The Only Vision


Part of his job as team leader was to assess his team's functionality, and right now he wouldn't rate it very high. On a scale of one to ten, they were at a five. Of course, that was only if he were being generous. Right now, Teal'c was the sole team member who was behaving normally, quite a coincidence considering the last time they had stepped through the Stargate the guy had nearly lost his life, and voluntarily at that. Also quite a coincidence was that Teal'c was the only one whom Jack had complete assurance. They'd had a discussion about not ever, ever withholding important information in depth enough for Jack to have received a family tree so he'd know Teal'c wouldn't go chasing off after his long lost Aunt Betty. He was comfortable knowing Teal'c was there to perform his very best, and that his intentions were for the good of the team.

It was Daniel that Jack was worried about. Only of slightly less concern was Carter. He thought, he *knew*, they got along like gangbusters, which made their current behavior extremely obvious. Carter acted just fine around him or Teal'c, but put her next to Daniel, and her demeanor changed radically. She wouldn't look him in the eye and inevitably skittered away from him as if he had cooties. As for Daniel? Daniel wouldn't look at any of them, in the eye or otherwise. Something pretty drastic must have happened to provoke such strong reactions, but Jack could not figure out what, or even when. Some great team leader he was. He was sure it had gone on for a considerable time before he took notice, and he couldn't excuse his failure away as post-mission adrenaline.

He had requested this brain-numbingly dull mission for the express purpose of getting to the bottom of his personnel issue, feeling neither Daniel nor Carter would want to air dirty laundry at the SGC. Now that he was here, though, Jack wasn't quite sure how he was going to manage it. His first thought was to split them off together to duke it out, so to speak, but he couldn't guarantee that anything other than bloodshed or increased tension would come from it. No, it was better to determine the source himself by speaking with them individually. Being off world, there wasn't much choice as to who was first on the list.

"Daniel, I'm with you to check for any signs of civilization the MALP might have missed. Over here. Carter, you and Teal'c do whatever it is you do," Jack said, pointing the opposite way he and Daniel were headed. "Over that way."

For a second, it looked like his decision to split the team, quite unnecessarily, was going to be questioned, but the queries ended with a raised eyebrow, pursed lips and one set of wide eyes, respective traits from each of his team members. The second second had Carter's objecting eyes narrowing in what looked like relieved recognition as she darted a miserable glance toward and then away from Daniel. Oh, yeah, they were one big happy.

"Unless something too fascinating to turn away comes up, we'll meet back at the 'gate in an hour. Keep your eyes open. Even if this looks like an unoccupied planet, I don't want any surprises."

"Yes, sir," Carter said, sounding for all the world like she was doing a prickly pear impersonation.

Daniel coughed, then cleared his throat. Watching both Carter and Daniel surreptitiously wasn't as difficult as it could have been, what with both of them giving their undivided attention to their bootlaces, and Jack took the opportunity to continue his scrutiny for any overt signs that might clue him in before he had to go into an in depth conversation. The only new information he gleaned from their stubborn countenances came from an outside source. Teal'c, it seemed, sensed the tension as well and was scowling at Carter and Daniel as deeply as he probably was himself. At least that confirmed all this wasn't in his imagination.

"Okay, then," Jack said. "An hour."

Carter and Teal'c moved off with stiff gaits. For one of them, that was expected. For the other, it boded ill. Jack tracked them as they walked a few paces, looking for his 2IC's slight duck walk to make an appearance, but she carried herself like a rigid queen. He frowned when he heard Daniel clear his throat again, in what he assumed was an unspoken cue. He pivoted toward the other man, who was looking somewhere in the area of Jack's shoes. Well, that beat completely turned away, but was still too closed off for his liking. There had to be a way to get Daniel to speak with him. Jack almost hoped there were artifacts here somewhere, because a distracted Daniel, believe it or not, was easier to get information out of than a bored-off-his-rocker Daniel. The guy tended to let his mouth go while his brain was otherwise engaged.

Jack would have to remind himself to get Daniel to work on that little, dangerous quirk when they got back to Earth.

