When the World is Upside Down
J/D relationship, AU, Drama/Angst, Mature, Season 5, Post-Menace
Summary: Post-Menace, Daniel leaves, & it’s up to Jack to make things right.
Note: #JD Promptathon 2019
Chapter One: When Love Inexplicably Leaves
With only one unbroken hand, Daniel set the last of his personal things in the box and sealed it shut with clear packing tape. It held the last of his library and the shelves now looked lonely. Past his shut office door, he heard the passing bootsteps of Stargate personnel and it made him sad. He’d grown used to the sound; it used to be comforting. He went to the now-empty desk and grabbed his keys off the surface, then left the room, locking it up behind him.
In the elevator, with seven others, he kept to the back, hoping none of them turned to engage him in conversation. But he contradicted himself by feeling even more lonely when none of them did. Eventually, he got to sub-level 1 and transferred to the main elevator. So far, he hadn’t been stopped or interfered with by Sam, Teal’c, or Janet. He didn’t want to face them, which was a departure from his normal behavior; he was a man who faced everything. But that was no longer true. He was running, and he didn’t give a shit. He needed distance, to get his emotions under control and to grieve. He’d lost a friend as well as a lover in one Colonel Jack O’Neill. And he had no damn idea why.
. . .
Daniel sat at the kitchen table, his laptop browser open to Archaeology.org. As he scanned blog entry titles, his mind was elsewhere, rewinding the last mission, starting when they entered the room with the energy reading and found Reece.
He and Jack had been looking at her as she lay on the dais, and when Jack had pulled the semi-transparent sheath off her face and head, Daniel had … set the tone for the next day right there. He had been annoyed with Jack for moving the cloth because he felt it was his purview to act on all archaeological artifacts; the woman on the slab qualified. He should have been the one to remove the cloth. There had been no valid reason for his reaction and Jack apparently agreed because he had shrugged and rolled his eyes. It was Jack Speak for “I did it, let’s move on.”
Daniel’s annoyance hadn’t been enough of a call to action for how Jack had treated him from that point forward. The strongest mystery came when Daniel was getting checked out after Reece had thrown him against a free-standing bookcase and instead of showing concern for his injury, Jack had been mean. On purpose. As if feeling concern for him somehow hurt him and made him retaliate; it was the biggest display of Overreaction ever.
A popup in the lower right corner of the laptop screen signaled email and it was from Hammond. Daniel sighed and opened it.
Please stop by my home at 10 a.m. today to discuss the problems you mentioned in your resignation notice. I will not authorize the resignation until all avenues have been tried to solve the problems that exist.
General George Hammond
A quick glance told him it had just turned 9 a.m. Weren’t they supposed to be left alone during downtime? He had handed in his resignation, but it sat in Master Sergeant Davis’ Inbox. Which meant that Davis had found the request important enough to bother Hammond at home. Daniel made a sound of disgust. This violation of his privacy reinforced his desire to get away from all things military–though that hadn’t been the point of the resignation.
The ones he hadn’t wanted to leave behind were his friends: Sam, Teal’c, and Janet. But Jack was his immediate superior as well as Base Executive Officer and if Daniel was given another assignment, Jack would still be around to continue his hostile behavior. The only way to nip that in the bud was to remove himself entirely. Daniel went back to the mission, making mental bullet points on the actions by Jack that had made no sense.
When they had brought Reece into the base, she’d been sent to the Isolab for examination. Daniel had wanted to be there, but Jack had forbidden it, telling him to steer clear until Sam and Janet said she was biologically safe. Daniel hadn’t found fault with that order because it told him that Jack cared about his welfare. At least that hadn’t changed, so instead of arguing, he’d gone to the mess hall for a late breakfast; oddly enough, Jack had joined him.
They had been mostly quiet until Jack began talking about going fishing on their next downtime–which hadn’t been the plan. Jack had made a statement without coming right out and saying he needed some time away. Again, why had the plan changed and why hadn’t Jack just talked to him about it? Daniel couldn’t ask, either.
Jack had created no-no rule: never refer to their relationship in any way while on duty. Daniel had agreed because they were rarely alone for long, but it hadn’t taken long before he disliked the rule: Jack began to use it as an excuse not to talk to him about non-work-related things. In fact, since getting together six months before, Jack’s negative attitude toward him had increased, day by day. It had begun with little things that were easily dismissed as moodiness. At first, it had been every few weeks. Then it had been several times a day–even on missions, which was, in Daniel’s view, a hypocritical action because the attacks were personal, not business.
The only time Jack hadn’t been argumentative was during sex, usually at Jack’s house, and for about a day after that. He was almost in a state of euphoria—showing humor and tenderness that would continue for a while until it seemed to wear off. It was like an addict needing a fix and lashing out for not getting it. It Made No Sense. That hadn’t been a part of Jack’s character, his personality. Sure, he was contrary, but so was Daniel. They were both reflexive smartasses and while that tended to create friction between them, it was nothing on this scale.
On the way to the briefing room for a summary of the mission’s problems, Daniel had started talking about the artificial lifeform as if she were real. It had set Jack off.
“So as soon as I can, I’d like to interact—” Daniel began.
“What? What do you mean?”
“I’m not allowing it—”
“She,” Daniel corrected.
“It,” Jack had corrected back, with emphasis. “It, Daniel. And I’m not allowing it free reign until Carter and Fraiser have thoroughly examined it.”
“Just because she’s an artificial vessel doesn’t mean—”
“Excuse me? Vessel?” Jack asked. “Where do you come up with these terms that are essentially meaningless in this specific situation and context?”
Daniel had just stared at him. Jack had deliberately picked a fight. “Why are you up my ass about this?”
“I’m not,” Jack had said, belying the entire conversation. “Now, moving on to the meeting, your purpose is to propose scenarios for the robot being in stasis. Please don’t go into lecture mode.”
“What in the hell are you talking about?” Daniel had asked, his anger beginning to rise. “It’s my job.”
“Lecture mode isn’t your job. Your job is to—”
“Is to give Hammond the most complete information I have and that includes context.”
“Yes, but try to keep it brief, Daniel.”
They had reached Level 28 by that time and were heading for Hammond’s office. Controlling his temper, Daniel said, “Okay, so, when it comes to artificial life, there are precedents in history.”
“Daniel, is that relevant?”
“In my opinion, it is,” Daniel had said.
They’d reached the stairway to the briefing room, which Jack preferred to use instead of going through Davis’ office to get to Hammond’s and the briefing room. Daniel never argued about it since it didn’t really matter to him.
“Anyway …” They began up the stairs. “So, even in Earth’s earliest civilizations, it’s been our nature to seek immortality through the creation of vessels for our consciousness.”
“Vessels?” Jack had asked.
