- Work in Progress
- Character Bashing
- Explicit Sex
- No Beta
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Alternate Universe
- Future Fic
Into the Seasonless World
He was late.
Not just fashionably late; maybe fifteen minutes? No, he was a full hour late on the day he’d promised Jack, faithfully, that he’d be on time. Now he was going to have to put up with all Jack’s ‘The late Dr. Jackson’ jokes.
Today of all days his fucking car decided to break down, in the parking garage of his apartment block.
Today of all days, outside his building, his legendary ‘Dr-Jackson-can-always-get-a-cab’ skills had let him down. Then the cab company he’d called hadn’t had an available car for 45 minutes; 45 minutes he’d spent calling Jack’s cell and getting voice mail. And, as sexy as the message sounded, by the time he’d heard it eleven times it was getting a little old to say the least.
Still he was there now, sprinting up the front steps of the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center (and he couldn’t help snorting to himself at the aptness of the venue). Maybe someone at the Pentagon had a sense of humor after all…or they knew something.
He decided to put it out of his mind as he pushed against the heavy revolving door, willing it to go faster than it was able.
He puffed out, ‘O’Neill Retirement, Pentagon,’ and flashed his ID at the receptionist, treating her to his best winning smile.
She pointed to the elevators and flirted back, her voice light and winsome. “Third floor ballroom. If you need anything, Dr. Jackson…”
But he’d already turned and made his way to the elevators, pressing the call button several times in his rush to get to the room where Jack’s retirement party was being held.
When the car arrived he stepped inside and pressed for the third floor. As the doors slid shut he straightened his tie and ran his fingers through his hair, checking his reflection in the shiny metal of the elevator door. With a sudden flash of anxiety, he felt inside his jacket pocket and was relieved when the thick envelope he’d slipped in with trembling fingers two hours ago, was still there.
Today, he hoped, was the culmination of fifteen years of wanting and waiting. Two years of voluntary celibacy and what seemed like a lifetime of making do with whatever Jack had been willing and able to give him.
Not that Jack had ever verbalized how he felt about Daniel. But every touch, every hug, every teasing argument had telegraphed how much Daniel meant to him. And he knew how Daniel felt too. Once, while extremely drunk, Daniel had told Jack he loved him. He’d been too far gone to remember everything he said in vivid embarrassing detail and for that he was very grateful, but he remembered one thing. Jack had hugged him close and said, “I know, Danny. I know.”
Daniel had lost count of the times over the last two years, when it was all he could do to stop himself blurting out how much he loved the older man, was IN love with him.
But he knew the dangers Jack faced if even the slightest rumor of the general being bi or gay had been whispered into the wrong ears. Sure, men like George Hammond would have been supportive, but the new President and Landry were right wing to the extreme, to the point where Congress had rescinded DA/DT and replaced it with something even more draconian. So Daniel had kept quiet and hoarded the times when he had Jack to himself, replaying them over and over when he was alone.
The doors of the lift slid open, but it was a heavy clap on his shoulder that jerked him out of his reverie. Looking up he came face to face with Cam Mitchell, a huge grin splitting the young colonel’s face.
Daniel had tried to like him, had followed his lead (as much as he ever did in the field) while he’d still been on SG-1. But with his gung-ho attitude and his almost Jack-wannabe expressions and mannerisms, he had grated on Daniel’s last nerve. He had been relieved when his new posting to DC meant he didn’t have to be around the irritating man any longer. What’s more, his annoying habit of calling Daniel…
“Jackson. Where’ve you been? You missed the big reveal. Although I suppose being the General’s best buddy it won’t have been a surprise to you.”
Daniel swallowed a huff of annoyance and concentrated on the ball of ice that had taken up residence in his stomach. He couldn’t help the frown and the inelegant ‘Whaaa?’ that came out of his mouth. He tried to breathe evenly but it was difficult. What had Jack revealed? The fact that Daniel was still being seen as his friend was an indication Jack hadn’t made any announcements about his orientation. He didn’t have to wait long for the mystery to be solved.
“They certainly kept it quiet. For a long while the pool at the mountain had you and him announcing your wedding, not the General and Sam.” Cam gave a raucous laugh and shook his head.
Another clap on his shoulder from Mitchell felt almost like it happened to someone else. Daniel’s head swam with the reality of Cameron’s words. Jack and Sam…Jack and Sam…So Jack had wanted to see him to what, tell him he was going to make the announcement; to ask him to be his best man?
No surely not.
Jack was oblivious sometimes; sometimes harsh and demanding, but never cruel, not to Daniel anyway. Even in the worst times of their friendship he had never been that vicious, that blatant. There had to be some other explanation.
The world was spinning under Daniel’s feet as Cam gripped his bicep and strong-armed him through the door and into the ballroom.
A band was playing on a small podium near one end of the large rectangular room and the dance floor was a sea of mess dress and cocktail gowns. Laden buffet tables lined one long side of the space, and a bar complete with high stools, made up the other. A table near the doorway was piled high with tastefully wrapped parcels.
Jack loved presents, which given the number of gifts already on the table, everyone seemed to know. A little voice at the back of Daniel’s mind thought it would be fun to watch him tear into them, like a kid at Christmas. But all pleasant thoughts fled when he saw a knot of high-ranking generals grouped around a tall, very familiar, silver haired figure on the far edge of the dance floor.
Jack had his back to the door as the ever-ebullient Mitchell pushed Daniel forward, but Sam saw him immediately.
Her smile was just on the wrong side of smug as she slid a proprietary arm around Jack’s waist, treating Daniel to the flash of a rather large diamond on the ring finger of her left hand.
Daniel knew immediately that he couldn’t do what was expected of him. He couldn’t play best friend, overjoyed at his buddy’s engagement to the beautiful blonde CO of the SGC. Couldn’t pretend he’d been in the know all the time.
“I…I, erm… I forgot…the… the present… in my car,” he stammered out to Cam as he wrenched his arm away from the younger man and pushed back through the doors.
