Rising from the Abyss
“So, what do we do now, Jack,” I ask the hardcore, brash, military colonel beside me, my voice breaking in desperation as I lay at the base of this abyss.
“Well, Daniel, you should’ve thought about that before you went trudging headlong to reach those ruins,” he barks at me, the words cutting into my very soul. He’s angry…again.
I lash out myself, matching his heated timbre, “How was I supposed to know the ground would collapse? Our mission was to meet the natives, try to form an alliance with them in return for mining naquada here…”
“Our mission, Daniel, was to meet the natives after the geological team cleared this area for passage! That’s why we brought them with us! You knew about the void spaces beneath the surface. Hell, you and Carter discussed every fissure in excruciating detail during the briefing!” He shook his head in frustration.
“Ah, no,” I started, raising my index finger. “Sam mapped the fissures, I discussed the native culture, and you should really pay more attention, Jack. Besides, the survey didn’t indicate any problems near the ‘gate…”
“Ah,” he mirrors my raised finger. “That is so not the point! God, for once, I wish you’d listen to me when we’re off world. It does say Colonel on my uniform, you know.” His tone softened slightly as he continued, “I’m tired of picking up the pieces, Daniel.”
I understand his meaning. I’m a burden to him, to the team, and he has spent the last five years begrudgingly allowing my insubordination and occasional temper tantrums for the little benefit that I do supply from time to time. My proclivity for exploration is, at best, an annoyance to Jack; at worst, well…I’ve had to use a sarcophagus a few too many times. I don’t want my recklessness to be the cause of my friends’ demise.
He looks weary to the bone as he angrily tries to pace beside me in our narrow space, although there isn’t much room to move around here. I notice his shoulders slump in defeat and he finally stops his inane motion with an exasperated sigh.
It is quiet now, neither of us daring to speak, our volatile tempers already walking that fine line of control. In fact, I can’t recall either of us truly talking to each other in a very long time.
‘What the hell is going on?’
I remember the ground falling out from under us, or rather we fell through the thin layer into a long, deep chasm just a small distance away from my intended pursuit.
The fall wasn’t too far, thank goodness, and other than a few scrapes and bruises between us, we both fared pretty well. It could’ve been a lot worse. I see controlled anxiety in Jack’s expression telling me just how much worse as he looks upward to the crevasse’s edge.
Sullenly, I survey our surroundings. Our confined space is not more than ten feet across and maybe five feet wide, with very jagged rocky sides sloping steeply upward for about twenty feet.
It’s difficult to judge the distances actually; it seems much, much smaller with Jack here.
And it’s dark; so very dark. The gap above only grants the passage of a small sliver of sunlight but it’s enough.
I see Jack moving around again, busying himself as he looks for something to stop the continuous trickle of debris down the side of this pit. He appears harried and, as he turns my direction, a shadow of something else crosses his face. I’m not sure exactly what that dark expression is saying to me.
Perhaps it’s worry, with a smidgeon of guilt. But that can’t be right. What does Jack have to feel guilty about? It’s my fault we’ve fallen down here.
As I continue to watch him, another emotion begins to grace his features. I should recognize it well by now as it coincides with the stomping of his feet.
Jack looks pissed. Well, more so than unusual I guess. It’s been very difficult to tell of late because Jack always seems to look pissed…at me. That is, when he looks at me which isn’t often anymore. I’m almost grateful for that because I hate to see the deeper meaning in Jack’s eyes, the weariness, the sadness, the anger.
My intermingled thoughts of Jack and hatred torment me for a time; I don’t hate Jack and he doesn’t hate me either…at least I don’t think so. But one can’t actually categorize our behavior towards each other lately as love either…or friendship. I entertain that thought, briefly recalling recent discussions, or rather arguments, with him.
Our most recent debate was over the ethical ramifications of supplying heavy water to the Eurondans. Such a simple thing, really. No reason to worry about giving something as innocuous as water to people of another world…to fortify their defenses.
Against an enemy we knew nothing about.
I understood Jack’s ire towards me, really I did. He’s under more pressure of late to provide weapons and alliances under the guise of necessity to protect Earth. Well, that’s not fair, I guess. It isn’t a ‘guise’ per se, but rather a farce for our government to pat themselves on their backs, secretly one upping the other nations so they can play the hero should the Goa’uld or other enemies, whether from off world or on, attack us.
Jack was doing his job. But, so was I. I see no reason to provide an angry, hate-filled civilization with anything to help them fight their cause. Their cause…definitely not ours. I guess I’ve been burned too many times in my personal past to trust diplomats or military forces without question.
So, I do…question, that is. And even though Jack shares the same moral value system I do, he doesn’t always agree with my methods, my refusal to obey orders implicitly. We’re both a bit hardheaded that way. Perhaps I pushed too far this time yet I still didn’t appreciate Jack telling me to ‘shut up’. He treated me like an unruly ten year old complaining about whether to ride the roller coaster at an amusement park. In the end, Jack acquiesced to my concerns and allowed me to perform my job, recognizing the underlying message those people had tried to hide from us.
So, everything turned out okay, right? Well, maybe militarily, diplomatically. Maybe we prevented another Hitler, but personally, Jack and I lost far more than we gained.
We lost another brick in our foundation…
My thoughts return to the present and I decide to break our quiet reverie, hoping to regain some understanding of the man trapped down here with me. And I really, really need to know his plan for getting us out of this pit.
“What are you doing, Jack?” my voice sounds shaky, exposing my discomfort more than I intended.
“Damn it, Daniel,” he curses quietly under his breath as he turns towards me.
Those three little words can mean so many different things. Usually I have no trouble interpreting Jack-speak, yet today my mind is fuzzy, overshadowed by the increasing pain in my leg and side, clouded by confusing thoughts and remembrances.
Although I try frantically, I can’t decipher the meaning of his curse so I shake my head in defeat. I just don’t know him anymore.
Daringly, I divert my eyes to his, suddenly nervous about surviving together in such close quarters, not from any physical injuries but more from the mental tension that emanates from us whenever we’re in the same space. We haven’t exactly been working well together.
In fact, getting along may prove to be more onerous than climbing out of this damned pit.
‘I guess you couldn't relate to me any more than I could to you.’
He shakes his head, a sad expression crossing his features as I unwittingly flinch when he approaches me. For a moment, he looks stunned but recovers quickly. I feel ashamed of my unconscious action, knowing Jack would never harm me intentionally.
He stoops down beside me, taking my face in his hands, gently wiping away the dark, gravelly dust threatening to reach my eyes. His ministrations are tender and caring as he speaks softly, “Geez, Daniel, you’re hurting. Why didn’t you say something? I…I didn’t realized you were injured.”
As he carefully assesses my condition, my thoughts wander, recalling the ghosts of our friendship, saddened at their recent retreat.
