Category: Slash, Angst, H/C of the mental kind, Drama, Romance, Holiday, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Season: 2 - Late May, 1998 (Memorial Day)
Written: May 9-12,20, 2004 Revised: March 31, April 1-3,15, 2006
Summary: A surprise visit stirs up Jack's past and spurs Daniel to plan a trip for the couple.
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
1) I've been told this needs a hanky warning!
2) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically. Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) For more information on the Vietnam Memorial, there's a great website located at: http://www.vietnamwall.org/
5) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my past fics, “Echoes of the Past”
6) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Claudia, Sue, QuinGem, Drdjlover, Kalimyre, Linda, Robert!
“The kids will love this booth,” Jack spoke confidently as he worked in
“You mean they'll love getting wet,” Daniel mused as he glanced over at his lover.
Jack nodded, saying, “That's what being a kid is all about -- being mischievous and getting wet.”
“I guess so,” Daniel replied dispassionately, shrugging his shoulders at the same time, his eyes not meeting Jack's.
~Okay, message received,~ Jack thought as he put down the balloon he had just picked up. He walked over to Daniel, taking the tie he held and putting it down, and scooped him into his arms. After a deep, soulful kiss, Jack intoned, “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Jack urged, “You should come with me to the shelter, Danny. You'd love the kids.”
Scooting away from his soulmate, Daniel responded, “I know. Maybe next time.” After he picked up a balloon and filled it with water, he commented, “You know it would make more sense to fill these up when you get there. A lot of them might break en route.”
Jack sighed, not about the balloons, but about his beautiful lover who had never had anything close to a normal childhood. He headed back over to his stack of balloons and ties.
“Too much of a temptation,” the older man replied.
“Temptation?” Daniel asked.
“Oh yeah. They'd spend more time ...” Jack stopped, a wicked smile coming over him.
“More time doing what?” Daniel asked innocently as he tied off another balloon full of water and attached it to the large board.
The kids at the children's shelter were having a small carnival in honor of Memorial Day. Monies raised would be split among the shelter and the local veteran's fund. It had become an annual event, usually held the weekend before Memorial Day so it wouldn't interfere with family plans and trips.
This year, Jack would be manning the water balloon game where the kids would throw darts at the board. For every three balloons broken, the kids would get a prize. The added bonus to this game was that the balloons were full of water that would fall into a tank when popped. When the water reached certain predetermined levels, a trigger would go off that would cause a buoy to pop up. The lovers had arranged three different levels at which this would occur and had made a few rules for the game to ensure that different children would win and that it would be random and not just the best balloon poppers.
Thus, each of the children who broke the balloons that triggered the three buoys would receive a very special prize -- an outing to a sporting event of their choice, courtesy of Jack and Daniel.
Jack had created the extra zing for the booth with great enthusiasm. This particular shelter housed orphans, mostly between the ages of six and thirteen. It was one of a few that had become a favorite of Jack's, and he always enjoyed devoting time to it and the children there.
~Gotta do it!~ Jack worked hurriedly to bring his idea to fruition, finally answering Daniel's question, saying, “More time to do *this*.”
Quickly, Jack turned and tossed a balloon at Daniel, the balloon bursting upon impact, wetting Daniel's shirt.
“What the ... Jaaaaack!” the younger man exclaimed in shock. Jack's smug grin stirred the 'payback' juices within Daniel. “Okay, O'Neill. If that's your game, I can play, too.”
~That's the idea, Dannyboy. Come on. Be a kid,~ Jack silently pleaded and then challenged, “You have to have good aim, you know.”
Jack began to try and dodge his lover, had who reached in and grabbed one of the previously filled balloons and tossed it. Jack could have ducked, but that wasn't the idea.
“Direct hit; just lucky. Bet you couldn't do it again,” Jack daringly accused.
“You're so wrong, Babe.”
Jack took off towards the other side of the house as Daniel threw a strike that hit Jack right in the small of his back.
~Ouch, but worth it,~ Jack thought as he reached back with his right hand to rub the 'target'. “You're going to get yours, Love,” he promised as he hurried back to his supply, pulled out another balloon, and managed to get Daniel on the left arm.
The game was on. Admittedly, neither Jack nor Daniel tried seriously to avoid the hits, and by the time they were done, they were both soaked.
“Noooo!” Daniel called out.
“What's wrong?” Jack asked with concern.
“I'm out of balloons,” the archaeologist admitted, lighthearted panic setting in as he realized his supply had been depleted.
Jack's expression was confident, even arrogant with pride radiating all around him. He held up the last previously filled water balloon and strutted slowly, yet purposely, towards his lover, his eyes menacing as he moved his eyebrows up and down.
“Nyah-ah-ah,” Jack crooned like Snidely Whiplash, bobbing a balloon in his hand.
“Jack ...” Daniel begged with pleading eyes as he took a few steps backward, but then found himself backed up against the wall of the house.
“The grand finale,” Jack said boisterously, smacking the balloon between his palms over his victim's head and letting the water gush out, soaking Daniel's long shaggy hair.
“Got me,” Daniel said softly.
“Geez, I hope so,” Jack whispered as he closed in for a kiss, Daniel's arms raising to go around Jack's neck as their kiss deepened.
With a soft voice, Daniel asked, “So ... that's what children do?”
“With water balloons,” the colonel affirmed.
As he spoke, Jack's voice was a bit cracked, his heart aching from the adultness of Daniel's youth. He knew Daniel had felt abandoned and suffered from the loneliness of having no one but himself to depend on.
Daniel smiled as he responded, “Thanks for showing me.”
“Danny ...” Jack suddenly realized he didn't have any more words, so he kissed the love of his life again. “Come with me to the shelter,” he invited again, hoping to cajole his partner into joining him.
Daniel shook his head, saying, “Not this time. I just ... not this time. I'm glad you're doing it and that you're letting me help, though.” Inwardly, he thought, ~I just can't -- too many memories, but ... but maybe someday.~
Running his fingers along Daniel's sides, Jack nodded and reluctantly sighed, “Okay. We killed our supply, though.”
“We have bags full of balloons and plenty of time, but maybe we should change into dry clothes,” a drenched Daniel commented, looking down at the wet clothes he was wearing.
After another kiss, the couple headed inside the house. Jack was ahead of Daniel, a few steps up the stairs when the doorbell rang.
“Danny, get that, okay,” Jack requested, glancing back over his shoulder.
“You sure?” a cautious Daniel replied as he came to a halt.
Jack smiled, saying, “Mi casa, su casa.”
Grinning, Daniel turned and headed for the door, looking over his shoulder to shout back, “Especially when it's time to take out the trash, right, Jack?”
