|Valentine The Destroyer
valentine, you belong in the stars, where you are always rollin' on.
Vala is thinking about leaving.
Daniel knows, because she's gotten quiet, sad around the edges, in a way she hasn't been since she'd moved in with him, in all but name on his lease. With Teal'c gone to Dakara and Sam at Area 51, Cam is commanding an SG-1 that's hardly recognizable to Daniel. Vala has always been the sort to move on when she's gotten what she wanted.
She's gone quiet like Jack did, before he left for D.C. Daniel knows that quiet, and Vala wears it better than Jack did.
But that doesn't mean she wears it well.
"I thought the point was that you'd stopped running," he says to her over breakfast. She's wearing his bathrobe and drinking coffee, and she looks balefully at him over the lip of her mug when he says that.
He hadn't meant to say that, he hadn't meant to let her know that he knows she's getting ready to go. It's just -- Daniel's heart isn't in such great shape anymore, too many times glued back together, too many cracks, and he wants some warning before Vala shatters it, this time.
"Oh, Daniel," she says. "But I never said I'd stay."
And she never had -- she'd never moved more than the clothes that Sam had taken her shopping for, cheap flip-flops and expensive blue jeans, all charged to Daniel's credit cards, into his apartment. It hardly looked like anyone but he lived there, but even when Vala wasn't there, Daniel could see her shadows lingering behind his stacks of books, smell her perfume against his sheets.
She hadn't moved possessions in, but she'd slept most nights for the last year in his apartment instead of in her quarters at SGC, and Daniel's always been a big believer in the idea that home is where you're sleeping -- tents off-world, Jack's old, ugly couch, his bed with Vala curled beside him, looking younger in sleep than she ever does awake.
He's quiet the rest of the way through breakfast and through the ride up to the Mountain, trying to figure out how to ask her -- he doesn't know what. Not to go. Not to break his heart, even if she has to go. Something, anything, and he can't find the words. She doesn't say anything, either, because Vala doesn't talk about her feelings, but she glares at him sideways, as though he was the one who was getting ready to move on.
Mitchell looks at the two of them in the gate room, and Daniel knows that his frustration and fear is written across his face. Vala is pouting in the corner, and she won't meet Daniel's eyes. They'll make up later, off-world and fighting for their lives if things go badly, home and wrapped around each other in bed if they don't, but for now, Daniel does not feel forgiving, and Vala does not look like she wants to forgive -- or to change her mind.
"Man," Mitchell says, twisting his gaze between the two of them like they're some interesting spectator sport. "Who pissed in your Cheerios this morning?"
There's a list of things as long as the galaxy is wide that Daniel doesn't talk about with Mitchell. Starting with Jack, ending with anything to do with Vala's personal life, everything that's unsaid hangs in the air whenever she isn't there to deflect the tension.
She's the fulcrum between them, the point that keeps him balanced against Mitchell -- when she goes, Daniel doesn't know which way the scales will tip.
He's worked so hard to find this balance. Daniel doesn't know what will happen when she goes and he crumbles under the weight of all the things that Mitchell needs.
Vala was out with Sam, who was in town for the weekend and demanded a girls' night out, and somehow Mitchell ends up drinking beer on Daniel's couch. Daniel cooked steaks, grilling on the back porch like Jack had for him, lifetimes, love affairs, ago. They ended up sitting on the couch and drinking beer and not talking, until the silence in the living room was enough to make Daniel break.
"She's leaving," he says to Mitchell.
"She's setting us up," Mitchell says.
Daniel knows Mitchell is right, but Daniel doesn't want to talk about that -- he wants to talk about Vala leaving, not about Mitchell (who's turned out to be a surprising constant in Daniel's life), or about himself. He blinks at Mitchell, who's humming across the lip of his beer bottle, and Daniel, for all he doesn't want to think about Mitchell, is struck with the sudden thought that Vala could have picked a far poorer replacement for herself.
Daniel focuses drunkenly on Mitchell's face and kisses him. Mitchell flails a little, fingers coming to rest on Daniel's neck. They've never done this without Vala before.
"Daniel," Mitchell says.
