Vicissitudeby devra Note: This story first appeared in Annie's zine Pretense 7
Daniel took a look around the overflowing, red, white and blue, ostentatiously decorated gateroom. He had made the rounds, had given all the appropriate smiles to all the necessary groups. He had shaken hands with those whose hands needed to be shook and had made small talk until he was so hoarse and dry that nothing seemed to satiate his thirst. Daniel placed his empty champagne glass on the tray of a passing waiter and decided he'd had enough, his job here was done, and keeping one eye on the crowded room, he slowly backed out into the hallway, and beat a hasty retreat upwards.
* * *
He offered the guards an obligatory nod of his head and wound around the back of the mountain. The path he took was well worn, but trekking along the dirt and rocks in anything other than boots or sneakers, made for slow going. The walk took longer than Daniel remembered and he began to second guess himself that maybe his memories of this place were skewed, lost somewhere between his time with Oma, and reality.
He had turned, done an about face trying to get his bearings, and had decided to retrace his steps to reluctantly rejoin all the pomp and circumstance inside the Mountain when he literally stumbled upon his destination, courtesy of tree root in the middle of the path. He lost his footing, grabbed hold of a nearby tree trunk and he fought to stay upright, cursing at the slippery bottoms of his rarely worn, good shoes, as he swung around wildly.
After his impromptu acrobatic act had finished, and though there hadn't been an audience, Daniel was thoroughly embarrassed. Red faced, he started to dust himself off, beginning at his calves and patting his way up to his jacket. He stuck his index finger between his collar and neck, pulling at the material, then eventually gave in, removed his tie, stuck it in his jacket pocket and unbuttoned the top button. As an afterthought, he decided to remove his jacket and as he slipped his arms from the sleeves, he looked around.
"Yes," he said softly, stepping a few feet forward. He had found what he had been searching for, quietly overjoyed that the place really did exist and wasn't just a convoluted dream born of his confused imagination.
It was futile, really, but he made a feeble attempt to clean off the log before he sat, adjusting his pants as he settled down on the wood. He threw his head back, basking in the warmth of the sun, inhaling deeply of air that wasn't recycled. A deep sigh escaped him and was echoed by another, surprising him. Those exhalations of air *felt* sad, and he shook his head, confused. He didn't *think* he felt sad, he …felt introspective. There you go, that was a much nicer and safer word. Introspective. Daniel rolled the word around in brain and with a sigh that was deeper than the two previous ones, decided that sad really was really more appropriate.
He felt …yeah, there it was again when he sighed, that feeling …sad.
Daniel tried a number of other emotions on for size; depressed, angry, hurt. The hurt he held onto for a while, but that wasn't it, he wasn't hurt …he was just …sad.
He touched the expensive material of his suit jacket as it lay stretched across his knees. The suit had been purchased under protest, when Sam had dragged him shopping. Outrageously expensive …the price of it equaled his first apartment, he thought ruefully. Now, he had money in the bank, lots of money. Enough, at least, so he would never have to work again. There was enough to finance his own dig somewhere, anywhere, if he wanted. Well, he wanted, but there was no way he could. Being part of the SGC precluded his ability to lead a *normal* life at times, to do what he really desired to do. Daniel kicked at the loose dirt, scuffing up the front of his shoe, taking wicked, perverse pleasure at the permanent marks now marring the leather. "Good," he said vindictively as he ground his foot into the dirt like a two year old, inflicting more damage to the shoe.
The pleasant alcoholic buzz from the numerous glasses he had drunk was settling down to a dull headache that would disappear with a handful of aspirin and some sleep, but he was too lazy to move from the spot. He sat drifting, his body jerking back into awareness every time he began to list to the left.
"Why don't you just go home?"
He opened one eye and blinked lazily at the shadow blocking the afternoon sun. "Hi, Jack."
Daniel didn't miss Jack eying the log, then watched as his glance bounced around the clearing, taking in alternative seating arrangements. "Seems like you got the best seat in the house."
Daniel gingerly slid over and patted the empty expanse of log. "Saved a space for you."
"And I saved something for you," Jack said amicably as he placed an opened bottle of champagne on the ground by Daniel's feet.
Daniel bent down and lifted the bottle up by the neck and checked out the label.
