On The Edge
Daniel sat in a small storage room on level 23 under Cheyenne Mountain. In his hand was a small utility knife that he turned over and over. The only light in the room came from the crack in the door, glistening off the sharp edge of the blade in his hand. The only sound was the tick, tick, tick of a clock on the wall, showing the time to be 2:35 AM.
The knife felt heavy in Daniel's hand, but somehow light at the same time. How is that possible? The blood was pumping in his ears with a whooshing sound that drowned out the world around him, narrowing his perception to the object in his hand. Not that there was much to drown out, no one really came to this part of the base except for filing of endless mission reports and no one would be doing that in the middle of the night.
No, it was just him and the pain now, and the bitter sweet promise of the blade. He turned the knife again to make the light glisten off the sharp edge once more. How would it look drenched in red? He lowered the tool to his arm and made an incision a couple of inches long. The skin was soft and tender here, on the pale underside of his arm. The honed blade cut easily into it, revealing the red underneath. It wasn't a deep cut, just enough to let a few drops of blood trickle out, but the pain was exquisite. It seared through the skin, burning and shooting out into his hand. With each pulsing throb it released a little of the tension built up inside him, soothed a little of the anxiety raging in his heart.
He stared at the knife hovering an inch above his arm, the bright red of his blood coalescing on its edge. He never heard someone entering the room behind him. Suddenly there was just a hand on his, holding the knife and pulling it away. A tissue was pressed hard on the incision on his arm. It was immediately stained red with the blood. Having placed the blade out of his reach, the hands grabbed his shoulders and turned him around in the swivel chair.
"Daniel! What are you doing?"
It was Jack, his voice sharp with anger and thick with … something else.
Daniel couldn't speak, only barely heard Jack's words though the noise in his head.
"What – are – you – doing?" Jack repeated the question, pronouncing each word slowly as if talking to someone mentally disabled. Perhaps I am. He didn't seem to be able to think anyhow. He really should answer Jack, calm him down.
"I wasn't trying to kill myself." The words came out weak, but carried an irritated edge. Not at all how he had intended them. They were supposed to reassure Jack that he was okay, to make him leave him alone. Alone with the pain, and the knife. "Wasn't trying to kill myself," he repeated in a whisper, almost to himself. Was I? The last part he left in his head. He didn't need Jack to hear it. It would only worry him, or make him mad. He already seemed to be mad though, judging from the grip he had on Daniel's shoulders.
"Can you let go?" Daniel asked, the irritated tone now a whine in his voice.
Jack stared at him.
"Can I?" he retorted, then paused for a moment before he continued, "Are you gonna talk to me then? And come with me to see Frasier? Or are you gonna find yourself another blade and finish what you claim you weren't doing?"
Daniel didn't answer him. Couldn't. Couldn't even look Jack in the eye. The questions were valid. He probably wouldn't do any of those things Jack wanted him to. At best he was just going to run away first chance he got, go home and hide away from the world. Maybe he would try again with a knife, except next time he wouldn't be stupid enough to do it on-base. He'd do it at home; lock the doors and pull out the phone so no one could interrupt.
Jack saw the answers to his questions on Daniel's face, he always could regardless of whether he said anything or not. With one hand still on Daniel's shoulder he pulled up a chair and sat down in front of him. Daniel couldn't help but notice that he placed himself square in front of the door, blocking the only escape route. He sighed. I don't want to do this.
"Now can you tell me what the hell you were doing?" Jack's voice was sharp. If Daniel had seen the way his face distorted with a wince he would have realized it was sharper than the colonel had intended. Daniel didn't look at Jack though; he was staring intently at his own hands lying haphazardly in his lap where they'd landed when Jack spun him around. The tissue on his left arm had stuck to the wound, bonded by the blood. He picked at a corner of the white paper and gave a half smile at the pain shooting through his arm as it tugged on the sore skin. Jack must have seen it, because he gently wrapped his hand around Daniel's to keep it away.
Daniel looked up with surprise, for the first time actually seeing his friend. What he saw wasn't what he had expected. Jack's eyes weren't hard with anger, but in fact filled to the brink with tears. His shoulders slumped with a strange combination of collapse and tension. The usual guard of flippant humor was gone from his face, replaced by a look of fear and concern. Daniel drew a shaky breath. Guess I'm going to have to do this.
"I wasn't trying to kill myself," he repeated, sounding a little more sure of it this time. He could tell that Jack was torn between relief and not actually believing his words. "I just…" He tried to continue, but he couldn't. Strange to be a liguist who speaks over 26 languages and not be able to find the words. Jack kept looking at him, holding his eyes as if it could keep him out of the pit of despair he'd been in a moment ago. Daniel wanted to look away, couldn't bear the pleading in Jack's eyes, but they held him as firmly as the hand on his shoulder.
"You just…?" Jack echoed.
"I just…" Daniel tried again, tearing his eyes from their locked gaze and returning to the hands in his lap. "I just had to do something. I couldn't take it anymore."
Jack didn't say anything this time; just let the silence stretch out until Daniel had to fill it.
"The pain, inside," he tried to explain, "It made it go away, a bit."
"Yeah, and if you cut a little deeper it goes away all together." There was a strange edge to Jack's voice now that made Daniel look up to meet his eyes again. They held a darkness he recognized, bubbling up from that deep down place Jack always kept it. It hadn't been this clear since that first mission to Abydos, when he had been intent on carrying out a suicide mission.
"I know, Daniel. I've been there," he said, and Daniel knew it was true. Jack had felt despair. He'd tried to drown out the pounding of a broken heart, finally turning to the gun when nothing else worked. It was dumb luck he'd gotten the Stargate assignment when he did.
