FIRST YEAR, LAST YEAR
It felt odd.
Felt like someone had put the whole world on hold for the day.
And he hated it.
For the past five years they had spent this day, July eighth, running around like mad things, making sure everything was ready, the right food, the right wine - enough wine, because Daniel hated the taste of beer - the perfect gifts, some serious, some silly and some just downright sleazy. Like the life-size chocolate dildo... Or had that been for Sam? He had trouble remembering these days. Had trouble with a lot of things.
He opened the refrigerator door and peered inside, wondering what he make for dinner, trying to ignore the unusual emptiness of it. No finger foods this year, no delicious dishes lovingly prepared to tempt the birthday boy's palate. And no cake. Janet had always made the cake and she and Cassie decorated it with loving care, watched by a bemused Sam who had been absolutely forbidden to touch anything. She might know her way around a naquada generator, but a bowl of frosting and an icing pen were mysteries to her.
The door slammed shut again, rattling the bottles and jars sitting on top: teriyaki sauce, Tabasco, mushroom sauce, oregano and tarragon... He never used any of that stuff, was a plain old ketchup or bbq sauce man, nothing fancy. He would have to go through everything, throw out what he didn't use, before it all went rancid. But not today.
Tossing the bottle cap into the trash, he carried the beer out onto the deck and dropped wearily into a chair. The silence closed in around him almost immediately, lightened only by the occasional twitter of a passing bird, and he couldn't help thinking of the difference a year could bring. It was a far cry from that first summer.
He caught himself in a smile. That first year had been wild. Half the base had shown up to his open invitation to come celebrate Daniel's birthday and he had counted it a good thing that he got on so well with his neighbours, because he was sure they broke at least a dozen local laws about sound levels and public order, and parking restrictions. Dancing in the street hadn't just been a song on the stereo that night.
The light was fading quickly, the solitary lamp in the corner of the living room not bright enough to chase the shadows away out here. The first year he had rigged the deck and the garden beyond with candles in jars and strings of coloured lights, and flaming torches carefully placed out of harms way. But he liked the darkness, welcomed it on this night. The darkness could hide so many things.
Like an old man's tears for a lost friend.
Or a stolen kiss...
"Jack... We can't...."
"What if someone sees?"
"Y'know... Right now, Danny-boy, I couldn't give a damn. I love you, and if the world can't accept that, they can go fuck themselves..."
His gaze drifted across the garden, narrowing as they scanned the shadows between the house and the neatly clipped bushes, searching for a memory. They had both been drunk - he doubted he would have dared to do something so overt under normal circumstances, whatever his feelings for Daniel at the time - and it had been a good thing that Hammond had given them both the next day off to - recover - because after the party had ended and everyone had gone home, he and Daniel had screwed each other stupid.
He tipped the dregs of the beer down his throat and contemplated getting another, deciding in retrospect that maybe it was not such a good idea. There was no day off tomorrow, no CO sanctioned overindulgence to recover from. He was expected on the base at oh-six-hundred to meet with the delegation from P4J 904, for what would most likely prove to be a very long and boring day of negotiations. He knew his name and the word 'negotiations' seldom went together successfully, but the leaders of 904 - a slightly quirky bunch, in his opinion - had taken to him after their initial visit and had insisted on his presence.
Setting the empty bottle carefully on the table, he lifted his legs to the rail and leaned back in the chair. It was a fine night, clear and warm, the brightest of the stars just beginning to emerge against the darkening blue, and he found himself thinking about all the nights they had sat out here, he and Daniel, watching the stars and making plans for the future, for the time when the world was safe and they could turn their backs on the rules and regulations and just - be together.
Never gonna happen now, though, is it? he thought bitterly, angry with himself for ever allowing the false hope of a 'happy ever after' to become such a prominent part of his life.
That first year had been all about sex, mutual lust, the need for physical satisfaction, with just a discrete nod in the direction of real affection. How had he let things get so out of control? With the kind of track record he had, how had he allowed himself to fall in love with such an impossible dream? And why the hell hadn't he had the sense to get out when he could?
Because there was never a way out, not really. Once Daniel had torn a away through his defences, crawled under his skin and claimed him as his own, Jack was powerless, unable to resist, incapable of walking away - even if he had wanted to. He wondered if he would ever have found the strength to leave, had the need arisen, and he wished with all his heart that he could have back the chance to find out.
A spike of misery, razor sharp, pierced through him and he pitched forward, arms wrapping around his body in parody of a lover's embrace, the wooden deck rattling a protest as his booted feet dropped heavily from the rail. Misery, not grief: he wondered about that, too. Why couldn't he grieve for all that he had lost? Sam and Teal'c, the general, Doc Fraiser - and a good proportion of the rest of the base, come to that - had done their grieving, marked his passing. They had walked through the valley of the shadow of his death, come out the other side and moved on. Why couldn't he do that? What moved him to sit here, alone like this, instead of closing that particular chapter of his life and moving on to the next?
"It's called 'hope', Jack."
His eyes flew open, head snapping left to right and back again , as he searched the shadows for the source of the voice.
His own voice bounced back to him from the darkness, cold and empty, but the call went unanswered and when the echo had dies away, only the silence remained.
Could it really be that simple? Was that what bound him to this limbo of separation from the one he loved, the hope that one day, someday, Daniel might come back to him, not as a dream or a ghost, or some 'higher being', but as Daniel, a solid, living, breathing reality. It made sense. None of the others knew. None of them understood the truth, that Daniel wasn't 'dead', he had just - moved on to something else.
A small smile lit his face as he shook his head, realising that if someone else had voiced these thoughts to him, he would have told them they were crazy. But then, they thought he had been crazy about the 'little grey men', until they had met Thor for themselves...
Okay, he could do this, keep hope alive and look to the day when he and Daniel could be together again. At the very least it gave him a focus, a goal and if, in the end, he had to turn into - whatever it was Daniel had become, in order to be with him, then so be it. It sure beat the hell out of most of the alternatives.
A last glance around the garden, seeing once more the ghosts of that first year and, just for an instant, he thought he felt the brush of wine flavoured lips across his own.
"Thank you for my party, Jack."
"You're welcome, Spacemonkey. Now - shut up and kiss me..."
A sigh, hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his pants. Another year... How many more before this masquerade was over?
"Happy birthday, lover," he called softly into the night, turned slowly and walked back into the house, locking the door behind him and drawing the drapes.
Out in the empty garden the shadows thinned, sparkling like distant stars that swirled and eddied, brushing for a moment against the window, almost like a caress.
"Next year, Jack. I promise....."