emgeetrek: (SG-1)
[personal profile] emgeetrek
by EmGee

Originally posted to Area 52 in July of 2002.  This was my first SG-1 story.  Beta by Azpou--a talented writer who published some excellent SG-1 and Trek stories before taking down her stuff and disappearing from the web.  Wherever you are, darlin', hugs and kisses.  I hope you're still writing. 

Post-Meridian.  Fixit-free.
He spent the day like he'd spent every day for the past two weeks: keeping physically active through every waking moment so that by the time he fell into bed at night, he was too preoccupied with sore back muscles and aching knees to think, too exhausted to dream.
For two weeks he'd ruthlessly suppressed all vestiges of emotion. Survival, and sanity, depended on his ability to focus entirely on the mundane. So he'd ignored the tears that kept spilling out of Carter's eyes. Overlooked the grim set of General Hammond's jaw. Paid no attention to the droop of Teal'c's normally squared shoulders. Stepped around Jonas Quinn as if he were a piece of furniture.
Saturday, and the team had been on stand down since Thursday afternoon. In his time at home he'd scrubbed every floor, shampooed every rug, washed every window, and polished every piece of furniture. He'd installed new weatherstripping on the front door, replaced the washers in all the faucets, cleaned the grease filter in the kitchen fan, and regrouted the bathroom tile. The lawn was mowed, the hedges trimmed, the truck waxed. There was absolutely nothing left to do.
So he painted the living room. He'd never liked the wall color anyway, he told himself. Too light, too bright, too fucking cheerful. At the local hardware store he chose a pale dove gray in a suitably flat finish and had them mix two gallons, fixing the clerk with a silent stare when he tried to make small talk.
Back home he took down the pictures, moved the furniture to the center of the room and laid drop cloths over the floor. The quiet was oppressive. He found an extension cord for the stereo and ran it back to the wall outlet, and loaded some "greatest hits" CDs into the changer at random, barely looking at the cases. The Stones. Elton John. Queen. Jimi Hendrix. Eric Clapton. Party discs, not his usual fare when he was home alone, but he wanted the brain-fogging qualities of electric guitars, the thought-obliteration of mindless lyrics. He cranked up the volume and set the system to shuffle, and shoved the remote control in his shirt pocket.
Painting the walls went quickly. He rollered on one coat and drank two beers while he waited for it to dry. While he was sitting, focusing on the taste of the beer and the buzz and wondering if he should make a sandwich, the phone rang. He cut the sound on the stereo for a moment, heard the machine pick up and half-listened to Carter's voice as she left another message.
After he'd added the second coat to the walls, he opened up the can of white eggshell and had at the baseboards and window trim with a brush. By the time he'd started on the final window frame his knees were throbbing and spasms stabbed through his lower back. Still, he was thinking of the next project. It wouldn't be dark for another couple of hours; maybe he could get a start on scraping off the old wallpaper in the dining room.
On the stereo, "Jumping Jack Flash" gave way to a quieter song, a ballad. The lyrics began, and they yanked him back to cold, hard reality with such a vicious jerk that he lost his grip on the paintbrush and then the power to remain upright, toppling like a storm-downed oak against the fresh wet paint. 
Daniel is travelling tonight on a plane
If only that were true. No, Daniel had traveled much farther than a plane could take him. And even if ascension was not really death, even if he might see the ascended Daniel again one day, the fact remained that the man he had known was lost to him forever.
Oh and I can see Daniel waving goodbye
God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes
He pressed the heels of his hands hard against his eyelids, trying to stop the thoughts that he'd so successfully been diverting for two weeks. But try as he might, he could not shut them down any longer, not with those words, that music drilling into his brain. ‘Stop it, stop it, stop!’ he cried silently, forgetting the stereo control in his pocket, unable to do anything but lie there, shattered, and let the images wash over him.
Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won't heal
Open sores, flesh like raw meat putrefying in the heat. Exposed nerve endings protected from the air by swathes of bandages. Eyes liquid with agony that no amount of morphine could control, but still aware, still seeking knowledge. Eyes that had fixed on him and demanded honesty.
But he could not speak the words that he had wanted to say, that he had ached for Daniel to hear. Not there, amidst the machines and the concrete walls and the trappings of the military life. Not then, when he knew that to speak would be to open the floodgates of emotion and sweep away his career, obliterate the one thing he would have left once Daniel was gone. So instead he'd let his black ops training take over. Turn the mind away. Want nothing, ask for nothing, expect nothing, hope for nothing. Disconnect from the demands of the body and, more important, from the desires of the spirit. He'd been good at it in training and even better in real life and standing by Daniel's bedside, he was flawless.