Daniel heard Jack's laughter from the top of the stairs just as he opened the front door. In a split second, he found himself being eyed up and down by two very official looking members of the Air Force. He suddenly realized it probably wasn't such a good idea to have answered the door. After all, the archaeologist was wearing the cutoffs Jack loved so much and a tight-fitting sleeveless T-shirt which right now was showing off Daniel's physique perfectly. He was barefoot, and his hair was mussed from their water balloon fight, not to mention the fact that he was completely soaked.
“Colonel Jack O'Neill?” one of the men asked a bit dubiously.
“Um, no. Uh,” Daniel looked behind him towards the inside of the house, hesitant to let the strangers in. “May I ask who you are, please?”
The taller of the two men, a colonel himself, showed his ID card as he answered, “Colonel Mason Alexander, and this is Sergeant Mark Alvarez.”
“Um. Excuse me. I'll get Ja...Colonel O'Neill,” Daniel nervously replied before closing the door on the two men and heading upstairs.
Jack was just slipping on a pullover gray shirt when he heard his lover walking into the master bedroom.
“So who was at the door?” the older man inquired casually.
“They're still there. Two Air Force men: a colonel and a sergeant. Dress uniforms. I don't know them,” Daniel announced.
“Hmm. Okay.” Jack walked towards his lover and gave his worried lips a kiss. “Get dry, and come downstairs,” he said before leaving the bedroom. He walked downstairs and opened the front door. After the introductions were made, he invited the two Air Force men inside and asked, “So, what is this about?”
“An oversight, Colonel,” Alexander replied. “As you know, sometimes paperwork gets lost or misplaced.”
“In the Air Force? I can't imagine,” Jack sniped. He immediately saw that his sarcastic wit wasn't being appreciated. He cleared his throat, but said nothing, waiting for the men to continue. ~These types never have a sense of humor.~
Colonel Alexander continued, “This isn't usually how we do this, Colonel, but a friend of yours ...” Alexander paused and looked at the sergeant. “What was his name, Sergeant?”
“Major Paul Davis,” Alvarez quickly noted.
“Friend?” Jack stated before thinking. Seeing the questioning look, he back peddled, saying, “Right. Paul -- good guy.” ~As long as he keeps his hands off of my Danny. I saw the way he looked at him when they met for the first time. Friend my ...~
“Colonel, do I have your attention?” Alexander asked, sensing Jack's attention had fled.
“Sorry,” Jack apologized, not realizing that his thoughts of the major's potential interest in Daniel had taken him from the current conversation.
Just then Daniel walked downstairs a bit tentatively, tentatively saying, “I'm sorry, perhaps I should ...” as he motioned to the upstairs.
“No, Daniel,” Jack quickly replied, tilting his head to the side as an indication for Daniel to stand by him. “Gentlemen, I believe you've met Doctor Daniel Jackson. We work together.”
“So I've heard,” Alexander intoned, again looking Daniel up and down, though Daniel was now dressed in jeans and a long-sleeve navy blue shirt, which was as far removed from the cut-offs and sleeveless T-shirt he had worn earlier that he could get.
“Daniel, these gentlemen were about to tell me why they're here,” Jack informatively relayed. ~He's sure giving Danny the eye, and he's not disapproving, either. Is the whole military one big closet?~
Hesitantly, Daniel walked over towards Jack, unsure of whether he should do so or not. At the moment, uneasiness was flowing through him. He felt very self-conscious, as if the two military strangers could look right through him and realize the truth to his relationship with his lover.
Alexander expounded, “As I was saying, Colonel, this isn't our normal procedure, but Major Davis requested we go the extra mile, so to speak, and deliver this in person.”
“Deliver what?” Jack inquired, his hands on his hips as he waited to find out the reason for the visit.
“Attention!” Alexander called out formally.
The sergeant snapped to, and though Alexander was the same rank as Jack, so did he. Daniel stood confused at this turn of events, while Jack seemed stunned, though by habit he now stood more erect than he had been, his arms now straight at his sides.
Alexander called out, “Attention to orders! The United States Air Force has reposed special trust and confidence in Lieutenant Colonel William C. O’Neill. Lieutenant Colonel O’Neill’s courage, valor and dedication to duty reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Air Force.” The colonel paused and opened the box, exposing the medal, the United States Air Force Cross. He spoke more informally, “On behalf of a grateful nation, Colonel.”
“Billy?” Jack said softly.
Daniel's eyes widened as he thought, ~Who's Billy? O'Neill?~
Alexander handed Jack the medal in its box, saying, “I'm sorry for your loss, Colonel.”
“Yeah, me, too,” Jack replied, staring at the medal. Determined to keep his emotions in check, he asked, “Why now?”
“As I said, the Pentagon sometimes misplaces things,” Alexander explained. “The medal was requested and issued on September 15, 1967, but somehow the paperwork was misfiled. Our apologies.”
“Thank you,” Jack intoned, his eyes fixed on the bronze medal.
“If you'll excuse us, we have some things to attend to,” Alexander spoke.
“What? Oh, yeah, sure. Daniel ...” Jack trailed off, needing Daniel to escort the men out.
Not missing a beat, Daniel stated, “I'll see you out,” pausing only a second to look at his soulmate.
Daniel led the two men to the door, shutting it behind the two exiting men and then locking it. He returned to the living room, discovering it was empty.
~Okay, he wants to be alone, but is that the right thing?~ Daniel asked himself as he struggled with what to do next. ~Whatever this is, it really shook him up. He ... he needs some time,~ he quietly decided.
Ultimately, Daniel opted to let Jack have some time to himself. Obviously, whoever William C. O'Neill was, he was someone close to his lover.
The archaeologist sat down on the couch, staring up at the ceiling, patiently and yet anxiously waiting for time to pass.
Two hours later, Daniel was still waiting. He had done some cursory checking and knew his soulmate was up on the roof deck, a place that had always given peace and comfort to the older man.
Again, Daniel struggled as to whether or not to give Jack more time alone. Once again, he opted to give his lover time to process the medal and its impact, whatever that was. Unfortunately, though, the time for the carnival was quickly approaching.
Daniel went outside and quietly filled up all the balloons. One by one, he loaded the boxes of water-filled balloons into Jack's truck, adding the large board and tank, too. He glanced at his watch, and finally decided there was no more time to spare.
Slowly, Daniel climbed the ladder to the roof deck. He saw Jack sitting in one of the white deck chairs, hunched forward, eyes locked on the medal he held in his hands.
Almost reverently, Daniel spoke, “Jack, the carnival; I've put everything in the truck, but, uh, if you're going to go, it needs to be now.”
