Voices Carryby devra
Their decision apparently was to do nothing. Absolutely, unequivocally nothing. He exhaled and opened his eyes. Why should he be surprised that he was still being ignored? And he was. Big time. Third wheel. Hated relative. Embarrassing co-worker type of ignore. Pretend he's not there and he'll go away.
Great, he was going to be trapped somewhere between ascension, death and life back on Earth until either the food ran out or the Ancients deigned to remember his presence. Actually he wouldn't count on either of those scenarios happening anytime within the next century or two. Maybe they needed a gentle prod so he paced up and down the aisles, emotionally seesawing between hurt and amazement that the Ancients' memory regarding him seemed to be lacking. When he had *wanted* to be ignored, they had been up his ass. Figured. Now that he desired to be more than a passing glance, they chose to turn a blind eye.
"Hello." Dead silence. Okay, maybe not completely dead, there was the sound of utensils hitting the plates as they continued to eat. Daniel upped his greeting a decibel. "Hello. Anyone?" Nothing.
The front door beckoned, but he had no idea what fate was outside the entrance. Based upon Oma's comments, Daniel was under the impression that once he stepped foot into the proverbial light, there would be no going back, as in death and permanence and he was neither that brave nor that desperate.
The majority of booths were filled with parties of four, no room for Daniel. The seats lining the counter were now inexplicably empty. Seemed no one desired his company, so to help with the passage of time everlasting, he grabbed a discarded copy of the Ascended Times off the counter, poured himself a cup of coffee and slid into an empty booth.
The coffee was bottom-of-the-pot bitter, so much so, Daniel poured more than a healthy amount of sugar into the brew, stirred then settled down to read what was new in the universe.
Daniel heard and ignored the cook's bell on the counter. Let him figure out who was going to serve the Ancient customers. He had his own problems as the words in the newspaper seemed to waver, blend and then fade from sight. He dug the heels of his palms into his eyes and scrubbed. Hard.
Daniel slowly lowered his hands then frantically flipped back and forth through the now blank newspaper. Even the name had blinked out.
Dishes were being angrily slammed on the counter dividing the diner and the galley, and an eerily familiar voice cursed in an equally familiar language, drawing Daniel's attention away from the empty paper.
The lump in his throat was instantaneous and understandable, but it was the tears that blurred his vision that took him by surprise. For some strange reason Daniel wouldn't have expected those stuck in limbo to be able to cry. He slid from the booth with tentative, measured movements, afraid the image would fade into oblivion like the print on the newspaper. "Skaara?" Daniel stammered as he made his way closer to the counter.
"Ah, Danyel, it is good to see you."
Shocked, Daniel could just nod in agreement.
Skarra wiped his hands on his white cook's apron then smiled at Daniel, blowing an errant dreadlock from his sweat-streaked face. He lifted the edges of the dishes sitting on the counter warming under the heat lights. "Would you like to assist me?"
Skaara cocked his head at Daniel, obviously confused as he gazed around the diner. "There does not seem to be anyone else who is free at the moment." He gestured towards the booth Daniel had been sitting at. "Would you rather finish your coffee first?"
Daniel adamantly shook his head.
Skaara pushed the two plates at Daniel then motioned with his chin to the booth in the corner of the room. "This is for them."
Daniel scooped up the plates, took two steps forward then backtracked until he was standing in front of Skaara. "I've missed you."
With an impatient wave of his hands, Skaara shooed Daniel towards the table. "I have missed you as well, Danyel."
Daniel sauntered down the aisle, a plate in each hand and honestly, he had to admit to himself that in the scheme of strange occurrences which sometimes constituted his life, Skaara as a short order cook was one of the strangest.
* * *
"We need to talk." Daniel's patience was running thin. His feet hurt, he was sweaty and he had developed an odd ache just below his sternum, sensations which were out of place and too human for the absurdity of the situation. He rubbed the ache, willing it away as he stood across from Skaara, the counter separating them.
The diner was filled to capacity. There was no longer an empty booth or stool and Daniel had been serving unresponsive Ancients for what seemed like eternity. Taking into account where he was, eternity could very well be an option.
Daniel blinked in amazement when Skaara put up yet another order. "You're kidding me, right?" He whirled around, studied the diner, then turned back to Skaara and pounded the counter. "Who the hell is that for? Everyone is eating, there's not a single—"
Skaara pushed the plate towards Daniel. "It is for you."
"I'm really not..."
Skaara took off his apron and handed it to a person who had appeared by his side. "I can take a break." He walked through the separation in the counter and grabbed the plate Daniel had turned down. "We will sit."
"There's no place to—oh." Daniel's gaze followed Skaara to the booth that he and Oma had occupied earlier, now empty.
"Are you not coming, Danyel?"
* * *
"Is it not to your liking?"
Between the time Skaara had placed the plate on the counter and the time Daniel had slid into the booth opposite him, its contents had changed. Daniel reverently touched the food items on the plate. "How did you—?" he cut off a tiny piece of meat and placed it in his mouth, memories of Abydos exploding in his brain by the mere taste and texture of the food. "Thank you," he whispered.
Skaara smiled broadly, crossed his arms then sat back against the booth. "I had hoped you would enjoy it."
Daniel continued to savor the meal while Skaara looked on with an expression belying the man's years, until the ache in Daniel's gut had increased in intensity, making both the taste and the sight of the food less than appealing. He threw his napkin over the uneaten portion and pushed the plate away.
"Is there a problem, Danyel?"
"Problem?" Daniel snorted. "The only thing that's *not* a problem is seeing you again. Everything else here pretty much sucks."
"Sucks? I do not understand—"
"When can I go home, Skaara?"
"Peace in the home can only be achieved when one is aware of all who occupy—"
"Yeah. Candle. Flame. Been there, done that." He reached for Skaara's hand, issuing a cry of disappointment and anger when Daniel's fingers met no resistance and passed right through Skaara. "I forgot."
"I did not."
Daniel looked over his shoulder at the door to the diner. "You know, that exit is looking mighty appealing."
Skaara shrugged. "Your fate is in your hands."
"I want to go home."
"Well, Danyel, the decision is yours."
"What? Should I click my heels three times and repeat 'there's no place like home'?"
"You are the only one anchoring yourself in this place."
Daniel pulled his body out of the booth. "I want to go home. Back to Earth. Do you hear me?" He swiveled. "Does anyone hear me? I want to go home!"
The pain in his gut was instantly all encompassing. Daniel grabbed the back of the booth in an effort to stay upright while clamping his hand to the area of excruciating pain. "Oh God." Feeling moisture, he pulled his hand away and examined it, bile rising to the top of this throat as he examined the blood dripping from his fingers. He looked down and saw neither cut nor injury. "Skaara?"
"Your body is letting you know it is time."
"Time for what?" Daniel hissed, stumbling backwards, his arm curling around his midsection.
"Decisions. For you to see what really matters. Without the truth, your decision will be made with misgivings." Skaara gave Daniel a curt nod and walked to the rear exit of the diner. He stopped before opening the door then turned towards Daniel, who expectantly studied Skaara, forcing his body upright while he waited for Skaara's Oma-like, long winded explanation couched with hidden meanings as his parting words. Skaara dug into his pants' pocket and pulled out the lighter Jack had given him on Abydos a lifetime ago and with his right hand, he gave Daniel a salute crisp enough to warm Jack's heart, before leaning on the door's push bar and disappearing from sight.
"No," Daniel murmured. "Skaara?"
He breathed through the pain then turned towards the clatter of dishes banging on the counter.
"You!" The large man behind the counter pointed towards Daniel. "Are you gonna help me or just stand there feeling sorry for yourself."
"I'm—" Daniel stuttered.
"Are you going to make a decision?"
"Yes, I am," Daniel replied, backing up slowly, until he reached the rear exit. He leaned on the push bar with his free hand. "I'm leaving."
* * *
The door slammed shut behind him and Daniel drew a deep breath as the pain settled within the range of tolerable. "Abydos," he said, a hysterical sob escaping before he could stop himself.
"You used to call it home, Good Son."
The man who had become a father to an adult Daniel offered up a small, knowing nod of his head.
Forgetting, Daniel stepped forward, his arms already outstretched, itching to hug the man close, only to be brought up short when Kasuf abruptly shoved a raised hand into the space separating them. "All in good time."
"Time," Daniel agreed, stepping back reluctantly. "Yeah, time seems to be a hot topic of conversation in this part of the universe."
"Time is at once the most valuable and the most perishable of all our possessions. Savor it, because even now, how others view the passage of time is no longer aligned with this plane."
Daniel sighed. There weren't going to be any easy answers on this side of the door either. Even without ascension, Kasuf had had a tendency to speak in riddles. Now that his father-in-law had reached the next level of existence, this tendency was obviously exacerbated. "Now what?" he questioned.
"The decision has always rested in your hands, my son."
Daniel doubted that and chose to remain silent.
Kasuf studied him with a look of concern. "You look tired, maybe you would like to rest before you consider your options."
Daniel yawned. He shouldn't be tired. People in limbo didn't feel weariness, did they? There really wasn't a lot of literature written on the subject and he really didn't think he would be doing a whole lot of research when and if he returned to Earth. Hell, he probably wouldn't even remember *any* of this. Sad, really. He gazed at Kasuf and with a flourish, extended his arm. "After you, Good Father." What had he said so many years ago? Ah yes, 'when in Rome'.
* * *
The pain had all but dissipated once he had entered Kasuf's tent, leaving in its wake a dull, toothache sort of ache. He shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs, unsure of how he had gotten from the dunes to the tent. And from pants, boots and a shirt into the more customary robes of Abydos.
"I um..." Daniel closed his eyes. He was inexplicably tired and coherent conversation in an incoherent situation took too much time and effort. *Especially* effort. The mere act of standing in a tent that was more familiar to him than the house he now lived was about all he could handle.
"Sit," Kasuf ordered with a gentle wave of his hand.
Daniel shook his head, but his body disagreed and gracelessly sunk into the pile of cushions behind him.
* * *
He must have fallen asleep. Or passed out. Or died. With him, one never knew. But he was awake, pain free and the cloud of exhaustion had left him, so for the moment that was enough. He was too frighteningly content to do anything more than *just* be.
He could hear Kasuf and Skaara outside, their voices muffled. The interior of the tent was dim, he remembered this time very well. Twilight was upon Abydos, the candles were lit, their shadows elongated on the tent walls.
Furnishings in Kasuf's tent hadn't changed, but then, neither the people nor this planet existed anymore, and like the diner, had been reconstructed from Daniel's memories.
Except that thing.
Daniel squinted, then levered himself up onto his elbows and gazed at what resembled a prop from a "B" movie. "A crystal ball?"
He crawled out from under the multitude of blankets and pushed himself to a standing position. It took him two steps to reach the object then another two to walk completely around the sphere, peering into the glass. It didn't belong here. Actually, the longer he studied it, the more he realized that not only didn't the object belong in this tent, but it didn't belong on Abydos or any other place that had ever crossed Daniel's path.
He did something that Jack would've kicked his ass for—he reached out and touched it. Tentatively at first, more than a bit surprised at the warmth where his fingers rested. It sat atop a bookshelf Daniel had built for Sha're that had ended up with Kasuf when Daniel's life had fallen apart. There was neither a support nor groove of any form to anchor it in place, yet the sphere sat firmly, nothing but air preventing it from rolling in either direction. Daniel scooped it up, balancing the ball between his hands, testing its weight.
This was stupid. He could play guessing games for hours wondering how his father-in-law came to possess this, whatever the hell this was. He pivoted sharply, clutching the sphere in his cupped hands then walked to the opening of the tent, shouldering past the blankets covering the doorway and stepped out into the SGC commissary sans the sphere, dressed in fatigues, and right into the path of an airman, who passed right through Daniel.
"Damn it!" This was so not right. He was tired of being shoved from pillar to post that he cursed again, louder, just for the hell of it. This whole scenario was so damned Crystal Skullish it was nauseating. No, change that, this wasn't sickening, this was bullshit, so he followed on the heels of another airman who was leaving the mess and ended up right back in the commissary.
He stopped short and looked around. "Okay, that was weird." He didn't know how he knew, but he *knew* this was definitely the commissary, in the SGC, on Earth, not some figment of a memory like Abydos or the diner. So the question was, why *was* he here?
His presence in the diner had made sense. Abydos was obviously another, though different, type of way station, but what the hell could lunchtime at the SGC have to do with Daniel's decision?
"Think. Think." Out of habit, he rubbed his temples then began to pace, circumventing the people who were walking around, weaving in and out of the tables.
The commissary was emptying and still Daniel was on the move, wracking his brain for reasons. He stopped in front of the swinging doors, then turned to examine the room again. Already, Daniel had searched under the tables and around all the corners of the room for the missing sphere. Maybe one last look before… "Before what?" he whispered, horrified that his fate was going to be spending eternity in a limbo that was the SGC commissary.
His back was to the swinging doors and he wasn't quick enough to respond to the the voices he heard enter the room. Pete and Jacob flanked him as they headed to the food, and Sam, being in the middle, walked right into and through Daniel.
This was a different sensation than the airman. Way different. Flashing milliseconds of voyeurism and images. Familiarity and family. Confusion, sadness and unhappiness. Oh God, Daniel could actually feel how much she missed him and Sam must have felt something because she stopped while her father and Pete continued on to the food displays, then swiveled around slowly, her eyes scanning the room.
"It's me, Sam." Daniel tentatively reached out to touch her face, growling in frustration when his fingers slipped right through her cheekbone. She knew. Sam had to feel something as she stood at attention, ignoring Jacob and Pete calling her. He blew a hair out of her eyes and smiled when they widened in surprise. "I'm fine," he murmured. "Sorta. Kinda. Please don't worry, okay? I'm gonna figure this out in time for the wedding."
She did a little backwards two step when Pete tugged at her arm. "Come on, Sam," he hissed, "Your dad's waiting."
Daniel stood with an all knowing smile as Sam kept glancing over her shoulder towards him. He hovered around the trio while they got their food and chose a table. Sitting would be nice, but he was afraid of sifting right through the chair and falling on his ass. Invisible or not, landing on his butt in the middle of the commissary wasn't something he cared to do. Though, he probably could try it, considering he hadn't fallen through the floor, but ridiculously enough, there wasn't a chair at the table that wasn't pushed in, and since he couldn't *grip* one and move it sufficiently away to plop his ass in, he was relegated to standing.
So he circled them, trying to get a better understanding of what the heck was going on. They picked at their food, tight smiles and inane conversation barely filling in the empty pauses.
Jacob had faced death with less agitation and tension than he was facing Pete and Sam. Poor Pete was floundering and going down for the third time, and Sam wasn't even throwing him a life preserver. Pete began to chatter, building up speed as his nervousness increased and Daniel's gaze flitted from Sam to Jacob. Sam was embarrassed. He knew that look. Honestly, he knew most of her expressions and this one was definitely embarrassment. The head ducking, the fiddling with the salt shaker, an imperceptible raise of her shoulders, as if she was trying to cover her ears.
Whatever was going on here was bad. Very bad. Sam had been happy. Before he had left this plane of existence, Sam had been happy. No one at this table was happy. Not Sam. Not Jacob. And definitely not Pete, who was trying too hard to make happiness happen.
Jacob questioned Pete about his job. Maybe questioning was too easy a word. Interrogation would be more appropriate and Pete seemed to wind down, answering Jacob with one word responses.
Conversation exhausted, the three silently stared at each other then down at their plates. "I gotta leave." Pete slapped his hands on his thighs, pushed his chair away, then stood. He bent to kiss Sam then caught a glimpse of the fire in Jacob's eyes and thought better of it. There was no mistaking Jacob's reluctance to even shake hands with Pete. "It was a pleasure to me you, sir…" Pete cocked his chin at Jacob's head. "And it was nice to meet…"
"Selmak," Jacob answered in an ice-filled voice.
"I'm just going to walk Pete out." Sam slowly stood, grabbed her tray then slipped between the two men, kissing her dad on his cheek. "I'll see you later, at dinner." Sam glanced at Jacob's tray. "Considering you didn't even eat."
"I'll see you later, Sammie." He pulled his daughter into a loose hug.
Daniel followed Sam and Pete to the trash bins in the corner of the commissary. "He hates me, Sam."
"You're being ridiculous. My dad doesn't hate you."
"Well, he certainly doesn't like me."
Daniel tried to listen to the rest of their conversation, attempted to fool the higher powers and sneak out of the commissary on their heels. No such luck. "Crap."
He walked over to Jacob who was staring at the swinging doors. "Well, that sucked," Jacob whispered.
"You're telling me?" Daniel answered. "Come on, Jacob, answer me. Tell me what the hell am I doing here? What possible reason can there be for me in this?"
Jacob looked at Daniel, but the naked ache in the older man's eyes was confirmation that he couldn't see Daniel. At the best of times, with Selmak's help, Jacob's emotions were kept under tight wraps.
"He's a good guy, Jacob. Honest." Daniel patted a hand that his own slipped right through. "Pete makes her happy."
"She's making a mistake," the older man mumbled as he picked up his tray.
"No, she isn't," Daniel argued.
Angrily, he swept invisible crumbs off the table. "He's not strong enough for her." Jacob was speaking so softly that even the group of Marines that walked past him didn't give him a second glance.
"You didn't even give him a chance."
Jacob was talking to thin air and Daniel was conversing with a man who couldn't see or hear him. Weirdness multiplied and he hung his head, watching in confusion and helplessness as Jacob dumped his tray and headed out of the commissary.
It was the hours between lunch and dinner, and while the mess was never truly devoid of personnel, this time of day was quieter than many other times and Daniel waved a noncommittal hello to the maintenance guy, Tony, who was wiping down the floor. "Come here often?" Daniel quipped, then grimaced at how stupid his attempt at humor sounded.
"Could you do me a favor, Tony? I'll give you a year's salary if you'll just get me a cup of coffee. Do you think you could do that?"
Tony shook his head, plopped the mop back into the bucket, pulled out two chairs and bent, mumbling something under his breath. Tony took a second to examine whatever he had picked up, then just placed it in the middle of the table right in front of Daniel and continued his mopping.
With gentle reverence, Daniel picked up the now-found sphere and walked towards the commissary doors.
He appeared empty handed into Jack's backyard and for the first time since this merry-go-round had begun, Daniel felt like he was on the path toward home. He stepped forward with a smile, waving away the smoke from the barbeque. He could smell the essence of Jack and with a sure hand, he reached out to ruffle the air along the tiny hairs at the base of his neck, chuckling when Jack jerked at the unseen fingers.
"Gotcha," Daniel whispered.
"Damn flies," Jack groused, waving his beer bottle in the air.
God, how it hurt to be so close and not be able to touch and he really had no idea why he was in Jack's backyard, except maybe as a form of torture. Foster mom number four's credo 'look but don't touch' was brought to a whole new level. He paced behind Jack, admiring the man as well as the body, remembering other barbeques, different afternoons. Jack was humming and being so close to him made Daniel's cock pleasantly twitch, a not so gentle reminder that he still was alive.
