It's one question in the middle of a long list of questions that Jack's not paying much attention to. The Air Force likes forms. Do you have homosexual tendencies?
He thinks no, I like girls. Thinks about getting to second base in his dad's truck, Kitty Petersen's warm breasts in his hands, wanting more but not enough to promise her a ring he's not ready to give anyone. Thinks about getting drunk with his best friend after high school graduation, getting down on his knees to give him the world's clumsiest blow job, both of them laughing, leaning against each other afterwards and then kissing; somehow that's the part that was the surprise, feeling his chest tighten with the same sweet feeling everyone said you could only have for a woman.
He thinks no, I like girls too, but, "tendencies," what does that even mean?
Screw it, he thinks after a moment, and marks "no." They don't have to know everything.
Being home on leave is predictable in a way that Jack doesn't mind. His mother irons his shirts and serves hamburger hotdish while apologizing that it's not roast beef. He doesn't care that it's not, and he's not sure she really cares either; it's a hand waved in the direction of some feminine standard he doesn't pretend to understand. He sleeps in his old bed, trying to settle comfortably between the sheets. It's probably bigger than the beds in base housing, but he can't help feeling that he's somehow outgrown it.
"Look at you," his mother says. "You look so much like your father." She turns him toward a mirror, but even in uniform he doesn't see any more of a resemblance than there's ever been. He can't have changed that much in the last five years. It can't be that great a distance, eighteen to twenty-three.
On Saturday they drive up to his grandfather's house in New Hope. His mother's been driving since his father died, but she slides into the passenger seat without hesitation to let Jack take the wheel. There's another hotdish steaming in the back seat.
He hesitates for a moment. "If you want to drive—"
"Well, if you're tired," his mother says.
He glances at her sideways. He's not sure what that means. It's his job to drive, but she's been doing it for herself, and maybe that matters to her the way it matters to the women airmen who say "can't you get your own coffee?" and remind him they're not afraid to get their hands dirty. Or maybe it doesn't. He's not even sure how to ask.
"Not too tired," he says.
On the way up he tells her a long story involving a practical joke somebody played involving the base commander's office and a bunch of live chickens. It's largely true, suitable for mixed company, and more familiar ground than the fact that it's women airmen now — or maybe it's supposed to be just airmen — but anyway not WAFs, because the WAF is gone, and next year there'll be women in the Academy.
She laughs in the right places, and then sobers. "You look like there's something on your mind," she says.
"Not really," he says. It's not really the issue of women in the service that's been making him tense. More the opposite. He wonders if she's seen the Time magazine cover yet.
There's a crowd at his grandfather's house, his aunt and uncle over from Chicago for the occasion, and the neighbors who remember him from when he was apparently knee-high. He answers the same questions politely: no, he's not a fighter pilot, he jumps out of airplanes; no, he hasn't heard from that nice girl Kitty lately; no, his job isn't all that dangerous really.
The last is an outright lie, but it's one that he thinks his mother is grateful for him telling. They understand each other in some ways. She doesn't want Mrs. Tilman who lives down the block fluttering around trying to comfort her and saying things that all boil down to "you must be so worried that he's going to die like his dad." She can't take that, so he smiles and says "It's not so bad. A lot of the time we're just standing around waiting for something to happen."
Toward the end of the afternoon he escapes out to the porch where his grandfather is out smoking. Jack takes one of the other wicker porch chairs and accepts a cigarette and a light, putting his feet up on the wicker table strewn with magazines.
"Too crowded in there," his grandfather says.
"Tell me about it," Jack says. There's a welcome silence for a while. He's reminded of learning to fish, his grandfather baiting the hook and showing him how to cast the line, sailing it out into the still water, listening to the splash as the ripples spread out and then sitting in companionable silence because too much noise made for bad fishing.
"Hell of a thing," his grandfather says after a while, and when Jack gives him a questioning look, he nods toward the copy of Time magazine that's nearly under Jack's feet.
It's an Air Force sergeant in uniform, dark eyes and dark mustache, his jaw set. The headline is frank enough: I AM A HOMOSEXUAL.
"Yep," Jack says after a moment.
"There didn't used to be any of that in the service," his grandfather says.
Jack shrugs in what he expects will be taken as agreement, although he has the private suspicion that his generation has not, in fact, invented sex.
His grandfather shakes his head, looking more amused than anything, as if to say what will they come up with next. "You don't know any of these homosexuals, do you?"
He's never met a guy who came right out and said "I am a homosexual." That includes the few he's had sex with.
"No, Grandad," Jack says, leaning back in his chair as the cigarette smoke curls up toward the sky.
Jack's been on a lot of dates and had fun in bed with a number of women, but it's never quite clicked enough for him to imagine the rest of his life with any of them. Marjorie was an earnest girl whose total lack of a sense of humor got on his nerves; Carol was into free love, and decided dating anyone too seriously wasn't her scene; Patricia was smart and witty and made him smile, but she was headed for grad school at the end of the summer and wasn't interested in seeing him long-distance.
