Daniel stiffly entered the artifacts storage room, showing a resistance merely to indicate objection but not rebellion. The door behind him clicked loudly, locking him in. He sighed heavily.
“Asshole,” he muttered, and looked around the ceiling for cameras. There weren’t any. Well, that was something. Although it might be remedied now. Didn’t matter. O’Neill had just severed their working relationship. Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed again. Reason told him that it was just because Jack was bored and frustrated being the base commander of Area 51. He wanted to be out flying, or back at the SGC as base commander or leader of a team. But Daniel’s heart said it didn’t matter. He didn’t care. He was done here. He wasn’t going to work for an asshole. Not anymore.
It had been two years since Daniel had been assigned at Area 51. The Stargate Program had gone public and suddenly the attention had drawn all sorts of political upheaval. In the wake of that, he’d considered resigning, but the offer at Area 51 had been a good alternative. He got to study the artifacts. O’Neill had shown up a year later, much grouchier and sullen than he had been.
They hadn’t been friends for several years, ever since Shau’ri had died. The mourning had made him distant and O’Neill had decided that it was as good an excuse as any to drift them even further apart. Daniel had opted to switch teams to SG-11, and that had been fine with O’Neill. He’d missed Sam and Teal’c though, but at least he got to catch up with them when they weren’t on mission. After O’Neill had been assigned to Area 51, which was still considered beyond top secret, Sam had gone to R & D and Teal’c had stuck around with security until he’d been called home to lead up the new Jaffa homeworld with Bra’tac.
Daniel rarely got to see Sam anymore. She and O’Neill, he was mostly certain, were together. He would have objected a long time ago, but now it was just sad. For Sam. He no longer gave a shit whether anything was okay with O’Neill.
So. Where to go, he asked himself. He pondered opportunities as he looked about the storage room. It was a large slightly off-square space with a few large free standing shelves, crates, and long folding table against the right wall, topped with dozens of tagged artifacts. He’d tagged them himself. In the far right corner was something he hadn’t tagged. A quantum mirror with a gray sheet over it.
Another possibility, he thought, raising his brows. He went over and uncovered it. It was off, the surface a slate gray, the tint bluer than the cover. The edges of the mirror were the same. In fact, this was like the one he’d discovered on that world almost ten years ago. Was it the same one?
He looked around the room for the control device but it wasn’t here. He sighed again, figuring it was locked up to keep people like him from getting ideas. So this idea was out of the question. Although it’d probably be difficult anyway. He’d have to do a lot of scouting, finding a safe world, one where he was dead. It would take a lot longer than he’d be locked up in here. That thought brought him back to O’Neill and he scowled. He’d finally lost his temper with the man and in response, O’Neill had shoved him in here—mostly because it was convenient; the nearest lockable door.
Daniel began to plot to find a way off this base. He’d have to use his position to spend a lot of time in here, use the excuse that he was re-examining the artifacts stored here. He could also go to the SGC and ask to go offworld. Perhaps with a team, but he’d disappear after that—if he wasn’t allowed to leave for good, that is. With all that he’d seen and done as part of that program, Earth’s ancient discoveries no longer held any interest. He could keep up to date by others’ work and that’s all he cared to do. He was more interested in expanding his knowledge elsewhere.
Running his fingers over the rocky surface of the mirror’s edging, he noticed that the crystalline structure didn’t resemble normal naquada. There were colored flecks within it that weren’t noticeable further away. It seemed to him to be more of a composite with something else. Part of the processing? He was surprised to discover that he would actually like to find out. That would require more offworld investigating. That would be a goal he could get behind. Just have to convince others to let him leave and pursue this idea. He grinned to himself. His paleontology degree would finally be put to good use.
Grabbing a folding chair, he sat down in front of the mirror a few feet away, staring at its construction, breaking apart the steps he assumed would have been taken to create it. While doing that, he constructed the presentation he’d make to the SGC’s General that would allow him to leave. He could be persuasive. He’d learned how to deal with the military mindset of Generals, including O’Neill’s.
Just as he finished the presentation in his mind, including the anticipating arguments, the mirror blinked on. One second there was a blank slate and the next minute, it was on. And on the other side stood O’Neill, with a control device in his hand. Daniel sat up straight, then stupidly looked behind him and to his left. The door to the room could barely be seen beyond the shelving units. He looked back at the mirror, shaking his head at himself, and frowned. The O’Neill standing there was a Colonel, dressed in the olive drab utility uniform. His hair was a bit darker, not the nearly white of his O’Neill. He also didn’t have that suspicious, cynical look in his eyes. They were warmer. Old feelings began to surface and Daniel squashed them mercilessly.
“Jack?” he asked quietly.
Jack lifted his brows in an old expression that Daniel had found he’d missed.
Well, duh. Who else would it be?
“Can you read lips?” Daniel asked.
Jack waggled a hand.
Daniel signed, “A S L?”
Jack smiled. Broadly. And it was the most beautiful thing Daniel had seen in a long time. O’Neill hadn’t smiled like that in a very, very, very long time. Those old feelings came back and Daniel decided not to stomp on them.
“Had a friend in college who was deaf. We stayed in touch,” Jack signed. “What’re you doing in there? Examining the mirror?”
Daniel waggled his hand back. “O N e i l l,” he spelled out, “shoved me in here and locked the door.”
Jack scowled. “Where are you?”
“A r e a 5 1,” he signed. “Where are you?”
“S G C,” Jack answered. His scowl lightened into a frown. “Why are you at A r e a 5 1?”
How like the old Jack, Daniel thought. Ask a ton of questions in order to get the lay of the land. Most of that was mental while they’d been in the field, with spoken answers from Sam and Teal’c. Daniel had rarely allowed his paleontology expertise to come out back then, preferring to let Sam and Teal’c take over so it didn’t make him look like a know-it-all. Even if he did know a lot.
“Long story,” Daniel answered.
Jack jogged his brows, then a curious look came over his face. He seemed to argue with himself over what he wanted to say, then he said slowly, “Are you … with … him?”
Meaning O’Neill. Daniel shook his head slowly. “Asshole,” he signed. That made Jack laugh. “What about you?” he asked, and underneath the question, he was wondering why Jack had asked. It was a very personal question and he usually stuck to the trivial or business. At least, his O’Neill had, back when he was Jack.
This Jack got a mournful look on his face and he said, “He’s dead.”
Daniel raised his brows in surprise and sympathy. Before he could stop himself, he repeated, “I’m dead?” Part of him was very sorry for Jack. The selfish part of him wanted to get up and touch the mirror.
“Two years ago,” Jack said. “Explosion on a mission.”
The deep sorrow on Jack’s face made Daniel ask, “Were you two together?” Jack nodded, not saying anything. “I’m so sorry,” Daniel said, and he deeply meant it.
They were “silent” for a long minute before Jack gave Daniel a look. It kind of looked like … hope.
Together, they signed,
“Can I come over?”
“Want to come over?”
They both grinned. Daniel nodded and he touched the mirror.
And there he was, standing in front of him. Daniel could smell him. That old muskiness he loved. Desires began to clamor and they had to be pushed aside.
“Hi,” Daniel said, feeling a little lame and he put his hands in his pockets to keep from hugging the man.
“Hi,” Jack said. And he too stuffed his hands in his pockets.
Daniel wondered if it was for the same reason. He looked back at the mirror, at his world. Then made up his mind. “May I stay?”
Jack suddenly made a face. “I’ll have to clear it with the boss.”
Daniel asked, “Hammond?”
“Hammond isn’t in charge there?” Jack asked. He looked a bit chagrined, having already deduced the right answer.
Daniel shook his head. “Had a heart attack about five years ago. Didn’t make it. O’Neill was put in charge. Then the program went public and he wasn’t the right man for that job so we all got shipped to Area 51.” Jack nodded, and it looked like he was gonna ask something else, but didn’t. So Daniel surmised. “Sam’s in R & D, and Teal’c’s back on Chulak, co-ruling the Jaffa empire with Bra’tac.”
Jack’s brows shot up. “Seriously? He’s doing that here, but on Dakara.”
Daniel was surprised. “Who’s taken his place? Assuming you’re still part of SG-1.”
Jack shook his head. “I couldn’t find a replacement, so I’m just Hammond’s Girl Friday.”
Daniel snorted. “Thought that was Davis.”
Jack grinned. “Him too.”
“Here, but she heads the egg head division.”
“What year is it here?” Daniel asked.
Jack nodded. Checked his watch. “What time do you have?”
Daniel checked. “2:15.”
Jack grinned. “3:03.”
Daniel splorted, bending over, then brushed the back of his hand over his mouth as he straightened. “That’s 38 minutes difference. How ironic.”
“38 minutes?” Jack asked, then he got it. It was the time it took the stargate to stay open without manually shutting it off. He grinned. “Irony. The wonderful sense of humor of the universe.”
“No shit,” Daniel said, a hint of a laugh in his voice. Jack’s brows went up again and Daniel deduced it was because he’d cussed. “Get over it. I cuss a lot.”
“Nature of the beast?” Jack asked, glancing at the mirror.
“In my world, yes,” Daniel said soberly. He looked behind him. “I’d better get back in case I’m let out.” He paused. “I don’t want them to know we’ve met. They’ll move the mirror someplace else and lock it up.”
Daniel chewed at his lip as he studied Jack. He had salt and pepper hair but he looked younger than O’Neill. “Birthday?”
“October 20th, 1972. You?”
“August 8th, 1980.”
Jack looked puzzled. Daniel assumed there was a difference in the other him. “What was my other self’s birthday?”
“July 8th, 1983. O’Neill’s?”
“October 20th, 1968.”
Jack frowned. “Weird. Not so much the same.”
“No,” Daniel replied. “Guess we shouldn’t be surprised.”
Jack nodded, staring at his watch. “So.”
“So,” Daniel said, feeling awkward. He didn’t want to leave.
“I’ll contact you again in … six hours. Can you be back then?”
Daniel nodded. “I live at the base. I do a lot of late night work examining artifacts.”
Jack nodded, fidgeting with the device. “Okay.”
It was a square tablet instead of the winged device Daniel had used a billion years ago. “Different design.”
Jack grinned, holding it up. “Carter.” He tapped a few buttons. “She made it possible to fine tune the settings and save a coordinate for examining later.”
Daniel shook his head. “Her brain is horrifyingly centuries ahead of ours.”
“Tell me about it.”
Daniel looked at the mirror’s edges, checking to see if the flecks were there. They weren’t.
“What?” Jack asked him.
Daniel thumbed at the mirror. “I’d like to find out what my mirror was made of. It has flecks of something else in the material. It’s different than this one. I was planning to head off world to find out.” He paused. “Do you have any other mirrors here?”
“A few at Area 51. Don’t know if they’re like your mirror. I never took notice, to be honest.” He paused. “That’s a bit out of your field, isn’t it?”
Daniel shook his head. “Have a doctorate in paleontology, but I rarely get to put it to use.”
“Seriously?” Jack asked, pleased. “That’s new.”
They smiled at each other, then Daniel held out his hand. Jack took it. He was warm and steady and Daniel wanted to touch more than his hand. He withdrew first. “See you in six.”
“In six,” Jack nodded, an undecipherable look in his eyes.
