The faucet in the guest room bathroom is dripping. I can hear it from the hall. For a minute I'm tempted to go in my bedroom and slam the door to shut out the sound. But it won't work. It never does.
I don't want to walk through the room--me, the guy who pisses off snakeheads for a living, chicken to enter a room in my own house. But I open the door and enter...
The empty room. Empty. Devoid of life. Devoid of someone sprawled across the bed, snoring and sniffling because he didn't take his allergy medicine. Devoid of books in a neat pile on the chair and jeans on the floor. Devoid of Daniel.
I pass through the room as quickly as possible, keeping my eyes on the goal--the dark wood of the bathroom door. I open the door, and I'm half expecting to hear the shower running and the curtain opening and Daniel peers around the plastic, squinting because of course he doesn't have his glasses on while he's showering, and me finding out it's all a bad dream.
Except it's not.
It's not. Oh God, it's not a bad dream. It's a fucking nightmare, but it's real. It's oh so very real. Daniel's dead. Oh wait, correction, ascended. Like that makes it any less painful. Like that makes it any less true that Daniel is gone from my life.
He's gone and now it's too late. Too late to say words I should have said long ago. Too late to fix all the shit I pulled the past couple of years. Too late, too late, the dripping faucet seems to echo the words in my brain. I get to my knees, peer under the sink and turn the shut-off valve.
Shut-off. That's what I did to Daniel. My friend. My friend who stuck by me when any normal person would have said the hell with it and sought out other friends. But not Daniel. Nope, not him. And I can't figure it out. Why? Why did he stick around?
I push myself up and stand, grateful for the pain in my knees. It keeps my mind focused on something other than the fact that Daniel is gone.
Gone? Hell O'Neill, call a spade a spade. He's dead. Maybe we didn't have a body to bury in a casket in the ground like Sara and I did with Charlie. But Daniel isn't going to be sitting in his office tomorrow morning just waiting for me to come and bug him. He's not going to be talking our ears off at a briefing. He's not going to be...God, he's not going to be there.
The thought hits me like a punch in the chest. I actually stagger to the toilet and sink down on it. I've been riding a roller coaster the past two weeks and it seems I've just gotten off the ride. I've been pretending, I know that. Pretending for awhile that Daniel is just off on some far-away mission. Not floating around with some glowy beings who spout off stuff I don't choose to interpret. But I can't pretend. I can't pretend anymore that when my best friend lay dying I told him I might admire him a little. Fuck. Admire? You, Jack O'Neill, as a wise man once told you, are an ass.
He came to me. Not Carter, not Teal'c, not Fraiser or Hammond. When it came time to leave, to ask someone to let him go, he chose me. I don't know if I should hate him for that. Who am I kidding? I can't. No matter what, I can't hate Daniel for wanting to go. I only hate myself for not having the courage to ask him to stay.
When I close my eyes, I see him on the ramp, the wormhole shimmering behind him. He looked whole and healthy and I wanted to...ah crap. When I close my eyes, I can still hear him. His voice wavering between unsure and certain, and me wishing for an answer he couldn't give.
"I don't know."
Neither do I, Daniel, and I wish I did.
I stand up and open the medicine cabinet, seeing a tube of the toothpaste Daniel uses, used. I should throw it away, along with the shaving cream and the soap and the bottle of shampoo and the half used pack of allergy meds. But I don't. I close the door and walk back into the guest room.
Guest room. I should have just redone the whole room to Daniel's specifications. Even when things were bad, when what we used to have seemed to have disappeared, he'd still spend the night sometimes. We'd sit in the living room, drinking beer and eating pizza and not talking, but trying to regain our footing. I'd like to think that maybe in the week before...before Kelowna we'd made some progress.
I pull the pillow off the bed, wondering if I should change the sheets, but I can't. Holding the pillow to my face, I inhale, hoping, praying to catch just a scent to remind me. Just one little memory to carry me through. It's faint, very faint, but it's there.
He never knew. I think he never knew. But I did. I've been ten kinds of an idiot. I love him. I can't say loved, because love doesn't stop for death. I love Daniel. I face the snakes, face enemy fire, but when it counted, when I had the chance to tell Daniel I loved him, my courage failed. I tell myself it wouldn't have been fair, not when he was in pain and dying, but it's a lie. It was my own fear that kept me from speaking. My own fears that had me pushing him away when I wanted to draw him closer.
I'm not a man who believes the universe gives us second chances. I screwed up with my wife and son. I'm not surprised I screwed up with my best friend.
