Promises to Keep
Epilogue to "Lockdown"
Summary: Daniel helps Jack deal with the guilt for his actions in Lockdown
Spoilers: Lockdown; minors for Lost City 1&2, Entity, Absolute Power
Disclaimer: This story is solely for entertainment purposes. No copyright infringements were intended and no money is being made. The characters and situations are the property of Gekko Film Corp., Sci-Fi Channel and MGM Television. They're not mine--more's the pity. December, 2004
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. (Robert Frost)
Daniel shifted in the passenger seat of Jack's pickup, working to make himself more comfortable as he leaned against the window with his eyes closed. The chill from the glass sent a shiver down his spine, and he used his right hand to pull his jacket closed tighter over the sling on his injured arm. Jack's reaching over and switching up the heat registered as he lay in semi-peaceful silence for nearly a minute. Though his eyes remained closed, he knew every time Jack ran his gaze over him, assessing him.
"Cut it out, Jack," Daniel said, the gentleness of his voice softening the harsh words.
"What?" Jack's tone was innocence personified.
"Don't think I don't know exactly what you're doing. I can hear you worrying from here."
"I am not," Jack denied automatically.
"Are too," Daniel insisted.
"Not," Jack mumbled.
"Okay! Fine! I'm worried! You got shot, Daniel!"
Daniel gazed at Jack out of the corner of one half-opened eye. "Yes," he said dryly. "You shot me. I thought we covered that?"
"That's not the point," Jack mumbled as he pulled his gaze off of Daniel briefly to negotiate a turn in the road ahead.
"Well, MY point is that I'd prefer you keep your eyes on the road and not on me! I'm fine, Jack. It's been over a week."
"Yeah, I know. But this is the first time you've been allowed to go home."
"It's the first time any of us have been allowed to go home! You locked down the mountain!"
Jack's gaze darted over to Daniel and then quickly slid away. "That's not the point either," he muttered.
Daniel finally sat up in mild exasperation. His jacket shifted again, and he tugged at it in annoyance, sending a shaft of pain through his shoulder that he chose to ignore. "Then what is the point, Jack? Can you tell me that? You haven't let me out of your sight for more than five minutes since Anubis went through the gate! You gave Dr. Brightman the third degree on my 'condition,' you scared the crap out of the nurse when she came to take my blood…"
"She was doing a lousy job—it looked like it hurt!" Jack defended himself.
"It hurt a lot more when she jumped a mile because you scared the crap out of her! Then, you had me confined to bed…"
"You'd just been zatted! Again!"
Daniel continued as if Jack hadn't spoken, "…while the rest of the SGC had to put everything back together from our recent confinement…"
"Good plan, by the way," Jack interjected.
This time Daniel stopped as he momentarily lost his train of thought, startled by the unexpected praise. "Um, thanks. Though I gotta say, it was your little 'we're in this for the long haul' speech that flushed Anubis out."
Jack shrugged, deflecting the compliment. "Luck."
Daniel gazed over at him, slowly shaking his head. "Back to playing dumb, eh?"
Jack allowed a small smirk. "Who's playing?"
Daniel chuckled before picking up where he'd left off. "Anyway, after I spent the afternoon feeling totally useless, you breezed into the infirmary with my clothes, ready to take me home and play nursemaid. You even tied my shoes, Jack!"
"Well, somebody had to…"
"Do you have any idea how embarrassing it was to have SG-5 walk in there to find me with my foot on your lap?"
This time Jack gave Daniel a sideways glance. "Actually, Daniel, I do. I was there, remember?"
"Yeah, but it was your idea in the first place! Look, I know you feel guilty for shooting me, but enough already!"
Jack gave the sigh of the long-suffering and infinitely patient. "First of all, I do not 'breeze.' It's unbecoming an officer."
Daniel rolled his eyes.
"Secondly, to answer your question, yes, I am feeling a bit guilty! In my own defense, however, I think I'm allowed. I shot my closest friend, for crying out loud! So I feel guilty! Indulge me."
