Forty Miles of Bad Road and No Exit by tejas
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Category: General
Genres: Angst, Friendship
Rated: All Ages
Warnings: None
Series: None
Summary: Daniel's home and human again, but he's not sure what that means any more.

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Story Notes:
Written for the SG-1 Friendship Ficathon on Livejournal. My prompt was (Jack and Daniel) "We're not lost. We're just 40 miles in the wrong direction."
Daniel stared out the window watching the endless flow of trees. He'd reached that stage of numb awareness where it sometimes felt as if he was sitting still and the landscape was whipping by. Numb had been a more or less constant state since Oma and Anubis vanished from sight. Maybe it was the latest brush with death.

Sam's, no not Sam's, face drawn into cruel lines before her hand, no a sword, pierced his chest. Pain. Cold. Darkness. Failure. Don't think about it. Push it away.

Maybe it was returning to find Jacob and Selmak dead. Maybe it was his irrational aversion to being in the same room with Sam. Sam who needed her friends more than ever before, but he had nothing to offer, not even his presence.

Daniel felt drained.

Numb.

Empty.

He went through the motions, did his job, went home, came back. Lunch with friends (except Sam), picked up his mail, bought groceries. Pretended to live a life he was beginning to think he no longer had a right to. He'd toyed with the notion that when the Others sent him back, they'd slipped him into an alternate universe by mistake. Or maybe by design. Everything seemed just off kilter.

Out of plumb.

Out of true.

False.

Unreal.

Or maybe he was just one unreal, out of true piece. Misplaced, misaligned. The square peg pretending to fit in a round hole only to find the other round pegs had finally seen through his disguise and were pointing in horror at his straight lines and right angles. The emperor has no clothes and the peg has no curves, amen and pass the ammunition.

Daniel sighed and rubbed his eyes, wishing… something. He wasn't even sure what any more. Just for something. When Jack had appeared at his door earlier and told him to pack a bag for the weekend, Daniel hadn't asked where they were going or why he should bother. When buffeted by the winds of chance, at least Jack was a familiar rudder.

"Damnit." Jack jerked the truck to the side of the road and stopped.

Daniel turned his head to look at his friend. The trees outside had stopped their flight down the mountain, so there was nothing worth watching out the window.

"We should be there by now." Jack patted his pockets until he apparently found what he was looking for. He pulled a folded piece of paper out of one and opened it up. Daniel glanced at it and saw what looked like a list of directions in Jack's familiar scrawl. Idly, Daniel wondered where 'there' was, but didn't ask.

Jack pulled a map out and began tracing a path on the paper, referring to the written instructions and muttering to himself.

"Are we lost?" Daniel felt lost, it was familiar, but Jack wasn't used to getting lost. He always seemed to know where he was, where he was going and even where he'd been. Daniel couldn't remember when, or if, he'd ever felt the bone deep certainty Jack wore like a second skin. He sometimes felt he'd lived his entire life in a state of existential flux where everything was relative depending on where he was at the time. Every moment of his life depended on the context of his current thoughts as if there was no concrete meaning. He'd always thought that flexibility gave him strength; gave him wisdom. He wondered where the wisdom was in drifting on the winds. Where the strength was in shifting sand.

"We're not lost!" Jack sounded certain and Daniel took comfort in that second-hand knowledge. If Jack wasn't lost, then he knew where they were. He knew where Daniel was, but that didn't make sense. Daniel hadn't known where he was for a long time. Could someone else know something so intrinsic about another? A long forgotten conversation from a student dig flung itself from the morass of his memories.

"Being lost is a state of mind." Daniel remembered smiling when Professor Sanderson had said that while standing on the banks of a river that shouldn't have been there. Should he smile now? Jack wasn't smiling, so maybe not. Jack was staring at him, so Daniel stared back.

"That's very deep, Daniel, but it doesn't help get us where we're supposed to be."

Where we're supposed to be. Such a deceptively simple concept. People were supposed to be somewhere. A place. A time. A profession. A relationship. 'Supposed to' implied acceptance, belief. Daniel knew he used to experience those things, but they seemed foreign now. The underlying meaning required the expectation of permanence, but Daniel knew better. Permanence was the ultimate illusion. Even in death, there was no certainty. One could die again and again and leave nothing to cover in white roses and put in the ground on a rainy afternoon.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain knowledge...

The most basic expectations of what happens after had been stripped away until there was nothing left but questions with no answers and no faith to alleviate the ignorance.

Perhaps he was going about this the wrong way.

"Where are we supposed to be?" To be honest with himself, Daniel hadn't considered asking that question since his return. He'd done the mandatory counseling session on his return to corporeal form and been just as open and forthcoming as he had every time he'd spoken to one since he was twelve. He'd learned young not to ask important questions to the wrong people. Important questions should be asked of important people if the answers were to be meaningful. The associative property of information, perhaps. Jack was solid, reliable, trustworthy. Jack contained all that Daniel lacked and that made him important. He should have asked his friend weeks ago.

"I knew you weren't listening. Silver Lake. I signed the papers on that cabin, but it looks like we screwed up after the detour and have to backtrack about 40 miles to get back on track." Jack huffed and tossed the paper and map into the backseat before carefully turning the truck around and starting back down the mountain road.

Daniel nodded and turned to watch the trees retrace their path up the mountainside. Could it be this simple? Not lost, just 40 miles in the wrong direction? Locate a landmark, trace the map and find himself back on track? Back on his path? Did he want to be on the path he used to walk?

A lifetime ago, Shifu told him he needed to find a new path and it ended up leading to death and ascension and life and death again. Oma had told him the choice was his, but had he really made one? Maybe that was the problem. His choice had been made for him. Once she was gone, the Others decided before he'd had a chance to consider. Since his return he'd drifted, inertia shaping his path, just as the Others had. Daniel hadn't made the decision. He hadn't been the force acting to change his motion. He hadn't taken part in the act of creation that resulted in his change in direction; change in speed; change in state.

Daniel needed to figure out where he was before he could plot a new course. For that, he needed a point in space; a landmark. Gate Travel 101. He looked at Jack and felt a smile begin.

"What?" Jack looked at him suspiciously before turning back to watch the road.

"Nothing." Daniel paused. "Just, thanks for bringing me along."

"You're welcome, but I wasn't sure you were here until now."

"Neither was I, Jack. Neither was I."

"You have got to stop hanging out with the glowy crowd. They mess with your head, you know that, don't you?"

"Don't worry. I'm here to stay." Decision made, inertia overcome, direction changed. Daniel felt at peace for the first time in his current body.

"Well, that's good. See to it."

Daniel smiled quickly and nodded his assent. He still had to work out where his path lay and how to proceed down it, but at least he'd taken the first step. He knew where he was. He'd found something solid to relate his existence to. Something to grasp that would let him know he was real and he was there and he belonged, planes, right angles and all. A landmark in the wilderness of existence. The rest would fall into place.

"So, Jack. I assume you packed coffee, right?"
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