"Daniel?" Jack asked as he opened his back door to find him standing on the deck with three grocery bags hanging from his left hand and two from his right.
"Hi, Jack." A quick glance and then Daniel was staring at his toes. "Um..." He held up his right hand, the bags dangling from his fingers.
"Come in." Jack slid the glass door open further, taking the bags from Daniel's left hand and following him into the kitchen.
Banging cupboard doors warned Jack to tread softly. He put the bags on the table, stepping back as Daniel started putting the groceries away. Jack leaned against the counter watching. One bag was emptied in a methodical fashion. Jack wondered if archaeological training made Daniel handle the groceries as if they were artifacts, carefully inspected and then placed with care on the shelves or in the refrigerator.
Stopping halfway through filling the fruit drawer, Daniel looked up at Jack from his stooped over position. "You could help, you know," he said.
Jack grinned at him and waggled his eyebrows. "I'm enjoying the view."
"My turn," Daniel said, handing Jack the bag with fresh vegetables.
"Hey, walking wounded here," Jack complained, but he took the bag and bent to the task, ignoring muscles that had stiffened over the day. He looked over his shoulder, but Daniel wasn't paying attention any longer, now busy with reading the labels of the canned goods he'd bought. Jack saw him place three different kinds of canned tomatoes on the counter, along with a package of some kind of fancy pasta. A bottle of wine was placed next to that. Jack looked at the vegetables in the bag. Spinach, red, yellow and orange peppers, mushrooms, fancy olives that he didn't even want to guess the cost of. Why on Earth Daniel couldn't buy normal green olives with little pimentos was one of those mysteries of the universe, Jack supposed. Finishing the vegetables, he grabbed the next bag from the counter and found a wedge of Parmesan, some kind of cheese in a plastic container floating in who knew what, and a carton of ricotta.
"No meat?" Jack asked.
"Protein is in the cheese," Daniel said, staring at the loaf of bread he'd just pulled from the final bag.
"Hey." Jack moved behind his partner, rubbing his shoulders, "wanna take a nap?"
Daniel braced his hands on the counter, taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "Yeah. Sounds good. Nap."
Jack pulled the drapes in the bedroom a few minutes later, casting long shadows over the bed and Daniel's lean form. When he'd said nap, he hadn't quite expected Daniel to take it literally. Walking to the bed, he stood a few minutes looking down at his lover, still amazed that someone like Daniel loved someone like him. Daniel was on his side, facing Jack's side of the bed, and Jack lowered himself to the mattress, bunching some pillows up behind his back, hoping it would help to relieve some of the aches. Daniel reached for him in his sleep and smiled as his hand made contact with Jack's stomach. Grabbing the archaeology journal from the night table, Jack opened it to what seemed like a half-readable article and started reading. He rested his hand on Daniel's head, rubbing strands of hair through his fingers, a motion as soothing for him as it was for his sleeping partner, helping him to forget the throbbing pain in his back. He hoped the pain pill would kick in soon; he'd given into the need for one before joining Daniel in bed. The words began to blur as the past few busy weeks caught up with Jack and the pill took effect. I'll just rest my eyes for a few minutes, he thought as he closed them, taking a deep breath and sliding down in the bed.
"Want some coffee?" Daniel asked as Jack wandered into the kitchen a few hours later. When there was no response, he poured Jack a mug and brought it to him, sitting down and bringing his own mug to his lips. Jack liked to kid Daniel about his coffee drinking habits, but a Jack-just-waking-up was less communicative than him. Daniel watched Jack drink his coffee. His partner's hair was standing up on one side and his right cheek was reddened from where it had been smashed into the pillow.
"You start supper yet?" Jack finally said when he'd drunk his first cup and refilled the mug.
Daniel shook his head. "I was waiting for you to wake up." He stretched his legs under the table, rubbing one foot up Jack's shin and smiling back at the sweet, slightly dopey grin he got for the movement.
"What do you want me to do?" Jack finished his second cup and got up, rinsing the mug in the sink and then washing his hands.
"Chop the peppers and onions, slice the mushrooms?" Daniel added his mug to Jack's and washed his own hands, watching the view as Jack bent to retrieve the vegetables from the refrigerator.
