Eclipse By Kalimyre
“Sand. Oh, goody.”
The rest of us ignore Jack and his complaints about the sand. This place actually isn’t too bad, compared to some of the desert planets we’ve seen. It’s clearly dry and hot, but not on the level of, say, Abydos, or even Egypt. The sand is shallow, dull brown grit that lies heavy and flat rather than scooped into dunes, and the sun seems distant, bright but cool.
“There’s your pillar, Daniel,” Sam says, pointing at what is actually a stele, half buried in a drift of sand.
“We came halfway across the galaxy so he could look at that?”
We all keep ignoring Jack. Sometimes, it’s just easier. He sighs when he sees no one is going to play ball with him, and starts giving orders. Set up the camp, patrol the area, all that stuff. I’m already tuning him out, focused on the stele and the sand-worn inscriptions. The markings are like Linear B script, but they don’t spell anything I recognize. Except that one...
“Hey, Teal’c, does this look familiar to you?”
He stops setting up his tent, much to Jack’s annoyance, and comes to stand behind me. “It does not, Daniel Jackson,” he says, and I frown. The carvings are barely there, worn by who knows how many years of wind and sand. I let my fingers trace over them, awed as always by the sense of sheer age. How many people have touched this thing before me? How many lives were lived around it?
“Jack,” I call over my shoulder. “Would you grab the paper and charcoal out of my pack? I need your help with a frottage.”
When he doesn’t appear after a few seconds, I turn to look at him. Jack is staring at me with an odd sort of crooked smile, his eyebrows raised behind his sunglasses.
“Jack? The rubbing? A little help?”
The eyebrows go a tad higher, and the smile sharpens at the corners. “Of course,” he says slowly. “The rubbing. Whatever you say, Daniel.”
I roll my eyes. “Oh, stop it, Jack. How old are you again?”
“Old enough,” he says briskly, bringing the pack over to me. “Now get your own paper and stuff. I’ve got to get the perimeter secured.”
Right. I notice that securing the perimeter involves a lot of standing around and supervising while Sam and Teal’c do the actual work. But that’s okay, I really should ask Teal’c for help with this anyway. He has the required patience and ability to be quiet for more than five minutes at a time.
I let them bustle around me while I crouch in the sand, peering at the stele. I suppose I should be grateful that Jack is letting me study it instead of insisting I help with setting up the camp. I continue being grateful until some indeterminate time later, when I look up and notice that the camp was fully constructed while I was distracted. Fully constructed with only two tents.
I narrow my eyes at him. “Two tents?”
“It’s a desert, Daniel,” he says with exaggerated patience. “It’ll get damn cold tonight, and we’ll need to share.”
“Oh,” I say dryly. “Goody.”
I normally wouldn’t mind, except that Jack insists on sharing with me, and he snores. He says I’m worse, but I have yet to see proof of that. His snoring is doubly irritating because if I try to nudge him in any way, he tends to come awake violently, often grabbing me around the neck. Understandable, but not fun.
“Colonel! Daniel! Look!”
Jack bounces to his feet immediately, his weapon up, and I struggle to follow, my legs cramping from so much time hunched over by the stele. Sam is pointing at the sky, Teal’c beside her, both of them staring upwards.
Jack and I follow where she’s pointing, and see that the bright, distant sun is not so bright anymore. I blink at it, my sunglasses not quite enough to make looking at it directly comfortable, and I finally get what’s wrong. The side of the white disc is being eaten away by a black mouth.
“It’s an eclipse,” Jack murmurs beside me. I glance over at him, white spots hovering in my vision, and see that he’s grinning like a kid.
“This is amazing, sir!” Sam yells. “Solar eclipses are quite rare. The odds of us coming here on the right day, and being in the right place to see it are, well, astronomical.”
I squeeze my eyes shut and then face the ground for a few minutes, rubbing beneath my sunglasses. When I open them again, I see that our shadows are fading on the ground, slowly and steadily. It’s already cooler, and there is a kind of eerie half-dusk light that is getting dimmer by the second.
“Wow,” Jack says, and I smile at his wonder. He’s still staring up, his lenses reflecting the eclipse for me. I watch it that way, so my eyes won’t hurt. Soon, there is nothing but a black circle with some bright white beads of light along one edge.
“Don’t look at it directly, sir,” Sam says, coming over to stand beside us. “It could damage your eyes.”
He nods but doesn’t look away. His lips are parted, half-smiling, his hands slack at his sides. I can’t help feeling a little uneasy—he looks hypnotized. In the reflection on his glasses, I see that we’ve reached totality—a perfect black circle surrounded by a blaze of light.
“The insects believe it is night,” Teal’c says, joining our little bunch. Now that’s he’s pointed it out, I can hear them, chirping away. We still have shadows, but they’re barely there, and I can see a few stars appearing. I rub at my arms, feeling the prickling of goose bumps. My first eclipse.
The period of totality lasts only a few minutes, and then the black disc begins to slide away, revealing first white, liquid beads of light welling on one side, growing to a crescent and more. I have to look away again, watching the sun re-emerge in the lenses of my own glasses, which I’ve taken off.
“That was fantastic,” Sam chirps happily, blinking away the sun dazzle. “The next eclipse on Earth isn’t due for several years, and then the path of totality is only going to be visible in parts of Africa. I never expected to see one myself.”
“I have seen two previously,” Teal’c says. “On Chulak, they are far more common, due to the number of moons.”
“Nice,” Jack says softly. “Nice.”
I give him a sideways look, fighting the urge to grab him and shake him. He’s still staring up at the sky, his mouth open and his eyes wide.
“Are your eyes okay?”
Sam looks over at him when she hears my question, and frowns. “Sir? You really shouldn’t look directly at the sun. Even sunglasses are inadequate protection. You could damage your retinas.”
“I’m not looking directly, Carter,” he says distantly. “And I’m fine.”
He stares blankly for a few more seconds, and then shakes it off, beaming at me. “So, Danny. How’d you like the show?”
Danny. He hasn’t called me that in a long time. Didn’t realize how much I’d missed it. “I liked it fine,” I reply evenly. He nods and claps me on the back, squeezing my shoulder. The arm stays around my shoulders longer than is really necessary, but he ducks my questioning look.
“Something to tell your grandkids about, right Carter?”
Sam gives him a thin smile that says she knows perfectly well her chances of having grandkids are not great. She’s almost forty, after all. Jack winces a little when he realizes what he just said, and heads off to ‘patrol the perimeter.’
So. Back to work. Looks like the show’s over.
I may have gotten lucky this time. The dry air seems to actually help Jack’s sinuses, because he’s being very quiet. I’ve taken first watch, as usual, and after waking Sam I’m quite glad to crawl into my Jack-warmed tent. He was right about it getting cold at night. My hands are freezing, and I’m tempted to put one on the back of his neck, but I think that sort of thing would be hazardous to my health.
I quickly shuck my outerwear and burrow into the sleeping bag still wearing my thermals and two pairs of socks. I hate cold weather, I really do. Jack shifts and mumbles a little, and he pats me lightly with one hand before drawing it back in. Okay... slightly weird, not something he’s done before, but it’s only a little pat.
Mmm... warm sleeping bag, and the kind of perfect quiet in the tent that you don’t get anywhere near civilization. The view of the stars outside was really quite spectacular, and the moon was impressively huge. Kind of blank and smooth, though, which I guess means there aren’t many asteroids around here.
I’m almost asleep when Jack starts making odd little huffing noises. His breath catches, then gasps, then speeds up. The moonlight is enough for me to see him clutching at nothing, his hands squeezing and releasing rapidly. He kicks out, twitches, and the low murmuring rises in pitch and volume.
This would be the other reason I don’t generally like to share tents with Jack. His dreams are not always pleasant. I’d wake him, but then he’ll be embarrassed and get all distant with me.
“Dan... Daniel... nonono...”
Oh, that’s not good. Dreaming about me, obviously, and if he knows he said my name out loud, he’ll be even more snarly when I wake him. On the other hand, he’s gearing up for a real screamer, and if he wakes the whole camp, he’ll be mortified. Better to stop this before it gets out of control.
“Jack. Wake up. Jack!” I’d rather not touch him if I have a choice. After a black eye and some bruised ribs, I learned to avoid that.
He jerks in response to my voice, pauses, and then one hand reaches out tentatively. He fumbles along my side, sliding up to press against my chest, and then squeezing my shoulder.
I shiver a little. I’ve never heard his voice so small, and it’s freaking me out. Jack does not do small and scared. Jack does loud and sarcastic.
“Yeah. I think you were dreaming. You okay?”
His eyes are still closed. He seems frozen for a long moment, his hand still tight on my shoulder, and then he launches himself forward, plastering his body against my side. His head ducks under my chin and I can feel his face grinding into my chest, almost painful even through layers of clothing.
This is... this is just weird. Jack does not do this. I’ve seen him wake up from plenty of nightmares, and no matter how shaken he is, he handles it on his own. Pulls away, busies his hands with something, and stays quiet until he’s under control. He most definitely does not cling and tremble.
“Danny,” he mumbles, or at least I think that’s what he’s saying. That’s three ‘Dannys’ in a day, when I haven’t heard one in nearly three years. Not that I was keeping track. He’s actually starting to scare me, here. I’m thinking alien influence, or something weird in the air, or... or something.
“Okay, you’re okay. It’s going to be all right,” I say softly, because the situation seems to call for it. I start rubbing his back a little, and he nods vigorously, tightening his arms around me.
Maybe I should call Sam over. Jack’s behavior is seriously off, and I can’t just ignore what could possibly be a sign of some deeper problem.
But maybe he’s just still sleeping? He never did open his eyes. If I call Sam and she sees this, and it turns out to just be Jack having a strange sleep episode, he’ll be so embarrassed. And angry with me for exposing him like that, too.
I can feel a wet, spreading warmth on my chest that can only be one thing, but I don’t want to think about that. Jack doesn’t do that. Ever. I can feel him shaking, his chest hitching, and I can hear his breathing catching, but... no. It’s just too weird. It’s just not Jack.
And if it is, so what? Hasn’t he been through a lot of crap in his life? Doesn’t he deserve to break down a little from time to time? I don’t know why it would happen now, in this seemingly harmless place, but maybe that’s not for me to know. Maybe I should just be a good friend and help him through it.
