a thousand petals, a thousand paths

Everything was so status quo, it was almost painful. There was the usual rescue, the usual technobabble from Carter about the Gate, the usual eyebrow gymnastics in which Teal’c invested his entire conversational repertoire, the usual clear, efficient instructions from Janet Fraiser that got Daniel into surgery and him, O’Neill, into heated blankets and warmed up toasty-fine. Somehow, he didn’t doubt that Daniel would come through this particular crisis with no real damage beyond a few surgical scars, just more souvenirs to add to the bullet-hole scars, the staff-blast scars, the appendectomy scar. Now that he, O’Neill, had had his little epiphany on that ice cube of a planet, things had the nerve to just grind along in the usual status quo fashion. Or what passed for status quo at the SGC.

He was actually sort of surprised that things were so calm around him, as if his little emotional revelation should have been reflected by fireworks or symphonies or at least the dull throb of doom-ish drums. He was certainly surprised that his thoughts weren’t obvious and readable, scrolling across his forehead in neon letters. Nobody was staring, no one was whispering, no one was commenting or laughing that Jack O’Neill, hard-ass colonel of the SGC and its flagship team, had a “need” for a teammate. And that teammate wasn’t the blonde genius with the internal plumbing.

Need. Huh. He’d said “I need you,” and he could swear it was him saying those words that had brought Daniel back from that dark precipice once again. Honestly, the man had more lives than five cats put together. Five cranky, hyper-intelligent, caffeine-dependent, snarky cats with more curiosity than any ten felines could hope for. Why now? Really, Daniel had died at least four or five times, not counting being Ascended. He was going to have to work on that whole Ascended thing. Had Daniel really, truly been dead? Jack had thrown a shoe through him, that seemed pretty dead, but then again, Daniel was the man who accidentally whomped into other dimensions by looking at crystal paperweights. Maybe Ascended wasn’t really dead …

Dammit. What had he been thinking about? Right. Need.


And he needed Daniel. Which was stupid, of course he needed Daniel, he’d always needed Daniel. Daniel was, in some weird, how-sad-for-Daniel kind of way, his better half. They were so unalike as to make oil and water look like best friends, but they still clicked and rocked along at a clip that no one else could match.

So why now? Why figure out now that he needed Daniel? Honestly, today was no different than any other time Daniel had shuffled off this mortal coil. In fact, truthfully, it was one of Daniel’s less spectacular methods of dying. Quite boring, actually.

It was just the same ol’, same ol’. Daniel had died, Daniel had risen, Daniel had come again. No big deal, right? Although that whole Ascension thing had really staggered Jack for a bit. He had to admit he’d gotten Forbidding Silences down to an art form, and he couldn’t blame Jonas Quinn for looking relieved that he could go home to Kelowna. So he’d weathered the deaths, the No Daniel-ness of it all. Not well, but he’d weathered it.

So why did getting stranded on a ball of ice for a few hours knock him for a loop? Was he a camel who’d just been thrashed soundly with the very last straw? A straw with a trinium core, for God’s sake. This was That Straw, that Final Push, and all he could think about was that losing Daniel, not having Daniel in his life, scared him to his back teeth. Which was stupid. He hadn’t had Daniel in his life for a whole year, and he’d lived, he’d survived just fine, thank you very much.

Hadn’t he?

Um. Well. To be honest, he wasn’t sure. Okay, if he was going to be honest, he hadn’t survived just fine. Poor Jonas. Poor, forgiveness-seeking Jonas. The kid had been in a lose-lose situation from the word “go.” His cowardice had led to Daniel having to play hero, led to Daniel sacrificing his own life, had led to Daniel being painted with a traitorous brush, when really, it had been Jonas’s fault, Jonas’s cowardice, Jonas’s …

Let’s not go there again, shall we? Over. Done with. Jonas did all right eventually, he showed he had a certain amount of moxie, and now he’s gone, Daniel is back, in fact – YES. He was out of surgery.

