Through A Glass Darkly VIII

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The scenery rolled by the window of the vintage Rolls Royce as it made its way along the winding roads outside the small hamlet of Glen Arach. Lolling against the inside of the rear window Jack saw nothing but the inside of his eyelids as he fought the rising tide of nausea that had plagued him in varying degrees throughout the journey from Mexico. As the car made a sharp left he cracked his eyes open and recognized the distinctive shape of Castle Blair, lodged in the valley between two crags known locally as the ‘Old Man and His Wife’. Relief flooded him as the car swung in a long arc around the bend and through monumental iron gates.

‘Less than half a mile now,’ he thought as they slowed past the gatehouse and the driver nodded to the shepherd and his dog as they watched the graceful old car drive past. There was the crunch of gravel under the tires as the driver took a turn around the cannon which stood proudly in the center of the white stoned courtyard.

Castle Blair was nothing like the castles conjured up by Disney. It was square and solid and the gray stone oozed history while the myriad windows winked and shone in the evening sunlight. The light up here in the Highlands was different from anywhere else Jack had been in his long and varied career. It had a softness to it that seemed to tinge everything it touched with a violet glow. He was a little surprised at how emotional seeing the castle made him after all this time and he had to take a couple of deep breaths to get both the nausea and the rising tide of feeling under control.

‘Danny would love this,’ he thought before the reason for his flight halfway across the world slammed back into his mind. The turmoil in his head was reflected in his stomach and he was sure he was going to make a complete idiot of himself right there on the pristine white stones of the courtyard.

The door was opened slowly and he had time to lift his heavy body away before he fell out of the car in an undignified heap. He looked up to see the gimlet eyes of a very familiar face.

“Mac,” Jack croaked thickly. “Good to see you.” He felt the warmth of a strong hand around his bicep as the tall wiry man in front of him helped Jack out of the car. Dressed in mustard tweeds the old mans hair was a shock of white, sticking straight up from his head. He stood over 6 feet tall; vital and strong, only the deep lines on his face indicating his true age.

“Och, Master Jonny,” the man admonished in his gentle highland brogue. “What have ye gotten herself intay?”

Jack managed a sickly smile and then shook his head, feeling weak as a kitten. “I’ll be honest with you, Mac. Not feeling so good,” he muttered. “Need to take several Tylenol, lie down and throw up, probably not in that order.”

The man Jack had addressed as Mac threw Jack’s arm over his shoulder and walked him up the large stone steps with an ease that belied his advanced age. The huge doors to the castle stood open invitingly and Jack thought he had never been so pleased to be anywhere in his life.

“Let’s get ye awa’ ta yer bed and then I’ll get Maddy ta bring ye a cup o’ sweet tea.”

Jack simply nodded, too involved with the difficult task of keeping his stomach contents inside his body to fight whatever plans the old man had for him.

Within fifteen minutes Jack was ensconced in a large half tester bed that took up a corner of a very large room. The furnishings were traditional; almost medieval in design and the room was decorated in dark reds and purples with rich, heavy fabrics draped at the windows and over the bed. It was obvious from the surroundings that it was normally occupied by more than one other person. There were clothes lying strewn across the large armchairs over by the stone fireplace and the bedside tables were scattered with tablet bottles, whiskey glasses and half used tubes of lube. Mac shook his head unhappily.

“I was going ta put ye in the Blue Room, but his Lordship insisted ye’d be more comfortable in here.” The white haired man pursed his lips in disdain. “Lord Simon is in Edinburgh for a day or so and Mr Davin left for London an hour ago and he won’t be back until tomorrow evening at the earliest.” He placed a kindly hand on Jack’s pale forehead and tutted. “Well ye dinna have a fever but I haven’t seen anyone such a fetching shade of green for quite a long while.”

Jack just groaned.

