Jack stood in front of the grill perched on the deck behind his house and nudged the brats cooking over the coals. Occasionally, he’d pour a little beer over them and each time, he’d have to stand back—forgetting that he was pouring alcohol into a lit flame. He almost wished he’d burn himself, but instinct kept it from happening.
He hadn’t told Daniel not to come over, but the man seemed to know when it was time to leave Jack be. He hadn’t wanted to. He’d stood by his car as Jack had gone to his truck, clearly wanting to be with him. Comfort him. But Jack just couldn’t tolerate comfort right now. He missed Charlie, and even more so now that he’d been with Fake Charlie. That damn crystal had replicated his son perfectly, but he couldn’t replicate the personality—no matter how much Jack had wanted it to. But if the entity had been able to do that, Jack wouldn’t have let him go. He knew he wouldn’t have.
Sara had gone home a half-hour before. Jack had been afraid she’d want to stay over, to be like they used to be. Have Ex Sex. But he gave off just enough vibes to let her know that if she even entertained such ideas, she’d be in for a big Hell No. He wasn’t in the mood. And he’d technically cheat on Daniel, which he couldn’t abide doing. He had never cheated on anyone he’d been with. His code wouldn’t allow it. In his opinion, if you even think about cheating, then your relationship is already over. Just get it over with and split up. Or fix the damn thing—although he’d never been big on that part. If it needed fixing, they weren’t the right partner.
On the other hand, Daniel … their relationship needed some fixing, but only because they just weren’t compatible, no matter how strongly they felt. Too much arguing. Jack knew he was responsible for half of it, but Daniel had a problem that Jack was certain he had no clue about: he contradicted people (him) instead of disagreeing nicely. Daniel had it in him, but some part of him just would not shut up. If Jack wanted to keep going with him, he’d have to bring it up. It might start an argument all by itself so he’d have to think about it a while, figure out how to word it so the man could get it through his thick skull that arguing wasn’t always a good way to … talk.
Jack grunted at himself. Like you’re any better, you hypocrite.
The brats were getting just a bit too brown and he turned to get the buns when he realized he’d left the plate of them on the kitchen counter.
He went inside, grumbling, “You’d lose your head if it weren’t attached.”
It wasn’t true, of course. Jack’s organizational and memory skills had gotten him to his ripe old age thus far. He just tended to get distracted when stressed. It didn’t occur in the field. Hard lessons had sharpened him, and that damn prison had sharpened them more. He’d probably still be there if he hadn’t planned and executed a rather ruthless and messy escape. He’d told Daniel some of it, mumbling it, on Abydos during that first mission. It had been his way of excusing the suicidal thoughts he’d been holding onto as he had planned another ruthless and messy escape. Executing it had been put aside. He didn’t think he could go there again. It would take something rather drastic … and he’d promised Daniel, of all people, that he wouldn’t. He’d promised a man he didn’t know all that well but had felt oddly comfortable talking to him.
Because you hadn’t planned on living through the mission, dumbshit.
He grabbed and assembled his dinner, then was preparing to sit outside and enjoy the evening when a swarm of mosquitos showed up. With a sigh, he went back in and sat in front of his chessboard, set up on the coffee table, as per usual. The pieces were in the same place he and Daniel had left them and he wasn’t in the mood to disturb them. Instead, he studied them. It wasn’t cheating. Daniel could be taking a long time in the bathroom. In another apartment. Away from him.
Jack realized that he missed him. Odd that. He hadn’t thought it possible, if he’d thought of it at all, that is. Irritated by it for no reason he could pinpoint, he clicked on the TV. One of these days, he’d have to upgrade it. It was a flatscreen, but barely twenty-eight inches. He could afford what they call a BFTV, but when would he have time to watch it? The infrequent downtime they were given? Fraiser, their still-relatively new CMO, had been lobbying Hammond for Required Downtime. Constant stress on teams was a surefire recipe for burnout and they couldn’t afford it. For once, Jack agreed with her view.
A football game was on. Broncos vs the Chiefs. Jack frowned and thought about what month it was. Early August. Pre-season. Still, he left the game on for something to watch. He wasn’t one of those people who channel surfed. He preferred to see a listing and choose something.
He realized his mind was wandering from topic to topic and stared at his empty beer bottle accusingly. He got up to get another just as his phone sent off the default sound. It was one he hated, but he couldn’t be bothered to change it. Checking the number, he frowned and answered.
“Just calling to see how you’re doing?”
“I’m not sick, Daniel,” he said grumpily.
“Okay, have a good night. Talk to you late—”
“Daniel,” Jack said, a little less grumpily.
He sighed. “Come on over. I’m less insane than I was a few hours ago.”
“Want me to pick up anything?”
“I knew you were good for something,” Jack mumbled.
It made Jack smile. Daniel could do that. He didn’t know how. “Surprise me.”
He hung up before Jack could. A little game they played. “I’ll get you next time,” he mumbled again, and relaxed against the couch. Some company would be nice. As long as it was Daniel.