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REJECTION AND REVELATIONS

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Daniel picked up the phone and dialed Jack’s office at the Pentagon. Jack was going to be disappointed; he knew that, but not as disappointed as Daniel. He’d been waiting for this visit for a while; looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time. He’d made up his mind that he would tell Jack how he felt about him.

The phone stopped ringing as the receiver was picked up on the other end.

O’Neill.”

“Hi, Jack”

 “Daniel, how are ya? Looking forward to this weekend?”

“Er… that’s why I’m calling. Change of plans. I’ve got to go off world tomorrow.”

What? Why?”

“You know why. Because it’s my job and I’m needed out there.”

I know that, but why this weekend? Can’t you get out of it?”

“No, I can’t, and anyway, don’t forget it was you who canceled the last two trips. We haven’t seen each other for a couple of months now.”

I know, but I thought there was something important you needed to talk to me about?”

“There is. I really do need to talk to you.”

You’re talking to me now, Daniel.”

Jack sounded distracted; he probably had a queue of people waiting on other lines. Life at the Pentagon seemed boring, but hectic at the same time. Daniel often wondered how content Jack really was in this position. He never said, but it seemed so out of character for the man Daniel knew to sit at a desk or in meetings all day trying to juggle diplomacy and political balls.

“I know, but I need to talk to you face to face. I can’t say it over the phone.”

There was a pause on the other end, then, “What's up? You all right, Daniel?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine, I just... look, this isn't something I feel comfortable talking about on the phone, okay?“

Oh, for cryin’ out loud! Your phone at the SGC and mine here at the Pentagon are secure. Go ahead.”

 “But … I can’t,” he bleated, then caught himself and stared at the receiver for a moment. Why not? He'd been so damn careful all these years, but it was time to finally stop hiding. Jack was right; the lines were secure and maybe... maybe it was easier to say it on the phone. Give Jack time to think about it, wrap his head around it? Daniel was tired of waiting, tired of having to pretend. He took a deep breath. “Oka-ay. Well, you know there’s talk that DADT could be repealed soon…?”

What? You’re not on about me and Carter again, are you? Because that’s never been an issue.”

“I know that, Jack. Anyway, that was frat regs, not DADT, remember? So… um… you’ll have read my personnel file, and…”

Yeah, sure.” Jack paused for a moment, apparently finally connecting DADT with something in Daniel’s personnel file. “Oh… oh, Jeez, Daniel, so… you’re attracted to someone in the military? Someone male?”

“You haven’t noticed?”

No-o. How am I supposed to notice anything from here? Listen, Daniel, if you need advice about DADT, you really need to ask someone who’s gay or bi, not me. Just be careful and be discreet for the other guy’s sake, that’s all I can tell you. We’ll talk when you get back. How long will you be away?”

Resignation was creeping up on Daniel. This was a bad idea. “About two weeks, but I wanted to ask if you...”

Daniel, your lifestyle has nothing to do with me; leave me out of it. I’ll see you when you get back and we’ll catch up then.”

There was an edge to Jack's voice, a clipped tone. The well-known, 'I don't want to hear this, don't make me talk about it' line’.

Something in Daniel snapped. Broke apart. All those years of having to keep it inside had chipped away at him slowly but surely, and for some reason today was the day when he crumbled and couldn't go on anymore. Not like this.

He heard the edge to his own voice, as he replied rather coldly, “No, Jack, I don’t think we will. In fact, if that’s the way you feel, perhaps it would be better if we didn’t see each other again.”

What? Why? What's that about?”

“You don't get it, do you?”

Enlighten me.” Jack snapped.

“No, you really don't… you don't get it... it's you...”

What? Oh sorry, Daniel, I didn’t get that. Someone’s calling for me. I’m late for a meeting with the President.”

Smooth exit. Daniel had to give him that. Against his better judgment, he tried one last time. “Jack, I need to ask…”

Daniel! Call me later at home. Gotta go. Bye.”

Daniel stared at the phone in his hand after Jack had hung up, trying to ignore the numbness spreading through his body. He had finally taken the plunge and tried to talk to Jack; ask him if there was the slightest chance he had any feelings for him, and it couldn’t have gone worse.

“Oh, Jack,” he whispered sadly, “you don’t want to hear it, so what’s the point in calling you later?”

***

Daniel didn’t go through the Stargate much anymore. Sam was working at Area 51 and had made a new life for herself out there, Teal’c was with Ishta and his people on Dakara and Cam Mitchell had been forced into finding new recruits to join him and Vala on SG-1. Daniel had declined the offer. He’d started out as a peace loving archaeologist and linguist, but against his better judgment, he’d had to learn to fight and kill. He’d had enough injury and death for one lifetime, for himself as well as others. Although the Goa’uld and the Ori had been defeated, there were still hostile worlds out there and Daniel didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.

He had agreed, under pressure, that if his expertise in archaeology or languages was needed on a friendly planet, then he would accompany one of the teams of archaeologists and scientists that had been set up solely for exploration, discovering artifacts and translation purposes.

This particular mission had been arranged because a team had found artifacts and writings that none of them had encountered before, so Daniel had been called in. It was only supposed to be for a couple of weeks and, as much as he had wanted to see, and talk to, Jack, he was still working for the SGC and couldn’t turn down the chance of perhaps discovering a new language and civilization. From the footage the team had brought through he was pretty sure that it wasn't a new language at all; just one the other linguist’s hadn't come across before. Daniel still had to go through the gate because apparently he was the only one able to read it.

Daniel went home to his apartment to prepare for his forthcoming trip. He didn’t call Jack; didn’t see the point. Jack had made it perfectly clear; he was straight and wasn’t interested in Daniel’s ‘lifestyle’, as he’d called it.

***

Jack slammed the phone down. That went well. Not. Great! He'd been looking forward to seeing Daniel, telling him about his big honkin' news and the SGC was sending Doctor Jackson to some ratty backwater planet to play with rocks. Jack scowled at the papers on his desk. He wasn't really sure why it seemed so important to tell Daniel. Yet, he'd wanted him to know first. Daniel was the closest thing to a best friend Jack had ever had, so yeah, he had wanted to let him know first.

And what was that crap about not wanting to see him anymore? Because Daniel had a boyfriend? What did that have to do with Jack and Daniel hanging out and having a good time every once in a while?

Jack's phone was ringing again, taking his mind off Daniel for the moment. He couldn't take that call either. He had to hurry. After gathering up his papers and a pen, he rushed out of his office to attend the meeting with the President.

It wasn’t until later, when someone was part way through giving a boring power point presentation that Jack was able to think back to his conversation with Daniel.

He’d been trying to sort out the relevant paperwork he needed for his meeting with the President, when the phone rang. He’d been distracted and tucked the receiver under his chin as he’d continued sifting through the files on his desk. Trying to concentrate on two things at once, he’d thought Daniel wanted to speak to him again about the alleged romance between him and Carter, although that had never amounted to anything. Yes, at one time they’d been attracted to each other, but kept it hidden because of the frat regs. In the end, it had died out and they’d both gone their separate ways.

But Daniel had been referring to DADT, not frat. So, Daniel had wanted a relationship with a guy, but had probably had second thoughts about it because of DADT. Now there were rumors it was going to be repealed and he’d wanted to talk to Jack about it.

Jack thought back to the last few times he’d met up with Daniel. Since he’d been living in Washington, they’d still found time to get together for weekends of beer, pizza and hockey games on TV; sometimes they’d even go to watch a live game. Daniel had been no different; hadn’t given any indication that he was really interested in guys. Yeah, Jack knew he was bi, had read it ages ago and almost forgotten about it. There had never been a guy in Daniel's life ever since they'd known each other. At least not that Jack knew of. Daniel was… well, Daniel.

Jack had no idea how to give advice about dating a guy. Hell, he'd never been into guys himself; well, not much anyway, and he certainly never dated any and never would. But he was fine with being there and listening to whatever Daniel wanted to tell him about his new boyfriend.

What he didn't get was why Daniel had suddenly decided he didn't want to see Jack anymore? That just didn't make any sense.

Jack went over and over the conversation in his head. He knew his mind had been elsewhere when he’d been talking to Daniel, but had he missed something? If he had, he didn’t know what it was. Sure, it wasn't a subject he actually loved discussing. DADT; gay guys... He didn't do touchy feely talk much and he wasn't exactly good in the relationship department. Maybe he'd been a bit curt... but hey, Daniel knew him. He'd get over it.

Jack sat at home that evening waiting for the call from Daniel, but the phone stayed silent. Before he turned in for the night, he tried Daniel’s phone, but there was no reply.

He went to bed intending to call the SGC the following morning before Daniel left.

Unfortunately he called too late and was informed by Nyan that the team had already gone.

Then he remembered that Carter and Daniel kept in touch regularly, so perhaps she could shed some light on why Daniel didn’t want to see him anymore.

Once his usual morning meetings were over, Jack went back to his office and dialed her number at Area 51.

Carter.”

“Hi, Carter, how’re ya doing?”

General! Hi, sir, I’m fine. How’re things with you?”

“Oh, same old, same old. Yanno. Paperwork, meetings and boredom. Hear there’s someone in your life?”

Yessir, the grapevine never fails, does it?”

“Nope. Gonna tell me about him?”

Er … no, not yet, sir. I need to be sure first.”

“Serious, then?”

Yeah, could be.”

“Good. Let me know?”

"Of course. Er … sir … can I help you with something?”

“Yeah. You’re in touch with Daniel. Is he okay?”

Yessir, I think so. Why?”

“Is he mad at me for something?”

No, sir. Well, he hasn’t said anything to me, although…”

“Although, what, Carter?”

Well, he has been a little distracted over the last few months and he has mentioned leaving or, at least, taking some time off, but he hasn’t said it’s anything to do with you, sir.”

“Is he seeing someone?”

Sir?”

“I said; is he seeing someone? Romantically, I mean.”

Er… sir, I really don’t think I should…”

“Carter! I could make it an order.”

Yessir, you could, but you won’t.”

“No. You know me too well. Oka-ay, I’ll lay it on the line for you, Carter. He doesn’t want to see me anymore and I’m trying to figure out why.”

“Oh! I don’t know, sir. Do you want me to call him?”

“No point. He’s off world for a couple of weeks.”

Oh, I thought you were…”

“Yeah. Canceled. Okay, Carter. I’ll try and get to the bottom of it. Thanks. Bye.

Sorry I couldn’t be of help. Bye, sir.”

Daniel was thinking of leaving the SGC? He’d never mentioned it to Jack; in fact he’d been much happier since he’d stopped going off world. He’d settled into his new role at the base a lot easier than Jack had thought he would. Was this change of heart because of a new guy? Jack could understand it if it was, but why wouldn’t Daniel want to see him?

They’d been through a lot together, but Daniel had always been there for him. Jack hadn’t let anyone into his life before, not even Carter and Teal’c, but Daniel was different. There wasn’t much Daniel didn’t know about him; Daniel had been a part of his life for so long, but now, apparently, he wanted out.

Out of his life, out of the SGC, away from the military...

Well, Jack couldn't blame him for wanting out of the military. Daniel had never been military in the first place and wasn't that exactly what Jack wanted too? What he'd wanted to discuss with Daniel on their weekend together? Getting out?

Getting out before he was too old to do something worthwhile with the rest of his life. Saving the world had been worth all the trouble, but now he was just a suit behind a desk and it had never sat right with him. Maybe Daniel had similar reasons for thinking about leaving. Maybe it wasn't just a new guy in his life.

Though that still didn't answer the question why he'd closed up like a clam on the phone. Crap, maybe Daniel had wanted to tell him something important, some 'meaning of life' stuff – and Jack hadn't listened. He'd been kind of pissed because Daniel canceled their weekend. He probably didn't pay much attention to what was really up?

DADT... crap. Jack probably didn't pay much attention because... because he didn't want to listen to it, period. But he was Daniel's friend. He should have listened.

Jack sat in his office all afternoon deep in thought and finally came to a decision. If Daniel wanted a life of his own, then Jack had to make one for himself; do what he wanted to do, had wanted to do for some time now. He'd wanted to talk about it to Daniel first, but since Daniel wasn't available, Jack decided to just do it. Now. He made some phone calls, drove home and started packing.

Suddenly he felt as though a heavy weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He hadn't felt this young in a very long time.

After a fitful night’s sleep, he woke very early, ate breakfast and at 5am jumped into his truck and headed for Minnesota.

Jack drove all day, making a few pit stops along the way and picking up sandwiches and bottles of water. He didn’t want to stay somewhere overnight; he wanted to drive straight through.

He did a lot of thinking on his way to Minnesota. As he set off he started thinking about Daniel and how they’d met when they’d first gone through the Stargate. Every mile he traveled brought back a memory of their time together and when he reached his destination he was remembering the last time they’d met up for a weekend.

It was the early hours of the following morning when Jack reached his cabin. He’d been driving for 21 hours and was totally exhausted. The pain in his head was intense and his whole body was stiff and aching.

He snatched his bag from the truck and stumbled into the cabin, stopping only to swallow some Tylenol with a glass of water. Then, without even getting undressed, he threw himself on the bed just covering himself with a couple of blankets and fell into an exhausted sleep.

The sun streaming through the window woke Jack the next morning and, after a shower, he felt much more refreshed. He jumped into the truck and drove to the store to stock up on provisions, then returned to the cabin to fix himself a late breakfast.

After breakfast, he wandered around inside the cabin, making notes of jobs that needed doing and then took a walk around the outside. There was quite a bit of work out there as well to either repair damage, or to update it, so the first thing he did was get on his cellphone to arrange for supplies to be delivered. This was part of the plan that had formulated in his head back in Washington; to fix up the cabin so it was suitable for him to live in when his retirement papers came through. It had been okay when he was just coming up here occasionally for a break, but not for a permanent home.

Jack had given a lot of thought to the mystery of why Daniel didn’t want to see him now that he was attracted to someone. He came to the conclusion that if the guy was in the military, it was probably someone who knew of, or had heard of Jack; perhaps even worked with him, so perhaps he would be intimidated by Jack as Daniel’s friend, maybe even worried that Jack would report him. He remembered when he’d first been in the Air Force, he'd been a bit uncomfortable around authority figures and wouldn't have wanted any of them to know he was gay... which he wasn't, of course. But he could see how a new kid might be. If he wasn’t in the military anymore, perhaps Daniel would feel easier about their continued friendship.

However, that didn't make much sense either. Daniel knew he could trust Jack and he'd tell his new love so, wouldn't he? And if Daniel's lover didn't want to see Jack, that was okay. But why would Daniel back out of their friendship because of stuff like that? Maybe that new guy in his life was jealous?

Jack just didn’t know. He was clutching at straws, he knew that. If Daniel's new guy was possessive and jealous enough to tell Daniel not to see his friends anymore Daniel should probably rethink his choice of mate. Either way, Jack had to get hold of him and talk this through, get to the bottom of it once Daniel was back on Earth.

Over the next two weeks, Jack started to clean, decorate and repair the cabin; replacing worn and rotted roof timbers, renewing window and door frames and painting the whole cabin with wood preservative. Inside the cabin he updated the bathroom and the kitchen. He installed a new shower and bath and ordered a new stove, fridge and freezer.

Two weeks after arriving at the cabin, Jack received a phone call from the Pentagon and drove back to Washington to sign his retirement papers. He was called into the President’s office, where he was informed they already had someone in mind to take over his job and, because of his exemplary service he could leave whenever he was ready. He thanked the President, they shook hands and he handed in his ID, confirming he would like to leave immediately. That was it. It was that simple. He was no longer in the military. He had already arranged the sale of his home in Washington, but didn’t have to vacate for a few more days, which gave him somewhere to stay and time to arrange for his own pieces of furniture and possessions to be packed up and transported to Minnesota.

His final phone call from his office at the Pentagon had been to the SGC, only to find out that Daniel’s expedition would be off world for longer than they first expected, as they’d found so many interesting artifacts. He talked to Nyan who wouldn't give him any information, but promised to call when Daniel arrived back on Earth safely and, hopefully, in one piece. Nyan had taken pity on O’Neill because he remembered that the colonel had always worried about his archaeologist when he was off world, especially as Daniel always seemed to be getting injured.

Jack went back to Minnesota; his life in Colorado Springs, the SGC and Washington now over, his career in the Air Force at an end; the latter confirmed the next morning when he awoke with a strange feeling something was missing. It was his dog tags. They had been a part of him for so many years and now they were gone. He had kept them, but decided that not wearing them anymore closed the door on his career for good.

The next two weeks passed slowly for Jack. He ate, drank, slept and fished as well as finishing up all the jobs he’d started around the cabin. He spoke to Carter a few times on the phone; even got a visit one day from Teal’c, who had returned to Earth for a meeting. He was only able to stay for one night, but they spent the evening talking about the old times when they’d all been together. Jack didn’t tell Teal’c about Daniel, only that he was off world and would be back when he’d collected enough artifacts. It was an enjoyable evening and Jack was pleased to have someone to talk to, but it wasn’t Daniel, and when Teal’c left the following day, Jack’s life was empty, yet again.

He was alone and getting lonelier as the days passed, but he only had himself to blame. He’d wanted this for years; just hadn’t realized how isolated he would be. He couldn’t wait for Daniel to get back, so he could work things out with him. It would be great to have him come up here and stay at the cabin. In the hope they could get their friendship back on track, Jack had paid special care to the updating and decorating of the guest room. There was no way, in Jack’s mind, that Daniel wouldn’t get in touch when he was home.

***

Daniel used to bottle things up or retreat into himself if someone or something hurt him, but not anymore. He was stronger now and had developed a thicker skin during his years on SG-1, but he still went through the gate with a heavy heart. Time is a great healer, so they say, but Daniel’s heart couldn’t be healed. All he could do was bury the pain deep inside and get on with his work. Time at the dig passed very slowly indeed, giving Daniel the opportunity to think things through.

His happiest years had been at Jack’s side on SG-1. He’d learned a lot from him; some good, some not so good and some, downright bad, but, in all that time, they’d become really good friends. Daniel had needed someone like Jack in his life; someone who was tough when needed, but was also kind and comforting when the situation called for it.

Daniel had wanted – no – needed, that friendship. His life, up until he had entered the Stargate program, had mostly sucked. His parents had died, he’d been moved from foster home to foster home and he’d been laughed out of academia for his controversial theories that the great pyramids were built as landing pedestals for alien ships. The bitter irony was that it had been true and yet he hadn’t been allowed to clear his name.

Now, that part of his life was over and so, it seemed, was the close bond that he’d had with Jack. It had been Daniel’s choice. The hardest he'd ever made, probably, but he couldn’t live with all those stored up emotions eating away at him any longer. He had to make a clean break away from Jack completely. Being with him just as friends was getting too painful. He had taken the plunge and tried to talk to him, but Jack had made it clear on the phone that he didn't even want to talk about anything having to do with DADT or same gender relationships. Jack's instant refusal to even listen to him spoke louder than anything to Daniel. Maybe Jack had just freaked for some reason, maybe he'd really been distracted... but it didn't make a difference. Daniel had always known Jack was straight, but hope springs eternal they say.

Well, that eternal spring had died away in one short screwed up phone conversation and Daniel needed time to think and move on. Or give it another try, at a later point, maybe. Right now all he wanted was to get away and lick his wounds.

Surrounded by sand, rocks and debris, Daniel came to a decision. When he returned home, he would have to start a new life. A new Daniel would emerge, like the phoenix from the ashes.

Because of the amount of ruins and artifacts they found on the planet, Daniel was away for almost a month, but after debriefing and giving Nyan instructions on how to treat the artifacts they had brought back and transferring all the data he had put together on his laptop to the main computer, he went home to his house to plan his new life without Jack.

After a couple of days’ downtime, Daniel was still wondering what to do with his life when an email popped into his inbox. It was from an old colleague of his from college days who he hadn’t seen for many years, Martin Woodward.

     

          My dear Daniel

          It must be at least a year since I last spoke with you, but your name came up in conversation the other day and I realized you might be the person I’m looking for.

          As you will remember, my passion is visiting churches. My cousin and I booked a trip to the Maltese Islands, for a month, to visit all the 365 churches, but he has been forced to back out at the last minute,

          so I was going to cancel. If you are available, would you like to go? The flights and 5 star accommodations at the Phoenicia Hotel are paid for, so you would only need spending money.

          There are archaeological ruins and temples on the islands and I would be pleased to visit them with you in return for your company.

          What do you think?

          Please email ASAP. Flights are in two days’ time.

          Your friend

          Martin

 

 

Daniel read and re-read the email. He wasn’t that interested in churches, but a month away in the sunshine? If Janet had still been here she would probably have said it was just what the doctor ordered. Add to that the 5 star hotel; what more could he want? Martin always insisted on the best, wherever he went; the best hotels, best food, best everything. Money was not an issue to him.

Was it a coincidence that Martin had thought of him? Or had some higher being had a hand in Daniel’s future?

He did some research and came to the conclusion that Malta could be just what he needed to kick start his new life. Not only were there the ruins and temples that Martin had mentioned, but same sex relationships were legal and there were gay bars near the hotel they would be staying in. He wasn’t looking for a serious relationship, but it would be great to spend time with people with similar lifestyles to the one he was going for.

He drove back to the SGC to talk to General Landry. Daniel needed to arrange a month’s leave of absence and to discuss his future at the SGC. He didn’t really want to leave; he loved the work, but he needed more flexibility to work from home instead of being at the mountain all day, every day. The general agreed to the leave and his terms for working more from home when he returned.

He arranged for a neighbor to look after his house and feed his fish and then he replied to Martin’s email, accepting his offer.

***

After an almost 17 hour flight from Colorado Springs, stopping off briefly in Chicago and Amsterdam, Daniel and Martin arrived at Luqa airport, tired and bone weary. Martin arranged for a taxi to take them to the Phoenicia Hotel in Malta’s capital city, Valletta. As it was mid-afternoon, they checked into their rooms on the 6th floor overlooking the harbor. They unpacked and had a nap before showering and getting changed for dinner in the hotel restaurant.

After dinner and a walk around the extensive gardens, they retired early to their rooms for a good night’s sleep.

Next morning, feeling more refreshed after a large breakfast, the men sat on the balcony of Daniel’s room planning their itinerary.

The first thing on their list was to hire a vehicle, so they walked down to the car hire desk in the foyer and rented a jeep. This vehicle, they were told, would get them over any terrain they should encounter on their travels around the islands, as some of the roads were unmade and bumpy. Daniel was handed the keys and was told where to find the jeep in the parking lot.

Martin had listed all the churches he wanted to visit, but as they were still a little tired from their journey, they decided to stay close to the hotel on their first day.

The first place they visited was in walking distance, so they left the jeep at the hotel and walked across the square past the Triton Fountain and through the city gates to the beautiful St. John’s Co-Cathedral which was, as Martin explained to Daniel, built by the Knights of Malta between 1573 and 1578. It was the conventual church of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John, also known as the Knights of Malta. The name, Co-Cathedral, referred to its later, dual role. In the 1820s, the Bishop of Malta, whose seat was at Mdina, was allowed to use St John’s as an alternative, hence the name Co-Cathedral.

The exterior of the cathedral was reminiscent of a military fort, but the interior turned out to be extremely ornate and decorated in the height of the Baroque period and contained eight rich chapels. Each of them were dedicated to the patron saint of the 8 langues (or sections) of the Knights.

Daniel was very impressed by the many monuments and paintings; the most famous painting by Caravaggio depicting the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. This painting was considered one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces and the only painting signed by the artist.

It was only now that Daniel remembered going out on trips when they had been at college. Having Martin in the group had always been like having your own personal tour guide. The facts he didn’t already know, he would read out loud from a reference book, for all to hear.

