JD-DIVAS: STARGATE SG-1 JACK & DANIEL FRIENDSHIP FICTION BY PHOENIX E

TIES THAT BIND

BLOOD TIES  BY PHOENIX E


Gen:  Fiction Featuring the close friendship between Jack and Daniel.
Rating: PG.
Category: Angst. Missing Scene. Episode Tag for 'Secrets'.
Season/Spoilers: Season 2.  Spoilers for 'Secrets', 'Stargate the Movie'.
Synopsis: Jack has lost his way.  Can Daniel help him find himself again.
Warnings: None
Length:  110 Kb  Originally completed early 2000.


The ribbon of highway snaked across the sphere of his headlights, a beckoning enticement undulating before him, calling him farther and farther into the black night.  Jack was on automatic pilot, driving with practiced detachment, the vehicle cleaving through darkness as profound as his thoughts.

Abydos.  What the hell was it about Abydos?  Nothing that started out with that place ever turned out right.

The reporter’s broken body, bouncing off the car flying through the air like a discarded toy.

Trying to help  – looking into those accusing eyes

“You did this – you son-of-a-bitch.”

Blood.  His blood all over his hands.

“It was an accident.”

“You did this…”

The blood of the marked and betrayed staining his palms.

“You did this…”

Jack didn’t know how long he'd been driving.  They'd come back through the Stargate after the firefight on Abydos and he'd booked.  He hadn’t known what the hell had been going on in Daniel's old stomping grounds and frankly hadn’t stuck around long enough after gating home to find out.  He'd just walked out, hit the gas and gone.

Daniel’s foster world had been crawling with Goa'ulds.  You couldn’t swing a freakin' dead cat without hitting one.  Maybe it was some sort of package deal.  A group rate or something.  Shoot this guy, hide from this guy and look there!   Amonet makes three.  Goa’ulds and Jaffa and Daniel, oh my!

Daniel was supposed to have been visiting the in-laws for cryin’ out loud. Not getting bashed around by tall, bald and scary.    Leave the kid alone for half a day and what the hell does he get himself into – again.  Crap, crap and crap.  Jack didn’t have the energy or the inclination to figure it all out.

Yeah, he'd seen her.  Sha’uri or Amonet or whatever the hell her name was now.  Well, why shouldn’t she have been there, half the Goa’uld universe seemed to want to pick that particular day to take a tour of scenic Abydos.  And Jack was sure there was a really nifty story to go along with it, but truth be told, he just didn’t give a damn.

And Daniel?

Daniel had given him  – the look - but for once in his life Jack had hardened his heart and just walked away.

The impromptu shoot and greet party he and Carter had walked into had taken his mind off things for a bit, but the distraction had been temporary. The way he was feeling he just wasn't up to dealing with Daniel or anybody else for that matter.  Didn’t want to hear about it, didn’t want to know.  He'd gone back to his quarters, divested himself of everything even remotely military, put on the first thing he owned neither issue nor green and had just gone.

He'd taken only one thing with him ‘issued’ to him.  A small black box with a piece of metal in it no longer meaning anything to him because of what had gone down in Washington before it had been given to him.  It was sitting on the dashboard, a silent little mocking box.  He brought it because he had some thinking to do.  This was as compact and as neat a representative focus for his contemplation as he could think of.  As well as an apt symbol of hypocrisy.

Jack wasn’t sure where he was going, he just drove.  At first he had given serious consideration to finding some roadside watering hole to toss back a few cold ones in, but then thought better of it.  The mood he was in he would very probably end up picking a fight with some poor, unsuspecting slob, and the last thing he needed to do right now was drag another innocent into this mess.

No, there had been enough of that already.

There was more than enough blood on his hands.

Jack O’Neill had been a soldier for a very long time.  Almost his entire adult life he'd given over to the service of his country, and he'd done so proudly.  He'd never known a time when he'd not been proud to wear the uniform, proud to call himself a soldier, proud to bear the responsibility of the rank he'd achieved and the privilege to serve it gave him.

He'd been damned proud to be exactly what he was.

Now he felt ashamed to even admit he'd given one minute of his life to an organization that had used him so completely to murder a man in cold blood.

Simply to keep a secret.

He knew what Hammond had said to him.  How could he have said anything else? How could the general have admitted to such a terrible thing?  Owned up to or not it had happened, and what was even worse, Jack had been made a part of it without his knowledge or volition.  All in the line of duty.

Since when did ‘doing his duty’ include allowing himself to be used as a Judas Goat?  But that's what they'd done to him.  Used him.  And he'd helped them.  Just doing his duty like a good little wind-up tin soldier.  Sir, we have a problem.  Keeping you apprised. Just doing my duty.  What?  Still not enough?  Oh, you want me to go out there and point him out to you so the problem can be dealt with.  Sure, I'll finger the sucker for you.  No problem.  Just doing my duty.  My duty.

