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Ages and Ambushes

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There is freedom within, there is freedom without
Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
There's a battle ahead, many battles are lost
But you'll never see the end of the road
While you're traveling with me 

 



Pulling up on the barbell, Daniel grit his teeth and flexed his left bicep. To his satisfaction, there was more tightness than pain. Breathing out on the release, breathing in on the curl, he worked the damaged muscles. The last fifteen were a bit of a bitch, but a few days ago it had been twenty five. Getting up, he returned the barbell to the weight rack and fingered the back of his arm. The wound was tender but healing; there'd be a scar to add to his collection.

Finishing his tri-weekly routine, he tossed the gym towel over his shoulder and headed back to the locker room. The mist of shower steam hit his face as he entered and he was once more glad for the cleanliness of this civilian gym. The moment the new Gold's had opened up, he'd become a member. While he appreciated the convenience of the gym at the base, his exercises could be done anywhere and he preferred the upgraded digital bikes and treadmill machines. But when it came down to the showers afterward, he preferred to wait until he got home. After ten years of community living, he'd rather deal with dried sweat than shower one more damn time in a place that smelled like his boots after a swamp mission. Though the base gym was kept tidy and vented, it was underground and encased in cement, which led to an inevitable, lingering smell.

The odor wasn't overpowering, but he got sick and tired of it after a while. The civilian gym smelled better, but Daniel still preferred to wait until he got home. Gold's had individual showers, but the lockers were still communal. He was beyond tired of that.

Daniel sighed to himself, recognizing that he was getting annoyed by things that never bothered him before, overreacting to the inconsequential. It wasn't a matter of needing a vacation. It was burn-out. He used to get a thrill when going to work; there had always been an anticipatory rush. Now he was beginning to entertain notions about calling in sick ... as if he could. He still loved his career and knew he'd never choose to do anything else, but maybe it was time to hang up the SGC. Sooner or later he'd have to make a decision, and he'd better do it before it was chosen for him. The only reason he hadn't was that he'd miss his friends. It wasn't like he'd never see them again, but it would be close. There were plenty of replacements for his position, but he liked to think that the SGC (namely Jack) couldn't find anyone else with his insight and expertise. Arrogant and egotistical, but also true.

On the way home, he absently rubbed the itchy wound against the cushioned seat before he caught himself. He should have put his shirt on over his tank top, but it was too warm a day. As he ordered himself to ignore the itching, he recalled the reason for the wound in the first place: a staff weapon. He'd had more than his share of injuries in the last ... jesus ... fourteen years, but he'd learned to avoid the staff weapons. So what happened this time? Jack and Sam had tried to reassure him that he'd simply been nailed as he dove for cover but he knew better. His timing was off. Yet one more item to add to the burn-out list.

 

. .

 

Daniel pushed the shower curtain aside and grabbed the towel off the bar, rubbing his face dry as he stepped out of the tub. In front of the mirror, he turned to examine his wound and grimaced. There were a few small dots of bleeding, places where the dead skin had been washed away.

"Dammit," he whispered in disgust. He tossed his towel on the toilet seat and grabbed some tissues, patting his arm dry before covering the wound with a bandage. As he worked, he recalled the last time he'd been hit in the right arm: that transfer to the parallel universe. My god, he'd been so green back then. And he still marveled that those people had sacrificed themselves in order to get him home. There'd been that look that Alternate Jack had given him, right before he'd made his decision. At the time, Daniel had had no idea what it was, but after so many years with Jack, he knew it had been some kind of recognition. The alternate guy hadn't known him, but perhaps there'd been that simple acceptance of trust? Maybe it was the same sort of trust he had earned from his own Jack O'Neill? Maybe. It didn't really make sense, but Daniel decided to pretend it did.

Bandage finished, he grabbed up the towel and rubbed the excess water out of his hair before moving on to the rest. Scratching his face, he plugged in his shaver and got rid of the five o'clock shadow. Next came the other stubble, under the arms and between the legs. He had no personal reason to shave those areas, but when he was out in the field, he needed to keep moist areas clear. It was a hygienic habit he'd picked up during his expeditions, then continued on Abydos and at the SGC.

As he rubbed his skin with moisturizer, he grinned to himself, remembering Jack's first response to his underarm shaving. "You know, I get keeping your crotch clean, but under the arms is man territory. It's sacrosanct." It hadn't been so much the words as it had been the way Jack had said them, so from then on during post-mission clean-ups, Daniel had taken to shaving his underarms in front of Jack (whether he needed it or not). The grimace on Jack's face had been worth it. Of course Jack, being the ultimate competitor, had found payback: He began to purposefully pick his nose. When Daniel had asked him not to do it in front of others (getting backup from Sam), Jack's reply had been, "Underarms, Daniel. Underarms." Naturally, a silly argument had ensued.

Daniel snorted at the memory. Jack and his silly competitions. It was one thing he'd actually miss. With a sigh, he slipped on his old grey gym shorts, the ones he preferred wearing on hot days, and headed for the kitchen. Iced tea sounded good. So did an iced mochachino. He paused and stared at his espresso machine, making up his mind. He fixed up a tall glass of iced tea from the pitcher in the fridge, and looked for something fresh to eat, but the only things he had were condiments, beer, soda, tea, bottled water. The freezer had the frozen meals.

This was yet another item for the list. He was so sick and tired of not having anything fresh. Not that the frozen stuff wasn't good, but he missed having raw fruit and vegetables and being able to make a salad without having to go to the store first. He missed grapefruit for breakfast. And toast, eggs, bacon, sausage. While he could get most of those things at the SGC Mess, it wasn't home-cooked. For twelve years, he hadn't been able to keep anything that had a limited shelf life.

"Hell with it," he growled to himself, slamming the freezer door shut. He returned to the bedroom, got into his jeans, pulled on a t-shirt, slid into his sandals, grabbed his keys, and left the house. He was going to have a salad and BLT for dinner. Screw the 'shelf life' stuff.

 

. .

