Den of Chaos Fiction
Stargate SG-1

Level with the Shore
by Taselby
cover by Tripoli

 

Not mine, no money, no ownership, no harm, no foul, no additives or preservatives. This is for chelle who pimped, elynross who cheerleaded, Killa who listened with more grace that I’ve ever managed, and for Destina who said that I couldn’t blame her until I actually finished something.

Title is from “Wolves,” by Louis MacNeice


The tide comes in and goes out again, I do not want
To be always stressing either its flux or its permanence,
I do not want to be a tragic or philosophic chorus
But to keep my eye only on the nearer future
And after that let the sea flow over us.
--from “Wolves,” by Louis MacNeice


It smelled like someone had set a VCR on fire, the stench of smoke and hot metal, the taste of burned plastic at the back of his throat. Jack swallowed against it, his tongue thick with dehydration, and tried to push past his vague sense of irritation into the territory of the truly insulted. There was just something cosmically wrong with an alien spaceship stinking like a barbecued appliance.

The Goa’uld: despoilers of innocents, pillagers of worlds, roasters of home electronics. He glanced at the dead Jaffa in the middle of the floor and added “fashion victims” to his mental tally of offenses.

Christ, his head hurt.

He sucked another wheezing breath of the heavy air and levered himself up straighter against the bulkhead, trying to ease the pressure on his broken ribs. The wrecked control panel beyond the Jaffa sizzled and sparked into flame, fire eating away at the already minimal oxygen. He tried to care about that, the numb awareness of danger sounding strangely like Carter’s voice in his head, but he was so tired. If he could just rest a bit, then he’d take care of the fire.

It was pretty. Red light flickering over the golden walls, the haze of smoke like ribbons in the air.

The smoke burned his lungs; the air was heavy, like breathing soup, hard to push in and out, in and out. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, chest aching with every shallow breath. Just a minute and then he could find the others…

“Jack? Jack!” Firm fingers pressed into his neck, rubbing too familiarly over his head. The gentle, insistent touch of a medic, or a friend.

He flinched and pushed the hand away as it stroked down over tender ribs. “Your hands are cold,” he croaked, surprised at how rough his voice was. He looked up into Daniel’s face, pale under bruises and blood, the left lens of his glasses spiderwebbed with cracks. “Where’ve you been? Missed the party.”

Daniel looked down sharply, breath whistling in his nose. His hands stuttered to a stop, trembling under the folds of Jack’s coat, fisting hard in his shirt for a long moment before he sniffed hard and continued patting him down. “Sorry about that. I, ah…” He cleared his throat. “I had another appointment.”

“Dance card full already? You’ll get a reputation.” Wherever they fell, Daniel’s hands cut through the cottony numbness that cushioned him, sparking his nerves back to life. Jack wasn’t sure he liked it. He wondered if Daniel had any water. Or maybe a beer.

Daniel flashed him half a smile, his eyes bright and -- not red, everything was red -- bright and raw over the rims of his glasses. Jack wanted to close his own eyes in sympathy, but Daniel kept on talking and patting, leaving flickers of disjointed pain behind, his worry palpable in his touch.

Still talking, that rambling stream of consciousness that was pure Daniel, obviously -- to Jack, at least -- as much to keep himself focused -- distracted -- as it was for Jack. “Oh, you know I always save a spot for--” Full stop, and his hands on Jack’s leg hurt in bright, specific, please-God-I’ll-do-anything-even-eat-Teal’c’s-cooking-if-you-just-make-it-stop ways.

“Jesus, Daniel!” Daniel kept on doing things that had Jack squeezing his eyes closed, ready to give up cheap beer and red meat, stop gambling, anything… He breathed hard and shallow through clenched teeth.

Another endless moment and Daniel finally stopped torturing him, and the cottony feeling came back, warm and thick. Jack felt like he was falling, stomach rolling like he was about to throw up. Daniel patted at his own clothes then, belt and boots, and it was funny except for the sharp edge of panic to the movement. “Do you still have your knife?” Daniel demanded. “Give it to me.”

Jack handed it over hilt-first, knowing what was coming. Even so, he gasped at the jerk and sigh of ripping fabric, rousing from his fugue as Daniel calmly slit his pants leg to the hip and peeled it back, leaving him cold and exposed, air stinging against wet skin. Daniel stripped off his own jacket and t-shirt, folding the soft material quickly and pressing it down hard just above Jack’s knee.

Pain exploded, hot, ripping away his lassitude, forcing the air from his lungs as Daniel leaned on his leg. From the rhythm of his speech, Jack was pretty sure Daniel was cursing. Good, good... As soon as Jack got some wind back in him, he’d help Daniel cuss the paint off the walls.

