AUTHOR'S NOTES: This began life as one of four prologues for the longfic/novella I was writing two years ago, working title 'Avatar'. The story has, sadly, fallen by the wayside, but this works as a stand-alone. Set in an alternate universe that splits from canon around early Season 5.
It was raining.
Fat, hot droplets thumped down against the balcony window of Daniel's apartment, dashing themselves to smaller raindrops against the clear glass. Daniel turned from the darkness outside to the lights of his apartment. His fists clenched at his side, and his body tensed with frustration. Tonight, he was restless.
He'd been dropped home hours earlier, with the firm injunction to go to bed and get some rest.
But once in bed, he couldn't sleep.
He didn't want to sleep.
Sleep would bring dreams, and he was afraid he'd dream of Jack.
Turning from the downpour outside, the piano loomed in his vision. Its polished wood surface glowed gently, illuminated by the light from the study next door.
Daniel sat down and began to play.
Slowly, haltingly, he stumbled his way through Mozart; but the wrong notes jangled discordantly in his ears as he realised Mozart was too light, too playful for his state of mind. Instead, he changed to the only piece of Beethoven he knew: the Moonlight Sonata. The slow dark notes of the music added to the tension in the air from the storm outside and matched Daniel's mood.
His playing was a long way from the quality of a concert pianist, but then, he didn't play for the pleasure of others, he played for himself, to relieve emotions for which he had no other outlet.
But the power of the music wasn't soothing the ache inside him, tonight.
Jack had questioned the presence of the instrument.
"Why the hell do you have a piano, anyway, Daniel?" It was amazing how Jack made any space seem small. The older man was pacing like a caged creature – which, Daniel supposed, he was. They were waiting for Sam to turn up so they could all go to the hockey game together. Jack had muttered things about women and punctuality, while Teal'c observed their team-mate's restiveness with one brow arched.
"To play, of course, Jack." Daniel deliberately made the answer self-evident. He'd endured a lot of prodding from Jack on their last mission, and wasn't above getting some of his own back.
"You can't play the piano!" Jack promptly derided, before he stopped and looked at Daniel. "Can you?"
When Sam pushed the door open five minutes later, the sight which greeted her was of her CO standing in the middle of the room air-conducting, while Daniel grinned away as he played the Triumphal March from Verdi's opera 'Aida' – arranged for piano, of course.
His fingers stilled on the keys, even the music failing to provide the necessary catharsis for his grief.
Leaning forward, his head came in contact with the music rest as he tried to remember how to breathe. He'd lost friends and family before. His parents, Sha'ure, Shifu, Sarah. Surely he should be inured to such pain, immune to it by now.
The pain dragged everything into it, skewing the world around him as the black hole of P3W-451 had skewed time around the SGC. Nothing was sacred from the sharp slice of old memories, or the bitter truth of a friend presumed dead.
Restless again, Daniel got up and stalked to the kitchen. He'd have coffee to settle his nerves and drive away the desire to sleep. As he filled the silver kettle with water, his mind echoed the General's words of that afternoon – a death knell to any hopes SG-1 had harboured over the last few months.
The search would be stopped.
"In the absence of any further information regarding the disappearance of Colonel O'Neill on P3N-995, the search is being discontinued. He's been missing for four months and we've found no sign of him in that time."
General Hammond looked as though he was choking on the words, but if his voice was a bit more gruff than usual, nobody commented on it. The General had a fondness bordering on fatherly for most of his people, but his relationship with Jack had been special.
"Command of SG-1 will be permanently transferred to Major Carter, and SG-1 will be assigned a fourth member." Thank God, the General hadn't mentioned the word 'replacement'. He would have had a silent mutiny on his hands. Nobody could or would ever replace Jack – not in SG-1, or in the hearts of the people who had known him. "The loss of Colonel O'Neill is not only a loss to your team, or to this base, but to the many personnel who have known him in his years of service in the United States Air Force. You will not find yourselves alone in your grief."
By which the General meant that ending the four-month search was one of the most difficult decisions he'd had to make.
Daniel understood the decision. He resented it like all hell, but he understood.
The SGC was more than one man.
Thunder crashed outside, and Daniel remembered another storm.
"I don't suppose you happened to remember to patch this tent after our last mission?
"Uh...no, Jack. We got back, and then SG5 brought through those scrolls from P5R-902 which were written in a variant of Ancient Hebrew, and I was translating them..."
He didn't need to see Jack's face to know his team-mate was pissed.
"It's leaking Daniel."
"On my head."
"Oh. I'm sorry, Jack."
