One of the things Daniel’s parents used to say when he was younger was: "Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan." These words were accompanied by far off looks and hope-filled dreams for the future. They had their adventures. They would load up their sometimes-working car, and tell Daniel amazing stories about mythic beasts and deserts ruled by Pharaohs, as they headed off to exciting destinations like… Milwaukee.
It didn’t seem to matter that Daniel’s parents had never touched a grain of desert sand. In their hearts, they had ridden camels across the desert planes and explored all the secrets held by ancient tombs together. They had the world.
Actually, the world was a small ornamental globe from a dime store, and Australia was crookedly etched into the glass, but it was made in Taiwan, so that was something.
They hadn’t actually exchanged words as yet, but one day they would, and Daniel would introduce himself, and it would be… perfect.
“Forty five dollars for a Christmas tree, and they don’t deliver?” Daniel grunted to himself as he hauled the tree up a few more inches. “You order ten dollars worth of chow mein from Mr Yu’s, they bring it to your door.”
His cat, Khufu, looked on from the couch with feigned interest.
“Oh, I should have gotten the blue spruce, they’re lighter!”
Daniel pulled again, taking a step back to brace himself, however his foot landed on the rope beneath him and his feet slid forwards and he fell backwards, releasing the rope in his hands in surprise.
He winced at the sound of shattered glass from below.
Khufu meowed in sympathy.
“I missed that one.”
“The sausage was most agreeable.”
“Look, I’ll pay for this,” Daniel gestured towards the branch hanging inside the window. He winced to himself as he thought of how.
“Do not concern yourself, Daniel Jackson, my brother Aron is in the glass business.”
Daniel was relieved. “Oh, I almost forgot!” He patted his pants pockets before shoving his hand in the left one and producing a small decoratively wrapped package. “Merry Christmas” he said softly, placing the present before Mr. Murray.
Mr Murray’s smile was warm and reached his eyes. “That was not necessary, Daniel Jackson.”
“Well, I wanted to,” Daniel replied as he showed himself to Mr. Murray’s door.
“I have not yet begun procuring gifts on my own…”
“Hey, Tee,” a voice called from the far end of the room. “Can I give that bottle of Glenfiddich you got from cousin Rakky to my probation officer?”
Mr. Murray merely raised an eyebrow. “Are you unaware that we presently have company?”
Harry turned towards Daniel, looking him up and down while flashing a smile. “Heya, Danny...”
“You may find the whiskey in there.” Mr. Murray motioned to Harry, as he pointed to a small ornately carved cabinet.
Harry ran his eyes over Daniel once more before turning to retrieve the alcohol.
Mr. Murray saw Daniel to the door. Once close he spoke with lowered voice. “You are a smart young man, Daniel Jackson. Harry would be most fortunate…” The look on Daniel’s face prevented him from finishing his sentence.
Daniel lowered his worn copy of Budge to quickly murmur his order to the man at the coffee cart. “Oh, the usual.” His eyes didn’t leave the page as he devoured word after word.
The man huffed. “What’s that?” Didn’t he know how many four-eyed geeks from the university got their fix from him each day?
Daniel’s gaze slowly rose to the man before him. “Coffee? Oh, and a cookie, chocolate… walnut…” His attention quickly shifted back to the book in his hands.
“Daniel! Oh yes, Daniel!”
Daniel looked up to see his boss, Mr. Apepi.
“I’m glad to find you here.”
“I was hoping you’d find me in Mykonos,” Daniel murmured, looking for change in his pockets.
“Mykonos,” Mr. Apepi smirked, “oh, that’s good. I am recommending you for employee of the month!” he announced to Daniel before turning to the coffee cart attendee. “The usual.”
“Really?” Daniel strung the word out unbelievingly. “I didn’t know there was an employee of the month.”
“Oh yes!” Mr. Apepi pulled a ruffled piece of paper from his coat. “Systems Supervisor Manetho Apepi nominates Daniel Jackson for Employee of the Month. Daniel is never tardy, always works holidays… even if he has worked the previous holiday. Just because he worked Thanksgiving, Daniel is willing to work Christmas too…?”
Daniel pursed his lips together. “Mr. Apepi, I’m not working Christmas.”
“Did I mention extra holiday pay?”
“I hate you.”
Daniel took his coffee and walked away.
“Daniel!” Mr Apepi jogged after him. “I promised my son Kory I would be there for him this year.
Daniel sighed before taking a bite of cookie. “This sucks” he mumbled around the crumbs.
Mr. Apepi let a brief look of shame wash over his face. “I know it isn’t fair, and I cannot make you… but Daniel, you’re the only one--”
“Without family,” Daniel finished.
He watched a family head for the platform together, smiles all ‘round, and couldn’t help the turn of his own lips in receipt. He didn’t see the man who approached his booth until $1.50 rattled on the metal counter in front of him. He was face to face with his prince.
“Merry Christmas” the man offered before walking through the turnstile.
“Ya… huh…” Daniel’s belated reply was unheard as the man had already walked through. Daniel put his head in his hands, wincing at his reaction. “Nice coat,” he murmured. “Merry Christmas to you, too… you’re beautiful… will you marry me... I love you…” Daniel banged his head on the counter.
“Nice coat,” he heard someone say from the platform. What? He looked up to see his prince was no longer alone. Two men crowded close, grabbing at the man’s scarf before wrenching the briefcase from his grip.
“Look, I don’t want any trouble. Oh!”
Daniel watched as the thieves shoved the man from the platform and onto the tracks. A surge of adrenaline ran through his system at the sight, and he threw himself from his chair. Racing out of the booth he ran along the platform, almost colliding with the thieves who were making their getaway.
When he reached the spot where he had last seen the man, he looked down at the tracks to find him unmoving.
“Sir! Sir? Are you ok? Oh God.” The place was deserted. Where was everyone from a minute ago? Daniel tentatively lowered himself onto the tracks, carefully stepping over to where the man was, out cold. He bent down over the man and tried to rouse him. “Are you breathing?” he lowered his face to the man’s to check for breath, and his senses were assailed. “Oh God, you smell good.” Yes, he was breathing, alive! Daniel shook the man gently. “Please, please wake up. Can you hear me…?” His words were cut off by an incoming train’s whistle. His fear increased. “Wake up! There is a train coming, IT’S AN EXPRESS!”