It seemed like a long time, punctuated by pain and the cadences of Daniel’s cursing, before he made it back to English. “God damn it, Jack. Here, hold this down.”

Jack’s hands were pressed into the sticky wad of t-shirt on his leg, and Daniel leaned back, fumbling with his belt. His hands were dark and wet, leaving dark smears on his belly. He looked absurdly exposed in the dim chamber, strange and beautiful with his broken glasses grabbing at the red light.

“Oh, Christ--“ The air was forced from him again as the belt was cinched cruelly around his leg. “Fuck, that hurts.”

“You’re going to be all right,” Daniel assured him in a voice tighter than the belt. Blood was already seeping out from under the compress, dripping into the pool staining the floor.

Daniel shifted down and ran the knife up the laces of Jack’s boot, laying it open. He eased the boot and sock off, leaving Jack’s leg exposed from hip to toe. Straightening the foot, he pinched Jack’s toes hard.

Jack’s foot was cold, the pinches muffled and far away. “It’s not broken,” Jack said, hating this. He was banged up pretty good, but he just needed a minute to rest. He was tired, starting to shake a bit from holding himself upright.

“No, it’s not.” Daniel scowled at his foot like it was a stubborn translation, then moved back to Jack’s side.

Black spots swam in his vision, but perversely, his head was clearing. It must be bad if Daniel wasn’t going to give him crap about it. Fuck. He swallowed, thirsty. “How bad?”

Daniel tightened the belt some more, but wouldn’t meet Jack’s eyes. “You’ll be fine.”

“Daniel.”

“We’ll just stay here for a while till someone comes to get us the hell off this ship.” Daniel shook his head and forced a smile. “And to think I saved a spot on my dance card for you.”

“Really? I could have told you. Two left feet. You’d need steel-toe boots.”

“That’s all right, I have some. It’s what all the space-faring archaeologists are wearing this season.”

“You’re nuts.” Jack smiled, struck by the thought of Daniel in construction boots and formal wear, clomping around a dance floor. He must have hit his head. He nodded vaguely toward his leg, curious and wanting to get away from the thought of him and Daniel as some tweaked-out version of Fred and Ginger. If Daniel was in the tux, did that mean he had to wear the sequins? Concussion, definitely. “What was it?”

Daniel squinted for a second. Maybe he was thinking of taffeta, too.

Probably not.

“Your leg? I don’t know, shrapnel maybe. There might be some still in there, but I don’t want to dig around right now.”

Jack scowled at him, the muscles of his face feeling distant and unresponsive. Novocained, except for the headache part. “I know it was shrapnel, Daniel.”

“Yeah, I guess you would.”

“Yeah.” Jack swallowed again, trying to work up some spit. “What exploded?” There was debris on the floor, but nothing obviously to blame.

Daniel looked around and wiped his hands on his pants. “You don’t remember?” he asked, hitting the vowels in that irritating way he did when his brain was running faster than his mouth.

Jack started to shrug, then thought better of it when his ribs sparked against one another. “No, I don’t remember.” There was a long pause. Daniel kept staring at him, rubbing his hands on his pants leg, worrying at the dark stains over and over. Jack finally had to look away. He looked at the fire in the control panel and pushed away thoughts of jazz orchestras and USO dances. There were a hundred things they should be worrying about, and nothing that really mattered. “Carter and Teal’c?”

That should have been his first concern, whack upside the head or not. Damn. He tried to concentrate, but the ability to focus slipped from him like a fist full of sand.

Daniel’s eyes flicked up and back down, and he licked his lower lip, hesitating.

Dammit. “Daniel.”

Daniel’s mouth opened and closed again, as if he were searching inside himself, looking for the shape of the words. Jack thought he’d have to prompt him again when Daniel looked back up and shook his head minutely.

Oh.

There was no time for grief, so he carefully set that aside and promised himself he’d deal with it later. “SG-5?”

“No,” Daniel whispered.

Jack swallowed hard against the knot in his throat and nodded. “All right then,” he said simply. He hoped that some of the blood on Daniel’s hands belonged to whomever had killed Carter and Teal’c, that that had been the appointment he was keeping.

There was a fierce kind of joy in the thought.

“Are you hurt?”

“Me, no. I’m okay.” Daniel’s eye was blackened and swollen behind the cracked lens, bruises on his ribs and shoulder clear even in the dim light. His hair was matted down with blood over his left ear, dried rivulets on his neck, but scalp wounds bled a lot. Jack doubted that Daniel was as fine as he let on, but he wasn’t moving like he was seriously injured. Something else to deal with later, then.

