All the way home, Jack hears Carter's voice in his head.
It isn't the first time he's had to put up with that particular misery - her lectures have come back to haunt him at the damndest times, worse than getting the hook of a catchy song stuck in his head - but it's the first time he's had to squash down dread because of her words.
Carter has always had a talent for dropping bits of information like time bombs. She knows how to acquire a target; she is, after all, an expert marksman. Jack has been on to her game for years, but it still gets to him. Especially when she gives him that look, expectant and sharp, like she's searching for something buried inside him, some sort of confirmation of her instincts.
This time she'd waited until they were alone in the corridor on Level 28, hunting for remnants of their enemy. Replicator bits had fallen from the sky like chaos raining down, scattering into shadowed corners. Sweeping the entire facility had been a big job. It had taken twelve hours even with the utilization of all available manpower, and no one could leave until it was done. Just in case, Jack had told them. They couldn't afford to miss anything - some of the bugs might still be intact.
Carter's voice echoes through his head, over and over and...he'd been busy looking for his enemy, and had overlooked his friend. He got that. But Carter couldn't let it go, couldn't leave it alone.
Jack thinks she's the most virulent form of conscience there is - a friend who has his best interests in mind. It can be the kiss of death for a commanding officer.
Still, he listens. Because she makes sense; because he knows where she's going, and because he is halfway down the road himself. Good intentions underfoot, but it's rough territory.
"O'Neill. The sweep of Level 26 is complete. We are proceeding to Level 27." Teal'c sounded exhausted; his deep voice was hoarse.
"We're about done here on 28. Think that's the last of it. Report back when 27's clean." Jack glanced around at the airmen swarming the corridor - an odd mirror of the replicators - and grumbled out loud. "We could use Daniel's help down here."
"One person won't make that much difference, sir." Carter was emptying the magnetic sweeper into the bin. The loud clatter of metal on metal made Jack wince.
"That's not the point." Jack glanced into the bin; almost full. Christ, but there had been a lot of those things - whatever the hell they'd been eating, they'd created a small army. They hadn't even begun to assess the damage done. If things had gone on much longer, they would never have been able to contain the threat.
Jack shook himself free of foreboding. Time for one of the airmen to take the bin downstairs and dispose of the goddamned things forever in a nice, warm acid bath.
That was when Carter said it - casually, like an afterthought. "Daniel's in the infirmary, sir."
Jack thought of Daniel on the floor in the embarkation room and took an inventory. Talking: check. Breathing: check. Accusing eyes that made Jack want to crawl through the floor, knock Daniel out, touch that wet face: triple check. The guy was vibrating with anger and misery the last time Jack saw him, so all the neurons were still firing. He was alive.
That fact registered hard with Jack: Daniel was alive. The rest was incidental.
Not to Daniel, though. Never to Daniel.
"He seemed fine to me."
"Did he?" Everything about Carter was suddenly distant. And the 'sir' had dropped away, for the moment.
Jack was distracted by the task at hand. He gave in to the tunnel vision, since it was easier to ignore Carter's point that way. He knew what she was getting at, but it was too much to think about that and the replicator round-up all at once.
Task-focused to the extreme; that's what his efficiency reports said. Singular devotion to duty and an ability to screen out all superfluous stimuli. Able to zero in on the business at hand and dispose of it. Over the years he'd managed to find ways to compensate for that, to look at the big picture and make decisions accordingly. Once in a while, though, that old single-focus trait came in handy.
He hadn't been thinking much about what would happen to Reese, but she popped into his head suddenly, with her eyes closed and her face serene. Her days were always numbered. The Asgard would want her, if they could be reached. Jack still had her power source safe in his pocket. Maybe Thor and his buddies could figure out how to fix her, turn her on and keep her under control. She'd be in storage until then in a box somewhere, a glass coffin where her beauty could be admired and her danger concealed.
No chance of waking her with a kiss this time around. Prince Charming had moved on.
He grasped the radio and keyed up once again. "SG-one-niner to any available personnel. I need an airman on Level 28 to move a bin to the disposal area."
"Copy that, sir." The tinny voice was disembodied, indistinct. Jack didn't recognize the person behind it.