The train’s whistle blew again, warning them to get out of the way. Daniel pulled at the man’s coat, gaining some momentum, until he tumble-rolled to the side, off the track. They missed the train by mere inches.
The motion seemed to bring the man to consciousness momentarily, and Daniel was caught in the man’s attempted gaze. “Hi,” he whispered, but the man fell unconscious once more.
“All right, what’s his name?” the nurse asked.
“Um, I don’t know it…” Daniel ran his fingers through his hair. He didn’t know it!
“I need to know his name” the nurse replied.
A flurry of motion caught Daniel’s eye and he pointed to the glass doors separating him from the man now strapped to a gurney. “He’s right… he’s right there!” Daniel dropped his arm and walked towards the door. He barely registered the nurse calling “Okay no, no, you can’t go in there!”
The doors opened as a doctor stepped through and stepped in front of Daniel. “Hey, you can’t go in there.”
Daniel stood on tip toes to see over the doctor’s shoulder. “No, you don’t understand…”
“Are you family?”
“No,” Daniel replied absent-mindedly, his gaze not leaving the man.
“No, you don’t understand. I was…”
“Wait there.” Doctor Simmons pointed towards the waiting room before turning back through the glass doors.
Daniel stood where he was as the doors closed in his face. The bustle of the emergency room, nurses tending to patients and calls from the intercom faded to a low buzzing. He sighed. “I was gonna marry him…”
Daniel peered up at his monitor, even though he didn’t much understand the readings. The man was breathing on his own and he looked pretty good, except for the unconscious part. He removed his coat and sat on the plastic chair beside the bed. Nurse Janet hovered over him. “Let him hear your voice, hon,” she whispered before leaving to tend her duties.
Daniel looked down at the beautiful man he didn’t know. “Hi,” he said sheepishly. “Everything is gonna be okay. I know it.”
Outside the room, Janet watched on with a warmth in her heart. A policeman approached her. “Excuse me. Is that the man who saved his life?”
“Yeah,” Janet sighed. “Even better, they’re engaged!”
Officer Siler entered the room, removing his hat with a smile. “Excuse me, sir. I’m sorry, but I need to ask you a few questions.”
Daniel rose to speak to the officer, but they were interrupted by the entrance of the doctor.
“Officer, may I interrupt?”
“Oh sure, I’ll be over there,” Officer Siler indicated to the other side of the room.
“Thank you,” the doctor replied before turning to Daniel. “I’m Doctor Lam.”
“Hi, I-I’m Daniel.”
His introduction was drowned out by voices in the hall.
“Don’t tell me about passes, where the hell is he?” a bald man with an authoritative air bellowed.
The flurry of people entered the room, heading straight for the man, and seemingly unaware of Daniel and Lam’s presence.
“Oh, he’s so pale!” a woman exclaimed.
“What is this?” Lam demanded. There was no way she was going to let these people make such noise and disturb her other patients. “You can’t come busting into this unit!”
The bald man turned toward Lam. “What has happened?” he demanded. “What’s going on?”
“He’s in a coma,” Lam replied, her voice not wavering despite the confrontational atmosphere.
“On Christmas day!”
Lam needed to calm the mob, and quickly. She rattled off what information she could off the top of her head. “His vital signs are strong, brain waves are good. I am confident he is going to get through this.”
“How did this happen?” the woman asked.
“Um...” Daniel tried to find his voice after all the commotion. “He was pushed from the platform at the train station.”
The group, who Daniel now realized, from a rush of names and flurry of questions, were the man's family, all turned towards him. And he was struck silent by their attention.
“Who is he?” the bald man inquired.
“He’s his fiancé,” Nurse Janet replied.
“His fiancé?" the man’s mother questioned. "George, he's your son. You know about this?"
Daniel’s eyes rounded at the words and his mouth dropped open. What? Why would the nurse say such a thing to his family? Was she making this up for Daniel to be allowed in the room?
“Paul’s fiancé?” the bald man, George, repeated also.
“Yeah, I thought…” Nurse Janet trailed off as the family seemed to close in around each other in a flurry of disbelieving and astounded voices. The elderly woman lowered herself to the chair that had been vacated by Daniel.
A young blond girl wandered over and stood next to the chair, patting the old lady on the arm. “Grandma?”
“Is she ok?” asked Lam.
Another older man, a little scruffier than the rest of the family, conversed with the doctor. “Yes. She has a little heart problem. Three attacks already.”
“They weren’t attacks, Bray,” the woman, who Daniel now knew to be Catherine, replied solidly from the chair, “they were episodes.”
“Nothing wrong with her hearing," whispered Bray in return.
Just then, the doctor from the emergency room burst in. “Hey!" He pointed at Daniel." What’s he doing here?”
Officer Siler, who had been watching the entire exchange with some interest, stepped forward. “Hey, he saved his life!”
“I thought he was pushed off a train platform?” questioned George.
“Daniel here jumped on the tracks,” replied Siler.
“You jumped on the tracks!” exclaimed Bray.
“Ah, yeah…” Daniel was completely overwhelmed. So many people and questions, and now they thought he was in a relationship with their son. A serious relationship. They technically hadn’t even had a conversation… yet.
Doctor Simmons was still having none of it. “It’s family *only*.”
George stepped towards Simmons and gestured him aside. “He *is* family.”
George’s wife stepped forward, hands in a placating gesture to Daniel. “I’m so sorry, we didn’t know. He’s always away and… I hoped he’d find a nice boy. I’m so glad he found you!” She threw her arms around Daniel, holding him tightly. Daniel was in shock as he slid his own arms around her in comfort.
“W—why did you say that? I’m not his fiancé!”
“Oh, honey, why did you tell me that you were?”
“We’re not engaged, I’ve never even spoken to the guy!”
“What? In emergency you said you were going to marry him?”
Daniel threw his head back in frustration. “Oh geez! I was talking to myself!”
Janet pulled Daniel aside so that no one else could hear them. ‘Well, I suggest next time you talk to yourself, tell yourself you’re single, and end the conversation”
“What am I going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“She held me so tight… I… I couldn’t… I couldn’t tell her.”
“Excuse me, nurse!” Bray stepped up behind Daniel. Daniel’s eyes widen in fear that Bray had overheard them.
