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Taking Care

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When General Hammond finally said, "Dismissed," it was the sweetest word Jack had ever heard in his life. Dismissed to depart, to go home, and to fall in bed for a week. Well, after he'd had a shower. The only worse thing than having to drive home after a mission like this was having to drive home sharing the confined space of the car with, well, himself. Over the last couple of days, the air in his immediate vicinity had definitely begun to develop an unique personality. Even Teal'c had started to keep his distance.

By the time Jack had dragged his ass down to SG-1's locker room, the place was empty, thanks for small favors. Jack sat down gratefully on a handy bench, groaning as he finally removed those couple of hundred pounds from his feet. The boots, he decided, were going to be the first things to go.

His boots were filthy, still damp and caked with mud and other less-savory substances, courtesy of P7X-916. He wasn't sure why he should be surprised, not after spending the last four days hiking on what passed for roads there, sharing said roads with whatever random incontinent livestock the inhabitants felt it was suddenly necessary to move from one settlement to another.

Finally, he managed to get the left boot worked loose. It thumped against the bottom of his locker with a satisfying thud, a small shower of dirt and dried dung sifting to the floor. The right one soon followed, and his socks joined the heap with a little more haste than he'd planned. He was definitely going to have to do some laundry.

Uh-oh. He'd sat down, hadn't he. Bad planning, Jack. Now it was a choice: Stand up to get his pants off, or sit here a while. Take off pants, or...sit here. Pants. Sit.

"Hey, Jack." The bench vibrated slightly with the sudden addition of Daniel's weight, and Jack closed his eyes. Great. Just when he really, really wanted to be by himself, to haul his own sorry, tired, aging ass into the shower and stand there for about an hour. Alone. In silence.

Daniel, damn him, was tugging vigorously at his boots, slinging them into his locker with what Jack felt was completely unnecessary energy. Fine for him, anyway. Daniel had spent the entire mission tucked up in the local equivalent of a library, cozily sipping tea with the nicely statuesque librarian and discussing glottal stops or adverbs or something else equally important. And Jack?

Jack had spent four days slogging through what the natives assured him was an "unseasonable downpour," only to find out that the abandoned naquadah mine had been abandoned because--surprise!--there wasn't any more naquadah in it. Two days out, two days back, and nothing to show for it but sixteen layers of mud and assorted animal by-products, plus a personal aroma that could stand up and salute on its own. All he wanted now was a hot shower, a cold beer, and a nice warm bed. The first was within his grasp. All he had to do was stand up.

"Jack? Jack, are you all right?"

Jack blinked, and looked up to see Daniel standing in front of him, miraculously undressed already and in his bathrobe, a towel dangling from his hand. "Yeah, I'm fine," he said. "I'll be there in a minute."

"Okay." Daniel wavered, turning towards the shower room, then he turned back. "Uh, you need any help, Jack?"

"No," Jack said automatically. "I'm right behind you." He considered a moment. "As soon as I can lift my arms."

There was a long moment of contemplative silence from the other side of the room. Then Daniel put down his towel and walked back to the bench. The next thing Jack knew, Daniel's hands were on his jacket, pushing it off his shoulders and down his arms. Jack might have protested, might have pointed out that forty-plus-year-old colonels were certainly capable of taking off their own clothes. But he was so damn tired. So much easier to let Daniel do this for him, let him pick up each of his arms to pull the jacket off so that Jack didn't have to so much as lift a finger. And it felt good, just this once, to let go. Let someone else take charge for a little while. Take care of things.

Take care of him.

Daniel put the jacket away, then returned and pulled at the bottom of Jack's shirt, tugging it out of his pants and over his head, releasing a small shower of dried mud pellets from Jack's shirt, and from his skin and his hair as well. "Ugh," Daniel said, tossing the shirt in the same pile as Jack's boots. "Looks like you took a mud bath, Jack."

"No, a mud bath might have been fun. This was un-fun mud. It was sticky, slimy, cold, yucky...and it wasn't all mud, either." Jack was so absorbed in dredging up unpleasant adjectives that it only belatedly occurred to him, about the time that Daniel was pulling his belt out of the loops, that there was a certain inevitable consequence to this disrobing business that he hadn't quite considered yet. A little helpful kindness from a friend in the matter of jackets and shirts and even belts was one thing. Helping one's fellow man out of his pants and his underwear, though, fell into a category that was definitely the fuzzy side of...something else.

But, even as Jack was framing the snappy comeback that would send Daniel to the shower and leave Jack to tend to his own skivvies, Daniel's hands were unbuttoning and unzipping with matter-of-fact efficiency. A gentle push put Jack on his back across the bench, leaving him lying there with all the grace and dignity of a worn-out rag doll while Daniel worked his trousers over his hips and pulled them off.

Jack was pretty sure he ought to say something at this point. Protest, argue, dredge up something indignantly sarcastic. And he would. As soon as he'd lain here on this nice, comfortable, wooden bench for just a little longer....

"Okay." Jack opened his eyes and found Daniel standing next to him, bending down to take hold of Jack's arm. "Up you go."

All right. This was better, and saved Jack the bother of coming up with a cutting remark. Not that he actually felt much like making cutting remarks right now, not when it seemed like the most gargantuan task in the entire world to hold onto Daniel's arm long enough to be helped to his feet. Jack opened his mouth to say thanks, to make it clear that he could manage the last little bit on his own, thank you very much. But before he could draw breath to get the words out, Daniel had reached down and one smooth, deft motion later Jack's shorts were suddenly puddled on the floor.

"Hey!"

"Well, it's not like I've never seen you naked before," Daniel pointed out reasonably, already reaching back to grab Jack's robe from its hook.

Jack considered. "Yeah," he said, "but it's the first time you've helped me get that way."

That made Daniel pause for about two seconds, as if the thought had only just then occurred to him. "Okay, yeah, that's a good point," he conceded, then handed the robe over without another word. A couple of wraps and knots later, and Jack was as decently clothed as any man could be after having just been undressed by his best friend. Daniel handed him a towel. Jack took it, watching him walk to the shower and wondering what the hell he was supposed to do now.

"Hey, Daniel."

Daniel turned in the doorway. "Yes, Jack?"

Jack pulled the tie of his robe a little tighter around himself, gesturing awkwardly to the pile of clothing still heaped in front of his locker. "Uh, thanks," he said inadequately. "For, uh, everything."

A smile spread slowly over Daniel's face. "Thank you, Jack," he said.

Jack shrugged. "Hey, you were the one who helped me. What are you thanking me for?"

Daniel regarded him for a long, silent moment, the smile still lingering on his features as he said simply, "For letting me."

THE END