Forgiving the Past
Colonel Jack O’Neill stretched his arms out wide and took a deep breath. “Is this great or what? Can you smell that?”
Daniel Jackson sniffed somewhat half-heartedly, looking suspicious. “Smell what. Manure? Dead carcasses?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “The air, Daniel! Fresh, clean, unadulterated air.”
Sneezing and wiping at his eyes with a balled-up tissue, Daniel replied, “Oh, that. No, sorry. My allergies must be acting up. I can’t smell a thing.”
“Well, that’s exactly it,” Jack replied, turning back to the SUV and hauling a box of supplies from the back. “It’s so clean, you can’t smell it.”
Daniel frowned and accepted a second box of food from Jack. “Then why did you ask if I could smell it?”
Jack waved the question away. “Never mind.” He took another breath of brisk country air. “Can you really smell dead carcasses?”
“I can’t smell anything,” Daniel groused. “I just figured countryside… animals… and if I was going to smell anything, it wouldn’t be air.” He blew his nose loudly.
Jack tried not to groan. It had been his idea after all to bring Daniel to the cabin. They’d been running on fumes the last few weeks since escaping from Apophis’ ship, and in the exhilaration of finding Daniel alive when they’d arrived back at the mountain, the first thing he’d done – with a couple of beers warming him from the inside – was insist that they spend their three-day downtime at his cabin.
Daniel had been reluctant, to say the least, and suggested Jack might want to invite Sam Carter or Teal’c instead, citing a huge backlog of translations he had to get through, but Jack knew Daniel needed this time out. Hell, he needed it himself, though he doubted he’d ever be able to admit to anyone else just how devastated he’d been to see Daniel lying in the corridor, dying. And what it had cost him to leave him there alone.
Okay, he could admit it to himself. He needed time to forgive himself for not insisting that Daniel go with them, and most of all, he needed the chance to ask Daniel’s forgiveness for leaving him behind. It had been at Daniel’s insistence, admittedly, but Jack wasn’t shirking his responsibility that easily. He was the team leader, and he should have just refused and hauled Daniel’s butt out of there.
I’m not leaving you behind.
Despite the evidence of Daniel’s terrible injuries, despite seeing the weary acceptance of death in his eyes, despite knowing now that if they had taken Daniel with them, someone still would have had to be left behind, none of that would ever assuage Jack’s guilt.
Most of all, though, Jack had to admit that he’d suggested this getaway for purely selfish reasons, because he needed time to reassure himself that Daniel was really okay. To allow the memory of a dying Daniel to be overlaid with the real, walking, talking, no holes model. Because the one thing Jack couldn’t get past was the feeling he’d had of slowly dying himself ever since he’d left Daniel behind on Apophis’ ship. Seeing Daniel resurrected, smiling, even hugging him and feeling the solid weight of him in his arms hadn’t stopped the nightmares, the guilt or the grief of losing him.
“It’s nice,” Daniel said, dragging Jack back to the present. “Rustic.”
Jack gave him a mock frown. “When you read ‘rustic’ in the real estate ads, it usually means rundown. Kinda like, ‘a handyman’s dream’.
Daniel looked positively embarrassed. “No! No, really. I like it. Rustic, I mean, country, comfortable.”
Jack grinned. “I know what you meant.”
Daniel gave him a half-hearted glare. “So, what first?”
Jack started up the path to the cabin. “Let’s get everything put away and I’ll show you around.”
Daniel gazed across the pond to the woods beyond. “This is nice,” he said. “I’m glad you convinced me to come.”
“Me, too.” Jack settled himself on the edge of the small pier and dangled his bare feet in the water. “It’s nice to have somewhere to go, when I need to wind down.”
Daniel sat next to Jack, pulled off his sneakers and dipped his toes in the water, making tiny waves to and fro. “How long have you had this place?”
Jack hesitated a moment, knowing the memories his answer would bring. “I bought it about a month after Charlie died.”
“I’m sorry,” Daniel said, looking embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to…. You don’t need to explain….”
Jack shrugged. “It’s okay, Daniel. I’ll never be past the pain of losing him, but I never grow tired of talking about him. Sara and I had stopped talking. She blamed me, I blamed myself. There really wasn’t anything to discuss. I needed somewhere to be alone, without the constant reminders of what had happened.”