That took the wind out of Daniel's sails. Though he'd been in no doubt that Jack was feeling remorse over what had occurred, he'd never once expected the older man to come out and admit it. Suddenly Jack's words registered a little more clearly in his mind…'closest friend?' Where'd that come from? Something else he'd never expected in a million years that either one of them would say out loud, though he'd never doubted the truth of it, at least as far as his own feelings were concerned. There'd been plenty of times when he wondered if Jack saw him in the same light, and a fair share of times over the years when the answer to that had to be a resounding no. But things had been better lately. More like the earlier years of their friendship, with less of the tension between them.
Since nearly losing Jack after the Ancient's database was downloaded into his brain the second time, Daniel had come face to face with a startling reality. This growing independence he'd fostered for himself, this self-sufficiency he'd maintained since his decension was really nothing more than a ruse. He may have deluded himself, and those around him, into thinking he no longer needed to lean on anyone, no longer needed a hero to save him from himself. And to some degree, that was accurate—he was getting better at taking care of himself. God, he'd have to be by now, or all Jack's efforts over the years would have been for nothing.
But as soon as Jack was lost to him in Antarctica, the real truth came rushing in. He did still need Jack. He may not need him to rescue him time after time, but he needed to know Jack was there, watching his back. He needed to know Jack would always be there, challenging him, forcing him to think outside the box, having faith in Daniel, taking pride in his abilities and achievements. He needed to know that Jack would be there ready to listen to him obsess about the latest universal injustice, ready to offer a shoulder for support. And he needed to know Jack would be there to pick up the pieces the next time Daniel's world shattered. Just as he had in the past.
Daniel Jackson was a different person today than he was eight years ago. And he had Jack O'Neill to thank for that. It took almost losing him to make him see the need for his friend hadn't disappeared, it had just changed along with the two of them.
With sudden clarity, Daniel saw exactly where Jack was coming from with his current stalker obsession regarding Daniel's health.
"Jack…" Daniel began, then halted. Jack had been silent while Daniel's thoughts rolled, and now he gazed over at him somewhat nervously. The sight caused Daniel's lips to twitch as he realized his military friend was probably regretting his recent admission, emotions and Jack O'Neill never having fit together well in the same sentence. *Only Jack* he thought fondly.
"I really am going to be fine; promise. Okay? No permanent damage."
Jack blew out a breath like he'd been holding it. "I know, Daniel, I know. It's just…I shot you." He looked up at Daniel ruefully. "I could have killed you, you know. Brightman said you lost a lot of blood."
"Were you shooting to kill?" Daniel asked innocuously.
Jack looked shocked. "Of course not!"
"Exactly. If you'd been shooting to kill, we wouldn't be having this conversation. You're a marksman, Jack. You don't miss. All you did was wing me."
"Look, parts of it I remember, and the rest Sam filled me in on. She told me Teal'c had already zatted me once, and was getting ready to do it again, which, by the way, would have had a rather undesirable outcome as far as I'm concerned. I remember grabbing the gun, Jack, and swinging it toward you, like I couldn't stop it. I remember fighting, wanting to do anything to keep from shooting you. And I remember praying that you'd do what you had to do, what you'd promised to do."
Jack's eyebrow rose slightly at the word 'promise' but he said nothing.
"We both know what would have happened if Teal'c had zatted me twice. Even I only get so many do-overs." Daniel reached over carefully and laid his right hand on Jack's forearm, squeezing gently in reassurance. "You made the right choice, Jack. Don't ever doubt that."
As he waited at the stoplight, Jack turned to face his friend, blinking. He nodded tightly, grateful for the younger man's understanding and absolution.
Daniel squeezed once more before removing his hand and resettling himself against the window. He tugged on the jacket once again, wishing he could keep the dumb thing from sliding off. He smiled to himself as he saw Jack turn the heat up another notch, and decided to try and lighten the moment. "Besides, it's not like you haven't shot me before…"
"Excuse me?" Jack sounded startled.
"I said it's not like you haven't shot me before."
"Funny, I think I would have remembered that."
"Well, I guess you didn't really—I mean, that forcefield kept anything from actually hitting me…"
"Daniel, what the hell are you talking about?"
Daniel closed his eyes and his smile grew. "You know. When I was busy trying to take over the world, blow up Russia, that sort of thing."