Long gone are the days when we shared our laughter, our tears, and a beer as close friends. Those days left us for reasons I don’t truly understand, and I doubt Jack does either. But, alas, they are gone. We hardly speak anymore. And when we do, we punctuate our discussions with awkward silences and muted feelings, except for the times when we’re yelling. And God, there’s been a lot of yelling.
But now, we wear our metaphorical shields as much as possible when we’re together. It’s easier than facing the real issues lying just below the surface, eating away at our tenuous relationship. Neither one of us seems willing to bridge the chasm that lies between our currently divergent paths and our once convergent friendship.
I’m not even sure exactly when it started. Perhaps it began with Jack’s secret mission to retrieve alien technology so callously stolen by our government…well, a rogue branch anyway. My reaction to his mission was, to say the least, poor. More accurately, I pouted like a jealous lover. I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t have insisted his team be involved in such an operation, undercover or not. I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t have discussed it with me privately in any case.
But I understood, or thought I did anyway. He was protecting us; I know that now. But the consequences of his actions were far worse, something from which I’ve never fully recovered. He alienated us, especially me, from him, and I’m not sure if we can ever get back what we once had.
I never forgot those harsh words spoken to me in his home. I know he meant to push me away for my safety, to shelter me from the NID who would have no qualms about eliminating anyone in their way. But still, the sting at his precise choice of words was a very bitter pill for me to swallow.
‘Apparently, not much of a foundation there.’
We had both worked so hard to establish this relationship and Jack ripped out the foundation in that one, fleeting sentence, allowing our friendship to crumble like the edges of this pit in which we now find ourselves.
His military mind calculated his tactical plan carefully, analyzing the angles and possible variations in the scenario that might prevent his success; knowing exactly where to strike to deliver the greatest impact.
It’s what he does; it’s who he is.
When we’re on the same side, fighting a common enemy, it’s a masterful display of intelligence and cunning mixed with insurmountable survivor instincts.
When we’re not, it’s just damned distasteful.
He knew I’d come to visit because I cared, it’s who I am. And worse, he knew exactly how deeply those words would cut me. He aimed carefully, strategically, and fired. Even though they were merely words, the pain they inflicted was as severe as any I’ve experienced from actual weapons, piercing through my heart and ripping it out, still beating, from my chest.
Was his plan successful? Of course it was. That’s why he’s the colonel of a front line operation and why I’m…well, why I’m still alive after all these years.
I fell into his trap, doing exactly what he expected me to. With embarrassing wetness crowding my vision, I tucked tail and ran…away from those words…away from his cold, unfeeling eyes…and away from myself. I’d been hurt this way before…nothing new…but those callous brown eyes shone with apathy and nonchalance at my distress and I fled back into the safety of my armor, my shell.
I know now Jack used those particular words to convince Maybourne that he was as nasty as they thought he was. Well, he convinced me sure enough. Of all the possible methods he could’ve used to push me away, he chose that one. He knew exactly what it would do to me.
Son of a bitch.
‘What are you doing out here?’
So now we’re trapped here, unable to go back and too stubborn and weak to go forward. At least, I’m weak.
“Daniel, are you okay?!” The voice sounds vaguely like Jack but much too far away. “Damn it! Carter, shine a light down! I can’t see him!”
“Teal’c, get Hammond to send Fraiser and a medical…” the distant voices vanish to the back of my consciousness.
I hear something else, closer, a pitiful, wailing cry. I think I must be screaming. The pain in my body has become almost unbearable and I fear, or hope, I may pass out soon. Something drips into my eye and I realize it’s my own blood from a head injury.
I panic, almost falling over the brink of despair, until Jack kneels beside me and I feel the soft touch of his hand against my cheek, offering warm comfort as only he can. He takes my shaking hands in his, massaging them lightly until the wave of pain passes. Looking into my friend’s face, I attempt a smile and fail miserably.
I hate myself for being the weak one.
I’ve always been the weak link in the chain. Every Tom, Dick, and Apophis knows it. Even now as I lay here, my body shakes from shock, immobilized by my personal fears. I know I should get up, to help myself out of this pit of my own making, yet I’m not sure I even want to try anymore. It’s just too much trouble to keep going; it’s too much to live without family and friendship, too much without Jack.
And he isn’t exactly offering to help me up either.
Jack nods in response to my half-hearted smile, pats my hand softly and then quickly stands up, moving away from me as though he’s afraid of getting too close. Afraid of having to talk, of expressing those feelings we so urgently need to share. Afraid of being hurt again.
I watch as he silently continues shoring the side of this tomb, occasionally glancing back at me, probably wondering why I’m not helping him in this endeavor.
Or perhaps he’s finally fed up with my antics, my wide-eyed wonderment at new worlds and peoples, no longer willing to patronize me in my pursuits of knowledge, not caring about those of other worlds. Maybe he truly is the military hard-ass type I’ve grown to despise.
As my mind drifts again, I realize it was so easy to believe he meant those insensitive words he said, ‘…if people like the Tollan don't want to share, we should just take. …I'd rather be a thief and alive than honest and dead.’
Well, I wouldn’t. Perhaps I’ll stay here. There’s certainly nothing to go back to anyway. Yeah, Jack made a display of caring about me after that dreadful mission, but he didn’t fool me.
‘None of it means anything.’
After his covert operation, Jack did try to repair the damage to our relationship, reaching out to me hoping to get back in my good graces. He apologized repeatedly for his harshness, his poor choice of words, and his insensitivity during the ‘incident’.
And I listened…a little, for a while, until I thought my head would explode. And Jack, even through all the apologies, still only managed superficial patches, never approaching the deeper crux of our issues. Never acknowledging that the words he used weren’t the problem. It was the coldness in his eyes as he delivered them.
And Maybourne’s ‘bugs’ only had ears…they couldn’t see. But I could…
So in the end, I deliberately pulled back, ruining the chance to mend our friendship, to rebuild that foundation. It just hurt too damn much, and I couldn’t pretend nothing had happened, couldn’t accept Jack’s flippant ‘sorry’ for what he said, not how he said it. I could no longer bear to listen to his platitudes that everything was fine, no harm done, we’re still friends right? Yadda.
‘Why don’t you come inside here?’
My family is my team. My friends are my teammates. My best friend…was Jack.
But now I grow weary from the void that our stubbornness has left in my life. I want to accept his apology. I want my best friend back.
After five years working together, hell practically living together, I do know this man next to me, damn it. He’s not an insensitive warmonger with a hidden agenda to get what he can, regardless of whom it might hurt. And I refuse to believe those things about Jack, even if the evidence is overwhelmingly against him.
We’ve both been fools pushing against each other, too stupid to sit and talk about our problems or, heaven forbid, our feelings.
