Area 52 HKH

What Is Essential (Part 1/2)

by babs & JoaG

URL: http://www.area52hkh.net/asj/joag/essential011.php
Summary: Daniel's world is turned upside down when Jack is brutally murdered before his eyes until a trip to another planet sends his world spinning once more

"Jack!" Daniel screamed as one of the two priests raised his crystal and aimed it at Daniel's lover.

"Daniel, go!" Jack ordered, his pain-filled eyes catching Daniel's and holding his gaze with regret.

"No..." He turned to the priest, trying to plead for Jack's life. "Please, take me. Spare him. I'm the one you're angry with. Punish me!"

The priest ignored Daniel and the crystal he held lit up once more, bathing Jack with a pink glow. Jack screamed and Daniel yelled out, knowing full well the pain Jack was going through. The tortured man fell to his knees when the light winked out, gasping audibly as he tried to control his pain.

"Jack," Daniel called, his voice catching in his throat.

"Daniel, get the hell out of here," Jack ordered again, his voice rough and bordering on impatience.

"Daniel," Sam said softly in his ear. "We're outnumbered. There's nothing we can do. His only hope is for us to get back to the SGC and get reinforcements."

"Sam, there's no time," Daniel ground out through clenched teeth, his own pain overwhelming him for a few seconds. He ignored the sight of Teal'c lying unconscious nearby; these priests had simply aimed a crystal at the Jaffa's pouch and Teal'c had fallen to the floor as if he'd been pole axed.

Daniel didn't even know if Teal'c was alive; everything had happened too suddenly, too fast. The priests and guards had entered the temple where Daniel had been exploring. He'd apparently touched the altar in the room, thereby despoiling it. Twin beams of blue light had winked from their crystals, cutting into him deeply. His teammates had come running at Daniel's yells for help. They'd been quickly overpowered. It was all Daniel's fault.

Daniel had to try again. They had to listen to him. They wanted Jack's life for Daniel's mistake; he was their leader and thus was responsible for Daniel's actions.

"Please, I'm the one you have to punish. I'm the one who touched your altar. Jack wasn't even in the room." He ignored Sam's tugging on his arm and limped forward a couple of steps. "Please!" He was stopped by two burly guards who placed themselves before him, barring him from nearing the scene being played out before him.

The priest brought his hand up and Jack looked at Daniel for a moment before the light hit him. Jack's back arched and Daniel saw his lungs strive to take in air. Jack's mouth was wide open in a silent scream, either in pain or in an attempt to breathe.

"Jack," Daniel moaned, seeing the one person who meant everything to him being tortured for something Daniel had unknowingly done. When the light winked out, Jack slumped to the ground.

"Please!" Daniel yelled, trying to push past the guards. They both took a hold of him and he was physically pulled out of the room. He struggled against the vice-like grip on his arms, ignoring the pain radiating down his chest from the wound to his ribs.

He tried to set his feet to stop his backwards movement but his injured leg refused to obey and he lost his precarious balance. The guards ignored him and dragged him kicking and screaming out of the room. He saw that Sam and Teal'c were already gone and he renewed his efforts, knowing he was Jack's last hope.

"Jack!" he yelled once more, hearing Sam's cries along with his own. His last view of Jack was one that he knew would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Two of the priests were holding crystals in their hands. Jack lay helplessly before them, writhing in pain. One was shining the crystal's light directly into Jack's face and the other was directed to Jack's chest. The screams coming from Jack were inhuman, and the sound followed Daniel outside until they were suddenly cut off when the door closed behind him.

The guards relentlessly dragged the three SG1 team members towards the gates of the temple. Daniel could hear himself panting and grunting while he thrashed about, trying to free himself.

Somehow Daniel managed to twist around and kicked the guard on his left. The man lost his grip and Daniel half fell to the ground. Before he could try and attack the second guard, the first one laid a savage kick to his injured side that had him gasping in pain.

For a few minutes he couldn't catch his breath. His eyes tearing, he felt himself picked up once more, his legs dragging along the hard ground. He could see stones and twigs beneath him as he was pulled along. When he was finally able to breathe, he realized they were nearly to the temple's gate.

"Daniel, you okay?" Sam asked behind him.

He sobbed with frustration and anger, ignoring her question and struggling to free himself.

He caught a view of Teal'c being dragged lifelessly before him. Daniel renewed his efforts, only to be efficiently tossed through the gate, landing hard on the rock-strewn path.

Ignoring his bruises and the pain coursing through his body, Daniel lunged for the closing gate. The barrier itself was over fifteen feet in height, and very solidly constructed in wood and stone. The doors had been wide open when they'd entered the village several hours ago, the inhabitants welcoming them warmly. That was until Daniel had gone and done something stupid.

He ran his hands along the seams of the closed door, trying to find a way inside. He could hear Sam talking to Teal'c behind him and the Jaffa's deep rumble answering her back.

"The colonel's dead," Sam replied softly to Teal'c's inquiry of 'what had happened'.

Something died inside of Daniel when he heard the words spoken out loud. Almost frantically, he began tracing the gate's outline. He had to get Jack... maybe there was still a chance to save him. Over and over, his hands followed the door's edge. Up and down and across. When he felt a hand on his shoulder, he shrugged it off, continuing to search for a way back inside.

"Daniel, we have to go."

"No, we have to get inside. Sam, help me find the mechanism that opens the door."

"Daniel." Her voice sounded strangely strangled. She placed her hands over his, forcing him to still his movements. "You're hurt and something's wrong with Teal'c's symbiote. Please, Daniel. We need to get home. General Hammond will send someone back to... get the colonel."

"No!" He turned and glared at Sam. Daniel didn't want someone else to find Jack. Jack was going to be okay. Daniel just needed to find him and bring him back to Janet.

"Daniel, he's dead. They killed him." Daniel shook his head, refusing to listen to her. A shiver coursed through his body and he suddenly felt very tired.

"You're going into shock, and we need to get Teal'c home. Please, come with us now."

"Teal'c?" Daniel looked over at his friend and saw that he was looking very pale as he sat quietly where the guards had left him. One hand was held protectively over his pouch but his eyes were glued to Daniel's.

"I am recovering, DanielJackson. But I fear I may need DoctorFraiser's assistance."

Daniel allowed Sam to guide him away from the door and he lurched against her when his leg nearly crumpled beneath him. Her arms came around him a moment until he got his balance while Teal'c stood up slowly. Sam tugged at him and he followed quietly. His mind felt numb and he couldn't seem to think straight. His ribs and leg suddenly flared with pain and he looked down in surprise to see his tee shirt and pant leg soaked with blood. Why hadn't Sam bandaged him? Oh, right. They'd lost their packs and supplies.

He saw the Stargate looming in the distance. They were going home, but without Jack. Jack would never go home again. Daniel would never hear his voice again; feel Jack's hands running over his body, his brown eyes looking at Daniel with love. Jack was dead. Oh God, Jack was dead!

Every painful step he took was echoed with the words 'Jack's dead... Jack's dead... Jack's dead'. He walked in a fog, seeing nothing but his lover's face in his mind and hearing Jack's voice whispering lovingly in his ears, remembering making love to Jack last night.

Suddenly pulled back to reality, he found himself on his hands and knees, retching violently. He had no memory of how he'd gotten there and from the amount of vomit on the ground, he'd been sick for a while. Sam's hands were on his shoulders and he could hear her voice over the sound of a strong wind blowing through his mind.

When the spasms stopped, she pulled him into a kneeling position. Daniel could see her mouth moving but couldn't put the words together. Someone was tugging at his arm and finally tired of the nagging, he got up and followed where they led.

He recognized the Stargate after a while and saw the chevrons circling in preparation for activation. For a split second he almost made the leap into the backwash, not wanting to live with the pain he knew from experience was only going to get worse. But hands tightened on his arm, startling him. He turned to look and saw Teal'c staring at him in worry. He hung his head; Jack was dead.

* * * * * *

A large hand rested on his forehead and Daniel smiled. He must have been sick, that's why he was having such horrible dreams. He opened his eyes and murmured, "Jack." Only to be brought back to reality by the sight of Teal'c standing by his bed.

"Oh God. Oh God." Daniel tried to sit up, his chest burning. It wasn't a dream. It was true. Jack was...

"Lie still, Daniel." He turned his head to look at Sam. Her face was a blotchy red. He'd worried them both.

"Teal'c? You okay?" Daniel brought up his hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Sam?"

"I am recovered, DanielJackson." Teal'c shifted his weight and placed his hands behind his back.

"I'm fine, Daniel," Sam whispered. She turned away as Doctor Warner approached the bed.

"Doctor Jackson," Warner nodded a hello and took Daniel's wrist in his hand, feeling for a pulse. Warner, like Fraiser, believed in hands on medicine. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," Daniel said automatically. At Doctor Warner's frown, he closed his eyes. "My ribs hurt. My leg hurts."

Oh and by the way, Doctor, my soul is dead because I found out what I thought was a dream is reality. Jack O'Neill is dead. His death is my responsibility. He was my lover, did you know that? Daniel tightened his lips and stayed silent. His leg would heal; his ribs would mend, but his soul? Would it ever recover? Daniel wasn't sure about that.

He couldn't even cry. A memory of the gates on the planet closing made Daniel push Warner's hands away. He pulled himself up by holding onto the bed rail.

"Sam," he gasped. "We need to go back. There's still a chance. Maybe he's just wounded."

"Daniel," Sam began. She stopped and took his hand in hers. "I'll talk to General Hammond."

"You think he's dead." Daniel hated the desperation in his voice.

"I do, Daniel. You translated, Daniel. You said the price for the desecration was death."

"Maybe I was wrong. Sam, we need to go back there. You have to convince the general."

He watched Sam swallow hard and her eyes fix on the far wall. "I'll see what I can do, Daniel. But you know as well as I do that the colonel is most likely dead."

"We don't have a body, Sam," Daniel whispered. "And we don't leave our people behind."

She patted his hand. "No, we don't." She stepped away from the bed.

"You are not going anywhere, Daniel," Doctor Warner said, pressing a hand to Daniel's chest. "You're not going to be walking on that leg until it heals a little more."

Daniel sighed as he sank back on the pillows. As long as there was no body, no proof, maybe he could hope a little longer. He could do nothing, had to put his trust in Sam and Teal'c. They'd find Jack. It was his last thought as he succumbed to the drugs once more.

* * * * *

He heard the soft murmur of voices. His mouth was dry and he turned his head to look at Sam. She was sitting by his bed, her head held in her hands.

"Sam?" It was more of a croak than an actual word. She jerked her head around to face him and he knew. One look at her eyes and he knew.

"I'm sorry, Daniel," she whispered. "Oh God, I wish we were wrong." Her eyes filled with tears but she didn't cry ever the stoic soldier.

"I want to see him." Daniel found the call button and pressed it, an overwhelming need to get out of the infirmary. "Take me to see his body."

Doctor Fraiser was there frowning and Daniel spared only a passing glance at her as he concentrated on Sam. "I want to see Jack."

"Daniel." Sam gave a little hiccup. "He's dead."

"I know that." Daniel coughed, pushing Fraiser's hand away when she reached out to him. "Do you think I don't realize it? I want to see his body. Please, Sam. Janet. Please."

"General Hammond," Doctor Fraiser said with evident relief, looking over Daniel's bed to the other side.

"Will you leave us, Doctor? Major?" The familiar Texas twang was oddly soothing. "I'd like to speak to Doctor Jackson alone."

"Sam, come with me. You need a break. Let's see if we can find you somewhere to rest." Daniel watched as Sam stood, wobbling slightly before allowing Janet to wrap an arm around her waist. He turned his head, looking up at the general.

"Son," Hammond began. Daniel closed his eyes. He didn't want to hear this, but he needed to. He needed to know what they found. Had Jack's body been so mutilated they feared to let him see it? Didn't they understand his need to see Jack, his need to say goodbye? "Daniel, there was no body."

"No body?" Daniel asked, licking dry lips. He took a sip from the straw Hammond offered, letting the cool water soothe his throat. "No body? But then maybe..." he stopped as he met Hammond's eyes.

"I'm sorry, Daniel. It appears the priests...dispose..." Daniel didn't miss the jerky way the word was said. "...of the bodies in the backwash of a Stargate activation. All that SG-2, Major Carter and Teal'c found were bits and pieces of your abandoned packs, a piece of Colonel O'Neill's boot, and this." Hammond took Daniel's hand, placing a length of chain and a small bit of molten metal into it. Daniel studied it able to make out three symbols. An O'N.

"He's dead?" Daniel traced the metal with one finger. "Jack's dead?"

"I'm sorry," General Hammond said again. He placed his hand on Daniel's shoulder. Daniel closed his fingers around the chain and metal, letting it bite into his palm, a small pain compared to the dying of hope.

* * * * * *

The gateroom was cold. He didn't remember it being that cold before. Daniel shifted in the wheelchair and wished for a blanket. He supposed he should be grateful Janet allowed him to attend this ceremony and allowed him to wear scrubs. He rubbed the back of his left hand, the tape holding the IV in place itching.

Long fingers covered his, stopping the nervous movement. Sam bent down beside him, the blue of her uniform accentuating the blue of her eyes. "Daniel," she whispered. He wondered if his eyes held the same hurt and shock hers did. Teal'c came to his other side and placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder.

"We are with you, DanielJackson." Daniel closed his eyes and prayed he was dreaming. But when he opened them again he was still in the gateroom and General Hammond was still standing at a podium ready to speak.

"We are gathered here to remember the life of Colonel Jonathon O'Neill," Hammond began. He paused and when he started again his voice was rougher than before.

"Colonel O'Neill, Jack, was one of the finest officers I ever had under my command. I could list all of Jack's accomplishments, his medals, the awards he received, but somehow I don't think it would give us a feeling of who the true Jack O'Neill was. Jack was never one to speak of his accomplishments. No one outside of this room will ever know the sacrifices Jack made again and again for not only his country but for his world. Serving with Colonel O'Neill, having him in my command, and knowing him was an honor and a privilege. There is a wound in all of our hearts today, a very large hole left by the loss of Colonel O'Neill. In time, the wound will heal but the scar will remain. Major Carter, Teal'c, and Doctor Jackson, will you please come forward?"

Sam held her head high, ignoring the tears that fell unchecked down her cheeks. Teal'c pushed Daniel's wheelchair. He watched as the gate spun, the chevrons engaging, and thought he'd never feel a sense of wonder stepping through it again. Daniel studied the chevrons, realizing the gate was being opened to the planet where Jack had been killed. He wondered what would happen if he threw himself through the open wormhole and as if his thoughts had been read, Teal'c's hand descended to his shoulder. Sam and the officers in charge of SG-2, 3 and 4 tossed a wreath through the gate. The wormhole blinked out of existence, the iris closing over it with finality. Daniel couldn't see the bugler but he heard the strains of Taps float over the crowd while Sergeant Siler and the members of SG-2 folded an American flag. Sergeant Siler turned crisply on his heel, coming over to Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c.

"I believe Colonel O'Neill would want you to have this, Doctor Jackson." Siler pressed the flag into Daniel's waiting hands. "I'm sorry, sir."

His head hurt, his thigh throbbed, and he couldn't breathe through his nose anymore. Janet took his hand in hers. "We're going to get you back to the infirmary, Daniel. Sam? Teal'c? I think perhaps you should come too."

"Yes." Sam was crying, soft hiccups interrupting her words. Daniel couldn't speak, a refrain beating a rhythm in his head, Jack is dead, I will love no more.

* * * *

Daniel picked his glasses up off the coffee table and slipped them onto his face when the doorbell rang. He got up stiffly from the couch and limped across the room to answer the door.

"Hey, Daniel." Sam's voice was tentative and Daniel realized she wasn't sure of her welcome. Teal'c was standing behind her, his usually impassive face showing concern.

"Come on in," he said, holding the door open for them. He made his way back the couch, wincing as he descended the stairs to the living room area.

"We were worried," Sam said as she followed behind him. "You weren't answering our calls... we weren't even sure if you were here or at your apartment."

Daniel flushed guiltily at her words, knowing he'd ignored all the messages she and Teal'c had left on the two answering machines.

"I didn't feel much like talking," he said simply. He sat down in Jack's favorite chair, propping his leg up with relief.

Daniel'd stayed away from Jack's house up until today, finally steeling himself to go through Jack's things since he knew Sam and Teal'c were heading here this afternoon. At Daniel's request, Hammond had held off sending a team to retrieve anything official from Jack's home. The sympathetic general had enlisted Sam and Teal'c to do the job with Daniel's blessing.

He'd arrived here much earlier than planned, wanting to get through the initial shock of returning to Jack's home, which no longer felt like a home without Jack. And he was glad he had because the sight of the dirty dishes sitting in the sink, the unmade bed, and their clothing strewn across the bedroom, had all been testament to their early morning frolic which had nearly made them late for work on that unforgettable, disastrous mission so many days ago.

When he had picked up Jack's favorite sweatshirt from the floor where Daniel had thrown it after wresting it from Jack's body, he brought it to his face and inhaled deeply. It still contained Jack's scent, evoking the longing he thought he'd managed to put aside all these past days. With his eyes brimming with tears, he'd been unable to do anything other than crawl onto the bed with the piece of clothing clutched to his chest.

He had fallen into a deep sleep, his body trying to make up for the hours of sleeplessness he'd experienced over the past three days since he'd been discharged from the infirmary. But his rest hadn't lasted long; he'd woken up screaming, reliving Jack's last moments.

The bed was now but a cold, bare mattress, the room tidy and neat, the kitchen spic and span. There was no evidence that there had been two in the house rather than one before Jack had left, never to return. He had erased all signs of his ever sharing Jack's home, and it had been much harder than he'd expected.

There was one more task to perform, one more painful thing he felt obliged he had to do. Daniel had put off his visit to Sara, hated to see her pain, knowing she'd lost another person in her life. But he would have to do that in the next day or two. He'd waited long enough.

"Daniel, are you okay?" Sam was sitting uncomfortably on the edge of the couch, leaning forward and watching him closely. He shook himself mentally, having forgotten momentarily that his friends were here.

He nodded, and forced a small smile onto his face.

"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just that... coming here today was a little hard."

"We would have been pleased to have performed this onerous duty for you, DanielJackson," Teal'c stated. "I must admit that I find the task to be somewhat... difficult for myself as well."

Daniel looked at Teal'c, who couldn't seem to meet Daniel's gaze, and then Sam, whose eyes were shiny with unshed tears. He nearly gasped out loud when he saw their pain. He had assumed that he was the only one having trouble with Jack's death and had pulled away from them in his misery. But he could see they were hurting, maybe not as much as he was, but they had needed him too.

He got up and sat beside Sam, putting his arms around her, ignoring the pull of healing scar tissue along his ribcage. She laid her chin against his shoulder and he could feel her body trembling as she tried to hold her emotions in.

"It's okay, Sam," he whispered against her hair.

"This is worse than the time we thought you'd died on P3X 866..." she told him, her voice shaky and thick.

"I'm so sorry, Sam. You've had to go through this twice, first with me, then..."

"But you weren't dead. And we all felt that something was wrong, and that there was an underlying sense of hope. But now..." She sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand, then pulled away from Daniel's embrace. She stood up, her eyes red rimmed.

"Excuse me," she said as she rushed towards the bathroom.

"Is she all right?" Daniel asked Teal'c as he stared down the hallway at her retreating back.

"She is sad. We both feel O'Neill's loss deeply. But my friend, it is you we are concerned for. How do you fare?"

Other than a pain that cut so deep inside he sometimes wondered how he still breathed; other than knowing he faced cold, lonely nights filled with haunting nightmares of his dead lover's death; other than finding himself huddled in a corner of his apartment with tears streaking down his face and no memory of how he'd gotten there; other than a desire to simply go to sleep and not wake up until the world went into another ice age; other than wanting to scream and rage and vent out his anger at himself for allowing Jack to die in the first place, he was fine.

"I'm coping," Daniel said simply. "It's hard, I admit that. I miss him-" Daniel had to swallow hard to stop his voice from cracking. Despite his best efforts, his throat tightened and his voice came out thick with grief. "A lot," he managed to finish as he averted his gaze, blinking back his tears.

Hearing the door to the bathroom open, he got up to gaze out the large picture window. He felt a hand on his shoulder and thinking it was Sam, was surprised to see Teal'c's bulk standing behind him.

"We shall begin with Colonel O'Neill's office, if it agreeable with you." Daniel nodded, listening to them leaving the room and grateful they were giving him time to compose himself.

He'd join them in a minute. He'd be all right. He'd been through this before, hadn't he?

You'd think he'd be used to it by now.

* * * * * * *

Daniel pulled his black woolen coat tighter as he followed the walkway to the front door of the suburban house. His gloved hands clutched the triangular package he carried. He still didn't know if his visit here would be welcome, but he believed it was the right thing to do.

He knocked on the door instead of ringing the doorbell. Glancing around while he waited, he saw the yard and tried to picture a younger Jack pitching a ball to Charlie. The picture still standing on Jack's night table of Jack with one arm around Sara and the other resting on Charlie's shoulder came to mind and Daniel closed his eyes, hating the way the cold stung at them and caused them to water.

"Yes?" Sara O'Neill answered the door, wiping her hands on a dishtowel she carried. It was covered with little strawberries Daniel noticed in a detached part of his brain, and an image of Jack dipping a strawberry in whipped cream and then licking it off slowly came to his mind with crystal clarity.

"Mrs. O'Neill, I'm Daniel Jackson." He watched as she tilted her head and then her mouth formed into a little 'oh.'

"Come in." She opened the door wider and gestured him inside. His glasses fogged at the warmth of the house. "You're Daniel. You work with Jack. Doctor Jackson isn't it?"

"Yes." Daniel stood in the foyer. He didn't know what to do with the package, feeling awkward now that he had almost completed his mission.

"Here." Sara held out her hands. "Let me take that." She placed her hands on the package and Daniel had to force his fingers to uncurl. She deserved this he knew, but what he didn't know was if he was ready to let go.

"Thank you," he coughed and stuffed his gloves in his pocket. He quickly swiped a finger on the inside of his lenses, able to see once more.

"You can hang your coat on the coat tree." Sara gestured behind him and Daniel took his coat off, straightening his tie before he turned back to face her.

"Mrs. O'Neill." He began again, needing to take a deep breath when she interrupted him with a 'Sara.'

"Sara," Daniel nodded, wishing she hadn't insisted on the informality. It was making his task harder. "I...Jack..." He cursed inwardly, hating himself for screwing up what he needed to say.

"Oh God," she whispered as she looked at his face and then back to the package she held. He could see it in her eyes, see when she realized.

"Sara?" Daniel placed a hand at her elbow, wondering if she was going to faint, her skin had gone so pale.

"I'm...I'll be fine. Let's go sit in the living room." Sara didn't resist as Daniel led her the few steps to the couch. He looked around after she was seated not knowing if he should sit next to her or find another chair so he remained standing, shifting his weight to his other foot when a twinge in his newly healed thigh reminded him of the mission.

"Please sit." She patted the cushion next to her. "Tell me." Her eyes searched his face.

"I can't give you details," Daniel began but he knew she understood that. "The mission is classified."

"Yes. They always are." Her voice held just a trace of bitterness and Daniel wondered how many nights Sara had listened to Jack's nightmares and been unable to comfort him because he couldn't share what had happened.

"I'm sorry." Daniel twisted his fingers together and studied his hands. "I was injured. I thought they would call you."

"No." Sara began unwrapping the paper covering the triangular box holding the American flag. "No one told me. I would have come to the funeral. I don't hate Jack. I...we...some hurts were too deep to heal."

"It was a memorial service, Sara." Daniel stared at the flag, pushing memories of the ceremony to the place where he couldn't feel them, where the loss didn't bite into his soul with every breath. "We couldn't recover his body." Maybe it would feel more real, Daniel thought. Maybe if he'd seen the execution he wouldn't be imagining Jack being tortured to death every night in his dreams. Maybe he wouldn't hear Jack's screams in the silence of his empty bed. Daniel shoved his hands into his pockets, his fingers finding the small piece of metal and chain he'd taken to carrying around with him.

"He would have wanted to be buried next to Charlie." Sara stroked one long finger over the flag.

"I can make arrangements for the stone carver to do the inscription on the tombstone." Daniel offered. "Jack made me his executor a few years back, but I didn't want to do anything without your permission."

"Can it wait?" Sara asked. "I'm just not ready."

"It can wait." Daniel answered. It was the same reason he was putting off taking care of the other details. He wasn't ready either.

"The flag?"

"You were married to him. I thought you should have it." Daniel studied her face not knowing if the gesture was being rejected or not.

"Thank you," Sara nodded. They sat in silence for a few minutes. He watched Sara's fingers trace the outline of a star over and over until he wanted to cover her hand and make her stop. She looked up at him, her eyes bright.

"You loved him." She moved her hand from the flag and took Daniel's in it keeping her eyes on his. Daniel was unable to speak but he nodded. He couldn't lie to her.

"Jack was always faithful to me, Daniel," Sara admitted. "He took our marriage vows seriously."

"And you knew." Daniel swallowed.

"I found out quite by accident. I needed to let him go, Daniel. It wasn't fair to either of us. I didn't want to settle for a husband who was missing his chance at happiness and lose my own. Maybe if Charlie hadn't..."

"You don't need to tell me this." Daniel shook his head, feeling he was intruding on a very private matter.

"No. I do," Sara continued. "I'm glad he was happy, Daniel. He was happy with you?"

"Yes. We were happy," Daniel said. He turned his hand under hers so they rested palm to palm.

"I'm glad." Sara nodded a moment before the tears spilled down her cheeks.

* * * * * * *

"General Hammond!" Daniel exclaimed, seeing the older man standing by the door to his office. He stared at him in surprise before remembering his manners and standing up to greet him. The general rarely came down into the laboratory area of the facility; he usually had people come to him.

"What can I do for you, sir?" Daniel asked as the general entered Daniel's lab.

"I won't keep you long," he said with a smile. "Doctor Fraiser has just informed me that she has cleared you for active duty, but with reservations. Now I know you've been through a difficult time. I would like to know how you would feel about going through the Stargate again."

Daniel dropped into his chair, picked up his pen and fiddled with it before looking up at Hammond.

"You want to know if I've lost my nerve, don't you?" Daniel didn't know whether to be insulted or angry.

"You have gone through a traumatic occurrence, son. Doctor Fraiser has also informed me that you've refused to seek counseling. At this point I know it's strictly on a voluntary basis, and I haven't seen or heard any sign of your work not being up to its usual standards. But it is a concern I need to raise."

"General, you may recall that I first joined SC-1 in order to find my wife, who had been taken from me forcibly and impregnated with a Goa'uld. That was due to my own stupidity when I unburied the Stargate on Abydos. I lost many friends in that battle, and I've lost many friends and teammates in the ensuing years, all because of that damned Stargate." He shoved his hands under the table, squeezing them together tightly in his anger. "I may have just lost my best friend," he said through clenched teeth, "but that's not going to stop me from stepping through and doing the work I know."

At one time Daniel would have said 'the work I know and love', but today that would have been an outright lie. He stared straight into the man's blue eyes, daring him to find fault with him and keeping him Earthbound.

