Jack shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his fatigues, his face schooled in an unreadable _expression to those passing him in the halls of the SGC. He made a concerted effort to keep the bounce out of his step. 'Colonels do not bounce', he reprimanded himself as he rounded the corner leading to his final destination.
Jack stood in the open doorway, feeling the hidden smile bloom and take root on his face. He took a deep breath, feeling like one who has come home, and then stepped over the threshold of the dimly lit office of one Doctor Daniel Jackson. During the weeks since his return, Daniel had once again made this office his sanctuary, creating comfort out of simple material things of Earth. Artifacts unearthed from storage, books uncovered from sealed boxes were all back home on the shelves they'd departed from almost one year ago.
Jack was so darned happy he began to whistle, feeling free to exuberantly mangle the unsuspecting melody as the office's owner was not currently around to object. He walked along the perimeter of the room, letting his fingers trail aimlessly along the spines of the books lining the shelving units, indulging himself by picking up and examining several of Daniel's hinkier-looking treasures, objects Jack usually wasn't allowed to touch because SG-1's archaeologist had kittens whenever he did.
Jack had been enjoying his solitary exploration of Daniel's playground, so when his sixth sense alerted him to something not quite kosher in this cinderblock office, a slew of silent curses traipsed through his mind. With a caution so exaggerated it bordered on laughable, Jack replaced the artifact cupped in his hands to its resting place on the shelf. Jack's narrowed eyes surveyed the room, his body alert as he assessed the situation, irritated at the disappearance of the peace he had experienced only moments before.
Jack's gaze was drawn to Daniel's desk, the focal point of the room. It was a military regulation metal desk; a simple cluttered piece of furniture was scaring the crap out of him. An inanimate object in a room full of inanimate objects was sending its siren song to Jack, wagging its fingers, demanding closer investigation by the Colonel.
Jack paced the length of the desk, annoyed at his inability to categorize the "wrongness" of this scenario. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the haphazardly strewn papers, books and folders on the desk, the coffee cups, empty commissary plates, crumpled Starbucks' wrappers littering its surface, all were typical indicators of "Daniel works here." Hel-lo, maybe he'd spoken too soon. Jack's nostrils flared, the odor of vomit assaulting him as he approached the furthest corner of the desk. He leaned forward and warily eyed the garbage can where it would seem Daniel had recently lost his lunch.
"Gross," Jack grunted as he backtracked to the opposite side of the desk, his own stomach threatening retaliation if he didn't immediately distance himself from the smell.
Jack swallowed a number of times to quell his nausea and for good measure counted to ten before he picked up the phone, which lay half buried under books and papers on the archaeologist's desk. Cradling the receiver between his left shoulder and chin, Jack punched in the numbers that would connect him to the infirmary and waited impatiently for Fraiser to answer. He righted a cup whose contents had spread over a pile of papers on the desk sighing with exasperation as he pulled a wad of tissues from the ever-present box.
"Is Dr. Jackson there?'" Jack asked. He had no patience for the stammering nurse that answered the phone. "Get me Dr. Fraiser," Jack ordered as he began to blot at the spill of coffee with the tissues until the papers hidden beneath the cold, brown liquid were revealed. Oh crap.
With shaking hands Jack severed the connection to the infirmary and dialed the extension to the final checkpoint.
"Damn it!" Jack bellowed into the receiver, taking no pity on the airman who bore the brunt of the Colonel's anger. "Damn it," he reiterated softly in a voice tinged with anger and sorrow as the airman informed him for a second time Dr. Jackson had signed out over ninety minutes ago.
* * * * *
Jack climbed the ladder to his roof with mixed emotions; anger, annoyance, fear, and a touch of surprise at having found the archaeologist's car in his driveway. It had been the last place Jack expected to see it and the final place Jack had thought to look. He paused in his ascent and wiped a sweaty palm on the front of his shirt as he admonished himself over his body's reaction to finding Daniel.
"This is ridiculous, it's just Daniel," Jack mumbled as he hoisted himself over the ledge and onto the roof.
"Daniel," Jack made a valiant effort to keep his voice neutral as he took tentative steps in the direction of the man whose concentration was focused on the telescope trained on the night sky.
Daniel never removed his eyes from the telescope but acknowledged Jack's presence with a clearly stated, emotionless, "Shut up." He shuffled his body to the edge of the chair, huddling closer to the telescope as he hunched his shoulders up around his ears.
