“I know I put it here, somewhere... .“ Adjusting his glasses, Daniel glared at the contents of his desk. Mission reports, post-it notes, coffee mugs... he'd have to clean and put them away before he'd leave... a street map, travel guide, research papers,... Where were those damn flight tickets? And his hotel reservations? He knew they had been in one of those official looking USAF envelopes. Because that's how they had arrived on his desk this morning. And he had put them... on his desk.
He carefully moved a tower of books. Nothing. He rummaged through the box for incoming mail. Nothing. He checked his watch and groaned. He'd have to go home and pack clothes... toothbrush... shampoo... allergy meds... Tylenol... books and his laptop... But first he had to find his tickets. He looked behind his computer screen, he looked under the desk...
His phone rang.
Startled, Daniel shot upwards and his head collided with the solid underside of his desk. Letting out a blue streak of curses in French – how appropriate – he scrambled to his feet and lunged for the phone, one hand rubbing vigorously at the back of his head. “'lo?”
There was a pause on the other end, then the deadly voice of doom. “Explain.”
“Wha...?” He winced as his fingertips found a growing bump.
“Oh... hi, Jack.” Great. This day was getting better and better. He should have looked at the caller ID. Then again he wouldn't have gotten around to making this call. He would just have preferred it to happen at a later point. When he was on his way to the airport for example and not in a hurry to get away.
“Landry is sending you to Paris,” Jack said, his tone indicating it must be Daniel's fault that he was about to leave the country.
“Right... Oh, there you are.” He pulled the USAF envelope out from under the books the phone had been perched on.
“He's sending you to Paris for some kind of archeological shindig. On your vacation.”
“Actually,” Daniel pulled his chair over with one foot while he flipped through the contents of the envelope, “it's just a cover story. Someone found obscure writings on the great Sphinx of Tanis at the Louvre. Might be Goa'uld.” Flight tickets, hotel reservations, rental car reservations... yep, all there. “I'm going to attend the seminar, but I need to take a look at this.”
“I KNOW it's just a cover story,” Jack snapped, the pretense of calm momentarily gone. “What I don't know is why it can't wait until next week.”
“Err,... Landry made it kind of urgent. We've got a tight mission schedule next week,” Daniel said. He shoved everything back into the envelope and checked his watch again. “Look, Jack, I'm sorry. I know you were expecting me... .”
“Damn straight I was. Tomorrow. Ring a bell? Vacation? Minnesota? Fish? Beer? Lots of trees... .”
“I always wondered why you like going there so much. You hate trees,” Daniel said, momentarily distracted.
“These are different trees. They're Minnesota trees. But that's beside the point. You were coming over. I already bought food for a week.”
Daniel rubbed at his head again and probed the bump. It wasn't too bad, but still tender to the touch. “We'll do it when I'm back.”
“It took you almost six months to squeeze that vacation in. It'll take you another six months to even consider another vacation,” Jack whined. “I've got t-bone steaks on ice. I got here yesterday. I even cleaned the fucking house!”
“Look, I'm sorry. I can't just go to Landry and tell him I have other plans. Unless you want to call him and pull rank?”
“That's not a bad idea, you know... .”
“Ja-ack. You're not going to call Landry and order him to let me go to Minnesota with you.”
“Why the hell not? What's being a major general good for if I can't order you to spend your vacation with me,” Jack said indignantly.
“You do realize how that sounds, right?” Daniel asked dryly
“Never mind. I'll miss my flight if I don't hurry.”
“And? So? Therefore?”
“Jack... . I realize this is spoiling our vacation. I'm sorry, but I can't change it.” He lined up the coffee mugs to take them with him on his way out.
“Why are you going alone anyway?”
“What? Cam, Sam, Vala and Teal'c are off world. Besides, it's just an investigation. Nothing I can't handle.”
“Fine. I'll relax for both of us then. Have all the beer and food to myself. You have fun.”
“Hey, I might be in DC in a couple of weeks. We can catch up then,” Daniel said in an attempt to mend some fences. Jack sounded actually hurt. As if he had really been looking forward to spending this vacation with him. Well, it had been Jack's idea in the first place so Daniel was sure he had been looking forward to it. But there was an edgy undertone in his voice, underneath the indignation and the show of annoyance.
“Yeah, whatever.” Resignation now. There was something slightly off. Daniel couldn't put his finger on it, but if he weren't in such a hurry he would have tried to get to the bottom of this.
“Jack? Are you okay?”
“Peachy. Take care. And don't die.”
“Har har. Very funny,” Daniel muttered.
“I'll do my best. Listen, I need to go.”
“Right. See ya.” Now he sounded upbeat again. “Bye Daniel.”
“J....” The line was dead. Daniel stared thoughtfully at the phone in his hand.
Loosening his tie on his way out of the conference room, Daniel's thoughts were still occupied with the seminar's subject when Steven caught up with him. “I thought we could have a drink at the bar.”