“Is there a pharmacy in the hospital?”
“Uh, what do you need?” Janet asked, he voice faltering in surprise, also.
“Catherine, she wants nitroglycerin.”
“Oh!” Janet calmed some. “For her heart problem?
“Problem? Problems!” Bray exclaimed as he turned to Daniel. “You know something? I think you saved her life. In fact, I believe you saved the whole family. Bless you.” Bray touched the side of Daniel’s face in affection before Janet had the mind to usher him off to the pharmacy.
It was Catherine who finally spoke up. “So, tell us how you met Paul? We could all use a nice story.”
Bray leaned forward in his chair. “How do you know it was nice?”
“Oh course it was nice,” Catherine countered. “Why shouldn’t it be nice?”
“What of that young woman… her name escapes me now… the one he met in the bar, hmph?”
“Anise Freya Bacon,” George sounded out each word in his slow drawl as if the syllables left a bad taste. “Pretty high and mighty for someone named after a breakfast meat.”
“Well, he has a nice boy now,” Paul’s mother announced. Daniel had taken a liking to Paul’s mother. She was fierce but down to Earth, somewhere between a goddess and a waitress.
His thoughts were interrupted by Paul’s younger sister, Sam. “So, did you steal him from Anise?” The grin on Sam’s face wished this to be so. Anise didn’t sound too popular.
“I bet it was love at first sight, right? I have a sense about these things.” Daniel could tell Catherine was going to get a story from him, whatever it may be.
“Catherine, let him tell it!” Bray admonished.
“He is telling it!” Catherine countered. “I bet he picked you up in that fancy car of his…”
“What first drew you to him, dear?” Paul’s mother silenced the speculations.
“Um...” Daniel thought about Paul. All the daydreams, pretend encounters that had played through his mind. First kisses and futures he wanted so much he could almost touch them. “His smile,” he replied shyly. He couldn’t start weaving some intricate story of a romantic encounter, containing his innermost wants, for this to blow up in his face some time later. “We saw each other, and, um, he, uh, smiled. And—and I knew that… my life would never be the same."
Daniel hung his head and wondered what he was doing. He didn’t see Bray standing on the other side of the glass.
He stood and stretched. Plastic chairs were not the most comfortable of places, especially to spend an entire night. Paul’s features caught his eye and he gazed appreciatively at the man who had no idea he existed. “Bye,” he whispered as he turned to the door.
“Daniel! We didn’t know you were here!” Catherine said, as Paul’s family burst through the door, blocking Daniel’s exit. “Were you here all night? How’s Paul?”
Daniel eyed the door wearily as the family filed past him to surround Paul’s bed. “Um, well, he’s got more color… and um, I have to go. It was great seeing you all again.” Daniel tried for a natural smile as he took a step towards the door, but something made George follow him. “Look, we didn’t get to celebrate Christmas… it would be nice if you could join us.”
Christmas? With the family? But they didn’t even know him, and he couldn’t keep stringing them along. “Oh, um, ah… I would love to, but I, I can’t.”
“But Jack’s gonna be there!” Sam piped up.
“We would love for you to come tonight,” George implored, already getting the address for Daniel.
Crap! What should he do? “I, I really shouldn’t, I have to work…”
“Okay,” George resigned his disappointment. “However, if you do change your mind, here’s the address.” He handed Daniel a business card with an intricately carved chair embossed on the surface. “We’re in the antique furniture business,” he said by way of explanation.
“Thank you,” Daniel replied accepting the card. “I’ll see you later, bye.”
“Oh!” Daniel accepted he box. “He’s not my husband.”
“Sorry,” apologised the orderly. “Fiancé?”
Another man who overheard the exchanged stepped in. “You’re Paul’s fiancé?”
“Okay…” Daniel agreed.
“Walter… Harriman, I work with Paul. He’s a great guy. Had a tough year, what with the accident last month and all…”
“Accident?” Why was he even asking?
“Well, of course it was an accident! Did he tell you it was my fault? We were playing basketball, I always carry a pencil!”
Daniel stood there as the man droned on about his story.
“Well then, go along with it, and when Paul comes out of his coma, they’ll be so happy, they won’t care that you lied to them. They’ll probably even thank you for it.”
“Okay…” This was giving Daniel a headache. “What if he doesn’t come out of his coma?”
“Well then who’s to know?”
“What am I doing?” he said to himself before turning to retreat.
“Daniel!” Bray called as he strode purposefully towards Daniel, and the house. “You made it!”
“C’mon.” Bray clapped Daniel on the arm, “Keep me company on the porch for a while, before we head in.”
“Sure.” Daniel followed.
As they sat, Daniel pulled his coat more tightly around himself, whether for the chill in the air, or for the words he could feel Bray about to say.
“Did you know that I was Paul’s godfather? It’s an important role, it means you’re practically part of the family.”
Daniel held a genuine smile. “Yeah, that’s really important… to have family around this time of year.”
Bray regarded Daniel for a brief moment. “Are you… are your parents with you?”
Daniel tried not to let the sudden lump in his throat get the better of him. “Oh, no. They passed when I was young. I was fostered until I was old enough to fend for myself, then I dropped out of school, got a job, and here I am.”
“I am sorry to hear that. Daniel…” Bray looked towards the front door of the house behind him. “These people made me a part of their family, and I would never let anyone hurt them.”
Daniel knew these words to be an important truth, for which he only had one answer. “Neither would I.”
Bray held Daniel’s gaze for a while. He felt as if the old man was looking right into his very soul. “I believe you wouldn’t,” he said finally, a faint smile upon his weathered lips.
Suddenly, there was a shriek from inside the house. “Daniel, you came!”
“Come on everybody, get close to the tree!” Catherine entered with a camera that looked to be almost as old as she was. “Daniel, come on!” He was unceremoniously pulled from his place by Sam, and ushered right into the middle of the group. Oh boy.
The night seemed to settle into a casual yet loving routine of Christmas celebrations. Bray opened a bottle of wine to which Catherine announced, “Oh, I don’t drink anymore!” Bray’s raised an eyebrow in a manner that would rival Mr. Murray’s, before Catherine concluded, “However, I don’t drink any less, either,” and held out her glass.
