Mathématique: Chapter 10

“This phone has seen some times. It knows the world now.”





Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Grief. Physical injuries. Mental health challenges. References to torture.


Text iteration: Witching hour.


Additional notes: None.




Chapter 10



Young could see it.


It rested behind his eyes even in the bright summer light, beneath Mitchell’s too determined commentary, beneath the tap of Jackson’s fingernails against the glass of his beer bottle, beneath Teal’c’s impassive expression. It hung out there somewhere in the vacuum of space against a field of unfamiliar stars: a smear organic debris beaded into a frozen mist. He shut his eyes. It didn’t help.


He took a swig of beer. It tasted bitter. Clean.


The game cut to a commercial break. Mitchell levered open another bottle. “Who’s driving?”

 

“Not you,” Jackson replied.


“I will drive,” Teal’c announced from Young’s armchair.


“Nice.” Mitchell’s bottle cap went flying to rest somewhere beneath Young’s coffee table. “Absent comrades,” he said, into a moment of unnatural quiet.


Young touched his bottle to Mitchell’s with the clink of glass-on-glass.


“Absent comrades.” Teal’c sipped his beer.


Jackson stood and disappeared down the narrow hallway in the direction of Young’s bathroom.


“Baseball.” Mitchell twisted on the couch to watch Jackson, and the shift of his weight sent a spike through Young’s back and hip. “Ain’t nothin’ better.” 


“I prefer hockey,” Young said through gritted teeth. Between dragging Rush out of his apartment last night and the morning’s unpacking, he felt as though every sensory fiber in his back was dying a slow death.


If only his nerves would just up and die, that’d suit him just fine.


He checked his watch. Almost time for the next round of ibuprofen.


Jackson reappeared, and Mitchell stopped fidgeting.


As the minutes ticked by, Cam spearheaded their responses to the fourth inning successes and failures of the Kansas City Royals. Young and Teal’c kept pace with him out of bromantic courtesy, uttering the appropriate responses with various levels of enthusiasm.


“Damn.”


“Most regrettable.”


Jackson paced the room, making no attempt to feign interest in the game. He peered through the mostly closed blinds. From the direction of his gaze, Young could tell he was looking at the mountains. Toward the base.


Rush’d been talking to Vala for a long time.


Too long, maybe?


Was Vala helping Jackson? Teamed up with him? A team within a team? A tighter alliance than the bureaucracy of the SGC allowed or knew? Was she telling Rush whatever it was Jackson wanted him to know? If she was, there wasn’t much Young could do about it. 


“What do you think they’re talking about?” Jackson asked, coming to stand next to the couch, one arm wrapped around his chest, beer in hand.


Or.

 

Maybe Vala wasn’t in league with Jackson.


“You,” Mitchell said.


“You,” Teal’c agreed.


“Math?” Young guessed.


“Why would they be talking about me?” Jackson took a sip of his beer. “Don’t be ridiculous. Math? Maybe. Nick twists everything around to it if you breach his fortress of one-liners.”


“I noticed,” Young said.


“They’ve been on the phone a long time.” Jackson looked down the dark hallway. “I mean, a long time. Right? I can’t imagine they have much in common. Do they? Would they? Actually, they might.”


“Definitely keep debating it aloud with yourself,” Mitchell said. “It’ll be a good conversation starter when Rush walks back in.”


Jackson looked over his shoulder.


Teal’c raised an amused eyebrow. “I believe that Dr. Rush and Vala Mal Doran would make a formidable team.”


“Oh god,” Jackson said, “you’re right but—in all the worst ways.”


“Indeed,” Teal’c replied.


“You don’t think they’re planning anything, do you?”


“Jackson,” Mitchell said. “chill. What the heck are they gonna ‘plan’?”


“He probably fell asleep,” Young said. “He’s been barely hanging on for hours now.”


“I need my phone,” Jackson said. “I’m gonna go check.”


“You don’t ‘need’ your phone.” Mitchell hooked an arm over the back of the couch. “You hate your phone.”


“I don’t ‘hate’ my phone,” Jackson replied primly.


“You have, on many occasions, described your dislike for your phone,” Teal’c said, backing Mitchell.


Jackson glared at the pair of them.