"Sam?" Oh shit, nothing like Sam walking in and interrupting all of Daniel's impure thoughts. His hard on fizzled before it had even gotten off the ground and Daniel stepped away from Jack. It was safer over here by the house. Sam couldn't even *see* him, just that—well, Daniel sorta felt like he had been caught with his hands down Jack's pants.
The woman who approached Jack resembled Sam, but she sure as hell didn't act like the woman who traveled the galaxy and watched his six. This Sam looked like a school girl, demure and shy, her hands clasped in front of her as she tentative approached Jack and stuttered and stammered her reason for arriving unannounced. "Sam?" He called her name, forgetting she was unable to hear him.
Sam's out of character behavior concerned Daniel, but it was Jack's furtive glances over his shoulder towards the door that worried Daniel more. Daniel was way too familiar with that expression. Actually had been privy to it quite a number of times. Jack was hiding something. In the past, that something usually had been a naked Daniel in the house.
Daniel wasn't too sure who was the most shocked when the woman, an extremely beautiful, sexy woman, walked out of Jack's house like she belonged there.
Jack was embarrassed, Sam was mortified. Even the woman offhandedly mentioned this was an awkward situation. *Awkward* was hardly the word Daniel would have used to describe it. There were at least a million words in twenty-six languages flying through Daniel's mind. Betrayal topped the list with jealousy following by a close second.
She wasn't naked, but she didn't have to be. There had been sex, very recent sex. She reeked of it. Daniel stepped close enough to sniff. She smelled like Jack.
Immediately, Sam began to back away, apologizing profusely for barging in. Daniel gleaned from Jack's bungling introduction that her name was Kerry, dispatched from the CIA to the SGC right into Jack's life. Kerry filled in the blanks on their relationship with all the whistles and bells. Relationship. Jack and Kerry. Sam blushed, stuttered, answered a conveniently ringing cell phone then made some excuse about her father and left.
Leaving Jack, Kerry and Daniel standing on his deck.
"Well that was…" Kerry placed the bowls she had been holding on the table. "Awkward."
"Yeah, you said that already." Jack threw the steak back onto the grill. "I don't think Carter took the news of me and you too well."
"Took the news well? Jeesus, Jack what the hell has happened to you?" There was an edge to Jack's voice and behavior that Daniel hadn't heard in years. A nonchalant attitude that made Daniel question the validity of this being *his* universe.
Obviously, Daniel was dead. Missing for months and Jack had grieved and moved on. That had to be the only plausible explanation for Jack's behavior. Kerry walked around Jack and grabbed him around the waist, resting her cheek against his back. "She was upset."
"That makes two of us," Daniel answered.
"She's got a lot on her plate." Jack speared the slab of meat, held it up, examined it in the sunlight then stuck it, fork and all, back onto the fire. "Carter and her boy—Pete, she just told me they called the wedding off." Jack took a sip of his beer then flung the empty into the trash. "Then there was the phone call… about her dad. Have no idea what that's all about."
"Jacob? There's something wrong with Jacob?" Daniel cast a frantic glance towards the gate, remembering with guilt Sam's bright eyes and hasty departure.
Kerry kissed Jack's back, hugged him then walked around to sit on the deck railing. Daniel stood right next to her.
"And of course, Carter misses Daniel."
"He's MIA isn't he?"
"Yes. MIA since—" A smile flashed across Jack's face. "It's been awhile. Carter actually wanted to do a memorial ceremony, but I know Daniel, he's around here somewhere. Having a good laugh at our expense."
"Ha. Ha," Daniel sneered before moving out of the path of their embrace because Jack's mere proximity nauseated him. The time line… as he traveled through it, was skewed, but from what Jack had said, he had been gone awhile; however, time was relative and it had been long enough for Sam to break up with Pete, for something to be wrong with Jacob and long enough to send Jack searching for someone to warm Daniel's side of the bed.
"I can certainly see why Colonel Carter is under all that strain, but Jack, honestly, the way she looks at you? She's enamored—"
"Don't," he warned with a ping of the utensil still stuck in the meat. "She's *Carter*, just the mere thought—never mind I'm her commanding officer. Military regulations—"
"Some things are worth breaking regulations for, you know."
Jack's face screwed up in disgust. "Carter? Wouldn't break regs for Carter."
"Who would you break regs for, Jack? Me? Break regs for me?" Daniel grabbed Jack's arm, howling in frustration when his hand held onto nothing. "You weren't exactly thinking of military regulations when I was nailing your ass to the mattress. Were you, you sonovabitch?"
Jack eyed the meat on the grill, now charred beyond recognition, then held his hand out to Kerry. "I'm thinking this dinner is a bust, wanna call for take out?"
The sphere appeared in Jack's outstretched hand and before Kerry could make contact, Daniel scooped up the object, hugged it close and gratefully watched Jack's backyard fade from view.
* * *
Apropos though it was, this room was the last place Daniel wanted to be. The place of his death. The room where he'd said goodbye to Janet. The place where Apophis' host had passed on to the next world. Too many ghosts hiding in the corners and based upon the appearance of the man in the bed, he, too, would soon be among those lurking in this room.
"You can see me?"
"Yes." Jacob nodded, his smile of recognition breaking into a grimace when he changed positions. Jacob raised his hand and Daniel reached forward, shocked when his hand met solid flesh.
"I'm here, Daniel."
"Does this mean...?"
"All it means is that Selmak is already dead and I'll be following. Soon. Hopefully." He released Daniel's hand then weakly waggled his fingers at the observation booth. "Sam was just there doing the death watch."
"I'm not going to watch you die," Daniel insisted.
Jacob patted Daniel's hand. "Ascension is not within your capability nor is it within my ability to accept." Jacob shook his head. "Besides, it was Selmak's time…"
"Another Tok'ra," Daniel added hastily. "Why not become a host for another Tok'ra?" Daniel wanted to shake the stubborn man.
"You of all people should know when it's time to stop fighting. I've seen more, done more, than I would have ever dreamed possible."
"It's a big universe, Jacob, there's always more to see."
Jacob sighed, and despite the nasal canula, he struggled to regain his breathing rhythm. "I'm tired, Daniel." A sad smile appeared then disappeared, the effort of holding it in place appeared to be too much of an effort.
"I don't want you to die," Daniel confessed, no different than a child who didn't want to go to school or to the doctor. Stating the inevitable didn't change the course of events, but one didn't want them to go forward without a voice of protest.
Jacob shook his head. "For this old man, there's too much water under the bridge. I want to rest. I miss my wife. I'm lonely."
"You have Sam and Mark—and there's your grandchildren."
Jacob's laugh was short-lived. "How are you going to stop me, Daniel?"
"I can plead. And beg."
"Yes, you can. Sam already has, complete with tears, to no avail. So if she can't get me to change my mind, I don't think you'll be able to." He smiled and beckoned to Daniel to come closer to the bed. "You need to decide. If you wait too much longer, the decision will be made for you."
Daniel leaned his side against the bed railing then wrapped an arm around his midsection. "Decide what? What decision do I need to make?"
Jacob sighed, the sigh borne of fatherly exasperation, and weakly tugged at Daniel's hand, placing his own directly against the ache in Daniel's stomach. Jacob slowed pulled back and showed Daniel his blood-covered palm.
Daniel looked down in horror, confused because the pain still existed but there was neither a mark nor a rip in his clothing to attest to his injury. "I don't understand." He pushed Jacob's hand away. "I want to go home."
"I want you to go home as well. But all may not be as it should be..." Jacob gasped and Daniel watched the monitor's numbers begin a rapid descent. He turned to grab the call bell, stopping when Jacob held onto his shirt with a grip that belied the information the monitors were producing. "Tell Sammie I love her..."
"No, tell her yourself." He pulled at Jacob's hand, but the man refused to allow Daniel to leave the room and call for help. He pointed to the monitors. "The nurses will be here soon—"
"Listen to me!" Jacob insisted, shaking Daniel. "You need to right my wrong."
"Wrong. What wrong? What the hell are you talking about?"
"Sam. Pete. Jack. All of it. You're the only one who can make it the way it should be."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Daniel insisted as he tried to gently pry Jacob's fingers from his shirt.
"You will," Jacob reasoned, tugging Daniel closer to him. "I'm sorry," was all Jacob managed before his gaze slid from Daniel's face to the observation booth. "Watch over her," the dying man reiterated, before closing his eyes and averting his face.
"No!" Daniel yelled as Jacob's fingers slid from his shirt. Furtively, he reached out to shake Jacob's shoulders only to step back in horror when his fingers now slipped through Jacob's form. "Help him," he whispered to the medical personnel who rushed in, inching along the wall, tracking through the medical paraphernalia lining the walls.
Daniel wanted out. Out of this room. This reality. And if what he was observing was going to be the norm, he wanted out of his life. Death would be a welcomed step towards sanity and he had no idea why he grabbed the sphere the moment it appeared on the crash cart.
* * *
Daniel slipped in through the partially opened door, knowing what awaited him on the other side. He had heard the voices, one familiar and one touching a chord of memory. One, as well known as his own, the other eliciting a myriad of emotions.
He had never thought of himself as a brave man. Stupid, maybe. A risk taker, but not brave, so the only justification Daniel had for stepping into Jack's bedroom was curiosity. Maybe he had to view it with his own eyes or maybe he had a streak of martyrdom a mile wide that he had never known about.
Daniel was good at pretending. He had lived a majority of his childhood pretending his parents were away on a dig, his grandfather loved him dearly and that he meant more to his foster parents than a monthly stipend.
Even in adulthood he used imagination to keep the nightmares at bay and real life more bearable. Vivid thoughts filled lecture halls with academia who listened, instead of jeers and disregard. Faulty memory allowed Sha're to accompany them to the Cartouche room on Abydos on that fateful day. Daniel had a million of them. Assuages of guilt. One for every time life kicked him in the ass.
Except now. Now, there was no escaping, no imagination, no reset button that would erase the image of Jack and the barbeque woman, Kerry, in Jack's bed. *Their* bed, with her head resting on Daniel's pillow while Jack straddled her naked body. Here, in Technicolor, was the sex Daniel had sensed and within touching distance, with the pre-orgasmic expression on his face that was carved in Daniel's memory, was Jack. A timeline out of order.
The hands that caressed Kerry's nakedness were the same ones that had held Daniel, soothed the rough edges, chased away nightmares, seduced him and rekindled passion. Jack's hands on her hurt more than him fucking her. Confident, calloused fingers knew all of Daniel, the scars, the sensitivities, the hidden parts. Cheating hands that worked the curvaceous woman with the ease borne of more than a one night stand.
For Daniel, there was no lesson to be learned here. No blinding insight or epiphany except that Daniel had been a fool.
Daniel backed away from the feral noises in the bed. The creaking headboard, the squeaky mattress spring announcing sex, the guttural groans and whimpers of satisfaction. Hurriedly, Daniel turned, maneuvered around the opened door and headed towards the living room.
Sanctuary. There Daniel found sanctuary and the sphere in the darkened room. He snatched the crystal ball from the mantle and for a split second resisted his anger before he hauled off and, in a move that would have rivaled a star baseball player, pitched it towards the mantle, zeroing in on a picture of SG-1. But like himself, the object passed through the picture, hit the wall, dropped to the floor and rolled right back to him, undamaged. Daniel scooped it up, then tossed it from hand to hand.
The sphere wasn't like him at all, he rationalized with a loud snort. After this trip to Jack's house, he was broken, shattered into a million pieces.
Daniel tossed the ball towards the ceiling, gaining ineffectual height for no reason at all.
* * *
He had even brushed the ceiling a number times with the sphere, unsure as to why he hadn't been allowed to move to another plane this time. Ascend. Or to die. Dying would have been a more than acceptable option. Jacob's last wish was going to remain just that… a wish. He wasn't going to save anyone, let alone himself, at this point in time. It wasn't worth the effort.
A phone rang, a door closed, and as soon as Daniel's fingers connected with the glass ball, the living room faded.
* * *
"Tak ma'te, Teal'c, Master Bra'tac." Daniel swept into a low bow. He used the formal greeting depicting respect and reverence. "I'm proud, my friends." After the "blood kin" ceremony, he had followed them from the cavernous hall onto the balcony overlooking Dakara, walking behind, his own head held high in respect of their accomplishments.
Teal'c had done what no one on SG-1 had been able to do. He had followed and completed his dream. He had secured freedom for his people, completing the journey that had begun over eight years ago in a prison on Chulak and Daniel's heart swelled with pride, ignoring Teal'c's reprimand to Bra'tac that the fight had just begun.
"Enjoy it," he hissed, leaning into Teal'c's personal space, smiling broadly when Teal'c rubbed his hand right through Daniel and enveloped his own neck. "You and Bra'tac have fought well, revel in your Kalach shal tek (victory)," Daniel chided, "even if it is for a few hours."
As thrilled as he was for the nearly formed Jaffa nation, Daniel could admit a spark of jealously. Sha're, Shifu, Abydos. All of *his* dreams had blown away, disintegrating with a cosmic puff of wind. And then there was Jack.
Embarrassed by his own sense of unfairness, Daniel whispered out an apology. It wasn't as if their battle hadn't been fraught with heartache, it had. This shouldn't be a contest among them over who had lost the most or who had risen phoenix-like from the ashes.
Today was a day of triumph and Daniel wished he could convey his feelings to Teal'c and Bra'tac, but instead he watched with longing as the two Jaffa moved amongst their people, smiling as the older of the two accepted the accolades with a slight smile and bow of his own, while Teal'c's face was closed and his bow tight and unyielding. "Rejoice, Kah'ne (friend)." Daniel waved a hand over the expanse of Jaffa lauding his friends' praises. "Ti'bia (This is yours) –"
Daniel crashed to his knees. Hard. His remaining thoughts lost in the wave of unexpected pain and he fought hard and lost his battle to stifle a groan, so encompassed by the agony, Daniel had forgotten that even in a room filled with people, no one would hear.
To his own ears, his struggle to breathe was deafening, forcing the celebration on Dakara to the background. Daniel balanced on shaky knees and his left elbow, tipping precariously when he wrapped his right arm around the epicenter of the pain. Strings of red-tinged drool slipped from the corner of his mouth.
Too late, he decided as his forehead rested on the ground, he really didn't want or welcome death. Not here. Not alone and not without saying his piece with Jack. Unfair. Lowering his right hand, Daniel blindly patted the ground within arm's length, barely managing a whimper of relief when his fingers skimmed the edge of the smooth, glass sphere.
* * *
He arrived at consciousness dry heaving, the moist grass underneath his knees soaking through his jeans and dampening his hands. He spit a mouthful of bile onto the grass and stayed on hands and knees, panting, head hung low.
Daniel allowed his stomach to settle before he took stock. He was breathing, though his lungs and ribs ached as if he has been dragged over the Abydonian dunes by a Mastadge. The level of pain was back down to tolerable but he had a hangover-strength headache and his muscles quivered under his weight. But he was alive.
There mere act of standing took an inordinate amount of concentrated effort and he stood in increments, adjusting his bodyweight until he was upright. Slowly he turned, taking in his surroundings, confused. There was no recognition surrounding the yard and house he was in front of. An extremely nice house, in what appeared to be an extremely *nice* neighborhood with a very large realtor's sign imbedded in the lawn with a bright red and white 'Sold' sticker stuck right on top didn't spark an ounce of recognition.
Okay. He really needed a hint here. Daniel paced the lawn, the walk, the front porch then repeated it again. And again. He was making the forth rotation, just walking down the porch steps when an SUV pulled up in front of the house.
Sam and Pete. Oh. He knew that walk. The set of her shoulders, the tight jaw line, the look. Eight years with Sam had taught him when to tread lightly for safety's sake. And this was one of those times. She led, Pete followed and they both sat on the wooden bench on the lawn.
Voyeurism or not, at this point, Daniel really didn't care and he strode over to where they sat, standing behind the bench, listening.
There really wasn't too much to hear, actually. It was over. Sam. Pete. Finished, kaput, but the two of them had crossed the finish line due to an underlying reason Daniel couldn't to get a fix on. No fighting. No angry words, just sad acceptance.
Daniel's glance volleyed from one to the other. This was the relationship that Jacob had begged him to save? Why, he wondered as he watched a dejected Pete leave Sam, rip the 'Sold' sticker off the sign, get in the SUV and drive away.
Sam sighed. Daniel sighed. He walked around the bench and tentatively sat, not sure of the when's and if's of passing through things in this plane. His ass hit the bench and thankfully stayed put.
Large tears hovered in the corners of her eyes, threatening to spill over at the first blink, but Sam wiped them before they had a chance to fall.
Daniel lightly placed his finger on her cheek. "It's okay to cry."
She shook her head, almost as if she disagreed with his suggestion. "I will not cry," she commanded as a tear escaped her capture and slowly slid down her cheek. Another followed in its wake, then another, until even her hands frantically wiping at her face couldn't contain her sorrow.
"Shush," he whispered, placing an arm along the back of the bench, powerless to do more.
"I did the right thing," she sniffed unconvincingly, then rubbed her nose with the back of her hand.
"If you want my honest opinion—" Daniel watched as she composed herself, shoulders straightening, her lips forming a pressed, hard line, smoothing down her hair, even though her eyes were still in danger of overflowing. "No, I guess you don't."
Sam slid down on the bench, not caring if her skirt hitched up and laid her head on the back of the bench, passing through Daniel's arm. She looked at him, not seeing, slowly picked up her head, adjusted her hair and placed it back down again, her movements so measured that Daniel had time to remove his arm. Which he did, gladly. That small contact was more than enough. Sam's emotions were too all consuming for Daniel to maintain.
Daniel mirrored Sam's stance. Arms folded over their midsections, heads leaning on the back of the bench. Two pairs of long legs extended in front of them, crossed at the ankles. "This sucks," Daniel stated, watching the clouds in the sky. "I'm positive these little visuals are being shown outta order. I'm confused." He turned towards Sam. "I don't think you could shed a little light on this, could you?" He rubbed his sternum with the base of his hand, keeping the pressure light. "I want to go home, Sam." Daniel pointed to the sphere between their legs. "I'm tired." He snorted. "And I'm so not fine." Gently, he prodded the object with his toe, watching it stand firm in the lawn. "I'm thinking you would love to get your hands on that little device, but we both know what happens if I pick it up." Daniel threw his hands up in the air. "I'm gonna fade away." Daniel dropped his hands to in front of his eyes. "I think I really am fading away." His hands fell into his lap.
"I have no way to get home." Sam sat up, shocked. "Pete drove me—ah shit."
Daniel toed the sphere in front of Sam's foot. "You can try this. I can't guarantee that it's going to get you where you want to go, but it does work."
Sam dug her cell phone out of her pocket, flipped it open, and dialed, giving rapid directions to whomever was on the other end.
"Ahh, going with the more conventional mode of travel, I guess." Daniel swallowed hard, shutting his eyes against the gradual buildup of pain in his sternum. "I think… I have to go now," he stuttered, kissing her hurriedly on the cheek before bending down and picking up the sphere.
* * *
"The replicators have been destroyed."
