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A Place by the Lake

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There’s a spot by the first lake they found that is quiet and peaceful and is home to spectacular birds with yellow heads and red necks and wings that stretch forever.

In the early mornings, a breeze whips up gentle wavelets that splash rather than crash on the pebble shore. The colorful waders bob and dip, coming up from the clear water with something, although Daniel never sees anything in their red bills.

He sits here sometimes, when the silence in the makeshift cabin becomes too heavy with unspoken self-accusations and apologies. He sits and watches the birds and the way the trees – small, willow-like and with leaves that rustle like shuffling paper – bow elegantly in the light wind.

And sometimes he thinks of Earth, and sometimes he thinks of Sha’uri but mostly he thinks of nothing because at least that doesn’t hurt.

He puts his arms around his bent knees and rests his head there, letting the simple beauty of the place seep into his bones.

His mind shifts through a myriad of unfocussed thoughts and he wonders if Sam and Teal’c are safe. He wonders if Sam is sleeping rather than working. He hopes she’s getting some rest and not pushing herself too hard to find the answers.

Because, in his heart, he suspects there are none to find.

 

>>>>>> 

 

The campfire is spitting because the sticks are green and filled with sap. They haven’t been here long enough to dry out the kindling. Jack pokes at the angry blaze with a long branch from one of the tall trees that surround the simple structure that is now their home.

He built it mostly alone. It’s fairly sturdy and waterproof. It will see them through what appears to be the planet’s warm, dry season.

It’s all textbook survival manual stuff. It took Jack the better part of three days to complete his mission in typical single-minded fashion, scavenging wood from the forest, along with brightly-colored vines for binding and thick, shiny leaves for the roof. His hands blistered from the hours of cutting and twisting. Then they bled. He was limping, too, the result of the ankle he twisted during the mission that landed them here.

It must hurt like hell but he’s never bitched about it once.

Daniel wishes he would.

Daniel marked each construction day by carving a notch in one of the big trees that surround the small clearing.

He spent the time collecting firewood, checking for edible fruit, berries and nuts and fetching water while Jack toiled away alone. Under Jack’s monosyllabic direction he dug a latrine with the small shovel from his pack. It was hard, unforgiving work. The soil was parched. But at least it gave him something to think about, an achievable task to focus on.

Now, seven notches on the tree later, he stands watching Jack cook food that he has no appetite for.

“I don’t like those woody vegetable things,” Daniel says, staring into the pot of bubbling water. “They taste like moldy dirt.”

“I’ll go fishing tomorrow. It’s this or nothing for now.” Jack appears to concentrate hard on his given task, stirring up the fire some more.

“I’ll pass,” Daniel says, and it sounds more like a comment on Jack’s culinary effort than the food itself and he doesn’t mean it to.

But that’s where they are right now.

Nothing is coming out right.

“Your choice,” Jack says, dully.

Daniel closes his eyes and bites down hard on a retort. There is no point in provoking something. They have enough to contend with, what with the miscommunication when they do speak, and the painful lack of communication when they don’t.

“I’ll fetch some water,” Daniel says, instead.

Jack swears as a spark from the fire leaps out at him, forcing him to fall back from his hunkered down, hunched position. Jack winces. The ankle is still causing him pain, although he won’t admit it.

Jack inspects the small hole that has appeared in the thigh of his green BDUs. “Christ,” he mutters, in that subtly angry tone that suffuses everything he says. Daniel thinks Jack isn’t really all that pissed at the small rip in his pants.

Daniel picks up their canteens and heads for the stream at the edge of the clearing.

It’s a short walk, but Daniel feels like he’s leaving Jack a million miles behind.

 

>>>>>> 

 

Daniel dreams of the events that brought them here.

He’s standing on the sidelines, a mute observer, as events unfold, back on the rain-soaked planet of the people of advanced technology. He’s with Jack, Sam and Teal’c. Sam is muddy but delighted with the results of her soil samples. Interesting-looking minerals in the offing. Weapons-enabling? Jack asks. Maybe, Sam says, and that’s enough to persuade Jack to ask Daniel to open negotiations for mining rights to an area to the south of the capital city.

Talks go well. They shake hands with the amenable leaders, who say there is every chance a deal can be struck in return for shared information and technologies. They pack up their respective kits and head back to the Gate, which is an hour’s walk away.

They move at a comfortable pace, two by two.

Jack bitches to Daniel about the three days of recruit training that lie ahead for him and Carter.

Daniel bitches about the lack of time he is allowed in the training sessions to brief said recruits on the needs and expectations of his staff.

Then they all bitch about the incessant rain and pick up the pace when a heavy thunderstorm rolls in from the mountains to the west.

With the Gate finally in sight, they come under electronic weapons fire from a short distance behind them.

Daniel briefly thinks “separatist rebel factions,” a phrase he remembers from talking briefly to an elderly historian during the negotiations.

SG-9, left to guard the Gate, are nowhere to be seen.

Dear God, don’t let them be dead.

They start to run, hampered by the heavy conditions underfoot. Sam and Teal’c, some yards ahead, forge on, Teal’c turning and laying down covering fire as Sam makes it to the DHD first.

Jack is bringing up the rear, half-turning and firing, urging his team onwards, his commands virtually lost in the deafening noise of the rain and thunder.

Breathing heavily, lungs bursting, Daniel sees the wormhole establish, then he hears another sound that isn’t rain or guns. He wonders how he hears it, because it’s muffled and seemingly insignificant. But he’s tuned to that voice. It would reach him anywhere.

He twists around, still running, brings up his Beretta, and sees that Jack is down. He’s struggling to rise to his feet. He hears himself yell Jack’s name, watches as Jack makes it upright, then, as if in slow-motion, Jack falls again as his ankle gives way.

Daniel is aware of Sam yelling behind him but the blood rushing in his ears virtually blocks her out.

He runs towards Jack, who lifts pain-filled eyes to meet Daniel’s, and shouts, “Get to the fucking Gate, Daniel!”

Daniel shouts, “No!” falls to his knees beside Jack and hauls him up. He can’t breathe, can’t think, but he knows he has to move or they will both die.

Weapons fire is peppering the air around them, some is hitting the Gate and the wormhole is breaking up ominously. There’s static in the air from the storm, Daniel can feel it, and he realizes just how frightened he is. He’s frightened for all of them and he’s fearful of what the static, weather and hits from the weapons might, in combination, do to the Gate.

He has one arm round Jack’s waist, and he’s dragging him. Teal’c moves up to cover Sam as she runs towards them and he hears Jack telling her to go, and that’s an order. She stops, and her eyes meet Daniel’s briefly. He tries hard to convey this thoughts, We’re right behind you, go, please, get to safety, and then she turns and pulls Teal’c through with her.

They’re only a handful of strides behind. Daniel keeps on going, eyes fixed on the Gate, one goal in mind. There’s a violent thunderclap, the rain turns into a deluge and then they’re there, and all he’s aware of is the heat in his lungs and his hand tightening on Jack’s waist as he pulls him into the wormhole…

Daniel wakes on a massive intake of breath. He’s sitting bolt upright.

His heart is racing. He can’t control his breathing. Sweat is running into his eyes, burning and stinging.

He doesn’t know were he is.

They made it to the Gate. They should be home and safe. He should be in bed in his apartment, surrounded by his books, his journals, all the familiar components of his life.

Then he blinks into the darkness and knows exactly where he is.

Jack is asleep across the cabin from him, shifting restlessly under the space blanket.

Daniel swallows hard, wills his breathing to steady, then lies down, heart still pounding, still not quite believing that he’s here, wherever here is, and not where he ought to be.

He lies still, muscles aching, tense from the dream and fearful of sleep, and waits and waits until the sun comes up and they must find a way to face another day.

 

>>>>>>> 

 

Daniel misses many things.

He misses writing in his journal. He has some paper and two pencils in his pack but he’s reluctant to use them yet. He wants to keep them for later. For when he starts to forget how it feels to write, to create shapes and bring words to life on the page. He’s fairly certain that time will come.

He’s surprised how much he misses driving. He’d give anything to be on the open road, window down, sun through the windshield, shades on, heading somewhere and nowhere. Just him and the highway.

He really misses music. He was working his way through Dylan’s back catalogue, learning about the stuff his parents loved to listen to.

He doesn’t miss being surrounded by concrete and living hundreds of feet underground. He got used to it, but he never liked it.

Most of all, he misses Sam, Teal’c and Hammond. He aches to be able to tell them he and Jack are safe. That he has no idea where they are but the planet is able to sustain life and appears to have plentiful supplies of food and water.

His mind often wanders to thoughts of SG-9. He didn’t know the team well. He desperately hopes they’re OK, although he fears they’re not.

Daniel has had lots of time to think, and he’s come to the conclusion that the Gate on the planet of the people of advanced technology was fritzed by a combination of weapons fire and lightning and the wormhole spewed them out somewhere in the vast Gate system, and the Gate at this end fried in the process.

The Gate here is dead. They established that pretty quickly. The black, sooty residue on the inner circle was the first clue. Jack kicked the Gate once – he did have the sense not use the foot attached to his painful ankle – and muttered angrily, “Where the fuck’s Carter when you need her.” Then he stormed off.

“Don’t be sad. It was no one’s fault,” Daniel says to himself often, and he hopes it can be heard across the void of space.

“We’re OK. We will be.”

Then he stops saying things in his head and gets on with the practicalities of living. Because they are still alive, and do still have each other. Even though Daniel wonders if Jack really wouldn’t rather be alone.

 

>>>>> 

 

Not long after he finishes the shelter, Jack starts talking in his sleep.

Daniel has to stop himself from laughing at the outright irony. Jack’s more verbose asleep than he is during daylight hours.

Daniel can’t make out individual words, but the tone is harsh and staccato. Jack turns, shifts, but doesn’t settle and rest.

It’s like this most nights now.

Jack’s unhappy. He’s even unhappy when he’s asleep.

Daniel wishes Jack would talk to him. He doesn’t want to discover what Jack is thinking by lying hunched and tensed on a bed of woven leaves four feet away, overhearing things he’s not meant to hear.