Daniel hesitated. He felt neither the desire to spend time with Steven nor was he in the mood for drinks. He was tired and still felt the jet
lag It was ironic how he never had that much trouble with gate lag, but when he had to fly out the country he'd suffer from the time differences. However, Steven probably wanted to talk about that Sphinx.
“Sure, why not.” He followed Doctor Rayner down the hall to the small bar which was housed on the same level as the conference rooms. It was only open during seminars and meetings and not for the regular hotel guests.
They settled at a small table in the corner.
“Did you notice how they looked at you?” Steven asked with a smirk. “Like you were a ghost coming back from the dead. How long has it been since you attended any kind of seminar?”
“Long enough that I thought no one would remember me,” Daniel muttered. There had been a few odd looks from people he used to know. No one had come straight out to ask him where he'd been all these years. Some of them were probably afraid he might step up to the podium and share more weird 'aliens built the pyramids' stories. It was a bit unsettling that all he was remembered for was that fateful day when he’d flushed his career down the toilet at the academy. Yet, it had lost most of its sting years ago. If they only knew the half of it.
Steven shrugged. “They talked about it for a long time. Especially since you disappeared soon after that speech and never showed up again. Well, not until Doctor Jordan died. Even then only those of us who were there knew you were back. And then you disappeared again.”
Daniel was grateful for the young French waitress who approached their table just then, asking for their orders. He settled for Merlot while Steven had beer.
Once the waitress had left, Steven picked up the conversation before Daniel could make his move to steer it elsewhere. “You ever heard from Sarah again?” There was a twitch in the handsome face and something like fear crossed the man's dark eyes. “How is she?”
“Ye-ah, she's... fine. Therapy helped. She's working again. She moved back to the UK.”
“I'm glad to hear that. That she's better.”
“It was very considerate of you not to press any charges against her for attacking you in that temple, Steven,” Daniel said quietly.
“When I recovered from my injuries she'd already been taken to the psych ward. I didn't think pressing charges would have helped. It wouldn’t have changed anything.” He bent forward and gave Daniel a hard look. “You know I never believed the stuff about her melt down. She might have been thinking she was Osiris when she attacked me, she might have been delusional, but that thing she attacked me with was definitely not a weapon I’ve ever seen. And what ever happened to the amulet? I know it was a key. I think it proved your theories were right after all. I just wonder why you never came out with it again. Why you never tried to redeem your reputation? Why keep quiet about it all these years? If the military is in on this... it must be huge.”
“I told you. Some things are better not in the public eye,” Daniel said. He knew Steven hadn’t bought the psych ward story, but what were they supposed to tell him? That Sarah had been taken over by an alien parasite who was – by the way – Osiris? That Osiris had taken Sarah away to his ship and made her work for Anubis? They had to come up with something, so they had quickly worked out this story about Sarah's melt down and that she had attacked him, thinking she was Osiris.
They had given him parts of the truth because he had figured out some of it already. That the amulet was alien technology and over 10 000 years old. That it had been a key to open the chamber that had held the ribbon device. And that the ribbon device was a weapon not originating on Earth. They couldn't give him all the details, and had finally shut him up with the 'classified' clause and the 'need to know' rule. Even though Steven had always been looking for fame and attention he had never attempted to go public with his new knowledge. Probably because he didn't want to be laughed out of his job at the Oriental Institute. No one there would support his theories. He had no evidence. The military had taken care of that.
Until the writings on the Sphinx appeared.
Steven's eyes narrowed. “I don't get you, Daniel. You used to want the world to know the truth. You even risked getting kicked out of the institute.”
“Things change,” Daniel said tersely. “I'm sorry. I can't tell you.”
“At least take me with you to the Louvre tomorrow. After all it was because of my call you're here now.”
Their drinks were delivered and Daniel sipped his wine before answering. “Look, I'm grateful you called...”
“I saw those writings and knew right away they're similar to the ones on the jar we found with the amulet. I knew you'd know what they are and I hoped you'd enlighten me.”
“I can't,” Daniel said. “I'm sorry Steven, but it's still classified.”
“I won't tell anyone. I just need to know the truth. I almost died in that temple. I'd like to know why.”
“Sarah was not having a meltdown. She was possessed by something. Her fucking eyes glowed,” Steven snapped.
“Keep it down,” Daniel hissed, taking a look around the bar. It had filled up. Many of the seminar's attendees were having drinks and snacks.
“Well?” Steven prompted.
“Sorry,” Daniel replied. “I can't.” He knew where Steven was coming from. He knew how important it might be for him to know the truth. But he had never trusted Rayner. Steven had always acted to serve his own agenda, even when they’d been working together. Steven had stolen the amulet because he had been the one who wanted to make the discovery: to gain more fame, to be the man in the limelight. So yeah, he had almost died in that temple because he had no idea what he'd been dealing with. Maybe he felt they owed him the truth, but revealing the whole truth to someone like Rayner was dangerous.
