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Whiskey and Dust

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It was so dark that the only light on the road was from the rental's headlights. They'd been driving for several hours now, mostly in silence. Daniel had offered to drive at around sunset; Jack had barked a quick laugh. "Do you remember how?"

"Um, not really--"

"Hah!"

"--but I didn't remember how to shoot a zat, either, until I had to."

At that, Jack cast him an unreadable look, but didn't reply. He didn't seem tired yet, although the coffee in the cup-holder was hours cold.

Daniel dozed off again; he seemed to do a lot of that now, when he wasn't running around getting shot at by Jaffa. He blinked back to awareness when Jack grunted and slowed the car. After a final curve, he slowed even more, turning sharply off the main road onto an unpaved trail. In the sedan's headlights, long grasses and thick leaves glimmered with dew, to disappear under their tires. Wherever they were going, it wasn't a popular destination.

"This it?" Daniel asked, over a yawn. He still hadn't figured out why they were doing this, and Jack hadn't really explained why he'd showed up at the VIP quarters with a packed bag for Daniel and a stubborn look on his face. He'd just towed Daniel off the base and to the airport, flapping an impatient hand at Daniel's questions.

The drive ended abruptly at a small house; the headlights of the car swung across a screened-in porch and concrete front step, then illuminated a wooden walkway that extended into the darkness. Daniel opened the car door and realized there must be a lake or pond out there: the cool fall air had the smell of water.

Jack left the headlights on while he went around the corner of the house; Daniel walked a little way out onto the dock and simply stood, listening to the night. There weren't a lot of insect sounds, but something jumped and splashed in the water, out beyond the light. He hadn't been alone, except in his quarters on base, since they'd come back from the mission against Anubis. There was no sound here, other than the soft hush of the wind in the trees and Jack's footsteps as he came back from wherever he'd gone.

"Daniel?"

"Over here." Daniel turned away from the tempting dark. "What were you doing?"

"Firing up the generator," said Jack. He turned the headlights off, sinking them into complete darkness. "Can't spend our leave fishing and playing cards if we can't--there--" a small light went on over the door "--see the cards."

The house, when they went inside, was cozy and cluttered in a way that seemed familiar, the way so many things did all the time now. "Have I--" Daniel began to ask, turning around in the middle of the living room, his bag in hand.

Jack slung his own duffel onto the floor in front of the fireplace. "No, you haven't."

There was a small loft upstairs, with a single bed. Daniel put his bag up there and came down, to find Jack unpacking groceries into an archaic refrigerator. Daniel groaned.

"What is it?" Jack's eyes were sharp as he looked up from stacking bottles of beer in the bottom drawer.

"Just more of the same. How can I know that your fridge must be at least forty years old, but I don't remember my mother's name?" Daniel threw himself into a chair. God, he was tired of this.

"Claire Ballard," said Jack mildly, closing the refrigerator. There was a cabinet over the sink with glasses: he took two down, and found a bottle under the sink, half-full. "Want one? The water's good, but there won't be any ice until tomorrow."

"Sure."

Jack poured for them both, and they moved into the living room. Daniel took the deep armchair. He ran his hand over the arm, where the varnish had long since worn off, exposing the lighter wood. Jack sprawled on the couch, one hand stretched out along the back of the couch, the other balancing his glass on his leg.

"So," said Daniel, when it had become evident that Jack wasn't going to say anything. The whiskey was harsh on his tongue. He wondered if he actually liked it.

"So?" Jack wasn't giving anything away.

Daniel rolled his eyes. "So, why am I here?"

"To fish?"

Daniel waited.

"Okay, okay. You looked kinda freaked." Jack grimaced and took a drink.

"What do you mean, freaked?"

Jack drummed his fingers. "You've been back less than a week, and nobody is even giving you a chance to breathe. I figured you needed to get out of there. Get some air."