Which meant he, Jack O’Neill, was fine. Just fine, thank you very much.

Janet Fraiser came by Jack’s bedside, checked his temperature, got some more blankets on him, and rolled her eyes when Jack asked if he could see Daniel. "He’s unconscious, Colonel," Janet said, tucking the extra blankets around Jack’s shoulders. "He’s just been through surgery."

"And he’ll be fine, I know," Jack said, sitting up, shedding blankets and pillows. "So lemme see him."

Janet just gave him That Look for a few moments, then shrugged and pointed at the far end of the room. “He’s in his usual bed,” she said, giving up. Jack raised an amused eyebrow. He wasn’t the only one who was getting a little blasé about Daniel and Death. “Just don’t disturb him, he needs his rest – ”

“Yadda, yadda,” Jack said unrepentantly, grinning at Janet, who just shook her head and shooed him away. Gathering his blankets back around him, Jack shuffled down to the far end of the infirmary, slumping into his usual seat by Daniel’s bedside, taking Daniel’s lax hand in his, and sighing deeply. With his back to the infirmary, Jack could allow himself to relax, to let the adrenaline flow out of him. Really, it was sometimes incredibly tiring being Daniel’s oil. Water. Whichever.

Idly, he traced the bones in the back of Daniel’s hand, thinking about going fishing. No, maybe not. It was winter in the United States, and anything to do with ice wasn’t high on his list right now. And he doubted they’d get enough leave to go anywhere warm, like Mexico, or Peru. Rats, bats and little kittens. He could’ve taken Daniel, gotten him into a pair of shorts and had him relaxing by a pool. Well, knowing Daniel, he’d have his nose in a book, and because it’d be a rare book, he’d be as far from the pool as possible, but he’d be outside, at least. For a moment, Jack lingered on the idea of hot sands, blue-green waters, alcoholic drinks, and making rude comments with Daniel about the nude sunbathers. Then he shook his head and sighed again. If wishes were horses …

Daniel stirred, groaning a bit, and those blue eyes blinked, looked a bit cross-eyed for a moment, then focused blearily on Jack. “Again?” he said hoarsely.

Jack almost laughed, and his heart did something weird. Maybe he wasn’t all warmed up from Glacier Planet, after all. “Yeah,” he said, “again.” Daniel closed his eyes for a moment, and Jack went for the cup of ice chips. As he fed them to Daniel, he asked, “You gonna stop making a habit of this?”

Daniel raised an eyebrow in question. “What, the dying, or the coming back to life?”

Jack did laugh that time, brief and quiet. “Well, both, preferably after a final Back-to-Life episode.”

“I’ll work on it,” Daniel said soberly, his eyes filled with an amusement his words belied. Jack felt his heart do that weird thing again. He was going to have to ask Fraiser about that. Daniel put a hand on Jack’s arm, pulling gently on the blankets swaddled around the older man. “You all right?” he asked.

Jack nodded. “Yeah,” he said, “got a little Frosty the Snowman there for a bit, but I should be keeping all my fingers and toes.”

“Excellent,” Daniel said, his hand slipping down to the coverlet. Jack took that long-fingered hand back into his own and began again the idle stroking of bones and sinews. “Although,” Daniel continued, “if you had only three fingers on each hand, you really could be Homer Simpson.”

“Ew,” Jack replied amiably and squeezed Daniel’s hand, receiving an answering squeeze in response.

Just like Janet, to poke her head in now, when they were rolling along with a nice comfortable moment, all nice and mellow. “Colonel,” she said firmly, injecting a fat syringe of morphine into Daniel’s IV, “he’s got to rest now. He just came out of surgery.”

Jack looked at Daniel and tilted his head at the doctor. “Gotta go,” he said, and Daniel smiled. “I’ll see you soon.”

“If I must,” Daniel said, his smile widening, then promptly fell asleep.