"I can't believe what a nice day it is, can you?" Jack said, spreading his arms wide in Disney-movie schmaltzy dramatics.

Of course, Daniel didn't respond. Come to think of it, Daniel had been much quieter than usual, along with his newfound penchant for admiring the ground. Not that the guy was a chatterbox, but add the reticence with the shoe-staring and that equaled trouble. Much bigger trouble than he'd initially considered. Jack dropped his arms and started walking. This wasn't going to be an easy task. He didn't know if an hour was going to be long enough...or if it was going to be too long. One thing was for certainly true about Daniel Jackson - he was stubborn. It might take Jack an hour to get Daniel to look at him let alone speak with him. Yeah, he had set himself up for a challenge.

They walked without saying anything, which wasn't uncommon. Normally, he might not mind the quietude to enjoy the idyllic surroundings of Pwhatever-whatever. Today, the silence was as loud as a cricket hidden away somewhere in his room on a late summer night. It usually only took him ten minutes of chirping before he was driven stark mad and leapt out of bed to find the elusive insect. Unsurprisingly, it took him about ten minutes of silent walking before he wanted to reach over and wring words, any words, out of Daniel.

"What's going on with you?" Jack blurted.

Smoooooth. Leaping at various corners with clumsiness always succeeded in letting the cricket get away to chirp another annoying song; a surefire way to get Daniel to clam up even more, if that were possible, was to try in a very obvious manner to get him to talk. Jack couldn't take back the words now that they were out in the open, he could only try to salvage. Crickets - and Daniel, coincidentally enough - were not known for giving in to coaxing.

"What do you mean?" Daniel said, face still averted away from Jack.

He hadn't expected any type of verbal response. Something was better than nothing. Something should be latched onto and milked for all it was worth, hopefully without being too much of a clod in the process. He hated this emotional stuff, and hated that this team in particular was pretty heavily rooted on his emotional plane already. Much as Jack wanted SG1 to be a standard military unit, they so weren't that. He just couldn't decide if that was a good or bad thing. Right now, his vote was leaning toward bad.

"You just seem quiet. You doin' okay?"

"Fine."

Right. Fine. Fine is what a person said when they meant something entirely different and had no intention of elaborating. *Come on, artifacts, tiny little indications of society, come out wherever you are, Jack called silently, help me here*. Nothing leapt from the shrubbery lining the path. Which was, of course, actually a good thing. The only leaping that could happen would be from a live critter. Like a cricket.

"Fine like an expensive wine or fine like you'd rather not discuss this?" Jack said, trying to keep his voice non-confrontational.

"Guess," Daniel said.

Jack sighed, removed his hat, ran his fingers through his hair and put the hat back on. In this instance, it didn't matter to him what Daniel wanted. The good of the many outweighed the needs of the one, and yadda yadda. He focused on Daniel's slumped shoulders, wished he could do or say something that would make the other man stand tall.

"I don't have to guess. I also shouldn't have to tell you why I have to know what's going on with you and with Carter. I'm not blind or stupid, Daniel. I see there's something, and whatever it is, it's affecting your performance."

Daniel stopped short, looked directly at him for the first time on this mission. Horror was the only word Jack could think of to name the expression on Daniel's face, so violently flashing in the archaeologist's eyes they almost took on the effect of glowing. Jack flinched as if the nerve he had struck was his own, flinched because he couldn't allay the comparison to a Goa'uld's glowing eyes. It was apparent to him he'd said the wrong thing even before Daniel started walking quickly away from him, like the devil was at his heels.

"Daniel!" Jack called. "Wait."

Daniel didn't wait. Daniel had more speed than he thought he did, forcing Jack to jog to catch up. He had had the cricket by the leg and then let it wrench itself free. He was determined to get it back again. If the damned cricket were an airman instead of a civilian his life would be so much easier, but he had made his bed and now he had to work with the cricket so he could lie in that bed in peace.

"Daniel, stop, now."

"I don't want to talk to you, Jack. I just want to get this mission over with," Daniel said. "I don't see the problem with that."

