Looking back, it amazes me that I was ever that na´ve. That I could so easily believe in the over-riding certainty of truth, justice and the American way. That I would never think that some of our nation's most loyal servants might be driven by very different motives from myself. What was I thinking?
I mean, it's not like I haven't been disillusioned before. Hang around the academic community long enough and you'll soon discover that most of your idols have feet of clay - they may write things you admire, have the most brilliant of intellects, but they're human just like the rest of us.
So was that what I was finding hard to forgive? That Jack had turned out to be fallible, that he had turned out to be human? That he'd turned out, in the end, to be exactly what I'd thought he was the very first time I laid eyes on him?
I hope I didn't put him on some kind of pedestal, once I realised there was something going on with me every time Jack walked in the room. I hope I didn't forget just how crazy Jack can make me, and not in a good way either.
And then I'd turned my apartment upside down looking for that damned letter.
It was like I wanted to prove to myself that I'd felt those things for him, that I'd written them down one night when lack of sleep made it seem like a good idea. I couldn't remember when I'd seen it last - it used to be tucked away on the mantel behind some old photos, the direction on the envelope still clear enough. And then, one day when I was rummaging around in what I keep up there, it just wasn't there any more.
Had I put it somewhere 'safe'?
I had a habit of doing that, stashing things somewhere so I wouldn't lose them and then coming across their forgotten existence weeks or months later. So, that wouldn't have surprised me. But I didn't remember moving it. It was just there and then it was gone, simple as that.
But I'd other things to think about, recently, so a missing letter was the least of my worries.
Top of the list? Yeah, who else?
I mean, it's not like we ever had that much in common to begin with, but I thought there was at least a thread of common decency running through Jack. The kind of thing that made him and the others follow my seemingly-crazy idea that Apophis was on his way to blow us all into a trillion tiny pieces and that maybe we should do something. The kind of thing that made me think he was my friend, that made me think....
No. Not going there. Not now, not ever.
Take a step back, take a deep breath, and forget you ever thought something might happen. I mean, the guy just told you that he was never really even your friend, that there was no foundation to the things you believed about the relationship you thought you didhave with him. That declaration sucked the life out of all my hopes and dreams, but at least it was a quick and merciful death.
I wanted to curl up into a little ball, not just sit there in Jack's house, nursing a beer I never really wanted anyway. Not listen to those words as they destroyed what I had secretly hoped might come to pass some day, if I was ever brave or stupid enough to admit that was the case. But each word Jack spoke destroyed my dreams a syllable at a time, and he couldn't even see the destruction he was causing.
And if he had, would he have cared anyway? It seems I never really knew him at all.
The first thing I did, though it was the last thing I wanted to do, was burn Daniel's letter.
As soon as I'd arrived home from that briefing with Hammond, that particular bombshell's effects just starting to take shape in my mind, I'd known there were certain things I would have to do. Things that would rank up there with the 'damn distasteful things' in my past that I'd once reminded Hammond of.
And I'd realised that I was the only candidate for the job, even if the Asgard hadn't insisted. The only logical choice.
The letter itself had still had beer stains on it, the remnants of the night I found it, its folds starting to wear thin from all the times I'd opened and looked at it. The times I'd slipped it from its hiding place and just stared at it for a while, wondering if I had the courage to take its words at face value. To believe that Daniel meant what he put when he wrote them, that he knew the consequences of it all for both of us and still chose to do it anyway.
But now I guess I'll never know.
The paper had burned easily, easier than I'd expected. It curled and twisted with the heat, its edges blackening and falling to ash as I watched. Destruction is easy. It takes so little effort to break down what took a long time to build, and I'd been about to put that truth to the test with more than just a piece of paper.
I knew they'd search my house, looking for any sign that I wasn't wholehearted in my apparent change of mind, suspicious of me to the nth degree, and who could blame them? Whoever 'they' are. It was likely they'd plant bugs here too, so that meant I could use that knowledge, turn that back on them as I used it to my advantage.
As I watched the letter burn I tried to forget the implications of what Hammond had asked me to do, the only logical way I could make his plan work. And it sucked. I hated it already, hated the things it would make me say and do, the things that it'd make others think of me.
Who was I trying to kid? I hated what it would make Daniel think.
I'd hated the fact that I was about to trample all over him, tread on the dreams he has he didn't know I understood. All the things that might have happened, the seed of a better life for both of us, ploughed under by this thing I had to do.
I mean, it's not like I had a choice. I know that sounds a little too much like an excuse and I'm not too happy with that myself, but it's true. We do this, or we stay here, simple as that. And staying here meant we could only wait for Apophis to come back, and this time we wouldn't have any way of stopping him.
Not that this justifiable end made the means any more easy to swallow.
The pain didn't seem to be planning to ease up anytime soon. Jack's words just kept going round in my head, reminding me I'd set myself up for this one, that I'd been the one to allow him the weapon he'd used so easily against me, believing he was my friend. Believing that we had something good, something solid, going on between us.
And if he'd known how I really felt? How I really feel?
I have to reconsider all of this, think again and try to decide what the hell I am feeling now. Try to decide whether I can carry on with the SGC, carry on being a part of all of this. After all, with Sha're dead, Skaara safe with the Tok'ra, what am I still doing here, exactly?
What is there to stop me just turning my back on the SGC and walking away?
If Jack isn't what I thought he was, then what's left for me here?
It would have been bad enough if we'd only been friends, but knowing what I knew about Daniel, it was a thousand times worse. I could see the pain in his eyes as clearly as if I felt it myself, and it gnawed at me.
After he'd gone, I finished my beer and his and tried to sleep, but rest was as elusive as I'd expected it would be. All I could think about was the pain I'd seen in Daniel's eyes, the pain I'd caused and my mind was full of ideas of how to make it right. Suddenly this all-important mission didn't seem so important any more.
I can't let this go, can't leave things between us like this. After all, I might not even come back from this mission if I can't persuade 'them' to trust me, and Daniel will have to live with the lies I told him. Suddenly, that seems like far too high a price to pay.
