Daniel jumped as Sam rapped on the side of his computer. "Have you heard a word I've said?" Sam asked. She shook her head in exasperation as Daniel looked up at her with a blank expression.
"Um.what?" Daniel was completely engrossed in trying to pin down the verb tense in this particular translation and hadn't heard a word Sam said beyond her initial hello. However, being far more protective of his own skin than most gave him credit for, he was not going to baldly admit that to Sam. "I.uh.I was just.."
"I asked if you would like to go to dinner with me," Sam repeated.
"Dinner?" Daniel repeated with surprise. "Oh, I don't know.."
"Come on, Daniel. You have to let me take you out for your birthday," Sam insisted. Daniel cringed a little.
"That's really not necessary," he said emphatically. "I'm just not used to birthday celebrations," he admitted, rushing past the point knowing Sam would get all indignant over his less than happy childhood.
"Daniel Jackson." Sam and Daniel both startled a little as Teal'c's deep voice surprised them. "I wonder if you might have moment." Before Daniel could respond, Sam got a calculating look on her face.
"Teal'c, would like to join us for dinner tonight? Tomorrow is Daniel's birthday," she said brightly.
"I would be honored," Teal'c said solemnly. Daniel grit his teeth and shot Sam a look that promised retribution. She knew full well that while Daniel might be able to stammer his way out of going out with one teammate he would never be able to stand against two. Especially Teal'c, who didn't get nearly enough chances to get out and socialize. Sam just smiled sweetly and Daniel groaned inwardly.
"What time?" he asked.
"Now," Sam said firmly as she started shutting the books on Daniel's desk. With a resigned sigh, Daniel saved his work on the computer before exiting the program.
"Don't you people ever quit?" Jack's familiar growl startled Daniel. He couldn't stop his eyes from turning to Jack any more than he could control the acceleration in his heartbeat. Jack may have walked away from their relationship, for reasons he wouldn't or couldn't explain, but Daniel could not shut off his feelings so easily even after more than a year.
"Quitting now, sir," Sam patiently.
"We are taking Daniel Jackson to dinner to celebrate his birthday," Teal'c explained. Daniel grimaced as he turned his face from Jack's view. Daniel hadn't been able to get Teal'c to understand the baffling change in Jack and Daniel's relationship, not without explaining the true nature of their former closeness. Daniel realized that not being able to entirely understand the change himself didn't help.
"Why don't you join us, Colonel?" Daniel didn't need to look to know that Jack's eyes were on him, looking for his reaction. Daniel refused to look at Jack although he was fairly confident that by now Jack was as likely to understand Daniel's thoughts as he was to finally get a grasp on wormhole physics.
"No. Thanks, but I've got colonel stuff to do," Jack drawled. Daniel let out a sigh of relief. And, he recognized ruefully, disappointment. "You kids have fun."
"Ya sure you betcha," Sam teased.
"Not too much fun," Jack added, wagging a finger at them from the door. Then he slapped himself on the forehead. "Ah, geez, what am I talking about? The geek twins and.." Jack just shook his head at Teal'c in exasperation. He turned his eyes back to Sam and Daniel. "Do you even know what fun is? In a purely non-scientific context?" Jack asked sadly.
"You just might be surprised, sir," Sam said confidently.
"It is karaoke night at the 'Spur'," Teal'c announced with a smug smile.
"Sheesh," Jack groaned. "Just as well I'm not going then."
"You said it, sir," Sam said. She smiled at the scowl her CO gave her.
"Just keep an eye on Daniel. You know what a cheap date he is," O'Neill ordered. Daniel winced inwardly. During their two years together Jack had often joked about how glad he was that Daniel was a 'cheap date' because it had gotten them in bed together a lot sooner than they might otherwise have managed. Daniel had never minded the teasing, in part because it was true. Given their combined stubbornness they might have knocked heads until judgment day without ever getting naked and enjoying it. Now, hearing Jack make a joke about it was painful.