After wandering around the cathedral for most of the morning, the two men walked out into the sunshine to find something to eat. They made their way back to the main shopping area in Republic Street and found the Caffe Cordina, one of the oldest coffee shops in Malta. Once they found a table under a large parasol just outside the coffee shop, they ordered sandwiches, cakes and freshly roasted coffee.

After lunch, they returned to the hotel to pick up the jeep. Daniel drove slowly and carefully at first, as he wasn’t used to driving on the left hand side of the road. Also, there seemed to be no set rules. He had been informed by the man at the car hire desk that in Malta ‘right had might’ and it seemed to be true. If Daniel should have had the right of way and buses or trucks were coming in the opposite direction, they went first, leaving Daniel a bit unsure how to proceed. It took all of his observation skills to drive them out to Mosta to visit the famous church there.

Mosta boasted the third largest unsupported dome in the World dedicated to the Assumption. The church was also known as the Rotunda of St Marija Assunta. Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and built between the 1830s and 1860s, the Rotunda was designed by Maltese architect Giorgio de Vasse. In a rather revolutionary move, the church was built over and around the existing one, which was then demolished. The stone of the Rotunda had matured under the sun and taken on a yellow/orange/red color.

In 1942 during World War II, the church took a direct hit from a German bomb while more than 300 people were congregated inside for Mass. The bomb pierced the dome and fell to the ground but failed to explode. The army took the bomb outside and diffused it, and no one was hurt. The event has become legendary, with many regarding it as a miracle. Daniel and Martin discovered there was a replica of the 200kg bomb in the sacristy.

Daniel happily wandered around the inside checking out the artifacts that were on display, while Martin went off on his own with his camera and notepad, taking measurements and making notes.

After a while there was a commotion at the doorway so Daniel went to see what had happened. A crowd had gathered at the base of the stone steps, milling around someone who was lying on the ground groaning in agony. Daniel caught a glance of the man as the tourists moved around. It was Martin. Daniel rushed down the steps and immediately he could see that Martin’s right leg was at an unnatural angle and a bone was protruding through his shin.

Luckily, there was a health clinic just behind the church and someone had run over there to get a doctor, who arrived just after Daniel. The doctor examined Martin and called for an ambulance to take him to Mater Dei Hospital in Msida. Daniel followed the ambulance to the hospital and after several hours of examinations and x-rays, the full extent of the damage was known. Martin had broken the tibia in two places and there was a fracture to the fibula. The consultant at the hospital told Daniel that they would re-set the bones and plaster the leg, but Martin wouldn’t be able to walk on it for some time.

Daniel drove back to the hotel, showered, changed and ate dinner, then returned to visit Martin in the evening. He’d had the surgery to re-set the bones and apologized to Daniel because he obviously had to go home where he could be looked after by his sister and her family. The hospital was making arrangements to fly him home as soon as he was well enough and he was hoping that he might be able to get a refund from the hotel.

As they talked, Daniel had an idea. After all, he was here now, wasn’t he? It would be a shame to go home when he’d arranged a month’s leave, so he offered to reimburse Martin for his half of the costs and stay in Malta.

Daniel spent the following day with Martin, making sure he had everything he needed and talking to him. Although he couldn’t go into detail, Daniel told him about his friends back in Colorado and how they’d worked well together. He also told him about the special friendship he’d had with Jack, but that it had come to an end. Daniel didn’t explain what had happened, but Martin sympathized with him because he assumed that, although Daniel was trying to hide it, the break in friendship had upset him deeply.

At least the staff at the hospital spoke good English, so Daniel didn’t need his language skills. However, there were legal papers to be signed for the trip, and they were printed in Maltese, so Daniel helped Martin with those and they were told he was to be flown home the next day, accompanied by a nurse.

Next day he went to the airport to say goodbye to Martin, who apologized again for the accident and for leaving Daniel on his own. Actually Daniel didn’t really mind. Of course, he was saddened for Martin’s sake, but staying behind on his own meant he could do what he had wanted to do since he’d researched the country. Not only that, but he didn’t have to explain it to Martin. He’d been worried about that, in case his friend didn’t understand.

***

It was almost three weeks since Jack’s last trip to Washington, when the phone rang. Nyan’s voice on the other end made Jack’s heart jump. Daniel must be home. Nyan confirmed that fact, but also told Jack that, although Daniel had been back for a few days, he had now gone away for a month with an ex college friend of his, Martin Woodward.

Jack’s heart plummeted. Daniel had been home and hadn’t contacted him, but now he’d gone away again.

After Jack finished talking to Nyan, he spent the next hour using his contacts in Washington to check out Doctor Martin Woodward. There was nothing in his background checks to give Jack a clue where the two doctors had gone. Woodward was a geek like Daniel, who was not only an archaeologist but was also into church buildings. He wasn’t military, so he couldn’t be the new love interest.

Jack was given an address for Woodward’s sister, Lynne Baker, who lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, but he couldn’t contact her to find out where Daniel was, could he? He gave that question a lot of thought. Should he call or email her?  No, that was too impersonal and, anyway, she probably wouldn’t talk to someone she didn’t know over the phone.  So, three days later, Jack arrived outside Lynne Baker’s address. It was just after lunchtime, having taken about 6 hours to drive there. He walked up to the door and knocked, hoping someone would be home.

A smartly dressed lady, possibly in her 60’s, opened the door.

“Yes?” she inquired.

“Are you Mrs. Lynne Baker, sister of Doctor Martin Woodward?” asked Jack politely.

“Yes, and you are?” she asked suspiciously.

“Gen… sorry, ex General Jack O’Neill. Sorry to bother you, but I was trying to find my friend Doctor Daniel Jackson and I understand he's with your brother.”

“Not anymore,” she answered with a chuckle. “You’d better come in.”

Jack followed her into a comfortably furnished living room where a man was lying on a couch. One leg was covered from top to bottom in a plaster cast.

“General O’Neill, this is my brother, Martin Woodward,” Mrs. Baker said with a grin.

“Jack, please. Hi, Doctor Woodward. What happened to you?”

“Jack, before Martin gets into a long explanation, would you like some coffee?”

“Yes, that’ll be great, Mrs. Baker, thanks.”

“Lynne. If you’re Jack, then I’m Lynne and this is Martin,” she laughed.

Lynne went out of the room to fix the coffee and Martin told Jack to sit down so they could talk, then he explained what had happened to him in Malta.

Meanwhile, Lynne had returned with the coffee and, as they sipped it, Jack asked Martin where Daniel was now.

“He stayed in Malta,” Martin replied.

“What? On his own?” exclaimed Jack.

“Yes. He decided to pay for his half of the trip and stay there for a holiday.”

“Why?” Jack couldn’t understand why, if Daniel was in a relationship with someone at the SGC, he wouldn’t come home to be with him.

“I really don’t know, Jack, but I sensed there was something in his life that was making him very unhappy. Although I do understand that most of it is classified, he told me a little about his life and friends back in Colorado. He said he was a consultant for the Air Force, but no more than that. The one thing he did tell me was that you were a very special friend to him. I probably shouldn’t do this, but if I was to tell you where to find him, could you make him happy again? It’s been a year since I last met him, but he’s certainly not the same guy he was back then. He’s changed. It’s as though something is eating away at him, but, although I asked, he’s not talking about it.”

“Well, I’m not sure, but I think I have a good idea and I'll try to fix it.”

Jack wanted to leave once he knew Daniel's location, but was forced to stay a bit longer to try some of Lynne’s homemade cake. She even packed some up for him to take home.

***

The day after Martin’s departure, Daniel set off to explore the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples.

Hagar Qim, discovered under rubble in 1839, dated from around 2400 - 2000 BC. The largest megalith at Hagar Qim was some seven meters high and weighed around 20 tons. Many interesting items had been unearthed at Hagar Qim, notably a decorated pillar altar, two table-altars and some of the `fat lady' statues on display in the National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta. The site itself had connotations with a kind of fertility cult. Another aspect of Hagar Qim was the small, three-apse structure near the temple - this may have been the quarters of the temple's priest.

Daniel rested for a while to sketch the temple before moving on to the Mnajdra Temple group.

Other temple ruins stood a few meters away from the main temple. The Mnajdra Temple group stood isolated, about 600 meters further down from the cliff top. Mnajdra was made up of two sizable temples and was thought to date from around 3400 BC. The temple construction displayed the great skill of its builders.

The third temple at Mnajdra was perhaps the finest surviving temple in Malta. The masonry showed intricate knowledge of building techniques and excellent workmanship. The spiral carvings and decorated, pitted slabs gave an exceptional aspect to the remarkable site. The ruins of Mnajdra yielded valuable relics. The lack of any metal objects here and at other similar temples was evidence of its Neolithic origin.

This was much more to Daniel’s liking. He wandered around the temples for most of the day, admiring and sketching.  Luckily, he’d purchased some sandwiches and bottles of water before he’d left the hotel, so he sat under the cool shade of a tree to eat his lunch.

As he gazed out to sea, he spotted the small, barren, uninhabited islet of Filfla. It had been used for target practice by the Royal Air Force and Navy until 1971 but was now a bird reserve.

Although the sky was overcast, the air was still warm so Daniel was wearing shorts and a tee shirt. After only a few days here he’d already noticed the slight change in color on his arms, legs and face.

It was late afternoon before Daniel realized he was hot, sticky and tired, so he went back to the hotel for a shower. After changing his clothes he ate dinner in the hotel restaurant and then, after asking directions at the hotel reception, went out to a bar he had researched on the internet. He wanted to meet like-minded people.

Daniel enjoyed the evening; meeting new Maltese, German, Italian and English people. It was too soon to say whether it would lead to friendship, but he went to bed feeling slightly happier.

The next day was spent at the National Museum of Archaeology, which was certainly more interesting to Daniel than looking around churches, although he would have liked some company and would have enjoyed talking shop with Martin.

The National Museum of Archaeology displayed an exceptional array of artifacts from Malta’s unique prehistory. The collection was housed in the Auberge de Provence on Republic Street, one of the first buildings to be erected in Valletta after the Great Siege in the late 16th century.

The Auberge de Provence was opened as the National Museum in 1958 and originally included the archaeological collection on the ground floor and fine arts on the first floor.

In 1974, the fine arts collection was moved to the National Museum of Fine Arts, newly established in the Admiralty House building in South Street, Valletta, and the National Museum was renamed the National Museum for Archaeology.

When Napoleon expelled the Knights from Malta in 1798 the Auberge was leased to the Malta Union Club. Though the lease was to expire in 2002, on 12 August 1955 the Auberge was assigned to house Malta’s National Museum.

The ground floor of the museum exhibited prehistoric artifacts from the Maltese islands, from the Għar Dalam phase (5200 BC), the earliest appearance of settlement on the island, up to the Tarxien phase (2500 BC).

The museum exhibited numerous corpulent statues representing human bodies unearthed from temple excavations, along with phallic representations. Until recently the statues had been called Mother Goddesses, Fat Ladies, Deities and Priests among other names, but it was now argued that these statues were probably asexual and represented a human being, irrespective of whether it was male or female. The representations varied in size and shape, with the largest being as tall as 9 feet and the smallest, less than 1 inch.

Daniel walked around the museum all morning, but at lunchtime decided to go back to the hotel for a swim before getting ready to go out that evening. He hadn’t got back to the hotel until the early hours of the morning, so after a light lunch, he sat reading for a while on one of the hotel’s sunbeds, before cooling off in the pool. Later that afternoon, when the air was cooler, he went shopping in Republic Street.

He strolled up and down the shopping area, looking in shop windows. He went into a menswear shop to buy some new clothes, then into one of the many jewelers to purchase some gold items. Then he discovered an electrical store where he bought a small, inexpensive coffee machine. He finished his shopping tour at a small store for some fresh roasted coffee and a carton of cream. The coffee in the hotel room was okay, but it was instant and Daniel preferred 'real' coffee.

On the way back up to his room, he noticed a poster advertising the annual air display weekend. Realizing how Jack would enjoy it, especially as the US Air Force would be contributing, started him thinking about what had happened.

Jack; the man he had run away from. The man he would have given his life for – had done on several occasions – and the man he loved. Had running been a rash decision? Should he have tried again to ask Jack how he felt? Had he run from Jack's answer during that phone call or had he really run from his own fears of being rejected for real had he tried again at a later point?

Daniel looked out across the harbor from his chair on the balcony and sighed as he sipped his coffee. This trip hadn’t turned out the way he’d planned, but, at least now he could choose what he did and where he went.

Tonight he was going back to the Tom Bar, where he’d been for the first time the previous evening.

He finished his coffee and brought his thoughts back to the present. Time had passed while his mind had been drifting back over the last few weeks and he now needed to get dressed, have dinner and then go out to the bar.

He’d met a young English guy, among others, the night before and had agreed to meet up with him again tonight.

He dressed with care and set off on foot to the bar. It took him about 5 minutes to walk there, but, thanks to his reminiscing, he was a little late. He had agreed to meet up with his friends at 8.30pm, when the bar opened, but it was now past 9.

He spent a couple of minutes talking to the guy at the door, then he went upstairs to the ‘P’ Lounge; a bar where music played all night and people could just kick back, talk, dance and share a drink. The bar downstairs was louder, with a dance floor and DJ, but Daniel preferred the quieter area for meeting and talking to new people. Luckily, some of the men and women he’d met the previous evening had felt the same and greeted him.

The English guy bought Daniel a drink and they sat at one of the tables talking.

***

It had only taken Jack a day to make a decision. But once he had made up his mind, he’d got on the phone and started making travel and accommodation plans and at 3:40pm the following day he’d boarded a plane to Malta, stopping off at Chicago for 45 minutes and Amsterdam for 2 hours 20 minutes and arriving in Malta at 2:45pm the next day; a total of almost 16 hours.

After collecting his bags, Jack had called for a car to take him to the Phoenicia Hotel, but when he arrived, he’d been informed that, as Daniel’s room key was in reception, he must be out. Jack had gone up to his room to unpack. He’d had a rest, showered, shaved and changed and gone to the hotel restaurant for dinner, but Daniel was still nowhere to be seen. When he’d checked back at reception, he’d been told that Daniel had been back in, but had now gone out again for the evening to meet some friends at a bar.

The young girl’s face had been flushed when she’d spoken of Daniel and Jack could tell he’d worked his customary magic on her, as he had with most of the females around the SGC. She obviously thought he was wonderful, which made it easy for Jack to sweet talk her into telling him where Daniel had gone. Apparently she’d recommended a bar to him a couple of days ago and was pleased to write the directions down for Jack.

Jack looked again at the piece of paper the hotel receptionist had pushed across the reception desk. The directions to the bar were clear and concise, although he was sure the bar was supposed to be called ‘Tom’s’. He’d always been precise with his grammar and punctuation, especially in his reports, but he just put the mistake down to the fact that the receptionist was Maltese.

          Turn left onto Triq L-Assedju L-Kbir

          Right onto Triq Sant' Anna

          Left onto Vilhena

          Left again onto It-Telgha tal-Kurcifiss

          Tom Bar is on the left

It took him about 5 minutes to walk there and a minute to talk to the young Maltese guy at the door and ask if he knew where Daniel might be.

“Iva, iva,” the guy said, which Jack found out later meant yes. “Your young friend? He is American also?”

Jack nodded.

“He is in upstairs bar. You find him up there.”

Jack thanked the guy and made his way up the stairs to the ‘P-Lounge’.

Jack walked in and stood just inside the door, scanning the area. Quite a few people were in the room; small groups of guys and girls. Several guys were stood at the bar, three couples were sat in the private booths on one side of the room and, at the far end of the large room a few couples were dancing to the music. There were also some guys and girls sat at the many small tables around the room. Then a sudden thought struck him. All the couples were of the same sex.

Oh crap! Jack thought, as the obvious hit him, it’s a gay bar. No wonder it’s called Tom Bar.

At one table he could see a young blond haired man, probably in his 20’s, sitting opposite a man, partially obscured by the waiter who was placing two large glasses of wine on the table. As the man handed the waiter payment for the drinks, Jack could just see the back of his head. The hair was a little longer than when he’d last seen him, but he knew it belonged to Daniel. He started to move forward, but stopped dead in his tracks as the waiter walked away.

What the fuck…? Daniel?

Jack could only see Daniel in profile, but already realized he'd bought new glasses; still wire framed, but gold colored, smaller and rectangular; much more modern. They were a surprise, but the rest of Daniel was a shock. As Jack’s eyes wandered down Daniel’s body, he took in the delicate gold chains around his neck and wrist, the gold watch on his other wrist and the clothes. Oh yes, the clothes. He was wearing a tight white tank top and the tightest white jeans Jack had ever seen him in. His feet were bare, covered only by a pair of brown sandals. This was quite a shock to Jack, as he’d only ever seen Daniel in baggy clothes before; nothing like this. He watched as Daniel put some coins in a wallet which was on the table, then saw the young man lean in to talk to Daniel. The table was closer to the music than Jack was, so it was possibly more difficult to hear someone speaking, although it wasn’t too bad where Jack was standing.

The young man covered Daniel’s hand with his own as he spoke, but Jack saw Daniel carefully extricate his hand and put it in his lap; the other hand holding the wine glass.

That’s it, thought Jack; he’s not doing that to my archeologist. Well, technically, Daniel wasn’t his anything. He used to be his archeologist, his linguist, his friend, but, although he hoped they were still friends after the phone call, Daniel had ceased to be the other two when Jack stood down from leading SG-1.

Jack strode across the room, stopping by the side of Daniel’s chair.

“Daniel?” he boomed, glaring at the man in question.

Daniel looked up and Jack almost laughed at the horrified expression on Daniel’s face. His eyes were wide and his mouth hung open.

“Fuck!” Daniel managed to exclaim before his voice trailed off as he swallowed. Hard.

“No, Daniel, it’s Jack,” he said dryly. “Remember me?”

Jack turned towards the young man and glared at him.

“And you are?” he boomed again, drawing himself up to his full 6’2” but looking much taller.

“Er… er… Jus… Jus…,” the young man stuttered, as he cowered lower in his chair.

“Jus? Jus? What sort of a name is that? Oh, sorry,” Jack sniped, “can’t you speak English? You.” He pointed a finger at the young man. “Name?”

“Jack! Stop it!” Daniel found his voice. “His name is Justin and you’re scaring him!”

“Oh, so-rry,” Jack drawled, feigning concern as he glared down at Justin. “Am I scaring you? I was just thinking that perhaps you were trying to say you were ‘Jus … leaving’.”

“Oh… er… yeah… I’m er… yeah,” Justin stuttered again. He stood up so quickly his chair fell back onto the floor with a crash. He straightened the chair, picked up his glass of wine and then managed to tear his eyes away from Jack to look at Daniel.

He took a deep breath and said, as steadily as he could, “I’ll… er…see you soon, Daniel?”

Daniel smiled and opened his mouth to answer, but was cut off.

“Or not!” Jack growled, as he glared at Justin again. Justin walked swiftly away to the bar.

Jack pulled out the chair Justin had just vacated and sat down. He gestured to the waiter who came over to take his order for a whiskey. Daniel sat quietly just watching and waiting; trying to work out in his mind how Jack had found him and why he was here

“Happy to see me?” Jack asked brightly.

“Happy to...?  Are you out of your mind? You can't just walk in here, insult my friends and expect me to fall over with joy!” Daniel snapped.

“He was coming on to you,” Jack grumbled.

“So what? Maybe I liked him coming on to me? What the hell are you doing here anyway?”

“I thought you were in a relationship?” Jack fired back, trying to figure out why Daniel's new 'friend' had pissed him off like that.

"What?"

"The guy you told me about on the phone? Military guy?"

For a moment there was something close to a deer-in-the-headlight-look in Daniel's eyes, then he pressed his lips into a thin line.

"Daniel?"

"Right. Actually... that's none of your business. Remember? My lifestyle has nothing to do with you?” Daniel spat, causing Jack to wince.

Had he really said that? Oy!  “Look...,” he started, but was cut off fiercely.

“Why are you here? Does the world need saving?”

“What? No, not that I know of.” Jack grimaced. The waiter brought his drink and he paid for it, then turned his attention back to his glowering friend. “So,” Jack asked finally, desperate to steer the conversation to other topics, “new glasses?”

“Yeah,” Daniel murmured nonchalantly, as he sipped his wine.

Jack took a gulp of his whiskey. “Er… new look, too?”

“Yep.”

“Gold?” Jack queried as he waved his hand towards the chains and watch.

“Yeah, they sell a lot of it here,” Daniel replied as he waited for Jack to get to the point.

“Oka-ay. Why?” Jack asked as he stared at Daniel.

“Why not?” countered Daniel.

They sipped their drinks in silence for a few moments, until Daniel felt he’d waited long enough.

“Ja-ack, why are you here?” he asked on a sigh.

“Came to find you,” Jack said flatly.

“Why?” Daniel asked.

“Why not?” Jack replied, parroting Daniel’s earlier response.

“Ja-ack!” Daniel said irritably.

“What?” Jack queried innocently.

“Are you deliberately trying to make me angry, because if you are, it works just fine. You can leave now.” Daniel said emphatically

“No. Why would I do that?” Jack raised his eyebrows as he looked into Daniel’s eyes.

Ohmygod, thought Daniel, Jack can be so infuriating. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, after all these years.

Just then an olive skinned man walked up to the table and stopped by Daniel’s chair.

“You would dance, Daniel?” he asked in broken English.

Daniel looked over towards the bar where he knew the man’s partner, Matteo, was talking to another couple. He raised his glass and smiled at Daniel, who put his hand up in greeting, then, without a second look at Jack, he replied. “Yes, thank you, Luca, I’d like that.”

Daniel stood, squeezed his wallet into his pocket with great difficulty and walked with Luca to the dance floor, where they started dancing to the slow tempo of the music playing; their hands resting lightly on each other’s hips.

Jack watched, wondering how they could call that dancing. Just swaying from side to side was not what he would call dancing, but it’s what most people did these days. At least they weren’t hanging around each other’s bodies, like some of the other couples.

I’m really getting old, thought Jack, as he watched the dancers. What happened to my life? Where’s it all gone?

The music came to an end and a faster track started, but Daniel didn’t return to the table. Instead, the two men started gyrating around each other.

Jack was about to have a drink, but he stopped with the glass close to his lips. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open, as he watched Daniel gyrating around the floor, laughing, arms up above his head, hips circling. Was this really Daniel? In all the years he’d known him, this version of Daniel was one he had never seen before.

Daniel glanced over at Jack and, very briefly, their eyes met, causing Daniel to chuckle. He spoke to his dance partner, who also glanced over at Jack and chuckled. Daniel turned to face Jack and, exaggerating the very sensual movements, he gyrated his hips again and then thrust them back and forth several times, before turning to his partner again.

Jack blinked hard a few times and swallowed. He realized he was panting, so he closed his mouth before tearing his eyes away and swallowing what was left of his whiskey. He needed to leave. Now. This was NOT how he should react to Daniel. But he stayed, glued to his seat, eyes fixed on his friend.

When Daniel came back to the table a few minutes later with Luca, he thanked the other man and sat down again picking up his wine glass for a drink.

Jack licked his dry lips, swallowed and asked, “What was that?”

“I believe it’s called dancing, Jack,” Daniel answered.

“Hey, leave the sarcasm to me,” he snapped. “Wanna go somewhere we can talk?”

“No, I’m fine here, thanks.” Daniel said simply as he finished his wine.

“Oka-ay, let’s put it this way. Will you come somewhere quieter with me so we can talk?”

“Why didn’t you say that’s what you wanted?” Daniel asked with a grin. He’d decided that if Jack could be exasperating, then it would be okay for him to do the same.

Jack huffed but stood up, waited for Daniel to wave goodbye to the guys at the bar, then they walked outside.

 “Okay, what do you want to talk about?” asked Daniel.