“He must have been a great kid.”
Jack smiled, an image of Charlie’s grinning face instantly coming to mind. “He was the best. He could also be the most annoying, stubborn kid. No matter what you told him, it was always, “Why? Why can’t I?” Pushed Sara and me to the limits of our patience. Wanted to do everything, try everything, was never scared of anything-“ Jack flinched as the resounding sound of a gunshot exploded in his head, and he felt his heart skip a beat, just like it had that day.
“Sounds just like his father,” Daniel said. He climbed to his feet and held out a hand to Jack. “I’m starving. Seeing you’ve already told me there aren’t any fish in your pond, I’m guessing we need to cook.”
Jack accepted the helping hand and stood. “Best damn steaks you’ll ever taste,” he boasted. “Secret O’Neill family marinade.” He prodded Daniel in the chest. “You get salad duty.”
Daniel frowned. “I’m not much of a cook.”
Jack pushed him in the direction of the house. “You don’t need to cook salad, Daniel. Throw a few veggies in a bowl. Even a geek like you can handle that.”
Daniel turned back and grinned. “Geek? I haven’t heard you call me that in a while.” He rubbed his hands together. “All right. I’m going to make a salad that will not only rival your steak but surpass it.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Dream on, Jackson.”
Daniel let loose another rip-snorter of a sneeze and Jack eyed the salad bowl dubiously. Daniel looked positively offended. “I turned my head,” he protested. “Just caught me by surprise.”
“If you say so,” Jack said, handing Daniel a tissue from the box on top of the refrigerator. He gave the salad a careful look before picking up the plate of steaks. “You want to open the wine? Join me on the deck. There’s cutlery and plates in the top cupboards.”
“Gotcha.” Daniel opened a drawer and pulled out a corkscrew, giving Jack a triumphant grin.
“And take a pill,” Jack ordered. At Daniel’s puzzled expression, he waved his free hand in the air. “One of those anti-allergy thingies you have.”
“Oh, right. I’m pretty sure I packed some.” Daniel put the corkscrew on the table, picked up the bottle of wine and wandered off in the direction of the bedrooms.
Jack watched him go, shook his head fondly, reminded himself that Daniel truly was ”the absent-minded professor” and headed out to cook dinner.
Daniel took a bite of his steak and chewed appreciably. Swallowing, he waved his fork at Jack. “Okay, I just know this is gonna give you a big head, but this is seriously good steak.”
Jack sketched a bow as he sat and picked up his knife and fork, chowing down with relish. “Of course it is.”
Daniel shook his head. “I knew I shouldn’t have said anything.” He took a sip of his wine and gazed out over the yard. “It really is a beautiful spot, Jack. Peaceful. I can see why you bought it.”
“It’s good to have somewhere to come, to escape the job, the demons. Somewhere to put your feet up and not think about anything, or to mull things over. You should think about buying a place for yourself.”
“I’ve considered it,” Daniel said. “I just worry that being on my own all the way out here might just amplify everything.” He toyed with his glass, one finger circling the rim. “I’ve been alone a lot of my life. At least in the city, there are people next door, traffic sounds…. Mind you, on Abydos, I relished the peace; then again, I wasn’t alone.” He pushed his plate away and stood, walking to the edge of the verandah and staring out at the lake beyond the small pier. “I miss her, Jack. I miss Skaara and I miss Abydos. It was the one place I’ve ever felt accepted, the one place where what I’d learned, what I knew, had some value.”
“You don’t think you have that respect at Cheyenne Mountain?” Jack asked.
Daniel looked over his shoulder at him and smiled. “It’s not respect I’m after, Jack, but no. I’m still answering to General Hammond, to you. Having to explain everything over and over –”
“That’s a bad thing?” Jack asked. He stood and joined Daniel. “We’re a team, Daniel. Everyone’s opinion, everyone’s expertise is valued, you know that. If it keeps us all out of body bags, I’d say it’s a good thing.” He closed his eyes to shutter out the vivid image his words brought forth. He felt Daniel’s hand close over his arm, squeezing lightly.
“You did the right thing, you know. There was no other way.”
Jack opened his eyes and stared at Daniel. “Knowing it and doing it are two whole different things, Daniel.” He shook his head. “I shouldn’t have listened to you. I should have dragged your sorry ass out of there.”
