DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fan fiction and is not intended to infringe on the copyright held by Showtime, MGM, Trilogy, or any other PTB . I don't claim the characters, setting, or concept, but the story is mine. My only profit is the pleasure I get out of it, and since that's almost the only profit I get out of my job as well, there's no point in suing.

Ratings/warnings: PG or so for language. Spoilers for "Fire and Water" and "Thor's Hammer".

This Time
by Katie

This time, stepping through the Stargate--all four of them together, at the same time, although that was hardly the easiest way to do it--felt right. This time, there were four of them, not three. This time, there was no feeling of emptiness and loss so sharp it seemed to be eating a hole in his heart. This time, Daniel was with them.

Jack stood back and watched as General Hammond, Dr. Frasier, and several of the techs gathered around Daniel and welcomed him home. Jack needed this private moment just to take a breath and give the events of the past few days a chance to settle themselves, to realize that Daniel really was alive and to reconcile reality with his still-confused memories. Daniel was alive. Jack hadn't screwed up, hadn't failed one of his team. At least, not irreparably. There was still the issue of accidentally leaving Daniel behind, but that could be forgiven. It wasn't nearly as bad as letting one of his people die.

Sam and Teal'c were also hanging back, allowing Daniel to have his moment. Sam was watching the scene with an expression on her face that mirrored the exhausted relief Jack was feeling, and even Teal'c was showing signs of strain around the eyes. It had been a difficult, emotionally draining few days for all of them.

Daniel, however, seemed to be in the worst shape. He'd been cheerful and seemingly unaffected when he'd first emerged from the ocean, almost as if he'd just gone for a nice swim. Jack had had to bite back an irritated comment born of equal parts worry, grief, and relief, about Daniel's little sea-side vacation. It wasn't until after the alien had departed and the team was making its way back to the Stargate that the anthropologist had begun to show signs of strain. The energy and animation had just seemed to flow out of him, and by the time they stepped through the gate, he was swaying on his feet. Now, surrounded by well-wishers, he was pale, trembling slightly, and sending piteous glances toward Jack and Sam, begging them with his eyes to come and rescue him.

Jack sighed and moved forward to extract him, but the doctor beat him to it, declaring that Daniel needed a thorough physical before he could be cleared to get on with his life. General Hammond turned in Jack's direction with a "Report now" look in his eyes, and Jack realized that his visions of checking in briefly on Daniel and heading toward the first decent sleep he'd had in forever would have to be put on hold. He gathered up Sam and Teal'c, neither of whom looked any more enthusiastic than he felt, and headed for the debriefing room.

Several hours later, Jack had finally made it to bed only to find that he couldn't sleep. SG-1 hadn't had much that they could report without Daniel's input, so after a short debriefing, Jack had stopped by the infirmary to check on Daniel on his way to his quarters. The doctor had waved him off with something about doing further tests, but she hadn't seemed worried and Daniel had saluted him cheerfully with his hamburger from his perch on a hospital bed. Jack had concluded that he wasn't needed. A quick shower and a sandwich later, he was lying in his bunk, fully expecting to be asleep within minutes.

The first time he'd closed his eyes, though, he'd once again heard Daniel calling his name, begging for help. Damn it, Daniel was alive, safe, as happy as could be expected under the circumstances. Why wouldn't his mind let this go? For hours now, no matter how hard he tried to think of other things, he kept coming back to those dreams of Daniel calling him, Daniel dying, Daniel begging for help. It was like his subconscious was punishing him for abandoning Daniel, for failing Daniel just like he'd failed Charlie. . . .

Jack sat up abruptly, shaking. Where the hell had that thought come from? He didn't like thinking about his son. In fact, he made it a practice not to think about him at all if he could help it. After all, the military didn't pay him to be a basket case, and that's all he'd be good for if he dwelt for even a moment on what had happened to his child.

Suddenly a walk seemed like a good idea. Go find some coffee, see if any of the soldiers on Gate duty had started a card game, maybe drop by the infirmary again just to be sure Daniel was okay . . . Yeah, sounded like a plan.

It was late, and the corridors of the complex, dreary at the best of times, were made particularly oppressive by their emptiness. Jack wandered not quite aimlessly, content to let the drab walls drain all possibilities of analytical thought from his mind. Thinking was dangerous tonight. Memories hidden safely in the recesses of his mind had been brought to the surface by the stress of Daniel's apparent death, and it was taking all of his willpower to shove them back where they belonged.

A soft thud and a low, eerie moan from around a nearby corner stopped him in his tracks and made him wish for the sidearm he'd left in his room. He was reasonably confident that nothing or no one could get into the complex without either prior authorization or a lot of commotion, but that sound--a moan like someone in terrible pain--made the hair on his neck stand on end. He rounded the corner cautiously, ready for almost anything except what he actually found.


The anthropologist was kneeling--huddling, really--on the floor of the corridor, clutching his head in his hands and rocking slightly back and forth. Jack dropped to his knees beside him and gingerly put a hand on his shoulder.

"Daniel? What's wrong? What are you doing here?"

Still rocking, Daniel gasped,

"Jack? . . . hurts. . . ."

"What hurts? Your head? How did you get out here? You were supposed to stay in the infirmary tonight. Hey, whoa, easy now . . . ." as Daniel moaned again and started to fall forward. Jack shifted his grip on the anthropologist's shoulder to control the fall so that Daniel was leaning against his chest. The colonel pressed the back of his hand against Daniel's temple, checking him the way he used to check his son for fever when Charlie was sick. Daniel's skin was cold, though, and tiny shivers ran through his tight muscles as he lay against Jack. Suddenly he went completely limp, almost causing Jack to drop him before he could adjust to the additional weight.

