Jack should have been grateful that Jonas didn’t snore, but he wasn’t. The quiet breathing annoyed him. He was used to soft nasal snores born of allergies. He’d grown accustomed to ticking off the hours of the night with them, to falling asleep with their white noise in his mind. Off-world, on-planet, didn’t matter. Their absence was keeping him awake.
Not fair to Jonas, really, and Jack should have listened to Teal’c when his friend offered to share a tent with Jonas, to take the burden off Jack. Strange that Teal’c could see it there, hanging off Jack’s shoulders, when Jack was so clearly unaware.
It had been like that for months. Long stretches of time without meaning; long intervals of turning in on himself, deeper and deeper until he was as guarded as he’d been when he’d lost Charlie.
This was different, though. Better, in some ways. Worse in others.
Jonas shifted in his sleeping bag and a streak of pure resentment surged through Jack. The tent was big enough for two men to sleep comfortably. Still, it seemed to Jack that Jonas was taking up too much space. Or maybe just taking up the wrong space entirely. Jack supposed he wasn’t the best judge of that, anymore.
He sat up with a sigh. No use pretending sleep would come. He’d given up even before he crawled in, before Jonas had peppered him with a dozen well-meaning questions. He’d had to pretend, of course; cap down over the eyes, arm over his face, and then Jonas was quiet. Too quiet. The wrong kind of quiet.
In the dark, he pulled his boots on and laced them easily– long years of practice meant he wasn’t required to think about the how of it – and slipped out of the tent. Jonas slept on, oblivious.
Teal’c glanced up at Jack as he made his way to the campfire and pulled up a log. “Are you not feeling well, O’Neill?”
“Oh, I’m terrific.” Jack poured himself a cup of coffee. “Just can’t sleep.”
Teal’c directed his gaze into the surrounding forest. After a moment, he said, “Perhaps you will reconsider rearranging the sleeping assignments.”
Jack thought about that for a moment, about what a perceptive man Teal’c was, and also what a pushy bastard Teal’c was and always had been, and how amazed he sometimes was that Teal’c was his willing subordinate.
“Maybe,” was all he said.
“This treaty is proving most difficult to accomplish,” Teal’c said.
“Jonas lacks a certain…finesse...with the locals.” Jack squinted down into the black well of his cup.
“With additional exposure to the cultures of other worlds, he will acquire that which he lacks.”
“Probably, but he’ll never be…” Jack stopped himself. No going back now. Not without a damned good reason, and lack of snoring wasn’t a good reason, or even a reason anyone else would understand, for kicking a man off his team.
But Teal’c understood what Jack had not said; he knew, without words. They both understood, just as Jack understood skill with negotiation could be gained through practical experience.
Back to gulping down the coffee, hands wrapped around the warm metal of the cup as though he were clinging to a lifeline.
Teal’c turned and looked at him. Jack didn’t meet that soft, direct gaze, though he felt it on his skin like a laser, cutting straight through blood and bone and bullshit. “He is not Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said, and Jack felt his blood burn, knew the walls were slamming down. A thousand points of armor closed over him, sealing him inside his own grief.
“I feel his absence keenly as well,” Teal’c said. Jack heard a mirror of his own grief in Teal’c’s admission, but couldn’t speak to that. If he looked too long in the mirror, he would be lost.
“We go on with the hand we’re dealt,” Jack said. It was a hollow statement, without foundation or support, nothing to hang his conviction on.
“O’Neill.” Such a compassionate tone. The last thing Jack wanted, or needed, was sympathy.
“If you were to speak of it, the pain would ease.”
Speak of it, Jack thought, and the possibilities ran through his mind like water across clear glass, cascading through memories as distinct as they were personal....
Daniel, hunched over the dining room table, cleaning his Beretta. Jack knew Daniel was angry, that he wasn’t over it. Maybe he would never be over it. The team might have drawn straws, but it mattered very little in the end, since Daniel was the one who was hurt by it. Daniel, who had the most to lose, who had been shut out the hardest.
He went to Daniel in the middle of the night, tried to persuade him to come back to bed, but his lover was resolute. Daniel snapped the pieces of the weapon together, quick as you please, and then he said: “You could have been Makepeace, you know.”