Jack's mind whirled as he frantically tried to figure out what Daniel was referring to. "Wait a minute—are you talking about that dream from Shifu you told me about? You're blaming me for shooting you in a vision given to you by some alien kid under the influence of Oma 'Don't-Mess-With-Mother-Nature' Desala?"
"Well, like I said, Jack, you didn't actually shoot me, because I was way ahead of you. But you did shoot AT me."
"Uh-huh," Jack grumbled.
"Although that's probably not the first time you wanted to shoot me…" Daniel continued taunting.
Jack looked at him dryly. "Ya think?" he asked, his meaning crystal clear.
"Like now?" Daniel queried, smirking.
"Oh, yeah," he answered, his voice full of promise.
There was silence for a few minutes as they pulled off the road from the mountain. Daniel couldn't resist ribbing Jack just a little more.
"You know, you shot Sam too."
"Daniel…" Jack warned.
"Well, you did."
"I thought you said you'd put her into prison in your little virtual reality."
"No, not in the dream. I mean you shot her for real. You know. When that alien took over her body and left her in the computer and you had to zat her."
"Daniel," Jack said again, this time his voice low and meaning business. He was dealing with enough guilt right now, and didn't need to dig up more old memories.
Daniel realized he might have overstepped the boundaries. "Yeah, sorry, bad example." He went silent, then suddenly shot up and started waving his good hand around. "No, wait, good example! Jack, when you shot Sam, who were you shooting?"
"What?" Jack asked, not surprised to find he once again couldn't follow the lightening speed of Daniel's brain.
"Who were you shooting?" Daniel repeated. "Were you shooting Sam, or were you shooting the entity?"
Jack grunted. He could see now where this was going. "The entity," he answered patiently.
"Exactly!" Daniel crowed in triumph. "It may have been Sam's body, but it wasn't Sam you were shooting! Same thing applies here—my body, but you were shooting Anubis!"
"Just one little flaw there—at the time we didn't know it was Anubis using your body."
"Oh," Daniel replied, somewhat deflated. "Okay. Well, maybe not exactly the same, but you still weren't shooting me. At least, not the me you're used to. I think."
"Nice try, Daniel. Good attempt. Really."
"Alright, so my logic is flawed. But you get the idea. It's the same principle—you watching my back. Or in this case, and like Shifu's dream, you were watching over my soul."
Jack glanced at him, once again amazed at the depth of his friend. He shook his head in wonder as he pulled the car into his own driveway.
Daniel sat up a bit straighter as he noticed his surroundings for the first time. "Hey, what's up? I thought you were giving me a ride home?"
"I am," Jack answered, leaving the car running as he undid his seatbelt. "I'm just stopping by here to grab some clothes so I can crash at your place tonight."
"Jack," Daniel sighed patiently, "forget it. There is no need for you to come and play nursemaid. I'm perfectly capable on my own."
Jack stopped and stared Daniel directly in the eyes. "Daniel," he said, waiting until he had the other man's full attention.
"Jack," Daniel replied, obediently waiting.
They stared at each other, locked once again in a familiar battle of wills. Daniel caved first, as he knew there was no way Jack would.
"Fine. Might as well give SG-5 more to talk about."
"Exactly!" Jack agreed triumphantly as he smacked Daniel lightly on the knee. Climbing out of the car and heading up the drive, he threw over his shoulder, "Besides, who's going to tie your boots?"
Not wanting to let Jack have the last word, Daniel leaned over and yelled out the open door, "Hey, Jack! I can't remember—did you ever shoot Teal'c?" He watched in triumph as Jack stopped dead and visibly shuddered before continuing on into the house. Confident that he'd won this round, Daniel smiled to himself as he leaned back and closed his eyes again.
The gate had closed only seconds before. Daniel's reaction was nothing they could have expected as he grabbed the young soldier next to him in a stronghold around the neck and pulled a weapon on him, using him as a human shield.
Though the scene unfolding in front of him was beyond his comprehension, Jack's military mindset took over and he grabbed the sidearm of the nearby SF, running down the steps to the gate room. He came in just in time to see Teal'c fire the zatnikitel at Daniel, watching as both Daniel and his hostage hit the floor. Jack kept his weapon ready, hoping desperately that this would be the end of it.
