published in "Foundations 6". Special thanks to Yum, this one's for you. Get well, girl.
Only once can a soul cry
and find one who answers
those who hear the call
never let go
and those who cry out
the kindred spirit that leads
them on life's path
pain is a mere afterthought
as the warmth of friendship
enfolds the lucky in wings of gold
so that they may soar
Physical torment was nothing. It was mental discomfort that Daniel Jackson couldn't cope with. Fatigue, illness, injury, those he had dealt with before. Even the toll of grief, the complete and utter loss of a love and lifestyle, he had dealt with that. And fairly well. He had healed. But this, this was standing before a void and feeling it suck him in. An actual pull, a force that tugged his soul lower and lower and deeper than it had ever fallen before. Depression had nothing on this, neither did bone weary nor soul weary. This was just dead weight waiting to be lifted, but instead pressing harder and harder. And it wasn't a constant thing. He could be distracted from it, usually by work. For a while, several weeks, he'd be fine. Then it would press on him all over again. Like now. Dammit.
Daniel pulled off his glasses and tossed them onto an open book perched on a pile on his cluttered desk. He hadn't bothered to read it in days; it stayed in the same place, same page, and every night he tossed his glasses onto it like a place holder. No, not place holder. Just. . .hell, just stuck. Stuck in his reading, stuck in his thoughts even as the world raced ahead with changes he jsut wasn't ready for. He rubbed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, the rough fabric creating a mild itch along his lower back. The squeak it made was loud against the vague hum of his laptop, the only constant sound in the room. He stared at the screen, through the digital image of a chess game, and found his reflection. It was as distorted as his thoughts. With a snap the lid flipped closed. He couldn't concentrate anyway.
The kitchen was lit by a single stretch of light under the cabinets. It prevented him from having to turn on the overhead light as he walked in, thus preventing the inevitable headache from the yellow glare. He never bothered to fix it, for some reason it had been easier to install the counter light. Reaching for his bottle of red wine, he caught his reflection again, this time in the microwave door. He poured his drink, walked back into the den, and glanced furtively at the journals lining his bookshelves, and in his odd mood, walked over to them. What the hell. Maybe they would hold the key to his malady. He pulled the volumes from the shelf and sat on the rug. Set his wine on the coffee table. Stared at the mixture of covers sprawled before him, mostly leather, some hardcover, all expensive. He felt better using the higher dollar stuff, important stuff went in there. Not like collecting recipes. He selected one at random, and opened it.
I still don't really know what happened. If there is a hell, I was in it. I'm not a religious man by nature, my job pretty much takes care of that illusion, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone had tapped into God's head and pulled this horrific vision from his worst nightmare. Or maybe Dante was a Goa'uld. All I know is, I never want to hear the word Netu again if I can help it.
It was bad enough that Jacob was so ill. But to see Sam so scared, I had no idea what to do for her, and I hated that. I felt so useless. Now see, I'm supposed to use these journals as objective observations of my travels, and here I sit blubbering like Mrs. Edna's three month old child. What the hell. These are my journals, I'll blubber if I want to. Oh, very mature Jackson, very PhD of you.
Seeing Apophis again, I can't describe the rage. I tried to hide it. It didn't work. I wanted to throttle that son of a bitch with my bare hands. Instead I had to bow at his feet. I swear, for a moment everything blacked out around me, and all I could see was that face, that smirk, that pure. . .I can't even describe it. Me, a linguist. You know, I'm not able to write much about this after all, maybe later. . .
The entry was never completed. In fact, that was the last entry in the journal, only halfway through the book.
Daniel sniffed and tossed it aside.
The next journal was flipped through quickly:
He doesn't trust me. I told him about the Eurondans, I tried to make him listen. And he did. But I shouldn't have had to go through the things I did, those things we said, the way we acted. What is happening to us?
And one entry made him take pause:
Sometimes I wonder if I should leave the program. I don't really do much anymore, just study my notes and offer an opinion if someone happens to glance in my direction, which isn't very often. The whole directive of the SGC has changed, and other than being fluent in Goa'uld (which Teal'c is as well, by the way) I've been rendered useless. I'm not a soldier. Maybe I should learn.
