For a long moment the two men stared at each other, eyes connecting in a way that had not happened since Daniel had told Jack how he felt about him. The suddenness of Daniel's support falling away from beneath him left the younger man swaying slightly, and Jack could see him trying to still that movement.
Daniel closed his eyes as a wave of pain hit him, when breathing normally proved too painful. Above him, Jack's ragged breathing could be heard as the uncomfortable position he was in began to take its toll on the colonel - he was stretched out across the edge of the fissure, his arms supporting Daniel's weight.
Suddenly, as if someone had spoken it out loud, Daniel knew. There was a rightness to it, a certain cold logicality to what he needed to do, though he knew that Jack wouldn't like it, not one bit. Daniel opened his eyes, looking up at Jack once more.
"You need to let go," he said quietly, his voice shaking slightly.
"What?" Jack blurted out, his eyes widening as he stared down at Daniel.
"I said..." Daniel began.
"I know what you said," Jack interrupted him, his voice harsh now. "What I want to know is what the hell is wrong with you!"
"You know as well as I do," Daniel said quietly, "there's no way you can pull me out of here. I'm right about that, aren't I?" Jack said nothing, unable to find words to refute the truth of Daniel's statement. "There's no need for us both to die here," Daniel continued. "So you need to let go..."
"Damnit, Daniel," Jack said harshly, "you know I can't do that."
"You have to."
"I SAID NO!" Jack shouted, his face angry now. "What part of that don't you understand?"
Daniel sighed, knowing, as he had suspected, that he would be unable to persuade Jack to go along with his plan. So, he would have to take action, if Jack wouldn't help him. Taking a deep breath, despite the pain that tore through his chest when he did so, Daniel began to open his hands, his fingers loosening their grip around Jack's wrists.
"Daniel!" Jack yelled, still with an angry look on his face. "I'm not going to let this happen!"
Daniel felt Jack's grip tighten even as his own fingers let go, so that he was now only held from certain death by the vise-like hold the colonel had on his wrists. He saw Jack close his eyes as he concentrated fiercely on maintaining that grip no matter what.
"Why?" Daniel gasped out, the very words painful. "Why won't you let me go?"
"I can't," Jack rasped, his eyes still closed. "You know why, don't you?"
"You're not my keeper," Daniel answered. "You're not responsible for me."
"Aren't I?" Jack asked, a cold laugh following the words. "Tell me you'd be doing this if I hadn't treated you so badly last weekend. Make me believe you, and then I'll let you go..."
Even as he spoke the words, Jack knew they were a lie. He had no intention of letting Daniel go, letting him fall to a certain and bloody death, no matter what Daniel might say. Daniel said nothing, closing his eyes again as another wave of pain swept through him.
"Daniel?" Jack asked, worried. "You still with me?"
"And lost for words..." Jack said, chuckling slightly. "I'm still waiting for you to convince me I'm not to blame for this new-found eagerness to throw your life away..." Daniel said nothing. "I never had you figured for a quitter," Jack continued, hoping to goad the anthropologist into some emotion. This coldness scared him, coming as it did from such a passionate person.
"Then I guess you never knew me quite as well as you thought," Daniel said quietly. "I surprised you on Saturday, after all..."
Though outwardly Jack was still the same, those words from Daniel made his heart lurch, as if it were planning to escape out of his mouth. This was the first time that the anthropologist had referred so directly to what had happened between them, and all Jack could do was hope that this might be the start of a thawing of the coldness between them.
"You did," Jack agreed, biting down hard on the words he so desperately wanted to say, the declaration that he wanted to make.
What right did he have to tell Daniel that the feelings the younger man had expressed, that Jack himself had rejected, were in fact the same feelings he had?
"I still want us to be friends, Daniel," Jack continued, fearing how Daniel might respond to even these seemingly simple words. The last time he had said something similar, Daniel had spurned this offer to set things back to some semblance of how they were, and Jack waited with bated breath to see what the reaction might be this time.
Daniel said nothing, seeming to be considering the words, and Jack's heart sank back down again.
"How can we?" Daniel blurted out. "You... you'd never be comfortable around me, knowing how I feel about you. In the end, we'd argue again, and once was enough..." Daniel sighed, as if remembering their previous encounter.
When he saw the expression that crossed Daniel's face at that moment, Jack was perversely glad that he was literally at arm's length - if they had been together, it would have been all that Jack could do not to gather the younger man to himself. That expression was so sad, so heart-broken, that Jack's guilt surged within him and he felt tears pricking at the back of his eyes.
"I don't know how to say how sorry I am about that..."
"I don't want to hear it."
Where the hell are Teal'c and Carter? Jack thought again. They should have realised by now that something's wrong and come looking for us. Where are they?
Jack could feel the muscles in his arms beginning to burn, and the pain crossing his shoulders was almost unbearable now.
For the briefest of moments, he wondered if he had done the right thing by hanging onto Daniel like this, but when his mind helpfully supplied a mental image of Daniel lying broken on the floor of the fissure, Jack found himself convinced. How could he have even considered not doing whatever he could to save his friend's life? Even if he didn't have those feelings for Daniel, he had a responsibility for the safety of his team....
"What?" Daniel whispered, his head hanging. The sound echoed strangely in the fissure.
"I meant what I said before about you being an important part of the SGC," Jack replied. "Even if we can't be friends, you're still part of the team. I wanted you to know that."