I start to ease back, trying to see his face, but he makes a muffled sound of protest and squeezes me tighter. “Okay,” I murmur, stroking him awkwardly. He’s done this for me a time or two, but I never expected the tables to be turned. Besides, the only times I’ve broken down like this, I was either going through withdrawal from the sarcophagus, or I had just lost Sha’re.
He hasn’t lost anyone recently that I’m aware of, other than me and that doesn’t really count because I came back, so I’m left with alien influence again. But what kind of influence? And moreover, why? What could possibly be gained by doing this to Jack? If anything, he probably needed the release.
“Daniel,” he mumbles into my shoulder. “Don’t do it again.”
“What? Do what?”
“Don’t die anymore. Don’t.”
Ooookay. “I’ll, uh... I’ll try not to, Jack.”
He finally lifts his head, and the theory that he’s still sleeping is shot down by the fierce awareness in his eyes. “Don’t just try,” he hisses. “Do not die again. Do you have any idea what it did to me the last time?”
I blink at him, my mouth working but no sound coming out. “Uh... well, technically, I didn’t die. I ascended.”
I get the feeling he’s not into the technical details right now.
“You were gone. You left me,” he insists. I can see more moisture welling in his eyes, and I wince. It’s amazing how upsetting it is to see him like this. Jack is strong, but even more than that, Jack is self-controlled. He never lets things show like this.
“Are, uh... are you feeling all right? You’re acting a little...”
“I missed you,” he says hoarsely, and I feel my stomach tightening. This is too much, too intense. I can’t be comfortable with this kind of stark honesty.
“That’s... uh...” I’m stammering, helpless. What do I say to something like that? And what the hell has gotten into Jack? I’ve been back for months now. I didn’t get so much as a hug when I rejoined SG-1, but now he does this? Hell, Sam showed more emotion then he did when I was dying, and when I came back.
“Don’t leave again.”
I shake my head, still patting his back nervously. “Okay, sure Jack. I won’t leave.”
He glares at me. “You’re not taking this seriously.”
“No, no, I am. I really, really am. I just... I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Promise me,” he whispers. His cheeks are getting wet again. I’m torn between wiping them off and pretending I don’t notice. The Jack I know would rather I act like I didn’t see it, but this doesn’t seem to be the Jack I know.
“All right,” I say solemnly. “I promise.”
“Yes. I’ll stay.”
He fixes me with an intense stare for a long moment, and then nods and heaves a huge sigh, sagging against me. My arms go back around him automatically, and I’m a little surprised at how comfortable this is. I’m certainly warm enough, and for someone who seems to be all muscle and bone, Jack is eminently squeezeable. If that’s a word.
He wiggles against me, tucks his head back under my chin, and relaxes completely. He’s snoring within minutes. Which leaves me with the rather interesting problem of what to do when Teal’c comes to wake him for last watch. This position is more than a little compromising. I have the utmost faith in Teal’c’s discretion, but still... it’s weird. And I have no idea how Jack is going to feel about this in the morning.
He might be embarrassed to have anyone know about his moment of weakness, or he might just shrug it off. He cares so much about having the respect of his team—I know he wouldn’t want to lose face in their eyes, or in mine. But he has to know we wouldn’t think less of him for showing how he feels, right?
Maybe I should work on how I feel about it first. Or maybe... maybe I should just go to sleep and see what happens next. Jack’s reaction is really nothing I can control, and he got himself into this position of his own free will. He can’t blame me for it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he won’t.
When I wake up, sunlight is streaming in through the window of the tent, and I can hear low voices outside. Jack is noticeably absent. Did I sleep right through him getting up? And did he notice the position we were in?
Maybe I should have worked this out more last night, instead of succumbing to how comfortable I was and falling asleep. Now I’m stuck with going out there blind, not knowing how Jack is going to behave. Usually, if he opens himself up even a little bit, he gets defensive and distant afterwards, feeling exposed. After last night... I have no idea. He’s never done anything like that before.
I poke my head out to see the three of them gathered around, munching on MREs and eyeing the battery-operated coffee pot.
“Hey, sleepyhead,” Jack calls, grinning at me. He doesn’t look the slightest bit uncomfortable. Well, that makes one of us.
“Hi,” I say tentatively. “Breakfast?”
Come and get it,” Sam says. “We’ve got tuna casserole, or beef with noodles.”
“Ugh... think I’ll stick with coffee and powerbars, thank you.”
I stretch and rub at my face, wiping my glasses on my shirt before putting them on. Jack pats the ground beside him invitingly, still beaming at me. I sit down slowly, watching him the way one watches unstable chemicals. I’m leaning toward pod person as my explanation now.
Sam is chattering brightly about breakfast. Something about why don’t they have an MRE that’s just for breakfast. Bacon and eggs, or something. I have to agree with her on that one—who eats macaroni and cheese for breakfast? Jack is nodding along with her, but I’m aware of his eyes on me. It’s pretty obvious he’s pretending last night didn’t happen, and I think I’ll follow his lead. It seems like the easiest solution.
“Here,” he says, handing me a cup of coffee. When I reach over, he deliberately brushes his fingers over mine. I jump, startled, and he gives me a gentle smile before looking back at Sam.
I stare blankly at my coffee, and then swallow it rapidly. Maybe once I’ve got some caffeine in me, Jack will be making more sense.
“Are you unwell, Daniel Jackson?”
Everyone turns to stare at me. I frown at Teal’c, and then shrug. “No... uh, that is, yes, I’m fine.”
“You do seem a bit tense,” Sam says helpfully. Gee, thanks Sam, I hadn’t noticed.
“Probably sore from squatting next to that rock all day yesterday,” Jack suggests. “You really should learn the concept of ‘taking a break,’ Danny.”
Again, with the Danny. Even Sam and Teal’c are picking up on the frequent use of the nickname now. They both give Jack somewhat puzzled looks, which he ignores in favor of smiling at me.
“I’ll, uh... I’ll take more breaks today,” I mumble quickly. “So, I should probably get started. See you guys later bye.” And I’m out of there. Jack is just too weird to handle right now. Give me an ancient stele any day.
I’m aware of their concerned gazes following me, but I hunch my shoulders and keep moving. I need some room to think, and I can’t handle Jack looking at me like that. It’s too... too nice. I can’t let myself get used to it, because I’ll only miss it more when he takes it away again.
I look up quickly, and then wince, my shoulders reminding me that I’m not a teenage student anymore and crouching for hours doing delicate work is not a good idea.
“Jack. Hello,” I say guardedly. I’m just not sure what to expect from him today.
“Come here,” he says, sitting in the sand with his back to the stele. He stretches his legs flat out on the ground and makes a space between them, gesturing me forward. I stare at him blankly. He can’t possibly mean what I think he means.
He’s smiling. “Come on, Daniel. I just want to rub your shoulders a little.”
I quickly look around for Sam or Teal’c. They’re nowhere in sight, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. Jack is being weird again, but then, this is the kind of weirdness that shouldn’t be witnessed. Military rules and all that.
Oh, stop. It’s just a back rub. And not the kind in hokey porn movies, either, but a regular, friendly massage.
I sit cautiously between his ankles, my back a good three feet from his chest. I feel even tighter than before, because any minute he’s going to spring the joke. I just know it.
Jack laughs a little and I duck. Here it is. Now he’s going to say, ‘What, you thought I was serious? Get real, Daniel.’
“I can’t reach you if you sit there, Danny,” he says easily.
I twist my body to look at him, but he’s not giving anything away. His face is calm, relaxed, his hands loose at his sides. He’s leaning casually against the stele, smiling that quiet smile, his eyes sparkling.
Okay. Last night I could explain away as a bad dream and pent-up stress, but this is just... I have no idea what’s going on here. And I can’t pretend this is normal anymore. Something is wrong, because Jack doesn’t act like this.
“You’re still too far away.”
I frown at him, and then inch my way back until his hands can reach me. Barely. He grins, leans forward, and grabs me around the middle, yanking me back until I’m leaning against his chest. He pins me in place with his hands on my shoulders the moment I try to wiggle away.
“Uh, Jack, you really shouldn’t—“
“Quiet. I’m busy.” And he is busy—he’s got amazing hands. His fingers are working into my shoulder muscles with so much power it’s almost painful, and I can’t help slumping against him. I am not moaning... well, not quite. I’m breathing in such a way that it can be heard. That’s all.
“Jack, listen... oh that’s, um... that’s nice. No, no, wait. Jack, you can’t do this. I think something is influencing you. The, uh... the...” I close my eyes and try to catch my train of thought, but it seems to have oozed away, along with all the tension in my neck and shoulders. It’s just not fair that he’s so good at this.
Oh, god. I jump away from him, struggling to my feet and looking around for Sam. If she saw what we were doing...
“Yes, Major.” The radio. He’s talking on the radio. And laughing at me, the bastard. I’d be mad if I wasn’t so relieved.
“Sir, are you watching this?”
“I’m a little busy at the moment, Carter. What are you talking about?”
The what? Again? I automatically look up at the sky, and sure enough, the sun is being eaten away again. Now, planetary science is way out my field, but even I know two eclipses in two days isn’t normal.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Jack murmurs, rising casually to his feet as if he wasn’t just doing indecent things to my shoulders a minute ago. He’s watching the sky and smiling softly. He slips on his sunglasses and sidles closer to me, giving me a sleepy, content look.
“Is this even possible?” I ask Sam over the radio.
“It shouldn’t be,” she sends back, and I can hear the frown in her voice. “Are you two by the stele?”
“Yeah,” I reply absently. I’m watching the eclipse in Jack’s sunglasses again. It’s the kind of thing that really doesn’t get old.
“We’re on our way.”
I nod, forgetting Sam can’t see me. I’m watching the reflection of the eclipse, and Jack’s face around that reflection, smooth and calm. His eyes are soft, sleepy, half shut. His lips smile faintly, his head tilted to one side.
The eclipse is affecting him somehow. That has to be it. He was the only one who watched it directly yesterday, and considering that it’s happening again today, it can’t be natural. That’s why he’s behaving so oddly.
Of course that’s the explanation. It’s not as if Jack would suddenly decide he wanted to... I don’t know. Be... closer, or something. That would never happen. Not that I was hoping it would. Not at all.
I hear running footsteps behind me and turn, watching Sam and Teal’c approach. She’s jogging and staring at the sky at the same time, while Teal’c walks steadily beside her with his ground-eating strides.
“This is amazing!” Sam yells, and I nod at her.
“It is indeed a most unusual occurrence,” Teal’c adds.