Yet, I know him as I know the back of my hand, better than anyone else does. I’ve been with him when his emotional pain has escalated past the point that any one human being can bear. I’ve shared his burden as he has mine. I get him…and I know he gets me. We know each other, inside and out, and although our tactics follow very divergent routes, wildly conflicting in our methods, we always…always meet back up with the same wants, needs, and desires, intersecting in the end with a common purpose and like-mindedness.
Yes, he is jaded by his military background, but one thing I know for certain…he is Jack O’Neill foremost, a wonderful husband, loving dad, and gentle friend.
He wouldn’t be down here with me now in this abyss if he didn’t care. He does care…about me, about his team, his work. Hell, he even cares about Apophis in a morbidly macabre sort of way.
And now, out of my own ignorance, I’ve buried myself in this rock pit, selfishly isolating myself from the Jack O’Neill who is my best friend, and refusing to let him lead me back to safety, to comfort.
God, why has it taken me so long to realize it? I’ve been an idiot for neglecting the one most important thing in my humble existence and I’m terrified it’s too late to get it back.
After all, Jack was the one who pulled me back from the ledge…
‘I tried. It just…goes away.’
So I swallowed my pride, realizing the emptiness in my life, and pleaded for help through the darkness. And my cry went unheeded. Too little too late I suppose, because Jack built up his defenses, his personal shields, and didn’t recognize my desperate need. He shut me out, closing the shutters over his eyes so he could no longer see the pain in mine.
He is afraid of being hurt again too and I know that about him.
I’ve taken too long to repair our rift, and even though I’m finally willing to fortify that foundation again, he’s not ready. He’s pushing back, avoiding me at all costs, and guarding his heart.
So we continuously teeter on the edge, lashing out at each other, refusing to discuss our feelings, falling deeper and deeper into the denial that anything is wrong between us, until plummeting into this abyss of our own making, not knowing how to climb out.
‘Then we’ll get it back.’
I look over to him now and he seems lost in thought, assessing our situation, looking for a way to get us both out of here. He’s fiddling with the cliff face again, trying to brace it and failing miserably.
And I see something else in the man. His face exudes a quiet determination as he relentlessly works to secure the rock beside me. He looks over at me briefly and a slight smile warms his eyes. I know him; he’s worried. But he’s not going to let his expression radiate anything other than confidence that we’ll get out of here alive and together.
Looks like we’re stuck here for a while and I guess I should make the best of it. The pain in my leg and side is growing and it’s becoming more difficult to keep my eyes open as shock and fatigue threaten to overtake my consciousness.
So I focus on Jack, trying again to pace in our confines, his mind processing information more efficiently when he keeps his body in motion. It’s funny how I know that about him.
Friends know a lot about each other. We carry emotional baggage with us everywhere from the time our minds are able to process events around us. And if we travel our life journey alone, unable to spread that weight around, we either die young or go insane. I think I’m working on both of those paths myself.
And I know a lot about Jack. I know he cares way more than he should. Way more than the military allows. Way more than common sense allows. He can never become emotionally involved with any member of his team, whether in friendship or romance. But alas, he has and he can’t go back now.
Sharing our feelings, our wants, dreams, as well as our past physical and emotional traumas with friends is medicine for the soul. It’s how we survive to live another day. Hopefully, if we choose our friends well, together we overcome each challenge, renewing ourselves and getting back what we lost.
Well, ‘choosing’ may be the wrong word here, but Jack and I did tumble into being friends. We’re the types that inflict much of the baggage upon each other, but we also know how to rebuild and renew our foundations. Or, at least, we did. I’m afraid we may not be able to get that back this time.
A sharp sound draws my attention. I try to control the hollow chuckle that escapes my lips as I watch a small creature scurry down the rocky ridge towards us. My coarse attempt at laughter startles the rodent and it looks my way, tentatively seeking approval to approach. I want to reach out, to sooth its wariness, to talk to it and welcome it into my embrace yet I fear I would fail miserably in caring for another being, leaving myself open and exposed for destined rejection.
I’ve tried it once and look how that turned out, I think morosely as my gaze wavers back to Jack. ‘Not much of a foundation there, huh?’
The animal chatters and I roll my head to see it again. It’s cold, hungry, and I desperately want to reach out to it but I’m uncertain if I can even give it the shelter and warmth it so obviously needs. It twitches its nose as if frustrated and I grow despondent as it makes a hasty retreat.
How ironic it is that even a rat refuses to put up with my indecision. No wonder Jack treats me as he does. Understandably, he doesn’t have time to waste helping me overcome my insecurities. God knows he has enough of his own and I haven’t been the friend he needs, wallowing in my own self-pity for far too long.
I’ve been a lousy friend to him.
‘You can’t get it back.’
Jack continues to work tirelessly for a while, using large rocks to brace the smaller ones threatening to rain down on top of us. I hear his voice distantly, calling to me as if to assess my condition from afar. Confused by the conflict in what I see and hear, a strange echoing in my mind tells me I’m not entirely alert and aware.
Perhaps I’ve fallen asleep.
I struggle to comprehend what’s happening around me and I hear a tumultuous rumbling as the makeshift guard Jack has worked so hard to build gives way and a multitude of various sized stones roll down hitting my already bruised face and body. I cry out as pain spars for dominance over my consciousness.
I hear a distinctly Jack-sounding voice calling my name. God, it sounds so far away.
With a moan, I try to sit up, finally deciding to take control and help Jack’s renewed efforts to find a way out of this dismal place, but my inability to move shocks me.
My legs are useless, blood pooling beneath them, and my head is pounding. I gasp at the realization that one leg is pinned beneath several large rocks, apparently trapped since my initial descent to this level. Confused that I’ve only now noticed my desolate condition, I’m ashamed as I slowly realize my own pain prevents me from comforting my once best friend.
I am worthless…to myself, to my team…to Jack. Hell, I’m worthless to a damned rat! I chuckle at that thought. I know I sound deranged and, if I don’t corral my emotions, I’m afraid the laughter may turn into tears.
I don’t want to go to that dark place again. I may never return.
A sound infiltrates my insanity. Jack.
“Daniel, can you hear me? Your leg is bleeding,” Jack squats beside me, offering comfort, as worry shadows his countenance. I barely hear his words.
“It’s fine, just a scratch. Nothing that won’t heal by itself,” I hear myself saying, recognizing the falsehood of the statement. It definitely needs treatment, more than just a salve to cover the exposed surface. My wound goes deeper than any physical injury and only the person who is lost in here with me can heal it. Jack.
Jack nods at my words in understanding although I see some emotion deep within his eyes. He realizes I’m looking at him and rapidly turns away to hide the feelings churning within him. Several more moments pass in silence.
Well, at least he’s not pacing anymore.
“That foundation wasn’t too solid, was it?” he spoke those dreaded words and, briefly, I returned to another place and time.
“What?” I said appalled, knowing the words he used but unsure of his intended meaning.