“I could publish pictures of those writings,” Steven went on. “I could throw the question out there, get people's attention. Someone might pick up on it. Someone might have similar ideas to yours. Someone might listen and help me figure it out for myself.” His eyes narrowed. “I could track down Sarah. She owes me. I'm sure she can be convinced to talk.”
So that's why Rayner never pressed charges against her for the attack. He could have tried. He had no idea she was really gone from the planet. He thought – or was forced to believe – Sarah was stuck in a psych ward and not allowed to see anyone. But he never even attempted to try. Daniel had always thought it was an awful noble thing for someone like Rayner. Apparently this, too, was to be used at a later point.
“You won't find her,” he said.
“I might try.”
“Good luck.” He made a mental note to call Landry and let him know Rayner was being difficult, just in case. Sarah had a new identity and a change of career. They sometimes talked on the phone. She was doing okay under the circumstances. She really liked Australia.
Steven took a large swig of his beer. Apparently he decided to change tactics again. “Talk to me, Daniel. We can make a big story out of this. The discovery of the century. Think about it.”
“That's exactly why I can't tell you the truth,” Daniel said coldly. “Because you don't know how to handle it properly. And besides – you signed the classified clause after what happened in the tomb.”
“Maybe I don't care about the classified clause? Maybe I'll tell people anyway,” Rayner sneered. “I have pictures of the Sphinx writings.”
“Oh, but you should care,” a smooth voice said, coming from behind Daniel.
Rayner's head snapped upwards, his eyes narrowing. “And you are...?”
“Major General Jack O'Neill. And I strongly advise you to rethink your actions there, buddy.” Jack slipped onto the free chair on the other side of the table. “The military is everywhere. Watching.”
“Are you threatening me?” Steven sat back and gaped at Major General Jack O'Neill.
“Ah, yes.” Jack said pleasantly. “I am.”
“You... do you know this guy, Daniel?” Steven asked.
Daniel shrugged. “Yeah. Comes straight from the Pentagon.” His eyes widened as he leaned in to whisper, “They're watching me, you know?”
“Yeah. To make sure I don't tell stuff I'm not supposed to. Especially to old colleagues. I signed the same clause as you did when I started working for them. And to make sure no one tries to pry things out of me they're always around to watch.”
“Is it?” Jack gave Rayner a long measuring look. “Doctor Jackson here has top priority. Top security, too. No one messes with him – or the knowledge he carries around. So if you want to stay alive and unharmed, leave it.”
“You're better off not knowing,” Daniel said, his voice grave. “It's a matter of national security. If any of this goes public they know where to find you.”
“Since all this is so classified we're very interested in keeping it off the record,” Jack said smoothly.
Daniel only got a glimpse of a hand moving underneath the table, then Rayner blanched and went very still.
“You walk out of here and leave,” Jack said. “I'll pay for your beer.”
“Better take a night plane,” Daniel added. “Go away and no one will bother you.”
“You didn't take any pictures at the Louvre,” Jack went on.
“No pictures.” Rayner's head went up and down.
“Go back to Chicago. Stay head guy of the department at the Institute. Do what you do best. Write books. Have parties. Attend seminars. Safe subjects,” Daniel said, matching Jack's calm, almost airy, tone of voice.
“Safe subjects,” Rayner parroted.
“No aliens,” Daniel said.
“We'll keep an eye on you.” Jack's hand pulled away and Rayner surged to his feet. Without another word he turned and hastily left the bar.
Jack put his gun back into the inside pocket of his jacket.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Daniel blurted out.
“You think he's going to be a problem?” Jack's eyes were fixed on the bar's entrance.
“Steven? No. He's ambitious, but he likes his comfort zone. I think he got the message. But you might alert some people about him. He said he might try to hunt down Sarah Gardener.”
“She's out of the country, isn't she?”
“Yeah. No traces leading there. But still....”
“I'm sure Landry's going to take care of it when you call him.”
“As I said I don't think he's really willing to give up his cozy life as head of the Institute for this but it can't hurt to keep an eye on him.”
Jack's head whipped back to face him, his eyes twinkling with something like mischief. “Good. Problem solved. Drink up. You've got packing to do.”
“Packing?” Daniel's hand paused with his glass halfway raised to his lips.
“Yep. And checking out.”
“Packing and checking out?” He took a sip of wine, deciding he was in need of a drink. Then he placed it back on the table and turned his full attention to the man sitting next to him looking smug. “You didn't answer my question. What. Are. You. Doing. Here.?”
“I'm on vacation.”
He intensified his glare, knowing it probably would be pointless. To his surprise Jack averted his gaze. He pursed his lips and stared at the red table cloth as though it held some significant meaning of life stuff. “I thought Paris was a place as good as Minnesota. Figured you'd like the company,” he said finally, somewhat sullen.
“Well, I do. Like the company. But....” He shook his head. “Are you telling me you came all the way to Paris just so we could spend the week together?”
