It wasn't the kind of place Jack would normally go to, but then he'd never experienced anything like the entertainment possibilities available in Marrakech. It was permissive, progressive and something of a playground for certain types, and although Jack wasn't the pleasure-seeking sort, even he had been infected by the sheer exuberance of the city. Perhaps if this kind of thing had been available back home, he might not have been so surprised by his reaction to it.
How much he loved it.
One part of it in particular.
The club was full of the usual mix of French, Spanish, British, Berbers, a few Arabs and the odd Yank, like himself. Mostly they came here to drink or do business, some of them idly watched the floorshow, and some of them gambled on cards or dice. It smelled of hard liquor and the blue-tinged cigarette smoke that hung like an indistinct cloud at ceiling height. It wasn't the most expensive club in Marrakech, but neither was it the roughest. Jack liked it for its lack of pretensions.
He sat in his normal place, by the bar, out of the range of the hot stage lights - not that it was a stage exactly - stage was too ambitious a word for it - it was more like an absence of tables and chairs with the odd assortment of musicians they called a band squashed into one corner.
The pretty, dark-eyed Anise was just finishing up her turn, her tiny feet and the beads on her costume a blur of movement and colour. A table full of Spaniards gave her an enthusiastic ovation, at which she dimpled and smiled. Jack didn't miss it when one of the party peeled off to have a quick word with her before she disappeared back-stage, but he said nothing. It was none of his business.
Jack took a sip of his drink and tried to stop his heart from hammering loud enough for the bartender to hear. He knew the next act up was the one he was here to see, the one he'd spent every night for the past two weeks on this barstool for. It wasn't the ambience of the place, it wasn't that the drink was cheap or even very good, and it certainly wasn't for the company; it was for the dancer that was about to take the stage.
Leant back on the bar, Jack kept his posture uninterested and relaxed, although he was anything but. The band played the now familiar introduction, guitar and a gypsy violin; a slow, sensuous three/four beat that bordered on blatantly sexual. The dancer came in on cue, as always, wearing the black pants and white shirt this time, which pleased Jack; there was something about this man in white that Jack had no name for, he only knew that he enjoyed those performances all the more. The man's hair was longer than was currently fashionable and it hung around his face, framing his jaw.
The way he came on could only be called a strut, Jack thought. There was pride and a certain knowingness in the way he moved, in the way he held the eye of the audience. His hips swayed - not like a woman's, there was nothing feminine about the way the man walked or danced - it was powerful, aggressive even. But the way he played the crowd was subtle, and only the slight smile on his lips revealed that he knew exactly what he was doing.
Jack took another sip of scotch, holding it in his mouth and letting the burn of it tingle over his tongue before he swallowed. His eyes never left the provocative stamp, twist and sway of the dance. He couldn't place the man's nationality; his skin was lightly tanned, his hair light brown with fairer streaks on the crown from the Moroccan sun, but it was his blue eyes that Jack was drawn to again and again. He'd guessed, for some reason, that he was at least half French, most of the westerners in Marrakech were, but his parentage could have been any combination of the people who came and went so freely from this city.
Morocco had been a crossroads since the war, an overlap where Europe and Africa collided, producing this strange place, out of time, where anything was possible if you had the right currency and knew the right people.
Jack had fallen in love with it instantly. He'd come to Africa on a contract and had just never got around to going home again. He loved the frontier feel to the place, the sense of excitement and opportunity. Everyday life was an adventure here and Jack knew that anywhere else after this would seem already half-dead. Colours glowed more brightly under this sun, night felt deeper, darker, and there were more stars in this sky than anywhere he'd ever seen or heard of. Just living in this place was an exercise in sensuousness - the smells from the Souks - both good and bad, the piercing sharpness of the sunlight in the morning, the strange flatness of it at midday, the sounds of a half-dozen different tongues being spoken in a single room; Jack was swept up in it, overwhelmed by it, never bored by it.
But he'd never been into Aziz's before that night two weeks ago, when he'd met a business associate here to discuss an upcoming contract. To this day, Jack wasn't certain what he'd agreed to, his whole awareness had been focussed on the dancer; whatever it was, he'd shaken hands on it - he guessed someone would tell him at some point.
Jack let himself get lost in the athleticism of the man in the smoky spotlight. The dark material of his pants clung to the muscles of his thighs as he leapt and stamped, the shirt rode up each time he lifted his arms into the air, giving a tantalising, shadowed glimpse of the skin beneath. Each motion was precise and well-judged, but made to seem fluid and natural. Sweat shimmered on the skin of his forehead and on his lip, and he panted heavily by the time he reached the climax of the piece.
He held his last stance as the music died away, his chin lifted and his throat bared, and Jack quietly sucked in a breath he hadn't realised he'd needed until now.
The applause was polite more than enthusiastic, although Jack sourly eyed the short Belgian he had noticed here before when his 'bravos' rang out. The dancer smiled in the Belgian man's direction and nodded, then took a bow and backed toward the wings. However, when he took a final bow, he straightened and looked directly into Jack's eyes for a single, eternal second, his gaze unmistakably frank, before he disappeared, leaving Jack breathless once again.
He swallowed the last of his drink, tossed a few coins onto the bar and stepped outside into the balmy night.
The city was never quiet; the sounds of animals, people shouting, laughing voices and music from the other clubs spilled into the street along with Jack. Even at this hour the street-vendors still called to him as he moved, ducking down a dark side alley.
He knew he should go home, back to his quiet, empty hotel bedroom. He could get something to drink that was half-decent and replay tonight's entertainment while he lay on the cool cotton of his sheets in his hot, airless room, heavy with the scent of the jasmine that grew outside his windows.
In the darkness before the moon came around to shine through his shutters, he could pretend that the strength and grace he'd seen on stage tonight was the way that the man would make love - passionate and forceful.
Jack would push his pillow beneath him, rock against its smooth softness and imagine that it was the skin of that captivating, unforgettable dancer. And he would moan, softly, nonsense words, stupid impossible declarations as he spilled. Then, when he was spent, sweaty and heavy with release, he would sleep despite the heat, deep and sweet, dreaming of a knowing smile and blue eyes.
That's what he should do. That's what he'd done up to now, for fourteen nights. But tonight something was different. He hadn't drunk more than usual. He hadn't won a packet at a game of poker. He wasn't sick or celebrating or lonely. Tonight was like any other he'd spent since he'd come here, except that tonight he was going to do something he hadn't done before… ever before… and take a chance.
Because the man had looked at him - directly, openly, honestly.
And for a single, perfect second, Jack had wondered if it could be real.
* * *
It wasn't too long before the dancer emerged from the backdoor of the club. Without his stage costume and with the kohl cleaned from his eyes, he looked younger, somehow more innocent than the confident man on the stage earlier that night, and Jack was nearly unnerved into leaving. But as he turned and walked past him, Jack steeled himself, and stepped out from the shadow.
The man said something guttural in Arabic, Jack assumed, and looked at him warily.
"Sorry! Sorry, I didn't mean to…" Jack held up his hands and took a step back to show that he was no threat.
The man looked at him curiously, chary but not frightened. He tilted his head and waited for Jack to speak again.
"Uh… Parlez-vous Français?" Jack tried, dredging his memory for the bits and pieces of French he'd picked up in his travels.
"Oui, qu'est-ce que vous voulez?" the man replied, and Jack swallowed. His voice was deeper than he'd expected, but just as soft and strong.
"Je voudrais… uh... no… uh… Voulez vous avoir un boire… uh… avec moi… maintenant?"
The man moved closer to Jack, turning his head this way and that to try and see him in the dim light from the windows overlooking the alley. Again he said nothing.
"Je m'appelle Jack. Jack O'Neill," Jack told him.
"Enchanté de faire votre connaissance, Jack," the man replied.
"Et… uh… qu'est ce que vous…uh…?"
"Je suis Daniel," the man said, seeing Jack struggle. "Et oui, je veux bien quelque chose à boire."
"Daniel," Jack repeated. Finally. He had a name to put to the face that had been in his dreams for the last fourteen nights. And he'd heard a "oui" in the second part of the sentence, so he hoped that was the drink he'd offered.
Jack gestured for Daniel to lead. "Uh... après vous," he said and was pleased when Daniel started walking. He'd worry about the fact that he'd pretty much exhausted his French once they got to the bar.
Jack managed to find them a quiet table at Ginelli's, a decent club just off the main square. It wasn't all that busy, just enough people that they didn't feel self-conscious, but few enough that they could talk without shouting. Not that Jack knew what to say. He had plenty he wanted to say, but he lacked the capability.
This was one of the most ridiculous ideas he'd ever dreamed up. Seriously. This was insane even without the language barrier. Jack wasn't stupid; he'd admitted to himself long ago that he was a certain kind of man, and he knew that what he liked wasn't something he was supposed to have. He'd lived with it all his adult life and had dealt with it satisfactorily up to now; the occasional discreet but willing whore in places he knew he wouldn't be staying too long. Some of them were happy to let him do things the way he wanted to, if he paid them a little extra. And it had served him well. It had been enough. He'd never been crazy enough to actually approach a man in this way before. So what was it about Daniel that had changed all that?
Sitting here, in the low light of the nightclub, listening to the band play, it was obvious to Jack. Daniel was like nothing he'd ever seen before. He was beautiful - and that was something Jack had never thought he'd say about a man. His skin was close to flawless, smooth and inviting, on his cheeks, his throat and down into the collar of the loose linen shirt he wore. His eyebrows curved in simple perfection over the most intensely blue eyes Jack had ever seen. The intelligence of the man was apparent in every gesture, every glance; no one could dance like that and be stupid. Jack was fascinated by him. How had he ended up here? Who had taught him to dance? What did he do when he wasn't working at Aziz's? Did he have someone?
