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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/519603-Words---Stargate-SG1-Fanfiction
by Alyse
Rated: 13+ · Article · Fanfiction · #519603
Following a mission, Jack's left flailing for words of comfort that won't come.
Disclaimers: Stargate SG-1, its characters and universe are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, Gekko Productions and the Sci-Fi Channel. No copyright infringement is intended and I'm making no money from this. I have nothing but my own warped imagination and therefore I'm not worth suing. :)

Genre: Pre-slash. Jack/Daniel UST

Spoilers/Warnings: Some mild references to attempted rape and previous rape, both canon and non-canon. Non-graphic.

~*~

Words
By Alyse (alyse@CI5Ops.co.uk)


There were times when Jack O'Neill wished that words were his forte, when he longed for the same eloquence and aptitude with language as Daniel was gifted with. Wished that he could pull out phrases from the magic hat Daniel seemed to possess when they were on a mission, in the field, and the whole thing looked like turning to shit. Wished that he could summon up a few, choice words to make everything all better, sentences to heal all wounds.

But words weren't his thing. Never had been. If he'd possessed the ability to use them as Daniel did, maybe Sara would never have packed up and left. Maybe he wouldn't be stuck at the rank he held if he could hold his tongue or let his words be a weapon wielded with Daniel's customary efficiency rather than wielding his anger instead. Maybe he'd be better at dealing with the current situation.

If words didn't fail him. Wasn't that an apt phrase, all on its own? Neat, concise and meaningless. He didn't fail with words. Words failed him.

Words were failing him now.

He trailed Daniel into his apartment building, sticking as close to him as his shadow, as close as he should have stuck on PJ3-698, despite the sharp looks aimed in his direction from underneath lowered brows. It wasn't just guilt that drove him forward, kept him dogging Daniel's heels and ignoring the looks and the scarcely veiled irritation. It was the fact that Daniel looked like sheer hell, exhaustion marring his face even more than the bruises did.

The bruises were bad enough.

The bruises, both the ones on Daniel's face and the rest of his body, were what kept Jack silent now, the knowledge that words would, when the crunch came, fail him yet again lying heavy in his chest. And so, wordlessly, he followed Daniel into the elevator. He and Daniel had never been very good at talking, not about 'stuff', not to each other. Not to anyone he suspected. Even Daniel, frighteningly eloquent at times, was reduced to monosyllabic grunts when it came down to 'stuff'. So he had no idea of how to broach this 'stuff' now, not when the stuff in question was both so terribly important and so terrible at the same time.

There were other bruises on Daniel's body. They were sprinkled around his neck in an obscene parody of jewellery, dark smudges against the drawn, exhausted paleness of Daniel's skin. On his arms, the marks so harsh and clear that the shapes of fingerprints were outlined on pale flesh.

On his thighs.

"They didn't rape me."

He flinched at the flat and toneless words as they came out of nowhere, even though he'd already established that much. Had understood that this particular nightmare scenario, at least, hadn't come to pass when he'd seen the look of relief on Fraiser's face as she'd finished her examination of Daniel. He'd hoped so before then, clutched onto the belief that they'd arrived in time with an almost savage desperation, prayed for it as he hadn't been able to pray for anything for so long, ever since he and Teal'c had forced their way into that small, dark, pitiless room. However, Janet's small nod as she'd met his eyes in the Infirmary had put the last shred of doubt to rest, leaving him weak with relief, easing his mind even as she fussed with pulling the curtain back around Daniel's bed to give his friend some privacy as he dressed.

But not before Jack had seen the bruises again, scattered carelessly over Daniel's torso, and hard on the heels of that relief his chest had tightened again as the sight drove home to him just how fucking close it had been. If they'd been a minute or two later, if it had taken him longer to work out that Daniel had been deliberately separated from them, singled out of the herd while he'd remained oblivious of the danger...

He so didn't want to go there, even now clenching his eyes tightly closed as nightmare images filled his head, replaying themselves across his closed lids. Daniel, fighting, fighting so fucking hard and losing as those bastards held him down, ripped at his clothes, the shreds of his t-shirt already clinging to his frame, his pants and shorts pulled down. Daniel's face, grim, set and determined as he'd bucked against those harsh hands and yet, underlying it, the fear, the knowledge of what was going to come shining through, hidden from those animals but not hidden from Jack who knew him so well.

Or had done once.

And then he and Teal'c had come rushing in, like the proverbial cavalry, just in time to save Daniel from everything but a few bruises and the memories and nightmares of what might have been.

Too fucking late, in other words.

He should have seen, should have realised earlier. Spared his friend that, the indignity of being held down like that. Spared his friend the sight of those animals, aroused and ready to hurt him, enjoying his pain as they hit him, enjoying his fear as they unfastened their pants, told him what was coming.

Showed him.

Too fucking late and now he couldn't find the words to even start to take those images away from Daniel.

Shit.

There was a rustling beside him, and he finally forced his eyes open to look at his friend. Daniel's eyes were closed, his body slumped against the wall of the elevator, every line in his tense body screaming that he'd reached the end of his tether, too tired, hurting too much, to take any more.

"I know."

He squeezed the words past a constricted throat and they hung, hoarse and heavy, in the silence between them.

Daniel gave little sign of having heard him and, once again, he cursed his inability to find anything meaningful to say. He wanted to reach out, touch Daniel's hair, ruffle it the way he used to, hug Daniel the way he used to but it had been too long since he'd been able to do that, and that time lay between them as heavy as any silence and just as impregnable.

He'd pulled back, trying to protect Daniel, protect himself maybe, and it was only now that he admitted that he'd pulled back too far.

He should have spotted their intentions earlier. Would have done, maybe, if he hadn't spent so long training himself not to look at Daniel. Not to watch Daniel too closely, not to see him as anything other than teammate and friend. If he hadn't trained himself to stop seeing Daniel as desirable, as anything other than a cipher, not a person, not someone to want or need.

Shit.

And now there was nothing left to say.

The ping of the elevator as it reached Daniel's floor startled him out of his reverie, and when he dragged his gaze back to Daniel's face, Daniel's eyes were open and the emptiness in them chilled him to the bone.

"You don't need to see me to my door, Jack." The tone was still flat, Daniel's voice as empty of expression as his eyes. "I'm sure I can make it from here."

No doubt. Daniel's apartment was only three doors along but an irrational fear filled him that if he let Daniel go now, let Daniel walk away from him down that corridor, he'd never get Daniel back. That Daniel would walk away from him for real.

Like he'd walked away from Daniel.

He summoned up his lightest tone, his most jovial expression even as the acid fear churned in his stomach. "Hey, Doc Fraiser only let you leave the Infirmary because I promised to take you straight home and put you to bed." As soon as the words were out of his mouth he cringed at the unintentional double entendre. As though Daniel needed reminding of that now. As though Daniel needed reminding of anything to do with 'men', 'bed' or 'sex' at the moment. The thought got him finally filling that silence with words, unnecessary, clumsy ones, spat forth from his lips solely for the comfort of hearing anything, feeling anything but the aching emptiness of that barren void between them. "Door to door, she said. And hey, I'm not arguing with the woman. Napoleon's Mini-Me has a needle with my name on it."

"I don't need a fucking babysitter."