“He’s who you were. Who you would have been, without…conscience? No, that’s not quite right. Without compassion.” Daniel wiped the last of the solvent from the barrel of the gun. “He’s you five years ago, Jack. He’s who you want to be, sometimes.”
“He’s who I’d have been without you.”
“And Teal’c, and Sam. I know.”
“You don’t know.”
One push of the chair, and Daniel slammed the gun down hard on the table and was in Jack's space. The corner of his lip was caught between his teeth; he worried it, chewing savagely on that tender flesh. “Oh, I do know, Jack. It wasn’t me. I didn’t bring you back from the brink. And he’s closer to who you are than you want to admit. How much acting did you really have to do, anyway?”
“Bad answer.” Daniel was so close Jack could feel the contours of his body. “Wrong answer. Dammit, Jack!”
No words would suffice, and Jack didn't bother with them; he took Daniel’s face between his hands and kissed him, pulled that lip between his own teeth and bit it gently, smoothing away anxiety and taking the taste of fear and sadness away.
“You’re not getting off that easy,” Daniel breathed, occupied with kissing Jack.
“Never thought I was.”
Daniel, in sweats and a t-shirt, taking his coffee to the balcony. Jack followed behind like a worried watchdog, afraid of…silly things, things that had no bearing on reality. They were cured; there was no danger.
“Jack.” So soft, so concerned. “I’m not going to throw myself over the railing.”
“I know.” So defensive; so incapable of admitting he cared.
“Then go inside and let me drink my coffee in peace.”
“I, uh.” He wavered, thinking of how he’d found Daniel, alone and in misery, and he couldn’t go back.
The mug fell to the ground in pieces, its waylaid coffee seeping into the concrete balcony floor, and he wrapped his arms around Daniel, afraid and not afraid, unwilling to let go.
Daniel didn't mind, much; he held Jack in place as much as Jack had held him, and they anchored each other, kept each other from flying into pieces. A suitable arrangement.
“Not here, Jack!”
“Hell yes, here. Right fucking now.”
Daniel’s protests were token resistance at best, designed to help them cling to the fiction, later. Jack knew it, Daniel knew it. The armbands just released the last restraints and controls they clung to, the ones that kept them from showing their hand at the base. The ones that were preserving Jack’s career, and Daniel’s sanity.
The fight had turned Daniel on. Jack could smell it on him in a crazy way. He knew somewhere in the back of his head it was those heightened senses, but he was harder than he’d been since he was a teenager, and Daniel was ready for him. He tried not to look at Daniel as they left the restaurant, but it was a lost cause. The gleam in those blue eyes was like a beacon of madness.
They left Carter near the fence once they reached the base, made up some argument about going to Daniel’s for some journals or papers or some such bullshit, but they ended up in the woods, just off the road, and Daniel’s clothes were on the forest floor. No waiting, no talking, no thinking.
They needed each other too much to care. Feelings were running high, emotions out of control. Not just with Daniel, though Jack didn’t realize it then; there would be repercussions he’d have to deal with, and Sam’s view of him was forever changed.
But there in the forest, he was buried in Daniel, like two adolescent kids groping and clinging and trying to crawl inside each other’s skins. It was good, as hot as they had ever made it between them, but the feelings turned suddenly, stretched into an awakening. Not just hormones out of control – something more. Something deeper.
He moved slow, deep inside Daniel, ignoring Daniel’s pleas for something faster, a quick fuck with mutual satisfaction. That wasn’t enough for him, wasn’t enough for Daniel. He took Daniel slowly, pulled him to the ground and lost himself in Daniel, in sensation, in the touch of his hands and the feel of his lips giving way.
Daniel’s skin tasted like nothing Jack had ever tasted, salt and sweet and bitter, and some part of his mind insisted that Daniel had never tasted like this before. Daniel grabbed at him, demanding with his hands what Jack wouldn’t let him say with words. He would always remember the feel of Daniel’s lips forming words against his palm as he covered Daniel’s mouth, hushing him, making him burrow deep into the quiet.
He savored the taste of blood on his tongue when he broke Daniel’s skin; he had licked at Daniel’s nipples, his chest, the tight muscles of his stomach. He reveled in the mirrored pain in his own shoulder when Daniel bit down hard, trying to be quiet, to do what Jack had asked him – ordered him – to do. He moved in Daniel, on Daniel, thrusting as deep as he could, watching through slitted eyes as Daniel threw his head back, mouth open, no sound.