“Geez, Daniel. Don't get all overjoyed,” Jack snapped.
“Excuse me, I'm just...confused.”
Jack scowled. “Well,...that makes two of us, actually.” Then he brightened and, as he waved the waitress over to pay, said, “Let's go.”
“I rented a boat,” Jack informed him.
“Daniel, will you stop it?”
“Repeating everything I say.”
Daniel watched a bit dazzled as Jack paid for the drinks and wished her a good evening.
He was so busy processing the events of the last five minutes that he simply followed Jack out of the bar to the elevators. Jack grimaced. “This where they put ya in? Not very stylish. I take it the seminar was here?”
“Yes. It's not five stars, but it's okay.”
Jack rolled his eyes, but didn't say anything.
The Belladins wasn't a first class hotel, but the rooms were clean, with cable TV, telephone, and the beds and bathrooms were good standard. Daniel didn't intend to spend much time in his room anyway.
“How long do you need to pack everything?” Jack slouched into the recliner by the TV.
“A couple of minutes,” Daniel replied absently. Then, when he realized he was about to just comply, he shook himself out of his daze. “Let me bottom line this. You want me to pack my stuff and leave the hotel, for which the Air Force has paid, and stay on... a boat with you?”
“Because you're gonna love the boat, Daniel. And this isn't the place to stay when one is in Paris,” Jack explained patiently.
“And the right place to stay when in Paris is on a boat.”
“A house boat to be specific.”
“O…On the Seine?”
“No, Daniel, on the Colorado River. Yes, on the Seine.”
“And once we're there you're going to tell me what's going on?” Because something was definitely going on. And Daniel was determined to get to the bottom of it.
Jack shrugged. “Sure.”
He packed his things. It didn't take long. He was used to traveling light and had only unpacked his toiletries, the suit, and a couple of books. Thirty minutes later he had checked out of the Balladins. While he had informed the clerk he wouldn't be staying the whole week after all, Jack had asked the other guy at the desk for Steven Rayner's room number and got the reply that Mr. Rayner had checked out just a couple of minutes ago.
“Nice car,” Daniel commented as they left the Belladins's parking lot and headed for the highway. It was a warm summer evening. The sun was just about to go down, spreading orange light all over the city, reflecting in the windows of the skyscrapers of the office district La Défense in the distance. Daniel allowed himself a moment of enjoyment at the unexpected luxury of sitting in a black open Chevrolet Cabriolet. He let the wind play with his short hair and closed his eyes.
Jack had turned on the radio and the soft voice of a French female singer underlined by a piano turned the simple ride into something nice. They wove their way through the traffic of Paris once they had left the highway, passing monumental buildings, expensive shopping malls, streets lined with cafè's, restaurants and brasseries. The sidewalks were full of people, the streets crowded by cars, bikes and buses.
When Jack maneuvered the car down the ramp leading to the river, Daniel's eyes settled on the large barge. Its hulk was black with the name Belle Réve written at the side. Beautiful Dream... Daniel couldn't help but smile at that. He’d had one of those – a long time ago.
The cabin, taking almost half of the ship's surface, had large windows and small bull's eyes in the basement. On the other side of the river the towers of Notre Dame were looming in the dusk of the evening.
Jack parked the Chevrolet next to the barge and pushed his sunglasses up to sit on top of his tousled gray hair. “Whattya think?”
“I thought it would be a nice place to spend our vacation.” Jack smirked. “C'mon. I'll give you the tour.”
A long gangway led up to the barge. “Is it actually fit for travel?” Daniel looked around curiously.
“Nope, it's moored. The owner lives here part of the year,” Jack said.
“Oh? Friend of yours?” They had reached the deck now and Jack fiddled with a bunch of keys while Daniel let his gaze wander down the Seine. Further away he spotted another boat not unlike the one they were on.
“Nope. Found a website featuring house boats as a nice alternative to hotels or houses.” Jack pushed the door open. “Welcome aboard.”
They walked down a short narrow stairway, then the cabin opened up into a large room complete with a sitting area and a fire place. Daniel stepped in and placed his duffle bag on one of the two small but comfy looking couches. A bottle of red wine stood on the table next to two glasses.
“I'll light a fire.” Jack moved around Daniel to crouch in front of the fireplace. “This place comes complete with a kitchenette, bathroom including shower, sleeping area, TV and a grand view of the river.”
Daniel couldn't help but smile as he surveyed the interior of Jack's ship. It was plain, yet had an air of comfortable luxury upon it. The bookshelves – housing mostly Paris Tour guides and sightseeing brochures – were of warm pine wood. He wondered if the owner built them himself as they fit perfectly to end just underneath the windows which were covered by white flowing curtains. He spotted a chess board on the coffee table, tucked away in its box. Large iron candle holders were placed in the corner by the fireplace, bearing thick white candles.