They're sprawled in Daniel's bed when she comes home. Mitchell -- when he was curved around Daniel's back, cock buried in Daniel's ass, Daniel could gasp out Cameron, but even still naked, in Daniel's bed, he's Mitchell, and Daniel doesn't know how Vala's going to get around that to make Daniel and Mitchell whatever it is that she wants them to be -- is dozing, one leg tossed across Daniel's thighs, pressing Daniel down. Vala never slept curled around Daniel; she always wanted to be free, sleeping back to back with him as though something dangerous was going to burst through Daniel's bedroom door and attack them.
Daniel's propped up in bed, reading a back issue of Scientific American that Sam left in his living room, and Mitchell is drooling on his chest a little, when Vala walks through the door.
Any other woman would have screamed and thrown things; Daniel knows, because he's had that experience before, once, in college. Vala just smiles, the smile that Mitchell calls her I-know-something-you-don't-know smile, and says, "I just want you to be happy."
Daniel doesn't say, "Don't go," because it seems pointless. He's spent a year learning every inflection that her voice carries; he knows that she means what she says.
She strips off her clothes and crawls into bed on the other side of Mitchell, who doesn't wake up -- he just shifts a little and mumbles against Daniel's armpit. Vala props herself up on the other side of the bed and tells Daniel about her night out, the men who flirted with Sam, the men who flirted with her. Daniel drops the magazine on the floor, turns out the light and turns toward her voice in the dark. He reaches out across Mitchell, who's a warm, solid barrier between them, and he can just barely flatten his palm against the curve of her hip.
He drops into sleep with her voice still drifting into the darkness, sounding further and further away.
The first morning that Mitchell wakes up sandwiched between Daniel and Vala, he only freaks out a little. (After the incident with the car and the public sex, Daniel is genuinely surprised that Mitchell freaks out at all, but, as Vala says to him while Daniel's scooping coffee grounds into the filter, that's straight men for you.) Mitchell goes scrambling for his boxers and hides in the bathroom for half an hour, using up all the hot water. When he finally emerges, Vala is sitting at the kitchen island, wearing nothing but a pair of panties and the t-shirt Mitchell left on Daniel's bedroom floor when Mitchell fled to the bathroom. She's drinking coffee and arguing with Daniel about a mission from the week before; Daniel is frying eggs, wearing a pair of jeans that he'd never wear in public.
Mitchell stands in the kitchen doorway, and he's gotten his jeans pulled on but he's bare-chested and his hair is stick up in damp clumps. "Good morning, princess," Vala says. "Coffee?"
He gets to be a fixture in the kitchen in the mornings on the weekends; Mitchell likes his eggs over easy and his toast burnt nearly to a crisp, and like Jack and Sam, military bred, he's actually human before a cup of coffee.
They don't talk about what's going on. Daniel knows that Vala would say that there isn't any point to talking, even though it's been his natural instinct to talk about everything for as long as he can remember having someone to listen to him. But he knows that Vala's right; SG-1 has never really needed to talk, no matter who's suiting up for SG-1 and who's moved to D.C.. Aside from the fact that Mitchell changes the settings on Daniel's toaster and forgets to tell him and burns Daniel's toast to a crisp, too, there's not really anything to talk about.
Whatever this is, it is what it is. He's in love with Vala -- he knows that and she knows that, and somewhere underneath the scars from the years of running that led her to his life, he thinks she loves him, too. And Mitchell's a good friend, and he's a good leader, and he's gorgeous.
They're all a bunch of freaks, and that's reason enough that they should have each other's backs. That there's a genuine affection there, too, is just a bonus.
Daniel makes lists: reasons she should go, reasons she shouldn't go, reasons she should stay. Mitchell says that not going and staying is the same thing, essentially, and Daniel can feel his expression twist in frustration, because they're not the same thing at all, and they never have been.
He tries, once, to explain it to Mitchell, and Mitchell says, "It's six of one and half dozen the other, Jackson."
Vala turns and smiles at him when he says the word stay to Mitchell, and Daniel can't figure out how that makes him feel, which only makes him feel sicker.