Hammond nodded slightly. "Very well," he said. "SG-1 is due to visit P8K-883 in two days' time. You're on the team. Colonel Rivera will be taking over SG1. Welcome back, son."

"Thank you, General," Daniel managed to stammer, holding his anger inside until the man left. As soon as he was sure General Hammond had had time to get to the elevator, Daniel stormed to Sam's office.

"Hi," she said as Daniel began pacing up and down the room. "What's up?"

"I'm back on active duty," Daniel said as he reached the end of the room and turned around to begin pacing in the other direction.

"That's great!" Sam said, turning to watch him walk by her. As Daniel turned around again, she added worriedly, "Isn't it?"

"Not when you consider that Janet thinks I might have problems coping with Jack's death. She had 'reservations' about letting me back on the team." He came to a stop and placed his hands on the table, sighing heavily.

"It'll be all right," Sam said as she came to stand close to him. "You'll be all right."

"I don't think I can do this," Daniel confided. "Maybe Janet and Hammond were right. Maybe I've just seen too much happen to people I love." He turned to Sam and saw the concern in her face.

Without hesitation, she walked up to him and put her arms around him. He slipped an arm around her shoulder and hugged her tight, taking comfort from the fact she cared. He let her go after a few moments, holding her at arms length and smiling. He loved this woman; this sister, although not of the same blood, was of the same spirit as he. And Teal'c, the companion who although rarely showed his emotions, was one of the most passionate men he knew. He had to do this for them; they had lost a friend, a leader, a protector. If Daniel didn't stay on the team with them, he'd be gouging another hole in their lives.

"And if I didn't step through the gate with you and Teal'c, who'd be watching your six?" He squeezed her arms gently. "Forgive me for that little outburst?" He let go and turned back to the table and sighed. "General Hammond's words got me upset and had me doubting myself for a second." He forced a grin and turned to her again, raising his forefinger in the air.

"Know what? I think I'll go give Teal'c the good news." He strode out of the room with vigor, heading towards Teal'c's quarters. His steps slowed when he turned into another corridor, and he sighed audibly. Going through the Stargate and exploring new worlds, or staying on Earth and studying old ones. Same difference; neither held much interest and the best he could hope for was losing himself in his work so that he wouldn't have to think of the pain in his heart.

* * * * * *

* * * * * * *

"Are you okay, Daniel?" Sam asked, her hand coming to rest on his shoulder as they sat around the campfire. Daniel looked up in surprise, lost in his thoughts.

Across the fire, Colonel Diego Rivera was watching him closely. Probably waiting for a screw-up, Daniel thought, then shook his head trying to dispel the irrational anger.

"Fine, Sam." He smiled, feeling his muscles stretch in a way they hadn't since Jack's death. Her sigh at his words immediately made him feel guilty. He placed a hand on her knee. "It's...sometimes I think he's going to be waiting for us when we go through the gate."

"Teal'c, why don't you and I do a perimeter check?" Colonel Rivera got up and stretched.

"Yes, ColonelRivera." Teal'c rose. His eyes met Daniel's and he nodded in acknowledgement of Daniel's pain. "I will assist you."

Silence filled the camp as Teal'c and Rivera's footsteps crunched away.

"I, Sam, I keep telling myself it will get better. I thought after Christmas, after our first Christmas without him..." Daniel stirred the fire with a stick, hearing Jack's 'little boys who play with fire pee in their beds,' comment in his head. He dropped the stick.

"It's okay to hurt, Daniel," Sam said. He gave a bitter laugh.

"Do you think I don't know that, Sam? It's not like I haven't been through this before." Daniel stood up and began pacing. "We never had a chance to say goodbye. And I'm not ready to now."

Comprehension dawned in Sam's gaze. "That's why you haven't done anything with the house," Sam got up and stood in front of him, effectively stopping his restless movements.

"I can't, Sam. I talked to the attorney, to Jack's lawyer. I have a year to settle the estate. I'm just not ready. I still haven't made arrangements for his, for his tombstone." He looked down, seeing tears track down her cheeks. Daniel brushed them away with his thumbs.

"Because that will make it real. Final," she whispered.

"Yeah," Daniel whispered back, pulling her into a hug. Her arms wrapped around his waist and she squeezed him tightly before stepping back.

"Maybe you need to, Daniel. Maybe if you say goodbye you'll be able to live again." She reached up and touched his face. "Colonel O'Neill would want you to live, Daniel. You know that."

"I do." Daniel leaned into her touch. "I do." He sighed. He looked up as Teal'c and Rivera came back into camp.

"Doctor Jackson?" Rivera said as he sat down at the fire once more and poured himself a cup of coffee. "Why don't you tell us about the petroglyphs you found at the site earlier today?"

Daniel studied his boots a moment and then sat down across from Rivera, feeling Sam settle on one side of him and Teal'c on the other. Drawing strength from his remaining family, Daniel began to explain the significance of the find and what it might mean to their understanding of the Goa'uld.

* * * * *

Daniel dragged his gaze off the yellow pad before him and back towards General Hammond, the silence in the room finally infiltrating his thoughts. Everyone was staring at him expectantly and with a sinking feeling Daniel realized he'd been asked a question.

"Umm, sorry. I didn't quite catch that last question." His face felt hot in embarrassment and he ducked his head.

"I asked if you had anything to add to Major Carter's report, Jackson," Colonel Rivera stated from across the table. "But it's obvious you're not even on the same planet as the rest of us."

No, Daniel's mind wasn't here at all. It kept drifting towards the task he had set himself to do this afternoon, a visit he dreaded, but a deed he felt he owed Jack.

"Very well, if there's nothing more, the mission is a go. Dismissed." Everyone stood up at General Hammond's words, Daniel a little more slowly than the rest, trying to ignore Sam's worried look.

"Doctor Jackson?" General Hammond said when Daniel went to file out behind Sam. "A word, if you please?" Daniel stopped by the edge of the briefing table, waiting for his friends to leave the room.

"Just make sure you've landed back on Earth by tomorrow, Jackson," Rivera said kindly as he brushed by Daniel.

"Is there a problem, son?" the General asked gently.

"Sir?" Daniel's mind raced as he tried to think of what to tell him.

"I couldn't help but notice you've been a little preoccupied today."

Daniel decided to settle for the truth. "Yes, Sir, I was. I'm sorry, it's a personal matter. I won't let it happen again."

General Hammond nodded while he smiled at Daniel. "I'm pleased to see how Colonel Rivera is working out. And Doctor Fraiser is more than happy that none of the team has succumbed to any major injuries over the past three months."

We've been lucky, sir," Daniel intoned. Yes, they'd had a streak of good luck in past missions. So much so that at times he had wondered if General Hammond had purposely sent SG-1 to worlds where he was pretty sure they would have little chance of encountering combat situations. Not that Daniel wasn't thankful that he was being spared the anguish of seeing another of his teammates injured or killed, but there were days when he ached for a fight. Especially after one of those tormenting dreams, Daniel wanted to go out and hurt something, preferably Goa'uld or Jaffa. Instead, he took his rage to the gym and became well acquainted with the punching bag.

"Colonel Rivera is a good man," Daniel continued.

"Yes, he is. I know he's not Jack, but... he is very pleased with your work."

"Thank you, sir," Daniel answered, wondering why he felt like he'd just let Jack down. He looked down at the gleaming table before him examining the fingerprints that were evident at the angle from where he stood.

"I know things were a little rough at first, but I'm glad it's all working out."

"He's been understanding and patient with me. As have you," Daniel added.

"Good. Thank you for your time, son. I'll see you on tomorrow."

Daniel nodded, glad for the dismissal. He needed to finish up a few things in his office and then he'd leave early. Jack was counting on him.

* * * * * * * *

"Hi Charlie," Daniel said as he knelt on the damp grass by the tombstone. He placed the bouquet of yellow roses on the ground, averting his eyes from the other name now carved in the marble. "I thought Jack would want me to bring these to you." Daniel continued speaking, pulling a few weeds from the base. "He used to tell me..." Daniel stopped, finding it hard to catch his breath. "Your dad said yellow was your favorite color." He closed his eyes, remembering Jack leaving the house a year ago today, an armful of yellow roses to place on his son's grave. "Happy birthday, Charlie," Daniel whispered. He traced his fingers over the incised letters, the marble both smooth and sharp under his fingertips and froze as he caught sight of Jack's name.

Jonathan James O'Neill. Beloved father. There were no dates carved in it and Daniel was grateful the job hadn't been completed yet, the stone mason only beginning it last week and then being kept from his task by the week of rain. There would be no acknowledgement of Jack's relationship with Daniel on the stone. Words wouldn't have covered it anyway. He'd spoken to Sara once since going to her house five months ago and honored her wishes to keep the inscription simple. Beloved father and the dates would be enough they both agreed.

"Damn it, Jack!" Daniel made a fist and pressed it against the stone. "It wasn't supposed to happen like this." He ignored the burning sensation in his nose. "What happened to all those plans you had for fishing your retirement away?" he whispered. Daniel shivered as the breeze picked up. He'd lost weight over the past months. Sam and Teal'c worried about him, but he couldn't speak of the pain he felt. Daniel rubbed at his temples, his head pounding due to lack of sleep. He thought he should be getting better by now, accepting Jack's loss, but he seemed permanently stuck between disbelief and raw pain.

How could it only be six months? How had time kept right on going? How had he managed to live? Daniel stared at the letters carved deep in the stone. He wondered how much force it took to gouge stone, surely less force than it took to gouge a heart. He sniffed, wiping his nose on the cuff of his sweatshirt, not caring if anyone was there to notice. He was not going to cry. The few brief tears he'd shed months ago had to be enough for he feared if he ever released them he would drown. Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose and blinked, the letters wavering and then standing in stark relief. Against his better judgment, Daniel reached out and rested the tips of his fingers on the J of Jonathan. He pressed them into the marble, welcoming the brief pain it brought. "I miss you, Jack." He couldn't find any other words; except for work, his words had seemed to die with Jack. Daniel bent closer, touching his lips to the stone, the taste of the marble bitter and gritty.

"Goodbye, Jack," Daniel whispered. He let his hand rest over Jack's name as he settled back on his heels. "We have a mission tomorrow. Hannara, it's called." He lapsed into silence once more. The sun was beginning to set and Daniel had at least an hour's drive ahead of him. He brushed his fingers over the roses and then stood, ignoring the twinges in his knees from kneeling too long in wet grass and then he turned and walked to his car.

* * * * * * * *

"Daniel?"

He looked down into Sam's concerned gaze. She closed her fingers over his forearm and he saw her frown.

"I'm okay, Sam," he said. Maybe if he said it more often it would make it happen. Janet would be proud of him, trying visualizations. Sam didn't believe him though. Maybe saying words without meaning for nearly six months destroyed one's ability to be understood.

Sam sighed, withdrew her hand and gave him a sad smile.

"The Hannarans would like us to attend the gala at the Presidential Palace tonight." She kept her voice low. "I believe our attendance is necessary to seal the treaty."

"Yes. Yes it will be, Sam." Daniel mentally shook himself. He'd lost his concentration while the Hannaran liaison was speaking to SG-1. Lack of sleep could do that, he mused, although he was getting damned tired of being tired. A good night's sleep seemed to be a thing of the past, his rest usually punctuated by nightmares and the sound of Jack's voice screaming in pain and terror. When he'd visited the cemetery yesterday, he should have asked Jack to stop haunting his dreams.

"DanielJackson?" Teal'c was by his side and Sam was gone. "It would be well if you were to rest before our appearance before the Hannaran president and her council this evening."

"Yeah." Daniel placed the pen he was holding on the table, watching it roll and fall off the side. He was too tired to pick it up. "I'll do that."

"Colonel Ferretti, Major Carter, and I believe it would be best to walk to the gala. I will awaken you when it is time to go. We will have time to dine when we get to the palace."

Daniel felt a surge of anger as Teal'c walked beside him to the suite they'd been given at the best lodging in the Hannaran capitol. As if he couldn't be trusted to walk to their room by himself and lie down. At least Lou Ferretti was along this trip instead of Colonel Rivera. It wasn't that Colonel Rivera wasn't a good soldier, but he wasn't Jack. SG-1 was functioning but not well. Sooner or later Sam was going to resign her position, then Teal'c, and Daniel would be alone again. He thought of the letter of resignation he had tucked in a desk drawer. Maybe he'd turn it in to General Hammond when this mission was completed.

He wouldn't be hungry later, he knew. But he would eat because Sam and Teal'c would expect him to. He would choke down food tasting like cardboard and drink the weak Hannaran wine because despite Jack's death he still wanted to live. Some days he was amazed and stunned by his own resilience.

Teal'c settled himself in one of the large chairs in the suite. Daniel was aware of Teal'c's eyes on his back as he entered his own room. He stripped down to his underwear and pulled one of the soft blankets from the bed to wrap around himself and stood by the window looking out over the city.

The Hannarans didn't believe in building up, they believed in building out, so the view from the second story didn't allow him to see very far. He could make out the brightly colored canvas awnings of the market. Times past he would have been begging for a chance to visit and mingle. They would walk through the market tonight on their way to the palace. It would be enough. Daniel sighed and rested his head against the glass, shivering at its coldness. Maybe he would lie down. If he was lucky maybe for an hour or so, he wouldn't dream.

"Daniel?" A hand brushed over his forehead. "Hey Danny." Warm lips covered his and a large hand brushed over his chest.

He groaned at the warmth and Daniel pushed his hips up, allowing his lover better access. He didn't want to open his eyes. He was warm, he was safe. He could smell Jack's unique scent and his aftershave.

"C'mon. Open those baby blues," Jack teased and Daniel turned his head a moment, smiling before complying. The smell changed as he did so, a smell of hot blood and death clinging to him like a shroud. Jack's face was streaked with blood, a piece of white bone showing on his forehead. His lips were contorted in a parody of a smile, a grimace of death.

"No. No!" Daniel held out his hands, pushing away from Jack's living corpse.

"Why, Daniel?" the voice asked. "Why me? Why didn't you save me?"

"I tried!" Daniel screamed. "I tried!"

"You failed." Jack continued pressing his body against Daniel's until Daniel was trapped and couldn't move.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Jack. It should have been me." Daniel began gasping for breath. "Forgive me, please."

"There is no forgiveness, Daniel. None at all." Jack gripped Daniel's hand, pulling it up to the gleaming bone. "Feel this? Can you feel it, Daniel? Feel death? No forgiveness. My death will forever be on your hands."

Daniel couldn't breathe. Jack's hands held him tight, smothering him, and there was no escape.

"Daniel!"

"DanielJackson, do not fight us."

Daniel opened his eyes to find Teal'c and Sam sitting on either side of him.

"Sorry," he whispered when he caught his breath. "Just sorry. Is Lou...?"

Sam shook her head. "Don't, Daniel. Please don't." Tears shimmered in her eyes. "Are they all this bad?"

Daniel debated turning his head away but this was Sam. He couldn't keep hurting her for something neither of them could control. He nodded.

"Yeah. They usually are."

Teal'c helped him sit up and held one hand at Daniel's back while he concentrated on slowing his racing heartbeat.

"Will you see Janet when we get home, Daniel? I'll go with you if you want me to," Sam said softly. "You're killing yourself. I don't want you to die too."

"DanielJackson, it is not your fault O'Neill was executed. I know you believe it to be so. But O'Neill would not hold you accountable for his death. He would not wish you to die also."

Daniel scrubbed at his face, noting how cold his hands were. "I know. I know Jack wouldn't want this, but I..."

"Teal'c and I aren't Colonel O'Neill, Daniel. We can't take his place. But never doubt we love you too. Never ever doubt it."

He nodded as he looked up. "I don't." He shivered as the sweat began to cool on his body.

"There is time for you to take a shower, DanielJackson." Teal'c reached and offered Daniel his hand. Daniel took it, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet.

"Laewin said we would have time to walk through the market on our way to the palace if you would still like to do that, Daniel." Sam smiled as Daniel nodded his consent.

"An hour then?" Sam pointed to her watch.

"I'll be ready."

Daniel watched them as they left the room. Teal'c was right, Jack wouldn't only want Daniel to live, he'd want him to enjoy life. To live the life Jack couldn't. He closed his eyes, still able to bring up a vision of Jack's face and for the first time in months, found his own mouth curving into a small smile. "I'll try, Jack," Daniel whispered into the empty room.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Thank you for bringing us to the market, Laewin." Daniel saluted their guide with his mug of steaming tea. He took a sip, letting the liquid warm him. Even the crush of people in the market place didn't take away the chill in the air. It was winter on Hannara and, even though the sun provided light until well into the evening, the air was cold and brisk.

Daniel had to admit he was enjoying himself. Being in an alien culture, watching the trading and the selling of goods foreign to him, was still exciting. Lou Ferretti was taking in the sights and had a look of wonder Daniel remembered seeing from Abydos. Taking a bite of the vegetable pie Laewin bought them, Daniel nearly choked at the heat of the spices. He caught Sam's eye and smiled as she made a face. For the first time since Jack's death he believed he'd be able to survive. He heard a chuckle bubble from his lips as Sam took yet another bite and widened her eyes as the afterburn of Hannaran spices hit her. Daniel felt Teal'c behind him, could feel the body heat of the other man. He took a deep breath and realized he was alive; he was happy; he was smiling and laughing and wanted to explore this culture. It seemed surreal. Jack wasn't by his side, wasn't waiting for him back on Earth, but was with him. Daniel imagined Jack's reaction to the Hannarans, could hear some of the comments Jack would have made and it didn't hurt.

"Hey Doc," Lou came closer, speaking softly. "How are you doing?"

"I'm," Daniel took a deep breath and looked around, "I'm getting there, Lou." He tensed as Lou gave him a clap to the shoulder.

A bell began to chime nearby and Daniel saw people scurrying to the food vendors who were dispensing food freely.

"Laewin?" Daniel asked unsure of what was happening.

"The market closes. The remaining food is given to those who are unable to buy it."

"Ah, yes." Daniel nodded as he watched a young woman with two small children walk by, her apron filled with vegetable pies and a small cheese.

"Come," Laewin beckoned. "We will finish our journey."

They continued along the street with the crowd which thinned as they approached the end of the market stands. A few vendors carried baskets and they moved ahead of Daniel and the others. He saw them stop and then noticed the huddled forms of what he assumed to be homeless people.

"Laewin? Those people?" Daniel nodded towards them.

"The vendors feed them. They are outcast, but what is left is theirs."

"Outcast?" Sam asked.

"They are useless. They cannot serve their masters any longer." Laewin stopped as Daniel came to a halt. "Is something wrong, Daniel?"

"Their masters? You mean they are slaves?" Daniel watched as a few of the forms scuttled back into the shadows of a side street with their food.

"What is a slave?" Laewin tilted his head.

"A slave is someone who belongs to someone else, is their property."

"Then, no, they are not slaves. Their masters find them useless. They are no longer of value."

"They were slaves," Teal'c said. He looked at their guide and then back at the one person remaining. "They have been discarded."

Daniel took a deep breath. Discarded as if they were worn out machines. He looked at the vegetable pie in his hand, feeling his appetite disappear. One man sat alone, his hands sweeping the ground for bits of food remaining from the others. Daniel took a step in his direction ignoring Laewin's cry of dismay. He could hear Sam tripping over words in her haste to explain his actions and Lou's shout for him to come back.

"Sir." Daniel approached the man, hating to see another being cringe at his words. "I have food for you." He halted when the hands ceased their movement. For a moment he saw Jack's hands in those long fingers. "I have food."

The man made a harsh sound almost animal like and began pulling himself away from Daniel's direction. A cloak covered most of his body but as he dragged his body away the cloak caught on the rough stones.

"No," Daniel whispered. He would never be able to tell anyone how he knew who it was. He would never know himself. He only acted. He took three steps forward and knelt on the ground next to the man, pushing back the cloak's hood and gazing a face he thought he'd only ever see again in dreams.

"Jack," he whispered. "Oh God, Jack."

A scarred hand came up from the ground and patted his face before falling away.

"Daniel?" Sam was yelling and then she was at his side, kneeling beside him, seeing what he saw. "My God, my God," she kept whispering over and over.

"Is this possible?" Even Teal'c sounded astonished.

"Holy shit," Lou breathed.

Daniel shifted until he was sitting on his bottom. He pulled Jack close in an embrace, ignoring the smell of unwashed clothes and body. He threaded his fingers in Jack's hair, longer than Daniel's had been when they first met. Jack's head rested in the crook of his arm and Daniel bent to place a kiss on Jack's forehead. He brushed fingers over Jack's beard. "It's me, Jack. It's Daniel. Oh God, you're alive. You're alive." He repeated the phrase unable to stop.

"You know this outcast?" Laewin asked. Daniel let Sam answer not wanting to take his eyes off Jack.

"He...we were told he was executed months ago. On another world." Sam's voice was steady. Daniel was impressed. He doubted he would have been coherent. "His name is Jack O'Neill. Colonel O'Neill. He is our leader."

"We need to take him home, Sam," Daniel whispered. He could feel Jack's bones under his hands.

"I will arrange for transport." Laewin answered. "It will take some time and I must impart this news to our council."

"I'm with him." Daniel looked up to see Lou pointing to Laewin. "Get Jack back to the hotel for now. Holy shit," he said again under his breath.

"Yes. Yes," Sam agreed, already turning her attention back to her CO. "Sir? Sir? Can you hear me? This is Major Carter. We are going to take you home."

Jack burrowed his face into Daniel's chest as Sam spoke. Daniel heard a small grunt that might have been a word.

"Can you walk, sir?" Sam asked. Daniel shook his head at her holding Jack tighter.

"I will assist you, O'Neill." Teal'c bent and placed an arm around Jack's shoulders and slid another under his knees.

"It's Teal'c, Jack," Daniel whispered into the tangled hair. "He's going to lift you and we're going to take you home."

Jack's hand tightened in Daniel's jacket and he made a strangled noise.

"Please, Jack." Daniel shifted, transferring the bulk of Jack's weight to Teal'c's arms.

Teal'c stood, his face grim. He looked at Daniel.

"I know, Teal'c. I know."

"We will take you to our lodgings, O'Neill," Teal'c announced. "There we will make arrangements to take you home."

"I'm here, Jack. See, I'm right here with you." Daniel placed a hand on Jack's head, matching his stride to Teal'c's. He hoped the streets were empty and there would be no one to watch their progress back to the suite.

* * * * * *

Daniel imagined he could hear whispers as they walked in the more upscale area of the city. He wondered if the cloak was required clothing for the outcasts, a badge of dishonor and shame. Anger at what had been done to Jack, no, not only to Jack but the other outcasts, fueled his progress.

"DanielJackson," Teal'c warned him once when Daniel's grip on Jack caused the other man to let out a weak cry of pain.

"Sorry. I'm sorry, Jack." Daniel loosened his hand and then stroked Jack's chilled cheek.

They arrived at their building, a hotel of sorts for people who came to the city on official government business. Sam entered first and Daniel caught a glimpse of her as she ran up the stairs to open the door to their suite.

"No. No. No." One of the clerks came out from behind a counter, shaking his hands at them. "No. You can not bring an outcast in here. You must take him back where he belongs. Put him on the street."

The rage building in Daniel exploded and he took a step towards the Hannaran. He twisted a hand in the alien's uniform and let the force of his anger carry them both towards the counter until their progress was blocked.

"Listen." Daniel didn't yell but his voice was threatening. He found a secret satisfaction in seeing the terror in the amber eyes of the clerk. "He *belongs* to us. He will stay with us. He is not an outcast. His name, yes your outcasts do have names, is Jack O'Neill and your people made him a slave. Don't ever call him an outcast again or I will take great pleasure in cutting out your tongue and stuffing it down your pompous throat." He twisted his hand even more, bunching the shirt beneath his fingers.

"Forgive me, sir. I did not know of his importance." The clerk brought up his hands to his forehead as Daniel released him.

"You will inform us when Colonel Ferretti and Laewin arrive with our transportation," Daniel continued, only stopping when Teal'c once again called his name.

"O'Neill is distressed, DanielJackson." The reproach was gentle and Daniel bowed his head.

'Focus on Jack. What Jack needs,' he chanted in his mind as they walked up the steps. Sam had the door to their suite open and was standing in the middle of the room.

"I began running some warm water. I don't know if we should bathe him or not. If he's injured." Sam chewed on her lower lip.

"I think a bath yes." Daniel jerked his chin in the direction of the bathroom. "Maybe some food, Sam? Some water, juice?"

Sam nodded. "I'll arrange for it." She let out a breath before wiping at her face. "He looks so...my God, Daniel, he's alive."

Daniel pulled her into a hug, reassurance for her and, if he admitted, for him, and followed Teal'c into the spacious bathroom.

"Would you like my assistance?" Teal'c asked as he lowered Jack to the bench lining one wall of the room.

Daniel sat down beside Jack, supporting his slumped frame with one arm and his torso. "I think maybe to get into the water. And then some clothes. I have some extras in my bag."

"Yes." Teal'c began unfastening the button holding the cloak shut at Jack's throat. He slipped the cloak out from under Jack's legs and threw it into a corner.

"Take it with you, Teal'c. Give it to them downstairs and tell them to burn it."

"Nnnnno." The word was barely audible and Jack's voice sounded as if he'd swallowed glass but the tone of command was unmistakable.

"Okay," Daniel agreed. "Okay, Jack. You with us? Huh?" He tilted Jack's head up so he could look into his face.

In the light of the bathroom the milky film covering Jack's eyes was more noticeable. He noticed a new scar near Jack's left ear, a wound never treated.

His questions went unnoticed and Daniel wondered if Jack was sleeping with his eyes open. He eased Jack's arm through the short sleeve of the silky shirt Jack was wearing, nodding in approval as Teal'c did the same. They froze when they caught their first glimpse of Jack's torso, crisscrossed with new scars and a few never-healed wounds that appeared infected.

"I will hold him up while you undo the rest of his clothing," Teal'c murmured.

Daniel nodded. They didn't know what Jack had gone through and so far Jack had tolerated Daniel's touch, almost seemed to crave it. Daniel frowned as Teal'c hoisted Jack to his feet, noticing Jack didn't take any of his weight on his own legs. Bending, his fingers unlaced the thread bare trousers Jack wore. They slid to the floor and Daniel knelt, sweeping them out of the way. Jack's feet were bare covered with oozing sores matching the ones on his torso. He took in the gauntness of Jack's legs, the paleness of the skin, the long scars running the length of them, the twisted ankles, and prayed he wouldn't throw up.

"Let's get him into the water."

He forced emotion down. Daniel stripped off his own shoes and socks, his shirt and pants, keeping on his boxers. He walked up the few steps leading to the sunken tub and got in. The water was warm but not too hot. He sat on the ledge inside and accepted Jack's pliant body from Teal'c.

Jack bucked violently in Daniel's arms as the water hit his skin, and Daniel belatedly came to the realization that the water would be painful to his open wounds. He was hard pressed to keep Jack from sliding under the water or hitting his head on the tiled edge. Teal'c grabbed Jack's legs until Daniel could maneuver one of his own over Jack's in an attempt to hold him still.