Presents were exchanged, and everyone seemed caught up in the cheer. Sam leaned over to Daniel and handed him a package, and whispered, “To Daniel, from Santa.” She winked before taking her seat. A present? As much as he was infatuated by Paul, tonight, he fell in love with his family. Daniel held the present to his chest, feeling no sense of urgency to open it as he watched the family express their love for one another through the holiday celebration. He never wanted to leave.
“Jack!” Sam exclaimed from the stairs, throwing herself into her brother’s arms. He twirled her around onto the floor. “Shh," she whispered, "don’t wake Daniel!” She pointed to the figure sleeping on the couch.
“He’s Paul’s fiancé.”
“No, that’s not Paul’s fiancé!” Jack took in the man, long lashes kissing his cheeks, hair sticking up in all directions from sleep.
“You haven’t met him?”
“He’s amazing, you’re going to love him.”
“Okay, okay, I think you best be off to bed.”
“Don’t eat my Fruit Loops in the morning!”
“I make no promises, and dibs on the toy!”
“Good morning!” came a voice from the stairs.
“Ack!” Daniel spun around. “Ah, oh… you scared me!”
“Sorry.” Jack’s apology didn’t sound at all sincere, in fact, the amusement was quite evident on his face.
“Um, good morning, Jack.”
Jack was a little older than Paul, silvered bed hair and daggy sweats, and yet…
“I guess, I don’t remember meeting you…” Jack lowered his paper to reveal a half finished crossword, and flashed a charming smile. Nothing at all like Paul’s.
Daniel regarded him, “Well, that’s probably because we’ve never met.”
“That may have something to do with it,” Jack conceded.
Daniel was flummoxed… were they flirting? Did Jack know he was engaged to Paul? Sort of…
A car horn from outside made Daniel jump again “Oh, um, cab… I have to go… but um, it was nice to meet you, Jack. So… good bye.” Daniel felt himself getting flustered and needed to make with his exit.
“Daniel.” Jack raised himself from the stairs, leaning forward as Daniel reached for the door.
Daniel stopped, hand on the knob. What did Jack want? Did he know Daniel was a fraud? “Ok, I know that I, um…”
“Hey,” Jack’s voice softened, maybe he wasn’t about to rake Daniel over the coals.
Jack smiled, a genuine smile, warm. It softened his features, and Daniel realised that the mysterious Jack was trying to be nothing but polite. “Welcome to the family.”
“Oh…” How did this man seem to leave him speechless so easily? “Um, thank you.” What else could he say? He had to go, the cab was waiting. “Bye.”
Harry looked up and peered at Jack over the top of his sunglasses. “Live here? I own this place.”
“Oh, great. Then you would know the man that lives in 301?”
Harry straightened himself, giving the impression of a peacock, shoulders back, the works. “Know him? I’m dating him.”
He didn’t hear Jack let himself into the apartment.
In the kitchen, Daniel opened the cat food and continued to call out to the invisible feline. “Kitty?” He shouldered the door, swinging it to open when there was a thud.
“Ah! Son of a…” a voice came from the other side of the swinging door.
Daniel tried not to drop the tin of cat food in surprise. It was Jack! “Oh! I am so sorry!”
Jack peered up at him with one eye, the other squeezed shut to protect it from the bleeding gash in his left eyebrow. “Nice shot,” he said sarcastically.
Daniel tossed the tin on the counter. ‘Let me get you some ice.” Ice? Freezer! Of course. He threw it open, taking in the stacks of ice cream and not much else, and grabbed a handful of ice.
“How’d you get in here?” Jack asked.
Daniel didn’t know where the dish cloths were kept, so he just handed Jack the handful of ice cubes. “Oh, um... key.”
“Key? Oh, you stay here a lot, huh?” Was that a hint of jealousy?
“Oh, you know, feed the cat…”
“Paul doesn’t have a cat.”
Daniel and Jack stared at one another, neither daring to say more.
They both turned their heads to the kitchen entrance where a very large, fat and fluffy cat with what appeared to be a diamond studded collar, sauntered in to see what all the fuss was.
Daniel carefully stepped towards the animal so as not to startle it and quickly scooped it up. “Hello honey…” He glanced at the tag on the cat’s collar. “Fluffy! Hello Fluffy, you must be so hungry…” Daniel placed the cat with the food on the counter as the phone began to ring. Oh…
“Are you gonna get that?”
Should he? What if it… how could he explain his presence, and Jack was right there… “Uh, no, I’m gonna let the machine get it.”
Jack gave Daniel another suspicious look, one that didn’t seem to be in any short supply from the man, and sauntered over to the phone. “Hello?” he said confidently into the receiver. Daniel watched as Jack’s shoulders seemed to tighten, and then slump. Jack turned back to Daniel. “It’s for you…”
Wait, what? Daniel tried to school his features and not let his surprise show. Who the hell? He put on a confident air and took from phone from Jack’s outstretched hand. “Hello?” he asked brightly. The woman on the other end quickly rattled off some information which Daniel would find himself processing after the fact. “Okay, thank you… good bye.”
After hanging up the phone, Daniel was met with Jack’s questioning gaze. “Ah, that was the hospital. They said it’s customary for friends and family to come down and give blood.”
“Let’s go together!” Jack announced.
Surprisingly, Jack didn’t hound him for answers the whole time they were hooked up. Only when the nurses where finishing and handing out refreshments did Jack actually speak. “Hey, we’ll have to get your picture for the mantle.”
“Of me?” Oh, how was he going to get out of this one? He was already in their Christmas photo!
“No, of you and Paul.”
Oh! “I’m not that photogenic,” Daniel said smiling to himself, quietly imagining a portrait of himself wrapped in Paul’s arms.
“I doubt that.”
Jack was cut off by the nurse handing out orange juice. “Now, I want you to sit here and sip this or you’ll get woozy.”
“When did you start seeing Paul?” Jack asked poking his head around the nurse between them to look at Daniel.
“September 17th,” Daniel replied automatically. Now that was true. He had memorised that day at the train station.
“Three months?” Jack mused. “That’s… quick.”
“You have no idea…” Daniel sipped at his juice.
“That’s fast, that’s a fast engagement.”
Daniel stood, he needed some space from Jack’s questions. He was light-headed and afraid he would say something wrong and…
“I’m fine,” Daniel threw over his shoulder, making his way from the room.