She watches them together: watches the way that Mitchell passes Daniel the front page of the paper first; watches the way that Daniel, without thinking, until Vala's eyes pin him down and he notices what he's doing, sits on the couch and rubs his thumb along the spot in Mitchell's neck that Daniel knows carries all of Mitchell's tension.
Daniel has never managed any kind of domesticity with Vala. Vala is not inclined toward domesticity. They've fucked on the kitchen floor and up against the front door, and she keeps a bottle of fruity smelling shampoo in his shower, but Vala is not the sort who wants to read the papers in front of a fire on Sunday mornings.
Vala incites chaos and adventure. She does not invite domesticity, and maybe Daniel is getting old, but sometimes he wishes for nothing more than a routine, home from the Mountain at a reasonable hour, dinner that didn't come out of take-out containers, trashy lawyer dramas watched every week without fail.
He wouldn't trade Vala for any of that -- Daniel's life is so much more interesting with Vala in it, but every morning when he gets out of bed, trailing into the kitchen to the smell of coffee in the expensive programmable coffee maker Jack bought him one Christmas, he wonders if she will still be there, or if there will just be a note propped against a mug on the counter.
Mitchell is steady. Mitchell has a degree in aeronautical engineering from North Carolina State University, and he puts mayonnaise on his hamburgers, and he snores unless you shove him over onto his side. He's as even, as steady-tempered, and as placidly agreeable (about everything except college basketball, Daniel discovers) as anyone could hope for. Daniel doesn't know why Vala's settled on Mitchell to fill her spot in Daniel's life, but she's been pushing them together for months -- she lounges on the floor of Daniel's living room and watches them sit on the couch and argue over the remote control, pleasure in her eyes, masking something sort of sad behind the smug smile.
Mitchell is stubborn; a different kind of stubborn than Vala is, a different kind of stubborn than Jack is. Vala is stubborn because it suits her to be contrary, because she likes to make Daniel work for whatever it is that he wants. It's part of her charm, so he's never minded. Jack was stubborn in the field and out of it, because that's just how Jack was -- not to be contrary, but because, in the end, he and Daniel really just did see things from different points of view. Mitchell is stubborn as hell in the field -- no means no when he says it, and Daniel is eventually surprised to find himself backing down, which he doesn't pretend to understand but doesn't really mind, either -- and surprisingly amiable out of it.
Vala is in a lab with one of the xenobiologists when Daniel stops by to pick her up at the end of the day, and she's got her head bent over what seems to be an alien electron microscope. He leans in the doorway and says, "Hey, are you ready?"
She blinks up at him, and says, completely innocently, "Oh, darling, go on without me, someone will drive me home."
He fights down an almost irrepressible urge to drag her home anyway, to stop her from going absolutely. He doesn't need a psychiatrist to tell him that he hates being left by people he loves; he just needs them to stop leaving.
He wanders up, out through all the levels of security and into the parking garage, instead. The longer he stays at SGC, the closer they move his parking space, and he'll never get General Landry's right-by-the-door spot, but his Jeep is close enough to where the elevators let off that he can see Mitchell leaning against the hood when Daniel steps out into the garage.
"She's setting us up," Mitchell says, again, and unprompted, when he notices Daniel.
Daniel still doesn't know what to say, so he says, "Pizza?"
"Yeah, okay," Mitchell says, and climbs into the passenger seat when Daniel unlocks the door for him.
Mitchell fiddles with the radio for a while, settling on something classic rock, and then props his feet on Daniel's dashboard and stares out the window. "Pepperoni and green peppers?" Daniel says, when they're fifteen minutes from SGC and still ten from the pizza place, because the silence feels strange; Vala chatters whenever she's in the car with them.
Daniel's not used to silence anymore.
"Sure," Mitchell says.
They order the pizza -- twenty minute wait. Mitchell's quiet while Daniel pays, quiet but not restless. He stands at Daniel's hip, close but not touching, and Daniel almost gets used to it, almost forgets that it's Mitchell and this is all still so weird, when Mitchell says, "You got beer?"
