SIGNS AND WONDERS BY BIBLIO
PART 1: A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT


Slash: Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: R
Category: Angst. Character Study.  Drama. First Time. Introspection.
Season/Spoilers: Season 8 to Moebius.  Hints of Season 9.
Synopsis: Love. For Jack and Daniel, it's contradictory and unexplainable. Damned if they know what to do with it.
Warnings: None.
Date: 17 July 2006
Notes: Originally appeared in the JD Divas 1 zine in 2005, graciously published by PhoenixE. My thanks go to Phee, Sally and Marcia, without whom this story would not have been possible.
Length: 70Kb  Download a printer-friendly PDF version of the story

Let your hook always be cast. In the pool where you least expect it, will be a fish. Ovid.

PART 1: A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT

It's five after nine and I'm still sitting here, completely alone in the packed, stridently lit parking lot of the World Arena, hearing and feeling the lash and jolt of biting cold wind against the truck, listening to the muted roar as the Tigers shellac Minnesota State on the ice.

I've started to make the phone call a dozen times or more. I've bailed on it a dozen times or more. It's not that I don't know what to say to him. I know what he did, and he'll know as soon as I open my big fat mouth and start yelling.

He stood me up.

Daniel Jackson, scourge of my existence, stood me up.

'Stood me up.' Jeez.

Everyone says it, everywhere, with varying degrees of meaning and layers of disappointment. It's such a commonplace expression, such a lame Goddamn cliché.

It's not supposed to mean anything.

Except when it does.

You know?

Like now. If it didn't mean anything to me, I could bellow it right in Daniel's unsuspecting ear. Only it does. It means something. It's not supposed to mean anything, not to me, not about Daniel.

It does, though.

It means he stood me up and I am mad as hell.

It means he was supposed to be here. He was supposed to be with me.

And that is definitely not supposed to mean as much to me as it apparently does.

He.

Stood.

Me.

Up.

There's really only one excuse for me being this mad at him and this depressed with myself. It's an inescapable conclusion. It's logical, even.

We were on a date.

At least, we were supposed to be on a date.

I can't make the call to him and sound like my wife. I can't ask him what was so frickin' important it kept him, what was more important to him than me? I can't even think like this. I know I can't. I don't know where thinking like this will lead.

Why can't I stop?

I can be pissed. That's okay. That is the natural, the acceptable response to missing the hockey game of the season because my aggravating best bud is a temporally challenged social amnesiac. That's solid ground under my itching-to-kick feet.

I'm not supposed to be hurt.

I'm not supposed to be missing him.

Why isn't the selfish, self-absorbed shit missing me?

Daniel isn't going to call. He isn't going to race into my evening in a squeal of tires and breathless apology. He doesn't even know what he's done, because if he did, he'd be here.

He found something better to do than me.

There's nothing unusual in this. It's not the first time he's forgotten me. He's made something of a habit of it. It's not the first time I've tried to get him out of whatever is going on inside his head by dragging him off someplace that makes sense to me if not to him. Special occasion social torture – like when he gets killed or I get killed, or he finds a baby and a future and has to give it up, or he finds family and his past and has to give that up.

Daniel has to give up a lot.

He gave up on the team, on life, on himself. He gave up on me. On us. Our friendship. Couldn't see a place for himself, a point, and he slipped away from us. And when I would have held on, he asked me to let him go.

He asked that.

He tells me he had to go, he had to take that path of good intentions Oma paved for him right into her glowy limbo, he had no choice in this, because he couldn't see what was in front of him the whole time. Who was in front of him. It's typical of Daniel he had to put himself – and me – through a year of absolute hell in order to find out for himself what any schmoe on the mountain could have told him if he'd cared to ask.

He belongs.

Now he's Joe Cool, the man with the plan, faster than a speeding bullet, our go-to guy, everything to everyone.

I refuse to accept this does not include me, even though the evidence is kind of stacking up.

My Energiser Bunny best bud won't come out with me, he won't come over, just because I want him to. He's incapable of just hanging out. There has to be a reason, a point, because he always has something better to do, something he should do. He always wants to stay inside his own head.

Do I accept that? Is it even in question?

He matters too much.

I'm involved.

This is what gives me pause. This is what has me sitting in my truck an hour after everyone else started screaming for the homeboys. Daniel – well, the only word I can come up with that fits what I'm feeling is...he matters. Daniel matters to me. I can't go anyplace that leads. I want him to come when I call, I want him to be where I am, so I don't have to think about missing him when he's gone. It was never a part of the deal he'd be gone more and more, or I'd start to think about what he means to me. Start to think and find I can't stop.

I know I matter to Daniel. I know I do. He turns to me. He needs me, me more than anyone. He wants me on his terms. Quality time. He wants his time – our time - to mean something.

I want him all the time and that does mean something.

"Listen up, sports fans!"

Yelling doesn't help. Volume isn't freeing. Yelling only drives home the point there's no one around to hear.

"I got stood up."

True confessions in a parking lot, huh? Helluva way to face up to a fact of my life I guess I've been trying not to know for far too long a time.

I love the exasperating, heedless sonovabitch.

After a beer and a couple or three shots of the best Irish malt last year's Secret Santa money can buy, the laptop in my den makes sense to me.

Daniel is at the other end of it. Not here, but there. A click here and then there.

I'm not aware of thinking much of anything but restive, nervy fingers do my talking anyway.

ElusiveCrappie: Hey

I wait. It seems to me a good idea to talk to him without talking, without him hearing. To give myself the time we so often don't have when he's careering off ahead of me in those complicated verbal games we play.

Palamedes: Hi

ElusiveCrappie: Forget something tonight?

Palamedes: If I've forgotten it, how would I know?

ElusiveCrappie: Need me to be more specific?

Palamedes: Please

ElusiveCrappie: You forgot me

Palamedes: I remember you quite well. Tall man, annoying...

ElusiveCrappie: You were supposed to be with me. At the game

Palamedes: The game?

ElusiveCrappie: Don't say what game

Palamedes: What game?

Palamedes: Sorry

ElusiveCrappie: But - what game? Only the game of the season. Don't sweat it

Palamedes: Clearly, I didn't :(

ElusiveCrappie: Clearly

Palamedes: Now I remember what I've forgotten. Shit. The game.