Somewhere in the middle there was Victor, who he liked a lot — who he maybe more than liked — but who got posted to Korea and wasn't interested in seeing Jack long-distance either.
Victor was the first guy Jack had sex with who called himself "gay." "I'm not trying to screw up my career," he said. "But I'm also not planning on not getting laid until I retire." He grinned crookedly, the lamplight turning his hair and the stubble along the line of his chin from straw to gold.
"You don't have to wait that long," Jack said, and proved it.
It was good while it lasted, but between that and Patricia, Jack decides he's giving anything like dating a rest for a while. He hangs out with the guys instead, which turns into getting drunk with his friend Tony, which turns into Tony going out in the alley behind their favorite bar with him and trying to feel him up.
It's a stupid move, one that says bad things about Tony's judgment, and he doesn't have any excuse for the fact that he ends up fucking Tony anyway. No excuse except that he's thinking with his dick, and maybe also that he's feeling a little lonely. He hangs out with a lot of guys, but he doesn't talk to most of them about anything that matters.
It ends when he stops by Tony's quarters earlier than they'd agreed on and finds Tony getting a blow job from some guy he can't recognize from just the back of his head.
"I'm out of here," Jack says. It's not even the cheating, it's the carelessness. The door wasn't even locked. He's not up for a relationship with somebody self-destructive.
"It's not what it looks like," Tony tries, and whatever part of Jack's brain was open to explanations shuts down under the absurdity of hearing somebody say that while his dick is in another guy's mouth.
Tony looks scared the next few times Jack sees him, and Jack understands why, but even if he were naïve enough to believe that he could report what he saw without going down in the subsequent firestorm, he wouldn't do that. That's not what you do. You keep your mouth shut and hope that next time something ends, no matter how much you've pissed the guy off in the process, he'll do the same for you.
He never sees it coming; one day he's called in for what he expects to be a routine mission report, and instead there's a hard-faced major who locks the door behind him.
"We've had reports that there are homosexuals on this base," the man says. "Do you know any homosexuals?"
He can feel his chest clenching, but he's had years of training in how to lie under pressure. He can feel the mask dropping into place without an effort of will, shaking his head with an easy shrug.
"Never met any," he says.
"We've got a list of names," the man says, and Jack thinks that he should have known better than Tony, but there's no time for kicking himself now. He's got to play this like there's a gun to his head, calm and careful. He waits for him to say your name is on the list, waits for him to say we might go easy on you if you tell us who else you know.
"Really? Who's on the list?" Jack says when he doesn't have the patience for the suspenseful-pause crap anymore.
"Airman Greig, for one," the man says, and Jack tries not to show how fast he's mentally shifting gears. His driver, Greig's been his driver when he's needed one, and he had no clue that the man was queer. The only risk here is proximity. He makes himself breathe evenly, like nothing's changed.
"You could have fooled me," Jack says. "I just asked for a driver."
"You never saw anything that made you wonder about him?"
"I wasn't paying that much attention," Jack says. "If he was getting his rocks off on the job, he wasn't doing it while I was in the passenger seat."
"You think this is funny?"
Jack wants to say yes, I think it's funny that we are sitting here talking about where some poor son of a bitch has been putting it like it's a matter of national security, or possibly no, I think you're an ass. "No, sir," he says. "I'm just saying I didn't see anything."
"Who have you seen him associating with?"
"I haven't, and I didn't ask," Jack says. "I know nothing about the guy other than that he sits behind a steering wheel and drives."
The man looks a little frustrated. "We're looking for a woman who's apparently a friend of his. We think she's involved in hosting homosexual parties on base. Someone named Dorothy."
All Jack can think is you cannot actually be that stupid, but it occurs to him that the guy probably is. This is not the job anyone's going to give to the best and brightest. It makes him feel a little better. At least he's not facing a competent witch hunt.
"Never heard of her," he says.
"I'm sure you'll want to let us know if you do hear anything," the man says, and Jack gives him his best smile.
"I will make sure to do that," he says.
It's cool out on the patio, the sun low behind the autumn trees. Sara doesn't like him to smoke in the house, and he's fine with that. He keeps meaning to quit, but it's not going to be this week.
He hears the patio door open and close, turns to glance over his shoulder even though he knows it's her. She waits until she knows he's seen her before she comes up and puts her hands on his shoulders.
"We'll be fine," she says.
"I know," he says. She's used to him being gone, used to paying the bills and mowing the lawn and checking the oil in the car. She always shakes her head at the women who marry servicemen thinking they'll never have to do any of that stuff. What did they think they were getting into?
"I know Charlie's going to miss you," she says.
"Yeah, I'll miss him, too," he says.
"I'll miss you," she says, her hand sliding into his hair. He leans back and lets her stroke his hair, reaches up to curl his hand over hers.
