by Layton Colt

Tag to Gamekeeper. _____________________________________________________________

My muses are working me too hard. I've written another story. This one is also a Jack and Daniel friendship fic (shock, shock). And it's also a tag-- this one for Gamekeeper, one I've been meaning to write sense I first SAW Gamekeeper, and am very glad to have gotten out of my system. _____________________________________________________________

Daniel paced the living room of his apartment. He could hear the T.V. in the room just next to his, and he could hear the twins across the hall screaming as they fought to the death on Playstation.

Games were a funny thing. They were safe because they weren't real.

They weren't supposed to be real.

Daniel reached the bookcase, then turned around to head back the other way. He couldn't sleep. He knew what he would see when he shut his eyes--and he'd seen it far too many times before. He'd relived his parent's deaths enough times in his own mind--the last thing he had needed was for it to be played out again, in Technicolor and perfect clarity--just as it had happened the first time.

The memory had just started to fade. His parents would never be forgotten-- but the details of their deaths had begun to blur from the years. Until today.

The Gamekeeper.

Daniel placed his head in his hands and fell onto his couch. How many times had the Gamekeeper hit replay on the most devastating moment of his life? For entertainment. Just harmless fun. A little game. Play along. Make things right. Try all you can--but you can't ever win.

At least Sam and Teal'c had been spared, he knew they had just as many dark memories as he did, if not more. But Jack . . .

Daniel sighed. Jack was a different story. Daniel could only be grateful that the moment Jack had been forced to relive had not been the death of his son. He didn't know if Jack could have survived living that again. Daniel didn't even know how he was surviving this.

He tried to shut the memory out. They were back home. They'd gotten free.

At least, he was hoping they were free. He wondered if that niggling in the back of his mind, that question of whether they'd ever really left that planet--if they'd ever really escaped those pods and gotten home, would ever completely fade.

Surely watching him fall apart in his living room wouldn't be good entertainment. It had to be real. Had to be.

He wondered how Jack was handling what had happened. Back at base, when they were all getting another check up from Janet--Jack had been worried only about him. He never got the chance to ask Jack which of his memories had been made into a motion picture, but he remembered that back on the planet Jack had said he had been forced to watch friends die.

He had just stood to resume his pacing when he heard a knock on the door. He ran a hand through his hair, and looked at it for a moment. He didn't want any visitors tonight, but there was only one person who would show up this late and he wouldn't just leave him standing outside his door.

"Hi, Jack," Daniel said softly.

Jack was leaning against Daniel's doorway, arms crossed in an overly casual pose.

"Hi," Jack said. "Can I come in?"

Daniel quickly moved out of his way and motioned him inside. "What are you doing here?" Daniel asked. He knew.

"I came to see how you were doing. That was pretty . . . strange. What we went through today."

"I'm fine," Daniel said quickly.

"Yea. Yea, me too," Jack nodded.

"Jack . . ."

"I never knew you saw it happen," Jack whispered. "I'm sorry."

"It was a long time ago," Daniel said, his tremulous voice taking the meaning from the words.

"I know," Jack said. "But it happened again today."

"No," Daniel said firmly. "What happened today wasn't real."

"It was real to me," Jack said quietly. "It was just like the first time, in fact. Like I was really there--in the past. Don't tell me it wasn't the same way for you."

Daniel shook his head and walked to the window. "I don't want to talk about it."

"I don't either. But I think we should."

"If you want to talk, talk," Daniel said quietly. "But I really don't have anything to say."

"Alright," Jack said tightly. "Fine. I will."

Daniel wasn't surprised when Jack fell silent. Jack wasn't any better at the talking thing than he was. He was actually, much, much worse.

"You aren't talking," Daniel said with a half smile. He finally pulled his eyes from the window, and turned again to face Jack.

Jack shifted from one foot to the other. "I was thinking," he said defensively.

"I've been thinking all night," Daniel admitted quietly. "So far, it hasn't helped. I just start thinking about how I closed my eyes and listened to their screams. Or I start to wonder if any of us are really here. Or if we're maybe still there."

Jack ran a hand through his hair. "We're home, Daniel. This is real."

"Maybe," Daniel said. "But maybe it's just as much of a game as the one we just left."

"Daniel . . ." Jack trailed off.

"I'm fine, Jack. You should go home and get some sleep."

"Neither of us are going to sleep tonight," Jack said harshly. "You know that."

"Jack . . . what is it you want from me? What do you want me to say?"

"I don't know," Jack sighed. "I just thought--you . . . you get people, Daniel. I thought maybe you would be able to give a reason for what we went through. I don't know . . ."

"What? You want me to defend the Gamekeeper?" Daniel demanded. "I don't want to understand how someone could use our pain as entertainment and not see it as wrong, Jack. And you shouldn't either."

"No, that's not what I meant. I just--"

"Look," Daniel said wearily. "We're both tired. We shouldn't do this now."

"I have to," Jack said. "I want to know . . ."

"What?" Daniel prompted softly.

"I have to know why he picked . . ."

"The memory of your friends and not Charlie?" Daniel guessed quietly.

Jack only nodded. "I don't want to believe that I've forgotten him so much even the Gamekeeper couldn't find his memory . . ." Jack whispered.

"No, that wasn't it, Jack. I think--I think he was starting at the beginning and working back."


"What was the first thing that happened to you--the first horrible life changing event that you could never change . . . never fix," Daniel asked intently.

"John." Jack whispered in understanding.

Daniel nodded. "And for me, it was my parents."

Jack's eyes darkened. "That bastard was going to make us relive that memory until we got it right, and then he was going to move us on to the next one."

Daniel shook his head. "No. He would have kept us on that memory until he was bored. We never would have gotten it right. Not then, and certainly not in some game."

Jack rubbed the back of his neck. "God--"

"He was crazy, Jack," Daniel said. "He'd been alone too long, even with all those people there he was set completely apart--and he just lost touch with what it means to be human."

Jack smiled wryly. "I thought you didn't want to understand him," he said.

Daniel gave a half smile. "Well, I tried not to. But--"

"But it's who you are," Jack supplied.

Daniel sat down on the couch and didn't respond. "Sometimes I don't know who I am anymore," he said after a moment. He looked up, shutting down. "But who does?"

Jack let the unintended comment slip by--remembering to bring it up for future discussion. "You know, we should be happy. We did something today we don't always get to do. We made something better instead of screwing something up."

Daniel grinned. "I'll never forget the look on the Gamekeeper's face as they started picking flowers in his garden."

Jack smirked. "Me either. I'll treasure it forever."

"I think they'll do good on the planet," Daniel said hopefully. "And maybe it won't be perfect anymore--but at least it will be appreciated. Lived on-- not just looked at."

"Maybe we can go check up on them sometime. See how they're doing," Jack suggested. "Hopefully they'll be able to get some tans."

Daniel laughed. And then they both knew they could get passed this. Just like they had the first time they'd lived those moments--just like they always did.

The End.