a thousand petals, a thousand paths

If there was one thing in the world Jack hated more than anything else, it was a cliché. Those tired, time-worn, limp truisms that had lost their meaning through too much use. You had to stop and think about the words themselves to really get their meaning. Which meant thinking even more about a situation so incendiary that it had warranted the cliché in the first place. A Catch-22 that tangled his tongue and pulled his brain after.

He was a living a goddamn Shakespearean comedy of errors, a tragedy of the most comical kind, and it pissed him off no end.

He was an easy-going guy. He was. Fairly low maintenance, his demands were few and easy to fulfill – beer, camaraderie, a good game on the TV. That’s all. Simple things that reminded him he was alive without having to get into navel-gazing that was ultimately fruitless anyway. It didn’t change anything.

But this, this had sucked at his heart just as the Ancient device had sucked at his brain. Usually, he could go about his business, and ignore the swelling of emotion that would lap about his feet like an incoming tide. Sometimes, an errant wave would push at him, and he’d stumble, but he’d right himself and carry on and no one would be the wiser, including himself. Then there were the times that he couldn’t do anything but feel that tide, and wish he could let go, let the water sweep him off his feet and carry him away from his safe, military shore, and be rocked in the warm, gentle pulse of that uncharted, emotional ocean.

Really, really pissed him off. He hated being a cliché.

But there it was. He was a cliché. He loved, he was in love, had been for so very long he hadn’t even noticed when it happened. And it was, as far as he knew, unrequited. More cliché on top of more cliché. It was enough to make him sick.

Damn Shakespeare anyway. There was no Romeo here, no Juliet, no fucking dream on a Midsummer’s night, no, no, and no, again. Yet the emotions remained the same, the tug of heart strings, the wonderings of What If, the poking at dreams where there was no Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but simply the blessed freedom to be and feel what he wanted to be and feel.

Damn Daniel, anyway. While that was unfair, while he knew that Daniel didn’t do anything deliberately, that Daniel just was, it was still easy to blame Daniel. See, that was part of the whole laughable tragedy. If it could have been reduced to some base desire to get sweaty and sticky, and then roll over and go to sleep, it would have been fine. He could have dealt with that. But, no. It was the base desire to get sweaty and sticky, and then roll over and hold Daniel in his arms, smooth his hand over that tender skin, press his lips to that beating throat-pulse, smell the almond shampoo of that shining hair. It was the need to talk about simple things, to share the floating thoughts that came after the body had been sated and put aside, to merge the meanderings of heart and soul.

More cliché. Maybe he would be sick, after all.

And why now? Why realize this all now, now, of all times, when he was schlepping two tired, tortured scientists through Latin American airports after yet another crazy, sleepless set of days battling the impossible? Why not when he’d almost become one with thousands of pounds of submersible Russian steel? Why not when Daniel had died in an oozing puddle of radiation poisoning and otherworldly light? Why not, why not, why not? It was insane, it was stupid, it was, in its own way, reassuring. For all that the dead could live again, the sheer mundanity of unrequited love could almost be comforting.

Almost.

When it wasn’t being irritatingly cliched.

Maybe it had been the reanimated dead that had tweaked his attention. That would have been enough to make Tarantino sit up and take notice. Maybe even pale a little. That strange, shaking horror that the bizarre and impossible was happening, right here on Earth, on good ol’ terra firma, instead of out there in space, in the cold, where there wasn’t the threat to the subconscious comfort of this being Home. It had happened, here, and he had almost been too late. Another half hour of sparring with Burke in that sordid little cantina and he would have been too late. And through it all, Daniel had kept fighting, had kept his head, kept his wits all wrapped up in a little box that said Protect Bill Lee from the Zombie Guerillas of Doom. Amazing. Because of Daniel, he hadn’t been too late.

Oh, Daniel was truly amazing. Even though he was so blithely ignorant of his own appeal, even though that ignorance drove Jack to anger and outright petulance, he was amazing. Astounding. Even with that stupid rock in his hand, he had tried to keep fighting. Even with his legs literally cut out from under him, he had turned, he had raised that rock, and he had fought. That was it – it was the rock. That idiotic rock, not even the size of a man’s head, a piece of earth hard enough to bruise, maybe break a bone, but in no way sufficient enough to stop a bullet, a machete or an alien device that could reanimate dead flesh. Jack even recognized, now, with the whir of plane engines in his ears and Daniel’s head lolling against his shoulder, that he had wanted to take that rock with him, a bizarre, too-weighty souvenir. God, like he’d been some sort of tourist at a Disney World for the Damned.

He was suddenly, intensely tired. Probably not as tired as the man who slept and drooled next to him, but tired enough, tired of the fact that he had wanted that drooling man for years and hadn’t even known it until now. He hated that he was suffering from an epiphany, because that, too, was a cliché.

Maybe life was just all one big cliché and he should get over himself.

But he could do that later. Now, they were landing, finally, in Colorado Springs, they were zipping along to the Mountain, and Daniel and Bill Lee were being cleaned and dosed and diagnosed and it was 0430 and everything was quiet. Finally. Even his head was quiet, because the “tired enough” had slipped into “dog tired” and all he wanted to do was to take a shower, himself, and sleep. He could put his drooled-upon shirt into the laundry and the dirt and the grime and the terror could be washed away by industrial soap and rhetoric and the deep sleep of the righteous rescuer.

Which meant he showered, got into fresh clothes, had a double coffee, and sat in an uncomfortable chair in the infirmary and watched Daniel sleep, his brain now in the overdrive of the desperately exhausted.