“Not here in the street, Daniel. Can we go back to the hotel? I’ve checked in to the same one you’re in.”

“How… how did you know where I was staying?” Daniel asked puzzled.

“Martin told me. I went to visit him at his sister’s house,” Jack admitted with a wry smile.

“Jack! You… you’ve seen Martin? Is he okay?”

“Yeah, he’s doing fine.”

They walked back to the hotel in virtual silence, broken only by Daniel asking which room Jack was staying in and finding out it was the room next to his; the one Martin had been in.

“Oh good,” said Daniel. “That means Martin will get a refund. They said they would only do that if they could let the room out to someone else.”

“Glad I was of some help then.” Jack stated.

As they went up to the 6th floor in the elevator, Daniel suggested going to his room as he had better coffee.

As they entered the room, Jack noticed it was identical to his own, except it was probably a bit tidier. He’d thrown things all over the place when he was making up his mind what to wear, settling on cream pants and a light green short sleeved shirt. Apart from a few empty bags with the shops’ logos on lying on the bed, Daniel's room was neat.

“Hey, how come you get a coffee maker? I’ve only got a kettle.” Jack exclaimed as Daniel switched the machine on.

“I didn’t,” replied Daniel. “I bought it. You know I don’t like instant coffee.”

“Yeah, at least some things never change,” Jack stated matter-of-factly.

Jack opened the glass doors and sat in one of the chairs on the balcony. He looked out at the street lights around the harbor area and the twinkling of the LED lights on the masts of the boats as they bobbed gently on the water. It was a warm night; a harvest moon hung high in the sky, reflecting in the water and the stars were clear and bright.

Daniel came out with two mugs of coffee, setting them down on the small table and sat down in the chair next to Jack, ignoring the beauty of the scene spread out in front of him.

“Why did you go to see Martin and what are you doing here, Jack?” Daniel asked pointedly.

“Told ya. I came to find you.” Jack replied.

Daniel sighed. “Jack, please?” he entreated. “Why?”

Jack took a deep breath and exhaled sharply. “I needed answers, Daniel,” he stated flatly. "After you hung up the phone I went into a meeting with the President. I know I wasn't paying much attention to what you were trying to tell me, and I'm sorry. But as boring as a desk job at the Pentagon is, it's hectic and you don't let the man wait when he wants a meeting."

"You said my lifestyle..." Daniel began, but Jack held up a finger to stop him.

"I know what I said and I was a jerk. It just came so out of the blue, this whole DADT stuff and you being in a relationship, or wanting to be in a relationship with a guy... I didn't know what to say. When you didn't call back and went off world without a word, I realized I’d screwed up big time."

"You realized that? That's a start." Daniel wasn't sure where this was going, so he took a sip of coffee and waited for Jack to continue.

"Yeah, pissed you off apparently. What I don't get is... why? You were mad because I snapped at you, I get that. But, dammit Daniel, you know me! You could've called and yelled at me and we'd have sorted it out. But you didn't. You just left."

"I had my reasons. It's really too complicated to... "

"It's that other guy, right?"

Daniel stared. "What?"

"The guy you’re into. The one you wanted to talk to me about. What's he told you? To stop having friends outside your relationship?" Jack scowled. "He better not hurt you in any way."

Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to come up with the right words. What a mess! "Jack, look, it's not the way you think it is. I'm not with anyone."

"Yeah, I got that. You're here without him. What happened?"

"Jack..." Daniel looked at the man sitting next to him and didn't know how to go on. Finally he settled for, "Are you saying you came here to make sure I'm okay? All the way... to... what?"

Jack grimaced. "I needed to know you're okay, yes. You didn't call. You came home and just took off again without a word. I needed to know what was going on and no one could tell me anything. I've got a lot of time on my hands now that I'm retired, so I thought I’d track you down and..." He shrugged. "You know... see you."

Daniel needed a moment to let it sink in. “You… you’ve retired? You…? But, why?”

Jack shrugged. “Oh, lots of reasons. Most of all I wanted to do something different.”

“Like... what?”

“Like... I don't know yet. Fish? Do what I want when I want it? I was fed up pushing papers around a desk. I wanted to have a life before I’m too old to enjoy it.”

“Er… yes… that’s great, Jack. Really great,” Daniel agreed without much conviction.

“So,” queried Jack, “this new boyfriend. When do I get to meet him? Why isn’t he here with you? Though, I gotta tell ya. If he's been trying to cut you off from your friends because he's possessive I hope you broke up with him.”

Daniel thought quickly. What could he say? If he told Jack the truth, he was sure to lose him again and he’d already realized he didn’t want that, so he came up with a half-truth instead.

“Um… there isn’t a new boyfriend, actually. He didn’t… um… doesn’t feel the same way.”

Jack raised his left scarred eyebrow. “Is that why you left?”

“Yes, sort of. Look, there were just a couple of things in my life I needed to think over, and I needed the time alone to... sort it all out. I'm sorry you were worried.” He really was. In a way it said a lot about how important their friendship really was to Jack. If nothing else, maybe Daniel could continue to live with that after all.

“Aw, Danny, I’m sorry. He doesn’t know what he’s missing.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Daniel replied sadly, then perked up. “Hey, you called me Danny. You haven’t done that for years.”

“Ah, yeah, sorry. It just slipped out. It suited you back in the early days, but now…”

“I’ve grown up since then, Jack.”

“You sure have.” Jack sighed. “Look, Daniel, I’m really tired. Now we’ve got things sorted out, d’you mind if I turn in?”

“No, of course not.” Daniel could see that Jack’s eyes were heavy from lack of sleep. “We’ll talk more in the morning. Dial my room number when you’re awake and we’ll have breakfast together.”

Daniel showed Jack to the door and wished him a good night, and then picked up the coffee mugs and rinsed them in the bathroom sink. As he put them back and set the coffee machine up for the morning, the phone buzzed and he walked over to the nightstand to answer it.

“Daniel?”

“Jack?”

“Just one more question?”

“Oka-ay.”

“Are you wearing anything under those jeans?” Daniel could almost hear the grin spread across Jack’s face.

He smiled. “No, Jack. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Daniel.”

***

Daniel laid awake deep in thought, which was not unusual for him. Seeing Jack this evening had made him realize just how much he needed him in his life, even if it was only as a friend. Now that Jack had retired and Daniel’s working hours were going to be more flexible, they could get back to seeing each other more regularly. He’d had to tell a little white lie about the imaginary relationship, but Jack had accepted it. Now that he’d got the bit between his teeth about finding someone else, though, could he go back to how it was?

Apart from a few brief exceptions, he hadn’t really been with anyone since Sha’re. Most of the time he hadn’t had the chance; he’d either been busy in his lab, off world fighting, in the infirmary injured or, worst of all, dead. Well, not exactly dead, or he wouldn’t be here now, but ascended. Not much time for romantic interludes there, then. When he had felt the urge or been aroused by Jack, his right hand and the toys he kept hidden in his closet had stood him in good stead and he’d satisfied himself.

Could he go back to business as usual? Wasn't that why he'd tried to break free and get some distance between him and Jack? He'd be stuck on the same treadmill again; trying to be content as Jack's friend only, and jerking off to fantasies about him – alone in his bed at night. He could try to find someone else, start a casual relationship maybe. But that wasn't what he wanted.

Daniel decided to go with the flow for now. Jack was here, had come all the way to see him. He couldn't push him away now.

He wondered what Jack was going to do now. Was he intending to stay in Malta or was he going to go back home now he’d found Daniel? Well, he wouldn’t know until morning although he hoped Jack would stay for a while. Daniel still had places he wanted to see while he was here and the thought of Jack accompanying him gave him great pleasure. He smiled to himself, flopped onto his stomach and went to sleep.

***

The incessant buzzing of the phone woke Daniel next morning and he reached over to pluck the receiver off and pulled it in close to his ear.

“Yeah,” he mumbled sleepily.

“Daniel, you awake?” Jack’s voice sounded very cheery for first thing in the morning and it reminded Daniel how he used to hate being woken up by that voice when they were on missions.

“No,” he grumbled.

“C’mon, it’s oh-seven-hundred. Time for breakfast.” Definitely Jack’s up-an’-at-‘em voice.

“Oh god,” groaned Daniel, knowing if he didn’t move Jack’s next move would be to hammer on the door. “’kay, gimme time to shower.”

“Twenty minutes, Daniel,” came the order. “Twenty minutes, so move yourself!” The phone went dead.

Daniel groaned again, but rolled out of bed and into the bathroom.

***

Jack had woken at 6, feeling much more refreshed; ready to face the world and everything it had to offer. He’d made himself a mug of instant coffee, immediately feeling envious of Daniel’s coffee maker, and headed into the bathroom to shower and shave. He’d dressed in olive green cargo pants and a green checked short sleeved shirt, slipped his feet into a pair of sneakers and then picked up the phone to call Daniel.

He put the receiver back on the phone with a self-satisfied smile on his face. Daniel had never been good at getting up in the morning; he remembered that from the old days. He also knew that Daniel hated it when Jack sounded happy and jovial when he woke him up. He waited for twenty minutes and then walked down the corridor to Daniel’s room. He hesitated before he knocked on the door, wondering how the hell Daniel was going to be dressed; hopefully not like he was the night before. He needn’t have worried though, because when Daniel opened the door, he was wearing cream chinos and a pale blue short sleeved shirt. The gold chains and watch were missing.

“You’re ready?” Jack’s eyebrows were raised in shock.

“Yeah. Surprised?” Daniel asked with a smile.

“Mmm. Thought I’d have to wait ages. So, appearance back to normal then?”

“Yeah, that was just for the evening. Are you disappointed?” Daniel headed out the door.

Jack didn’t reply, but was surprised to find himself thinking that Daniel never disappointed him, whatever he did.

The two men helped themselves from the large array of food set out buffet-style on the counters and sat at a table overlooking the gardens.

While they were eating, Daniel asked Jack what his intentions were.

“I’ll probably stay for a couple of days and then go home. I don’t want to get in your way,” Jack explained.

“You won’t.” Daniel assured him quickly. “Do you have to get back or could you stay? There’re some places we could visit together and there’s an air show on at the weekend.”

“Nothing spoiling back home, but what about your new friends?” Jack inquired.

“I’d like to meet up with them again, but I’d rather spend some time with you. We haven’t spent time together for months.”

“Well, that's not my fault. I wasn't the one going AWOL,” Jack muttered.

“Jack...”

“Okay, I’ll stay, but I’m not stopping you if you want to go back to the bar.”

“We’d better make a plan of action then. How about sitting by the pool today and making a list of where we want to go? I’ve picked up loads of leaflets,” suggested Daniel.

“Sounds good to me. I’ll lie in the sun and you make the list.” Jack grinned.

“That’s the old Jack I know and love,” Daniel said lightly with a smile.

“Hey! Not so much of the old,” Jack retorted and laughed.

When they’d finished their breakfast, they went back to their rooms to change into tee shirts and shorts and went down to the pool area; finding two sunbeds under a parasol. It was already very warm, so they stripped off their shorts and tee shirts and relaxed on the beds in just their swimming trunks.

They looked through the leaflets, making notes of the sights they wanted to visit. Then, after Jack had been to the bar for a couple of drinks, they sat back and relaxed; Daniel reading and Jack soaking up the sun’s rays. Later that morning they dived in the pool to cool off, spending a long time swimming, splashing around and having fun.

When they went back to the sunbeds, Jack sighed. “This is great. Why haven’t we done it before?” he asked as he dried himself off with a towel.

“What? Swimming?” Daniel retorted.

 “No, this,” Jack said as he waved an arm to envelope the surroundings, “a vacation, having fun, relaxing.”

“No time, I guess. But now you’re retired, perhaps we could do it again?” Daniel suggested tentatively.

“Yeah, sure,” Jack said, smiling.

“Hey, how about getting changed and going out for some lunch?” suggested Daniel.

“Sounds great. I’m hungry. Got somewhere in mind?”

“You’re always hungry, but, yes, The Upper Barrakka Gardens.”

“The what?”

“It’s just down the road and it’s the highest point in Valletta, overlooking Grand Harbor.”

“Sweet. Let’s go.”

They went to their rooms, showered and changed back into their shorts and met outside Daniel’s room. A young Maltese girl was in the corridor with a trolley loaded with sheets, towels, etc.

“Maria, kif inti?” Daniel greeted her.

“Tajba, grazzi. Ou int?” the young girl replied

“Tajjeb, grazzi, Maria,” Daniel said as the two men walked away down the corridor.

“What did you say, Daniel?” Jack queried.

“I asked her how she was, she said she was fine and asked me the same question and I told her I was fine,” replied Daniel.

“Mmm, you always are, aren’t you? Fine, I mean,” Jack teased. “You’ll have to teach me, so I can talk to her.”

“No need. She speaks better English than both of us,” Daniel chuckled.

“So why…? Oh, I get it. Once a Doctor of Languages, always a Doctor of Languages,” Jack laughed as they left the hotel and headed into the city.

The garden, once used by the Knights of St. John, was given to the city by an eighteenth century knight and was open to the public. Surrounded by arches and pillars, Jack and Daniel had a spectacular view over Grand Harbor and the neighboring cities of Senglea and Vittoriosa, as well as the large shipyard. The immaculately tended gardens surrounded a large pond and fountain and there were many statues leading into and around the gardens.

After wandering around and admiring the view for a while the inevitable question came.

“So, Daniel. Lunch?”

“Okay,” Daniel chuckled. “There’s a kiosk over here that apparently makes very tasty homemade sandwiches.”

They walked over to one of the tables and sat down.

“Okay, we’re going Maltese today, Jack. You sit there and I’ll order.”

Daniel went to the kiosk and placed the order and then came and sat down at the table. “They’ll bring it over when it’s ready.”

A few minutes later a man put two plates on the table and two cans of beer. When he’d gone, Jack looked at the very large crusty sandwich on his plate. “What is it?”

“Ħobż biż-żejt.”

“Hobs beezay? What’s in it?

“It’s Maltese bread rubbed with tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and filled with tuna, olives, capers, bigilla and ġbejna. And, before you ask, bigilla is tic beans mashed with olive oil and seasoning and Ġbejna is goat’s cheese.”

“Ewww.”

“Try it, you’ll like it.”

“Oka-ay. What’s Cisk?”

“It’s pronounced Chisk and it’s Maltese beer.”

“Beer, eh? We’ll see.”

Jack took a large bite from his sandwich and after chewing for a while, agreed that it was very tasty. He also admitted he enjoyed the beer.

When they’d finished their lunch, Daniel showed Jack the Lascaris War Rooms; a tunnel complex that ran beneath the Upper Barrakka Gardens and was used during World War Two for communications and radar tracking facilities for plotting enemy aircraft. Then they continued down Republic Street to The Malta Experience. Here, a sensational vision and a gripping commentary brought 7000 years of island history to life, in a purpose-built auditorium with a panoramic 32 foot screen.

Both men were amazed at how much had happened to this small island throughout the ages and they discussed it as they walked back up the hill towards the hotel.

Daniel suddenly stopped at a pastizzeria, dived inside the door and came out with a bag containing two pastries, which he called pastizzi. They were diamond shaped and made of filo pastry. One was filled with ricotta cheese and the other with mushy peas. He broke them in half so they could each taste both types. Needless to say, Jack really enjoyed them as well, which didn’t surprise Daniel, since he’d already learned there wasn’t much in the food line that Jack didn’t like, apart from yoghourt.

They went back to the hotel, showered, changed, ate dinner and then walked back into Valletta, trying out one bar after another.

As usual, Daniel had a little too much beer and got a bit tipsy and Jack had to help him back to the hotel.

***

The next few days passed in a similar way.

During the days they went out to various places of interest including Ta’ Qali Crafts Village which, during World War Two used to be an important airfield, but today many of the military huts and buildings had been converted into workshops where Maltese craftsmen produced their handiwork, and Ta' Qali Crafts Village had become an important tourist attraction.

Also at Ta’ Qali was the Malta Aviation museum where one could find different types of aircraft related to Maltese aviation history. Before being converted to a recreational park the airstrip was used in the first car races ever held by the Maltese. Nowadays the Sport Muturi had its off-road tracks where the annual motorsport championship was held.

They also visited Għar Dalam Caves and Museum. Għar Dalam (meaning "Cave of Darkness") was a prehistorical cul-de-sac located on the outskirts of Birżebbuġa. It contained the bone remains of animals that were stranded and subsequently became extinct on Malta at the end of the Ice age.

The cave was some 144 meters deep, but only the first fifty meters were accessible to visitors. The museum, which exhibited a remarkable wealth of finds from animal bones to human artifacts, was the entrance to the whole area.

While they were traveling in that direction they called in at The Blue Grotto which was actually a number of sea caverns on the southern coast of Malta, west of the Wied iz-Żurrieq harbor near the village of Żurrieq.

They parked the jeep and walked down the long slipway, joining the queue of people waiting to be taken out in the fleet of little motor boats. They climbed into their boat and a very jovial Maltese man explained where they were going and what they would see.

Due to the location of the caverns combined with the sunlight, the water mirrored the brilliant phosphorescent colors of the underwater flora and reflected different shades of blue, from almost clear, through turquoise to a darker blue; other deeper caverns displayed a deep, dark shade of blue.

Jack and Daniel laughed at the constant flow of information from their guide; trailing their hands in the water and, like their surroundings, seeing their fingers turn different shades of blue.

After leaving the boat, they wandered up on to the cliff top, stopping at a small café for a drink and enjoying the view.

On another day, they drove to Ċirkewwa and caught the ferry to the neighboring island of Gozo. First they visited The Inland Sea; a lagoon of seawater linked to the Mediterranean Sea through an opening formed by a narrow natural arch. Daniel explained to Jack how it was probably formed where a geological fault in the limestone had created a sea cave and the roof then collapsed.

On one side there was a gently shelving stony beach with several fishermen huts. The boats were pulled up on to the stony beach. The bottom of the lagoon consisted of pebbles and rocks and was fairly shallow. A tunnel of rock formed the exit to the open sea and the floor dropped away in a series of shelves to a depth of up to 35 meters on the outside.

Nearby, the Azure Window was a natural arch featuring a table-like rock over the sea. To see it clearly, Jack and Daniel had to carefully make their way across a large expanse of rocks. In between the rocks were fissures and rock pools. From the edge of the cliff they could watch the waves crashing into the arch and spraying water high into the air.

From there the two men visited the Ġgantija Temples, a megalithic temple complex. The Ġgantija temples were the earliest of a series of megalithic temples in Malta. Their makers erected the two temples during the Neolithic Age (c. 3600-2500 BC), which made these temples more than 5500 years old and some of the world's oldest man-made religious structures.

The temples were possibly the site of a Fertility cult; archeologists believed that the numerous figurines and statues found on site were connected with that cult. According to local Gozitan folklore, a giantess built these temples and used them as places of worship.

During the evenings, Jack and Daniel either visited different bars nearby or stayed at the hotel to watch the entertainment they put on for their guests, although after that first evening Daniel didn’t drink quite so much.

They were both enjoying their vacation, making like tourists and seeing all the sights; now much more relaxed in each other’s company.

While travelling around they’d chanced across a very secluded beach, so one day they packed some food and drink and spent the day there.

They swam and played in the warm Mediterranean Sea, trying to put all their troubles behind them and kick start their close friendship all over again.

Jack even put his inhibitions aside and sunbathed in the nude; something that surprised Daniel, although he was careful not to let it show.

On Saturday they breakfasted early so they could set out for Luqa and the Air Show. Jack was looking forward to seeing the aircraft and the flying displays. The participants were coming from Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Libya, Poland, United Kingdom and United States, as well as the aircraft from Malta.

When they arrived Jack made a beeline for the aircraft from the United States; an SH-60 Seahawk and a P-3 Orion from the US Navy, among others.

 

But the one he really wanted to see was a C-130J Hercules owned by the US Air Force.

 

Naturally, Jack had to introduce himself to all the guys standing guard over their aircraft and both he and Daniel spent at least an hour talking to them and being shown around the planes.

 

They walked around all the other static aircraft, stands and stalls before getting some sandwiches and drinks for lunch, and then they sat on the grass and watched the flying display. Most of them were single aircraft, but Switzerland, Italy and the United Kingdom had sent their Air Force Flying display teams and their slick, controlled flying delighted the crowd.

Once the show was over Jack and Daniel said goodbye to the Americans and drove back to the hotel. It was too early for dinner so they sat on Daniel’s balcony drinking coffee and discussing the events of, not only that day, but also the previous days.

Jack had really enjoyed himself at the Air Show and was in a very buoyant mood so, before he went back to his room to get changed for dinner he had a question for Daniel. “Daniel, I’ve been thinking. D’you wanna go back to the bar to see your friends tonight?”

“No-o, I’d rather stay with you,” Daniel stated. He’d got used to spending the evenings with Jack now.

“I was gonna come with you,” Jack offered, raising his eyebrows, waiting for the reaction.

“You were?” Daniel said incredulously, his eyes widening with surprise.

“Yeah. It’s a friendly place and they’re not all gay, y’know?”

“I know, but…”

“That’s settled then. See you at 19:30 for dinner.” With that, Jack swept out of the door and left Daniel standing with his mouth open.

Daniel closed his mouth, shook his head slowly and took the mugs to the bathroom to rinse them. Jack had offered to take him back to the gay bar. Yes, he knew they weren’t all gay, but even so, he was shocked that Jack would suggest it. He had thought he would have to return there on his own.

Jack knocked on Daniel’s door just before 19:30, wondering if he would be dressed in his white jeans again. He wasn’t. He was wearing pale blue jeans, just as tight as the white ones but this time he’d teamed them up with a blue tank top, just the right shade to match his eyes.

Jack could only stare, but it was Daniel who had the shock this time. Jack was wearing black jeans that were nearly as tight as Daniel’s and a silver gray tank top. The only difference was the absence of the jewelry.

“Er… wow!” Daniel gasped as he looked Jack up and down. “What have you done?”

“Well, I thought if you can’t beat ‘em, you can sure as hell join ’em.” Jack grinned.

“Fuck. You look… er… fantastic, Jack. It really suits you. You’d better watch out though, or you could get pulled,” Daniel said jokily.

“Hah! Very funny. I think I can take care of myself.”

“Jeez, I fucking hope so. Do you know what you’re doing to me?”

“Ha! As if you’d be attracted to an old, saggy, ex general like me,” Jack laughed.

“Yeah,” Daniel said quietly, “as if.”

Daniel had learned through the years how to control his arousal when he was around Jack; even in the showers at the SGC, but this was something else. He’d never seen him looking like this before. He would have to use every ounce of self-control he had this evening. In fact, he was having to use it now and ushered Jack out of the room before his control snapped and he threw him on the bed and ripped the clothes off him.

Jack must have noticed something, because several times during dinner he asked Daniel if he was okay. Daniel said he was fine, but inside he still hadn’t got over the shock. After dinner Jack asked Daniel if they were going to have coffee in his room, but Daniel declined saying the bar opened at half past eight so they should probably make their way there. The truth was that Daniel didn’t trust himself at the moment to be alone with Jack looking like sex on legs.

They met Daniel’s friends at the bar and sat talking and enjoying a drink. Jack found to his surprise that they were really friendly people and he got on well with them. They were joined by others who hadn’t been there previously and they all enjoyed the evening. There was a lot of talking, a lot of laughing and a lot of drinking.

Jack watched as Daniel danced with Luca a few times and then Matteo led Daniel onto the dance floor.

“Daniel, I don’t want to be rude, but are you sure Jack is straight?” asked Matteo, as they swayed to the music.

“Oh yeah, he’s straight,” Daniel chuckled. “Why?”

“Such a shame. You and he are good together. You know what I mean?” Matteo said sadly.

“Yes, I know what you mean, Matteo. We are good together, but not in that way. We’re just very good friends,” explained Daniel.

