Daniel crouched in the dark room behind a box consisting of widely-spaced planks. He hoped that while he could see the door quite clearly, the box would hide him from casual searchers. Sam and Cam were pressed into recesses to either side of the door. Vala and Teal'c were well hidden in other nooks in the room. He took a deep breath and held the P-90 ready as a figure blocked the bright light streaming in from outside.
The man in the door shouted.
"Shit," said someone behind him. His heart nearly stopped at the sound of that voice. Then there was a blast of automatic weapons fire, but it wasn't enough to prevent the enemy from getting off a single staff weapon blast.
Sam and Cam rolled out of their hiding places and burst through the door. They took cover behind the scrubby bushes outside and lay down a field of fire. Daniel should have been moving, following Teal'c and Vala to support them, to find a way out, now that the group outside had been alerted to their presence.
He couldn't even think about that.
He whirled around to see what had happened behind him. The wall was illuminated by a surreally silent scene of destruction. Smoke obscured everything. The fire made the smoke glow orange. Daniel could see muzzle-bursts.
A mirror. He had been feet away from a quantum mirror without even knowing it.
He crab-walked over to the body slumped on the ground. The staff blast had taken a grapefruit-sized chunk out of his chest. There was bloody scorched flesh and bone. Daniel's eyes fell on the familiar face, and he felt his heart constrict as if the Jack lying there were his own Jack.
Jack saw him and smiled weakly. He was clawing at his chest – reaching for his tags, Daniel realized. They lay, undamaged, just to the right of the horrible wound. Jack caught them and with a convulsive yank broke away the duplicate tag. He gripped the arm of Daniel's coat tight with his other fist, staring deeply into Daniel's eyes. His grip relaxed and that was the end.
With shaking fingers, Daniel reached out and shut Jack's empty eyes.
He took the tag from Jack's limp fingers. The room was now dimly lit by the silently flickering mirror. In the light of those flames, Daniel stared at the bit of metal.
Jonathan C. Jackson-O'Neill.
He blinked, not trusting his own eyes. He flipped the tag over, pushing his glasses up and rubbing his eyes with his other hand. He looked down again, and this time read from the back, θα υπερνικούσαν τον κόσμο.
It wasn't his own handwriting. His Greek was hasty with familiarity – he had learned his Greek letters with the Latin ones, and his handwriting was terrible in both alphabets. These letters were neat, drawn lovingly as a work of art, not scribbled to catch a passing thought. Daniel knew the words were intended as a final message from this Jack to his own Daniel, a message between warriors and lovers.
His eyes fell back to Jack's still hands. He wore a wedding band.
Footsteps behind him finally broke through his shock. He rose and spun, raising his weapon, only to find Teal'c, staring at the body of their dead friend.
"It appears to be a mirror, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said softly. Prompted, Daniel looked again at the scene Jack had left behind. Bodies lay on the floor, grouped in such a way that Daniel thought they were probably attempting to follow Jack through. He saw himself. Very, very dead. That never stopped being unsettling. Jack's dog tag gouged into his palm. Without realizing it, he had closed a white-knuckled fist around it.
"He doesn't belong here, Teal'c," Daniel said. "We should send him back."
Teal'c nodded solemnly. Sam and Vala had appeared from somewhere.
"Don't touch the mirror," Sam warned.
Teal'c took Jack's shoulders. Daniel gathered up his feet. With care they maneuvered until they could swing him toward the barrier, letting him fall through with his own momentum.
On the other side, Jack slumped over, his hand falling onto the collapsed Daniel's chest. To his surprise, the other Daniel moved weakly, and caught Jack's dead hand before going still again.
"How do we turn it off?" Cam asked.
"We don't," Daniel replied.
"Then I say we get the hell out of here before something bad decides come through that thing." Cam was watching the mirror with extreme suspicion.
It wasn't until he was back in the Gateroom that he realized he had not returned the dog tag with Jack's body. He felt sad that Jack's message never made it to his Daniel. But he thought of their clasped hands, and decided the question was moot for that universe.