So Daniel tries not to listen and tries not to reach for Jack the night he calls for Sara. He hasn’t heard him call her name before, but tonight, the word, unlike any of the others, is clear, and it’s spoken with heartbreaking desperation.

Daniel clenches his hand into a tight fist, so hard that he feels his nails dig into his palm.

He turns over, away from Jack, and tries to give the man some privacy.

He really wishes Jack would talk to him.

 

>>>>>> 

 

One afternoon, a few weeks after their arrival, Daniel sits in the long grass on the edge of the clearing, watching Jack smoke meat over an open fire.

Jack caught a pig-like creature in a forest snare. He killed it, then expertly jointed the meat and lit the fire.

It’s all very Robinson Crusoe.

Jack should be in his element, turning what-do-we-have, what-do-we-need, into an art form.

Daniel looks at him now. He’s still limping slightly. The ankle isn’t broken but it is badly sprained. He won’t rest it properly, despite Daniel’s pleas and imprecations. As Jack goes about his task, focused, diligent, he reminds Daniel of the Jack he first knew. He’s functioning. To those who didn’t know him well, he would appear fine.

But Daniel knows him and he’s not fine. He’s shuttered, walled in, locked into a self-imposed private hell of self-recrimination.

“It’s not your fault.” Daniel has said it in his head so many times but he’s never said it out loud because Jack isn’t ready to hear it.

This is the Jack of the first Abydos expedition and it breaks Daniel’s heart to see it.

Daniel stands up, wipes his hands on his pants, plucks a long stem of grass, tears it in half  and begins to chew on it. It tastes disgusting and he throws it away. He hopes the pig-alike will taste better.

Daniel wanders slowly over to the fire, where Jack is arranging some more meat on the spit. Alien landscape notwithstanding, they could almost be at a barbecue at Jack’s place. Jack gives great barbecues.

Daniel realized he was in love with Jack at one of his summer barbecues.

There was no great fireworks, hearts and flowers moment. Just a sudden and overwhelming certainty that he wanted more than the beer the man was offering him. A single, precious second of absolute clarity of feeling; of missing jigsaw pieces finally slotting into place.

“I love you. I always have. I don’t think I’ll ever tell you that but I hope that on some level you know.” He didn’t say it, of course, just took the beer and tried not to let it mean more than it did when Jack smiled and palmed the back of his neck and let his hand rest there in the familiar gesture.

Daniel would kill for a beer now. The last few days have been scorchingly hot. It’s slightly cooler today, with a gentle breeze. It’s a glorious respite.

Jack looks up as Daniel inspects the fruits of Jack’s labors. “Looks good,” Daniel says and takes a sniff at what looks like a pile of smoked bacon. “Smells good, too,” he adds.

“Yes. Well. Gotta be better than those veg things. You were right. They do taste like moldy soil.”

Wow.

Eighteen words. Spoken together.

Daniel sits and has a drink from his canteen.

Jack sits beside him. Daniel holds out the canteen. Jack takes a long drink. Sweat is running down his throat and Daniel has to look away as Jack swallows his water. It’s beautiful. It’s too much.

They sit in silence, listening to the crackle of fire. Jack turns the jury-rigged spit, seemingly absorbed. Then he says, “You shouldn’t be here.” His tone is flat, emotionless.

Daniel thinks carefully before answering. Jack never accepts platitudes so he goes with the truth. “While I agree with the sentiment, Jack, I disagree with your choice of personal pronoun.”

“If you’d done as you were damn well told you wouldn’t be here.” There was anger in his voice but Daniel suspected it wasn’t directed at him.

“What? I-I should have left you there? Left you to get shot, captured, killed in front of us?”

“I told you to get to the Gate. It wasn’t a suggestion. Just for once in your fucking life would it have killed you to follow orders?”

And Daniel says, “Yes.” And it’s only when he’s said it that he realizes what he’s said, and that it’s the truth. Leaving Jack behind would have killed him.

Jack lapses into silence then, as if he’s used up all his words and anger. As if he’s exhausted himself with all the self-directed bitterness.

“Yes,” Daniel says again, softly, throat thick with unspoken love. “It would.”

He can feel the cold blaze of Jack’s despair, even though he doesn’t look at him. He can’t look, too afraid of what he’ll see.

“You can blame me all you want for the fact that I’m here,” Daniel whispers, eyes fixed on the dancing flames of the fire, “but do me the courtesy of believing that I don’t blame you. Because I don’t.” And he can’t speak of it any more, because Jack doesn’t want to hear to what he has to say. Maybe he never will.

They sit in a silence broken only by the call of birds in the trees and the hiss of the fire.

Eventually, when it becomes clear that Jack is not going to respond, Daniel allows himself to look at him. Jack is turning the spit slowly, absently, acting by rote, his mind seemingly occupied with other matters. In profile, the man is achingly masculine and beautiful. His face is tanned from living mostly outdoors. His stubble is peppered with gray, and more than anything Daniel wants to feel the soft-harsh rasp of it against his skin. Wants to feel it burn. Wants it to mark him as Jack’s because he is Jack’s.

And it’s another of those moments; another of those singular, intensely honest moments.

I’m yours. You’re it for me now. You always were. After Sha’uri.

A heartbreaking epiphany a thousand light years from home.

Daniel swallows hard and he thinks the sound is obvious and loud, for his throat is sandpaper dry.

He stands up, heart beating so loudly he’s sure Jack can hear that, too. On leaden, uncertain legs he starts to walk away.

“The food’s ready,” Jack calls, with an edge of pleading in his voice; his way of asking Daniel to stay when he can’t say the actual words.

“I’m not hungry. I’ll …” and he waves a hand as though that explains everything. He turns, anxious to be away from here and all the things he can’t say and everything he can’t have.

Jack doesn’t call after him.

He walks, stumbles slightly over a dip in the ground hidden by the long grass.

He’s sure Jack won’t follow him, and he doesn’t. Daniel doesn’t want to speculate on why.

Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack …

He keeps walking, one hour, maybe two. Time means nothing here beyond the daylight hours for work and the night hours for sleep. He tries to empty his mind, tries anything to distract himself from Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack. He begins with the Great Ennead, the greatest of the Egyptian pesdjets; runs through the stories of Ra and his children, Shu and Tefnut, then their descendants, Isis, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris and Set.

There’s one name missing. One name he can’t recall. He’s frantic at his inability to remember. His head is too full of all that’s happened, of change and loss. There’s no room for knowledge that is as much a part of him as his heart and lungs and breath. He can’t face forgetting the things that were once so important to him. He has to believe he’ll get them back. When he can think again. He might actually cry over this, and that’s just insane. Perhaps he’s going a little insane.

He keeps walking, past small lakes, through clearings covered in harsh scree, past trees and more trees, until he stops, looks around and realizes he has no idea where he is.

He looks up in the sky to see the sun edging towards the horizon. One of the red moons is already rising. He has maybe three hours of daylight left.

Letting out a frustrated sigh, he walks over to a stream, bends down and cups his hands to drink the crystal clear water. It’s deliciously cold and fresh. He drinks his fill, and follows the stream for about half a mile, hoping it will lead him back but it ends in a pond. Thwarted, he tries to orient himself, finds North and tries again. He looks for landmarks, but sees only fallen trees that look like every other fallen tree, and ponds that are carbon copies of all the others.

Stupid, stupid, stupid to wander off like this.

The temperature starts to fall away. The days are hot but the nights are cold, even in what appears to be summer. He is dressed only in T-shirt and BDU pants, so he moves quickly.

Home, Daniel thinks, I need to get home, and the home he’s thinking of is the cabin. Not Earth, not the SGC, and that’s a painful jolt of realism.

The cabin where Jack is. Jack is home.

Another fucking epiphany.

He’s thinking too much. Jack always says he thinks too much.

He laughs out loud, and the sound startles him. He’s been alone with his thoughts for too long. Hysteria begins to bubble up somewhere inside, he can feel it. It’s a physical manifestation of all his pent-up fears and frustrations, and he laughs again, but there’s no joy in it.

Perhaps he really is going insane.

Time passes and he walks on and on. Then, just when he thinks he’ll have to bed down somewhere for the night, he sees a large boulder that looks like a mushroom cloud. He remembers it from one of his earliest walks, and he knows he’s near the lake. The first lake they found with the colorful waders. More by luck than judgement, and by a ridiculously circuitous route, he’s almost there. He’s just minutes from the cabin.

This time, the laughter is relief.

He quickens his step. The sky is turning a stunning indigo and the first of the stars are glittering.

Breathing heavily, he bursts into the cabin. Jack is sitting on the floor in the furthest corner, head resting on arms that are wrapped around his knees. He slowly lifts his gaze to Daniel’s and there are so many emotions there – regret, anger, delight, disbelief  – and relief to match his own, all tangled and fighting each other. But, for once, for the first time since they arrived here, Jack isn’t fighting to hide them.

“There’s food. If you’re hungry. You must be hungry,” he says, voice tired and thin but so, so relieved.

Daniel smiles at him. “Geb,” he says, still breathing heavily. “The missing god … it’s Geb.”

Jack shakes his head but there’s a small grin twisting the corner of his mouth.

“Of course it is,” he says.

Daniel nods.

Suddenly, he’s very hungry.

 

>>>>> 

 

Later that night, Daniel sits outside the shelter, canteen in hand. The smoked meat had been good, cooked to perfection. The vegetables still tasted like moldy soil. He ate both voraciously.

He stares at the two moons, neatly aligned in the deep blue velvet sky. It’s so peaceful, the only sound the occasional chirp of what must be something like cicadas and the gentle rush of the nearby stream.

He takes a sip of water and smiles at Jack as Jack sits down beside him, groaning a little as his knees take the strain of bending.

They sit together for a few minutes, enjoying the quiet, which, for once, does not feel heavy with unspoken words.

“I thought you’d gone. Earlier. I thought you weren’t coming back,” Jack says, looking straight ahead, eyes fixed on the shimmer of the water.