Palamedes: Minnesota State. That game.

Palamedes: I was supposed to be holding your hand through all the trauma of divided hockey loyalties.

ElusiveCrappie: I said don't sweat it

Palamedes: :(

ElusiveCrappie: what were you holding tonight, btw?

Palamedes: A book. A really truly cool book

ElusiveCrappie: A book?

Palamedes: A really truly cool book

ElusiveCrappie: a BOOK!?!

Palamedes: but it was a book about Tlillan-Tlapallan, the middle

ElusiveCrappie: Don't tell me

Palamedes: middle of the three Aztec heavens

Palamedes: Sorry

Palamedes: You're pissed at me, right?

Palamedes: That's why you're AIMing.

Palamedes: You only AIM at me when you're pissed

ElusiveCrappie: I'm not pissed and I AIM at you plenty.

Palamedes: Pun intended?

ElusiveCrappie: Clearly, the book was more important

Palamedes: No. It wasn't

Palamedes: I just forgot

Palamedes: about the game

ElusiveCrappie: about me

Palamedes: I didn't mean to

ElusiveCrappie: you never do

Palamedes: Look, I forgot. I got distracted and I forgot. I didn't mean it. Okay?

Palamedes: Okay?

Palamedes: ?

Palamedes: It's not okay?

ElusiveCrappie: weird how you rush to fill a silence

Palamedes: weird how you won't. In fact

ElusiveCrappie: in fact?

ElusiveCrappie: in fact?

Palamedes: In fact

Palamedes: You do it a lot

ElusiveCrappie:

Palamedes: like now

Palamedes: I don't even know why you're so pissed

Palamedes: It's not like you missed the game

Palamedes: and I know you didn't miss me

ElusiveCrappie: I didn't miss you?

Palamedes: You didn't have time!

Palamedes: you saw me in your office today and you told me you didn't want to see me in your office tomorrow

Palamedes: so if I'm in your way

Palamedes: then you couldn't have missed me

Palamedes: QED!

ElusiveCrappie:

Palamedes: Jack?

ElusiveCrappie:

Palamedes: You're doing it again

Palamedes: The silence thing

Palamedes: Jack?

Palamedes: Okaaay...

Palamedes: Verbal ball back in my court, then?

Palamedes: Come on, Jack. What do I have to do here? Double-dog dare you?

Palamedes: Jack, what's going on?

Palamedes: **Something** is going on or you wouldn't be sitting there giving me dead air and attitude

Palamedes: Nope. Still nothing.

Palamedes: You miss me?

Palamedes: You miss me? Is that it?

Palamedes: newsflash: I'm there all the time.

Palamedes: underfoot

Palamedes: in your face

Palamedes: you can't miss me

Palamedes: Jack?

Palamedes: Jack?

Palamedes: You miss me?

Palamedes: Jack?

ElusiveCrappie: you're the one with all the answers

ElusiveCrappie: You tell me

Palamedes: Tell you what?

Palamedes: That now I'm not the only one?


I shouldn't understand that, but I do.

I do.

I should have remembered pushing Daniel only leads to answers. Always with the answers and then more questions than I started out asking.

This is as far as I can go.

I guess he knows it, because he doesn't reply or try to keep me when I sign off and he doesn’t call after. I wander through the house, making it safe, not really thinking about anything, although as a strategy it's not working so good for me tonight.

If anything seems clear, it's that I'm not the man to eat my heart out over the impossible and this – I don't know if I even want it.

If I want him.

I fall into bed and into sleep.

I wake early, way too early, and now I think.

I guess I knew. About him, I mean. About the times Daniel can't have me close enough and the times he can't shove me far enough away. He blows hot and he blows cold, all or nothing. His life depends on me or he forgets me for a book. He can't find the middle ground I need, the always there, never thinking, ground.

Daniel is always thinking.

And he's right.

He's not the only one.

I make coffee and eggs. More eggs, then cereal. Even juice. I can do all that with an empty head but as soon as I sit, as soon as I stop scrambling through the routine start of my day, I'm thinking again.

I've studiously avoided patterns. Awareness. Seeing the curve of Daniel's neck is only that, not connected to the stronger curve of his spine or the small of his back. No more or less than seeing and knowing with clarity the length and shape of expressive fingers, the odd fragility of his wrist or the way he'll look up at me when he wants something.

I don't want this awareness. Don't want, can't have. It can't mean anything. It can't be shared.

I didn't want to know, but now I do.

Knowing, I don't want to act, and I won't.

It's strange, but I almost feel better about Daniel forgetting me. At least I know why. I figure we're in the same space, we're both a little too – how do I say this? A little too much. It's almost good to know we're both dealing with it, each in our own way. That we won't let it be a problem. That's the upside to me being the man, to Daniel being my go-to guy. I took on this command and both our priorities have changed. I have the SGC as well as SG-1 and Daniel is still with me even if he can't stop over-thinking it all.

I pour myself another cup of coffee and think about toast. There's nothing but a slow day ahead of me, a catch-up day of meetings and briefings and paperwork. A nothing day but one where everyone gets their piece of me. Guy in charge? That's a joke. Toast. Sounds like a plan. I'm crouched rifling through my freezer in search of bread with only hot and buttery on my mind when I hear the rap at the door, then a sharp second rap, a sharper third, before the vibration of the first has even faded.

I know who it is. Who it has to be. Give him a minute, he'll be kicking the door.

Stupidly, I'm smiling when I open it.

He missed me.

"Pack," Daniel orders.

"You didn't call."

"I called the general instead. Pack."

"You called the general? In Washington?" Hey! Daniel managed to pull rank on me, which isn't easy when I'm the man and he's the civilian. Calling Hammond for reinforcements, that's a good tactic. If I weren't as pissed with him now as I was last night, I'd be proud.

"I told him we were having a problem." Daniel's eyebrows are practically meeting in a dark, impatient frown that furrows his brow. "I can make it more of a problem if you don't start packing."

"What kind of a problem?" I'm fascinated by the way Daniel's mind works. The kind of problem we're having – the kind I think we're maybe having – General Hammond would be the last person I'd call.

"The kind that can be fixed over a few days fishing."

"Fishing? Why didn't you say?"

