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The Next Best Thing

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"You're too stubborn to give in," he imagines Jack saying.

But Jack's not here. He doesn't know what it's like being trapped on the Odyssey with only six people on board. It's like a tomb; they've been buried in space, the engines standing still, silent even in the waking hours. The halls echo the things they'll miss, the time that is lapsing for them, but not for the world outside. Years could pass—if Sam figures it out Daniel could be as old as Jack when he returns to Earth. Then they might both be ready for retirement.

The possibility of those years stretch before him, a fragile vase teetering on the edge of Daniel's mind, just waiting to up-end and shatter. Because it's not just long years in a confined space with only five people to keep him company. It's years without Jack.

"I'm not sure I want to do it." He closes his eyes, seeing Jack's half-cocked smile.

"You'll find a way. Always do." Jack reaches out to stroke Daniel's face. He leans into the empty touch, nuzzling against his memory.

His hands slide over his penis, slipping into the fantasy, merging into a memory of Jack's hands on his body, Jack's lips at his throat, Jack's hips thrusting against his own. The room morphs into his bedroom in Colorado Springs, one pillow on the bed unofficially Jack's, just like the empty drawer in Daniel's dresser and the extra toothbrush in the bathroom.

Jack raises his head from Daniel's neck, and wipes the sweat off Daniel's brow. Jack kisses him, soap scent filling Daniel's nose; he loves fucking right after a shower.

Daniel's hand pushes against Jack's ass, holding him close as he thrusts. Skin feels different after a shower, more pliant, supple. Jack's penis skids along Daniel's abdomen, sticking as it rubs. Daniel releases the pressure on Jack's ass, allowing for more space between their bodies, for the steam-soaked air to pass through and cushion their rutting. Daniel sighs, back lifting off the bed, arching into Jack's space. His fingers clench into Jack's back.

"Watch the marks," Jack mumbles into his ear, worrying the lobe between his teeth.

"Sorry," Daniel breathes, even though he's not. Jack should be marked. He should be covered with wounds from Daniel, the same way Daniel feels he's covered in wounds from Jack. Other people should know about the kind of sex they have. It shouldn't have to be a secret. It shouldn't have to be something they aren't supposed to want. They shouldn't have to carefully tuck their emotions into their pockets when they take off their clothes.

"God. Daniel," Jack moans. He's close.

Daniel bites into his shoulder, licking up Jack's neck, his tongue alternating between long strokes and light flicks. Daniel ends on Jack's mouth, fucking between his lips the way Jack fucks into Daniel's hip. Their mouths part with a gasp and then Jack is coming, pushing through the semen, pushing against Daniel's belly.

He pants, almost saying Daniel's name, almost saying something else, something Daniel can't quite make out.

Daniel keeps thrusting against Jack because he's almost there. He's almost there and he just needs a little bit more, a little something extra.

Jack leans into Daniel's ear, slipping out of memory, treading firmly into the realm of fantasy, and whispers, "I miss you."

Daniel chokes out of the dream, his fingers stuttering as he tries to hold on to Jack. Jack doesn't know Daniel's missing at all. The thought sends his stomach rolling. He could die out here from old age years before Jack even suspects he's gone.

He swallows bile, his eyes stinging and sharp. He pulls his hand from his still hard dick, losing all desire to orgasm. "I hate this time travel bullshit," he pants. He sits up, wiping his forehead with the back of his wrist. He needs to brush his teeth, take a shower. He smacks his lips, resisting the urge to wet them.

A quick clean up with tissues and redress, and Daniel is on his way to the showers.

He runs water in the sink, looking only at his toothbrush as he rinses it. There's a spot of pre-come on the back of his hand. This may be all he has of Jack ever again. The evidence splits him open, but he holds back his tears until the hot water of the shower hides them.

* * *

He hears Mitchell, rhythmic feet padding down the hall, slower today, a more constant pace; he must have slept through the night. Daniel's shoes are already on, so he slips out the door and waits for Mitchell.

"Jackson," Mitchell takes a step around, ducking his head in a brief greeting.

It takes Daniel a few strides to match pace, but Mitchell's running slow and steady enough that he can keep up.