Daniel nodded without opening his eyes.
"Jacob has died."
"I know," Daniel sighed, burrowing deeper under the pile of blankets.
"The Jaffa are free. The Goa'uld have been usurped."
"And we all lived happily ever after." He tucked the blanket around his body. "Now go away. Let me sleep."
"I cannot, brother."
Daniel groaned, then flipped awkwardly onto his back. Slowly, he opened his eyes.
"It was not a dream, Danyel."
"I was afraid of that, Skaara." He glanced around Skaara and saw the sphere back where it had all started. Back where it belonged.
"There have been many changes since you've—"
"I know," Daniel said vehemently, "I was there, remember? I got the front seat on the roller coaster—"
"Yet you have not decided."
"Decided? Decided?" Daniel sat up, dragging the blankets with him. "What am I supposed to decide?"
"Skaara," Daniel pleaded. "Speak to me so I understand."
Kasuf appeared, bent down and intently stared into Daniel's face. "You have seen all that has occurred while you have not been on Earth, have you not?"
"I have," Daniel whispered.
"Some of it was not pleasant."
"No, it wasn't pleasant," Daniel agreed in a monotone voice.
"There was much sadness."
"And death," was Daniel's hushed reply.
"Dreams were fulfilled, were they not?"
Daniel thought of Teal'c and Bra'tac and the honor of freedom they had won for all of the Jaffa. "The Jaffa are free."
"As your brother said, the replicators have been destroyed. Anubis is no more. For the moment, peace reigns in the galaxy."
"Peace," Daniel repeated reverently.
"There are many questions that as of yet have no answers." Kasuf leaned forward and kissed the air by Daniel's forehead. "Ascension is within your reach. Oma is not needed for you to attain enlightenment. The decision is yours."
He didn't hesitate with his answer. "I want to go home."
* * *
Daniel was cold. And naked. He remembered. Remembered it all. The Replicators. Evil Sam. Dying. The diner. Oma. Anubis. Skarra. Kasuf. Jacob. Teal'c and Dakara. Jack. Jack and Kerry. Without thought, his body curled into a fetal position, the feeling of bare limbs scraping across well worn carpeting paled in comparison to his anguish. Maybe *this* time it would have been a good idea to wipe his memories.
Slowly, he opened his eyes. Blinked. Shit. Obviously, someone in Ancientland had a warped sense of humor with regard to Daniel. Why else would they deposit him naked in Jack's office with the hint of voices right outside the door? He drew himself into an even tighter ball. Talk about vulnerability, both physically *and* mentally.
He tried to reason, make light of the situation. He had asked to be returned home. And he was. Alive. Placement of his re-entry left a lot to be desired as slight tremors worked their way up his legs. Images flashed at breakneck speed and he slammed his eyes shut. Control. Constraint. Composure. He fought for all three, though it was a battle destined to be lost before it had even begun because honestly, he thought ruefully, how much control could one garner, lying naked on the floor, with goose bumps in places that goose bumps didn't belong, in the middle of some sort of briefing, with a drone of voices not thirty paces away from his nakedness?
Panic snowballed into shock as his body protested its hard landing back to this plane of existence, and he buried a groan of anguish into the floor. God it hurt, as cells adjusted. He had forgotten just how much *this* did hurt and he fought to keep shock from clouding his ability to stay coherent.
Breathe. He could that. In and out, slow and regular, compliments of Teal'c's teachings, Daniel concentrated on just the mere act of inhaling and exhaling, ignoring his surroundings, his physical state and sounds from the room next door, until he lulled his body and mind into a vastly different place.
The pain was tolerable and awareness returned in layers. And he waited. Patiently. Allowing the world to enter into his consciousness slowly, putting together the sensations as one would construct a puzzle. Now, as the pieces fell into place, he was able to see the whole picture.
He was home. "Alive," he whispered, as a shaking hand sought to rub away an ache just below his sternum that no longer existed. Voices carried through the opened door and he listened, threading his way into the conversation.
He heard mention of his name and forced himself to focus. There was no way he wanted to take credit for Oma's work and he didn't hesitate to call attention to that. A hiccup of silence ensued after his statement. Oh. He glanced wildly around the room, trying to find something, anything, to cover his nakedness, but it was too late.
* * *
"Is it really Daniel?" Jack asked, moving next to the gurney Daniel was lying on, his hand reaching out to touch, only to fall short and land on the pillow.
Thankfully, Daniel remembered nothing of his journey from the briefing room to the infirmary. In the briefing room, there had been the awkward moment with the flag and his peripheral view of Jack's hands sliding up and down the pole in a motion which could only have been described as sexual before his attention had been drawn to someone around the table calling his name with surprised inflection.
Smiles. All he'd seen were stunned smiles. Teal'c, Sam and Bra'tac glued to their seats with mile-wide smiles plastered across their faces. He could only pray their smiles were one of welcome and not a reflection of him standing bare-chested, with a strategically placed SGC flag, in the briefing room. He had seen Sam rise from her chair, arms outstretched in welcome, he had gripped the flag more firmly in place and then there was nothing, until he woke up here, stretched out, in scrubs, the flag nowhere in sight.
Daniel averted his head, unable to blink away the bright infirmary lights, preferring to ignore the concerned, worried glances passing amongst those clustered around his bed.
"It's me," he sighed into his chest, wishing that someone would have remembered his glasses, like Janet had the last time he'd come back.
"Want to show me your appendix scar as confirmation?"
Jack's hand was inching closer, while Sam, who stood on the other side of Daniel's bed, opposite Jack, had his shoulder in a death grip, either anchoring him to the bed or just making sure he was solid, Daniel wasn't sure. Teal'c and Bra'tac stood like two guard dogs at the end of the bed, snarling at the techs who had been circling around Daniel's bed.
Daniel rubbed his eyes and kept his hands cupped over them. "Would you go away if I did?"
Jack gently pulled his hands down and Daniel resisted for a moment before just giving in. "Hey," Jack said softly, a tentative smile tugging at the corner of his lips. Daniel looked around, noticing everyone seemed to wear the same sappy smile as Jack. He freed his hands from Jack and turned towards Sam, touching her cheek. "I'm sorry about your dad."
Daniel could see her response was lost in a muddle of confusion. "How did you know?" He was grateful when Brightman's entrance prohibited him from offering her a response.
* * *
Daniel slipped out of the cabin into the darkness of the Minnesota night and as he had done on previous nocturnal sojourns, he wandered over to the folding chair at the end of the dock and sat.
Pretending was exhausting. Smiling as if all was well was beginning to take a toll and he found it hard to go through the day balancing between sniping at Jack and digging deeply into the trenches and ignoring him.
The four of them had enough problems with space in the small cabin, and as of today, with Pete added to the mixture, privacy, as well as bathroom time, was a hard earned commodity.
Once Brightman had cleared Daniel, Jack had whisked them all away to the cabin, and shell shocked from his time spent hovering between ascension and Earth, Daniel had blindly followed Jack's lead, his silent acceptance being interpreted as acquiescence to Jack's enthusiasm. Nothing could have been further from the truth, but he had been swept away and when the smoke had cleared, Daniel had found himself somewhere he *didn't* want to be with the very person he *didn't* want to be with, at least not until he had sorted out his own feelings.
He leaned over, grabbed a rock and skipped it across the lake, a skill he had perfected living with foster parents number two. Surprise, surprise, Daniel thought as he picked up another rock and skipped it across the calm lake, he could also fish, a secret that, for some strange reason, he had never thought to share with Jack.
They both had secrets. Though hiding the fact that he could bait a line and catch a fish didn't exactly equal Jack's secret of dating a woman and fucking her while her head rested on your pillow. His pillow. *His* side of the bed.
Maybe ascension would have been the better choice after all.
* * *
"Ya done good, you know."
"Huh?" Daniel looked up from his near doze, confused. He had just been drifting off, his head leaning awkwardly against the passenger window of the truck, and he raised a numb arm to rub out the kinks.
Jack nodded at the rear view mirror, calling Daniel's attention to the SUV following them. Minnesota time over, they had left the cabin in the wee hours of the morning, caravanning it. Jack, Teal'c and Daniel in the lead with Pete and Sam on their six.
"Carter. Pete. I don't know what the hell you said to her three nights ago by the lake, but damn—"
"Daniel Jackson showed Colonel Carter the error of her ways," Teal'c replied from the back seat.
"Carter was wrong about something?" Jack joked.
"She talked. I listened. That's all." Daniel shrugged, unable to clamp down on the hint of anger even he could hear creeping into his voice.
"You were a friend when she needed one."
"Hey!" Jack's voice was filled with playful indignation. "I can be a friend when I need to be, isn't that right?"
"Indeed, you can."
"Friendship. Me. Hey, Daniel, you didn't answer."
Daniel fought hard not to smack Jack's hand away when he playfully poked him in the shoulder.
"It would be best if your eyes and hands remain on the wheel, O'Neill," Teal'c reprimanded.
"T, did anyone ever tell you that no one likes a back seat driver?"
* * *
And as they say, time marches on. Two weeks home and he had managed to the best of his ability to avoid any confrontation with Jack. Oh, they shared the obligatory breakfast and mission briefings, but Daniel's workload was heavy enough that he could hide behind papers, books and reports without arousing suspicion. Work became all consuming, coffee became his meal of choice and sleeping his least favorite pastime. He was surviving, and for now, that in and of itself, as far as Daniel was concerned, was a major accomplishment.
One thing Daniel enjoyed was watching Sam as she tentatively tested out the waters with her relationship with Pete. It was rather enlightening to see Sam so unsure of herself, so human and one morning, over an early breakfast of pancakes, he remembered the depth of their own friendship and he grinned stupidly at her as she gestured animatedly trying to bring home a point.
"You're smiling?" She titled her head and pointed at him with a pancake-laden fork.
Self-consciously, Daniel tried to force his face into an expression of blandness.
"Don't try to hide it," she accused. "I saw it. You smiled."
"I do smile, you know."
"I know you do," she replied softly. "I never thanked you."
"Thanked me?" Daniel took a sip of orange juice, then licked his lips to gather any missing pulp.
"For being honest. For being the only one who would be. For forcing me to see Pete with my own eyes and not my…" She paused and Daniel pretended not to notice the tears that swam in her eyes. "My dad's."
"He was a great man and a wonderful friend, Sam. But as far as you were concerned, first and foremost he was your father… and no one would have been good enough for his daughter." Daniel smiled in earnest. "Not even me."
"I know." She dragged her pancakes through the lake of syrup on the plate. "You just," Sam ducked her head in embarrassment, "made me see the light."
"That's a bit clichéd, don't you think so? See the light, you make me sound like—" Daniel's smile dropped off slightly. "I assure you, it was all of me sitting with you by the very cold lake that night."
Sam looked up, she had never noticed his minute change of expression. "You're smiling again. Why don't you do the smile thing more often? It makes you look—"
"Happy?" Daniel waved away the stupid remark, losing the smile altogether. "Busy sorta puts a crimp in smiling," Daniel sighed. He pointed to her plate in an effort to change the subject. "Eating or drowning?"
"Oh." Confused, Sam looked to where Daniel had pointed. "Eating," she said, stuffing the dripping pancake into her mouth, leaning over the table so not to stain her uniform.
Daniel handed Sam her napkin. "Does Pete know about your disgusting pancake habit?"
"Disgusting habits and all," Sam said, scrubbing the napkin across her face. "Pete loves me."
* * *
Maybe he had become complacent. Maybe he was too exhausted and his brain cells were protesting. Maybe he had been so absorbed in the information that SG-11 had brought back that he had forgotten his anger when Jack sauntered into his office, caught him off guard, and invited him over for pizza. By the time he had stuttered out an excuse, Jack had been long gone.
And that was why he was sitting at Jack's house, already on his second glass of wine, and his breakfast with Sam was just a distant memory.
"Want another slice of pizza?"
Daniel shook his head, downed the rest of the wine in his glass and got up to throw out his garbage. He dumped his plate, his napkin and poured himself some more wine. He toasted the fridge, drank a bit, topped off his glass again and walked into the living room.
Jack was standing in front of the unlit fireplace and turned expectantly at Daniel's footsteps. "I'm glad you're back," he said with an uncharacteristic softness in his voice.
Daniel glanced over his shoulder. "Back? From the kitchen?"
Jack took a step towards him and Daniel stopped. "No," he pointed to the floor. "Back on terra firma. Earth." He smiled lasciviously. "Who do I thank for the added bonus of your nakedness in my office? Oma?"
Daniel could feel the flush blossom on his face. "Not Oma," he angrily replied through gritted teeth.
"Well, obviously someone up there likes me enough—"
"It wasn't exactly one of my more shining moments to appear *naked* in your office, *Jack*."
"Well, no, I can't imagine it would've been but it was a fantasy—"
"Can we not talk about it? Please."
"Okay." But Daniel knew the connotation of Jack's okay, it just meant 'fine, I won't talk about it for now, but damn straight I'll store it away to make use of another day'.
Daniel was angry and Jack's cluelessness to his anger was just fueling Daniel's emotions. He finished his wine in one gulp. "I need to get going."
Jack was on him in a flash. "Look, I'm sorry. I apologize." He removed the empty glass from Daniel's hand and placed it on the ledge. His hand returned to Daniel's side and began a slow dance up his arm.
"Jack, I—" He latched onto Jack's elbow with the intention of extricating himself from Jack's intrusion, but his emotions screeched to a halt and his libido took over when Jack began a slow, intense exploration of Daniel's neck, and then it became all about the sensation.
* * *
Daniel wasn't sure how it had happened. Well, he knew *how* it had happened, he just wasn't positive how he had *let* it happen. He was standing in the bedroom, stripped down to only his boxers, his engorged cock tenting the material. Jack was stretched out on the bed, naked, beckoning for Daniel to join him; stroking his dick with one hand, while his other hand made slow lazy circles on the empty side of the bed.
It was Jack's hands that did it. His long fingers caressed the sheets as he had caressed Kerry's breasts. Daniel wasn't seeing Jack inviting him to have sex, he was seeing Jack and Kerry screwing. And he stepped back, away from the bed, earning him a look of confusion from Jack, who stopped all his stroking and fondling. "Daniel?"
"Did you at least change the sheets?" Daniel spit at Jack, bending down and picking up his pants. He leaned against the dresser for support as he shoved his legs into the jeans.
Warily, Jack sat up in bed. "This is definitely a 'what the fuck moment', Daniel."
"Yeah, fuck is probably the right word." Daniel paced the room, picking up his shirt and socks along the way.
"Well, fuck is sorta what we had planned." Jack smiled down at his naked body and pointed to Daniel's partially clothed one. "Did I miss something?"
"No, it wasn't you," Daniel said sadly, buttoning his shirt. "It was me. I missed something."
Jack began to stand and Daniel stepped back until the corner of the dresser was digging into his ass. Jack hesitated and slowly lowered himself back onto the mattress.
"Was it worth it?"
"What, Daniel? Was *what* worth it?"
"Having sex with Kerry Johnson."
"How did you find out?" Jack's face paled. He reached out towards Daniel, then his hands just dropped to the side, pulling the sheet around his body.
Daniel snorted. "Answer my question first," Daniel demanded. "Was having sex with Kerry worth it?" Daniel tucked his shirt in his pants with shaking hands. "Because I hope for your sake it was." Daniel dropped down onto the chair and began to put his socks on.
"Sorry 'cause you got caught?" Daniel put on his shoes and tied them, then stood, stomping his feet, smoothing down his pants.
Jack was silent, studying his hands as they twisted the sheet into tiny pyramids, but Daniel was tired of keeping quiet. "Come on, Jack, you can come up with something more original than 'I'm sorry'. How about 'I thought you were dead', 'I was heartbroken'. Or the ever popular, 'I said your name when I climaxed'."
Slowly Jack looked up, his eyes shining with wetness. "I'm sorry."
"Oh, jeez, Jack," Daniel cried, his voice thick with emotion. "You can't even lie to me."
Jack shook his head.
"She broke it off with you." Daniel was just testing the waters with that question; he hadn't a clue which one of them had ended the relationship.
Jack just nodded.
Okay, so now he knew. Damn it, couldn't Jack just lie? "Talk to me. Make me understand why."
Jack just shrugged.
In two strides Daniel was knee to knee with Jack, looking down at the bent head. "Oh, no you don't!" he shouted. "Silence is *not* an option." He knocked Jack's knee with one of his own. "Look at me," he hissed.
Jack looked up, Daniel stepped back and the two of them stared at each other. "I wish I could give you a reason why."
"Me too." He wanted to yell and scream, stamp his feet, hell, and even fuck Jack to the point that he'd scream for mercy. Every question he wanted to bombard Jack with would've sounded like a scorned woman and he couldn't, he wouldn't do that, he needed some iota of his dignity still intact.
"Are you going to leave?" Jack asked.
Incredulously, Daniel blinked, shocked that Jack would have thought otherwise. "There's no reason for me to stay, is there?"
"I guess telling you I love—"
"I love you too, Jack."
Jack threw his hands up in surrender. "Then why can't we discuss this?"
With a wave of his hand, Daniel encouraged Jack. "Go ahead, discuss." He crossed his arms. "I'm listening."
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Daniel shook his head and pushed off the dresser and he made it to the door before he turned around. "See, the problem is, Jack, I'm not too sure if you can't think of a lie plausible enough for me to believe or you're afraid there is no lie.
"Kerry showed some interest, I wasn't here, and it stroked your ego to have an attractive woman throw herself at you. You must've missed the big man on campus feeling once Sam's attention was turned towards Pete and not you. So bringing Kerry here, to your house," Daniel pointed to where Jack was sitting, "to *our* bed was really the same old subterfuge, flirt with the woman, hell *screw* the woman so no one would suspect you were pining over your archaeologist, who you also happened to be boinking on a regular basis?"
Jack looked old, ragged, and his eyes bore the depths of his mistake as they pleaded for forgiveness.
Daniel shook his head. "Goodbye, Jack."
"Wait! Daniel!" Jack stood, holding the sheet around his midsection.
"For what, Jack?" Daniel was getting angry. He didn't want to get angry here. He wanted to go home, get angry, throw a thing or three, blast his stereo, turn on his laptop, lose himself in research and a bottle of wine. "What the hell am I waiting for?
"For you to tell me the truth? Isn't that's how this conversation started?" Daniel stepped up to Jack. "Me waiting for you to tell the truth? And you couldn't." Daniel snorted, poking Jack in his bare chest. "So, *I* told you the truth. You got caught with your pants down and your cock inside…" He dropped his hand, then patted Jack's chest, backing away. "I have to get going."
Jack made a move to grab Daniel until a scathing look forced his hand to keep busy holding up the sheet. "Goodbye, Daniel."
Daniel nodded his departure, unwilling to trust his voice, then left the bedroom, only allowing his anger to erupt when he took Jack's key off his ring, left it on ledge next to his empty wine glass and slammed the door on his way out.
* * *
It took four days of research, then another two days to perfect his argument, prepare his report and send it to Jack, then another day before he was summoned to the general's office.