Oh how he remembered those days. That was a tough year. He flipped towards the back.
Jonas has no idea what he's up against. I wish he would just listen, that these people would just listen to me. . .
"Rather cocky there, aren't you Jackson?" he chided himself aloud. It seemed a running theme in his later journals, that need to be recognized and accepted for who he was, and trying to be heard. He tossed it aside, and reached for an older one.
Jack O'Neill has to be the most arrogant, pig-headed. . .you know what he said to me today? He said that Egyptian artifacts all look the same, and if one were to travel through history one would find a bunch of pots that all looked the same, and what was the point when he could go to Kmart and buy one? And then he saw the vase from P34524 and said it looked the same as the rest, and if alien cultures are as boring as our ancient ones, he wants no part of it. Of course he spewed all of this after I beat him at poker, which I seem to be fairly good at. Teal'c has us all beat, hands down.
I still can't write about this like I should. That thing, it just wanted to communicate, but god, it pierced him, he couldn't move. Teal'c stayed with him, thank god. . .I can't write about this. I'll paste in a copy of my report.
Daniel cringed. He flipped back, way back.
If anyone can find her, Jack can.
Such blind, innocent devotion. Daniel stared at those words. When Sha're had been found, Jack was away on business. That couldn't be helped. And it didn't mean he didn't try. And when Teal'c – when he had to kill her, where was Jack? He honestly couldn't remember. But he did remember getting stoned drunk a few days later, and how Jack sat and listened to his tirade, his sorrow, his blame. Maybe Jack didn't find her, but he did something more. Daniel flipped through a few more entries, noticing how many times Jack's name appeared, then faded. He eyed his most recent book, and reached for it.
They gave me this. I don't know why. Dr. Fraiser says I have a lot of them, but I can't read them yet. This is so. . .this sucks. That's all there is to it. I want so badly to remember! I want everyone to stop giving me those glances like I'm about to have a revelation or something.
Oh, god. Should've convinced Loki to just keep him, not make a copy. Just what the world needs, two Jack O'Neills.
He came for me. Right when I thought my head was about to be sliced off, he shoots these guys down. I still can't believe it. I can't believe he came for me. And yet. . .I can. No idea what I was going to do with that rock though. . .
You stupid, stupid jackass! Why did you push me out of the way! I wish I could be angry, really angry, but I just feel this sense of doom. I know the Asgard will come through. We won't leave you. We don't do that, I don't do that. Never, ever leave a man behind.
Well, this is an unexpected development. . .
The knock on the door made him upset his wine. Cursing, he ran for a kitchen towel and slammed it onto the rug, stepping on it furiously. The knocking persisted. "Hang on!" He swore under his breath and checked to make sure his journals were safe. One had a red blotch on the corner, nothing serious. He picked up his glass and walked to the door. "I'm coming!" Opened the door. "Hi, Jack, come on in."
"Hey!" Jack walked in, thumbs tucked in his jacket pockets, looking around for an emergency. "Where's the fire?"
"Uh, there's no fire. . ."
"You said it was important."
"Well, it is. . .I think." Daniel shook his head and looked down at the floor. "I don't know, I guess I just wanted a little company."
Jack stared. "It's eleven. At night. I'm not sure I'm the company you need at eleven at night."
"Jack, just. . .stop."
"So, what's up?" He lifted a hopeful eyebrow. "That wine?"
Daniel clutched the remains possessively. "Yes." He was ignoring Jack's pointed look. "Coffee?"
"Coffee would be great." The exaggerated tone said otherwise.
Daniel turned to go into the kitchen. "Thanks for coming by."
"Don't mention it, I mean, it's not like I had anything important to do." Jack was studying Daniel's latest music collection. "You amaze me with your tastes, you know that?"
"What do you mean?" The voice floated from the kitchen.
"Classical, varieties of world music. . ." he causally picked up a CD, winced at it, and tossed it aside, "The Eagles, and Eminem."
"I'm a man of many moods."
"And I'm a major model of a modern major general. . ." he stopped as Daniel peered around the corner. "Maybe I should've stayed home?"