Jack howled loudly and Daniel flinched at the sound. "Sorry, sorry," Daniel whispered against Jack's ear as Jack finally began to still, the short struggle having exhausted his weakened body. Jack twisted against Daniel's side and tried to hide his face against Daniel's shoulder. His gasping breaths suddenly turned into a hacking cough. They eventually eased off as Jack relaxed, his breath rattling slightly in his chest whenever he exhaled. Daniel simply sat back in the warm water, holding the shivering man who he had never thought to see alive again.

"I will return, DanielJackson, O'Neill." Teal'c rested his hand on Jack's head a moment and Daniel saw him close his eyes. He wondered if Teal'c was saying a prayer to a god he found to believe in.

Daniel began shaking despite the warmth of the water, and he felt his throat thicken when it finally hit him that Jack was alive. Sick, injured, lost... but alive! He buried his face in Jack's filthy hair and allowed himself a moment to relish the thought that Jack was back with him, wondering what had happened to him and how he could have come to this planet. Then he sniffed loudly, swallowed, and set to cleaning the filth from the beloved body in his arms.

With one arm supporting Jack against him, Daniel reached over and grabbed the container of soap, then a washcloth. He managed to awkwardly pour some soap onto the cloth and holding it over the back of Jack's shoulder, he spoke gently to him.

"Jack, this might hurt a bit, but I need to start getting you clean. I'm going to be as careful as I possibly, can, okay?"

There was no answer and somehow Daniel hadn't expected any. He began to clean Jack's grimy body, passing the cloth over the bony back and too-thin ribs, careful of the infected wounds. Jack shuddered at his touch and Daniel wondered if he was causing him pain.

"You okay?" he asked. Jack just burrowed his face deeper against Daniel in reply.

As gentle as Daniel tried to be, Jack moaned and squirmed whenever the soap neared any of his open wounds. Daniel knew they needed to be cleaned and then disinfected. They'd get some food and antibiotics into Jack, and then hopefully they'd be able to get him home to Janet very soon. He concentrated on cleaning the dirt from the more or less uninjured parts of Jack's body, deciding to leave the worst for last.

Daniel had to stop several times when Jack had a coughing fit. His earlier exertions seemed to have triggered the cough, and the rattling sound worried Daniel.

The water quickly turned a dark brown as the dirt came off. Twice Daniel had to change the bathwater before he was finished.

"Jack, can you turn onto your back?" Daniel coaxed as he pulled on his arm, trying to turn Jack around so he could wash his hair. With Jack's head balanced on his stomach, Daniel lathered the long, matted locks, seeing bits of dirt, twigs and bugs appear when he rinsed the soap off. Jack seemed to enjoy Daniel's fingers in his hair so Daniel took some time massaging his scalp. Jack lay with his eyes closed, a small grunt of appreciation escaping him once in a while.

As he fingered the long hair, Daniel was determined to get it cut as soon as possible. It was so matted that it would be impossible to pull a comb through it, and anyway, Daniel like Jack's hair shorter.

Realizing he had been putting off doing the worst part of the bath, Daniel swallowed hard and began cleaning out the more serious wounds. Thankfully by then Sam and Teal'c had returned and they were able to hold Jack down as Daniel performed the grisly task as Jack began twisting in pain once more, crying out or coughing as the cloth touched the open wounds.

"Sssstop!" Jack screamed as Daniel tried to wash the open wounds on Jack's feet.

Daniel stopped, looking at his friends helplessly.

"Do you want me to do it?" Sam offered. Daniel knew she had more experience treating wounds, but he shook his head, needing to do this himself. Steeling himself, he ignored Jack's cries and by the time he'd finished, he was shaky and weak-kneed, and several times had had to fight back the urge to vomit.

With the water draining from the tub, Sam rinsed the soap residue from the two of them. Teal'c reached down to pick Jack up in his arms and Sam wrapped him up in a large fluffy towel. Daniel left the large tub more slowly, needing a few seconds to try and get himself under control. He leaned over the sink and took a few deep breaths, toweled himself off and entered the bedroom.

Daniel pulled on pants and a T-shirt, pulling two pairs of socks from his pack. Jack's feet were probably cold. With the weight he'd lost, Jack would chill easily. Daniel grabbed up an extra T-shirt, figuring they could layer Jack's clothes to keep him warm on the trip back home. The transport Laewin would be arranging would be open air, Daniel was sure. He made a mental note to tell Sam they'd need as many blankets as possible. Daniel took a last look around and then grabbed his shaving kit, the need to see the beard gone overwhelming. He cursed himself for his selfishness and saw his hands shaking as he held it. Bile choked his throat and Daniel swallowed it down. He didn't have time to get sick.

An inhuman howl sounded from the bathroom and Daniel hurried into the room with his supplies.

"Jack. Jack." He sat on the floor next to Jack who was trying to push himself in the small space under the bench. "Hey. I'm here." Daniel stroked damp hair back from Jack's face. As Jack burrowed into his arms, Daniel looked up into Sam's stunned face.

"What happened?" he asked.

"He became agitated when you left the room, Daniel. I was cutting his beard while Teal'c held him. I thought it would make him a little more comfortable. " Sam sounded shaken. "Daniel, I think...his eyes...I don't..."

"I know, Sam." Daniel placed a hand on Jack's chin, turning his face towards the light. Jack's eyes no longer appeared brown, a milky white substance covering the irises. He brought his hand close to Jack's eyes, looking up at Sam when Jack didn't blink, seeing her lips press together.

"Jack?" Daniel bent close to his friend's ear, whispering his name. "Jack? Can you see us? Do you see me?"

Jack turned his head towards Daniel's voice, one thin hand coming up and wavering in the air until it was captured within Daniel's own.

"Can you see me, Jack?"

There was an incomprehensible sound and then Jack's broken voice rasping, "Nnnno."

Bringing Jack's hand to his cheek, Daniel let Jack stroke his skin, the motion seeming to provide comfort.

"We're going to get you cleaned up a little more," Daniel soothed, alarmed when Jack began to pull away and try to curl into a fetal position.

"We will not put you in the bath again, O'Neill." Teal'c knelt on Jack's other side, placing his hands on the floor to either side of Jack's body, not touching but close enough to deal with any fight Jack might put up.

At those words, Jack relaxed, his arms coming away from his chest.

"Will you let MajorCarter finish her task?" Teal'c asked. At Jack's slow nod, Teal'c motioned for Sam to come closer. She used the scissors to cut the whiskers as close to the skin as possible. Daniel was pleased to see Jack lay still for the most part.

"There. All done, sir." Sam smiled as she finished. She glanced at Daniel, motioning to Jack's hair. Daniel frowned and shook his head. He didn't want to overwhelm Jack with more than he could handle.

"I thought I'd shave you, Jack. Remember how you always told me you hate having a beard?" Daniel got out his battery operated razor. It would do an adequate job for the moment. He turned it on, switching it back off when Jack twisted his head to the side.

"It's just my razor." Daniel spoke as if he was trying to calm a skittish wild animal. "Feel." He reached out and placed the razor in Jack's cold hand, sitting back on his heels as Jack began skimming his fingers over it.

"It's okay." Daniel scooted closer. "Will you let me do this for you?"

Jack held out his hand offering the razor back to Daniel.

"Thank you." Daniel accepted it. He moved behind Jack, tilting Jack's head back to rest on his chest. "We're gonna be fine, guys," he said to Sam and Teal'c. "Aren't we, Jack?"

No answer again except a small humming noise.

Sam nodded. "I'm going to see what I can find out about our transportation."

"If you need assistance, DanielJackson, I will be available." Teal'c gave a little bow and accompanied Sam from the room.

"Teal'c?" Daniel called before the other man got through the doorway. He waited until Teal'c turned. "I just wanted to say..." Daniel patted Jack's shoulder when the muscles tensed under his hand. He swallowed hard, his throat tight. "Thank you. You and Sam."

"You are most welcome." Teal'c regarded them both a moment longer before walking into the hall.

"This isn't going to hurt," Daniel kept his voice low and soft, "not hurt at all. You're going to feel a lot better when we're all done." Daniel expected Jack to pull away when the razor touched his face so he was prepared with his other hand to support Jack's head and gently guide it back into place. "See," he continued speaking as he started to shave off the beard, "it's fine. No problems. Just relax. I'm here with you."

Jack tensed a few more times but Daniel's litany of reassurances seemed to calm him enough that Daniel could finish the task.

"Feel better?" Daniel stroked Jack's cheek. At some time during the proceedings, Jack's eyes had closed. He bent closer listening to Jack's slow even breaths. "Let's get you dressed. Get you warmed up."

Pressing his lips to Jack's cheek, Daniel shifted Jack enough to guide first one arm then the other through the sleeves of the T-shirt. The shirt hung on him, the sleeves loose. Getting the pants on Jack was a little harder due to Jack's inability to help by lifting his legs or his hips. Daniel was breathing hard until he was done, but he managed. He propped Jack against the wall slipping the two pairs of socks over Jack's icy feet after dabbing some antibiotic cream on the sores, smiling when he heard a soft hum.

"You like that huh? Feels good?" Daniel moved to Jack's side once more and pulled him into an embrace, unable to stop touching the miracle of a living breathing Jack. Under his hand, Jack's heart beat a rapid rhythm. "I'm going to get you to the bed," Daniel whispered into Jack's ear pausing as Jack's hand gripped his shirt. He closed his own hand over that tight fist. "No, don't worry. I'm not going to leave you."

Their position against the wall was awkward. Daniel pushed his back into the wall and used his thigh muscles to slowly move the two of them upright. He paused, hard breathing and sweating. Jack may have lost a substantial amount of weight but was making Daniel do all the work.

"Okay," Daniel said when he caught his breath. "Let's see about getting you to the bedroom. You're gonna need to help here, Jack." Daniel took a step, supporting all Jack's weight. "Come on, just a few steps. I've got you. Don't worry." But when Daniel looked down he realized Jack made no effort to move his legs. Maybe he couldn't support his weight, Daniel thought. God they needed to get Jack home. He wanted Jack home safe in Doctor Fraiser's infirmary away from this place that held such horror for Jack. He wanted Janet to look at him and tell him Jack was going to be okay, tell him Jack was going to see and walk and talk.

"Do you need some help?" Sam came down the hall as Daniel maneuvered Jack towards the bedroom.

"Nearly there, Sam." Daniel hated the way Jack tried to hide his head when Sam spoke. "Right, Jack?" He smiled at the small grunt Jack gave.

Sam walked ahead of them, entering the room and pulling down the covers. She stepped away when Daniel approached the bed with Jack.

"Here, Jack. Bend your legs." Daniel placed his knee against Jack's and nudged him. "It's the bed. That's all." He smiled when Jack complied. "Great. You're doing great." He kept his arm around Jack and guided him onto his side, lifting Jack's legs to the bed when the other man made no move to do so.

"Ah, ah." Jack's breath came in little puffs and Daniel sat on the bed next to him. "You hungry, Jack? Thirsty?" Daniel placed his hand on Jack's forehead, smoothing the wrinkled frown appearing at the question. "Some food? You want to eat?" He motioned for Sam to leave, to bring them something. "To drink?"

"Eeee," Jack murmured.

"Yes, eat," Daniel answered, not liking the slurred sound of Jack's speech. "You're going to need to sit..."

Loud voices from the outer rooms penetrated their sanctuary and Jack tossed his head from side to side. He clutched Daniel's thigh, his fingers digging into muscle.

"Nnnno. Nnnn." Jack's eyes were opened wide and he began trying to scratch his face.

"No." Daniel caught his hand, surprised at the strength Jack displayed. "No. Stop it. Jack, stop it."

"Hur. Nnno hur."

"I won't let them hurt you. I promise." The voices were closer and Daniel could hear Teal'c's voice above them all although he couldn't make sense of any words over Jack's harsh breathing.

The door banged open, causing Jack to cry out.

"What's going on?" Daniel kept one hand on Jack's shoulder, rubbing it. "President Griffor?"

The woman inclined her head. "Laewin and your Colonel Ferretti brought us word you insisted an outcast belongs to you."

"His name is Jack O'Neill. And I'd like to know how he wound up on Hannara," Daniel spoke quietly, not wanting to distress an already frightened Jack.

"They told us he was dead. We saw his," Sam looked over at Jack and Daniel before continuing, "his execution on another world."

The president frowned. "There are those Hannarans who deal in flesh."

"Who sell slaves?" Daniel asked. "Who grow rich while others die?"

"Yes. Do not delude yourself, Doctor Jackson. I am sure there are those who do the same on your world," Griffor said. "It is not allowed by our laws, but some cling to the old ways." She stepped closer.

Jack shifted away from her as if he sensed her proximity. The rest of the Hannarans in her entourage surrounded the bed.

"He has the wasting sickness, Honor." One of the Hannarans bowed.

"I see. Yes I see."

"The wasting sickness?" Sam asked.

"Do you not see his eyes? His legs? He does not move them, does he?" Griffor asked Daniel. "His speech can not be understood?"

Daniel nodded.

"It is the wasting sickness. Your Jack O'Neill must be a strong soul for most do not survive the blinding."

"He survived it." Daniel looked up at her and saw her frowning once again. "How do we heal him? Do your healers know how to cure this disease?"

"I am sorry. I do not know what he once was," Griffor continued. "It is rare for one to survive to this point."

"There are no medicines?" Sam asked. Daniel heard the determination in her voice.

"Yes. There are medicines. But I have never seen one recover fully from this state." Griffor motioned one of her aides to her side and whispered something in his ear. "We will provide you with the medicines you need and will accompany you to the Portal."

"Hang in there, Jack." Ferretti bent over the bed a moment before leaving the room.

"Jack," Daniel bent low as the others filed out of the room. "Jack, you hear that? We're going home. You're going home."

Daniel looked impatiently at the closed doors of the ISO room. Janet had said she'd get back to him soon but that had been over two hours ago.

They'd been stuck in isolation since their arrival several hours ago; Janet hadn't wanted to take a chance with contagion once the Hannarans had confirmed Jack was suffering from a local illness.

Jack coughed and shifted, pressing closer to Daniel. Jack was curled up on his side at the very edge of the bed, his hand clasping Daniel's tightly, even in his sleep. He'd only quieted once Daniel had moved his chair right alongside the bed so Jack could feel Daniel's tee shirt against his cheek.

Sam and Teal'c both sat opposite Daniel, occasionally touching the sleeping man as if to confirm he was really there. Daniel himself still couldn't believe that they had found Jack. The odds of finding him on that planet were unimaginable. Daniel was glad that he was wasn't a betting person because he was sure he'd just used up every scrap of luck the universe had blessed him with.

A gowned nurse came to check the IVs pumping fluids and meds into Jack's body and then proceeded to take his temperature, pulse and blood pressure. Jack didn't stir, although the first couple of times someone had tried to touch him, he'd flown into panicked struggles until Daniel had managed to talk him through his terror. Jack was sedated now, sleeping easily and quietly.

Daniel stroked the now familiar short hair on his lover's head; Janet had ordered his hair shorn and then cleansed with parasitical soap. Unfortunately, Sam, Daniel and Teal'c had had to do the same shortly after. Jack had been infested with alien lice. Daniel smiled to himself when he recalled the look on Sam's face when Janet had informed them of that. She'd grabbed the soap and booked for the showers before anyone could react.

The security doors opened and Janet entered the room accompanied by a short, bearded man. She wasn't gowned and she had a wide smile on her face. The stranger was wearing a colorful tunic over diaphanous pants; he was obviously from Hannara.

"We're not contagious?" Sam asked as Janet walked to the bed, the Hannaran following more slowly, curiously examining the medical equipment in the room.

"No, and thankfully neither is the colonel." She picked up Jack's chart and glanced at the information there before turning to the bearded man. "This is Zweegar. He's one of the leading medics on Hannara. Their President gave him permission to come to Earth to have a look at the colonel and explain this wasting sickness."

The man nodded cordially at Daniel and the others and smiled before turning his attention to Jack.

Janet removed a syringe from of her lab coat pocket. "We analyzed the drug the Hannarans gave us and I'm confident it'll cure the illness the colonel's suffering from," she said as she injected the contents into an IV port. "According to Zweegar, and our own tests have confirmed this... Colonel O'Neill is suffering mainly from muscular degradation. The microorganisms attack the muscles and quickly weaken them up to a point where the person isn't able to move about on his own. Then the muscles begin to atrophy as the patient isn't able to move around and use them enough to keep up their muscle tone."

Janet put a hand on Daniel's shoulder, squeezing gently before continuing.

"It just goes to show how strong the colonel is; that he was able to survive despite the illness, the malnutrition, the beatings..."

"Very rarely has someone survived the sickness when it has progressed this far," Zweegar said, walking around the bed and lifting the sheet, looking at Jack's legs. "The illness always strikes the eyesight first; cloudy vision is the first symptom. Then fever and cough, with weakness in the legs following quickly. Very soon the patient does not have the strength to move their legs, then feebleness to the rest of their body follows suit. Death usually occurs at this point as they are unable to take water or nourishment. To be honest, your Colonel O'Neill is the first that I have seen to have survived the sickness when it has spread so far, although I have read of a few cases in other parts of Hannara."

"So he's going to be all right?" Daniel asked in a hopeful tone, his mouth suddenly dry and feeling his heart begin to race.

"Our medicine always cures the wasting sickness in its early form. It will help your friend, of that there is no doubt, but he obviously will not be the person he used to be. His eyes, his legs... you must see that there is little hope for him."

Daniel's stomach plummeted sickeningly at the man's words. He glanced at Janet and saw her lips tighten and her knuckles turn white as she gripped the metal edges of Jack's bed.

"I've told you already, Zweegar, with the proper exercise and care, I'm confident that he'll be restored to the same condition he was in before he got sick, or at least close to it. Colonel O'Neill was probably forced to use his muscles in order to survive. I've called for a specialist to examine him, but I'm very hopeful."

"He must have gone through hell," Daniel whispered, staring at Jack's gaunt face.

"What about his eyesight?" Sam asked.

Janet frowned slightly before she answered. "I don't know, I've never seen this before, and neither has Doctor Molinari. But since it's a symptom of the disease, I'm hoping it'll be reversed also."

Daniel knew Doctor Molinari was SG-1's resident ophthalmologist, who had been in earlier to examine Jack's eyes. Lowering his head in exhaustion, Daniel's free hand fumbled in his pocket and found the chain there. There was just so much wrong with Jack... even if the drug worked and cured him, would he ever walk again? He had confidence in Janet but he knew how deformed Jack's legs looked beneath the blankets covering him, and his speech...

"Janet, what about his speech?"

"That should improve also once he begins therapy. You do know that the face is comprised mostly of muscles, so if one can't use them..."

"Right," Daniel said.

"So you guys are free to go. I'm going to keep him here for the time being as the room is more peaceful than the ward."

Sam and Teal'c both stood up, but Daniel remained sitting.

"Daniel?" Sam questioned.

As he raised the hand which was clenched tightly in Jack's, with a wry smile Daniel said, "I'm not going anywhere."

"He'll sleep for several more hours, Daniel. He won't know you're gone," Fraiser said in a no-nonsense voice.

"I know," Daniel replied in a low voice. "But I... just need to be here as much as he needs me to be with him right now." He looked up at Janet beseechingly. "I won't wake him, I promise."

"That's not what I meant. You need to get some rest also. You've all had a shock when you found the colonel and I'm sure the past few hours have been pretty stressful on you. Take my word, he's going to recover."

"Please Janet, just for a little while?"

Janet shook her head in mock defeat and then smiled to take the sting out of her action. "Fine," she agreed. "Just make sure you get some rest, okay? Zweegar, I'll escort you to the gateroom. I believe General Hammond wishes to speak to you before you return to Hannara."

"Thanks," Daniel said softly. Both Sam and Teal'c left the room and Daniel was left alone with Jack. He lowered his forehead onto the edge of the mattress and listened to Jack breathing, enjoying the sound he had never thought to hear again.

* * * * * *

He was warm. He was clean. He wasn't sure where he was but he was warm and he was clean. He could feel warm blankets covering his legs, his torso. His head didn't itch anymore and the weight of filth was gone. There were voices, many voices, and he didn't want to believe them. The voices said he was safe. The voices said he was home.

He could smell Daniel, the scent of his aftershave, the unique scent of coffee and old books that was his lover. He didn't want to believe the smell either. He knew how quickly hope could be snatched away.

He was dying; he knew that. The sickness had robbed his strength day by day, inch by inch. First it had taken his vision, the blurriness he'd experienced giving way to increasing darkness. But he'd been able to find his way to the market where he could find some food. Then one day he'd woken unable to bear weight on his legs. Crawling at first and then finally having to drag his useless lower body around. The others told him the illness would progress further until he was unable to use his arms and finally unable to breathe. Each night, he'd prayed that the morning would not come for him, that he would simply sleep and not wake up. But he dreamed. Every night he'd dreamed. Daniel was with him and Jack stood beside him, tall and strong. His legs worked in his dreams; he could see Daniel's mobile face. His chest didn't hurt when he breathed. And in his dreams he was warm.

"No," a beloved voice whispered to him, breath moist on his ear, "you are not dreaming, Jack. You are not. I'm here. You are home."

A tear formed in his eye and he was unable to find the strength to move his hand to catch it. He didn't believe in dreams. It hurt too much to wake and find he was still on a planet he didn't know, still blind, still useless. It hurt too much to believe he would ever hear Daniel's voice again. But the voice was insistent, fervent, and sounding so real Jack felt he had to obey.

"Real. This is real, Jack. I'm real. You are home."

He wanted this dream to last. He wondered if he'd dream when he was dead; if Daniel would always be by his side and they'd laugh and love through eternity.

His hand was caught in familiar fingers; fingers that wrapped around his and held on tightly. Voice, hands, smell, all of Daniel with him while other voices and hands bombarded him with sound and prodding.

"Jack?" Daniel's voice was back, soft, gentle, firm, unyielding. "Do you know where you are?"

He wasn't sure. It was a dream but he wanted it to be real. Would speaking make it real?

"Do you know where you are, Jack? Can you tell me?"

"Hhhommme." Jack slurred out the word and prayed he'd never wake. He twisted his fingers in those familiar ones that felt so real. He wasn't letting go. He was never letting go. Jack squeezed Daniel's hand and felt a brief squeeze in return. Daniel's hand rested on his forehead, and Daniel's voice whispered for him to sleep. So he did.

---_---------------

"Daniel." Someone was shaking his shoulder. He straightened in the chair and looked around, spying Janet.

"Sorry," he whispered, "I didn't mean to fall asleep."

"You needed it, Daniel." Janet kept her own voice quiet. "The colonel should soon be waking up. We're going to be doing some more tests on him today. We have a speech therapist who is going to test his ability to chew and swallow as well as his speech. Doctor Welkins will be further assessing the colonel's motor functioning. And Doctor Molinari wants to do some more vision assessment. I'm also planning on having an assessment done on his cognitive functioning."

"He's going to recover, you said." Daniel held on to those words from the day before.

"I have every reason to believe he will. But you need to understand, Daniel, we're looking at months of therapy. This isn't going to be easy for Colonel O'Neill."

Tilting his head, Daniel studied Janet a moment before resting his gaze on Jack. "He's strong, Janet. A survivor."

"I know. That's what I'm counting on." She smiled briefly and then patted him on the shoulder. "I'll be back in about a half an hour. I'm going to request you leave during the tests. General Hammond would like a report once you get some breakfast."

Daniel nodded, never taking his eyes off Jack. "I want to be here when he wakes up. So he knows where he is."

"Half an hour, Daniel," she repeated and then left the room.

"Jack?" Daniel whispered, leaning close to Jack's ear. "Come on, Jack. Can you wake up for me?" He rubbed his free hand over Jack's shoulder, realizing once again how very thin his lover had become. Jack gave a small cough and Daniel smiled as he saw Jack's eyelids flicker. Jack's movements were uncoordinated but he was definitely trying to wake up. "Jack." Daniel called again.

There was a gasp from the man on the bed and Daniel saw his eyes fly open. Jack twisted in the bed, his fearful panting starting to increase. Daniel stood, leaning over the bed, disentangling his hand from Jack's so he could place both hands on Jack's shoulders.

"Jack. Jack, it's Daniel. Listen to me."

"Dannnelll?" His name was barely recognizable but was said with such longing Daniel didn't for a moment doubt Jack's word.

"Yes, yes. It's me, Daniel." He took Jack's hand in his and placed it against his own cheek. "See? It's me."

"H...h...hooome?" Jack inched his fingers across Daniel's nose, slid them up and tugged on Daniel's glasses.

"Yes. Home. You're home." Daniel nodded, turning his head into Jack's hand.

"Wherhhoooom." Jack's fingers were trembling.

"You're at the SGC. In the infirmary."

* * * *

"Colonel O'Neill?" Nurse Bailey said softly from where she stood at the foot of the bed. "I'm going to take your ankle now and begin the range of motion exercises."

Daniel had been sure Jack had understood Janet's explanation a few minutes ago, but the moment the nurse put her hands on Jack's leg, he began writhing and yelling, trying to evade her hold.

"Dannnelll!" Jack howled.

Daniel rushed to the bed and pulled the struggling man into a hug, holding him hard against his chest.

"Yes, yes, Jack. I'm here, it's okay, it's okay."

Jack snaked his arm around Daniel's back and gripped his tee-shirt weakly, burying his face in Daniel's shoulder as his exertions triggered his cough.

"It's okay," Daniel repeated. "That was just Nurse Bailey. Remember Janet told you that they were going to start exercising your legs before they freeze up completely?"

Jack didn't answer, but he did begin to relax.

"Jack, do you remember what Janet told you?" Daniel asked again.

He felt the slight movement of Jack's head against his shoulder, and he raised a hand to cup Jack's neck, ruffling the soft hair beneath his fingers.

"I'm going to put you back down, okay?" Jack nodded again, and Daniel lowered Jack back to the hospital bed.

Daniel looked at the young woman who had unwittingly initiated a panic attack. He raised his eyebrows and furrowed his brow, trying to think how to get Jack to accept a stranger's touch.

"Look, can we maybe do these exercises together?" Daniel asked Nurse Bailey. "If I kept my hands beside yours, would I be in your way? I think he'll recognize my touch, it might keep him calm."

"That's a good idea. You know, you could probably do these exercises for him instead of me. They're easy to do. I can show you if you're willing."

"Yes, I'm very willing," Daniel said with a smile, anxious to be able to do something to help Jack other than sitting by his side, holding his hand.

"Okay, we'll start with his feet and work our way up to his hips."

"Jack," Daniel said as he leaned over the nervous man, "I'm going to touch your feet now, okay?"

"Ssssss," Jack slurred.

Daniel walked over to the foot of the bed and picked up Jack's right foot, careful of the wounds he knew were beneath the bandages.

Nurse Bailey moved to stand beside Daniel. "First thing to remember is that everything should be done gently and slowly. Never force or overstretch a muscle. If it hurts him, stop immediately."

Daniel nodded as he gently massaged Jack's withered foot.

"Now place your hand here," she instructed, "and your other one here," she said, taking Daniel's hands and placing them in the proper positions. "Now you can rotate his ankle by doing this," she said, placing her hands over Daniel's and showing him the proper movement. "Yes, that's perfect. Slowly, that's it."

"Jack, you tell me if I hurt you, okay?"