“And left who behind? I read the mission report, remember? Who would you have chosen, Jack? Bra’tac, because he’s not one of us?”
Jack sagged, not wanting to have this conversation now, wanting to just go back to enjoying dinner with a friend. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I don’t know.”
Daniel’s hand dropped away from Jack’s arm. “I hated you for a long time after Sha’ré and Skaara were taken,” he said, his voice barely a whisper.
“Yeah? Well, the line starts behind me,” Jack replied, his tone hard and uncompromising.
“Thing was,” Daniel continued as though he hadn’t heard Jack’s response, “it didn’t take me long to realize I was blaming the wrong person.”
“You’re just saying that to make me feel better,” Jack quipped. He was uncomfortable with where this conversation was heading. He had more than enough guilt stored away.
Daniel turned and looked at him, his expression solemn and sincere. “No, I was wrong. By asking you to lie about the Abydonians and me, I was setting us up for the possibility that our ruse would be discovered one day.”
“You weren’t to know Apophis was going to come waltzing through the gate!” Jack argued. “None of us did!”
“By the time I’d been there six months, I knew enough to know somebody was going to come.” Daniel’s voice was as unforgiving as Jack’s. “Why do you think we were trained and armed when you came through? Because I knew.”
Jack stood and walked over to join Daniel. He rested a hand on Daniel’s shoulder, squeezing gently, a show of support, a reminder that they wouldn’t give up. “We’ll find her, Daniel.”
Daniel was silent for a long moment before he nodded. “I know.” He turned his head toward Jack and gave him a smile, which morphed into a yawn. “Sorry,” he said. “Red wine and allergy pills. Probably shouldn’t have mixed them.”
“I thought Janet said that new prescription wouldn’t make you sleepy.”
Daniel rolled his eyes and attempted to stifle another yawn, failing miserably. “Most people, probably not. I think I’ll turn in. Do you mind?”
“Go. I’ll clean up out here. Then we can get an early start in the morning.”
Daniel’s eyes narrowed. “Early start? I thought we were here for rest and recuperation!”
“We are,” Jack countered. “Nothing more restful than a couple of hours fishing.”
“There are no fish in your pond.”
Jack’s eyes twinkled. “There aren’t, but I know this great lake an hour or so hike from here where there are.”
“Hike?” Daniel groaned.
“You’ll love it.” Jack turned Daniel around and pushed him toward the door. “Get some shut eye. I’ll wake you at six.”
Daniel opened his mouth to speak then apparently gave it up as a lost cause. Waving a hand in farewell, he headed inside.
Jack watched him go then sat back down at the table. He poured the last of the wine into his glass and lifted it, swirling the ruby red liquid. Daniel had lost so much in his life but he still had Carter and Teal’c and him. They were his family. Maybe this weekend, Jack could show him there was still good in the world, things worth hanging onto.
Daniel wasn’t sure what had woken him. He’d fallen asleep almost before his head had hit the pillow. A combination, no doubt, of the red wine, a good meal and the fresh country air. He sat up in the bed, yawning and stretching, stilling when he heard Jack’s voice from the living room. The words were soft but Daniel could definitely hear an edge of impatience in Jack’s tone.
Throwing back the covers, he climbed out of bed and walked down the hall, pausing in the doorway, not wanting to eavesdrop if this was a private conversation. Jack was pacing toward the window, his free hand gesturing in choppy motions as he spoke into his cell phone.
“Can’t it wait, Carter? We’ve only been here a day. Daniel’s sleeping and unless this is some major emergency, I’m not waking him up.”
Daniel cleared his throat and gave Jack a small wave when he whirled around to face him. “Do they realize what time it is on Earth? Don’t they have clocks on Emer… Emerwhatever?”
Ah, Emeritus. They’d been attempting to set up a treaty between the two warring government factions there, in the hope of gaining a mutual exchange of information. Daniel yawned and rubbed at his eyes. Looked like the talks had broken down… again. Last time, it had been Daniel who’d gotten both sides back to the table. He doubted they were going to settle for anyone else to soothe their ruffled feathers. “I’ll go get dressed,” he said to Jack.
“No, wait. Hold on, Carter.” Jack held a hand over the receiver. “It can wait,” he said to Daniel. “They’re not going anywhere. This is our time off, damn it!”
