Danny Can't Dance
An afterward for Hathor
by Martha, soulcake[at]bellsouth.net
* * *
So maybe Colorado Springs wasn't exactly a bleeding heart sanctuary even before Brother James Dobson and his boys came to town. Population of servicemen and third and fourth generation ranchers and farmhands. They vote Republican, believe in God, the flag and Little League, and they try to raise their kids the best they know how. You expect me to criticize people like that? For cryin' out loud, I'm one of them. I tried to be, anyway. For as long as I could, I tried. You may not find many card-carrying members of the ACLU in Colorado Springs, but I've always believed these people are the salt of the earth.
Then came that day when I answered my doorbell and found Susan Lineberger on the front porch saying "Good morning," and "I hope you don't mind me stopping by," and holding out a paper plate stacked with gooey little square cookies. I pulled off the saranwrap and wolfed down one of those suckers right there on the porch. It was so sweet I could feel a blister coming up on the inside of my mouth while I chewed, and I didn't care because that cookie tasted of things that had been gone from my life since Abydos. Longer, even. Since Charlie's death. Chocolate chips and toasted coconut and crushed graham cracker crumbs and butter -- nah, margarine -- all kind of glued together by condensed milk. That's the sort of food that can only come out of a happy kitchen, because there's no damn excuse to cook like that otherwise.
Susan reached out and swiped some coconut off my lip with the side of her thumb, and I just grinned at her, stupid and grateful for the rush of sugar and memory and carbohydrates that suddenly made Colorado Springs real to me again. Funny how that worked. Dr. Jackson was the one who had stayed on Abydos, not me, but for months afterward it was like something important of mine had got left behind all the same. Spending every night on the roof with Charlie's telescope, tryin' to find Abydos' galaxy in the night sky. I was even sleeping during the afternoon like they do on Abydos, like I was trying to escape the heat of a sun that I'd never really see from the roof of my house.
And now after a eating a cookie from my next door neighbor, all of a sudden I was ready to try and live in this world again. I can't explain it. That's just the way it was. Taste and memory and the cool November sunshine in my eyes, and for the first time in a hell of a long time, I was glad to be alive on good old terra firma. Damned if I didn't feel my face crack into a smile.
Then Susan Lineberger held up her clipboard and asked me if I would sign, and that's when I finally realized she hadn't brought me those cookies just to welcome me back to the land of Betty Crocker. I guess I was still feeling pretty good, though, because I grabbed another cookie before reading down a list of signatures and seeing that most of them were my neighbors' names.
"So what am I signing up for?"
Two spots of color appeared high up on her cheeks, and she pointed at the sentences at the top of the page. "Someone has to protect the children."
That's when I realized that although you can take the man out of Abydos, it's not so easy to take Abydos out of the man, because for a long, long moment, all I could think of was Skaara and his buddies. Those kids had risked everything they'd ever known to protect us, strangers who came to their world teaching blasphemy and squawking like chickens, bringing them a cigarette lighter and a nuclear bomb. What the hell could Susan know about any of that?
I tried to puzzle out the language at the top of the page, but of course there wasn't anything there about bogus Egyptian gods setting up shop on the far side of the universe. Instead there was gibberish about "the state of Colorado and its branches or departments or agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities or school districts," quota preferences and discrimination claims. It all ran together in the way legal language always does, and really, I just wasn't in the mood.
Then I finally saw the words homosexual, lesbian or bisexual.
"I don't get it," I told her, even though I had the pen in my hand and was ready to sign. What the hell. She'd brought cookies after all. "This is for gay rights or something?" A lot more liberal than I would have expected from good old Suzie Lineberger, soccer mom and PTA president, but I had to admire her guts, bringing this petition to a career military officer like me.
She cocked her head at me like a puzzled sparrow. "It's to stop the homosexual agenda," she said, like I should have known.
It was my turn to look puzzled. Not really, though. I'd finally gotten what this was all about. "An agenda," I said. "What, did someone send out a memo?"
Whoops. Not a joking matter for Suzie. She stepped back from me so fast I had to grab her arm to keep her from falling backwards off the porch. She yanked herself free. "Don't you know they're trying to recruit our children?" she demanded, and her voice was shaking.
Her anger must have been infectious, because I snapped right back at her, "I think Charlie's safe enough now, don't you?"
Ugly. No reason to have said that to her. She probably really did believe she was protecting her kids. But as far as I can see, there's exactly one enemy worth worrying about. That monster who used human beings like sheep, warped and perverted the entire course of our history. Ra's gone, but who knows if there are others lurking around the cosmos? Meanwhile, Suzie's worrying about chicks who don't like dick and guys who like it a little too much. Jesus wept.
I thought she would take her sticky, chocolatey cookies and march off in a righteous rage, but that's the thing I was trying to explain in the first place about my neighbors in Colorado Springs, about people like Suzie. They may see enemies everywhere, give their money and attention to Dobson and anybody else who promises them security and heaven's blessings, waste everybody's time trying to legislate a view of morality that seems to think the only sin worth worrying about happens behind bedroom doors, but when push turns to shove --
Well, when push comes to shove, sometimes they surprise the hell out of you. Because when I mentioned Charlie, all the anger on Suzie's face just melted away. Her eyes got soft, and she stepped forward and hugged me, her with her clipboard and me still holding the little paper plate of cookies. "You ever need anything, you call us," she said. "You know you can always call."
So I guess that's why I noticed what was going on in the first place, because I'm not, by nature, exactly a political man. Months passed, and eventually I bumped shoulders again with the good Dr. Daniel Jackson under what turned out to be the worst possible circumstances, while in another world, the one on the other side of the mountain, Suzie and my neighbors and thousands of mostly good Christian folk just like her got their proposition on the state ballot and then voted it into law. Legislating the right to fear and exclude their own kind to their hearts' content. The futility of it all made my head hurt, and reminded me why I'm a happier camper when I don't pay attention to what's happening when it comes to politics.
The upshot of all that being that I knew all too well what Daniel and I must look like to the good people of Colorado Springs, me holding him like that in the alley behind the Flame. All it would take would be a drunk or two convinced that a couple of guys getting their jollies from each other was some kind of threat to civilization, and the evening would go from being a complete disaster to being -- well, to being whatever it is that's worse than a disaster.