"Close the door," were the first words Jack had spoken to Daniel in seven days.
Daniel shut the door, sat and waited, playing with his thumb nail. He recognized the cover of the report which Jack was tapping his pencil against. The pencil began to pound a bit harder. "Want to explain?"
"I thought I stated quite succinctly in my report—"
"Cut the bullshit, Daniel."
"I wouldn't call it bullshit, Jack. It a viable, productive venture."
"Research. Evidence of Ancient technology."
"I can't justify pulling you off of SG-1, hell," Jack picked up the report and waved it at Daniel. "I can't justify sending eight people from your department—"
"You've obviously *read* the report. Saw the printouts, the MALP reports, the photo—"
"No," Jack said, slamming the report onto the desk.
"No? That's it?"
"You sanctimonious bastard."
"Hey," Jack warned. "Remember who you are talking to, *Dr.* Jackson."
"That's the problem, I don't know who I'm talking to." He flung himself out of the chair and got as far as the door, actually had his hand on the knob, his shoulders stiff when Jack called his name. "Daniel."
He rested his forehead against the door, tight posture slumping in defeat.
"Look, come back, sit, let's talk about—"
Daniel shook his head, his forehead scraping against the door. "Don't make me beg," he pleaded before exiting the office.
* * *
The official okay in triplicate with Jack's signature appeared less than twenty four hours later, but it was a shallow victory, and there was no joy in Daniel's heart as he stared at the paperwork. Jack had given him what he wanted, and now there was no turning back.
* * *
"I'm leaving," Daniel blurted out, as he stepped into Sam's lab.
She glanced up, her eyes large behind the plastic goggles and she blinked in confusion.
Daniel's glance slid around the room, embarrassed that he hadn't thought to check if there were other occupants before speaking.
In invitation, Sam pulled out the stool next to her and patted it, waving Daniel forward. "Sit," she said, pulling off the mask, motioning a tad more emphatically when Daniel hesitated.
Slowly, Daniel shuffled into the room then lowered himself down on the stool.
"It's late," Sam squinted at her watch, "or early, depending what time you have to get up in the morning." She sighed, then rubbed her face, trying to work out the red, imbedded lines marking her cheeks the mask had left behind. "No one's here except me and you."
Daniel didn't return her tentative smile.
"No, not wrong, *wrong.* I'm just leaving—not for good," he hurriedly added. "Just for awhile. PX18976, remember the aerial view the UVA sent back and the close up—"
Daniel fought the urge to pull his hand away from the warmth of her touch. "It's okay, Sam, I gave Jack a list of replacements for SG-1—" He stopped short when she tightened her grip on his hand and with the merest of pressure to his fingers, he knew that Sam knew. Knew it all, probably. Him. Jack. Kerry. "Oh," he said stupidly, unsure and too embarrassed to utter anything more than the one syllable word.
"You'll be fine. You'll *do" fine," she amended with a tight smile and a hint of tears in her eyes.
For her confidence in him, Daniel presented her with a kiss to her cheek, as he had done while she had sat on the bench in front of the house and the hand that had been holding his flew to her cheek. Sam turned to him in amazement.
"Don't ask, don't tell," he whispered conspiratorially, inexplicably feeling as though a tremendous weight have been lifted from his shoulders. "Keep my spot warm," he encouraged, drawing her into a one arm hugged. "I'm not going to be gone forever."
* * *
"Jeeze, Teal'c." Daniel dropped one of the heavy books he had been holding, narrowly missing his foot.
Teal'c bowed. "I apologize, I did not mean to startle you."
Daniel shooed his concern away with a flash of his hand and bent to pick up the fallen object.
"Do you require assistance with your packing?"
"Nope." Daniel slid the books into the crate closest to him, then wiped his hands along the length of his fatigues. "I think I'm about done.
"Actually, I was just coming to see you." Daniel spun around, found an empty spot on a stool and motioned for Teal'c to take a seat. "It's a bit of a mess—"
"That is most understandable," Teal'c agreed, gracefully sidestepping the piles scattered along the floor, standing next to the stool. "I know that you spoke to Colonel Carter early this morning."
"Yeah. Then I was going to see you, noticed the time, ended up coming back here," with an shrug of embarrassment, "then I fell asleep. And today you were involved with—"
Teal'c placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Daniel Jackson, there is no need to prattle on."
"Prattle? I prattle?"
He got a quick nod in response. "That is what O'Neill used to say."
"Oh." Daniel fiddled with his glasses, removed them, used the edge of his shirt to clean them but still grimaced when he put them back on.
"Do not worry, O'Neill no longer uses that word to describe you."
"I'm sure not," Daniel confirmed.
"I am sorry, that bit of knowledge was unnecessary." Teal'c dropped his hand from Daniel's shoulder.
"No offense taken." He gazed around the mess that was his office. "I really *was* coming to talk to you."
"I am here now. That is all that matters."
Daniel gave Teal'c a smile of thankful understanding. "I'm going on an archaeological expedition."
"It is necessary."
Teal'c didn't ask it as a question. "Yes it is," Daniel agreed solemnly.
"You will be missed."
"By some more than others." Damn, had he spoken that out loud? Embarrassed, Daniel averted his gaze, then stepped to the side, busying his hands with sorting through plethora of notebooks.
"That is where you are wrong." Teal'c was right at his heels, tagging along in perfect sync with Daniel as he moved around his office.
Suddenly he turned and stood, chest to chest to Teal'c, confused and angry. Unsure of why he felt as if he was being interrogated. "I want to be an archeologist for awhile. I need to be an archeologist. Not part of SG-1." He made a wide arc with his arms. "Just for a little while I don't want to be part of the big picture. I want my life to exist only for the dig." He looked into Teal'c's eyes, shaking his head at his friend's lack of understanding. "I need this," he said softly. "Can you understand?" Daniel backed away, throwing his hands up in personal disgust. "Forget it," he snorted in disdain, "saying it out loud makes me sound selfish." Daniel stopped, inclined his head towards Teal'c. "I guess I am selfish."
"I am neither in agreement nor disagreement with your statement. I did not come to pass judgment on your need to return to that which you love best. I came to wish you luck in your endeavor and to let you know that you will be missed. The reason behind your departure is personal and need not be known to anyone other than you." Teal'c smiled warmly, bowing his head. "If O'Neill will allow it, I will keep a candle burning in the gateroom window awaiting your return."
Daniel guffawed loudly. "I think you should keep your candle burning in your quarters, Teal'c, it will be a hell of lot safer."
* * *
Four days later, Daniel stood in the gateroom in the wee hours of the morning, watching the contingent of hand-picked members from his department, two FREDS overflowing with equipment and SG-3 walk up the ramp.
The marines Jack had wanted to watch their six had resulted in an argument. A loud one. Extremely loud. Vocal enough that Daniel had seen Walter close the door to Jack's office only minutes after the fireworks had begun. The lines had been clearly drawn. Him against Jack. Rank had its privileges and Jack had won, but what was strange was that Daniel had known that Jack had been right, but Daniel hadn't wanted to bend and they'd both hid behind the heat of their words, using the subterfuge of the marines as protection.
Daniel had to admit as he shouldered his heavy pack and lifted his carryall from the floor, it was easier to leave mad.
He stopped, sighed and forced himself to smile. He had really hoped to just go through the 'gate without a send off committee. "Sam. Teal'c."
"I brought you something—"
"It is a going away present. Colonel Carter insisted even though I told her you were coming back and that—"
Gratefully, Daniel took the package of coffee from Sam's outstretched hands and sniffed it appreciatively. "It's the thought that counts, Teal'c."
Teal'c gave Daniel a slight bow. "Then I believe that I shall miss you, Daniel Jackson."
"Likewise," Sam said, pulling Daniel into an awkward hug.
* * *
Daniel was the last one up the ramp and he hesitated inches from the wormhole. Damn it, this last step was hard. He straightened his shoulders, adjusted his backpack and shifted his carryall to his left hand, and then stepped into the waiting event horizon, putting more than a dozen light years between him and Jack.
* * *
Nirvana had lasted eight weeks. They had hoped the rain that had begun as a drizzle two days ago would have abated, but as luck would have it, the rain had become a storm and had increased in intensity, winds picking up, whipping through the camp, dislodging all that wasn't nailed down, but it was the lightning illuminating the outline of the temple in the unnatural darkness a storm brings, that was setting Daniel's nerves on edge.
Daniel had called it. Been *the man* and made an executive decision to return back to the SGC, much to the consternation of everyone, including the marines, who had fallen into a relaxed daily rhythm with the scientists.
"Excuse me, Dr. J—"
A wet, bedraggled, Major Walker stuck his head into Daniel's tent.
Daniel beckoned him inside with a wave of the coffee mug in his hand. He glanced skywards. "How's the—"
The young man stepped into the tent, removed his hood and ran his fingers through his close cropped hair, then followed Daniel's gaze upward. He shook his head, sending droplets of water arcing through the air. "We're running out of time. I came to tell you that the first FRED is packed and Lieutenant Cooke and Sergeant Lupo are bringing it to the 'gate as we speak."
"Good," Daniel commented, adding his notes to his overstuffed carryall. Thankfully, they had been sending artifacts and points of interest back to the SGC during their stay, as a precaution against leaving anything behind in case there was the necessity of a speedy departure such as this.
The major pointed to Daniel's pile of paraphernalia, smiling. "Don't you recall, Dr. J, one of the golden rules of vacation, always bring an extra suitcase to carry home your souvenirs?"
* * *
Major Walker met up again with Daniel in the center of camp, both men coming to the same conclusion that they were two people short. He knew where they were because it was exactly where he would have been nine years ago.
So it was with anger and a touch of bemusement that found Daniel sloshing through the muddy puddles. The wet dirt making sucking sounds as he trekked along the trail towards the temple. He could understand Harry and Monica's need to recheck the temple one more time, but he had warned them yesterday, hell, had warned them all yesterday, that time was going to be of the essence, and that was why Daniel really hadn't slept last evening but had stayed up and had performed a second and third check of the two chambers, made a backup video, and wrote additional notes.
He was tired and the last thing he wanted to do was traipse through the mud and the pouring rain to drag back to the Stargate two errant archaeologists, but it was his job and he persuaded Colonel Brenner that he was more than capable of reaching the temple by himself, grabbing the two scientists by the scruff of their necks and dragging them back to the 'gate in record time.
He keyed the mic, waiting for the roll of thunder to travel on by before he called the colonel's name. "Twenty paces more and I'll be knocking on the front door of the temple."
A sudden flash of lightning and the man's response was drowned out by a clap of powerful thunder. Daniel paused. "I'll check in when we're halfway back so you can power up the 'gate."
This time he heard the colonel's chuckle loud and clear. "Last one to the showers is a rotten egg."
* * *
The beauty of the temple wasn't lost in the horrific downpour. Actually, to anyone else except the members of the SGC Archaeological and Linguistic Department, the structure was nondescript. Built for durability, it molded against the bottom of the mountain, its structure formed of a brick-like material. The true beauty of the building wasn't evident on the exterior but on the interior walls. The inhabitants' history had been inscribed on panels adorning both the anteroom and the main chamber of the temple. Thousands of years of words and Daniel and his team were just beginning to scratch the surface. The temple was a lifetime of work crammed into mere weeks.
He quickened his pace as much as the ground would allow, admitting that maybe he wouldn't mind one last look around, one more last goodbye before heading back to the SGC.
* * *
Harry and Monica eyed him sheepishly when he announced his approach. Ten steps down, the stairway familiar enough for him to do it with his eyes closed, down the narrow hallway, he began to call their names just before entering the anteroom.
"Oh, Daniel." Monica blinked at him in surprise, onion skin paper in one hand, a pencil in the other. She was kneeling on the floor. Harry, on the other hand, was standing, a collection of rubbings in his hand. The impossibly young man just smiled at Daniel in greeting.
"I know," Daniel said simply.
* * *
Daniel's orders to 'move it' were drowned out by a clap of thunder loud enough to vibrate every nerve ending, followed immediately by a sizzle of lightning that illuminated the room's shadows. Then except for the battering rain, the relative silence, broken by a nervous giggle from Monica, a 'holy shit' from Harry and before Daniel could agree with the man, something shifted under his feet and the three fought for balance. His hand shot out, grabbing the closest wall for purchase. Harry wobbled, righted himself then fell flat on his ass, sending the papers in his hands scattering in a myriad of directions. Monica's arms and legs gave out under the movement and she landed spread eagle on the tiled floor.
Then he heard it. A freight train in the distance, traveling along the tracks of the mountain, heading right for them, the sound increasing exponentially and he froze for a second. Afraid. Terrified. Aware that the odds of them stepping out of this temple, unscathed or even alive, were somewhere between slim and none. Daniel screamed as he ran to Harry and Monica, demanded they move, fighting the shifting floor to get to them.
Harry rolled to his knees, stood and was just anchoring his arm under Monica's. Daniel joined him and the two got her upright and ran like a trio of drunken of soldiers to the door leading to the hallway, and were just a foot or two inside it when the train pulled into the station.
* * *
Daniel tried to turn away from the annoying, tinny voice calling his name. "Shut up." Instinct had him reaching up, forcing a heavy hand against the button on the mic. "Don't shout," he muttered, coughing, trying to will away the remnants of a horrific headache.
"Dr. Jackson!" The voice increased in intensity, slowly slicing though the mist that clouded his thoughts.
The voice was followed by excited chatter and shouts of exaltations. "Party?" Daniel asked groggily.
"Yeah, would you like to join us?"
Daniel slowly opened his eyes, squinting into the semi darkness. "I think I had enough to drink already."
Headache was an understatement, just breathing fueled the pain. His whole body weighted down, pulling him under, Daniel allowed the colonel's voice to wash over him. Talk. Ask questions. He closed his eyes, huffing when the insistent voice wanted to follow him into oblivion.
"Get. Your. Ass. Up. Jackson," Colonel Brenner growled.
"I'm up," he insisted angrily. He forced his eyes wide open, in response to the intrusion of the voice. But he wasn't up, in the physical sense of the word, but damn, he was suddenly aware. "Oh shit!" he exclaimed, scrabbling along, the heaviness in his arms and legs caused not by injury, but by a thick layer of mud and silt holding him in place. And bodies. Monica and Harry.
The roof had been destroyed and beams of dim light illuminated the dark hallway where the three of them were trapped. Cramped in a space literally less than eight feet wide, Daniel was amazed he hadn’t come to awareness sooner than this, because Monica, Harry and he were a hodgepodge of twisted lower limbs, debris and mud.
"Give me a minute," he hissed.
Intent on assessing the situation, he paid no heed to the demands of his radio, relegating the sound to the background. Focus and assess. He could do this. His department. His command. His friends.
Injuries. Leaning forward, he physically began to separate limbs from limbs, apologizing when his ministrations elicited groans from him companions. Vocalizations meant living breathing people and for now, that was fine.
* * *
The building that had been built to withstand the elements, had to some degree, and it was both a blessing and a curse. Walls had protected the three of them from drowning in the downpour of mud, but now the construction was their prison. Trapping them. The stones beneath them had buckled, allowing mud to seep between the opened crevices. The damaged hallway was now tilted which meant that every movement was a struggle against gravity, squashing them against each other no matter how they struggled. The anteroom they had escaped from was now awashed with parts of the planet, the rear wall had stopped any further downslide, but the wall separating the room from the hallway had been partially breached, blocking their exit with overflow and a downed wall.
In the beginning, Harry and Monica had been in shock. They had allowed Daniel to medically assess them. Treating their injuries was a joke. No supplies, no way to clean out the multitude of cuts and bruises, no medication to dull the hurt. Daniel could only offer slim apologizes every time he caused them additional pain.
Harry's leg was broken and Daniel had set the damaged limb, crawling on hands and knees to locate two branches sticking up from the mud then using his belt to secure them. The gash on Harry's face would leave a nice scar, but thankfully, based on Daniel's prodding and poking, there didn't seem to be any internal injuries.
Monica's shoulder was dislocated and Daniel had contemplated trying to pop it back into position, but their cramped quarters wouldn't afford him enough leverage and he was honestly afraid of doing more damage than good. He ripped off the bottom half of his tee shirt and bound her arm snugly to her torso. Her ribs were bruised but not broken and he had whispered a heavenly prayer when there had been no tell tale grinding under his fingertips.
Daniel closed his eyes for a minute, leaning his head against the brickwork, wishing for a Tylenol, a hot shower and something besides the hard, wet, lumpy floor to sit on.
Water-deprived, his voice was barely existent. "Here."
"The engineers say it won't be long now."
Monica tapped his leg. "They can't see you nod, Daniel." Her smile was weak, her face was streaked with blood and she was hurting, but was trying her best in her limited way to afford him comfort.
He grabbed her hand and squeezed gently. "Any idea?"
"That's what he said before," Harry snorted. He placed his hands on either side of his leg, shifted then complained loudly as he did.
He ignored Harry's complaining. The man had taken it up as a pastime to keep himself occupied and was slowly driving Daniel insane. It wasn't as if Daniel could get up and walk away, ambulatory or not, their space was severely limited. Speaking both figuratively and literally, their backs were against the wall, their prison basically a box of extremely small proportions. Daniel could only give heartfelt thanks that fear of tight, small spaces wasn't one of his phobias.
"How long have we been here?" Daniel knew he had asked the question before, probably a number of times, but the answer always seemed to flit from his memory whenever SG-3 checked in.
"You're telling me," Daniel agreed.
* * *
Four hours had already stretched into five with intermittent promises of speed. Monica was sleeping, and occasionally Daniel placed his hands over her lips just to feel her warm puffs of air against his skin. Harry's grousing was an indication that *he* was still alive and like the constant dripping of water from the cracks in the ceiling to the creaking of shifting bricks, it all blended into background noises.
He jumped when the radio crackled to life. "You're too quiet, Daniel."
"Sleeping," he chuckled weakly.
"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you."
Daniel stretched out his legs, gritting his teeth as they protested. "Don't worry."
"How are you doing?"
The colonel's radio picked up the movement of machinery and shouted orders, both of which Daniel found strangely comforting. "Harry's complaining," Daniel whispered, pulling the radio up close to his mouth. "Monica's sleeping—"
"No," came the insistent reply. "I asked how *you* were doing."
"Me? I need a gallon of water, a hot shower, Tylenol, clean clothes and the ability to go to the bathroom in peace."
That was as much as Daniel was willing to share. Compared to Monica and Harry, he was mobile. More than likely, he was going to be bent over like an old man, but he was going to walk out of here of his own volition, shuffle to the 'gate then down the ramp. He'd be damned if they carried him back to the SGC.
"I don't want any surprises when we get you guys outta there."
"No surprises," Daniel sighed, "I promise."
"I'm gonna hold you to that promise."
* * *
"Huh?" Daniel shielded his eyes from the overhead sun but still the figure standing over him was nothing but a blur. In the time they had been underground the horrific weather had left, leaving in its wake bright sunshine and the wonderful soft temperate climate from their previous weeks' stay on the planet.
He needed his glasses and a Tylenol, probably in reverse order, but he'd take whatever was being handed out.