“Where would I go?” Daniel asks. “No hotel for the night.”

Jack snorts. “I miss hot tubs,” he says, sighing.

“Hot showers,” Daniel says quickly.

“Heated towel racks.”

“Libraries.”

“The Sunday sports round-up.”

“My coffee machine.”

“Juicers.”

“Waffle irons.”

“I missed you,” Jack says, quietly. “When you were gone. When I thought you weren’t coming back.”

Daniel turns to look at him, but Jack is still staring into the darkness. Daniel says nothing for a while. Not sure what to say but relieved beyond belief that Jack is talking to him.

“Where would I go?” Daniel asks again, hoping that Jack gets it. That he’s not talking about a place or a state of mind.

Jack turns to him, and his face is so stunning in the light of the moons. His eyes are remarkably gentle, the lines on his face eased into a peaceful softness. So very beautiful. Jack smiles. “Yeah,” he says, then turns his face away again.

They sit together until the chill forces them indoors.

 

>>>>> 

 

Three weeks later, Daniel wakes not long after dawn to find the cabin empty. He eats some of the sweet purple-skinned fruit that grow on the tall trees deep in the woods, washes himself in the stream and rinses out some underwear, which he lays out to dry on a flat rock. It’s early, but it’s clearly going to be another hot day. It’s already becoming uncomfortable.

He fills his canteen and stuffs his pockets with some of the dry, smoked meat, and heads out.

Following instinct, he makes for the Stargate.

It’s about twenty minutes away. As he walks, he thinks about the strange twists and turns of his life that have brought him here; his theories that led to a half-empty lecture room, which led to Catherine, which led to the SGC.

Which led to the people he now calls family. Which led to Jack.

Daniel is sweating and parched when he reaches the Gate and sees him. The heat is stifling. Jack is sitting, with his hands wrapped round his knees, as he so often does these days, staring at the Gate.

Daniel sits beside him, not touching but close, letting him know he’s there, although he’s pretty sure Jack would have heard him from half a mile away.

Daniel knocks Jack’s elbow and silently offers his canteen.

Jack shakes his head. Daniel takes a long drink. What he wouldn’t give for a boonie, or at least some shade.

The Gate looks like it always does, impressive and wonderfully mysterious. Daniel’s eyes trace the circle of glyphs … Crater, Virgo, Bootes, Centaurus, and then a glyph he doesn’t recognize that must be the point of origin. Each unique and compelling in shape and meaning. Serpens Caput, Norma, Scorpio, Cra …

“I wasn’t angry with you, Daniel,” Jack says. “Not really.”

Daniel knows immediately what Jack’s referring to. The days of difficult conversations, silences and strain.

“I know,” Daniel answers. Scutum, Sagittarius, Aquila …

“I was angry with myself.” Jack continues to look at the Gate, not at Daniel, as though the Gate is his confessional and he can seek absolution there when he can’t ask it of Daniel.

“You should have followed my order, sure. But I was angry because … because I was so fucking glad you didn’t.”

Daniel wonders what it has cost Jack to say that out loud. Mic, Capricorn, Austrinus, Equuleus …

“I thought that was it for me. When my ankle gave way the second time. I thought, ‘This is where it ends. I’m gonna die stuck in the mud of an alien planet and I’m gonna die alone.’” Jack absently caresses his dog tags. He hasn’t taken them off. “When you came back for me … I did the right thing and yelled at you to head for the Gate. But in my head … in my head I was praying for you to stay. And I don’t pray, Daniel. Not since …”

Daniel can’t look at him. This pain is too private. He does, though, shift subtly closer.

“I watched Teal’c and Carter disappear into that wormhole and I knew in my gut that things were turning to shit, and I don’t mean the whole being shot at by unfriendlies, thing. But I hoped that maybe, just maybe, they’d made it home.”
Aquarius, Pegasus, Sculptor, Pisces

“And then, all I could feel, aside from the pain in my foot, was your arm around my waist.”

Andromeda, Triangulum, Aries, Perseus …I was so fucking relieved. Because if I was going to die, you would be with me. Selfish, huh? The absolute antithesis of everything my leadership, my command, should mean, but I was glad you were there.”Cetus, Taurus, Auriga, Eriadnus, and oh, god, this one so familiar, Orion …Deep down, I knew when we entered that wormhole we wouldn’t make it to the SGC. A hunch, premonition, call it what you will.”Minor, Moneceros, Gemini, Hydra, Lynx …

“I didn’t know what would happen. Wasn’t sure we’d survive. But … we were together. Just like in the beginning. Battling the odds, fighting to get home.”Cancer, Sextans, Leo Minor, Leo …

“Somehow. In spite of everything … that much felt right.”Earth. A funny little pyramid, two funny little guys and a funny thing on top …

The final glyph blurs.

“I’m sorry I’ve been such a fucking ass, Daniel. You didn’t deserve that.”

Daniel wants to tell him that it’s OK, that he forgives him. But he doesn’t trust his voice and Jack needs to forgive himself before he’ll accept the same from Daniel.

So Daniel nods and blinks hard, wishing away the wetness on his lashes, and replays in his mind how Jack was glad of his touch in extremis. Jack’s touch has always meant so much to him; a ruffle of hair, his hand on Daniel’s neck, a pat on the shoulder.

They sit for a while, eyes fixed on the Gate, comfortable in the heat-seared silence. Daniel eventually digs out some of the chunks of dried meat from his pocket and hands one to Jack, who takes it and chews.

“Do you think there’s any chance they’ll find us?” Daniel asks.

Jack swallows. “Can’t imagine where they’d start to look. You’re more likely to know this stuff than me. Damn big universe. Gate at this end is kaput. There’s no sign of a DHD. I’d say we’re probably on our own.”

Daniel takes a bite of the meat. It’s salty and slightly stringy in texture. He longs for a medium-rare steak. “We’re assuming Sam and Teal’c made it back. It’s a pretty big assumption, given that we’re … here.”

Jack shrugs. “I think they made it. Confidence is high.”

“Then that’s good enough for me,” Daniel says, hoping his agreement is enough to shore them both up because he thinks neither of them is as certain as they appear to be; each staying strong and positive for the benefit of the other.

Jack hauls himself to his feet and stretches out a hand to help Daniel. “This heat’s gonna spark a storm. I can smell it. We should get back.”

Daniel takes Jack’s hand. The skin is warm, the palm rough, gouged with painful blisters. It feels perfect. Daniel doesn’t want to let go. The physical contact feels so good. He lifts his gaze from their joined hands to find Jack looking at him. Just looking. Just … looking. Daniel can’t decipher the expression on his face. Jack squeezes his hand a fraction, or maybe it’s just a reflex action. Then he lets go and turns away to begin the walk back.

 

>>>>> 

 

The storm comes an hour or so later. It’s violent, with arcs of blue-white lightning illuminating the sky, running cloud to cloud, while heavy rain pounds the dry earth, splashing at first, then finally sinking in and turning the dirt to patches of mud.

As night falls, the storm continues with no sign of letting up. A strong wind blows in from the west and some of the leaves Jack wove together to form the roof of the shelter lift and allow the rain to come in.

The water pools on the leaf pallet that is Daniel’s bed. He sits by the entrance and looks at it forlornly.

Jack, who is sitting beside him and whittling a stick with his knife, says, “I’ll check the roof as soon as this eases.”

“That won’t be anytime soon. This reminds me of the downpours we’d get on digs sometimes. Could wipe out a month’s work in an hour if the site wasn’t properly protected. I lost an entire trench once when the sheeting ripped and blew away.”

Jack continues to scrape at the branch. “Did you miss them?  The digs, I mean, when you joined the SGC? Kind of took you out of your natural environment.”

Daniel thinks for a while, his eyes drawn to the incessant fall of rain. “Yes. Sometimes. I liked the honesty of digs. It was absorbing, important, delicate work. Simple, in some ways. Complex in others. The work often … consumed me, I guess. I liked that. Not that my work with the Stargate wasn’t fulfilling. Although there were times I could have screamed in frustration at the finds I left behind. A single planet could have been a life’s work. It was like scratching the surface, finding buried treasure and then leaving it all behind. But that was how it worked.” He stops and turns to face Jack. “Isn’t this usually where you tell me I’m talking too much and start to fidget and play with,” he looks at the stick that now resembles an arrow in Jack’s hand, “whatever comes to hand like it’s a toy? And thanks for not calling me on using past tense. I think like that sometimes. Doesn’t mean I’ve actually … you know.”

“Grammar is a strong point of mine but I don’t have to be pedantic, and as for interrupting …not much else to do round these parts. You’re more interesting to listen to than the rain,” Jack says, sounding so much like the Jack Daniel knows and loves that the relief is almost overwhelming.

Daniel smiles wryly. “Gee. A compliment.”

Jack goes quiet at that. A loud thunderclap directly overhead makes Daniel jump. “Sorry,” he says, embarrassed.

Jack shrugs and goes back to his work. “Guess there haven’t been too many compliments headed your way lately.”

“I’ve never needed them, or validation, or approval.”  He raps out his reply, a well-worn response that sounds horribly defensive. But self-preservation is something Daniel is good at. The drip of raindrops on Daniel’s bed is now a steady trickle.

Jack digs into the stick a little harder with the blade. The arrow is acquiring a fine point. “Still. We’ve been on the wrong side of too many arguments lately. K’Tau, Reece.”

“Yeah. That was then. All of this kind of makes all of that redundant.”

Jack raises the pointed stick to eye level, blows off some shavings. “That’s very accepting of you.”

It’s Daniel’s turn to shrug.  “Not really. Just pragmatic. There were mistakes and misunderstandings on both sides. There’s always been a level of tension between us.”

Satisfied with his work, Jack lays the arrow/stick on the ground. “Ever wonder about that?”

More thunder, further away this time but still loud. “Tension is normal in any healthy relationship.”

“Yeah,” Jack says, thoughtfully. “Normal.”

Daniel lays his head on his knees and watches the rain.

 

>>>>> 

 

Fourteen notches on the tree later, and the days are establishing a routine of their own.

