Farther Than Earth From Heaven
A Stargate SG-1 story
by
Destina Fortunato
Notes: This is a pre- and post-Meridian story about love, loss and closure -- but not a fix-it, and there's no glowing clouds. The title and section headers are taken from ancient Egyptian proverbs. Special thanks to elynross, Anais, quercus, Stacey and zoot for beta, comments and encouragement.



I.

-- Every man finds himself in the world where he belongs. --

Night on Abydos was a vast, uninterrupted darkness. It was unnerving, and gave Jack a familiar sense of disconnection. He’d had that feeling many times while sliding into unconsciousness; it was an awareness of his own fragility, a brief panic in the absence of light.

He made his way across shifting sand with caution. The feel of it cascading beneath his feet reminded him of losses and old wounds. There were no enemies lurking in the shadows this time, but something just as sinister tugged at him and ran circles around him in the night.

The kids in front of him were quiet. Not kids anymore, really. They’d grown into strong young men in the six years since he first saw them, in those few days when he’d learned of the generosity and spirit of these people – Daniel’s people. They led Jack across the wide desert with sure steps, without even a torch to show them the way.

He had walked this path many times. First with the intent of destroying this world, and then with the intent of saving it. He had come for funerals, for celebrations, to collect the child of a mortal enemy.

This was the first time he had come alone.

The thought occurred to him that he could find his way to Kasuf’s village without these guides and their sad faces. They had seemed so hopeful when he arrived, mere seconds before he confirmed Daniel had not come through the chaapa’ai with him.

He was never going to be able to say it. Not denial; denial was for people who were hell-bent on clinging to things that could never be. But the words to articulate his loss wouldn’t come. He couldn’t make himself say it, so he said only that Daniel was not coming, could not visit them this time, and watched their faces fall. They knew he spoke only half-truths, for this was Daniel’s place. Jack had always been the visitor on this world his friend had chosen.

If he could ever speak the words, he would turn to stone from the inside out, and his eyes would not reflect the sorrow others showed.

Lights flickered in the distance, but they seemed unbearably far away. Jack had the sudden urge to run, to take off across the wide expanse of emptiness and embrace what lay ahead, but his feet seemed mired in mud. Every step grew slower, and slower still, and finally the villagers stopped in their tracks, and turned to watch him catch up to their position.

It was the longest walk of his life.  


II.

-- Every man must act in the rhythm of his time ... such is wisdom. --

Organized chaos.

That was what Sam had called the cluttered heap that was Daniel’s office, when Daniel wasn’t around to hear and object. It suited him, Jack thought. How Daniel could find anything in there was one of the great mysteries of the universe.

“Got your travel packet together for the general?” Jack picked up a random book, thumbed through it without reading a word, and put it down in more or less the same place as he’d found it. Daniel picked it up and put it back where it belonged.

“Yes. It’s amazing how many memos one has to write in order to get an off-world pass for something other than a mission.” Daniel scrunched several crinkly papers together in an attempt to square the edges, then gave up and paper-clipped them anyway. “Request for permission for non-essential off-world activation, details of parameters for contact with indigenous personnel, timelines and contact deadlines. The only thing I wasn’t required to fill out was a disclaimer for injury.”

“In your case, I’d think that would be the first thing they’d hand you,” Jack said mildly, and was rewarded with a piercing blue stare.

“Apparently not.”

“I think you may be the first person to request permission to take a vacation off-world,” Jack said. “What’d you expect?”

“Not the first, really,” Daniel said. “There’s Teal’c, remember?”

“That’s different. Family business.”

“Yes. Well. Maybe not so different.” Daniel stuffed his stack of papers into a plain white folder and avoided Jack’s eyes.

Jack had nothing to say to that, since Daniel still hadn’t explained why he was going in the first place. He studied the wall of books until the awkward moment had passed. “Heading out tonight?”

“Departure time is 1800 hours, between check-ins from SG-3 and SG-11. I have enough time to pack and grab a nap.”

“And you’ll be back…when, exactly?”

“Tomorrow night.”

Twenty-four hours. Jack frowned up at the clock.

He hadn’t been big on the idea of Daniel taking a trip to see Kasuf, and Daniel going alone didn’t set well with him, but he hadn’t been asked for his opinion. Daniel had gone around him to Hammond; he’d more or less jumped his chain of command by taking a running leap at his objective. Jack would have supported him going, if he had a clue why it was so important to Daniel, but Daniel hadn’t shared that with him.

It seemed Daniel didn’t want to share that with anyone, because Jack had asked both Carter and Teal’c, and they didn’t know, either.

It nagged at him, this sense that he shouldn’t let Daniel go alone. It itched against his instincts for reasons he hadn’t looked at too closely, but the questions he had wanted to ask had died in his throat when he saw Daniel looking at a drawing of the temple on Abydos. He knew Daniel wasn’t seeing bricks and mortar; he was seeing soft skin and shining eyes, and a lost future he would always mourn.

The commander in him piped up – had to, since he had a responsibility to Daniel. “You know this probably isn’t the greatest idea, don’t you?”