Did he want someone?
Jack called over the waiter, a face he knew from previous visits, and encountered his first problem. "Quelle que… uh… qu'est-ce que…? Shit. Abdul, how do you say, 'what will you have to drink' in French?"
"I don't know, Mr. Jack. Why don't you ask Mr. Daniel?" The smile that cracked across Abdul's face was enormous and smug.
"It's 'Qu'est-ce que vous voulez à boire?'" Daniel offered with a small quirk of his lips. "And I'd like a scotch, please."
"Ah. I see. Make that two," Jack told Abdul with a glare that said, 'no tip.' "So, Daniel, you speak perfect English and excellent French. Is there anything else I should know before I make myself look like an idiot again?" Jack asked once Abdul had gone.
"Oh, don't be sore," Daniel replied looking not in the least repentant. "I'm sorry I didn't own up. Besides, you were doing just fine. I'm flattered you even bothered to try. What made you think I was French?"
Because he was graceful, exotic and uninhibited, and not like any American or Englishman Jack had ever seen, that was for damn sure. But he settled for, "You looked kind of French."
Daniel raised his eyebrows at that, but didn't pick him up on it. "Actually my father was half French," he admitted and thanked Abdul who arrived with their drinks just then. "I can speak some of the local Berber dialects, Spanish and Dutch too, in case that's why you wanted to talk to me." Daniel smirked and took an experimental sip of his scotch. "So, Jack? You're a big fan of dance, then?"
"Not usually," Jack admitted, swirling the dark liquid in his glass.
"And yet, you've been in every night this week. It must be for the engaging conversation," Daniel smiled at Jack, not unkindly, but the gesture seemed brittle somehow.
"For two weeks actually," Jack responded. "I've only just found the place or I'd have been in more often."
Daniel looked closely at Jack, appearing quietly pleased at this. "And what brings you to Marrakech?" he asked finally, steering the conversation into clearer waters.
Jack took a moment to focus before he answered. The way Daniel said the city's name was like the natives did - with a long, soft "sch" sound, which Jack found both distracting and rather endearing. The way he spoke was such a combination that Jack couldn't discern any specific accent - it was simply and uniquely Daniel.
"I've been working here, well, nearby. When the job finished, I found I wasn't ready to leave yet. So I stuck around, picked up the odd job along the way. How about you?"
"Me? Oh, I was born here," Daniel nodded. "What do you do - when you're not appreciating the performing arts, that is?"
Jack knew he was being teased, and it would have irritated him were it anyone else. But Daniel wasn't being malicious, just more familiar than Jack was accustomed to. If he were a more experienced man, he might have thought Daniel flirtatious, but Jack's confidence didn't stretch to that.
"I'm a geologist actually. I've been working with a French mining consortium," he admitted.
"Ah, I see. A man of science. What shall we find to talk about?" Daniel enquired with a sly grin.
"And what do you do when you're not working… or talking to stray geologists?"
Daniel laughed at that, a sound that went straight through Jack like a hot knife through butter. "Oh, this and that. I keep busy," Daniel said vaguely.
They talked through the band's set, through their break and over the top of the pianist who was up next. Daniel was interested in Jack's views on the political situation in North Africa, the places he'd travelled to, his education and his home in Boston. He would flit from subject to subject, leading Jack on and drawing more information from him than he'd given away in months of working here. And yet Daniel managed to keep the conversation away from himself, skilfully avoiding specifics.
Jack realised very quickly that he was in no way in control of this conversation or this situation - it was all purely at Daniel's discretion. In fact, Jack was stunned that the man was prepared to sit and listen to the mundane details of his life. This was a new experience for Jack, who was used to leading conversations, steering them where he wanted, yet he didn't feel discomfited by giving up control to Daniel. His emphatic nods, his clarifications and his occasional smiles spurred Jack to speak. He wanted to tell whatever it was Daniel wanted to hear.
He was so engrossed that it came as a shock when Daniel finally said, "Well, Jack, thanks for the drink," and licked the last drops of his scotch from his bottom lip as he stood.
Jack rose quickly. "Can I…?" Walk you home? Was he really about to say that? He was pretty certain that would have got him a cool look and a distant refusal. Jack searched for something to say.
"Which way am I walking?" Daniel asked him with an amused smile. He seemed to know Jack inside out - and that should have been a frightening feeling, but it wasn't. Daniel looked toward the door, pursed his lips and seemed to come to a decision. "I live near the Agdal Gardens in Bab Ksiba. Do you know it?"
That wasn't anywhere near where Jack was staying, but he wasn't about to admit that if it meant he could stay with Daniel for a little longer.
"Yep, that's on my way," Jack lied and he knew Daniel knew it from the sceptical lift of his eyebrows. But once again, Daniel said nothing, just waited while Jack pulled on his jacket and followed him from the club.
It was September, so the nights were starting to get cooler, and it was pleasant as they walked under the ancient city walls. With the Atlas Mountains a darker smudge on the horizon, the sky was bright with a million, million stars - more every time Jack looked up. Daniel pointed out Orion and Cassiopeia, but all Jack saw was random scatters of brilliance, no patterns in the sky.
The further they walked from Djemaa el Fna, the less busy it became, just the odd trader on his way from the Souks, or people on their way home after an evening out. They walked mainly in silence, which was fine by Jack. He had no idea if he was capable of sustaining a conversation when his guts felt like they were full of snakes.
As they drew closer to Bab Ksiba, Jack found himself desperately trying to find something to prolong the moment, to hang onto Daniel for just a few more minutes. But before he'd formulated an excuse to keep him talking, Daniel was stopping outside a small, plain wooden door, turning, smiling and saying, "This is it."
"Oh, right. Great. Okay… uh… I…"
"Are you coming up?"
Daniel didn't even stop to see if Jack was following - just pushed through the door and disappeared into the dark interior.
Jack hesitated. So he hadn't been mistaken; Daniel had been deliberately playful. And this was it - the final admission of who and what he was. This would change everything. Was it Marrakech and the impression it gave of anything being possible that had made him this bold? Or was it Daniel? If he did this, would he be able to live without it forever after? Would one taste be enough? Jack strongly suspected that once he'd… dear God... kissed Daniel, he'd be beyond settling for anything else ever again. Could he live with that?
Yet he wanted this so badly he ached all over. With just the sound of his voice, his laughter, Daniel had made Jack want more, feel more than he'd imagined he could. If he walked away now, from Daniel, from the truth about himself, from this easy, confident, uninhibited man, he knew he would live the rest of his life wishing for a second chance. And Jack knew how rarely they came along.
Jack followed Daniel's retreating figure up some narrow, wooden stairs and waited while he unlocked another door. Daniel's home, once they were in and he'd lit some lamps, was simple but comfortable. The colourful influence of the city was everywhere, but muted by the plain wooden furniture and white walls. There were shelves all along one wall, full of books, pottery, carved wooden figures and pictures. A day bed stood beneath the window, piled with cushions. Doorways went off to the right and left, and through a beaded curtain, Jack could just see a bedroom, similarly simple.
"This is nice," Jack said genuinely, mentally contrasting it with his own neat but soulless house in the smarter part of Boston.
"I like it," Daniel replied, "and you haven't seen the best part yet." He walked to a double doorway and, with a little flourish, pushed it open, revealing a small rooftop garden with potted palms, a tiny pool and views over the dark city to the mountains beyond.
While Jack took in the view, Daniel went to the little kitchen and came back with a plate of fruit and two glasses of the mint tea Jack had grown a taste for since he'd arrived in Morocco. Daniel kicked off his shoes and sat down, cross-legged, on a bench.
Jack turned, leaning back against the low wall. "This is amazing, Daniel. You're very lucky. Is it just you here?"
"Yep, just me," Daniel replied, offering Jack his tea.
Jack had known the answer to that in his heart, but his body still thrummed at the knowledge that they wouldn't be interrupted tonight and that Daniel had no other attachments to complicate matters. He came and sat beside Daniel; all the trepidation that seeing his home had suspended was back in force. Jack was sweating despite the fresh breeze that blew soft across the rooftops.
Daniel selected some dates, popping them into his mouth one by one and chewing slowly. Jack just sipped his tea, watching.
"Relax, Jack," Daniel said gently when the silence was beginning to become uncomfortable.
Jack smiled, but was mortified that his nerves showed so badly. He was thirty-eight! He was here of his own free will. Why on earth was he behaving like some innocent bride on her wedding night? So he didn't know exactly how this was going to happen - or even if it was going to happen, but he'd travelled half-way across the world and had gotten himself out of more trouble than he'd even known was out there to find.
"I'm sorry. It's not that I'm… I just… I've never…"
"Yes, I guessed as much," Daniel replied with a small smile. "And I'm not stopping you, Jack. You can go any time you like. Or you can stay and see what happens."
Jack nodded, refusing to blush, and concentrated on just how interesting a glass of mint tea could be.
Daniel laughed, a rich, throaty sound that set Jack's skin tingling again. It wasn't an unkind sound, but Daniel changed the subject, apparently aware of Jack's discomfort.
"Here," he said, "try these." He picked up a slice of apricot and Jack held out his hand, but Daniel leaned over and held it to his lips instead.
