|with all our sun-bleached history
Follows Valentine The Destroyer by nine months.
Nine months later, and Daniel still has fourteen cans of Campbell's chicken noodle soup in his kitchen cupboards and Cameron Everett Mitchell in his bed. Daniel knows that Cam's middle name comes from an old N.C. State basketball coach that his father admired. He knows that Cameron sleeps on his stomach when he's worried about something, and he knows that he still mostly calls Cam "Mitchell" in his head, even when he's thinking about Cameron fondly.
There's more pieces that he can count, and Daniel doesn't have half a clue how to put them together. There's a bigger picture, and Daniel can't step back far enough to see it.
He thinks he's missing something, something essential to understanding Mitchell, understanding this thing they've got, but Daniel's a little afraid to find out what he's missing. It's tentative, this happiness, and he doesn't want to upset it. Daniel's almost as happy as he knows how to be, and when Daniel rolls over in bed, Mitchell mumbles in his sleep and throws an arm across Daniel's stomach.
They've spent the summer in some kind of quiet domesticity, filling in the holes that Vala left. Daniel thinks that life is like building sand castles; you can find something sturdy, something safe, but only until the next waves sweeps your foundations away.
He's never gotten over always expecting that next wave, every time he's almost happy, because it's always washed his life away, but with Mitchell -- it never seems to come.
With Sam standing next to Daniel in the gate room, SG-1 -- Daniel, Mitchell, Sam (again, back from Area 51 for a year; and Daniel knows that Mitchell was not, is not, the only one in the Mountain who thinks that the original and revival SG-1 teams are heroes. Their current scientist, whose name Daniel can never remember because she isn't Sam, and she isn't Simmons, who'd been there when Vala left them and had stepped down immediately when Sam's transfer orders came through to Landry; as though it wasn't even a question) and a skinny, smart-mouthed Marine named Keeley -- almost feels like SG-1 again.
Cameron says, "It's raining on the MALP," so plaintive that Daniel turns and smirks at him, knowing that there's amusement and affection written all over his face. Cameron snorts, and smirks back at Daniel. Daniel thinks, soup, and long cool nights on Jack's roof, and taking Vala dancing in Denver.
All different kinds of affection -- all different definitions for home.
Daniel says, "You've been complaining about the heat for days."
"Just because the weather here sucks," Cam says, "does not mean it can suck off-world, too."
"Congratulations, Mitchell," Sam says, fiddling with one of her things -- the whole scene feels familiar to Daniel, because Sam is playing with something electronic that Daniel doesn't know the name for, and because someone (Jack or Cameron, they both complain the same way) is complaining about the weather. "You have, after only three years as CO of SG-1, managed to sound exactly like General O'Neill did whenever we went to a planet with trees. Sgt. Harriman will be waiting with a plaque when we get back."
"Planets with trees," Daniel says. "Or rocks, or water, or weather or any variety. Or indigenous peoples, or technology, or bugs for dinner, or outdoor toilets, or no ESPN, or Goa'uld -- "
"Hey, we all complained about those planets," Sam said. "The planets with Goa'uld were designated complainers. General O'Neill just expected that we ran while we complained."
"Well, he knew all about running while complaining," Daniel says sarcastically, and Sam giggles.
Cameron taps his fingers on his P-90 and says, "It's just like old times around here this week."
Daniel can't tell what he means by that -- it sounds halfway between pleased and disappointed, and Mitchell's flipped his sunglasses down so his eyes are inscrutable. Maybe it was the bracelet link, always hanging on underneath their skin, but Daniel had always known what Vala was feeling, but only on the deepest level -- fear, or pleasure, or surprise.
Cameron is easier to read. His face gives everything away, and if Daniel can see Cameron's eyes, he knows immediately what Cameron needs -- what he wants -- all the stupid day to day stuff that people who have relationships, which Daniel supposes after nine months he and Mitchell do, deal with. Mitchell only puts his sunglasses on in the gate room -- and it's raining on P9V-N7A, so he doesn't need them -- when he doesn't want Daniel to see something.
Nine months without Vala, and three years stepping through the gate with Cameron, and Cam is still more of a blank page to Daniel than Vala ever was, except when he isn't.
Daniel claps Cameron's shoulder briefly when he steps past Cam on the ramp, and something makes him turn a couple of steps later, looking back at Cameron. Cam's watching Daniel over the tops of his sunglasses, a gesture that's so familiarly Jack that Daniel smiles without thinking about it, and Cam winks at Daniel before clanging a boot down onto the ramp. "All right, troops," Cameron says, "let's get this show on the road."
It's raining buckets when they step through the gate onto N7A, but the UAV showed a significantly large, well-developed village less than a klick from the gate, and Landry -- like Hammond before him -- said that a little rain never hurt anybody. Jack always said that what if he was really the Wicked Witch of the West, and he melted when we stepped through into the rain, Daniel thinks while he's pulling his hat farther over his ears and trying to keep the rain from dripping farther down his collar.
Hammond had always said, You have a go, Colonel, as though he hadn't heard anything, and Sam always muttered that it'd be a good riddance, and Daniel had always tried to hide his smile. Jack never melted, and SG-1 had survived worse weather than this.
"This place is officially a shithole," Mitchell mutters. "Carter, you've got point. And walk fast, okay?"
Daniel falls in beside Mitchell and Keeley falls back to their six. It's August in Colorado and a heat wave had settled over the Springs the week before they left for N7A -- the kind of arid heat that Daniel has always associated with deserts, with places that he almost thought were home. SG-1 had been on stand down for the week, before Sam's first mission back on the team, and Daniel could have managed some work at the Mountain.
He hadn't -- when they'd debriefed after the last mission they'd gone on with the scientist whose name Daniel can't remember, he'd packed up a week's worth of work, told General Landry that he'd be available on both his phones if anyone needed him, and signed out of the Mountain without telling Cameron, or Sam, or anyone in his department, that he was going.
He was on his balcony an hour and a half later, shirt off, heat sinking into his skin like a kiss, when his front door opened and Cameron stomped in. "It's hotter'n fuck," Cam had said.
Daniel said, without turning, "You're from North Carolina. That's humid heat."
"Not up in the mountains," Cam said. He sank down into Daniel's other chair and passed Daniel a beer. "It gets hot during the day, but not as hot as the Piedmont or the coast, and it cools down at night. I never got used to summer in Raleigh, but Colorado has always felt more like home to me."
Daniel turned at that -- Cameron had his eyes closed, not even looking at Daniel, and Daniel hadn't said anything about the heat to anyone. Jack had always known that Daniel preferred the deserts to the lush forests and snowy mountains that they found off-world, because Jack had seen Daniel on Abydos. Jack had seen the way that Daniel sank into the heat there like a cat in sunshine, and Jack had recognized that as Daniel coming home.
Daniel knew that was why Jack left him there; Jack knew that Daniel would be okay. It was hot, therefore Daniel would be okay. It was a simple explanation, it was a Jack explanation, but Daniel always understood why Jack had drawn the conclusion.
