July 8, 2004 (Thursday)
It takes Daniel a few moments to realize that the doorbell and the pounding on the door had woken him before the shrill trill of his cell phone.
"'Lo?" he manages through a sleepy haze. His face is still half-smushed into the couch cushions.
"Daniel, open your damn door."
"No, it's the birthday fairy. Get your ass off the couch and open the door."
Daniel squints and slightly lifts his head, taking in his dimly lit living room. "How do you know I'm on the couch?"
"Because you're Daniel," Jack says with only a hint of fondness in his voice. "You've probably got three or four stacks of books on the coffee table and fell asleep on your laptop."
Daniel counts the stacks, finds the fourth one around the corner of the couch, and flushes slightly. "I didn't fall asleep on my laptop," he mutters.
"Daniel?" The tone of Jack's voice says, open the door.
"Right." Daniel plucks his glasses off his notes and smacks his lips, making a face at the dry saliva taste in his mouth. He throws the locks and pulls back the door. It's dark outside, completely black. "What the hell time is it?" Daniel's still talking into the receiver and can hear his whine through Jack's phone.
Jack snaps his phone closed and leans over and does the same with Daniel's. "Four something?" Jack seems less certain for a second, but then he pushes Daniel aside, brushing past roughly, and lets himself in. "You probably only fell asleep a few hours ago, huh?"
Daniel forces himself not to look abashed. Jack knows him too well; he should take that as a compliment, it means Jack cares.
Jack tosses his keys and cell phone down on Daniel's notes, plops on the couch and puts his large boots right on top of Daniel's books. Cringing, Daniel rushes forward and yanks the books out from under Jack's crossed ankles.
Jack's smirk is all too telling.
Daniel pushes his glasses up and wipes at the sleep in his eyes. "What are you doing here at four something in the morning when I only fell asleep a few hours ago?"
He reaches into his pocket and withdraws a small box wrapped in blue paper. Jack shakes the package slightly. "Happy birthday." He tosses it over and Daniel catches it against his stomach.
"Oh, come on, don't tell me after a year you're still missing memories. I mean, it was funny when you used that excuse on Carter." The corner of Jack's mouth lifts.
"Uh . . . no?" The box is light. The thing inside shifts when Daniel tilts the box. "I just wasn't . . . expecting . . . Jack, what is this?"
Jack exhales. "Open it." He places his feet heavily on the floor and stands. "I'm going to make some coffee," he mumbles, "or something."
Daniel holds up the box and calls, "Jack, you didn't have to—"
"Open it," he orders.
There was a time when that tone of voice would have made Daniel fold like a house of cards and there was a time when it would have made Daniel chuck the present back at Jack's head. But after dying and ascending and descending . . . Daniel follows Jack into the kitchen. He sets the box on the counter next to Jack's hand and clears his throat.
"That's not the sound of shredding paper." Jack flicks on the coffee maker.
"I don't want a birthday present." Daniel touches his lips, trying to find the right words, still trying to get his brain to fully wake up after its kick-start. His thoughts are still half on the report he was writing about the Ancients before he drifted off to sleep. "Jack . . . how can it be my birthday? I don't. . . ." He's had a year to deal with all the problems of descending—the memory loss, the new/old feeling of his body, redefining how he fits in with SG-1, his friends—this is the first time in a long time that he's had to wonder what happened to him while he was ascended. "I don't even know how old I am. I mean, how do I count that year?" Daniel hugs himself, half-wishing for someone else's arms to be around him, half-wishing he didn't need the comfort.
Jack picks up the package and turns around, leaning against the counter. He tosses it a few times, flipping it in the air. He throws the gift across the kitchen to Daniel, who only just manages to catch it.
"You're thirty-nine, Daniel." He shifts and a muscle in his cheek jumps. Talking about his ascension still bothers Jack. It's this little thing, barely noticeable, that affirms how Daniel fits in with Jack. "Don't think you can cheat your age just because you were dead."
When Jack turns away, Daniel's shoulders twitch in a silent laugh. He turns the box right side up and pulls the paper off, crumpling it into his palm. He lifts the lid, revealing a folded up piece of paper inside, just the paper, nothing else. Daniel feels his brow furrow. He takes out the paper and unfolds it. In Jack's unmistakable handwriting is written I'm sorry.