But it wasn't for this one.
He bought the plane ticket as soon as he could get back to his office from the debrief – the shortest flight to DC, business class.
He discovered it really was impossible to get drunk on airplane alcohol.
He wore Jack's tag with his own under his Archaeologists do it in the dirt tee shirt.
He disembarked at Dulles and got straight into the Super Shuttle to Jack's town house in Arlington. Well, actually, you didn't go straight anywhere at that airport. He could cross the galaxy faster than getting from Concourse D to the Main Terminal. He was tired and washed out and the flight had gotten in right on time at 1349. Jack wouldn’t be done at work until a lot later. Daniel had the van drop him at the Caribou Coffee across the street from Jack's building and switched from downers to uppers, as it were. The coffee was good, but left his stomach unpleasantly acidic. He considered an over-priced, pre-made sandwich – decided that would only make it worse.
He read for hours, and as it got dark, he glanced up occasionally toward Jack's floor until he saw the lights come on. Then he gave up his window seat and walked over.
"Helloooo," Jack said, in response to Daniel's call from the door phone.
"Hey, Jack," Daniel said.
The door clicked and buzzed instantly. Daniel signed in at the desk and waited for the elevator.
"Hey," called Jack from the kitchen as Daniel pushed through the open door. He dropped his overnight bag in the front hall and went around the corner to find Jack standing barefoot and shower-damp in PT sweats and no shirt, pondering a neatly typed list tacked to the wall. "How do you feel about take-out pad thai?" he asked.
"Works for me," Daniel said. He felt a little queasy now; it probably really was time to put something substantial in his stomach, preferably high in carbs. He didn't go into the kitchen, but walked on into the living room. He was always amazed at how big this apartment was – more bedrooms than Jack's house in Colorado Springs.
"You can have the second master. It doesn't get the morning sun, which I know you appreciate," Jack said, his call completed. He gave Daniel a critical look. Daniel imagined he could see how long it had been since Daniel had slept; the accumulation of guilt at the most recent failure; the weight of loss; the strain of survival.
Jack didn't comment on it.
"When did you land? I could have called over and had the guys at the desk let you in."
Daniel waved vaguely and sat on the couch. The oblong of metal on his chest felt distinct, warmer than his other tags. He pulled them all off by the chain, handing them to Jack. Then he stretched out, suddenly more tired than even he had realized. He closed his eyes and let his back enjoy the softness of the cushions.
"I heard you guys found another mirror," Jack commented neutrally.
"I don't understand how they work," Daniel said. "They're supposed to show infinite possible universes. So how is it that we so often find ourselves there?"
"Maybe that's part of their mechanism. Finding something in the infinite that is relevant to the viewer," Jack suggested.
"That is remarkably…zen…for Jack O'Neill," Daniel sighed.
"Hey, you know me. Never met a better Buddhist," Jack said. The phone rang – the double ring for the front door.
"Jeez, was the guy across the street with a big pot of noodles and a jar of Jif when I called?" Jack asked. He got up again and grabbed his bomber jacket on the way out. "I'll be back with food in a sec."
They ate. Jack had left the tags across the room when he went down to get the food.
"You didn't even look at it," Daniel said.
Jack glanced up and followed Daniel's line of sight to the tags.
"It's mine," Jack said, then slurped another long noodle into his mouth with a rude, smacking sound. "I read the report. And even if I hadn't, why else would you be here?"
Daniel pushed his plate away.
"Look at it."
Jack's eyes narrowed. He set aside his fork, and went over to the coffee table, sitting on the couch and picking up the chain. He flipped past both of Daniel's tags to finally read the extra one.
He sighed and put it down.
"The Greek is from The Symposium," Daniel said. "…they would overcome the world."
Jack rubbed both hands over his face and the let his arms fall to his sides. He rested his head back on the cushions.
"Why are you here, Daniel?"
"Because there's no reason we can't have what they had."