“You watch each other, like you want more,” Matteo said.

“I would like more, Matteo, but Jack doesn’t. I have to live with that and accept it.”

“Such a shame, such a shame,” Matteo muttered.

About 11:45 the bartender announced that the upstairs bar always closed at midnight on this particular night, so if they wanted to stay later they would have to go downstairs to the other bar which would stay open until 3am. Jack and Daniel, like some of the others decided against going to the noisier bar, opting to go back to the hotel when the bar closed.

After the bartender made his announcement, he promised to play 3 slow tracks before they closed and Luca and Matteo got up to dance with each other, as did most of the others.

Daniel sipped his wine, watching them wistfully, until he heard Jack whisper in his ear. “You wanna dance, Daniel?”

“Who with?” Daniel asked surprised.

“Me, of course. I can do that slow stuff, yanno.”

“You c-c-can, y-y-you will?” Daniel stuttered.

“Yeah, sure. C’mon.”

Daniel opened his mouth to ask the next obvious question; why would Jack want to dance with him? But he swallowed the words, just went with the flow and pushed all the doubts and confusion aside. This was a one-time offer and he'd be stupid not to take it.

Daniel noticed Luca and Matteo’s eyebrows raise as they watched the men walk to the dance floor and take their positions, hands on each other’s hips. Daniel just shrugged his shoulders at them.

Jack began to sway to the music like the others were doing, but Daniel felt the hands on his hips like red hot irons, burning through his jeans and skin. Daniel needed a diversion; something to take his mind off what they were doing, so he concentrated on the songs that were playing. Luckily they were songs he knew, so he closed his eyes, softly mouthing the words and trying to block out the man swaying in front of him.

Jack watched Daniel. He hadn’t realized that Daniel could get lost in a song like this. He seemed to have totally zoned out, but his fingers were gripping Jack’s hips so tightly; it was as if he didn’t want to let go. Jack knew the songs that were playing; not the words, but he had heard them on the radio. He wasn’t really a lover of modern music but slow, tender ballads were okay.

Two songs had played and the third one started. This one Jack had heard many times on the radio while he’d been working at the cabin; even knew some of the lyrics. He chuckled to himself; amazed that he knew the words. He even knew who the singer was – Adele. One name; easy to remember

Daniel was still mouthing the words, but suddenly, half way through the song, his eyes sprang open and he stared at Jack.

I'd go hungry, I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love

Jack smiled, but Daniel didn’t seem to see it. His bright eyes were glazed over as he was still softly singing.

The storms are raging on the rolling sea
And on the highway of regret
Though winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain't seen nothing like me yet.

Jack looked deep into Daniel’s eyes; eyes that were now misty and faraway, eyes that were full of longing and love. Was Daniel thinking of the love that could have been; the man who didn’t reciprocate his love?

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn't do
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
To make you feel my love

As the last verse was playing, Jack suddenly noticed something else. Daniel’s eyes were searching his; delving down into the depths of his mind, asking a question...

A question, Jack realized, directed only at him and no one else.

Jack froze as his throat went dry.

The shoe finally dropped.

“Fuck,” he croaked as he continued to gaze into Daniel’s face. He wanted to back off, to get distance between them, but his hands seemed glued to Daniel's body, his eyes fixed to Daniel's and they both seemed to be caught in the song, moving still. What the hell had possessed him to ask Daniel to dance in the first place? Here? In a gay bar ... no, what the hell had possessed him to ask Daniel for a dance - period?

Daniel knew he had given himself away as soon as he heard Jack’s expletive. He hadn’t been able to help it. He’d tried to keep his eyes tightly shut, but the closeness of Jack’s body, the hands burning his skin, the beautiful words of the song ... all that overwhelmed him and he had to open them. Then, as he probed Jack’s mind for the answer to his silent question, came the love and the longing; the longing for Jack to wrap his arms around him and kiss him, like some of the other dancers were doing.

“Fuck,” Daniel echoed Jack, but he didn’t turn his eyes away from Jack’s gaze.

The music stopped and everyone milled around them to say goodbye, so Jack didn’t have a chance to say anything; not that he knew what to say anyway. He was still in a kind of daze from the music, from Daniel's eyes ... and from what he’d seen in them.

Daniel didn’t know what to say to Jack; he would have to let him make the first move now, but he knew he had probably fucked things up again.

They walked back to the hotel in silence.

They went to Daniel’s room as usual and Daniel walked over to the coffee machine.

“Coffee?” he asked halfheartedly.

“No,” Jack snapped.

“Ja-ack?”

“How long?” Jack asked quietly.

“W-what?”

“How long have you felt like that, Daniel?”

Daniel turned to look at him, but Jack had his head down, so Daniel couldn’t see his face.

“Since I first met you,” Daniel whispered.

“WHAT?” Jack’s head shot up and he glared at Daniel.

“Since the first day I met you at the SGC. I fell in love with you then,” Daniel said softly.

“No! No, don’t you lie to me.” Jack’s voice was sharp. “What about Sha’re?”

“I’m not lying. Sit down and I’ll try to explain. Please?”

Jack sat in the chair and waited.

“Jack, as soon as I met you I knew I was in love with you, but I couldn’t say or do anything about it. You were so fucked up at that time. You’d just lost Charlie and you were on a suicide mission. You were ready to push the self-destruct, so I couldn’t add to your problems. Then on Abydos I met Sha’re. You had to go back, Jack, but I had to stay. Abydos was an archaeologist’s dream. I couldn’t leave. Even if I had, nothing would have been any different; we couldn’t have been together. I knew that. I loved Sha're, too. She was a very special woman and far more than a gift to me. You were gone and I had no reason to believe you'd be back so I started over. But when you returned a year later I knew I wasn't ... over you.  I still felt too much for you to ignore it. When Sha're and Ska’ara were taken I had to try and get them back. They were my family. Losing them was a high price to pay for having you back in my life, Jack, but there was always a part in me who was glad you returned. I knew I couldn't have what I wanted even on the off chance you'd feel the same. So I settled for friendship.”

“Aw, c’mon Daniel, what about Ke’ra and Shyla?” Jack was sounding really annoyed now. “What about them? You say you loved me but you still went with them.”

“What do you expect me to do? I know you're straight. Or at least until tonight I was pretty sure about it. Yes, I was in love with you. Yes, I still am. I happened to like Ke'ra. She wanted me, I went with her. It was my choice. And you know I was sarc drugged when I went with Shyla so I wasn't exactly myself. But even if I went with her because I wanted to – you have no right to hold any of that against me. You weren't available. You aren’t available, for all I know.”

“Daniel! Stop fucking babbling. I can’t believe this. All this time? All these years? Does anyone else know? Why the fuck didn’t you tell me before?” Jack propped his elbows on his thighs and buried his face in his hands. “Why didn’t I see it?” he groaned.

“To answer your questions, no-one else knows and I couldn’t tell you before. DADT, remember? Anyway, I believed it would compromise our friendship and the team. As for the last question, Jack, only you can answer that, although I have tried hard all these years to keep it from you. Did a good job, too, I guess.”

Daniel sighed. He didn’t know what else he could say. Nothing he said could change the fact that Jack had finally been hit by the clue-bus. All Daniel needed to know was what Jack was going to do with that information. Could they still be friends or was that over for good this time?

Jack sighed, too, and looked up.

“I can’t take this in, Daniel. It’s too much; I need to think. I’m going to my room and we’ll talk in the morning when we’ve both had time to think.” Jack said wearily as he stood and walked to the door.

“I didn't mean you to find out like this. I'm sorry about that. I left because I was sick and tired of waiting. Of hoping for something that would never happen. Because I know you are straight. You never indicated you might feel the same and when I was finally trying to tell you, you... you know.”

“Yes, I am fucking straight,” Jack snapped as he opened the door.

“Then why did you ask me to dance?” The question was said in a low voice, but it thundered in Jack's ears as he froze in the open doorway.

He needed to get out of here. Now. “I can’t be what you want, I can’t do this -  I just… just… can’t.”

Jack left the room, closing the door, leaving Daniel frozen - staring at the spot where Jack had been standing. He clenched his fists tightly, resisting the urge to follow Jack and punch him for just walking out of him like that. Or to slam him against the wall and kiss him. To make him see. To make him really see. Jack had danced with him. Why? Jack O'Neill didn't just ask his very male archaeologist to dance with him and then tell him he was fucking straight. It was ridiculous. And very confusing.

Angry, but also emotionally exhausted Daniel put the coffee machine on, showered and sat on the bed naked, sipping coffee and preparing himself for the long night ahead.

He knew he wouldn’t sleep; too many thoughts and memories crowding his mind. He tried reading for a while, but he couldn’t concentrate. So he gave in to thinking about what might have been. But he always ended up mulling over the recent events. I can’t be what you want, I can’t do this. Jack couldn’t have said it any more clearly than that. He hoped Jack would still want to remain friends.

And again… why did he ask Daniel to dance? It made no sense.

Daniel couldn’t do anything now. His love; his feelings for Jack were out there. It was up to Jack. Jack would have to decide their future. He still wouldn’t be able to sleep, but, at least, it wasn’t up to him to find a solution.

***

Jack slammed his door and stood just inside, trying to sort out the thoughts buzzing around his head. They’d had such an enjoyable day and evening, but in one unguarded moment from Daniel, Jack’s whole world seemed to have come crashing down around him. Jack berated himself for being so dramatic. No, his world hadn’t ended; it had just received one hell of a jolt, but he was sure that if he could make some sense of it, he could work something out. He didn’t want to lose Daniel now; that had become obvious to him when he traveled half way around the world to find him. First though he had to reason things out.

And no, he didn't want to think about the fact that he had asked Daniel for a dance. In a gay bar.

Jack showered and lay on the bed, trying to think logically. He loved Daniel; always had, but in the same way as he loved Carter and Teal’c, the same way he had loved Janet and George Hammond. Yes, he had always loved Daniel more than the others, but love in the true sense of the word? No, they just had a very special relationship. As friends.

They confided in each other; something neither of them had done with the rest of the team, although Jack was beginning to realize there were some things that had been kept back.

He thought long and hard about that. Yeah, some things, too difficult to discuss had been held back – on both sides. Jack threw his arms over his eyes as he remembered the secret that was hidden deep inside him; a secret that he’d never confided to anyone, not even Sara. How could he condemn Daniel for keeping one when he was just as guilty?

Jack groaned at the thought of bringing that particular memory to the forefront of his mind. Was now the time to discuss it with Daniel; bring it out into the open? Possibly. But, could he? Possibly not. He would have to consider that fully before he could come to a decision. Jack rolled off the bed and made some coffee. He knew he wouldn’t sleep any time soon, so coffee would help him through the night.

Sipping his coffee, Jack stared out his window without seeing anything. How the hell had he ended up in this mess? How the hell could he not have noticed Daniel being in love with him?

Or had he? Had he known, deep down, that Daniel meant him when they first talked about it? Had that been the real reason he'd pushed his friend away, shut him out? Because listening to him would have meant Jack would have to come out of his comfort zone and wake up some sleeping dogs?

Maybe it was time to come clean with some things. He'd never thought of Daniel as a lover, had never checked him out in the showers and never used him as a jerk off fantasy ... yet, he'd always felt special about Daniel from the get go.

Yes, because they were friends. Good friends. Most of the time.

But was that really all there was to it? Jack wouldn't have traveled half around the globe to go after Carter; that was for sure. He'd miss her, yes. He'd try to reach her over the phone, make sure she was okay. But getting onto a plane and following her... no. It was different between him and Daniel. Always had been.

Maybe he'd just never allowed himself to go there. And why would he? There had never been sparkage between them. Or maybe there was and he just never looked hard enough? Never really wanted to see it?

Until tonight ...

Jeez, why did he have to ask Daniel if he wanted to go to that frigging bar again? Why did he have to ask Daniel to dance, of all things?  It was as though Jack had been asking to be run over by the clue bus or something.

But it had happened. It had been a great few days, they were relaxed and Jack had felt ... adventurous? In the mood to do something dumb? Whatever it had been ... it happened and now things were all screwed up between them again.

Jack knew it would be useless now to go back and pretend nothing had changed. Everything had changed. He had never really thought about how exactly he felt for Daniel. Maybe it was time to change that. Time to allow himself to go there; figure it out.

Much later, as daylight crept into the room around the edges of the drapes, Jack checked his watch to see that it was 6am. He’d done so much thinking overnight that his head ached, so he swallowed some pills and went in the bathroom for a shower. He stood under the shower; the strong spray beating down on his neck and shoulders as he thought about Daniel. He ran his soapy hands over his body, wondering how a man like Daniel could be in love with a man like Jack. He was old, silver-haired and a bit saggy now, although he had been working out a bit since he’d had his knees fixed while he’d been in Washington.

Without thinking, Jack took hold of his shaft, feeling the velvety softness of the skin under his fingers. It felt so good as his hand slid up and down, using the soap as lubricant. Cupping his sac with the other hand, he gently squeezed and rolled his balls between his finger and thumb. He closed his eyes and the usual mental images of Mary Steenburgen were replaced by images of Daniel. Daniel in those tight jeans; his hips swaying under Jack’s hands when they danced.

Jack opened his eyes in shock at first, but then he smiled, closed his eyes again and gave in to his fantasies. He stroked the length of his cock, massaging the slit with his thumb. As the water poured down, his breathing increased and he moaned as he pumped his cock harder and faster. He had to let go of his sac, so he could hold on to the wall of the shower; his legs were shaking so much. Then his whole body shook with pleasure as his sac tightened and he came, gasping Daniel’s name.

Jack hadn’t come that hard for years. His whole body was shuddering with aftershocks and his legs felt so weak, he sank down onto the floor of the shower until his body had calmed.

So much for figuring out how he felt about Daniel. It was all out there now. Jack wiped a hand over his wet face and took a deep breath. He'd broken free of some self-imposed boundaries in just a couple of hours. Never say old dogs couldn't learn new tricks.

When he’d finally managed to finish his shower and get dressed, he made coffee, opened the drapes and slid the glass door open quietly so he could sit on the balcony. A movement on the next balcony made him stop in the doorway.

Daniel.

Jack stood watching Daniel. He could only see him in profile, as he stared out across the harbor but he could see that Daniel looked tired. There were dark rings under his eyes and his face was paler than usual, despite the tan. He looked miserable and Jack’s heart went out to his friend and he knew he couldn’t wait any longer to try and make things right.

“Daniel?” Jack said quietly as he stepped out on to the balcony.

Daniel stared intently ahead as if in a dream world.

“Daniel?” Jack said again, a bit louder this time.

“Wha?” Daniel looked startled as he turned towards Jack. “Oh, Jack, sorry. I was miles away.”

“Yeah, I got that.  D’you wanna get breakfast?”

“I don’t think I can eat, Jack.”

Jack grinned. “C'mon, I'm hungry. Can't have meaning of life discussions on an empty stomach. Especially not with you.”

“You're not leaving?” Daniel eyed him wearily.

“No, Daniel, I'm not leaving.”

Daniel’s face brightened a little and at Jack’s nod, he said, “Yeah, okay, I think I could eat something. By the way, you look like shit.”

“Hey! Try looking in the mirror, will ya’? You don’t look so peachy yourself.”

Not surprising really. Daniel had spent the whole night reading, trying to rest or drinking coffee. He’d given up at 5:30 and taken a shower, hoping to jerk off for a bit of stress relief. Unfortunately, he was too stressed to even do that, so he’d dressed and taken yet another coffee out on to the balcony to await Jack’s call.

Jack went back inside, rinsed his mug, slipped his shoes on and went outside.

Maria was just wheeling her trolley down the corridor as Jack came out of his room. She waved and received a wan smile in reply. She thought he looked dreadful, but perhaps, like a lot of other tourists, he’d been out all night. She watched as he walked to Daniel’s door and knocked. When Daniel came out she could see that he didn’t look so good either. She chuckled inwardly thinking that perhaps they’d both been hitting the bars all night. She didn’t get the usual pleasantries from Daniel in her native tongue. Instead he’d just remarked on the fact that she was early and she’d explained that because of the new guests coming in she had a lot more rooms to clean so she had to start earlier. She then used her master key to open Daniel’s door and disappeared into the room.

The two men went to the restaurant for breakfast. Jack remarked that at least after breakfast they could return to the room to talk without being interrupted.

After they’d eaten breakfast, Jack and Daniel went back upstairs. Maria’s trolley was way down the corridor, so they knew both their rooms had been cleaned. They went to Jack’s room and he switched the coffee machine on. They were probably going to need some before their talk was over.

Daniel walked across the room and stood looking through the glass doors while Jack fixed the coffee. When it was ready, he put the two mugs on the small table in the room, then stood by the chairs, waiting for Daniel to come and sit.

After a while, Jack realized Daniel was waiting for him to talk, so he took a deep breath and started.

“Look, when I said I couldn't deal with this, I... I couldn't.” He waited for Daniel to say something, anything, but Daniel had apparently decided not to make this easy for him. Jack fixed his gaze on the coffee mugs. “I thought about it. A lot. And... I guess... we could give it a go. If that's what you want, I can do it.”

“Huh,” Daniel huffed without turning around, “Of course you can, Jack. You’ve turned gay overnight? I don’t think so and I really don’t appreciate you jerking me around like that either.”

“I'm not jerking you around,” Jack snapped.

“Oh, you’re not? You come after me, all the way to Malta, you fucking dance with me in a gay bar, then you tell me you're straight and now you want to 'give it a go'?” His voice was like a piercing blade, his back rigid with suppressed anger.

“Daniel. Please?” Jack whispered.

Daniel whirled around and faced Jack, yelling, “Stop messing with my head and work out what you want. Because these are my feelings you're playing with and I'm tired of having to try and figure you out…” He stopped as he noticed Jack’s stony, set face. “Fuck! You’re serious.”

Jack just nodded.

“NO! Nonononono!” Daniel repeated over and over as he turned away again, scrubbing his hands through his hair. “No, Jack. I won’t let you. You’re not doing that for me. What? You honestly thought I’d agree to that?” Daniel started pacing around the room. “I can’t believe it. You’re straight. You said so yourself last night. Jack, you can't agree to a relationship just because you want to do me a favor! That's not how this works.”

“Aw, for crying out loud, Daniel, I’m not trying to do you a favor. I should’ve known you wouldn’t accept it.” Jack sighed loudly. He had to go the whole nine yards and spill it. Crap. “Oka-ay, sit down please. There's something else you really need to know,” he said quietly, as he sat in one of the chairs and gulped a mouthful of hot coffee. He didn’t notice that it was hot; he didn’t even taste it.

“Oh god,” exclaimed Daniel shaking his head. “I don't want to hear this, do I?”

“Daniel.” Jack spoke sharply. Then, “DANIEL! SIT DOWN! … please?”

Daniel jumped at Jack’s tone, but walked across the room and sat in the chair opposite him.

“That’s better,” said Jack. “So, will you listen to me? This isn’t exactly easy for me, yanno?”

“Okay, go ahead but it won’t change my mind,” Daniel said as he picked up his mug of coffee.

“Maybe not, but I need you to know,” Jack said quietly. He swallowed another mouthful of coffee, and then, after taking a deep breath, began his story.

“Back in my academy days, must've been a hundred years or so ago...” He grinned at Daniel's eye roll. “There was a gang of guys I used to hang out with. We did some of that buddy stuff, yanno ... drinking beer, letting off steam after we'd all been put through the wringer in training.” He shrugged. “Jerked each other off sometimes. Didn't mean anything. Most of us had girlfriends waiting at home, but, sometimes the longing gets a bit ... tough and your right hand doesn't always do the trick, if you know what I mean.” He peered at Daniel, who sat there watching him, a curious look in his eyes.

Giving himself a mental thump over the head, Jack forced himself to go on. “Turned into a stupid game. Some of the guys started blowing each other.” Crap, he wished he had a beer. He felt like having a drink. This was so not a morning topic to talk about. “I joined in a couple of times. Received, but never gave.”

Jack drank some more coffee and looked at Daniel, who was sipping his drink, still watching Jack silently.

“Just before summer vacation, we all got a bit drunk and the guys, realizing I hadn’t sucked any of them, started goading me. Told them to fuck off and leave me alone, but I was more than a bit drunk, too. So I gave in, thinking I'd get it over with. What the hell, maybe I was curious, too. Thought if I didn't take it deep and didn’t swallow, I’d be okay. Had no clue what I was doing, but I’d watched the others before. Must've done something right because the other guy came within a minute and...” Jack took another deep breath, before adding, “I swallowed it.”

Daniel's eyebrows rose over the rim of his glasses. “So? What happened then?”

“I told them I was disgusted, swore to myself I would never, ever do it again. Told them the next guy who asked would get my fist down his throat. They got the message and never goaded me again.”

Daniel stared at him, his eyes darkening with anger. “That's it? That's supposed to explain everything? So, you're disgusted by blowjobs. And how is that supposed to help? Oh, and by the way, I happen to like blowjobs. But sure, we won't have to do those. We can try other stuff and see how disgusted you'll be by that instead.” He stood and started walking towards the door.

“I'm not looking for a buddy fuck, Jack. And I'm not desperate enough that I need you to do things to me you don't like,” he spat out.

Jack had been taken aback by Daniel’s venomous outburst, but leaped out of his chair and caught up with Daniel just before he reached the door. He grabbed Daniel’s shoulder and spun him around to face him, and then he gripped his upper arms.

“Daniel,” he growled. “I'm not done, yet.”

“I think you’ve said enough, Jack. More than enough,” Daniel snarled as he tried to get away from Jack’s vice-like grip.

“Oh, for crying out loud, will you LISTEN to me!” Jack stared into Daniel’s face. “I told them I was disgusted with what I’d done, but I wasn’t.”

Daniel frowned. “What?”

“I… I wasn’t.” He braced himself for his next words because saying them out loud was a big deal. He had never even allowed himself to think these words. “I really liked it.”

“You... you did? So, why…?”

“I was straight, Daniel. I was going to get married and I was in the fucking military. I couldn't … I shouldn't have liked it. Hand jobs are one thing. Actually getting off on sucking another guy and swallowing his come is a hell of a difference. The smell… the taste… I had to go and jerk myself off afterwards. I’d never come that hard in my whole damn life. But I couldn't handle it. It was either admit it and flush my career and my life with Sara down the toilet or...”

“Go into denial,” Daniel concluded, understanding dawning in his eyes.

“Yeah. Scared the crap out of me.”

Jack stopped, realizing he was gripping Daniel’s arms so tightly, his fingers were probably leaving bruises. He relaxed his grip a little. Daniel was staring at him; his eyes wide and his mouth open. Jack watched and waited.

“So, why didn’t you just accept that you could be bi?” Daniel asked softly.

“How could I? We’re talking about the seventies, here. Might have been 'make love not war' time anywhere else, but not in the military. Couldn't come out. So I sucked it up, told them all what a hard, tough guy I was and…”

“Yeah, that figures,” Daniel interrupted with a grin, “you could always big yourself up, couldn’t you?”

“Whaddya mean…?” Noticing the grin on Daniel’s face, Jack continued, “Oh, yeah, I get it. I suppose I could… and did.”

“So, what now, Jack? What do you want to do?”

Jack shrugged. “I guess I thought we could… yanno… try?”

“And again... what's going to happen if we 'try' and you decide you don't like it? Won't go with it after all?” Daniel asked quietly.

“Not gonna happen,” Jack said equally as quiet.

“Why not?”

“Because.”

“Ja-ack, that's not making me feel any better,” Daniel snapped.

“Look, I did some hard thinking last night. No, strike that. You'd call it soul searching... and you know how much I hate doing that.” Jack thought about the shower he took, the way it had all burst out of him. “I want you. I know that much.”