I hold the pillow tighter and close my eyes. Be well, be happy, I will my thoughts into the universe. An fragment of an Irish blessing my Gran O'Neill used to say comes to my mind. May you always walk in sunshine. May you never want for more.
Walk in sunshine, my friend. I hope you find what you seek.
Damn faucet. I fixed it right after...well months ago. And now it's dripping again. It's keeping me awake when all I want to do is sleep and pray I don't dream.
I find myself in the guest bathroom with no memory of walking there, with only the memory of simmering anger propelling me out of bed. Turning the shut-off valve seems an overwhelming task. I shiver in a room that suddenly seems too cold, too small. The light is too bright, reminding me of Baal's little guest suite, and feeling like I'm eighty I get up and turn off the light before sinking back down on the closed toilet seat. It's a full moon and the light from the window illuminates the bathroom. A calm light, a gentle light.
I didn't tell Fraiser what happened. Oh, I went through the mandatory session with MacKenzie, gave a detailed account of all of Baal's nice presents for me, but I didn't tell them about my visitor. Didn't tell them Daniel was there.
Daniel was there--with me, for me. I thought he was a dream--a hallucination, but nope. It was him. Only Daniel could manage to piss me off. A hallucination wouldn't have offered me a chance to ascend. A hallucination wouldn't have argued.
My hands are shaking. I put them between my knees and try to stop the trembling. God--what a mess. Fraiser said the after effects of my forays into the sarcophagus will last a few more days. But she couldn't justify my staying in the infirmary. Hell, I didn't want to stay in the infirmary. I needed to come home, but I thought, I hoped I guess, that Daniel would be here.
He waited with me. I know he was there that last time in the room. He said he wouldn't leave me, and I believed him. Only Daniel can make me believe the impossible. I don't remember being rescued, but I remember waking in the infirmary and Daniel was there once again. Carter, Teal'c, Quinn, they'd all come and done the obligatory once over of their commanding officer, but then they left. And I was alone, but not.
Daniel was there, smiling, telling me I was gonna be okay. Telling me he understood my decision, not with his words but with his eyes.
I wanted nothing more than to go with him. Wanted nothing more than to take that jump, that leap of faith. But I couldn't. Just like I couldn't find the courage to say the words, to tell him how I felt.
I listen to the drip, drip, drip of the faucet and finally wad up a towel in the sink to absorb the water. I look at the bit of moon I can see through the window and then close my eyes trying to conjure up a vision of Daniel beside me.
A full moon for a dark night. I can't remember the blessing right now, but I send my thoughts out into the beyond. A full moon for you, Daniel.
Damn! Damn you, Daniel! I open the guest bedroom door and it slams against the wall, nearly bouncing back into me.
I stand in the room, breathing hard, before I question why I've come in here. I unclench my hands, force my breathing to slow and then I listen. I give a bitter laugh as I realize what I've been waiting for. There's no dripping faucet this time. Does that mean...?
Gone. Abydos, Skaara, Kasuf, Sha're's grave, gone. Disappeared--oh no, let me correct that, ascended. Does Daniel know? Does he know what happened to his family?
Carter is pissed at me, Hammond isn't much happier, and Teal'c told me Daniel visited him too but why didn't I tell them? Because Jack O'Neill's a coward at heart, I wanted to say, but I didn't. I made some joke about it--one that fell flat on its face.
But this time, this time, I think Daniel's gone for good. He stepped over that line he spouted off about and the price was...
I don't want to contemplate the price. It was too high. God. How can Abydos be gone? How can Daniel?
I want to yell, to scream, but I don't. I learned a long time ago that yelling and screaming doesn't bring back the dead. And dead he is this time.
I don't know how I know. I just...know. My eyes burn and I rub at them, sitting down on the bed. I grab for the pillow I held all those months ago and sniff. I can't smell him anymore. There's nothing left. Nothing.
I'm tired. Sick and tired and heart-weary. I'll give it another three months. That's it, and then it's bye-bye SGC. Bye-bye Colorado. Hello cabin in Minnesota.
Minnesota. For a long time when I'd think of retirement, I never could picture the cabin without Daniel somewhere in it. I never told him. And now. Now I picture the cabin, empty except for an old recluse who they tell stories about in town. I don't want a life without Daniel in it, damn it! But yet it seems that's what I've been given.
I throw the pillow down in anger, in disgust, and walk into the bathroom. I pull open the medicine cabinet door so hard it bounces on the hinges and nearly closes on my fingers.
