Jack snatched irritably at the bedside phone. "Yeah."
"Jack, it's Dave Hanlon. There's something you need to see."
Crap. Hadn't heard from Hanlon in how many years? Since back in the days of him and Burke and Woods, back in the days of the blackest ops, days he really, really didn't like revisiting. He'd caught a rumor about Hanlon that stank of NID. This was not going to be good. "Where?"
Hanlon gave him an address way across town and said, "You'll know us when you see us."
"Yeah," Jack said, and hung up. He could make an NID blind from sixty paces.
Five minutes later he was in his truck, swearing in an arrhythmic undercurrent that hadn't stopped since he rolled out of bed. He didn't bother with the radio, just let the night and the road slide under his vehicle in an anonymous murmur. If Hanlon thought he should see this, whatever it was, in real time, then he thought he should stop it, or he'd have just slipped a disk under his front door in the wee hours. Weer hours; it was already one. And if he thought he should stop it, then it involved SGC personnel somehow, possibly SG-1 personnel.
Saturday night; Carter should be tucked up safe in bed with her cop, Daniel tucked up safe in bed with a book. Teal'c was at liberty but he'd had a midnight curfew. Jack decided that Carter and Jackson were the safe bets to be where they were supposed to be, and punched the autodial for the mountain. They put him through to Teal'c's quarters. No answer. He got the operator back and had Teal'c paged. Before his stomach had dropped too far, Teal'c picked up from a phone in the gym. He'd gone to watch college wrestling with Lieutenant Dobbs, caught a late supper, made his curfew with a minute to spare, and was working off the energy he'd acquired wishing he were participating in the competition he'd seen.
"Is there a problem, O'Neill?"
"I sure hope not, T. You have a good night."
"I will endeavor to do so. Should you require assistance ... "
"I know where to find you."
He parked five blocks from the address, caught a city bus on its last crosstown run, got off a block from the address, and walked there. The blind was a stripped van, wheelless and graffitied. The only target he could make out, unless it was one of the run-down warehouses that rose to all sides, was a second-story, bricked-window loft that wasn't succeeding as well as it tried to at being a clandestine after-hours club. From the shadows, he assessed the few pedestrians. Judging from the pairing behavior, and the muffled sounds he heard from down an alleyway, the after-hours club served a particular interest.
Wonderful. Just wonderful. Davis? Paul wasn't that stupid and had higher-end grounds to hunt in bigger cities. Harriman? Walter had better taste; and he'd know the trouble a sweet-faced guy like him could find in a place like this. Jack didn't know if either of them leaned that way and didn't care, but they headed a list of about twenty male personnel who might merit a call to the program 2-in-c. Other team leaders. A couple of the more high-profile scientists. Doctor Warner.
Crap on a stick. This was going to suck no matter who it was.
He waited till the street was clear and moved to stand hipshot against a parking meter a few feet from the van. Shook a cigarette out of an old pack he kept in this jeans jacket he never wore; wasn't sorry he managed to get a drag down before the back of the rusty van opened on oiled-silent hinges and invited him in.
"You know, you guys really take the cake," he grumbled, when the acoustically insulated door closed. "Nothin' better to get our people on than sexual preference?"
Hanlon was alone in the van; Jack didn't ask whether he'd arranged it that way. "Long time, Jack," he said, voice as neutral as Jack remembered it. He'd say "Weather looks good for the drop" and "Oh fuck I've been hit" in exactly the same tone of voice.
"So what's the deal here? You lose the data and we call it even?"
"I owe you bigger than that, Jack. This isn't payback. This is a favor, and I need one from you."
"Night gets better and better," Jack said. "Show me, then we'll talk."
Hanlon moved to a vacant stool next to him and gestured Jack into the one he'd sat on. Offered him a headset. As Jack scanned the monitors and focused on what he was seeing on the middle one, the hand he'd held out dropped slowly to the console without taking the headset.
"Oh, fuck," he breathed.
"Not yet. Not tonight. But if the pattern's consistent, in about a quarter hour."
Jack didn't check his watch. He had a clock in his head. He knew how long he could push it before he busted in there.