I can't do it, and I won't.
I've seen them watching the house, so I know when they change over - I didn't spend all those years in covert ops without learning a trick or two of my own, after all. So it's childs play to slip past them, into the night, knowing that they think I'm sleeping and leaving them to watch my empty house.
Daniel's apartment building is equally easy - for all that his building has a doorman, it's no problem getting in, and the lock on his apartment door is hardly going to stop even a determined amateur. And I'm no amateur.
Still, my heart is beating a little faster than I'd expect as I manage to open the door and slip inside, but I tell myself that's just nerves over what might happen next. Which it is.
I have to tell Daniel the truth, no matter what. I can't leave him thinking that grabbing alien technology was more important to me than anything else, that the things I said to him were true. Not that I expect him to be too happy with me, not after the pain I clearly caused him, but we can deal with that.
I have to hope we can.
The hand over my mouth wakes me, the sudden pressure of it bringing me up from fitful sleep. Even before I can struggle, the weight of a body is pressing me down into the mattress and my eyes open to try and identify my attacker. I can't move, can barely breathe, and my heart is pounding like it wants to escape from my chest.
It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the half-light and then I freeze as I see who my assailant is. His hand is removed from my mouth when he sees I'm not going to cry out, and he scoots back down the bed to let me move now.
"What the hell are you doing here, Jack?" I snap, the words laced with the anger I'm feeling.
Whatever terror I'd felt at being woken has been replaced by fury. How dare he do this? Break in and scare the crap out of me like this? Even if we were friends, even then....
Is it my imagination, or does he look subdued? Jack is dressed in dark clothing, almost blending into the night himself, and he won't look me in the eye.
Damnit, I'm sounding worried now. How dare he do this to me? How dare he make me feel sorry for him when he was the one who was so adamant we weren't even friends?
"I couldn't do it," he says, sounding subdued. I'm peering through the darkness at him, as one hand gropes for my glasses where I left them on the bedside table. Without taking my eyes off Jack, I locate them, turning them in my fingers and then slip them on.
It's still dark, but at least everything is a little sharper round the edges now.
"I don't think you and I have anything left to talk about, Jack."
I see him flinch slightly at my words, and it sends a frisson of pleasure through me. Not so much fun being on the receiving end, is it, Jack?
"I lied, Daniel."
Three words, and they turn the universe upside down.
"What?" I snap, once my brain and mouth are communicating again.
"I lied. Everything I said, it was all a lie."
I sit in silence for a moment, processing this. Is it possible? Could Jack have lied so well, so convincingly? I'd thought I knew him, thought that I understood how his mind worked. Could I have been taken in so easily?
"No choice. You had to believe what I was doing, I couldn't take the chance that you wouldn't believe me."
"So you did all this, you said those things..."
My words grind to a halt as I try and figure out exactly how I feel about this revelation. I'm getting angry again, I want to make Jack feel the pain he inflicted on me, want him to suffer. The strength of that feeling makes me shiver a little, and I take a deep and shaky breath to try and push those emotions back into their cage.
"I don't want to know, Jack," I say, surprising myself with the words. I can't believe he can think he can justify what he said, what he did.
What the hell did I expect? Something out of a bad romance novel, like the ones Sara used to make fun of? That maybe Daniel would be swept away by passion and forgive me for breaking his heart into a million pieces and having fun while I did it?
No. Wasn't going to happen. Didn't really expect it to.
He looks angry, what little I can see of him, and I can't blame him for that either. If the boot had been on the other foot, not that Daniel would have got himself into this kind of dumbass situation in the first place, I'd have been so mad I'd have kicked him across the room.
Instead of which he just sits there, sheets pulled up around him as he watches me. He's probably wondering what I'm going to do next, like I'm some kind of performing monkey. Which I guess I am. This time it's Hammond and the damn Tollan playing the tune, and I'm the one dancing to it. And not very well, because my heart's not in it.
I want to make it all okay, but I have no idea where to start. I've told Daniel I lied and that doesn't seem to have cut much ice. Not that I should have expected it to. Like I said before, destruction is easy.
I think for a moment before launching my main offensive weapon.
"I found your letter, Daniel."
I hear his breath hiss and know I've startled him. He's motionless, silent apart from his breathing, as he considers what I've said.
"Get out, Jack," he says, finally, just when I'm wondering what to say next. And then, as cool as anything, he just slides down into the bed and turns his back on me. That single action as dismissive of me as any words could be.
What did he think I was going to do? Stand there with everyone else and wish him a good life, when I know what he's really planning?
There was no way that was going to happen, no way I could lie to everyone, pretend I wasn't cut to the core by the thought of Jack leaving. Anyway, this might be more convincing, I suppose, as I glower down at Jack from the control room. He doesn't even bother to look up at me, or ask where I am, I bet, but he knows. I can tell.
I don't know whether to be more angry or afraid. I'm angry at him still, a little, because he's going ahead with this damn fool plan. Because he's put me in the position of giving a damn once more. Because I care now whether I ever see him again. How long has he known? When exactly did he find the letter and why hasn't he said something, done something before now?
This is just so like him. I'm torn between admiring the courage it took to come and try to tell me the truth and wanting to kill him. That's assuming, of course, that Jack gets back from this damn fool mission okay.
In the end, I can't watch any more, and as Jack heads up the ramp, I head out of the control room, down to my office before one of the others can catch up with me.
Not that my peace lasts long - as I'd expected, within a matter of minutes I get a visit from Sam. She looks worried, as well she might. I know Jack said some nasty things to her as well, and from the expression on her face it seems that I was the only one who got the explanatory visit last night.
For some reason, that makes me feel savagely glad, and not a little guilty as I can see she's upset. She thinks she's in love with Jack, I realise, as I wait for her to speak, and she has no idea who she's dealing with. If Jack had cared for her like she thinks she cares for him, she would have been the one whose sleep got interrupted, but I can tell she slept uninterrupted.
