It was the one answer Jack hadn’t anticipated. The world abruptly tilted five degrees and he scrambled to regain his mental footing.
All the time he’d spent running scenarios in his head… all the shouting, all the punches to the jaw, all the kisses (the sweet and the fierce and the sloppy), all the times he’d been coldly shown the door, warmly embraced, awkwardly, gently refused, dragged to the bedroom or down on the living room floor… not once had he envisioned this.
“I’m seeing someone.”
Daniel’s words hung in the air and the silence stretched.
“Well,” Jack finally managed. “Don’t I feel like an idiot.”
“No. No, no. Just…” Jack turned towards the door. It was only about a mile away and uphill. “Just let me get out of here.”
“Jack, no. Listen.” Daniel followed him.
“Not listening. No listening. Not one word. Daniel, not another word.” Jack lurched the last step to the door and gripped the knob.
“No, Jack, you have to…”
“Be going,” Jack said firmly. “Sorry I disturbed your evening. Disturbed you, probably. Hell, I know I’m disturbed.” He swung the door open and stepped into the hallway.
“Jack, let me… come on, Jack! You can’t just leave after that. You have to listen… Jack, you know how much….”
Jack spun on his heel, fists clenched. “Not another word. Don’t you dare.”
Daniel smacked the door with the palm of his hand. “Fine! All right? You know what? Make it harder on yourself. See if I care.”
“What would make it harder,” Jack said, willing his voice to remain steady, “would be listening to you saying all the right things. You’ll excuse me if I pass on that pleasure.”
Daniel gaped for a second. “You think….” His face reddened. He reached out and grabbed Jack by the arm. “Get your butt back in here.”
Jack had never heard quite that tone of voice coming from Daniel Jackson before. He let himself be pulled through the doorway.
“You really are an idiot.”
Jack slid his hands, which weren’t shaking at all, into his pockets. “That’s already been established.”
Daniel snorted, sounding more like an angry bull than an amused man. He shoved at Jack’s shoulder, not hard. “Stop that.”
Jack rocked a little.
“You and me… you and me together, world’s worst idea.”
Jack rocked again.
“Seriously.” Daniel looked at him with a mournful face and eyes that invited him to see reason. “You’d want to kill me within a month. Probably sooner. Seriously.”
Jack shifted his shoulders uneasily.
“You thought I was going to say something soppy, didn’t you? Something about how much I care, and how honored I am and how I really wish things were different?” Daniel waggled his head back and forth, a smile beginning to tug at the corners of his mouth.
Jack lowered his head and pursed his lips.
“When have I ever said things just to make you feel better?”
“Never. Right. We’d be a disaster. Better to forget about it.”
Jack cleared his throat.
Daniel eased to his side and threw an arm around Jack’s shoulders. “Come on in the kitchen and I’ll give you a beer and you can interrogate me about Bjorn. Come on.”
Jack began to shuffle forward, surprised and relieved to find the ground level beneath his feet. “What, you’re dating a Viking?”
Daniel laughed and squeezed his shoulder. It felt good. It was always going to feel good. Jack smiled, just a little.
“Does Thor know?”
SCENES FROM A MALL
Jack came out of the shoe store and turned left. He was straightening out the handles of his shopping bags and stepping around a couple of teenagers who’d decided to neck in the middle of mall foot traffic when he heard a familiar voice.
“Oh, no, you don’t.”
“Just a few…. “
And there was Daniel, coming around from the other side of a jewelry kiosk, half-facing Jack. His right arm was stretched out towards his goal. He was laughing. “Booooks!”
His left arm stretched in the other direction, held fast in both hands by the man who was laughing with him, restraining him, all the while shaking his head. “No bookstores! We have an agreement, remember?”
Daniel tugged, still laughing, and turned his head back to look at the other man.
Jack could see the moment that his presence registered. Daniel’s head snapped back to the front, and his laughter vanished. “Jack!”
“Hey,” Jack replied, letting his gaze wander carefully, casually to the man at Daniel’s side.
About Daniel’s age, maybe a couple of years younger, an inch or so shorter, broad-shouldered. Shaggy hair, dark blond, with a neatly trimmed beard that was several shades deeper into the brown end of the spectrum.
Piercing blue eyes that were watching Jack with interest. “Hello.”
“Oh! Um. Jack O’Neill. Bjorn Ludvigsen.”
Bjorn stepped forward, holding out his hand. “A pleasure.” He spoke with an accent that was subtle, but definitely there.
“Likewise,” Jack said airily, shaking hands firmly and resisting the urge to run away. “Daniel talks about me all the time.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Jack.”
Bjorn laughed. “Shall we say, most of the time?”
“No, we shall not,” Daniel said firmly.
Bjorn shrugged. “We shall not,” he said to Jack, completely straight-faced, as he lifted his right foot and kicked Daniel lightly on the ankle.
Jack assumed that whatever Daniel said to Bjorn in response was extremely rude, but as he didn’t speak… Scandinavian, he only had the laughter in Bjorn’s eyes to go on.
“Danish,” Daniel said when Jack’s eyes flicked back to him.
“Right.” Right. Bjorn was from Denmark. Daniel had told him that. Had told him more about Bjorn than he would ever have cared to know. Starting with the fact that he existed, and more specifically, existed in Daniel’s life.
Jack wanted to say, ‘Well, this is awkward’, but maybe it wasn’t for Bjorn. Maybe, hopefully, Bjorn didn’t know how Jack had made a fool of himself months ago by declaring his love for a man who was already taken, and who was frankly not all that interested anyway. ‘World’s worst idea’. Logic and reason aside, that still burned and always would.
Jack wanted to slide his hands nonchalantly into his pockets and rock back on his heels like he was having the best time and could stand here all day chatting like this, but he had the damn shopping bags in one hand. And one hand in the pocket wasn’t going to do it. Two hands equaled insouciance, one hand was just a guy who didn’t know what to do with his hand.
“So,” he said, insouciantly.
“So!” Daniel responded brightly. “Shopping.”
“But no bookstores,” Bjorn said, smiling at Jack in a way that seemed to say, ‘you know what he’s like, right?’
“Yeah, shopping. No bags? You two just getting started?”
“Well, no. I just bought a replacement strap for my watch and Bjorn had a new battery put in his.”
“Invisible shopping,” Bjorn said. “No bags.” He seemed to smile a lot. Well, why wouldn’t he? Lucky Danish bastard.
“How about you?” Daniel asked. “Much more to do?”
“Two more stops,” Jack answered. “Half an hour tops.” He shrugged. “If I’m lucky.”
“Ah. Bjorn and I are going to look at DVDs and shirts.”
“Respectively?” Jack asked, not giving a damn.
“What?” Daniel said.
Daniel shut his eyes briefly and shook his head. “So, anyway, guess we might as well….”
“I have an idea,” Bjorn said, meeting Daniel’s eyes.
Daniel blinked. “Oh?”
Bjorn turned to Jack. “I think we should only be about half an hour as well. I thought that if you don’t have to rush home we could all maybe meet for a drink. There is that little bar by the south-east entrance.”
“Oh,” Daniel said. “Great idea. You don’t have to rush off, do you, Jack?”
Jack coaxed his lips into a curve as he tried to gauge Daniel’s expression and intent. “Well….”
Daniel laid a hand on his arm. “Come on, you’ve got time for one drink.”
That was clear enough. “Sure. See you there?”
“See you,” Bjorn said, with another friendly smile.
Jack smiled back, ignoring the way his arm was tingling. “If you haven’t turned up in an hour I’ll know you lost the argument.”
Bjorn shook his finger. “No bookstores!”
Jack arranged his purchases underneath his chair and tried to decide whether it would look bad if he ordered his beer before the others showed up. If it was only going to be one drink, then he really should wait. And if he wanted to gulp one down before they got here, well, that wasn’t such a hot idea either and he needed to get a grip.
So it wasn’t going to be much fun. So he could put up with it for the space of one beer. Daniel had asked him to, more with his touch than with his words. He didn’t reach out all that often, and it was still freaking Jack a little that Daniel had touched him in front of Bjorn. Made him feel like he did when he was fifteen years old and passing notes in English class to his best buddy’s girl.
Anyway, Daniel wanted this little tea party, for whatever reason. Jack shuddered at the thought that Daniel might want them all to be ‘friends’. Not gonna happen. And he didn’t really think Daniel could be either that insensitive or that optimistic, so it had to be something else.
Maybe Daniel just wanted Jack to have the chance to put to rest any doubts he’d been having about Bjorn. Observe them together, size Bjorn up. Accept and move on.
Torture. But probably healthy. Jack sighed, and then quickly pulled himself together as he saw Bjorn headed for the table, followed by Daniel.
“We are here!” Bjorn said, grinning.
“Guess you won the argument.” Jack inclined his head in acknowledgment.
“I hate you both,” Daniel said cheerfully, propping his bags between the chair legs and the wall. “What are you drinking? I’ll order.”
“Dos Equiis,” Jack requested.
“The usual?” Daniel asked in passing, with a hand on Bjorn’s shoulder.
Bjorn nodded. “Carlsberg,” he told Jack, his eyes following Daniel to the bar. “I am boringly predictable. I like the taste of home.”
“Understandable. I sometimes get a hankering for lutefisk.”
“My grandmother used to make that. It was very bad.” Bjorn shook his head and laughed. “I think maybe the Minnesota recipe was a better one?”
“Everything’s better in Minnesota,” Jack returned smoothly, while absorbing the fact that Daniel definitely had been talking about him.
“I’ve seen very little of the States; no Minnesota, and I’ve not been to the South at all. I think I would melt, probably.”
“Probably better not to risk it,” Jack agreed. “So what have you seen besides Colorado?”
“New York City, I saw. Two weeks I had before coming here. Fantastic place, incredible. Seattle, I went to for a conference, four days I had. Not nearly enough.”
“No. And two weeks isn’t nearly enough for New York, I’d guess.”
“Well, if you don’t sleep….” Bjorn grinned.
Jack tapped his fingernails on the tabletop. “I’m old. I need my sleep.” His smile hurt his face.
Bjorn laughed, once. “If you say so, Jack.”
“Daniel and I went one long weekend to western Iowa. Many Danes there, museums, windmills.”
“Been to Wisconsin? When I was a little kid in Chicago, my dad used to drive up there to Racine to buy kringle.”
Bjorn nodded enthusiastically. “Kringleville! I want to go there, and Chicago, too, of course. Many Danes among all the other ethnic groups in Chicago. And many museums to make Daniel happy if he comes along.”
“Comes along where?” Daniel asked, arriving and setting down bottles in front of Jack and Bjorn with his left hand. His right hand held a pint glass.
“Chicago,” Bjorn said.
“Whatcha drinkin’?” Jack asked.
“Sam Adams… Sam Adams something.” Daniel held up his glass and stared at it blankly.
“I tasted it. It’s good.” Daniel settled into his chair, crinkling his nose at Jack.
“Whatever it is.”
“And when did you start drinking Dos Equiis?” Daniel retaliated.
“Taco Night at a little restaurant Sara and I used to go to.”
“Oh,” Daniel said. His eyes were surprised and then apologetic as they met Jack’s.
Jack tilted his head to one side, closing and opening his eyes. It’s okay.
Bjorn was watching them. Jack noted that he wasn’t smiling.
They’d barely gotten started on their beers when Daniel’s cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at it. “It’s work,” he said. He flipped it open. “Nyan?”
Jack looked at Bjorn, who had the resigned look of a guy who’d been interrupted on more than one occasion.
“I really need to take this,” Daniel said apologetically to Bjorn and, to a lesser extent, Jack. He got up from the table and began to head out of the bar.
Crap! Jack twisted his glass on the tabletop and watched Bjorn watch Daniel walk away.
Bjorn turned back to him. “Sometimes this Nyan makes me very jealous.”
“I’m gonna assume that’s a joke.” Jack raised his eyebrows.
Bjorn chuckled. “Yes, Jack. My little joke. And it’s not always Nyan calling, anyway. I just like his name, so I remember it most often.”
“Nyan’s a nice guy. He’s a big help to Daniel.”