The shape standing in front of him squatted down with an exasperated sigh, bringing the colonel's face into view. "You promised you were okay."
"I am," Daniel insisted, squinting over the colonel's shoulder, watching as the medics prepared Harry and Monica for transport.
"Damn it, Daniel, I hurt just looking at you." He reached into his breast pocket and withdrew two pills, offering them to Daniel. "Here. The medics took pity on you and are allowing you two Tylenol."
Gratefully, he scooped them up, his muscles protesting even the simple swipe of his arm, then he slowly placed them in his mouth, washing away his groan with a gulp of water. Experience had taught him, no matter how demanding his thirst was, to pace himself, which was what he had been doing.
"My ninety year old grandpa walks—"
"Don't go there," Daniel warned. "I'm going to walk back to the 'gate without assistance."
He threw his hands out in submission. "I'm not arguing. But I'm offering you a stretcher—"
"No!" Daniel cried vehemently. "I'm going to—"
"Walk, yeah, I know." He pointed to the power bar sitting unopened in Daniel's lap. "I know you want to walk. I think somewhere in the vestiges of my mind, I can even understand why, but I'm promising you right now that two seconds after your feet hit the cement floor of the gateroom, your ass is on a gurney, breaking land speed records—"
"I get your drift," Daniel replied wearily, opening up the power bar then taking a bite, just to shut Brenner up.
* * *
If he kept his gaze focused on his feet, he didn't have to watch for the top of the 'gate to teasingly appear in the background. The ground still bore the mark of a storm, making travel treacherous and slow, but he couldn't seem to recall the distance being this long.
Daniel was on point with Lieutenant Cooke and Sergeant Lupo, the medics, the engineers, and the remainder of SG-3 and his archaeological team were bringing up the rear with the stretchers, until he began to drift and found himself watching their sixes.
"My invitation for a stretcher still stands," the colonel whispered in his ear.
He shook his head and kept on plodding, amazed that no one but him appeared to be struggling with either the distance or the terrain.
* * *
His legs burned and he fought the urge to sit on the steps leading up to the 'gate as Earth was dialed, because at this moment, getting caught in the backwash of the wormhole was more appealing than taking one more step.
"You've come this far," Colonel Brenner explained, grabbing Daniel's elbow just as he swayed. "They'll be hell to pay if you fall face first into the muddy ground."
"Why?" Daniel spread his legs apart, trying to get his bearings as the earth seemed to undulate where he stood.
"I have money riding on your stubbornness. For some strange reason, I believed you when you said you could make it on your own."
"You bet on me?"
"Enough to buy us a steak dinner at O'Malley's if you manage to stay upright."
"I promise," Daniel said, shaking off the supportive arm. "Just so you know, I like my steak medium well, baked potato with lots of sour cream and butter. And an iced cold tap beer."
Brenner laughed. "I said dinner, not dinner *and* drinks."
"You're a cheap sonovabitch."
"And you, Dr. Jackson," he said with an inviting sweep of his arm towards the waiting wormhole, "are a stubborn sob."
* * *
From his vantage point at the top of the ramp, Daniel watched the stretchers, the five remaining members of the archaeological team and SG-3 stream out of the gateroom. He exhaled loudly and nodded.
"Care to join me and Colonel Brenner, Daniel?" Impatiently, Jack stood at the bottom of the ramp and crooked his finger at Daniel.
"He's waiting for a gurney. He made a promise. I made a promise."
"I hate not being in on these inside jokes." Jack bumped shoulders with Brenner then leaned forward in invitation. "Care to enlighten me, Daniel?"
The walk down the ramp seemed insurmountable, the tilt of the walkway sickeningly angled and he hesitated until he saw Jack take a step towards him. He drew a deep shaky breath then pointed at Brenner. "I'm here. I'm upright. Where's the ride you promised me?" Daniel stuck a smile on his face which he hoped was damned convincing, 'cause right about now, the last thing he felt like doing was smiling.
"Already been ordered, Dr. J."
"Good." Daniel held onto the railing for dear life and he tried for a nonchalant stagger, but he was sure that the colonel's grandfather moved with more grace and speed than he was doing right about now.
Every muscle in his body moaned in agony, the headache which had settled to a dull roar was now a three ring circus of noise and distraction, and the absolute worst was his brain screaming out his stupidity as he shuffled down the metal walkway. No one was more surprised than he was when his feet stepped down one step and onto the solid cement floor. He gave Jack a cordial "hello" then managed a thumb's up to Brenner before he passed out inches from the gurney that had been brought to the gateroom.
* * *
It was easier to stay on the safe side of drug-induced unconsciousness than expend the effort to open his eyes, so he listened, fading in and out like a bad connection, pain meds distorting his sense of time.
Jack was in the room, questioning the doctor on call, his voice increasing in pitch, demanding, pulling rank when the answers he was looking for weren't forthcoming. Then Jack morphed into a Brenner who apologized repeatedly, forcing Daniel to shut down and escape into insentience.
Pain returned and he shifted, a moan pulling him closer to the brink of awareness. A soft voice offered empathetic noises, begged for patience, then promised relief with a gentle tug on his IV tubing. He welcomed oblivion with open arms.
He awoke with a start, unsure of where he was, panicked that he was on Aybdos or in the diner with Oma. Daniel blinked into the muted shadows of the infirmary, the beeping and smell more than the actual room confirming his placement.
The monitor hitched and for a second he was confused when it was Dr. Brightman's smile and not Janet's who welcomed him home. He decided that sometimes the muted, diffused state of dreams was a better place to hang his hat than this reality so he just closed his eyes.
Sam and Teal'c's timing were usually off. Out of sync and in contradiction with the time the nurse would inject his pain medication into his IV. He would have fought through the haze of dreams to awaken for them, but the lure of the drugs was too powerful. So while Teal'c's presence by the side of the bed would envelope him in peace, Sam would pull the chair by the side of the bed, slip her hand between the bars and sweep her cool fingers across his forehead.
Daniel could only hope it was frustration that would force Sam's soothing voice to take on a hard edge of anger and disappointment, insistently demanding he open his eyes; digging her fingers into the bruises peppering his upper arm. This was Replicator Sam. Hurtful and powerful and he fought to leave where she had followed him, setting off a symphony of alarms in his futile struggle to protect his memories, and in panic she would increase the pressure on his arm, calling his name, even as others tried to pry her away, trying to hold him in this nightmare. And he was trapped and horrified, wondering if he was stuck in a continuing loop of replicators, death and ascension.
There would have been a time when only the threat of an alien incursion or some C4 under *Jack's* infirmary chair that would have been the only way he would have left the bedside of an injured teammate. Time had marched on and General Jack O'Neill's visits during the days were miniscule snatches of time accompanied by hurried touches and loud, impatient verbal inquiries to the staff.
But there were the times, before the changing of the morning shifts, before reports were given, before the SGC truly woke up for the day, that just plain Jack would come to sit by his side. Smelling of coffee and the outside mountain air, speaking in hushed whispers as he sat by Daniel's bedside, leaving the business of the mountain in his office.
And it was those times when he felt most inclined to fight his way back to consciousness and rejoin life. To finish his healing with help rather than pick up and pick through the battle-torn pieces of his life alone. Inevitably, Jack would touch him. His calloused fingers drawing circular motions around the IV in his hand and Daniel would remember Jack's fingers, working the same pattern around Kerry's nipple and so he stayed, eyes closed, alone.
* * *
"Five days," Jack yelled, dragging Daniel to the precipice. He sighed, trying to return to the place of quiet again, but Jack's voice kept pushing and prodding him forward. "Two days short of a whole week—"
"I'm not stupid, General. *Sir,* I know exactly how long Daniel's been—"
"Nothing's happening," Jack hissed. "Except for that strange response to Carter—"
"Look, sir," Brightman placated and Daniel wanted to scream a warning to the doctor, not to speak to Jack in that tone. Do not condescend, believing Jack less than intelligent. "Daniel's fever is down, the infection is responding to antibiotics—"
Jack's roar reverberated in Daniel's head, and he could visualize the finger wagging and tight features. Brightman's days as CMO were now sealed in the heat of Jack's anger. "I'm going to reiterate—"
"No, you won't, not in my infirmary."
"Shut up," Daniel insisted, his voice low and deep, cracking with the mere effort of projecting two simple words. "Please," he added, ever polite. He smiled in satisfaction as the two stood in stupefied silence.
* * *
Two days post unconsciousness and to the chagrin and annoyance of Dr. Brightman, Daniel was sitting up in bed reading a preliminary report of Bill's concerning the writings on a tome from PX7965. His infirmary bed was covered with books, pads, and a few reports while his laptop sat opened on the bedside tray, downloading information.
"I thought Dr. Brightman—"
He pointed his pencil at Jack, commanding his silence until he finished the page then used the pencil to mark his place in the report before gazing up at him.
"I'm sure Brightman's not too happy."
"She's not." Daniel used his left hand to grip the edge of the bed then shifted his body weight.
After waking, all it had taken was one visit from Sam for Daniel to know that Replicator Sam was an apparition of his recent past allowed back into his psyche with the aid of drugs and a high fever. Nothing more.
Amazingly enough, Monica and Harry were already out of the infirmary, bruised, bandaged, but mobile and they had come to visit bearing gifts of chocolate, an extravagant gift certificate to Starbucks and a nauseating number of 'thanks you's'.
Daniel had halted Colonel Brenner's apology even before the words were formed. He pointed to his IV. "After this, I deserve a beer," he joked.
Brenner gave him the hint of a smile.
"My fault," Daniel admitted. "Please…"
Brenner sank into the chair, shaking his head. "I'm going to turn grey, aren't I? Just like the general. I had thought all his water cooler comments regarding you taking years off of his life were an exaggeration." The colonel snorted. "I guess I was wrong not to take him seriously."
"You do know that O'Malley's delivers," Daniel answered, blinking innocently at Brenner.
But when Jack came to visit there was no return to normalcy. His visuals of Jack hadn't been a dream but were founded in reality and with that reality, his dream had ended.
Daniel tossed the report to the foot of the bed and watched it slide off, fall to the floor and he uttered a loud curse when the bookmark/pen rolled under the next bed. He dropped back onto his stack of pillows with an irate sigh.
Without a word Jack bent and picked up the report, tossing it back onto the bed. "Sorry about the pen," he shrugged, "but I don't think my knees would ever recover from me crawling around on a cement floor."
Awkwardly, Daniel bent forward and began to make a neat semblance of the work on his bed. He offered no objection when Jack took over the job, then carried the pile to the empty bed to the right, under which the pen resided, and placed them there, separating the papers into two distinct but equal piles.
Jack came back to Daniel's bed, stood at the end, moved to the side, contemplated the edge of the bed then settled for the chair. "Brightman's a bitch," Jack whispered conspiratorially.
Daniel burst out laughing. He couldn't help it. Leave it to Jack to remind him that they had been friends before they had been lovers and while their relationship status was at the moment null and void, the friendship was still there, somewhere. "I'm sure you're not one of her favorite people either."
Jack answered with a look of unabashed innocence then pointed to Daniel's leg.
It hurt like a sonovbitch, but Daniel rarely admitted that to the medical staff, and he certainly wasn't going to admit it Jack. A portion of the tile in the temple hallway had exploded when caught in the path of the mudslide, and Daniel had had the good fortune of being in the path of the flying miniscule missiles that ended up embedding themselves like pieces of shrapnel in his right leg. Honestly, he had believed the burning in his leg to be a repercussion of being blended with Monica and Harry, the wall, more than a ton of mud, a branch and a rock or two. Who could tell what had been blood and what had been dried mud? He attributed the aches of the fever as nothing more than a side effect of being a participant in the mudslide. Muscles hurt when they were abused. Headaches were a given when you suspected you had a concussion. Live and learn.
"Leg's fine." He made it a point to ignore Jack's 'don't bullshit a bullshitter' scowl and continued. "PT is on my agenda starting tomorrow. Once I'm up and around, I'm outta here." Daniel pointed to the work on the opposite bed, then tapped the table where his laptop sat. "There's too much work—"
"Don't rush it," Jack replied angrily. "Let your body heal. Listen to what—"
"Don't you dare say that I should listen to what Brightman says, 'cause even you said that she's a –"
"She's a what, Dr. Jackson?"
Daniel pursed his lips together and glared daggers at Jack.
"What did I do?" Jack mouthed wordlessly before he smiled up at Dr. Brightman. "Daniel, here, was saying what a—"
"Caring," Daniel interjected hopefully.
"Yeah, caring doctor you were."
"I'm sure those words were right on the tip of Daniel's tongue," she answered sarcastically.
Daniel watched as she read his chart, shaking her head and making "hmmm" noises more often than he felt comfortable with. "Is there a problem?"
"We'll see," she answered, closing the chart and tucking it under her arm. "You still have a low grade fever, so I'm going to make the Tylenol every four hours a mandatory prescription instead of prn."
Jack patted his shoulder. "See, Daniel, that's not such a bad thing."
"It is if I want to start PT tomorrow and—"
"Get out of here?" Brightman hooked the chart at the end of the bed. "I wouldn't count on it." Gently, she lifted the blanket off of Daniel's injured leg and poked an area just below his knee cap.
"Ow." Daniel sprang up. "That hurt."
Jack leaned in for a closer look and pointed to where Brightman was poking. "Should it still be red like that?"
Daniel closed his eyes and sank back into the pillows. "No PT tomorrow."
"No PT tomorrow. I'm ordering a change in the antibiotic to go along with the Tylenol, and hopefully that'll do the trick."
"Hopefully," Daniel echoed. He felt the air shift as she covered his leg back up. She squeezed his blanket covered toes until he opened his eyes.
"My ex-husband thought I was a bitch also. You don't have to like me, but I'm a damned good doctor."
"I never *said*--" Daniel stuttered.
"Both you and General O'Neill are terrible liars." She stepped two feet away from the bed, then turned, catching Jack just as he was leaning into Daniel's space. "General O'Neill, I ask that you remove all of Daniel's work *and* his computer until such time that he can get to his office of his own volition."
Daniel waited until she left before he stuck out his tongue.
"Oh, maturity at its finest, Daniel."
"Well, she played on my sympathy and now I feel badly calling her a bitch."
"I don't," Jack said.
* * *
The fever peaked and broke by early evening, leaving Daniel spent and more than a bit disgruntled as he lay staring at the infirmary ceiling. Dr. Brightman had been in a few minutes ago, examined him with a satisfied nod and wrote the PT order out for tomorrow afternoon. Funny, it may have been his imagination, but the doctor was a little more human when not in Jack's company but Daniel just chalked it up Jack's ability to bring out the best/worst in people, himself included.
Suddenly, he sat up, punched his pillows and plopped down again. He so did not want to get into Jack's personality traits while laid up in the infirmary, so he resumed the mindless task of counting the number of ceiling tiles above his head.
Jack walked in and sat down, then angled his head next to Daniel's. "Counting the ceiling tiles? Don't bother, there are exactly—"
"Damn it!" Daniel yelled, pulling his pillows out from under Jack's head, then settling down in the far edge of the bed, his pillows just out of Jack's reach. "Do you have to ruin everything?"
Silence. Deadly silence. Double entendre in its finest moment.
"I deserved that," Jack answered solemnly.
"No, you didn't. I already said my piece, and I shouldn't be—"
"Harping on it?" Suddenly Jack sat up in the chair, straightening out his legs, then massaged his knees. "Why shouldn't you harp on it? Hell, I do. Every night when I go to—I made a mistake."
"Please, no more," Daniel begged. "Not here. Not now. Not for awhile."
Slowly, Jack acquiesced with a sad smiled. "Okay."
Daniel squinted and used his pointer finger to follow along the rows of ceiling tiles.
"I would have thought, considering the amount of time you've spent in the infirmary, you would have already—"
"Then why?" From his position in the chair, Jack glanced at Daniel's finger, following its path upwards.
"I get a different answer each and every time."
* * *
If Jack had the desire to visit him, Daniel would have preferred the infirmary and not as he struggled to put weight on his injured leg. "Shouldn't you be doing general stuff," he gasped, gripping the balance bars so tightly his muscles were beginning to tremble.
"General as in running the place or general as in just *stuff*?"
Daniel attempted to blink the dripping sweat from his eyes. There was no way that taking ten measly steps should be this hard. "General stuff," he hissed at Jack through gritted teeth.
Jack sat in the wheelchair that had been Daniel's chariot. "I am doing general stuff. I'm watching the progress of one of the SGC's best assets—"
"As he learns to walk?"
"No, as he perseveres."
* * *
He moaned. The smell of coffee penetrated his slumber, awaking taste buds that had been denied their addiction for a fair number of days. He opened one eye. The lights in the infirmary were turned down and the staff spoke in hushed tones. Predawn.
Jack sat in the bedside chair leaning forward so he was almost face to face with Daniel. "Morning."
"Morning." Daniel rubbed his face into the sheets, then blinked at Jack. "Though I'm thinking this really constitutes nighttime and not morning."
"Nice bed head," Jack quipped, the rest of his sentence lost as he bent down to pick something up from the floor. He sat back up with a coffee cup emblazoned with the Starbuck's name in each hand. Jack put both cups on the table, bent down again then righted himself, waving a bag from the bakery near Jack's house under Daniel's nose. "Brightman's shift starts in twenty minutes, how fast can we destroy the evidence?"
* * *
He graduated from the wheelchair to crutches and then a cane, which on occasion he would forget to use and ended up hopping across his office, which was exactly what he was doing when Jack stopped by unexpectedly. "Taking up hopscotch?"
"Huh?" Daniel stopped, leaned his right elbow on the workbench, trying to counter balance the weight of the book tucked under his left armpit.
Jack bounced his pointer finger in the air. "Cane?" He walked around the desk, grabbed it and twirled it between his fingers.
"You are a man of many talents, Jack."
"Talented enough to convince you to join Teal'c, Carter and me for dinner?"
Daniel shrugged, hoping that Jack realized it wasn't going to take too much convincing, 'cause he was damn tired of the mountain, the mountain food, the recycled mountain air and the mountain of paperwork that was as bottomless as Mary Poppin's carpetbag, an analogy he would have to give credit to Teal'c's newfound interest in musicals. "Chinese?" he asked wistfully, hoping for something spicy to counteract the blandness of last night's rubber tasting chicken.
"If you treat, you can choose whatever you want."
"Hey!" Daniel couldn't help the smile. "You invited me, in the book of etiquette that means the inviter pays the invitee's way."
"Yeah?" Jack took the book from under Daniel's arm and exchanged it for the cane. "Well, okay, then we'll let Teal'c choose."
Daniel shuddered. "No, I'll pay, I was hoping for something a little more filling than Domino's Pizza."
* * *
And so it began. The slow dance of seduction. The courtship. The wooing. Like the first time Jack had moved their relationship from friends to lovers. But this time Daniel was prepared to head Jack off the pass. Thwart any move that would be construed to be something more. Friendship was easier. He could handle friendship.