Jack ignores them, staring dreamily up at the eclipse, his arms limp at his sides. I push at his shoulder a little, wanting him to look away from the spectacle above us, and he slowly turns his head toward me. His smile widens, and he cups a hand around the back of my neck, and then ruffles my hair. I’m still trying to process that when he focuses on the eclipse again.
“This should be impossible,” Sam says. She’s excited, her eyes shining, virtually bouncing with curiosity.
I glance at the sky, where the black disc has almost completely covered the sun again, and then frown at her. “Well, I understand that it’s unlikely, but couldn’t it happen if the moon was lined up in the right way?”
She shakes her head, watching the eclipse in little glances out of the corner of her eye. “That moon either has to be moving incredibly fast, which should cause major gravitational disturbances, or it’s in a geostationary orbit, which should be impossible. Maintaining an orbit like that requires outside control, constant corrections to compensate for minute shifts in gravity.”
I nod vaguely, having only absorbed about half of that. The bottom line seems to be that this is not happening naturally, which only helps my theory that Jack is being affected. Great.
“Perhaps it is not a moon, but a man-made satellite,” Teal’c suggests. Sam immediately takes this idea and runs with it.
“Yes, that could work! Good idea, Teal’c. If it was man-made, it could have a power source that keeps it in a perfect geostationary orbit. I’m not sure, because the days here seem to be a bit longer than twenty-four hours, but I think this is happening at the exact same time as it happened yesterday. That kind of precision doesn’t occur on this scale in nature.”
This would be the time to bring up Jack’s behavior. Let them know that I’m concerned for him, and that we should probably get him back to Janet. I really should tell them.
But then... he’s not hurting anyone, is he? He seems perfectly happy. Actually, he seems happier than I’ve seen him for a long time. Maybe the moon, or whatever it is, has a calming effect. Jack carries a lot of responsibility for the team, and is under a lot of pressure from the politicians to get results. Doesn’t he deserve to relax? Isn’t he due for some good luck, for a change?
Don’t I deserve to have him treat me so kindly, if only for a little while?
The sun is re-emerging now, a blinding blade of light growing larger by the second. Sam peeks up at it, shielding her eyes with one hand, and then frowns at Jack again. “Sir, you really shouldn’t look at it directly like that. You’re almost certain to damage your eyes.”
“Don’t worry, Carter,” he says absently. “I watched it yesterday too, and I’m fine.”
“It’s an alien sun, right?”
She blinks at him, and then nods slowly. “Yes, but I don’t see what—“
“So maybe it gives off slightly different light waves or something. Maybe it’s too far away to cause damage. Maybe your artificial satellite somehow changes the light that reaches us during the eclipse.” Jack turns and gives her a level look. “And maybe you should be more open-minded, like Daniel.”
What? That’s just... what?
“Sir?” She sounds incredulous, and turns to me, her eyebrows raised. I shrug and give her a weak, apologetic smile. Jack may value our abilities differently, but he never comes right out and makes a comparison like that, putting one down in favor of the other. It’s unprofessional, and it’s bad leadership, two things that Jack simply doesn’t do.
But then, he’s doing a lot of things he normally doesn’t do lately, isn’t he? And like the other stuff, this seems to be a deliberate, over-the-top kindness to me. I don’t want to see Sam put down or hurt, but at the same time... yeah, I have to admit I feel a tiny, selfish kernel of spiteful triumph. How long has he been giving her his attention instead of me, listening to her and trusting her and telling me to shut up? I know it’s not her fault, but still... I’m only human.
Sam seems flustered, but she rallies quickly instead of sulking, which makes me feel like a jerk for enjoying this even a little bit. “Daniel, have you been able to translate that alien writing at all? It may contain some kind of explanation for this.”
“No, I’m afraid not. Without some context, some frame of reference, I may never be able to understand it. The symbols are familiar, but what words I can make out don’t make any sense. It’s almost like it’s in code.”
She nods and watches the last bit of the eclipse, until the sun is fully revealed again. I check my watch, which is fairly meaningless if the days here are not twenty-four hours, but at least I can time how long before tomorrow’s eclipse. It seems only logical to assume there will be one.
“So I guess you want to stay here longer and study this, right, Carter?”
She blinks at Jack and then nods. “Yes, sir, actually I was just going to ask you for more time. We could set up a spectrometer and monitor the light waves during the eclipse for one, to test your theory about the satellite altering them in some way. And I’m sure our geophysics experts would love to see this, and have the opportunity to run some tests.”
Jack grins broadly at her, and claps me on the back for no discernible reason. “Then I guess we stay,” he says. “Nice enough planet, quiet, great light show. Bit cold at night, but there are ways around that.” And then he leers at me. An actual leer. Oy.
I crouch in the entrance to the tent for a long time after my watch is over, trying to tell if Jack is actually sleeping. He’s being very quiet and still, but he’s good at that when he wants to be.
Oh, just get in the damn tent. You can’t hover out here all night.
Right. So. In the tent. I think I’ll just do it very quietly. I wouldn’t want to disturb Jack, after all. We’ve had a busy day. After Sam told the general about the multiple eclipses, he authorized our resident geophysicist to join us. Doctor Thornton promptly starting having kittens over the idea of daily solar eclipses, and he and Sam have been chattering happily over their equipment all day. Teal’c, as usual, kept his eyes on the horizon and watched our backs, and I kept working on the stele. Although, frankly, I’m just trying to look busy with that thing now. There’s simply not enough information for me to make even an educated guess as to what it says.
Jack... he hovered. He offered water and snacks, which is normal, but he tended to couch those offerings with a lot of excessive hair ruffling, shoulder squeezing, and an almost constant smile. Sam would have noticed had she not been so busy with Thornton and their planned tests, and I can never tell with Teal’c. He probably noticed--he doesn’t miss much--but he didn’t say anything. Actually, Sam should have noticed, too. She’s a scientist, but she’s also a soldier, and her commanding officer is acting distinctly out of character. I find it hard to believe that she’s completely oblivious.
I freeze in the process of wiggling into my sleeping bag, and watch Jack carefully, but he still seems to be asleep. I inch my way into the bag, which is shaped oddly tonight. It puzzles me until I see that he’s zipped the bags together.
Okay. That’s a definite sign. I don’t know what it’s a sign of, exactly, but it has to mean something. I can’t separate them again while he’s occupying the joined bag, so I guess I’ll just have to share. We’ve done it before, on those occasions when the planet is really cold at night, and not just moderately chilly like this one.
Jack remains still and quiet until I’m fully settled into the sleeping bag, and then he pounces, snaking an arm around my abdomen and tugging me close. I’m suddenly very glad that I kept most of my clothes on. Not that he... I mean... I’m just glad. Sort of.
I manage a strangled yelp, and he chuckles softly, drawing me in and patting my hair. I’m torn between indignation that he’s treating me like a child or a favored pet, and just plain enjoying the contact too much to be upset about it.
“Ssshh. Go to sleep.”
I try to draw back so I can see his face, but he holds me tightly against his chest, my head tucked under his chin. I’m trying to be angry about this, but he’s entirely too warm and comfortable. His hands are stroking my shoulders, then rubbing small circles in the hollow of my back, and then... oh, my.
“Hey!” I protest. “Hands!”
“Are they cold?” he asks, all innocence.
“No, but, um... a bit low, Jack. And on the wrong side of the pants!”
He laughs again, his chest moving against mine. “You like it,” he says smugly.
“Jaa-ack. You’re not thinking clearly. I think something on this planet is affecting your behavior. You haven’t been acting normally since we got here.”
“Jack. Seriously. I can’t let you do this, not when you’re being influenced. I can’t take advantage.”
Jack loosens his arms enough for our eyes to meet, and then he nudges my cheek with his nose, grinning widely. “Taking advantage implies that this is something you wanted, Doctor Jackson.”
Why does it disarm me completely when he calls me that? And why do I let myself forget that he’s much smarter than he lets on?
“I, uh... that’s not what I meant. I just mean...”
“Danny. Relax and go to sleep. I’m not doing anything that I don’t want to do, and we both know you like it just as much as I do. It’s harmless, it feels good, and it keeps us warm. Where’s the problem?”
Well, when he puts it that way...
No. I absolutely cannot just go with this, no matter how nice it is. Jack is clearly not in his right mind, no matter what he says, and it’s my responsibility to protect him from himself. He certainly wouldn’t want to do this if he was thinking clearly.
I’m suddenly cut off by his mouth on mine. It’s soft, dry, and fleeting. Just enough pressure and warmth to completely throw me off what I was going to say. He’s... oh, my. He’s going to do it again.
“Mmm... that’s, uh... no! Jack, please, you have to listen. We can’t do this.”
He’s nipping at the line of my jaw now, little gentle pinches with his teeth, soothed by the flickering tip of his tongue. I shiver as all my skin seems to tighten. “You like it,” he gloats.
“I, ah... yes, but, but you don’t! I mean, you don’t normally... uh...”
“Hush. There are better things you could be doing with your mouth.”
Oh, and wouldn’t I love to...
No. No! Somebody has to keep a cool head here. Since it obviously isn’t going to be Jack, I’ll have to take responsibility. I really have to. And I will, in a minute. I swear I will. Just as soon as he stops doing that thing to my neck, because it’s so hard to think when he does that...
I shake myself and flatten my palms against his chest, pushing him away. “Jack, stop! I mean it. We can’t do this.”
He pouts. I’m not kidding. He actually pouts. “Please?”
“No. Absolutely not. We’re off-world, we’re on duty, Sam is awake outside, and if all that weren’t enough, you don’t feel that way about me!”
One corner of his mouth tugs upward, and he gives me a sly look. “Oh, I don’t? What about you? Do you feel that way?”
I gawp at him, caught completely off guard. “I, uh... never thought about it. I mean, you’re my friend, but I... I don’t look at you like, um...”
“Seems like you liked what I was doing.”
“Well, it’s been a while,” I say defensively. “And you’re good at... uh, what you were doing. I couldn’t help it.”
Jack smirks and traces his fingertips along my hairline, sliding them behind my ears and down the side of my neck. “Uh-huh. So you’re telling me you’d react the same way, with all that writhing and those little breathy sounds, if, say, Teal’c was doing it?”
“Wh-what? Writhing? I didn’t... uh...”
I wish he’d stop touching my neck like that. He’s close enough for me to feel his breath on my ear, and it’s very... distracting.
“Jack, whether I liked it or not is not the point. You do not feel that way about me, and you are not acting in your right mind.” There, that’s better. More certain, less breathless.