"You're a snob, Dr. Jackson, has anyone ever told you that?"
"Today? No, no one mentioned that to me today." Daniel went to take a drink from the opened bottle. What the hell, what's the worse that could happen? His headache would turn into a hangover? "Hey," he spurted when Jack's hand stopped Daniel's forward motion. "What the hell …you bring it and then you don't …"
"Will you just be quiet a moment," Jack commanded, then reached into his right and left pockets simultaneously to withdraw two paper cups, smoothing out the bends with his thumb before holding them out to Daniel.
"Ahhhh." Daniel topped off the cups with flourish, perversely taking a swig from the bottle before placing it on the ground once again.
"Classless," Jack whispered and leaned into his space. Daniel sat patiently as Jack's tongue lapped up the champagne taste around his lips.
Jack righted himself and smacked his lips. "Well, that was really interesting. Usually when I kiss you, you kiss back, then I give you tongue, then you reciprocate, then I—"
"I get the picture," Daniel replied harshly, downing the majority of champagne in his paper cup.
"Okay, I'm missing something here, aren't I?"
Daniel stuck his finger into the cup and began to stir. "Why aren't you at the mountain, celebrating?"
"One, cause I'm still at the mountain," Jack shrugged sheepishly at Daniel's scathing look. "Well, I am. I'm just outside of it instead of inside *and*," he said, tapping his paper cup against Daniel's in a mock toast, "I'm celebrating."
Daniel finished the rest of his champagne and poured himself another, offering more to Jack before putting the bottle back on the ground. "Glad one of us is." Daniel cringed and shut his eyes, grimacing at the harshness of his own voice, glad the headache was still there, reveling in the pain as punishment for his transgression into anger.
"It's my party and I can leave if I want to," Jack said in a voice that had a touch of sing songiness to it, which was an indicator that he was choosing to ignore Daniel's mood. He knocked his shoulder playfully against Daniel's and a bit of champagne from his cup flowed over the top and landed on the jacket still on his lap. Mesmerized, Daniel watched the stain spread.
"Hey, it's okay." Jack took a drink from his cup, then patted Daniel's hand where it hung over the spot. "Champagne doesn't stain."
The moment of anger had passed, and Daniel sat, feeling the weight of Jack's gaze upon him.
He studied the ground, trying to ignore the heaviness of Jack's hand on his shoulder, fighting the urge to shrug it off. Deft fingers moved from shoulder to neck and began to massage his nape with languid, slow, deliciously warming touches, working away the kinks. Enjoying Jack's touch forced him to add a sense of guilt to his sadness. "Please go away, Jack," he begged, horrified at the catch in his voice over Jack's name.
"Would you like to share your unhappiness or do you want to keep this all to yourself."
"I'm not unhappy," Daniel protested, finishing the rest of his champagne, reaching to pour himself another glass.
"Working on getting drunk?" Jack's voice was filled with caring and without a tinge of reproach.
"Problem is, it's *not* working." Daniel gulped down his glass, his stomach rolling unpleasantly, but that didn't stop him from pouring another glassful. Jack sat silently, the hand on Daniel's neck tightening imperceptibly at Daniel's desire to drink himself into oblivion. Daniel was able to read Jack's disproval of his actions just *by* Jack's actions, just as Jack was able to sense that Daniel was unhappy. He hated that they knew each other so well and he definitely despised his own dependence on Jack's ability to read between his lines of unspoken dialogue.
After that last cupful of champagne, his stomach began protesting in earnest. Daniel was focusing so intently on breathing deeply to keep the champagne and the two chicken wings from the reception where they belonged, that Jack's presence was momentarily forgotten. Daniel began to pant. The cold sweat produced from his efforts began to pool and then run between his shoulder blades, dampening the expensive shirt he wore. The smell of his own sweat and fear nauseated him further and he jumped up, faltered, then staggered to the nearest tree and vomited up what he had been working so hard to keep down. He clutched a low hanging branch for support as his stomach surrendered its contents onto the ground under his feet.
He paused, huffing, breathing shallowly through his mouth in self preservation so the smell of vomit wouldn't trigger the nausea and start him upchucking again. Daniel's throat burned, his stomach was still unsettled and churning painfully. He slapped his free hand over his forehead, massaging. His head was pounding so badly that he knew if he let go of this tree branch anchor he would be falling face first in his own puke.