“That’s exactly what Daniel says.” Bjorn took a long swallow of his beer.
Jack did likewise.
“Do you have questions for me?” Bjorn asked.
“’Scuse me?” Jack straightened in his chair.
“I thought perhaps you had some things you would like to ask me.”
“Not so much,” Jack said, immediately irritated and trying, but not very hard, not to show it. “What did you have in mind?”
“Whatever would most set your mind at ease, I suppose. Daniel’s welfare is of some importance to you, I think, so you might have concerns about our relationship.”
“Funnily enough, I let Daniel pretty much run his own life. Seems to be working out for both of us that way.”
“I wasn’t suggesting interference on your part; just concern. I am happy to answer questions about my background or my future plans.”
“I’m not concerned with your future plans.” Okay, that definitely came out sounding snippy, but Jack at least hadn’t thrown his beer in the guy’s face. Stay calm.
“And you already know my background.” Bjorn eyed him seriously.
“Daniel’s told me a little about you. I haven’t had you investigated, or anything.” Not that he hadn’t thought about it. Jack took a sip of beer.
Bjorn grinned slightly. “I did wonder a bit, considering what you and Daniel do for a living. Not,” he inclined his head, “that that’s any concern of mine. I have gotten very good at not asking Daniel all the questions that he mustn’t answer. I have learned not to get too aggravated by his secrecy and his sudden changes of mood from one day to the next.”
“I don’t think we should be sitting here talking about Daniel,” Jack said flatly.
“But you refuse to ask questions about my fascinating self! What do we talk about then?” Blue eyes pinned Jack.
How about your imminent demise? “Right. Okay. Tell me something fascinating about yourself, if you feel you absolutely must.”
“That is better,” Bjorn said cheerfully. At any rate he sounded cheerful, but Jack wasn’t quite seeing it in the eyes. “You know what it is I do, of course?”
“You’re some sort of professor at UCCS.”
“Associate.” Bjorn nodded. “I teach ‘Languages and Cultures’. Mostly Scandinavian, with some other European countries tossed in. And I fill in sometimes where I can in the History department.”
“I can see why you and Daniel get along,” Jack acknowledged.
“You know how it was we met? He has told you this?”
It seemed to Jack that Bjorn’s accent was getting stronger. Which was interesting. What would cause that? “He might have mentioned something about it. I’m sure it had something to do with books.”
“Yes! Daniel comes sometimes to our university library to consult texts that are not readily available in other places. It was there that I met him.”
Jack smiled encouragingly and repressed the urge to say something about ‘geeks’.
“He caught my eye immediately. You can understand.” Bjorn looked at Jack appraisingly. “Yes, you can understand that.”
What the…. “You got something you want to say? Say it.” Jack was beginning to get seriously annoyed, and Nyan was no longer at the top of his list of people with whom to be seriously annoyed.
“I can see how much you care about Daniel. That is my only point.”
“Not much of a point.”
“I still think that you should be asking me the questions, Jack.”
“Fine. What’s your favorite color?” Jack didn’t care any more how sarcastic he might be sounding.
“Orange. Is this your best question?” Bjorn looked mildly amused.
Jack shrugged dismissively. “I’m not getting what it is that you want from me here. Say what’s on your mind. Or don’t. I really don’t care either way.”
“All right.” Bjorn looked at him broodingly for several seconds. “I want for you to know how much I care for Daniel.”
“Fine. Good.” Fuck.
“I would never wish to hurt him in any way.”
Bjorn pushed his beer aside and leaned forward, arms on the table. “I will not always be here in Colorado Springs. Someday I will leave, get another position. Maybe Denver, maybe someplace far from here.”
“I can understand that. But why are you telling me this?”
“Someday, I think I will go back to Denmark. One day.”
“I hope you have a very nice trip when the time comes. Again, I don’t quite see why you feel the need to tell me.”
“Daniel already knows. We enjoy being together. We’re not trying to plan a future.”
Jack’s leg twitched “So, what? I’m sorry?”
“But when we talk, we talk like we will be together for a very long time. I am in love, Jack.”
Jack’s heart clenched. He leaned back in his chair. “Is this conversation over yet?”
“Daniel… but you did not want to talk about Daniel.”
“Please,” Jack said through tight lips.
“I thought you should know these things.”
Well, that definitely pried the lid off the can of worms. What exactly had Daniel been telling Bjorn? And speaking of Daniel, he was walking back into the bar and heading for their table. His steps hesitated for a fraction of a second when he saw Jack’s face, and then sped up. He reached them and sank down into his chair. “Sorry about that. Did I miss anything?”
“I was just telling Jack that I’ve remembered something. I must go, Daniel.” Bjorn picked up his beer and drained it.
“What?” Daniel looked at Bjorn incredulously and then at Jack.
Bjorn pushed back his chair and stood. “Jack, can you see that Daniel gets home?” He put out his hand.
Jack stood, confused and wary but knowing when to do the polite thing. They shook hands. “Not a problem.”
Daniel looked up at them. “What’s going on?”
“I will see you at home later, Daniel, hmm?” Bjorn bent and brushed his lips against Daniel’s.
“I can come with you,” Daniel said, beginning to shift his weight.
Bjorn put a hand on his shoulder. “Stay and finish your beer. You have barely touched it. I will see you later.”
Bjorn walked away swiftly. Daniel stared after him with his mouth hanging open. It closed with a snap as he turned his attention on Jack. “What did you say to him?”
Jack spread his hands and shrugged. “Honestly? He did most of the talking.”
Daniel’s knuckles rapped several times against the table. “For instance.”
Daniel’s eyes narrowed. “Did he say something you don’t want me to know?”
“I only meant, are you sure you want me to be repeating things that your boyfriend may have intended to be private between him and me?”
“Fine, then. He told me he’s in love with you and that some day he’s probably going back to Denmark. That seemed to be the gist.”
“There was more, all along those lines. At least as far as I could tell.”
Daniel looked at Jack coldly.
“Hey,” Jack said with quiet force, leaning forward and pointing for emphasis, “I tried to stop him several times. I didn’t want to have that conversation. You take it up with him.”
“You’re telling me… you’re expecting me to believe that you didn’t say anything to him to make him leave like that.”
“You can believe whatever you want to.” Jack stared him down, ice in the pit of his stomach.
Daniel stood so quickly that his chair nearly tipped. “I’ll call a cab.”
“What?” Jack blinked.
Daniel bent down to pick up his packages. “I’ll see you at work Monday.”
“Daniel. There is no need….”
Daniel started to walk away.
“Jesus Christ,” Jack muttered as he pushed back his chair and gathered his shopping bags. “Lunatics. Both of them. Fucking….”
When he got out into the mall proper, he didn’t see Daniel in either direction. He pulled out his cell and punched in Daniel’s code as he walked.
“I’m parked down by Sears.”
There was a long pause. Jack rolled his eyes.
Daniel was slouched on a bench fifteen feet away. Their eyes met as they hung up their phones. He stood as Jack approached and they walked silently through the busy hallway, and out through Sears to the parking lot.
The silence continued in the truck. Which was fine with Jack. Daniel was pissed? Well, he was pissed, too. Silence was what he needed right about now. Silence, and something stronger than a Dos Equiis as soon as he got home.
“Thanks,” Daniel said quietly before he climbed out of the truck in front of his apartment building.
“Any time,” Jack answered, looking out through the windshield. The door closed behind Daniel, and Jack checked his mirror and pulled away.
The doorbell rang at 10:42 that night. That would be Daniel, of course. It somehow seemed inevitable that it would be Daniel, and that Jack’s hard-won calm would be stripped away from him.
Jack put down the nth drink of many and went to let him in.
Jack opened his door. Yep. Daniel. Joy.
Daniel squinted at him, and Jack thought that his eyes looked a little funny. “May I come in?”
“That depends,” Jack said, stepping back to let him in. “Are you here to yell at me?”
Daniel blinked as he crossed the threshold, and then sniffed and blinked again. “How much have you had to drink?”
“What is that?”
“Oh, okay. Any left?”
It was Jack’s turn to blink and to take a closer, if somewhat blurry, look at Daniel’s face. What he saw made him put a hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “Sure. Go sit down and I’ll bring you a glass and some ice.”
“And some bourbon,” Daniel muttered as he headed for the stairs.
“The bottle’s already there,” Jack muttered in return as he walked into his kitchen and opened a cupboard.
“Oh, the bottle’s already here,” Daniel observed from the living room.
Jack filled Daniel’s glass to overflowing with ice cubes and headed for the other room. Daniel was standing with his hands in his pockets, staring down into the fireplace, in which there was no fire. Jack slid a few of the ice cubes into his own glass and poured Daniel a good-sized drink. “Here.”
Daniel turned and took it. “Thanks.” He sipped and made a face.
“You need some water?”
“No, it’ll just take a little getting used to. Bourbon’s not my usual.” He pushed his glasses up.
“You don’t have a usual. Didn’t. Didn’t have.” Maybe Bjorn had him drinking akvavit. Jack topped up his own glass, frowning.
“Yeah.” Daniel stared down into his glass. “I really didn’t come here to talk about my drinking habits.”
“Or mine, I hope.” Jack raised his glass in a mock toast.
Daniel ignored him. “I came to apologize, I guess. Partly.”
“What for?” Jack asked, sitting down on the couch. Daniel stared at him, eyebrows aloft, and Jack waved his glass to encourage elaboration.
“I assumed that you’d said or done something to offend Bjorn. That was wrong of me. I’m sorry.”
“I’m frequently offensive. I can’t really blame you too much.” Jack meant to smile as he said it, but fell somewhat short of the mark.
“That’s not true.”
“Sure I am.”
“I mean… that part’s true enough. I meant the not blaming me part. I offended you.” Daniel looked at him earnestly.
“No, I did.”
“Okay. Doesn’t matter. Let it go.” Jack waved an expansive hand. Enough bourbon and he could forgive just about anyone just about anything.
Daniel took a long swallow of his drink. “Maybe after some more of this,” he said. “And maybe I’ll stop wanting to wring Nyan’s neck after a couple more.” He looked up at the ceiling.
“What’s happened?” Jack asked quietly.
“Bjorn’s breaking up with me.”
Jack’s drink sloshed onto his knee. He put the glass down quickly. “What?”
“He thinks that I belong with you.” Daniel turned away.
There was a silence as a multitude of thoughts raced through Jack’s mind, bumping into each other. “I assume that you corrected him.”
Daniel made a sound that vaguely resembled a laugh. “I tried.”
After a painful second Jack asked, “Is he brain-damaged?”
It sounded a little more like a laugh this time, as Daniel turned to look at Jack. “I hadn’t considered that possibility.”
“Well, there’s obviously something wrong with him,” Jack said solemnly.
Daniel drained his glass.
“Whoa! That went down fast,” Jack observed. “More?”
“Please.” Daniel came to hand Jack his glass, and sat down beside him on the couch. “You don’t want to hear about all of this,” he added as he reached for his refill.
“If you need a friend to talk to, I’m all ears.”
“But you’re not just a friend. It isn’t fair.”
“But I am just a friend, and why doesn’t Bjorn get that?”
Daniel ran a hand through his hair.
Jack had to ask. “Did you tell him about me?”
“About a certain talk we had at your place a while back?”
“Oh. God, no, Jack. That was private.” Daniel looked affronted.
“People tell their significant others all kinds of things.” Jack remembered how that worked, when it worked.
Daniel frowned at him. “Well, I didn’t. I’m surprised you would think that I might.”
“I tried not to think about it, frankly.” Well, that slipped out. Jack reached for his glass, flustered, and then decided against it. His lips were already loose enough to sink a battleship. “Anyway. He seemed to be under the distinct impression that I was interested in you. So I wondered.”
Daniel slouched forward, rolling his shoulders as he put his elbows on his knees. “Apparently he was already under the impression that there might be something between us. Evidently I talk about you a lot.”
Jack told himself that the warmth in his belly came from the liquor. “Sure. We’re friends, co-workers; I piss you off, you need to rant.”
“Oh, absolutely,” Daniel agreed, with a sideways grin that didn’t last long. “You really don’t want to hear all this.”