"We're supposed to be staying on this planet for two more days, Daniel." There was an icy component to Jack's voice that matched the weather around them. "So you can study the ruins which happen to be another half-day's walk away – in spite of the preference of your team-mate, and, I might add, the person you will be sharing this tent with for the next two days."
Daniel digested this, wondering what Jack was going to say next. Four months of working with Jack O'Neill had given Daniel some further insights into the man who commanded SG-1, but there were so many things about the Colonel which Daniel didn't know – and didn't understand. " Now, Dr. Jackson, you have two options. You can go outside and make running repairs to this tent so my head stays dry as long as I am in here, or you can live with a very annoyed Air-Force Colonel, who, I will remind you, is trained for Special Ops and knows many ways to inflict a great deal of pain without actually killing a man!"
On any other day, Daniel would have said the older man was joking.
Daniel bolted for the tent-repair kit.
In spite of his melancholy, Daniel smiled. His attempts at repairing the tent had been...well...laughable. Sam had taken one look at his sodden and shoddy handiwork, and tried not to giggle as she pointed out what he was doing wrong.
As Daniel poured coffee, he wondered where his team-mates were.
Teal'c was probably still back at the base, quietly grieving for the loss of Jack. What Jaffa rituals were customary in a situation where it was uncertain if a comrade lived or died, Daniel didn't know. But Teal'c would deal with it in his own quiet way.
Sam could be anywhere. She'd signed out of the mountain shortly after the meeting with the General had concluded and wasn't answering her home phone, her mobile, or her pager. Once he'd realised she'd gone off-base, Daniel had tried contacting her but without any luck. He hoped she was okay. It wasn't usually like Sam to be melodramatic, but contained grief did strange things to a person – and Sam was one of the most emotionally self-contained people Daniel had ever known.
And Jack? Nobody knew where Jack was.
"Daniel, the most exciting thing we've found on this planet was that slab of white rock back in the clearing two klicks back!"
"I'm not asking for a week, Jack..."
"No, you're just asking for another day on a planet that has absolutely nothing to offer us!" Something had Jack in a bad mood and everyone had been suffering. He'd snapped constantly at Daniel, occasionally at Sam, and even Teal'c had gotten more than his usual share of short words. "What is it with this planet anyway?"
"If I knew, I'd tell you!" Daniel replied shortly. "It's just...a feeling...something..."
"Oh great, Daniel Jackson's school of planet-hopping intuition. How to tell when there's 'something' about a planet even when it's completely deserted! Carter, Teal'c, pack it in, we're headed back to the Stargate."
"Daniel, I'm going to put in for an ecological survey to be done – this might be a possible colony world – but I am not going to stay here for another day on the nebulous intuitions of even the great Dr. Jackson!"
His sarcasm bit deep and Daniel turned away, hurt by his friend's scorn. The silence was frigid until sunset and the camp was set up. Jack had stalked away to do another 'look around' at the terrain, peeling his eyes for any signs of natives or hostiles. Shortly afterwards, Sam excused herself and went to find him. Daniel went to find somewhere to relieve himself and heard the distant sounds of what passed for an 'argument' between the two Air Force officers.
"...not asking you to rescind your decision to leave, sir."
"Then what the hell are you asking, Carter?"
"Daniel is part of your command. His opinion is just as valuable when we're on these planetary surveys as when we have ruins to decipher. He doesn't think the way you, or Teal'c, or I do..."
"And that's a good thing?" The sarcasm was still there, but the underlying anger was fading. Even at this distance, Daniel could hear it – and it was a relief. Even Jack's anger had a limit.
"You know it is, Colonel. The decision to return to the Stargate was yours to make..."
"So glad you recognise that!"
"But, with all due respect, sir, the manner in which you handled Daniel's objections was...brutal."
"And you're qualified to make such a judgement call?"
"When it affects the cohesiveness of our team as a viable field unit, sir, yes."
"And who's to say it affecting the unit? We've had our differences before."
"Over things more urgent than a deserted planet." Sam paused, and Daniel could almost see the lift of her chin as she passed the necessary and unpleasant judgement on her CO. "Sir, it is not my role to tell you what your decision should have been – as you have pointed out – but Daniel's been very fragile lately. No, this isn't the first time you and Daniel have clashed, but anything previous has been a meaningful disagreement – not over whether we extend our visit on an empty planet by one more day."
Jack didn't speak for nearly a minute, before he said quietly, "Do you have any other issues to bring to my notice, Major?"
"Very well, then. Dismissed."
Daniel did his business and went back to the camp where Teal'c was heating up the MREs and Sam was reading over her notes on the geological survey of the planet. He gave no sign he had heard her disagreement with Jack, and she didn't indicate she'd just been calling her CO's handling of personnel matters into question. But the smile she turned on him was warm, if brief.
