Ghosts and Coffee Cups

He couldn't believe his ears. Jack openly gawked at General Hammond for a full minute, glad they had moved into the privacy of his CO's office after the down and dirty briefing. No doubt he looked like a complete fool, and was quite certain he'd looked like that too often the past couple of days. Enough to last him a good year. The longer he stood there dumbfounded, the more he couldn't believe it.
"What? You what, sir?"
"Colonel, were you in my shoes you would have done the same."
"No. See, I wouldn't have. In fact, I didn't, if you'll recall. When we bugged out of there, his belongings were mostly intact and right where they should be."
"Need I remind you to whom you are speaking, Colonel?"
Jack knew he was pushing the insubordination envelope, but his ire just wouldn't subside. There was no way he was going to let Daniel stay in the infirmary - it was too sterile, and too similar to the lab of which he himself was beginning to have more intense flashbacks. Nope. No matter what Doctor Fraiser said, the civilian member of his team would not be confined. But now, goddamnit, he couldn't even go to his own home. Scrubbing his hands down his face, Jack blew out a long breath.
"No, sir. It's just's just..." he fumbled for the words, tongue refusing to cooperate.
"It's all right, Jack. I'll send a crew over to Doctor Jackson's apartment tomorrow to rectify the situation. It shouldn't take them more than a day." The general's expression softened as Jack began to protest, a hand waving in the air. "I'll make sure it's the same group I sent earlier. They'll know where everything goes."
"Yes, sir," Jack murmured, shoulders slumping a bit as he jammed his hands into his pockets. "I guess I'll take Daniel home with me in the meantime. I don't like the idea of him being alone right now, and I'll be damned if I spend a night in the infirmary just to make sure that doesn't happen."
He hoped his caving was taken for what it was - a means to get his way. If he thought much about it, which he refused to do, he knew his brain would supply the fact that he didn't want to be alone any more than he wanted Daniel to be. Hammond's face remained compassionate, the exact expression he'd sported when convincing Jack that destroying things or retiring wasn't going to alleviate any of the pain. It had worked before, and it worked now, subduing him to the point he nearly sat down. Beneath the appraisal, the general knew precisely what he was feeling. How disturbing.
"I think that's a good idea. I'm going to put SG1 on stand down for a week - you're all going to need a little recovery time. Why don't you go to the infirmary, check on Doctor Jackson? I'll inform Doctor Fraiser that unless his condition absolutely warrants an overnight stay, he should be released to your care."
"Thank you, sir," Jack said softly, glad that was not a battle he'd have to deal with. He had all the respect in the world for the SGC's Chief Medical Officer, but he could just tell she'd wield her power a little too heavily for his tastes. "I'll let Captain Carter and Teal'c know of our status."
Leaving the office, he realized how mentally and physically exhausted he was. It shouldn't have come as a great shock; sleepless nights spent thinking about the relevance of his - or anyone's - life in the universe usually took quite a toll. Grim hours of depression so deep it had taken him utterly by surprise. He was trying to convince himself he was simply a commanding officer suffering the usual guilt and anger at losing a member of the team. But he hadn't lost anyone, he reminded himself again.
Jack loped through the corridors with forced nonchalance, trying to disguise the urgency with which his legs wanted to reach the infirmary. Passersby all favored him with huge smiles where only hours before there had been sympathetic frowns. Oddly, the former were as nauseating as the latter had been; seeming misplaced and inappropriate. It was stupid to think that way, but he couldn't shake the feeling. He managed to grimace out returning smiles to each of them, unconsciously increasing his pace.
Carter and Teal'c stood outside the infirmary, both surreptitiously peering to watch the activity within. He was so right about Fraiser and her medical prerogative bully tactics, a thought lessened only by the unexpected flare of warmth he felt for his team. In the time they'd been together, they'd managed to solidify a bond so tight only death could break it. Only death...God. Both of his team members had dealt with the loss of Daniel so much better than he. Jack didn't want to face the implications of that, attempted to shove them aside with any diversion. Deep within himself, he knew it was a delay tactic and nothing more.
"How's he doing?" he called in greeting.
"Doctor Fraiser won't let us in," his 2IC answered with a scowl. "Said he had a king-sized headache, though."
"I can imagine he would."
He kept his face and tone non-committal, though both the captain and the Jaffa had already seen his distress over and over again. As long as he could use the post-traumatic stress excuse, he was going to. Bad enough he was starting to suspect he was going soft; the last thing he wanted or needed was for his subordinates to reach the same conclusion. A person couldn't really command if feelings got in the way. Unfortunately for him, once someone got past his wall he had a hard time shoving them back out. And all three of his team members had either breached it or were coming dangerously close. Shit, he was in trouble.
"Sir, just having our minds altered slightly..." Carter swallowed heavily before she could continue. "...caused extreme discomfort. What Daniel said he underwent sounds much more severe."
"Thank you, Carter. I really didn't want to hear that."
"Daniel Jackson is strong," Teal'c broke his silence, surprise tinting his tone. "He will be well."
Jumping at the deep rumbling voice, Jack turned to stare at the source. He narrowed his eyes, at a loss as to how to interpret the non-expression solidifying Teal'c's face into a nearly unreadable mask. It looked hard; unfeeling. There was something deep, though, lurking behind the stoicism. With sureness, he understood the mysterious alien was doing precisely what he was - hiding what could be perceived as weakness away from outsiders. The sense of kinship grew, and he hoped one day he would be able to call Teal'c friend without hesitation.
"I'm sure he will be."
Though the words were spoken with confidence, he could discern a slight tremble in Captain Carter's voice. Not too many months ago, Jack might have dismissed the detectable show of emotion as resulting from her definite femininity, but he had seen her perform admirably on countless occasions, a soldier through and through. Besides, how could he fault her for discernibly exhibiting what had roiled though him for days? He was many different things to many different people, but one thing he was not was a hypocrite.