Jack usually rises first. He goes running, following a route that takes him downstream, round a big lake and back through the woods. Jack reckons it’s about four miles.

By the time he returns, Daniel has finished what he now considers to be his chores.

He fills the canteens, lights a fire using a flint, way Jack showed him, cooks the equivalent of bacon, and chooses fruit from the small storehouse Jack has constructed next the shelter.

They eat breakfast together, then Jack sets off to catch fish, snare wildlife – a strange deer-like creature did not make good eating – and find firewood.

Sometimes Daniel goes with him. Sometimes he fills his pack with food and water and heads off in search of signs of civilization.

He finds it hard to believe that a planet so conducive to life has not been inhabited at some stage. There are certainly no signs of life now; no settlements, no burial sites, no sign that anyone has ever lived here at all. And yet, there is a Stargate. There is, however, no trace of a DHD, and that flits around in the back of Daniel’s brain like a summer butterfly.

Mysteries are such a part of his professional life. He loves to unlock them and tries desperately not to feel the sense of failure when he can’t. There is much about this planet they will probably never know.

He wants to be OK with that.

He wants to be OK with everything about this place.

 

>>>>> 

 

“We should build a better shelter,” Jack says one night, as they sit by the fire, watching the sun go down. “This summer won’t last forever. It could turn to winter overnight for all we know. If there is a winter.”

Their present shelter is adequate; not quite tall enough to stand up in but big enough for two sleeping pallets and an area for gear storage. It’s warm enough at night and cool in the fierce heat of the day. 

The fire hisses and crackles in musical counterpoint to the twilight chorus of tiny orange-winged birds that have taken up residence in the trees at the edge of the clearing. They sing in the mornings, too. It’s a pretty song, a rich, vibrant contralto to herald the coming darkness and light.

“I hate winter,” Daniel says. “I really hope there’s no great change in seasons.”

Jack coughs and lies down, hands laced behind his head. “Not much we can do about it. Better to be prepared.”

“We could be rescued by then,” Daniel says, a burst of optimism prompting his words.

Jack is quiet.

“They could figure out where we are, or take a chance, send a ship. It might take a while but …”

“They’re not coming.”­ It’s said with finality, like he’s been thinking about it and come to an acceptance.

“You don’t know that,” Daniel says, wanting Jack to believe that there’s still hope because then he can believe it, too. He’s seen Jack without hope. He aches for that man.

“Yeah. I do. And you do too.”

Daniel futzes with a loose thread on his pants.  They’re not going to last forever. What happens when their clothes wear out? “It’s too soon to give up like that.” He sounds a little petulant.

“Come on. You’re the ultimate realist. Always have been. Consider the odds and tell me I’m wrong.”

Daniel lets out a deep breath and turns his gaze skyward, seemingly looking for divine inspiration. When none is forthcoming, he says quietly, “I can’t. But that doesn’t mean I have to stop hoping.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Jack says. “Just don’t let that hope swallow up the reality.”

Daniel wants Jack to hold him. The feeling comes out nowhere but it’s strong and tangible and he longs for it with a power that takes his breath away. For Daniel’s reality is that he wants Jack. He wants the man lying beside him to put his arms around him and allow him to feel lost and hurt. Because he is. He really is. Every minute of every day, and he’s not sure he can go on hiding it.

Daniel’s reality is filled with a Jack who loves him. Who wants him.

But it’s not this reality.

“Reality sucks,” Daniel says, and he closes his eyes because Jack is lying so close but he may as well be a galaxy away in terms of what Daniel wants from him.

“Reality is all we have, Daniel,” Jack says.

And there’s really no answer to that.

 

>>>>> 

 

Daniel carves the 100th notch into the tree, then runs his forefinger down the mark in the trunk.

It’s just a number, 100. No different really to 99 or 101, but it feels important, some kind of landmark.

He leans his forehead against the bark, presses in until it’s almost painful. He doesn’t mind if the age-old grain of the wood is imprinted on his face forever.

He presses until it hurts.

Everything hurts.

He closes his eyes and is unaware of Jack’s presence until he feels a hand resting on his shoulder, gently at first, then squeezing and relaxing; once, twice. And, oh god, it feels good. He craves that touch so much, can feel his whole body straining for the burning contact. Don’t let go …

Then, the hand is gone and Jack walks away.

One hundred days. It feels like a lifetime.

 

>>>>> 

 

Jack starts work on a stronger, more substantial cabin when the leaves begin to change color.

After scouting a radius of about five miles thoroughly, Jack decides they’re better staying pretty much where they are. They’re reasonably sheltered from the prevailing winds, with a plentiful supply of fresh water and several small lakes nearby for fish.

Sometimes, Daniel works with him, a slightly reluctant apprentice but he learns a surprising amount about planning, design and engineering and is a good laborer.

As ever, Jack is focused and diligent and progress is quick. Fallen hardwood trees are hauled from the forest and the logs bound tightly together. This is a cabin they can stand up in. They use mud as a basic rendering where it’s needed and bind leaves for floor matting. After some trial and error, there is a door.

Jack calls it The Swamp, an homage to MASH.

“I’m Hawkeye, by the way,” he says, hands on hips, admiring their handiwork. “You can be BJ or Trapper. Don’t mind which.”

“Pity Walter’s not here,” Daniel says, arms folded, sweat dripping into his eyes and down his spine after a long day of back-breaking work. “He’d make a great Radar.”

Jack laughs, an honest to god laugh.

Daniel drinks in the sound.

 

>>>>> 

 

Sometimes, at night, Daniel hears Jack masturbating.

He’s not noisy but, in the still darkness, Daniel is hyper-aware of the sounds Jack makes and the small indications of movement.

He doesn’t want to listen but he does and it makes him hard. He never touches himself, wanting to give Jack at least that small privacy; the right to an orgasm that doesn’t feed Daniel’s deep-seated desires.

But the sounds … the slight catch in Jack’s throat as his breathing becomes fast and shallow; the soft huff of breath through his nose as he comes; rasp of hand on damp flesh; the slight rustle of the space blanket against rush matting. Daniel never sees, but he knows Jack turns his face into the woven leaves when he climaxes, and Daniel never hears properly when Jack whispers with an edge of desperation what he thinks is a name. He discerns a long “Aaaa” and his heart aches that Jack can never again be with the woman he’s always loved.

Jack will never be with Sara again.

Jack falls asleep quickly after he jerks off, but Daniel lies awake, angry with himself for getting hard listening to Jack fucking his own hand and thinking of the wife he loved and lost. Occasionally, unable to rest, he steals outside and brings himself to orgasm in the woods. Just three or four quick strokes is all it takes and he spills against a tree, feeling empty and lonely and even more angry.

Mostly, he lies staring into the inky blackness and tries not to think how it would feel to hold Jack when Jack comes.

 

>>>>> 

 

When work on the new cabin is complete and before winter comes, Daniel decides he wants to explore further afield.

“There may be some answers out there,” he says. Answers to what, he doesn’t expound on.

“Wanna go alone?” Jack asks, and Daniel can’t tell whether Jack wants him to venture on his own or not.

Daniel shrugs. “I’d like the company but … you know.”

Two days later, they haul the packs onto their backs, close up the cabin, secure the food stores and head out.

“Which way should we go?” Daniel asks, poised on the edge of the clearing.

“Go West, young man,” Jack says, over-dramatically.

“Good as any,” Daniel replies and follows where Jack leads.

They walk all day. It’s pleasantly warm, with a light breeze that helps keep them cool as they start out at a good pace. Gradually, the landscape changes from forests and clearings to open grassland. For a while, they follow the course of a wide river that meanders through the countryside, bubbling as it runs over rocks. It’s incredibly peaceful. The vistas stretch forever, hills rolling gently into the distance. They stop to eat on a rise, and it could almost be Earth.

Jack slices into a fruit that looks a lot like a kiwi. He swears and yelps as the blade slips and slices into the palm of his hand. He sucks at the cut. “Fuck, that stings,” he says, as Daniel hunts in his pack for antiseptic cream. He doesn’t want to think what might happen if and when they run out of medical supplies.

“Here, let me look,” Daniel says, taking Jack’s hand and turning it gently this way and that. “It looks painful.”

“That’s because it is,” Jack replies, just short of whiny.

Daniel is distracted by the glisten of Jack’s spit on his hand. He wants to lick it off; wants to taste saliva and salt and Jack. Instead, he rubs a little cream into the open cut that is still bleeding a little. He works in smooth, easy strokes of two fingers. He swallows hard. Touch … Daniel craves touch in a way he would never have believed before they ended up here. He always thought he was self-sufficient, pretty much an island, more by circumstance than design, admittedly.

Until Jack.

Jack who dishes out thoughtless affection with an ease that Daniel envies. Or, at least, Jack did, until the last year or so, when things between them became  … complicated.

The stroking has slowed to a stop before he realizes he’s still holding Jack’s hand without any good reason. But Jack isn’t pulling away.

Daniel loves Jack’s hands; strong, capable, scarred, shaped by years of service. The unusual angles of the thumb move and fascinate him in a way he cannot articulate.

“Thanks. That’s better already,” Jack says, and his voice is quiet and low.

Daniel lets the hand go. “Good. That’s … good,” Daniel says, smiling up into Jack’s face, which is sculpted into a mask; not blank exactly, just impossible to decipher. “Shall we ...?”

They walk, side by side, not talking much, for another couple of hours. They see herds of creatures that look like a cross between goat and sheep with long, shaggy fleeces, roaming the grassland. The word ‘domestication’ crosses Daniel’s mind. They could be farmers soon. Tiny, scurrying, rat-like animals that make a high-pitched squeaking noise cross their path. Jack talks about utilizing the coats of some of the goat/sheep as bed covers and maybe clothing, if he can figure out the tanning process for the hides. Daniel immediately thinks of cavemen movies and begins to laugh. He feels Jack’s gaze on him and turns to look, finding affection and warmth in his eyes. It feels good. Being together feels good.

