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Bad Timing

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Jack raps on Daniel's door, his knock sounding less tentative than he feels. Daniel's forced leave of absence is probably a double-blow after Sha're's death. Neither Hammond nor Jack wants Daniel wandering the halls of the SGC, running into Teal'c, replaying the few seconds Daniel claims lasted days. Teal'c is their friend, and Daniel's one of the most forgiving guys he knows, but even Daniel can't ignore the fact that Teal'c killed his wife.

Jack hasn't forgotten who killed Charlie. And it took awhile before Jack stopped wanting to kill that guy.

There's a shuffling behind the door, a clunk of locks, and the door is thrown wide. Daniel's mouth hangs open in a look that belies the double doctorates.

Before Daniel can ask, Jack shoves the six-pack at Daniel, hard enough to gain him the space to enter the apartment.

"Hey," Jack says, dropping his keys on the table.

Daniel recovers, shutting the door and unceremoniously dropping the beer next to Jack's keys. "Come on in," he flippantly snaps.

"Look—" Jack ignores his racing heartbeat and cuts to the chase. This isn't the time to carefully hem and haw, allowing Daniel to raise his defenses, intellectualize his pain, and shut off his emotions. Charlie's death still leaves Jack breathless at the wrong moments and it's been years. "Don't come back yet."

Daniel's eyes flicker dark, narrowing for a brief moment.

"You've got a lot to work through and I imagine it can't be easy. I mean, with everything. She—and you've got to work with him—and that can't be, you know." No hemming and hawing, that's right. "You're not ready to come back. I know it. SG-1 can stay on stand down until you're ready. Carter's having fun—" Jack pinches his fingers, mimicking working with tiny doodads. "—tinkering. And I'm, you know, relaxing."

Daniel actually smiles.

"Just . . . don't worry about the translations, or the fate of the world, or any of that intergalactic crap. It'll still be there next week."

His own smile hurts because Jack doesn't mean it. He wants to wrap his arms around Daniel, run his fingers through Daniel's hair, and offer the kind of comfort the military won't allow between two men.

"So, yeah," Jack lamely finishes.

Daniel finally turns and locks the door, moving soundlessly on bare feet. If they could go into combat bootless, Daniel would kick ass at stealth, no Special Ops training required.

They move into Daniel's living room, Jack hovering by the couch because he hasn't really been invited to stay and he doesn’t have anything more to say. He can plan a siege, but confronting Daniel about his emotions? This is going so well.

The coffee table is stacked with novels; some titles Jack recognizes, some he doesn't. Jack tilts his head, reading the script of the book on top: One Hundred Years of Solitude. Sounds chipper.

"I'm fine."

Jack hides his flinch by picking up the book and leafing through it. He queries Daniel by way of a raised eyebrow.

"Really, Jack." Daniel turns off a lamp, darkening the corner of the room. "It's . . . it's not easy, but I'll be better if I'm out there."

Jack tosses the book down, knocks over the stack, and sorts through it, looking for a title he's read.

Grabbing the elbows of his shirt, Daniel shakes his head. "Tim O'Brien. Going After Cacciato. That one. More your thing."

Jack plays stupid until Daniel reaches over and puts the book in Jack's hands, their fingers brushing. Daniel looks away; it's possible there's color in his cheeks, but the light's too low to really be sure.

"You've just been reading?"

"Some." Daniel adjusts his glasses, like he's narrowing his focus. "It hasn't been as hard as you think."

"The reading?"

Daniel's smirk says more than his narrowed eyes.

"She's been gone." Daniel sits on the edge of the coffee table. "For a long time." Jack lowers himself into the closest seat, trying not to make too much noise, wanting Daniel to just talk. "I've gotten used to being alone." Daniel's voice strangles off, something caught in his throat, but Daniel holds it together because deep down he's made of rock, tougher than most Marines.

Jack's hand cups Daniel's knee, squeezing in what he hopes is a purely friendly gesture. But his hand lingers, enjoying the solidity of Daniel, the hard cap of bone, the soft flesh just above the joint, the way his fingers press, drift.

Daniel's fingers tickle Jack's hand. Their eyes lock and they do that silent communication thing they do.

Not friendly.

Daniel swallows audibly, a squish of saliva that should sound disgusting, but only makes Jack wonder if Daniel's been taking his allergy medications.

"Bad timing," he whispers.

One corner of Jack's mouth lifts. He promises himself this is the only time he'll ever say it. "It's never going to be good timing."

"Then this is worse timing." Daniel's hand tightens over his and he does everything in his power to stop that traitorous hand from flipping over and pressing palm to palm, knotting their fingers together as intimately as their lives are already entwined.