Daniel touched the mirror and returned to the storage room. Jack nodded to him and the mirror went blank. Daniel stared at it, but didn’t see it. His mind was racing. He had to be allowed to stay there. He had to be.
Daniel paced the space in front of the mirror, impatient and anxious. He had considered bringing a small duffle with him but he didn’t want to risk the night crew seeing that so instead, he’d stuffed a few things in the leg pockets of his blue utility trousers. Plus, he didn’t want to lug a duffle back to his room. It smacked of failure and depression and he refused to do that to himself.
He didn’t have much anyway. No assets, a few keepsakes. The only things he’d considered important were his wallet, some toiletries, a few photos, his spare glasses, and a couple of his favorite paperbacks. But if he had to, he’d have left everything but his wallet, which he carried with him at all times.
He stared at the door, wishing he could have locked it from the inside. Another irony. When he looked back at the mirror, Jack was standing there, wearing black field gear this time. He beckoned and Daniel smiled. He crossed over and Jack shut off the mirror. It made his smile wider. He was staying. He refrained from whooping in delight.
Jack turned, tipping his head for Daniel to follow. They left the storage room and Daniel looked back, finding it smaller than the room he’d left. A literal large closet. “What were you doing in there anyway?” Jack’s left cheek twitched, which Daniel took to mean that there was more than one answer.
“I’m curious about it,” Jack said. Before Daniel could ask Jack to explain further, Jack went on. “You can stay here tonight. Hammond wants you transferred to the Alpha Site tomorrow. We’re …”
“Busy?” Daniel ventured, giving Jack a small grin.
“You could say that. We’re moving all the things that are sensitive to the Alpha Site.” Jack pointed his thumb behind him. “Including that mirror.”
“Why?” Daniel asked, having a few ideas.
“We’re about to go public ourselves,” Jack sighed, slipping his hands in his back pockets. “We have too many things that the civilian oversight committee shouldn’t see … yet … so we’re getting it all out of sight. We could move it to Area 51, but that would take a few days. Alpha Site is faster.”
Daniel’s mind raced, thinking of all that implies, and with it, it brought up more questions about why Jack had been messing with the mirror. “Were you planning to escape, or to find another me?” he asked, gesturing behind them.
Jack gave him a look. “A little sure of yourself, aren’t you?”
“No, not really,” Daniel said softly. Then louder, “It was the look on your face when I asked about him. It took me a long time to get over Shau’ri and I would have looked for an alternate version if I’d had access.”
“But …” Jack suddenly paused and looked around him, bringing Daniel into an empty office. “I thought you were …” Meaning gay.
“Bi,” Daniel said, and gave Jack a wink. They stared at each other, the sexual tension skyrocketing, and Daniel knew that if they could get away with it, they’d be kissing right now. Dammit. “DADT here?” he asked as he gestured to keep walking.
Jack grinned. “No, but frat regs still apply so there’s still the need to be circumspect and disciplined. As usual in the military.”
“Gotcha,” Daniel replied. And he wouldn’t leave it alone. “So … why were you searching?”
Jack was quiet till they entered the elevator and proceeded downward. He leaned against a wall, switching his hands to his front pockets. “I’m bored. Figured I’d go exploring with the mirror.”
That caught Daniel’s attention. “You’ve been playing with that thing for a long time, then.”
Jack nodded. Looking at the floor, he said in a soft voice, “I miss him.”
Daniel moved to stand next to him. “Is that why you asked me if I was with … him?” he asked quietly.
Jack nodded. “Couldn’t help it, sorry.” He paused. “Not really like me.”
Daniel nodded back and sighed through his nose, staring at the far wall. “Grief does strange things.” Jack didn’t reply but there was a micro-nod.
The elevator opened and they headed out. “Where’re we going?” Daniel asked.
“To see Hammond.” Jack looked at him slyly. “He wants to take your measure, I think.”
“Seems fair,” Daniel said. “I may have his face and his name but I’m not your Daniel Jackson. I’m a stranger.” Jack shrugged, but it was a little odd. “What?”
Jack gave him a side look. “Not that strange, to me.”
“There’ll be differences though,” Daniel said. He grinned then. “Like paleontology.”
Jack snorted softly. “Color?”
“Blue,” Jack said. “Food?”
“Chicken enchiladas, corn tortillas.”
“Fattening,” Jack said with a crooked grin. “Cobb salad.”
Daniel found that surprising because he just couldn’t see any salad as a favorite food.
“Schools?” Jack said.
“Brown,” Daniel responded.
“Just Brown?” Jack asked, surprised.
“Why?” Daniel asked, not needing to explain.
“Four,” Jack said. “He said he liked to travel around. Staying in one place made him itchy.”
Daniel laughed, nodding. “I like stability once in a while. Brown offered all the disciplines so I stayed.”
“Huh,” Jack said. “Good with computers?”
“Pretty much. Not like Sam.”
“No one’s like Carter.”
“Word,” Daniel said, and using the colloquialism made Jack laugh.
“He wasn’t into slang.”
“I am. And I cuss, as I said.”
Jack grinned at him as they entered the briefing room. “A man after my own heart.” The statement made them both freeze for a millisecond, then remain silent as Jack knocked on Hammond’s door.
Jack cleared his throat, and met Daniel’s gaze. There was so much there behind his eyes, Daniel thought, and he wanted to spend years finding out what that was. Presently, he brought his attention to Hammond and a pang went through him. He looks just the same. He shook hands with him.
“Good to meet you, sir.”
“Likewise, Doctor Jackson,” Hammond said, then gestured at the two seats in front of his desk. As Daniel and Jack sat down, Hammond closed the door. He hesitated, looking at Daniel, then took his seat and folded his hands. “Well, this is … unique.”
Daniel could only nod.
“Why do you want to come here?”
Daniel explained his situation, and then rolled into his presentation about researching the mirrors.
Hammond listened patiently, nodding now and then, but he looked troubled. “Forgive me, Doctor Jackson, but I still don’t understand why you want to leave your universe. There’s got to be other places you can go.”
Daniel made a face. “Not on Earth, sir. I was planning on giving my mirror speech to my world’s General at the SGC so I could leave that way.” He paused, glanced at Jack, and added, “And then I met Jack.”
“Hmm,” Hammond said, giving Jack a look that said he’d already reprimanded him for using the mirror. He steepled his fingers, thinking, then settled his gaze on Daniel. “As I told the Colonel, I’ve already decided to let you stay here. Partly because it’s not really my place to send you back to your world when your counterpart no longer exists here.” He gave Jack a sympathetic look. “Sorry, Jack.”
Jack just waved the apology away.
“So,” Hammond went on. “We’re pretty busy around here, getting ready for going public. I also don’t want you freaking people out around here. You had many friendships and have been greatly missed.” He paused. “He was. You.” He waved a hand. “Apart from the differences. Never mind. Point is, it’s better that you stay offworld since that seems to have been your destination to begin with.”
“Yes, sir,” Daniel said. He was only slightly disappointed in not being able to examine the mirrors at Area 51. Maybe he could later at some point.
Hammond got up and came around the table. “Stay with Jack here. On base, I mean. He’ll see you get what you need and take you to the Alpha Site tomorrow.”
Daniel held out his hand and Hammond shook it. “Thank you, sir. Thank you very much. It’s just … beyond words.”
Hammond grinned at Jack. “Not like our boy, is he?”
There weren’t many people in the SGC after 8 pm, but there were enough to stare at Daniel with so many emotions that Daniel found it a bit amusing. He knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t help it. There were a lot of dropped jaws, many wide eyes, but the amusing parts were the scowls and frowns and blank faces.
Jack had been talking to him and Daniel had lost track. “Um, what?” he asked, when Jack paused.
“I said don’t let the stares bother you.”
“I’m not bothered. The scowls amuse me.”
“What scowls?” Jack asked, stopping on their side of the hallway and staring at people who passed with his own scowl. A few airmen passed, whose wide eyes disappeared when they saw Jack’s face.
Daniel tipped his head to keep walking, so they did. “It’s not many. A few frowns. And the blank faces, or distracted expressions, are also amusing.”
“Why?” Jack asked, confused.
“Because it’s nice to know that not everyone was a friend. Breaks the monotony.” Jack stared at him and Daniel grinned at him. “Don’t make more of what it is, Jack. It’s just a passing comment, that’s all.”
“Right,” Jack said, sighing. He stopped at a door, opened it with a key card, and handed Daniel the card. “Don’t lose it.”
“I won’t be here long enough to do that.” Daniel detected a bit of disappointment in Jack’s face, but he couldn’t be sure it was because of what he’d said.
The room was a standard VIP accommodation, with its own bathroom, and just down the corridor from the Mess Hall. Daniel turned in a circle, taking in the usual furniture and spartan decoration. “Not much different than my universe.”
Jack nodded. “I think there’s a cosmic rule that says these rooms can’t be plush.”
Daniel snorted. “Unless System Lords are visiting.”
Jack smirked. “Or world leaders.”
Daniel grunted. “Mess Hall still open?” he asked, facing Jack finally.
“No, but we can go out to eat, if you want.”
Daniel wasn’t in the mood for a restaurant. “Order pizza?”
Jack smiled. “We can do that.” He pulled out a cell and quick-dialed.
That made Daniel smile. “Pizza is often, I take it.”
Jack nodded. “And they have a lot more than that.” He hung up suddenly and went to a low dresser, taking a brochure from under the phone there. “Here. Look it over.” He went over and sat in the desk chair to the left of the bed, prepared to wait.
Daniel didn’t even read the menu. “No need. Pepperoni, stuffed crust, deep dish, if they have it.”
Jack grinned and called. After he hung up, he said, “Be about forty-five minutes.”
Daniel sighed and sat on the chair by the dresser. He wanted to lay down but not while Jack was there. He didn’t want to give Jack the idea that he was flirting. That would have to wait. “So, where am I going?”
“Alpha Site,” Jack answered simply.
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Yes, but where?”
“Ah,” Jack said, looking at his watch. “There are quarters there. I’ll set you up.”
Daniel pointed. “You need to be somewhere?”
Jack made a face. “Fraiser’s coming in at ten. She’ll want to see you before you go in the morning.”
Daniel froze, then blinked rapidly. His Janet Fraiser was dead. “Janet? Fraiser? CMO?”
Jack sat forward, forearms on knees. “She somewhere else on your side?”
Daniel nodded sadly. “She passed. She was a good friend. Maybe she’s part of the reason I hated the last years at the SGC, I don’t know.” But the thought of seeing her again gave him renewed energy and nervous anticipation. “Why’s she working so late?”
Jack waved a hand. “The change.”
“Ah. Has to beautify the infirmary?”
Jack snorted. “No. She has to get rid of all the medicines and samples we haven’t told the Pentagon about.”
Daniel tsked. “Shame on you, Jack. Keeping things from the Pentagon.” His tone was teasing.
Jack sat back. “We have to, or they’d butt in where they don’t belong, fouling things up.”
Daniel nodded. “They’re so clueless that they overreact on things.”
They both fidgeted in silence, each wondering what to talk about. Waiting on food was always like that, at least for Daniel. He preferred chatting during meals but outside of that, work-related things were the only times he really spoke at length about anything. Except with Janet. He could talk to her about all sorts of stuff and it pained him to realize that he’d missed that. A lot.
