October 2002


by Kest

He'd forgotten his former life, pre-Abydos, where home hadn't been a place of residence but the work he was doing and the people he was with. And then he'd had a real home, one of fixed markers situating him in that time and place, with someone to return to who was herself as solid as the walls and pillars. Someone alive, who breathed a dead language. It was both real and unreal.

The sacrifices felt hollow, but they stung. The life he'd made, his wife. His work. They visited cultures that represented a lifetime of research and study, and he had a few hours or a few days. He'd learned to take it in half-assed, thinking on his feet and speculating against the backdrop of knowing that he could be wrong. More, it was likely he was wrong, and that he was missing the important things that could provide the key to all this...stuff. The big picture, the grand design.

Then it was on to the next world, and the next.

The cab driver turned in his seat impatiently. "Where to?"

"Um." He didn't want to go home to an apartment barely his. Dead artifacts that were only a shadow of the living worlds he'd seen waited for someone else to claim them. He didn't know anyone in this city, didn't know any places to stop for coffee, to read, to have a drink. If he'd wanted that, he would have stayed here, at this bar or restaurant, or whatever it purported to be.

At the time, a walk had seemed a good idea. Two hours and a maze of streets and unfamiliar landmarks later, he'd realized that he was truly alone in a city that would never notice his passing.

He retrieved a street name from his buried memory and told the driver. "Do you know where that is?"

"Sure. It's maybe a twenty minute ride from here. You want to go that far?"

Daniel shrugged. Did it matter? "Just drive down the street. I'll, uh, know the house."

The driver merged into the stream of cars. It was dark by the time they found the street, and Daniel scanned the houses as they rolled by, wondering if memory could be trusted. Then he saw a house that looked familiar, and as he stood on the curb watching the cab drive off, he thought that at the very least Jack could give him a ride back to his apartment.

No one was home. The lights were on, but his knock was met with silence. He waited a minute, shifting on his feet, then left the pooled light of the doorstep to check the house's perimeter, as if by magic or intuition he could discover some sign of Jack's whereabouts. Leaves crunched under his feet, and the ground was wet and squashy.

A shadow loomed from the rooftop, and Daniel startled back. "Jack?" he called; it came out shaky, and he cleared his throat and tried again.

The shadow reshaped itself. "Daniel." Daniel blinked up in the dark. "Come on up," he heard.

He found a wooden ladder after several minutes of fumbling along the side of the house. He tested it suspiciously, pulled at the rungs, but it was fixed to the siding. It seemed sturdy enough.

"Up or down, Daniel," Jack called down dryly.

He put a foot on the bottom rung and hoisted up. It held. He closed his eyes until he reached the top, and was relieved to find that it was too dark to see much over the edge of the roof.

"Danny boy." Jack straddled the chair next to the telescope, a bottle wedged between his legs. He waved his hand in a gesture that said, sit down, take a load off, help yourself to beer.

"Hi, Jack." Daniel remained standing, and put his hands in his pockets uncomfortably. Now that he was here, he felt like an intruder and a lot like an idiot. He didn't know if their friendship covered uninvited evening visits. He suspected it didn't.

"Um." He looked around him helplessly. Jack didn't let him off the hook, and he could feel his cool appraisal. His face burned. "You know, I think I'll just---"

"C'mere a sec." Jack pushed back from the telescope, his chair scraping loudly on the wooden deck. Daniel hesitated then stepped forward. Jack gestured for him to look through the telescope, and after another moment's pause, he knelt in front of it.

His glasses hit the edge of the viewer. "Watch yourself," Jack said, and Daniel couldn't tell if he was annoyed or amused. He took off the glasses, peered into a blur of grey and white, then found the lens adjuster. A trio of stars came into focus in an elongated triangle.

"What am I looking at?"

"PC9173. Well," Jack amended, "the system's sun, anyway. Bottom left."

The star was smaller than the others and glowed faintly blue. He pulled back from the telescope and re-donned his glasses, and tried to make it out in the sky spread over them. The night was too clear, the stars too brilliant and multiple. "Hard to believe---"

"We were just there. I know."

He remembered PC9173 from a couple of weeks ago. An uninhabited planet as far as they could tell; they'd emerged from the stargate onto a dry plain that was by all accounts ordinary. They'd retrieved some samples, taken a few pictures, and marked it off the star chart. He hadn't thought about it much since then.

"Amazing, isn't it?" Daniel was surprised at the note in Jack's voice; he'd never known him to be particularly awed by anything.

"It is, uh, kind of amazing," he said uncertainly. He'd never really thought about the distances they traveled between the gates outside of the numbers and formulas Sam supplied. Distance was relative, he supposed.

"I should probably be going," he said. He was reluctant to disturb Jack's stargazing any more than he already had. He could call another cab.

Jack nodded in the direction of the house. "Stay a while. I've got more beer in the fridge, and a frozen lasagna in the oven."

"Frozen lasagna?"

Jack made a face. "It's not bad," he said defensively. He gave Daniel a look. "Good enough for you, anyway," he said aloofly.

Daniel grinned a little. "Sure," he found himself saying.

"Okay, then." Jack swung over the edge of the roof to the ladder in a practiced motion. "Next time you chip in for beer," he called up when he reached the ground.

Daniel remained where he was for a few minutes and looked around him. The work he was doing and the people he was with. It was the life he'd left behind, and one that, inexplicably, was before him now. He could get used to it again. It was a poor substitute, maybe, for what he'd had on Abydos.

Or maybe not.