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"So," Daniel said, uncurling from his corner of the sofa, looking noticeably less inebriated than he had a couple of minutes ago when everyone else was leaving.

"So," Jack said, walking back from locking up the front door, snagging his bottle of stout by the neck, letting it dangle from his hand. "Carter asked you to babysit. In case I go Ancient in the wee hours and run off to build some doodad."

"Yup. She's pissed. I drank too much, and now you'll end up babysitting me." Daniel smiled. He'd never been as drunk as he appeared to be. "So I guess this kind of sucks."

Jack knew he wasn't talking about who was babysitting whom. "What, hosting my own wake?" He sat back in the same chair. Should probably go poke the fire, but he was too tired. It was more than warm in here, although winter had come back with a vengeance as night fell. No need to go poking. Not the fire, anyway.

"Waiting to die. You're supposed to buy the farm on a mission, never know what hit you. You don't like having to sit around and think about it."

Jack shrugged, picking at the label on the bottle. Nothing new about Daniel reading him fluently. "Maybe I don't buy into this whole dying thing. Maybe I just wanted to catch The Simpsons when it was actually broadcast and get a weekend off for a change. Maybe I figure our allies will come through. Or Carter'll come through. Or you will."

"But you don't."

"No. I don't. Not this time." Jack swirled the liquid in the bottle, then stopped, remembering that it wasn't beer. Not a good idea to swirl stout. Bottle'd come all over you. "So," he said.

"So," said Daniel.

"Can I ask you some questions?"

"Ah, the liberties of a dying man." Daniel leaned forward to pick up a mug of the coffee Sam had made for him. Jack's coffeemaker was old and cranky, and Daniel had taken obvious pleasure in listening to her do battle with it. "Shoot."

"You fuck Paul Davis in Moscow that time?"

Daniel missed spewing his drink only by virtue of not yet having gotten the mug to his mouth. He laughed out loud. "That's your first question?"

"There are a few. I don't think the order matters."

"Ooh-kay. Um, no. I had no sexual contact with Major Davis when we were in Moscow to broker a deal for the DHD two years ago. Or any other time." He bit his lip, trying to kill the smile he couldn't help; got it under control, and looked up. "Did I miss a memo about the 'don't ask' part being dropped?"

"I didn't ask Davis."

"What makes you think I'd jeopardize his career by telling you the truth if something had happened?"

"You wouldn't. You'd invoke the 'don't tell' part." When Daniel just shrugged, because he was right, Jack pulled from his beer. He knew perfectly well how much interest Major Davis had in Doctor Jackson. Two nice, good-looking guys, both smart, both ambitious, both on career tracks they hadn't exactly envisioned when they started out. A lot in common. Same security clearance, no worries about babbling state secrets in the throes of it. Not technically teammates. There was no doubt that Davis had made a move. He'd been watching for years to see if Daniel belonged to Jack. When they came back with the DHD ... well, the guy was way too smooth to show a glint of triumph and way too competitive to acknowledge defeat, but Jack had known there was something. He just couldn't tell which way it had gone. "And I'm the one asking the questions."

"I never agreed to that stipulation," Daniel said on his way to another sip of coffee, lower lip against the mug's rim.

"You made me, that time I was undercover to bust the rogue NID operation."

"That isn't a question."

"You made me, right?"

"Yes. I did. I made sure I was the one to come here because if you were going to slip up I figured it should be to the member of the team who'd already figured out that something was up. I'd have reamed you out about Sam just the same either way."

"So, no short straw."

"No, there were straws. I rigged them."

"It didn't cross your brilliant mind that you could have blown my cover by failing to be genuinely outraged?"

"I was genuinely outraged -- about what you said to Sam. Otherwise, no. I was supposed to be hurt and perplexed and disgusted with you. No acting required for that." His here-again-gone-again smile came and went. "I know it was Hammond's call to keep us in the dark and you didn't like it but you didn't undermine his authority by saying so in front of us. I saw it on your face in the gateroom when you guys came clean. I forgave you then."

"Magnanimous."

"I wasn't magnanimous about Sam. I'm still pissed about that. Next question?"

"Did you sleep with Ke'ra?"

Daniel's expression was so amazed that it bordered on delighted. "Every other question is going to be about sex, isn't it."

"Maybe. You going to answer?"

"And when it's a guy it's whether I fucked him, but when it's a woman it's did I sleep with her."

"Hey, I'm a gentleman. Gentleman, sexist pig, same difference."

"The door to her quarters was open the whole time. She kissed me. I let her. I kissed her back. It was nice. I'd forgotten how nice kissing was. It had been like four years. Hathor doesn't count."

Jack grunted, then said, "You still pissed about that? Ke'ra, I mean; Linnea, whoever."

"About the fact that you all assumed that I'd leap to her defense only if I was falling for her or having sex with her or both? About the fact that you couldn't imagine that there were ethical considerations unrelated to personal involvement, or that you believed I was some naïve ingenue who could be blinded by attraction, or that I would grant blanket amnesty to a mass murderer because she was a good lay?"

"That's multiple-choice, right?"

Daniel's voice was silky. "No, Jack, I'm not still pissed about that."

Jack said, "Good. Glad to hear it."

"So. What else? No I didn't 'sleep with' Shyla; I was still married then and it would have been better if Shyla had forced the issue because a threat to my fidelity to my wife might have snapped me out of it, no offense to the torment you were undergoing in the mines and all that, but her father would have killed all of us if I'd done her out of wedlock, so she never pushed and I was too high to give a shit. Yes I was pissed about all the 'wish a goddess would sit on my dick' comments after the Hathor thing, sexual assault is such a hoot to begin with and it's so much more hilarious when your wife is off getting raped by a System Lord every fucking night, and you couldn't knock her up in a year of trying but here's a vat full of parasitic aliens you've fathered and by the way let's see if you can ever stand having a woman on top again ever in your life. Yes I was briefly interested in Janet; I'll spare you deciding whether or not to ask me that one, since base gossip has it that you guys had an arrangement for a while and if you did then you should know that I made a minor effort and she waved me off, which I wasn't that sorry about until she was killed, and then I wished I'd known her better than I did, one way or another. No I don't date much; I don't have the time or the inclination. Any other questions about my sex life?"

"I never had an arrangement with Fraiser," Jack said. "I never had anything with Fraiser."

"OK," Daniel said.

"You ever sleep with Carter?"

Daniel's smile came back, a quick flash, like bright light on a knife. "Nope. Talked about it. Decided to skip right to the part where we're warm old friends who used to sleep together."

"How ... geek of you."

"'Mature' is the word you're looking for."

"It's really not."

"No, I suppose it really never is." Daniel cocked his head. "Did you?"

Jack didn't pretend not to understand the question. "No," he said, flatly.

"OK," Daniel said. It was almost a singsong. He leaned back into a slouch on the sofa, coffee mug balanced on his belly. He waited.

Jack had picked the label nearly off his bottle. "Are you bisexual?"

"I tried sex with some other guys in college. I tried a lot of things in college."

"You went to college when you were sixteen."

"Uh-huh."

Jack grunted again. "Get off OK? With those guys?"

"Technically, sure."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I'm psychosexually wired to enjoy same-sex relations. It means that twenty years ago I achieved orgasm through anal intercourse with other men. I slept with a lot of women, too. None of it did much for me. Actually, it made me feel crappier than I had before. I could feel just as crappy after a session with my own right hand and save other people a lot of heartache. In grad school I stopped bothering with sex entirely. And drugs, and music, and most of my political activism. I was looking for a kind of transcendent connection. I never found it. The only thing that got me high was my work. Figuring out things about languages and the past that nobody else could. I got along pretty well with people, but I was always lonely, and there didn't seem to be anything I could do about that, so I chalked it up to my fucked-up childhood and moved on."

Jack was frowning. "You loved your foster parents." Retired teachers, recognized and nurtured his brilliance, helped him do high school in two years, used their savings to take him to Egypt for two weeks when he graduated, where that picture of him on the camel was shot; said they were rewarding his academic performance by taking him to the place that fascinated him most, but really they were taking him back to where he'd spent his early years with his parents, helping him reconnect and make what peace he could. They'd died while he was getting his first master's -- at Columbia, where he'd gone so that he could move back in to look after them as they aged and declined. Jack knew most of the foster-care story.

"Yes. I loved them very much." Daniel shrugged. "It was a peer connection I was looking for, not surrogate parents. I needed to fall in love. With someone, or with something other people loved as passionately as I did and could share with me. I found the something, working postdoc for Professor Jordan in Chicago, but then I went off the deep end about the pyramids and lost the people I'd shared the passion with. I found the someone in Sha're. It didn't make me less alien to her. I was still lonely. I was lonely when I was ascended; I don't remember much, but I remember that. I'm almost always lonely. It's my MO. It's not a big deal."