“You’re right. I don’t.” Jack grabbed instinctively for his bourbon and took a healthy gulp. “But I’m not goin’ anywhere.”
“You’re a good friend.”
“Getting maudlin on your second drink?” Jack asked the contents of his glass.
“I’m a little emotional.” Daniel bowed his head.
“Sure,” Jack said uncomfortably. He patted Daniel’s shoulder.
“Bjorn has never believed that I love him the same way that he loves me.”
Jack closed his eyes tightly. “Can I change my mind?”
“How drunk are you?” Daniel asked fretfully.
“Sorry. I’ll try to be good.”
“We’ll see how long that lasts.” Daniel took a swallow.
“So, was he right?”
“That’s not the point. It’s what he believes. That’s all that matters.”
“Yeah, okay.” It wasn’t like Jack actually wanted to hear the answer. Not if it was the answer he didn’t want to hear.
“He said that all he had to do was watch us together, and he… he could see… more than he thought was there between him and me. More than there should be between people who are just friends.”
Jack grimaced. “Well, I don’t know what goes on between the two of you, but probably a good chunk of what he thought he was seeing was just me. Maybe he could see it because he was looking for it. I sure as hell wasn’t trying to….”
“No. I know.” Daniel lifted his glass and then lowered it, untasted. “He saw it because it’s there to see. I mean, always. Right from….”
Jack stared at him in astonishment.
“Come on, Jack. There’s a connection. We get each other. Even though frankly half the time I don’t get you at all, and I’ll bet it’s more than half the time for you.”
“Right now might be one of those times.”
Daniel snickered, looked surprised at himself and sobered. “That’s just the bourbon slowing you down.”
“It’s getting to you, too,” Jack said, nudging Daniel with his shoulder. It got him another snicker. “You eat anything?”
“Pizza? You goin’ anywhere?”
“I’m not going home.” Daniel reached for the bourbon and topped up his glass. “I left Bjorn sleeping off our ‘goodbye’ fuck.”
Jack’s jaw dropped. He closed it with a click. “Way to ruin my appetite there, Danny boy.”
“Sorry. Really.” Daniel peered at him. “I seem to be a needy mess who hopes to impose on you and probably make you just as miserable as I am in the process.”
“Okay, look. Number one, you never impose. You wanna stay here tonight?” Jack stood up and waved an arm. “That’s okay by me. Mi casa, and so on.”
“Thank you.” Daniel hiccupped gently.
“Thanks are not necessary. Ever. Unless you want to get your wallet out. Because, Number two, what do you want on your half?”
Daniel smiled. It was slow and it flickered and grew, and it finally grew wide. “The usual.”
It had been a while, but Jack remembered. And was able to manage speed dial with no problem. But when he had hung up, he had to ask: “Did I just ask for shausage?”
“And epproponi!” Daniel shouted, falling over sideways onto the couch.
The time for serious talk had obviously come and gone, washed away on a tide of booze, and the time to turn on the TV and channel surf and make rude remarks had arrived. The pizza didn’t do a whole lot to sober them up. They did stop drinking bourbon, but Jack rejected Daniel’s suggestion of coffee. “With pizza?”
Switching to beer, in retrospect, might not have been the best idea. Jack’s mouth was dry as a desert when he woke up. Water. Water would have been the way to go. He could drink about a quart of it right now, but he’d just lie here for a few more minutes and luxuriate in the warmth of Daniel pressed up against his back.
Last night, Jack had just pulled his shirt off over his head when Daniel appeared at his bedroom door.
Jack’s brain muzzily tried to interpret. “I don’t know; three to the wind?”
“Bed sheets. Bed’s not made.” Daniel lurched through the doorway.
“Oh. Yeah. It wasn’t getting used much. Forgot about that. We can….”
Daniel plopped himself down on Jack’s bed and started taking off his shoes. “Maybe you can,” he snorted.
Jack swayed in place for a second and then plopped down next to Daniel. “Lean over and fall over’s more like it. This is my side of the bed, by the way.”
It was still his side of the bed this morning, but Daniel in his sleep was no respecter of boundaries. They’d shared a tent too often for that to come as any surprise. Jack was a bit surprised, though, that Daniel’s presence in his bed wasn’t causing the kind of physical reaction that he would’ve expected. So, yeah, water would’ve definitely been the better choice. Way too much alcohol still in his system.
But it was pleasant enough to just lie here and listen to Daniel breathing and be glad that the friendship was on track, and that he could be here for Daniel. Maybe to dream a little bit. After a minute of listening, though, it got less pleasant as Jack wondered if Daniel didn’t sound kind of stopped up. Like there might have been tears during the night.
There wasn’t anything he could do about that. Jack sat up abruptly, and immediately regretted it. But he could do something about water and aspirin, and Daniel was going to need coffee and plenty of it. And probably a stack of dry toast wouldn’t be a bad idea. Shower first, though. Pee before that. Then aspirin, then shower. Start the coffee before the shower.
Way too much alcohol.
Jack was feeling fairly human by the time Daniel surfaced, barefoot and in yesterday’s clothes, glasses-less face freshly scrubbed, eyes just a little red and breath minty fresh. There hadn’t been sheets on the bed, but Daniel’s toothbrush still sat in a glass in the guest bath. In the cupboard under the sink, instead of on the counter where it used to be, but Daniel had apparently looked for it and found it, and Jack gave himself a mental kick for not thinking of it this morning and taking it out of hiding.
“How you feeling?”
Daniel squinted at him. “I’ll live, if I receive an immediate transfusion.”
Jack grinned. “Caffeine coming right up.” He pushed the aspirin bottle towards Daniel.
“Ah, no thanks. My head feels better than my stomach.”
Jack dumped the contents of the coffee pot into a carafe and pressed the button to start the next batch brewing. He put the carafe down in front of Daniel and went back over to the counter to put some slices of bread into the toaster. “Think you can handle some toast?”
“Sure,” Daniel replied, lifting his face out of his coffee cup just long enough to reply.
Jack sat at the table and topped up his own mug. “Paper? Sports, funnies?”
This was an old disagreement. Jack tried not to even look at the front page headlines until he’d eased his way in to the newspaper. “If you must.” He passed Daniel Section A, averting his gaze. “No commentary, please.”
“I remember the rules, Jack,” Daniel said, sounding amused.
The only sounds for the next minute were coffee being slurped and pages being rustled. Then the toast popped up. Jack got up and piled it onto a waiting plate, then started another four slices going. He put the plate down on the table and started to sit down.
Daniel peered around his newspaper. “Plain?”
“Thought it might be safer.”
Daniel made a face. “Don’t you have any of that elderberry jelly your aunt sends you?”
“Aunt Kay’s pride and joy? Yeah, I’ve got some. You sure?” Jack headed for the refrigerator.
“I’ll take my chances. Anyway, I’m fairly sure that elderberry jelly is medicinal.”
“Oh, well, in that case….” Jack re-opened the silverware drawer and took out a second knife.
They demolished the eight pieces of toast, and the two pots of coffee, and Jack sat looking out into the back yard after he’d handed Daniel the crossword puzzle to finish and thought how nice it was to wake up with Daniel and share breakfast and the newspaper, and how right it felt. He had no expectations. But with Bjorn out of the picture, at least maybe he could have more moments like these. And you never knew….
“Another wrong answer, Jack,” Daniel muttered as he traced the correct letters heavily over Jack’s answer.
Jack shrugged. “Alcohol kills brain cells.”
“No fooling,” Daniel said, showing Jack the messy completed puzzle.
Jack just smiled contentedly.
Daniel smiled, too, shaking his head. “Okay, nice as this has been, I’ve got to get moving.”
“What’s your rush?” Jack half-protested.
Daniel stood up and reached up to adjust his glasses. He looked at his hand and let it drop when he realized he wasn’t wearing them. “Ah. Well, a shower and fresh clothes for starters. And then I’m going to see if Bjorn’s home.” He looked at Jack, looked away. “Talk to him.”
“You’re going to try to get him back,” Jack realized, his stomach plummeting.
“I’m not giving up yet,” Daniel agreed, nodding.
Jack rose. “If he’ll make you happy, then I wish you luck.” It was only true, although the words tried to stick in his throat.
“He does make me happy. Having something normal and good in my life makes me happy, and I don’t want to lose that.”
Sara, Jack’s memory supplied as he stared into Daniel’s intense eyes. One man’s ‘why we fight’. Something clean and decent waiting at the end of every long, weary road.
“I don’t think I can lose that now, Jack.” Daniel’s eyes were dry, but he was scrunching them up a little.
“You’ll find a way to get through to him,” Jack said, coming quickly around the table to put a hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “And if he insists on being a jerk about it, I’ll come over and beat him up for you.”
Daniel laughed briefly. “I think that would probably be counter-productive.”
“Maybe.” Jack squeezed Daniel’s shoulder. “One piece of advice?” Daniel looked at him. “Don’t tell him where you slept last night.”
“Yeah, believe it or not, I’m way ahead of you on that one.” Daniel grinned half-heartedly.
“Then you’re halfway there.”
“Yeah,” Daniel mumbled. “Okay. Bathroom first, glasses….” He was frowning slightly and patting his pockets for his keys.
“Shoes, Daniel,” Jack said gently.
Daniel didn’t get through to Bjorn. Not that day, not the next. Not any of the half dozen times, that Jack knew of, that he tried.
Finally, he stopped trying.
“Do I need to call security, or are you here to thank me?” Bjorn’s palms were flat against his desktop and his eyes were wary.
“Neither. And I’ve got nothing to thank you for.” Jack repositioned the visitor’s chair in Bjorn’s office at the university and sat down.
Bjorn nodded, eyes still wary. “That does not surprise me. Daniel is, as you know, a very stubborn man.”
“So were you expecting him to rush into my waiting arms? Give me a break. How stupid do you have to be to be a college professor these days?” Jack let his irritation show, and Bjorn sat straighter in his chair.
“Why have you come, Jack?”
“To tell you to stop being an idiot. Go back to him.”
Bjorn tightened his lips. “This is what you really want?”
“He’s unhappy. I don’t like that. I want you to fix it.”
“Do you?” Bjorn stared at him, blue eyes challenging. “You want me to go to Daniel and take him into my arms and kiss him? Take his hand and lead him down the hall and into the bedroom?”
Irritation surged and became anger. “Fuck you.”
“This is what you are asking me to do. How am I wrong to make certain that you realize this?” Bjorn cocked his head.
“Are you going to do it?” Jack bit out. “Yes or no?”
Bjorn looked down at his desk and swallowed. “He is in love with you.”
“Yeah,” Jack closed his eyes briefly, “not so much. And maybe you think he’s not in love with you, but then you haven’t been around to see how miserable you’re making him. He’s through asking you to come back, you know.”
“So you come to do it for him? You are very selfless. I do not understand you, Jack.”
Likewise. “Look, there is simply no reason for you to be doing this. You said yourself that the two of you weren’t planning a future. So… just be with him until one of you finds a reason to be with someone else. Nothing’s changed. He still cares just as much as he did before. Maybe more. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that.”
“Maybe I have changed.”
“Bullshit. You think he loves me more than he does you. I disagree. Daniel disagrees. He doesn’t want me and he does want you. Still. For some reason that escapes me, because you’re obviously a moron!”
Bjorn looked at him almost affectionately. “You know, you are the only man I would leave him for, I think.”
Jack winced. “That… yeah, maybe that came out wrong; because that makes it sound like you want to start dating me.”
“You are not my type.” Bjorn smiled sadly. “You and I, we have the same type.”
“I don’t have a ‘type’. My last ‘type’ was about this tall, blonde, and had breasts.”
“I think this conversation will break my heart.”
Oh, for crying out loud. “You think I’m enjoying it?”
“You are a good friend, Jack.” Bjorn’s eyes got misty. “You would throw away your own chance to be happy.”
“Isn’t that what you’re doing? You’re the one with a chance, here. How many ways can I say this? Daniel does not want me. He wants you.”
“I miss him so badly. I do not sleep.”
Jack cringed inwardly. “Well. If you’re not sleeping, you might as well be with Daniel doing stuff that I don’t want to hear about. Or think about.”
