RUNNER

By Annie

EMAIL: Annie

For Judy, just because I love her for all she's done for fan fiction; and for devra, my neighbor in spirit and my friend in reality, who keeps me anchored and makes me smile. And for Lyn, for betaing and for giving me a place to hang my imagination.

 

Daniel had never considered himself a runner. He wasn't the sort of person who took off when things got tough. He'd always hung around and seen it through to the bitter end. His late, not so lamented academic career was proof of that. Despite the taunts and jeering that had been flung at him over his theories, he'd stuck it out, right up until there'd been no home to go home to, no job to work at, no lectures to give. He'd stayed, right up till Catherine Langford had given him a reason to leave. This time, though, he'd run, as fast and as far as he could get. The minute it had dawned on him with an awful inevitability that he was in love with Jack O'Neill and that Jack would never feel the same way about him, he'd gone.

Now he sat in the dingy bar where he'd ended up, hoping that Jack wouldn't track him down and yet hoping that he'd try. Trying would mean that Jack cared for him, even if not in the way Daniel desperately wanted him to. If Daniel ever thought that Jack had simply written him off, that he hadn't even missed him enough to want to try to find him, that part of Daniel that he'd so rarely given to anyone else, hadn't given to anyone else since Sha're died, would simply wither and die, leaving him with a stone-cold place inside where his heart used to be.

He tapped his glass on the bar top and waited while the bartender refilled it, giving the man a shaky salute with it and then gulping the contents down in one swallow.

"You might want to slow it down a little, pal," the bartender said but Daniel simply tapped the glass on the counter again and the bartender refilled it with a sigh. "Hope you're not driving," he said. "I'm not supposed to keep serving people if I think they're too drunk."

"I'm not drivin'," Daniel said, already conscious of the slurring of his words. It had been a good long while since he'd been this drunk but he remembered the signs pretty clearly.

"So, what happened? Have a fight with the missus?" the bartender asked.

Daniel shook his head. "She's dead," he replied, surprised at how easily the words came to him.

"Shit, I'm sorry, buddy."

"S'okay. Happened a while ago," Daniel said. He leaned forward over the bar and beckoned the man down to his level. "Can't tell you any more. It's a matter of national securstety... secut... it's a secret."

"Riight." The bartender patted his shoulder. "I gotta close up. How about I call you a cab?"

Daniel stumbled to his feet, pulling out his wallet with a fumbling hand. "Nope," he said. "I'm gonna walk. Need to clear my head." He pulled a twenty dollar bill from his wallet and slapped it on the bar. "Keep the change," he said magnanimously, turning and weaving his way outside.

Once there, he stopped and tried to marshal his rapidly dwindling brain cells into some form of coherent thought. He didn't want to go home. Jack would look for him there, but he sure as hell couldn't go back to Jack's after what had happened... What you made happen, he forced himself to admit. Maybe Sam... He turned the idea over in his mind then set off at a shambling pace in the direction he needed to go. Sam would let him sleep it off. She wouldn't ask too many questions, and if she did, he didn't need to tell her the truth. 'I can obfis... ofbis... lie with the best of them,' he said.

oo~O~oo

Jack stared at his reflection in the mirror. He looked old, he decided, older than he had before tonight had happened. He touched a finger to his lips as if he could still sense the lingering taste...

It had seemed like a good idea at the time - get Daniel drunk or at least tipsy enough that this latest anniversary of Sha're's death would be less painful, less full of old memories, replaced with new ones.

To that end, Jack had invited Daniel around for a barbecue and a few drinks.

Daniel's eyes had narrowed at the spoken invite but he'd acquiesced easily enough and he'd turned up on time, holding a bottle of Scotch in one hand and a pack of steaks in the other.

"I invited you for dinner," Jack grumbled good-naturedly as he took the meat and added it to the platter already on the kitchen counter. "I'm supposed to supply the food and booze."