"Don't bother," Daniel said before he could stop himself. "Sometimes I like being a cheap date." Jack's eyes narrowed in concern and Daniel immediately wanted to kick himself. He hated being the focus of Jack's paternalistic sympathy, and really hated Jack thinking Daniel was some pathetic, lovelorn geek pining away after his unobtainable colonel. Fortunately, Sam sensed an awkward moment in the making.
"Well, we should be going," she said in a pleading tone. Jack just nodded and stood back to allow the other three to leave. Daniel resolutely kept his eyes away from Jack. And felt Jack's eyes burning into his back the whole way down the corridor.
Daniel stirred reluctantly. The sound of pounding on his door finally registered on his consciousness. "I gave at the office," he muttered as he rolled out of bed, briefly considered answering the door in his usual sleep attire and decided that his birthday suit wasn't appropriate even on his birthday. He pulled on his ratty old robe, and glanced at the clock. 8:00 a.m. Far too early after far too many shots of Stoly. Daniel congratulated himself on having at least avoided the obvious and pathetic choice of JackDaniels. The pounding resumed and Daniel stumbled myopically to his front door. He cracked the door to the sight of a neatly dressed 20-something kid who was smiling much too brightly for a B.C. Daniel. And speaking of B.C., Daniel was fairly certain he smelled his favorite beverage.
"Coffee," Daniel said in a voice still husky with sleep. The young man blinked then resumed his cheerful demeanor.
"Coffee and more, sir. A complete breakfast."
"And why is.'Tom'.standing here at my door with a complete breakfast?" Daniel asked, staring at Tom's nametag as if it contained some crucial bit of information.
"Special delivery," the young man said. "You are Dr. Jackson, aren't you?"
"As far as I know," Daniel answered, taking it on faith that he hadn't been snaked or otherwise interfered with while inebriated. The delivery man's smile dimmed slightly. Seeing the man's puzzled expression, Daniel's innate politeness finally kicked in. "Sorry, I, uh, I was still asleep when you knocked. Um, what is this all about?"
"It's for your birthday," Tom replied with a questioning nod. Daniel stepped back and allowed the delivery man to enter. Tom quickly set up the breakfast on Daniel's table, while Daniel watched with a bemused expression. The young man stepped aside with an expectant smile. Daniel stared at the huge omelet, sausage, toast, juice, and, if Daniel wasn't mistaken, an honest to goodness, never been near a freezer, waffle. With blueberries.
"Who is it from?" Daniel asked, genuinely at a loss.
"I don't have that information, sir. Maybe this will help." Tom turned and dug into one of his bags.
"Lose the sir," Daniel muttered, wincing as he heard an echo of Jack in his words. His eyes widened as he was handed an elegantly wrapped gift.
"Enjoy your day, Dr. Jackson." Daniel nodded and muttered a thank-you but was otherwise essentially oblivious to the man's departure. The gift was about the size of a briefcase and fairly heavy. He was intensely curious and ready to tear it open when his eyes fell on the breakfast. He didn't want the food to get cold but, well, the present was intriguing. Daniel allowed himself a smile of delight as he weighed his two enticing options.
"Okay, Jackson, what do you say we go with delayed gratification again? Since we're on such a roll with it," he muttered to himself mockingly. Decision made he wasted no time in devouring the breakfast, the hearty food and near toxic-strength coffee knocking his incipient hangover on its back. As soon as he'd satisfied the needs of his body, he immediately returned to the present. He carefully undid the ribbon and then slid his fingers under the edge of the paper to loosen the tape. A quick, sharp pang of loss stabbed him as he remembered how his methodical way of opening gifts had always annoyed Jack beyond all reason. Daniel shook himself briskly and finished removing the wrapping.
"Wow," he breathed, running his hands over a beautifully carved wooden case. Unable to resist any longer he opened the case and let out a disbelieving whistle. Inside were art supplies: watercolor paints and pastels. He touched them with an expression of puzzled wonder on his face. Only a handful of people knew of his artistic leaning. He indulged himself with high quality colored pencils and charcoals because he used them in his work but it had been years since he'd drawn or painted anything purely for pleasure. The supplies in the case were a good basic palette of colors, and definitely excellent quality materials.