Poor Sam, you haven't had much luck with guys, have you? And now you go and fall for someone where it's never going to work out. Even if Jack felt the same way about you, there's the almighty USAF to consider. You love your job, Sam, I know you do, and Jack loves his - I don't see either of you being the type to sacrifice everything for some grand gesture.
I really don't want to talk to Sam, but I know I don't have a choice. I can't tell her what's going on, that Jack lied, because I don't really know the entirety of what he's covering up. What he's really up to going off-world. He wouldn't tell me and I didn't really want to push for more information than he was willing to give. Something big, though. Something important.
Something Sam doesn't have a clue about, I decide, as I watch her perch uncertainly on the edge of my desk.
"You didn't come down to the 'Gate room?"
I shake my head and look down at the papers covering my desk. You know I didn't, Sam, you just don't know why and I'm not really interested in telling you.
"I had nothing to say to him, Sam," I say, not looking up as I lie through my teeth.
I had plenty to say, the hours between him leaving my apartment and now had given me lots of time to hone my words into sharpness. I just didn't want to use them on Jack with witnesses present, that's all.
"The colonel said some pretty hurtful things," Sam begins, wanting sympathy. Sheesh, Sam, leave it alone? Stop picking at the scab and it might have a chance to heal some.
"I don't want to talk about it," I say, looking up this time because the truth allows me to. I don't want to talk to her about Jack, not now and not for the foreseeable future.
This time, at last, she gets the message, and slides back off the edge of my desk. She looks like she wants to say something more, but I look down at my work, in a silent 'I have lots to do, so let me get on with it' gesture and she takes the bait.
When I hear the door close behind her I glance round to check she's really gone. And immediately feel as guilty as hell.
Sam was just looking for a little sympathy, a little friendship, and my being angry with Jack made me act like a jackass. Not a good sign, not good at all. I need to get my priorities right here. Can't forget that the world doesn't revolve round me and Jack, even if sometimes it feels that way.
I feel a major apology to Sam coming on. And soon.
I try to concentrate on my work, but it's a losing battle. I know Jack left for Edora, but I know he's not planning to stay there - it was just a convenient place to go, somewhere with a Stargate he could use to go wherever else he needed to.
I wonder for a moment if it would be worse if I knew what he was up to, where he was, but I'm not really sure. Not knowing is painful enough, even though we didn't exactly part on the best of terms. I want to stay angry with Jack, angry for the way he tried to rip my heart out, for him scaring the crap out of me last night, but it just won't seem to stick.
Damn. I think I've got it bad.
I suppose what I wanted more than anything, when I got back, mission accomplished, was to see Daniel. Like some kind of sucker, I'd hoped that he'd be glad to see me, give me some kind of signal about how things were going to be between us now.
Oh yeah, reading you loud and clear, Daniel.
Drew straws, did you? And you lost, so that's why you came over to see me, why you painted that bullseye on your chest and let me shoot you down? If I believed that, I'm not sure what I'd think.
I watch Daniel walk away down the corridor, having delivered that verbal blow, and I'm barely conscious of Teal'c standing next to me. No matter what else the big guy knows, he's picked up enough to see that I've got some humble pie to eat in the near future. He's been around the bunch of us long enough to see that Daniel is carrying a grudge like he's representing the USA in a new Olympic sport.
Did I ever think about how difficult it was going to be to pick up the pieces of my relationships before I decided to take a sledgehammer to them in the name of interplanetary relations?
And then I had to go that one step further, didn't I? I had to tell Daniel that I knew the truth about him even as I told him that I'd lied to him about something else. Talk about giving mixed signals. Talk about setting myself up as a target.
What the hell was I thinking?
All I had to do was keep my mouth shut, try and do some repair work on mine and Daniel's friendship and then tell all. But no, that would be far too simple.
Instead, I have to play the brinkmanship game, edging closer and closer to the edge and crowing over Daniel the fact that I know something he doesn't. Like we're a couple of kids in the playground and I've found out something about his mom.
Very mature. Very responsible. Very me.
I'm angry still, a little, anyway. It's like a simmering heat, something that never completely gets extinguished - every time I start to lose it, Jack does something that makes it heat up again. This time it was his stupid attitude, all 'hey, let's all be pals again'. What does he think we're going to do, just because the truth has come out at last?
I mean, it's not like I can admit he broke into my apartment and told me already, is it? Because that would lead to all sorts of embarrassing questions I really don't want to answer, either now or any time in the future. Explaining away Jack's presence in my bedroom in the middle of the night isn't really a hobby I want to take up.
Though a moment's reflection on that train of thought tells me that it's the explaining I'm not too keen on.
So, to quell the way that makes me feel, I decide to start the new regime here and now. Jack knows he makes me crazy, and not always in a bad way, so it's time to repay the favour. And his question about why I was the one who came to call gives me the perfect opportunity, one with which Sam and Teal'c seem all too pleased to play along.
Jack almost flinches as I make my comment about drawing straws, and even as I turn smartly on my heel and walk away, I can hear Teal'c turning the knife in that subtle way he has. It's been a while since Jack has been on the receiving end, and it's clear he doesn't like it one little bit.
Well, isn't that a shame.
Home. It seems an age since I was last here, what with my little trip to Edora and then onwards. Still, the place looks the same, even after the SGC's finest have been through it with a fine tooth comb taking out the NID's bugs.
I was right about them bugging the place - they didn't trust me, had no reason to, and wanted to be sure I was genuine. Well, I played my part, maybe a little too well at times, and now the game is over. It's time to pick up the pieces and sort them all out.
I keep expecting the doorbell to ring, or the phone, and it to be Daniel. But, on the other hand, I know it won't be. I can recognise a power play when I see one, and Daniel is firmly in the driving seat at the moment. And I put him there.
So now I have to let things play out, let him dictate the next move. Not that I like things this way, but I chose, didn't I? The moment I slipped out of here in the middle of the night, I put control in his hands, trusted myself to him. Not that he was likely to go running to Hammond and complain I broke into his place in the middle of the night, but I'd wondered if he might have said something. To Carter, maybe. But, unless I miss my guess, that's not the case.
Everything is still between Daniel and me.
