Despite and Still
A Stargate SG-1 story
by dirty diana
Written for Katie's Symptoms of Love Challenge, the idea of which was to take the title of a Robert Graves' poem and use it as the title of a story. Wow, did that turn out to be more difficult than it sounds. Love and gropes to Inalasahl for the beta and words of encouragement, and to sffan and kelly girl for listening to me whine and moan and complain endlessly about it. Takes place late season 4. Spoilers of varying intensity for Daniel's entire story arc through then, including Children of the Gods, Forever in a Day, The Curse, and Absolute Power.
I didn't come this far
for you to make this hard for me
~"How", Lisa Loeb
"Where's the rest of SG-1, sir?" 0800, Monday. Jack looked around the empty briefing room with a frown, before seating himself in the nearest swiveling chair.
"Actually, Colonel," General Hammond explained, "that's what this is about. As you know, Doctor Jackson took some time off after his recent mishap on P2Y 371."
"Right." Jack's mouth curled slightly at the general's creative use of the word "mishap". It was never a good sign when the general started out a briefing by telling him things that he already knew.
"He was due to return to the base on Thursday. He didn't show up."
"Okay." Jack's eyebrows knotted together in puzzlement. "Have you sent someone round to his apartment?"
"I did. No sign of him."
Jack thought. "Daniel did say he might be going out of town."
"It looks like he did. He was on an American Airlines flight that landed in Paris last Monday."
"That's the last sign we have of him."
Jack digested this quietly. "Think he's in trouble, sir?" In trouble, that was another euphemism. Both men knew how easily Daniel could run into trouble without ever leaving the planet. Jack thought of Osiris, and scratched his head.
"We don't have any evidence of that," General Hammond said carefully. "But I'd sure like to know where he is. Now, we don't want to get the authorities involved in this. It would be a little difficult to explain why the government is so interested in a missing archaeologist. So I would prefer that someone to go down there and quietly try to find him." Hammond paused. "Quietly."
"Quiet's my middle name, sir."
"For obvious reasons, Colonel, this isn't actually an official assignment."
"No problem," Jack said, with a cool shrug. "Unofficial is my middle name." At the general's thin expression, he added, "I'm just going to say hi to a friend."
Hammond nodded, satisfied. "Very well. You leave right away."
"Daniel, when's the last time you took a vacation?"
Daniel looked up from a pile of books, squinting distractedly as Jack wandered around his cluttered office. "Vacation?"
"Yeah, you know. From the Greek, meaning to vacate. Vamoose. Vanish. Have some fun, even."
"It's from the Latin, actually." Daniel corrected him. "From vactus, the past participle of vacare, meaning to be empty or at..." He stopped abruptly, noticing Jack's expression turn blank. "Anyway, I can't. I have work to do." Daniel reached across his desk for a blue spiral notebook, and then winced in pain as his body registered a harsh complaint. Jack pushed the book towards him with one extended finger.
"You're welcome. You're not going off-world for at least two weeks anyway, in that condition. You might as well take advantage."
Daniel made a face. "You've gated out in worse shape."
"I'm a better liar that you are. Frasier's not going to clear you for action." Daniel was still looking bruised, and flat-out tired, Jack thought, but he knew better than to say so. "I want you to get lost and stay lost, for at least a week. That's an order."
Daniel managed a faint smile. "If you wanted to get rid of me, Jack, all you had to do was say so."
Daniel had booked his entire trip by internet and credit card, which left a trail in his office computer. At least that's how it was explained to Jack, when he collected his travel papers. He was just following orders. There was the ticket to Paris, and then the train to someplace called Bellefleur. A map told Jack that the town was in Languedoc, twenty-seven miles from the Mediterranean Sea.
Jack took almost no time at all to pack. His flight went from Colorado Springs to Denver, and then to Charles de Gaulle. Jack hated commercial airplanes. He didn't sleep.
"Bienvenue au France. Welcome to France." The pretty airline attendant smiled brightly at him. Jack smiled back. If he didn't find Daniel right away, he thought, he could at least try and enjoy his unplanned vacation.
It was raining when he stepped onto the platform at Bellefleur. One other passenger debarked when he did, with no baggage except for a small briefcase, a tired middle-aged man coming home from work.
The girl working at the train station billeterie was young, no more than twenty-five, with pretty blue eyes and a singing lilt in her voice when she spoke English.
"Has anyone been through here recently? A tallish guy. Brown hair. Glasses." It was weird, having to describe Daniel to a stranger. Daniel, that was such a notable pain in the ass when he was in his element, but had such a gift for disappearing into the crowd when he was on the street. "He might have been limping," Jack added.