“What – going to Abydos, or going alone?”

“Both. Either.”

“I lived among my…those people for over a year, Jack. It’s safe enough. Nothing will go wrong.”

“Yeah, well. Heard that before.” Jack looked up and caught Daniel looking at him with understanding in his eyes.

“And don’t try to get me to take the P-90. I’m taking a sidearm. That’s enough.”

“Hey, at least you have enough sense to take a weapon. You’re making progress.”

Daniel smiled. Jack noticed that while he’d been busy thinking about the reasons Daniel shouldn’t go, Daniel had been finishing up preparations to do exactly that. He’d made a little stack of things – journal, pens, three slim books and one fat one – all of which gave Jack a pretty good idea about what Daniel would do on his trip.

Nothing too exciting, that was for sure.

An absurd offer made its way to the tip of Jack’s tongue - let me go with you - and he squashed it back. Daniel had been on schedule to go for weeks. If Daniel wanted him….wanted him to go on this journey…he would have said something, or given some indication.

Believing otherwise was crazy. Jack knew it, and he couldn’t stop thinking about it anyway.   

“So.” Jack took a deep breath. “You want some company on this little trip of yours?”

Daniel’s hands, so busy with stacking and straightening, slowly came to a halt. “I suppose that depends.”

“On?”

“Why you want to go.”

“You need someone to watch your back.”

“No, I don’t. Not really.” Daniel’s head tilted. He waited.

“I don’t like the idea of you going back there alone.”

“Jack, the chances of the Goa’uld choosing the exact window of time I’m there to pay a visit—”

“I don’t care how slim the chances are,” Jack said. The spark of rebellion appeared in Daniel’s eyes. Jack had long years of experience translating that look, so he softened his tone and added, “You want to disappear somewhere on Earth for a day or two, fine by me. But this is different.”

“Does this have anything to do with the fact that I didn’t explain my reasons for going to you?”

“Let me think about it. Yes.”

Daniel perched on the edge of his chair and rested his hands on his thighs. After a moment, he said, “I did think about asking you, but I wasn’t sure…” Daniel hesitated. “I didn’t really know how to ask, without automatically including Sam and Teal’c. This isn’t a mission, Jack. It’s not a team thing, it’s…personal.”

Many things ran through Jack’s mind in the blink of an eye. Not a team thing. Not related to the SGC. A team of two. Personal.

“So you could have asked a friend along. Just to be on the safe side.”

Daniel looked up with a half-smile. “Friends don’t let friends visit distant worlds alone?”

“Something like that.”

“They would love to see you, Jack.” Daniel fixed him with a long, searching look. “Probably just as much as you’d like to see them.”

“This isn’t about what I want.”

Daniel just looked at him. He was so quiet that Jack could almost hear him thinking. He wondered if Daniel’s mind was wandering in the same direction his own was, a cascade of thoughts about want and need and unasked questions.  

Finally, Daniel said, “It would be good to have you there, Jack.”

Jack mulled that over for a moment, then said, “I’m taking the P-90.”

The half-smile went full and brilliant for a brief moment. “Thought you might.”


III.

-- Understanding develops by degrees. --

The orange-beige dunes of Abydos sparkled in the light, harsh and stark under the brilliant sun. Didn’t matter how beautiful the landscape could be, it was still barren and desolate to Jack. Aside from that - Jack hated sand. It gritted in his teeth, nested in his hair and clothes, and found its way into everything.

Daniel, however, seemed fascinated by it, and was sifting handfuls of it through his fingers while Jack watched. “It’s like silk,” Daniel observed, wiggling his fingers as the tiny grains fell through them. “Rough and raw, and yet it’s like the softest thing you can imagine. Think of the thousands upon thousands of years it’s taken to grind the native rock down into this, Jack. It’s amazing.”

“Amazing,” Jack agreed, one hand on the P-90 even though there was no one around, and no one likely to chance by.  He scanned the horizon out of habit, seeking any signs of threat, even though the possibility was remote. If there had been danger, the armed villagers at the gate would have warned them.

Things on Abydos had calmed considerably since the numbers of prominent Goa’uld had been whittled down, but Jack had a hard time putting things in that kind of perspective. After all, burying the gate hadn’t helped protect the Abydonians before, and guarding the gate day and night wasn’t really a better solution. Since it was all they had, the villagers lived with it the best they could.

“I remember…” Daniel extended a finger and sketched a pattern in the sand. His fingertips slid gently through the grains, painting a story with colorless art. This time it was something Jack recognized, with a sharp pang of memory – the symbol for Earth.

“I remember, too,” he said softly.

Daniel’s head dropped down low, and he looked away, out into the desert beyond.

“Did you ever manage to teach these people how to write the hero…hiro…”

“Hieroglyphics,” Daniel corrected him, his voice low, and Jack couldn’t speak because Daniel’s eyes were on him, filled with bright pain. “Some of them, yes.”

Some of them. That meant Sha’re.  Jack winced.

Daniel stood slowly and stared off into the distance where the village was.