His stuff is still here--almost a year and it's still here. I haven't been able to get rid of it. Stupid me. I gather as much of it as I can in one grab and dump it into the waste paper basket. My eyes blur as I start to close the cabinet door, but I see something stuck at the back of the top shelf. I tug on it with my fingers--it's in the gap between the cabinet and shelf.
I recognize Daniel's handwriting right away. His words scrawl across the piece of paper similar to one of the notes he used to write to himself in briefings, not meant for other eyes but only for himself. Reminders I guess they were, reminders to check things out, to look up some obscure reference that would flit in his mind when someone would mention something that meant nothing to anyone but Daniel.
I feel no guilt, no shame in reading the note.
"Talk to Jack," it says. That's it. "Talk to Jack."
About? About what, Daniel? What was it? Did you have a premonition about Kelowna? Did I say something? Do something? Or was it something mundane? Buy more coffee? Remind me to feed your fish before a mission? Did you ever give me the message? Did you? Did you talk to me about whatever it was?
Or maybe the question is---did I listen?
I close my fingers over the note, my stomach clenching. Without a second glance I leave the bathroom, leave the guest room. I need to get out. Out of the house, out of the way of memories.
I find myself on the deck, sitting on a chair, staring at my telescope but too weary to look through it. I used to search the stars for answers. I tilt my head back, unable to see them clearly as my eyes blur. I rub at my eyes, disgusted when my fingers come away wet. Breathing seems harder as my chest tightens with grief. Gran O'Neill's voice drifts up from memory. "He who loses money, loses much; he who loses a friend, loses more; he who loses faith, loses all."
The universe is wide and dark, and the stars provide no light.
I stop outside the guest bedroom, hesitating only a moment before I push open the door. I enter silently, Special Ops skills don't ever leave a person.
He's asleep, just as I thought he would be. Daniel is sprawled across the bed, the covers kicked to one side and half on the floor. His breathing is slow and steady and none of the dreams that haunted his sleep when he was regaining his memory for those first couple of crazy weeks after we brought him home bother him any longer.
I remind myself Daniel is only a temporary occupant of this room. The house, bought for him courtesy of the US government, isn't ready yet. So for the next few weeks, I have a boarder.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I feel like a voyeur watching him sleep. Hell, I am a voyeur. But I can't help myself. His chest rises and falls evenly and I can hear slight puffs of air as he breathes.
Moonlight provides a bit of light and it silvers his hair and illuminates his skin. His right hand twitches along with his left foot and he smacks his lips together before turning over onto his side. I know I should leave, but I don't want to. No, it's more than that. I can't leave.
I thought...and now Daniel's here, alive and breathing...and here. There are times, like now, in the middle of the night, that I can't quite believe it.
I think I, hell all of us, spent most of the first day Daniel was back on base just staring at him whenever the chance presented itself.
And that talk I swore I'd have with Daniel if ever...God it was a lot easier making the promise when I didn't know where he was. But damn it, it's time. I need to do this, and I swear I'll do it right. Test the waters so to speak.
The chair near the bed is already piled high with books Daniel retrieved from his stored belongings and I cautiously move them to the floor. I freeze when Daniel shifts in bed but he's just moving in his sleep and I know it's safe to sit down. And wait.
A voice pulls me out of a light doze and I'm on my feet searching for danger before I remember where I am. Daniel says it again and I sit back down with a thump.
"Jack," Daniel says in his sleep.
I hold my breath, waiting. He says my name one more time and grunts as he pulls on the covers.
"Not gonna get them that way," I murmur as I ease them from under his body. I tug them up around his torso, resisting the urge to crawl in bed with him and warm him myself. I pat his shoulder and go back to the chair.
I stick my hand in my pocket and feel the crumpled note I found two months ago. Talk. I tell myself. Talk.
I wake up with the feeling that someone is watching me. He is. Daniel is on his side, facing me, his eyes fixed on me, solemn and unblinking.
"Hey," I say, and my voice sounds loud and harsh in the pale light of early morning.
Daniel says nothing, but a hesitant smile appears. God, don't do that, Daniel. Don't smile at me when I've let you down so many times in the past few years.
I cough and study my hands, look at the floor. There's a scuff mark on the wood and I think maybe I should...
"Jack," his voice is soft.
I look up only to see him still smiling except now he's sitting up with his legs over the bed. He frowns as I continue to study him and he looks down at his t-shirt and sweatpants before looking at me again, questions in his eyes.