“How are you so sure about what I feel?”
I narrow my eyes at him. “I’ve known you for years, Jack. You have never given me the slightest indication that you might harbor any kind of physical attraction for me, and in fact, lately you don’t even seem to like me. I thought you were attracted to Sam, to tell the truth.”
His smile fades, and he nods slowly, sadly. “I can’t just turn it around so easily, can I? I have a lot of ground to recover.”
I frown and shake my head. “Jack, just... you don’t need to worry. We’ll get you off this planet and Janet will figure out whatever is messing with you, and you’ll be back to normal.”
“No,” he snaps. “No, don’t do that. Give me some time, Daniel. This place... I feel like I’m thinking clearer. It’s like I can see what really matters to me, and in case you don’t know, you’re at the top of that list. Let me stay here long enough to figure out how to fix this. How to fix us.”
I force myself to swallow, and duck, mumbling into his chest. “I, ah... actually, I didn’t know that. About topping the list.”
“Then I should have told you before. Or better yet, I should have treated you right, so you wouldn’t have to doubt it.”
I don’t know how to respond to that, so I just stay quiet. He sighs and pulls me close again, and this time I don’t bother fighting him. The cuddling I can handle. It’s the kissing that was too intimate. When Jack goes back to normal, he’s going to be so embarrassed about the kissing, and he’ll want to avoid me more than usual. It’s best to limit the damage as much as I can.
“You okay?” he asks softly.
“Of course you are.”
He sounds sad again, resigned, and I frown against the hollow of his shoulder. What did I do this time?
“Hush, Danny. It’s late. Let’s get some sleep.”
Well, okay. That, I can do.
“If I’m doing the math right, the eclipse should start within the next five minutes.”
We all look at Sam. If she’s doing the math right. Like she ever does it wrong. She gives us that slightly nervous smile of hers and goes back to fussing over her equipment. The geophysicist, Thornton, has already decided that she’s an earth-bound goddess, and has spent most of his time here either smiling dopily at her or expounding on just how unusual daily eclipses are.
Jack takes a step to the side and ends up close enough for our sleeves to brush lightly. I keep my eyes on Sam’s machines. If he’s smiling at me again, I’ll just... I don’t know. Something. This would all be great if I didn’t know he was being influenced by something. It can’t last, and I can’t let myself get used to it.
I grind my teeth together and resolutely stare straight ahead. If he ruffles my hair one more time...
Okay, fine. “Yes, Jack?” Still not looking at him.
“Look at me.”
I sigh and slowly turn to face him, making sure I look martyred and put-upon. He’s got his BDU jacket off and is standing there in his black tee, his hands on his hips, smiling. He’s got that look that says he’s really making an effort to be charming, and boy is it paying off. I can feel my traitor mouth smiling back at him.
“Something wrong, Danny?”
“Nope. I’m fine.”
“Okay then, you better get ready,” he says.
He grins a little wider and reaches casually into my shirt pocket, pulling out my prescription sunglasses. I lean back slightly as he goes to put them on my face, but he just moves with me, undeterred. The next thing I know, he’s sliding them into place, letting his fingertips trace over my ears and down the sides of my neck before he pulls back.
“Jack,” I hiss warningly. We’re out here in front of everyone, doesn’t he realize that?
“Just watching out for your eyes, Daniel.” And then, in a voice pitched only for my ears: “Wouldn’t want to damage something so pretty.”
Pretty? Did he just tell me I have pretty eyes? I don’t know whether I should be flattered or insulted. I mean, pretty is something you say to a woman. But still... coming from Jack, it’s not so bad.
“It’s starting!” Thornton calls, and I quickly retreat from Jack’s side. He slides on his own sunglasses, unconcerned, and watches the sky.
“Here,” Sam says, handing out several pieces of blackened glass. “Watch through this.”
Teal’c eyes the thing dubiously and then holds it up in front of his face with a distinct air of ‘I’m only doing this to humor you.’
Only Jack eschews the glass and watches the same way he watched the last two, with nothing but his sunglasses to protect him. Sam frowns at this, but knows how to pick her battles, and it’s clear she’s not going to win this one. Thornton is gaping at the sky, his own blackened glass held in front of his face like a shield. I’ve seen the show twice already, but this is the first time I can watch it fully, feeling safe behind my glass.
We’re all silent as it happens, and except for the odd sound of insects chirping during the day and the beeping of Sam’s machines, it’s quiet. I can hear Jack beside me, breathing. He’s sidled closer again. I consider moving away, but I stand my ground. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
“Sir, this is amazing,” Sam says, alternating between staring at her computer readout and watching the eclipse. We’ve reached totality again, and through my blackened glass, I see what looks like a ring of fire.
“Yes,” Jack says simply.
“I mean, the light,” Sam elaborates. “It’s coming in pulses. Very small, very rapid pulses, in an erratic pattern... I’ll have to study it further to tell more... this isn’t random, sir. That moon, or whatever it is, is altering the light that reaches us during the eclipse.”
“Didn’t I say that?” Jack smirks.
Sam smiles, but I’m positive she rolled her eyes behind her sunglasses. “Yes, sir.”
So the eclipse is doing funny things to the light. That has to be why—but come on. Light pulses affecting Jack’s behavior? Isn’t that a bit of a reach?
Not really. What about when he had the ancient’s knowledge downloaded into his brain? That was just a few seconds of staring into what Teal’c described as colored, moving lights, and it sure as hell affected his behavior.
Well, yeah, true, but this isn’t the same. He’s still perfectly healthy and happy, and he’s only acting a little different, and I’m sure that he’s fine.
Are you? Or do you just not want it to end? If you tell Sam how he’s been acting differently, she’ll want to take him back to the SGC and Janet will do her thing and it’ll be all over.
Which would be good. Because nothing can ever happen with us anyway, because he doesn’t feel that way. He’s confused.
So I should tell Sam. Now that we have scientific evidence that the eclipse is not natural and that the light patterns have been altered, I can tell her that Jack has been changed somehow. Report it, do the right thing, and get him the help he needs. I have a responsibility to come forward with this. Keeping to myself is selfish and careless.
Yes. All of that is true. And I’ll tell Sam. I will. Soon.
“What’s really puzzling is how any kind of artificial satellite could alter something so powerful and widespread as the light from a star in such a way that the pulses would be so clear and well-defined.”
Sam is still chattering excitedly about her experiments today, and beside her, Thornton nods raptly, offering her everything from agreement to applause. I think if this place weren’t a desert he’d be picking flowers for her. I actually feel sorry for the guy, because Sam is in her own world right now and doesn’t even see him.
“It’s not the how that puzzles me so much as the why,” I chime in, poking moodily at the fire. It’s almost time for us to call it a night again, and I still haven’t told Sam. I keep meaning to, but it’s the kind of conversation that Jack shouldn’t be around for, and he won’t leave my side. He’s sitting rather close to me now, as a matter of fact. I’m telling myself it’s for the warmth.
“That’s a good point, Daniel,” Sam says, smiling brightly at me. I love Sam like a sister, I really do, but sometimes I wish she wouldn’t get so wrapped up in her work. If she was just a little more aware of what was going on around her, she’d be able to see something clearly off in Jack’s behavior. Then I wouldn’t have to explain what he’s been doing in our tent.
“Maybe it’s just supposed to look pretty,” Jack offers, leaning his shoulder into mine.
Sam frowns. “No, the pulses are too rapid and too subtle to be detected by the human eye. And I still don’t know why it hasn’t damaged your vision, sir. The light levels we were reading should have caused serious problems.”
Jack shrugs and pats my leg. “Guess I’m just lucky.”
“Perhaps that is the purpose of the light pulses,” Teal’c says. “Perhaps they alter the light so that the eclipse can be observed without harm.”
We all turn to stare at him. Of course—that could be it! Just a harmless spectacle that has nothing to do with how Jack’s acting. He could have simply decided he wants to be closer to me, and wanted to take this quiet, safe place as an opportunity to move forward. Maybe the eclipse isn’t affecting him at all.
Right. And maybe I really am that lucky, and my life up until this point has just been a fluke.
“You may have something there,” Sam says slowly. “Although... the effort required to create an artificial satellite only for the purpose of having a daily, safely observable eclipse?”
“Not likely?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “Not really. There has to be some other purpose.”
“Hmm,” Jack says absently. He’s stroking the back of my neck now. I want to pull away, but that would draw Sam’s attention to it. Otherwise I really would pull away. Really.
“You’ll figure it out,” Thornton says. He’s still gazing at Sam. I wish she’d notice so she could tell him to knock it off.
“Sure she will.” Jack stands at my side, one hand blatantly resting in my hair. He’s sifting his fingers through it, rubbing in little circles. I catch myself leaning into the touch and freeze, slowly drawing back.
“Uh... sir?” Sam is staring at him. She finally noticed his hand on me. Well, crap.
“Is... I mean, uh...”
I jump to my feet, edging to the side. Jack’s hand stays in my hair until I move my head completely out of his reach, and then he drops it down to finger my sleeve. “So, uh, it’s late,” I yelp. “We should get some sleep. I’ll take first watch.”
“Now, Daniel, that’s not fair,” Jack chides softly. “You had first watch the last two nights. We should rotate.”
“You want it?”
Jack smiles. “Nah, I’ll take fourth. First Carter, then Thornton, Teal’c, me, and you take last, Danny. Cause you’re such a morning person.” He grins wickedly at me and cocks his head to one side, his hand wrapped around the back of my neck. If he pulled, he could kiss me.
Oh, hell. Time to move.
I take two rapid steps back and wrap my arms around myself. Jack watches the movement, his lips tightening. Sam looks back and forth at us, her eyebrows raised.
Jack claps his hands together and grins widely at us. “So, time for bed, kids.” He turns to me and gestures with his hands. “Shall we?”
He just invited me to join him in bed in front of the whole team. Oy. “Uh, actually, I just have one thing to do first. I’ll, uh, catch up with you.”
“Hey, whatever does it for you, Danny,” he says, and disappears into the tent. God, did he just say that?
Sam comes up beside me, her eyes on the closed tent flap. “Daniel?”
I sigh and run a hand through my hair. “Yeah. We need to talk.” This is the right thing to do. It really is. Jack’s not himself, and this is for his own good.
Thornton has already gone into his tent, but Teal’c is watching us, concerned. I wave him over, because he’s one of us and I wouldn’t want to shut him out. Sam opens her mouth to ask another question, but I put a hand up and shake my head.