“Are ye sure ye did nay want me ta move ye to yer old room, Master Jonny?” the old man asked affectionately. Jack groaned again, this time more plaintively. “Very well,” Mac smiled. “Ginger tea for ye I’m thinking and probably a bit o’ dry toast. I’ll bring it up myself in a wee while.” He shook Jack gently to get his attention. “The bathroom is through there, I’d appreciate it if ye dinnae be sick in the bed or on the floor. Yon antique silk counterpanes cost a fortune ta clean. Maybe I should get ye a bucket in case ye’r not as spry as usual.”

“Mac, you’re an officer and a gentleman,” Jack moaned as he felt his stomach heave again. Without thinking he hefted himself from the bed and tripped across the rug strewn floor into the surprisingly modern bathroom. He made it to the toilet with barely a second to spare and threw his meager airline meal down the pan. His belly ached with the effort of holding on for so long and he found himself retching over and over until the dry heaves threatened to strain his stomach muscles beyond pain. It was only with the utmost effort and a strong helping hand that he managed to get up off the floor and back to the bed. Mac’s cool hand once again smoothed over his forehead and Jack had to admit to finding it soothing. He drifted into an uncomfortable doze, aware that he was still wearing his coat and boots.

Mac turned in the doorway and gave a resigned shake of his snow-white head. “Och, laddie. We need ta get ye sorted out before yer man gets here.” With a wry smile he left a restless Jack to the pull of sleep.

*****

Daniel stretched his legs and blessed the inspiration that had led him to use a little manipulation on the girl on the check-in at Dallas.

She had asked where he was going and he had smiled sadly. “I’m going to find my…” ‘My what?’ he’d thought morosely. ‘My lover? My boyfriend? My husband?’ How could he describe Jack? He’d been sick of having to hide who they really were to one another. ‘Ah, what the hell!’ he had admonished himself. “My lover,” he’d stated firmly. “We had a fight.”

The blonde behind the desk had made an ‘awww’ face and asked where he was headed.

“I think he’s gone to a little place in the Scottish Highlands,” Daniel had told her, only flinching a little when he’d realized he had used a male pronoun. But the girl hadn’t been fazed and said she thought it was romantic that Daniel was traveling half way around the world to ‘find his man’. Daniel had treated her to his most dazzling smile. Despite what Jack thought, Daniel was not blind to the devastating effect this particular expression had on women and, bestowing this special gift on Melissa at check-in had made her day and got him bumped up to business class.

Now he was comfortably ensconced in the wide business seat, revelling in the extra leg room and the separation from the noisy mayhem in coach. He needed the quiet just to concentrate. His mind was a whirlwind of ifs, buts and maybes. He had tried to make sense of all that had gone on only a few hours before, but it seemed as though those events had happened to someone else; somewhere else.

Daniel had thought carefully about what Izel had said regarding her visions. He was finding it hard to believe that Jack wouldn’t mention that he had ‘seen’ a spirit… vision… whatever, but then he had to admit they hadn’t really been communicating that well over the last couple of days. Allying that to Jack’s continued illness and Daniel’s own disproportional jealousy it was getting harder and harder to pretend that there wasn’t some outside influence at play. Daniel had almost made the decision to call the SGC when he’d realized it would mean he’d have to tell Hammond, Sam, Teal’s and Janet where they had been; together.

They had lied by omission, telling everyone they were going away for a week of their three week downtime. Most people had assumed Jack would take Daniel to the cabin and had given their condolences. Daniel gave a quiet snort. Despite the rumors he cultivated to the contrary, he loved it at the cabin. It was the one place in the States where he and Jack could truly be themselves. They would hire a light plane and Jack would fly them up to Minnesota. In just a few of hours they’d be safe in the back woods, lighting a fire in the hearth and making love under the stars on the pier.

Daniel was surprised to feel the gentle trickle of a tear as it ran down his cheek. Wiping it away he looked around him, blushing gently, but the placement of the seating meant he was not overlooked by anyone and he breathed a small sigh of relief. He couldn’t afford to get emotional. He would need all his wits about him to unravel the mysterious circumstances around both his and Jack’s behavior. Jack had not been through the Gate for over a month and since his fever Daniel had been fine, with no after effects from the spectacularly high temperature. Daniel didn’t want anyone at the mountain to know what a colossal fuckup their relationship was turning into, so, he was trying to convince himself that rather than being due to some malign alien influence, this whole mess was just a set of crappy – and highly improbable – coincidences. In reality he was simple too tired to look at it all too closely. Once he had sorted the misunderstanding out with Jack he would spend some time unravelling just what was going on.