The last thing he saw, as the elevator closed in front of him, was Cam Mitchell’s baffled face.
The journey back to his condo was much easier than the one to the hotel only fifteen minutes earlier, but the irony was lost on Daniel. He felt numb and cold, his head full of cotton, his chest burning with a sharp ache that had him rubbing absently at his sternum.
He walked into his hallway only 45 minutes after he’d left. He could still smell the spicy scent of the cologne he’d sprayed on moments before he’d started his journey to the Twilight Zone.
He sat down heavily at the dining table and stared at his hands, as they lay flat on the glass surface. He pressed his fingertips onto the cold, unyielding material, trying and failing to get his hands to stop shaking.
He hated this table. It had come as part of the furnishings of the upscale apartment, conveniently situated only minutes from the center of DC, and, more importantly, only a stone’s throw from Jack’s expensive but homey loft apartment.
It had been Jack who’d found this place, and thinking back on it now, that was the point when Daniel had allowed himself to believe that Jack returned his feelings.
Major General O’Neill, as he was then, had been as excited as a kid when Daniel had been redeployed from the SGC to work alongside him in DC. The President had decided it was time to let the people know what they had been hiding all these years.
For the last 18 months, Jack and Daniel had been the faces of the Stargate program for the people of the world. Jack’s natural charisma alongside Daniel’s knowledge, made them a dream team for the PR office and the media at large.
They had done more than two hundred interviews on TV, radio, internet and in print. They had answered thousands of questions, some of them more relevant than others. Some were funny, some ridiculous and some downright invasive, but nevertheless they had got through it all. Using the almost-telepathic communication they had honed in the field, they were able to keep their good humor, and be the accessible face of the program to a sometimes scared and always questioning public.
The heat had gradually come off them as little by little, the different facets of the SGC had been revealed. The appearance of Teal’c and Master Bratac on Oprah had been a media sensation which ranked up there with the photo op of Vala Mal Doran draped seductively around a (happily married) President Sandsome at a White House dinner.
Media attention moved away from the shock of the revelation of the existence of aliens, other planets and the battles that had been fought to save Earth over the last decade, and slid into the realm of gossip and sensationalism.
The President had announced there would be a weekly, televised briefing about the missions being undertaken by the SG teams, and this would be fronted by the newly promoted Brigadier General Samantha Carter. Everyone knew Jack’s retirement was imminent, so he had been promoted once more to Lieutenant General and been made special adviser to the President. Landry had taken Jack’s place at Homeworld Security and Daniel had been tasked with overseeing the dissemination of information to the scientific world.
Once again Daniel had status alongside his peers’ appreciation of his work and theories. He had a safe, comfortable role; there was no one shooting at him, torturing him or threatening to kill him on a daily basis and best of all he was working closely with Jack again.
They’d spent almost every day in close proximity – their offices only being a step or two apart. They’d met for breakfast each morning, eaten lunch together when possible, and spent most evenings in one or other of their apartments. In fact the only thing that made this different from a real relationship was that they didn’t kiss, touch each other intimately or sleep together (although once or twice a week one of them would sleep in the guest room of whichever apartment they’d ended up in, either too tired or too drunk to make it home). Once a month Jack had gone to Colorado for a briefing and stayed overnight. Daniel had missed him every single time and Jack had always seemed happy to be back.
With just one or two words Jack could have made Daniel’s life perfect, instead of which, tonight, he had dashed every hope Daniel had nurtured over the years, and seemed intent on rubbing his nose in how wrong he had been.
Something hard took up residence in Daniel’s heart. He had been abandoned before and made it through. He had lost love and managed to carry on living. This was just another in a long line of those times. With a deep breath he pushed down the tears that were threatening to fall. Jack didn’t deserve his tears, he thought bitterly. He didn’t deserve the heat of Daniel’s anger or the full extent of his passion. With this one, wicked, sharp knife to the heart, Jack had killed Daniel’s hopes and dreams, and he wasn’t willing to let Jack have anymore of him; not one iota.
Determinedly he stood and stripped off his jacket and tie, throwing them onto the table. He pulled out his wallet, iPhone, ID and keys and placed them next to his clothing. Kicking off his shoes, he toed off his socks, leaving them in a pile under the dining chair. He made his way across the apartment, folding back the sleeves of his crisp white shirt as he walked, revealing the ridiculously expensive Patek Phillipe watch his publisher had given him, when his first book had sold 30 million copies. He pulled open the door of his office and powered up his laptop. While he waited for the computer to boot he searched through a pile of papers, pulling out the one he was looking for and placing it to one side.
Feeling chilled to the bone, both physically and emotionally, he grabbed a sleeveless sweater that was draped over the back of the small couch (the one Jack had always slouched on when he was waiting for Daniel to finish working) and pulled it on. The dark purple cashmere felt warm and comforting and smelled oddly familiar. Too focused on the tasks ahead to puzzle it out, Daniel dropped into the office chair with a sigh and read through the document he’d selected.
The laptop signaled its readiness and, opening a Word document, Daniel began to type.
Daniel had just finished his final email and pressed send, as his door chime broke the silence. The ice block in his stomach sent a wave of pain through him, but he pushed it back, determined not to give in to the aching that threatened to engulf him. He knew who this was, had been expecting him. He readied himself as if for battle, and realized that for the first time in thirteen years he’d known the soldier, that he was treating Jack like an enemy combatant.
He took his time getting to the door and the harsh notes of the chime burst out again. Daniel took a breath and purposefully wiped all emotion from his face. He opened the door to an irritated and frowning Jack O’Neill.
“Daniel, what the fuck? Why didn’t you come to the hotel?” Jack pushed past him and moved to the kitchen with the ease of someone who had spent as much time there as in his own home. “I told you it was important. Why can you never follow orders?”
“Orders? Is that what they were Jack? I thought it was just a friendly request. If I’d known they were orders…”
Jack was filling the coffee maker, slamming down the carafe and the coffee can with a little more force than was necessary. If Daniel hadn’t felt so numb he might have found it funny, but he needed to stop Jack in his tracks.