Mitchell barely turns his head, probably viewing Daniel more out of the corner of his eye, and he grunts.

"Felt like running," Daniel answers, and that's good enough for Mitchell, at least good enough that he doesn't push the point; doesn't ask what it is Daniel's running from.

They run in silence, the sweat building, trickling down Daniel's spine. His legs protest only slightly before remembering that they used to do this every day. He jars his feet a few times, stepping too firmly, but then he just glides, finding the rhythm. There's peace in the rhythm, like mobile meditation. Breathing and movement are conscious and yet automatic. As Daniel slips into the pattern his mind goes careening free.

"Pentagon has me locked up in meetings. And they might actually be important," Daniel hears the eye roll in Jack's voice. "Otherwise, you know I'd be there."

"I know," Daniel says. "I mean . . ."

"It's Thor." Jack's voice is light, but there's something else, carefully tucked away, a bad feeling.

"I'll tell him you said hi," Daniel starts, unsure of what to say.


The silence stretches into a full minute and Daniel pretends he's quiet just because he's still packing. "Where's my toothbrush?" he breathes into the phone while he grips the toothbrush in his hand.


He freezes, the blood in his veins ice cold, the same way he felt before heading off to Edora and Tegalus, Kelowna. This nonsensical, extra sensory vibe that something big is about to happen. He listens when he gets that feeling now.

"Jack, I—"

"I'll swing by when you get back. Stay for a long weekend." Daniel relaxes, his blood flowing again, pumping heat back into his fingers. "Can I crash at your place?"

Daniel smiles, feels it warm his face as he starts cataloguing the ways they can reconnect during Jack's visit, the supplies they'll need. "I'd be offended if you didn't."

"I'll see you, then," Jack says.

"Yeah," Daniel agrees. He hesitates, the ice back in his veins, pushing him to take the plunge to tell Jack, tell him before he goes. Even if it's not right and it's just over the phone, he should tell him right now. "Jack—" But the line's gone dead. He swallows his words, but he can still hear them in his mind, echoing like he actually said them: I love you.

Daniel's steps falter and he trips, striking his left shoulder into one of the Odyssey's ribs. He's panting now, breath out of control, just like his feet. Mitchell grabs his shoulder, keeps Daniel from falling.

"Out of practice?" Mitchell offers.

"Must be," Daniel agrees. He wipes sweat from his eyes, ignoring the sting. "Maybe this isn't for me."

"Got to do something around here." Mitchell bounces on his feet, keeping his legs limber, keeping his rhythm steady. "You need a minute?"

Daniel waves a hand, leaning over, closing up his lungs, he knows, but he can't help curling in on himself. "Go on. I'm . . ." Lost. "Slowing you down."

"Sometimes you need to be slowed down," Mitchell says. He stops bouncing and Daniel feels a familiar assessing gaze from eyes that don't belong to Mitchell.

"No," Daniel gasps. "Go on."

Mitchell grabs Daniel's arm and pulls him upright. "We'll walk for a bit, then you can hit the showers. Just give your body a minute to shake it off."

Daniel nods because that is actually something he should do.

Mitchell keeps his grip on Daniel's arm for the first few feet, a focal point for reality. He lets go when Daniel's breathing steadies. They walk to the showers and then Mitchell resumes his run. When Daniel emerges twenty minutes later, there are clean clothes on the bench. Daniel's heart clenches because it's such a Jack thing to do.

* * *

He nearly trips over Vala in the morning. She's sitting just outside his door, long legs stretched into the corridor. Not really a great morning for this, but Vala tends to know the worst moments to be underfoot.

"Morning," she chirps. Daniel sighs, helping her to her feet. Today's toy, a yellow plastic yo-yo, is clutched in her right hand.

"Know any tricks?" Daniel nods at the toy.

"Not really. But I can do this." Vala releases the toy and flicks her wrist, allowing it to unspool and spool three times before catching it again. "Not bad?" She smiles, all teeth.

"Let me see it." Daniel coaxes it out of her hands, threading the loop over his middle finger. He's a little out of practice, but easily does an Around the World to warm up. Vala applauds and Daniel grins despite himself.