Bjorn stared at him, and for the first time Jack saw a flicker of indecision. He went in for the kill, leaning forward. “He’ll take you back. He’s asked you to come back. What the fuck are you waiting for? Quit playing at being the melancholy Dane and go make him happy before I decide to break you in two!”
Bjorn chewed at his lip.
Jack stood up. “You’re making three people unhappy for no good reason. Stop it.”
“You’re welcome.” Jack turned, walked out of the office, hung a left. Walked down the hallway.
“Thank you,” echoed after him.
Jack’s steps never faltered.
But he was glad no one was coming in the opposite direction.
Jack wore his Service Dress uniform as though it were a suit of armor.
It was easier to accept Daniel and Bjorn this time around. Before, Bjorn had been a faceless entity that it was easy to hate for causing Daniel to reject Jack. Easier to hate a faceless entity than to accept that Daniel would have rejected him anyway.
Now Bjorn had a face, and Jack had seen pain on it that had matched the deep unhappiness Daniel didn’t bother to hide from him.
So, hey. This time around they were together because Jack had put them together. He’d lit a fire under Bjorn, and received a quiet ‘thank you’ from Daniel, whose expression conveyed sympathy and gratitude in equal proportion while the warmth in his eyes gave Jack shivers down his spine.
Armor against grief that was not his own.
Jack never saw the two of them together again. Daniel never invited him to join them, and Jack had stopped inviting Daniel to do anything that didn’t involve the whole team. That didn’t stop Daniel from inviting himself to Jack’s house, though, usually sending Jack an email announcing his plans.
They would eat take-out and watch a DVD or two. Sometimes Daniel would mention Bjorn, but mostly not. Jack assumed Bjorn knew Daniel was with him, but never asked.
It was still fun. They were still close. Maybe even a little bit closer, although Jack would’ve pitched a fit if he’d detected any lingering gratitude.
Bottom line: Daniel seemed happy.
And that was easier for Jack to accept this time around.
He raised his hand to knock on Bjorn’s apartment door.
This was an unofficial visit, despite the formal attire. Even if the Air Force had been prepared to acknowledge it, there was no official status for them to recognize. Spouses and family members got these visits, and not from a teammate of their loved one, but from a sympathetic but untouched representative of the service.
So, unofficial and unsanctionable and maybe unwise, too. But Daniel had asked Jack to tell Bjorn, and Jack thought in uniform was the proper way to do it, out of respect for Daniel, and the best way to keep himself and his own feelings fenced off.
Because this wasn’t about him.
It wasn’t about his heart that had broken as he watched Daniel dying in agony.
“Do you want Bjorn here?” he’d asked Daniel, back when Daniel was still lucid. “I can rush through some paperwork, get him enough clearance. Just enough.”
“No.” Daniel shook his head. “It would only hurt him. I won’t do that to him.”
Daniel swallowed. “He knows that something could happen to me, and that we’d never get a chance to say goodbye.”
“But you can have that chance.”
Daniel shook his head again, and they were silent for a minute, the quiet beeping of the monitors ominous in the background. “Will you tell him? I mean, not the truth, but whatever… whatever the official story is going to….”
“I’ll tell him.”
Jack would tell him, tell him that his lover died a hero. Lie to him, tell him the death was quick, painless.
Never tell him that, near the end, Daniel, nothing more now than two blood-shot eyes and a pair of lips wrapped in a winding sheet, ready for the grave, had whispered: “I might have made a mistake.”
“What’s that?” Jack had asked, bending over him. “Daniel? What mistake?”
Daniel breathed shallowly and sighed, “Bjorn.” And then he was unconscious again, and Jack didn’t know whether he should be rushing off to try to get Bjorn there before it was too late, and damn the paperwork, the paperwork could get done retroactively, or if he should abide by Daniel’s earlier instructions.
In the end it didn’t matter. There wouldn’t have been enough time. And Jacob had arrived, tried to heal Daniel. Things might have ended differently.
But Daniel had wanted Jacob to stop.
So now Jack was here, armed with half-truths and lies, filled with deep grief and deeper secrets, knocking on Bjorn’s door.
The door swung open and Bjorn was looking up at Jack with a half-formed question on his lips. Jack watched as his face changed. His gaze travelled down and up Jack’s uniform and his jaw quivered. His eyes met Jack’s, and they were filled with fear.
It hurt when Jack swallowed. “I’m sorry.”
Bjorn’s mouth opened and his hand flew up to cover it, the back of his fist pressing hard, blocking any sound that might escape. Tears started to his eyes, and his other hand reached for the door frame.
Jack wanted to say he was sorry again, but he knew that wasn’t the best thing to do. “May I come in?”
Bjorn nodded quickly and turned away. Ran.
Jack removed his cover and stepped inside, shutting the door behind him. He heard the sound of another door closing, down the hallway. Jack stepped out of the foyer and found himself in Bjorn’s living room.
There was a coffee table in front of the couch. Jack set his cover down on top of a stack of books there, and turned to survey the room slowly. There were books everywhere. More than Daniel had, even, it looked like. Although, come to think of it, some of these probably were Daniel’s books.
One shelf that didn’t hold books held pictures in frames instead. Bjorn in a cap and gown, standing with a beaming couple that Jack assumed were his parents. A group photo from some fifteen or so years before that, where it wasn’t easy to figure out which blue-eyed kid was Bjorn. Siblings and/or cousins, Jack guessed. Bjorn with his arms around two pretty young women, who were both convulsing with laughter as he grinned into the camera lens.
Bjorn with his arm around Daniel, who was smiling goofily. They were seated at a restaurant table, each with red wine in front of them in those huge glasses that hold half a bottle with no problem. The picture on the wall behind Daniel was reflecting pinpoints of colored light. Christmas. Last year, based on the length of Daniel’s sideburns.
Their sweaters matched. Jack stared. If, if he ever saw Daniel again, he was never going to let him hear the end of it. He smiled briefly, blinking back tears. He touched the picture frame gently and turned away.
He listened for a moment, but heard no sounds from down the hall. After a second of hesitation he sat down on the couch. He was tired, down to the bone. Maybe he should have slept first before coming here. He hadn’t done Bjorn any favor by cheating him out of one more night of peace. He patted the cushion next to him thoughtfully and wondered when Daniel had sat there last.
Suddenly, fiercely, he hoped that the last time Daniel and Bjorn had spent together had been good, that there had been laughter and… he heard running water. He cleared his throat noisily and exhaled slowly a couple of times. The water shut off and a few seconds later the unseen door opened.
He thought about standing. He didn’t. Bjorn came into the room and sat down beside him. Jack cleared his throat again and stared at the carpet.
“Can you tell me what happened?” Bjorn’s voice wasn’t much more than a whisper.
Jack shook his head. “No, I can’t.”
“Classified.” Bjorn nodded. He didn’t sound bitter.
Jack looked at his watch. “About nine hours ago.”
“Was it… did he suffer?”
Jack was a good liar. A great liar. He had lied for his country many times. This lie rose readily to his lips and then he swallowed it back down. For reasons that he would examine later, he couldn’t bring himself to say that Daniel had died easily. So he told a different lie in its place. “Not for long,” he answered quietly, looking directly at Bjorn’s red-rimmed eyes.
Bjorn squeezed his eyes shut and hunched over, turning his face away.
“He was a hero,” Jack said. His throat ached around the hard, true words. “His actions saved a lot of people.”
Bjorn turned back to stare at him, eyes wide now and swimming with tears.
“I was one of them.” Jack winced and looked down. Sniffed.
Bjorn reached over and laid his hand on top of Jack’s for a second. His touch was like ice.
Jack looked at him sharply, checking his color. “You need a drink. Or some coffee.”
Bjorn nodded, standing up. “You’ll have one with me?”
Bjorn shuffled into the kitchen like an old man. Jack looked over at Daniel’s picture, rose and followed.
“Glasses are in the cupboard next to the stove,” Bjorn said, lifting a bottle off a shelf that held small pots of herbs and some mismatched china plates that might have been antiques. “Brandy?”
“Sounds good,” Jack answered truthfully. He found a pair of snifters. He hefted them as he carried them to the small round table Bjorn was standing beside. “Crystal?”
“They belonged to my Grandfather Rasmussen,” Bjorn answered, pouring carefully. “He very much liked his brandy.”
“I had a grandfather like that,” Jack said, accepting the glass Bjorn pushed his way. “Except with him it was rye.”
“To grandfathers.” Bjorn raised his glass.
“Grandfathers.” Jack took a small swallow, raised his eyebrows and reached for the bottle to check out the label.
“You like it?” A smiled quivered on Bjorn’s lips.
“Good stuff.” Jack lifted his glass. “Grandmothers?”
“By all means.”
Silent tears rolled down Bjorn’s cheeks and Jack braced himself for the toast that had to be coming. Bjorn’s lips parted, but nothing came out. Jack curled his toes inside his shoes, concentrated hard on that feeling, and managed to get the necessary words out without harshness, without a crack in his voice. “To Daniel.”
There was gratitude in Bjorn’s eyes as he answered strongly, “To Daniel….”
And then he kept talking and the room wavered around Jack as memory hit him with the force of a shockwave.
“… and his journey.”
“Hey, where are you going?”
“I don’t know.”
Bjorn was gripping Jack’s elbow. “What?” Jack asked, shaken.
“Sit down,” Bjorn urged, pulling a chair out from the table.
Jack sank into it. “Did you say journey?” Had Daniel…? No, Bjorn hadn’t had any idea of what had happened.
“It’s an old Danish belief, before Christianity. The soul goes on a journey until it arrives at its life after death.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Jack said blankly, still seeing Daniel turning and walking up the ramp and vanishing into the event horizon. He gulped the rest of his brandy and, with an effort, set the precious glass down gently.
“Do you want more?” Bjorn reached for the bottle.
Jack put a hand over the top of the glass. “No, I have to drive.”
“You’re exhausted,” Bjorn said. His voice sounded tender.
Jack blinked hard.
“I won’t try to keep you here. You need to rest.” Bjorn finished his own glass and set it down, nowhere near as gently as Jack had done. “Have any plans been made yet?”
“Plans?” Jack asked, still dazed by his sudden flashback.
“Daniel had no family. Will the Air Force make the funeral arrangements?”
Jack reached abruptly for the bottle of brandy and poured two fingers worth into Bjorn’s glass. “You’d better sit down.”
Bjorn sat facing him and gripped the snifter with both hands.
“There isn’t going to be any funeral,” Jack said. His heart was suddenly pounding, and he heard his voice crack on the last word.
“No funeral.” Bjorn simply looked at him, eyes asking the question.
“There’s nothing to bury,” Jack said flatly.
Bjorn shuddered, and the base of the snifter clicked dully against the tabletop, the sound muted by his hands. Agonized sounds came from the back of his throat.
Jack folded his hands and looked down at them, waiting for ten, twenty seconds, trying to hang onto his own control.
Bjorn lifted the snifter, still with both hands and drained it dry. He sat swaying, eyes closed. After a minute he said, “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.”
Jack relaxed and let weariness flood through him. “No,” he agreed dully. “There’s just a little more.”
Bjorn blinked at him. “What?”
“There can’t be any kind of a public memorial service, either. I’m sorry.”
“Classified. Even his death is classified.”
Bjorn nodded acknowledgement “Will there be a service at Cheyenne Mountain?”
“I don’t know,” Jack answered honestly. “Nothing’s been talked about yet. But….”
“But I couldn’t go to it anyway. No, don’t tell me you’re sorry.” Bjorn gazed at him sadly. “I know you are.”
Jack was more sorry than he could say, and they were both tired of him trying.
It was time to go home.
Bjorn walked Jack to the door, and when Jack reached for the knob, Bjorn put his hand on Jack’s. His grip was warm this time. “He truly did love you. I don’t know if he ever told you, but you mustn’t ever doubt it.”
Jack looked into wet, earnest, blood-shot blue eyes and tried not to see Daniel as he was nearing the end.
But it hadn’t been the end.
Bjorn had lost what Jack had never had.
But Jack still had hope. He hoped to see Daniel again one day. He gripped his cover tightly in his other hand.