"Almost," Jack echoed. "Almost always. When ... ?"

Daniel smiled. "That would be telling. Next question?"

"Daniel ... "

"Next question, Jack."

Jack gave a harsh sigh. "On Abydos. Those men's nights."

"Did I participate?"

"Yeah."

"No. And my virility was much impugned for it. Doubly so when Sha're didn't get pregnant. But she stopped going to the women's nights as a gesture of solidarity. She even broke the taboo on heterosexual oral sex, which was a very big deal. An enormous gesture of trust, on her part. She was also trying to fill a void. She didn't think it was healthy for me to stay home with her on men's night. She couldn't bring herself to offer anal sex and I doubt very much that I'd have taken her up on it if she had. I wouldn't have minded her putting her fingers in me -- that's not rhetorical, I mean I'd have liked her to -- but she couldn't bring herself to do that either. It bugged her that I wasn't getting it. Everyone was sure that was why she wasn't with child, and I couldn't convince them it had nothing to do with it. I tried, too; their population was dwindling, and part of the reason for that was men's night. But I'm sure I'm well beyond titillationland here and into the realm of TMI."

"Why would men's night affect the population?"

Daniel's brows went up. Surprised that Jack was curious. He mostly dropped the dumb act in private, but he didn't usually pursue lines of inquiry like this one. "The community was small enough that most of the women were on the same menstrual cycle. Men's night was scheduled according to moon phases, and for a long time that had put it smack dab in the middle of ovulation. I was actually making some progress toward getting it rescheduled on a sort of test basis. A fine-let's-do-this-for-six-months-to-shut-Danyel-up-about-his-weirdass-theories basis. Then you guys came through the gate."

"Would you really have been happy there, Daniel? Forever?"

Daniel was silent for a long time. Then he said, "No. Mostly content, sometimes blissfully content, but no, not completely happy."

"Almost never lonely, though."

"No, I was lonely there. Most of the time. Jack ... is your life passing before your eyes or something? Is this, like, you trying to get perspective on your own ... isolation?"

Jack shrugged a little, his expression saying 'dunno.' "How come you didn't participate in men's night?"

"You did notice that I steered the topic skillfully away from that question, right?"

"I noticed."

Daniel rolled his eyes. "I had a different view of what constitutes fidelity."

"You only wanted your wife."

There was a moment's silence. "I didn't say that." Daniel sat up and forward again in a thoughtless, breathtaking contraction of abs under his thin shirt. I should get him a sweater, Jack thought. "Why don't you cut to the chase, Jack."

"There is no chase. There was never a chase."

"And lay off the double entendres."

"Lay off the French."

"You have very good French. And fluent Arabic. Functional Spanish. And more than a smattering of Italian and Gaelic you picked up from various relatives."

"You count ASL in those twenty-three languages, Daniel?"

"The finger is universal, Jack. And it's twenty-seven now, with the extraterrestrial additions. That's spoken languages. It doesn't count reading comprehension. Which was kind of a prereq for my honorary doctorate in Dealing with Jack."

"Goes with these invisible medals on my chest for Dealing with You." His bottle was down to spit and dregs. Needed another. Needed to poke the fire. Needed to get Daniel a sweater.

Needed to know.

Really needed to know.

Couldn't ask.

"There were a few reasons I didn't participate in men's night. One was that there was no point in sex for me if I didn't feel that connection to the person I was with. Another was that I adored my wife and while I view monogamy as a cultural adaptation and not a first principle my personal preference was to devote myself entirely to her."

"Two reasons isn't a few."

"Are you sure you want to know the other one?"

He couldn't even bring himself to say yes. He just nodded.

"Because all that fucking and sucking made me crazy for something I couldn't have and was trying to forget. Because if I'd participated I wouldn't have been able to resist the desire to close my eyes and pretend it was someone else. By Abydonian standards even that wouldn't have been infidelity, it would have just been a situation I should discuss with my wife. But it felt like infidelity to me. It would have been torture for me. That answer your question?"

"Obliquely."

"It's the questions that are oblique. My replies have been thorough and forthright."

"I need another beer," Jack said, rising abruptly. "I'll get you a sweater. Go poke the fire."

When he came back from the bedroom with a soft old sweater that Daniel's new physique couldn't stretch much more out of shape than it already was, Daniel had laid on more wood and the fire was crackling companionably. Jack tossed the sweater at the sofa and lifted the last stout from the cardboard six-pack that had wound up on the floor by the chair Hammond had sat in. He was sick of the chair he'd occupied all afternoon and starting to wonder how he could sneak one of the smokes he had stashed behind a picture of his brawling Irish father on the mantel. As he moved to stand by the fire, flicking the bottle cap into the flames hard enough to raise a small geyser of sparks, Daniel turned with the pack and the lighter in his hand. "You mind?"

"My number's up. I'm allowed to suck on a cancer stick. You, not so much."

"Thanks," Daniel said. He shook out a smoke, gave the pack to Jack, lit his, gave the lighter to Jack. Sank down in a fluid curl of limbs to sit cross-legged on the hearth rug so he could flick ash into the fire. Jack didn't like to watch him smoke. It made him look like a young bohemian radical, the chain-smoking grad student he might have been, brilliant and passionate and still idealistic despite the hard knocks of a tough childhood and adolescence. It made him look way too sexy. Loose and just-got-laid relaxed, although the lines of his body were actually pretty tense.

We decided to skip right to the postcoital smoke. It was very ... mature of us. Jack ignored the mockery of Daniel's voice in his head with the resolution of long practice.

He eased down beside Daniel and lit up, legs stretched in front of him, knees bent, toes raised toward the fire. Hadn't had a chance to hit these yet. The first drag was orgasmic, and he almost moaned. Daniel's half-hidden smile flickered in the firelight.

"Shut up," Jack said.

"I didn't say anything."

Jack grunted.

"So, do I get to ask some questions too?"

"Rather you didn't. Not like it'll stop you."

"Were you sodomized in prison in Iraq?"

Jack waited for the smoke and the left-field question to trigger an explosive coughing fit, but they didn't. He'd smoked for way too many years for a couple of drags to irritate his lungs, and the question wasn't from all that far in left field. "No," he said. "It was pretty much what happened to you in Nicaragua. More beatings. More deprivation. I was there longer."

Daniel nodded. Smoked quietly. Then he said, "Ever indulge in any of that infamous stress relief in the field?"

Jack sighed. "Not in the field."

"You wouldn't put it to anyone under your command."

"Something like that." He smoked, flicked ash, winced, thought fuck it and gave it up. "I didn't trust anyone's hand on me but my own. Had a reputation for being above it, went all the way back to hell week at the Academy. Later on there were a few unofficial extractions. Motel rooms, guys I didn't outrank, mercs. Things get ... fucked up on missions like that. Rules go out the window. Ugly things happen." He drew deeply, relishing the sandpaper burn, and said on the exhale, "I liked it rough a lot more than I should have. But in the context of brutal shit I was involved with at the time, it just didn't rate very high. Then I got married. I was faithful to my wife for nine years. The rest you know." He took another drag, flicked ash, and as an afterthought said, "It wasn't Burke, or any name you'd recognize."

"But that was in another country," Daniel quoted softly, "and besides, the wench is dead."

"Dead or MIA about covers it." He glanced sidelong at Daniel, although he had most of him pretty clear in his peripheral vision. "Were you molested in foster care?"

"Nope. You were an altar boy, right? Any priests make a grab for you?"

"You see me go to Mass lately?"

"I can imagine numerous reasons for a lapse of faith."

"Yeah. Well, that might have been one of them."

Daniel blinked, as though he hadn't expected something close to actual confirmation from the flippant banter. Carefully, he said, "And thus was born an abiding respect for figures of authority."

Surprising himself, Jack said with some heat, "I respected my dad. The priest was a sack of shit. I respect Hammond. Kinsey's a sack of shit. I'm fine with authority. It's sacks of shit I have no time for."

"And the institutions that protect them."

Jack shrugged and flicked his filter into the fire. "Everything protects itself. Institutions, systems, human hearts." He picked the bottle up from between his legs and chugged about a third of it. His head was spinning pleasantly. "That's smoke's not gonna make you puke, is it?"

"Nope, I'm just nice and high right now." Daniel hadn't sucked his down to the filter, but he tossed it after Jack's. Whole pack still there if he wanted it. He crabbed back to the coffee table for his mug, then announced that he needed a refill and went to get it. Jack heard the microwave beep. They'd turned the pot off a while ago. The domestic sound filled him with a deep, longing ache. Daniel's quiet presence filled the house, warming it down to the foundation, the joins in the walls. Jack had taken hits off that like a drug for seven years. A secret addiction that couldn't possibly be secret because Daniel could read him like one of his books, except maybe it was, because Daniel was a master of self-induced oblivion when it suited him. Seven years of signals that might not be signals at all.