“Carnival?” Jack asked, his voice distant and detached as he came back to the present from the memories that had been haunting him for over two hours now.
“The children's shelter,” Daniel reminded. “You're ... doing the water balloon gimmick.”
“Right,” Jack dryly responded.
“If you aren't going to go, I should call ...” the younger man began as he stood self-hugging, not having moved from the spot where he had stepped over from the ladder to the deck.
“No, I'll go,” the colonel quietly stated. He stood and walked by Daniel, their shoulders brushing just briefly, and headed down the ladder. ~I need to clear my head.~
Daniel took a breath, still trying to figure out what was going on. A minute later, he entered the house, certain Jack would still be there.
~Wow, that was quick,~ Daniel sadly thought. Apparently, Jack had left as soon as he climbed down from the roof deck. ~I heard an engine, but ... I guess I just didn't want to think he'd leave so quickly.~
The truth was actually that while he had heard an engine starting, Daniel was so lost in his thought that he didn't realize the engine being fired up was Jack's Ford truck.
Not knowing what else to do, Daniel put on his jacket and headed for his apartment, deciding it would be a good day to pick up his mail, feed his fish, do the small amount of laundry he had there, dust the furniture, and do whatever else he could think of to not think about Jack's pain and need to be alone.
~He needs space, not ... not me,~ the archaeologist lamented as he drove to the loft.
Hours later, Daniel was asleep in his bed at the apartment. Well, he wasn't really asleep, but as he tossed and turned, he was trying to convince himself that he'd been slumbering for quite a while and was just trying to get more comfortable by changing positions. It was after midnight, and the carnival was long over. He had phoned and left a message for Jack at the house, but so far, Jack hadn't returned the call. As he lay on his left side, holding on tightly to his pillow, Daniel worried about his partner.
~I wish I could help. I wish you'd let me, but ... I don't even know what happened,~ Daniel sighed inwardly. He felt so inadequate. Jack always seemed to know exactly what Daniel needed and when he needed it, and it cut the young man to the quick that he didn't seem to be able to do the same in return. ~I'm letting you down ... again.~
Daniel fretted for another two hours when, finally, he heard the door to his apartment open and close. Moments later, he felt the hand that always made him shiver with love and anticipation on his body. The hand roamed his bare abdomen as the lips he cherished placed a trail of kisses along his right arm, then all along his shoulder, and finally on his neck.
“Jack,” Daniel spoke tenderly.
“I'm busy,” came the response from the voice that was synonymous with safety.
Happy Jack had come to him, Daniel enjoyed the touches and caresses of foreplay before the two engaged in lovemaking. Afterwards, he had finally fallen asleep in Jack's arms, feeling safe and loved as he always did with his life partner.
The sunlight filtered through Daniel's eyelashes, causing him to blink and scrunch his nose. He reached out for his lover as his eyelids fluttered open, but quickly discovered that he was alone in his bed.
“Gawd, I hate it when this happens,” the archaeologist spoke, frustration emanating from him.
Daniel hated waking up alone, the event a reminder that he was alone in the world. Waking up with Jack always made him feel alive, safe, and as if the forever his soulmate was always speaking about was truly real. On the other hand, waking up alone was a solitary and cold feeling, reminding him of the death of his parents and the rejection of foster parents after foster parents.
Now, he buried his face in his pillow as he mourned the absence of his lover.
Eventually, Daniel arose, took a shower, and dressed, after which he headed into the kitchen. As he saw the note on the counter, he slowed, walking tentatively until he reached the destination, picked up the small piece of paper, and read it.
I love you. Sorry I was so ... anyway, I have some things to do today. Pizza at six. I'll bring the beer. Our house.
“Our house?” Daniel echoed out loud. Then he sighed. ~Words. Only words,~ he lamented.
'Our house' was a nice phrase, but Jack's physical distance wasn't doing anything for Daniel's security, regardless of Jack's declaration of love.
Pizza in hand, Daniel walked into Jack's house at precisely 6 p.m.
“Danny!” Jack exclaimed, smiling as he caught sight of his lover. He leaned forward for a kiss, taking the pizza and placing it on the counter that separated the living room from the dining nook. “Missed you, Babe. Man, what a day I had. Nothing went right.”
Daniel stood silently in shock. Jack was acting like whatever had happened, hadn't. He was smiling and, Daniel thought, positively chipper.
Jack walked to Daniel, crooning, “Time for a proper hello.” After a deep kiss, he intoned, “I want to tell you I'm sorry again for leaving before you woke up. I know you don't like that, but I had so much to do, and I didn't want to wake you up.”
“Jack, what about the medal?” Daniel asked.
“Just a medal; come on. I want to tell you about my crazy day,” Jack opined.
Whatever it was, and whoever William C. O'Neill was, Jack wasn't going to share, at least not at the moment. Daniel resigned himself to that fact, allowing his lover to chatter on endlessly about his day and whatever else he felt like. Nonetheless, he couldn't help but feel hurt that Jack apparently didn't want to include him in the pain he was obviously feeling.
Daniel sighed, ~I'm being shut out. All this happy chatter is just whitewash. Yeah, sure, Jack, whatever. Yadda, yadda, yadda.~
The next few days passed with Jack politely, but resolutely refusing to talk about the medal and the mysterious William C. O'Neill. Daniel considered researching the name, but that was not how he wanted to learn about the man, whomever he was. Their days were filled with the normalcy of their life together -- one recon of a planet, a return follow-up visit to the Land of Light, memos, reports, research, translations, TV documentaries, ESPN, fighting for the remote control, lovemaking, and stargazing.
At night, Jack and Daniel had gone to bed together, sometimes making love, sometimes just snuggling, but there was another part of their night that was a bit unnerving for the younger man. Daniel would awake in the early hours of the morning, and Jack would be gone, hiding from himself up on the roof deck, just him, the stars, and a beer or two.
Daniel grew tired of the new routine. He would wake up because he knew Jack would be gone, and he couldn't go back to sleep because Jack was gone. He was so frustrated that tonight he was staying at the apartment. It wasn't unusual. He still stayed there one or two nights a week, but usually Jack was there with him when he did so. This time, though, Jack had just said, “Okay” when told of the younger man's plans and then made arrangements to share breakfast with his lover the next morning.
Instead of sleeping, Daniel tossed and turned.
“Gawd, I've gotten so used to him being here,” Daniel thought as he got up out of bed, giving up on the idea of sleep. “So, exactly how is this better, Jackson?” Rolling his eyes at his predicament, he made some coffee, sipping it silently as he relaxed on the couch for a while. “Maybe I should I have just stayed there.”