“Then the sooner we get this sorted out, the sooner we can get back. Besides,” Daniel peered out of the nearest window, at the rain lashing the glass, “looks like fishing’s out of the question today.”
Jack stared at him for a moment then gave a long suffering sigh and uncovered the receiver. “Okay, Carter, give us a couple hours.” He closed the phone none too gently and scowled. “I’m gonna make coffee.”
“Great! I’ll go change.”
Daniel settled himself more comfortably in the passenger seat and glanced over at Jack. “You didn’t have to come with me, you know. I could have driven back to the mountain myself.”
“We’ll probably end up having to ‘gate to Emer… Emertus.” He rolled his eyes.
“Emeritus,” Daniel supplied helpfully.
“I got it,” Jack responded grouchily. “I’m just saying since we’ll probably have to visit them, we may as well get it over with.” He looked over at Daniel. “You don’t seem too upset about this. I thought you were enjoying yourself.”
“I was! Am,” Daniel corrected quickly. A small smile formed, despite his best efforts to keep a straight face. “But I have to admit I wasn’t exactly looking forward to a hike at six in the morning.”
“Really?” Jack smirked. “Well, you sure had me fooled.” He sighed and released his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, relaxing back in his seat. “We still have two days leave owed to us, don’t forget, and the lake’s not going anywhere.”
Daniel gave a mock, aggrieved sigh. “Don’t remind me. Before we head back, remind me to grab some hiking boots from–“
“Shit!” Jack exclaimed.
Something hit the windshield hard, cracks appearing instantly, the glass pushing in, red staining the edges. Jack braked, throwing Daniel forward against the constraint of his seatbelt. The SUV fishtailed wildly, the tires apparently unable to get a grip on the slick road.
“Hang on!” Jack yelled, fighting the wildly spinning steering wheel.
Daniel braced his feet against the floor, pushing back against his seat.
Something huge loomed up directly ahead and Daniel was slammed forward, his head impacting the already starred windshield with brutal force. White light and agony exploded in his skull. Just before oblivion took him, he heard Jack scream.
He was cold. Bone-achingly cold. His head was pounding and his heart was thumping a counter-rhythm in his chest. He shifted, or at least tried to, but the pain shredding his arm at the movement had him stilling at once. A groan escaped him as the agony continued unabated for long seconds and he bit his lip as even that sound threatened to take the top of his head off.
Something was pressing against his chest, making him feel like he was suffocating. He pushed at it with his good hand, feeling it billow against his touch. Airbag. He lay back, panting, finally opening his eyes and taking in his surroundings. A car, Jack’s SUV, Daniel remembered foggily. They’d been going somewhere…. Right. The SGC. Sam had called. There was a soft moan from beside him.
He turned his head carefully, wrapping his good hand around his injured arm, bracing it. “Jack?” There was a long moment of silence then Jack groaned. “Jack? You okay?”
“Wha….” Jack shifted in his seat and the vehicle suddenly tilted forward.
Daniel snapped out his good arm, halting Jack’s movements. “Stay still. I think we might be off the edge of the road.”
Jack stared at him groggily for a moment then carefully reached up, wiping a trickle of blood from his left eye. He stared at his fingers for a moment before looking over at Daniel. “I think we might be in a little trouble here.”
“You could be right. Stay still, okay?” Daniel said. “The car didn’t move when I shifted. Let me just see….” Carefully he eased himself upright in his seat, biting back a moan of pain as new agony flared in his arm. Squinting through the starred windshield, he looked ahead, seeing only a mass of foliage, then down… and down. “Oh god.” Nausea surged and he swallowed convulsively, slumping back. The SUV rocked ominously and he reached out in panic for Jack.
Jack’s hand closed around his arm in a firm grip. “Don’t rock the boat, Danny,” he advised but Daniel could see the small smile on his face was a little shaky.
He took a moment to check Jack out. A gash on his temple bled sluggishly and he looked as though he was going to have one hell of a black eye. Apart from that, he seemed to be moving freely, if cautiously. Given their predicament, that was hardly surprising. “You hurt anywhere besides your head?” he asked.
Jack reached up again and touched the cut. “Don’t think so. You?”