Jack gave a dry chuckle and seemed to gather himself back up again. He came back across the room and began clearing away their dinner.
"And you think we want that?" Jack asked.
"I do," Daniel said simply, not intending the vow, only hearing it as he said it.
Daniel ached to have what they had. He hadn't understood how deep the roots of that longing had reached down into his soul, until he saw the wedding band and read that little snippet of Plato written in Jack Jackson-O'Neill's handwriting.
Jack laughed again, and this time it seemed, less dry, more bitter.
"Since when, Daniel? You have never expressed the slightest interest in a romantic relationship with me."
"I learned a long time ago that it gets very awkward with straight male friends and coworkers if I let myself appear interested."
"Fair enough, Jack said. He stared at Daniel hard again. He smiled a little, eyes flickering down to the writing on Daniel's shirt. "But suddenly our friendship and working relationship aren't worth protecting anymore?" he asked.
"I never thought you might… not be straight… before," Daniel replied.
Jack's smile turned apologetic.
"Alternate universe, Daniel. Just because he was bent doesn't mean I am."
The bottom fell out of Daniel's stomach. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them to the reality he had always known.
"Well, this was fun," he smiled weakly. "Maybe I should go. I'll stay at the Ritz in Tysons. It will put me convenient to the airport in the morning." Daniel rose from the couch, feeling a little unsteady, trying to remember where he had left his bag when he came in. Then he thought, forget the bag. The staff at the Ritz would handle everything for him.
"Daniel, don't," Jack protested. "It's late. You'd have to take a cab. There's no reason for that."
"You mean, aside from me making an utter ass of myself?" Daniel asked. He didn't say my utter humiliation because that would imply somehow it was Jack's fault, and it wasn't.
Jack caught his arm to stop Daniel's building momentum toward the door. He put himself in Daniel's path, forcing Daniel to meet his eyes.
"You've had a difficult couple of days. It's OK. Things get said after a mission like that. Seeing someone close to you die shakes things loose. It's happened to all of us. I know."
Jack didn't seem offended or disgusted. He just looked worried.
Daniel sighed and gave in. He was worn out from the day. A cab ride did sound like a disaster waiting to happen.
"OK," he agreed.
"Good," Jack said, and let him go. He turned to go down the short hallway. He flipped on the light and started prowling the room. He went into the bathroom and rummaged in the cabinets. Daniel followed him and saw him putting out clean towels. The bed was already made.
"I'll leave the kitchen light on," Jack said as he finished his housekeeping tasks. "In case you need anything."
"Thanks," Daniel said tiredly. Jack was already acting like Jack, as if Daniel had never said anything. That was good. Easier. Better. Daniel shut the door, physically and metaphorically, and stripped for a very long shower, then collapsed into the bed to try to sleep the whole thing off.
He woke up to find Jack sitting against the headboard on the other side of the bed. At Daniel's surprised mumble, Jack turned the bedside light on to its lowest, nightlight setting.
Daniel lay in the cocoon of the comforter and high-thread-count sheets. The covers were pulled around his ears. He must look like two eyes and a tuft of hair to Jack. He stayed where he was, maintaining the warm lassitude of sleep, just slightly turning so that he could see most of Jack's shoulder and face, instead of just his hip.
Jack was holding something.
"I thought you should see this," he said. His voice sounded rusty and intimate, pitched to match the soft light and the heavy darkness, but still too loud and too far away for Daniel's dream-state. Jack looked down at eyes-and-hair-tuft Daniel. Daniel reluctantly reached a hand out from under the blankets.
The tags were cool in Daniel's sleep-warm palm. The rubber silencers and raised letters were familiar. Daniel brought them to rest on the pillow, hand pressed against Jack's body.
They were Jack's own tags. O'NEILL JONATHAN C. B NEG ROMAN CATHOLIC.
In a drowsy, half-sleep, Daniel stared at them, letting them lie in his hand, heavy, holding him down. He almost drifted off again.