The words were low, tense, spilling out of Daniel in the first show of anger since they'd taken him out of that room, since Jack had taken off his own jacket and covered his friend's shaking torso with it. He didn't know if it was a good or bad sign that Daniel was finally getting angry, finally lashing out even if it was at him. He deserved it after all.

If he'd paid attention.

He couldn't think about that now, could only concentrate on Daniel, on giving Daniel what Daniel needed, whatever Daniel wanted and screw his own needs, wants. Desires. He had to try. He owed Daniel that much at least.

"I know you don't," he said quietly. "But maybe you need a friend."

A harsh, sour laugh greeted his words and Daniel's eyes flashed briefly in his direction, filled with bitter acknowledgement at his unintended irony. He sure as fuck hadn't been much of a friend to Daniel recently, had he, covering his own fear by pushing its cause as far away as possible, telling himself that it was for the best. Denying it with every fibre of his being up to and including making an even bigger fucking ass of himself by making puppy eyes at Carter.

No. He hadn't been much of a friend to Daniel recently, and he should have expected some bitterness from Daniel about that. He'd been running so scared, pulled back so far so fast from the object of his desire that he'd taken everything with him, including his friendship. He'd left Daniel behind, reeling and hurt in his wake, wondering what the hell he'd done, what sin he'd committed for Jack to abandon him like that. To leave him hung up and out to dry and watching helplessly as Jack blithely stated that his fears were groundless, that the foundation to their friendship was as solid as ever while knocking it out from under his feet.

And throughout the whole mess Jack had hidden from the hurt he'd caused, refusing to acknowledge that he was the source of that pain just like he'd refused to acknowledge the feelings he'd had for Daniel in the first place, the very feelings that had triggered his retreat. He deserved anything and everything that Daniel decided to dish out, and so he trailed Daniel out of the elevator, determined to see this through to the bitter end.

Daniel didn't say anything else, letting his laugh do the talking for him and keeping his eyes firmly to the front as he trudged those few short, distant steps to his front door. Now that his refuge was in sight he barely seemed to be aware of Jack's presence, letting the fact that Jack's hand reached out and grasped his elbow to steady him as his steps wavered pass by without comment. It seemed to take forever for him to actually manage to get the key in the lock of his door, and Jack had to fight the impulse to take over, to crowd Daniel, to take control of that from Daniel when Daniel so obviously needed to feel in control.

A soft click told him that Daniel had finally been successful, and the door swung open in front of them. Daniel seemed scarcely aware of that either, remaining rooted on the spot, swaying drunkenly on his feet, for long seconds until Jack finally gave into his impatience and pushed with gentle pressure at the small of Daniel's back to get him moving forward.

Oh yeah. Dannyboy was running on fumes here. It only took a sidelong glance at Daniel's tense face, however, to tell him that no matter how exhausted Daniel was he wouldn't be sleeping well tonight.

With a heavy heart he followed Daniel into the chill of his apartment, guiding his friend with gentle touches towards the armchair in his living room. Daniel sank into it wordlessly, his face still expressionless but this time Jack was left with the impression that it was simply numbness on Daniel's part, not a blank mask intended to hide the fear, the pain, the anger. The mask he'd seen far too often recently.

Daniel had grown too damn good at hiding what he was feeling over the last few years and there were times when Jack grieved for the old Daniel, the Daniel with the non-military haircut and demeanour, the fearless Daniel, rushing in recklessly where angels feared to tread, not this wounded, guarded stranger with Daniel's eyes. This Daniel was still capable of righteous passion when it was called for but it was tempered now by a cynicism, a combination of sarcasm and world-weariness in which Jack saw all too clearly his own reflection.

He couldn't take all of the blame for it, of course, no matter how tempting the donning of sackcloth and ashes was in his current mood in the wake of his most recent cock-up. For some reason, at some point, the Universe had decided to get its kicks by cruelly fucking with Daniel's world view, by piling tragedy after tragedy, burden after burden onto the man's shoulders until anyone else but Daniel would have cracked long ago under the pressure.

The sheer stubbornness of the man was the one thing that hadn't changed in either incarnation.

With a guilty start he realised that he was hovering over Daniel, uncertainty probably clear in every twitching move he made. He hated this, absolutely hated to be at this much of a loss, and not just for words this time but for any action that would go some way towards easing this awkward silence between them. Thankfully Daniel's eyes were closed again, shutting the world out, although the tense, tight lines around his mouth suggested that he was well aware of Jack's presence looming over him, and that it irritated him. At least it meant he wouldn't have to look into those eyes, see the condemnation and the anger there, see the tiredness, the pain both of the body and of the soul. He couldn't, however, ignore the slight shudders wracking Daniel's frame, due to the cold or shock he couldn't tell and wasn't sure he wanted to know.

He fled, losing himself in practicalities rather than face the emptiness of that lack of words. He moved on autopilot, locating Daniel's thermostat and turning the heating both on and up to try and eliminate the chill from an apartment left unoccupied for too much of the time.

If only the chill in their relationship could be eliminated as easily.

Next, coffee and not just for the warmth it would give Daniel physically but also for the comfort of familiarity. For both of them. He could, for a little while, blank out the memories of that place, that room by filling his mind with the task of wrestling with Daniel's overly complex and complicated coffee machine, cursing softly under his breath as he burnt his hand. He was too damned eager to get this show on the road, to actually achieve something even if it was something as simple as getting Daniel a coffee. He refused to acknowledge that his injury might have anything to do with the shaking evident in his own hands.

Task finally completed, he moved back towards the living room, hesitating in the doorway when he caught sight of Daniel's too still body. It struck him as intensely wrong somehow, yet another strange twist to a horrific and surreal day, as though they'd left Daniel in that place and only brought back an empty shell. Daniel was always in motion, those elegant hands flashing as he illustrated some point, marshalled some argument. Fidgeting with his pen or paper when he was listening with that intentness he always showed. Pacing when deep in thought. The only times Daniel was ever still was when he shut down, shut out the world. Wrapped his arms tightly around himself and just became motionless. When he was hurting so badly that he simply retreated. Like he was hurting now.

He shook himself, suddenly angry with himself, the Universe, maybe even with Daniel. Angry at the turn his thoughts had taken, angry at life throwing one too many things at Daniel, as though the poor bastard didn't have enough to deal with. Angry at Daniel for not dealing, or maybe for dealing with it on his own, as per usual. Without Jack.

It wasn't fair, he knew it. But goddamn it, he was only human and suffering from that most human of conditions - he was floundering. Lost. For words. Again.

He was tired of it. And Daniel's coffee was getting cold.

He couldn't look into Daniel's face as he roused his friend, concentrating instead on Daniel's hands, which were gripping the arms of the chair tightly, white-knuckled, the tendons clear through the drawn skin. There was no solace there for him in that tense, deathlike grip, just a reminder of the nightmare they'd left behind on PJ3-698 and the nightmares Daniel had brought home with him. Hell, who was he trying to fool? He'd be having his own share of bad dreams for the next few weeks. He knew his own psyche well enough to know that. Been there, seen that, got the fucking t-shirt to prove it.