He knew that hope was unanswered when he watched in slow motion as Daniel reached for the gun and pulled himself into a firing position, leaving Jack no choice. The weapon felt incredibly heavy in his hands as he pulled the trigger, watching his best friend as he flew backwards from the force of the bullet, feeling time stand still as Daniel hit the floor and lay motionless.
Jack pulled himself to his feet, feeling old beyond his years. He rushed over to Daniel's side, calling out for a medical team. Dropping to his aching knees, he reached to touch Daniel's cheek, shifting his face so he could see him. As he brought his head around, he saw that the face he was looking down upon wasn't Daniel's.
It was Charlie's.
Jack flew up to a sitting position in the bed, his breath coming in ragged gasps. He wasn't sure if he'd yelled out loud or not, the silence of the room around him broken only by the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hallway. He could feel the sweat on his body as it left his t-shirt damp and clingy.
Jack rose on shaky feet and made his way to the window, pushing aside the curtain to look out over the quiet suburban neighborhood where Daniel now made his home. Forcibly shaking off the memory of the dream, he thought back to the day nearly a year ago when Daniel had approached him to ask if Jack would come out to check over the house before Daniel made an offer. It meant a great deal to Jack that Daniel valued his opinion, though the younger man had seemed uncertain how Jack would react.
To Daniel's surprise, Jack had endorsed the purchase whole-heartedly. Not so much because of the house itself, though Jack hadn't told Daniel that. No, it was simply because buying a house was an action that screamed permanence to Jack, something Daniel had never once done before.
Jack understood better than anyone Daniel's reluctance to put down roots, and the reality that he was finally ready to do so acted as a balm to Jack's old and battle-scarred heart. The fact that Daniel's new home was a mere 10 minutes from Jack's house brought a smile to his face even now.
The door to Daniel's bedroom opened and the archeologist shuffled out into the hallway, apparently not yet fully awake. He started at the sight of Jack standing by the window.
"Jack! Jeez! What are you doing? Do you have any idea what time it is?"
Jack turned and leaned back against the wall, smiling as he folded his arms across his chest. "It's 4:30. Aren't you a little…mature…to be sneaking out?"
Daniel snorted, rubbing a hand through his unkempt hair. "I'm not sneaking out. I gotta…you know." He waved his good hand in the general direction of the bathroom.
Jack's eyebrow merely raised in an indication that, no, he did not know.
"I have to pee," Daniel annunciated each word clearly, as if speaking to a small child. "And before you even offer, no, I don't need any help. I've been doing this just fine since I was three. Even one handed." He turned and shuffled off into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
Jack remained standing guard in the hallway, amused to notice that there was no sliver of light from under the bathroom door. He waited until Daniel emerged. "You need another pill?"
"Nope. I'm good. Just going back to bed. 'Night, Jack."
"Goodnight." He watched Daniel return to his bedroom and shut the door, letting out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. For a minute there, he was afraid Daniel would have started questioning him about why he was standing looking out the living room window in the middle of the night. He turned and made his way back to the couch, sitting upon it and propping his feet up on Daniel's coffee table, when he heard the door open a second time and knew he'd spoken too soon.
Daniel walked into the living room and leaned against the doorframe as he let his eyes survey the darkened room, coming to rest on his friend.
"Other than you?"
"Nothing's up, Daniel. Go back to sleep."
Daniel's eyes narrowed. "It was you, wasn't it? I thought I heard a yell, but I wasn't sure." He crossed the room, coming over and lowering himself onto the couch next to Jack. "Bad dream?" he asked gently.
Jack's only answer was the sound of air escaping through his teeth. It was all the answer Daniel needed. "Want to talk about it?"
Daniel was rewarded with a 'who're you kidding?' look from the older man, which at times in their relationship might have been enough to stop him from pursuing the matter any further. But there was a flash of something in Jack's eyes, something that told him this whole issue went way deeper for his friend than maybe either of them realized.
Sitting there together, Daniel waited patiently. Years of experience had taught him that the best way to get Jack to open up at all was not to push him. If the time was right and the need was great, Jack would talk. Right now, Daniel had all the time in the world to wait. He had a feeling the nightmare had something to do with their earlier discussion.