"Come on, let's get you …" Jack's hand inched up Daniel's back, rubbing small circles of comfort as it ascended.
This time Daniel shrugged off Jack's hand. "Just go away. I'm fine."
Jack's snort echoed in Daniel's brain, pinging around painfully. "Fine? You've thrown up on your good shoes, whatever the hell you ate is splattered on your pants, you're as white as a sheet and you're shaking so hard the tree branch you have in a death grip is —"
"I get the idea," Daniel hissed, the sound aggravating his throat even more. He stank, he knew he did, he was a mess, and he certainly didn't need to be told. Daniel turned to the side and spit, failing miserably to clear away the god-awful taste in his mouth.
"Moot point to ask how much you've actually drank today."
"Moot point," Daniel reiterated, remembering more the difference in glass shapes as opposed to the alcohol they'd contained.
"Guess I shouldn't even ask what you ate?"
Daniel free hand snaked around his midsection, just the mere mention of food set his stomach churning. "No, at this moment, it wouldn't be one of your smarter questions." He pressed his arm tighter into his stomach. "Let's just say the ratio of food to drink wasn't equal."
"Not one of Dr. Jackson's more shining moments, huh?"
Daniel agreed with a nod. "I've had better ..." A vision of a darkened storeroom and a gun flittered through his mind. " …and I've had worse."
He counted to three, then forced his body upright, reluctantly releasing his grip on the tree branch, wiping his hands on his pants' legs. Daniel levered his shoulders, seesawing the tight muscles before turning to face Jack.
"You look like shit," was Jack's succinct observation.
"Go back to the party," Daniel replied, taking two hesitant steps away from Jack, stopping only when a strong, insistent arm grabbed his elbow.
"Where are you going?"
Daniel sighed, for what seemed like the millionth time today, then backed up until he was standing shoulder to shoulder with Jack, not facing him, his gaze locked on his expensive jacket which lay in the dirt by the log. "I'm not going to drive. I'm neither that stupid nor that drunk."
Two hands painfully gripped his arms and Daniel was nauseatingly swiveled around until he was staring into Jack's face. There was anger, annoyance and concern in those eyes and Daniel met them head on. "Go back to your celebration, Jack."
"I really don't want to."
"You lost your autonomy when you became General O'Neill."
Jack was honestly surprised at Daniel's comment. "I …I did not," he protested.
"Yes, you did." He pushed away from Jack. "You're the man, you said it yourself. Now go back, it's expected of you. I'm going to shower, change and go to my office …"
"I'll give my regards and meet you there."
"Sure, whatever." Daniel's smile was quicker than a flash of light.
Jack rubbed his back and Daniel struggled with his desire to succumb to the comfort as small circles of pressure expanded into larger ones with each step they took. He bent to pick up his discarded jacket and Jack latched onto his arm when the up and down motion caused a momentary disruption of his sense of balance.
"Don't even tell me you're fine," Jack said, grabbing the jacket from Daniel. He shook out residual dirt and leaves, then handed it back.
"I wouldn't dare. Not fine. Nauseated, hung over, sure. I look like crap, 'cause I feel like crap." Daniel slammed his arms into the sleeves of the jacket. "You go first, I'll just," he grabbed the opened bottled of champagne, "I'll just finish up here."
"Don't," Jack warned.
"I wasn't going to." Daniel turned the bottle over and the two men watched the remains pour out and puddle at their feet.
"I just thought …"
"I know what you thought. I need to shower, I stink, but it makes more sense for you to go …"
"We'll go together, Daniel." Jack pulled at Daniel's coat sleeve like an impatient child. "Come on. The sooner I get back to the shindig, the sooner I can say my goodbyes, change out of this military equivalent of a straightjacket, throw on some civvies, get you home …"
Daniel felt the first smile of the day peek through his sadness. "Can you leave the military trappings on? I kinda have a thing for men in uniforms."
* * *
Daniel had lied to Jack, he wasn't just nauseated, he was sick to his stomach. But he managed to hold it all together until he was under the hot, needle-like pulse of the shower before he puked again. Arms braced against the wall, he didn't even fight the resurgence of bile, just allowed it to happen, and watched it without emotion as it spiraled down the drain between his feet. Daniel rested his pounding head against the tiled wall and stood there until the water turned cool enough to force him upright.