Mitchell has never given any indication that he has noticed anything about Daniel on that level. Not that Daniel minded -- no one he'd ever met had known him as well as Jack knew him, and no one had ever looked at Daniel and taken his full measure as fast as Jack had. There were times when Jack hadn't liked the measure he'd taken of Daniel, but he always knew Daniel better than anyone.
Daniel doesn't mind that Mitchell doesn't know him that well; that Mitchell doesn't seem to care to. The things he gets from Mitchell -- the things he needs from Mitchell -- are different than the things he needed from Jack. The things he needed from Sha're. The things he needed from Vala.
"I was just thinking that this felt like home," Daniel said, and Mitchell cracked open an eye and took a long pull on his beer.
"Egypt," Daniel said. "Abydos."
Jack had always known, Mitchell had never noticed, and Vala had never really cared.
Vala had never wanted to talk about feelings. Needs, yes -- memories, no. He never thought of it as her lying to him, but half of Vala's stories were true and he never knew which half. Mitchell wasn't forthcoming about his feelings or his history, but they cropped up at the oddest moments and whenever Cameron said something about his past, Daniel knew it was true.
"Desert heat," Cameron said. "I never got used to that, either. It's drier here than Carolina, but it's wetter than the desert."
"Afghanistan," Daniel said.
"I'd rather talk about the mountains," Cameron said, and Daniel had set his translations down on the balcony and kissed Cameron, forgetting that they were in public, broad daylight, for a moment. "Hey," Cam said. "It's too hot to do that."
"It's never too hot," Daniel had said, and then he'd taken Cameron to bed and proven that fact. They spent the week in bed, sweaty and sated, and traded stories about ex-girlfriends. Daniel had felt entirely normal for the first time since Vala had left -- he couldn't see the cracks in his heart even when he tried -- and Cameron had laughed a lot.
Mitchell always laughs a lot -- a ready smile that almost always reaches his eyes. He's the first to make a joke, like Jack always was, and the first to laugh at himself when he does something dumb, like Jack never was. Daniel can't help but compare Mitchell to Jack, even though it's been three years -- he doesn't mean to, but it's the nature of his brain. He looks for similarities between cultures, between texts, between the people on one planet and the people of another planet. That's his job, it's what he does.
He has a hard time turning that off, and when Mitchell laughs, sometimes Daniel follows the sound and looks for Jack.
Jack and Mitchell are more alike than they're different. Some days that bothers Daniel; most of the time, it's comforting.
Mitchell is everything Daniel needs right now. He's stable and funny, smart and careful and kind. He lets Daniel push him until Daniel pushes too hard, and then Mitchell pushes back. They're well-balanced, keeping each other in a rational orbit, and Daniel leans on Mitchell more than he ever thought he would -- more than he'd really like to admit.
Mitchell leans back, though, and they keep each other upright.
Just like he always did for Jack, and Jack did for him. Synergistic relationships -- give and take. The kind he never had before they opened the 'gate -- the kind he'd always wanted.
Mitchell is a rock in his life, and Daniel tries not to take it for granted.
It's raining on this damn planet, though, and they're all already soaked to the bone by the time they reach the city. After six days of heat so dry that it choked you, the rain feels awful to Daniel, colder than it probably really is. He shudders a little as they squelch up to the edge of the city, and Mitchell -- who's taken his sunglasses off and is, by Daniel's estimation, looking entirely miserable -- slaps a hand against Daniel's shoulders, wiping a trail of rain from Daniel's collar with his thumb.
Daniel leans into Cameron's touch, just barely, Cam's fingers warm against his freezing neck, and someone steps out of the nearest house to look at them.
Daniel's dropped his head so he can wipe the rain off his glasses and sees the movement out of the corner of his eye, but Cameron's fingers tighten on Daniel's neck before Daniel can look up. When he slides his glasses on again, there's already rain streaming down them and he squints to see. Through the sheets of water, he almost thinks the striking, dark haired woman is Vala.
He's seen her on a dozen planets since she left -- glimpses through crowds, and shadows behind trees. It's never been her. It sometimes even hasn't been a person. Shadows and ghosts, at the corners of Daniel's eye. Cameron hasn't said anything about it, but he's watched Daniel jump at the phantoms, his gaze always level and carefully assessing, and afterwards, he always took Daniel home and took him to bed. Those days Mitchell touched him cautiously, hands gentle and firm against Daniel's skin, and Daniel feels everything that Mitchell never says to him in that touch.
The woman says, "Hello, Daniel."
Mitchell says, "What, no hello for me?"
Daniel sits down in the mud, hard.
He's been stepping through the gate for almost fifteen years, now -- not always with SG-1, but if you count back to the very first time that he and Jack stumbled onto Abydos. Jack says that he stopped being surprised by anything when he saw his first System Lord; Jack says that Daniel has never stopped being surprised. If anything, Jack had said the last time he was in Colorado Springs, four months earlier, you've just been more surprised lately.
The more Daniel sees in the galaxy, the more he knows there is to see. It will never be boring, stepping through the stargate, because he expects nothing. He expects nothing, and the galaxy gives him everything.
The galaxy takes everything away, as well. Daniel doesn't keep a list, a tally of things he's lost and things he's gained. There isn't any purpose to it -- there's no set of scales that measures the worth of any life.
He keeps his eyes wide so he misses nothing. He waits for the surprises, the things that make the galaxy worth marveling at.
Mitchell was a surprise -- Mitchell is a surprise, every day. He keeps Daniel from sinking into passivity, from losing himself in the tedium of life. He reminds Daniel to look for the surprises in the world.
He keeps Daniel standing when the surprises punch Daniel in the gut.
Daniel is very, very surprised to see Vala, and then again, he isn't at all. He stepped through the gate and got a surprise, that's not surprising at all -- that it's Vala is even less surprising. She'd disappeared on her own terms, and she's smiling at him now, so he can only guess that her reappearance was equally her own.
"Hello, Cameron," Vala says. "Sam. Get him out of the mud and come in."
When Jack was in the Springs four months ago, he'd stayed with Daniel -- the first time he'd stayed with Daniel since he'd left. Jack stared at all the soup in Daniel's cabinets and said, "What the hell is Mitchell doing with you?"
"Cameron's not doing anything with me," Daniel had said mildly.
Jack snorted and held out a can. Daniel was sitting at the kitchen table reading the most recent Carl Hiaasen book, and Jack slammed the can down in front of him. "Do you know how much processed crap is in condensed soup?"
Daniel snorted and said, "Jack, you lived on the stuff for almost 10 years."
"Yeah, well," Jack said gruffly. "I didn't take very good care of you either."
Daniel rolled his eyes and Jack put the soup back in the cabinet. He leaned against the sink and trained that look on Daniel, the look that Daniel knew meant you're not telling me something.
"Are you happy?" Jack said.
"That's always been a stupid question," Daniel said.
"Daniel," Jack said.
"Jack," Daniel said.
"It's not a stupid question," Jack said. "I'm getting old. You're getting old. Everybody's getting old, and I think we've earned a little happiness."