Jack had pleaded ignorance in the face of the accusation but that poor, dumb shit had been right.  He was responsible.  No one but him.  He wasn't the one behind the wheel, but he might as well have been.

He had done that to him.

He was a bastard.

Ignorance is no excuse.

Jack tightened his grip on the steering wheel as if the device had suddenly become slick and slippery.

Slick with the blood staining his hands.

Jack became aware of his surroundings with a start.  Wait a minute.  He'd been driving without purpose or direction but it seemed as if he'd come full circle in spite of himself.   He'd given the truck its head and it had brought him home.  Good boy.

Jack pulled into the driveway to find it already occupied by another car.  Daniel’s car.

Crap.

Oh, Daniel, you shouldn’t have come.  Not here.  Not tonight.  You don’t want to see me like this. I don’t know what I might do.

Jack reached for the hated box, thrusting it into his jacket pocket as he turned off the motor.  He searched for his nemesis as he got slowly out of the truck.  It didn’t take him long to spot Daniel, sitting on the step, waiting.  Jack stood by the side of the truck, not willing to get any closer to the man he was going to do his damndest to get rid of.

“What are you doing here, Daniel?”  Ah, that sounded suitably hostile and definitely unfriendly.  Well done, Jack.

“Waiting for you,” came the mild and slightly redundant response.

Leave it to Daniel never to miss an opportunity to state the obvious.

“I’m really not in the mood for company tonight,” Jack warned.  Take the hint you nosy little shit and piss off.  Jack does not want to play the 'I'm fine you're fine, we're all so fucking fine' game with you tonight.

“That’s exactly why I’m here, Jack,” Daniel returned in a mild voice laced with steel.  Every syllable screaming 'you'll have to kill me to get rid of me' with as much annoying clarity as the set of Daniel's jaw and the determined glint in his eyes.

Killing?  He could do killing.  Daniel got in his face tonight he might get a lot more than he bargained for.

Daniel was getting up, starting to walk over.  Don’t do it, Daniel.  Keep your distance and keep on going.   I want you to leave.  Now.  Don’t push it – don’t push me. I push back and I push hard.

“Sam told me what happened in Washington, Jack,” Daniel's face was a conflicting study of determined sympathy.  He was going to offer Jack a shoulder to cry on if he had to shove it down his throat to get him to take it.  Not taking no for an answer, huh?

This could get ugly.

“Did she now?”  Jack snapped back.  “Well maybe I should tell her she should mind her own goddamned business. And so, for the matter, should you.”

Still coming, Daniel?  Still walking forward, fearlessly, like your namesake, into the lion’s den?  Still as thick as the day you were born?  Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

“I hope you're coming over here to get into your car and leave,” Jack growled.

“What do you think, Jack?” Daniel replied softly.

“I think you're gonna get your head handed to you in a minute if you don’t get out of my face!” Jack threatened as Daniel continued to close the space between them until he came to a stop only a few feet in front of him.  Stood there looking at him with those damned eyes…

Daniel crossed his arms and waited.  Jack glowered back at him.  After an agonizing span of unrelenting silence and even more implacable staring Daniel sighed and let his shoulders slump.   "Listen," he said kindly, "If it would make you feel better to take a poke at me, well then by all means, be my guest.”

Jack glared at him, trembling, fists clenched in rage.  For several long, crackling seconds he stared furiously at the man standing calmly before him.  Offering himself up as an outlet. Then with a howl of frustration Jack tore his gaze away, whirled and smashed both his fists down on the hood of his truck.

Oh my, that was going to really hurt in a couple of minutes.

Jack snarled as he turned and charged at Daniel.  Who calmly stood his ground watching him, not moving to defend himself or back away.  Jack put the brakes on just in time, bringing himself up short only inches from Daniel's placid face.

“Dammit – you would – wouldn’t you?" Jack bellowed at him.   "You’d just stand there and let me punch your lights out!”

Daniel sighed and placed a hand on his shoulder.  He locked his fearless eyes with the furious ones of the man before him and smiled.

“It was all right, Jack.  I knew you wouldn’t.”

 Jack felt the rage in him beginning to drain away at the touch of Daniel’s hand.  “I’m not so sure I was,” he grated, knowing, even as he said the words, there was no way he would have - could have.  No matter how angry he was.  No way.  Not Daniel.

The smug bastard damned well knew it too.

“Yeah, you were,” Daniel slid his hand behind Jack’s neck and his arm followed it to come to rest around Jack’s shoulders.  He then used it to begin to steer his suddenly tractable friend toward his house.