"Go away, Jack," was Daniel's toneless reply.
Jack bit back a retort about this being *his* house while he stealthy inched his way over to Daniel. Jack placed his hand on Daniel's shoulder, giving a slight squeeze to the tense muscle under his fingers.
"You sonofabitch!" Daniel jerked from under his grasp and rose, facing Jack. Words may have been Daniel's lifeblood, but the man who stood before Jack, with flushed cheeks and clenched fists, was struggling and failing to find the right ones to convey his agitation. Losing the battle, frustration won out and Daniel swung the telescope. Mounted on a tripod for maneuverability, the heavy metal tube spun with a savage momentum generated by anger and hurt. Jack bit back a grimace as he halted the cylinder by letting it painfully slam into his right hand.
His back ramrod straight, Jack didn't flinch, didn't blink as Daniel leaned into his personal space and fired a torrent of guttural obscenities at him. Daniel was evidently drawing heavily on his extensive linguistic repertoire. The low, angry words were unfamiliar but spoken with unmistakable sadness. The telescope was sandwiched between their two bodies and Jack steadfastly gripped the cool, metal casing with shaking fingers to ground him and to stop him from enveloping the ranting man in his arms.
Emotionally spent, Daniel finished his tirade with the statement Jack had been waiting for and dreading since he'd blotted up the coffee from the Mission Report on Daniel's desk.
"Abydos is gone. The Abydonians are all dead. Why didn't you tell me?"
"They aren't dead, Daniel," Jack scrambled to reassure him, even though the words sounded like hollow platitudes, even to him. "They've ascended, they're with Oma."
Jack felt a chill run down his spine at Daniel's snort of disdain. "Honestly, Jack, think back to when I joined Oma. Where did you think I was then? Hmm, tell me? Did you think of me as ascended-or was I gone? Gone as in dead. 'Cause I don't know, but there was a death certificate with my name on it Janet had to rescind. To my knowledge, those pieces of paper with official stamps are only issued when someone is dead." Daniel dropped his chilled hands atop Jack's and began to shake the telescope so forcefully Jack could feel the reverberations down through the metallic supportive legs of the tripod.
Unbidden memories of sharing the telescope with Charlie during quiet, star lit nights caused a hot flash of anger to spear through his heart. The same telescope that had sparked dreams of traveling through space in the mind of a little child would be shattered if Jack continued to allow it to be the victim of Daniel's abusive, misplaced anger and frustration.
Jack slid his hands out from under the cool appendages covering his and switched positions, so his hands now embraced Daniel's. Jack gathered up his strength and stated with a calmness that belied his anger, "Hey, Daniel, easy with the 'scope, it's important to me."
"You want to know something, Jack? Abydos was-Abydos *is* important to me." Daniel snatched his hands from Jack's grasp, and wrapped his arms around his chest. "You still haven't answered my question, Jack. Where did SG1 and the SGC believe me to be when I joined Oma? I wasn't sitting around the briefing table, or hanging about in the locker room or eating in the commissary, was I? Of course I wasn't because, I was *gone*. Like Abydos is gone, like Kasuf and Skaara. All gone! All dead." Stark horror extinguished the flame of fury in the depths of Daniel's eyes as the reality of his statement struck home. "I can't go back there again, can I?" Daniel asked plaintively, his shoulders drooping in abject misery.
Jack cautiously maneuvered around the telescope, giving the casing a final pat before he approached Daniel with his arms opened wide. He stood his ground when Daniel stepped back from him. "Stay away, please," Daniel begged. "I don't need a hug or words of comfort. It's too late for those." Grim satisfaction spread over Daniel's features as Jack's outstretched hands fell uselessly to his sides. "Now I just need honesty. Can you do that, Jack, can you be honest?"
"Yes," Jack whispered, unable to speak louder around the lump that had formed in his throat.
"Can I go ho-can I go to Abydos?"
"Why not?" Daniel challenged.
Jack would have rather faced a platoon of Jaffa than follow the road where these questions were leading. "The temple, the pyramid, the Stargate, the whole shebang was destroyed."
"I'll never again sit by Sha're's grave, will I?"
Jack averted his eyes, unable to meet the agony etched on Daniel's face. Mutely, Jack shook his head. Lying was not an option but the basic truth was too painful to even vocalize and too painful, in Jack's opinion, for Daniel to hear.
