Title: To Hold Us To Earth
Genre: Character study/quiet angst.
Beta: I have not pried into matters.
Continuity: Plays well with canon.
Prerequisites: Orientation in Season 6. Tag to Unnatural Selection, spoilers for Unnatural Selection, references with varying degrees of obliqueness to Abyss, Menace, Enemies, and Small Victories.
Summary: Midway through Season 6, Jack makes a rather interesting fashion choice. I examine why.
Disclaimer: The reasons for MGM's holding of copyright over these characters are a lot more obvious than Jack's reasons for his choices in accessorization. The opinions expressed herein are the properties of the characters and not always of the Papyrus of Ani. This fanfic is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease. Do not eat toner. Questions, comments and chotkis can be left in replies or directed to magistrata(at)gmail(dot)com. Thank you for reading.
Jack walks into Daniel's office sometime when Jonas is asleep. They should all be asleep – Jonas and Carter and Hammond and even Teal'c, if you substitute kel'no'reem, and while the Jaffa meditation might not be the same as good, old-fashioned shuteye, it amounts to the same thing in the dark of the night.
Actually, if Carter's not sleeping, odds are she's writing her mission report. It's how she puts things back in order in her brain when missions go wrong – gets them on paper, pins down the evidence, codifies it. Hammond always seems to get her reports fastest when Jack's done something wrong. And Jack, who doesn't have such a convenient coping mechanism, is here in the reassigned office of his sort-of-dead friend, skipping his fingers across the detritus on his desk.
It's all the same, in the dark of the night. SG-1 stands down and suddenly they're just four people again, and sometimes they're still as close as brothers and sister, and sometimes they're as strange as strangers can be.
Jack stops by the corner of the desk, looks up at the corner where the ceiling meets the walls and remarks "You're a real sonofabitch. You know that?"
The sound of water in the pipes and the long, slow breath of the air vents is his only answer.
He stands and listens for a while, listens for all the things that aren't being said because the man who'd be there to say them is off cavorting with the mysteries of the universe, and gives a crooked smile. "Of course you do. You know everything."
The Don't you. is left unsaid.
"I assume you were watching today," he says. "I mean, I can't really see you not checking in, special occasions notwithstanding – really, what says Daniel Jackson more than a persistent and, ah, dare I say it, preternatural preoccupation with what I happen to be doing with my life on any given day? I was just wondering if you'd like to take the opportunity to comment, as all the rest of my scientific personnel have taken the time to do. No?"
He leaves the desk, wandering toward the central table, where a five-by-three printout of a temple layout is held down at the corners by an urn, a stone bowl, several large handfuls of loose alien change and a half-full thermos of stale coffee. There's something accusatory about the little signs of absentmindedness, here. You used his humanity against him.
He claps his hands together, focusing his annoyance toward the ceiling lights. "You think it's hard having the power to change the things you want and not doing anything? Bullshit. Why don't you come down for a while, try it out my way, not having lightning bolts and burning bushes and still having to make a decision. Hm?" He raises his eyebrows. "No? 'cause I call that a lot harder, Daniel.
"What would you have done? Mm? I'm asking. What would your trademarkedly brilliant, completely and utterly insane exit strategy for the land of metal spiders dressed up in human suits have been?"
Once again, the office doesn't answer.
After a while of this, he sighs and pulls the chair out from Daniel's desk. And it's always going to be Daniel's desk, no matter how long Jonas is with them; Daniel is written into this room just as indelibly as his absence is written into SG-1.
"You talk a big game about saving my soul," Jack says, sitting. "Or is the offer only on the table while I'm actually dying?"
A muffled cl-thunk echoes down the pipes, subsides, repeats once, and doesn't repeat again. The SGC is never entirely silent, but that only seems to make the silence more pronounced. The hum of the florescent lights, the whirr and click of the sleeping harddrives – the mechanical systems of the base go on about their business, and don't care one way or another what business the people inside are up to on their own.
"Carter and Jonas are pissed," Jack says. "And Teal'c is doing that eyebrow thing that says while he doesn't disagree with me per se, he still wants me to consider how and where my life went so tragically wrong." He snorts. "You, on the other hand – well, Daniel, I think this is the quietest you've ever been, which means I've really crossed a line, and Carter will be advising me to bring you coffee and cookies as a peace offering."
As though he'd ever taken that advice. He doesn't have to explain his decisions, even on days like this – and there are a surprising number of days like this. He and Daniel always seemed to find themselves on opposite sides of some gulf or other when Replicators were involved, and Jack was always shooting someone to kill or disable, or screaming through a headpiece to cut losses and let things go. It isn't just the alien elements he's willing to write off as an acceptable loss, and he wonders if Daniel ever quite realized that. Though it probably wouldn't have made a difference.
"...or it just means that you're an all-powerful higher being with way better things to be doing with your time," he mutters, and stands to leave.
At the door, before opening it, he pauses.
"It was what had to be done," he says.
He takes the handle of the door and is just turning it, pushing the door aside, when there's the soft slide of wood against metal and something hits the floor.