"Earning has nothing to do with it," Daniel said.
Jack snorted. "Earning has everything to do with it," he said. "They pay you plenty, and you live in a big apartment that you've hardly slept in the whole time you've had it, and you have a cabinet full of soup."
Daniel said, "It keeps coming back to soup."
"Is soup a metaphor for something?"
"I can't believe we're having this conversation," Daniel said. "This is a very good book, Jack, and you're distracting me from it. I don't have a lot of opinions about soup."
"Are you happy, Daniel?"
"Yes," Daniel said. "As well as I can be."
"The losses add up," Jack said.
"Karmic balance," Daniel said, and Jack smiled, a tiny smile. Daniel didn't know why he'd said it -- he'd never thought of everything he'd lost as things he was owed.
Jack drummed his knuckles against the counter and said, "Something like that."
"I'm happy enough," Daniel said. "That's the best anyone can do."
Jack smiled at him again, and said, "You deserve better than that."
"Everybody does," Daniel said.
"You more than most."
"No more than anyone else." Jack rolled his eyes and circled the kitchen, squeezing the back of Daniel's neck as he passed, and opened the fridge. He made himself a sandwich and sat across the table from Daniel, eating noisily, and Daniel thought, my life is as peaceful as I can hope.
The house that Vala takes them to is small and clean, but not nearly warm enough -- the rain has soaked all the way through to his skin and Daniel is freezing. Vala doesn't stare; she watches Cameron, she watches Sam, she watches the new Marine, but she doesn't look at Daniel. "There's nothing here that you want," she says to Sam. "It all looks advanced, but it's design, not function. None of it does anything."
"And you would know?" Sam says. There's a challenge in her voice, and Daniel can't tell if it's for him, for Vala's disappearing act, or if it's just Sam, so certain that she knows more than everyone else -- so often knowing more than everyone else. Daniel wouldn't bet on a guess, but he thinks it's a little of both.
"I know what's worth stealing," Vala teases back, and out of the corner of his eye, Daniel can see Mitchell studiously not watching Daniel. Cam has one hand on his P-90 and he's watching Vala carefully, though Daniel's spent enough time being covertly monitored by Air Force colonels that he knows Cameron's aware of every movement Daniel's made since they walked through the gate. (Daniel has spent enough time doing almost everything -- nothing new happens anymore. They say there's only seven stories in the whole world, and SG-1 has lived them all a hundred times over. It's the same old thing, every time, and somehow, it's comforting that the strangest situations aren't actually anything they haven't survived before.)
It's not suspicion on Cameron's face, but it's not affection for Vala, either.
"But they're interesting," Vala says cheerfully. She isn't looking at Daniel, so he looks at her, taking the measure of her absence. She's thinner, and she's damp around the edges, of course, from the rain, but she looks like Vala, the Vala he loved. Cheerful in the face of surprise and routine alike; tactless, rude and needy. Vala always loved surprises; she had no interest in a world that didn't have surprises. Daniel thinks that she's the one who taught him how to be surprised again; Vala always wanted to fly, wanted to see everything the galaxy had to offer. She wanted bombshells; Daniel wanted routine. She disappeared, and he has tried to fill her void with wonder of his own. "They're useless, but interesting, so you should stay the night."
She pours tea -- he's never seen Vala cook anything -- and slides into a chair across from Cameron at the table. "Well now," she says. "Isn't this a nice reunion. Didn't anyone call Teal'c? Or General O'Neill?"
Jack had treated Vala like Mitchell always did -- a live bomb to be handled with care. He only met her a handful of times, and Jack had worn the expression he saved for things that were funny and freakish at the same time. They'd been sitting in Mitchell's backyard, the week after they'd gotten her back from Athena's meddling sans a few stray memories, and Jack had been in town for something that Daniel suspected was really just needing to check up on Daniel.
He'd told Jack what he'd found in Vala, after the first time he'd taken her home. Jack snorted on the phone and made a joke about Daniel's predilection for women from other planets -- "Earth girls not good enough for you, Daniel?" -- but Daniel had heard the warmth in Jack's voice when Jack said it.
And Jack had come to Colorado after they'd almost lost Vala, to Athena, because Jack had picked Daniel up from the ground when he'd lost Sha're, and because Jack thought it was his job to keep Daniel from crumpling to the ground.
He and Vala had been feeling out their tentative relationship, and she had sprawled face down across Daniel's lap like a cat. Jack had smiled at Daniel across Vala and nodded, just a little. Daniel had taken it to mean, you got yourself another live one, huh? and yeah, okay, don't make me say it, I'm happy for you -- he'd known Jack long enough to know what Jack's emotive twitches meant.
Jack had twitched his head toward Mitchell, after that. Mitchell was telling some story about his grandmother, or maybe one of his aunts, and Sam was laughing her head off at something he'd just said. Daniel ran his fingers through Vala's hair and shrugged at Jack, who'd rolled his eyes at Daniel and interrupted Mitchell's story by flinging a tomato slice at Sam's face.
Vala had rolled over, then, and smiled up at Daniel before stretching and shimmying so that she showed off even more cleavage, and Daniel hadn't realized that Jack was asking if Mitchell was taking okay care of Jack's team until weeks later. Weeks later after he and Vala had seduced Mitchell, with no malice aforethought, even, into their bed -- weeks later after he'd realized that Vala was trying to push Daniel and Cameron together.
Well, Daniel had thought when he'd realized what Jack had meant, he is, after a fashion. He'd thought that and then Cameron had rolled over and mumbled, "Quit thinking so loud, Jackson, you're drowning out my snoring," before pressing his face against Daniel's ribs.
The next time Jack came back, Vala was already gone and Cam was taking a different kind of care of Daniel.
(He doesn't know why he's thinking of Jack, today, this week -- Jack calls every Sunday night and half the time Daniel's still at the Mountain (back at the Mountain, off-world, passed out in the infirmary) so he comes home on Monday (Tuesday, Friday, the Wednesday after that) and finds ten minutes' worth of messages from Jack broken up into 90 second segments. Mostly they're about hockey and fish, and Daniel has to listen carefully between the lines to hear what Jack's really telling him. Jack never disappeared fully, and they'd made their own peace about the promotion to Washington years ago.
Mitchell's keeping an eye on him, and Daniel doesn't mind that, and it still doesn't surprise him that he's willing to let Mitchell care like that; they went to a planet from the Abydos cartouche and found Vala. He keeps thinking about Jack.
He keeps thinking about Jack because Jack took him home the night they lost Sha're, and when Vala left, Mitchell is the one who stood next to Daniel and held him up.)
Daniel can't tell if she looks happy or not, and the fact that he can't read anything on her face other than false cheer scares him. "I need some fresh air," he says, and stands up abruptly, showering mud down onto the clean floor of Vala's apparent home.
Sam says, "Daniel, it's raining," but he's already halfway out the door.
It's still raining and it's still cold, but just standing outside makes him feel a little better, a little more normal. The door opens and shuts behind him, and he knows it's Mitchell before Mitchell says, "Jackson, you okay?"