Daniel hesitated a moment. Hiding his injuries wouldn’t be a smart move. It could very well lead to worse complications, though he couldn’t really see how things could get any worse. “I think my arm might be broken and my ribs are bruised from the seatbelt.”
“Damn! This is my fault! I should have kept my eyes on the road!”
“It was an accident,” Daniel said firmly. “Nobody’s fault.”
Jack stared at him for a moment then nodded. “This road is pretty deserted. I doubt anyone’s gonna happen upon us soon… and it’s getting cold.” He frowned a moment then held up a finger with a triumphant grin. “I knew there’d come a time when I’d be grateful for cell phones.” Sliding his hand carefully into his jacket pocket, he pulled out his phone and hit the on button. “No signal, damn it!” Resting his head back against the seat, he closed his eyes. “Looks like we’re gonna have to get ourselves out of this one, Danny boy.”
Daniel gaped at him. “What? You do realize the only thing stopping us from falling several hundred feet into the canyon below is a tree! And not a very big one at that.”
Jack shrugged then stilled as the SVU rocked ever so slightly. “You got any better ideas?”
“Not right at this minute,” Daniel admitted, “but I’m sure if we just wait a while, someone will come along–”
“We don’t even know if we’re still on the road,” Jack reasoned. “We might not be visible to anyone.”
“You could try honking your horn,” Daniel suggested.
“Daniel… we can do this. Your side’s obviously more stable. You’re probably wedged against the tree. All you have to do is carefully open your door and slide out.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed. “No? Do I have to make it an order, Doctor Jackson?”
“I’m not leaving you behind, Jack. If we go, we go together.”
“Daniel, please listen to me. I’ll be right behind you. Just try your door – carefully. See if it will open. If not, you’ll have to try the rear door.”
Daniel held out his hand, palm up. “We don’t leave anyone behind, remember?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Oh, right, so now you throw that up in my face. What happened on Apophis’ ship? Slight memory lapse?”
“There was no choice, and you know it,” Daniel replied. “This time there is.” He wiggled his fingers under Jack’s nose. “Together or we figure out something else.”
Jack groaned. “Anyone ever tell you you’re a stubborn son of a bitch?”
Daniel smiled without mirth. “You do… all the time.” He took a deep breath and set to work. It was an awkward grip. He had to reach across his body with his good hand and fumble for the door handle. The vehicle was beginning to rock in earnest now and Daniel had to force himself to keep his movements slow and steady. “Don’t panic,” he admonished under his breath.
Slowly he pushed the handle up, and with his heart hammering in his chest, shoved the door outward with his shoulder. Agony clawed up his arm and he yelled, his grip on the door handle forgotten as he clutched at his injured arm.
“Daniel! You okay?” Jack’s voice was tight with tension and his hand touched Daniel’s good shoulder, squeezing it gently. “Daniel?”
Daniel fought back the darkness that was encroaching his vision, swallowed back the bile flooding his mouth and nodded weakly. “Okay… I’m….” He closed his eyes. “Just give me a minute.”
There was an ominous creaking from the branches of the tree.
“I don’t know if we have that long,” Jack said grimly.
“You sure it’s easier to get out my side?” Daniel asked helplessly. He waved his good hand in the air in a dismissive wave before Jack could respond. “Okay. Let’s try again.”
Teeth clamped down on his lower lip so hard he could taste blood, Daniel reached again for the door and this time succeeded in getting it to open a little. The pain in his arm still battered at him and he was certain he could feel the broken bones grating against one another, but he kept pushing slowly until he felt resistance. Bracing the door open, he rolled his head and looked at Jack. “It’s gonna be a tight fit.”
Jack shrugged, looking enormously weary. “Knew I shoulda given up Froot Loops for breakfast.” He motioned with one hand while he released his seatbelt with the other. “Go already. I’ll be right behind you.”
Daniel stared at him for a moment. “You better be,” he said, his voice hoarse and shaky. “Or I’m coming after you.”
Jack glared at him but it was obvious his heart wasn’t in it. “You still talk too much, Jackson. Get the hell outta here!”
Every instinct was screaming at Daniel to throw himself out of the vehicle but he forced himself to move slowly, aware the slightest wrong movement could send the SUV and its passengers plummeting to the bottom of the ravine. He pushed on the door a little more, hoping to create a wider escape route but it appeared to be open as far as it would go.