Jack swallowed and opened his mouth to accept the cool piece of fruit. It was sweet, but not as sweet as Daniel's thumb which lingered against his lower lip long after Jack had taken the offering.
"Nice?" Daniel asked, watching him intently.
"Very," Jack croaked.
Daniel nodded and picked up some more fruit. Jack opened his mouth obediently and leaned in, hoping for the touch of Daniel's fingers, but the dancer slowly withdrew the apricot from Jack's lips and put his own mouth there instead.
It was heaven - sweet and cool. Daniel tasted of mint and the sticky, honey flavoured dates he was eating. The roiling, sick feeling in Jack's stomach resolved itself into something more like a spreading warmth, subtle and insidious.
Daniel's fingers were on his face, in his hair, at the back of his neck, the fruit discarded on the floor and forgotten.
Jack reached for Daniel, unsure of how to touch him, but his clumsy caresses appeared to please Daniel and he hummed into Jack's mouth. Jack let himself be kissed, accepting rather than participating at first, but the flicker of heat in his groin urged him to do more. He tilted his head, deepening their connection and curled his tongue so it stroked at Daniel's.
"Daniel," Jack murmured when they broke apart, their foreheads still touching. "I've never met anything quite like you."
Daniel smiled, reached for Jack's hand, twined their fingers together and stood. He walked backwards, pulling Jack up after him and leading him into the house. The beads of Daniel's curtain rattled as they entered his bedroom, Daniel still towing Jack, his eyes never leaving his face.
When they reached the bed, Daniel stopped and let Jack go, leaving him standing there, clueless as to what to do next, but desperate for it to happen.
Daniel's hands went to the buttons of his white shirt. "This is what you wanted, wasn't it?" he asked. His eyes held no doubt at all.
Jack longed to fall on him, make him understand, shake him until he realised that he was everything Jack wanted - had ever wanted. But not just this night, not just these bodies and this act; he wanted this, yes, but so much more as well. But the words were beyond him, a means of expression that could never encompass the yearning in him. All he could do was nod.
Daniel smiled and began to undress. Jack realised, breathlessly, that this was a dance just for him, every bit as much of a performance as his work at the club. Daniel's shirt was unbuttoned and pulled slowly over his head to reveal his taut, muscled arms and chest, inch by mouth-watering inch. His skin was smooth, reflecting the feeble light from the lamp in the room next door. Stepping away from Jack, he unfastened his pants and slid them off his hips, stepping out of them when they pooled at his feet.
He wore nothing beneath, but seemed as confident and relaxed naked, as he had fully clothed. Once again Jack was stunned by the ease of the man. He was completely in control; there seemed to be nothing that unsettled that half-smile or that direct gaze.
Jack didn't know where to look. He wished for a fraction of Daniel's poise in a situation such as this. He felt sure he could never pull off the kind of coolness and dignity Daniel seemed to have instinctively, not if he picked up a man every night for the rest of his life.
"Your turn," Daniel said quietly.
Jack willed himself not to tremble as he unlaced his boots first. This way he couldn't see those eyes, daring him, being amused by him. He took off socks and boots, and straightened up.
Daniel's face was softer now, his eyes less challenging and more encouraging. As Jack fumbled with his jacket, Daniel moved to the bed, stretching out on the comforter on his side and propping his head on his hand to watch. He wasn't even going to get beneath the sheets, Jack realised, feeling his mouth go suddenly dry. Such wantonness, such utter assurance - it was breathtaking.
With one knee hitched up, Daniel flopped onto his back. He watched Jack with lazy but curious eyes. Seemingly unconsciously, his hand curled around his cock and stroked with long, easy tugs.
Jack felt dazed, rooted to the spot, struck by the beauty and natural simplicity of the scene unfolding on the bed. How different it was to Jack's own embarrassed, desperate memories of touching himself, feeling dirty and abnormal.
Daniel, with his bottom lip caught between his teeth and his concentration bent upon his own pleasure, was a thing so human, at once innocent and joyful, it was re-writing everything Jack thought he'd known about his own sexuality.
"Are you staying, Jack?" Daniel asked in a tone as deep and longing as Jack had ever heard.
He allowed himself to look, to actually look at Daniel naked. He worked his way up from his feet, over strongly muscled calves and thighs, across the proud curve of his erection, up his narrow hips and tight belly to his chest and dark nipples and finally back up to Daniel's face.
He wasn't even blushing.
Jack took a deep breath and unbuttoned his pants, pushing them and his shorts down in one movement. The air against his hot skin made his dick leap, tenting out his shirttails and making him look ridiculous. Jack looked up quickly to see if Daniel was laughing, but was surprised to see something else on that cool face. Something new. Something like need.
Jack took heart from this and unbuttoned his shirt… slowly. Daniel's eyes tracked from his fingers to his face and back. The flicker of tongue when Jack pulled the shirt from his shoulders almost made him groan aloud. He stood and let Daniel look at him, his skin itching at the scrutiny and his mind shrieking that he was insane and wanton, and that he should cover up.
But Daniel seemed pleased, a warm smile tugging his lips into a curve. "Come here, Jack," he invited.
The comforter was cool against his skin. It was making him chilled, Jack told himself as he shivered, flat on his back, waiting for Daniel's next move. He didn't have to wait long.
Daniel's fingers were warm as he traced a path across Jack's collarbone, down over his nipple and onto his belly. He scraped his nails through the dusting of hair around Jack's navel. Daniel rolled closer to Jack, and he could feel the heat of him all down his right side. With his hand resting on Jack's stomach, Daniel leaned over and kissed him - still gentle. He tucked his head against Jack's shoulder and let his fingers drift lower.
Jack thought he might just die from the pleasure of it, or he might just come from Daniel's gentle touch. He distracted himself by turning his head into the soft hair and breathing in the scent of Daniel - almonds, cinnamon, sweat and sunshine. In an instant of clarity, Jack knew it was something he'd never forget as long as he lived. And when he was too old to even remember his own name, he would remember this moment, this scent, this night.
Daniel's hand was as big as his own, just slimmer and smoother but as it closed around Jack's erection, Jack knew it was nothing like his own. Daniel teased, explored and worked him so slowly - nowhere near the quick, business-like way Jack handled himself. Daniel's long fingers were everywhere, at the crown, cupping his balls, running up the shaft, learning him.
Jack longed to touch Daniel in the same way, but his own inexperience made him frozen, terrified that he'd do the wrong thing and have this ended before it was begun.
Daniel must have felt something of Jack's dilemma because he drew back and looked into his eyes. "I won't break, you know," he murmured. He took Jack's hand and placed it on his own chest, pulling it down over the hairless skin to his belly and on to his cock. Jack rolled onto his shoulder to watch his hand on Daniel's body.
Tentatively Jack curled his fingers around Daniel's erection, just holding it, feeling the size and weight of it in his palm. He leaned in and kissed Daniel's mouth of his own volition for the first time. Daniel sighed and opened to him immediately, rolling onto his back again and pulling Jack with him.
Jack lifted up and looked down into Daniel's half-closed eyes. "I wish I… Daniel… I don't know how. I want to make it good for you, but… I…"
"You're doing fine," Daniel smiled. "Just be yourself, Jack and if you get a bit lost, I'll help you. There're no secrets or correct answers. Just do what feels right."
Jack swallowed and nodded. What Daniel had just done to him had felt pretty much completely right, so Jack did that. He ran his fingertips over the heated skin, fondled Daniel's balls gently, then brushed the tip of his cock. It was… different… unbelievably silky, not sticky at all and Jack looked down the length of their bodies to where their erections reached toward each other, not more than a hand's width between them, and the difference became obvious. Daniel was circumcised. Jack had heard of this but never seen it before.
With shaking fingers he traced the crown of Daniel's cock and watched as a drop of moisture appeared, glistening in the red glow of the lantern.
"That, for example, feels very right, Jack," Daniel breathed. "Don't stop."
Jack looked back up to Daniel's face, whose eyes were shut while his straight, white teeth held his bottom lip. Jack felt like a river in flood, like a dam had burst and a force of water had been unleashed. He could do this - he had put that look on Daniel's beautiful face, he wanted him to come from his attentions and he knew how to do that. He loved him. How could he fail?
Jack withdrew his hand, licked his palm and took a firm grip on Daniel. It was just like those nights of dreaming of him, but this time he was doing it for real. His hand moved in a familiar rhythm, long tugs, twisting his hand as he pulled.
Daniel moaned and opened his eyes, watching Jack work him.
Jack made to lick his hand again when his palm began to catch, but Daniel stopped him and took a bottle from the table beside the bed, pouring a little of it into his hand. The subtle sweetness reached Jack's nose over the scent of their arousal. Almond oil.
The feel of the slipperiness on Daniel's hot dick was heaven. Jack's hand glided on him easily, his wrist moving in a continuous smooth motion. Soon Daniel was panting and squirming, opening his legs wider, pushing his hips up demandingly.
"Yes, Jack! Like that. Ahhhhh!"
Jack's heart beat like a wild thing; Daniel was utterly perfect. To be so unashamed of his body's needs, to spread himself before Jack like this, to let Jack watch him as he worked toward his orgasm - he didn't care if he never had sex again - this was the best it was ever going to be for Jack.
Daniel came with a warning growl, his head thrown back and his mouth wide open and gasping. The pulses spattered his chest and belly, stringy and thick against his flushed skin.
Jack was mesmerised, speechless while Daniel's face relaxed from its ecstatic grimace and his shuddering breath evened. He felt he was intruding on something he shouldn't be sharing; yet he couldn't drag his gaze away.
