Thanks to my terrific betas, Jess and Monica. Monica will be collaborating on later chapters of this story with me. I'm looking forward to it.
Daniel Jackson was sprawled at the back of a booth at the rear of a dockside tavern. There was an empty glass in front of him. It had been empty for some time. The tavern keep's daughter refilled his glass less and less frequently as she judged him nearer and nearer his limit. He had been moored here too long if some woman had started mothering him. He should have left a week ago, but his birthday had been close and there was something quite disheartening about celebrating, or more accurately, marking your birthday without a single, even slightly, familiar face.
Giselda was her name and he could see her, flitting from one group of customers to another at the front of the tavern and out under the awning in the fresh air. Periodically, she shot a quick, birdlike glance to where he sat, but she didn't come his way. He scooted down a bit farther and rested his head comfortably against the back of the wooden booth. He was prepared to wait her out.
At last, she came and stood before his table, her hands on her hips. "It's time to eat something, don't you think?"
Eat something… Ah! "Bring me one of those little round cakes then, the ones with the nuts on the top." She shrugged and turned. He caught her wrist, the bones light in his strong hands, "And a candle, as small as you have."
She snatched her hand away and looked daggers at him. "A candle! There's still light. Do you distrust my cakes so much that you have to give them very close scrutiny before eating one?"
"Trust me, Giselda. A candle and I'll pay you double."
Her face softened. "No need of that. I'll be right back."
She quickly returned and put a plate with the roughly 6 inch diameter cake precisely in its center in front of him and laid a candle down next to it. "You must join me. This won't work otherwise," he pleaded, going deliberately boyish and giving her the full wide blue-eyed puppy dog look because he knew it never failed.
"Papa won't like it. There are other customers." She was protesting but not moving away.
"None more regular than I. Besides it's not that busy today."
She slid in across from him, persuaded, and leaned forward on her elbows, watching him with curiosity. "You've had more than I thought," she commented, concerned, when he took the candle and jammed it in the middle of the little cake. It listed toward her but stayed upright. He fished in his pocket and drew out a wooden box of matches and lit his candle.
Her mouth was hanging open already but her jaw dropped further as he began to sing, "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Daniel, happy birthday to you."
"I did not expect such a fine singing voice, I'll admit," she said. Her brow knitted. "Who is this Daniel?"
He was glad she hadn't asked instead, "Where is it that they put candles in their food to sing about birthdays." He was a little tired of making up stories when he carelessly slipped and acted a touch too strange.
"He's someone I knew, or rather thought I knew, a long time ago. I haven't seen him in over two years."
A large, bearded man in an apron appeared at the front of the tavern and peered back toward Daniel's table. "Giselda, there's more than one customer here today," he called, more teasing than angry.
She leapt to her feet and was off leaving him to blow out his one candle alone. He was contemplating the cake and almost startled when someone else took up Giselda's empty seat. "Hello, boatman Lodi," an almost familiar voice said.
He looked up to see a worn older man smiling at him with good humor, holding a glass of brew and setting one down for Daniel. "Thanks," Daniel said. He was pleased not to have to negotiate his nightcap with the protective Giselda. Daniel searched his mind for the face. "You're Paco's father?"
The man was very pleased to be recognized. "Yes. It's quite good to see you again and in such good health," the man said. "Your bandana is slipping though," he added and pointed at Daniel's head.
Daniel slipped the faded blue bandana off his head, untied it, and reknotted it over his long hair while asking, "You're a bit far from home, aren't you?"
The man bobbed his head. "Yes. And it is a bit strange here, isn't it? They are nice enough folk but they talk a little funny and the food is sometimes strange."
"Why have you troubled yourself to come where you would have to eat strange food?" Daniel asked, afraid that he knew the answer. He would have to stop playing Good Samaritan. These people had too strong a tradition of repaying kindness. Sometimes he had a whole string of people following him around when he only wanted to be left alone.
"Why seeking you of course. After what you did for my Paco, I had no choice but to tell you of what has occurred."
"In Finlot, right, something happened in Finlot," Daniel said prodding gently. The local discursive style of storytelling, so common in semi-literate people, was usually entertaining but he was suddenly quite tired and wanted to eat a bite of his birthday cake, go back to his boat, and seek his hammock.
"It's your younger brother. He came a fortnight ago, showing an excellent likeness, and asking for you. He looks so like you that no one hesitated to tell him what they knew but no one knew very much. I alone kept silent because I remembered how you always sit against a wall, moor at the end of the dock, and keep your own council. I did not think that was the way a man acted who wanted anyone, family or not, to find him."
Daniel reached out impulsively and squeezed the man's arm. "You have my thanks. I really don't want to see my… brother but I don't wish him ill. He left the village quite well, I trust?"
"Oh indeed. He hired that good for nothing, Armando, to take him down river."
"That's good news. But if you could discover that I was upriver, he will eventually learn the same thing." Daniel was suddenly struck by a thought. "My brother, he actually talked with you as we are talking?"
"Oh, I see what you mean. No, he only knew the trade language and rather badly."
"Tell me anything else of what he said or did, if you would." Daniel sipped his drink and watched Paco's father's face.
"He explained that he was seeking you so urgently because there is great trouble in your home place. He mentioned the mother of your son…"
Daniel choked on his beer. "My what?"