"There's a lot I don't say." Daniel shoots me a hard look, clearly feeling this is mutual.

Oh. Nothing I haven't been thinking myself, but still...Oh. Can't we be in the same space and not talk about it?

"Coffee?" I generously offer up one of his favourite distractions.

"Pack."

If Daniel wasn't pissed at me last night, he is this morning. It's kind of fun.

"I'm only going along with this for the fishing," I inform him, pitifully glad Walter won't be meeting me at the elevator, handing off coffee and schedules, killing me one minute, one paper cut at a time.

"That's okay," Daniel replies with somewhat unnerving understanding. "You've already said more than you intended to say."

I pack.

Daniel drives extremely well, steering his ancient jeep smoothly through the light, very early morning commuter traffic. I watch the road now and then out of habit, but mostly I watch his confident hand riding the stick shift. It’s purely the driver who makes this cherry-red World War II surplus into such a sweet ride.

"Is this a vacation or a kidnapping?" I ask cheerfully as he zooms west on US-24. I'm kind of enjoying the attention as well as the extravagance of the gesture. I should get pouty and depressed more often if I score some outdoors action like this. Anything that gets me out of my office. Anything.

"You tell me."

"You have to feed me either way, so I'm easy."

"I like to think of it as a kidnapping," Daniel decides, the smallest fugitive grin twitching his lips.

"You pulled it together remarkably quickly," I praise him, admiring the logistics of it. The back is stacked neatly with the latest in luxurious cold-weather gear and supplies, most of which I didn't know he owned.

"I was motivated." Daniel spares me a look, his first since he drove us away from my house; a direct, determined look. "I would've done it sooner if I'd thought there was any point."

I didn't expect this and he knows it. That little grin of his widens.

"You miss me, Jack," he says simply. "You miss me when I'm not around and I miss you."

"I don't want..."

"You look at me." His soft voice rises effortlessly over mine, stifling my instinctive protest. "Do you think I haven't looked at you?"

He looks at me again, my mouth slack, half-open in shock, nothing coming out. Nothing there.

"I never know what you want." His voice falls again to almost a whisper. "I'm never sure."

I can't stop this, can I? I can't stop what I started. I'm not even sure I want to. The blood is pounding and I feel like yelling, howling out until I'm hoarse.

"If you want me."

He said it. I didn't believe he could or I ever would.

"Sometimes I felt it was all in my head." He's being brave, he's so brave and it's costing him, his voice is shaking. "That it was only real there."

He sounds like me.

We are in the same space. Exactly the same.

His hand is there, riding the gear stick, and for a moment my hand rides his.

"I don't know. Daniel..." I have to swallow and start again because I can’t lie to him and I can scarcely get these words out. I don't know what to do. Only...it seems to me I've grown attached to him and that's the realest thing I feel. I latch onto it, although I don't know what it means or what I want, except I need to not hurt him. "I don't."

He hears the truth in this, he can even accept it.

I have to face a truth too, that he knows I want him. I do want him. I do. It's why I've worked so hard at blanking the reality of what he makes me do and see and feel.

I guess the other truth here is maybe I don't get to make the choice of what to do with this. I need this all to go quietly away and I don't believe Daniel is about that.

He hasn't said no.

"Where are we headed?" I strive for normality and if I don't quite make it, Daniel isn't calling me on it.

"Bitter Creek Trail. There may be fish, even at this time of year." He doesn't care.

"Seriously?"

"Seriously? It's a rougher trail, less used than others, likely deserted at the ass-end of the season. I figured you'd like it that way."

"If we can't avoid talking?" He's right.

Daniel almost, almost smiles. "If we can't avoid having sex."

"That's not going to happen." God help me, he's frowning. He's thinking this through. "No sex."

"I think it's a little early myself," he confesses. "It's a huge step from thinking about it to doing it with you. But I won't rule it out. It might get cold up there."

"Was that a joke?"

"Are you laughing on the inside?"

"Sex?"

"I'm not ruling it out."

"I am."

"All those times you've looked?" Daniel's bright face is speculative, filled with sudden sly amusement. "You've never thought about doing me?"

"I'm not allowed to think that." I manage something like dignity, a painful habit I've had to get into since the stars were first pinned on my shoulders. I feel like croaking.

"You're not allowed to think a lot of things but it doesn't stop you doing them," Daniel reminds me with maddening logic.

"So let me rephrase: I don't allow myself to think that."

"Let's not bore each other with recitations of rules and regs, okay?" Daniel pleads. "We both know you break them whenever you feel it's worth it and we both know how much our allies like having you around. General Hammond is only the first in a long line of Air Force officials and politicians to look the other way with the rare luxury of getting to care more about ends than means. Because it's you. Why else do you think you got promoted?"

I haven't been ready for most of the things that have come out of Daniel's mouth, but this one leaves me blinking.

"I told you," he says in a milder tone. "I have a lot to say to you."

"I didn't know your opinion of me was still this high." Not the only shock of my day and we haven't even made it off the highway yet.

"Some of the rules make sense to me," Daniel says thoughtfully. "Some of them make a difference in what we do. Mostly they're just the lowest of common denominators, blanket legislation to stop individuals thinking and questioning. An irrelevance to SG-1. To the SGC too, or the general and the brass in Washington would never have looked the other way for you for all this time. You're not good at letting anyone do your thinking for you. Unquestioning obedience isn't your style."

"If we’re dealing with reality and not rules and regs?" I reply.

Daniel nods and makes encouraging noises.

"If it's just us, just about the team and us? Then unquestioning obedience is very much my style."

Some days it's a moot point whose name is on the brass plaque sitting on what even I still think of as George Hammond's desk. Daniel wanted me to take the promotion as much as he wanted me to take the 'advice' of my friends. Namely, him.

I glance around at the near empty road and the glittering sky, the pine trees and the colour-washed red dirt of the high desert. I like the contradictions of Colorado. I like the contradictions – the challenges – of Daniel Jackson. Half of the time he drives me mad, half of the time he keeps me sane. Most of the time, he gets his way. I want to know if he can see how often he makes me do the wrong thing for the wrong reason, go against my orders and my training, only to please him. And that's only the big stuff.

"Pull in at the next gas station," I order. "I need to pee."