"Does it matter?" Daniel asked, looking up now, his eyes brimming with tears.
"I don't understand..."
"It's not enough," Daniel muttered. "I thought I could do this, be professional, carry on like I wasn't torn up inside, but I was such an idiot..."
Jack could feel his feet, which had been jammed into a fissure nearby, beginning to move. The extra weight of Daniel was pulling him forward inch by inch - the younger man hadn't realised yet that he was slowly going further down into the chasm, but when he did.... Jack could feel the edge of the fissure digging into his chest, as the hold that had been anchoring him began to slip. Soon he would have to make a choice - one or both of them would fall, he knew that.
"No," Jack said, trying to keep his voice level. "No, Daniel, you weren't an idiot. I should never have treated you that way. I had no right to act all self-righteous. I had no right to try and intercept your letter, stop you from resigning. I never could keep my nose out of other people's business..."
"Try and intercept my letter?" Daniel echoed, a puzzled expression on his face. Jack blushed slightly, realising his slip.
"I... I was sure you'd change your mind," Jack said. "Well, I hoped you would. So I tried to get your letter of resignation before Hammond saw it."
"What?" Daniel said, looking stunned. "If he'd caught you..." His voice trailed off as he considered the possible consequences of Jack's actions.
"He nearly did, Daniel," Jack admitted, a strained smile crossing his face.
"I can't believe you... why would you do that, risk everything?" Daniel asked.
"Like I told you," Jack said, "I caused this mess, I wanted to try and clean it up."
As Jack spoke, he could feel his feet beginning to move, and the way that Daniel's eyes widened, he knew then that the anthropologist could feel it too. This time, Daniel had dropped a good three inches, stopping with a jolt that must have been equally painful to both men.
"If you're going to ask me to let go," Jack said dryly, "I think you know what answer you'll get."
"I wasn't," Daniel whispered. "I don't want to die, Jack..."
Daniel looked up at Jack as he spoke these words, and their eyes locked again. Jack could see the moisture brimming there, watching with an appalled fascination as the first tears escaped, creating trails in their wake through the dust that caked Daniel's face.
"I won't leave you," Jack vowed, making his decision. No matter what happened next, and Jack's mind was unhelpfully cataloguing the possibilities, they would go together.
"If I hadn't told you how I felt," Daniel gasped, choking out the words. "Would you still be doing this?"
"I can't believe you have to ask that, Daniel," Jack replied. "After all we've been through together...."
"I'm sorry," Daniel said, closing his eyes as the tears continued to trickle slowly down his face. "I don't want our last words to each other to be angry ones."
"I'm not angry with you," Jack said, somehow forcing the words past the lump that was forming in his throat. "I wish..." He stopped, guilt washing over him - he didn't have the right to say the words, he knew that with a cold certainty that defied all logic.
"What?" Daniel asked, his eyes opening again.
As he did so, Jack began to shift once more, as he felt the edge of the fissure in which his boots were wedged beginning to crumble away. As he started to slip forward, Jack was perversely glad that the last thing he would see before he went plummeting over the edge of the fissure would be Daniel's face. Even dust-caked as it was, Jack could think of nothing better.
Taking one last look at Daniel, and trying to force a smile onto his face for the obviously terrified anthropologist's benefit, Jack then closed his eyes as he felt himself lurch forward. He felt the edge of the fissure scrape against his chest, then his diaphragm, then his hips, before he was suddenly stopped again by a weight settling across his legs.
"Looks like we got here just in time," said Carter's voice.
"Get Daniel!" Jack rasped, his voice full of all the command he could muster, as well as the fear he had been trying to hide for Daniel's benefit.
Within moments, Jack felt himself being pulled back from his precarious position leaning out over the edge of the chasm, Teal'c's strong hands coming down past him to wrap around Daniel's wrists and help pull him to safety.
Even as the two men lay gasping and shaking on the surface, it took a little while before Jack realised that his hands were still wrapped firmly round the anthropologist's wrists. As he tried to free them, Jack saw the bruises that were beginning to form there on the pale skin, bruises for which he was responsible. His fingers took a moment before they released Daniel completely, so hard had been their grip.
Daniel was pale still, his face covered with dust and a few small cuts where falling stones must have struck him when the edge of the fissure had begun to crumble. He was lying on his back, struggling to breathe, his face contorting slightly with each gasp of air - to Jack's experienced eye, it was confirmation of the broken ribs he had suspected. They needed to get Daniel back to the SGC as soon as they possibly could.
Jack rolled onto his hands and knees, ignoring the way that the muscles in his shoulders and back were protesting. As he struggled to rise, Jack was grateful for the hand that Teal'c offered him, and he used it to lever himself upright, though his head spun slightly when he reached his goal. He must also have wobbled slightly, as he saw the concerned glance the Jaffa gave him, stepping in his direction. He waved Teal'c away with one hand, bending slowly to retrieve his automatic weapon. Somehow, despite the way that the ground had pitched, it had remained on the surface.
"We need to get back to the 'Gate," Jack said, casting an anxious look in Daniel's direction. He hoped that broken ribs was the extent of the younger man's injuries - he didn't dare begin to think what he would do if Daniel had a punctured lung.
"Come on, Daniel," Carter said, squatting beside her friend and wrapping an arm carefully under his. It was a struggle, but the two of them managed to get Daniel upright, though he gasped with pain a couple of times on the way.