 

When he approached his house, Jack's truck was out front. Curious, Daniel pulled in, shut off the car, and popped the trunk. Jack had gotten out of his truck and was rounding the front when Daniel noticed what he was wearing. Nothing out of the ordinary, especially the loose-fitting jeans, but he wore a black polo shirt. The last time Daniel had seen that shirt, it had been during a visit he'd made to Jack's house nine years ago; the one where Jack had told him that their friendship had no foundation. Like snuffing out a flame, Daniel locked away the image and memory and only allowed that Jack still looked good in that shirt nine years later.

"Jack," he called over as he grabbed the four bags out of the trunk. Closing it, he keyed the locks and the alarm.

"Daniel."

"What, uh, brings you by?"

Jack waved his hand. "Just came by to see how you're doing."

Daniel's curiosity intensified. "Really?" he asked as he passed him. Opening the front door, he moved the bags to his right hand as he punched the alarm code. Jack appeared in the doorway and instead of coming in, he seemed to hover, waiting for invitation. It was a bittersweet moment; he never used to wait. "You saw me this morning."

"I know," Jack replied.

Daniel's gaze flickered over Jack's hands as he fiddled with his keys, Jackspeak for awkward, meaning that he had something on his mind and didn't have a clue what the response would be. Daniel knew it wasn't a place Jack liked to be. He liked to start his conversations having already rehearsed what he'd say, what the other person would say, and the counter-arguments. It was kind of depressing, not liking surprises. But it was very methodical, very pragmatic. Very Jack.

"Okay, well, come on in," Daniel said as he headed into the kitchen. "Beer's, uh, in the fridge if you want one."

"Seriously?"

Daniel grinned as he set the bags on the counter. "Yeah, seriously. It's been in there a while." He looked over at Jack as he came in.

"God, I guess," Jack drawled, knowing it had indeed been a while.

"Guinness though, not the Heineken you're drinking now."

"Well that'll do," Jack said with a sarcastic smile as he fetched a beer. He pulled out another, offering it to Daniel, but Daniel thumbed at the glass of iced tea he'd left by the espresso machine.

"So what's up?" Daniel asked as he began putting most of the groceries away but leaving out the salad ingredients and the bacon.

"I was just wondering ..." Jack began, watching him. "Whatcha making?"

That wasn't what he wanted to ask, Daniel told himself; Jack had allowed himself to be sidetracked. "BLT and salad." He paused, cutting board in one hand and a tomato in the other. "I've enough for two if you wanna join me for dinner."

Jack smiled. A rare, toothy smile. "Yeah, okay."

"Good," Daniel said, handing him the cutting board and tomato. "You're helping."

"Deal," Jack replied, setting the things on the counter. He took a paring knife off the cutlery strip over the backsplash.

Daniel was even more curious about Jack's visit but he let it go for now. For the next several minutes, neither of them spoke until the salad was done and the bacon was in the frying pan. Washing his hands, Daniel looked at friend, knotting his brows in that perplexed expression he knew Jack recognized.

"You're wondering why I came by," Jack offered.

Daniel wanted to say, "Well, no shit. You never answered the question." Instead, he just gave him a slight jog of his brows as he fished a set of tongs from the drawer and returned to the stove.

After a few beats of silence and sips from his beer, Jack said, "I've asked Davis to mind the store while I take off for the weekend."

"Command finally driving you mad?" Daniel asked with a grin.

"Already there."

Daniel grinned but said nothing. He was readying himself for the question he assumed Jack would ask, but Jack could be unpredictable at times, and really, more often than not, he ended up doing the opposite of what people expected simply because he didn't like predictability. For a pragmatic sort of man, Jack was a conundrum.

"Was wondering if you'd like to join me."

Daniel knew he'd failed to keep the surprise from his face. He had a few questions but they could always wait. "Okay," he said with a nod.

"Okay?" Jack asked, eyes wide with surprise.

Daniel spit-taked the swallow of iced tea and laughed. Now it was Jack's turn to be surprised. "You expected me to say no?"

Jack cleared his throat. "Yeah, actually."

Daniel frowned at him in that I'm confused sort of way. "Then why'd you ask?"

Jack twisted his mouth. "I was ready to talk you into it."

With a smile and a shake of his head, Daniel fussed with the bacon. "You never did like the easy way."

"C'mon, it's why you love me."

Daniel coughed and gave Jack a sidelong look. "Shouldn't you be cutting up the tomatoes or breaking up lettuce? Slicing up the bread?"

Jack frowned in confusion and looked around. "Bread?"

Daniel snorted softly and pointed at the Parmesan and Black Olive focaccia. "We're using that."

Jack made an impressed face and opened the plastic. "Sliced which way?"

"Horizontal. Let's you make the most of the baked topping."

"Nice," Jack agreed, and went about slicing the bread and cutting up the vegetables.

Daniel was amused that he didn't bother asking where the bread knife was. He simply looked for it when he didn't see it on the magnetic strip. Strangely, it made him wonder about a few things. Was their relationship really that comfortable? Apparently. But if they'd sat down and answered that question in a Cosmo questionnaire, Daniel pretty much knew that neither of them would have known what to say.

The thing with them ... they just did things. Ask, answer. Yes, no. Go, stop. Do, not do. Given that they rarely hung out anymore since Jack took command, it was probably a little weird.

Setting aside the internal questions, Daniel glanced at his watch. "When did you want to head up there?"

Jack paused a moment over the tomato, giving Daniel a cautious look. "You into driving at night?"

Daniel blew a raspberry. "Not really."

"How about leaving on a jet plane?"

Daniel snorted, but he caught the cautious look on Jack's face. "Oh no, you're serious." He was rewarded with a mischievous grin, making him take a deep breath and sigh. "Jet plane. As in ...?"

"F-18."

"Jack," Daniel complained, only partially meaning it. A jet would save time, but his legs were always a little wobbly after a flight and he hated looking weak in front of military personnel. "Where will the bags go?"

"There's space behind the second seat."

"Very little space," Daniel snorted.

"Relax. It's a night flight. There won't be as many people to see you get out of the jet."