His grunt of acknowledgement is vague. Busy now. I've set him a puzzle and he's working at it. He won't quit until he has an answer by the throat.

This is fun. I'm not sure if life as I know it is breaking down or if we're building something up, but all the rules have changed. What I know no longer applies. There's nothing to hold Daniel or me back. We can – and we are – saying what we mean. Not what’s expected, not what the rules allow, only what we mean.

While Daniel worries at what we are to each other, what he does to me, I open my window and let the air bite at my face. The sting of it fits my mood.

I'm waking up.

"I'm sorry."

Daniel's hesitant guilt has me grinning. He's been bad and now he knows it. I've been worse and I figure now he knows that too.

"I wanted you to take the job." He doesn't look at me.

"To be the man," I agree understandingly. "Take advice from my friends." He meant from...

"I meant from..."

Him.

"Me."

I grin at him. "You weren't subtle about that."

"I've given you all kinds of advice."

Most of it, I've taken. Couldn't do without what he has to offer. And I've held onto him when he wanted to go, to leave all of us and everything behind him, go haring off after those Goddamned Ancients. Again. Atlantis may be there, but I'm here.

"You didn't want me to go rescue Sam when she was taken by the Trust." Daniel spares me a speculative look.

"Not in that damned stupid way, no," I retort briskly, wishing he'd zeroed in on almost anything but this. Anyone watching that particular run-in of ours could've been forgiven for thinking he was the man. He was certainly more in control than I was, something Siler would no doubt verify.

"Was that about this?" Daniel looks even more dubious. "It never occurred to me you were making any kind of value judgement about our lives, Sam's and mine."

"I wasn't!" It was never a case of trading Carter's life for Daniel's. She was the one who screwed up, left her back-up behind and just had to play with the shiny new toy the bad guy dropped. Why compound her error?

"You didn't want me to take the risk."

"The risk I didn't want to take was maybe losing you both."

"But you let me go anyway." Daniel is both pleased and slightly unnerved, remembering this.

"And the moral of this story is?" I ask him.

"Jack is a pushover?"

My turn to sigh.

Thoughtfully considering our long history together, Daniel tosses a few more not so random conclusions my way. "Sam asks and you say no. You come down on her and she has to take it. She always has to take it."

"It's those pesky rules and regs we aren't boring ourselves with."

"I don't take it, though," Daniel pushes on. "Even now, when you're the general and I know I'm supposed to. I would have taken it from Hammond. But not from you. I can't. I do try, but I – I can't. I have to fight." He's genuinely perplexed by this crucial differentiation he can't stop himself from making. "Because, I guess, you look at me and not at her."

That stings. He's too blunt and he puts me on the defensive. "I'm not proud."

"You should say no," Daniel advises me sincerely.

"You shouldn't ask."

"I'm selfish." He's woeful. "I always ask. I always push. I always want more."

He's shooting me these sidelong glances hinting I need to brace myself and be brave.

"That's not going to change, you know."

I take this on the chin and he perks up a bit.

"I am selfish."

What was I saying about the normal rules no longer applying? Daniel means this. I guess I have to mean it too.

"You are."

"I don't think, not about you, not about Sam or Teal'c. Not right then. Not at the time. I see what matters to me."

"Like a really truly cool book."

"And not what matters to you."

"Like the game of the season. You being with me for the game of the season."

"It's not that I don't care, Jack."

"Then what is it?" My turn to be blunt.

This upsets Daniel. He hates me thinking he doesn't care. Because he does. Passionately. He blows hot...

"I'm selfish."

And he blows cold.

"Personal isn't the same as important," I suggest and he looks horrified. "Gas station," I warn, spotting a sign at the side of the road ahead of us. "We're not all that dissimilar in the way we think, Daniel. We just have different objectives."

He drives into the gas station and pumps gas while I prowl over to the brazen oasis of beer, snacks and facilities. Small towns used to have this kind of a store on the main street. Part of the community, maybe the heart. Now, non-drivers with urgent chocolate cravings are completely screwed. It's down to progress, apparently. Franchising, economies of scale, all those big, bad things that mean small people get screwed coming and going, again and again.

Some things you can't change.

I can't change Daniel. He lives and breathes his research. He's a scholar, always learning, always needing and wanting to know more. It's more than what he is, it's who he is. Everything comes second to that. Everyone. He's always going to ask, he's always going to push and so long as it isn't lives on the line, only sports and tempers and convenience, when I can't come up with something better, I'm always going to say yes.

Every time I say yes it costs, in small ways for sure, but it costs everyone but him. Now he knows.

It's up to him what he does with that.

When I come out of the bathroom he's bought us steaming coffee and breakfast burritos we wolf down, picnicking out by the padlocked ice bin, idly watching the mundane world beginning to waken and stream by us on the highway.

He's still upset. Still thinking.

I still feel good. I wish I knew why. Nothing is going my way.

Daniel doesn't notice when I switch to watching him. Have I seen him in jeans before? I don't recall. If I have, they weren't so tight as these: they didn't make me look at him. It's impossibly weird to look and not look away. He's all legs and ass, and that face, gorgeous, all of him, everything, every single thing he has works for me. He's right for me. It's why I've worked so hard not to see him, not to connect the hip-bone to the thigh bone.

He walks and I follow him the way I do, seeing his grace.

Then I have a knot in my chest and I don't know where to look.

We're barely out of the gas station when Daniel brings up the question of sex. It seems to be on his mind.

"You think sleeping with me would only make me worse?" he asks, brutally direct. "About everything?"

I can hardly believe we're talking about having sex. Not only sex, but sex together. Sex is not a subject we have ever discussed. I've teased him about the effect he's had on this woman or that, about being a Stone Age dog, but we've never talked. It's not what we do. I'm at a loss for the appropriate response, this is so out of left field.

"You actually want to sleep with me?" I ask him. I sound incredulous.

"I'm not sure."

That's Daniel, incurably honest.

"But I'm not..."

"Ruling it out," we chorus together and he finds that apologetic half-smile of his again.

This is what I can't get a handle on. Daniel isn't hurling himself at me with promises of endless love and unnatural passion. He's very quiet and determined and thinking things through. He's not sure this is a good thing, not for either of us, and he believes it's going to happen to us regardless. If we can't avoid it.

That feels real to me. That's right.