"Of course he will," Jack casually said, shuffling his feet. "I just got done speaking with General Hammond. Apparently he had Daniel's apartment cleaned out before McKenzie futzed with your brain, Carter, so I'm going to take him home with me until he can go to his own place. We're on stand down for a week."
Carter nodded, chewing on her lower lip. She looked relieved to have some time off, and he admitted to himself that he wasn't all that anxious to go off world soon either. The false memory flashes had subsided a bit since discovering Daniel alive, but they still haunted him every once in a while. Not that he'd tell Fraiser that. An unbidden shudder shook through him as he wondered if the flashbacks were the real reason he hadn't been sleeping. Having them in the broad light of day was bad enough, but in nightmares they'd only intensify.
"You want any company, sir?"
"Not tonight. I have a feeling Daniel's just going to sleep for a long, long time. Hammond said his place will be done the day after tomorrow, anyway. I'm sure he'll just head there for the rest of the week."
They fell into silence, keeping their vigil in the hallway. Jack became more and more anxious. What was taking so long? Was something really wrong with Daniel? He had looked really peaked in the fluorescent lighting of the 'gateroom. Fraiser would come out and tell them right away if something was wrong, wouldn't she? Jack stuffed suddenly clammy hands into his pockets, shifting to lean against the wall. He was losing it again. He had to get control, and fast, before he had another embarrassing blow up. But he swore if the doctor didn't get her butt out here in...
"Good, you're all here. I've finished my examination of Doctor Jackson."
He straightened at her coincidental appearance, and at the pause in her speech. Moving to join Carter and Teal'c in front of Doctor Fraiser, he studied her face and stance. She was unblinking and somber, lines of fatigue creasing the corners of her eyes. Jack's stomach clenched into a leaden ball. The seconds dragged as she looked at each of them in turn, her expression washing with realization followed by a smile.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you worry. He's fine, aside from a pounding headache, exhaustion and being at the early stages of dehydration. One night in the infirmary should be sufficient."
Opening his mouth to smugly tell her of General Hammond's decree, Jack was beaten to the punch by Carter, who blurted, "Can we see him?
"Of course. Follow me."
Mouth still gaping, Jack soundlessly fell into step next to his teammates. He was sorely disappointed in the general for chickening out on him. Daniel's condition sure as heck didn't sound so bad he had to stay on base. Sighing with gladness at that, and at weariness of the battle he was about to enter, he stared at the back of Fraiser's head, plotting his first maneuver. And came up empty as they approached the sole occupant of the infirmary.
Tucked firmly, some might say snugly, in a bed, Daniel Jackson was propped up. His eyelids were drooping heavily, fighting gravity. Damp tendrils of too-long hair clung to the sides of his face, tousled and uncombed. All of the worry of the previous days miraculously disappeared, a smile plastering Jack's face. This was real, not some illusion taunting him. He broke stride with his companions, reaching the bed first and laying a hand on the younger man's bare forearm. Reluctant, fluttering eyes rose, gaze blurry with tiredness.
"Hey, Daniel. Hear you checked out okay."
"Yeah, Doctor Fraiser's going to keep me overnight, though." Daniel slurred slightly, the effect of losing every scrap of adrenaline after days of running on nerves alone.
"No?" Daniel, Carter and Fraiser all simultaneously asked; Teal'c tilted his head.
"That's what I said. No. No way. As in: not going to happen," Jack practically chanted, inserting as much 'don't even bother 'cuz I'm going to win' into his tone as he could.
The good doctor looked downright peeved, eyes alternating between popping out and narrowing suspiciously. He smirked and watched her face transform into a determined mask, knowing he was going to get an earful of how her authority outweighed his in medical situations. Stopping her before she started Jack raised his right hand in the air, index finger wagging.
"C'mon, Doc. Are you telling me he really needs to stay here, just because of a little headache?"
"Little?" Daniel weakly asked, though Jack saw him perking up at the possibility of release.
"Okay, big. But not that big, right, Daniel?" He was leading the witness, and not ashamed at the ploy.
"Right. Actually, now that you mention it, I think it's going away altogether."
"Doctor Jackson, you just told me it was an eight on a scale of ten," Fraiser finally edged into the conversation, hands fluttering in agitation. "Now, I will not be intimidated into releasing you."
As if to prove her point, she began lowering the head of Daniel's bed. She only got halfway done when the infirmary phone rang. Jack eyed it, willing it to be the general on the other end. The look on Fraiser's face would be priceless; he'd cherish it for months. He mischievously checked out his team members, then tracked the doctor as she scurried to the phone.
"Doctor Fraiser... Yes, sir, I've just completed my examination," she said into the mouthpiece, brow furrowing at him as the general spoke with her. "He's going to be just fine, General. I'm having him...sir?"
Rocking back on his heels with a cocky tilt of his head, Jack tried not to gloat as her scowl deepened and she glared at him with fiery eyes. She abruptly turned away to face the wall instead. He heard her tone heighten, but caught only snatches of her side of the conversation. His smugness faded as he turned to see Daniel's pale and exhausted face, a moment of doubt flickered in his mind over whether he was really motivated by what was best for the archaeologist.
"Well, Doctor Jackson. I have some good news for you. Based upon my findings, the general and I have agreed it's not necessary for you to remain in the infirmary," Doctor Fraiser announced briskly, rejoining them at Daniel's bedside. "That being said, I still don't feel it's a good idea for you to be on your own quite yet."
Biting down the humor of her attempt to take ownership of the decision, Jack added, "That's where I come in. You'll be coming home with me for the night, Daniel."