"So what's wrong?" she asks after a while.
He likes it that she's smart, he reminds himself. He shouldn't be surprised when she sees through him more than he'd like sometimes. He doesn't want to be on his guard with her, not in the little time he can spend at home.
"I know you can't tell me where you're going," she says. "I just wonder what it is that bothers you about this one."
He wants to say that it's not the deployment, but he can't tell her what's on his mind when there's probably nothing to tell. He hasn't worried about it before, hasn't let himself think about it. There hasn't been anybody since he started dating Sara.
"It's the usual stuff," he says.
"Which means it's classified."
He shrugs an apology, and she settles into the other patio chair philosophically, curling her bare toes against the cooling patio stones. He doesn't think she'd want to know about the missions even if he could tell her. There are ways their lives don't touch, things he'll never know about the months that he's gone any more than she knows what it's like for him in the field. He thinks they're both okay with that, living like two cats, affectionate when they're together and getting on with their lives when they're apart.
He leans back and looks up at the tree line. Everything is fine, he tells himself. He's always felt fine, there's no point in making himself crazy. They've made the blood test routine for everybody going overseas, to make sure you aren't going to get sick somewhere with one crappy hospital. One more test in a whole list the nurse rattled off while she stabbed him in the arm to draw his blood. He still has the yellowing bruise.
But it means he's going to get a yes or no answer. No, you're fine, you dodged the bullet. He's pretty sure that's what he's going to hear, and then he can forget about the whole thing, because he's not planning to cheat on Sara with anybody on either side of the fence.
Or else yes, you have the virus and you're a dead man. Sure, you didn't know, nobody knew, there wasn't any reason to use a rubber unless you were dating a girl who wasn't on the Pill. That's too bad. And you're married—tough luck for your wife and son.
He's not even worried about where they'd think he got it. He's had transfusions, gotten shots from dirty needles, had people bleed all over him—there are enough reasons even if he'd never let a guy fuck him. And it doesn't matter what they think, not if Sara's going to get sick, if Charlie—but he can't even think about that.
"There's nothing on your mind?" Sara says. She sounds a little skeptical. Maybe he ought to tell her what he's thinking about, but it would just be one more thing for her to worry about. He tells himself that it's not that he's afraid of what questions she'd ask, and can almost believe it it.
"Nothing," Jack says. "My mind is entirely empty." That at least wins a smile.
"So you say," she says. "I'm never sure."
"You can be sure," he says.
Jack has no idea how Sam and Daniel have gotten off on this subject, and also no idea how to stop them, so he just tunes out, keeping his eyes on the road and the ever-present pine trees as they make their way back toward the gate.
"I just think it's ridiculous," Daniel says. "It's not as if it makes any difference to whether someone's qualified to be a soldier."
"Airman," Jack can't help putting in. Daniel glances around questioningly. "In the Army, they have soldiers. In the Air Force we have airmen."
"And in the Marines they have Marines, yes, you keep reminding me," Daniel says.
"You keep forgetting," Jack says. "Are we sure the gate is actually getting any closer?"
"Yes, sir," Sam says. "Unless the physical laws of the universe have changed since we got here, which ..."
"Is unlikely," Teal'c finishes.
"You never know," Jack says.
"Yes, soldiers, airmen, whatever, it doesn't matter which branch of the service we're talking about," Daniel says. He has an uncanny resistance to attempts to get him to change the subject, even when that would be a really good idea. "I just think this whole 'don't ask, don't tell' thing is asinine."
"I'm not saying it's a great policy," Sam says. "But it does mean that people are allowed to serve even if they're gay. They just have to be discreet."
"So it's fine to have gay soldiers — or whatever — as long as they're being secretly gay? You can't tell me that makes sense."
"It doesn't, really," Sam says. She looks annoyed by the whole subject, which he can understand. He's pretty sure she's straight — she doesn't look at hot women the way she looks at hot guys, and she's not a good actor. But she's probably heard one too many times to make sure to wear lipstick and polish her fingernails so that nobody will think she's a dyke.
Daniel shakes his head. "I think most people would just deal with it."
"I don't know," Sam says. "It's not like it was so easy getting them to just deal with women in the military."
"But they did, and you're here, and the sky hasn't actually fallen."
Teal'c is keeping pace beside Daniel, his expression unreadable. Jack's not sure if he's interested or offended by the subject of the conversation, or for that matter whether he's actually listening. He thinks there must be a way to tell what's going on under the surface with Teal'c, but he hasn't found it yet.
"What do you think, Jack?" Daniel says.
"Hmm?" Jack says. "I swear the gate's not getting any closer."
"What do you think about 'don't ask, don't tell'?"
Jack shakes his head. "I don't."
"I've never thought about it."
"All right, but you have to have an opinion."
"No, I don't," Jack says. He squints at the horizon, where the distant form of the stargate is finally visible. It's hardly even an effort to sound casual. "What do I care? It's got nothing to do with me."