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This story is rated PG and is a tag for Into the Fire. Not actually an untold tale from Daniel's Diaries. Just a little story I wormed out Jack O'Neill late one night<g>. And he thinks he can hold his beer!
As the wormhole spat him unceremoniously back into the familiar environment of the SGC, Daniel Jackson sucked in a sharp breath. Pain seared up his wounded leg as he was jolted forward onto the unforgiving metal of the ramp, his balance lost in the always disorienting trip through the 'gate. Overcompensating for the forward motion, he landed on his backside with a solid thud that jarred every nerve in his body.
A film of crimson flooded his vision, then slowly ebbed back into the nightmare world from which it came. Two yards further down the ramp, Jack O'Neill reacted to the noise and turned back. With accustomed casualness, he caught Daniel under the arm and helped him to his feet. "You OK?"
Daniel barely had time to nod before Jack's attention was claimed by a familiar but nameless face in a green uniform at the foot of the ramp. As he stepped away Jack called over his shoulder. "Get that leg checked out, Daniel!"
Hesitant, Daniel tried to adjust to the fact he was home; Hathor and her fake SGC, her Jaffa and the misery of the past few hours all part of the past. Yet another chapter of gate travelling adventure to consign to his journal - another journey to be glad he'd survived. He took two steps towards the bottom of the ramp, and tried to ignore that he could now add the pain of a wrenched muscle to his catalogue of injuries: grazed hands, assorted other scrapes and bumps, hole in his head. Somehow the latter seemed strangely appropriate.
Grimacing at the pain, he glanced around the gateroom, taking in the scenes of buzzing activity. To one side Jack had already been absorbed into a knot of marines. Makepeace was amongst them, clapping Jack on the back. There were broad grins on both their faces - a shared expression of relief at being home alive. The gate room literally sang with boisterous voices - the noisy camaraderie of soldiers swapping battle tales and scars with the intimacy of those who had faced death together.
Behind Jack, Sam Carter was in an animated discussion with General Hammond. As the older man finally got a word in sideways, Sam's laughter rang out and two more uniformed figures joined in to share the joke. Even Teal'c was smiling - well, what passed for Teal'c smiling - as he stood deep in conversation with Bra'tac.
His friends. His family. They were safe once again. Relieved though he was, Daniel couldn't stop one question from nagging away at any enjoyment he might have allowed himself. What cost? How many men and women from SGC were not returning? In front of him he could see proof there had indeed been a price to pay for his freedom. A team of medics was working quickly and efficiently at the foot of the ramp, administering first aid to a uniformed figure, arranging for another - more seriously wounded - to be transferred to the infirmary.
He came to with a start, found himself confronted by the petite form of Janet Frasier. Concerned brown eyes studied him.
"Are you hurt?"
He saw her gaze fall to his leg, the tell-tale rust brown stain of dried blood adding a gory accent to the camouflage pattern of his pants. He glanced down, trying to remember how it had got there. "I..." Behind the doctor, he saw Jack glance towards him, the older man's expression momentarily tinged with concern before yet another soldier moved between their line of sight. "I'm fine." The words were murmured without conviction.
"You don't look fine," Frasier replied, her voice gentle, professional as she noted the pale skin, the faint blue tinge of his lips, the glassy expression. Her hand reached for his arm, her intention clearly to lead him from the ramp, take him somewhere less exposed so she could check him over. "Why don't you..."
Movement behind Daniel snatched her attention away.
"We need help here!" Two soldiers staggered down the ramp with an unconscious man between them. One glance told Daniel all he needed to know. The soldier was in a bad way. Janet had already moved from his side and was calling for a stretcher, saline, and numerous other medical items. She glanced back at him, calling over her shoulder. "Daniel, report to the infirmary OK? Get someone to check that leg."
