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turns out freedom ain't nothin' but missin' you

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“Daniel, have you seen Thompson?” Peggy asked while pouring herself a cup of coffee from the pot she’d just made for the office. “He’s usually here by now...”

“No, I haven’t. Maybe he had a late night... I’ll give him another half hour to get here.” He pushed his hair out of his face after looking up from his paperwork and making eye contact with Peggy.

“The chief can’t afford to be two hours late in his first week on the job, Daniel. Someone should go check on him.” She set the pot back on the carafe and looked at him, one hand on her hip and the other holding her mug.

“And why exactly can’t that someone be you?” Daniel asked cheekily.

“Because I have some, um, papers to pick up. From the police department.” Peggy shifted her weight and sipped her coffee nervously.

“Oh? Is that so?” He chuckled and clicked his pen so it wouldn’t get ink on the reports he’d just finished signing and dating. He wiped his hands on his slacks and grabbed his crutch. “I’ll go. He probably wouldn’t respond very well to you anyways.” He winked at Peggy and got up, sliding his forearm through the loop at top and grabbing onto the bar towards the middle for stability as he stood.

Peggy smiled and went back to her desk, relieved that he hadn’t pressed. The truth was that she had plans with Angie for lunch that day, and while she knew Daniel had known about their relationship since he’d seen them in the automat after hours laughing and sharing a milkshake with just one straw, she still didn’t want to admit to it, and certainly not in a space where it was highly probable that they’d be overheard and she could be turned into the authorities.

Daniel put on his coat and hat and made his way through the snow to Thompson’s building, which was a mere two blocks from the SSR office. He sighed and looked up the stairs he had to climb to get to Jack’s apartment on the third floor. He eventually forced himself to start, grumbling during his small break on the second floor landing that this was why he’d always preferred Jack to come over to his place, since his apartment building had an elevator. When he reached the door to number 16, he took his hat off and knocked on the door. Thompson didn’t answer even when he knocked again and called his name multiple times, so he took it upon himself to pick the lock, and he managed to do it in less than a minute.

He hung his hat on the hook he usually did, along with his coat, and shut the door behind him. He looked around the kitchen and living room, not surprised in the slightest by the amount of half empty bottles of alcohol and dented beer cans laying around. It had been a week since he had ended things with Jack officially, and this was part of the reason it had taken him so long. He knew Jack would immediately go back to drowning his sorrows in bourbon rather than confront what he was feeling, which would lead to… well, this.

Jack was currently slumped over the coffee table, looking rather disheveled. He hadn’t shaved in a few days and his hair was ungelled and messy, and his shirt was wrinkled and stained with alcohol and what Daniel was fairly sure was vomit.

“Hey, Jack?” He asked softly and got down next to him, holding onto his crutch so he wouldn’t fall and wind up in a worse state than Jack. He gently pulled him up from where he’d been resting his head on the table, which made him groan at how his head spun and his stomach twisted with the movement. “Hey, hey. You’re okay. Let’s get you in the bath, alright? I bet you’ll feel a lot better after you’re cleaned up.”

Jack nodded but squeezed his eyes shut at how that small movement had him holding back another wave of vomit. He took some deep breaths through his mouth while Daniel helped him into the bathroom and turned the faucet on to run a bath for him. He undressed slowly, accepting Daniel’s help with the buttons on his shirt and getting into the tub, which by then was filled with warm water.

“I’ll be right back, okay? I’m going to put these in the sink to wash and bring you something for your stomach and a cup of water. Stay right here, okay?” Daniel dumped the soiled clothes in the sink and poured a bit of laundry soap on them before running the water to fill the sink and let them soak. He grabbed a dish towel and cleaned off the coffee table and the floor surrounding it, then put the towel in the sink too.

“Damn it, Jack,” he muttered as he dug through the medicine cabinet looking for anything that might help. He settled for some Pepto-Bismol and brought it to Jack with a glass of water. “Here you go. Drink this,” he handed the little cup of disgustingly pink medicine to Jack and waited for him to drink it, “then this.” He exchanged the little plastic cup for the glass and rinsed the cup out before setting it on the bathroom counter.

Jack pulled his knees to his chest and rested his head on them, his arms wrapped around them to make himself into a little ball. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

“No, none of that. You have nothing to apologize for. Now let me clean you up.” Daniel grabbed a washcloth and lathered it up with soap, then began to gingerly wash Jack’s arms.

Jack relaxed into the touch and closed his eyes while Daniel washed him up. When he’d finished and rinsed off both the washcloth and Jack, he leaned back and watched him for a few moments.

“Was it my fault? Did I do something wrong?” He asked softly, staring down at the water with a blank expression on his face and an empty look in his eyes.

“No, Jack. I just… we couldn’t make it work. It’s complicated, but it wasn’t your fault. I promise.”

“Then why’d you end it? Was I not good enough? I know I’ve got a lot of baggage, but so do you… I thought we could make this work.” Jack traced absentmindedly over a scar on his stomach that he’d gotten during his time in the service.