Swallowing another sudden flare of anger, he crouched down in front of Daniel and reached out to lightly grasp those white-knuckled fingers in his. His own hands were shaking with the effort of reining his anger in, with keeping the movement gentle and unthreatening as he coaxed Daniel's grip free from the arm of the chair and brought Daniel's hand up to cup the mug he held. He repeated the action with the other hand, cupping Daniel's fingers in his as they continued to shake. And then, only then, did he raise his gaze to meet Daniel's and found Daniel avoiding his eyes.

Okay. Not good, and once again he was left flailing for words that wouldn't come.

"Daniel?" He attempted a smile, feeling it freeze rictus like on his face, strained and false rather than the comfort he intended to give, as Daniel's eyes flashed briefly in his direction. They were painfully blank, meeting his for only a second before returning to their contemplation of some distant point in space. He cleared his throat, the noise loud in the silence, and tried to complete his sentence. "Coffee."

No reaction, and once again he was gripped with that strange, formless fear that they'd actually left Daniel behind and he was confronted with nothing more than a barely animated corpse. He pushed at Daniel's hands, not sure whether to be more relieved or worried when the gesture got Daniel automatically raising the mug to his lips and taking a sip.

There was no pleasure in Daniel's face at the taste, no closing of his eyes and heartfelt, satiated sigh as there usually was when he indulged in his favourite brew. Just that same blankness. Just Daniel's eyes staring into space. Just an empty shell and Jack turned his face away in despair.

"I took my glasses off."

The words were slow and toneless, a propos of nothing, and he cast a quick, startled glance back up at Daniel's face only to find the same expressionless mask.

"What?"

Daniel finally turned his head, the movement slow, seeming disconnected from the reality around him. The mask was still in place, making his face seem almost slack, like a shop store dummy, but his eyes... Oh God, his eyes were alive now, not hidden as they usually were behind those glass lenses. Alive and pained and confused.

He'd noticed Daniel's glasses were missing of course, but had assumed that Daniel had lost them in the struggle and he and Teal'c had been too concerned with removing Daniel from that room and all its connotations to locate them. And, strangely enough, it hadn't occurred to him to search for Daniel's spare pair once they'd made it back to the SGC, nor, it seemed, had the thought occurred to anyone else, including Daniel. He'd been too keen to get Daniel out of that place, to separate him from the harsh clinical smell of the Infirmary and the too bright lights that only served to highlight the bruises on ashen skin.

Daniel's face was too naked, too vulnerable without them, and he almost flinched back from the barely hidden need in that gaze.

"I took my glasses off," Daniel repeated, his eyes now searching Jack's face desperately for the kind of understanding, comprehension that Jack just didn't have. "I remembered what you said."

Jack shook his head, completely thrown by the conversation. Maybe Daniel was in an even worse state than he'd feared, losing himself in some strange, last attempt to grasp at normality. Daniel's tone became urgent as he repeated, "I remembered what you said. On Hadante."

Oh shit.

"I remembered what you said about..." Daniel's eyes skittered away from his again. "... about showing signs of weakness."

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

There was still tension in that too still frame although now that he was close enough to Daniel to feel the heat rising from the other man's body he could also sense the faint shivers that were running through him. Daniel's expression, however, had changed back to that frozen, granite like visage that so scared and infuriated him in equal measure. Even his eyes were now opaque, veiled and unreadable.

While he crouched there, flailing uselessly for an adequate response, Daniel shrugged his shoulders slightly, dismissing his experience with a casualness that didn't fool Jack for a second. "Didn't work though." His voice was hollow and he took another, automatic sip at his coffee.

This was what they'd been reduced to, what their friendship was worth; a few meaningless platitudes and empty reassurances on both their parts.

He couldn't let it end like this. Couldn't let Daniel slip away from him entirely, losing himself in the process. Not without a fight. Couldn't let his fear rule him anymore. Couldn't hurt Daniel anymore with his silence. He'd find the words somehow, any words. He had to.

One of Daniel's hands now loosened its hold on the mug, and returned to rest on the arm of the chair. His fingers moved ceaselessly on the fabric, gripping and relaxing in an unconscious rhythm. The mug tipped precariously in the other hand, threatening to spill its contents into Daniel's lap although Daniel seemed unaware of it. His gaze was still fixed on that far off point and his eyes had that unfocused look of a man seeing the past rather than anything in the present. Jack reached up, searching for the elusive words that escaped him so easily, and gently removed it from Daniel's grip before the inevitable happened, placing it on the small coffee table to the side where it sat, sending tendrils of steam up into the still air. Daniel's now freed hand fell listlessly into his lap to curl there, as lifeless as the man himself.

He couldn't resist touching Daniel any longer, couldn't bear to leave his friend like this, the sight of Daniel's distress, no matter how well hidden, cutting through his last remaining selfish barricades. He brought his own hand down on top of Daniel's where it rested on the arm of the chair, stopping that unsettling movement with gentle pressure.

"It wasn't weakness, Daniel."

He got the tone right, soft and sincere with nary a hint of the shaking he suffered inside as his mind replayed Daniel's words, his internal monologue begging for Daniel to listen, to believe him. To see it for what it was - sick fucks on a power trip - rather than think it was any lack on his part. Not a weakness. Damn it, not that.

It didn't take Daniel's quick glance in his direction, half irritation, half disbelief and all pain, to tell him that no matter what the tone Daniel wasn't buying the explanation. Daniel's disbelief was clear in the way that his hand tensed again under Jack's, a flinch of anguish, quickly hidden. Jack thanked God, however, when Daniel didn't remove it from his grasp.

"Daniel -" he began again.

"I knew what you meant," Daniel interrupted, his eyes closing and his head hitting the back of the chair with a soft, audible thump. "On Hadante. I knew what you were worried about."

He'd hoped not at the time, he really had, but he'd gradually come to realise, once he finally began to crack the hard shell Daniel had crafted about himself, that Daniel, whilst enthusiastic, had never been naïve. Had never been as innocent as he'd first assumed but had simply, somehow, managed to transcend the things that had happened to him and retain his compassion. Had managed not to become bitter.

Until Jack.

He let his thumb stroke lightly over the back of Daniel's hand, a wordless comfort. "Yeah," he said softly, "I thought you might." He didn't elaborate but left the words hanging there, in the space between them, to speak for themselves.

Daniel's head rolled to the side, and he met Jack's gaze again with eyes that were too dark and deep for comfort. "You said -"

"I know what I said, Daniel," he cut him off rapidly, his anger flaring briefly again. "I didn't mean that you were weak. I meant..."

Once again words failed him under the intensity of that gaze.

"Why then?" Daniel's tone was soft but his eyes were anything but. They sliced into him, laying him bare until he could hardly stand it and yet couldn't break away from that stare.

"Honestly?" It came out harsher than he intended, weighed down by the grief he felt. Daniel gave a barely perceptible nod, his eyes still riveted on Jack, reading him down to the soul. "In Hadante..." He cleared his throat. "In Hadante there were lots of desperate men and... Damn it, Daniel." He couldn't finish, his throat closing, coming close to hating Daniel for making him spell it out when it should be obvious, and yet fearing at the same time that it wouldn't be obvious to Daniel. That Daniel would read it as a condemnation of weakness rather than just a statement of fact.

Daniel, of course, didn't let him off easily. Daniel never let him off easily, either in their friendship or in their work. Daniel always demanded the truth, made him face the truth too whether he wanted to face it or not.