Daniel just shrugged. "What we don't eat, we can take to Teal'c... or did you invite him and Sam as well?"

"Nope, just you and me. Is that okay?"

"It's fine. As a matter of fact, I happen to know that you did invite them and got turned down because Teal'c was going to the movies with Janet and Sam to see the new Star Wars."

Jack gave a snort. "What are you? The SGC's social secretary?"

"Guess so, seeing as I seem to know what everyone's doing tonight." Daniel filched a slice of tomato from the salad bowl then held the Scotch up. "Want a drink?"

"Sure, why not? The sun's over the yardarm, isn't it? You pour and bring them out onto the patio. I've already got the grill fired up." Jack hefted the meat platter and took it outside, leaving Daniel to follow with the drinks.

It had been a great meal and the Scotch had gone down well too, maybe just a little too well, Jack reflected morosely. If his intention had been to get Daniel drunk enough that he'd forget about what day this was, he seemed to have done that in a spectacular fashion.

They'd moved inside about nine, the air outside growing too chilly to be really comfortable. Jack had raised an eyebrow as Daniel had stumbled against the door on his way in, but he'd refrained from saying anything. He wasn't feeling too steady on his own feet either, though he didn't think he was anywhere near as drunk as Daniel. It always surprised him that Daniel had managed to drink Skaara's moonshine on Abydos without turning a hair, yet back on Earth, a couple of beers sent him over the edge into tipsiness.

Daniel slumped down on the floor in front of the fireplace where Jack had lit a fire when they came in, and after a moment, Jack joined him. The Scotch had only a couple of drinks still in it and Jack poured them both the last ones then handed Daniel's glass to him, raising his own in a toast. "To Sha're," he said softly.

Daniel looked down then quickly back up and Jack saw him swallow, tears making his eyes bright. "To Sha're," he whispered after a long moment. Then he sculled his drink in one quick swallow.

"I wasn't going to mention what day it was," Jack said quietly, "but it doesn't seem right to let it pass with no mention of her at all."

Daniel scrubbed at his eyes with one hand and put the glass down on the floor with the exaggerated carefulness of the inebriated. "No, it doesn't," he replied, his voice as soft as Jack's. "It's funny, I still miss her, but it doesn't hurt as much any more. I think she'd been out of my life for so long, and in it so briefly that it's almost as if she was just someone I used to know..." He looked over at Jack, his voice a little firmer now. "I did love her," he said forcefully. "I didn't mean—"

"I know," Jack said. He reached out and patted Daniel's shoulder, moving close enough that he could put his arm all the way around and pull Daniel in for a hug. "I feel that way about Charlie these days too."

"Do you love Sam?" Daniel asked suddenly, moving away a little and turning to look into Jack's eyes.

"Where's this coming from, Daniel?" Jack asked, feeling as if the world had suddenly tilted on its axis. Daniel's eyes were still damp and Jack could feel his warm, alcohol- laced breath puffing across his face.

"I've never really seen you with another woman, since Sara left," Daniel said, "leaving aside aliens and Goa'uld queens," he added with a wry grin.

"I could ask you the same thing," Jack replied. "I sometimes wonder if we inadvertently get ourselves involved with people we know we're not going to have to make a commitment to..."

"Like Laira?"

Jack nodded. "Yeah, I mean, at the time I thought I was stuck there, but I don't think I ever gave up hope of getting back home. And you, with Kira, because you knew we'd be sending her back to her planet. We'll leave Shyla out," he said, cocking a grin at Daniel.

"Please do," Daniel said, smiling back. He didn't look so drunk anymore, Jack thought. "So, are you?" he asked. "In love with Sam?"

Jack thought about it, wondered how to explain the complex emotion he felt for Sam. "It's not that kind of love," he replied finally. "I'm attracted to her... I mean, who wouldn't be, right?" Daniel nodded his agreement so Jack went on. "I'd care a lot if something happened to her. I'd give up my life for her, but if you're asking if I want to marry her, settle down and spend the rest of my life with her?" He made it a question and Daniel nodded again. "No," Jack said. "For one thing, we're both too wrapped up in our jobs, and after a while we'd end up killing each other."