"Kaaaay," Jack answered. Daniel took his eyes away from what his hands were doing and looked at Jack. He appeared to be relaxed, his head slightly tilted in Daniel's direction. Once in a while he hummed softly, which Daniel knew was Jack's way now of expressing pleasure when words failed him.

"Good," the nurse said after Daniel had done this several times. "Now we can do toe flexion and extensions." She showed Daniel where and how to place his hand over Jack's foot, just below the toes. "Move each toe forward and backwards, slowly," she instructed.

As Daniel did as he was bid, going through each exercise with the nurse's guidance, he saw how stiff and unyielding Jack's lower body was. Doctor Welkins had wanted to start with these gentle moves as soon as possible, limbering and loosening Jack's muscles and joints. The therapist hoped Jack would be able to do these range of motion exercises himself before long, which would be followed by muscle strengthening therapy soon after.

Daniel switched legs, beginning again at the ankle. Daniel listened to the nurse with half an ear while thinking of all the work that lay before Jack. He still needed to be evaluated by a speech therapist who would decide whether Jack needed to be fed through a nasogastric tube or not. Daniel hoped Jack would be considered well enough to take food on his own. He had seen what the tube looked like and hated the thought of it being forced into Jack's stomach.

He moved onto the hip exercises and Daniel could see that these were uncomfortable for Jack. Being extra careful, he moved Jack's leg slowly and gently.

"I'm nearly done," Daniel said to Jack when the man moved fitfully on the bed as Daniel changed legs. Daniel glanced at Nurse Bailey, who confirmed his words with a nod. "Only two more to go. I bet you'll be ready for a nap after this, huh?"

"Shhheeeep," Jack muttered, then inhaled deeply as he stifled a yawn. Daniel smiled to himself as he finished the last movement and pulled the blankets over Jack's wasted legs, then picked Jack's pillow up from the chair.

"Here," Daniel said as he lifted Jack's head and slipped the pillow beneath it. "You can rest now." Daniel sat down beside the bed as Jack pulled the blankets to his chin and turned onto his side, facing Daniel. He was asleep in seconds.

"I'll be back later this afternoon and we can do his upper body," Nurse Bailey said as she entered some notes in Jack's chart. "I know it looks a little discouraging right now, but you'll see a difference in a few days."

"Thank you," Daniel said to her, finally feeling he was helping in Jack's convalescence. Jack moaned in his sleep and Daniel brushed a finger along Jack's sunken cheek, shushing him. Daniel decided he was going to talk to Janet and see if he could do these exercises with Jack every day.

* * * * * *

Jack had been fast asleep when Daniel left his bedside for an impromptu meeting with General Hammond and SG7. Three hours later, upon returning to the infirmary, he was upset to learn that Jack had had his first speech therapy while he'd been gone. Daniel had wanted to be there both to see what it was all about and to have his multitude of questions answered.

The colonel lay propped up on the bed, obviously tired as he fidgeted, trying to get comfortable. Jack was frowning, but managed to smile for Daniel when he heard his voice.

Daniel sat there gently rubbing Jack's arm, watching him fight to stay awake. Jack's yawns made Daniel realize how tired he himself was and he stifled one for the third time when Nurse Bailey approached him.

"Doctor Jackson, are you ready to continue with the colonel's exercises?"

"Now?" Daniel asked, surprised. Couldn't she see how tired Jack was?

"My shift is ending in an hour, and although someone else could do this with you, the colonel is already used to my voice. It would be easier on him to do it now and establish a routine right away."

"Um, okay," Daniel agreed, as he got up to stand beside the bed.

"Great. We'll start with his neck, then move on to his shoulder and elbow, forearm, wrist and then finish with hand and fingers. He's already drowsy so these exercises should put him right to sleep."

Performing the movements, Daniel noted how although Jack's upper body was stronger and more fit than his lower body, Jack was tired, cranky and irritable at the moment. Instead of relaxing him, the movements seemed to make him fidgety and impatient. Daniel had to keep talking to Jack to keep him from pulling his arm out of from Daniel's grasp.

Daniel was relieved when they reached the last exercise, taking Jack's hand in his. He gently bent Jack's hand into a fist as per Bailey's instructions, then straightened out his fingers. He spread Jack's fingers wide, one at a time, then brought them back together. He pinched Jack's thumb to each finger one at a time, then drew circles with the thumb.

When Daniel went to take Jack's other hand, Nurse Bailey stopped him.

"Seeing he has an IV there, maybe I'd better do this one."

He gladly let her take over; Daniel had been eyeing the IV and had been a little nervous about it.

She picked up Jack's hand and bent his fingers into a fist. Jack's reaction surprised them both when he forcefully pulled his hand from hers with a loud grunt, pushing it under the covers as if to hide it.

"Jack, we're almost done," Daniel said as he lifted the covers to take Jack's hand, passing it back to the nurse.

"Nnn...ooo," Jack said loudly when he felt her fingers touch his hand. He pulled back with more force than Daniel would have thought possible, his whole body tensing as he struggled to escape her hold. With a resigned sigh, she let go, not wanting Jack to hurt himself when he garbled, "Ooo waay," loudly.

"What's wrong?" Daniel asked as he patiently dug out Jack's hand, which had again been thrust under the covers where Jack had curled up around it and wedged it between his thighs. Daniel examined the IV, grateful to see that it hadn't been disturbed. "You know Nurse Bailey; she was here this morning, remember? We did the same thing with your legs. Why do you want her to go away?"

"It's okay, Doctor Jackson," she said with a smile, patting Jack's leg. Jack grunted and shifted his hips, trying to escape her touch. "He's just tired," she added.

She took Jack's hand once more and this time Jack flew into a frenzy. He twisted and squirmed with violent movements, almost falling out of the bed in his attempts to avoid her touch, all the while coughing violently.

"O'Neill!"

Daniel heard Teal'c's voice and soon the large man was helping restrain Jack. Daniel managed to push Jack's shoulders back onto the bed while Teal'c helped Nurse Bailey hold his hips steady. At Daniel's touch, Jack finally calmed a little, curling himself up in a ball. Daniel could hear Jack's breath wheezing slightly as he put a hand to Jack's shoulder and rubbed circles around the bony joint, talking softly to keep Jack calm.

The commotion brought Janet rushing to them, but as Jack had calmed down quickly, she simply took a perfunctory look at him. Jack cleared his throat a few times and his breathing eased.

"He's fine. Just let him rest," she advised, beckoning the nurse to come with her and tell her exactly what had happened.

"Dannnulll," Jack's distorted voice moaned before he coughed again.

"I'm here, Jack," Daniel said, leaning over the frightened man. Jack's hand came out timidly, and pulled back a moment when his fingers touched Daniel's face. They traveled over his glasses before caressing Daniel's cheek. Daniel took Jack's hand in his, stroking the dry skin before placing it back onto the bed.

"Thanks Teal'c," Daniel said, turning his attention to his friend while still breathing heavily from both nerves and his exertions.

"What has occurred here?"

"Jack had a little panic attack again, but he's okay now, aren't you, Jack."

"Eeeeeeek," Jack said, his hand reaching out in front of him. Daniel nodded at Teal'c's inquiring look, and lowered his face so Jack could touch him. Jack's fingers flitted over Teal'c's face, then stopped to trace his tattoo several times before he brought his hand down and tucked it beneath his pillow.

Daniel kept his hand on Jack's shoulder and soon felt him begin to relax. It wasn't long before Jack was dozing. Daniel got up, asking Teal'c to stay with Jack a moment, and went in search of Janet, a worried thought going through his mind. He saw Teal'c place a hand on Jack's back and Jack sighed contentedly at the touch.

"Hi," she said, looking up from her computer when Daniel knocked on the door to her office.

"Hi," Daniel replied automatically as he leaned against the doorjamb.

"About what just happened..." Daniel began. He saw the petite woman's expressive brown eyes looking at him and he had to look away. He couldn't help comparing them to Jack's, hating her for a moment because she could see out of hers and Jack couldn't.

Janet waited patiently for him to continue and he forced himself to put the fear he was experiencing into words. He started off slowly but soon he was stumbling over himself in his rush to have his concern either confirmed or assuaged.

"Janet, do you think Jack might be suffering from brain damage? He wasn't really comfortable with someone other than me touching him earlier today, but he seemed to not recognize Nurse Bailey this afternoon. I mean, he remembers me, that's not a problem, but he can't seem to remember or differentiate between nurses and doctors; sometimes he's okay and at other times he's like what happened today."

"The thought did occur to me," Janet said truthfully once Daniel stopped to take a breath, "but I'm fairly certain that part of his fear and confusion is due to his debilitated condition and malnourishment." She smiled at Daniel, her eyes crinkling at the corners. "We're feeding him highly concentrated IV solutions to try and make up for this. I'm confident that in a short time we'll see a huge improvement in the colonel."

"Oh, so there's no brain damage?"

"I didn't say that, I said that I'm fairly certain there isn't, but we'll be keeping a careful eye out for this over the next few days. I know his behavior is a little abnormal but he has been through a hell of a time. I'm sure you've noticed he's more lucid now than he was during the first couple of hours he was brought back."

Daniel realized she was right. Most of the time Jack did know he was home and that the people around him were either friends or caregivers.

"There's another thing," Janet said. Daniel sighed, knowing from her tone that it wasn't good news.

"We're going to see if we can get him to take nutritional supplements orally. Doctor Diallo thinks Colonel O'Neill can swallow liquids well enough but we're not sure whether he can drink enough to satisfy the amount of caloric requirements needed for the next few days. If he can't swallow properly we'll have to put a nasogastric tube into him until he's strengthened throat and his facial muscles enough to eat."

"He's going to hate that," Daniel supplied. Janet grinned at him. She knew Jack just as well as he did and had seen him at his worst more times than Daniel had.

"He's already had a bit of the supplement. When he wakes up, see if you can get him to drink as much as he can stand." "Okay, I can do that." Daniel nodded.

Returning to Jack's bed, he noticed the plastic glass containing white liquid on the table beside Jack. He picked it up, smelled it, then dipped a finger and tasted the stuff. It tasted faintly of vanilla and didn't seem too unpalatable. Jack wouldn't mind drinking this stuff that much.

Daniel removed his glasses, Jack's fingers had smeared the lenses, and he wiped them on his shirttails. He replaced his glasses and sighed, waiting for Jack to wake up.

* * * * * *

"Come on, just a little more," Daniel urged, holding the glass to Jack's mouth. Jack irritably raised a hand to push the drink away and Daniel moved the glass before Jack could actually touch it.

"Jack, you need to drink this stuff."

"Aaaaarrrr" he tried to say.

"I know it's hard to swallow but you need the food and believe me, this is better than the alternative. Come on, just a little more." Daniel eyed the glass whose contents had barely shrunk. Jack was having problems swallowing, although Daniel was sure the fact that Jack was so tired wasn't helping much.

Pouting, Jack allowed Daniel to tip some of the contents into his mouth and he tried to swallow. Some of the liquid ran out of his mouth and down his chin. Daniel wiped the dribble with a Kleenex and offered Jack more when he managed to force the mouthful down.

Daniel wasn't sure what happened next; whether the stuff simply went down the wrong way or Jack had needed to cough. But suddenly Jack was choking and coughing, liquid spewing all over Daniel and the bed. Jack began turning red from his efforts, coughing so harshly that one of the nurses came over to see if she could assist.

Hurriedly Daniel put the glass down onto the table and pulled Jack forward into a sitting position. Jack continued coughing and suddenly he was vomiting the bit of sustenance he'd managed to ingest over the past hour.

He coughed a while longer, leaning heavily against Daniel, totally exhausted.

"Daniel," Janet said from beside him. "We'll clean him up. You'd better go and take a shower and change your clothes."

Surprised, Daniel realized that Jack had not only soiled himself and his bed, but Daniel also.

"It's okay, Janet, I can help with Jack first."

"My people are more than capable of taking care of Colonel O'Neill, Daniel," she said in a steely voice. "I need you to go and clean yourself off and change your clothes. While you're at it I want you to stop at the commissary and eat something. You've been here long enough and you need a break."

Daniel opened his mouth to protest as Teal'c helped Janet's nurses lay Jack down onto the bed, but she glared at him.

"Don't make me force the issue. He's fine and will most likely be asleep by the time you get back, but I assure you I will not hesitate to keep you out of here if you don't listen to my suggestions."

"Yes ma'am," Daniel said meekly. He turned away to leave as the nurses began stripping Jack of his clothes.

"And Daniel?" He stopped to look at her.

"I think we'll be putting the nasogastric tube in tomorrow morning. He's not taking in enough nutrition."

Daniel nodded sadly. Jack was so gonna hate that tube.

* * * * * *

* * * *

Daniel winced as Jack gagged as he swallowed the nasogastric tube. Jack's eyes were tightly closed, but he was squeezing Daniel's hand painfully in the process.

"Colonel, am I hurting you?" the nurse asked as she stopped pushing the pre-measured length of tubing down Jack's esophagus through Jack's right nostril.

"Noooo," Jack slurred, his raspy voice sounding more nasal than normal.

"Good," she replied as she resumed her work. Finished, Daniel watched with interest as she checked the placement of the tube. Then she picked up a penlight and tongue blade. "Open your mouth now for me, please," she requested. She had a look down Jack's throat and clicked the penlight off. "Looks good," she said with a smile, taping the tube in place. "You can relax now, Colonel. I'll be back in a few minutes."

Jack relaxed from his upright sitting position and leaned back against his pillows, his hand still tightly grasping Daniel's.

"You okay?" Daniel asked. Jack nodded, his eyes still closed. Daniel was relieved that Jack was beginning to respond to other people, but he was still prone to panic attacks if Daniel wasn't near him. General Hammond and Janet had granted Daniel special dispensation to stay with Jack, at least until the ailing man was a little stronger and less confused. Jack reacted well to both Sam and Teal'c but still needed to have Daniel nearby. At least Jack now knew where he was, although he'd woken up twice from nightmares and it was only Daniel's voice and touch that had been able to calm him down.

"Don lak," Jack slurred, bringing his hand up towards his nose. Daniel moved quickly and captured the errant hand before it could fiddle with the tubing.

"I know you don't like it but it's only for a few days," he said, placing Jack's hand back onto the bed and rubbing it gently before letting go. "Janet explained everything, remember? We need to get some nutrients into you and the tube and IV are going to do that. As soon as you can eat and swallow properly it's coming out."

"Poh... mish?" Jack opened his eyes and turned towards Daniel, his unseeing eyes staring unsettlingly at a space to the right of Daniel's face.

"I promise, Jack," Daniel answered, bringing his free hand up and gently rubbing the area around Jack's nose where the tube was taped down. "You'll begin to feel a lot stronger with this and you won't be hungry anymore."

Jack sighed, then tensed as he heard footsteps approaching. The nurse was back and she was carrying a bag that Daniel assumed contained Jack's liquid food.

"Okay, Colonel O'Neill, I'm going to give you your lunch now," she said with a smile. Daniel watched with interest as she attached the bag of liquid nourishment to the end of the tubing and fiddled with the mechanism to begin pumping its contents into Jack.

"Make sure your head remains elevated, all right?" she added. "Colonel?" she said more loudly when Jack didn't react. He grunted slightly, turning his head slightly towards her. "Make sure you don't lie down flat, okay?"

Jack nodded, then turned his head back to center.

She looked over at Daniel. "If he feels the need to sleep, just make sure his head is propped up."

"Okay," Daniel said.

"If he can tolerate this for the next four hours, we'll slowly increase the quantity. He desperately needs the calories. Let me know if he feels any discomfort," she added after watching Jack sit there quietly for a few minutes.

"Of course."

"Shood ashed f beeeee," Jack mumbled with a slight smile on his face.

Daniel broke out in laughter at Jack's words, the tension he'd felt over the past day easing a little at the glimpse of the old Colonel. Jack chuckled softly, ending with a cough. The nurse stood there, smiling politely, obviously not having understood Jack. Daniel translated Jackspeak for her.

"He said he should have asked for beer."

"Oh. Well, I'm sorry, sir, I can't give you that unless we're serving liquefied pizza. Maybe you'll be luckier tomorrow."

"Pisha gooh."

"Yeah, I know you like pizza. And I promise as I'll get you some as soon as you're up to it."

"N beeee?"

"Beer too. We'll make it a team night, okay? Invite Sam and Teal'c and watch videos?"

The moment he'd said it, Daniel wished he could take it back. Of course Jack couldn't watch videos, he couldn't bloody see anything.

"Dan... ull!" Jack tugged on Daniel's hand.

"Sorry, I didn't think..."

"Dan... ull!" Jack repeated, moving their clasped hands to his abdomen and rubbing the back of Daniel's hand with his free one.

"Be kay. Sand?"

"Yeah, everything will be fine. I understand, Jack." He leaned his face closer, pretending to look at the feeding tube affixed to Jack's nostril. "I love you, Jack. Everything will be fine 'cause we'll make sure it is."

Jack nodded, closing his eyes once more. His hand soon relaxed its grip on Daniel as he slipped into sleep.

* * * *

"Doctor Jackson, Doctor Fraiser would like to speak with you in her office."

The nurse's words sent a chill down Daniel's spine but he nodded and smiled at her as he changed direction. Instead of heading for Jack's bed, he made for the small office that was Janet's domain, casting a glance in Jack's direction and reassuring himself that his lover was fine.

As he stood in the doorway, Daniel looked at the petite doctor sitting before her computer absorbed in the data flickering on her monitor screen. An empty cup of coffee and the discarded plastic wrap of a pre-packaged sandwich littered her desk, along with a piece of half-eaten pie. He felt guilty knowing she hadn't had a proper meal, whereas he had just had a hot supper and good companionship with Sam and Teal'c. The fact that Janet had ordered him out of her infirmary once more wasn't really important. He should have insisted she come with him. He made a mental note to do so the next time.

He cleared his throat to get her attention.

She didn't greet him with a smile, which didn't bode good news. His intuition at the nurse's words was soon confirmed by Janet.

"Colonel O'Neill appeared to have some kind of flashback a short while ago," she began after turning her chair to face him.

"Why didn't someone come and get me?" Daniel demanded as he took two steps into her office.

She shook her head. "There wasn't enough time. By the time we'd realized what was happening, the colonel managed to pull out his feeding tube and we had to sedate him to get him to calm down."

"Sedate him?" Daniel's legs suddenly felt weak and his meal became an uncomfortable leaden weight in his stomach.

"Just enough to relax him. We reinserted the tube and he's resting comfortably."

"Do you know what triggered the flashback?" Daniel asked, looking at his feet.

"Someone dropped a bedpan. I think the noise might have startled him. I'm really not sure, he won't talk to me. I thought maybe you could try and get him to open up a little. Even if he won't talk to you about the events of what happened to him on that planet, at least get him to tell you what he's feeling. He's holding everything inside, Daniel."

"Janet, he can barely string two words together. How do you expect him to tell me what happened to him?"

She smiled at him at this point. "Somehow I don't think that'll be a problem. You seem to know what he needs with just a look from him."

"Yeah, well, that's not gonna happen now, is it?" he said moodily before turning to return to Jack's bedside.

The head of Jack's bed was still slightly elevated and Daniel knew Jack was finding it uncomfortable to sleep. But until the tube that was delivering sustenance to him was removed, Jack needed his head and shoulders to be elevated.

Daniel wasn't sure if Jack was sleeping; his eyes were shut. But for the past day Jack had been keeping them closed on purpose whenever he thought someone was around. He was lying on his back and looked like he was asleep.

"Jack?" Daniel said softly. Jack's eyes opened, then closed again. Daniel just had time to see that the pupils were dilated; probably due to the drugs Jack had been given.

"Janet told me you had a bit of a scare. You wanna tell me about it?" Daniel reached out and ran a finger along the edge of Jack's thumb, then continued on, following the outline of Jack's hand as if he were tracing it onto a piece of paper. Jack's fingers twitched and as Daniel's began making a return trip, Jack closed his palm over his lover's finger.

"Did something startle you? Did you remember something from the time when you were beat... were captured?" Daniel stammered.

"Nnnnooooo..sss."

"Noise? You heard a noise?"

Jack nodded.

"Janet said someone dropped something. That was probably what you heard. Did the noise remind you of something that happened on Hannara?"

"Nnnoooo," Jack replied. "Eeee...foooo."

Daniel couldn't quite make out the last word, and Jack repeated it.

"Before Hannara?" Daniel guessed.

"Eessss."

Daniel sat up straighter. "The aliens who hurt you? The ones who made us think you were dead?"

Jack nodded.

Daniel rubbed his free hand over his face. For some reason he'd thought Jack had been unconscious or at the brink of death when the aliens had taken Jack off world.

"What did you remember?" Daniel asked softly.

Jack let go of Daniel's finger and waved at the tube in his nose. Daniel brought his hand up as a precaution in case Jack tried to pull the tube out again but Jack dropped his hand back down onto the bed. Then it dawned on him that Jack meant he remembered the tube.

"You remember the aliens putting something in your nose?"

"Nooo," Jack said. This time he pointed to his mouth and down his throat.

"They put something down your throat?" Daniel asked, feeling sick at the thought.

"Eessss," Jack answered.

"Do you know why? What they did it for?"

"Leeean," he said. Daniel noted Jack's hands were clenched tightly and he placed his hand over one shaking fist.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand, Jack."

"Leeean," Jack repeated. Daniel repeated the word softly to himself several times, trying to decipher what Jack was trying to say.

"Nooo," Jack said when Daniel repeated the word again. He unclenched his fist and grabbed Daniel's forearm. "Kaaa... leeean," he said, trying to intonate the syllables clearly.

"Clean?" Jack nodded, letting go of Daniel.

"But clean what? They put a tube into your stomach and cleaned you out? You mean they pumped your stomach?"

"Esss, noooo. Alll."

"All? You mean they gave you a... they made you...?" Thoughts of gastric lavages and laxatives flitted through Daniel's mind and he paled when Jack waved his hand at his mouth and then his butt.

"Shit!" Jack snorted, but Daniel didn't find it funny.

"Sssleee," Jack said.

"Oh, okay, I'll let you get some rest," Daniel said. He could see Jack was more relaxed with the sedative but the drug was affecting his limited speech.

"Nooo!" Jack slapped the bed angrily and pushed himself so he was lying on his side facing Daniel. "Mmmmaaak Sssseee."

Cursing himself for misunderstanding, Daniel said, "They gave you something after to make you sleep?"

Jack nodded. "sstttrrr gaaaay."

"They brought you through the Stargate?"

Another nod.

"To Hannara?"

"Noooo." Jack's voice was softer and Daniel suspected that the drug was beginning to wear him down.

"So you went to another planet. Was this where they sold you?"

"Esss," he answered after a moment. Daniel saw Jack's eyelids begin to close before Jack forced them open again.

"Do you remember which Hannaran bought you?" Daniel asked, thoughts of returning to that planet and exacting revenge beginning to sound like a plan. His hand slid into his pocket and played with the piece of warm metal and chain.

"Noooo. Slleee...peee."

"They continued to drug you?"

Jack's head moved slowly up and down. His eyes shut slowly and remained closed for a few moments. He twitched suddenly and his eyes snapped open, his head moving in small, jerky movements.

"Shhh, I'm here," Daniel said. "Go to sleep."

Jack shook his head, bringing a hand up to rub his eyes tiredly. Daniel suspected Jack was afraid of going to sleep and reliving those early memories. He looked so vulnerable and miserable laying there before him that Daniel ached to do something to make him feel better.

He realized that since they'd brought him home, Jack had spent most of his time in that hospital bed with only the impersonal touch of caregivers. Jack's family was sitting right before him and due to regulations, Daniel couldn't do much of anything to comfort Jack except for an occasional hand-holding. Damn them, this had gone on long enough. Daniel stood up quickly, the chair rolling backwards and bumping into a metallic table behind him.

Jack jumped at the sound and Daniel apologized. He walked around the bed and grabbed the edge of the privacy curtain and began pulling it. Just before he enclosed himself and Jack within its confines, he spotted Janet looking at him. He caught her eye and she nodded. Daniel smiled his thanks, knowing they'd be left alone for as long as possible.

"Jack, hang on, I'm going to lift you up a bit," Daniel said once he took his boots off. He climbed onto the bed and lifted Jack's upper body, sliding himself beneath him. He lowered Jack's head and shoulders onto his lap, pulling the covers up to Jack's chin. Taking advantage of the fact that they were hidden from prying eyes, both human and mechanical, Daniel leaned down over Jack and kissed him on the temple.

Daniel told himself he was doing this for Jack and tried to ignore the satisfaction that came from feeling Jack's weight and warmth against his own body.

"Go to sleep. I'll be right here if you have any more dreams." Daniel stroked the silver hair, feeling the man he loved beginning to relax. Daniel heard Jack humming softly for a minute, until the sound faded as he drifted into sleep.

* * * * * *

Daniel gulped down the last of his coffee as he got up from the table.

"Daniel, sit here a little longer," Sam pleaded. "Colonel O'Neill is probably asleep again." She frowned at him and Daniel knew she was assessing him. "Speaking of sleeping, how many hours have you gotten since we've brought the colonel home?"

"I've slept enough." Daniel loaded her plate and mug onto his tray, waiting until she stood. He was sleeping, not much more than cat naps snatched when Jack was deep in a sedated sleep because he never knew when Jack would cry out in pain or fear. Jack was alive and he needed Daniel. Once Jack was more stable, maybe then he'd be able to relax a little more. In the meantime, fewer hours sleep weren't going to matter.

"I have a meeting with SG-9," Sam said as they walked to the elevator after depositing their trash. "I'll come down to the infirmary in a few hours to give you a break."

Nodding, Daniel watched Sam get in the elevator and then decided to take the three flights of stairs to the infirmary. He didn't understand how he could be tired and have so much energy.

Jack had been moved to a regular bed in the infirmary yesterday afternoon. They hoped the more familiar surroundings might help Jack adjust to being home. The Hannarans hadn't been able to give a timeline for recovery. Daniel feared they were looking at months of therapy. Jack's first session of physical therapy earlier in the day had left him exhausted and in pain. Daniel hoped Jack managed to sleep.

"Doctor Jackson," Daniel looked up and saw Doctor Molinari coming out of Jack's room with a clipboard. "May I have a few moments?"

"I should really get to Jack." Daniel gestured to the door.

"Doctor Fraiser's ordered a few more tests," Doctor Molinari said. "I'd like to give you an update on the colonel's condition."

"Yes," Daniel followed Molinari down the hall and into a small room the nurses and doctors used for a lounge. "How is he? His eyes?"

"As you know the film dissipated rapidly following the administration of the Hannaran drug. Unfortunately the drug does not appear to have made any difference in the colonel's ability to see. The drug the Hannarans provided us has usually been administered to less advanced cases. Frequently vision problems are a lasting effect of the disease. They've never used the drug on someone with a case of the disease as advanced as Colonel O'Neill's."

"So why don't they give him more of it?" Daniel asked. There was no way he was giving up on Jack.

"Doctor Fraiser's tests have indicated a higher dosage or continued usage of the drug would be fatal and cause organ failure. I'm sorry Doctor Jackson. Coupled with the crystal you described the priests on P3U-863 used on Colonel O'Neill, I have every reason to believe the vision loss is permanent. I suggest we schedule a time to discuss the ramifications of these lasting effects with Colonel O'Neill."