“Come on Jack, let’s go inside.  It’s getting chilly out here.”

 


Okay, so the smug and sneaky bastard had talked his way into the house.  That didn’t mean anything.  Didn’t mean he was going to talk to him or listen to him or – well, it just didn’t mean anything.  So there.

Jack O'Neill was a past master of the stone-cold, silent routine.

Just ask his ex-wife.

Jack threw himself on the couch in a satisfyingly petulant gesture of defiance.  Daniel ignored him and started to walk toward the kitchen.

“I think I need some coffee," he called back over his shoulder.  "How about you?”

“Suit yourself," Jack grumbled as he viciously eyed the magazine on the coffee table. One of Daniel's magazines.  What the goddamned thing was doing on his coffee table pissing him off - the crappy thing had about as much right being there as its owner had being in his damned kitchen.  And if he had a spine he'd be telling Daniel to take his fucking magazine and his interfering ass out the door.  Pronto.

"You know where it is,” he sneered at the man in the kitchen.

“Ah, ever the gracious host, “ Daniel laughed.  “So was that a yes, or a no?”

Jack heaved an annoyed sigh and kicked the coffee table, just because it was there and just because he could.

“Yes or no WHAT?”  He hurled the reply back.

“Yes or no do you want some coffee?”

“I don’t care.  Whatever.”

“Hmmm, “ Daniel’s amused voice floated back to him.  “Welcome to another episode of  ‘Men Behaving Badly,’ starring the one and only Jack O’Neill.”

“My house,” Jack grunted.  “ I can behave as badly as I want.  You don’t like it, you can LEAVE.

And your little magazine too.

 The distinctive sound of glass breaking was the next thing Jack heard.  Something had just gotten smashed.  Apparently.  Into a great many little tiny pieces.  Probably.

“Whups!"  Daniel's voice sounded chagrined.  "Ahhhh  - Jack?” he ventured.

Jack threw his head back and wiped his eyes with a weary hand.

WHAT, Daniel – WHAT?” he groaned.

He was just going to go mad.  Any second now, stark raving loony toons.

“Did you have any serious emotional or sentimental attachment to this coffee mug?"

“What coffee mug, Daniel?” Give me strength!

Where was his gun?  As soon as he found it he was going to blow his brains out.

“The one that said ‘Dickhead’ on it.”

That was it.  If he'd done it on purpose, it couldn’t have been more appropriate.
But he hadn’t.  Daniel just wasn’t that devious.

Clumsy, yes.

Devious, no.

Jack leapt up from the couch, loped up the stairs and into the kitchen.  Before Daniel even knew he was behind him Jack grabbed him by the shoulders and slammed him back into the fridge.  Not really hard, just enough for effect.  Restraining his shoulder in an implacable grip Jack jammed a forearm against Daniel’s neck and under his chin, levering it roughly up, pinioning him in place like a butterfly to the mounting board.  Again, not hard, just enough to make sure Daniel wasn’t going anywhere.  He held Daniel there, keeping his gaze cruel, watching as Daniel’s eyes widened in shock, becoming tinged with just the slightest edge of disbelief.

Dannyboy suddenly wasn’t quite so sure of himself.  Good.  Just what he was going for.

Jack held him there for a few moments longer.  Saying nothing, not letting his gaze waver.

“Jack,” Daniel finally said in a slightly tremulous voice.  “It was only a coffee cup…”

“Nothing only about it, it was my coffee cup!” Jack replied slowly in a low, menacing voice.

Wait a minute, there was just the slightest hint of a smile curling around Daniel’s mouth.  Those blue eyes had a definite glint in them now.

“Somehow,” Daniel replied, the laughter in his voice barely suppressed.  “I had no doubt of that.”

They both burst out laughing at the same time.  Jack let him down with a disgusted snort, smoothed out the front of Daniel's ruffled shirt and slapped the side of his face with rough affection.

“Aw, you’re no fun any more," Jack chided as he unkindly mussed Daniel's hair for good measure.  "I can’t fake you out no how.”

Daniel flashed him a wry smile as he continued on his way to finish dealing with the coffee.  “Been hanging around you too long, O’Neill.  I've pretty much seen all your tricks.”

“That’s what you think,” Jack complained as he ambled back to the couch.  “A good operator always keeps one or two tricks up his sleeve.”

“Uh, that may be,” Daniel murmured, following shortly afterwards with two mugs of coffee.  “But we’re talking about you now, Jack, don’t forget.”

“Don’t start with me, geek boy!”  Jack grumbled, taking the mug Daniel extended to him.  “The night is still young.  Many quality bashing hours still remain to us.”