A bit later, Daniel took his coffee cup, now empty, and placed it on the kitchen counter. He leaned against the counter, still debating his decision to stay in the apartment.
~I don't want to wake up alone. I don't like it. Not just for me, but ... it means he's in pain, and it's just a reminder that I can't help him.~
Daniel went to his balcony, sitting down against the patio door.
~Am I selfish because I don't want to wake up without him being there, holding me? No, that's not it. I mean, there's more to it than that. He's hurting and ... crap, he's not letting me in. I hate that even more than waking up by myself.~
Daniel lowered his head against knees as he realized he feared being shut out by Jack completely and permanently if he didn't act soon.
“Why won't he let me in? Why push ...” Daniel lifted his head. “Oh gawd. It's what I do. After the gamekeeper ... I ... I tried to push him away, not because I didn't love him, but because I was scared. He's just ... scared.”
Daniel stood, his heart beating faster. He smiled an understanding expression, thinking, ~So, what did he do when I ran? He risked me pushing him away even more. He ... came after me, made me talk by not letting me shove him out the door. Oh, Jack. That's something you've always done, but I don't think I've ever realized how hard that is for anyone to do until now ... be...because it's what I need to do for you.~
Purpose and trepidation warring within him, Daniel put on his sweats, locked up his apartment, and hurried to Jack's house, some twenty minutes away.
The shaggy-haired man wasn't surprised to find the master bedroom empty when he got there. He sighed, noticing the sheets that had been tossed back, indicating that Jack hadn't spent much time in the bedroom that night.
~Stay focused. Do for him what he does for you,~ Daniel told himself as he made his way outside and up to the roof deck.
Sure enough, Jack was seated on the floor of the decking, his back against the wall. His knees were partially raised, his arms hanging loosely over his knees. His head was slumped downward, his entire demeanor revealing his deep anguish.
~He needs me; I ... I know he does.~ Daniel observed two bottles of beer to the right of his lover, both empty and on their sides. He was grateful his partner hadn't ingested more of the brews. “Jack, we need to talk,” he said as he approached the older man. ~Not surprised to see me, are you?~
Jack said nothing, but he stiffened, his back straightening to be more parallel to the wall. He shifted his seating position to Indian-style.
Though it was unusual for them, Daniel chose to sit directly in front of Jack, his legs crossed as well. Gently, he reached out and took both of Jack's hands in his. He brought them to his mouth and kissed each one, tenderly, slowly, and with great care. Then, for a moment, Daniel held the strong but cold hands to his cheek, rubbing softly as their skin touched.
~Don't send me away. I ... no, I won't go, so ... don't even try.~ Daniel prayed he wouldn't be rebuffed. He wasn't sure he could handle being rejected by his lover, but he also knew that he had to do take this chance. Jack had risked rejection over and over again during their relationship. ~It's my turn now,~ he thought. Bracing himself, he requested, “Talk to me, Jack.”
“I thought you were spending the night at the apartment,” Jack spoke.
“I missed you,” Daniel intoned, still holding Jack's hands in his.
“I missed you, too, Angel,” the older man said lovingly.
Smiling for a few moments, Daniel replied, “Now that we have that covered, talk to me.”
Jack retorted, “I am,” hoping he could divert his lover from prying by joking.
Sternly, the younger man refuted, “That's not what I meant, and you know it. It's time, Love.”
Daniel released Jack's hands for a moment. He cupped his lover's face, using his thumbs to caress Jack's cheeks gently. Quietly, the soulmates gazed into each other's eyes. Blue eyes implored brown eyes to trust him. Then, softly, Daniel brushed his lips against Jack's.
In a mere whisper, Daniel again requested, “Talk to me, My Love.”
Jack knew his running was over. He sighed and leaned his head back against the wall, Daniel's fingers sliding down to his neck from the movement. He looked up at the stars, collecting his thoughts for a brief time.
“Billy was my older brother,” Jack confided.
Daniel blinked a few times, his mouth open as the words sunk in. He had no clue Jack had siblings.
“I worshipped him,” Jack continued. “He taught me everything.”
“I'm so sorry, Jack,” Daniel quietly sympathized.
“He was in Vietnam,” the older man said flatly, his eyes still staring at the stars, though his hands had sought out Daniel's for strength.
Tentatively, Daniel asked, “Did ... did he die there?”
“I don't know. No one knows. I guess so,” Jack answered in a rapid-fire manner as he finally faced his lover.
Squeezing Jack's hands, Daniel replied, “I don't understand.”
Jack elucidated, “He was two weeks from coming home when his plane was shot down. It was bringing in new troops. They sent a helicopter in to try and rescue the survivors. Billy pulled two men out and then went back for a third. There was an explosion. The helicopter had to leave. No one ever saw or heard from Billy after that. They listed him as M.I.A. No proof of death. No proof of life. He's ... on the Wall.”
“In Washington, D.C.?” After Jack gave an affirming nod, Daniel stated, “I didn't know you had a brother.”
His eyes unabashedly misting, Jack confessed, “I had a happy childhood, Danny -- good parents, nice house, friends, toys, adventure. It was everything a childhood should be, but losing Billy, that was hard.”
“Did you join the Air Force because of him?” the archaeologist inquired. “I mean, uh, were you following his footsteps.”
“Yeah.” Jack smiled as he remembered his brother, someone he considered to be the essence of patriotism. “I'll never forget what he said the last time I saw him. I wasn't sure he should go, that we belonged in that conflict, but Billy told me, 'We have to fight for our liberty, even if we don't always agree with the methods. Be proud, Jack. Stand up for our freedoms.' That's what he told me when he shipped out for 'Nam.” Jack bowed his head and whispered, “That's what he said.”
“And that's what you did.”
As if he didn't believe it, Jack looked away as he answered, “I guess. I tried anyway.”
Daniel reached up with his left hand, turned Jack's face to look at him again, and asserted, “He'd be proud of you for following in his footsteps.”
“Proud? I don't know if he ever imagined some of the things I've ...” Jack shook his head, his voice trembling as his misting eyes gave way to full-fledged tears.
“Jack, all you've done is what your country asked you to do, and that's exactly what your brother wanted you to do,” Daniel maintained, not letting go of his lover's hand that he still held.
“I didn't want him to go,” the military man admitted, swallowing hard as he struggled to get out he words. “We fought, not about Nam. I agreed with him on that, but he was my brother. I loved him, Danny.”
“I know you did.”
Apologetically, Jack spoke, “I should have told you about him.”
“It's okay,” Daniel expressed quietly. He smiled as well. The hurt he'd felt earlier had completely gone now. Confidently, he replied, “You know, Jack, our lives are so crazy. We don't really talk that much about growing up or ... what we did before the Stargate. I don't think we ... keep things to ourselves to hide anything. It's just ... we live for today, not yesterday.”