Jack had still been trying to pick a fight. Deciding not to rise to the bait, Daniel hadn’t answered, but he’d given Jack a few looks of confusion, desperately trying to read him and failing. And then, after the briefing, when they were in the lab and Sam had put the battery back into Reece, Jack had suggested he kiss her. The comment had been so off the wall, so inflammatory, that Daniel knew it was a goad. Again, there was No Reason for it. Sam hadn’t picked up on it, but she had been as surprised as Daniel was.
In an instant, Daniel had come up with an explanation, even if it, too, made no sense: Jack was behaving in a homophobic manner. Daniel hadn’t ever picked up on any self-loathing, but it had obviously been hiding just under the surface, and it had come out the evening before when Jack had abruptly left his apartment. Daniel had wanted to talk about their relative inexperience with men. They’d dabbled, as Jack had put it, but that had been the end of it as far as he was concerned. Still, Daniel wanted to have a philosophical discussion about homosexuality, bisexuality, and what makes a person decide to break from being heterosexual. A harmless talk. To him.
But not to Jack. He had suddenly remembered that there was something he forgot to do and before Daniel had known it, Jack had bolted. Not even a kiss goodbye. So telling Daniel to kiss the robot had had a double-edged meaning, and not a pleasant one—not even a pleasant joke, given what had gone on the day before. It had been a dig, and while Daniel knew he could have been imagining things, he took the comment as a punishment for wanting to talk—which was something that was so completely out of character that Daniel had dismissed its possibility. But the comment had cemented the tone that had begun offworld and remained for the next thirty-six hours.
Now that it was over, the biggest problem that Daniel could see was the basic difference in their separate approaches to the robot. Daniel had seen Reece as a sentient life form, robot or not, because she was exhibiting emotion. Despair, fear, confusion, and a very clear knowledge of self-awareness and protection for her ‘life.’ But all Jack saw was a robot reacting according to its programming.
“It’s a machine,” he’d repeated. And he had been bothered by Daniel’s insistence on treating Reece like a human being.
But then came the moment that had stung so bad, it had shocked Daniel into silence:
“I don’t like most of what you say. I try to resist the urge to shove you through a wall.”
And why hadn’t Janet or Sam defended him, told Jack he was out of line and asked what the hell was wrong with him?
As usual, Daniel had set it all aside so he could deal with the problem of Reece and her replicators, but the moment she’d broken his wrist, it had opened the flood gates. He knew that real pain could do that sort of thing, especially when you’re not prepared. He hadn’t been in a firefight or fighting Jaffa or any other antagonist. It had been Reece. Just an immature little kid in a female robot’s adult body who didn’t know how to learn.
When it came to Jack, and to Daniel, that was not the case. They were adults with supposedly stable personalities who could learn from mistakes and own up to the ones they make. After shooting her, Jack seemed to come to himself for a moment, to show regret in how things had panned out. But that conciliatory behavior had been temporary. Jack apparently hated him, and it had come bubbling out after six months.
“I don’t like most of what you say. I try to resist the urge to shove you through a wall.”
Jack had clearly stated that he wanted to do violence. Again and again, Daniel asked “Why?” and again, he didn’t come up with an answer.
Daniel couldn’t read the laptop for a minute or so. His vision had gone a bit blurry.
. . .
Daniel sat down at Hammond’s kitchen table, accepting a cup of coffee with a nod and a smile of thanks. He waited for Hammond to start and stared at his coffee and the sunflower artwork on the side of the mug. It looked too cheery and there came an irrational desire to fling the mug at the wall. Daniel was in no mood for cheery. He turned the mug until there was nothing but white.
Hammond sighed. “Doctor Jackson,” he began, pausing.
“Daniel, sir,” Daniel replied with a wan smile.
Hammond nodded. “Daniel. Why are you resigning?”
Daniel was quiet for a few seconds. It wouldn’t do to hesitate for too long. Such a thing invited the assumption that he was indecisive and that wasn’t the case.
“Because I can no longer work with Colonel O’Neill, sir.”
Hammond raised his eyebrows. “I thought you two were friends.”
“So did I,” Daniel replied. He couldn’t keep the confusion or sadness off his face—mostly because he felt it was no longer necessary to do it.
Daniel shook his head. “I don’t have a clue, sir, to be honest. We’ve always grated on each other’s nerves a bit, but it’s always ironed itself out. But a few days ago, during the Reece incident, Jack said a few things that made it clear that not only were we not friends, but that he really, really didn’t like me anymore. I’ve been searching my brain for something that I did and I’m clueless.” At Hammond’s continued surprise, he nodded. “Normally, if I did something to bother him, he’d tell me, we’d iron it out, and that would be that. Not this time. The desire to fix whatever’s wrong isn’t there. If I suspected that he wasn’t himself, or not the Jack O’Neill we all know, I’d suggest that you test his DNA.”
Hammond sighed. “I see.” He drummed a few fingers on the table as he drank from his own mug. When he set it down, he said, “It may interest you to know that Colonel O’Neill has dropped hints about retiring, but so far, he’s taken no direct action.”
Now it was Daniel who was surprised. “He hasn’t submitted the paperwork?”
Hammond shook his head. “That’s the second reason I asked you here, Doctor Jackson. The first was your resignation. I don’t want to lose two valuable members of the SGC, so I want you to figure out how to mend fences.”
“Sir,” Daniel said, raising a hand, and standing. “That ball is in Jack’s court. I’m not going to repeat the fiasco of what happened with that Tollan-Asgard Rogue sting.”
Hammond frowned. “What do you mean?”
Daniel grimaced slightly. He’d just erred. He thought Hammond knew. “I, uh, went to see Jack when he had supposedly retired. He was cold, distant, and told me that our friendship had never had any foundation. I left with a big hole in my stomach because …” He waved an airy hand.
“I understand, son,” Hammond said quietly.
“I’m not gonna put myself through that again, and it’s the real deal this time. If Jack wants to apologize and explain, he knows how to find me.” Daniel didn’t retake his seat. “I’m sorry, sir. But I need to go. I just can’t really talk about this because …” He raised his cast. “I’m in pain and it fogs up my head. I’ve never learned to work past it or ignore it.” It wasn’t a lie. His wrist was throbbing like mad and he wanted to chew it off, the cast included. He needed to go by a pot shop and grab something heavy.
Hammond nodded. “Do you have medication for it?”
Daniel nodded. “Medical marijuana.” Hammond raised his brows again. “I can partake because I’m a civilian who no longer works for the federal government.”
Hammond sighed as he rose offered his hand. Daniel shook it. “Do me a favor and reconsider. Take some time, but please stay with the program. You’re valued.”
“There are a lot of people who could do my job, sir.”
“Not like you can.”
“My judgment with Reece was quite obviously in error.”
“On the contrary, Doctor,” Hammond said. “You wanted to keep her in the dark about what she was but were overridden. In retrospect, you were right, and we were wrong.”