"Daniel," I finally say.
Well this is going well. I clear my throat and fidget before I realize I'm holding the note I found in the medicine cabinet.
"Here." I get up, walk the two steps to the bed and hand him the note, before sitting back down again.
He opens the crumpled paper and glances at it. He lets out his breath and then folds the paper into a small square and lays it on the bedside table. His gaze flits from the table to the floor to the door and back again to the table, anywhere but at me.
"Jack, I..." he begins at the same time I say, "Daniel, I..."
We both give a gesture for the other to continue and then he crosses his arms over his chest and looks over the top of his glasses, waiting.
I've faced down the Goa'uld. So why is my heart playing a samba while I could use my hands to give myself a bath because they're sweating so much?
He's waiting. Just...waiting. I rub at the scuff mark I noticed earlier, stretch my hands above my head and interlace my fingers to crack the knuckles, and still Daniel waits.
"I," I begin, and he leans forward, his expression intent. Does he know? Does he know what I'm thinking? What I want to say? I don't know why he would. Before he left, hell before I let him go, let him go off to join the glow-worms, I treated him like shit. He straightens when I don't say anything else. A flicker of I don't know what emotion crosses his face and then it's as if there is a wall that he erects, impassive, impermeable.
"I've screwed this all up," I hear myself say and Daniel tilts his head to one side, pursing his lips in that way he has. "This isn't the way...I don't even know if. Well maybe I shouldn't because you're just back and your memory is..." I raise my hands in the air, put them on top of my head. "Damn it. I love you."
Okay--that wasn't supposed to come out like that. I close my mouth and hear a click as I do. Ah shit. "Daniel, I'm..."
"If you say you're sorry, Jack," he warns and holds up his index finger before I can say more. "You love me." He repeats, not a question, a statement.
I nod my head. "Yeah." And now it's my turn to wait.
"You kept my toothpaste," he says as if he already knew what I was going to say. "My toothpaste and my shaving cream and...stuff." He finishes with a vague wave of his hand.
I rub my hands on my jeans. "I shouldn't have." When he raises his eyebrows, I continue. "Not that. I mean I shouldn't have told you."
"Oh?" Again with the eyebrows. "Didn't you mean it?" he asks, curious.
"Of course I meant it," I say. "I wouldn't say if I didn't. You think I go around telling guys I love them for the hell of it?"
Daniel ducks his head, hiding his face from me for a moment before he looks up again. He's smiling. Not the shy smile of earlier. A big smile, one that lights up his whole face, makes his eyes sparkle. I'm guessing this is a good thing.
"Uh, one question," he holds up that index finger again, resting it for a moment against his lips, a habit I saw time and time again and never realized I missed until just now when he does it. "If you love me and I love you, what are you doing over there on the chair while I'm here on the bed?"
Can't really argue with that logic can you? I'm beside him on the bed in a flash despite a twinge that reminds me I'm not as young as I used to be and his hands are on my neck, moving into my hair.
He has his eyes closed and mine nearly cross trying to look at him.
"Jack," he murmurs and his fingers run over my scalp, back down over my ears and then across my face. He opens his eyes when he reaches my lips. "Why didn't you...never mind." He shakes his head and removes his hand from my face, turning away. "It doesn't matter now."
Ah, but that's where he's wrong. It does matter. It matters more than he knows. "I'm a coward."
He looks at me, his eyebrows rising in disbelief and then he laughs. "Coward? You?"
"Coward. Me," I say and then I shrug my shoulders.
He's quiet a long time. I force myself to remain still and not open my mouth. I hate that I can't tell what's he thinking. I used to know. I used to be able to see it in his eyes, used to be able to interpret every nuance of his behavior. And somewhere along the way, I lost it. Or maybe I didn't lose it, maybe I just ignored it because what I saw was...oh.
Oh. I swear a light bulb goes on in my brain. What a bunch of idiots we've been. And suddenly I can't keep my trap shut any longer.
"Why didn't you ever say anything?" I ask, accusing and angry at the time we've lost.
He glances away--over my right shoulder before he meets my eyes again.
"Why didn't you?" he replies.
"I asked you first."
"You started it."
I smile. I can't help it. The argument, if it could even be called that, feels right.
"What if..." Daniel starts to say and I finish for him, "I'd been wrong."
He nods before he shifts in the bed and smiles again. Daniel should smile more often. He used to smile more, smiles that always made my heart melt a little bit even though I needed to be the big bad Air Force colonel. But when I search my memory of the time before he...left...all I can remember is those tears in his eyes when he asked me to let him go.