Jack turns his face to the heavens. “We’ve got about two hours of daylight. We should find somewhere to camp for the night.”

They come to a halt and look around. The view seems the same as it has been for the past few hours, with no sign of a place to shelter.

Then, as he scans the horizon, Daniel spies the outline of a structure. He blinks, looks again to make sure because what he is seeing is as unlikely as it is unexpected after miles of nothing but grass and sky.

Daniel grabs a fistful of Jack’s sleeve to attract his attention, and points.

Jack pulls the binoculars from his pack. “It could be a rock,” he says, handing them to Daniel. “Big rock.”

“Or a monolith,” Daniel suggests, adjusting the vision. “Or a tower, or a building.”

They look at each other, realizing in the same instant what that could mean.

“Then let’s check it out,” Jack says, stuffing the binoculars back in his pack.

They walk for another hour, and as they near the object, Daniel starts to quicken his pace, stumbling slightly in his haste to get there, because whatever it is, it is not a natural feature.

“My god,” Daniel whispers, his breath coming quickly, excitement coursing through him, just as it always does with every new find.

He pulls up just short of what is a slab of black rock that is maybe ten feet high and four feet wide. And it is covered in carvings and lettering.

Daniel wants to run his fingers across it so much but years of training kick in and he turns to Jack to make the next move. It’s not a question of military etiquette so much as simple common sense.

Jack puts a warning hand on Daniel’s arm and pushes him slightly backwards, approaching the monolith slowly, checking the grass at its foot. He picks up a small stone and throws it gently. Nothing. No forcefield. Nothing activates. He walks all the way around, shucks his pack and leans in, placing it on the ground several times. Finally, he steps back, takes a final overall look, and nods.

Daniel reaches out and runs his fingers across the cold stone. The carvings are intricate and beautiful and he wants to take it all in at once, see everything, touch everything. He wants to fall on it, devour it. God he’s missed this. His eye is drawn to the lettering around the base and he lets out a shuddering breath that ends in a high sound in the back of his throat.

“What?” Jack asks, impatience making the word harsh.

“I can read this. Some of this. It’s a derivation of Gaelic, I think, which is unlikely I know, because stelae … they’re more often found in Greece and Egypt, the Near East, but cross-pollinization via the Stargate, who knows. The images tell a story, but the words are …” he bends down, fingers tracing the indentations, and he wants to cry with the joy of discovery and learning.

“What does it say?” Jack asks, bending down beside him. Daniel is vaguely aware of the click of Jack’s knees, but he’s mesmerized by the shapes of the pictures and words to the exclusion of virtually all other senses. He forces himself to concentrate on their meaning. “Um, I can’t translate every symbol but …”

“What?” Jack asks again, and this time his question is laced with anxiety. Because Daniel has stopped talking.

“The writing is a memorial, an explanation, a plea for … understanding? For forgiveness.” He speaks quickly; what he learns, he shares with Jack in the same moment. “God,” he says, the word expelled in a huff of breath that catches in his throat. He closes his eyes, fights for calm, wills himself to think methodically. “OK.  OK. It says something about a plague, no, no, not a plague, a mania that befell the people. All the people. They … could not fight? Not fight … resist … overwhelmed. They, um, turned on each other. Murder, madness …”

Beside him, Jack groans and sits down with a thump on the ground, his knees finally refusing to hold him up any longer.

“Oh. Shit. Oh god, Jack, they left this place.”

“What place? There’s nothing here.”

“Not now maybe.” Daniel speaks distractedly, almost dismissively. Now isn’t important. “Something about a temple to their gods in a far place, a sacred place by the big water. A journey that is their fate. They left here to … kill themselves.”

“All of them?” Jack says, disbelievingly.

“Wait, wait.” Daniel moves around the stele, whispering half-formed words and thoughts until, “My god. It was mass suicide. They speak of the device that controls the Gateway, the DHD, I guess. They destroyed it to stop themselves taking their mania to another home, another planet. ‘Tell those who follow, we were a simple people who loved our families and our gods. We ask that you pray for us and for our gods’ forgiveness. We cannot forgive ourselves. We ask only that you remember that once we … something, something, I can’t read that, were loved and lived. Peace be.’”

Daniel struggles for breath, runs a hand across his forehead. He feels suddenly tired, exhausted. The pictures carved into what appears to be granite no longer exciting but a sad testimony to fear and destruction. He looks at them more closely. They tell of despair and pain and death. There is one image of a woman cradling the body of a child and he reaches out to touch it with trembling fingers, the bas-relief carving cold and hard to his touch.

“Fuck,” Jack says, softly, and it’s only when Daniel feels the warm exhalation of breath on his neck that he realizes Jack is standing behind him, close and real. Alive.

“There’s no one, nothing …” And it’s an anger, festering and building, making him shake as though he might come apart. The horror of it. The finality. The ending of a civilization.

And it’s more.

 It’s the end of hope.

“I thought,” Daniel whispers, trying to stop shivering, trying to keep himself together, “I hoped, that we’d find … I didn’t realize how much I believed there’d be someone, something.” He can’t speak anymore.

He feels strangely detached, as if he’s losing touch with himself. The enormity of the discovery that they are truly alone robs him of his sense of self. He’s so small. So insignificant. What does he count for against the self-imposed ending of an entire people?

But then hands are on his shoulders, turning him, gently, so gently. Hands that he knows and trusts that he’s longed to feel, and they’re holding him together. Jack gently removes Daniel’s pack and Daniel is pulled into the solid warmth and comfort of Jack’s body. He’s held tightly, securely, every sweep of Jack’s hands up and down his back says, ‘You’re not alone. You’re safe.’

Daniel puts trembling, leaden arms around Jack’s waist and holds on. He just holds on to him, crushes hands into the rough fabric of Jack’s jacket and rests his head on Jack’s shoulder like it belongs there. Jack puts a hand to the back of Daniel’s head and strokes, once twice, then again. It feels so natural and right. Every ounce of Daniel is pleading, ‘Hold me, just hold me, don’t let go, don’t let go.’

They cling together, Daniel aware that they’ve been standing there like so long they’re swaying with the effort of it, but neither seems to want to break the embrace. He burrows his head in further until he’s pushed against Jack’s neck and he turns his face into the hot skin.

He smells sweat that is stale and pungent but is so very Jack that he swallows with wanting. 

A soft sound chokes out of him, and it’s a recognition of the scale of the loss here. Loss that he can’t begin to process. He can’t begin to articulate the despair in his gut. So he clings to the one thing in his life that is solid and true.

He presses his lips softly into Jack’s neck. One kiss. Just one. It’s chaste and needed. So necessary.

Daniel reluctantly pulls back slightly, but still keeps hold at Jack’s waist. He looks up; needs to see Jack’s face. Jack’s eyes are soft and dark, filled with unguarded affection and a quiet acceptance of a moment of need.

Daniel cannot speak, afraid that his explanation will devolve into an outpouring of love that will leave him bare and vulnerable.

He needs Jack’s friendship now more than the promise of something more. So he keeps quiet and allows Jack to ask him quietly if he’s OK.

He nods, not really OK at all. But what is there to say?

The sky is turning indigo and the first stars are appearing, winking in the deepening blue. Dusk falls quickly now that the daylight hours are getting shorter.

Daniel glances at the stele, deepest black against the evening sky. He can feel Jack watching, assessing. “We’ll leave at first light. Go home,” Jack says softly, a hand on his shoulder, squeezing.

“Tomorrow,” Daniel says quietly, overwhelmed by everything the day has brought, and tired. So tired.

They don’t speak again, each absorbed in the magnitude of the discovery. They eat a little, then settle down to sleep, heads resting on packs, space blankets covering them. Jack lies on his back. Just before Daniel falls asleep, he reaches out a hand, which Jack takes. Daniel simply needs to know he’s there. That in all this vastness, he’s not alone.

Jack pulls on the hand and Daniel follows, curling into Jack’s side and into comfort.

He’s asleep before the last of the light has left the sky.

 

>>>>> 

 

Daniel wakes in the cold dawn to find Jack lying on his side, watching him intently. It hits Daniel full force that just hours ago he kissed him. He should say something now, before Jack can say his piece. Before Jack says, ‘It happened. You were upset. It’s OK, but it’s not happening again.’

But then Jack smiles, and it’s like the warmth has come with the daylight.

“Morning,” he says.

“Hi.”

“Breakfast in bed,” Jack says, reaching behind to grab some smoked meat and a canteen.

“Thanks. I’d prefer waffles but …”

They sit up, eat and drink. Jack pours some of the water over his head, scrubbing at hair that is a little too long and falls in a cowlick on his forehead. The water drips from his nose onto his throat and he runs a hand across his face. Daniel looks away.  Jack’s a little thinner from all the manual work and sparse diet. His cheekbones even more defined, startlingly angular. He is gloriously masculine. Beautiful. Jack is beautiful and he longs to tell him so.

The sky is turning from early-morning gray to azure blue as they prepare to leave.

Daniel shifts the pack on his back and walks over to the stele. He takes one last look at the carvings.

“It was a remarkable thing they did,” Daniel says, tracing a picture of a woman with her hands raised to the gods.

“Had to be a better way,” Jack says, adjusting the strap on his shoulder.

“No. Not this time. They felt they had no other choice.”

“You don’t just give up, Daniel. You keep on. You keep fighting. There’s always something to fight for.”

“But that’s just it. They had nothing left to fight for. They’d lost themselves. According to the images, they razed everything, left nothing behind. Burned every metaphorical bridge. There would never be any going back.” Daniel puts his right hand flat on the stone in a silent goodbye.

“Why put that here? In the middle of nowhere. Why not at the Gate?” Jack picks at the strap on Daniel’s shoulder and makes sure it’s comfortable.

“There could be many of these scattered across the land. It’s possible this was a sacred site, aligned with the stars, aligned with other sites of religious interest. There’s a new area of study, archaeogeodosy which posits that leys can be the product of ancient surveying, commonly traveled pathways …”

This is where Jack usually tells him politely, and sometimes not so politely, to shut up. But Jack’s smiling.  “Let’s go home,” he says, shaking his head.