Jack inhales shakily and stands quickly, moving to the door.

"I mean it, Daniel, don't come back until you're ready."

The last thirty seconds didn't happen. Jack didn't nearly hold Daniel's hand. They didn't admit their feelings. It didn't happen.

"Jack." Daniel crosses the room—Jack stiffens, thinking maybe Daniel's decided it's the perfect time for a rebound—and presses the book into Jack's hand. "Read it."

It takes him a few tries to say, "Thanks."

He snatches his keys off the table and leaves, giving Daniel one last look. Somehow he knows that their not-conversation has just made things worse. All his emotions try to pour out of his mouth, but they get jammed in his throat, a ten-car pileup on the relationship highway.

"See you," he casually calls.

When the door shuts it feels final.

* * *

Sitting by Daniel's deathbed doesn't make emotions any easier. Daniel, King of Comebacks, is really dying, painfully dying, and there's a part of Jack wondering which one of them is in more pain.

Stupid. Of course, Daniel's in more pain.

The sheets crush too easily in Jack's hands, tightening across Daniel's arm.

"Jack?" His voice is sleepy, weak like a sandcastle. The split and dry-cracked state of his lips extends to his vocal chords.

Jack suddenly feels the same dryness. He can't quite make his mouth say, "I'm here."

Jack can still imagine Daniel's perfect face under the swaths of bandages. He tries to make an ineffectual joke about Daniel taking the Egyptology thing to extremes, but he can't get the words right. Daniel chuckles anyway—if the stuttered breath is actually a chuckle.

The fingertips of Daniel's right hand are still showing. They flinch slightly, little signs that Daniel is hanging on, as stubborn as ever, fighting this the same way they argue over whether the mess is serving meatloaf or chicken (it's meatloaf, but Jack can't resist arguing against Daniel). It's these stupid memories that keep floating to Jack's mind while he watches as. . . .

And if I don't drown in my own blood and fluids first, I will bleed to death, Daniel had said.

Daniel's skin under Jack's fingers is blistered, soft and alien. The callus under Daniel's index finger is still there, a sign that just yesterday he was annoying Jack by scrawling translation notes during breakfast. He'd written on a napkin that the tribal language on P3X-273 was probably a derivative of Sesotho. Jack tried the word on his tongue a few times, teasing Daniel about needing a speech therapist.

Daniel's fingers clench, curling slightly around Jack's, offering a breath of pressure.

"You could have said something sooner," Daniel breathes. His eyes dilate, glassing over for a moment.

Jack's cheek jumps as he takes in the subtext of Daniel's statement—the memories of possibilities flicker past: Daniel lounging at the cabin, a book in his lap and nothing on his chest; Jack bringing Daniel a cup of coffee when he’s up late, lost in translations, artifacts, and speculation; Daniel wordlessly cupping Jack's cheek before. . . .

Jack covers with a cough. What's the point in admitting anything now? If Daniel survives this, if a Hail Mary comes flying through the 'gate then maybe, maybe then.

"I didn't want to wake you." Jack's lips are tight around the lie.

"Huh."

Jack's fingers involuntarily squeeze Daniel's hand.

"You're a crappy liar." Daniel's voice is surprisingly strong. If Jack didn't have the visuals, he could imagine them in Daniel's office, Jack telling Daniel that SG-15 just brought back information that the Ancients invented Tupperware.

"I am," Jack says.

"Jack."

Jack's throat tightens. Daniel has the power to put so much into that one word. He puts everything in it this time, all the times he's ever said it and will never say it, all the ways Daniel could have said Jack's name, as more than a whiney, annoyed subordinate, as more than a trusted friend, as everything Daniel is and always will be to Jack.

"In another lifetime," Jack gruffly says, his other hand coming up to cup Daniel's fingers.

Daniel's eyes roll back, his lips moving but making no sounds. Asleep: the pain is probably more bearable that way.

Jack doesn't see Daniel awake again. And when he dreams of Daniel at night, he can only think of the words that Daniel said before ascending, when Jack saw him in the glowy Oma-vision 'gate room.

It's what I want, Daniel had said.

At night in his dreams Jack is free to ask, "What about what I want?"

* * *

"Hey." Daniel's voice is soft, filled with the same semi-surprise Jack has about actually being in his own office. He can count on one finger the number of times Daniel has found him here.

"What's going on?" Jack throws down his pen and leans back in his chair.

"Just—I. . . ." Daniel turns, abruptly shutting the door and sliding into the open chair. He leans over the desk, this slightly vacant look in his eyes, the one he's had since becoming human again. It's possible Oma returned him with some parts missing.