Daniel looks up, blinking, completely lost. "Sorry for what?" he asks.
Jack gets two mugs out of the cabinet and takes his time arranging them on the counter. He speaks to the mugs, not even looking over his shoulder. "I wrapped that just before you died, ascended, whatever. It was supposed to be your birthday present then. Guess it's two years late." Jack smiles over his shoulder, an attempt at being cavalier, but Daniel sees the strain underlying it.
Daniel closes his eyes and rubs the back of his neck—passing out on the couch is not good for stiff muscles. He wracks his brain, trying to remember all the things Jack would have been sorry for during that time. There were quite a few things that qualified, including taping a hockey game over his copy of the History Channel's special on Atlantis, spilling a beer over his mission notes from P4X-827, and setting him up on a blind date with Lt. Satterfield . . . not to mention all the professional scuffles, Reese being number one on a very long list.
"Don't you know what it's like?" Daniel's eyes snap open at the sound of Jack's voice. Jack scrubs his hand through his hair. "I just—how do you put up with me?"
"Uh. . . ." Daniel scratches his nose. He keeps his eyes down and for the first time notices the creases in Jack's jeans, as if Daniel wasn't the only one who unexpectedly fell asleep on the couch. Jack was revived only a week ago—probably keeps thinking that he's had enough sleep for the past three months and only passes out from exhaustion. On top of that are the nagging feelings, trying to figure out what happened, why me, and what now. Daniel's had a year to question all that—to weigh the idea of self-sacrifice against the actual practice—but it's new for Jack and he's not introspective.
The coffee maker switches over with a click and the coffee strains into the pot.
Daniel shrugs. "I do. I don't know. It's . . . Do I really have to answer this?" Daniel smiles hesitantly, like it's all just some big joke, and in a minute Jack's once again going to make fun of Daniel for being too in touch with his emotions.
Jack pours the coffee and ignores Daniel's question when he thrusts a mug into Daniel's open hand. They stand next to each other, arms touching, and drink the too-hot coffee because scalding their tongues is better than explaining.
"So, happy birthday," Jack finally says. He nudges Daniel, pressing his cool arm into Daniel's side.
"I know what it's like," Daniel blurts. "We both died." He makes a frustrated noise and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I didn't mean it like that." He sets the mug down and starts talking with his hands. "I mean . . ." He gestures fruitlessly, his hands wheeling and rolling. There's so much he feels and so much he can't articulate and so much he won't say.
And just like that Daniel understands. Jack is sorry for all the things he won't say, can't say, needs Daniel to say.
Finally he drops his hands and sighs, conceding. "I missed you, too."
Jack snorts and mutters into his coffee, "I didn't miss you . . . like that."
The embarrassment is only a flash because Daniel knows the truth behind Jack's teasing. He lets Jack have his stoicism, and then smiles and lies, "I guess you didn't."
They're quiet as they sip their coffee. Daniel rotates a kink out of his shoulder, pushing up Jack's shirtsleeve. Jack bumps his elbow into Daniel's wrist. Daniel smacks his lips a few times, almost the formation of words, but there's something in the quiet of this moment, at four something in the morning, the two of them barely touching, that defies speech, explanation, and all things anathema to Jack O'Neill. It's annoying, really. But in that annoyance Daniel finds comfort.
"Sorry for what?" He grins as he repeats the question.
"For not buying you a present," Jack deadpans.
Daniel hums and takes a sip of his coffee. "Jack? The next time you want to not give me something, can it wait until later? Like after the roosters have crowed?"
Jack smirks. "And ruin the surprise?" He takes his mug of coffee back into the living room, taking away most of the heat in the kitchen. "No way, Daniel."
Daniel rubs a hand through his hair and shakes his head before placing the note back in the box and tucking it safely into his pocket. He picks up his coffee and follows Jack into the living room.
They sit on the couch, put their feet on Daniel's notes, and talk about all the meaningless things in the universe while their coffee grows cold, the day grows light, and Daniel turns thirty-nine.