“Huh,” Daniel’s expression quite eloquently conveyed how intimidated he felt by the comment.  “You’ll have to catch me first, old man.”

They said nothing for a time, simply sitting in silence on the couch, sipping coffee, neither man looking at the other.  Jack took another pull from his mug, set it down, fished in his jacket pocket until he found the box and then flipped it at Daniel.

“Here.”  He grunted as he threw himself back into the couch, crossed his arms and stared up at the ceiling.  “Present for you.  Maybe you can find a use for it.  It's just a piece of crap to me”

Daniel held the box in his hands for a moment, turning it over once or twice.  He looked at it some more and then cast a deeply worried look at Jack he pretended he didn't see.  Then Daniel opened the box.

“Jack,” Daniel said in a hushed, disbelieving voice once he'd registered what he was looking at.  “This - this is – your - your medal!  You can’t – I can’t – I can't take this!”

“Yeah, you can,” Jack found himself unable to look at Daniel as what he'd just that minute decided suddenly came out of his mouth.  “You can take everything that goes along with it as well, as far as I'm concerned.”

Geez Daniel, don’t look at me like that, I can’t take it when you look at me like that.  Maybe you should just go.  I want you to leave.

No – wait… don’t.  Don’t go…

“What are you saying, Jack?”  Daniel's eyes desperately searched his face for clues as he clutched the box with fingers going bloodlessly white with the pressure they were exerting.

The kid was scared.  It was written all over him.

Funny, that made two of them.

“What are you saying, Jack?” Daniel prompted again in a barely audible voice.

Look at his face.  I guess I shoulda punched him after all.  It would've been kinder.

“What does it sound like I’m saying?”  Jack hunched forward, clenching his fists in his lap.  “I’m resigning my commission. Retiring.  Packing it in.  Blowing this gig off.   Those murdering bastards will never use me to kill an innocent man again.”

Daniel moved closer to him, starting to reach out to him in a convulsive movement, immediately thinking better of the impulse. He jerked his hand back before replying.

Too soon.  You’re right.  Good boy, but sometimes it scares me how well you know me.

“You don’t know that, Jack, not for sure – “

Jack spat out an angry reply, cutting off the rest of Daniel’s attempt at consolation.

“Get real Daniel, where the hell are you from, Never Never Land?  This world eats people like you alive.  Haven’t you figured that out yet?   Get your head out of the clouds and look at the facts. You’re smart.  Put it together for yourself.  I report a serious breach in security.  Like the good little soldier boy I am.  I'm sent back out – I think – to get more information.  More fool me.

“So, I go back out.  Good little wind-up Colonel O’Neill Action Figure, fighting the good fight for God and Country.  All dressed up, pretty as a picture.  The next time – the very next time I talk to this man  - whom I have dutifully reported as said security risk; this same risk is conveniently eliminated by an extremely convenient ‘accident’.  Right before my eyes.  Problem solved.  So neat.  So tidy.  Good boy, Colonel O’Neill.  Here’s a medal for ya.  Just shut up, do our dirty work and believe every dirty little lie we tell you."

Daniel didn't move.  Didn't speak.  He knew Jack wasn't finished.  Damned right he wasn't finished.  Finished with the Air Force, maybe, but not finished with recounting the enormity of his own involvement in the whole shameful business.  He wasn't going to spare either one of them that.  Not now.  He'd warned Daniel, but Daniel hadn't listened. Daniel wanted to know?  Well, Daniel was going to get it.  Every single last, sordid little detail.  Right between the eyes. He'd started this.  He had it coming.  He was going to get it all right.

“He died – right in front of me.,"  Jack choked, the words getting thicker in his throat with every syllable. "Looking right at me.  These hands – “ he unclenched his fists and thrust them at Daniel “- his blood was all over my hands.  Do you know what he said to me before he died?  Do you?”

Daniel’s eyes were huge with painful empathy.  His face white.  He said nothing, simply shook his head.

“You did this.  That’s what he said to me.  You did this.”  Jack let his open hands fall to his lap and looked away from Daniel’s shocked, pale face.  Part of him knew it wasn’t really true, but suddenly all he thought he could see in his friend's eyes was accusation and blame.

“He was right…  I killed him…”

Now it’s time, Danny.  Please...

Daniel put a hand on his shoulder.

“You did nothing wrong, Jack,” he said softly.  “It wasn’t your fault.  Even if everything you said is true – about the way it happened, I mean - you still did nothing wrong.”

Jack wearily shook his lowered head.  Daniel patted his shoulder awkwardly for a moment, then removed his hand, his voice low and gentle as he continued to speak.