After some time, Jack returned from wherever he'd been, and flung himself down for dinner in a considerably more affable frame of mind. Whatever black mood had possessed him earlier, he'd purged it.
And that evening, before they settled down to sleep under the bright stars spattered over the canvas of the heavens, Jack apologised for his earlier words – or as close to apologising as Jack got.
"Look, about this afternoon, Daniel. It's just...I don't like this planet. It gives me the creeps."
Daniel decided that a little humour injected into the conversation wouldn't go astray. "The creeps? Is that a military term or something?" Across the camp, he saw Teal'c's mouth twitch slightly.
Jack snorted. "Oh, very funny. We're still going home tomorrow."
"Sure thing, Jack." It was just one of those times Daniel had pushed a little too hard and Jack had bitten back a little more fiercely than expected. And Sam was right: it wasn't the disagreement which had hurt so much as the triviality of it. But Jack was willing to give an apology for his derision – however subtly - and so Daniel was willing to forgive.
He did glimpse the hand Jack put on Sam's shoulder – just a brief squeeze that should have gone unnoticed. The reassurance that she'd said and done the right thing by taking Jack to task – even if it was an uncomfortable experience for both of them.
And that was one of the things Daniel appreciated about Jack O'Neill. The man might be a stubborn sonovabitch sometimes, but he was willing to learn from the people whose judgement he valued and trusted. He was willing to admit that he might not have the answers, and pick a course of action based on his faith in his team-mates.
The kettle whistled and Daniel took it off the burner.
That had been the last night on P3N-995. Teal'c was on first watch, Sam was on second, Jack was on third. But when they woke up in the morning, there was no sign of Jack. He'd vanished – without a trace. His equipment was where he'd placed it the previous night, but he was gone.
And now, after four months of fruitless searches, General Hammond had been forced to declare Jack MIA.
Daniel made himself a coffee and went back out to the balcony window, watching the storm again.
Tonight was the first night of the rest of Daniel's life without Jack O'Neill.
Wherever his remaining team-mates were, Daniel understood that they needed time away from each other. Time to let the sharp edge of grief dull a little. Being around each other now would have been hell, too painfully reminded of the fourth, absent member of their team.
They'd come back together eventually. Right now they needed the space.
Space to remember and to forget, to find their footing and adjust their relationships. Space to make peace with the man who had touched their lives for five years – in Daniel's case, six – and what he had meant to each of them.
Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson had been two men of disparate backgrounds, with views of life nearly incompatible, and yet they had been friends.
They had been brothers.
Jack had shown Daniel a man of honour whose past had scarred his present and maimed his future, but who still fought the good fight. Jack O'Neill was a man of responsibility and duty, but also of good humour and cheerful company. Seemingly uncomplicated, the man was incredibly complex: trained to kill, yet with a soft spot for children and animals; a military mind, yet an interest in the arts; a man who kept himself emotionally constricted, yet cared far more deeply than he should.
Daniel hoped that in him, Jack had found a friend who might disagree with his opinions, but whose tenacity he could admire. Someone worth teaching about the parts that made up Jack's life outside work: astronomy, hockey, opera, and strategy games. Someone from whom it was worth learning about the beauty and variation of over a hundred Earth cultures and languages. A friend to laugh with, grieve with, and hang out with from time to time.
Oh, they argued, they quarrelled, they disagreed, they sulked.
But they were more alike than they had ever cared to admit.
Droplets trailed crazily down the glass window as Daniel understood the truth of his bond with Jack.
They were the same.
Trying to do the right thing by the people they saw it their duty to protect. Determined to the point of pig-headed at times when they knew their way was right. Confident in their fields of expertise, and usually willing to concede where they were out of their depth.
They each carried their wounds and scars like a turtle with its shell: both a part of its existance, and protection against further harm. Jack's time in Special Ops, his imprisonment and torture in Iraq, Charlie's death, and Sara's desertion balanced against the death of Daniel's parents, the desertion of his peers in the academic world, and the loss of Sha'ure.
Daniel had finally come to accept the fact that, more than the successes or triumphs of his life, it was the tragedies which had formed him into the man he was.
Dan'yel of Abydos had been happy and content with his life, and would never have regretted remaining on Abydos for all time, having children with Sha'ure, telling the villagers of Earth, and growing old and fading into dust as his time came and went.
Daniel Jackson would have been glad of that peace. In the frenetic pace of his life as a member of SG-1 for the last six years, he'd done things he wished he hadn't, seen things he'd be happy to forget, carried burdens which ought not to be borne.