Daniel made it a point never to spend the nights over at Jack's house. He never drank with Jack, never sat on the same piece of furniture. Temptation was hard, but the alternative would be devastating.
"How's the leg?" Jack asked, eyeing the can leaning against the arm of the sofa.
He was sitting on Jack's couch, actually making a concerted effort to get up and leave. His mind was willing but his body was just so damned comfortable. Daniel had burrowed into the corner with his legs stretched out on the coffee table. "Leg's fine. The physical therapist and I have cut down our relationship to once a week and I keep the cane around—" Daniel stopped short and suspiciously gazed at Jack through narrowed eyes. "Why do you ask?
"You're rubbing it."
"I am?" Sure enough, his hand was hovering over his thigh. Embarrassed, he looked at his hand as if it belonged to another entity. "Didn't even realize it."
"Weather." Jack stepped over Daniel's legs and plopped down not too far from where Daniel was sitting.
"Whether or not why?"
"Weather, Daniel. Approaching cold, snow, rain—" Jack lovingly patted his own knee.
Jack was too close. The setting was too intimate. The couch. The fire. An inane movie playing in the background. The heat of Daniel's groin warming his whole body.
"I gotta go," he said, unlocking his legs and standing.
"Daniel." Jack stood also.
His leg was stiff, hurting and the cane was a welcome companion on his backwards trek towards the door. "I can't, Jack."
"I'm not asking you to."
"Bullshit," Daniel said. "You are. You're trying to—"
"I love you."
"I know you do, Jack."
"And this is where you're supposed to say you love me back."
"I value our friendship too much to lie."
"This is the brush off, isn't it? Where you tell the person you just want to be friends and there isn't a chance in hell—"
"We can't turn back time."
"We can try."
"No, Jack." Daniel leaned his cane against the wall, then grabbed his coat off the doorknob and slid his arms in. "I can't try." He scooped his keys off the table then took his cane. "Right here. Right now. I'm drawing the line at friendship."
* * *
"Were you as bored as I was? Because honestly, travel plans for her, Pete and Cassie aren't exactly the stuff thrilling conversations are made of."
Daniel leaned backwards in his office chair, dropping the palms of hands atop his head. "You're just jealous that she's taking a vacation."
"Nothing's stopping you from going away."
"Who's gonna mind the store while I'm gone?"
Daniel threw his hands up in defeat. "Okay, there's that."
"How about you?" Jack countered. "Why don't you take a vacation?"
"There's nowhere I want to go. Somehow getting on a plane and spending hours flying somewhere to lie on a beach," Daniel shrugged, "sorta loses its appeal when one 'gate travels for a living."
Jack punched the air. "Exactly! But there are times," Jack said softly, "I wouldn't mind a vacation."
* * *
"Spit it out, Sam." Daniel was hobbling around his office after a particularly grueling PT session. What he had wanted to do was grab his jacket, hop in his car and head home, shower, pop a pain pill, then sleep. A conversation with Sam hadn't been *anywhere* on his agenda.
"Sit," he ordered, pointing to the couch.
She sat and he dragged over a stool to sit opposite her. "Hey," he said softly, tapping her foot with his.
Five days in a warm climate and she had returned tanned and looked great, but something was off. Daniel had seen there was trouble two minutes after she'd greeted him yesterday, but it had taken her until today to seek him out.
"Everything okay with you and Pete?" he hinted.
Startled, she looked up. "Me? Pete? Yeah," she exhaled loudly, "we're fine."
Daniel abandoned the stool and took up residence next to Sam on the couch. "What's wrong?"
"I don't know how to fill Janet's shoes in Cassie's life."
"You can't." His arm found its way around her shoulder and he pulled Sam close. "So don't try," Daniel added.
"I'm leaving SG-1."
"Oh." Daniel was speechless, sucker punched and unable to formulate a thought, never mind a word.
"Well, not leaving, leaving," she added hastily. "Cassie needs me to be accessible for a while. I had thought a vacation would be—"
"A quick fix? A Band-Aid? Doesn't work that way when a parent dies."
"Cassie needs my presence for a little more than for five days." Sam smiled through the tears hovering in the corners of her eyes. "Found that out the hard way on vacation. So… I'm going to work in R & D at Area 51."
"You'll be Earthbound. That'll be good for Cassie." Daniel nodded in agreement, more by rote than actually agreeing to Sam's departure.
"You're doing the right thing. Unselfish and giving." He chuckled. "Welcome to parenthood, Samantha Carter."
* * *
Instead of going home, he spent the night wandering around the SGC, suddenly feeling old and useless. Jack had moved upwards to become *the man*, Teal'c had achieved his dream and was offworld on Dakara, attempting to lay the foundation for the Jaffa government, and Sam? Sam was learning how to be a mother.
He leaned heavily on his cane as he waited for the elevator. "And then there was one," he mentioned to the closed doors as he pressed the up arrow with the end of his cane. Funny how the one person who'd had to fight and prove his worth to even be able to secure a place on SG-1 was the last one standing.
His fingers tripped over the back of the chairs in the briefing room and with a smirk he rolled out the one at the head of the table then lowered himself down into the leather cushions. Propping his legs up on the wooden corner, he folded his hands over his belly and gazed down the length of the table, amazed at how the view from this end was so different.
* * *
"If you wanted my job, all you had to do was ask."
Daniel groaned then opened one eye. "This was a really bad way to fall asleep."
"No kidding," Jack agreed.
"What time is it?" Daniel bent forward and physically removed his legs from the table.
"Ow, ow, ow," Daniel whimpered, trying to rub away the pins and needles in his legs.
"Last time I saw you, you were heading home." Jack pulled out the chair to Daniel's right and sat. "If I remember correctly, you nearly knocked me over in your haste."
"Sam came to talk to me last night."
"Carter wanted to tell you herself."
Daniel scrubbed his face, scratching at his beard with his nails.
"Aren't you ever going to shave?"
He smiled wickedly, scrunching up his face and scratched with even more vigor. "I sorta like it."
"No comment," Jack added, pointing to Daniel's face. He switched subjects before Daniel had a chance to think of a comeback. "Cassie needs security."
"I know she does. Sam's doing the right thing." Daniel pushed his glasses to the top of his head and rubbed his eyes.
"Cassie needs a home. A family."
Daniel slid his glasses back down. "Who are you trying to convince?"
Jack shrugged, using his thumb to rub away an invisible spot on the table. "You?"
"Not me, Jack. I of all people can appreciate what Sam's doing."
"You? Why—oh." Jack rubbed harder, averting his head, blushing.
"How about I treat you to breakfast then you head on home?" Jack wagged a finger at Daniel. "General's orders. Take a day or two off—"
"Yeah, right. I just can't take—"
"You can and you will. Rumor has it that Brightman's gonna nail your hide to an infirmary bed so I'm actually just saving you a lot of grief by sending you home."
"You know you have the strangest sense of righteousness than anyone I've ever met." Daniel smiled at Jack. "And you know, you can make anyone believe the shit you're handing out."
"Not always," Jack replied softly. He slapped the table, then stood. "Come on, I hear they have those great little biscuits for breakfast."
* * *
Against his better judgment he had listened to Jack and gone home. Strangely enough he had slept through the better part of the first day, rolling out of bed around seven pm when he was awakened by the doorbell and an irate voice that sounded suspiciously like Jack's demanding he open up the door.
He wasn't sure who had been the more shocked. Him to see Jack, Sam and Teal'c standing in his hallway with pizza and beer, or the three of them realizing they had woken him up.
"We woke you?" Sam asked, concerned.
Daniel just nodded then stepped aside to let them in.
"It would be nice if you gave someone a key to this place," Jack commented as he walked by Daniel on his way into the apartment. He held a six pack of imported beer in his left hand and a six pack of domestic in his right, raising both over his shoulders Jack moved his hands so the bottles invitingly clinked together.
Daniel walked the door close and as he limped past Jack, he grabbed a bottle of imported beer. He headed towards the dining room, hugging the bottle to his chest. "Last time any of you had a key to my house you ended up blowing up the neighborhood and *I* ended up with the Neighborhood Watch *and* the Civic Association asking me, quite nicely I might add, to leave." Daniel huffed. "I liked that house."
"Did we not save you from Osiris, Daniel Jackson?"
"Well, yeah, there was that."
"Apartment living is more your style," Jack added. "You just aren't a 'taking-care of lawn' kinda guy."
Daniel placed the beer by his table setting then threw a stack of paper plates on the table. Teal'c put the pizza down, Jack placed the remainder of the beer in the center of the table, Sam got a pitcher of water for Teal'c and some glasses then they all sat, awkwardly smiling at each other for a moment.
"It almost seems as if we need a prayer, sir."
"Over the tongue and through the mouth, look out stomach—"
"I don't think that's how it goes, sir."
"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do families grow up under the same roof," Teal'c interrupted with a bow of his head.
"Oh, Teal'c's been reading the daily inspirational quotes on the computer again," Jack quipped as he reached for a piece of pizza.
"Jack, you know—"
"It is true, Daniel Jackson, that is the way I begin my day. The one I have just quoted is by a man named Richard Bach. I find these saying to be—"
"Yeah, yeah. Let's eat."
Daniel fixed Jack with a glare as Sam patted Teal'c's hand, adding her own glare to Daniel's. "Some of us appreciate your words of wisdom."
Jack's eyes rolled heavenward. "Very nice, T." He glanced at Daniel and Sam. "Now? Can we eat now?"
* * *
Daniel spent the next day recovering from a slight hangover, lazing around the house, catching up on bills, journals, all the things that *normal* people do on their day off, half expecting, half disappointed when Jack didn't show up at his doorstep with dinner and a movie. He remembered around eight he had never eaten lunch, so he reheated leftover pizza for dinner then carried it into the living room to eat in front of the TV.
The call came just as he was picking up the triangle to take a bite. "Damn." Annoyed at the interruption, he wiped his hands on the napkin, rose and went to the kitchen to answer the phone.
"Hope you're eating dinner."
"I was." Daniel balled the napkin up and tossed it overhand into the garbage pail. Nine years of being friends with the man, Daniel wondered when Jack would realize he was an adult and was more than capable of taking care of himself. "And I'd like to finish it before it gets cold."
"A hot meal? I'm impressed."
"I'm pissed and hungry and unless there's a point to this conversation, I'm hanging up the phone, *mother*."
"Nice. I care—"
"Hanging up now—"
"Wait!" Jack yelled loud enough for Daniel to hold the phone away from his ear. "Carter asked me to help her move Cassie—" Jack faltered. "Something's come up and I can't make it—do you think—you would just drive the rented U-haul. No lifting or anything, I don't want Brightman on my ass if you re-injure your leg. All it would be would be a day off—hell, you have enough personal days to take the next year off—"
"I took a year when I was ascended."
"Doesn't count," Jack hurriedly added.
Daniel shuddered, just thinking of what was going to be sitting in his inbox. "No problem, I'll give Sam a call—"
"Daniel, don't hang up."
There was a pregnant pause followed by a deep sigh. "Nothing. Give Cassie a hug from me, will ya?"
* * *
Daniel treated himself to the largest cup of coffee Starbucks had to offer, using the mega dose of caffeine as fortification and a scone in anticipation of what awaited him on his desk. One cell phone call from Nyan as he was driving, followed by another while he waited in the line at Starbucks didn't bode well.
And he wasn't disappointed. Nope, not at all and Daniel sighed and held the Styrofoam cup close to his body when he saw the condition of his desk. He groaned loudly, took a gulp of the coffee and pulled out his chair and sat.
The first paper to be disposed of was the post it note stuck to his computer screen from Dr. Brightman informing him that he'd missed his appointment yesterday and that she needed to see him today before noon.
After the post it, Daniel's attention was drawn to a manila envelope with his name on it, written in handwriting that suspiciously resembled Jack's. It was propped upright, supported by the line of keys on his keyboard. Daniel hesitantly plucked it from its resting place, rotated it, assessing it before he bent back the prongs and stuck his hand inside and pulled out a white envelope with a tiny red bow in the corner.
A present? Daniel couldn't help but smile at the wording 'Everyone needs a Vacation' on the envelope. Leave it to Jack. Carefully, he opened the envelope, removed the letter inside and snapped it open, stunned at the official SGC insignia adorning the top of the paper.
He read it once. Then read it through again. Then again for clarification. He was reading it a fourth time, holding the paper tightly in his right hand, close enough to his nose that he was becoming cross eyed when the phone rang. He jumped, crinkling the paper in his fist. He placed it on his desktop, smoothed it out then answered the phone on the third ring.
"Jack? I'm on my way up to your office right now—"
"No what?" Daniel stood, leaning over to hang up the phone, stopping only when Jack yelled "no" right into his ear. "Okay. You don't have to shout."
"Did you get my present?"
"Flabbergasted? Stunned? Eternally grateful?"
"Why did I do this?" Jack chuckled. "As you're so quick to point out, I'm the man. And I can. Because you deserve it. And because like the envelope said, 'everyone needs a vacation'."
"You're not an exception, Daniel. You fall into the category of an 'everyone', honest. You are one of the hardest persons to buy for and this was the only way I could think of for the SGC and Earth to say thank you for all you've done. Though if you would prefer a medal or a gold watch, I can return this."
"And this is the only way for you to understand how much I—" Jack faltered. "You mean to me."
"Atlantis?" Daniel said the word reverently. "The Daedalus?" He sank into the chair as the realization of what the words on the paper actually meant. "I'm leaving."
"Well, yeah. Different galaxy, solar system, that kinda constitutes leaving."
Frantic, Daniel sprang up. "This is ridiculous. I need to talk to you. Now."
"You are talking to me."
"Don't be stupid. Face to face. I want to—" What did he want to do? Right now. What did he want to say to Jack? "I want to thank you."
"I'm not at the mountain."
"Sorta? What kind of answer is that?"
"There's a memo, buried in your inbox. I'm in Washington."
"Washington, DC. As in, permanently."
"Permanently? Hold on a minute." Distraught, he dug through his inbox, sending reports and papers scattering until he found the memo, then he skimmed it. "Homeworld Security? You? Is General Hammond okay?"
"Yes, me. Should I be insulted that you sound surprised?"
"General Hammond?" Daniel was afraid to say more than the General's name.
"George is fine. Told me if I wanted my chair it came with the office. So here I am."
"A desk job? You?"
"Yes me," Jack answered again, with a touch more insistence in this voice. "Me. Here. Washington."
"My knees demanded it, Daniel. That's it. No hidden agenda. Hammond's, fine. I'm fine, well except for my knees. It's really okay and besides it's always better to retire when you're at the top of your game. Hank Landry is a great man to take over the helm."
"I don't give a shit who the hell Landry is and I'm certainly not stupid to buy into your bullshit."
"Daniel, I need you to buy into the bullshit, okay, 'cause there are a lot of reasons."
"Me? Us?" Daniel whispered into the phone.
"If I tell you no, you won't believe me. If I tell you yes, your guilt will eat away at you, so I'm going to be fair and say there are a number of reasons. Can we please leave it at that?"
"I've respected your wishes on a number of occasions," Jack said stiffly, "I would like for you to afford me the same. Can you?"
"It won't be easy," Daniel admitted.
"You're telling me," Jack snorted.
* * *
In slow motion, Daniel began to go through his inbox, stopping every few seconds to scribble down on a pad items he would need for his sojourn to Atlantis. Eventually the inbox halted in priority and Daniel began to write in earnest on the yellow pad until a knock on his office door interrupted his train of thought. Like a school boy caught reading a comic instead of a school book, he gently slid a report over the pad.
"Dr. Daniel Jackson?"
Daniel nodded then rose, walking around his desk towards the man in uniform standing just instead his doorway. "And you are—"
"General Landry, I will be—"
"Jack's replacement," Daniel stuck out his right hand which was tentatively received and accepted. "Nice to meet you, General."
The two men eyed each other suspiciously, staying their position even after their hands dropped to their sides.
Daniel broke the uncomfortable silence with an awkward smile. "Jack's full of surprises, huh?"
Even though Landry's right eye seemed to twitch every time Daniel referred to Jack as *Jack*, the general answered his question with a smile of his own. "I believe, Dr. Jackson, that's the understatement of the year."
* * *
A week later found him in the infirmary for a follow up, something Daniel had been skirting around since he'd received notice that he was departing on the Daedalus.
"I'm impressed," Brightman said, studying his chart and the folder containing the PT notes. "I can see dangling the carrot called Atlantis has done the trick."
Daniel scowled at her the minute she turned her back, first because of her attitude and second because she was right. "I take it I'm cleared for duty."
She nodded, then turned to face him. "Ya done good, Dr. Jackson—Daniel." She waved his chart towards the infirmary door. Go. Be gone. The only time I want to see you is before you leave.
* * *
Daniel tilted his head to keep the receiver in place. "Hi, Jack."
"You should be home."
Daniel's gaze slid to the camera mounted in the corner and gave the lens a three finger wave. "This is getting scary."
"No, you're just too damn predictable. You're trying to get all your ducks in a row, make sure your desk is cleaned off of any projects before you ride off into the sunset—can I let you in on a little secret—it ain't gonna happen, Daniel. Hell, there are order requisitions at the bottom of my inbox that I never got to."
"Yeah, among other things."
"Oh, do I want to know?"
"No, you don't. You'll be gone when the SGC runs outta toilet paper."
"God, I'm going to miss you."
"Damn straight you are."
* * *
Impatiently, Daniel drummed his fingers across the flaps of the opened cardboard box. Area 51 had more damn security than the SGC.
He could hear the smile in her voice and he smiled in return, even though she couldn't see him. "Did I catch you at a bad time?" He rolled his eyes in response to his own question. Between him and her and moving and leaving and Cassie there weren't any good times in their hectic schedules.
"You want an honest answer?"
"That's what I thought."
Daniel leaned on the box, flipping the flap up and down, unsure of why he had really called. It was a bit more than propriety and less than being nosy. The phone call fit somewhere in the caring about family member criteria. "Pete? Cassie?"
"I'm glad," and he was.
Daniel's gazed tripped around the mess that was his office. "Ummm, no. Should I be?"
"Knowing you, there's three piles. One definite. One definitely no, and one definitely maybe."
"No, you don't, you don't hate me. You just have an intense dislike of the idea that I know you so well."
Daniel didn't even have to press the phone to his ear to hear the talking going on around Sam. "I'll let you go."
"Sorry. I'm really sorry."
"Me too, I wish time would have—"
"Email me. I spend more time on my computer than I do—I'm going to miss you."
"No, you won't. You'll think of me fondly, sandwiching my memories somewhere between Pete, Cassie and your newest project." He kept his voice light, hoping that Sam picked up on the subtle message that it was okay he was leaving, he was okay that she wasn't here and that their friendship transcended space and space travel.
"You're such a bastard," she quipped.
Message received and Daniel felt his smile broaden. Maybe he knew Sam as well as she knew him.
* * *
"Did you see the new CMO I sent ya?" Jack asked eagerly.
"Well, not you, personally, you're leaving."
"Yes, leaving. Three days, six hours and ten minutes, but who's counting?" Daniel asked. He dropped another book into the box on his desk.