“Don’t bother with coffee, Jack. There’s no cream and there won’t be time for it to perc. I’m on my way out.”
Daniel sat down at the table and reached under his chair for his socks. He found it was better if he didn’t look at Jack; it was easier to keep that blank, absent feeling at the forefront of his mind if he didn’t have to look at the man he had fallen in love with all those years ago.
“Car broke down…And I did get to the hotel, just a little later than I’d hoped.”
Daniel was so proud of the firmness of his voice. He could hear the steel in it and hoped Jack could too. Dr. Jackson was not going to be a pushover tonight. Nothing Jack could do or say would take back his betrayal. “I was just in time for Cam to tell me my supposed best friend had been keeping a little something back from me all this time,” he continued, still not looking up. He heard a clatter as a spoon was dropped into the sink and then a pair of shiny dress shoes came into sight in front of him.
“Daniel,” the younger man retorted quickly and viciously. “Only my friends get to call me Danny.”
“Oh, fercryinoutloud, Danny, I am your friend…Your BEST fucking friend.”
Daniel slid his now socked feet into his shoes and straightened. He wasn’t willing to strain up to look at Jack, not wanting to give him that advantage. He’d learned a lot about intimidation and persuasion tactics and he’d learned them from the master – one Jack O’Neill. He wasn’t going to give ground. He was the hurt party here and, god, how it hurt. Daniel stamped on the swell of feeling as it threatened to overwhelm him. Jack smelled so good and the cut of his mess dress showed his still lithe figure to a tee. Daniel pushed the chair back purposefully and stood, drawing himself up to his full height so they were eye to eye and only a foot or so apart. He folded his arms across his chest, not in his signature self-hug but in a defiant move. His toned biceps flexed against the turned up shirt sleeves and he felt a little thrill of dark triumph as a hungry look flickered in Jack’s eyes. Let him fucking look. Daniel knew there wouldn’t be many more chances, so let him see his fill, because it was the last thing Jack O’Neill was going to get from Dr Daniel Jackson.
“Friends don’t spend two years giving their supposed best buddy the wrong impression. They don’t hide a relationship and engagement, Jack, from their best friend.”
“I was gonna…”
“What tell me today, minutes before the announcement, and then make me watch as you and Sam flashed that expensive ring. Watch while you made me feel like a fool in front of everyone?”
Daniel took a deep breath, readying himself for the final phase of this life as he knew it. “You knew how I felt about you, Jack. You knew what I wanted. You’re either the most unfeeling bastard in the Universe or so deep in the closet you stink of mothballs. Which is it?”
“I never…Danny… I never said…” Jack stammered, a rush of sick dread flashing across his face.
“No, you never did,” Daniel agreed sadly. “But you never gave me any reason to stop hoping either.” He shook his head and looked Jack full in the eye for the first time, “So, unfeeling bastard it is. Guess there really was no foundation, huh, Jack.”
Jack reached out to grasp Daniel’s arm but the younger man moved back out of reach. He didn’t want or need Jack’s touch, not now, not ever.
“You forgave me for that, you said you understood.” Jack pleaded, reality seeming to hit him fully for the first time. Daniel watched the realization hit Jack with such force the older man actually flinched.
“In all the times we fought, Jack, all the thousands of arguments; the harsh words and irritation, at no point did you ever set out to hurt me. Even when our friendship was rocky and you shut me out, you were never knowingly cruel. But with this you proved to me our friendship was a lie based on nothing more than proximity and habit.”
Daniel suddenly knew what he had to say and the irony of it was not lost on him. He was going to be as cruel to Jack as the older man had been to him and he couldn’t let himself shy away from it.
“I was nothing but a good distraction for you here in DC while Sam was in Colorado. I wonder if she realizes you spent more time with me over the last two years than you have in the whole time you’ve known her. I hope the foundation of your marriage is built on something more than the shifting sands our friendship was.”
He watched the barbed comment hit home as Jack’s eyes looked back at him in despair.
The older man clenched his hands tightly at his sides and Daniel knew he wanted to reach out, to touch. That’s what Jack did with Daniel; he touched and hugged. He dished out affection in huge, overwhelming doses that had nurtured Daniel’s love for him. There had been promises in every smile; promises Jack had no intention of keeping. So now, Daniel was walking away and he wasn’t willing to give Jack anymore of his time; anymore of his life.
Thirteen years was enough.
Daniel slid his jacket from the table and pulled it on. He dropped his phone into his pocket, grabbed his wallet and ID and hooked his keys over a finger.
“Well, thanks for calling round, Jack.” Daniel’s smile was so false it felt foreign on his face, and he knew Jack could see it too.
“Dan…iel. Please, can we just fucking talk about this? This doesn’t have to…we’ve been friends for a long time.”
“It’s too late, Jack. You’ve had your chance to talk over the last two years and you didn’t take it. I know where I stand now and it’s nowhere near you.”
He gestured towards the door.
“But Daniel, I wanted to ask you…”
The final bolt slid across the barricade on Daniel’s heart. It was just as he’d feared. He laughed bitterly and looked back at Jack. Letting a little of his anger show in his eyes he jabbed a finger at the older man’s chest, making him take an involuntary step back.
“I told myself, even knowing what I know now, that you could never be that cruel. Me, Dr ‘He’s been resurrected more times than Jesus’ Jackson – and, by the way, thanks for that little quote, Jack, it’s followed me around every interview I’ve done since – I’m not too big a man that I can’t admit I was wrong. So here is another tick for the list of humiliations you have piled on me today. I couldn’t believe, given what you knew about how I felt, that you’d actually ask me to be your best man…that was what you were going to say, right?”
Jack didn’t need to answer, the truth was written in the way he dropped his gaze and stared at his feet.
“Yeah, I thought so. Well now I know I really am the fool here. I trusted you and our friendship. I’m learning my lesson as we speak and you can be sure I won’t make that mistake, ever again.”
He turned and walked towards the door, pulling it open with a little more force than he intended. He didn’t look back as he heard Jack moving towards him.