“I believe your exact words were ‘I hate this thing, multifunctional devices are never a good idea’,” Teal’c said.


“When did I say that?”


“In the car,” Mitchell replied.


“What car? When?” 


“In my car. Today. On the way over here. Two and a half hours ago. Not even.”


“Never happened,” Jackson said.


“It did,” Teal’c confirmed.


“See?” Mitchell gestured at Teal’c.


Jackson sighed.


“I’ll get your phone.” Young got painfully to his feet. “I need some ibuprofen anyway.”


“I’ll can—” Jackson began.


Young waved him off. “Take a seat, Jackson. Drink your damn beer.”


Mitchell reached over the back of the couch, grabbed Jackson’s wrist, and dragged him down.


“Maybe several beers,” Young muttered, turning his back on the three of them. 


He made his way down the short hallway and ducked into the shadowed darkness of his unlit bathroom to down two ibuprofen. He traced his thumb over the unfamiliar line of the faucet as he finished his glass of water, then crossed the hall to the closed door of the second bedroom, listening at the door to for the sound of conversation. The room was silent. He eased the door open.


If he hadn’t been mentally preparing himself to find his neighbor out cold, the whole faceplant-to-the-floor thing his neighbor had going would’ve hit as alarming. As it was, the boneless sprawl was only mildly unsettling.


“This just doesn’t seem like the kinda thing a math professor does,” Young whispered.


Sure enough, Jackson’s phone was pinned under Rush’s hand.


He knelt to rescue the thing.


NOPE.


Halfway into his crouch, the blazing fire along his spine and through his hip clued him into what was shaping up as a pretty severe tactical error. He managed to abort the motion by grabbing the doorframe and clawing himself back to standing. He bit his lip at the pain in his hip and back that tore its way through tissue like a parasitic alien snake.


He put his back to the wall and slid down, his injured leg extended in front of him. He sat on the floor, tipped his head back, and breathed through the pain as best he could.


When the worst of it had drained away, he leveled a glare at his neighbor.


This fuckin’ guy.


Young shifted, mindful of all the nerves in his back giving him hell. He got his fingertips on Jackson’s phone and started dragging it alone the hardwood floor. The mathematician was solidly out, so it shouldn’t be too much trouble to just—


Rush went from asleep to reacting with the kind of speed Young had only ever seen in the field. His fingers closed around Jackson’s phone, he flipped over, pulled away, and hurled the damn thing into the opposite wall.


Young jerked back, just as damned triggered, reaching for the sidearm he wasn’t wearing.


“What the fuck,” Rush snarled, pulling himself into a crouch. 


“God damn it, hotshot,” Young’s his heart hammered in his throat. “Take it easy.”


“The fuck were you doing?”


“Jackson’s phone,” Young kept his back to the wall, both hands raised. “I was getting Jackson’s phone?”


They stared at each other, breathing hard.


Young wasn’t sure anything he’d said had actually registered with the guy across from him. Who, yeah, had been removed, at gunpoint, from his apartment less than twenty-four hours ago. “Jackson’s phone.” Young tried again, pointing at the device across the room. “He wants it.”


Rush looked to the base of the wall. “Ah fuck.”


“Yup,” Young said. “I think you killed it.”


Rush uncoiled from his defensive crouch and retrieved the phone from what was likely its final resting place. The screen was a webbed lattice of cracks that ran pale over the black, reflective surface. Rush set it on the floor, face down. He seemed to discover a crumpled piece of notebook paper in one hand. He glanced at it, shoved it into his pocket, then pushed his hair back in a shaky sweep. “And what do you think you’re doing?” The guy looked at him with an unreal amount of poise. As though Young was the one who’d just murdered Jackson’s phone.


For a vertiginous moment, Young hung between incredulous laughter and reading the guy the riot act. The man had the most off-putting defense-as-offense routine Young had ever experienced. “Oh no,” Young growled. “You don’t get to turn this one around. You—


Someone pounded on the door. “Everyone alive in there?” Mitchell shouted.


“Mostly,” Young called back.


Mitchell cracked the door open, then slowly swung it wide. He and Jackson stood in the doorway. Teal’c had apparently decided to sit this one out.