Daniel dropped his gaze but not before Jack had seen something... some indefinable emotion in his eyes.

"What about you, Daniel? Is there anyone you want to spend your life with, now Sha're's gone?"

Daniel looked up again and met his eyes, then slowly, so slowly Jack felt as if it was in slow motion, he leaned across and brushed his lips against Jack's. It wasn't much more than a caress but Jack had no doubt what Daniel meant by it. He jerked back in shock, feeling his eyes go wide.

"Daniel?" Jack stood, unsure why but instinct taking him to his feet nonetheless.

"I'm sorry," Daniel murmured. He turned to his side and fumbled clumsily to his knees then stood as well, swaying a little. "I should go."

Jack watched, his feet frozen in place as Daniel grabbed his jacket and headed out of the room. By the time, Jack was able to force himself to move, the front door had slammed closed and Daniel was gone, his car still sitting in the driveway.

Jack gave a small prayer of thanks that Daniel had been compos enough not to consider driving at least, but that very fact opened up another thought as well. If Daniel wasn't too drunk to know he shouldn't drive, he was probably sober enough to have known exactly what he was doing when he'd kissed Jack.

Jack stood in the doorway, wondering if he should go after him. By the time he'd decided to do just that, there was no sign of Daniel anywhere Jack looked and Jack could only assume that he'd caught a cab home.

So, he'd gone back inside and tidied up, dampened down the fire and fallen into a restless sleep on the couch.

Now, he went out to the hallway and picked up the phone, dialing Daniel's home number, and then his cell, both with the same result. His calls went to message bank. He didn't leave a message, wasn't entirely sure what to say. "Hey, Danny, I was a bit worried you might have been overcome with passion after kissing me and walked under a bus" didn't seem to cut it and Jack wasn't too sure how he felt himself about that kiss yet either. Eventually, he decided he'd wait to hear from Daniel or he'd catch up with him at the Mountain once their downtime was over.

He decided to use his time productively and get some gardening done. After he found himself crouched on his knees with a trowel in his hand, plants forgotten, while his mind detoured to just how nice Daniel's lips had felt against his own, he gave it up as a bad job and got showered and dressed, and headed off in search of his errant friend.

oo~O~oo

"Wakey, wakey," Sam said cheerfully, perching herself on the edge of her guest room bed. There was a groan from beneath the covers, and taking that as a sign that Daniel was awake, she peeled back the covers and looked at the wreck that was masquerading as her best friend. "Holy Hannah, Daniel, you look like crap."

"Thanks," Daniel muttered, grabbing the covers back with one slightly shaky fist and hauling them back over his head again.

"I've got coffee," Sam said, putting the mug on the bedside table, ensuring it made a satisfactory coffee-mug-like plunk as she did so.

"Real or plastic?" Daniel asked.

"Oh, only the good stuff for you, my hung-over friend," Sam replied, watching with a grin as Daniel's head slowly appeared, tortoise-like from its shell, then his shoulder and then his arm, the hand reaching out to grab the steaming mug as soon as its owner was more or less upright.

Daniel sniffed the brew, his red-rimmed eyes closing in what looked like bliss. He sipped, wincing a little at the heat then gave Sam a smile. "Bless you," he said, "May your chickens never turn into ostriches and kick your outhouse down."

"Thanks... I think." Sam stood up and waited till Daniel had downed a quarter of the coffee. "There's fresh towels in the en suite there," she said, motioning with her head towards the bathroom. "Oh, and I put out a new toothbrush and some toothpaste and mouthwash for you as well."

Daniel glanced up at her. "That bad, huh?"

"Not if you like secondhand Scotch a day or two old," she assured him. "Okay, so when you're done, get down to the kitchen. I've made you what my dad swears is the world's only definite hangover cure and while you eat you can tell me what you got up to last night."

