** See Part 1 for full disclaimers and story details
PART 17 NOTES: And we've come to the end, at least for this particular story. Huge thanks go to everyone who sent feedback throughout its posting, especially the readers I couldn't respond to personally. Be on the lookout for some one-shots in the WFF Universe later this summer as I work on completing a few long overdue fics in other fandoms. If you're "tracking" this story and want to know when they've been posted keep it on. I'll post a sequel alert as I did previously. So until then enjoy the final chapter of "Interference Well Met." Many huge thanks go to Lynette, super-powered beta. Her work is never done. Especially since I've added yet another 20K words to my next story. She's going to kill me one of these days. (veg) Any remaining mistakes are purely mine as I tend to fiddle up until the last possible moment. (g) As always, any and all feedback is appreciated.
Seven hours later she was still waiting. Daniel was failing, his body giving out all around him. Faith didn't know what she'd expected, but somehow the reality was so much worse. Janet had given them all quiet, straight forward details about radiation poisoning and what it did to the human body. Daniel had been spared none of the symptoms. She hurt for him, for the accelerated breakdown of his cells, but it was her husband she didn't know how to comfort. Daniel at least had the mercy of unconsciousness. She'd been at the deaths of many friends over the years, more than one person should ever have to face in one lifetime. She knew how to handle the quick, bloody kind of loss. What she didn't know how to face was lying motionless in a bed hundreds of feet below her and Jack was suffering for her lack. Shooting another glare at her silent phone, she turned to pace back the way she'd come. A worn trail was beginning to appear from all the time she'd spent on the small patch of ground in front of the exterior access door.
"I heard you wanted to talk."
She nearly dropped her cell he surprised her so badly. "Whistler." Taking one long step back away from him, she trained her glare on him. "Where the hell have you been? A man is dying down there."
If he was afraid she'd deck him like the last time they'd met he didn't show it. He took off the ugly bowler hat that annoyed her to no end, eyes scanning the nearby tree line before returning to hers. "We know."
"We know? We know! You son of a bitch." Every repetition reverberated in her chest, feeding the fear and frustration rooted deep within. The cell groaned as her hand clenched around it. She shoved it into her pocket before she crushed it, her focus never leaving the garishly dressed demon. "Is that all you have to say? We know?"
"We all have choices in life, Faith. Some of them are more desirable than others. Right now, Daniel is facing one of the most difficult ones there is."
"A choice? What choice? He can't choose to stop being killed by radiation. He can't choose for his skin to stop sloughing off. His organs are melting inside him while we watch. As far as I can see he's kind of Webstering choiceless at the moment."
Whistler stepped closer, for once the hat strangely still in his hands. He must have trusted her more than she did herself at the moment to put himself within striking distance. His calmly instructional tone seemed to imply it as well. "It's called ascension, Faith. And it's only offered to a very select few."
The word echoed in her brain, a sudden punch deep inside. "Ascension. Like Wilkins."
"Not so much."
She waited for him to go on, time stretching between them with an elasticity that was going to hurt when it snapped. "What does that mean?" Her chest trembled with each thud of her heart. "Does it mean Daniel can survive?"
"In a way." He held up a hand when her mouth opened with more questions. "True ascension, not just the transformation Wilkins thought it was, is a loss of physical form while the spirit, the soul lives on."
She turned his words over and around in her head for a long minute. At first thought it seemed as if he was telling her Daniel could be saved after all, but she knew it wouldn't be that easy. And even if it was, what would be the cost? There was always a cost. "And where's the bad?" It wasn't really a question. It was too good to not have a chain connected.
He didn't pretend to misunderstand. She told herself she'd be thankful later. "The ascended forfeit all ties to the physical realm. They observe, they learn. They cannot interact or interfere. They ascend to a higher plane of existence." He paused, the hat held like armor before him. She wasn't so sure it wasn't a bad idea at the moment. Whistler had a habit of delivering more bad news than good. "Either way Daniel Jackson is dead to you."
Snap went the band, straight into her chest and she sucked in a breath in a vain attempt to ease the ache. It didn't help. "Some choice." She didn't need a picture book to figure out what Whistler wasn't saying. It was all well and good to think of Daniel living on somewhere, but what about Daniel himself? To move on without his friends, his family? To potentially be forever alone with only a 'higher plane of existence' for company? She didn't know which choice was the worse. At least dead was an ending. "But what about the future? The time I spent with Jack? I saw Daniel, talked with him. Hell, I even touched him. How can he be ascended or dead with that? Huh?"
"The future isn't set in stone, Faith. You're living proof of that. Haven't you already changed the future you experienced?" Her jaw clenched as the truth of his statements sank in, Sharon Montgomery's wispy blonde hair and colorful scarf flashing across her mind. What else had she changed with her decision to open up to Jack about the truth? He eyed her compassionately, face softening into an expression almost like comfort. "All I can say is that even the ascended have choices."