Side stepping as Jack brought his bounty to the counter, Daniel opened the drawer and handed him a knife, returning the smile Jack gave him. He rummaged in the junk drawer for the can opener and began opening the cans of tomatoes.
"Not fresh?" Jack pointed at them with the knife, pausing midway in peeling an onion.
Daniel shook his head. "All the tomatoes looked anemic." He shrugged and opened another cupboard to get out the pans.
Filling the large sauce pan with water, Daniel watched as Jack chopped the onions with precise, even strokes. He drizzled some oil in the smaller pan, letting it heat for a few minutes and then motioned for Jack to add the onions. Jack returned to his task of chopping and slicing, his movements economical, the knife in his hands held lightly as if he was comfortable with it there. Of course Jack was comfortable with a knife there, Daniel reminded himself. He stirred the onions, telling himself it was the aroma that made his eyes sting. It couldn't be the relief of finally being able to remember the simple things of life like preparing a meal, the hiss spit of the cooking onions punctuated by the swish of the knife as it sliced through mushrooms.
There hadn't been time to worry about such ordinary things as food or laundry or cleaning the house for so many weeks that it seemed as if the act of cooking was a simple miracle. Daniel turned the heat down and took the offered cutting board, sweeping the peppers and mushrooms into the pan with his hand. Jack turned to put the knife in the dishwasher and froze.
"Jack?" Daniel placed a hand on Jack's hip.
"Okay. I'm okay." But the words were said through gritted teeth and Daniel could feel the tight muscles under the hand he slid onto Jack's lower back. A few deep breaths and Jack straightened slowly, bracing his hands on the counter.
Daniel stepped back, knowing that his partner needed the space. He filled a glass with water and handed it to Jack, along with one of the bottles Janet had provided. Opening the bottle, Jack shook out one pill, popping it in his mouth with a shaking hand.
"I can finish up," Daniel said, an offer he knew would be denied.
"I said I'm okay," Jack muttered, but he walked to the kitchen table, pulled out a chair and sat down.
Daniel pulled out the spinach, dumping it in a strawberry decorated colander that seemed oddly congruous in Jack's kitchen, spraying it with water and watching little bits of dirt swirl down the drain. If only problems could be swept away as easily. Take a shower, wash off the dirt of some back water planet and emerge as good as new. Let everyone forget you couldn't understand what the natives were saying, that you had no idea they were going to take your teammates and beat them to try to get you to talk. Wash away the memory of the blood on Jack's hands as he managed to get the knife of one of the guards and stab him.
The water was clear and Daniel took the spinach out of the colander, shaking it in his hand and then putting it on the chopping board. The knife felt clumsy in his hand, even though he knew how to use it, too. He knew how to stab, to take out an opponent; Jack taught him that the first year he'd been on SG-1. He wished he didn't know, that it would still be something he read about in books and not something his body knew how to do without thinking. But still, his hands remembered this--how to chop the spinach, the smell green and earthy as the knife reduced the leaves to tiny bits. He was glad he still knew how to do something good with his hands. The spinach was put into the pan with the other vegetables, the lid put on. He turned the knob for the back burner, starting to heat the water.
"Daniel?" Jack called from his place at the table. "Come here. Sit down."
The motion towards the stove made Jack shake his head and Jack interrupted before he could speak. "Don't you know a watched kettle never boils?"
Glaring at Jack as he pulled out a chair and sat down, Daniel knew the expression was being wasted. Jack understood. It only took one look at Jack to figure that out. But Daniel didn't want to share. He didn't want Jack to tell him he'd done what was necessary to save them.
Jack's hands rested on the table and Daniel put his own there. There was a bit of spinach stuck on the back of his left and a tiny piece caught under one nail. He reached out, turning Jack's hand palm side up, looking at the calluses, the slight bend to Jack's pinky from a break a few years back. Jack let him do it, because maybe Jack understood more than he did himself what was needed. They were good hands, strong hands, capable hands, Daniel reminded himself. Hands that could cradle an infant with infinite care, hands that could comfort and ease pain. Hands that could...
"I can't change who I am, Daniel," Jack said, his voice low and sad.