“Thank you. I’ll remember that.”
They were playing phone tag, and Jack was beginning to think that Bjorn was doing it on purpose.
Bjorn was calling Jack’s home number during the day, when Jack could reasonably be expected to be at Cheyenne Mountain. Where he might actually be was none of Bjorn’s business, of course, although it was tempting to leave messages in return saying, ‘Yeah, sorry I missed your call; I was on another planet at the time.’
Frankly Jack was more happy than not that Bjorn wasn’t calling him at the Mountain, which would raise its own issues. How many meetings could he realistically be tied up in when he couldn’t answer his line from P4X-whatever? And he didn’t have a problem with coming home to a blinking message light. The problem was that no one was picking up the phone at Bjorn’s place when Jack called back, and he was calling at hours when an Associate Professor of Languages might reasonably be expected to be home.
The first message, four days after Daniel died, had said: “Jack, this is Bjorn. I have some things of Daniel’s.” Long pause. “I don’t know what to do with them.” Then he’d left his number and hung up.
Jack phoned him back and said: “Jack O’Neill. Got your message. Yeah, just box up anything you don’t want to keep and I can arrange to have an airman pick it up. Just let me know when’s good.” Long pause. “Thanks.”
Bjorn’s reply two days later: “I have those boxes. And I have things at Daniel’s home. I should get those.” Long pause. “Do you need to be there?”
Jack spent five minutes re-listening to that one and trying to figure out where Bjorn’s head was at with that last question, and if he was imagining that he heard some anger. “Hey, it’s Jack. You can get your stuff from Daniel’s any time you want. Well, actually the sooner the better. The Air Force will be closing the apartment up at some point.” But not at any point soon, because Jack had recommended a ‘wait and see’ approach in case Daniel came waltzing back; fingers crossed and knock wood, it might still happen. “Let me know when’s a good time to send an airman for the boxes.”
Another two days went by without a response, but when Jack did his semi-daily stop-off at Daniel’s on the third day, to bring in the mail and throw out anything getting nasty in the fridge, he could tell that Bjorn had been there. Well, he’d confirm that Bjorn had gotten everything that belonged to him, and then he’d go through the place this weekend and remove anything of a personal or sexual nature that might prove embarrassing to Daniel if and when he returned.
Maybe he should re-think sending an airman for those boxes, in fact, he mused on the short drive home. Just to be on the safe side. Although it was a dull enough assignment that it shouldn’t excite any curiosity, and really, Daniel’s name didn’t even have to come into it. Unless Bjorn had written it all over the boxes… yeah, he’d probably labeled them somehow or other.
It only freaked Jack out a little when today’s blinking light led him to this message: “Jack, I was wondering if you could pick the boxes up yourself?” But Bjorn’s train of thought was traveling on a different track, as it turned out. “I would like to invite you to have supper with me here. I’m missing… having someone for whom to cook. Tomorrow night maybe? Let me know.”
Jack closed his eyes and sighed. Oh, fun! He picked up the phone and dialed. “Bjorn. Hi. Thanks for the offer. Yeah, tomorrow night might not work.” Depended on how traffic went coming back from the other side of the galaxy, and how long the debrief went. “Then again, it might. How much notice do you need?”
The phone rang three minutes after he’d hung up. Yeah, there was definitely screening going on chez Ludvigsen. “’lo.”
“Hello, Jack? Would tonight work better? If you don’t have plans….”
Jack rubbed a spot on his forehead which had suddenly begun to ache. “Ah, no. No plans.”
“Well.” There was no real reason not to, other than the instinct to avoid pain.
“I promise faithfully, no lutefisk.”
Jack gave a crack of laughter. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
It wasn’t bad. Hard, but not bad.
And the food was simple and good. A barley soup thick with carrots and mushrooms served with buttered Danish rye bread, washed down with Tuborg lager. They talked mostly about beer and food, childhood meals, studiously ignoring the elephant in the corner of the room. Bjorn took the empty bowls over to the sink when they were done, and came back a tray that held a cheeseboard, a bowl of walnuts and a smaller bowl for their shells, and a plate that held an apple and a pear.
Jack cracked walnuts and watched as Bjorn deftly pared, cored and sliced the fruit. “So what’s the cheese?”
“Cream Havarti; I think you’ll like it. Try it.”
Jack picked up a cube and bit into it. Smooth and mild. “Nice.”
Bjorn passed him a slice of apple. “Try it with this.”
It was good. “Yeah, that works,” Jack said. He popped a walnut into his mouth, and the rest of the cheese cube when that was gone. “Nice.” He took a swallow of his lager and tilted his head consideringly. “That works, too.”
“Wine is more traditional, but you’re more of a beer lover, I think.”
“Hardly ever met a beer I didn’t like.” Jack popped more cheese into his mouth. “That goes for cheese, too.”
“This was Daniel’s favorite,” Bjorn said.
And suddenly the elephant in the corner was sitting at the table beside them. Jack nodded his head, too choked up to speak.
Bjorn pushed the plate of fruit into the center of the table and reached for a walnut. So Jack reached for a pear. A pear couldn’t be too hard to swallow. And then Bjorn ate some cheese and Jack had a walnut and Bjorn tried the apple and Jack drank some beer and they both reached for the cheese at the same time.
“Sorry,” Bjorn said, drawing his hand back to let Jack select first.
Jack stared at the cheese.
“One of us had to mention him,” Bjorn said quietly.
Bjorn turned a walnut over and over in his hand. “I didn’t invite you here to talk about Daniel.”
Jack sighed again. “We can if you want to.”
“I can’t,” Bjorn answered simply. “Not yet. I can’t.”
The controlled grief in his voice was overwhelming. Jack didn’t care if Bjorn saw the tears in his eyes as he looked around the kitchen, avoiding looking at Bjorn’s face, giving him a small measure of privacy. “Some other time?” Jack suggested hoarsely.
“A week?” Bjorn said after a minute. “Will you come back in a week?”
“It won’t be long enough,” Jack said, looking at him now.
Bjorn smiled tightly. “It will be better. But you are right. Two weeks?”
Bjorn nodded. “Same time?”
“I’ll have to let you know for sure closer to the date,” Jack cautioned.
“Of course,” Bjorn answered. He knew the drill.
And supper was over.
Jack had to pull over once on the drive home and sit, gripping the wheel hard enough to make his fingers ache, until he got himself back under control.
Sometimes grief shared wasn’t grief halved, no matter what the old sayings said.
On the 21st Bjorn talked and Jack listened and nodded and agreed and laughed, and excused himself quickly to the bathroom when the tears he didn’t mind showing began to swell into sobs. He flushed the toilet and ran water in the sink and allowed himself ninety seconds of outright bawling.
He was done in less than sixty. He splashed water into his eyes and looked himself over in the mirror.
The thing was, this little breakdown wasn’t about grief at losing Daniel, and it wasn’t sympathy for Bjorn’s loss. This was about having to lie. He couldn’t talk about his hopes with anyone. Bjorn was the one person who could even begin to understand why Jack clung, and would continue to cling, to the knowledge that Daniel was out there somewhere, that he didn’t have to be gone forever. That he could come back.
And the people who actually shared that knowledge? Jack had to hide and lie to them, too. They could know he hoped. But they mustn’t know how desperately.
It sucked to be him. Get over it.
So he went back out into the living room and told all the non-classified Daniel stories that he could think of, and he made Bjorn roar with laughter more than once.
And when he was walking out to his truck later and a breeze ruffled his hair, he wondered if Daniel watched over them and approved.
At least once a month after that, Bjorn would invite Jack to dinner. And once, famously, to a Sunday morning of pickled herring, buttered rye toast and akvavit with a beer chaser that led to Jack napping on Bjorn’s couch most of the afternoon. Jack couldn’t quite remember at what point he started looking forward to their get-togethers. He even invited Bjorn over for his monthly poker game once.
Yeah, he probably should’ve asked if Bjorn knew how to play poker first.
But this particular dinner was a disaster zone and a minefield and….
This particular dinner had been postponed twice: once by Jack not calling to confirm and once by Jack calling to reschedule.
Bjorn had prepared fish with a light herbed cream sauce, boiled new potatoes with parsley butter, the ubiquitous cheese platter. Jack was sure it was all delicious, but it might as well have been cardboard. He wasn’t long out of the infirmary, and things in general were off kilter still, but there was more to it in this case.
He’d come to a decision.
“I can’t keep doing this.”
Bjorn stared, mouth a little bit open.
“I’m really sorry.”
Bjorn shook his head. Rubbed a hand over his mouth. “I’ll miss you.”
“Nah,” Jack said. “Not for long.” He quirked a smile, fought back a tide of loss.
Bjorn reached across the table and Jack took his hand. Held it tightly.
He drove home, parked, went inside. Locked up, used the bathroom, undressed. Got into bed.
Stared towards the ceiling.
He didn’t know, might never know, how much of it had been real. If any.
But now that he thought he’d seen Daniel, he couldn’t face Bjorn any more.
And if it really had been Daniel with him in his cell in Ba’al’s fortress, and not just an hallucination, then Bjorn had been right all along.
Because the love in Daniel’s eyes had been unmistakable.
Five months later Bjorn called and left a message. “You once wished me a good trip, Jack. I’m going home.”
Jack had been offworld for six days. He dialed Bjorn’s number frantically. It rang. He exhaled.
‘Hi! Hey! What’s this? Going back to Denmark?”
“Yes, it’s time.”
“Jeez. Fuck. I don’t know what to say.”
“Just wish me well.”
“You know I do. Right? You know that?”
Bjorn laughed. “Yes, Jack. I know that. And I wish you all the best as well. You know that, I hope?”
“Sure,” Jack said, holding his phone in a death grip. “Sure.”
“I would love to see you again before I leave.”
Jack opened his mouth but nothing came out.
“But I won’t,” Bjorn continued. “Because you were right. It was time for us both to move on.”
“Yeah, but not….” Jack took a deep breath. “You know where to find me.” He heard Bjorn exhale.
“I will email you my address when I am settled.”
“Best of luck. Best of everything. Bon voyage. All of that.”
It was three weeks later that they found Daniel.
THOUGH NEAR OR FAR
It wasn’t exactly a dream come true, but Jack would take it.
Certain elements were downright nightmarish, if you let yourself dwell, but Jack let himself be filled with relief instead.
Daniel was alive. That was the main thing. That was what Jack had hoped for, longed for all these months. Alive and come home, and if he was wary and uneasy that was only to be expected. That initial chilling look of rejection was gone, although Jack was probably never going to be able to forget it, and Daniel seemed to be accepting the truth of the things they all were telling him.
Daniel was here, and if he still looked at Jack like a complete stranger, at least it was more like Jack was a stranger that Daniel wouldn’t mind getting to know, now. That was progress, and in just a few short hours, too. Where there was life, there was hope and all that.
Jack had come close to giving up hope after the destruction of Abydos. He’d asked Daniel to step over a line, and Daniel had stepped and failed. Had vanished, leaving Jack with a black hole in his soul. But, lo, here he was, perfectly intact except for his memories and not the least bit glowy. Almost a dream come true.
Thing was, Jack found himself still missing his friend and unable to help wondering if he was ever really going to see him again. The man in the bed wrapped in bandages and wracked with pain hadn’t been Daniel anymore. The not-so-helpful being who’d appeared in the cell of Ba’al’s Funhouse hadn’t been Daniel. The fierce protector of Abydos had exuded a power that wasn’t anything like Daniel. And this man who looked at Jack without an ounce of recognition was even further away from being Daniel than the others had been.
Still. Jack would definitely take it.
A week to kill before the mission that was probably going to fry all their butts; the mission that surpassed all others for wackiness, no matter what Carter said, and only partly due to the wackiness of blithely sending an amnesiac off to prowl around on a mothership. A week not to be wasted, and Jack was biting back his impulse to swoop down on Daniel and carry him off to his lair willy-nilly.
His restraint lasted about a day and a half.
He found Daniel and Jonas together in ‘their’ office, heads bent over a document. Jonas looked up. “Colonel.”
Daniel looked at him. “Hi, um, Jack.”
