Return to parts 1-3
". . . I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved daydream, on the thought of the separation of these elements. If each, I told myself, could be but housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable. . . ." (Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
Daniel convinced Frasier to let him take Leda home, but only by promising to check in with her every few hours. Leda was silent in the car and let him undress her and lay her in the bed where she curled into a ball and fell instantly into a deep sleep. She was still sleeping when Sam and Jack arrived independently with dinner and the three of them sat down to an odd meal of pizza and Japanese food. Late the next morning, when Sam came back with her laptop, Leda was still asleep, having woken for only a few minutes in the middle of the night to drink half a cup of tea. Sam worked silently in Daniel's office for most of the afternoon while he paced, took a shower, paced some more, dozed fitfully on the couch for about ten seconds and continued pacing. By the time Jack arrived at six o'clock, this time with Teal'c and Thai food, Leda was sitting on the couch in one of Daniel's plaid flannel shirts and a pair of sweat pants, staring at the darkening sky.
Seeing Jack at the dining table with two warm brown bags of food, Leda saluted him. "Colonel Jack."
"Howya doin' Rip?" Jack responded, returning her salute. When she raised a quizzical eyebrow he clarified, "Van Winkle."
"Ri-ight." Leda's brow furrowed. "Oh, Daniel," she called and waited until he poked his head around the corner from the kitchen, "Just how long was I out, anyway?"
He looked at the ceiling, calculating, "About thirty hours."
"Ri-ight. That explains why I'm so hungry." She climbed the couple of steps to the dining room and started rooting through the bags. "Right on! Spring rolls!" Not bothering with the plate Daniel was holding out toward her, she wandered off toward the couch with the whole box of spring rolls. Settling down next to Teal'c with her feet tucked under her, she leaned her head on his shoulder, chewing contentedly. "Spring roll?" she offered him the box.
He took a roll and finished it in one bite. "Thank you, Dr. Novak," he said politely.
"Teal'c, please please please call me Leda, or I promise I'll never share another spring roll with you again."
"Thank you, Leda," he amended, reaching for another roll and having to chase the box around a bit as Leda's generosity had apparently run its course.
While he unloaded the rest of the food from the bags, Jack asked, as though a propos of nothing, "So, Leda, how's the brain?"
Carter, dropped her chopsticks and glared at him, while from the kitchen they heard a clatter of cutlery and, after a second, Daniel's pointedly calm voice, "Uh, Jack?"
Turning to look through the door, Jack's face fell as his shoulders came up in a "who me?" shrug. "What?" His disappearance into the kitchen was accompanied by a lot of furious whispering.
Handing Teal'c her precious box of spring rolls and ordering him to "Guard this with your life," Leda got up and made it to the kitchen in time to catch the end of Daniel's speech.
"--concerned the less she remembers the better."
"Yeah, well the spooks aren't gonna see it that way, Daniel," Jack objected, twisting the cap from a bottle of beer and tossing it into the sink. "As far as they're concerned she's intel now and you know it. It's us or the NID."
"Fuck the NID, and fuck intel." Daniel spat, his whisper becoming strangled. "Hammond promised me nobody goes near her until she's ready, and that's Mac's call, not Kennedy's."
"And I don't get a say, right?" Leda interrupted, leaning on the doorjamb and fixing them both with a critical stare. Turning to look at her, both men said "Oy," in unison. She raised a hand and waved away their apologies. "It's okay. I'm resigned. It's a big picture, save the world thing."
Jack looked from Leda to Daniel and back again, then swore under his breath. "Look, Leda," he said, chagrined, "I can be an a--"
"I said don't worry about it." She came into the kitchen and stood with her hands on her hips staring at the floor. "Okay," she raised her head and met Jack's eyes. "So I'm intel. But apparently I suck at it because I got nothing. Nada." She bit her lip, her eyes shadowed, scared. "But those NID guys, they--Jesus." She covered her mouth with her hand and then ran her hand through her hair. "If I remember anything I'm coming to you. Okay?"
"Right." Jack saluted sloppily and her face relaxed into a tentative smile. "I can handle Kennedy," he assured her. "The prick," he concluded, taking a swig of beer.
"And you," she turned to Daniel. "You have got to relax. You're going to give yourself an aneurism."
"Uh-huh." She raised an eyebrow archly and pointed to his hand.
He looked down to see that the paper napkins he was holding had been crushed into a sweaty mass. "Damn." After unsuccessfully trying to smooth them out on the counter, he knelt and groped under the sink for a new package of paper towels.
Leda declared the topic closed. "And right now I just need some time. And a beer." Jack handed her his and she took a swig, winking at him before turning to stroll back to the table where Teal'c was fending off Sam's attempts at the spring rolls. "And I'd like to talk about, oh, I dunno, baseball."
"Season's over," Jack shouted from inside the fridge where he was retrieving bottles for himself and Sam.
"Okay, you pick."
"That's a matter of opinion," Daniel grumbled, dropping the roll of paper towels into the mess of cartons and dishes on the table.
"Geez, Daniel," Sam said, "you don't have to put out the fancy stuff just for us." Daniel shot her a killing glare, but she was oblivious, dabbing with a paper towel at some green curry sauce on the front of her sweatshirt.
"My uncle Derek was a skip," Leda said approvingly around another mouthful of spring roll.
Joining them at the table, Jack made a move for the coveted box, but Teal'c held it out of his reach. "This is Leda's, O'Neill. You will have to find something else to eat."
"Is this the Derek with the rubber bands?" Jack asked, making a feint to the left, deking right and snagging the last spring roll.
"I so have to meet this guy."
* * *
After that, Daniel's life began to split in two. In the daytime Leda lived what Daniel thought of as her "June Cleaver existence": she was herself again, cracking jokes, going to work, running her section with her usual mix of draconian efficiency and good humour, meeting him outside the locker room after missions with the obligatory, "How was your trip? Did anybody try to kill you?" She met with MacKenzie three times a week, but never spoke of what went on in his office. After a while, she and Daniel grew quite adept at avoiding the elephant in room. Unfortunately, avoiding the questions Daniel wanted to ask, and the answers Leda refused to give meant avoiding conversation of the deeper kind, and they were well on their way to perfecting a verbal dance that was almost elegant in its banal superficiality. On several occasions Daniel was on the verge of confronting her about Kresky and Purchase, but had baulked when she turned her dark eyes on him, smiling. A fool's paradise.
Nighttime was a different story. For the first few nights after her memory recall ordeal, she slept like the dead, not even moving from the minute she put her head down until Daniel kissed her awake in the morning. But then the dreams came, and the nights became ordeals of their own. Rarely waking from her dreams, Leda moaned and twitched, her hands clutching at the sheets while Daniel curled himself around her and promised her that she was safe. He slept little himself, the only advantage to this being that he could trade his own haunting nightmares for hers. In its own perverse way, this was something of a relief.
Even a fool's paradise has its serpent.
Daniel woke at the sound of his name, uncertain whether he'd dreamt it or heard it. Brushing his hand across Leda's pillow, he found that it was cold, and he sat up abruptly. He could hear whispering, Leda's voice, but there was something not right about it, the cadence and intonation all wrong. His sleepy mind had been slipping easily across the borders between languages, translating without knowing it was translating, and it took him a moment to register that she was speaking Goa'uld.
Casting around in the dark, he found her in the corner in front of the window. Her hands spread on the glass, she looked down at the street, her naked body silvered by the light from the street lamps and streaked with the shadows of late-autumn rain that ran in rivulets down the pane. The sound of her voice, the harshness of the alien language coming from her lips, caused gooseflesh to prickle Daniel's skin. Slowly, he threw the covers back and crossed the room to her, standing beside her close enough to touch, but wary of startling her.
She cocked her head to look at him, her eyes black pools in her pale face. "She is weak," she sneered distinctly in Goa'uld.
A shiver running through his body, Daniel took a deep breath. It's Leda, he told himself firmly. The snake is dead. "Leda, wake up." He had to remind himself to speak English.
She turned back to the window, a smile curling her lip. "She will not answer." The smile became a low, taunting laugh. "She's afraid."
"Of what?" The question was out before he could stop it. Don't talk to it. No, not "it." This is Leda. Leda.
"Of the truth," she answered as she turned to face him, taking a step toward him and tracing her finger down his bare chest to his navel. It was all he could do to keep from jumping away from her, and his muscles twitched at her touch. She came closer, leaning her body against his, her hands caressing his chest, his stomach, her fingernails leaving their marks on his chilled skin, her breath hot. "She's afraid of the truth. Daniel." Her mouth was warm and wet on his throat. She had to stand on tiptoe to reach it, her fingers tight around his biceps. "Daniel," she murmured again, and the sound of it made his flesh crawl.
Putting his palms on her shoulders, he pushed her away gently, his hands shaking. "Leda, wake up."
She stepped back and her smile was amused and disdainful. "We are not so different as you like to pretend." She looked satisfied when she saw the anger flash in his eyes. "Daniel," she finished, her lip curling cruelly, goading.
"You're a parasite," he snarled in spite of himself, and hated himself for hating her. No, not her. It.
She laughed the low, taunting laugh again, and shook her head pityingly. "Oh, Daniel, we all use others to live. Some of us are just more honest about our nature."
Closing the space between them with a stride, he grabbed her shoulders. "Leda, wake up!" he whispered vehemently. She laughed. "Leda! Wake! Up!" He shook her, harder with each word, until her head snapped back and forward again.
"Daniel? What's wrong?" She spoke English, the heaviness of sleep sharpening to a jagged edge as her eyes searched his, bright and a little afraid. "Are you okay?" She raised a hand to touch his cheek and he flinched away before he could stop himself. Her fingers hovering an inch from his face, she peered closely at him, confused. "Bad dream?"
Realizing he was still gripping her shoulders, he dropped his hands, dismayed to see the marks of his fingers impressed on her skin. He brushed her hair from her forehead and kissed it lightly. "Yeah," he said, trying to keep the tremour out of his voice. "C'mon, go back to sleep." Folding his hand around hers, he led her to the bed and tucked the blankets around her.
"What time is it?" she asked, already drifting away.
"A little after three."
"Ugh," she groaned into the pillow. "I have an early briefing. If I sleep through this one Jan will kill me."
"It's okay." Daniel turned the clock so that she could see the icon for the alarm flashing on its display. "I'll wake you up." She didn't answer, and he sat beside her, stroking her hair until her breathing was regular and deep.
He made it to the bathroom and managed to close and lock the door before the noise overtook him and his knees gave out. Sliding to the floor with his back to the door, he covered his ears. There was a dull, iron taste in his mouth and he realized his teeth were clamped down on his tongue. He unclenched his jaw and instantly the noise rose up around him, a prickling grey that swarmed into his field of vision, narrowing the world down to a pinprick of light. The weight of his body seemed to crush him against the door as the world collapsed inward on top of him.
Inside his head, something contracted like the spasm of a muscle, a tight knot of resistance in the shape of NO. With a muffled grunt he threw his arm backward, smashing the back of his fist into the tile wall beside the door, cutting his knuckles, and suddenly he was grounded again, the pain flaring through the noise like a beacon. He opened his eyes. Everything was etched in painful detail, hyper-real, the outlines so sharp they seemed to slice across his vision. It hurt. It hurt to see. But it was better.
Breathing hard, he struggled to his feet and leaned over the sink, inspecting the wild-eyed stranger in the mirror. "Howya doin' Ward?" he asked with the raspy bark of a laugh as he opened the medicine cabinet and fumbled for the iodine and band-aids.
* * *
Leda remembered nothing of what happened to them at night. In the daytime she was herself again; no trace of that other being--personality, whatever it was--remained. All through the day he had his Leda, her laughter, the teasing way she met his eyes at work--he was putty, and she knew it--and the taste of her, the fragrant, nourishing, addictive taste of her. She was functioning, safely protected from her dark Other. She was alive. In the daytime, Daniel had music. At night he paid the piper. It was so Faustian he'd have admired its elegance if it hadn't made him want to scream.
At night, sitting on the floor in the bathroom with the lights glaring into his eyes, he found that there were only two things that could penetrate the noise: the pain in his knuckles, and the insinuating, goading whisper at the door.