Daniel sipped the last of the coffee and put the mug down, sitting up now with his legs over the side of the bed. "Not much," he said flatly.

"Okay," she drawled. "I guess Colonel O'Neill's going to be suffering as much as you this morning. Maybe I should call him, see if he wants to take the hangover cure too—"

"No!" Daniel was on his feet now, wobbling perhaps, but vertical nonetheless. "He probably wants to sleep in." He gave Sam a half-smile, one that didn't make it to his eyes. "I think I'm going to go take that shower."

"Sure, good," Sam said, backing out of the room, her mind going a hundred miles an hour.

She went down to the kitchen and started making breakfast. So, she decided, something happened at the Colonel's place that caused this. Maybe the Colonel put his size ten boots in his mouth about something to do with Sha're... No, she decided, that wasn't it. The Colonel might yank Daniel's chain from time to time, but he cared too much about him to hurt him, deliberately or otherwise, on the anniversary of Sha're's death. Deciding that she'd just have to wait for Daniel to open up to her, she got the eggs and bacon ready and had them sizzling on the stove when the doorbell rang. She turned down the stove and went down the hallway, pulling the front door open.

"Hey, Carter, you seen Daniel?"

"Colonel! Hi," Sam said, pleased to see him. After all, she'd been planning on calling him anyway to try to find out what had gone on the night before. Nice to see that occasionally the mountain came to Mohammed.

A muffled curse behind her made her turn in time to see Daniel's head peeking out around the kitchen door. He raised a hand, waggling it back and forth in a gesture that said as eloquently as words could, 'I'm not here'.

Smiling as broadly as she could, Sam wedged a foot in the door to stop the Colonel walking in and said brightly, "Daniel? Now? You mean have I seen him today?" She inwardly winced at her less than stellar acting routine then sighed with relief as she heard the back door open and close, presumably behind Daniel. She removed her foot from the doorway and yanked the door wide in a belated show of welcome.

O'Neill walked in, looking at her as if she might still be affected by something small and insane-causing. "Look, Sam," he said, the expression on his face serious now. "I really need to talk to Daniel so if you know where he is—"

"He was here," she said quickly, wanting only to see that worry in his eyes mutate into relief, even as she hoped like hell that this betrayal of Daniel didn't make her chickens turn into ostriches after all, and kick her outhouse down, if she'd had chickens or an outhouse, that is...

"Carter?" She blinked as he punched her arm softly. "Where is he?"

"He just left," she said, already praying for forgiveness to a multitude of Daniel's gods and goddesses. "He was really drunk when he got here last night. He seemed really sad but he wouldn't talk to me. I thought it was because of Sha're, but then I realized I've never seen him like that before. He seemed so... hopeless. I poured him into bed and let him sleep it off."

"Do you know where he'd go?" Jack asked.

Sam looked into Jack's eyes and knew she had to do it, for Daniel, and for Jack. "You know, there's a park with a lake around the corner from here," she said. "Sometimes, when he's staying overnight, he'll go down there in the morning, watch the ducks and the kids... He says it helps him focus."

"Which corner?" Jack asked.

"Go left outside," she said, suddenly knowing what it was all about, though she couldn't have explained how she knew. "Sir," she snagged his sleeve as he turned to go, "don't hurt him. He's been through enough."

"I know."

"So have you," she said softly. "So..." she wagged a playful finger in his face, "...play nice, okay?"

"Yes, mom." Jack leaned in and kissed her forehead. "Thank you."

oo~O~oo

Daniel hunched more closely into his jacket. Although there was a weak sun peering through the clouds, the air was cold and he shivered, already regretting his flight from the warmth of Sam's house. His head ached sullenly, his eyes felt scratchy and puffy and his throat felt full as if he'd swallowed something he couldn't quite manage to keep down.