He was almost always lonely, he said. Almost.

Jack wanted to be what eased that loneliness. He didn't want to find out that it was the team gestalt, or Teal'c the fellow outsider, or the passions Daniel shared with Carter.

Daniel came back with his coffee, sank down again in a fluid bend of those goddamn perfect knees, more flexible than any human his size had a right to be. He put his mug on the flagstones and hugged his legs. "OK, Jack. When I'm here. That's when I'm not lonely. When I'm watching you shovel food into your face in the mess, when you drop by my lab for the tenth time in a day for no freaking reason whatsoever. You are what I wanted and couldn't have on Abydos. You're who I would have imagined was on the other end of any dick I took up my ass. For the past ninety minutes you've been digging around in my sexuality trying to confirm a vibe you've gotten off me for eight years. Consider it confirmed. Denial is only an ironically coincidental anagram of my name. I assume the reason you shut me out those six months before Kelowna was that I'd made you acutely uncomfortable. That peeves me some considering how shut down I was, not a lot of vibes off me but bitterness and resentment, but I figure it was better than aggressive cruelty meant to symbolically destroy any urges you couldn't stand in yourself. But I missed the affection. I missed it like hell. I soaked up affection from you like a sponge, and when that dried up I felt ... well, very very bad. Especially because I wasn't getting a sexual charge off it, I just ... I just loved it. Thrived on it. But I understood. The old-married-couple thing was cutting too close to the bone. The friendly banter got too much like flirtation. I'd have really preferred you to sit me down with an avuncular pat on the arm and say, 'Daniel, this shit has to stop, people are talking, I'm straight and I'm Air Force and maybe I fucked a couple of guys back in the day but I did a lot of things I'm not proud of and you and me, that's just never gonna happen.' But you've been a pretty good pal since I came back. I can't really see why you'd need closure on this issue, so I figure it's mainly curiosity. I hope this satisfies it."

Jack was shaking so hard he couldn't pick up his beer, which really sucked. "You believed I wanted you. Sexually."

"I believed there was something, more or less latent. I knew it pissed you off. I knew you suppressed it."

"But you know I love you."

Daniel looked sharply down. "Yeah. I know that. I'm shocked to hear you say it. But yeah. Sure." He shifted uncomfortably, hugged his knees up closer to his chest. "I know it isn't That Way."

"It is That Way," Jack said, very softly, to the fire. "It's that way, and the other way, and just about every way, I guess."

Daniel was quiet for a long time. "What were you trying to find out asking me all these questions?"

"What you said. Whether I was crazy or you were really ... sending signals, intentional or not. I guess I figured that if you admitted you were bi then I could maybe put it in the Carter compartment. Make sense of it as one of those attractions that happen that can't go anywhere and wouldn't if they could so you suck it up, get over it, move on. I guess I just needed it to make sense. Does that make sense?"

"Please don't put me in the Carter compartment. The way you lead Sam on is unconscionable. She's the one you need to have that chat with."

"I know," Jack said. His voice sounded hollow in his own head. "Military. Fucked up."

"Very fucked up."

"You tell her all this stuff you just told me?"

"What do you think?"

"I don't know. You talk to her all the damn time."

"No. I never told her." Daniel took his glasses off, laid them aside, rubbed his face long enough to qualify as burying it in his hands. "Fuck."

"I'm sorry, Daniel." It came out a whisper.

Daniel laughed, a harsh, bitter bark. "For what? Freaking the shit out of me?"

"I don't know. For being a prick. For being blind. I don't know. For everything." A cavity twinged and he realized he was grinding his teeth. "I want everything from you, Daniel. More than I have any right to. I want everything for you. Things I can't give you. Safety. Happiness." He felt his eyes wince shut. Forced them open. "It's way more than sex. But yeah. I want that too. I've always known the stakes. The risk isn't ... something I dismiss lightly. But I would never have said no."

He could see Daniel trying to revise the past eight years in his head. Reviewing all the footage -- all he'd regained access to, anyway -- in light of this new information. That was his first reaction. Not I can have this now, I can have what I wanted, what should I do? but This is what that statement meant, this was what was going on in that moment. Unable to consider the next step until he'd run history through the new filter, processed it all from the new angle. Unable even to reach for the knob of the door he'd thought was locked that maybe, it looked like now, wasn't. Not until he had his footing again.

That was what he did. That was how he approached the future. From a foundation in the past that was vital to him.

It was why the ascended Ancients had wiped his memory clean -- because it was the worst punishment they could inflict on him. That was why Oma Desala shielded it somehow: because to do that to a soul like Daniel would be a blasphemy against the universe.

It was why Jack hadn't let him stick his head into the repository. It was a conscious fuck-you to military tactics, a knowing misdeployment of personnel, an intentional lapse of command judgment, valuing his teammate over the objective. Daniel had been ascended; chances were his brain was still wired differently, he might have had immediate access to the information they needed, he might not have had to wait for it to bubble up from his subconscious the way Jack did. He was the right guy to take the upload, and Jack stopped him. The translation thing was an excuse and they both knew it. Daniel's staff was well versed in Ancient. Other people could have translated for him. But it would have wiped his mind away, neuron by neuron. That brilliant, beautiful head, somehow still sane and intact after everything, going dark inside. Losing the past, again. The past that was what enabled him to navigate through the present.

Jack was plagued by the past, haunted by it, and he lived in the here-and-now, comfortable functioning as a thoughtless animal, in his element when tactical instinct had to compensate for no time to think things through. He had a deep terror of watching his own mind go dark, until there wasn't even enough of it anymore to be aware that it was dying. But he could still function past the point of no awareness. He'd keep flying on autopilot for a long time before he crashed and burned. Daniel wouldn't; and he wouldn't watch that happen to Daniel.

It had been his last act as Daniel's CO. He'd known that when he did it. He couldn't be his team leader anymore. He couldn't have direct command of him in the field. He'd always been dangerously attached to his team, but with this act he'd gone beyond the pale of overinvestment, he'd begun charting new realms. This wasn't refusing to leave Carter to die alone on the other side of a forcefield, this wasn't leave-no-one-behind, this wasn't blind heroism. This was making a bad command decision on purpose. Not because he loved Daniel more than his own life, but because nothing mattered more to him than Daniel did -- not the planet, not the galaxy, not the universe.

Daniel let his hands fall loose, forearms dangling over his knees. He stared into the fire. "This is bad," he said.

Ya think? Jack thought, but what he said was "Not really. Carter's gotta take command in the next day or so anyway. This shouldn't adversely affect the way things play out. After that, well ... " He scrubbed his fingers through his hair, considered another cigarette, and then flopped back onto the rug and said, "Do me a favor? There's some stuff boxed up over the garage, I put it there yesterday. I don't want airmen pawing through it, you know, after. Take it to your place, willya?"

"Sure."

"It's kind of a hodgepodge. Keep whatever appeals to you, try to be discreet about tossing the rest. Teal'c might like some of the porn, although mostly he's into that Japanese tentacle shit these days. Send Sara whatever you think she should have, or ask her what she wants, whatever; it's the stuff I couldn't decide about. You have her address."

"Yeah." Daniel had her address in Iowa, the contact information for Jack's attorney and accountant; everything had been in order again for a few months, rejiggered from the rejiggering when Daniel had ascended. He got the house and the cabin and their contents, the money was an even split between Carter and Teal'c; Cassie's education was already taken care of, with an additional trust on the side, and the death benefits were earmarked for the charities Sara had said she'd donate them to if he kept her as his beneficiary. Carter had medical power of attorney; Jack would never ask Daniel to pull the plug. "I suppose all the clues were there in your last wishes all along," Daniel said. "I never thought about that."

"Nothin' there a guy wouldn't leave his best friend, or ask his best friend to do, or not ask," Jack said. He'd made very certain of that.

"I was never your best friend. I never understood it when people called me that."

"Yeah, well. Close enough for government work, huh?"

After a while, flushed from the heat of the fire, Daniel lay back next to him. They stared in silence at the rafters for a long time. Jack was completely still, enjoying the soft thrum of Daniel's proximity, enjoying being able to enjoy it instead of squash it away into the smallest wayest back of his awareness. He'd be happy to stay here all night and damn the backache. Keep the fire going, throw a blanket over Daniel at some point. Daniel was picking at his shirt, unconsciously; his toes were wiggling, long since slipped out of their shoes. He wasn't usually the fidgety one. Jack waited, feeling very calm now. There would be more questions. There would be the inevitable declaration about not risking his career in case he lived or his posthumous reputation in case he didn't. Nothing would change. But everything had changed. He felt vastly unburdened. Freed. Maybe this was why he'd wanted Daniel to stay, aside from the fact that he just really liked being around Daniel, really just didn't even come close to happy unless Daniel was around. He'd had no intention of Daniel ever finding this out about him, but maybe down deep he'd wanted him to know. How could there ever be anything wrong with telling someone how much they were loved?