In the end, there is only so much staring at the wall you can do, so I decide to go to bed. Daniel will make his move, I'm certain of that - if nothing else, that crack about drawing straws was barely a feint. He's winding up for something, and I'll play along. I owe him that much, if not more.
I make sure I'm at the SGC the next morning before Jack is, just for the pleasure of seeing him surprised. Why, I have no idea - it's not like archaeology has that many openings for people who can't get themselves out of bed in the morning, even if it takes copious amounts of caffeine before my brain functions properly.
It seems to be my favourite pastime now, making sure Jack is unsettled. Certainly it's one that's currently giving me a lot of pleasure, and the others seem to be enjoying it as well. If Sam or Teal'c are feeling any sympathy at all for Jack, they haven't said anything about it so far. I'd have thought Sam, if anyone, might be asking for mercy on his behalf, but the things Jack said to her seem to have made her wait for now.
Still, as the day passes, I know it's not going to last forever. Jack and I will have to sort this out, one way or another, deal with the unfinished business that's between us. No way around that.
He knows and I know exactly how I feel about him. Or at least how I felt all those months back when I wrote that letter. Back at my lowest ebb, at a time when I thought I'd never find Sha're, and had no idea yet that I was destined to be partly right about that.
What I don't know is how Jack feels, whether this was just another in the long line of 'things to use against Daniel'. And he has no idea whether I still feel the same way.
Which I don't.
How could I? Sha're is dead now, and that changes a lot of things. In some ways, she was dead from the moment Amonet took her, but while Sha're herself was alive there was always hope. Always the uncertainty of a possible rescue, something that made me look back, keep looking back.
Everything I did was coloured by her, by my need to know where she was, to save her from that living hell. It was an obsession - for a while at least, Sha're was the first thing I thought of when I woke, my last thought as I fell asleep. But as time passed, that level of obsession slipped away - for the sake of my sanity that was probably a good idea.
But Sha're was still there with me, a constant presence, so much so that my words to Jack were written as much in guilt as in ink.
I shouldn't feel that way about Jack, I'd told myself, even as I scribbled the words, but I couldn't bring myself to tear the letter up. No matter what, no matter how guilty I felt, there was still truth held in that paper, a truth that needed to come out.
And now it had.
Had I wanted Jack to know? Been too cowardly to tell him any other way? Wanted him to discover the truth like this? I want to think that isn't so, but I'm not completely sure.
I've moved on. I've had to. Losing Sha're made me wonder what was going to happen next, pushed me back inside myself for a little while. But life went on as normal, the sun kept rising in the morning and I survived.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Stronger. Not sure about that. Alive, definitely, but stronger?
He's really pushing it, the little shit.
Daniel got here before me this morning and I'm sure that was his plan. Catch the colonel offguard. Well, it worked, and now I have no idea what he's planning to do next. Only that I can't go on like this for too long, and I'm sure he's well aware of that.
One way or another, this has to end. Hopefully in a good way. If Daniel will let it. Because, it's his play now, I'm reactive not proactive, responding to him rather than leading the way. Not a role I'm comfortable with, not one I particularly like, but it's the role in which I've been cast.
So, what's my next move? Well, I can sit here and stare at my paperwork, pretending like I'm actually doing something, or I can go stick my head in the lion's mouth. Go find out just what I let myself in for when I opened my big mouth the other night.
Yeah, sounds like a plan.
Right on time. I never thought he'd hold out as long as this - actually, I was kind of expecting Jack a couple of hours back. Still, it looks like it's showtime.
I push my chair back from the desk as he walks into my office, opening the door without knocking first. Still so certain of your welcome, Jack?
"What can I do for you, colonel?" I drawl, not missing the way Jack's eyes widen slightly at my use of his title, something I haven't ever really done. Not since way back on Abydos the first time round. It's not who we are, hasn't ever really been.
For the longest moment, Jack just looks at me, his gaze raking its way up and down, seemingly lingering for a moment in the most interesting of places. So, that's how we're going to play, is it? You think you know what's going on with me, but you want to be sure before you show your hand? Well, two can play at that game, Jack.
I keep quiet, forcing him to speak, knowing that he's not someone who's uncomfortable with silence. It takes a little while, but in the end he caves.
"We have a lot to talk about."
"Do we?" I ask innocently, stretching in my seat. I push my arms above my head as far as they'll go, hearing my vertebrae pop. When I look back at Jack, he's almost salivating. "What on earth could we have to talk about? You already said more than enough, Jack."
"You know I was lying. And now you know why."
I shake my head, smiling to myself at Jack's puzzlement.
"No. I know what your mission was. You chose how to make that mission happen."
"Your mission briefing was to infiltrate the other team, right? Did it say anything in there about humiliating me in front of the Tollan or shredding our friendship along the way?"
I can feel myself building up a head of steam again. Just when I thought I'd got over being angry about this, the moment I get my chance to have a shot at Jack, it all comes back in a dark and unholy tide. Damn.
"And then, to cap it all off, you break into my apartment, scare the crap out of me and then proceed to try and use something I wrote when I was half out of my mind with grief as crude emotional blackmail?"
I can hear the words coming out of my mouth, I know it's me that's saying them, but I just can't stop myself. I have to do this, have to, have to, have to.
Jack's face is a picture of confusion and uncertainty. He's not sure of anything about me, not now, and I almost want to laugh. Almost.
"I thought..." he begins, but my anger won't even let him speak.
"You thought I was waiting for you, Jack, is that it?" I sneer, every syllable laden with scorn. "Tearing my heart out over you?"
Jack nods slightly, unwillingly, I can tell.
"Well, times have changed, Jack. I've changed," I say, my parting shot on the subject.
This lying thing is so easy. I should have tried it years ago. Not sure I'd have been quite so good at it if a tide of fury and hurt and a dozen other emotions I can barely label weren't involved.
Jack nods again, then turns on his heel, walking out of my office without a word.
Now I'm the one left speechless.
So much for reconciliation. You know what I said before about Daniel carrying a grudge? Looks like I had no idea.