Jack had to give it to Daniel, he really did. He got the team enough downtime every couple of months or so to let them take care of other business. It was just a shame that it always came at Daniel’s expense. Although, with the way Daniel immediately stuck his nose in a dusty book as soon as he was allowed to sit up in bed, Jack could almost think Daniel died deliberately, just so he could catch up on his own research.

Jack did his best to indulge Daniel, though, dropping in at odd times, dodging Janet and her merry band of nurses, bringing Daniel magazines and coffee. Hence needing to dodge Janet – coffee was SO not on her Allowed Foods list. Daniel would smile his thanks, verbally spar with Jack briefly, then either fall asleep or go back to his moldy book. Even if Daniel had finished with him for the time being, for whatever reason, Jack would sometimes stay and read a fishing magazine, making sure to point out a particularly nifty hook or creel just so that Daniel wouldn’t forget him.

Expecting the usual, a week after Daniel’s surgery, Jack realized he shouldn’t have been surprised to hear Daniel before he even saw him. No bonhomie moments around the infirmary bed today.

“No,” Daniel was saying, “I do not need to go to a VIP room, I need to go home. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

Oh, dear. When Janet had asked him earlier if he’d look after Daniel in a VIP room, and he’d agreed, he hadn’t thought she’d get the hyperactive little coffee-addict all riled up first before he was transferred. Jack had thought she’d meant call Daniel every once in a while, drop in once a day, bring him more magazines, make sure he took all his meds. He certainly didn’t want a caffeine-deprived philologist, for God’s sake, laid out and bitching at him in twenty-five different languages every time he came to visit. Jack shuddered. He didn’t want that, and he was pretty damned sure he didn’t need that, either.

“Daniel, you’re not going home. You’re lucky I’m letting you get as far as a VIP room,” Janet said, almost angrily, and as he came into the room, Jack saw that she was, indeed, just about fed up with Dr. Jackson.

“Janet,” Daniel said exasperatedly, “I don’t need babysit – ”

Janet was downright glaring at him now. “No,” she said, “and that’s final. VIP or nothing.”

Daniel saw Jack and turned his pleading eyes on him. “Jack, tell her, I’m perfectly – ”

“Daniel,” Jack interrupted, “if the good doctor thinks you’re not well enough to go home, then you’re not.”

“But – ” Daniel stuttered. “But – ”

Janet Fraiser had that gleam in her eye. “No buts, Daniel,” she said triumphantly, and started bagging Daniel’s meds. Handing the brown paper bag to Jack, she told him, “I’m going to check in on him in a couple of hours, but this’ll get him started.”

“What’s that for, the care and feeding of pissed-off Jacksons?” Daniel groused, easing to his feet. Jack grabbed his elbow and looked at Janet.

“And you’re going in a wheelchair,” Janet said, and without further ado, she had Daniel on his butt in the vinyl seat and his feet in the metal rests. She didn’t get much of a fight out of him, really – all his energy had gone into his verbal argument and the last vestige of a glare shot in her direction before Jack whisked him out of the infirmary and up to one of the VIP rooms.

Oh, dear. What had Jack been thinking? He was going to have to start sneaking in even more coffee now. He really didn’t need this. “One coffee a day,” he told Daniel abruptly, and suffered a glare of his own.

“Fine,” Daniel snapped, and his face paled with the effort to get out of his wheelchair. “Just get me in bed.”

“Alright, Grumpypants, let’s get you cozy,” Jack said, and helped Daniel swing his legs under the covers, propping him up on a pile of pillows like an invalid. Well, he was an invalid, duh, Jack.

“Stop – ” Daniel began, then inhaled sharply, putting a hand to his ribs.

“Uh-huh,” Jack said, and rummaged through the bag. “Here,” he said, slapping a couple of pills in Daniel’s hand. “Take these.”

“They’ll make me stupid,” Daniel said grouchily, but downed them anyway while Jack futzed around the room.

“Couldn’t happen in a million years,” Jack replied, and sat on the edge of Daniel’s bed. “You’ve got water there, you’ve got your pills – don’t forget to take the amoxycillin in an hour, and the cough suppressant. And I’ve brought you a couple of books from your lab.”