"Jack?"

Here we go. "Mm?"

"Let's go to bed."

Jack blinked at his ceiling for a few seconds, and then rolled onto his side, onto an elbow. "What?"

"I said let's go to bed."

"There's only one bed. That new sofa doesn't fold out. I can get you an air mattress and a couple of bags if you want to sack out here -- "

"Apparently I'm being too euphemistic for you."

Jack's abrupt roll had brought him closer than he expected; he was looking almost straight down at Daniel. He felt a moment of vertigo. This was Daniel, for cryin' out loud. The blue eyes gazed up at him, patient and implacable. "That isn't your line, Daniel. You say program team galaxy bigger than us two people hill of beans yadda yadda, I say dying here fuck that happy now pay later, you say heroes responsibility sacrifice duty full stop. I say this sucks, you say yeah it does, we lie around feeling sorry for ourselves."

"I think you're mistaking me for Sam."

"Really not a high likelihood of that right now. Daniel, you're our conscience. You're letting down your end here."

Daniel smiled, very faintly. "I'll be happy to hold up my end. But this floor's kinda hard on the knees."

"God damn it, this isn't funny!" He was losing it, his free hand gesturing crazily with nowhere to slam down, torn between rolling back in frustrated disgust and rolling on top of Daniel, just fucking mounting him and humping him because he couldn't stand this anymore; he was paralyzed by the rich fire-heated Daniel smell rising into his nose, sweat and arousal and smoke and that scent of old ink and paper that never left him and a tang of yesterday's cologne and why was he wearing cologne yesterday, and Daniel's gaze had dropped to his mouth and Daniel was coming up on his elbow and he really had to pull back now this was not good red alert danger will robinson flip the canopy eject now--

"I'm not laughing," Daniel said. His breath gusted over Jack's lips. Coffee and Guinness and toothpaste, he always brushed his teeth after he ate, he always used Jack's goddamn toothbrush without asking --

Daniel caught his hand at the wrist, in mid-gesticulation.

Jack froze. His head cocked, wincing, as if he were begging Daniel to explain to him what the fuck he was supposed to do.

"I'm saying yes," Daniel said, in the same low, steady voice. "If you're going to say no, say it now, very clearly."

Jack's eyes roved over Daniel's face, searching. The features were more familiar than his own, and he didn't know how; he hardly ever looked at Daniel, for years it had been all quick glances, mostly standing next to him and looking, together, at something else, or looking down at his briefing-room doodles, or at anything except straight-on at Daniel. Daniel's gaze was unwavering; his head was cocked a little, too, thrown back just slightly, the angle of it saying come on, this is it, decision time, let's go. But the pulse in his carotid artery throbbed wildly. His breathing was fast and shallow. Pupils dilated. Lips parted.

Eyes open, senses on high alert for any hint of recalcitrance or revulsion, Jack tipped forward, very slightly, and brushed his mouth over Daniel's.

The ice blue of Daniel's eyes melted. His eyelids slid down, lashes soft crescent smudges.

"Oh, god," Jack whispered, and did it again, lingering this time. "Yes," he said, pushing, nudging Daniel's mouth open. "Yes," he said, into the top lip, the bottom lip, as it stayed that way, passive, open on a moan. "Yes, yes, yes," he said, into the corners, his chin, the soft flesh up under his nose, nipping, kissing. He pushed his wrist out of Daniel's lax grip and took his shoulder, tilting his head, covering his mouth, claiming it, pressing him down into the rug.

Daniel's mouth came hungrily alive. He offered his tongue on a deeper moan and Jack took it with his in a hot, wet slide. They gasped and sucked and bit and groaned, switching the angle of their heads, noses colliding and pushing past, beard shadow rasping. Jack forced his way in deeper; Daniel pushed back with a raw sound. Jack slid his tongue up into the bony cavern of palate, stroking the sensitive cleft there, teasing it, then thrust for the tonsils before pulling back in a long, hard suck that brought Daniel's tongue into his mouth. He let Daniel's tongue go, swallowed spit, pushed Daniel's mouth open again before Daniel was done swallowing, twisting his head, screwing their mouths together, jabbing his tongue under Daniel's, fucking the hot, wet muscle there, sliding up the side and back and down and up the other side in a long, rolling stimulation until Daniel's hard, hungry mouth softened, until it was pliable, yielding, until it was his.

"Daniel," he gasped, thick and wet, pulling back, trying to swallow and kiss and breathe and talk all at once. "Daniel ... fuck ... oh, fuck ... "

His hand was fisted in Daniel's shirt between his shoulder and his collarbone. Daniel's hand dragged it free, dragged it down. Pressed it onto the bulging length at his groin, pushing, forcing the heel of it down the shaft through the doubled strip of fabric at his fly. They both grunted sharply at the sensation, muffled in each other's mouths. Jack tried to close his fingers around it but Daniel had both hands on his now, pressing it flat, pulling it down hard onto him as his hips gave a powerful thrust up. "Unh," he said, "unh, fuck," and abandoned Jack's hand to claw at his fly. Jack fumbled and jerked at the zipper, lifted his hand and his mouth away as Daniel shoved and rolled his pants and briefs down, and then his palm filled with a shock of thick, rigid, fleshy cock and his fingers wrapped instinctively around, and he was staring into Daniel's hot, shocked eyes and holding Daniel's penis in his hand.

"Jack," Daniel said, almost without breath; then his eyes shut tight and his head rolled back and his neck arched and he said, "Oh, god, please, fuck, oh," and all the blood was draining from Jack's limbs and surging up his dick but somehow he found the motor control to squeeze in a long pull up the shaft -- christ it's thick -- and roll and tug the head. He stroked back down, found the slit with his thumb, rubbed leaking come up and down the taut sensitive channel of it with every squeeze and pull. Daniel flushed hot and groped at his shirt and Jack's shirt and said, "Jack more, I'm unh, I'm unh -- I'm -- unh --" Jack pumped him in a strong fist and let his thumb ride the head and watched Daniel come into his hand, strong bursts of come into his rucked shirt and up under it as far as the soft hollow of arched, exposed throat, muscular pulses through the flesh inside his hand. At the end Daniel said his name, a high, choked, explosive cry before he shuddered limp, the kind of sound that can't be faked or stopped or modulated, and Jack blurted "Fuck, oh fuck" and ground his crotch hard into Daniel's hipbone and came in his pants.

He slumped soaked and groaning against Daniel's soaked, boneless body, one arm trapped under him, the other hand cupping Daniel protectively while he softened. Daniel picked listlessly at his spattered shirt, then gave it up and let the hand fall. He shuddered again, with a jellified sort of looseness. His hips tried to push up into Jack's hand, a last involuntary thrust, then went still. His head rolled toward Jack. Jack nuzzled into his cheekbone and closed his eyes.

After a long time, half-drowsing in the languid heat and lapping firelight, he swallowed, worked his jaw, swallowed again, and said, "Do you have any idea how many years it's been since I creamed my shorts?"

"I can't calculate Babylonian fractions in my head," Daniel said in a sleepy slur. "I think it's been about half an hour."

"Thirty years," Jack said. "Thirty years. Christ, Daniel." His scrotum tightened. "I'm gonna go off again just thinking about it."

"Don't go off again yet," Daniel said. "I want to suck you. Wait for me."

Jack groaned, his cock and balls contracting inside the sticky mess of his briefs. "Shut up," he said, piteously.

"Have you considered the challenge of getting down the hall to the shower with your hand glued to my crotch?" Daniel said.

Jack very gently squeezed the flaccid, heavy package he was cupping, and Daniel groaned, hitting almost the same note Jack had. "New kind of sack race," Jack said. Barely coherent. Daniel smiled, so he supposed he got it. He gave up trying to talk for a while.

The fire was dying down, a lot of heat still running in the embers but not so much rolling across them without the flames, and Daniel shivered hard. Jack wanted to pull him in tight, wrap around him, but he felt unaccountably awkward about it all of a sudden, and the glueyness was pretty bad. He nudged Daniel's cheekbone with his nose, and very carefully unstuck his hand. "C'mon. Shower for you, bedspring for my back." He rolled up to his feet in stages, groaning, as Daniel halfheartedly kicked and fought his pants the rest of the way off. He gave Daniel a hand up. For a second their eyes met. Jack looked away first, on the pretense of finding Daniel's glasses for him. He hadn't thought he still possessed a blush reflex. Weird.