Perfect. Now he’d slithered from Shakespeare to soap opera, keeping his wee-hour vigil in the hopes of Daniel waking up and knowing, without having to be told, that Jack would give him the world if he’d only keep living another day. Oy. Not like Jack hadn’t always wanted to give Daniel the world, from the first moment that brilliant boy had scrubbed at that blackboard and said, “No, it means ‘stargate.’” Anyone who could so blithely and innocently upset years of work with the simple dash of a piece of chalk deserved the world.

Innocence. That was the next epiphany, as if they were lining up at the deli counter in his mind, taking numbers, waiting their turns to smack Jack O’Neill upside the brain. Daniel had been innocent, and Jack, for all his pain and the blood on his hands, was now an innocent himself, as if Daniel had transferred his blind faith and naivete to him through some misplaced gift of trust. This love, this upswelling of emotion, was so newly recognized and profound that Jack really did feel innocent, as if he was opening the door on a spring day that had been freshly washed by rain. Even these grey, military walls sparkled with the promise of new things to come. What would the ensuing hours hold? Dare he hope? How could he hope? Hope was for the passive. Hope was for children and the elderly who had nothing better to do than to wait for things to happen to them, for them – Christmas, death, new rollerskates, or a firmer glue for their dentures. For everyone else, life must be an action, or else there was only stagnation.

And he was nothing if not a man of action. Cliché, cliché, cliché.

So what was the action? What should he do? Keep his silence? Inaction was, in itself, an action. But that was the coward’s way, and he loathed a coward, especially when that coward was himself. He must, therefore, choose an action that spoke of his own, personal truth, but from that truth could come great and unpleasant consequences: Daniel could be horrified, revolted, turn him in to the MPs, so many horrible, harsh things that would sour that innocent love and turn it into a bitter regret. That was doing Daniel a disservice, though. Daniel would never be horrified, would never be revolted, would never, ever offer Jack up as a sacrificial, gay lamb to the militaristic slaughter.

That word, “gay.” How bizarre. Once it meant only to be “happy,” “joyful.” Now, it meant a lover of someone of the same sex, with intimations and expectations of sexual intercourse. He wasn’t gay, never had been. He’d never been homosexual, either. Not that he was homophobic, it just simply hadn’t crossed his mind, there had been other things to think about, like airplanes and sound barriers and snaky parasites. Yet now, he thought about male flesh, male hands on his own body, and it was simply a new state of being. The thoughts of being intimate with Daniel made him happy, so that was fine. Weird, but happy. He was easy going, low maintenance. Why get all bent out of shape about it?

Daniel. Thinking of Daniel brought a certain peace, even amongst the maelstrom of What If? Daniel wouldn’t be horrified or revolted, at worst, he would be uncomfortable. At best, he would love Jack in return. Wouldn’t that be convenient? Devoutly to be wished.

Was a wish the same as a hope? Did it lack a certain substance, something muttered to a star and recognized as That Which Will Never Happen? Or did it have the same impact as hope, something deep and revelatory that could transcend time and space and gender. Too confusing. Too much thinking, too many cliches, it was all too much and his brain hurt, and he could almost think he’d had his brain downloaded by the Ancient device for a second time.

Scrubbing his sleeve across his face, he realized that Daniel was awake, had been watching him for several minutes now. Though clouded with painkillers, the blue eyes were lucid enough to register every emotion that had been chasing themselves across Jack’s face like dogs after their own tails. Slowly, so slowly, as if they were trapped in a bubble of not-time, Daniel’s right hand, free of IV lines, crept out of the cool, hospital sheets and waited, palm up, for Jack’s hand. Eyes big, Jack moved his own hand forward, watched their fingers mesh together, the scrapes and bruises on Daniel’s fingers purple and rust counterpoint to the tanned, golden flesh of Jack’s knuckles.

“You came for me,” Daniel husked, licking at the broken skin of his dry lips.

“Yeah,” said Jack, tightening his hold on those battered digits.

“I thought I was hallucinating you,” Daniel said, the delicate skin around his eyes bruised and flinching from the memories.

Jack shook his head. “I’m sorry I was late.”

Daniel smiled faintly. “You were right on time,” he said roughly, and brought Jack’s hand to his mouth and kissed the back here the vein was blue and so close to the surface.

Jack opened his mouth to say something, something desperately profound, but the morning nurse brought by Daniel’s bland breakfast slop and another cup of coffee for Jack. Where had the hours gone?

“Although, actually,” Daniel amended, slurping up his breakfast with a moue of distaste, “I was starting to worry, there. You can be awfully slow when you put your mind to it, Jack, which is rather insulting, to both you and the rest of us who know you and your true innate intelligence.”

“Huh?” Jack said.

Daniel rolled his eyes and grinned and kissed Jack’s hand again with damp lips. “It’s been sheer torture, waiting for you to get with the program. You’re lucky I’m so stubborn.”

Jack’s eyes closed briefly, disbelieving of his luck, feeling the hopes and wishes give way to a shocking certainty. Well, whaddya know. Daniel had woken up and knew, without being told, that Jack wanted to give him the world. And was willing to give it right back.

While it might have been darkest before dawn; while his epiphanies might have been slow as molasses and few and far between; the bottom line was, they were as two peas in a pod, and as luck would have it, he’d been granted a chance to set the record straight.

He wanted to laugh out loud, jump for joy, and kiss the man senseless. This swell of emotion that was so new and fragile, yet ages old and solid as the foundations of the earth, this was between them, something upon which they stood, and wherever they were, it was enough, it got them where they needed to go, and though tremors sometimes ran deep into that foundation, they would always find each other, Gibraltar-solid. And it was a truth, not a cliché, not a truism, but a truth.

Thank God. And thank God for Daniel. Because of Daniel, he hadn’t been too late. And that was the brightest truth of all. 

.:.

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