“I respectfully disagree, sir. Jack was right. She was pretending ignorance. She was playing us.” Daniel shook his head. “But, killing her was a bad call. I’d only just gotten her to agree to go back to sleep. She could have been deactivated and given to the Asgard. They would have learned something. I’m certain of it. Now we’ll never know, and the Replicators are still out there killing millions of people.” He swallowed. “I’m sorry. I’ll do as you ask and give resigning a great deal of thought. At the very least, I need a break.” He paused. “But, sir? I can’t work in a threatening environment when it’s coming from someone who used to be my friend. Whether I come back is entirely up to Colonel O’Neill.”
It didn’t occur to Daniel until he was almost home that he’d often referred to Jack as Colonel O’Neill.
Chapter Two: Remembering
He went to bed early and woke up around 1 a.m. with an aching hard-on. He’d been reliving their first time. He let out a half-sob of frustration and rolled out of bed to splash cold water on his face and calm his body down. He leaned his forearms against the edge of the sink and bent his head down.
“This is stupid,” he growled at himself. “You loved and lost. Move on.” He’d been telling himself that all freakin’ day. Sooner or later it would sink in. But after a while, his body refused to get with the program, so with another growl, he turned on the shower and stepped under tepid, almost cool water. He could eventually turn the water cold but starting out that way gave him a headache. His nerves were already frayed.
Daniel felt stupid for telling himself to move on. It wasn’t that simple. It had only been two days. Plus, his attraction to Jack hadn’t started six months ago. He’d been unusually attracted to him from Day One, and it was unusual because Jack was far from his type. A hard-assed military man who rarely shared his deep, personal feelings. Basically, he was oil and Daniel was water. Even so, there were fundamental beliefs each shared, and it was evident near the end of their captivity on that damn ice world. Saving those people meant more than their own welfare. Even when their memories hadn’t fully returned, they’d still been willing to help the Workers. Sam and Teal’c were no different.
The only part of that that rankled had been Jack’s choice for where the Workers could go: the tropical island paradise he, Sam, and Teal’c had gated to after rescuing Thor and blowing up the Replicators on the Beliskner. Before that event, Jack would have told him all about it. Afterward, when they’d come through the gate and walked down the ramp, Daniel had expected a hug from Sam, a nod from Teal’c, and a shoulder slap from Jack. But there’d been nothing. It was as if he was an acquaintance, not a friend.
Even with all that, what happened six months ago had come out of nowhere and completely shocked them both. All those months ago, Daniel had arrived at Jack’s with an expensive bottle of single malt to make amends for what happened with Chaka. Jack had been touched, though he’d only shown it by a display of hesitation and grumbles. Sometimes Daniel thought the man would benefit from some therapy to find out why he had such a damn problem with sharing his feelings. It had killed his marriage after Charlie, and while there was a tinge of jealousy, Daniel had been genuinely saddened by it. Jack hadn’t deserved that, but then, Sara deserved more than Jack was giving. It was a warning sign that Daniel should have heeded.
But that bottle of single malt … they’d finished the damn thing that evening and had gotten drunk, of course. Jack was used to liquor, and Daniel hadn’t gotten inebriated in quite a while, but in the time they’d been friends, neither had drunk an entire bottle in one evening. By the time that damn bottle was gone, both of their inhibitions had flown the coop. Daniel had been waiting for his body to react horribly, like it did every time he got anywhere near drunk. But nothing had happened. In hindsight, it was almost as if it was meant to be their catalyst, jumpstarting an intimate relationship.
Six months ago …
Daniel held the bagged single malt carefully as he knocked on Jack’s front door. It had cost him over a hundred bucks, and maybe Jack would be soothed by that. Or maybe not. It wasn’t a typical bottle of Scotch whisky, so maybe he didn’t know he should be impressed by that. But then, this was Jack O’Neill, who was never typical about anything except protecting his own. In that, he and Jack were the same, though he doubted the man had recognized that fact.
There was motion on the other side of the door, then silence. Jack was deciding whether to open the door or not. Daniel grimaced. He should just leave the bottle and go home, then call and leave a message on the machine about the gift outside his door and why it was there.
After another five seconds went by, a mix of guilt and sadness filled him. Daniel set the bottle against the right door jamb so it wouldn’t be kicked or stumbled over whenever Jack left the house. Just as he opened his car door, the front door opened. He paused. Jack was picking up the bag containing the bottle and Daniel nodded to himself and started to get into the car when Jack called him.
“You’re just leaving?” he asked with a frown. “Not even gonna give this in person?” He looked at it and opened the bag. With a deepening frown of curiosity, he pulled out the bottle. “What’s this?”
Daniel waited for a beat, in case Jack actually wanted answers to his questions. But Jack just stood there, staring at the bottle. Daniel felt stupid, standing there waiting, so he got behind the wheel and closed his car door. He was just putting the key into the ignition when Jack walked halfway down the front path and held out his hands, palms up. The gesture clearly said, “Where the hell are you going?”
Wishing Jack would quit behaving as if everyone could read his mind, Daniel sighed heavily and got out of the car. He went back up the path, but only halfway because Jack hadn’t moved.
“Well?” Jack asked.
Daniel bit back a snarky response. “Okay. A, yes, I’m just leaving. B, given the length of time you were taking opening the door, that told me I wasn’t welcome. C, it’s a Highland single malt that has a really good taste and I thought you’d enjoy it. Well, no, to be more accurate—”
“Never mind,” Jack said, turning for the front door. “C’mon. I’m not drinking it alone.”
“Uh,” Daniel said, not moving. “Listen. You clearly want to be alone or you wouldn’t have hesitated inviting me in. So, if it’s all the same to you, I’ll just …” He pointed a thumb back at his car. “I shouldn’t have come and I’m sorry for intruding.”
Jack reached the door, then turned and frowned. “Stop being an ass and come in the house.”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open in frustration. “Jack, I’m not being an ass. I’m being respectful. Clearly, there’s a difference.”
“Okay, smart guy,” Jack said, shaking his head, and going in the house. “Get your respectful ass in the house.”
The phrase amused Daniel so much that he couldn’t help but smile. He followed Jack into the house, closing and locking the door behind him—as had been the ritual when he used to come by almost once a week. Until the Sub incident, when Jack had ordered Daniel to blow up the sub, killing himself and Teal’c. It had been either dumb luck or providence that Thor had shown up in time. And now, with the crap he’d put Jack through, he wanted to avoid him. Leaving and going home was still an urge he wanted to cater to, but he manned up and went into the kitchen.
“Aberlour?” Jack asked, raising an eyebrow at the wide-mouthed bottle.
Daniel only nodded as he leaned against the counter and folded his arms, preparing to see how Jack reacted to the whisky. But then Jack quickly opened the bottle and inhaled slowly. The look on his face was one of reacquaintance; he was familiar with the Scotch. Before Daniel could say anything, Jack took down two tumbler glasses and asked, “Since when do I rate a hundred-dollar bottle of whisky?”