He hasn't talked to me, has barely looked at me since the time we spoke in his office. The time he told me everything I thought I knew had changed. Am I too late? Maybe if I'd taken a chance on telling him how much his letter shook me earlier things would be different between us now?
I can't know whether that's true or not. Would I even have been able to go through with my recent deception if Daniel and I had been more than friends? I'd like to think I'd have found another way, but I really can't be sure whether that's the case. Would I have pushed Daniel away all the same? Been the obedient officer, kept telling myself it was all in a good cause....
I glance across at Daniel as we walk up the ramp. He looks calm, composed, and I wonder if he realises just how much he knocked me back with what he said to me. And if he realises, does he care at all?
Yeah, I know, it's ironic. I'm the one choosing to destroy my friendship with Daniel for the sake of tenuous promises from the Asgard and those snooty Tollan, and now I'm the one left wondering. He was pretty adamant that things had changed with him, and I'm now left floundering in his wake, I guess.
I wish he'd just stop watching me. I hate being the centre of attention, and Jack isn't giving me much option at the moment. Even as we're heading up the ramp, his eyes are on me, though I try and keep Teal'c's solid presence between me and Jack.
Sam and Teal'c aren't as amused any more, they can tell something's wrong. Of course, they weren't privy to the conversation in my office, weren't there for the verbal slapping I gave Jack. At the time it felt like the right thing to do, the only thing to do, a means of survival rather than a means of revenge. That's what I keep telling myself, though the memory of the emotions that drove that outburst make me less and less convinced as each day passes.
I was wrong. Jack was wrong. But two wrongs don't make a right, as I well know.
As much as his words hurt me, as much as discovering he was the one who'd taken my letter took the wind out of my sails, I shouldn't have said the things I did. But there's no way I can take them back. How could I? What could I say?
Just the thought of it makes my face burn, and I can see Sam casting concerned looks in my direction. I never got around to that apology either, so she just makes me feel worse. I'd just like the ground to swallow me up right about now, I decide, as we hit the stonework on the other side of the 'Gate.
Another mission over and done, another few hours spent in the company of one Daniel Jackson, silent enigma. If he didn't exactly up and run away every time I came anywhere near him, then he did the next best thing. He froze me out. Ignored me. Turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to everything I did and said.
I can feel myself getting angry with Daniel again, my patience wearing damn thin. Much as I'd like to be generous, say I can understand why he wouldn't want to have anything to do with me, this martyr act is driving me up the wall.
I'm severely tempted to go over there and shake him, knock some sense into him or something. This is wrong, and we can't go on like this - SG-1 can't go on like this.
Yeah, sure, Jack, it's for the good of the team.
It's not that you're disappointed Daniel doesn't feel the same way any more. It's not that you're guilty for the things you said and remember you deserved to get some of that pain back. Daniel just ticks you off, that's all.
I hate these dull missions.
Sam walks with me back to the 'Gate, chatting away like there's never been a cross word between us. Each word she utters cuts at me.
"I'm sorry, Sam." Sam glances round at me, her eyebrows raised. "I'd meant to apologise sooner, but I kept putting it off."
"Apologise?" She still looks puzzled.
"For what I said when Jack left for Edora." Sheesh, this is hard. "For being so snappy with you."
"I'd forgotten about that," Sam replies, grinning at me. "But if you're really feeling penitent you can wash my car for me this weekend."
"Not that penitent," I say, smiling back at her. I glance over my shoulder for a moment, just to check how far away Jack is. I don't want him eavesdropping on my conversation with Sam, no matter how innocuous. "I'm feeling bad about how I treated Jack as well," I confess.
"The colonel got what he deserved," Sam says, refusing to meet my eyes. I can hear the things she doesn't say as well.
"But you think I went too far?"
"I don't know what you said to him, Daniel, but..." Sam pauses for a moment, considering. "He was brash when he came back from that mission, full of a job well done, and he thought he could just press a button and put everything right."
"How could he think that?" Sam asks, and I don't have an answer for her.
Am I getting paranoid in my old age?
I can see Daniel and Carter chatting away, the occasional smile passing between them, and the sight of it stabs me in the gut. I hate it. I want to be part of it. I don't know what the hell I want any more.
I thought I had it all figured out, that Daniel wanted me more than I was willing to admit I wanted him. Then that damn mission came along and I chose to throw everything I valued away. I didn't realise how easily I could destroy all the things I valued - the friendship of my team, their trust in me. All those things I worked so hard to achieve, often instinctively, and I threw it all away.
Of course, my intentions were good. But you know what they say about the road to hell.
Well, I'm walking it at the moment. Have been ever since I took that mission on, since I supped with the devil in the shape of Harry Maybourne. Before then, even.
Since I didn't value what I had.
There must have been another way. There had to have been. There's never only one solution to the problem, real life isn't like that.
But I didn't even go looking for an alternative. I was so sure that I could pick up the pieces of the friendships I'd shattered, pick them up and stick them all back together. How arrogant was that?
I want things back the way they were. But I have no idea how to make that happen.
I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life as when Jack slumped against the wall of that cage and the damn thing just kept buzzing away, frying him. I hardly know whether I begged or pleaded or what, just that eventually, after what seemed a lifetime, it stopped.
I wanted to kill Rygar. I've never felt that kind of rage towards anyone, not even Apophis. But seeing him do that to Jack, and knowing that he enjoyed doing it made me so angry.
That sound, that awful buzzing sound, seems to echo in my head even here.
This feels like old times. Hovering about outside the infirmary, waiting for Jack to be checked over, wondering if he's going to be okay. I tried to sneak in, but Janet caught me and sent me back outside, so now I'm pacing the corridor. I saw enough, though. Jack with his shirt off, lines of burns down his shoulder and back - not deep looking, but they have to hurt.
I feel pain in my hands and realise I'm clenching my fists, my nails biting into my palms. I open my hands and look at them, examine the half-moon depressions.
My fault. They did that to Jack to get to me. My fault.