"Okay, okay, let me think." Daniel throws the yo-yo in a Sleeper and then wraps the extended string around the thumb on his left hand, holding the excess in between his fore and middle fingers. He pulls the loop around his thumb, three strings connected between his two hands. He flips the yo-yo over his left hand and on to the middle string, finishing Drop in the Bucket.

"Oh, teach me one." Vala's reverence is adorable in a way Daniel will only admit to under torture.

"All right, Walk the Dog." He flicks the yo-yo out a few times, getting a good rhythm going. "It's pretty easy. You just throw the yo-yo like normal, but you let it roll all the way out so that it spins—that's called a Sleeper—and then you lower it to the ground and it . . . just . . . walks." He does a Walk the Dog as he explains, letting the yo-yo roll a few steps away before snapping it back to his palm. "You try." He hands it over, chuckling as Vala fumbles the loop over her finger.

She gets the Sleeper right on the first try, but lowers the yo-yo completely to the ground and it bumps to the right, swinging out of control.

"Gently, gently," Daniel laughs. She does it again, but this time his hand rests over hers as she lowers it at a slower pace. The yo-yo rolls calmly along until Daniel flicks Vala's wrist, catching the yo-yo as it flies over her hand. "Easier to do without a spotter." A blush rises to his cheeks. He hadn't meant to take control.

She tries the trick again, getting it to roll a couple inches before she tugs it to return to her hand. "How'd you learn to do this?"

"Oh, uh," Daniel rubs the back of his neck. Lazy Saturdays; minutes stolen off world; hours in Daniel's office, Jack bored out of his head, flash in Daniel's mind. "Jack, actually."

"General O'Neill? He yo-yos?"

Daniel chuckles, thinking about Jack in his dress blues standing outside the Pentagon, a small crowd around him as he performs an impressive trick called the Wormhole. "Only when he shouldn't."

"I get the impression that Jack usually operates that way." She tries Walk the Dog again, her tongue just poking out of her mouth.

Daniel tugs at her pigtail, distracting her so that the yo-yo continues to spin at the end of the extended string. "Not unlike someone I know."

She pulls up the yo-yo, stuffing it into her pocket, the string probably knotting. "It's a good thing you have me, then." She winks as she walks backwards, a few feet away from him. "Seems like you always need someone who pushes your limits."

Daniel rolls his eyes, following behind her at a slower pace. "I don't need my limits pushed."

"Everyone thinks that." She waves him off. "Breakfast? I'm cooking today."

"You're cooking?" He's never seen Vala cook. When cooking rotation comes around, Vala usually finds some way of getting around it—betting chores during poker games, flirting her way out of it, 'accidentally' sleeping late.

"I'm planning on making a delicacy from Valun."

Daniel narrows his eyes. "Isn't that one of the planets Quetesh ruled?"

"It is, perhaps." Vala bites her lip, reining in her grin. "One of their traditional meals is the small intestine of an animal—a bit like a cross between a pig and a cat—roasted in a marinade of its blood, excrement, and oregano."

"Oregano?" Daniel raises an eyebrow.

Vala stifles a laugh. "You question me on 'oregano' but not 'excrement'?"

Daniel leans across her to open the door. "You're messing with me either way."

She frowns. "I liked you better when you were naïve. Sit." She leaves Daniel at the table, ducking into the kitchen, setting trays out on the counter.

"You didn't know me when I was naïve," Daniel shouts to her.

"You used to be more naïve?" She slaps bowls and cereal on the trays.

"I'm not naïve," he mumbles, but he knows Jack would agree with Vala. Hell, Landry, Mitchell, and Teal'c would agree with Vala. Sam's just too nice to agree because she's usually taken in just as easily.

Vala places the trays in front of them, Daniel's coffee fixed with two sugars.

"It's all right to be naïve, Daniel. You can afford to be when you have someone like me around."

"Because you can use my blank stare to scam someone else?" He drinks the coffee, ignoring the cereal.

"No." Vala indignantly shovels Fruit Loops into her mouth. "Because I'll look out for you." She swallows. "I bet Jack used to do the same thing."