Daniel opened sleepy eyes and smiled. "See? You're a natural," he told Jack with a laugh.
Daniel rolled back to face Jack, unperturbed by the slow slide of semen across his belly and onto the bed. "Now then," he grinned and reached for the oil bottle again. Jack thought just the sound of the bottle top was going to make him come, but he breathed through it, and through Daniel's slippery fingers roaming up and down his dick.
Jack closed his eyes and lay back, lost in the swell of pleasure, just as Daniel had showed him. But then Daniel was gone, the bed dipping as he moved away. Jack felt the loss of contact like a physical pain and he moaned aloud. He let his head drop to the side to look for Daniel, but he hadn't gone far; he had rolled onto his belly and was watching Jack with a daring glitter in his eyes.
Playfully he pulled the pillow from beneath Jack's head and wiggled until it was under his own hips, which had the effect of hitching his ass up higher.
Jack stopped breathing altogether.
Was this what he thought it was? Was Daniel seriously offering this to him? He had no idea of the etiquette of situations such as this - was this too fast? Was this usual? Would the same be expected of him? Could he trust someone this much?
"Only if you want to," Daniel said calmly.
Oh, Jack wanted to alright. He just hadn't let himself dream about such a thing, even in his lust soaked state of the last two weeks. But Daniel must have misinterpreted his inaction for caution.
"I'm clean, I don't actually do this very often, despite what you're thinking," Daniel continued, the openness of his expression fading.
"I didn't think that," Jack protested quickly, turning to run a possessive hand from Daniel's shoulder to his thigh. He could feel the muscle beneath the softness, strong and perfectly defined. There wasn't a molecule in Jack's body that didn't react to this man; his proximity seemed to set up a resonance that ran through him like a chime.
"I would if I were you," Daniel replied bluntly, but arched up into Jack's caress.
Jack was frightened by Daniel's world-weariness. It saddened him that life had thrown so much Daniel's way that he had grown this cynical. Of course, it had also made him bold enough that he could bring a man home from a bar and take him to bed, but the price of such confidence was high. Jack found himself strangely uninterested in Daniel's previous lovers - he would have been less shocked by jealousy or curiosity, but without Daniel's experience, they would never have made it here at all. Jack was simply content to be the recipient of that accumulated knowledge.
Jack kissed the back of Daniel's neck and followed his spine with his lips. "You're the most amazing thing I've ever seen," he whispered. Daniel hummed at him in approval and squirmed, lifting his hips and seeking contact with Jack's skin.
Jack was relieved that although his mind didn't have the correct knowledge, his body seemed to understand perfectly. Kneeling between Daniel's thighs, he poured more oil into his hand, liberally coating his erection and letting some dribble from his fingers onto Daniel's back. His eyes tracked the flow of the oil from the base of the dancer's spine as it trickled down between the cheeks of his ass.
He knew he had to go slow and ignore the screaming demands of his body to take, possess, make Daniel his. Jack positioned himself and eased into the tight heat, gritting his teeth and gasping at the rush of new sensations. Daniel's body allowed him entrance, gradually accepting him into its warmth as if he belonged there, a sentiment that Jack agreed with wholeheartedly. He had nothing to compare this feeling to. Nothing. It was unknown but familiar, and all Jack's fears and uncertainties left him. As his body had known instinctively, so now did his mind.
This was right.
This was where he belonged.
Daniel reached a hand back, gripping at Jack's hip tightly, pressing him when he slowed until they were fully joined, Jack's chest and abdomen slick against Daniel's back.
For a long minute they lay like that, Jack's forearms keeping some of his weight off Daniel.
"Okay?" Daniel asked, arching his head back to rub against Jack's.
"Okay," Jack murmured, lost for a word to better describe how he felt.
"Then move, Jack," Daniel whispered. "Move."
Jack lifted himself onto his hands and spread his knees to gain balance, forcing Daniel to do the same. He slid a little deeper as their angle changed and he felt a shiver run through the man beneath him.
"Yeah, like that," Daniel sighed.
Jack lost himself, letting this new found instinct show him the way. Making love to Daniel was so much more than a physical thing to him - physical, he could get from a whore. This was something different. With each moan, each slide of skin and every shaking breath he was being changed; unmade and newly created in another form.
In an unlooked for flash of self-awareness, Jack knew that what was different was how he thought of Daniel. Having a man - being with a man - had been purely an abstract up to now. He'd never let himself see men as creatures to be loved and cared for, but as objects of a lust he couldn't control or act upon. He'd distanced himself from his own heart in an effort to control urges deemed unacceptable by his peers.
Daniel had just, in a single night, wiped all that away as though it were no more substantial than a spider's web. All Jack's carefully constructed walls, all the lies he'd held on to for so long, he'd almost come to believe them. Daniel with his easy smile and his open nature, making it simple to talk to him. Daniel with his unconscious grace and sharp mind, understanding better than he himself, what Jack wanted. Daniel with his knowing eyes and honest heart, showing him he was wanted in return.
Daniel whispered to him as they moved together - encouragement, direction and praise. When Daniel said, "Slower," Jack shook and trembled to comply. When he said, "Harder," Jack pushed until his muscles burned and ached. And when he said, "Now, Jack! Now!" Jack gave up everything, his heart and soul, to the man who shuddered beneath him, twisting his head back for messy kisses as they came.
As he slipped into sleep, his body still twined around Daniel's, Jack knew he'd been right.
This changed everything.
* * *
The sky was peach and lilac when the Azan woke him. The call to prayer had become familiar to Jack, echoing from the mosques as it did five times a day. He didn't understand the words, but the sudden lull in activity as the voices called the faithful always filled him with a kind of wonder.
Daniel was still sound asleep, obviously used to the morning devotion. Sometime during the night, he must have covered them, because they were both warm beneath the peacock blue of Daniel's comforter. Jack used the opportunity to study him properly. His hair fell over his cheek and his lips were softly parted as he slept, curled on his side facing Jack. There was none of the arrogance he'd displayed on stage, or the cutting wit he'd used to deflect questions about himself on his sleeping face. He looked young and vulnerable, and Jack's fingers itched to stroke his cheek.
To distract himself, Jack took in Daniel's bedroom, now he had the time. It too was simple but welcoming, with the same plain white walls, even more books on the dark wooden shelves, and a large and ancient looking gilt mirror, completely out of place here, lending reflected light from the open shutters.
He wondered what kind of a man lived in a place like this, with its understated good-taste and surrounded by these things. Were they his things? Had he chosen them or had they come with the house? What was with all the books? Had he painted the watercolours on the walls - scenes of Africa, scenes of somewhere greener… Europe maybe? Had he been there? Did he tend the little garden whose sweet flowers Jack could smell drifting in through the window? Had this always been his home? Had his parents lived here before him?
Jack was unnerved to find that he didn't know any of these answers - didn't actually know the man lying beside him. He'd fooled himself that because he'd watched him dance and created an impression of him from the way he'd moved, the way he'd smiled, that he knew him. And yet the feeling persisted. In some inexplicable way, Jack felt that he understood Daniel. Perhaps he didn't know the circumstances of his day-to-day life, the history that had made him who he was, but he felt an odd sense of connection to this uninhibited soul curled up at his side. He would never have dared to approach him otherwise. Daniel was so far out of Jack's experience that he had no point of reference for the basis of a friendship.
But here he was, listening to the last echoes of the Azan and watching the sky turn indigo and blue, lying in Daniel's bed with their clothes still in a heap on the floor.
Jack couldn't help but smile.
"You're still here," came a sleepy, muffled observation.
Ah, his point was proven - he didn't know his ass from his elbow. He'd done something wrong.
"Yes, sorry, I… uh… fell asleep and…" Jack continued to stare at the ceiling rather than see the politely concealed unease he guessed would be on Daniel's face.
"Don't be sorry. I just thought that you might…" Daniel sniffed and ran a hand through his hair. "I've woken up alone after… more often than not."
Jack's jaw clenched as he turned his face to look at Daniel. Why would anyone want to miss this? What kind of a man would make love to Daniel and not want to stay forever? Or, Jack thought with unease, perhaps it was Daniel's choice that his friendships lasted only a single night?
"Do you want me to go?" Jack asked, feeling suddenly sick. He was so far out of his depth - he must look like a complete imbecile to Daniel and his worldly ways.
Daniel looked as if he were considering it and Jack's stomach did another unpleasant flip. He was a fool. He'd finally found his heart only to lose it irrevocably to someone who had no use for it. He should have known better, but he couldn't find it in himself to regret it.
"No, stay," Daniel replied abruptly, rolling over and slinking out of bed. "Bathroom's that way, you go and… whatever… while I make us some coffee."
Jack cleaned up quickly, opting to wash rather than try out the large, white porcelain bath and its attendant pipes and taps, no matter how inviting it looked. Indoor plumbing in Morocco was a precarious proposal at the best of times.
He picked up his clothes from the floor and dressed fast, listening to the noises of Daniel's breakfast preparations and music playing softly somewhere.
When Jack stopped in the doorway, holding the beads aside, he was faced with Daniel's long, lean back, hardly disguised at all by the thin, dark blue robe he'd tied carelessly around himself. A gramophone was playing in the corner of the room - something vaguely familiar to Jack, although he probably wouldn't have recognised the name of the composer if he'd seen it.