 

“Heeyyyy.” Jackson looked down at Rush


“I regret to inform you,” Rush said, rearranging himself to sit cross-legged on the floor, “that your phone did not survive Colonel Young’s retrieval attempt.” He held it up for Jackson’s inspection.


Jackson pushed his eyebrows together in puzzled disapproval. “I can see that.”


“Yes well. My apologies.” Rush forced himself to his feet in a motion that seemed to require more energy than he had to spare. “I’ll write you a check.”


“Did Colonel Young survive Colonel Young’s retrieval attempt?” Mitchell asked, looking down at him.


“Yeah.” Young heard the grudge in his own tone. “I’m fine.”


Mitchell offered Young his hand. Young took it, and Mitchell pulled him to his feet, solid and careful.


“Mmm.” Jackson sounded appreciative as he turned the shattered screen over in his hands. “The vintage look.”


“Oh sure.” Mitchell rolled his eyes. “Now he likes it.”


“It has character.”


“Does it turn on?” Rush asked dryly. “Or are y’preoccupied with form to the exclusion of function?”


Jackson smiled a small smile. “If I were stuck on a desert island,” he said, “and I could bring only one person, you’d be in the running, Nick.”


Rush sighed. “Condolences.”


“I’m gonna tell Sam you said that,” Mitchell said.


“No you’re not.” Jackson absently turned his phone though his fingers in a slow-motion revolution. “Because if you do, I’ll tell her who spilled coffee in her phase shifting array.”


“You wouldn’t.”


“That was you?” Young asked. 


“You heard about that?” Mitchell asked.


“Everyone heard about it.”


“The coffee was mostly shifted anyway. It set her back by, like, three hours. Max. I don’t even drink coffee,” Mitchell said defensively. “Everyone knows that.”


“Ah, but you bring Sam coffee, don’t you?”


“Sometimes. We’re pals.”


“You’ll never get Sam to like you better than she likes me.” Jackson experimentally pressed a button on the side of his phone. Nothing happened.


“Sounds like a challenge.” Mitchell crossed his arms and put his back to the wall.


Rush snapped Jackson’s phone out of Jackson’s hands. “Why did I give this back to you?”


“No idea,” Jackson replied.


Rush held down two buttons, and the phone powered up. He gave it a skeptical look and handed it to Jackson, who studied it admiringly.


Rush sighed. “Would you like a new phone?”


“Never.” Jackson stroked the edges of the shattered screen. “This phone has seen some times. It knows the world now.”


Young and Rush exchanged a look.


“I worry about you, Jackson,” Mitchell said. “I really do.”


“It’s Daniel,” Jackson said, aggrieved. Carefully, he pocketed his phone, then turned to Rush. “What did Vala want?”


“My number,” Rush said.


“Seriously?” Jackson said.


“Yes.”


“Did you give it to her?”


“Are you going to stay in this room?” Rush asked.


“Um—no?”


“Well, let me know where you’ll be, so I can go somewhere else.”


“You just injured my phone,” Jackson replied. “Can you at least be civil?”


“I’ll give you one thousand dollars and or my phone if you’ll leave me alone.”


“Nick—”


Young gave Mitchell a pointed look.


“Will you look at the time,” Mitchell said, theatrically clocking the watch he wasn’t wearing. “We’re supposed to meet the ladies for dinner pretty soon.” He grabbed Jackson’s shoulder and physically turned the guy in the direction of the door. “Vala wanted to try Japanese.”


“There’s no good Japanese food in Colorado Springs,” Jackson grumbled. 


“Someplace opened up around the corner from O’Malley’s,” Mitchell replied.


“It won’t last,” Jackson said. “Nothing interesting ever lasts here.”


“Well, it definitely won’t last if we don’t give them our money,” Mitchell said.


“Very true.” Jackson twisted out of Mitchell’s grip to look back at Rush. “Will you take my advice?”


“Yes.” Rush stared at a blank patch of wall.


“Good,” Jackson said. “We’ll talk more later.”


“What ‘advice’?” Mitchell’s tone turned hard.


“Health-related stuff.” Jackson shrugged. “Very boring. Very ordinary.”


“Jackson.” Mitchell glanced at Young, and Young returned his look with interest, thinking of the crumpled sheet of notebook paper Rush had shoved in his pocket.