In the morning, as he ran water into the kettle, he found it vaguely interesting that he could never quite remember the act of damaging his hand, but he was relieved that the clarity that came with the pain remained as long as he could feel the sting and ache. The pain was a tether, an invisible filament that kept him from drifting away altogether. But it was dangerous, he knew. When he was offworld he took to wearing gloves, or half-gloves like Jack's, and in the mountain he was careful to keep his hands in his pockets or out of sight under the table. Jack was watching him, he knew, and the last thing Daniel needed was for Jack to misconstrue everything and think he was nuts and ground him. If he lost his work, if he couldn't go through the 'gate anymore, he'd lose the one place left he could go that was normal. The irony of this did not escape him. And he discovered that it was hard work, doing normal for the benefit of the suspicious. It took planning and organization. There was a lot to remember. He started making lists.
Avoiding Jack was difficult, but Daniel managed, even offworld, by picking his battles carefully and letting Jack do the leadership thing with a minimum of interference from the liberal academic "I am the team's conscience" side of things. Of course, it was easy to go too far that way, too, and Daniel occasionally pitched a fit just to keep Jack happy. Teal'c, as always, was minding his own business, and, whatever he thought, he kept it to himself. Daniel was grateful, but he didn't let down his guard there, either. Sam was tougher to play and he simply avoided the sympathy in her eyes and told her that he was too busy with Leda right now for a heart-to-heart. Thanks, though. Later, I promise. Sam being Sam, she was gentle and willing to give him space. She'd be there if he needed her, but she knew better than to push. Avoiding Leda, though, was another case entirely. She had the home-field advantage and caught him unawares.
One morning, as he reached to scoop his keys off of the counter on his way to work, her hand closed over them first, her other hand grasping his wrist.
"You want to tell me about this?" she demanded, holding his hand up to his face so that he could see the scabs and faint green patches of old bruises, the darker blue of new ones. He tried to pull free, but her grip was unyielding. "Daniel, what are you doing?"
"Nothing. It's nothing." He started to go around her, but she stepped in front of him again.
His jaw set, he looked over her shoulder. "I'm late for work."
They stood like that, deadlocked--she with one hand on his chest, the other holding his wrist, he staring over her head--until she swore under her breath and moved aside. "See ya later, Ward," she called to his back, her tone twisted with bitterness and sarcasm.
Stopping, one foot on the step down from the dining room to the hall, he turned back to her, his brow furrowed. "What?" He came back to stand over her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing." Her lips were white, her eyes challenging. "That's what we're doing, right? We're just going to pretend that everything is picture perfect, right? You're going to go off to work, do a little planet-hopping, crawl into bed next to the little woman at night, and wake up in the morning with your hand turned to mash and I'm just going to go on being June and you can be Ward and we'll keep doing our cosy, dysfunctional happy-dance and nothing that goddamn matters will ever be said. Right?" She squared off against him, her feet planted, her chin out, and looked a hell of a lot bigger than she really was. He met her head on, an immoveable object colliding with an unstoppable force, and the result was a long moment of electric silence as they stared each other down. Finally, he blinked, and turned his head away, his jaw rippling as be bit back what he wouldn't say. "Isn't that right? Ward?" she goaded him, trying to anger him into a response. She waited, and was disappointed. "Fine. . . famous pissy genius stubborn act. . . sonofabitch. . . " she muttered brokenly as she shook her head in disgust and grabbed her jacket off of the back of a chair, her satchel off of the table. "Never mind. I'm late for work, too."
"You walk in your sleep." He said it flatly to the floor, like he was telling her she forgot her lunch. But his shoulders were so hunched with defeat she had to lean down a bit so that she could see his face. Raising his bowed head, he looked over her shoulder again, his eyes narrowing as if he felt a sudden stab of pain.
"And?" she pushed him. "Tell me."
"And you talk." He was withdrawing, his voice assuming that distanced tone he used when he confronted hard truths and painful things.
"And it's not you. It's--"
"I say things that hurt you," she finished. His eyes were hard, but on the verge of faltering, shiny with the threat of tears. "And you can't hurt me, so you hurt yourself? Is that it?"
"No." His voice was so neutral as to be unreadable.
Groping the air behind her until she located a chair, she collapsed down onto it, her jacket dangling between her knees. "Yes. Yes it is. Jesus." She covered her mouth with her hand, then ran her hand through her hair. "Sweet Jesus." Her gaze flitted around the room, touching everything except Daniel, as she processed this information. Finally, sitting up straight and fixing him with a steady look, she said, "You have to tell me everything."
* * *
That night Leda came home, took off her shoes and her jacket, rolled up her sleeves and threw herself onto the couch, smiling with a kind of evil satisfaction. "Well, I think MacKenzie is actually going to have a cow," she announced with a laugh as Daniel came out of the bedroom, pulling a sweater on over his head, and sat down across from her.
"Not that this isn't good news, I suppose, but what the heck are you talking about?"
Pulling herself upright by the arm of the couch, she leaned forward, grinning. "He could write a book about us and win the Nobel Prize, except that nobody would be allowed to read it. That has gotta hurt."
Thinking of his own non-existent publishing record since he'd hooked up with the SGC, Daniel had to agree. "So, what did he say?"
"Dissociative disorder." She waved a hand dismissively and flopped back into the cushions. "I didn't get a chance to talk about you, sorry. I was plenty crazy to take up a whole session all on my lonesome. Under normal circumstances, MacKenzie would say," she lowered her voice and assumed a humourless baritone, "that I've split myself in two in order to distance my conscious self from events that I can't deal with. However," she leapt up and started hunting for her satchel, "the whole Goa'uld infestation thing complicates the matter and, the long and the short of it is, he doesn't have a frigging clue. So, he's falling back on pharmaceuticals." Finding the bag by the door, she came back and felt around in the inside pocket, finally producing a prescription bottle. Holding it up between her finger and thumb, she contemplated the blue pills for a moment before shifting her gaze to Daniel. "Horse tranquilizers. Okay, not quite. But we're both going to get a good night's sleep tonight."
* * *
Leaning in the bathroom doorway with his arms hugging his chest, Daniel watched Leda shake one of the blue pills out of the bottle. She rolled it around a couple of times in her palm, delaying.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked, coming into the room and sitting on the edge of the tub.
She looked down at him for a moment, her mouth quirking up in something that was not quite a smile. "It's either this or a polo mallet, right?" When his concerned expression didn't change, she rolled her eyes and turned to the sink to fill a glass. "Sorry, bad joke. Humour is the last resort of the marginally sane." Tossing the pill in the air, she caught it on her tongue and chased it with a gulp of water.
"Nice catch," Daniel observed approvingly.
"My Uncle Derek--"
"Yeah, so I guessed."
Holding out a hand, she tugged him to his feet and led him back into the bedroom. "I figure I've got about half an hour before I go down like a sack of flour. Wha'd'ya wanna do?" She fluttered her eyelashes at him.
"Strip poker?" he suggested tentatively.
Leda decided it would be more efficient to skip the poker part. But they were not so efficient at the strip part. In fact, so slowly and tantalizingly did Leda work, that by the time she made it through the layers down to Daniel's skin, he was quivering with an exquisite anticipation that was almost pain. He looked down at her and found her, there behind the dark eyes, the Leda he'd lost, and there was no noise and the only sound was her voice breathing his name as if he were air. He said her name into her neck over and over as though through the power of this simple incantation he could keep her.
After a long while the slow stroking of her hands on his back stilled him, and he eased himself off of her to lie on his side, propped on his elbow so that he could look at her face. Smoothing her damp curls from her forehead, he leaned down and kissed her eyes, tasting salt. "Don't cry," he consoled her gently.
She grasped his hand and kissed each of his battered knuckles. "I keep hurting you," she whispered, squeezing her eyes shut. "I'm so, so sorry."
He shook his head "You have nothing to apologize for, Leda," he told her, "Nothing, do you understand?" He turned her face to his. "We're going to get through this." And suddenly he was back on Abydos again, making these same assurances to Sha'uri. And now she was dead and his promises were ash. It was then, he realized, that he'd begun to lose faith in language, the wolf in sheep's clothing, the lie in the guise of hope. Once, words were magic that had the power to shape the world: "Let there be light". . . and there was light. Now, words seemed irresponsible. Pharmakon, a word that meant both "poison" and "cure." How did you know which you were proffering, a liquor of words swirling in the chalice of a promise? "We're going to be okay," he said, and the words were a scattering of blue pills.
"Says who?" her voice hitched around a sob, but there was the glimmer of a smile in her eyes.
"You're not the boss of me."
"Oh, but I am." Wiping a tear from her temple with his thumb, he warned her, "Don't you dare make me make me a liar."
Smiling, she closed her eyes. She tried to open them again, but he could see that the lids were heavy, the drug calling her away. "It's okay," he murmured, resting his head on the pillow next to hers. "You can sleep." She turned toward him and her mouth found his, her lips soft and warm. The kiss felt like good-bye.
Then, the tranquilizer grabbed her and, like lead weights around her ankles, dragged her down. If she encountered Malecshee as she passed through realm of dreams into the lightless depths below, she was too far away for Daniel to hear their conversation.
* * *
Leda stared at the computer screen, unmoving.
"Hey," Daniel repeated, brushing her cheek with the back of his hand. Starting, she turned her head. It took a moment for her eyes to focus on him. "You alright?"
Scrubbing her face with her hands, she laughed breathily. "Yeah. Daydreaming, I guess. To what do I owe the honour?"
Leda blinked. "Lunch?" Looking at her watch, she groaned in disbelief, "How did it get so late?" She turned back to the computer and paged up a couple of screens, trying to remember what she was working on. "I can't, Daniel, I'm sorry. This Senate committee review--"
"Right. No problem." He couldn't quite mask his disappointment.
"I'll see you at home for dinner, though, right?" she asked, her eyes fixed on the screen.
"Ah, no. I'm offworld tonight. Four days in the rainforests of P5X 191."
At that, she swivelled in her chair, alarmed. "Is that today?"
"Told you about it this morning. Again."
"Uh-huh. I leave at fourteen-hundred. That's in an hour and a half." He smoothed away the crease between her brows with a finger, smiling reassuringly. "Don't worry about it. I'll be back Thursday. You can buy me dinner then."
"Thursday." She scribbled on a post-it and added it to the existing forest at the top of her monitor. "Don't let anybody kill you, okay?"
"Rule number one."
"I love you." It came out like an apology.
He kissed her on the top of the head and brushed her cheek again with the back of his hand. "I love you, too. See you Thursday."
"I'll be here."
She wasn't there.
Since Daniel had driven in with Leda on Monday, he had no car, and had to catch a ride with Sam. As they pulled up in front of his building, she asked, "Do you think something's wrong? Want me to come up?"
Daniel stifled a yawn, shaking his head. "No. She probably just forgot when we were due back." He blinked at the windshield. "You should see the stack of post-its she uses as a date book. How she runs a whole division is a mystery."
Gathering up his bag from the back seat, he got out, but before he could close the door, Sam leaned across the seat and called him back. When he ducked his head in again, she said, "I'm going straight home. Just in case you need me."
"Thanks. S'ya tomorrow."
He stood on the curb, his duffle bag hanging from his hand, and watched her drive away. He felt about a hundred years old. God, I hate the rainforest, he thought, blinking rapidly. Pollen everywhere. Damp. Rain. Pollen everywhere. Oh, yeah, mentioned that. And no Leda waiting upon his triumphant return to ask him if anybody tried to kill him. In fact, someone had tried to kill him, but he/she/it (they'd never been able to figure it out) hadn't tried very hard, and Jack had convinced him/her/it, after firing a few rounds at the sky, that they were peaceful explorers. In other words, just another day at the office.
Wearily, Daniel went into the building and took the elevator to the eighth floor, keeping himself upright by wedging himself into the corner. Where was Leda, anyway? For about the hundredth time since he went through the 'gate on Monday, he pictured her distracted face, the lusterless cast of her eyes, that strange time-delay that had crept into her conversation, like she was listening to him on an old-fashioned long distance line from someplace near Minsk. The doors slid open and he concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. On what planet are brown and turquoise considered an attractive combination, he wondered as he watched the carpet sliding by under his feet, and why haven't I noticed this monstrosity of a pattern before? And, if Leda was sleeping through the night, why did she look so godawful every morning? And, lately, afternoon, and evening? It's the damn pills. Stupid blue pills.
Dropping his bag on the floor by the door, he didn't bother to hang up his jacket, unbuttoning it and slinging it over the counter in the hall. The apartment was dark, only the light from the street filtering in through the blinds. Bumping his shins against the coffee table, he cursed in three languages and bent to turn on a lamp, jumping a little when the yellow glow revealed Leda asleep on the couch, one arm dangling down toward the floor, the other thrown over her eyes. She was still in her suit, even the jacket, one shoe on the floor, the other on her foot. She didn't even move when the light hit her. Sitting down on the coffee table, he yawned mightily and then leaned down, his mouth close to her ear.