Looking out of the small window at the huge white clouds below the speeding plane Daniel willed the pilot to make good time. There had been delays throughout his journey so far. A problem with refueling in Mexico had meant he was late for his connection at Fort Worth. That meant this was a much later flight than originally planned, although the upgrade had been a welcome pay-off from that. Daniel had checked with the airline and was relieved to find that his connection at Heathrow was still possible even with the later flight, so his actual arrival in Edinburgh would not be delayed. There were no flights from Wick, however, until the following morning so by the time he actually got to Glen Arach he would be 24 hours behind Jack.

Daniel felt a knot form in his stomach as he thought about what could be happening in that Castle in the Highlands right now: a fond reunion between Jack and his first love. Daniel scowled at his own faint reflection in the glass. The bitter taste of jealousy was a real tang in his mouth as he balled his fists in his lap and clenched his teeth. He couldn’t seem to get a handle on the breadth of his loathing for Lord Simon de’Vere. It was unlike Daniel to feel so strongly about someone he’d never met, but it was there nevertheless; a visceral, physical response and deep in his brain there was a voice that kept whispering how Jack was his and that no one was going to take him away. Daniel sighed deeply. He wasn’t even sure if it wasn’t too late already. Had he lost Jack? Lost him to a misunderstanding and the inexplicable appearance of a phantom from Daniel’s past? Pulling off his glasses and sliding them into his shirt pocket he reclined his seat and squeezed his eyes shut against the incipient headache that was threatening to become something much more.

*****

While Daniel was trying to fathom meaning-of-life stuff thousands of feet in the air Jack was dealing with far more mundane issues. He’d slept fitfully for an hour or so, the lucid dreams of the last few days giving way to complex, nightmarish scenarios all involving the kids he had seen both sleeping and waking at La Troza. The visuals were disjointed and frightening and woke him in a lather of sweat, his heart thumping in his chest. As soon as his eyes opened Jack knew he wouldn’t make it all the way to the bathroom, but he tried anyway. He fell painfully to his knees at the bathroom doorway and managed to throw up yellow stinking bile all over the tile floor. Too wrung out to move he sat back on his haunches and wiped a shaking hand across his mouth. The smell was too much for his roiling belly and before he could lean forward again he retched and coughed, streaking the front of his coat, shirt and pants with noisome vomit. A gentle hand on his shoulder roused him from his miserable contemplation of the mess he had made.

“Och, Master Jonny.” Mac’s warm Scots brogue washed over Jack like a welcome friend. If Mac was here then all would be well. The old man was a constant here at Castle Blair and had dealt with Jack through a couple of the most embarrassing times of his young life. In the back of his mind he made a note to tell Daniel some of those stories before realizing that his lover was thousands of miles away. Jack wondered if Daniel was still in Mexico or if he had taken the opportunity to go back to his lover; Russ. Jack’s memory spat the name out with venom. He gave a little shiver of reaction as grief at the loss of his dreams for him and Daniel hit Jack hard. He wanted to rage and yell, but he was too weak to even lift his hands.

“Come now, young man,” Mac continued, unaware of the turmoil in Jack’s mind. “Let’s be getting ye out of yer clothes and back intay bed. I have ginger tea and toast for ye.”

Jack nodded weakly. “Shit, Mac. I’m sorry.”

“Whisht, think naything o’ it.” The old man slid his hands under Jack’s armpits and hauled him upright. He deftly stripped Jack of his soiled clothing and soaked a wash cloth in warm water whilst Jack sat naked and shivering slightly on the edge of the bed. With the ease of someone well used to caring for another he wiped Jack down with the cloth and then dried him off with a warm fluffy towel. Jack sighed in pleasure as the sticky grime was removed. When Mac returned to him after gathering the soiled laundry and placing it in a pile by the door Jack was already slumped in the bed, his head buried in the mound of pillows.