"Was it my fault?" Daniel whispered in a barely audible voice.
Jack itched to touch Daniel, but he respected the younger man's aversion to tactile comfort for the moment, and settled with tucking his aching hands deep into his jacket pockets. "They didn't die, Daniel."
Daniel observed Jack with eyes that had aged years since yesterday and spoke louder than words of the deep pain the man was trying to deal with. "Honesty, Jack," he pleaded. "I asked for nothing else. Can you at least do that?"
"Honesty, yes. I can do that."
"Was it my fault?" Daniel repeated.
Jack took a moment to respond. "You would've done anything to save them. You did what you could. You did what you believed was right."
Daniel whipped off his glasses and stemmed the tide of unshed tears with a quick swipe of his forearm. "I failed."
"Oh, God, no you didn't." Jack valiantly protested. But the damage was already done because.
Daniel slid his glasses back on and fiddled with the ear pieces before he cleared his throat and continued, mocking and goading Jack towards the edge of the precipice. "If you really believe that, Jack, then why didn't you tell me? Why the hell did I have to read it in a mission report? In Jonas' mission report, for Christ's sake. Tell me why I couldn't hear it from your own mouth? I mean you're my-"
The color drained from Daniel's face and he swayed dangerously but remained upright thanks to the lightening reflexes of Colonel O'Neill, who captured Daniel's elbow with one hand and grabbed his shoulder with the other.
"There's more, Jack, isn't there?" Daniel whispered, his face contorted into an almost unrecognizable angry mask of accusatory judgment. He shrugged off Jack's hands with a wave of his arms and stepped backward. Once, twice, his third step was halted when the back of his knees hit the deck railing. Jack kept pace with him, mirroring his movements, staying close in case Daniel needed him again and yet keeping his distance. "It doesn't have to do with Abydos or mission reports, does it?"
"No, it doesn't," Jack agreed as he slowly extended his hands toward Daniel. He hoped Daniel would understand that at this moment actions were going to speak louder than any words from Jack's linguist repertoire. With a gentle firmness, Jack's hands traversed Daniel's bare arms, silently pleased at the minute tremors and goose bumps appearing under his fingertips. He seized Daniel's muteness as acceptance, and permitted his callused hands to continue their journey along an unresisting pathway.
Daniel stood perfectly still, barely breathing as Jack's hands tentatively touched him, allowing the exploration of his body without protest. "I missed you, Daniel," Jack panted as he grabbed Daniel's biceps and jerked the passive man in for a kiss. For a moment, the forgotten spark between the two men was ignited and they met with a primal hunger. Too long denied, Jack's tongue searched teasingly for its mate and a moan rumbled deeply in the back of his throat. Jack pushed his aroused body against Daniel, cupping his hands around the jean-covered ass for leverage. Daniel had begun to squirm at this invasive touch and he mumbled words of protest against Jack's mouth. Oblivious to Daniel's attempts to object, Jack presumed permission and sought to deepen their contact as he groped blindly to fondle Daniel's limp cock through the material of his pants.
"No!" Daniel's anguished scream pierced the air as he pushed against Jack's chest with enough force to separate them. Daniel dropped his head into his cupped palms, the heels of his hands massaging his temples.
"I'm sorry, Daniel. I thought."
"What were you thinking, Jack?" Daniel raised his head and rubbed his shaking hand across his mouth. "You wanna know what I thought? I thought, God, it felt good.it felt great, like getting a really neat looking present and thinking there would be something wonderful under all the tinsel and glitter," Daniel sobbed. "But you know something, I remembered Jack, the box was hollow and filled with empty promises. All pretty wrapping and bows, but inside nothing but empty promises." Daniel's soft voice was tinged with overwhelming sadness and regret. His finger made a rocking motion between them. "Me and you, us-it wasn't always that way, was it?"
"*We* used to be very right." Jack offered the distraught man a small smile of consolation.
Daniel contemplated Jack's words before he mirrored his sad smile. "We used to be lovers." Daniel paused and Jack could sense the archaeologist's introspective search before he continued. "My leaving with Oma didn't stop us from being lovers. We had stopped being lovers months before my ascension."