Yet he'd made friends he valued dearly: Sam, with her intellectual brilliance, and her logical, grounded thoughts; Teal'c, with his silent thoughtfulness, his uncanny insights, and the calm of his presence; and Jack with the wit that had hidden a thousand wounds, the heavy sense of responsibility he owed his people, and his rough-and-ready loyalty to the friends he trusted.
Daniel would never have had those relationships while he remained on Abydos.
He still loved Sha'ure in a part of his heart where pyramids stood tall and imposing amidst golden sands, and the cries of the children playing amidst the dunes could be heard over the chatter of the women grinding their grain. But Sha'ure of Abydos could never have become Sha'ure Jackson, and Daniel Jackson could not have returned to being Dan'yel of Abydos.
The disparity between the two men – one and the same – stung, and brought with it a realisation that what was done was done.
All you ever had was the present.
"Seize the day, Daniel," Jack murmured as they stood on the marble balcony of an empty palace. Sam and Teal'c were somewhere inside, looking for the energy source Sam had detected on her instruments.
Daniel was being impressed by the architecture – distinctly Grecian in style, although they had found no signs of writing that he could determine. Jack's comment threw him, coming from out of the blue as it did.
"Carpe Diem?" He asked. A frown wrinkled Jack's brow, and Daniel explained: "It's Latin for what you just said. 'Seize the day." He considered the shambles of the city below, "What brought that thought on?"
One gloved hand waved at the empty buildings spread out beneath them. "This. The ruins of it. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust... The eternal destiny of all things..."
The philosophy of thought was completely unlike Jack – usually the most grounded and down-to-earth of people. "Have you been drinking, Jack?" It was a rhetorical question – Jack would never endanger his team by being intoxicated when going off-world – whatever occurred to them on-world. "This is...more metaphysical than you usually get."
Jack snorted, "You don't think I'm capable of convoluted thought?"
"Sure, you're capable. You just don't usually bring it up in conversation," Daniel responded easily. "I'm just curious about what kicked off such a melancholy set of thoughts."
"Oh," Jack shrugged, "Stuff."
There. That was the Jack O'Neill Daniel was used to dealing with. Winner of the 'most emotionally constipated' award – although sometimes he thought Sam came a pretty close second.
He never got around to asking exactly what 'stuff' Jack had been thinking of, because Teal'c radioed them back to inform them that Sam had stumbled on some rocks and twisted her ankle.
It wasn't until after they'd returned to base with their injured team-mate that Daniel realised Charlie O'Neill would have been sixteen that day.
Carpe diem, indeed.
Seize the day, because what you have today you might not have tomorrow.
Jack had learned that lesson with his son. Charlie should have lived to become a man, find a girl he loved, had children... Instead, a three-by-six plot of ground held the body of Charlie O'Neill, dead before his tenth birthday.
Daniel had learned that lesson with Sha'ure. They should have loved each other until they grew old and crabby, watching their children and their children's children laugh and run in freedom from Ra and others of his kind with the Stargate safely buried. Instead Sha'ure lay cold in a sandy grave on Abydos, one year of happiness with her husband offset by over two years as a prisoner in her own body.
Daniel had learned that lesson with Jack. He should have told Jack how much his friendship meant to Daniel – in spite of their differences of opinion and view and the fights they had about 'might versus right' – although the argument was much more complex than that. He should have shown Jack how much he appreciated the other man's humour – even when it was inappropriate, and how much he valued the differences between them, even as he savoured the similarities. He never had.
The dregs of the coffee slipped down his throat, bitter, like the taste of regret.
So many regrets. The things unsaid and undone, the things said and done.
And no chance to say goodbye.
I hope you knew how much I valued your friendship, Jack. That's all I have left now – the hope you knew, because I don't think I ever told you. But I'll always remember you: with exasperation, or affection, or annoyance – you showed me other paths and other ways of doing things, and gave me your friendship, your trust, and your loyalty. And I'll remember that, Jack. I promise.
He put the mug down on the music lying scattered on top of the piano, and sat down at the stool again.
His fingers found the keys he was looking for, and from memory alone, he began to play.
The steady pounding of the chords drove the lethargy from his body, caused him to sit up straight, and brought back the amused memory of a tall, grey-haired Colonel standing in the middle of the room, conducting for all he was worth. The Triumphal March from Aida, now informally known to Daniel Jackson as 'Jack's song', resounded through the empty apartment: bold and determined, upbeat and imperial, yet covering over the unpleasant scars of war and a past Jack had preferred to leave behind him.
Yes, the Triumphal March was a fitting theme for Jack.
I'll remember you, Jack. I promise.
- fin -