By: sharilyn

EMAIL: sharilyn


So many joys in life, so much pain...and it all takes place so quickly, there and gone in the blink of a lonely god's eye. Smoke and mirrors, illusory shadows that seem to offer depth but fade into insubstantial wisps of nothing if viewed from just the right perspective...

He doesn't want to think about this, doesn't want to feel what he's feeling today; this, too, is illusion, merely some mad fantasy dredged up from the darker corners of his mind. Nothing more than biochemical processes, misfiring neurons, the uneven stimulation of genitals and brain working together to fill his soul with bittersweet torment. None of it really real, nothing solid to hang on to.

The house is cold, and he knows he should turn up the heat; a distant part of his mind tells him that coffee would be good now, too. But coffee makes him think of Daniel, and to think of Daniel is an exercise in pain -- pain on a level he feels totally inadequate to deal with. Easier to sit before the dying embers of the fire, empty scotch glass in hand, his shuttered eyes as dark and still as the room around him.

But even with the copious use of alcohol, he cannot stop his mind from working. What would he do, this mind whispers now, if his deepest, darkest thoughts had the power of instantaneous transformation--what would he do if Daniel appeared now, fully flesh and blood, at his door and demanded entrance in that polite, implacable way of his? How would he be able to accept it, to believe it? These things just don't happen in reality, at least not in what passes for reality in this dimension. If such transformations were truly possible, Charlie would have come back to him all those years ago; his son would still be a warm, vibrant, living person rather than bones mouldering in a grave.

No; this reality, UNREAL as it might be beneath all the hoopla and glitter, still has certain rules. And those rules would never allow for the thoughts--the bottomless, pain-wracked chasm of midnight longings -- that whisper and rustle fretfully in the forefront of Jack O'Neill's brain as he sits here, unchained from time and space. Lost. Adrift.

When the knock sounds on the door some interminable time later, he ignores it; it isn't real, it's all just part of the ongoing fantasy that has looped over and over and over in his head today, replaying itself ad infinitum despite his best efforts to drown it out. He is merely moving to the next level now, he thinks dully as the knock sounds again; set free by alcohol and need and the secretive cloak of winter's early darkness, his mind has unhinged itself to a degree now permitting vivid aural hallucinations. The knocking is so intrusive, so vividly real; but the sound is as elusive and deceitful as everything else in his pinpoint universe. And so he ignores it.

"Jack." He almost jumps at that one, momentarily startled that his illusions should have taken on such a lifelike quality; in spite of his silent protestations that this is not real, that he is imagining this, he cannot stop himself from squinting up through the dimness, eyeing the shadowy outline of his best friend with mild interest.

"You're drunk, Jack." Amazing, how genuine that phantom voice sounds, how solid the dark column of Daniel's body looks. Jack knows Daniel isn't really here now; he's gone off for the weekend with a group of his stuffy archaeology friends from some stuffy old university, catching up on his own illusory past of concocted memories.

It should comfort him, knowing Daniel is at least alive in this version of reality, knowing the other still moves and breathes and has his being...not like Charlie, not gone for good by the rules of this dimension.

But he may as well be, Jack thinks dully, a strange grief rising up within him. Deeper than this pain in my heart dragging me down to hell, more hopelessly impenetrable than this darkness... that is what it's like to see him everyday, to know and yet do nothing, say nothing. Just these feelings, these goddamned, torturous feelings, and there's nothing to be done. Nothing.

"I let myself in." Daniel's voice is smooth, reasonable; Jack even finds himself nodding in reply to it, feels the unaccountable acceleration of his pulse and respiration as the phantom with Daniel's shape takes a decisive step forward. "Put that bottle down, Jack; please. I've come to take you out for awhile, get you out of this dark house. Come with me, Jack." A white hand extends itself across the shadowy space separating this reasonable spirit from Jack's slouched-on-the-sofa body, and Jack merely stares at the five ghostly fingers, a look of brooding contemplation crossing his face.

"Go away, Daniel," he grates out rustily after a long moment. "You're not really here, anyway, I know that; but just... go. Get out, now."

"Sorry to disappoint you, Jack, but I AM here." The faintest glimmer of a sad smile pierces the evening gloom of Jack's living room, and the Daniel spectre moves slowly and deliberately around the coffee table, jeans-clad legs coming to a stop not six inches in front of Jack's face.