“What’s on your mind?” Jack asked.
“Thinking about Janet,” Daniel replied.
“You were close?” Jack said, looking slightly surprised.
“We were,” Daniel said. “As you’ve noticed, I’m not a big talker. But with Janet, it was different. She was interested in what I had to say and the feeling was mutual. We’d talk about everything.” He knew it wouldn’t be that way with this world’s Janet. He’d be offworld, for one thing.
Jack rubbed his hands on his thighs. “So why this interest in the mirror?”
“Curiosity, nothing more. It was just odd to see flecks of a different material in the stone and I want to know what it is.”
“As I said, I never noticed.”
“O’Neill wasn’t very big on examining artifacts, either.”
Jack made a face. “No offense, but please don’t compare us. I already hate the man.”
Daniel shut off the rising blush in his cheeks. “Done.”
Jack gave him an odd look. “You really aren’t a talker, are you? My … the Daniel from this world wouldn’t give terse answers. He’d go on and on about something.”
Daniel was thinking about Jack’s self-correction as he said, “I used to, until I came to the SGC. Then I learned quickly that the military doesn’t want long answers except during lectures or debriefings. So I just stopped talking. Never really got out of the habit, except with Janet.” There he went again. Mentioning Janet. He sighed. “Sorry. I keep bringing her up.”
Jack rubbed his hands on his thighs again and Daniel started to wonder if that was a habit this Jack had before he asked something he thought was either delicate or as a way of denoting an uncomfortable subject.
“Were you two …?”
Daniel shook his head. “The only woman I was ever involved with was Shau’ri.”
Jack frowned. “Never mind. Shyla? Kyra?”
Daniel shook his head. “Don’t know those names.”
“Huh,” Jack said, curious. “More differences in our histories.”
“Who were they?” Daniel asked. When Jack explained, he made a face. “Met the ‘Destroyer of Worlds’, but only as an older woman. We went to that planet where Shyla is from, but she didn’t exist. The king had a son instead.”
Suddenly they found something to talk about and each brought up missions that were consistently different in a myriad of ways.
“My Daniel,” Jack began, and he’d ditched his self-correction, “died twice. How many times did you?”
Daniel made a face. “Seven.”
“Seven?” Jack coughed, awestruck.
“The first Abydos mission, K’lorel’s ship, meeting the Tok’ra, the Nox, and twice with that King’s son. He liked to shoot me and revive me.”
Jack grimaced. “That’s how you got addicted?”
Daniel nodded, mirroring Jack’s expression. “Took me a long time to get over that. I think I was particularly hard hit due to those previous resurrections, except for the Nox one.”
Jack nodded. “I still can’t remember how they did that.”
“Brought us back?” Daniel asked.
“It was that ceremony they performed on their youngest one.”
“I know that. I just don’t know how. Carter could never figure it out.” He paused. “What do you think? Any ideas.”
Daniel grinned mischievously. “I call it The Science of Magic.” Jack let out a derisive snort. “You scoff, but magic is always something unexplained until science figures it out.”
Jack conceded that with a shrug, then frowned. “Wait, you only said six things. What was the seventh?”
Daniel made a face. “Yeah, well … I died and ascended to a realm of energy. Then a year later, I couldn’t keep my nose out of humanity’s business and I was forcibly descended.” Jack’s face clearly depicted confusion, so Daniel explained about Oma DeSala and his stepson, Shifu.
Jack was speechless for a long minute afterward. Then, “What was it like?”
Daniel shook his head. “I don’t remember much. Oma took my memories of it, initially.”
“To save me from the other ascended so they wouldn’t blank my entire mind. So when I descended, I at first couldn’t remember who I was, never mind memories of the ascended realm. Took me a long time, and after about a year or so, I started to remember bits and pieces of things I’d seen. I tried to tell O’Neill about it but he couldn’t have cared less.”
“Yeah. I just kept it to myself. The ascended could have come after me anyway, but I think Oma stopped them.”
“How to you know that?” Jack asked. “Have you seen her since you descended?”
Daniel shook his head. “No. It’s just matter of logic.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Well, there you and this world’s Daniel have that in common.”
Jack’s cellphone rang. “Pizza’s here.”
While the mess hall kitchen was closed, the dining hall wasn’t and they chose a table. There were four other people there and he was given frequent looks. Daniel was already tired of it. Jack led him to a coffee machine.
“Someone always manages to set it up, keep it running all day.”
Daniel grimaced. “No thank you.”
Jack’s brows shot up. “But I thought you loved coffee.”
“That’s not coffee, it’s muddy sludge.”
Jack granted that. “Ice water? Ice machine and water are always on tap.”
“That’ll do nicely, thanks.”
As they sat down, Jack said, “How long has it been since you had coffee?”
Daniel checked his watch. “About two hours. I have an espresso machine in my quarters at the base.” He cleared his throat. “I used to, that is. I have to stop considering that my world, but it’ll take a while to fit in here.”
“Want to go back?” Jack asked, pausing between bites of his pizza.
“Hell no,” Daniel coughed. “I’m just saying.”
“Right,” Jack said, thoughtfully. “I’d probably be doing the same thing if I were in your shoes.”
The other people in the mess hall kept staring at him, and Daniel noticed that Jack kept doing it too. More so than was usual. “Why do you guys keep staring? It feels a lot more than just seeing a ghost.”
Jack waved at Daniel’s hair. “It’s your hair, I think. It’s different.”
Daniel self-consciously smoothed a hand over his hair. “What’s different?”
“It’s darker brown, with red in it. My Daniel’s hair was sandier, and short. He’d had longer hair a long time ago, but never as long as yours.”
Daniel touched the ends of a few wavy locks, which touched his shoulder. “I’ve always had it like this. Sometimes I wear a ponytail if I’m on a dig, along with a bandana.”
Jack let out a short chuckle. “Ponytail.”
“What?” Daniel asked, annoyed. “Too feminine, I suppose?”
Jack shook his head rapidly. “No, no, no, sorry. It’s just it seems a little …”
“Hippyish?” Daniel smirked, getting it.
“Yeah,” Jack said, shrugging.
The intercom sounded a soft bell. “Colonel O’Neill and Mr. Jackson, please report to the infirmary.” The bell sounded again.
“That’s different,” Daniel said. “No bell on my side.”
“Huh,” Jack said. “She’s early. Come on, let’s take dinner with us.”
Daniel was disappointed when he met a nurse in the infirmary. She led him to a gurney and Jack sat on an empty one next to it, setting the pizza box down on the bed. He was still munching on a slice and offered the box to Daniel.
Daniel put up a hand, shaking his head, and said to the nurse, who proceeded to take his blood pressure. “Where’s Janet?”
The nurse waited till she’d taken his pressure. “She’ll be in after I’ve taken your vitals.”
The nurse, whose name tag said Sheffield, was now taking his pulse, yet she too kept looking at his hair. Daniel narrowed his eyes at Jack. “Guess my hair really is different.”
Jack grinned. “Just a bit.”
After the nurse left, Daniel took another slice of pizza. “So can I get some essentials while I’m here, or do I need to wait?”
“You’ll find toothbrush and paste in the VIP room. Other stuff, the basic essentials, are at Demeter.”
“Alpha Site. Some scientists hated the name, so they changed it.”
Daniel grinned and ate, making Jack mock-scowl at him. “Annoyed?” he said, chuckling.
“Well, no, but I’m just used to thinking of it as the Alpha Site. I’m surprised I just referred to it as Demeter.”
“Why Demeter?” Daniel asked.
“Better than New Earth, which was the first idea. Basically, they wanted an Earth-like name, and given that we tend to use Greek names, they chose Demeter.”
“Roman names for planets and asteroids in my old universe, which would have been Ceres.”
Daniel suddenly raised his brows. “The planets here are Greek then?”
Jack raised his brows. “I guess. I just never thought about it. They’re Hermes, Aphrodite, Earth, Ares, Zeus, Cronus, Poseidon, and Hades.”
“Wow. They’re all Roman names on the other side.”
Jack shook his head. “Weird.”
“Yeah. Although Pluto, uh, Hades, was reclassified as a twin dwarf, along with Charon.” He frowned. “Although Charon is Greek. Weird.”
“Huh,” Jack grunted. “Hades has always been a binary planet with Charon being the tenth planet, technically.”
“Huh,” Daniel copied.
Further discussion was cut short when Janet came in, looking at her clipboard. When she looked up, she halted mid-step, staring with wide, round eyes. “Holy shit!” she gasped.
Daniel giggled and said to Jack. “Guess she wasn’t expecting me. Explains why I was referred to as mister.” He turned his gaze to Janet. She had longer hair, tied into a ponytail. It was still pretty wavy, at least.
Janet continued to stare at him, but then narrowed her eyes in thought. “Mirror universe?” she asked.
Daniel nodded, impressed by her instant deduction. He pointed at Jack. “He found me.”
Janet gave Jack a reprimanding look. “Still playing with it? I thought the General told you to stop doing that?”
Jack made a quick face. “Yeah, well,” he said, waving a hand.
Janet shook her head and set about with the standard exam while Daniel explained their meeting, his different look, and why he was staying in their universe. He made a face. “Jack’s gonna get me settled off-world with the basic essentials. Which I assume means uniforms.”
Janet nodded. “Come on, let’s get you to the MRI.”
“To make sure you’re not carrying a snake or any other hitchhikers.”
“Oh, right. You still have the Goa’uld here, I take it.”
She paused, traded a look with Jack, who’d been following. “You don’t have Goa’uld anymore?”
Daniel shook his head. “They killed them all,” he said, using the pronoun deliberately. He was already thinking of this universe as his.
“Damn,” Jack said, as they kept moving. “We don’t have the resources for that. Nor the allies willing to help.”
“Not too interested?” Daniel asked.
“Not interested in genocide, more like.”
Daniel snorted. “Something to be said for that, for civilized beings. But the Goa’uld were parasites that caused major suffering and so they needed to go. Don’t know why your allies don’t see that.”
“Me neither,” Jack and Janet said together. They grinned at each other as Janet pushed through swing doors and led them into a large MRI room.
“Wait in the booth,” Janet told Jack.
Jack saluted. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Don’t be a smart ass,” she said, not looking back as she led Daniel to the table. She grinned at him and gestured. “Lie down. We’ll get you sorted with the blocks. You’ve had these before?”
“Yes,” he said, and wished he could just put the past behind him. It’ll take a while before people stop asking him about his old life.
“Good, then I don’t need to remind you about staying still, et cetera?”
“No,” Daniel replied as he lay back.
Janet retrieved the proper equipment and as she set it up, she asked, “Am I there on the other side?”
Daniel paused before speaking. It was so hard. “Not … anymore.”
Janet paused. “Oh,” she said quietly. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he said, though it really wasn’t. “We … were best friends.”
She raised her brows. “Really? It’s … was … like that here.” She paused, finishing the equipment and looked at him, his hair, his face, then into his eyes. “Bet it’s a bit disconcerting here, seeing me.”
Daniel would have shook his head but he didn’t want to mess up the equipment. “It’s actually a relief. I’ve … missed you. A lot. And it’s really nice seeing you again, even though it’s not the you from my side. Does that make sense?”