"Some memories are coming back and they're. . . ." Daniel twists his hands, drawing his words out of the air. "Complicated."

Raise one eyebrow; flatten smile; keep silent.

"I think maybe we need to . . . talk?"

Jack almost laughs, because the way Daniel asks it's clear that he remembers that they don't talk. They do a lot of not talking. At least Daniel remembers that.

"Just, um, I seem to remember. . . ."

Jack's pretty sure where he's going with this one, but watching Daniel squirm is just too enjoyable. Daniel keeps wetting his lips, adjusting his glasses, and checking his shoelaces. The shoelaces thing is an old habit, one he'd grown out of once he'd gained enough confidence to stare down every Marine on base.

"I remember Sha're, that I used to be married, and I know about the military policy and, um, regulations." Daniel rubs the back of his neck, his fingers dipping under the collar. "But I remember, I mean. . . ." Daniel takes a breath before the dive. "Were we . . . ?"

"No."

"We weren't?"

Fuzzy on the details, but Daniel seems pretty sure that he's reading his memories correctly. Jack's pretty sure he's reading them correctly, too. But, as always, it isn't the time. As though there will ever be a time for. . . .

"How'd you know what I was asking?"

Honesty. "Because we've talked about it before." Air quotes fit securely around the word talked because it'll be a cold day in hell when they actually talk about this subject.

"And?"

"And nothing, Daniel. It's not in the cards." Jack plants his feet. Daniel's not squirming any more.

"After what I've been though? No." Daniel shakes his head. "I was just given a new hand."

Jack waves both of his hands, fed up with the conversation. "Same hands, Daniel. Look. Nothing's changed." He gets up, ready to end this, forget about this conversation, beg Oma to permanently erase Daniel's memories.

Daniel stands and smirks, that annoying new smirk he's taken up, like he knows the answers to the universe and Jack's two doctorates away from knowing how to wipe his own ass.

Jack grunts, brushing past Daniel, stepping too close on purpose so that their shoulders clash when he reaches for the doorknob. Daniel's hand catches Jack's, his fingers warm and dipping into Jack's palm. Daniel's eyes are bright blue, boring into Jack's eyes, seeing right through everything.

"You're right, Jack. Nothing's changed."

Daniel's lips are surprisingly cold, like he's been drinking ice water, or eating ice cream, or licking the inside of a freezer. He pulls away before Jack can remember that he shouldn't reciprocate—not on base.

Daniel licks his lips, his eyes darting back and forth, trying to translate a language that doesn't have any words. He finally steps back, his hand belatedly releasing Jack's, like he forgot he'd been touching Jack, or maybe just because he hadn't wanted to let go.

"Thanks for the update." It's more flippant than he meant, and he feels Daniel's hurt rather than observing it. That's what makes him softly say, "We just can't."

The hand that shoves him aside lingers hot on his shoulder. Daniel's face is harder than steel and it reminds Jack of when things were not nearly as pleasant between the two of them, a threat that things could get that way again.

"I know what this is and I know what you want. I remember it, Jack." He clenches his fist; Jack relaxes his own muscles, ready to dodge. "If you want it . . . tell me when you're ready."

Daniel strides out of Jack's office, shoulders stiff and hunched, the tight lines of his face mirroring Jack's own anger and disappointment.

* * *

Daniel blushes when he admits it, one hand tucked behind his neck, the other gripping the edge of the countertop. He's only visited Jack's D.C. home three times, and he's as comfortable here as he ever was at the house in Colorado, the one he visited almost every week for eight years.

"Daniel, you really shouldn't tell me this." One, Jack has feelings he's never going to confess, and two, Mitchell is in the military and Jack is a general and there's this whole policy that most people might be familiar with.

"I know." If possible, Daniel's cheeks darken further. "Just, Jack, who else am I going to tell?"

"Uh, no one." Jack doesn't even try to bite back the sarcasm; there's no point. He moves out of the kitchen and his feet keep going, taking him to the one place Daniel isn't likely to follow.

The cold water from the bathroom tap does nothing to cool his temper, but it still feels good on his face, dripping down his collar and running down his back, tickling like a lover's fingertips.

"Jack?" Daniel's voice is muffled; his face is pressed up against the door, trying to squeeze his words through the jamb.

"Can you give me a minute, Daniel?" Jack doesn't need a minute. He needs a time machine and a way to rewrite military policy, or possibly just a sniper rifle and an opportune moment with Cameron Mitchell. Mitchell! He seemed like such a good guy, or at least a guy not likely to steal Jack's archeologist just because he . . . because he. . . .