He expected a surprised or even grateful response. What he got could not be described as either. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

He couldn't believe his ears. On the one hand, Daniel was relieved he wouldn't be staying in the infirmary: after spending the better part of three days in unfamiliar and uncomfortable surroundings, all he wanted was to go home. Which, of course, brought him to the other hand: he wasn't going to be going home. Staring at Jack, he wondered if there was some kind of conspiracy against him, led by the colonel himself.
"Nothing personal, but why can't I just go home?" he managed to spit out, sounding petulant even to himself. "I really, really just want to go to my own apartment. Jack, you can stay with me there if you absolutely have to."
His words garnered almost identical reactions from everyone but Teal'c, who simply looked more unapproachable than usual. Resounding silence hovered as he confusedly looked at his teammates and doctor, watching their faces tighten uncomfortably. They looked like they'd just swallowed a mouthful of ipecac and were about to be massively, violently ill. Whatever he'd said, he guessed it was the wrong thing.
Fuelled by the raging pain in his head and days of no sleep, he just kept barreling on. "What? Is there a problem?"
Instead of addressing him, Jack stiffly turned to the others. Daniel could barely make out the softly spoken message. "Look, why don't you guys take off. I'll wait for him to get ready, then we'll go."
Daniel bristled, back muscles tensing at his seeming lack of choice in the matter. Moreover, the lack of a reason for it. Headache increasing, he savagely rubbed his temples. What the hell was going on? He didn't think it was too much to ask for a recently resurrected man to have his wishes met. Not that he didn't understand the reason for forced company. Actually, he didn't particularly want to be alone anyway. He just didn't think it was necessary for him to be dragged to Jack's house when his own home was perfectly suitable.
"Am I talking to myself here? Hello?"
Sam moved toward him, regret making her eyes midnight blue, haunted. He instantly softened, confusion over the inexplicability of everyone's behavior replaced with concern for her. They hadn't known each other that long, but he'd seen only cool professionalism exude from her. No, he amended, that wasn't true. She was a scientist - excitement and wonder over discovery had been the strongest emotions she'd exhibited. To see fear in her expression was unexpected, leaving him puzzled and guilty, as he was apparently the cause.
"Glad you're back, Daniel," she whispered, sandwiching his left hand in between both of hers, squeezing tightly.
He suddenly had no clue what to say, so he slumped back into the pillow and tried to tell her everything was okay by returning her gaze with a smile as he fumbled to rest his other hand on top of the existing embrace, squeezing right back. She withdrew after too short a time, stepping back from the bed. An eerie feeling started sweeping over him, vague and startling.
Behind her, Teal'c bowed his head, still not uttering a word. Daniel admitted he was still coming to grips with how to approach and work with the Jaffa. Usually he could look beyond his teammate's involvement in Sha're's fate, but every once in while a surge of all too human resentment built up. It wasn't fair, and he knew it. Teal'c had demonstrated nothing but good will toward him. He caught dark eyes as the bald head came back up, and found them unguardedly showing the same ghost of fear Sam's held. Knitting his eyebrows, he nodded back.
No one spoke. The longer the silence, the more Daniel's irritation lessened. Up until his little, already embarrassing outburst, everyone had kept the mood light - joking, even - regarding his return. He'd assumed that meant they all had dealt with whatever demons they had, and were ready to move on. That assumption was obviously a mistake, and he decided not to question the motivation behind their insistence that he not go home. They'd tell him eventually. When they were ready. Hopefully by then he'd be ready to hear it. Looking to Jack, he nodded his belated acceptance. The colonel looked away.
"Colonel O'Neill, if Doctor Jackson is going to be with you for the next twelve or so hours, then there are some things you should be made aware of. Though there appear to be no lasting effects from the mind probe, I want you to bring him back should the headache increase or he becomes nauseated. No caffeine. No alcohol. No solid food for at least a day. Lots of rest. I want to see him here two days from now for another checkup. Everything clear?" Doctor Fraiser briskly imparted the orders, each one making his release seem more like house arrest than a good thing. He knew better than to object to any of the stipulations as she turned on him. "And you, Doctor Jackson, will follow each of those directives to a tee, along with ensuring the colonel adheres to his end of the bargain. I don't want any 'but he made me' excuses in the event I see you back here sooner rather than later. I'm not opposed to saying 'I told you so.' "
With that, she spun on her heels and clipped away. Daniel wasn't sure whom it came from, but he was positive he heard a breathed 'Whoa!' following the departing figure. He couldn't agree more. Doctor Fraiser was quickly establishing she was not someone to mess with. He remained still for a moment, uncertain what the next step was going to bring. Looking at the grim faces still surrounding him, his unease grew. He must have faded out at some point during the briefing, because he couldn't for the life of him figure out what was bothering them so much.
"Daniel, we're not trying to be overbearing. We're really not," Sam softly said, studying his face as though he were about to disappear. "Remember we've spent the last three days thinking you dead."
God, he was stupid. Of course that was what each of them was struggling to cope with. He'd had three days of mostly solitary confinement, all the while knowing they were fine. They had had the extreme opposite. It shook him to think his death had impacted them so much, then realized that if he lost any of them he would be just as shell shocked. He should not have needed the reminder. He looked away from Sam's intense stare, ashamed he'd been so blind. His face must have reflected his dawning perception because suddenly she was in his line of sight again.
"I'm sorry, guys. I don't know what's wrong with me," he mumbled, not really knowing what to say to help them. He examined the coarse woolen blanket covering his lap as if it were the most fascinating artifact he'd ever seen. "I wasn't thinking."
"Don't apologize, Daniel. It's been an interesting week," Jack gruffly dismissed, clearing his throat. He repeated his earlier mandate, "Carter, Teal'c, why don't you to head out? I'll call you if Daniel and I get lonely."