Daniel was speechless. He didn’t know what to say or do. He knew Jack was waiting for a reaction, so he did the only thing he could think of.

He licked his dry lips, leaned in and kissed Jack on the mouth. It wasn’t hot or passionate and it didn’t last for more than 10 seconds, but it was a loving, tender kiss. He pulled back slightly to look into Jack’s eyes. They gazed at each other for what seemed like minutes, and then Jack let out the breath he’d been holding and whispered breathlessly, “Daniel.” One word. Just one word and Daniel shuddered. Jack had never spoken his name like that before. Everything Daniel wanted to hear was wrapped up in that one word.

Suddenly Jack’s hands framed Daniel's face, pulling him in for another kiss; the sheer force of it nearly knocking Daniel off his feet. Daniel placed his hands on Jack's shoulders steadying himself. Every movement of Jack’s lips was demanding and Daniel opened his mouth, giving Jack access until both their tongues were exploring each other’s mouths.

Daniel ran his hands through Jack’s hair; fingers pulling as he tried to melt into Jack's body. It felt as though he’d been doing this all his life. Jack’s hands were stroking Daniel’s shoulders and neck, occasionally trailing down Daniel’s arms.

Eventually, when both men were panting and breathless, Daniel pulled away.

“No,” moaned Jack, “More. Please.”

“Oh god,” gasped Daniel. “Bed. Now.”

They stumbled toward the bed; not wanting to release each other, but managing to toe off their shoes on the way. When they landed on the mattress, Daniel rolled Jack onto his back and lay on top, pinning Jack’s hands above his head on the pillow.

Daniel kissed Jack again; a deep and passionate kiss that had them both panting for air until Jack murmured, “Daniel. Don’t know. What to do. What. You. Want.”

“S’okay. Follow my lead,” Daniel breathed in Jack’s mouth as he claimed another kiss.

He let go of Jack’s hands and reached between their bodies, unfastening both their belts and unzipping their pants. Then he started tugging at Jack’s pants and boxers. Jack pushed up on his shoulders to allow Daniel to slide his clothes down to his knees, freeing his already hard cock. He felt Daniel pushing his own clothes down, gasping with surprise as their cocks pressed together when Daniel lowered himself on to Jack again.

“Are you okay?” Daniel asked a little breathlessly. “Am I going too fast?”

“Oh Jeez, no, don't stop,” Jack groaned huskily into Daniel’s mouth, as he felt Daniel’s lips spreading into a smile and his hands unbuttoning Jack’s shirt, pushing it open.

Breaking the kiss, Daniel's mouth moved to Jack’s neck, then his collarbone, working his way down to his chest. He closed his lips around one of Jack’s nipples, firmly enough to make him tremble. Daniel glanced up at Jack’s face. His lips were parted and his breath was coming in uneven gasps, but the look in his eyes was pure unadulterated lust. Daniel could hardly believe he was having this effect on his friend.

After a moment, Daniel worked his way down further, his lips and tongue exploring the grooves between Jack's abs and the contours of his waist and hips.

“Oh fuck,” Jack said, his voice shaking, suddenly realizing where Daniel was going.

Daniel stilled. “Jack?”

”Yesss... go on.”

When Daniel’s fingertips brushed over Jack’s cock, Jack gasped loudly, grabbing the headboard of the bed. Daniel steadied him with one hand and ran the tip of his tongue all the way up his cock, from base to tip, and then back again. Then he took him into his mouth, sliding up and down; taking a little more in each time.

Jack’s moans were getting louder and louder as Daniel continued to suck; swirling his tongue around the shaft and head. The more aroused Jack became, the more aroused Daniel was getting.

“Arghh, fuck,” Jack said quickly, “I’m gonna… ah fuck… I’m…”

Jack let go of the headboard and his fingers grasped Daniel’s hair, as his cock twitched in Daniel’s mouth. Jack's whole body tensed as he groaned, exhaled, shuddered and then his hot, salty come hit Daniel’s tongue. Daniel swallowed every bit, as he slowed and finally came to a stop.

He raised himself up on to his arms as he gazed down at Jack. His eyes were closed and he was still panting; his mouth open, but there was a look of serenity on his face that Daniel couldn’t remember seeing before.

“Jack?” he whispered huskily. “You okay?”

“Can’t move,” Jack croaked, then cleared his throat and continued. “Eyes won’t open. Yeah, I’m peachy.”

Daniel chuckled. “Wiped out?”

“Yeah, sort of. S’okay. Body’s coming back now.” Jack forced his eyes open to slits and gave Daniel a grin. “You are SO gonna have to do that again.”

“Later,” Daniel affirmed with a smile. “That’s a promise.”

“My turn,” Jack said swiftly as he tipped Daniel off and over on to his back. “Gotta get these clothes off first though.”

Jack pulled Daniel’s pants and briefs down his legs, over his feet and dropped them on the floor; followed by his own. As he shrugged himself out of his shirt, he noticed Daniel was doing the same until they were both naked.

Jack gently let himself down on top of Daniel, feeling the warmth of skin against skin. He propped himself up on his forearms and looked down into Daniel’s face. “Daniel, I can do what you just did, but I don’t know if…”

Daniel put his fingers on Jack’s lips to silence him. “It’s okay, Jack. We have all the time in the world so there’s no need to rush. We’ll just take it one step at a time and only move to the next step if you’re comfortable with it.”

“You sure?”

Daniel didn’t answer. He cupped his hands around Jack’s head and pulled him down for a deep, passionate kiss, giving him the answer he needed.

Then, as Daniel had done before, Jack trailed gentle, breathless kisses down Daniel’s body. Daniel jumped as Jack’s hot breath touched his cock; anxiously anticipating what was to come. As Jack’s lips closed around his cock, Daniel gripped the bed covers and groaned. Jack hadn’t taken it bit by bit like he had; he’d gone straight down to the root. Jack eased back and then started sucking, but then let it slide out of his mouth. Daniel waited; feeling the sudden coldness on his cock.

Jack pressed his face into Daniel’s silky pubic hair; rubbing his cheek in its softness and gazing in wonder at Daniel’s thick, swollen penis. “Oh, yes,” he whispered. ”I can SO do this.” He inhaled deeply, loving the musky scent that was Daniel and then he grasped the base of Daniel’s shaft in one hand and ran the flat of his tongue up its length, licking up the drops of pre-come that were leaking from the tip.

Licking his lips, he took Daniel’s cock into his mouth again. He sighed with pleasure as he swirled his tongue around the shaft as he slid up and down with his mouth. He could hear Daniel moaning as he flicked his tongue around the head of Daniel’s dick and probed the slit with the tip of his tongue.

Daniel’s moans were spurring Jack on. He used one hand to hold the base of Daniel’s penis, and grasped Daniel’s ass with the other hand, guiding him slightly on to his side. He stroked and caressed the velvet skin of Daniel’s ass cheek, letting his fingers trail down the crack until he felt the puckered opening under the pad of his index finger.

He stopped… sucking and moving.

He’d never touched anyone’s asshole before. He’d tried with Sara but she’d said she wasn’t into that so he’d never done it again. He hesitated now, not knowing what to do. Then he heard a groan from Daniel. “S-s-stroke,” he stuttered. Jack stroked, eliciting more pleasurable moans from Daniel. Okay, he thought, I can do this, too. Jack stroked and massaged the area with his finger, as he resumed sucking and licking Daniel’s cock.

***

When Jack had stopped moving Daniel feared he might be having second thoughts after all. Or was scared by his own courage. But then he realized Jack needed guidance... he'd never done this before. Already too close to the edge to explain anything, Daniel just told him, in a single word, what to do... and was rewarded by Jack complying.

After a few moments, Jack had continued sucking, too. Daniel was so close; he didn’t want to stop, even though he’d been holding back for a while. He knew he would have to come soon, but still tried to hold off. He was managing quite well too, until … ohmygod … until … Jack pushed the tip of his finger inside Daniel’s hole. That was it.

“Jack,” he croaked, I’m… a-a-ah… ohgod… Ja-aack.”

As his body arched up off the bed, pushing his cock further into Jack’s mouth, Daniel came. At that point his mind went totally blank and the next thing he knew was his body was still shuddering with aftershocks and his cock was no longer in Jack’s mouth. He licked his dry lips to moisten them as he tried to force his eyes open.

Jack was no longer touching him. What happened? Daniel's eyes flew open and he turned to see Jack lying next to him, on his back. He had flung one arm over his face and was lying motionless. Daniel reached out and touched his arm tentatively.

“Jack? What’s wrong?” he begged. “Oh shit! You didn’t like it after all, did you? Talk to me, please?”

After a moment of agonized silence Jack lowered his arm and looked at him; his brown eyes unusually bright and soft. He reached across and stroked the side of Daniel’s face. “Sorry. Just ... a bit overwhelmed, I guess. I loved it, Daniel.” He gave Daniel a wan smile.

Daniel breathed a sigh of relief, leaned into Jack to kiss him softly; each kiss interspersed with words. “Thank. God. For. That. You. Nearly. Scared. Me. To. Death.”

“No.” Jack breathed. “No. More. Dying.”

The two men lay there for some time kissing and exploring each other’s bodies, until Jack noticed Daniel’s eyes drooping.

“Hey, let's get some sleep, huh? I don’t think either of us slept last night,” Jack said.

“Good idea,” Daniel yawned.

“Er… Can we snuggle, or don’t you do that?” Jack asked.

Daniel chuckled. “I always knew you were sappy. Yes, I’d love to snuggle. With you.” Daniel replied.

“Sappy, eh? Jack chuckled back. “C’mere, I’ll give you sappy.”

Jack wrapped his arms around Daniel, pulling him in close, and then, with Daniel’s head resting on his chest, both men fell asleep.

***

Jack woke first, feeling warm and comfortable. When he looked down he could see that the unusual weight on his chest was Daniel’s head. Well, this was different. Different, but nice. Daniel’s arm was lying across Jack’s chest and one leg was hooked over Jack’s legs. Jack smiled as he remembered how they’d got in this position.

One of his arms; the one that was under Daniel’s body, was numb and he knew that as soon as Daniel moved, he was going to get pins and needles. He didn’t care though. This was Daniel; his best friend and now his lover. Well, not actually his lover in the proper sense of the word, but getting that way. Jack lifted his free arm from around Daniel and gently brushed the hair from Daniel’s forehead with his fingers.

As Jack looked into Daniel’s sleeping face, he hoped he could do what he knew Daniel needed. He was sure as hell going to try. After that fantastic blowjob he’d received, he knew he certainly wanted more of those.

So, who knew? Jack thought, as he fingered Daniel’s silky soft hair. Who knew he would end up in bed with his best friend? Who knew their long friendship would turn out this way? Who knew Jack was bi-sexual?

Jack stopped fingering Daniel’s hair as he realized the enormity of his last thought.

“Wha’ya’topfa’?” came the muffled, sleepy voice. Jack felt the lips moving in his chest hair.

“I’m bi,” Jack said excitedly.

“What?” Daniel’s head shot up and he stared in amazement at Jack.

“I’ve just realized, Daniel. I’m bi-sexual,” Jack repeated with an inane grin on his face.

“So you are,” Daniel stated sleepily as his head dropped back onto Jack’s chest.

“Dan-iel?” Jack whined, thinking Daniel had gone back to sleep.

“Ja-ack?” Daniel lifted his head and smiled up at him. “Well done. Admitting it is half the battle. I still don’t understand why you didn’t admit it before though.”

“Aw, c’mon Daniel, don’t tell me that at some time in your life you weren’t so shit-scared of something that you buried it really deep hoping it would never see the light of day?”

“I guess I have,” replied Daniel sadly.

Jack let that sink in. Daniel was obviously not going to say any more on the subject, so he changed tack.

“So, what now?” he asked excitedly.

“What now, what?” queried Daniel, looking up with a frown on his face.

“Us. You and me. Together, at last.”

“Almost,” said Daniel as he laid his head back on Jack’s chest, nibbling at one of his nipples.

“Jeez, Daniel,” Jack as he laid his hand on Daniel’s head to pull him in closer. “Why almost? Oh, you mean the sex… yeah…well, I know we haven’t… you know… done it.”

Jack wasn’t sure what to say. Should he say ‘make love’, or was that too sappy for two men? Should he say ‘fuck’, or was that too cold? He’d never been in this situation before. Never been with a man. Any girls or women he’d been with during his life would have preferred ‘make love’, but Daniel wasn’t a woman.

While Daniel’s mouth was sucking and licking one nipple, his fingers were tweaking the other one, making Jack’s body arch up off the bed.

Jack felt Daniel’s lips spread out in a cheeky grin.

“You don’t know what to say, do you?” Daniel said, “Or what to do?”

“No. No, I don’t. You know me, Daniel. Never much good with words, but I do know what two men do with each other; I’m not that clueless.” Jack had watched plenty of porn videos over the years, gay as well as het, so he knew what happened. “I just don’t know what you want me to do. What you like and don’t like… oh, god, don’t stop. Please don’t stop,” Jack groaned.

He moved his hand from Daniel’s head and started stroking his back, making lazy circles from his shoulders to his waist.

“I told you, Jack. If you’re not ready for any more, that’s fine with me. Say what you want to say. As for what I like; I guess I like most things. I’m not into some of the more extreme acts, but then, knowing you as well as I do, you wouldn’t go that far anyway. If you do something I don’t like, I’ll tell you, but you’ve got to promise you’ll do the same,” Daniel said as he looked up at Jack. “What do you want to do?”

Jack thought for a few moments, as he caught the expectant look on Daniel’s face. The blue eyes were clear and sparkling; the look of love was plain for anyone to see, making Jack’s already half hard dick twitch. He wondered why he hadn’t seen it before. All these years and he hadn’t known how Daniel really felt.

“Daniel.” Jack’s voice was low and husky; a voice he hadn’t heard from his own mouth since he’d first been with Sara. A voice thick with emotion.

He cleared his throat and tried again. “Daniel, I want to fuck you.” There! He’d said it.

“Okay. Have you got lube?”

Ever practical Daniel, Jack thought. “No. Never needed it.”

Daniel noticed a bottle on the nightstand. “Never mind, sunscreen will be okay for now.”

“Crap, I haven’t got condoms, either. You got any in your room?”

“Yes, I have, but do we need them? I mean, have you been with anyone since your last blood tests.”

“No.”

“I haven’t either, so we’re okay.”

“Oh.” Jack said, thinking again. “Er… you mean…?” Jack gazed into Daniel’s eyes and Daniel raised a hand to cup Jack’s face, stroking his cheek.

“I mean that if you want me to fuck you, I’m clean. Is that clear enough?”

“Yeah, that’s clear. I just didn’t think you’d… I mean…” Jack covered Daniel’s hand with his own.

“You didn’t think I’d top, did you? Well, I do both. If you want it, that is. You are going to have to learn to tell me though. I can’t second-guess you all the time.”

Jack grasped Daniel’s hand and brought it up to his mouth, kissing his palm.

Daniel rolled Jack onto his back, clasping both his hands and pressing them into the pillow either side of Jack’s head. He leaned down and took Jack’s lips in a passionate kiss and when he came up for air, whispered breathlessly, “However, I think the time for talking is over.”

“Mmm,” Jack agreed as he pulled Daniel in for another kiss. “How d’you want it?”

“On my back. I want to see your face; I want to see those deep brown eyes. I need to see that you’re okay with it.”

Jack rolled Daniel over and knelt on the bed between Daniel’s legs, pushing them apart with his knees. He pulled one of the pillows down and pushed it under Daniel’s hips to lift him slightly, then poured some of the sunscreen into his hands coating his fingers thoroughly. Daniel pulled his knees up so his feet were flat on the bed and Jack reached between his ass cheeks with his fingers. He gently stroked Daniel’s hole with one finger, circling and massaging, then with the pad he pressed until he gained entry. He gradually pushed further and further in until Daniel groaned, “More please, more.”

He pulled that finger out and replaced it with two and was surprised when Daniel almost immediately asked for more again. He used three fingers, sliding and twisting them in and out, opening and stretching until Daniel groaned, “Enough, enough fingers. I want you; I want your dick up there.”

“Jeez, Daniel, you’re eager, I haven’t even…” Jack was interrupted as he shuffled up closer to lift Daniel’s legs.

“Can’t wait”, Daniel blurted out. “Please?”

Jack looked at Daniel in astonishment. He didn’t think for one minute he would be as keen as this. Daniel was almost begging for it; well, he did say it had been a long time so better not keep the man waiting any longer. He pushed Daniel’s knees up until they were over his chest and Daniel grasped his thighs to keep them there. Jack poured out some more sunscreen and coated his cock, angled himself so that the head hovered over Daniel’s hole and pushed in gently. Daniel gasped as it eased past the muscle, so Jack stopped and waited until Daniel relaxed enough to let him continue, then he pushed in slowly and gradually until he was in as far as he could go.

“Oh Daniel. So tight and hot,” he panted. He noticed Daniel was breathing fast and his cock was fully erect. “Hurting?” he queried.

“No, oh no,” replied Daniel between breaths. “Move. Slowly.”

Jack angled his hips and started moving inside Daniel. It felt so good, so right, to be inside this man and he was going to savor every second. He knew he could hold back if he needed to and that was just what he decided to do; to keep going as long as he could.

Daniel was moaning now and asking for more.

“Are you s...? “

“Jack!”

He’d locked his feet around Jack’s back and was now lifting his hips to get into the same rhythm as Jack. Jack was pulling nearly all the way out and pushing back inside in slow, steady strokes, and was getting totally lost in the thrill of what he was doing, but after a while he noticed Daniel was trying to speed up. He looked down at Daniel’s face; his eyes were closed but, although breathing hard and sweating, he was glowing with a dreamlike expression Jack had never seen before. It was in that moment that he wondered why he’d never noticed what a beautiful man, in every sense of the word, Daniel was.

“Faster, Jack! Faster! Harder! Please!” Daniel pleaded.

Jack increased the speed and rocked in harder until he could feel the sweat trickling down his face, neck and shoulders. Jack could tell that Daniel was getting very close to an orgasm, so he took hold of his shaft. He’d only pumped it a couple of times when Daniel screamed his name and shot over Jack’s hand and onto his own belly and chest.

Jack paused until Daniel’s body had calmed down, then started moving again inside him. This time he lifted Daniel’s hips a little to change the angle, stroking the prostate with every thrust.

He thrust faster and harder until he felt the first spasms of the orgasm building up inside him, then put his head back, closed his eyes and let it flow. He felt the spurts of liquid going deep inside Daniel.

“Ah, Ahh, Danie-e-el,” Jack yelled as his body shuddered with the strength of the orgasm. When the waves of it finally pulled back he propped himself up on his arms to allow Daniel to lower his legs on to the bed, then he collapsed at Daniel’s side.

Jack was exhausted and it was several minutes before his breathing returned to normal. But he felt great!  Although he’d told Daniel he could do it, he wasn’t confident.  He knew he would give it a damn good try, even if he didn’t like it. He was so happy because he had really loved it; loved being inside the man he had thought of for so long as just a friend. Not just a friend any more. Now he was the man Jack hoped to spend the rest of his life with.

He opened his eyes, turning his head to look at Daniel, who still had his eyes closed. Daniel’s hair was wet and beads of sweat were trickling down the side of his face, dripping onto the pillow.

He seemed to be out like a light.

***

Daniel hadn’t felt like this in a long time – a very long time. He was actually in bed with Jack; the man he loved and who he had thought, until a few hours ago, was straight. Not now. Anyone who could do what Jack had just done and enjoy it certainly couldn’t be straight.

He kept his eyes closed as he felt Jack pull out and lay on the bed beside him. He felt warm and comfortable. Secure. It had been a long time since he’d felt like that. He wanted the feeling to last and he didn’t want to move.

He could feel his heart beating and hear the muffled sound of the traffic on the road, his own breathing and the breathing of the man lying beside him.

He felt Jack move and wipe his body with a cloth or something. He felt Jack remove the pillow, replacing it with something else, probably a shirt. He couldn’t quite believe that Jack had thought of that. He still didn’t open his eyes; he was way too relaxed.

The bed moved again and Jack’s fingers trailed gently down the side of his face and throat. Daniel opened his eyes, but Jack wasn’t looking at his face; his eyes were following the movement of his hand. He was caressing Daniel’s skin as though it was the first time Jack had ever touched anyone before.

Jack’s hand then made its way over Daniel’s pecs, continued over his abs, his belly, then out and over the curve of his hip. Caressing the skin on Daniel’s thigh, knee and calf, Jack’s eyes didn’t leave the course of his hand as it moved on to the other leg and worked his way back up Daniel’s body.

By the time Jack had reached his hip and belly, Daniel’s cock was fully hard again, but Jack ignored it to finish his journey.

Reaching his goal, Jack looked deep into Daniel’s eyes. “Why, Daniel? Why me? I’m no Adonis. You could have your pick of younger, fitter guys.”

“Perhaps, but I’m in love with you and you can’t choose who you fall in love with.”

Jack looked thoughtful for a moment before answering. “No, I guess not.”

“Jack? You okay?” Daniel asked, as he noticed the pensive look on Jack’s face.

“Yeah, sure. It’s just that I… I didn’t expect it to be so… er… hot… tight…”

“So, is that a good thing… for you, I mean?” Daniel asked tentatively, dreading a negative reply.

“Yeah, sure. It was unbelievable. Never knew anything could feel that good.”

Daniel breathed a sigh of relief as Jack caught his hand, taking it up to his lips and kissing each finger in turn.

“Long fingers. Want them inside me,” Jack murmured, looking expectantly at Daniel.

“I will, Jack, but not yet. We need some proper lube for your first time. The sunscreen isn’t really thick enough. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Aw, c’mon Daniel,” Jack pleaded. “You won’t.”

“No, I know I won’t because I’m not doing it until we get the lube, so you can stop giving me the puppy dog eyes.”

“Puppy dog…? I don’t do that!” Jack exploded.

“Yes. You do. Dark brown eyes that look like liquid chocolate. Just like a puppy.”

“Like this?” Jack spoke softly as he leaned in slowly. He heard Daniel’s breath hitch as he closed the gap between them, but just as their lips were about to meet, a very loud growl from his stomach echoed around the room. Jack saw Daniel’s belly twitching with suppressed laughter, then heard the chuckle and finally both men were laughing loudly.

Jack dropped his head onto the pillow next to Daniel. “Crap! Sorry,” he apologized.

“It’s okay. I’m hungry, too. Let’s get some lunch.” Daniel glanced over at his watch on the nightstand. “Hey, it’s nearly 3:30. No wonder we’re hungry.”

“Er… do we shower together?” Jack still wasn’t sure how to proceed.

“Depends.”

“On?”

“Whether you want to eat now or much later,” Daniel smiled.

“Why…?  Oh, I see. Tell you what. You go for a shower and I’ll make coffee.” Jack grinned back.

Daniel padded off to the bathroom, coming out a while later clean and dressed. Meanwhile Jack had made the coffee, leaving Daniel’s on the table and taking his into the bathroom with him. When he came out later, also dressed, the two men went out to the Upper Barrakka Gardens again for something to eat and drink.

Before returning to the hotel, Jack insisted on finding a drugstore to buy lube, even though Daniel had some in his room. Daniel also found a souvenir shop and bought a couple of small towels. When Jack raised his eyebrows, Daniel explained he didn’t want to ruin any more shirts.

As they opened the door to Jack’s room, they could hear the phone ringing. Jack went to answer it.

Daniel could only hear Jack’s side of the conversation.

“Hello... Oh hi, yeah, we just got back in.” Long silence, then, “Okay, I’ll tell him and call you back. What’s your number?”

Jack picked up the pad and pen from the nightstand and wrote something. “Yeah, got that. We’ll get back to you. Bye.”  When he’d hung up he addressed Daniel. “That was Matteo. Do we want to go on a cruise around the islands with them tomorrow, then back to their place for dinner?”

