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Pairing: J/D
Categories: Established Relationship, Angst
Season: 7
Episode: Ascension, Abyss, Fallen/Homecoming, Fragile Balance, Evolution, Heroes
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Very angsty. Not a death story, despite the title.
Summary: Daniel is back, but Jack isn't.

Thanks to Caro Dee for betaing this piece, and to Sideburns for encouraging me to post.


by Night Spring

When Daniel died, a part of me died also. Now that he's back -- I'm not.

Yeah, so Daniel didn't die, he ascended -- same difference, you know? He wasn't here any longer. He was off on some higher level of existence I couldn't comprehend, and he wasn't coming back, was he? I mean, yeah, ascended beings can choose to become corporeal again -- we'd seen that with Carter's yet another alien boyfriend, what's-his-name, oh yeah, Orlin. But this was Daniel, and once he'd made up his mind, nobody sticks with it like he does -- so yup, not coming back. Not there behind my shoulder when I turn to ask him a question, not there when I glance across the briefing room table, not there in his office buried under tons of books trying to translate some obscure language whose very existence nobody else can remember, not there when I crawl into bed at night and stare at the empty space where he used to sleep.

Even when he came to me when Baal had me, I never could shake the suspicion that it all was a figment of my imagination. I wanted so badly for it to be real, for him to be real, to know that not only did he have an existence that went on even if I wasn't part of it any more, but that I could be a part of it occasionally, if only when I messed up so badly that I was actually begging him to let me die. But as badly as I wanted to believe he was really there, I couldn't totally, completely, believe.

I still don't know if it was real -- I haven't asked him, and he hasn't mentioned it. Even if I do ask him, it's likely he doesn't remember -- he remembers so little from when he was ascended. Or maybe he does, and he's not saying. How can you be all that -- and then come back and be only human again? I don't know, I can't imagine. I just know how it felt to have Charlie, how it felt to be a father and a husband, then have that ripped away from me, leaving this huge, gaping hole in the fabric of my being that never can be filled. I know how it felt to have Daniel -- snarky, brilliant, headstrong, passionate, irresistible -- loving me with the same single-minded focus he brought to everything else. I remember being alive then. I remember seeing myself reflected back in those sparkling blue eyes. I remember thinking that whatever ugly mess we were in that week, it was worth it just because he was there.

And now we have him back. But I don't.

That first time on Vis Uban, when he looked at me with a stranger's eyes -- it's like I didn't recognize him either. Like I was seeing a stranger with Daniel's face. And that's what I'm still seeing, except that I'm the stranger. I recognize Daniel now, his memories have come back, he's who he is -- but I don't recognize myself. I only feel faint echoes of things I used to feel when I was with him -- when I was with myself. I faked my way through the year I was without him, and now I'm still faking my way, I've never come back.

I kept waiting for things to start feeling real again, told myself I needed time for it all to sink in. After Jonas left, I brought Daniel home with me. I watched him walk into the house, his eyes carefully taking in every detail. I didn't know what he remembered, but I could tell that whatever he remembered, it was enough -- it was there in the reverent way he reached out and touched the mantelpiece, in the soft smile he gave me as I handed him his beer.

I leaned down and touched my forehead to his, breathing him in, and he tilted his head up and brushed his lips across mine. I wrapped my arms around him and held him close, and he leaned in to me, melding our bodies together. And we made love, sweet, slow and so familiar, like the thousand times before, and the thousand times before that, except everything felt muffled like I was covered in cotton; nothing touched me directly. I was there but not there, feeling things but not really.

At first, Daniel didn't notice, too wrapped up in trying to recover his own lost memories. But now, he looks at me with a perpetual air of puzzlement, knowing something is off but not quite able to put his finger on what. It's not like I don't want to tell him, but I don't even know where to begin. I'm not here, not really. I'm not alive -- not really. A part of me died when Daniel died -- and it never did come back. I've been faking it ever since the day he died, and I'm still faking it. Going through the motions, doing what I'm supposed to, saying what I'm expected to -- but it's not really me.

