Nearing Wichita by Otter
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Category: Jack/Daniel, Daniel/Other Male
Genres: Angst, Dark, Drama
Rated: Mature
Warnings: Adult Themes
Series: None
Summary: His eyes were open and there was nothing but asphalt, the far-off gleam of an approaching car, and green fields on either side, bristling with crops he couldn't identify. He blinked, and when he opened his eyes again, he was in a bar.

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Author's Chapter Notes:
Dark story, character death. Violence is discussed but we don't see it. There is sexual content.
In the dream, the world is made of shapes. They're blurry and indistinct, all the edges are fuzzy, and everything is lit up in shades of red and orange. The people are nothing but blobs, but they move and talk, and they flicker between light and shadow with flames in the furnaces. Sometimes, when all of the machines are working and all of the fires are stoked white-hot, everyone seems to glow.

Her name is Thera in that place. He doesn't know if she's still alive in there.

The sign at the roadside said he was nearing Wichita, but Daniel couldn't remember how he'd gotten there; he couldn't even remember turning onto the I-135, and that must've been hours back.

He muttered, "Goddammit," at himself. His hands were curled so tightly around the wheel that when he peeled them away, the joints ached. He took a sip of coffee that had gone cold at some point -- probably during the part of the drive that he couldn't remember. When he saw a sign for a gas station, he pulled off the highway to refill his thermos and his gas tank. Inside the little foodmart, there was a rack of postcards, a splash of color near the door. He chose one with a scenic landscape that said, "There's no place like home," and then he chose another that said "wish you were here." A few of them had pictures of a place called Rock City; Daniel asked the clerk at the check-out how to get there, and when he got back to the interstate he drove north, back the way he'd come.

The woman who took his three dollar admission at the Rock City site told him that the huge rock formations were sandstone concretions, and that this was the largest site of its kind. He didn't really care, though, so he didn't pay much attention, and when he finally smiled a fake, polite smile, the woman had stopped talking minutes ago, and was looking at him strangely. Out in the field, there were green grasses and spring flowers, and hundreds of massive gray rocks in an array of shapes and sizes. It didn't feel like a part of the Earth; he almost expected Teal'c to round one of the formations with an eyebrow raised, and hear Jack's voice from behind saying, "Hey, that one looks like a hockey puck."

He wandered for awhile, tried to think what Jack would say all of the rocks resembled: this one looked like a mushroom; that one looked like Teal'c's bald head; that one looked like a really fat dachshund. Finally he scrambled up onto the top of a rock that just looked like a rock, and he used his thigh as a writing surface to fill out his postcards.

He wrote Jack's name on the back of the "Wizard of Oz" card, and a quick note that said, "Don't know why Dorothy wanted to come back. Should have clicked her heels and said, 'There's no place like Hawaii, there's no place like Hawaii.'"

On the back of the card that said "wish you were here," he wrote Sam's name and, "Wish I were there."

He took both postcards with him when he left, and he never bothered to mail them.

In the dream, there's a feeling of closeness that borders on claustrophobic. It's too cool, and the air tastes like damp concrete, wet underground spaces that lack fresh air. There are bars between them, and a grid of laser lights to remind them of the separation.

She says, "You care about Samantha Carter as much as O'Neill and Teal'c."

He says, "Yes, I do."

Her name is Jolinar in that place. He doesn't know if she's still alive in there.

His eyes were open and there was nothing but asphalt, the far-off gleam of an approaching car, and green fields on either side, bristling with crops he couldn't identify. He blinked, and when he opened his eyes again, he was in a bar. There were five empty shot glasses in front of him, and a few pint glasses edged with foam. There was a familiarity about them, so he knew that he had been the one to drain them all. The alcohol had stripped all the hard edges from the world, left them soft and blurry.

When he went outside, there was a slender young man leaning next to the door, smoking a cigarette. The kid said, "Jesus, I thought you were never comin' out. You want to do this, or what?"

Daniel heard himself say yes, and he couldn't really feel his legs, even as he followed the kid a few blocks up the deserted small-town street and into a tiny apartment. It smelled like ramen noodles and dirty laundry. The kid unfastened Daniel's pants and dropped to his knees, and he didn't even seem to bothered when Daniel sighed out a name that wasn't his own. When Daniel was finished the kid stood up, wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. Daniel fumbled with the kid's jeans, gave him a quick and dirty hand job, and when they were done the kid said, "Thanks, man. See you around."

Daniel nodded, and for a moment he felt like his head might fall off and roll away. He'd been told that that had happened to him -- not-him -- before. He wondered what it felt like.

He went back to the bar for a lack of anything better to do, and he found himself at the pay phone outside, dropping coin after coin into the little slot and losing a few on the ground because his fingers were numb, too.

Jack's voice said, "Yeah?" and Daniel shivered, because he could almost feel the heat of Jack's breath against his shoulder.

Daniel said, "Did you know that Kansas has an official state soil? Some guy in a gas station told me that today."

"You're in Kansas?" Jack sounded furious, worried and tired all at the same time.

Daniel leaned his head against the top edge of the pay phone and breathed through his nose to keep from throwing up those five shots and three beers. They were heavy in his belly, even though he couldn't remember drinking any of them. His groin felt sticky with the kid's saliva. He said, "Harney Silt Loam," into the phone. "Harney Silt Loam is the official state soil of Kansas. A guy told me that, and then he said that he thought the state legislature probably ought to have something better to do with its time than declare an official state soil."

Jack said, "You're drunk," and that was the kind of logic that Daniel just couldn't argue with.

