"Uh...you don't have to walk on eggshells with me anymore. I'm...cured."
With a small sideways glance, Doctor Daniel Jackson watched as one Colonel Jack O'Neill pretended to be looking anywhere but at the cave where Daniel was crouched down near its mouth. Pacing left and right, muttering out loud to Sam about how the samples were going as if he was even remotely interested, the older man was trying very hard not to be conspicuous.
And failing miserably.
Waiting to see when good ole Doctor Jackson suddenly falls off the edge again, Daniel thought sourly, shaking his head as a bitter taste rose up his throat as he watched the telltale signs of Jack O'Neill worried- running a hand through pepper graying short hair. Back and forth, back and forth the pacing went. Daniel hadn't seen Jack like this since Daniel suffered withdrawal from the sarcophagus. He came to after breaking down in the storage closet to find Jack doing the same rhythmic walking around his private room in the infirmary, the older man unaware of being watched. Otherwise, the colonel would have stopped and cracked a joke for his benefit. No, it was surely a bad sign if Jack, who usually would find something to keep himself busy, was suddenly at a loss for distraction. And Daniel knew who the pacing was for.
"Uh...you don't have to walk on eggshells with me anymore. I'm...cured."
He felt his back curve, leaning him forward. His shoulders ached, his neck cramping painfully with each turn of the head; his body finally deciding to choose now to make a protest about his nights of little sleep.
Two fingers up to his right temple, he pressed down, tips going in a tiny circle, but the slowly growing headache refused to leave. It spread around to the front, and the cave wall blurred to a haze of pinks before clearing. Eyes dry, blinking didn't even help, Daniel wanted no more than to curl on the sandy ground and wait for the world to brighten again around him. But there was no luck this being all a dream. He could feel reality pulling down on his limbs, making even the camel haired brush in his hand heavy as a mallet.
Daniel stared at the faint carvings on the cave once more, the writings he was able to salvage under layers of dust and carbon. They were similar to other caves he'd found on the bottom of this slope, only not as well preserved. Daniel normally would have been jumping at the wonderful chance, at the rare find, but all he could manage to dredge up was the thought he should try and work on this wall. He absently dabbed his brush against one slender stroke to tap the grit out, revealing pale pink colorings of a once vibrant painting of what looked like a buffalo. He couldn't uncover all of it. The parts closer to the cave entrance were worn to smooth slate. Deeper in the cavern, the paintings were barely coaxed out of time and erosion. But they were in better condition than some of the others. Listlessly, Daniel tapped the bristles on one carving, applying the chemicals with a soft cloth. A small person emerged, looking like it was running away from the buffalo, spear in hand, pointing to its pursuer behind it. Daniel flashed an image of hundreds of buffaloes, snorting, charging, steering for the hapless painted person, alone with a pathetic stroke representing its weapon.
Curling his hands into fists, he pressed them against his mouth, tried to count to ten, then twenty. He could feel himself rocking. His bones sounded like they were creaking, but it wasn't loud enough to block out the screaming in his head, the voices begging for help, the footsteps that kept coming. He felt a whimper crawling out, and he clamped his mouth shut, shoving the heels of his hands to block its escape.
Three wavering figures stood so far away, afraid of him, watching as he crumbled. Daniel wanted them to go. Not to see him like this. But he also wanted them to stay. God, he didn't know what to think any more! It was so hard to think, to remember. Everything was mixing up, phantom bruises on his body felt like they hurt, but he didn't know if they were even real. Daniel shuddered, pulling within himself and sobbed out "I'm sorry" to the three distant figures.
"For what?" Jack's voice sounded faint, far away, staying back so Daniel wouldn't attack him again, probably.
It made the tears he would normally never allow leak out of his eyes. Ashamed, he huddled tighter within himself, rocking, wishing they would go away. "For being such a headcase!"
"It's not your fault, Daniel," Sam told him. He tried to look at her, but her image was like a ghost. Real? Unreal? Daniel swayed back and forth.
