We had fought. Angry words ... the kind that after you say them, both the speaker and receiver stand in absolute silence, shocked that such words of hatred could be spoken from someone you thought you loved ... or better yet, loved you. Honestly, there were quite a few of those incidents tonight. Daniel gave as good as he got, I'm proud to say. I guess I taught my archeologist well.
Daniel had wanted to run ... as soon as the fight escalated to epic proportions. I saw it in his body language, the set of his shoulders, his breathing, the clenching and unclenching of the fists by his side. He had actually gotten as far as the door, hand on the handle.
"Daniel, don't let the door hit you on the ass ... 'cause if you walk ... it's done ... we're done ... over ... cooked." Now, in the grand scheme of life, this fight had gotten loud and nasty ... but it wasn't the fight. It was just the great Jonathan O'Neill's mouth wanting to have the last word.
We had stood at an impasse, and if this had been a movie, the cameraman would have panned towards a ticking clock as the good guy made his decision. Two things worked in my favor: during the evening, 4 inches of snow had fallen and the white stuff was still coming down ... and Daniel's car was in the shop. So he either had to walk home, but the hero in the story is far from dumb and stupid, or he had to ask the bad guy for a lift ... like I said the hero is neither dumb nor stupid.
Daniel turned to face me, and for a moment I saw something ... an emotion that was totally unreadable in Daniel's eyes. There had been such unfathomable emotional turmoil in the depths of those eyes that my balls had tightened painfully. In fear, in empathy ... honestly I wasn't sure I really wanted to know.
So I had watched as Daniel did the next best thing to running ... He went to bed, without a backward glance, without cleaning up his mess, the coffee pot, his research, his books, shoes, computer. I had been left to clean up the little pieces of Daniel. As I washed out the coffee pot, preparing it for the morning run, I realized that my linguist, without uttering a sound in the last 45 minutes, had actually had the last word.
Daniel had been sleeping for hours by the time I hit the sheets. Though the room is dark, the light seeping in through the window from the falling snow enabled me to see Daniel's slumbering form in the bed. Even in sleep, Daniel has perfected his avoidance techniques, curled far from the center of the bed, far from me.
I settle in ... moving to the center of the bed, hoping that Daniel will seek me out during the night. My fingers dance across the covers, then slide back to me as they perseverate their need to touch my lover's body. I eventually feel myself begin to drift towards the plane of sleep ... arms empty ... I close my eyes.
Mumbled words, a short cough, followed by Daniel clearing his throat awaken me. I remember with clarity in the dead of this cold winter night, how the fight had started.
Daniel had been so engrossed by the information on his laptop that he jumped and looked up at me in surprise when I slammed the bottle of water and allergy medication on the table next to him.
"Daniel ... for the past hour, your throat clearing and coughing has been driving me nuts. Take the medication and let me at least have some peace while I watch the last period of the hockey game."
Dismissing me, he pushes the blister pack and the bottle of water away. "I'm fine, Jack."
"Daniel, you are not fine, 'cause if you were, I wouldn't be trying to give ..."
"Forcing me, Jack. I'm fine ... just a tickle."
Two stubborn men, a battle of wills ... and it had escalated into a fight we had taken into the bedroom.
I shake Daniel's shoulder to awaken him before the start of a nightmare. Coherent enough to remember our anger, he jerks from my grasp without a word. Readjusting the blankets tighter around his body, and returns to slumber.
"No, don't." Daniel says as I rub his neck in comfort after being awakened for the fourth time by the start of one of Daniel's nightmares. He reaches behind his body and blindly bats my hand away, repeating "I'm fine."
I open my mouth to dispute that statement, but think better of it. Each time the words of the nightmare encroach on Daniel's sleep, I awaken him with a touch, only to have him pull further and further from me. Next time, I'm going to let Daniel's demons play themselves out.
I push through the levels of sleep, as Daniel's voice cuts into my subconscious. Fighting the urge to touch him ... I listen and wait ... literally tucking my hands under my armpits to quell their need to comfort.
And this is an old nightmare of Daniel's, steeped in years of denial. Of family ... desertion ... abandonment. A child's fear that, in the darkest of nights, follows an adult Daniel ... to haunt him.