“You sure of the way? I can go back and take one of the locals up on their offer to point us in the right direction.” Jack gestured back toward the temple.

“It hasn’t been that long, Jack.” Daniel flashed him a brief smile. “I know this desert as well as the people who were born here.” Daniel’s glasses seemed to draw in the full glare of sun and heat, so that it was difficult to look in his eyes, to read what was there.

“We should get going.”

Daniel scanned the desert around them, a mirror of Jack’s automatic motion. “Nervous?”

Jack squinted up at the sun, then back at Daniel. “Cautious, actually.”

“Right.” Daniel started off in what seemed to Jack to be an arbitrary direction, but of course, it wasn’t. Daniel knew exactly what he was doing. After a moment, Jack fell in beside him, making tracks across the endless stretch of windblown dunes.

Walking through sand was a tiring exercise. The only thing Jack could compare it to was slogging through deep snow. The same muscles hurt at the end of the trip – calves, hamstrings, shins, the arch of the foot. He felt as though he was always off balance, perpetually losing his footing as he tried to gain ground. When it was possible, they stuck to the tops of the ridges, where it was easier to see into the distance. Less chance of losing their bearings that way.

Jack cast a quick glance at Daniel, who seemed lost somewhere inside his own head. His feet were moving, but his mouth wasn’t, and that concerned Jack a bit. He hadn’t expected Daniel to chat non-stop, but he hadn’t thought they’d get to the village without some sort of conversation – pointers on how he should act, or rambling chatter about the Abydonian culture…something. Just not this silence that begged to be broken.

“You think Kasuf’ll be surprised?” Jack asked.

Daniel looked sideways at Jack. “He certainly won’t be expecting you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s just that…my presence here isn’t…there’s no agenda of any sort, really, other than a personal one. I hope when he sees us, he won’t think…” Daniel gestured to their military garb. “That there’s something wrong.”

Jack realized suddenly that Daniel had been clothed in desert robes when he greeted them the day Sha’re was taken, and at her funeral as well. “You usually trade out your uniform and go native, don’t you?”

“Generally, yes. But it’s not necessary.”

Jack looked at Daniel in his desert camouflage, with the brown bandanna tight around his head, and thought of how he’d looked swaddled down in the lightweight robes, buried beneath their shapeless concealment. “Good.”

“You worried you’d have to follow suit?”

“Not an option.”

They walked on in silence for a few moments more, then Daniel said, “Thank you. For coming with me. I know this isn’t your idea of a good time. No water to fish in, no fish to fry.” He cracked a little grin at Jack.

“No mosquitoes, either. So there’s a bonus.” Jack waited a beat, then: “You ready to tell me why we’re here?”

“Because it’s time,” Daniel said, as if that cleared everything up. Jack rolled his eyes behind the protection of the dark glasses. Not helpful. Daniel read his mind – or maybe they’d just been reading each other’s body language too long – because he added, “I know that doesn’t answer your question, but…”

“I get it, Daniel.” Daniel nodded, and Jack dropped it. For the moment. There’d be time, in the next two days, to circle back around and dig in. For now, the village was looming, and the welcoming cries of villagers in the distance took him back in memory. He and Daniel smiled at one another; he could understand Daniel’s feelings, his reasons.

This was like coming home.  

*****

Oh, the Abydonian alcohol – if alcohol was even what it was. It seemed more like a cross between coolant and acid. Jack had nearly forgotten its throat-closing, sinus-ripping properties. The great thing was, the more of it he drank, the less it hurt, which was a big bonus. He’d had just enough of it that there was no pain at all, just a mellow sense of the world tipping off its hinges.

“It is truly good to see you, my son. We had thought we might not offer you a place here again, now that our beloved daughter and wife is with our god.” Kasuf’s face was alight with pleasure at seeing Daniel, and Jack was again reminded of how close Daniel’s ties were to this man and his people. “It has been so long – almost a year! I was surprised to learn of your arrival.”

“I know, good father. Traveling back to your world is difficult, but I felt it was time, now that…” Daniel stopped mid-sentence and took a long sip of the alcohol. Jack raised an eyebrow. Either Daniel had a tolerance for the moonshine that Jack had yet to develop, or he’d missed something essential about Daniel’s metabolism all these years. The guy couldn’t even get through a six-pack without going face down on the couch, but this? Kid stuff.

Just one more little inconsistency in the story that was Daniel Jackson. Jack smiled to himself and accepted another cup full of the nasty brew from a teenager who looked a little like Skaara. That killed the smile, and sent Jack off on a rollicking trip through time, back to a place in his head where the one bit of brightness was a kid who couldn’t talk with him, and who had helped to seal the child-size wound in his heart.

Kasuf startled him by echoing his thoughts. “Please, tell me; have you any word of my son?”

Daniel’s worried frown manifested right away. “I’m sorry, but no. The last time we saw him, he was…” Daniel stopped and his lips worked silently for a moment as he searched for a way to say it. It wasn’t like he could tell the guy that his son was trying hard to help kill the false gods half a galaxy had worshipped.