She nodded. “Perfectly.” She paused again, seeming to consider her words, then shook her head, as if dismissing them. “So what are you gonna do now?”
Daniel sighed. “Stay the night, then Jack will take me to Demeter and put me up in his quarters there. Then at some point, I’ll need to come back and do some shopping for clothes and stuff. I didn’t bring much with me.”
Janet considered, chewing at her bottom lip. “Well, you know … if you like … I have some time on Saturday to take you shopping. I can come get you offworld.”
Daniel’s brows skyrocketed. “Seriously?” She stared into his eyes and smiled at him. Janet always had the best smile and it was true here, as well. “Are you sure?”
She nodded. “Positive. We can get to know each other again.”
He smiled back. “I’d like that.”
Jack and Daniel finished the pizza in his VIP room, though Jack stopped by the break room to warm it up and grab some coke. To Daniel, the break room looked more like a down-sized version of a library/game room/cafeteria; he found it fascinating. Break rooms on the other side were literally a room of tables, chairs, and a coffee pot.
In his temporary quarters, they sat at a small table, placed there ostensibly for writing or meals. Daniel sipped at his coke, finally full. He really wasn’t used to eating a meal as large as this, splitting a large pizza. He’d only ever ordered the small “individual” ones in his old life.
“So what time in the morning?” he asked, looking at his watch as he burped. It was now eleven-thirty p.m.
Jack grinned, burping himself. “Six a.m., more or less.”
“That’s early,” Daniel said.
Jack shrugged. “It is, but we have a big day. I’ll have time to get you over to the quarters, throw around some orders, then head back.”
Daniel nodded as he got up and fished out a small ponytail band from his pocket and tied his hair back. That earned him a surprised and amused look from Jack. “What? I don’t like my hair in my face when I’m trying to brush my teeth and wash my face?” He looked around, spotted the alarm clock by the bed and walked over. “I hope this thing works.” And even as he said it, he set the alarm time for a minute ahead. “So I’ll have to get up at five-ish, take a shower.” He looked down at himself. “They have a washer or something there?”
Jack nodded. “Naturally. Also a quartermaster, so you can get a change of clothes and such before Saturday’s jaunt with Fraiser.”
“How come you never call her Janet?” Daniel suddenly asked, curious.
“Hello?” Jack said, tweaking his collar. “Military over here.”
“Right,” Daniel said, grimacing slightly. “Forgot that.”
“How in the hell did you forget that, of all things?”
“Area 51 might be military-controlled, but it’s not really run that way. That’s why O’Neill hated his job there. The place is mostly run by the scientists and they really hated his command, trying to get everyone to be military. The only people there who were military were clerks and police.”
Jack raised a brow. “And him, naturally. Why a military commander?”
“It’s still a military base,” Daniel replied.
Jack grunted. “It’s the same here, though it’s half-military, half-civilian scientists.” He paused. “We’ve had some trouble with the civilians stealing artifacts, so it’s more tightly controlled than it was.”
Daniel made a face. “Goddamn greedy people. I don’t know why they have to pull that shit.”
Jack smiled broadly. “My Daniel thought that too.”
Daniel found himself freezing at the My Daniel reference. It sounded … off. If that was the word. He knew it wasn’t fair of him to want to stop hearing it, but he just couldn’t help it. He wasn’t about to ask Jack to stop doing it though. Wasn’t fair for him, either. As he sat there, eating and talking with Jack, the old feelings intensified. The baser part of his brain wanted to stop eating and start touching. Not just with his hands. He pushed it aside and with a long sigh, he said, without looking at Jack directly, “Well, guess I’ll get some shut-eye.” He waited for Jack to get the clue. It was better than saying, “I’m tired. Get out.”
Jack did, of course. It wouldn’t take a genius to buy the clue. Hell, just being older than ten would do it. Jack rose, hesitating, rubbing his hands against his thighs, and it made Daniel think he didn’t know what to do with them.
“Yeah, I’ve got to do the same,” Jack said, and he went to the door, hand on the knob, and looked back. “I’m in 101, two floors down, in case you need anything.”
Daniel nodded. “Thanks. Where do I meet you in the morning?”
“I’ll come get you,” Jack said, and he seemed like he wanted to say more, but just said, “Have a good night.”
“You too,” Daniel said, feeling awkward himself. After Jack left, he looked around the room while absently rubbing at his crotch. He’d started to stir as Jack had hesitated at the door. He’d wanted so damn much to go over and pin him to the wall. Maybe that could come later, at the new digs. Away from the regs.
He crossed his fingers.
Daniel couldn’t wait for Jack. He’d woken up at four a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. So he’d washed up, dressed, and headed for the mess hall to get coffee. The base was already increasing numbers for the day shift—although the military didn’t have shifts in the civilian sense of the word. He got the usual startled looks and stares, which inevitably caused people to gawk and run into each other. At first, it was a bit embarrassing and made him want to cover his head, but after a minute or two, his perverse sense of humor found it amusing.
The amusement died when he entered the mess hall. It was crowded. He’d planned on sitting down, maybe finding a newspaper, but instead just headed to where the coffee had been to grab a cup and go. The gawking had started the moment he’d walked in, and the noise level of normal talking altered. Instead of the normal chatter, a lot of low voices started up instead. He looked over the room as he headed to the coffee, but when he turned his attention to the pot, he found that it had been replaced with a coffee station, complete with different varieties of coffee.
There was cappuccino, for god’s sake. He instantly filled a cup with it, added the vile things like sugar and cream, and started for the door.
“Doctor Jackson?” asked a woman’s voice, from one of the tables passed. The voice was filled with shock. It was only expected.
He sighed, stopped, and turned to her. She was blond with a pretty face and hair pinned up. She wore the usual green fatigues everyone else wore. A captain’s bars were on her shoulders and her name tag read, Michaels.
“Captain?” Daniel asked politely.
“You’re … dead.”
Daniel looked down at himself, then winked at her. “Not yet.” Before she and others could ask, he held up a hand—politely, of course. “I’m not your Daniel Jackson. I crossed over from an alternate universe yesterday. I’m heading to Demeter in a few hours.”
The shock of that seemed to forestall more questions so he beat a hasty retreat before more questions came. By the time he got back to his VIP room, his coffee was merely hot and not hot. He sat down, his stomach grumbling. He’d smelled eggs and bacon and wanted to go back and grab some. Instead, he’d just sat and read through magazines that had been placed on the little table until Jack came knocking.
When he opened the door, Jack stood there with two breakfast trays.
“Marry me,” Daniel breathed, and took one, standing aside to let Jack in.
The man smirked at him and quipped, “Maybe when you’re awake.” He came in and set his tray down on the table, pausing when he spied Daniel’s coffee cup. “You’ve already been to the mess hall?”
“An hour ago,” Daniel said, kicking himself for saying “Marry me” because it’s something he actually meant. His feelings for Jack, his old Jack, were rapidly accelerating every time he saw him.
“I wondered what that was about?” Jack said, sitting.
“Got questioned already?” Daniel said rhetorically as he joined him. “I didn’t expect it to be so busy this early in the morning.”
“A bit,” Jack smirked. He’d brought salt and pepper on his own tray and set them on the table between the trays. “Moving on. You ready?”
With a mouthful of bacon and eggs that tasted heavenly, Daniel mumbled, “Mmmfgh,” and then just nodded with a closed smile when Jack gave him a look. Swallowing and chasing it with coffee, he said, “Yes,” and chuckled softly.
When he appeared on the other side of the gate, he stopped and stared in awe. Before him were grass lawns around real buildings, made of brick and wood and glass. It was like a neighborhood. Or a clean, well-maintained small town center. A few hundred feet directly across the gate was what looked like an Admin building, with double glass doors in the center and a large bronze sign to the left of the doors that said, “Welcome to Demeter”. Other buildings spread out on either side, linked with cement sidewalks. Buildings beyond the Admin were taller, two stories, and much further on, there were two multi-story buildings. He could even see the round semi-opaque roof of a large greenhouse.
“What? Not on your side?” Jack asked.
“Quonset huts. Everywhere. No grass, no sidewalks.”
Jack nodded. “It was like that here for about two years, then we got the money to upgrade to make it permanent.” He turned and gestured for Daniel to look at the gate. “This, too, was upgraded.”
As the wormhole disconnected, Daniel stared at the bright metal composite that made up this gate. The glyphs weren’t bas relief but engraved dots, backlit with blue light. The chevrons were similar, but they too were of the same blue light and bright, titanium-looking material. “What the … ?” He ran calculations in his mind, knowing that this material was far more advanced than the old naquada gates he was used to seeing. A thought struck him. In this galaxy.
He stared at Jack, thumbing at the gate. “Where the hell are we?”
Jack smiled mischievously. “Pegasus galaxy.”
Daniel blinked. “But … that’s an eight-glyph number!”
“There’s power for that back at the SGC,” Jack nodded, mostly to himself.
“Sam?” Daniel guessed, his mind still boggling at the gate.
“Carter,” Jack agreed. “Top Egghead. So smart she’s scary. And I know physics.”
Daniel snorted and turned away from the gate. “Shall we?” he gestured.
They entered the Admin building and inside, it was just like any admin building on Earth. A front counter, desks behind, computers, cubicles, an intercom with a soft voice, calling people.
Jack checked in with the officer in charge and arranged for Daniel to get a photo ID and a key to his quarters. It sort of reminded Daniel of when he first got his military civilian ID. After they finished, they were sent to a building behind the Admin, where the quartermaster was stationed. Daniel was given a military change of clothing, and the standard things like a shaving kit, shower essentials, and a toothbrush. Though he’d brought those things with him, he accepted the new stuff in silence, still too stunned by everything because it wasn’t … a dirty backwater set-up.
Jack led him around curving walkways, lined with flowers and shrubs on either side, and Daniel stayed silent, preferring to just … stare. To take it all in. He started to continue down a meandering path when Jack took his arm and they moved to the left, heading toward a sprawling one-story building.
“Where now?” Daniel said finally.
The exterior was made of red granite, or something similar, polished on the outside. There was another large bronze sign that read, Demeter Green. The entrance was next to it, but outside, a covered walkway that moved throughout the complex in what seemed to be a large circle. In the center was a large lawn and a barbecue pit. The apartments were little cottages, separated with walkways and limited yards. Today, it was quiet and empty, with no one gardening or mowing those small lawns.
“Is it always this quiet?”
“Mostly,” Jack said, leading to the left walkway that led to four cottages. “It’s busy during Earth holidays like the fourth of July.”
“Right,” Daniel said absently.
Jack led him to a cottage that was slightly larger than the rest and sat pretty much in the center of the open circle. As they walked to the front door, Daniel turned around, frowning a bit.
“You should have a walkway that cuts through the center circle.”
“Yeah, but that would mess up the yard for when people have kids over. Or for playing sports.”
“Right,” Daniel said, again, and absently.
Jack gestured at the key in Daniel’s hand. “Try it.”
Daniel glanced at his, then Jack’s. “Doesn’t yours work?”
“Yes, but I want to make sure yours does.”
“Oh.” Daniel brushed off the wonder and amazement with a shake of his head and tried the key. It went in smoothly and opened the door. He stepped aside and let Jack go in first.