Chirp, chirp.

"And *that* is part of the problem," Jack said quietly. "Please stop."

He might have been talking to a brick wall. Daniel kept walking. Jack noted a boulder along the path and headed for it, leaning against it heavily. He was failing miserably, and failure did not sit well with him. Perhaps he should have just waited and spoken with Carter once they got back to the SGC. His 2IC, at least, couldn't walk away from him so easily. He couldn't let Daniel wander off by himself for long, but for the moment he just leaned and tried to think of a way he could possibly connect with someone with whom he had very little in common.

Jack shifted off of the big stone after a couple minutes and started back out after Daniel. Turned out he didn't have to go far - Daniel was not more than fifty meters ahead on the path, on his knees. Jack frowned as he approached, observing erratic arm movements. Daniel was digging in the dirt. Making noise to announce his presence didn't distract the guy from his odd task.

"Did you find something?" Jack asked, squatting down and looking at the ground for himself. There wasn't anything there but a hole.

"No," Daniel said. "Nothing."

"Then why are you digging?"

"I have no idea."

Daniel had this way of saying and doing nonsensical things that Jack just trusted. There might not be an obvious reason for digging a random hole, but he knew it was important. He put his hand out, hovered it over Daniel's, but didn't go the full way to stop the action. He dropped his hand and proceeded to rummage through Daniel's abandoned pack. He found a hand trowel and pulled it free.

"You need help?" he said, lifting the tool in the air and waving it around a few times. He made a Z in the air.

Snorting, Daniel paused for a second. "Yeah, I think I might."

He was pretty sure it wasn't with the digging that Daniel needed assistance, but Jack did it anyway. It was slow going with such small instruments, but since there was no actual artifact they were trying to unearth that didn't really matter. He had to be careful, patient, with Daniel. He committed his attention to the dirt, wondering how anyone could find doing this for a living appealing. He lost track of time as they systematically widened the hole in the ground, deepened it to the point a simple hand spade or two weren't really that effective anymore. Jack dropped his tool and sat back, gazing at Daniel.

"How much do you expect to accomplish," he said, unscrewing his canteen and taking a long drink. "All by yourself."

"You'd be surprised what a person can do by himself," Daniel grunted, then stopped excavating nothing. He leaned back from the hole, stared up into the bright sky. "Shocked, maybe."

"I doubt it."

Daniel squinted and looked back down, lifting his hands palm up. The small implement fell from his loosened grasp and landed on the ground with a dull thud.

"Your name's Jack not Thomas."

"Ah, the Bible. What, you Jesus in this little tale?"

"Fuck. No!"

Jack blinked as Daniel reared away from him again, surprised by the vulgar language. Daniel had spouted off a damn or a hell here and there, but nothing more potent, and hearing it now made him uneasy.

"Why do I get the feeling we're not talking about physical feats?" Jack said, leading and hoping it worked.

"We're not?"

"No." Jack had his cricket and he wasn't letting it go. "We're not."

Daniel turned back toward him, rubbed a grimy hand across his sweaty forehead. A wide stripe of gray smeared there, some of the dirt fastened to sweat glistening at Daniel's temples as it beaded and trickled down the side of his face. His glasses slid down his nose, his hair matted to his head.

"You seem to know so much already, there's no need to talk about anything."

"The more you insist there's nothing to talk about, the more it makes me believe there is."

Daniel closed his eyes and reached blindly until he found his own canteen. Jack didn't say anything while the other man drank, just sat and waited.

"Shouldn't we be...exploring or something?" Daniel said at last.

"You were the one who was adamant on stopping to play in the dirt."

"Yeah, I did that, didn't I? Not the right decision."

"The decision was fine," Jack said.

"How can you be certain of that? I'm not."

He was pretty sure they weren't talking about a hole in the ground anymore, if they ever had been at all. Man, Jack hated this subtle stuff. He really did. It was too convoluted. Never taking his eyes off Daniel, he took another drink from his canteen. The only stable subject was the one made of nothing. That was odd and disturbing to him, as was his sudden compulsion to start humming 'Fixing a Hole'.

