"And you're sure she didn't say why?" Frustration was making Jack grumpy.
Daniel sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Let me think for a minute in case the answer has changed since the last eighteen times you asked." The mildly sarcastic tone turned sharply emphatic. "No. She didn't say."
Jack deftly eased the truck from the middle lane to the right hand lane behind a compact car with a cracked rear window and a bumper sticker that said "Hang Up And Drive". The driver was holding a cell phone to his ear and swerving in his lane.
"If it had been me talking to her, I'd have gotten it out of her," he griped.
Frowning, Daniel crossed his arms and looked over his glasses at Jack. That was the pose that Jack always thought of as Disapproving Professor. Jack hated that pose, mostly because Daniel only resorted to it when Jack truly deserved it. Daniel reiterated a point he had made the day before, when he had first told Jack about the phone call.
"Did it occur to you that that was why she called me instead?"
Actually, it had. On the one hand Jack was grateful that his ex got along so well with his current love that she felt comfortable calling Daniel. On the other hand, he hated being left in the dark about anything, but he especially hated being in the dark about Sara. He worried about her. Always had. Always would. To his extreme good fortune, Daniel not only understood but shared his concern.
Hell, although it was Jack who had paid for it, it had been Daniel who had helped Sara with her Master's thesis in history. By the time Sara had graduated, however, Daniel had been off in glowy land with Oma so he had missed the ceremony.
Jack hadn't missed it. He'd been there in the audience, clapping proudly for her achievement. Afterward, Jack had taken Sara to her favorite restaurant to celebrate. A special evening had turned into a very special night. They both knew there was no turning back the hands of time, but for a moment-just a moment-it had stood still for them.
Sighing, Jack tapped the brakes to let the asshole in the SUV tailgating him know that he was going to slow down and turn. Daniel's favorite coffee shop was coming up. It would take a little over an hour to get to the book store in Denver. A cup of coffee and something to nibble on wouldn't go amiss. Jack pulled the truck into the line for the drive through. The place was busy this morning.
"Sorry." The terse apology was gruff, but sincere. "It's just...I hope there's nothing wrong."
Daniel put a hand on Jack's knee. Rubbed a bit. He'd gone from exasperated to soothing in the blink of an eye. "I'm sure Sara's fine, Jack. If there was any kind of bad news. I doubt she would have picked a big chain bookstore in another city as the perfect venue to deliver it. Right?"
Jack grunted his assent. Daniel had a point. Again. Knowing he was on the verge of making Daniel crazy, Jack quit harping on the why of it all. They bought muffins and coffee, with an extra shot of espresso for Daniel's latte, and spent the rest of the trip in companionable silence.
When they finally reached the book store, the parking lot was so crowded that Jack didn't bother trying to jockey for position for a parking space, but headed straight for the far end of the lot where he could see a handful of empty spaces. When you hiked the wilderness all day for a living, a few hundred yards of pavement was nothing.
There was a steady stream of shoppers heading into the main entrance of the store as a smaller number of people tried to exit at the same time. The resultant congestion slowed Jack and Daniel down. They politely shuffled along in the midst of the customers though they could easily have slipped around them and entered first. Inside, the store was a flurry of activity. The line for the check out was six deep even with four registers open. People of all ages wandered down every aisle and almost every seat in the coffee shop was taken.
"I knew it would be crowded but this is ridiculous," Jack grumbled.
A perky young woman restocking the book tables near the entrance heard him. "It's Local Author Saturday. A lot of people come for that, even if they haven't read the book yet. It's a great chance to get to meet the writer."
She handed Daniel an over-sized paperback from the table to her right. The front cover depicted a man in old fashioned military regalia standing next to a woman in long full skirts with a cloth cap on her head. The couple appeared to be from the Colonial time period in America.
Daniel read aloud. "The Lieutenant and The Lady: Gender Roles in Pre-20th Century America by S.J. Henderson." Turning it over, he read from the blurb on the back cover. "The author uses the framework of romantic fiction to explore the themes of sexuality and gender roles as expressed through cultural mores at specific points in American history. Refreshingly frank and amusing, yet unafraid to delve into the darker side of "the good old days", this book is as entertaining as it is informative. By following the courtship of a similar couple - a lieutenant in the army and a well to do young lady - during the Revolutionary War, the Civil war, and the start of World War II, the author is able to compare and contrast the societal structures to which they must conform. Even readers who are not fans of--"
Daniel paused, frowning. "I know this book."