Jack gave him an enigmatic grin and entered, then gestured with wide arms, “Welcome to my abode.”
“Thank you,” Daniel said, with just a hint of sarcasm.
Inside, it was like a ranch house, and reminded Daniel of the old Jack’s house, where he’d visited a long, long time ago. All dark, polished wood, with a sunken living room, overstuffed chairs, an overstuffed couch, a small dining room with a round table, and an open kitchen with a breakfast bar. There was a hallway to his right, where he assumed was the bedroom and bath.
“Come on,” Jack said, smirking, leading him down the hall, and silently gesturing to the rooms: The bathroom was on the left, and rather spread out with lots of room. On the right, the bedroom was the same. At the end of the hall was a laundry room. He walked into the bedroom and opened the bottom two drawers of a low, wide dresser. “Room for your stuff here.”
Daniel nodded, setting his stuff on the floor in front of the drawers. He turned to face Jack, finally, meeting his eyes. That old stirring began again and he tried to squash it. “How long will I stay here? I mean, what’s the protocol of getting a job and my own place?”
Jack made a face. “That’ll take a while, I’m afraid. While the transition at the SGC is in place. Then I can get you sorted with that other stuff. It’ll probably take a month or more. Not sure yet.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “I’ll get bored fast. Anything to read, places to go?”
Jack cocked his head and led him back out to the living room. He pointed at a desk in a far corner, where there sat a computer. “We have all the amenities of Earth here, Daniel. Cable and Internet included.”
Daniel blinked, and noticed an entertainment center next to a fireplace. With a big screen TV and a music system. That meant a larger expanse of civilization on the planet, complete with satellites. “Holy shit.”
“That’s why it’s got a real name, not just the Alpha Site. It’s a second home, and while it’s kinda small right now, it’ll expand.”
“How big is it?” Daniel asked.
“About … “ Jack rubbed at his jaw. “Total size, maybe Colorado? There are smaller towns outside of this one.”
“How big is Demeter?”
“Three-quarters the circumference of Earth.”
Daniel nodded, again thinking rapidly and appearing distracted. “Why isn’t this place in our galaxy?”
Daniel glowered. “Bastards.”
“Earth is protected by the Asgard, and Demeter is protected by the Alterans.”
“The who?” Daniel asked, instantly interested.
“Alterans,” Jack said, and he seemed to be amused by Daniel’s sudden attention. “We used to call them The Ancients. They’re the ones who created the gate system.”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open in understanding. “Uh … wow. I’m fluent in the language … or rather, what little I’d found anyway. It’s not all that different from Latin, weird as that is, but with a lot more variances. It’s a lot like the type of ancient Egyptian spoken on Aby…”
Jack was staring at him.
“What?” he asked, noting that the surprise in Jack’s voice was much deeper than his expression.
Jack’s brows shot up. “Seriously?”
“What?” Daniel repeated.
“We … still have to use translator devices,” Jack said, awed. “I think … you’ve just found a job, Daniel.”
It was Daniel’s turn to be shocked. “But … didn’t your Daniel know this stuff?”
Jack grimaced. “We hadn’t found the major artifacts left by the Alterans before he, um, died.”
“Oh,” Daniel said, his voice filled with sympathy. “I’m sorry.”
Jack waved it aside. “Point is, you’ve now got a job. We have an archaeology center here that studies everything in this galaxy, and mainly the Alterans.”
“Don’t you have direct contact?” Daniel asked, though seriously relieved about there being a center here.
“Once in a blue moon,” Jack said, rolling his eyes. “Like the Asgard back home.”
“Ah,” Daniel said, understanding. “We humans’re too young.”
“Something like that,” Jack said with a bit of disgust, even though Daniel could tell he understood the reason.
Jack checked his watch, then pointed at the refrigerator and the cupboards. “I always keep it stocked. There’s a freezer outside,” he said, pointing at the back door behind the kitchen. “To our right, there’s a farmer’s market for veggies and fruits and the like.”
Daniel sighed wistfully. “Well, no money, so I’ll pass.”
Jack started to take out his wallet but Daniel put up a hand to refuse him. Jack ignored him and shoved a bunch of bills in his hand.
“Jesus Christ, Daniel. You’re just as stubborn as he was. If it makes you feel better, consider it a loan, okay?”
Daniel rolled his eyes and accepted the money. “Fine.”
“So, I gotta go. Don’t know if I can make it back to join you and Fraiser, but if not, have a good time.”
Then he was suddenly out the door before Daniel could say another word. He stood there, frowning at that sudden instance of flight.
“Right,” he muttered, and wondered if Jack was hit with that sense of fear one gets when letting a stranger into their and suddenly feeling crowded.
After checking out the apartment to find where the basics were, Daniel grew quickly bored. He thought about checking out the computer, to see exactly what kind of internet they actually had, but even that bored him. When he got like this, the only way to assuage it was to dive into his archaeological interests. Except there wasn’t anything like that here.
It then hit him. Language. The Ancients, er, the Alteran language. He got the location of the proper science building from Admin and headed there. There weren’t pieces of stone. There were pictures. Large pictures, blown up to half the size of a highway billboard, tacked on all the walls. The structures that appeared on the images were huge. One was even a type of machine, only without all the clunky Earth technology. It sort of looked like a chessboard, and according to notes on a clipboard beneath the image, the squares moved.
Daniel was given a legal pad and clipboard by one of the staff and he set about translating. Soon enough, all the staff present were following him around, passing around the pages Daniel tore off and handed to one of them.
He didn’t even notice.
“Doctor Jackson?” asked a woman in a white coat, whose name tag read “Dr. Helen Davis”.
“Yeah?” Daniel asked. He was sitting on the floor in front of a particularly tough translation, having transcribed it to paper and going over it like one of those cryptogram puzzles.
“Time to lock up, sir.”
“What?” Daniel asked in surprise as he looked up. Then he looked around and through a few windows, it was dark outside. “Oh.” He stood up and gave her a sheepish smile. “I kinda get a one-track mind when I’m working on this stuff.”
She smiled at him. “Your counterpart was the same.” With an apologetic look, she added, “But we actually have hours here. No twenty-four hour work, much as that annoys some people.”
Daniel nodded and found his stomach grumbling and his mouth was dry. He hadn’t eaten all day. It’d been a long time since he’d done this and it felt perfectly normal. And peaceful. Like he belonged.
“Tomorrow you can go through the vocal tapes we have,” she told him as she walked with him toward the exit.
“Tapes?” Daniel asked, eyes round.
“Sure. We’ve taped our last conversation with the Alterans. When we met them after arriving to this planet.”
“Wow. How long ago was that?”
“Twenty-two years.” They were at the door she was shutting off the main lights, then taking him outside and locking the doors.
“So what time do you open up?” he asked, wistfully looking through the glass doors.
“Seven a.m,” Helen said.
He looked at his watch. “What time is it?”
His watch was on Earth time, reading ten twenty-three p.m. “Right.” He mentally calculated the difference and reset his watch. It was an old watch and didn’t have a date. “What’s the date here?”
“July 20th, 2015. And Demeter takes a bit longer to orbit the sun. So we have an extra month for each season. We’re currently in the middle of summer.”
“Huh,” he grunted. He might like it here.
As he walked back to Jack’s apartment, he scanned the sky, finding it fascinating that the stars were different. Not that he hadn’t experienced that before, but only in the Milky Way. This was a completely different galaxy and it filled him with a bit of awe. And maybe a bit of home-sickness. Demeter. Seemed incongruous to him, since she was the goddess of the seasons. He’d have named the planet Gaia. Earth mother. He suddenly wanted to know the mythologies of the Alterans so he could properly rename the planet, at least in his own head. There had to be other planets that they were in contact with. Right?
He made himself some dinner and sat down in the living room to check out what kind of TV channels they had. What he found surprised him. A news channel, which mostly ran through latest work on the planet and the updates on Earth. A sports channel, which was Earth-based. And then dozens of channels that basically ran TV shows and movies from Earth, naturally without commercials.
After watching a movie and finishing dinner, he sat with a bottle of beer, a microbrew. From a local brewery, too, with a simple name, Hal’s Black. The bottle was black glass, which he knew from home was used to protect all the different flavors and aromas used to make this particular ambrosia. Normally, he didn’t drink beer and preferred harder spirits, but this stuff had changed his mind.
He made a face, bored with the TV, and shut it off. He checked out Jack’s collection instead. The entire wall behind the TV was an array of recessed shelving and the right half contained books, littered here and there with items Jack had collected. As Daniel peered at the shelves, he found a light layer of dust that showed a lot of long rectangles—missing items. Picture frames? Why would he take them down unless …
They were of Jack and his Daniel, that’s why. Jack had been here before he’d brought Daniel over, removing pictures so that Daniel didn’t feel weirded out by seeing his counterpart. Or make Jack feel weirded out. Either way, the act of doing such a thing touched Daniel deeply. He knew that it would have been very hard for Jack to do that because it’s how he’d feel himself.
He felt a bit nervous then and turned to Jack’s DVD collection instead. By the time he got to the bottom shelf, which was only half an inch from the floor, there was mostly paneling that framed four cabinet doors. He squatted down and opened them all, then sat back on his heels, blinking with surprise.
A sly grin spread over his face. He examined them, one at a time, amused at the variety. Only a couple of them were hetero, which told him that either Jack or his counterpart, or both, were Bi. Although from Jack’s surprise at his mention of Shau’ri, his counterpart must’ve been Gay, not Bi. No marriage to Shau’ri, it seemed. Although he was assuming.
Shaking off those thoughts, he reached the last cupboard and found it sparse, with only five home-made videos. All of them were labeled, “Navel”, with numbers one through five. Daniel touched the first one, hesitating, his mind whirling. He suddenly looked at the previous cupboard and pulled out a few videos he’d simply scanned and put back. Almost all of them had cover pictures of men’s stomachs and at first, Daniel had thought Jack had simply liked the muscular abs, but it occurred to him that most were actually showing navels. With ring piercings.
He hesitated again, but pulled Navel 1 from the shelf and went to the DVD player. He turned on the TV, the player, and then hesitated again before pushing play. Should he? It was obviously a violation of privacy, since it was a home movie. He’d find his counterpart in them. He had no doubt about it. He’d be there.
He pushed play without having made a decision and sat on his haunches, watching the screen. Then there was a moving camera, which Jack was holding, talking, laughing, and showing only his counterpart’s waist and crotch. He wore only jeans, and for that, Daniel was thankful. He didn’t want to watch himself, in a way, having sex. Ew.
But instead, Jack just zeroed in on Daniel’s belly, and the gold ring there. It was thin, with a moving ball on it, and placed at the bottom ridge of the navel. He fingered it constantly and it was obvious that Daniel liked the sensation. Jack filmed it and nothing else, and the video finally ended when he could no longer hold the camera and demanded to replace his fingers with his mouth. The other videos were relatively the same, though Daniel was positioned differently, wearing different clothes. Daniel moved on to the porn videos and discovered that nearly all of them contained a theme: navels, with piercings.
Jack had a fetish.