"Come in with me," Daniel said in the bathroom, after Jack had made it down the hall behind him without creaming himself again at the sight of Daniel walking in front of him, dressed in nothing else but his socks, peeling his shirt off over his head instead of screwing with the buttons.

Jack tried to think of something else he should be doing, but he'd locked up, turned everything off, secured the fireplace; there was nothing. Scrubbing his head with his unsticky hand, he said, "My weirdometer's kinda spikin' here, Daniel."

"Why?" Daniel said, turning the water on hot. "I just came all over myself right in front of you. We shower together all the time."

The too-hot water would have been the perfect excuse, but it was too late now, he'd 'fessed up. "Yeah, but I'm gonna want to ... There's no, you know, touching in the ... " He winced. "This is ... different. I don't know the rules yet."

"OK. It's a pretty small shower. Can't avoid touching you if we're both in it." Daniel got in, hissing at the heat, then sighing. Jack had meant to rip the whole thing out a while ago and put in a frosted stall. A clear stall would have been better. He imagined Daniel standing under the spray, rivulets of water running over and around; the way his body would ease and relax in the deep heat. He blinked out of it when Daniel said, "You still here?"

"Yeah." He stripped off his pullover and the shirt underneath, then got out of his pants and started the protracted, ginger process of unsticking his briefs from his pubic hair.

Daniel was already done, turning the water off and getting out. Fast showers, military showers, water-saving showers were never something they'd had to teach him. He'd worked in the outdoors as much as he had in libraries. They hadn't given him enough credit for that, in the early days. He was really a very competent guy from the very beginning. Used to being in charge. Used to harsh conditions. Just not military. They'd given him so much shit because he wasn't military. Because he didn't know how to get shot at. What a crappy thing to give a guy shit about.

He'd just barely gotten his briefs peeled off and dumped in the hamper with the other stuff when Daniel had toweled off. Daniel brushed past him to get to the sink and picked up his toothbrush.

"Yeah, and about that ... " Jack said, working up to a long-restrained harangue. Daniel gave him a frothy, dopey smile in the mirror, and he shut his mouth. "Never mind."

"About what?" Daniel said. No telling if it was faux innocence. "Showers or toothbrushes?"

"Nothing," Jack said. He gave up and got into the shower. Washcloth wasn't going to cut it with this mess. He set the water a lot cooler. He liked to let the bed warm him up, not crawl under eight pounds of covers already hot and steamed. Small things like that mattered when you spent a lot of time wet, blistered, tired, chilled, and in mortal danger, grateful for a groundcloth and a sleeping bag if you had them, in heaven if you had an air mattress and a tent, attaining nirvana if you had dry socks.

"Will it make you uncomfortable if I sleep in the buff?" Daniel paused at the bathroom door to ask.

What a fucking weird question, Jack thought, and then thought that it wasn't. He wouldn't get into the shower with the guy. He got pissed about sharing a toothbrush. Never a moment's problem with close quarters or nudity in the eight-year course of their job, but add a dollop of sexual contact and suddenly everything was a question mark. "Nope," he said, pushing his tone up to as casual as possible. "You know where the sweats are if you want 'em."

"OK," Daniel said.

Jack washed fast, toweled briskly. Daniel was on the not-Jack's side of the bed, leaning into the sphere of light from the reading lamp, looking at a book of Times Sunday crossword puzzles.

"Fuck," Jack said. "Do not tell Carter."

"You bastard," Daniel said. "That was a sucker bet, wasn't it? 'Strange' my ass."

Jack snatched the spiral-bound booklet from him and chucked it back on the base shelf of the nightstand. "I'm not good at the cryptic ones."

Daniel flopped onto the spare pillow and plumped the covers over himself. "All your garbage answers connected. You should get a hundred million extra points for that the next time you play Scrabble."

"Yeah, 'cause I play so much Scrabble," Jack said, getting into bed. Feeling awkward about getting into bed naked. Would have felt more awkward about wearing clothes when Daniel wasn't, but he slept in sweats and socks and a T-shirt, because he slept badly if he didn't know he was basically dressed and ready for anything that might happen during the night. The sheets felt really good against bare skin, but still. He felt ... naked.

"You don't like to lose, but winning would out you. I can see why you avoid that dilemma."

"Stick around tomorrow, I'll take you on. Oh, wait, I don't have Scrabble. Damn."

"I'm going to bring your mystery boxes to my place in the morning. I can bring Scrabble back." Daniel watched him turn the light out, slide down under the covers. "Jack, was that all you wanted? Outside?"

"No," Jack said slowly. "Why?"

"Because you're very uptight now and I think if I touch you I'll make it worse, which has me kind of baffled. But mainly because I want to know if you have lube because I don't want to go scrambling for substitutes later, and that question is kind of presumptuous if you don't want to do anything that requires lube."

The stuff Daniel babbled when he was intensely turned on was bad enough. Jack had had no idea what it would do to him to hear Daniel lose control of his voice, to hear Daniel unable to gasp something as simple and clear as oh god Jack I'm coming. But Daniel being matter-of-fact about sex was a whole different kind of hot. That made it difficult to respond in kind. He settled into his bed. He wanted to reach for Daniel, pull him in close, but Daniel was big and heavy, not what he was used to taking control of, drawing into his arms. Not in bed. Bed was different. Sex was different.

He didn't know about being penetrated. In his limited experience he'd done the penetrating. He'd gotten pretty creative with sex aids the last couple of years, and he knew how hard he got off with something up his ass. But Daniel's dick had one hell of a healthy diameter. Pain didn't scare him, but it would shut him down. Close him off. He wanted to open himself. He wanted to cede control; in his fantasies he was fine with that. But in reality his body would fight. If it hurt, if it threatened him, no matter how much he trusted Daniel, his body would fight.

He didn't know about penetrating, either. He knew how to fuck, hard up against a wall -- hard enough to hurt, hard enough to bruise, so everybody got off and could hold it together another hour or another day and control the raw violence enough to get the job done without losing their heads. That had nothing to do with what he wanted to do with Daniel.

He needed to tell Daniel this stuff. He needed to respond. He couldn't seem to make the connection between concepts and speech. He didn't understand why he couldn't do this. Daniel's mouth under his, Daniel's dick in his hand -- that worked, he could do that. He couldn't do this. When they separated, Daniel was Daniel again. He couldn't make contact. Couldn't initiate the approach.

He'd never expected any of this to happen.

"There's plenty of lube in the nightstand," he said. Fuck, he was hard now, he could feel his pulse throbbing in his dick. He could smell Daniel, smell his soap on Daniel's body. Daniel, in his bed. Not a fantasy, not a wet dream. Alive and aware, watching him with those freakishly beautiful eyes, waiting, not pushing. He'd used to look at Daniel at work sometimes and think, It's for the best. I wouldn't know what to do with you if I had you. For years, all the early years, his desire for Daniel was a kind of admiration from a distance, an aesthetic appreciation, something he craved and enjoyed the way you enjoyed a piece of art or music or sculpture. You didn't make sex objects out of trees, or the wind, or arias. At least, he didn't. He'd loved Daniel with an exasperating fondness, he'd put hands on him all the time, kept him close, kept him safe. He'd also hungered for him all the time, but it was separate, it wasn't something he'd have ever done anything about. Then he stopped being able to touch him. Stopped being able to look at him. Touches and looks had gotten so intense they'd burned. Beyond inappropriate. What he'd wanted had gotten very real and started to show. He couldn't have Daniel seeing that. He couldn't have people noticing that. Now he had him, and he didn't know what the hell to do with him. He didn't know what he'd do if Daniel put hands on him.

Daniel smiled. It looked a little sad. His eyes were still calm, but they were veiled now. He was confused. Protecting himself. Fuck. "I never thought I'd hear myself say this," Daniel said, "but, um, I don't think talking is the way to go here."

"Sorry," Jack said, gruffly. He resisted the strong urge to flop on his back, throw an arm over his eyes, say Go to sleep, Daniel. "I can't, ah ... " Fuck. Fuck.

"Can I just come over there? I'll put sweats on if you want."

"No. I mean yes. I mean ... Dammit." Jack pushed his way into the center of the bed.

Daniel met him there, in the middle. Came into his arms, fitted against his body as though he was shaped just for that purpose, lock and key, two broken pieces from different puzzles slotting into each other. No gaps. The slide of bare flesh was electric. It knocked the breath out of him. His hips gave a hard, involuntary jerk as Daniel's hard cock slid up next to his; their balls brushed, and his contracted. Legs as long and muscled as his twined through. Daniel's arms came around him, one digging into the mattress underneath, and locked loosely at his lower back. He felt a solid, bony hardness of ribcage. Peaked nipples touched his chest. His whole body contracted, squeezing tight around the heavy muscled density of Daniel, the whole hot bare length of him, still shower-warm and soft-skinned. As tall as he was, as big as he was. Stronger than he was, come down to it. He'd never felt anything like this in his life. The thick, fleshy erection pressing his groin, his lower abs. Lying heavy on his. They were made the same way.