“Where are you going, Dan…erm, Daniel. It’s a bit too late to get milk, the market will be closed.”
“Go home, Jack. Go home to Sam. You don’t have to be here anymore. You’ll be in Colorado before you know it and then you’ll have all the attention you need from your fiancée.”
He stepped aside and watched as Jack walked reluctantly through the door. Daniel pulled the door to and turned the key in the lock. He dropped the keys into his jacket pocket and noticed he was still clutching his wallet, and ID in his other hand. His grip had been firmer than he’d realized and the leather of his billfold was creased. He moved to slide it into his inside pocket and felt the thick envelope that had been there for hours now. He felt the locks on his heart give a little lurch as he pulled it out and turned once more to face Jack, thrusting the envelope at him.
“Here, call this an early wedding present,” he gritted out. He walked down the corridor to the elevator and pressed the button carefully, recognizing how it mirrored the events of only a couple of hours before.
Jack moved up behind him and cleared his throat. When he spoke his voice was thick with an emotion Daniel didn’t want to name, didn’t want to face.
“Round trip tickets to Europe? Aida in Verona? Danny, what…?”
“You can exchange them. I don’t think Sam is into opera, although you’d probably know better than I would. Perhaps a beach holiday – Hawaii has an observatory, that’s something you could enjoy together.”
“These were for us…I mean you and me?” Jack sounded winded, as if he’d been punched a couple of times in the gut, but Daniel couldn’t risk looking around.
“See you around, General O’Neill,” Daniel said as the elevator doors opened.
Finally, as he turned in the elevator, he looked up at Jack’s face. Jack’s expression was devastated and Daniel found he couldn’t help but be glad about that.
“Where are you going, Daniel?”
“I’ve been waiting for you for fifteen years, Jack. I haven’t had a sexual partner for the last two of those. I was hoping your retirement was going to put an end to that ‘dry spell’. So now that’s obviously not happening, where do you think I’m going?”
Jack just frowned, his face a mess of conflicting emotions.
“To get laid, Jack,” Daniel spat as the doors closed between them. “I’m going to get laid.”
As the cab driver asked, ‘Where to, man?’ Daniel realized he had to get out of DC. Jack wouldn’t be willing or able to let his dismissal from Daniel’s life lie, and with all the resources still available to him, the newly retired general would have no problem tracking Daniel down at some out of the way hotel in the Washington area.
So he did the only thing he could think of.
“Ronald Regan. Departures, please.”
Daniel was pleased the cab driver was not a chatty type. He wasn’t sure he could manage a decent conversation right now. He knew he should probably go back to the apartment and pack a bag, but the thought Jack might still be there…As a matter of fact, Jack had a key so, if he wanted to, he could go back there and wait for Daniel.
His first idea had been the best; straight to the airport and find an internal flight that would take him as far away from DC and Jack O’Neill as possible. He had his black Amex card and all the ID he would need. His credit card would be traceable so he needed to stop at an ATM before they got to the airport. He could withdraw a sizeable amount of cash to keep him going for a while and there would be no flags for withdrawals wherever he ended up. By the time any credit card purchases showed up Daniel would have a plan and then he was sure he’d be able to cope with anything Jack could throw at him. Right now he was too off-kilter. That last conversation with Jack had taken every shred of will he had and he was running on empty.
He looked out of the window as they crossed the Potomac on the Capitol Beltway, making their way toward Alexandria.
“Is there somewhere we can stop for me to use an ATM?”
The cabbie grunted in the positive and as they moved onto N Patrick St he took a slipway and was quickly pulling up outside a Capital One Bank. Daniel slid out of the cab, making sure the driver knew he would be right back, and was soon withdrawing the maximum daily amount of $3000 from his checking account.
One of the upsides of the last two years was that his apartment had been paid for by the Pentagon and his salary had almost doubled. Companies had begged both him and Jack to endorse their products but they had both declined, unwilling to be used that way, even if regulations and contracts had allowed it. Daniel had written several academic textbooks which had flown off the shelves – read by everyone from the leaders in every field of science to the general public – and they’d made him a very wealthy man indeed. Daniel had kidded Jack that he would ghost write the General’s biography once he retired but…
No, he wasn’t going there. He had to leave all that behind. Those were the hopes and dreams of a fool. He wasn’t going to be that man any more.
Once he was back in the cab they were soon on their way again. The traffic was light and a glance at his watch reminded Daniel it was getting quite late… or was that early. It was nearly 12.30 am. He hoped he could get a flight somewhere – anywhere – without having to check into the airport hotel. Something like that would also be a flag for Jack.
Daniel leaned against the window and watched the city rush by, as he wondered at how his life had got so turned around; how he found himself running away from Jack, when for the last fifteen years he had been running towards him. He clenched his jaw in frustration. Everything came back to Jack fucking O’Neill. He had to stop this. The waiting, hoping and wondering was finally over, and he had to find a way to go forward into a life without Jack in it.
Trouble was he wasn’t really sure how he was going to do it. He was out of practice at being alone. There were very few people he could trust who were not part of the SGC. Except for the recipients of the couple of emails he’d managed to shoot off before Jack had arrived at the apartment, there was no one he could really turn to. He blew out a heavy sigh.
“Nearly there, man.” The cabbie gave him a smile and turned off the highway towards the airport. After a short wait to park at the drop-off zone they were sitting outside departures and Daniel was handing over $50 and telling a happy cab driver to keep the change.
Daniel walked onto the concourse and made a beeline for the nearest ticket booth.
“Can I help you, sir,” the middle-aged agent asked, with a broad smile. She was a beautiful African-American woman, with the darkest brown eyes Daniel had ever seen. Her nametag read Jantelle Jefferson.
He flashed his best ‘making nice with the aliens’ smile at her.
“I want to get as far away from DC as possible, as soon as possible please, Jantelle.”
She gave him a wry little look and turned to her monitor, tapping in some parameters for her search as she fired questions at him.
“Internal or International?”