I wonder if, deep down, as crazy as all of this is, he feels as alive as I do?

"Sex is an unnecessary complication," I tell him. "I'd be okay with it if you just remembered to turn up for the game."

"If you didn't believe on some level sex was going to become a very necessary complication for us, you wouldn't be here with me now," Daniel counters. He's back at me with the determination thing, a definite glint in his eye. "The game is only a metaphor."

"No, I'm pretty sure it's only a game."

"A metaphor. Like my book. It's what we have instead of sex."

"If I'm following you, what you're saying here is: you'll stop reading if I start putting out?"

Coming from Daniel, this offer makes as much sense to me as a fish promising not to swim.

"Why'd you get attached to me, Daniel?" I ask him, giving way momentarily to utter bewilderment. "Why not Carter? Or Fraiser? Or anyone who gets most of the stuff that comes out of your mouth? You and me, we're not the perfect match, you know?"

"Sam and Janet and maybe a whole lot of people get the sense of what I say," Daniel admits readily. "But they don't get me."

"Carter gets you. Carter practically is you."

Now his expression is pitying. "Sam doesn’t push me. Or distract me. You do."

"I don't get most of the things you do or say, Daniel. I'm not the man you are." If I'm pushing, it's out of ignorance and because I want my way as much as Daniel wants his.

"Since when did you let that stop you?"

It's weird, but when I see how flushed his face gets, how small and lost and difficult he is owning up to all of this, when I get caught up in that and stop listening to what he's saying – I hear him. I hear what he means and not what he says.

He needs me to be the man I am. He needs me.

"It doesn't make any sense," I argue.

"I can't explain," Daniel stubbornly argues back. "It's just the way things are. Get over it."

"You love me." I didn't mean to say it, I didn't mean to push his back up against some wall but it's out and he doesn't deny it. He can't lie in that way, not to me.

"You reach me." For the first time, he sounds terribly strained.

I stretch out my arm behind him, rub his back.

"You love me too, Jack."

When it comes down to it, with my own back against the wall, I can't deny it either.

There's only one other car in the bare, functional gravel lot at the trailhead and according to the prominent sign the absent party has considerately taped to the inside of the passenger window, they're not in our way.

We get our stuff ready with the minimum of fuss and chatter, the routine a familiar one even if we haven't ever done it this side of the Stargate. I check out the gear because I have to, the need is too ingrained to ignore, but there's nothing for me to do. Daniel has taken every wilderness precaution and packed every camping convenience, right down to the special spray thingie to scare bears. I guess he doesn't want me shooting 'em.

The sun is shining, the air is like wine and all the leaves are gold.

We're hiking uphill and upstream through dense forest, heavily laden, but the trail is good and whatever pace I set, Daniel will keep it. I don't feel any need to rush and we walk steadily, with no particular place to go and time to look around us. I'll know the spot when I see it. We ghost through tall shivering aspens and tumbling leaves in every shade of red and gold into an open space of green meadow grasses and small, still pools reflecting sky.

I don't feel like being still and we walk on, still climbing. It's too soft here, too pretty. Lulling. The peace of it is soaking into me but I'm an awkward bastard. I don’t give in so easy. I like to pick my spot and I like to know my risks are there. I'll see them coming.

I'm not sure Daniel is totally here with me but I lead and he follows along. With no one else around, I wait for him to do that thing he does when it's just the two of us. I don’t know when I first noticed. I do know it takes work; his legs are shorter than mine by an inch or two. Still, he manages it. He fixes on me, lets his mind go and walks precisely in my footsteps, a pace or two behind me, keeping perfect time. Never misses a beat or a step. We have this rhythm, one we look for. If not him, then me. It has to be there. Everything else, everyone, they're only counterpoint. Background to him. Him and me. Even walking.

There's plenty I've been ignoring, huh?

It gets me thinking maybe I've refused to make all these connections, see what I was doing, because I need this rhythm. Becoming aware of it, that can only lead to losing it.

We walk through rougher terrain, deeper into the forest, looking for a spot with the edge I want. Crossing a shallow, stone-tossed stream, I find it ahead of us, to the east and off the trail. A wide, deep place in the creek, the ground sloping steeply down to meet the clear, rushing water. There are rocks, mossy and damp but well placed with the aspens rearing up behind to camouflage us while we fish. A tiny clearing is set back in the trees, big enough for the tent and a fire-ring. It's a good spot.

I could almost forget why we're here. What we have to decide.

Making camp with a man who knows I love him turns out not to be any different than all the other times. Things need to be done and are done, smoothly and efficiently, each in their turn, by Daniel or by me or by us both. Shelter, bedding, heat, food, fuel and water, all taken care of with no fuss and little in the way of conversation. We heat soup and drink it down, shed some muffling, weather-proof layers, apply more sunscreen and head down to the creek.

All the while I'm thinking: Daniel is going to explode. I should have been timing him, he's been quiet so long. This has to be some kind of record. When Daniel isn't talking it's because he's thinking. He's been quiet so long and thinking so much I should be shit-scared.

This is a good day. I'm up for a fight.

I sit and start to put together the sections of my fishing rod while Daniel settles down beside me and looks out at the sun in the water.

Any minute, I think. He's going to start talking at me. Any minute now. I'm not talking. He's not talking. It has to be eating him up. He doesn't do silence.

He does me.

He leans right around and kisses me hard and fast on the mouth, then sits back so quickly he loses balance and has to throw out a hand to steady himself.

I knew he couldn't take it.

"Better?" I enquire as I ease the reel down into its seat and slide the lock over the top of it. My hands aren't even shaking.

"No, not really."

He just kissed me. Apparently, it was depressing.

"I want to do it again." He's pissed about this. "Properly."

"Wasn't that your evil plan?"

"I told you I wasn't sure about having sex with you."

"That makes two of us," I retort briskly as I pull out about twelve feet of line from the reel. As statements of intent go, this one is pretty definite. Fishing now.

Daniel pulls an impatient face. "It's not about whether you turn me on or whether I'd enjoy it," he complains. "I think that's pretty much a given."

It is?

"What I'm struggling with is do I want you to have even more of me?"

"You love me and you still stood me up to read a good book!" I remind him indignantly. "Which begs the question: you don't want me to have more of what?"