Daniel was hard in his hands, soft in the moonlight, eyes alight with something that made Jack come so hard he gave up a piece of his soul. He dropped to the ground beside Daniel and brought him along with his hand, listening to the harsh breaths. When finally he put his lips next to Daniel’s ear and gave him one last demand, Daniel came for him, breathless and beautiful, and it made Jack ache with love for him.
They could have blamed it on those damned armbands, but it wouldn’t have been the truth. Jack knew the truth; he’d heard Daniel say it, heard him cry it out while Jack was balls deep inside him, so many times.
“You kissed Sam?”
“You told me to!”
“You fucking—” Daniel lunged at him, and the tussle took them down to the ground, dragged them through four years of accumulated anger, until they were panting and staring and completely exhausted, with Jack sitting on top of Daniel.
“Hey!” Jack leaned over until his dogtags were resting on Daniel’s chest. “You *told* me to!”
“I would never say anything so stupid.”
“You reminded me I could do anything I wanted, without consequences.” Jack breathed into Daniel’s face, enjoyed his struggle to pitch Jack off. It was half-assed, anyway; if he’d wanted Jack gone, Jack would've been under the desk, nursing his wounds. “So I did! I just wanted to know…I don’t know. What she’d do. If I was right.”
“Well. Were you?” All acid and ice.
“Yep. But it wasn’t like what you think.” Slow kisses of apology, sweet, building in intensity, and they almost forgot where they were.
Except, there was a noise behind them, and Jack looked up to see six-foot-plus of Jaffa in the doorway, looking doggedly at something else, anything else, so he wouldn't see his friends on the floor just a heartbeat away from fucking.
Jack helped Daniel up, and thought absurdly that Teal’c would say something to ease the situation, but he was wrong. He just looked at them both with kind eyes, eyes that spoke volumes about understanding and tolerance.
Some things were best left buried and never spoken of again.
“Give me your wrists.” Jack tried to be gentle, but…
Daniel’s wrists were a mess; broken skin, bloody and bruised when the ropes were cut away. Jack dressed them silently, without voicing the anger that still burned at the back of his throat.
Carter was on guard, watching the woods. Teal’c was there beside them, as he so often was those days, a silent accomplice.
Daniel had barely spoken. From the time they left that cave to the moment they came to Rothman’s grave, Daniel had been preoccupied, someplace inside his head. It wasn’t like him. The first words he’d spoken had been at the shallow place Rothman would forever reside. “He deserved better.”
“I know,” Jack said as he took Daniel’s wrists in his hands. It was all code for let’s go and I want to treat those wounds and I need to take you home and goddammit, Daniel, don’t you ever fucking scare me like this again, I love you, you prick.
If Daniel understood that code, he gave no sign. Not one more word until they’d gotten all the way back to Earth, through the medical check, and to Jack’s house, until they’d gone inside and Daniel had been through a shower and was in clean clothes – Jack’s sweats, almost the right fit on his muscular frame - and then he said:
“You know, they say archaeology is the handmaiden of history.”
“What?” Jack had been checking the bandages on Daniel's wrists. He’d had to do them over when Daniel got out of the shower. He wrestled down his confusion, his sense of irritation at the way Daniel’s mind worked. There Daniel was, barely back in one piece, and he was going philosophical.
“The handmaiden. The companion, the one who’s just there to serve. Subservient; not truly a part in any way.” Daniel’s eyes glistened with tears – and Jack could count the number of times he’d ever seen that on one hand. “Fuck.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Jack asked, as he wrapped the gauze as tightly and as gently as he could.
“It’s what I am, to this team. What we all are. All the scientists. We’re not the kind of explorers you need.”
“Bullshit,” Jack said immediately. His hands closed over Daniel’s, warming them. “You’re nobody’s fucking handmaiden. What the hell is that shit, anyway? You’re not making sense.”
“Oh, yes. I am. Think about it.”
Jack pulled Daniel’s hand up, turned it, kissed the palm where it was rough with calluses. “I don’t want to think about it. I want to go to bed, with you there. For the first time in days. And I want dreamless, pointless, dark, oblivious sleep.”
“Jack.” Daniel was stubborn – he had always been stubborn – and Jack thought his heart might burst while he listened to Daniel speaking. “What you do doesn’t really include me. It never has.”