And was making him face the truth now.

"Why me, Jack?" There was desperation in Daniel's gaze now, the façade finally slipping and all Jack could do was keep gently stroking the back of Daniel's hand, giving what limited comfort he could, before sliding his fingers around to grip Daniel's chilled ones. "Why is it always me? Hathor, Shyla, Ra... "

Ra? Oh fuck. He froze, not wanting to face the implication and Daniel must have interpreted his silence, the sudden tensing of his body, as some kind of condemnation because he also tensed and moved to draw away. Jack tightened his grip, refusing to let him retreat any further and Daniel didn't struggle. Daniel had probably had enough of struggling today. He looked away, however, harsh lines forming around the generous curves of his mouth, refusing to meet Jack's eyes any longer.

"Ra?" The question came out before he could stop it, and he didn't, really didn't want to hear the answer. Didn't want to hear it confirmed, hear the details of his first failure spoken out loud. Their very first mission together. First the civilian got himself killed saving Jack's sorry ass and then... Oh God, then the civilian, his friend...

Please. No. Not that. Anything but that. Bad enough Hathor. Bad enough when Daniel didn't remember details, drugged half out of his skull and just aware of enough to flesh out what had happened and no more. Not enough to relive it over and over again in his head. He assumed so anyway. Hoped so. Perhaps he assumed and hoped too much.

Daniel didn't answer him but glanced his way again and all the confirmation he needed was there in Daniel's eyes.

"Shit, Danny," he breathed, the diminutive slipping past unguarded lips and triggering a sharp spasm of grief in Daniel's face. "Why didn't you say anything?"

Daniel shrugged again, the movement hampered by the tight grip Jack still had on his hand. He dropped his eyes, staring down at his other hand, still lying limply in his lap, and his fingers flexed before he formed a fist, the only outward sign of agitation. "What was the point?" he asked softly. "Who would I tell and why? There were other things going on." He raised his head again and treated Jack to a small, travesty of a smile, one of those little quirks of the lips that didn't reach his eyes. "We were kind of busy, what with organising a rebellion and overthrowing a God."

The tone was light, too light and almost believable in spite of that. Yes, Daniel had become far too good at hiding the pain over the years.

"I'm sorry," Jack ventured, only to be treated to another, dismissive shrug as the barriers came down again. What else could he say?

He stared down at Daniel's hand, loosening his grip enough to start rubbing his thumb over the too pale skin again, no longer able to look into Daniel's face and see his failure written there.

"It doesn't matter." Daniel's words were leaden, meaningless, devoid of anything and that emptiness chilled him to the bone. Not for the first time it occurred to him that words might fail Daniel too.

Stuff. Why the hell couldn't they ever just talk about stuff?

"It wasn't your fault." He cringed as his words came out, equally meaningless, a travesty in the face of what Daniel had just revealed, and fell like stones into the silent chasm that had grown between them. All he could do, when the words didn't come, was to hold on to Daniel's hand tightly, anchor Daniel to him because he was still gripped by that almost superstitious fear that if he let go Daniel would slip away from him.

"It was a long time ago." More meaningless words and he stole a look at Daniel's averted face, wondering if Daniel had told anyone this before, wondering if Sha're had held him in the dark of the night, soothing away the inevitable nightmares or whether Daniel had, as always, dealt with it on his own. It seemed cruel to ask, too cruel to contemplate no matter what bitter worm of jealousy stirred in his stomach. To bring up the loss of Daniel's wife when the wound was still so raw, and always would be he suspected, like the loss of Charlie still was for him, just because he wanted to know.

Did you turn to her, Daniel, like you haven't been able to turn to me?

It was a petty thought in the face of Daniel's pain, and damn it Daniel deserved better but Jack knew too damn well the darkest pits of his own psyche, knew the deeds he was capable of, the petty insecurities and jealousies. He'd hurt Daniel too damn much, hurt Daniel rather than risk being hurt himself. Simple cowardice on his part and a lack of faith in his friend.

There were days when he came close to hating himself and today was one of them.

"Hadante," he said slowly, staring at the wall behind Daniel's chair because he couldn't look at Daniel. If he looked at Daniel the words would flee again. "On Hadante I was worried for my whole team." 'Not just you,' was the silent message he sent, hoping that Daniel got it. Hoping that there were still enough remnants of the rapport that used to exist between them to make sure that Daniel would get it. "Carter... Linea took care of that. Made sure that nothing would happen to her. Teal'c... well, he's Teal'c." Get it, Daniel, he pleaded silently, his gaze still riveted on the wall. There was an old paint drip running down it, where the landlord had been too heavy handed with the brush.

Get it, Daniel. Please.

"But you had no such guarantees for me."

Yes. He closed his eyes in relief.

"Yeah. On Hadante... There were predators, Daniel. You said you understood that much. Anyone new to that hellhole was at risk."

"Including you?" The question was slow but held traces of Daniel's customary curiosity even if it was subdued now, almost hidden behind the stilted pain.

"Yeah, but..."

"But?" Daniel's voice was implacable this time, and he finally tore his eyes away from contemplation of the wall to meet Daniel's veiled gaze. He treated Daniel to what he hoped was a sardonic grin but suspected that it was actually as much of a travesty of one as Daniel's earlier.

"If you were the scum of humanity, who would you rather go for? The cute young guy in glasses or the old guy with dodgy knees?"

Daniel didn't return his smile, his eyes searching Jack's face while his expression remained guarded. Maybe it was the wrong thing to say, again. All too vividly his mind's eye summoned up the image of Daniel in those dark days following Hathor's visit to the SGC. Closed up, cut-off from them, flinching away from touches, from comfort, haunting the halls of the SGC like a ghost, wan and pale. And his clothes. Daniel had never been one for caring much about his clothes and Jack thanked the day that Carter had finally dragged Daniel, kicking and screaming, to the mall and revamped his wardrobe, outfitting him in something that didn't scream 'middle-aged professor'.

But after Hathor Daniel had started to wear clothes that were even more shapeless than normal, even baggier, seeming to sink into them, hiding behind his hair. Or maybe it was just that Daniel had seemed smaller, more fragile then.

Damaged.

It had been painfully obvious at the time what Daniel was subconsciously doing - everything he could not to draw attention to himself, to make himself blend into the crowd. Make himself as unappealing as possible. Thank God the man's inexhaustible reserves of courage, his natural resilience and, yes, sheer stubbornness had finally kicked in and helped him move on. Maybe reminding Daniel now that he was absolutely frickin' edible even on a bad day wasn't the smart option.

"Daniel," he began again, his other hand coming up to hold Daniel's, his fingers still stroking gently over the back. "I was worried about you on Hadante. If it hadn't been for Linea I would have been just as worried about Carter, and damn it the woman has level three hand to hand combat skills. I know you can look after yourself, but..."

"But?" prompted Daniel. Jack released his grip on Daniel's hand long enough to scrub at his hair, back to staring anywhere but at Daniel.

"It's my job to worry about you, Daniel." Not the whole truth, nowhere near the whole truth and he wasn't even sure that Daniel wanted to hear it reduced to that. He snuck another look at Daniel's face, but it was still carefully blank. "And you're my friend," he added awkwardly.