“Internal, please. I want a First Class, round trip, open ticket,” Daniel stated, using his quick mind to run through his wish list to give to this helpful, pleasant woman. She didn’t need to suffer just because he was having probably the third worst day of his life. “I don’t want to go to Colorado or Chicago and I’d prefer the California coast if possible.”
“Well, honey, you can’t get much further away from DC, that’s for sure, unless you have a mind to go to Alaska,” Jantelle grinned.
“Don’t tempt me,” Daniel replied with a grimace.
“Oh, it’s like that is it? Well, you can fly into Los Angeles at 6am today. It’s a direct flight, five and a half hours and it hits LAX at 8.27 am local time. I can book you into the Hilton for a layover package – that gives you a room for up to 8 hours and breakfast.”
“No,” Daniel snapped.
The woman in front of him looked taken aback and Daniel castigated himself for taking out his pain on her.
“Thank you,” he placated. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m tired and irritated. That flight sounds great, but I’ll just wait in the coffee shop.” He glanced at the monitor and took out his wallet. He counted out $2000 and then slid it onto the counter along with his ID. The teller nodded and didn’t bother to re-count the cash. She gave him a double look as she began to input his details into the system.
“No,” Daniel replied quickly. “I get that all the time. Same name and I look a bit like him, but not me. Do I look like the kind of guy who explores other planets?” He knew she didn’t believe him, but something about her expression told him she wouldn’t be Tweeting his whereabouts, or posting her encounter at her counter with the famous Dr. Jackson on her Facebook page.
“Do you have any baggage to check?”
“No, nothing. This was a little off the cuff.”
Jantelle nodded knowingly and printed off his tickets, handing them back along with Daniel’s ID, receipt and change.
“Starbucks is your best bet this time of night. The other coffee shop has untrained staff at night. At least with Starbucks you know what you’re getting.”
Daniel’s love of coffee had been well documented in the last two years; in fact, Starbucks was one of the companies who had offered him millions of dollars to be their ‘spokesman’. That had been one of the harder offers to turn down. Jack had kidded him an advertising campaign with him at the head would take coffee bars through the Stargate.
“The Land of Light Starbucks Franchise,” Daniel murmured sadly, remembering the conversation in Jack’s loft that had reduced them to giggling wrecks for nearly an hour. He swallowed hard against the shaft of pain which speared his heart and tightened down on his reactions. He had to fight this constant need to link everything to the General.
With a last smile at Jantelle he walked away from the desk and made his way to Starbucks. Warm lights welcomed him, along with the rich aroma of coffee and baked goods. He walked quickly to the counter and smiled his first true smile of the day at the young male barrista, whose nametag introduced him as Dean.
“I’ll have a trenta latte of whatever blend is on today and a triple shot espresso macchiato while I’m waiting.”
A familiar voice in the back of his mind told him he ought to eat something, but he ignored it. He knew anything he tried to put in his mouth would taste like ashes. He’d get a fix of his drug of choice first and then decide what he could stomach. His macchiato was quickly placed on the counter and Daniel didn’t even bother to move as he downed the rich, dark liquid in two deep swallows. He caught the barista grinning at him as he placed the huge latte on the counter.
“Take a seat, as you can see there are a few.” Dean gestured around the empty coffee shop. “Or,” he flirted, with what Daniel could appreciate as a beautiful smile, “you could stay here and talk to me.”
Daniel shook his head, with as much regret as he could muster, and made his way over to a table as far away from the door as possible; snagging a newspaper some other punter had left behind on an empty table as he passed.
The deep leather couch was as comfortable as any he’d ever sat on and he gave a sigh of relief. He hadn’t realized how much he was aching from the tension and adrenalin of the last couple of hours. He took a deep swallow of the rich milky coffee and nodded slightly in appreciation of the barista’s skills. Spending the next three or four hours in here would not be such a bad prospect, with good coffee and a comfortable seat.
For want of anything else to do, and to stop his treacherous mind from looping back to the events of the previous evening, Daniel spread the newspaper over the low table in front of him and sorted through it. The sports section he discarded immediately – not that he wasn’t interested, but Jack had always been the one to grab it first and then proceed to disparage all the pundits, the teams and the players. Daniel couldn’t go there.
He settled on the political section, leaned back in the soft couch and began to read. It struck him, as article after article spoke about unrest, mistrust and oppression, that despite saving the Earth from the Goa’uld, the Ori and numerous other assorted threats from other worlds, the people on this planet still followed the same patterns of behavior they always had. Oppression and violence was espoused by preachers in the name of religion. Wars were fought in the name of gods whose Holy Books taught tolerance and love. Minority groups were still being mistreated, oligarchs and despots still ruled. Even here in the US – a country that vaunted itself as being the most civilized in the world – bigotry was still allowed, even encouraged to flourish. A long article recounted the suicides of three gay teens due to cyber-bullying, in a small backwater town where the local preacher had whipped the population into a frenzy of hatred of amazing proportions. The aftermath almost reduced him to tears. Those young lives cut short because of misinformation and dogma. If Anubis had not destroyed Abydos Daniel would have been begging to be allowed to go back there. The life was simple and harsh, but the people appreciated every living soul and cherished their fellow man. Sadly, Abydos was gone, and it was sort of fitting that the place that had brought him and Jack together was as dead as their friendship.
Daniel could feel his grief becoming overwhelming. If he wasn’t careful he was going to break down in an airport coffee shop – and wouldn’t that be a great story for the tabloids. To distract himself he got out his iPhone and stared for a moment at the blank screen, before he remembered turning it off just as he’d entered the Gaylord hotel. Thumbing it on, he waited for the familiar logo and then scrolled through, intending to check his emails. What he actually saw was notifications for 7 missed calls and numerous voice mails from ‘General Jack, Savior of Earth’.
Jack had been the one to program his number into Daniel’s spiffy new phone and had thought this particular appellation was hilarious. Viciously turning it off and slamming it a little too roughly on the table in front of him, Daniel bit down on the bile that threatened to rise from his aching gut and he threw down several swallows of his latte to combat the nausea.
