes a second for Jack to realize why. It takes a second before Jack realizes he'd put the emphasis on "you" instead of "have". He can see the stormclouds starting to gather across Daniel's face, see Daniel preparing to pitch a fit about him being overprotective, and it's going to be an ugly fight but it'll be better than the fight that would happen if Daniel realizes what he really meant.
He takes a deep breath. He's come too damn close, too many times. It feels like there's a dark yawning chasm right behind his eyes, and he's tapdancing over it and trying like hell not to look down. "I'll call Teal'c for you," he says, and turns back to the phone.
"Wait," Daniel says.
Jack knows that tone. It's the one Daniel uses when he's figuring something out. He can hear the shuffle-thump of Daniel's uneven footsteps across the kitchen floor. For a minute he can only hope that Daniel is walking away, and then he stops, because they just got Daniel back and Jack's not sure he could take it if Daniel left again.
The sound of Daniel's feet stops right behind him, and Jack does not turn around.
"Why does this bother you so much, Jack?" Daniel asks.
There are a hundred answers Jack could give. Because Carter's beating herself up for screwing the mission. Because none of my people should ever get hurt like you did. Because you've been through enough. He can't say any of them. They're all stuck in his throat.
"Jack?" Daniel prompts.
"Because I resent the fact that you can go through the same kind of thing that nearly killed me to go through, and walk out of the other end of it like it never even touched you," Jack says, to the telephone, to the wall it hangs on. To anything but Daniel.
Daniel's quiet for a second, and Jack almost thinks it's enough to get him to stop pushing for an answer. He should know better. Daniel's smarter than that. "That would explain why you're angry," Daniel says. Another shuffle-thump. Daniel's so close now that Jack could lean backwards, just a hair, and find his back pressed right against Daniel's chest. It takes all of his willpower for him not to move. "Not why you blame yourself."
Jack closes his eyes. "Don't make me say it," he says. Asks. Pleads.
"I wouldn't," Daniel says. "Not unless it was important. I think it's important, Jack. I can't read your mind, and I want to be sure of what you're saying."
Jack bites back a bark of not-quite-laughter. It's funny. It shouldn't be funny, but it is, because of course Daniel can read his mind. Daniel has always been able to read his mind, except when he can't.
Daniel knows when Jack is lying to him, too.
"What do you want me to say, Daniel?" Jack asks. "That I can't deal with knowing there's nothing I could have done to protect you? That I can't deal with knowing I'm going to have to send you straight out there again the minute you're patched up enough to function? That I think having to watch you die again would probably kill me?"
"I'd like you to say," Daniel says, gentle and unrelenting, "why the thought of me in particular getting hurt bothers you so badly."
Daniel shouldn't be able to sound this coherent, this articulate. Daniel should be in so much pain that he can't think straight, or doped to the eyebrows and drooling. Jack doesn't know why Daniel isn't. Daniel has always been extraordinary. That's always been the problem.
"No," Jack says. "You really don't."
There are some instincts Jack will never lose. Constant awareness of the room around him is one of them. That's how he knows that that brief ghost of air current behind him is Daniel, unseen, lifting a hand to touch, and then letting it fall again when he remembers that his hands won't be whole again for at least another few weeks.
Jack can't remember how he got nudged and maneuvered into having this conversation. He'd promised himself he never would, at least not yet. Not until it's all over; not until Earth is safe, and there's time for a bit of selfishness, and if it goes badly then, well, the only thing he'll hurt will be himself.
"Okay," Daniel says. "You're not going to say it, so let me try, and you tell me if I get anything wrong. You're having trouble dealing with this because you're in love with me and have been for a while. You don't like seeing me hurt because you think it should have been you instead. You don't like the fact that I can deal with this better than you can because you keep going over what you think they did to me, replaying it in your head, and you're worried that I might be repressing what I went through. You're thinking that someday, when this is all over and you and I can finally do what we've been wanting to do for a long time, I'm going to start having flashbacks when you touch me. You're wondering whether the fact that I can dissociate so strongly means that I'm not at all connected to my body, which is pretty much true by the way, at least right now. And you're upset at yourself for being so selfish, but it doesn't change the fact that you can't stop wondering if I'm so disconnected that I'm never going to be able to want you the way that you want me. Which, for the record, isn't. True, I mean. I hope. And you're upset that I'm making you think about this, that I'm trying to make you say it, because you're only willing to consciously think about maybe half of this and you've gotten through the past few years by convincing yourself that I don't know about any part of it. Am I missing anything?"