"American?" The girl asked. "Like you?"
Jack smiled at her. She was very pretty, but so young. He couldn't help grinning wider, as he imagined how Daniel would take the comparison. "American like me."
The girl didn't pause to think, but nodded with certainty. "He come on the evening train. Thursday."
"Do you know where he might have gone? Which hotel?"
The girl's tongue touched pink, glossy lips as she paused to understand the question. "There is only one hotel in Bellefleur, Monsieur." Her accent prettily discarded the 'h' at the beginning of the word, 'otel. "But I think, your friend, he does not go to the hotel. Monsieur Alexandre come for him."
Jack squinted. "And where can I find this Mister..."
"Alexandre." The girl gestured expansively to the town behind the train station doors. "He lives on the hill."
"On the hill," Jack repeated. When that seemed to be the last of the information that the ticket seller had, he gave up. "Thank you very much, ma'am."
The girl giggled, blue eyes lighting up as if Jack had said something irrepressibly funny. "You are very welcome."
On the hill. The town of Bellefleur turned out to be little more than one large hill, with aimless narrow streets that led up and down. There was only one building standing at its summit, a grey stone building that was probably the oldest structure around.
He knocked at the front door, because that seemed like the thing to do. Then stood for what seemed like minutes, waiting, listening to the sound echo inside the loud house. When the door was pulled open, there was a man standing there, vaguely Jack's own age, with cool black eyes and dark hair that curled over his ears.
Jack shrugged apologetically. "English?" he asked.
"Yes," the man answered, scowling. "Are you lost?"
"I hope not. I'm looking for a friend of mine."
The man raised two dark sceptical eyebrows, and waited for Jack to continue.
Jack already didn't like him. "He's American. Like me? I talked to the lady at the train station, and she thought he might be hanging out here with a Mister - Alexander. That wouldn't be you, would it?"
"Non." The heavy wood door slammed shut in Jack's face.
"He's here, sir."
General Hammond's voice sounded thin, on the long distance line. "But you said this man claimed no knowledge of Doctor Jackson or his whereabouts."
"He's lying," Jack said.
"You're certain of that?"
Jack paused. He had a small ache in the centre of his chest, his gut complaining that something was wrong. It had been doing that since he stepped off the train. "Yes, sir. I am."
The girl with the pretty blue eyes hadn't been joking. There was one hotel in town, Hotel Bellefleur. Jack got himself a room, a small but well-kept bedroom that smelled like old wood and peeling paint. Then he went across the street, to one of only two restaurants, for dinner.
He had steak, washed down with two glasses of red wine. There was no dieting, he figured, no Janet-approved food list, while he was this far from the base.
Jack had been on a vacation this side of the ocean just once. With Sara. They had gone to Ireland, Sara with a dog-eared guidebook and an unflagging enthusiasm for the ruins of stone castles and botanical gardens.
Jack had liked watching Sara look at stuff, if nothing else. But he wasn't really a sightseeing kind of guy. Vacation to him was Minnesota, fishing and La Traviata on the portable CD player and no telephone. This other stuff he could take or leave, foreign food and foreign languages and other people's cultures.
Thinking about that, of course, made him think about Daniel. What the hell he was doing here, and why he hadn't come home.
After dinner he took a walk. He went back up to the top of the hill, in the dark. He pulled his hat low, walking in a slow ambling shuffle, like a tourist. He ran his fingers across the eroding brick wall of the building, and wondered what was next.
"Goddammit, Daniel," he muttered to the wall. "You have to make everything complicated, don't you?"
Jack thought that he heard something moving behind him. He turned around.
"Jack, are you even listening?"
Daniel was excited about something, which was good. Daniel hadn't been excited about anything in weeks, maybe months. Not since he got back from Egypt.
Worse still was Daniel's mood after Abydos, and a smart kid with deep eyes who talked in riddles. And looked just like his mother.
Daniel probably thought that Jack hadn't noticed. But Jack noticed things. That was his job. And if he didn't always mention it aloud, well, that was his job too.
Daniel was talking fast, as usual, his brain on sensory overload and set to maximum. "Look at this."
Jack looked, as Daniel gestured widely to the temple walls.
"It must have taken years to build this place. Hundreds of slaves, the most back-breaking labour."
Jack grinned. "Indentured servitude? I can sympathise."
Daniel frowned, pushing his glasses up on his face. He didn't like it when Jack made those jokes, for a reason that Jack couldn't identify. But the truth was that Jack hadn't thought about retirement in years, or months at least. He liked this life, most of the time. And it wasn't like he had anything at home, calling him there. No. Home wasn't interesting at all.