He dried himself with exaggerated effort, the coarseness of the towels exceedingly rough on skin that felt tight and tender. Daniel dressed even more slowly than he had dried off and slunk back to office before any of the honored guests would notice his presence in the hallway. Daniel sat in the darkness that was his office, the idea of getting up and starting a pot of coffee or taking a handful of aspirin required just too much effort. So there he sat, eventually sliding down to stretch out the length of the couch, rested his head on one bolster, his feet on the other, and wearily closed his eyes.
* * *
"The party's over." Jack's insistent voice cut through the layers of Daniel's sleep and he opened one eye, peering up at the man standing over him.
"I guess that means you want me to wake up."
"Waking up, standing up, walking out of here. Yeah, that's the basic idea."
Daniel snuggled deeper into the lumpy couch cushions, reaching up to drag down the blanket which was folded over the back of the couch, confused when his hand came up empty.
Jack patted his shoulder. "Covered you when I first came to check on you, about ninety minutes ago."
"Thanks," Daniel mumbled, embarrassed as always by Jack's protective tendencies. "I'm not the best company right now, I think I'm just going to bunk down here for the night."
Jack chuckled and pulled the blanket from Daniel's body, tossing it onto the back of the couch. "Newsflash, Daniel, you haven't been the best of company all day. And I haven't a clue why. And so I'm going to drag you home with me tonight because I must be a glutton for punishment."
"You have martyr tendencies."
"Yeah, I guess I do. Poor Jack O'Neill." Jack crossed his arms and cocked his head to the side. "Kinda like the sound of that."
"Don't expect any titillating conversation from me if you bring me home," Daniel warned, righting his body. "I'm very sad today." Daniel's voice was a tone below a whisper, his head turned sideways, readjusting the pillows, so Jack could neither hear him nor see his lips move, and he wondered what had possessed this passive aggressive behavior on his part. His exhalation of annoyance with himself was definitely misconstrued by Jack.
Jack patted Daniel's knee, unaware of Daniel's words, chuckling deeper at the joke he was making. "You don't need to talk to titillate me, Daniel."
* * *
"Aren't you going to say anything?"
Daniel eyed the plate of scrambled eggs and toast that Jack had placed in front of him. "You told me I didn't have talk."
"I lied," Jack said succinctly, turning the chair opposite Daniel around and straddling it, resting his arms on the curve of the chair back. "Talk, okay? You're *too* quiet. It's making me nervous."
Daniel pushed the plate away. "I'm not hungry."
"That's not what I meant by talking."
"It's what I felt like saying."
"Why the hell did you let me cook it then?"
"Would you have stopped if I told you 'no, I wasn't hungry'?"
"Yes …okay, no."
Daniel shoved the plate even further away. "You wouldn't. You would have gone right on cooking whether or not I voiced my objection. Whether or not I told you that I wasn't hungry, or that the smell of food made me want to vomit." Daniel grabbed at the table and pushed, the wooden legs of the chair scraping jarringly over the floor. "I don't want the food, Jack. I'm not in the least bit hungry." Daniel popped up and stomped into the living room.
"This isn't about scrambled eggs and toast, is it?" Jack followed right behind him into the living room. Like a dog with a bone, he wasn't giving this up without a fight.
"If I eat the food, will you shut up?"
"I would have before, but not now, because this isn't about my cooking."
"Dingdingdingding. Give the General a kewpie doll, the man's got it in one."
"I think I need to go home."
"You are home."
"I need—" Frenetically, Daniel began to search for his shoes, jacket and his keys, knowing that Jack was waiting, watching. "What are you looking at?"
"You," was Jack's simple reply, leaning his butt up against the back of the recliner, arms crossed, like a parent who was waiting for their child's temper tantrum to finish. "Going home isn't the answer, 'cause obviously whatever is bothering you is going to follow you right into your house."
"Not if what's bothering me is in this house." Daniel had tucked his keys into his pocket and was in the process of slipping on his shoes.
Jack threw his hands up in disgust. "Okay, I'm obviously as thick as a brick, because you've been throwing clues my way this whole entire day, hell this whole entire *week*, and I've been missing them. So come on, give me a break and talk to me."