"So what do you think of Dr. Carolyn Lam?"
"I went in and introduced myself, we spoke for all of ten minutes, she said 'oh *you're* Dr. Jackson', and then refrained herself, I'm sure, from rubbing her hands gleefully together at the thought I was leaving."
"But what? She's nice. Dr. Lam appeared nicer than Dr. Brightman—" He glanced at the spine of a book and slid it back onto the shelf. "Maybe you should give Dr. Lee and Siler a call, they already have had an up close and personal introduction to Dr. Lam."
"You're busy." Jack's voice was low and full of regret.
"Not busy—distracted. I'm trying to—"
"I'll call you when I have a free—"
"Moment? You?" Jack snorted. "Then obviously I won't be speaking to you until you get back from Atlantis."
* * *
Daniel's hand flopped ineffectually at the blaring sound of the alarm clock. Without opening his eyes, he kept sliding closer and closer until it hit its mark and instantaneously silenced the noise. He located the phone on the first attempt and blindly punched in the correct numbers.
"Morning," he groaned into the phone.
"Hmm," Daniel agreed, flipping onto his back.
"Free moment, huh?"
Daniel rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Wasn't really free," he joked. "I *was* sleeping."
"It's zero three hundred hours where you are, Daniel. Go to sleep."
"Stop telling me what to do," Daniel groused, then yawned deeply. "Home, sleep, work—"
"Yeah, how are you going to survive without me?"
"Care to let me in on your little joke?"
"I'm just picturing your face when you get the bill for your cell phone's long distance minutes to Atlantis."
"Are you making fun of me?"
"Why don't I believe you?"
"Hell, *I* was the one who set my alarm to make sure I was awake so I could call you before you left for work. How's that for devotion?"
* * *
Frustrated, Daniel dropped the pile of folders back onto his desk. He had attempted to leave his office three times with the same folders only to be waylaid by phone calls. Angrily, he scooped up the receiver. "What?"
"Hello to you, too, Daniel."
"Hi, Cassie." He flopped into the chair and propped his feet up onto his desk. "Sorry about that, thought you were Jack. Or Dr. Lee. Or General Landry."
Cassie giggled. "I get the picture. Hate when people won't leave you alone to do what needs to get done."
"People care," Daniel added, realizing just how good it felt to be off his feet. "Annoying the crap outta someone, especially Jack, is the way that he shows it."
"You have my sympathy then."
"Twenty four hours and counting—you'd better behave yourself. Don't give me cause for worry, especially because my mom isn't there to patch you up."
* * *
Daniel realized as he wandered around his office, unpacking what was packed, that sometimes in his life, if he didn't have bad luck, he'd have no luck at all. Frustrated and angry, he threw a tantrum, banging his braceleted wrist against his worktable. Hard.
He pounced on the ringing phone. "Daniel Jackson," he snarled.
"Daniel. Heard you got to meet Dr. Lam—"
"Not. Now. Jack." God, his jaw hurt from gritting his teeth so tightly.
"You have every reason to feel sorry for yourself," Jack placated.
"Yes I do. I missed the opportunity of a lifetime, I spent hours unconscious in the infirmary *and* I'm saddled with a crazy woman who I cannot kill because it would appear that if I murder her, I die also."
"Okay, so zatting Vala into oblivion isn't a viable option."
"No, Teal'c wasn't even sure one zat blast wouldn't affect me. At least when I was unconscious it was quiet. I miss quiet."
"So, Daniel, that's it in a nutshell?"
"Yeah, that's it in a nutshell. Don't expect a report across your desk anytime soon," Daniel huffed, kicking the edge of his desk.
"Having a temper tantrum, are we?"
"Hell yeah, I think I deserve one. Don't you think I deserve one?" Daniel mumbled. "Here comes Vala, the reason I'm spending my vacation at the SGC, I missed the boat, Jack."
"Me, too. And I don't even get a damn rain check."
* * *
Daniel stared at the computer screen, trying to force his attention *back* into the mindset of report writing, but putting the words down made the threat real. And he wasn't ready for real. Not yet.
He used his mouse to wipe out the two paragraphs he had managed to squeeze out before Jack had shown up. The blinking cursor was in sync with his pounding headache so he tugged his glasses off, tossed them onto the table and ground the tips of his finger into his temples, trying to offset the pressure. Flicking off the desk lamp, he stood, turned, then unceremoniously dumped two books onto the floor, making room for him to stretch out on the couch.
And stretch out he did, placing his arm over his eyes, blocking out the remainder of the low lighting of his office. Mitchell and Jack were off playing flyboys and he could only pray that Vala had had enough of him to grant him thirty minutes of peace and quiet.
He had lied to Jack, he wasn't scared, he was terrified. And what made it worse was Jack's acceptance of his fear. There had been no counter offer of 'don't worry' and after the initial excuses, he hadn't waved it away or poo poo'd Daniel's confession. Jack had listened and nodded in all the right places over lunch.
Damn his head hurt and he shifted on the couch, adjusted his position, but the headache followed him. So many things had gone wrong, two innocent, unsuspecting people had died, and thanks to him and his curiosity, Earth had a brand spankin' new enemy knocking at their door.
Daniel turned, burying his face in the cushions, but it didn't do any good. He could still smell the acrid odor of Vala's burnt flesh. His stomach roiled and he gagged, but he forced himself to breathe deeply, convincing his lunch to stay put.
He felt small and insignificant in the face of the approaching storm and even Jack's faith in him and the ability of the SGC wasn't enough of a shield against the battle.
The kiss to his temple was surprisingly gentle. "Jack?" Daniel whispered, unsure of where he was, but too comfortable to open his eyes. His body was heavy and sluggish, adamantly protesting being awakened.
"Sorry to disappoint you, love, but I don't have the correct equipment to be named Jack, or haven't you noticed?"
Daniel groaned. Loudly. "Go away. Far away." He turned onto his back so he was staring straight up into Vala's face. He stuck out his tongue in answer to her coquettish little wave.
"But if I go far away, both of us will—"
"Not *that* far away," he countered, hissing when the headache woke up. Exasperated, he grunted when she locked a hand over each of his shoulders and began to massage.
"You're very tense," she stated with a t'sk.
"Would you like a list of reasons?" Daniel swiped at her hair, which was waving across his face in time with her squeezing and releasing his muscles. "Pffffttt, could you please—"
"Oh, sorry." She tossed her head, sending her hair flying. "I don't want to brag, but some men find my hair my best feature."
Daniel struggled to sit up, but she forced him back down against the couch. "Vala, don't—"
"Daniel, please," she said, slapping playfully at his shoulder. "I do have some modicum of shame." She leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Not with all the cameras."
Daniel wondered if crying at this time would be considered an inappropriate response to his life. "Please," he begged as he held up his right hand with the fingers splayed. "Five minutes, just five minutes."
"Shush. Just relax."
Daniel drew a deep breath, deciding at that moment to pick his battles, and it was easier to just acquiesce than escalate this massage into a war.
"See, that's better," Vala crooned, increasing the pressure on his shoulders. Deft fingers traveled from his shoulders to his neck to his temples and the headache loosened its grip.
"Why, Daniel? Did you just purr?"
"No," he insisted, embarrassed.
"I am amazing, aren't I? So, do you think this Jack and yourself would be interested in a threesome?"
* * *
Burned beyond recognition, the blackened shape crumbled in his hands, covering him with soot and he blinked back tears. He wouldn't cry in front of the bridge command of the Prometheus, not while they were all celebrating the destruction of the Ori Stargate. It wouldn't be inappropriate, especially in light of his last words to Vala, but no one seemed to be concerned over either his or Vala's plight and he leaned forward, using his hands to sweep all the ashes into a nice, neat pile.
Daniel jumped and his eyes flew open right up into the concerned gaze of a young woman bending over him. "Are you alright, sir?"
His heart was pounding, trying to force its way from his chest. Panting. Daniel was breathing if he had just run a marathon and the sweat was dripping down his neck, soaking the back of his shirt. The memory of disturbing images filled his mind and he blinked, trying to process his surroundings. Assess wherever the hell he was. Daniel wiped his sweaty hands on his pants, surprised they didn't leave soot streaks in their wake. Nightmares in bedrooms were bad enough but nightmares in public places were horrific and he smiled apologetically at the woman who'd gently placed her hand on his shoulder.
"Do you need me to get—"
Emphatically, Daniel shook his head. "I'm okay," he said with a weak smile, broadening it as he inhaled deeply. "Just a little—"
"I understand perfectly, not everyone enjoys flying."
Stewardess. Flying. He nodded as it all came back to him. Jack. Washington. Running out of the SGC as soon as Dr. Lam had cleared him and he had thrown his report on General Landry's desk. Landry had pushed for Daniel's destination, and he had hemmed and hawed, pushing the civilian button, until he realized Landry would have none of it, so he spilled. A cursory goodbye to Mitchell, Teal'c and Sam and he was off. He had declined Landry's offer of military transport, now regretting his decision as he looked into the face of the overly solicitous woman. "Bad dream," he admitted finally.
She didn't believe him, he could see it reflected in her eyes and the fact that her hand never strayed from his shoulder.
"A drink," he asked, forcing a dimple producing smile. "If it wouldn't be too much trouble, maybe I could have a glass of juice and a package of crackers?"
The stewardess hesitated before releasing her grip. "No problem, sir. I'll be right back."
* * *
The remainder of the flight passed without incident, and as tired as Daniel was, he refused to shut his eyes because he knew if he had another nightmare, he wasn't going to be able to buy the stewardess off with a glass of apple juice and saltines.
Thankfully, he only had carry on luggage so there was no need to fight the crowds waiting by the luggage carousal. The carryall banged against his legs as he gently shouldered past the throngs through the terminal.
The rental car was some new mid-sized car. Renting may have been a poor decision, he wasn't familiar with the streets in Washington, but he had stepped out of the terminal into the waiting line for taxi's and had abruptly changed his mind. He couldn't even tolerate the mere thought of being a captive audience in the back of a taxi while the driver droned on about *things* and hastily he'd turned on his heels, headed back into the terminal towards the information booth.
* * *
The directions the girl at the car rental counter had given him were clear, but he drove slowly, with deliberate precision, eliciting more than a fair amount of horn honking from his fellow drivers. The windows were shut, the radio was turned on, the volume low, the music nondescript and barely discernible but enough to keep Daniel company as he drove through Washington.
Stopping at a red light, gazing at the wave of people scurrying across the street, Daniel rationalized his feelings of detachment had to do with culture shock. He was a stranger in a strange land, more at home 28 levels underground in a mountain with recycled air than he was amid civilization.
* * *
He circled around the apartment building four times and was into his fifth cycle before he found a spot. Literally, at this point, exhausted beyond belief, he couldn't care if it was legal or not, just that it was a place to park the car within walking distance of Jack's house.
* * *
Daniel had fast talked his way around security, his linguistic degree paying off, he had taken the elevator to the sixth floor and now he stood in front of Jack's door, not even bothering to knock, like he hadn't bothered to call to announce his arrival. He slipped his hand into his pocket and dug out his key ring and flipped through the keys, locating the newest, shiniest one in the bunch. Jack's key.
Jack had sent it to Daniel via courier. The key had been taped to a piece of paper on which Jack had written his address and the words 'your guestroom awaits'.
* * *
Daniel wandered around the apartment, smiling as he found pieces of Jack in this place. Strangely, the apartment was larger than Jack's *old* house in Colorado. Daniel moved slowly from room to room, trying to imagine Jack six floors away from the ground without grass under his feet.
The answer to that question lay right outside the French doors off the room that served as Jack's den. The terrace was expansive and Jack's deck chairs looked at home on the cement surrounded by pots filled with plants and flowers.
He didn't realize he was still clutching the carryall until he went into the kitchen in search of something to drink. It thudded to the floor as Daniel opened the fridge door. He kicked it under the table as he grabbed the container of orange juice, then drank deeply without aid of a glass. He wiped the corners of his mouth with his fingers, shook the container, peered inside the opened spout, shrugged his shoulders and finished the remaining mouthful.
With a smirk he left it on the table, found a pen in his pocket, bent and unzipped his carryall and took out a blank envelope on which he wrote a note and propped it up against the empty container.
* * *
He opened the French doors and stepped out onto the terrace, the breeze against his face was refreshing, and the noise from the traffic below was muted. The deck chairs were too inviting to resist and Daniel picked the one closest to the door, stretching out, then reached over and grabbed the paperback book that Jack had left on the tiny table between the chairs to help pass the time.
* * *
Jack was leaning on the railing, staring down at Daniel with a mixture of bewilderment and interest. The envelope was grasped in Jack's right hand and he was tapping it against his chest. "If you needed to sleep, there's a perfectly good guestroom with your name on it."
Daniel stretched then held up the book that had been resting on his lap. "I wasn't sleeping. I was reading." He tossed it back onto the table.
"Whatever you choose to call it, is fine with me. Sleeping. Reading. It's just a personal preference, mind you, but as far as you're concerned, I would appreciate if you would sleep or read anywhere but on the balcony."
Jack craned his neck and gazed over the railing to the ground below.
"Oh! Sorry." Daniel scrambled to stand, stiff and sore from sitting too long on both the plane and the balcony and he hobbled through the doors into the den, Jack close on his heels.
Daniel turned to face Jack, causing him to pull up short. He tapped the envelope still being held close to Jack's chest. "I see you got my present."
"Yeah, care to explain?"
"Explain?" I thought it was pretty self-explanatory."
Jack waved the envelope in the direction of the couch, and Daniel took that as an invitation and sat.
"It is self-explanatory." Jack pointed to Daniel's written 'everyone needs a vacation'. "I understand that."
"But what's the problem?"
"I need you to fill in the blanks." He pulled out the contents of the envelope. "There are two airline tickets here."
"I know," Daniel replied softly. "And since my vacation was inexplicably cancelled, I thought—"
"What did you think?"
"That everyone needs a vacation."
* * *
Daniel had followed Jack into the kitchen, then leaned against the counter and watched as he went domestic and put together omelets, with a side order of hash browns and bacon. "My cholesterol has died and gone to heaven," Daniel commented as he pilfered a slice of bacon hot from the stove.
Jack pressed the fork to his lips. "Ssssshhh."
"Don't ask, don't tell applies to food?"
"Hey," Jack said as he threw a handful of green peppers into the eggs, "we all have our vices."
* * *
Daniel shoveled the last bit of eggs onto his fork with a triangle of toast then popped it into his mouth, followed by the toast and the last dredges of coffee.
"So, I'm guessing you were hungry?"
Daniel eyed his plate then wiped his mouth and tossed his napkin onto the table. "Sure looks that way. And it was good. And it was home cooked. And I *was* hungry. Three out of three."
"Daniel." Jack reached a hand out.
Daniel scooped up his plate, threw out his napkin and placed his dish in the sink. "Shower. I need to—"
"Second door on the right, towels are in the cabinet—"
"I'll figure it out."
Jack grabbed his hand as he passed by his chair. "I'm sure you will. You always manage to."
* * *
Haste had been the catchphrase of the day and as Daniel looked through his carryall he realized that he was missing a number of items. Clean socks for one. One pair of boxers he had, one more pair of jeans, sweatpants, yup all there. But only one clean tee shirt that had a mysterious, nice sized hole along the bottom. So, after his shower, he tried not to make too much of an entrance as he walked into the den, barefoot, with sweatpants, sans boxers and a ripped tee shirt.
"Did you enjoy your shower?"
Daniel nodded, sinking down into the familiar easy chair, resisting the urge to tuck his freezing toes under his ass for warmth.
Wordlessly, Jack threw the remote at Daniel, and just as Daniel was finding the correct numbers for the Discovery Channel, Jack returned, plucked the remote from his hands and exchanged it for a pair of socks and a sweatshirt. "You're on your own for the underwear though."
"So I guess now would be a bad time to tell you that I used your toothbrush?" Daniel donned the tee shirt then gratefully pulled on the socks.
"So what brings you to Washington?"
"Just passing through."
Daniel nodded. "Really," he reiterated, settling down in the chair, ignoring Jack's look of disdain as Daniel extended his legs onto the coffee table. He made no comment when Jack found a hockey game and dug in for the duration. It took Daniel a few seconds then he leaned forward, squinted at the TV, and turned to Jack in surprise. "Neither of those teams are the Avalanches."
Slowly, Jack turned to face Daniel, blinking in amazement. "What did you say?"
Daniel pointed towards the TV. "Neither one of those teams are the Colorado Avalanches." He looked at Jack's shocked expression and laughed. "I listen."
Jack chuckled. "Obviously."
"Why aren't you watching…"
Jack shifted then turned sideways. "In case you haven't noticed, Daniel—" Jack spoke slowly, enunciating the words, "we aren't in Kansas anymore." He mirrored Daniel's position, sinking low on the couch, with his feet propped on the table. "And you know the old saying, if you can't be with the team you love, love the team you're with." Jack caught the underlying current of the words way before Daniel did and he was busy offering an apology sooner than Daniel even understood *why* Jack was apologizing.
"It's okay, Jack."
Jack grabbed the remote and turned off the TV. "It's not okay. None of this is okay—what I did—"
"Shut up," Daniel whispered.
"No, I won't shut up. You came here looking for answers—answers I couldn't give you last time."
"I. Did. Not!" Daniel yelled, jumping to his feet. "I didn't come to Washington for answers." Daniel closed his eyes and exhaled, deeply. "I'm in Washington because of you. When you came to Colorado and I told you I was scared, do you know why I was scared, Jack? Do you?" Using his hand, he wiped his mouth, dragging down the corners with his thumb and pointer finger.
"The Ori?" Jack sat up and slid to the edge of the couch.
Daniel nodded. "They aren't the only reason."
"Based on your report and my discussion with Landry, everyone, including you, has the right to feel scared. That and like you said, there's no one watching your six, ready to whisk you into the world of glow worms—"
"You're partially right." Daniel scoffed at his own confession. "The next ascension's on me, no aid. No help and at this point in time, I'm far from worthy."
Jack patted his chest. "Welcome to the club."
Daniel rolled his eyes before removing his glasses and tossing them onto the coffee table. "I saw my own mortality."
"Ummm, Daniel, it's not like you haven't died before you've met the Ori. I mean, honestly, Oma's only saved—"
Jack waved the word away. "Forget the only. What I'm trying to say you died a number of times and returned without Oma's intervention."
"There are ways you can die without—" Daniel's gaze flew heavenward as if the word he was searching for was going to drop from the sky. "Without dying."
Jack's eyes slid furtively back and forth. "Is this a Candid Camera moment?" Jack peeked over the back of the sofa. "Is that guy hiding behind—" He dropped back onto the couch. "Is it possible, the linguist who has saved SG-1's six on a number of occasions just by speaking is now unable to express himself?"
"You are unequivocally a sonovbitch."
"Just say it, Daniel."
"Vala's gone." There, he had said it. Out loud. But speaking it didn't make it hurt any less.
"She is. I know." Jack's arm made a gentle arc skyward. "From what Carter said…"
Daniel gave a self-depreciating snort of laughter. "I miss her." He gave a swipe at his eyes, then pointed at Jack. "And if you dare to even mention that to someone, I'll kill you."