“Over here,” I whisper. Don’t want Jack overhearing.
Once we’re out of earshot, I sit on the sand and they join me. Teal’c folds himself into his meditating pose and regards me calmly, which seems to help me settle my nerves a bit. Good old Teal’c.
“So?” Sam asks impatiently. “The Colonel? What’s going on?”
“Jack is acting oddly, and I think it has to do with those eclipses.”
“How has O’Neill been affected?”
I glance at Teal’c. He always seems to see more than I realize, and I get the feeling he knows exactly what’s been going on. He’s just giving me the opportunity to say as much or as little as I want.
“You saw him,” I mutter, giving Sam an embarrassed little smile.
She nods slowly. “Has he been doing that a lot?”
“Um... well, that, and other stuff like that.”
Sam looks at me sagely. “I saw the other stuff. Touching you all the time, staying close to you, that kind of thing. I just thought... I figured that if he was, um...” She trails off, looking flustered. “It wasn’t any of my business,” she mutters.
“It was just a few little things,” I say agreeably. Somehow, I feel better that she did notice. That means I wasn’t imagining things.
“Was there anything else?”
I shrug and avoid her eyes. “Uh... he keeps calling me Danny.”
She looks unimpressed. “He calls you that all the time.”
“Indeed he does not, Major Carter.”
I look at Teal’c, startled, and he gazes back serenely.
“It has in fact been years since O’Neill last referred to Daniel Jackson in that way. I believe it is unusual behavior for him now.”
I knew it. He sees everything.
“Really?” Sam asks. “I hadn’t noticed.”
Of course she hadn’t.
“Well, it’s not something I would worry about normally, but in the context of his other behavior, it does seem odd.” Here we go—time to put a stop to this once and for all. It’s for the best, really. “We should probably get him back to the SGC. Let Janet take a look at him, just to be safe.”
Sam is nodding thoughtfully, her face worried. “All right,” she says finally. “For now, we’ll assume that the Colonel is under some alien influence. I’m taking command of the mission. Daniel, in the morning you and the Colonel will return through the gate so he can be examined.”
“Is there some reason that’s a problem?”
Okay. Be reasonable. Rational. Absolutely do not say you don’t know what he’ll do tonight, and definitely don’t say you’re not sure you’ll be able to tell him no again.
“Well, it’s just... how do you know the rest of us aren’t affected as well? Shouldn’t we all be checked out? What... what if these light pulses during the eclipse are like that light device on P4X-347? You know, the one we all got addicted to?”
“That seems unlikely, Daniel Jackson.” Thanks, Teal’c. You’re a great help.
“Teal’c is right, Daniel,” Sam says, peering at me intently. “That was goa’uld technology, and it clearly affected us even before we went out of close proximity and started experiencing withdrawal. Other than the Colonel, none of us have been acting any differently, and really, what he’s doing is harmless. We’re only sending him back as a precaution, and I’m asking you to go along to explain things to Janet because there’s not much for you to do here. I need to remain so I can continue studying the eclipse, along with Thornton for scientific backup and Teal’c for security.”
I look at Teal’c appealingly. He looks back, unblinking. Right. I’m on my own.
“Oh,” I say weakly. “That makes sense. I guess I’ll take Jack home in the morning.”
“Daniel.” Sam is closer to me now, her hand on my arm, her eyes big and concerned. “Is something wrong? Has he done anything... um...”
“No, no, nothing’s wrong. Jack’s just... okay, don’t ever, ever tell him that I told you this, but he’s gotten... cuddly.”
Oh, that’s going to work. The concern is gone, and she’s struggling not to laugh. “Oh,” she says, her lips pressed tightly together. “Well, that sounds like a terrible hardship, and if you want to go back right away, I’m sure the Colonel would understand.”
She grins. “Good night, Daniel. Sleep well.” She’s laughing at me. I just know it. But that’s good, that was the idea. As long as she’s laughing, she’s not asking difficult questions.
So. Just one more night, and we’ll get Jack home and things will go back to normal. Which is really what I want. Not much can happen in one night, right?
The sleeping bags are zipped together again. I separated them earlier in the day, but apparently Jack wants them together.
It’s okay. One more night, that’s all. I can hold out a little longer.
Jack looks asleep, but I’m not taking any chances. I take my boots and my BDU jacket off, but I leave everything else on. He doesn’t stir as I climb into the sleeping bag, but once I’m situated, he rolls over and looks at me steadily, his head propped up on one hand.
He smiles a little. “So, are we all going back in the morning, or just me?”
“Uh... the two of us, actually.” Of course he knows. Jack sees just as much as Teal’c does, and he’s not a stupid man, no matter what he’d have us think.
“Danny...” He sighs and lifts a hand, running it through my hair and sliding his knuckles over my cheek. I close my eyes for a second—just a second.
“Sorry, Jack. I know you wanted to stay, but this is for the best. Something is making you act like this.”
“I went too fast last night, didn’t I?” he says regretfully. “I should have known I couldn’t just ignore what I’ve been doing to you lately.”
He shakes his head sharply. “No, it is not okay. Stand up for yourself, Daniel. Tell me that I treated you badly and that you deserve an apology. If I... if I change back, become how I was before, I don’t want you to put up with it. Make me stay this way.”
I realize that I’m rubbing my cheek against his hand and pull back, blinking at him. “If you change back? So you realize that you’ve changed?”
“Yeah.” Jack gives me a sad little smile and leans forward, letting his face touch mine, our cheeks rasping together for a moment. It’s not something that’s been done to me before, and I’m surprised at how intimate a touch it is. Almost like kissing.
“How have you changed?”
“It’s hard to explain,” he says, frowning. His hand goes back to idly play with my hair as he speaks. “It’s like... I can’t hide anything. I can’t hold anything back, or lie about anything. All that I say and do has to be the absolute truth. Which sounds good in theory, but considering what I do for a living...”
“It could be dangerous,” I finish grimly. “If you were questioned—“
“I’d tell them everything. Right now, I couldn’t help it.” He moves closer, his legs touching mine, hooking around them. “I know it needs to be fixed. I can’t continue leading SG-1 if this condition is permanent. But I don’t want to change back if it means holding you at a distance again. Hurting you.”
I swallow and look away, until he gently steers me back. “Are you sure you have to tell the truth?” I ask him. “Maybe it’s having some other affect on you. Making you feel things for me that aren’t really there.”
“You really think my having feelings for you is so impossible? That you’re so unworthy of being loved?”
I wince and drop my eyes again. “No, no,” I mumble, “not unworthy per se, just unlikely that you would feel that way.”
“It’s true,” he insists. “I can’t say anything that isn’t true right now. Go on, ask me something you think I would normally lie about.”
Well. Jack O’Neill having to tell the absolute truth. Not an opportunity you get every day. “Okay,” I say slowly. “Why did you get... distant? Why did we stop being friends?”
His jaw tightens and he lowers his head, resting it against my shoulder. “It’s complicated,” he hedges, his voice muffled against my chest. “There are a lot of reasons. I don’t think I could explain it entirely, because I don’t really understand it myself. It started out just wanting to protect you—and myself. I was letting you get too close. Letting you matter too much. I knew if I lost you, it would hurt so much... I was scared of that. I was worried I would let my feelings influence my ability to lead the team. It would put others in danger. I had to get some distance.”
Oh. His arms go around me, and I reciprocate automatically, still try to process what he just said. I guess... okay, that makes some sense. “But you said it started out that way?” I ask. “Did it change?”
He nods, his chin rubbing against my collarbone. “I started to get mad at you. Because I couldn’t push you away, you know? I would try for a while, and you’d just sort of... wiggle your way back in. You were impossible to let go of. I was mad at you for not making it easy on me. Not just giving up and walking away. So I started pushing harder, yelling at you, trying to hurt you so you’d give up. But you just wouldn’t, Daniel. You wouldn’t quit.”
“I...” I don’t know what to say to that. How could I quit? Jack and the team are all I have. But I can’t say that to him... any more than he could say how he felt to me. Oh, Jack. It can’t be that simple, can it?
“I’m sorry,” he says earnestly, lifting his head to meet my eyes. Our faces are almost touching. “I really am. I hate what I put you through, and I know it was pointless. I know you could never just walk away, let us go. We’re your family. You couldn’t let me go because you love me, too.”
I freeze, staring at him. This is just... he... how did he know? I didn’t even know! I mean... I did, but...
Stop. Take a breath before you pass out. Just think rationally, here—stay in control. Talk this out. You can talk, it’s what you do.
“Surprised?” he asks, smiling.
“Uh... you could say that...”
“I’ve known for a long time. But I also knew that it couldn’t happen, that we couldn’t compromise the team that way, and it only... hell, Daniel, it only made me angrier with you. Because knowing how you felt made me feel even worse for what I was doing... god, it sounds stupid when I say it out loud. It was a big, stupid, pointless circle.”
“Jack... I didn’t... I didn’t know I felt this way about you. I mean... I don’t. Or I do, but I don’t...” God, I’m a babbling idiot.
“I know, Danny,” he says gently. “You wouldn’t let yourself know. You wouldn’t let yourself hope for it. You’ve been disappointed too many times.”
I drop my forehead against his shoulder and close my eyes. I can’t look at him right now. That was... how could he know me so well? How could he see that much?
His arms tighten around me, and he starts rubbing my back. “I know,” he murmurs. “I’m sorry, Danny. I know. I love you too, if that helps.”
I stiffen, my skin hot and cold at the same time. He sort of said it before, but I didn’t hear it that way. Didn’t let myself hear it that way. He couldn’t possibly have meant it. I can’t let myself believe it, not when there’s the slightest chance that this is all some weird alien mind influence.
I bury my face in the hollow of his neck and say nothing. There’s nothing I can say. This is just crazy... what am I supposed to do?
“It’s okay,” Jack says. “I know this is a lot to take in all at once. I didn’t want to lay it on you like this, but I couldn’t hide anything. I can’t hide anything. I can’t keep myself from touching you or wanting to be with you. Maybe it’s that eclipse thing affecting me, but this is the truth, Daniel.”
The truth. The words on the stele didn’t make much sense, but I do remember the pictogram for ‘truth’ being featured quite heavily. Maybe... maybe there is something to this. Maybe he really does...
No. That’s nuts. What you need to do is stop thinking like this is real, and accept the fact that it’s only temporary. Enjoy sleeping like this tonight, enjoy the closeness, but be ready to say goodbye to it tomorrow. This kind of thing never lasts, and you know it.