The clerk shook her head, sending her blonde pony tail swinging wildly. "This particular book only just came out today. Excuse me." She greeted a customer who had been waiting off to one side, leading the woman and her daughter to another part of the store.
Daniel turned a troubled face to Jack. The amnesia that Oma had sent him back with had dissipated - or so it seemed. His memory had been recovered in fits and starts, but as far as Jack could tell, it was all there. Daniel still worried, though, about what might be missing, and he always turned to Jack for reassurance.
Jack thought about all of the precious memories that only Daniel held - memories of his childhood, of his time on Abydos with his wife Shar'e, hell, every minute throughout his entire life that Daniel had ever spent by himself. With no one else who could vouch for a memory, how could Daniel ever truly know if they had all returned to him?
Daniel squeezed his eyes shut and his face squished up as though he was thinking really hard. After a few seconds, he exhaled sharply. Opening his eyes he said, "It's no use. The more I try to remember, the less I can get."
"Free associate," suggested Jack. The technique had worked well for Daniel several times now. "You said it sounded familiar." He took the book from Daniel's hands. "I'll read that same passage and you tell me if anything else comes to mind." He began to read out loud.
Daniel closed his eyes again. "Um...coffee. That coffee shop over by the mall. Laughter. Textbooks. Sara. Oh!" His eyes snapped open. "It was back before, you know, I left for a year." Daniel lowered his voice and made air quotes, glancing around as though random passers-by would suddenly divine that "left for a year" was code for "ascended to live on a higher plane with ancient beings composed of energy".
"Sara and I would usually meet at the coffee shop when she was working on her thesis. As you might remember, she was exploring the role of Colonial women during the French and Indian war.
Jack made a waffling gesture with his hand. "Vaguely."
"Well, one night she made a comment about how most historical romance novels didn't accurately portray the time periods in which they were set. She said someday she'd like to show what it would really have been like. Put the history back into historical romance, so to speak."
Daniel had that relaxed happy look he got when he knew there was nothing wrong with his memory. This was just your garden variety memory lapse. Jack, however, was getting a funny feeling. Flipping the book over, he checked the back cover. No photo of the author. He flipped through the book. There were drawings and paintings from the periods being discussed but nothing else.
"What are you looking for?" Daniel craned his neck, trying to see the book.
Jack nodded. "Henderson is Sara's maiden name." He shut the book and looked Daniel in the eye, certain his hunch was right. "Sara. Jane. Henderson."
Daniel blinked rapidly, looking as dumbfounded as Jack felt. "She wrote a book?"
"She wrote a book." Jack could feel himself puffing up with pride and excitement for Sara.
"Wow. That's just...wow." Daniel's lips were curving up into a smile.
"What a novel idea." Jack gave Daniel his best roguish look. Grabbing a second book from the table, he handed it to Daniel.
Daniel rolled his eyes. "Besides being a bad pun, it also doesn't apply. This is a work of non-fiction."
It was Jack's turn to roll his eyes. "Whatever." He shrugged off the criticism and grinned. "Shall we go meet the author?"
Jack's excitement transmitted itself into his stride. Bouncing slightly on his toes, he rapidly led the way as they followed the signs to the back corner of the store. A few folding chairs supplemented the overstuffed chairs that were always available for customers who liked to settle down and read a bit before buying. A plain lectern faced the seating area, which had about a dozen customers sprinkled throughout with a few more trickling in. Next to the lectern was a table with several copies of Sara's book.
Sara herself was standing between the lectern and table, talking to a store employee. She was elegant in black slacks with a solid color shirt and blazer. The necklace was the one he had given her for their tenth anniversary and the earrings had been a joint Christmas present from Jack and Charlie. She looked beautiful and when her eye caught his, a wistful pang of if only squeezed his heart.