Daniel thinks Mitchell never notices the details, except when Mitchell does.
Daniel says, "A little wet, but otherwise perfectly."
"Perfectly what?" Mitchell says, and when Daniel turns, Mitchell's got his hat pulled down to the tops of his sunglasses, which he's put back on.
"Perfectly okay, a little wet," Daniel says.
"You're going to have to ask the questions," Mitchell says quietly. The rain's slowing down, and Mitchell is hiding behind his sunglasses. "I don't -- it's your call, okay? Whatever you want to do, it's your call."
Daniel gets the feeling that Cameron's talking about a lot more than just asking Vala if she's coming back to Earth or not, a lot more than the logistical CO concerns of finding an ex-team member (an ex-girlfriend) on a raining planet. "I think the rain's stopping," Daniel says.
Cam snorts down a laugh and tilts his face up to the sky. The rain slides down his sunglasses, catches in the hollow of his throat, and Daniel stares, because he can't help it. Vala left Daniel and she left him Cameron as a consolation prize -- that's what you are, Daniel said to Cam one night a month after she left, when they were fighting about something, and Cam had just laughed and said, semantics, Jackson, and they hadn't talked about it anymore -- but the thing is that Cam was right. Semantics, definitions: consolation prize because Daniel had needed someone to console him, not because Cameron was second best to anyone.
Nine months and what Daniel knows is that he doesn't know what he wants to ask Vala, and sometimes he can't remember not having Mitchell sprawled out in his life, taking up too much room and never apologizing for it.
Cam says, "You always talk about the weather when you don't want to talk about whatever it is that's being talked about."
"I didn't know you were paying that much attention," Daniel says dryly. It comes out sounding a little mean and he immediately regrets it.
He didn't think that Cam was paying that much attention; the fact that he is makes Daniel's heart twist against his chest.
"Yeah, well," Cam says, sounding hurt, and he peers at Daniel over the tops of his sunglasses again. It's a stupid gesture that drove Daniel nuts when Jack had done it, when Sam does it, but Cameron is standing in the rain with Daniel, and it's Cam's way of saying that he's sorry -- Cam's freaked out about something, which is what the sunglasses are supposed to hide, but he's been paying attention to Daniel for the last couple of years, and despite the freak out, whatever it's about, Cam is doing his best to look Daniel in the eye.
Which counts for a lot, in Daniel's book.
Cam says, "I don't know what you want to know, or I'd already have asked everything until she coughed up a good reason for ripping your heart out." He says it casually, pushes his sunglasses back up on his nose, and jerks his head toward Vala's house.
Cameron knows that he was Daniel's second choice. He isn't now, because Daniel didn't have to stay -- didn't have to ask Cam to stay. He knows that Daniel walked wounded for weeks after she left. Cameron stayed anyway, and he was never anyone but himself. Cameron could have tried to be someone else, someone more like Vala, someone more like what it seemed to the world that Daniel wanted, and he didn't.
That's as much why Daniel's kept Cameron as anything else -- there's no artifice with Mitchell, what Daniel sees is what he gets, and Daniel welcomes that because it's easy, and it's normal. No games to be played -- they are what they are, and so far, they have managed to make things work.
Cameron is a fascinating anthropological experiment -- if Daniel was prone to thinking about his various lovers and partners and friends like that, which he tries not to be. (Jack broke him of the habit; there's such a thing as too much psycho-analysis of other people, Danny, stop looking at me like I'm a puzzle you can solve -- and Jack was right, Daniel has never quite solved Jack O'Neill, and Daniel preferred it that way. Almost 15 years, and Jack is still occasionally a surprise. It's a comforting truth by this point in Daniel's life: Jack is predictable, except when he's not.)
Daniel likes Cameron's company, because he's a smart guy, and curious, and with a cheerfully twisted sense of humor. He likes Cam because Cam is gorgeous, and he smiles easily, and he routinely asks stupid questions when they're off-world just to watch Daniel's head spin.
Cameron says, hand on the doorknob of Vala's little house, "What do you want to know?"
"More than I can ask," Daniel says. "Why. Why then. Why me, why you. Why us. Why here. Did she know we were coming, or is my luck really just still that shitty, even after 10 years of abysmally shitty luck? Is she coming home? Do I want her to come home? Do -- do you and I want her to come home?"
Lightning flashes above their heads like a camera going off, and the thunder crashes around them almost immediately on its heels. Mitchell squints at Daniel over his sunglasses. He says, "Are you asking me?"
Daniel shrugs. It's raining harder, now, and Cameron doesn't blink -- it's like he doesn't even notice the water coming down on his head. Daniel thinks that this is the best thing he's learned about Cam Mitchell in the last three years, that Cam is easy-going to the point of being almost too easy-going. Mitchell only asks questions when he really wants to know the answer, whatever the answer is -- otherwise he's content to stand in the rain, if he has to, because that's just how it is.
Cam only asks questions when he wants to know the answer, and Daniel doesn't know the answer to the question Cam's just asked.
"Is this one of those things that we don't talk about because we're guys?" Mitchell says.
Daniel can't stop himself from smiling. "No," he says. "We don't talk about how we don't talk about stuff because we're guys. We don't talk about this because -- "
He doesn't know why they haven't talked about Vala since she's been gone, or about this thing she's tangled them in. Daniel has spent nine months, the cold of the winter and the baking heat of the summer, figuring out who Cam Mitchell really is, and what Cam Mitchell really needs from Daniel, and it's been complicated and intense and surprising -- maybe that's all Vala intended to do, pushing them together. Maybe all she intended to do was distract Daniel from her absence, from the hole she left in his life when she stepped out of it.
Mitchell's been an excellent distraction.
He's been a good friend. He's been a good partner.
Little by little, Daniel's fallen in love with Cameron, and Daniel's heart almost doesn't feel bruised anymore. It almost feels whole.
So quietly that Daniel almost misses it under the pounding sound of the rain, Cam says, "I'm not the one whose heart she broke."
They've talked about Cameron's childhood with his grandmother in the mountains of North Carolina, about the fact that Daniel would go back to Egypt in a split-second, without even thinking about the fact that he still thinks of Alexandria as home, if he could live anywhere in the world. Daniel knows Cam as well as he knows Sam or Teal'c, less well than he knows Jack, better than he ever knew Vala.
Cameron has never said that he loves Daniel; there have been no words of forever. Cameron's affection is as straightforward and honest as the fact that he's there, standing in Daniel's kitchen frying chicken, standing in the rain with Daniel while Daniel freaks out.
Here I am, I am here, I have not left, this means I care.
It's one of the things Daniel appreciates most about Cam -- one of the things he appreciated most about Jack. There isn't any need to say anything, or anything meaningful. The act of being there is enough for them. It says everything they want to say, and more.
Cam is quietly sturdy, quietly trustworthy, and he watches Daniel carefully with all that quiet.
The thing Daniel always forgets, though, is that Cam is sharply perceptive, underneath the easygoing, silent good ol' boy façade that he wears to keep people from looking too closely at him.