"You can't bust in, Jack," Hanlon said. "I'm not showing you this so you can queer my stakeout. He's not the mark. Ancillary acquisition."
"This been going on long?"
"Fact, or opinion?"
"Opinion: At least a month. Fact: Three weeks, every Saturday. This stakeout is three weeks old. We're watching this guy" -- Hanlon pointed to the right-hand monitor, where a dark figure slumped against a stained hallway wall, looking drugged or drunk -- "on suspicion of passing classified information. He's not one of yours. This is gen-yoo-ine spy stuff. I noticed your guy the first night. Didn't know who he was until tonight when I was going over a file that came down from the White House."
Jack glanced over. Hanlon didn't give him the file, or show him the file, but he moved his arm, and Jack saw that he'd left it open on the console to a picture of Daniel at a museum exhibit, chatting with a woman in a business suit. "They want him?" he asked, low and even.
"Yeah. And if he doesn't stop, they'll get him. My relief gets here at four hundred. Usually he's gone by then, and I'm fairly sure he's not on anything we've recorded so far, but we rotate shifts and the next guy's going to nail him."
"Thanks so much for the sexual metaphors."
"Thought you'd appreciate them."
"What do you want?"
"In exchange for the information, I want you not to fuck me up by busting in there. In exchange for failing to acquire the target in this file tonight, I want you to put in a word for me, help me get reassigned."
"To anything that isn't NID."
"Aw, come on, Dave. Wouldn't you rather burrow in and be my mole?"
"Yeah, Jack O'Neill's bitch. That's always been an aspiration of mine." Hanlon threw him a look. "This one's important to you."
Jack looked at Daniel on the monitor. Beautiful Daniel, attracting them and brushing them off like flies. What was he looking for? Lot of beautiful guys in there, lot of musclemen, lot of everything. Oh, god, Daniel. Daniel. "He's in my unit," he said, in a voice as neutral as Hanlon's.
"Worth a pretty good word, you think, Jack?"
He sighed, scrubbed a hand through his hair. "You know I can't guarantee anything."
"Best you can do is good enough for -- "
They both sat up straight, looking at the center monitor. The camera angle had moved; that camera wasn't fixed, was mounted on someone's clothing. There was an agent behind that camera. Daniel had been moving slowly closer, seemingly at random; now he was moving with clear intent toward the agent. His face wore an expression Jack had never seen on it before. It made him wonder if this was really Daniel, or some clone, some android copy. His eyes were flat and predatory; no glasses. His dark smile, clearly visible in the crappy surveillance feed, sent a twinge up through Jack's groin.
"Crap," Hanlon said, in his monotone. "He's gonna fucking hit on my guy."
"I think he made your guy," Jack said.
"No way. There's no way. He's not even the mark."
"Hanlon -- "
"Do not go up there."
Jack gritted his teeth. "See how it plays then." He reached for the headset as Daniel was lost to view, looming close, his half-open shirt blurring into a black-and-white pixellated blur.
" ... don't know what you're missing," Daniel's voice sang, close in his ear. He swallowed, managed not to close his eyes, hoped he got out of here before Hanlon smelled the flavor of his sweat.
"Sorry, guy," the agent said. "You're not my type."
"I've seen you here before," Daniel said. "You like to watch."
"Yeah. I like to watch."
"Don't want to catch anything?"
"Something like that."
"Funny that all you ever watch is this room. Lot of action in the john, lot of action in the back, and all you ever watch is this room."
"Listen, I don't want a hassle here -- "
"Then leave me the fuck alone." Daniel's voice had lowered an octave. The danger in it was clear.
The agent's voice was sincerely bewildered. "I'm not doing anything to -- " It cut off in a stifled oath as the camera rolled and the mic thumped.
"Now you're not," Daniel said, backing away -- showing that he was backing away by turning the camera on the agent, who stood stiff and frozen against the wall, torn between reacting to Daniel and keeping his profile low. Next to Jack, Hanlon murmured instructions into a mic. The agent stayed put.