"No harm came from digging a hole for twenty minutes. We weren't finding anything else, anyway."

Daniel snuffed out a breath that sounded clogged with emotion. Jack cleared his throat and looked away, just in case the sound was the beginning of a sob. He had no idea what he was supposed to do to help the guy, but he'd be damned if he would lend embarrassment to an already awkward moment. He catalogued their surroundings, wishing he were anywhere but here. Oh, yeah, he was a fantastic commanding officer. Scraping noises, metal on stone, called his awareness back.

"What're you doing?" Jack said.

"Putting the dirt back," Daniel said, sounding as if he thought Jack was the biggest dolt in the universe.

"Why?"

"There wasn't anything there, either."

"Okay, then."

Once, when he was a small boy, he had overestimated his prowess with directions and a canoe and had paddled all by himself to the middle of his grandfather's lake. It was the most beautiful thing in the world, being in a vast body of water and seeing everything from such a different vantage point. The waves had lapped against the side of the canoe gently, and Jack had sat there rocking and smiling. It wasn't until he struck out toward shore again that he realized he had no idea anymore of which direction to go. He'd paddled and paddled, but nothing ever looked right.

He felt helpless just like that again, and this time there was no stern Norwegian grandfather to haul his ass out of trouble. Jack studied Daniel mutely, watching as the hole slowly started filling up. Daniel looked...lost. In reality, he realized, Daniel was the one lost in a canoe on a big lake, and *he* was the guy to haul someone's ass out of trouble. He picked up his trowel and started sliding dirt into the small gap in the ground. With two of them working, the hole leveled out in a matter of minutes. Brushing off the moist dirt that clinging to the metal blade of the trowel, Jack slid it back into Daniel's pack. Daniel kept smoothing the surface, as if he could make the spot look as it had before they had disrupted it.

"Daniel," Jack said. "I need you to stop that and look at me for a minute."

To his surprise, Daniel did as he requested. There it was, fear pooling in the eyes and the dread of knowledge. Jack had no idea what Daniel knew, but from one small glance he understood it wasn't paltry. He felt a jolt of that wild fear spike from Daniel and right into him. Daniel was no noiseless cricket he had to chase down. Daniel was someone lost who needed guidance to solid ground.

"Jack, I..." Daniel started, but didn't finish.

"I know you don't want to discuss anything with me," Jack said, filling the quiet air. "Fine, that's just fine, but you're going to have to get over this. The only way I can think of is if you talk to *someone*. I cannot and will not have a member of my team who doesn't interact with the other three. Or even only one other person."

"It's not that simple."

"Well, since I have no idea what 'it' is, I can only go with what I do know."

"I know," Daniel said. He crushed a clump of dirt and swiped it off the trowel. Jack watched as Daniel wiped his thumb on his thigh to clean it, and then did the same with the implement. "I know that."

Jack found himself in the unique position of both hoping Daniel said squat to him and wanting Daniel to open up and let it all out. It seemed very much like it was going to be the former rather than the latter, as Daniel secured his backpack's clasps shut with a snap that sounded final.

"Talk with someone. Hell, have a boxing match with someone. Just work this out. I don't want to suspend our off world missions until you, and Carter, are back to normal," Jack said. "But I will."

Twisting the cap on and off his canteen, he finally kept it shut tight and strapped the bottle back onto his belt. He casually looked at his watch, noting they only had a few minutes to get back to the 'gate. They were probably going to be late. Jack lifted his hand to shoulder to key on his radio, but once his thumb touched the device he couldn't make it depress the switch. He just sat there, staring at Daniel, with his hand up.

"Didn't you wonder where we got the Goa'uld symbiote that saved Teal'c?" Daniel said, voice so loud it sounded like he couldn't control the volume.

Jack jerked slightly, and a cold lump suddenly formed in his stomach. He pulled his hand away from the radio and rested it on his abdomen.

"You and Carter followed some priests to a temple and took one, committed some hefty sacrilege. We went over it. I yelled at you both for not following my orders."