Somehow Rygar knew. He saw me, saw Jack, and he just knew what to do to try and get me to talk. Not torturing Sam, but hurting Jack. I would have done anything, anything to stop it. I have no idea what I would have said, would have admitted to, if he hadn't stopped the current when he did. I didn't know what Rygar wanted to hear, couldn't give him what he wanted to just make it stop.
The door opens suddenly, and Janet emerges. "Go on in," she says, with a toss of her head and I'm past her and in the infirmary almost before she's finished speaking.
When I find myself standing by Jack's bed, suddenly I have no idea what to say. He's propped up on one side with his back to where I am, an IV in his arm and those burns displayed for all to see. I swallow nervously before moving into his line of vision.
"Hey there," he says, glancing past me. "The doc let you in?"
"Took some doing," I say, going along with his tone. If he wants to treat this like a day at the office, who am I to complain? I studiously avoid looking at his side, and find myself staring at the monitor next to the bed instead, mesmerised by its steady progress.
"I bet," Jack says, and then looks away, following my gaze. "I'm okay, by the way, Daniel, thanks for asking."
"What? Oh, good."
I can feel my face heating up. It's not that I don't care how Jack is - on the contrary, I realised back on the planet that I care too much, and I'm not exactly sure what happens next. After all, I was the one who pushed Jack away last time.
"What about..." I can't bear to look at them, can barely cope with speaking about what happened. Damn.
"The burns?" Jack helps me out with a slightly-too-cheery voice. "Doc says they'll be fine. Just keeping me overnight as a precaution, like the gizmo here." He nods at the monitor, then watches its steady peaks and troughs of light for a moment, before he turns back to me.
"What?" I ask, as I squirm slightly under his gaze.
"You okay, Daniel? I never really got the chance to check before we headed back here."
"I wasn't the one Rygar was so keen on torturing," I point out.
"Must be my natural charm," Jack says, with that grin that always makes me wonder whether I want to punch him or kiss him. Sadly, this time, I know exactly what it does to me. And it doesn't involve violence, not unless he decides not to cooperate.
I hate this. I really really hate it.
Daniel looks like a harsh word would make him crumble, and I wonder if he blames himself for what happened back on the planet. I knew exactly what Rygar was, I saw it in his eyes, so I set myself up as a target from the get-go. I didn't want him to get any ideas about hurting Carter or Daniel, and my mouth kind of got the better of me, not for the first time in my life.
I hurt, though. All over.
I'd rather he'd just kicked me about, the way I ache now, but Janet says there'll probably be no scars and she seems pretty optimistic that I can get out of here soon. And the sooner the better. I know she just wants to be careful, hooking me up to this little TV-thing to make sure my heart is working like it should be, and shoving an IV in for good measure, but I'm fine.
I ache, I'm tired, but generally I'm.... Yeah, I'm fine.
Daniel is not fine.
Daniel is anything but fine, from the expression on his face, as much as he tries to hide it from me. He's not completely here, he's avoiding eye contact and he's hugging himself like he's about to fall apart. Which he probably is.
I want to reassure him, tell him it wasn't his fault, which would be true, but the words just won't seem to come. All I can think of is the sound of his voice pleading with Rygar, the last thing I heard before I blacked out. It still echoes in my ears, his voice hoarse with emotion.
He told me that he didn't feel that way about me any more. But those words, that emotion I heard so clearly, makes me wonder, really it does. Still, the walls are up between us, that much is clear, and I'm in no position to do some scaling. Not today, when all I want to do is sleep.
Sooner than I'd like, even though I hardly know what to say, Janet hustles me out of the infirmary once more, telling me Jack needs to get some rest. That he's going to be fine, which is nice to hear confirmed, and that I need to get some rest as well.
I would, Janet, if I could. Honest. But my mind won't stop, it seems, and the more I try, the worse it gets.
How did Rygar see what Jack couldn't? That I was lying all the time, that I haven't changed, not really, that I still feel essentially the same. What was it gave me away?
I wish I knew.
But at least I get to go home. That's one small positive part of a bigger shittier picture, one that includes a permanently worried- looking Daniel.
I turn my head just in time for him not to realise I've been watching him fuss, to pretend that I hadn't seen the worried glances he's been giving me ever since Janet let me out. She'd asked for a driver to take me home and she'd looked surprised as well when Daniel arrived, looking sheepish and saying Hammond had sent him.
I don't believe it myself. Hammond knows something's up between us, though I hope he has no idea what, so the idea he'd send Daniel along to take me home is pretty unlikely. Unless he has some idea of forcing us to make nice. Now I come to think of it, I guess it isn't quite as unlikely as all that.
I find myself shifting uncomfortably in the car seat anyway, the pressure against the burns on my back makes them ache a little. It disguises how unsettled I'm feeling, anyway, gives me a good excuse to fidget. Which in turn lets me watch Daniel.
He looks tense, hunched a little over the steering wheel, his hands wrapped round it a little too tight. The skin across his knuckles is stretched taut, every sinew and tendon visible, it seems. Like he wants to make the car go where he wants by brute force. Like he wants to strangle someone.
I shift in my seat again, and this time Daniel glances swiftly across at me.
"Are you okay?" he asks, without meeting my eyes.
"Just itchy," I say, trying to downplay the situation as much as I can. He frowns at me. "I'm okay, Daniel. Really."
Where does it come from, that urge to reassure him? Wherever, it's the right thing to do, I realise, as I watch some of the tension drain out of him like I pulled a plug and it flooded away.
"I was...." He can't finish the sentence, but I know what he was going to say.
Fortunately, we're just turning into my street, as Daniel's attention is starting to wander.
"Really." He nods, turning his attention back to the road, until we draw up outside my house. "Want to come in?" I find myself asking, before the sensible part of my brain remembers Daniel is probably still mad at me. He pauses for a moment and I steel myself for rejection - there's always next time, I tell myself.
"Sure," he says, suddenly, as if he's just reacted as well. "Why not?"
Why not indeed, Daniel. Maybe because this is the longest time you've been alone with me since we spoke in your office? Maybe because I wondered whether you'd ever be comfortable with me ever again? Maybe because I hate to see the way you're hurting and know that it's down to me and my big mouth?