“So,” Jack said as brightly as he could manage around the weight in his chest and a head that felt three times its usual size, “what have we got to work with here? Engines, gliders, communications?”

“Umm, not much.” Daniel waved his hand, somehow managing to indicate the whole sorry state of affairs with one eloquent gesture. “Main power is down, as are the engines. Batteries should last… I don’t know, several days or so, depending, but that really doesn’t matter since life support is also gone.”

“No life support?”

“No.”

“Well that’s not good. Can we fix it?”

“It’s gone, Jack. The generator is in little pieces, and most of those got blown out through a hull breach. Sam…” He stopped and blinked hard, tongue flicking out over his bottom lip. “We lost a lot of air.”

Daniel was talking, but in Jack’s head it was Carter’s voice he heard carefully triaging the ship. Carter would describe it all with big words and balanced equations, quoting cold numbers and dead scientists at him as if somehow that made it more palatable that they were going to die here. Oh, well if the numbers say so.

His heart thudded behind his ribs, too fast, making his head swim. Jack didn’t speak the language of numbers like Carter did, so that made it easier to dismiss, to tell her she was wrong, and she just needed to keep rearranging the figures until they did what he wanted them to. But Daniel didn’t speak numbers, either, so he just kept pouring words on Jack like sand.

Jack understood sand. They both did.

“Jack? You with me?” Daniel said, reaching for his hand. For a dizzy instant Jack thought he was going to hold it, but Daniel just checked the pulse in his wrist with a twitch of his eyebrow, as if he were teasing. The joke almost worked until he pinched Jack’s fingertips hard and frowned at the result.

Jack pulled his hand back. “Stop that. Where were you?”

“Umm, gliders. The glider bays are all empty, but we’re too far from a planet to get there in a glider anyway. The last al'kesh was taken by Kali and a squad of Jaffa just after the C-4 started to blow.”

“She got away? Fuck.”

“Yeah. The engine room is flooded knee-deep, and so are several of the decks above us.”

“Flooded with what?”

“Damned if I know. Coolant, maybe. It stinks pretty bad. I don’t think we can drink it.”

“Okay, so… communications?”

Daniel sighed and took his glasses off, scowling at the cracked lens. “The long-range communications array appears to be down. I set a distress signal that should keep broadcasting as long as the batteries last, but I don’t know how far it’s going to reach. We’re pretty screwed.”

“Well.” Jack breathed and tried not to cough. “We’re not having the best day here, are we?”

Daniel’s breath rushed out of him, a chuff of sound that could almost be mistaken for amusement, if there were anything to laugh about. “No, I umm… I don’t suppose we are.”

Jack shivered hard, biting off a curse as his ribs shifted. It was definitely getting colder. Maybe it didn’t matter. “Where are you taking me dancing?”

Another snort. Daniel put his glasses back on. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

Daniel’s eyebrows went up, and he looked through the tops of his glasses in that way he did that meant anything from you’re not really going to eat that, are you to oh, you’ve just mortally insulted the top of the local power structure and they have to kill us now, but the effect was ruined by the shattered lens.

“I’m serious. Dance card, construction boots, dancing.”

“All right,” Daniel said in a tone that clearly indicated he thought Jack was insane, but he was going to humor him. “What kind of dancing do you like? Nightclub, ballroom, country?”

“What do you like?”

“I asked you first.”

“Sure, but you’ve been out dancing more recently.”

Daniel was giving him that look again, like he was trying to decide if there was a pod under Jack’s bed. “I danced on M2X-601, but I wouldn’t necessarily call that out.”

The dancing on M2X-whatever had seemed pretty “out” to Jack. His head continued to pound. Daniel had to do it deliberately; no one could be that smart and that obtuse at the same time. Jack wheezed and shifted minutely, searching for a comfortable position. “Yeah, the beads and feathers thing works for you. But I was thinking of a different ambience than, oh…”

“Under duress?”

“Yeah, that’s no fun.”

“No.”

And the silence spun out again, thick with smoke and the wet rasp of Jack’s breathing. Vertigo translated itself into the ungainly tumble of the ship through space, spinning, making his stomach roll with it until he was forced again to close his eyes to the fractured red light sparking on Daniel’s glasses. Daniel, steady in a world gone mad with movement, solidly there beside him as everything tilted drunkenly--

Jack clenched his jaw and breathed hard through his nose, fumbling for Daniel’s hand as the battle was lost and he tipped to the side, retching hard.

“God--“ he gasped, chest burning, ribs disgustingly unanchored, and heaved again, falling, unable to support himself.