To hell with it. What was I gonna do? Shove him away? Daniel was hanging onto me like a drowning man. His face was pushed into my shoulder, and he wasn't making a sound, but he was shaking, and I could feel his tears against my neck. In case you haven't noticed, our Danny's not exactly a little guy, and I was braced hard trying to keep him upright. I should've known better than to let him have a couple of screwdrivers, even as watered down as they were in that place. The kid's tough, don't let anybody try to tell you he isn't, but that doesn't mean he can hold his liquor.
I should've known better as soon as I picked him up, really. When he came to the door and I saw what he was wearing, I just stood there and gaped until he started to get concerned. "What? Jack, what is it? Are you all right?"
"Is that what you're gonna wear tonight?"
He grinned self-consciously and looked down at himself. "Well, yeah."
"No, you're not." I pushed him back through the door and shut it behind us. "Nobody wears a tweed blazer to go dancing."
"I don't know why not, Daniel. They just don't. And they don't wear plaid buttondowns. Or khakis. Not to where we're going, anyway. Don't you have some jeans?"
"I thought khakis would be more comfortable."
"This isn't about comfortable! Come on, work with me here. It's about looking good for the ladies."
His face fell. "I don't know, Jack. Maybe this isn't such a good idea after all."
I could have kicked myself, but I just pretended not to notice the bleak look in his eyes. I whapped him on the shoulder a little too hard, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and steered him to the bedroom to get changed. "Are you kidding? This is a great idea! One of my best. Get with the program, Danny boy, and shimmy into a pair of blue jeans already."
He shook himself free and started unbuttoning his pants like I'd given him an order. No, scratch that, if it'd been an order he would have argued with me about it. His expression was solid with unhappiness, and he was doing what I told him to because he just didn't care. He dropped his pants, only then realizing that he couldn't get them off over his shoes. He shuffled to the bed with his pants around his ankles and sat down hard, then tried to yank his shoes off without untying them first. The right one came off and the left one didn't. He pulled on the ends of his left shoelace and it knotted. As he bent closer to pick at the knot, his glasses slid off his nose and bounced once on the carpet. I had to turn my back on him so I wouldn't start laughing. Or crying.
"Trust me on this, Daniel. We're just goin' out to trip the light fantastic. It's a great club, I promise. Sara and I used to go all the time. A DJ playing oldies, a good crowd, no pressure, no hassle. It's fun. A little dancing's just what you need."
Dancing. Right. I don't know what I'd been thinking.
Maybe I'd been thinking that I hadn't seen Daniel smile in almost a month. Not since Hathor waved bye-bye and stepped through the 'gate.
Not entirely true. There had been that one horrible, guilty almost-smile when Daniel told Dr. Fraiser the genetic material she was collecting from the remains of Hathor's wormy offspring would probably match his own DNA. Blurted out in exactly the same way Charlie used to confess stuff to me. He would come running out to tell me what he'd done as soon as I got home, make sure I had his side of the story before hearing Sara's version.
That's just what Daniel had done. Embraced his shame in front of all of us before Fraiser could get those nasty bits and pieces to the lab and find out for herself. And then he smiled about it. Oh god, he smiled. As if to say there were no guilty secrets here. Nothing he needed to talk about later. Nothing that could possibly keep him up night after night, until his eyes looked like a couple of poached eggs on a plate.
I wonder if it's the dreams that are killing him, because I'm having them, too. They seem stupid if you try to tell anyone about them, but they've been leaving me wide awake at 3:00 AM two or three times a week, shaking and wet with sweat.
The way they usually begin, I'm standing in my front yard, and I know that Charlie's still alive. The sun is shining and the sky is blue, and then I turn around and see what's pouring down the street and sidewalk and spilling across everybody's front yards, lapping up against the tires of cars in the driveway, puddling around the front steps and gurgling down the storm drains until the sewers are full and it starts spilling up again. It's as red as blood but thin as beer, and Suzie Lineberger is there, too, and she tells me, "They're coming for our children."
That's when I wake up, and I don't go back to sleep again. Not after I've had one of those dreams.
Bad enough if Daniel is having them too, but I've got this ugly suspicion that it's even worse for him. See, I didn't get it at first. I don't know if Fraiser ever got it, because as far as I know, she just screened Daniel for STD's and gave him a general course of antibiotics. But what finally dawned on me, thinking about his pathetic little confession, is that Daniel remembers. God have mercy. Danny remembers.
For the rest of us, it's just a blank. I don't remember any of the stupid things I said and did when Hathor was around. I don't remember her cutting a Goa'uld-sized hole in my belly, scooping out my spleen and fryin' the lymph nodes in my neck and in my groin, and I don't remember her dumping me into a hot tub of full of larvae. See, and that's a good thing. There are absolutely no memories there I want to recover, thank you so very much all the same, Dr. Mackenzie.
For some reason Daniel wasn't so lucky. He knows what happened. At least some of it. The worst of it. So when he tries to close his eyes at night, he's not afraid of what dreams may come. I think he may be seeing what really happened between him and Hathor. What she did to him.
Heaven help you, Danny, what you did for her.
Now I'm no psychiatrist, but it just seems logical to me that if Daniel's private picture show has been playing nonstop ever since, then the thing to do is to try and drown it out with something else. At least for one night, for a few hours. Long enough to let him remember what it was like NOT to have Hathor in his head all the freaking time. Some Beach Boys or Aretha, hell even Donna Summer and a silver disco ball. Anything to drown the bad shit out.
First I had to get him there. When I turned around, he had gotten his shoes off and his jeans on, but he was still wearing that godawful checkered shirt. "A turtleneck?" I prompted. "A sweater, maybe?"
He looked back at me like I'd suggested he strap on a pair of wings so we could fly to the club. "I've got a sweatshirt," he said at last. "It's still got paint stains on it from when I did the apartment."
For crying out loud. Had he even gone shopping for clothes since he'd gotten back from Abydos? Maybe not, I thought. Maybe he hadn't planned on being here long enough to need to. "Tell you what," I said. "How about one of your USAF-issue black T's. Can't go wrong with jeans and a T-shirt."
He was trying to beg off. Forget it, kid. We were going dancing tonight if it killed us. I made a show of looking at my watch. "Night's not getting any younger." He shrugged, scowling, but he unbuttoned his shirt and left it on the bed while he opened a chest of drawers and pulled out a T-shirt like I'd asked.