“So, suppose we say it's true.  That it happened exactly the way you say it did.  That somewhere, someone gave the order to have that man killed.  So say you leave and walk away because of it.  It might make you feel better for a little while, but in the long run it'll mean we'll all lose and the bad guys will win.”

Jack jerked up his head and peered at him suspiciously.  “I don’t get you,” he retorted.

Daniel smiled ruefully at him and shook his head.  “Yeah, you do.  The very reason you want to quit is the best reason you should stay.  Any organization with as much power as the military is only as good as the people wielding it.  Don’t you see, Jack, it’s men like you, men with integrity, men with honor who keep those other men who have none of these things from using the power against all of us.  If you leave, Jack, who is going to oppose them?   Who is going to keep the rest of us safe from the next unspeakable thing they try to do?  Who is going to care enough about all of us to make them do the right thing whether they want to or not?”

I’m looking at him right now.  Oh Danny, it almost makes sense when you say it but I don’t know…

Daniel had shifted over until he was sitting close enough to Jack to lean against his shoulder.  He was staring at the box he was holding, his hands restively twitching in his lap.

“I – I would really miss you," he sighed.  "You know that.  But if you think it's what you really have to do - I’m not going to sit here and try to talk you out of it.  Or try to tell you what to do, period. Whatever you end up deciding, just make sure it's the right thing.  For you, and nobody else.  'Cause you're the one who's going to have to live with it. "

Daniel fell silent, his eyes fixed on the small box he was absently stroking.  He suddenly put it on the coffee table and then hunched forward as if an oppressive weight had abruptly been applied to his shoulders.

"This man's death," he frowned as he stared at the box, "I don't blame you for feeling the way you do.  I know how hard it is…what it feels like…to be responsible…to have it to face it and find a way to deal with it.   Even worse, when you know you've done it with your own hands… in cold blood…”

Jack started at the totally absurd incongruity of Daniel’s last statement, made even more so by the way he'd said it.  With complete and utter seriousness and conviction.

“Daniel, what the hell are you talking about?"  Jack protested.  "What do you know about killing somebody in cold blood?  You won’t even swat mosquitoes, for crying out loud!”

Suddenly Daniel was on the extreme other end of the couch, as far away from Jack as he could possibly get without actually jumping off it.  Daniel was doing the other thing too, drawing himself up into a little ball, wrapping his arms around his bent legs.  What was this all about now?  This wasn't a good sign.   When Danny went fetal there was something big and bad rolling around in his brain.

Then Daniel's head came up from where it had been resting on his knees and Jack saw his eyes.  They were terrible with memory.  Not good memories, either.

“You don’t even know what I'm talking about, do you?”  Daniel said from far away.

“No, I guess I don't,” Jack stared at him, helpless.

“You were there.  You watched me do it.  You don’t remember.  But I do.”

Jack started to move toward him but Daniel hugged himself tighter and vehemently shook his head.

Okay, Danny, I’ll keep away.  For now, anyway.

“Daniel, I’m not a mind-reader here.  You’re gonna have to give me a little more.”

He nodded.  “Abydos. The first time.  The chamber in the pyramid.  You were telling me to go back through the Stargate and shut down the Earth gate, and you were going to stay behind and blow the place up.  The Jaffa came out of nowhere.  Shot Sha’uri… killed her…”

Jack‘s jaw dropped as memory came flooding back.  He'd forgotten.  He was remembering now. It hadn’t made much of an impact at the time; all the incident was to him was just another bad guy in the way who no longer was.  Just another obstacle needing to be removed and it had been.  By another soldier doing his job and taking care of business.

Except Daniel wasn’t a soldier.  He was just a poor Joe Civvy Schmuck, pulled off the street and thrust into a situation he'd never in his wildest dreams thought he'd ever find himself in and for which he had no training or preparation whatsoever.  He was also a man who'd just watched his wife shot to death right in front of him.

“The staff weapon was in my hand," Daniel murmured.  "I just pointed it at him and fired.  Didn’t even stop to think, didn’t hesitate.  Just – just did it, like it was nothing.  I killed a man in cold blood, Jack.  In less time than it has taken to tell you about it.”

“I know, Daniel,” Jack said gently. “I remember now.”

Daniel looked less haunted.  He'd faced it. He'd said it.  He'd admitted it.  He turned to gaze unflinchingly at Jack and his blue eyes were alight with a sad wisdom Jack had never seen in them before.

“Yes, I did it.  I killed a man in cold blood.   I might not have had his blood on them in the literal sense, but these hands are every bit as stained.  More so, because my offense against the man I killed was deliberate. That qualifies me to comment on what you've said to me.  Qualifies me to tell you what this has done to me and how I've tried to put it right.  For what it’s worth.”