"It doesn't matter if you don't mean to at first. You'll push it further and further until there's no turning back. And I am not gonna lose you like that." Jack's voice broke at the last words. Daniel saw the shadow of Charlie's memory flash over his face. That had been an accident, but apparently Jack feared he would repeat it intentionally.
"Why?" He had to ask.
"Why?! Daniel…" Jack whispered his name, squeezing his shoulder with the hand still resting there. "You're my family. How could I ever stand losing you?" The tears welled over in Jack's eyes, but he made no motion to dry them off. Daniel wasn't sure if he'd ever seen him cry before, and somehow it felt surreal. He looked down to his hands again, suddenly seeing the cut on his arm through Jack's eyes. If their roles had been reversed, how would he have reacted? A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he turned his eyes to Jack again.
"Thanks Jack." The words seemed to take the colonel by surprise.
That woke a sparkle in Jack's eye.
"Didn't we have this conversation … about a year ago?"
Daniel just smiled.
"Wait," Jack said, "you remember that?"
"Bits and pieces. Not really remember but sometimes things … are there. That's why it's so hard," he added as an afterthought, losing the joy he'd felt for a moment.
"Cause you can remember some things and not others?"
"Yeah. Like I can catch snippets of our conversations, but most of the time I don't know what they're about. And I can remember every single 'gate-address I've ever dialed, but I can't remember the smell of Sha're's hair." Now his eyes were filling with tears. He turned his head away, he never did like crying in front of people, but Jack just gave his hand an encouraging squeeze. For a while they just sat, their silence now comfortable and reassuring. Finally Jack let his hand wander from Daniel's shoulder to his chin. With a firm but tender grip he turned his face to him.
"Let's go see Frasier."
Daniel didn't want to go, didn't want another lecture, but he knew Jack was right. The cut on his arm might be deeper than he'd thought, and if he didn't want a scar he would have to let Janet clean and bandage it. Reluctantly he nodded his agreement and let Jack take his arm to help him up.
Not once on the way down to the infirmary did Jack let go of Daniel's arm, as if he was afraid he might still bolt if he got the chance. Daniel couldn't deny the thought crossed his mind when they got into more populated parts of the base. He'd sought out the solitude of a storage room for a reason. The eyes of the SG-personnel felt like weights on his shoulders and embarrassed he fixed his gaze on his own walking feet. With Jack's hand firmly gripping his arm he couldn't get away, but Jack must have felt his unease. At each encounter he shielded Daniel with his own body, dismissing all attempts to talk to either one of them.
When Jack led him into the infirmary, Daniel was glad to see it was almost empty. Since it was the middle of the night, only a small staff was on duty: Dr. Janet Frasier and two nurses. The only other patient was Siler, who undoubtedly had gotten himself electrocuted or some such again. Daniel flashed a weak smile at the man whose luck was almost as bad as his own.
Janet quickly approached them, all smiles and honest concern. Jack must have made a face communicating the tone of the situation, because she almost immediately dialed it down a notch. With a little nudge on Daniel's elbow Jack urged him forward and he climbed up to sit on the examination bed. He didn't try to hide the cut on his arm, having Janet take a look at it was why they'd come here, but he expertly avoided to meet her eyes.
"What happened?" she asked. Daniel didn't answer, just ducked his head further down.
"He cut himself." Jack's answer in his stead was low and short. More communication must have passed between him and the petit doctor though, because she asked nothing more. Instead she gently grabbed Daniel's arm and pealed the tissue away.
The cut wasn't deep – Thank god – and he'd placed it far away from his main artery. The bleeding had almost stopped already.
"You won't need any stitches," Janet informed him. "I'm just going to clean it out and put a bandage on."
As she stepped away to fetch the supplies needed Jack stepped a little closer. He laid a hand on Daniel's shoulder again and squeezed it gently.
"I guess you're not gonna wanna talk to the shrink, huh?" he asked. Daniel just shook his head. He didn't really think his will had anything to do with it.
"Then you're gonna have to promise me not to do that again." Surprised, Daniel looked up. Jack's face was set with that strange mix of fear and concern, his body clearly still a knot of tension. "And you gotta talk to me."
"Jack, you don't do talking. I remember that." He threw Jack a smirk reminiscent of the ones that usually adorned the colonel's face.
"Well, you need it, so I'm gonna do it." Jack defended. "Unless you'd rather chat with Dr. MacKenzie?"
"No thank you… Alright, I promise."
Janet returned and another look of communication passed between her and Jack. She nodded approvingly, and then proceeded to clean the wound on Daniel's arm. The alcohol stung but he endured it without a sound. He just bent his head down to hide the shade of red creeping up his cheeks. After the bandage had been taped in place she gave him a pat on the arm, letting her hand linger for just a moment.
"I won't call Dr. MacKenzie this time." She bent down to catch his eyes. "But mind you, I mean this time. Are you going home with Colonel O'Neill?"
Daniel began to shrug his shoulders but stopped himself halfway up and threw Jack a look. Jack returned his gaze with an encouraging smile, both question and urging implied. Daniel returned the smile with a tentative one of his own.
"Yeah, I guess I am."
"Alright then. You're free to go. Jack, take care of him."
Jack simply nodded and renewed his grip on Daniel's arm, leading him out of the infirmary and on out of the mountain. Again he made sure Daniel didn't have to talk to anyone and soon it was just the two of them, in Jack's truck, on their way to Jack's house. Daniel closed his eyes and let his mind drift into the humming of the car's tires on the road. As much as the blade of the knife sinking into his arm had relieved his anxiety, this was better. How on earth could he have forgotten that Jack was such a good friend?