Jack shifted from the headboard. He lay down with his head on the pillow, dark eyes shadowed, watching him.
"Daniel, you're not looking at them," he murmured. So close.
"They're yours," Daniel's voice was burred with sleep. Under Jack's gaze, Daniel made no effort to break the honey-spell of his dream state. He held onto it, even as his fingers moved slowly, rotating the metal, so that he was looking at the back.
The same careful handwriting, but a different message.
Oύτε οποιοσδήποτε άλλοσδήποτε κινητήριος
"Nor any other motive," Daniel translated by ingrained reflex.
"There is only one principle to guide men who would live nobly," Jack said, paraphrasing. "Years ago, I decided that in the very likely circumstance that I ever bought it out there, I wanted to be sure you knew…"
Daniel was suddenly wide awake, hyper-aware that he was face-to-face on the pillows with a man who had just said I love you to him by way of quotations from Greek primary texts. Jack. Jack, who was bare-chested and silver-haired and apprehensive. Jack, who was laying it all on the line even though a few hours ago he had denied everything. Jack, who had decided to trust him.
Daniel pressed the back of his hand against warm skin and rough-soft chest-hair.
"I love you," Daniel said simply. "I want to kiss you."
Jack visibly swallowed.
For a heart-stopping moment Daniel wondered if somehow, in spite of everything, he had misunderstood Jack's purpose, then Jack was closing the tiny distance between them, and Jack was on Daniel's pillow, drawing their bodies together with a strong arm and a heavy leg and every place their bodies touched burned through the layers of cloth between them and Jack's dry thin lips were surprisingly soft and his tongue was hot and quick and eager. Kissing him was unexpected and wonderful. Daniel fought his way out from under his pile of bedding, so that he could touch the amazing expanse of skin that Jack's body offered – his arm, his back, the long stretch of his side and hip, the rise of his buttocks through soft cotton.
Jack's breath was coming in irregular puffs. His weight was on Daniel's thigh. Daniel wanted to know and feel more. He kicked away the sheets still tangled around his feet and rolled himself on top of Jack. He wanted to confirm that Jack was… yes, he was. Very hard and very ready.
Jack said he wrote those words years ago.
"What do you want?" Daniel asked him. He felt breathless. Giddy. Possibilities opening up before him. "You can have anything." Jack groaned as Daniel rocked their bodies together. Jack's arms came around behind him in an iron grip and Daniel moved in response. They fell into rhythm effortlessly. Daniel would have protested that there was more they could do, that they didn't need to rush, but he felt the same urgency. It was too sudden, too unexpected for anything that might involve changing positions or lubricant or condoms or any sort of rational thought. All there was time to do was hold on. Daniel thought about his recent sex life and felt a distant pang of regret that it would be six months before he could offer Jack his renewed purity, but then Jack's forearm came up, his fingers gripped the back of Daniel's head drawing him down into a sloppy, violent kiss. They finished in a mess of protein-drenched cotton and flannel, but Jack didn't let go. His tight hug barely eased. Daniel didn't fight it, just let his body collapse, his face pressed into Jack's sweaty hair. He snaked his tongue out to taste the juncture of Jack's neck and shoulder. He felt the muscles contract and release though Jack's entire body as a shudder washed over him in response.
"I never thought about what I wanted," Jack admitted. Daniel felt the words vibrate between their chests. "We may have to violate the Platonic ideal of older lover guiding his youthful beloved and let you take the lead on this one."
"Last I checked I was not a beardless youth," Daniel reminded him. "Also, the Platonic ideal of lover and beloved isn't complicated. Beloved bends over and takes the lover's huge cock up his ass, which, let me be clear, is perfectly fine with me."
Jack gave a low groan.
"I just had the orgasm of a decade five minutes ago, but you keep talking like that, and you might have to make good on that promise."
"Anything, anytime," Daniel said, but he felt Jack relaxing under him and around him into the long, deep breathing of sleep. So Daniel rested his heavy head by Jack's on the pillow and slept, too.