“My genius,” Jack agreed, his voice shaky as he nodded. He had done a good job of burying his brother deep within his mind, but it felt good to tell Daniel a little about him after all this time. He shared his realization with his lover in a low tone, stating, “There's no point in lingering in the past, but I know I shouldn't let his memory just fade away, either.”
“No, you shouldn't,” the younger man agreed as his fingers gently stroked both of Jack's hands again. “Have you gone to the Wall?”
Adamently, with no desire to reconnect with his memories and reconcile with his loss, Jack answered, “No, and I don't want to, Danny. It's too painful to think about.”
“Maybe you should,” Daniel insisted lightly.
“No,” Jack whispered, looking away yet again. He wasn't ready for an experience that he knew would be so emotionally intense. ~I'll never be ready for that.~ He sighed and hoped his lover would understand. “No,” he repeated. “Danny, let's go back to bed. It's getting cold out.”
“Getting? Babe, it's been cold out here for hours,” Daniel lightly challenged as they stood up.
Just as they reached the ladder, Jack drew Daniel to him, saying, “I love you. Geez, I'm glad you came home tonight.” Jack's hold tightened as he spoke. “I needed space, Danny, and I hope you know that it had nothing to do with you or us. I just ... I needed to remember.”
“I know, but now it's time to share,” Daniel spoke. “Let's go to bed.”
Daniel placed another quick kiss on Jack's lips and then led the way to their bedroom.
Jack and Daniel spent the next two days off-world, leaving them few opportunities for discussing anything of a personal nature. After that, though, SG-1 was given three days downtime. As they headed home from the SGC, Jack talked about hours of watching ESPN, lounging on the patio, and cuddling with his favorite archaeologist from morning to night. Daniel let him talk, but he had other plans for them.
When Jack awoke the next morning, he found Daniel had already gotten up.
~Now that's unusual,~ Jack thought since Daniel and getting up early were about as opposite as sweet and sour. He took a shower and dressed and then walked downstairs to the aroma of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. “Hmmm, smells good.” As Daniel flipped the hot cakes, Jack put his arms around him, noting, “So do you.”
Jack's nose, mouth, and chin nuzzled into the side of Daniel's neck, strands of the archaeologist's shaggy hair against Jack's face.
“Thank you,” Daniel replied as he turned his face towards Jack so they could kiss briefly. “This is just about done. How about getting some orange juice out of the refrigerator for me?”
“Sure thing, Love,” Jack agreed, giving Daniel's six a loving pat as he moved to the refrigerator.
Jack pulled out the juice, and, motioning with his head, asked, “Counter?”
“Sounds good,” Daniel agreed. Then he stated, “Jack, tell me about your brother.”
Jack's forward motion hitched slightly. For a moment, he considered a flippant remark, but he stopped himself.
“What do you want to know?” Jack asked cautiously.
Glancing momentarily at his lover, Daniel answered with the question, “What was he like?”
Jack walked over to the coffeemaker to get their morning coffee, wondering why it was so hard to talk about his brother.
~It shouldn't be,~ the older man thought. Taking a deep breath to relax himself, he answered, “He was your typical big brother. He liked art, though, but no one knew it but my mother and me.”
Daniel quizzed, “Did he paint?” as he brought over their plates to the counter.
“Yeah,” Jack answered lightly as he began to recall his brother without being on guard. “At first, he did a lot of flowers and bowls of fruit, of all things, but then he got into this interpretative thing with people, especially senior citizens.”
“Sounds interesting,” Daniel commented.
Nodding, the older man continued, “It began with our grandmother. She was quite a lady, and I guess we both worshipped her.” For a minute, Jack's smile grew as he remembered the wise and wonderful woman. Then he looked at his lover and was brought back to the present. He straightened a bit and recalled, “Billy drew a portrait of her, very colorful, but not exactly what you would call true to life. It wasn't so much what he was painting as the hues and style he painted that made his work interesting. I sure wish I knew what happened to that painting of our grandmother.”
Jack shrugged, saying, “I don't really know much about art, but Billy liked it. That was his one big secret. The rest of the time he was into sports, airplanes, and girls.”
Daniel chuckled as he observed, “Sounds normal enough.”
Hurriedly swallowing a bite of bacon, Jack recollected, “Once, he circulated four girlfriends at one time.”
The younger man laughed, “You sound proud, Babe.”
“Hey, he was my brother, and working four at a time isn't easy,” Jack smirked. He cocked his head and then clarified, “He really liked them, though.”
“Right,” Daniel spoke with a hint of unbelief in his voice.
“He did, Danny,” Jack maintained. “They were all into different things. Billy used to say he needed to find one woman that mixed all four of those girls together, but I told him Mom was already married.”
Daniel chuckled, surmising, “So, he wasn't doing the girl shuffle just to prove he could.”
“No. I mean, sure, he had some fun with it, but he genuinely liked all four of them. Got away with it for an entire month before it crashed down on him,” Jack boasted.
“I don't know how anyone could get away with that for long,” Daniel marveled.
“In high school -- lots of testosterone to burn,” Jack elaborated with a chuckle.
“Did the girls ever find out?” Daniel asked as he rolled his eyes at the hormonal comment.
Jack laughed at the flood of memories. His brother had been an amazing man, and he missed him. He also realized he felt very good about talking about Billy. He smiled at his lover, wondering if it was talking about Billy that was filling him with warmth, or if it was just the love of the man across from him that was making the goodness inside him overflow.
“You know what, Danny?” Jack asked rhetorically. “The irony is that it wasn't his fault they found out. He had a date with one gal during the day and another during the night. He ordered flowers for each of them to be delivered, and the idiot florist reversed the cards.”
“Ouch,” the younger man reacted, grimacing at the situation.
“Yeah, well that started the girls yakking away, and you know that female pipeline -- once it started, it couldn't be stopped,” Jack quipped. “The other two found out through the grapevine. Poor Billy. He couldn't hide long enough after that.”
Daniel poured the hot maple syrup over his pancakes as he asked, “What else?”
“He liked the Beatles, 'James Bond', monster movies, and ...” Jack hesitated for just a few seconds, “John Wayne. He thought the Duke was the greatest thing since airplanes. Of course, he may have picked up some of that from Dad. He was a big John Wayne fan, too.” Jack ate a few bites of his food before continuing, “He was a good brother, Danny. We wrestled and fought, but we played together, too. He taught me sports and how to tie together a girl's pigtails without getting caught.”
Daniel laughed at the antics of the young Jack O'Neill and deduced, “Your first covert operation?” as he reached over to caress the top of Jack's left hand for a moment.
