Dead soldiers. Jack had never heard where the expression came from, but he could see the symbolism - empty, without function or purpose, abandoned, their insides drained away. He supposed that kind of expression should offend a military man, should bring to mind images best left buried in the subconscious, but they were just words. Words only had power if he accepted their meaning, their purpose.
He lined up his dead soldiers along the mantelpiece above the blazing fire. Ten bottles and counting, with the light glinting off the brown surfaces, turning them to molten amber. He had a long way to go before he was good and drunk, but not for lack of trying.
Barely 6PM. Darkness had just fallen. People were still coming home from work, kissing their kids, feeding their dogs. Putting the groceries away and starting dinner. Ordinary, everyday things, leading up to a little foreplay with the wife on the couch, and then maybe sex, and then the peaceful oblivion of sleep. Sleep came easiest late at night, when the world had settled down, and only the restless kind were out and about.
Silence wasn't really silent. Even at night, when most people were dead to the world, when there were fewer signs and sounds of life, there was no true silence. At best, it could be called quiet, or perhaps stillness. There were too many people, and the world continued on. Jack found that comforting.
He had a new appreciation for silence. Inside the cockpit of the X-301, he had learned what it was like to be surrounded by the endless, soundless void of space, and the only noise was his own harsh breathing, and the incessant turmoil of his thoughts. Teal'c had meditation to fall back on, but Jack had nothing but a restless mind.
The answering machine clicked on and Sam's voice came through. She sounded warm, Jack thought, and concerned. "Sir? We're heading out for steaks...just thought you might like to join us. We'd love to have you. We should make it to O'Malley's around 9. You could meet us there...if you want." She paused, then said. "We hope we'll see you there."
Jack upended the bottle and drank all of it down without stopping to breathe.
He set the bottle down a little too roughly on the table - the chink of glass against wood told him so - and then lifted himself off the couch. One more beer. He had plenty. He'd stocked up.
He couldn't quite remember how he had learned to keep his mind active, even when his body was still. It was an old prisoner-of-war trick; build your house one brick at a time, write a novel, walk the world one step at a time. Probably one of those things he'd learned in survival training, though it didn't stand out. He might just as easily have picked it up from watching Papillon.
He was supposed to be specific about the worlds he built in his mind; those were the rules of the game. He'd started out to be, for the sake of his sanity - but darkness and cold had played strange tricks on him as he waited to die in that death ship.
First thing that had come to mind was Charlie, so he'd gone back to his son's birth and begun to reconstruct his life. That led only to wistful thoughts of seeing his son again, and he wasn't ready to go there, not even for a split second - too close to giving up, and he wasn't going to give up to that bastard Apophis - so he started down a different path.
He rebuilt his own life, from the cradle to the cockpit, to what he hoped would not be his grave. He skipped some fragments of memory, things without significance. Certain thoughts would cling to him, begging to be remembered. His wedding, his first command, the birth of his son, the death of his boy.
The phone rang again. The machine picked up and filtered the muted voice - Daniel's voice. "Jack, it's me. I'm, uh, not sure if Sam called you, but we're doing dinner tonight. Teal'c, too. All of us. We just thought, or rather I should say, we hoped you would join us. We'll save you a chair. It'd be great to see you there...you know. Okay. Well. Hope to see you later."
Jack closed his eyes.
Jack liked to work with his hands. It brought him a kind of tactile comfort, the zen monotony of sweat dripping from his forehead as he slowly chipped and scraped his way across an ocean of blue floor tile or sanded down shelves in the garage. Not very exciting, but necessary, productive. Even enjoyable, under the right circumstances.
He'd done that kind of work all day. Raw physical labor, designed to obliterate thought and make him tired, so he could sleep. Fraiser's orders; one day of down time to allow his body and mind to equalize. It hadn't helped.
Between thoughts of the work still to be done on the tile, he imagined other things he might do with his hands. He was talented in that way. Cast a fishing line, disassemble a weapon.
Punch up a familiar number on the phone.
He wouldn't be able to sleep. He knew it, but he couldn't make himself drink until he passed out, either. Long experience told him the regrets he'd hold from that would be more costly than a little wasted sleep.
The answering machine drew him, held him in thrall in the alcove. He pressed play, but Carter's message besieged him. He deleted it. Just Daniel's message was left. Daniel, making the same invitation, but in a different voice. Rewind, then rewind again. Endless replay. Almost like touch, the sound of the familiar, something to sink his need into.
Like a lifeline.
Toss, turn. Rise for water, to take a piss, to check the doors and windows. No need for the paranoia, but it was built into his way of life. He couldn't abandon it now.
He turned on his stomach, with the pillow cool against his cheek. The interior of the ship had only been a frame for the deep black of space outside. Once upon a time, Jack had wanted to go there, to get lost in the vast beauty of the stars. It had been a kid's dream, that idea. He'd never stopped to consider danger. The risks seemed a lot closer at mid-life than when he was young and invincible.
Those risks hadn't bothered him five years before. Not until Abydos, and Daniel.