Swiping a hand under her nose quickly, Faith swallowed down the lump in her throat. "What am I supposed to tell Jack?" Her voice broke, stuttering over the name. "What can I tell him?"
"The information you have is your own, Faith. You decide what's the best use of it. Like so many things in life, it's only a tool."
For once the demon's cryptic response didn't piss her off. She hurt too much to feel anything else. Rubbing one shaking hand across her eyes, she let out a breath. "Thank you, Whistler."
But the demon was already gone.
Faith twisted the key slowly, shutting the big truck off. The sudden quiet was loud in the driveway, the ticking of the engine like a shotgun blast. Jack's door opened a short moment later and she watched him intently as he slid out then carefully closed it. The first rays of sunrise spilled through the trees to light the house and truck in mottled patches, an almost mocking exclamation point to the past twenty-four hours. She knew she should take it as a quiet sign from the Powers, that life went on and they would recover eventually, SG-1, her, Jack. All she could think was that she wished the sun would just stop for a little while, that they could pause life until the hurting started to fade. The lightening sky was cheerful in a way that was almost offensive.
Jack silently rounded the front of the truck, body held carefully upright. He'd said little on the drive home. Actually, he'd said little ever since Daniel had turned into a giant glowing cloud of white-she glanced at the dash clock-seven hours ago. There was something more going on than losing his friend, although God knew that was reason enough for some quiet time. Yet Jack had the look of someone who wanted to say something but didn't know how to start.
She slipped from the cab to walk with him up the drive. His hand in hers was cold, dry, just a little tight. She searched for something to say, anything that could help him start the healing process, but drew a blank every time. Platitudes were useless as well as condescending and there wasn't anything she could do without telling him about Whistler, her trip to the future and Daniel's future sighting. It would be cruel to offer that kind of hope not half a day after his death.
The companionable silence continued up the walkway, over the porch and into the house. When he paused in the middle of the living room, she stopped with him. He was lost in thought, face not quite the blank mask he sometimes wore. It said more about how he was feeling than if he'd raged around the room destroying everything in sight. Jack was angry-at life, fate, the Powers, whatever name people used for the capricious spirits who ruled over circumstances. And he was probably pissed at Daniel as well. The man had had to go and be a hero, getting himself killed in the process. No small amount of guilt there. Faith knew Daniel would never see it that way, nor anyone else who'd heard the situation leading up to Daniel's fatal choice, but Jack had managed to find some way to blame himself. As if he should have been able to stop Daniel from acting. He cared far too much and failed to protect himself time and time again. It was a wonder he'd allowed her in at all.
"He asked me to let him go. To just stop trying to save him."
After Whistler's cursory explanation and what she'd seen today, she didn't ask how he'd spoken with a man whose vocal cords had melted away. She'd experienced harder to believe things in her life. Jack's guilt made a whole lot more sense now. "It was his choice, Jack. You couldn't make it for him." She took a step forward, turning so she could take his other hand as well.
"I could have stopped him. Jacob could have kept him alive. He said as much."
"But at what price? Your friendship? His peace of mind? Jacob also said the damage was too great to heal fully without a sarcophagus. Could Daniel have lived like that? Crippled? In constant pain?"
"At least he'd still be alive."
The words echoed off the ceiling and walls, battering her from multiple angles. She didn't flinch from their intensity. She understood it far more than she wanted to. "It was his choice," she repeated quietly. "And now we have to learn to live with it."
His expression hardened, guilt and anger and sadness flitting back and forth so quickly she had a hard time keeping up. "I don't know if I can forgive him."
And there it was-the real reason for his mixed up emotions. He hadn't needed to finish the sentence for her to figure out the rest of it. 'For giving up.' Jack's creed in life was to never give up, to keep fighting for the ones he loved. To fight a person had to be present. Some part of Jack felt betrayed by Daniel's choice, for leaving them behind, even when the only other option had significant consequences. Could they have gotten a sarcophagus later, been able to heal the damaged tissue after the fact? Faith didn't know, but she was willing to bet Jack would have taken that chance, would have stayed with them despite the abysmal odds. The very personal part of Jack that believed everyone else should have that same fortitude and character was screaming somewhere inside him, begging to be let out. There was nothing she could do to comfort that piece of him. She pushed up to kiss him ever so slightly. "And that's the choice you'll have to live with." She didn't mean it in a judgmental way, just as fact.
Jack pulled her into his arms, body trembling against hers. "I know, baby. I know."
There was nothing else she could say so she held him instead, trying to impart love, understanding and acceptance. No matter his choices, as long as she walked the Earth she would always be there for him.
Quiet enveloped them in a tiny two-person cocoon. Gradually, the trembling stopped but he didn't pull away. "I miss him already."
She tugged him even closer and ran soothing hands through his hair, over his neck and back. She'd stay there as long as he needed, as long as it would take. She wasn't going anywhere.
End of "Interference Well Met"
Coming soon "Bonus Points"...