Daniel sighed. “No, it’s not like that,” he mumbled while beginning to undress. He took his prosthetic off and leaned it against the toilet, then put his clothes on the closed lid. “Lean forward,” was all he said as he climbed into the tub with Jack. He pulled the other man back into his chest and wrapped his arms around him securely, keeping him subtly restrained.

“I know it’s complicated, but Peggy and Angie make it work… Why couldn’t we?” Jack tilted his head back and looked up at Daniel with the biggest, saddest, eyes he’d ever seen.

“Jack, you and I both know it wouldn’t be as easy for us as it is for them.” Daniel rubbed up and down Jack’s biceps as he spoke, remembering all the nights Jack had held onto his while they’d made love. “We’d be living a lie.”

Jack paused for a few moments. “So?” He finally asked, still looking up into Daniel’s warm, brown, eyes.

Daniel sighed and squeezed Jack’s hand. “I’m not going to put you through that. You’re the Chief now, and you’re under a lot more scrutiny. I don’t need to remind you what this country does to people like us.” He closed his eyes and rested his chin against Jack’s temple while he held him.

Jack seemed to accept that answer and relaxed into Daniel’s embrace, the tension in his body fading away with each breath he took.

When he was sure that Jack wasn’t going to do anything stupid the minute he left him alone, Daniel got out of the tub using the grab bar Jack had installed himself after their first night there together and pulled on his boxers and one of Jack’s many clean undershirts before putting his leg back on. He ruffled his hair with the towel and hung it up to dry before grabbing another one and a set of clothes for Jack as well.

“Come on, big guy,” he said softly and very carefully helped Jack out of the bath before draining it. He stood him carefully on the mat and began to dry him off, taking his time to make sure he got everywhere. “Can you get dressed for me?” He asked and held out the shirt and boxers.

Jack nodded and got dressed, thankful that he didn’t have to worry about any buttons. When he was done, Daniel dried his hair with the towel and patted his face dry too.

“Let’s get you in bed.” He cautiously led Jack back to bed, choosing to tuck him in tightly and make sure the pillow was supporting his neck since Daniel knew he had to be in a fair amount of pain from both his hangover and how he’d slept. He didn’t want to risk another vomiting spell until he was more hydrated, though, so he got Jack another glass of water, which the other man accepted with a grimace.

“I’m going to go down to the lobby and call the SSR, let Peggy know that you’ve got a stomach bug and a high fever and that I’m going to be staying here to make sure you don’t… have a seizure or something.” Daniel pulled on his coat since the stairwell was drafty and patted Jack’s thigh reassuringly before leaving.

He carefully made his way downstairs to the lobby and dialed the number for the SSR. “Rose, can you put me through to Peggy? Thank you.” He waited to be connected. “Peggy, good. Thompson’s alright. He has an infection of some sort… vomiting, high fever, the works. I’m going to stay to make sure he doesn’t need to go to the hospital.”

“Please make sure he stays alright. He’s been gone less than a day and I’m already sick of picking up the chief’s duties. Who knew half this office was so incompetent?” Peggy chuckled and looked down at her freshly-painted red fingernails.

“You did, Peg. Don’t hesitate to ask me if you need any help, please.”

“Daniel, I can handle the goons in this office just fine without your help, thank you very much.” She laughed brightly. “Goodbye.”

“Bye.” Daniel hung up the phone and went back up to Jack’s apartment, letting out a few choice words during his respite on the second floor landing that his mother would most certainly not have approved of.

He let himself in again and took his coat off, once again hanging it on the hook by the door. He knocked on the doorframe of Jack’s bedroom with a sad smile and sat on the edge of the bed, his crutch leaned against the nightstand he’d begged Jack to put in for weeks after they’d started spending nights together. He carefully took his prosthetic off again and set it on the floor before removing the cotton sock he kept around the stump to keep the leather of the straps and the metal of the buckles from irritating the sensitive skin there. He sighed at how his scars were more pink than usual, though he blamed it on the cold, and swung his other leg up into bed.

“You alright?” He asked softly and pulled Jack into his chest after leaning against the headboard.

Jack nodded, though the tear tracks on his face and the slight redness of his nose begged to differ.

“Did I ever tell you about my family?” Daniel asked, one hand on Jack’s bicep and the other gently combing through his hair.

Jack shook his head minutely so he wouldn’t dislodge Daniel’s hand or even move it a bit from where it was.

“I had a sister named Maria who died before I was born. My mom talked about her a lot… still wish I could’ve met her.” Daniel sighed. “My mom passed a few years before the war broke out… tuberculosis. Dad wasn’t the same after that. He was better, actually. We still don’t talk, but he doesn’t drunkenly call me just to insult me anymore.” He laughed dryly and squeezed Jack closer to his body.

“I’m sorry… about your mom and sister,” Jack mumbled and buried his face in Daniel’s chest.