Daniel limped down the ramp, and was immediately caught into the small knot of people that had formed around Sam. Voices barraged his ears, but the words were lost to him. He set a smile on his face, nodded when he thought he was expected too, and tried to push away the spectre of unreality that was tugging at his senses. Somebody thrust a mug of coffee into his hand, and he muttered his thanks before gulping the scalding liquid down untasted.
The sound of the gate closing down caused a hush. Everyone knew what it meant - the last person was back. For a long moment, the surviving crowd considered those who hadn't returned and then, as though a collective decision had been subconsciously reached, the party feeling was allowed to take full rein. Hathor was defeated. SGC was victorious. It was time to celebrate. Tomorrow there would be time to dwell on the cost, and learn the lessons of the harsh realities another round with a goa'uld had inflicted on them.
Daniel's eyes drifted to the exit from the gateroom, and the deserted corridor beyond it. Calling an unheard excuse to Sam he moved wearily away from the small group. Without consciously registering what he was doing he managed to avoid the swirling, interchanging groups of soldiers, many of whom called his name in invitation. A wave, a half-smile, he fended them all off. His one desire to find sanctuary.
A tap on her shoulder interrupted the story Sam was relating to a tall marine who had attached himself to the small band of men around her. "Sir?" Surprise coloured her tone at the sight of O'Neill's serious expression.
"Seen Daniel recently?" he asked.
Sam glanced around the room and frowned. "I thought he was with Teal'c." Another 360 degree sweep of the room convinced her of his absence. "He probably headed to the infirmary. His leg was pretty badly gashed."
O'Neill nodded. "I think I'll go check on him."
"I'll come with you," Carter responded quickly, a pang of guilt catching at her. She had known Daniel was hurt. Out on the battle field there had been no time to spare to worry over him - he was a grown man after all. Back on earth though she could've taken a few moments to check he was OK.
O'Neill however was even quicker off the mark with his reply. "No, you stay and enjoy the party." He raised his eyebrows, his look taking in Carter's courtiers.
She opened her mouth to protest, but O'Neill had already stepped away, and before she could do anything else, Lieutenant Simmons snatched up her attention.
Daniel walked slowly through the corridors of the SGC, his face expressionless, his movement unchecked by stray personnel. Everyone was either in the infirmary or still in the gateroom.
He turned the corner and caught sight of a splash of blood on the corridor floor, spilled no doubt by someone in transit to the infirmary. Memory assailed him. Noise thundering around him. People yelling. Running. Everyone running. Deafening! The ground seemed to buck beneath his feet sending him crashing to the ground, an orange flash of pain-filled shock as the breath was crushed from him. A red hot dagger spearing his leg. And then - O God! - a body flying in front of him - eyes already lifeless. Daniel! Come on!
Sam's voice - imprinted into his memory - shook him back to reality. Cold sweat trickled down his back as he snapped back to the chill of the SGC corridor. He dragged in a ragged breath and swallowed as the long-forgotten meal of airforce field rations forcefully reminded him of its presence and its current disagreement with the strong coffee he had downed earlier.
Salvation came three steps away in the sight of the locker-room door. Hurrying inside Daniel barely made it to the sink before his treacherous stomach ejected its contents. Five long minutes of muscle-aching retching left him exhausted and sweating on the bathroom floor, his limbs trembling and the fire in his leg mocking his survival.
"Daniel?" Jack pushed open the door to Jackson's office and peered into the dark interior. "Daniel? You in here?" Dumb question his mind snickered. Why would Daniel be hanging around in a dark office? Then again, why would the archaeologist avoid seeking medical help when he had a badly wounded leg? Jack had already checked the infirmary and nobody had seen Daniel since he'd been in the gateroom. Janet had immediately threatened a search party, but Jack had managed to placate her with the promise he would personally escort Daniel to the infirmary - trying to lighten the mood by jokingly adding he would use cuffs if necessary.
Jack stepped into the office, fumbling for the light switch. The fluorescent tube flickered twice before powering up - revealing the huddled figure of the missing scientist on the floor in the far corner.