"I know." Daniel nodded, swallowing hard. "I know, Jack." The sound of the kettle lid jangling as the steam pushed it up made them both look up.
"Yeah." Daniel got up, walking around to Jack's chair and kissing him in the top of his head. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"No need." Jack smiled up at him. "I'll get the plates. Dining room?"
Daniel nodded. He dumped the pasta in the boiling water, his glasses steaming up, and then poured the cans of tomatoes onto the simmering vegetables. He looked at the bottle of wine he'd purchased, deciding putting some in the sauce wouldn't hurt. Slicing the bread, spreading it with butter and garlic and popping it into the oven to heat took up another few minutes while Jack was busy with setting the table. He got out the mozzarella, pulling it out of the whey and slicing it.
"Where's the cheese grater?" he called into the dining room when a quick search through three drawers didn't turn up the elusive item.
"Same place you put it last time," Jack called back. "Grated Parmesan is supposed to come from a green shaker jar. You aren't supposed to grate your own."
"Yeah, tell that to the Italians," Daniel muttered under his breath, staring at the offending cupboards and drawers as if they were responsible for his own faulty memory. The last time they'd eaten something other than MREs , alien banquets or take-out seemed a distant memory. Wondering if gate travel combined with lack of rest killed brain cells, Daniel tried to reconstruct the last meal he and Jack had actually cooked. He felt himself smile at the memory and it wasn't involving food. Pulling open the last cupboard, Daniel spied the grater on the third shelf, more luck than observation. The buzzer rang, alerting him to drain the pasta.
He dumped it from the colander to the casserole dish, smothering it with the sauce and then putting half the container of ricotta in with it. A few stirs, mozzarella slices on top and he placed it in the oven.
Wondering what was taking Jack so long to set a table for the two of them, Daniel wandered over to the doorway, looking into the dining room.
"How's this?" Jack finished lighting the candle he'd placed in the middle of the table, a jar candle he'd bought from Tessa Hammond when her school had one of their fund raising drives.
"Nice." Daniel wasn't looking at the table any longer. He moved behind Jack, wrapping his arms around the other man's waist and pressing his chin on Jack's shoulder. "How's the back?"
"Feeling better." Jack rubbed the burnt out match tip between his fingers and then looked at the black ash left behind.
"I understand." Daniel took a deep breath and loosened his arms, stepping away. "I know why you..."
"I know." Jack wiped his fingers on his chino's, leaving behind a black smudge.
"You'd think after seven years, I wouldn't, you know." Stumbling over the words, Daniel pushed his glasses up, looking down at the floor.
"Why?" Jack asked, following him back to the kitchen. "Why wouldn't it still bother you?"
"It doesn't both..." Daniel found two pot holders and pulled out the casserole, hissing when the heat burned through the worn out material and dropping the dish on the floor. He stared at the shattered glass, the sauce and cheese oozing its way across the floor. He knelt down, starting to pick up the pieces.
Jack placed his hand on his shoulder, and Daniel had to consciously fight to keep from tensing. "Oops."
"Yeah, oops." Ruined. All their work ruined in one moment, one instant.
Heedless of his back, Jack gripped the edge of the counter and lowered himself to the floor, kneeling next to his partner.
"We'll clean it up," he told Daniel. "It's no big deal."
"Yeah," Daniel said, but the affirmation had no weight to it. He rose to his feet with a grace Jack no longer possessed even when he was in tip top shape and grabbed the dust pan from its hook inside the closet. Jack scooted back and pulled a fresh roll of paper towels from under the sink, ripping off a dozen and starting to wipe up the remains of the meal.
"You need to get some new pot holders." Daniel swept the glass and ruined food onto the dustpan with short angry strokes. He motioned for Jack to put the soiled paper with the rest of the refuse and dumped it in the trash.
Jack reached up to grip the counter again and felt Daniel's hand on top of his, his strong arms circling him from behind and easing him to his feet with not even a grunt.
"Guess we call for pizza." Jack raised his eyebrows, frowning when Daniel didn't respond. "Daniel?"
Daniel held up his hands. "When did I become a soldier?"