“Ye’ll catch yer death, ye daft man,” Mac admonished affectionately. Giving Jack a little push he rolled him fully into the bed and pulled the covers up to his waist. With lots of grunting and groaning Jack was eventually sitting up against the huge headboard of the thickly upholstered four poster bed with a tray of tea and toast on his lap.

“Ugh, Mac,” Jack grimaced. “I’m not sure I can eat any of this.”

“Now, I don’t want ta hear any of yer blather. You’ll eat it and be grateful it’s not Maddy herself who’s here.” Mac raised his bushy eyebrows. “You dinna be wanting that now do ye?”

Jack shook his head a little more emphatically than was prudent and had to shut his eyes for a moment to stop the world from spinning. “No,” he agreed fervently. “How is the canny old fish wife anyway?”

Mac grinned at Jack’s longstanding nickname for the cook and house keeper at the castle. “She’s well, ye cheeky bugger; although that’s more than ye’ll be if ye don’t get that down yer throat.”

Jack lifted the cup of tea to his lips with a trembling hand. Damn it, but he felt like a kid, staying home sick from school. Mac had always made him feel like that. If Jack could’ve chosen a dad then it would have been Mac.

Jack looked over at the old man as he moved around the room, emptying Jack’s pant’s pockets of his cell, wallet and loose change placing it all on the bedside table. Gordon McGregor looked exactly the same as he had over 30 years ago. Jack realized with a start that the old fella must be over eighty by now and yet, in some ways, he looked like Jack’s contemporary. Only the deep lines around his eyes and mouth gave a clue to his real age. Mac still stood tall and strong and moved with the grace of a man well versed in being unobtrusive. Jack had always thought Mac carried himself like a trained soldier. His movements were graceful and economic. The man could be preternaturally quiet and acknowledging that fact was the ultimate accolade from Jack, for whom stealth was a matter of professional pride. It also seemed there wasn’t anything Mac couldn’t turn his hand to; from managing the household to stripping down a shotgun, he made everything look easy.

He had always treated Jack with a respectful affection Jack had found difficult to understand at first. Not being used to household servants and the vagaries of the aristocratic and feudal class system, Jack had been ill at ease with the expectations of the servants in the house. Still, Jack’s charm and quirky wit had quickly made him a firm favorite with the staff at the castle. Even Simon’s father, a dour, severe man, had warmed to him and his place in his son and heir’s bed. Lord Douglas had long accepted that Simon would be the last of the line, given his sexuality and his particular personality. Simon had told Jack there were boys in a distant cousin’s line that would probably inherit when he died and so Jack’s lover didn’t feel too bad that he wasn’t able to offer his father the ‘heir and a spare’ he would have liked.

Coming back to Castle Blair was like returning home for Jack and considering that he had actually only spent the equivalent of a month there during his year with Simon that was really quite an achievement. There was warmth here amongst the cold gray stones and snow capped mountains that was missing in many other places Jack had spent time.

Once again his mind drifted to Daniel. The archaeologist would love the Castle and surrounding area; the anthropologist would be beside himself with glee at the history of the building and its inhabitants; the linguist would wallow in the rich culture of the Gaelic language. Jack felt a deep well of sadness open up in his heart as he considered that he’d probably lost his young lover to someone else. He allowed himself to wallow a little, letting his illness and tiredness take him to a dark place. He considered what Russ would be like; younger than Jack, no doubt, without the gray hair and scarred body that was constantly threatening to let him down. Russ would have the stamina of youth, unlike Jack who felt way past his prime. This young, good looking man appeared fully formed in Jack’s mind and he hated him. The force of his anger soon tempered to sadness again when he realized that whoever this man was, he could give Daniel something Jack couldn’t; an open and honest relationship without hiding and lying and pretending. Jack couldn’t even let Daniel have a photograph of him fercryinoutloud. Jack’s shoulders slumped and he slammed the teacup down a little more forcefully than he meant to.