Jack was a hairbreadth from getting up and getting in there, but Daniel was moving -- it got very dark and then very strobed and the music rose very loud. Suddenly Daniel's face loomed on the monitor, growing larger until his lips filled the field of view.
"Civilian," he said into the camera, into the mic. "Civil, Zivilist, minkanjin. Capisce? C-I-V-I-L-I-A-N. None of your fucking business." Then the camera spun wildly and the feed cut out.
"Fuck," Hanlon said, with no intonation.
"I'm outta here," Jack said. "I won't bust in. You assure me any recordings are toast and your agent's secure, we've got a deal. No assurance, you'll rot in NID. Nice to see you again, Dave." He slipped out of the van, fast, and into the shadows.
The agent came out first and hunched away down the street, telling Jack which direction their backup was positioned in. Daniel didn't come out. Another half hour passed, and another. It was only slightly possible that there was a third way out, through back alleys or across roofs. Jack trusted his hearing to pick up any footfalls over the low vibrating thrum of technowhatever from up inside the warehouse. He didn't trust the rage he felt building up inside. He knew he should leave and deal with Daniel in the light of day. He also knew that he wouldn't. The situation pissed him off, the blind recklessness; it galled to think some of this might be his fault, his blindness to how Daniel was reacting to stress; but what really got him was that Daniel stayed in there. Stayed to get whatever he'd been looking for, as many times as he'd been looking for it. And that anger was based on private issues that now was absolutely not the time to fuck around with.
He came out of the shadows, melded into the street, lit another cigarette. Smoked it. Turned down an offer. When the street was clear again, moved to the mouth of the alleyway. Waited while two guys fucked; moved in a little farther once they left, moved around a dumpster, found the side door just at the limit of his night vision. Wished fervently for another smoke. Opted for stealth, and decided to wait it out. Shift changed at four. If Daniel wasn't out of there by ten of, he'd have to reevaluate his verbal with Hanlon and consider going in to get him. This alley was a dead end.
Fifteen minutes, two blowjobs and a handjob later, Daniel came out. He leaned against the wall a few feet streetward of the door, just out of the angle of streetlight. After another minute, another guy came out. Looked around, found him, walked up to him.
Jack tensed. Half of him was primed to haul Daniel out of here. Half of him thought, Fuck it, let the guy get off, it's the last time. Half of him was ready to tear him a new one. Half of him was transfixed with a prurient voyeurism.
If he intervened it would make a scene no matter how he contained it. That risked compromising Hanlon. He needed Hanlon sweet.
Voyeurism it was.
The guy Daniel had picked was taller than he was. Heavily muscled but loosely dressed to downplay it. He moved a hand as if to cup Daniel's face; Daniel caught the wrist and twisted it deftly away, firm without causing pain, making it clear that he could cause pain.
Yeah. I taught him that.
Daniel murmured something; instructions. The big guy went to his knees. Unbuckled Daniel's jeans, unbuttoned, unzipped. Daniel pulled a condom from his pocket, tore the packet open. Big Guy pulled Daniel's hard dick out and stroked it a couple of times. At the sight of it, sensations went through Jack's chest and groin that he never wanted to feel again. He would just have to have a beautiful cock, wouldn't he? As beautiful as the rest of him. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Daniel stopped Big Guy from sucking him down with a palm to the forehead and rolled the condom on with his left hand. Then he dropped his hands away and waited.
Big Guy worked on him for a while. Big Guy looked like he knew what he was doing, looked like he did it very well. Jack didn't watch the bobbing head once it swallowed Daniel's erection. He watched Daniel's face. Watched the eyes slide half closed, the jaw tighten. It looked more like pain than pleasure. It looked more like anger than ecstasy.
He was so hard he thought the crotch of his jeans would castrate him. He swore to god that if he could get away he would, he wouldn't stay to see it through. He couldn't get away, and he couldn't tear his gaze away. Daniel came with no change in his expression beyond a deep wince around the eyes; his hips jerked once, but his hands stayed limp at his sides, not fisting, not grabbing.
He watched Daniel peel the condom off, drop it negligently off to the side, give Big Guy a hand up before he tucked himself back in his jeans. His genitals looked familiar now, the thick, flaccid cock Jack had held in his peripheral showervision for years. He'd probably have recognized that cock, in that state, without seeing the rest of Daniel at all. What that said about him he already knew.