“What, insomnia’s somehow subversive now?”


“I have an idea,” Mitchell said. “You stop talking, leave the nice mathematician alone, and we go get Japanese food.”


Jackson shot Mitchell an irritated glance before looking back at Rush. “We’ll talk more later.”


As Mitchell herded Jackson out of the room, Young studied Rush. The other man had a hand hooked over his shoulder, and his fingers dug into the back of his neck.


“You okay?” Young asked.


Rush shut his eyes, shook his head, and said nothing.


“What did Jackson tell you?”


“Nothing.” The word was nearly inaudible. “Nothing.”


“Don’t go looking for trouble, hotshot.”


Rush gave him a faint smile. “I’m not the type.”


“Uh huh,” Young said, fighting his own smile down. “C’mon. I’m gonna need your help to get Jackson out the door.”


In the living room, they found Mitchell, Teal’c, and Jackson gathering up what they’d brought. Jackson hovered at the table, studying at Vala’s computer, his head cocked.


“Take it,” Rush said. “I’m finished.”


“Where’d the pink trim come from?” Jackson asked, studying the subtle band running the perimeter of the laptop. “I don’t remember any pink trim.”


“I’m not at liberty to say.” Rush shut the laptop and thrust it at Daniel. “Thank her for me, will you?”


“I—sure. Nick, you look exhausted. Get some rest, yeah?”


“Yes yes,” Rush replied.


“You can stay at my place,” Jackson said quietly. “Offer’s still open.”


Young frowned.


Rush shook his head.


“Yo, Jackson,” Mitchell called from where he was standing with Teal’c next to the doorway. “A glacier just passed by.”


“Hilarious and subtle,” Jackson drawled, tucking Vala’s laptop under one arm and raising an eyebrow at Rush. “You see what I’m dealing with?”


“Les hommes parfaits comme les nombres parfaits sont très rares,” Rush said.


“Comme je l'ai dit—desert island. Number one pick,” Jackson replied.


“Can’t fault y’for your taste,” Rush said.


“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Jackson replied.


“You speak French?” Young asked, eyeing speculatively Rush.


Rush quirked an eyebrow at him. “I was quoting.”


“That wasn’t an answer,” Young said.


“Noticed that, did you?” Rush glanced at him obliquely. 


“Nick.” Jackson looked over his shoulder. “Are you sure—”


“Bye guys!” Mitchell bodily dragged Jackson into the hallway.


Young gave them a wave and shut the door. He leaned into the wood, then turned turning to take in Rush. His neighbor had one shoulder braced against the wall. His eyes were half shut, either from exhaustion or because of the glare of the afternoon sun.


“What?” Despite his exhaustion, Rush curled a ghost of menace around the word.


“You all right there, hotshot?”


“Yes. Don’t call me ‘hotshot’.”


“What was that thing with the phone?” Young asked.


“What ‘thing with the phone’?”


“You’re a little hair triggered,” Young said cautiously. “You know that?”


You were the one creeping about,” Rush replied. “Th’fuck do y’expect?”


“From a math professor? Not what I got.”


“I think—” Rush broke off with a half-hearted hand gesture, “perhaps y’should recalibrate in some way?”


“Maybe you should recalibrate.”


“You’re the one whose expectations don’t match reality,” Rush said. “I’m perfectly fuckin’ aligned.”


Young made an incredulous face the man didn’t see because his damned eyes were closed. “Rush,” he growled. “You’re killing me. Take a nap.”


“I’m uninterested in your suggestions.”


“You pass out and I call it in as a medical emergency.”


“Y’wouldn’t.” Rush cracked an eyelid.


“Try me.”


“Oh I suppose y’would at that.” Rush muttered. “This is better, you know.”


“Exhaustion? Better than what?”


“You’ll get the idea,” Rush murmured, “if you know me long enough.”


Young stepped forward and closed a hand around Rush’s elbow, tightening his grip against Rush’s  instinctive recoil before steering the other man toward the couch.


“I don’t sleep on couches.”


“You make an exception for this one,” Young growled. 


“No I don’t.”


“Yup,” Young said. “It’s already happened.”


“I despise couches,” Rush informed him.