"Hrmph." Daniel returned to the counter and poured water into the coffee machine, listening to Jack shuffle around. He suddenly remembered his journals. He whipped around the corner again, but Jack was settling himself on the sofa, a puzzled look on his face. "Hey. . .where's your TV?"
"That sucks. Damn."
"Yeah, guess we'll actually have to talk or something." Daniel muttered, walking back to the coffee machine and watching as it started a slow drip. He heard more shuffling, but quelled his reaction. Minutes later, he carried two hot mugs to the coffee table. Jack was at his laptop.
"Queen to king's bishop five. Can't believe you missed that."
"My concentration hasn't been much of late." Daniel set a mug on the table and reclined in his favorite chair, watched Jack, sipped his brew. Jack lifted his mug and took a seat opposite him.
"So I noticed. Carter says you've been haunting her office."
"She said she's caught you in there several times."
"Huh? Oh. I was looking for something."
"A pen. I was writing notes in her office last week, because she had this spectro-analysis thing going on and I needed to use the graph for my own research. . .anyway I left my favorite pen in there. I think. Still haven't found it."
"You went through all that for a pen?"
"Carter says you were tearing into boxes."
"Oh. OH. Yeah, that was something else entirely."
"She's ready to ban you from her office."
"I'll help her clean. I'm really sorry about all that."
Jack expression clearly said that he wasn't buying the small chat. "Daniel, why am I here?"
The question took Daniel totally off guard. He stared at Jack. "What?"
"See, that worries me. You're usually a bit more articulate than that."
"I don't understand what you're asking me."
"I mean, you've been moody lately. Brooding. More so than usual, I might add."
"And this is a problem for you."
"It's a problem for you. And I just want to know, you know, well. . . you know." He left the statement hanging, vague as it was.
But Daniel knew. He didn't put his life on the line with this man for eight years for nothing. "I'm fine, Jack."
"Yeah. Which is why you called me here at eleven o clock at night." Jack sighed and turned the topic of conversation. "So, what's up with you and Vala?"
"Jack. . ."
"I'm just asking in a friendly. . ."
". . .invasive"
"manner." He frowned. Daniel stared at him. "See you got your journals out."
"Yeah, I guess I've been reminiscing a bit."
"Some. Some not so good."
"Yeah." Jack sipped his coffee and winced. He forced a swallow and smile. "Oh. . . boy."
"Too strong for you?"
"A bit, yeah." He leaned forward and set his mug down. Then smiled. Chuckled. Looked up, then grinned.
"What?" Daniel asked in a low, hesitant voice.
"Oh, nothing, just thinking of that time we went to the wonder woman planet."
"Oh god." Daniel chuckled himself. "Poor Sam in that get up."
"I thought she was going to murder us flat out."
"It wasn't our fault!"
"No, but I noticed for once you waylaid your usual cultural speech, you dog." He grinned. "You wanted to see her in those tights."
"Jack, it was either her or you. I chose the lesser of two evils."
Jack chose to ignore the comment. "She came through those test rather well, didn't she?"
"Earned her badge." Daniel sipped. And noticed that Jack had a sudden thoughtful expression, the kind that always preceded a very bad idea. "Tell me we're not going back there."
"What? No, nonono. No. Think maybe you left your pen on that planet?"
"Jack. . ."
"It's the red one, right? The fat fountain pen looking thing?"
"Yes. . ."
"You had it on that planet."
"And I've had it since. God, Jack, if you want to go back to the planet, stop making excuses. Just dial the damn gate and go there!"
"Temper!" Jack checked, staring at this friend. Daniel clenched his jaw and looked away. "Okay, look, I've been sitting all day, my legs are cramping. Let's take a walk or something. Get outta here."
"It's eleven at night!" Daniel mimicked Jack's earlier tone.
"And. . .so. . . we won't disturb anybody." He leaned forward and clapped Daniel's knee as he stood. "Come on." He opened the door and stood there, waiting. Daniel slowly set down his mug and stood, grabbed his jacket, and walked out. Jack shut the door behind them.