“Dean, is there a cell-phone store on the concourse?” he asked, cutting his gaze across to where the barista was wiping the already spotless machines.
“Yeah, next door, in fact.” Dean leaned on the counter and smiled, his expression more friendly than flirty this time. “Why, do’ya need a charger or something? I have an iPhone, you can borrow mine if you want.”
Daniel smiled back, this one more genuine too. “Actually, I want a new phone.”
“Oh, OK.” Dean looked thoughtful. “What time’s your flight?”
“Store doesn’t open till 8 but…” Dean chewed his lip thoughtfully. “OK, I work there too and it’s my turn to open up, so I have the keys. I could go over and get what you need, but you’d have to pay cash. I can’t use the machine otherwise my boss would know I was in there out of hours.”
Daniel nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah that’s no problem. Actually, I’d prefer it.”
“What’s going on Dr. Jackson? You on the run or something?”
Dean answered Daniel’s shocked, worried look with a raised hand. “Listen it’s none of my business. You are my fucking hero, ya know. I’m a Masters ling-anthro student at George Washington. Your lecture last year made me decide to carry on to do my doctorate next year.”
Daniel couldn’t help but smile at the student’s enthusiasm. He remembered being that fired up about his chosen subject, oh so many, many years ago. “George Washington is a great choice. The Anthro department there is great, and Dr. Wilson is an excellent professor.
Dean nodded, “There’s talk about Oxford University, in England, setting up a Xeno-Linguistic program. I’m looking at the links between Ancient and Latin for my dissertation. I’m hoping it will help get me a place if the program is set up in time. In fact I’d be willing to wait. I can always work for a year.”
Daniel was impressed by the young man’s dedication and decided to give him a little inside intel to help him make up his mind. “Oxford’s program will be set by the end of this year, I think.”
‘If all goes well’ Daniel thought to himself.
He was gifted with a beaming smile from Dean, who then reached under the counter and retrieved a large bunch of keys. He rounded the end of the coffee bar and walked over to Daniel’s comfy nest. “So, what do you want, another iPhone?”
“Yeah, the most up to date model, with a full package. I can tie it to my current cell account, so I won’t need to set up any bank payments or anything. But I don’t want to transfer my number, so I’ll need a new SIM.”
Dean nodded, turned and made his way to the door. “I’ll only be five minutes. It shouldn’t get busy till the next flight arrives, but if anyone comes in just tell them I went to take a leak,” he grinned, “Any preference as to color?”
Daniel snorted, “Just not pink, OK?”
The young man grinned back at him, “Yeah, OK.”
Daniel settled back in his seat and drank some more of his coffee, allowing the still warm, milky liquid to soothe him. He started to think about what he needed to do before he got on the flight to LA. He was going to need more cash. There was probably an ATM around the airport somewhere but he’d need to transfer money from his savings to his checking account and that would have to wait until he had his new phone all set up. He wasn’t going to risk having his old phone on in case Jack rang. He wasn’t sure he could resist the temptation to answer.
He’d shied away from Internet banking for a long while, but now he was glad he’d finally succumbed. Earlier that month Jack had been bellyaching about his Luddite ways on a trip they’d taken to Chicago. That time he’d had to borrow cash from his friend after miscalculating the balance left in his checking account. The ATM had spat out his card and Jack…
“Fuck, Fuck, FUCK!” Daniel spat out to the empty café. He felt a sharp sting on his thumb and looked down to see a trickle of blood. He’d been unconsciously worrying at the skin around his thumbnail managing to make it bleed. He sucked at the sore and thought wryly that it’d been a long time since he’d done that. It used to be a habit that had got so out of hand in his second foster home he’d had several infections. His foster mother had taken to wrapping his fingers to stop him, but she’d just thrown up her hands in frustration when he’d worried at the bandages until he got down to raw skin.
He pulled his thumb out of his mouth and was glad to see the damage was only minor. The blood had stopped and as long as he left it alone it would soon heal.
If only his heart could do the same.
Before he could sink too deeply into the abyss of pain roiling in his chest, Dean arrived back, several boxes and packages piled in his arms.
“Here’s your phone,” the young student began, placing the boxed cell on the coffee table. “I thought you might need these, too,” he added a little bashfully. A top of the range Macbook Air, carry case and accessories joined the phone. “It will be easier to use the computer to send emails and less traceable, too.” The warmth in Dean’s sympathetic gaze touched Daniel, who had to swallow against the emotion of the moment. “I know what it’s like to have to get away,” the young man continued. “Whatever you need a break from…well this will help. If you don’t want them I’ll just take them back.”
Daniel shook his head and cleared his throat, trying to move the lump lodged there. He’d had more consideration from this stranger in the last thirty minutes than from his best friend in the last two years. “It’s a really good idea. Thank you, Dean. How much…?”
“$2439.40.” Dean replied with a grimace. “You have the top of the range cell there and with the complete coverage plan and the Macbook Air is…”
“Hey, it’s OK,” Daniel reached out and patted Dean’s forearm. “I know you’ve given me the best and it really is a very good idea. But I’ll need to set the phone up so I can transfer some cash to my account and then I’ll need an ATM? I can pay for the phone now if you want.”
Dean shook his head. “Nah, I trust you. After all, you’re Dr. Daniel Jackson. You’ve died to save the Earth more than once,” Dean frowned. “God, that’s a weird thing to be able to say about someone. But anyway…You want another coffee, something to eat? I do a mean BLT or Turkey Rustico, and this time of night they’re all fresh, made by my own fair hands.”
Daniel made an internal note to let Oxford know about the boy standing in front of him. He would be just the sort of PhD candidate they should be enrolling in the new Alien Language Studies program, and the kind of person the SGC would need in years to come.
“I should eat. A BLT would be best I think.” As the young man moved away Daniel called him back. “What’s your surname, Dean?”