"I...Jack, I..."

Misery rolled off Daniel so thick it was nearly visible to the naked eye. Jack leaned closer, couldn't stop himself from doing so. He wanted to reach out, pull the burden from Daniel at long last.

"I killed them. I killed them all," Daniel said, now his voice so soft it was almost impossible for Jack to hear.

Almost.

"What?" Jack said, but it didn't seem like Daniel remembered he was there.

"Sam told me not to, said I'd be no better than them. I knew it was wrong. I shot the tank the Goa'uld symbiotes were being held in. Killed them all. Just like that. I killed defenseless beings."

Oh, shit, what was he supposed to say to that? He really had no idea. He thought he might understand why Carter had been the way she had around Daniel; the revelation was astonishing. He couldn't care less about the symbiotes. He could care a whole lot for the torture Daniel was inflicting upon himself. Jack knew he had to say something, or this would have all been for naught.

"I didn't know."

Brilliant, dumbass.

"I did that. I slau...I did that. It's irredeemable."

He still didn't have the words. He knew more about what Daniel was feeling than Daniel probably realized. Teal'c undoubtedly would, too, and so would Carter once she got over her shock. Why was it different for Daniel? Because Daniel was just an ordinary guy, he wasn't a lifelong military man. Jack wondered if Daniel held himself to a different moral code than the rest of them.

"Is it?" he said. "Is it, really?"

"How can you ask that?"

"They were Goa'ulds."

"They were sentient beings unable to defend themselves. Infants."

"Not anything *like* infants," he argued but he knew it wasn't a convincing statement. "Carter wasn't right."

Jack tipped his foot up until his toes were pointed into the dirt, and then started shuffling it around and loosening the ground. He wasn't sure how to make Daniel see without resorting to horrible clichs. He stared at the gravel beneath his toe until his eyes crossed. Daniel needed to see, to know...

"What's your prescription, Daniel?"

"What?"

"Your prescription. Your eyesight."

"It's 20/50. I'm slightly myopic."

"Well, mine's 20/20, but you know what? There's only one vision that's actually clear, but by the time a person focuses on it, it's too late," Jack said. "You did something you wish you hadn't, something you think makes you a terrible person."

"Yes," Daniel whispered.

"Would you say I'm a decent guy? That Carter's a good person? Teal'c?"

Daniel didn't say anything, pulling his backpack closer to him.

"Those sentient beings, those infants if you insist, that you eliminated, and I'm not saying you did the right or wrong thing, would have grown up to enslave first a Jaffa like Teal'c and then take over a human host, like Sha'uri or Skaara. We've *all* done some damned distasteful things, thinking what we were doing was for the best."

"It's not an excuse."

"No, it's not. But you seem to think there's only a choice between good and evil, black and white. It's not that simple out here, doing this job. It never will be. A person can be a good human being and still have marks on his record and his conscience. The important thing is keeping the good stronger than the bad in some kind of balance."

"Balance," Daniel echoed.

"Daniel, you might not believe it right at this moment, but your scale is definitely heavy on the good and light on the bad. You've got the lopsided, necessary balance. I trust you; you wouldn't be here if I didn't."

Pulling the backpack onto his lap, Daniel looked up at him, squinting against the sun. Jack locked his eyes with the other man, refusing to blink. Nothing he could do would ever really alleviate the self-horror he still read in Daniel's eyes and countenance. All he could do was offer some small amount of support, and provide reminders when needed.

"I'm not sure if I can trust myself. I'm not sure if Sam does anymore."

"Carter will come around. You should talk with her," Jack said softly. He looked at his watch. "In fact, we should go meet her and Teal'c right now."

"Already."

"Already."

He got to his feet slowly and held out a hand to Daniel. After looking at it for a prolonged moment, Daniel took it and Jack pulled him to his feet. There was still a long way for the other man to go; there was still a long way for the team to go. But as they started back down the trail, Jack knew they would all get there together.
The End

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Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a parody for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted anywhere without the consent of the author.