I remember what it felt like to be real, to be alive. And a part of me wants to feel that again, so badly it feels like I'm being torn in two. But I remember what it felt like to be a father and a husband, and much as I love Charlie, and I still love Sara, I know I could never stand to feel that again. I can still physically father a child, and if I ever did, not that that's likely to happen, I suppose I'd try to do what I could for it -- him, her, whatever. But I won't be able to give what I gave Charlie. That part of me died with Charlie and is buried six feet under. And much as I loved Daniel, it was never the same as it was with Sara. In many ways, I loved him more, but I never dragged myself nine days across hostile territory to go home to him. Well, granted that Daniel would be more likely to be dragging himself right alongside me than waiting for me at home. The fact remains, I never did love him that way, that kind of all-consuming, meaning-of-life way. If Sara was the home I would give my life to keep safe, Daniel was water in my desert, a torch in my darkness, a respite from the emptiness I'd otherwise fall into --

And now the emptiness has consumed me -- I've become the emptiness. And I'm not here, not really. Daniel comes over as often as he used to -- as with everything else, our relationship's picked up exactly where Daniel left it, with very little sign of the year he was away -- the year he was dead. Ascended. Whatever. So now instead of an apartment he has a house, but we still spend most of our time together at my place. We still play the same games to keep up appearances, and Daniel did a hell of a job acting like he had no clue what was going on when he "met" my clone at the SGC, when actually he'd just had the shock of his life a mere hour ago when he woke up in bed beside a naked, fifteen-year-old kid. People really underestimate Daniel. A lot.

I sometimes wonder about the mini-me. I wonder if he feels as dead as I feel. Or if it is possible to feel deader. He's lost all that I am, but by the same token, he has a fresh start, a whole new life. He could do anything, be anything. I wonder how that would feel, sometimes. But most of the time, I just don't care. So there's another me running around the universe. Yippity-doo-dah. Ho-hum, another day at work. What does it matter? Why am I here? Get up, brush my teeth, save the world again, all on automatic pilot.

Amazing how the only thing that feels real is another's death. Not even when Daniel went missing in Honduras, did it feel real. I went, searched for him in the jungle, found him, and brought him home. If he died again, what will happen to me? As I listen to Carter recite the endless list of names that Janet saved, that's all I think. It should have been me -- why not me, why her? I'm dead anyway. But more than anything, I'm glad it wasn't Daniel. If he died, could I stand here for another memorial service? If he died, will I throw myself into an incoming wormhole? I didn't sit in his room cradling my weapon when he died -- but for all practical purposes, I might as well have. I've been in that room ever since he died, not feeling anything, not thinking anything. And even though he's back, even though everything is as it was before, I'm still locked in that place, and he's looking in at me with pained eyes, not understanding what's wrong, wondering if it's his fault, but it's not.

And then he comes home and tells me that Wells named his daughter Janet, and for one fleeting, blinding moment everything feels real again. I'm back there holding Charlie the day he was born, and everything is new and fresh and alive and so full of joy and feeling, it's painful, and then I reach for Daniel and the door slams again, and I'm looking up into his eyes, full of pain and confusion and worry, but I don't feel anything.

And I take him to bed and slowly and excruciatingly grind him into the mattress, leaving him hanging on the edge for the longest time, stretching it out more than he can bear and then some, until he snaps and starts calling me all kinds of names in more languages than I recognize -- but I ignore it all and keep moving oh-so-agonizingly slowly in and out, long grating slide in and long scraping slide out, and his voice gets hoarse from cursing and crying and I feel his tears mingling with mine, but even though my eyes seem to be crying, I'm still dead inside, dried out, withered, barren and lifeless as the desert sand of Abydos, and the injustice of it all, of so many people who were alive and should have stayed alive now dead, while somehow my heart keeps beating even though I'm dead -- and sheer white fury grabs me and flares through me and I'm coming but Daniel's not, and he calls me a rat and a bastard and god knows what else. But I'm dead, so I'm not doing anything about it.

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