Selfish bastard.
Your eyes have died but you see more than I
Those eyes had seen his sang-froid for what it was, and forgiven him. Daniel had always been more forgiving of human frailty than he. Still, he would give anything to roll back the clock--if not to a time before the accident then at least to that bedside moment--and say what he only lately had come to fully understand, career be damned.
He couldn't speak then, when it counted. But he had to speak the truth now, the truth that was choking him, drowning him. He had to speak, even if he was to be the only one who would hear.
Lord I miss Daniel, oh I miss him so much
"I miss you, Daniel," he whispered. "I love you." Gasping now, on the edge. With what felt like his final breath or his first, sinking for the last time or being born, he shouted, "I love you!"
And felt himself flung against the shore, thrust into the light. He leaned his head back against the drying paint and sobbed.
Much later, after he'd peeled himself off the windowsill, shut off the stereo, painted over the head marks on the molding, and taken a half hour shower during which he'd cried again and then scrubbed the paint out of his hair, he stood in front of the closed door to the guest room. He rested his hand on the doorknob for a moment before entering.
Just inside the door he stopped and looked around, seeing everything that he had so carefully ignored in his earlier cleaning frenzy. Daniel had stayed here often, and the room had gradually acquired that lived-in-by-Daniel look. A towel and Daniel's favorite sweater lay on the easy chair in the corner. Three pillows were stacked up on one side of the bed, near the small but powerful reading light. A thick, boring-looking book sat on the nightstand, half a dozen slips of paper stuck between the pages. Only Daniel would consider a book that required reference bookmarks a suitable volume for bedtime reading.
He walked over to the nightstand and ran his fingers over the book's tough buckram binding, and then opened the nightstand drawer. A small box of tissues. A roll of cough drops. Three photos. A couple of old letters in their original mailing envelopes. A fountain pen, Daniel's writing implement of choice when he was in a place where it was possible to fuss with cleaning and filling it. A bottle of blue-black ink, and a slim notebook, elegantly bound in soft calfskin the color of caramel. Daniel's personal journal.
It was nothing like the utilitarian notebooks that Daniel used in the field for his work. Sitting on the bed, he brought the volume to his face and inhaled the fragrance of the leather, rubbing his face against the smooth surface. Someday he would read it, and the other volumes like it that he would find at Daniel's apartment, if the security detail hadn’t taken custody of them along with his field notes. Someday he would open this journal and all the others--classified or not, his security clearance gave him access to them--and read every word, but not now. Maybe not for a good long while.
Returning the journal to its place in the drawer, he next turned his attention to the fountain pen. A smallish pen, nothing ostentatious, just a basic Aurora with a steel nib and a black rubberized barrel. Daniel had loved this pen; he said that the nib moved across the page like silk. 
He slipped the pen into his shirt pocket and moved on to the photos.
The first picture was a shot of the whole team, with Cassandra and Janet too, standing in Janet's back yard. Everyone was smiling; even Teal'c had that non-smile of his going. It took him a moment to identify the occasion. Then he recognized it: Cassie's birthday party, almost two years ago now. Hammond must have taken this one, though he had no memory of posing for it.
He shuffled the photos and brought the second one into view. This one was of Cassie, caught in a frivolous moment, balanced precariously on one foot with her arms outstretched, her face lit up with happiness. Ah, Cassie. Daniel had been a big brother to her. Losing him must have broken her heart.
In the third photo he and Daniel sat side by side on a patch of dusty ground, backs against some sort of a stone wall and heads turned toward one another, obviously deep in conversation. They were dressed in their greens and he was holding his P90 across his lap. A mission, then. Carter must have taken this shot; Teal'c seldom wielded a camera. There seemed to be nothing unusual or special about the scene, and he wondered why Daniel had chosen to keep this photo out of the dozens of others so like it that Carter had taken over the years.
Sighing, he rubbed his eyes. He was too tired for puzzles; the mystery would have to wait for another time. He returned the photos to the drawer and looked around the room once again. Daniel's presence was very strong here, and it smoothed the rough edges of his grief.