Daniel gave it some thought. He would like to go, but he didn’t want to push Jack into something he wasn’t yet comfortable with. “What do you think, Jack?”

“Yeah. Okay. Why not? They seem good guys.”

“Okay, if you’re sure. You know they’ll probably notice that we… that things have changed?”

“You mean now that we’re lovers?” There! Jack had said it. Lovers. He and Daniel were lovers in the true sense of the word.

“Yes, Jack,” Daniel spoke softly, his eyes glistening, as he took Jack’s face in his hands and kissed him; a gentle, fleeting kiss that soon turned passionate.

Jack suddenly pulled back. “Jeez, Daniel, you’re so… so… I wish I’d known. If only…”

“No. No ‘if only’s’. It didn’t happen. We can’t change that. All we can do is make the most of it now.”

“Yeah, you’re right. As usual.” Jack grinned. “Can’t change the past. Talking of now, you wanna call Matteo and get details for tomorrow. Leave it much longer and we won’t be calling anyone anytime soon,” Jack suggested, as he kissed Daniel again.

“Mmm-mmm, yeah,” Daniel broke the kiss and headed for the phone.

Jack went into the bathroom, so he could hear Daniel’s voice but not what he was saying. When all went quiet, he peered around the bathroom door to see that Daniel had replaced the phone and was making notes on the pad.

He came out of the bathroom and stood behind Daniel.

“Ready?” he asked.

Daniel spun around to see Jack standing naked with a tube of lube in his hand.

“Oh Jack,” he laughed, “I hope you’ll still be so eager afterwards”

“So?” Jack waved the lube at Daniel.

“Okay, if you’re sure. You’d better get on the bed then.”

“Nope!”

“No?”

“No, Daniel. There’s something I need to do first.” Jack looked almost menacing as he stepped up close to Daniel; tossing the lube on the bed.

Daniel’s eyes widened; his eyebrows rising nearly into his hairline as Jack caught hold of his shirt and pulled him closer to kiss him hard for a few moments. Before Daniel had time to respond, Jack pushed him away slightly.

Daniel looked intently into Jack’s eyes, realizing that the look he thought he’d seen earlier wasn’t menacing. It was lust – pure unadulterated lust!

Daniel swallowed hard. He started panting with anticipation and arousal.

With a knowing smile Jack let go of Daniel’s shirt, but continued looking deep into his eyes as he unfastened the buttons slowly; one by one.

Daniel’s mouth was dry and he couldn’t have spoken even if he’d wanted to. He licked his lips to moisten them, briefly catching sight of a flash in Jack’s eyes before another tongue was licking them for him. He parted his lips to let the tongue inside, then reached out to hold Jack, but his arms were pushed away gently but firmly.

Jack laid his hands on Daniel’s chest, moved them up his body and down his arms, sliding the unfastened shirt over his shoulders, and letting it fall to the floor.

Daniel could feel Jack’s erect cock pushing against him. He could also feel his own, straining against the material of his briefs and pants. He moaned into Jack’s mouth, as he felt hands fumbling with his belt.

When Jack unfastened the belt and then his pants, Daniel heard, and felt, Jack groan in his mouth, “Oh yeah”.

Jack pushed the pants and briefs down to release Daniel’s hard, leaking cock. He knelt on the floor to ease the clothing off; coming up slowly, gently running his hands up Daniel’s legs and resting them on his hips.

“Ohmygod! Jack!” Daniel croaked.

“I want to suck you again,” Jack murmured, his tongue flicking out to just briefly touch the tip of Daniel's penis.

“Oh-h-h, I’ve unleashed a monster!” Daniel moaned.

“Mmm... but I'll restrain myself for now. There's something I want more.” Licking his lips, Jack came back to his feet and whispered huskily into Daniel's ear. “Daniel, you’re so beautiful.”

“Even worse,” mumbled Daniel, “a sappy monster.”

Jack chuckled and a moment later they were both on the bed, wrapped into each other’s arms.

Jack trailed kisses over Daniel’s face, throat and chest, finally latching onto a nipple. Daniel’s groan made him even hungrier for more and he sucked and licked each nipple in turn until they were hard nubs. Daniel’s body was arching and he was moaning for more, but Jack had other things in mind.

He stroked one hand down Daniel's flushed body.

Shit! He wanted him inside. So much.

Soon, he told himself, very soon!

What the hell was happening to him? All these years he hadn’t even known Daniel existed; not in a sexual way. Now, he couldn’t get enough of him. He hadn’t even been this bad when he was young and making love to girls. This man was certainly having a massive effect on him. He couldn’t even bear to think of being without him now, even this early in the relationship. What was it? One day? Was this love; real love? Was he in love with Daniel? He couldn’t tell and, anyway, it was too soon to even consider that. He’d bide his time and make sure before saying anything. The last thing he wanted to do now was to say something he would regret later. He couldn’t do that to Daniel; his best friend, his lover.

Jack was still stroking Daniel’s body as he looked up, seeing those big blue eyes watching him intently. It was as though Daniel was reading his thoughts; seeing the turmoil in his mind as he tried to make some sense out of what was happening.

“You okay?” Daniel asked quietly.

“Yeah, jus’ thinkin’.”

“Good thoughts?”

Jack hesitated a moment before replying. “Yeah… very good.”

“So. You ready?”

“Think so.”

“Having second thoughts?”

“No.”

“Great. Listen, Jack, I’ll be as careful as I can, but it might still hurt. You okay with that?”

“Fine.” Jack had been eager earlier on, but now, he was getting a little apprehensive. No, he wasn’t having second thoughts. He did want to try it. Daniel had told him that if he didn’t like it, it was okay with him. Just because he could do both didn’t mean that Jack had to as well.

Jack lay on his back and Daniel placed a pillow under his hips. He pulled his knees up so his feet were flat on the bed, then watched as Daniel coated his fingers and Jack’s ass with lube. He held his breath as Daniel trailed a finger down his crack and over his hole. He knew his body had tensed up, but he couldn’t seem to breathe.

Daniel didn’t move his hand, but he did lean over and kiss Jack. As he probed Jack’s tightly closed lips with his tongue, he whispered, “Breathe and relax,” before pushing his tongue into Jack’s mouth. Jack opened up for him and let the breath out he had been holding. As Daniel’s tongue continued its onslaught around Jack’s mouth, he realized the tension was lessening; his body relaxing. He felt the pressure of Daniel’s finger as it breached him, then it was still.

That hadn’t hurt. It felt strange; a little uncomfortable maybe, but it hadn’t hurt. He relaxed a little more.

The finger started moving. Very slowly; in and out. Daniel had stopped kissing and was watching Jack’s face. Jack had known he would. Wonderful, caring Daniel. He could read Jack like a book; always had. He would watch for any signs of discomfort in Jack’s face and act accordingly. Jack hoped he wasn’t reading anything wrong there at the moment, because he was now actually enjoying the experience.

After a few minutes, Jack felt the extra pressure as Daniel added another finger. That felt tight. Daniel had already told him he would use three fingers to open and stretch him. Surely he couldn’t get another one up there. But after a while, it didn’t feel so tight, and he was getting a strange sensation instead. Ah, scissoring. Daniel had told him about that as well. Okay. He was fine with that.

When the third finger entered him, Jack gasped and Daniel stopped. He looked at Jack, frowning. “Hurts?”

“Er… no, not really, just… um, stinging a bit, that’s all.”

“Okay to continue?”

“Yeah,” Jack said, but with no real conviction.

Daniel started moving his fingers very slowly this time. Jack knew he was wincing and he also knew that Daniel could see it, but slowly and carefully the fingers kept moving until suddenly there was no more stinging, just a feeling of fullness. Daniel must have noticed because he moved the fingers more quickly and thrust in deeper. In and out, in and out. Opening and stretching, until…

“Fuck, what the...?” Jack’s body had arched up off the bed and his cock, which had lain flaccid because he was so tense, suddenly stood to attention.

“That, Jack, was your prostate. Like it?” Daniel said with a smile, as he stroked his finger over it again.

“Hell. Yeah.” Jack panted, as his body arched off the bed again.

“Well, I think that's it. Let me… um… just…” Daniel picked up the lube, put some more on Jack and then started coating his cock.

Jack looked down. Oy! Was that monstrosity really going to fit inside him? Jeez, he’d had enough trouble with three fingers. That was much bigger. Oh, well, he was about to find out!

He copied Daniel and clasped his thighs, drawing his legs up and as Daniel got in place, he tried to make his body relax. As much as he could, anyway.

He felt the tip of Daniel’s cock against his hole and then it pushed a little way inside and stopped.

“Okay, I need you to really relax now, Jack, so I can get past this muscle. Take three deep breaths in and then let them out slowly.”

Jack did as he was instructed. Three deep breaths and then Daniel would push inside. He breathed in deeply and then let the breath out. One. He took another deep breath, but as he let this one out he felt additional pressure inside him as Daniel pushed in past the muscle.

“Hey, you said three.”

“I lied,” Daniel grinned.

“Oh, you little...” Jack panted, but trailed off distracted by the steady pressure and the rush of knowing it was Daniel inside him.

Daniel didn’t move for a few moments, then pushed in a little further

Jack’s breath hitched.

Daniel pushed in inch by inch, until he was completely inside, then he paused. He could see a frown on Jack’s face and his lips were drawn into a tight line again. He looked into Jack’s eyes, raising his eyebrows, questioning him.

“Hurts a bit now,” Jack growled. “Burning.”

“It’ll go off. It will get better, Jack. I won’t move until you say so.”

“You. Okay. Doing. That?” Jack gasped between breaths.

“I’m fine,” Daniel replied easing the tension, as it make Jack grin.

“Yeah. Course, you are,” Jack replied as the burning started to ease.

Daniel had been propped up on his hands and his arms were aching a bit, so he dropped slowly onto his elbows, leaning forward to kiss Jack.

“You’re doing great,” Daniel said when their lips parted.

“Oh, ya think? Better start moving then.”

Daniel looked at Jack, who gave a lopsided grin and nodded his confirmation, and then he pushed up on to his hands again and started rocking his hips gently and slowly.

After a few moments Jack closed his eyes and started to enjoy the experience. His breathing was fast now and he was sweating, as much from the anticipation as from the concentration it had taken to keep his body relaxed enough. Now, though, the pleasure was flooding him with new emotions, new feelings. Even with his eyes closed he could picture Daniel, rocking faster and deeper now, and he was overwhelmed with thoughts of what could be, what he hoped would be now they had found each other.

“Oh. Danny. Please?”

“What, Jack?” Daniel replied breathlessly; sweat now pouring down his face.

“Gland. Faster. Harder,” he panted.

Daniel thrust in deeper, gliding over the prostate as he did so. Jack moaned; throwing his head back, his hands fisting the covers on the bed

Daniel increased the speed and hit the gland every time he pushed in, until Jack let out a long, low groan. Daniel took hold of Jack’s cock with one hand and within seconds, and several yells from Jack, his hand and Jack’s body were covered in come.

When Jack’s body stilled, Daniel continued rocking into him without touching the gland and, moments later, with a loud yell, Daniel came deep inside Jack.

Jack wasn’t sure if he’d felt the liquid spurt inside him. Oh yes, from the yell, he knew Daniel had come and he could tell that Daniel had been deep inside him at the time. He’d felt his own body tighten on Daniel when he came, but the explosion in his head had wiped out all other thoughts.

Was he still lying on the bed or was he floating somewhere in space? Wherever he was, he could feel a heavy weight on him.

Jack tried to pull out his left leg from underneath Daniel, but his lover was dead weight right now. He poked him gently with one elbow, but all he got was a muffled moan. Jack sighed and trailed a hand down Daniel's very damp warm back. Daniel. That body was Daniel's; his best friend and now lover in the true sense of the word. He opened his eyes and could see Daniel's head; face down on the pillow next to his own. He could hear the muffled heavy breathing. He reached up with one hand, brushing his fingers through the wet hair as Daniel turned his face towards him. Eyelids fluttered open and sparkling blue eyes searched his for answers to an unspoken question.

Jack smiled; his own eyes dark and sparkling with unshed tears. “Unbelievable,” he said simply.

Daniel smiled then; reaching out for Jack’s face, pulling it towards him to kiss him briefly and tenderly. He couldn’t speak. He was too choked up with emotion to utter a word. Something he had thought was impossible had just happened. Not only had Jack made love to him, but he had allowed Daniel to return the favor. He wouldn’t have believed that would ever happen. Not in a million years.

He swallowed down the lump in his throat and said shakily, “I’m going to pull out, Jack. Okay?”

Jack nodded his assent. He was finding it difficult to speak as well.

Luckily, Daniel had put the towels on the nightstand. Now he grabbed one, shoving it under Jack’s ass, after he’d eased the pillow out.

They lay there for some time, in silence; arms around each other, legs entwined, just feeling the heat from each other’s bodies.

Neither man fell asleep immediately, which was very unusual for Daniel. Both men had too many thoughts buzzing around their heads. After a while, though, snuggled up close to each other, they slept.

***

Daniel woke first, feeling warm and comfortable, but knew they would have to move. He shook Jack awake. “Jack, I think we’d better get cleaned up

“Ewww! Yeah, you’re right.”

“Mmm. Shower. Both of us. Now.” Daniel swung his legs off the bed and walked around to Jack’s side. “C’mon, but keep that towel close.”

Jack held on to the towel and swung his legs over the bed. “Ah! Crap!”

“What?” There was a grin spreading out on Daniel's face.

“What? I'm kind of... sore?” Jack winced and stood with his legs apart.

Daniel laughed. “Oh, Jack, if only you could see yourself. You look like a cowboy who’s lost his horse!”

“Hey! Man needs sympathy here, not laughter.”

“It’ll get better, I promise,” Daniel affirmed as he helped Jack into the bathroom, where he unceremoniously sat him on the toilet. He started the shower and told Jack to join him when he was able to.

A couple of minutes later both men were covered in shower gel and bubbles as they washed each other. When they were rinsed off they held each other, kissing and nibbling lips, throat and earlobes.

As they dried themselves in the big white fluffy towels, Jack studied Daniel. He was so different from the Daniel he’d first met all those years ago. Okay, so he missed the long silky hair but the short hair suited him as he was now. Stronger, more muscular, but, above all, much more confident. Back in those early days, Jack would never have said he was beautiful, but now he realized that he had been, even then. Jack had just never noticed it. He could see it now though.

Daniel was also thinking about Jack. That rough, tough guy hell bent on suicide after Charlie’s death was long gone. Although Jack was still tough – had to be in his line of work – he had softened over the years. Towards Daniel and the rest of the team, anyway. The attraction had been there from the start on Daniel's side and it hadn’t diminished. In fact, as time went by, it had grown stronger. He thought Jack was beautiful. Old and saggy? Definitely not. A bit older than Daniel, yes; but not too old and, by no means, saggy. In fact he was quite toned for someone who had been flying a desk for a while.

They exited the bathroom and when Jack checked his watch they realized it was 10:30.

“Hey, what about dinner? The restaurant will be closed.” Jack asked.

“It’s okay. We can have something sent up here. They still do light meals until midnight. We’ll check the menu. I’m hungry, too.” Daniel knew that would surprise Jack because he rarely admitted to being hungry. It’s amazing what a good work-out can do for you.

Jack looked at him in shock, but didn’t comment.

Then Daniel added, “How about coffee first?”

Jack chuckled. He really should have known that was coming. He switched the coffee machine on while Daniel phoned down for some food, then both men dressed and sat on the balcony under the stars, sipping their coffee while waiting for the waiter to arrive.

As they finished their coffee the waiter arrived, pushing a cart into the room. Plates covered with silver domes, side plates and cutlery were all stacked neatly on the shelves. On the top stood a silver ice bucket with a bottle buried deep in the ice and two champagne flutes.

The waiter opened the bottle and, after asking Daniel to leave the cart outside the room when they had finished so it could be collected, and after receiving a generous tip from Jack, left the two men to their meal.

Jack pushed the cart on to the balcony and set up the small table.

Daniel had ordered Froġa – an omelet containing ġbejna, broad beans and meat; fresh salad and crusty Maltese bread, followed by slices of Torta tat-tamal, which was a date and cocoa tart and Torta tal-marmorat, an almond and chocolate pie.

He explained to Jack that the large bottle of Marsovin Cassar de Malte was the Maltese version of champagne made by using the “Méthode Traditionnelle” which, as the name suggested, was the traditional method of making champagne in France.

After consuming the delicious omelet and thick slices of the fresh bread smothered with lashings of creamy butter, they both ate one slice of each of the desserts; covering the remainder to eat later.

After Jack had put the empty plates back on the cart, Daniel poured the ‘champagne’ and placed the glasses on the table.

He sat down next to Jack and picked up his glass. “To us?”

Jack took Daniel’s free hand in his own, clinked his glass against Daniel’s and after checking his watch replied, “Yeah. It’s not quite midnight, so here’s to the end of the first day of the rest of our lives together.”

“Getting sappy again, O’Neill?” Daniel asked.

“Guess I am, Doctor Jackson. Gonna make somethin’ of it?”

“No, not me. I still can’t quite believe this is happening.”

“Yeah. This is... new.”

Daniel snorted, then sobered up and gazed at the bubbles rising in his glass. “Everything’s happened so fast. Last night you were so ‘straight’. Now look at you. Your head’s probably struggling to comprehend what your body’s been doing. Do you want me to slow things down a bit or even back off until you’re comfortable with it?”

“NO! Jeez, Daniel, no. I want more. Well… apart from… you know… right now, maybe.”

“Still sore, eh?” Daniel chuckled.

“Er… just a bit.” Jack grinned as he sipped his drink, squeezing the other man’s hand. Daniel wrapped his long, slender fingers around Jack’s hand and returned the squeeze.

“I really do love you, you know.” Daniel actually blushed a little and bit his lip. “You don't have to, uh, answer that. I guess it's the champagne.”

“Hey...” Jack looked at their entwined hands. “I'm holding hands with you, Daniel. Don't ya think that means something?”

“Must be the champagne,” Daniel repeated with a grin.

“Or not,” Jack whispered as they both leaned in and kissed tenderly. “It's you. You always brought out the worst in me. And the best. Not sure what this is.”

“A whole new side of you, maybe,” Daniel murmured in between kisses.

“Scary.”

“Extremely.”

When the bottle was empty and they’d managed to eat some more dessert; Jack eating two more slices of each, Daniel suggested they went to bed as they had to be up early in the morning to go on the trip.

Jack pushed the cart out into the corridor, locked the door and after undressing, joined Daniel in bed.

They were both tired but they still managed to jerk each other off before they fell asleep tightly wrapped in each other’s arms.

***

Next morning, the alarm on Daniel’s watch woke them early. They showered together and Daniel dressed in the clothes from the previous day. While Jack was dressing for their trip, Daniel went to his own room to change.

Matteo had told them to wear their swimming shorts under their clothes, as they would get a chance to swim when they stopped for lunch. He’d also suggested bringing a change of clothes for the evening. They would be able to have a shower to wash off the salty sea water when they went back for dinner.

After making sure they had everything, they went downstairs for breakfast and later returned to Daniel’s room for coffee while they waited for Matteo and Luca to arrive.

They had arranged to meet outside the hotel entrance at 9am and were down there in plenty of time to watch the other men arrive in their red Nissan Qashqai. They got out of the vehicle and Luca took Jack and Daniel's bags and put them in the trunk.

Matteo and then Luca hugged both men, wishing them a good morning. Daniel looked across at Jack, noting he wasn’t really comfortable with the hug, but didn't say anything. They all climbed in the vehicle and headed off for Sliema where the Captain Morgan cruise ships were moored. After parking the car, they walked across the road to find the ship they would be on.

One of the deckhands called out to Matteo and Luca. Apparently, they’d known he would be on the cruise they were going on. They climbed aboard and took their seats; Jack on the inside with Daniel next to him, then Luca and Matteo. By this time, the ship was very crowded, so they resolved to stay in their seats, as to move about would probably mean losing them.

When everyone was on board, the vessel set off towards the south of Malta. They cruised past Valletta and the Grand Harbor entrance, then onwards to Marsascala Bay, St. Thomas Bay, Island Bay and Peter's Pool, past Delimara Point and Marsaxlokk Bay, which was Malta's largest fishing village. There they saw a great many boats which Matteo explained were called luzzu and were traditional fishing boats from the Maltese islands. They were brightly painted in shades of yellow, red, green and blue, with pointed bow and a pair of painted eyes. These eyes might have been the modern survival of an ancient Phoenician; they were sometimes (and probably inaccurately) referred to as the Eye of Horus or of Osiris and were supposed to bring luck to the fishermen.

Jack whispered to Daniel that Osiris hadn’t brought them much luck, and Daniel chuckled quietly, not wanting to give an explanation to Matteo and Luca.

They cruised on past the Blue Grotto, where Jack and Daniel had already visited, the imposing Dingli Cliffs, the little island of Filfla and past some of Malta's most popular sandy beaches.

A particular attraction was Anchor Bay. This rocky cove incorporates ‘Popeye's Village', the actual set of the film ‘Popeye', starring Robin Williams, which was shot on location.

By this time they were cruising along the North West coast of Malta and they could see the island of Gozo behind the smaller islands of Comino and Cominotto.

Luca explained that Comino, although having one hotel, only had four permanent residents. The much smaller island of Cominotto, was uninhabited, but between the two islands was the Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon was a long, narrow bay cut into Comino. Its floor was of pure white sand and the water crystal clear. The Lagoon was surrounded by neatly carved rock formations on both sides, with plenty of pathways and hiking trails.

The ship docked near the lagoon and the Captain explained that they were staying there for two hours during which time a continuous buffet lunch of cold meat cuts, fish, different salads, fresh fruit, Maltese bread and local wine would be served on board. Anyone who wanted to swim or sunbath before lunch could do so and there would still be plenty to eat when they returned.

The four guys climbed the rocky path of the hill which then led back down the other side to the beach and the lagoon.

As it was a sunny day, they had been very hot sitting on the ship, so they quickly stripped down to their swimming shorts and raced each other into the cool, refreshing water. Once there, they swam, splashed, talked and laughed; all of them really enjoying the experience.

After about an hour, they went back to the beach where they had left their clothes and dried themselves with the towels Matteo had brought with him. He had assumed Jack and Daniel would not have towels of their own and they were not allowed to take any from the hotel. After they dressed they went back on board the ship for lunch.

Luckily, as most of the passengers were still ashore, there was more room on board. They used the paper plates and cups provided for their lunch and returned to the seating area.

At first they ate in silence, but Jack had noticed there were shoals of fish swimming around the ship, so he encouraged them by dropping crumbs of bread over the side, much to the amusement of the others.

“Hey, I could take some of these home and stock the pond!” he laughed and the others joined in.

The silence broken, Matteo looked at Jack and Daniel and asked seriously, “Something has changed? You seem more… together.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged looks. “Told you,” Daniel stated to Jack. And to Matteo and Luca who were now looking intently at him, “Yes, it has. Um… we’re now…” He glanced briefly at Jack before continuing, “…lovers.”

The look of shock on Matteo and Luca’s faces was evident as Matteo replied, “But, Daniel, you told me that Jack was straight. How can this be true?”

“Long story, Matteo, but it turns out that he’s bi and didn't have a clue.” Daniel explained. “Until the clue bus hit him. Hard.” He wasn't sure Matteo and Luca knew what a clue bus was, but they seemed to get his gist anyway.

Jack was grinning from ear to ear as he listened to the conversation, letting Daniel come up with the explanation.

“That is wonderful news. We knew you were meant for each other. You are both more happy, yes?”

“Yes,” Daniel and Jack spoke together, then laughed.