Daniel was making a joke. Jack rolled his eyes, in response. He picked up the paper airplane that he had been folding, with hands that never liked to be empty, and tossed it at Daniel. They both watched as it did a neat spiral in the air.
"Archaeologist humour, I guess?" he asked.
"I guess," Daniel said.
When Jack opened his eyes, he found that his head hurt. He felt dizzy and groggy, the world in front of his eyes a soft pastel blur. With Daniel sharp and real in the centre of it, staring at him with worried eyes. "Jack? Jack, dammit. Are you okay?"
Jack didn't answer right away, his head too clouded to manage whole words.
"Jack," Daniel repeated, more urgently.
"Daniel." His mouth was dry.
Daniel smiled, exhaling relief. "Jack."
The entire room was coming into focus for him, finally. This was a bedroom, decorated mostly in white. The bed underneath him was soft, so soft that he was sinking into it.
He could make out the shape of one more person, standing just inside the doorway. It was the man that he had talked to, watching the proceedings with a dark impassive stare. Jack watched him back, as cool as he could manage.
The man said something to Daniel now, in a low, rough voice.
Daniel looked up, answering back. They weren't speaking French. This language had a sound that Jack recognised, jagged and vaguely symmetrical.
All the muscles in his body drew tautly to attention, a sharp and uncalled reflex. Beside him, Daniel switched from Arabic into French, without stopping for breath.
They were having an argument. That was obvious, in sharp pointed words spoken over top of each other.
The man scowled, and then left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Daniel turned back to Jack. His eyes creased in worry lines at the edges, behind his glasses. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Jack struggled his way into a sitting position, grimacing as the blood rushed to his head. "Who is that guy?"
"Alex. He's a friend."
"A friend of whose?" Jack asked harshly.
"Ah. Is he the one who cracked my head against the wall?"
"Yeah." Daniel's mouth tightened, in a short line of apology. "Sorry about that."
"No problem," Jack said, with false lightness. "Is that how he treats all his guests?"
Daniel pressed his lips together, with no expression. "Well, I haven't told him anything. So he didn't really know why an American soldier would be looking for me. So he thought it best to, um. Err on the side of caution."
"Okay." Jack lifted an arm to scratch the back of his head, and then winced at the pain. "American soldier?"
Daniel tilted his head circumspectly and nodded. "He's, ah. Met your kind before."
That made sense. Jack's head hurt, but he could still recognise a job well done. He had barely felt the blow. "He military?"
"He spent a few years with the Egyptian army. We were on a few digs together." Daniel watched Jack carefully. "And he's almost as much of an asshole as you are, so can you try not to antagonise him, please?"
"Some friend, Daniel."
Daniel ignored that. They fell into silence. It was the old kind of silence, the kind that they hadn't had in a while.
Daniel cracked first. "So. Jack."
Still dizzy, Jack was working on breathing, on taking deep and even breaths. "Daniel."
"What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question."
"Uh huh." Daniel licked his lips, considering that. "It's breakfast time. Are you hungry?"
"Breakfast," Jack repeated. He could have sworn that he had just had dinner. He pressed two fingers to the back of his aching head.
"Yeah. Unless you want to stay in here all day."
"Not really," Jack said.
He stood, and almost hit the floor immediately, in worse shape than he had thought. Daniel reached out a hand to steady him.
"Sorry," he said again, quietly. "I think Alex might have..."
"Yes. Jack," he added, with a warning glance. "I'm asking you to be nice."
Jack shrugged, because that wasn't his biggest concern right now. He was too dizzy right now to argue, or to contemplate anything except the complexities of staying upright, and Daniel's guiding hand on his arm.
Daniel wasn't in the greatest condition himself, Jack noticed quickly. Jack tracked the movements of a small but distinct limp, as Daniel lowered his body into a chair. The sat in the courtyard that overlooked all the rooms of the house, inside the pale morning sun. The whole place smelled sweet, like grass after the rain.
Breakfast was fruit and bread and milky cafe-au-lait. Daniel spooned too much sugar into his cup, watching Jack as he stirred.
Suddenly hungry, Jack filled his plate. Then he sat back, and gave Daniel an all-over stare. "So. Daniel. What's up?"
"I should be asking you that," Daniel answered, as he sipped of his coffee. "What are you doing here?"
Jack raised his eyebrows. "I'm checking up on you. You're late reporting back to the base."
"I'm not that late."
Daniel frowned. "Really?"
"Huh," Daniel murmured.
"Time flies when you're having fun?"
Jack started to eat, falling into silence. Daniel was still watching him, following every movement with restless blue eyes. He didn't think Jack had really answered his question, Jack thought, but didn't know why.