Daniel froze and stared at the bacon. Jack couldn't possibly have guessed ... He looked over. "What's that mean? I'm not supposed to be in the jet?"

Jack's expression was a bit smug. "I'm the General. You're authorized. But I'm talking about your jet version of sea legs."

"Right," Daniel winced. As Jack emptied his beer, Daniel thought quickly to change the subject. "How's Teal'c?"

Jack gave him a look that said, Fine, we'll change the subject. "Doing well as the new Jaffa leader. He'll be taking a break from that next week, escorting Ronon Dex to the SGC for his officialbriefing."

Daniel snorted. "He'll have his hands full there."

"Why's that?" Jack asked, puzzled.

Daniel gave Jack an equally puzzled look. "I thought you've already met Ronon Dex."

Jack shook his head. "Not yet."

"Ah. Well," Daniel began, jogging his head from side to side. "Let's just say getting those two together will be an interesting test in Jaffa testosterone."

Jack grinned. "I may not have met him, Daniel, but Carter's kept me up to date."

Daniel dropped his head back a little, silently scolding himself for somehow forgetting that Sam would be sending him progress reports from Atlantis. "Right."

"I think Teal'c's over that phase anyway," Jack said with a dry tone.

"Ronon is a walking advertisement for Alpha Male Syndrome. Teal'c may have age and wisdom on his side but Ronon will force him into some sort of power play." He looked over and found Jack grinning his head off. "Keep grinning."

"C'mon, Daniel, it'll be a hoot."

"If you say so."



"Ladies and Gentlemen, this'll be a movie-free, food-free flight. Please keep your seats and tray tables in their upright and locked positions. Now just remember where the ground is after we land and everything will be fine."

Jack's voice over the flight comm headset was a little more bass than usual. It hadn't sounded like this the last time. Was it the headset or had the audio system been upgraded?

"Daniel?"

"Jack?"

"Okay, you can hear me."

"Yes, Jack, I hear you just fine. Pretty good, actually. But I'm trying to ignore you until you say something relevant."

"So I should let you know if we're gonna crash, that sort of thing?"

Daniel smirked. "That'd be nice."

Daniel could just imagine Jack's matching smirk. Prepared for the inevitable jolt when the jet would go from zero miles per hour to "jesus-christ-this-sucker's-fast" miles per hour, he still went rigid and his stomach flipped. He hated take-offs and landings. Once in the air, he was fine. He trusted Jack's flying, with a few exceptions; since this was a night flight, he was almost sure that Jack wouldn't pull any rolls. If he did, he'd be taking a midnight swim later. Cautiously, he closed his eyes, thinking a little meditation would help.

"Stars look nice."

Daniel opened his eyes, his brows furrowing again. Jack was talking. Or rather, making small talk. When had he started that habit? Even if he was nervous for some reason, being in the cockpit of a jet always relaxed him. Like a jockey on a horse. So why the conversation? Maybe he'd find out if he went with it.

"They do." Silence passed, and just when Daniel decided that the small talk was finished, Jack started up again.

"Speed's mach one. It's just under 850 miles so it should take us a little over an hour to get there."

Now he's babbling, stating the unnecessary. This was an interesting turn of events. "Where're we landing?" Daniel asked, already having a picture in head.

"At the 148th in Duluth."

Daniel remembered that was the fighter wing at the Air National Guard base. They'd taken a C-130 from there to Russia some years ago. "Got a rental waiting?"

"Tsk, tsk, Daniel."

"Oh right, you're a General." He didn't know whether Jack meant there was a military car waiting or whether the Air Force was picking up the tab for a rental. Either way, he hoped they weren't going to be escorted. "But you're driving, right?"

"Not too keen on chauffeurs?"

"Not really."

"Me neither. But they're handy in DC"

Daniel's brows went up in agreement. "Now that would be a nice perk."



The sun was streaming through the thin curtains, enveloping half the bed. Eyes half-open, Daniel didn't recognize them, and for a few seconds, didn't remember where he was, either. Raising his arm to look at his watch, the blurry image told him it was almost half past six in the morning. He never could sleep in. He could go back to sleep easily, but all those damn years in the field made sure he was up not long after the sun.

Sitting up, he scratched at his scalp with one hand while he reached for his glasses with the other. Sliding out of bed, he straightened his white tank top and the pale blue drawstring pajama bottoms, then headed for the bathroom. After relieving himself, he passed Jack's bedroom. With a quick glance through the door, he found it empty, and continued on toward the kitchen. The smell of coffee told him Jack was up too; like him, he could never sleep in.

Retrieving a mug from the cupboard, he poured himself a cup, then yawned as he went looking for Jack. It was out of long-ingrained habit, and part of being SG-1. Always check on your teammates. A look through the side window in the living room found Jack on the dock in that hundred-year old plastic chair. Satisfied, Daniel headed back to the bathroom to wash up.


. . .

He'd changed his pajama bottoms for jeans and padded barefoot onto the dock. Jack was sitting there in his tank top and boxer shorts and a brief smirk flitted over Daniel's face.

"Morning."

"Morning," Jack said, yawning mightily. "I gotta stop waking up at the crack of dawn."

Daniel nodded as he sat down on the deck and crossed his legs.

"I wish I could still do that," Jack said.

"What?" Daniel asked, looking up at him. He found Jack's gaze on his legs and looked down. "Oh yeah. I don't know why I still can, actually. All those injuries to my legs over the years and not one in the knees. Go figure."

"You're a lucky bastard," Jack grinned as he sipped his coffee.

Daniel found humor in his eyes and returned it. "Maybe."

Silence grew between them, comfortable and easy, stretching out the minutes for a calm, peaceful morning. Or at least it seemed calm to Daniel. It should be to Jack, too, though he couldn't read his mind obviously. Frankly, Jack's mood should match his own. He wasn't being subjected to Daniel's fast talking. He knew he ran off at the mouth, but most of the time it was out of a hatred of being interrupted, and where Jack was concerned, it was out of a need to tell him something he didn't have long to explain due to Jack's impatience. Deep down, he loved that about Jack, though he'd never tell him that, never mind fully admit it to himself.