Jack acknowledged the veracity of Daniel's words with a heavy sigh. "You're a hundred percent right." Slowly, fighting the fear of rejection, Jack reached up to cover Daniel's hands with his own. "The caring stopped long before you left with Oma. We had sex, great sex mind you, we got our rocks off, we become the epitome of fuck buddies." Jack squeezed Daniel's fingers.
"I don't want to remember." Daniel pulled his hands from Jack's grasp to pound on his temples.
Jack grabbed Daniel's hands again and clutched them tightly, kneading the cool digits to allow warmth to flow through them. He breathlessly waited for Daniel's objection, and when it didn't come slowly relaxed, as his continued touch was tolerated.
"We'd been falling apart."
"We were falling apart, we floundered and you and I were taking everyone down with us," Jack answered truthfully.
Daniel dropped his glance, unable to meet Jack's intense scrutiny. Jack's grip tightened as tiny tremors passed through Daniel's body. "We lost our friendship," Daniel stated with simple finality. "In the end, we didn't even have that. I remember it hurt more to lose your friendship than anything else."
Jack nudged Daniel's chin until the haunted blue eyes met his. Jack tripped over words of apology doing their best to stick in his throat. "I failed you, Daniel. Unequivocally, without argument, I failed. I allowed you to leave. I never questioned how we had changed, I never confronted you and when Oma arrived on the scene, I took the easy way out. I was a coward. I didn't fight for you, fight for us. Maybe Jacob could've healed you."
"Jacob wasn't sure if he could completely heal me. I probably would have been left with a healthy mind in a broken body, and if that had happened--you would have stayed with me, because you felt guilty, obligated, responsible, even and we probably would have ended up hating each other." A crooked smile appeared on Jack's face as Daniel's fingers intertwined with his. "As far as I knew nothing between us had changed and there was no reason for me to stay. I thought I was being given a chance to make a difference and I took it. I doubt you could have changed my mind--not then. But we'll never know, now, it's all over and done with but that's not the point, what I want to know - why didn't you tell me about Abydos, damn it! I shouldn't have read about Abydos in a mission report. I deserved better than that."
He brought their conjoined hands up to slide across the stubble on Daniel's jawline, dropping the movement as Daniel stiffened under his touch. "You're right, you deserved better than that, then and now. At first I was afraid the memory would destroy you, the camel, straw thing." Jack heartened at the slight upturning of Daniel's lips. "But then, you didn't remember and not saying anything was easier that way. Then time passed and I was afraid. How the hell do you even bring a subject like that up? Oh by the way Daniel, a funny thing happened to Abydos?
"Damn it, Daniel!" Jack yelled as he tugged on Daniel's hand. "Damn, it," he lowered his voice to barely a whisper. "I'm sorry for so many things on so many levels. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you about Abydos. I'm sorry for that lame 'I admired you' remark but I couldn't find the words then to let you know how wrong I had been about us. I'm sorry I wasn't there when you needed me."
Jack's breath caught in his throat as Daniel's hand settled on his shoulder as it had that dark day in the infirmary over a year ago. Jack cringed as he remembered the touch that brought them before Oma, the touch that had forced Jack's hand in their relationship, the touch that had burned its imprint into Jack's soul. "You didn't fail me Jack. You loved me enough to let me go. I was dying and in agony and you respected my wishes. After all those years, after all of our arguments, your giving me permission to leave with Oma showed you had listened and learned. You loved me enough to let me go." Daniel leaned into Jack and placed a soft kiss on Jack's parted lips.
"Let's go inside, Jack. There's nothing left for me to see out here."
* * * *
The two men sat around the kitchen table while unspoken, heavy words and the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee filled the air. An empty bottle of beer occupied Jack's nervous hands while his fingers tugged and pulled the label off the dew-drenched bottle.
Daniel sat deep in thought as he contemplated the meaning of life in a steaming cup of coffee.
"Jack?" Daniel called cautiously. The older man looked up from his task, captured by the confusion in Daniel's fatigue-rimmed eyes enlarged by his glasses.
"What happened to us, Jack?"
Jack pulled harder at an errant piece of label that refused to budge. He hadn't wanted to ask or answer these questions a year ago and the passage of time wasn't going to make this true confession any easier. Daniel continued before Jack had a chance to drop anchor for the rough seas ahead. "I can grasp feelings, but the events themselves are elusive. Images of happiness clouded with feelings of terrible anger, hurt and regret. Why regret?"