Daniel sets down the coffee cup, Jack's overprotective mother-henning is practically a cliché, but there are times when Daniel needs it, times when he likes it. Like when Daniel was stranded on Tegalus, Jack did more than feed his fish. When Daniel came home, the fridge was stocked and his sheets had been changed (and smelled deliciously like Jack).

"You need someone to look after you, Daniel."

Daniel pushes his glasses up his nose. "And you want to be that person?"

Vala frowns, shrugging her shoulders. "I could be." She smiles softly, more showing on her face than she maybe intends. "If you wanted me."

The shy way she says it, Daniel believes her, maybe because he's naïve, maybe because she means it, maybe because he wants her to look after him. Daniel blinks, shaking his head slightly. This is Vala. She's not thinking like that.

"I, uh."

She smacks his shoulder, smug grin in place. "Oh, don't be so serious." She laughs, but there's a discomfort to it, like the joke isn't all that funny. And Daniel has to agree, joking like this isn't all that funny. He shouldn't be thinking about someone else. Not yet. It hasn't even been three months; he and Jack have both waited at least that long.

* * *

When Daniel's door slides open, Vala is there, lounging with her back against the frame. Her profile is striking, a glimmer of the goddess she used to be.

"Going to let me in?" There's something else in her voice, not the playful come-ons Daniel's grown used to over the past two years galavanting across the galaxy. He steps aside, letting her slink in and shut the door. She walks toward him, purposefully. The backs of his knees bump the bed.

"Uh, Vala."

"Shh." Her pale finger rests against his lips. "I saw the way you looked at me over breakfast."

"Oh, no, I—"

"I saw, Daniel." Her hand fits to his shoulder, pressing down, stroking his chest. It's warm, and good, and something Daniel's been missing. Jack. . . .

"Just let go, Daniel." Her hands find his belt and start pulling. His mind is foggy, lost in lust, lost in a fantasy, and he can't think of a single reason he shouldn't do this. It's been over two months and he hasn't had any release in so long. And no matter what he feels about Jack, they've always understood, they understand, they . . . they. . . .

"God, Vala," he whispers when her hand wraps around his dick.

He holds her to him, partly to keep his balance, as her arm pumps, hand moving swiftly over his flesh. Her other hand presses on his back, dancing up under his shirt, sure to leave tiny nail marks; scratches that will fade before anyone else has a chance to see them. Her nose bumps his chin, pushing into his neck until he leans closer, giving her better access so her lips can attach to his flesh.

His mouth parts in almost words. She feels so good, better than he'd ever imagined she might feel. He'd told Jack about her, back when he first met her on the Prometheus. He'd told Jack that he'd kissed her, stripped her, but hadn't told him that he'd enjoyed it, been attracted to the troublesome brunette. Jack had teased him about it. "Come on, Daniel, I know how aliens turn you on." But it had never been serious. Vala had never been a threat.

She still isn't, is she? This is just to get off, relieve tension.

Goose pimples rise over Daniel's back when she rubs up against his leg. Her tongue laves his throat and he rolls his head, turning to guide her. Her lips press against his jaw, his cheek, but when they touch his mouth, they're thinner and firmer, Jack's.

The height difference is gone, the hands touching him wider and rougher, the arm around him thicker and stronger, the body under his own hands fuller.

"Heard you need some help." Jack smirks.

Daniel smiles, hands refitting around the familiar body, digging beneath clothing he had previously left untouched. "Jack, Jack," he murmurs, pressing into the skin with real need.

"Easy," Jack whispers. "You really want this to just be about getting off?"

"Shut up." Daniel kisses him, smiles on both of their lips. Jack pushes him and they fall to the bed, a tangle of limbs. "I missed you," Daniel pants, barely voicing his desire.

"You have a funny way of showing it," Vala says.

Daniel starts, coming fully awake. The back of his neck is covered in sweat and his traitorous dick is painfully hard. Just what he doesn't need, Vala infiltrating his dreams, encroaching further and further into his relationship with Jack. She pushes too hard, too much. She's too insistent and this—Daniel tugs on his penis—is her fault.