"So," Jack finally said, his gaze still focused somewhere across the water. "Wanna tell me what's been on your mind?"

Daniel looked up at him, surprised, and a few seconds later, he shook his head. Leave it to Jack to notice, then say something before he had time to rehearse a speech. But what would be served by thinking up a speech?

Delay.

Briefly pressing his lips together in a thin line, he sighed, and made the decision to just up and say it. But before he got the first word out, Jack surprised him first.

"I've been offered head of Homeworld Security."

Even more surprised, Daniel was torn between happiness and concern; the latter was due to the stress Jack was already under. Getting a seat at the Pentagon would make it worse; Jack wasn't intended to be a desk jockey. "Congratulations," Daniel offered, knowing the tone in his voice didn't match. He just couldn't pretend.

"Thanks," Jack nodded. "I declined."

The relief was obvious on Daniel's face and he didn't bother to hide it. Still ... "Why?"

"Because it's a bullshit job title," Jack replied with a grimace. "The head of Stargate Command does the same damn job with fewer headaches. And no goddamn meetings with that underqualified oversight committee." Jack shook his head as he raised his mug to his mouth. "God, I hate those people."

"You and me both," Daniel agreed, immediately thinking of Woolsey and that whiney prat from France. Then he thought of the reason why Jack would have been offered the job. "Is Hammond finally retiring?"

"Yep," Jack replied.

Daniel nodded, and didn't bother to add anything. He completely understood.

"Which brings me to you," Jack went on, looking down at him.

Daniel saw something in Jack's eyes he couldn't discern. A warmth radiated from his chest and he immediately looked away, staring at the leaves floating across the water. He wasn't ready to say it after all.

"You want to leave, don't you?"

A lump rose in Daniel's throat. He couldn't answer, and he kept his gaze averted, not wanting to see if Jack was still looking at him.

"For Atlantis," Jack said, sighing.

That brought Daniel up short and he looked up, meeting Jack's eyes for a few seconds. He looked away, shaking his head. "No, not ... exactly."

Jack suddenly sat forward and turned his chair. "Hey," he said, slapping the back of his hand against Daniel's shoulder. "What then?" When Daniel looked up finally, he added with that infamous cocky grin, "Contrary to popular belief, I don't read minds."

Daniel gave him a fleeting grin in return before closing his eyes and sighing. When he opened them again, he gazed into his coffee. "I'm tired, Jack."

Jack sat back, then nudged Daniel's knee with his foot. "So am I, but you don't see me heading for Palenque because it's all gone sour here."

Daniel threw him a dirty look. "That's not fair."

Silence stretched between them as Jack seemed to study him. "Give it another year."

"Then what?" Daniel asked, gesturing at the air in frustration. "It won't change anything."

Jack sighed and stood up. "Maybe. But we'll talk about it later." With another nudge from his foot, he walked off back down the dock. "Come on. Time for breakfast."

Daniel didn't know what the hell else could be said about it, but as he rose and followed, he decided to give Jack the chance to change his mind. Not that he thought he'd succeed, but consideration counted for something.


. . .

To Daniel's relief, breakfast held no further talk about staying at the SGC. That relief turned to surprise as the day wore on. Through an hour of cutting wood, a few hours of chess, a few more out on the dock, Daniel kept expecting Jack to revisit the argument, but he remained mute. Instead, conversation turned to reminiscing, and this was almost as strange to Daniel. It reminded him of seniors talking about "the old days", the end of an era. In a way, it was, but Daniel was more troubled by the forced confrontation of age. Jack had never seemed 'old' to Daniel, despite the gray hair, the arthritis, and the passage of time. Now here he was, talking about the time when Teal'c had had his first Earth meal, courtesy of the Mess Hall. Or when Carter had puked up her breakfast because Jack had conveniently forgotten to warn her about the effects of the first trip through a wormhole.

Daniel couldn't help but get caught up in the memory exchanges. Jack still had the ability to draw him out of his thoughts, though there was an ache of sadness that went with it; there were gaps in the memory now. The reminiscing moved from the dock into the cabin kitchen and despite Jack's insistence on making dinner himself, Daniel managed to get in and help; something he was still good at.

After dinner, Daniel took on the dishes, allowing his mind to wander as he went on his own private memory walk. Naturally, thinking of the past made him curious about the future. He wondered how his grandfather was doing, if Skaara was handling his ascension as gracefully as Daniel assumed he was. Definitely better than he himself had. Skaara had always had a thoughtful nature.

He was lost in other events, other people, when Jack momentarily appeared beside him to set a few bowls into the sink. He was gone a few seconds later, but lingering behind was his body odor, musky and light, with the scent of soap and clean sweat. Daniel always marked it as Jack's Scent, something familiar and dismissible. But this time, as Daniel continued to wash and rinse, he found himself focusing on that smell. For the first time in his association with Jack, the scent caused a flutter in his stomach and a belly heat that always indicated arousal.

He furrowed his brows, puzzled and confused. Sure, Jack was handsome, charismatic, but those things had always been facts, nothing worth an extra thought. So when the hell had his platonic feelings turned sexual? He hunted for an answer as he finished the dishes and grabbed the kitchen towel to dry his hands. Leaning against the counter, annoyance blossomed when the solution evaded him. At that moment, Jack came in holding two snifters. Silently, he offered Daniel one of them.

"Been saving this," he said, raising his glass. "Salute."

"Salute," Daniel repeated mechanically, sniffing the old brandy before taking a sip. "Nice," he nodded approvingly.

Jack nodded, examining Daniel's face. "That was a serious expression you had when I came in. Care to share?"

The corner of Daniel's mouth twitched. "Not really." He clicked Jack's glass as he passed him, heading for the living room. "In the mood for another game of chess?"