"There wasn't any one specific incident, it was kinda like an erosion."
"Of our foundation?"
Jack shot a smoldering glance at Daniel, unsure as to whether his choice of words was purely coincidental or final payback for a time Jack wished he could forget. Jack decided it was the former, rather than the latter before he answered.
"Do you know how hard it is to like or even *love* someone who doesn't like himself?" Jack asked as his fingers began to play with the discarded pieces of beer label littering the table, subconsciously rolling the fragments into tight little objects of anxiety.
Jack waited for a reaction from Daniel's direction and when the only answer he received was silence, he carried on. "You were unhappy and no, it wasn't the one mission or one particular incident, the whole experience was a gradual eating away at your soul. Military vs. science, good vs. evil and you fought back." Jack's hollow laughter was cold and brittle. "You weren't going down easy. But I think you believed you lost too much in the battle, too much of what made you, well, you. Little pieces of your soul were left scattered across the universe.
"Lost, Daniel, you became lost and I left you behind. The SGC became a job, the military became the hated boss."
Daniel reached across the table, his fingers splayed in front of Jack, close but not touching as Jack fiddled with his mutilated origami. "And you, Jack, what happened to you?"
"Me? To you I became the enemy." Jack angrily pushed back his chair and went to the fridge to retrieve another beer. He leaned against the kitchen counter and rolled the bottle between his palms.
"It was my fault?" Daniel mournfully replied.
Jack slammed the unopened beer on the countertop. "Daniel, don't put words in my mouth. You were unhappy, discontented and yes, you did place a wedge between us. You seemed to have a problem separating Colonel O'Neill from Jack." Jack noticed the hurt and confusion on Daniel's face, and with a sigh of exasperation he grabbed the fresh beer and reclaimed his seat across from Daniel. "Do you remember any of this?"
"No and yes," Daniel answered truthfully. "Anger, more feelings of loss. I was hanging on by the skin of my teeth. Maybe I just don't want to remember."
"Daniel, can't you understand why fixing this, fixing us, pointing fingers or assigning blame isn't going to help? We both blew it. Okay, maybe you placed the wedge, but I picked up the hammer and kept pounding it into place. You were dying and the wedge was sunk too deeply by the time I came to my senses. By then it was too late, Oma had convinced you she could give you what I couldn't, what the SGC or SG1 was no longer able to provide you and you went out there to recapture what you believed you had lost."
Daniel spoke hesitantly as Jack's words filtered through his mind. "I remember I believed ascension would be the answer to all my questions and my search would be over. I wouldn't feel any more losses, of my parents, my childhood, missed opportunities, Sha're, SG1 and you." Daniel leaned back his chair and scrubbed his hands over his thighs. "But I was wrong. I discovered being with Oma filled my mind but not my soul. The ideas were limitless but what I could actually do the boundaries were well defined. Very well defined," Daniel added emphatically. "There was something missing even with Oma and I didn't realize what it was until tonight." Daniel reached towards Jack, turning the older man's hands over gently, so they now rested palm side up against the wooden table. Daniel skated his hands over Jack's, covering his palms with his own. "It's this. Touch. Human contact. Someone who knew me better than I knew myself."
Jack closed his hands around Daniel's. "What did you mean up on the roof when you said there was nothing left for you?"
Daniel offered a small lift of his lips, not quite a smile, yet not quite a grimace. "There isn't any more Abydos in the night sky. I can search all I want, but I'll only find them in my memories. Turning the telescope towards an empty world and no matter how much I look and pretend, they aren't coming home."
"I'm sorry Daniel. I truly am," Jack answered, then shored up his emotions to ask the question that had haunted him since Daniel's return. "And what about us, Daniel? And I don't mean just me and you, but you and the SGC, and Teal'c and Carter?"
"I think I'm ready to come home, Jack. Because maybe I finally understand running from one's losses and one's anger isn't the answer. And maybe because there's more to discover here with you than with Oma."
"Daniel, what about the military aspect? It won't have changed in a year."
Daniel sighed, his fingers tapping a beat onto Jack's palms. "I may not always agree, but I understand. I hope that's enough for you."
"Ahhh Daniel, I hope that's enough for you."
Jack drew Daniel's hands to his lips and placed a kiss of promise on the heel of each palm. "Welcome home, Daniel."
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