"Are you feeling better?" Daniel asked suddenly, when the silence began to drag.
"Yes," Jack said, this answer mostly true.
"We can take a walk down to the village, if you're up to it. I want to pick up a couple things, and you can get your stuff from the hotel."
Jack put down his coffee cup. "Why?"
"So you can stay here." Daniel squinted, as if he thought that he remembered having this conversation already. "Unless you prefer the hotel."
"You're packing your stuff too, Daniel. We're getting out of here." It was the abrupt, no-nonsense tone that he used in the field. But that tone had never impressed or intimidated Daniel, not once.
"I'm on vacation, Jack. The vacation that you told me to take, remember?"
"Your vacation ended on Thursday. Right now you're AWOL, Dr. Jackson. And I've been asked to bring you," Jack paused, his voice dipping slightly, "home."
Daniel made a face, his expression twisted and tightened. "I'm sure that's how it would work if I were actually military, but..."
Jack wasn't listening. "What the hell were you thinking? For all we knew, you were lying dead in some French ditch somewhere."
He could tell that Daniel really hadn't thought about that, from the way that he inhaled, a nervous tongue sweeping his bottom lip. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for anyone to worry about me."
"Forget it," Jack said, roughly. "What are you doing here that's so goddamn important that you can't come home?"
When he answered, his voice was low, as if the words were foreign and not quite his own. "Writing my resignation letter," Daniel said.
They went down to the village at almost noon, their tired bodies moving at a slow, matching pace, like old men.
"I really didn't mean for anyone to worry."
"I know," Jack answered. That was the trouble with Daniel, or the start of it anyway. He didn't worry about himself, and he couldn't fathom why anyone else would. Or if he noticed that Jack worried, he mistook it for a reflex, an automatic commanding officer thing that Jack couldn't turn off.
It was turning into a beautiful day, with only the vaguest April chill. When Daniel rose out of his own thoughts again, Jack was staring at him.
"What?" he asked.
"This isn't exactly where I expected to find you," Jack said.
"Yeah?" Daniel smiled gently. "Did you think that you were coming to save me from something?"
Jack simply shrugged.
"Don't you ever get tired of coming to rescue me?"
Jack blinked, because he didn't even understand the question. "Not really."
They had gotten him good. Something roughly the size and weight of a baseball bat, Jack thought, his hand skimming the bruises. Jack picked him up off the floor, Daniel opening eyes that were sticky with blood.
"Jack." His voice was hoarse.
"Shh," Jack whispered in his ear. "Don't try to talk."
"I said shut up, Daniel." Jack words were rougher than his tone. "Can you walk?"
Daniel seemed to take forever to think about it, and then slowly shook his head. The movement went through Jack, both of them heavy with the effort of it.
"Okay. It's okay." Jack's hand slipped around Daniel's waist, for support. Daniel's familiar weight wobbled and then balanced, in the crook of Jack's arm. "We're going home."
Jack retrieved his bags from the hotel, and checked out.
"Leaving?" Daniel asked him.
"Not without you."
Daniel nodded, and the discussion ended there.
The only English-language paper that the local store carried was yesterday's Evening Standard, so Jack picked it up, along with a three-week-old issue of Time magazine. The elderly woman working in the shop greeted Daniel like a long lost son, pulling the copy of Le Monde that she had saved for him from behind the counter.
They had an extended, animated conversation about something on the front page, as Daniel gestured to the headline. The lady smiled at Jack with kind eyes in a weathered face, and said something to Daniel that was obviously a question.
Daniel answered in rapid-fire French, pointing from one to the other. "Jack, Amélie. Amélie, Jack."
Amélie nodded, and grinned. "Hello," she said happily. It was obviously the extent of her English.
"Bonjour," Jack answered with a smile, the extent of his French.
Daniel insisted on paying for the entire pile of reading material, with francs drawn from a battered leather wallet he had probably been using since college. He said something else, and Amélie dropped a package of white-packaged Marlboros on top of the stack.
Jack said, "You know those are bad for you, right?"
Daniel shot him a glare. "Vacation, Jack. Remember?"
"How could I forget?" Jack asked, then followed Daniel out of the store. "How exactly did you introduce me?"
Daniel flashed him a wry look. "As the pain-in-the-ass Air Force guy who's come to drag me back to America in handcuffs. How do you think?"
"I wasn't planning on using handcuffs," Jack said. "I was thinking of just knocking you over the head."
Daniel simply smiled. If they were joking about it already, Jack figured, then that was a good sign.