Once he knew that the others were following, Jack led the way slowly back to where the 'Gate was still standing, an island of calm in the midst of the planet's upheavals.
He had come so close to blurting out the truth that it frightened him slightly. Despite all his good intentions, the certainty that Daniel would think him a hypocrite, Jack had almost said the words that he yearned to be able to speak.
He had thought about what it would be like - fantasised about the expressions of delight, of astonishment that would appear on Daniel's face when he spoke the words, freed his feelings to the wind, but it could never happen now. Even when they were both so close to death, Jack had been unable to speak his mind.
As he trudged back towards the Stargate, Jack dared not turn round. He could feel the presence of Teal'c, matching his pace as he walked, the Jaffa's silent glances burning across him. When his eyes flicked in Teal'c's direction, he could read nothing on the warrior's implacable face - no emotion was there for him to theorise what the man felt about what was going on between Jack and Daniel.
And there was no way that he could not have an opinion on the subject.
Carter had made her position clear a while back, stating her intention to protect Daniel should the colonel try and hurt him again.
As if that were possible, the voice in Jack's head chided him. As if there were anything left of Daniel to be hurt...
"O'Neill," Teal'c said suddenly, his voice startling Jack.
Here it comes, Jack thought.
"Are you injured also?"
The normality of the question stunned Jack for a moment, and he cast about for an answer that would not appear too flippant.
"A few scrapes, Teal'c," he replied finally. "Nothing to worry about."
"Then it is DanielJackson with whom you are concerned," the Jaffa stated, his voice as steady as ever.
"Wh.. what makes you say that?" Jack asked, casting a slightly anxious glance back in the direction of Daniel and Carter, who were making painfully slow progress behind them.
Teal'c's only response was to raise one eyebrow, as if he could not believe that the colonel was really questioning his statement. Jack sighed in resignation.
"Okay," he admitted finally. "I am worried about Daniel - I think he broke a few ribs when he took his swan-dive during the earthquake."
"I was not referring to DanielJackson's physical injuries, O'Neill," the Jaffa said, his voice rumbling with meaning.
No getting out of this one, Jack thought.
"If you've got something to say, Teal'c," Jack said, without looking round at his companion, "just say it, okay?"
"I have been... concerned," the Jaffa began. "I had always thought that you and DanielJackson were friends, yet recently you have not spoken to each other. Has something transpired between you?"
Jack thought for a moment, wondering how he could respond to the straightforward statements of his friend. Something had transpired, he had to admit, something elemental between them.
"We argued," Jack conceded finally, hoping that the half-truth would be enough. "Friends argue all the time."
Teal'c's eyebrow rose, with a silent eloquence that Jack had long ago become used to.
"Okay," Jack said, after a moment's thought. "Maybe it's not that simple. Daniel... he told me something... something about himself that... well, it surprised me, okay?"
"DanielJackson told you of his feelings for you," Teal'c stated, his voice as calm as ever.
"What?" Jack blurted, stopping in his tracks as what Teal'c had said sunk in.
He turned to face the Jaffa, glancing over Teal'c's shoulder towards where Carter and Daniel were making their painfully slow progress across the plain towards where the two men stood.
"Did... did Daniel say something to you?" Jack choked out, dreading the answer. It was bad enough that he had messed everything up with his panic-driven reaction to Daniel's words, but if Daniel had already confided in the Jaffa.... "Who... Does anyone else know about this?"
Teal'c shook his head, still gazing silently at Jack. After a moment of contemplating the Jaffa's face, Jack sighed and turned back in the direction of the 'Gate, and began to walk again.
Even as his feet hit the ramp on the other side of the Stargate, Jack was calling for a medic, confident that they would be able to help Daniel when he stepped through the event horizon a few moments later. It was only a matter of minutes before the usual chaotic-seeming arrival of the medical team, its' members clustering round the injured anthropologist with intent expressions, bundling him onto a gurney and wheeling him swiftly away.
Daniel's eyes were screwed closed with pain as the medics wheeled him away, his face caked with the dust of the planet, and, no matter how hard he tried, Jack could not tear his eyes away from his friend until the door closed behind the hurrying team.
"Well, colonel?" Hammond asked, looking up at Jack from where he was standing near the base of the ramp.
Jack pulled off his cap as he walked down to where the general was standing. He twisted it in his hands as he tried not to think of how close he had come to losing everything he cared about, to watching Daniel plummet to his death, powerless to save him.
"Earthquake, sir. We came a little too close to losing Daniel," Jack said, his eyes inadvertently returning to the door through which Daniel had just left.
"We'll debrief in the morning, Colonel," Hammond said, his expression softening slightly at the stricken look on Jack's face. "Oh-nine hundred hours."
"Thank you, sir," Jack said, looking round and discovering that the two of them were alone in the embarkation room.
"Dismissed," Hammond said, watching Jack as he left, his eyes thoughtful.
"I'm fine," Daniel said.
Even the way Janet's eyebrow rose at those words was enough to quell whatever might come next. Daniel sighed and lay back on the examination table, closing his eyes in resignation.
"I'm the doctor, Doctor," Janet quipped, noting that this did not even make Daniel open his eyes. "We'll get you x-rayed, and then I'll decide whether you're fine or not. For now, my professional opinion is that you have a number of cracked, if not broken, ribs. This, in my book, makes you anything but fine..."