“He’s traveling beyond the chaapa’ai in the realm of the god,” Jack said smoothly. “There are many things Skaara wants to see before he comes home to you here.”

Daniel shot him a grateful look, and it curled right through Jack and landed somewhere near his heart. “Yes. Yes, Skaara has become a traveler. You should be proud, good father.”

“I am, I am.” Kasuf beamed.  

Jack’s mouth was watering. He’d been trying to ignore the platter of roasted meat on the ground between them, but his stomach was kicking the hell out of him. He took a piece of the meat and tore in. No sense in trying to figure out what it was. He was hungry, but he wouldn’t be for long if he knew what this had been when it was still breathing.

“It is well that you have brought your friend with you,” Kasuf said to Daniel, as he patted Jack lightly on the arm with a firm, friendly touch. “It is not wise for a man to travel alone, Daniel.”

Jack met Daniel’s eyes as Daniel sipped the moonshine; amusement shone there. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell him,” Jack said patiently. He held Daniel’s gaze for a moment longer as Daniel set down his cup, as he licked his lips and smiled.

Some friendship they had. They couldn’t talk to one another for more than fifteen minutes without things disintegrating into a passionate argument. They had nothing in common that Jack had been able to uncover despite four years of looking for like interests.

Despite all of that, he was going to be riveted to Daniel’s side for just as long as…

He caught himself.

For as long as this little road trip lasted, he’d stand by Daniel. Then they’d go back to arguing and disagreeing and being pissed off at each other on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis. They’d go back to trying hard to die for each other, and trying hard to avoid dying, period.

Jack snapped himself back to the moment. Daniel was talking with Kasuf, lapsing in and out of the native language on the more difficult phrases. The miserable heat had begun to die down; a breeze stirred the curtains in the open doorways.

“I have many memories of Sha’re,” Daniel said softly. “She lives in my blood.”

“So it will always be.” Kasuf’s expression grew distant. “Sha’re spoke of you as a miracle brought forth by Ra himself. Truly, she believed she was blessed with her fate. From the moment she was promised to you, she had no doubts.”

Daniel chuckled. “Once she realized she had married a man who was flesh and blood, she was probably sure she had the worst end of the deal.”

“Indeed she did not.” Indignantly, Kasuf tapped on Daniel’s knee. “She knew she was fortunate.”

Daniel drained his cup and set it down on the ground. Jack picked up a skewer with meat still attached and handed it to Daniel – a silent message – just as Kasuf refilled their cups. Daniel took the meat and began to eat. It had really been an order, not a suggestion; Daniel was quick to understand things like that.

“Tell me, Daniel. What of this work that you do? And what of your life beyond the chaapa’ai? Are you happy there?”

Daniel lifted a hand and pointed toward the ceiling. “Beyond this world there are stars in the sky, and each star is the heart of a dozen worlds like yours. Each of those worlds has people just like yours, seeking freedom for their world. I’m…we…” Daniel lifted his head, smiled at Jack – “We want to help them, and save our world, too.”

“Yes, but are you happy?” There was some urgency to Kasuf’s question, and Jack looked at Daniel curiously, waiting for the answer.

“Well, in the scheme of things, I suppose…” Daniel turned his face toward Jack, but didn’t look at him; Jack was sure Daniel could feel the weight of his gaze. “There are moments where I’m happy, yes. I’m doing what I love, and I have work that challenges me. I have a good life. So, yes.”

Jack noted to himself that Daniel sounded supremely unconvincing. So much Daniel hadn’t said, so many pieces of a normal life that were missing. They all could make that claim.

Kasuf’s eyes narrowed as he appraised Daniel, and then Jack; there was much of the leader in him, Jack thought, and would have been more if he hadn’t been crippled by fear all his life. “I see many changes in you since the time you first came to live among us, Daniel. You are the same man, but different.”

“Yes,” Daniel said, and shifted a bit on the mat. “I’ve grown. Adapted.”

“You are not as wide-eyed as you once were.”  

Jack hid a smile.

“What I’ve seen has changed me. Sha’re taught me to appreciate the gifts of my life, because they could be taken away in a moment.” Sadness echoed in Daniel’s words, but…. Jack worked to put a finger on it; something was different. There was a kind of detachment, maybe. Daniel didn’t seem as caught up in her memory as he had been for the past year.

“You have carried this lesson with you.” Kasuf’s eyes shifted from Daniel to Jack, and back again.

“A man can’t grieve forever,” Daniel said, and exchanged a long look with Kasuf. “It has been long enough; my time of mourning is done. Now I must move on, and I cannot carry the weight of my grief with me when I go.”

Jack stared down into his cup; his heart beat just a little faster. Chalk this one up at the top of the list of things he hadn’t expected. Daniel wallowed in loss, lived in it like a home, wore the scent of it like expensive cologne.

Leaving it behind? A little warning would have been good.

But then again, Jack supposed he had known. In fact, Daniel had probably been trying to tell him for a long time, though he hadn’t been paying attention. Not consciously, anyway.