It was a few moments before Jack answered, "Sure, why not." Daniel barely registered the pause of curiosity from Jack, still mulling over what had just happened that had, in actuality, just altered his world. Sitting in one of the two armchairs with a chess table between them, he sat forward and stared at the chessboard, his thoughts far from strategy. What was he going to do with this new-found perspective? He couldn't ignore it. It was too profound a change. Should he share it with Jack? Perhaps, but not like a researcher who'd just discovered the gene for schizophrenia. This wasn't aproblem to solve.

Annoyingly, he thought back to Jack's request that he stay at the SGC, and the new perspective had him reading more into it than he normally would have. Jack had never shown any romantic interest, but then the professional officer and soldier wouldn't. Still, Daniel had a feeling there was more to his request. What about all those times Jack refused to give his permission about moving to Atlantis? Temporary stays were all that he'd been granted, even now. A quiet voice he'd been trying to ignore said, He loves you and won't give you up.

"Ridiculous," Daniel said, and realized with quiet horror that he'd said it out loud.

Jack gave him another puzzled look. They were on their twelfth move and Daniel was clearly on defense, his second knight captured. This wasn't normal. Jack set his snifter beside the board and rested his forearms on his knees.

"Your mind is somewhere else. What's going on?"

Daniel looked up, and grew dismayed at the way his stomach fluttered just by Jack's return gaze. Then there was the sexiness of Jack's throat that he'd never noticed before, along with the light chest hair peeking through the open collar of his red and black plaid shirt. Frustrated, Daniel swallowed the rest of his brandy, pausing through the burn of alcohol before he set his glass next to Jack's. "Why do you want me to stay?" he asked, and the voice scolded him for being a coward. When Jack hesitated in his answer, Daniel blurted out, "For that matter, why don't you grant me permission to move to Atlantis? Or to work on that dig in Cairo? Or anywhere else that ..." He trailed off, shaking his head.

Jack took a moment, staring back at him, and an angry expression crossed his face that usually presaged a cross argument. But to Daniel's surprise, Jack's expression softened to something he couldn't read and he didn't answer for a few minutes. He picked the king off the chessboard and fiddled with it, as if it gave him focus. It probably did, Daniel mused. Jack always had to have a prop. If he didn't have one handy, he'd pace.

Jack cleared his throat. "Remember '888?"

The dig with Rothman and SG-11, and Daniel's first meeting with Chaka. "Yes," he asked, trying to figure out ahead of time why Jack was asking.

"Nicaragua?"

"Yes," Daniel answered, even more confused.

"PX3-808, the mission with SG-6?"

When the gate had connected with a black hole while Daniel was off-world. Daniel frowned. "Yeah."

"Avidan?"

Daniel's frown deepened as he briefly closed his eyes. The planet with the cold war countries and war of ideology. The planet he'd begged Jack to go back to in order to help. "Yes," he drawled.

"Naquadah mining on P3X-403?"

With the Unas tribes and the barely averted war. Daniel started to grow annoyed. These were all examples of events where he'd been separated from SG-1. Or ... more accurately, from Jack. "Okay, fair enough, but what about you?"

Jack blinked at him. "Not getting you."

Daniel snorted with disbelief. "Downloading the Ancients' knowledge that second time. Do you think that was just a walk in the park for me?"

Jack's jaw flexed as he side-stepped Daniel's counter-argument. "The point is ... those things I listed answer to your secondary questions. Almost every damn time you're sent off without SG-1, something happens. Something meaning bad. I don't believe in mystical crap, but this has a pattern I can't ignore."

Daniel scowled at him. "Actually, I think you mean every time I go off without you."

Jack side-stepped that too. "Whatever, the result is the same."

Daniel sighed heavily and passed a hand through his hair. "Jack, much as I get what you're saying and much as I appreciate the concern, I don't want or need your protection. Long before we met, I was going on digs and traipsing through unfriendly territory." Jack didn't reply, but Daniel could tell from long experience that he was searching for a counter-argument. "So what's the answer to my primary question?"

Jack shook his head and got up, grabbing the glasses. "Refill?" he asked, heading for the bar.

"Yeah, thanks," Daniel replied, even more confused by the tired resignation in Jack's tone. He got up and followed Jack over to the bar, fixing his gaze on Jack's face as he poured another two fingers of brandy in each glass. "What's this really all about? The fear that I'll get killed on a mission one day? I'm sorry but that doesn't make sense, given that that's been a reality for me ever since I earned my doctorates, and even more a reality since joining SG-1. The same goes for you, Sam, Teal'c, and everyone else, on-world and off."

Jack paused, staring at the bottle of brandy. He sighed and handed Daniel his refilled snifter. Clinking their glasses together, he said, "Maybe I'm getting too old for this. Or maybe I'm way past the point of wanting to face that fear."

Daniel nodded in agreement as he stared into his glass. He could smell Jack's Scent again, standing this close, and tried to ignore it this time. "I get that. Maybe it's even a part of why I want to leave, though I hadn't actually, consciously, considered that."

"And maybe there's another reason I haven't fully explored," Jack said.

Daniel jogged his brows, knowing that was true for himself, as well. Further discussion about it was on the tip of his tongue when Jack took hold of his glass. Daniel looked up, puzzled, and suddenly that flutter and deep belly burn returned full force. The look Jack was giving him was enigmatic, reflecting something like fear but not like anything Daniel had seen before. He let Jack take his glass, and frowned when his friend placed both glasses on the bar.

"What is it?" he asked quietly, a hint of trepidation in his tone. Then time seemed to slow down as Jack closed the distance between them. When he slid his arm around Daniel's waist, Daniel could help the loud gasp. He was frozen, captured, spellbound. Heat slammed through his body and Daniel's attention was on his lips as Jack leaned in to kiss him. Another gasp, almost silent, and with it Daniel whispered, "Jack."

His kiss was soft and warm, chaste, as if to test the waters. Then, as if a gauge had been measured and approved, Jack's lips parted, pressing with firm insistence. Daniel didn't even think about not opening to him and there was a soft moan from both of them when their tongues met. At that moment, Daniel realized he'd just been standing there, acquiescent. Aggrieved and embarrassed, he took Jack in his arms, sliding his hands up his back until he framed Jack's head. And deepened the kiss.