By its look the flooring was from the same wood as the shelves and the table by the couches. Daniel crossed the large room from one end to the other. There was a large double bed on a pedestal and behind a partition wall he found the kitchenette. A small alcove harbored a stove, a dishwasher and a fridge. A cabinet held dishes and on a shelf Jack had stacked cans and other food. There was a wine rack embedded into the wall and Daniel pulled out one of the bottles, whistling at the excellent choice either Jack or the owner had made in selecting the wine. There was one other door and Daniel assumed it led to the bathroom.
Not bothering to check it out he went back to where Jack had started the fire. His friend had also opened the wine to breathe.
“It's great,” Daniel admitted. “Is this what you envision when you keep saying you want a boat once you're retired?”
Jack's retiring plans involved either the cabin in Minnesota or a boat somewhere. Daniel never thought about retirement plans. He would decide what he wanted to do once retirement actually happened – if he was still alive or descended by then. When he had been young – which sometimes seemed a lifetime ago – before he'd joined the Stargate program, he had thought he would go back to Egypt in his later years. To live where he had been happy as a child. But he had learned that mapping out the future was wasted time in his venue of work.
“You like it?” Jack grinned.
“Yep, I like it.”
“Nice.” Jack poured them wine and settled on the couch.
“Where do you want me to put my stuff?” Daniel pointed at the bag.
“Just drop it by the bed for now.”
He did that, returned to the couch and settled next to Jack. A question formed in his mind, but he chose not to ask it. They clinked their glasses and drank. The wine was rich, with a fruity final note. Daniel looked at Jack's sharp profile, the aristocratic nose, the small lips and angular features.
And suddenly it hit him.
Blindsided him with such force that he almost bolted from the couch, almost stumbled away to put distance between them. Almost...but just almost.
“It” being a desire he thought had faded away years ago. A feeling he thought he had buried under the endless scars of their trials and tribulations. Stuffed neatly away in order to maintain this friendship they had tried to keep going all those years despite the scars. Despite the disagreements. A friendship that had been close to the breaking point once or twice. There had been times when Daniel hadn't even been sure why they still bothered. But they had. They still did.
Things had gotten remarkably easier between them once Jack had made general. And Daniel had actually missed him in the field. Mitchell had taken to going off world like a duck took to water, but he wasn't... Jack. When he had realized he missed Jack's bad jokes, the eye rolls, yes, even the endless arguments and bitching sessions, Daniel had thought it was just that he had gotten used to Jack so much that he simply couldn't imagine someone else leading the team. And maybe that had been part of it. Once he'd gotten used to Cam and once Cam had gotten over his hero worship for SG-1 Daniel had eased into the new team dynamic, amazed how much less conflicted he felt with Mitchell. How much less on the edge.
And yet... he still missed Jack from time to time. He had long given up on trying to find a reason why. He just did. Maybe he had never stopped feeling “it” after all. Maybe it had always been there, hiding in the back of his mind, biding its time.
Daniel didn't know. He had thought he'd gotten over Jack years ago. But now he was sitting here on a boat in Paris, sipping wine and “it” had sprung out of its hiding place like a Jack-in-the-box.
He stayed seated and hoped the heat in his face wasn't visible. Hoped the little tremors running down his spine would go away. Hoped that his jeans weren't too tight to hide the spark of interest that had jolted through him.
Slowly he relaxed, willing his mind to steer clear of naughty thoughts. And his eyes to leave Jack's face.
“Why, Jack?” he finally asked. “Why jumping through all these hoops?” They had spent weekends together before. At Jack's place in DC or at the cabin with Sam and Teal'c along for the ride. When Jack had suggested a week in Minnesota for just the two of them – it had been a first.
Oh, Daniel had looked forward to it. A week of peace and quiet. Jack was actually great company when they weren't out in the field and in each others' faces. Jack didn't require constant entertaining or talking. He would sit and fish while Daniel would sit and read. They'd cook together and hike and do guy things. So, yeah, Daniel would have loved having that vacation. When Paris showed up he had been a bit resentful about having to cancel the cabin trip.
He'd certainly never expected Jack to come after him and present him with a boat for a week.
“I want to try the retirement thing again.”Jack placed his wine glass on the table and leaned back into the couch.
Daniel frowned. “Why? You're not going to die or something, right? I mean this isn't some... I only have a year to live kind of thing?” An imaginary ice cube settled in the pit of his stomach.
“I'm afraid you won't get rid of me that easily.” Jack raised an eyebrow and turned to look at him.
“There's always hope,” he said lightly, as the ice cube melted away. “So, why retire – again?”
Jack shrugged. “I'd like to leave the circus while I'm still young enough. I did my bit for God and country, so I thought the time's right now.”
“So, I put in my resignation.”
Daniel felt his jaw hit the floor. “You already did? I... I thought this was some kind of 'maybe' or 'probably' idea.”
“Nope. All signed and sealed. I'm out.” Jack gave him a lopsided smile and raised his glass again.