Daniel did not answer, his face as pale and calm as if Janet had not spoken.
"Did you hit your head as well, Daniel?" Janet asked, not liking the pallor of the archaeologist's face.
Daniel opened his eyes slowly, seeming as though he was reluctant to return. He shook his head in response to her question.
"Jack..." he began. "Jack hit his head when the first quake struck. I just got squeezed a little, that's all."
"Where is the colonel?" Janet asked, her eyes sweeping the infirmary. "Normally I have to drive the rest of the team out of here with a big stick if one of you is injured." As she spoke, Janet did not notice Daniel swallow nervously. "I expect they'll all be along shortly."
She doesn't know, Daniel thought, with some relief. Somehow he had thought that his behaviour towards Jack had been so extraordinary that everyone would have noticed it, and the sense of relief that it was not common knowledge was almost overwhelming.
Even as he left the SGC, after a cursory examination by Dr. Warner, Jack knew that what he was currently experiencing was the calm before the storm. There was no way that Daniel would let this go, he knew that with a certainty that both worried and relieved him. Daniel's mind was like a steel trap, merciless, never letting go of a fact once he had hold of it, at least not until he had worried it into submission. So Jack knew that, once Daniel was able to do so, he would pursue the truth, demanding answers that Jack might not be willing to give.
Did I want this all along? he wondered, as he drove home. Did I set myself up for this, knowing that once I mentioned trying to intercept Daniel's resignation, he'd pursue the matter till he found out what was going on?
Even as he turned his jeep into the driveway, all Jack could think about was the way that Daniel had looked up at him, his eyes welling with tears as he tried to persuade Jack to let go, to let him fall to his death.
I need a drink, he thought.
"Well, Daniel," Janet said, reappearing at his bed-side after what seemed like an eternity of waiting, "you'll be glad to know that your ribs are only cracked. The shortness of breath you were experiencing seems to have been a reaction to the dust that was thrown up when the quakes struck. I just need to get you taped up and then you can get off home and get some rest."
With that, Janet turned away slightly, making a couple of notations on the chart she held, before putting it back in its usual place. As a result, she did not see the look of relief that crossed Daniel's face when he realised that she was not going to keep him in for observation like so many times before.
Just a little longer, he thought, and then I'm out of here.
He was so deep in thought, his eyes following Janet's movements as she assembled the things she needed to strap his ribs, that the voice startled him.
"What's the verdict, Daniel?" Carter asked, trying unsuccessfully to mask her concern behind a smile.
"Hi Sam," Daniel said, attempting to muster up some enthusiasm to greet her. All he could think about was Jack and his patience with the things that were stopping him from going and confronting the colonel was wearing thin. "Not too bad, just cracked my ribs."
"Really?" Carter queried, glancing across to catch Janet's eye as Daniel was speaking. Janet nodded her agreement.
"Just need to tape him up and he's on his way," she confirmed.
"No need to use your bed tonight then?" Carter quipped.
"I think I'll pass this time," Daniel replied. He knew it was a standing joke in the SGC that there was a bed permanently reserved for him whenever SG1 went off-world, but today he had no tolerance for it.
"But you could barely breathe when we got back to the 'Gate," Carter continued, tenaciously.
"I took in a lot of dust, Sam," Daniel said. "It felt like I was bringing back half the planet, one way or another."
"I'm just glad you're okay, Daniel," Carter said. "When we got to the fissure and saw you just hanging there..."
"I know," Daniel said.
"When you're finished here, d'you want to get something to eat?" Carter asked.
Daniel sighed inwardly. As much as he wanted to rush out to Jack's place, to confront him about the things he had let slip when they had been alone together, all his body wanted was food and sleep.
"Sure Sam," he agreed, stifling a yawn as he thought of the bed in his quarters longingly. "I'll see you in the mess-hall. Or you can wait for me?"
With a smile, Carter settled down onto a nearby chair and watched Janet go to work.
Jack nursed the cold bottle of beer, sitting in his living room in the quiet darkness. From where he was sitting he could see the lights of passing cars as they raked across the wall, crossing at an angle before disappearing into the ceiling as the cars made the turn down the hillside.
On a night like this, still and clear, he would usually be found up on the roof, scanning the night sky intently for whatever could be found there. But not tonight. Tonight, all he wanted to do was sit, drink, and try to forget.
Why do I do this? he wondered. Why am I afraid to admit to Daniel how I feel about him?
"Boy, the food here just doesn't get any better, does it?" Carter said, pushing her chair slightly away from the table as she leant back in her seat. "Daniel?"
Carter grinned. Daniel was struggling to keep awake, his head nodding every so often as he picked at the remnants of his meal.
"I was complaining about the food..."
"Oh. Right. The food."
Carter glanced round the mess-hall as Daniel was speaking. They were the only two people there - it was really the middle of the night, and the base always seemed half-deserted at this hour.
"I wanted to talk with you," Carter began, stifling another grin as Daniel yawned again. "It must have been awkward for you, being with the colonel for so long on that planet..."
"At first," Daniel conceded. "You know how hard it was for me to come back to the SGC." Carter nodded, her eyes giving silent encouragement. After a moment's thought, Daniel spoke again. "Something changed between me and Jack, Sam. Something important. And I think it started a long time ago."