He knew on that level of his brain where he still grieved for a lost son and a failed marriage, and a life shattered into pieces. That part of him had known when Daniel climbed out of the hole of despair and was standing on solid ground.

What he hadn’t really thought about was what that solid ground was made of, these days. His hands closed tightly around his cup.

“You will spend this night here, with us – will you not?” Kasuf asked.

“Yes,” Daniel said. “Thank you.”

“You are always welcome here, my son.” Kasuf’s fond use of the term, in the specific sense, made Daniel’s eyes glitter with pleasure.

Bright sunlight assaulted them when Kasuf pulled back the curtain. Jack scratched at the pocket of his fatigues until he found his sunglasses, but Daniel was moving on, past Kasuf, to the tiny hut on the side of Kasuf’s dwelling. The laughter of children bubbled forth from within, and two small boys burst forth from the entrance, tumbling and playing without care. Daniel stopped suddenly.

“Daniel?” Jack lifted a hand to touch him; the tight line of Daniel’s shoulders said more than words would allow.

“This was where we lived,” Daniel said. Regret colored the words, made Jack think of memories buried deep and rising in darkness. He knew the power a wish could hold, the need to change just that single instant in time where everything had gone to hell.

Jack clasped the nape of Daniel’s neck and squeezed the knotted muscle, then moved his touch to Daniel’s shoulder and let his hand rest there. He said nothing; there was nothing to say.

They brought in their gear and unloaded it. There wasn’t much, but the fact that there were things to unpack made the visit less like a mission, less temporary. Daniel stripped down to his t-shirt and sorted out the contents of his pack with meticulous care. Jack laid out his smaller haul with finesse born of long years of sparse military packing.

Within fifteen minutes, they had transformed the tiny room into their version of a tourist motel. Daniel’s reading lantern was on the low table opposite the entrance. Books, journal, pens, sketchbook – all were laid out neatly, as were folded change of clothes and Jack’s spare clips and ammunition.

Jack turned out his bedroll at the same time Daniel threw down his.

“Small room.” “Not much space.”

They looked at one another, blinked, grinned; those moments of unison were unnerving. Each man looked down at the sleeping bags, overlapping on the floor, and at the cushions above.

“There’s enough room,” Jack said, thinking that Daniel would be pressed up against him all night. Not the first time, but certainly this was different than any other time. No mission, no watch to keep. No regulations to follow. Team of two. Personal.

“We’ll manage,” Daniel agreed. Jack thought about shifting his bag to the left, reached down with that intention, but Daniel caught his hand. “No, leave it. It’s fine.” His fingers curled briefly around Jack’s, then were gone, and Jack’s world slid sideways.

The air was thick with unspoken words, with possibilities magnified every moment.

Jack sat down and set aside his P-90, within easy reach. “What’s next on the agenda?”

“Hear that?”

Jack stopped to listen. There was excited chatter outside – their grown-up kids, waiting to see him, to hug him and pester him with questions.

“They won’t bother us until we leave the dwelling. I broke the kids of invading my privacy when I was first married.” Mischief gleamed in Daniel’s eyes. “I brought toys.” He reached into the pack, fishing in its bottomless depths like Mary Poppins.

Jack smiled a wicked smile. “Care to try one out?”

“You’re on.” Daniel threw a baseball glove in his face and ducked out the doorway.

"No cheating!" Jack shouted. He scrambled for the glove and pushed past the curtain to follow.


IV.

-- Love is one thing; knowledge is another. --

Entertainment of the adult variety was in short supply on Abydos. Jack had forgotten that little detail, since he’d never had any interest in fun on previous trips. People who worked from sunup to sundown generally didn’t feel like partying into the wee hours. Neither did military units on active duty.

Unfortunately, neither of them had duties to do now. No enemies to fight, no reason to keep watch. The Abydonians did that on their own, day and night. All those who weren’t on watch were asleep.

Nothing left to do but fiddle with the P-90 and watch Daniel.

He tried to be stealthy about it. He'd grown accustomed to watching Daniel, to seeing him without really looking too closely. He was a pro at glancing Daniel's direction just long enough to take inventory – current activities, status of assignment, state of his injuries.

This time, something was different. Jack couldn’t have said why it was happening now – didn’t really want to – but he was aware of the subtle shift in his own perceptions. This wasn’t like dropping dead tired before a small fire on an unfamiliar world. It was more like camping out on a hot night in the woods when he was a kid. There was a sense of camaraderie, of bonds stronger than either of them had suspected.

Daniel was not scratching in his journal, for once. Instead he was reading a book, the kind with faded gray covers that pointed to its age.  

“Whatcha readin’?”

Daniel looked up from the small volume he had been paging through. “Ancient Egyptian love poetry, actually.”

Jack blinked. “Is it any good?”

“That depends on your point of view. I’m sure five thousand years ago someone thought this was rather decadent.”

“Sock it to me.”

Daniel smiled. “I wouldn’t think you’d be interested.”

“Well, you’d be right, normally, but I neglected to bring a few dozen Robert Ludlum novels with me to pass the time.” Jack leaned back on the cushions. “Next time I’ll know better.”

