Previously published in All the Roses Falling
Soft yellow light was slanting through the curtains, so it had to be morning. The daylight should have been comforting but instead it speared at his gritty-feeling eyes and annoyed him. He should have shut those curtains tighter last night. He felt like he’d been on a two-day bender with a massive hangover lurking just around the corner.
Jack groaned and rolled over to stare at the clock beside the bed. 0700. He’d slept later than usual, but he figured he could blame the drugs. Then, again, it was more likely the late hours he was keeping lately. It had to have been at least 0300 before he’d given in and taken the sedative that Dr. Fraiser had sent home with him. Carter and Teal’c would be by to pester in him in another hour or two. Normally, Jack O’Neill was a morning person and his team knew that. Years in the military had left him with a penchant for early rising that his non-military wife had often found exceedingly annoying.
Of course, Sara was long gone from his life, and any family he had left were miles away in Minnesota. Here in Colorado Springs on this summer morning, he only had his co-workers, his team mates, left to annoy…and Carter and Teal’c weren’t particularly bothered by early mornings. They both shared his military mindset and internal time clock. Daniel, though. Daniel had always groused when Jack stopped by his apartment to roust him out of bed for a nice, brisk morning run.
Jack actually missed that; missed Daniel’s bitching and moaning more than he ever thought he would. It was strange, but he’d grown used to the weirdness that made up his life these days. He stared up at the blank, featureless ceiling of his bedroom, wishing there really was some way to turn back time.
“You’re gonna be all right.”
“How do you know that?”
“You’re just going to have to trust me.”
“I can do that.”
“You’re gonna be all right…”
Daniel’s promise to him, as he lay in the infirmary, tired and in pain, had become a sort of mantra for him. Something to hold onto for the last few weeks when the nightmares came to remind him. Not of Ba’al and the endless, uncounted days of torture. Not that. Jack had been tortured before: in his special ops days; by the Goa’uld; by well-meaning friends who wanted to just “fix him up” with someone after Sara left; by family and friends after Charlie had died. Way too many times. If mere physical or emotional pain was going to be his undoing, he would have been consigned to the loony bin long before now. The sarcophagus withdrawal hadn’t been any picnic—he’d seen what it did to Daniel once upon a time and he knew what to expect. But Daniel was right; he got through it. It was something that Daniel, unfortunately, could speak of with complete authority.
Jack had spared a thought or two during those long weeks, in his more rational moments, to remind himself that Daniel—the geek, the scientist—had come through that little encounter with Goa’uld technology with flying colors. If Daniel could do it, surely a tough, hard-assed, special ops Air Force colonel like himself could survive.
He’d had Teal’c and Carter and Fraiser—even General Hammond—to literally hold his hand through the entire ordeal. Hammond visited him every day and Jack was touched to realize that his friends and his team mates had never given up hope that they would find a way to free him, even when things were looking so bleak.
But even with their support and their words of encouragement, the nightmares still came every night. Memories that weren’t his own invaded his sleeping mind. Something vile and unspeakable was choking at the back of his throat until he couldn’t breathe and he sputtered awake to lie shivering and sweating.
Intellectually, he knew that the Tok’ra blending had saved his life; knew it wasn’t quite the same thing as when Hathor had stuck a Goa’uld symbiote in his neck. Somehow it felt the same, though—and Kanan had taken his body and used it without his consent. Just like a Goa’uld. When it came right down to it, the Tok’ra were Goa’uld. He’d barely trusted the Tok’ra before, Carter’s dad, Jacob, notwithstanding. Now…now he was having nightmares and dreams that he suspected didn’t rightfully belong to him. Heaven knew he had enough material in his past to build whole armies of nightmares. But these he didn’t own. No wonder Carter had had so many problems adjusting to the aftermath of Jolinar. Look what had happened there. Years later and Carter was still blindsided sometimes by lingering memories that weren’t her own. Was that what he had to look forward to now?
With a heavy sigh, he rolled out of bed and headed for the kitchen, clad only in the gray sweatpants and t-shirt that he’d slept in. The house was a little chilly with the air conditioning turned on high, but he didn’t mind. No doubt it was already warming up outside to be another scorcher.
