Genre: Character study/dramangst.
Beta: Several people provided brief but insightful feedback, and I thank them all.
Continuity: Probably sometime Season 3 or 4, but has no real spoilers. Thematic resonance with a lot of episodes such as s4 Absolute Power, s6 Full Circle, and s9 Ethon, though.
Prerequisites: S2 The Gamekeeper is useful, but not essential, to know.
Summary: Intelligence is good. Capacity to act is good. Influence is good. Infallibility is better, but no one has that, these days.
Disclaimer: Only MGM has the right to torment these characters for profit. The opinions expressed herein are the properties of the characters and not of Niccolo Machiavelli. Keep knives out of children. Read at own risk. Questions, comments and catch-22s can be left in replies or directed to magistrata(at)gmail(dot)com. Thank you for reading!
Author's Note: Yes, still working on Beneath a Beating Sun. Check my profile or LiveJournal for more information.
He runs through the Stargate with literal blood on his hands, into the mass of nurses ready to triage and take away. Everything is fast like an accident.
Jack is already with Frasier, giving her every detail but the salient one. Teal'c menaces the event horizon until it flashes and falls apart, and they've got Sam on a stretcher with a mask breathing for her. Daniel doesn't miss the look Jack gives him before following the med staff out--it says Look what we've done, or maybe it's refusal to trust him any more. Teal'c doesn't say a word.
Daniel isn't injured. He's got time to hit the showers, wash away the spots and bad advice. Time to think of what to say.
Later, when Sam's out of the OR and there's nothing left to do, when three quarters of SG-1 have been certified calamity-free, he's got time to sit and watch the EKG beat. He's waiting by her bedside, and wants to think he'll wait as long as it takes. He's waiting for her to wake up, so he can say I'm sorry.
This was the first time.
Afterward, he won't remember the details. Jack will, because Jack tries to correct his mistakes, but to Daniel this wasn't a mistake and can't be corrected anyway.
When Jack shows up in his office, Daniel can't remember specifics. Jack must assume he knows them; he puts his hands on the back of a chair and says, simply, "That went wrong."
"Yeah," Daniel agrees, because sending Sam to the infirmary counts as wrong, because sending her out as a sacrifice was wrong as well.
"Do you know why?"
Most things boil down to human error. "I was wrong."
Jack frowns--he was gearing up for a lecture--and his hands move from the chair to his pockets. "I'm not trying to point fingers."
Daniel almost shrugs.
Jack's right hand makes the trip up to his forehead. It stays there for some time, while his eyes wind from weariness to pain. "What did you do before this job?"
It's a question he's never asked--and, if he ever needed to know, it's all written out Daniel's file. Daniel appreciated that--during the Abydos mission Jack didn't care about anything, and after the mission he knew all he needed. His past had been a nonissue. That's not the case any more. "Research," he answers.
"Linguistic, religious and architectural developments of the Forth Dynasty in Ancient Egypt," he says.
"Yeah. Not exactly matters of life and death," Jack says, and Daniel's tempted to say You might be surprised.
"No, not exactly."
Jack's hand drops and lands on the chair again. His left hand is still in his pocket, the left side of his jacket hanging over his forearm and wrist. Daniel always harbored an interest in kinesics, but never formally studied it--if there's embedded meaning in the motions, he can only guess. "You haven't been trained to deal with hot situations."
Daniel shifts his glasses in unconscious mimicry. "Why did you listen to me?"
Jack says "I don't know" instead of I trusted you. Later Daniel can't remember if Jack said "Sometimes I do stupid things," or if he imagined it after the fact.
"Because I'm a civilian doesn't mean I'm useless at this," he says. "It doesn't mean there's nothing I can do."
"Daniel!" Jack's voice can't believe he could be so dense. "What--you play chess, so you can think ten steps ahead? That's not the same--"
"I didn't say it was."
"--and there are things you can't expect yourself to know." His hand moves on one of its inscrutable pilgrimages again. "You're not certain about these."
This isn't a semantic argument and never has been. If, back on the planet, Daniel had said I think instead of I'm sure, the heart of the issue wouldn't have changed.
Jack grimaces and says "I'm not even certain about these."
Daniel realizes that his own hand is shaking. "I was certain," he says, because certain to him means knowing what can reasonably be known, and he did.
"You were wrong," Jack says, and his voice is ten degrees colder, and on this one word they're speaking different languages.
"That depends on our definition of wrong."
"You didn't see this coming," Jack says, as if Daniel had forgotten Sam lying three levels below. Daniel wants to tell him that certainty regarding course of action and certainty of exact outcomes aren't the same at all.
"No one can anticipate everything."
"Well, in our positions, we have to anticipate more." Jack's hand clenches.
It's not that he's accusing him of causing Sam's injuries, it's that he's accusing him of not knowing any better. "I did." It's not easy to meet Jack's eyes, but he manages on necessity. "Don't treat me like I don't know the consequences of my actions."
Jack's voice freezes on his ears. "You're saying you did?"
Stop. Think this through. He turns his head down, tense up and down his spine. "I thought it through."
Jack's voice is sharper now, like ice or glass. "You weighed the risks. You decided it was worth it." He doesn't give Daniel a chance to answer. "That's not your responsibility."