It was a scene at once reassuringly domestic and strangely intrusive. Jack didn't know quite how to behave. Was a kiss and another 'Good Morning' too familiar? Should he drink his coffee and go? Should he ask to see him again or was that implied by sharing breakfast?
"If you think any louder, you'll wake the neighbours," Daniel murmured walking out onto the balcony with a tray laden with crockery and silverware. Jack followed sheepishly and sat where Daniel indicated, beside a large potted lemon tree.
The sun, still low in the sky, was making the city walls glow red, and without the heat off the baked brick, the city smelled fresh and clean. The music carried out quietly onto the balcony and Jack listened, intrigued by the repetition, the subtle variations that moved the piece forward. He began to hear patterns where he'd never imagined any such thing existed. He realised that was because he'd never really listened before, and although the recording was thin and crackly, Jack found himself waiting for the echoed melody to repeat.
"Is this Beethoven?" he asked, watching as Daniel laid out more fruit, bread and biscuits, and poured some dark, fragrant coffee that reminded Jack how hungry he was.
"Bach," Daniel replied with a quirk of his eyebrow. Jack didn't know if that was amusement or something else, and busied himself with breakfast so he didn't have to think about it.
Daniel sipped his coffee in silence, obviously savouring the flavour or the music, Jack wasn't sure which, but was sad when the last notes finally died away.
"So," Daniel began finally, taking a biscuit and some figs from the tray, "what does Mr. O'Neill have to fill his day today?"
Jack swallowed a mouthful of the strong coffee. "Well, I was wondering whether to ask Mr…" Jack stopped, the reality of their unfamiliarity brought home to him in an instant. "I don't know your surname," he admitted.
Daniel watched him levelly. "It's Ballard," he said simply.
Jack nodded. "Well I was thinking of asking Mr. Ballard whether he was free today."
Daniel cocked his head as he bit his biscuit, chewing thoughtfully. "I have to work tonight, but that's all. What did you have in mind?" That spark of challenge was back in his eyes as he waited for Jack's reply.
"Perhaps you'd like to show me some more of your city?" Jack invited, wondering if he was being too bold. There were so many unknowns, it made Jack's head reel. He knew Daniel intimately, but not well; he really wanted to resolve that if he could.
Daniel blinked at him in surprise. "Alright," he smiled genuinely. "Let me get dressed and I'll show you the sights."
* * *
Jack had been in the city for three weeks but without the guidance of a native, he hadn't got much further than the Medina. Daniel was the perfect person to introduce him to Marrakech; not only did he know all the best things to see and the nicest cafés, but he knew all there was to know about the history of the place as well. Jack found that by seeing the red city through Daniel's eyes he was better able to appreciate its setting and its layout. Daniel's love and enthusiasm for the place was infectious.
Jack learned more about his guide in snippets and inferences from his commentary than perhaps Daniel realised. He now knew that his mother was half-Spanish Moroccan and his father was a half-Dutch Frenchman, making Daniel an interesting mix of Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa. His mother had been the dancer and the artist, and his father had been an archaeologist. The little house in Bab Ksiba had been theirs. Jack assumed they must both have died some time ago from the way Daniel spoke, and sometimes he'd catch himself telling Jack something personal and quickly change the subject. Jack never pushed, but yearned to know what had happened to make Daniel the man he was.
By mid-afternoon they were hoarse, footsore and tired.
"Do you want to have an early dinner with me?" Jack asked as they found themselves back in the Djemaa el Fna. "I assume you don't eat too late or you wouldn't be able to dance the way you do at nine."
Daniel gave him another of the looks he'd been showing him all day - a combination of surprise and wariness, like he was looking for Jack's angle. "Sure," he replied after studying Jack's face for a few seconds - another habit that Jack was beginning to find just a little wearing.
"Great. I need to go back to my hotel first and shave. I must look like a vagrant by now."
Daniel smiled. "I don't know, I kind of like it. It makes you look rakish," he added with a twitch of his eyebrows.
"Oh, really?" Jack drawled.
"No," Daniel replied. "You were right. Vagrant. Now where are you staying?"
Jack laughed at the sly grin on Daniel's face and led him across the square towards his hotel.
The lobby of La Mamounia was cool and shady after the hustle and heat of the day. Quiet too - smartly-dressed people were talking in hushed voices in deference to the echoes that bounced off the high ceiling.
"Nice," Daniel murmured quietly as they crossed the marble floor to the reception desk.
"Thirty-nine, please?" Jack asked the attentive, perky young man behind the desk.
"Certainly, Dr. O'Neill. I trust you've had an entertaining day," he smiled and turned to fulfil Jack's request.
Jack shifted, uncomfortably aware of Daniel at his shoulder. "Very pleasant, thank you," he replied, taking his key.
"There was a message for you, Sir," the concierge added, passing Jack a thick, cream envelope.
Jack nodded and pocketed the letter, eager to escape the man's bland smile and polite façade.
His room was large and high-ceilinged like the lobby, decorated expensively with dark wood and a Moorish influence. But it was the balcony that caught Daniel's attention.
"Wow, this is something," Daniel breathed, looking out over the gardens that gave the hotel its name. "It's almost as nice as mine."
"Nothing like as nice," Jack protested.
Daniel smiled at him, which was the whole point, after all.
"Make yourself at home, I'll just be ten minutes," Jack called over his shoulder, already stripping off his creased, dirty shirt. It wouldn't do to keep Daniel waiting - he might get bored and disappear. Jack still couldn't quite believe he'd been allowed to tag along with him all day, but he was greedy where Daniel was concerned and he'd take whatever he was offered for as long as it was offered.
He got the shower running, undressed down to his shorts and quickly set about removing the stubble from his face with quick, practiced ease. The room began to steam up nicely, letting Jack know that the water was hot. He stripped off his shorts and ducked into the shower, adjusting the dials to get a more refreshing temperature.
He'd just started on his hair when a cool, slender hand snaked across his chest. Jack gasped a mouthful of warm water and spun to find Daniel's laughing blue eyes behind him.
"May I?" Daniel asked in that oddly accentless voice.
Jack wasn't sure whether permission was being asked to join him or to wash him, which was what Daniel began to do without waiting for an answer.
He took the soap from Jack's fingers and slid it over his shoulders and down onto his chest, rubbing little circles over his skin. Next he washed down Jack's arms, and onto his hands and fingers, kneading and digging his thumbs into the heel of Jack's palm. Jack had had no idea that someone touching his hands would be so erotic and make him react quite so positively, even someone as amazing as Daniel, and he shifted his weight to accommodate the delicious ache building in his groin.
Daniel eased Jack around to face the tiles, making the water cascade down Jack's chest and over his sudden hardness. The sensation was beyond good; Daniel's hands now moving on his back and shoulders, and the warm water teasing the sensitive skin between his legs.
Muscles Jack hadn't even known were tense yielded under Daniel's firm pressure. He worked downwards, his hands drifting lower and lower. Jack's erection throbbed in time with the passes of Daniel's hands, longing for his attention.
Reaching the small of Jack's spine, Daniel slowed his progress, his touch suddenly cautious as he slid his hands onto Jack's ass.
Jack couldn't prevent the moan in his throat as his lover's hands squeezed the muscle there, parting him. He felt the soft touch of Daniel's soap-slicked fingers as he traced the most intimate line of his buttocks.
Daniel pressed soft, biting kisses on Jack's shoulder blades as he stroked him, each time more firmly than the last until his fingers finally paused at Jack's entrance, rubbing slippery, insanely wonderful circles around it, as if pondering his next move.
Jack didn't hesitate. He pushed back against Daniel's hand murmuring his name. He had thought that this was more than he would ever be prepared for �" that if asked, he would have baulked, but he'd been wrong. Utterly wrong. If he had learned anything from making love with Daniel last night, it was that he had to give himself over to it completely. This kind of intimacy was only made magical by your own acceptance, by trusting someone to keep you safe and make the journey with you. Just like Daniel had trusted him.
The sensation of Daniel's smooth finger pressing into his ass was confusing at first - although not precisely uncomfortable, it wasn't good either, wasn't enough. Jack knew, from Daniel's reactions last night that this kind of contact was supposed to be a pleasurable experience, but all he felt was vaguely foolish.
But Daniel's mouth was still on his back, his body still pressed up close against him and that was keeping Jack as hard as he'd ever been in his life. To be making love, in broad daylight, under a warm shower - Jack was certain that this was hedonism beyond anything his family and friends back home could even imagine.
The burn as a second soapy finger breached him was different, yet he found his body instinctively leaning into it, not away from the discomfort. It was like the most exquisite pressure - not quite a pain, but not easy. Jack leaned, straight-armed against the plain white tiles of the bathroom, finding leverage to press himself back towards that maddening sensation. Daniel worked his fingers in and out and in, stretching him, filling him.
The third finger hurt, but Jack welcomed the sharpness of it, the sense that he couldn't ignore the messages his body was sending. He breathed as Daniel slowly twisted and pushed, his hot breath against Jack's goose-pimpled skin.
Daniel's fingers reached, stroking him inside, almost with intent until Jack felt him connect with something that had him gasping and thrusting back again. Over his shoulder, a little chuckle sounded, and Daniel bit him harder when he rubbed there once more. White sparks zinged behind Jack's tightly shut eyes as he struggled for breath.
The need to come was overwhelming as Daniel eased off and unerringly rediscovered that indescribable spot within him repeatedly. Jack moaned, knowing that he sounded terribly wanton, but unable to help himself. He let a hand fall from the tiles and took hold of himself.