The puzzled tone was like a punch to Jack's gut. He'd told Daniel earlier he couldn't change how he was. Killing, as distasteful as it was, was sometimes a part of his job. He'd learned a long time ago to shut off the part of him that saw the enemy as human, even though most of the time these days, the enemy wasn't human. "You're not a solider, Daniel." He kept his voice soft. "You fight if you need to, but you aren't a soldier."
"I use my hands to kill more than to help, Jack. I watched you stab one of your captors and felt only relief." Daniel wrapped his arms around his waist. "Sometimes I don't recognize myself anymore."
"I recognize you," Jack countered.
"So you're saying I'm the same person I was before?" Daniel's words were clipped, precise.
"No, I'm saying you do care," Jack said. "If you didn't give a damn we wouldn't be having this conversation." He spread his hands on the counter, sighing. "It's what we do, Daniel. It's what *I* do."
"I know." Daniel's sigh echoed his own. He came to stand next to Jack, nudging him with his elbow. "There are just times I want to... I don't know... remember who I used to be."
"The person you used to be didn't hesitate to help lead an uprising against Ra on Abydos," Jack reminded him.
"That was..." Daniel obediently closed his mouth when Jack held up his index finger.
"And what about the tankful of Goa'uldettes on Chulak? Standing up to any and all system lords we come across?" Jack stopped, noticing Daniel's downcast eyes.
"That's the point. I know I *can* do all those things. I know I *can* kill someone to protect the team. I just wish I didn't know I *can*."
And that was it in a nutshell, the whole enchilada, the whole she-bang, the sudden insight into his partner stealing Jack's breath. Daniel had adapted to being a soldier as a matter of survival, the same way he adapted to every foster family he'd been sent to or learned to fit in when he decided to stay on Abydos after the first mission. Daniel fit in with the SGC because he needed to, and Daniel was a survivor first and foremost. It wasn't as if Daniel didn't speak up for what he saw as the best solution, the non-violent way; Jack depended on Daniel's vision to force them into thinking outside the military way. But there were times, as there had been for the past couple of months, when they didn't have time to get to know the natives, when the meet and greets turned ugly, when they were running for their lives from Jaffa, when it wasn't Daniel's ability to communicate that got them out of a fix but rather Daniel's ability to kill or maim the enemy.
Daniel was looking at him, that intense blue gaze fixed on him. He could feel the heat of Daniel's body, the sense of need growing. "I don't...I can't..." Jack was helpless in the face of truth.
"Yeah, I know. No easy answers," Daniel whispered. "There never are. I learned that a long time ago."
"Transfer. You could transfer off the team if it's making you that unhappy," Jack said in a rush. He stepped closer to Daniel, bringing his hands to Daniel's shoulders, feeling defined muscles that hadn't been there when Daniel had started on SG1.
"I can't." Daniel touched Jack's hips, sliding his hands up to the waistband of Jack's sweatpants and fumbling with the drawstring. "I can't. God, Jack. I can't ever go back to who I was, and I want to at the same time. Addiction," he murmured, moving in to cover Jack's mouth with his own. "I want...I need..." Daniel spoke as he moved his attention to the skin at the base of Jack's throat.
Shivering, Jack pulled Daniel closer, his hands on his hips. "Daniel." He pushed his fingers past the worn elastic waistband, feeling warm skin under his touch. His left hand brushed over slightly raised skin on Daniel's abdomen, and Daniel shuddered and let a huff of breath.
"Living. Remind me." The words were spoken low, rough, and Jack understood.
He pushed at Daniel's sweatpants, vaguely aware that his own pants were being slid lower. Daniel stood against him and Jack could feel the thumping of his partner's heart. He tasted Daniel's mouth, faint echoes of coffee and spice blending with his own while he curled his fingers around the length of Daniel's cock, an almost fever heat burning them.
"Jack." Daniel didn't shout, didn't say anything other than that first frantic whisper of a name. Jack watched him, Daniel's neck arched, his lips pulled back to expose teeth and an expression that could be interpreted as pain or ecstasy. He watched and pumped warm living flesh in his hand, knowing the need to feel alive and whole. Daniel shuddered again, a tremor that shook his body under Jack's hands, and came, letting out a gasp before taking three deep gulps of air. He bent forward, leaning into Jack, his hands coming up to rest on Jack's shoulders. Jack could feel damp heat against his neck and he wasn't sure if it was sweat, tears or a combination of both.