"Leda," he called softly. She moaned, but didn't move. "Leda, c'mon. I'm home."
Opening her eyes, she looked at him like she'd never seen anything like him in her life. Then, as she rubbed her eyes with her fists and peered at him again, she mumbled, "Daniel? What are you doing here? You're not due back until tonight."
"It is tonight."
"What?" Reaching for her watch, she knocked it off of the table onto the floor and had to hang upside down to grope for it under the couch. Finally she retrieved it and held it up to her eyes. "Oh, shit." Planting her feet on the floor, she covered her face with her hands. "I'm sorry, Daniel." She dangled her hands between her knees and looked up at him sheepishly. "I've been working round the clock on my presentation. Up all night--" she cut herself off, realizing she'd let too much slip.
Suddenly Daniel felt even more tired, as if this were possible. He threw his glasses down on the table and rubbed his eyes, trying to figure out what he felt about this, beyond tired and uneasy. "You went off the meds?" he asked, knowing already what she was going to say.
She sat forward and told him earnestly, "The Senate committee review of my program is in six days. The Senator has been against the Task Force since its inception and, with my . . .issues. . . lately, I've let things slide. We have a lot to prove here. I do."
"I know that, but the meds--"
"Make me a zombie." She got up and, walking over to the window, stood with her hands in her pockets looking out at the street, chewing her lip, thinking. Turning, she came back and knelt on the floor beside him, speaking rapidly, trying to make him understand. "I got more done in two days off the meds than I did in the last two weeks on them. Last night I took them and, look, I can't even remember to pick up my boyfriend from work. How the hell am I supposed to go up against Kinsey? A lot of people are counting on me. I can't sleepwalk through this."
He bowed his head and looked at his hands, still uneasy, but unsure what he felt. The meds did make her. . . certainly not herself. But Malecshee was gone, or at least suppressed. Without the drug . . . . He shook his head, more in confusion than in denial.
Closing her hand around his, she assured him, "It's only for a week, ten days at the most, just until I get past this review. I'll stay at my apartment--"
His head snapped up. "That's a bad idea. At least stay here so I can watch over you."
"That's a really bad idea," she objected, turning his hand over and stroking his knuckles. The bruises there were just shadows now, the cuts only a faint tracing of scars. "There's no way I'm letting you back into that mess. I can handle Malecshee." She kissed his fingers. "Hell, he's not even real."
Fumbling for his glasses, he put them on, hoping they might add some clarity to his thinking. "Well, at least let Sam stay with you, then, or Gruber. Or maybe you could stay on base--"
She'd started shaking her head as soon as he started talking, and, when he didn't stop, she cut him off, "No way. Not a chance." Crawling up onto the couch again, she folded her arms and glared. "MacKenzie's already an inch away from putting me on disability. The last thing I need is to display my nocturnal proclivities for the powers that be. This task force is my program, Daniel. I built it from the ground up and there is no way I'm going to let those people down. And what would I do on disability, anyway? Sit around here and practice not throwing myself off the balcony?"
"Maybe MacKenzie has a point." Even before the words had fully hit the air he wished he could reel them back in again. Crud. Suddenly he wished he was back in the rainforest with the pollen and the it/she/he. Less complicated.
"Oh, yeah. Well, I don't see you on his couch too often, Dr. Jackson, though lord knows you could use it. Maybe we could get a group rate, practice a little primal scream together--" She would have gone on, but she was too busy tripping over her satchel and then gathering up the contents and stuffing them haphazardly back into the pockets as she headed for the door.
"Leda, c'mon," Daniel groaned, despising the fact that it came out as a decidedly petulant whine. Dragging himself to his feet, he started to follow her. "At least call me--" he shouted at the closed door.
* * *
His eyes fluttered open. Had he heard his name or only dreamt it?
A whisper. Real, then. Groggily, he raised himself onto his elbows, looking for the owner of the voice, already knowing who it belonged to.
The light was blue, shimmering through the sleet that rattled against the windows intermittently as the cold wind swirled and gusted. Billowing up into the room, the white curtains rose and fell, first one, then another, in a slow, silent dance like the breathing of spirits. He shivered. Lightning flashed and crackled, etching the room in sharp relief, shadows capering, here, there, every illuminated object doubled by its dark partner.
He found her by the window, gazing through the sleet, one hand pressed against the glass, white shirt untucked and open at the collar, sleeves rolled. The curtains drifted up and hid all but her rippling shadow, and when they fell again, she was looking at him. By some trick of the flickering light, her eyes appeared white, opalescent, opaque. But then, another flash, and they were her own again, leveled at him without expression.
"Leda?" His voice came out as a croak, and he cleared his throat. "What--?
"You could drown in rain like this," she observed, returning her gaze to the window. "Cold rain like this."
Shivering again, he started to climb out of the bed. The clock on his night stand said 4:02. "I thought you were in Washington. The review--"
She shrugged with one shoulder. "I wanted to ask you a question."
"What question?" Somehow, he couldn't make himself touch the curtains, cringing at the thought of their whispering touch. He stood and watched her through them, now visible, now just a shadow. He was cold. He'd never been this cold. He huddled in his folded arms, his teeth chattering.
One side of her face in deep shadow, the other too white in the dancing light, she stared at him and the eye he could see was white and opaque, and then black again as the lightning sculpted her against the darkness. "What did Shifu show you?" she asked suddenly.
"What?" he responded stupidly, confused. At first he thought she'd spoken Goa'uld, but then he was sure she hadn't. He cleared his throat again. "What?" he repeated.
"You heard me." Coming toward him, she stepped into the drifting fabric and it slid over her. He could see the shadows of her face through it as it enveloped her, a shroud. Then it slipped away and she asked him again, one word for each measured step. "What. . . did. . . Shifu. . . show. . . you?" When she finished, she was in front of him, looking up with her black eyes, her face expectant.
Nervously avoiding her eyes, he bowed his head and his gaze was captured by the faint, circular scar left by the Breen medical device at the base of her throat, and another on the swelling of her breast above the button of her blouse. He couldn't remember having seen these before, and he couldn't tear his eyes away from them. She came closer and he retreated a step, stammering, "I--I told you."
"No, Daniel, you didn't. You said he showed you what you could be. What did he show you, hmm? Something dark?" Again, her language was slippery, Goa'uld, but definitely English.
"You don't need to know," he asserted, but he took another step backward away from her, still unable to meet her eyes.
"Why not? A little darkside never hurt anybody. Are you afraid I might like it?" Reaching up, she traced a finger down his naked chest to his navel. "Or that you will?"
At this familiar gesture, the realization swept through him, bringing with it a rush of relief. Wrapping his icy fingers around her wrist, he gently pulled her hand away from him. "Wake up, Leda," he ordered her, taking control, finding his equilibrium. She smiled and he told her again firmly, bending down to look into her eyes, "Wake up."
"I am awake, Daniel."
His breath rushed out of him. Dropping her arm, he retreated again, coming up against his night stand with a jolt and knocking his clock to the floor where it broke open, batteries rolling. At the back of his mind, he could hear something. Noise. "What?" He shook his head. "Leda, wake--"
Laughing at his confusion, she placed both of her palms on his chest. "Come on, Daniel. Who did you think you were talking to?" she demanded incredulously. "Sweet Jesus. Who do you think you've been talking to all these nights?"
"M-Mal--" His fist came up to his ear as he shifted his weight, trying to get away from her.
"Malecshee. Right." Her face became contemptuous. "Of course. Well, that would be convenient, wouldn't it? Blame the snake. Then you can go ahead and hate with a clear conscience, isn't that right?"
"Of course, demonic possession is a pretty miserable thing to wish on somebody you profess to love--"
"--but whatever makes you feel better, right?"
Unable to move backward away from her, he started to pace between the bed and the window, looking for an exit. There was nowhere to go but the balcony and outside there was only a flood and an army of lightning soldiers marching on spindly legs across the razor teeth of the mountains.
"What did Shifu show you?" she demanded relentlessly, her head turning to follow his progress. "Did you kill someone?"
"Wake up, Leda."
"More than one?"
"Wake up, Leda."
"Many more than one?"
"Wake up, Leda."
"Did you like it?"
Abruptly, he stopped pacing, his mantra dying on his lips. "What?" he asked, and his voice was small.
"Oh, you showed them, didn't you?" Her voice was right in his ear, in his head. "Don't fuck with Daniel Jackson. It's the snake who did the killing. But it's the man who felt the--"
"Wake up. Leda." His voice was empty, hopeless, the command a reflex without conviction.
"He showed you what you could be. And he showed you what you are." Her whisper insinuated itself into his mind, as though the rising tide of noise had found a voice.
Speaking to the wall, he told her what he'd told himself over and over again for months, repeating it word-for-word as he had in the witness box in his own private court. "He said I could choose a new path. I chose. I'm not the man I thought I was, but I'm not the man he foresaw, either." -- you're assuming this is not what I've wanted all along --
She raised an eyebrow archly. "A new path, huh? Are you sure?" Pausing, she regarded him, thoughtful, calculating. "Why didn't you ask your precious Leda what happened to those men?"
He turned slowly to look at her, trying to keep up, to understand this apparent change of direction. "She doesn't know."
"Daniel, you saw it. You know she's lying. Why didn't you ask her, your darling Leda?"
His eyes darted around the room, avoiding, his mind swerving. The lightning was furious, the room thrashing in its shadows. "She's fragile. She needs time. She's afraid," he recited. -- there's one flaw in that theory --
"No," coming toward him again, she corrected him gently as though she were speaking to a child, "No, that's you. You're afraid. You're afraid of the truth."
Trapped, he began to pace again, his fist to his ear. "I want her to be well." He wasn't certain he spoke aloud, that he could speak aloud. Words were failing him. --a flaw--
"The truth shall set you free," she intoned, a smile curling her lip. "Only the truth will heal her, you know. But you don't really want that, do you? Because ignorance is bliss. Your bliss, anyway. Never mind that not knowing, not facing the truth has split your lovely Leda into two."
I love her, he thought, and this was a true thing, solid. He held it to him. I love her.
"And she loves you, too. That's why she'll break herself to bits to protect you from the truth. She loves you and it drives her to the lie that breaks her, that's breaking her right now."
"Responsible. Then why don't you ask her, Daniel? Why don't you ask her what she did to those men?"
"I want her to be--"
"Innocent. You don't want her to be well, because you don't want to know the truth, because then she'll be like you, guilty like you. And she knows it. She knows you'd rather she was broken than guilty. Your precious Leda. You just want your little doll, your Polyanna, your fractured angel, the sweet thing with the blue pills--"
She was everywhere. --a flaw-- Nowhere to pace even, with her on all sides. --there's a flaw in that theory-- He came up against the wall and leaned his forehead against the rough edges of the exposed brick, both hands over his ears. --you're assuming this is not what I've wanted-- what I've wanted all along--
Her voice was a vicious, inescapable whisper in his brain. "You don't ask because you need her to be broken. If she's to be innocent, there has to be a snake. For you to be innocent, there has to be a snake to take the blame. The snake is absolution. You're a parasite, Daniel. You're using them, both of them, to live. That's your so-called new path."
"No." --what I've wanted--
"You tell yourself you're protecting her from the demon, but it's not the demon you're afraid of, is it? You're afraid that there is no demon, Daniel. Only you. Only the truth. You can tell yourself the snake killed them, the millions, but you felt the--"
"No!" --what I've wanted all along--
"And you let her take those pills, so that you could curl up with her in your bed and cling to her like a life raft to keep your own fucked-up head above water."
"I never made her take them--"
He could have screamed when he felt her vicelike grip on his wrist, but his throat was closed and he was only noise. Twisting him around and holding his hand up to his face, she made him look at the scars and bruises.
"Guilt is a powerful motivator," she snarled, pushing him back and letting him go, disgusted. "And your little martyr took the blame and she took the pills even though they took everything she was. She did it for you, to save you from yourself, and they dragged her so deep that she could scream all night for help and you would never hear her!"
The tether broke.
Like the snapping of a high-tension wire, his connection to the world whipped away with the whine of metal on metal, an elegant arc against the gunmetal sky. And he was anchorless, helpless against the surging waves of noise that swept him off the rocks. And the noise was not wordless, had never been wordless. He flailed against it, but it lifted him and dashed him against the stones, the raised inscriptions there lacerating his skin, words tearing into him.