"Jack, please."

Fists grinding into eyes, one valiant attempt to rip Daniel Jackson out of his brain. Life would be so much easier if Daniel wasn't in it.

Jack's breath catches. Not what he meant.

He pulls the door open slowly; Daniel relaxes against the opposite wall. His too-casual lean gives away everything so carefully hidden behind his easy smile. He acts as though Jack has just had too much to drink, and Daniel is checking on him, ignoring the bits about Daniel admitting to having sex with his team leader—his team leader who is not Jack, though Jack is the only team leader Daniel should have sex with. Jack is the only person Daniel should have sex with ever. Jack or celibacy—it should be written inside Daniel's t-shirts.

Clearly, jealousy does not suit Jack O'Neill.

"You want some pizza, or something?" Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Daniel pushes away from the wall with a nod, but then says, "Chinese."

"That's not pizza."

"You said 'or something'."

"Well, I meant pizza." Jack snorts. "You used to be better at this."

Daniel's bare arm brushes up against Jack and there's a tension in the air, a thickness that creeps up Jack's arm, prickling his skin. It's a surprising relief to discover they still have that spark.

"You're the one who moved."

"You were going to Atlantis!" Jack sighs, rubbing his forehead. "You really want to cover this ground again?"

Daniel ducks his head. "Not really."

In the living room Jack finds the number for the Chinese place and orders an obscene amount, remembering to specify ginger on Daniel's noodles and extra teriyaki sauce. Daniel leafs through whatever books are on the table, two of which are his from the last time he visited.

"I forgot I left these here," Daniel says. "If I forget them again, will you mail them?"

Jack settles next to Daniel, a grin playing on his mouth. "Maybe I like having insurance that you'll come back." It's too close to the truth, and Daniel's eyes are apologizing before he opens his mouth.

"Mitchell isn't—"

Jack holds up one hand, and for once, Daniel actually shuts up. "I don't want to hear about it." His voice is gentle, sincere. "Really."

Daniel stands, paces the length of the room and stops by the window, one hand leaving sweaty fingerprints on the pane. "I couldn't wait forever."

Jack bites his tongue.

"Look, I'll find a hotel for tonight; be out of here in the morning. I'm sure the SGC needs me."

Jack rolls his eyes at Daniel's martyr crap.

"Stay. There's Chinese on the way. And—" There are so many ands, but Jack can't say any of them because Daniel can't wait forever. Jack can't wait forever, but they can't do this, either. They can't go the whole nine yards. Jack swallows, heat spreading through his body.

Not all nine yards. . . .

Daniel draws the curtains, once again eerily on the same page as Jack.

"It's not a relationship," Daniel whispers, and Jack isn't sure if he's talking about them, or him and Mitchell.

They've only kissed once before, but Jack swears it's like falling into a memory, sliding into a past he never knew existed, sparks erupting as every errant touch suddenly becomes filled with meaning, purpose, design. Daniel tastes like honey cough drops and breath mints; it's disgusting and that's what makes it perfect.

Daniel's fingers card into Jack's hair, pulling and pushing them together. They trip over Daniel's shoes on the way to the couch, almost smiling except for the seriousness of this.

Stubbled cheeks under calloused fingers; taut muscles under firm skin; soft, vulnerable places under sarcasm and intellect, the sensations are stronger than those first deafening moments after stepping through the Stargate, when the world is brighter, the sounds are louder, and the still air grips cold skin.

Jack reclines on the couch, pulling Daniel on top (though it's possible Daniel pushed Jack back). Their lips break for a moment and Daniel pants, "How long till the food gets here?"

"You that hungry?"

Jack earns a glare for his flippancy.

"Long enough," he says with all seriousness.

Even with that assurance, Daniel wastes no more time, his hands latching on to Jack's belt and working the clasps and zip to push down pants, pull away boxers, and finally lay his hands on Jack's dick. Jack pauses his own pants-removing motions to listen to the angels' chorus.

Daniel wraps both of their cocks in one large hand and pumps them in unison. It's strange to feel Daniel's dick pressed against his own, the soft flesh giving way to internal hardness. Not to mention the fact that it's been nearly a year since someone else jerked his chain.

It's a race to their orgasms, panting and huffing like they're actually running, though without Jack's knee inappropriately popping as cartilage scrapes against bone. Jack's hands slip up Daniel's shirt, pushing against the solid flesh and muscles developed by trekking around the universe. Daniel gasps when Jack's fingers slide down and push against the soft flesh of his ass, digits dipping into the cleft and teasing around the tight hole. Thinking about pressing in, about penetrating Daniel, is what finally drags Jack over the edge, his orgasm latching around his legs and pulling him into the abyss like some giant squid from a Harryhausen movie.