Daniel cleared his throat. “Since I pulled you into that mess with Chaka.”
Jack stopped pouring and narrowed his eyes. “Daniel,” he began, then shook his head and finished pouring the second glass. He handed it over. “Living room. I’m not doing this in the kitchen.”
Again, Daniel blinked as Jack walked past. He was confused. “Doing what?” he asked, following more slowly.
“Talking,” Jack said, and the tone he used made it a curse word.
Daniel’s shoulders slumped slightly in a weird combination of resignation and annoyance. As he came down the steps into the living room, the dread began to build when Jack started for the sofa chair he’d been in when he’d told them their friendship had had no foundation. While it had actually been a lie, it still stung, even now. Jack then sat down on the sofa that backed the windowed wall to the dining room. It was new, longer, and a darker brown, but looked like the same brushed suede as the other one.
“This is new,” Daniel said, not sitting down.
Jack pointed his glass at the other end of the sofa. “Sit.”
Blinking a few times, Daniel complied.
“What’s that look for?” Jack asked.
“The, uh, last time I was …” He pointed his own glass at the sofa chair. “You were there, and I was where you are, but on the other couch.”
Jack made a face. “I apologized. Why’re you bring it up? Thought we were done.”
“Association,” Daniel sighed. “It’s the last time I was here.” Jack just stared, expectantly. “It still stings.” He paused, then added, “Maybe I haven’t gotten past it.”
“Ya think?” Jack said, frowning. “I never took you for the type to hold grudges.”
“You know I don’t. What happened hurt, and it still does. It may not be that important to you, but it was, is, to me.” He colored. “I know, it’s the past and it should stay there. But recall is a powerful thing sometimes, and while you apologized and I accepted it, it’s still fresh. Kind of. Plus, you’re not into talking about your feelings. Ones that aren’t merely opinion, I mean.”
“I talk,” Jack countered, looking a little uncomfortable. “I’m doing it right now, in fact.”
Daniel rolled his eyes and would have argued, but there was no point. He took a deep, silent breath before taking a drink from the whisky. Its burn was slightly offset by the taste, but after the heat went through him, the taste returned. He swallowed and stared into his glass. The buzz began almost immediately. “Dammit. I should’ve eaten something.”
“I’ll order something,” Jack said, reaching for the phone on the end table behind him.
“No, it’s okay. I’m not hungry.”
Jack held the receiver in mid-air. “You sure?”
Daniel nodded. “But feel free to get something.”
“Nah,” Jack said, hanging up the phone. “I’m not hungry, either. But I figured you wouldn’t want the stuff in my freezer. Stuff that either gets baked or nuked.”
“Pizza’s the only thing left, and it doesn’t get nuked.” He got up. “Now I am hungry.” He disappeared into the kitchen and when he came back, he had the bottle in hand. He set it on a coaster on the coffee table. “Thanks, by the way. I appreciate the gift and the reason for it. But it really wasn’t—”
“Yes, it was,” Daniel interrupted.
Jack sighed. “Chess?”
Jack grabbed his board and set it on the sofa between them. Daniel was surprised to see how sturdy it was, thanks to the new sofa’s middle cushion. “Nice.”
“Yep,” Jack said. “Black or white?”
“You’re offering?” Daniel asked, even more surprised as he gingerly got up and reached for the bottle to refill his glass.
“Don’t I offer?”
Daniel half-smile. “You’re always black.”
Jack chewed at his lip. “Huh. Okay. I’m black.”
Daniel smirked at him as Jack set up the pieces, then leaned the bottle against the back of the sofa, next to the board, and set to work trying to beat Jack.
An hour later …
Jack refilled his glass and when he put the bottle back against the sofa back, he grimaced and rolled a shoulder. “Goddamn pain stick. My muscles have been out of whack.”
“I can give you a free massage if you want.”
Jack’s eyes turned into saucers. “Free?”
“Uh,” Daniel stammered. “That all came out in one sentence. I meant that either you can pay for one or I’ll oblige. I mean, it’s free. And I give half-way decent neck and shoulder massages if past recipients weren’t lying, of course.”
Jack snorted loudly. “Nah, s’okay. Save it for the boyfriend.”
Daniel growled at the slur as he emptied his own glass and decided to answer it with a shot across the bow. “Find me one and I will.”
Jack froze mid-drink, staring at Daniel down the side of his glass. Daniel froze too, realizing that hadn’t even thought about the ramifications of what he’d just revealed. Now either he played it off as a joke, laughing at Jack for believing the quip, or he dropped the lie and let the remark stand. A part of him opted for the lie, but a larger part of him was sick of lies. He cleared his throat and refilled his glass. He held the bottle up, eyes wide in yet another surprise. It was nearly empty. No wonder he’d gotten his hackles up.
Enough seconds had now passed with no commentary; Jack’s expression telegraphed that he was in shock. Sam knew he was Bi. So did Janet. But telling someone like Jack, who seemed to be entrenched in good old-fashioned biases—sans racism—wasn’t a good idea. But now the truth was out. And all Jack did was stare at him.
Daniel’s brows rose and he took the coward’s way out and went for ignoring what he’d said altogether. “Your move,” he said, then indicated the board, in case it wasn’t clear what he’d meant. He scanned the board and realized he was two moves away from a Check Mate. Why hadn’t he noticed? Because of the damn whisky, that’s why. He looked up. Jack’s brows were deeply furrowed. He looked mad. It spread to Daniel.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. “If you’re about to go all homophobic on—”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jack asked in a quiet voice. It was worse than shouting.
“That I’m Bi?” Daniel asked in a heavily sarcastic tone.
“No, I’m Bi,” Daniel said with scorn. “I really was Sha’re’s husband.”
“Fine. Answer the question,” Jack ordered.
Daniel sighed. “It’s intimate knowledge. You’re not big on intimacy unless you’re with a woman.”
Jack scowled. “When have I been with—”
“Are you kidding?” Daniel asked, shocked. “Your wife. Kynthia. Laira. Sam.”
“I’ve never had sex with—”
“She’s someone …” Daniel made air quotes. “… you care a lot about.” He was referring to that damn screw up with the Zatarc machine.
Jack made a face and shook his head, dismissing Daniel’s comment. “And a subordinate,” he said.
Daniel rolled his eyes.
“So help me, if you roll your eyes one more time …” Jack threatened.
“Okay, that’s my cue …” Daniel said, rising. He wavered drunkenly and made a disgusted sound. “Shit. Have to call a ride.” He began to pull his cell phone out of his pocket, but it wasn’t there. He looked down and found it trying to disappear behind the sofa cushion.
“Like hell,” Jack said, lunging, upending the chess board as he snatched the cell phone before Daniel could.