--who do you think you've been talking to all these nights?--
--we all use others to live--there's just one flaw in your theory: you're assuming this is not what I've wanted all along--the snake did the killing but you felt the--satisfaction--so you hurt yourself, is that it?--your fractured angel--to buy my life with theirs--my life--your little martyr took the blame--to buy me out of limbo--out of hell--what I've wanted--what I've wanted all along--we all use others to live--we all use others--
--who do you think you've been talking to--
The sudden bolt of pain in his knuckles drove him to his knees. Cradling his hand to his chest, he curled up, one shoulder hard against the wall, breathing in short gasps that were almost sobs except that he had no voice, no tears. Nothing. Empty.
After a long while--he didn't know how long--with nothing to measure it against in the emptiness, it might have been a second or forever--on the featureless plain under a leaden sky, no contours for perspective, no landmarks but a tomb in the ground like a groaning mouth, spewing words, black with silt--after a moment or an eternity, the dreadful thought began to form in his mind, uncoiling slowly, that she was still there, watching him. His back prickled, vulnerable, and he knew that if he felt her touch he would lose his mind for good and forever. Whipping around, he braced his back against the rough bricks of his bedroom wall, his battered hand squeezed protectively under his arm, his knees drawn up, a feeble barrier.
He was alone.
On his night stand the clock said 4:02. Light shone through the blinds, marking the carpet in precise bands on darkness. There was no wind, no clatter of sleet. Heaving himself to his feet, he moved like a sleepwalker to the window and pulled the strings on the blind, drawing it up so he could look outside. The full moon stared back at him from a clear sky. No lightning soldiers, no razor teeth, no wild dance of shadows. No Leda. No Malecshee. Only Daniel. Only Daniel. Who, who have you been talking to? He leaned his burning forehead against the cool glass, his eyes closed.
"God. . . help me," he prayed. And that was all.
End of Part Four
* * *PART FIVE
"True, he had made that last stride, he had stepped over the edge, while I had been permitted to draw back my hesitating foot. And perhaps this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wisdom, all the truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible." (Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness)
"I never thought I'd live to hear Kinsey cry 'uncle,'" Hammond was saying with a chuckle and a disbelieving shake of his bald head.
"Actually, I think the word was, 'mommy,'" Gruber corrected, allowing himself a celebratory snap of his gum. "Man, Leda m'dear, you are The Bulldog. Ruthless. Kinsey's gonna put an anti-Novak perimeter around the Capitol before he lets you back into Washington."
Jack broke into the conversation as he topped the stairs and stepped into the conference room. "I gather the review went well," he surmised, taking in the three smiling faces gathered around one end of the table. Behind him, Daniel hesitated, one foot on the top step, his hands deep in his pockets, looking like he was ready to bolt. When Jack turned to look at him, he obediently lifted first one foot and then the other, covering the floor until he was even with the colonel. Jack couldn't miss the fact that the archeologist's face was an unsavoury shade of grey-green.
"It went very well," Hammond confirmed. "Dr. Novak bought the Task Force another year. Of course, the way Senator Kinsey likes to swing the axe, we can't look too much further than that, but given that this is true of the whole SGC program, I think we can declare the review a success. Good work, both of you."
Exchanging glances, Gruber and Leda nodded, acknowledging the praise and trying not to look too smug.
"From the sounds of it, I guess we should be grateful that you're on our side, Bulldog," Jack said to Leda as Carter and Teal'c joined them from the Control room, ready for their briefing.
"Me too, Colonel," Leda agreed, gathering her files and glancing at the general to be dismissed. As she passed Daniel, she put a hand on his arm and winked at him unobtrusively. "Later?"
Wordlessly, Daniel nodded, and Jack noted that his whole body tensed up at Leda's touch. And so not in a good way.
After the briefing, in which the good doctor said precisely four words, all of them two syllables or less, he was out of the conference room like a jackrabbit, and Jack had to run to catch up to him. He caught him in the corridor by the elevator. "Daniel!" It was obvious from the way his shoulders slumped that he'd heard Jack calling him, but he swiped his card to open the elevator anyway. Sprinting the last few paces, Jack managed to jump into the car between the closing doors. He rocked back and forth on his heels a couple of times, staring up at the numbers counting down the ten floors to Level Eighteen, saying finally, "So-o. What's up?" Beat. "Doc."
Daniel chewed his lip and remained silent, his eyes fixed on the doors. After three floors had slid by, he answered, apparently resigning himself to the fact that he was trapped in a conversation, "What's up with who?"
"Whom," Jack corrected, and was disappointed not to get a rise, even a little tiny one. "With you and Bulldog. I've seen warmer reunions between goldfish."
"Well, I dunno, Jack," Daniel said grumpily to the doors, "would you prefer it if we just went at it right there on the conference table?" Jack was silent, his brain hijacked by the image and Daniel turned to impale him with an "oh, spare me" glare.
"Hey, I'm just wondering if things are okay with you guys," the colonel said placatingly as the doors opened and Daniel stepped out.
Stopping the doors from closing with his foot--his hands were still stuffed safely in his pockets-- Daniel suggested in a not-so-respectful tone of voice, "How 'bout you let me mind my goddamned business for a change, huh, Jack? And you just mind your own." Removing his foot, he let the doors slide shut.
"Crap," Jack muttered, at least getting the last word. Sort of.
* * *
Daniel blinked rapidly to clear the spots from his eyes as Frasier clicked off her penlight and made notations on her chart.
"So, Daniel, do you need anything extra in your meds to deal with the cat?"
"Um, the cat?" He blinked again, and then the penny dropped. Miles the cat was Leda's new companion, rescued by Cassie and exiled from the Frasier household because of Janet's virulent allergies. "Oh, the cat. No, I don't."
"Really. I would have thought your allergies would be miserable with a cat in your apartment."
"Yes, well," he hesitated, unsure how much he felt like divulging. "The cat pretty much stays with Leda."
Frasier looked up from her notes, her face concerned. "Leda's not staying with you? Is everything okay?"
He shrugged. "She said she--I said--we need room, er, space. Headspace." Shrugging again, he avoided her eyes, hoping that she would drop it. He didn't mention that the cat was, in fact, deadly to his allergies, or that he suspected that Leda was using Miles as Daniel repellant. Or that, until he figured things out, Daniel was only too willing to be repelled. Frasier was still looking at him, so he added, placatingly, "She's still seeing MacKenzie. And we talk every day." She nodded and bowed her head to examine his hands. We just don't talk, if you get the drift, he thought. But he didn't want her to get the drift. He wanted her to just let it go so that he could get back to work. He hissed at the sting of antiseptic on his scraped knuckles.
"Sorry," Frasier apologized, reaching for bandages and tape.
"S'alright. Isn't this a nurse's job?"
"I like to keep a hand in," she smiled at him before tilting her head to check the chart again as she worked. "Y'know, according to your chart, this is the fourth time in a row you've been treated for this kind of injury after an offworld mission. What are you doing to yourself out there?"
He shrugged again. "You know me, Absent Minded Peaceful Explorer." Attempting a smile, he gave up when Frasier raised her chin, not buying it. "I keep opening up the old cuts, I guess," he answered evasively, making a fist and adjusting the tape on the bandages. He looked over her shoulder at Jack, who sat facing away from them on the other side of the next bed, minding his own business, lacing his boot. Except that Daniel had watched him lace that boot once already. "Am I done?"
Frasier nodded and he slid off the bed and headed for the door, his hands in his pockets. He didn't see the meaningful exchange of glances between the doctor and the colonel, or hear Jack swear under his breath as he stalked out of the infirmary to follow him.
Jack found Daniel in his office, emptying his backpack onto his work table. He had made two stacks of video tapes and was rooting through the outside pockets of the pack, frowning.
"Hey," Jack said casually as he came in and slouched against the desk.
"Hey," Daniel returned, not looking up.
"Whatcha lookin' for?"
Daniel raised his eyes for a second, distracted, and went back to rummaging. "I'm missing a tape." He retrieved two journal books from the pack and laid them on the table.
"Oh." Jack crossed his ankles and folded his arms. "So, Danny," he began conversationally, "what's with the knuckles?"
"Is it on the floor over there?"
Jack made a cursory survey of the floor around the desk. "Nope. The knuckles?"
"What? Oh." Daniel flexed his fingers, watching them as though they belonged to somebody else, and went back to looking for the elusive tape. "I guess I scraped them on those rocks we climbed over to get to the ruins."
"Right. What about last mission? I don't remember any rocks there," Daniel waved him out of the way and he shifted to the end of the desk. "Just a lot of sand. And before that, on 458, mostly grass, I think."
"Aha!" Daniel cheered, finding the tape on the floor under the work table and holding it up triumphantly. He gathered up the rest of the tapes to carry them over to his computer to be catalogued.
"What?!" Twisting in his chair, he made no effort to keep the exasperation out of his voice. "Look, when was the last time you came back from a mission without cuts and bruises?" He turned back to the computer, the stiffness of his back suggesting that he would be happy if Jack would take the hint and lope off to bother somebody else.
"You've got a point there," Jack conceded. Straightening up, he went to the work table where Daniel's two journals sat, his mission journal on top of a second, unlabelled one. Keeping one eye on Daniel, who was absorbed in his cataloguing, he flipped the second journal open with his finger. The first half was filled with Daniel's close, precise writing. Then, there was an entire section of blank, dated pages. Weeks of them, from the looks of it. Finally, the writing returned, only not in paragraphs or sentences, but carefully numbered lists, one after another, dated, but mostly without labels or anything that looked like a logical pattern.
One series, though, was a careful transcription of Jack's schedule of meetings for the last month. This was particularly interesting given that Jack had seen so little of Daniel aside from briefings and missions that he'd taken to addressing him as "Dr. Livingston-I-Presume." Now he knew how Daniel had managed to be so scarce, arranging a careful pattern of avoidance around Jack's movements through the mountain. In fact, the only time he'd been close to Jack lately was last mission when the team had spent an hour piled on top of each other in a ditch waiting for a Jaffa patrol to dawdle their way through the 'gate ahead of them.
He flipped more pages. Another was filled with what looked like flight schedules, from the looks of it, for a night a couple of days before Daniel had reamed him out in front of the elevator. "Called hotel at 10:10 PST. Clock: 4:02 PST." And then flights from D.C. to Colorado Springs with layovers and transit times in neat pencilled columns. Arrival times would have been enough, Jack thought, given the math Daniel was doing there, given the "No" at the bottom of the first set where the arrival time was 6:50 am. "No" and "No" and "No" after each of the following entries, no planes touching down between 2300 and 0400, the pencil getting heavier, the letters jerkier until the final "E" of the last "NO TIME" tore through the paper. After that, a couple of weeks' worth of lists.
Those last, stabbing, strokes of the pencil, "NO TIME," caused Jack's eyes to narrow in a squint of pain, and he suppressed the desire to swear. This was too familiar for comfort. After Charlie died, he and Sarah had communicated exclusively in the form of lists, what had to be done today or, at most, tomorrow, never beyond that. Somehow, no thanks to him, Sarah had managed to break out of that place, find her way back to the real world again. But, although he stopped making lists physically, Jack had been unable to escape them, obsessively detailing everything in his head, itemizing what he did, what he didn't do, one hard, comforting, meaningless fact after another. By the time of the Abydos mission, the list had gotten so refined that, for all its minute detail, there was just one thing on it.
When Daniel looked around from the computer, Jack was back in his place on the end of the desk, his arms folded, staring at the floor.
"Is there something you wanted?" From the tone of his voice, it was clear that Daniel hoped there wasn't.
Jack contemplated his boots, talking almost to himself, "I knew this guy, Mitch. Served with him in the, oh, mid-eighties, I guess. He was captured by some wacko terrorist group in eastern Europe. Seven weeks with his head in a bag, chained to a stake on a concrete floor."
"Not good," Daniel observed tentatively, unsure where this was going.
"When we got him home, he cashed out, took his pension and opened a bike shop. He was doin' good. Took a helluva lot of therapy, but he was okay." Jack shifted his weight uncomfortably, staring now into a place in the past. "Anyway, we used to play hockey, just scratch on the weekend. One Saturday he shows up and he's missing a fingernail.
So I ask him, 'What happened to your hand?' He says he hit it with a hammer making his kid a playhouse. Okay. Fine. Couple weeks later, he's missing two more. 'What's with this?' I ask him. Closed his hand in the patio door." Swiping at his eye, he cleared his throat, continuing, "So, this goes on for, well, months, I guess, every couple of weeks another missing fingernail, but he's always got a good reason and I convince myself he's just having a really twisted run of bad luck." He shrugged, an ironic, bitter smile disappearing as soon as it formed. "One Saturday we're waiting to play and no Mitch."