“That’s very interesting,” Young pressed the man onto the sofa. “Tell me more.”


“Shut up.”


“Young three; Rush one.”


“Fuck. Enjoy it while it lasts.”


“Yeah yeah.” Young fought down a smile.






Unfold. Shake out. Hang. Young was half an hour deep into organizing his closet when his phone rang. The caller ID did nothing for him: the number registered as “Unknown.” Likely it was someone from the base.


“Young.” Awkwardly, he trapped his phone between shoulder and ear.


“Colonel.” The gravelly pseudo-joviality was unmistakable. “It’s Landry.”


Young grimaced and dropped the shirt he was trying to find a home for so he could get a better grip on the phone.


“General,” he said, “what can I do for you?”


“How’s the hip?”


It was the back, actually, that was more of the problem, but hey. Close enough. “Fine. Better all the time.”


“Glad to hear it,” Landry said.


Silence.


Young stared into his half-filled closet, wall, trying to figure out what, if anything, he was supposed to say.


“I know you’re technically still on medical leave,” Landry began, weighing his words carefully, “but I’d appreciate it if you can make to the base for a meeting on Monday afternoon.”


“No problem. Can I ask what this is about?”


“I’d rather not say,” Landry replied, “even over a secured line.”


“Understood. What time?”


“Thirteen hundred hours,” Landry said.


“I’ll be there, sir.”


“Good. I just ran into Bill Lee. Looks like you’ll get your apartment back to yourself in the next few hours. They’ve almost cleared Rush’s place.”


Young shot a skeptical look at the nearest pile of T-shirts, hesitating. “Sir, while I have you on the line: my neighbor mentioned he’s gonna need an off-world trip to crack the next cypher.”


“I’m assuming your response to that was laughter,” Landry growled.


Sometimes it was difficult to tell whether the general was being sarcastic or not. “Uh, he says he needs a DHD.”


“Have him write up a detailed protocol for what he wants done,” Landry replied. “I’ll send Carter to do whatever—wait. No. Can’t send Carter. I’ll send—someone.”


“I think he’s gonna tell you he needs to go,” Young said.


“And I’m sure he thinks that.”


Young stayed quiet.


Landry sighed. “Have him write it up. Have him include a rationale for his personal involvement, and submit the request to Carter. If she agrees there’s no one else for the job, I’ll authorize a trip to the alpha site for three hours. Not one second more.”


Young grimaced at his half-empty closet. “He may end up breaking the DHD of whatever planet he gates to.”


“You’re pulling my leg.”


“No sir.”


“So we end up resourcing a Daedalus-class ship for this??”


“Yes sir.”


Landry sighed. “I’ll say this much for him: at least he told us he’d break the damn thing ahead of time. But no. There’s no way we risk putting him on a ship.”


“That’s what I figured you’d say,” Young replied, “but he seems pretty certain he’s gonna need this for the next cypher.”


The line was silent.


“We just find someone else who can do what he can do.”


Landry’s silence took on an unimpressed quality.


He’d probably pushed a little too far.


“If,” Landry growled, “if I figure out a secure option—do you think he can handle going into the field? Two out of three times he sets foot on the base he ends up forced into James MacKenzie’s office and handed a V22. I want your honest assessment on this one, colonel.”


“He’s less reliable than your outta the box SGC-issued science genius,” Young admitted. “I don’t think you could send him with just any gate team.”


“I’ll think about it,” Landry said. “In the meantime, have him get his request to Carter. He’s going nowhere unless she agrees it’s necessary.”


“I’ll let him know.”


“See you Monday, colonel.”


“Yes sir.” Young ended the call and sighed. He pressed the heel of his hand into his lower back and stared into space, trying to think of nothing. Trying not to think of David: an organic smear across space or screaming his throat raw as they tortured him. Maybe to death. Trying not to think of Jackson, and the subtle fear in the perpetual hunch of his shoulders. Trying not to think of the hardness that crept into Mitchell’s voice. Of the way Vala’s hands had stilled, assembling his lamp. Of Rush, hearing that continuous tone.


It would be all right.

 

There was no point in trying to figure out everything at once. 


He pulled the next shirt out of his box, shook it out, and hung it in the closet.

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