Not Jim. Not quite. Jack smiled a little. “Lunch?”
Daniel blinked and opened his mouth, looking around at the books and papers spread out on the desk.
Jonas eyed Daniel and then looked at Jack, eyebrows raised, a thumb pointing towards Daniel.
Jack lifted his chin.
“I’m grabbing something later with Teal’c, if that’s okay,” Jonas said. “But, Daniel, you should go. I’ll keep working on this passage and you can check it over when you get back.”
“Ahhh… okay.” More with the blinking.
Jack gave Jonas a nod. “Come on, Daniel. Don’t want them to run out of macaroni and cheese. It’s your favorite.”
Daniel stood up, adjusted his glasses and scratched his head. “I get the feeling there’s a joke in there somewhere.”
Jack’s smile was more genuine this time.
The way Daniel was concentrating on cleaning his plate, you’d think mac and cheese really was his favorite. Or that he just didn’t want to talk. Didn’t want to be here.
Jack sighed. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
Daniel, hunched forward, looked up warily, fork poised halfway to his mouth.
Jack’s reassuring smile failed utterly.
Daniel frowned and put down his fork. “Did you want to talk to me about something?”
Jack shrugged and went for it. “I thought you might enjoy getting out from under this mountain for a few days. You could come stay in my guest room. Hammond’s okayed it.”
Daniel stared at the center of Jack’s forehead for a second or two, then his gaze dropped to Jack’s left shoulder. His lips curved, very slightly. “I’m not sure that’s wise.”
“After your comment in the meeting yesterday? About not wanting witnesses?”
“That was more or less a joke,” Jack responded stiffly.
Daniel’s lips curved a little more. “I don’t know. This could just be a clever plan to get me away from here so you can hide the body where no one will ever be able to find it.”
“I guess there’s only one way to find out.”
Daniel showed his teeth and nodded, biting his lip and ducking his head.
Jack O’Neill was not, and never had been, a dancing man.
His feet went into a spontaneous step, step, slide, step as he walked back to his office after lunch.
His face, in the mirror of the nearest men’s john, was flushed. Down, fool, he told himself harshly.
He’d broken out in dance this way only one other time that he remembered, when a letter from Sara had reached him, halfway around the world. He’d had to leave her barely a month after she’d discovered she was pregnant, only eleven months after a miscarriage. //Would you please tell your child to stop kicking me?// His mission still wasn’t over and there would be no going home yet, but Jack’s heart had been light as a feather and his relief and joy had had to find expression somehow.
This… this, though.
What the hell was his subconscious thinking?
Yeah, like he didn’t know. Jack took a deep breath and let it out. Consciously relaxed. Smiled ruefully at the face in the mirror and the light of happiness he saw shining in the eyes reflected there.
When he swung by to pick Daniel up, Daniel was having second thoughts.
“I’m just not sure I’m really ready to go out there and,” Daniel waved an arm, “face the world, you know? It’s… I can’t even begin to describe it.”
“You don’t ever have to leave the truck,” Jack said. “Well, except to walk into the house. I suppose you could stay in the truck and sleep in the driveway.”
Daniel gave him a look that was something close to the glare of old, but with an underlying layer of fear.
“There’s nothing to face. Really.”
“I just don’t feel good about it,” Daniel mumbled, looking uncomfortable.
Jack rubbed his jaw. Sniffed. “It really was a joke, you know.”
“What?” Daniel squinted at him, blinking.
“The bit about wanting no witnesses.”
Daniel’s jaw dropped.
“Total joke. Honest.”
Daniel gaped at him for another two seconds and then burst into laughter.
“C’mon,” Jack said, nodding towards the doorway. He could feel himself beaming.
Nothing on the drive home seemed to ring any bells. Except McDonald’s. “They make good coffee, right?” Daniel asked.
Apparently his brain had some peculiar priorities when it came to restoring his memory. Big surprise, there. When hadn’t Daniel’s brain had its own particular way of doing business and leaving most other brains behind in the dust?
As Jack twisted his key in the front door, Daniel blurted, “There’s a deck out back.”
Jack’s hand shook for a second. He got the knob turned and the key out. He turned his head to look at Daniel. “Right.”
Daniel smiled broadly. “Right.”
They stepped into the hall. Daniel looked around, looked at Jack.
“Bedrooms are down here,” Jack said. Daniel followed him into the guest room and Jack tossed Daniel’s duffel bag down on the bed. “Bathroom’s across the hall. I’m across the hall.” He headed for the door. “I’ll give you a minute, to unpack or whatever.” His fingers tapped against the doorframe as he watched Daniel looking around the room. “Oh, yeah, there’re probably some things that fit you in the dresser.”
Daniel looked at him blankly for a second and then gestured with his thumb. “More of my personal things that you’ve been keeping alive?”
Jack shrugged and smiled. “What can I say? I had a feeling.”
Daniel simply stood and looked at him for so long that Jack started to feel twitchy.
“Nothing,” Daniel answered, sounding bemused. “What’s next?”
“After I unpack?” Daniel elevated both eyebrows.
“Beer,” Jack answered immediately. “And food. In that order.”
“Am I a beer drinker?”
“You’re a total lush.” Jack kept a perfectly straight face. “You’ll guzzle whatever’s put in front of you.”
“Ah.” Daniel nodded. “Good to know.”
Jack did not dance down the hallway to the kitchen, but it was a near thing.
Daniel stood in front of the empty fireplace, hands in his pockets, surveying the room. He barely seemed to register Jack’s approach, and he obviously didn’t notice the beer Jack was offering until Jack cleared his throat.
“Oh.” Both hands came out of the pockets and one took the beer, and then the other rose and hovered in midair as Daniel stared down at the bottle.
Jack’s toes curled.
“We’ve done this before,” Daniel said slowly.
“You’ve been here lots of times.”
The hovering hand landed on Jack’s forearm and gripped hard. “No, just like this. Just….” Daniel raised his head and looked at Jack. “Standing right here.”
“Yeah,” Jack breathed.
“Oh,” Daniel said, his hand falling away. “Oh.” He took a step backwards. “It was after Sha’re was taken, wasn’t it? When I came home from Abydos.” He looked away. “Except I didn’t have a home.”
He looked so forlorn that Jack had to reach out and put a hand on his shoulder. “And nobody quite seemed to know what to do with you, so I brought you here.”
Daniel’s eyes crinkled as he smiled painfully. “It’s getting to be a habit, isn’t it?”
Jack squeezed his shoulder gently and let his hand drop. “Let’s call it ‘tradition’, shall we? Sounds so much better.” He lifted his beer and clinked his bottle against the neck of Daniel’s bottle.
Daniel looked overwhelmed. “Okay, I have a tradition. That’s new.”
“First of many.” Jack took a long, cool chug, never taking his eyes from Daniel’s face.
“I’ll drink to that. Yeah.” Daniel gave him a shaky smile, and drank.
Jack stood in the hallway outside the guest room’s ajar door listening to Daniel breathing, like he’d done every night since that first one. Because Jack woke up every night and had to go convince himself that it was all real before he could go back to sleep. It was going to take time for him to get past that, to accept Daniel’s presence, his existence, as natural.
Daniel needed more time, too. Memories were coming back every day, sometimes out of the blue and sometimes specific to the task at hand or the conversation taking place. Five minutes on the firing range and Daniel was shooting as well as he ever had, and he stripped and cleaned his weapons afterwards with all the speed his skilled fingers had always brought to bear. Sometimes he remembered random details of missions as soon as he got the file opened to read. He remembered why macaroni and cheese was a joke, and saw flashes of that tastes-like-chicken feast so long ago now on Abydos-that-was.
History and languages, Earth and alien, on the other hand, came back to him in torrents. Jack got used to it, to Daniel breaking off in mid-sentence to stare intently at nothing for minutes at a time. He’d only interrupted Daniel once, just to make sure it could be done, just to make sure that Daniel was in control of himself and simply choosing to wallow in the influx of knowledge. “You need to be able to focus,” he’d said warningly, and Daniel had nodded and patted his arm.
Daniel was still a long, long way from being Daniel, though, and his brain’s timetable was hopefully just relegating all the touchy-feely human interaction bits to the back of the line, because he didn’t seem to be relating to people on any kind of level that counted. He seemed to regard Sam as a nice, interesting woman, and Teal’c as a teammate and fount of knowledge. Jack figured that Daniel probably thought of him as a friend, or at least a potential friend, after all the time they’d spent together here at the house, but he didn’t ever have the impression that Daniel remembered their friendship no matter how many isolated memories might be pointing to the fact that a friendship really had once existed.
And Daniel hadn’t mentioned Bjorn once, which continued to freak Jack out on a daily basis.
Hopefully, hopefully those things that made life really worth living were going to come back to Daniel in time. Jack just hoped they both were going to have all the time they needed.
Their mission was in the morning.
No mission ever goes as planned. They got lucky. Jonas and Daniel disappeared into the ether and then the SGC got a collect call from Kelowna and everything worked out. Although most of Jack’s younger-than-springtime bounciness of the previous week had disappeared right along with Daniel, never to return, because he really, really hadn’t needed the reminder that having Daniel back meant that he could lose Daniel again at any point.
Nearly lost him to a damn staff blast, in fact – shades of Ra. If Jonas Quinn hadn’t already proven himself, he still would’ve earned his erst-while spot on SG-1 retroactively by pushing Daniel to safety and taking the hit himself. Shades of Daniel Jackson. Jack wondered if Daniel remembered that moment, that first death. He claimed that everything was starting to come back to him, but who knew what that meant. And how would he even know? Huge gaping holes in your life, sure, hard to miss – but what about the more subtle gaps?
The team, the old team, the new, restored team, had whooped it up tiredly at Jack’s place until Teal’c announced his desire to kel’no’reem. Carter was driving him back to the Mountain and Jack had popped out to the nearest mini-mart to pick up a few things for the morning, leaving Daniel to put food away and load the dishwasher. He parked the truck, shut off the engine, grabbed the handles of his sacks and climbed out, locking the doors with his keychain remote.
Up the path, onto the porch, through the door. Jack threw the bolt behind him. “Lucy, I’m home!”
There was a muffled sound from the kitchen, and Daniel appeared in the dining room. His glasses were off and he was rubbing at one of his eyes.
“Tired?” Jack asked.
Daniel gave an odd, breathless huff of laughter. “Not even a little.”
The hall and dining room were dark, and Daniel’s face was cast into shadow by the light on the kitchen ceiling behind him. “You all right?” Jack asked. Daniel stepped forward through the dining room and into the hallway, into the faint glow cast through the louvered windows by the porch light. Jack saw the moisture glittering in his eyes. He bent down and lowered the sacks to the floor. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Another breathless laugh. “Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s right. Everything’s right now. I remember, Jack. I… only bits and pieces, but….” Daniel came closer, reached for Jack, gripping the lapels of his jacket. “Couldn’t you have told me?”
“Whoa,” Jack said, starting to get that breathless feeling himself. “Wanna fill me in on what you’re talking about?”
Daniel shook his head, and then nodded, laughing again. “Yes. Yes, I really, really do. I do. Oh, Jack.”
Jack found himself being kissed. His knees nearly caved in. His hair stood on end. He thought his heart might literally have skipped a beat.
Still being kissed, Daniel pressing in closer. Like he’d gotten some encouragement. Jack moaned. Daniel whispered something against his lips. Jack raised his hands, meant to use them to push Daniel away. There were questions to be asked. Something wasn’t… his hands clutched at Daniel, pulling him in tight as Daniel’s tongue swept past his lips and swirled around his mouth.
And then it wasn’t just Daniel doing the kissing anymore. Jack’s head tilted, his lips slid and pushed, his tongue sought warmth. One step back, pulling Daniel with him, both pairs of lips clinging, and Jack was up against the wall. He parted his legs and Daniel’s thigh nestled between his, rubbed. They murmured into each other’s mouths. Daniel’s hands lost their death-grip on his jacket and one buried itself in Jack’s hair while the other cupped the back of his head. Sparks flickered from Jack’s skull all the way down his spine.