Jack's warm body felt good against his, filling him with a sense of rightness. It was like he'd been seeking something but hadn't known what until now. The only thing he wanted at that moment was for the kiss to never end. But then questions and negotiations cropped up next to the voice and a minor war began between the passionate and the rational. And either Jack was feeling it or he was thinking the same thing, for it was he who ended the kiss.

But slowly. He pulled back, eyes opening to meet Daniel's, but kept him in his arms instead of releasing him. That familiar crooked grin appeared. "That's the reason, I think."

Daniel absently nodded as many things hovered on the tip of his tongue, but what came out was, "Why now?" It was a question for himself as well Jack.

Jack shrugged before releasing him completely. "Why not now?" he asked as he picked up his snifter and took a drink.

The cool air that replaced the body warmth felt like a keen loss and for a second, Daniel wanted nothing more than to feel that warmth again. But damn his mind, the second was lost. Jack walked away then, going over to stand next to the chessboard. He didn't sit down, but just stared at the board for a moment before he returned to the bar. He glanced at Daniel, then into his glass, twice, as if weighing something he wanted to say.

Daniel unconsciously did the same. The kiss was over. Now what? Talk about what happened? Talk about what should happen next? If something should?

Jack downed his brandy and set the glass back on the bar. "I'm gonna hit the hay. Let you think about ... things."

It seemed to Daniel that Jack wanted to kiss him goodnight, but he just hovered next to him for a few seconds until he headed off for his bedroom. Daniel looked back over his shoulder at the empty hallway, frowning. Why hadn't he said anything more? Why hadn't he stopped Jack from leaving? For once, he was mute. Why?



Daniel tried to sleep, but both his mind and body were too keyed up and the night time temperature was warm. Throwing back the sheet as if that would unhinder his thoughts, he linked his fingers over his stomach and stared at the ceiling. Minutes turned to an hour, then two. Closing his eyes wasn't enough to encourage sleep. In fact, his thoughts would drift into fantasy, wondering what Jack's body would feel like against him.

The only decision he was able to make was not to allow his new feelings to interfere with Jack's request, even if they started a new relationship. Of course, changing that relationship brought on a host of new dilemmas, like remaining under Jack's command. The regs may be more forgiving of a relationship between military and civilian, but chain of command was chain of command. It wasn't a matter of keeping a secret from prying eyes. It was a matter of judgment. While both of them were professionals and wouldn't allow personal feelings to affect life and death decisions, it was a different thing when you were involved with someone who could be traumatized by a lethal decision. They'd try, of course. Mostly because they both too stubborn to admit that they'd let personal feelings interfere with the job.

Daniel was glad Jack turned down the job at HWS. Apart from the Library, the Smithsonian, and other historical buildings, Daniel hated DC. He hated the weather and the politics. And he hated sitting at a desk. He was in his element in the field, whether assisting on a dig or research site, or directing them, and he knew that only a major health problem would keep him from retiring. He might retire from the SGC, but it wouldn't end his career. He'd move on to something else, jump back into archaeology and linguistics, publish papers again. It wasn't a sit-around plan. So what would Jack do? Daniel didn't know what his plans were upon retiring, and so that made his own answer to the Jack's request conditional.

But. His career really wasn't up for discussion, only where he worked. As for Jack's inclusion in his future, it all depended on whether or not they actually began a relationship. Which brought up the question Daniel had been skirting most of the night. It wasn't if there should there be a relationship. It was, did he want one? He couldn't help study the rational pros and cons. He certainly had desire and passion. So ... did he want a relationship with Jack, now that he'd had a chance to imagine all other angles?

Yes.

But did Jack? Despite the first move being his, Daniel knew that Jack could have changed his mind with cold council and a personal form of threat assessment. But really, Daniel didn't think he would change his mind, namely because of the request to stay at the SGC. If there was no relationship, Daniel knew the answer would be a definite 'no'.

Daniel made a face, annoyed with himself. Hadn't he just told himself that he wouldn't let a relationship affect his decision? He had to admit to himself: if they began a relationship, Daniel would take staying at the SGC under advisement instead of a flat-out 'no'.

Sighing, Daniel turned his head and stared out the bedroom window. The sky was clear; it might be a good night for star-gazing. Perhaps that would bring sleep, too. He looked back up at the ceiling, then closed his eyes, unwilling to move. His mind might not be settled but his body was relaxed and he didn't want to get up and haul a pillow and blanket out onto the deck. Lying here, sooner or later, his body would convince his mind that it was time to rest.

He began to meditate, focusing on breathing in and out, slow and deep. After a few minutes, a break in the silence interrupted him. It was the creak of Jack's bed, then the soft padding of bare feet across a wooden floor. He waited for the sound to fade, telling him that Jack was on his way to the kitchen, but a tiny creak in the floor told him that Jack was in the doorway. Daniel opened his eyes and saw Jack leaning against the door frame, arms folded.

After another minute, Jack said softly, "I can't sleep."

Daniel formed a hint of a smile, knowing that Jack had paused to determine if he was asleep. After all those nights off-world, he could the discern the different sounds of his breathing. "Me either," he answered.

"Mind if I come in?" Jack asked, though he'd already taken a step inside the room.

"Be my guest," Daniel answered. He didn't make a move to turn on the lamp. His eyes were already adjusted to the dark and the half-moon outside provided enough to see by. Jack's eyes must be adjusted too, since he made no attempt to turn on the lamp and made his way unerringly to the bed. He sat down near the foot and settled his hands in his lap. Daniel noted, for no particularly good reason, that he was wearing a white tank top undershirt and checkered boxers. The shirt always accentuated Jack's tan and lean muscles, and only now did Daniel truly appreciate both.

An awkward silence stretched out between them. Daniel wondered if they'd talk about the kiss and what it implied, and frankly, he'd rather have had a night's sleep on it. Providing one could sleep, that is. With a sigh that signaled one of them should start talking, he turned on his side and folded his arm under his head. Jack turned his head toward him, remaining quiet, and Daniel reached out and tapped the mattress. Then he did something he didn't plan or understand. He shoved the blanket and sheet back with a foot, then slapped the bed again.