“I’ve got you; it’s okay.” Daniel caught him, held him until it was over, eased him back up and wiped his chin. For a moment he was eight years old again, spending the summer with his cousins including one interminable weekend sick from bad shellfish. Uncle Rudy had been like this with young Jack, unexpectedly gentle for such a big man, filled with good humor even when Jack had vomited in his lap. “It’s okay.”

Daniel felt his head again and tipped his face up to squint into his eyes. “I think you have a concussion.”

Duh. At least his mouth didn’t taste like a secondhand tire anymore. He swallowed, thirstier than ever, ready to trade his truck for a bottle of water and a toothbrush. “You’re just saying that so you don’t have to take me dancing.”

Daniel shifted like he wanted to pace, but settled for wiping his hands on his pants again. “Is this where I say you’ve gone and seen through my master plan?”

“It’s a standard script.” Jack looked at the faintly steaming mess beside him and made a face. “Can we move?”

“You really shouldn’t. It’ll hurt… All right, all right,” Daniel folded too easily under the half-assed glare Jack directed at him, already standing and moving to where Jack couldn’t see him, unable to turn his head that far without the room spinning again. “Can you stand?”

“Yeah.” He clenched his teeth and got an arm over Daniel’s shoulders, and managed to get his good leg braced against the floor. Even pushing for all he was worth, Daniel did more than half the work of getting him upright, breathing like a bellows in Jack’s ear. God, this was a mistake.

He managed two halting half-steps before his bare foot skidded in something wet that oozed between his toes, and his stomach rolled again as he realized he could feel the wetness but not the toes themselves. His leg crumpled underneath him, and he would have fallen if not for Daniel, who made a tight noise like pain and something that might have been a curse, or a prayer, but Jack couldn’t hear him over the sensation of tearing in his own chest.

Daniel clutched him too hard, arms under his and over his chest, dragging him in an ungainly shuffle across the room, Jack’s leg trailing limply behind them, wet foot stuttering against the floor. He was eased back, too tired to be concerned that he’d surrendered his immediate care to Daniel, held in the straddle of Daniel’s legs, against his chest, conserving heat.

Daniel was trembling, breath hitching in his chest again as he swallowed back small sounds. Jack did the polite thing and pretended not to notice.

“You said you could stand.”

Jack wanted to nod, but it was all he could do right now to hold his head up and ignore the room’s spinning. “I did stand. I would have stood better but you cut my boot off.”

“I’ll buy you a new one.” Daniel pulled him closer and covered them both with his jacket.

There was a rushing sound from above that might have been the coolant spilling out to a new area or maybe just air hissing out of invisible cracks as the ship fell apart. Jack’s leg above the belt was the only place on him that felt warm. His chest burned, but that was different, a soggy strain against acrid smoke and the need to cough.

“Place is on fire, here, and it’s still freezing,” he complained.

Daniel didn’t say anything, just tucked the jacket up higher under Jack’s chin and made him feel like a pissy eight-year-old again.

Jack scowled in the direction of the dead Jaffa. All he could see from here was a pair of booted feet sticking out from behind the console, and his own bare foot, tangible proof of overwhelming, universal unfairness. It was hard to work up a good anger at boots, though, so he thought of the man’s arrogance and pretentious speech, and the surprised look in his eyes when Jack had finally broken his neck. Ha. Yeah, snake’s not too good with that one, is it?

He absolutely didn’t think about Carter and Teal’c, or Harper and the rest of SG-5, Martinez, Chou, and that new kid whose name he’d never learned. Behind him, Daniel was warm and solid.

Breath chuffed against his cheek. Daniel could use some mouthwash, but Jack didn’t expect that he smelled minty fresh himself. “What are you smiling about?” Daniel asked.

“What’s not to smile about?” he said, more from habit than a real reluctance to talk.

He could almost feel Daniel’s squint. Eyebrows up, then down, a slight pursing of his mouth, and… “Do you want that list alphabetized, or in order of severity?”

The ship shuddered and groaned around them. Behind the electric sizzle of burning wires there was a faint popping that reminded Jack of training flights in the old Cessnas of his undergrad days. He wanted--he wanted to take Daniel flying, real flying, just them and the sky and a jet that felt like an extension of his own body, that shook his fillings with the sheer power of flinging itself into the air.

Daniel shifted behind him, and Jack settled deeper into the offered warmth, lulled by the steady rise and fall of Daniel’s chest. Distantly, he knew that sleep was dangerous, but it was hard to care, hard to stay angry when he was just so tired. When Daniel was warmth and safety, and Jack wanted so many things.

