Title: Dead Men
Rating: "T" for "Thinkitative."
Genre: Introspection, drama, an eeetlebittof angst.
Beta: You know what "Beta" spelled backward is? It's "magi doesn't have a beta reader!"
Continuity: Well, depending on how you interpret the ending, it can either be perfectly canon or late-season-seven AU.
Prerequisites: You should probably have seen the movie, 5.21 "Meridian," 7.01 "Fallen," and 7.17/18 "Heroes."
Summary: Jack reflects on life, death, and the one who usually does the dying.
Disclaimer: In life or death, SG-1 and related characters still elude my ownership. :(. The opinions expressed herein are the opinions of the characters and not of Lazarus. The contents of this fiction should not be fed to fish. Objects in reminiscence may be closer than they appear. Questions, comments and casualties can be left in replies or directed to magistrata(at)gmail(dot)com. Thank you for reading!


So here we are.

P0C-559, planet of trinium veins for Carter and Jaffa legends for Teal'c and, the crowning jewel, vast ruins with lots of little writing and pretty pictures for you, Mr. Dr. Daniel Jackson. Me, I'd be fine finding a nice fishing spot in the foothills. No one ever listens to my mission goals.

You thought this place was paradise, and I suppose three hours ago it was. Sun and an even seventy degrees, birds and wildflowers (and what ever happened to those allergies of yours?) and places to explore as far as the eye could see. The phrase "kid in a candy store" comes to mind--but then, that's a cliché. I can't help that it's an apt one.

Three hours ago, you and Carter were already talking about extending the mission, despite the fact it was a day long already. Of course, that was about two hours and three quarters before the Jaffa showed up.

From somewhere on my four--does it count as a four when you're lying on your face?--I can hear Carter and Teal'c running away. I'd like to tell them to take it easy. At that pace they'll be exhausted long before they reach the 'Gate. You're hovering over me, checking my pulse and panicking. Yes, panicking. I can hear it in your breath.

For a moment your concern strikes me as terribly odd, and I want to tell you that this is nothing new, nothing unexpected--that of course, sooner or later, this is how it was going to end.

You know, I've been retired a couple of times, now, and it's always the Stargate that drags me back. When I retired that second time, after Charlie, after Sarah, after Abydos, I didn't know what to do with myself. Maybe I wasn't that old yet, but my career was over and I wasn't looking to start a family again--I got a nice little house with a nice little pond and a telescope on the roof, and I guess the rest was just waiting to die. Not in a morbid way, just passing the time until it eventually happened. I mean, hey, everyone dies.

I used to wonder how it would happen. The horrifying thing was, I thought I knew. It'd be a long, slow decline and fall--did I get that phrase from you? Health that got worse and worse until one day I just went to sleep and never woke up. When the President formed SG-1, when I figured out we'd be going offworld, again and again, sneaking around special-ops style behind enemy lines, that changed. I didn't think about it outright, but I just assumed there was no more chance of a natural death.

Really, that was a relief. I've always wanted to go out flaming.

Just, you know, not for a very long time.

I wonder if you think the same things. I wonder how you see death--someone who's been through it as much as you have. I wonder if you'll ever really die. After all this time it seems more like you're a constant of the universe, and maybe in five billion years when the sun explodes you'll disappear forever but that's too far away to think about. I remember standing by your bedside, watching you Ascend, wondering if you'd finally lost yourself somewhere none of us could ever find you. All that worry, all that running after you after you'd been dragged off by one thing or fallen into another, and you turned out to be all right after all.

I remember you taking a staff blast for me. That was the first time you died.

I remember being confused by that. Back then, in Ra's Ha'tak, I couldn't understand why you'd try so hard to save my life when I honestly couldn't care less. Even when we got out of that mess, even when it looked like we could get home, I was still hanging onto that idiotic deathwish. I think it was you who snapped me out of it, when you went to save Sha're. You told me to wait for you.

I had to wonder--wait to do what?

I used to think that you should be used to it by now--to people dying around you. But I've seen you at the end of your rope--how the more it seems like things are lost the harder you'll fight to save them. You're the kind of guy who'd see a car teetering on a cliff and try to drag it back up with your own two hands. Hammond told me you stayed up for two days straight when I was stuck in Antarctica.

God, Antarctica.

It's scary how good you've gotten at the mechanics. It can't be four minutes and you've gotten the coat off and the wound cleaned and dressed. The first time this happened--something like this, anyway--I thought you were hopeless.

We'd split up. Carter and Teal'c were circling around an embankment to take position behind the Stargate, and I'd told you to stick with me. It was those damn Apophis Jaffa--especially in those days, they always seemed to show up behind us. I thought we'd be fine if we could take back the 'Gate, but that was before three of them came up through the brush on our six. I took down two and you zatted one but somewhere in the crossfire I got grazed--if you can call it a graze with a staff blast. It hit just below my right armpit and that entire side of my torso cramped up and went numb. That was--what? Our tenth mission together? Thirteenth? By now I've lost count of these things--official, unofficial, planned and unplanned. How many times have we bandaged each other up by now?

Damn Jaffa.

You looked over and saw me on the ground bleeding and you panicked, like you're trying not to panic now. I could see you trying to think through the half a day of emergency training they'd given you, but in the end I had to talk you through it point by point. I remember how awkward you seemed cutting off the undershirt beneath my BDUs. Dammit, you're still so civilian sometimes--but it was worse back then. You had no idea about the trenches, where things like dignity and secrets and obscenity don't mean anything because all that matters is staying alive.