"Actually, I'm so tired I'm not going to be much company. I wouldn't mind if we all got together tomorrow, though," Daniel shyly suggested, finally glancing up to find them relaxing a little.
"Sounds good. You guys have a good night," Sam called, tugging on Teal'c's arm.
The pair left the infirmary, shooting worried looks back at him. Left alone with Jack, silence once again surrounded him. Tearing his eyes away from his teammates' departing forms, Daniel switched back to the colonel, hoping for continued quiet and at the same time wanting to talk. He blinked slowly as Jack moved away, heading for the linen closet to withdraw a pair of navy sweatpants and a T-shirt.
"Here. I'm going to go scrounge up something for your feet. Think you can be dressed by the time I get back?"
Irritation swelled again. Did Jack think he was three years old or something? Of course he could get dressed. Glaring at the colonel, Daniel was taken aback to find stark concern lining his face. Stuffing the annoyance away, he chided himself for letting it get the better of him again. He confidently swung his legs over the side of the bed and nodded. His new clothes landed on the bed with a soft thump, and he snagged the pants. As he bent over, he heard the footsteps fading away.
He was alone again. The hush of the barren room was now strange to his ears, almost suffocating. Pulling first one leg, then the other into the pants, he tentatively eased off the bed. His muscles were suddenly starting to turn into cooked spaghetti, uncooperative and limp. With a jerk, he hoisted the pants over his butt and sank back onto the bed, lying down on it crossways. He briefly closed his eyes, head pounding from the slight exertion. He thought maybe he should just stay here tonight after all.
"Hey, you all right?"
Starting as violently as malleable muscles would allow, Daniel opened his eyes to find Jack's face hovering above him. Dark brown eyes anxiously searched his face, skittering away to do a rapid check on the rest of his body. He sat up, rubbing his forehead before running his hand through his hair.
"Daniel? Should I get Doctor Fraiser?"
Whoa. He must really look bad. Jack's opinion of the petite medical officer was decidedly unfavorable, at least insomuch as he'd been able to determine from previous dealings. If the colonel was actually volunteering to get her...suddenly he knew the last place Jack needed him to be was in the infirmary. Call it gut instinct, but Daniel was positive if he stayed here tonight, his team leader wouldn't be happy.
"No, I'm fine. Just tired. And hungry, I think. When I was in college, I used to forget to eat. My roommate freshman year swore he found me passed out on the floor at least three times a month," Daniel ruefully said, surprised at his verbosity. He had no clue why he was sharing a trivial tidbit from his past; Jack didn't care about that.
"Why does that not surprise me?" Jack scoffed, tossing a pair of boots at his feet.
"If I wasn't so tired, I'd take offense at that."
He suspiciously eyed the boots, struggling out of the hospital gown and into the fresh T-shirt. When he was fully dressed, he was going to look like a ragamuffin. Good thing he didn't care about fashion. He looked down to find Jack at his feet, moving to shove them into the boots. A pang of embarrassment shot through him, but it quickly disappeared as he realized he'd probably just somersault right over if he bent down to put them on himself. He slumped back, bracing his hands behind him and letting Jack handle the task.
"All set?"
"Let's go." He nodded, lifting a weary arm for help up. "And Jack?"
"Thanks. I didn't mean to be a pain in the butt before."
"You weren't, Daniel."
To his surprise, Jack kept a strong hand on his forearm and guided him through the SGC corridors. An even greater surprise was the fact that he didn't mind at all, finding the touch comforting. Maybe he wasn't as adjusted from his recent imprisonment as he thought. He'd spent most of his life purposely on his own, not allowing many people in to his inner circle. If he were honest, he'd wanted to do the same after returning from Abydos, wanted to keep himself distant. To make the situation temporary, to hold onto the hope that he'd be with Sha're soon. As the months passed, he'd slipped, letting his teammates become more than just that. More than random strangers who'd disappear after a short time. He missed Sha're every moment of every day, but somehow his pain was made more bearable by the people surrounding him. People quickly becoming friends.
"Okay, watch your head."
Huh? Daniel blinked in confusion, drawing himself out of a daze he didn't know he'd gone into. They were standing in front of Jack's truck, passenger door open. Hands guided him to climb into the cab, the door slamming behind him. He forced himself to keep his eyes open as Jack climbed behind the wheel.
"How 'bout we stop at the Dairy Queen for a malt? Beats soup, right?" Jack casually inquired.
Mmm. Ice cream. Daniel would do just about anything for some real food after the 'nourishment' Nem had provided, but if he couldn't have a steak then ice cream would do just fine. He nodded, flashing Jack an appreciative smile.
"Coffee flavor?"
"Why not? How much caffeine could they really put in there?"
As they pulled away from Cheyenne Mountain, Daniel's stomach rumbled in anticipation. Jack snorted once, and they fell into comfortable silence. He closed his eyes and let the humming of tires on pavement lull him into a sleepy haze.

"Whoa, slow down! You're going to give yourself a headache," Jack laughingly said as Daniel latched onto his malt with both hands, the spitting image of a five year old. Immediately after the words left his mouth, he flinched. What was he talking about? The guy already had a massive headache, one that Fraiser's drugs didn't seem to be helping - Daniel had fine creases of pain surrounding his eyes. "A worse one, I mean."
"I'll take this kind of headache on top of an existing one without complaint. I can't believe how hungry I am!" Daniel carelessly tossed back, oblivious to Jack's self-conscious concern.
The food certainly seemed to be giving the archaeologist a burst of energy, revitalizing him substantially. Jack wryly shot a sidelong glance at his passenger as they pulled into the driveway. For a while back in the infirmary, he'd almost changed his mind about bringing Daniel home with him; he'd looked about half a step away from being comatose. Jack's whole body, heart included, had frozen when he'd come back to find the younger man sprawled atop the bed. Now, though, he was glad he hadn't gone back on his internal promise. The company was welcome, as was the knowledge that knowing his teammate was safe under his roof meant he might get sleep himself.