"It may be selfish, well, I guess it is selfish," Daniel corrects himself scrupulously. "We've established that, but I don't want to give up my books. I don't want to compromise my research. I don't want to have more demands on my time or deal with one single other commitment more than I have now."

"That is selfish." And I'm not sure I want to hear it. It's too close to the way I'm thinking.

"I've admitted it," he says quietly.

"Then maybe I should be admitting I'm getting in your way."

Daniel takes me seriously, which always disconcerts me. "I'm happy living my life this way, Jack," he asserts stubbornly.

"Alone?" I query, not believing him.

"I'm not alone. I have..." Hastily, he bites off what he was going to say and then he bites his lip.

"You have?" I prompt.

He doesn't want to answer this, even when I elbow him in the ribs by way of encouragement. Obliging as ever, I fill in the blank. "You have me." I can't resist expressing a certain amount of satisfaction with this.

"Unfortunately."

"But I'm not with you," I hint discreetly. Probably too discreetly, if the look on Daniel's face is anything to go by. He's not with me. "I mean, you don't have me – er..." How can I put this? "You don't have anyone at home."

"At home?"

"With you."

"With me?"

"It's just you. Alone. Alone at home."

"Just me," Daniel confirms, nodding vaguely.

"Just you." I think he thinks I've lost the plot. Should I just come right out and ask if the only action he's seen is through the gate with SG-1? How hard can it be to ask a guy who loves you – who you love – if he misses intimacy? Being intimate. Having someone there. Home. With him. "Just you and the books."

"And the really truly cool books," he reminds me ironically.

Okay, I need to get this straight in my head. "You're happy for all of this just to be the way it is between us? For us to be this – this...How can I put it so it makes sense? This wrapped up and this tangled in one another, to want as much as we do from each other, and to keep it all the way it is? To go on exactly as we are? You want we should go this far and no further?"

Wasn't this what I wanted? For this all to go quietly away? It sounds different coming from Daniel. It feels different.

"Yes. Although I find happiness tends to be a moot point." Daniel is so intense as he says this to me, so serious.

"Wanting and never having."

Daniel isn't flinching from this.

"Or should I say wanting and having me only in ways you can cope with?"

"Pretty much."

Like looking in a mirror.

"You don't actually know where it would stop, do you?" I ask him softly. "The wanting? You're as obsessed with me as I am with you."

"Obsessed?" Daniel is nonplussed, not so much at me characterising his feeling for me this way, but at me so strongly characterising my feeling for him. We're the same. It's too much for him. "Jack, I've never..."

"Felt this way?" I interject too quickly, rushing him.

"Affected anyone this way," Daniel confesses, also too quickly. Too honestly.

"That's what you think."

"There are times I've barely felt part of – of life, of the present. I look back so much it's hard to see myself sometimes, let alone..." He breaks off, frustrated at his inability to adequately express himself. "How am I supposed to know – how can I see the impact I have on others when I'm so – so small?"

"Small?" I echo incredulously.

"Compared to the scale of human history, human endeavour? To what's out there? Through the gate? Small."

"I never knew anyone who thought like you."

"Another thing you love about me?" Daniel asks impulsively.

"Another thing."

"For your information, I've never known anyone who thinks like you either, Jack."

"It's like you're living under glass. As good as you are with people, as engaged and driven to help them as you seem, you're never really touching anyone, never letting them touch you. Not where it counts." Not intimately.

Daniel is so passionate, so definite, I've never thought of him as being stifled. I see now that he is, that he's the one who's tied some of these knots he's in. I've been so busy avoiding reality I've hurt us both, I think. In trying not to see us, I've lost sight of him.

I know he's been hurt, he's been hit harder by life than almost anyone I know. I was with him when some of his worst wounds were inflicted. At times, I've felt like Daniel is fated, almost marked out for grief and suffering. All the time I've known him, all the pain he's quietly shouldered - I should know what that's done to him. I should. But do I? Do I really? Or have I had enough losses of my own I've been glad I've never had to carry his?

Daniel's alone with his really truly cool books, trying desperately to believe this is how he wants to live, how he's meant to live. Maybe the truth I haven’t been seeing is that this is how he has to live.

He has me but not all of me. Not even enough of me. Only enough to hurt. Because he loves me. And he's too scared to want more than the little he has. A lot of his bravado has deserted him and all I see in his face now is trouble. He wants me to know this about him but it still hurts.

"You don't know what to do with me, do you?" I ask him mildly. "How to feel, what to do? You're hiding out in those books of yours."

"I'm lost in them, sometimes." Daniel glances at me, wanting to tell me all of it but afraid to open up, to let me in so deep.

I think it's this moment where I realise he does love me. It's not just something he says. It's something he feels and means. Something he needs. He would never talk like this if he could avoid it, any more than I would.

I do the only thing I can for him, setting my fishing rod carefully down on the rock behind us. It's easy and natural then for my arm to hug against his back. I find I can smile at him and he smiles back, looking too grateful for comfort.

"I want to be lost at times," he murmurs, timid for the first time. "To be lifted outside of myself. To be part of something so much bigger... I've given everything over to my research, believing – it's my life, Jack." He needs me so badly to hear him. "My life."

"Nobody ever has distracted you, have they?" I ask him gently. "Not the way I do."

"I'm obsessed. I am." Daniel sounds strange even to himself. "It's cost me – it's..."

"I know," I acknowledge simply, not judging, only hearing him. It's what he needs from me. He's not even asking me to understand him, to accept. He doesn't want to struggle through this alone.

"My work has to have meaning." His own feelings scare him more than anything can.

"Has it ever occurred to you what you need to learn isn't in here?" I tap a quick finger against his head. For a genius, he can be dumb. "Or in books? What you're supposed to learn about is yourself."

"What's occurred to me," Daniel says quickly, unsteadily, "is how often I'm wrong, how often you're wrong. When we get together, that's when we're right. When we make sense. Most everything makes sense."

He is trying to learn about himself. It's why we're here, suffering through this expensive honesty of his.

"I don't think I lie too much, not to myself," Daniel unconsciously echoes me. "I'm like everyone else, though. The defences I have may be small, but I need them. My dependence on my scholarship, my obsession, is pretty near my only defence. My intellect, Jack. It's all I've ever had."