Instantly, the fingers were gone, leaving an empty coldness, made worse when Daniel shut off the shower. Jack was speechless, almost incoherent, but Daniel pulled him, tugged at his stupid, heavy arms and legs until he was out of the bath and facing the wall.
"One leg up, Jack, and brace here," Daniel said in a low, needy voice. He helped Jack arrange himself, one foot on the rim of the tub and bent over, pushing against the wet tiles for balance.
Daniel fussed with something behind him and Jack was confused until he smelled the familiar scent of his hair oil.
"This will have to do," Daniel murmured in his ear and his fingers were back, all three at once, making Jack whimper - so slippery, so warm and oh, so good. This time when the fingers left him, Jack knew something better was coming. He was only left aching for a moment before he felt the blunt heat of Daniel's cock nudging against him.
It wasn't easy; the oil did its job, smoothing the way, but Daniel was bigger than fingers and much longer. It seemed to take forever as Daniel slid into him, a fraction at a time. Jack breathed and shifted, trying to help - he wanted this so badly. He was impatient to feel the cool lick of Daniel's balls against his own, to be as deeply connected, physically, as he could be.
The heat where they were joined was intense; Jack knew the girth of Daniel in every shallow, burning stretch as he thrust so slowly into him. He was trembling when Daniel's slick fist finally traced around his hip and stroked his cock. Jack was surprised to find that he'd softened - he didn't feel like that - he felt ready, desperate even, and it didn't take more than a dozen strokes of Daniel's hand to bring him fully hard again.
Daniel set up a slow pace, rocking into Jack as he pulled on his cock, and Jack was soon torn between pushing back into Daniel's thrusts, or jerking himself through Daniel's tight, slippery fist.
Once again, it was Daniel's decision. His pace became increasingly erratic, grunting and straining against Jack's back, their bodies sheened with sweat. His fingers bit into Jack's hip, dragging him back onto his dick. He jerked Jack faster, harder now until Jack couldn't hold on any longer and shot hard into Daniel's hand with a gasp. Daniel became even more frenzied and slammed, once, twice, three times into Jack and then came, the pulse of his dick amplifying the aftershocks that had turned Jack to an uncoordinated, panting mess.
Daniel must have gotten them to the bed, because Jack didn't know how he came to be tangled up with him in a damp, sleepy embrace on the covers.
Jack lay there for a while, relishing the weight and heat of Daniel wherever their skin touched, but the man was heavy and the air was getting cooler. He cautiously sat up, feeling a sweet ache in his ass and back. Daniel merely rolled over and carried on dozing. Jack tucked the cover over him and went back for another shower to ease his tired, overused muscles. He took his time, delighting in the sting when the water hit the bite marks on his back, and the heat within him, scalded by the memory of Daniel's cock.
When Jack came out of the bathroom, Daniel was dressed again, watching out of the windows as the last sliver of sun was setting. He flashed him a quick, absent-minded smile when he heard Jack, then went back to his thoughts.
Jack walked to the closet to dress, but his hands hesitated on the stiff material of his dinner jacket. He was suddenly loath to go back out. Wherever they went to eat, he wouldn't be able to speak freely with Daniel. It had taken all day for Daniel to become as relaxed as he now was with Jack, and he didn't want to ruin that.
Daniel was a strange combination of characteristics. His body language was open, his demeanour confident, friendly and interested, yet Jack couldn't help but feel that he was guarding something - keeping deliberately apart so he could hold something back. Jack thought he might have glimpsed part of it this morning when Daniel had been surprised to find him still in his bed.
"Daniel? Would you mind if we ate in my room? I could order anything you like from the kitchens," Jack asked, walking up behind him, but not touching him - he still didn't feel confident enough to touch without invitation, and Daniel seemed preoccupied.
"Of course, just order what you like," Daniel replied, but he didn't turn.
Jack ordered mrouzia, his favourite lamb dish, and dressed in clean, casual clothes while he was waiting for it to be delivered. Daniel didn't seem inclined to make conversation and Jack was respectful of that.
The discreet waiting staff served their meal on the balcony on Jack's instructions, ensuring everything was beautifully displayed and to their satisfaction before they left as quietly as they'd come.
Daniel was withdrawn, there was no escaping it, and Jack was beginning to believe that his request to stay here to eat had been a mistake. Something had stopped the flow of Daniel's words - and although it had never been heavy with personal detail, Jack felt the loss keenly.
Jack held out one of the chairs that the staff had brought out onto the balcony and Daniel sat down with a roll of his eyes. Jack served him with bread, salad and a good portion of the fragrant lamb, raisin and almond dish.
They ate quietly, listening to the first of the frogs from the garden's ponds begin its evening serenade until a string quartet began playing on the terrace blow them.
Daniel picked at his food, eating with his fingers, as was the local custom. Jack watched him from under lowered lashes, a guilty pleasure; whereas Jack knew he himself looked ungainly, like a man brought up to eat with highly polished silver and a fork for every course, Daniel ate unselfconsciously, with quick, neat bites and much licking of fingers and thumbs.
Jack was lost in these thoughts when Daniel surprised him by speaking.
"Can I ask you a question?"
Jack nodded and tried to look encouraging, but Daniel's sudden desire to talk sounded forced.
"In fact several questions, first of which… Doctor O'Neill?"
Jack grinned in relief. "Does that surprise you?"
"Well, no. You seem like a bright fellow. It's just you never said."
Jack shrugged. "I already seemed to have your attention. I didn't think I needed to impress you."
Daniel laughed suddenly at that, much to Jack's pleasure.
"Are you married?" Daniel asked, sobering just as quickly. "I notice you don't wear a ring, but that doesn't always mean anything."
"No, Daniel, I'm not married," Jack answered, equally seriously.
"Never find the right girl or couldn't have the one you wanted or…?" Daniel broke his bread into pieces, tearing them into smaller and smaller crumbs.
"Never wanted one at all," Jack admitted out loud for the first time in his life. Curiously enough, the world continued to turn on its axis. "Marriage would be a lie for someone like me and that's not fair on me or any wife that would be inclined to have me."
Daniel stopped his obsessive destruction of his food for a few seconds, before resuming more slowly.
"Does that surprise you?" Jack asked again, curiously. "I would have thought, after last night and…"
"People lie, Jack," Daniel interrupted, his eyes still on his plate. "What people say and what people do are two different things. Or isn't it like that in your world?"
Jack knew the anger in Daniel's voice wasn't directed at him - his mocking question was a bitter reflection on himself and his own experiences, Jack was sure of it. Yet he couldn't follow Daniel's thinking. He felt as if he were being found wanting in some way, but had no idea of what he stood accused.
He spoke carefully, anxious not to provoke Daniel. "No, people lie where I come from too, Daniel. But not to the ones they love."
"Love," Daniel snorted scornfully, lifting hard eyes to Jack's face.
"You don't believe in love?" Jack felt the world slip sideways, away from his grasp, bringing an all too familiar numbness to his soul.
"It's a convenient word, nothing more. Works like magic though. Say it and it has an incredible effect on people. Makes them stupid," Daniel told him, defiantly.
"I thought so too, once," Jack said softly.
Daniel's cheeks coloured, high spots of pink staining his face as he looked away.
"Do I get a question now?" Jack asked, his dinner settling heavily in his stomach now Daniel's words had set the tone.
Daniel shrugged, but wouldn't catch his eye.
"Why did you come with me last night?" He hated himself for asking. But he had to know.
"I was intrigued. I saw you at the bar every night and I wondered why. Wondered if maybe you thought I was for sale." Daniel sat back in his chair and stared at Jack calmly, as if he hadn't just said the most painful thing he could have.
"I… no," Jack swallowed.
"You wouldn't be the first," Daniel continued as if he hadn't heard him. "Lots of men think that because I'm a dancer, I'm also a whore and that if they offer me enough money or other incentives that they can buy my services for the night or the week or the month or however long they're in town. Before they go back to their wives. In some ways they're more honest than the ones who tell me I'm beautiful and special and that they love me. Because those ones don't even bother to tell you that they won't be there the very next day when you go to their hotel to meet them."
"I'm not… "
But Daniel was in full flow, his food forgotten as he kept his pose casual and his voice level. "I've met lots of men like you, Jack. Away from their homes and families, caught up and crazy on the romance of Morocco and how different it all is. And I'm just part of that to them… to you. Just something a bit different."
"Not to me…" Jack said quickly.
"Americans, French, British, they're all the same. They can fall in love with you, fuck you and leave you all in one night. So you'll forgive me if love isn't the reason I live like I do, Jack."
Jack carefully put down his fork and wiped his lips on his napkin, hating the way his fingers trembled through the thick cotton. He fought to keep his voice as calm as Daniel's. "Which makes my question even more pertinent. If you thought I was looking for…" he lifted his chin, determined to be as plain as Daniel had, "… an easy fuck, then why did you come with me?"
"Maybe that's all I was looking for," Daniel murmured.
The hard word echoed around the room, despite its low pitch. Jack was stunned. From below the sounds of music and the murmur of voices floated up, as if from another world - a world that continued parallel to theirs, the same but immeasurably different, changed by a single word. He hadn't meant to say it, but the brutal way Daniel had chosen to end their friendship had taken away any pretence he had at reason.
Daniel got to his feet, dropping his napkin on his chair. He swallowed, paused as if he had more to say, and Jack's stomach lurched, yearning for an excuse to touch him again. But Daniel kept his head bowed, picked up his creased linen jacket from the bed and walked to the door.