"What are you talking about" Sam asked.
Daniel shook his head.
"I'm not completely sure myself," he replied. "I thought I knew how things were between us, and then I found that I was wrong, but maybe not quite as wrong as I thought." Daniel yawned again, a real jaw-cracker this time. "I think I'd better get to bed, or I'll never make it to the debriefing at 0900. 'Night Sam."
"Goodnight, Daniel," Carter replied, automatically. She watched Daniel get up from his seat, pushing back the chair, before he left the mess-hall without a backward glance. There was a frown on her forehead as she tried to make sense of her friend's enigmatic words - after a few moments, she shook her head as if dismissing them, turning back to her cup of coffee. When he woke, Daniel found himself surprised that he had been able to sleep at all. He had been convinced, despite the tiredness of his body, that sleep would elude him, his brain churning as it was with thoughts and ideas. But he could not deny what had happened - he had slept.
Glancing over at his watch where it rested on the small cupboard beside the bed, he saw that it was 0730. Sighing slightly, Daniel laid back on the bed, his eyes coming to rest on the ceiling as he thought about what today might be like.
First, he thought, I have to get through the mission debriefing. Maybe then I'll get a chance to talk with Jack?
The hope he felt at that thought surprised him. Surely he should feel only anger towards Jack? After all, he had been the one to start this chain of events, which had almost ended with Daniel resigning from the SGC.
Daniel closed his eyes for a moment, recalling the way he had felt that night. Why had he thought it was such a good idea to tell Jack how he felt about him?
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time...
He sighed at the bitterness of his internal voice, the self-mockery behind those seemingly-casual words. It was simple words like that which had shattered his world, wrecking the one friendship he valued above all others.
He had come so close to walking away from everything he had worked so hard to achieve. It had been an effort to carve himself a niche in the SGC, to gain the acceptance of the people with whom he worked. And at the time it had seemed like energy well-expended. For the first time since he could recall, even before he went to Abydos, Daniel felt as though he was a part of something.
When he had been with Sha're, he had been loved, respected, but he had always felt himself a man apart. He had seen the glances the Abydians tried to hide, the comments on his strangeness - they were something he had been used to all his life, in a way, but he had never been able to free himself from them, no matter how hard he tried.
But the SGC had been different.
Not at first, he had to admit. At first, he had faced the same age-old struggle that he knew so well, the struggle to be taken seriously. And Jack had helped him, stood up for his craziest ideas at times when he did not expect support, at times when all he expected to receive for his enthusiasm was derisive laughter.
In time, he had come to feel as though the SGC, the men and women who worked there, were different from those he had worked with before. Once he had managed to prove himself to them once, they did not ask him to do so time and time again. There was a level of trust, of mutual understanding, that he had long searched for in the academic world. If this was what military training had wrought, then Daniel had to admit himself a convert.
And then he had tried to tear it all apart, destroy the thing that he had treasured the most in the dark times. He had only thought about the way he felt, as if the words were too powerful for him to hold back any longer. If he had envisaged an outcome, Daniel had to admit to himself that it was hazy at best.
What had he expected Jack to do?
Looking back at the moment, could Daniel really be surprised at Jack's reaction? Surely the only thing he could comment on was its vehemence, not the fact that it happened. And, like an idiot, Daniel had let things escalate, wallowing in his own misery and forgetting what he stood to lose....
If he had not changed his mind, having thought about what Sam had to say, his guilty conscience kicking in to make him reconsider....
And if I hadn't changed my mind...? Daniel wondered. If I wasn't here, what the hell would I be doing? If I could find a reputable university to take me, still the thought of all those unexplored planets out there alone should be enough, let alone Sha're...
Daniel let that thought trail off, uncomfortable with the feelings of guilt that rose within him when he thought of his wife. Even now, months after her death, the thought of what she had gone through made him shudder slightly - how could he step away from what he was doing, even if his primary motivation was no longer there?
I never had the kind of relationship with Sha're that I have with Jack, he thought. And I almost blew it with him. What was I thinking? I'll be lucky if I can salvage something of our former friendship, especially as I was the one telling him that I couldn't cope with just being friends...
"Time to get up, Daniel," he said to himself.
I have to do this, Jack thought, as his jeep pulled into the car park at the SGC. There is no other way... Sure, Daniel's not going to like it, but what choice do I have? Yesterday was way too close. I can't do this, not now, not any more.
It had been a restless night. Despite the couple of beers Jack had put away before bed time, his thoughts had remained horribly clear and acute, the experiences of the past few days seeming to be burned into his consciousness. Even in his sleep, Jack had seen the tear-streaked face of his friend, the tracks those tears had created through his dusty face, as he hung suspended in the chasm.
But in the version that haunted his dreams, Daniel fell.
Twice he had woken from that dream, his throat sore with the hoarseness that only screaming can produce. After the second time, Jack had realised that he was wasting his time trying to get any rest.
He could only remember fragments of his nightmare, not enough to be sure whether he had let Daniel go through choice or by accident....
What does it matter? he thought. Dead is dead. I can't do this...
Finding Hammond in his office before the briefing began had been a godsend. Although he knew that there was no way he could tell the truth about his motives behind wanting this change of affairs for the team, Jack knew that his perceptive superior would see through any pretense he put forward. He would have to sail as close to the truth as possible, without actually stating the facts.