"Ah, god," he breathed, turning his face up and to the side to hide it, cheek pressing Daniel's brow. "Daniel."

"Is this all right?" Daniel said.

"Yeah." Jack pressed his hips forward. Felt silky, viscous fluid dab his navel. Let out a low sound.

"Sorry," Daniel said. "I leak a lot when I'm really turned on." His arms tightened, just a bit, around Jack's lower back, a hint of pulling, a hint of thrust. All the power coiled inside that beautiful body, strength he rarely used. Jack flashed on how it would feel, Daniel thrusting into him, long powerful strokes, and his ass contracted and he gritted his teeth. He felt a puff of hot breath against his neck. He stroked his hand over Daniel's head, more roughly than he meant to, and felt the response run all the way down Daniel's body. But Daniel was still. Quiet. Waiting. Leaving room for Jack to take charge. Assuming Jack would be most comfortable in charge. Jack relaxed his jaw, nuzzled a little, got a gentle press of forehead in return. He tried to form words, tell Daniel what he wanted instead of taking it, but he couldn't, and he just froze.

"You know what I used to dream about?" Daniel said, when Jack hadn't moved or spoken for a long time.

"What?"

"I used to dream that you were in my bed. Just sleeping there. I'd memorize the way you breathe in your sleep and I'd play that sound back in my head later on. Pretend I could feel your weight there. Not touching or holding or anything, I didn't think you'd like that. Just being there in the dark." Daniel moved a little against him. Not seductive; settling in more comfortably. Pushing Jack back a little so that he could press his face into his neck, ease the weight of his head down all the way into the pillow. His lips touched Jack's neck. Jack's cock twitched from the light friction of Daniel's groin sliding against his. "We can just sleep," Daniel's lips said against his throat. "I've dreamed about that. I'd love that."

Daniel was shaking. His heart was going a mile a minute. But his voice was low and calm and his eyes were closed and he meant this. He would just sleep. "I had the same daydream," Jack said, stroking his head, feeling the response ripple through Daniel's shoulders. "Can you sleep wrapped around like this?"

"Mm-hm. Can you?"

"Yeah." With you I can. He finally found one of the connections between his brain and his mouth: "With you, yeah." He felt Daniel's smile against the artery in his neck, and it made his pulse leap, and he felt the lips go lax and yearning, felt his pulse throb against them, felt Daniel feeling it. "I want you to come first," he said. He gave his hips a slow roll, and Daniel moaned into his skin. "This do it for you?"

"Frottage," Daniel said.

"I know what it's called. Will it get you off?"

Daniel murmured something about anything you do and just showered. He was licking Jack's pulse. He fixed his lips on the artery and sucked; it was very gentle, not anywhere near leaving a mark, but the sensation went straight to Jack's groin and he arched back with a soft grunt and a more insistent, involuntary roll of his hips. His chin went up, baring more of his throat. Daniel sucked lower, tenderly. Down to the points of his collarbone, the soft hollow between. "Let me suck your cock."

Jack bit down on a groan. "Flip around," he said. He fumbled to fling the covers back out of the way.

Daniel hesitated. "That's ... ambitious," he murmured.

"Should fit OK on a diagonal," Jack said, and elbowed up for Daniel to pull his arm out from under. He made himself look Daniel in the face when Daniel looked up. "Too much? Too weird?"

Daniel touched his chest, stroked just shy of a nipple. "Not at all," he said softly. He scooched around, keeping one hand on Jack, anchoring himself. Jack elbowed over onto an angle, found the bottom corner of the mattress with his toes. He tried not to think about Daniel coming face-to-face with his dick, which he'd never seen hard and bare at the same time. He hadn't really seen Daniel's, either, only touched it. He actually salivated at the first sight of it, slick with precome, another bead of it just squeezing out of the tip. Thicker than his, veinier, less curved. Chestnut hair still fluffed from the shower. When Daniel's hips settled, Jack took it by the base. It stood up at more of an angle than his. He'd have to bring it down to his mouth. Or up. Whichever.

Daniel's hand was on his hip. "Don't go all the way down if you'd rather not swallow."

Jack brought the tip to his mouth and gave a long, slow lick. An explosion of alkalinity on his tongue. He took the head into his mouth, sucked very gently. Moaned. It was sweet, it was delicious, it was unbelievable. He pressed down, letting it slide over his tongue, filling his mouth with it, astonished.

Daniel's hand closed around his cock at the same time that his mouth closed over the head. Jack knew competence when he felt it. It would take only seconds for Daniel to bring him off like this. He must be doing it on purpose. He was close. He was bringing Jack with him.

Jack moaned around Daniel's dick, and pushed onto it as far as he could, and made a seal, and sucked.

It burst in his mouth, like a ripe fruit, no contraction, no warning. Daniel had come an hour ago but he still shot hard, spurts of semen hitting Jack's throat just as he inhaled, choking him. He swallowed, and snorted, and sucked; it was noisy and stupid and glorious, intensely intimate, Daniel coming in his mouth, he had to release the seal to breathe but he could breathe, come dribbled over his lip and down his jaw but he swallowed again, he was getting most of it, and then what Daniel was doing to his dick with his mouth and his hand came flowing up his spine and registered in his overstimulated brain and he spasmed into climax. He shoved all the way down on Daniel's pulsing cock, taking the last of the flow right down his throat. Daniel was sucking the come out of him, long fluid muscular swallows, massaging his shaft with his fingers, and it was good, it was so good, messy and awkward and too many stimuli to process and so much better than he could have dreamed.

Daniel stayed hard for a while. Jack didn't know if that meant he hadn't come hard enough or if he always did that. He kept it in his mouth, sucking softly on it, moving his tongue over it. Daniel seemed to like that; he made soft liking-that sort of noises now and then, down where he was stroking Jack's limp dick and balls, a tender, awed sort of exploration that Jack definitely liked, and would have liked in the shower, too, and was sorry now that he'd avoided. When Daniel finally softened, he drew off in a slide of lips intended to leave him as clean as possible, and started to reach up to wipe his face with the back of his hand.

Daniel came around and up so fast it startled him. He wasn't sure if he drew back or Daniel pushed him back; somehow they were straightened again, back on an up-and-down orientation to the bed, and Daniel had hold of his wrist again to stop him dragging it across his face, and Daniel was pressing him back, coming in for a kiss it looked like, but then he said, "No, let me," and licked his own come off Jack's jaw. Jack's mouth opened on a groan and Daniel's fastened on it, tongue sliding in to mix the semen in their mouths, and a sharp ache went through Jack's spent groin.

Daniel kissed him thoroughly, giving him plenty of time to think about how that mouth had just been on his dick, making sure he knew it, making sure he was used to the idea and didn't go mouth-shy. Finally Jack couldn't stop his lips from curving out of the kiss and he pressed Daniel back and let the laughter out and said, "OK, it's OK. No freakage, OK?" He leaned down for the covers, which had rucked up almost off the bottom of the bed, and shook them out straight and came back up with them, and this time he reached for Daniel, and pulled him in, settling him close. Daniel let out a deep, shaky sigh, and then burrowed in.

"I loved doing that," he said softly. "I'll get better at it. I promise."

Daniel nodded. His body seemed fiercely content, but he was very still. Jack didn't know if it was wariness or what. He knew he'd fucked up, pulling back like that before.

He shifted Daniel closer, stroking his head. "I know there's not a lot of time," he said. "I wish ... " He swallowed. "Spilled milk, I guess. You probably would have said no. But I wish I'd offered. To move you in here. Either time you came back. Both times. I should have."

"I'd have loved that," Daniel said, very softly. He hesitated, a slight hitch of breath, and then said, "This is the only place that's felt like home to me in a long time." He smiled. "You'd have hated it, though. All my crap everywhere. You keep this place pathologically clean."