"C'mon," he called, switching off the engine and getting out of the vehicle. He paused to make sure he was being followed before sidling up the steps to his front door, waiting there for the lagging scientist. Daniel trudged up the walk, slurping the last bit of the ice cream. Jack shook his head and swung the door open. "I can't believe you ate the whole thing already. You know where the garbage is."
He followed Daniel in, nearly running into the younger man, who stood stock still in the foyer. Jack's body did the tense freezing thing again at the sight before him. Oh, crap. His house was a mess, refuse from the wake scattered about, furniture moved to accommodate the crowd of people who'd attended. He closed his eyes, cursing his stupidity. Why hadn't he taken Carter and Teal'c up on their offer to help him clean up?
It was a rhetorical question, even to himself. Knowing they were going to box up Daniel's apartment the following day, removing every physical reminder of his teammate from the world, he hadn't been able to bring himself to clean his house. Had thought if he left the beer bottles, the coffee cups, the leftover food out there would have remained a glimmer of memory. A glimmer of Daniel. It sounded foolish now, as it had been foolish then.
They seemed to stand quietly for a long time, Jack behind Daniel's shoulder, just wordlessly taking in the almost grotesque scene. He heard the archaeologist swallow a couple of times, and knew he should say something. Attempt to give some kind of explanation. Instead, he simply took the empty malt cup out of loose fingers and moved into the kitchen. With more force than necessary, he yanked the cupboard door under the sink open and slammed the cup into the can. He leaned against the counter, arms bracing him, and stared at the aluminum basins. He hadn't thought. He should have left Daniel in the infirmary.
"Sam mentioned something about a memorial service. I didn't know you held it here."
Daniel's soft voice startled him, and he turned to find the younger man propped against the kitchen doorframe, arms crossed protectively across his chest. Eyeing the pale face, Jack once again mentally kicked himself. He had just wanted to give the archaeologist a comfortable place to sleep. That's all. And it had backfired on him. He still had no clue what to say, so he averted his eyes to the floor.
"It's not a problem. More of a surprise, actually."
"It wasn't the memorial service. That was on base. This was...this was your wake, Daniel," Jack suddenly blurted, words springing up from nowhere. They were stilted and wooden, but he couldn't stop them from tumbling out. He didn't even really want to be saying them. "You'd be amazed at how many people showed. House was packed...of course it would be. I didn't mean to imply that-"
"W...wake? Jack, you're rambling. I had a wake?"
"I know I am." He was. Rambling like an idiot. Jack snapped his mouth shut, looking up to Daniel's face again. Behind the vague alarm still there, he saw understanding. It helped, but didn't completely alleviate the remorse. "I'm sorry, Daniel. I didn't remember that I didn't want to clean up because we were going to your..."
"To my what?" Daniel prompted as he trailed off, straightening his shoulders and wrinkling his forehead. "What?"
Jack let out a long breath, ruing the trouble his mouth had gotten him into. He'd intended on telling Daniel about his apartment, only not quite yet. Possibly not for some time. Seemed like he didn't have a choice any more. He rubbed a hand through his hair, hesitantly saying, "Your apartment. Carter, Teal'c and I were assigned to pack your stuff. Close your place up. We didn't though...started catching on to the whole false memory thing. But Hammond had it done anyway."
"That's why I couldn't go there tonight?" Daniel asked, taking a few shaky steps to lean on the kitchen island counter, face losing even more color. "Oh, God. You really believed I was dead. I mean, I knew Nem made you think that but for some reason I didn't really...I'm so sorry, Jack."
He moved to the other side of the island, facing the younger man across a safe distance. They stood in silence again, simply staring at each other. He could see the emotions flitting across the Daniel's face, in his eyes. Embarrassment, confusion, amazement. Jack realized with a start that Daniel might not know just how many people considered him a friend...or if not a friend, then a man deserving respect. Both in life and after death. Shockingly enough, he also realized that what he'd said at the memorial service had been true. The man standing before him was his friend. It wasn't the trauma causing his emotional behavior, not totally. He couldn't deny it any more, but he wasn't certain what to do about it.
"Yeah, we thought you were dead," he said at last, shuddering when a brief image of Daniel screaming and burning shoved itself front and center in his mind. He closed his eyes against it.
"Jack? You okay?"
Suddenly Daniel was right next to him, face inches away. What the hell? The other man looked scared to death, hands half raised in the air. As Jack fully opened his eyes, the archaeologist resumed a crossed-arm stance. Shit. He must have blanked out.
"I'm fine," he assured, swallowing the panic from the false pictures. Daniel didn't need the gory details. "Look, I'm sorry you had to see this mess. I should have just taken care of it after everyone left."
"I told you before, it's not a big deal," Daniel reiterated, studying him closely. There was a wary nervousness in the perusal, concern for him mixed with the emotional shocks Jack had unintentionally inflicted. The expression disappeared in favor of a drier one. "For a second, I thought you'd gone and had a huge party in the event of my untimely- "
"Don't say that!" Jack harshly interrupted. "Don't ever even think that, Daniel. Death is not a joke, and I would never be glad to have someone I..."
His throat closed off, as if shocked by his own near admission. Daniel's eyes were stricken and wide, mouth hanging slightly open. Jack tore his gaze away, drawing himself up into a stiff posture. He clenched his fists tightly, then opened his hands, palm up. Morbidly tracing his lifeline with his eyes, he wondered how long Daniel's was by comparison. He curled his fingers back into balls.
"Just don't, okay? I'll go get the guest room ready."