Daniel grinned, discovering a kind of secret. He also found he’d been rubbing his own stomach, his own navel, while he’d been watching. He didn’t stop doing it, either. He raised his shirt, staring at himself. He’d always wanted to get ring there, but it just hadn’t ever been a priority. There’d been no one to wear it for, which would be the only reason he’d get one.
Maybe that could change? Would change? He’d been thinking having sex with Jack the moment he’d crossed over to this universe. He really couldn’t help it. He was like what O’Neill had been a long, long time ago, and that was why O’Neill’s change had hurt so badly. The possibility had died.
It was now alive again. And how. Daniel closed his eyes and lay back on the floor, touching his navel and rubbing himself over his fatigue pants. He was instantly, almost painfully, hard, and he knew that had to have Jack. Not just for sex, but for everything. To touch his hair, his lips, his arms, that chest, belly … everywhere. And to talk to him, laugh with him, go exploring with him. Living with him.
The thought made his erection ache and he imagined Jack tonguing his navel … with a ring there. So as he opened his pants and took his stiffness in hand, he decided that no matter what, he was getting a piercing on Saturday.
Seeing Janet in civilian clothes was a relief. She was in jeans and a white Egyptian blouse, though she wore her hair in a ponytail—which was only slightly disappointing. Not that he’d ever admit it to anyone, but if he hadn’t found Jack, he’d have sought out Janet. That said, he just couldn’t get hard thinking about her whenever he was going solo.
“So where are we going?” Daniel asked as they entered the elevator that brought them to the surface.
“To the mall,” Janet said, looking at him, letting her gaze wander over his hair.
“What?” he asked, smoothing his hair self-consciously.
She smiled. “Just not used to seeing it that long or in that color.”
“Bad or good?” he ventured.
After a few more seconds of considering, she met his eyes and said, “Good.”
The elevator opened and as they walked out, Daniel found the tension in his shoulders and neck release. It was such a pleasant feeling that even as they walked, he dropped his head back slightly, closed his eyes, and let out a sigh.
It was Janet’s turn to ask, “What?”
Daniel gave her a slight smile. “I’m … I hate walking in that place. All those eyes on me. It used to be amusing but now it’s just ...”
Janet nodded. “I guess I can understand what that’d be like. Even as a woman, and a short one, and being CMO, I still get looks.”
That surprised Daniel and gave her an admiring look, followed by a look of chagrin. “Guess I never thought about it.” He grimaced. “I think I’m being rather self-involved.”
Janet snorted as they got to her car. “I think you have the right, given your situation.”
It didn’t take long. Janet took him to one department store where he found everything he needed, clothing-wise. They were putting bags into her car when she asked, “So where to next?”
Daniel chewed at his lip. “I …” He looked back toward the mall. “Is there …” He paused and looked at her, feeling somewhat chicken-shit all of a sudden. “I’d like to get a piercing. Is there one in the mall?”
Eyebrows climbing into her hairline, Janet smiled. “Yeah, but they suck. I can take you somewhere else local, though.”
“Really?” he asked, but he still felt awkward.
She gestured and they got into the car. As they pulled out, she asked, “So what kind of piercing?”
He stomped on the default urge to blush and stammer and lifted his chin instead. “Navel,” he said, adding a wink.
Janet burst out giggling while pulling out onto the road. “May I ask why?”
This time he couldn’t stop the blush and he looked out the window to put a stop to it. “It’s … something I’d been meaning to do,” he half-lied. “Thought it’d be a good way to solidify myself in this universe.”
“Huh,” Janet said, brows knit in thought.
“It’s just …” She cleared her throat. “Just interesting, that’s all.”
“Good or bad?” Daniel asked, though he knew for damn sure that she’d been about to make a comparison tie-in with the dead man. With it, he felt relieved when she’d skipped doing it.
“Neither,” she said. “I have pierced ears, so I’m in no position to judge.”
But Daniel found he couldn’t leave it alone. While he appreciated that she’d bypassed the comparison thing, he was someone who hated to leave things unsaid. “He had one, didn’t he?”
Janet made a face as they pulled into a tattoo and piercing shop. “Yeah. Sorry, Daniel. It’s kind of a shitass thing to do to you, so I figured I’d skip all that sort of crap.”
As they went in, Daniel decided to keep Janet by his side when he would get the piercing done. She wasn’t a girlfriend but, after all, he wasn’t like he was getting his dick done. He was shown the ring selection and was immensely relieved when there was one with a diamond in the little ball. He would’ve preferred a bigger diamond, but they didn’t have one. Besides, he was paying Janet back for the diamond and didn’t want to dent her wallet that much.
On the way back to the mountain, she went through an espresso drive-thru and pulled into a parking lot so they could devour the whipped cream in their coffees.
“How’s it feel?” she asked.
“A little sore, but I expected that,” he said, scratching at the spot above the piercing. He’d also gotten a little dick zing as the ring went in, which was a surprise. When he got home, he’d have to cut a t-shirt to keep the piercing from rubbing on cloth. He wouldn’t leave the house with it on, of course. He’d bandage the thing and wear a regular shirt when he went to the archaeo office.
“So what was life like on the other side?” Janet asked, and they fell into an easy conversation of non-personal comparisons between worlds, and then went on to the things he wanted to do here, what to buy, and what he was doing at the archaeo clinic.
By that time, they were already at Demeter. “There’s a grocery here,” she told him. “Wanna stop by for something?”
“Sure,” he said, relieved. “I’ll cook us early dinner, if you like.” So he did just that, sharing a meal of steaks, baked potatoes, and salad, while she rambled on about work and stuff she was doing at home.
After dinner, she looked around. “Been here a few times. Are you gonna stay here?”
“On Demeter or here at Jack’s?” he asked as he set a glass of wine in front of her. He’d made himself a ‘Jack and Coke’.
He nodded. “But not for too long. I’d like to get my own place and settle down, maybe see what’s available in this corner of the universe. I’d actually like to get going on exploration. If there’s no group doing it, I’ll go solo.”
“Doesn’t really matter. Examine different cultures, mainly.”
“Other than archaeology?” she asked, appearing surprised.
“Well, yeah,” he said, though in his head he’d said, “Well, duh.”
“What other areas of study did you get doctorates in?”
“Anthropology, philology, paleontology.”
She choked. “That’s a hell of a lot of school.”
Daniel grinned. “It was, yeah. But like I told Jack, it was all in one school. Brown.”
“Handy,” Janet nodded.
“It was. If there’s additional areas here, I’ll take them. I’m already versed in things I could teach others, like alien languages.”
Janet nodded. “You could. You could also do that back at Earth, too. There’s going to be a need for it soon, after all the hoopla about the Stargate is over with.”
“How’s the fall-out so far?”
She sighed. “About what you’d expect. Anger that we’d kept it to ourselves for so long. There’s surprise mixed in with the other stuff, like fear, excitement, et cetera.”
“I hope it doesn’t stay too negative for long,” Daniel said, knowing how the conservative extremists would handle it.
Seconds passed without a word and Daniel thought now was the time to ask. “Janet?”
“Why’d you do all of this for me? Technically speaking, you don’t really know me.”
She stared into her wine glass and sighed, then met his eyes. “We … he … and I were good friends. Close. And I’d like to have that friendship back, even if you’re your own man.”
He knit his brows together as he had a sudden thought. “Um, you don’t … do you have a thing … um…”
She burst out laughing, then waved at him in apology as she just kept going. “Sorry, Daniel, sorry,” she wheezed. When she got herself under control, she said, “No, Daniel. Nothing like that. I’m gay.”
Daniel’s eyes widened. “Seriously? No, of course, you are. But I mean … wow.” He gave her a broad smile. “That’s pretty damn cool.”
She shrugged and giggled some more. “Sam’s gonna die laughing.”
Daniel choked. “What?”
She blinked. “You mean the Colonel didn’t … Oh, right, of course he didn’t. Daniel, Sam and I are married.”
Daniel didn’t blink or choke this time. He figured he’d done enough of that. “Holy shit,” he said instead. “That wasn’t legal in my old universe.” He shook his head then, still smiling, held out his hand, “That’s even cooler. Congratulations.”
Janet took his hand and squeezed it. “Thanks,” she said, beaming.
“So you just miss him?” he asked after a long moment.
She nodded. “And I thought that since we’d been friends, you and I could be, too.”
After the shopping trip, it was nearly a week before Jack showed up. Daniel had spent most of his time at the Archaeo Shop, the name they used. When not there, he’d gone on to explore his new home. It turned out that Demeter wasn’t just the name of the small city, but also the name of the planet, and that there were sixteen other cities on the planet, as well. It was a small version of Earth, with exactly the same climatic seasons and shifts and atmospheres. The land masses were a bit more numerous, with nearly a fifty-fifty split between them and the oceans.
He’d also discovered that there were nearby planets with civilizations and longed to go explore there, but there was a waiting list for the scientists to get approval to go and he was at the bottom. There wasn’t too big a hurry, but he was afraid he’d get bored before he got to the top of the list. To cure that, he decided he’d set up his own “shop” for linguistics, and teach a bit of it back at the SGC. That was all in the planning stages, of course. He’d have to wait, again, for permission to get it all started.
In the meantime, he did have plenty of Alteran writing examples to translate and he found that extremely fascinating. There was a whole lot more of it than his old universe had discovered.
He was outside, guiding a new slab into the Shop when he heard the Stargate activate. Was it another delivery or …
A few people ran by, some excitement coming off them, and Daniel turned to his supervisor, which turned out to be Dr. Helen Davis. “What’s up?”
She blinked at him as the slab settled into the wheeled dock. “Colonel, uh, I mean, General, O’Neill is arriving to take command. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.”
General? he thought. “No. I haven’t paid attention to the bureaucratic side of things, except for putting my name on the travel list.” He chewed at his lip, wondering if he should go welcome him, but then he shook it off and returned to business.
“You can go, if you want?” Helen said as they wheeled the slab into the building and headed for its resting place.
“No, no, I’m working. I’ll see him soon enough.” She nodded at him and dismissed the subject, returning back to the business at hand. He was relieved.
It wasn’t until the end of the work day before he’d seen Jack, and that was only because he’d returned to Jack’s place and found the walkway filled with crates, and through the open door, found a few more. Jack was in the kitchen, putting a few things away.
“Hey,” he said, navigating to the kitchen. “General, huh?”
Jack made a face. “Necessary, I’m afraid. I wasn’t really interested.”
Daniel snorted through his nose. “Understood.” He gestured at all the crates. “This stuff from your house on Earth?”
“Yep. Permanent move. Sold everything.”
Daniel blinked at him. “So … severed completely?”
“Except from the SGC, yeah.” He paused and looked at Daniel’s frown. “What? I did tell you I was moving here, didn’t I?”
“Well, yeah, but it just feels … like we’re stranded.”
Jack snorted. “We’re not. And there’s a shitload of planets at this end that are inhabited. Plus we have the gate and can go back to the Milky Way to other planets. We’re hardly cut off, Daniel.”
“I know, I know,” Daniel said, nodding, but it still left him with the curious feeling of being set adrift. “Maybe because you’re here permanently that I feel … homesick for Earth. Weird, right?”
Jack grinned at him sympathetically. “No. I’ll feel that way soon. It’ll take time to get over it.”
“Right,” Daniel agreed.