Daniel touched his pocket, feeling the chain there. He rubbed a finger over the links, pressing them into his thigh. He met Doctor Molinari's kind gaze. "Could we hold off a few more days? Jack's been through a lot the past week. I think he might need a little more time to get used to the routine of being home."

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt, Doctor Jackson." Doctor Molinari smiled. "I realize this is hard to accept and that Colonel O'Neill will have difficulty too. But the sooner he is informed, and the sooner he begins therapy, the better. It may seem like it now but blindness is not the end of Colonel O'Neill's life." The beeper on the doctor's lapel went off. "I'm sorry, Doctor Jackson, I have another appointment."

Waving off the doctor, Daniel sat at the table. What were they going to do now?

* * * *

The hushed sounds meant it was night in the infirmary, Jack knew. The worst part of not being able to see anything yet meant Jack lost track of time. He counted time by his meals, if that was what they could be called. He was sick of rice and applesauce but Doc promised him in the morning he could have some eggs to see if his stomach could tolerate them. His legs ached tonight; the therapy session he'd had in the PT room had been exhausting, learning to use a walker to help support his still weakened body. Soft footsteps sounded near his bed.

"Daniel?" Jack asked, then remembered the argument between Doc Fraiser and Daniel earlier, right around supper time. Daniel was sent packing to spend one night off-base.

"Sorry, Colonel, just me." Doc's quiet voice washed over him. She leaned over the bed and adjusted his blankets, tucking them around his legs. Jack reached out, closing his fingers around her wrist, holding on.

"Colonel? Is something wrong? Are you in pain?"

Jack rolled his head on the pillow, towards her voice. "No. But Doc, I," his mouth went dry and he heard his own harsh breathing as he tried to gain control of the fear beginning to overwhelm him. "No one will tell me. My eyes. I remember seeing the film on others on Hannara. They were blind. But now that goop is gone, Doctor Molinari said it is, but..."

"There's been no improvement," she finished for him. "You can distinguish between light and dark but see nothing."

"Yes," Jack whispered. "Is it..." he waved a hand around his face.

"Yes, sir. Our contact with the Hannaran medical community leads us to believe the blindness is permanent."

"I see," Jack said, then gave a harsh laugh. " Well no, bad choice of words. I guess I don't and won't ever again."

"I'm sorry, sir." Fraiser sounded sad, defeated. "We should have told you earlier."

"Daniel doesn't want to accept it, does he?" Jack was amazed he sounded so calm considering he'd just been told his whole life had been thrown into a tailspin.

"It's very difficult for him, Colonel." He felt Fraiser tugging on the blankets some more. "He wants to believe we have some miracle up our sleeve."

"Hell, I'd take a miracle or two, Doc." Jack hated the sound of bitterness in his voice. He took a deep breath. "So where do I go from here?"

"You will need rehabilitation, sir; training to learn how to get around, how to adapt to your blindness. I can request someone come here to get you started as soon as possible."

Fraiser's calm, matter of fact tone helped slow Jack's breathing. "I don't really have a choice but to learn to live with it do I?"

"I'm afraid not, sir." He could almost hear her smile and imagined her eyes crinkling in amusement.

"Call them. Call whoever you need to." Jack's words exploded, needing to say them before he lost the small amount of courage he possessed. He tightened his grip on her wrist slightly. "And Janet?"

"Yes sir?"

"Thanks for telling me the truth." He loosened his fingers and released her wrist. She patted his hand when he placed it on top of the blankets.

"It's my job, colonel," she said. "And, sir?" Jack nodded, closing his eyes. "Jack," she whispered, "I have faith in you."

He listened to the tap of her heels as she took a few steps away and then the swooshing sound as she pulled the privacy curtain around the bed. Jack curled up on his side, pressing his face into the pillow to stifle the tears he couldn't hold back. Oh God, he was so scared.

* * * * *

Putting his hand in his pocket, Daniel rubbed the bit of metal he carried with him all the time. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he waited for the elevator to stop on the infirmary level. He'd gone to Jack's house last night after leaving the base, packing a bag with some of Jack's most comfortable old clothes. Janet had told him yesterday that although Jack wasn't able to leave the base yet, she was ready to move him out of the infirmary and into a VIP suite. She was hopeful Jack would be strong enough to go home by the end of the week. They'd agreed to keep it a secret until this morning, a nice surprise for Jack after all his hard work in therapy. Maybe it would help the increasing irritation and impatience Jack was exhibiting. He knew it wasn't only the weakness of Jack's body; sessions with Mackenzie usually had Jack silent for hours afterwards. Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose as he began the walk to the infirmary doors.

"Jack?" Daniel kept his voice quiet as he approached Jack's bed, not wanting to wake him if he was sleeping. Jack lay curled up on his side, his hands curled in loose fists to his chest.

"Hey, Daniel," Jack whispered.

Daniel frowned at the hoarse quality of Jack's voice, praying that Jack wasn't getting sick. He touched his lover's forehead, relieved to feel his temperature was normal.

"Are you sick, Jack?" Daniel hooked a chair with his foot, pulling it closer and sitting down. "You have therapy in about half an hour." Daniel noted the tray still sitting on Jack's rolling table. "Do you want me to get a nurse?"

Jack shook his head. His eyes were open, staring straight ahead, missing the animation that had always characterized them before Hannara. "Doc told me. I asked her and she told me."

"Asked her?" Daniel leaned forward and then straightened, his stomach tightening as he realized what Jack meant. "What did she tell you?" He clenched his hands into fists so tight they hurt.

"This, Daniel." Jack gestured at his eyes. "She told me it's permanent. I'm blind."

"We don't know if it's permanent," Daniel insisted. His voice sounded calm despite his pounding heart. "Doctor Molinari and Janet admitted they don't know what's causing it."

"Doctor Molinari was here earlier, Daniel," Jack said in a weary voice. "He might not know what caused it, the reasons the disease affected my vision or if that damn crystal did some sort of lasting damage, but he gave me a very thorough exam."

"Your vision has improved since you've come home. Since the treatment you received."

"No, Daniel. Whatever that goop was coating my eyes has disappeared. That's it. There's been no improvement in my vision. I have no vision. I only can tell if it's light or dark. That's all." Jack sighed. "Doc Fraiser said she'd be contacting some rehab specialists. Get me started on learning how to live as a blind man."

Daniel shook his head, hating the resigned tones of Jack's voice. No, he wasn't ready to give up. Jack had survived so far, surely he'd gain back his sight. Daniel couldn't talk, afraid if he tried his words would be incoherent.

"Good morning, Colonel O'Neill." Daniel looked up as one of the physical therapists came to the bed. "Are you ready for your morning session?"

Jack nodded, pushing back his blankets and then sitting, his legs hanging over the side of the bed. Daniel lowered his eyes studying Jack's long legs, the feet that still turned slightly inward. The therapist bent down, placing slippers on Jack's feet and helping him off the bed. Jack's right leg buckled. Daniel reached out his hands to help but the therapist had Jack seated on the wheelchair before Daniel was out of his chair. "We're going to work some more with the walker today, sir," he heard the therapist say as he began wheeling Jack away, continuing to inform Jack of the day's schedule.

Glancing at his watch, knowing he had an hour before he needed to be at the briefing with General Hammond and SG-12, Daniel walked to Janet's office. She still had a few hours left on her shift, he figured.

"Daniel," Janet smiled as he opened her door, "were you able to speak to the colonel before he went to therapy today? Discuss the plans for him to go to the VIP suite?"

Shaking his head, Daniel walked to her desk, slamming his hands down on top of the folders stacked there. "Why did you do it, Janet? Why did you take away all of Jack's hope by telling him the blindness is permanent? Have you seen him this morning? How depressed he is?"

"Hold it right there, Doctor Jackson." Janet stood, leaning over the desk towards Daniel. "I am a doctor. It's my job to inform my patients of their medical status."

"You didn't have to tell him it was permanent," Daniel yelled.

"I had to tell him the truth, Daniel. Whether you agree with it or not." Janet's voice rose to meet his. "It wasn't Colonel O'Neill's hope I took away, it's yours."

His legs shook at her words, his body filled with impotent rage and the knowledge she spoke the truth.

"Sit down before you fall down, Daniel," Janet commanded, coming from behind her desk and pushing a chair in his direction. He did as she bade and leaned forward, holding his head in his hands.

"I thought he'd be able to see, Janet," Daniel whispered. "I thought the medicine would cure him. It's not fair. Not after everything he's been through." He moved his fingers trying to surreptitiously wipe away the few hot tears burning in the corner of his eyes.

"No," Janet agreed. "Colonel O'Neill is a strong man, Daniel. Do you honestly believe he won't be able to deal with this?"

He didn't even need to think about it. He knew Jack would. It might be a struggle but Jack was a survivor, he would learn and play the hand he'd been dealt. It was himself he wasn't sure about.

"Daniel," Janet touched his shoulder and he looked up into her warm brown eyes, "I think it might help if you were to talk to Doctor Mackenzie. You know Colonel O'Neill has found his sessions helpful. You've been through a lot too these past months. The colonel's disappearance, thinking he's been dead, and now finding him alive. Talking to someone not so involved might help you."

"I'll be fine, Janet." Daniel pasted a smile on his face. "Jack's alive, that's what's important." He checked his watch. "I have a briefing at ten and then some reports to work on. Do you think we could talk to Jack about moving to a VIP suite at about two?" He stood as she sighed and nodded her assent. "Thanks, Janet. And I'm sorry about, you know," he gestured at her desk. Daniel left her office unable to meet her eyes any longer. Jack was alive, he repeated to himself. How selfish was he being by wanting Jack whole and healthy? He put the thoughts out of his mind, focusing instead on the presentation he'd prepared on the goddess Bastet.

* * * *

"Good afternoon, Colonel O'Neill."

It was a new voice, a different one from the others he'd been exposed to over the past few weeks. He turned his head towards it, closing his eyes against the nausea the movement caused.

"Who are you?" Jack moved his hand along the arm of his wheelchair. His legs hurt, his back ached, his stomach was sore because he'd thrown up his breakfast. He wasn't in the mood to deal with yet another therapist.

"I'm Major Wendover. I'm a specialist in rehabilitation for the visually impaired."

Jack tilted his head as he heard her footsteps approach. He stuck out his hand when he judged she was close enough and felt his fingers grasped in a firm handshake.

"Visually impaired," Jack muttered. "Why don't you say it like it is, Major? Try blind."

"Blind it is then." She didn't seem taken aback by his words. "Colonel, I'd like to ask you a few questions and then we will be able to discuss your rehabilitation treatment." Jack heard a chair scrape as she pulled it out from the table. There was a soft sound as she placed what must have been a notebook or legal pad on the table and the sound of her rooting around in her purse for a pen or pencil. "I've read over Doctor Molinari's reports. You are able to distinguish light and dark?"

"I can't see if that's what you're trying to ask. I'm blind, Wendover."

"When you first were treated, Colonel, were you able to distinguish light from dark?" Oh, she was good; Jack had to give her that. Cool and professional.

"No." Jack remembered the months before being found, when he lived in a world where no light entered and that first week back home in the infirmary when the only constant was Daniel. "No, I couldn't. It was dark, like being in a cave."

"And now? Can you describe your vision now?"

"I know when lights are on. Can tell if they are turned off." He tapped his fingers on the arm of the wheelchair. He hated when they dimmed the lights at night. Even with the soft sounds of Daniel's breathing and the ever present hum of equipment it wasn't enough to stop the nightmares. Jack paused before continuing. "There hasn't been any change in my vision for the past two weeks."

"Yes." Wendover was silent except for the scratch of her pen on the paper. "What do you hope to gain from rehabilitation?"

"What do I hope to gain?" Jack gave a bitter laugh. "I'm blind and I'm in a wheelchair. What do I hope to gain? How does death sound?"

"You want to die?" He could almost imagine her raising one eyebrow.

"Yes. I mean, no. I mean..." Jack tightened his hands on his thighs, hating the feel of wasted muscle. "I mean, I don't know what I..." He waved his hand at his debilitated body.

"I've read the reports, Colonel." Wendover's voice was calm. She didn't try to argue with him. "I think your surviving so long on Hannara shows you are more than capable of surviving this. The wheelchair is temporary?"

Jack nodded. "I've been told that, yes."

"You can walk for short distances with a walker." He could tell she was reading from one of his medical reports. "Last week you were only able to stand."

"Yes." Jack rubbed at his forehead. "Look I've heard the 'all good things take time' routine, Wendover. But Doctor Molinari told me this is as good as it's gonna get." Jack tapped his temple.

"I understand that, Colonel. That's why Doctor Fraiser requested I begin rehabilitation with you." There was a sound of rustling paper and Jack heard her turn her chair. "So, I ask you again. What do you hope to gain from your rehabilitation?"

"You don't let up, do you?" Jack couldn't keep a smile from forming.

"I've been told I don't." She was smiling, Jack could tell.

"I want to be able to walk somewhere without depending on someone else." He hung his head. "I want to be able to eat a meal without spilling it over me and needing to be cleaned up like a goddamn baby."

"Okay, that's a start," Wendover agreed. "I thought today we could go over some equipment that may help make your life easier. We can work on some skills that will help you when you eat. I'd also like to start you on learning some Braille. You may not adapt to that, Colonel. Braille is difficult to learn. But there are other technologies we will discuss in our next sessions. Now, I'd like you to hold out your hand. We're going to start by learning how to use this watch."

Jack offered his hand, ashamed that he was a grown man who wanted nothing more than to crawl in a corner and hide. Her fingers touched his palm, placing a watch there. He had to fight the urge to pull his hand away.

Major Wendover was talking and Jack forced himself to listen to her words, concentrating on her explanation of the watch's features.

* * * *

"Hey, Jack," Daniel called as he entered the VIP room. They'd moved him into this room earlier in the day. As Janet said, Jack wasn't sick any longer, he just needed a little more time before he was ready to go home. A rehab center was out of the question due to Jack's frequent nightmares and flashbacks to his time on Hannara. Jack was sitting up in bed, an object on the bed tray in front of him, his fingers exploring it.

"Hey Daniel," Jack said absently only turning his head when Daniel sat on the edge of the bed. Daniel studied his lover, relieved to see Jack's mood had lifted.

"What are you doing?" Daniel twisted to see the board Jack was holding.

Jack picked up a small block that reminded Daniel of Legos and placed it on the board. He brushed his fingers over it before carefully turning it towards Daniel. "Braille."

"Aren't these dots kinda big?" Daniel brushed his fingers across the large raised dots.

"Major Wendover said I might not be able to learn it." Jack ducked his head in a habit Daniel was beginning to recognize. "We're starting with these," Jack made a circle with his hand, "so I can feel the different patterns."

"I see," Daniel nodded and then winced.

"Hey," Jack reached out his hand as if he knew Daniel's reaction. "I don't think I'm going to go through life without hearing the word 'see' again." He squeezed Daniel's fingers and then released them, resting his hands on the table. "You ever realize how many expressions refer to sight?"

Daniel nodded again, reminding himself he needed to speak to Jack. "There are a lot."

"Yep." Jack placed his fingers back on the board, running them across the three blocks already there.

"You ready for supper?" Daniel ventured. Getting Jack to eat was an every night challenge. He had a suspicion it was a combination of Jack's lingering weakness, boredom with the bland diet, embarrassment at the chore eating had become, and a loss of appetite now that he couldn't see what he was eating.

"Ummmh." Jack ignored him, his concentration on the board complete.

Daniel phoned the commissary and requested Jack's usual evening meal along with a chicken sandwich for himself. He pulled out his laptop and decided he could use the time to finish a report on the Egyptian god, Sobek for SG-10, data from the MALP indicating he may have been the system lord ruling over the planet they were about to visit. He was double checking the report when there was a knock at the door. He hit save and went to retrieve their dinner from the airman waiting outside.

"Here you go, Doctor Jackson." The young man handed him the tray. "Doctor Fraiser would like a report on what Colonel O'Neill eats, sir."

"I understand," Daniel peered at the name on the shirt, "Airman Swenger. And thank you. I'll take care of the tray later."

"Supper time, Jack," Daniel called as he placed the tray on the table in the middle of the room. "I'll have it to you in a second."

"Damn it!" Jack yelled as he swept the board and tiles off of his bed table. He pulled his hands up to his face, curling them into fists.

"Jack?" Daniel left the food and went over to the bed, sitting on the edge of it. "I'm going to touch your leg, okay?" He saw Jack's nod and placed his hand on Jack's knee. "Want to tell me what that was all about?"

"I'm not going to able to do this, Daniel. I'm not." Jack's breathing was shallow. "I can't learn it."

"God, Jack, you had your first lesson in Braille what? Three or four hours ago? After you spent time in PT and moved into this room." Daniel moved his fingers in a circle, massaging Jack's thigh. "I don't think anyone expects you to learn how to ad..."

"How to be blind, Daniel. Say it. You can't even say the fucking word. You should have left me to die on that planet." Jack moved forward, knocking Daniel's hand away from his leg. "Instead of bringing me back here to be what? A useless lump that has to be hauled from place to place."

"You bastard," Daniel ground out, his anger rising to meet Jack's. "You selfish bastard. You want to pity yourself, Jack? You go right ahead. Don't expect me to come along for the ride. How dare you tell me my decision to not let you rot on Hannara was a stupid mistake on my part. You want me to say it, Jack? You're blind. Happy?" Daniel stopped needing to draw in a breath. He looked at Jack who sat with hunched, shaking shoulders. "Jack?" Daniel wasn't sure if he was hearing what he thought.

Jack raised his head and Daniel smiled. Jack was laughing although Daniel wasn't quite ready to do the same.

"We're quite a pair, Danny," Jack finally said. "Good to know we can still argue, huh?"

"Good to know, Jack." Moving his hand back to Jack's thigh, Daniel gave him a playful nudge. "You hungry?" To his surprise, Jack nodded.

"Arguing always gives me an appetite," Jack said. He twisted in the bed, swinging his legs over the side.

"I'll bring the food over here." Daniel got up from the bed.

Shaking his head, Jack pointed in the vague direction of his walker. "Major Wendover helped me with this earlier. I can make it to the table. It's eight shuffles."

"Shuffles, Jack?"

"Well, normally I should measure in steps but right now she agreed with me that shuffles would be a better term." Jack settled his hands on the walker when Daniel placed it in front of him. "Coast clear, Daniel?"

"Almost." Daniel bent down and picked up the Braille tiles and board scattered on the floor. "Okay, Jack," he said as he straightened. "Coast clear." He had to fight the impulse to grab on to Jack when the other man faltered slightly. He'd had his own meeting with Major Gwen Wendover earlier as she gave him some of his own instructions on learning to adjust to Jack's blindness. They'd made an appointment to go out to Jack's house later in the week so she could begin to make plans for Jack's rehab at home. Daniel tucked his hands under his armpits and watched as Jack settled in the chair at the table without mishap.

Jack placed his hands on the edge of the table and then slowly his fingers crept forward until he found the food tray.

"If you tell me where the food is I can eat it, Daniel," Jack said after a deep breath.

This was hardest, Daniel thought, seeing Jack, who was normally so independent, now unsure and having to ask for help with the simplest things. In his mind, Daniel knew Jack would become more independent but for now it was hard and he couldn't help questioning his own blame for Jack's current condition.

"You gonna join me, Daniel?" Jack raised his eyebrows and for a moment his eyes unerringly rested on Daniel.

"Yeah. Yeah. Sorry. Just thinking." Daniel sat down and watched as Jack pulled his plate closer.

"And what yummy food has the doc decreed I can have tonight?" Jack made a face.

"Rice at twelve, jello at three and I think its pureed carrots at seven. Well actually those are between seven and eight." Daniel looked at his own chicken sandwich and wondered if he'd be able to choke it down.

"Daniel, I think seven is close enough." Jack smiled. Daniel took a bite of his sandwich and saw Jack take a spoon in a shaking hand. Jack ran his fingers along the rim of the plate, barely touching the edges of the food. He scooped some rice onto the spoon and managed to get most of it to his mouth. Daniel was silent, knowing the amount of concentration Jack was using to tackle this new skill. He took another bite of the sandwich. It tasted like cardboard in his mouth.

* * * * *

"Daniel?"

"Yes, Jack?" Daniel walked over to the bed. Jack was lying with his eyes closed, worn out from the activities of the day. He still tired easily and the rehabilitation was only going to increase.

"Tell me about stuff," Jack said, turning over to his side and searching for Daniel's hand.

"Stuff?"

"Stuff. You know, what's going on with stuff." Jack sounded weary and the light bulb went on in Daniel's head. Since his return to earth, Jack's days were spent in the infirmary, the PT room, Mackenzie's office or now this VIP suite. Sam and Teal'c had visited him a few evenings in the infirmary but Jack was so exhausted he tended to fall asleep in the midst of the conversations. It didn't help that Sam especially seemed uncomfortable around Jack. She worried over saying the wrong thing and her apparent unease just made Jack embarrassed and unable to concentrate. Teal'c said little and Daniel still hadn't figured out what he thought of the whole situation.

Daniel tapped his fingers on Jack's hand thinking about the latest tales brought home from other teams' missions. He smiled as he remembered Lou Ferretti coming through the Gate two days ago. "Wait 'til you hear what happened to Ferretti and SG-2, Jack." He began rubbing a small circle on Jack's palm. "Seems they gated to a planet where men were in short supply. And well, you know how charming Lou can be when he sets his mind to it."

He deliberately kept his voice low while he continued with the story. Jack's hand relaxed under his, and he opened his eyes a few times, reminding Daniel of a child fighting sleep. "Shh, Jack." Daniel moved his hand to Jack's bony shoulder, rubbing there, and patting it when he knew Jack was sleeping. "Sweet dreams, Jack," he whispered as he tugged the blankets up over Jack's torso. He settled onto the chair by the bed to read for awhile. Maybe if he was tired enough his dreams would be sweet too.

* * * * * * *

"Hey Daniel," A slim arm was slipped around his waist and Daniel turned his head to smile at Sam.

"Hey Sam." He looked over her shoulder at Teal'c and gave a brief nod before turning his attention back to the window of the PT room.

"O'Neill is making progress, Danieljackson," Teal'c said as he watched Jack doing leg presses.

"Yeah," Daniel sighed. He watched as Jack leaned forward shaking his head as the therapist spoke to him.

"He'll get better, Daniel. This is the colonel we're talking about." Sam sounded very assured but a look at her eyes showed the same concern they all were feeling.

"He's blind, Sam." Daniel curled his fingers around the metal in his pocket.

"O'Neill still has his mental faculties, Danieljackson. That is the most useful trait of a warrior." Teal'c shifted so he was standing in front of Daniel. "You must believe in O'Neill's ability to heal, Danieljackson or he will be lost to you forever."

Daniel looked up into Teal'c fierce brown gaze and nodded. He knew in his head Jack would survive, but his own guilt gnawed at him. A guilt he couldn't speak of to anyone, most certainly not to Jack. "Yes, Teal'c."

"Majorcarter, we have a meeting with SG-3," Teal'c stepped away waiting for Sam to follow and Daniel was once again left alone in the hallway, looking in at his lover.

Teal'c was right and Jack had made more progress in the past month than anyone thought possible. He'd gained back some of the weight he'd lost, something that pleased Janet. His speech was understandable and rarely slurred except when he got overly tired and unable to concentrate. Even his walking had improved. Two days ago the therapists had decided Jack was up to walking around without the walker. Daniel watched as Jack held on to the shoulders of Lieutenant Simone. He could see her speaking to Jack as Jack slid a foot slowly forward. Daniel couldn't imagine how terrifying the whole process must be for Jack, not only relearning to walk but doing it in the dark.

"Good morning, Doctor Jackson." Daniel pulled his gaze away from the windows to acknowledge Major Wendover. She smiled at him, her gray curls bobbing as she turned her head to look through the window.

"Colonel O'Neill is doing quite well," she noted in her brisk fashion.

"He's walking better today than yesterday," Daniel said, trying to focus on the positive side of things.

"Doctor Jackson, I know this is difficult for you," Wendover began, "but Colonel O'Neill will adjust, as will you. He will learn to live his life in a fulfilling fashion. It's not going to be easy for either of you. I won't lie and tell you it will. But there will come a day when you will find you don't focus on what Colonel O'Neill has lost but rather on where he chooses to go in the future."

"He has a long way to go." Daniel watched as the therapist stepped away and Jack took a few steps on his own, walking unaided for the first time since returning to Earth. Is this the way a parent felt seeing his child do it too? Daniel rubbed at the bridge of his nose, fighting the hot prickle of tears.

"Yes, he does," Wendover agreed. "I'll see Colonel O'Neill in his quarters in one hour, sir." She nodded. "That should give you both time to eat."

Daniel waved and opened the door to the PT room when he saw Jack sitting in his wheelchair.

"Oh nine hundred tomorrow, sir. I've arranged for you to use the whirlpool later this evening." Lieutenant Simone concluded his speech to Jack and looked up at Daniel. "Well, sir, it looks like your transportation is here. And remember walking this afternoon and this evening."

Jack nodded, twisting his hand in his T-shirt. "Daniel?"

"Yeah, I'm here, Jack. Let's go get something to eat, okay?"

"Daniel?" Jack asked as they got off the elevator a few minutes later. "Where are we going? This isn't the way to my room."

"Lunch, Jack. Major Wendover said she'd be at the VIP room for a session in an hour and then you have an appointment with Mackenzie, so I thought it might be a good idea to eat now."

"No! Take me back," Jack nearly shouted, grasping the handles of the chair tightly. "You think because I'm blind I don't have a say in what happens to me? You didn't even ask."

"I'm sorry, Jack. I just thought you'd be hungry. I'm sorry. You're right. I should have asked you." Daniel turned the chair around. "We'll go back to the room."

"Get me the hell out of here," Jack ordered tightly between clenched teeth.

They returned to the VIP room in uncomfortable silence and Jack gratefully climbed into his bed, pulling the blankets over his hips in agitated movements.

"Look," Jack said as he heard Daniel fidgeting by his beside. "I just wish you'd have warned me first. I'm tired, you know I didn't sleep well last night, and..."

"You're right, I wasn't thinking," Daniel said in a subdued voice. "I'll let you get some rest. I'll be back soon with lunch. What do you want?"

"I'm not hungry, Daniel." Jack turned on his side, facing away from him.

"You need to eat," Daniel said, sitting down on the bed. "Janet said she's thinking of sending you home the end of this week but you need to eat, Jack. You still have weight to gain back." He massaged the tense shoulder beneath his hand.

"Cereal," Jack finally mumbled. "Froot Loops."

"Be back soon, Jack." Daniel leaned closer and sneaked a kiss to Jack's nape.

"Are you ready, Jack?" Daniel asked. He took in the hands clutching the duffel bag, fingers white with strain. Jack's final checkup in the infirmary had been completed, Janet sending them on their way with her blessing.

"No," Jack muttered, "but everyone says this is what I need to do."

Daniel said nothing. While he couldn't ever say he'd experienced what Jack was feeling right now, he could guess the fear coursing through his lover's body. He'd hoped the depression Jack was exhibiting lately would lift with the promise of going home. He'd been wrong.