Carter sighed. Not an obvious sigh, not the kind designed to draw attention or solicit a question; more the kind that signaled she was fed up. Jack had heard that sigh a hundred times in five years. He knew it intimately. There was an expression that went with that sound, a tight, focused look full of the pain of biting back words it wasn't wise to say. He could swear it was a look all airmen learned in basic training, so common was the expression. He'd even seen it in the mirror from time to time.
He just didn't want to see it on Carter right then.
"Let's move on to--"
"Sir, we really should--"
"No, Carter. No. I do not want to hear this now."
"Permission to speak freely, sir?"
Fuck that, Jack thought. But it was contrary to his personal philosophy, to his idea of what leadership was about, even if it broke him in two. "What did I just say?" he asked.
"I heard what you said. Sir." She bit the word off; it was harsh and brittle, and he'd had enough of that, enough of the scratching of metal and the destruction of things he loved, and he was tired, fucking tired of it all.
"Fine. Let's have it. But Carter - I don't want to hear about how right Daniel was."
"Do you really think that's where I'm headed with this, sir?" She stood there, with a magnet in one hand and a broom in the other, looking like some sort of demented housewife, and he felt half-invisible in her gaze. "Because I have to tell you, you're completely wrong."
"Of course I am," he murmured, and his back was to the wall, and he slid down it. The metal detector in his hand clattered to the ground.
"Sir..." Carter looked at him with something like pity, as though he could never comprehend the places she was about to travel to. "I've never been one to say that the military perspective was all right, or all wrong, but Daniel...he's not military, sir. It doesn't matter how hard we try to think of him that way. It's not who he is."
"Maybe not, but that's what we are. This team. Aren't we?" Jack put his head down on folded arms for a moment.
"If by 'we', you mean SG-1, then yes, sir. But the sum of each of us is not what we do as a part of this team. And Daniel...sir, sometimes, I think it tears him apart." She said it reluctantly, as though he would react to the words with reciprocal pain.
"You'd be right about that, Carter. But he has a job to do, and dammit, he's going to do it. Otherwise, he's no fucking good to any of us." The savage anger behind his words surprised him, gave him clues to the depth of his own fear, but it didn't matter. Carter had it all figured out anyway. Or so she thought.
"No. No." He gestured at her angrily. "Do not tell me Daniel gets a free ride on this one. He's wrong. This went down as it should have. What the hell was I supposed to do?"
"What you did," Carter said. Her stare was fixed on an imaginary point on the wall. Better than staring at him, Jack was sure. Her voice wavered, just a bit; Jack could have chalked it up to exhaustion, but he knew better. She looked down at him, her face full of sadness. "But what the hell was he supposed to do, sir? We all do our jobs."
"Exactly," Jack said, and closed his eyes tightly. Images came to him, without being summoned. Daniel, dead in the gateroom. Daniel, overcome by the replicators.
"You finished?" he asked Carter, and his voice was tight, pulled in as tight as it could be. No slack, no room to spare.
"Apparently so, sir." She looked almost as though she might cry; wouldn't be the first time. Not for her, or any of them. Too many tears had been shed in the time his team had been together. "Some things go deeper than cuts and bruises, sir."
"Well, no kidding, Major."
She flinched. Still, Carter was a pro, and she didn't let on how hard it hit. She'd had practice. "I'll go to 27 and help Teal'c, sir."
When she was gone, he made himself get up, made himself walk to the elevator, hit the button, ride to Level 21. He walked to the infirmary with nothing in mind except seeing Daniel, seeing for himself how deep it had burrowed in, but Daniel wasn't there. He was gone; he had a pass, out the door and off base. He'd gone home.
It made him sick, the sure understanding that Daniel didn't want to be there anymore with the rest of them. Some things didn't have to be spelled out; they were understood.
Carter had been trying to tell him - maybe Daniel had, too - but he hadn't heard.
The house is dark when he arrives. He doesn't expect to be greeted at the door, but a light on in the kitchen would be nice. It makes Jack vaguely nervous, sets his teeth on edge in ways he never expected. Sure, he's come home alone a thousand times to empty rooms, but he'd thought those days were behind him. Since Daniel moved in, everything has changed. Or maybe it hasn't, and he's just been too blind to notice.
He switches on the hall light and listens for tell-tale signs of occupation. Funny word to pick - occupied territory, a place that's his and yet not his, an uncharted place that is still wild, where there are barriers and fences and...oh, yes, land mines, scattered everywhere in his path.