"Ah. You did not know. Let me congratulate you! I treasure my Paco and I am happy for you that you also are a father. He said that she needs you. And, let me see, he was not alone. There was a very large, very dark man with him who spoke the trade language perfectly."
"You have more than repaid any debt you think you owe me," Daniel told his visitor. He raised the glass. "At this point, I would think this fine drink was payment enough. I really needed it." He drained the glass in a single swallow. "And now, my friend, it is time I left before my brother appears." He stood, clapped the fellow on the back, and threaded his way through the closely placed tables to the front of the establishment. He grabbed Giselda around the waist and swung her once around in the air. "Thanks for everything, kind Giselda. Be happy."
"You're off then and not to return here for at least a season, I suspect," she said a little sadly and kissed him on the check before he set her down and walked away. "You must come and see me the next time you're through or I'll put a curse on you," she called after him.
He waved to her and then walked rapidly toward his boat, as large a boat as one man could crew alone. For his first year on her, there had been two and it had been a dream to sail. The old man from whom he had bought ownership of half the boat and later inherited the other half had made a sailor out of Daniel. It had been something of an uphill battle considering that Daniel had previously only been on the water a handful of times to placate a friend with a mania for fishing but Carlos had been a patient teacher. Now Daniel felt a little ill at ease on land. It was amazing how quickly Carlos had become his father and how it had hurt almost as much losing this father as losing the first one.
The boat was provisioned already. He had truly planned on leaving in the morning but now he decided to get away from the dock and out into the darkness of the river, so wide it was almost an inland sea, despite the increased navigational risk of sailing in the dark. As the boat slipped away from the dock, Daniel contemplated the story Cam Mitchell and Teal'c had been shopping around Finlot. He was quite sure his former SG-1 teammates were the ones playing the part of his brother and his companion. They were lying. They had to be. The breeze ruffled the hair beneath his bandana and filled the sails and he moved efficiently about his little world on automatic while he focused on remembering the last time he had sex. Definitely well over three years before. He laughed at himself and spoke out loud, "You're so numb you haven't even really noticed." After the debacle with Sam, he hadn't had time to get involved with anyone before he disappeared through the gate. He seriously doubted there'd been a child before that. He could picture every one of the few women he had been with, casual sex never really an option for him. He really didn't think any of them had been hiding a child.
He had plenty of opportunities here – a single man who owned his own boat, washed regularly, had all his teeth, and was reasonably attractive – how could he not? Anything more than a casual relationship just didn't fit in with moving from one port to the next, keeping the nest egg of trade goods he had brought to this world replenished with a little trading here, carrying of messages there, and, in between, other odd jobs that found their way to him on the broad river at the heart of the continent. Daniel'd briefly toyed with asking pretty little Giselda to marry him and join him on his odyssey -- for the company, not really for satisfying his physical needs. He didn't love her, but she was pleasant, clever, and very dear. It was a short lived thought. He already had enough regrets and knew he'd hate himself even more for killing a little bit more of her dreams each day as she learned she was expected to live with a man who couldn't sleep because of guilt and drank more meals than he ate.
By tavern time the next day Daniel was on the opposite shore and a few miles further upriver. He got drunker than he usually allowed himself in a town he didn't know well. A lurching man alone was an inviting target and he'd survived this long by being very careful. But his habit of being lucky in small things and unlucky in all the ones that mattered held and he made it back to the ship without incident, flipping a coin to the man he had hired to sit at his mooring and watch his possessions.
Despite his buzz, he took off his shoes and then went through the ritual of cleaning his teeth and rinsing out his mouth. Daniel hated waking up with mud tracked in the hammock and the taste of the entire Fifth Army marching through his mouth in dirty boots. As for washing, he settled for splashing water in his face, getting the front part of his hair and his shirt sopping in the process. He stripped his clothes off, letting them fall where he stood. He grabbed up the shirt, did a half heartened job of toweling off his hair and making a pass under his arms, and let it drop again.
Daniel approached the hammock as if he were a cowboy about to mount a bronco. The sorry thing sometimes fought him when he tried to get in it if he was at all unsteady. The pillows he'd left in it seemed heavier than usual. When he rolled on top of them they moved. He grappled with someone unknown who didn't seem intent on harming him, merely shoving him over. "Your elbow is in my stomach," a voice said in English.
He almost fell out of the hammock at the sound of a language he had not heard in a very long time. Even when he talked to himself these days, it was in the local tongue. His befuddled mind tried to clear as he desperately worked to understand what was happening. Surely Mitchell would not surprise him in his bed and there was no way this lump was big enough to be Teal'c. The former had an exuberant, sometimes quirky sense of humor but this was too far out, even for him, and, as to Teal'c… He thought of Teal'c cozying up to another man, perhaps kissing him as a gag, and that would have to be Teal'c in an alternate universe, maybe Teal'c by another name altogether.
He was sure it wasn't Mitchell when an arm crept around his neck and a lithe body with softness in womanly places stretched out against his own. He became very aware that he was naked. She kissed him then, one arm sliding down his back to his bare buttocks. He could not help kiss her back while he sobered by the second. Eventually he was alert enough to recognize the smell that wafted from her hair and her soft skin. "Sam?" he asked.