Oh shit, Jack thought as he took in the dark shadows beneath the dull blue eyes, the much too pale skin, and the unhealthy looking pallor. He should've known, should've expected.. should've stayed at Daniel's side when he came through the gate instead of lapping up the attention from SG3. He was Daniel's commanding officer after all. More than that - he was Daniel's friend. He should've...
He cut off the self-recriminations. Time for that later. He forced normality into his voice, decided to ignore the obvious and go for bland. "You OK?"
Daniel raised his head and focused momentarily on the blurred figure, recognising the voice rather than seeing Jack. He had no idea where his glasses were. No doubt Frasier would insist on docking his pay for yet another pair. Not that it mattered. Not that any of it mattered. He tilted his head back against the cold concrete of the wall, and closed his eyes, his posture one of total surrender and vulnerability, his sanctuary violated.
Jack stepped into the cluttered office, uncomfortable with the silence. "Figured you might need company. You looked like a stunned mullet when you came through the gate."
The description forced a response, even if it was only a repetition. "Stunned mullet?"
With an embarrassed shrug, Jack explained. "Yeah, you know. The glazed eyes. The open mouth." His voice trailed away.
The linguist resumed his resigned posture, eyes closed again, shutting out the light. Shutting out Jack. "I'm fine."
"Right." Jack voiced the agreement, his tone saying the exact opposite. He closed the office door and moved to Daniel's side, settling himself on the floor next to him.
Daniel opened one eye, closed it again and shook his head slowly. "Really Jack. I don't need a baby sitter."
"Didn't say you did."
The silence stretched across the room like an elastic band waiting to zing back and catch somebody sharply around the fingers.
"You?" Daniel's voice was quiet.
Jack sighed at an unspoken memory, his right hand subconsciously going to the covered wound on the back of his neck. "Yeah. It'll take someone a lot meaner than Hathor to finish off this particular member of the O'Neill clan."
Daniel's eyes shot open at the mention of the goa'uld queen's name. He searched Jack's face with a sudden ferocity as though wanting to be certain.
Jack pulled a face at him, his eyes wide. "No glowing eyes. I promise."
The humour was lost on Daniel though. The young man merely gripped his arms tightened around his knees, grimacing at the sudden spark of pain that shot up his thigh. The silence returned.
This time the silence was fine with Jack, he could wait it out. He'd been here before. Sat beside young boys overwhelmed by their first experience of battle. He knew sooner or later the words would come. And with them the questions.
He frowned reminding himself Daniel was neither a young boy nor a man who hadn't seen his fair share of action. OK, so he wasn't military, but he'd learnt how to handle a gun. And he'd proven his bravery enough times, despite the fact O'Neill sometimes questioned the dividing line between bravery and stupidity. Whatever - Daniel was someone Jack trusted to have at his back - no empty compliment from the seasoned soldier. So what was different this time? What had driven Daniel into the sanctuary of his darkened office.
Hathor? Jack had seen the look of barely disguised horror on Daniel's face at the return of the goa'uld queen. Despite the young man's best intentions he had seen how he'd trembled as she'd run her hand over his chest and caressed his face. Even now the thought of what that woman had done to Daniel in the past made his own anger return. Throwing her over that railing to her death had been as much revenge for her violation of the innocent young man huddled in this corner as it had been for his own suffering at her hands.
"How many, Jack?"
The barely whispered question snapped Jack from his relish of having personally destroyed Hathor. "What?"
Daniel looked at him straight on now, blue eyes filled with an indefinable pain. "How many died coming after us?"
Oh, so that was the rub. OK, not quite what he was expecting. Faces flashed before Jack - one familiar, one not so. He held Daniel's gaze and replied. "Two. And Sergeant Kennedy was hurt pretty bad. He might not make it." He kept up the eye contact, watching the pain unravel before him into something altogether more dangerous. "Daniel..."