He pushes the sheets off, pulling on a discarded T-shirt. He shouldn't be thinking about her. Jack is still there, waiting for Daniel, and Daniel is thinking about her.

He sighs and gets up, figuring that Teal'c is probably awake by now, still able to match the beats of the day even though the ship is surrounded by nothing but night. He slips on workout clothes and heads down the hall, hoping that Teal'c will be up for something more vigorous than weightlifting.

"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c rumbles when Daniel opens the door.

"Hey, Teal'c." He comes into the room, not really sure of what he's looking for, what he wants to say. He touches the things on Teal'c's wall—a burial mask from Chulak, a ceremonial knife.

"Did you wish to kel'no'reem?"

Exactly what he doesn't want—to be lost in more thoughts. "No. Thank you," Daniel carefully says.

Teal'c inclines his head slightly, never offended.

Daniel's fingers stop on a pair of training staffs on Teal'c's bookcase. He knows Teal'c and Mitchell have been sparing on a semi-regular basis; the physical exertion is what keeps them both grounded.

"Can we . . . spar?" Daniel lifts one of the weapons, idly wondering if it's something that was already on the ship or something Sam fabricated. Which would make it feel more real to him?

"You have never wished to spar against me." Teal'c picks up the second weapon, leading Daniel out of the room.

"We've never been stuck on a spaceship for two months," Daniel mumbles.

"Indeed," Teal'c says, a smile in his voice.

On the mat, Teal'c bows, Daniel mimicking him. They circle, one foot crossing over the other, footwork Daniel remembers from Jack's first self-defense lessons.

"You have to keep moving. Don't let your opponent close in on you. Your greatest strength is your speed, Daniel." He blinks hard, focusing only on Teal'c, on now.

Teal'c lunges, and Daniel parries the blow, knocking it to the left. He knows Teal'c is easing him into this, but Daniel doesn't want it easy. It's foolish for this to be easy because nothing else ever is. He swings for Teal'c's head, a strike Teal'c easily blocks, a message he understands.

The next two attacks glance off Daniel's shoulders, almost blocked but not quite. He hits Teal'c on his fourth attack, sweeping Teal'c's right leg up. The motion throws him off balance enough that Teal'c's swing goes slightly wild, probably harder than he intended, and Daniel goes sprawling, blood warming his lip.

"For cryin' out loud, Daniel. You're supposed to block."

A solid hand on his shoulder pulls him around. "Daniel Jackson, are you injured?" Teal'c's face swims over Daniel.

"I'm okay." Copper in his mouth. He rolls over, spitting. "I'm okay." He lifts himself on hands and knees, using his staff for leverage up. He rotates his shoulder, feels looser, like the impact shook something deeply ingrained.

"I will take you to the infirmary."

"No." Daniel wipes the tears at his eyes and the blood at his mouth. "I'm not done."

Teal'c raises an eyebrow. "Very well."

Daniel lets go, stops planning, lets his body slip into the moment, just like Jack always advises him to do. "Live in the moment, Daniel, stop thinking about all that . . . other stuff. Just here, now."

"Right," Daniel mutters. He darts away after each attack, blocking each and every hit. Teal'c isn't fighting at his full strength, but he matches Daniel, providing the necessary force and speed to push Daniel to eventual exhaustion. Of course at this rate Teal'c will never tire, but Daniel's patience is running out.

He makes a stupid move, something Jack would have knocked him flat for, but Teal'c plays stupid, spinning at the same time, as though he didn't see the opening.

Three more easily blocked blows from Teal'c, all too soft in Daniel's opinion. "Hit me!"

Teal'c nearly growls. "I do not wish to hurt you."

But Daniel doesn't see Teal'c anymore. He sees Jack. And the punishment Daniel should receive for being unfaithful, or nearly so.

Daniel puts all his force into his next hit and catches Teal'c's chin, snapping his jaw to the left. Teal'c doesn't even wipe away the blood.