Daniel lifted his mouth from Jack’s and spoke quietly, rapidly. Jack, dizzy and warm, watched his lips moving in the dim light, struggled to put meaning to the sounds he was hearing.
“Even on Vis Uban, even when I knew nothing, nothing, somehow I knew. I knew, Jack. I looked around me at all the couples, young and old, and I knew that a part of me was missing. I felt it. Somewhere there was someone I loved, someone who loved me.” A warm, lingering kiss to Jack’s frozen lips. “But I didn’t know it was you, not until tonight. How could I not remember? How could I have forgotten you? This? Us?”
Jack moved clumsily to block Daniel’s next kiss, his fist pushing Daniel’s chin up. “Stop. Stop.” His words shattered in the air around them.
Daniel went very still, his eyes very wide. “Jack?”
“There is no ‘us.’ Never was.” He couldn’t control how harsh that sounded.
“No.” Daniel shook his head.
“You’re confused; you only think you remember….”
“No. No!” Daniel pushed away. He pointed at Jack. “You kissed me back.”
Jack straightened up from the wall. “That was wrong. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“You love me! Tell me I’m imagining that! Tell me you didn’t stand in my living room and tell me how much you loved me, wanted to be with me.”
Jack closed his eyes against the accusation in Daniel’s trembling voice. “I’m sorry. I should have stopped you. But it was everything I ever wanted.” His own voice sounded remarkably calm. Dead. Dead calm. He opened his eyes and felt two tears roll slowly down his cheeks. “That part’s true. I told you I loved you, just like you remember.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You were with someone else.”
“It wasn’t me.” Jack wiped away the tears. “It was never me.”
Daniel turned abruptly, stumbling away into the shadows by the front door.
Jack listened to him breathing. Heard his breath hitch.
Daniel’s shocked whisper pierced Jack’s heart. “Bjorn!”
I’VE LOVED YOU SO
“Bjorn,” Daniel said again. “Oh, God.”
“Oh, God,” Jack agreed quietly.
Daniel set his back against the front door and slid down it until he was sitting on the floor. “I forgot him completely.” His voice was soft and sad.
“Not your fault,” Jack said.
“No.” Daniel sighed. “Still. God, I feel like a murderer.” He drew his knees up and laid his arms atop them and lowered his face, burying it.
Jack fidgeted. The taste of Daniel was still on his lips; his body felt alive and eager. It hadn’t quite gotten the message yet that things had gone back to the way they’d always been. Only thing changed was that Jack had about two minutes now that were worth remembering.
Even if Daniel was probably already trying to forget them. His loss. Jack would hang onto them, relive them….
Daniel raised his head and leaned it back against the door. Jack couldn’t see his expression, just the glimmer of his eyes. “I’m sorry, Jack.”
“Oh, what for?” Jack mumbled, an unwelcome wave of bitterness rising within him. He didn’t want to have to listen to this.
“Not for kissing you. That was so nice.” Daniel sounded… wistful.
“I was confused – you were right about that, obviously. The things I remembered and the things I didn’t remember… wow. I’m gonna need some time. I don’t know how much. Time to remember. To think things through.”
Jack took a few steps, until he was towering over Daniel. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Daniel tilted his head to look up at him. “I’ll probably dream about Bjorn tonight. It, it seems to work that way, a lot. I’ll remember, or start to remember someone, something, and then I’ll dream.” He looked down. “I’ll know more in the morning.” He ran his thumb and forefinger along the side seam of his slacks.
“Okay,” Jack said slowly. “And what’s the apology for?”
“For making you wait,” Daniel said, sounding surprised.
“Wait for what?”
“For… for I don’t know what, Jack. Didn’t I just say I’d know more in the morning?”
“That was snippy,” Jack admonished lightly. “Just trying to get some kind of clue about what’s goin’ on in that head of yours.”
“Yeah. Um.” Daniel patted the floor beside him. “Join me for a minute?”
Jack flipped a mental coin. It came up tails. So he lowered himself down beside Daniel before he complained that there were more comfortable places to hold enigmatic conversations. The nudge from Daniel’s elbow was gentle, so Jack’s “ow” was strictly a formality.
“Listen, Jack. I obviously made a mistake tonight. Jumped to a conclusion. I thought I’d solved a puzzle.” Daniel snorted. “I had no idea how many pieces were still missing.”
“I understand,” Jack said.
“Two big ones, really. I think. I’m probably still theorizing ahead of my data, here.”
“So wait until morning, then.” Jack leaned on his right hand and bent his left knee to give it a rub.
“No, listen, Jack. I want to say this now.”
“Talk to me.”
“I need to figure out what my feelings for Bjorn were. And are, although that doesn’t matter so much. I’m assuming he thinks I’m dead?”
“So that’s a closed avenue, no matter what. After what I put him through already.” Daniel nodded to himself. “I’m going to have to make sure I don’t run into him anywhere. I can’t even imagine what that would do to him, if he saw me. I’m just glad that I don’t need to keep a low profile in general, since no announcement of my death was ever made, right? There’s just Bjorn to avoid?”
“No, actually, you don’t have to avoid him. He moved back to Denmark.”
“He did?” Daniel was silent for a minute. “He really missed his family,” he said finally, fondly.
“Yeah,” Jack said, thinking about his dinners with Bjorn and the way they’d both talked about their families. His lips curved in a smile that he supposed could probably be called fond without pissing him off.
“The other thing.” Daniel laid his hand lightly atop Jack’s. “The other big thing.”
Jack’s hand started tingling. “Yeah?”
“I wasn’t completely wrong tonight. I had some of it right.”
“How so?” Jack croaked.
Daniel’s hand squeezed his. “I was right about how you felt about me. And I remembered how I felt about you, and that makes how I’ve been feeling make a lot more sense, now. Because I’ve been drawn to you ever since I came home, but I had no context for what I was feeling. And, you know, really no time to think about it very much.”
Jack turned his head and found that Daniel was looking at him, too, although both of their expressions were obscured by shadows. Jack’s heart thudded.
“So the other big thing I need time to learn about and think about? Is why I’ve apparently changed my mind.”
“Because I think I’ve been in love with you for years.”
Jack let that soak in for a second. “But now?”
“But now? Now I wonder what suddenly makes it seem like a really good idea.”
The tingle that had started in Jack’s hand abruptly shot clear down to his toes.
“Haven’t you got anything to say?” Daniel asked, sounding a little uncertain.
“Just this,” Jack breathed, pulling his hand out from under Daniel’s and sliding it between Daniel and the door, and up to grasp his far shoulder for a bit of leverage as he twisted onto his hip and brought his other hand over to cup Daniel’s face. “Just this.” He brought their mouths together and poured all his heart and soul into his kiss.
It was their first kiss, after all; their second first kiss, because Daniel hadn’t realized that the first one was their first one.
It totally counted as a first kiss.
And it was the best first kiss yet. Until Daniel pulled away, all too soon. But even then Daniel’s thumb stroked Jack’s lips while Daniel breathed heavily and Jack tried to synchronize his own heavy breathing with Daniel’s and to ignore the fact that his right leg was falling asleep. He tried to shift his weight to alleviate the pressure, and couldn’t help wincing. Daniel’s thumb registered it, of course.
Daniel laughed at him. “There are more comfortable places for this kind of thing, too. And, no, that’s not an invitation.”
“Because then you’d be spending the night dreaming about me.” Jack nipped at Daniel’s thumb. “I guarantee it.”
Daniel hesitated, and his tone was serious when he said, “I had to tell you. But, like I said, this is going to take some time. I don’t know how long. And I don’t have any guarantees to offer you.”
The floor felt a lot harder as Jack’s bright vision of the future wavered and faded. He let Daniel go and worked his way slowly to his feet.
“Hello, reality?” Daniel said softly.
“Yeah.” Jack stuck out a hand to help Daniel up. Daniel took it and Jack pulled. Daniel put a hand on Jack’s chest to stop his forward momentum, and Jack covered it with his. “I’ll wait. You’ve given me something to wait for, at least. No pressure.”
Jack let go of his hand and touched his face. “No pressure,” he repeated, and then stepped away to pick up the sacks of groceries he’d abandoned earlier. “I’ll get this stuff put away. You should probably head off to bed. You’ve got a lot of dreaming to do.” He didn’t look back as he started across the dining room to the kitchen.
Daniel moved out the next day, back to the Mountain. “Time and space,” he said over his cornflakes. “I’ll think more clearly away from here.”
“Tryin’ hard here not to read anything into that,” Jack commented in a low voice, through a throat that suddenly ached from tightness.
Daniel looked across the table at him for a long time. “You should only read good things into that,” he finally said, turning his attention back to his cereal bowl.
Jack found himself smiling fatuously at the Kellogg’s rooster.
Time doesn’t fly when you’re not having fun.
Daniel’s required time for thinking and remembering expanded until approximately an eon had passed since breakfast at Jack’s kitchen table. The calendar said it had been less than a week, but Jack wasn’t buying that lie. Who was he going to believe – some piece of paper, or the bags under his eyes? Daniel looked well-rested, at least, so hopefully he was dreaming his way into Jack’s waiting arms, however gradually. He was well out of reach at the moment, though, and Jack sensed pining in his immediate future if things didn’t start looking up.
And then the space between them collapsed down into a singularity as Daniel literally collapsed into Jack’s arms one morning in Hammond’s office.
He was remembering dying.
Which turned out to hold the last pieces of the puzzle for him.
“I put everything else first, ahead of what I wanted, dreamed of. The program, what would happen if we were found out, what would happen to you, to your career, the disgrace. We’d even be putting Earth at risk.” Daniel shook his head. “Guess I had a pretty inflated idea of my own importance in that respect, huh?”
“At least you understood how vital I was,” Jack joked weakly, uncertain how to deal with Daniel in this kind of mood, uncertain of where all this was going. He shifted uncomfortably on the couch. Daniel was never one to rush to the punchline when he could draw a story out, and he wasn’t looking especially happy, now or when he’d turned up on Jack’s doorstep ten minutes ago.
Daniel glared at him briefly. “That’s part of the problem, actually. I let you mean too much to me. I let myself….” He looked down at his lap, at his hands, at his thumb rubbing across his knuckles. “I fell for you while Sha’re was still out there, alive. Mentally, emotionally, I was unfaithful to my wife, all the time she was suffering….”
Daniel squinted at Jack, eyes moist. “That left kind of a bad taste in my mouth, you know?”
“Sure,” Jack admitted. “I can understand that.”
“I told you it could never work between us, that we’d wind up killing each other. I believed that. I had to, to convince you. To convince myself. I believed all of it.”
“And there was Bjorn,” Jack added.
Daniel smiled reminiscently. “I’m really glad you got to know him, Jack. You know what a good person he is, what a pleasure just being in the same room with him can be.”
“I know just how much he loved you, too.”
Daniel sniffed and nodded. “I could never love him the same way.” He smiled. “But I sure gave it a good try. He was happy to be with me and I wasn’t looking for anyone else. So I loved him as much as I could, and I made him as happy as I could.” He sniffed again. “He deserved a lot better. I should have given him the chance to find someone who could really give him their whole heart.”
“I’m sure he’d disagree with that.”
“Well. Probably. Anyway, maybe he’ll have that chance now.” Daniel looked away. “I really want that for him,” he said with sudden ferocity.
“Sure,” Jack said inadequately.
Daniel looked back and smiled shakily. “Anyway.”
“Anyway,” Jack prompted.
“Anyway, everything changed when I was dying. All the things that I told myself, all the excuses… they just went away. Dissolved. It was the end and I’d… I’d cheated us both. I’d left you with nothing to remember and cheated us both out of a chance at happiness, even if it was only temporary. And I finally realized why I’d done it. My real reason.”
Jack tilted his head and started to form the question on his lips.
“I was afraid. I was cowering in fear and doing everything I could to avoid what I was most afraid of.”
The word tumbled from Jack’s lips this time. “What?”
“Every time we went through the Stargate, there was a chance that one of us wasn’t coming back. And I was terrified that it would be you.” Daniel closed his eyes. “And that I’d be left behind.”
“Again,” Jack said after a few seconds. “Again. I get it.”