"I hate you."
"Well, that's different, and *not* what I was expecting, but ummm, that's a start. Would you care to elaborate on that idea?"
"It's not just you, it's Sam and Teal'c also." Daniel found interest in a spot on Jack's rug, way over there in the corner by the table, that he had never noticed before.
"Okay, it's SG-1."
"No, no it's not. You're not part of SG-1 anymore." Daniel was angry, why couldn't Jack just *get* it, instead of extracting it painfully and slowly.
"Touché, Dr. Jackson, that's hitting below the belt."
"It's the truth," Daniel said softly. "You aren't part of SG-1 anymore, Jack."
"You're angry 'cause I'm the General?"
"No." Daniel emphatically shook his head.
Jack walked to the love seat and dropped wearily into the leather. "I'm too old and too tired to be playing twenty questions."
"I know." Daniel carefully lowered himself into the couch cushions directly opposite him.
Jack feigned a look of shock. "You *know* I'm too old?"
"I didn't mean that."
"Glad to hear it." Jack's body relaxed against the cushions before he extended his arms along the back of the couch, the depth of his gaze trained on Daniel never faltering.
"It's not you, it's me—I'm too old." Daniel attempted to mirror Jack's position and all it did was make Daniel feel awkward and uncomfortable, so he slid his hands back into his lap, his index finger intently chipping away at a callous along the edge of his thumb.
"You're confusing me more than normal, Daniel. If *I'm* not old, how can you be old?"
"Maybe old isn't the word I'm looking for …"
He heard Jack's huff of frustration. "You're the linguist, what are you trying to say?"
"Stagnant, static, immobile, stationary." Daniel found himself pacing, yet he couldn't recall standing. "Everyone has moved on and I haven't."
"I'm not sure …"
"That you understand? Yeah, not sure I do either, but for now, can't this be enough, Jack?" Daniel wanted to add a whiney 'please' but thought maybe this time, just for once, the less words he used, the better off he would be.
"For now." Jack had reluctantly agreed, but Daniel knew him well enough to understand that all he managed to do was plug up the leak with his finger, and it was only a matter of time before the whole dam gave way, flooding them both with Daniel's emotions.
* * *
Daniel hadn't meant to spend the night, but since his car was still at the mountain and Jack hadn't seemed predisposed to driving him home, here he was in the dark, lying in a bed as familiar as his own, next to a body as familiar as his own, in a house that wasn't his. His head was pounding with unsaid words and his stomach grumbled in hunger, and he smiled in the darkness as the heavy weight of Jack's hand kneaded his abdomen.
"Jeez, Daniel, as if your snoring wasn't bad enough." Daniel could hear the slow, lethargic voice of a person on the cusp of sleep and for some stupid, inexplicable reason, Jack's simple gesture of caring widened the crack just a bit more.
"Sorry," he stuttered, ashamed in the darkness at his emotionally laden voice. "I was gone for a year—with Oma," Daniel blurted out.
"I know. I missed you."
Daniel felt the hand on his stomach pause imperceptibly, tighten and then start up again.
"People moved on."
"Not me, Daniel."
Daniel sighed. "Yes, you did, in your own way, I guess I didn't *see* this until now."
"See what …what did you see?"
"Change. I'm still playing catch up and you've become a General, Sam's interests have moved beyond just her naquadah generators and Teal'c has branched off in so many directions."
"You were here, back on Earth when those changes occurred."
"I know I was, but the groundwork for them happened the year I was gone."
Jack's silence was Daniel's answer.
"Where's my place on SG-1, Jack? At the SGC?"
"I can't answer that, you know."
"Neither can I, and *that's* what's scaring the crap out of me," Daniel admitted. He picked up his hands, levering them as one would a scale, balancing them. "With Oma, I wanted to do more, intervene, step into battles—right the wrong. Back here, suddenly I'm not sure how much of the soldier I want to be."
"I'm lost. The people moving among the corridors are younger than I ever was, and where did that spark go? I haven't seen that in my own eyes in long time."
Daniel could feel the dip in the mattress as Jack sidled closer to him. "Did you want us to stop living while you were …you know …up there?"