“The ground above us,” he motions upward. “Carter said the rock substrate underneath the soil in this entire area was weak. Guess she was right, huh?” he finishes and moves to sit down beside me.
“Yeah, not solid at all,” I feel the anger welling in my voice as I say the words, my wounds still too close to the surface. He just glares at me, obviously annoyed by my hidden meaning.
“Daniel, you got something to say here?” he punctuates the words harshly and I suddenly regret my earlier tone. But we’re bordering on having to ‘talk’ about our issues and neither of us is comfortable with that. Regrettably, it’s easier to fight than to confide.
“No, not really,” I lower my voice yet my temper remains near the surface.
“Because, I’m not exactly pleased about spending my day at the bottom of this hole!” he adjusts his position until I see his face clearly, even without my glasses, which are probably smashed to a million pieces under this pile of rubble. “You know, I am your commanding officer, Daniel, and I deserve a little respect! We’d never have been in this mess if it wasn’t for you going off half-cocked in search of that village!”
He’s holding his head in his hands. At least I can’t see the darts shooting from his eyes.
“Well, that’s so easy for you, isn’t it? Blame everything on someone else. Nothing is ever your fault, is it?” I spit the words without regard for the hurt they inflict.
Jack dodges my verbal jab by avoiding my gaze, but I catch a haunted look just beneath the surface.
‘Whatever’s wrong, we’ll fix it.’
I know he’s right; it is my fault. He told us to wait until the geologists we’d brought along for the ride to this planet confirmed the stability of our pathway. I barely heard his words as I continued forward, anxious to see the village over the next rise. At Jack’s shout, I stopped abruptly, no more than a few feet in front of the team. As I looked back at him, the earth rumbled and opened up beneath my feet. My last vision was of Jack running towards me, reaching out to grab my arm.
“Looks like we may be in this abyss for a while longer,” the harshness of his previous tones mellowing. “Might us well get comfortable,” Jack states quietly, looking upward to the rescue now in progress above us.
“I can’t get comfortable here,” I add quietly, not sure of my meaning but certain it has nothing to do with our present predicament. “Sam and Teal’c…?”
As I say the names, someone disturbs the ground along the top edge, showering us with tiny rocks and pebbles from overhead. As though hearing through a wall, voices permeate my mind, muffled and incoherent. I listen intently but can’t understand the words or who’s delivering them.
I suspect they’re trying to find a way to reach us, but this fissure is very unstable. I duck my head as another smattering of stones fall on me, harder than before, and I see Jack leaning over to protect me from the debris.
“They’re working on it but unless we can stop the rocks from sliding inward, they won’t be able to help much, I’m afraid.”
“I think you’re right, Jack,” my voice sounds weary and my head is throbbing. “No one else can help us. We’ve got to work this out ourselves…”
“Hey,” he turns his gaze to me, his tone gentle for the first time since we fell. “Your leg is bleeding pretty badly. Let me see if I can bandage it up.”
‘You don’t even know what I’m talking about.’
I look down to my right leg covered with small rocks. A large slash in my BDU pants reveals a deep wound in the tender flesh beneath. “I’m not sure a bandage is going to help this time.”
“Yeah, but let me try…” his eyes meet mine and I recognize the intense worry in them, concern for me running deeply.
He extricates my pinned leg, surprisingly only badly bruised, and helps me into a sitting position. His careful hands tear my already ripped pants leg into strips to bind the gaping wound now festering on my other limb.
“Gah!” I cry out as he straps the improvised covering around the ugly, seeping gash. He looks sympathetic but continues his task.
“You know, Daniel. We’ve got to patch this up as soon as possible to prevent infection,” his voice is low and soft.
“I know, Jack, but it hurts…it really hurts,” my eyes fill with tears and I despise myself for being weak, yet I know my pain runs much deeper than the physical injuries.
‘No. No, I don’t. But…come inside.’
My vision grays as a strong hand grasps mine. Jack pulls my body towards him to support me, and I relish briefly in the comfort he offers. My heart and soul scream out to our lost friendship, painfully aware we’ve allowed it to decay and die just like an unprotected sore. The bandage we keep applying is an utterly insufficient and temporary solution, and depression overwhelms me as I realize how much time we’ve wasted.
After several long minutes, I reluctantly pull away from his embrace, appalled at my weakness, and distance myself once again. I immediately miss his warmth. He sits up straighter, realizing our brief contact is yet another superficial fix and won’t repair the underlying issue. I falter, feeling as though I may pass out again, and he helps me lay down, my body curling into a protective ball.
“Sleep, Daniel. I’ll work on getting us out of here…shoring up that wall…somehow,” Jack grins sheepishly at me and I realize he isn’t just speaking of the physical wall beside us.
‘I’m dead anyway. Just get out of here.’
I must’ve fallen asleep but I don’t know for how long. Voices and memories taunt me as I drift in and out of consciousness. My pain is almost intolerable but I suffer in silence, unwilling to cause Jack more distress.
The traces of sunlight that still reach the floor near me barely provide enough light to see. A deadly quiet surrounds me and my heart grows cold as I realize Jack is no longer here.
The voice inside my head begins to panic and I tell myself to remain calm, to focus my mind on understanding what has happened. Jack wouldn’t leave me. Regardless of any past issues, arguments, disagreements, fights…whatever…that we’ve had, he’d never leave me, would he?
Yet Jack is gone and not for the first time. He’s actually abandoned me on several occasions despite his motto of ‘no one gets left behind’. As the sunlight disappears, my mind teases me with past remembrances, most of which are unpleasant.
He left me for dead on Klorel’s ship after a staff weapon blasted a hole in my chest. It was the right thing to do. I know that, in fact I begged him to go. But it still cut to my very core to watch him walk away and leave my near lifeless body, broken and bleeding, with only dead Jaffa around to keep me company in my final hour.
He gave up on me with the Enkaraans, ordering Sam to kill a whole race of people, the Gadmeer, and me along with them by overloading a naquada reactor. He didn’t trust me to negotiate for those people, didn’t trust me to make the right decisions, and didn’t trust me to do my job.
My memories grow increasingly morbid, disturbing, twisting themselves into lies. My conscious mind recognizes them for the falsehoods they represent, but my subconscious continues to torment me, tricking me into believing my friend has abandoned me this time for good.
I know Jack hasn’t left me, yet I also know he isn’t here.
It’s getting colder and I wonder if I’ve fallen asleep again. My leg throbs and I see the puddle of blood underneath it continue to spread. I can no longer feel my left arm, cramped under my body. It feels as if a great weight is pressing down upon me. I can’t breathe.
Silence surrounds me as grayness overtakes my world once again.
When next I awake, I see a light shining into my hole and briefly reflect upon it as a heavenly light beckoning me to follow. But if I’m dead, so are Sam and Teal’c, because I hear their voices reverberating down towards me. And I believe I hear another voice, a ghost of someone long lost, but it disappears, drowned out by the others.