“Hey now,” Mac chided. “Be careful with yon china, laddie. It’s not the best Meissen but ‘tis not the kitchen pots either.”

Jack winced apologetically. “Sorry, Mac I’m just not feeling the best right now, ya know?”

“Aye, laddie I know.” Mac said kindly as he pulled the tray off Jack’s lap and moved it to the coffee table before returning to sit on the edge of the bed and training his gimlet eyes on the ailing man.

“So…” Mac raised his eyebrows questioningly. “Not that I’m not pleased ta see ye after all these years but ye’ve come an awful long way; from Mexico no less?”

Jack looked surprised and then realized that he hadn’t let anyone know he was coming. So why had the car been waiting for him at Wick Airport? “Mac, how do you know where I flew in from?”

“Now, that’ll be a wee birdie called Izel,” Mac smiled.

Jack gave a small nod. Okay, so that solved that little puzzle. “She is a very insightful woman,” he commented wryly.

“Och, Jonny. Ye don’t know the half of it.” Mac replied cryptically. He knew Daniel was on his way, following after the man he loved, and the old man had decided that he wouldn’t let Jack know that quite yet. He wasn’t sure how far behind Jack the younger man was or what the problem between them had been, but from the little he had gleaned from Izel the two of them were a match made in heaven and he for one was not going to let Jack mess that up. Mac had spent the last 20 years watching Simon go from one relationship to another, always searching for the one thing he couldn’t have; Jonathon O’Neill.

Mac despaired of his master ever finding true love again and Davin Garvin, the latest in the long line of hangers on and reprobates, was probably the worst so far. The old man had promised Maddy that they would dance a jig the day that young man got his marching orders. However, the male model knew when he was on to a good thing and he had cleverly got his hooks deeply into Simon. Mac sneered a little at the unpleasant thought of that one being around for a good while yet.

Jack caught sight of his cell sitting on the bedside table where Mac had placed it. Reaching over he flipped it open and was surprised to see 9 missed calls flagged on the screen. Keying in the number for his answering service he listened with a heavy heart as Daniel’s voice pleaded with him over and over again.

“Jack, please…I need to talk to you. Something about all this just doesn’t make sense. Please, baby, just give me a call so we can talk about it. I love you.”

The sadness was evident in his lover’s voice and Jack ached to hold Daniel. The pain and anger of betrayal was overlaid with grief for the loss of him. It took no imagination at all for jack to conjure the lush curve of his lips, the smoothness of his skin and the blue, bluest, endless blue of his eyes. Jack looked down to see his finger hovering over speed-dial 1 – Daniel – but his pride wouldn’t let him make the connection. He knew the second he’d hear Daniel’s voice he would be prepared to forgive him and Jack didn’t feel very forgiving right now. “Perhaps tomorrow,” he murmured to himself and flipped the cover closed, throwing the phone back onto the bedside cabinet.

He looked up to see Mac watching him knowingly.

“So, do ye want ta talk about it?” the Scot offered gently.

Jack felt warmth bloom around his heart. The old man really was special. “Not right now, Mac, although I may take you up on the offer when I feel a bit more human.” Jack sighed deeply. “I’m just tired and there’s stuff I need to think about first.”

Mac nodded kindly and patted Jack’s leg. “Well, ye know where I am when ye decide ye’r ready.” The man stood gracefully with no sign of stiffness and Jack felt a pang of jealousy.

“You must have thirty years on me you old bastard and your knees are like a teenagers. How do you do it?” he grumped.

Mac barked out a laugh. “That’ll be the spoonful of honey on my porridge in the morning and the wee dram o’ whiskey at night. That and clean living.” The old man grinned as Jack scooted down the bed with a disgruntled, “Yeah, right.” Closing his eyes Jack gently drifted off trying not to notice the flash of bright blue eyes that were his companions into sleep.

*****

By the time Daniel had retrieved his luggage from the carousel at London Heathrow it was nearly 1.00 am. Wearily he made his way across the concourse to the reception of the Hotel Sofitel. The bored looking receptionist behind the desk looked up at him and brightened considerably at the sight of his handsome, if very tired face.