It’s worth plenty, my friend.  I’m listening.

“Yes. I got Sha’uri back.  For a little while.  I saved her, but I killed someone to do it.  His life for hers.  I knew that.  I see him sometimes, in my dreams.  It makes me remember what I've done.  Which is as it should be.  Because I have to remember, in order to never forget, the price I pay for having done it – is to remember."

Daniel sighed, unlocked his arms and let his long legs relax a little before continuing.

“A death is only senseless if you deprive it of its meaning.  If you leave it behind unremarked, unremembered.  I can't undo what I've done.  Can't take it back.   Can't give back to that man what I took from him.  But I can give his death meaning.  I can give to others, for his sake.  Fight for what is right, because I know I once did wrong.  Honour his existence by doing what I can to make life a little better for the people around me.  I can't take back taking his life, but I can try my damndest to do better from this point on, and to never take a life again if I can possibly avoid it.

“Meaning, Jack.”  Daniel continued in a low voice.  “It’s all about meaning.  That's what you have to look for in this situation.  However this man’s life was taken from him isn't the point.  He's dead.  You can't change that.  You can't bring him back, but you can give his death meaning in what you do for his sake from now on.  You can make his death count for something.  I have no idea how - that'll be up to you.  His death seems senseless right now, I know, and it'll be that way until you find out what you need to do to give it meaning.  When you find it, and you do whatever you need to do - it'll get better.  And good will finally come of this.  I promise."

Positive atonement?  Instead of tearing yourself up over it you made yourself go out and make the universe a better place?  Why should this surprise me?  When have you ever done anything less than everything you could, not matter what you've had to deal with?  Well, if you can find a way to make sense of it all…

Daniel heaved a deep, tired sigh as he let himself sag back into the support of the couch. “I guess what happened today  made me think.  It's funny.  On the way over here, I started remembering.  What happened before. What's happened since.  Thinking about all of it, wondering what it all means.  I know a few people think life has been – unfair to me - to a certain extent.   Maybe that's not true at all.  Maybe I've gotten exactly what I deserve.   You know, there is a certain justice in the course of…certain events.  I took a life for Sha’uri’s sake.  She has been taken from me.  Perhaps she was taken to restore the balance.  To force me to make amends for what I did through my efforts to find her.  Perhaps I just have to try harder…to find the meaning…in her loss as well…  In what happened today…  Funny…  Blood.  All this talk about blood.  I had blood on my hands today too…”

Daniel suddenly jumped to his feet, looking as if he was going to be sick.  Just as quickly as the expression touched his face it was gone, and his eyes were hard and closed.

“Well, I’ve pretty much said all I have to say, Jack, you probably have a lot of thinking to do, so I should just go.  Yeah, I think I’m going to go now, I’ve bothered you enough.”

What the hell is this? What's going on?  Running.  Daniel's running away from something.  Something he doesn't want me to know about, or doesn't want to face? What the hell happened on Abydos before Carter and I got there? Only one way to find out.

Daniel had taken three quick steps when Jack’s voice stopped him.

“Daniel.”

“I’m fine, Jack," Daniel said stiffly, his voice as taut as his body.  " I just have to go now.”

He took another step.

Forget it kid, not going to happen.  You made me spill, now it's your turn.

“Daniel.”  Jack’s voice was a little louder this time.  “I’m disappointed in you.”

Oh Jack, that was a low blow.  Sorry kid, playing dirty here, but you'll thank me later.  I hope.

Daniel’s shoulders shook as if Jack had actually struck him but he didn’t make a sound.   He wrestled briefly with something within, then straightened visibly and took another step.

“I’m disappointed, Daniel,” Jack continued, getting to his feet and slowly walking up behind his friend, “because in all the time we've known each other, you've never lied to me.  Why are you lying to me now?”

There was a multitude of unshed tears in Daniel’s voice, but he wasn’t letting one get by him.

“Whaa?"  He shook his head as if to clear it.  "What?  What are you talking about?”

Jack finally reached him and stood right behind him, as close as he could without touching him.

“You told me you were fine," Jack said firmly but kindly.  "You were lying.”

“Not lying,” Daniel replied in a barely audible voice.  “Being optimistic.  Not quite there yet, but I will be.”

“Got that right,” Jack said to him softly as he put his hands on his shoulders and began to steer him back to the couch.  “We’ve got all night to get you there.  Come back and sit down.”

Daniel allowed Jack to motor him back to the couch.  They sat there together, Daniel close to him, his head back and resting against the arm Jack had placed behind him along the top of the couch.  Over the course of the ensuing hours they talked, and little by little, Jack teased, coaxed, cajoled and pestered Daniel until he was able to pull the entire story of what had happened in Abydos out of him.