"Daniel," Jack said quietly without turning - without knowing if he'd perhaps already left without closing the door. "If you'd come by here tomorrow, looking for me, I can assure you, I would have been here."
Jack heard the click of the catch as the door swung shut.
* * *
It wasn't his usual seat. The place was crowded tonight, so even if he'd wanted his normal stool, he couldn't have had it. A crowd of young British men, pale and overdressed, were seated at the bar, talking and laughing together.
Jack's hand was steady on his glass, his eyes clear and distant as the customary opening strum of the guitar cut across the buzz of conversation in the club. Jack kept his gaze on Daniel's feet as he stalked onto the stage, his heels rapping loudly on the wooden floor. The club went quiet as he began to clap out a simple rhythm, repeated, and then taken up by the hand drum, looping it, making it more intricate. Daniel's feet stamped out a counterpoint, trading rhythms back and forth, until the guitar swelled and he began to turn, leaping and clapping, moving around the stage possessively, his boots just movement and sound.
Jack sipped his drink, slunk back into the darkness of the corner he'd found himself, and endured. He hadn't been aware that he had a masochistic streak, but as nine o'clock had drawn closer in his too-quiet hotel room, he'd known that he would be here at Aziz's despite everything that had happened, despite the pain. And he'd known that Daniel would be here. It was clear that he loved to dance, even if he loved nothing else.
Daniel danced as passionately as he always did and Jack berated himself for thinking that he'd do otherwise. Daniel was a professional - what was it to him, a day long love affair? Jack didn't dare look at his face until the music ended abruptly as always, and the applause began.
Daniel was breathing hard, his chest lifting and falling. His cheeks were bright, like the last time Jack had seen him. Could it really only be a couple of hours ago? Daniel's eyes swept the bar, his head coming up when he didn't spot who he was looking for. Jack felt a grim satisfaction that he'd been missed, even though he didn't know why. He turned his face away as Daniel scanned the rest of the audience, smiling fixedly at the crowd reaction.
Jack waited until the next introduction began before he stood and walked back to his hotel.
* * *
Jack got up and dressed the next morning, because that's what he always did, not because he had anywhere to go or any desire to find something to pass his time. The city he'd been so in love with only yesterday, today felt noisy, crowded and overwhelming.
By the time the midday azan was called, Jack was heartily sick of walking - painfully reminded at every turn of what he and Daniel had shared the day before, and cursing himself for a lovesick fool. He made his way through the streets back to La Mamounia while the city buzz began to abate as people hurried to prayer and then their midday meal.
He stepped into the lobby, intent on finding some peace in his room and the bottle of single malt he had in his trunk. He didn't realise he had company until the man planted himself in front of the staircase.
"Dr. O'Neill," he said loudly, as if this wasn't the first time he'd said it.
"Yes?" Jack asked, trying to place the face looking at him worriedly.
"I am sent to await your reply to the message of Monsieur Besson."
"Message?" Jack repeated, suddenly aware of the rectangular shape in his jacket pocket from the day before - a detail he'd ignored up to now. "Message, yes, of course. Would you give me a moment to write my response, please?"
The man bowed his head courteously and withdrew to one of the sofas scattered around the lobby.
Jack quickly scanned the contents of the letter as he ran up the stairs, swearing under his breath. He let himself into his room and scribbled a response on some hotel notepaper, then returned to find the serious Arab gentleman still waiting. Jack handed over his reply and watched as the man walked out into the sunshine.
Jack tried to pinpoint the exact moment that Daniel had decided he wasn't to be trusted. He'd been right, that first conversation they'd had; Jack was a man of science and believed that most any problem could be solved with the application of rational thought. Of course, he wasn't exactly experienced in how well this hypothesis stood up against something as unquantifiable as love, but with no other option, he tried it anyway.
If he could only find the combination of words he'd mis-spoken, maybe he could fix this. But the more Jack went over their last conversation, the more convinced he became that there was nothing he could have done. It was their very natures that had provoked this. He and Daniel were opposites; science against art, rationality against passion, fact against feeling.
A man who refused to love and a man who barely knew how.
He was a fool to have even thought of it.
They hadn't stood a chance.
In essence, Jack was paying for the sins of others, the men who Daniel had known before. The ones who had lied and deceived and used Daniel, leaving him a bitter, cynical man who had no desire to endanger himself or his heart again. Daniel would, of course, achieve this impulsively by removing Jack from his life when he got too close. But in Jack's mind the logical course was to prove his intentions.
If there was something he could do to show Daniel, some token of trustworthiness…
"Can I get you something, Dr. O'Neill?"
Jack looked up into the politely concerned expression of one of the hotel waiting staff. Jack was sitting in the place recently vacated by Besson's representative, and had obviously been there long enough to attract the attention of the staff.
"No, I'm fine," Jack lied.
The waiter smiled unconvincingly and bowed his head, turning away.
"No, wait. I… I need a telephone," Jack said suddenly. Now he'd come to a conclusion, he was keen to act upon it; however it turned out, nothing could be as bad as never knowing what might have been if he'd tried.
Besides, he had nothing to lose.
"Certainly, sir. This way, please."
Jack followed the waiter to a small desk tucked away from the rest of the foyer behind some palms. He picked up the receiver in sweaty hands and dictated the number to the operator in his broken French. There was a click, a silence and then a gruff voice. "Allo?"
"Monsieur Besson, good afternoon. This is Jack O'Neill. I have just sent your associate back with my confirmation, but I'd like to change an aspect of my contract pertaining to our financial agreement…"
* * *
To say that Daniel looked surprised to find Jack on his doorstep late that afternoon was an understatement of epic proportions. Shock quickly gave way to caution, which gave way to anger, and Jack had to force himself to stand quite still instead of walking away from this hostile reception.
"Dr. O'Neill," Daniel said shortly and leaned pointedly across the doorway.
"Daniel," Jack responded, refusing to pretend that theirs was a polite acquaintance. "May I come in? I have a few things I'd like to clear up before I leave Marrakech."
Daniel's expression was fiercely triumphant, but his eyes held no joy in his vindication. "I don't need your explanations or your guilt, Jack. You're forgiven, if that's what you wanted to hear. Go back to your safe little world, find a nice girl who's easy to please and be as happy as you can."
Jack felt a burn of injustice start low in his belly. Daniel had been hurt - that much a blind man could have seen - but for Jack to pay the price of another man's duplicity was unfair and made no sense. Jack was here to correct that if he could.
"Thank you for your advice, Daniel, but that's not why I came." He kept his expression carefully neutral and waited Daniel out.
With an irritated exhalation, Daniel finally stepped back, letting him pass.
Jack was strangely moved to find that nothing had changed in Daniel's little house. So much had happened to him in the thirty hours since he'd been here; he'd expected to see some reflection of that. Instead the little house was as neat and calming as it had been the day before. He had obviously interrupted Daniel; on the bureau there was an open journal, a pair of eyeglasses, and a pen thrown down in haste, and a glass of mint tea that made Jack's stomach clench when the smell reached him.
"Have a seat," Daniel offered grudgingly, moving over to the bureau and closing the notebook with a snap. He took up his glass and drained the contents, leaning back on the desk and stretching out his long legs. He looked at Jack expectantly and with an ill-concealed dismissive air.
"I have to leave tomorrow," Jack began without sitting down.
"So you've said once already," Daniel supplied cuttingly.
Jack bit his lip, willing away the pain and frustration that threatened to get away from him every time Daniel spoke. "Daniel, please listen, I have to leave. I'm contracted to… If I had a choice I…" He took a deep breath and composed himself. "I don't know how long we'll be away for - it's a big area to survey, and transportation in the hinterland is rudimentary to say the least."
Daniel folded his arms across his chest and raised his eyebrows.
Jack recognised that he was being told to come to the point.
"We need a translator. I wondered if you would consider coming with us?" Jack said quickly. He'd been over this speech in his head on the way over, but Daniel's overt impatience was flustering him and he could think of none of the arguments that had sounded quite persuasive earlier.
"And what would my duties be, Jack?" Daniel asked with a bland smile. "Translating, taking dictation and sucking the boss's cock?"
"I wouldn't be your boss, Daniel. You'd be paid by the French/US consortium that employs me, and your boss would be Monsieur Alain Besson. I suppose you could ask him if he'd be interested…"
Daniel's lips were pressed tightly together, unimpressed, and Jack abandoned his rather poor attempt at humour.
"We would have to work together, I'd hoped that you might be able to take a leave of absence and… But I can see that you find the mere notion of spending time with me distasteful. Should you change your mind, I'll be at my hotel until tomorrow morning."
Jack had made it to the door before Daniel spoke.
"Why?" he blurted.
"Why what?" His hand on the doorknob, Jack paused, his head bowed.
"Why… all this? What are you hoping to achieve by this?"
"Achieve? I'm just trying to persuade you to give me a chance to prove that I'm not them."
"Them?" Daniel asked, but his tone said that he already knew what Jack was getting at.
"The ones you're judging me by. The ones who have made you so scared to trust, that you'd rather be alone than risk being hurt again." Jack turned in time to see Daniel's mouth twist in a parody of a smile.
"Ah, yes, poor damaged Daniel. Alright, so for argument's sake, say I do trust you. Say I give up my spot at Aziz's. Say I come with you. Then what? What happens when the job is over? What happens in three months or six months or however long this takes?"
"That depends on what you wanted to do next. We can come back here or we can find work someplace else."
"You're not planning to go back to America?" Daniel's voice was full of scepticism.
"That's what I've been saying all along, Daniel. You just weren't listening."