Does he remember *that* I wonder? And I pray the answer is no. I pray that when Oma decided to take away his memories she erased that so that he will never recall the agony of his last hours on Earth.
I look at him and he's frowning just a bit. Concern for me, I think. "Daniel."
"I think," he begins and then stops to shake his head. "I think we've wasted too much time." He pulls on my shirt, tugging me closer and it's only that I'm off-balance that I fall over and he's on top of me. "Way too much time," he says and covers my mouth with his.
Daniel is a great kisser, I think with a part of my brain that is somehow still rational. The other part of my brain--the part of it giving way to physical sensation that has nothing to do with rationality wants to throw him back on the bed, pull down his sweat pants and fuck him senseless. Daniel, it seems, has other ideas. He pushes me down and is straddling me before I have a chance to take any action.
"God, Jack," he's saying over and over again almost a chant. I can't help but respond by pushing his body his up against him. He's got his hands under my t-shirt and they're warm and when he slides them down across my stomach I laugh. It tickles. Daniel's head is bent against my chest and when I laugh, hot breath whooshes against my skin as Daniel laughs along.
"Dan..." I end with a yelp because quick as lightning, he's moved lower and has managed to pull down my sweatpants without my help and his long fingers are wrapped around my cock.
He looks up at me, his face gone all serious and intent like it always did when he concentrated on one of his artifacts, and then he licks his lips very slowly.
"You want this?"
Hell, yeah, I want to say or scream, but all that I'm able to do is nod and let out a groan. He smiles again and moves his hands to my hips.
"Let me," he whispers. "Turn over."
I do, unable to ignore the order.
"No lube," I manage to say and wonder at how strangled my voice sounds.
I'm cold as Daniel gets up from the bed and I listen to the flip flopping noise of bare feet on wood as he goes into the bathroom. And then he's back and I'm warm again.
"Lotion," he murmurs. And I vaguely remember a small bottle of some sort of moisturizing cream left in the medicine cabinet from a time that he had a bad sunburn.
His hands are on my lower back now, warm and slick with lotion and he rubs a small circle there while I feel him push against me.
"Relax," Daniel says. "I won't hurt you."
I know, I want to say, but he's pushing and I feel him inside me and I can only grunt in pleasurepain as he enters. He doesn't talk anymore, and there is only the sound now of skin on skin and grunts and oomphs as he withdraws a bit and then pushes even further in. We manage to find a rhythm and it's as if we've been doing this for years. We fit, Daniel and I, and it feels right.
I feel heat inside me and then a second later, my world seems to turn red and blinding white before I come. Daniel's a heavy weight on my back and he's panting against my shoulder. He pulls out the whole way and rolls off of me and I feel strangely bereft.
I somehow manage to make my limp-as-a-noodle muscles work and I turn onto my side to glance at him. His cheeks are wet and his lashes are clumped together almost as if...
"Daniel?" I ask hoping I don't sound as alarmed as I think I do.
He smiles at me. "You too," he whispers and touches a finger to my cheek before pulling it away and putting it to my lips.
I taste salt and bring up a hand to wipe at my face. God.
"We should clean up," Daniel says, and I don't know if it's a minute or an hour later.
"Yeah," I agree but he's moved closer to me and his body is warm and alive, oh God, alive and warm and breathing and real against mine and I don't want to move for another hundred years.
We're silent again and I soon hear Daniel's breathing deepen into sleep. I stare up at the ceiling, realizing there is no dripping faucet, that my world seems right in a way it didn't a month ago. I have a letter of resignation to tear up. I close my eyes and see my Gran O'Neill, faded red hair and face crisscrossed with laugh lines and wrinkles earned from years of hard work. And as it does sometimes when I most need it, I hear her voice. Blessings, toasts, curses, she knew them all. " A toast for your coffin. May it be built from the wood of a hundred year old oak, that we shall plant together tomorrow." I know we won't have a hundred years--unless Daniel or someone at the SGC discovers some sort of fountain of youth that doesn't make people crazy, but the thought of it is enough for me.
We've started. I reach out and touch Daniel's cheek and close my eyes again, thinking of acorns and a strong tall oak.
|Genres:||Drama, First Time, Hurt/Comfort, Meridian Fix|
Author's Chapter Notes:
Timed out from Ancient's Gate 9: Devotion. Thanks as usual to all the sisters of my heart.