"Why are you telling me this?" Daniel interrupted. His eyes were wide, horrified.
Jack went on as if Daniel hadn't spoken, his voice oddly light and distanced, his own eyes narrowing, focusing, unwavering. "Seems he couldn't play hockey because he was hanging from the rafters in his garage." He raised his eyes, sad and angry, and fixed them on Daniel's. "His kid found him," he concluded, pushing himself away from the desk and coming to stand over Daniel. Quietly he told him, "You're officially on stand-down. No offworld missions. And you see MacKenzie tomorrow."
Daniel sagged in his chair and looked at his hands. After a moment, he stuffed the evidence into his pocket. "Jack, I need to work," he pleaded, but it was a half-hearted attempt at negotiation.
"I know that. You can work from here."
"For how long?"
Jack squeezed Daniel's shoulder as he moved to go, his face solemn. "Until your knuckles stop bleeding."
* * *
Leda's hands froze on the keyboard, the phrase of music broken in two, its vibrato hanging for a moment between them. Daniel could hear the clock on his desk in his office ticking, the sound of traffic from the street below. The world was going on as usual, but he was suspended, waiting. Slowly, she started to pick out the melody of a song he didn't recognize, deliberately striking the keys with a stiffly-extended index finger. "I told you before. I don't know what happened to them," she answered without raising her head.
The evening sun slanted through the blinds on the doors to the balcony, turning her into a study of gold and black bands. With her head bowed that way, her hair curling upward, he could just make out the twin lines of the scars on her neck where they peeked out from the top of her black turtleneck. Once a favourite spot to kiss as she leaned over the piano or the computer keyboard, now the nape of her neck was out of bounds. He remembered, could almost feel her lying with her head on his chest, her eyes soft in sleep, curled into him like he was the last safe place. He'd been unable to stop himself from letting go of her small hand and reaching over to trace with his finger each of those scars, the Goa'uld entry scar clearly defined and straight, the other, an irregular scrawl left by her own hands, her own fear. She hadn't woken, but her forehead had furrowed and she'd moaned, low and sad. Shaken, he'd sworn to himself that he'd never touch those scars again.
Now, he no longer felt like a safe place. And he was opening wounds. He waited for her to say more, but nothing came. She continued to peck at the keys, but the melody was lost.
"The Tok'ra device--"
"It's wrong," she cut him off, her fingers clattering down on the keys. She put her hands in the pockets of her suit jacket. She didn't look at him.
Taking a step toward her, he said tentatively, "I don't think so.
Freya was pretty certain about the results."
Her back stiffened. "Well, Freya is wrong, too." Raising her head to look into the sun, she finished almost to herself, "Or lying."
"Why would she lie?"
She threw her head back to look at the ceiling and huffed out a breath before turning back to the sun. "Who knows? Who knows why a snake does anything?" Her knee began to bounce as she stared, open-eyed and unflinching into the brightness, chewing her lip. Rounding on him suddenly, she demanded, "Why would I lie?" She stood and, coming around the piano bench, took a couple of steps toward him, aggressive. Involuntarily, he retreated, bumping up against the edge of the coffee table. Caught by dying rays of the sun, her hair was flame, but her face was in shadow, her eyes uniformly black and alien, a bead of blood red on her lower lip where her teeth had broken the skin. "Why would I lie about that? Don't you think I want to know what happened to them? I lived with them for three weeks on that planet, in the goddamn rain, and they were my friends. Why, why would I lie?"
He said nothing. It had taken everything he had just to bring her here to his apartment to ask her for the truth and he had nothing left. He didn't know how to explain to her that he wasn't trying to tear her open, but to mend her. He didn't know how to tell her that he was afraid of her and of what she'd done for him, of the strength it took to carry the secret for months like broken glass under her tongue. He was afraid she'd try to touch him, and that the touch would break him. Because he wanted it, more than he wanted the truth.
Her eyes were hot on his, as though she'd absorbed the heat of the sun and now unleashed it on him. "Daniel, please, please believe me," she begged him. "Just believe me. That's all. Just-- "
As her hand came up to caress his face, he stopped her, closing his fingers around her wrist. "Please don't. Don't touch me." But in spite of his resolve, he faltered as her hand began to shake in his grip, and he smoothed her curls off of her forehead, kissing her eyes closed so that he didn't have to see the fear in them.
Clearing his throat, he pushed away from her, raising his eyes so he could look over her head. Suddenly the sun winked out and he felt a moment of vertigo, as though the horizon had tilted sharply upward and he was falling backward into the cold, blue pool of night. He wanted to hold on to her to steady himself. But he didn't. He let go. "I can't do this," he began, stopping when his voice began to waver. "I can't let you do this, either."
"I'm sorry." Time to pay the piper. Throwing on his jacket, he left her there, looking dismal and abandoned in the middle of his living room, and when he came back hours later, she was gone.
* * *
Sweeping his notepad off his desk with one hand, Jack headed for the door, swearing under his breath as he looked at his watch. "Late, late, late. Damn." He stumbled backward a step when, just as he was turning the doorknob, the door swung inward. He angled his head to the side to avoid being clocked, and then looked around the edge of the door to see Daniel, just leaning his own head in. Jack could tell from the cast of his face that all was not well in Danielville.
"What?" he asked with a jerk of his chin, his eyes narrowing as Daniel licked his lips nervously.
"Gruber called me. He says something's wrong with Leda. And she missed her appointment with MacKenzie," he said as Jack opened the door the rest of the way and turned toward the phone on his desk. "I already called the gate. She didn't sign in. And there's no answer at her apartment."
"Maybe she's just running late," Jack offered. Like me, he didn't bother to add. All he got was a frown in reply as he punched an extension into the phone and waited for the ring. "Did Gruber say what kind of wrong?" Daniel shook his head and Jack turned his attention to the phone. "Sir, we've got a little situation here. Dr. Novak didn't check in today and Daniel's worried. If we could postpone the briefing--. Yes sir. We're going to run by her apartment, just to make sure everything's-- Yes sir. Thank you." He hung up the phone and smiled reassuringly at Daniel's relieved face. "Let's go."
* * *
Gruber was getting out of his Jeep in front of Leda's apartment building when they arrived. He strode over to meet them as they pulled up to the curb and started talking before Daniel was out of the truck.
"She sent me her damn cat," he said, his big, beefy hands gripping the truck door and slamming it shut after Daniel jumped out. "I don't know much, but I know it ain't good when somebody sends you their goddamn cat."
"Did she say why?" Daniel asked, pain throbbing in his chest.
"The note just says 'Leave Daniel out of it. He's allergic.'" Gruber gave him a look that assured him there was serious bodily harm in Daniel's future if Leda was not one hundred percent hunky dory.
The three men marched through the lobby, Daniel nodding familiarly at the security guard at the desk, and climbed the stairs to Leda's second-floor apartment. It was an old building with a slow, creaky elevator with an accordian gate, oak floors and diffuse light filtering through stained-glass windows, and only two apartments per floor, one overlooking the street and one the garden in the back. Leda's was one of the latter. Daniel knocked on the polished oak of the door and listened while Jack and Gruber waited. Nothing. He knocked louder, shouting, "Leda! It's Daniel. Are you in there?" He paused and held his ear close to the door. Turning to Jack, tension tightening his voice, he said, "I hear water running. She's in there."
Before he had finished speaking Jack was already at the stairs, heading for the security desk, mumbling to himself that he'd never live it down if the good doctor was innocently taking a shower while three worried men prepared to bust into her apartment. While he was gone, Daniel kept knocking, now with the heel of his hand, and shouting through the wood. "C'mon, Leda. Please open the door." Gruber paced, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his windbreaker, looking like he'd like to dispense with the knocking and the security guard and just bust the door to splinters. After forever, when Daniel's hand was numb from pounding, Jack returned with the guard in tow, and they waited, shuffling anxiously while he fumbled with his enormous ring of keys and finally got the door open. Jack waved at him to stay in the hall as the three men stepped into the apartment, Daniel in the lead.
It was serenely dim. They paused in the small entrance hall while their eyes adjusted to the diffuse light before moving quietly as burglars into the living room. The wide windows and the doors to the balcony were all shrouded in thick, white curtains that glowed with the morning sun angling down through the branches of the oak tree outside, thin slices of blue sky and bare branches showing where the curtains came imperfectly together. Always neat, Leda's apartment now had the bereft, sanitized feel of vacancy, of a place waiting for a new owner, a feeling reinforced by the tidy stack of boxes that occupied the middle of the round, white rug in the living room. The walls were bare, picture hooks hanging uselessly within pale rectangles, and the bookshelves that filled the partition wall between the living room and the kitchen were empty.
"What the hell. . . ?" Gruber whispered, his hand groping for a lamp. The light came on and he leaned over to read the labels on the boxes, written in Leda's almost mathematically-precise printing on the top flaps and on the sides for easy reference. They were names. His, Daniel's, a few others he didn't recognize. "Jesus," he said, running a hand over a box with his name on it.
Daniel didn't linger to wonder why Leda would be packing up her things for her friends. He stalked down the hallway toward the sound of water running in the bathroom, feeling a prickling of sweat rise on his face as he moved into the cloud of steam that was beginning the fill the hall and slick the walls with condensation. Pausing fractionally beside the door, he called her name softly. Receiving no answer, he held his breath and turned the corner.
She was there, sitting on the mat, wrapped in a white terrycloth robe, a bottle of gin and a glass beside her on the white tile floor. The bottle was half-full. Next to it was a prescription bottle, on its side, a scattering of blue pills around its open mouth. The bathtub was the old-fashioned, claw-footed kind, white porcelain and deep. The stainless steel faucet was full on, scalding water pounding down, splashing the floor now, and Leda's bare feet, as the tub filled to within a couple of inches of the top. On the rolled rim of the tub were balanced two double-sided razor blades.
As Daniel hesitated in the doorway, Leda raised her head to look at him. Slowly, the corners of her lips curled upward in a sad and ghastly parody of her seductive smile. "Hello, Daniel," she said, with a kind of resignation in her voice. "Come to save me, have you?"
He rubbed his sweaty hands on his pantlegs, his jaw working, as he processed what he was seeing. Slowly he entered the room and lowered himself to a crouch in front of her.
She smiled again. "Don't look so scared, Daniel. I'm not going to bite."
Behind him, he could sense Jack standing in the doorway. Then, he felt Jack's hand on his shoulder as the colonel steadied himself to lean over to turn off the tap. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jack dip his hand into the water, hissing at the bite of heat, and tug the chain for the drain. The water began to swirl away with a gurgle. As Jack withdrew he moved to scoop up the blades from their perch on the edge of the tub, but Leda was quicker and snatched them into her palm.
"Nasty, Colonel Jack. These aren't easy to find these days y'know. You have to be motivated."
She squeezed her hand around them and Daniel's face crumpled as blood began to leak from between her fingers. He ducked his head, composing himself, his mind racing. Turning his head slightly, he aimed a thought at Jack, who nodded and stepped back into the doorway. At that moment, Gruber pushed up against Jack from behind. Daniel could see him reflected in the mirror above the sink, a combination of belligerence and disbelief making his mouth a twisted line.
"Hello, Jan," Leda called out with a wave of her other hand. "You, too, huh? How's Miles?"
"Your cat. Your goddamn cat. Whatterya doing, Leda?" He started to push Jack out of the way, but the colonel held fast and pivoted, turning to place a hand in the middle of the man's broad, muscled chest. Daniel could almost hear Gruber's heart pounding under his windbreaker as Jack took a step forward, gently but insistently pushing Gruber further into the hallway.
"Go get Frasier down here," Jack ordered in a low voice, waiting until Gruber's confused blue eyes shifted to focus on his. Daniel knew his brown eyes would be steady. "Go on." He tilted his head toward the living room. "Let Daniel handle this one."
Gruber stared at the colonel, his face mobile with warring emotions. Finally conceding that he had no idea what to do, he decided to follow orders. With a pained look over Jack's shoulder at Leda, he stepped sideways away from him and headed down the hall.
A few moments later they heard his gruff voice talking to the duty officer at the base. Then Jack leaned his back on the doorjamb, hands deep in the pockets of his leather jacket, and Daniel turned his full attention to Leda who was watching them all, her white-lipped smile still subtly twisting the porcelain beauty of her features.