It was a tale the reluctant narrator did not easily surrender.  And when he had the whole of it, Jack was once again humbled Daniel could have done what he had for him, when he had so much pressing upon his own heart and soul.

But that was Daniel.  So willing to help another, so incapable of believing anyone else would be just as willing to do the same thing for him.  So unable to understand such compassion and consideration was available for him.

And so damned hard to get him to take it.

Jack couldn't remember a time in his life when he hadn't been a part of something.  The family, the neighborhood gang, the team, the Air Force.  Even during periods when he'd chosen to go it alone he'd never known a time when there wasn't someone watching his back, backing him up, fighting by his side or lending him a hand.  It was just a given.  He'd never had to think about it, worry about it, question it or doubt it was so and always would be.

He couldn't even begin to imagine what it felt like to walk in Daniel's shoes. To have lived a life where the only certainty was the absolute knowledge there was absolutely no one there for you, and the only person around to get you through every single thing that ever happened to you – was you.

Correction.  Maybe that had been Daniel's reality, but it wasn't the way it was now.  Daniel wasn't alone any more, but he'd already known too many years of the other to be sure of what was now.   The behaviors and expectations of a lifetime didn't change overnight.  The hard lessons learned from having no hope whatsoever of the kinds of consideration Jack took for granted didn't get put aside immediately.  Danny was getting he didn't have to go it alone any more, but there were times when he slipped.  It was to be expected.  He'd learn.  It would take a lot of time and reinforcement and maybe Daniel would never be completely convinced, but Jack figured it was a good cause and he was more than willing to give it the old college try.

It took a long time before Daniel finished.  It was hard on him, harder than he wanted to admit and for a moment Jack thought he was going to lose it.  Not that there was anything wrong with that and it wasn't as if Daniel was afraid to weep: he'd watched the kid break down and sob at long distance telephone commercials.   Daniel wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable in front of him,  but only when it didn't really matter.   He'd done some deep breathing, had a bad case of the shakes and had come pretty damned close, but he hadn’t let go.  Well, tomorrow was another day.  Tonight Danny had parted with just about all he was going to let go of.  For the moment.  There was more stuff down in there needing to see the light of day.  They'd get to it.  Danny didn't know this quite yet, but he'd just gotten himself someone determined to listen.  He'd make the kid talk….

Daniel might have been the most stubborn person he had ever known in his own life, but that was before he'd met Jack O’Neill.

Daniel finally talked himself into exhaustion.   His voice began to trail away; his head started to nod.   It happened very quickly.  One minute Daniel was slumped against the back of the couch, talking to him; the next he was quite asleep.  Out like a freakin' light.

Jack knew he should probably install him in the spare room for what little remained of the rest of the night, but in truth,  he didn't have the heart to move him.  The kid had been experiencing a bout of insomnia lately; the fact he was actually asleep, even sitting up, was something of a miracle.  Jack didn't want to risk waking him up, so he just left him where he was, contenting himself with watching Daniel sleep as he sat back and mentally tossed around what he'd heard during the course of the evening.

Jack was anything but tired. His mind raced with a myriad of emotions as he studied Daniel's unusually placid face and listened to the sound of his friend’s quiet breathing.  He felt aware, strangely alert and yet quite….content.

Well, what do you know, way to go Daniel, once again, if you haven’t gone and saved my soul.

The matter of what had driven him to seek to forsake the life he loved was not concluded, but it was settled.  Daniel had given him not only a reason to continue, but also the means to make right what was wrong.

What had Daniel said – it was all about meaning?   He had to find what would help him make sense of it all and then go where it took him.  Sounded like a plan.

You have my word, Armand, this thing isn’t over.  Not by a long shot.  They may have snuffed you out to shut you up, but they're not going to get away with it.  I'm gonna find out what happened.  I'm gonna find out the truth.  And then I'm gonna let the world know about you, and what they did to you.

They may have stopped your last story, but what they did to you will make an even better one.  You’re gonna break the big story, pal.  I promise you.

That felt right.  That felt good.  It worked for him and he hoped, wherever the reporter was now, it would please Armand as well.

That felt better, and so did something else as well.  Thanks once again, to Daniel.  Jack decided he was going to pass on the early retirement thing.  He hadn’t really wanted to leave the service but had been unable to think of a reason to stay more compelling than the reason he felt he had no choice but to leave.  Things were right again.  Things made sense.  Somehow, they always did when Daniel was around.  And there was the biggest reason of all to stay.

Daniel.

