The last that ever he saw him, Jack O'Neill was moving slowly through the trees, stepping from shade to shade, trying to avoid the light of the twin moons. Daniel peered through the interwoven stripes of light and dark. He couldn’t see Jack’s face, but his body language seemed more cautious than confident, more worried than wary. Was he the pursuer or the pursued?
Jack was on trial, on a deadly quest to solve a riddle, win the prize – oh, and avoid being killed. Daniel was only a few hundred yards away, but he might as well be on Earth, for all he could help – he was standing on the lip of a chasm that separated him from the other side. The natives, the Cassirans, had control of all the vehicles, ground and air, and they had forbidden the rest of SG-1 from helping their leader. Daniel could only watch and wait.
* * * * *
SG-1 had arrived on the planet the natives called Cassira to be greeted by friendly people in a technologically advanced society who promptly took them to their leaders. They were brought to a decorative large hall, bedecked in swathes of white and gold with black bordering. Still, it couldn’t be anything but an administrative building, judging from the busy employees who passed them on the way.
They were happy to establish relations with the Tau’ri, the lesser officials assured SG-1 – but first, there were certain preliminaries to go through. Eventually, they were issued into an large, ornate office to meet the First Official (who, Daniel assured Jack, was equivalent to a Prime Minister). There were soldiers outside and inside the office. Jack wondered if that was the Cassiran version of job security. The First Official was a tall man, with balding hair, pale blue eyes and thin lips. He took himself seriously. After introductions, the First Official ritually asked, “Who speaks for these people?”
“I do,” Jack assured him.
“Will you stand for your people, and prove that you are civilized, and worthy equals of my people?”
That sounded like a challenge. Just for once it would be nice to know the rules in advance, but really there was only one answer he could make.
“You must undergo Assessment of your abilities and loyalties. If you solve the riddle, overcome the obstacles and defeat your opponent, you will be proven worthy.”
Jack frowned. “Um, excuse me, defeat my opponent?”
The First Official nodded. “Yes, of course. You must kill him before he kills you. If he wounds you that, of course, will not count against you. Unless you die.”
Right, so much for knowing the rules in advance.
Daniel and Sam burst into excited protests. Teal’c scowled and looked menacing. Jack cut them all off with a sharp wave of his hand.
“Hold it! Okay, look, sir, I’m going to have to decline. On my planet, we call people civilized who don’t fight to the death. Obviously, we have different standards, so … we’ll just leave now and be on our merry way.” They all raised their weapons – to find that the soldiers weren’t merely decorative, and had guns pointing at them all.
Jack sighed, and lowered his P90. The rest of SG-1 lowered theirs as well. The Cassirans kept theirs pointed on target.
“You will undergo Assessment,” the Cassiran intoned. “If Colonel O’Neill fails, the others will be Assessed in turn. If both combatants die, your team will be escorted through the Travelers’ Ring, and not be permitted to return here.”
Daniel waved his hand. “First Official, sir?” he asked as SG-1’s weapons were taken.
The First Official frowned, but decided to be magnanimous. “Yes?”
“Sir, we’re a team. Colonel O’Neill is the leader, yes, but we each have different strengths and skill sets that we bring to the team. If we have to undergo Assessment, we should do it as a team.”
Jack was torn. Daniel was right, of course – SG-1 as a team was stronger than any of the individuals. On the other hand, he hated putting his team in danger, and especially Daniel. But the decision was taken out of his hands.
“That is not permitted. It must be one on one, leader against leader. You will both be provided with information and weapons. Your teammates may watch – from a distance.”
More protests and scowls, all useless. O’Neill was taken away to be prepared for the Assessment. The others were taken, under guard, to a different room, and offered tea and cookies. Daniel turned away and looked out a window, unseeing.
“I don’t think we can escape from here, “ Major Carter said unhappily. “Here” was a third-floor room with one locked door and two windows overlooking a plaza. There were armed guards outside the door and more in the plaza. There was also an en-suite bathroom with no windows and a 6” ventilation shaft.
Teal’c popped a cookie in his mouth and, when he had swallowed, said, “DanielJackson. A warrior always keeps up his strength. Resistance may become possible at any moment.”
If that meant escaping and freeing Jack, Daniel was all for it. He marched over to the table and ate a cookie. Sam sighed and did likewise.
Growing more and more frustrated, Daniel kept giving himself pep talks. Jack would be fine – hell, Jack could handle challenges like this with one hand tied behind his back! Jack was smart, quick, resourceful. He was the best. At the same time, Daniel was worried sick. Would this be the one time the legendary O’Neill luck finally ran out?
Daniel desperately needed to talk to Jack. He started banging on the door, until an annoyed guard opened it a crack.