"Oh, you'd--you'd rather I didn't?" Daniel looks up. His eyes must look terrible, wild and feral, but Jack's are hard and armored. Neither backs down.
He's seen this expression, this posture of Jack's--right before he's about to strike, when he's tense and drawn and ready to kill. He's seen it before, but only against their enemies. Jack could kill him if he wanted to. He's always known that, but this is the first time he's understood.
"You present the risks. I decide." Jack is horribly lucid.
He flexes his fist and asks "Why?"
Jack doesn't tear his throat out, and by the time he's reacted to that Jack is yelling. "Because it's my responsibility, Daniel! You are my responsibility, every person on this team is my responsibility! Because it's on my head! Mine!"
He imagines himself thrown against a wall, killed a dozen different ways, and he realizes that Jack is trying to protect him.
The words that hang unsaid, when he realizes that Jack's eyes are terrified behind their rage, are It shouldn't be on yours.
Once, in high school, he wrote a paper that began "Eve and the apple. Pandora's box. Mythology assumes that we are responsible for the state of the world around us." Even then, he hated it--the topic, the analysis, what he saw as overbearing melodrama. But, for some reason, the phrase always stuck with him.
Consciously or unconsciously, through everything he's done, he's always believed that access to evil is the only way some things move forward. He never wanted to be that catalyst, but he's always known he can be.
Jack is at her bedside when he visits in the morning.
Jack is at her bedside when he stops by after lunch.
Jack is at her bedside when he can't think in the early afternoon.
Jack catches him poking his head in before he leaves for the night, and casts him a look. The look is hate and hurt and weariness and acceptance and none of those things at once, and then he turns away. Daniel hangs in the door until he realizes he's not moving, and then he goes.
He gets as far as saving Resignation.doc on his computer before he calls it off, because it seems a terribly disingenuous thing to do.
Daniel has always had the option of leaving, and that separates him from the rest of the team. It's more than contracts and orders: it's a matter of who they are and what they need from things, and it's never been what the Program needs from them.
Daniel has a place here, which is rare and precious and which he's learned to do without. This is his home, and he's been moving from home to home since he was eight. It would take a few more boxes to leave this place, but aside from that, everything's routine.
Jack has tried to keep Daniel from the military aspects of SG-1. He's required him to carry a pistol since Abydos, but has never suggested a rifle. When they're in a running firefight it's always assumed that Daniel will dial the 'gate, and the rest of the team will protect him. Part of this has always been pragmatics--Daniel's not a soldier by trade--but that's never been all that it was.
The idea that Jack's been trying to be a human buffer zone strikes him by turns as heartening and insulting. He isn't innocent and can't remember if he ever was.
Jack should know this, should know that he doesn't need protecting. Sometimes it seems like he doesn't, and sometimes it seems like he does.
Tuesday rolls around and Sam is still on a ventilator. Jack's not in when Daniel arrives, and he sits by the bed and memorizes the bruises across her face. As an idiom flesh and blood evokes reality, substantiality, humanity. Here, in the flesh, it means nothing.
He knows that she's suffering, and he's not without empathy. He knows he made a decision, and he knows that decision lead to her injuries. He knows he's responsible in a way more immediate and real than Jack can be, no matter what he thinks.
He regrets that she's suffering. He regrets that his decision lead to her injuries. But he can't regret his decision, or his responsibility. He's tried.
He wants to regret that. He can't.
Mission reports are due by the end of the week for all able to write them. Daniel has his done, except that he can't think of the word to to describe his own action. He's gone through suggested and told and insisted, and none ring right. He knows without asking that Jack's used ordered to describe his.
Jack stops by his lab later on. "Daniel," he says.
Daniel looks up from his screen.
"You can't do that any more," Jack says, and to him it seems like a reasonable compromise. Daniel looks back down, not to ignore him but to think of what to say.
Neither says anything.
"You can't blame me," Daniel says, not a protest but an observation. The realization hurts more than the facts of Sam's condition, because when he's written out, Jack can only blame himself. "Even if it's my fault."
He looks up, and everything below his sternum is tight and aches. You can't stop me, and you can't blame me. I'm responsible, but it's your responsibility.
"Should I be blaming you?" Jack asks.
"I knew what I was doing," he says. "I knew she might die."
Jack has heard a lot of things, and done a lot more. Daniel can't believe he'd refuse to believe this. But where Jack should react with disgust or anger or hate or who knows, wariness, there's nothing. Jack isn't looking at a mirror or a symbol or a small-time Machiavelli, he's looking at Daniel. And in his eyes, Daniel hasn't changed since the beginning of the week.
Jack could kill him. This has never been in question. But Jack has never had the capacity to destroy Daniel, and in this, Daniel has him at a disadvantage.
He looks down and his hands are shaking, because he's far too close to destroying too many. "I would have done the same if it were you," he says, and needs Jack to understand that. Jack doesn't respond.
It's hard to breathe here, and Daniel is waiting for too many people to open their eyes.
He goes and sits by Sam's bedside and holds her hand and tells he he's sorry. And he is--he really is, because he knows it will happen again.