He looked pretty good by the time I was finished with him. I put my leather jacket on him -- as I suspected, it was a little tight around the shoulders, but it would do, and looked a hell of a lot better than his puke-yellow down vest. Who dresses this boy? Well, no one, obviously, and I guess that explains a lot. When he tried to argue with me about the coat, I said I didn't need one. It may not have been precisely the truth, but I wasn't planning on spending a lot of time outside.
It had been a few years since I'd been to the Flame, and as we drove past the front I was relieved to see that it was still there, and from the look of the people on the sidewalk, the clientele hadn't changed much. That would have put the kibosh on my cheer-Danny-up night right there, if it had gone out of business or was now a biker bar or something. I circled the block a couple of times looking for a place to park, then finally managed to squeeze in beside a dumpster for a Chinese restaurant about a quarter of a mile away. Daniel wrinkled his nose at the smell of five-spice and rancid grease when he got out of the car, but the night was so clear I could see stars even through the glare of the city lights, and all at once, I knew that this was going to be all right.
In fact, this was one of my better ideas, no doubt about it. The wind was cold and sharp, and I was hustling Daniel along because it was a little chilly to be tooling around without a coat. Hey, but I had a friend right here at my side, and me and my buddy were hitting the town on a Saturday night. Don't tell me it's not good to be alive sometimes. In fact, no matter what kinda shit is going down all around you, it's always better to be alive.
Daniel had tried to convince me of that once upon a time, on a ball of sand out there on the other side of the universe. Looks like he'd done pretty damned good job of it.
The cover at the Flame had gone up to five bucks. I paid for Daniel while he was still fumbling for his wallet and pulled him in. It's not the fanciest joint in the world. The carpet in the lobby smells like stale beer and squishes under your feet, and even with the lights turned down low you can see the cracks in the plaster. The cloud of cigarette smoke hanging in the air made Daniel cough, so I took him by the elbow and steered him back into the club before he could try to back out on me.
The Kinks were belting out "Lola" -- girls will be boys and boys will be girls -- and the crowd on the floor was just like I remembered. A few students slumming from the university, a handful of kids from the academy with those high and tight cuts that make me wonder why they don't just shave their heads and be done with it, but mostly joes my age or older, some who looked military, more who didn't. A lot of couples, so many that I was a little worried I wasn't going to be able to find partners for Danny and me right away.
That was OK. We had time. This was going to work out all right. The sound system was as great as ever, and I defy anyone to think about their problems when that many decibels are bouncing off their eardrums. The gang on the dance floor roared along with the la-la-la-la-Lola chorus. Daniel's head was darting around, the disco lights bouncing off his glasses, his mouth hanging open. That made me grin. Classic Danny flycatching. I put my knuckle under his chin and pushed his mouth closed. He batted my hand away irritably, and it was good to see a little spunk for a change. "Want a beer?" I yelled in his ear.
He couldn't hear me over the music. "What?"
I mimed tossing one back. "Drink! Alcohol. You know. That stuff God invented to give guys the courage to ask a woman to dance in the first place, because otherwise we'd all just sit at home watching the game, and the whole damn species would have died out thousands of years ago."
"Come on." I dragged him back through the tables to the bar. He finally got it when I motioned to the bartender for a couple of Coors.
"No, Jack." He shook his head violently. "Really, I can't even drink that stuff. Maybe just some juice or something."
"One Coors, one screwdriver."
I let Danny pay because he was fumbling for his wallet so determinedly, and then while he sipped his drink and grimaced, I checked out our prospects. There was a loud group of gals clustered around some tables they'd pushed together, but I'd prefer not to have to cull a couple off from that herd. For one thing, it's more complicated when you have to pick and choose in front of an interested audience, and for another I wasn't sure how much backup I could count on from Danny. For all I knew he was likely to come out with "We're peaceful explorers."
Come to think of it, though, he was pretty much batting a thousand with that line.
Out on the dance floor, things cooled down a little with James Brown crooning about it being man's man's man's man's world. Good one to sit out. I hadn't brought Danny out here to slow dance, and I wasn't in the mood either. Sara used to love that song. She'd laugh at the chest-thumping and the lame rhymes, but then she'd wrap her arm tighter around my waist and lay her head on my shoulder.
"So you come here a lot?" Daniel asked me suddenly.
I took a big swallow of beer while I thought about that. Daniel was right. This beer maybe wasn't the greatest. Especially not at room temperature, which seemed to bring out that metallic aftertaste. I'd never noticed before.
"Not since Charlie was real small," I finally decided. "We'd hire a sitter and I'd bring Sara out here when she started to get that trapped look. Home alone all day with the baby, you know. No wonder she had to get out sometimes."
Daniel nodded. I couldn't see his eyes behind his glasses, and I didn't much want to. Tonight was not supposed to be about licking our wounds. We needed to find some partners and get out there. I downed the rest of the beer in one swallow just for the rush, and when I lowered the can I saw them. Perfect.
You know the type. Best friends, obviously, sitting side by side at the end of the bar. Neither one of them spring chickens, but one of them had long, long legs tucked under the barstool and pretty blonde hair hanging straight down her back, while her friend was a chunky little redhead who probably had a real sweet personality, once you got to know her.
I grabbed Daniel and hauled him along with me just as the lights went down on the dance floor. A single spot lit the silver disco ball, and Gloria Gaynor's throaty voice rang out, all suspense and breathless pauses. At first she was afraid, she was petrified, etc. The crowd on the dance floor whooped. "Hey," I said to the redhead, leaving the pretty blond to Daniel, "You two weren't planning on sitting this one out, were you?"
The music was so loud I don't know if either one of them even heard what I said, which was just as well and spared Daniel the necessity of actually saying anything. "And so you're back from outer space," Gloria sang. "I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face." My invitation must have been clear enough anyway. The two women exchanged a glance and then the blond one smiled and let Danny help her to her feet.
All right, then. We were good to go.
I'm not Arthur Murray, don't get me wrong, but I can hold my own on the dance floor. You don't spend your whole life in this man's Air Force without learning a few steps to get you through all those military balls. Depending on the decade, I can bop or hustle, and if you point a gun at me I can foxtrot my way out of the line of fire. I can even do that white guy stand in place and bounce from foot to foot thing without dying of shame. My new dance partner, though, was here to dance. Her arms were over her head and she was shaking what she had as she led me to the dance floor, pushing her way straight through almost to the DJ's booth before turning around to see if I was still behind her.