The phone was in his hand. He had a vague idea of the why, but not of what would come after. He wasn't really ready to concede too much until he'd figured it out.
The sleepy voice on the other end of the phone was pure guilt to Jack. He listened, heard, "Hello? Hel-lo?" Then a pause, and, "Okay..."
He hung up.
Ten seconds later, the phone rang. Jack ignored it. The answering machine was his all-purpose problem solver, after all.
"Jack, it's me. Are you okay? Um. I know it was you, Jack. Please pick up the phone." A long pause, so long Jack thought Daniel had hung up, and then: "If something's wrong, I...uh... call me. But don't hang up, next time."
Jack wouldn't call. He wished Daniel hadn't called him back. Better to be able to pretend that he wasn't fucked. Daniel wasn't helping.
No point in staying in bed, if he wasn't going to sleep. He got up, went to the kitchen. Poked around in the refrigerator.
He supposed they were all wondering why he hadn't shown up for work that day. Hammond's special dispensation; one day off, the better to start his weekend with. He rarely asked for time off. No questions asked - George was just that way. He'd just marked a line on his calendar, to remind himself of Jack's leave, and went on without another word.
If he'd gone to work, it would have been a rough day. Early morning briefing, choosing missions, discussing Goa'uld activity. Acting as though everything was normal, when everything had changed in the goddamn universe. Even if he was the only one who knew, he couldn't bear to have them pretend.
When the briefing was over, he would have gone to see Carter. He would have made her uncomfortable, playing with her equipment and asking stupid questions. Carter would be patient. She'd get that smile, the one that looked like pain and suffering wrapped in a pink bow, and then she'd ignore him until he went away.
After that, he'd have stopped everywhere in search of a distraction. His own office, finally. And when all that failed, he'd have gone to find Daniel. He would have tried to resist, but he would have gone anyway.
Jack passed by the answering machine on the way to the couch, fresh beer in hand. Just Daniel's message, the only one, causing the little red light to flash. People rarely called anymore; he was never home, and when he was, he didn't return calls. Old friends understood. Telemarketers could go fuck themselves. The rest, he saw beneath the mountain every day.
He'd have gone to find Daniel, and once settled in his office, he'd have asked a question. Any question. Something Daniel couldn't help talking about. Any topic, but especially something complicated, to break the dam and make the flood come forth, to start Daniel talking, on and on without interruption, explaining every tiny detail of something Jack didn't give a fuck about. Daniel would talk - it was what he did - until Daniel should happen to look up with a puzzled expression and see Jack staring, see him *listening*...
Jack set down the beer. He was starving, and there wasn't anything to take the hunger away.
Before he swung his legs off the couch, Jack knew who it was. The visitor went from doorbell to knocking, and he was still going to be there in the morning if Jack didn't let him in.
Jack padded around the corner, bare feet curled against the cold floor, and opened the door.
Daniel squinted at him, without glasses. His hair was a wreck, barely combed. He looked as though he'd thrown on the oldest sweats he possessed.
"What're you doing here?" Jack asked, and the moment the words left his lips, he was back one year in the throes of lies, deception perpetrated to bring down Maybourne.
"Let's see. You called me in the middle of the night and then hung up on me. So it seemed reasonable to assume something was wrong," Daniel countered. He rubbed a hand over his head. It left a wake of standing hair, prickling in the light breeze.
"There's really nothing you can do."
"Well, I'm here now. So...invite me in."
Jack stood aside to let him in. Daniel gave him a strange look as he passed by, the one Jack had hoped to avoid. He went to the living room and dropped his keys on the table, then tossed his jacket on the arm of the couch. The corner of the couch belonged to him now. A default place, in Jack's world. Daniel settled in there, bleary on the outside but alert inside. Jack knew.
It was easy to roam around inside the mind, while the body was still. He'd done it. Listening to the hush of impending death around him, dreaming of boats and rivers and dark corners. *Digger One, come in*. Listening for the hook, the edge, the thing to pull him back in. Something. *Jack, Teal'c, please respond*.
"What's going on, Jack?"
"Decompressing," Jack said. He grabbed up the warm beer from the table. Daniel's eyes strayed to the line of empties over the fireplace. Jack hadn't bothered to clean them up.
"You've been busy," Daniel said. "That would have gone better with a steak."
"This isn't like you." Daniel sat up a little straighter. A yawn tried to force its way out, but he valiantly stifled it.
Jack thought about that statement. There were a few things he might say. He could point out Daniel really didn't know what the hell he was like. Too many stories left untold, hidden at the bottom of the bottles. Dead soldiers. There was a time lag, a lapse between the things he thought he might say and the pressing of tongue against teeth, willing the words out. "I was about to make some coffee."
"Is that an offer? Because it's 3AM. If I'm leaving, I'll need some to keep me awake on the drive home."
Quick look, of confirmation; Daniel was slouched against the pillows, as if he understood what he'd said. Jack wanted to ask him, to invite him into the closed space between metal walls, inside his head, in a space shot through with wanting.
"Yeah. Be right back."
The kitchen light had burned out. Not enough time to replace the bulb. He lacked motivation. The coffee in the tin was low.