I'm round the car, helping Jack with his seatbelt, before he can tell me not to. I can see in his face that he's a hairsbreadth away from telling me where to go, but he bites back the words, somehow. I'm glad. I don't want a reason to turn around and leave.
I've surprised myself, confused myself. And now I want to know what's going on. With me, with Jack, with both of us.
Of course, the fact I blame myself for him being hurt doesn't help. I'd have taken Jack's place in a heartbeat, though I know he wouldn't have let me, if he'd got the choice. I try to help him out of the car, and this time he scowls at me, but I can see his heart isn't in it.
"I'm not an invalid," he snaps, but the way he winces when my hand inadvertantly touches one of his burns through the fabric of his shirt kind of takes the edge off the comment.
I let him set his own pace, hovering enough that I can tell I'm bugging him, but close enough just in case. The last thing we need is Jack keeling over in the street and giving his neighbours some entertainment that way.
We make it indoors, somehow, and I'm struck by how little the place has changed since I was last here. I try not to think about that too much, but little things remind me of the pain I felt that day. Jack disappears somewhere, leaving me in the hallway, and I find myself moving towards the living room.
It's too tempting to consider this the scene of the crime. If this innocuous room saw wounds inflicted, then so did my office, and to a lesser extent, the hundred other places we've argued. Too many barbed words exchanged, one way or another, some intended to wound, others to maim. All wielded with intent.
I wanted revenge on Jack, I realise that now. He hurt me, so I wanted him to feel that same hurt, and I turned his weapon back on him. That makes me as culpable as he is, as guilty, as deserving of punishment. But I suffered the punishment first, I suppose, then committed the crime. The only thing different between me and Jack was the order in which we did things.
Otherwise, we're much the same. Hurt and lashing out, wounded and seeking revenge.
Why, I wonder, as I cross to the window, did he mention my letter? Why then? Why at all?
As soon as I get into the house, I take the opportunity to slip away from Daniel, part of me hoping he'll take the hint and leave. I guess that was a dumb idea, huh?
I never expected it to work, not really, and I can't help but be a little relieved to discover that it hasn't. What would that have said about our chances of even being friends?
He's standing in the living room, looking out of the window, and I see him stiffen slightly when he realises I'm in the room. What memories does this room hold for him now? When we first got back from Abydos, when he had nowhere else to go, I'd brought him here and plied him with beer. On a dozen other occasions we'd spent happier times in this very room, watching the Superbowl with Teal'c one time, me trying to explain the rules and Daniel interrupting with further explanations.
All that good stuff's gone now, replaced by the words I said here, the sledgehammer blows I dished out.
Daniel turns around, finally, and I'm struck by how tired he looks. He looks like I feel, worse maybe, and I wonder how long it is since he last slept.
"Sit down," I say, the words coming out halfway between an order and a plea. He nods, heading towards the couch, and then just stops. Staring at it. "Take the chair," I continue, knowing just what he's thinking.
This was how it was that time. Can't blame him for not wanting a repeat performance.
He sinks into the chair with a sigh, though I'm sure he didn't mean for me to hear it.
I take his place on the couch, resting my head back against the wall, wondering whether I wouldn't be better off kicking Daniel out and going to bed.
"I should go," he says, making no move from his seat.
"Unless..." He looks down.
I know what he wants me to say - he wants me to ask him to stay, to make some effort towards bridging the almighty gulf between us, but I can't do it. The words just won't come.
"Go home, Daniel." I hear myself say the words. See the reaction on Daniel's face as I brush aside his almost-offer. "Go home and let me get some rest. Don't need you to baby-sit."
So, that's how it's going to be. Avoid, deny, pretend it never happened.
Jack looks relaxed, eyes closed, but I can see the tension even from over here. And I know he knew what I was thinking earlier when I balked at sitting on the couch - like last time I sat there wasn't bad enough?
And he doesn't want anything to do with me. Doesn't want me here, no need for me to baby-sit. No need for me to be anywhere around, it seems.
So why don't I do it? Get up from this chair, walk out of here and keep on walking? There's nothing to stop me, nothing that I need I can get around here, is there? Why am I still sitting here, still watching Jack?
Eventually, he opens his eyes again, shifting slightly, reaching out without looking and pulling a cushion behind him to take some of the pressure off his burns. He looks at me and the question is clear in his eyes - still here?
I just look at him, and say nothing.
Jack closes his eyes again, looking for all the world like he hopes next time he opens them I'll have disappeared. But somehow, I don't think that's going to happen. I think if that happens, then this will be the last anyone at the SGC will see of me, and there's more of the universe out there for me to explore as yet.
If I walk away from this, I might as well pack up and leave. Might as well do what I dreamed of doing when Amonet was trying to kill me, pack everything and go grovelling back to the academic world, dragging my tattered reputation behind me. And how can I, when I know I'm right?
But that would just be the last straw, not the worst of it all by a long way. I've carved a niche for myself here, or so I'd thought. Found myself a new family, people I trust and care about. Someone who I'd come to rely on even when I was wondering whether I could go on. Someone I'd effectively handed a loaded gun to and then wondered why he shot me with it.
Not that I don't still think Jack was being an ass when he did the things he did, said the things he said. But I was equally stupid to lie. I set myself up for more than I could handle, because I was angry with him. Because my pride had been hurt, because he knew something and surprised me with it.
So, I guess I'd better just sit here till I figure out what to say. That could take a while.
Each time I open my eyes, Daniel is still there. Not that I'd really expected him to leave. This time, his head is tipped slightly to one side, resting on the back of the chair, and he's snoring slightly.
Who's baby-sitting who now? I'd wanted Daniel to leave, wanted it more than anything. Because I really don't know what to say to him any more.
I'd thought I understood what was going on, thought I understood Daniel and he surprised me. I guess I thought I had more chance of making things right with Daniel than anyone else. And I was wrong about that.
But I can't believe he doesn't feel something for me. Hearing him pleading with Rygar made that unlikely. Well, that's my theory and I'm sticking with it, even though theories aren't exactly my field.