Jack can't breathe. There's something sitting on his chest, hard and ugly, and he wants to rewind the past hour and make it so that it never happened. Hell, the past month.
"Jack?" Daniel prompts. This time he does touch Jack: one hand on Jack's shoulder, ignoring the splints, ignoring the bandages. Jack lets Daniel turn him around. Daniel's hair is sticking up and he's wearing ratty sweats and an undershirt so old it's grey instead of white and Jack can't breathe for wanting him. Daniel looks worried. Not angry, not disgusted, not shocked. Just worried, with -- finally -- an overlay of pain. He doesn't look like he's aware of the fact that he's just picked Jack's whole world up and cracked it in his hands.
"How long have you known?" Jack manages to croak.
Daniel doesn't smile. "Which part of it?"
"Any. All." He can't read Daniel's face. That scares him more than anything else. He's always been able to tell what Daniel's feeling even when he can't tell what Daniel's thinking, but this man facing him down in his kitchen is a stranger, and has been since Daniel came back. "Daniel --"
"That you want me, for a very long time." Daniel speaks quickly, softly, as though he wants to finish speaking before Jack can interrupt. "That you love me -- not quite as long, but for a while. I think. I'm not quite sure when I realized. That's one of the pieces I didn't get back." It's the first time Daniel's made reference to the gaps in his memory for a long time, and it's like a fist to Jack's gut how casually he tosses it off, as though it's the most natural thing in the world. Jack could choke on it, on how much Daniel's lost over the years and how casually Daniel accepts it; this latest injury is only the most recent, and Jack's starting to realize that not all of Daniel's scars are visible. "The rest of it I just figured out. I thought you knew. That I knew. I didn't realize until just now that you didn't."
Daniel is the injured one; there's no reason why Jack is the one who feels like he has his head wrapped in the cotton-wool of a Vicodin high. He falls back on the only thing he can think of to say. "I can call the Mountain. Get you a car. If you want to leave."
Daniel frowns. "Why would I want to?" he asks. "I was only going to leave because you were treating me like -- oh." Jack can see the realization spreading across Daniel's face, restoring expression in its wake. "You're worried that I won't want to be alone with you. Now that I know. Now that it's out in the open. Jack, I'm telling you. Listen to me. I knew."
So many new doors are opening in Jack's head that he's starting to feel dizzy from it all. He closes his eyes for a second, tries to find his balance again. "You never said anything."
When he opens his eyes again, Daniel is smiling at him. "Well, neither did you," Daniel says.
They're quiet for a minute, while Jack looks back on the past eight years and tries to rearrange all his memories, to examine them in the light of all the promises Daniel seems to think they made to each other. Looks back on the conversation they've had so far, the parts before Daniel blew open Jack's entire concept of the world.
"I love you too, you know," Daniel finally says, when Jack stays silent. "Sometimes I think there's a part of me that always has."
Jack hadn't known. He's not sure if knowing makes the situation easier or harder to bear, because knowing doesn't change any of their circumstances. He wants to reach out and touch Daniel, press his hand against Daniel's cheek, run his fingers through Daniel's hair, touch him in all the ways he made himself stop doing because it gave too much away. There are so many things he wants to say, and he doesn't have any of the words, because they all live in the places he's taught himself not to go.
"So what now?" Jack asks. Looking back, he can't identify the moment when he lost control of this conversation, but there's no question; Daniel's the one steering them now.
"Nothing changes," Daniel says. He's starting to look a little worn around the edges. Jack can only imagine how much he must hurt. Or maybe he doesn't. Maybe he's done something inside his head to roll the pain up into a little ball and put it somewhere that it can't touch him, the same way he rolled up everything the damn snake did to him and kept it from reaching him. Maybe that's why Daniel's been sleepwalking since they got him back. "You're still who you are, and I'm still who I am, and there are still things we need to do. And there are rules you can't break, not without compromising things that you can't let yourself compromise; it would change who you are. So maybe it would have been better if we'd never had this conversation. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have pushed."