There was no response and he couldn't blame Daniel for that. He remained awkwardly crouched there, in front of Daniel, his knees complaining, waiting for... what? He didn't know. Maybe for Daniel to throw him out, or to fall asleep.

Or break this silence even if it was only to tell him to go to hell.

The words, when they came, weren't what he expected.

"I was scared today."

Daniel's voice was carefully uninflected. He might as well have been reading the weather report, although that probably would have been more animated. His countenance was equally devoid of expression, giving Jack no hints of the inner turmoil Daniel was wrestling with, or how to approach this. 'I know' seemed too trite somehow. 'That's understandable' too easy an answer. He went with his gut feel.

"So was I."

Daniel's eyes met his again, deep and dark and unreadable. It made him nervous, got him elaborating where perhaps normally he wouldn't. So did remembering that terror. "I thought... I kept thinking we were going to get there too late."

Stupid, stupid, stupid. As though Daniel needed reminding of just how close it had come. He couldn't hold Daniel's gaze anymore, dropping his head so that it fell onto their clasped hands. He was shaking now, unable to hold it back, hold it in, remembering those faces, remembering the anger, the killing rage that had gripped him when he realised what they were going to do to his friend. Rage he knew that Teal'c had shared.

Shit. Daniel didn't need this from him, assuming that Daniel needed anything from him at all. Daniel didn't need this self-indulgent bullshit.

There was a feather light touch on his head, and it took him a few moments to realise what it was - Daniel gently stroking through his hair, soothing him.

The touch grounded him in a way it probably hadn't been intended to. It had him jerking back, the desire not to put any more pressure on Daniel, not to add to the man's already significant burdens, enabling him to get himself under at least some control. He pulled back, staring at the wall again, muttering an apologetic, "Sorry."

Gathering his courage together, he glanced up at Daniel, meeting what he expected. Concern in Daniel's eyes. For him.

Shit. Typical Daniel behaviour - put everyone before himself. He rubbed tiredly at his eyes, only realising he'd let go of Daniel's hand when he spotted Daniel pulling it back and instinctively grabbed for it again.

"Danny..." Daniel's eyes were uncertain now, confused and conflicted and Jack sighed heavily, back to searching for the right words, knowing he wasn't going to find them because that would be too fucking easy and things between Daniel and him had been many things but easy wasn't one of them.

"It doesn't matter." Daniel cut him off again, sounding tired and beaten and for a second that banked anger in his chest flickered again, this time aimed at Daniel for being so goddamned reasonable about it, for once again retreating instead of spitting and screaming into the face of fate. For being as weak as Daniel obviously feared, on some level, that he was. Not fair, but life, as Daniel knew, as he knew, just wasn't fucking fair sometimes.

"It matters," he hissed, his hand tightening around Daniel's and some small, twisted part of him relished the brief flare of pain in Daniel's eyes, closely followed by a matching anger, because, goddamn it, it was honest and real and not a mask. "Damn it, Daniel..." He wanted to say more, rant and rail and make that real too, to take his anger out on Daniel because it was so damned easy to do that. The memory of that room, of Daniel's fear and anger and bitter resolve, and the open lust on the faces of those animals stopped the words in their tracks. As did the wounded look in Daniel's eyes, half bitter and half fearful.

His energy ebbed, taking his anger with it. He was too tired to fight and Daniel was no better. If he continued on this path he knew from bitter experience what would happen. They'd wound each other with words again; end up hitting each other's weak spots with unerring accuracy and walk away bleeding and with the chasm gaping ever wider between them.

"Damn it, Daniel," he sighed. "It matters." God, he was so tired of this, of Daniel hurting and him making it worse not better. Of falling into the trap of shooting first and asking questions later, a trait that Daniel had accused him of having more than once, even if it was only his mouth he was shooting off. The ammunition was no less deadly for that. He was so fucking tired of screwing up, of watching Daniel screw up, of watching that distance between them growing greater every day. "It matters."

That silence fell again, and there was so much he wanted to say but feared saying at the same time. Wanted to tell Daniel that, damn it, it did matter because Daniel mattered. Because Jack cared about him and he mattered, mattered to Jack maybe more than anyone had in a long time, and Jack was including himself in that assessment. So much he wanted to say but couldn't because he couldn't find the words.

"I knew you'd come." Daniel's voice this time was soft, not empty or cold, without that terrible lack of inflection, but when Jack glanced up again Daniel's face was still averted. "I knew that you'd find me. Sooner or later. I just didn't know whether 'sooner' was going to be soon enough." There was no condemnation in the muted words but he flinched anyway, his own guilt lashing at him even when Daniel wouldn't. "I didn't... Jack, I didn't mean..."

Guilt. In Daniel's voice this time, and now Daniel was back to looking at him, apology in those blue eyes and wasn't that the kicker? Didn't it just beat all, show him just how fucked up their friendship had been recently? Daniel was actually apologising for giving him the impression that he'd ever doubted him. As though he hadn't given Daniel every reason to doubt that he'd be there for him when Daniel needed him.

"I was scared but... but I knew you'd come."

"Eventually."

Daniel's turn to flinch back from the bitterness in his voice and he cursed himself even as Daniel shut down again, pulling back emotionally and intellectually even if his hand remained tightly gripped in Jack's own. "Not your fault," he said rapidly. "Not your fault, Daniel. It's my responsibility to ensure your safety. My responsibility as team leader and I screwed up but good."

"You can't be expected to watch over me all of the time, Jack." That dead tone was back in Daniel's voice and he hated it, fucking hated it. "You, Sam and Teal'c have taught me all you can about hand to hand combat," and Jack heard the silent self-condemnation in that, the unsaid 'all I can learn', "and you have to be able to rely on me."

'Should be able to,' he heard and maybe that gave him a hint, a clue as to how to crowbar his way past Daniel's shields. Maybe they weren't as impenetrable as they seemed.

"We do rely upon you, Daniel. Maybe more than we should."

Another minute tremor ran through Daniel; if it hadn't been for the grip he still had on Daniel's hand he would have missed it. Daniel's expression was back to that blank mask, giving nothing away. "Daniel..." He rubbed the back of Daniel's hand again, fixing his attention on it so fiercely his eyes hurt, burning, his throat tightening with the pressure of holding back what he knew he couldn't let loose. If he did, then this would become about him and not Daniel. He knew Daniel well enough to know that. Knew Daniel's natural compassion and empathy. Knew, also, that Daniel would use it as an excuse, throwing himself into fixing Jack to try and hide from his own shuddering fear.

"Danny..." His eyes were still firmly cast downwards, watching as Daniel's fingers curled more tightly around his own and the tendons in Daniel's hand flexed under the skin, focusing on the way the fair hairs caught the light. The bruises around his wrist.

"Hadante was about sex." The words were hard and brutal, even if the tone wasn't, but he was tired of beating about the bush and Daniel... both of them were so punch-drunk at the moment he somehow sensed that if he prevaricated, hummed and hawed, Daniel would miss the point. Or his courage would fail. "Desperate men, very few women and then we drop into the middle of it. Well-fed, healthy and...well..." He hesitated and then grabbed the bull by the proverbial horns, taking a deep breath as he did so. "In the case of you and Carter, absolutely freakin' gorgeous."