From anyone else, this might have sounded pitiful.

I know what I'm up against and I know how much I've fed into this obsession myself. We're all guilty of it, of making Daniel our go-to guy. Every team, bringing every scrawl on a wall, mouldy old tablet, weird-assed doodad or suspect pottery sherd straight to his door. We've validated everything that's held him back, helped to keep him locked up inside his own head.

"I don't know how to go about breaking a cycle of obsession," Daniel confesses painfully.

Especially not with everyone he cares for constantly feeding it and needing so damned much from him. Not with the weight of expectation on him, the incessant demands that he prove himself. We need him to be what he is, but by God, we make him pay for it. Being a part of something – part of us - means that much to him.

"I can intellectualise the fact of that obsession but I don't know what it means, how much of who I am is bound up in it, or how much would be left. How much would be broken. Sometimes, I feel I've been through too much. Too many changes, too many losses, too many endings. I don't know what to do, Jack," Daniel admits, small-voiced and a little shaky. "How do I change what defines me? Do I?" He breaks off, biting his lip.

"Go on," I urge him, trying for reassurance.

"Do I even want to? Because this is who I am. I'm a scholar. It's fundamental to me to challenge, to question, to learn. It's life."

"And yet, you're here. With me. Asking questions, getting under my skin, failing to come up with ways to avoid having sex. On some level, you've already made a decision."

He's paralysed with love. Why didn't I see that? How could I not know? Being the one who's getting in his way, that's only my side of it all. Daniel doesn't see me holding him back or being wrong for him. He only sees the ways he'll let me down. It's because he'll let me down – because he's damaged - he's let us be apart.

I can't stand to let Daniel down. He can't give up all this, take these risks, make himself so vulnerable to me and get nothing back. I'm starting to make sense of why it can only be me for him, why he loves me of all people. I didn't expect it to be so simple. I'm the one who can break him free of his obsession. The one who can reach him even when he doesn't want to be reached. He let Oma take him away, but he couldn't stop me from bringing him back. That first line he crossed, he crossed for me. All the power of the universe, the answer to every inconceivable question within his reach, and he came for me.

At least as confused as Daniel is by the effect we have on each other, I don't know what to say to him, I don't know what to do for him. Or for myself.

I think he might want me to kiss him or something, but I put my arm around him instead. We haven't even gotten to my part in this.

Daniel Jackson is not the man to let a little thing like emotional honesty traumatise him. He's quite worried about things but this hasn't stopped him bouncing back to – more or less – his usual self.

Happiness, he said, is pretty much a moot point where he's concerned. This is pushing all kinds of buttons for me but at least I can see where he gets some of his resilience from.

Lowered expectation.

I'm worried too.

Obviously, this means we're sitting here talking about fishing. I'm not exactly Dr. Phil, but I'm giving the supportive platonic buddy thing my best shot.

Daniel is not helping.

"But the rod is the primary piece of tackle!" I argue. "You can't just buy any old piece of crap the guy in the store tosses at you."

"It was on special."

"Especially if it was on special! That's sacrilegious." I'm deeply offended and I hope this shows to the philistine taking up valuable space on my fishing rock. "You feel the whole fishing experience through your rod. It literally connects you to the fish."

Daniel peers dubiously into the creek. "The water, maybe," he concedes reluctantly.

"Buying your rod is like buying your car." I consider Daniel's reclaimed junker for a moment. "Okay, bad example."

Daniel looks from my rod to his. "Ostentation versus function?" he enquires a trifle coldly.

"Don't you get fishing at all?"

"I get fish." Before I can counter his sarcasm he scuffs a foot and sighs. "I get fishing," he says quietly. "No errors in fishing. No right or wrong."

"A fight where everyone gets to walk – or swim – away."

"You think of it in terms of a fight?"

"Most anglers do," I reply cagily. "At least the ones I've known. A fight you can't win by brute force, only by skill and tactics, by outmanoeuvring the fish in its own element."

Daniel lets out this snort. "If you'd ever caught a fish, I might, and I repeat might, buy into some of that Churchillian Crappie Club propaganda." Displaying a complete lack of soul, he shrugs amusedly. "But until I see you actually fighting your fish on the beaches instead of the seafood aisle at Safeway, I'll stick with healthy scepticism."

I bet Dr. Phil would have something to say about it if I pushed the irritating shit off my rock. I mean, come on! What does Daniel want from me? The truth? I'm not getting into the beauty of nature or the rhythm you find in the water or crap like that. Not with him. He's had more than his piece of me already. Suffice it to say even on days when I cast into trees, have wind knots, lose flies or fat fish or fall in the river, something keeps me coming back for more.

It's simple.

I'm simple.

I like fishing.

"I guess you read, you study for a lot of the same reasons I fish," I allow. "You want those moments where you're lifted completely outside yourself, when there's nothing else."

Hey, now. That was pretty damn good. Daniel is still dry and I'm supporting up a storm here. Dr. Phil would be proud.

Daniel's lips are moving in this slow, extra-exaggerated way. I think he's trying to work out what I just said to him and what I did with the real Jack O'Neill.

"It's relaxing!" I snap, goaded. "You should fish," I decide on his behalf, strongly drawn to any activity that might shut him up for five minutes. "Go fish with me. Being up to your ass in icy water watching the sun come up has to be better for you than always burning the midnight oil."

"I thought I was fishing with you," Daniel protests, with a significant look at my tackle.

"Don't be so literal," I advise him patronisingly. Can't he see I'm on a roll here? I have smooth segues going.

Fishing as metaphor...

"You do know that every time you mention your rod, I'm thinking about?" Daniel leans over and sort of nods shiftily at a significant portion of my anatomy. "You know?"

...but not for that.

"Colour me the one that got away."

"Why?" Daniel asks in his most reasonable, wheedling tone.

"I can't have sex with you, for many, many reasons so self-evident, I shouldn't have to explain."

"Humour me."

"It would be – and I use the word advisedly - criminally stupid."

"Criminally stupid?" Daniel muses thoughtfully, with a snippy cast of his rod for added emphasis. "Is having sex – in private - more or less criminal than, say, desertion? Mutiny? Insubordination? Aggravated assault? Threatening a government official? Aiding and abetting the escape of prisoners in custody? Kidnapping a minor? Finishing wars we didn't start? Starting riots in downtown bar-&-grills?"