Jack looked at his hands as they lay folded in his lap. He began rubbing them together absently, feeling the calluses on his palms as they moved across his skin. The silence stretched out, but it wasn't uncomfortable. The darkness surrounding them was soothing, broken only by the dim light of the streetlamps. He knew Daniel was waiting, hoping for him to open up and talk to him about whatever was eating him. The darkness made it easier, made him more willing to share what was on his mind.
Jack let out another breath. "I dreamt we were back in the gateroom. Back when Anubis had you. Saw the whole thing—you grabbing the kid, shooting the guards, Teal'c taking you down with the zat, me shooting you…" He fell silent for a minute, wondering if he should continue. Something deep within him knew he could trust Daniel with this, could trust him with anything—just as he always had. One thing he knew for certain in his friendship with Daniel Jackson—Jack's trust in the younger man had never wavered. No matter what.
"This time, after I had shot you…I went over to where you were. But when I turned you over, it wasn't you I was looking at." His voice faltered. "It was Charlie."
Daniel visibly started at the image. He turned to look at Jack, unable to see his face in the shadows. "Oh, God, Jack…" Whatever he'd been expecting to hear, it hadn't been that.
Jack continued on, suddenly compelled to tell Daniel everything. He needed to share this with him—needed just one other person in this world to share some of his burden. "Having to shoot you, Daniel…it was like that same God-awful day when we lost Charlie…only this time…this time it wasn't just my gun." He stopped for a moment, his hands still harshly rubbing together, as he tried to gather the strength to finish. When he spoke again, his voice was whisper-soft. "It was my finger on the trigger."
Silence met his words, and Jack could stand it no longer. He rose quickly and strode over to the window, returning his gaze to the darkened street.
Daniel watched him go, knowing he needed a minute to compose himself. He lay his head back against the couch, letting his mind register what had been said, along with what Jack wasn't saying. After giving him another minute, he rose as well and walked up to stand behind O'Neill.
"Jack, in all the time I've known you…" He paused, searching for the words to help his friend through this. "I know we've never talked about it much. The one thing I've never been able to convince you of is that Charlie's death wasn't your fault. I'd give anything to help you see that. He was old enough to know better, Jack. I'm not saying it was his fault, either. But I know from seeing you with other kids that you were a great father. Nothing can convince me that you never bothered to teach your son respect for guns, and for the damage they can do. He knew better, but he made a bad choice. He was a kid, Jack, and that's what kids do. What happened to Charlie was an accident. Not his fault. And not yours."
Jack gave no real indication that he'd heard Daniel, not that Daniel expected him too. He knew that even if they talked about this until he was blue in the face, he could never convince Jack to let go of the guilt that consumed the man from the moment of his son's death.
Hopefully, though, there was something he could convince Jack of. And he set out now to do so.
"Jack, what happened with me wasn't the same thing. You have to know that." He waited, hoping the man he'd come to care so much about over the last eight years was listening. "Do you remember the promise?"
Jack stared out the window, not really seeing the first breaks of sun as the darkness reluctantly relinquished her hold on the night. He held himself still, knew that if he moved even so much as a muscle, he'd lose the control that he was fighting so fiercely to maintain.
"You made me a promise, Jack. Years ago, back…back before Shar'e was… Do you remember?"
The silence lengthened, only the clock marking the passage of time.
A sigh that sounded as if it contained the weight of the world escaped from the silver-haired man. "I remember." The admission hung in the air.
Daniel pressed on, encouraged. "Remember that night, Jack? Up on your roof? We were staring out at the stars—me wondering which one my wife might be on. I made you promise me. Promise me that if something happened—if somehow my fate was to end up the same way—possessed by one of those damn snakes, a prisoner in my own body, watching the horrors being inflicted upon others through my own hands… I made you promise that you wouldn't allow that to happen. That you'd do *whatever* it took to keep that from happening."
Jack nodded imperceptibly.
"Has it changed?" Daniel asked softly.
Jack waited a beat, considering, then gently shook his head. "No."
Daniel felt relief that he wasn't being shut out, that just maybe he was reaching his friend. "When Anubis took me…I don't know…I may not have been as aware as a Goa'uld host is. I still remember it now, though. I remember what I did. I wouldn't have wanted that. I didn't come back just so my life would be forfeit to furthering his cause. That's not what I want—you did the right thing, Jack. You kept your promise."