Coupled with the silent companionship that made Mitchell so easy to be with, Daniel knows that it's the perception that makes Mitchell interesting. Surprising.
"If you want to keep standing in the rain, Jackson, that's fine by me," Cam says. Daniel blinks out of his thoughts, and Cameron is standing less than a foot from Daniel. Water's dripping off his hat, and his collar, and the sunglasses perched on the end of his nose, but Cam's face is serious and he's looking straight at Daniel. "But did you notice that she's still wearing those leather pants?"
He leers at Daniel over his sunglasses, and then he takes them off and shoves them in his pocket and says, "You're the one who usually does the talking around here. This speechless act is kind of freaking me out, if it's appropriately grunt and scratch to say so."
It took four months of awkward phone conversations before he forgave Jack for leaving, before Daniel learned how to exist in his own life without Jack at his elbow nearly 24 hours a day. Some days he gets up and it's hard to even move because he still misses Sha're so desperately -- some days he gets up and he can't remember what his mother looked like.
Mitchell has never disappeared. Mitchell takes up a lot of space, in a normal way. He sprawls on the couch, he leaves his dirty clothes on the bathroom floor. He laughs loudly at stupid sitcoms on the television.
Daniel always knows he's there -- always knows where Mitchell is, when he isn't there.
Mitchell's surprising, and routine.
"People who leave stay gone," Daniel says.
Cam rolls his eyes and grabs Daniel's elbow. "You can be philosophical all you want as long as you do it somewhere dry."
Jack said that Daniel was a professional people-watcher. Drop Daniel anywhere and he'd be able to tell you fifty things about the people who passed him within ten minutes -- and Daniel had always thought that he could look at strangers and see their secrets, but he looked at the people he loved and he couldn't put them together into anything that made sense of the pieces.
He looks at Mitchell, dripping in the rain, and sees the whole picture for the first time: affection, worry, amused annoyance, written clear on Cameron's face as though Daniel had printed them there himself.
Vala isn't a stranger. Cameron, hand strong on Daniel's elbow, isn't a stranger, either. He walks through the front door of Vala's strange little house and thinks of Cam's hand on his elbow the day that Vala disappeared. Cameron's not a touchy-feely kind of guy and Daniel appreciates that, but Cameron's fingers feel like an anchor -- a port in a thunderstorm.
Sam and Keeley look up when they walk in. Vala's head stays down, her eyes trained on her tea cup. "Everything okay?" Sam says.
"Everything is wet," Mitchell says. "Jackson thought it was letting up, but then somebody dumped a swimming pool's worth of water down the back of my shirt, so either these people have really strange senses of humor and portable swimming pools, or it's still raining."
"Speaking of people," Sam says. "Vala, where is everyone else? There were quite a few people on what we got from the UAV. Did something happen?"
Vala smiles, genuinely pleased with herself, and says, "Me."
Daniel raises an eyebrow at her before he realizes what he's done, and she meets his eyes for the first time since they stumbled into a mud pit passing for a planet. She smirks, and he knows the expression, because it's a little sad and a lot cat-that-got-the-cream -- and it's sadder than the last time he saw her.
The questions he wants to ask are written strong in her sadness. I thought you were happy, were almost happy -- why weren't you? Why aren't you?
What could I have done to make you happy?
What could I have done to make you happy?
And he thinks, if she came back -- he would not be able to choose, between Vala's surprise and Cameron's steadiness, between Vala's excitement and Cam's reliability.
Or he would choose -- and he thinks, damp and cold and unsettled, that he would choose Mitchell. He would choose Cameron.
Mitchell hasn't left. He's taken up space in Daniel's life, noisy and messy, and he's stayed where he's moved in. Daniel couldn't move Mitchell out of his life if he wanted to, and watching Vala, missing Vala, wanting Vala, he realizes that he doesn't want to move Mitchell anywhere. Daniel's settled.
He's found someplace that he can stay -- someone who'll stay with him.
Daniel's found a million surprises on a hundred different planets, and a million more on Earth. He's found answers where he least expected them, and questions where he thought he'd find answers. When Vala left, and stayed gone, and it became clear that she wasn't coming back, he knew at the back of his mind that they'd stumble across her someday. If it wasn't SG-1 who found her, it would be another SG team.
The universe is a very small place for something so infinite, and Vala, Daniel thinks, is too lonely to stay lost forever.
He expected they'd find her holding court somewhere, crowned a princess or impersonating a goddess or stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Somewhere crowded, and noisy, and anonymous -- someplace that she could hide, if she wanted to, not that Vala ever wanted to hide. Someplace urban, metropolitan, highly developed.
All the photographs and video footage that they got on this planet can't explain why she's here, in a village Jack would have called a backwater dump. She has a house, and she has a teapot, and she's quieter, more still than Daniel's ever seen her.
He wants to ask her, why was I not the person -- why was I not home enough to make you stop moving?
"I happened," she says, straight to Daniel. "You can't imagine you sent a UAV over the town and I didn't know exactly where it had come from."
"You told the other people here to hide from us?" Mitchell says. "That's not how it's supposed to work."
"Cameron, I thought you'd be happy to see me," Vala says. "I just wanted you to myself for a little while," and she winks at Daniel. Vala is cheeky and irreverent to the end, even when her eyes are sad.
He can't stop watching her. He could never stop watching her. She'd been a train wreck, a hurricane, and she's so quiet in her little kitchen on this strange, faraway planet that if he blinked, he thinks he wouldn't recognize her.
"Everybody's happy to see you," Cameron says, and Daniel pulls his eyes from Vala to look at Cam, because Cam's voice is low and dangerous, poison underneath a layer of Mitchell's customary sweetness and light. "It's a real party. What on Earth are you doing here?"
Vala says, "I'm not doing anything on Earth."
"Clearly," Mitchell says.
The explanations -- the excuses -- are never as good as Daniel wants them to be. He casts a glance around the table, past Cam (angry, a little freaked out, a little curious) to Sam (very curious) to Keeley (blank in that way only Marines, and Teal'c, can pull off). Sam was still in Nevada when Vala left -- Daniel told her the story, in pieces, over several months, on the phone.
He missed Sam, and Jack, more in the weeks after Vala left than he had since they'd first been gone. He missed the comfort of friends who'd seen him lose everything he'd had -- Mitchell read the mission reports, and Mitchell listened to Daniel's stories, and Cameron wrapped his arms around Daniel and tried to hold the pieces together. Cam had held the pieces together, and Daniel had still wanted Sam and Jack and Teal'c quiet, long-standing comfort.
It seems -- seemed then, seems now -- a disservice to Cameron. He had done his best by Daniel, and his best had worked, and Daniel had wanted something else.
He wants nothing else now; he misses Sam, Jack, Teal'c, but Mitchell is enough, and Daniel recognizes that.
Mitchell is just as much at the center of anything with Vala as Daniel is, even if Mitchell doesn't seem to know it. Mitchell is the only one who could stand next to Daniel now and understand.