Bewildered, Daniel closed the lid and again ran his hand across the surface of the dark oak case. In the center was an intricate celtic knot. Daniel could see and touch the small imperfections that marked it as being hand carved, the small imperfections that, in Daniel's opinion, made it perfect. And he was absolutely baffled as to who would give him such an expensive and thoughtful gift. Sam had presented him with her gift at dinner the night before, as had Teal'c. Janet and Cassie had dropped their gift by before leaving on Cassie's school trip. Daniel smiled briefly at the thought of Major Doctor Fraiser chaperoning a group of hormonally imbalanced teens. He shook his head, grateful he wasn't there and hoping someone was taking lots of pictures. Returning to the riddle at hand he thought of the only two other people who regularly acknowledged his birthday. Catherine and Ernest had sent their usual card containing a gift certificate for Daniel's favorite bookstore. Daniel shook his head. Those were the only people who could be relied on to remember his birthday and they were all accounted for.
Daniel was startled from his reverie at the sound of staccato raps on his door. After showering and attending to other intrusive bits of real life throughout the morning, Daniel had returned to puzzling over the anonymous gift giver as he examined the case and its contents more closely. At a second barrage of knocks, he closed the case and hustled to the door. "Jack?"
"Hey, Daniel," Jack said casually. He waited a second as Daniel stared at him in surprise. "Can I come in?"
"Um.sure." Daniel closed the door and followed Jack into the living room. He turned to busy himself at the table, acutely aware of Jack moving in the room behind him. "Did you need something?" Jack grimaced slightly.
"No. Just wanted to stop and wish you happy birthday," he said. "Especially since I couldn't make dinner last night. So, get any goodies?"
"A few," Daniel admitted. "The weird thing is someone sent me breakfast and.." The clues suddenly clicked. Daniel whirled around, a stunned look on his face. "It was you."
"Me what?" Jack asked casually as he flopped down on Daniel's couch.
"You sent the breakfast. You're always complaining that I don't 'fuel up' in the morning," Daniel explained.
"I'm not the only one," Jack said with a shrug. Daniel stared at the case. The celtic design made perfect sense now. And Jack was one of the handful of people who knew of Daniel's artistic inclinations.
"It was you," Daniel said firmly, confident he was right. He just couldn't understand why Jack would go to such lengths to please him.
"Daniel," Jack protested lazily.
"What do you mean why?" Jack asked sharply, dropping the pretense that he wasn't responsible.
"Well, if this is a gesture from a boss or colleague," Daniel said slowly, thinking aloud. "Then.then it's not.it doesn't mean as much." Daniel knew Jack could be a thoughtful and generous man but he didn't want anything from Jack that could be classified as obligatory. Daniel stroked his fingers absently yet longingly over the engraved case. The few hours of surprise and pleasure he'd taken from the gift would be lost if it was the result of a gesture without emotion.
"Can't it be a gesture from a friend?" Jack asked.
"We're not exactly friends anymore, Jack," Daniel said softly.
"Daniel, we've always been friends. We were friends first and we'll be friends at the last," Jack said firmly.
"We were friends," said Daniel, agreeing with Jack on that much at least. "That was the foundation. It's what allowed us to be both lovers and colleagues. Our friendship prevented one part of our relationship from interfering with the other part." Daniel sank into a chair and stared out toward the balcony doors. "But it's gone now. What we have is at best a barely civil working relationship. There's no love and no friendship.and no way to get it back."
"Damn it, Daniel," Jack said with quiet frustration.
"There's no foundation, Jack," Daniel said, looking Jack squarely in the eye. "None. You walked away, moved on. I'm.I'm working on it." Daniel gestured angrily at the case lying on the table. "So why this? Why now?"
"Because.." Jack said obviously struggling for words.
"I don't want it," Daniel said flatly. "I don't want or need your condescension or pity."
"Damn it, Daniel," Jack said more forcefully. "I just wanted to do something nice. Something that would make you happy. Is that such a crime?"
"Happy?" Daniel said with a snort of disbelief. "You want to make me happy, Jack? Then explain to me why you walked away."
"I told you," Jack snapped.
"All you said was that it was a bad idea," Daniel countered.