Jack laughed, a dark sound of disbelief. "Yeah."
Daniel could see he remained unconvinced and tried again. "You think you didn't?"
Jack suddenly seemed to explode before him. "Dammit, Daniel! I wasn't thinking of the stupid promise!" The noise of his outburst echoed off the walls of the room.
Daniel reached out tentatively and laid a hand on Jack's shoulder. He'd never been very good at initiating physical contact—that had always been more of Jack's thing. He knew how much that touch had meant to him over the years, though, and had been making an effort lately to reciprocate. Jack had never once made him feel like the gesture was anything but appreciated, seeming to understand how much it cost the younger man to open himself up this way.
As he placed his hand firmly on Jack's shoulder, he could feel the tension vibrating through the other man. "What then? What were you thinking about?" He squeezed gently, communicating more than just his support, and he felt Jack's shoulders loosen slightly.
"All I could think of was you going through that gate. That if I let you walk through that gate, I'd never see you again. That would be it. Even worse than when you ascended." The words were quiet, the tone bleak. Jack finally turned to face his former teammate.
"You, and Carter and Teal'c—SG-1 is the one good thing that's come into my life since Charlie died. You most of all. I never had a friend like you, Daniel. You know me. Know what a jerk I am. Know most of the horrible things I've done. You know me better than anyone ever has, even Sarah. And yet you look past that, beyond all the crap I dish out, and you stand by me anyway. Knowing that someone as decent as you thinks that there's something in me that's worthy of your friendship—it makes me think that maybe, just maybe, my life is redeemable after all. I can't…"
Jack stopped and drew in a deep breath, staring at his feet and wondering if he should lay the rest of it on the line. "I can't go through that again. Losing you. It still feels like we just got you back, you know?" He looked up at Daniel, imploring him to understand.
A warm feeling wrapped itself around Daniel's chest, and he felt a smile sneak out. Never once in all the time they'd known each other would he have thought he and Jack would have a conversation like this, where everything was out in the open. Maybe the way it should have been all along. The smile on his lips reached his eyes, and he kept his hand on Jack's shoulder as he looked at him.
"I can't make any promises, Jack…none of us can, not while we do what we do. But I really am planning to stick around this time. That whole ascension thing…well, it's overrated, really." He heard a slight chuckle escape the officer, and knew Jack was making an effort, but he wasn't quite there yet, so Daniel waited.
Jack hesitated. "Nine years ago I lost my son. Then my wife." His gaze dropped to the floor before returning to Daniel's face. "I had it all, and I lost it all. I never wanted to be what I am now, Daniel—a bitter, lonely old man."
Daniel was surprised at Jack's view of himself, but he understood better than anyone where it came from. "I had it all too, Jack. And I lost it all, just like you. Maybe that's why the two of us are so good together. You know—two of a kind; kindred spirits or something." He watched as Jack raised an eyebrow in irony and smiled again. "Yeah, who'd thought, huh?" he chuckled before continuing. "You know, I realized something on the way over here. Since I've been back, I may be doing better out in the field, but I…well, I still need you in my life. I always will. That's what family is. It means being there, through the good times and the bad. Lending a hand, sticking together, keeping your promises. You taught me that."
Jack stared intently at the man in front of him, grateful beyond words that somehow, someway, a young, geeky archeologist had found his way into his life all those years ago and done the one thing Jack had never thought possible—given him back a piece of his heart.
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep…" The words were uttered quietly into the stillness of the dark room, but Jack heard them just the same.
"We've got miles to go, Jack. Miles. I'd really rather not go them alone, okay?"
"You really plan to stick around?"
"Cross my heart and hope to…"
"Ack! Don't say it! Just don't."
Daniel grinned. "Got it."
"Yeah." Jack looked at him pointedly. "Me too." He stepped forward and reached around Daniel's wounded arm, pulling his friend into a gentle embrace. Daniel came willingly, laying his head on top of Jack's shoulder, feeling the small circles being rubbed into his back, taking and giving comfort in return.
The sun peeked just over the horizon, and the darkness dissipated. There may still be miles to go.
But they'd go them together.