Big Guy went back inside. Daniel zipped up, wiped his hands on his jeans, and moved quietly off in the direction of the street. His relaxed, thoughtless grace made Jack ache. But what else was new. Only the context.
Jack followed. Daniel turned in the opposite direction from the surveillance backup. Jack stayed far enough back for his purpose to be ambiguous to anyone watching. When he came around the corner onto the avenue, Daniel nearly took his head off, grabbing him for a headlock. He froze in midresponse, one hand splayed over Daniel's face. He felt recognition jolt through Daniel's body. Very slowly, warily, they disengaged, and stood at the angled corner of an old brick building, staring at each other, breathing hard.
"Come here often?" Daniel said, his blue eyes cold and burning.
Remorseless. So much for the hope of humiliating him into stopping. "Walk," Jack said.
They walked. When they'd put two blocks and one turn behind them, Daniel said, "We're getting farther from my ride. Say your piece and keep it short, or save it for later. Otherwise they'll leave without me."
"I'll drive you home."
"It doesn't work that way."
"What, your pals gonna get worried if you don't show up?"
"Something like that."
"Or that was just the appetizer, and you don't want me cheating you out of the main course?"
"Something like that too. Don't you have any grandiose statements to make, or is it all going to be questions?"
Jack rounded on him, barely containing his rage. "One more question," he said, in his lowest voice. "Why?"
Daniel laughed in stark disbelief. "You're kidding, right?"
Jack didn't know how to begin to respond to that. This called for a very, very long, very loud conversation, and they weren't going to have that here. "Daniel, please call your friends and tell them you found -- " He stopped before he could say your own way home. An SUV had turned the far corner, and Daniel had glanced at it without interest but without wariness. Seems his ride had found him.
The SUV pulled over at the corner and stopped, idling.
Daniel looked at it for a moment, then looked back at Jack. Cocked his head, brow creasing in a very slight frown. Then lifted an arm, waved.
The SUV backed out onto the through street and pulled away.
"OK, Jack," Daniel said wearily. "Drag me home."
They walked the seven blocks to Jack's truck in silence. The area was so deserted that it wasn't even particularly dangerous, but Jack relaxed -- minutely -- only once he had them both in the truck's cab and the doors locked and had wended his way back out onto the main road. Then he pulled over, across from a bright all-night diner, and turned for the first time to Daniel. "I'm kidding?"
"Don't play innocent, Jack. Don't pretend to self-righteousness."
Jack ground his teeth so hard he felt a cavity twinge. "I was not in a position of extreme responsibility in a first-line-of-defense situation."
"But you were in the military. I'm not. So who's more out of line?"
"How long ... ?"
"Here? About a month. In Denver before that, but I got tired of the commute."
"Don't be a wiseass. Not now."
"When are you ever not a wiseass? Don't pull this shit on me."
"What is it? The rush? You don't get enough adrenaline spikes in your day job? There are safe places to indulge in this! What the fuck is wrong with you?"
Daniel didn't reply. Jack looked at him, wanting to throttle him, wanting to grab him and pull him close and --
No. No no no no no.
"Don't do this to me, Daniel. Please don't do this anymore."
"Do this to you?"
"I got the call. I'm the one with the crappy black-ops contacts. I'm the one who gets the heads-up about shit like this. I'm the one who gets the call in the middle of the night."
"Well, gee whiz. I'm so sorry someone else inconvenienced you."
Jack slammed the steering wheel. "It's not about that! "
Daniel, unfazed by the outburst, absolutely unafraid of him, said quietly, "So what is it about, then? I'm really curious, Jack. I really don't get this. I mean, I can understand you being royally pissed. But you're -- "
"If they called to tell me you were drunk and disorderly in a bar somewhere at three in the morning, I'd come haul your ass home, no questions asked," Jack said. "If it were anything else, Daniel. Any other way of acting out."
Daniel chuckled. "You think I'm acting out?"
"I know you're acting out. This isn't you."