By the time Daniel has sprung up in bed, my hands have lost the battle with my mind and I grab him ... pulling his body towards me. My hands travel compulsively over his shaking form in an attempt to find the place that will offer him the most comfort. I whisper into his ear, meaningless words ... platitudes of sentiment. He draws continuous shuddering breaths trying to fill his lungs with air. Daniel rests his forehead on drawn up knees as I trace lazy circles against his sweaty tee shirt, feeling his thudding heart against my palm.
Daniel rotates his head in my direction so his cheek is now resting on his raised knees. He inhales deeply, and then releases the air through pursed lips. "Sorry, sorry ... sorry," he laments. "Past baggage I forgot to check at the door."
I lean over and offer him a gentle kiss on his temple. "Baggage claim check ... can I see what's inside?"
Daniel screws his eyes shut, top teeth pulling at the tender skin of his lower lip. He shrugs his shoulders, shakes his head and leaves the room. I begin to count and get to 30 before I hear Daniel's voice calling for me.
I join him in the kitchen, the coffee pot already starting its morning blend. I stand behind him, resting my chin on his shoulder, holding him close, with my arms clasped around his waist. I'm cold ... and if I'm cold, Daniel must be freezing in his flannels, baggy, sweat soaked tee shirt, and bare feet. As if reading my mind, he shivers ... I kiss his neck ... secure in my knowledge that there are other ways to warm a cold linguist. He lets out an exasperated sigh, physically removes my arms from his body and walks into the living room. I mentally kick myself for misreading my Daniel signals, touching was okay ... but nothing else.
He holds himself now, arms wrapped tightly around his body staring at the snow falling. I lean against the kitchen doorframe, observing Daniel's reflection in the shadeless window. His eyes are seeing past the snow, into years that have left an indelible mark on his personality.
I enter the living room and offer Daniel the afghan from the couch. He smiles at my thoughtful gesture, wrapping it tightly around his shoulders. My house ... our life ... Daniel would never have brought comfort to himself like I just did.
The fireplace is spreading warmth within the room, Daniel and I are sitting on the couch, warming our hearts under a shared afghan, warming our bodies with mugs of coffee laced with Irish whiskey.
Daniel palms the mug in his hands, rolling it back and forth, distracting himself and me ... guiding us away from the reason we are sitting on the couch, under the blanket, in front of a roaring fire, drinking coffee and whiskey at 0330. Wordlessly, I pluck the cup from his busy hands, placing both his and mine on the coffee table. I lean back, grabbing his hands, rubbing them ... wondering why they are chilled even after holding the warm coffee.
He pushes our combined hands down until they rest against his upper thigh. Threading his fingers around mine, staring into the dancing flames, Daniel begins the story that nightmares are made of.
"Three months after my parents died, I was taken in by a set of foster parents, the Ardens. They had two children of their own, older than me, both girls. It wasn't home ... they were far from being my parents ... but there was a warmth in the house. Jeff Arden was a professor at the local college, in the history department ... and she worked ... as a librarian at the college. Part-time ... always home when the kids came home from school. They were patient and loving to a little boy who wasn't always ... uummmm ..."
Daniel issued a short laugh. "That's a little nicer than I was going to say ... but, yeah, you got the idea."
"Spring happened, Jack. Egypt didn't have fathers who spend Sundays cutting the grass ... mothers who spend hours tending their rose garden. The first warm spring day ... I spent coughing and sneezing. That night ... I remember it was warm enough to sleep with the windows open ... but I felt like I couldn't get enough air. I woke them and told these two people that I didn't feel well. They made all the appropriate noises ... took me into their bed ... fluffed up the pillows and let me stay with them. The next morning Linda Arden took me to the doctor, who examined me ... I ended up in the hospital. Asthma ... brought on by a severe allergy attack. I remember the doctor was annoyed that Linda had waited so long to bring me in ... she took me to the hospital and I never saw her again."
"The social worker came to pick me up two days later with the news that the Ardens had changed their mind about being foster parents."
He closes his eyes and leans his head on my shoulder. "I wonder where that came from. Haven't thought about that ... the Ardens in years."
"Oh, Daniel ... you think about the Ardens all the time. Whenever you answer 'I'm fine' you're thinking of them."
"No ... tonight was the first time ..."
