In the locker room, as he got dressed in his civvies, Jack could swear there were after-effects. His back ached, his knees hurt, and his feet needed a good soak. Fraiser had told him it was his own 45-year-old body. Horseshit. It was due to that damn snakehead virus. His muscles ached as he pulled on khaki trousers, idly noting that Daniel hated them.
“You swim in them,” he’d said one day. “It’s as if you want people to believe you have no ass. But it’s plain to see when you’re in uniform.”
“You mean you, not people,” Jack had retorted.
Daniel hadn’t agreed or contradicted. To this day, Jack believed that what Daniel had said was true, but about himself, not people. Daniel liked his ass, in other words, and hated it when Jack wore trousers or jeans that made it purposely hidden or flat. It was flattering, and a little embarrassing. Even so, Jack had never once told him to stop looking.
Jack groaned and rolled an irritated shoulder as he pulled on a short-sleeved button-down shirt. It was beige, and old with fuzzy fraying along the collar’s edges. He loved it. It was soft and comfortable. A little too thick for hot weather, but these days, he went for comfort, not style.
“With clothes like that, you’d think you lived in a hovel,” Daniel said from the locker room’s door.
Slightly startled, Jack looked over his shoulder to see that Daniel was already in his civilian clothes. These weren’t stellar either, by the man’s standards. Brown checked shirt, dark brown corduroy pants, loafers.
“You’re one to talk,” Jack said, frowning at him. “I thought Carter and Fraiser burned all your geek wardrobe.”
Daniel grinned. “A, I have laundry to do. B, they tried. I told them I had to have fallback clothes. Ones I don’t care about get stained.”
Jack’s lips twitched as he pulled on his shoes. They weren’t loafers, but old tennis shoes with rotting ventilation. “You have a plan for staining clothes?”
Daniel gave him a blank look. “Why, on that ground grill you wanted to build whenever we have the time.”
“Ah,” Jack said, closing his locker. “I was gonna put in for leave in December.”
“A little late, isn’t it?” Daniel asked.
He remained at the door instead of coming in, which told Jack he was waiting for him. He had a good idea of why. “Yeah, the ground’s harder, but what I meant to say was that I gave in. I’m buying that big piece we saw in the magazine. The one that uses charcoal, not gas. It’ll be delivered next week.”
“The Weber, huh?” Daniel said as Jack approached. His voice lowered. “Guess you’ll need some help setting it up.”
“Sure,” Jack grinned. “Know anything about setting one up?”
They looked at each other and Daniel’s face looked drawn. Jack could see why. He’d almost died of old age. If Daniel and Teal’c hadn’t decoded the Goa’uld’s notepad …
“I’m doing okay, you know,” Jack said. Daniel nodded, looked like he wanted to say something, but didn’t. “More than okay. Got the clean bill of health and everything?”
“No mind-annihilating aches and pains stemming from unnatural old age?” Daniel asked.
“Wanna test it out and see?” Jack asked. Daniel’s slow smile answered the question better than any words could. “Come on over. We can order Chinese.” Daniel opened the door, and as Jack followed him out, he added, “I’ll let you have the fortune cookies.”
“Magnanimous,” Daniel said, his voice dry. “Since you hate them.”
(reminder: it’s 2010)
As Jack got out of his truck, he stared up at Daniel’s loft apartment. He knew Daniel wanted to be alone, but just this once, he was going to ignore his wishes. Daniel was hurting. Jack wasn’t normally someone who intruded—hell, he avoided it like the plague—but this was different. It was Daniel.
Reaching the top floor hallway, he found he was trying to be quiet as he came to Daniel’s door. It made zero sense, being quiet. This was not a time to worry about spooking the paranoid—which Daniel wasn’t—or sneaking up on someone, which Jack wasn’t. Unless he’s in a hostile environment, Jack rarely snuck up on anyone. He came at them straight out.
He knocked. Waited fifteen seconds. Knocked again and waited. He waited only five seconds for the third time before knocking for the fourth time. He tried the doorknob, found it unlocked, and frowned. It wasn’t annoyance. Couldn’t very well chew Daniel out for a lapse in security if he himself had hoped it would be unlocked. He entered.