“Sheppard…and yes… I am related but only distantly.” He sighed deeply. “My daddy was Colonel Sheppard’s second cousin twice removed. I met him and Dr. McKay at my Aunt Sarah’s wedding a couple of years back. That was a trip let me tell you. McKay is freaky smart and John Sheppard is just the coolest man I’ve ever met. But I guess you know that.”
Daniel gave a little laugh. “Yeah, Rodney is definitely something else that’s true. But if you’re a Sheppard why…?” Daniel cut himself off before he could finish the invasive question.
“Why am I working two jobs to get through college?” Dean perched on the arm of the sofa and looked down at his hands. “My Daddy was the black sheep – refused to conform to the rules old man Sheppard set. A bit like Colonel Sheppard I suppose and for the same reasons, it turns out.”
Daniel’s puzzled expression seemed to spur Dean on when his story stalled. “Dad was gay and only married my mom under duress.”
Daniel sighed and smiled sadly. “I see.” He wondered if Dean realized he’d just outted John Sheppard, and to a member of the very organization who would imprison him for his sexuality. Of course Daniel was no threat to the colonel. He’d had his suspicions about John and was well aware of Rodney’s orientation. He and the astrophysicist had slept together on a number of occasions while they’d been in Antarctica. In fact, Rodney was the last man he’d slept with over two years ago, after the mission on Atlantis with the rogue Asgard. He’d known then how McKay felt about John and if what Dean was inferring was true, then Daniel was overjoyed they had finally got together.
“The funny thing is my mom knew,” Dean continued, unaware of the import of his last statement for his relative. “In fact mom was bi with definite lesbian leanings, and they acted as each other’s ‘beards’ so to speak, until dad was caught in the act. We were cut off from any kind of inheritance from the family and, after a bit of a problem with Old Man Sheppard, I decided I wasn’t willing to take hand-outs from him for my education. So here I am, working two jobs and wondering how I’m going to find the money to go to Oxford, even if they accepted me.”
“There are always scholarships. In fact, there’ll be the Claire Jackson Scholarship Fund.” Daniel extemporized, knowing that Dean Sheppard was going to be the first recipient if his dissertation was good enough. The fund didn’t exist at this point, except in Daniel’s mind, but with a few short phone calls to his financial adviser and lawyer, the fund would be easy to set up and a fitting use for some of the money he had squirreled away. “Just make sure your dissertation is as good as you can get it, OK? “
Once again Dean’s smile was blinding. “Oh, I can promise you it’ll blow your socks off.”
Daniel tore the corner off the newspaper and jotted down his personal email address. “Send it to me; I’ll look it over for you. When’s your submission date?” He held the scrap of paper out to a flabbergasted Dean who clutched at it like it was the Holy Grail.
“I have four more months. I’ve finished most of my reading and analysis. I’ve already started writing,” he gushed and then blushed deeply. “I’ll go get started on your BLT. You want another trente with that?”
“Duh!” Daniel replied and laughed softly to himself as Dean almost skipped back to the counter.
As he waited for his food, Daniel occupied himself by unwrapping and setting up his new phone, letting his tired, overwrought mind get soothed by the intricacies of modern technology. He was just logging on to his internet banking site as Dean pushed the sandwich and coffee onto the small area of the table not covered with cellophane and cardboard.
“Thanks. Where’s the nearest ATM? I’m nearly ready to sort out my debts.” Daniel waved the phone at him.
“Just across the concourse, you can see it from here.” Dean gestured out the window.
Daniel followed the pointing hand and froze as, across the public area, a figure in Air Force blue with a silver-gray head came into view. His heart started beating again as the person turned around. Of course it wasn’t Jack. The mystery officer was not as tall, and much older than the general. Thankfully he wasn’t anyone Daniel recognized.
“Dr. Jackson…Sir, are you OK, you’ve gone very pale?” Dean’s concerned face swam into view.
“Yeah… yes, I’m fine,” Daniel willed himself to breathe and shake off the cold shiver of adrenalin. He gave Dean a grim smile and stood. “I’ll go and get your cash so you can get settled up next door before the next flight comes in.”
Daniel needed to move, to walk off the shock and flight hormones that were making him feel a little dizzy.
The trip to the ATM and back only took a few minutes, but Daniel was back in control by the time he returned. After handing over the cash he sat back in his original seat and practically inhaled his coffee and sandwich. He really had been hungry and it was a very good BLT.
With his belly full and his debts paid, Daniel felt the pull of exhaustion. He was getting old he thought, if he couldn’t manage 20 hours without sleep. But those days were pretty much gone. There were no emergencies for Dr. Jackson; no urgent translations for a team off world, or to save the Earth from the snake-du-jour. He didn’t miss those days one little bit, although the years with SG-1 had probably been the most exciting of his life. They had bought him friends along with the heartache; the thrill of discovery along with the pain of torture, mayhem and loss. But if he had to pick, of the few times when he had been truly content, he would choose the last two years. Even his time on Abydos, as uncomplicated as it had been, had still been filled with the feeling of being incomplete. He’d loved Shau’re to the limits of his ability but he would have chosen to go back to Earth with Jack if he’d been able. He just couldn’t leave, knowing the young woman would be shunned if she was rejected by him. His heart had left Abydos with Jack and he hadn’t felt truly alive until that irrepressible man had swaggered back through the Gate.
Now he was going to have to find some hidden strength to survive the final loss of his heart. He knew, regardless of how much he tried, his love would always belong to Jack. He would never give himself completely again. Daniel could have coped with a plain rejection if Jack had done it all those years ago. It would have hurt, and the state of his heart would have been the same, but he wouldn’t have the added wounds of betrayal and abandonment to deal with. It was a running theme in his life and he was beginning to believe it was, to quote Oma, ‘his path’ to be alone and unloved.
It wasn’t about sex. He could get sex whenever and wherever he wanted. He knew people were attracted to him both physically and intellectually and, since the program had gone public, there were people queuing up for the notoriety of having slept with ‘Dr. Jackson, The Man Who Opened the Stargate’, but he didn’t want them. Maybe someday soon it would be nice to have an orgasm not from his own hand, but love? He knew it wouldn’t figure in his future. The sadness of that felt overwhelming, and if Daniel hadn’t been so tired he figured he would probably be bawling like a baby.