"No one likes a smart-ass with a good memory." His memory is better than mine. "Aggravated assault?" Drawing a blank on this one.

"The assault was on me."

Ah. In that case, it goes without saying I was aggravated.

"Is the difference only that sex is personal?" Daniel stiffens up, not sure whether to get hostile or defensive on me. "Is this what you're trying not to tell me, Jack? You don't want to get that close to me?"

He asks this with an insistent, pissy dignity I can't bring myself to brush off, staring searchingly into my reluctant face. I watch his change as he reads mine.

"Oh." It's a flat, heavy sound, dull with disappointment. "You're scared you do want to get that close."

"You're not exactly all over this yourself," I remind him as neutrally as I can. "Come on, Daniel. Get real. You wouldn't know how to deal with it if I did jump your bones." Relationships. Daniel has not had a lot of luck with those. People he cares about tend to destroy or be destroyed right before his eyes. He knows it. I give a little. With his track record, I can hardly blame him for being gun-shy. "So maybe I'm selfish too."

He smiles fleetingly, in wry acceptance. "You have your own obsessions," he concedes. "We both want the Stargate more than anything."

"I also like to think I'm an honourable man," I state more sharply than I intend. Daniel reads me too well and he's damnably quick.

"You're above all a practical man," Daniel retorts. "You bend and break the rules and regs whenever it suits you, so don’t try to hide out behind them now. Don't try to make this about rank or integrity, because the only person you truly answer to is yourself. You set the standard you choose to meet. This is where your measure of integrity lies." I tapped him the head earlier. He pokes me in mine. "Right here! You've always been your own man, Jack. The only question here is whether having sex with me is worth your while."

"It's not the only question. Of course it's not!" I snap. "I may love you but that doesn't mean I want to have sex with you or with any man. Maybe I just want to be your friend."

Couldn't that be enough? For both of us?

I expect Daniel to get mad and make some snap judgement about me being some kind of homophobe, something ugly, but strangely, this admission softens him.

"Maybe you can only deal with being my friend," he murmurs, his brow furrowing. "Or think you can." He blinks slowly, lost in so much thought he makes me nervous all over again. "Sorry," he apologises absently. "I didn't think about issues of masculinity per se."

Masculinity?

"Easy," I warn.

I do not like the way Daniel is looking at me.

"Coming from a man who admits he'd rather jump into bed with a good book, any discussion of what might or might not constitute masculinity is going to be problematic," I inform him sourly, sure he's gonna git me anyway.

"I'm comfortable with my definition. You're the one with the problem," Daniel retorts.

It's amazing how the prospect of giving my blinkered, stone-age psyche a good smacking energises him.

"You can't even say 'I do not have a problem'," he says brightly. "Because you manifestly do."

I know I do. "I can't have sex with you, and I won't."

Daniel nods understandingly, looking as if this makes perfect sense to him. "Why not?"

"I. Will. Not. Be. Compromised."

"Compromised? Interesting choice of words," Daniel muses thoughtfully, his brow wrinkling in that way it does. "Compromised how?"

"I don't have to answer that, you know. Just because you're asking."

"I know."

It's not sympathy I'm seeing.

"But answer anyway."

"I'm military." All my life. A soldier. A pilot. I've worked for it, paid for it. Excelled. "You think you know what that means." If I sound accusing, I guess I mean to. I think I know what that means to him. He's quick to see the negatives and use the positives. What I am, what I do, it gets him what he wants. He's with me and against me, in my world and standing apart from it, needing and sometimes despising, using and judging, all at the same time.

I love what I do. Does Daniel see that? Does he see me? All of my life. If I wasn't in love with it all, how could I do the things I've done? How could I live with myself?

Nothing the Air Force demands of me could be worse than not being part of it.

That much of myself, I know.

The rules I break, there are limits. Lines I won't cross, things I won't give up. Hammond knows. Carter too. Every soldier does. Nothing I've done, nothing I would do, has cost me respect. I break the rules and it's tolerated only because the men are with me. The men will follow me.

Not something Daniel finds so easy. He can function without respect, he's fearless. He can walk alone.

I can't. I need respect. I stand up when I have to, I fight when it's right, but there's always a point. There are always eyes on me, judgements made.

I lead.

Daniel doesn't want that for himself, he doesn't care. He can walk alone, he's happy alone and he can't see.

I'm not alone.

Some rules can't be broken. Some secrets can't be kept. They corrode, eat at you from inside out. This may be the biggest cliché of them all but it's still a cold truth: you always know.

My world, my men – there's no place for gays. I don't have the luxury of judging that, not the way Daniel does. I have to live with it, there's no choice about it. It's my command, it's who I am. I lead those men, I have to have their respect even if they are – if they can be - homophobic bigots Daniel Jackson wouldn't spit on.

What I feel, what I want, doesn't come into it.

More than a soldier, I'm an officer. It's not my job, it's my identity. I chose this life, I've paid for this life because honour, integrity – those aren't just words on a recruiting poster to me. Those are life and death.

I lead by example: that's the essence of who and what I am.

How can I fuck Daniel? How can I live that lie? It's not even the risk of being discovered. Those rules and regs we aren't troubling ourselves with cover my ass. No one is ever going to ask me if I'm fucking Daniel. I'll never have to tell. I am needed that much, not kidding myself here.

I would know.

How could I lead, knowing? Betraying men who trust me, who respect me, is betraying myself. Even though it's ugly and it's not my choice, it has to be a part of me because it’s a part of them, and it's not the worst of any of us.

Compromised, how?

Is he kidding?

Fucking Daniel would change me. I would be lying, cheating, hiding. That's my honour, my integrity. My doubt, my guilt. I would be what they despise and if they knew, I'd lose them. I'd lose myself.

I don't want to talk any more. I don't want to think.

I need this all to go away. I need Daniel to live for what goes on inside his head, what we find through the gate, not live for me. I need to say no.

I look at him now, at his tight, steady eyes and pinched determination and I think I'll lose him.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Biblio, PhoenixE, babs, Brionhet, Darcy, Devra, Fabrisse, JoaG, Kalimyre, Marcia, Rowan and Sideburns, 2001-2008.
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