"You made it!" Sara waved and walked over to them. She waved a hand to indicate the book each man carried and laughed awkwardly. "So, um, surprise!"
Daniel reached her first, giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Congratulations, Sara!"
Jack's hug was more exuberant. She was wearing a new perfume. Something light and delicate and not too sweet. She smelled wonderful and he made a note to find out what it was so he could get her some for her birthday next month. He kissed her on the cheek and also gave her a peck on the lips. "I'm damn proud of you, honey." He released her, aware that he and Daniel were both grinning at her like a couple of loons.
"It's your thesis, isn't it?" asked Daniel eagerly. "You expanded on it."
She nodded. "Yes. I kept all of my notes, including all the ideas that didn't make it into the final draft, just like you suggested and later, I pulled them out and started working again."
"I can't tell you how pleased I am that you went forward with this," Daniel said. "So many people have great ideas but do nothing with them. They lose impetus and what could have been an incredible piece of work falls by the wayside."
"That almost happened with this, too."
"How did you keep your focus? Your drive?"
She hesitated. Putting a hand on Daniel's arm, she spoke softly. "It was when you went MIA for year and everyone thought you were dead. There was no public ceremony, no memorial for you, and that bothered me. A lot." She was getting misty-eyed. "So, I did this in your honor. I just...I did it because I knew you'd want me to. Every time I faltered, I could imagine you encouraging me, supporting me, the way you did with my thesis."
Daniel was looking a little misty himself. He hugged Sara again-a lingering hug this time. Jack rubbed Daniel's back, letting his hand stay there even when the hug broke up.
"Why didn't you say anything?" asked Jack.
"Even after we got Daniel back, I didn't want to say anything until it was finished. It's stupid, but I was afraid I would jinx it if I did. In the mean time, Sandra Watkins, the Associate Dean, put me in touch with a publisher and voila!"
Daniel quirked an eyebrow at her. "What's with the pen name?"
Jack was glad that Daniel had asked because he wanted to know too, but didn't want Sara to feel as though he was criticizing her in any way. He was also very aware that he no longer had the right to question her choice of name, even though he preferred her to remain an O'Neill. Irrational as it was, if she dropped his name now, it would feel like a slight, as if she were turning her back on him. She would always be Sara O'Neill to him. She would always be his. It was chauvinistic, possessive, and possibly atavistic but that's how it was for Jack.
Although she was answering Daniel's question, Sara addressed Jack. "I debated that for a long time. A very long time. In the end I decided that on the extremely off chance that this book becomes popular or I write another, I wanted a degree of separation between any publicity and my private life. I also didn't want to call attention, however peripherally, to you or the program you work for. That's also why I didn't even use my first name, just my initials."
Jack could understand her reasoning. It was gratifying to know that if anything, her decision been made partly out of consideration for him.
She took a deep breath as if to brace herself. "I've got to give a talk now but afterward-"
"Afterward," interrupted Jack, "Daniel and I would love to treat you to lunch at the restaurant of your choice."
"I'd like that." She smiled warmly at Jack then excused herself, returning to the book table.
"So," Jack said brightly, "rickety folding chair up front or that comfy love seat behind you?"
Daniel immediately claimed the love-seat, plopping onto it seconds ahead of a young woman wearing a University of Denver tee-shirt and what looked like flannel pajama bottoms. She gave Daniel a dirty look as she veered over to a folding chair. Daniel smiled cheerfully in return, which made her madder. Jack sat next to Daniel, wiggling to get the cushions just right under him. Since he couldn't hold Daniel's hand in public, he pressed his leg against Daniel's, and felt Daniel's leg press back.
The store employee introduced Ms. Henderson to the sparse audience and Sara stepped up to the lectern. She seemed nervous at first and focused on Jack. He tried to make his expression friendly and open to help ease her nerves. It seemed to work. Throughout her talk, she frequently turned her attention to Jack or Daniel. Having a familiar face to speak to was calming.
The same was true of the question and answer period after the talk, though Daniel was the most help there. He got the session started with a interesting question for Sara. When the questions from the audience petered out or veered off topic, Daniel helped to redirect it. It was fascinating for Jack to watch Daniel in action. He was a natural teacher and would have made an excellent professor. It was also interesting to see how well he and Sara worked together. It was obvious that Daniel was genuinely interested in the subject which helped buoy Sara's confidence. Jack was proud of them both.