She laughed, a short, sharp bark. "Oh, God, Daniel. This is such a cliche. You'd think I'd be able to come up with something more creative than this." She gestured with her bloody hand toward the gin and pills. "It's like a bad movie. I should've just stepped into the wormhole vortex and then it'd be all tidy and you wouldn't be sitting there with that tragic expression on your face." She paused, rolling the back of her head back and forth a few times on the tiles of the wall, her white hair smearing the condensation there. "But you guys never let me in the gateroom anymore. Ever since--" The bark again. "Ever since I was compromised." The word seemed to amuse her and her harsh laugh tumbled into a low chuckle. "Some compromise," she finished bitterly, lowering her eyes to watch herself push the pills around on the tiles with an extended finger. Blood dripped down, dabbling the white with a red of obscene intensity.
Daniel eased himself forward onto his knees, watching her closely, his hands gripping his thighs. He had to clear his throat twice before he could speak. "How many of those have you taken?" he asked, beginning with concrete things, with details. The bigger questions loomed, though, making his tongue feel thick.
Her finger paused, and she raised her head, her eyes glazed with calculation. Then she smiled again. "Only two, Daniel," she answered reassuringly, as though he were silly to think she'd take more. He started to sigh with relief, but the air hitched in this throat as she went on, "Don't want to pass out before I get to the deed." She raised her hand to indicate the blades folded out of sight in her curled fingers. "It's all very complicated. You have to have your wits about you."
His eyes fixed on her hand, he gripped his thighs tighter, unsure of how to proceed, and wanting only to reach out and force her to let the blades go. He made an abortive gesture to this effect, and she responded by squeezing her fist tighter. Forcing his hand back to his lap, he asked softly, "Why are you doing this, Leda?"
She shrugged with one shoulder, still toying with the pills, arranging them into an arrowhead that pointed at Daniel's left knee. "You know," she mumbled, her words slurred with emotion she refused to show. "You were right all along. Of course." Her eyes flicked up and across his face before returning to the tiles and the pills. "The evil in my subconscious is too strong to resist," she said, assuming a dreamy sing-song voice as she quoted. "The only way to win is to deny it battle. Oma Desala tells us this," she concluded, nodding her head in almost mock reverence.
Daniel's mouth tasted sour. He swallowed. Behind him, Jack shifted his weight, his eyes on his shoes. Across the hallway, Gruber sat slumped against the wall, hands and face slack, listening.
"I don't think this is what Oma Desala had in mind when she said that," Daniel objected with a dry mouth. Now the pills made a spiral amid the streaks of blood.
"Well some of us don't have the benefit of a--a personal relationship with Mother Nature to sort everything out for us, Daniel." He looked up to see her glaring at him, her black eyes intense with anger. "We don't get to dream our futures. We just have to live with them." Her hand was shaking, the blood staining her robe in streaks. "Or without them. If we're lucky." As he opened his mouth to protest, she cut him off. "I'm doing this for you," she declared stridently. Then, leaning toward him conspiratorially, she whispered, "There are worse things than snakes, Daniel. I'm doing this to save you from me." She slumped back and returned sullenly to her pill- arranging. "I'd think you'd be grateful."
"Grateful." The word came out as a gasp. God. His hand shot out and he grabbed her wrist, squeezing the tendons until her fingers opened. He retrieved the blades from her bloody palm with the other hand and threw them viciously into the tub. "You can't do this," he told her, the levelness of his voice maintained through pure stubborness of will as she struggled to pull away from him. "I'm not going to let you. You're too good for this."
At this she screamed, her voice rising in panic and then collapsing into an endlessly long, keening wail of anguish. Stunned, Daniel dropped her arm and raised his fists to his ears, his eyes wide. Jack took a step into the room, stopping with his knees just touching Daniel's rigid back, while in the hallway, Gruber struggled to his feet against the wall, breathing heavily. The wail seemed to go on and on, falling in pitch slowly until it became a groan. Leda clutched her hair with her hands and threw her head back, smashing it against the pristine tile of the wall. Her hair was stained with red where her bloody hands tore at her curls.
"Good! Good, good, good," she moaned, banging her head backward with each word.
Daniel lurched forward, grasping her head with both his hands and pulling her in so her sweaty forehead was pressed against his chest. "Stop it. Stop this," he whispered. With the fingers of his bandaged hand he gently probed the back of her head. There was a lump forming, but no blood. Panting into his chest, she was otherwise quiet. He was shaking, suddenly cold and sick with adrenaline. He could hear Jack's steady breathing above him, feel the crackling intensity of his attention. Jack wasn't going to let them fall. He allowed himself to relax a tiny bit.
After a moment her hands came up and she pushed him away, collapsing back against the wall, her face lined with exhaustion. Daniel settled onto his knees as he was before, Jack's legs against his back. When she spoke again her voice was sorrowful.
"You think you need to save me from the demon." She squeezed her eyes shut as though she could keep the realization from forming. "But what if the demon is me?" she whispered at last. "Who do you save, then?" Opening her eyes, she fixed them on Daniel's, reaching up to stroke his face, her bloody fingers leaving a streak of red on his jaw. He was frozen, unable to move or speak, the pulse in his chest a hot, tearing agony. "I am Malecshee of Kar," she told him flatly. "I thought he was an invader, but he was just a mirror." Her hands went up to clutch her hair again, her eyes closed against the pain in Daniel's face. "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry." Her voice trailing away, her hands fell to her sides, and he feared she'd lost consciousness.
Then her eyes opened and she stared again at the ceiling, thinking. "I killed them, you know," she announced, her gaze skating down the white tiles to meet Jack's. "I killed Purchase and Kresky. That's why you never found them. Because they're dead and gone and I killed them." With liquid speed and grace, her arm came up, her fingers curled into a claw that opened outward until she held her spread hand over Daniel's forehead, a few inches from his eyes. "I fried their brains."
The memory of hot, hateful energy coursed like a vengeful ghost down his spine, and, convulsively, his fists rose in front of him. Jack leaned forward slightly, his legs in Daniel's back as Daniel forced his locked spine to unbend and pressed himself against the reality of his friend's reassuringly solid presence. He opened his eyes. No glowing red jewel there in Leda's palm. Just the red of her blood spiralling down her arm in almost elegant arabesques.
Daniel tore his eyes away from her hand and focused on her face, and that was worse. The snake itself was gone, but it left its trace on Leda's features, a sadistic arrogance that drained the humanity out of her eyes. A mask that made nothing of him. He was paralysed.
Behind him, Jack simply pressed his knees harder into Daniel's back and reached out a hand to briefly brush the backs of his fingers against the bristle of hair at Daniel's nape. The touch seemed to break the spell. Daniel felt Jack brace himself to take his weight as he leaned into him again for a moment. Gathering himself, Daniel reached up and gently folded his fingers around Leda's wrist. She did not acquiesce, but rather closed her hand slowly into a fist that he forced down and cradled between his own hands in his lap. "No," he said, his voice steady and certain. "You didn't kill them, Leda. You're not responsible."
"Oh? You know this, do you, Dr. Jackson? The all-knowing Dr. Jackson." Her eyebrow rose archly. "Do you know that we tortured them?" She waited for his reaction. Satisfied with his expression of pain, she continued relentlessly, spitting the words into his face. "Do you know that Kresky wouldn't talk, no matter what? Do you know that he bit his tongue in half to keep from talking? Do you know that Malecshee didn't need them to talk because he already had all he needed from me? He had my soul, after all, didn't he? He tortured them because we could, because they were good and small and human. But they wouldn't break. And we fried their brains ever so slowly, just enough so they knew they were dying and that he wouldn't let them die. He wouldn't kill them. He wanted them to hear us laughing. My laughter. We could roast them forever and ever if he wanted to. And they wouldn't break, and they wouldn't die--the stupid, stubborn sons of bitches--and it went on and on and on." With each repetition, her fist pounded into the floor beside her. "And I--" She stopped, biting her words back. With a choking groan she let her head fall against the wall. "I wanted them to break, Daniel. And I killed them," she concluded dismally in a small voice, her eyes on the cool blankness of the ceiling. "I killed them."
And Daniel could see it. Malecshee with the ribbon device wrapped around Leda's slim arm, aiming its destructive hate at Leda's friends. And Leda, somewhere inside, thrashing and pleading, pulling on the reins with all her might, trying to make it stop, to save them. But how could she stop a thousand generations of hatred, of evil, from running its course? What reins could she pull on when the monster had no conscience, when humanity meant nothing to it? How could she ever hope to counter that momentum?
"So you pushed," Daniel said aloud. Her eyes met his, brimming with tears of grief and guilt and relief. "You pushed, didn't you?" The tears spilled out, tracing white tracks through the blood on the side of her face. "Leda," he leaned close, his eyes intense, willing her to believe him. "You released them."
Closing her eyes, Leda pulled her legs up to her chest and cradled her head in her folded arms on her knees. The sobs wrenched from her carried an agony too great for her body to express. Each one tore out of her, rending her and strafing Daniel with shrapnel. Sliding over beside her, Daniel put his arm around her and pulled her close to him, enclosing her with the other arm in a protective circle as Jack backed out to meet Frasier and her team at the door.
End of Part Five
* * *PART SIX: EPILOGUE
"It was the time between the lights when colours undergo their intensification and purples and golds burn in the window-panes like the beat of an excitable heart. . . [when] the beauty of the world which is soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder." (Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One's Own)
"Dr. Jackson, why don't you sit down?"
Because if I sit down I'm saying I belong here, Daniel thought. He did belong here, of course, in MacKenzie's office, with its plastic plants and a mirror framed like a window, illusions of comfort that couldn't mask the fact that they were in a missile silo at the heart of a mountain. Daniel continued to lean his shoulder against the wall near the door, one foot perched sideways on the other, his hands in his armpits, resisting, in spite of his rational understanding that he needed to be here. He was overdue for his exorcism.
"Is Leda going to be alright?" he asked, dodging. Don't do that, Daniel. Don't use her to avoid yourself. "Is she going to get better?" Weak bastard.
MacKenzie scribbled briefly on his notepad as he answered, glancing over his half-glasses. "The fact that she staged her suicide attempt at a time when she knew she would be missed suggests that she doesn't really want to die." He paused, and Daniel could see him considering how far he was willing to follow his patient down this diversionary path. "As for the Goa'uld memories," he continued, putting down his pen, "only time will tell if she'll ever be able to access them fully, or to understand what they mean. One way or the other, she wants to live and that means finding a way to live with what's inside her head. Others have managed it, and people around here don't call her 'Bulldog' for nothing." Pausing again, he pulled off his glasses and tucked them into the pocket of his lab coat. His eyes seemed less calculating now without them. Finally he concluded in a compassionate tone that hinted that there was more to MacKenzie than a perverse interest in the freakshow of the human mind, "She wanted you to rescue her. That's a positive sign."
Closing his eyes, Daniel shook his head. "So, who's going to rescue her from me?" he asked.
"Well, I would suspect that you are. But first you have to rescue yourself." MacKenzie's thin lips turned up in an approximation of a smile. "It's a cliche, but it also happens to be true."
Daniel considered this. He didn't feel like he needed rescue. He needed penance. Atonement. He wished somebody would make him pay, instead of treating him like he was the victim, like he deserved sympathy and understanding. He knew that this was a deeply fucked-up place to be, but he saw no way out of it except punishment. It scared him that the world had suddenly grown so small, the options so few. Releasing his hand from under his arm, he contemplated his bandaged knuckles.
"There is another way, you know," MacKenzie offered, reading his mind.
"What's that?" Daniel surprised himself by actually wanting to know.
"You can sit down, for starters."
* * *
Jack was waiting for him in the corridor when Daniel left MacKenzie's office. Wearing jeans and his leather jacket, his silver hair covered by a Bulls cap, he was leaning against the wall, swinging his keychain around his index finger and whistling tunelessly, a duffle bag at his feet. Daniel recognized the bag as his own.
"Am I going somewhere?" he asked warily.
"Nope. Well, yeah. My place."
"Nope," Jack repeated, straightening and pocketing the keys. "Strictly volunteer."
"Right. Danger pay, then."
He grinned almost imperceptibly as he zipped his jacket and handed Daniel the bag. "A little."
They were silent until they got into Jack's truck and Daniel slouched down in the seat with his eyes closed.
"So, what did MacKenzie say?" Jack asked, his arm thrown over the back of the seat as he maneuvered the truck backward out of the parking space. When he got no answer, he tugged at the hair on the back of Daniel's head before putting both hands on the wheel. "Fess up."