They ended up in the café next door. They sat outside, by the street. Daniel spread his newspaper out on his half of the café table, following what seemed to be current events. Jack opened his own paper, but he found that he couldn't concentrate. He caught himself staring at Daniel, again. Thinking how tired Daniel looked, worse than that day in his office, before he'd left Colorado. His face was creased and lined, dark lashes fluttering as he read.
"I wish you would stop doing that," Daniel told him, without looking up.
Jack shrugged, and didn't look away. "How's the hip?"
"I'm fine, Jack."
"You can't be fine. Or you wouldn't be talking crazy like this. Daniel, this is your life. You can't just walk away."
A too-familiar challenge rose behind bold eyes, as Daniel stared at him. "Why not?"
"Because you just can't. And because we need you."
Daniel sighed. "Jack, you don't understand."
"I don't understand what, Daniel?" Jack's voice rose sharply, but the street was empty. "The frustration? The exhaustion? The overwhelming urge to announce that I've done enough for my goddamn country already and just fucking retire with my telescope and enough money for beer?" Jack's voice was flat, a one note drawl. "No, Daniel. Why would I understand that?"
"Okay." Daniel's expression had changed, but to what, Jack couldn't tell. "So you do understand."
"How you feel. Sure. What you're saying, not so much. This is important, Daniel. What we do. You can't just...give up."
"That's not what I'm doing."
"Kinda looks like it to me."
Daniel sighed. His fingers held too tightly to the pages of his newspaper, crumpling the edges of the fragile newsprint in frustration. "If it makes you feel better to think of it that way, Jack, then I don't really care."
They walked back up the hill in silence.
It had started to rain.
He checked in with the general again that evening.
"So how soon can I expect you and Dr. Jackson back at the base?"
Jack paused, with the phone receiver cold in his hand. Outside the window of Alexandre's huge stone house, it was starting to rain. "There's a problem with that, sir."
"Problem?" Hammond asked. "I thought you said that Daniel was fine."
"He is," Jack said hastily. "I mean, he's...he's saying some weird things."
"About leaving. He's talking about leaving us, sir."
The silence on the other side lasted so long that Jack thought maybe he had lost the connection. "Sounds like he needs a little extra vacation," General Hammond said. "Some time to think about it. Maybe you should stay for a few days and keep an eye on him."
"Yes, sir." Jack didn't want to stay. But he didn't want to leave Daniel behind.
"Jack." Daniel tapped the floor that he was sitting on, with dusty fingers. "You're not even listening."
"I'm listening," Jack said, indignantly. "Just, uh. Temple. Harvest festivals. Ritual sacrifice."
Daniel's mouth formed an oh of surprise. "You were listening."
Jack couldn't hold back a smug smile. "Told ya."
"You must be tired," Daniel said. "I've usually got you bored by the end of the first sentence."
"You don't bore me." Jack couldn't really deny that he is getting sleepy, in the dim light from Daniel's flashlight, set on the stone temple floor. He was on first watch, and Daniel was on a caffeine high, talking fast and not minding that Jack had interrupted his translations to sit beside him.
Daniel looked at him sceptically. "I don't."
"Not always." Jack knew he should make Daniel go get some rest. But then he'd be alone, in the dark. "I just don't get it," he said.
"You. This." Jack waved his hand indiscriminately at the darkened walls. "What's so interesting about a pile of dirt and stone?"
Daniel licked his lips, considering the question seriously. "It tells a story."
"Sure. Everything I could possibly want to know about these people is in here. I might not be able to see it all, or know it when I'm looking at it, but it's here. It's just a matter of finding it."
Jack thought about that. He wondered if Daniel could figure him out just like this, crawl over his house with a camcorder and notebook and then know him exactly. "You should go to bed," he said.
They ate dinner late, Jack, Daniel, and his friend. They ate inside, because of the rain.
Daniel and Alexandre were telling Egypt stories, in low murmured voices. Stories about places that Jack had never been, and people that he didn't know. When they gave up trying to include Jack in the conversation, they switched languages, into a comfortable blend of Arabic and French. Still more stories, Jack thought, as stray words caught his ear and drifted past him.
The sound of spoken Arabic made Jack slightly queasy. Still, after all this time, a reflex like breathing. But something about the way that Daniel spoke it was different, almost soothing, Jack distracted by the rise and fall of gentle American cadences.
He didn't think of Daniel like this. As having a whole life, as having friends or a family outside of the team. And it wasn't the he doubted Daniel's ability to make friends, or to keep them. Daniel made friends on every planet that they landed on, with just a little effort and a smile. Everyone they met bent over backwards to help the soft-spoken scientist with a million questions.