Confused by their words, I can’t comprehend what they’re saying. But one thing I know…I’m lonely.
I miss my friends…I miss Jack.
My thoughts return to Jack, wondering where he could possibly have gone. There’s no way he would’ve made it out of here by himself, yet I can neither see nor hear him nearby. As panic overtakes me, I shift my position and cry out in agony at the pain in my leg, searing raw nerve endings from my foot to my thigh.
Someone calls down to me but I can’t make out the voice. It resonates within my tiny chamber, a deep hollow sound full of emotion. As I train my ears to follow it upward towards the surface, my vision catches something or someone moving in the shadows at my feet.
He’s back, oh, thank God, he’s back! I can’t take the silence anymore…can’t survive the loss of his companionship.
“Jack,” I mouth his name, uncertain whether I spoke it aloud.
‘I am not leaving you here, Daniel.’
“I’m here, Daniel. Ya miss me?” he says with a light sarcasm that I never thought I’d be so happy and yet so angry to hear.
“You left me, Jack,” my voice sounds pitiful to my ears.
“No. No, Daniel. I’ve never left you. I’ve been here, right beside you.”
“But you couldn’t have…,” I start but don’t have the strength to complete the sentence.
“Shhh,” his voice is comforting. “You’ll be okay.”
Thick wetness from my blood now soils the existing covering matted against my leg. He’s looking at my wound and I fear he plans to redress it.
“Daniel, this may hurt but we’ve got to work on it,” he speaks softly looking deeply into my eyes. He doesn’t want to cause me any more pain but he knows we can’t continue to let this fester.
Several moments pass in silence, each of us lost in our thoughts, trying to grasp the true meaning of our situation. Both of us know repairing our friendship is the most important thing of all, yet neither of us can find the words necessary to do just that. Oh, we’ve pretended to know the words, even said a few of them but, too often, we don’t even understand what the other one is talking about. And sometimes, just when we think we’ve finally got this friendship thing going pretty well, life throws us a curve ball. ‘Apparently, not much of a foundation there.’
“I know, Jack. I know,” I say, breaking the peace. I barely recognize my voice, raspy from lack of water. I take as deep a breath as I dare and cough painfully as I inhale the minute particles of debris still floating around me. The pain in my chest is incredible and I fear my injuries may be graver than I originally thought.
Jack braces me through my coughing fit, wrapping his arm around my shoulder for support. For the first time since I’ve found myself here, I see true fear in Jack’s expression and it terrifies me. He rapidly masks the emotion clouding his eyes and I briefly wonder if it was truly ever there at all.
“I’ve never meant to cause you any pain. You know that, don’t you?” he asks plaintively as he begins the arduous task of changing my bandage.
‘What choice do we have?’
And I do know that. The times he’s left me, the cruel and despicable words he intentionally uses to anger me, the orders he’s given and I’ve heartily disobeyed.
I know why he does it.
Jack never lets down his guard, never relaxes, in matters military or otherwise. He did it once and that was enough. He never recovered from his self-perceived carelessness resulting in the loss of one so precious to him, his son. It wasn’t his fault, not really, but Jack will never forgive himself for setting the trap, leaving his loaded gun in easy reach.
Now he sets extremely high standards for himself and those he works with, constantly gathering data, trusting others to provide accurate information, doing anything necessary regardless of personal consequences, always making the best decision possible, and blaming only himself when things go wrong.
So he continually assesses each and every situation for possible threats, always on guard for scenarios where one or all of his team gets injured or worse, killed. He makes life or death decisions in the blink of an eye; there’s no time for him or anyone else to second-guess his commands in a crisis.
And I don’t question those orders, not the life or death kind. Never.
I do challenge him during non-crisis events, but sometimes his military mind has difficulty processing the difference between the two. And to be honest, I sometimes have difficulty recognizing the difference as well, challenging orders that often turn into the life or death kind with scary quickness.
So, he yells at me for disobeying orders to protect me, to protect his team, never knowing whether a situation I’m debating might become volatile in a heartbeat. He uses angry words to push me away from danger, intentionally guarding me against harm by driving me away from him. He redirects attention to himself, accepting any punishment the bad guys might deliver to him in an effort to prevent his team’s demise when things get rough.
As a frontline colonel, he often makes tough, expeditious decisions in the heat of battle. And he is responsible for the consequences of each life altering decision he makes. Not everyone walks away unscathed each time.
In the worst-case scenarios, the ones where not everyone will make it out alive, Jack must decide who lives and who dies by the choices he makes. And those decisions tear him up inside.
He made such a decision the time he left me alone to die, and it tore his heart out. In a brief, unguarded moment before he turned away from me in that corridor, I saw all the pain and grief he’d suffered throughout his lifetime perilously close to the surface. He didn’t want to leave me, but, weighing his options, behaving as the outstanding military leader that he is, he made one of the toughest decisions of his life, choosing appropriately to save thousands of lives at the loss of one.
I know my charred, bloodied body still haunts his dreams.
I also know his orders occasionally backfire due to absolutely no fault of his own and good people get captured, trapped, injured. Good people die. Life just sucks that way. Yet he holds himself personally responsible for everything that happens during his command, regardless of the cause.
Hell, Jack even feels responsible when it’s totally my fault, and I blatantly ignore his orders, falling head first into a big goddamn sinkhole.
‘We wait it out. Just a little longer.’
Jack made the decision to proceed out to the village on this planet after weighing the evidence from the geologists’ scans. He sent me slightly out front to assess the dwellings just over the next rise, do my ‘meet and greet’ as Jack calls it, while he watched my six.
No, wait. That’s not right, is it? He told us to hold up, wait until the tests showed the ground was stable.
I struggle to understand my memories, my mind foggy from pain. Just when I think I have nothing left within me to fight this battle, no desire to continue living, I hear voices echoing above me again. Frustrated, I can’t open my eyes to see what’s going on. Perhaps I’m dreaming, imagining my friends working to save me…us.
I scream, a pitiful moaning really, as a sharp pain prying within my chest grows stronger with each inhalation.
“Daniel, are you okay? Carter, are we ready yet?”
”Almost, sir. Just got to secure this lead.”
“O’Neill, this entire area grows increasingly less stable.”
“I know that! Get everyone back from…”
The voices fade away for a time. I hear a mechanical grating sound but can’t place the source as a high-pitched squealing makes my teeth chatter and only enhances the throbbing in my head.
I’m very still now as my time runs out, left with only the meanderings of my wayward mind, hallucinations, and distant voices to keep me company. Jack is gone again, I fear, but something tells me his specter remains nearby, comforting, soothing, supporting me as my last breath draws closer.