"Sir?" he asked, seeking permission to enter. The general looked up and beckoned Jack into his office.
"Colonel. The briefing isn't till 0900."
"I know, sir," Jack replied. He hesitated for a moment, considering his words under the watchful eyes of the general. "I have a favour to ask."
Hammond's eyebrows rose, in recognition of the unusual event. Too often, Colonel O'Neill was in this office making wisecracks, at times practically telling him how to do his job, and now he was asking for a favour?
"I'd like to request that Daniel be temporarily assigned to duty within the SGC," Jack began. "This request is no reflection on his performance as part of SG1, you know how hard I pressed for him to be included in the team. And at times, more times than I care to think about, he has proved himself an invaluable member."
"But...?" Hammond prompted, when Jack hesitated for a moment.
"But I think he needs a break, and I know that the archaeologists would appreciate some of his time. He's always saying he never gets a chance to really study anything," Jack said. "I've seen the missions that SG1 has lined up for the next few weeks. They're standard reconn, so we could just go in and out, see what's there and call for extra input if necessary."
"I have to admit," Hammond said, looking across at where Jack was standing at ease in front of his desk, "the archaeologists have been complaining they have too much to catalog. How do you think Dr. Jackson would feel about this?" Hammond stopped, an assessing look crossing his face. "Does he know you're asking me about this?"
"I'd appreciate it, sir," Jack said, "if you didn't mention that this idea came from me. Daniel... well, he'd only get the wrong idea about why I wanted this, you understand, don't you?"
He'd know exactly why I wanted him somewhere else, even though it'd give me time to figure out what the hell I'm doing...
"Very well, colonel," Hammond said, fixing him with an implacable look. "As a temporary measure only, I'll put Dr. Jackson on standby at your request." As he was looking at the colonel when he spoke, Hammond could not miss the expression that flitted across Jack's face - it was clear that the colonel wanted to add something. "But it was my idea," the general added, and watched Jack visibly relax at those words. "Dismissed."
"Thank you, sir."
When Jack walked into the conference room, ten minutes before the briefing was due to start, he was surprised to see Daniel there. The anthropologist was pale, that was certain, but the very fact that the events of the previous days were clearly not a figment of the colonel's imagination were clear.
Daniel looked up at the sound of someone coming in, a tentative smile appearing when he saw who it was.
"Jack." Daniel greeted him hesitantly.
After that simple exchange, an awkward silence fell between the two men for a moment.
Both men spoke as one, each looking embarrassed when the other spoke.
"You first, Jack."
"If you're sure?" Jack asked. Daniel nodded, his eyes intent on the other man as he crossed to the opposite side of the long table and took a seat. "I wanted to be sure you were okay... after yesterday, I mean." Daniel said nothing. "Your ribs?" Jack prompted.
"Cracked," Daniel said, simply. "Your head?"
Jack fingered the bandage on his forehead, feeling the skin starting to itch slightly where the adhesive met the skin.
"Just a bump."
"Good." Daniel took a long pull at his mug of coffee. "I'm early."
"I noticed," Jack said. "Couldn't sleep?"
"Just the opposite," Daniel answered. "I didn't think I would, not with all that's been going on." Between us, he thought, not daring to add the words. Surely Jack could tell despite his silence? Could his friend hear the words he could not bring himself to speak? "I slept well, though. What about you?"
"Not so good," Jack admitted with a grimace. "Adrenaline, you know..."
"Not surprising. That was a bit too close." Daniel closed his eyes for a moment, as if trying to drive away the memories. "And you know how I hate heights," he added, after a moment.
"I'd forgotten," Jack admitted. "I mean, not really forgotten, it just hadn't crossed my mind when... when we were on the planet."
"Well, you were busy..." Daniel said, trying to smile again. He felt awkward, talking with Jack like this, skating around the things he longed to say in a desperate attempt to rescue their friendship from the storm his words had created.
"Ya think?" Jack quipped, with a grin. "It all worked out okay anyway."
If only that were true, he thought. If only everything were alright between us again. I'd give anything to turn back the clock to how things were...
Silence again. Daniel drank another mouthful of coffee, wondering what to say next. He wanted to ask Jack about what he had said when they were on the planet together, about the reasons behind the things that had happened between them, the things he now suspected.
I don't know where to start, Jack, Daniel thought sadly. It took so few words to put us where we are - how many would it take to fix this mess?
"Daniel, I..." Jack began, just as the door to the conference room opened, admitting the other two members of SG1.
"What?" Daniel prompted, when Jack did not say any more.
"Later, Daniel." Jack's tone was firm, his eyes flicking from Daniel's face to take in the newcomers.
"Daniel, Colonel," Carter said, greeting the two men.
With a glance the major took in the appearance of her friends. She was glad to see that Daniel was looking better than when she had last seen him - there was something of his former sparkle there, a life that had been missing from his eyes for the past few days had returned.
Jack, on the other hand, looked awful. The bruise on his forehead was creeping out from behind the bandage there and he looked tired, more tired than Carter could recall seeing him.
There was an atmosphere in the briefing room, an almost tangible feeling that the two newcomers had interrupted something important. For a moment Carter was silent, unsure of whether anything she might say would be welcome. Her decision was taken from her, however, when Hammond entered the conference room a few moments later, and she and Teal'c hastened to their seats.