Right. I should know that by now, shouldn’t I?
I lift my head to look at him again, and he cups my face with one hand, stroking his thumb over my cheekbone. I close my eyes and lean into it—just for tonight. I can enjoy this one night of being close, but it can’t go any further. I can’t take advantage of him like that.
“We should get some sleep,” I tell him.
Jack looks at me for a long moment with those impossibly soft eyes. Then he brings his other hand up and holds my face, pulling me in. He presses a long, warm kiss to my forehead, and then nods. “Okay,” he says. “Sleep. If that’s what you want, Danny.”
“It’s how it has to be.”
He doesn’t argue with me, but he looks so sad. Oh, Jack. I wish I could believe it’s that easy, but it just isn’t. Nothing ever is.
“Let me just see if I’ve got this.” Janet is really trying to be professional and not laugh. She really is. It’s not working too well, but I have to give her credit for the effort.
“It’s not that tough, doc,” Jack says wearily. “Some alien mind-whammy basically gave me a permanent dose of truth serum, or something like that, and I can’t lie or hide anything. At all. No matter how much I want to.” That said with a guilty little glance at me. I pretend I didn’t notice.
“Your blood work is normal, Colonel,” Janet says evenly. “I’m not finding any unusual chemicals, let alone an... alien truth serum.” She manages that with a straight face. Barely.
“I think Jack was speaking metaphorically,” I say, before he can really get himself in trouble. In his current state, Jack is likely to say something to Janet that he’ll seriously regret when his annual physical comes up.
Janet sighs and nods slowly. “Yes, I know, Daniel. And if he is indeed incapable of lying, it could be a serious problem. If the goa’uld got a hold of him, or the NID, or some reporter...”
“Yes, you see?” Jack says impatiently. “Honesty is all well and good, but not for a man in my position.”
“And you believe this was caused by a pattern of light pulses during a solar eclipse?”
“Yes,” Jack and I say together. He glances at me and some of the tension goes out of his shoulders. He smiles and runs a hand through my hair before I can stop him, and then he freezes and looks at Janet nervously.
She’s staring at him, one eyebrow raised. “Uh...” I say, “The eclipse also seems to be affecting Jack’s behavior. It’s made him a bit... tactile.”
“Oh,” Janet says. “With everyone, or just with Daniel, sir?”
“With Daniel,” Jack promptly replies, and then winces. “I mean... it wasn’t the eclipse that made me want to touch him, it’s just that this whole truth thing means I can’t stop myself from doing what I want to... uh...” He throws me a panicked look.
“I think it’s rather unfair to question Jack right now, don’t you?” I ask pointedly. And I keep a hand over Jack’s mouth, just for good measure.
She’s trying not to laugh again. “Yes, I think you’re right, Daniel. The MRI comparison should be ready by now, I’ll go over that. In the meantime, the Colonel should be kept in isolation to prevent any... um... loss of confidential information.”
“Very diplomatic of you,” Jack mumbles past my hand.
Janet grins. “Don’t worry, sir, I won’t say a word. Except that it’s about time!”
Jack and I stare at each other as she walks out. “Am I the only one who didn’t know?” I ask weakly.
He smiles and throws an arm over my shoulders, squeezing me. “It’s looking that way, Danny.”
“Jack!” I hiss as he gets dangerously close to nuzzling my ear. “We’re in the infirmary!”
“I’m under alien influence. I can get away with anything.”
I tear myself away and cross my arms over my chest. “No, you can’t,” I say flatly. “I won’t take advantage of you.”
He sighs and sits down on an infirmary bed. “I had to fall for mister noble,” he complains. “Why couldn’t you be like any other guy and just take the opportunity when it throws itself at you?”
I blink at him and frown, my mouth opening and closing without actually speaking. What am I supposed to say to that? That I’m not like any other guy? That would sound... I don’t know. Weird.
“Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean that. Well, no, I did mean that, right now I mean everything I say, but I didn’t mean it the way it sounds. I just... I finally realize what I want, and I don’t want to wait anymore.”
You should have to wait, Jack. I had to.
Okay, I’m not saying that out loud. Besides, there’s nothing to wait for. Nothing is going to happen. Janet will figure this out, Jack will be back to normal, and I won’t have to tell him no every five minutes. Because that’s getting really old, not to mention it gets harder every time.
“You know, I’ve got some work I should be doing,” I start, edging toward the door. “I think Janet has things under control now.”
“Wait, Daniel.” He stands again, crossing to me and grabbing my arm. “I know I shouldn’t have said that. I know this isn’t fair to you. I just... I have zero tact right now, you know?”
I can’t help smiling a little. “And this is different how, exactly?”
Jack smiles back at me. “Yeah, I know. See, that’s how I knew you loved me! Why else would you put up with my crap?”
I duck my head and then dart a quick glance around. Luckily it doesn’t look like anyone heard that, but our luck isn’t going to last forever. “Jack! You really, really can’t say things like that in the middle of the infirmary!”
He nods earnestly. “I know! I can’t stop!”
Jesus. This really is a serious problem. Jack looks miserable, and I have to admit I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. To not be able to hide anything about myself? To bluntly say whatever I was thinking, no matter how tactless or foolish?
“Stay with me, Daniel.” He looks embarrassed, but he can’t stop himself from telling me the whole truth. “I’m scared. I don’t know what I’ll say next, and I don’t have any control over it. I need your help.”
“Okay, Jack,” I say immediately. Of course I’ll stay. What was I thinking, going to do some work? I can’t leave him like this.
He smiles brightly and gives me an impulsive hug, which I wriggle out of as quickly as I can. “Not in the infirmary, Jack.”
“Right,” he says. “Sorry. I can’t help it.”
“I know.” I pat his back awkwardly and he smiles again. It’s really unfair of him to be so damn charming.
“Uh... stay right there, Jack. I’m going to tell Janet we’re going to an iso room. She can catch up with us later.”
“Good idea.” He sits heavily on the bed and frowns, staring at the floor between his feet.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying very hard to think about nothing.”
Oh. “Um... good luck with that.”
He doesn’t look up. “Go, Daniel. Hurry.”
Right. I’m halfway to Janet’s office before it occurs to me that I’ll have to stay with Jack. To help him avoid saying the wrong thing to the wrong person until this gets fixed. Which means that I’ll be sleeping in the same room with him again. That’s just great.
I wish I knew whether I really mean that or not.
“Janet said it might be temporary.”
“Oh,” Jack says, not looking at me. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed in his isolation room, staring at the floor between his feet.
“Apparently your MRI is a bit off, but she checked the latest one against the one she took just after you came through the gate, and it looks like it’s going back to normal.”
“Maybe if you’re not exposed to the eclipse every day, the effect fades.”
I sigh and sit beside Jack on the bed. He looks at me with hollow eyes and then leans over, resting his forehead against my shoulder. I pat at his hair uncertainly. I’m just not used to Jack acting vulnerable like this.
“Jack, what’s wrong?”
He shrugs and presses a little closer to my side, his breath tickling my neck. “I don’t know, exactly. Lots of things. I don’t want to stay like this—it’s embarrassing. I feel like I’m being childish and weak. But I don’t want to lose this, either.”
I put an arm around his shoulders and squeeze him a little. “Lose what?”
He lifts his head and meets my eyes. “This,” he whispers, and then he kisses me. Soft, quick, dry, warm. Nice.
“Jack. I can’t—“
“Don’t tell me you can’t take advantage of me. Don’t tell me I don’t know what I want. I know exactly what I want. That’s the problem. I can’t hide anything, not even from myself.”
I think about that for a while, idly stroking his back. It’s amazing how easy it is to touch him when he’s like this. I know he doesn’t like being vulnerable and open like this, but it makes me feel more confident. Stronger by comparison, if that makes any sense.
“Do you want to hide this?”
“I have to,” he says bleakly.
He gives me an incredulous look. “Why? Why do you think? I can’t even count how many rules this breaks.”
“So you’d rather pretend you don’t feel this way? Just shove it down and hide it and that’ll make everything okay?”
Jack smiles at me, slowly bringing one hand to trace the line of my jaw. I can feel the roughness of his fingertips against the rasp of my unshaven skin, and I shiver.
“That’s the first time you haven’t argued with me. The first time you’ve believed that this is really how I feel, and not some alien influence talking.”
I blink at him. “Oh.”
He laughs, quick and easy, and kisses me again. Does he always want to do it this often?
I pull back and try to center myself again, shaking my head quickly to clear it. “Wait. You’re concerned about breaking the rules, remember?”
“Yeah.” He runs a hand through his hair. “I just can’t seem to keep that in mind. I feel like I’m all instinct and emotion right now. Rational thought doesn’t enter into it.”
“Aren’t you the one that told me I should trust my instincts?”
He gives me that sideways half smile. “Throwing my words back at me, Danny? Sneaky.”
“Guess who taught me that trick.”
“I should stop teaching you things. You’re getting smarter than me.”
I raise my eyebrows at him and he laughs again, raising his hands.
“Yeah, I know. Be serious, right? I’m trying, Daniel.”
“I asked you if you thought it was better to not act on what you feel. To deny it.”
He watches me silently for a long moment, bringing his hand up and brushing the ball of his thumb across my mouth. I let him do it, unable to stop myself from flicking my tongue out to taste him. His eyes don’t soften so much as melt. I never knew he could look like that.
“Right now? I don’t think denying anything is a good idea.” He sighs and drops his hand. “But I think we’ve established that I’m not thinking clearly right now.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “I thought you couldn’t do anything but think clearly.”
“Well, okay, not rationally, then. Not realistically.”
Ah. That’s different. “You think that giving in to what we want would be a bad idea.”
He raises his eyebrows. “What we want?” he asks softly.
Oops. “Uh... well...”
“I know, Danny. Remember, I knew before you did.”
I shrug and focus somewhere over his left shoulder. “Yeah.”
He ruffles my hair and kisses my forehead again, a touch that should feel fatherly and chaste but is somehow tender and promising. “And yes,” he says, “I do think giving in would be a bad idea. No matter how good it would be.”
“No matter how good,” I echo. “Why would it be a bad idea?” And why am I trying to talk him into this when I’ve spent the last two nights trying to talk him out of it?
“It would hurt the team,” he says regretfully.
“Favoritism. Conflict of interest. Inappropriate relationship compromising the chain of command,” he recites.
“All of which doesn’t apply to us.”
He raises his eyebrows and leans back. “It doesn’t?”