"You drank it all," Daniel says, and Mitchell puts his hand on Daniel's back and steers him out the door, down the street to the liquor store, and buys something American that Daniel knows will taste like piss. It's all weirdly domestic, and Daniel (who likes to put things into categories, into proper places, who catalogs everything in his life whether it's healthy to or not) doesn't know where to slot Mitchell into the catalog in his head.
Mitchell puts his boots on the coffee table and leaves wet towels on the bathroom floor, but if he drinks the last cup of coffee, he makes more, and he's happy to read pulp mystery novels at the other end of the couch while Daniel watches documentaries. Sometimes he reminds Daniel a little of Jack, and most of the time he doesn't remind Daniel of Jack at all.
The pizza is good; the beer tastes like piss and Daniel abandons a bottle half-empty on the coffee table in favor of a bottle of decent red wine. When Daniel gets back from the kitchen, wine in hand, Mitchell is watching some pre-season college basketball game on the television and muttering absently about the unfair television advantage Duke gets, just because they're Duke, and would it kill ESPN to show a State game once in a while?
"Probably," Daniel says from behind the couch.
He expects Mitchell to startle -- even after all these years, Sam still says, Christ, Daniel, don't sneak up on me like that -- but Mitchell just turns, Daniel's half a beer loose in his fingers and peers up at Daniel like he's forgotten that Daniel's there.
Daniel thinks that this should say something about them, about whatever it is that Vala has the two of them mixed up in, that Mitchell is comfortable enough in Daniel's apartment to forget that Daniel's there, but Daniel doesn't know what it says. Vala has set him all off balance, tipped him over into this thing with Mitchell, this friendship, this partnership. This companionship, Daniel thinks, and sits back down on the couch beside Mitchell, that will hold off the inevitable ache when she goes.
And he knows (because Mitchell is watching him curiously now and because Vala still watches them both with a satisfied smile on her face) that this is what she'd planned all along.
Mitchell says, "I could say something awkward now."
"You could," Daniel says.
"Or we could just get quietly drunk," Mitchell says, "and appreciate the fact that nobody died this week, nobody blew up any planets this week, and nobody made any new enemies this week. And the fact that at least we have someone to get quietly drunk with."
"We could," Daniel says, and Mitchell nods, turns back to the TV and turns the volume up. Daniel leans back on the couch, closes his eyes, and listens to the announcers raving about a point guard at St. John's until he falls asleep.
When he wakes up, the living room is the sort of dark that happens just before dawn, dark with light around the edges. Mitchell and Vala are sprawled against each other in Daniel's bed. He strips down to his boxers, brushes his teeth, drops his glasses on the nightstand, and crawls into bed on the Vala's other side. Vala sleeps like a rock, and she doesn't stir when Daniel tugs his share of the blankets out from under her, but Mitchell blinks awake, squints at Daniel in the dark.
"Sorry, Mitchell, go back to sleep," Daniel says.
"You okay?" Mitchell says, quiet and genuine in the dark.
Daniel says, "I always am."
Even in the dark, he can see Mitchell's face twisting into a frown, and he struggles up to almost-sitting, out from under Vala's sleepy death-grip. "You're a shitty liar, Jackson," Mitchell says.
"I always have been," Daniel says, because Jack always told him that -- that Daniel's face was as open as any book, if you knew what to look for. Daniel didn't know that Mitchell knew what to look for, but it's late, and he should maybe be surprised that Mitchell does know what to look for, but Daniel can't be bothered. Mitchell knows how to read him; it doesn't surprise Daniel at all, and that's surprising.
"It'll all be fine," Mitchell says, sinking back down onto his pillow.
"It always is," Daniel says, and the only answer he gets is Mitchell, snoring quietly. Vala rolls over and smashes her face against Daniel's shoulder. Outside, the sky starts toward daylight through shades of pink and orange.
She leaves on the second Tuesday in December. It's a routine off-world mission, first contact, and a safe world -- high level of technological development, a massive city center, no Priors, no Ori presence at all. They're hoping these people will become allies; Teal'c is with them again, a comforting presence on Daniel's right side, ambassador from the Jaffa, who are finally standing up with the Tau'ri against the Ori.