Earlier when he'd been mad at himself he'd said something stupid to Daniel about this world eating up people like him.  Well, it was stupid to have said it like that, but it didn’t make it untrue.  The world did indeed chew up people like Daniel, as long as people like Jack stood by and let it.  Well, it wasn’t going to happen.  It just wasn’t.  Not as long as he had breath in his body.  He'd fight and he'd make damned sure Daniel got live in the kind of a world that deserved to have him.   Anybody who tried to mess it up for him would have Jack O’Neill to deal with.

It wasn’t true – what Daniel had said before  - that the complete and utter shattering of his life was only what he deserved.  Daniel would probably spend the rest of his life thinking he had he had to make up for a single deed committed in a fleeting instant of instinctive, primal rage.  Not because someone or something was making him, but because he felt it was the right thing to do.  Which more than restored the balance as far as Jack was concerned.  And should've been all the universe needed from Daniel without exacting the further, terrible, personal penalty.

And yet, as whacked as it sounded, as bad as the loss had been for Daniel, in the long run it had all worked out for the better.   In taking Sha’uri away from him Apophis had done this Earth a tremendous service.  He'd certainly had made Jack O'Neill's life better.  Jack found it a little difficult to believe he was actually thinking this way, but there was no way of getting around it.  If Apophis hadn't stolen Sha’uri away from Daniel he would still be there on Abydos, living happily ever after with the woman he loved.  He would never have left her behind, never have come back into his life, never have joined the SGC, never have been on the mission where he ended up on the Alternate Earth and if he hadn’t done that  - well, none of them would be here right now.

Strange to think how one good man should have to lose everything so he could be in the place where he was most needed in order to be able to save - everything - for everybody else.  It also kinda made you want to kick back and rethink that whole good / bad  thing.  Maybe another time.  The waters were getting just a little deeper than he wanted to wade through at the moment.  He’d done quite enough thinking along these particular lines for one evening.

And what an evening it had been.  What a day it had been.  Blood, too much blood staining both of their lives, especially today.  Blood spilled in death calling for retribution, the blood of passage ushering a new soul into the world, blood coursing through the veins of a woman requiring deliverance. A crimson ribbon of obligation winding about both of them and pulling them forward toward – who knew what purpose?  Or what destiny?

Man – he was doing it again!  He kept hanging around Daniel and before he knew it he was going to turn into some kind of philosopher or something.

Now there's a pretty terrifying thought….

There was just one more thing, though.  Daniel would kick up a fuss, but Jack was determined his friend was going to keep the medal.  He wanted him to have it.  It only seemed right.  If it hadn’t been for Daniel, his resourcefulness, courage and thickheaded stubbornness, none of them would be here right now.  The higher-ups were patting him on the back when it really was Daniel who'd saved the world.  All Jack O’Neill had done was finally listened to him.

It was growing close to dawn.  Jack didn’t know how long he'd been sitting there watching Daniel sleep, but he felt good and at peace with himself, and very happy to know his friend had been able to enjoy the respite of several hours of uninterrupted and obviously contented slumber.  That didn’t happen a lot these days.  Maybe these were small miracles, but damn, he’d take them.

Daniel stirred a little, then suddenly, unexpectedly turned in his sleep, moving in close to him.  He wrapped his arms around the startled man beside him, hugging him tightly as his head sought the shelter of Jack's shoulder.  Somewhat bemused at this development Jack looked down at the man pasted to him, uncertain of what to do.  Daniel sighed, fussed slightly as if he wasn’t quite comfortable, and then began burrowing his shaggy head deeper into Jack’s shoulder, nestling closer as he sought a comforting embrace.

Daniel was a snuggler.  Oh, what an enormous surprise…

Well, this was...different.  But not too bad.  Ah, what the hell. It wouldn't kill him.  After what Danny had just been through, he could cut him a little slack.  Daniel probably hadn't had anybody…to be close to…for a long time.  Come to think of it, Jack realised could say the same thing himself.

Okay, Jack, come clean.  This is kinda nice.  Just don't forget to deny everything once the kid wakes up.

Jack reached over to brush the hair out of Daniel's eyes to see the heavy lids crack open just enough to allow the tiniest sliver of the soul living behind them to shine forth.

“Jaaack?” Daniel said in a voice clumsy with sleep.

“What, Danny?”  Jack whispered.

“What were you doing with a coffee mug that said ‘Dickhead’ on it?”

“Go back to sleep, Daniel”

"Jack?"

"What?"

"Am I…hugging you?"

"No.  Of course not."

"I didn't think so…"

"Go back to sleep.  That's an order."

 "Kay….”

Jack smiled at the room as Daniel sighed, closed his eyes and for once, followed orders. 

It was going to be a wonderful day.

FINIS

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