Jack also made to get up.
“And Sir, I’m not finished with you either!” The nurse was exasperated.
“I’m good.” Jack got to his feet and managed a few steps. Daniel didn’t see Jack’s face plant on the floor.
“What is Paul’s favorite ice cream?” Jack asked coming up behind Daniel.
Great, more questions! “Baskin Robbins,” he replied, remembering the freezer.
“Favorite baseball team?” Jack quizzed him further. Couldn’t the man just give up?
“Chicago.” Crap, Daniel knew nothing about Baseball.
“Cubs, or White Sox?”
“What the heck is going on?” George cut them off from Paul’s bedside.
“Don’t ask me,” Jack replied. “Ask his boyfriend.”
George looked perplexed and a tad angry. “That isn’t very funny, Jack.”
“No, no,” Jack continued regardless. “Not this boyfriend.” Jack pointed at Paul. “Harry Maybourne.”
Daniel snorted. “Harry?”
“That’s right. He said that you were… intimate.”
“Yeah, well he also said he’s a top secret spy for the government. He’s delusional.”
“Oh dear,” Catherine paled.
“See what you did?” George rose to comfort Catherine.
“What did I do?”
Catherine looked up at Daniel with all the hope in the world in her eyes. “If he wanted to, he’d prove it.”
The whole family looked expectantly at Daniel. Oh shit. How could he prove a lie?
“Paul has one testicle!”
Jack was the first to respond. “No way!”
“Way!” Daniel countered. “About a month ago, he had an accident, playing basketball… his friend had a-a pencil in his back pocket.”
“Eww!” Sam exclaimed.
Paul’s family all looked at one another, each refusing the task of um… checking.
“Okay,” Paul’s mother shushed them. “I’m his mother.”
“Look on the bright side,” Catherine spoke. “He’s got more room in his Jockey shorts.”
“No, no thank you. Daniel, there’s something you should know…”
Oh no. “What?”
“On Christmas night, when you were visiting with Paul, I was outside the door. I know the truth.”
Daniel lowered himself to a chair. “I’m… I’m sorry, Bray. You don’t have to worry, I’m gonna tell them everything.”
“Don’t tell them a thing,” Bray cut him off. “Remember when you told me that you would never do anything to hurt the family? Well, since they met you, they figure they have Paul back. If you tell them the truth, it will take him away again. The truth is, they need you, Daniel. Just like you need them.”
Daniel felt a lump in his throat at Bray’s words. He hadn’t been needed in so long.
“I know you will do the right thing.”
Daniel nodded, unable to speak. He would do anything for them.
“No, I ah, have an engagement present for you.”
Oh hell. “You really shouldn’t have…” This was just getting more and more complicated.
“I didn’t… it’s from my parents. It’s furniture.”
“So, ah, I thought I would just bring it up here,” Jack motioned to the inside of Daniel’s apartment, subtly indicating that he had yet to be invited inside.
Daniel couldn’t accept furniture from them too. “How about you take it up to Paul’s apartment?”
“Ok.” Jack flashed Daniel a smile. “Why don’t you come with me?”
“Ta-da!” Jack threw his arms out in presentation.
“Oh my God, Jack!” Daniel’s eyes were immediately drawn to the intricately carved wooden chair. It was beautiful. A lot of love would have gone into making this piece, it was definitely hand made.
“It’s amazing!’ Daniel didn’t think as he held out his hand for Jack to haul him up into the back of the truck. Once inside, he ran the tips of his fingers over the carvings, it was quite remarkable.
“You like that?” Jack asked.
“Oh yes, it’s--”
“Not yours. The folks gave you the love seat.” Jack gestured to the other side of the truck. The love seat’s filigree pattern and subtle colors were going to completely clash with everything in Paul’s apartment. It was obvious this piece was given with Daniel in mind.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Daniel turned back to look once more at the chair.
“Don’t be. I made this.” Jack gestured to the chair.
“Yeah? Can I sit in it?” Daniel asked without thinking.
“Knock yourself out.”
Daniel lowered himself to the chair. “My God, this is perfect. You should go into business or something.”
Jack looked away for a moment before meeting Daniel’s eyes. “Well, that’s tricky.”
“It was your dad’s business, huh?”
“Yeah, Paul never had an interest in the business, and with dad retiring…”
“You don’t want to let them down,” Daniel concluded.
Jack and Daniel sat in the back of the truck regarding one another.
“I told you not to park there,” Daniel teased.
He felt they had reached some sort of truce, or half way point now, him and Jack. The love seat had been carefully placed in Paul’s apartment with the utmost care, and… minimum damage to the surrounding motif. “Well, goodnight!” Daniel smiled and turned to find his way home.
“You just gonna leave me here with the truck?”
“Basically, yeah.” Daniel’s grin was ruining the effect.
“Well, maybe I oughta walk you home.”
Um, what? Was Jack going to get all macho on him because he was gay? “I’m fine,” Daniel bristled.
“For me,” Jack clarified, his own smile crept onto his face. “I don’t want to be here by myself.”
Daniel’s grin returned and he nodded his head in the direction of home.
“You look cold.”
“Probably because I am cold.”
Jack took in the old coat Daniel held so tightly around himself. A few buttons missing, loose stitching here and there. “You need a better coat.”
“What?” Daniel questioned the absurdity of the statement without thinking. “This was my Dad’s.”
“Ah, then he’s probably freezing!”
Daniel looked down. “He passed away.”
“Sorry,” Jack apologised.
“It’s not your fault. It was a long time ago. He and my Mom, they were in an accident…” Daniel let his words die off in the wind.
“What were they like?” Jack’s question was honest. He couldn’t imagine life without family.
“Um, well.” There was so many things he could say. Wonderful things about his parents he’d never had the chance to tell another soul. “They liked maps.”
“Yeah, I live by maps, my truck’s filled with them."
"We would be watching TV, mostly documentaries and the like, and they’d pull out an atlas and we’d find where it was, and we would plan our way there.”
“If there were one place in the world, where would you go?”
“Egypt,” Daniel answered straight away.
“Ooh, the pyramids, nice! I take it you’ve never been there?”
“Well no, not yet. But, I do have…” Daniel stuck his hands in his pockets before producing a little blue book. “My passport.”
“You have your passport?”