They're pushing through the market, trying to keep the xenobiologist who replaced Sam on the team from attempting to buy the slightly scary man-eating plants for sale at almost all the booths, and Daniel is watching Mitchell's increasingly hilarious attempts to reign Devon in, not Vala at his left elbow.
They're 2/3rds of the way from the gate to the equivalent of city hall when he turns to remind her to remind him to buy coffee on their way home from the SGC after the mission, and she's gone.
Later, it seems like a stupid thing to have said; the native woman who was standing in Vala's place blinked at Daniel uncomprehendingly and then smiled at him, patted him on the arm.
They don't make it to city hall. Teal'c goes on ahead and makes their apologies, and then comes back, standing comfortingly over Daniel when he sinks onto a bench at the edge of the market, drops his head into his hands. Mitchell sits down beside him, thigh pressed against Daniel's, and tips his sunglasses up onto his forehead before he says, low, for Daniel's ears only, "She's gone for good, isn't she?"
"Yes," Daniel says, because no amount of steeling himself for her to steal a ship, steal his heart, steal away in the middle of the night, leaving behind a dent in his pillow and a warm spot where she wasn't, had actually prepared him for it.
"Just her style," Mitchell says. "You okay?"
"No," Daniel says.
"Stupid question," Mitchell says. "Come on, let's go home. We can reschedule with these guys."
"What are we going to tell the General?" Daniel says, and it seems like a stupid, pointless question as soon as he says it. He stands up and tries not to lean against Mitchell; he feels shattered, young -- like Sha're all over again, another loss he couldn't stop, another person gone from his life without care.
"We'll tell him what happened," Mitchell says, and slides his hand underneath Daniel's elbow, bracing Daniel on his feet. Mitchell is warm and solid behind him, and Teal'c is warm and solid beside him. Daniel thinks of Jack, taking Daniel home his first night back on Earth after Abydos and plying him with beer and a comforting ear, and Sam, who got drunk with Daniel three straight nights after Jack left for D.C., and somewhere at the back of his mind, he thinks that Mitchell has turned into a rock like that, someone steady that Daniel counts on without realizing he's counting. Mitchell says, "No one ever expected her to stay for good."
"No," Daniel says. "We didn't." But I hoped is unspoken, and Mitchell's fingers tighten comfortingly against Daniel's elbow.
Mitchell says, "I know."
Devon looks at them strangely; he's young, and he's spent six months of missions chattering non-stop, but somehow he knows enough to keep quiet now. They auditioned 8 different Marines and scientists for Sam's spot on the team before Devon finally stuck. They ended up with Simmons because he had a good amount of Mitchell's initial SG-1 worship and a good amount of Daniel's disregard for authority and a good amount of Vala's save-your-own-ass self-preservation instinct. He follows Daniel around like a puppy and knows how to run when it's necessary, but it's only been six months and he's two generations removed from the SG-1 that Daniel still thinks of as SG-1. This SG-1 is SG-1, version 3.0; still good, but not the original, and Devon hasn't gotten over the hero worship yet.
He looks like he doesn't quite know what to make of this -- of a team member disappearing, and no one doing anything about it besides sitting down and, Daniel thinks, looking stricken. Daniel looks over at Mitchell, and Mitchell's mouth is pulled tight at the corners. "I'm sorry," Daniel says.
When Simmons opens his mouth to ask what for, Teal'c digs his fingers into the kid's elbow and leads him off calmly, out of Daniel and Mitchell's space, saying something quiet and probably level-headed and reasonable to him. Teal'c always knew how to get the point across to the new guys the fastest -- about when to say something, and when to step back and not say anything at all. When Teal'c turns back to check on them, Daniel nods, and Teal'c nods back. Daniel hadn't realized how much he'd missed having Teal'c out with them on missions until just that moment.
"Sorry for what?" Mitchell says.
"I honestly have no idea," Daniel says.
Mitchell says, "Let's go home, Jackson, okay?"
Daniel paused by the sliding doors that lead to his balcony, but in the end, he pushed them open and took his glass of wine outside. It's cold, the wind humming around the lip of the glass, sounding hollow and empty, and shooting ripples across the top of the red wine. He tugs his jacket closer around him and props his feet on the railing and closes his eyes.