Daniel blinked. “How long have you actually thought about this? I mean, are you sure?”
“Thought about it ever since I left the mountain, actually.”
“That's … wow. Congratulations. I think.”
“The Goa'uld are no more, the Ori are defeated... if there's another baddy waiting at the gate, SG-1 and Landry can deal with them. Riding the desk wasn't all that exciting.”
“Do I hear resentfulness?”
Jack shook his head. “Nope. I'm done.”
“No regrets?” Daniel teased, watching Jack over the rim of his wine glass.
Jack didn't answer. He stood to poke at the charred wood. The fire flared up again. Then he spun around and tilted his head towards the door. “C'mon. I want to show you something.”
Daniel followed Jack back up the stairs and out on deck.
“I got here late last night. Thought it's quite a view,” Jack said.
Daniel didn't say anything.
They leaned against the railing, facing the river. Notre Dame on the other shore was illuminated and so was the rest of Paris. Lights reflected in the dark water beneath them. He could see the bridges that connected the Île de la Cité with the rest of the city. It was actually an isle in the middle of the Seine. They were bathed in lights as well.
He looked at the stars lurking at a velvet sky. There was no moon, yet. “We go off world so much, finding all these cool and exciting planets – we sometimes forget how much we have here. On our own planet,” Daniel said finally.
“Yeah. That's why I'd like a boat. I'd like to go see places. Without all the hassle and the shooting.”
“Something like that.”
“There's a thought,” Daniel said, thinking he'd like to do that for a while, too. Travel. Then what Jack had said struck him and he pried his eyes from the lights and the river to face his friend. “Is this goodbye? Are you going to fall off the face of Earth next week? Go where no O'Neill has gone before?”
“It might take a while longer to arrange everything, ya know. I don't even have a boat yet.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Just along the coast line first. I didn't map it all out, yet. Hey, I'm hungry. I did some shopping today while you were stuck at your seminar. I'm thinking steaks and salad, baked potatoes?”
Daniel felt his stomach cheer at the thought of dinner. “Sounds great.”
Cooking was a comfortable quiet affair. Daniel put together a Cesar Salad while Jack took care of the potatoes and the steaks. They had French baguette and butter on the side and Jack promised coffee for later.
There was a folding table attached to the wall next to the wine rack. Jack pulled it up and got two chairs from a niche. The table was set with plain white plates and wine glasses. When they sat down to eat Daniel noticed the lit white candle. It was a nice touch and the thoughts of romantic candlelight dinners crossed his mind as they clinked their wine glasses once more over the food.
Jack didn't do romantic.
At least not with Daniel.
But there was something so unreal about the whole scenario, something absolutely wrong and yet...
“The steaks are great,” Daniel said.
Jack looked at him, his eyes dark and shiny in the candlelight, his features unusual soft. “Let's check out the French Cuisine tomorrow. When do you have to be at the Louvre?”
“Around nine. I'm going to meet up with... ah, Doctor Bertrand. He called the Oriental Institute in Chicago when no one here could figure out the writings.”
“Which is why Rayner showed up,” Jack said dryly.
“Yeah. Steven may be an arrogant SOB, but he made the right call.”
Jack grimaced. “He better stay out of it. I don't trust him any further than I could throw him.”
“I think you scared him off. For a while at least.” Daniel smirked, stomping down the slight feeling of pity he had for Steven. “If I'd trust him anymore than you do I'd recommended him to work on the program.”
“But you didn't. Which tells me enough.”
“Wow. I didn't think you valued my opinion that highly.” Daniel's eyebrows rose over the rim of his glasses.
Jack cocked his head. “All that crap I let you talk me into all those years - and you still think I don't value your opinion?”
“Well, I like to think I drilled some sense into you here and there. But I'm not sure you always saw my point,” Daniel said mildly.
Now it was Jack’s turn to raise his eyebrow. “I didn't always like what you said, but I did see your point. Occasionally.”
“Is this where you're going to tell me you learned to admire me even though I've been a terrific pain in the neck most of the time?”
”Admiration is a good thing,” Jack said. “Means a lot of stuff.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Only when your best friend was going to die you didn't say stuff like 'admire', right? Unless – and this just occurred to Daniel right now – 'admire you' had been a synonym for something else. Something Jack couldn't have said. Not there, in the infirmary. He used to think Jack had been out of words back then. Had not known how to say goodbye to him. He'd never second guessed what Jack had said to him. Had just shrugged it off as something Jack would say because he wasn't good with words.
Maybe he'd been wrong...
Maybe Jack had actually tried to tell him something important. Something... huge. And maybe it was just wishful thinking on Daniel's part. Only Daniel's wish to see something more, something... deep and meaningful... in their complicated friendship. Years had gone by since he had returned from the higher plains and Jack had never... said anything. Never given him any hints...
Aside from that awkward moment when Daniel had appeared naked in Jack's office and Jack's eyes had popped out of his head before he'd given him the flag to wrap himself in.
