The Art of Eulogies
by Layton Colt

After the events of Homecoming, Jack must adjust to Daniel's return.
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Jack spun the beer bottle between his shaking hands, watching the bubbles as they danced in the amber liquid. He was getting so very tired of this.

//This is the job, we lose people all the time.//

Jack smiled bitterly. Hell, they lost *Daniel* all the time.

They should be used to it by now. *He* should be used to it by now. After all, he, out of all of them, had been the only one lucky enough to witness every one of Daniel's deaths.

And now he was back again. Descended--flesh and blood, human just like the rest of them. He was back on Earth, back on the team. Back like nothing had changed. But everything changes.

"Oh, I know! The Colonel was so mad," Sam cried laughingly.

Even Teal'c was smiling.

Jack turned away from them, tuning out the stories. He had wanted them here. Had invited them all. Now he just wanted them to go away.

//We get paid for this, right?//

Not enough, Danny boy. Not nearly enough.

"Jack?"

Jack took a deep breath and forced himself to look up--to meet the blue eyes watching him intently from the other side of the room. He forced a smile. "Yes, Daniel?"

"Are you alright? You seem . . ."

What?

"You seem distant."

Daniel was the one who was distant. Daniel was the one that always left.

"I'm fine," Jack said quickly. He wasn't convincing, even to himself.

Sam looked from the Colonel to Daniel and back again. "Well," she said, the smile spreading across her face as false as the one Jack had given a moment ago. "I should be heading home. Teal'c? Do you need a ride back to base?"

Teal'c nodded his head. "If you do not mind, Major Carter."

Sam grabbed her keys and her coat. "It's no problem."

Daniel quickly rose from his seat. "Well, if you're already taking Teal'c, would you mind giving me a lift back to base too?"

Sam didn't turn to look at him as she responded. "I thought you were staying here until you found an apartment."

Daniel frowned. "No, I never said that--"

Sam turned to look at him then. "Well, no. I just assumed. You're still getting your memory back, and this place is familiar. Don't you think he should stay here, Colonel?"

"Sam, I--"

"Colonel?"

Jack looked up distractedly. "I don't think--"

Sam grinned. "Good. I'll see you guys later."

"Wait!" Daniel said, as he made his way after her. "I didn't--"

But Sam was already shutting the door behind her--a smile on her face as the door clicked shut.

Daniel sighed and turned around to face Jack. It wasn't that he didn't want to stay with Jack--it was just that it was so obvious Jack wanted absolutely nothing to do with him. He didn't know what had changed in- between the conversation in the 'gateroom, and the time he arrived for the team dinner--but Jack had shut down. And completely shut him out.

He eyed Jack warily, and Jack stared into the beer bottle. His fourth one. "Jack?" he said softly.

"You know where the spare room is."

"Actually," Daniel said with a wince. "I, ah, I don't. I'm still a little . . . off on all the details."

Jack sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Second door on the right," he said. "You can't miss it."

"Jack . . ." Daniel began again.

"You should sleep," Jack said quietly.

"Which translates to you should get the hell out of my sight," Daniel snapped. "Am I right?"

"You're the linguist," Jack said wearily. "Interpret it however you want."

Daniel laughed then. "You just don't change, do you?"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Anytime something happens that you can't handle--you shut it out. Shut everyone and everything out. You do this every time."

"Don't act like you know me, Daniel," Jack said. "Maybe you did once--but a year can change you. I'm not who I was--I HAVE changed. And so have you."

"I don't even remember this last year, Jack. So I haven't changed at all."

"You changed before you left, Daniel," Jack said bitingly. "Because the Daniel I used to know sure as hell wouldn't have given up."

"I never gave up," Daniel said positively.

"You left. You left us because it was easier that way."

"I left because I thought I could do more. Obviously, from what you tell me, I was wrong to believe that. But I was only doing what I thought was right."

"You always are," Jack snapped. "But you never think beforehand, do you? You just make that leap of faith, time and again. And you never care what you're leaving on the other side of the rift."

"Jack--"

"No. Don't bother trying to explain any of this to me, Daniel. Because I won't ever understand."

"Well that was always the problem between us, wasn't it?" Daniel asked sadly. "We could never understand each other. We could never see the other's point of view."

"I'm going to bed."

"Typical," Daniel said. "You never want to talk things through."

"And you never stop talking," Jack retorted, as he started out of the living room.

"You know, Jack," Daniel called after him. "I know we've had a lot of fights. And I know it's been a long time--but I had really thought you would at least be happy I'm back."

Jack stopped walking and turned around. "I never said I wasn't happy."

"No, no you didn't," Daniel agreed. "You just don't seem to care one way or the other."

"Maybe I'm just used to it by now, Daniel," Jack said acidly. "It's not like your death is unprecedented. I grieved the first five times. I'm taking this one off. I'm not up for it."

"That isn't fair," Daniel snapped.

"No, Daniel. It really isn't. It isn't fair that I should have to watch you die so many damn times. And it isn't fair that I've already been to your funeral once. I even gave the eulogy, and let me tell you--that one was tricky."

"Jack--"

Jack ignored the interruption. "But we were both different then. And I just said what came to me. I can't do that now. We've changed too much."

"So, what? What now, Jack? That's it? We can't be friends anymore?"

"Were we?"

"What?" Daniel asked impatiently.

"Were we friends?" Jack asked. He leaned against the wall, and stared across at Daniel solemnly. "I thought we were. But how could we have been?"

"We were friends, Jack. I may not remember everything--but I remember that. You tried to tell me once before that we never were--I'm not falling for it this time."

"Maybe you should go," Jack said. "All your stuff is at the base."