He spent the rest of the evening and part of the next day helping Jack unpack. At about five p.m., a messenger came by and handed Daniel a letter. He thanked the man and sat down on one of the last two crates.
“What is it?” Jack asked from the bookshelf in the living room.
The letter was from Admin, and good news. He stood up, a broad smile on his face, and waved the letter. “I’ve got an apartment and a salary!”
“Congratulations!” Jack said, with that broad smile that always made Daniel’s skin tingle. It might have been his imagination, but he could have sworn that, for a second, there’d been a bit of disappointment behind Jack’s eyes.
The next day, it was Jack’s turn to help Daniel move. His new apartment was actually five doors down. Or rather, five cottages to the right of Jack’s—and Jack insisted on calling it an apartment, even if it was a self-contained unit and called a cottage by Admin … and everyone else. Daniel found it oddly endearing, Jack’s insistence on being a bit rebellious. They had that in common, though Daniel was a bit more of a rebel than Jack was. His new home was slightly smaller than Jack’s, which only made sense since the planet’s cultural structure was the same as Earth’s and a leader’s accommodations set him apart from others. Daniel would have preferred that all of them be different, but maybe that would come in time. If or when he’d get to do it, he’d like to build his own house, set a bit aside from the city. He’d found a river about half a mile away and a beautiful spot along its banks. It would be perfect for a new home.
At least the new cottage came furnished.
As soon as all his things were moved in, Daniel toured the place more completely and in the bedroom, pushed on the mattress. He made a face of disappointment, though he wasn’t all that surprised.
“What?” Jack asked, standing in the door.
“I like your bed better,” Daniel said, and before any double meaning could be attached, he added, “but this stuff’s to be expected with standard issue,” and brushed past Jack to return to the kitchen. “At least I’ve got a bit of food. Thanks for bringing that over.”
“Needs beer,” Jack said, grinning at him.
“Maybe the local brew and definitely not American shit.”
“Except the microbrew shops, where it’s better.”
Daniel nodded, deferring the point. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and sighed, looking around the kitchen and through to the living room. “Bored now. Gonna take me a while to straighten it up.”
Jack looked out through the kitchen door’s window. “Tell you what. Join me in a swim. It’s part of my exercise routine anyway.”
Daniel raised his brows. “I didn’t see a pool while I was exploring.”
“It’s in a building, that’s probably why. Set apart, not part of some agency office. Come on.” He led the way back to his place, and picked up some towels and swim trunks, handing Daniel half of both. “They have changing rooms, but no towels. There’re no assigned personnel, apart from the weekly cleaning that Admin assigns.”
“Who cleans the pool area?” Daniel asked as they walked out. The weather was mild, but not cool and he felt that a swim would be comfortable.
“We do. We clean up our mess or we get banned.”
Daniel snorted. “That can be tricky, depending on how many nitpicky snot-noses there are.”
Jack grinned. “We’re all a clean bunch. There are nitpickers everywhere, but no one nitpicks me.”
Daniel snorted again, this time grinning his head off. “I’d imagine not.”
“Especially now that I’m living here permanently. People will have to step lively now.”
Daniel thought his grin was wickedly wolfish. “Good god, don’t pull that shit on me, Jack.”
“Keep things clean wherever you go and I won’t have to,” Jack teased, and winked at him.
“Yes, sir, General!” Daniel mocked, saluting with two fingers. Jack grinned back, seemingly glad to have raised his ire a bit, and Daniel made a note not to fall for that again.
They walked past two more sets of cottages and entered a slightly domed building. There was no one else there and Daniel looked around, then up. It actually had a retractable roof, which was half open.
“Holy shit,” Daniel said. “You guys have money.”
Jack grinned and winked at him again. “For once.”
He pointed to the right, where there were six curtained cubicles stationed along the side wall. They went into separate stations and as Daniel changed into the blue swim shorts, made of Lycra, he thought, he lightly touched the skin around the navel ring. The scabbing was gone and the skin was only pink around the insertion holes. Apart from cleaning the area, he hadn’t touched the ring since he’d gotten it. He didn’t want to test the sensations until he found a way for Jack to do it. And right now, the best way to point out that he had it was to pretend it wasn’t there and let Jack see it for himself. He wasn’t planning on talking about it, either. Not until Jack asked about it. He beat down the self-consciousness and awkward feelings and stepped out of the station. Jack was standing outside already, wearing white. Daniel smiled at him, then took a few quick steps and dove into the water.
Jack followed him, but did it at the long end of the pool, beginning to take laps. Daniel watched him for a few seconds, then decided to give Jack a race. Once he was beside him, he made sure Jack took a peek at him, then paced ahead of him. It didn’t take much and pretty soon, they were in the thick of it, repeatedly racing single laps. Daniel knew he was a good swimmer and had speed, but Jack surprised him by keeping up and, at times, beating him. After the tenth lap or so, he stopped for a breather, and suddenly wished he’d brought a bottle of water.
He looked around, hoping to find a dispenser, and saw one—a water cooler. He lifted himself out of the pool, a bit tiredly, and walked over to get a cup. Thankfully, they were medium-sized, not those dinky-assed things. He looked over his shoulder at Jack, who was still swimming at the far end, now coming back. So he filled another cup and walked back over. He squatted, resting on one knee, and waited till Jack stopped and looked at him. He handed out the cup and Jack took it with a grateful look on his face.
After a few silent moments while getting their breath back, Daniel asked, “You do this every time? Go several laps?”
Jack nodded. “Usually about fifty of them by the time I’m through.”
“Holy crap,” Daniel said. “Guess I’ve got some more work to do.”
“Not today,” Jack said. “Too tired, after all the moving and stuff. I usually go every afternoon, when I can. Did that back at the SGC.”
Daniel blinked at him. “Wait. They had a pool there?”
Jack half-smiled. “I take it your side didn’t.”
“You’d be right.”
“Anyway, it’s a really good way to get rid of all the stress of the day.”
“What about when you just want to relax?” Daniel asked.
“That’s what the Jacuzzis are for.” Jack pointed behind him, to the wall where the changing cubicles sat. “Next door, there are the spa rooms.”
“Good god, I didn’t see those, either,” Daniel said, chagrined.
Jack frowned playfully at him. “I’m gonna take a wild guess and assume your exploration didn’t involve the buildings?”
“Well, no,” Daniel admitted. “I mean, I took a big walk around, to sort of get the layout, then went out past the city. I liked the walks.”
Jack nodded. “Me too. Do that along the river.”
Daniel nodded back, then stopped. “Wait,” he said, remembering that a long time ago, O’Neill—when he’d been ‘Jack’—had liked to fish. “Are there fish in the river?”
Jack smiled. “Indeed.”
Daniel snorted. “You sound like Teal’c.” Jack laughed. “So what are the fish like?”
“Trout-like, but with a bit more color to them. Taste like trout.”
“Bummer. Was hoping they’d taste like salmon.”
“Out in the ocean. That’s where the salmon cousins are, big ones, the size of tuna, and they have the pink flesh and a salmon-like flavor.”
“Wow. What other wildlife is here?”
“Mammals, fish, birds, the usual. They’re still documenting.”
“I can imagine.”
Jack looked at him carefully before he said, “We can go fishing next weekend, if you like.”
“Hell yeah,” Daniel said enthusiastically. “I wanted to investigate it before but there weren’t any vehicles available. Been walking everywhere instead.”
Jack nodded. “That’s because the vehicles are mostly for official business until we get the new shipment in. That’s due in about a month.”
“Then how are we getting to the coast?” Daniel asked.
“I’m the Commander,” Jack said with another of those wicked grins. “I have one assigned.”
“Must be nice,” Daniel eyerolled, but he too was grinning. He took Jack’s cup and walked over to the trash can by the water cooler. As he walked back, he looked around more, though there was really nothing to look at, then scanned the roof again. He was giving Jack time to look at his navel ring unobserved. When he looked at him, there was no sign that Jack had been looking. But he might just be good at not being discovered. Daniel was only slightly disappointed that Jack didn’t mention it. There was plenty of time for that.
They had dinner at Jack’s, and on the grill out on Jack’s back patio. The stars shone brightly as Daniel relaxed with a microbrew, sitting on one of the wooden chairs.
“It’s so weird,” he said, still looking up. He sipped at his beer and trying not to look as if he was avoiding looking at Jack. The man was wearing denim shorts and a white tank that looked really, really good on him. Just like those swim trunks had. Jack looked exceptional in white, showing off that tanned, wiry, muscular body. Daniel wore denim shorts too and was glad the material was bulky enough to hide the slight erections he kept getting when looking at Jack.
“It still takes me by surprise,” Jack replied. “Be a long time, I think, before I get used to them.”
They were quiet for a while before Daniel said, “Do you have a fourth of July here?”
And Jack asked, at the same time, “Been keeping busy?”
They blinked at each other and laughed. Jack answered first.
“We do. It was last month.”
Daniel nodded. “Been busy. And gratefully so.”
“And a salary, too!” Jack said, offering his beer bottle for clinking.
Daniel clinked and they drank. It was painfully obvious to him that they were both nervous, though Daniel could only know his own mind. He simply wanted to grab Jack and kiss him, everywhere, and take him to bed. He couldn’t even guess at what Jack was thinking. The man was maddeningly giving nothing away. Daniel had a pretty well-honed sense of intuition, but he was getting nothing from Jack. Well, almost nothing. He sensed the nervousness.
Should he make the first move? Or let Jack do it? A second later, he decided to leave it up to Jack. After all, Jack had lost his Daniel and they’d been in a relationship. It might take weeks, months, or god forbid, years, for Jack to allow himself to get close again, never mind with him.
And despite his unsurprised disappointment, nothing happened that night.
Two weeks later, they were back at Jack’s, getting ready for dinner. There hadn’t been a fishing trip, due to Jack’s desire to get things “ship-shaped”, as he called it. At the pool one day, Daniel had jokingly told Jack that he should have been in the Navy and he was tossed into the pool in response. A few days after that, Jack had told him that Daniel should have been a librarian—he’d been going on about the library on Demeter—and Daniel had returned the toss in the pool.
They were still wearing their swim trunks this time around, just having returned from a shorter swim. Daniel had also caught Jack looking, several times, at his navel. It’d been happening with more frequency over the last few weeks and Daniel was beginning to feel antsy and impatient. When the hell was the man going to move, dammit? Why hadn’t he brought up the subject? His navel was fully healed now and still, he hadn’t dared touch it, leaving it for Jack. The anticipation was killing him.
Wait. Was that what Jack had been waiting for? For it to heal? The possibility stirred such a deep need inside him that Daniel shut off the thoughts in his head before he’d have to cover up his groin. Damn Lycra.
Or maybe the reason he hadn’t made a move was something a bit more emotional.
Yeah, that sounded like Jack. He hadn’t gotten past the grief stage and despite Daniel being … well … Daniel, he wasn’t the same person and perhaps Jack wasn’t into slaking his desires. Perhaps he wanted something a lot more, and …
Daniel sighed inwardly. It might just take a long time.
A month later, and Daniel’s hope and desire had been relegated to the back burner. Always on his mind, but not at the forefront.
He showed up at Jack’s at dinner time, knocking on the open door.