Jack zipped his lips closed.
"Vala had a way of getting under your skin. Annoying as hell. A royal pain in the ass. She never shut up. Stubborn. Self centered—" Daniel grimaced and gave Jack a tight smile. "No, she really wasn't self centered—"
"No, she wasn't," Jack agreed.
"She kept me on my toes."
Jack smiled. "Vala sounds like an archaeologist I know."
"Really?" Daniel canted his head at Jack. "I thought she sounded like a general I know." He walked back to the chair and sat. "And that's why I bought the tickets."
"You bought the tickets because of Vala?"
Daniel dropped backwards into the chair, scowling at Jack. "No. I mean yes. I mean—"
Jack pointed at Daniel. "Listen to me," he commanded. "What happened to Vala was *not* your fault."
"No, that's were you're wrong. It's one hundred percent my fault." Daniel leaned his head on the back of the chair and spoke to the ceiling. "I forgot to listen, Jack." There was no mistaking the sound of amazement in Daniel's voice. The shock over what he had done. "God, after what she went through I refused to hear what she had to say."
"Let me reiterate—"
"Damn it!" Suddenly, Daniel sat up, his eyes narrowed to slits as he glared at Jack. "Don't you understand? She said I wouldn't listen to her." He pounded his chest. "Me! And you know what?" he shouted.
"What," Jack answered.
"She was right. I didn't listen. And she went off alone. Vala was by herself when—" Daniel dropped his gaze. "I abandoned and she went off unaided. I cast her aside like she was—"
Jack bent forward and grabbed Daniel's knee, then squeezed hard enough to force Daniel to look at him. "Stop it," he murmured.
"Don't you see, I wouldn't listen to you either, I was so hell bent—"
"Daniel," he said softly, patting the knee under his fingertips, allowing them to linger when Daniel didn't object. "What in god's name does Vala have to do with mortality?"
"Vala and mortality. Strange correlation, you know. I complained about her and every possible thing that the woman did or didn't do, but she showed me how lonely I was. How alone and isolated, and I've been seesawing over the option of either hunting her down and killing her or rewarding the woman with the treasure of Avalon in gratitude for shoving into my face that I don't want to go through the rest of my life feeling so segregated and isolated, existing only for research and discovery." Automatically, he patted the hand still resting on his knee. "Not anymore." Daniel shrugged. "*That's" why I came to Washington. I don't want to die lonely."
"That's why I slept with Kerry. Had sex with her. Dinner. Breakfast." It was Jack's turn to stand up and pace. "When you disappeared this time, and we didn't have any idea, I kept hoping… " Jack swallowed so hard, Daniel could see the movement of his Adam's apple. "Hope and faith at the SGC, hell that was easy. Arguing with Carter. Refusing a memorial service. Make quips about your bungeeness—"
Jack exhaled in exasperation and made a bouncing moving with his hand. "Bungee—"
Daniel nodded in understanding.
"I could survive your disappearance in the light of day, Daniel. It was at night, in bed, that I couldn't lie to myself. And your fear of the Ori had nothing on how I felt lying there, in that bed, not knowing. Remembering." Jack shook his head. "And I couldn't do it. I'm sorry."
"It *never* would have been another man. Ever. There was—I never—that part of me is only for you. I would never have—" Jack stuck his hands deeply into his pockets and rocked back and forth. "I suck at this stuff."
"Yeah, you do," Daniel said with the hint of a smile, "but I understand what you're trying to say." His smile broadened. "We're guys," he waved his hand between the two of them.
"And that means?"
Daniel stood. "We awkwardly approach each other." Both he and Jack took a step forward.
"Oh, and then we do the hug thing like they do in sports and your team wins—" Jack said.
"Or when you and your teammates are reunited after saving the world—"
"I remember that hug. The one where I called you—"
"Yeah, that one," Daniel amended hastily.
They were standing so close to one another, Daniel could see where Jack had nicked himself shaving.
"So now what?" Jack asked as he raised then dropped his hands to his side.
"We do what the note says - 'everyone needs a vacation'."
"Daniel, I just can't take off—"
"The tickets are for this Saturday departure. Open ended return. I'm thinking seven days of mountains. Cabin. Fresh air. The occasional fish."
"Let's not talk about the fish, okay."
"Okay, we can talk about the fireplace, the hearth rug, the bed."
"Seven?" Jack squeaked. "I just can't *leave*."
"You have tomorrow to go in and clear up any loose ends."
"And you? Hank… Landry is just letting you leave?"
"Bungee Jackson, you said it yourself, Jack. I always come back."
He nodded. "No problem, General Landry sorta pushed my butt out the door after Vala and Mitchell is so enamored to have Sam and Teal'c back he won't notice I'm missing for about a week."
* * *
The blanket wasn't thick enough to disguise how uncomfortable the boards of the dock were, but Daniel concentrated on the warmth of the sun to draw his attention away from the nicks and dips in the wood. He shifted to the left and found a crevice which would work for a while.
Bad ideas were not an uncommon occurrence in Daniel's life, and deciding that 'everyone needs a vacation' was right up there in the top ten.
* * *
The fact that he had stayed outside the majority of the day without Jack running interference with water, food, or conversation was confirmation that he, too, was experiencing a sense of failure. He sat up then rubbed his forearms in an attempt to stave off the late afternoon chill, gave up, threw on his shirt then stood. He gathered up the blanket, his shoes and stomped off towards the cabin.
"This isn't working."
Jack used the book he had been reading to point to Daniel's nose. "You're a little red."
Daniel threw the blanket at Jack, knocking the book from his hands.
Jack tossed the blanket aside and applauded. "Well, it's about fuckin' time."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"This isn't working," Jack mimicked. "Damn straight it isn't working. And it won't work unless you admit to yourself—I slept with someone else. Had sex with another person in our bed—you're trying too hard to pretend it didn't happen. And that's not working. You've slept on the couch. I can't even approach you without you moving away from me." Jack shook his head. "I was wondering how long it was going to take you before you even noticed. Forty eight hours, actually twenty four longer than I thought it would. Kinda says something about me and you."
Daniel blanched. "You explained to me why. I understood."
"Understood? Understanding has nothing to do with this."
"Did you lie?"
"No. No," Jack answered. "I didn't lie. But what I didn't tell you was how pissed off I was that you died again—"
Daniel wobbled his head back and forth. "Well jeeze, Jack. I'm sorry if my dying made you angry. You're going to blame me for that?"
"No. Actually, you're going to share the blame with me. 'Cause I sent you on that mission." Jack stuck his thumb into this chest. "The real reason I'm in Washington is because I'm a coward. Because I can't watch you go through the 'gate on my orders knowing that maybe you won't return."
"So you're going to let someone else—" Daniel's finger's made air quotes," do the dirty work for you?"
"Yes," Jack shouted. "I am and until you've walked a mile in my shoes don't you dare decide to judge me."
Daniel threw his hands up in surrender. "I wouldn't dare judge you. But the same goes for you."
Jack glared at Daniel through narrowed eyes. "Are you being sarcastic?"
Daniel opened his mouth to speak then slammed it shut with an audible snap of his jaw, before sinking wearily down to the floor and leaning against the bookcase. "Some vacation, huh?"
"We never do anything easy."
"Or right," Daniel added.
Jack stuck his foot out and prodded Daniel's leg. "What happened when you were gone this time?"
Daniel pushed Jack's leg aside. "Nothing happened."
"Same old, same old." He shrugged. "I don't remember."
"I don't even have to see your face to know you're lying."
Daniel stood and walked over to the fireplace then picked up a photo, an old one of Jack, barely out of his teens, standing in front of his first brand new car. "You want to know what happened? I'll tell you." Long fingers dusted the glass on the frame before he put it back. "Be careful what you wish for, Jack." He turned and glued Jack to the chair with a look. "I saw it," he said with a wave of his hand. "I saw it all. You wanted to know how I knew what to say to Sam to bring her and Pete back together? Two reasons." He held up two fingers as an aid. "Jacob asked me to." Daniel tucked one finger against the palm of his hand, then waved the remaining finger at Jack. "And I was privy to the conversation between Sam and Pete where she ended the engagement."
"Jacob? But Jacob's—"
"Yeah, I know. Dead. He and I had an up close and personal discussion while he was on his death bed."
"I'm coming into the middle of the movie, Daniel. How about starting at the beginning?"
"Beginning?" He inhaled deeply and the exhalation was slow and measured through pursed lips. "Okay, here goes. After replicator Sam killed me…"
"Killed you? I thought the weapon disintegrated her ship—"
"I was dead before that, thankfully, because that's what brought Oma running to my side. So I was whisked away before the ship was destroyed."
"And you ended up?"
"Oh you know, the usual glowy-type out-of-this-world scenario."
"Um, no, I don't."
"Oh, right." He chewed on his lower lip, trying to come up with the right visuals. "Try to imagine The Twilight Zone and the Ghost of Christmas Past all rolled up in one."
When Jack frowned, Daniel explained further. "Bad enough she brought me to the diner where my grandfather took me after my parents' funeral but she gave me bad coffee, good waffles and I was stuck there for God knows how long."
"Oh shit," Jack answered sympathetically. "Head games?"
"No, those started when Skaara showed up. As a short order cook in the diner."
Jack chuckled at the image, Oma was one thing, but Skaara? "Skaara a cook? Was he wearing an apron and a chef's hat with his—?" He made twisting motions down the front of his shirt to signify the young man's dreadlocks.
"Apron, yes. Hat, no."
Jack took in the solemn expression on Daniel's face, and the laughter faded away. "You aren't kidding, are you?"
Daniel shook his head. "And Kasuf was there on Abydos."
"How did you go from the diner to Abydos?" Jack couldn't ignore the growing look of impatience Daniel was wearing. "Forgive me. Right, glowy things, I forgot."
"An amazing cast of characters. Pete, Sam, Jacob… hell, I was even with Teal'c and Bra'tac on Dakara. I reveled in their glory. Their victory. It was pretty damn impressive."
"So I've heard."
"No one could see me… well Skaara and Kasuf did."
"Of course they did," Jack placated. "They *are* part of the glow population."
"Oh, and Jacob. Jacob could see me," Daniel pursed his lips in concentration. "I guess it had something to do with him being on his death bed." Daniel was taken back at the smile of amusement on Jack's face.
"You don't believe me?"
"I didn't say that."
"You don't have to." Daniel pointed at Jack. "Your body language speaks for you."
"Well you had to admit, from where I sit, it sounds like a scene out of the Wizard of Oz, you know, the end one where Dorothy…"
"I saw you and Kerry in bed," Daniel blurted out.
"You saw me and Kerry?"
"In living color."
"No. No." Jack made a bad taste expression on his face. "You must have imagined—"
"It wasn't my imagination." Daniel reached his hand across his body and patted his opposite shoulder. "Right there. She's got a tattoo of two hearts and a—"
"Ribbon," Jack finished. "You saw."
"Oh God, you saw. You really saw."
"Yes, Jack. I saw." Daniel spoke slowly. Twice. In your house. At the barbeque and then in your bedroom…"
"You saw," Jack repeated like a broken record.
Slowly, Daniel nodded, then touched his nipples. "You touched her here, with hands that—" The smile on his face wavered. "I know very well."
"I thought someone told you," Jack stammered.
"It would have been easier if someone *had* told me. Instead I have the personal images—"
"Of me and her."
"Every time you come near me." Daniel went to wrap his arms around himself, then dropped them to his side. "I thought my need would tip the scales in our favor. I was wrong. Participating in a covert operation that I'm not privy to is one thing. Betrayal is another. I wish I could tell you I was a better man than I am." He looked at Jack, taking in the set of his jaw, the sadness in those eyes and knew he was right. "But that would be a lie."
* * *
The dock was the lesser of two evils. Daniel had no desire to tromp through the surrounding woods or trek on the dirt road in an area he wasn't familiar with so once again, he ended up on the dock, this time in one of the ancient wooden chairs he had dragged from the porch.
He heard a sound, turned then shook his head as he watched Jack drag the companion chair to his from the porch, over the weeds to the dock, cursing loudly ever step of the way.
Jack straddled the chair, gripping the arms, settling its legs on the dock before he sat. "These chairs have *never* left the porch. My grandfather built them in the evening hours while sitting on the porch steps and there they stayed." Jack slumped down in the chair, extending his legs. "Though I must admit they are a bit more comfortable than the flimsy folding chairs." He wobbled his ass from side to side. "More sturdy for fishing."
Jack waved the comment away with his hand and a smile. "Whatever."
"No, you look, Daniel." The soft tone of Jack's voice took the edge off the words. "You needed to face your anger before we could move on."
"Move on." Daniel sighed out the words. "I'm leaving tomorrow. There's a flight—"
"Move on. Not everyone needs a vacation."
"No, everyone *does* need a vacation, they just need to make sure who they're bringing with them." Jack held up a finger as a warning to Daniel to let him finish. "We couldn't bring who we used to be. We tried and look what happened. We've changed. In the past year, we've grown in ways that we never would have foreseen nine years ago. We've done—I've done things I'm not proud of. Your influence in my life has forced me to see the world in a way I never would have. I don't deserve your forgiveness for Kerry and I won't ask for it." Jack reached for Daniel's hand. "But I will ask if you can honestly live with it."
They sat in silence, Jack's hand eventually drifting from Daniel's fingers to the nape of his neck, squeezing the tight muscles before slowly meandering its way back to Jack's lap.
"I'm thinking of a big bowl of beef stew from that great restaurant in town. The one with the—"
Daniel snapped his fingers. "That's the one. Strange name but they put the basket of fresh home baked biscuits on the table. You know the ones I mean."
"Sure do." Jack stood up and stretched. "Now I'm so hungry, I'm salivating. Let's go."
* * *
Daniel picked up the last roll in the basket, smiled at Jack's pout and split the roll in half, handing the larger piece over to Jack. "We could just ask for another basket." Daniel swept up the lake of gravy on his plate with the biscuit and bit into it, with a moan of appreciation. "Good stuff."
His hands locked around his mug of beer, his thumb running up and down in the condensation. "We have five more days of vacation."
Jack licked the gravy left behind off of his fingers. "You're not leaving tomorrow?"
"No," he answered softly.
He left the beer untouched, wiped the moisture on his pants and sat back against the padded booth. "For a long time when I remembered Sha're, all I could recall was how she looked as a Goa'uld. I couldn't see *her* anymore or hear her voice. Slowly, she came back to me." He tapped his temple. "So many memories in here. A year's worth of laughter and love, fighting and sex. It took time, Jack, but Sha're came back to me and now when I remember, she's all I see. My love for Sha're overwrote Ammonet.
"One year I had with Sha're. *One*. But her voice carried over time and distance, and I listened as it overflowed with memories. And it reminded me of how much we loved each other and allowed me to remember her on Abydos when she was my wife and not Ammonet." He snatched up the mug of beer and drained half, then licked his lips before replacing it back on the table. "Am I a blithering idiot or did I make any sense whatsoever?"
"Made perfect sense."
"Good," Daniel said, finishing the rest of his beer before raising his hand to signal for the waiter. "Let's get the hell outta here."
* * *
By the light of three oil lamps sitting on the porch, they had dragged the two chairs back to their place of origin. Daniel was using the bottom of the bottle of beer Jack had just handed to him to scratch at his calf.
"Mosquitoes," Jack explained.
Daniel switched the beer to the other hand and then used his nails to scratch through his jeans. "Aaagrh."
"You are such a wimp, taken down by a few bug bites."
"A few! A few?" Daniel tried to force his jeans upwards to show the evidence to Jack.
"Stop," Jack laughed with a gentle tap of his bottle to Daniel's hand. "Scratching will only make it worse."
Daniel gave in with a grunt of displeasure, then raised his beer in salute to the sky. "We've been all over the universe but there's something about seeing the constellations on this side of the 'gate."
"Hear. Hear." Jack brought his bottle up to Daniel's and the two clinked, then drank in unison, with Jack finishing first. "Daniel. I ummm—about—"
"We have years of memories, Jack."
"Four years, six months, three days—" Jack's voice trailed off when Daniel blinked at him in amazement.
"You know the exact day and date?"
Jack shrugged guiltily. "Sue me, I'm a tad anal about certain things."
"Is that with or without ascension?"
"Not funny, Daniel." Jack's voice was gruff.
"Well actually, your math is a little off, 'cause it should be four years, six months and eight days."
"Eight days?" Jack's eyebrows drew together in puzzlement.
Daniel took another drink of beer. "You didn't calculate the remaining five days of vacation."
Jack leaned over and patted Daniel on the shoulder. "See, I told you everyone needs a vacation."
"I didn't forget about you and Kerry." Daniel gazed at the remaining beer in his bottle then lifted it to his lips, changed his mind and instead put it down next to his chair.
"I know." Jack finished his beer, then rolled the empty bottle between his palms. "I just wanted to make sure—I didn't want you to pretend it never happened. Because it did."
"Like Sha're and Ammonet happened." Daniel changed his mind, reached down, snatched up his beer and drank.
"Memories. Voices carry. I'm I getting the idea?" Jack asked.
The beer finished, Daniel sucked in his lips until they disappeared, then nodded.
"And time," Jack added, taking both his and Daniel's empties and putting them next to his chair.
"One hundred twenty hours worth of time, give or take sleeping requirements." Daniel propped his feet up on the railing and began to vigorously scratch the bites.
"You know," Jack said, latching onto Daniel's hand to squash the frantic movement. "My grandma always used to spit on a napkin and put saliva on my bites."
Jack's thumb began to trace an interesting pattern on the palm of Daniel's hand. "Saliva. Yup."
"Spit on a napkin?"
"Well, grandma wasn't gonna *lick* me."
Jack brought Daniel's hand up to his mouth and on the center of his palm he gave a teasing flick of his tongue.
"Oh," Daniel said, clearing his throat. "That could work."
"It will," Jack agreed. "Grandma never steered me wrong."
"I can see this licking thing being an interesting memory." Daniel squeezed Jack's fingers.
"We're very secluded here, so if you need that voices carry thing to help you commit grandma's home remedy to memory, feel free to be as loud as you want."
Daniel began to scratch with his free hand and Jack gave him a lascivious smile which Daniel slowly returned.
"This is your dance, Daniel. You lead the way, okay?"
Without hesitation he nodded. Already the images of Jack and Kerry were fading, taking on a distorted view, their clarity dissipating in the wake of Jack's presence. "Turn down the lamps, Jack, and let's go to bed."
"Eventually." Daniel continued scratching his leg. "Right now I thought we would work on storing up a memory or two."
This fic was written for the wonderfully patient Molly Casey who won my services in the Moonridge Auction. Molly requested, quite nicely I might add, a fic that answered, among other things, the question of "exactly what happened in the diner after Oma left" and Voices Carry was the result. Thank you, Molly, for having such enormous faith in my words.
To my beta, jo, who went above and beyond the call of duty with this story, a simple 'thank you' never seems enough. To those close to my heart, thanks.
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