Daniel doesn't want any answers to questions he has, because they won't live up to the answers in his head -- or maybe they will, because it's entirely possible that the answers is I just didn't love you like you loved me, and he can't decide if hearing that truth would be better or worse than what he's been living with.
Before Vala, the truth of his losses has always been laid clear for him. This is a loss that has no truth. It only has a million strands of story that might be lies, and he cannot decide whether he prefers the stories to the facts.
"Sometimes a girl gets tired of being on the road," Vala says cheerfully, and if Cameron doesn't hear the false note in her voice, the tiny break after tired before she finishes the sentence, Daniel will eat his hat. "The others will come out now, if you want. There's a meeting hall at the end of this road, and if you walk down there, people will come and talk to you. I told them that. I told them that when you left my house, you would talk to them."
Daniel thinks, if you were tired of being on the road, why did you leave?
The silence that follows is awkward -- there's a conversation hanging in the air and it won't happen in front of Sam and Keeley, but the team is the important thing, here.
SG-1 has always been the most important thing, regardless of anything else, and Daniel tries to remember that, most days.
He can hear Jack in the back of his head (That's what you get for leaving a woman on every planet, Danny), and he wonders what Jack would have made of this. He wonders if Jack would have stayed steely calm and dangerously placid, like Cameron has, or if Jack would have exploded, ripped Vala for leaving Daniel a wreck, heartbroken, confused, and resigned.
Daniel can't compartmentalize his relationship with Jack into something that anyone else will understand -- Cam swerves between being awestruck and terrified of Jack -- but he doesn't think about Jack every day. He thinks about Jack when they have to eat something strange and potentially disgusting off-world, or when he stops and watches all of a hockey game just because it's there.
Jack permeated Daniel's every day life, and like brushing his teeth in the mornings and before bed, Jack is such a constant that he's become … habit.
Jack's the voice of conscience in the back of Daniel's head, and that thought is almost enough to make Daniel smile. Jack, the voice of conscience -- a thought that's so ridiculous but true that Daniel almost forgets where he is.
Relationships are hard: Daniel never has the words for them, because in some places love seems insufficient or hate is too strong and dislike is too weak. Vala was never constant; Cameron is slipping into tooth-brushing territory. Jack is still part of SG-1 even though he's been in Washington almost as long as Vala's been part of Daniel's life (but not a constant, never a constant -- Vala was never a fixed star that Daniel looked to for security).
Cam made him promise, when Daniel and Vala were still circling each other warily, that they would keep it from affecting the team. He made Daniel promise that it wouldn't affect the team, that things would be the same off-world as they'd been before. Daniel promised, and he and Vala tried.
And they managed to keep it out of the team, before things got complicated -- and after it was complicated, Cam was involved and everything was complicated, except for coffee in the mornings, the sports page in Daniel's newspaper that someone suddenly read, and Cam's quiet, charming affection. He didn't notice when things stopped being complicated, but they must have because until he saw Vala, he realizes that he had almost been happy, completely happy, for the first time in years.
He told Jack he was as happy as he could be, and Daniel thinks that he was happier than he'd knew it was possible for him to be.
He told Cam that he would keep it out of team business, and he hasn't managed. Cameron doesn't seem to care that Daniel failed on that promise. Cameron can't care -- or he cares too much. Daniel doesn't know which. Daniel doesn't want to know which.
They've kept the team together as well as they possibly could; when Sam decided to leave, Daniel thought that Cam might make noises about keeping the band together, and Cameron didn't. Cam's grown up in the last three years -- Daniel just feels like he's getting old.
There's a difference, and he needs Mitchell to remind him of it.
Sam and Keeley are looking awkward and Cam is still looking angry, and Vala is looking at Daniel and her face is too blank for him to read. "Okay," Cameron says, and his voice is startlingly loud in the silence. "Since otherwise we're all just going to sit here in silence until Jackson explodes, I'm going to pretend that I'm actually occasionally in charge of this team and give orders. Anybody got a problem with that?"
Sam hides a smile behind her hand. Keeley nods. Vala watches Daniel.
"Excellent," Cam says. "Carter, would you and Keeley take a little stroll down the street and talk to some of the nice people here? Jackson and I will catch up with you." He doesn't look at Daniel when he says it, because Daniel knows that Cam knows that Daniel would rather Cam not be there for this -- Daniel would rather have come home to an empty apartment and a note than for her to have slipped off on a mission. It's been years, and he is tired of desperately public losses. Daniel thinks that he has earned nothing if he has not earned privacy, by this point, but Daniel told Cameron, and not the other way around, that this was not just Daniel's problem.
"Sure," Sam says easily. "Keeley?"
Keeley stands up and says, cheerfully, "Vala."
Sam says, "Vala," and there's a threat encased in her voice, not hidden behind any sweetness at all.
It's no secret that everyone at SGC has long thought of SG-1 as a family -- they transcended team the first moment a Marine referred to them as heroes. Daniel never wanted to be a hero, to begin with. He wanted someone to listen to him, and then he wanted to get his wife back, and then he wanted to not be so alone.
Daniel knows that he has lead a life weighted more heavily by fate than many others -- moments of great grace and undeniable fortune tempered by loss, and grief, and far more new beginnings than one person should ever have to face. He isn't stupid and he never has been, and he knows how his life appears to someone who hasn't lived it -- he knows how his life appears to him. Too much -- always too much of anything that's given to him, or taken away. There's never been an inch of moderation in the way his life has played out.
There's never been an inch of moderation in the way he's lived.
He's tired of having to make all-or-nothing decisions. He's tired, and there's a grey area in everything; Daniel would like, for once, to choose that grey, instead of black or white.
He puts his head in his hands and feels the silence spreading around him, and Daniel knows when Vala opens her mouth, before she says anything. He looks up, and before she can say a word, he surprises himself and says, "No."
He thought he would choose Cameron, but there's a fine line between the things you think you'll do, and the things you'll do. He thought he would choose Cameron -- he didn't know he actually would.
Daniel's stomach twists again, but his heart feels wide open and unbruised when he thinks of Mitchell, barefoot and cheerful, drinking beer on Daniel's balcony. It's a flash of tiny moments, the normality of a life lived with Cameron Everett Mitchell, and the images make everything else seem small and pointless in the wake of the life Daniel's living now.
He doesn't guard himself with Mitchell.
His life is wide open with Mitchell, and Daniel's heart is still unshattered by that life.
Vala's eyes go wide and Cam -- standing at the back of the room, ostensibly examining one of the trinkets scattered around the shelves -- fixes his gaze so firmly on Daniel's back that Daniel can feel Cameron's concern burning against his neck. "No," Daniel says again. "I cannot play this game anymore." He thinks about the treasure hunt across the galaxy for every item they needed to get an answer about the bracelets from Arlos. He thinks about Vala's half-histories, and her stories that were only partially true.
"Daniel," Vala says. "Darling."
"I'm tired," Daniel says. "This is my life, Vala, this is not -- I am tired of the chaos. I would have stayed with you, but you didn't give me a choice. I am tired of not having a choice."