It had been intense, Daniel admitted, all these changes. So many people who knew him, who wanted something from him. They were all nice--he thought--but it was all so fast. The memories were coming back, but in fits and starts. Nothing for a day, and then a cascade of impressions and horror at the least convenient time. "All right," said Daniel. "And thanks, I guess."

"You guess?" Jack finished his drink and pushed himself up off the couch.

Okay, now the man was just being difficult. Daniel buried the irritation; he was too tired for an argument. "I mean it, thanks."

"No problem. Get some sleep, we got a lot to do tomorrow." Jack grabbed his bag and opened one of the doors. "Bathroom's in here," he said, pointing to the other door. "Sheets are in the closet."

"Right," said Daniel, blinking. The bedroom door closed with a quiet snick.

He slept about as well as he expected, which meant that some time after midnight, he jerked awake, mind flooded with horror. "Shit." That one was bad. His brain hurt, and the images wouldn't keep flashing. He wouldn't get back to sleep again, so he rolled over and stumbled to the stairs. There was a bookshelf in the living room, maybe he could read for a while.

The flashback hit as he stepped down onto the floor, so hard that he stumbled against the armchair, almost knocking it over. A dark room, hiding in the dark, and the world was spinning around him--he had a gun in his hand, for some reason. Hiding from something... Daniel clung to the back of the armchair, panting. Jesus.

The door to the bedroom opened. "Daniel?"

"Sorry," muttered Daniel, fighting to stay upright.

Jack flipped on the light; Daniel winced. "Hey, you okay?" asked Jack. "You look kinda--" He paused, took Daniel's arm, and steered him around to the couch. "Sit down."

Daniel clenched his eyes closed. It didn't help. This was the worst yet; he felt untethered, swinging back and forth between the memory and now. Jack kept a hand on his arm, and the touch, the particular sensation of the roughness of Jack's fingers closed around his forearm, seemed familiar, somehow, even if he couldn't actually remember anything specific.

It was strange, what he remembered and what he didn't. He had flashes of them all, all the SGC people, but so little of it had any emotional content: just images, really. He saw Sam smiling, Jack reaching out to pat his shoulder, Teal'c nodding to him. He knew this meant they were his friends, but there was nothing there, no response. No feeling associated with it. He wondered sometimes if that meant he just wasn't an emotional person.

Daniel was going again now, sliding back to that dark room. A closet, maybe? Shelves? He moaned, and he wasn't sure if it was real or the flashback. Just terror, and he was shaking, his heart jackhammering, sweating--

"Daniel!" Hands on his shoulders, shaking him. "Daniel, what is it?" Jack's voice, here, real, hard hands on his shoulders, squeezing through the t-shirt, hot breath on his face.

Daniel opened his eyes. Jack crouched in front of him, frowning. "You were there," Daniel said in mild surprise, staring. The dark eyes and hard mouth were suddenly far more familiar, as if slotted into a new position in his mind. Colored with emotion, even, if not memory.

"You with me?" Jack shook him again. Daniel realized this was the first time since they'd left the mountain that Jack had looked at him as if they were more than acquaintances. As if Daniel's well-being weren't just a matter of professional concern.

"You were there," Daniel said again. "In a... closet? I was terrified of something."

Jack blinked. "Something coming back?"

Daniel nodded gingerly. It felt as if it was over, the rush of memories subsiding. He could feel them settling in. They wouldn't all be connected, but there would be enough, maybe, to give some of the flashes context. "There was a girl..."

"There usually is," said Jack with a fleeting grin, and sat back on his heels. "Do you remember her name?"

"Umm. Sheila?" He could see her: tall, dark-haired, pretty. But tainted, somehow.

"Shyla," said Jack. "She was a piece of work. Got you hooked on the sarcophagus, and you nearly went nuts when we took you off it." He grunted a little and moved over to lean against the armchair, hip cocked. His sweatpants were paint-stained, his t-shirt thin with age. Daniel could see the outline of his dogtags through the material.