After much handshaking, hugs and congratulations all around, Luca got them all some more drinks and then they went for a short walk up the hill to see the islands stretched out in front of them, before they returned to the ship in time for departure.

On the way back they passed Mellieħa Bay, also called Ghadira Bay, which was Malta’s largest sandy beach, then on to St. Paul’s Island, where St. Paul was shipwrecked in 60AD. Salina Bay was next with its rocky beaches overshadowed by the imposing Coastline Hotel. Then they could see the town of St. Andrews which, like nearby Pembroke, was developed from the late 19th and early 20th century barracks built as a military town by the British. Today the area had developed into a proper residential town. Many of the older colonial buildings still stood, notably Fort Pembroke, one of the four forts built by the British as part of the Victoria Lines. It was meant to defend the eastern side of Malta.

Finally, the ship passed the area of St. Julians, which, Luca explained, was known for tourism-oriented businesses, such as hotels, restaurants and nightclubs, centered mostly in an area known as Paceville. Matteo also stated that there were some gay clubs there but he and Luca preferred the Tom Bar in Valletta as the area was quieter and safer.

The ship docked back in Sliema at 5:20 and it was only a 10 minute drive to San Ġwann, where Matteo and Luca’s house was situated.

Matteo parked the car outside a very impressive two story row house. They walked through the wrought iron gates, up four tiled steps and Luca unlocked the large, highly polished and ornate wooden door.

They entered a large open hallway with a terrazzo tiled floor. Marble stairs with varnished wooden balustrades led up one side and there were two doors leading off the room, one of which, Matteo informed them was into the garage at the side of the property and the other led to a guest bedroom with its own bathroom.

They walked up the stairs and turned left around the dog leg at the top onto an open plan area which they used as their living room. It was airy and bright, with large French doors opening onto a small balcony overlooking the road. Three other doors opened off a corridor leading to the right, one of which was the bathroom, another was the master bedroom; the final one leading to a dining room with a kitchen to the side, separated by an archway.

Large French doors opened out from the dining room to a tiled patio surrounded by brick walls. A patio table and chairs stood in the center and raised flower beds were planted with geraniums and roses. Bougainvillea of different colors was climbing up the walls. Near the wall on one side was a large lemon tree; the fruits yellow and plump, and on the other side was an orange tree, although, because of the time of year, only one overripe fruit was left on the tree.

Matteo took Jack and Daniel through a door at one side of the kitchen, up some stairs to an open area which they used as a laundry room, then out another door onto the flat roof of the house. As it wasn’t dark yet, they could see for miles across the rooftops of the other houses and Jack decided it would be a great place for a telescope.

By the time they went back into the kitchen, Luca had fixed them all a tall glass of iced lemon tea and they sat on the patio for a while before they all got showered and changed.

Matteo and Luca would use the bathroom upstairs, but told Jack and Daniel they could use the guest bathroom downstairs. They picked up their bags but as they walked down the corridor towards the stairs they heard Matteo’s voice. “We will have dinner in an hour. Do not get too comfortable.”

Both men turned to see Matteo and Luca grinning and chuckling. “Yeah, we get ya,” Jack retorted.

They didn’t make themselves comfortable in the large bedroom as they felt it wouldn’t be appropriate in their host’s house but they were relaxed and happy when they rejoined their friends upstairs.

The large table in the dining room was covered with plates of food. The four men sat around the large dining room table which seemed to be nearly groaning under the weight of the food that had been placed on it. Several bottles of red and white wine had also been opened and Jack and Daniel were instructed to help themselves.

“Wow, you guys have been busy,” remarked Daniel.

“No, Daniel,” replied Luca, “most came from the freezer.”

They started by eating Galletti, which are small Maltese crackers. With them they could either have bigilla, peppered goats cheese, olives or they could dip them in ful bit-tewm, which is a mixture of beans, garlic, mint, olive oil and vinegar.

To follow, Luca brought a large dish hot from the oven which he told them was Timpana - macaroni in a tomato sauce with minced beef, bound with a mix of raw egg and grated cheese with hard-boiled eggs added. The macaroni had then been enclosed in a pastry case before being baked.

To accompany this was Patata l-Forn (baked sliced potatoes), Qargħa Bagħli Mimli (stuffed marrows) and Bżar mimli (stuffed peppers).

When their plates had been cleared away, all that was left on the table were the many assorted small sweets, cakes and biscuits, which Luca admitted to buying from the local bakery to give Jack and Daniel a taste of Malta.

By the time they had plowed their way through all the food, all four men were stuffed and dropped onto the couches in the living room with their glasses of wine.

They talked late into the evening; Matteo and Luca telling stories about their life and work in Malta and Jack and Daniel responding by telling their friends as much as they could about their life and work.

Luca explained how he and Matteo were partners in a chain of electronic shops in Malta, which was why they were able to take the time to arrange the trip. They also apologized because they would have to take Jack and Daniel back to the hotel soon as they had to be up in early to catch a flight to Italy for a business meeting the next day and they would like to get a few hours’ sleep before they set off.

Daniel told them it was no problem, but Matteo insisted on having some coffee first.

Jack heard Daniel asking Luca about some megalithic thingamabobs or something, so he tuned out and, instead, offered to help Matteo with the coffee.

They went to the kitchen and after Matteo told him where to find everything, Jack got mugs and spoons out of the cabinet while Matteo prepared the coffee.

“So, Jack, you are okay with this?”

“With what?”

“Sorry. Being with Daniel and having gay people as friends.”

“Yeah, sure. Getting used to it,” Jack replied with a grin.

“You are good for each other, I think. You know each other for a long time, so you are used to each other, yes?”

“I guess so. What about you guys? You been together long?”

“Iva. Sorry, yes. We have known each other for nine years, seven here in this house.”

“It’s a great house, Matteo.”

“Grazzi. Where will you live, Jack?”

“Minnesota. I’ve done the cabin up so we’ll live there. Daniel doesn’t have to work at the … um, where he is now, so either he’ll resign or he’ll work from home.”

“He has agreed to this?”

“Oh, he... doesn't know yet. But he'll like the idea.”

“That is good. I hope you will be happy like us.” Matteo poured the coffee and the two men took the mugs into the living room.

After a while, as the four men talked, Jack noticed Daniel was a bit subdued. He was still talking to all of them, but he just seemed a bit quieter than he had been earlier. Had something been said when he was talking to Luca or was it just because he was tired?

It had been a very hot day and, although both men had worn hats – Jack his baseball cap and Daniel his bandana – Jack wondered if the heat had affected Daniel. Then again, he should be used to it. After all, he grew up in Egypt and had lived on Abydos for a year. Nevertheless, Jack was worried. What had gone on between Daniel and Luca?

When they’d finished their coffee and Jack and Daniel went to get their bags, Jack asked Daniel if he was okay, but all he got was the ‘I’m fine’ response. He let it drop. Perhaps he would find out more when they were on their own.

They said their goodbyes to Luca, who was staying behind to pack a few things ready for their trip the next day. Matteo drove them back to the hotel.

After getting out of the vehicle and saying goodbye, Matteo drove away. Jack, who had watched him go, said, “They’re good guys, don’tcha think, Daniel?”

Receiving no reply he turned to see Daniel had already climbed the steps and was entering the hotel. He ran up the steps into the reception area to find Daniel had already collected the keys to their rooms. They made their way silently up to the 6th floor and entered Daniel’s room.

As he pushed the door shut, Jack caught Daniel’s arm saying, “Spill, Daniel. What’s up?  Did Luca say something to upset you?”

“No, Jack, it wasn’t Luca.”

Jack thought for a moment. “Me? You’re angry with me? What’d I do?”

Daniel sighed. “Oh Jack, I’m not angry with you, but I'm disappointed. I really thought you knew me better.”

“What?” Jack frowned. He was confused. He couldn’t think what he’d done wrong.

“I heard you, Jack. I heard what you said to Matteo.”

Jack shook his head trying to remember what had been said while he was in the kitchen. Matteo had asked if he was okay with how things were and Jack had told him he was getting there. Jack had inquired about their relationship and then Matteo had asked where they were… Crap! The lights went on in his head. It was about where they would live. But… why? Didn’t Daniel want them to live together? He’d thought that was what this was leading to.

Daniel noticed when Jack realized what he’d said. The bewilderment was written all over his face.

He’ll resign or he’ll work from home? He doesn't know yet, but he'll like the idea? How dare you, Jack? How dare you tell him that? What gives you the right to decide what I will or won’t do?”

“But, Daniel, I…”

“No, Jack, no buts. You listen to me; I don't intend to resign and I can’t work entirely from home.”

“Yeah, oka-ay, but…”

“I haven’t finished,” Daniel said as he held up his hand for silence. “I can’t live in Minnesota. I love being there, Jack, but my work is at the SGC. I’m not ready to be put out to grass yet.”

Jack stared at him. “Meaning? Oh, I get it.”

“No, no, I didn’t mean it like that. You’re retirement age, Jack. You’ve done your bit, and more, for Uncle Sam. You deserve some rest. I haven’t reached that age yet, so I can’t justify giving up work for a while. Don’t you see? They still need me, and, to be honest, I still need them. I love the work I’m doing now and I’m not flying in the face of danger every day. I’ve agreed to go in for two days and work from home the rest of the week. Can’t you understand and live with that?”

“I guess. I’d figured on spending the rest of my days in the cabin. I’ve worked hard to make it a home.”

“That’s great. We can still go there now and again,” Daniel suggested.

“Sure.”

Daniel could see the disappointed look on Jack’s face. He knew Jack had set his heart on spending his retirement at the cabin. He’d known it for years. Jack had made no secret about it. There must be a way around this. There had to be.

“I’m sorry, Jack, but that’s how I feel. I can’t believe you didn’t consider that before you opened your big mouth to Matteo.”

Jack groaned. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Daniel grinned, the anger fading away at Jack's sheepish apology. “I’m sure I can forgive you this time. Hey, how about staying in my house in the Springs while I’m working and then going up to the cabin?”

“Nah! It’s a 16 hour drive if you go straight through. You’d be too tired to get much work done while you’re there.”

“Hmm, I guess you’re right, but we have to come up with a solution, Jack.”

“We could fly. The flight takes two and a half hours and cost about six hundred dollars.”

“Yeah, then there’s all the hanging around at both airports getting checked in and the car parking costs. Over time, you could buy your own plane for what it would cost.”

“Well, we have to come up with something.”

“We will, Jack. There are other things we need to discuss too, but I think they can wait until morning now. How about going to bed?”

“Yeahsure! We can continue arguing and disagreeing tomorrow. And for the rest of our lives. It's what we do best anyway,” Jack said with a roll of his eyes.

Daniel laughed. “I like to call it differences of opinion, not arguing, and we do make up afterwards.”

A lustful grin spread across Jack’s face. “There's that. We’ve got a great way of making up now, too.”

“Hmm. Bathroom first, I think. I need to brush my teeth after all that sweet stuff.”

Jack agreed and they stripped off. After brushing their teeth, they came back into the bedroom.

Suddenly, a flash of bright light made both men start. This was followed by a loud crash of thunder. Jack wandered over to the doors leading to the balcony and opened them.

Another flash of lightning and crash of thunder; closer this time.

“You gotta see this, Daniel,” Jack said as he stared out at the dark sky.

Daniel walked up beside him and together they watched as the next flash of lightning lit up the sky. It was above the clouds so the sky looked as though it was on fire. There wasn’t just one flash though. It flashed again and again; different colors each time, between the crashes of thunder. The reflection in the harbor was amazing. The water looked as though it was on fire and the masts and rigging of the boats shone out like silver spears.

“Beautiful,” Daniel breathed in Jack’s ear.

Then came the rain, gently at first, but increasing in intensity until the men could hardly see the boats anymore. At least the air was cooler; not as humid as it had been earlier in the evening. The men stood there with their arms around each other; Daniel’s head resting on Jack’s shoulder, appreciating the cool air against their naked skin.

It was nearly thirty minutes before the storm drifted away into the distance, rumbling and echoing around the hills. The rain had eased and Jack closed the doors so that the automatic air conditioning would come back on.

Daniel had spent the time on the balcony stroking Jack’s back and chest, and licking and kissing his shoulder and throat, so both men were aroused and hard.

They lay on the bed, arms and legs entwined until Jack spoke first. “Daniel? Will you… er… fuck me?”

Daniel’s eyes widened with surprise. “You sure?”

“Oh yeah.” Jack was more than sure he wanted to do it again. He wanted to receive as well as to give. He would never have believed that would be possible and was now regretting that he hadn’t accepted that lifestyle all those years before. But, it hadn’t been the right time. He wanted a career in the Air Force and he didn’t want anything to stand in the way of that.

Yes, for a time he’d been attracted to Carter, but he didn’t do anything about it. Not just because of the frat regs either. He knew that it was a relationship that wouldn’t work in the long term. He had started a ‘romance’ with Kerry Johnson though. She called it off because she thought he’d wanted Carter. He’d let her think that because he hadn’t wanted to continue the relationship with her either.

Now he knew why. He’d been waiting all his life for Daniel.

He lay on his back, unashamedly presenting himself to Daniel; no embarrassment because he was with a man he could trust with his life. He was secure in the knowledge that he would be safe with him. Daniel wouldn’t do anything to hurt him and, in turn, Jack wouldn’t do anything to hurt Daniel either.

About an hour or so later, when both men were sated and Jack had confirmed to Daniel that it hadn’t stung so much this time, they snuggled together and fell asleep.

***

Jack awoke early the next morning and, after extricating himself carefully from the arm and leg that was draped over him and gathering up the towel that was under him, he made his way to the bathroom.

After taking a leak, cleaning himself up and rinsing the towel, he went back to bed. He propped himself up on one elbow and watched Daniel sleeping. He didn’t touch him because he knew that would wake him. Instead he looked him up and down, appreciating every inch of his body, finally settling his gaze on his face. Daniel looked so serene when he was sleeping; snoring softly.

He couldn’t believe he had taken him for granted in that way; telling someone what Daniel was going to do without discussing it first. What made him do it, he didn’t know. All he did know was that he wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

How the hell could they sort out where to live? He went over the suggestions in his mind, writing them off one by one as they had the night before.

Suddenly, something Daniel had said came back into his mind. Of course! Why hadn’t he thought of earlier? The answer was there, staring him in the face.

“Daniel! Daniel, wake up,” he exclaimed as he shook Daniel’s shoulder.

“Wha… what?” Daniel opened bleary eyes to see Jack’s face right in front of his.

“I’ve got it!”

“Great. Got what?”

“The answer.”

“Good,” Daniel muttered dryly. “What’s the question?”

“Where to live? I know it. Well, it was actually your idea.”

“My idea?”

“Daniel...”

“Jack?”

Jack snorted. “Stop doing that and listen.” Jack was so excited; he could hardly get the words out fast enough.

“Ja-ack, what are you on about?”

“Ah! Shoulda fixed coffee first, eh? Daniel, you said it last night. ‘You could buy your own plane for what it would cost.’ That’s it. I’ve got some money put aside. I was going to buy a boat, but I can buy a plane. I got a PPL years ago, but it lapsed. I can do a refresher course. I’ve got a friend who’s an instructor at A-Cent Aviation in Colorado Springs. He’d let me keep the plane there too. And, there’s Lake Elmo Airport at St. Paul. It’s only a short drive from the cabin. Whaddya think?”

“Have you been up all night drinking? I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much come out of your mouth in one go.” Daniel grinned. “I think it’s a great idea, Jack. Now, can I have that coffee?”

Jack bounded out of bed and headed for the coffee maker, leaving Daniel rather bemused. He hadn’t seen Jack that excited for a long time. He chuckled to himself. Who knew that Jack was just a big kid despite all that bravado?

Daniel settled back in bed and thought about Jack’s suggestion. It could work. It would certainly cut down on travel time. But wait! Didn’t Jack say he had been going to buy a boat? Was he really willing to give that up?

Jack returned with two mugs of coffee and climbed back into bed; handing one mug to Daniel.

“You sure you want to give up buying that boat?” Daniel asked as he sipped his coffee.

“Sure. It was gonna be something to do. This is more important. So, you think it’ll work?”

Daniel took Jack’s mug from his hands, placed both mugs on the nightstand and then leaped on top of Jack saying, “Yes. Yes. Yes,” - the words interspersed with coffee flavored kisses.

“Hey! Coffee?” Jack asked.

“Too hot. Other things. To do,” Daniel explained in between kisses. Ohmygod, he loved this man and he was now going to demonstrate exactly how much.

Jack was left in no doubt by the time Daniel had finished with him. The coffee was cold and both men were exhausted.

“Er… what was tha-at?” Jack asked when he could manage to speak.

“Remember a line in that song? You ain't seen nothing like me yet? Well, now you have. Like it?”

“Like it? I love it. I love you, you know that? I still don’t know if that means being in love…”

“No, Jack, don’t say it. You love me. That’s enough for now.”

“So,” Jack said, changing the subject. “How about breakfast when I can move?”

Daniel laughed and later they stumbled into the bathroom together, dressed and went downstairs for breakfast.

“So,” said Jack as they walked back upstairs. “Why the discussion?”

“Because there are a few things we need to straighten out before we go home,” Daniel replied.

“Oka-ay, but…”

Jack stopped speaking as they arrived at Daniel’s room. Maria had just closed Jack’s door and had a very puzzled look on her face. She frowned as they greeted her.

The two men looked at her and then at each other, neither of them knowing who got hit by the clue bus first.

“Crap!” Jack exclaimed at the same time as Daniel said, “Shit!”

Maria smiled at the worried expressions on their faces. “You are together now?”

“Oh… er… yes,” replied Daniel.

“Ah, I see now why your room hadn’t been slept in yesterday and the other room hasn’t been slept in today,” Maria explained to Daniel. “It’s okay. One less room for me to clean.” She sniggered and went on her way down the corridor.

Daniel heard Jack choking back a muffled laugh. They let themselves into Daniel’s room and then exploded with laughter.

“Didn’t think. Should’ve messed the other bed up,” Jack said when he’d stopped laughing.

“She didn’t seem too bothered by it, Jack, but perhaps it would be easier for her if we stick to one room in the future. In fact, we could give up one room altogether,” suggested Daniel.

“No!” Jack responded quickly. “We stay in your room, leave mine empty. No neighbors to complain about the noise.”

“Wow, good thinking, Jack.” Daniel just had a linen store next to his room, so there were no guests that side, either.

“Yeah, well…?” Jack said, looking proud of himself for having that idea.

Daniel made coffee and they sat on the balcony enjoying the early October sunshine. It was quieter in the hotel now, a substantial amount of guests had only been there for the Airshow and they had gone home.

“So,” Jack asked when they had settled in the chairs, “what’s this about?”

“How do you want us to do this when we get home? Who do we tell? We'll be living together, so ...” Daniel shrugged “…people will talk.”

Jack grimaced. “Yeah. You think you can handle it? Might become the hottest news around the water cooler at the mountain. The Springs is a small town. Someday, someone will notice. Unless we do this covert ops style.”

“I can handle it,” Daniel said. “Can you?”

“Me? I'm outta there. They can call me a queer for all I care.”

“Are you sure? You've only been officially bi a couple of days. It might not be so easy when faced with intolerant bigots and homophobes.”

“Hello? Retired here! I'm not saying we should yell it from the rooftops, Daniel. But either we're together or we're not. And I'm willing to take the risk of people finding out.”  He paused and gave Daniel a cautious look. “I'm more worried about you having to deal with crap like that at work. Some of those marines tend to be a bit short sighted if ya get my gist.”

“Jack, half of those marines think I'm gay anyway just because I'm a scientist and don't like shooting at people,” Daniel said dryly. “They'll just think I finally got you where I wanted you all those years.”

“What?”

“There have been rumors about us for years. I guess you just never noticed,” Daniel said with a grin. “Might even have been a pool about whether it was me or Carter to get you to spread your legs first.”

“Not funny, Daniel,” Jack growled.

He sobered up. “Just kidding. But I can handle things at work, Jack. So who do we tell?”

Jack thought for a few minutes before he replied. “I think we ought to tell Carter and Teal’c. Whaddya think?”

“I agree.  I don’t think anyone else needs to know, but what if other friends or neighbors ask?”

“I’m not ashamed of how I feel, Daniel.”

“I know, Jack. I just need to know you’re comfortable with it, that’s all.”

“Sure.”

“Any questions?”

“Yeah, you gonna wear those tight jeans when we get home?” Jack chuckled.

Daniel laughed. “Only if we go out to a club and I’m with you. I don’t need to attract anyone else now. Do I?”

“NO! Never gonna happen now!  But, talking of clothes, I need some if we’re going out. Just bought that one and it’s at the hotel laundry.”

“I need to go out, too. I’ve got something to collect from the jewelers. Shall we go now and have lunch out somewhere?”

“Yeahsure! You need more gold? From the jewelers, I mean.”

“No… well, yes, I guess. You’ll see.”

“Can’t wait,” Jack said as they set off out of the hotel and down Republic Street. They found three menswear shops in Merchants Street – Fred Perry, Diesel and Levis. They went from shop to shop until Jack found exactly what he wanted; two pairs of jeans and two tank tops, one of which was in his favorite color – peridot. Daniel also bought some more jeans and tops and then both men purchased some other casual clothes to take home as well.

Then they went into Sterling Jewelers. Daniel spoke briefly to the young lady, who went through to the back room and handed something to him. He turned to face Jack, holding a chain looped between both hands.

“What do you think, Jack?”

Jack’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “It’s silver. Thought you liked gold?”

“I do, but it isn’t silver. It’s white gold.”

Jack looked at the intricate chain. It wasn’t chunky, but it wasn’t as fine as the one Daniel had been wearing when they met at the bar. It didn’t seem to be Daniel’s style though.

“So, do you like it, Jack?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

“Good, because it’s for you.”

“Me? Why?”

“I noticed that occasionally your hand goes up to your throat and I realized you're missing your dog tags, so I thought I’d get you this. I hope you like it.” Daniel opened one of his hands.

Lying in his palm was a rectangular piece of white gold, almost the size of a dog tag. Jack could see the inscription on it.

 

JONATHAN “JACK” O’NEILL

General (Retired). U.S. Air Force.

 

Jack was silent. Daniel was worried. Had he done the wrong thing? He deliberately hadn’t put the other information from the original dog tags on there. He wasn’t sure Jack would want that. Was he wrong?

He scanned Jack’s face. “You don’t like it. I’m sorry, Jack, I thought you would, but it’s okay. I’m sure they can melt it down and use it for something else.”

“Daniel,” Jack said quietly. “I love it.” He swallowed the lump in his throat before saying, “Thanks.”

“You do? You’re sure?” Daniel asked, relief washing over him. “You’d better turn it over then.”

Jack took it from Daniel’s hand. On the other side was another inscription. It read:

 

J,

L-Imħabba, Għal Dejjem

D.

 

 “What’s that mean?” Jack asked.

“It means, Love, Forever. I thought if I had it done in Maltese, no-one else would know what it meant, except you and me.”

“Aw, Danny. Now who’s getting sappy?”

“Not me. So, shall we take it then?”

“Yeah, why not?” Jack said flippantly, covering up the fact that he was really touched by Daniel’s gift.

The jewelers’ assistant carefully put it in a box and handed it to Daniel, who in turn passed it to Jack. He’d already paid for it in advance, so they left the shop and wandered hand in hand down the hill to the waterfront.

The baroque wharf was originally built by Manuel Pinto de Fonseca in the 18th century, but had been thoroughly renovated by a private consortium. There was a concentration of bars, retail outlets and restaurants, and other events, including the Malta Jazz Festival, the Malta Fireworks Festival, the Perfect Wedding Fair and Gay Pride were held there.

The restaurants ranged from Maltese, Sicilian, Chinese, Cantonese and American. After a brief discussion Jack and Daniel decided to go to the Hard Rock Café for lunch. Jack loved the Maltese food, but he was longing for a burger.