"No Jack!" Suddenly Daniel lurched to his feet, stumbling as he did so, hot anger spilling out of him. "Don't give me that bullshit about doing their jobs. Knowing the risks." He banged a fist onto a desk, making the fragile artefacts on its surface dance with the ferocity. "What makes us worth saving? Worth risking others for?"
Jack didn't move. Didn't flinch. He simply let Daniel's rage wash over him. "We don't leave people behind."
"Why not?" Daniel's voice rose a tone with the emotion. "Why not when the price is that high?" A half-choked sob erupted from his throat. "Hell Jack! He died right in front of me. He died *for* me. And I didn't even know his name!"
The anger ebbed as fast as it had appeared, the overwhelming exhaustion of the past few hours too strong to be held in check. Daniel sank back to the floor and hugged his good leg to his body. "I can't live with this Jack."
Studying the archaeologist carefully, Jack's own weariness pushed to the surface through the concern. Maybe, a little voice nagged at the back of his mind, just maybe he'd got it wrong. Perhaps Daniel, despite the fact he held goodness knows how many PhDs and spoke more languages than your average Babel fish, was actually just a kid at heart. And if that was so, right now all Jack wanted to do was slap him into adulthood. For crying out loud, the guy was 35 years old! When was he going to learn there was a bigger picture to consider?
"Fine!" Jack climbed to his feet. "Don't live with it. Quit now. Just leave your resignation on my desk. I'll deal with it in the morning." He moved a step towards the door. "His name, by the way, was Rossi. Francis Rossi."
Jack's curtness elicited exactly the response he had hoped. As he turned to face Daniel, he saw the red flush on his cheeks, but his own anger made him to decide to push harder. "You heard me, Daniel. Leave your resignation on my desk. In fact - why don't you make two copies. That way I can forward one to Sergeant Rossi's widow."
"Jack!" Daniel's tone was a strangled mixture of defeat, shame and outrage.
He was on a roll now though, his acid tongue slashing into Daniel like a whip, leaving scalding burns in its wake. "That is what you want, isn't it? To make his sacrifice meaningless."
He hadn't thought it possible, but Jack watched as Daniel seemed to crumple even further in on himself. The whispered negative that squeezed past Daniel's emotional hurt was barely audible in the cold air of the office.
"No?" Jack demanded. "Was that a no?"
Daniel looked up at him, blue eyes rimmed with red. The image suddenly reminded Jack of a baby owl he had once come across - tipped from its nest too early. He pushed that picture away - what might have been true of the child wasn't true of the grown man sitting before him. He could almost see the thoughts chasing each other through Daniel's mind as the young man weighed the cost of uttering each one. When had he learnt to be so defensive?, Jack wondered, remembering back to before their first meeting when Daniel never gave a damn what he said or to whom. Nor worried that his mouth had landed him on a rain-soaked sidewalk with no job, no home and no future.
Daniel's jaw shifted a degree. Right Jack thought, the decision's made. What is it going to be Danny-boy? Sink or swim?
Daniel finally looked at Jack. "I know the argument," his voice was soft, still filled with misery. "Rossi made a choice, right. He choose to come through the gate. Choose to come after us. But..."
He watched as Jack merely cocked his head to one side in that unique way of his that said 'and' louder than any word.
Daniel's shoulders set to match his jaw and he blurted before he could change his mind, "I let Hathor put that goa'uld in you. I didn't even utter a word of protest. Just stood by and watched as she... as she..."
Arms immediately wrapping around his chest at the reminder, Jack replied, "And what would protesting have achieved, Daniel?"
Daniel ignored the question, intent on following his own line of reasoning. The line that led straight to a pit of self-loathing and hatred. "I made a choice too, didn't I? I was..." He paused, hunting for the word that would sum up the intense emotion he had felt as he watched *that* woman inflict the worst of horrors on his friend.
