Soul May Look and Body Touch

Rating: PG-13

Salieri wanted to see Daniel watching the sarcophagus work in Abyss. I promised I'd give it the old college try, and this is the result. Thanks to Salieri, Tripoli, and Pouncer for looking at this.

Looking at Ba'al is difficult. Finding out what the goa'uld really looked like was one of the first things Daniel had done with his new eyes that were not eyes, and even now, months later, it takes an effort of will to look at one of them straight-on. This time only shattered splinters of Ba'al's host are visible; they're far overwhelmed by the heavy evil curled around the body's spine, stinking of Rwanda and Auschwitz and a million smaller horrors.

He wonders if that was what Oma had seen when she looked at Shifu, rather than the sweet-smelling infant Daniel held.

Jack, on the other hand, is an interweaving of colors that Daniel is fairly certain wouldn't exist even if "color" were an accurate word to use to describe them. He can see Jack's pattern far more clearly now than he could the last time, and it's remarkable, kaleidoscopic, infinitely absorbing to seefeeltastesmellhear. It's all that Daniel can do not to weave himself into it so he can see the pattern from the inside, but while he's done that sort of thing with strangers before he doesn't think he ought to be doing it here. If nothing else, he's pretty sure he knows what Jack would have to say about it, and it wouldn't be anywhere near polite.

Still, it's fascinating. Daniel would have expected Jack seen this way to seem wild, even random, but he's not; he's a fugue, rather than the toccata Daniel was anticipating. Daniel's got enough respect for his privacy not to go hunting for the specifics of the themes being expressed, but he's known Jack for a long time now, and he can guess. Whatever they are, they're strong, forming an underlying thrum of percussion ranging from bass drum to xylophone.

Daniel finds it kind of funny at first that Jack's shaped in a way that's so different from the kind of music he actually likes. Then he thinks about it, and it isn't so funny anymore.

The Jack-energy tilts sideways and draws inward, shuddering; Daniel blinks himself back to a reasonable facsimile of human senses and sees a third knife embedded in Jack's chest. He's panting, eyes half-closed, essence leaking out around the blade, and Daniel thinks this is what a dying man looks like. Jack's grasping for control--big surprise--but Daniel can see his grip slipping, his pattern falling apart into chaos.

Ba'al keeps talking for a while, questioning a man who's too far gone to hear him, lines of communication in and out well past frayed to broken. Eventually, though, he gets bored and ends it with a casual stroke of the controls.

Jack's still alive when he falls, but barely. He dies on impact, all his vibrancy flattening out into stained glass: hard-edged in spots, flowing out into the world in others, many-colored rather than blinding white like Daniel and Oma and the other Ascended spirits Daniel's seen. The world shifts around Jack, accommodates itself to this new presence, and within moments the scene at the bottom of the shaft looks like nothing so much as a stream flowing around an old, moss-covered boulder.

The thing that was Jack looks... finished. It's not as hard to look at as Daniel would have thought it would be, actually. Oma would be proud, he thinks. She's big into detachment from worldly concerns, except of course for those times when she isn't.

He doubts he'd have been able to achieve such heights of detachment if he hadn't known what was coming next, though. Two Jaffa drag Jack's corpse to the sarcophagus, and Daniel is surprised to feel his hard-won equanimity slipping away from him as he watches. It's not as if anything done to his body can hurt Jack now--it's just meat, for God's sake--but even when he closes his eyes and ears and looks only in the new ways, he can still see Jack there. He's like some bizarre inversion of one of the Ascended, spirit grounded in body rather than body taken up and subsumed into spirit.

Daniel's not sure what that means, and Oma has categorically refused to discuss what happens to the dead who did not step onto the Great Path. Nothing ever ends, save the things that do was all she'd been willing to say on the topic. Daniel had told her that he didn't find that a very helpful response, which had gotten him exactly as far as he'd expected it would but had at least made him feel a little better.

Come to think of it, dealing with Jack O'Neill for years has prepared him pretty well for life as Oma Desala's disciple.

The Jaffa put Jack in the wrong way the first time, realizing it only as the doors begin to slide shut. One swears, sticking his hand in between the panels like someone trying to keep a set of elevator doors from closing, and they swing open again in a surprising display of goa'uld user-friendliness. The taller Jaffa lifts Jack's upper body while the shorter one pulls his feet up to where his head had been, then helps lay him down on his back again before they restart the cycle.

