Jmas Fan Fiction

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The Gate of Breath

By Jmas

 

“At the door of Life, by the Gate of Breath,

There are worse things waiting for man than death….”

Triumph of Time - Algernon Chas. Swinburne (1837-1909)

 

 

How in the hell can things go so wrong so damn fast?

 

Stupid question, O’Neill .

 

The answer is “easy”.

 

Too freaking easy when you add it up…

 

The goa’uld.

 

SG1.

 

Ancient ruins.

 

And don’t forget Daniel ’s usual run of luck.

 

Or your own.

 

Easy.

 

There was Daniel , chattering on about the architecture and what it might mean in relation to the goa’uld flavor of the month, the next thing we know we’re at the bottom of a very deep, very dark pit with two useless flashlights and a whole lot of water rising all around us.

 

Some snake’s weird idea of a welcome wagon…

 

As far as we know, Carter and Teal’c are still five klicks away at the village, and likely to remain clueless to our situation until we miss our next check-in.

 

Or until it’s way too late…

 

Whichever comes first.

 

At the rate this water is rising, I’m not taking any bets on it.

 

I know Daniel ’s hurting. He hasn’t said anything, but I know the tone he uses when he’s in pain and trying to think past it. He did good for a while, theorizing on the sadistic bastard who might have put this swimming pool in his temple. Then he went quiet - which didn’t help my state of mind at all. A quiet Daniel - no matter how much I might complain otherwise - is never a good thing.

 

Wish I could see better…

 

There’s a crack up above us where the door that dropped us down here didn’t completely close. Enough that I can see the walls are slick as glass and there won’t be anything for us to hang on to once the water gets too high for us to keep our footing. Enough so I can see Daniel’s face is white as hell under the bloody gash on his forehead. His glasses are gone, not a chance of finding them again, and he looks even more unfocused than usual without them. Concussion is a possibility; he wasn’t exactly hitting on all cylinders once we landed down here.

 

Guess we should be glad there was already some standing water; a thirty-foot drop onto hard ground is not my idea of a fun day.

 

The water is already up to Daniel’s collarbone. Between his fuzzy head and the buoyancy, he’s already having trouble keeping on his feet. I latch one hand onto his vest to keep him in place while I hit the switch on my radio for the umpteenth time. I know it’s useless, but I need something to do besides stand around freezing my nuts off.

 

Just like the last time and the other times I’ve tried it, the staticky signal gives no hope that so much as a syllable got beyond these walls.

 

Damn it.

 

Won’t be long until the water gets to the radio and even if we manage to stay afloat until we get closer to the top, I’m not so sure the term ‘waterproof’ takes complete and prolonged submersion into account.

 

We are so freaking screwed. No choices at all and a damn small chance we’ll make it.

 

Daniel knows. Somewhere in his fuzzy brain, he knows. That’s why he’s not making any comments about my repeated and futile attempts to call out. He’s getting ready to die, and he’s letting me do the same in my own way.

 

God, this sucks.

 

It’s too soon. We aren’t ready. I’m sure as hell not, and while Daniel ’s got a lot more practice, I’m pretty sure he isn’t either.

 

I’m pulled out of my thoughts as Daniel slides away from me, the water finally too much for him to hold out against. I kick off and pull us both up, treading water with one hand and keeping Daniel close with the other. This won’t work long and I know it. Sooner rather than later I’m going to need both hands free.

 

Wishing like hell I’d taken off my boots while I had the chance, I shift around to put Daniel ’s arm around my neck and tell him to hold on no matter what. He nods but I’m not sure how much he understands. We’ve been down here about an hour now, and the water has risen just over six feet. We’re still twenty or so feet from the top. Three or four hours any way we look at it until we get close to the top. I can do this. Hell, I have to.

 

~*~

Not long now. We’re almost there.

Daniel ’s still hanging on, doing his damnedest to help kick and stroke with his free hand, but over the past hour even his stubborn will has barely been enough to push his body beyond the limits he passed a long time ago.

Daniel doesn’t give up. Ever. But I think between the cold and the concussion, he’s about to hit the wall, that place where his body simply refuses to go along with the demands being made of it and shuts down on its own. I’ve been there, and I’ve seen Daniel hit it more than once over the past four years. After Abydos, after Sha’re, after Machello’s little parting gift, after letting the kid go off with Oma Desala, taking his last link with his wife with her.