"Scared shitless?" Jack offered.
Daniel's mouth fell open at the blunt suggestion, but even as his mind flinched at the idea, he knew that was it. That was why he hadn't moved. Why he couldn't move despite the fact Jack's life depended upon it. Despite the fact he knew he should do something. Offer himself. At least protest. After all he'd been through with SG1 he'd finally found himself facing the one thing he couldn't handle. Hathor.
O'Neill sat down again. "Room 101."
"Room 101. Don't tell me you've never read 1984, Daniel."
As Daniel shook his head, Jack gave a small grin of delight. "Daniel! It's a literary classic."
"I know that," Daniel snapped. "I haven't read every book ever written."
Jack merely smirked wider. "I read it my first year at college."
Ordinarily Daniel would have made some crack about Jack reading anything weightier than a sports magazine, but today he let the comment ride. Too heartsick to do anything more than let Jack enjoy his moment of triumph.
"Room 101." It was clear from his frown Jack was racking his brains trying to recall the story. "This guy, Winston I think, was bucking the establishment and got caught. And eventually he is taken to Room 101 to be tortured. Only before he is taken there he is told the room will contain the one thing he most fears."
A distant memory tiptoed into Daniel's mind. "Rats, right?"
Crestfallen Jack retorted, "You said you hadn't read it."
"Haven't. Just remember someone talking about the rats."
Jack recovered from his disappointment quickly. "So the point is - we all have a Room 101 waiting for us. Only most of us are lucky enough to never see what is inside."
Daniel frowned, his sharp brain - befuddled by exhaustion, pain and the sour taste in his mouth - refused to make sense of the tale.
An elaborate sigh escaped Jack's lips. "Don't you see? Hathor was your Room 101."
Daniel shook his head wearily. "It doesn't alter how I reacted. Or rather..." He glanced up at Jack, "...didn't."
"Daniel, no one blames you for being terrified. After what she did to you before... God, Daniel. Who wouldn't be traumatised?"
Studying Daniel's face, Jack laughed softly. "I'm no superman, Daniel. Somewhere out there something is waiting to ambush me. It's as inevitable as day turning to night. Hell when I knew she was going to stick that goa'uld in me..." His voice faded away.
Daniel studied the older man. The words slowly melting the ice that had gripped his heart on that fake ramp as Hathor brushed her consuming fingers against his skin - trying to own his very soul.
There was a hand on him now, but the touch was very different. Jack's hand squeezed his arm reassuringly.
"Let it go, Daniel. Your shoulders have enough to carry. You don't need all that guilt as well."
Let it go? Was it that easy? But if he didn't what else would he do? The alternative was hardly appealing. Perhaps Jack was right? Hathor was the one thing he couldn't stomach - but she was gone. And if Jack was willing to accept his behaviour and move on...
Letting out a long, deep sigh, Daniel allowed a small smile to reach his lips. The expression was duplicated by Jack, along with more than a hint of relief. Underneath the smile though Daniel noticed Jack looked totally done in. He welcomed the chance to shift the focus of attention from himself. "You look like you could sleep for a week."
A nod confirmed the statement as Jack climbed to his feet. "Yep, and I intend to hit my bunk just as soon as you've had that leg looked at."
Daniel glanced down at the rust-coloured stain on his fatigues, and grimaced at the thought of Dr Frasier lecturing him about infection and the other dire effects of delayed treatment. "Janet'll have my butt for this."
O'Neill couldn't help but grin lasciviously "In your dreams, Jackson!" He thrust out a hand and helped the embarrassed archaeologist to his feet. "Come on. I'll walk with you."
Daniel balanced precariously on one leg before risking putting his weight carefully on the wounded one. "Really you don't need to."
"I promised Janet," Jack confessed.
Daniel shook his head, protesting, "I'll be fine."
Jack patted Daniel's back as they headed out of the office side by side. "Yeah," he said. "We all will."
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