"Yeah," Daniel agreed.

There was a sound that might've been a sigh. "Where in Kansas are you, Daniel?"

Daniel squeezed his eyes shut and said, "I don't know. Jack, I don't know."

A recorded voice told him to insert more coins. He hung up instead.

In the dream, the clothes she's wearing are like jogging clothes, and it reminds him of afternoons in the base weight room. If he presses a hand to her chest, he won't feel her heartbeat, but he might detect the low thrum of electronics and hydraulics.

She isn't herself in that place. He doesn't know if she's still alive in there.

He didn't stop at any bars the next day, but he didn't travel very far, either. He drove until he found a town that was big enough that he could feel anonymous, and then he booked himself into a cheap hotel room, showered away the sweat, spit and stink of the previous night, and tried to sleep off his hangover.

It turned out to be a mistake, because mostly he ended up staring at the ceiling and thinking about quantum physics.

He thought: there's another universe where another me isn't falling apart.

He thought: there's another universe where another me didn't survive long enough for a breakdown.

He thought: there's another universe where another me isn't alone.

He entertained himself for awhile by imagining what SG-1 might've been like in worlds radically different from his own. There were a series of Jacks: one who painted abstracts and wore tie-die, one who sang scratchy-voiced blues in smoky clubs, one who had five children and none of the pain. There were Teal'cs, too: a farmer, a carpenter, a corpse on a distant battlefield. He imagined there was a universe where Teal'c lived on Earth, watched soap operas all day long, and was never in danger of being dissected by the government, but he had a harder time picturing that one.

There was a Sam who was a soccer mom, and one who had hair all the way down to her hips and read poetry out loud in coffee shops, and one who invented cold fusion and improved on the design of donuts.

He even imagined worlds where his friends were in prison, in pain, or just desperately unhappy, and he thought that they probably had one up on his own universe. He wondered if there was a Daniel Jackson out there somewhere who had made the Ancients' time machine work, who could go back and fix things, or just replay his mistakes.

He thought that there was probably a Daniel out there who was still stuck inside the Gamekeeper's machine, watching his parents die over and over again, and that maybe even that Daniel was better off than he was.

In the dream, she seems pale and thin, breakable. There's something about her eyes, though; something intense and utterly alien, something verging on incomprehensible.

She says, "Leaving this mind would cause termination."

She isn't the one behind her face in that place. He doesn't know if she's still alive in there.

The phone rang four times before Jack picked it up, and the "O'Neill," was clipped as if he'd tried to bite of the tail end off of his own name out of pure ill-tempered malice.

Daniel said, "I've been thinking about it, and I'm pretty sure there's a Teal'c in some universe who's a disco king."

"Daniel." Jack sounded steadier than he did the last time, more awake and alert. More patient, certainly. Prepared to deal with the voice from nowhere that used to belong to his best friend. "If you'll tell me where you are, I'll come and get you."

"I know." Daniel paused and let the seconds tick away, aware that he couldn't get them back once they were gone.

"I don't know what happened out there," Jack finally said, "but Daniel, you need to come in for debriefing. Can you at least tell me where Teal'c and Carter are? Are they alive?"

Daniel thought about it for awhile, and then he said, "I'm sure they are. There must be some universe where they are."

There was a rush of static in his ear as Jack blew out a frustrated, agonized breath. Daniel bit down on his tongue until it hurt.

"I've been thinking about quantum physics," he told Jack. "I've been thinking that there are infinite universes with infinite versions of us. And, even in our own universe, we don't belong to ourselves alone; there've been robots and crystal entities and--"

"Daniel, please," Jack said. "Please."

"The blade was dull." He paused to breathe, in and out twice, and his fingers wrapped tighter around the phone. "It died when I slid the knife through its throat, but I couldn't... what if it could repair the damage? What if some Jaffa came along once I'd left and put it in a sarcophagus? I couldn't take that chance. I had to... it took a long time, to cut through the neck, the spine, the snake. It took a long time, because the knife was just made for cutting fruit, and the blade was dull."

Jack's voice was tight when he said, "Come home, Daniel." But Daniel's throat had closed itself entirely, and he found that he couldn't answer.

In the dream, there's a smile twisting her lips that isn't her own. It's too cold, too self-satisfied, too thin-lipped and treacherous. She looks as beautiful as she ever did, but there's blood on her hands, dark red and still wet. Teal'c isn't moving anymore.

The eyes that watch him aren't hers, in that place. He doesn't know if she's still alive in there.

He kills her anyway.

He drove around Jack's block six times before he finally parked and got out of the car. The tank was running on empty by then, which was the only reason he didn't get back in and drive away.

Jack answered the door with a damp dishtowel thrown over one shoulder and his hair in a state of disarray. When he grabbed Daniel's forearm and pulled him inside, his hands were damp and he smelled slightly of lemon cleaner.

Jack just said, "Jesus," led Daniel into the living room, and pushed him down onto the couch. He sat, too, and peered at Daniel's face like he didn't know if Daniel was still alive in there.

Daniel said, "Jack?" because it seemed like the only thing to say at the time, and he wasn't sure whether he was still alive, either.

Jack's lips pressed against his temple, his cheek, the corner of his mouth, and it was like air rushing into his lungs for the first time in days. Jack said, "You're okay now, Daniel, you're alright," and kissed him again. Then he ran to call the base and say that he was bringing in Doctor Jackson and could they call in Hammond, please?

Daniel sighed and said, "I'm not okay."

But he was sure that there was an alternate universe out there where some other Daniel Jackson was doing just fine.

The End
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