Daniel eyed him suspiciously, then inspected the proffered tomes. “Hmph,” was all he said, and Jack knew he’d picked the right ones.

Jack stood. “Gonna be all right?” He grabbed Daniel’s toes and wiggled them.

Daniel nodded, a book already open on his lap.

“Then, I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” Jack said, and left Daniel to his recuperating.

It was more like an hour. He came back to find Daniel staggering back to his bed after a trip to the bathroom. “You couldn’t wait?” Jack snapped, helping Daniel back under the covers.

“Well, NO,” Daniel retorted, settling with a relieved sigh into the pillows. “Don’t you have anything to do?” he asked crabbily.

“Not really,” Jack replied and pulled up one of the armchairs to Daniel’s bedside so he could prop his feet up on the mattress. Daniel glared at the offending appendages but wisely said nothing. From experience, this was one habit he’d have to tolerate. “And if you’re not a good boy,” Jack continued, “I’ll make you watch Simpsons episodes. I brought my DVDs.”

Daniel groaned. “Fine, I’ll be good.” He opened a thick, dusty book and Jack pulled a magazine out of his back pocket.

The silence lasted about five minutes. “Whatcha reading?” Jack asked, looking up from his MAD magazine, as if he hadn’t picked out those books for Daniel himself, painstakingly figuring out which ones Daniel was using for his latest research project.

Daniel closed his eyes in brief irritation. “A book,” he said without looking up.

“What book?”

The eyes closed again for a whole ten seconds – Jack timed it. “A book with words,” Daniel said finally, still not looking up.

“Oh. Wanna play chess?”

This time, Daniel did look up, his blue eyes surprisingly piercing beneath a layer of Vicodin dopiness. “How is this helping me rest?”

“I’m keeping your brain agile and your body still.” Jack bounced up from his chair, went to the entertainment cabinet, and came back with a decent-looking chess set. He nudged Daniel’s knees over and set up the game on the mattress.

“Jack, I can’t keep bending over like this,” Daniel said, somewhat breathlessly, after only five moves. It was true, he was pale again, and sweat was beading on his forehead. One hand seemed permanently clutched to his abdomen where his surgical scars were healing.

“All right, Simpsons it is, then,” Jack said, and he transferred the half-played game to the side table and got the TV and DVD player set up. Then he nudged Daniel over in the king-sized bed and propped up on the pillows with him. Daniel looked like he either wanted to laugh or cry and was stuck somewhere in between.

“You love the Simpsons,” Jack said confidently, clicking the PLAY button.

“Actually,” said Daniel ruefully, settling down into his pillows and obviously consigning himself to his fate, “I tolerate the Simpsons, for your sake.”

Jack made a “pshaw” kind of sound and turned up the volume on the TV.

Jack wouldn’t even let him sneak moments with his book, especially after the sneezing, coughing fit. While Homer was throttling Bart, Daniel had tried to read a couple of pages from something old and yellowed. A particularly dense whoosh of dust had assaulted Daniel’s nose and Jack actually had to hold him to the bed while he coughed, deeply and painfully, his body starting forward, his hands pressing against his own chest as if trying to keep his lungs in his body. When the coughing fit had finally passed, Daniel simply lay back in Jack’s arms for a moment, breathing spastically and wiping the tears out of his eyes. “Gah,” Daniel groaned. He coughed again, obviously trying to restrain the spasm reflexes of his pectoral muscles. Jack helped him sip some water, then gave him a dose of cough suppressant and a couple more pills.

“They won’t make you stupid,” Jack said, accurately reading the look in Daniel’s eyes. “We’ve been over this. You need them to help relax your muscles so you don’t go through that again.” Meekly, Daniel popped the pills, sucked down the water, and relaxed back into Jack, apparently not minding in the least that some of his pillows had become flesh and bone Irishman.