"And the closet?" Daniel asked. "What was that about?" Why did he remember clinging to Jack, sobbing helplessly?

Jack shrugged. "You flipped out on base, ended up hiding in a storage room. You got better."

"I guess so. I mean, I must have, since I'm here now."

"And not noticeably crazier than usual." Jack's mouth twitched.

Daniel sighed. "I guess."

"So," said Jack after a brief silence. "You okay? Think you can sleep?"

"I guess." But the memory of the dream stayed with him, and he looked away from the stairs to the loft. "Guess I'll just sit here for a bit."

"Okay." But Jack just stood there, face shadowed. It was a little unsettling, being the focus of that dark gaze.

Daniel pushed himself off the couch, wandered over to the bookshelf. Mostly popular fiction, some Tom Clancy, a row of ancient Readers' Digest Condensed novels. He picked up The Killer Angels, opened it to a random page. It didn't look familiar. When he turned around, Jack was still there.

Watching him.

The next flashback hit without warning, the memories roaring into his consciousness with the unstoppable force of a landslide, of the wormhole opening. Daniel staggered. He saw Jack's face, twisted in pain, in frustration--and then grey with despair. Hard hands on Daniel's body. Jack sitting on the floor in a strange yellow room, his head in his hands. Jack standing naked in front of a bathroom mirror, turning to flash a grin half-hidden behind shaving cream.

Daniel dropped the book.

Before his knees gave out, Jack was there, arms strong around him. "Got you, got you Daniel, it's okay. It's okay." Jack kept talking, his hands grounding Daniel--again--as he helped him back to the couch. "Give it time, it's okay."

Jack was here, with him. But Jack died, and died again, and opened his eyes to argue with Daniel, his anger weaker every time, his soul attenuating as Daniel watched. Thinning to foil, so easily torn. While Daniel watched, and did nothing.

"I saw it, oh, god, I saw you, and I didn't--I didn't--" The words spilled from him, and then he caught himself. He couldn't say the rest. What had he done, or not done? It was drifting off, so hard to pin down.

"Saw what, Daniel?" Jack's voice was level, his hands didn't tighten on Daniel's shoulders. He ducked his head to look at Daniel's face.

Daniel swallowed, squeezing the threadbare tweed of the couch cushions in his hands. The weave--cheap polyester threads--was scratchy and hard, a little slick. He could still taste the whiskey, and the mint of the toothpaste he had used. Jack's arm was warm across his back, one hand resting on his right shoulder, the other wrapped around his left bicep. He was here, at Jack's cabin. In Minnesota: he remembered that much.

It was all falling into place now. Kelowna--and Jack. Baal--and Jack. Abydos--and Jack. Vis Uban--and a face that was in no way familiar.

Except it was, and he knew every line of it, the way he knew that the Clancy novels were Sam's gift--a long-running gag--and the Shaara was Jack's, and the condensed novels had been Jack's mother's, and for that he'd never get rid of them. Even though Daniel bitched every time they came up for a long leave about the waste of good shelf space.

Daniel shifted sideways, enough to dislodge Jack's arm around his shoulders, and turned to face Jack straight-on. He knew, now. Wondered why the easy stuff--reading Goa'uld, shooting a zat--had come back so easily. When this was the important stuff.

Jack met his gaze, his eyes full of uncertainty.

"You lied," Daniel said, putting his hand on Jack's face, tracing the line of his jaw. Watched him swallow. "I've been here before."

"I had to know, Daniel--" Jack's voice was close to breaking.

"I'm here." Daniel pulled himself forward, across the gap: death, Ascension, Oma's interference all crossed in a breath, the blood pulsing in his head, in Jack's throat, under his own fingertips. And then he was there, his arms wrapped around Jack, breathing in Jack and whiskey and dust, sweat and hope and home.

Jack's arms closed about him fiercely, toppling them slowly backwards on the couch.

"I'm here."

END