It was all his own doing, he could admit to himself. Self-inflicted hangover and self- inflicted emotional pain. Of course, being able to admit it didn't do a damn thing about taking away any of the pain, physical or emotional.

He watched a little boy, crouched on his knees at the very edge of the lake, a small boat held tightly in his grip as he attempted to make it float. As soon as the child released the vessel, it began to sink, its minuscule decks awash with water. Watching it sink and hearing the boy's wails, Daniel had some fellow-feeling for both the boat, sinking beneath an intractable force, and for the boy, crying for his lost hope.

There was a cough behind him and he recognized it without even turning around. "Hello, Jack," he said, trying desperately to make it sound casual, as if they met up every day in a park around the corner from Sam's after kissing each other the night before.

"Daniel. Little chilly, isn't it?" Jack's tone was conversational and Daniel looked around, not wanting to see the pity or anger or whatever other emotion might be showing on Jack's face right now but not able to keep himself from doing it.

To his surprise, Jack looked much as he always did, though his smile was warmer than Daniel expected it to be under the circumstances. "I guess," Daniel said.

Jack took a step forward and instinctively Daniel took one back. "Look, I'm sorry about what happened last night," Daniel said.

"Ah, you do remember?" Jack asked, moving forward steadily, a step at a time.

Daniel felt himself flush. "Yeah. Can you just let me get this apology over—"

He looked down as something brushed past his knees, in time to catch sight of the small boy who'd been playing at the water's edge. Instinctively, Daniel reached a hand down to stop the child's headlong rush up the bank. "Hey, slow down," he said then cursed as his feet slid out from under him and he fell back, his feet somehow ending up over his head so that he executed a somersault an Olympic gymnast would be proud of. He saw Jack rush toward him but then he was tumbling head over heels down the muddy slope and into the river.

There was a moment of disorientation and panic when he wasn't sure which way was up and he inadvertently inhaled a mouthful of water. Gasping for breath and flailing out with hands and feet, he felt as if he was going to drown.

"Calm down!" Jack's voice barked somewhere above him and he twisted his head as the back of his jacket was grabbed and then he was on his knees, soaked to the skin, already shivering in the cold air.

He coughed harshly, leaning forward to rest his arms on his thighs while Jack patted his back helpfully then got him to his feet and back up on the bank.

"Here, lie down while you catch your breath," Jack said, pushing with his hand till Daniel was flat on his back, the clouds skidding above him as the sky grew dark.

A jacket was tossed over his chest, Jack tucking the sleeves under as Daniel tried to push his hands away so he could sit up. "I'm fine," he said, coughing to get the foul taste of the water from his mouth before he threw up.

Jack knelt beside him and leaned forward, grasping Daniel's chin in one hand. Slowly, deliberately, he bent and captured Daniel's mouth with his.

"Was that mouth to mouth?" Daniel asked as Jack released him, "because if it was, I'm breathing just fine—"

"I must be losing my touch," Jack murmured, brushing his lips over Daniel's again. "That was a kiss, Doctor Jackson."

"Oh."

"That's it? Oh?" Jack hauled him up so he was sitting then helped him to his feet. "I think we should take this somewhere warmer."

"And drier," Daniel agreed. "Jack, you don't have to do this—"

"What if I want to do this? You didn't exactly give me much time to tell you what I wanted last night," Jack replied, pulling Daniel against his side and shepherding him back toward Sam's.

"I'm not into pity fucks, Jack."

"See, we're getting along great already. Neither am I. I am into kissing and hugging and making love though. You think we could try that? I mean, just for a while, see how we like it..."

Daniel nodded, feeling the warmth of Jack's arm through the sodden chill of his clothes. "I think I'd like that."

"Good. Let's get you home and into a hot bath. That water reeks, Daniel and I hate to say it, so do you."

"My lover, the romantic," Daniel said, grinning.

"Yep, that's me." Jack pulled him in close again and hurried him along. "I love you, ya klutz."

"Me too, Jack."

The End