“Probably.” Jack grinned; he'd never thought of it like that. ~Never thought of it like that, but I think he's right.~
As he finished chewing his latest fork-full of pancake, Jack chuckled.
“What?” Daniel inquired curiously.
“Billy would like you, Danny,” Jack commented. “I was just thinking about a time when he did exactly what you do all the time.”
Daniel wasn't sure he wanted to ask, but curiosity got the better of him, so he responded, “Okay, I'll bite. What exactly?”
Jack extended out his arm expectantly.
“What?” Daniel asked, surprised by the movement and expression on Jack's face.
“Bite me!” Jack commanded with raised eyebrows.
“Gawd,” Daniel replied, shoving his lover's arm back. “Tell me what Billy did that reminds you of me.”
Jack smiled, not the least bit surprised Daniel would want to know, and then explained, “He always tried to save the princess, or at the very least, to fight for the underdog, no matter what the obstacle.”
Daniel glared at his lover as he waited for the story to go with the comment.
“There was this little girl who lived a few houses down. Everyone laughed at her. You know, she was a little pudgy, wore glasses, a bit of a bookworm,” Jack recalled as he smiled at his lover. “Billy became her protector and her defender.”
“What, uh, happened?” Daniel inquired.
After taking a sip of coffee, Jack answered, “He heard her crying one day after yelling at the kids who were teasing her. She acted tough, like it didn't matter. Then, she ran off, and I guess Billy saw her in the park on the way home from school. He went up to her and realized for the first time what kind of effect the jokes had on her. After that, he told the other kids to leave her alone.”
“He was an authority figure?”
“He was ... intimidating,” Jack clarified.
“Runs in the family, I guess,” Daniel teased, a smile on his face as he cut into his pancakes for another bite.
Jack nodded, grimacing for a moment as he added, “Actually, he heard me call her a name or two.” Seeing Daniel's disapproving glare, he requested, “Give me a break, Danny. I was a kid. Kids make fun of other kids. Or I did, anyway, until that day. I tell ya, Billy pinned me to the ground and lectured me but good. He used everything from logic to threats, just covering all the bases.”
“An O'Neill using logic? Imagine that,” the archaeologist quipped.
“He reminded me that our mother and grandmother were once little girls,” Jack intoned, amazed at the simple logic of it all. “He said some other things about friends and family, the kind of things that make you stop and think about how it feels to be the one that's different and then to be made fun of because of it. I grew up a lot that night.” Wiping his mouth with a napkin, Jack paused, then opined, “He was a good big brother, the kind you played with, fought with, and learned from.”
“Being made fun of because you're different,” Daniel said softly.
Jack smiled and said, “He'd love you.”
Daniel looked down, not really sure how Billy might feel about him, but he was thankful for the influence Billy had on his younger brother. Maybe if Billy hadn't taught Jack about tolerance, Jack wouldn't be the man he was now. Maybe, just maybe, Daniel would have lost out on a great love if Billy hadn't found the courage to stand up to everyone else, and then make sure his younger brother understood the value of acceptance.
“Danny, what are you thinking?” Jack asked, seeing the deep look of concentration on his lover.
“I'm ... I'm, uh, thinking maybe I owe Billy some thanks, too,” the shy younger man answered. Daniel looked down again. He didn't need to say more. ~Thank you, Billy.~
Jack did understand, replying, “You might be right, Love. You just might be right about that.”
There was silence for a few minutes, and then the conversation turned to other things while they finished their meal. Then Jack put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher while Daniel finished his second cup of coffee. He kept glancing at his lover as he sipped the drink.
“Anything special you want to do today, Danny?” Jack inquired.
The archaeologist glanced at his watch and replied, “Actually, yes. We need to go.”
“Go where?” a clueless Jack asked as he started the dishwasher and then washed his hands.
Daniel had already gotten up, however, and was in the living room headed for the entranceway by the time Jack had asked his question.
“Daniel?” Jack called out. Following his lover, he asked, “Daniel, go where?” At that moment, he saw their bags were packed and were setting by the front door. Calmly, he repeated his question. “Go where?”
“Washington, D.C.,” the archaeologist answered simply.
Jack immediately tensed, surprised that Daniel would plan such a trip at this time.
“Jack, we're going,” the younger man stated firmly.
“No, Daniel, we're not,” Jack replied as he turned and started to head for the stairs.
Daniel ran to block his partner's path, standing on the first step. He extended his left hand out to stop his lover's momentum.
“Listen to me ...” Daniel began insistently.
“I don't want to listen to you right now. If you're so hellfire bent on going, then go, but I'm staying here,” Jack argued. He turned around and walked to the fireplace. He didn't want to fight with Daniel, but he wasn't going to D.C. ~Not a friggin' chance, not one,~ he swore in his mind.
“Jack, please hear me out,” Daniel requested softly. He walked a few steps to stand near the couch. He crossed his arms, nervously waiting. He didn't want to force Jack into anything, but he did want to talk. ~Come on, Jack. Give just a little.~
~Crap, I hate it when he does the patient thing.~ Jack audibly sighed, bowing his head and then shaking it back and forth a couple of times. He turned around to look at Daniel as he proclaimed, “Okay, I'm listening.”
“Thank you,” Daniel politely spoke, walking a few steps towards his lover. “Jack, you've been telling me that I need to deal with my parent's death, that I shouldn't run or hide from it. You keep telling me it's okay to grieve, to cry, and even to laugh. You want me to remember, and ... we're doing the same with Charlie. So, just tell me this, Jack. Why is your brother different?”
“Geez, Daniel, don't use logic on me.”
Daniel continued, “He's worth remembering; being remembered is important. So ... let's go say goodbye, and then we can move on.”
“I don't know,” Jack said, rubbing the sole of his shoe against the carpet.
“I do. Trust me, Babe. Please,” the younger man pleaded.
“Your negotiation skills are as sharp as ever, Love,” Jack advised, making eye contact with his lover.
With a bob of his head, Jack consented to the trip, and soon, the couple was headed for the capital of the USA.
While Daniel paid for the cab and oversaw their luggage, Jack went inside the hotel lobby to check in. As he reached the front desk, he realized he had forgotten to ask Daniel which name the reservation was under.
“It's either under O'Neill or Jackson,” the military man told the desk clerk.
“Actually, Sir, I have reservations under both names,” the clerk announced as he stared at his computer screen.
Jack responded, “Maybe one is for someone else. It would be Jack O'Neill or Daniel Jackson.”
Nodding, the clerk stated, “Those are the names, Sir. We have Mister O'Neill in 309 and Mister Jackson in 213.”