I shake my head earnestly, already warming to my argument. “No. Think about it, Jack. Favoritism? How much more could you favor me than you do already? I’m always in the most protected position, always the last in and the first out, always guarded and watched over. You make sure I eat and sleep and take breaks and get enough water. Somebody from the team comes by my office before briefings to make sure I’m not late. The whole team hovers in the infirmary if I’m hurt. I’ve always been like the team puppy, and much as it drives me crazy sometimes, it’s kind of... well, nice. I don’t see how us acting on our feelings is going to change that.”
Jack is chuckling a little. “The team puppy? I’m going to remember that one, Daniel. I think Carter and Teal’c would like it.”
I think about arguing but give it up as pointless. He knows it would only be a token protest anyway.
“So you agree that favoritism isn’t an issue?”
“Well...” He glances down at his lap, and I follow his gaze, realizing I’ve taken his hand without even being aware of it. Our tangled fingers rest on his thigh, very close to... very close. Why does my face suddenly feel hot?
“I’ll agree,” he says grudgingly. “Bearing in mind that I’m easy right now.”
My lips twitch into what wants to be a smile. “Easy,” I reply. “I’ll remember that.”
“Yes, please do.”
I catch myself staring rather sappily at him and take a deep breath, scooting away a little on the bed. I can smell him and it’s distracting me. “Okay,” I say briskly. “Second point. Conflict of interest. What does that mean, exactly?”
“It means me putting your safety over accomplishing the mission. It means me splitting the team in such a way that you go with me when you should really go with Carter or Teal’c, just because I want to be with you. Anything that involves basing command decisions on something other than a risk assessment and the mission at hand.”
“You don’t do that now?”
Jack actually looks shocked. “No! I never do that. I don’t let how I feel about you affect my command.”
“If we were together, would it change how you feel about me?”
He pauses, sensing a trap. “Noooo...”
“So how would us being together change your command?”
He blinks and then snorts laughter, shaking his head. “Damn,” he mutters. “Never argue with a genius.”
“So it wouldn’t change anything, right?” I ask, pressing my advantage. I wasn’t captain of the debate team in college for nothing. “There would be no conflict of interest that isn’t there already?”
“I guess not,” he says slowly. “But there are no guarantees. I don’t think I can feel much more for you than I do now—I don’t think there is more. But I could be wrong.”
I just sit there and swallow for a few minutes. What do I say to something like that? How can I possibly live up to it?
“Hey.” He nudges my shoulder with his own. “Don’t go all mushy on me now, Daniel. I’m in no shape to resist that.”
“Right,” I say gruffly. “Sorry.”
“Daniel.” He grits his teeth and squeezes his eyes shut. “Come on, keep arguing. I hate falling apart. Don’t make me.”
I take a deep breath and give myself a little shake. Pull it together, Jackson. “So. The third point—an inappropriate relationship compromising the chain of command. How does that work?”
“Along the same lines as sexual harassment,” Jack says, his voice gaining strength as he speaks. “I would be giving you your way in the field, exercising my position of authority to give you undue attention and perks in exchange for sexual favors.”
“How is that like sexual harassment?”
He grins. “Basically, if I approached you and said ‘hey, sleep with me and I’ll let you stay longer and play with the old rocks,’ that would be sexual harassment.”
“And if I approach you with the same deal?”
Jack shrugs. “I don’t know what that’s called. I’m sure the military has a label for it, though.”
“Yes, I’m sure they do,” I reply grimly.
“The point is that you would have an influence over me. I might be more inclined to listen to you and give you your way just to make you happy, even if it isn’t the best decision.”
“Aren’t I always right?”
Jack rolls his eyes. “Daniel...”
“Yes, okay.” I sigh and let my eyes trace the line of his back. “You may have a point with that one.”
I sit straighter, brightening. “Although? What?”
“Well, before I started... uh, trying to push you away,” he gives me a guilty look, “I did always try to make you happy. Give you as much time to study your artifacts as I reasonably could. And I did try to listen, even if I didn’t agree. I guess listening a little more wouldn’t kill me.”
I sense a victory coming up. “You know, Jack, I remember that. I remember you listening and having patience and us being friendly and close and comfortable together. I also remember how much better the team functioned then. How Sam didn’t feel uncomfortable around you, and how we went out of our way to show Teal’c the planet and include him in things.”
“Hey!” He’s staring at me, his brow furrowed. “I don’t ignore Teal’c! And what do you mean about Carter being uncomfortable? What did I do?”
“Didn’t you notice how we never seem to get together off base with Teal’c anymore? He spends a lot of time with me, but we lost that cohesion that the four of us used to have. And Sam is just confused by the way you’ve been acting around her. Asking her to go fishing with you, for one. She felt that was inappropriate, but she didn’t know how to tell you.”
“So she told you?” Now he looks embarrassed again, his head lowered and his shoulders hunched.
“Yes,” I say gently. “She could see you shutting me out, and she felt bad about it. She felt like somehow you were favoring her over me, and she didn’t know what to do about it. She didn’t want to lose our friendship, but to a certain degree, we lost some of that connection we used to have.”
Jack sighs and rests his forehead on my shoulder again. “Because of me. I knew I’d screwed things up with you, Daniel, but I didn’t realize I’d hurt the whole team.”
I stroke his back again—somehow it’s not awkward anymore. I could get used to this. “You meant well, Jack,” I say reassuringly. “You were trying to do what was best for all of us.”
He nods against me, still not raising his head. I think he likes resting it on me like that. “Yeah, I meant well, but what’s that saying about the road to hell and good intentions? Here I was trying to avoid hurting the team, and that’s exactly what I did.”
“It’s okay,” I tell him. “It’s not too late.”
His arms go around me, one on my lower back, rubbing gently, the other cupping the back of my neck. He lifts his head to face me, so close I can feel the soft rush of his breathing on my skin. “It isn’t?” he asks. “We can fix this?”
Oh, hell. We jerk apart, Jack wiping ineffectually at his face, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes. Janet stands in the doorway, smiling a secret smile.
“J-Janet,” I stammer, standing and then immediately shoving my hands into my pockets and leaning forward. Janet just smirks. That woman doesn’t miss a trick.
“I need to take Colonel O’Neill for another MRI. If I’ve gauged the results of the first two correctly, he should be completely back to normal by now.”
“What?” Jack and I ask in unison. Our eyes meet, and he swallows, blinking nervously. Normal? For how long? And how much of our conversation was with Jack in his right mind?
Janet’s face is calm, but her eyes are dancing. “Colonel? If you’ll follow me?”
Jack swallows and stands awkwardly, his hands moving like he doesn’t know what to do with them. “Right. I’m coming.” Then he flushes and gives me a quick glance, ducking his head. I bite my lip to keep from laughing.
I go to follow Jack, but Janet stops me with a hand on my chest. “I won’t ask him any difficult questions, Daniel, don’t worry. I don’t need to be tripping over you—there isn’t much room in the examination area.”
“Oh,” I say. “Okay. See you later, Jack. Good luck.”
He just looks at me. Good luck—what does that mean?
I’m sitting on the bed staring into space when Jack comes back into the room. He immediately crosses to me and pins me on my back, his hands on my shoulders and his face over mine. He’s grinning, his eyes bright, and he leans forward and brushes the tip of his nose against mine in a series of rapid, feather-light touches.
“What are you doing?”
“They’re called Eskimo kisses.”
I frown and push up against his chest. He flops down beside me, one arm slung possessively over my belly, and his other hand immediately finds my hair. I’m starting to think he has an obsession with it.
“First of all, the term Eskimo is actually incorrect,” I tell him. “It’s a slang term that is somewhat derogatory, and the myth that arctic peoples kiss by brushing their noses because their lips are always chapped simply has no basis in reality. In fact—“
“Daniel.” He’s laughing again, his hand poking me just to the left of my navel in a way that I’m trying very hard not to think about.
“Don’t you want to know what Frasier said about my MRI?”
Ah. Not really. “Sure.”
“She says I’m back to normal.”
I sigh and pull his hand out of my hair. “Well, clearly, you’re not.”
What? “Try you,” I repeat slowly. “What does that mean?”
He turns onto his side and props his head up on one hand, the other stubbornly going back into my hair. “I mean, try asking me something you think I wouldn’t answer truthfully. I’ll lie. I can do it again—Frasier and I just tested it out. I’m back to normal.”
“It’s so lovely that you being skilled at lying is normal,” I snap, for lack of anything better to say. Normal? He just pinned me on the bed and sort of kissed me, and he’s normal?
“Well, I see your ability to act like a five year old has returned. How nice for you.”
Jack frowns and pulls his hand back, studying me closely. “What’s wrong? Why are you mad at me?”
“It’s not funny, Jack. I know you’re still under the influence of that thing, or you wouldn’t be touching me so much. I don’t enjoy having my feelings played with.”
He sighs and scoots closer again, putting an arm around my ribs and tugging at me. “Daniel,” he says quietly. “I know you’re used to not letting yourself think about this stuff. Not hoping for it. I’m touching you for the same reason I was before—because I want to. The only difference is that before, I couldn’t stop myself. Now I can stop, but I choose not to.”
I blink at him for a while, trying to puzzle that one out. I don’t see what’s changed here. He went through a phase with an alien device that caused him to lose all impulse control, and now he’s got control back, so his behavior should have returned to normal. The fact that he’s still all over me doesn’t fit into that equation.
e frowns. “Why what?”
I shake his arm off and retreat, getting off the bed and standing over by the far wall. “Why would you still want to... to do this stuff?” I wave a hand vaguely, frustrated at my inability to spell it out, but he seems to get it.
“Didn’t we already have this conversation? I love you, Daniel.” It’s harder for him to say it now. He looks embarrassed, nervous, but he’s also refusing to back down.
“That was the alien influence.”
“No, it wasn’t!” He sits up on the bed and throws his hands into the air. “How many times do I have to say this? The eclipse light show thing only made me see what was already there. I can’t un-see it.”
No. No, this can’t be real. I’m not actually getting what I’ve wanted so long. The universe just doesn’t work that way.
“But... but what about the rules? You said this couldn’t happen, that it would compromise the team, that... you said...”
He’s shaking his head slowly, his eyes sad. “We talked about that too, remember? You were the one who convinced me that us denying how we feel—how we feel, Daniel—is actually damaging the team. Why are you suddenly fighting this?”