“Want your coffee fix now?” Jack started clearing the table, leaving Daniel - again – to figure it out.
“Sure. Coffee sounds great.”
When the dishwasher rumbled they were back on the couch, sipping French coffee.
“Jack?” The question Daniel had chosen not to ask earlier became a more pressing matter now.
“There's only one bed.”
There. He had said it. He watched Jack carefully. Jack put his coffee mug on the table and turned to face him. “Actually,” he said, “this is the exact moment where I'm going to tell you how much I... admire you.”
Daniel swallowed hard. This wasn't happening. Couldn't be happening. After all these years? Now? “You... will?”
“Oh, yeah.” Fingertips touched Daniel's temple, tracing the outline of his face. “Admiration; a feeling of wonder, adoration, pleasure, respect, approval... “
“You looked that up?” His mouth had difficulties to catch up with his mind.
Jack's hand stilled on his face then fell away. “'Dammit, Daniel, you sure know how to ruin a moment!”
“I... ah, sorry... I just....” He blinked and wished he could turn back the clock for about two minutes.
Jack had left the couch, leaving an oddly cold space where he had just sat. He stood by the fire, poking at the wood. Daniel wondered if he'd blown it for good. He rose and stepped behind the lean tall figure. “I didn't expect this,” he said softly. “Not now. Not anymore.”
“Not anymore?” Jack's back stiffened, but he didn't move.
“No. I used to... but I gave up on you a long time ago. Things were never... easy between us. Working with you never was. I used to think having you in my bed wouldn't make things exactly more... smoothly? SG-1 always came first. Had to come first.” He put a tentative hand on the small of Jack's back.
“Things change,” Jack said hoarsely.
“But why now? You left two years ago. Why waste all this time?”
Jack hung the poker on its nail on the wall and slowly turned around. “We'll talk,” he said. “Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” Daniel agreed. He wasn't willing to waste any more time. Suddenly everything else lost its significance. Jack's long fingers were back, cupping his jaw, tilting his head.
“You have any idea for how long I wanted to do this?” Jack whispered.
“I'm almost scared.” Daniel licked his lips. He didn't know for how long Jack had wanted to kiss him. But he knew how long he had waited to be kissed by Jack. Too long. So long that he feared the real thing might not live up to his expectation. That it turned out to be...
Their lips met in a virgin like kiss, almost shy, hesitating, lingering...
Then a large hand wrapped around the back of Daniel's neck, reeling him in. His lips parted and Jack took advantage of him immediately. Tongue slipping in, the taste of coffee and steak sauce being the biggest turn on ever for some reason. Someone moaned deep in his throat, someone breathed harshly... Jack's hands grabbed his skull as their kiss became less chaste, more hungry.
“You okay with just one bed then?” Jack asked in between kisses.
They staggered in the general direction of said bed, not able to keep their hands and mouths off each other. The mood changed dramatically on the short distance between couch and bed. Daniel had longed for this and dreaded it all these years. He had always known they might unleash something they couldn't control... for some reason he had known that, if they ever let their guards down, it would be like this.
Screw admiration. This was more like a volcano erupting.
He was roughly manhandled on to the bed, then Jack pounced on him with a growl that sent bolts of lust through every nerve in Daniel's body. They started bucking and pushing at each other. Shirts got ripped and in between Jack clamped his mouth over Daniel's again.
“Holy Crap,” Jack moaned when they came up for air.
“Stop talking,” Daniel snapped. “Waste of breath.” He grabbed Jack's biceps and pushed, then rolled them over so he came out on top. Jack's fingers dug into his hips, jerking at his jeans.
“Get 'em off, Daniel.”
But Daniel was busy exploring a certain general's assets more closely. His hands roamed over Jack's body, touching a nipple, stroking through the graying chest hair, gripping shoulders and wandering down still muscular arms. His eyes took in every scar, every crease, the small love handles which most certainly hadn't been there three or four years ago...
“Daniel, jeans,” Jack demanded, working on the buttons now.
“You can't even stop giving orders in bed, can you?” Daniel teased. He sat up and his own hands started to mirror Jack's, quickly opening the general's pants.
“Any chance you actually will follow orders in bed?” Jack eyes twinkled.
“When hell freezes over.” However, Jack's words made his pulse quicken. Maybe he was more inclined to actually do follow orders in bed...
“Always with the attitude,” Jack muttered. “Get off me or we'll never lose our pants.”
“Maybe I'd like to see you coming in them,” Daniel teased.
Daniel found himself thrown on his back again, Jack looming over him, a dangerous look in his eyes. “What IS it with you?” Something cold touched his chest and he grabbed for the small tags, pulling Jack back down, capturing his mouth in a kiss.
Yes, what was it with him? He didn't know. He didn't care. All he knew was that Jack had set something free in him that had been waiting to be let out for such a long time. He had never felt so alive. So vibrant with energy. Never felt this young. Never felt a hunger to touch like this before.