“Well, yeah. You know, just in case I need to quickly leave the country.”
Jack plucked the passport from Daniel’s fingers and thumbed through it. No stamps. Maybe it was a new one. Maybe he lost his old one. Maybe Daniel was just a dreamer.
Jack flicked through to the front page. “Oh, you were right. You’re not very photogenic at all.”
Daniel snatched his passport back.
“Just kidding!” Jack offered. The photo was nice, but it was nothing compared with standing next to the living thing.
Daniel strode off and Jack had to jog a little to catch up.
Closer to Daniel’s apartment, Jack found his voice again. “So, tell me more about where you grew up.”
Daniel wondered if this was just another way of questioning him, despite his want for Jack to actually be interested in him. Interested? Did he care what Jack thought? “You’re certainly Mr. Chatty this evening.” Daniel avoided answering the question.
“Oh yeah, as much as I *love* the cold, I’m about to start shivering, and making conversation keeps my face from freezing.” Honestly, Daniel was intriguing him, the more he knew, the more he wanted to know. Jack was lost in thought until Daniel spun around on the sidewalk, and Jack realised they were outside of his apartment.
“Thank you, Jack. I had, um, I had a good time.”
Jack gave him a smile, and Daniel ventured up the path to the building’s front entrance. He managed two whole steps before he hit a particularly icy patch of pavement and felt himself slipping. “Ah!” His vertigo was short-lived and strong hands wrapped themselves around his biceps and lifted him up.
“You ok?” Jack asked.
“Yeah, it can get a little icy.”
“Okay.” Jack was slow to release Daniel, leaning forward he told himself, to give Daniel a better chance of remaining upright, not so that he didn’t lose contact.
Jack overbalanced and felt himself falling towards Daniel. “Whoa!” Daniel caught Jack in return, wrapping his arms around the man to stop him slipping further. Jack held on tight too, face in the front of Daniel’s coat. He could feel Daniel’s laughter through the layers, vibrating from his chest, and Jack smiled into the fabric.
Daniel quietened when he felt Jack’s hair tickling his cheek. What was he doing? “Jack?”
“Do *not* take me with you.”
Jack realised he was letting Daniel take an awful lot of his weight and he tried to straighten himself up. “I think I’m good.” He met Daniel’s eyes.
“Good.” Daniel moved an inch, and found himself slipping again. Jack grabbed for him, trying to haul him up as Daniel wrapped his arm around Jack’s neck to pull himself up. “I’m ok, hmm…” They were pulled in close, now supporting one another. Daniel let another laugh escape.
“I think we’re okay now,” Jack whispered.
Slowly they untangled themselves until they were both upright on their own.
One step later found them both on the ground.
“Ow!” Jack rolled over. “Was that my pants or my muscles?”
“Give me your hand.” Daniel crawled to the edge of the pavement and reached for Jack. Once they had a firm grip, Jack let himself be pulled to safety.
Somewhat closer to Daniel’s door, Jack and Daniel looked at one another again.
“Good night.” Daniel smiled before turning to enter his building.
“Good night, Daniel,” Jack whispered.
“Him.” Daniel continued climbing the stairs to his apartment.
“You don’t have to answer right away…”
Mr. Apepi looked up from his paperwork. ”Who’s Jack?”
“So he thinks I’m engaged.”
“Daniel, I really don’t have time for this--”
“You have to tell me what to do!”
“Tell the truth?”
“If I tell Jack that I lied to his family, he will never speak to me again.”
“Daniel,” Mr Apepi dropped his pen. “You are born into a family, you do not join them like you do the Air Force.”
Daniel closed his eyes. “You have to tell me what to do.”
“Pull the plug.” Mr. Apepi held a dark grin on his face.
“You’re sick,” Daniel admonished his twisted humour.
“I’m sick? You’re cheating on a vegetable.”
Jack regarded the comatose man before him. “Do you remember when we were in fifth or sixth grade, and I was getting really good at poker? I had a lot of trips to the principal’s office, and you know what he said to me? ‘Why can’t you be more like your brother, Paul?’ And you know, I didn’t mind that because I admired you, and I was never envious of anything that you had…. until now."
Jack slammed the deck of cards on the table. “I’ll cut the deck. High card gets Daniel.” Jack grabbed to handfuls of cards, facing one toward himself and the other toward Paul. He grinned at his saw his own card, but that faded when he flipped Paul’s.
“Okay, best out of three…”
“Daniel, do you think you could find a nice boy for Jack here too?”
Daniel tried not to inhale his potatoes. “Um, I really don’t know Jack’s type, so I’m not really the one to um--”
“I like brunettes, chubby ones,” Jack replied.
“Oh, well, Harry’s still single…” Daniel popped a spoonful of mash potatoes in his mouth and winked at Jack.
Daniel nodded, not giving any sort of definite answer and stepped into the doorway.
“Oh look!” Catherine exclaimed, “You two are under the mistletoe!”
“Kiss him!” Sam urged Jack.
Jack and Daniel both ducked their heads, looking at each other shyly. Should they?
“C’mon, just one kiss!”
Jack shook his head at himself and met Daniel’s questioning gaze. Daniel felt butterflies trying to break free. He kind of wished that Jack would stop looking at him like he was the world. Could he?
Daniel smiled in permission, and Jack leaned forward to give Daniel a quick peck.
The butterflies flew from Daniel’s stomach and up into his chest as Jack’s lips caressed his, ever so gently. He was warm with just the right amount of pressure. Daniel was tingling.
All too soon, the warmth was gone, replaced by a gust of icy wind from outside. “Okay.” Daniel gathered himself. “Goodnight guys!” He stepped out into the winter’s night.
As the family dispersed, Jack remained at the doorway, watching Daniel leave. What was he doing? He closed the door.
Awake? Oh my god! Daniel turned to flee, he couldn’t… but George grabbed his arm tightly and helped him into the elevator.
“Oh god,” George paled. “He’s got amnesia…”
Paul closed his eyes.
“Now you let me handle this. I am too old a friend, and too old a person for them to kill. You let me handle it okay?”
“Okay.” Daniel breathed, and let Bray push him through the doors of the ICU. He walked forward under his own steam confident in the very least that he was not alone.
Bray walked off in the other direction.
“Hey, remember him?” Jack questioned Paul as he pointed to Daniel.