"I want my year away to be acknowledged. I don't want the sidelong glances, the shaking of the heads …can you image how I feel reading through mission reports what went down last year?" Daniel paused. "No, I guess you wouldn't."
"It's hard …too hard. Did you every think we feel guilty for allowing Jonas to be our fourth?"
"You did? How would I know that?" Daniel hated the frisson of happiness he experienced hearing those words.
"How it killed us …all of us, to see him in your office? Using your things? Walking your walk, talking your talk, almost begging us to pretend it was really you, then when I got promoted, the first thing I promised myself would be that I would never force a fourth member onto SG-1. Never …ever."
"I thought it was because you believed yourself to be irreplaceable."
Jack's snort cut through the darkness like a knife. "No, *I'm* no different than any one of us on that team." Jack paused and drew a deep breath. "But we're family out there." The hand moved up Daniel's body and settled over his heart. "And in here. And family members are irreplaceable and not interchangeable. Hammond realized that a bit too late."
Daniel placed his own hand on top of Jack's, squeezing the fingers. "You know Sam and Pete …they're serious …maybe marriage serious."
"From your mouth to God's ears, as my good, departed, god-rest-her-soul grandmother used to say," Jack quipped.
"Sam gets married, has a family, then it's Teal'c and me. SG-1 would then be down to two. Then Teal'c moves on to be with Ishta or Ry'ac or Bray'tac, and SG-1 is solely composed of Dr. Daniel Jackson …then what?"
"We retire …you, me, ride off into the sunset?"
"You'll never leave here, sunset or no sunset."
"Well …pfftt, neither will you. You'll just stay in your office where I can watch your six 24/7."
"You're not answering my question, Jack."
"No, I'm not," he admitted. "Cause I can't. Sometimes the future is a dark place where I don't like to dwell. I like to live for the here and now, and while that may be hard for you, at the moment, it's all I can give. I'm not thinking beyond this bedroom or having you in my bed."
"I can live with that," Daniel reluctantly agreed. "Jack?"
"Now what?" The words were harsh, but the tone was anything but.
"Hungry," Daniel murmured, leaning over and capturing Jack's mouth.
"Oy." Jack peeked around Daniel to read the clock. "I have to go be a General in three hours, Daniel. Why couldn't you just eat the eggs when I offered them?"
"Not *that* kind of hungry," Daniel growled, latching onto Jack's cock through the blanket.
"Oh!" Jack's exclamation was an octave higher than usual and Daniel laughed.
"I hadn't realized it," Jack said suddenly. "I'm sorry."
His thumb lightly touched the corner of Daniel's mouth. "I forgot how good it felt to hear you laugh. It's been a while."
"I guess it has." Daniel licked the thumb hovering over his lips. "You can fix that, you know."
"Hmmm, any hints?"
"You can fuck me right now."
Jack burst out laughing. "Daniel, whenever I do that, you're laughing? I thought it sounded more like 'ohyesjackyesyesyes'."
"I'm laughing on the inside," Daniel chortled.
"How far inside? Seems I manage to dig pretty deep."
Daniel looked over his shoulder and checked out the bedside clock. "Jack, if you don't shut up, the only hunger of mine you're going to satisfy is when you cook me breakfast."
"Can't have that, can we, Dr. Jackson?"
"Nope," Daniel agreed, laughing as Jack's fingers settled on a ticklish spot.
"Laughter is the best medicine for whatever ails you."
"Granny O'Neill?" Daniel tried to slip out from under the fingers, only to be thwarted as they followed him across the bed.
"Nope, it's a Jack O'Neillism."
"Yup, I got a ton of them. 'I love Daniel Jackson' is another one."
Daniel moaned as Jack's fingers found a less ticklish spot around his groin. "I like that one."
Jack laughed, and maneuvered his body until it covered Daniel's. "I thought you would."
For the first time in a long time, hell, maybe since his descension, with those words and with the hands that touched his body, Daniel firmly believed that he was home, and the mist of sadness lifted and settled somewhere in the future, where it belonged.
Vicissitude first appeared in Pretense 7. To my beta, jo who has a well of patience and belief, as well as unlimited supply of sharp red pencils, but again any and all mistakes are mine. To those closest to my heart, thank you.
to contact devra