Shifting sideways, he kept his gaze fixed on Jack to ensure he was following and began to ease himself out of the vehicle. He fell backward as his feet cleared the door, his heart catching in his throat as he experienced a dizzying moment of freefall before landing hard on his butt, fresh agony flaring through his arm on impact. He gasped as a tree limb ricocheted forward, slapping him wetly in the face.
He lay, panting, struggling for breath, seeing Jack slightly above him, finally inching his way through the open door.
A loud crack split the air and Daniel lunged, his good arm reaching, straining, in a desperate attempt to grab Jack. The SUV began a slow sideways slide away from him, metal creaking, glass smashing.
“Run!” Jack shouted.
Daniel felt his fingers catch in the front of Jack’s jacket and he tugged hard. There was a moment of resistance then Jack was on top of him, crushing the breath from Daniel’s lungs.
Jack was on his feet before Daniel could react, one hand under Daniel’s uninjured arm, urging him to his feet, pushing frantically at wayward tree branches with his other, dragging Daniel almost bodily away from the cliff edge and up a small rise to the road.
Daniel fell to his knees, leaning forward, breath gasping from his throat that felt closed with fear, barely aware of Jack sinking down beside him. The thunder of an explosion below shook him from his semi-conscious stupor and he looked over at Jack. “We made it!” he whispered hoarsely. Jack gave him a weary thumb’s up and rested his head on his pulled up knees. Daniel couldn’t stifle the involuntary, slightly hysterical half-sob, half-giggle that bubbled forth. “We made it.”
He felt himself falling forward, saw the ground rise up to meet him at the same time as arms caught him in a firm embrace, then oblivion swept in.
Daniel had only vague, disjointed memories of Jack managing to get his cell phone working long enough to place a 911 call, followed by their trip via ambulance to Cheyenne Mountain. He’d been taken into surgery shortly after they arrived to set the broken bones in his arm. For a short while now, he’d been lying in bed flirting with waking, enjoying the blessed respite from pain, but strangely worried he’d open his eyes to find Jack wasn’t here. Every time he woke up in the infirmary, the first face he’d see was Jack’s but this time…. The one thing he remembered vividly was the SUV sliding away, taking Jack with it.
“You gonna sleep all day?”
Daniel felt the knot in his stomach ease. “I’m considering it,” he said. Swallowing, he grimaced at the dry, chemical taste coating his tongue.
Something metallic touched Daniel’s lips. He opened his mouth willingly, sucking gratefully on the ice chips placed into his mouth, feeling liquid dribble down his chin.
“Helps if you open your eyes,” Jack added.
“Probably.” Daniel did as instructed, blinked a couple of times to dispel the blurriness from his vision and looked up at Jack. “I’m still a little dopey,” he said.
Jack rolled his eyes. “Now there’s a newsflash,” he said dryly.
Daniel contemplated flinging back a suitably sarcastic remark but he felt too drowsy, too comfortable, and frankly, too relieved to be here, even if it was in an infirmary with god knows how many plates and screws holding his arm together. “You okay?” he asked instead.
Jack touched the neat row of stitches above his left eye. “I think having the damn stitches put in hurt more than whacking my head in the first place,” he quipped, “but if you tell Nurse Shelby that, I’ll shoot you.”
Daniel mimed locking his lips and then yawned.
Jack patted his shoulder. “I’ll let you get some more shut-eye.”
“I’m glad… glad we got out of this in one piece. Glad you listened to me.”
Jack raised a finger. “This time, I listened. Don’t get used to it, Jackson. It will not become a habit, I promise you.”
Daniel grinned and sketched a salute with his good hand. “Sorry about the weekend. I really was enjoying myself.” He gave Jack what he hoped was a disarming smile.
Patting Daniel’s shoulder, Jack replied, “All is not lost. Doc says you’ll be out of here tomorrow. Once we sort out those pesky Emeritans, Hammond says we can take another few days off. You, of course, will be on desk duty for a month or so after that.”
He grinned. Daniel thought he looked just a bit too satisfied.
“So, fresh air, country hikes, and fishing, here we come!”
Daniel didn’t bother to stifle his groan. Pulling up the bedcovers, he took refuge beneath them, hiding Jack’s taunting features from view.