“Childhood trauma has a way of sticking around, I guess.” Daniel smiled sadly and opened his eyes. “Just far enough under the surface to fool you.”
Jack wanted to wrap his arms around Daniel and he tried to show that with his eyes. From the change in Daniel’s smile he was pretty sure his message had gotten across.
“So what it all boiled down to in the end was that I was the one going and you were the one being left behind, and I realized how wrong I’d been about everything and how I’d managed to screw up three lives and that it was too late to do anything about it.”
“You said you’d made a mistake,” Jack remembered. “Then you said Bjorn’s name.”
“Did I? I must have been pretty far gone by then. I don’t really remember that.”
“I thought you were sorry you hadn’t let me bring him to you.”
“God, no. I would never have tortured him that way.” Daniel looked horrified.
“Do you think you were trying to tell me? What you’d realized?”
Daniel shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. I’d pretty much decided it would only hurt you more to hear it like that. I suppose I must have been talking to Oma.”
“Do you want me to promise not to do that anymore, Jack?”
“Please. I implore you.” Jack tried to make it sound light, but he knew Daniel could tell how much he meant it.
“I’ll promise to do my best.” Daniel raised his shoulders in a minute shrug.
“I’ll take it.”
Daniel smiled at him.
“So,” Jack said.
“Sounds to me like we’re doing this thing.”
“Does it?” Daniel’s eyebrows lifted high and scrunched together.
“No more time.” Jack shifted across the couch and pressed his body against Daniel’s. “No more space.”
“You sure, Jack? Are you really, really sure you want to get involved with a basket case like me?”
“Try and stop me.”
Finally, Daniel looked happy.
Daniel had a sensitive spot behind his ear. All Jack had to do was brush his lips against it to make Daniel shudder.
Daniel had soft, soft skin behind his knees. Jack’s hands had never seemed so rough to him as he stroked there repeatedly, captivated.
Daniel’s testicles were different sizes, and both could endure only the lightest of touches until he was fully aroused. Jack tried to make his lips as soft as possible when he kissed them.
Daniel’s nipples begged to be sucked. Daniel sighed when Jack responded and gasped when Jack’s teeth scraped the tiny erect buds, slowly, over and over.
Daniel’s cock fit into Jack’s hand perfectly. Daniel said so, his voice unsteady.
Daniel’s hands were tender as they explored Jack’s body with care and curiosity. His mouth asked questions, whispered passion, catalogued Daniel’s observations aloud. Jack hadn’t known himself capable of blushing so much. Or moaning as loudly as he moaned when Daniel’s tongue slid into his mouth. He hadn’t known that Daniel’s weight pressing him into the mattress would be such heaven. He hadn’t known he could be this excited without feeling any sense of urgency.
He hadn’t known it would be like this. He’d only dreamed.
“What do you want, Jack? What have you dreamed of the most? Tell me.” Daniel kissed his way up Jack’s chest.
“You want me to choose? Right now?” Maybe he was still dreaming. He stroked Daniel’s back, which felt real enough – strong and warm against his palms and fingertips.
“We have to start somewhere,” Daniel murmured against Jack’s jaw.
Jack knew the answer, knew it immediately the question was asked, but he took a moment to pretend to think it over anyway. Daniel was licking his neck and rubbing a nipple, and Jack didn’t see any reason to rush from delightful foreplay to actual sex without taking another few seconds to enjoy those sensations.
And then, suddenly, the words didn’t want to come out.
Daniel raised his head and looked down at Jack, examining his face, staring into his eyes. “I’m guessing you want to fuck me.”
Jack relaxed and nodded. “Yeah.”
“Yeah. Good. Because I was hoping you were going to say that.”
“Yeah?” Jack slid his hands down to cup Daniel’s ass.
Daniel nodded, grinning, eyes sparkling. “Have you got what we need?”
Jack gestured at the night table. “Condoms and lube in the drawer.” He’d shopped right after Daniel had moved out, as though he could bring this day about just by using his American Express card.
Daniel crawled off Jack and reached for the drawer.
Jack scooted himself to the other edge of the bed, making room for Daniel to…. “Hey.”
“How are we going to do this?” Daniel replied.
“Yeah.” Jack patted Daniel’s knee. “Guess I’ll leave that up to you.”
Daniel handed Jack the lube and started to tear open the condom packet. “It’ll probably be easiest if I lie on my stomach this time. Technically, you know, it’s sort of my first time.”
“What? Oh. Yeah, I suppose it is.” Jack hadn’t looked at it that way, even as he’d noticed the lack of an appendectomy scar. He wasn’t sure he wanted to look at it that way. Kinda ramped up the pressure on him, didn’t it?
“Only technically.” Daniel rolled the condom down over Jack’s cock, the tip of his tongue sticking out as he concentrated. Satisfied, he leaned in to give Jack a kiss. “But don’t worry; I remember how it works.”
“You’re freaking me out,” Jack complained.
“Oh, come on, Jack! You get the best of both worlds.” Daniel arranged himself on his stomach and turned his head towards Jack. “Tight as a virgin, but without any of those awkward first time nerves.” His voice had turned husky.
“I’ve got enough for both of us,” Jack muttered. “Thanks for sharing, though.”
“Are you confessing your virginity? Or just….”
“Just,” Jack clarified. “You, me, first time.”
“First of many.” Daniel turned his face to the mattress, taking a deep breath. “Go slow.”
Daniel’s ass was perfection. The visual line from the dip in his spine to the swell of his cheeks was breathtaking, and the bulge of his balls where his legs parted made Jack’s cock give a little jerk. His anus was tight and pink when Jack pushed his cheeks apart. The musky aroma of his cleft was enticing and Jack swooped down for a taste, teasing at the wrinkled entrance with his tongue’s tip.
Daniel swore and clutched at the sheets.
Jack wriggled his way in, just an inch, then in and out, flickering.
Daniel heaved his ass up for more and Jack obliged. Daniel shook.
“Nice,” Jack commented, lifting up. “You like that.”
“I’m going to like everything you do.” Daniel sounded dazed.
“Cool. Then you’ll like my fingers.” Jack stroked lube around and into Daniel’s hole.
Daniel did like Jack’s fingers. One, two, three of them, and then he started over. Go slow. He didn’t go looking for Daniel’s prostate, although he obviously brushed against it a couple of times, based on Daniel’s twitching and vocal reaction. Jack worked up to three fingers four times, and Daniel’s loosened opening stayed open for him when he withdrew his hand the last time.
Daniel sounded like he was praying.
Jack slathered lube onto the condom and shuffled between Daniel’s legs, which slid wider at the first contact of cock against anus. Jack paused for a second, just a second, because it suddenly seemed like a good time to say it. “I love you.”
Jack pressed slowly in. How many times had he jerked off fantasizing about this moment? His imagination had let him down. He’d never fantasized anything this hot and tight and alive. “You okay?”
Daniel was gasping for air. He gave Jack a thumbs up.
Jack patted Daniel’s back and then rocked and rotated his hips, settling in, getting comfortable, enjoying the snug feel of Daniel’s passage as it clenched and loosened around him. Go slow. He pulled back, halfway out, and pushed back in. He and Daniel both grunted. He did that a dozen more times before pulling back farther, poising there for a second, and sinking down all the way in.
“Fuck,” Daniel said, voice trembling. “More.”
Jack gave him more, more of the same, stopped pausing at the top and started just plunging back in.
Go slow. How could Jack possibly do anything other than go slow when he wanted this to last forever? He’d never loved a man before. Sex with guys had always been a hurry-up, bang bang affair. Sex with his wife had rarely been at this slow pace, at least for this long of a time. Middle-age had a few things going for it. Jack could keep this up for a while, maybe until Daniel was close to the edge….
Daniel cried out and was over the edge before Jack could fully comprehend what was happening, his hips bucking as wildly as they could under Jack’s weight and his head arching up off the bed. “Ngghh!”
“Daniel,” Jack whispered.
Daniel cried out once more and collapsed. Sobbed once. Groaned. Clenched around Jack’s cock and gave it what felt like a deliberate squeeze.
The virtues of middle-age disappeared and Jack was as anxious to pop his cork as any teenage boy. Embarrassingly filthy things poured out of his mouth and Daniel’s entire body shuddered, possibly with laughter but there was no time to think about that now. No more going slow, only Jack’s driving need to bury his seed deep inside Daniel, to come inside him for the first time, the first of many, Daniel had said so, there would be more of this, years of this, Daniel loved him….
A shout was torn from his body as he came.
“Yeah, come on, Jack. Come.”
“Uhhh.” Another shot fired. White-out.
Daniel’s back was warm and sweaty. Their hearts were knocking against each other. One of them was trembling; Jack couldn’t tell who. His language center seemed to be offline, but then Daniel wasn’t saying anything either. They appeared to be holding hands, although Jack couldn’t remember when that happened. The mingled scents of musk, sweat and lube filled the air. His cock was softening inside Daniel’s body.
Jack thought he could get used to this.
He lifted his head. “Huh?”
“I love you, but you’re getting heavy.”
Jack let the words soak in for a minute, rubbing his nose against Daniel’s shoulder. “Okay.” He lifted himself away, snagging the condom before it could make a mess. He rolled to his feet and shuffled off to the bathroom to dispose of it and to clean himself up.
Daniel appeared in the doorway, scratching at the streaks of dried come on his belly. “I’m gonna take a quick shower.”
“Okay.” Jack couldn’t help smiling sappily.
Daniel gave him a tired grin and a quick, sloppy kiss. “Think you could change the sheets?”
“Oh, I see now how this is going to be.”
Daniel turned on the shower and stepped in, sticking out his tongue just before closing the curtain.
Jack had never, ever, in his life felt happier while changing a bed.
But of course that couldn’t begin to match the happiness he felt a short time later, lying on the clean sheets, holding a clean Daniel, who had curled around Jack and rested his head on his chest like it had always belonged there.
“You know,” Daniel said sleepily, “Bjorn told me once, that night he broke up with me… after he met you?”
“He told me that if he went back to Denmark I’d miss him for a little while and then I’d move on.” Daniel yawned and stroked Jack’s stomach. “But that if you moved to Minnesota or anywhere else, the very core of my life would be cut out.”
Jack stretched to kiss Daniel’s forehead.
“He was right, of course,” Daniel murmured. “I should have listened to him.”
“He’s one smart fella,” Jack said, smiling at the ceiling.
Four months had passed.
They were both still alive. Jack would never tire of pointing that out to Daniel, either.
The reality was turning out to be even better than the dream. Christmas was coming, but Jack felt he’d already received his gift. Not that he was going to object to a nice bottle of Irish whiskey, or season tickets to the Avalanche, or… well, he wasn’t going to object to anything, really. Life was damn good, on those occasions when he wasn’t actively running for it.
Garlic bread was heating in the oven and Daniel was at the stove, stirring a pot of soup. Canned, but hey. At least Daniel added seasonings instead of just dumping the contents into a pot and heating. Sometimes the seasonings were a little weird, true, but Jack wasn’t about to complain.
Jack was at the little table in the corner of the kitchen, tackling three days worth of accumulated mail. Junk. Bills. Season’s Greetings, which was also sometimes junk or bills.
The stamp caught his eye first. Then the postmark. Then the return address. He looked up at Daniel’s back before wielding the letter opener.
A card with snow-covered fields and a horse-drawn carriage and a light in the steeple of a distant church on the front. A photograph tucked away inside. Jack looked at the photo for a long minute and then read the card.
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas coming your way
from across the ocean.
All is merry and bright here.
I wish also that the New Year will bring you all the
happiness you so richly deserve.
Jack turned the photo over and smiled at what he found there. “Daniel.”
Daniel turned towards him, wiping his hands on a towel, and came over, eyebrows elevated inquisitively.
Jack handed him the photo, face up.
Daniel gazed at it. His lips parted.
“Read the back,” Jack said softly.
This is Niels.
I think he’s teaching me to love again.
Daniel turned the photo back over. He smiled, blinking rapidly, and stroked it with a gentle fingertip.
Bjorn was standing in front of a Christmas tree with his arm around a tall, slender man with a high forehead and very blond hair. They were beaming at the camera.
Their sweaters matched.