When the doors close and the sarcophagus begins to work, Daniel actually draws back, horrified. He doesn't have a stomach, but he can feel it trying to turn inside out anyway, feels phantom nausea as a response to that thing's wrongness. Seen and heard with human-accessible wavelengths, it seems inoffensive enough; a golden box, humming a little with power. Truly sensed, though...

The sarcophagus is made of knives.

They slice openings in what was Jack O'Neill--what still is Jack, in some way that Daniel doesn't understand. Pieces of him are cut away for access, absorbed into the machine's growing hum, and he detaches, looks pasted-on, ten degrees too bright against the background of the physical world. The sarcophagus-light-pale and lifeless and reminding Daniel of the glow of fluorescents in department store changing rooms-worms its way into the places where Jack's been sliced open, curls in his body like a bitter food coloring mixing with frosting.

After the light flares and the Jack-kaleidoscope comes back to glittering life, the wrongness remains, along with the sense that Jack is a few degrees off from reality. There's still light, and it's still absorbing, remarkable. But things seem just a little bit off, as if the pieces of glass were cut at the wrong angles, resulting in a slightly amateurish fit. Jack grates against the world, and the world doesn't seem quite sure what to do with Jack.

It's wrong. It's unholy. And despite all that, Daniel hasn't experienced anything like the kind of relief he felt when he saw Jack return from beyond the veil since he left his life in the SGC behind.

This, he thinks, may be a problem.

Daniel's got a grip on himself by the time he lets himself appear in Jack's cell, and the familiar rhythm of argument calms him even further, in an odd sort of frustrated way. The thing is, Jack's a skeptic at heart, a trait that's been amplified by years of dealing with snakes who like to call themselves God. First he doesn't believe that Daniel is actually there, despite the evidence of his eyes, and then he can't believe Daniel isn't going to call down lightning for him, despite the evidence of his ears. When Daniel finally vanishes, Jack calls out for him, and Daniel is appalled to realize that he's slipped so far into a human sensory experience that he's allowed their energies to tangle without even noticing. Jack keeps questing unconsciously for him, now unable to believe he's gone, but Daniel withdraws firmly, resisting the urge to stay close enough to serve as a source of real support.

The entire session with Ba'al is like that, and by the end Daniel is exhausted by the amount of effort he's putting into pushing away the tendrils reaching for him, all saying the same thing: Dammit, Daniel. Do something!

He doesn't. He stays there, self-contained, until Jack dies again. It's hard, though; the old mind-habits of humanity are coming back, and he can feel his control slipping along with Jack's. It's all less clinical, more real, and when Jack gives Ba'al Kanan's name Daniel feels something that cannot be his fingernails biting into his palm.

This time the sarcophagus is worse. The pattern left after it's done is less intricate, the pieces bigger, and they grind against each other like continental plates. The whole room stinks, too, smelling of spoiled meat or rotten pineapple or possibly both.

Daniel can't pull his senses together well enough to nail down the smell, and he can tell he's only trying in an attempt to distract himself, because it doesn't matter even a little bit. When the Jaffa take Jack's arms to bring him back to his cell, Daniel thinks that surely their hands will pass right through him, like Daniel walking through doors when he was out of phase. He wants to shout at Jack, God, look at yourself, can't you feel it? Let me get you out of this before it's too late!

Jack must be able to feel something; during their second conversation he's all fury on the surface, but Daniel is able to know the panic threaded through underneath, and does during the few times that he can bear to look at Jack with more than sight. They're intertwined again when the Jaffa come, and this time Daniel lets it be, just for a moment. When he pulls free, what he thinks of is Shifu's hand clinging to his shirt, and that sense memory stays with him while he watches Jack die all over again.

Jack falls, and Daniel reaches out to catch him before he remembers that he doesn't have hands anymore. He can see how to disrupt the sarcophagus, like Jack asked; it'd be easy enough, as easy for him to do as it was for the Jaffa to halt that carrion-eater's folding wings the first time Daniel watched this happen.

He doesn't disrupt it, though, because what detachment he'd managed to muster is long since gone, and he badly wants the thing to work. When it's done feeding, and it's forced light and breath back into a living instrument now six steps out of tune, Daniel slips out of the world and into a place that isn't.

Jack's reaching for Daniel as he wakes, but Daniel's already gone, looking for a way out.

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