It was that he never thought of Daniel out of uniform, the uniform that he still wore like it didn't quite fit. Of Daniel, being places where Jack couldn't see him.
"So," Jack said suddenly, interrupting Alexandre mid-sentence. "Should I book us both a flight for tomorrow?"
The silence that followed was loud.
"Jack," Daniel said finally, in a short, pained tone.
Jack didn't answer.
"I think," Alex broke in, in his strange, deep voice, "that perhaps Daniel be left to decide on his own, what he wants to do."
Jack didn't even bother to scowl. He was watching Daniel, Daniel touching his face with nervous gestures. "I think," he answered, in a flat sneering drawl, "that perhaps I wasn't talking to you."
Alex bristled visibly, his fingers curling slightly around the stem of his wine glass. Jack recognised that reflex, the urge to hit something. He was having that urge right now.
"Jack," Daniel said, quietly.
Jack stared at him for a moment, and then shut up.
He was watching Daniel, like the general had told him to. Keeping an eye on him. Both eyes. But Daniel seemed the same as ever. And since he couldn't be the same, since something was obviously wrong, Jack had the unsettling feeling that he must be missing something. Something obvious, something large, open, and bleeding.
So he watched Daniel harder.
His stomach still hurt.
Jack finished his wine, and went to bed.
Jack was a light sleeper. Not just on missions when he couldn't relax, but at home in his house, alone while the windows shook underneath a Colorado wind.
Tonight, it was the sound of a door opening that drew him out of sleep. Daniel's door, just to his left. Hinges creaked, and then uneven footsteps traced a path down the hall.
Jack lay awake, in the dark. He didn't get out of bed.
"Jack," Daniel murmured sleepily, a sound muffled by the synthetic walls of their tent. "Did you know that I can actually hear you thinking?"
Jack rolled over, inside the warn confines of his sleeping bag. "Sorry," he said, unconvincingly. "I was just thinking about beer."
"Okay. Beer is what's keeping me awake right now?"
"Not just beer," Jack assured him. "I was also wondering who won last night's game."
"Beer and hockey," Daniel answered dryly. "You're right. That is much better."
"Hey. What were you thinking about that's so much more interesting?"
"I wasn't thinking about anything. I was trying to sleep. Which you were interrupting."
Jack rolled his eyes, in the dark.
"What?" Jack asked, lightly.
Daniel answered him with silence. Slow, heavy silence to match the fog outside, dark rolling clouds that hid the pale moon.
Jack was a light sleeper. Years in the service had taught him that, how to sleep without sleeping at all. How to close his eyes and still be in tune with the world around him, every rustling sound and moving shadow. That's how he knew that Daniel didn't sleep well. That he dreamed, hard, all the time. Jack would have asked him what he dreamed about. But he already knew.
The next day was like the day that had gone before it. The morning wasn't sunny. It rained, in fine unrelenting drops. Daniel found a large black umbrella inside a hall closet, and they went into the village.
Daniel bought today's paper, in the news shop. The papers from London hadn't arrived yet, about which Amélie was desperately apologetic. So Daniel read him the headlines aloud, in the café. He read slowly and clearly, stopping every once in a while to explain why the meaning of a phrase might not be exactly as he had translated it.
He had probably been a good teacher, Jack thought. He probably would be again. If he was serious. Unless he had left something out.
"You and what's-his-name," Jack said suddenly.
Daniel grimaced, the way that he did when he wasn't sure where a conversation was going. He met Jack's stare. "Are you asking me something?"
"Okay." Daniel folded up the newspaper neatly, and placed it on the chair beside him. "Me and what's-his-name."
Jack drank his coffee. "I didn't know," he said.
"You don't know a lot about me," Daniel answered. He sounded resigned.
A week ago, he might have argued the point. Right now last week seemed like a long time ago.
By the time they made their way back up the hill, it had stopped raining.
In the afternoon, Daniel slept. He was exhausted, from the painkillers Jack suspected that he wasn't supposed to know about. The way that he wasn't supposed to notice that Daniel was still limping, breathing hard with every step. Jack had had years of practice, letting Daniel pretend that he was fine when he wasn't.
The dusk crept in slowly. When he called Cheyenne, Hammond was in a briefing. But the message, his secretary said, was for Colonel O'Neill to take as much time as he needed. Jack wondered if all civilians at the SGC got away with half as much as Doctor Jackson. He wondered if Daniel even had a clue.
Time. Jack looked outside his window at the courtyard, at a French garden in spring bloom. Daniel hadn't awoken yet.
Jack considered calling back to the base, and requesting permission to come home now, right the fuck now before he lost his mind.