In the end, Teal'c bruises Daniel's arms, the outside of his left thigh, and his cheek—large purple splotches that turn black in some places and will fade two weeks later in yellow and green. Daniel doesn't ask him to spar the next day because it doesn't help. Because afterwards, Daniel stands under the shower, cataloguing his bruises, pushing his fingers against the discolored skin, watching as the blood shifts under the pressure. Because under a steady stream of hot water, Jack did the same thing, taking stock of Daniel's injuries, kissing them tenderly, making Daniel hope that Jack wasn't promising something more than Daniel was ready to accept.

And when Vala sees the bruises later that day, she touches Daniel's face and innocently asks, "Why did you do this to yourself?"

He can't begin to explain it, especially not to her.

* * *

"Despite all that the Asgard never found a way to reverse the damage done to their DNA by the cloning process. They were just too far gone and out of time." Daniel shakes his head. It's hard to believe not having enough time, not now anyway. "Our scientists could learn a thing or two from this research."

Mitchell rolls his eyes, casting a look across the table to Sam. "That is if we ever get out of this."

Sam shifts, having already reported on her progress; it was a short report.

"Colonel," Landry warns, hardly taking note of the silent communication around the table.

"Sorry, sir," Mitchell mumbles.

Vala sighs heavily, blowing the hair out of her face.

"Um, anyway . . ." Daniel's notes are surprisingly unhelpful for reining in his thoughts. It's all interesting information—to him—but nothing the SGC really needs, nothing the five people sitting around him would find all that fascinating either. "The repository contains an amazing amount of information about their history and culture, language . . ." It's Heliopolis all over again, a life time's work of information to study, meaning of life stuff.

Landry nods, face impassive.

"Uh, for example, the Asgard used to have ceremonies fairly similar to weddings, before they irreversibly changed their physiology."

Mitchell snorts. "I'm having a hard time imaging an Asgard in a tux."

He can almost hear Jack beside him. "Thor would have looked pretty sweet in a tux. Sharp." The laughter burbles out of Daniel before he can stop it. He coughs, clearing the humor from his dry throat. "They, um, didn't wear tuxedos. As far as I can tell," he mumbles.

Vala rolls her eyes, slapping the table. "Why are we having this briefing?"

"To keep Mitchell entertained," Landry dryly quips. He shuffles the pages in front of him; Sam hasn't gotten out of the habit of writing reports.

Teal'c cocks his head, possibly the only one at the table seriously considering Vala's question. "Because it is part of our normal routine."

Vala points at Teal'c. "Exactly. Normal. What about this is normal?" She holds her hands palms out to Sam, shoulders shrinking. "No offense. Just . . . why are we having a briefing?"

The table is cold, even through Daniel's long sleeves, as he leans heavily on it. He licks his lips. "To brief each other of our progress."

"Oh, right," Vala says, slumping back into her chair. "Phase-technology setback and fascinating cultural implications." She waves to them each in turn. "Special Jaffa training, watching the garden grow, and running off mounting sexual tension."


"I could help you take care of it." Vala winks at Mitchell.

Daniel snaps, "Just because you're not interested—"

"Outdated marriage practices of aliens lacking reproductive organs," Vala snaps. "What's not to love?"

Landry starts a sentence that Daniel doesn't even register. "You always do this. Always. The ceremony is important, all right? The vows, what they stand for, actually means something." He huffs. "Even if they don't matter to you."

Vala's mouth drops for a moment and she says a breathy, "Huh."

It's been a while since he snapped in the briefing room, and suddenly the completely unprofessional words echo back to him. Teal'c's eyebrow raises, the only movement at the table.

Daniel rubs his brow, hiding his face behind his hand. "I'm sorry. I just . . . I realize none of you may find this important." He's reminded of a thousand conversations with Jack, always arguing for taking advantage of the cultural benefits of the Stargate.

"It's important, Daniel," Sam says carefully.

Landry folds his hands, leaning over. "There is nothing else I'd rather hear about."

Mitchell sighs, but settles back in his chair. "Where else am I going to go?"

Vala snaps her mouth shut, sitting stiffly. She purses her lips and slides her eyes away from Daniel.

Landry gestures, "continue" clear in his expression.

