Beast of Burden
Jack walked over from his infirmary bed to see what Daniel had been doing on his laptop. The man was dozing. He’d get to see what he’d been trying to hide from Jack ever since Carter had brought him his laptop. The lights were low in the ward so the screen would be easy to see . . . except it was off. On the assumption that the screen was off, not the laptop, he hit the spacebar.
The screen lit up.
On it was a headstone with Daniel’s name, death, and a quote.
“What the damn hell is that?” he hissed in a whisper.
Even as a whisper, Jack’s voice startled Daniel awake so suddenly that he gave himself a neck stinger. “Shit!” he hissed between clenched teeth. “Thanks a lot.”
“You’re welcome,” Jack snapped back testily. He stared at him, then brought a stool over and sat down. “What the hell is this?” he asked, thumping the laptop screen with thumb and forefinger.
Daniel scowled and shut the laptop. “Stop that.” He began massaging his neck. “Dammit. And what the hell did it look like? It’s my headstone. I ordered it.”
“Are you insane? When you do shit like that, the universe listens, Daniel.”
Daniel rolled his eyes through a dramatic sigh and said nothing.
Jack squinted at him. “I didn’t know your middle name was James. Last I checked, you didn’t have one.”
“Until last month, I didn’t.”
“Yeah. I changed my name. Had to update my will and everything else that needed my full name.” Jack stared at him. It was an ugly stare. Daniel closed his eyes. “You’re still mad,” he said and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Do yourself a favor and go away. My headache’s coming back. I took a bigger hit than you.”
Jack felt the echo of the Goa’uld pain stick against his back teeth. It was like chewing on foil, eating a nuclear peppermint, and getting hit with a stun gun all at the same time, only magnified. It also caused all nerve endings to protest and sustained hits caused nerve damage, so they were stuck in the infirmary for twenty-four hours so Fraiser could monitor their vital signs and run tests. Always more tests.
Jack had a good reason to be mad. God only knew what had caused that light. He only knew what it caused in him when it was applied. And what it looked like coming out of Daniel’s . . . orifices.
Yes, he was mad.
Part of him wanted Daniel to be in pain.
Part of him wanted to redo the last twenty-four hours and tell Daniel “No, we’re not rescuing a goddamn unas, especially not the one who dragged you over half the planet.”
Part of him wished Daniel had never conducted that damn experiment in the first place, thus making that unas vulnerable. He put that unas in danger.
And everything he was feeling, he knew damn well that Daniel was feeling too. Possibly even more so, but Jack’s anger wanted to ignore that part. Anything Daniel did was pissing him off.
He also didn’t hear what Daniel had just said. And he wasn’t going to ask him to repeat it.
“You weren’t listening, were you?” Daniel asked.
Jack saw that his eyes were closed. He wasn’t even looking at him. He’d guessed and guessed correctly. That too pissed Jack off. He turned away and went back to his bed.
Daniel sighed. “I saw my death yesterday. Maybe I should be prepared.”
“That’s what a will is for, Daniel.”
Daniel sighed. “I know. But just in case.”
Later . . .
Jack woke up from his nap by the sound of Daniel’s voice. “Maybe it’s time for me to take a leave of absence. All I keep doing is putting you guys in danger and putting Jack’s career in danger.”
“We’re only here because of you, Daniel. Why do you want to leave?”
“Because I put Jack in danger. That’s not something he’ll forgive.”
“Maybe so but leaving won’t fix it.”
“It’s not something I’ll forgive either. I need to step back and consider just exactly what good I’m contributing here. There are plenty of people who could do my job.”
“That’s not true.”
“I’m sorry, Sam, but it is.”
“Did you see Janet’s medical report about me?”
“No. What’re you talking about?”
“The pain stick, which really needs a name like that damn hand device, caused some heart damage. She thinks the hand device and sarcophagus might have contributed as well.”
“Heart damage? What’s that mean?”
“That the next time I get stuck with one of those it may just cause a cardiac arrest.”
“May,” she said. “Not for certain?”
“No, of course not. But it’s a warning.”
“Isn’t that something the rest of us should’ve been told?”
“Maybe she’s leaving it up to General Hammond.”
“Are you going to tell the Colonel?”
“Daniel, he needs to know.”
“Somehow, I don’t think he’ll give a damn.”
“Sam, he’s that mad, and I don’t blame him. I would be if I were in his shoes.” He then said with emphasis, “Sam, I put his life in danger. I put all of our lives in danger. Maybe he’ll forgive me but I won’t.”
Jack considered Daniel’s words, but he didn’t interrupt. He didn’t sit up to let him know he heard. He just forced himself to go back to sleep.
Daniel sat down at the base of the oak tree. He rubbed at his chest. There was still phantom pain in his diaphragm where the nerve damage had been centered. It was 1:10 a.m. and the top of the mountain at the lookout post was brightly lit by the full moon. It was July 8th, 2014. He was thirty-six today.