Jack tilted his head, a new habit he'd acquired, as the nurse brought a wheelchair to his bedside. He stood, holding the duffel bag and looking lost.

"Just pivot, Jack. The wheelchair is right in front of you," Daniel murmured.

Jack shifted the bag to one hand and sighed as his searching fingers found the armrest of the wheelchair. He sat down, letting Daniel lift his legs onto the foot rest. Daniel let his hand linger on Jack's ankle a moment, noting the still turned in left foot.

"Daniel?" Jack asked as Daniel stood. "Don't let anybody see me." The plea was an anguished whisper. One look at his lover's face had Daniel searching for something to cover Jack. He tugged the blanket off the bed, tucking it around Jack's still skinny legs.

"We're just getting in the elevator and going to my car, Jack. We're going straight home." Daniel bent over, touching Jack's hand. "And then Major Wendover is going to come over to the house a little bit later once you get settled in."

"Daniel?" Jack turned his face towards him, his eyes closed.

"I'm here, Jack. Right by your side." Daniel walked beside the wheelchair as the nurse began pushing.

They only stopped once on their short trip to the surface. Daniel handed Jack a pair of sunglasses before they went out into the sunny day and realized this was the first time Jack had breathed in the air of Earth for over seven months.

Jack tilted his head back as they went through the doors to the parking lot. "Sunshine?" he asked.

"Yeah," Daniel answered. "It's a beautiful day. Sunshine, not a cloud in the sky."

"Good," Jack said before falling silent once more.

Janet had assured Daniel Jack was ready to go home. His physical therapists had asserted their collective opinion Jack was ready to live at home although he would need therapy sessions three times a week for a time yet. Major Wendover was adamant that Jack begin to work on his rehab daily and learn how to live with being blind. But none of them were standing with Daniel, Jack, and a nurse in the middle of a parking lot.

"Will you give me your bag, Jack?" Daniel squatted in front of the chair. "I'll put it in the trunk." He was relieved when Jack handed the bag to him. The nurse had already wheeled Jack to the passenger side door by the time Daniel tossed the duffel inside the trunk. Jack was leaning forward in his wheelchair, his hands skimming over the door, searching for the handle. Daniel shook his head at the nurse when she went to open the door and gave a small smile when Jack managed to open it on his own.

"Let Nurse Bailey and me help you into the car, Jack, okay?" Daniel waited until Jack nodded before they helped him to shift into the passenger seat.

Daniel closed the door and smiled at the nurse who'd been so helpful during Jack's slow convalescence. She smiled back and Daniel was sure she was wiping her eyes as she walked back into the mountain.

* * * * *

Jack was terrified. He'd been in Daniel's car as a passenger more than once. He'd even traveled from the mountain in a half doze, keeping his eyes closed for most of the journey. But this, this was different. His eyes were open this time, fully open and he couldn't see a fucking thing. He could feel his heart pounding; hear the sound of his own harsh breathing. Maybe this was all a nightmare and he'd wake up in the infirmary and Doc would tell him he'd been really sick and he'd been having bad dreams. Maybe Hannara had just been a part of some drug induced hallucination from some concoction he'd unknowingly ingested in some ceremony Daniel insisted SG-1 attend. Jack pushed at his sunglasses and rubbed fiercely at his eyes, holding them open and seeing only a world of light gray. The car swerved slightly and Jack felt his stomach churn. It wasn't a nightmare, it was real. Oh God, oh God, he couldn't do this.

"Danny," he heard his voice come out in a pathetic whisper and swallowed the bile in his throat.

"Jack?" Daniel sounded alarmed and the car slowed. He heard the turn signal clicking and then the even rhythm of the emergency flashers as Daniel turned them on. The car shook as traffic sped past them.

"I'm gonna be..." Jack fumbled to find the door handle, hitting the door with his fist when he couldn't find it. "Open it, damn it, where's the handle?" He felt tears in his eyes and Daniel's weight as he leaned across Jack and pushed open the door. Jack undid his seat belt and twisted sideways in the seat, bracing his hands on the door frame as he began coughing. Bile surged in his throat and Jack leaned further out the door, hoping he wasn't hitting the car, his pants or his shoes. And then Daniel was there, outside the car, holding Jack's head, stroking his back.

"It's okay, Jack." Daniel's calm began to filter through Jack's distress. "It's okay."

"Sorry," Jack gasped finally, his throat and nose burning from the acid. He waved a hand. "Just sorry."

"Do you think we need to take you back to the infirmary?" Daniel asked. "Do you hurt somewhere?" A cool hand was pressed to Jack's forehead. "You don't seem to have a fever."

"No. Want to go home." Jack rested his head on the back of the seat, closing his eyes again. "Just...the drive, not knowing where I am, just...scared," he finally admitted.

"We're just on the outskirts of the Springs, Jack. We're about a mile from that gas station that you always say makes the best coffee even though you know they really don't." Daniel began talking, keeping up a gentle kneading of Jack's shoulders. He pressed a bottle into Jack's left hand. "It's water, rinse your mouth," Daniel tapped Jack's hand and Jack complied, picturing their surroundings in his mind. He swished the water in his mouth and then leaned forward and spit it out.

"You ready to go home?" Daniel rubbed his hand along Jack's thigh. "I'll drive the route you always do, and tell you where we are, okay?"

Jack nodded, letting Daniel help him put his legs back inside the car. Daniel was true to his word, keeping up a running commentary for the next half hour until they pulled into the driveway. Jack let go of the water bottle then. Daniel had faith in him; hell everyone seemed sure that Jack O'Neill would be able to live the rest of his life as a blind man. Too bad Jack didn't feel the same way. He pushed open the car door and managed to get out and stand on his own. Daniel came to his side, guiding Jack's hand to a spot right above his elbow when Jack couldn't seem to move. He let his fingers soak in Daniel's warmth, the strong muscles beneath his fingertips.

"Ready?" Daniel asked, his voice sure.

He'd trusted Daniel with his life time and again. Jack decided he'd need to trust him in this too.

"Yeah, Daniel. I'm ready." Jack wished he could believe in himself even half as much as Daniel did.

* * * * *

"Okay, Jack, just two steps down. That's good." Daniel felt Jack's grip tighten as they stepped into the living room. Jack's near panic attack in the car had scared Daniel too. He'd promised Jack they'd make it through this, that Jack would be able to live a new life. Daniel squashed down his own fears for the moment. "Gwen said she'd be over at two. It's almost nine now. Do you want to listen to some music? Are you hungry? Do you want to take a shower?" Daniel rattled off as many possibilities as he could think of.

"I'm tired," Jack whispered and Daniel studied Jack's face, noting the lines of tension in Jack's forehead. The morning had been extremely stressful for Jack, Daniel knew and Jack's stamina, while improving, still had a long way to go.

"You want to lie down in our bedroom?" Daniel asked and then began walking in that direction when Jack gave a nod. He coaxed Jack up the first step towards the bedroom and began the second step when he felt Jack stumble behind him. It happened so quickly Daniel didn't have time to prevent the fall. He winced at the sound of Jack's knees hitting the wooden stair.

"Here Jack." Daniel knelt down beside him, his arm coming around Jack's waist. "You okay?"

"Stop it." Jack pushed at Daniel's hand. "Just stop it." Daniel withdrew his arm and moved away a slight distance watching as Jack spread his hands on the stairs. Jack waved one hand in the air, searching for the railing and gripping it so hard his knuckles turned white. He pulled himself to his feet and put both hands on the rail.

"Ready?" Daniel asked. "I'm sorry, Jack. I was going too fast." When there was no response to his question, Daniel touched Jack's shoulder, another mistake. Jack let go of the rail with one hand and struck out in fear and confusion. Daniel pressed against the wall, waiting until Jack's breathing calmed once more. "Jack?"

"No. Don't help. Don't," Jack muttered. He slid his hands up the railing and slowly lifted one foot to the next step bringing his other foot up to join it. The progress was halting and slow but any attempts Daniel made to help were rebuffed. So Daniel followed behind, his hands hanging useless at his sides, thinking when Jack got to the top of the stairs Jack would take his arm again. But stubborn as Jack was, he held one hand flat on the wall, shuffling along the hall until his fingers met the doorjamb to the bedroom.

"Danny?" If Daniel hadn't been behind Jack he wouldn't have heard the lost whisper. "This is the bedroom right?"

Swallowing hard, Daniel managed to speak. "Yeah, Jack. Yeah it's the bedroom."

Jack nodded and pushed away from the door, walking into the open space with his hands held before him. Looking over Jack's shoulder, Daniel could see there was nothing to trip Jack or hinder his progress. He bit his tongue when he wanted to give directions. Jack stopped, turning left and taking a step. He shook his head and took two steps back and turned right then shook his head again.

"Jack?"

"Fuck!" Jack yelled as Daniel stepped closer. Jack's body was vibrating with tension. "I can't even find my damn bathroom." He reached out, his waving hands coming in contact with Daniel's shoulders.

Daniel covered Jack's hands with his, concerned at how cold those hands were. "Let me help, Jack."

Jack slid a hand down Daniel's arm to rest above his elbow. "Bathroom."

"Okay." Daniel began walking, conscious of Jack's hesitant steps. He stopped before the bathroom door and placed Jack's hand on the doorknob, watching as long fingers explored the metal. Jack opened the door and Daniel followed one step behind.

"A little to your left, Jack," Daniel murmured, smiling when Jack found the sink.

"I'll be okay from here, Daniel," Jack said, his voice hoarse. "I'll be okay."

"I'll wait right outside," Daniel promised. He stepped through the door, closing it, and leaning against it in relief. His own hands were shaking. He shut his eyes and prayed for strength. Finding the small bit of Jack's ever present dogtag in his pocket, Daniel rubbed it, relaxing as the metal warmed from his body heat.

The sound of flushing and then water running warned him Jack was ready. Daniel straightened as the door opened. Jack looked worn out and Daniel was worried when Jack took his arm without comment. Daniel guided him to the bed.

"You want to get undressed?" Daniel sat on the bed beside Jack as his lover curled up on his side. Jack shook his head. Daniel stroked Jack's hair and then took off Jack's sunglasses so they didn't get bent.

"What do they look like?" Jack asked in a small voice.

"Your glasses?" Daniel placed them on the night table and began stroking Jack's hair again.

"My eyes. What do they look like?" Jack whispered. "Do they look blind?"

"Your eyes are beautiful. Brown just like always." Daniel bent to kiss Jack's temple and the small scar running to Jack's left ear. He sat up when Jack turned onto his back. He touched the fine lines at the corner of Jack's left eye. "When you turn towards people's voices, you don't make eye contact anymore. Your eyes don't focus." He stopped as Jack rested his fingers around his wrist.

"Is it ugly? Does it look ugly?" Jack shivered.

"No, no Jack. Not ugly, never ugly." Daniel toed off his shoes and stretched his own legs out on the bed. "No one thinks that." He wondered if these fears were some remnant of Jack's time as an outcast. He pulled Jack closer, rubbing circles on Jack's back, glad to feel more muscle was returning.

"I don't know if I can do this, Daniel."

"We'll do it together, Jack. I'll be here for you. We'll do it together." Daniel reached down and pulled up one of the folded blankets from the bottom of the bed. He covered Jack, smiling at the small sigh of thanks he received for the gesture. Jack's breathing soon slowed and Daniel slid out from under him so he could pull off Jack's shoes and socks. He studied the scar tissue crisscrossing the soles of Jack's feet, thinking of the pain Jack must have suffered. At least Jack had regained the ability to walk, the ability to speak. Jack muttered something in his sleep and Daniel resumed his position by Jack's side prepared to spend the rest of the morning guarding his lover's slumber.

* * * *

Jack smiled down at his sleeping lover. Sunlight turned some of Daniel's hair golden. The strain of the past months had put its stamp on his features. Even in rest, Daniel's mouth was pulled down into a frown and his forehead crinkled with stress. Jack touched tentative fingers to his lover's cheek brushing them over a cheekbone and searching for Daniel's lips. An eager mouth opened under his touch and Jack bent closer, tasting Daniel, chocolate and coffee and cinnamon toothpaste. Oh God, he'd missed him. He'd missed Daniel. Dreamed of seeing him again. But the doctors said he was blind. He wasn't. He wasn't. It wasn't true. He could see. He could. He couldn't be blind.

"Jack." Hands cupped his face and Daniel's voice intruded on his dream. "Jack, come on, buddy. Wake up." The strain in the beloved voice made Jack open his eyes although he didn't want to. Gray, his world was gray. No sunlight, no glimpse of Daniel's hair, his eyes, his face, no muted colors of the crazy quilt Daniel bought a year or so ago in a thrift shop. His stomach lurched. Panicking, Jack rolled from the bed, trying to remember his position in the room. He took a few steps forward, cursing under his breath when his toes came in bruising contact with the chair Daniel always tossed his clothes on. Okay, chair, chair is by the closet, closet is near the bathroom door. Jack reached out a hand, relieved to feel smooth wood beneath it. Ignoring Daniel's continued calling of his name, Jack kept one hand on the wall and shuffled his feet. His hand met the hinges of the door and he moved across in front of it, opening it, and taking the few steps to the toilet. He got on his knees, dry heaving, his breath coming in gasps between bouts.

"Here." Daniel took Jack's hand, curled his fingers around a cup. Jack drank as the cup was tipped to his mouth. "Better?" Daniel asked, his voice calm and soothing.

Jack shifted, resting his head on the cool tiles of the bathroom wall. "Better." He held the cup out, not sure of Daniel's position, sighing when it was taken from his hands. "What time is it?"

"You have on your watch, Jack," Daniel answered. Jack heard him move away and the sound of the plastic cup being rinsed.

With trembling fingers, Jack pressed the button on his watch. A mechanical voice informed him it was eleven thirty three. Rubbing at his forehead and then his eyes, Jack took a few deep breaths. He put out a hand and grasped the edge of the tub before pulling himself up. Get a grip O'Neill, he thought. You survived on Hannara for how many months? Surely you can cope with this if you're surrounded by people you know. He leaned against the wall, tucking his hands under his armpits trying to get them warm again.

"My glasses? Are my dark glasses here, Daniel?" He wished he could stop shivering. As if his wish had been spoken aloud, Daniel came closer and ran his hands up Jack's arms, rubbing them briskly.

"You don't need to wear your glasses for me, Jack," Daniel said. Jack wondered what Daniel's expression was. Was he sad? Confused? He couldn't tell from the calm voice. "God, Jack, you're like ice. You want to take a bath or shower?"

Jack hesitated. The therapists had helped him in the infirmary. He didn't want Daniel to see his body naked and exposed.

"Janet suggested we get a chair. That way you can sit to shower. You don't have to worry about your legs."

Face burning, Jack ducked his head. He could imagine what the chair looked like, remembered one his mother had to use after her stroke. Helpless, dependent, he should have died on Hannara. It would have been better for Daniel, allowed him to go on with his life.

"Jack?"

"Shower sounds good, Daniel," Jack managed to say. He stepped away from the wall, moving over to sit on the closed toilet lid. He listened to the sounds as Daniel pulled out towels from the cabinet, brought in the chair from somewhere and placed it in the tub with a grunt, and finally the sound of the shower.

"Okay, Jack. It's all ready. You need some help getting undressed?" Daniel asked. Jack shook his head and pulled off the sweatshirt and sweatpants he was wearing. He stood, pushing down his boxers and stepping out of them. He held out his hand, hating that he needed help to get into his own bathtub for crying out loud.

"You're fine, Jack. Just lift your left leg. That's it, just a little higher." Daniel's hands were steady on his arm, supporting and strong. Jack felt for the chair and sat on it in relief, not wanting to admit his legs were shaky, whether from fear or exhaustion or a mixture of both he wasn't sure. Warm water splashed on his feet, Daniel evidently had the spray coming out of the hand held unit.

"The shampoo is on the floor by your left foot, shower gel on the right side of the stool. Just reach down your hand; you should be able to feel it." Daniel waited until Jack tested for the items. "I'm going to go get you some clean clothes and put on some soup for us. You gonna be okay?"

"I can take a damn shower by myself, Daniel," Jack spat out, anger the only way he could deal with his fear at the moment.

"Yeah, I know, Jack." Daniel sighed and Jack heard the door close softly behind him.

Leaning forward, Jack swept his hand to the left, grabbing hold of the shampoo bottle. He placed it on the seat beside him and felt for the grab bar in the shower, using it to pull himself to his feet. Daniel would be having kittens if he knew Jack was standing when he should be sitting but Jack needed to find the hand held attachment. Besides, the other shower head worked better anyway. Keeping one hand on the grab bar, he reached out towards the wall with the other, smiling to himself when he found the shower head. He pulled out the button that switched the spray to overhead and sighed as warm water cascaded over him. It was the first real shower he could remember since before he was taken. He reached back for the shampoo, swearing when it fell off the chair. Jack moved his foot, feeling for the bottle. There it was. He bent over and picked it up, realizing he was going to have to let go of the grab bar in order to properly wash his hair. Except for the stumble on the stairs earlier, his legs tended to be steady unless he was overly tired. Squeezing a small amount of shampoo into his hand, Jack tossed the bottle back onto the floor and began scrubbing his hair. It was slightly shorter than it had been before the mission where he'd been taken. He couldn't remember much of those first few days back in the infirmary but he did remember his head being shorn of the matted hair. At least he usually washed his hair with eyes closed.

For awhile, standing there with the water sluicing over his head, he could pretend he could see. Sighing, Jack rinsed his hair and took a step in the tub, half turning to get the hand held attachment before preparing to soap the rest of his body, forgetting about the chair and the shampoo bottle he'd tossed onto the floor. Arms flailing as he slipped and began to fall, Jack was unable to find the hand rail. He bit his tongue as he hit the porcelain bottom, his head coming forward and impacting with the chair's edge. Water beat down on his head and he could taste blood.

"Jack? Oh God, Jack!" Daniel's shout sounded from the hall and pounding feet heralded Daniel's entrance to the bathroom. "Jack? Jack, you okay?" Shaking hands held his head steady. The water was turned off and Jack began to shiver as air hit his wet skin.

"Stupid," Jack said, his hands closing on the stool. The supposed anti slip strips bit into the naked skin of his thigh. He batted at Daniel, who was touching his face. "Stop it."

"You're bleeding, Jack," Daniel said, ignoring him. Jack touched a finger to his forehead and brought it before his eyes before he realized he wouldn't be able to see the blood. "What happened?"

"I slipped. I was washing my hair and I slipped on the damn shampoo bottle." Jack grabbed hold of Daniel's arms and used them to lever himself upright.

"Wait," Daniel guided him out of the tub and to the toilet seat, "how did you manage to do this if you were sit...Jack, you were supposed to sit on the chair." The voice turned cold and disapproving.

"I'm a grown man, Daniel. I think I should be able to stand up and take a shower and wash my hair without having to sit down like an invalid."

"Jack, your legs still aren't strong enough. Look at what happened on the steps." Antiseptic spray stung Jack's forehead.

"Geez, warn a blind guy why don'tcha?" Jack grumbled. He refrained from rubbing his left hip which was beginning to hurt.

"Maybe you should have remembered that in the tub," Daniel said. A bandage was applied to the cut. "Damn it, Jack, you could have killed yourself."

"I didn't." Jack caught Daniel's hand, more luck than skill. "I didn't kill myself. You don't know what it's like."

"No, I don't know, Jack." Daniel's voice went very quiet. A fluffy towel was placed on Jack's lap. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"

"Just my pride, Daniel," Jack sighed. He waved a hand in the air. "I'll dry off and get dressed."

"Call me when you're ready to come downstairs," Daniel said. Jack nodded but he thought Daniel might already be out the door and didn't see the gesture.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Jack forced himself to do some of the deep breathing Doctor Mackenzie had taught him. He picked up the towel after a few minutes, starting to dry himself off. The towel fell to the floor as his fingers encountered the scar tissue crisscrossing his torso, thin stripes of smooth skin. He ran his hands down his legs, hating how skinny they felt, muscles still not filling them out. There were deep lines that ran the length of his shin bones. Jack still hadn't remembered what caused those. Mostly dry, he carefully placed the towel over the tub's side and made his way to the bedroom, walking to the bed without thought, something he'd done waking up in the middle of the night to relieve himself and finding the bathroom and then his bed half asleep.

He sat down on the bed patting around its' surface for the clothes Daniel said he'd placed there. Jack pulled on a pair of boxers and then the Tshirt and sweatshirt. He stood up to pull on the sweatpants and felt for the rolled up socks. Jack rested an ankle over his knee. He skimmed his fingers over the sole of his foot. Scars met his touch. He could remember the days spent alone and cold on the streets of Hannara, days when he'd stumbled along still trying to force uncooperative legs to move. He remembered the other outcasts who pulled glass over his feet so he wouldn't come into their territory and spread the wasting sickness among them. Seemed there were outcasts among the outcasts.

Not liking the path his thoughts were taking, Jack pulled on his socks in jerky motion. He found his sneakers and slipped them on, tying them securely. If he fell again, Daniel would probably blame him for that. One last thing, Jack thought. He patted the night table, closing his fingers over his dark glasses and feeling less naked when he put them on. Jack made his way to the bedroom door and down the hall towards the steps. He stopped at the top of them, his heart pounding when he thought of walking down them in the dark.

"Daniel," he called, hating himself, hating his need. "Daniel. I'm ready."

* * * * *

"Major Wendover said we'll practice more in the house and the yard tomorrow. She said she expects me to give you lessons each night when you get home." Jack's voice was low in the darkness of the bedroom. Daniel let Jack's words wash over him, too exhausted to even reply to Jack's recounting of his therapy session. Jack hadn't wanted Daniel in the house while he had his first lessons on finding his way around and using a cane. So Daniel had gone to the grocery store, stocking up on all of Jack's favorite foods and then stopping by Sam's to ask her and Teal'c over for a meal sometime next week. When he got home, Jack was stretched out on the sofa sound asleep and Major Wendover followed Daniel into the kitchen to discuss some of the new things Jack and Daniel would need to remember. Little things like keeping everything in its own special place, making sure the floors were kept clean of debris. His face still burned with embarrassment when he recalled her asking how Jack had gotten cut on his forehead. She hadn't said anything to make him think he'd done anything wrong, but Daniel vowed to himself he'd be keeping a closer eye on Jack.

Laundry done, groceries put away, Daniel began working on a report only to have Jack awaken from a nightmare confused and shaking. Jack wouldn't talk about it, only saying it was something better off forgotten. Their supper was eaten in silence, Jack concentrating on his food, Daniel lost in thoughts of Jack alone and beaten on Hannara.

He had to finish his report by eight tomorrow, Daniel knew. He rolled over to check the alarm, noting he'd set it for three. More than enough time to finish it. Jack took longer to get ready so if he woke him at six, Jack would be able to eat breakfast before they had to leave for the mountain. Jack could go to his physical therapy and then Major Wendover had offered to bring him home for his rehab session there. Daniel rubbed at his eyes in the dark, listening to Jack's soft snores. He stared up at the ceiling, realizing that even in the darkness of the room he could see the moonlight, something now stolen from Jack.

Turning on his side towards Jack, Daniel threw one arm over Jack's chest, feeling the thrum of Jack's heart under his hand, and closing his eyes hoping he could sleep without dreaming.

* * * *

"You're doing very well, sir."

Jack grunted in response to Major Wendover's encouragement. He sure as hell didn't think he was doing very well. He couldn't even walk around the damn house on his own, but Wendover insisted that he begin to walk through the rooms with her, getting reacquainted with his surroundings. The physical therapists insisted he didn't need the walker any longer but he still wasn't able to manage a long distance without getting fatigued. She'd brought him a cane the other day, having him test it for length and giving him a beginning lesson on how to use it. He'd walked the length of the living room before fatigue set in and he'd had to sit down on the sofa to rest. The cane was going to have to wait until Jack was steadier on his feet. For now, he had to rely on getting through the halls of the SGC holding onto Daniel's arm or, more frequently, Major Wendover's.

Muttering under his breath as he counted his steps, Jack reached the end of the kitchen.

"Where are you, Colonel O'Neill?" Wendover asked, another one of her tests.

"Door," Jack answered. He stood still, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight on his face. He placed his palm flat on the glass, his heart aching.

"...outside, sir?" Wendover's voice floated to him and Jack pulled himself out of his maudlin thoughts to focus on her words.

"Sir?" She spoke again. "I asked if you would like to go outside."

His heart started pounding at the thought of venturing into his backyard. He'd been outside of course while walking to the car to go to the SGC and his therapy sessions, but outside in the expanse of his yard, in the alien world it had become, he wasn't so sure. But still, the sun felt nice. He wasn't even sure of the season and was ashamed to ask because he should be able to figure it out. Jack took a deep breath and wiped his hand on his pants. "Yeah, Wendover. I would." He turned to face her as he spoke and brought a hand up to his face to check his glasses. He kept them on all the time, not wanting others to see his eyes.

"Open the door, Colonel," Wendover said standing close beside him, ready to assist if he needed it but he found the latch without much difficulty and slid the door open. He fumbled as he searched for Wendover's arm and gripped it tightly when he found it.

It was breezy and warm. Jack stopped when they stood on the deck. He put out a hand to the side, hunting for the picnic table and sighed when he touched the rough surface.

"Would you like to sit for awhile, sir, or should we go into the yard?"

He was, no scratch that, he had been a colonel in the United States Air Force, Special Ops. He'd faced Goa'uld and not batted an eye and here he was afraid of his own backyard, damn it. Jack clenched his hand into a fist. "Yard," he whispered, unable to find enough spit to make his voice louder.

They took a few steps and his hand was placed on the railing.

"Nice and slow, Colonel," Wendover said as she took the first step. Jack felt for the riser with his foot, using all his concentration to navigate the few steps that led down to the grass. But it wasn't enough.

He shouldn't have taken it for granted, Jack cursed at himself. He should have known he wouldn't manage to walk in the yard without screwing up. Jack pushed himself up and licked his lips, tasting blood from where his tooth had scraped his lip and grass from where his face had impacted with the ground. He waved his hand in the air, searching for Wendover's arm. Her hands came around his arm, his waist and helped him regain his feet.

"I want to go back inside." Jack bit out the words.

"Colonel," her voice held a warning note.

"I said inside." Jack could feel his hands shaking. "Inside now."

"Yes sir." She began leading him back to the house. Jack kept his head down, something Wendover usually chided him for.

Falling on the grass like a little kid. Jack concentrated on counting steps and breathing. They made it back inside the kitchen and Jack felt alarm when Wendover stepped away from him.

"Let's go into the living room, sir. I'd like to talk to you."

"Your arm." Jack reached out.

"You can make it, sir. I'll be right by your side, but you can make it." Wendover sounded surer of his abilities than Jack felt.

He took one step towards the living room and wondered if he could live on the couch for the rest of his life.

Stretched out on the sofa a short time later, Jack pulled the afghan down over his legs, not wanting Wendover to see how they were trembling.

"Sir, I know this is extremely difficult for you."

"You do? You blind, Wendover?"