Gently, Jack rubbed a hand up and down Daniel’s shoulder, gently soothing the hot flesh beneath the flannel pajama shirt, feeling the moment become less about humor and more about comfort, Daniel’s warm and solid body slowly becoming more relaxed against his chest. “No more books,” he said quietly, “unless it’s a brand new Dean Koontz.”

Daniel shuddered delicately. “Why are you torturing me?” he whispered, amused.

“No more smelly, dusty books,” Jack elaborated firmly, leaning his cheek on Daniel’s hair, the volume on the Simpsons turned down, the garish cartoon colors flickering weirdly over the grey walls of the SGC VIP suite.

“No more teacher’s dirty looks?” Daniel countered, and Jack could feel Daniel’s smile light up the room without even needing to see it. Dammit, there went his heart again. What the hell?

“Don’t get sassy with me, young man,” Jack said in a mock stern voice. “Or I’ll have to take a ruler to you.”

“What if I like it?” Daniel asked, his voice drowsy and sort of stupidly sassy. The drugs were taking effect.

“Well, we’ll just have to see about that, won’t we, Dr. Jackson?” Jack replied, and kissed Daniel’s forehead.

Hel-lo. The silence was immediate, deep, and completely freaky. Daniel didn’t move. It was the absence of movement, really, that made Jack so very aware of Daniel’s body lined up with his, the smell of bland, hospital shampoo in Daniel’s hair, the bulge of bicep under his stroking hand. “Uh,” Jack said intelligently, his brain completely blank. He could swear he heard white noise coming from his own frontal lobes.

Daniel didn’t answer. It took Jack a moment to realize that Daniel probably hadn’t even heard his last comment – he was dead asleep. A huge sigh of relief swept through Jack, straight from his toes to his nose and he relaxed, unsure of what that moment had been all about, but damn glad he didn’t have to explain it right this very second. His eyes fixed on the TV screen, he smiled, then let his own eyes drift closed, the warm scent of Daniel in his nose, his body loose and comfortable. All he really knew was that he was awash in warm fuzzies and couldn’t think of any better place to be than right where he was, holding what he needed. Wasn’t there a name for this that got nasty looks from Republicans? Should he care? Jack wasn’t one for heavy-duty introspection, and he certainly resented the vague, paranoid idea that he should regulate his thoughts and his heart, especially this late in the game. He’d done more than enough to warrant himself some warm fuzzies along the way. From Day One, his and Daniel’s relationship had transcended all expected societal strictures to the point where they were so entangled in each other, it was hard to know where one of them ended and the other began. This is what they were, you couldn’t name it, you couldn’t label it, it had nothing to do with anything except the fact that something in each of them recognized something in the other and called it Home. It was a state of being, a unit that was JackandDaniel, DanielandJack. As Jack slid deeper into sleep, it was as if the layers of bullshit and confusion peeled quietly back from his mind and just vanished like smoke, and Jack knew that Daniel wasn’t just his better half … he was his Siamese twin, joined at the mind, joined at the … well, at the heart? Whatever, he didn’t care – he was right where he needed to be.


An hour later, Janet popped into Daniel’s VIP suite and paused in the doorway, her hand on the doorknob. The TV showed a bouncing DVD insignia that blipped like a video game around the screen, and the bedside lamp was shining a wheat-mellow light over the two sleeping figures in the bed. Daniel was wrapped up in his blankets, half reclining on Jack, and half reclining on a huge wad of pillows. Jack had his arms around Daniel: his left hand rested on Daniel’s left shoulder, and the right was holding Daniel’s right hand to his heart. Jack’s chin rested against Daniel’s forehead. They were both completely zonked out.

Janet just stood for a moment, looking at the two men, thinking about their years together, everything they’d suffered together, all their successes, their triumphs, their sorrows. And how this didn’t surprise her in the slightest. The bond between all four SG-1 team members was something most people couldn’t understand, and the ties between these two men in particular were completely beyond earthly comprehension. “Status quo,” she murmured, and closed the door behind her as she left them sleeping.


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