Daniel says choice and he finds that he means it. Vala had pushed him toward Cameron, but in the end, it was Daniel's choice to stay with Cameron, to care enough to see if it might work -- the first he's made in years. The first choice that wasn't playing out a set of consequences, and he hadn't even realized that he'd made it until he was faced with a different choice.
"Daniel," she says. He thinks again of the time they chased her path across the galaxy, trying to undo all the things she'd done -- no one had been happy to see her, but she'd cheerfully bullied them into doing what she'd wanted, eventually. Vala leaves a path of cheerful destruction everywhere she goes, and it's been almost 15 years that Daniel's been stepping through the stargate. He's seen too many cities razed to the ground to let it happen to him.
"You never said you'd stay," he says, because that's stuck with him most, of all the things she said to him. Amidst all the tremendous lies and the occasional sharp-eyed truths, that is the truest and the saddest thing she ever said to him.
"I didn't say I wouldn't come back," Vala says. Daniel glances over at Mitchell, whose back is still turned, but tense, and then back at Vala. She's defiant, her face gone hard, and he thinks of the woman who clocked him with a fire extinguisher on the Prometheus.
His heart turns, again, and the places it's been broken feel raw inside his chest, inside his mind. He loved her -- he loves her. He doesn't want to hurt her, but he cannot stand the what if of a life with Vala anymore. She might have come back, and he would have opened his home to her because there wouldn't have been anything else for him to do.
He loved her, and he owes her a dozen great debts -- for giving him Mitchell, for giving him herself -- and all he wants are answers, not open-ended questions.
Daniel says, "Vala."
"No," she says. "I understand," and her voice is gentle where her face is closed off and severe. She reaches out a hand and her fingers are soft when they close over Daniel's wrist. The silence in the room is broken only by the sound of rain on the roof, and Daniel twists his arms and closes his fingers over hers.
He doesn't let himself think about what a real future with Vala would have looked like. He listens to the rain, and breathes, and holds her hand. He thinks about the curves of her waist, and the way that Cameron hooks his chin over Daniel's shoulder, sliding broad hands across Daniel's stomach, when Daniel washes dishes at the kitchen sink.
Daniel doesn't compare the two of them to each other at all.
He doesn't know how many minutes tick past before Cameron shifts at the back of the room. "Daniel," he says, and when Daniel turns, Cameron is just behind him. Cam's face is as closed off as Vala's, and Daniel feels -- not for the first time in his life, in general, his life with Mitchell, in specific -- that everything he feels is written plain across his face.
"Cameron," Vala says. Cameron jerks, and looks up at her, startled. "Do take care of him."
"I have been," Cam says.
"I knew you would," Vala says.
Daniel almost says, I am sitting right here, but neither of them are looking at him and Vala's fingers have slid from his. Cam stares at Vala, Vala stares at Cam, and Daniel watches them both.
He's studied people long enough that he should be able to see what's transpired between them, whatever unspoken that's said, but he can't. He misses the moment, and he doesn't know there's been one until Cameron's hand comes down on the back of his neck. Cam's fingers are cold but Daniel leans into the touch anyway.
Vala smiles, and looks away.
Daniel's broken hearts before, but never so obviously, and it tears at his own heart to see it on her face. There's nothing left for him to say, but he wishes for words anyway. Cam rubs his thumb against Daniel's hairline, and Daniel wishes for easier choices.
There's no shooting star, no birthday candles, and he knows the wish won't come true -- knows that wishes are futile.
He wishes, all the same.
Sam and Keeley both look up, curious, when Vala follows Daniel and Cameron into the lodge hall, and Daniel misses the signal, the all-clear, if and when Cameron gives it -- but he knows that Cam gives it, because Sam relaxes visibly when Vala sits with them.
She takes the seat farthest from Daniel, at Keeley's left hand, and she's quiet for most of the meal they're served. Sam, on Daniel's left, chats amiably with the chieftain beside her, and Cameron flirts with the woman on his right. Daniel almost thinks that it passes for a normal mission, listening to the stories being told around him, Sam's cheerful laughter, Cameron's low voice next to him. It isn't until late in the evening, away from the tables and reclining in front of a fire, hearing local legends, that he remembers -- Vala's laughter soars over Keeley's rumbling voice, and Daniel freezes, mid-sentence of a Norse legend about Thor.
He wonders what he's done, what this is punishment or reward for, when Mitchell's fingers brush over Daniel's arm. He looks up, and Mitchell says, "Soup."
Daniel takes a deep breath, looks up at Cameron and sees (not for the first time) how clearly the affection is written across Cameron's face. Vala left Cam for Daniel, a consolation prize, but Daniel didn't have to keep Cameron around -- he chose to. He smiles at Cameron, and Cameron grins back and winks. Daniel scans the room and finds Vala watching him -- them.
He smiles at her, too, and she smiles back and tilts her head at Mitchell. Daniel searches her face for a long moment and sees no trace of sadness. Maybe it's there, and maybe she's a stranger to him now -- maybe it's hidden too well, and maybe it isn't there at all -- but more than anything she said or didn't say, that smile tells him she understands.
Daniel nods. Yes, we're okay -- he's okay, I'm okay. We're happy. As happy as we get in this life.
He doesn't see her go. Keeley says she slipped out the back late in the evening, but Daniel wasn't even watching for her.
Daniel supposes that nine months isn't enough time to move past a lifetime of heartbreak, a lifetime of accustoming himself to having his heart broken, but he wonders when it became long enough to break two years of the habit of Vala.
He doesn't have any answers, and she doesn't, either.
They sleep in the lodge hall and a host of friendly villagers escort them to the gate in the morning. It's still raining, and Mitchell complains loudly and extensively. Vala isn't in the group that hikes back with them and Daniel isn't surprised. They already knew that she wasn't any good at good-bye. Sam was right -- there had been no weapons, no naquadah, no trinium, and he knows they won't be back. He's glad it's raining, and he steps out of the village thinking of Orpheus, who looked back and lost it all, and of Jack, on Abydos, who didn't look back until the ghosts he'd left there caught up with him.
Daniel doesn't turn around. He hears no footsteps in his wake.
Sam falls into step with him beyond the village. She says, "It never stops, does it?"
He doesn't know if she's talking about the pain, or the weather, so Daniel shrugs, and her face is kind, and sad, and lonely, when he turns to look at her. "How's Nevada, Sam?" he says, because he doesn't talk to her as much as he should -- Sam has stood by him as long as anyone in the Mountain has, and he loves her.
He misses her. He's needed, wanted her company, more than once in the last year. She's been gone, but she's never left him, and he owes Sam better than he's given her.
"Lonely," she says. "Most excitement we've had all year was the last time McKay came through and he made six different people cry."
He says, "Lonely isn't the same as not exciting."
