a thousand petals, a thousand paths

“What are you wishing for?”

Jack looks up, face blank. Daniel’s glasses flash in the sunlight, sparkling with the refractions from silverware and dog tags. Then he remembers the question, and gestures down at the book he’s reading. “Wishing?” He supposed he had been wishing, in a vague, what am I doing here kind of way.  “For a fishing rod,” he lies.

Daniel’s thick eyebrows quirk as he reads the title of the book. Who brings Melville to Atlantis? “You came to a city in the middle of an ocean and you didn’t bring your fishing gear?” He’s got a stack of books in his arms and Jack knows he’s off to do more of his translating. How many of Daniel’s books were actual research material and how many were books brought as part of his personal allowance? Jack was sure it was a fuzzy line, if there was a line at all, between the two.

“Well, no,” Jack confesses, and is simultaneously irritated with himself for feeling that warm unclenching in his stomach, and amused with Daniel for his sass. “I brought a couple of poles. But I would have liked to have brought more.”

Daniel puts his books down on the table opposite Jack. “So make some,” he says. “There is a continent, after all. Over there. Somewhere.” He gestures vaguely out the window.

“I could do that,” Jack agrees, the amusement gaining a little on the irritation. He stretches out his legs so far, his feet poke out from the opposite side of the table. He nudges a chair, and Daniel slides gracelessly into the proffered seat. The amusement rate ratchets higher. Sometimes, Daniel was like a live wire, taut with energy and zapping, seemingly effortlessly, from place to place in his enthusiasm for learning more. And at other times? He was about as graceful as a rock falling off a cliff.

And then there was nothing to say, for a long while. Daniel runs a thumb, over and over, against the edges of a book, snapping the pages. Jack looks down at his book and realizes that it had been the perfect book to bring. His heart is shooting out of his chest right now, he can feel it. He’s mesmerized by Daniel’s thumb, and he has a brief, visceral memory of that same thumb, healed, broken, stroking his bottom lip and it’s all he can do not to cry right now.

“Look,” Daniel says finally, and his eyes are blue and depthless as the alien ocean outside that window.

“No,” Jack says, and he closes his book.

“No,” Daniel reiterates, but he means it differently. “I do love you.”

Jack stares out the window into the blinding alien sun. This was impossible. His heart was shooting out of his chest and breaking on the great white back of the inconceivable, of the utterly complex and logic-defying mass that was Daniel’s weird, all-encompassing love.

“I do,” Daniel whispers. “And it scares me to death when I’ve got a gun in my hand, because that means that I’ve changed for you more than I ever thought I would change for anyone.”

Jack still stares out the window. “I never meant to change you,” he says finally, softly.

“But you did,” Daniel says, but there’s no recrimination in his voice. He stands, gathers his books all in one arm so he can rest his fingertips on Jack’s shirt sleeve. “And I’m glad,” he adds in the barest of whispers and is gone through the shaft of sunlight.

Jack finally looks away from the window, sees Rodney across the room, looking tight-lipped and protective. Jack’s face is blank again as he stares at Rodney, almost daring him. Rodney looks away.

And Jack is back to his book, thinking, I wonder when I can take a jumper to the continent.

I wonder if Daniel will come with me . . .


~  title from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick


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