This had been the plan all along. You can't think when you're dancing in a crowd. The speakers were so loud they hurt my ears, and before long I could smell my sweat and cologne and Red's sweat and perfume and everybody else's too. Her hands were in mine, and this woman who had been a total stranger about one minute ago grinned at me and moved with me, bumped her well-padded hip against my thigh and trusted me enough to dip her almost to the floor. She burst out laughing when I staggered a little trying to get her to her feet again. That made me laugh, too, and when she spun me around, her ample chest bouncing with every step, I saw Daniel at last.
Oh, lord. Why hadn't he told me? This was a hell of a time to find out that Daniel couldn't dance. And I don't just mean he's bad dancer. Come on, look at him. A geeky straight white boy, God love him, from the tips of his clumsy toes to the rims of his coke-bottle-bottom glasses. Being a lousy dancer just came with the territory. But for crying out loud, I thought he at least knew enough to fake it.
But no, no, he was just standing there. Kind of swaying a little and sheepishly snapping his fingers -- not in time, incidentally, and anyone who can't keep the beat of "I Will Survive" is disco challenged beyond the help of medical science. Blondie was doing her best, but there's only so much you can do with a dance partner like that.
So. Command decision. Did I bail him out or let him handle this on his own? Two words to me before we'd arrived, and at least I could have shown him a little step-ball-change so he wouldn't look like a complete ass. Little late now.
Hell. He'd made his own bed, now he could lie in it. He'd done the same thing on Abydos, and I hadn't interfered then. And at least Blondie wasn't likely to rough him up for not knowing how to dance. I swung Red around so I wasn't looking at him anymore. Sink or swim, Daniel, since you're so determined to do it your way.
Besides, if he was busy trying to figure out how to dance, it wasn't likely he would be thinking about Hathor, and my mission was accomplished either way.
"I Will Survive" segued weirdly into "Rock Lobster" and Red went nuts, bouncing on one foot and then the other, arms outstretched like this was an aerobics routine. She had an intensely serious look on her face, but she dissolved into laughter when she caught my eye, and that made me laugh, too. I saw Daniel once through the crowd. He was still just as clueless, but I had to admit, lurching around to the B-52's almost looked liked an artistic choice. Blondie was sticking close to him, not looking particularly put out, either. Apparently she'd figured out what she was dealing with and didn't mind. Don't know why I should've been surprised. Daniel seems to have that effect on the opposite sex.
On his own sex, too, if I were honest about it, or what else was I doing here, drinking lukewarm beer and making a fool of myself with Red out here on the dance floor? Just trying to chase Danny's blues away. Lord help us both. At least it was a good mix of songs tonight. Enough top 40 and disco to keep the masses happy, but never straying too far from a smooth undertow of funk and blues. Red's face was scarlet, sweat smashing her curly hair to her forehead, and her body was soft and hot when it bumped against mine. I lost track of the songs. Even though I'd only had that one beer, I started to feel like I was floating, the music keeping me just a step or two above the dance floor.
When I saw Daniel next his glasses weren't on his face, and I hoped to god he'd put them in his pocket and hadn't dropped them on the dance floor. What almost made me lose it, though, was seeing that Blondie was teaching him to boogaloo. Heh. Just about the cutest damn thing I'd ever seen. Ray Charles was chuckling and coaxing -- bend over, lemme see you shake your tail feathers -- and even though Daniel couldn't manage the fancy footwork, he had the shoulders for it, swinging them wide and strong like he owned the place. Blondie was right beside him, laughing and showing him the steps, clapping when he got it right.
All of a sudden Daniel looked up and saw me watching him. The biggest grin I'd seen in weeks broke over his face, and it was like sunshine after a storm.
Ha! Take that, you soul-sucking, cradle-snatching excuse for a goddess. You can't have Danny after all. And by the way, has anyone told you that little metal skirt makes you look fat? Guess the inches start creeping up on you after a few thousand years.
I might have even said some of that out loud. What the hell. Nobody could have heard over the music. Red was shaking it up, and even if I was taking it easier -- the twist's a little hard on the knees these days -- I was still gonna show Danny the old man wasn't quite ready for a walker yet. I wiped the sweat out of my eyes, and when I looked again, Red was sporting a pair of fur-covered brown ears that were as long and pointed as a heifer's.
I staggered back. I guess I would have fallen if the dance floor hadn't been so crowded. Someone pushed me up with a snarl, and Red grabbed my arms to steady me. Her mouth moved. Asking me if I was all right. I don't have any idea what I said to her. Her furry ears were gone, but I had to get off the floor. I lurched away from her towards the tables. There was a couple sitting at the edge of the dance floor, but when they saw me coming, they left. Good call on their part. I fell into a chair and covered my face with my hands, and could feel my heart was going like wild horses. Jesus.
"Jack. What's the matter? Jack." Those were Daniel's hands on my shoulders, then on my forehead, like he was checking for a fever. His mouth was next to my ear, so close I could feel the heat of his breath, the tickle of his hair.
I opened my eyes and looked at him. Just Daniel, wide-eyed and naked without his glasses.
"Where're your glasses, Danny?"
He stared at me, then patted the front of his jacket. My jacket. He must be roasting in that thing. Oughtta check it for him. I hadn't thought of that when we came in.
"Are you OK?"
"Never better. Tell you what, go buy a round of drinks for the ladies and get me another beer."
"Are you sure? You just --"
"You got enough money?"
"Jack, I've got money. What happened to you?"
The DJ was spinning "Jumping Jack Flash." Red and Blondie were hovering behind Daniel, and when I realized I was avoiding looking at either one of them too closely, I lifted my head and looked Red right in the eye.
Nothing. Just Red. Just a gal out for a little dancing on a Saturday night. I shook my head and tried to smile at her. "Go get the drinks, Daniel," I said, and mostly because it was too noisy for Daniel to argue with me about it, he gave me one long, last, near-sighted look and then headed for the bar. The girls went with him, and Mick Jagger wailed from the speakers so loud he could have been singing inside my own head. I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead. Great, great song. I was cro-o-o-o-owned with a spike right through my head. Jumping Jack Flash. Shame to sit this one out, but maybe they'd play it again later if I slipped the DJ a tip.