"Come, lie down." It was like he was watching a movie. Why had he done that? It was clearly an unconscious move, but since when had he let that part of him direct anything he did?

Now apparently.

Jack hesitated, but eventually stretched out and lay down, pushing gently on Daniel's chest. "Move over."

Daniel obliged, though he hated the feel of cooler sheets despite the warm evening. Even so, he felt a weary relief at the dip in the bed, at Jack's presence and heat from his body. And the Jack Scent. It increased when Jack lifted an arm and turned on his side to face him. The smell aroused him, but at the same time, it made him feel secure. He made a mental note to trot that out later for examination.

They stared at each other for a while, saying nothing but listening to each other's breathing. Daniel closed his eyes, succumbing to the pull of sleep that finally showed up around the edges of his busy mind. Just as he was about to relinquish control and drift off, the bed moved and Jack took his hand in his own. Daniel opened his eyes and was momentarily startled by how close Jack had come. No more than a foot apart, Jack looked down at him, eyes searching.

Waiting for permission?

Daniel reached up to palm his cheek and jaw, touching the delightful masculine roughness of unshaved skin. "What do you want?" he asked quietly, defying his body's order to skip conversation.

Jack reached over and brushed the back of his fingers under Daniel's chin and down his throat. It was the most erotic thing Daniel had experienced in a long, long time. "You. Us."

"And in the harsh light of the SGC?" Daniel had to ask.

Jack slid his hand around to gently grip the back of Daniel's neck. He leaned in, brushing his lips across Daniel's in a hint of a kiss. "Ditto," he whispered, then struck, falling into Daniel with a passionate kiss and pulling his body against him. Daniel couldn't help but breathe a relieving gasp through his nose, and it was then that he heard the first of many sounds Jack made during intimacy.

It was a soft but throaty moan that made Daniel want to hear more. He lifted his leg and draped it over Jack's hip, sucking in a breath of pleasure as he rubbed their groins together. Jack responded with a burst of rhythmic thrusts and surges, all met with eager reception by Daniel's rapidly rising need. Jack tongued him deeply, endlessly it seemed until he moved on to his ear, throat, and chin. Their rhythms increased in both speed and strength, powered by a hunger that could only be fed with relentless contact and orgasm.

Desire spiked through Daniel's body, and heart hammering and cock thrumming, he pulled Jack on top of him and wrapped his legs around his hips. Jack growled and kissed him deeply, and only then did they realize that they were both still fully clothed. Jack yanked off his tank top as Daniel did the same, then Jack's fingers were sliding under the waistband of Daniel's pajama bottoms, grabbing his ass for a moment before pulling them down.

Daniel lifted even as he tried to pull off Jack's shorts, and through swift impatience, both discarded their clothing during a five-second separation. When Jack returned to his place between Daniel's legs, they both let out groans of appreciation and satisfaction. Skin on skin, sliding with sweat and intense urges.

"Jack," Daniel gasped, grabbing his face in both hands. Jack's hips were flying, his own matching with vehement demand, but the frequently broken contact of their cocks was driving him crazy.

"What do you want?" Jack asked with a twisted smile.

Daniel wanted to say, "Fuck me," but they had no lube and it had been such a long time; he couldn't go without it. Instead, he took Jack's hand and brought it between him, folding his lover's fingers around their erections. "Take us in hand."

Jack's smile faded slightly, turning to acute concentration as he took hold of their cocks. Slowing his hips, he squeezed, teasing both Daniel and himself. Daniel's breathing became halting as each new contact sent shocks throughout his body. It would have been nice to do this for a while, but Jack altered the rhythm of his hand to short, rapid pulls while his thrusts rocked their bodies.

"Yes," Daniel whispered, lifting his chin and tilting his head back. For emphasis, he grabbed Jack's ass cheeks, gripping him hard and thrusting up to match his rhythm.

"Shit," Jack hissed, and lunged, kissing him sloppily and hungrily, tongue seeking its mate. Moan followed moan, and Daniel felt Jack's ass muscles tense before his orgasm spurted out of him. Jack dropped his head into the crook of Daniel's shoulder, moaning and kissing his salt-slick skin. "Daniel, Daniel, Daniel."

An extra squeeze of his hand brought Daniel close but when Jack thumbed the head of his cock, Daniel dropped his mouth open and threw back his head as he came. "Jack," he said tightly, emotionally, thrashing his head back and forth before Jack kissed him hard to make him stop.

Hearts pounding, they both lay frozen amidst the afterglow, unwilling to move. Eventually, the buzz began to fade and Jack slid off but kept close, keeping his arms around him. Daniel sighed and opened his eyes, reaching up to smooth the sweat from Jack's brow. "Think maybe we can both sleep now," he said, and the last thing he remembered was Jack's quiet chuckle.



There was little talk the next morning. In fact, the only subject that came up was what Daniel wanted for breakfast. He stood in front of the stove, separating the bacon strips, and thought over what they both needed to talk about, what decisions needed to be made. He still wanted to leave; having a relationship with Jack wouldn't change that. It was now just deciding when.

Jack startled him as he came up behind, the backs of his fingers smoothing down the weapons scar on the back of his arm. The touch seemed to convey all of Jack's fears.

"It's healing," Daniel said, glancing over his shoulder.

"So I see," Jack replied as he put his arms around Daniel's waist.

It was surprising, this newly expressed desire to touch. Daniel was used to a slap on the back or shoulder, and for some reason, he never saw Jack as the touchy type. Now he was receiving it like old news that had just been discovered. It was fine by him, but it still felt odd. Yesterday, their relationship had been platonic and the touching was infrequent and friends-only. Then last night, everything changed. In a sense, Daniel regretted the change because with it always came the fear that other things that shouldn't change, would.

Daniel turned back to the bacon, sensing that Jack may feel the same. Or if he didn't, that there were still a few things that they needed to discuss. And perhaps before they ate.