It's a danger he's faced before. None of it can hold him back.
"Daniel?" he says, softly, listening for a reply. There is only silence.
Jack shrugs off his jacket and makes his way to the bedroom. On a normal night, he might stop at the fridge for a beer, but he's too tired and there are more important things on his mind.
He switches on a lamp in the hallway, but hesitates at the bedroom door. Light spills across the darkened room.
Daniel is sprawled across the bed. A sheet is wrapped around him, loose and twisted, and his hand is cradled close to his chest. Jack wonders just how bad that injury is, if it will hurt in the morning or if it's something minor, pain easily dispatched with pills and caution.
Without a sound, Jack sheds his clothes and crawls up on the bed beside Daniel. This is familiar, this mixture of cold sheets and soft breath, and Daniel's body turning to greet him.
Only this time, the blue eyes snap open and there's something new there - a kind of wary blankness, weary and dark.
He tries to speak, to make amends, but Daniel's hand covers his mouth in the half-light, hushing him. He's not sure if this is because of what he might say, or because of the pristine silence of their house, of the places they inhabit together. So little is really theirs; to ruin it would be a travesty, an unforgivable transgression into the life they share.
Jack looks into Daniel's eyes, sees blood there. Nothing superficial, but deep blows to the soul, bruises against innocence, and they make his heart ache in ways he could never have predicted. This is what he was afraid of, this sacrifice of principle, this ending of things before they were fully begun, and it tears at him, rendering him incomplete. Some part of Daniel is buried now, deep beneath layers of bone and ash. Jack knows, but his heart cries against it, and he moves, struggling to recover that which is already lost.
Daniel moves beneath him, thrusts up against him, and Jack can feel his own breath hitch inside his throat. Too late, now, for so many words, but he doesn't stop. His lips brush against the rough stubble on Daniel's chin; he presses kisses to the closed eyes, and tastes salt there.
This is what they were meant for, the two of them. Each road comes to its end, and there are no signs, no markers to show where the tracks run off into tall grass. They both know it, now, no matter how hard they've tried to pretend, to ignore all the signs of the cataclysm, but it's here now and there's no going back.
He catches Daniel's lips beneath his own to stop the frantic flow of words from that tongue, stifles the movement with his kiss. They writhe together, separate and apart, yet joined in all the ways that make them true, and neither can think of a time this was not what was essential to life, to living and becoming what each of them most wanted to be.
Daniel turns his face against Jack's skin. His words cling there, unremembered; fragments of passion.
There's a hemorrhage of time, of possibility, of all things that could have been and may yet have come to pass, and it's rushing away from them like blood from an open wound, bone deep and painful.
Doors ring shut in the darkness as they reach for one another, as worlds collide, as they confront their disparities. There is no respite now, no place to hide, and they become one, lost in sensation and denial and all the things that linger between them, the desperate truths of their lives buried in need and desire, burning in the abyss of what their lives can never be.
He memorizes the sound of Daniel's voice, the space of his breaths against Jack's skin, the way his eyes close when he comes in Jack's arms. This is the last time, he thinks - the last moment he will know this kind of happiness, this kind of fragile truth. The last time he will have everything he needs in his arms, the last time his needs will be answered without question.
In the morning, Daniel will be gone. Jack sets the certainty aside, waits for the inevitable despair, but it never manifests. He whispers words of love, truths he has taken many years to realize, but they can't make any difference now. Nothing can, really. It will never matter how hard they try, how desperately they want each other; some doors are closed, and their codes erased. It's safer that way. Clean and quick, without complications.
They sigh against each other, complete and incomplete, halves of a whole that will soon be torn in two. Nothing can withstand this pain Jack feels; he breathes out, knowing he has just surrendered everything he needed, everything he was destined to be, with Daniel.
Too late, Jack begins to understand. The stain of sadness lingers on, impermeable, permanent. True and real, in ways nothing ever has been, or ever will be again.
All the way home, Jack heard Carter's voice in his head. It sings him to sleep in the night, with Daniel's body hard against his own. Deeper than cuts and bruises, she said, and it was true.
Some things can't be mended; some pain is meant to be endured.
Some wounds can never heal.
|Summary:||Some wounds cut bone deep.|
Author's Chapter Notes:
This is a very sad piece, without a happy ending.