“I have a reservation. Name of Jackson. Dr Daniel Jackson.”

The girl tapped at the computer for a moment and then shook her head. “I’m sorry, sir. I have no reservation in that name.”

Daniel felt his stomach fall. “I booked early yesterday, on the internet.” He began to search his laptop bag for the print-out he knew he had placed there so many hours before. He didn’t need this hassle. He wanted a bed and a meal and a glass – no make that a bottle – of wine. So it was with relief that he located the proof of his booking and handed it over the desk.

“This booking is for yesterday, sir. If you don’t book in before midnight the booking lapses,” the young woman explained apologetically. She tapped at the keyboard some more and gave Daniel a reassuring smile. “I’ll see if the room is still available.”

“My flight was delayed,” Daniel explained, hating that he was beginning to sound slightly whiny. “I don’t mind what type of room, anything will do,” he pleaded.

“We have an executive double or a suite sir. Both include breakfast.”

“I’ll take the double please and I’d like a call in the morning – 8.30 am should do it, my flight is at 11.30 am. I won’t want breakfast, but I will need a pot of coffee…Oh, and the Times please.” Daniel sighed with relief as the woman nodded. He handed over his credit card and signed in.

Shouldering his luggage he followed the directions given by the young woman and, after a tussle with the room’s electric lock, he flopped thankfully onto the large bed. Covering his eyes with his arm he finally let himself feel the sorrow that had been weighing him down. He never would have guessed only two days ago that he would find himself chasing Jack halfway across the globe or that a paradise like La Troza could so quickly turn into a nightmare.

He felt a sting as his cell dug into his butt where it was pushed into his pants pocket. He knew it hadn’t rung, he’d checked it every hour since he left the beach house, but he had to look again; it was almost a compulsion. No new messages, not even a text message. Daniel resisted the urge to throw the phone across the room opting to drop it from his hand and setting it bouncing on the mattress. He couldn’t help feeling angry with Jack. It didn’t matter how pissed his lover was with him; the least Jack could do was let him know he was OK. Despite Izel’s assurances about where Jack was headed, Daniel couldn’t help worrying that he’d get to Glen Arach and find he had been on a wild goose chase.

His whole body ached from the traveling and the tension, but there was also an emotional ache; a physical need for Jack; his hard toned body, that silver hair and those melting brown eyes. Daniel couldn’t help remembering the cold fury reflected in Jack’s eyes when he had left the island. Jack really believed that Daniel had called for another man while they were in the throes of sex. But it wasn’t just that. Jack had seen something; something impossible.

Daniel was sure if he could just talk to Jack he could get him to see there was more going on; that he had never and would never betray the older man. Jack was his life, his heart. There was no one who could even come close to replacing him. Daniel just needed to find his lover and convince him and there would be nothing easy about that. The puzzling thing was that Daniel had never told Jack about Russ, in fact Daniel had forgotten about him completely. Had Jack picked up a stray subconscious thought? Daniel shook his head. He hadn’t thought of Russ Bialovic for a very long time. There was nothing about Jack or the position they were using that would have jarred even the vaguest memory of Daniel’s first long term lover out of his brain. Also, Daniel knew that people joked about Jack and him having a sort of telepathy, and god knows they’d seen some strange things through the gate, but for Jack to just pull that name out of thin air was beyond weird.

A loud growl from his belly jerked Daniel out of his contemplation. Although he was almost too tired to be bothered Daniel knew he needed to eat. Rubbing at his tired stinging eyes he sat up and reached for the telephone.

“Room Service. Can I help you?”

“Yes. I’m in room 243. Could I have a cheese and ham sandwich and some chips…”Daniel stopped, ‘You’re in England now, Jackson,’ he reminded himself. “Sorry, crisps. Ready Salted if you have them and…” Daniel quickly rummaged around on the desk and found the wine list. He quickly scanned the red wines and decided to splurge. “I’ll have a bottle of the Volnay Premiere Cru Les Chevrets 2004 Jean Boillot.” It was over £75 a bottle, but he didn’t care. He felt like crap and wanted a buzz; he might as well enjoy the method of getting it.  He really wanted coffee, too, but knew if he started now he wouldn’t sleep. He really wanted the oblivion more than the caffeine fix so decided against it.