"I'm not. You know that. But I want you to know you are going to fall, sir. You are going to fall again and going to walk into things and probably scream in frustration. And that's okay. You have a right to be angry. But don't give up, sir. You are making tremendous progress. You are getting stronger every day. You had a long PT session this morning. Fatigue can affect your concentration, sir."

"Wendover?" Jack rubbed at his forehead.

"Yes sir?"

"Just tell me the truth. Tell me that I'm going to learn to live with this." Jack hoped he was looking at her face.

"I can't, sir. You need to make that decision for yourself." She was silent a long time after her statement.

"It's so damn hard." Jack closed his eyes in fatigue.

"Yes, sir, it is."

"What time you coming tomorrow, Major?" Jack massaged his thigh, the muscles aching. "No PT, remember? Maybe my concentration will be better then."

"Oh eight hundred, sir." There was the sound of Wendover gathering her purse and other supplies. "I'll see you then."

Jack nodded and listened as she closed the door behind her. He pressed the button on his watch relieved to find it would only be a half hour until Daniel got home. Maybe they could order take-out for supper. He thought there might be a play-off game tonight. Tired beyond belief, Jack closed his eyes, dreaming of Daniel in the sunlight.

* * * *

"He shoots, he scores!" The announcer's voice rang with excitement as Daniel peered at the group of players assembled around the net.

"Who made the goal?" Jack demanded, squirming against Daniel as the over-excited announcer woke him up. Jack leaned blindly towards the television set. "Damn it Daniel, who scored?"

"Um, I'm not sure," Daniel replied, trying to remember who had last had control of the puck. His attention had wandered for a little while as Jack had fallen asleep but the cries of the announcer had woken Jack and reminded Daniel that he was supposed to be helping Jack 'see' the hockey game.

"Which team scored? Come one, give me a hand here."

"I think it was number sixty," Daniel supplied helpfully.

"Theodore? For crying out loud, he's the Canadian's goaltender." Jack relaxed once more against Daniel's chest as the announcer gave the credit for the goal to the Avalanche's Defenseman 'Smith', number six. Daniel kissed the top of Jack's head in apology.

"Sorry, it just happened too fast."

"Hmph," Jack snorted, his attention already on the impending face off.

Daniel sighed. It was bad enough to have to sit through a hockey game with Jack demanding what was happening every few seconds, as if he couldn't listen to the announcer's play by play. But Daniel kept dozing off alongside Jack and could never seem to catch up with the game fast enough to satisfy Jack.

The two of them were lying on the couch with Jack comfortably ensconced between Daniel's legs. Daniel reached for a couple of potato chips from the bag lying on Jack's chest, feeding one to his lover before eating his own. He looked at the clock on the left of the screen, noting that there were only a few more minutes remaining in the third period. He reached for more chips and a soft snore from Jack indicated that he'd dropped off once more.

Good, maybe he'll sleep through the next several minutes and allow the game to end without Daniel having to bring him up to date between his little catnaps. Daniel smiled happily, glad to feel the familiar weight as they lay in their favorite positions on the couch.

Daniel watched the game without any real interest, marveling at how the referee and linesmen could easily jump out of the way of the fast-moving puck. He wondered how they could keep track of it there on the ice when he could barely do so from a bird's eye view. Bored, he closed his eyes and let the droning voice lull him to sleep.

"What? What's happening now?" Jack demanded as the noise level suddenly increased. Mentally cursing himself for not having lowered the volume, Daniel opened his eyes and looked at the TV screen.

"They're not playing," Daniel sighed. "They're fighting."

"A fight? Who started it? Who hit who? How many?"

"I don't know, Jack, they're all over the ice." And they were; a dozen players from both teams were going at it all in various spots on the rink with other team members trying to break the fighters up and then getting caught up in the melee themselves. Gloves, helmets, and even jerseys littered the ice as men bared knuckles and rid themselves of their accumulated aggressions.

"Damn it," Jack groused, levering himself off of Daniel and sitting up, forcing Daniel to move over to give Jack room for his legs. The bag of chips fell off his chest and scattered bits of the yellow snack all over the couch and floor. Daniel sighed at the mess but kept his mouth shut.

Jack was leaning forward, elbows balanced on knees, head cocked to the side as he listened attentively. Daniel wondered why the fans reacted so passionately to the violence. It was like the old joke, 'I was watching a fight, then a hockey game started'.

"I think someone swung their hockey stick at someone else," Daniel supplied.

"High sticking?" Jack asked over his shoulder.

"Um, yeah, I think so. Or maybe it was tripping?"

"Shhhh."

"Oh, they're picking up their stuff and one of the guys is being physically pushed back into the penalty box," Daniel said. "He's mouthing off like there's no tomorrow."

"Who is it?"

"Um... number eleven?" Daniel couldn't quite make out the number on the player's jersey as it was bunched up around his ribs.

"Koivu? It can't be Koivu, he's not playing tonight. Is it Nikolishin?"

"Um, no, that's not the name that's on the jersey."

"Well, what name do you see? What color's the jersey?" Jack asked irritably as he leaned back against the couch in frustration, then perking up again as the penalty was announced to Battaglia for high sticking.

"Eleven? Daniel, how the hell could you mistake eleven for forty four?"

Daniel squinted at the screen and at the close up of the sweaty player sitting in the penalty box, happily squirting water into his mouth. Daniel could definitely see a forty four on his jersey now that he'd pulled it back down into place.

"Sorry," Daniel apologized once more. "At least the game's nearly over," he added.

"Huh? How can it be almost over? How many more minutes left?"

"We're talking seconds here, Jack. Like in thirty two."

"What? But we're in the second period, right?" Jack said as the crowd went wild and began counting down along with the clock.

"No, third. You slept through part of the game, remember?"

"I did not."

"Did too."

"Didn't."

"Did."

"Didn... ah shit, it's over," he complained as the siren went off and the counter reached zero. "The Montreal Canadians won, didn't they?"

Daniel nodded, then remembered that Jack couldn't see him. "Yes, they did. But the Colorado Avalanche put up a pretty good game." He clicked the television off, the silence feeling strange for a few seconds.

Daniel pulled Jack back into their original position on the couch. He smiled as Jack slid callused hands over his arms. Jack settled back with Daniel's arms pulled around his abdomen.

"This is nice," Jack said with a sigh as he twined his fingers in Daniel's.

"Yeah." Daniel yawned, then realized he had to finish the translations he'd brought home and which he'd abandoned when Jack had asked him to sit through the hockey game with him. He wanted to groan, realizing he had a good two or three hours' more work before heading for bed. Jack was half asleep in his arms. Damn. He needed to try and convince Jack to go to bed now so Daniel could finish his work without interruptions. He'd be nearly finished now if he'd worked instead of lying here with Jack for the past two and a half hours.

"Come on, Jack, let's get you to bed," Daniel said as he sat up, pulling Jack's body into a seated position.

"Mmmp," Jack complained, followed by a yawn.

Daniel stood up then helped Jack stand. With his arm wrapped around Jack's waist, he led the unsteady man into their bedroom.

"I want a bath," Jack stated, turning towards the bathroom.

Daniel sighed. He really wanted Jack in bed and sleeping so he could get his work finished and then get some sleep himself.

"You're tired, Jack," Daniel said. "Why not wait until tomorrow?"

"I want to soak, my legs hurt," Jack grumped.

"Shit, why didn't you say so?" Daniel said worriedly, thoughts of his work totally forgotten as he sat Jack down on the side of their bed. "Do you need your pills?"

Jack had had a very difficult PT session late this afternoon which was one of the reasons why Jack had been so tired this evening. He hadn't thought that Jack had been in pain but he should have known better.

"No, they're just achy. Nothing a hot soak won't help with." As Jack stripped his sweatshirt from his back, Daniel went to run the water for the bath. He returned and helped Jack stand and remove his pants.

He looked at Jack's naked body a moment noting that, although he was still too thin, his body was beginning to fill out a bit. His legs were still shriveled-looking but the muscle tone had improved two hundred fold since he'd come home. His ankles were nearly in their proper alignment and, although he couldn't quite get around on his own, he could manage fairly well around the house with Daniel's help.

Daniel took a few minutes to massage Jack's legs and Jack's groans told him that his ministrations were helping. He helped Jack into the bathroom, then into the tub.

"Don't fall asleep," Daniel cautioned as Jack closed his eyes, knowing that his words were falling on deaf ears.

"Mmmm hmmm," Jack replied with a smile as he relaxed in the hot water.

"I'll be back in a little while, okay? I just need to go take care of a few things," Daniel said. Jack waved him away so Daniel went back into the living room and cleaned up the spilled chips. He put the empty cans of soft drinks into the recycling bin and prepared a pot of coffee for later.

Figuring Jack had soaked long enough, Daniel went back to the bathroom.

"Jack, wake up," Daniel said, putting a hand on Jack's warm, wet shoulder.

Jack's reaction was totally unexpected. He began flailing and splashing in the tub, interspersing grunts and yells. Water flew everywhere as Jack slipped, unable to find purchase.

"Jack! Jack! Calm down!" Daniel yelled, trying to grab Jack before he hurt himself on the ceramic tub. Finally Daniel managed to put his hands under Jack's shoulders and heaved him out of the tub, both of them falling onto the carpeted bathroom floor.

Jack stopped struggling once he was out of the water and Daniel held Jack's shaking body close to him. "It's okay, it's okay," Daniel crooned, realizing that Jack had woken up totally disoriented. He should have known better than to let Jack fall asleep somewhere unfamiliar at this point.

"Danny?" Jack whispered against Daniel's neck.

"Yeah. You all right?" He pulled back to look at Jack, who nodded at Daniel's question. Daniel grabbed the towel he'd put aside earlier and wrapped Jack in it once he'd gotten him seated on the closed toilet seat cover.

"Where are we?" Jack asked in a small voice.

"Bathroom. You fell asleep in the tub," Daniel said as he began drying Jack with the towel.

"Thought I was drowning. I didn't know... sorry."

Daniel stopped and hugged Jack's shivering body close to him. "It's okay. I should have known better to wake you up like that." He rubbed his hands up and down Jack's still-boney back.

"I hate this, Daniel. I hate not being able to..."

"Shhh, it's okay, you're doing so much better. You're just tired. Remember, the doctors said it would take a while."

Jack took a deep breath. "I know."

Daniel finished drying him off and then helped him back to the bedroom. Jack was quiet and compliant, something which worried Daniel a bit as he bundled him up into his sweats and had him slide under the covers.

"You're not coming?" Jack asked softly as Daniel sat down beside him. Actually that was exactly what Daniel wanted to do... slide in beside Jack and go to sleep, but he had to go finish the translation.

"In a little while," Daniel replied as he leaned forward and nuzzled Jack's neck. "I have some work to finish, remember?" He felt Jack nod and he kissed the warm skin beneath him. "Go to sleep. I won't be long," Daniel lied.

He felt Jack relax beneath him and Daniel ignored the ache in his back from the awkward position, waiting for Jack to fall asleep before getting up. He showered a few more kisses before lying his head against Jack's shoulder, listening to him breathe. Daniel now had to go clean the bathroom before hitting the translations. He took a few deep breaths, his fingers unconsciously playing with the metallic chain looped around his fingers, trying to recharge himself for the work that was awaiting him. He sat up when Jack was breathing deeply and looked at his lover a moment, the sight of him relaxed and comfortable was going to have to sustain Daniel through the next few hours.

- - - - - -

The translations ended up taking longer than he'd expected and Daniel slipped into bed with a raging headache. The coffee hadn't done a great job in keeping him alert and he'd had to struggle to finish the last few pages. He'd taken some Tylenol but the pills hadn't done much to relieve the headache and the burning pain in his neck and shoulders.

Daniel tensed his shoulders and then relaxed them, trying to ease the tightness. Taking a deep breath he turned onto his side facing his lover. Jack had his back to Daniel. Daniel slipped closer to Jack so they were just touching.

"What time is it?" Jack asked.

"Sorry, did I wake you?" Daniel replied, laying a kiss on Jack's nape and trying to circumvent the question.

"No, I heard you in the bathroom. What time is it?" he repeated as he turned to face Daniel. "The last time I checked it was after one."

"It's after two," Daniel admitted, but not revealing that it was closer to three than two.

"Daniel," Jack said in a chastising voice. Instead of answering, Daniel simply snuggled against Jack. He was beginning to relax, his work for the day finished, and the man he loved was lying beside him. He listened to Jack breathing; God how he'd missed that sound. He shifted slightly in the bed, making himself comfortable. He knew he'd be asleep in just a minute...

"They dumped me in a room full of water," Jack suddenly said in a whisper. Daniel dragged himself from the edge of sleep and suddenly his heart began to pound when he realized what Jack was saying.

"They tied me up and threw me in a room full of water. For three days, with my hands tied behind my back, I had to stay awake or else I'd drown. The room was dark and circular, there was no place to sit or lie down and the water came up nearly to my armpits."

Jack pulled away from Daniel, turning onto his back. "Twice I fell asleep despite my best efforts."

"So when you woke up in the tub earlier tonight..."

"I thought for a moment I was back in that room."

"God, Jack. I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have let you go to sleep there-"

"How the hell were you supposed to know? Besides, I knew full well when I got into that bathtub that I'd be asleep in no time, I just never expected that kind of flashback. I guess it won't be the last time either."

"I'm sorry," Daniel said. The words felt inadequate and Daniel blinked back tears. As happy as he was to have Jack back with him, he wished once again that he'd been able to convince General Hammond to allow him to return to the planet where they had believed Jack to have died. Maybe there he would have found a clue indicating that Jack was still alive and where he'd been sent. He felt he could have prevented all of Jack's pain.

Jack's hand fumbled against Daniel's cheek then gently moved up to his eyes. A finger unerringly wiped his eyelids before the hand moved to the back of his head. Gentle pressure pulled Daniel forward and he relaxed, allowing his head to fall against Jack's chest.

"Don't," Jack simply said. Daniel nodded, knowing Jack knew Daniel felt guilty for everything. They hadn't really talked about it. Maybe they would soon if Jack was beginning to feel he could now confide in Daniel.

* * * * *

* * * *

"Sergeant Siler said he thinks he'll be able to finish the repairs in my lab by Tuesday," Carter concluded her tale of woe. Jack was sitting close enough to Daniel to hear a low chuckle from him before he said in a serious tone, "I'm sorry to hear that, Sam. But at least no one was hurt."

Carter's sigh was loud. "No, at least no one was hurt."

"Jack?" Daniel moved closer, his hand touching Jack's arm. "Do you want some more chicken?"

Jack shook his head. He was tired. The others didn't understand how much effort it took to listen to all their voices, trying to figure out if the words were said in jest or seriousness while attempting to put the food in his mouth without spilling it all over his front. He hated this. Hated that he was a grown man and Daniel had to cut his meat for him because he hadn't learned how yet. Hated that he had to feel for food on his plate because sometimes he just didn't know where the hell it was. Jack moved his hands away from his plate and rested them on his thighs, curling them into tight fists. His fingernails dug into his palms, the pain telling him he was still alive. Chairs scraped back and footsteps sounded on the kitchen floor.

"I will take your plate, O'Neill," Teal'c offered. Jack nodded and listened to the clatter of silverware as it was placed in the dishwasher. The cleaning up went on around him while he sat useless. He wondered just why it was the universe had decreed Jack O'Neill should be found. He couldn't help thinking it might have been best for all concerned if Daniel had never wanted to walk through the market on Hannara.

Carter was wrapping up the leftovers and she was standing close enough that he could smell her perfume over the herbs Daniel always insisted on putting on chicken. Jack lifted his hand reaching towards the sound of crinkling aluminum foil. His fingers brushed against her hand and he closed his fingers around her wrist needing to ground himself by touching someone, something.

"Sir?"

He could feel her pulse, strong, steady.

"Is something wrong, sir?" Carter sounded confused. "Do you need something? Do you want help?"

Jack shook his head and dropped his hand away. "Sorry, Carter." He ducked his head. His face felt hot.

"Jack?" He should have known Carter's questions would bring Daniel to his side. If he leaned back, Daniel's hand would be pressed between the chair and his shoulder blades. "You okay?"

"Fine." Jack shifted and felt Daniel's hand resting warm and heavy on his back. "Just tired."

"Let's go into the living room," Daniel moved his hand down Jack's arm, helping him to stand. Jack kept a hand on the back of the chair until he felt stronger. Daniel was slightly in front of him and his arm bumped Jack's.

"No." Jack pushed it away, feeling angry. "I can do it myself.'" He was a grown man; he'd lived in the house for close to 8 years. He was capable of finding his own way to his living room. It had been one of his first lessons at home with Major Wendover, rediscovering his surroundings, building a new mental map of the alien landscape that used to be his home. He was glad Daniel hadn't been there wanting to help, allowing Jack to lean on him. He was glad Daniel hadn't been there to hear his screams at Wendover when he couldn't find the damn bathroom even though he knew exactly where it was. The house was now familiar. He knew how many steps it was from the sofa to the steps, from the bed to the closet, from the kitchen to the recliner, and all other variations and permutations of any possible place he wanted to visit in the confines of his home. Major Wendover had already warned him they were venturing into the neighborhood on Monday. Jack hadn't told Daniel. He knew Wendover kept Daniel informed; gave Daniel his own sort of training of how to be a guide for Jack. But so far he'd managed to keep her away from allowing Daniel to be in any of his other training.

Seventeen steps, Jack knew. Seventeen with a step down on the sixth. Jack began counting under his breath, aware of Daniel just behind him. Thank God Carter and Teal'c had already gone to the living room. He thought they'd gone to the living room. God he hoped they weren't behind him, watching his slow progress. He wondered if he'd begged Teal'c to kill him those first days he'd lain helpless in the infirmary if the Jaffa would have complied, a coup de grace to a fallen comrade. Damn, Jack bit his lip. All his mental meandering and now he didn't know where he was.

"Five," Daniel said behind him. "You're about to take five."

Jack nodded, unable to say thanks, anger at his failure swelling for a moment before he started to count again.

Safe and sound. Jack sighed as he felt the couch a few minutes later and sat on the cushions. There was a squeak as Daniel sat down beside him.

"Sir?" Carter sounded nervous, unsure of herself. "I wasn't sure if you'd like these," there was a sound of something plastic sliding on the coffee table, "but I thought maybe you'd like some audio books."

Only his team knew how much he loved to read and Jack was strangely touched by Carter's consideration. "Thank you." Jack rubbed at his forehead. "Sorry, I'm not being the best of company."

"DoctorFraiser informed us you should not become overly fatigued, O'Neill," Teal'c said. "This day has been stressful for you."

Daniel slid his hand up to rub Jack's neck, a daring move considering that Carter and Teal'c were there. "Do you want some aspirin?"

"Nah." Jack shook his head, hating the sound of concern in Daniel's voice. "Okay. I'm okay." Daniel tightened his hand slightly and Jack leaned his head back into it. He closed his eyes and rested his head on the back of the couch.

Carter launched into a tale about Major Quentin's woes with his new car and Jack let her voice wash over him, not willing to make the effort to pay attention any longer. Daniel had started a fire in the fireplace and Jack enjoyed the heat from it. On Hannara his master, Roshail, enjoyed keeping his slaves in the cold and dark. He used to dream of fires. Jack shivered at the remembered cold and the afghan from the back of the couch gently covered his legs. He coughed as he swallowed wrong and fear lanced through him. What if he was getting sick again? What if he lost the use of his legs for good? He was losing himself again. His heart began pounding and his mouth went dry.

Daniel moved closer as if he sensed Jack's distress and Jack relaxed as he caught the scent of Daniel's hair. He was home, he was safe. Hannara was far away and he didn't need to ever go back there again. The sounds of his friends' voices filled the room, grounding him once more. He tuned into them again, noting the nuances in Carter's voice. He could hear her smiling and could imagine Teal'c's expression as he offered a comment. Daniel put in his two cents and Jack couldn't hold back a grin.

'What do you think, sir?" Carter asked.

Jack straightened from his slouch. He shifted trying to judge Carter's position. "Sorry. Wasn't paying attention," he admitted. His stomach growled. Jack put his hand over it. Mealtimes were stressful but he often was hungry when he went away from the table. "Excuse me, but I need to go to the kitchen."

"Jack?" Daniel patted Jack's thigh under the blanket. "What do you need? I'll get it." The springs on the sofa squeaked as Daniel moved to get up.

"No," Jack ordered. "I can do it myself. Just gonna get a snack." This was the first time Daniel had to really relax since Jack had come home. He wasn't going to ruin Daniel's fun by pulling him away from their friends.

"Okay," Daniel said slowly. "But you call me if you need..."

"I can do it, Daniel," Jack said again, more forcefully. He rose and stood for a moment mentally preparing himself for the journey to the kitchen.

Jack breathed out a loud sigh when he reached the safety of the kitchen counter. His fingers crept along the surface, searching for the bread box where Daniel had placed the leftover French bread. Jack smiled as he managed to open it and pull out the loaf. He wasn't about to try cutting the bread without supervision; he knew he was tired and his concentration was waning for the evening, but luckily he could tear a hunk of bread off the end and dip it in the peanut butter jar. He was just reaching for the peanut butter, third cupboard from the sink, lowest shelf, when there was a sound of rushing water and a whirring noise. Jack dropped to his knees.

The street cleaning machines were beginning their nightly cleaning of the market. He was so hungry, he'd found the loaf of bread and tonight no one was going to get it from him. Jack began crawling from the approaching machines, cursing his legs' weakness. He'd lost track of his surroundings, unsure of where he was. But he could hear voices not too far away, plotting to take his meager meal. On the streets it was every man for himself and Jack was determined to stay alive as long as he could, until this illness abated. He found a corner and huddled into it where no one would see him in the dark night.

* * * * * * *

"How's he doing, Daniel?" Sam asked a few minutes after Jack left the room. Daniel looked at his friends and saw not pity but concern.

"He's," Daniel rubbed at his eyes beneath his glasses and searched for the right word, "adjusting." He finally settled on that, hating the word and the finality it held. Much as he loved Sam and Teal'c there were some things he couldn't share with them, like the fact that Jack woke up most nights shaking and calling out in fear, or that Jack had to struggle with the most basic of tasks as he learned to live without his sight. It wasn't his right to share; it was up to Jack. But Jack had come so far in the weeks since he'd come home. Jack was walking on his own and regaining his strength. He was able to eat without help and was studying Braille on a daily basis. Jack had come so far. Granted he still had a long way to go, but Daniel knew the tremendous effort Jack put forth every day.

"O'Neill is a warrior, DanielJackson. He will be victorious in his battle," Teal'c said. Daniel looked at him, surprised by the admission. Of the three of them, he believed Teal'c struggled with Jack's new disability least. In the eyes of the Jaffa a wounded warrior was a dead one, but it shouldn't surprise him he supposed. Teal'c wasn't an ordinary Jaffa.

"Yes he will, Teal'c." Of that, Daniel had no doubt. He'd lost Jack once; he wasn't willing to let him go without a fight now.

Sam stood up, gathering the cups on the coffee table. "I'll take these out to the kitchen for you, Daniel. It's getting pretty late and I think Teal'c and I should be going. The colonel looked like he's getting tired."

"I can get them later, Sam." Daniel stood up too. He turned his head to yawn into his shoulder.

She shook her head. "My purse is in the kitchen. I'll put these in the sink, okay?"

"Thanks." He smiled at her and at Teal'c. "I'm glad you both came over. I think Jack thinks folks are forgetting him."

"We will arrange another visit, DanielJackson," Teal'c said. "And we will not forget O'Neill."

"No, Teal'c. I know you won't." Daniel smiled, grateful for Sam's and Teal'c's support, needing it as much now as he had those dark months when they believed Jack was dead.

"Sir?" Sam's voice floated to them from the kitchen, an almost strangled sound. Daniel was across the living room in a few steps nearly colliding with Sam as she backed out of the kitchen door.

"Sam?" Daniel could barely speak, his heart pounding, afraid she was going to tell him Jack was dead.

"Daniel, he..." Sam looked up at him, her eyes tear-filled. "He...I don't think he knows...sorry..."

"Teal'c?" Daniel looked at his friend who nodded and reached out to take Sam from him. He went past her into the kitchen and felt his heart sink as he took in the sight before him.

Jack was curled up in a corner of the kitchen, wedged between the stove and the refrigerator. He had a half loaf of French bread in his hands and was tearing it with his teeth, eating it as if he was starving.

"Jack?" Daniel whispered then realized Jack wouldn't hear him. He moved a little closer, crouching down just out of arm's reach. "Jack? You know where you are?"

"Stay away," Jack shouted. "Mine." He pulled the bread closer to his chest. "Mine." Jack reached out with one hand, pushing at invisible enemies.

"I know, Jack." Daniel kept his voice low, hoping he could break through to Jack but fearing he wouldn't be able to. "I don't want to take it. I want to help you. Let's get you up off the floor." He moved closer, hands outstretched.

"Mine," Jack yelled. He kicked out with a foot, luckily missing Daniel's ribs. Daniel retreated a few feet, unable to figure out what had triggered the flashback. He looked around the kitchen, then cursed under his breath for his stupidity. It wasn't going to be a visual trigger. He closed his eyes and listened, unable to hear anything but the dishwasher. It was worth a shot, he decided.

"Teal'c, turn off the dishwasher." Daniel pointed and nodded his thanks when the sound stopped. He inched closer to Jack. "Jack? It's me, Daniel. You're home, remember? Home." He could see Jack was trembling and was trying to hide the loaf of bread under his shirt. "We really need to get you up off the floor. Doctor Fraiser would have a fit." He doubted Jack was processing the words he was saying but his voice seemed to be having a somewhat calming effect. He was close enough to touch Jack's ankle and wondered if doing so would be wise. He decided not to, remembering a few nights ago when he'd touched Jack without warning while they listened to a hockey game on the radio.

"Jack, I'm right here. You're home. There's plenty of food, you don't need to worry," Daniel continued, watching as Jack's trembling lessened and the curled up body began to relax.

"Daniel?" Jack asked, his voice cracking. "Daniel?"

"Yeah, it's me, Jack." Daniel spoke softly, hoping Jack was finally back with them. "Jack, I'm going to touch you, okay?" He waited for a quick nod and then gently touched Jack's ankle, rubbing his hand up Jack's shin. "Can you give me the bread? Let me help you up?"

"Bread?" Jack sounded confused. He pushed away from his corner. "Daniel? Where are we?" He held out a hand and waved it in the air. Daniel caught it, not surprised to feel it was icy. "We're at home, Jack. In the kitchen." Daniel rubbed the hand between his own. "Here, let me help you up." Daniel stood and reached down to give Jack a hand. He held onto his lover as Jack tried to regain his footing.

"Bread, Daniel?" Jack pulled the loaf away from his body. "Daniel?" His voice held a hint of panic.

"Shh," Daniel soothed. "You just had a bit of a flashback. It's gonna be okay."

"No, I don't remember. Daniel, I don't remember coming in here." Jack was growing agitated.

"Daniel, we'd better go," Sam said from close behind him.

Shaking his head, Jack moved away from Daniel, sliding his hand along the refrigerator until he found the counter. He braced himself against it.

"Go, Sam. I'll call you tomorrow. But just go." Daniel didn't take his eyes off Jack wanting Sam and Teal'c gone, knowing Jack would be humiliated knowing they'd seen him in this state. He waited until he heard the front door close before he moved again.