“It’s okay, Jack,” he whispered and pressed a gentle kiss to the top of his head. “Go to sleep. I’ll be right here when you wake up.”

It was only when he was sure that Jack was deeply asleep that Daniel let himself drift off too. His final thought before he fell asleep was about how he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed how Jack smelled. Not the bourbon or the aftershave, him.

Just past 3pm, Daniel woke up to a sharp stabbing pain in his bad leg. He pushed the blankets back, careful not to uncover Jack—who was curled up neatly with his head on Daniel’s stomach—in the process, and gently felt around the stump for any swelling or tenderness. He didn’t notice anything worse than usual, though he felt atypically hot, and sighed when he realized he should probably call his doctor in the morning if he wasn’t feeling better. He pulled the blankets back up and closed his eyes after he snuggled down further into the bed and wrapped his arms firmly around Jack’s middle.

A couple hours later, Jack grumbled and rubbed his eyes as he woke up. He realized he was pressed up against Daniel and they were both in rather…compromising states and fought the urge to pull away. Instead, he curled back up and let himself pretend that nothing had changed, that they were still together and any minute now Daniel would wake up and give him a gentle kiss with his hand on his jaw.

Daniel did wake up a few minutes later, but he didn’t make any move to kiss Jack. They sat in silence for a bit, Daniel staring at Jack with a mix of worry and love and sorrow in his eyes. “Are you feeling okay?” He eventually asked and pushed his hair back from his forehead so he could see Jack more clearly.

Jack nodded and pulled away, sitting up next to Daniel and running a hand through his own hair and then over his jaw and chin.

Daniel grabbed his crutch, got up, and slowly made his way into Jack’s tiny kitchen, where he made them a halfway decent dinner, which was shocking given that Jack barely had anything in his fridge, ice box, or cabinets.

He brought Jack’s food and a glass of water back to bed for him. “Here,” he said quietly and handed him the fork before the plate.

“Thanks.” Jack took a few sips of the water and picked at his food for a minute before feeling Daniel’s disapproving stare on him as he ate and finally just sucking it up and eating, even though it tasted like cardboard and the textures made him want to throw up again. It wasn’t even about the food; it was something Jack couldn’t even name but was slowly but surely eating him alive. He knew what shell shock was, and this wasn’t that, but what was it? He didn’t know and didn’t care enough to find out. All he knew was the minute Daniel left—and he would leave. They couldn’t keep this up forever—he would go right back to drinking himself unconscious every night to deal with the colossal ache in his chest and the crushing loneliness of falling asleep alone, knowing he’d ruined the one good thing to ever happen to him.

While he ate, Daniel watched Jack intently to make sure he did. When he finally started, he backed off and focused more on his own meal, which he finished and washed the dishes for immediately before setting them out to dry. As he ate, he felt his mind drift to just how badly he’d fucked this up. He’d thought he’d been sparing Jack from a life with a useless cripple, but clearly his leaving had hurt Jack far more than his body giving out on them ever could.

He subtly poured some of the mostly empty bottles of liquor down the drain with the water running so Jack couldn’t tell. He knew the drinking was a problem, and he’d tried so hard while they’d been together to distract Jack enough that he didn’t feel the need to spend each night alone in the dark with a bottle of bourbon next to him as his brain played a clip show of all his worst moments. It had worked most nights. Others, it didn’t, but Daniel could live with that as long as he knew Jack was alright. That was what troubled him most about their breakup: in the week since, he’d known nothing about how Jack was coping. He now knew that his methods hadn’t changed from the stories he’d heard of his time at Cornell, though he was getting into fewer bar fights now, especially since he’d become Chief.

Daniel remembered a few times in their relationship that he’d found Jack sitting on the bathroom floor, staring off into space and unable to be brought back to reality. Those times, Daniel simply sat with him and talked, like he’d done that afternoon. Usually he talked about the war, though sometimes about sports or other current goings-on.

He sighed loudly and rubbed his eyes with one hand, supporting himself on his crutch with the other. He checked on Jack once more and washed his dishes for him before going back into the bedroom and sitting next to him.

“I’m gonna go. It’s… not good for either of us if I stay here. We both know what we’ll want to do eventually, and I’m not going to do that to you.”

Jack just nodded, already having resigned himself to his fate.

Daniel slowly put his prosthetic on and got dressed in his clothes from before the bath, each hesitation before the next movement inviting Jack to ask him to stay. He didn’t though, and Daniel dressed without incident or interruption. He pulled his coat on and then his hat, and he looked longingly back at Jack. “You know where to find me if you need me,” was all he said before leaving.

Instead of heading home, however, he headed back to the SSR. Once at his desk, he opened the bottom left drawer and set the documents he’d been pretending for weeks didn’t exist on his desktop. He grabbed a pen but read them over once more before signing them. He put them in an envelope, addressed the envelope to the War Department and added a stamp, and put them in the box for outgoing mail. “Chief Sousa,” he said under his breath. “Has a nice ring to it.”