Sighing, Daniel stayed slumped in his seat, his only concession to participation in the larger world being a momentary glance out the window. Sleet. "He says she'll probably be able to work through this," he answered, once again the artful dodger. Weak bastard. "Trying to kill yourself constitutes some kind of breakthrough apparently. If you do it with witnesses anyway." Tugging his glasses off, he rubbed his eyes and pried them open again. Still sleet. He shivered.
"I meant about you. Don't mess with the master, Danny-boy. I've made evasion an artform, remember?"
Daniel turned and studied Jack as he drove. His eyes were narrowed, and there were lines around his mouth that came only when Jack was exhausted, and only when he thought no-one was looking. For the first time, it occurred to Daniel that Jack had been wrung out, too, by this whole thing, and he castigated himself silently for being such a self-centred ass-hole that he hadn't seen it before. But, of course, Jack had been doing all of the watching lately, and Daniel the hiding.
"Sorry," Daniel apologized, his throat tight. He slouched deeper into the seat and brought his knee up and wedged it against the dashboard, still unable to dish, in spite of his good intentions. "You know MacKenzie." He waved his hand dismissively. "I don't suppose you'd believe me if I told you he wants me back in the field as soon as possible." Jack raised an eyebrow. Nope. Didn't think so. Jack would be reading the psych report in any case. Daniel sighed again. "Really, Jack, I'm fine. Freakishly resiliant, remember?" The lines around Jack's mouth deepened. Crud. If MacKenzie had Jack's face there wouldn't be an unplumbed psyche in the mountain. Special Forces interrogation techniques. "I'm supposed to stop punishing myself," he offered finally, throwing him a bone.
"Ah. Sounds familiar," Jack responded somewhat cryptically as he pulled onto the highway.
"We still talking about me?"
Jack didn't answer and they tacitly agreed to let the sleet make conversation for the rest of the drive. And Daniel was greatly relieved.
* * *
When the light was still shining in a sliver under the guest room door at two a.m., Jack grumbled something incomprehensible even to himself and climbed out of bed. Insomnia loves company. No, that's misery. Same diff.
Opening the door without waiting for an answer to his knock, he stuck his head into the room to find Daniel sitting up against the headboard, his legs crossed under the covers and his journal open on his lap.
"Danny. Whatcha doin'?"
Daniel looked at his journal, then at his pen, and then back at Jack. "Shovelling snow," he said flatly.
"Droll. Whatcha doin' at two in the morning when normal people are asleep?" Jack came in and stood at the end of the bed with his hands on his hips and his hair sticking up in the back, looking for all the world like a sleep-deprived father catching his kid reading comics with a flashlight under the covers.
Daniel responded, "I'm getting in touch with my inner megalomaniac," the upward tilt of his chin daring Jack to find that cute.
"Right," Jack shot back, quicker than he had any right to be in the middle of the night, "Are you actually writing or just making lists of preferred techniques for world domination?" That seemed to strike a chord, or several of them, and Daniel looked away, his face crumpled up in a frown. Crap. "Can't sleep or don't want to?" Jack asked, steering for thicker ice.
"Afraid to, actually," Daniel answered.
Oy. So much for thicker ice. Jack wrinkled his nose, considering what the options were at this moment. Going back to bed and covering his head with a pillow was an attractive one. Settling for a compromise, he loped back down the hall and returned fifteen seconds later with his pillow and the comforter from his bed. He made a show of spreading the latter out on the couch under the window and of punching and fluffing the former, balling it up behind his head as he stretched out, his feet dangling over the end of the couch in a pair of worksocks. Not exactly the picture of comfort, but better than a bedroll on lavarock.
"Uh, Jack? What are you doing?" Daniel asked, still sitting up against the headboard.
"I'm building a nuclear reactor."
"That's Sam's job."
"Sam didn't pull the short straw." Then, in his best "I'm the colonel, here," voice, "Go to sleep, Daniel. I'll watch your six. If you get lippy in your sleep, I'll deck you into serious unconsciousness." Showing Daniel his fist to prove he was capable, Jack threw his arm over his eyes to block out the light and prepared to lead by example. He was just sinking into that fuzzy space between waking and sleep when Daniel's voice prodded him back to the world. The light was still on, Daniel still leaning against the headboard, looking at him. "What?" he sighed resignedly, hitching himself up onto his elbows and blinking.
"She said I was a parasite. Like the Goa'uld," Daniel repeated, shifting his gaze to look over Jack's shoulder.
"Who said that?" Jack blustered, vicariously insulted.
"Leda--" Catching himself, Daniel winced. "Actually, it wasn't Leda. I just thought it was. I guess that it was me."
Jack was getting that look he got when he wasn't following, sort of a frown, except with the eyebrows going up instead of down. Sitting up, he scrubbed the look off his face. "What are you talking about? Leda said you were a parasite? Or you did?" Shaking his head to clear the cobwebs, Jack latched on to the most accessible of Daniel's statements. "You're no parasite. You're a lot of things--some of them very annoying--but Goa'uldesque you are not." He stretched out again. "Now, go to sleep." He was only lying flat for about half a minute before he sat up, still steamed by the inference. "And the fact that you can even consider that that crap is true is nuts."
Daniel looked at his hands. "You don't know, Jack. You have no idea what I'm capable of."
"C'mon, we're all capable of nasty things. We all have our--" he groped in his fogged late-night memory for the phrase, "--inner megalomaniacs. It's what we do about it that counts."
"If you knew what I did to her. What I made her believe. . . ."
Resting his elbows on his knees, Jack held his head between his hands. Oh boy. Messy. Why'd it always have to be so messy? Whatever happened to the sleep cure? Massaging his temples with the heels of his hands and trying not to groan, he said as though addressing the deliberately and perversely obtuse, "Daniel, you would never intentionally do anything to hurt her. If something bad happened, it happened to you, too, not because you made it happen. When are you gonna cut yourself some slack?"
"I don't want slack. And I don't want to be absolved," Daniel snapped.
Jack's head came up. "Oh, I'm not absolving you. I'm saying you're not evil, not that you weren't colossally stupid. If you'd've talked to somebody instead of carrying this stuff around on your own--"
"Oh, that's rich coming from you!"
"Aw, quit it with the diversionary tactics, okay?" Jack responded, refusing to rise to the bait. "You know what drives me nuts about you?" Daniel started to make an "oh, enlighten me" face, but the intensity of Jack's glare cowed him. "You're a frigging cosmic punching bag, and for some reason you think it's your fault. It's annoying as hell."
Daniel bridled defensively. "I hardly have the market cornered on self-recrimination. I seem to remember something about an A-bomb--" His jaw snapped shut on the words, rattling his teeth. "Sorry," he mumbled immediately.
Jack stared at him for a moment, wondering if "piss off" would be an appropriate therapeutic response. He sighed, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. "Alright, fine, so I get to be the expert for a change. Look, I was a suicidal ass-hole who took a one-way trip because I couldn't deal. I got no illusions about that. But you," he leveled a finger at him, his dark eyes flashing under his scarred brows. "You've got compassion for everybody but the high-and-mighty Daniel Jackson. And that's just twisted. You hold yourself to standards nobody could meet and then you tie yourself up in a Gordy--whatchacallit--"
"Right, Gordian knot when you turn out to be as fucked-up as the rest of us. It's always way too complicated with you. Me, I'm simple."
Daniel opened his mouth, but that one was just way too easy. "I thought this wasn't about you," he said instead.
"Shut up, Daniel."
Jack threw himself back down flat on the couch and punched his pillow. Staring up at the ceiling, he said after a while, his voice calmer, but still brittle, "Nobody's pure, Daniel. But the fact that you're ripping yourself up about this shows what kind of man you are. Accept it and let yourself off the hook for a change." He was silent, his eyes closed. Then, "When I went to Abydos, I thought there was just one choice, and that was punishment, serious, that's all folks, so long and thanks for all the fish, terminal-type punishment. That 'gate was the only way out, and as far as I was concerned it only swung one way." Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes again and met Daniel's directly, his expression open, knowing, and kind behind the lingering exasperation. "You showed me I was wrong. That's the kind of man you are. Shit happens. Deal with it and move on."
"Like MacKenzie said, stop punishing yourself. It's not easy, believe me, I know." He closed his eyes and threw his arm over them again. "But you have a choice. The 'gate swings both ways, if ya wanna get poetic about it."
Daniel was silent for a long moment, one hand tracing the edges of the bandage on the other. "The true nature of a man is determined in the battle between his conscious mind and his subconscious desires," he recited at last. "Oma Desala tells us this."
"So, how'd that work out for you?"
A small smile crossed Daniel's face and disappeared. "I'll let you know."
Pulling the blanket up to his chin, Jack yawned a jaw-cracking yawn and rolled over to face the back of the couch, saying groggily, "I'm not the man I used to be, and I never was. Chuck Jones tells us this."
Daniel turned out the lamp and slid down, putting his glasses and his journal on the beside table, folding his hands behind his head. "Isn't that the Bugs Bunny guy?"
"Hmm. The light of wisdom shines in unlikely places."
"You got that straight, sister," Jack yawned. "Now, good night, John-Boy."
"Good night, Grampaw."
"Shut up, Daniel."
* * *
The air had that scrubbed feeling that always made Daniel jittery, that sense that there was a war going on between germs and disinfectant, illness and health that seemed the characterize hospitals everywhere, even in the desperate corners of the world where the germs and the illness had the upper hand. He breathed shallowly as he walked down the corridor to Leda's room, a small paper bag of gumballs with its cheerful note from Nurse Sally in one hand, and his empty journal in the other. His feet heavy, his steps slow, he realized that he was afraid to see Leda. It had been two days since he'd held her on the bathroom floor, pressing a towel to her lacerated hand while she cried and cried and cried. In the meantime, he'd followed the advice of her doctors, and his, to give her space and time to regroup, but he'd felt every minute like he'd been hiding from her, from this place.
As he approached Leda's room, a man rose from a chair by her door and stood squarely in his path, feet apart, hands balled up inside the pockets of his down jacket. He was short, barely reaching Daniel's shoulder, but stocky. The hair that remained on his balding head was close- cropped and white.
"Daniel Jackson?" It was a question, but it sounded a lot like an accusation. Up close now, Daniel could see that his eyes were a familiar, icy grey.
"Uh, yes. I'm Daniel." Tucking his journal under his arm, he held out his hand. The man ignored it and Daniel let it fall. "Derek?"
Derek nodded, a brusque upward jerk of the chin. There were smile lines deeply etched around his eyes and mouth, but here was no smile on the round face now. "Yeah, I'm Derek. Connolly. You look just like she described you." There was a subtle Dublin lilt lurking behind the upper New York State in his gruff voice.
"And you look just like her."
It was easy to see that Derek's normal response to the comparison was something garrulously self-deprecating and charming and Daniel could almost see the words forming before Derek crushed them with a grim twist of his lips.
"I been waiting for you." He took a step closer. "So's you can tell me what the fuck is going on."
Wincing inwardly, Daniel tried to keep his face impassive. He licked his lips. Suddenly his mouth was dry. "What have you been told?"
"That she was kidnapped. On that field mission in the fall." A muscle was twitching just below Derek's eye. "You guys said back then that she was out of contact, but she was just delayed. Delayed. Nobody said a fucking thing about any kidnapping. She never said-- I talk to her all the time and she never-- She was fine." His eyes strayed to the closed door to Leda's room. "She. . . seemed. . . fine."
"I know, Der-- Mr. Connolly. But it's c--"
"Classified. I know!" Turning abruptly, he kicked impotently and half-heartedly at the duffle bag on the floor by the chair. When he looked back, his eyes said, "Tell me, anyway" and Daniel identified intensely with General Hammond, whom he had left not an hour ago in his office staring at the blank screen of his laptop, beginning the letters. To say what? "Dear Mrs. Kresky, your son's death has been confirmed. We can't tell you where or how or why. There is no body." Explanations that explained nothing.
"I was going to say 'complicated,'" Daniel responded a bit wryly and continued softly, "I don't think she meant to lie to you. I'm not sure that she even knew she was lying." Pausing, he let Derek process this for a moment and went on, "But you're right. It is classified. I'm sorry."
Derek pulled a hand out of his pocket and levelled a stubby finger at Daniel's chest. "Listen, I was a Marine. I know about security. But--" Breaking off, he went and slumped down in the chair. When Daniel sat down on the little table beside him, his journal and paper bag on the floor between his feet, Derek sucked in a breath and blew it out, puffing his cheeks. "This happened before, y'know."