Jack has played endless variants on The Conversation over in his head, a thousand different versions with a thousand different outcomes. This is nothing like the way he imagined it. The look that's on Daniel's face now, though, the slightly wistful regret, makes him wonder if Daniel has had his own catalog of possibilities. He wonders how close they came to Daniel's version of imagined events, whether Daniel had even imagined it, which one of them had been closer. He wonders why his chest is numb, and why he can't seem to put two words together and have them make sense.
Shock, he thinks. The disturbance of equilibrium, leaving the brain struggling to keep up. Daniel has disturbed his equilibrium so many times it should be normal by now.
"You should be back in bed," Jack says, because he can't make himself say any of the other things he could offer. They've been together for so long that he thinks Daniel will be able to read what he isn't saying anyway.
But Daniel's shoulders slump, and Jack thinks he's said something wrong again, or Daniel has arrived at the wrong interpretation of what he's leaving out. "Okay," Daniel says, and Jack has heard that defeated sound in his voice before, but that doesn't make it any easier. "I could probably use another Vicodin," he's saying, which is the first time Jack's heard him ask for one in a damn long time. But Jack is moving, and he doesn't realize that he's moving until he's already put his arms around Daniel and pulled him close.
Daniel smells like Jack's soap and Jack's shampoo. Jack lets himself rest the side of his cheek against Daniel's hair and inhale, deeply. Daniel's shoulders are tense, and Jack wonders how much it's costing Daniel to keep the conversation this casual.
"I love you," Jack says, before his self-censor can make himself shut up. His voice catches in his throat, and it comes out tiny and choked, like his tongue is getting in the way. But he says it. It's important that he can say it. And the tension in Daniel's shoulders eases, just a little, and it must have been the right thing to say.
There's a hundred conversations they need to have, about what this might mean, about what they're going to do next. Planning for the future. Seeing whether or not they both mean the same things, want the same things. Are thinking of the same things. God, Jack's hands ache to touch him, as though the hypothetical permission in the hypothetical future has made the possibility so real that Jack can't think of anything else. He settles for just holding Daniel against him, trying to let that stand in for every touch he can't risk.
It takes a minute, a long minute, before Daniel breathes out sharply and eases into Jack's touch, turns his face and presses it into Jack's neck. In that gesture, Jack reads love and surrender, pride and weariness and desire and a sort of sweet resignation, as though all of Daniel's emotions have suddenly been unlocked and are spilling free, and suddenly Jack realizes. This conversation wasn't just for his benefit; it was for Daniel's, too. If Daniel knew, and thought Jack knew, and thought they had a mutual unspoken agreement to defer The Conversation until some future date, there had to be some reason why Daniel would want to have it now. Clearing up a misunderstanding wouldn't have been enough.
Jack's about to ask when Daniel says, against Jack's shoulder, "Can I stay in with you tonight? I want -- I need somebody to touch me. Not like that. I know you couldn't. Just to -- help me to remember that I live here."
And that's what makes it click for him. All the things Daniel's said, all the little things that Jack chalked up to Daniel being weird again. The hints and clues Jack had thought to be a sign of depression. What was the word Daniel had used? Not depression: dissociation. Daniel's always been able to do it, to stop paying attention to the demands of his body for a few minutes or a few hours, and yes, that would have been what got him through this, but the past two weeks have been Daniel trying to find his way back to the world he inhabits now. The world where he's supposed to feel things, the world where he's supposed to exist inside the defining constraints of his body. And Jack's been standing there, the entire time, watching Daniel failing, and he hasn't even noticed.
Duality, dichotomy, whatever the hell you want to call it; Daniel inhabits two worlds, the physical versus the mental, and maybe that's why Daniel has the sense-of-self that's let him survive (mostly) the past eight years (more-or-less) intact. But something -- and Jack doesn't know what the hell it is, but he's willing to lay money on it being a side effect of being a giant glowing squid for a while -- fucked up that balance. Help me remember that I live here. Not here as in this house, here as in this body. This world. And Jack gets it. He wonders, suddenly, how many other times there have been when Daniel's wanted to ask for some kind of grounding touch, and felt like he couldn't, because he thought it would be asking Jack for too much.
Jack's not going to be able to have Daniel the way he wants him. Not now; maybe not for a long time. Maybe not ever. But he can have Daniel the way that's possible, and it's going to have to be enough. He stores up the feeling of Daniel in his arms, of the skin and muscle and bone and hair that Daniel is encased in. Then he steps back. "Whatever you need," he says, and finally means it.