But he didn't.
Another day came and went.
"Where's what's-his-name?" Jack asked, over breakfast.
"Why?" Jack stirred too much sugar into his coffee. "You guys have a fight?"
Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Fuck off, Jack." The conversation ended there. Almost ended, turned into silence, the both of them moving around each other without speaking. They were both used to it.
The day seemed long.
Alexandre's cook had a crush on Daniel. Jack knew this because he watched Daniel sweet talk his way into the kitchen, to rescue a six-pack of Irish beer from the fridge. The beer, Jack thought, was a huge improvement over the wine, which Daniel still drank, out of a regular round glass. He sat sprawled on the floor of his bedroom, watching Jack drink. Watching Jack watch him back.
They were talking about something else, the weather maybe, when Daniel stopped mid-sentence. He poured himself another full glass of wine. "Do you really think about it?"
It took Jack a moment to follow his train of thought, watching Daniel's large hands grip the dark bottle. "Yes," he said.
"So why don't you?"
Jack shrugged. "I'm not you," he pointed out. He'd quit once before. A long time ago, so long that the memory had almost faded away. "Waiting for the day they don't need me, I guess."
Daniel nodded, thinking about that. "They don't need me."
"They don't," Daniel repeated. He was trying to convince himself.
"SG-1 needs you," Jack suggested. "Who else will tell me when I'm being a pain-in-the-ass?"
"Sam will. You'll just have to listen more closely."
"Then what about you? You love this stuff. This living history stuff."
Daniel bent his head slightly forward, frowning. "That's what you said the last time."
Daniel's mouth folded, an expression that wasn't exactly a smile. "The last time I quit."
"Oh." Jack didn't know what to say to that. He didn't get Daniel sometimes, and sometimes asking questions would only make it worse.
Daniel seemed to be thinking about the same thing. "I don't understand you, Jack."
Jack spread his hands wide, in a seeming gesture of openness. "What's not to understand?" he said.
"Why you care." Daniel's speech was slowed, with the effort to pronounce his words clearly. "I don't understand why you care if I stay or go. You don't even like me."
"Sure I do," Jack said, too quickly.
Daniel raised both eyebrows, and then looked away.
"Want to hear something stupid?"
Jack's beer was finished. He reached for another. "Sure."
"I really thought I could save her. That we could save her."
Jack didn't answer right away. He knew that he wasn't the right person for Daniel to be talking to about this, about could-haves and what-ifs and big fucking regrets that never died. He said, "That's not so stupid."
"Right," Daniel said, cynically. "But you knew, didn't you? You knew she was gone. On Chulac. Maybe even on Abydos. You knew."
"You're drunk," Jack commented mildly.
Daniel finished the dark liquid in his glass. "So are you," he said.
"Going to bed?" Jack asked him.
"Maybe I better."
Jack helped him up, less than steady on his own feet. His fingers close around Daniel's arms, with a steady firm grip. "Daniel," he said suddenly, not knowing what the question was.
Daniel was staring at him, blue eyes not quite focusing. He had lost his glasses some time ago, underneath the bed. "What?" he asked.
Jack stumbled, and kissed him.
Daniel pulled away, without force. His mouth curved into a wry smile, his lips still close to Jack's. "Not really making things clearer, Jack."
"I know," Jack said, and kissed him again.
Daniel's mouth tasted like red wine. His bittersweet tongue worked its way into Jack's mouth, and then he pulled away again.
"Jack," he murmured, his breath hot on Jack's neck. "This is such a bad idea."
"Bad," Jack agreed. He was holding Daniel up or it might have been the other way around, tangled and swaying slightly inside the still room. "All of this is bad, Daniel."
"Mmmn." Jack's hand had worked its way around to the small of Daniel's back, Daniel making a small appreciative noise as Jack soaked him in. "Has it always been that way?"
"Always," Jack said, and lowered him onto the bed.
Daniel clung to him, his mouth and seeking warmth, his tongue thick and heavy against Jack's own. His hands explored underneath Jack's clothes with increasing urgency.
Jack's weight held him down, Daniel making a muffled sound of protest into Jack's mouth.
"Sorry," Jack murmured. His fingers gently retraced the skin of Daniel's sore and twisted hip.
"It's okay," Daniel said. "Okay. Jesus. Jack..."
Daniel was hot underneath him, hot and restless and needy, a Daniel that Jack had never seen before. He pressed his wine-bitter lips to the edge of Jack's mouth, and sighed.
Jack hated undressing him. Hated the scars that were all his fault, a record of all the times that Jack wasn't fast enough. He was never fast enough. So Jack closed his eyes and touched him, and pretended that it was enough. When he pulled away Daniel's clothes, exposed Daniel's skin, Daniel's thighs opened for him. As if he had simply been waiting.