~No, I don't think so,~ Jack thought, shaking his head at the same time. “Do you have a suite available?”
“Just a moment,” the clerk courteously replied as he punched a few keys on the keyboard to check the hotel's availability. “We have two conventions going on. The only suite we have open is on the tenth floor. It's our basic suite, one room with a sitting area and kitchenette. There's just one bed, however, but it is queen size.”
“We'll take that,” Jack quickly instructed as he pulled out his wallet with his credit card. “Put it under O'Neill.”
The clerk added, “The sofa in the sitting area does open up to a bed.”
“Thank you,” Jack politely commented. ~... but no, I don't think so.~
Finally, a few minutes later, Daniel and the luggage met up with Jack near the elevator.
Jack handed his lover a security card for the room, gave the bellman a ten dollar tip, saying, “Thanks, but we've got it.”
“Yes, Sir,” the happy bellman replied, setting the suitcases on the floor and happily walking away.
Inside the elevator, Jack pressed the button for the tenth floor. They rode up in silence, but once inside the suite, both began to talk at the same time.
“Jack, I didn't order a suite,” the archaeologist stated.
“Daniel, blast it, why'd you order two rooms?” the irritated colonel asked.
Both stood, staring at each other, and, again, at the same time, both spoke their apologies, saying, “I'm sorry.”
“Danny,” Jack said quietly as he walked to his lover. “When we go somewhere, it's together, all the way, just like it is at home.”
Daniel replied, “I know, but ... I thought ... Jack, we're in Washington, D.C. Who knows who we might run into. I was trying to ... I mean, I ...”
“You were trying to protect me?” Jack asked.
Daniel nodded as he leaned into Jack's embrace, inwardly happy that his lover was frustrated at his independent decision. In truth, he had no desire to stay in a separate room.
Jack smiled as he held his lover, so grateful that Daniel was his. He felt at peace with the younger man in his arms, like there was nothing else in the world except for this extraordinary man who he loved.
“You have a point,” Jack conceded as he continued to take in Daniel's scent and the feeling of 'home' that it gave him. “We have to be more formal here. We can't hold hands when we walk around like we would in other cities, but we can still share a room. Even the clerk pointed out that the sofa opened up to a bed.”
“Just share a room?” Daniel questioned, not liking the sound of that.
“Smarty pants. We're going to share much more than just a room,” Jack assured, earning him a smile from his soulmate.
“I hope so.”
“In fact ...” Jack kissed his lover's forehead, “I think we should christen the bed now.”
“Do you?” Daniel asked as he looked seductively at his sexy lover.
“Oh, yeah,” Jack spoke with a deep voice. “Any arguments from the ranks?”
“Not a one, no, Sir; no arguments here, Colonel,” Daniel chuckled as the two proceeded to enjoy their first evening in D.C. together.
The next morning, after breakfast, Jack and Daniel headed for the Vietnam Memorial. It was a moderately warm day with a slight breeze that caused Daniel's shaggy hair to blow about slightly. The archaeologist was dressed casually, in blue jeans and a brown plaid shirt, but Jack had chosen to wear his dress blues.
The lovers walked leisurely through the park, not saying much of anything, especially as the long, black walls of the memorial came closer into view with each step. Nearby, there were vendors from whom guests could purchase all kinds of memorabilia related to the Wall and the missing.
“It feels so commercial,” Jack said, his distaste for the activities souring his mouth.
“Some, but not all,” Daniel responded softly, noting some of the vendors contributed to various veteran funds and charities.
The two men stopped to pick up some literature about the construction of the memorial. Daniel read it, relaying some of the information to his lover as they stood, still looking at the memorial from a distance as Jack wasn't yet ready to go closer.
“It cost almost nine million dollars to build, all donated. This is interesting, Jack,” the younger man opined as he reviewed the pamphlets. “One of the architects, Maya Lin, wanted the Wall to tell the day-by-day story of the tragedy of deaths. Part of that was that she wanted the end of the list of names to be near the beginning, to show a closed circle, like a wound that is closed and healing.”
“A healing wound.”
Daniel smiled as he commented, “Great idea, isn't it? That's what the people who come here do, too. They're trying to come to terms with the sadness and the tragedy, maybe to find closure, maybe ... maybe just to let the healing start. Remembering helps to do that; that is, when you remember the good as well as the bad and don't let the bad take over. You've taught me that.”
Jack looked at Daniel, surprise on his face and in his tone as he asked, “I have?”
Daniel nodded in affirmation, elucidating, “My parents. It's not easy, and I still have a long way to go, but when we visited the museum, that was ... well ...” He extended his right arm out towards the memorial. “... like this is, now, for you, is what going back to the museum in New York was for me. It's like letting the skin finally grow back, not just a scab, but fully healing the wound. It's about remembering my parents, not the coverstone, and for you, it's remembering Billy, the brother who taught you so much, not the soldier who never came home from Vietnam.”
“My genius,” Jack said with a cracked voice. “Tell me more about the Wall.”
“Okay.” Daniel realized Jack needed a bit more of a distraction as he prepared to move forward. He looked down at the pamphlets. “The names on the Wall are approximately half-an-inch high and are photo etched. The two walls extend almost five hundred feet and are slightly higher than ten feet in the middle.”
“That's a lot of Wall,” Jack almost whispered.
Daniel glanced at his lover and decided to keep going with his brief overview of the Wall's setup, noting, “The Wall consists of one hundred forty black granite panels, each numbered. The west wall on the left goes from seventy to one, and the east wall on the right goes from one to seventy.”
“So they meet, and the healing starts,” Jack stated, nodding his head automatically.
“That's the idea,” Daniel affirmed. “The Wall was dedicated in November 1982.”
“Took a long time, didn't it?”
“A very long time,” the younger man agreed as he kept a close eye on his Love.
Jack moved forward, Daniel matching him step for step. As they neared the Wall, they stopped by the table on which a large book had been placed. It listed all the names that were etched on the black surface. Working hard to stay in control, the older man looked up the name of William C. O'Neill.
Finding the location after a minute or so, Jack and Daniel walked on, passing others who were doing the same thing as they were. As they ambled down the walkway, they took note of the many gifts placed against the Wall, little mementos left by friends and family of the fallen heroes.
There were some flowers, a teddy bear or two, photos, yellow ribbons, and more, all things left in honor of those still missing from a long-ago conflict. They knew the items would be picked up at the end of the day and taken to an exhibit at the Smithsonian for the world to visit and remember.
Finally, Jack stopped. Taking a huge breath, he knelt down, his right arm slowly extending outward to touch the granite. He traced downward until his heart stopped beating. There it was -- William C. O'Neill.