Daniel adjusts his glasses, sliding aside one of his papers, pushing himself into the reserved world of academia. This transition used to come easier, but now, the role doesn't quite fit. "Okay . . . well . . . it was a fairly simple ceremony, not unlike our own," Daniel starts. His own wedding was more culturally dissonant than the Asgard one he read about. They never said public vows, but they didn't need to. Once he felt Sha're's arms around his neck, the warm press of her lips, he knew: he'd be married to her for the rest of his life because what they felt in their hearts didn't need to be spoken or sanctioned.

He had been beginning to feel that way again.

"I'm sorry." He leaves them at the table, blinking at each other. Vala is probably annoyed that she'd been cowed into staying when he is the one who suddenly escapes. Escapes, right.

There's nowhere to escape. There's only the ship, and more ship, and more ship. They can fabricate whatever they like to keep themselves entertained, amused, but they can't fabricate an outside; they can't fabricate people.

Daniel heads to one of the isolation rooms in the infirmary, leaning against the cool wall, a hospital bed to his right blocking his view of the door. He closes his eyes, folds his arms over his knees, tucks his head down. The ventilation kicks on, like a hand through his hair, soft and familiar tickling down his spine.

"We were getting somewhere," he whispers. "I actually . . . I felt it."

The imagined hand on his head flexes, maybe meaning, "Me too."

The door cracks, making a sucking sound as it opens. He leans back, rolling his head so that his forehead presses against the cold sheets.

"Daniel?" Vala asks. She approaches him slowly and sits on the ground in front of him, her boots brushing up against his pants legs. She ducks her head down, maybe waiting for him to say something, maybe for once realizing that silence is sometimes better than words.

"I know being here isn't easy for you," she finally says. "You try to hide it, but I know."

Daniel raises an eyebrow, flattening his lips.

"I'm sorry if I made it more difficult for you." Her features soften; it's sometimes hard to read, but she's sincere. And then she hits him on the knee.

He jerks back. "What was that for?"

"How dare you imply that wedding vows mean nothing to me." Her voice is as sharp as her features.

"I . . . what?"

"Being here isn't just difficult for you. And it's not just because I'm bored."

Daniel's mind takes off, really racing for the first time in weeks. "But . . . Tomin?"

"I didn't think I'd never see him again," Vala snaps. "Besides, it was never easy being married to him and being . . . here." Her words sound carefully chosen.

"Vala, I didn't mean to imply—"

"Yes, you did." She hits him on the knee again. "But I'm willing to forgive you." There's a smile in the corner of her mouth.

"Oh." He adjusts his glasses, blinking. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it." This time the slap to his knee is more affectionate, inexplicably sending a thrill over his skin. "Stop moping and join me for some dinner." She stands easily, her balance shifting perfectly as her center of gravity changes. Her movements are so graceful, sometimes a little too graceful.

He takes her offered hand and braces himself with his other hand, pushing up.

"Daniel, please don't make me find you in here again. It's creepy." She shivers slightly, and for the first time Daniel thinks of Adria and how Vala lost her in a room much like this one.

His arm is around her before he realizes it. It stays there until they leave the room, his hand on her shoulder gently stroking, probably feeling like nothing more than a tickle from the ventilation.

* * *

"Right here!" Mitchell claps his hands before accepting the pass from Daniel. He fakes the shot while Daniel darts behind Teal'c. Daniel barely catches the alley-oop and is completely shut down by Teal'c, tripping over his feet in his momentum.

"Keep it on the court," Mitchell jokes. The gym is too small for a regulation-sized half-court, or even a regulation-sized basketball hoop, so they made Sam fabricate something that barely fits. The result is that frequently they run out of court or overshoot the basket because they're still not used to the smaller size. Like pretty much everything around here, none of them actually want to get used to it.

"You try catching an alley-oop over Teal'c's head," Daniel pants, checking in the ball with Vala.

"Excuses." Vala feints left, and then passes to Teal'c on the right, cutting around Daniel's side. "Your physical shortcomings can't always hold you back."

Daniel rolls his eyes. "If anyone needs to worry about being short around here . . . "

"Those who deny have the most to hide," Vala singsongs.