On his way out of the room he picked up the towel to put in the laundry. As he turned to leave he ran his hand over Daniel's cashmere sweater, softer than a whisper. He smiled sadly as he noticed that the sweater was the same color as the fresh paint on his living room walls.
He went to the kitchen and made a pot of coffee with the good beans, the ones that he kept in the freezer for Daniel and that he never used himself because, to him, one cup of coffee was pretty much like another. While it brewed he rummaged around in the cabinet for the chocolate he kept for Daniel, the high-priced stuff that he never ate except when Daniel was around because it had seemed like a sacrilege to consume something that good and not share the experience. And he sat at the kitchen table and drank Daniel's coffee, and ate Daniel's chocolate, and when he was finished he went to the phone and made a call.
"Hey. Thanks for your messages. . . . Well, I've been busy. . . . Oh, you know. House stuff. Yard work. Painted the living room. . . .
"Hey, Carter? . . .
"I'm sorry. . . . That I wasn't, you know. A better leader. More available. Something . . . I know you're hurting. . . .
"Yeah. This has been tough for me too."
He closed his eyes and waited for the world to end. When it didn't, he thought that maybe the heavens could absorb one more shockwave. "We haven't talked, and we should. And . . . there's something I want to tell you. You and Teal'c." He had lived his entire adult life in shrouds of secrecy. Black ops, security clearances, eyes-only, need to know. There were so many secrets that he would carry with him to his grave, so many lies on his conscience. Daniel had always hated lies.
For once in his life, he would tell the truth. For Daniel, and for himself.
"See you tomorrow, then. Oh, and Carter? . . . Sleep well."
It was late, and he was as tired and wrung out as he had ever been. Returning to Daniel's room, he shucked his jeans and flannel shirt in the dark and slid into bed wearing his t-shirt and shorts. The sheets were used but clean enough, and they carried the subtly comforting fragrance of laundry detergent and Daniel.
But something was wrong, missing. He felt restless despite his exhaustion, and chilled in a way that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room.
He sat up and turned on the bedside lamp, feeling adrift, and after a moment he got out of bed and collected Daniel's sweater from the chair. As he tugged off his t-shirt and pulled the sweater over his head, the faintest hint of Daniel's aftershave wafted up from the soft wool.
He crawled back under the covers and reached to turn off the light, but as his fingers touched the switch, he paused, and then opened the small drawer instead. He took out the photo of himself and Daniel, and scrutinized its details once more. The wall was a wall. The dirt was dirt. No artifacts, no alien architecture, no intriguing natives. Why had Daniel kept this photo?
As he continued to study the picture, he found himself drawn less to Daniel's image than to his own. His shoulders were turned slightly facing Daniel and he was leaning toward him, one hand on his weapon but the other resting, palm upturned, half on his own thigh and half on Daniel's. His eyes were firmly fixed on Daniel's face and his expression was so unguarded that if he didn't know better, he'd swear that he had been under the influence of mood-altering substances.
And then it hit him. Maybe he hadn't been able to admit the truth to himself, back then, but his body couldn't lie. What he had felt for Daniel had been right there in plain view, for everyone to see. Carter had captured it in this photo and probably in others too. Maybe there was nothing he could tell her that she didn't already know.
Daniel had seen it, too, he was sure; Daniel was--had been--as adept at interpreting nonverbal signals as he was at translating the written communications of a hundred alien cultures. He had never said anything, nor reciprocated in any way. Yet he'd kept this photograph, and it was important to him, if the signs of frequent handling were to be believed.
Taking up Daniel's journal once more, he opened it and leafed through a few pages; consciously choosing not to read, deliberately unfocusing his eyes just enough to blur the words slightly, but still allowing himself the poignancy of the sight of the careful, distinctive script. Someday, when the time was right, when he could look at that handwriting without the sensation of being pressed to death under heavy stones, he would read the words. Maybe there would be an answer there for him and, if so, he would welcome it, no matter how much pain it might bring. In the meantime, he closed the volume and slid it under his pillow. Then he switched off the light and settled down on his side, slipped one hand under the pillow to rest against his talisman,
Daniel you're a star in the face of the sky
and was finally able to drift off.
His sleep was heavy and dreamless. When he awoke in the morning, one cashmere-covered arm was tucked under his head, pillowing his cheek, and the other was cradling Daniel's journal against his heart.
May 30 - July 4, 2002
NOTES: The song lyrics are from "Daniel," recorded by Elton John, lyrics by Bernie Taupin, ©1972 Dick James Music Limited.
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