"No," Daniel said. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Damn it, Daniel."

"I don't get you, Jack. You let me go. I came to you--when I was dying I came to you and you let me go."

"You remember that?" Jack gasped.

"It's the farthest I'm able to remember," Daniel said. "You never asked me to stay."

"Would you have?" Jack demanded.

"Yes."

"I don't believe you. You never listen to me," Jack snapped.

"I do. I've always listened to you, Jack. Because whatever you think of me, I've always respected you. And I trust you more than anyone."

Jack shook his head. "No, no!" He pointed angrily at Daniel. "You were always doing whatever you wanted, Daniel. You never cared what I thought."

"I did, Jack. I still do."

Jack shook his head, the clear pain in Daniel's voice shooting through him.

"Why do you think it was you I came to?" Daniel demanded. "Why did you think I choose you over everyone? I could have went straight to Jacob, Jack, and asked him to stop myself. But I went to you."

"Stop it, Daniel, alright? Just stop."

"I knew you would understand, Jack. Maybe we'd disagreed on everything else up to that point, but I knew you would understand why I had to go."

"I didn't," Jack snapped.

"Then why did you let me?" Daniel asked quietly.

"Maybe because I got sick of trying to stop you when you never listened anyway."

"That isn't why," Daniel said assuredly. "You knew I had to leave. Maybe we'd both known for a long time."

"I don't want to do this," Jack snapped.

"Do you really wish I never came back?" Daniel asked softly.

"No, Daniel. I wish you never left."

"We can't change the past, Jack," Daniel said. "But what happens next is up to you. You have to forgive me for leaving--and you have to forgive yourself for letting me go."

Jack rested his forehead in his hand, and slumped against the wall. "How can I, Daniel?"

"Because it's what I wanted, Jack. It was something I had to do. No matter how things turned out--I needed to."

"Well you never should have been in that position in the first place," Jack said quietly. "I should have been there with you on Kelowna, no matter how boring I thought the grand tour would be. It should have been me."

"You can't always be there, Jack. You can't always protect everyone, you're only human." Daniel grinned ruefully then. "And speaking as someone who was briefly more than that, I apparently couldn't protect everyone even then. It wasn't your fault."

"I know that," Jack said.

"Do you?" Daniel asked. "You have a bad habit of blaming yourself for everything, Jack. Don't blame yourself for this too."

"That's rich coming from you," Jack snapped.

"What is it you expect from me, Jack?" Daniel asked wearily.

"Not getting yourself killed on a regular basis would be nice."

Daniel grinned. "Now that sounds like the Jack O'Neill I remember."

Jack glared at him. "This isn't a joke, Daniel. This is your life we're talking about."

"Does that mean you care about my life, Jack?"

"You know damn well I care," Jack snapped. "God knows why, but I do."

Daniel's grin broadened. "So we were friends."

"We ARE friends," Jack said grudgingly. "But if you die again--and come back again. I will kill you myself. Friends or not."

"Deal," Daniel agreed readily.

"I am happy you're back."

"I know," Daniel nodded. "But it's nice to hear you admit it."

Jack narrowed his eyes. "You knew?"

Daniel smiled wryly. "Of course, Jack. We may be missing a year--but you haven't changed much, whatever you say. I still know you, whether you want to believe that or not."

"You can't ever let me get away with anything, can you?" Jack asked wearily.

"Nope," Daniel said smartly. "And you've missed that about me."

"I have not," Jack denied.

"Yes you have."

"Have not."

"Have."

"Have not."

"Have."

Jack held up a hand in submission. "Stop," he said. "Jesus. I certainly haven't missed that."

Daniel looked back at him innocently. "Yes you have."

Jack ran a hand over his face. "You were right. Nothing has changed."

Daniel laughed, and even Jack grinned when he heard the sound.

"You know," Jack said. "Suddenly I'm not so tired. You want to watch some T.V.?"

Daniel's eyes flickered to the corner of the room, and the small table sitting just out of the reach of the lamp light. "Actually, I was thinking we should play a game of chess. Have you been practicing while I was gone? Because if I'm remembering correctly," he said with a grin. "You need it."

Jack paled slightly. "Chess?" he asked.

Daniel was already moving over to the table, and flipping on the closer lamp. He froze as he turned to look at the chess board. The pieces were placed as though mid game. And Daniel recognized the arrangement.

"This is the game we were playing when Hammond called about the mission to Kelowna," Daniel said disbelievingly. "They're all in the exact same place."

Jack wouldn't meet his eyes. "Yea, well. No one else would play with me."

"Jack--" Daniel started.

"Alright, fine," he said. He met Daniel's eyes defiantly. "I didn't want to play with anyone else."

Daniel broke eye contact first, his eyes straying back to the board. He had Jack set up perfectly--and he remembered that he'd just been ready to move that one last piece and pronounce check mate when the phone had rung.

"Maybe we should finish the game," Daniel suggested quietly.

"You're just saying that because you're about to beat me," Jack said, trying to hold back a grin.

Daniel turned to him and smiled. "That's only part of it," he said.

Jack ran a hand through his hair, and moved to sit on his side of the chess board. He stared at it for a moment. It had been sitting here haunting him for a year. His eyes had avoided the corner without him even realizing he was doing it--but he had never forgotten what was there.

"Okay," he said. "Let's play."

Daniel sat across from him, and examined the pieces.

Jack gave an exasperated sigh. "Oh stop pretending like you have to think about it and check mate me already."

Daniel grinned, and slid his white knight right up to Jack's king. "Check mate," he said.

Jack groaned theatrically, and leaned back in the chair. "Hey," he asked slyly. "You want to play Gin?"

The End.