"I...uh... I'll just take that, Jack," the spirit murmurs apologetically; and Jack watches, oddly unsurprised, as the almost-empty bottle of scotch floats from his hand and decants itself onto the coffee table's cluttered surface. "Come on, Jack," Daniel says again, his quiet voice a siren's call in the darkness.

"I can't do what I want, you know," Jack confides, his tone rueful and somewhat sour. "I'm a grown man, I've paid my dues...but I can't do what I want. It's impossible. And so all that's left is this. Do you see this, Daniel? See how EMPTY all this space is, all this... stuff. It's here but it's nothing, all of it is just a big, black hole--"

"So we'll go to my place," Daniel urges softly, the orbs of his glasses flashing some strange, semaphoric code into the retinas of Jack's glazed eyes. "There's stuff there, too, but no black holes that I know of. Come on, Jack... please."

Jack feels it then, feels it as surely as though it were real; he experiences the warm contact of Daniel's hand seemingly solid on his arm, Daniel's hand sliding persuasively up the curve of his elbow to his shoulder, slender fingers moving with quietly astounding intimacy to cup the side of Jack's face. My God, that feels good, so good... Jack thinks numbly, dazed; and he wants to reach up and grab Daniel with both hands, wants to act out all the torturous, tormenting, unbearably erotic longings tearing at his soul.

"God...!" he hears himself choke out on a rough sob, and he pulls himself away from phantom Daniel's touch, wedges himself grimly into the farthest, deepest corner of the sofa and scrubs both hands over his face. DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT repeats itself over and over in his alcohol-laced mind; but there isn't enough booze in the world to disguise or distort what he knows to be true. There is a reality that supersedes this one, that lies outside the boundaries of all of space and time... and it's as real, as painful and as hopeless as the concrete knowledge of his son's bones lying lonely in the ground.

"Fuck, Daniel; you really are here... aren't you?" Jack's voice comes out low and strained and painfully exhausted; he huddles at the very end of the sofa, his words muffled behind the curtain of his hands. But Daniel -- Daniel, who is indeed real and very present in this particular dimension--merely nods quiet comprehension and sits himself carefully, primly almost, on the very edge of the sofa.

"'Fraid so, Jack," he apologizes without rancor, and his thigh jitters nervously, so close to touching Jack's and yet as far from doing so as the earth is from the moon. "Come home with me, Jack; you can have my bed, I'll take the couch. I've put clean sheets on."

"Hmm. Clean sheets." A disbelieving snort erupts from behind Jack's hands, and a second later the dark holes of his eyes become visible between his spreading fingers. He eyes Daniel's proximity with weary horror, a sigh sliding from his lips as he finds he can go no further, can wedge himself no deeper into the forgotten corner of all that is. "Why are you here, Daniel?"

"Um... I'm not sure, really." A note of mild bemusement colors Daniel's words as he dangles his hands between his leanly muscled thighs and contemplates the ghostly outline of all ten of his fingers in contrast to the dark material of his jeans. "I just... I wasn't enjoying the conference as much as I thought I would, and I came home early and was going to work through the night tonight on that latest Goa'uld translation... but then, suddenly, I knew I needed to be... here. To come over, to make sure you were all right."

"You came. You see. Now you can go." Jack's tone is completely detached now, one hundred percent disinterested; but even in the dimness Daniel can see how badly the other man's hands are shaking, and something opens up and breaks with unbelievable painfulness, right in the center of Daniel's chest.

"Okay. Okay, I'll go," Daniel murmurs agreeably, sliding his hands with surreptitious care back up from between his thighs, gliding those same hands up his own torso, over his own heart, feeling it pound and strum and reaffirm the truth that has suddenly hit him with blinding force.

"I'll go, Jack," he repeats carefully, turning his body very, very slowly toward the other man's so as not to startle him, so as not to catch him too off guard. "But before I do, I want to ask you something."

"Jesus, he wants to ask me something," Jack mutters, two fingers rising to pluck agitatedly, worriedly, at the nubby material of the sofa arm. "So, do it, already. Ask, then go."