He felt warm humid air, the faint whiff of chlorine, and water running. He tuned his ears to it. The shower was running. He looked, found the bathroom door closed. That in itself was alarming. Daniel didn’t like closed doors. Bathroom or bedroom, it made no difference unless he had company. Jack would have been alarmed if Daniel was the sort to succumb to suicide. He was alarmed anyway. Despite their relationship, the man loved Sha’re. It might not have been a relationship he’d sought, but he’d done his best by her anyway. Until she was taken, for which he blamed himself. Jack didn’t think he was being fair, but if he put himself in his situation, he might have felt the same.
He went to the bathroom and pressed his ear to the door. He didn’t hear anything at first, but then he caught a muffled moan. It lasted only a second. Daniel was crying. He didn’t do that, either, unless he was mad. His emotions were so heated that when he got angry, really angry, tears flowed.
Jack was torn. He didn’t want to interrupt; he’d embarrass the man. He’d also piss him off for intruding. But at the same time, he didn’t want him to deal with it alone. Misery loves company, he told himself. Jack felt guilty. Teal’c felt guilty. They’d destroyed the only means they knew of to free Sha’re of that damned snake. The impossible logistics of getting hold of her didn’t matter. It was a means of freeing her. Had been. So Jack figured that Daniel thought he’d failed her. He didn’t know Sha’re, but he had an inkling about her from Daniel: she was a gentle soul with an iron core. She’d forgive, then slap him upside the head if he was stubborn about blaming himself.
Jack took a cautious step back, deciding to leave Daniel to his privacy. That’s what, he realized, the closed door meant. He grimaced and backed away a little more, then made it to the door without Daniel stopping him.
Jack adjusted the waistband of his grey Air Force-issue sweatpants and slid his feet into his brown slippers. Pulling on a fresh white tee, he padded into the kitchen for his before-bed snack: a beer and a bowl of fresh cherries purchased on his way home from Daniel’s. It was time for comic catch-up and a snack to go with it.
He was just getting settled when his mobile phone pinged on the nightstand. With a sigh, and a prayer that it wasn’t the SGC, he picked it up. A text from Daniel.
Jack figured it was talk time.
You came by.
Your bathroom door was closed.
I know what that means.
But you were worried?
Yeah. I knew you wouldn’t do
anything crazy. I was just concerned.
No you’re not.
It took Daniel a few long seconds to answer.
No, I’m not.
Wanna talk about it?
Not really much to say.
You know it all.
Yeah. Offer stands.
Thanks. Maybe I’ll just deal.
By dwelling in silence.
You don’t like to talk about this
Except this is different. Figured I’d
offer an ear.
Thanks. Just the offer is good enough.
You sure? I have cherries.
You made me smile. Thanks.
And? Bet you got your comics out.
Scary how you do that. They’re new.
Any I know?
New Batman stuff.
Oh. Superhero time.
When isn’t it?
We could both read.
No we can’t.
Digital, on the iPad. Has what they
call ‘immersive reading’, which means
it can show frame by frame. Two can
read that way.
Well, hurry up. And bring your pajamas.
Okay. Be there soon.
Daniel settled in next to him, having brought extra pillows. “So. Um, before we start …”
“You read slow, yeah, I know,” Jack said.
“No. I mean, yeah, but that’s not what I was gonna say.”
“Oh?” Jack turned slightly to look at him, laying the iPad down.
“Um, I’m not really in the mood for … you know.”
Jack frowned. “I know. I wouldn’t be either. This is friend stuff, Daniel.”
“Oh,” Daniel said, coloring a little.
Jack gave him a sardonic smile. “It happens. Now, let’s have cherries and read about Gotham and Gotham Girl and the dark shit that’ll happen.”
“Wait, who and who and what? I thought this was Batman?”
Jack nudged him. “You’ll see.”
Daniel snuggled in closer. He smelled like that hibiscus body wash he used. It was nice. Jack thought, Now this is the way to handle grief. And they began to read.