“Next time?” Daniel tilted his head. “You planning to come back here and retire?”

“You going to read me some poetry, or shall we call it a night?”

“Just remember - you asked for it.” Daniel flipped quickly through the slim volume. “My beloved is like a garden, full of papyrus blossoms-“

“Papyrus. That’s what they made paper from, right?”

“Parchment, yes.”

“So this guy is comparing his lover to paper?”

“Blossoms, Jack. Papyrus blossoms are very beautiful.”

Jack made a small sound of disapproval. “Makes it sound like he wants to write on her. Not very romantic.”

Daniel merely looked at him.

“All right. Go on.”

“…and I am like a wild goose attracted by the taste of love…”

“Oh, stop it. You made that up.”

“I did not.” Daniel smacked the book shut and offered it to Jack. “See for yourself.”

“It’s too dark in here to read.”

“Is this where you start complaining about getting older, and your eyes bothering you? Because I have to tell you, I’ve really heard enough of that self-deprecating bullshit.”

“Dr. Jackson! Such language.” But Daniel was smiling, and Jack was smiling in return. He couldn’t help it. When Daniel was like this, there was nothing better in the world. He held out his hand, palm out, warding off the book, and Daniel pulled it back in tight to his body. An unconscious gesture, but telling, and it tugged at Jack’s heart. He nodded at the book. “That poetry…it reminds you of Sha’re, doesn’t it?”

Daniel looked down, and away, and a frown creased his forehead. After a moment, he looked back up, directly into Jack’s eyes. “Sometimes. When we were first married, just after you’d gone back to Earth, she would tease me with poems, snippets of things passed down in the oral tradition. I didn’t understand all the words, but…”

“But she had…illustrations?” Jack asked gently. Daniel’s smile returned and the tension was broken.

“Yes. Illustrations. Eventually, I learned just how accurate the…translations…were.”

Jack swallowed hard; the look of longing on Daniel’s face was difficult to bear.  

“Kasuf was right about you.”

“What do you mean?” Daniel took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. The low light bothered him almost as much as it bothered Jack, but he’d go blind before he’d admit it, Jack was sure.

“The changes.” Jack searched for words, for a way to speak his observations. “Things like – this.” He reached out – Daniel was barely a foot away – and touched Daniel’s short hair.

Then he pulled his hand back, because it had developed a scary tendency to do whatever the hell it wanted, regardless of protocol or prudence. What it wanted was to touch Daniel’s hair, to stroke roughly through it and feel the texture of it against his fingertips.

Daniel bowed his head, turning the temptation to touch into something more like need, and Jack closed his eyes. Too easy to think of all the things he could do with his hands, given the right invitation.

“It was necessary,” Daniel said, and then he was quiet for so long that Jack opened his eyes. Daniel was turning the book over and over in his hands, a sort of talisman against the world, warding off unfriendly spirits. “If I hadn’t, the three of you would have left me behind.”

“What?” Jack felt his astonishment rising with a slow burn through his heart.

“Not in the literal sense, Jack.” Daniel waved in his direction, a dismissal of everything Jack was thinking, and Jack blew out the breath he’d been holding. “I mean that I couldn’t keep up. Even firing a weapon was a bit alien to me at first. I’m sure you noticed.”

“What I noticed was that you fired a gun like you’d done it before.”

“Many times. Just not in this context. It’s a little unnerving to fire a gun at a person. An enemy.”

“We took you on just the way you were. No one asked you to change.”

“No one had to. Did they?” Daniel laid back on the sleeping bag and stared at the ceiling. “It was just practicality, I suppose. If you have to shoot, you learn how to use the best weapon. If you have to be strong, you start building strength. I caught on.”

“I didn’t add you to the team for your military prowess.” Jack rolled on his stomach. “Or lack thereof.”

“I know.” Daniel sighed.

Jack was sleepy; words seemed difficult all of a sudden. He closed his eyes, lulled by Daniel’s even, deep breathing.

Light as a feather, Daniel’s hand came to rest in the middle of his back. Its gentle weight was the last thing Jack remembered as he drifted off to sleep.


V.

-- By knowing, one reaches belief. By doing, one gains conviction. When you know, dare. --

Jack woke suddenly; the buttery glow of the small lantern was just persistent enough to rouse him. He stretched and turned his head, and saw Daniel stripped down to t-shirt and shorts, writing furiously in his journal.

“Got a lot to tell that thing?”

Daniel looked up. “Usually.”

“How long was I asleep?”

“A couple of hours.” Daniel lifted the pen and pointed toward the doorway with it. “Kasuf brought water and rags while you were asleep – they’re just inside the door – but I didn’t want to wake you.”

“Are you kidding me? You know how much I hate sand.”

“Almost as much as it hates you,” Daniel said, and smiled down at the journal.  

Jack snorted and sat up, rubbing his eyes. The idea of washing up was very appealing. “You take a turn yet?”

“Couldn’t get to it without stepping or crawling over you, and that would have defeated the whole concept of not waking you, wouldn’t it?”