“Daniel, wait just a little longer!” the urgent voice sounds close and I recognize Jack’s cadence in the tone. “Hold on. They’re coming for you! Wait it out! Not long now,” he says, begging me to live. “Please, Daniel, we have a lot to discuss.”
“Okay, Jack. I’ll wait,” I turn to look directly into the dark brown eyes of my best friend.
“I promise, Jack. You can go now, you know. Thanks for staying with me,” I speak to the apparition of my friend kneeling at my side.
He nods briefly before adding, “You know you are my best friend, don’t you? I’ll always be there for you, just as I know you’ll be there for me. Hell, you’ve saved my ass and my sanity a hundred times over. I couldn’t go on without you, you know that right?” he begs me to hear, to comprehend.
Several silent moments pass before either of us is able to speak again.
“So, we’re okay, right?” This time the words have a much deeper connotation.
“More than okay, Jack, but we need to talk once I get out of this damned pit,” I vow silently as my vision of Jack fades and disappears.
“Colonel, are you at the bottom yet?”
“No. Teal’c, I need more slack. Give me about five feet. And, Carter, shine that damn light down here!”
“Lower that tarp against the slope. I’ve got to keep these rocks from sliding. He’s right up against the side…”
“Sir, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Didn’t like that free fall very much, though! What’s happening up there?”
“The ground gave way a bit more! Teal’c and I lost our footing.”
“O’Neill, you must hurry. The area around the fissure is weakening.”
“Yeah, I got that. All right, I’m down!”
“How does Daniel look, sir?”
“He’s buried in these goddamn rocks! He’s got a weak pulse and he’s cold and clammy. He’s not breathing too good either, Carter. He’ll need a neck brace and back board.”
“I’ll let Dr. Fraiser know. Her team is set up on stable ground.”
“Fine. It’ll take me a while to dig him out from under this crap. Tell Fraiser there’s quite a bit of blood from a large gash running down his side and into his leg. The wound on his side looks superficial but his leg is in pretty bad shape. Keep everyone away from this area until I radio you.”
“God, Danny, I’m so sorry.”
I awaken once more, opening my eyes for the first time in quite a while, and notice the real Jack has replaced my hallucination-induced version that has kept me company for the past several hours.
Slowly, methodically, Jack removes the stones from my broken body, at great danger to himself. Apparently, he’s decided to be the only one to risk his life rescuing me and the magnitude of his empathy, not only for me but also for those above us, touches my soul.
It seems to take hours and Jack looks haggard as he gently pulls the last rock away. He kneels beside me and I see the scrapes and bruises taking form across his arms and face. His descent into my quarry took its toll on him as well.
“I’m sorry, Daniel,” he murmurs softly. His hands caress my face and I feel immensely comforted by his very real presence.
“Not your fault,” I say, uncertain if I made any sound.
“Actually, it is. I shouldn’t have asked you to go ahead of us. I didn’t wait for the rock doctors’ report.”
“You didn’t know. It was supposed to be safe,” I reply.
“Doesn’t matter. Still my fault. God, Daniel, I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” He bows his head, afraid to look me in the eye.
“Do what, Jack?” I question. I’m guessing he’s reading my lips because I haven’t actually got the breath to vocalize the words.
Recognizing my distress, he wets a cloth with water from his canteen and presses it against my mouth, squeezing some onto my tongue and soothing my chapped lips.
“Lead good men and women through the ‘gate,” he sighs deeply. “I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t, though,” he pauses, running his fingers through his damp, dirty hair. He twists the wet cloth over his own head allowing the remaining liquid to cool him.
“You have to…We need you…I need you,” my breath comes in short gasps but I have to give him this much now.
“No, you don’t. I really fucked up today, Daniel. I should never have sent you out front.” He looks into my eyes and I see his guilt openly displayed. “My fault.”
I attempt to shake my head, denying that any of this is his fault but he stills the movement by clasping my bruised cheeks lightly with his hands.
“God, Daniel. I’m…I’m afraid of failing…of failing you, of making the wrong decision that gets you killed or worse. Making the right one with the same results…” he inhales loudly before continuing, “But worse, if I don’t go through the ‘gate, I’m terrified of not being there when you fall…”
He continues preparing me for the ascent from this place, ordering the medical team in position, directing the rescue effort, but his eyes are kind as they return to meet mine.
I force my eyes to focus as he lifts my upper body, removing sharp rocks from beneath my back before lowering my head to rest on his thigh. I find a hidden strength in his actions, knowing this man as I do. Yet he’s also fearful he’s too late to save us…me.
I hear them lowering the litter. It won’t be long now until they extricate me from this darkness.
He doesn’t look me in the eye again, yet he never stops touching. He brushes the dirt from my hair, sweeps the debris from my face. He lightly grasps my shoulder. He keeps his face almost touching mine so I can hear his words of encouragement, listen to the details of the rescue in progress, and take comfort in his presence. He ensures that I can see his face throughout the procedures until the point where Sam and Teal’c lift me upward to relative safety.
As I rise from the abyss, I hear Jack speak.
“Damn it, Daniel,” he swears softly, uttering those familiar words.
Those words mean a variety of things when they come from Jack’s mouth; ‘don’t make friends with the bad guys’ or ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘why did you just sneeze all over me’ or my all time favorite, ‘get your ass over here right now before I move it for you’.
Even a phrase as simple on the surface as ‘Daniel, shoes’ appears to simply remind me that I’m barefoot. But the deeper, unspoken language reveals volumes about the solidity of the friendship we share.
I smile as the meaning becomes crystal clear to me. This time those words reveal my friend’s deep concern perfectly. He doesn’t think I’ll make it out alive and he believes it’s his fault.
Suddenly, I realize with certainty that indeed we do understand each other very well. We don’t need words between us, we never have. We communicate in many ways, from the caring glances, the brush of our shoulders, the uncanny ability for us to complete each other’s sentences. Come to think of it, words are our least effective method of expressing ourselves, at least with each other.
Perhaps words are overrated. I laugh at the irony of that particular thought coming from the mind of a linguist. I must be losing it.
Yet words seem so unimportant to me right now. I can ‘hear’ his body language and it overwhelms me. It’s greater than all the words in all the books I’ve ever read.
I grab his arm, needing to tell him. He signals to Carter, briefly stopping my ascent to the surface. As if to justify my hypothesis, Jack tenderly wipes my mouth again with a dampened cloth. He leans in closely with his ear pressed to my lips, listening to me.
“Jack,” my voice is barely a whisper, “our foundation is solid.”
He nods and a vow passes between us. A silent tear spills from his eye and I know, indisputably, beyond the shadow of a doubt, this man has and always will be my friend.
“Get him back to the ‘gate!”
“Yes, Major Carter!”
“O’Neill, you must hurry.”
“I’m out! Carter, go! Dial the ‘gate!”
“How is he, doc?”
“Not good, Colonel.”
“I’ve sent the signal, sir!”