“Stop this noise immediately.”
“Look – no, wait, listen!” Daniel yelped as the door started to close. “Colonel O'Neill is our leader. We need to get instructions from him.”
Sam chimed in with, “Yes, absolutely. We need to talk to him.”
The guard grunted and slammed the door.
Teal’c asked, “DanielJackson, do you think we will be able to escape if O'Neill is with us?”
Daniel shook his head. “Honestly, Teal'c, no, I don’t. I just need to see Jack, to talk to him.. . . ” He looked pleadingly at them both. Teal’c nodded. Sam Carter had never asked, never been told – but she could guess what Jack and Daniel were to each other.
“All right, Daniel,” she smiled. “You go.”
After a few minutes, the guard opened the door again. “One may come.”
Two armed guards escorted Daniel through the hallways, two more left at the door. After several minutes walk, they reached a door with two more guards in front of it. The door was cracked open and Daniel was roughly pushed inside.
The next instant, he was caught in a secure hold, before Jack recognized him and let him go.
“Danny! Are you all right?” Jack gathered him into his arms, then stepped back and looked him up and down.
“I’m fine, Jack. We’re all fine. I just had to see you.”
Jack leaned against the wall and stuck his hands in his pockets, trying for nonchalant. It didn’t reach his eyes.
“Hey, I’m just peachy. You know me, Danny. Piece of cake.”
But Daniel was not letting him get away with this macho bull, not now.
“Yeah, I know you, Jack.” He stepped forward, pulling Jack’s hands from his pockets, holding them in his own.
“Jack. Look at me.” Jack looked into Daniel’s eyes. “Jack, I know you’ll be fine. I don’t doubt that for a moment. But it’s all right to be-“ he searched for the right word, “apprehensive.”
Jack started to speak, but his voice caught in his throat. He coughed, tried again. “Daniel, listen. You have to promise me something.”
Daniel waited. He wasn’t making any stupid promises without first knowing what Jack wanted.
Jack paused for a few beats, then went on. “If I don’t make it, let Carter and Teal’c go through this Assessment thing first. If you have to, you go last. You’re the smartest, no question, and I know you’ll solve the riddle, but they’re trained soldiers. And – they can shoot to kill. I don’t want you to have to live with that.”
Daniel sighed. “Oh, Jack. Don’t you know – if you don’t make it, I have nothing to live for.”
They looked at each other, blue eyes locked with brown, neither giving in. Then Jack pulled Daniel against him, and their lips met in a fierce kiss. Tongues battled for dominance until – as ever – Jack gave, and let Daniel possess him. When they had to break for air, Jack rested his head against Daniel’s shoulder.
“Oh, Danny, I love you so much.”
Daniel stroked Jack’s short, silvery hair. “Jack, I love you completely, absolutely, with everything that’s in me. But I’m going to be brutally honest.”
Jack lifted his head, a questioning look in his eyes.
“Jack, you’re the best person I know for this mission. You’re smart, resourceful, well-trained. You WILL succeed.”
Jack gave him a weak smile. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
Daniel shook his head. “That’s not a matter of opinion, Colonel O’Neill,” he said firmly. “It’s a statement of fact.”
Jack took a deep breath, nodded. “Yeah, okay. Like I told ya – piece of cake.”
Suddenly, the door opened , and a guard poked his gun into the room, followed by his head. “Come. You must go now.”
This was it. One last, desperate hug, then Daniel stepped away and resolutely walked to the door. He tried to look back, but the guard grabbed his arm and yanked him through the doorway. Jack watched until the door slammed shut.
Daniel was marched back to the room where Sam and Teal’c waited. He assured them that Jack was fine. He didn’t mention the terrible options they had discussed. Jack would succeed, and it would all be over. That was all there was to it. There were no other alternatives.
Finally, someone came to get them. They were driven several miles into the countryside, to an observation platform near the edge of a large chasm. It ran roughly North to South, as far as Daniel could see in either direction, but was not terribly wide. But there was no way to get across. On the other side were groves of trees, with occasional small clearings. To the south was a high manmade tower. The First Official emerged from an aircar and strode onto the platform.
“The Assessment begins when the sun sinks below the horizon,” he pompously intoned, “and ends at dawn. Colonel O’Neill will come from there,” he pointed to the north, but on the far side of the gorge, “and Major Nast from there,” a little more to the northeast. “They must decipher the riddle to learn what prize they seek, proceed to the tower and obtain it. And, of course, each must outwit his opponent.” He chuckled at the prospect.
O’Neill was a soldier, but Daniel knew that Jack wouldn’t kill if there was any other way open to him.