“Yes sir. No problem. It’ll be with you in 15 minutes,” the room service attendant promised cheerily and hung up.

While he waited for his food Daniel pulled his wash bag from his luggage and took it into the bathroom. He unzipped the bag and left it on the counter. The small room was well appointed; the walls and floor tiled with marble, a double sink and a large walk in shower. Daniel dialled the water to the hottest temperature and left it running while he went back into the bedroom to dig out something to sleep in from his suitcase. With a pang of sadness he found he’d accidentally packed an old Air Force T-shirt that Jack used for sleeping and lounging in. Pressing it to his nose he realized that Jack must have worn it recently; it smelled of a mixture of soap, deodorant and the unique male musk of Jack O’Neill. Daniel felt his throat close as the scent brought his lover to the forefront of his mind. He needed Jack so badly that his arms hurt from the wanting.

A knock at his door broke the spell and he moved quickly to open it, allowing his food order to be delivered. The waiter deftly uncorked the wine and placed a wine glass and the plate of food on the small table along with a large bottle of mineral water and a tumbler.

“Your order is complete, sir. The water is complimentary. Do you need anything else?”

Daniel shook his head, gave the waiter a generous tip and closed the door behind him.

There was no rush as the food was cold so Daniel decided to shower before eating. He deftly stripped off his grubby, travel stained clothes and pushed them into his suitcase. Grabbing the neatly folded towelling robe from the bed he stepped into the cubicle and let the needle sharp flow of steaming water pummel his back. He stood for long minutes, his hands braced against the wall, his head hanging between his shoulders as the hot shower began to lessen some of the tension in his muscles.

After a while he reached over and grabbed the bottle of shower gel from his wash bag. He’d emptied a large dollop into his hand before he realised that this, too, was Jack’s. He laughed out loud and was surprised to hear a faint tinge of hysteria. ‘Can’t leave you behind, Jack,’ he thought to himself. ‘Can’t even pack a bag without subconsciously bringing you with me.’ The shower filled with the familiar scent and Daniel couldn’t help the hot tears that joined the water as it cascaded over his tired body. Too weary to fight any longer Daniel washed his body and hair, rinsed and got out of the shower. Wrapping himself in the thick cotton gown, he dried his hair with a towel and then hung it around his neck as he moved back out into the bedroom.

Daniel lifted the wine bottle from the table and read the label. It really was a pretty special bottle. He poured a generous glass of the deep red wine and took a long drink. It was delicious, but Daniel was too tired and heartsick to really savor the subtleties. He quickly downed the rest of the glass and poured another. Wondering if he should’ve asked for two bottles he listlessly picked at the sandwich and chips, aware that he should really eat to soak up some of the alcohol, but finding everything just tasted like cardboard. Still he forced most of the sandwich down and made short work of his second glass of wine. He could already feel the buzz and he welcomed it, hoping that it would help him at least get a little sleep, even if it was alcohol induced.

Placing the wine and the bottled water next to the bed Daniel shrugged out of the damp robe and slipped on soft cotton sleep pants and Jack’s shirt. The warmth of his skin made the scent of Jack billow around him and once again he found himself choked up. Miserable to his very core he turned off the lights, crawled into the bed and flicked on the TV. There was a rerun of the classic British TV series ‘I Claudius’ starring Derek Jacobi, and Daniel let the intrigues and dramas of the Roman Caesars play in the background as he steadily made his way through the bottle of wine, much more quickly than the excellent vintage deserved. But these were desperate times.

As the TV droned in the background Daniel downed the last of the ruby liquid and the alcohol allowed his aching body, tired mind, and grieving heart a little rest. As his heavy eyelids fell shut he saw the flash of deepest dark brown and chased the memory of the eyes of his lover into sleep.

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