“Come!” Jack said, and Daniel could tell by the sound and location that Jack was in the kitchen. “Shut the door, will ya?”
“Sure!” Daniel called back. “What’s up?” he asked as he came in, carrying a six-pack of microbrew.
He stopped mid-step, entering the dining room. There were lit candles on the table, which was set with china. “Uh …”
Jack came in, carrying a serving plate. Two baked potatoes, two steaks. He set it down in the middle of the table, between the candlesticks. He was dressed in black trousers and a deep green button-down with the sleeves rolled up. Incongruously, he didn’t have shoes on. Just black socks. Daniel, of course, was in jeans, with a dark purple t-shirt and tennis shoes.
“I’m underdressed, I think,” he said, flabbergasted.
“You’re fine. Beer cold?” Jack asked, before he took it from Daniel’s hand. “Yes!” He went back into the kitchen. “Have a seat, Daniel.”
Daniel did, taking the one nearest him, leaving Jack the one with his back against the wall. The man was, used to be, Special Ops, and his training always had him sitting so he could see the action. It was ingrained now, so as guest, Daniel opted to keep his host at ease.
While his own ease was disappearing at light speed.
“We celebrating something?” he asked, trying to tamp down on the feelings that he’d nearly given up on while his heart started doing the rumba.
Jack returned with two bottles, set one down to Daniel’s right and took his seat. He raised his bottle in a toast. Daniel lifted his. “Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.”
Daniel splorted, then took a sip of ale. “You hate clichés.”
“Yeah, but what the hell.”
Our lives, Daniel thought. Jack had said our lives. Hope soared. Though he held it back a bit. He was so used to disappointment that to be genuinely happy about something came at a cost. Always. Despite his anticipation in seducing Jack with the ring, he hadn’t been all that happy about it. It had been a hope, which required no particular emotional attachment. Feelings would come after.
Was there gonna be a prelude to the after? Had Jack finally decided to seduce him?
Seduce. That wouldn’t be hard. So to speak. Crook the finger, for god’s sake, and he’d come running. It wasn’t a particularly self-assured thought, but first times were sort of like that. Down the line, that teenaged behavior would disappear, but for now, right now, the anticipation of sex with Jack was damn near overwhelming.
Red meat and potatoes was a good start in foreplay. Get the animal primed, so to speak.
They talked about their day while they ate, and yet all the while, Daniel watched him, and Jack returned the favor. It was as if whatever words came out of their mouths didn’t matter. They could have been talking gibberish. Jack looked at him several times, as he put a piece of steak in his mouth, with a predominantly smoldering darkness in his eyes, promising all sorts of things—fun, pleasurable things.
They were nearly finished when Daniel had to strangle the tremendous urge to throw down his napkin, tear off his clothes, go around the table, get Jack out of his, and just take him to the floor. Instead, to his building frustration, Jack got them both another beer, and led him into the living room. Was the man that good at waiting?
“So …” Jack began.
Stop talking, Jack, and just fuck me already!
Daniel closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Why’d you pierce your belly button?”
Daniel cleared his throat instead of spitting his drink all over everything. Thank god he hadn’t had any in his mouth. He met Jack’s gaze; a simmering gaze. His fingers hurt, he wanted to touch him so badly. “Because I saw your porn collection,” he said bluntly.
Jack blinked. “Because you saw my porn collection,” he repeated. “That’s it?”
It was Daniel’s turn to blink. He inwardly slapped himself upside the head. He blinked again and shook his head, took off his glasses, and explained. Rapidly.
“Sorry, Jack. I’m not … not used to, you know, actually revealing my feelings to you, about you, I mean, and I’ve just been waiting for you to make a move, I guess, and I thought that one way to get your attention was to appeal to your, you know, fetish, I guess, and I figured it would attract you and get you interested, but you’re still grieving for him so I figured not saying anything was best but I still wanted you to know I was interested so I got this piercing, and—“
Jack reached out. It was as if it was in slow motion. He palmed his jaw in one hand and slid his other around his back. He pulled Daniel toward him and Daniel’s heart rate skyrocketed, along with the blood in his dick.
“Ja—“ Daniel began, but the word was smothered in a searing, hot, wonderful, amazing … kiss. It consumed him, making everything else outside of it mean absolutely nothing. When their tongues met, Daniel moaned and pressed into him, sliding his hands around Jack’s neck, his shoulders, his back, and back to his neck, into his hair. “Fuck me,” he mumbled around the kiss.
And Jack smiled around the kiss. He said, without removing his lips from Daniel’s, “Don’t believe in foreplay?”
“Fuck foreplay,” Daniel said, as he began to remove his clothes. “Ring was foreplay. I want you in me. Now.”
Jack chuckled, broke away from the kiss, stood up, and grabbed Daniel’s hand. “C’mon,” he said, and led him into the bedroom.
Jack opened a bedside table, threw lube on a pillow, then fell upon Daniel. Now naked, they touched and rolled with hungry hands, and each sensation sent Daniel into orbit, his dick so hard it hurt. When Jack wrapped his hand around it, Daniel damn near exploded right then and there. He thrust without thinking, and it was so intense that he had to stop, push Jack’s hand away. He had to wait, had to calm down—in a way—so he wrapped his hands around Jack’s hips and took his erection into his mouth.
He was so hungry, and he let Jack know how good he tasted. Tonguing, licking, grazing his teeth along the shaft, and just sucking the head like candy. He didn’t go at it long. Jack pulled him away, lube in hand, and slicked up his dick. When he reached for Daniel’s muscular, firm ass, Daniel stopped his hand. He took the lube, slathered on a dollop over his anus, and tossed the tube. He laid back, and his head pointed at one corner foot of the bed. He lay there, presenting himself, and spread his legs.
“Fuck me,” he said roughly.
Jack stared down at him, eyes dark with desire, and his gaze settled on the navel ring. With a mischievous look and an evil smile, he took hold of Daniel’s hips and bent over. He met Daniel’s gaze, pausing. The month-long build-up of sexual anticipation left Daniel weak in the knees, and the ass, and inside his arms, and hell, just about everywhere. It was finally here and more than he’d dreamed.
Jack lowered and took the ring between his lips. There was just a twinge. Until Jack put the ring between his teeth and tugged. And good god, it sent a shock of sensation below the waist and straight to his balls. He arched, threw his head back, and grabbed the bed covers in white-knuckled fists.
“Holy shit!” he breathed. He met Jack’s gaze again and literally trembled as the man licked, tugged, and generally just played with the damn thing. The feeling was amazing, but after a minute or so, his dick was so hard it was painful and his anus was damn near contracting. He reached down and grabbed Jack on either side of his head and pulled gently.
Jack smiled and it melted his spine. He tugged on the ring once more, letting it fall from his mouth, then he moved up and lay over him, sensually, as if his body were a blanket. He kept his gaze locked on Daniel’s and simply eased into him. The fullness, hardness, and heat of him filled Daniel’s awareness, not just his body, and he groaned, eyelids half-closing, and caressed Jack’s ass and back.
“Yes,” he whispered.
“Yes,” Jack whispered back. Then he began to move.
It was perfect. Daniel closed his eyes and just felt him, inured with the friction, the temporary burn, and the gradual build-up of need. The blow job had put the flames out in his dick, temporarily, but as Jack moved, those flames reignited. Slowly at first, but then …
Jack took his cock in hand, still keeping their bodies mostly intact, and Daniel opened his eyes, wide, his breaths heavy with need. He wanted to say I love you, but it wasn’t the time. Still, it was the only thing his mind kept repeating, kept wanting to spill out of his mouth. Instead, he pulled Jack down into a fiery kiss as he tightened his buttocks and thrust back.
That seemed to set Jack off. He groaned into his mouth and thrust harder, speeding up his rhythm.
That went on for what seemed like forever. Minutes blurred, time seemed to stop existing. Their mutual thrusting just continued on and on and on … until Jack removed his hand from Daniel’s cock and took both of Daniel’s hands and pinned them over his head. His eyes were dark with such need that there was no longer any way to distinguish them from lust, need, desire, or anything else. Just tunnel-visioned intensity, focus, demand.
Daniel’s dick and balls tingled and he moaned, “Jack,” and thrust hard against him, telling him with his body that he was close. Jack opened his mouth in a slight smile and drew his knees forward, bringing Daniel’s ass off the bed. He was so deep inside him now, increasing the strength of his thrusts, and Daniel brought his heels up, digging into Jack’s backside. “Yes,” he encouraged, and the speed increased. “Yes,” he said again, this time with strain. Pleasure blinded him and he closed his eyes and threw his head back.
“Yes!” Jack hissed, and began to pound into him, fast, hard, insane.
Orgasm took control of Daniel’s awareness, searing his soul, his heart, his body. Jack’s rapid hammering was so powerful that it lasted blessedly forever. Or it seemed to, and not near as long as Daniel wished it could be. Then his attention was Jack’s response, and he opened his eyes to see Jack’s eyes roll back into his head as the man froze, hips jerking, body thrumming, as he too fell over the edge.
He was beautiful.
Daniel pulled his hands from Jack’s and wrapped his arms around him. “Is it too early to say I love you?” he whispered. Jack didn’t say anything. He responded by snuggling into him, burying his face into Daniel’s neck and kissed and nuzzled him there. The weight didn’t bother Daniel. The afterglow prevented annoyance for a while, anyway, so Daniel curled his legs around Jack’s and held him, closing his eyes, suffusing himself in Jack’s warmth and weight. After what seemed to be an hour, but was more likely a few minutes, he opened his eyes and turned them both to their sides. Jack’s eyes were closed and he opened them drowsily, then leaned in and kissed him softly. Their mutual lazy bonelessness took them into sleep.
When Daniel woke up, it was actually early morning. The golden light warmed the bedroom through the wide window that overlooked the sprawling landscape behind Jack’s apartment. Daniel noticed that Jack was gone from his bed, and listened to see if Jack was maybe in the bathroom. The moment he thought that, his bladder told him it was long-past time to get his ass out of bed. He sat up gingerly, his ass only slightly sore, and he smiled. Then he smelled coffee. And groaned.
After relieving himself, he padded naked out to the kitchen, finding Jack nude as well, and standing by the coffee pot, already drinking from his mug.
“Marry me,” Daniel moaned, heading to the pot.
Jack grinned and handed him a mug. “Maybe later.”
With a sleep-addled brain, Daniel fixed up his coffee, then moved to stand at the kitchen door that led to the backyard patio. The view of the landscape was wonderful and he leaned against the door frame after opening the door. He sighed contentedly, keeping the mug near his nose to inhale the fragrance. He wanted to say something, but didn’t really want to break the peace of the moment, so he just looked out over the green grass, trees, and the soft twinkling of a nearby offshoot of the river.
Heavenly. Everything was heavenly. He thought about how much at home he felt, at the excitement of a new job. Even the mirror study was put on hold so he could bask in the relaxing air of this place. No traffic sounds, no blaring horns, no shouting people. And there was Jack. Heaven.
After a few minutes, he took a long drink from his mug and said, “I bet your Daniel just loved this place.”
Jack appeared beside him and surprised him by taking him into his arms. “You are my Daniel.” And he kissed him, hard, as if to drive the point home.
Daniel kissed him back just as hard.