“I could tell you lots more,” Daniel offers.

“Home,” Jack says, more loudly, and sets off, pushing his cap on his head.

Daniel smiles at the retreating back, then turns one last time to look at the obelisk. “Peace be,” he whispers.

 

>>>>> 

 

The walk home is hard. Why does the return journey always feel longer and more arduous than the outgoing?

By the time the cabin comes into view, Daniel is exhausted, emotionally as well as physically. He thinks he may have blisters, too. He dumps his gear in the corner of the room and stretches the kinks out of his back. Jack lights a fire outside because the evenings are growing increasingly chilly.

Daniel lowers himself onto the small log that passes for a seat by the fire and warms his hands. Jack checks the contents of his pack, pulls the clip in his gun and inspects it closely, then puts everything away neatly. Some habits are too ingrained to break easily or quickly. Then he joins Daniel outside, letting out a relieved groan when he takes the weight off his feet.

“Wanna eat?” he asks, sounding weary.

Daniel summons the strength to reply. “No. Just want to sleep.”  As if to reinforce the point, he yawns until his jaw cracks. He really can’t talk any more. He can’t form words.  It takes every ounce of energy he has to haul himself to his feet. He pretty much shuffles inside the shelter, aware of Jack following him inside.

Daniel stares down at his sleeping pallet, wondering how he’s going to get from here to there. It seems impossible.

“Just lie down,” Jack says, startling Daniel who hadn’t realized Jack was standing so close. Christ. He really must be tired.

He lowers himself without grace to the bed and slowly, wearily, takes off his jacket. He slumps down and can’t believe the instant relief and bliss that finally being horizontal brings. His eyes slide closed and he’s dimly aware of his boots being pulled off. Clean socks are pushed onto his feet. It’s heavenly.

“You all right?” Jack asks.

Without thinking, without censoring his response, Daniel just says, “No. No, I’m not.” Because he isn’t. He’s frightened, suddenly so terrified of loneliness. Exhaustion has stripped away his reserve.

He fights sleep desperately, wants to explain. Say he’s fine, really. Just ... just ...

There’s just the two of them now, until one of them is taken. And he’s never minded being alone but he fears being truly alone here.

He hears a dragging sound, which he identifies as Jack moving his sleeping pallet, and feels a slight whoosh of air as Jack lies down beside him. Then, he’s pulled onto his side and Jack hauls him in close, tucking Daniel’s head under his chin.

Daniel thinks he might cry. The smell of the man, the reassurance of his solid, warm body holding him is exactly what he needs and can’t ask for. He wants to fight to stay awake, to drink this in and remember every precious nuance of touch but he can’t. As he allows sleep to pull him under, Jack whispers, “Go to sleep. You’re not alone, Daniel.”

He knows. How does he know ...?

Sleep is a warm, gentle cradle. It’s safe to let go. He won’t wake alone.

 

>>>>> 

 

The next day, after Daniel returns from checking Jack’s snares, which for once are all empty, he finds Jack has moved his bed back to its usual place.

 

>>>>> 

 

 

As fall takes a real hold, Jack suggests Daniel learns how to lay traps and snares. There is some urgency now in stocking up for the coming colder weather. And it is coming.  That past couple of weeks have seen thin coatings of frost in the mornings. A low veil of mist hangs above the stream morning and evening.

With the coming of the shorter daylight hours and drop in temperature has come a subtle shift in Jack’s mood.

He’s quieter, less communicative than of late and more like the man who first came through the Gate to this new and demanding life.

Daniel longs to comfort him, the way Jack comforted him when the reality of their plight forced him into painful acceptance that this is all there is now. The feel of Jack’s arms around him, the unquestioning love in the gesture of the hug and the feel of Jack’s warm skin beneath his lips haunt Daniel’s nights. He aches to feel that again.

Can’t bear to think he’ll never feel that again.

Jack shows him the intricacies of making and setting snares made of plaited vines. They work until the walking and bending to lay the traps forces them to take a break. They stop on the edge of small copse of trees and take a drink. Jack groans as he sinks down to lean his back against the bark of a particularly gnarled tree.

“Guess there’s no chance of an orthopaedic surgeon fixing my fucking knee anytime soon,” he says and winces. The cold must be making the pain worse.

“Guess not,” Daniel says, wishing there was something he could do. He feels impotent sometimes.

Daniel stretches his legs, easing the ache that is beginning to set in.

Out of nowhere Jack says, “I’m sorry about the monument. What it means. I know you hoped ...” Jack raises his painful knee and rubs it, hand moving in slow, steady circles. Daniel finds it mesmerising.

“Yeah. I hoped. I mean. Just you and me.” Not exactly erudite or particularly articulate. “Are you OK with that?” He really wants to know.

“I’m fucking pissed, Daniel, if you really want to know.” But he doesn’t sound angry, more like resigned.

Daniel stays silent, patiently waiting him out. He’s learned to give him time. Let Jack come to him. And eventually he does.

“I’m beyond pissed, actually. There was a ton of stuff I wanted to do in my life.”

“Such as?”

Jack’s quiet for a while. “I wanted to ride my motorcycle across America. Was going to do it when I was 19 but I fell in love with flying and it never happened. I wanted to learn Gaelic. I heard my mom speaking it sometimes but never asked her to teach me. I wanted to fish my way to oblivion when I retired. Was going to sell everything, head to Minnesota, buy a dog. Big dog. Live out my days learning every last damn thing about that one lake. Love every inch of it. Learn its moods and make it mine.”

It’s the first time Daniel’s heard regret from Jack. Anger, yes, and disbelief and frustration. Regret is hard to hear.

“I can teach you some Gaelic. If you like. I’m sorry there’s no motorcycle. But you have a cabin and there’s plenty of fish.” Shut up. Stop trying to make everything OK. It’s not OK. It’ll never be fucking OK again.

“And I wanted to say sorry to my wife for ruining her life because I never said that. And I wanted to say sorry for failing her son as a father because I never said that either. Anything  you can do about that?”

Daniel is shocked into silence. This is pissed. This is angry. This is Jack as he’s seen only rarely; deliberately cuttingly hurtful and cruel.

Jack mumbles, “Fuck. Fuck it,” then drags himself painfully to his feet, boots scrunching on the covering of fallen leaves. He walks away a few steps then stops. “Sorry,” he says, hands on hips, facing away. “I’m ...”

“Pissed. Beyond pissed. It’s OK.”

Jack’s shoulders tense, his whole frame drawing in on itself, repelling borders. “No, Daniel. It’s not.” He lets out a deeply held breath. “Never make me talk about stuff.  I suck at it. Just take it as read that what you probably think I’m thinking, I’m thinking.  Yeah. That.”

He walks away without looking back.

Daniel stands slowly. His knees are aching in sympathy.

Not so OK, then.

OK.

 

>>>>> 

 

Jack apologizes again later that night. Says he knows he’s acting out. Can’t help it. He’s dreading the winter. He doesn’t say he’s scared.

Daniel says it’s all right. He understands. He doesn’t say he’s worried, too.

He doesn’t tell him he’s frightened beyond words that Jack will get sick, that Jack might die.

He’s terrified that the winter will be hard and bring illness and dangers he hasn’t even thought of yet. He’s scared of Jack dying before Daniel can tell him he loves him more than life itself; life on Earth or life here.

It should be so easy to say.

“I love you. I’ve loved you for so long. Jack. My Jack.” He says it in his heart a thousand times a day.

He just needs to find a way to say it out loud.

One day.

 

>>>>> 

 

Jack’s admission that winter is a source of worry galvanizes him. It’s as though saying it out loud frees him up to do something tangible about it.

He chops and stores a huge stockpile of firewood, builds a bigger store for the logs and checks and re-checks that it’s watertight.

Meat and fish are dried and smoked and stored. Late fruit is harvested, wrapped in leaves that they’ve learned are a good preservative. Water won’t be a problem.

Jack cuts and packs dried grass into sheaves and lines the cabin walls with them, adding extra insulation.

The seasons are following a surprisingly close pattern to Earth’s. Sometimes, that makes it difficult to remember they are so far from home.

Jack begins to experiment with tanning hides as fall eases into winter. His initial efforts aren’t promising and the smell is stomach-churning.

“This was once called an odiferous trade,” Daniel says helpfully, as Jack tries not to gag at the state of the raw hide.

“How appropriate,” Jack replies, staring down at the mess that was a goat-sheep.

But he perseveres, soaking the skins to clean and soften them, then pounding  and scouring until his hands are red and raw.

“Collect your piss in a container,” Jack says at breakfast one morning, causing Daniel to choke on his mouthful of smoked meat. “It’ll help strip the hair fibers from the skin.”

Peeing in a pot made from the hard casing of a tasteless, melon-sized fruit becomes part of everyday life.

The skins are stretched out to dry -- “Should have done this in summer,” Jack declares -- and eventually they are ready to use. They’re crude, rough and a long way from soft to the touch, but they will help keep them warm at night.

Daniel lays them on their beds. Jack stands in the doorway and watches.

“Chic,” he says.

Daniel just smiles.

 

>>>>> 

 

As the freezing water cascades down his naked body, causing him to cry out in shock, Daniel imagines he’s standing beneath a blessedly hot powerful shower.

He’s in his bathroom at his apartment, sloughing off the rigors of a day at the mountain. The water is so hot that clouds of steam envelop him in seconds. He uses shea butter soap, rubbing it into his skin in long, smooth strokes, then the apple shampoo that Sam recommended. He can feel the suds slide down his neck onto his chest, run down his back and over his ass, can see them swirl away at his feet.

He can smell coffee from the kitchen, hear ambient jazz on the radio in the living room.

And it’s so real that he can’t catch his breath when he pours another gourd full of icy water over himself and realizes he’s here and not there.

Fuck.

He quickly washes beneath his arms, then shakes his cock, lifts it and rubs his balls, making sure he’s clean where it matters.