“Are you insane?” Daniel scowled. “You wanna insult me, threaten me. Argue. I’m in no mood. I’m Bi. Get over it. And you’re the one who quipped ‘boyfriend,’ which is a homophobic slur, by the way, the way you said it and the way you meant it, so ya know, you can just go fuck yourse—”
Jack tossed the cellphone onto the sofa and grabbed him, fingers splayed to grip the sides and back of his head as he yanked Daniel forward and planted a kiss on his mouth. He was warm, but his lips were stiff. Still, Daniel was caught off guard so entirely that he couldn’t move, not until Jack moved his lips. Daniel grabbed his wrists, intending to pull him off, but Jack opened his mouth and his tongue went searching. Daniel’s lust took over and he grabbed Jack’s shirt and yanked him forward, then slid his hands around his back to press their bodies together. He couldn’t help the moan of surprise and want that overwhelmed him. Then Jack made a soft sound and wrapped his arms around him to deepen the kiss …
That had been the beginning, and it had been slightly resistant and a whole lot awkward. Jack hadn’t actually had sex on his mind, but once Daniel had given in to his deeply hidden feelings, he’d taken the lead. And led Jack to the bedroom. They’d gotten used to each other for three days and then missions interfered, Jack got shot, and there rose this odd coolness in him. He had begun distancing himself.
And then came the nastiness with Reece. Even if they hadn’t gotten together, Daniel would have handed in his resignation. He wasn’t going to work with someone who wanted to do him harm. He hadn’t tolerated it in Egypt or in Chicago, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to tolerate it here. His only desire was to return to Abydos and continue his work there. There was still a lot to decipher in the Cartouche Room. But he had to wait to see if anything was happening on Earth that needed his help.
With a sigh, Daniel sat at his kitchen table and opened his laptop to check his email. The results of the feelers he’d sent into his old stomping grounds had been disappointing but not unexpected: unless he changed his beliefs about the age of the pyramids and existence of extraterrestrial aliens, his only place in archaeological circles equated to unearthing dinosaur bones.
“Shit,” he said under his breath. He’d burned his bridges badly.
After deleting his mail, he scanned Archaeology.com, feeling more than a bit forlorn. Then something caught his eye: an ad. An astrology ad. On an archaeology site? His mouth dropped open and he was hit with the urge to fill out the Contact Us form and tell them Google Adsense was apparently broken. Then a dash of contrariness and curiosity hit him, and he clicked the link. Despite himself, he found what apparently looked like a valid astrology website. He went about filling online forms to see his natal chart. Then he did Jack’s. He had no idea what they meant. He searched for free reports, explaining the symbols and placements of his chart, and spent nearly half an hour learning about this fringe branch of so-called science. A thousand years ago, it was commonplace. But then, a thousand years ago, people thought you got pregnant through the blood.
He was about to close the browser tab when he saw Synastry Chart Interpretation. It was about relationships. Curiosity had him filling out information for himself and Jack. It said that they had a combined score of 10.62. For a harmonious chart, it should’ve been above 30.
He began to read. And as he did, the slight frown turned into a scowl of disbelief and rejection of the “observations” in the chart. One aspect said he was selfish and didn’t listen to Jack’s opinions. It only got worse. Daniel didn’t think much of astrology as a rule, and in this reading, there had to be thousands of couples who were born in New York and Chicago on the same birthdate, so the report was nothing more than a generic sample. If he wanted the real deal, he’d have to pay someone for their service, and he wasn’t about to do that. Pay upwards of $300 for a report he didn’t believe in? That was not going to happen.
And yet. The discord aspects had him thinking. Was he selfish? Did he belittle Jack’s opinions? Was he on his case all the time? Maybe he was. It hadn’t justified what Jack had said in front of Sam and Janet while the latter had been patching up the cut on the back of his head. It had begun with Jack’s typical annoyance, then it had turned into madness …
“Hey. That went well,” Jack said, coming around the corner of the corridor, outside the infirmary.
“Maybe she has some sort of programming that prevents her from acknowledging she’s anything but human,” Sam noted.
“Robot denial?” Jack asked.
“Looks that way,” Daniel replied.
Jack’s expression had turned to disgust. “Has it occurred to anyone that this thing may have been lying around that planet for, oh, quite some time and that maybe it’s broken? Or perhaps it never worked right in the first place?”
“So you think we should just shut her down?” Sam asked.
Then, the heavy sarcasm. At first, Daniel took it as concern.
“Oh, I don’t know, let’s ask the man who just had his head cracked open.”
Daniel’s head had begun to pound. “I don’t think she meant to hurt me. I just don’t think she liked what I was saying.”
“I don’t like most of what you say. I try to resist the urge to shove you through a wall.”
Once more, he asked himself, “Why?” This time, aloud, as if Jack could hear him. It was the only question. And it had affected everything he’d done from that point, including calling Jack a stupid son of a bitch in the gateroom after killing the only thing that could help the Asgard defeat the Replicators. After that, the pain in his head had decided to fight for first place with his broken wrist. Jack had walked out. Daniel’s tears of pain kept falling, and they weren’t just about the physical pain he was in. They were for the death of his relationship.
Looking at the clock, it was nearly 10 a.m. Daniel made up his mind and dialed Hammond, who answered after four rings.
“It’s Doctor Jackson, sir.”
“Yes, Doctor. Do you have good news for me?”
With a heavy sigh, he said, “I’m sorry, sir. If I could run a lab or lead an archaeology team, that’d be my choice. If those aren’t feasible, then I’d like to return to Abydos.”
“I see,” Hammond said. A few silent seconds went by. “Come to my office at 1 p.m. We’ll see if we can keep you here.”
Daniel hesitated. “Yes, sir.” He began to pack.
Chapter Three: Nothing A Little Absence Can’t Cure
Sam and Teal’c were on downtime, so Daniel had written them letters, both as apologies for leaving them and as a goodbye. They were nearly identical, ending with inviting them to Abydos. It wasn’t likely to happen because the gate wasn’t a Taxi service. At the foot of the ramp, Daniel handed two envelopes to Hammond; there’d been a bit of heat behind his eyes as he shook the man’s hand.
“You don’t have one for Colonel O’Neill?” Hammond asked.
Daniel swallowed. “No, sir.” He dug in his jeans pocket for the house keys and handed them to the General. “Give these to Teal’c, as well as my car. I think he deserves a place to stay that isn’t an apartment.” He half-smiled, as did Hammond. “I’ve explained things in my letter.”
“But what if …” Hammond began.
Daniel shrugged. “I come back? If I’m allowed back, that is?” he asked, referring to the Pentagon. “Then I’d start over.” He half-turned, then said, “I’m sorry there wasn’t an opening at this time.”
“Me, too, son. But I meant what I said. I’ll try to get the budget rearranged.”
Daniel nodded. “In the meantime, there’re things to do on Abydos. I have a lot of cartouches left to decipher.”
“If it can help us, let us know.”