Jack chose their legendary 10 oz. Burger, topped with seasoned bacon, two slices of Cheddar cheese, a crisp fried onion ring, lettuce, tomato, and pickles while Daniel selected the Mushroom and Swiss Burger, smothered with sautéed mushrooms and topped with two slices of Swiss cheese. French fries and a Caesar salad completed the meals.

Then they both had the Sinful Hot Fudge Sundae, which consisted of three large scoops of vanilla ice cream, topped with hot fudge sauce, chopped walnuts, fresh whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles and a cherry.

When they’d had their fill of food and coffee, Jack and Daniel took a leisurely walk along the boardwalk checking out the other restaurants and the shops, before settling on a wooden bench overlooking the water. An hour passed by in what seemed minutes, as they talked and watched the boats and ferries coming and going. The sun was hot and the air was filled with the sound of people talking and laughing as they passed by and the sparrows chirping. There seemed to be hundreds of them in the trees that had been planted at regular intervals along the harbor.

Soon it was time to make their way back to the hotel to have a rest before getting ready to meet their friends at the bar.

***

Daniel dropped on to the bed and was almost asleep by the time Jack came out of the bathroom.

Jack stood looking at his lover, reached down to remove his glasses and placed them carefully on the nightstand.  Daniel half opened his eyes, as Jack sighed and said, “Newness worn off?  Too tired to make out?”

Daniel groaned softly but replied sleepily, “No, I can… er… what?”

“Nothing, Daniel,” Jack chuckled. “Get some sleep.  I’m tired too.”

“’kay,” Daniel murmured as he closed his eyes and started snoring almost immediately.

Jack smiled as he lay on the bed and spooned up behind Daniel.  Then he, too, fell asleep.

Jack awoke first, showered and made coffee before waking Daniel.  Then, leaving Daniel sipping his coffee, he went to his room to get dressed and put his new purchases away in the closet and drawers.

When he returned, Daniel was dressed; this time in dark blue jeans and a cream colored tank top. Jack was wearing his new dark blue jeans and the peridot top. He also wore the new dog tag pendant around his neck. It actually felt good and he’d spent several minutes looking at himself in the mirror; fingering the tag.

The two men went downstairs to the restaurant for dinner and then walked the short distance to the bar where they met up with Matteo and Luca.

They spent an enjoyable couple of hours talking and laughing with their friends.  Jack and Daniel even danced a few times, but this time they held each other a little closer.

Jack wasn’t sure if it was the company, the laughter or, perhaps, the whiskey, but he was feeling good.  Happy and totally relaxed.  He would never have thought he’d feel comfortable in a gay club, but being in love with Daniel had changed all that. Oy!  What the hell was he thinking?  Being in love with Daniel? Whoa! When did that happen?  Shouldn’t it have been a conscious decision?  Shouldn’t he have given it a lot of thought before he came to that conclusion?  Apparently not.

Jack watched intently as Daniel was animatedly talking to Luca. That thought had come out of the blue and had hit him squarely between the eyes.  He was in love with Daniel.  No getting away from it.  It was true. His heart was pounding and he was finding it difficult to breathe. He was so overwhelmed he thought his chest would burst.

He wanted to stand up and shout it out to everyone, but that wasn’t his style.  He also knew that although Daniel would be pleased to hear it, he would’ve been embarrassed if Jack had told the whole bar.  He’d wait until the time was right.

He leaned over to the other guys, excusing himself to go downstairs to the restroom, after handing Matteo some euro’s to get another round of drinks.

Jack crossed the room and went through the door at the far end of the bar.  He walked down one flight of stairs, turned on the small landing and walked down another flight until he came to the men’s restroom. A couple of guys were washing their hands when Jack entered but they’d gone by the time he’d taken a leak.

He went across to one of the sinks to wash his hands; looking in the mirror when he was drying them with paper towels. Again he thought about telling Daniel how he felt. He touched the dog tag, looking once more at the inscription.  Yes, he had felt a bit lost without the chain around his neck.  It had been there for so many years.  In fact, he had been considering wearing it again when he got home, but now he wouldn’t have to.  Now he had something else; something special.

Suddenly he realized he wasn’t alone; someone had walked in the door behind him. He only got a glimpse of them in the mirror before his head seemed to explode in a blaze of pain.  It hit him so out of the blue, he didn’t even make a sound before he hit the floor. Squinting through the haze of agony he caught sight of a pair of boots and jean clad legs.

“Bastard!” Jack spat out as he struggled to his feet.

He was halfway up when he saw one of the men swing a length of pipe which hit him even harder this time. He went down again, hearing one of the men growl, “Stay down this time.  You don’t get away with humiliating Justin and get up again.”

Jack’s head was spinning and his eyes weren’t focusing properly, but he did manage to make out the booted foot heading his way.  He grabbed it and twisted. The man went down, but not hard enough to stay there.  His friend hauled him back on his feet and immediately hit Jack again with the pipe.

Jack felt blood running down his face as he put his hands up to prevent another beating with the pipe. Luckily, he heard the man at the door say, “Quick, someone’s coming”.  Then he heard footsteps running up the steps before he passed out.

***

After waiting for some time at the bar, Matteo had bought a round of drinks back to the table. Luca had just lifted his to his lips when someone passing by their table, jogged his elbow. His cocktail, which was made with Bajtra, a sweet sticky Maltese liqueur made from prickly pears, spilled down his shirt.  He dabbed at it with a paper napkin, but then decided to rinse it with water instead, so he told Matteo and Daniel that he’d go to the restroom.

 “While you’re there, see what Jack’s up to, Luca.  He’s been gone a long time,” said Daniel.

Luca laughed, explaining that some things do take a while, then disappeared through the door at the top of the stairs.

As he walked down the second flight, he passed three guys walking up.  He didn’t know them to speak to but he had seen them several times in the bar.

As he rounded the door into the room he saw Jack lying on the floor.  He ran over to him and crouched by his side. “Jack!  Jack! Wake up.”

Jack moaned and opened his eyes. “Wha …?”

Luca grabbed a couple of paper towels, folding them into a pad and pressing them on the gash at Jack’s temple.  He heard someone talking upstairs so he shouted out to them to go and get Matteo and Daniel.

“Da… Dan…” mumbled Jack.

“It’s okay, Jack. I am Luca. Daniel is coming.”

Daniel is coming. Those words went around and around in Jack’s head. His eyesight was blurred, his head hurt and he kept drifting in and out of consciousness. He wanted Daniel.

Jack heard footsteps running down the stairs.

“Good, you are here. My friend has called for an ambulance. It will be here soon.”

Daniel took Luca’s place, “Good. Thanks Luca.” then “Jack, what happened?”

“Dan… iel,” Jack groaned.

“Jack, concentrate. Who did this?”

“Said I… humiliated… Justin,” Jack gasped, clearly fighting to stay awake.

“Justin? What the fuck…?”

“Daniel,” said Luca, “three men went upstairs. I have seen them talking to Justin.”

“Justin’s upstairs at the bar,” stated Matteo.

“What!? Luca, look after Jack.  I’ll be right back.” Daniel said as he raced out the door and up the stairs two at a time.

He went back into the room and, sure enough, Justin was sat at the other end of the bar. Daniel stormed across the room, swung his arm back and punched Justin so hard; he fell off the stool on to the floor.

“You sonovabitch, Justin.  What the fuck have you done?”

Justin crawled away from Daniel until his back was against the side of the bar, his hands held up to shield his face. “What? I haven’t done anything, Daniel.  What’s happened?”

“You bastard! Your friends have beaten up Jack because he humiliated you.  You going to tell me you didn’t tell them to.”

“No. Yes. No. I mean, yes I’m telling you that because no, I didn’t tell them to.  I was just having a moan about the way he’d acted when he arrived here.  I didn’t tell them to hurt him.  Please, Daniel, you’ve got to believe me.  I wouldn’t hurt anyone.  I was a bit put out over it but that was all.”

Daniel looked at him and then held out a hand to help him up. “You know, I believe you. I need to get back to Jack.”

“I’ll come with you.  I might be able to help.”

Both men went back down to the restroom, where Daniel explained the situation to Matteo and Luca.

Daniel sat on the floor next to Jack, holding his head and pressing a clean paper pad against the wound to try to stop the bleeding.

“What’s. He. Doing. Here?”

“It’s okay, Jack.  I’ll explain later, but it wasn’t him who did this.”

“Daniel,” Jack whispered. “Can’t see properly. Head hurts. Feel sick.”

“Daniel,” Justin said, “I’m a medical student in London. It sounds as though he may have a concussion. Has anyone called an ambulance?”

“Yes, it is on its way. So are the Pulizija,” stated Matteo.

“Good. I’ll give them a statement. I only know their first names but I can give them a description.”

“Yeah, that’ll really help Jack, won’t it?” Daniel said sarcastically, but then realizing what he’d said, he apologized. “Sorry, Justin, I didn’t mean that. I’m just so worried.”

“I can understand that.”

“No, actually you can’t. Nobody can. Jack and I have been through a lot together and it usually takes more than something like this to bring him down. What the hell did they hit him with?”

“There are some pipes and tools outside the door. I think someone has been doing some work down here.  One of the pipes has blood on it.” Matteo was examining one of the old lead pipes.

“Even so, a crack on the head shouldn’t have done this.”

“Three,” murmured Jack.

“What? Oh, yes, we know. There were three guys.” Daniel smoothed the hair from Jack’s forehead.

“No,” Jack croaked. “He hit… three… times.”

Daniel looked more closely at Jack’s head, feeling his scalp for more wounds. He found nothing.

“Same… place,” Jack croaked again.

“Bloody hell!” Justin remarked in his very precise English accent. “No wonder he’s in that state.”

Just then they heard a commotion on the stairs and a couple of nurses from the Emergency Response Medical Team came in.

Daniel moved out of the way to allow them to treat Jack and then helped to carry him up the stairs on a stretcher.

Daniel insisted on traveling in the ambulance with Jack as he was taken to Mater Dei Hospital in Msida; the same hospital Martin had been taken to.

On arrival at the hospital, Jack was taken straight to the X-ray Department, so Daniel was shown to a Waiting Room and was told that someone would come and report back to him shortly.

He hadn’t been waiting long when Matteo and Luca arrived.  They’d driven to the hospital in their car in case Daniel needed to get back to the hotel. Daniel explained that he wouldn’t be leaving Jack, even if he had to sleep in the chair.

The friends said they’d stay with Daniel until they had some news, but would then go home, on the understanding that Daniel would call them if he needed anything at all.  Daniel was grateful for the offer. 

Matteo went on to explain that Justin had gone with the police to make a statement and give them a description of the men involved in the beating. Apparently, one was Scottish and one was English but both lived in Australia and the other one was English, but lived in Germany.  Not much to go on.

The three friends sat for what seemed like hours, just talking and drinking coffee; although Daniel wasn’t really sure if he’d have called it coffee, but it was warm and strong.

Soon though, a Doctor came in to tell them Jack did indeed have a concussion and they would be keeping him in the hospital overnight and possibly the next day. Daniel asked if he could stay with him and was told it wasn’t hospital policy, but after Daniel vehemently insisted, he gave in and agreed he could stay in a chair by Jack’s bedside, as long as he let him sleep.

Matteo and Luca left after giving Daniel their home and work numbers and making him promise to call if they needed a ride back to Valletta when Jack was discharged from the hospital.

Daniel followed the nurse to Jack’s room, noting the fact that his head wound had been stitched and was now neatly covered with a gauze pad.. His bloody clothes had been removed and he was wearing a very fetching hospital gown. A plastic bag containing Jack’s clothes was on a table by Jack’s bed. Daniel knew he wouldn’t be pleased to know the new top in his favorite color had been ruined.  Oh well, he could always buy another.

Jack was awake and his eyes followed Daniel as he pulled the chair up close to the bed and sat down.

“How do you feel?” Daniel asked as he took Jack’s hand.

Jack gave a weak grin. “I’m fine,” he answered quietly.

Daniel chuckled. “That’s my line.”

“Did it work?”

“No. So how are you really?”

“Bit confused… sort of… spaced out and nauseous.”

“Headache?”

“Nail in the head.”

“That bad? Have they given you anything?”

“Yeah. Before they brought me in here.”

“Okay, well try and get some sleep.  It’ll do you good, Jack.  I’ll be right here if you want anything.  They said I can stay with you.”

“Thanks.” Jack yawned. “Bit sleepy now. Needed to tell you … something …” Jack’s voice trailed off as his eyelids closed.

“What? Jack?  What did you…?”  It was no use.  Jack was asleep.  Oh well, he’d probably tell Daniel when he woke up, if it was important.  Daniel settled back in the chair, still holding Jack’s hand, and closed his eyes.

Daniel hadn’t intended to sleep but the door opening startled him and he realized he had slept for a while.  The nurse entered and shook Jack to wake him, explaining to Daniel he had to be roused every two or three hours due to the concussion.  Jack just about managed to crack his eyes open and reply when she asked his name, then he went back to sleep.  She checked his pulse and blood pressure and then left the room, saying she’d be back in another couple of hours to do the same.

Daniel checked his watch. It was now 3.30am. Jack was sleeping peacefully so he wondered if he should go and get some of that stuff they called coffee. As he was making the decision, the door opened again and the nurse handed him a mug of fresh coffee she had just made in the office.  She’d also put some cookies on a plate and left them with him too.

Daniel thanked her and sat back to enjoy the fresh coffee, thankful that it really did taste like coffee. He slept again lightly between her visits, finally searching out a restroom the next morning to freshen up.

On his way to the restroom he’d noticed a vending machine containing pre-packed sandwiches and chocolate bars, so he bought some and returned to Jack’s room to eat his impromptu breakfast.

By the time he was halfway through his second chocolate bar, Jack started to stir.

“Daniel?” Jack croaked.

“I’m here, Jack. Do you want some water?” Daniel held the glass of water to Jack’s lips, cupping his head to lift it with his other hand.

Jack sipped the water and then licked his lips. Daniel put the glass back on the nightstand.

“How do you feel?” Daniel asked.

“Better. Head not so bad.”

“Great. Promised to get the nurse when you were awake.  Be back in a minute,” Daniel explained as he dropped a light, chocolaty kiss on Jack’s lips.

When he came back with the nurse, she checked Jack’s vitals and asked him a few questions, then helped him to sit up.  She then disappeared saying she’d be back with a light breakfast.

When she returned a few minutes later she handed Jack a tray with fresh fruit salad, scrambled eggs, toast and a large glass of orange juice, telling him that if he could manage to eat all that and keep it down, the Doctor would probably discharge him later..

Daniel thought that was really funny.  Did she honestly think that a concussion would stop Jack from eating? No way. It would take a lot more than that to curb his appetite.

It was late morning by the time the Doctor came to check on Jack.  Daniel knew he was feeling a lot better because he was grumbling about having to stay in bed for so long.  He remarked Jack hadn’t complained about it the day before, but this only got a disgruntled huff from Jack.

Early in the afternoon, Matteo and Luca arrived to take them back to the hotel.  The gauze pad had been replaced by a large sticking plaster and Jack had been given some pills for the headache, instructions to eat a light diet, avoid exercise and alcohol and return to the hospital in a week to have the stitches removed.

Well, there was no danger of the exercise being a problem, but Jack did grumble about the light diet and the no alcohol rule.

All four men stayed in the hotel room for the remainder of the afternoon.  They talked and drank coffee; Jack even managed to take a short nap on the bed.

When it was time for dinner, all four went down to the restaurant, but Jack was looking very weary by the time they’d finished dessert.  In fact he’d struggled to eat it, which was a sure sign to Daniel that he wasn’t feeling too good.  Matteo and Luca went home, promising to call the next day and Jack and Daniel returned to their room.

“Daniel, I can’t… um…” Jack said as he shed his clothes.

“Jack! Give me credit for a little sense, will you?  Just get in bed and go to sleep.”

“Sorry. Will you hold me though?”

“Try and stop me. Now get in.” Jack climbed into bed and Daniel snuggled up by his side, wrapping his arms around his lover.

They’d been lying there in silence for several minutes when Jack remembered something. “Oh, Daniel, I wanted to tell you something.”

“You started to in the hospital but then you fell asleep.  What’s up?”

“I love you, Daniel.  In fact, I’ve realized I’m in love with you.”

“You do? You are? When?”

“What? Oh, when did I know? When we were at the Bar.  I was gonna tell you when we got back here, but didn’t get the chance. It suddenly hit me.  I think it was there all the time. I just didn’t know.”

“I love you too, Jack. Very much. Now please get some sleep.”

“Yeah, I think I will.”

Daniel leaned over and kissed his lover before they both fell into a happy and contented sleep.

Next day, after a late breakfast, they went back to their room to relax. Daniel suggested sitting on the balcony as it was still in the shade.  He wasn’t sure that the hot sun would do Jack any favors, but the fresh air would be good for him, after his stay in the hospital.

Matteo called to see if Jack was okay, followed by a call from Justin some time later.  Apparently, the three guys were nowhere to be found. The police were following leads from Customs and Excise at the Airport, but so far had come up empty. The catamaran had left for Sicily soon after the attack, so they were checking over there as well.

When Justin was happy with Jack’s condition, he told Daniel he was flying back to London that evening.  He’d delayed his original flight so he could help the police, but there was no more he could do. Daniel gave him his email address so he could contact them if he heard anything from the police, although Daniel suspected he was feeling guilty about Jack and just wanted to check up on him.

When Daniel returned to the balcony, Jack was dozing, so he read for a while.

Later, when Jack was awake he asked, “Jack, do you have to stay here until the stitches are taken out or could you get them done at home?”

“It’s only seven days, Daniel. We’ve got longer than that.”

“I know, but could you?” Daniel persisted.

Jack frowned. “I guess. Your point is…?”

“Would you like to go home?”

“Oh, Daniel. This is your vacation. Not gonna let a knock on the head spoil that.”

“Actually… um… I think I’d like to go home now.” Daniel spoke quietly.

“You would? Why?”

“I was thinking that…”

Jack groaned.

“As I was saying, I was thinking it would give us time to get settled before I had to go back to work.”

“Yeah.” Jack sighed. “There’s that.”

“So…” Daniel’s eyes sparkled as he looked at Jack. “We can go home?”

“Why not?” Jack shrugged.

“Great, I’ll make the arrangements,” Daniel said as he headed off to use the phone.  Sometime later, the flights were arranged for the following day, the jeep had been returned and the hotel was getting their final bill ready.  The rest of the day was taken up with packing; Daniel wouldn’t let Jack do it but allowed him to sit and watch.

Daniel had also called Matteo and later that evening, Luca picked them up and took them back to their house for dinner.  Matteo was cooking tonight and, in deference to Jack’s light diet requirements, had prepared grilled swordfish, potatoes and fresh vegetables, followed by fresh fruit salad.  However, he had made a Prinjolata; a sponge cake covered with butter cream and decorated with glacè cherries, pine nuts and melted chocolate.  It looked like a snow covered mountain, but tasted delicious.

The following day both Matteo and Luca took Jack and Daniel to the airport to wish them a safe flight, promising to keep in touch. Jack was also more comfortable with giving them both a hug as they said their goodbyes. 

They had all become very good friends, but it still came as a shock to Daniel when Jack invited them to stay at the cabin in the summer.

They turned and waved a last goodbye to their friends, and Malta, as they went through Passport Control to await their flight home.

 

Epilogue

 

Eight months later and Jack and Daniel were at the cabin.

It had taken them a while to sort out the two homes. Daniel had to take toiletries, clothes and some personal items to the cabin and Jack had to do the same at Daniel’s apartment in the Springs.

Jack had refreshed his PPL license and bought a Piper Meridian G1000 turboprop. It was a six-seater, but it came in handy when they had company in Minnesota.

They'd been anxious about telling Carter and Teal'c, but although Carter had been a bit shocked at first - not that she’d said so - she got over it quickly and was happy for them. In return she’d confirmed that she was getting married next year to the Area 51 guy she’d moved in with. As for Teal'c? Well, T had just arched his eyebrow and explained it was about time and he had almost given up hope for them by now. Who would have thought he’d have known?

Teal’c had been to stay a few times and Sam and her new guy, Will, had stayed a couple of times as well.

Jack had been helping Daniel prepare the vegetables for dinner, but once that job was completed, Daniel had suggested that Jack sat down and read his newspaper.

Jack knew he had been dismissed because once all the donkey work had been done, Daniel liked the kitchen to himself to prepare his culinary masterpieces.

He sat at the Dining Room table with the newspaper spread out in front of him, but dropped his reading glasses down his nose so he could watch Daniel over the top of the rims.

This was his favorite pastime these days; watching Daniel.

Daniel had a couple of weeks leave due to him so they were spending it at the cabin and Matteo and Luca were arriving that afternoon to stay with them for ten days.

Jack sighed but it was a content sigh. Yep, life is sweet, he thought.

He turned a page of the newspaper, rustling it as he had already done several times. He didn’t want Daniel to know he wasn’t really reading it.

Daniel had his back to the Dining Room and Jack took in the broad shoulders, tapering down to slim hips, ass cheeks that, underneath the jeans, were like ripe peaches, and down the long legs to the bare feet.

The sight of Daniel’s ass, which, incidentally Jack loved squeezing, started him thinking.

Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Daniel sure taught me how filthy Marine slang can be made to sound sexy.  Oy! Did anyone else know what a filthy mouth he has?  Jeez, when he first whispered those obscenities into my ear, I thought he’d been taken over by aliens.  But no alien could make those words sound like that. His low, husky voice still sends shivers down my spine and straight to my dick. Didn’t take long before I returned the favor. Well, that just made him worse.

Oh yeah, talking of worse, Daniel then introduced me to the art of rimming.  Crap! That was something else! Took a while to return the favor there, but in the end I thought, ‘Hell, why not?’

Wonder what he’ll come up with next?

All this thinking about sex had aroused Jack and he was wondering how he’d explain to Daniel that reading a newspaper had got him so hard.

Daniel was now washing his hands before putting the dish in the oven to cook.  That was Jack’s cue to fix some coffee. He walked into the kitchen, loaded and switched on the coffee machine as Daniel straightened and closed the oven door.

Jack walked up behind him and folded him in his arms, nuzzling his neck.

“Ja-ack?”

“Mmm?”

“You don’t have to pretend to read the paper. I could feel your eyes on me and turning the pages didn’t convince me otherwise.”

Jack smiled as he nuzzled Daniel’s ear. No, you can’t fool Daniel, no matter how hard you try.

“Ja-ack?”

“Mmm?”

“You’ve been checking out my ass again. And don’t tell me that’s a lethal weapon poking me.”

“Oh yeah, it’s lethal. You want it?”

Daniel spun around in Jack’s arms, slipping his hands down the front of Jack’s sweats and squeezing his balls.

“Daniel?” Jack raised his eyebrows as he looked at Daniel’s face, still flushed from standing at the stove.

“Got used to having a lethal weapon in my hand, especially when it goes off!”

“DANIEL! Er … d’you wanna take this to the bedroom?”

“No.”

“Couch?”

“No, Jack. Here. Here and now!” Daniel commanded.

“But… but it’ll get messy.”

“Yeah, but we’ve got to get changed anyway.”

Jack couldn’t argue with that and plunged his hands into Daniel’s sweats. Whoa!  He was ready too. Sparkling blue eyes met chocolate brown ones, as they quickly stripped off so they could jerk each other off.

Wow, thought Jack, this isn’t the life I had planned for my retirement, but I’m sure going to enjoy it!

“C’mon Jack, stop daydreaming. Harder! Faster!” Daniel ordered as he did the same to Jack.

Jack’s last coherent thought was, Yessir, Doctor Jackson, your wish is my command!”