"I'm retiring next year," Jack said, proving Daniel right.

Not surprised by the decision, Daniel still became wary, largely due to last night. "Is it what you'd already decided or is it because of last night?"

"Last night confirmed the decision but it didn't decide it."

Satisfied with that answer, Daniel frowned in concentration; Jack's decision answered a few questions. Still, there was what to do after retirement. "Then what?" he asked, feeling guilty about having plans of his own.

Jack offered up a teasing grin. "Worried about me getting bored?"

It was a legitimate concern, Daniel thought. "I just don't see you sitting out at the dock twenty-four seven." Jack snorted in agreement, and Daniel ventured further. "And I don't see you following me around the world on digs."

Jack snorted louder, making Daniel grin. "No, definitely not my style," Jack agreed.

"So ...?" Daniel asked, turning back to him. There was a bit of blush on Jack's cheeks and a few things clicked. "Are you saying you've already been offered another job? By whom?"

Jack met his gaze squarely. "The CIA."

"What?" Daniel asked, alarmed.

Jack winked at him. "Don't worry. Turned them down too."

Daniel made a rude noise. "That's a relief. So is there someone else?" When Jack jogged his brows, Daniel lost his patience. "Would you just tell me already?"

"Cyber-Security division, FBI." Daniel's mouth fell open. "This time next year, you can call me Special Agent O'Neill."

"You took the job," Daniel stated, feeling irritated. He turned back to the bacon, pulling from Jack's grasp. His anger was irrational, but now it felt like all that thinking last night had been a waste of time. Jack was already moving on. Daniel's next thoughts edged self-pity. What had happened between them ... had that been a goodbye? It couldn't have been. Could it? Daniel hated that he didn't know anything about this side of Jack.

"What do you think?" Jack asked.

Clenching his jaw, Daniel shrugged. "Congratulations. Looks like you're set."

"Hey!" Jack said, voice filled with alarm, and he pulled Daniel away from the stove and moved the pan off the heat. "What's with the attitude?"

Daniel shook his head and tossed the tongs into the sink before turning around and walking away. Jack stopped him, swinging him around, hands like vises on his arms.

"Oh no you don't," Jack said angrily. "Answer me."

Daniel shrugged him off forcefully, hating the feeling of being cornered as much as hating himself for making assumptions that hadn't been verified. So, ask dammit! "What was last night about then?"

"What was ..." Jack began, frown filled with confusion. Then his brows softened and he sighed. "Daniel," he started, grabbing hold of him again. "It's not what you're thinking. I meant it when I said I wanted you, wanted us. That doesn't change."

Cheeks burning with embarrassment, Daniel swallowed. "Then why ... what was the point of ..." He sighed with frustration. "Why ask me to stay at the SGC when you're taking off next year?"

Jack looked confused. "I thought we cleared that up. I don't want to lose you."

Daniel rolled his eyes, as confused as ever. "That makes no sense, Jack. When you go off to your new job and I go off to mine, you're going to lose me anyway. What's the damn difference?"

"Not if you marry me."

"What?" Daniel asked, half-laughing as his mouth fell open again. He stared at him, gob-smacked. He fought the urge to smack Jack in the head, thinking he was teasing, but when it was apparent that Jack wasn't kidding, a bit of panic set in. Daniel prepared himself for an irrational argument until he remembered that DC had a gay marriage law and the FBI didn't have a bigotry regulation against gays. "You're asking me to marry you. Are you out of your fucking mind?"

"Apparently," Jack scowled, adding "For fuck's sake, Daniel, I couldn't come right out and say, 'I love you, will you marry me.' I need to work up to it. It's simply my twisted ego that thought this would go better."

Guilt and elation warred within Daniel, two emotions he never thought he'd feel at the same time. When Jack started to walk away, Daniel grabbed him and kissed him as passionately as he could, hoping that it would pack all he was feeling into it.

Jack pulled them apart, licking his lips. "Is that a yes?"

Another guilty blush emerged. "Can I think about it?" Daniel asked, purposely coy. A split-second after, he yelled in surprise and a rush of arousal as Jack picked him up and slammed him down on the dining table, scattering plates and silverware. "Jack, what--"

"Don't fuck with me," Jack growled. Though he twisted Daniel's shirt in his fists, there was amusement and pleasure in his eyes.

Again, Daniel swallowed as arousal increased and bypassed the logic circuits in his brain. "Or what?" he challenged.

Jack moved a hand between them and began to rub Daniel's cock through his pajamas. "Or it'll be a cold day in hell before my mouth ever touches this."

Daniel barked out a laugh and tried to squirm away from Jack's hand. "That's just evil," he retorted with a mock-scowl. "Don't you know it's dysfunctional to use refusal of sex as a punishment?"

Jack grinned as he pulled his hand away but refused to let Daniel up. "And don't you know that it's cruel and unusual punishment to keep a man waiting after popping the question?"

Daniel hesitated, but relented with a smile. Though he told himself that giving in to Jack's demands would not be a habit, he pulled him down for another passionate kiss. Suddenly breaking off, he brushed his lips over Jack's ear and felt him tremble after gently nipping his ear. Smiling because he'd found an erogenous zone, he nuzzled him there, then whispered, "Yes."

To his great amusement, Daniel found himself propelled toward Jack's bedroom. "What about breakfast?" he asked, even though his pajamas and t-shirt were hitting the floor with Jack's.

"Later," Jack grinned as he backed Daniel onto the bed and lay on top of him. With a breathy inhale over Daniel's throat, he added, "I want dessert first."

"There isn't any dessert with breakfast," Daniel smirked.

Jack moved off him, yanked open the bedside table drawer and tossed something at Daniel. Daniel expected condoms but he held a small bottle of lube instead. He stared with wide, hungry eyes as Jack crawled over him, hands roaming and lips busy. Stopping between his legs, he teased the skin of Daniel's inner thighs with warm breath and soft kisses. "We're celebrating," Jack said, and suddenly the teasing went to fingers that brushed the perineum. "There's always dessert."

Yes, yes there was.


. . .

 

End