I'm not a complete idiot, you know, and I understood what I'd seen out there on the floor, dancing with a red-headed woman. I don't always sleep through Daniel's debriefings. Especially not that one. He'd still been a little shaky on his pins, which wasn't very surprising less than thirty-six hours after Hathor's visit, and I'd noticed that he tended to avoid looking at Sam, but he managed the whole thing just fine, grimly going through all those pictures of Hathor in his little Powerpoint presentation. Goddess of earth and sky and dancing and booze and sex and practically everything else you could think of that might need a patron goddess. Including cattle. A cow goddess. It should have been funny, and I remember trying to make a joke, but it fell kind of flat at the time.
In some of the pictures Daniel showed us she was actually cow, sometimes a woman with a cow's head, and sometimes she had just the ears.
And apparently sometimes she showed up at the Flame on a Saturday night, wanting to get back to her rock 'n roll roots. For a second there my imagination had filled in Hathor in all her bovine glory. Not surprising, really. I couldn't pretend she hadn't been on my mind. It had thrown me for a loop, but this just proved how much we'd needed to get out.
I wonder how Daniel handles it sometimes. Not just Hathor -- I mean the whole Goa'uld deal. The way they played our species for fools. How many of those old gods and goddesses will turn out to have been snakeheads in the final count anyway? We built temples to them. Sacrificed to them and worshipped them and prayed to them. It makes me a little nuts to think about it. Mostly I try not to. There are some places I really don't want to go, but you know how your mind runs away with you sometimes, no matter how hard you try to keep your thoughts all neat and tidy. I mean, what if there had been a sarcophagus in the Garden of Gethsemane? And there's not much question that Goa'uld have been making the dumb speak and the lame walk for millennia. What would poor old Suzie Lineberger think to find out her savior had eyes that glowed that in the dark?
Daniel says we don't have any evidence of a Goa'uld presence on earth that late in history.
Correction: Daniel used to say that, before Hathor showed up.
I dug my fists into my eyes and wished Daniel would get the hell back here with that beer.
Speak of the devil. Daniel sat down, pushing a Coors across the table to me. He'd gotten another screwdriver for himself, even though he hadn't looked like he'd enjoyed the first one. I wondered if he just didn't know what else to ask for in a bar. Makes you wonder what the boy had been doing in college while the rest of us were learning to drink and pick up chicks. Actually gone to class?
Now, just see the kind of trouble that causes you in the long run?
I drained half the can in one long gulp because that was really the only way to get it down. Another slow song was beginning. "When a Man Loves a Woman." That's another thing that's so great about this place, if I haven't mentioned it before. Even the slow dances are all right. In the relative quiet while Percy Sledge moaned that hopeless love song, I asked Daniel where the girls had gotten to.
"Oh." He looked around as if noticing for the first time that they hadn't come back with him. "Oh, they, um," he made a complicated gesture with one hand. "They went to -- powder their noses. Together. It's sort of a girl thing." He gave me a quick grin, as though knowing that women went to the bathroom in packs was a well guarded secret. Hell, he's such a baby sometimes you just can't help loving him.
"Did you buy them anything to drink?"
Daniel nodded. "They took it with them."
Oh well. That was probably the last we'd be seeing of them. Not a problem, I told myself. Plenty more fish in the sea. "Drink up," I said to Daniel. "You want to check that coat? You must be burning up in that thing."
"Oh. Yeah, that'd be great. I didn't know if it would be safe to take it off and just leave it somewhere."
"No, it wouldn't be. That's why we'll check it."
Daniel peeled it off his shoulders and handed it over. "My glasses are in the pocket," he reminded me.
"We'll get it back." I stood up mostly to prove that I still could. I felt light-headed but at least I didn't fall over. Daniel smiled at me worriedly, then took another sip of his drink. Made a face. I shook my head at him and pushed through the crowd around the edge of the dance floor, past the couples making out in the darkness between the bar and the front entrance to the place. A cold wind was blowing in the open door, and it smelled sweet after the heat of all those bodies pressed together on the dance floor and the cigarette smoke over the bar. I handed my coat over to the hatcheck girl along with another three bucks for the privilege. She was a bruiser with dyed black hair that looked like it had been cut with hedge trimmers and shoulders that reminded me of Teal'c's. "Thanks," I told her when she gave me back a dog-eared chit, and she flashed me a quick, unexpected grin.
It was another of those weird little moments that made me glad to be on this planet. Everything's so un-Goa'uldy around here you wonder why they bother with us in the first place. All the ordinary or downright ugly people who would look like hell in typical Goa'uld-wear, just hanging out on a Saturday night in a plaster and cinderblock building, laughin' and dancin' and drinkin' overpriced, watered-down booze. No marble columns, no fawning slaves, no hanging gardens, no piles of fruit on gilded trays, no bubbling fountains. Just our own little mixed up, muddled up, shook up world. Nothing much beautiful to be seen, if you wanted to be downright honest about it. Made me want to kiss every woman I passed on the way back to our table, just because I was so damned grateful none of them were as pretty as Hathor.
Daniel was still alone, and if he minded his dance partner having abandoned him, you couldn't have told by looking at him. He was glancing around himself, wide-eyed and probably half-blind without his glasses, pleased and curious. Happy, in other words, or what passes for it when it comes to Dr. Daniel Jackson, and it was so good to see the clouds were finally lifting I could've kissed him, too. I settled for slapping him on the back as I sat down.
He hadn't seen me coming, and he turned to me with a grin. His lips formed my name, but the sound of his voice was swallowed up by Joey Ramone demanding to be sedated. Another killer song that it was a shame to be sitting out, but as long as Daniel was doing all right, then I guessed the evening could be called a success. I picked up his empty drink glass and tapped it on the table. "Want another?" I mouthed at him, but he shook his head, then rolled his shoulders around, which I guess meant he felt three sheets to the wind already. Danny's still a cheap date. Me, on the other hand, I felt more sober than I'd been ten minutes ago and I could've gone for another beer, but it was kind of nice just sitting here next to a smiling Daniel.
Sara and me used to do that. Dance ourselves ragged and then grab a table so we could watch everyone else, especially all the couples acting like they were a decade or two younger than they really were. We'd try to convince ourselves we hadn't looked that dumb when we'd been out there ourselves -- of course we had, but that was all right, too. We were just human. We were allowed to be dumb and clumsy and happy for no good reason.