While the coffee brewed, he sat at the old oak kitchen table he’d inherited from his grandfather and stared down at the scratched wood surface and his clenched hands. “Damn it, Daniel. This sucks.”
“It will get easier,” Daniel answered, right on cue.
Jack didn’t look up. Daniel was never there when he looked. He’d gotten used to talking to himself and hearing an answer. It was just another manifestation of his insanity.
“I promise,” Daniel insisted.
“Yeah. You make a lot of promises lately.”
“Jack…really. You’ll be okay.”
“I’m always okay.”
“Yes. Yes, you are.”
“You aren’t always right, you know,” Jack snapped, even though he knew it wasn’t strictly true. Daniel wasn’t perfect—well, before he ascended he wasn’t, anyway—but it seemed like he was almost always right.
“This time I am. You could let your friends help, though.”
“I’m always okay and you’re always a pain in the ass.” That sarcasm gene of Jack’s never seemed to take a vacation, even when he felt wrung out, used up, and more than a little crazy.
“Why won’t you let them help you?”
Jack ignored Daniel, wearily closing his eyes. He was so tired. If only he could sleep more than a few hours without a sedative. He was going to end up addicted to something else at this rate. He’d been there, done that, and remembered the heartache of it all too well. Addicted to a sarcophagus, then addicted to the cure. How ironic. How typical.
“I never told them you were there,” he finally admitted.
Jack could almost see Daniel’s little self-deprecating shrug in his mind’s eye. The man had always been a contradiction in terms. Arrogant on some issues, sometimes to the point of absurdity, and incredibly unwilling to try to take credit for his brilliance, his insight, or his heroism on others. Daniel had always been sure of himself…and yet not sure. Jack wasn’t certain he’d ever really understood his exasperating friend. “Maybe it does,” he said.
“You’re afraid they won’t believe you. I understand.”
Jack shook his head. “I’m not sure I believe me.” He opened his eyes, lifted his head and blinked, surprised to see Daniel sitting across the table from him, dressed the way he’d last seen him in that baggy cream-colored sweater and tan pants. He found that strange, for some reason. He thought that an illusion should come in a package more familiar to him. Daniel should be wearing BDUs and it was still more than a little strange to see him without any sign of his trademark glasses. “I’m imagining you, aren’t I?”
This was the first time since their goodbyes in the infirmary weeks earlier that he’d actually seen Daniel. In the flesh, so to speak, although they’d talked a few times.
“You aren’t imagining me.”
Jack favored him with a bitter smile. “Right. You ascended. Cosmic beings have nothing better to do than hang around a broken down, strung out, old Air Force colonel.” His eyes narrowed. “How come no one else ever sees you or talks to you?”
“How do you know they don’t?”
“They’ve never said.”
“Neither have you.”
That was Daniel, all right. Stubborn as ever. A more affectionate smile tugged at Jack’s lips, in spite of himself. “Carter’s been way too upset since you left. If she’d seen you, she’d know you’re okay.” Jack paused a second. “Why hasn’t she seen you, then? You two were always thick as thieves.”
“It would hurt her.”
Daniel looked exasperated. “She doesn’t want to believe I chose this. It would hurt her if I tried to make her believe it. She has to come to her own acceptance.”
“You think it doesn’t hurt me to see you?”
Daniel cocked his head to one side and for just a moment, Jack felt like if he reached across the table he would be able to touch his friend.
“Does it?” Daniel wondered, studying Jack closely. “Have I been wrong to come here?” He looked distressed at the idea.
Jack was seized with a sudden panic at the thought of Daniel disappearing, this time forever. “No!” He got up to pour himself a cup of coffee, turning his back to Daniel. His hands shook slightly as he poured. He almost poured a second cup out of long habit. Stirring some creamer into the black liquid, he had to wonder, not for the first time, if he really had gone completely, totally insane. He was talking to an imaginary friend, for crying out loud.
“Why don’t you let Sam and Teal’c help you through this, Jack,” Daniel finally said, shifting the subject again, when Jack stood at the counter, sipping the hot coffee, his back still turned.