"Neither are you. Why aren't you going home?"
Jack looked at Daniel steadily, watching as his silent answer took shape in Daniel's mind.
Daniel looked surprised and then disbelieving as he barked out a short, mirthless laugh. "You can't be serious."
"Totally," Jack replied with utter conviction. "Even if I never see you again, Daniel, you've made me face certain things for the first time in my life. I've never felt quite so alive as I do here, and a lot of that is down to you."
Daniel looked confused, puzzled and slightly amused. But Jack had seen the flash of doubt on his face, he knew that he'd actually made a dent on that tough exterior and he hoped that if he kept pushing and gave Daniel no chance to regroup, he might even make him believe in him.
"I've never been in love. I've had a passion for people… men… from time to time, but knowing it could never come to anything, I've always left it at that and never let myself become emotionally connected. Since I've been here, it's like a whole new world. I can be who I am, not who I'm expected to be. I don't have to be seen to be anything at all. For the first time, I get to choose."
Jack took a step toward the quiet man, as if being closer would make him listen, make him understand. "The other night, you said to do what felt right, Daniel. This feels right! You must know it. Us, together… it's right."
"What are you taking about?" Daniel's body language was dismissive, but he avoided Jack's eyes.
"We need a translator. You speak more languages than I've even heard of!"
"You have no idea what you're asking," Daniel said forcefully.
"I know exactly what I'm asking." Jack swallowed. "Come with me."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"It's too much. My life is here - my home, my dancing, my books…"
"Then we will come back here, once the contract is fulfilled."
"It's too much," Daniel repeated, his head bowed.
"They're just things, Daniel. They don't mean anything."
"Easy for you to say…"
"There are worse things to be in need of than money," Jack admitted quietly.
Daniel lifted an unconscious thumb to his lips and chewed on the nail. He took a breath, and another; he seemed to be fighting for the right words. "And when you're bored with me?"
"Never going to happen. I love you."
"Love?" Daniel laughed in surprise, standing and facing Jack at last. "You can't. You don't even know me."
"Daniel, I can't dance."
Daniel blinked at him, shook his head and waved his arms in exasperation. "What?" he spluttered.
"I can't dance. I don't read Arabic. I can't speak French.'
"What do I care about that?"
"I don't know my Ursa Minor from my Orion."
"I can't hear the difference between Bach and Beethoven. I don't know where I'm going to be next week, never mind next year. But this I do know, just this one thing - I love you, Daniel. I want you to come with me."
Daniel looked down at the floor, and for the first time ever, he looked lost to Jack, like he didn't have a smart response or a quick retort.
"We leave at eight tomorrow morning from my hotel," Jack said, finally opening the door. "If you're not there…"
He couldn't finish it, because he didn't know what he'd do.
The rest of his life began, or ended, tomorrow at eight.
Daniel didn't lift his head, even when Jack waited in the doorway before he closed it softly behind him.
* * *
For once, Jack was up before the Azan. He'd packed last night, but he found himself rearranging his belongings, checking for things he might have left and repeatedly listening at the door when he thought he might have heard a noise from the corridor.
At a quarter to eight, he finally summoned a porter and quit his room. He'd paid for his stay the night before, but he went to the reception desk anyway, knowing he was pitifully clutching at straws.
"Good morning, Dr. O'Neill."
"Good morning. Were there any messages for me?" he asked through a choked throat.
"No messages, but your party are awaiting you in front of the hotel."
Jack nodded mechanically and walked out of the lobby and into the bright morning glare. Sure enough, his cases and his trunk were being loaded into a large, black car and several bored-looking westerners were supervising similar exercises on two others. He nodded to them shortly, his eyes scanning from face to face hoping to see blue eyes and long, fair hair. But, of course, Daniel wasn't among them.
"Ah, Dr. O'Neill, good morning. We were beginning to think you had overslept, oui?" said the short, rotund shape of Alain Besson, bearing down on him in an immaculately pressed white suit. He was perspiring freely already, despite the earliness of the hour.
"I'm sorry if I have delayed our departure, Monsieur Besson. I was expecting… rather I was hoping for a message from… It's not important, I am ready now."
"Bien. We are assembled then. We are only awaiting your assistant, the translator you requested?"
"Yes, sadly I was unable to secure his cooperation. I will have to rely on my own rather basic French and hope the Berbers have an English speaker among them."
"Eh, that is unfortunate. Although, perhaps…" Besson turned and called to his aide, speaking to him in French much too fast for Jack to pick up more than the odd word.
The man scurried off into the hotel when Besson had finished.
"It was most perplexing. This very morning, as we arrived, a gentleman was awaiting us, and he asked us if we didn't need a translator. Of course I tell him that we have no such vacancy, yet he is insistent that he will remain and be ready should a need arise for his services."
Jack felt sick. Out of the corner of his eye, two figures were emerging from the hotel with several pieces of luggage. Jack couldn't look. He forced himself to concentrate on the fat little Besson and his jovial face.
"… most fortunate that he lingered. Monsieur, s'il vous plait?" Besson called, waving over the persistent translator.
Jack kept his head down, watching only the feet and legs of the approaching man. Desert boots, brown cotton trousers, a distinctive strut to his step…
"Dr. O'Neill, this is Monsieur Ballard. He comes highly recommended and speaks both French and several Berber dialects, among others."
Jack squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to breathe calmly and trying to stop the shout of overwhelming relief and joy that threatened to burst from him. Finally Jack held out a hand and raised his eyes to Daniel's face.
He wasn't smiling and there was nothing of the knowing overconfidence that had so attracted and infuriated Jack before. He looked, if anything, nervous, as if unsure of his welcome.
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Dr. O'Neill," Daniel said quietly, taking Jack's hand.
"Mr. Ballard, it's my pleasure," Jack replied in kind.
"Voilà! And now we are a full complement, n'est-ce pas? You two will share this car and become acquainted on our journey, oui?"
Daniel nodded graciously as his cases were added to the ones already strapped on the back of the car. He stepped in and took a seat, and Jack managed to persuade his legs to work sufficiently to join him.
The local driver started the engine as the first two cars coughed into life and pulled away from the front of the hotel smoothly, their metalwork glinting in the bright sunshine.
"So, Dr. O'Neill," Daniel began, easing back into his seat and watching Marrakech roll by. "What shall we talk about?"
"Daniel, what? Why…?" Now the joy of Daniel's arrival was passing, Jack was beginning to feel pangs of resentment that he had been made to endure some of the most painful, unpleasant moments of his life because of the man sitting beside him.
"Jack… may I call you Jack?"
"Why are you doing this? You know you can call me Jack," he said exasperatedly, keeping his voice low and casting worried glances at their driver.
Daniel looked at him, and then lowered his eyes, his pretence done. "I wasn't going to come," he said finally, "right up until six this morning - which I was awake for, thanks to you."
Jack felt a thrill of happiness and hope. Daniel had passed a sleepless night, like he had himself. "What changed your mind?" he asked with some trepidation, not sure he wanted to hear the reasons.
Daniel brushed at an invisible speck of dirt on his trousers, keeping his gaze averted. "You came every night for two weeks. You'd come in at ten to nine, order one drink, scotch, straight, you'd watch me dance and then leave."
"How do you know that?"
"I saw you the first night with the Frenchman. You kept looking at me, not at him. Then when you came again, alone, the second night, I watched from the wings after I came off. Every night after that the same, one drink, stay just for my spot, then gone." Daniel looked up. He was obviously wary, possibly even frightened. "I thought that maybe… I wondered if you were different." His voice was tired. "I get a lot of offers, Jack. Most of them are…"
"I'm different," Jack hurried to say. He could see that Daniel wanted to believe him.
"I'm sorry about the cloak and dagger entrance. I had to…I wanted…"
"It had to be on your terms." Jack didn't need to wait for Daniel's quick nod. "I should have thought of that, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound like I expected you to give up everything and follow me blindly. I don't want to own you, Daniel. I just want to…"
"Love me?" Daniel finished the sentence for him quietly and with a slight questioning lift to his tone.
"Yes," Jack said simply, hoping that his tone would imply all that he meant but couldn't say.
Daniel looked at him for a long, long moment, then nodded.
Their progress was slow, hampered by the traders on their way to the Souks; their asses were laden with goods, and the noise of their voices raised in greeting and laughter was a confused babble. The sun made the whole city ruddy, reflecting off the mud bricks and tingeing even the whitest robes with pink. Boys ran ahead of the cars, shouting to clear a path for them through the press of people, hoping for the few coins that the drivers would offer them.
Daniel watched, enthralled by the bustle of the city, although he must have seen it a thousand times before. Jack watched Daniel, something that didn't escape the notice of the younger man.
"Monsieur Besson seems like a nice fellow," Daniel said with a small smile, his eyes sparkling with a hint of the life and confidence Jack had come to adore.
"Yes, very pleasant," Jack agreed, wondering why Daniel looked like he was about to laugh out loud. It was good to see him regaining his spirits, but Jack didn't get the joke.
"Yes, very nice," Daniel repeated, "just not really my type if you get my meaning. With that in mind, would you be offended if I fulfilled my contractual obligations for you, rather than him?"
It wasn't the words, although they were stunningly wicked, it wasn't even the way Daniel had managed to make Jack flush at the implication behind them - it was that he had done so with a look of utter innocence on his face.
Jack began to cough, laughter and shock and desire causing his breath to catch. He was still coughing as they passed through the Medina gate and left Marrakech behind.