“I’m sorry,” Jack said at last.

Daniel stirred a bit, readjusting his arms across Jack’s chest, careful of his broken ribs. “For what?”

A dozen wildly inappropriate things sprang to mind, all of them deserving apologies, none of which could ever be spoken between them. “For--“ Under the edge of the jacket, he waved his hand, searching for words. They slid away from him again, like sand. “For getting you into this.”

There was another long silence, and Christ, he could feel Daniel thinking, needle-sharp focus boring into the back of his head. “You didn’t do this, Jack.”

There was a muffled explosion deep in the ship, and more of the popping noises, the slow tick of cooling metal as it contracted. Jack clenched his jaw against the urge to cough, the urge to vomit again. Daniel took the moment like a foot in the door, words pouring out of him, dry and grainy. “What, are you going to tell me that you should have foreseen this? You’re really amazing sometimes. I knew the risks, and I chose to be here. You don’t get to assume the burden of every shitty deal the universe hands us.” Daniel tensed again, shivering, chest trembling like he was holding back a cough, too. “After all we’ve been through, haven’t I earned my place here?”

“Is that how you think I--?” Somewhere the point had been lost. Exhaustion pulled at him, and he fought it, needing to get this back, to scrape together the scattered bits of what he was trying to say. What he could never say.

“God, no, it’s not that,” Jack said, blood and bile at the back of his mouth. He’d long ago accepted that some choices weren’t his to make. Given that choice today, he would’ve liked to think of Daniel at home, spread out on that big couch with his books and ugly art and endless cups of coffee. Safe.

Years of choices made steered him away from that line of thought.

“Jack,” Daniel said without heat, sounding as weary as Jack felt.

“Daniel-- Do you really think-- ?” Jack let the question trail.

“No, not really.” The flashpoint of anger faded, and Daniel sat up a little straighter. Jack could feel the hitching in Daniel’s breath, but the arms around him held on gently when he started to slide. Daniel tensed again, shivering, chest trembling like he was holding back a cough, too. “Maybe sometimes.”

“It’s just--I want--“ I want to know you’re safe, he couldn’t say. I don’t want to die here and leave you alone. There was a dark smear on the floor where Daniel had dragged him, and the air smelled like plastic and ozone, smoke and copper.

“--I want to take you fishing.”

Daniel went still and quiet, and Jack focused very intently on the tremors of the ship, the chill of the floor, the dying flicker of fire from the center console. He closed his eyes and failed utterly to imagine the look on Daniel’s face, what he might be thinking. Slowly, Daniel’s arms came up a little higher, solid and reassuring.

His nose tickled the back of Jack’s head.

“Fishing?” Daniel rolled the word back out into the haze and darkness. He drew it out, as if they had all the time in the world to make themselves understood. As though Jack were teaching him a new language.

“Yeah. You and me, a cooler of beer and sandwiches…”

“I get to pick the beer.” He could hear the smile in Daniel’s voice, their heads resting together. A tiny part of him thought that this was too close, too intimate, but who was left to care?

“You pick the beer,” he agreed. “But I get to pick the music.”

“Won’t music scare the fish away?”

“Nah, there’s no fish in that lake anyway. It’s all about the beer and the company.” Sorrow settled over him, peaceful and familiar. He was cold everywhere Daniel wasn’t touching him, and so tired, the need for sleep dragging him down like a river undertow. There was still hope, and he clung to it jealously. Hammond knew where they were, and he wouldn’t give up. Daniel had said himself that there was a short-range distress beacon broadcasting. Hell, Kali might decide to come back in that al'kesh to finish them off personally.

Goa’uld were sometimes crazy like that.

Or they might get picked up by the Vogon constructor fleet. Stranger things had happened.

Jack forced his eyes open. “Daniel, come fishing with me.” It wasn’t quite a question. His heart pounded high in his chest.

Daniel fumbled for his hand, threading their fingers together and squeezing with bruising force. “I will, Jack. I’ll bring decent beer and bug repellent and extra antihistamines…”

“And long sleeves. It gets cold at night.”

“Right.”

“Daniel? You never had to earn your place. It was always yours.”

Daniel pressed his cheek down a little harder against Jack’s head, breathing warmly into his hair. “Jack.”

He couldn’t say that he was glad that Daniel was here with him; that was too cruel. Sleep pulled at him, down, down, into dark water. It wasn’t so cold anymore, and that was good. Regret tugged at him, and the deep reluctance to leave Daniel. Even for a little while. “I’m so tired,” he said softly.

Daniel held him tighter, and pressed a fierce kiss into his temple. “You sleep then. I’ll take first watch.”


end

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