“You can tell them about me, too,” Daniel continued. “They’ll believe you.”
“They’ll send me to Mackenzie and throw away the key.”
“Jack…just tell them. They’re your friends. What difference does it make whether I’m real or not? If I helped you survive Ba’al’s torture—and I hope I did—then that’s all that matters.”
Maybe Daniel was right. After all, he had survived, and maybe these memories and nightmares of Kanan claiming his body would eventually fade. But Jack wasn’t so certain that his team mates would be the understanding, supportive friends that Daniel believed. He shrugged. “Carter thinks…”
“She thinks I don’t even care that you’re gone.”
“And why does she think that?”
“Okay. Because I’ve acted like a bastard.” Jack was embarrassed to admit it…and then he was embarrassed that he was embarrassed, especially given that he still wasn’t positive Daniel was really there talking to him. He thought back to those days after Daniel had died—okay, “ascended”—and he remembered how closed off he’d been, how unwilling to talk about Daniel or to admit that it mattered that he’d lost someone else close to him. It hurt, too, that Carter and probably everyone else really seemed to believe that he didn’t care. He knew he was acting like he didn’t care, but usually the people who knew him could see past that. He thought they understood him.
Hammond, at least, had seemed to understand why Jack wanted SG1 kept in the rotation, kept busy. He hadn’t wanted time to dwell on the person who was now missing from his team, from his right shoulder. Daniel had always been a terrific pain in the ass, but he’d been SG1’s pain in the ass. Jack counted on Daniel to keep him honest and to keep him centered. Without Daniel there, everything was off-kilter. He wanted to believe that Daniel had gone with Oma Desala willingly and that his friend was now happy, roaming the universe like Oma and Shifu, learning new things and probably driving the others around him crazy with his insatiable curiosity.
But, the truth was, Jack was still human and selfish and, like Carter and Teal’c, he just wanted his friend back.
Two weeks after Daniel “left,” Hammond had ordered Jack to take his team and go through Daniel’s office. Sort out what was personal and what was SGC property and try to put things in order for the archeological staff to come in and decide what to do with all of Daniel’s books and notes and artifacts. At the time, Jack had been grateful that Hammond recognized Daniel’s team would prefer to have the chance to do this, to remove Daniel’s personal things themselves rather than delegating it to strangers.
But Teal’c had seem strangely reticent and Carter, only moments into the job, was already a basket case. Jack didn’t think he’d ever seen his second-in-command so rattled. Carter was one of the strongest people he knew. It unnerved him to see her so undone by this. Who knew that Daniel had photos of them in his desk drawer? Who knew that they’d find Daniel’s address book and be faced with the realization that there were friends and acquaintances listed there who would be wondering what had happened to Daniel. People that Jack or someone was going to have to notify, because heaven knew Daniel hadn’t had time to tell anyone outside the SGC that he was going to be…leaving…so quickly and unexpectedly. No doubt, the neighbor who fed his fish when he went on missions would be wondering just when Dr. Jackson intended to come home this time.
In the end, Jack had ordered Carter out of the room on some pretense, unable to bear her distress a moment longer. Teal’c had helped him box up books for awhile but Jack soon found his silent, accusing stoicism unnerving. Jack sent him away, too, and Teal’c went after a moment of observing him with that unblinking gimlet stare his Jaffa friend had so perfected.
Jack had been rather pleased with himself after that; with the matter-of-fact way he managed to finish packing away the remains of their team mate’s life and work. Without the distraction of Carter and Teal’c, he could cope much easier with the emotional landmines. He made quick work of boxing and sorting the items and slumped down behind Daniel’s desk, worn out and sweaty. The office had seemed strange, its essence gone, with so much of the evidence of SG1’s archeologist removed from view. One of Daniel’s boonie hats was still sitting there on the top of the desk, though, right where Daniel must have left it before the mission…and a pair of his glasses.
Who could have guessed that a stupid pair of wire-rimmed glasses would be his undoing? Jack had blinked, looking down at them, angry that he was tearing up over something so trivial. So what? Daniel would never wear them again. He didn’t need them anymore, just like he didn’t need his friends anymore. Daniel had left because Daniel wanted to go. It was his choice. He’d said so.