With a quick motion, Jack yanked his t-shirt over his head and tossed it in Daniel’s general direction. He pulled a small towel from his kit and plunged himself elbows-deep into the basin of water, which was cool and sweet and wonderful. It felt as though he had a week’s worth of grime on him, and he set to work scrubbing it off.

“Should have brought some soap,” he muttered into the towel. He turned to Daniel. “Did you—”

Daniel was watching him, lips parted; his pen was between his teeth. Caught in the act of staring, he dropped his eyes for a fraction of a second…but then he raised them again.

Jack caught his gaze, held it for a long moment.

“Your turn,” he said, and dropped the towel beside the basin.

Daniel stood up, and after a moment of indecision, dropped his pen back down on the pillow. Jack watched it fall and contemplated the lucky journey of a pen that was both held and nibbled by Daniel Jackson.

“Hand me that bundle of rags?” Daniel asked. He tugged his shirt up, over his head, and let it fall to the ground.

Jack drew a deep breath, but there seemed to be very little point in breathing. His heart was beating too fast, and his lung capacity was too low. “What. No towel?” he asked.

“Sorry, no.” Jack tossed the rags up to Daniel and then rose to his feet. They were so close that a single turn would have pressed them together.

Jack stepped away and turned to pick up a fresh t-shirt.

When he settled down on his bedroll, Daniel had dropped to his knees and was washing his face. Jack took a good, long look, without guilt or indecision.

Daniel’s body was harder now than it had been five years ago. He could remember thinking Daniel was soft, that he wouldn’t be any good to them in what they had to do. All a scientist was good for was dialing a gate, he’d thought, and it was true. For that Jack O’Neill, a scientist who lived inside his head was a liability.

The scientist hadn’t had all these hard planes and angles back then. His shoulders hadn't been so broad; his biceps hadn't been so developed. Jack wondered how hard Daniel had grown on the inside, in all the places so scarred by loss.

“Jack.” Daniel’s voice was warm; it seemed like hot silk, flowing over Jack. “You’re staring.”

“Sorry,” Jack said, completely without sincerity. “I’ve seen it all before, you know.”

“I know.”

But not like this. He’d looked, but he hadn’t seen it. Hadn’t seen the graceful way Daniel bowed his head when he stroked a wet rag across the nape of his neck; hadn’t noticed the way he folded his glasses when he went to sleep at night. So much he hadn’t bothered to see.

“So what’s on tonight’s reading list?”

Daniel picked up Jack’s towel and dried his face. “You don’t really expect me to entertain you…oh, you do. Well, I’m sorry Jack, but I’m not going to read you things you’ll just make fun of.”

“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

“What?”

“Never mind. Educate me. Teach me something.”

“I didn’t bring anything else you’d be interested in.”

“That’s the nice way of telling me I’m too dense to comprehend whatever it is, right?"

“No. Not at all. That’s not what I meant.” Impatient pause, and then: “You’re not dense, Jack.”

“So…what’ve you got?”

Silence. Jack rolled on his side and looked at Daniel, who was stepping back across him and deliberately avoiding his eyes. “Daniel?”

“I brought a fresh translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.”

“The what of who?”

Daniel reached over to the corner where his things were stacked and picked up a small book with a plain blue cover. As he dropped into a reclining position, he explained, “A rubaiyat is a group of four-line verses with a particular—“

“Okay, never mind. Poetry, right?”

“More or less.”

Jack settled back with a satisfied sigh. “Have at it.”

“You going to accuse me of making it up again?”

“Daniel, Daniel. Would I do such a thing?”

“You mean like you did a couple of hours ago?”

“Well, not this time. Go on, read.” He crossed his hands across his stomach and prepared to drift off to the sound of Daniel’s voice. It was a nice voice, especially when Daniel was speaking softly.

Daniel began to read, his voice low. “A book of verses underneath the bough, a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou, beside me singing in the wilderness – oh, wilderness were Paradise, enough.”

Jack cracked open one eye. “Now *that* is a cliche. I’ve heard that before, oh, a hundred times.”

“Jack.” There was something strange in Daniel’s tone; a warning, or perhaps a plea. Jack could feel Daniel’s eyes on him; they burned against his skin.

“Sorry. Go on. Please.”

“Ah, my beloved, fill the cup that clears today of past regret and future fears; Tomorrow! Why, tomorrow, I may be myself…” Daniel stopped speaking, but that didn’t matter, since there were other sounds to fill the void. Jack heard the low crackle of the fire just beyond the curtain; the hissing pop of candle wicks; Daniel’s quick, shallow breaths; his own heart, beating much faster than it should.

It didn’t seem possible that his skin should be so hot in the cool night air.

“Interesting choice,” he said quietly.

“I’ll…I’ll find something else,” Daniel said. There was a hint of desperation in his tone.

“No – go on,” Jack said hoarsely.

“Do I really need to?” Daniel asked, and his voice was just as rough, just as ragged.

“That depends.” Jack turned on his side, found Daniel’s eyes riveted to him, as he’d known they would be. “Are we going to play games, or not?”

“I don’t want to play games with you.”