"And I was right!" Jack retorted. "How bad do you think it would have looked if I'd been thinking about you when we went through the great tokra mind fuck?"
"Maybe as bad as it felt to find out-from a passing airman-that you were hot for Sam," Daniel spit back.
"You weren't supposed to ever hear that," Jack said with genuine regret. "It wasn't supposed to leave the room."
"Well, it did. You should've known it would. The base is one huge rumor mill."
"What?" asked Daniel.
"Daniel, people were already making suggestive comments about us," Jack explained. "It was only a matter of time before someone knew something, said something that we couldn't afford to have get out." Jack took a deep breath. "And for the record, there was never anything between me and Carter. Never would be. She's my second in command and a good friend-end of story."
"So, you just used her to fuel a few erotic fantasies to prove to the Air Force that you're macho stud?" Daniel asked cuttingly.
"No. Maybe. I suppose it was something like that," Jack admitted reluctantly.
"That's truly despicable," Daniel said with quiet fury. "Instead of just fucking me over you fucked us both over. Although apparently I was the only one lucky-or unlucky-enough to get fucked literally."
"Daniel!" Jack yelled. "I didn't do it deliberately. I didn't choose to fall in love with you." Daniel closed his eyes, pained by the words. "Or.or out of love with you. And Carter.well, that wasn't intentional either," Jack added wearily. "And yes, I put my career first every time. Look, you want to say I've got my priorities screwed up. That I'm a lousy excuse for a human being. Go ahead," Jack said. "God knows you're usually right about those things. I probably am an asshole. But I never intended to hurt you and I am sorry about that."
"'Sorry' just about sums it up," Daniel said cuttingly.
"Daniel, you need to get over it and move on."
"I admit I'm not over it.you, but I have moved on." Daniel took a guilty pleasure in the pained expression that flickered across Jack's face. Personally, Daniel didn't consider a couple of what were basically one night stands as 'moving on' but he was only willing to be just so honest with Jack right now.
"Good, that's good," Jack said woodenly.
"No, it's not!" Daniel snapped. "It's.it's.. You know it would be a whole lot easier if you would stop giving me these mixed signals."
"I'm not!" Jack protested.
"You are," Daniel said firmly. "One minute you're joking with me, the next you're telling me to shut up. And this," Daniel added, waving his arm. "You might, just might, be able to explain the present as a friendly gesture but the breakfast? No, that's the kind of thing you do for a lover."
"Daniel, you're reading way too much into this," Jack replied in a warning tone.
"I don't think so," Daniel said, standing and facing Jack with more confidence than he felt. "I think you still love me. At least a little."
"I don't," Jack said coldly. "Sometimes I like to do something nice for someone. If I had known you would misinterpret it I would never have done it." Daniel forced himself to continue meeting Jack's gaze even as he felt the chasm between them widen further and Jack move undeniably beyond his reach.
"I think you should go," Daniel said dully, trying to convince himself that this was not a new loss, that Jack had moved out of his reach long ago.
"Go, Jack. And take this," he said, holding out the case. For a moment Jack looked as if he wanted to argue, but then he simply took the case with a stiff nod. "I'm going off world with SG-5 tomorrow. When we get back I'll ask Hammond for a permanent transfer."
"You don't have to do that," Jack said quickly.
"I really think I do," Daniel refuted. Jack was right about one thing. Daniel needed to move on and he couldn't do that as long as he and Jack still spent half their time in practically in each other's pockets.
"Whatever you want," Jack answered after a moment's silence.
"Fat chance," Daniel said sarcastically as he heard the apartment door close behind Jack. "If I ever got what I wanted I'd probably drop dead from the shock." He sighed deeply and moved to the balcony. He watched as a butterfly landed lightly on the rail. "Life's a bitch," he informed it. The butterfly rose up and hovered before Daniel's face. He stared bemusedly at the unusually colored insect. "I don't remember seeing you before. Come here often?" The butterfly seemed to jump back and then fluttered away. "Nah, I didn't think so," Daniel said philosophically. Grasping the rail firmly and staring blindly into the distance he asked himself "What now?" He wasn't terribly surprised when no answer was forthcoming.
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