"Neurotically clean," Jack corrected. "Sterile. It's a barracks, not a home. A bunker." He'd built it that way on purpose. No spare room that could be mistaken for a child's bedroom or a guestroom. Space enough only for him. The house fronted on the backyard, turned its back to the street, turned its back on the world. No one had ever spent the night in it, until Daniel. With the exception of his impromptu wake yesterday and the traditional wake he'd hosted the first time they thought Daniel had died, he didn't entertain here. He kept visitors at bay on the deck unless he absolutely had to let them in, which was basically never. Most repairs he did himself; kept himself busy enough with that kind of stuff that there was no time to squeeze a social life in edgewise. Which was how he'd wanted it. "Feels like a home when you're in it, though." He stroked again, not sure how something that close to mush would go over. It was too late. He wasn't going to make it back from this one. Tok'ra and Asgard had other priorities. "When I was on Edora," he said. "You're the one who kept the fridge stocked. Kept the pipes from freezing." Daniel grunted -- not wanting to dislodge Jack's hand from his head by nodding. "Don't do that this time. Use it for something. Move in if you want. Make a library out of it if you don't, dump the furniture and put in shelves. I'd build 'em if I had time. Or rent it for peanuts to some starving grad student. Sell it if you want. Market's good, prime location, you might get enough to set yourself up in independent research if the Air Force pisses you off too much."

"The Air Force always pisses me off," Daniel said. "The only way I can live here is if you're dead. What is it you say? 'Can we not talk about this'?"

"You could always have lived here. That's what pisses me off. The only way you can't live here is if we're doing this."

"Yeah."

They lay there for a while. 0100 clicked by. Seemed to Jack that a benefit of the whole guy-guy thing should be the freedom to sprawl into unconsciousness with no hassle, but neither of them was sleeping. He figured he knew why he wasn't drowsy; low-level adrenaline, his consciousness unwilling to let go, give ground to the Ancients. He hadn't slept well the previous night, either. That had been because he was reaching for the phone and slapping his own hand every five minutes, waiting and hoping to hear Daniel's key in the door, shouting silently at himself for being smitten, for being a pathetic needy wuss, he's pulling an all-nighter in that rock trying to save your ass, O'Neill, let the fucking guy work. Now Daniel was here -- not just here in the house, which was what he'd wanted, but here here, a whole warm wonderful weight of Daniel up against him, all over him -- and he didn't want to lose a moment of it to sleep. But Daniel hadn't slept in something like forty-three hours. No way he should be fighting it. No way he should be able to fight it.

"You're not sleeping," he said.

"Neither are you."

"I slept last night."

"Not much. You were stargazing at five. I saw the ladder."

He thought he'd imagined that the car he heard was Daniel's; by the time he'd looked it had pulled around the curve of road. He'd thought he'd heard what he'd wanted to hear. "Why the hell didn't you come up?"

"I thought you were doing your wounded-animal routine. I didn't come to bother you, I just ... I don't know. It was stupid. I was going to park for a few minutes and sleep, I couldn't sleep at the mountain and I didn't want to go to my place, I just wanted to be ... But the lights were on and you know the sound of my car and I'm a coward so I didn't stop."

"Don't ever do that again?"

"OK."

"You're here now. Go to sleep."

"OK."

But 0130 clicked by and Daniel wasn't sleeping. Jack grumbled, and rolled him over, and spooned up behind him; and that was sweet -- more than sweet, it was heaven, his face in the soft hair, the warm solid bulk against him, the muscled curve of butt fitted to his groin -- but it only sent Daniel's heartbeat going again, only woke him up more. "Daniel," Jack said, nuzzling. "Sleep."

"I can't," Daniel said. Then, almost inaudibly: "I'm so tired ... "

That was new. Daniel's mouth had I'm OK on speed-dial. Soothing lies bubbled up to Jack's lips, endearments that might offend, a surge of love and pain and protectiveness -- years of it that he'd savagely repressed. "I know," he said, and kissed softly down into Daniel's hairline, down into his neck. "I know."

I hurt.

I know.

In the end, that was all they could say to each other.

"I love you, Jack," Daniel said. "I'm in love with you."

OK. Maybe not all all.

"Good," Jack said, gently, and kissed behind Daniel's ear. "I'd hate to be the only one."

He felt Daniel's smile in the contraction of his jaw, and kissed softly behind the jawbone. Daniel shivered, and then relaxed; encouraged, Jack kissed slowly down the tendon in his neck, into the soft flesh where neck met shoulder. He meant to soothe, but he hit a hot spot; Daniel writhed and let out a low unnh, and in the sweet hollow under his butt Jack came abruptly half-hard. A low grunt pushed out of him as Daniel pushed back, and then he was swelling to full hardness and it was pressing into testicles and he was groaning, trying not to thrust into the humid channel, trying not to curl over and come right there.

He willed his hips back, pushed away. Daniel made an exhausted sound of protest. Jack said, "Shhh," and pushed him onto his stomach. Ran his hands up Daniel's back, through a yielding of resistant muscle, and came back down with his fingernails. Daniel moaned, arching up into it. "Reach under," Jack said. "Straighten your dick out." Daniel did that, and then let his arms flop to either side. "Good," Jack said. "Perfect." He straddled Daniel's thighs, which were spread just wide enough that his balls wouldn't rub on them and send him over the edge. He wasn't interested in himself. "Let go," he said, working the heels of his hands back up the strong, beautiful curve of Daniel's spine. "Fall asleep if you can. If you need to come, tell me what to do to make that happen."

Daniel grunted an acknowledgment, and then was quiet except for low moans when knots of muscle gave way under Jack's hands. His neck was bad, from the top of his spine through the back of his head and all across the shoulders, and his lower back felt plated in steel. Jack worked slowly, intently, losing himself in touch, Zenning out, his mind wholly occupied by muscle groups, by ligaments and tendons, using everything he knew about physiognomy, about how muscle stretched and loosened. He wasn't aware of losing his erection until he moved down to ease the tight quads and felt his dangling balls brush an Achilles' tendon; he just hiked up a little and kept working. When he came back up the other leg to readdress the glutes, he found himself between Daniel's legs, which he noticed only because Daniel was spreading them and the sounds he was making had sharpened. When he leaned into Daniel's sacrum, putting weight into the heels of his hands, Daniel groaned out a plea.

He ran his knuckles up Daniel's back and came back down with dull nails. He kept going, scratching lightly down both cheeks, and Daniel pushed up into his hands and pushed his arms over his head and spread wide. "Jack ... " His voice was ragged.

"Daniel," Jack said. Careful inquiry.

"Oh, boy." Daniel shuddered, blew out a breath. "It's OK. Just do what you're doing. It feels really good."

Jack drew his nails down Daniel's butt again, a little closer to the crack. "Tell me," he said, lower.

"You don't ... want ... "

Jack leaned over him. His erection had come raging back. He didn't lift up to keep it from brushing Daniel's ass. He dropped a lingering kiss on Daniel's spine. "Tell me what you want, not what I don't want."

"I can't ask you," Daniel moaned. "Just ... go back to ... "

"Suppose I grab the lube," Jack said against Daniel's backbone. "Suppose I just stroke you a little bit. I don't have to go in. Nothing that might hurt. Just 'til you come."

Daniel groaned into the mattress. Frustration, exhaustion, overload. Muffled, hoarse, he said, "Promise me it doesn't disgust you."

A soft shock went through Jack's body. He lifted his mouth away, he hoped before it transmitted into Daniel's skin. He should have known. Daniel hadn't had any trouble saying what he wanted before. He really thought that deep down this wasn't ... "God, Daniel," he said. "God, no. You are the hottest thing I've ever seen in my life. I want ... " He ran out of breath, or nerve, or both, and mouthed down the valley of spine to the tailbone, pressed his lips to the flesh over the cluster of nerves there, sucked, tongued. Daniel writhed down into the mattress. He raised his mouth, slid his hands around Daniel's hipbones. "Lift for me," he said.

Daniel lifted with a grunt. Jack pulled, helping. When Daniel's knees were under him, he stroked again. Long strokes down his sides, his flanks, his back, his legs. No more unknotting muscles. This was soothing, calming, stimulating. Quieting him. Waking up his skin. He stroked over Daniel's ass, letting his thumbs drift into the crack. Stroked down the backs of his thighs, then turned his hands and stroked his knuckles down the insides of his thighs. Brushed his balls. Did it again, from up behind them.

Reached up, and opened him with his thumbs, running them slowly up the crack, spreading him wide. Leaned in, and licked him, long and slow, from balls to anus.

Daniel groaned his name into the pillow, high and shocked.

This feel like disgust to you? he almost said, but that would have meant reassigning his tongue to the act of talking, and it was busy winging a rimjob.

He pushed his face in, sucking. He traced the hole with his tongue, outside and then inside. Inside was better. A tart explosion of flavor, still shower-clean. A throbbing swell of texture, a kind of juicyness. It trembled on his tongue, fluttered through a complexity of contractions, opened in a pleading bloom and then shyly shrank again. Daniel wasn't in control of it; his body was relaxed, humming with pleasure but utterly receptive. Jack had a fierce intuition that he was the first person who'd ever done this. He felt a savage, hungry possessiveness. He wanted to eat him alive from the inside out. He wanted to tease him until he wept and begged. He channeled it into wet, intense tenderness. Licking. Circling. He slid his thumbs inward, massaging through his own saliva, and pressed, pulling the hole open. The flesh was exquisite. Exquisitely sensitive.