“It wasn’t real when we talked about it before.” I pause and take a deep breath, not liking how high and tight my voice has gotten. “It was just... you weren’t yourself. We could talk about this stuff, and it was harmless, because none of it was real. I could pretend for a little while that it could really happen, and enjoy it while it lasted, but I knew that once you weren’t under alien influence anymore, it would be over.”
“So, that’s it?” he asks, spreading his hands wide, palms up. “You’re so sure that you can never have me, that now, even when I’m telling you point-blank that I love you and I want to be with you, you’re telling me it can’t happen? You’re so used to disappointment that you can’t accept anything else?”
I step back until I hit the wall, and then I look around at it, startled. The wall is not far enough away from him. “No, no, I don’t... that’s not it, you’re... you’re still confused, Jack. You don’t really mean what you’re saying. You can’t mean it. I, uh... I’m going to check in with Sam. See if I can figure out more about that stele. We’ll get this figured out and get you back to normal.”
He’s on his feet in a flash, his hands reaching for me, but I’m already at the door. “Daniel,” he protests, clutching at my shirt. “Don’t.”
“Jack,” I hiss, grabbing his wrists. “Let me go. Now.”
His hands fall to his sides, and he takes a step back, still shaking his head. “Why are you running?” he asks plaintively. “I thought we fixed all this.”
“I’m not running,” I tell him flatly. “I’m trying to help you. Your belief that you really have feelings for me isn’t fair to either of us.”
With that, I’m out the door, forcing myself to walk at a reasonable rate down the hall. I’m not running. I’m not.
“So this is the light pattern represented numerically, and this is what it looks like in a wave form.”
“Uh-huh,” I say vaguely, watching Sam’s hands as they point out all her charts. We’re in her lab, where I am not hiding from Jack.
“The light pulses definitely form a repeating pattern, but so far the numbers don’t make any sense. It’s possible that it’s some kind of code.”
Sam pauses and cocks her head, frowning at me. “Daniel? Are you all right?”
“Oh, yes, of course. I’ve just been working on that stele a lot, and I can’t seem to get anywhere with it.” There, that sounded plausible. I really have been working on it.
“Really,” she says dubiously. “And that’s the only problem?”
I blink at her, wide-eyed and innocent. “What else would there be?”
“Hmm.” She gives me a narrow look. I avoid her eyes.
“So, you’ve been analyzing this stuff since you got back?” I ask in a pathetically obvious attempt to change the subject.
Sam focuses on her computer again, and my shoulders slump in relief. “Yes,” she says brightly. “We did some rudimentary studies in the field, but we didn’t have the necessary equipment for full scale computer modeling.”
I nod and try to look enthusiastic as she flips through several images on her screen, explaining each one. They look sort of like bar charts, or the waveform of a trigonometric equation, depending on which display she uses. I’m staring at the shifting patterns and colors, still thinking about Jack and what I’m going to do, when something seems to click.
“Wait, wait, go back,” I say, interrupting her flow of words.
“What? Which one?”
“The blue-green one with all the spikes.”
Sam rolls her eyes. “You know, I did tell you what each display was called.”
“Yeah, I know... that’s not it... there!” I point at the screen, which is showing another chart, shifting color being rotated back and forth. “Can you tilt it so we’re looking at it from above?”
“From above?” She frowns and peers at the screen. “It’s a three dimensional representation of the pulse frequency and intensity. Changing the angle isn’t going to change the data, and besides, if you look at it from above, all you see is a flat green square.”
“No, no, put some kind of level on it.”
Sam looks at me, at the screen, and then at me again. She’s got that look that says she thinks I’m drinking too much coffee again. “Daniel...”
I sigh and point at the screen again, jabbing my fingertip against the glass as if I can reach in and do what I want. “Like... okay, it’s a three dimensional diagram, right? Like a cube, with the base being solid green, and then the values of intensity and frequency, that stuff you said, that’s represented in spikes of different heights and locations. So if you look at it from above, you’re right, you’d see just a flat green square, unless you put a divider in. Like... like sticking a piece of paper on it so only the highest spikes are poking through. Then you’d have a white square with green dots in certain locations, right?”
She brightens a little, not understanding where I’m going but at least getting what I want. “Oh... okay, yeah, I see what you mean. Here, let me do this...” She taps on the keyboard for a few seconds, and then the screen suddenly changes to what I asked for, a white square with a handful of green dots scattered randomly across it.
“Yes!” I say, already rummaging through my books. “I knew I’d seen that pattern before. If I just hold one over the other...”
Sam is shaking her head again. “Daniel, I don’t see what this has to do with—“
“Just bear with me, okay?” I ask absently, already holding my best picture of the stele engraving over the computer screen. The light of the monitor shines through the paper, and the dark green dots are visible behind it. “Uh... okay, the scale is wrong. Can you make it bigger?”
Sam does as I ask without speaking. I think she’s starting to see what I’m doing.
“There! You see how it lines up? Most of the symbols are meaningless, and the ones that do mean something are words all jumbled together, with no sense. But if you only read the ones with dots behind them... can you put numbers on the dots? From lowest intensity to highest?”
“Okay.” Now she sounds excited. Her hands are stuttering on the keys, rapid and eager, her eyes on the paper. Numbers appear on the screen—one through twenty-four.
“So, reading the symbols over the dots, in order of intensity...” I start scribbling a translation on the closest available piece of paper, my eyes darting between the screen and what I’m writing.
Sam reads over my shoulder. “Who comes seeking knowledge finds truth. The dark eats the light and what was shadowed is seen. Lies cannot pass the ring of fire.”
I sit back, my legs suddenly rubbery. Sam stares at me, her eyes widening, and she puts a cool hand on the back of my neck, pressing my head down to rest on the table.
“Easy, Daniel. Take deep breaths.”
“I’m okay,” I mumble. “Just... um...”
“Stay put,” she orders firmly. “You went white as a sheet just then. Keep your head down for at least a few minutes.”
I decide to humor her because she sounds so concerned, and because all the strength seems to have run out of my body. I feel like a loose, overstretched bag of thick liquid, ready to spill onto the floor.
“Daniel... how did you do that? How could you possibly see that pattern in the original graph?”
“I don’t know,” I say, my words muffled against the tabletop. “I wasn’t even really looking at it. I only saw it out of the corner of my eye, and it just fit.”
I have my eyes closed, but I can feel the excitement and energy welling up in Sam. “This is incredible,” she gushes. “A code of this sophistication, that requires an advanced visual model of the light pulses to be interpreted in a certain way in order to decipher the message... the technology involved would have to be so advanced...”
“As advanced as creating a satellite that could cause daily, safely observable eclipses?” I ask. “As advanced as a series of light pulses causing a person to be completely unable to hide anything and to act on their own buried feelings?”
She pauses, and her hand comes to lightly rest on my back. “Daniel? You said that the Colonel wasn’t affected after all. That he was fine.”
“I know what I said.”
The hand is taken away from my back. I lift my head and find Sam staring at me, wide-eyed and concerned. “Daniel?” she asks faintly. “Did he... did he tell you?”
I don’t have to ask what. It looks like I’m the last to know how he really feels. The only consolation is that he didn’t know either.
“He told me,” I say slowly. “But I didn’t believe him. I didn’t think it could be real.”
“Lies cannot pass the ring of fire.” I shiver and rub at my arms, soothing my prickling skin. “I have to go, Sam. I have to talk to him.”
She smiles and gives me a quick hug. “Go, Daniel. Good luck.”
I nod distractedly, already on my way out the door. Yes, good luck. I’d forgotten that bad luck wasn’t the only kind, but it looks like things are about to change. If I’m lucky.
He looks up from his desk, somehow looking hopeful and wary at the same time. “Daniel,” he says neutrally, his eyes steady on mine.
I take two stumbling steps into the room and shut the door behind me. My hands are shaking and I know Jack sees it, but he keeps his mouth shut. Not assuming, not pushing, not touching. Letting me lead. It’s just what I need.
“I, ah... I figured out the stele.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Oh? What’s it say?”
“Who comes seeking knowledge finds truth. The dark eats the light and what was shadowed is seen. Lies cannot pass the ring of fire.”
Jack stands, slowly, his hands in his pockets. I don’t know if that’s to appear non-threatening, or to keep from reaching out to me. I find myself hoping it’s the latter. I want him to want me.
“I’m sorry,” I blurt, taking another step toward him.
“What for?” So soft, his voice. So soft.
“I should have believed you. You said... what you said... and I should have believed you.”
“You spent a long time not letting yourself think it could be true,” he says, forgiving me effortlessly. “Old habits and all that.”
“Do you still... I mean, um, even though I was so stupid about it, can you...” I can’t say it. I can’t ask—not when I’m so afraid the answer will be no.
Jack shakes his head, and I feel my insides freeze and twist. He must see this on my face, because he immediately steps forward, his hand on my shoulder, squeezing almost painfully.
“Yes,” he whispers fiercely. “Yes, yes, Danny. Yes. I was only shaking my head because we can’t do this here.” He indicates the security camera with his eyes.
“Oh.” Does my voice really sound so small?
“What do you say we go for a little walk, Doctor Jackson? Get some fresh air?”
I blink at him. My brain feels like it’s about three steps behind in the conversation. Yes? He said yes?
“Right!” I say suddenly, my voice squeaking in a way that should be embarrassing, but isn’t. I’m beyond that right now. “A walk. That, uh... good idea. Sure. Fresh air, sunshine, vitamin D, it’s good for you. Nice day, is it? Is it spring? What month is it?”
Jack’s laughing again, his hand still on my shoulder, sliding dangerously close to stroking my neck. “Nervous?” he asks.
“Good. Me too.”
I can feel my mouth smiling, even though my face feels numb. “Let’s... um, let’s be nervous together.”
“That’s a brilliant idea, Daniel,” Jack says, steering me out the door with an arm casually thrown over my shoulders. “I always said you were a smart man.”
“Almost wasn’t smart enough,” I murmur. “Almost didn’t figure out something really important.”
“But you did figure it out,” Jack replies, his voice low, his eyes direct. “You make your own happiness in life, Daniel. You can’t just wait for it to happen to you.”
“I think...” I look him up and down as the elevator doors close on us. Jack tilts his head, his face quizzical, and I push myself off the wall and pin him against the opposite one, my face close to his. I rub our cheeks together like he did to me in the tent that night, relishing the coarse, close touch of skin. “I think I’m done waiting,” I whisper.
“Good,” he whispers back.
He tries to kiss me, but I kiss him first. I think I’m finally going to get lucky.
Feedback makes the difference between writing and posting; please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org