He wanted. Wanted to explore. Wanted to get to know this new side of Jack. This physical side. “I want you,” he blurted out.
“Oh, yes. God, yes.”
They somehow managed to get out of their pants after all. They didn't take time to go slow, didn't take the time to think about what they were doing. They weren't going for the real deed here, they were too much out of their minds already to have the patience of figuring out what had to go where and how...It was all a haze, a blurry chain reaction of sweat soaked skin slapping against skin, hands clutching, mouths clashing, fractured words being uttered...everything melting into a long explosion of lightning, want and emotion...
When they came down from the heights of orgasm, Daniel was wrapped in Jack's arms, their shared semen cooling between the sheets and on their bodies. Still they weren't ready to stop. They kissed again and again and with every kiss Daniel felt lighter, sated, content. They had slowed down now, their tongues playing lazily, their hands twisting in each others' hair.
“Sleep with me,” Jack murmured.
“Huh?” Daniel was sure that's what they were doing.
“Stay. No shower.” Jack tightened his arms around him. “Sleep. Now.”
“Oh, okay. Jack?”
“I'm going to kill you in the morning.”
“Okay. Why?” Jack nuzzled his hair with his nose.
“For letting me wait six fucking years.”
There was a chuckle. “Six, huh? Really?”
“Bastard.” Daniel smacked Jack's hip, hard.
“Attitude.” Jack sighed as he started to gently rock against him. “You tired?”
“Me tired. You can't seriously go again... you're old,” Daniel muttered, meeting Jack's movements with his own all the same.
“Old? I'll give you old,” Jack growled.
Daniel's phone chose this moment to beep. Loudly. They froze as though they were teenagers caught in the act by their parents.
“Crap,” Jack hissed as Daniel untangled himself from him.
“Sorry,” Daniel muttered. He padded across the wooden floor to find his jacket and retrieve the phone. One look at the caller ID made him grimace. Oh, no. He cleared his throat and scrubbed a nervous hand through his spiky hair. “Vala, what do you want?”
Okay, so that wasn't the nicest way of saying hello, but puh-lease...why now? Behind him Jack slapped both hands across his face and groaned.
“Oh, Dan-iel,” she twittered at him. “I wanted to know if you got there okay. Oh, and Sam and Cam send greetings. Muscles is still off world, but I'm sure he'd say hello as well.”
“Yes, uh, thanks, Vala. I'm fine. The seminar was boring and I was about to go and have a...,“ he was going to say 'shower', but decided Vala would love that, so he opted for, “...cup of coffee and read through my notes.”
“Daniel, it's the middle of the night. You should get some rest, dream sweet dreams, preferably of me, and then you should take me shopping tomorrow.”
“Right. I should... I should WHAT?!” He looked at Jack in horror, but Jack hadn't heard the other end of the conversation. He stared back, mouthing, “What?”
“Take me shopping. Tomorrow. I heard Paris is the ultimate shopping empire. It's also called the city of love. I looked it up on the internet. Will you show me the Eiffel tower?” She purred like a kitten.
Daniel closed his eyes. This was NOT happening. No way. “You're not in Paris,” he said sternly. She couldn't be. No how. “Vala, tell me you're not in Paris?”
Jack shot upright, his eyes widening in horror.
Vala gave him a throaty laugh. “As a matter of fact... “
No no no no no.
There were some funny noises at the other end of the line and then – god bless her – Sam was there. “Daniel? It's me. Don't worry, she's not in Paris. She's just kidding.”
“I knew that,” he said weakly, closing his eyes in relief. He heard her laughing in the background and when Sam spoke again she could barely contain her own amusement. Har har. Very funny.
“Just wanted to let you know we're okay.”
Okay? Oh, right. The mission. They had been off world when he'd left for Europe. “Great,” he said. “I'm glad. Uh, how did it go?”
“Kicked ass,” Cam yelled from somewhere.
“Nice. Where's Teal'c?”
“He didn't return with us, he went to Chulak to see Bra'tac. Some Jaffa feast,” Sam said.
“Warrior party,” Vala shared.
“Anyway, you should get some rest. See you soon,” Sam said cheerfully.
“Uh, yeah. I'll call in tomorrow about the Louvre thing,” he said.
“We'll be off world again tomorrow. But Landry is kind of anxious about the whole thing,” Cam said, having taken over the phone now. “Sleep tight, sunshine.”
“Yeah, you too. I'm glad you called.” Just not now. “Bye.”
“Tell me she's NOT in Paris,” Jack snarled as soon as Daniel had put the phone down.
“She's not in Paris.”
“Good.” He relaxed immediately. “C'me here.”
And for once Daniel complied without a hitch. They snuggled under the cover, not minding the stickiness nor the smell of sex and sweat. He eased back into Jack's bed warm arms and closed his eyes, ready to drift off to dreamland.
TBC "Second Thoughts"