Vala had loved the balcony -- the first time he'd brought her home, after they'd fallen into bed together, he'd woken in the middle of the night and she was gone. He'd felt a flash of panic and scrambled out of bed, but she hadn't been gone, just sitting in one of his lawn chairs on the balcony. He'd said, "I thought you were gone," and she'd just smiled at the reproach in his voice and patted the chair next to her.
They'd spent a lot of time out on the balcony, stretched out in the lawn chairs Sam had bought Daniel as a welcome-back-from-Ascension gift, staring up at the stars. Vala pointed out the ones she'd visited, or claimed to have visited. Daniel pointed out the constellations, told her the myths they represented when she asked.
Daniel hadn't known that he'd end up in love with her. He'd been fond of her, in the same sort of exasperatedly fond way he needs Jack in his life, and he'd been attracted to her, but he hadn't known that it would end up being love. He should have known better, though -- should have known the first time a spark of panic shot through his gut, at the thought of Vala gone, should have known when they lost her to Athena and he didn't sleep for a week while they tried to find her.
He brings the bottle out to the balcony with him, and leaves the sliding door open, half an ear on the phone, because he keeps hoping it will ring and someone will say, We've found her, she's home. He drinks a second glass of wine and then a third, and he's only a little drunk, pondering the stars that he can see through breaks in the clouds, when his apartment door opens noisily, rattling locks and a set of keys dropped on the side table.
Daniel jerks around, spilling wine onto the balcony floor, because Jack and Vala are the only people who have keys to his apartment -- and it's Mitchell, juggling three bags of groceries and toeing off his running shoes by the door.
Daniel stares. Mitchell looks up, like he can feel Daniel's eyes on his face, and says, placidly, "Hey, Jackson."
"Mitchell, do you break into all your teammates' apartments, or am I just a special case?"
"I had keys," Mitchell says, slinging the groceries onto the kitchen island and shrugging out of his jacket. He pulls a six-pack of Coors out of one bag, hooking one beer between his fingers and sliding the other five into the fridge, door propped open with his hip. Mitchell twists the cap off -- he misses the trash can when he flips the cap in that direction, the metal clattering against the linoleum, and Daniel knows Mitchell will leave it there until he steps on it in his bare feet in the morning -- and starts putting cans of soup into Daniel's cabinet, clunk-clunk-clunk of cans loud in the night.
Someone on the street honks a horn. Daniel watches Mitchell stack cans of tomato and beef vegetable soup in the cabinets, and says, "Did I give you a key?"
Mitchell stops, red and white Campbell's chicken noodle label visible through his fingers, and twists around to look at Daniel. Mitchell squints, because Daniel hasn't turned the one outdoor light on, and he knows he's backlight, his face hard to read in the dark. "No," Mitchell says, and he has the good grace to sound … something.
Daniel can't even tell what -- there's a little embarrassment in Mitchell's voice, and some affection, and some worry. Two years Mitchell's been on the team, six months Daniel's been taking him to bed, and Daniel still can't get a grip on what Mitchell's feeling. He always knows what Mitchell's thinking, in the field, about whatever's on TV, but feeling is totally different -- Mitchell is stacking cans of soup in Daniel's kitchen, and Daniel is getting drunk, and Vala is gone.
Daniel knows an awful lot, and he still can't connect those three things: soup, wine, absence. He blinks at Mitchell, who's still holding the can of soup and looking sheepish, maybe guilty, and Daniel says, "Soup."
Mitchell shrugs. "Soup's comforting."
"Homemade soup," Daniel says, and Mitchell winces. "I didn't give you a key."
"I can't make soup," Mitchell says, and he sets the can down on the counter and crosses out of the kitchen, leaning in the doorframe until he's so backlit by the kitchen's fluorescents that Daniel can't read his expression.