The stars were vivid, the air crisp. They walked along streets glistening with the rain that had fallen at dusk. Halos circled the streetlights, mirroring the fair weather moon. Daniel watched it, and it followed him, shying in and out of the overhead trees. He knew a fair moon meant a break in the weather cycle. Jack had actually told him that, once long ago, when he had his telescope out for his night of stargazing. He had been frustrated because the moon was too bright for good viewing, and the sky too hazy. Wasn't there supposed to have been a meteor shower that night? Daniel couldn't rightly remember, they ended up going inside to watch his Laurel and Hardy collection. The moon reminded Daniel of that night and he mentioned it, and the two men walked and talked, chuckling on occasion, giving each other knowing and absurd glances. And that was when the flood gates opened for Daniel, and he really started talking. And Jack actually listened. Attentively.
"I admit, I was scared. I thought we wouldn't get you back, and I felt like I was responsible. I fought with Weir, for a while I was convinced she didn't like me, but it didn't matter. I don't know, I just went day after day with you not being there, and what's worse, you were stuck in what basically amounted to an ice coffin. I knew I had to get you out, but I couldn't, and that was the worst feeling."
"You had to get me out?" Jack didn't miss a beat.
Daniel allowed himself a wince. "Well, yeah, like I said, I felt responsible in a way. Like you were relying on me to come up with the answer. I mean, the way you looked at me when you were frozen in there. . ."
"Actually I was ogling Carter."
Jack just nodded. "Still, I'm glad. You got a taste of your own medicine, then," he said. Daniel looked at him sharply. "Oh, come on, you think I didn't go through all that when you did your little glowy act? Serves you right. You know good and well I wouldn't have let you go, but no, you had to come talk to me, had to convince me that it was the right thing to do, just like you always did. I'd of had Jacob work on you until you jumped out of that bed and danced a jig of your own free will."
"I never dance of my own free will."
"Well it would've been a better choice." The decision was absolute.
Daniel nodded and looked up at the trees. The moon could still be seen through the lightly swaying branching, creating glittering web patterns. "I know. And I'm sorry, that was something. . .I'm sorry I put you through that."
"Aw, it's forgiven. Besides, in case you haven't noticed, you're back, I'm back, and we all lived happily ever after. At least until the next installment." He stopped walking, and Daniel stopped and faced him. Jack jabbed a finger at his friend's chest. "Still say we'd make a good sci-fi show. Beat the crap out of Star Trek."
"Probably." A smile.
Jack jabbed him in the chest again. "You know what we need?"
Daniel returned the jab. "What?"
Jack jabbed back. "A stiff drink. 'Cause I have the feeling all this chat is a prelude to something that requires stiff drinks and a table large enough to crawl under."
"O'Malleys? Surely they'll let us in."
"Aye, Danny-boy's got his Irish up! O'Malley's it is, then!"
Daniel winced at the old nickname. "Don't have a drop of Irish blood in me," he protested.
"That's crap. One Irishman can tell another."
It wasn't a far walk, they had gone so far already. Daniel was a little amazed by Jack's openness, but didn't question it. Instead he embraced it. It was a rarity for Jack of late, and something he had missed.
The atmosphere was typical for the time of night; a little darker, a little smokier without being overbearing, the small televisions playing sports, people betting on pool. It was loud, but not unpleasant. They chose a corner booth, and were immediately set upon by a good looking waitress. "Hey, guys! Good lord, thought you dropped off the face of the earth! How long's it been?"
"Been a while, Katrina, and may I say you look stunning as ever." Jack smiled and planted a gracious kiss on her cheek.
"Oh now don't start that, they'll throw you out again. Dr. Jackson, handsome as always."
"Thank you." The small smile betrayed his pleasure.
"The usual for you guys?"
"Better just make it a pitcher of beer tonight." Jack cocked his head toward Daniel. "Getting him back in the habit."
"You back to your red wine, Daniel?"
"Katrina, you have an amazing memory."
"Hard to forget a face like yours." She winked and went to fill the drink order.
Daniel glanced down with a smile, and looked up to see Jack smirking at him. "What?"
"Oh, just watching the old Daniel charm in action. The way you can do that without really saying anything."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I'm talking about a talent that saved our asses a dozen times over."