Not his fault?
All Daniel could remember before arriving here, the only clear vivid thing he knew was real, was him lunging for Jack, clawing at his friend's neck. His closest friend, the only one who patiently tolerated his against the grain thinking with fond patience. Daniel attacked him like a wild animal, and then suddenly he was here.
How could it not be his fault?
He could see himself being stampeded by the lone buffalo, hundreds surely hiding under the layers of worn rock and dust, yet to be uncovered by a brush, waiting to thunder over him with their hard hooves. The archeologist could hear the roaring rhythm of hooves pounding on stone, reaching for a fragile body to smash to nothing. He felt a rush of pity for the rust stained drawing and its pathetic stick grasped in its long fingered hand.
"I know how you feel," he murmured to the poor figure, the brush slipping from his own.
"How's everything going here?" came Jack's quiet inquiry, echoing in the shallow cave. The colonel paused at the mouth of the cave, fidgeting in place. "You okay in there?" Daniel flinched, feeling the concern like a slap.
"Fine," Daniel muttered, wiping the dust from his face, feeling his eyes burn as his vision blurred once more. He rotated his shoulders back, sitting up higher and forced his voice to be firmer. "I'm fine," he repeated. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jack finally nod before moving closer to Sam instead. Daniel let his shoulders droop, heaving a sigh.
The door slammed shut with such a bang Daniel flinched.
"Sorry." Jack slipped into the driver's seat and shut his door carefully. The thump barely registered. He looked over to Daniel. "Need a jacket?"
Daniel could see the white steps leading to the institution from over the edge of the window and he tugged the collars of his shirt closed. He huddled closer to the door, hugging the surface before he realized he half expected to feel padding give under his weight like before and shifted away. He bit back a groan as he felt aches along his back and sides. Probably from fighting the aides when they first tried to take his glasses. Even now, he could feel his arms wrapped around his middle without his consent, the heavy buckle digging into him.
"Daniel?" The older man's voice rose from the cautious quiet tone to full blown worry when he saw Daniel didn't respond immediately.
"Just...just drive," Daniel whispered. He stared at Jack, silently pleading. The colonel's face blurred to two, then back to one worried one. "Just...get me out of here. Please."
Jack's brow went lower, hooding his eyes, but he raised them to look out Daniel's side window. His eyes widened, staring at the view of the institution, maybe at Mackenzie who Daniel last saw standing at the front steps, frustration clear on the psychiatrist's face. Jack swore under his breath, slipped a hand behind Daniel's neck to give it a gentle squeeze. Daniel started, looking at him. The older man had kept his distance before, and the sudden intimate gesture surprised him. As if remembering what happened last time, Jack's mouth twitched, whether to smile or frown, Daniel couldn't see clear enough to know for sure, before pulling his hand away and framing both hands on the steering wheel.
"We're getting out of here," murmured Jack as he yanked his seatbelt across his shoulder to hip, the short click it made loud in the car.
The engine rumbled its approval as Jack turned the key, and Daniel found himself nearly sagging to the floor with relief as he finally felt the car move.
Daniel was finally leaving this place. And by God, he was not coming back.
Daniel took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh. He could feel the tight tension in his shoulders ease back a bit. He could do this. It'd been two weeks, more than ample time to work the drugs out of his system, for the doctors to run their dopamine levels tests on him and for the scrawl of Warner's name on the report, signing him fit for duty. He could do this. Dreams, night visitors, restless tossing and turning, that was all expected, right? He didn't need to see a psychiatrist about his 'experiences' as Mackenzie named them. He didn't need Jack knocking at his office door every few hours to see if he was still in there with all the work he could manage to find. No. He was fine. He didn't need people knocking on his door hesitantly, asking quietly if it was okay to come in rather than barging in like they usually did. He didn't need this. Didn't need anyone to hover.
All he wanted was to be left alone.