He risked a small, nervous smile in Daniel's direction to find Daniel watching him closely, no sign of what he was thinking on his face. He went back to concentrating on the back of Daniel's hand - it was easier to talk to than those eyes, which saw far too much.

"Carter... well, like I said she had Linea looking out for her and that whole 'Destroyer of Worlds' thing has a dampening effect on a man's libido, if you know what I mean. Kinda hard to let your fingers do your talking when you're talking about messing with a woman who lists 'wiping out humanity' among her hobbies."

There was a callus on the side of Daniel's middle finger, where his pen rested, and a number of small scars on the back of his hand, the legacy of a lifetime spent digging in the dirt. He smoothed his fingers over them absently before turning Daniel's hand over and stroking his thumb over the palm. There were a few scars there too and he focused on them rather than the bruising around Daniel's wrist.

"Which left you..." He sighed, and looked up again, treating Daniel to another quirky smile. "The most appealing dish on the all you can eat buffet that came through that gate." Daniel's brow crinkled and his lips parted in Daniel's classic 'I'm about to refute you' pose and Jack pressed lightly on his palm to cut him off. "Trust me on this, Danny," he said softly, a wry twist to his lips.

Daniel flushed and glanced away, and he didn't push it, knowing it wasn't really what Daniel needed to hear right now. He returned his gaze to the contemplation of Daniel's hand, tracing Daniel's lifeline with a gentle finger. It was long, and his lips quirked again, thinking of the number of lives his friend seemed to have.

"Today..." Shit, this was difficult, touching on nerves still too raw. "Today... it wasn't about... sex." No, he thought. It was about fear and cruelty and hatred and his throat closed as memories surged up, threatening to choke him.

Daniel's fingers curled loosely around his, and he didn't need to look up this time to know that Daniel was watching him.

"Today was about control, Danny. About mob rule and the pack mentality." He licked his lips nervously, his heart pounding as he got to the crux of the matter. "Those sons of bitches... they were looking to make a point. Looking to... looking to drive a lesson home to those poor bastard villagers." He finally looked up, meeting Daniel's confused look with a fierce one of his own. "Do you understand?"

Daniel shook his head, that familiar frown line creasing his forehead, his eyebrows drawn together as he searched Jack's eyes for answers.

"They didn't pick you because you were weak, Daniel. They picked you because you weren't."

A blink of utter confusion as Daniel absorbed this, and he took advantage of Daniel's hesitation, somehow knowing that he had to strike while the iron was hot.

"They wanted to cause fear, Daniel. That was it. That was all. That type of lowlife glories in it. They wanted to cause the most fear they could 'cause if you make people afraid of you it makes it just that little bit easier to control them." Yeah, Daniel got that. He could see the agreement in Daniel's eyes. Fear as a method of suppression, used by dictators everywhere up to and including the Goa'uld. The Goa'uld, however, tried to team that with awe, with unquestioning obedience and respect. Those animals just went straight for brute suppression. "In the situation we were in SG1 were their main threat, the only potential challengers to them. The villagers were too cowed. Us? We weren't. We were watching them, judging them, trying to figure out which way they'd jump. Threat assessing them. They figured that much out. With me?"

Daniel gave a slow, thoughtful nod and he was pleased to see the beginning of interest dawning in the other man's blue eyes. The archaeologist's resilience never failed to impress him. Give him something to puzzle over, some facet of human behaviour to figure out, and it distracted him, tying up all of that remarkable brain.

Hopefully it would tie his brain up enough that there'd be little left to relive memories that were best buried.

"So..." He hesitated, wondering where to go from here. "I guess what I'm saying is that they saw us as the only potential threat and moved to neutralise us in the most... fear inspiring way they could."

"Why not just kill us?" Daniel asked softly.

He rubbed his thumb over Daniel's palm, staring down at the pale flesh. "They'd probably have got there," he answered honestly. "If they'd had a chance. But first..."

"But first they wanted to make an example. Of me."

He couldn't tell from Daniel's tone whether the man was back in self-condemnation mode or not and a sidelong glance at Daniel's face didn't give him any clues. He kept right on stroking Daniel's palm, although on reflection it was probably a weird thing to want to do, intruding on Daniel's personal space in a way few people were permitted to do. It comforted him though, and, since Daniel wasn't actively objecting, he was left with the hope that maybe it had the same comforting effect on Daniel.

"Daniel..."

"Why me?" The soft interjection cut across what he was going to say next, and Daniel's eyes were, once again, fixed on his face. There was no way he was going to be able to wriggle out of this one.

"Because I screwed up."

Daniel's brow furrowed again, his lower lip jutting slightly as he examined Jack's face. "And how exactly," he asked, his tone measured, "do you come to that conclusion?"

"They picked you, Daniel, because you were the one on his own. I knew they were there. I knew from the reaction of that village's head honcho -"

"Caelin," Daniel interrupted softly, and Jack raised one hand from cradling Daniel's to make a sharp, impatient cutting off gesture before it returned, inexorably, to hold Daniel's again.

"Caelin. Head guy. Whatever. I could see he thought they were trouble, see he got his people out of the way. And I was so busy watching those assholes, watching them circling around, looking for weak spots, that I forgot to watch you."

"Your weak spot," Daniel added.

"Damn it, Daniel, no! It could have been me, could have been Teal'c. Thank God Carter was out of the frame in this instance or it could have been her too. Probably would have been. Could have been anyone of us. They just went for the one they could get on their own. Don't you see, Danny? It was nothing to do with you. It wasn't..." Words failed him again, and he forced the last few out, no matter how clumsy they were. "You didn't have a huge neon sign over your head saying, 'Vulnerable.' It was just the way things panned out."

"This time." Daniel's eyes had that remote look in them again, the one that said he was a thousand miles, or maybe six years away.

"Hey." He shook Daniel's hand gently until Daniel finally looked his way again. "As I recall, you weren't the only one sporting bruises, Danny. There were six of them and you put up a hell of a fight."

Daniel's face twisted in remembered pain for a moment and then relaxed. "Yeah," he sighed. "I was motivated."

Jack made a soft sound of confirmation, not sure what to say next, not wanting to say anything that might shatter the fragile concord that was forming between them. As the silence grew, however, he shifted uncomfortably, back to staring at the wall.

"It wasn't you, Danny. Nothing you did, nothing you are." He risked a quick peek at his friend, to catch Daniel looking back at him, a small, near imperceptible smile hovering around the corners of his mouth. "Freakin' gorgeousness aside."

"Alleged freakin' gorgeousness," Daniel grumbled half-heartedly, the smile forming more clearly on his face although there was still a reserve, a residue of pain in his eyes.

Jack gave him a soft, rueful smile. "Trust me on that one," he said, quiet and low, and after a moment Daniel flushed and looked away. He didn't push it, didn't do anything to erode Daniel's comfort zone, but continued holding onto the hand that rested in his.

"So..." he said eventually, "since we're in the sharing mood and all..." Daniel's hand tensed in his. "Is there anything else...?" He trailed off, trying to make his tone inviting, comforting. Reassuring maybe, although he usually left this sort of stuff to Daniel. Left it to Daniel to present the more humane face of SG1 to the Universe.