I clamped my hand on Daniel's shoulder and shook him a little, and he grinned at me again and said something I couldn't catch, except for my name in the middle of it. I was just starting to wonder if we should go scare up another couple of dance partners, when who d'you think showed up again? Pushing their way through the tables and looking as surprised to see us as I was to see them. Red and Blondie had come back from the little girls' room after all. Daniel waved happily at his new friends, and I would have bet money he was the only one of us who wasn't surprised that everybody was still here.
I stood up when they reached the table, pulling back a chair for Red. Daniel, suave as ever, bolted up like there was a buzzer in his seat just as a new song started. Gesturing frantically towards the dance floor, he leaned in close and bellowed into my ear. "Screaming Jay Hawkins!"
So all right, I admit Daniel can still surprise me. Who would have thought he had such a thing for an old time voodoo rocker like Screaming Jay? Daniel flailed for Blondie, and I couldn't have blamed her if she'd hesitated in the face of such clumsy wooing, but she didn't seem to mind, taking his hand and letting him drag her out to the dance floor. I glanced at Red, and saw she was watching their progress with a funny smile on her face.
Then she caught my eye, and by the way she grinned, I decided I probably had the same sort of expression on my face, too. Red rocked up on her toes so she could reach my ear. "Cute couple!" she yelled.
"Or something!" I yelled back , not sure if she could even hear me over Screaming Jay snarling and gurgling like an open tap. "Dance?"
The song was almost over before I saw Daniel again, but when I did, I realized I'd been dead wrong about one thing. It turned out our Danny could dance just fine. In fact, he was thrashing and bouncing around like a wild man, his hair flopping in his face and his eyes squeezed shut. Blondie had hold of one of his hands to keep him from crashing into anybody, but otherwise he was free as a bird and looking like he was having the time of his life. He was jerking and flopping to the music, all knees and elbows and bony hips, reminding me of his chicken impression back on Abydos.
Back in the days when he hadn't minded looking ridiculous and hadn't minded people laughing. Why should he? Daniel had never had anything to hide.
Suddenly I hated Hathor so much it was like fire in my brain. That evil snake bitch from hell had given Daniel something to hide. She'd taught him to be ashamed.
When the crimson haze finally cleared from my sight, it was happening to me again, but this time I was ready for it. When I saw the head of a cow for a horrible, ridiculous moment instead of Red's chubby cheeks and short curls, I made myself reach out and touch her face. The dream of Hathor disappeared at the feel of sweaty, completely human skin. Red jerked out of reach and looked at me like I was insane. I shrugged, the best apology I could manage under the circumstances. The song was winding down in a crescendo of those trademark bubbly screams, and Daniel was happily flailing about like a marionette in a hurricane, but at the song's final shriek, his eyes suddenly flew open. He was looking past Blondie, past me, maybe past everyone else on the whole dance floor. I got a sick feeling in my gut and I pushed past Red, trying to get to him. Daniel's eyes widened, and then he wrenched his hand out of Blondie's and pushed frantically, furiously at something I knew no one else could see. He was yelling words I couldn't hear over the opening guitar licks of "Stayin' Alive."
"Daniel!" I grabbed his arms before he hit somebody. "Daniel, it's all right."
He was so panicked and angry I thought for an instant he might take a swing at me. But then all the fight went out of him. He swayed on his feet, and I put my arm around his shoulders and tried to chivvy him off the dance floor. After a moment Blondie took his other arm and helped, Red clearing the way through the sudden throng of disco fever wannabes. There weren't any free tables this time, and no one looked ready to abandon theirs without a fight, so we pushed and pulled Daniel to the back of the club where I could prop him up against the wall.
"Come on, Danny. Deep breaths now."
"Is he all right?" Blondie asked.
The poor kid did look rough. The only reason he hadn't slid to the floor was because I had his shoulders pinned to the wall. He was looking down, his face screwed up hard, shoulders rigid under my hands. "He's fine. I can handle it from here."
"You sure?" Blondie sounded like she wasn't ready to let her dancing fool go so easily, but her friend took her arm and said something in her ear. The next thing I noticed, the two of them were gone.
"Daniel, you're all right. There's nothing happening here." I swallowed, then took a chance. "Hathor's long gone."
A spasm crossed his face and he tried to fold into himself, but I was holding his shoulders too hard. He gave up and finally looked at me with red-rimmed eyes. I knew that wasn't from the cigarette smoke. Christ, I could have used one right then, though, seeing that look on Daniel's face. Half a pack, actually, and a few really strong drinks.
"I'm fine, Jack."
At least, I think that's what Danny said. He was speaking so softly and the music was so loud it was hard to know for sure. "Yeah, I can see how fine you are," I muttered. "Come on, let's get some fresh air, whaddaya say?"
Daniel didn't say anything, but he let me pull his arm around the back of my neck and help him to the fire door. The bouncer glared at us but opened the door anyway, probably thinking that if Daniel was about puke he would rather he did it in the alley.
The cold air was like a slap in the face. Daniel coughed and shook his head, then tried to pull away from me. I kept a grip on his shoulders in case he wasn't quite as hale as he was pretending. "Sorry, Jack," he mumbled, not looking me in the eye. "Guess I had a little too much to drink."
"It's been happening to me," I told him. "I've been seeing her tonight, too."
At that, he looked at me again. The only light came from a security lamp half a block away, but I still would've laid odds that his eyes were filling up with tears. "Don't," I said. Daniel nodded and pressed his fist hard against his mouth, so I said, "It's OK if you need to," and I put my arms around him. Daniel made a horrible choking sound like he was still trying to hold it back, but then he tucked his head against my shoulder and finally let go.
I could feel his hands clenching and unclenching the back of my shirt. His tears were hot and his eyelashes were blinking fast against my neck. I patted the back of his head and didn't say anything, wondering if this was the first time he'd allowed himself to cry. I was also worrying about how this would look if some drunk asshole came stumbling out of the club right about now. Not that I was so worried about my reputation - just concerned that I wasn't in a position to defend either one of us right now.
This was crazy. My best friend was on the verge of a nervous breakdown because of that parasitic alien whore, and I had to worry about the two of us getting trounced by some of our own. You know, if we don't shape the fuck up, one day those Goa'uld ships are gonna come swinging around the moon and show up in our night sky again, and we'll all be too busy killing each other to notice.