"How can you possibly know something like that? How many years has it been since we were friends who knew how we spent our downtime?"
"Did you want me to find out? Did you want me to get that phone call? Were you waiting for that?"
Daniel considered for a moment. "No. I don't think so."
"Suppose Hammond got the call? You really want to pull something like this on him?"
"It's none of his goddamned business. Do I have to spell it out for you too?"
"You operate under the aegis of a military institution."
"Whoa. Easy on the Greek."
"Daniel -- " He banged his head softly against the headrest. "Is there no other way you could stage a rebellion? I mean, did you set this up intentionally to ... "
"To what?" Daniel frowned, shook his head. "To flip the Air Force the bird? No. But you still know me well enough to know that." He seemed genuinely confused now. His voice quieted, lowered until he sounded like himself again. "What is this, Jack? Set this up to what?"
So typical. So typical of how things had always been with them. Raging one moment, pushed past endurance; familiar and easy the next. This was exactly what Jack couldn't stand. Ordinary Daniel. Quiet Daniel. Intuitive Daniel -- intuitive Daniel with all the wisdom of the universe in his soul, unable to intuit the most glaringly, agonizingly obvious thing about him.
"To break my fucking heart."
There was a very long silence. It went from painful to excruciating back to painful and lapsed into miserable, then cycled through again. On the third cycle, Daniel said, very softly, "You asked me why, before. Well, here's your why. Because you made it clear to me you weren't available."
Something wrenched inside Jack's chest. He waited. It eased, marginally. "How could I answer a question you never asked?"
"It's true I never asked. But you answered. You told me every day for a year. The only possible reason for you treating me like that, Jack, was that you'd figured it out and it revolted you. Which I thought was ... well, pretty insulting, given your history."
Jack felt the construct of years crumbling away. All the protections, blown to pieces by the Howitzer of Daniel's spectacular fuckup. He gave up. It was a strange feeling. He didn't give up very often. In fact, it occurred to him now, the only times he ever gave up were when Daniel wore him down -- or forced him, through some equally spectacular fuckup, to abandon his course of action and throw good judgement to the wind in an all-out desperate effort to keep them all from getting killed. "It never occurred to you that maybe the reason I was such a prick to you was because I was tempted."
"'Tempted' implies that you knew I was on offer."
"I didn't know, Daniel." He focused on a neon sign across the street so he wouldn't catch a reflection of Daniel in the window. "I always wanted you. I always loved you."
Daniel was quiet for a long time. At last he said, "But still unavailable."
"You make a choice, in the military. You make it early. You stick to it. Choice didn't bother me too much. I love women. I loved my wife. Choice didn't bother me 'til I met you. Even then, what difference did it make? I didn't know, Daniel. I swear."
"But it wouldn't have made any difference."
"And it won't make any difference now."
"I can't do this. I can't have this conversation." He put the truck in gear, abruptly, and pulled out onto the wet street. It had begun to drizzle. Jesus wept, Jack thought. Wonder if he had a thing for John the Baptist? Or Peter. Yeah, definitely Peter. Judas is just too freakin' obvious.
"I have a private life," Daniel said, as Jack drove. "I have a personal life I'm entitled to. I will stick to those guns. I won't change my behavior to suit the military."
"And you won't change it to suit me."
There was another long silence. Daniel stuffed his hands in his pockets. Jack heard the crinkle of condom packets.
"Put your seatbelt on," Jack said.
Daniel pulled the belt across him and clicked it into place. "Jack ... none of this changes anything. It only hurts more."
"Tell me about it," Jack said. He reached the pack from the front pocket of his jacket and shook out a cigarette. Pushed in the dashboard lighter. What the hell.
"They don't make condoms for those things," Daniel said quietly.
"And smoking this doesn't risk my career at the SGC and make me vulnerable to homophobic SFs my hardass military friends can't protect me from twenty-four/seven." He lit the smoke and took a long, appreciative drag. Cracked the window and put on the blower. Startled when Daniel reached over, a silent request. Passed him the cigarette. Listened to him draw on it, exhale in satisfaction. Accepted it back. Hesitated to put his lips where Daniel's had been. Too much like a kiss.