For sheer force-of-will getting by, there aren’t many people I’d wager on outdistancing Daniel - but at the end of it all, he crashes and crashes hard. Scared the shit out of me more than once. Fraiser too. Now we both - along with Teal’c and Carter, and sometimes even George - try our damnedest to stop him short of the wall. We all have our own styles of bullying, charming, and/or silent reproach that can usually pull him out of it before it gets too bad.

A sudden weight against my back is the only warning I get before Daniel starts to slip away from me. He finally hit that wall, and it’s knocked him on his ass…or would have if we weren’t treading twenty-some feet of water.

With a desperate grab I manage to catch hold of the laces on the back of his vest just as his head goes under…

He comes up coughing and choking, arms flailing everywhere but where they need to be.

“ Daniel ?”

He looks up at me between bouts, nods thanks and mumbles an apology.

Hell, he’s apologizing for losing the battle he’s been fighting with his own body and this icy water for longer than most people would have kept trying - but then this is Daniel . He does shit like that. A lot.

“Don’t worry about it. Won’t be much longer now.”

We’re closer to the light now, so I can see his pale face twist in confusion.

“Longer…?”

He doesn’t finish the thought. He won’t bring me down if he thinks I still have hope, but it’s plain to see in his face he doesn’t. He hasn’t. Not since Sha’re died.

Why didn’t I see it? Dammit, I should have seen it. Pulling away, from us and from everything he loves doing…I should have seen it.

“ Daniel ?” The incredulity of this sudden revelation is there in my voice; there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

He looks up at me, his gaze meeting mine in perfect understanding. I don’t have to explain. He knows it’s there; he knows I see it now, only question is whether that loss of hope has gone so far to ground that he’s lost the will to keep fighting, whether the next hour or so until we reach the top will only be me fighting to survive - or both of us.

Long seconds pass, him looking at me with eyes that don’t reveal a damn thing for once, then he coughs again and can’t seem to stop it. I pull him up close to me and hang on, working hard to keeping us afloat while his body spasms gracelessly and in direct contradiction to the purpose of this exercise. As the coughing finally eases, his head flops over onto my shoulder in a way that makes me even more worried than I already am. Not a dead weight, but a weight that speaks of exhaustion and a body so far out of juice that even the spirit can’t keep it going anymore. The big question though - is the spirit even really trying anymore?

It’s not that I think Daniel ’s suicidal - hell, I’ve walked that edge enough to know he isn’t. Not really. But the soul knows a hell of a lot more than the so-called psyche and sometimes the soul gets so freaking tired of getting up one more time that it does its own private end-run.

Sha’re was always Daniel’s hope on the other side of the gate, we all know that - but I’ve never believed that was all Daniel kept doing this for. It was the thing that got him past the pain of loss, the thing that kept him going through a lot of dark-ass nights when sleep wouldn’t come or was shoved away.

Almost from the beginning though, Daniel ’s damnable curiosity and drive to know gave him a refuge from the ever-present awareness his wife and her brother were out there under the control of the goa’uld. There was a level of hate there too, no denying that, but it was always balanced by other things - things that have made us so many allies and friends out here. Openness, honesty, a sense of justice that overpowers just about anything else he might be feeling. I thought he was - if not happy - at least content to be putting his talents to use in places that made a huge difference. Even if he had to fight me a lot of the time to do it.

I reach up a hand to hold onto the back of his head, holding him to me as I try without words to let him know I’m here, that I understand, that I need to know where he’s at right now…

It seems like forever before I feel him take a long shuddering breath against my chest, and slowly his head comes up again. His eyes are clearer, tired but resolved. He’s not gone, just unbelievably tired and hurting - and maybe just feeling the burn of too many bad times a little harder than usual. But under all that, Daniel ’s still there.

Yeah. Okay. I can work with this.

“Still with me?” I ask, really meaning something else entirely.

He blinks hard, and his back straightens even as his hand continues to hang onto my vest. Then he nods, once, and I’ve got my answer.

“I’m here, Jack …” And I know he means a lot more than the words are saying. That’s everything I need to hear. “I’m here.”

Damn right you are, Daniel . We’re going to be okay. Hell, better.

I think something very important just happened here, and later - when I’m not so freaking cold and tired and busy - I’ll think about just what it was.

The important thing is we’re less than ten feet from the door, and the brightness in Daniel’s eyes has a lot more to do with what’s coming from inside than the light shining down from above.

We’re going to make it.

There are a lot of things worse than dying, sometimes just living is harder. The thing is to keep trying - and between me and Daniel when it comes to trying…

Hell, we’ve got it made.

 

*fin*

 

 

 

 

 

 

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