He stared out over the terrain, which consisted of sagebrush, aspen trees, spruce, and granite rock. It was beautiful up there. His face suddenly crumpled as tears welled, but he sniffed them back and held the heel of his hand against his right eyebrow. Crying would do no good and it would only set off another headache. It didn’t fix his depression.
He liked his job. He liked his friends. He loved Jack, Sam, and Teal’c. But he’d meant what he said about putting some distance between himself and Jack. Jack would agree. He wouldn’t walk away from his job, but things had to change.
Ultimately, it was up to Hammond. He’d see Janet’s report on his heart and he’d decide on whether he should stay with SG-1 or remain on base. Expecting the latter, Daniel was already thinking up names to give the general. Jack wouldn’t like them, but they’d do their job and they would do what he told them to do. Most importantly, they wouldn’t get the team into trouble.
Daniel was slightly startled by the sound of the post door opening. It creaked like hell. The sound echoed over the landscape. He expected an SF or maybe Teal’c. He too liked coming up here to sit in the peace and quiet. The SF would be there to tell him to come back inside. Five minutes of peace and quiet wasn’t enough. Daniel needed an hour, so he’d ask. Perhaps he’d get it. The personnel were getting used to him. There was no love lost, but they were growing used to his quirky and annoying personality.
They wouldn’t miss him.
Footsteps approached. Bootsteps, it sounded like. Then someone was sitting down beside him and surprised, Daniel looked to his right. He wasn’t quite sure what Jack was doing there. Was he coming up to tell him to pack up and leave? That really wasn’t Jack’s style. He’d leave that to Hammond.
Daniel exchanged a look he restricted to a glance. He said nothing. Nothing to say, really. Jack had made things pretty damn clear.
They were over.
Thinking that told him why he’d been about to cry. Their relationship was a difficult one but it had been worth it. He should’ve known he’d end up blowing it. It was what he did.
Jack nudged him and Daniel looked over. He was holding up a flat red box, maybe four inches square, one inch high, with a gold ribbon cross printed on the box. Nothing to unwrap. Daniel frowned and took it. He was confused. And wary. The other shoe was gonna drop. He held the present in his right hand and just stared at the moonlit terrain. The box felt heavy in his hand.
“Thanks,” Daniel said automatically. The confusion mounted.
“Gonna open it?”
Daniel was going to say, “No.” Or ‘no’ in varying ways. He opened the box instead and pushed aside the tissue paper. It held a round disc of charcoal used for incense. Next to that were two tiny blocks that smelled faintly of frankincense. Resin. From Chulak. The other shoe. The present was from Teal’c. Daniel felt a lump in his throat. He couldn’t have spoken if his life depended on it. Tears welled in his eyes and he began to blink a lot to fight them back. He would not show emotion in front of Jack. Not anymore.
What was the point of coming up here just to give him a present from Teal’c? For that matter, how the hell did Jack know where he was? Daniel hadn’t told anyone where he was going. There’d been the one and only time he’d told Jack about his favorite place to find peace and quiet. It was not long after finding Oma at Kheb. He and Jack had had one of those fights about respect.
“Thank you for taking my word and following my advice,” Daniel said once they’d arrived home from Kheb.
“Don’t I always?” Jack retorted.
“Not exactly. Same way, I suppose, in your false assumption that I never back your play.”
“Yes, I do.”
“We’re not doing that back and forth.”
“This is . . .” Daniel began, touching the items with a fingertip. “Really thoughtful.”
“I have my moments,” Jack said dryly.
Daniel frowned then glanced at Jack. “This is from you?”
“Who’d you think it was from?”
“Teal’c. He’s the one who shared the Chulakian incense, to begin with.”
“Ah. Well, he did suggest it. And after a while of thinking it over, I agreed.”
“Oh.” Daniel’s face heated up. “Well, thanks.” He almost added, “I guess,” but it would’ve been mean and started yet another argument. He really wasn’t in the mood for that kind of banter.
“You’re welcome. Come back inside. Fraiser wants to talk to you about something in your blood.”
Daniel’s brows rose. “She’s here? At . . .” He looked at his watch. “1:43 a.m.?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Apparently. C’mon.”
Daniel took the proffered hand and rose to his feet. Touching Jack set off a firestorm of desire, even though it was just his hand. A hand that had long strong fingers. A hand that soothed, a hand that stimulated. Daniel closed his eyes for a second, took a deep breath, and followed Jack into the elevator that would take them straight to Level 11, and from there to the sublevels.
As he rode the elevator, it suddenly occurred to the suspicious part of him that Janet was the one who sent Jack up here and that a birthday present was a means to an end: getting him back to the infirmary.
Except that was a convoluted way to get him there. Jack was many things but convoluted wasn’t one of them. He came at you straight on, regardless of the situation or topic. Except for their First Time. Well, partly. Jack finally accepting their mutual attraction had been . . .
Something melted. “We’re going home after I see Janet.”
Jack studied his eyes. “You’re sure?”
“Are you?” Daniel challenged back.
Jack nodded slowly. “We’ll work this out, Daniel. We have no choice.”
“You got that right,” Daniel said and took Jack’s hand to squeeze it once.