Paul took in Daniel’s features. Blondish hair, blue eyes, glasses… “Should I?”
“Look closer, son,” George urged Paul.
“He looks… a little familiar. Why?”
“You have selective amnesia,” Paul’s mother replied softly.
“Paul, honey, you’re engaged.”
“Daniel? Who’s Daniel?”
“You don’t remember, do you?”
Having watched the conversation from outside, Doctor Lam entered and ushered everyone from the room. “I think he’s had enough excitement for one day.”
Everyone said their goodbyes, and Daniel slipped into the huddle. That is until he saw Bray peeking through the doors at the other end of the corridor.
“Bray, where have you been?”
“What?” Bray’s face was the picture of innocence. “I’m not allowed to go to the bathroom?”
“I’m handling it. I will tell them.”
“When? On my golden anniversary?”
“Jack…” Daniel started, “you’ve been really great this past week.”
Jack hung his head. “Yeah, like uh, when I accused you of lying to everyone. Or when I accused you of having a relationship with Harry.”
“You’ve had a really busy week, haven’t you?”
“Yeah,” Jack laughed.
“Look, Jack… starting tomorrow, things… are probably going to be kind of different.”
Both men fell silent once more. Jack didn’t *know* how different.
“I,” Daniel started. "I just wanted you to know that you’ve become, uh, a really good friend.”
“Friend,” Jack murmured under his breath. “Daniel?” Jack called, making the other man turn.
Jack pulled away in his truck with a heavy heart.
“You’re a saviour!” George replied, pushing aside his bran muffin. “It’s been a hell of a week, hasn’t it?”
Jack nodded in agreement.
“Life in a pain in the ass. I tell ya. You work hard, try to provide for your family, and then, for one minute… everything’s good. Everyone’s well, everyone’s happy. In that one minute… you have peace.”
Jack’s nodding slowed. “Pop, this isn’t that minute.”
“What do you mean?”
Jack released a nervous laugh and leaned forward. “You remember that chair I made for Grandma?”
“Are you kidding me? It’s so fancy, she won’t even sit in it.”
“That ‘fancy’ chair, two months ago, I sold three just like it. I have sold two dining tables. I got orders for six more.”
“Son, that’s a good side business.”
“It’s… not a side business, it’s a good business.”
“You don’t want my business?”
“Um… no.” There. He’d finally said it.
George paused in silence thought. Huh.
“How long have you felt this way?”
“A… long time.”
“Well, then why didn’t you say something sooner?” George wondered why Jack felt he had to hide this from him. Was it about Paul?
“Are you mad at me?”
“Are you nuts?”
Jack opened the box of doughnuts.
“Okay.” Paul was sitting upright, just finishing his hospital breakfast.
“Paul, I’ve known you since you were born. I have been to every major event in your life. You have accomplished many great things, but, Paul, you’re a putz.”
Paul’s face dropped. “Excuse me?”
“I am your godfather. I could not love you more were you my own son. But you are a putz.”
“Is there a point to this?” Paul wondered. Was the old man losing his marbles?
“Daniel! Paul, there’s something you have to know about him. He is not only your fiancé. He is your guardian angel. He saved your life, Paul. In more ways than you know. He is coming to see you today, and I wish you to do yourself a favour. I want you to look deep into his eyes and listen. Listen with the heart of a man who has just been given a second chance at life. Then, if you are not deeply in love with him, leave him be, and you may go back to being a putz.”
Paul’s eyes were wide. He was missing something big here.
“However, if in the two minutes you see what the rest of us took mere seconds to see, you will propose to him again, and wed him before he has the chance to escape, hmm?”
Bray rose from Paul’s bedside. “Take the advice of an old putz. If I were forty years younger… I would marry him myself!”
Daniel placed Paul’s things on a nearby chair before raising his eyes to meet the man. “Hi.”
“Um, I was just, I came to bring you back your things.”
They regarded one another.
“Can I get you anything?” Daniel offered.
Paul sighed. “I wish I had my own clothes.”
Maybe Daniel could take a run to his apartment? “I like your blue one…”
“Yeah, that’s my favourite too!”
“Yeah.” Paul nodded. “Please, sit down.” He gestured to the chair beside his bed.
Daniel lowered himself and stared, unsure what to say.
“I must thank you,“ Paul cut through the silence. “For saving my life. That was pretty heroic.”
“Oh no.” Was Daniel blushing? “Jumping in front of that train was… unusual.”
“I don’t think I’ve done anything truly heroic in my whole life,” mused Paul.
“You give up your seat every day on the train.”
“Well—But that’s not heroic.”
“It is to the person who sits in it," Daniel replied.
“They’re moving me to the second floor.”
Jack took a hold of Paul’s wheelchair and wheeled him out to the elevator. “I kinda snuck you some contraband,” he whispered, producing one of the Baskin Robbins tubs from Paul’s freezer.
“Thanks!” Paul exclaimed, taking it and the spoon hidden in Jack’s pocket. “Hey, Daniel’s pretty amazing, huh?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jack replied.
Paul took a mouthful of ice cream. “Mmm, now *this* I remember.”
Jack pushed the button for the elevator a few times.
“I’m making a fresh start with Daniel. He is, he is… he… what is he? He’s…”
“I’d say he gets under your skin as soon as you meet him. And he drives you nuts, you don’t know whether to hug him or arm wrestle. He wants to go all the way to Egypt to get a stamp in his passport. Who knows, maybe that’s insanity, maybe it’s just what makes him so goddamn… likeable.” Jack released a breath.
“Nah, that’s not it.”
Jack wandered off. His brother was still an idiot.
“But I will find out what it is, I have all the time in the world now…am I making any sense?”
“Not really,” said the orderly who found him sitting by himself next to the elevator. “But that’s common after a head injury.”
“Anise!” Paul greeted when she stepped inside.
“Mikta!” she countered in one of her many foreign languages. “You’re engaged?”
Paul nodded his head with a smile.
“May I remind you, that you proposed to me?”
“You said no. We broke up.” Paul was feeling even more confused.
“I was simply confused,“ replied Anise. “We stepped back.”
“I didn’t know you were going to get engaged to the first bimbo that came along!”
“Daniel’s not a bimbo.”
“Daniel? Daniel who?”