Daniel raised his head, his glasses askew, and Jack couldn't help smiling. A small smile twitched up the corners of his lover's mouth before Daniel whispered, "Thank you." Daniel slid his hands down Jack's arms, across Jack's abdomen and back to the waistband of Jack's sweats. "My turn," he said, and Jack reached up to pull off Daniel's glasses before they fell on the floor. Shuddering as Daniel found his cock, Jack braced his hands on Daniel's shoulders. The callused fingers of Daniel's right hand squeezed gently and Jack backed up until he was against the refrigerator.
"Ah God, Dan..." The sound of the smoke alarm had them both hunching shoulders up. "What the..."
"Shit, shit!" Daniel was saying, pulling away and grabbing a dishtowel. He opened the oven and black smoke billowed out, causing both of them to cough. "Turn it off, Jack!" he yelled over the strident alarm.
Jack stepped onto the closest chair, reaching up to hit the reset button and then went over to the doors, opening them and breathing in a few whiffs of cool air.
Daniel was throwing something in the sink, something black and charred.
"What is..." Jack began at the same moment Daniel answered, "Bread."
Jack took one glance at the burnt remains and shrugged. "I wasn't really hungry for bread anyway. Gotta cut back on the carbs, you know." But as a joke, as any sort of comment, the words fell flat.
Daniel stared at the bread as if he could resurrect it by pure thought. He threw the dishtowel in the sink and walked away, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair where he'd placed it earlier.
"Daniel?" Jack asked, watching as Daniel fiddled with his keys, playing with the small pyramid keychain Jack had bought him as a gag gift two Christmases ago.
"I...Jack, I...things aren't, I'm not good company, maybe tomorrow." Stuttering, hesitant, Daniel met Jack's eyes for a brief moment and then held out his hand.
Jack placed his glasses in it, noticing the red blotch across the palm. "You gonna be okay?" came out of his mouth even though he wanted Daniel to stay.
"Aren't I always?" Daniel replied. If Daniel had been anyone else, Jack would have known the words were a plea to stay. But this was Daniel, and Daniel didn't play games. He meant the words for exactly what they were.
Daniel didn't close the door behind him, and the cool air filled the kitchen, taking out the smell of smoke and the stink of death and destruction. Jack cleaned up, throwing the dried, blackened bread in the trash can, getting out the mop and wiping up the remains of the sticky sauce and Daniel's semen. The candle in the dining room continued to burn but Jack blew it out. He took it to the kitchen, placing it in the sink to cool off and picked up the phone, dialing Daniel's favorite Chinese take-out restaurant. He had the feeling Italian wasn't the best choice for a meal. The young woman on the other end told him it would be delivered in thirty minutes, and Jack thanked her, not moving from his vantage point by the kitchen door. Yep, Daniel's car was still there. Jack looked down at his sweat pants, stained and damp, and decided a shower and a clean up would do him a world of good.
He noticed the sky when he was opening his car door, a cobalt blue as twilight began to fall. He studied the keys in his hand and closed the door. Unable to bring himself to go back in the house just yet, Daniel headed for Jack's observation deck. He climbed the ladder quickly, feeling a need to escape, to disappear into that endless sky. Ignoring the chairs Jack had placed there, Daniel sat cross legged on the roof--a more comfortable position for him at the moment, bringing back memories of times spent on digs with his parents and the year he'd spent on Abydos. He looked up to the sky, a few of the brightest stars just visible. He'd have to ask Jack if they were stars or if they were planets in his own solar system, sometimes he wasn't sure. Daniel let out a quiet laugh. Not sure of the order of the universe and his place in it seemed to be his recent lot in life. Too bad running away wasn't still an option.