But the big question, the one I get stuck on every time, is this: what the hell do I do now?
When I thought Daniel felt something for me, I used that against him. Used it to try and get a response when he was already angry with me, and that was one of the stupidest things I've ever done. And that's compared to a lot of stupid things.
Then he told me it wasn't the case any more, and I bought that line. Believed Daniel and now I really wonder. If he was lying, then he's learned a lot in a short space of time - used to be he couldn't lie worth a damn. If it hadn't been for Rygar and his taste for southern- fried colonel, how long would it have been before I caught on?
And now it seems we're in some kind of stubbornness contest, me and Daniel, and he's ahead on points. Though I wonder whether sleeping is against the rules or not, as I close my eyes once more.
I woke up suddenly, jerking slightly, from a fitful sleep.
This time, in my dreams, Jack screamed. Instead of just the awful buzzing of the cage as he was slumped against it, Jack had screamed with pain, screamed so loudly that I'd had to shout to try and make Rygar hear me. And Rygar had acted as if I wasn't even there, just watching Jack suffer with that sick half-smile on his face.
I knew Jack was going to die, and there wasn't a thing I could do about it, as the sick certainty of it grabbed at me.
When I realised I was awake, just the sight of Jack, asleep there on the couch opposite, was enough to make me suck in a breath of relief. He was okay, we'd survived that mission, mostly unscathed.
But the thought was buzzing through my head now. What if Jack had died thinking I hated him? Thinking that I didn't care whether he lived or died? My stomach churned at the thought, as well as reminding me I had no idea when I'd last eaten a proper meal.
But all I could do was watch him, soaking in the way he looked, watching his eyelids move as he dreamed. I had to wonder if he was reliving our last mission as well.
I can only hope not.
When I wake up this time, I know Daniel's watching me before I open my eyes. It's as though I can feel it, feel his eyes on me.
And then, when I open my eyes, he's still looking at me.
I can't do this, can't keep on pretending that it doesn't matter. One way or another, I have to know exactly where we stand. What there really is going on between us. And the way that Daniel is looking at me, I can see that certainty, that need to know reflected there.
"What are we going to do, Daniel?" I ask before I can stop myself. If all else fails, I can always pretend I wasn't really completely awake, I guess.
"Well," he says, smiling slightly. "We can always stop lying to each other. That might be a good start?"
I find myself smiling, wondering if we might be able to make this work after all.
He knows. I can see the look in his eyes, and it tells me everything. All the lies, all the truths, everything. Maybe it's time to stop the lies, after all, like I just suggested. Maybe a little truth would help.
Not that this makes me any less nervous. And why should it? We've lived through lies upon lies, till they piled upon each other and threatened to smother us. Jack started it, but I chose to continue, and we were both as bad as each other as a result.
"You should have told me," I say, looking down. "About the mission. You should have trusted me, trusted us."
"I couldn't take the chance. I had to make it believable."
"And not worry about the consequences?" I look up. He can't meet my eyes, his gaze wandering across to the mantelpiece. "And I didn't help, I suppose," I continue.
He looks back at me this time, startled.
"What do you mean?"
"About the letter," I begin, hardly wanting to say this, but knowing that I need to. "I lied."
Jack's eyes harden, and he sits forward at this. He's looking at me like he hardly recognises me, that he doesn't know who I am or what I'm talking about.
"You lied?" he repeats. This time the coldness has moved onto his voice, the ice running through it. Oh crap.
I don't know what I was thinking, why I'm so surprised. Is it the idea that I'd got a taste of my own medicine this way or the fact that I'm surprised Daniel could get one over on me that way? That he could lie convincingly enough to make me believe it?
I don't suppose I should be too angry with him, because I'm hardly innocent, but I can't help it. Can't stop myself.
"You lied to me?" I snarl. I see the barriers go up, that wall growing between us again. And I have to do something about that, so I take a deep breath. "Why?" I continue, a little more calmly.
"What choice did you leave me with, Jack? What did you think I was going to do?"
I close my eyes, try to pull my scattered thoughts together.
"I should have kept my mouth shut," I admit.
"I shouldn't have lied," Daniel replies, his voice a little jerky, which makes me open my eyes. "And what happened back on the planet...."
"...was not your fault." How could he think he was responsible for that? The only one to blame was Rygar, no-one else. "You would have stopped it, if you could."
He won't look at me, and I can see by his face he's getting upset. He has that look, that slight twisting of his mouth, and I can feel a sympathetic twisting inside me.
"I should have said something, Jack. Something to make him stop."
I know that sound too - that's the sound of Daniel beating himself up over something he didn't do, that's the sound of someone taking the blame.
"Nothing you could have done, Daniel. You know that."
"No? You're so sure. So certain?" Daniel's on his feet now, pacing in front of me as I watch mesmerised. "You have no idea...."
"Excuse me?" I interrupt, going from nought to sixty in no time at all. My sudden movement as I twist makes all my muscles complain, and I wince. "Who's the one with the burns here?"
Daniel stops. Like I struck him. Like my words were blows, snapping him back to reality. He just looks at me. Like he's no idea who I am.
I have no idea who I am either.
After all, I went through it but he had to watch. He was the one pleading with Rygar to stop, and he was lying. Lying about not caring for me, and he had to watch it happen. It's like all the puzzle pieces drop into place in my mind, one at a time. It's like he just hit me in the gut. And I deserved it.
Well, at least we both know now how things stand, though whether that's a good thing or not remains to be seen. We both lied, it seems. Jack because he felt he had to, me because I was angry, and we were both wrong. Jack should have trusted us, and I should have trusted him. And now we both have to deal with the consequences.
When I wrote that letter, I never really intended Jack to read it. And now he has. He's known about how I feel for some length of time, but I had no idea. That has to be good, doesn't it? That he knew how I felt and it made no difference? I have to believe that.
And we can make this work. Make our friendship work again. Bridge the gap our lies have made.
And then we'll see what happens next.
~ fin ~
|Concluded in 'Clarity'|