Sometimes clarity was overrated.
They tangled and rubbed together, bodies hard and ready and desperate. Jack moaned, sounds that came from somewhere deep in the centre of him, and couldn't stop tasting Daniel's mouth.
Daniel made a lot of noise when he climaxed, sweet delicious moans against Jack's skin, and then fell silent.
"Thank you," was the first thing that he said.
Jack smiled. "I've heard a lot of things after sex, Daniel. But that's definitely a new one."
"Mmmn." Daniel's smile didn't quite match his, faded and not quite real. "Thank you very much."
"For what?" Jack asked him finally.
"I think I really needed to know. What that would be like."
"And now I know."
Jack didn't say anything to that. Because he had always known that it would be like this, warm and not quite easy. His hand slid up the bare inside of Daniel's thigh, a loose gesture meant to distract them both.
Reflexively, Daniel's body curled against him. "There's a lot that I don't know about you, isn't there?"
"Probably," Jack said.
"That's too bad."
"God." Daniel sighed, pressing his mouth against Jack's shoulder and exhaling warm breath. "I am so drunk."
Jack said, "I really think you need to come home."
"That place isn't my home," Daniel said, as his expression drifted far away. Back to Abydos, probably, and out of Jack's reach.
"Neither is this," Jack answered.
A low silence breathed over them.
"You know that saying, home is where, when you go there, they have to let you in?"
"Yeah." Jack looked around him, at the dark, cool bedroom. "It's like that?"
"It is for him, I think." Daniel sounded sad, halfway apologetic. "He saved my life one time, you know."
"Just once?" Jack asked him. He didn't really want to hear about it.
"Yes, Jack," Daniel murmured. "You win that category."
"Good." Jack said. Daniel was getting heavier against him, eyes dark with sleep and falling shut. "You really do have to come back, you know."
Jack blinked sleepy eyes, as he exited the tent. "Daniel. Coffee?"
Jack took the cup in Daniel's outstretched hand, and sat down on the opposite side of the fire. "You're up early," he said.
"I guess." Daniel sipped his sugary instant coffee. He seemed to be staring, watching something just over Jack's shoulder.
"What?" Jack asked.
"Nothing." Daniel gestured to the scenery behind Jack, to the grass and flowers and trees, to a world covered by mist and rain. "Does it ever start to all look the same to you?"
Jack shrugged. He had always divided missions into two categories, the ones where he almost died and the ones where he didn't. Beyond that, things blended and faded. He didn't remember any more than he had to, by sheer force of will. "I guess," he said.
"It all looks the same sometimes," Daniel said.
Behind them, Carter stirred.
The girl with the pretty blue eyes sold him two train tickets to Paris the next afternoon, and cheerfully waved farewell from the platform. Alexandre had driven them to the station. Jack didn't watch them saying goodbye. He wondered if Daniel would be back here, if he would miss the other man at all. Or if walking away was always this easy. For Daniel.
The train came on time.
It was raining when their plane touched down at Colorado Springs Airport. Jack had left his truck in long-term parking, and he drove Daniel home.
"So," Jack said, as he pulled up outside Daniel's building.
"What are you going to do?"
"Go inside. Make some coffee. Unpack. Start typing that letter."
"No," Jack said. "I meant..."
Daniel interrupted him. "Find a job, I hope. The situation won't be desperate for a while, but...I need to keep busy. You know."
"What kind of job?" Jack asked even though he didn't really care. He didn't want to know, what Daniel would do without him.
"Don't know." Daniel sighed, sounding as if he didn't really care either. "Find a dig, maybe. As far away as possible."
Jack frowned. "Far from here?"
"I'll come visit you."
Daniel's mouth twisted. He didn't really look at Jack, the both of them looking straight ahead. "I suspect that you'll be busy, Jack. You know. Saving the world."
"Yeah," Jack said. He didn't really know if that would be easier or harder, without Daniel. Maybe a bit of both. "You'll be bored."
"No. You would be bored. I'll love it."
"Daniel..." He knew that he should try one last time, except that he didn't really know what to say.
They were both quiet. The rain was loud, like bullets hitting the asphalt outside.
"Do you want to come up?" Daniel asked him finally.
"I probably shouldn't."
"No," Daniel agreed. "You really shouldn't. Do you want to?"
Jack looked over the steering wheel of his truck, at raindrops splashing off the hood. He thought about France. He thought about Daniel leaving. He said, "I would always let you in."
"I know," Daniel said.
They went upstairs.