“I will, sir.” Daniel hesitated again, then started up the ramp. He slowed a little, then went through.
Two Weeks Later …
In the cartouche room, Daniel sat at one section of golden script, writing in his third notebook. He heard running footsteps on hardpan but paid no attention because it was oft-heard background noise.
“Danyel?” asked Skaara as he came up to him.
Daniel looked up, eyes wide, flicking between the entrance and Skaara. “What’s wrong?”
“The chappa’ai activated.” He fidgeted, a worried look on his face.
“What is it?” Daniel asked, standing up.
“O’Neill is here.”
Daniel’s heart began to race, but whether with panic, dread, or excitement, he couldn’t tell. “Alone?” Skaara nodded. Daniel had told him that there had been a bad disagreement and they weren’t friends anymore. Skaara hadn’t been able to understand. On Abydos, there were rituals for everything, including when friends got mad and stayed mad. Any upheaval affected the entire community, so it had to be dealt with. Daniel had told him that Earth didn’t have rituals because there were too many tribes and too many that had mixed and lost their traditions. At that point, Skaara had said that maybe visiting Earth wasn’t such a good idea, which had made Daniel laugh at the time.
“Do you want me to bring him here?” Skaara asked.
Daniel nodded, then looked around. He spoke in Ancient Egyptian, asking the other workers to leave for a while.
“Do you want me to leave?” Skaara asked.
Daniel shook his head. “No reason for you to, but you might wanna stay at the other end of the gallery because Jack doesn’t like to air his feelings in front of people. Not even you.”
Skaara nodded. “I remember.”
As he left, Daniel retrieved another low, square stool and set it near his own in the small campsite he’d arranged for himself. It had a few pieces of furniture, a stove in a stone-ringed circle, and a dual screen for semi-privacy while he slept. He had demurred Kasuf’s invitation into his household and told him that he was there on a hashiva, or what equaled a spiritual retreat, where he needed to mainly be by himself, but that he would willingly join in chores and anything else that needed to be done. Kasuf had agreed, if Daniel shared their meals.
He grabbed a water skin and two cups, then hesitated before he picked up a small table and set it between the stools. He then set the waterskin on top with the cups and left it for Jack to ask. He might not be there long enough to want any water. Suddenly, Daniel grew nervous, wondering if Jack showed up just to chew him out for leaving. If that was the case, he’d hear him out, nod whenever appropriate, and keep his temper in check. He wouldn’t insult Jack in any way, not even if goaded. Sometimes Jack had been like that: poke and prod until he provoked an outburst. Sometimes he wouldn’t even know he was doing it.
He went over and picked up his notebook, placing his pen inside to keep it from clogging up with sand, and placed it on a small table next to his bedding. He turned to stare at the glyphs he’d been working on, different than the others. They weren’t gate addresses or common hieroglyphs. They were almost like shorthand and there were many other sections around the entire gallery that had similar blocks of writing. They were almost making sense, but there were gaps. He’d crack it, sooner or later. He felt he had the time.
He heard footsteps and looked over his shoulder as Skaara came in with Jack in tow. He then bowed to both of them and left the hall instead of moving out of earshot. Daniel wondered if it was because Jack had told him to.
“Wanna sit down?” Daniel asked, gesturing.
“Well, hello to you, too,” Jack said, going for the stool.
“Uh, hi, Jack.”
“Daniel,” Jack said, sitting down.
Daniel took his seat. “So.”
“What, uh, can I do for you?” Daniel thought there’d been an unintentional edge to his voice, so he made sure he schooled his features appropriately. Pleasant. Peaceful.
“You can tell me why,” Jack said bluntly.
Daniel swallowed, but his throat was dry. He poured himself some water. He took a sip. He held out the skin to Jack, but he put a hand up and shook his head. Daniel remained silent, trying to figure out how to answer the question without starting an argument.
Daniel took a deep breath and let it out. Jack’s patience hadn’t gotten any better. “I’m trying to find the right words.”
“That’s a first,” Jack said.
Again, Daniel swallowed. His throat tasted stale. “Please don’t start an argument. I’m trying to find an appropriate answer that won’t be offensive or argumentative.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “You left. You left letters, but not a word to me. I thought I had a right to know, given our relationship.”
Daniel looked down at his hands. “That day, it was clear that relationship, in every sense, was over.”
“So that’s why you left?” Jack asked, his voice tense.
“Then what? Exactly?”
Daniel groaned and rested his forehead in his hands. “Why do you ask questions you already know the answers to?”
“Look at me.”
When Daniel didn’t, he felt Jack’s hand reach over and firmly pull his hands from his face. “I don’t. Not this time.”
Daniel stared at him, and for some dumb reason, he remembered a bit from that damn astrology thing, where it mentioned that he hated intimate confrontations. Apparently, it was right; it was how his relationship with Sarah had ended. He wouldn’t talk. Daniel closed his eyes. For cryin’ out loud, he was as bad as Jack. Color crept up in his cheeks and he started to speak but stopped.
“I don’t know how to … say it.” Jack’s brows went up. “Not without starting an argument. I’m tired, Jack. I don’t wanna argue.”
“Well, I’m sorry. But we’re hashing this out. Now.” Daniel started to roll his eyes, but Jack got up and grabbed his hand. “Don’t do that. Look at me.” To Daniel’s surprise, he pulled him to his feet. “Talk.”
Daniel’s anger began to rise. “Fine,” he said, a little loudly. “Since that Training op, your attitude toward me has grown bitter by the day. You snap at me for no reason. After we lost Lieutenant Eliot, it skyrocketed. And then, with Reece, you were openly hostile … for no goddamn reason. You want to know why? Well, that’s why because it’s my question back to you! Why? I wasn’t going to tolerate it anymore!” He jerked himself away from Jack and stepped a few paces away. “I wasn’t going to serve under a man who wants to put me through a wall.”
He turned away, unable to look at him. He fully expected Jack to turn and leave, but he heard the stool creak as he sat back down. Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know why you’re so mad at me. I’ve been going over everything I’ve ever said or done, trying to find something that made you mad.” He turned to find Jack leaning on his knees, staring between his hands. “I know it’s there, but I’m too arrogant, blind, or stupid to see it. So answer me, Jack. What the hell did I do?”
Jack shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Daniel sighed heavily and sat back down. “If you didn’t know, then why come here to ask me? You must’ve known why I left. You knew what you said. It was so out of line, it shocked me into silence. Hell, Sam and Janet didn’t even say anything, probably in fear of you lashing out at them, too.”
“I …” Jack began. He looked up, winced, and said, “I’m sorry, Daniel.”
Daniel blinked. Jack rarely apologized for anything. In fact, it made Daniel embarrassed to hear it, knowing how hard it was, that the two of them tended to start and stop their attempts at apologizing to the other whenever things got too heated. Even now, he had to hold back the irrational desire to shut the man up. He swallowed, hard.