Shit. We were both gonna end up on the pavement at this rate. I could feel Daniel starting to slip, so I stopped petting his head and braced him with both my arms around his back. He was shaking, but that could've just been because it was so friggin' cold.
At long last I felt him swallow, then snuffle and finally raise his head. "Oh god," he whispered. "God, I'm sorry."
"'S'OK." He wasn't leaning all his weight on me anymore, so I carefully let him go and fished a handkerchief out of my pocket -- some military habits are hard to break -- and handed it to him. He wiped his eyes and blew vigorously. I told him to keep it when he tried to hand it back to me.
"Thanks." He snuffled some more and rubbed the heels of his hands in his eyes. "I'm OK now."
Yeah, and I was the King of Spain. "You need to talk about it?" I asked, even though this wasn't the greatest time or place.
He shook his head. "No. It's just what you said. Thinking I saw Hathor again just when I'd finally --" His voice broke. "Shit!" He wiped his eyes again, then wrung his hands in anger.
"Come on. Let's find someplace warmer."
Daniel sniffed and nodded. I banged on the fire door without much hope. Nobody answered. We'd have to walk around the block, then pay the cover all over again in order to retrieve my coat and Daniel's glasses, more likely than not. What a waste, because somehow I didn't think we'd be doing any more dancing tonight.
"We're gonna have to go all the way around to get back in. You up to it?"
Daniel laughed, not sounded very amused. "Or just stand back here freezing my tail off? Thanks. I'll walk."
"That's my boy." I put my arm around his shoulders because it was cold out there, and now that Daniel was on his feet again, I was more than a match for anyone who might give us any trouble tonight.
After a few steps, going carefully to avoid the broken beer bottles and garbage, Daniel suddenly asked, "What did you mean, you saw her too?"
"Just what I said. A coupla times Red looked like Hathor to me. Just for a second. Not actually like Hathor. Just a--" I struggled for the word Daniel had used in his briefing "--an aspect of her. The head of a cow, actually."
"Oh my god." Daniel stumbled a little and I pulled him upright. "I thought it was just me."
"That's why you gotta tell me these things." I cuffed his jaw with my free hand. "You're not alone here, you know?" We walked in silence for a little while longer, and I pulled Daniel closer since he was shivering so hard. "So I guess you -- at the end of the song. I guess you saw the same thing, huh?"
"Sort of," Daniel admitted slowly. "I hadn't been thinking about her at all. It felt so good to forget for a little while."
"You were a dancing machine out there," I told him, and could imagine him rolling his eyes.
"Oh great. Something else you'll never let me live down."
"'Fraid not. Part of my job as your commanding officer."
"I'm going to have to get Teal'c to explain this 'chain of command' thing to me again. Obviously I'm still not quite grasping the concept."
So it was feeble as far as jokes went, but I was glad to hear him make the attempt. "Aah, you don't wanna listen to Teal'c. He's liable to fill you up with all sorts of Chulak craziness that just doesn't relate to the way we do things here in the United States Air Force."
"You're probably right. Teal'c's explanations actually make sense."
"Low blow, Danny boy," I told him, and this time his laugh sounded real.
I was almost starting to think that the worst was over, when Daniel said quietly, "You know what happened? All of a sudden I could smell water. Lots of it, a little stagnant, like a pond or something. That's when I opened my eyes, and the walls were gone and instead there were miles of water all around me. It could have been flood plain of the Nile. I saw rushes and blooming papyrus, and something moving behind them, stirring up the surface, and I knew -- " Daniel stumbled to a stop. He was shaking like a leaf, and I was back to wondering why in the hell I'd thought going out dancing was a good idea for either one of us tonight.
"Didn't happen, Daniel," I said, trying to get him moving again. "Hathor's gone. It was just a -- a flashback or something. It's all over now."
"The water was red," Daniel whispered. "I looked down and the water was red."
"It was just a flashback, I'm telling you." He didn't seem convinced, standing there rigid beside me. "Look, Daniel, I've been having the dreams, too, after your little lecture. That old story you told us, about Ra sending a flood of red beer to distract Hathor. She got tanked drinkin' what she thought was blood and forgot all about destroying the world. Some kinda party girl, huh?"
"No wonder we both saw her at the club," Daniel mumbled, looking at his feet. "Drinking and dancing and music. That's always been her world, Jack. That's why we worshipped her for so long."
"We did not!" I roared, swinging him around and pushing him up against the wall of the building. All at once I was so angry I couldn't see straight. "Just because some ancient Egyptians couldn't tell a Goa'uld from a hole in the ground doesn't mean we ever worshipped that worm spurting bitch. She gassed us and drugged us, she messed with our heads, but we never, ever worshipped her."
At least he wasn't staring at his feet anymore. "Hey, Jack, come on, take it easy."
"We are not that pathetic," I insisted. "A light show and a little jolt to the 'nads, and we fall down and worship a snake like that? No way. No fucking way."
"No, we're not that gullible. The Egyptians revolted and banished Ra, remember? We see through them in the end." I realized Daniel was trying to peel my fingers off his upper arm, and I let him go, fast. I had to know, though. Even though it wasn't the time or the place, I had to know, because I was afraid I'd never have the nerve to ask him again if I didn't do it now.
"How many what?"
Dammit, I didn't want to explain. I just wanted him to give me an answer that would let me sleep at night. "How many of 'em will turn out to be like her?" I demanded.
"Gods, you mean. How many gods? How many gods will turn out to have been Goa'uld?"
Was he deliberately being dense? I was on the verge of losing it. Even with his tears still wet on my neck, I was ready to scream at him because he wouldn't answer the question that had been burning in me ever since Hathor. Maybe ever since Ra. "Of course that's what I mean. Do you ever pray, Daniel?"
He just stared at me, mouth hanging open in the light of the security lamp. "Pray? To what?"
Oh for the love of -- "To God. Do you ever pray to God?"
"Oh." He was shivering, but I couldn't feel the cold anymore. "I'm not -- well, no, actually. My parents didn't -- I guess I'm not what you would call a believer."
"Well, I am," I told him bitterly, like it was somehow his fault. "And I used to pray. I prayed when I was scared out of my mind, when I was stupid with happiness, when Sara went into labor, when my plane was shot down, during all the worst and best times of my life. I know it must sound nuts to you, but I always thought God was with me. Always." I felt my hands curling into fists. I wanted to hurt someone, but there was no one here but Daniel, looking at me like he wanted to help but had no idea what the hell I was going on about. "Then Charlie died," I spat out, telling Daniel the worst thing I knew about myself, "And I told God to go fuck himself."