He reaches for his spare T-shirt, which serves as a towel, and, as he does so, sees Jack watching him from the doorway of the shelter. He just catches a glimpse out of the corner of his eye, but he doesn’t react or acknowledge that he knows Jack’s there.

It’s not the first time he’s felt Jack’s eyes on him, but it’s the first time he’s actually seen it.

He’s not sure what it means, or if it means anything at all. God knows he’s watched Jack wash himself often enough. Sometimes openly, like they’re still in the locker room at the SGC, sometimes not.

But Daniel watching Jack does mean something. He longs to run his hands over his wet body, wipe the drops of water from his face with his thumbs, lick the droplets from Jack’s dripping cock and kiss nipples peaked by the cold rivulets running down his chest.

And now Daniel’s hard. He keeps his body turned away. He’s shivering and gusts of breath are condensing in the cold morning air. How can he be so fucking hard when he’s so fucking cold?

He uses the T-shirt to cover his groin, squeezes his hard on, wills it to just go the fuck away. He dries himself, taking special care between his legs. Winter chapping doesn’t bear thinking about.

By the time he’s finished, his cock is softening again. He gives it one last apologetic swipe with the T-shirt.

By the time he turns around to walk back, Jack is gone.

But Daniel can still feels Jack’s gaze burning into his back.

 

>>>>> 

 

Hours later, when they’re in bed, Daniel hears a familiar rustling from Jack’s bed.

Jack’s breath hitches and the noise quietens and for a while there is silence. Then, Jack swears softly, and Daniel hears Jack pulling on his boots. He gets up and leaves the cabin.

The urge to follow him is intense. Daniel fights it and then fights it some more because he wants to watch so fucking badly he can taste it.

The word ‘stay’ whispers in head until it becomes a mantra, and he shouldn’t, he really shouldn’t but he folds back the space blanket and animal hide, and steps out into the night.

It’s freezing. Daniel’s breath shows in icy puffs. The sky is clear, heavy with a million stars, and the moons are full and beautiful, casting a pale red glow. There is frost on the grass and his feet are bare but he doesn’t care.

He has to see.

Jack is leaning straight-armed against a tree behind the cabin. His head is bowed and he’s watching himself masturbate.

Daniel pulls up short a good distance away. He’s out in the open, exposed. There is nowhere to hide. If Jack sees him now, the game’s up. He’s past caring.

The light from the moons is so bright that Daniel can see everything, can even see the grimace on Jack’s face as he throws his head back and groans softly. Jack settles into a wider stance, bends his arm at the elbow and leans his head into the crook. He speeds up the strokes until his arm is moving in shivery fast jerks. He’s watching himself again, biting his lip, biting off the grunt that Daniel imagines he can feel building in his chest.

Daniel’s own chest feels tight in response. He can’t breathe for wanting. He’s hard in his pants.

The fast rhythm that Jack sets suddenly slows and he lets out a wrenching “Aaaaah,” as he spills over his hand, head thrown back. He continues to milk his cock, pulling every drop of orgasm out in long, gentle strokes.

And then he says it. A single word that changes everything in space of two syllables.

“Daniel.”

 It’s a whisper, an agonized, painful whisper. But in the cold night air, it carries with crystal clarity. Jack’s breathing is fast and harsh. When he swallows, Daniel hears the click in his dry throat.

Then, quite deliberately, Jack turns to face Daniel.

He knows I was here ...

Nowhere to hide. For either of them.

Some part of Daniel’s brain registers the comical sight before him; Jack’s pants are round his ankles, his cock is in his hand. But the other part of his brain is filled with an aching awareness of Jack’s vulnerability, and he has to respond.

On shaking legs, Daniel approaches him. He’s hyper-aware of his feet swishing through frost-laced leaves. That, and the sound of Jack’s breathing, is all he can hear.

Jack bows his head, doesn’t look at him, as Daniel steps into his space.

And then, slowly, Daniel reaches out and touches Jack on the shoulder. Jack jumps a little - Daniel chooses to believe it’s not a flinch - and pulls Jack around gently. His eyes are still lowered as Daniel cups Jack’s face in his hand. His trembling fingers touch stubble that is almost a beard. It’s surprisingly soft. So that’s what it feels like. His thumbs stroke Jack’s cheekbones and he hears someone saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK.” He distantly realizes he’s the one speaking.

Jack closes his eyes as he turns his face into the palm of Daniel’s hand.

It’s OK, it’s OK.

Daniel kneels, as if in prayer, certainly in adoration, and places his hands carefully on Jack’s thighs, takes Jack’s hand off his cock and slowly, deliberately, licks Jack’s fingers, lapping at the pads in the way a cat licks cream.

Above him, he hears Jack let out a soft, “Oh.”

Daniel kisses the hand before letting it go, then he bends places a single, soft, feather-light kiss on the tip of Jack’s penis.

He takes hold of Jack’s briefs and pants, pulls them just high enough for Jack to take hold, and stands.  Jack struggles with the fastening, looks away in frustration. Again, Daniel waits, wanting to take his cue from Jack’s reaction.

Finally, Jack’s eyes meet his and they’re filled with a wary confusion. Daniel puts his hands on Jack’s shoulders, wanting to anchor him and offer the same reassurance Jack offered him at the stele. I’m here ...

“You said that what I probably think you’re thinking, you’re thinking,” Daniel says, moving in close enough that Jack can surely feel his breath, can almost touch the words falling from his lips. “I think you’re thinking this.”

He presses his lips to Jack’s and can’t stop the desperate moan that escapes as he moves his mouth on Jack’s. At first, Jack is still, Daniel’s lips find Jack’s soft but unmoving, then Jack responds, lips moving gently, tentatively, and Daniel instantly wants more, so he kisses him harder. It’s overwhelming. He pulls back a little because he has to know that this is welcomed.

Jack looks shocked, moved, and Daniel says, “Hey,” quietly because words have deserted him. Daniel kisses him again, more forcefully, and Jack’s mouth opens to him. Daniel feels he’s drowning but can’t come up for air.

Eventually, he pulls away. Then, because he’s too far away, and he can’t tolerate the distance, he moves in and kisses Jack’s neck. Jack tilts his head and Daniel hears a soft moan that carries an echo of desperation.

He mouths the skin, roving restlessly until he fixes on the pulse, and he can’t breathe because his nose is pressed in so hard. But he doesn’t care. If he can never have this again, if he can never have more, he wants this moment to become a part of him. Wants the feel and touch and taste of Jack to be absorbed into his body on the deepest, most elemental level.

Jack groans and the sound delights Daniel because it’s honest and Jack doesn’t bother to stifle it.

Daniel is so hard he can’t see straight. He wants to beg Jack to go down on him right here but it’s so cold and Jack is shivering.

“My feet are cold,” Daniel says, the words sounding banal even to him.

Jack just nods. Words seem to have deserted him, too.

Daniel touches Jack’s face one more time because he had to touch, then turns and trusts that Jack will follow. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if Jack doesn’t follow.

He takes no more than two steps before he hears Jack walking behind him.

Daniel enters the shelter and stands by his sleeping pallet, aware of Jack following him inside and closing the door. The atmosphere is suddenly charged and heavy. It’s dark, too dark for Daniel, who has to be able to see Jack now. He flicks on his torch lying beside his bed. It’s a precious resource but he has to see. He turns to find Jack standing by his own bed, waiting. “It has to be your move, Daniel. I’m a shit, I know. Don’t let that color your decision.”

Jack’s vulnerability touches something deep inside Daniel, so deep that he can’t truly comprehend it yet. But the decision is never in any doubt.

He picks up the pallet and moves it across the floor, placing it next to Jack’s.

Jack doesn’t say a word, just pulls him in for a gentle hug.

Daniel sinks into Jack’s body, allows himself the luxury of being held, and then he pulls back enough to kiss him, slowly insinuating his tongue, and soon warmth is turning to heat.

Their hands roam freely, over shoulders, up into hair, clenching and caressing, getting close but not close enough. Daniel’s hands cup Jack’s ass and he presses their groins together. To Daniel’s delight and surprise, Jack is beginning to harden again. They’re both wonderfully, undeniably, hard for each other. Daniel rests his forehead against Jack’s and they rub heads gently, nuzzling, catching breath but barely able to wait for what comes next.

Jack steps back, keeps his eyes fixed on Daniel and slips out of his T-shirt. He stands there, bare to the waist, with the clothes in his hand for a moment, then he throws them in the corner.

Daniel’s eyes are drawn to Jack’s dog tags and he wonders what to say. If he should say anything at all. But no words come, so he reaches out, touches them and waits. Jack doesn’t make a move to take them off, and Daniel wants to ask how Jack is squaring this. What does it mean that Jack will love him this way while keeping them on?

Jack says nothing, just breathes, not at all steadily, in and out, and Daniel watches the rise and fall in fascination. He feels Jack’s heart beating through his fingertips.

The tags are just pieces of metal edged with rubber. Daniel doesn’t know what they signify to Jack. But he does know they’re a part of Jack, a part of who he was and is. Will always be. So Daniel leans down and kisses them, lips touching metal and skin, both warm to the touch, one soft and yielding, the other hard and uncompromising. But it’s still Jack. His Jack, now, he thinks. And Jack lets out a soft, “God,” that’s both anguish and delight.

“Jack,” Daniel whispers, infusing the word with love and understanding. “God, Jack.”

Jack briefly cups Daniel’s cheek then lowers himself to the bed.  Daniel follows suit. Jack gets rid of his boots,  fumbling with the laces and laughing nervously at his lack of dexterity.

They unbuckle pants, remove briefs, and Daniel removes his T-shirt, then they move together on their sides in a gloriously long slide of naked warmth.

The touch of bodies is electrifying, and Daniel closes his eyes, wanting to experience this moment through touch rather than sight; pure, clean tactile response. Jack’s body is all planes and angles, there’s no softness and the rasp of chest hair on Daniel’s smooth skin is so shocking that he gasps aloud.

Jack pulls back and Daniel opens his eyes, sees uncertainty in Jack’s, but Daniel just smiles. “It’s good. So good,” he whispers.