Daniel raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Really."
"Yeah. Right after she got out of college, before she went to the UN. She was working famine relief in North Africa. These villagers took her. Hunger-crazy. They wanted to trade her for grain. Talked her way out after three days." He shook his head. "Two days later, she's right back at it. The same village."
Daniel smiled. They sat silently for awhile, Derek staring at his feet, Daniel at the image in his mind's eye of a twenty-five-year-old Leda in the back of a flatbed truck, sitting on sacks of grain, her already-greying hair wrapped in a bandanna, her hand raised to shield her pale eyes from the hot African sun. At the end of the corridor, the wind blew a cold rain against the window.
"Just tell me this one thing," Derek said suddenly. "This time, did those fu-- did they rape her?"
Daniel's head jerked up. After a moment he leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and looked at his hands. The bandage across his knuckles was beginning to itch. Too many ways to answer that question. Finally, he turned and looked at Derek over his shoulder. "No," he answered.
Derek caught him with his gaze, assessing, reading him, studying his face. Daniel wanted to look away, but, instead, he waited. At last, Derek seemed to make his decision and Daniel could see the barriers, the frustration and the anger, folding inside him like a house of cards, leaving his eyes naked and fearful.
"Jesus," Derek breathed. "Sweet merciful Jesus." He covered his mouth with his hand and then ran it over his bald head. The gesture was so Leda that it made Daniel's chest constrict with affection and pain. Looking at the older man's hands, lying limply now in his lap, Daniel noticed he was missing the tip of one thumb. Leda's hands were small, with narrow, delicate fingers. Derek's were almost too large, broad, calloused palms and blunt fingers, the knuckles swollen a bit with the first signs of arthritis. They were hands worn by years of working with wood, making toys, puppets. Derek was the inventor of ingenious and whimsical things. Leda had one of his marionettes hanging above her desk in her lab, a tree frog barely the size of her palm, with intricately articulated limbs and painted in meticulous, naturalistic detail, except that the eyes were laughing and the smile was just a bit too knowing to be real. Every night before she left her desk, she tapped the frog on the head, sending it leaping on its strings. For luck, she said. Sitting now in an green plastic chair in the sanitized hallway of a military hospital, Derek was an anachronism, incongruous. He didn't belong here. None of them did.
"She talks about you all the time," Daniel offered.
"She's my girl. Raised her up when her folks died. My sister--" His voice was getting wispy with tears. He cleared his throat and went on gruffly, "Not that she needed much raising. She was fifteen when she come to me. I seen as soon as she got off the plane she knew way too much about things. And stubborn! Man alive!" He laughed, a warm, gravelly chuckle. "Wanted to wring her neck more'n once."
"O-oh yeah," Daniel agreed, meeting his smile with one of his own.
Derek caught him again in his appraising gaze and then released him, clapping his big hands down on his knees and standing up to shoulder his duffle bag. "I gotta go get a shower. I been traveling all night." He thrust a hand out and they shook.
"Do you need a ride?" Daniel asked, rising and collecting his things.
"Naw. You go sit with my girl. That fella over there's assigned to cart my old ass around." He pointed at an airman who was leaning over the counter at the nurses' station, talking to a nurse who leaned in to meet him. He must've been doing something right, because she was laughing and tugging at his collar. "Better go break that up," Derek said with a wink that made Daniel's chest constrict again. "You can buy me a pint later, though."
Tearing off a corner of the back page of his journal, Daniel scribbled numbers. "That's my cell, and this one here's Jack's. I'm staying with him for awhile. Just call me when you're ready."
Extending his arm all the way and peering far-sightedly at the paper, Derek asked, "O'Neill, eh? An Irishman?"
"So he insists. He's dying to meet you."
Chuckling again, and with the brusque jerk of the chin by way of good-bye, he started off down the hall, hooking the airman by the arm as he went by.
Daniel watched them until they disappeared around the corner and then turned and went to stand in front of Leda's door. He tried to conjure again the image of Leda against the backdrop of the vivid blue desert sky and the shifting warmth of the sand, but the wind sent a last furious volley of ice pellets against the window and the scene dissolved. Taking a deep breath, he put a hesitant hand on the doorknob and stepped into the room.
She was sleeping, sedated, her white curls spiky and matted with sweat against her brow, her skin pallid and slack, heavy with drugs. Her hands looked somehow resigned and abandoned at her sides, the argument lost. Incongruous amid the abundant bouquets of flowers, monitors hovered over her like the faces of concerned retainers, their second-by-second evaluations and updates on her physical condition an agitation of symbols in the stillness of the room. Seeming to float in the pale light and coloured blooms, Leda was a queen on her barge, drifting across Lethe into Hades. One hand should be trailing listlessly in the dark water. . . .
He shook his head, banishing the image, thinking instead of how full the room seemed, as though the brightness of the flowers expanded into space with a hum of activity. His own offering, three calla lilies, stood on the beside table, white and pale green, each single petal curling in around itself, cool, contained. Leda would like the sentiment behind all these colourful flowers, but hate the way they blocked out the white clarity of the room with its single wide window and its view of snow and a low, grey veil of clouds. Leda's thoughts were most incisive, she said, when drawn in monochrome; if she were art, she'd be a Japanese ideogram. Daniel, however, tended toward the baroque or the byzantine, or, considered against the background of his past, the paintings of the Flemish renaissance. For this reason, Leda had had difficulty adjusting to Daniel's apartment, crammed as it was with shards, remnants of history, every surface covered with dogeared, brittle-paged books and artifacts carried back from all over the world to sit whispering together in dozens of dead languages, a visual Babel after the fall.
Once, she'd told him that he was a texture addict, a compulsive caresser of the past. This was true. Intellectually, his passion was for the greatest treasures of human culture: books, tablets, scrolls, anything that could be inscribed with the magical stitching of letters, the minds of humans made visible and sacred in their concreteness, perhaps cradled carefully on a layer of reeds and wrapped in linen, sealed and preserved by the hot breath of the desert, protected in a box of stone from the rasp of the sand's grainy tongue. But viscerally, it was the common things- -the ladle, the pitcher, the hairpin, the pestle with its battered mortar--that stirred him, the objects fashioned by ancient hands for use, to be set down carelessly when someone called a name and wanted to be greeted at the door, casual things of dailiness that the ancient users thought little of but would have been irritated to be without, searching their shelves and bags with their brows furrowed. These things were special, their textures formed not by reverence but by abrasion, by brushing continually against the calloused and uneven surfaces of everyday life. In touching them, their shapes rough or worn smooth, Daniel felt the warmth of long absent hands.
In contrast, Leda liked a sparseness that was almost ascetic, her apartment a study of white on white, bare surfaces, the only colour the spines of books on the shelves, two raspberry pillar candles in a wraught iron stand on the hearth. As much as she loved the way that the layered textures of Daniel's cluttered apartment seemed a perfect manifestation of the warmth and soft rustle of his voice, the encyclopedic eclecticism of his mind, she sometimes found it hard to think there--too many whispered conversations competing for her attention. When she was working on a problem, she would retreat to his bathroom and float in the tub, resting her gaze on the blank canvas of the ceiling, her mind freed by the cool abstraction of whiteness. It seemed fitting, in this way, that she would choose the bath for that ultimate act of clarification, the final reduction of all questions to a clear "yes or no"--live or die, innocent or guilty--her eyes fixed on the white ceiling as her mouth formed the forbidden words, "I killed them," the verdict scrawled in obscene red spatters on the painfully white tile and the ivory pallor of her skin. Daniel shook his head again; the image faded, but refused to disappear, hanging in his mind like smoke.
Moving carefully, almost warily, he pushed a chair up to the side of her bed and settled into it, his journal on his lap, the bag of candy on the bedside table at his elbow. He looked at her for a long moment, noting the evenness of her breathing, the soft vulnerability of her eyelids, blue with stress and fatigue, the way her lips were slightly parted as though she'd fallen asleep on the verge of speaking. He resisted the urge to touch her, not wanting to disturb the sleep she so evidently needed, and turned instead to his journal, retrieving the pen from his shirt pocket and opening the book on his knee.
"MacKenzie says I should stop punishing myself," he wrote, conscious of constructing full and grammatical sentences, anticipating with an almost anxious pleasure the orderly containment of paragraphs. "So, today I stood in the sleet without a jacket. This doesn't seem like much in the way of progress, but, since I wanted to stand in traffic, I'm counting it as a plus. I also refrained from dribbling chocolate pudding down the back of a Marine's neck in the commissary and I've managed to avoid Jan Gruber for the second day in a row. All of these things, taken together, constitute incontrovertible evidence that I retain at least a rudimentary sense of self-preservation. The road to recovery is traveled in tiny steps. On the other side of things, MacKenzie is starting to make sense to me, proving how deeply compromised my mental state must truly be. The road to recovery is also, very, very long."
Leda made a small moaning sound, her hand fluttering momentarily against the blanket, and he watched her, pen poised, holding his breath. When nothing else came, he bent his head again, continuing, "I told Mac about the writer's block and he suggested I address my journal to someone in order to put it in a new context, shift the ground. So, I'm writing to you. This is fitting since you're the one who deserves the most in the way of explanation. This Lucy has lots of 'splaining to do, to quote Jack, who says hello, by the way. He misses you, even though he insists that you're kind of a mouthy pain in the ass. Maybe Janet is right: you two are related. It's strange, though, writing to you when you're only a foot away from me. But you're farther than that." His hand wavered. "I seem to talk to chimeras--"
Dropping his pen into the spine of the book, he yanked his glasses off and threw them on the table. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, trying to keep the image from coalescing-- that first visitation from the dark Leda--but it was part of his flesh, sense memory, and wouldn't be denied: his muscles twitching and jumping away from her touch, her hot insistant breath on his neck, the way his name dripped from her lips like black water, staining his skin. "Bad dream?" she'd asked him that night, her face tender, concerned. Yeah. But whose? The last time, it was his dream, no doubt about that. And before? All those nights, the voice at the bathroom door--?
A small gasp escaped his lips. His body needed to feel, but, having trained himself so assiduously to put his feelings away, he'd forgotten how, the complexities of emotion reduced to this single, wordless bloom of pain in his chest. He'd become proficient at denial because he was a soldier--somehow he'd become a soldier--and the war wouldn't pause for any one man to mourn his losses. All that war allowed were serial acts of atonement for the crime of being alive when so many were dead--raped, enslaved, entombed in their own bodies with demons. He could grieve for their pain, but not his own. He was alright--time after time after time--because they needed him to be. He owed them. For him, there was only momentum: the next mission, the next planet, the next tragedy to be witnessed and endured and left behind. But his losses clung to him. Sewn to his heels like his shadow, they were a ghostly double that he could turn his back on but could never escape. And when, finally, they demanded his attention, they came to the bathroom door and spoke in Leda's voice because he knew that his Leda, the real Leda, wanted all of him, that she'd be satisfied with nothing less than wholeness. To accept her love for him he had to feel, and feel everything.
He dropped his hands and studied her, her pale skin limned by the distant sun of the winter afternoon, looking like she was made of mother-of-pearl instead of flesh, a devotional object held reverently by the light. And he felt the slow wave of longing rise up in him, like the ocean yearning toward the moon, elemental, and he welcomed it, letting his mind flood with aching. He ached for the feel of her. He ached at the memory of his body fitting together with hers, of looking down at her, his hands twined in her hair, rocking inside her, with her, telling her everything in a wordless language of motion, when somehow the spaces between them were nothing, when he could traverse the distance between the sea and the moon simply by putting his mouth close to her ear and spinning out the syllables of her name until they were a silvered thread of breath, supple as silk, binding, unbreakable.
"I have to learn to need you without breaking you," he said aloud, his voice a hoarse whisper, and the longing and the loss seemed to pull him apart, his lead feet dragging him down, the distance unspeakable, unbridgeable, unbearable. Cradling his head in his folded arms on the edge of her bed, his scarred fist in his mouth, he wept, silent and shuddering. Soon, he felt her bandaged hand in his hair, stroking with sure and infinite gentleness. And then her voice, "Shh, Daniel. Shh." After a while, he was still again. It was quiet.
"There are motions of the earth in which everything is forgiven." (Erin Moure, "Halls")
Notes: This was my first completed story. Thank you thank you thank you to Aces for her careful beta-reading of this marathon fic. It started out as a ficlet and became a novel, and she was tireless and patient and just generally wonderful.
Feedback welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.