His red-rimmed eyes scanned the room. Book on shelves, books in nooks. Books on shelves in nooks on hooks, he thought, and clenched his eyes tight shut. Damn those books anyway, they were what got him into this mess in the first place.
"Doctor, are you still with me?" The voice floated past, and he raised his head, tilting it until his ears caught the sound.
"Yes." His hands tightened around his cup of water, and he took a sip distractedly. The books stood tall and mighty on the wooden shelf behind white-coat man; straight, defiant pillars of knowledge, daring anyone to come within reach, and each one ready to topple with the slightest breath.
"How have you been feeling?"
What the hell kind of question was that? He didn't even look at the man, ignored his dull, starched white coat and notebook he kept scribbling in; damn it, another book. His eyes clenched shut again. Maybe by doing so he could turn off his brain.
"Fine!" he snapped quickly, then checked his tone. "I feel fine." His hand tightened around the flimsy plastic cup, crushing it. Water spilled over his fingers and soaked his pants, but he didn't care. Where was he going to go anyway? Who would see him?
"Doctor, I need you to concentrate."
"Don't call me that."
Eyes vivid with pain. He knew he looked like crap. "I said don't call me that. Don't call me . . .doctor."
"But that is your title."
"No. It's a deathtrap." He chuckled and dropped his cup, then picked absently at his forefinger. "It's a meaningless name, a prefix, something that leads to something else, something better. You know what people think when they hear "doctor"? A healer. Or someone smarter than they are, someone who will make a discovery to save the world. It's not me."
"There are those that would argue your point."
"They usually do." He managed a wry smile, then fell silent. His face reddened, his eyes squinted with unshed tears. He tried to hold his mouth straight but it curved down into a frown, threatening to break into sobs. The man across from him waited until composure was regained.
"Doctor. . .Mister Jackson. . .can you tell me what happened?"
Of course he could. He remembered all of it. It plagued him with nightmares, with waking dreams, in voices and shrieks in his head and in the straight lines of bricks that composed so many nearby buildings. "The shelf broke." He sighed heavily, as heavily as his lids that hung over tired, unfocused eyes. He knotted his fingers. "It fell, too many books."
"I see. Did you repair it?"
"No, I didn't, I couldn't. . ." his face screwed up again, and he fought to hold back his anguish. "The shelf . . .it was too narrow, too light. My books are too heavy for it."
"How many books?"
A small voice met his ears. "A lifetime."
"And what were these books?"
"They, uh. . . they're my library. Books on Egypt, world history, different languages, dialects, records of my travels, my journals with my notes," his voice cracked, "my parent's journals, uh, some fiction but not much." He licked his lips and looked down.
"And they all fell?"
"And you couldn't stop it."
"No, I tried. I couldn't. . .oh god."
"Easy, Mister Jackson. Take a deep breath."
Daniel tried, he tried to steady his harsh breathing, like he tried at everything else. He buried his head in his hands.
"Do you remember the events on PX3-452?"
"Yes," he whispered.
"Can you tell me about it?"
Daniel shook his head vigorously. "No." What the hell did that have to do with anything?
"Doctor. . ."
"I said don't call me that!"
"I need to know what happened."
"No, you don't." Neither did he. He didn't want to remember, couldn't make him. . .
"I know this is difficult for you."
Daniel's breath caught in his throat. Difficult? Difficult? Another pained laughed escaped him. "Congratulations, Doctor, you have just lowered this conversation from the mundane to the morbid."
"Morbid, Doctor Jackson?" The pen tapped the pad lightly, pattering like the hard rain that he knew poured outside because he saw people with dripping umbrellas near the front door. Rain he was isolated from. These days he drowned in thicker substances and laughed at people that needed umbrellas.
"Yes, morbid," he said. "I'm sure you can look it up, you have," he gestured nervously, "all those books."
"Yes, and I might add that my book are secure, if that is what you are worried about."
"Secure?" Secure as the feathers of an angel's wing, or a demon . . . "No, nothing, nothing is secure."
"Doctor Jackson, Daniel, please." The voice dropped the professional tone and softened as the doctor leaned forward. "We've known each other for a long time now. Now I can see that you are hiding from something, and it is eating away at you. As your Doctor I want to help you. As your friend – I need to."
Daniel looked up and took a deep breath, wrapping his arms around himself, then propping his elbows on the table and burying his face in his hands. His voice was small and shaken as he finally gave into the trauma that plagued him. "I was. . .I was on a dig. There was a huge building, it was old, and I was looking at the walls. The writings . . . there was a chamber and we were digging it out, potfuls of clay at a time."
"The ch . . ." he choked and hesitated, then continued, "the children of the village. The older ones, they were curious and good workers, so they helped." Daniel sat up and started to rock, his eyes distant. "We had unearthed a large stone, and found an entrance. There was a pillar. . ." His gaze focused defiantly. "I want to go."
"Daniel, you can't leave yet. I know you want to go, but this is important. You've been here for over a week, don't you want to go back to your home?"
"There is only one way to do that. You must remember."
Daniel considered. Considered the fact that this doctor, his friend, was really a bastard. He stared, his chest solid with grief that just increased until he couldn't breathe. He felt like he was about to explode, or implode, either way he was falling apart, and as he did so the words spilled out around the cracks. "The walls, we went in for a closer look. . ." his face fell in pain and a sob escaped him. "Oh god. . .it was all my fault, all my fault. . .we. . .I moved too much. . ." His face crumpled and he stood, fighting for control, walking to the sofa on the other side of the room. The doctor watched him.
"Then?" he asked gently.
"Then," Daniel whispered, "everything fell. The whole world fell. I-I- it was. . .we were. . .I couldn't move. No one could move. The kids were crying. . .oh god, please. . .help them! Get off of me, help them!" His eyes widened in shock, seeing the event replay in his mind. "They were crushed," he sobbed, "I couldn't move, I couldn't help them. . .they. . .four died. . .I-I killed them. . . I killed them!" He gripped the sides of his head, pulling at his hair. "I killed them! I killed them! I killed. . ." He felt his hands being pried away and arms holding him still. He sobbed into that white, uncaring jacket, hoping that underneath that cold exterior there was some warmth. "Oh god. . .I'm so, so sorry. . .so sorry. . ."
They heard the commotion in the hall, the yelling, the muffled sobs. Jack swallowed, wishing with all his heart that he was in there with his friend. Sam had her head buried in her hands, and Teal'c's hand was on her shoulder. George Hammond stood uncomfortably. "And all this started with the bookshelf falling in his office?"
"Yes sir." Jack replied in a low voice. His eyes were on the floor, his tears hidden. About twenty minutes later the door opened and Daniel was escorted out. He walked past them, unseeing, exhausted, spent. He was taken back to his room where he sat on the plain bedding and stared at the wall, not knowing his friends were right outside looking after him. He stared at the wall where bookshelves should be. . .books on shelves, books in nooks, books on shelves in nooks on hooks, one book down, blot out four, no one reading anymore. . . .