Paul’s forehead knitted together. “I don’t remember. I was in a coma, I have amnesia.”
“All right, fine.” Anise didn’t believe a word Paul said. He was playing games with her, or something. “I want my stuff back!” she announced.
“Fine,” Paul countered. “I want my stuff back.”
Anise’s fingers went protectively to her nose. “You can’t have my nose!”
“I paid for it.”
“Well then... here!” Anise grabbed her ample chest. “You paid for these too!”
Paul looked balefully at Anise’s breasts. Maybe he would miss those. “Keep them.”
Anise threw her hands down in disgust. “Go ahead, marry him, you one-balled bastard!”
“I feel really good. You know what? Facing death makes you re-evaluate things. I have so much, and yet… no one to share it all with. You were there when I needed someone the most. My family loves you… I might as well love you. Daniel? Marry me?”
There was a knock at his door.
“Ugh!” Daniel waved his arms around, shirts and all, in annoyance. He stomped to the door and threw it open. “I am not interested... ha… heya, Jack… I thought you were um, Harry.”
“I get that a lot.”
Daniel stifled a laugh.
“Can I come in?”
“Yeah.” Daniel continued to stare at Jack, blocking his entry.
Daniel stepped aside and Jack entered his apartment for the first time. “I just wanted to give you something, you know, before the presents start piling up.” He handed Daniel a small wrapped object.
Daniel tore at the paper and revealed a snow globe with a pyramid inside. Oh.
“I was delivering some furniture, and there was this store next door… and… I know it doesn’t snow in Egypt, but…”
“Thank you.” Daniel did not take his eyes off of the globe, mesmerised by the flakes of snow falling gently to roll down the sides of the pyramid.
“I just wanted to say…” Jack continued, “that Paul is… a very lucky guy.” He couldn’t make the smile quite reach his eyes. “I better get goin’.”
Daniel looked at Jack. He didn’t want the man to go. “Yeah.”
Jack walked out without looking back.
“Jack! Jack!” Daniel ran to the door.
Jack looked up at him from the stairs, the fainted glimmer of hope in his eyes.
“Can you give me any reason… why I shouldn’t marry your brother?”
Jack felt as if he had been punched in the guts. He could think of a million reasons, all dancing between himself and Daniel this very moment. He just couldn’t *say* them. Paul was his *brother*.
His voice caught in his throat. “I can’t,” he croaked.
Daniel nodded sadly, cradling the globe to himself as Jack turned and fled.
“A wedding invitation,” Daniel replied matter-of-factly.
Mr Apepi sighed. “Whom are we marrying?”
“The coma guy?”
"Look, every day I work this job going nowhere. I work every holiday. I go home to an indifferent cat. Now, a rich and handsome man has asked me to marry him, and I have said yes.”
“What happened to the other guy?” Mr Apepi’s voice was soft. Daniel was worked up over something.
Daniel sighed and shook his head to wish the threatening tears away. “He didn’t want me.”
“It’s fine,” Jack replied absentmindedly.
“Are you okay, Jack?” Paul could see Jack was irritated, more so than usual.
“You suck,” Jack murmured, running his hands through his hair.
“I suck or the outfit sucks?”
“It’s a toss-up,” Jack spat out.
Suddenly, Daniel came running into the room. He made almost immediate eye contact with Jack as he made his way past the family, to stand in his place opposite Paul.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”
“I object!” Daniel heard himself say. He locked eyes with Jack once more. He couldn’t do this.
The celebrant lowered his book. “I didn’t get to that part yet.”
“I…” Jack spoke up also, “would have to object, too.”
The celebrant rolled his eyes. “And you?” he asked Paul.
Paul stared at Daniel. “I’m thinking.”
“What the hell is going on?” George bellowed from the pews.
Daniel turned towards the bald man. “I… am in love with your son.”
“Yes?” George questioned further.
“Not… that one,” he pointed to Paul. “That one.” Jack.
George didn’t look happy. “Jack, what the hell did you do?”
Jack stood there with a look of sheepish glee on his face and shrugged.
“He didn’t do anything,” Daniel answered for him. “It was me, all me. Um, Catherine, are you doing okay?”
Catherine pulled out her ancient camera and snapped a picture of Daniel.
“Okay… that day at the hospital, there was a *little* mix up. See, I ah, I saw Paul get pushed onto the tracks and I saved his life, but... when I got to the hospital, they wouldn’t let me see him, so, um…” Daniel looked toward Janet, “someone told the doctor that I was his fiancé. Only um, it’s not true.”
No one said anything for the longest time, just letting the situation sink in. Daniel felt his heart breaking.
“Why didn’t you say something?” Jack whispered, eyes looking a little red.
Daniel sniffled to himself. “Because, I didn’t know how to tell you.” He turned back to the family waiting patiently in the pews. “I didn’t know how to tell you the truth, and then I didn’t want to tell you, because, um, the truth was that I fell in love with you. All of you. I went from being all alone to being… part of a family."
He turned back to Paul. “I may have saved your life on the tracks that day, but you know what? You really saved mine. You allowed me to be a part of your family. And even though it was just for a little while, I will love them, always. I am very sorry.” Daniel walked towards the exit.
He heard the murmuring of voices as everyone had their say on the events of the past week or so. He only dared look back to wave goodbye to Bray.
A dime, two quarters… then someone tossed a white envelope on his counter. He stared at it. Huh?
Slowly, he reached for the envelope and opened the back. Inside were two plane tickets to Cairo. Daniel smiled to himself, before looking up to find Jack and his family at her booth window. He couldn’t stop the laughter than escaped him this time.
“Can I come in?” Jack asked sheepishly.
Daniel quietened. “I can’t…”
“Oh…” Jack straightened himself for the blow.
“Not without a token.”
Jack threw a handful of coins on the counter, his eyes not leaving Daniel’s. Daniel buzzed him though, and Jack all but leaped into the booth. The voices of Jack’s family outside faded as Jack leaned in. “Wanna go to Egypt with me?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Daniel replied, breathlessly.
Jack swooped in then, claiming Daniel’s lips in a forceful kiss. Warmth and heat assailed Daniel’s senses, and all he could smell was Jack. His heart swelled. He smiled into the kiss, causing Jack to smile in return. Jack nuzzled Daniel’s neck, and hid his face as the family cheered.