“Billy,” Jack whispered.
Daniel knelt down, handing Jack a piece of parchment and a pencil, saying, “Do it, Jack. It'll help.”
“Help?” Jack questioned as he hesitated, not sure anything in the world could really help him come to terms with the reality that his brother would never be coming home. Another part of him thought the entire process was silly. ~What's the point of rubbing his name onto a piece of paper?~
Yet, Jack couldn't help himself, and soon, he discovered that somehow, it truly was healing. As he rubbed, he felt even closer to his older brother, as if they were connecting and coming together after all these years.
Daniel stood back, giving Jack room. He worked hard not to let the tears fall. His lover was aching, and he was trying to stay strong himself.
“I'm sorry it took so long to come here, Billy,” Jack spoke aloud, reaching back over his shoulder to hand the rubbing to Daniel for safekeeping. “I miss you, Bro.”
Then, Jack took a breath. He reached into his pocket and took out the Air Force Cross. He stared at it for quite a while. Then, he placed it on the ground, along with the official letter that had accompanied it.
Jack stood, took a few steps backward, and with a cracked voice said, “This is for you, Billy.”
Unable to stop the tears from streaming down his face, Jack gave an order to himself.
“Ten hut.” Jack saluted, holding the gesture for several seconds. Then he released the salute and said softly, “Goodbye, Billy. I won't forget again.”
Jack turned and walked away, leaving Daniel standing in front of the black wall, his own tears falling. The young man looked around. He smiled at the various people that were close by, nodding an acknowledgement at many of them. Later, he vowed to tell his lover how the onlookers had all stood at attention with the order, in honor of Jack's fallen brother, someone they didn't even know.
“Goodbye, Billy,” Daniel whispered as he turned to catch up with Jack.
As the lovers walked across the grass, apparently not headed towards anyplace in particular since the taxis were in the opposite direction, Daniel wished he could hold Jack. It made him heartsick that he couldn't, that they had to walk forward without touching. He felt like screaming. Jack needed him, but all he could do was bemoan the old “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” regulations.
Suddenly, as if hearing Daniel's personal thoughts, Jack shook his head and exclaimed, “I don't friggin' care.” He turned and drew an unresisting Daniel into his hold. “Geez, I need you, Danny. I need this.”
Daniel held his lover, too, mindful of their location, a large park, full of visitors from around the world and, very likely, some military personnel. Still, Jack and Daniel were best friends, and that would get them through any public display of affection at the Wall, as long as they held back just a little, which is what Daniel tried to do. He closed his eyes as he comforted his best friend, until they both had the strength to go on, heading back to the hotel where they made love.
Jack needed it, to get lost in Daniel, to feel life and joy. Only Daniel could give him that now ... and Daniel did.
That afternoon, the soulmates lay together in the bed of their suite, tears of joy and sorrow having fallen from both of them off and on all day.
“Yes?” Daniel responded.
Jack softly intoned, “I love you,” as he held the younger man close to him.
“I love you, Jack,” Daniel replied, placing a kiss on his lover's chest.
“Let's go home.”
“You don't want to go anywhere else?” Daniel questioned.
Shaking his head, Jack answered, “No. I want to go home and live our lives. That's what healing is, isn't it?”
Nodding against his lover's chest, Daniel replied, “Yes, it is.”
Jack and Daniel returned home that night, and the next day, they lounged around for the most part, letting their emotions settle from their stirring visit to Washington, D.C. At one point, however, Jack went outside to mow the lawn and trim the hedges. While he did that, Daniel occupied himself with a special project.
Later, with his yard work completed, Jack showered and changed into clean clothes. When he came downstairs, he saw Daniel sitting on the sofa, one of the cushions over his lap.
The younger man smiled and requested, “Jack, come sit down.”
“Hmmm, that sounds ominous,” the older man replied as he proceeded to do as Daniel had requested.
“No, I just want to give you something,” Daniel spoke, his eyes showing his Love that all was well in their universe.
Jack sat next to his soulmate, tapped the cushion gingerly, and stated, “Okay, here I am.”
A bit nervously, Daniel said, “This is for you,” and handed Jack the object he had kept hidden.
The object was the special project Daniel had been working on while Jack was in the backyard. It wasn't wrapped, so the object was immediately viewable to the older man.
Jack stared at the gift and nodded, saying, “This is ... nice, Danny. Thank you.”
As he held it, Jack's fingers gripped the edges of the black frame anxiously. He blinked a few times as he stared down at it, his breathing changing as he reacted to the special present. His eyes became moist as he fully took in the cherished present, letting its meaning sweep through him.
“To remember his life,” Daniel reverently spoke.
“That would be good,” Jack agreed, nodding. He touched his finger to the glass, and then closed his eyes, remembering a precious moment in time. “Real nice, Danny. Really, really nice,” he spoke with a trembling voice.
Jack was having a hard time expressing his emotion. His Daniel was amazing, so thoughtful and loving, and Jack wanted to tell him so. He just couldn't find the right words.
“It's perfect,” Jack whispered and swallowed hard, still lost in the trip through time the gift had just taken him on.
Then, Jack stood and walked to the study, the object still in his hands.
Daniel followed, careful not to crowd his lover. In fact, he stood in the doorway, allowing Jack his privacy, if that's what he wanted and needed.
Walking to the north wall, Jack took down a photo of an airplane that had hung there, and in its stead, placed the seven by nine inch frame that Daniel had just given him. He stepped back a few feet and stared, eventually smiling.
Inside the frame was a photo that Jack had unearthed from a box full of old family photos he kept in the garage. It was of him and Billy playing in their backyard with their dog, a large German Shepherd. Both boys were on their knees on the grass, the dog standing in between them. They were laughing as they petted their friend.
Next to the picture was the parchment rubbing of Billy's name that Jack had traced from the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and written underneath it, in calligraphy, were the words, “Always loved and never forgotten.”
Jack nodded as he looked at the man who was his heart. He held out his hand in invitation, and Daniel quickly responded.
“Danny, did I ever tell you about the time Billy made me jump off the roof?” Jack asked, his eyes sparkling and his look mischievous. This was a great story, and he was eager now to share it, and others, with his lover. ~It's going to be a long night. I'm going to make sure you know my brother.~
Daniel laughed at the question. Until the last few days, he hadn't even known that Billy existed, but this moment wasn't about realism, it was about heart, about healing, and about remembering someone special who deserved to be talked about fondly.
“Ah, no, Love, I don't think so. Tell me,” Daniel lovingly requested.
“It was amazing. We were ...” Jack began.
Jack put his arm around Daniel's shoulders and led him back to the living room, his voice full of life as he remembered his brother and the good times they shared.
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