“Excuse me, sir, but suppose Ja—Colonel O’Neill gets the prize and outwits his opponent and ties him up or locks him up somehow. Would that fulfill the conditions?”
SG-1 waited for the First Official’s answer. He frowned but finally said, “It is not the way we do things. But I suppose it would count. Bear in mind, of course, that Major Nast will certainly do his best to kill Colonel O’Neill.”
SG-1 had no further questions. They watched across the chasm, occasionally looking behind them as the sun went down in the west. One small moon was already up, still low in the sky. A few minutes after sunset, the second, larger moon rose.
For some time after that, the only sounds to be heard were a few night birds calling, and the wind keening in the trees. All they could see were the trees waving in the wind and a few birds flying by, black against the moons, and clouds gently drifting by between them.
The group on the hill was quiet. Both moons were high when Teal’c pointed across the chasm. Daniel squinted, then saw a shadowy figure coming from the north, darting from tree to tree. It was Jack. No one else was in sight.
The wind picked up, soughing through the trees, making a mournful sound, sending clouds scudding across the moons. Jack and his opponent were both shrouded in darkness. As the clouds blew by, a shaft of moonlight shone down. Suddenly, in the middle of the clearing, Jack was illuminated, caught in the light. From the other side of the clearing, several shots rang out. Jack fired back as he ran for the trees. The clouds closed in again, and the little clearing was dark. A volley of shots rang out from both sides, then … silence.
In a thin strip of moonlight, all Daniel saw was the silhouette of a gun, lying at the edge of the clearing. Jack’s side of the clearing. Nothing moved.
* * * * *
They waited until dawn, when an aide approached the First Official and spoke quietly to him. “No one has been to the tower,” he reported, clearly disappointed. “The prize remains unclaimed.”
SG-1 had had enough. “Fine,” Major Carter snapped. “We don’t really care. We’re going to retrieve Colonel O’Neill – NOW!”
The First Official nodded. “You may accompany my men.”
Both combatants lay at the edge of the clearing. Major Nast had been shot four times, none of the wounds a kill, but he had bled out. But not before he had shot Jack O’Neill six times, the last in the head. They lay like lovers, arms outstretched toward each other, the gun having fallen out of Nast’s hand, just beyond O’Neill’s reach.
The rest was a blur for them all. Somehow, they brought Jack back through the Stargate, home to Earth. Somehow, exquisitely painfully, they told General Hammond what had occurred. It was not a debriefing, precisely, but they told him what he needed to know. He ordered the planet locked out of the dialing computer.
Hours – days? – later, Daniel found himself at Jack’s – their – home. The only place he had ever really thought of as home, and – he realized with sudden, painful clarity – that only when Jack was there. He climbed up to the rooftop deck. He ignored Jack’s telescope and sat on the deck, looking up at the stars. It was very late at night, or possibly early morning.
With all his interstellar travelling, Daniel had never learned the constellations, even from Earth. Jack had known. Jack had known where Abydos was. Jack would know where Cassira was. Jack would know – A sob broke in Daniel’s throat, and he took deep gulps of the cool night air, trying to hold himself together. He could break down later, after – his mind shied away. After. Not now.
He pulled his knees up to his chin and stared out through blurry eyes. He could see Jack, wearing his black leather jacket and comfortable, worn jeans, baseball hat tipped back on his head, twinkling eyes, infectious grin, reaching out for Daniel, as he always had. Daniel sighed, “Oh, Jack!”, blinked twice fiercely – and the vision was gone.
Daniel knew that although Jack had lost his belief in a beneficent Almighty Being the day his son Charlie died, he had paradoxically retained a belief in Heaven, where Charlie’s soul surely must be. Anything else was unthinkable. Daniel prayed now, to anyone who might be listening, that Jack was in Heaven with Charlie. And that one day he might join them there.
“See you in Heaven, Jack,” he whispered, as the silvery night dissolved, brimmed over, and streamed down his face.
|Genres:||Action/Adventure, Established Relationship, Songfic|
|Summary:||The last that ever he saw him, Jack O'Neill was moving slowly through the trees … but Daniel couldn’t find how to push through. Would this be the one time the legendary O’Neill luck finally ran out?|
This is a homage - which means, the title, plot and several lines are taken from the song “Moonlight Shadow” by Mike Oldfield. The last line is lifted directly from the story “A Rose For Ecclesiastes” by Roger Zelazny. All rights reserved by the authors. I hope I do them justice.
Author's Chapter Notes:
No sex. Rated Teen for described violence and MAJOR CHARACTER DEATH.
Chapter End Notes:
Feedback begged for. Constructive criticism welcome. Thanks for reading!