Despite the strong coffee, he felt sleep tugging at the edges of his consciousness and with a heavy sigh he slid down into the thick cushions of the couch, propped his feet on the table and allowed himself to drift away.
He woke, groggy and still deeply tired, to the divine scent of coffee with a hint of chocolate. He opened his eyes to find Dean waving an Espresso Café Mocha under his nose.
“I thought I’d better not touch you to wake you,” Dean explained. “I saw that interview where General O’Neill told about waking you up and you almost breaking his nose.”
Oh yes, Jack loved that story. Loved telling how the mild mannered academic had become the honed soldier. Daniel gritted his teeth against the razor sharp pain of the memory. He began to admonish himself but then realized he had to give himself a break. He couldn’t have it all under control yet, after all it had only been a few hours. Give him a couple of weeks and he’d be able to deal with the mention of Jack’s name…maybe.
“Uhuh,” he grunted and straightened his creaking back, thankfully taking the coffee from Dean’s outstretched hand. As he came to a little more he saw that all the packaging had been cleared away, including that for the Macbook. In its place was the neat, elegant leather bag Dean had chosen for him – the very one he would have chosen for himself. Alongside it was his new phone, which had been plugged into the outlet and was showing nearly full charge, and a strange box, complete with two large empty take-away cups, stirrers and lids.
At Daniel’s puzzled look Dean turned the package around and pointed to the spout on the side. “It’s a traveler box. It holds the equivalent of eight 12 oz cups. I’ve filled it with Sun-dried Ethiopia Sidamo, triple shot. I thought you’d appreciate the kick.”
Daniel didn’t know what to say. Words were his life and yet there didn’t seem anything fitting for this young man who had been so accommodating and considerate of a stranger.
“Hey, it’s OK. I can’t tell you what a blast it’s been having the chance to talk to you. And…” the young man looked down at his feet, trying to cover the flush that rose in his cheeks. “I hope I’ll get to speak to you again some time.”
“Oh, I’d say that’s pretty much a given,” Daniel promised. “If you email me I’ll write back and don’t forget to send me your dissertation as soon as it’s done – don’t wait to tidy it up, send me the rough draft, OK?”
Dean nodded, almost speechless. “I loaded everything into the bag, including some software you might need; you know word processing and stuff,” he croaked out. “You slept for a couple of hours so you have about half an hour before check in. It’s going to get a little busy in here in the next few minutes. There’s a 4.45 am lay-over flight from Alaska and they tend to all crowd in here. It gets a little frantic and noisy and there are always queues for the restrooms.”
Daniel took the hint, downed his mocha and walked stiffly to the restroom. After relieving himself and splashing his face with water, he took off his jacket and shook it to try to get rid of the creases from sleeping in it. He gave up after a couple of minutes. He was going to have to do some serious clothes shopping when he got to LA, but that wasn’t really a hardship. Unlike the years when he had no money, his new wealth (and a very generous clothing allowance from the government) and the need to look good on TV and photo-shoots had made him discover his inner fashionista. So when he got to LA he could indulge in retail therapy in its truest form.
Daniel looked at himself in the mirror. The sadness in the eyes that stared back left him shocked. So this was the great Dr. Jackson. “Yeah, see how the mighty are fallen,” he muttered as he ran his fingers through his tousled hair. “Fuck it, that’ll have to do.”
When he got back into the café he was pleased to see it was still deserted. He pocketed the shiny new black and chrome phone (which Dean had unplugged) alongside his old white one. He was tempted to throw his original cell in the garbage but then realized, as he wasn’t swapping the SIM, he’d need it for his contact information. Sighing, Daniel slung the strap of his new laptop bag over his shoulder and picked up the ingenious container of coffee. With a last look round he strode over to the counter and gave Dean a warm, genuine grin. He lifted the traveler container and waved it. “What do I owe you for this?”
“Nah, it’s on the house.” Dean shrugged. “Starbucks can afford it.”
“Thanks, for everything. And good luck with your Masters.” Daniel stuck out his free hand and Dean took it eagerly.
“Hey, Doc… least I could do.”
Daniel had a sudden thought. Jack was the master tracker. Daniel had no doubt he would check the airports once Daniel’s email hit the Pentagon’s server. “If anyone should come in asking about me…”
“Asking about who?” Dean replied with a twinkle in his eye.
“Even if it’s…”
“Even if it’s him,” Dean replied, a glimmer of understanding in his eyes. “Just don’t give up, OK. It’s never over till the fat lady sings.”
Daniel felt a shock of empathy come from the young man across the counter. He’d said Daniel wasn’t the only one who needed to disappear. Maybe Dean understood him better than he knew. “Write me,” Daniel demanded, a little more vehemently than he intended, but right now it seemed very important they keep in touch.
They shook hands firmly and then Daniel turned and strode out of the café and towards the American Airlines check-in. As he walked he found himself regretting the need to turn away from the fledgling relationship he and Dean had begun to forge – even if it was only mentor/student. It had more honesty about it than anything he’d had since…
He laughed bitterly under his breath. Since Jack, is that what he was going to say? He had to stop fooling himself that was anything like a true friendship.
As he handed over his boarding pass and ticket he told his brain to lay off the deep introspection. He needed a break from it all, and hopefully after five hours sleep during the flight and however long he could swing in LA, he might be ready to move forward.
But for right now he needed to regroup; to retreat behind the walls that had held him in good stead all his life, and to find the inner core of strength that had helped him survive all the other painful times in his past.
As he made his way through security he had the uncanny feeling that stepping through this gate would be almost as life changing as his first journey through the Stargate all those years ago.
The only thing he knew for sure was that he had been sleepwalking through those years, lulled into a false sense of security by the overwhelming presence of a certain Air Force colonel. He’d allowed himself to feel friendship; to feel cared for, cherished and maybe even loved. Well, he wasn’t asleep anymore.
Now he was finally awake.