Jack pauses. Then he turns, but carefully, like this is one of those really predictable monster movies and he wants to give a nice slow reveal to whatever's dropped from the ceiling or congealed itself from the shadows in the room.
At first he doesn't see anything. Then he catches a glimpse of something, half-hidden behind one of the legs of the desk, and traces its fall back up to the top of one of the bookcases.
Jonas tends to interact with his environments in sequences of bursts of enthusiasm, and only occasionally puts things back where he's found them. That, on top of the mess he inherited from Daniel, makes this particular office an ...interesting place to be. There's a pile of stuff – a growing pile, from what Jack's been able to tell – sprawled precariously over the tops of three bookcases and two stacked file cabinets which are probably an OSHA violation of some kind, and Jack's long been in the habit of not standing under or near it for fear that he'll wake up in the Infirmary with a ceremonial-mask-shaped indentation in his skull. It seems like it's finally dropped something, and he crosses the office to pick it up.
It's a long string of beads of some fragrant, offworld wood, tied into a loop. A thin tassle of red cord makes a kind of endpoint to the circle, an easy place for the fingers to find and recognize.
"You know," he mentions, "you really should take better care of your stuff," and is going to put it back on the bookshelf but his hand doesn't move. He turns a couple of the beads between thumb and forefinger, and the scrape of wood on wood lets a tiny whiff of that alien scent into the air.
Daniel would have explained the significance. He always did, with the things people gave him – so fascinated, so gratified, so eager to bring other people into that fascination like a kid bringing a surprise home from school. There are a hundred twenty-six beads on this string – one to forty-two three times over – and there was no way Jack would have listened to what all forty-two meditation points were supposed to be, but there was no way Daniel would've let him get away without a sampling.
I have made none to weep.
I have not grieved uselessly, or felt remorse.
I have not attacked any man.
I am not a man of deceit.
"Cute," he mutters. He tosses the beads up at the pile, and they slide down and off the bookshelf again with what seems like a note of reproach.
He catches them before they hit the floor, and the soft collapse of the loop into his palm rousts another scrap of memory from the corner of his mind.
"More 'guideposts' than 'laws,'" Daniel said. "Things pleasing to Maat. Really, from the tombs, you get the idea that any day where a few of these were true was a blessing; you took what you could and moved on."
He lets them slide across his hand, catch on and dangle from his thumb, inspecting the nicks and whorls in the wood grain. "And when none of the above apply?"
"And you remembered – you resolved, at the end of the day, to be able to say more of them tomorrow. With that effort, you hoped you were forgiven."
His response at the time had been something sarcastic – something like "So, everything's peachy as long as you say 'No, really, I'll never do it again?'" – which had resulted, predictably, in a long tangent about redemption being cultivated from within the individual rather than being granted from without, which had wound up in the vicinity of Theravada Buddhism before Jack had found something completely unrelated to ask Carter about to shut him up. He turns over the idea that he'd give this or that or anything to go back to that moment, leave off the irrelevant change of topic and actually listen, but realizes that no, he probably wouldn't, in honesty. Daniel is smart – wise, in his way – but Jack's never been in the habit of looking for answers from him. Challenges, always. Options, of course. Answers, not so much. He isn't in the habit of entrusting his soul to anyone, and supposes that means that in the end, it really is just him and the hope for better days.
There's a noise behind him and he turns to see the door open, and there's Jonas, standing in the doorway in a T-shirt and bare feet, with a book tucked against his chest. There's a moment of silence, their eyes meet, and Jonas blinks once or twice to confirm that he is seeing what's in front of him. Not a nice trick to play on the man with potential Naquadriah-induced schizophrenia, Jack thinks.
"Colonel," Jonas says, surprised. "Can I... help you with something?"
Jack sticks both hands in his pockets, beads along with them. "No," he says, and tells himself to act casual. "I was just in here, looking at... reference."
Jonas, who's astute enough to realize that Colonel Jack O'Neill is more likely to be caught using the stuff in here as a pillow than as reference material, considers that with a bemused look on his face. "All right," he says, after a moment. "Need any help with it? I've set up a cross-reference database on most of what Dr. Jackson left behind, here..."
"No," Jack says. "No; I think I found what I needed to."
"Right," Jonas says, with a tone two states away from actually believing him. He doesn't press, though; he's not Daniel, who disregarded Jack's boundaries from the moment he met him, and if there's one thing Jonas Quinn knows it's how uninvolved the Colonel wants him to be in his life. "Well, I was just going to get some reading done." He gives a self-conscious chuckle. "Trouble sleeping, you know." He makes a Silly thing, really gesture and negotiates his way through the clutter to the stool at the table.
"Right," Jack says. "You do that. Read." He slips one hand out of his pockets. "I'll leave you to it, then."
In his other pocket he twists the string of beads: two twists to make three loops, through which he slides his wrist. It settles close against his skin, forty-two assertions three times over, most of which he can't remember or never knew.
I have not transgressed.
I have not been wroth.
I have not shut my ears to the words of truth.
He heads out the door and leaves it open behind him. Jonas is at the table, opening up the book and bending his head over it, and the busy, distant silence flows in around him. Jack heads down the hall toward his quarters, planning to sleep, to meet another day.