He quickly passed by the archaeologist, not giving him the chance to speak. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that Daniel would be only minutes behind. Since their first mission, Jack had easily discerned that the scientist was unable to ever let things go - hell, he knew that even before agreeing to have him as a member of SG1. And it was part of what made Daniel so effective on a first contact team. But tonight he just wanted to sleep. To forget for a while. He let out a chuckle at the irony. He'd been trying to keep a reminder of the archaeologist and forget all at the same time. It didn't take a genius to know those two extremes generally cancelled each other out.
Turning a blind eye to the littered bottles and cups, Jack almost ran to the spare bedroom. He went directly to the closet, pulling out an extra quilt for Daniel. His house was cool, deliberately set so, and he remembered how that had bothered the archaeologist when he'd stayed with him after their return from Chulak. He spread the comforter, watched it float down to land perfectly. As he turned to turn down the sheets, he saw Daniel's telltale shadow dance on the floor, the younger man lingering hesitantly at the door.
Jack rubbed his face with both hands - that was getting to be too much of a habit - and plopped down onto the bed, legs not wanting to hold him up for some reason. Keeping his hands over his eyes, he heard Daniel approach and felt the mattress tilt with his weight. They were so close, body heat transferred onto his shoulder and thigh.
"I'm sorry, Jack. I'm sorry that you thought I was dead. I'm sorry I joked about it. But I'm here now, and I don't plan on going anywhere. You know that, don't you?"
"I know. I do. It's's just that..." As in Hammond's office only an hour ago, Jack couldn't find the words. He snapped his head up. Tomorrow. He could deal with whatever residual effects tomorrow, after he'd slept and regained an ounce of control. "I'm going to bed. I'll take you home tomorrow morning. Hammond said your apartment would be done by the end of the day. You might want to supervise."
Practically launching himself from the room, Jack strode down the hall and into his own room, shutting the door. On Daniel and memories.

Daniel sat where Jack left him, completely befuddled. It wasn't every day you found out your team leader had been in charge of throwing you a party. Even if it was a posthumous party. And it wasn't every day you realized that said team leader was behaving suspiciously like a friend. His relationship with Jack was not easy to figure out in and of itself. Half the time, Daniel thought the colonel considered him the bane of his existence, a thorn in his backside. The other half, he felt warm and welcomed. He thought perhaps those two varied feelings were actually representations of the same thing. Which made it all the more confusing.
For all intents and purposes, he and the other man shouldn't even be on speaking terms. They had very little in common that he could think of, and if anything were on opposing sides of any given issue. Yet, of his three teammates, Daniel already knew Jack was the first one banging away on his internal sanctum. And the first one who'd break through, if he hadn't already. He was touched beyond reason that Jack had used his own home to celebrate his life. He wasn't upset at the untidiness left behind, not bothered by the implications of a wake. Death was a part of life, a fact he'd learned early on.
He just had to make Jack understand that, but he didn't know how. Because he didn't have any idea what was making the other man so upset. Maybe he should just get some sleep, worry about it in the morning. He leaned down and unlaced his boots, kicking them away from the bed. Wrestling out of his jacket, Daniel threw it on top of the shoes. He tore off his glasses, tossing them on the bedside table and stretched out on the mattress, pulling the blankets up to his chin.
And stared at the ceiling. Damnit, he'd left the light on. He scowled over at the light switch as if that would make it turn off on its own. When that didn't work, he sighed and tossed the blankets over his head and turned onto his right side, already too warm to want to sneak out from under the covers. It turned out the quandary of light on or off was academic anyway. Not more than half an hour ago, he'd been so wiped he was out on his feet but now he couldn't seem to keep his eyes closed. He stayed in his self made cocoon, hoping to relax enough to beat the insomnia.
It didn't work. He lasted about twenty minutes, then gave it up for lost. Throwing back the covers, his skin instantly pricked with gooseflesh and he lunged for his jacket and boots. If he couldn't sleep, he might as well do something clean Jack's house for him. Maybe that would help his team leader - no his friend - come to grips with the thing haunting him. He eased out of the bedroom, without his glasses. He crept down the hallway and into the kitchen, leaving the lights off until he'd reached his destination.
Unless Jack had changed his cupboards around since his last visit, Daniel knew exactly where to find the decaffeinated coffee. The lure of the fully caffeinated French Roast was strong, but the thought of facing Doctor Fraiser quickly belayed that calling. While the pot brewed, Daniel fished around, gathering a garbage bag, broom and dustpan. There really wasn't that much garbage to dispose of - it wasn't like Jack had had a kegger. He dug out a mug and poured himself a coffee and journeyed into the sitting room, leaving the kitchen light on to serve as his guide.
The dim light was enough to let him enter the room and head for the coffee table. He set down his mug and moved toward the table lamp, trying to recall if it was one that had a three-way bulb. He didn't want to turn the lights on full glare and rouse Jack. The shadows under the other man's eyes were enough proof that he was suffering from lack of sleep as well. Leaning to the lamp, he hadn't quite made it to the switch when suddenly the overhead light flooded the room. He couldn't withhold a gasp of surprise, jerking upright and spinning to find Jack glowering at him from the other end of the sofa, hand on the wall. To make his ire more apparent, the colonel crossed his arms and deepened his scowl. Even sans glasses, Daniel could tell he wasn't pleased.
"What're you doing up?" Jack's gruffly asked. "And what are you doing drinking coffee? Fraiser will have my hide."
Daniel slumped onto the couch, embarrassed at being caught. His own abashment faded when he realized he could ask Jack the same thing. He jerked back up, and focused his attention on the standing colonel. He was still wearing what he'd had on when they left the SGC, so Daniel knew he hadn't even tried to sleep. Clumsily slouching back down, he eyed the cleaning implements in this hand before transferring his gaze to his friend.