He remembered a time when his dad had yelled at him on one of the digs. Daniel had gone exploring and wandered away, not hearing his parents calling his name. His dad had spanked him, the only time he could recall as an adult. Spanked him and put him to bed. Angry at the injustice, Daniel had pulled his battered suitcase from under the bed and packed his pillow and a change of clothes, dragging it behind him as he walked out of their large tent. His mom had grabbed him up in a hug, passing him after a moment or two to his dad. Running away from problems, from anger, from his mistakes, wouldn't work, his dad had said. Remember that, Danny, his dad had told him, pushing back Daniel's hair and carrying him back to bed, and staying by him until he fell asleep. His dad had been right, the advice was still sound. Running away wasn't an option. And it wasn't like it would help anyway. Daniel didn't think he'd be able to lose himself somewhere along the way.
Voices floated up to Daniel's position on Jack's observation deck and he heard a car door slam and the driver take off down the street. A few moments later, there were footsteps on the ladder to the roof.
"Hey," Jack said as he joined Daniel. He sat down in the deck chair, nudging Daniel with his foot as he passed.
Daniel sniffed and accepted the bag Jack handed him, sticking his head inside the brown paper and salivating at the aromas that met his nose.
"Thought you might be hungry." Jack leaned forward, reaching over Daniel's shoulder and snagging a white box.
"I am," Daniel said, surprised when his stomach growled. "Thanks." He tilted his head back, looking at Jack. "You don't even know what that is." He smiled as Jack opened the box and made a face. He maneuvered so that he sat cross legged facing Jack. He held out his hand for the box.
"Give me the egg rolls and the lo mein." Jack held out his hand for the bag. "How you can eat garlic eggplant is beyond me."
His mouth already filled with food, Daniel just motioned with his chopsticks for Jack to eat and be quiet.
They ate in silence, Daniel snagging one of Jack's egg rolls and some of the lo mein, while Jack did accept the sauce in the bottom of Daniel's container for the white rice that had been included in the order. Meal finished, Daniel wiped his hands on his T-shirt.
"Come here," Jack urged, making a circle with his index finger.
Daniel turned around and scooted back against Jack's legs, relaxing as strong hands massaged his shoulders.
"I'm sorry," Jack said, and Daniel swiveled his head, confused at the words. *He* was the one who'd been acting like a child over the ruined dinner, Jack had nothing to apologize for. "Unh, unh," Jack murmured and motioned for Daniel to turn his head back. "I said you weren't a soldier earlier."
"I'm not." Daniel could no more remain silent than Jack could. "I don't want to be."
"I said you weren't a soldier, and you're not in the way the Air Force regards soldiers. But you are a warrior, Daniel."
"A warrior." Daniel drew out the word, not sure he wanted that label either.
"A warrior for what's right. A warrior with a conscience. The kind the world, the universe, needs more of." Jack motioned towards the sky. "And I'm sorry for what that's cost you."
Daniel said nothing. He looked at his hands in the fading light. Hands that now knew how to kill. It scared him--knowing he had the power to kill someone, knowing that power was in his hands, and knowing he could never go back to the illusion that he would never kill no matter the circumstance.
"I'd do it again, Jack," he finally admitted, the knowledge that he wouldn't hesitate if presented with the same circumstances of their last mission. He could still feel the kick of the weapon under his hand, the detachment as he'd shot the man who was beating his teammates. "I'd do it again," he whispered.
A car pulled into a driveway a few doors away and a group of children spilled out, their young voices high pitched and excited. Laughter and deeper adult voices carried on the clear cool air. Some things were worth fighting for, Daniel knew it, he'd always known it, but it didn't make the struggle any easier. Maybe some day he'd learn to reconcile the man he'd become with the man he used to be; maybe not, but until then, he'd wrestle with it.
"Yeah, I know." Jack slid his hand to Daniel's nape. "But that's the difference between us. I don't regret what I've done."
"I can't...I can't change who I am either, Jack." Daniel pulled his knees up, resting his head on them. It was still going to eat a hole in his gut every time.
"Don't," Jack said, his breath a whisper in Daniel's ear. "Don't change."
But of course it was already too late. He *had* changed. Whether or not it was for the better was still for the universe to decide.
Daniel leaned back, feeling Jack slide his hands into his hair and looked up into the vast expanse of the universe, unsure of where he fit in, but knowing that for the moment, he was where he was meant to be.
|Genres:||Angst, Drama, Established Relationship, Hurt/Comfort|
|Summary:||Cooking and the hard questions in life.|