Daniel's shaky gasps hit a vocal note. Jack drew back reluctantly. Daniel's balls were drawn up tight. "Stay there," he said. He put his right hand on a butt cheek and squeezed gently as he leaned over, yanked the drawer out, rummaged past pencil stubs and Mace and prescription containers 'til he found the tube and bottle he was looking for. He came back with the bottle. Popped the cap one-handed, and drizzled cool lube into the crack.

He pressed his thumbs in, massaging through the slickness. Stroking and spreading Daniel's asshole in firm, rhythmic half-circles, bottom to top and top to bottom. Slowly he deepened the massage, rubbing into the sphincter, easing it, widening it. Daniel's upper body had gone completely limp, sunken into the pillow and the bedding and the mattress. He was groaning almost continuously, drugged with pleasure. Jack kept one hand in to keep him spread and poured more lube, over the hole, over his hand. He began to work it in with one thumb in long, slow, firm circles.

He felt the anus ease. With infinite care, he pushed his thumb into Daniel's body.

"Unh," Daniel said. "Unnh ... unnnh ... " The heels of his hands were digging into the mattress, pushing.

It sounded and looked like raw sexual ecstasy, but sometimes there was no telling ecstasy from anguish. Sometimes orgasm sounded like protest, or despair, or agony. He might be trying to get Jack to stop.

Jack leaned down next to him, pressed against him, put his mouth against Daniel's ear, hoped he didn't mind the hard cock jammed into his flank. "Does it hurt?"

"No," Daniel said, very low but very clearly. "I want more."

"Are you lying?"

There was that knife-edge flash of smile. It could have been a wince. It was sharp and so beautiful it took Jack's breath away. "No," Daniel said. He pushed back onto Jack's hand with a groan, glazing over for a second, and then the smile flashed again. "I'll never ... lie to you when you ... have your finger up my ... ass."

"Promise?" Jack said, close against his ear, taunting a little bit. Moving his thumb a little bit. Swirling it farther in.

Daniel contracted on it. His teeth clenched, his eyes lost focus and closed. "Jack, do it. I want you to."

"You're too tight." Jack turned his thumb, wriggled it a little, felt the hot, slick insides of Daniel flare in response.

"Tight is good," Daniel said. "Tight will blow your mind. Put it in."

"Daniel." Jack brushed lips around the curve of cartilage, tugged softly on an earlobe. "You'll come like this. It'll be sweet." He was really liking being down here next to Daniel. The awkward position wasn't comfortable, but the closeness was good. He drew his thumb out, and before Daniel had finished swearing at him he eased two slick fingers in. His cock gave a hard twitch at the greedy way Daniel's body sucked them in. A deep twinge of jealousy followed. Sexual jealousy. Not something he was prone to. He didn't want to know who'd taught Daniel's body that kind of hunger. He didn't care how long ago it was.

He probed for the gland, inchworming his fingers along the hot, smooth muscle. Needed to relube. "Ease down," he said, elbowing up to take Daniel by the hip, press his pelvis back down into the bed. "Get comfortable." He reached under to smooth Daniel's erection up straight, and Daniel thrust into his hand, ass clenching on his fingers. Both of them nearly lost it. Jesus. OK. Passive was an option for this guy. Not a default.

He dragged his hand out from under Daniel. He poured out more lube and entered him again with his fingers, lying down next to him, partially on him. Daniel made that raw, sobbing sound again. This was starting to feel a lot like sex. A lot like fucking, as Jack thrust inside him, working deeper. There was almost no resistance. It was tight, but it wasn't fighting him. He probed forward, his face pressed into the swell of muscle at Daniel's shoulder. He didn't know if he'd feel it; he'd never felt it in himself, not under his fingertips.

Then he did. He stroked it.

"Oh god," Daniel breathed. "Right there. Oh, oh, oh ... "

Jack flushed hot. "Yeah," he said, stroking, rubbing, circling. "That's it."

He caressed it for a long time, lightly, varying the motions. He drank in Daniel's moans, the tremors that rippled down his body. His fingers made soft sucking sounds. He increased the pressure a little bit, began to piston gently.

Daniel had broken a sweat and jammed his forehead down into the mattress, shoving the pillow away. "Jack," he said. "Please."

"It's good," Jack said, finding his ear again. It was burning hot. "Let go. Let it go."

"I want more. Go in."

Jack gave him a little more -- more pressure, more motion, more stimulation, more of a feel of fucking -- and Daniel's hips pushed back, demanding more, and Daniel made a broken sound.

"Jack, I want to come on it. Put it in."

Jack eased off the prostate, eased his fingers back a little, a holding pattern, stimulating the hole instead of the gland. "You won't come on my cock. It'll hurt and you won't come at all for a long time. You're so close. Let me. Like this. Let me."

Daniel made a despairing sound and turned his head. "If you don't want to put your dick in my ass, say so."

"You have to argue with me now?"

"Do you not want to penetrate me, Jack?"

"I'm not fucking you to prove how much I want you!"

"Answer the question."

Jack broke. "Yes, I want to put my dick in your damn ass, Daniel. I want to fuck you so deep you forget whoever had you before and all you think about is me. I want you, I want to mark you, I want to own you, I want to fuck you, yes, goddammit, yes, yes." The harsher and more uncontrolled his words got the more tenderly his hand moved, but he'd drawn it out and was pushing it in over and over again, slow gentle repeated entries, fucking him, claiming him. "Please come, Daniel," he said, softly, out of steam, pleading. "I can't satisfy you with my dick, I'm too close, I'll lose it."

"Try," Daniel said. He reached back, found Jack's hand, drew it out of him. Stroked the slick fingers; it was like Daniel stroking his dick, and he groaned into his shoulder. "I've wanted this from you for eight years. It's important. Jack. Do it."

Numbly, Jack lifted himself, moved between Daniel's legs. He was shaking. The position of sexual submission alone was almost too much for him. He found the bottle and poured lube over his cock. He'd meant to use the gel but he couldn't touch himself or he'd blow. It was important. It was too important to fuck up.

It was too important to ever do.

Daniel reached back and spread himself. The hole was slick, open, pleading. Daniel wanted this. He had to try.

He leaned down. Put his weight on one elbow. Reached between them. Somehow found what felt like the right angle, the right leverage.

He pushed the head inside.

Daniel's body rose up under him like a wave, a surge of muscle and backbone. He let go of himself and clawed the sheet, fisted it. "Oh my god."

Jack was vibrating with the intense effort of self-control. "Does it hurt?"

"No." Daniel sounded surprised. "Push. Push in. All the way."

He pushed. There was no resistance. He sank in all the way. Balls-deep. Burning hot. Slick. Tight. He was in. Oh, fuck ...

"Oh god," Daniel said, rising, pushing up from under him. "Oh god, oh my god -- unnnnhh, Jack fuck me, deep, fuck me, fuck me ... "

Jack rolled into him, rocked deep into the slickness and the heat, rocked inside him. Daniel came and he came too, curling down into Daniel. Daniel's ass clenched on Jack's hard pulsing cock in waves. Daniel's sharp involuntary gasps punctuated Jack's long keening helpless cry. Daniel's fists tore the bottom sheet off the corners of the mattress. Jack's fist clenched in Daniel's hair. His mouth drove down into Daniel's shoulder. He bit down, hard, and Daniel wrenched, pumping painfully, pumping dry.

After a while, he let go of Daniel's hair. He tried to move that hand over Daniel's, get him to relax his fist, but his arm only flopped to the side. Daniel's breathing was slowing down but his heart was still pounding. Jack thought he should shift his weight off, and the next thing he knew it was some indeterminate amount of time later and he'd slewed to the side, onto one arm and one leg, still three-quarters across Daniel. His penis had slid out in a wet smear and lay at an angle between his groin and the back of Daniel's thigh. He didn't know if Daniel had shifted, or what had made him slide. Daniel's chest rose and fell, slowly. Heartbeat strong and regular. Deeply asleep.

He put his hand on the back of Daniel's neck, possessively.

He fell asleep.

He woke up into a redolence of sex and sweat. He was on his side, facing Daniel. Daniel was sitting up, reaching down for the sheet. He pulled it over them. Pressed Jack onto his back. Jack rolled over onto his other side and drew Daniel in against the back of him, helped tuck the sheet around. Daniel spooned in and slumped almost instantly into a snore. Dead out. Exhausted. Breath against the back of Jack's neck. More than sweet. Peaceful, lulling. A rhythmic caress.

"I don't want to leave you, Daniel," he said, very low, into the darkness. "I don't want to be another thing you love and lose."

Daniel tightened on him in his sleep, murmuring, and didn't let go.