Daniel pulled his hand away, and this time he let it go. "It was a long time ago," Daniel repeated, his voice stiff and edging towards cold. Jack resisted the urge to reach for Daniel's hand again, to encroach on the invisible no touching zone Daniel appeared to have pulled around himself.

"I know," he said soothingly. "You don't have to tell me. I'm just saying... I'm just saying that if you want to, I'm here. Okay?" No response, and this time he did reach for Daniel, placing his hand on his friend's thigh and shaking it gently to get Daniel's attention. "Okay?"

Silence, and then a faint nod from Daniel.

They sat in that silence for several, long moments, lost in their own thoughts. He left his hand resting lightly on Daniel's leg, however, a quiet, comforting heat.

"Ra..." Daniel began, and then trailed off. Jack resisted saying anything. Perhaps in this instance silence would work as well, if not better, than any number of words. "Ra... thought he was a god."

Daniel snuck a quick look at his face, as though he was trying to figure out if Jack was listening, taking it all in, and only the seriousness of the whole conversation had Jack biting back on his instinctive, 'Ya think?' response to that little revelation. Instead he pasted what he hoped was an encouraging 'spill your guts' expression on his face.

"I mean..." Daniel scrubbed his hands over his face, looking haggard and exhausted before spitting out, "He thought I should feel honoured, Jack." Jack's hand tightened on Daniel's leg in sympathy. "He thought of himself as my god and that I should be flattered that he'd want me." He let out a bitter laugh. "Stupid son of a bitch actually thought it would work towards persuading me to kill you the next day, being so 'honoured'."

For a split second Jack wished desperately that Ra had survived that explosion, had been able to reach the sarcophagus just so that he could kill the snaky son of a bitch again - more slowly this time. And then maybe stick him in the sarcophagus for another round just for the sheer hell of it.

Daniel let out another, more rueful laugh. "Certainly puts Zeus' penchant for showers of gold into perspective. Of course, he always liked the girls rather than the boys. I should have guessed Ra liked the boys. He certainly kept enough of them about."

Oh Jesus. There really was nothing he could say to that and Daniel finally took pity on him. "It's okay, Jack," he said quietly, and he managed to dredge up a smile from somewhere. "It was..."

"A long time ago," Jack interrupted woodenly. Daniel was back to watching him, half sympathetic, half wary, and he raised his hand from Daniel's leg to wave it vaguely in the air, waving off that concern. "Jesus, Daniel... I think we killed the snaky bastard too fast."

That startled a snort of laughter out of Daniel and the archaeologist slumped back in his chair, tension draining from his body. "You'll get no arguments from me." Jack suspected that it was more the tone of his response - non-judgmental and supportive, in his own uniquely tongue-tied way - than the lame ass remark itself that put Daniel at ease.

He let Daniel sit there in silence for a few moments, relishing the relaxation now evident in the other man's body and the quiet rapport that seemed to exist between them. Daniel's hand had come to rest on the arm of the chair again and, without even thinking about it, he placed his own over it.

"You okay?" he asked softly, knowing it was rather a stupid question but needing to ask it anyway.

Daniel's mouth quirked upwards, although he didn't open his eyes. "No," he replied.

"But you will be, right?" he pressed. He stared at the other man's face, willing Daniel to look at him, and, after agonising seconds, his patience was finally rewarded. Daniel rolled his head lazily along the back of the chair, turning to face him, and his eyes opened a sliver as he gave Jack a faint smile, something unreadable in their depths.

"Probably."

And that, thought Jack, was about as much as anyone could hope for.

His knees were protesting and, giving into them, he straightened up, easing himself to his feet. He didn't want to let go of Daniel's hand but felt rather self-conscious about holding onto it once he was standing. It seemed awkward - something far removed from the almost cosy intimacy of sitting at Daniel's feet, listening to Daniel sharing his pain and so he let go, sticking his hands into his pockets to disguise his discomfort and shuffling his feet on the carpet, staring down at the pattern.

"Need anything?" he asked, trying to sound unconcerned and failing miserably. It probably sounded like he wanted to get out of there, put some distance between Daniel's problems and himself, but that was the last thing on his mind. He still had this burning need to keep Daniel in sight, to ensure that the younger man was safe, that Daniel felt safe. He was reluctant to leave but equally reluctant to pressure Daniel any further. And so he existed in this strange limbo, at the mercy of Daniel's whim.

"Tired," Daniel answered eventually, the frown back between his brows. "I wanted a bath..." His voice trailed off and it was Jack's turn to frown. A bath to add to the two showers that he knew Daniel had taken on base - although he'd been so reluctant to let Daniel out of his sight he would have been surprised if Daniel had managed more. Two, however, gave some indication of Daniel's state of mind - one in the infirmary, as soon as Janet had released him as fit enough to go home and the second in the locker room, before he changed back into civvies.

Jack doubted that anyone else had noticed. He probably wouldn't have done if he hadn't virtually been glued to the archaeologist's side. The idea of Daniel still feeling unclean after all that left him feeling saddened and angry all over again.

He kept his tone as neutral as possible. "A bath might help those bruises. I can run you one if you'd like?"

It probably sounded like a strange offer, and Daniel certainly gave him a strange look before shaking his head. "Too tired," he explained, and Jack couldn't help but feel a certain relief at that. Surely it was a sign that Daniel was feeling a little better about things if he felt more comfortable in his own skin?

"Bed," he announced firmly, ignoring Daniel's amused look. Yes, he realised that he sounded exactly like the mother hen Daniel had accused him of being more than once but, hell, he didn't think Daniel was going to be able to make it on his own.

He was right. When it came to it he had to haul Daniel bodily out of the chair to get him moving and then had to steady his friend once he was on his feet as Daniel's exhaustion threatened to overwhelm him. Daniel muttered an apology as he swayed to and fro, all of the energy seeming to drain out of his body at once.

"Hey, doesn't matter," Jack assured him, grabbing holding of Daniel's elbows to keep him on his feet. Daniel let out a soft, snuffling chuckle at his own clumsiness, the sound lacking any amusement, and met Jack's eyes with a rueful expression. His heart came close to breaking all over again at the sight of Daniel's wan face.

He'd come so damn close to losing Daniel and it had taken something like the horrific events of the day to drive that home to him. He was a selfish fuck, sometimes. So damn close.

"Danny..." The word came out shakier than he would have liked, cutting past his 'hard-ass colonel' façade and the look Daniel gave him sang eloquently of Daniel's concern for him. That frown was back on his friend's face, lowered brows shadowing those remarkable eyes. "Just..."

He couldn't get the words out. They failed him again when he needed them and he was left staring at Daniel desperately, hoping his friend got it and praying that he didn't at the same time, and watching as Daniel grew more and more concerned. More and more afraid for him. In the end he let actions speak louder than words and wasn't that just typical of their friendship? Him the doer, Daniel the talker, no matter that they could switch roles when needed.

He reached out and pulled Daniel into a hug, hating himself for needing that contact then hating himself even more when Daniel reacted by stiffening in his arms. Of course Daniel wouldn't want to be touched after today, he should have thought of that, but he couldn't help it, needing that physical contact, soaking it up hungrily, hoping that it would convince him that Daniel was there, was okay. Hoping that it would, once and for all, kill the fear that had stayed, curdling in his chest ever since he'd walked into that fucking room. He was shaking, knew it, knew it was probably freaking Daniel out on so many different levels and couldn't stop it anyway, the last tendrils of his control slipping from his grasp.