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud.”
“Jack, listen.” Daniel beseeched him with bright blue eyes, so he had no choice but to obey. “I’m peripheral to your world. I know it, I’ve known it all along, but…what I can give you is valuable. I’m…”
“Shut up,” Jack said, roughly. “What you can give me isn’t what I’m interested in right now. Peripheral? What the fuck?”
“In the professional sense…” Daniel’s body arched against Jack’s; the motion cut straight to Jack’s heart. “Sometimes we’re more of a liability.”
“Stop,” Jack hissed. “No more of that. What - you think because we had to come and rescue you, you’re—”
“I’m just saying – our goals are different. Our worlds.”
Jack kissed him, savage and needy. “Tell me you don’t belong on this team – in this world - and I’ll call you a fucking liar.”
“Because you want me, or because I belong?”
“I don’t know,” Daniel said, as he let himself be devoured by Jack’s angry mouth. “I don’t know.”
And even after he’d taken Daniel to bed, and loved him, those doubts had remained, quiet between them in the darkness.
“Did Yu make you kneel to him?” Jack asked, almost disinterested, but the way Daniel dissociated made him afraid, and then he was interested again.
“It’s sort of fascinating. The System Lords treat their servants very well. In the scheme of things.”
“Daniel.” Jack set down his beer, looked up from the chess game. He never concentrated like he should when they played, anyway. “You didn’t have to do anything…difficult…did you? Anything you want to tell me?”
“What would make you think that?” Daniel gave him a mild look, but Jack didn’t buy that look anymore. He’d known Daniel too long.
“What about Sarah?”
“Sarah. Well. That was…strange.”
“You’re the master of understatement, Doctor Jackson.” Jack picked the beer back up and took a sip.
Daniel smiled slightly. “You going to make your move?”
“I want the rest of the story first,” Jack said. “And then, believe you me, I’ll make my move.”
That small smile widened. Jack loved to watch Daniel when he was thinking of what they would do together, what they would be in each other’s arms. “Yu isn’t so bad, as System Lords go, Jack. I think he might…I think he could eventually be…useful to us.”
“Pet theory? You know that flies in the face of all we know about those damn snakeheads.”
“Yes, but…I think it’s possible.”
“Oh, it’s always possible.” Jack set down the beer and leaned back on the couch. “Come to think of it? It’s your move.”
Daniel had always had the best moves, and had seen farthest ahead in the game.
“You can damn me for not understanding, if you want, but I—”
“Shut up, Jack,” Daniel said, and then he took Jack’s words away with a furious kiss, one designed to keep them both from thinking until the morning. Reese was dead; Daniel was alive.
The argument was behind them.
Energy and light and Daniel’s face, and a kind of sadness he had only known once before, when his son had died in his arms, covered with blood. Thinking to himself - does it matter where you’re going? Does it make any difference? You’re leaving.
You’re giving up.
He thought of so many things, and each memory made the grief more bitter, even as it lifted his heart.
“Yeah.” He sipped his coffee. “Nothing to speak of, Teal’c.”
And of course, he did see; Teal’c had seen, had always known, but his loyalty would keep him from saying it out loud.
Teammate, yes, and true friend as well.
Jack took a deep breath. Reminiscing wasn’t helping him. And there was still Jonas, in the tent, sprawled out across that space that was once someone else’s territory.
“Major Carter does indeed snore.”
Startled, Jack looked up. “Does she? How’d I miss that, all these years?”
“Perhaps you have not had sufficient…exposure…to it.” Teal’c nodded in the direction of the second tent. Jack perked up, listened hard until he heard the faint buzz-saw percolation of flaring sinuses in the tent behind him. It was soothing, in a way. Like home.
Teal’c met his eyes across the fire, and they spoke without speaking.
There was no comfort for Jack. He’d accepted that the moment he’d watched Daniel change, move from this life into another, one that was better. One that couldn’t include Jack.
No comfort at all, but there was still living, and it had to be endured. He had responsibilities, obligations.
Friends who gave a damn.
Teal’c was watching him, carefully scrutinizing his face. Jack knew that look, but it pained him to have to acknowledge it. He pitched his coffee away; it splashed on the distant grass. “It’s a bitch,” he said.
Jack listened to Carter snore. He filled his head with the sound, displacing silence and memory. It was easier, that way.