"I couldn't sleep, believe it or not. I thought I'd help by cleaning this up for you. Sorry if I woke you," he said, satisfied to see Jack flinch at the last comment. "And it's decaf."
"Well, in that case, let me go grab some," Jack sarcastically retorted, but did in fact move into the kitchen, returning moments later with a steaming cup.
Daniel lay the garbage bag and broom next to him on the couch as Jack crossed the room, sitting in the chair next to the fireplace. He had an immediate flashback of a previous discussion they'd had in this room, about love and loss. That was months ago and he was just now realizing Jack was his friend? He marveled at his own denseness. Those weren't the kind of subjects you talked about with a mere coworker.
Jack fiddled with an empty beer bottle with one hand, lifting the other to sip from his coffee cup. Daniel wasn't sure if he should just go on doing what he'd intended, so he gathered a handful of empty mugs and shuffled off to the kitchen. When he got back, the other man was still blankly staring at the beer bottle. Perplexed, he crinkled his eyebrows, trying to read something in the expression. That he could find nothing frightened him, and he had to find a way to wipe the emptiness of Jack's face away. Impulsively, he snagged the garbage bag from the couch and walked over to his friend. He started easing the bottle from the colonel, taken aback when the grip abruptly tightened.
"Remember when I told you I can sometimes forget about what happened to my kid?" Jack whispered, voice flat.
Freezing, Daniel watched Jack's fingers gradually loosen, spreading so they came into contact with his own. He snapped his eyes up to find deep brown ones staring at him. He nodded, swallowed heavily, and took the bottle. Breaking eye contact, he retreated to the sofa.
"What I didn't tell you is that at first, I did just the opposite. Sara wanted to forget and I wanted to remember. Ironic how we switched that around, huh?" Jack kept talking as if he wasn't even in the room, eyes pinned on the bottle in Daniel's hands. "I got pissed when she wanted to clear out Charlie's room. That was the only place left where I could feel him. The only place I could go to really remember."
He thought about telling Jack that his reaction, and Sara's, were both common after a loss. Wanted to tell him about his own experiences with Sha're and his parents. He thought that would in an odd way diminish what his friend was trying to tell him, so instead he just asked, "When did that change?"
"After the first Abydos mission. Sara wouldn't let me back in, wouldn't let me go to his room. I think she was afraid. So I moved out and on. I forgot."
"Sometimes," Daniel whispered.
And suddenly Daniel understood what had been bothering Jack, putting together the fragments of the evening's earlier conversations. Jack had purposely left the wake evidence because his other things, tangible items, were going to be removed the following day. Warmth flowed through him but he didn't say anything. This was Jack's way of showing feelings neither of them were comfortable displaying, and while the method was indirect, he found himself oddly pleased. And scared. Did he really want to get this attached to anyone on Earth, and did he want them embracing him?
"I knew it had to happen eventually but I didn't want to admit to myself he was gone, you know? I'm glad Sara was able to help, though I doubt she'll ever know how much she actually did for me," Jack continued softly. "Even after that alien double thing, I haven't really talked to her much."
Daniel did understand the misery of isolation- he now regretted shutting out so many people as he was growing up. Good people who did care about him. Sha're would always be first and foremost on his mind, but she'd want him to find some happiness during their separation, and SG1 was proving the road to that. More and more, he was realizing that accepting his role among his friends, even allowing himself some pleasure during this phase of his life, wasn't wrong. And it wouldn't make him forget her or Skaara. Tossing the bottle from left to right hand, he finally shoved it into the garbage bag. Jack ripped out of his reverie, sitting up straight and looking directly at him. Daniel gave him a slight nod.
"Well, there's no reason to keep your house like this, is there?" he asked, hoping his real message was understood. He'd said it directly before but wasn't sure how truthfully Jack had taken it. "I mean, it's going to start smelling around here."
"No, I guess there's not," Jack said, briefly smiling before raising his coffee mug to disguise it. "But I really am tired now, so let's leave it until morning, okay?"
At Jack's words, Daniel discovered he, too, was tired at last. So tired he actually was having a hard time keeping his eyes open. Exhaustion had finally caught up with him, and was slapping him quite brutally. He managed a nod, then started drawing his legs onto the couch. It seemed as good a place as any to sleep.
"Oh, no you don't. Bed," Jack murmured, amazingly at his side. Daniel hadn't even seen or heard him move. Strong hands ran along his back and hoisted him up, moving to shove his feet to the floor. "Come on. It's just a few steps."
"Okay. Jack? 'Mmtired. Glad we talked."
"Tired? Like I couldn't have guessed. Jeez, Daniel, you weigh a hell of a lot more than I thought."
"All muscle."
Jack snorted in his ear and mumbled something unintelligible. Daniel didn't care what it was, just glad to hear emotion coming from his friend. His good friend; he liked the sound of that. He leaned into Jack and let himself be guided into bed, feeling good to be...home.

Stretching his arms wide, Jack surveyed the damage. The abandoned garbage bag and broom were on the floor where Daniel had kicked them. He had to admit their talk had made him feel better, enabling him to get a decent rest at last. Owning up that he cared about Daniel hadn't been as difficult or awkward as he'd anticipated. Of course, he hadn't come right out and said it, but he knew the young man had understood. While he should have felt embarrassed about their discussion, he only felt relieved. And alarmingly good.
He decided to ignore the clutter, heading instead for a nice, long shower. Maybe by the time he was done, Daniel would be awake. Speeding through his routine, Jack threw on a pair of khakis and a long sleeved T-shirt, leaving his hair tousled and spiky. He dug through his closet in search of clothes for the archaeologist, finding a pair of jeans he'd shrunk so much they didn't fit him anymore and a sweatshirt. He drew the line at furnishing underwear. Gathering the ensemble, he left his room and headed for the kitchen, where he heard soft mumbling. Daniel was puttering around, getting ready to make another pot of coffee.