But, damn it. Jack didn’t want him to go and he hadn’t even bothered to tell him. He’d clutched the hat and the glasses to himself, feeling absurdly connected to Daniel somehow. Then he shook it off and left the room. But he took the hat and glasses with him.
Jack turned around, returning to the here and now, leaning his back against the counter, the coffee cup clutched in one hand. “Daniel…you know I miss you, don’t you?”
Daniel smiled a little, that enigmatic little grin he sometimes got where his teeth didn’t show, but his face lit up. “Yes, Jack. I know.”
“Once before, when we thought you were dead on Oannes, I was going to retire.”
Daniel nodded. “I remember. But you can’t do that now.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Too many people need you. Count on you.”
“Your self-confidence is a little shaken, Jack, but you don’t really need me to tell you these things.”
“A little shaken?”
“Okay, a lot shaken,” Daniel conceded. “Listen, I have to go.”
“Got cosmic appointments?”
“Something like that.” Daniel’s lips quirked again.
“Don’t let me keep you.” Jack waved a hand in the air as if it didn’t matter, even though it did. He pondered the significance of an imaginary friend who seemed to come and go on a whim. Maybe that was proof that Daniel really was there?
“Talk to Sam and Teal’c. They do need you.”
“They need me?”
“Yes, Jack. They need you to let them help you. You’re always there for them, for your team. They want to be there for you. Sometimes people just want to feel needed.”
Jack thought Daniel looked a little sad when he said that and he wondered if Daniel had felt none of them needed him at the SGC anymore. The opportunities for peaceful exploration that Daniel so loved had grown few and far between in recent times. Maybe that’s why he had jumped at Oma’s offer to join her on another plain of existence.
“It wasn’t just that, Jack.”
Jack scowled. “You reading my mind?”
“No. That would be rude. It was written all over your face. I know you.” He paused. “Quit trying to change the subject.”
“I’m not so good at talking.”
Daniel arched an eyebrow. “What are we doing, then?”
The doorbell rang before Jack could form an answer. A quick glance at the kitchen clock revealed it was now 0800; Carter and Teal’c were stopping by a little early today. Jack wondered if Jonas would be with them this time. The Kelownan tended to hover in the background whenever the other members of SG1 were around, desperate to fit in. It was too bad that Jack just wasn’t ready to forgive him for his part in the blackening of Daniel’s name. Hell, as far as he was concerned, Jonas should have been the one playing hero back on good old P4C-235, not Daniel.
“This is your chance,” Daniel said, standing up and staring at Jack with open fondness and exasperation. “Just tell them the truth. Let Sam tell you about Jolinar. Maybe she can help you understand Kanan better. You don’t need me to talk to anymore; you have them.”
“Maybe I prefer you,” Jack mumbled, appalled at the petulant whine in his words, wishing he could just call them back. He sounded like some spoiled five year old whose favorite toy had been taken away.
To his surprise, Daniel laughed. “Jack, I used to drive you crazy. Remember? Not following orders…well, questioning them all the time. Running off to touch things and explore things. Babbling on about ancient cultures and mythology. Remember that?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
“And I’m still here. I’ll still be here. You’ll see me again. Someday Sam and Teal’c will be ready to see me, too. I promise.”
“Why not right now?” Jack blinked. In the space of a second, Daniel was already gone. And someone was knocking on his kitchen door, no doubt because he’d failed to answer the doorbell. “Damn it, Daniel. You’re a stubborn son of a bitch.” It was true. Daniel had always been stubborn and he’d usually been right. Maybe, just maybe, he was right about this.
And if he really had gone round the bend and was simply talking to himself, who better to understand than Carter and Teal’c? They’d both had their crazy moments over the years. SG1 was a great team, the best team he’d ever worked with, but none of them were exactly shining examples of normality.
“You’re gonna be all right.”
“How do you know that?”
Daniel knew because Daniel was always right.
“You’re just going to have to trust me.”
Okay. He could do that.
Jack went to answer the door.
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