*Hold tight, guys*.
"Jack?" Daniel's voice drifted in. "I was listening to the tape today. The last few transmissions you made before the rescue."
Scoop, drop. All systems go. Everything normal. Pour the water through and-
"I can't imagine what it was like for you out there."
Jack slammed the pot into the holder and flipped the switch. His hands found the edge of the counter and locked there. What had he been dreaming? Vast emptiness, filled with faces. A face. And a voice. Not the voice he should want. Not the face he should see.
A soft sound behind him. Daniel, finger on the switch, flicking it up and down. "I wondered why you were standing here in the dark."
"Got used to it up there. When the instrument lights were off, it was...a little unnerving."
"How can you see what you're doing?" Daniel asked softly.
"What, like I've never made coffee in my kitchen before?"
Daniel leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed. "I forget, sometimes. You're not blind, like I am."
*Message ends at...what time is it?...um...1947 Zulu*.
Jack watched the outline of the coffee pot; Daniel watched Jack. The edges of the counter were cool beneath Jack's fingers. The urge to touch was strong in the long hours, in the twilight of breathless sleep. He'd run his hands over unfamiliar instruments, melded and fused with alien technology, hardly seamless but functional, and dreamed of the future - sleek craft with integrated systems, safe and easy to fly, no traps for traitors. Form and function, perfect fit. Mind and body at one.
*We've got a new plan to reach you*.
Rich smell of roasted beans, without the dribbling sounds of water. Purity of sensation. Jack reached into the cupboard and brought down a mug. He poured Daniel a cup of coffee and handed it back to him.
"You're not having any?"
"It keeps me awake."
Even in the dark, he could see Daniel's amused smile. "And that's a problem because...?"
"When you leave, I'll be going to bed." He moved to the doorway and stopped there; Daniel blocked his way. An obstacle, unexpected.
"Maybe you should reconsider. You look..." Daniel hesitated. Jack raised his eyebrows. "...tired."
"Wasn't it you who pointed out the time?"
Daniel looked down at his mug and turned to the side; Jack passed by him and regained a place in the corner of his couch. He put his head back and closed his eyes. He *was* tired.
He couldn't hear Teal'c breathing, anymore. Couldn't hear his own heart, faintly beating, filling his senses. Couldn't imagine his skin free of the confines of cloth and equipment. Couldn't hear Daniel's voice, though he was close enough to touch.
The couch bounced slightly as Daniel sat down. They orbited each other, Jack thought, and on a good day, they missed colliding by the barest possible margin. There was a click as Daniel set the mug down.
"If you're waiting for a story, you're out of luck." Jack's voice sounded thin to his own ears.
"Just waiting. Is there a story to tell?"
Jack raised his head and locked eyes with Daniel. "If there was, I'm sure you'd drag it out of me, since you seem determined not to go until you get it."
The half-smile that crept over Daniel's face reached his eyes in record time.
Wood popped in the fireplace. Flashes of wanting filled Jack's memories, fabrications of an oxygen-starved brain. Hands. Bare skin. Blue eyes. Barriers between reality and regret - gloves and miles and distance, no way to touch the emptiness that grew warm and filled with the sound of a voice, with knowing. Listening to the darkness, to the miles of unconnected desires and needs, and the echo coming back, always coming back. *Hold tight, guys*.
On the ship, trying not to look too hard at Daniel, for fear of translating impulse to action. In his car, on the way home, remembering a lifeline, and barely making it to the door before he had to touch, to relieve the aching emptiness.
Daniel was watching him now. Jack had never been more naked. Outside, the world slept on in its cozy silence. Those people out there could afford the luxury of peace.
"You should go," Jack said. He got up, headed for the door. A clear signal, he supposed. Clearer than anything in his own head. "Thanks for coming over, Daniel. I mean that."
Daniel picked up his jacket and keys and followed Jack to the door. "Are you throwing me out?"
"Well...yes. I guess so."
Daniel reached up and closed his fingers over Jack's, where they lingered on the door. Slowly, easily, he pulled the door from Jack's grasp, tugged it away. It swung shut. Daniel leaned back, blocking the way, and looked. Only his eyes spoke.
Jack stepped back.
He'd been six, maybe seven, and his grandfather had shown him the ropes. How to patch a leaking boat. How to keep a worm on the hook. How to throw in a lifeline. The lake was calm, his grandfather said, but it won't always be so, Jackie. Pay attention, now. Sometimes people need rescuin' and they don't even know it.
Jack had always supposed some people thought it was easier to drown.
He reached out for Daniel, tugged on his sweatshirt, lifted him away from the door. Put his hand back and opened it, and let the cool night air come in. "G'night, Daniel."
He watched as Daniel made his way out on the porch, out of sight. He stood in the doorway, listening, as Daniel's car pulled away.
The light on the answering machine called to him, a beacon of madness. He stabbed at it with a finger, erasing the familiar, and drank a cup of bitter coffee. Sunrise, soon. Another day. Back to work.
|Summary:||Jack comes to terms with wanting something he can't have.|