"I'm sorry," he whispered into Daniel's neck, desperately trying to hold onto the vestiges of his self-control. "Just give me a minute, okay?"

Daniel's hands came up and patted his back awkwardly. "S'okay, Jack," he said soothingly. "It's okay." He was still shaking, feeling the echoes of those shudders shivering through Daniel's body too, and then the hands on his back began to rub gently, soothingly. He knew he should pull away, stop putting pressure on Daniel like this, but he stayed, trapped in that limbo by his own need and the hands which stopped moving and came to settle firmly around his waist. Several long seconds passed and then Daniel sighed and leant into him, suddenly seeming to need the contact as much as Jack did.

"Spacemonkey." He sighed the word out raggedly, soft and low rather than the ecstatic cry of relief it had been when Daniel had, once again, returned miraculously from the dead. He felt Daniel let out a soft, almost soundless chuff of laughter against his neck and rub his face there, the stubble on Daniel's chin scratching slightly. It grounded him, helped him hold on rather than shake apart, as did Daniel's grip on him. Focused him and got him back on track, concentrating on what was important. Daniel.

Giving into temptation he pressed a chaste, almost brotherly kiss against the side of Daniel's head, the short hairs tickling his lips and bringing another lump to his throat. He breathed in Daniel's scent, the feel of him, safe and whole and healthy in his arms, going someway towards easing the last of the shudders that ran through his body, providing a balm to some of the aching wounds in his soul. Finally, reluctantly he pulled back, treating Daniel to a small, self-mocking smile and moving his hands up Daniel's spine to ruffle the hair on the back of the man's neck. "Bed," he insisted softly, ignoring Daniel's raised eyebrow and the other man's smart assed smirk. Yeah, this was his Spacemonkey all right, sardonic and quick with a quip to go with that overactive brain of his. The shadows were still there, both under his eyes and in them, but it seemed that Daniel was on the mend, maybe even faster than Jack was. There was something else in his eyes too, though, some warmth Jack hadn't seen for what seemed like forever, and his heart gave a sudden lurch before he got himself back under control. Now was not the time for any sudden declarations or explanations for his recent coldness, not when Daniel was still hurting, vulnerable in both his pain and sheer exhaustion.

"Bed," he insisted again when Daniel seemed to be in no hurry to move. Judging by the way he had to steer Daniel towards his bedroom, however, he suspected that this reluctance was simply due to Daniel finally running out of his seemingly inexhaustible energy supply rather than any desire on Daniel's part to make his life even more difficult. That little theory of his was confirmed when, on reaching the bedroom, he had to push Daniel into a sitting position on his bed when the man just stood there, looking lost. It was almost like working a puppet, one that had had its strings cut, and he stifled a sigh as he watched Daniel struggling with the fastenings to his pants.

He finally let his impatience get the better of him. "Here," he said softly, some remnants of his concern for Daniel leading him to at least attempt to not crowd the man. "Let me. But if word of this gets out and damages my 'macho flyboy' image I'm coming after you, Jackson." He bent down, ignoring the complaints from his knees about kneeling on the floor again, and began to unfasten Daniel's boots. There was something soothing about the task, something satisfying about being able to do this for Daniel and, much more importantly and tellingly, having Daniel let him do this for him.

Daniel let out another soft snuff of laughter, which seemed to have more to do with him being punch drunk with tiredness than any genuine amusement on his part, much as Jack would have liked to believe that his wit was the cause. He looked up to treat Daniel to a smirk that equalled Daniel's for smart-assedness, but his fingers, as he wrestled with the laces of Daniel's boots, were gentle. He continued to keep his movements as slow and unthreatening as possible as he pulled them off, smiling to himself at the soft groan of satisfaction Daniel let out and the way his friend wriggled his toes. The movement was simply so Daniel.

Rising to his feet, he moved to help Daniel out of the rest of his clothes, quite prepared to step back if Daniel showed any signs of being uncomfortable with this development, not wanting to do anything that would bring the memories of those bastards stripping him come flooding back. It was nice though, and not in any sense that would threaten Daniel's peace of mind but simply because it had been an eternity since they had shared this kind of quiet closeness. He wished he could pinpoint exactly what he'd said, what he'd done that had put Daniel at ease, but whatever it was it seemed to have worked. Daniel was loose-limbed with exhaustion when he finally helped him ease underneath the covers, lacking that terrible tension that had imbued his frame when they'd left the mountain. Jack settled him as comfortably as possible, finding a position in which the bruises bothered him as little as possible; on his side, facing away from Jack. He settled himself on the edge of Daniel's bed, strangely reluctant to leave him even now, his hand resting lightly on Daniel's shoulder.

"I'm going to sleep on your couch," he whispered.

"m'kay..." the sleepy murmur drifted back. He let his hand move in gentle circles on Daniel's back before, seemingly of its own accord, it drifted up to the nape of Daniel's neck, a warm and gentle weight, rubbing slowly at the short hairs growing there. "If you need anything, just call, okay?"

"...kay..."

He permitted himself a small smile before finally tearing himself away, his heart still heavy. If there was a God, any deity up there who was real rather than the product of the twisted fantasies of parasites with over inflated egos, if there was any justice in the world at all, Daniel would sleep easier tonight. He doubted it though. He was enough of a realist, had seen and experienced enough shit in his own life to know that things never came that easily. No doubt Daniel would have his fair share of nightmares tonight, and through the nights that followed, and all he could hope was that whatever repairs they were making to their rickety relationship, it was at least solid enough now for Daniel to reach out to him if he was needed.

The thought brought little comfort, filling him with a kind of melancholy as he forced himself to his feet, his own exhaustion threatening to conquer him.

"Jack."

The soft voice stopped him in his tracks, and he turned back to the bed, trying to make out Daniel's face in the dim light from the hallway and failing.

"Thanks."

As words went that was definitely one of the better ones to hear, and not just because of the quiet confidence and determination in Daniel's voice as he said it. Resilient little bastard, his Spacemonkey, and he thanked God every day for that.

"Any time, Danny." Daniel shifted onto his back, the light now catching his face. He was wearing that faint, not-quite there trademark Daniel smile, and his eyes were softer than Jack had seen for a while. He gave Daniel a nod, a lump in his throat, and watched as the other man rolled back onto his side again, pulling the covers over himself.

On automatic pilot he wandered back into the main living space, going through the motions of locating the spare blankets on the shelf in the hall cupboard, bedding he'd used more than once in times past. It needed a good airing - it had been too long since he'd last used it. His heart was a little easier now, and for the first time he could see light at the end of the tunnel. Tomorrow morning he'd cook Daniel breakfast and maybe they'd talk for a while, play a few games of chess. Just relax with one another. The thought comforted him.

Words might well fail him and frequently did and tonight he'd feared they'd fail him again. But in the end, he'd done what he'd always done, been what he'd always been. Gone with his gut, listened when he could, said what he could and in the end reached out. Be a man of action, and it was true, what they said.

Sometimes actions spoke louder than words.

The End.

~*~


Notes: Many thanks to my beta, Lou, for her feedback.
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