"Somewhere in that head of yours is a little boy who thinks if he never told those wonderful foster parents that he didn't feel well, he would have lived happily ever after."
I feel the weight of Daniel's head as he shakes it in denial. "Daniel." I grab his chin gently, prohibiting further movement. My thumb begins a mindless caress of his cheekbone. He leans slowly into my hand, allowing his tongue to flick across the folds of my palm. I smile at the sensation that his tongue is awakening in all my body parts. But I need to stop it, this avoidance technique that Daniel is using ... appealing to my cock ... who never questions Daniel's motives ... ever.
I can feel a moan building as Daniel snakes his way under my tee shirt. I know in a moment I am going to pass the point of reason and then there will be no turning back. And by the time the alarm clock rings, the Ardens will again be buried in Daniel's subconscious ... to resurface only his nightmares.
"Daniel." My voice is muffled against his open mouth. His tongue begins to explore my mouth. "No ... Daniel." I pry him off me, hardening my heart against the hurt expression on his face.
He flings himself off the couch and stomps off into the kitchen. I enter the room two steps behind him and like a caged and injured animal he turns to face me. His flushed face alive with anger and bewilderment, even from across the room I am aware that he is panting as if he had endured a marathon. I know differently ... Daniel doesn't run away from me ... he is running from my forced confrontation of this memory of his. In two strides, I am holding his biceps in my grip, feeling the tautness of suppressed emotions running through my fingers. I waylay his anger with a gentle kiss to his parted lips, his brow is furrowed in confusion when we separate.
Before he can even begin any type of tirade, I silence Daniel's voice by placing my finger on his just kissed lips. "Daniel, I need you to pay attention to what I am going to tell you." I do not wait for his answer, but start an important life lesson on honesty with one's self and conclude with his placement in my life. I'm not sure if he hears me ... I'm sure he is listening ... but with Daniel, listening and hearing are two completely different agendas.
I hear a familiar sound from upstairs ... "Saved by the bell." I whisper to Daniel.
"The alarm clock ... morning already. Morning and shoveling. Did I ever tell you how much I really hate Colorado winters."
"I know." I nuzzle his neck, feeling the stubble on his chin rub against my nose. I grab him close to me ... but the buzzing of the morning's alarm clock in the bedroom is setting my teeth on edge. Long night, little sleep is going to lead to a long day with little patience ... and lots of caffeine intake to remain coherent.
I've barely seen Daniel over the past forty-eight hours. Meetings, paperwork, reports have lent themselves to keeping us apart ... on the base ... but respectively closeted in our offices. With other people ... far from each other.
I stand before Daniel's desk which is strewn with books, artifacts ... research material ... evidence of a project that he has been engrossed in. Plates of half eaten sandwiches, empty, stained styrofoam cups filled with tea bags, an open Tylenol bottle telegraph to me Daniel's physical state over the past two days.
"Daniel." I turn and face my lover as he enters his office, his arms holding a pile of folders.
"Watcha doing here?" He looks for an empty spot on he desk to deposit the folder, opting for his chair instead. His glances at his desk, then at me ... guilt apparent on his features.
"Had a few minutes ..." I begin.
"I haven't seen you for 42 hours ... 7 minutes ... 10 seconds ..."
"But who's counting." He eyes me seductively over his glasses ... a dangerous glance in the workplace can only lead to a dangerous outcome. A wonderful avoidance technique, guiding my thoughts below my belt instead of to the tea bags and Tylenol on the desk. "How ya doing?"
Daniel takes a breath and I close my mouth in anticipation. I need to quell my words like I did my hands two days ago.
"I feel like crap." He mumbles.
"What?" I ask incredulously.
"Crap ... head hurts, chest, throat ..."
"I think so."
"Of your own volition ... not kicking and screaming. Without your commanding officer dragging you."
"Own free will."
I'm off to the side, listening to Fraiser explain something to Daniel ... and I see his nod of acknowledgement. The only thing I've heard Fraiser say was something along the lines of "sinus infection ... fever" and that's all that penetrated. But what I did hear ... and what Daniel's presence in this infirmary confirms, is that Daniel heard me ... two nights ago in the kitchen ... he really did listen. In my heart, I have hope that Daniel will unpack his excess baggage little by little until he realizes that he truly has come home to stay.
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