Son of a bitch, I was crying. I hadn't realized until I heard my voice break.
"Jack." Daniel put his arms around me and tried to hold me, but I was frozen with -- I don't know what. Rage. Shame.
"Now it turns out none of it was ever real. The only gods we ever had were these - these parasites, and I can't even be damned for what I let happen to Charlie."
"Jack," he said again. He shook me and pushed me back to look me in the face. "Jack, if you want me to try and convince you that you can still look forward to damnation, I'm not gonna do it, because it's not true, I don't care what you believe in. But the Goa'uld didn't create religion. They took advantage of it, perverted it, but belief itself -- that's human. That's who we are."
"How the hell can you be so sure of that? The Goa'uld have been here almost as long as we've been human, haven't they?
"That's not exactly --"
"And you said they all left earth ten thousand years ago, but guess what, Daniel, it turns out they're still here. They've been here all along. Who's gonna step out of a sarcophagus next? Mohammed? Buddha? Christ?
"Stop it." Daniel's voice was sharp and angry and full of despair. "I already figured out how wrong I was, OK? I already know how close you came to getting a Goa'uld in your belly because I was as wrong as it's possible to be, and I don't blame you if you hate me for it. But if there's any part of you that can still believe anything I say, believe this. Ra and Hathor don't have anything to do with your faith in God."
"I don't hate you, Danny." Amazed that he could ever have thought such a thing, I finally let myself lean into him, putting my arms around him again, feeling his strong arms around my back, there in that lousy alley behind the Flame, neither one of us with enough sense to get in from the cold. "I want to believe you. That's why I'm asking. I just -- I just don't know how."
Daniel said something in a language I didn't know, and then translated. "'By their fruits you shall know them.' The seventh book of Matthew, I think. That's how, Jack."
I hugged him tighter, like he was the only thing in the universe I could believe in, and at that moment he probably was. "I know what you're saying," I told him. "But it doesn't help." Another man maybe would have would have asked Danny about the Crusades or the Inquisition then, because if those were the fruits of the religion of my fathers, then we all probably were Goa'uld-bait. But just then, all I could think of was Suzie Lineberger. That woman who was nothing but a decent person and the best mother she knew how to be. Bringing me home-baked cookies and grieving for Charlie with me, and incidentally collecting signatures for legislation that would give her the legal right to hate her neighbors as much as she pleased. I felt wrung dry, too empty even to despair any longer.
Then Danny said quietly, "Listen to me, Jack. You're a believer. You've believed all your life, and there's nobody in the world I trust and respect more than you." He gave a snuffly laugh against my shoulder, and I thought he was probably crying again. "Nobody in the universe. So shouldn't you let that count for something?"
What the hell could I say to that? I cradled the back of his neck, and Daniel sniffled a little and raised his head. "The Goa'uld have already taken so much. Don't let them take this, too. Please, Jack. I don't think I can stand losing any more."
That was fighting dirty and he must have known it. It worked. I hugged him hard and told him I would try, and I held him until we had both cried ourselves out. Daniel was the one who finally lifted his head and said, "I'm so cold I can't feel my fingers and toes anymore. You think we can go now?"
I wiped my eyes and felt for my handkerchief before remembering I'd already given it to Daniel. I used my shirtsleeve instead. "Yeah," I croaked. I cleared my throat and tried again. "You had dinner yet? We could stop somewhere on the way home."
Daniel gave such a long, shaky sigh I thought for sure he was gonna say no. Who could blame him? Especially considering the way Cheer Up Daniel Night had turned out.
What Daniel came out with instead was, "Sure. Is there any place to get Vietnamese food in this town?"
"We got Mexican," I said, feelingly suddenly, ridiculously better. "Lots and lots of good Mexican food around here." By then we had reached the main street, and under the streetlights I could see his eyes were still blurry with tears. "Hold still." I took him by the shoulder and carefully wiped his eyes with the side of my finger.
He gave me a watery smile. "Thanks."
I looked up just in time to see Red and Blondie passing us going the other direction, both of them bundled up against the cold and moving fast. Red slowed down enough to glance at the side street we'd come out of, and then she turned around without stopping, trusting Blondie to keep her from running into anything. "So I guess you're both OK?"
"Yeah," I said. "Sorry about all that."
"Hey, it's all good. Some nights we just feel like dancing with boys, too."
Blondie covered her mouth with her hand, and bent over double, trying without success to stifle a fit of giggles. Daniel swiveled his head to watch them go. "Oh," he said.
"Yeah," I agreed, shaking my head. Threat to civilization, all right. Anyone could tell. "Oh. "
It wasn't until we were finally back in the car with the heater going full blast, Daniel in my coat again and his glasses on his face, that I got a chance to ask him what I'd really wanted to know.
"Screaming Jay Hawkins. I never would have guessed."
Daniel turned sideways in the seat. "Oh yeah, he's amazing, isn't he? Teal'c turned me on to him. The way he does 'I Put a Spell on You' -- just unbelievable."
"Yeah. He's a real Jim Jarmusch fan, didn't you know that? A couple of months back he asked me to watch Stranger Than Paradise with him to help with the cultural references. The soundtrack blew me away."
"You've never seen his stuff? Stranger than Paradise? Mystery Train? Jack, he's great. Maybe after dinner we can find a video store. You gotta see this guy."
I was already suspicious, but I made myself ask, "What kinda movies are we talking about here?"
"Well, that's what makes him such an incredible director. In a way, his movies are sort of about nothing. There are all these long, long scenes of calculated tedium --"
I'd heard enough and changed the subject, quick. "I wanna ask you something. Don't get mad, but have you ever been dancing before?"
"You mean here in the States?"
"Uh, right. Here in the States."
"Well ... no. Not really. Was it that obvious?"
"A little. Daniel, why didn't you say something when I asked you?"
I saw him shrug out of the corner of my eye. "You looked like it was something you really wanted to do tonight. I thought it would help take your mind off things. He sighed. "Sorry, Jack. Guess it wasn't such a great plan after all."
Hopeless. Absolutely hopeless. I dropped my hand on his shoulder and shook him a little. "Don't worry about it." I could feel the grin spreading across my face. "You buy me dinner, and I think we can call it square."
* * *