"No, I should remember," Jack was muttering. "I should, Daniel."

"You're tired, Jack." Daniel stepped next to him, wrapping his arms around Jack. "Let's get you up to bed and then we can talk about it some more."

"Daniel." Jack leaned into him, his breath coming in hot bursts against Daniel's neck.

"Come on, Jack. You can lean on me." Daniel wrapped his arm around Jack's waist, guiding him through the kitchen and up the stairs. Their progress was slow and Jack's steps faltered now and again.

Sighing as he settled Jack on their bed, Daniel knelt down to remove Jack's shoes. He didn't like the passivity Jack was showing but he knew Jack was tired. He toyed with calling Janet, or even Mackenzie, but figured that for now sleep would be the best thing for Jack. He managed to get Jack undressed and tucked under the blankets before shedding his own jeans and sweater. He crawled into bed next to Jack, pulling him close and rubbing his hands on Jack's back.

"I was hungry," Jack whispered. "I was hungry and I never had enough to eat."

Daniel bit his lip, thinking of all the meals he'd eaten while Jack starved. "Tell me about it, Jack. You're safe and you will never be hungry again." Daniel held Jack in his arms and prepared to stay awake all night if that was what was necessary.

* * * * *

As tired as Daniel was these days, after months of sleeping alone it was taking a bit of getting used to having another body sharing the bed with him. Not that he begrudged the fact that he slept lightly in fear of disturbing Jack or in case Jack needed him during the night. A few months ago he never expected to have the man he loved lying beside him ever again. The sound of Jack's soft snores and his own particular scent tickling his nostrils would lull Daniel to sleep. But the still unfamiliar feel of the too-thin body beneath his hands often jarred him awake. Jack didn't quite *feel* right yet to Daniel's subconscious.

Tonight Daniel drifted off to sleep in Jack's arms for a change, relishing the sensation of having someone holding him, comforting him.

Hot, aching need woke him and he was intensely aware of his penis throbbing beneath Jack's hands. He moaned and raised his hands, roaming down Jack's thinner frame, wanting to reacquaint himself with it. Daniel slipped his hands inside Jack's sweats, discovering Jack's erection and sliding his fingers over it hungrily. Jack arched into Daniel's touch, his hands tightening momentarily over Daniel's cock.

"Feels so good, Jack," Daniel mumbled as Jack's hands stroked him, needing this, wanting this. He slid his fingers down to Jack's balls while his other hand slipped beneath Jack's tee shirt and skittered across his warm skin.

The next thing Daniel knew, Jack was pushing him away.

"Stop!" Jack said loudly. "Please. Don't."

It took Daniel a couple of seconds for his brain to start working and he saw from the dim light coming through the window that Jack had curled onto himself at the far edge of bed. Jack's breath was coming in small gasps and he was almost trembling with tension.

"Jack? Did I hurt you? Are you all right?" He slid forward ignoring the ache in his groin; all concern now was for Jack's well being. He reached a hand but at his touch Jack flinched.

"Why did you... Daniel, I'm not... I... I can't."

"Jack, did I hurt you?" Daniel insisted needing to know what had just happened.

"No, you didn't hurt me," Jack said in a tight voice. "I just didn't expect to wake up and... Daniel... I'm sorry, I'm not ready for... I don't..."

"What're you talking about? I thought this was what you wanted, Jack."

"I'm sorry. I was dreaming. I must have... sorry."

"Must have been a pretty nice dream," Daniel said with a smile.

"Yeah, well, the reality ain't all that hot."

"The reality looks fine to me," Daniel said as he gripped Jack's shoulders and pulled him against his chest, feeling Jack resist him for a moment. He rubbed his hand down Jack's back and the older man relaxed against him. Feeling the warm body against it, Daniel's penis, which had been reminded after months of inattention and denial how good sex with Jack had been, swelled once more despite Daniel's trying to will it not to.

Jack evidently realized what was happening because he rolled away, much to Daniel's regret. "How can you stand to touch me like this?"

"Sorry," Daniel said, feeling embarrassed. Sex between them had always been intense and pleasurable and Jack's inhibitions about his injuries had left Daniel uncomfortable about initiating sex. He had thought that maybe they'd gotten over that hurdle but it appeared like it was not to be. "Do you want me to go sleep in the spare room?"

"NO!" Jack almost shouted, then repeated in a softer voice, "No." He shifted forward again and reached out with his hand until he touched Daniel, then brought his body closer till they were nearly touching. His hand trailed down Daniel's stomach, and paused at his waistband. "I think I started something and I guess I should finish it."

Daniel's stomach muscles fluttered involuntarily at Jack's touch. He grabbed Jack's hand and stopped him from sliding it farther in. He brought Jack's hand up to his mouth and kissed it.

"Jack, no, not like this. Look, I love you, scars, grey hair, skinny butt and all." He heard Jack snort and he smiled. Jack pulled his hand from Daniel and caressed his face, his thumb finding Daniel's lips and tracing them.

"I want to make love to you," Daniel said as he nipped playfully at Jack's thumb, "and I want you to make love to me. I want to feel. I need to feel. But I want you to enjoy this, too. This is about both of us. Let me love you. Let's just go slow, okay?"

Daniel took Jack's silence to mean acquiescence and he leaned forward, tentatively kissing Jack's mouth. After a bit of teasing and nipping on Daniel's part, Jack opened his mouth to Daniel and let him in. The feel and taste of Jack excited Daniel and he had to hold back, not wanting to overwhelm Jack at this point, so he pulled back, breathing hard. He nuzzled Jack's neck, finding his pulse spot and sucking gently. Jack moaned and Daniel raised himself onto his lover, leaning on his elbows. Moonlight streamed into the room, casting a soft glow onto the bed. He could make out Jack's face very clearly, the silver of his hair shining like a beacon.

"I miss seeing your eyes," he said wistfully as he caressed Jack's face.

"They're ugly, Daniel," Jack said, closing them and keeping them shut.

"God, no, they're not. They're a part of you, a part that I love. Even if you can't see me with them anymore, I can look at you and remember how they expressed your love for me. Don't hide them from me. Don't wear your glasses around me? Please?" Daniel lowered his head and kissed both of Jack's closed eyelids. Jack opened his eyes and Daniel took possession of Jack's mouth once more.

As Daniel ran his hand over Jack's ribs, he felt him tense beneath him. Daniel realized that rediscovering Jack's body would have to wait until Jack himself was more comfortable with it. Daniel went straight for the kill, grabbing Jack's penis and stroking the soft skin. Jack gasped loudly, then responded by reaching for Daniel. The few working brain cells that Daniel had wondered at how well Jack knew Daniel's body, marveled at how Jack could touch him so surely, without sight.

Then those few wisps of thoughts flew out of his head as Jack's touch had Daniel thrusting wildly in Jack's grasp, the sound of his lover's pleasure urging him on.

* * * *

* * * *

Jack woke up to the sound of Daniel's heavy snores in his ear. He fumbled for his watch on the bedside table and pushed the button. A mechanical voice informed him it was just after six. It was still dark out as Jack couldn't make out any light in the room but the sun would be rising soon.

He sat up and dragged his legs over the side of the bed. Daniel shifted and the snoring stopped. Jack could tell by the nasal quality that Daniel's allergies were acting up. And he'd come to bed very late last night and the night before that so Jack knew that Daniel was tired.

Standing up on stiff legs, Jack tottered a moment before finding his balance in his dark and private hell. He winced as he took several steps on aching, unyielding muscles. By the time he got to the bathroom, he wasn't staggering so much as limping. He emptied his bladder, washed his hands, brushed his teeth, and then performed a few stretching exercises designed to help limber his legs. He usually did these in bed before getting up but he hadn't wanted to wake Daniel.

His stomach gurgled, demanding breakfast. Normally he'd wait for Daniel to get up and make them something to eat but he figured he'd let Daniel sleep in today. Jack made his slow way out of the washroom and towards the chair where he and Daniel normally threw their clothes on at night. He fumbled through the small pile, finding a pair of pants but discarding them when he realized they were Daniel's soft, light cotton pants and not the heavy denim of Jack's jeans.

Something clinked faintly on the floor and he realized something had fallen out of Daniel's pants pocket. He found his jeans and sweatshirt and holding them in one hand, he painfully got onto his knees and felt around for the dropped item, finally touching something cold and metallic.

He picked up the object and ran it through his fingers. It was about six inches of chain with a small piece of metal at one end. The chain and metal quickly warmed in his hands, the feel of it somehow familiar. His questing fingers found raised markings on it and running his forefinger over and over the metal he realized it was the letter 'O' and part of an 'N'. Damn, was this part of his dog tags? He'd heard that they had been found and had been part of the reason they had believed him dead. He had thought they'd have been thrown out and he wondered what the hell Daniel was doing with them in his pocket.

Using the dresser for balance, Jack managed to heave himself up and then dress himself. He limped out of the room, Daniel's renewed snores echoing down the enclosed hallway. He headed for the kitchen, using the wall as both guide and balance, the chain tightly clenched in his hand.

He stood in the kitchen's entrance a moment, feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of trying to make his own meal. He'd done so before a couple of times, but never alone. There had always been someone supervising. But okay, he could do this. He'd been making himself breakfast for over thirty years now. One step at a time, his teacher told him. First step... a plan of action. He stuffed the chain into his jeans pocket and thought about what he wanted to eat.

Jack couldn't remain standing yet for long periods of time so it would have to be something quick. Cereal? Toast? Eggs? He decided on toast and coffee, maybe he'd eat something a little more sustaining with Daniel when his lover got up. Confident he could do this, he began to whistle.

First step; get water into the coffeemaker. He felt along the counter and found it. He picked up the carafe and filled it with water and poured it into the machine. Okay, some of the water didn't quite make it inside but after sticking his finger into the reservoir he decided it was full enough.

Next step; measure out the coffee. After a bit of fumbling, he found the bag of coffee and began measuring out the proper number of spoonfuls. Smiling to himself, he went to turn the machine on when he suddenly realized he'd forgotten the coffee filters.

Swearing, his legs beginning to shake beneath him because he'd been standing too long, Jack impatiently reached for the filters. He got one out and poured the coffee into it and misjudged, feeling the grounds slide over his fingers and onto his bare feet.

"Shit!" he cursed, skimming his hand along the counter and trying to feel how much of the coffee had missed its target. His fingers encountered the spilled water and then the coffee, making a sticky mess on his palm and countertop. Wiping his hand clean of the grits on his jeans, he searched for the bag of coffee again and poured what was left in the filter back into it and began re-measuring the proper amount into the filter. He tried to ignore the grounds under his bare feet and finally got the coffee measured and double-checked everything before turning the machine on. He waited a minute, listening for the sound of the water dripping into the carafe.

Satisfied, now that the coffee was taken care of, he tore off a handful of paper towels and wiped down the counter. He passed his palm over the counter and found he'd missed many of the grounds. He swiped the countertop several times in anger before the pain in his legs forced him to sit. Jack massaged the wasted muscles of his thighs. The day had barely started and he was tired already.

He brushed the soles of his feet on his pant legs to get the irritating coffee grinds off of them. He wanted to clean up his mess on the floor but he knew there was no way he'd be able to accomplish a simple thing like sweeping. How the hell was he going to survive being blind if he could barely make coffee?

Sighing, he sat at the table with his head in his hands, finally rousing when the smell of coffee reached him. He got up, took some bread out of the refrigerator, found the toaster and inserted the bread into it, then proceeded to pour himself a cup of coffee.

Proud of himself for not having made another mess, he rummaged in the fridge, searching for the cream. He knocked a few things over in his quest, swearing as a plastic bowl tumbled onto his toes. He felt around the area with his foot but couldn't find the bowl. Giving up, he continued his search for the creamer. Finally he found the container and poured some into his coffee. He misjudged and overfilled the cup.

He wiped his hands dry on the seat of his pants, then reached out for the cup again. He wrapped his fingers around it, holding it steady on the counter. He bent over the cup, bringing his mouth to the overfull brim since picking it up would cause it to spill. Jack noisily sipped the hot brew. Hey, it didn't taste that bad. He smiled; at least he'd been able to accomplish one thing today. After taking several more cautious sips, he carefully groped his way back to the table and sat there, enjoying his hot drink.

Catching the smell of something burning, he realized his toast hadn't popped up. He stood quickly and reached for the toaster, the sudden wail of the smoke detector startling him.

As he moved backwards, Jack stepped onto the errant bowl, losing his balance and his weak muscles gave out. He felt himself falling onto his side with a loud thud.

"Jack!" Daniel's voice sounded panicked as running footsteps came towards him. Jack reached out, feeling the smooth, cold metal of his kitchen table and chairs. As he sat up he felt Daniel's hands on his shoulders, supporting him.

"Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?" Daniel was anxiously running his hands over him and Jack irritably batted them away. His hip ached, he suspected he'd be wearing a bruise for a few weeks, but he wasn't hurt.

"I'm fine," he yelled over the din. "Shut that damned thing off, will you?"

"Are you sure? You didn't-"

"Will you stop that?" he said as he pushed Daniel away from him. He felt Daniel stiffen slightly then heard him move away to the counter, presumably to unplug the damned toaster. He heard the sound of doors and windows opening and within a minute the smoke detector had turned itself off as soon as the smoke cleared from the room.

By then Jack had managed to get up and was sitting on the chair when Daniel came back into the kitchen. Thoroughly disheartened, he sat there trying to ignore the throbbing in his hip which was vying with the ache in his legs. He heard Daniel sigh, but Jack was having a bad day and he felt was entitled to mope.

"I'll make you some more toast," Daniel offered.

"Never mind, I'm not hungry now," Jack sulked.

"Jack. Look, here's your coffee." Daniel took his hand and placed it around the still hot mug. "Sit tight and I'll make us some eggs and bacon, okay? Just let me go get dressed." Daniel got up and put a hand to Jack's shoulder. Jack didn't answer but took a sip of the hot drink, listening to Daniel walk back to the bedroom.

He leaned his elbows on the table, totally discouraged. Within fifteen minutes he'd unilaterally managed to make a mess of the kitchen. Coffee and water and whatever he'd tripped over. His leg and foot was damp from where he'd fallen into the spill. It smelled like last night's stew.

Daniel returned and Jack heard him pouring coffee. Daniel's leg brushed against his as he sat down next to Jack.

"I feel so damned helpless, Daniel."

"I know," Daniel said softly, his hand coming up to take Jack's. "We both knew it wasn't going to be easy but look how far you've come."

Jack knew Daniel was right, but he didn't feel like he'd made much progress of late. He was constantly tired; his body, especially his legs, ached all the time, but the worst was the ever-present darkness.

The chair creaked as Daniel shifted his weight and Jack heard him lift his cup and swallow some coffee. As the cup clinked on the table, Daniel stifled a yawn. Guilt spread through Jack as he realized Daniel would still be sleeping if Jack hadn't burned the toast. The thought reinforced the feeling that he was a burden and he couldn't stand Daniel's sympathy. He pushed back his chair and stood up.

"Where are you going?"

"Shower."

"Ummm, okay. I'll start cleaning up in here and by the time you're finished breakfast should be ready. Let me go and get the chair for you."

Another added embarrassment. If Jack wanted to shower alone he had to sit like an invalid on a special chair since his legs still couldn't be trusted to hold him on the slippery surface. He nodded and continued towards the bathroom, wishing he'd just stayed in bed that morning.

* * * *

Daniel rubbed his forehead trying to ease his growing headache as he watched Jack toying with his food. Half his scrambled eggs had fallen off the plate as Jack pulled his fork back and forth through the now congealed mess.

Sipping his coffee, Daniel stared at his own meal also mostly uneaten. Jack's head was bent, his face hidden from Daniel. His shoulders were slumped and Daniel knew that the enthusiasm Jack had experienced the past two days in his accomplishments had flown out the window along with the smoky residue of burnt toast.

Another piece of egg fell onto the table and Jack's sleeve caught it, pushing the bit of food onto the floor to join its brethren. Damn it. Daniel had just swept and washed the kitchen floor, cleaning up Jack's earlier mess. He clenched his fists and held them to his temples, squeezing his head in an attempt to hold back from grabbing Jack's hand to still the frustrating motion.

He'd been woken out of a sound sleep by the sound of the smoke detector. Visions of Jack caught in a burning house swept through him as he rushed out of the bedroom. He'd heard the thud of a falling body as he neared the kitchen and had immediately thought the worse.

It should have been a simple minor setback but the accident had been a blow to Jack's self esteem. The sight of Jack sitting there dejected, ignoring his breakfast, disheartened Daniel. Jack had been doing so well, his spirits were up, and he had shown signs of his normal cockiness yesterday with Major Wendover when he'd breezed through one of the tests she'd assigned him. Jack had been pushing himself hard, both mentally and physically, in order to overcome the damage the virus had done to his body.

Daniel had forgotten for a moment that Jack's soul had also been hurt but Daniel was just so damned tired right now that he half wanted Jack to come and comfort him. He really didn't have the energy to go comfort Jack right now and he hated himself for it. This was his fault after all. He'd thought that when he and Jack began to have sex again things would change, start to get them back on an even footing. It seemed he'd been wrong. He just didn't know what to do anymore. Maybe Sara could talk some sense into Jack because Daniel was beginning to lose patience. He was glad he'd managed to convince Jack to let her come for a visit. She had wanted to see Jack for weeks now.

Jack picked up his mug and drained his coffee while his sleeve dragged onto his toast, smearing butter and jam over several inches of the material. Having had enough of Jack's unintentional untidiness, Daniel pushed his chair abruptly from the table. The noise startled Jack, his head coming up in confusion. Daniel reached for Jack's plate and cupped his hand around the fallen fragments of food. Dumping it all into the plate, he emptied both plates into the trash and placed them in the sink.

"I'll do the dishes," Jack offered tentatively.

Visions of broken bits of dishes assailed Daniel and he curtly answered, "Don't bother, I've got it." He turned the hot water on and returned to the table to pick up the rest of the dirty dishes, then swiped the table with the dishrag.

Jack continued to sit there, fiddling with something in his hands. Thinking it was a fork or spoon, Daniel reached for it and saw it was the keepsake he'd kept hidden away from Jack all these months. Instinctively he shoved his hands into his pockets, looking for the missing piece of jewelry.

"Where'd you get that?" Daniel asked, his voice sounding as if it were coming from a long way off.

"It fell out of your pants pocket," Jack said as he ran the chain through his fingers, in perfect imitation of what Daniel loved to do with the chain when he held it out of sight.

"It wasn't in my pocket." Daniel lied to Jack for the first time since they had found him alive. His face grew hot with embarrassment and shame. He'd been able to keep his need for the small bit of metal a secret ever since Jack's disappearance. He certainly didn't want Jack to know how weak he'd been, needing the security the metal offered.

"No?"

"I haven't seen it for a while. It must have fallen onto the floor and then I totally forgot about it." Daniel hated himself for the lie; his fingers itching to hold the warm, smooth metal.

"Oh. I found it under the chair in the bedroom. It's part of my dog tags, isn't it?"

"Yes." Daniel was breathing quickly, his heart pounding in his chest.

"These are what convinced you I was dead?"

"Along with a few scraps from our packs. Yes." Daniel watched in fascination as the small piece of metal went round and round Jack's fingers. He jumped when Jack suddenly slapped the chain onto the table and placed his now empty hands limply on his lap.

"I'm going to go listen to some books until Sara gets here," Jack said as he got up stiffly.

Daniel moved aside to make room for Jack, then grabbed the chain the moment Jack brushed by him. Daniel began shaking and he turned and leaned back on the counter, his arms wrapped around his chest. His fingers frantically played with the metallic links still warm from Jack's body heat.

* * * *

At the sound of the doorbell Jack began searching for the blanket he knew had been on the back of the couch earlier that morning. He heard Daniel heading for the door and his movements became frenzied in his attempt to find the covering.

"Where's the damned blanket!" Jack yelled frantically at Daniel.

"Just a second," Daniel answered.

"No, I want it now! Damn it Daniel, where the hell did you put it?"

"Jack, it's on the edge of the couch, right where you left it," Daniel patiently told him.

Stretching his length along the couch, Jack's questing fingers finally found the soft fleece blanket. He pulled it to himself angrily and draped it over his legs, bending low to ensure that his feet were well covered.

He heard the voices of Daniel and Sara coming towards him and Jack leaned back onto the couch, shifting around to get comfortable. Sara's voice trailed off as she entered the living room and her footsteps stopped abruptly at the top of the stairs. Aha, she'd caught sight of him. He began wondering whether he looked that bad... god, Daniel had better keep him hidden away from kids, he wouldn't want to give them nightmares.

"Jack?" she finally said in a tentative voice.

"Hey Sara," Jack said with a forced smile. He turned his head in her direction and wondered what she saw when she looked at him. A crippled and sightless husk of a man, most likely. It had seemed a good idea at the time but now he was regretting that he'd agreed to Daniel's suggestion for the visit.

"Oh God, it's so good to see you," her familiar voice exclaimed. She ran down the stairs and came to a stop before him. Jack could smell the lavender perfume she loved so much. He felt a hand on his arm and he realized she was kneeling before him.

"So this must be a surprise, huh?" he said, turning his palms up with a flick of his wrist.

"No, Daniel kept me informed of your progress. Actually, you look a lot better than what I anticipated."

"He did?" Jack turned his head towards where he thought Daniel was standing.

Daniel's voice came from farther away than Jack expected and it sounded slightly sheepish. "Yeah, well, actually, uh, Sara and I have spoken on the phone at least once a week since you've been home."

Suddenly Jack felt touched and grateful that the two living persons he'd cared for the most in the world had been concerned enough about him to start communicating. Jack smiled towards Daniel before turning to Sara.

"It was nice of you to come to visit," Jack said, suddenly feeling a little less uncomfortable.

"I tried to go see you in the hospital," she said in what he recognized as righteous anger, "but when Daniel first phoned to tell me you were alive he also said you were in a high-security area and I wouldn't be able to get in."

"Yeah, that's true," he agreed, not knowing what else to say to her. He was relieved when Daniel moved closer to join them.

"Can I get you anything, Sara?" Daniel asked playing host as Jack certainly wasn't able to provide for anyone at the moment.

"I'm fine, thanks," she said to Daniel over her shoulder. Jack heard the sound of her clothes rustle as she got up and sat down beside him.

"Okay, there's fresh coffee in the kitchen and cookies in the pantry if you feel like a snack. Help yourself, Sara."

"Thanks, I will. By the way, I brought some cinnamon rolls and made some lasagna."

"Your four-cheese lasagna?" Jack asked, remembering it used to be his favorite dish.

"Yep. I thought Daniel would have his hands full with you at home so you could use an extra home cooked meal."

"That was nice of you," Daniel said. "Thank you. Look," he continued, sounding a little self-conscious. "If you guys don't mind I'll go and run a few errands."

"Daniel..." Jack began, suddenly afraid to be left alone with his ex-wife, even though he and Daniel had agreed earlier that Daniel would leave the house for a while and give them some privacy.

Suddenly Daniel was there beside him. Jack could feel the warmth of his hand through the blanket where Daniel rested it on his thigh. "Do you want me to stay, Jack?"

Jack thought about it a moment, then realized he had nothing to fear from Sara except maybe her sympathy. He'd been nearly as bad mentally and physically when he'd returned from Iraq; Sara had never turned away from him in disgust. She had been a saint with what Jack had put her and Charlie through in those first few months.

Daniel had told Jack how both she and Daniel had gotten together to discuss putting a memorial for him on Charlie's tombstone. She deserved this little bit of time if only to be reassured that Jack was okay.

"No, we'll be fine," he said softly, patting Daniel's hand. Jack felt Daniel move closer and felt his warm breath on his face, warning him that their lips were just about to touch. They kissed a moment and Jack knew how much Daniel trusted Sara at this point to display this little bit of intimacy in front of her.

When Daniel stood up and moved away, Jack edged his hand across the sofa and touched Sara's knee. He knew she'd be sitting with her hands clasped tightly before her and he found them right where he'd expected them. She clasped his fingers, her hands feeling strangely soft and small compared to Daniel's.

"I'll be back in about an hour," Daniel said. "You two behave now."

"Thanks, Daniel," Sara replied. "We will."

Jack nervously fiddled with the edge of the blanket with his other hand as he listened to Daniel leave the house. The door closed quietly behind him and suddenly the house seemed very quiet.

"Do you need anything, Jack? Juice, coffee, water? Do you want a cinnamon roll?"

Desperate to be doing something other than just sitting there like a lump, he agreed to a snack. He could hear her opening and closing cupboard doors as she searched for a plate. In a very short time, Jack was sitting with a treat on his lap. Glad it was a finger food, he tore a piece off and nibbled at it.

"I hope you're not being too hard on Daniel," Sara told him after they'd sat eating in silence for a few minutes.

"Hard on Daniel?" Jack asked, bewildered.

"He looks tired, Jack. I know all of this must be difficult for you but it's not easy on him either."

Jack felt the familiar anger at his situation start to rise. "So he's been calling you to cry on your shoulder, has he? It's all too much for him to cope with and he doesn't know what to do about me."

"For God's sake, no!" she exclaimed. "But when he broke the news of your death to me I could see how shook up he still was. And he didn't look much better when I saw him just before you were found alive."

"Yeah, well, he's not the one sitting here blind, is he? He's the one driving around town while I can barely make my way around my own house." Jack angrily put his plate of half eaten sweets on the coffee table and winced when it crashed to the floor because he misjudged the distance.

"Oh for crying out loud, Jack, don't you dare start with the 'Look at me, I'm a wreck' routine! I lived through that when you came back from Iraq, and then afterwards you gave me hell for putting up with it when you got better."

He heard the tinkle of broken glass being picked up. "I'm telling you straight, Jack. You're stronger than this; you won't sit still and accept these limitations. If there's anyone who can overcome this, it's you. So don't blame Daniel for what you can't do right now, and don't push Daniel away."

Jack could hear her walk angrily to the kitchen and the broken dish being dumped into the garbage. She sat down heavily beside him again, the couch bouncing slightly with her weight.

"I saw how he looks at you. He loves you, Jack, and he's so worried about you. Please think for a minute what he's gone through these past months. He saw your supposed death, and then he had to come to terms with it and start a new life for himself. We both know what it feels like to lose a loved one, don't we?"

She paused a moment and he recalled suddenly the heart-stopping pain he'd felt in the early days of Charlie's death, after the numbness had gone away. He realized then that Sara was right. Jack had been thinking mainly of himself and had hardly given any thought to Daniel's own feelings. He was now determined that he was going to get well; he was going to make both Daniel and Sara proud of him.

"I'm glad you came," he said truthfully.

"I'm glad I did, too." He felt her lips on his cheek and smiled.

He acknowledged to himself that he had measured his progress over the past few months with baby steps and had not seen the mileage he'd made during that time. Yes, he was stuck in a world of darkness but he was home, he was amongst friends and family, he was getting stronger, and he was alive. But best of all, he had Daniel.

It had taken Sara to make Jack understand what Daniel had gone through alone, thinking him dead. That there were worse things than being blind. He felt a rush of affection for this woman sitting beside him. He hated not being able to see, but damn if he was going to sit back and live in the dark.