"And got us in hot water triple that."
"And bailed us out of said hot water." Jack leaned forward, elbows on the table. "Is that what all this is about? Gonna go question your worth on the team, go all glowy again? Do I have to convince you that you're worth something, because frankly I'd rather get drunk."
"Nonono, by all means, knock yourself out. Or let the drink do it." Daniel leaned back and spun the cardboard coaster on the glossy table. "Either way, I think unconsciousness is the ultimate goal here."
"I can swing it."
"Good man." Jack looked up as Katrina placed a large pitcher of beer in the center of the table, and set two frosty glass mugs before them.
"Enjoy, gentlemen. Let me know when you'd like some more."
"Thank you ma'am." Jack lengthened his spine in a stretch then poured the amber liquid into Daniel's glass. He filled his own, noticing that Daniel had pulled the mug to him, but hadn't sipped. He raised his own. "To getting schmoltzed."
Daniel grinned and raised his mug, clinked it heavily, and chugged. He set it down with a sour expression as he forced the beer down his throat. "Ahhh, god. Never understand how you can drink this stuff."
"It's not to be enjoyed, it's to chug. Down the hatch." Jack raised his again, and Daniel did the same. It took Daniel two more attempts to finish his mugfull, then Jack was again pouring. "So, you wanna tell me what's really on your mind?"
"No. Yes. I don't know." Daniel was making patterns in the frost on his glass. "I'm just not sure why it's affecting me this way."
There was a hesitation. Jack took a gulp, tossed a handful of peanuts in his mouth, and had time to chew and swallow in the silence. "Well?"
Daniel inhaled deeply. Time to give in. What the hell. "It's your promotion, Jack."
"Not happy for me? Me either, really."
"No, it's not that. Or maybe it is. I don't know, I just. . .look, we started this together. Me and you. I mean before Sam and Teal'c, I mean when we first went through that gate, first discovered Abydos." He smiled. "God, can you believe everything that's happened since then?"
"Oh, let's see." Jack leaned back, threaded his fingers behind his head. "There was that redhead whacko. . ."
"Yeah. And what else, that quantum mirror thing."
"You and Sam getting transported to that other gate and nearly freezing to death."
"You know, you never forgave me for that."
"You have any idea how much sleep I lost trying to get you back?"
"Uh. . .none?" Jack smirked, then jabbed the table with his finger. "That planet with those chairs. . ."
"Oh, god, that was. . ."
"Oh! And that Aris Boch! Wonder what the SOB's up to now?"
"What about that planet with the plants, where we nearly killed the indigenous life?
"Uh-uh, too late for those big words. What about the time we messed up that other planet by gating wrong?"
"Or when we started a civil war?"
"You know, you'd think we'd be more careful," Jack commented suddenly. He poured more beer into their glasses and signaled for a refill.
"Well, there were plenty of worlds we saved. Including ours."
"And there were the countless times you died." Jack looked pointedly at him.
"Well, yeah, but we're not talking about that."
But Jack was well into his beer, and his tongue was loosened. "Daniel, you think I can sit here and reminisce without remembering all that? My god, a staff blast, a rock fall, freakin' sarcophagus addiction, Machello, and that was twice, by the way, damn him. . .those times you were kidnaped, and not to mention the literal highlight of all these events, a ticket to glow land after radiation sickness. Even after that, you've had some close calls. What is it with you?"
Daniel shook his head. "It's not like you haven't had your share! Getting impaled by that communication device, nearly frozen, shot, nearly drowning, Ba'al, downloading that knowledge form the ancients, and that was twice, by the way. . .dammit!" This curse was attributed to the slight spill he dabbed in his lap. The beer mug was carefully replaced on the table.
Jack wasn't letting go. "But I never actually died! You've died, Daniel! I mean flat line dead, what, three times? Death must have no meaning for you now."
"Death has every meaning for me now," he muttered, still dabbing with his napkin. It was mainly a distraction from the turn of the conversation.
Jack jerked back in frustration. "See, I don't understand that! If it were me, I'd feel invincible, go around with a big 'S' on my chest or something. Now you, you just act like it doesn't matter."