His eyes closed, he misses watching Daniel's orgasm, but relishes the blissed-out aftereffects. Daniel's body twitches, spreading come over Jack's stomach, their softening penises still brushing together. Daniel mutters something that might be "Beautiful," or it could be any number of words in a dozen other languages, but Jack's pretty sure he has the sentiment right.

He closes his eyes, stroking Daniel's hair. It's been a long time coming.

Daniel levers himself up, asking, "Did you hear that?" just as the doorbell rings.

A quick assessment determines that Daniel is the more decent of the two, so he shoves himself back together and snatches his wallet off the counter on his way to pick up the food. Jack waits until the door closes before hauling himself off the couch and carefully stepping down the hall to the bathroom, one hand holding the come to his stomach like an open wound.

He shucks his pants and shirt, shrugs his shoulders, and finally steps into the shower. Daniel joins him a moment later, the two sharing the stream in the narrow stall.

"This really isn't big enough for us both."

"Should have thought of that when you bought the house." Daniel's smile is like the cat that ate the canary and then stole the cream out of the pitcher. It's only fair to flick the faucet over to cold water when Jack exits the shower.

"Bastard," Daniel gasps, catching the towel Jack tosses at his face.

They end up in Jack's bed, dry and naked, the Chinese food still on the kitchen counter cooling in plastic bags. They chuckle softly, teasing each other with words and flesh, stroking clean skin and kissing swollen lips. The military man in Jack snorts at the romantic, so the romantic beats the military man in the face with a bouquet of roses and stuffs a box of chocolate up his nose.

Daniel barks out his laughter when Jack explains the internal situation.

"Jack, I just want you to know, I mean—" Daniel's soft smile and carefully lidded eyes finish his sentence. "And the thing with Mitchell . . . it was just a onetime deal. Stress relief," he carefully admits. "I was still waiting."

Jack wraps his arms around Daniel and kisses his shoulder, not wanting to admit the truth, knowing that this doesn't change their situation. "We'll always be waiting."

Daniel nods, and if they're both silent it's not because they have nothing to say.

* * *

Three months of weekly phone calls and this long-distance not-a-relationship isn't getting any easier.

"You going off tomorrow?" Jack asks.

"Huh? Oh yeah." Daniel's obviously still working on a translation or thinking about the possible cultural meanings of the potato he ate on planet we-like-our-tubers.

"Where to this time?"

Jack hears Daniel's eyes narrow. "You read the report."

Jack chuckles. "Yeah. But I thought maybe I could get you to focus on me for a minute."

There's the sound of papers shuffling and a snap like the lid of a laptop closing. "Sorry. I—I won't make excuses."

"You don't have to make 'em, Daniel." It's times like this that Jack hates the sixteen hundred miles that separate them. "You planning to miss me?" He waggles his eyebrows, knowing Daniel can envision his face.

"Missing you already," Daniel teases, the wistful sigh carefully tucked away in case either of their phones are tapped.

"You coming out here next month?"

"Probably not." They both frown. "There's a delegation with some out-of-towners and about six other business trips, some of which might take awhile. Bad timing."

"It's never good timing," Jack growls. The words echo in his mind, drawing up memories of another time he said that to Daniel, under different circumstances.

There's a silence on the other end of the phone that sounds like Daniel thinking the same thing.

"Hey, Daniel, you ever think about getting married again?" Jack punches the pillow down behind his neck, almost losing the phone and Daniel's answer in the process.

"My wife's dead, Jack."

"That would be why I said 'again'."

Daniel takes his time, carefully choosing his words. "I don't think there's anyone I'd want to marry."

Jack lips turn in a playful pout. Not that he wanted to be a blushing bride, but the comfort of having a special person in bed next to you—hell, on the same planet as you—is too tempting a fantasy.

Daniel shifts, the bed creaking as he lies back, finally relaxing for the evening. "Besides, I'm too old to be waiting for the perfect person to become—" Daniel grins around the word. "—available."

Jack almost smiles, thinking of retirement, possibly off-world. "Oh? Yeah. Well, if you're too old, guess I am, too."

"Positively ancient," Daniel replies.

"Ancient?"

Daniel laughs at Jack's stupid play on words, just the way a significant other should.

"Jack." Daniel's voice steadies, serious. "You think you could come out here next month? I know I'll be busy, but. . . ."

Jack shuts off his lights, rolling towards the empty side of his bed. "Bad timing aside, I think we can make it work."