The briefing itself passed without incident. Jack could not help but compare it to the one before the mission, with this time Daniel being more his usual self, more animated than the colonel could recall for a long time. It seemed as if he were over-compensating for his silence in the previous meeting, as if the anthropologist were using all the words that he had not last time around.
I never thought I'd be so glad to hear Daniel rattle on, Jack thought.
He shuddered slightly as he thought of the alternative, of the minutes he had spent contemplating the apparent certain death that lay before the two of them, so awkwardly suspended in the chasm. Suddenly he was happy for Daniel to speak at length, letting his words flow over him like warm water, until he was almost hypnotised by them.
He had spoken of the period of time the two of them had been so precariously balanced between life and death, choosing his words carefully to eliminate any chance of them betraying him. Jack knew that he had revealed more to Daniel than he ever intended in those long minutes, and, if he could not take those words back, then what tactic was possible for him other than denial?
It was over soon after that - as the meeting drew to a close, Hammond asked Daniel to accompany him to his office, and Jack watched the two men leave, knowing what they were to discuss.
Puzzled, Daniel followed the general into his office. This was not a place he came often, and most of the times he had been here before had been as the result of some tragedy, some catastrophic event. What could it be this time? Daniel's stomach churned slightly as he waited for a moment, unsure whether he wanted to be seated or remain standing to receive the bombshell that was doubtless headed his way.
He couldn't know about me and Jack, could he? Daniel thought, beginning to panic slightly before reason took over and calmed him down. What is there to know? Jack doesn't feel the same way about me as I do about him, so surely 'don't ask, don't tell' is hardly an issue here...
"Have a seat, Dr. Jackson," Hammond said, when he realised that the anthropologist was still standing.
"Have I done something?" Daniel blurted out, reddening slightly at the unintended double meaning of his words.
"It's nothing like that, son," the general said. "Please, sit down." When Daniel had finally taken a seat, Hammond leaned forward slightly, resting his hands together on the desk, his pudgy fingers interlocking there. "I've asked you here in order to make a request," he began.
"What is it, general?"
"Have you spoken with Dr. Johannsen recently?" Hammond asked.
"The other day," Daniel said. "We were comparing notes on translations from various Goa'uld dialects."
"Then it probably won't come as any great surprise to you, Dr. Jackson, when I say that the archaeology unit is struggling at the moment." Daniel nodded. "I'd like to ask you to accept a temporary transfer from SG1 for a couple of weeks, to help them try and catch up."
"I knew Carrie... uh, Dr. Johannsen was under pressure," Daniel said, "but I hadn't realised things were so bad. She never said she was finding it more difficult to get everything done than usual..."
I need to speak with her, Hammond thought. Right after I deal with this...
"I'll do whatever I can to help," Daniel said. "But what about Jack? I mean, you haven't told Colonel O'Neill about this yet, have you? He didn't mention anything just now..."
"Not yet," Hammond lied. "I wanted to speak with you, get your agreement to it before I told the colonel what was happening."
"Okay," Daniel said, getting up from the chair. He froze for a moment, as a thought had obviously struck him. "Temporary, right?"
"Two weeks would be helpful, Dr. Jackson," Hammond said. "We couldn't ask for you to be separated from your team for much more than that."
"Two weeks. I can do that," Daniel said. "I've missed the labs, so it'll be nice to have a chance to concentrate on the academic side of things, rather than dodging people trying to kill me."
"Send Colonel O'Neill in when you leave, Dr. Jackson."
The next few days passed in something of a blur for Daniel. Dr. Johannsen had been overjoyed to learn that Daniel was joining her team, even if only for a couple of weeks, and soon he had more interesting inscriptions to puzzle over than he could have desired.
SG1 had left for a routine mission - the MALP probe's results had indicated that there was little likelihood of any civilization existing on the planet in question, which seemed to have been valued only as a source of naquadah, long since used up.
Even so, General Hammond seemed to have taken perverse pleasure in assigning one Dr. Stacey Wilson to the team on a temporary secondment - Jack had been forced to grudgingly accept this, knowing that he had somewhat brought this state of affairs on his own head as a result of his request concerning Daniel.
Daniel was working hard, but the regular visits of a number of SGC staff, Major Ferretti and Janet Fraiser included, were ensuring that he ate regular meals and even got a good night's sleep.
All in all, Daniel thought, this secondment has been a good thing.
Even though he had enough to think about in relation to the work he was doing for Dr. Johannsen, the time away from SG1 had given Daniel ample opportunity to consider his relationship with Jack, and to test the reality of his feelings for the colonel.
I'm just going to have to live with the fact that Jack doesn't feel about me the same way I feel about him. The thought did not please the anthropologist, but he could not find it in himself to argue against its logic. If I can rebuild something of our friendship, persuade Jack that it was just a moment of madness on my part, even though I know that's a lie...
If Jack had ever thought Daniel was annoying, he was now prepared to declare the anthropologist a prince among men.
Dr. Stacey Wilson had taken all his concerns about scientists, female or otherwise, and proved them all at once. The long and the short of it was that the woman did not know when to shut up.
Jack found himself sighing with frustration for the tenth time this morning. Even when Daniel was at his most talkative, at least he had learned to interpret the colonel's non verbal communication and had known when to stop talking. Dr. Wilson, it seemed, did not have a clue about body language and Jack was hesitant to tell her to be quiet, feeling a little guilty for having unintentionally inflicted her on the other two members of SG1.