"Key," Daniel says, because he's having a conversation with Mitchell about soup. It's not the strangest thing he's ever done, but then suddenly it is, and in a split-second, he's disoriented and unsure of everything he's ever known. Underneath the feeling of the whole world spinning, he knows this is familiar -- knows that this is the same feeling he's had every time someone has walked out on him, someone's disappeared. He sets the wineglass down on the balcony, rubbing his hands across his eyes and pressing his thumbs against his temples.
"It was in my locker," Mitchell says, quiet and close, and Daniel breathes in deeply, trying to keep his heart from racing out of his chest, and listens to Mitchell's steady inhale-exhale. Daniel shifts on the chair, eyes still closed, bumps against something warm with his leg. He looks up, startled, and Mitchell is sitting on the other chair, opposite Daniel, close enough that his knees are bumping against Daniel's. "She was the last one in to the gate room this morning, and you know that Vala never thought much of staying out of the men's locker room."
Daniel tilts his head back and looks up at the sky; stars, a flash of clouds across the crescent moon, and a blinking light moving between the stars on Orion's belt. "The universe is infinite," Daniel says.
"You're drunker than you look," Mitchell says.
"No," Daniel says, and he thinks about soup, about Vala's cold feet tucked underneath his legs when they would sit on the balcony, about all of Mitchell's hang-ups and the way he sleeps with his mouth open and drools everywhere.
Mitchell settles back into the chair, propping his feet on the railing and says, "What are we doing?"
"Now?" Daniel says. He drains his wine, sets the glass back down, and tries to make out Mitchell's features in the dark. Mitchell's face is turned up to the sky, too, eyes narrowed and thoughtful. "Or in general?"
"All of the above," Mitchell says. "Any. You were a higher being."
"I don't remember much of it," Daniel says. Mitchell, like Jack, had never tried to talk about Daniel's Ascensions. "But I think we're … just trying to live, in the end."
"So there you go," Mitchell says, like he'd answered his own question, and Daniel blinks at him in the darkness, even though he knows that Mitchell probably can't see his face. "We're living, that's what we're doing."
"Mitchell," Daniel says.
"She was never going to stay, Jackson," Mitchell says.
Daniel says, "I know," because he does, he always has -- Vala wanted a home, but she wanted her freedom, too, and he's always known that she didn't think she could have both.
Mitchell says, "Do we have to talk about our feelings now?"
Daniel laughs, and Mitchell says, "What?" like he's wounded by something, but there's laughter in his voice, too, and Daniel is suddenly, overwhelmingly grateful for Mitchell's strange ideas about comfort and the way that Mitchell is never anything more than a guy, beer and football and not needing Daniel to tell him how Daniel's feeling about anything.
The blinking light is passing the Seven Sisters in the sky, and Daniel knows, logically, that it's a plane, some commercial cross-country flight full of business travelers and tired families, but his heart says that it's a stolen space ship, Vala at the controls, looking for something that she couldn't ever explain to him.
"Pizza," Daniel says.
"Sure," Mitchell says. "You want some more wine?"
"Yeah," Daniel says, holding out his glass as Mitchell untangles himself from the chair and stands up, stretching. Mitchell tops Daniel's glass off and stares at Daniel for a moment, thoughtful. "Thanks, Mitchell."
"Cameron," Mitchell says.
"Cameron," Daniel says. "Keep the key."
"Yeah, okay," Cameron says, and he squeezes the back of Daniel's neck as he passes by, cold fingers shocking against Daniel's skin.
Daniel watches him cross back into the kitchen, rifling drawers for the pizza menu, and when Daniel looks back up at the sky, the blinking light is gone, out of view. Daniel raises his empty wine glass to the sky and thinks, Live well, please, live well, and he goes back inside his apartment, closing the door firmly behind him.
Mitchell has the phone wedged under his ear and he says, "Did you ever notice that the pizza place on the corner has the worst damn hold music in the history of the world?"
Daniel says, "I made Jack call out for pizza."
He pours himself another glass of wine and watches Mitchell tap his fingers on the fridge, in time to, presumably, the terrible hold music. Mitchell catches Daniel staring, and he smiles, slow and private, and Daniel thinks, live.
author's notes: title and epigraph from [the old 97s, "valentine"]. my otp did beta duty; all remaining mistakes (and i'm sure there are some) are mine.