Without warning, a hand closes on Jack's wrist. He slaps his own hand down over it, wrenches up the thumb and twists sharply until there is a grunt and the thud of knees on the tile beside his chair.

When Jack came out of the bathroom toweling his hair, he found a clean set of clothes folded neatly on the end of the bed beside his duffel bag. Dropping the towel on the rolling table tray and hiding the leftover cream of wheat--and if there was a god he would never show Jack cream of wheat again--he fingered the collar of the flannel workshirt before shaking it out and holding it up for inspection. It was his. So were the jeans and the socks. He laid the shirt back down and tugged at the drawstring of the hospital pyjamas.


Sara was in the doorway, one hand curling around the doorhandle, her denim jacket hanging from the other. Jack didn't jump much--he was used to it by now, having no privacy--but he had to resist the urge to fold his arms across his bare chest.

"Hey," he echoed, waving at her to close the door before turning back to the clothes. His back to her, he dropped his pants and quickly stepped into the jeans. He could feel her gaze on him, doing inventory, old scars counted, new scars... but there were no new scars.

"You look good." The compliment was finely serrated with accusation.

He pulled on the shirt before answering. "Thanks. And thanks for these. I'm assuming you brought them."

Sara nodded, really just a slight rising of her chin. Her face was thinner than it had been last time he saw her, the lines around her eyes etched a little deeper, and in the colourless November light, her hair seemed less blond and more grey. A glove slipped out of the jacket pocket and she stooped to retrieve it, straightening and winding the leather fingers together tightly. "Sam Carter called me, asked me to pick them up for you. I used Charlie's key. I hope that's okay."

"Sure." Jack did up the buttons, tucked in the shirt and then untucked it again. "You didn't have to come, though. They'd've sent a car."

Shrugging, she waved the objection away with the glove. "I wanted a chance to see you. Finally," she added pointedly.

With deliberate attention, Jack unpacked his duffel bag, laid the few things--some magazines, a portable CD player with snarled wires for the earphones, toiletries, his one change of clothes--out on the bed and then repacked them. "How is Charlie?" he asked.

Sara's silence filled up the space at his back like cold air through an open door and he dropped the last CD into the bag and turned to face her. Her jaw was set, but her eyes were dry and bright. "He went off the meds."

Fuck. "When?"

"Three weeks ago."

"Is he okay?"

"No, he's not okay!" she almost shouted at him, cutting herself off with a humourless laugh. When he winced, she sucked in a deep breath and amended, "Yes, he's... safe. Back on them, the meds. For now." Slumping a little, she looked over his shoulder at the tattered remnants of leaves rattling against the grey sky outside the barred window. "The police picked him up on the road to Cheyenne Mountain." She didn't have to add, "He was looking for you."

Behind his back, he looped the handle of the duffel bag over his arm, wound it one-handed around his wrist once, twice. When it couldn't wind any tighter, he said, "Somebody should have told me."

This time she did shout. "I tried! I tried and tried and they wouldn't let me see you!" She waved her arm in the direction of the gatekeepers, Nurse Michaels with her happy-face pin and Head Nurse Damji with her tight smile, and Sam Carter in the mountain, and the Pentagon. "They said it was all--"

"Classified," he muttered.

Classified," she spat, like it was a curse, the kind you saved up for rapists and puppy murderers. "How can you being hurt be 'classified?'" she demanded, coming forward a step, her face angry but her eyes gleaming. "Maybe you aren't my husband anymore, but he is still your son, and what has that got to do with fucking 'classified?'"

"How can I tell you what I don't know?" Jack asked, his voice drawn out of his dry throat like a length of tattered twine.

"I think that you do know. You just don't know that you know." His smile was so charming, encouraging. He really was handsome. But then, they were all handsome. They always picked the good specimens, didn't they. Kanan got ripped off in that department, but then again, he hadn't had a lot of choice. Ba'al's fingers played across some hidden control and Jack's body suddenly weighed twice as much as before, five times, ten, crushing him, crushing him with his own muscle and bone.

"I don't know," Jack whispered. "I can't tell you what I don't know."

"Oh, please, Jack. Just don't." Sara was closer now, and looking at him with that familiar expression, the brow furrowed, lips thinned, frustration fighting with worry. Her hand came up and hovered near his arm, over the tourniquet he'd twisted around his wrist.

"Where is he now?" Jack asked.

"We brought him home on Tuesday. He's with my sister."

It took Jack a moment to find the name, lost in the jumble of familiar things. "Ruthie?"

"She flew up to help."

He nodded. They stood in the hospital room while November leached the colour out of everything. Finally, Sara's hand fell onto his, and she freed his arm in one, two swift, efficient motions. Looking up at him, her eyes dry again, she asked, "Where were you, Jack?" and waited for him to make his choice.

Jack said nothing.

Her head falling back, resigned, she made that mirthless laugh again, and stepping back, dragged his duffel off the bed and carried it out the door.

Daniel's fingers close around Jack's wrist and Jack can't stop his hand from making a fist.

Bracing himself on his elbow, Daniel lays his himself on Jack's chest, his warmth along his body, settles his shape into Jack's shape, heavy, solid, the weight of muscle and bone. Pulling Jack's arm closer, between them, Daniel brushes his cheek across the clenched fingers, His thumb is wrapped with tape, immobilized, but his fingers are still strong enough to keep Jack from pulling away.

"Whatever it was," he says, his mouth against Jack's knuckles. "Whatever it was, it wasn't this." He says this again, and again, until he can say it against Jack's open palm.


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