“All right everybody! Move it! Watch that IV line!”
“Get him to the infirmary, stat! Colonel, you too.”
“I’m okay, doc.”
“Then why are you limping? Looks like you need a cane.”
“Is that meant to be an age joke?”
I remember flashes of events as they rushed me back to the SGC. Someone holding my hand as the medical team wheeled me off to the infirmary. Jack’s voice as he expressed his willingness, or lack thereof, to be examined. Mild curses as Dr. Fraiser insisted he leave the emergency room while she assessed my injuries. Curses that increased in volume and vulgarity as the MPs escorted Jack out. Sudden silence as the door slammed behind him.
I have no idea how long I’ve been back, yet to me it seems like only moments. I know that can’t be right, though, because I’m no longer experiencing the excruciating pain that was my constant companion for so many hours on the planet.
I’m awake now, barely, listening to the voices around me. I haven’t attempted to open my eyes yet. I’m enjoying the blissfulness of a pain free, drug-induced haze and hearing my friends chatting around my bedside.
“How’s the shoulder, sir?”
“It hurts, Carter.”
“Yes, sir. I’m surprised you were able to unbury Daniel with a dislocated shoulder. You should’ve told us. We didn’t know you were injured when Teal’c pulled you away from the edge.”
“Didn’t really know it myself. Doc says the adrenalin rush from the situation probably kept me from realizing it.”
“That would make sense. Janet says Daniel was very lucky…again. The blood loss alone should’ve killed him. Add to that the broken ribs, punctured lung, concussion. More than likely you delayed Daniel’s descent so that most of the larger boulders where underneath him.”
“Yeah…lucky guy. I’ve been a bastard to him for the past few months, treating him like shit, yelling at him off world, ignoring our friendship. Then, I order him to lead the way across unstable ground, as if I was trying to get him killed. That’s real luck for ya.”
“You are not to blame for Daniel Jackson’s condition, O’Neill.”
“See, now there’s where you’re wrong, Teal’c. I am. I’m responsible for everyone under my command.”
“I do not believe Daniel Jackson is ever ‘under your command’, O’Neill.”
“You know what I mean.”
Long silent moments pass and I believe my friends have left my bedside. I drift back to sleep. When I wake up again, I feel the warmth of a hand in mine and I realize someone has maintained a vigil with me in the infirmary. I still lack the strength or desire to open my eyes, but I listen.
A door squeaks and footsteps approach. Muffled voices become closer and clearer as someone pulls the isolation curtain aside.
“Are you still here, Colonel?”
“Looks that way, Carter. What did Fraiser say?”
“Daniel’s vitals are improving but he’s still in a coma. The next few days should tell. It’s a miracle he hung on long enough for us to contact the SGC. It took time to set up the equipment we needed to lift him up without causing the entire area to cave-in, and then send you down to get him out. God, he was essentially buried alive!”
“Tell me something I don’t already know.”
“You are not to blame, O’Neill.”
“Like hell I’m not, Teal’c! Why do you keep saying that?”
“You said to tell you something you don’t already know.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, Teal’c, really I do. But I am responsible for the safety of every member of my team. It’s hard enough to keep you guys out of trouble normally; you don’t need me to order you into it.”
“You did not. The preliminary reports indicated the area was safe.”
“Exactly! Preliminary reports…I was too anxious to complete this mission. I should’ve waited.”
“Did you not attempt to reach Daniel Jackson as the ground beneath him fractured?”
“Uh, no…I mean, yeah…What? God, would you stop asking negative questions?”
“You grabbed Daniel’s arm, sir, almost went in yourself. It was all Teal’c could do to pull you back.”
“And that’s good…how?”
“You were alert and prepared for unexpected dangers. It is the sign of a good Jaffa.”
“I think what Teal’c means is that you are a good leader, constantly watching out for potential hazards.”
“Tell that to Daniel.”
“He already knows, O’Neill.”
I listen to my teammates, realizing Jack and I have a lot to discuss. But I don’t want to talk here, at least not about the deep stuff. As soon as I can open my damn eyes, I plan to back Teal’c’s words; Jack is a good leader and friend. He needs to know that.
Finally, after I don’t know how long, I open my eyes, squinting against even the dim light surrounding me. I look around anxiously, briefly unsure where I am…until I spy Jack, sleeping between two chairs next to my bedside. It’s ironic after so many days of listening to my friends, to Jack, that once I am able to see him, he’s the one with his eyes closed.
I lay quietly, observing, unwilling to wake him. It’s probably his only rest since the accident. His arm is in a sling, probably due to his shoulder injury, and he looks rather uncomfortable sprawled the way he is.
I roll onto my side, facing Jack, and the bedsprings squeak softly. Damn, his ‘Jaffa’ instincts kick in and he’s suddenly alert, standing next to me, adjusting my blankets.
“Daniel…” he speaks my name cautiously, seeming concerned yet elated at the same time.
“Jack,” I manage to reply, trying to sound grateful and content. I’m afraid I actually sound more groggy and gruff.
“I’ll be right back, okay? Just going to get you something to drink.”
He waits until he sees my nod before stepping outside the curtain. I hear him speak to a nurse and return shortly with a cup of ice chips and a spoon.
“This’ll help, Daniel,” he says softly. He helps me sit up, propping pillows behind my back, and adjusts the blanket to cover my now bare feet. He feeds me a spoonful of the ice and it tastes wonderful.
“Thanks, Jack,” I smile at him, something I don’t remember doing for a very long time. He smiles back.
“Glad you’re back with us. Thought we’d lost you back there,” his tone is somber yet the smile never leaves his face.
“Yeah, me too. I’ve been thinking, Jack,” I have to say this quickly, before Janet gets here.
“Well, you know I had a lot of time in that pit and since I’ve been back here.”
“But you’ve been unconscious…?” He raises his eyebrows.
“It’s easier to think that way…”
“Hmmm. Guess it is. So, whatcha been thinking about?”
“Us. Me. You. You know, the usual…”
“Yep, me too,” he places his hand lightly on my shoulder. His other hand fiddles with a pen on a nearby table. He looks uncomfortable, rolling the pen between his fingers, suspicious of what I have to say. He jumps in surprise when it slips from his grasp and falls to the floor.
“Jack.” ”Daniel.” Our words come in unison. He motions for me to continue, but I pause, trying to collect my thoughts before speaking again.
“Look, this past year has been kind of…”
“…rough.” I smile as he finishes my sentence.
“Yeah…I just wanted to tell you how much I’ve grown to admire you over the past five years.”
“Admire me? That’s an odd choice of words. Not that I’ve…” I hold up my hand, stopping his words. He squeezes my shoulder in understanding.