"Skip the decaf. Fraiser's rules be damned, I'd say honest to goodness caffeine is needed," he greeted, smirking when Daniel jumped and spun around.
"Oh, good morning, Jack. Sleep well?" Daniel recovered quickly, wiping the alarm from his face and stance.
"As a matter of fact, I did. Let me do that. You go take a shower," Jack ordered, eyeing the younger man's ruffled appearance, mop of hair unruly and in his face. He sauntered into the room and removed the coffee pot from reluctant hands. "Here - this stuff should fit you, but you'll have to go commando. And, er, keep the pants. I won't want them back after that."
Daniel took the clothes, peering at him with an odd expression. He opened his mouth, but apparently thought better of saying whatever was on his mind and silently left the kitchen. Minutes later, Jack heard the shower start. His stomach rumbled, and he realized he hadn't really eaten anything substantial for a couple of days. Beer didn't count, did it? He ransacked the refrigerator, but came up empty. Probably for the best. He'd already be on Fraiser's hit list for the coffee, which would be enough for the archaeologist anyway. And he could go without food for a little longer. He rubbed his hands through his hair, thinking of the too tight jeans, embarrassed to even mentally admit he hadn't shrunk them.
While the coffee was brewing, he did a quick search of every room, gathering dirty dishes as he went. He stacked them on the countertop, and set about loading them into the dishwasher. As he hit the button to start the wash cycle, he couldn't help but smile, thinking of the memories that would also be washed away with the grime. Even if there was residue, he had the comfort of knowing he could just polish it right off with a swipe of a cloth. The wake had been unnecessary. Daniel wasn't dead. He hadn't lost anyone. His grin grew wider.
"What's so funny?"
Startled out of his musing, Jack shook his head. Daniel stood in the doorway, drowning in his sweatshirt, bare toes peeking out of the long-in-the-leg-jeans. He just smiled even more as the younger man padded over to the cupboard to find himself a coffee cup, eyebrows quirking in perplexity. After a moment, Daniel lost the confused expression and smiled back.
"Your offer to help clean up still good?" he asked, joining Daniel at the coffee pot.
"Of course. Looks like you've already started," Daniel accepted. Jack was close enough to hear his stomach growl.
"I, uh, don't have any food. Sorry. But we can go out for breakfast?" Jack dared to live dangerously. Screw Doctor Fraiser - solid food was precisely what the younger man needed. He was looking a tad on the waifish side...or was that just an illusion due to the oversized clothes?
"Actually, I'm not big on breakfast. Just hook me up with a couple of cups of this and I'm good."
"Sure, that's why your stomach's making that racket, right?"
Daniel had the decency to look abashed, shooting a glance down at his traitorous midsection. He brought the steaming cup of coffee to his lips for a quick sip before replying, "Fine. You're buying? Seeing as I don't have any money on me."
"Yeah. I'm buying."
"Great, then let's get this over with. I'm starving."
Jack trailed after the younger man back into the sitting room, setting his mug down and snagging the broom and dustpan in a single motion. Daniel took up the garbage bag and collected the empty beer bottles while he did a half-assed job of sweeping. He'd never admit to doing it, but he paid more attention to the archaeologist than the actual cleaning. He was glad to have all of his teammates...the past few days proving how vital they'd all become to him.
Carter was a fantastic second in command and Teal'c was proving to be a huge asset to the SGC. His relationship with each of them was understandable, easy to translate in terms of the military kinship. But wonder of all wonders was the fact that he was friends with Daniel - someone who was the polar opposite of him. At least that was how it appeared on the surface. More than ever, Jack felt a connection to the younger man on some hidden level. Maybe he'd never fully understand it, but he'd never take it for granted. He'd be a lousy person if he did. A couple of years ago...hell, a couple of days ago he never would have accepted the strange friendship. Now he couldn't imagine life without it.
Daniel moved about the room, oblivious to the inspection until he paused by the fireplace. He set the bag down, and removed a picture from the mantel. Without even really seeing which one, Jack knew it was one of him, Sara and Charlie. The only reminder he had left. The archaeologist looked over to him, running light fingertips over the frame and nodding to him once before replacing it.
"Sometimes," Daniel whispered, then tugged the garbage bag up and left the room to dispose of it.
Jack gave up sweeping, brushing what little he'd accomplished into the dustpan and depositing it in the kitchen garbage can. He went back into the sitting room, easing down on the sofa and reclaiming his coffee. It was lukewarm at best, but he managed a few sips. Daniel came back in, flopping down on the other end of the couch. They sat in silence for a few minutes, and he found himself absently studying the fireplace. The entire mantel was filled with military medals and commendations, pictures reflecting only that aspect of his life. Studying the only family picture up there, he realized that in addition to his former family photograph, he needed to find a current one of SG1 to really complete the decorating job.
"Well," Daniel inanely broke the hush.
"I guess we're done here. You ready to get something to eat and head home? We can call Carter and Teal'c over if you want." He glanced at the archaeologist, just glimpsing a fleeting, indistinguishable look. He set down his mug. "Daniel?"
"Yeah. Home." Daniel reached for the abandoned cups, to take them into the kitchen.
Out of nowhere, Jack felt an odd compulsion. He quietly ordered, "Leave 'em there, Daniel."
Instead of returning to chase ghosts, to try and make the intangible tangible, Jack would come home to the memory that he'd shared a cup of coffee with a friend he'd almost lost before even realizing he had.
He wasn't ready to let that slip away just yet.
The End

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  Hawk50 Nancy Bailey Carrie AnnO  
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Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a parody for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted anywhere without the consent of the author.