“So am I. For whatever I did, and you’re gonna have to explain what it was so I can do it properly. And then I’d like it if you explained why you acted the way you did. Please.”
Jack got up and paused, looking around. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, then looked at Daniel’s notebook sitting at the base of the wall section he was studying. He gave Daniel a look of curiosity, then pointed at the wall with his left hand. “You’re studying this? I thought all of it was deciphered way back when.”
Daniel sighed, but inwardly. He got up and went to the vertical line of glyphs. He touched one of the symbols that looked like an underlined capital L. “This isn’t Egyptian or Goa’uld.” He referred to the entire column, then moved down several feet and pointed to another column. “Here it is again, but they’re different.” He pointed at sections to the left, then right. “I’m writing them all down. They’re a message, like a notation or a footnote.”
“What’s it say?” Jack asked.
Daniel gave him a half-smile. “I don’t know. That’s why I’m writing them down. On paper, side by side,” he said, and picked up his notebook to show him. Several pages were exact replicas of the columns, but side-by-side. “It’s like any cipher. You look for the common elements first, then any that are unique, not repeated.”
“Like cryptograms?” Jack asked.
It reminded Daniel of the crosswords and he felt his heart pull painfully. “I guess you could say that.” He dropped his notebook at the base of the wall, took a deep breath, and returned to his seat. It appeared that Jack wasn’t going to talk, and he based that on the man changing the subject. He took a sip of water, then leaned his elbows on his thighs as he bent over. He stared at his hands and began to lace and unlace his fingers. He would have followed Jack’s example of changing the subject, but it was game Jack played and he wasn’t in the mood. He would have told Jack that if he wasn’t going to talk, he should leave, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it. Just in case. There was always hope, and it was almost always dashed but it didn’t keep him from feeling it. Maybe Jack needed an out or a lead-in.
Daniel rubbed his palms on the thighs of his jeans. “I … guess … since you’re not … you know … since this isn’t …” He waited, but still, Jack said nothing. After another minute of silence, Daniel stood up and looked Jack in the eye. “Why are you here? I mean, really here?”
Jack stuffed his hands back in his pockets. “Wanted to know why you left.”
“Now you know,” Daniel said. He didn’t want to do it, but he didn’t want to sit here in silence, either. “Guess that’s all you needed to say?” No answer. He sighed heavily. “Jack, why are you really here? It’s not to stand there and say nothing. So …” He raised his voice. “Out with it.” He’d have added “or leave” but Jack didn’t like ultimatums and he chose the second option in any ultimatum just to let a person know that he hated them. He also did it to be contrary, even when it wasn’t what he really wanted. And truthfully, Daniel didn’t want him to leave.
“What do you want me to say?” Jack asked.
Daniel blinked a few times as his mouth fell open. “Are you fucking kidding?” he asked, his voice low but angry. “Are you really fucking kidding?”
“I said I’m sorry!” Jack said. “So. Come home.”
“No!” Daniel shot back. “Tell me why you distanced yourself from us. Tell me why you pushed me away.”
“Pushed you away?” Jack asked, his demeanor defensive.
Daniel pointed at him and took a step closer. “Don’t! Don’t do that! You’re not ignorant nor are you stupid. You know what you did and why. Now either tell me or you’ve just wasted your time coming here.” Jack turned away, looking around the gallery and at the other end of the hall. Daniel lost his temper. “Stop it! Tell me what bug crawled up your ass!”
Jack whirled, scowling. “Because it was you!” he snapped and jabbed his right index finger on every point. “Because you’re a man! Because I’m inhibited! Because I’m intimidated! By you! Because you are what I wanted! Because I started to fa …” He turned away. “I couldn’t have that.”
Fall in love with you. It hurt to hear that he couldn’t say it. “Fuck you for not being able to say it,” he replied, his tone low. Jack gave him a suspicious look. “Oh, in case you think I’m being a hypocrite, I fell in love with you right from the start …”
His own admission trailed off and he moved away, walking toward the back of the large hall. His eyes were glistening, and he couldn’t let Jack see that. He pinched the bridge of his nose as his chest and belly felt leaden and painful. “You probably need to go,” he said and sniffed back the tears that wanted to fall. “I can’t do this. Not with someone so homophobic and hatef—”
He hadn’t heard the movement or the sound of steps, but Jack’s hand was yanking his left arm, whirling him about, and then his arms were around him and his lips were on his. Daniel let out a half-moan and huff of air through his nose. He pushed Jack away, but there was no strength behind it, so he failed. Jack’s tongue and lips and scent were intoxicating. Too much so. He wrapped his arms about his neck and kissed him back with such hunger that he hooked a foot behind Jack’s leg and dropped them both to the hardpan dirt ground. This kiss kept going, and Jack’s hands were sliding over him, everywhere, reacquainting themselves with his body.
Jack broke off to say, “I love you, you dumb shit,” then kissed him again, harder.
“You have a funny way of showing it,” Daniel tried to say, but his body responded to Jack’s touches and before he knew it, the two of them were rubbing frantically, unable to stop, unwilling to stop, until their cottage actions culminated in shuddering, lingering, desperate orgasms as they clung to each other. Lying atop, awash in the afterglow, Daniel looked into Jack’s bright, unfocused eyes. “I love you too, you dumb shit. Why the hell is it so hard to tell each other that?”
“Because it’s us,” Jack said, rolling them over. He nuzzled Daniel’s throat and held him tightly. “Because it’s us.”
. . . . .
Daniel set his packs down in his old office. His cheeks were still aflame from guilt and embarrassment. In retrospect, going to Abydos felt like he’d thrown a tantrum and abandoned his friends. While Hammond and Jack hadn’t agreed to that sentiment in any way, shape, or form, he couldn’t shake it.
Movement behind him made him turn and Teal’c stood in the doorway. He gave Daniel a stern look, walked forward, and then, with a soft smile, held out Daniel’s keys. Daniel’s brows shot up, but he didn’t take them back.
“I knew you would return,” Teal’c said, and set the keys on Daniel’s desk.
“You did,” Daniel said, resignedly. “It was never on my mind.”
“I knew why you left, and I knew why O’Neill finally followed you.”
“You …” Daniel began, as he ran through memories, trying to find the ones that revealed his feelings for Jack and vice-versa. He couldn’t find any. Any warm feelings on display could have been easily interpreted as friendship. “I don’t get it.”
“It is what you call subtext, Daniel Jackson.” He turned to leave.
“Wait,” Daniel said. He picked up his keys and held them out. “I still want you to have the house.”
Teal’c frowned. “Then where would you live?” he asked.
Daniel bit at his lip as he half-smiled. “I’ll, uh, think of something.”
Teal’c returned the smile and bowed. “I see.”
Behind him, Jack appeared at the door. Teal’c turned to him, then walked past and left without a word.