"That's because I'm not invincible. Just too damned lucky." Daniel's gaze had shifted to look through the window. The traffic light outside seemed stuck, it remained on red. "Don't think that every time something happens I don't wonder if this is really it, if I'm actually going to die this time. That's the hardest thing about it. I don't get to die and feel like this is the end, that I get to rest in peace. No, I end up wondering what's going to bring me back this time, and will it be worth it. It's very unsettling, even more so than the dying bit. It seems like nothing's ever finished with me."
Jack wasn't sure how he felt about that. "Well, I guess if you put it that way." He leveled a gaze at his friend. "But what does all this have to do with my promotion?"
Daniel continued to study the traffic light in the distance. It had finally turned green, and the cars were picking up speed. He took it as a sign, a green go, now was the time. Now or never. "Look. Granted most of those times, when I died, my return had nothing to do with you. But that doesn't mean that I can't feel you watching my back. I felt, I feel, safe with you around." He sighed uncomfortably. "I know that sounds all schmaltzy, but it's true. I'm used to you being here, Jack. Like I said before, we started this. Together. I just – I can't picture doing this without you. You always had my back, even when we were at odds."
Jack's expression was hard to read. "Teal'c and Carter will have your back," he said softly.
Daniel sat back, frustrated, his fingers working the side of the table. The empty pitcher was once again replaced by a full one. "I can't explain this. I know they'll be there, and I appreciate that, and I trust them both with my life. But Jack. . ." he shook his head and leaned forwards, organizing his thoughts, "look. You have to admit it. We're a team. You and me. We always have been, we work well together. That team is splitting, and I'm going to miss it. Okay?" He sat back again. "I'm going to miss you, Jack." His expressions spoke loudly, there, I've said it.
Jack stared at his glass, slowly running his thumb along the grooves. He seemed both taken aback and uncomfortable, but touched. He exhaled sharply and slowly leaned his elbow on the table. "I can honestly say," he said quietly, "that I've never met anyone like you. Nor would I want to. Because there is just one Space Monkey, and that's how I'll think of you. Just, look, I'm still here. Okay? Because I'm here," he tapped the side of his head and gave a playful grin, "I'm like that bad song that gets stuck in your head that won't go away."
Daniel snorted and chugged. Coughed. Pounded his glass on the table with more force than necessary.
"Think of this more like distance travel."
"You always had my back, even as General."
"And I'll still have it," Jack said softly, yet pointedly. "I'll always have it. Dammit, Daniel, you're not just a co-worker, okay? You're my friend. And, as much as it pains me to admit it," he screwed up his courage and looked Daniel in the eye, "you're the closest one I have. I've got your back, and you've got mine. Always. Nothing will change that. I mean, you were ascended. We're talking another plane of existence here! Did that stop us?"
Daniel looked up, his eyes wide, then crinkled as a huge grin stole his depression. "No, it didn't."
"Then why should this?" He held Daniel's eyes with his own. "Nothing has changed. I just won't be able to hide your coffee filters."
"You ass! That was you? I thought I kept misplacing them, you. . .ass!"
"See? Glad to be rid of me already."
Daniel chuckled and leaned back. "You know, reading those journals made me think even more about what we did, those people we were able to help, those new discoveries, the times we 'saved the world'." His expression was grand. "We did good, didn't we?"
"Damn straight!" Jack noticed an empty pool table, with two guys hovering nearby. "Looks like they want a game." He nodded towards the men.
Daniel glanced over. "Think they play much?"
"Nah. Look at the sticks they're choosing, not even checking the tips." A sneaky grin crossed his face.
Daniel caught it. "Wanna play?"
"Double team them?"
"Yeahsureyoubetcha," Daniel replied with a grin.
"Get'cher game face on Dannyboy, cause we're bringing home the loot!" Jack stood and grabbed the pitcher and his glass. Followed by Daniel, he set it on a table beside the two men, who listened, conferred with each other, and cued up. Jack and Daniel gave each other a knowing look, full of typical silent communication. And they both realized, at the same time, that the evening was coming to a close, that their time was limited. . .and their friendship held in that brief stretch of forever. And they played. . .