Eventually, the employee stepped up, bringing the session to a close and encouraging everyone to purchase the book. Jack noted that most of the meager audience surged toward the table. He really hoped that Sara's book sold well. Sara came directly over to Jack and Daniel.
"How did I do?" she asked them anxiously.
"You were great," Jack assured her.
"You were very poised and clearly had a firm grasp of the subject. Nicely done," added Daniel.
"Whew!" she laughed. "Thank you. I'm glad it's over, though. Shall we go?"
"Almost." Jack held up his copy. "We have to check out first. There are more books up front. What say we avoid the crowd at the table here?"
As they began walking to the front of the store, Sara asked, "Did you want to get a different copy?"
"Nope. I need to get three more."
"Three more?" Sara sounded puzzled. "What for?"
"For Carter, Fraiser, and Te--um, Murray."
"Do you really think any of them would want it?" she asked doubtfully.
"I figure Carter would be interested in both the woman's role throughout history as well as the military aspect. Besides, it'll do her good to get her head out of those technical manuals she's always reading. Murray loves anything to do with history. And Doc loves romance novels."
Daniel looked at him curiously. "How do you know that about Janet?"
"She generally pulls them out during those long overnight vigils in the infirmary, when she needs to be there to keep an eye on someone. She's willing to share too. Some of them aren't half bad. Others, though." Jack shook his head and shivered dramatically.
He'd skimmed some pretty bad writing in some of those novels. The sex scenes could be especially horrendous. Once, when it was around three in the morning and he and Janet were both getting punchy with fatigue, they had read specific passages to each other and laughed like hyenas. Who on earth could have thought that euphemisms such as slick man-sausage or cream-filled love pole would be the least bit sexy?
"How come I don't know this?" Daniel sounded worried, as though afraid that his memory was at fault.
Jack haltingly explained, "You were usually the person being vigiled." He patted Daniel's shoulder apologetically. "I don't think you ever knew about the books."
The answer mollified Daniel, though it made Sara look worried. Any reference to injury-whether it was to a specific injury or a general comment about the frequency and severity of injuries- made her tense up. That had been one of the deal breakers when Jack and Sara had tried to reconcile a few years back.
Before she had married him, Jack had warned her about classified ops, about the secrecy which would exclude her from half of his life. She also knew that he could be hurt, maimed, or killed in the line of duty at any time. That was all part of the package. Part of making a military officer her spouse. She had accepted those terms when she had accepted his proposal.
Knowing something intellectually and living with it emotionally were two very different things and the years of their marriage had taken its toll on Sara. The breaking point had been Charlie's death. After that, she couldn't bear the thought that she might lose Jack just as suddenly as she had lost her son. She had to step back to protect herself. Needed distance in order to handle it. Knowing that she had an out, that ultimately it was not her problem anymore, was what allowed her stay near him.
So far, she'd always been there for him or for Daniel during any convalescence, but more than once Jack had seen the relief in her eyes when she had walked out their door and returned to her own home.
Time to change the subject.
"Where would you like to eat dinner tonight, Ms. Henderson?" Jack teasingly emphasized her pen name, trying to lighten the mood.
As they waited in line for the next available register, they discussed the pros and cons of having lunch now at one of the nearby restaurants versus returning to Colorado Springs and having a fancy dinner later. The topic meandered into a discussion of the delights of Indian cuisine versus Greek and Italian. Eventually, Daniel persuaded Sara to take his side and Jack knew his lone vote for Italian was moot and he conceded. There was curry in his future.
As Daniel and Sara high fived each other in triumph, Jack smiled indulgently. His grudging acceptance of Indian cuisine was all for show. He didn't really care where they had dinner this evening, as long as they were all together.
|Genres:||Challenge, Established Relationship|
|Summary:||Sara asks Jack and Daniel to meet her in Denver - but won't say why.|
Thanks to Mare for the beta. Written for the Jack-Sara Ficathon on Livejournal to the prompt "The Lieutenant And The Lady".