Daniel’s embarrassment climbed two notches as his cheeks burned hotter. “Did you hear him?”
“Enough,” Jack said. “He’d already told me what he believed.” He shook his head. “That man is smarter than the two of us.”
Daniel’s cheeks cooled a little. “He’s a hundred and ten. It’s a safe assumption.”
“And Carter …” Jack began and winced.
Daniel’s eyes went round. “What about Sam?”
“Well, she and Teal’c both gave me a verbal kick in the ass about you.” He grimaced then. “It’s, uh, it was the impetus of my coming to see you. I felt too ashamed otherwise.”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open and he was at a loss for words.
Jack grinned, reached out, and touched Daniel’s chin, pushing his mouth closed. “Don’t do that. I’m still … rather …” He cleared his throat.
Daniel’s cheeks burned again. “Rather …?”
“Exactly,” Jack said, his cheeks turning the same color.
“So we could … maybe … leave and …”
“I gave Teal’c my house.”
“I should hope so,” Jack said, brows rising. “After what I said.”
“Moving in though?” Daniel replied. “That went rather fast.”
Jack sighed. “Come on.” He went to the door. “I think I’ve still got a bit more explaining to do.”
Daniel half-grinned. “Verbally or physically?”
Jack gave him the patented Cheshire Cat smile. “There’s a choice?”
Daniel took a slow, deep breath. “No. I guess there really isn’t, but we still need to talk. Get things ironed out.”
Jack nodded. “After.”
“Af …” Daniel began, stuttering. “After?”
Another grin from the Cat. “After. Most definitely After.”
Daniel was hesitant. “Can we get it right this time?”
“We can make the effort,” Jack said, hand on the doorknob. He jerked his chin at the corridor.
Daniel grabbed his packs and followed. He locked the door. “That’s not an answer,” he said as they headed for the elevator.
Jack sighed again. “Yes, Daniel. I think that once I get past my bullshit, we can get it right.”
“It’s, uh, not just bullshit,” Daniel said.
“I …” They reached the elevator and waited for it to empty before stepping in. Once the doors closed, he said, “We’ll get it all fixed and work on what we can’t.”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open again, but the minute Jack looked at him, he shut it. “Yeah, I agree.”
Later, after fully making love, lying in bed in the lingering afterglow, Daniel felt a change between them. A deeper understanding, even when they hadn’t fully discussed the problems between them. Yet. He thought about their history, examining it for danger signs, but nothing came up to help him figure things out. Only what the last day revealed helped, but not by much. He knew that their problems disappeared when they were both feeding their lust. So, one rule had to be made: no relationship talk in the bedroom. Ever. The rest, as they say, would attend to itself.
He looked over at Jack’s relaxed face as he slept and felt a harsh pang at the hollow of his throat. Come hell or high water, he was not going to let Jack go without a fight. Even if he had to walk away in order to do it. There was a saying somewhere about that, wasn’t there? Daniel thought it over. After a few minutes, he had it: “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back to you, they’re yours. If they don’t, they never were.”
“What’re you thinking about so hard?” Jack murmured.
Daniel realized that he’d still been staring at Jack while his mind had gone on a Phrase Search. “I look like I’m thinking hard?”
“Oh,” Daniel said. He was prepared to explain what he was thinking, but his inner critic reminded him that Jack would want him to get to the frickin’ point. “I … will do what I can to make sure we work out. But I remembered that old phrase about holding on too tight. It goes, ‘If you love something set it free—”
Jack recited the rest with him. “Yeah, I’m familiar.” He frowned and pushed up on an elbow. “Are you thinking about abandoning me?”
Daniel blinked slowly and hard. It was a weird combination. “What? No! The phrase means, in this instance, that no matter what I’d like to do, I can’t hold onto you too tight. The surest way to lose someone is to smother them to death.”
Jack’s concern left his expression and he gave Daniel a crooked grin. “That’s a dead end.”
Daniel groaned, fell onto his back, and threw an arm over his eyes. “You did not just crack a joke about something deadly serious.”
Jack burst out laughing, making Daniel lift his arm and scowl at him more. Jack lifted a hand in capitulation. “Okay, okay. But you made an inadvertent pun. And you know that making a joke in the middle of something serious isn’t uncommon with me. You won’t adapt, expecting me to change right away. I think that’s what’s meant by “holding on too tight.”
Daniel frowned in thought as he removed his arm. He looked at Jack. “Jesus, you’re right.”
“It’s been known to happen,” Jack said, his grin returning.
Daniel took a relaxing breath. “Sorry.”
“Not a big deal. Just making a point.”
“It’s gonna be hard, you know. Changing a few things. For both of us, if you don’t mind my saying.”
They were quiet for a minute or so, then Daniel let out a disgusted growl and threw both arms over his face. “Shit. I just fucked up.”
“How? I didn’t have a problem with anything you said. I mean, I wasn’t offended.”
Daniel sighed. “Part of that ‘thinking too hard’ bit?”
“I had just promised myself that no matter what, no relationship talk while in bed.”
Jack sat up, scowling down at him. “What? Why the hell would you set a demand like that?”
Daniel sat up and brought his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. “Because I read somewhere that sex, in bed, is to be kept separated from relationship talk because it combines the two. They’re supposed to remain firmly separated.”
Jack chewed at the corner of his bottom lip. His scowl had lightened, but not by much. “Daniel. Has it occurred to you that conventions about relationships are made for heterosexuals? The dynamic is completely different with same-sex relationships.”
“Is it? Some truths are universal.”
Jack took a breath. “Granted. But you and I aren’t universal, nor do we fall under a conventional standard.”
Daniel nodded, then felt a bit of warmth flow over him. He leaned over and kissed Jack softly, just once. As he drew back, he rubbed his lips together, his gaze on Jack’s lips, then into his eyes. “So we wing it then?”
“Why not? Rules don’t apply to us, except the most basic. Look at what we do for a living and the stress that causes. Our lives aren’t conventional, so our romantic life sure as shit can’t be.”
Daniel rested his chin on his knees, staring across the bed at the dresser’s drawers, not really seeing them. Jack was studying him and he turned his gaze back upon him. “What?”
“Two things. One. In the last ten minutes, we haven’t argued about anything. Whatever we’re doing, we need to keep doing it.”
“Refusing to judge, that would be my guess.”
Jack tipped his head in acknowledgement. “Two.” He cleared his throat. “I wanna sleep. But I also wanna eat something.” His grin grew wolfish. “And have sex again.”
Daniel tore a page from Jack’s book. “All three? What a dilemma.”
Jack grinned. “I got them in a backward order of importance. So, with that said …”
Daniel gladly catered to Jack’s urges, and knew that the reverse would also be true, as long as they were honest and changed the problem areas: Jack’s tendency to be mean in place of emotional intimacy and Daniel’s tendency to criticize when it wasn’t necessary.
At the moment, neither of those were a problem.