“Wait, let me finish. As a linguist and anthropologist, I know and respect cultural differences. I assess new people and internalize their way of life within myself. This is how I adapt and understand them, how they understand me. I’ve spent my entire life doing this, even with people on this world who already speak my language. I’ve negotiated deals with aliens, with the Russians. Hell, I negotiate deals with you and Hammond! And I listen to people, to their words and actions, understanding and interpreting for them. I’m good at it, Jack. It’s my work and I love it but, recently, I’ve come across a fatal flaw in my skills,” I stop, seeking his eyes. “Do you know what that is?”
He drops his gaze from me to study the floor and shakes his head.
“It’s you, Jack. You and I…we don’t use words to communicate between us…not really. Normally, we don’t have to. I know you and I’ve become so adept at ‘reading’ you that I take it for granted. I’m in your head…and, believe me, it’s a scary place…”
He looks at me and grins but remains silent, waiting for me to finish. He offers another spoonful of ice and I gladly take it. A couple of ice chips spill from the spoon onto my chest and he picks them up. Uncertain of where to put them, he sheepishly plunks them back into the cup.
“But something happened when you took that assignment to uncover the NID thieves. Our connection…”
“…broke,” Jack finished.
“Yeah, it did. I guess you were just too good at your job and I misread you. I…”
“You didn’t misread me, Daniel,” he starts quietly and I realize this is the moment of truth for both of us. He pulls a chair close to the bed and sits down with an audible sigh. He looks uncomfortable as if he needs to tell me something but doesn’t know how to start.
When he does speak, his head is bowed and he stumbles over the words. “What you ‘read’ was me…or at least who I used to be. You didn’t know me then, thank God, or you would’ve hated me. Hell, you might still decide you hate me.”
He stands up suddenly, obviously uneasy with what he wants to say, and grabs hold of my bed rail. He remains silent for long minutes as he gathers himself. I patiently watch and wait.
Finally, he looks directly at me with an incredible intensity shining from his eyes.
“I hated myself back then, too. That’s why I changed into the loveable guy you know today…” he jokes, making light of a difficult revelation. He does that. I know that about him.
He grimaces at his poor attempt at levity before continuing. “In my line of work, I learned to hate everyone and everything. It’s how I survived. I couldn’t trust anyone. Couldn’t care for anyone; they would either kill me or be killed. Sometimes I had to kill them myself.”
He pauses briefly, eyes never leaving mine. “When I received that…assignment,” he punctuates the word in disgust, “the old ‘me’ came back and I became a real a son of a bitch. What you read, Daniel, was the ‘real’ me or, at least, what used to be me.”
I start to speak but he waves me off, wanting to finish.
“When you showed up at my house, I was well and truly gone. I hated you and everyone else. I can’t apologize enough for what I did to you. I wish I could say I never meant to hurt you but that’s not true. I did mean to hurt you. I hated you. In my mind, you were the enemy.”
His next words are barely audible. “I don’t blame you if you hate me now.”
He turns to leave but I catch his arm.
“Jack, please sit down,” I start. He looks like he wants to bolt from the room but I glare at him. He knows he can’t deny me and, reluctantly, he sits back down on the chair he just vacated.
I wait until he looks me in the eyes before speaking. “Do you hate me now?”
He looks as though I’ve slapped him. “God, Daniel, no! I don’t hate you. I hate myself!”
He stands abruptly and paces from my bedside, pulling to a stop several feet away and rubbing his fingers through his short gray hair. I want to say something but I know I have to wait for him to come back. I know this isn’t easy for either of us but he needs to get this off his chest almost as badly as I need to hear it.
He slowly turns back towards me, still keeping his distance. I see him struggling to connect his brain with his mouth, finding it difficult to confide any weakness. He chooses his next words carefully and speaks in a muted voice. “After that damned mission was over, I recognized the signs within me and tried to become…well…me, again. This me…not that me,” he turns his head away as if embarrassed. “It took some time, though…several missions. Several missions where I treated you and everyone else like shit! I don’t ever want to do that again,” he finally returns to the bed and reaches a hand through the bars, resting it on my blanket.
“I didn’t know, Jack. Why didn’t you tell me…I mean, after you realized it?”
“I don’t know. Treating you like shit was easier than…talking. I don’t do that very well, you know.”
“I guess I hoped you’d get over it and go back to ‘reading’ me again so we wouldn’t have to talk.”
“But I was still lost in your transition. What I thought I knew about you had changed and I couldn’t connect with you again…”
We sit in amiable, if not a little tense, silence, remembering.
“So, I guess that foundation…?”
“…is solid, Daniel. Just a little crack in the surface, a fissure, but it’s back. I hope it’s as strong as ever…”
“It is, Jack. Thanks for sharing.”
We’re both silent for a while, lost in thought, but I have one more thing I need to tell him. It’s important that he knows this, knows how I feel. We don’t talk much about feelings and if I don’t say this now, I might never say it at all.
“Teal’c’s right, Jack. You’re a great leader and a wonderful friend. I realize I haven’t given back nearly as much as you’ve given me. Thanks for being there for me in that abyss. Thanks for saving my life.”
“God Daniel, I almost got you killed. I thought you were dead. I don’t know how anyone could’ve survived that…”
“I survived because I had you there with me for many hours in that pit, helping me, taking care of me and not letting me give up.”
“But I wasn’t there until the end.” His eyes narrow and he looks confused by my comment.
“You were…or at least you were in my mind,” I wave my hand in small circles near my head. “You were…you…not the old you…but…”
“I get it, Daniel. It may be easier to call my alter ego ‘bad Jack’.”
“As opposed to what? ‘Good Jack’? I’m not so sure I’d ever describe you as…”
“All right, all right. How about ‘SN’ and ‘AFU’?”
I’m not too pleased with his choice of initials and I study his expression for a bit before responding, “So…which of those…and I use the term lightly… ’acronyms’… represents you now?”
“Probably a combination really…”
“Yeah…okaaay...I guess that’ll work. As I said, I get into the minds of those around me. Guess I still had you in there somewhere…’SN’. You’re what kept me alive. The only reason I didn’t die…”
He sits quietly beside me, only the soft beeping of nearby monitors to break the silence. He raises his eyebrows, asking an unspoken question, and I smile in response.
“We’re good, Jack.”
He stands and helps me lie back down, recognizing my strength is waning. He carefully untangles my IV line and gently places my hand underneath the sheets. Grinning at me, he pats my shoulder before walking to the foot of the bed. He covers my feet, tucks the blanket under the mattress, and then softly rests his hand on my leg. I nod my thanks and smile. He returns the smile and looks at me for approval before turning to leave.
I understand a little more of Jack now than I did before and I’m honored the ‘real’, er ‘SN’ Jack visited me in that hole. I’m glad to have the real, as in not hallucinated, Jack with me now. We’ve spoken the necessary words. They’re enough; we need nothing more. I know him.
How do I know this Jack is real? I grin proudly at that thought. It’s his body language.