"Not so fast, Jack; you also have to ANSWER," Daniel tsks, and Jack risks sending a muted glare his way. Damn your slippery wiles, he seems to say, and Daniel feels a very small smile ghost across his lips.

"Okay, okay; just get it over with." Jack's voice is a raw growl, and he actually flinches as Daniel adjusts his weight so that his body is sliding across the sofa cushion into Jack's space, his thigh just brushing against the side of the older man's knee. Something very like a groan rises up from deep in Jack's chest cavity, and for a brief beat of time Daniel is sure the other will spring violently up from the sofa and slam his way out of the room.

But then Jack seems to settle into himself, to sink into gloomy complaisance; with a last, muttered expletive he carefully spreads both hands across his own knees and gazes down at them with somber attentiveness.

"Why did you get drunk, Jack?" Daniel's voice is even, neither too gentle nor too accusing. But they are such soft words utters, so muted and empathetic in this dimness; and the question that follows without volition from Daniel's lips opens new floodgates of misery in Jack's soul.

"Is it Charlie?"

"That's two questions, Daniel," Jack hears himself saying, and he wants this to just be over, wants to find some dark, warm, quiet hole and climb down inside it and sleep deeply, so deeply.

"Sorry; answer me, anyway," Daniel retorts, and there is a vein of indomitable stubborness underlying the subtle humor in his voice. Patiently he waits, not looking into Jack's face; and after an eternity of smothering silence, Jack's voice sounds in the growing darkness.

"It isn't Charlie; it isn't ALWAYS Charlie," he amends on a sigh. Then his tone becomes muted, subdued, and he finds the courage to draw Daniel's eyes to his own, to hold the other's gaze, unflinching.

"It's you," he murmurs helplessly, hopelessly, and he waits for Daniel to misunderstand, to be hurt or at the very least, confused. But Daniel merely nods once, slowly, chewing at his lower lip as though deep in thought; unconsciously his hand drifts down, settles like mist over Jack's gently trembling fingers, closes over fingers and rounded kneecap and fills Jack's whole body with sudden, pulsing warmth.

"I see," Daniel says after a second, after forever. "I see." And he does. Jack sees the realization in the younger man's eyes as they lift to his, watches as the knowledge crystallizes and makes itself real in the infinite depths of Daniel's dilated pupils.

They sit in silence after that, neither moving nor speaking; Dnaiel's hand over Jack's is a benison, a mute answer to a half-formed prayer. It is ecstasy and agony, and the contact of skin to skin, bone over bone, is both embarrassment and succor. Is this really real, Jack thinks distantly, quietly; am I so drunk I really can't tell?

And then Daniel moves, Daniel turns, his hand never leaving its spot over Jack's hand, Jack's knee; he turns with every other part of his body, blue eyes impossibly deep and still and calm. And the words leave his mouth, a murmured benediction:

"Come home with me, Jack." Jack feels it now, feels it shift and crack and crumble silently, irrevocably, within him; he feels the awful relief of a crushing weight lifted, the unfathomable lightness of freedom in the midst of a life of lies. He can't speak it, can't find words in any human language to express the sudden, apocalyptic release of his soul. Tomorrow everything might be different; tomorrow things might get tangled and dark and lost again. But right now there is only this, only the feel of warm flesh, the sound of quickened breath, the patter of unchained hearts. There is only Daniel, silently pulling Jack to his feet, and there is Jack, swaying uncertainly against him but then steadying himself with arms around the other's neck, his face buried in the crook of Daniel's shoulder. The wanting hurts, hurts with a pain so exquisite it takes his breath away, robs him of his will; he can feel Daniel tremble suddenly against him, body vibrating with a mix of apprehension and revelatory surprise. Jack feels his own desire even as Daniel's stirs to nascent life in the dark, secret space between them; they are both struck silent, they are both hyper-aware.

"Jack..." Daniel breathes into his face, lips tantalizingly close, the gust of air they expel fantastically warm and fragrant with the remembrance of chocolate, of coffee. "Jack."

"Take me home, Daniel," Jack manages, his hands clutching, holding, beseeching. "Take me with you, now."

"I will, Jack; I will," Daniel murmurs low, emphatic. And Jack knows this is real, this is the dimension he has tried so hard to find, to return to. This is home; this, life.