"Daniel! Damn it, what the hell is going on here?" Jack felt a touch of panic before he realized that Daniel was still breathing.

A second later, the younger man started to struggle slightly, attempting to sit up.

"I'm okay, Jack. Let me up, I'm okay."

"Yeah, right. What was that? And what are you doing out here in the middle of the night? You're supposed to be in the infirmary."

Daniel reached up to shove a strand of hair out of his face and shivered slightly. "I was in the infirmary, but there wasn't anyone there, and it was so empty, so I tried to find someone, but then my head started hurting like before, and I couldn't think, and then you came . . . ."

Jack frowned at him. His voice had an odd, distant quality to it, like he wasn't completely aware of what he was saying, and his eyes were glassy. Shock? And just what did he mean by "before"?

"Why don't we get you back to the infirmary, okay? We'll get the doc to look at you again, make sure there's nothing wrong, then you can get some sleep. Sound good?"

Daniel nodded and let Jack help him up, but Jack didn't think he really knew what was going on. Damn it, when Jack had left him a few hours ago, he'd been tired, but otherwise fine. What had brought this weird attack on? It had to have something to do with his disappearance, but what?

"Daniel, when you said your head hurt like before, what were you talking about?" Jack asked gently, sliding an arm around the anthropologist's shoulders to support him as they walked back toward the infirmary. Daniel leaned against Jack tiredly, and it took him a while to answer the question.

"Before--when the alien was searching my mind, trying to find his mate, it hurt, Jack. I could feel his, his loneliness, his pain, it was driving him, making him push harder and harder, and I couldn't think of what he wanted, Jack, but I knew how he felt, so lonely, so. . . ."

"Daniel. Daniel." The anthropologist's voice was fading in and out, and he had started trembling again. Jack stopped walking and grabbed both of his shoulders, giving him a slight shake to bring him out of where ever he had gone. "It's okay now. You're okay. Let it go."

"I can't, Jack. It's in my head, and it hurts so much. He was alone for so long." Daniel grabbed for his head again, his trembling increasing. Jack tightened his grip and held on until the worst seemed to have passed.

"Come on, we need to get you back to the doc. Just hold on, okay? Just hold on."

About a thousand tests later, the best the doctor could come up with was that, whatever it was that had affected Daniel, it seemed to be going away of its own accord. The attacks had grown less frequent and less intense, but by the time the doctor felt it was safe to leave Daniel alone to sleep, the anthropologist was exhausted almost to the point where he wasn't responding to anyone, and Jack was ready to fall asleep on his feet. He sat by Daniel's bedside after the doctor left, watching as the anthropologist just lay there, eyes half open but not tracking anything. Jack had just worked up the energy to debate with himself over whether or not it was safe to leave when Daniel blinked and looked at him, frowning slightly.

"Jack? You're still here?"

Jack grinned wryly. "What can I say, the d?cor is just so inspiring."

Daniel managed a faint grin in return. "Thanks."

Jack shrugged. "Not a problem. I'd just like to get my hands on the bastard that did this to you. You're lucky to be alive."

"He didn't mean any harm, Jack. He'd just been alone for so long, and all his pain and loneliness were controlling him. He never intended for all of that to come through the memory probe. He wasn't evil." Even that little speech was almost too much. By the end of it, Daniel was breathing heavily and the tremors had returned.

Jack leaned forward and patted his arm, hoping to calm him. "Take it easy, buddy. I believe you. I just can't say I much liked having to go to your wake. Those things make me a little nervous."

Again, the faint flicker of a grin. Daniel let his eyes drift shut, and Jack thought for a moment that he was finally going to sleep. A second later, though, a single tear slid down his cheek.

"Daniel? What is it?" Jack asked softly, before he had time to think better of letting himself get involved. Somehow Daniel had a way of getting under his skin, and before he knew it, the protective wall he'd put in place so long ago and re-fortified after Charlie's death had developed a Daniel-sized door that let the anthropologist into areas he'd thought sealed off from the world. He'd never talked to anyone about his wife and son until suddenly one night he found himself talking to Daniel. Now, even though his self-preservation instincts said to leave well enough alone, he couldn't just leave Daniel hurting without trying to help. "What's wrong?"

Daniel took a deep, shuddering breath. "He loved her so much, and missed her so badly. He didn't have anyone . . . . It made me think . . . . "

"Of Sha're?"

Daniel nodded and swallowed heavily. Jack patted his arm again, and then started rubbing it absently as he tried to think of what to say.

"Daniel, do you remember what I said when we were on Thor's world? About us being a family, you, me, Sam, and Teal'c?" Daniel nodded again. "Well, I know it's not the same as having your wife back, but I did mean what I said. You have a family, Daniel. You're not alone."

This time, it was more than one tear, but Jack waited patiently, rubbing Daniel's arm in slow, soothing motions. Somehow, sitting there in the quiet, dimly lit room, listening to the soft catch of Daniel's breath, Jack was able to truly believe that Daniel was safe, and to know that he hadn't failed another of his own. There was a perfectly good cot across the room. When Daniel finally drifted off, Jack had no doubt that he, too, would now be able to sleep.

Finally Daniel calmed. He was quiet for so long that Jack thought he must have fallen asleep, and with a final pat, stopped stroking his arm. Daniel's eyes drifted slowly open, and he asked in a sleepy voice, "Did you really say nice things in my eulogy?"