He took a drag, and tasted Daniel, and was glad he'd lost the ability to cry a long time ago.
They drove in silence on the whispering highway, smoking the cigarette down to the filter. Daniel took the last drag and flicked it out his cracked window; the ashtray was full of coins. Jack pulled off at Daniel's exit. Negotiated the turns of his suburban development. Pulled up in front of his nondescript house. The house he'd made Daniel rent because he couldn't stand to have Daniel sleep where he had to work, and because he didn't have the balls to bring him home, where he belonged.
"I didn't know," he said again, turning the engine off.
"Now you know," Daniel said. "I fell in love with you on Abydos. The first time. Before Sha're. I didn't know it right away, and I didn't love her any less. It didn't matter when I figured it out, because you were the most unavailable human being I'd ever met. About six months before Kelowna, I was offworld with a couple of guys who knew some guys who knew you in the Academy. I read fluently between the lines. They thought we were already. Implied that it took long enough, quarter-century, still waters run deep, can't keep a good man down. They're both dead now, by the way, so don't bother trying to figure out who let it spill. At that point I knew it wasn't my dick, it was just me."
"In Denver, before that, you said. How long in Denver?"
"Three months or so. Not back then. Back then ... It doesn't matter."
"Christ, Daniel." Back then he was a virgin. In love with me. The way I treated him.
"I always had the taste for it. I just ... I shut down for a long time. Then I spent a year not having a body. I'm liking having one again. So now I make do."
Staring hard out the window, Jack said, "You fuck, too? Or it's just blowjobs in the alleyway?"
"I fuck, too. And get fucked." Daniel paused; Jack couldn't tell if Daniel had seen him flinch. "I'm sorry if that ... hurts."
"Are you?" Jack's voice was wan, hollow.
"Yes. I truly am. I love you, Jack. But I can't have you. Try to understand. I don't want anyone else. I don't want to get remarried. I've been in love twice, really in love, forever in love. It's not going to happen for me again. But she's gone, and I can't have you. So I get off on what I can get off on. I hope you can understand that. Even if it can only be with women, I'm sure you do the same. It's not that big a leap."
"I don't," Jack said, shrugging. "Used to. That's what you're remembering, I guess. Two, three years in, I did a lot of casual. Less after that. None since you left."
"Since I what?"
"Since you left. Ascended."
"That was almost two years ago."
"I'm aware of that, Daniel."
The long silence this time was deeply pained. Daniel showed no inclination to get out of the truck and go into his house. Finally Jack said, "Please find a safer way. Please, Danny. You're going to get hurt. I can point you ... at the people to talk to ... "
"I know who they are. That way doesn't work for me."
Jack squeezed his eyes closed. Daniel didn't want it safe. He wanted it dirty and impersonal and dangerous. Rough, dark anesthesia. One of several addictions Jack was familiar with. I would have been safe. I would have been ... "Then go to Denver. Some other city. Take long weekends. We'll work it out somehow. Don't shit where you sleep. It will kill you. Please don't do that."
"So this isn't about me embarrassing you."
"No." He rubbed his face. "You should go. I brought you home. I begged you to stop. That's all I can do. I'm gonna drive away, and if you want to get into your car or call your buddies in the Cherokee there's nothing I can do about it."
Daniel made no move to get out.
"Before dawn, Daniel. Whaddya say. I'm pretty wiped here."
"I don't want to go."
"I don't want you to go. It doesn't change anything. You can't sit here forever."
"Jack ... "
Another long pause, and then Daniel pressed the catch on his seatbelt and let it draw itself back. Jack popped the door locks.
After a long minute, when Daniel didn't get out, Jack said, low and hoarse, "Go do what you need to do, Daniel. I'll protect you until I can't anymore."
Daniel opened the door, got out. Closed the door, carefully, when he usually slammed it way too hard. Stood on the curb while Jack pulled away.
Just before Jack lost sight of him around the curve of the street, he was pulling his cell phone out of his pocket.
Jack waited for the ring tone of his own cell to sound, but there was only the whisper of wet road under the wheels.