Daniel noticed years ago that all of them -- Jack under his sarcasm, Teal'c under his stoicism, Sam under her work ethic, and himself, out on his sleeve so everyone who looked could see it -- all of them were sad. There was plenty of depression in the Mountain, too much PTSD, but SG-1 was simply sad. He's looked for a better word for years, but it's deeper than world weary and more emotional than simply being realists. Sadness -- some grief, some fear, some heartbreak. A little of everything that, individually, makes anyone sad -- too much all at once.
But it's always been tempered by hope, and hope is what keeps them all afloat amongst the sadness.
"No," Sam says. "It's not. It's good to be home. I missed you."
"I missed you, too," he says, and he has a flash of everything he's taken for granted over the years in Sam's smile when he says it. Choices left unmade, lifetimes flooded with guilt. He thinks that he would see Vala behind him, standing beside Sha're, beside Sarah, beside his mother, if he turned, but he is not Orpheus and Cameron is waving his arms at Keeley ahead of Daniel and Sam. Daniel watches Cameron and does not turn around.
Cam still keeps his own place, but he spends more time at Daniel's than he does at his place, and Daniel is the one who has cable so that Cam can watch basketball games all winter on ESPN and Fox Sports South and a million other channels Daniel didn't even know existed. Cameron says home and means Daniel's apartment.
Daniel says home and means Cameron.
Even if he showers at the Mountain after a mission, the first thing Cam does when they get back to Daniel's place is always to climb in the shower, again, for at least 45 minutes. It gives Daniel time to boot up the laptop, order takeout, watching 20 minutes of news before Cam tunes the television to ESPN. It's a routine, and like every routine Daniel's ever had, he hadn't noticed it was a routine until something changes it.
He's looking for the Thai menu when his phone rings. No one calls his home phone except for Jack -- the SGC calls his cell, and Sam always called his office. Jack called on Sunday, as unexpectedly usual as always, and Daniel was actually home; he sat on the balcony and let Jack complain about the stupidity of building DC on a swamp for half an hour before Jack started in on baseball and Daniel passed the phone to Mitchell.
It's Wednesday, dinnertime, but Daniel knows before he picks up the phone that it's Jack. Jack always had a sixth sense when it came to SG-1, to Daniel, and no distance -- not a galaxy, not another plane of existence, and certainly not half a country -- could dim that.
"Jack," he says.
Jack says, "Hi, Daniel, is it still hot as fuck out there?"
Daniel has to think about it before he answers, because he can't remember. They'd debriefed, gotten checked out by Dr. Lam, and Daniel had gotten sucked into a translation before Cameron came and dragged him out of his office for dinner, and 24 hours downtime. He'd left the Mountain on auto-pilot, climbed into the passenger seat of Cameron's car without thinking about anything. "No," he says, because he realizes that the door to the balcony is propped open and the breeze is cool and sweet-smelling. "Must have broken while we were off-world."
"It's a million degrees out here and this place stinks like a sewer," Jack says, but it's rote. He's waiting for Daniel to tell him what's up, that anything's up. Jack knows Daniel like the backs of his own hands -- Jack would know that something had happened, even if Daniel never said a thing. Daniel's choices are spilling or listening to another half hour about the weather.
He spills. "I was thinking about you today," Daniel says. "About when you left Abydos, the first time."
"So that's why my nose was itchy," Jack says, lightly, and then, more serious, "That's ancient history, Daniel. Don't go dragging that up."
Daniel says, "Vala was on N7A."
"Ah," Jack says. "And how is everyone's favorite intergalactic thief?"
"Still on N7A."
"Ah," Jack says. "You okay?"
"I always am," Daniel says.
"Keep telling those lies if they make you happy," Jack says.
Daniel says, "That's not a lie."
"You always are," Jack says. "And you're okay now."
"I am," Daniel says.
"Don't have to tell me," Jack says. "I'd know if you weren't. I just thought you might want to talk about your feelings."
Daniel snorts, and Jack makes a phony I'm-so-put-out-by-this-conversation noise on the other end of the phone. "Jack," Daniel says.
"Daniel," Jack says.
"I'm fine," Daniel says. "I'm happy."
And he is.
"I know," Jack says. "Sometimes I just like to hear it for myself."
"You didn't look back on Abydos," Daniel says. Jack didn't -- because he knew that Daniel would be okay. He knew that Daniel had found a home. Jack understood then, and he understands now. He'd have stopped Daniel's thing with Cameron if Jack had thought it wasn't the right thing. He hasn't.
That's the best way Daniel knows to quantify the fact that he's made the right decision.
"Danny," Jack says, soft. Daniel hears the shower shut off, the bathroom door open and close, the bedroom door open and close. "Would you do it any differently?"
Daniel knows Jack means all of it -- any of it. His whole life. He closes his eyes and leans against the kitchen counter, listens to Jack breathing evenly on the other end of the phone, Cameron humming in the bedroom. A car alarm goes off in the street and filters in through the open door. "No," Daniel says. "No."
"Thanks," Daniel says.
"My pleasure," Jack says, and hangs up. It is not, by far, the strangest conversation Daniel has ever had with Jack, and Daniel understands that all he wanted, today, was to be told that he'd made the right decision. Jack had always had a knack for knowing when Daniel needed to hear that.
Cameron has that knack, too, and Daniel isn't surprised at all to realize that.
"Who was on the phone?" Cam says, padding out of the bedroom. He's got a towel draped over his head and he's wearing jeans and a threadbare N.C. State football t-shirt. There are a thousand things that Cameron does, says, is, all of which should drive Daniel crazy, and none of them do.
He doesn't know when that happened, either.
"Jack," Daniel says.
"Didn't the General call on Sunday? Didn't I have to talk to him about baseball for twenty minutes?"
"It is not my fault that Jack has developed a fondness for the Washington Nationals," Daniel says.
Cam makes a cranky noise underneath the towel and pulls it off his head. His hair stands up all over his head as he tosses the towel over the back of a chair. "It's your fault I have to talk to him about it," Cameron says. "The Nationals aren't even a real team. Chinese?"
"Thai," Daniel says.
"Okay," Cam says. He ambles past Daniel and into the living room, and the TV goes on, the noise of a football game murmuring low. Daniel holds the phone and thinks that he knows what Cam orders from the Thai restaurant down the street without having to ask, and Cam knows that the conversation they'll have about this is best had in the dark, late at night.
It's a routine, and it's a comfort. He didn't think that he got those, anymore.
Outside, it starts to rain. Daniel leaves the doors open.
author's notes: for my otp, as always with the daniel i write -- even when i'm making her cry. title and summary from thea gilmore, "you tell me".
ez and syn. did above and beyond the call of beta duty on this one; syn, in particular, talked me through figuring out what this story was supposed to be about in extensive detail and read multiple drafts while i figured it out.
this is, according to my brain, the last chronological story in this universe (though i said that about valentine, too, so take my word as you will), and i owe everybody who's read, who's recced, who's loved these stories and told me so as i worked on them a debt of gratitude. i had no idea when i wrote you can buy her things now that i'd get nearly 35,000 words out of this 'verse, and it has been nothing but a pleasure to work on these stories. thank you so much for every kind word you said about them; it means the world.