Not only was the woman a chatterbox, she was also brash and abrasive. From the very moment she opened her mouth, it was clear that she believed that everything she said was correct, even if the evidence pointed clearly to a completely contradictory explanation - in short, no-one could tell her anything!
I wish Daniel was here, Jack thought, before becoming annoyed with himself for even thinking of the anthropologist. Dammit. If he'd just kept his feelings to himself, none of this would have happened, and I wouldn't be stuck here with this Guinness Book of Records champion prattler.
Jack stifled a grin at the expression on Teal'c's face. Anyone who had only recently met the Jaffa would not be able to realise that the usually stoic man was becoming more and more annoyed with the antics of their temporary team member.
It was only as the team were settling down for the night that Carter had the opportunity to speak with Jack.
Dr. Wilson had fallen asleep the moment her head hit the pillow, and was now sleeping the sleep of the just, gentle snores rattling across to where the colonel and major were sitting by the campfire. Teal'c was on watch, sitting cross-legged nearby, a solid lump of shadow in the moonlight.
"Major. Join me?"
Carter settled down beside where Jack was sitting, after which there was silence between the two of them for a moment.
"Colonel," Carter began, "I wanted to apologise to you..."
Jack turned his head towards Carter as she spoke - those were some of the last words he had expected to hear coming out of her mouth right about now.
He had expected some sort of complaint about being saddled with Dr. Wilson, although he knew better than to expect the major to come out with a direct comparison with Daniel. He could understand her reluctance to criticise another woman working in what was, he knew, a very male environment, even if that woman was driving them all to distraction.
"Apologise?" he echoed. "I was expecting some sort of delegation." He looked pointedly over at where Dr. Wilson was snoring away, oblivious to all that was going on around her. "I could understand that..."
"It's not about Dr. Wilson," Carter continued, "not that I don't wish Daniel was here, regardless of who he might have been replaced by. It's about how things have been between you and Daniel. I took sides, and I shouldn't have."
"I don't hold any of that against you, Carter," Jack said. "In fact, I'd have been more surprised if you hadn't had an opinion on the subject after the things that SG1 has been through together."
"But I didn't help matters between you, did I?"
"On the contrary, Major," Jack said. "I think you did. Daniel was ready to resign, remember? I'd had no luck in persuading him to stay with us - I don't know what it was you said, but it worked."
Suddenly Carter was glad that they were sitting by a fire - the lack of light would disguise her embarrassment as she recalled the emotional blackmail she had used on Daniel when her friend was at his most vulnerable. She decided to change the subject slightly, hoping that the colonel would not realise why she had done so.
"And Dr. Wilson. Why is she here, rather than Daniel?" Carter asked. "I don't really believe that you'd accept Daniel being temporarily re-assigned without a fight if there wasn't something else going on..."
"Not everything is a government conspiracy, Mulder," Jack said, with a grin.
"With all due respect, sir," Carter said. "Don't try and snow me here. I have a theory, but I'm not sure if you're going to like it."
"The reason that you accepted Daniel not being here," Carter said, "was that you asked for him to be re-assigned."
Hammond was right, back when we first met, Carter, Jack thought. You are way smarter than me...
Jack sighed to himself, closing his eyes as he was contemplating what he should do - Carter was obviously concerned about the way things stood between himself and Daniel, and was trying to be even-handed with the two of them.
But how far could he trust her?
It wasn't that he thought she would run and tell Daniel anything he had confided to her, but how could he expect her to deal with being driven, by her friendship with both of them, to choose between himself and Daniel?
"I'm right, aren't I?" Carter asked, an intent expression on her face visible even in the flickering firelight. When Jack did not answer, she smiled. "I knew it." It was clear that she had spoken to herself. "This is a temporary situation, isn't it colonel?"
"Of course it is, Major," Jack snapped, his own dislike of misleading Daniel coming out in his words. "Do you really think I'd jeopardise the future of SG1 this way?"
"But what about Daniel? What will happen when he realises what you've done?" Carter asked, frowning slightly at the thought of it. "I don't think he'll understand why you've done this." She paused. "Why have you done this, colonel?" she asked, after a moment's silence.
Jack sighed again, considering for a moment before he spoke.
Do I have a choice? he wondered.
"I'm sure you have an idea what started this situation between me and Daniel," Jack began, glancing across at Carter as he spoke. She nodded. "I'm not saying I handled things well. I think, hell I know I could have handled things better. But I didn't."
He glanced across at Carter again. Her face was inscrutable now and she did not speak.
"You know what happened on our last mission. We were so close to going over that edge together. I needed time to think about how we can move on from this, and I can't do that with Daniel around."
"But you couldn't tell him that?" Carter pressed, her face still unreadable.
"Don't you think I've done enough?" Jack snapped. He halted, horrified at the words even as they left his mouth. "I mean... hell, I don't know what I mean any more..."
Jack was stumbling over the words, trying desperately to rescue himself from the wreckage of this conversation, to save some crumb of his self-respect under the unflinching gaze of the Major.
"Get some sleep, sir." Carter's voice was kind but firm. "Things will look different in the morning."
|Continued in Part 3...|
Disclaimer : Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is written for entertainment purposes only - no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story-line are the property of the author - not to be archived elsewhere without permission.