I think it was about as month and a half later that you took some shrapnel on the left thigh. I wish I'd borrowed your camera. I was laying down cover fire to keep Jaffa off our ass, but I'm sure I could have found the time to snap a picture of Carter tying up your injury, you blushing six ways to Sunday. I could have framed that picture. I could have kept it in my wallet. For appropriate use as blackmail, of course.

I try not to let people get to know me--but apparently I'm not very good at it. Sarah used to complain about "that O'Neill armor" of mine. How I'd never let anyone get close. I think she was closer than she thought she was.

When General West called me back for the Abydos mission, I was ready to shut everything out for good. That brilliant O'Neill reasoning said if you had no friends, no family, no one who'd think about you or worry about you or who you would ever worry about either, there was no possibility of losing someone you cared for. If only things were so easy.

I still don't know how you weaseled Charlie's story out of me. I don't really remember telling you. But I remember sitting in a hideaway on Abydos, hidden in Abydonian robes, and arguing with Kawalski. You played a trump card--brought up the bomb. I remember thinking for a moment that you could look right through me and know all of my secrets and all of my weak spots, and the first thing I thought of doing was finding that nuke and blowing it up with me beside it because if there was no Colonel Jack O'Neill there'd be no secrets to tell and no one to look in the eye. Pretty twisted reasoning, huh?

Come to think of it, I'm still not quite comfortable with you having that kind of power. But sometimes, once in a while, it seems like you do.

It took some time, but you told me what happened to Fraiser--to Janet. How a staff blast hit her, threw her back, how she was dead before she hit the ground, eyes open, staring up past you. I took a hit on that mission, too--but I walked away from it. Sometimes you do.

Sometimes you don't.

Of course there's no sarcophagus here, no Janet Fraiser to come running after me, and the Stargate is an hour away. And this time you're here by your choice, not mine--you were the one who told Carter and Teal'c you'd stay while they ran for a medic. I don't know how it happened, but nine years have passed and I've never looked back. Seven years of SG-1. Six with you on the team. And then there was that one--that one year we didn't think you'd be coming back.

Hell of a thing to prove wrong. Hell of a way you did it.

I'll admit, I've had my moments of weakness. I've been insanely jealous of you, sometimes, or at least of the way you have of cheating death. More than the rest of us, I guess, though our luck's come through for us so far. I thought you had a "Get out of Death free" card, and if I could just borrow it once in a while... but of course you don't know how it works any more than the rest of us. You couldn't lend it out if you tried. And I know you've thought the same thing--I've seen you racking your brain, trying to solve the mystery. I wonder how you bear the fact that you never can.

But that's okay. I'll lie here until help or the grim reaper comes. It's surprisingly comfortable here on the ground, with the grass in my face and the sun on my back and you going on about the Akkadian empire, trying to keep me awake or annoy me enough to make me respond or just not knowing what to do or what to say. I have to think, yeah, there are worse ways to go. Some of which I've gone through. Some of which you were there for--not that you remember, not that I'll remind you. Maybe this is how I go--blaze of glory, decline and fall.

So here we are.

I keep thinking I should say something deep and profound--you know, just in case these are my last moments in the land of the living--but you know me. I'm not a terribly deep or profound guy. Still, it's a bit embarrassing to know that your last words are going to be something along the lines of "God, ow."

I guess you wouldn't care. I guess you wouldn't expect it from me. If you know all my secrets, you wouldn't need last words anyway.

That last time. You said your last words to me, just to me. What were they?

Oh, yeah. I remember.

-

Daniel's mouth had dried.

He kept putting a hand out to his canteen and then pulling it back, just in case--he wasn't sure what. He still couldn't remember all the medical procedures he'd memorized before his semi-more-permanent death after Kelowna, but he'd assumed he remembered enough. Besides, Carter and Teal'c were faster than he was, and he'd thought delaying their return with a competent doctor would be more harmful than his not knowing every intricacy of how to dress a wound and care for a patient in the field. After all, Simon Wells had lain in the field without care for at least an hour before he and Fraiser had--

He shook his head. He didn't want to think about that--or about the chance someone could still die on this mission. The reason he was talking was only half to keep Jack awake. It was also to keep his own mind from wandering.

"So," he said, trying not to croak on the words. He glanced at the canteen again. "Lugal turned out to be the last Sumerian king to rule Akkad. Then--"

He jumped a good three inches when his radio went off. "Daniel," Sam called, "we're just at the edge of the city. ETA to your position about fifteen minutes."

"That's good," Daniel said. "Jack's still hanging on, but I think he's slipping. He's not breathing as fast as he was."

"No sign of Jaffa activity?"

"No, not since you left." Daniel glanced at Jack. "Fifteen minutes, you said?"

"We're coming as fast as we can."

"Yeah. Fast. That's good. See you then, then."

A click terminated the channel, leaving him in silence. After a moment, he cleared his throat. "So, Sargon of Akkad attacked and conquered Uruk, and even though it's hard to pin down exact dates that far back most historians put that around--"

"Dnnl," Jack groaned.

Daniel's head snapped up. "Yeah," he said, shifting to lay a hand on Jack's uninjured shoulder. "I'm right here."

No reply. For a moment Daniel wondered if he'd heard anything. He was about to radio Carter, tell her to pick up the pace, when Jack groaned again.

"Thanks."

Daniel blinked. Thanks for what? Well, at least he was conscious--kind of. And as long as Jack was talking, he might as well respond.

"Sure," he said, patting Jack's shoulder awkwardly. "No problem. Any time."

And with his eyes still closed, Jack managed to smile.