And then there’s no talking at all, just hands on skin, mapping, learning, reveling in the contact. And there’s kissing, kiss after kiss, delving and exploring until their lips are swollen and soft.

Hungry now for more, Daniel pulls Jack on top of him and Jack stops again, pushed up on stretched arms, his eyes asking, ‘Is this OK?’ And it is. It’s more than OK. It’s perfect.

When Jack lowers his full weight the full length of Daniel’s body, when their erections slide together, Daniel cries out with the joy of it. He’ll come soon, too soon, he knows, and he wants to warn Jack and say, ‘Sorry, sorry, wanted this for so long, I can’t stop this …’

But Jack is covering him, and there’s no room in his thoughts for anything but the feel of their bodies moving together, the sensation of the pre-come slicking their cocks as they rub the length of their shafts, base to tip, again and again.

Jack is kissing his neck, forcefully enough to mark Daniel, and Daniel wants that, wants it so very much.

Yours, I’m yours, I always was.

Daniel is moaning with every full slide of their dicks and he grabs Jack’s ass with both hands, urging him closer, urging him on.

The joy of it is blinding. Stunning. It’s been so long since he’s been touched with love.

When Jack bites down on Daniel neck, when Daniel feels Jack’s cock grow harder and when Jack stills above him, eyes full of unshed tears and love, Daniel comes. Wave after wave of tremors rock him to his core as his semen spills in strong pulse after strong pulse. Jack grunts his completion into Daniel’s shoulder and lets out a long, “Aaaa,” that Daniel recognizes at once. The stifled noise in the night.

“Oh, god, uh, uh, uh,” Daniel moans, and closes his eyes. He clings to Jack, lets his mouth run and doesn’t care what he says. “So beautiful. I love you. I love you.”

Jack holds him close, shields his body from the cold air.

This time, it’s Jack who whispers, “It’s OK,” nose nuzzling the side of Daniel’s face. And it is, Daniel thinks. It is. Because now he knows what it’s like to hold Jack when he comes.

It’s everything.

 

>>>>> 

 

“So. Is this where we talk about it?” Daniel says, the following evening, after a day when Jack went off fishing early and Daniel felt too alone with his thoughts.

Jack did kiss the top of his head before he left, when Daniel was still drowsing, making Daniel smile in relief.

He pokes the campfire with a stick, stirring it into life. They’ve just eaten dinner in near silence and Daniel can’t stand the sound of his own thoughts any longer. “And please don’t say talk about what. I think we’re way past that.”

“I’m not sure what there is to say,” Jack says, taking a drink of water from his canteen.

“I kissed you Jack, which is, you know, no small thing. Also, and this is probably a huge thing, you kissed me back and then we shared bodily fluids and I told you I loved you. I think that gives us a starting point for the conversation.”

“OK,” Jack says, warily. “Where do you want to start?”

 “At the stele. I kissed you. You didn’t call me on it.” Daniel recoils as the wood spits.

“You’ve loved me for a long time, Daniel. I wasn’t going to turn you away.” Jack rubs his right knee.

Daniel turns his head sharply, stares intently at Jack’s profile in the flickering firelight.

“You’re saying you knew?

Jack turns to face him, the shadows of the flames casting his face in light and shadow, and Daniel so wants to kiss him again, the irritating bastard.

The look Jack gives him is long and hard, and into the silence he says evenly, “I’ve loved you for a long time, Daniel. I couldn’t turn away.”

The words are spoken on a cloud of condensation and they hang there and Daniel thinks, if he looks, really looks hard, he can probably see them written in the vapor.

For a moment, he cannot parse what Jack has said because it’s too much what he longs to hear. But when his emotions give way to the beginnings of clear thinking, it’s almost too much for him.

“All the pushing me away, the canceled football nights, the hurtful jibes, the way you stopped fucking touching me, dismissed my opinions --”

“Can we not just agree to the whole redundancy thing,” Jack says, wincing, and Daniel’s not sure whether it’s his knees or the stark reality of the conversation that is causing Jack’s pain.

Daniel spools back through all those hard conversations until he lands on the right one. He sighs, lets out a gust of breath that forms a cloud of white. The vapor at dew point. Just as their friendship was, until the Gate conspired to spit them out here.

“You treated me like shit because you loved me.” Not a question, just Daniel running his thought process, putting context to words and actions. “Because you came to realize you loved me.”

“I’m bad at this stuff, Daniel. You know that. I lost my wife because I’m bad at this stuff. This should not come as a shock to you.”

Daniel’s brain goes into overdrive, trying to make some sort of sense out of past conversations and silences.

“No,” he says absently, thoughts careening and jostling, “No, I guess it doesn’t. But this past year, it’s been … I’ve been ... floundering. I guess. Not sure if we were even friends sometimes.”

It’s a conceit, but Daniel thinks he can feel Jack wince at that.

“If we weren’t friends,” Jack says carefully, “it wouldn’t have hurt so much.”

“So ... I should be grateful that I spent a lot of the time wanting to push my fist through a wall.”

Jack sighs. He pulls his protesting knees up and rests his head on crossed arms, staring into the flames.

“I knew you wanted me, Daniel. I picked up on the vibe. I would have been blind not to. The problem was that I wanted you too, and I couldn’t let you know that. I was trying to spare us both. The pulling away was ... necessary. But it hurt me. What I can’t forgive myself for is hurting you in the process. I could see what it was doing to you. To our friendship. I’m sorry for that.”

Daniel nods.  He takes a moment to assimilate the information. “I can’t help but wonder where Sam fits into all this,” Daniel adds, wondering if he’s just lit the blue touch paper and should stand well back.

“Jesus, Daniel, do we have to go through the entire back catalogue of O’Neill screw-ups in one night? Can we not spread them out? There’s no TV or iPods or tax forms to distract us. We have pretty much all the time we need to do that.” The muscle clenches in his jaw again. Daniel finds it strangely arousing.

Jack sits up and hunches his shoulders, shivering a little. “Carter had a thing for me and, yes, I was attracted to her. I didn’t handle it well.”

Daniel warms his hands close to the flames and then rubs his palms together. “And this is different from you and me how?”

“Because I have a thing for you, and I’m attracted to you. Double whammy. And it’s not that I didn’t handle us well, it’s that I didn’t handle us at all. Now can we please cut to the part where you say you don’t understand but you’ll work on it, and then we can go to bed because I’m really tired and, if I’m really lucky, you’ll let me suck you until you come in my mouth because I really want you to do that, Daniel.”

Daniel sits in silence for a minute or two, watches while Jack throws some more wood on the fire and the flame sparks higher momentarily and then subsides.

Hearing those words come from Jack’s mouth, Jack’s mouth, is almost too much.

“We’re, um, we’re too alike for our own good sometimes,” Daniel says quietly. “We don’t talk about stuff, for different reasons, but it results in the same thing, and it’s not good. Maybe we can work on that.”

“Maybe,” Jack replies.

“We should, you know, talk about things. Even things that hurt. It’s important. I need to do that.”

“Yeah. Well. I’d rather drown in quicksand but I guess ...”

Daniel huffs a laugh that turns into a long yawn. He is very tired, but there are still things he has to know before this night is over.

“You don’t have to answer this but … you’ve been with men?”

“Before Sara, and after. Not during.”

Sara.

“I understand you still love her,” Daniel says, concentrating on the lick of flame.

Jack shifts. “I’ll always love her. Doesn’t mean I don’t --”

“Please. You don’t have to explain or justify.”

The silence becomes awkward and lingering until Daniel offers Jack something because this sharing thing is hard.

“I experimented in college but didn’t take things very far. Couple of guys I got on well enough with. We shared handjobs, blowjobs. There was one failed attempt at penetrative sex. I failed to top, in case you’re wondering. And I slept with a couple of women who were looking for notches on the bedpost and nothing more. None of it meant anything and none of it gave me what I needed. Sex without feelings has never really done it for me. I loved Sha’uri, Jack. Very much. There has to be love.”

He turns to find Jack looking at him, eyes soft. “There is love, Daniel,” Jack says, voice and smile gentle.

Daniel’s mouth is taken in a long, undemanding, glorious kiss. Daniel’s free hand comes up to cup Jack’s face, a face that is open, unguarded, so different from the carefully crafted emotionless mask it wore for so long.

“Can we talk more later? You know. Sometime?” Daniel asks when they draw reluctantly apart.

Jack smiles and says a little wryly, “Sure. We’ve got all the time in the world.”

And they have.

“Bed,” Daniel says, smiling.

“Bed,” Jack affirms.

 

>>>>> 

 

They face the onset of winter with apparent equanimity. They are as prepared as they can be to be face what’s ahead.

They spend a lot of time indoors. Jack fashions weapons out of flint and wood; Daniel starts to write a journal.

Time passes slowly but their companionship is real and warm and sustaining.

“What happens if they find us?” Daniel asks, one foggy afternoon, knowing that Jack will understand the unasked question behind the obvious.

“Then they’ll find us,” he says, simply and with certainty.

That warms Daniel more than any fire.

 

>>>>> 

 

Daniel fucks Jack for the first time on the day the first snow falls.

It’s awkward and tentative and Daniel wants to stop because he’s sure Jack is hurting, but somehow they stumble their way through to an orgasm that shreds them both and leaves Daniel sobbing at the beauty of it.

As Jack gathers him in his arms and thumbs away the tears, Daniel says, “I love you. I’ve loved you for so long. Jack. My Jack.”

He’s said it a thousand times in his heart, and now he’s said it out loud.

 

>>>>> 

 

There’s a spot by the first lake they found that is quiet and peaceful and when the spring comes, Daniel marks the return of the spectacular birds with yellow heads and red necks and wings that stretch forever.

Daniel still sits here sometimes, and sometimes Jack sits with him.

Sometimes Daniel still thinks of Earth, and sometimes he still thinks of Sha’uri, of Teal’c and Sam and Hammond, and sometimes it doesn’t hurt it all.

He’s stopped carving notches in the tree, and he’s started learning how to fish.

 

And he keeps on loving Jack.