“Is this why you didn’t ask me to come here?”

Daniel didn’t look away, but a wary look came into his eyes, and he said nothing.

“Tell me,” Jack said. It was an order swaddled in velvet, its edges concealed by tenderness.

“I…I don’t know what to say.”

Jack propped himself up on one elbow and took in the amazing sight of Daniel Jackson, speechless and without a fallback position. “Then – show me, instead.”

Daniel licked his lips and lifted his head. The tension between them stretched tight, and for a moment, Jack wondered if he had pushed too hard, if this was even going to be possible between them. It wasn’t wise; it was foolish, in fact, and he knew it.

And then Daniel’s hand curved around his neck; Daniel’s thumb brushed his cheek. Daniel, close and real and sure of what he wanted, so sure he couldn’t articulate it, and his lips covered Jack’s in a tentative kiss, moving like shadows over his skin.

Jack shivered and reached out to capture Daniel, to pull him closer before he could get away, out of reach, but Daniel wasn’t going anywhere. Jack opened Daniel’s mouth against his, maybe too roughly but he didn’t care, and Daniel made a sound deep in his throat that echoed through Jack. He licked at the lips beneath his, aware that there were no lines they weren’t going to cross, and the thought made him moan softly.

“Jack?” Daniel said his name with such deep concern that Jack shook his head violently.

“Nothing,” he said, and then they were moving against each other, pressed together, lips and tongues and…Daniel had him, had always had him, although he was too blind to know it from the very beginning.

Daniel broke away and settled his head into the curve of Jack’s shoulder, a momentary refuge.

“What?” Jack asked, and his hands drew lines of reassurance down Daniel’s back.

“You’re going to leave me behind on this, too,” Daniel said.

The certainty in Daniel’s quiet, calm tone made Jack’s heart ache. “You caught on last time. Didn’t you?”

“I had longer to get used to it.”

“Five years isn’t enough for you?”

Daniel’s breath was warm against Jack’s skin, and his tongue marked a slow trail to Jack’s ear. “Five years won’t be nearly long enough for this.”

 
VI.  

-- The body is the temple of knowledge. --

It was dark when Jack woke; the faint glow of firelight filtered through the fabric across the doorway.

Slowly, he became aware of the body pressed against his, skin to skin, legs twined together. It had been a long time since he’d felt the joy of it, the contentment of having his arms wrapped around another person, of being close enough to feel their heartbeat.

So easy, then, to bury his face in Daniel’s neck, to kiss him softly there until Daniel stirred and lifted his face for more kisses. Easy to take his mouth slowly, to devour him until the lips beneath his own were swollen and wet. He touched Daniel with rough hands, hands that moved sure toward their targets and elicited every soft moan of pleasure they could find.

He used his mouth to coax Daniel, to convince him that taking pleasure was what he was made for, to suck and lick and possess and make persuasive arguments about catching up and being left behind, and what was ahead down that road for them.

He tasted every part of Daniel, let himself be tasted and explored in ways he’d never dreamed of when Daniel talked of peace and knowledge, and exposed the core of his heart through the words that escaped when Daniel touched him, kissed him, spoke softly to him.

There was a dangerous spark between them, something kindled that was burning right through them, and when Daniel cried his name in the darkness, the worlds they had known cracked apart. Nothing would be the same for them; Jack knew it, and could not make himself care. This was all there was; this was what mattered.


VII.

-- For every joy there is a price to be paid. --

Jack forced himself to move, to keep moving. There was no way to avoid it now; he had set himself on the path, and he would have to follow through.

Lights from the village flickered soft. In the distance, he could make out a few shapes – one was probably Kasuf, waiting for Daniel. Jack ground the heels of his hands into his eyes. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. Each man was supposed to have his quota of suffering and then be left alone.

“O’Neill!” The wild cry froze him, made his eyes open wide as he strained to see into the dark.

“Yes, O’Neill, yes!” one of his guides said, excitedly shaking his arm. “He has come home!”

A figure bounded toward him out of the night. Jack opened his arms and accepted Skaara into them. “O’Neill,” Skaara said, joyful. “You have returned to us!”

“Skaara,” Jack said, and hugged him tightly.

“But where is Daniel?”

Jack released Skaara, stepped away, and dropped his hands to his sides. This heaviness, the feeling of lead in his bones – he was so tired, and there was no rest for him, no place to hide.

“O’Neill?” Skaara reached for him, but Jack stepped back again.

“He’s…he’s not coming. He’s gone, Skaara.” So level, the voice he used to say it. Such a bloodless way of marking death – not dead, but gone, vanished from this life and gone into another.

A light wind stirred the sand of the desert, threw it into the air like a subtle mist, and it scoured at Jack’s face. He closed his eyes; the sting of tears had begun there, and he blamed the sand, the grit in his eyes.

“O’Neill,” Skaara said. His voice broke on the word, a sound bent with sorrow.

Jack sank to his knees with Skaara close beside him. His fists closed around handfuls of cool granules; they sifted through his fingers, soft like silk.

He hated sand.

End

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