Missing in Action

"I'm getting old."

Daniel turned from his contemplation of a sunset hidden behind a host of tall buildings and gave Jack an appraising look. Jack's grey hair looked ash-white against the black leather of the couch; the clear lines of his face a little blurred, but his answer was sincere. "No, you're not."

Jack looked away, his fingers finding a loose thread on his shirt, hanging from a button.

"When you hit fifty, you said you were going to stop counting."

"Doesn't mean I did."

"Well..." Daniel walked over to sit beside him. "If it's any consolation, I'm finding grey hairs myself."

"It's not. And you've had them for years."

"I have?"

"Maybe they were all at the back and you didn't notice."

"But you did."

Jack smiled sourly. "I had your six, didn't I?"

Ah. "Jack, you can't still be missing being on active duty? It's been years --"

"What?" Jack shook his head. "No. It was time to step down."

"Step down? You got promoted."

"Daniel, sometimes you're too dumb for words, you know that?" Jack sounded exasperated and blessedly familiar for a moment. "Fraiser was giving me these doubtful looks for months every time she checked me over. It was just a matter of time. Getting put on ice just gave them the perfect chance to ease me out."

Jack wasn't always averse to flattery, if it was done without subtlety, which he immediately detected and distrusted. "If a system lord walked through that door waving a zat, my money's on you. And I'd still walk through the 'gate with you and feel safe."

"Sweet. Stupid, but sweet." Jack peered down at the thread he was holding and gave an experimental jerk, trying to snap it off. The thread unravelled and the button fell off. Jack caught it, looking bewildered, like a child with its first popped soap bubble. It should have been funny, but it wasn't. Jack was staring down at the small disc and his shirt was gaping open, exposing his belly.

Daniel looked away tactfully until Jack had fumbled his shirt closed. "Jack? Something wrong?"





"Just --"



"Regrets." Daniel shrugged cautiously. "Yes? We all have them, I suppose..."

"Regrets, missed opportunities -- mistakes." Jack sat up a little. "You start to add them up and, well, I ran out of fingers and toes."

Daniel smiled. "Use mine," he offered, holding up a hand.

Jack gave him a quizzical look and then reached out and tapped his finger slowly against each of Daniel's. "Thanks."

"Going to tell me what they are?"

"No. Important to me, not to you."

That seemed to end that conversation. Daniel gave his watch a surreptitious glance and leaned back against the couch, happy to sit in silence for a short while. He closed his eyes against a shaft of sunlight aimed at them and drifted. Tired... busy week; too many late nights socialising, which he hated. Tonight would be different...

A light, soft touch jerked his eyes open. Fingers, in his hair, stroking from his forehead back...

"Hey. Did you just--?" He gave Jack a bewildered look. "Did I fall asleep or something? What did you do that for?"

Jack stared at him, a frustrated, disappointed look in his eyes that Daniel couldn't understand. Then he nodded at the table. A bee, wings heavy with pollen from a potted plant Jack was killing slowly, was dancing unsteadily, dazed, across the surface.

"Guess it thought you were sweet, Daniel. Didn't want it to sting you by mistake, though."

"Oh!" Daniel smiled at him. "Sorry. Thanks." He gave his watch another look, this time not hiding it. "We should be going. Mitchell's got the table booked for nine."

"Plenty of time, isn't there?"

Daniel hesitated. "Well -- aren't you going to change your shirt? And maybe -- shave?"

Jack's fingers rasped against his chin. "You know, that sounds like a lot of effort for some over-priced Chinese. Think I'll give it a miss."

"Jack..." Daniel protested. "I've been looking forward to this. The team, just us, no making nice for a bunch of politicians and --"

"Stuffed shirts like me?" Jack grimaced. "I'm not on the team any more, Daniel. The four of you go. Celebrate saving the world. Again. Put a notch on a chopstick, or whatever we do these days."


"Stop whining at me, Daniel. Get out of here. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

Daniel stood. It really was getting late, and if Jack was in one of these moods, there wasn't much point in hanging around. "Promise you'll pin the medal to Mitchell's jacket, this time, not him?"

Jack's smile didn't look reassuring, but at least it was a smile.

The door closed on Daniel's heels. He turned to walk away and then paused, staring at it. Quiet behind there. Really quiet. His hand rose to knock, though he wasn't sure what he would have said when Jack opened the door, but he heard Jack cough dryly, and his hand fell back.

Getting late. He'd have to hurry. He didn't want to miss this...

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