Mitchell snatches the ball after Teal'c's easy lay-up. "How did that get turned into a penis metaphor?"

"Were you not aware, Colonel Mitchell? Vala Mal Doran turns everything into a penis metaphor."

Vala's huff of indignation is covered by Mitchell's burst of laughter. He heaves the ball at Daniel, before doubling over.

Daniel shakes his head, dribbling the ball. "We know your M.O."

Vala screws up her lips, brow furrowing in concentration. "You're the one who brought up being short."

"I was referring to height."

"So was I!" Vala's serious face cracks. "In a way." Daniel smiles at her silly grin, watching as she plants her feet, relaxed. The glint in his eye gives him away, but he's already moving when she sees it.

Mitchell sets a pick, Vala smacking into his shoulder. Daniel runs past them, facing off against Teal'c, the immovable tree. But Mitchell follows Daniel, ready for the pass back, and he sinks the shot, a sweet little nothing-but-net.

"Oh yeah!" Mitchell pumps the air and then gives Daniel a high five. "We are beyond compare."

"You are still behind in points," Teal'c says.

Daniel pushes his glasses up his nose. "I thought we weren't keeping score."

"Twenty-three to thirty-four," Teal'c and Vala say.

"No way." Mitchell gestures between himself and Daniel. "We've got twenty-six. You've only got thirty."

"Uh, Mitchell. That would still put us behind."

Mitchell rolls his eyes. "Less behind though."

"But if you're going to lie. . . ."

"I'm not lying!"

Vala takes the ball out of Teal'c's hands. "How about sudden death? Next shot wins."

The ball slips through Mitchell's arms and hits his stomach, knocking out a grunt. "She's just trying to get out of this. We've got 'em on the ropes."

"'On the ropes'?" Daniel raises an eyebrow.

"You are not the wingman you once were." Mitchell checks the ball in with Vala, and then is immediately on her, arms not quite encircling her, body just barely pressing against her back. A thrill of jealousy blossoms in Daniel's stomach.

"Nice way to guard," he mutters.

Mitchell's fingers find the ball, knocking it from Vala's hands, and they both launch, trying to catch the bouncing ball, nearly comical in their chase. Vala's legs look like rubber and when she slips they splay, tripping up Mitchell. And Teal'c is suddenly there, snatching up the ball, and while Daniel's mind is still on Vala's prone form, he hears the swish of the net. It's Mitchell's groan that finally pulls Daniel around.

"We could have had it! Jackson, head in the game!"

"The game is already over Colonel Mitchell." Teal'c smirks, causing another outburst from Mitchell, still sitting on the floor rubbing his shins.

"You all right?" Daniel helps Vala up, their palms sweaty.

"It takes more than that to keep me down." Vala winks, and turns, wiping her cheek on her shoulder. "You guard me any tighter, Mitchell, and you'll be climbing into my pants."

Mitchell hugs her from behind, his arms wrapping around her belly. "Doesn't sound so bad, eh, Jackson?" Mitchell swings Vala and lets go, her feet stumbling beneath her until she crashes into Daniel.

She actually blushes.

He helps her gain her feet again, snagging a towel off the bench to run over her face. "You're overdoing it," he advises.

"I have to find some way to keep myself entertained, Daniel. And if you're not . . ." She runs a finger down the middle of his chest. He pinches her hands; the stirring below his waist would be very noticeable in the mesh basketball shorts.

"You want me to proposition Mitchell then? He sounds intrigued." She flutters her lashes.

Daniel sighs, releasing her hands, stepping back to grab his own towel. "Patience is a virtue."

She bites her lip, the smile still breaking out. "A month ago you'd be shoving me at Mitchell, but now you give me platitudes. I'm wearing you down."

The corners of his mouth lift, teasing. He walks backwards out of the gym. "You wish."

Mitchell wraps his towel around Vala's waist, pulling her up against his chest. "Not a lot of options around here. What, Jackson? You got someone you're waiting for?" The question is asked with a smile, an innocent joke, so Daniel tries not to let it cut too deep.

"Besides, we all figure you'll wear down eventually." Mitchell winks at Vala who slaps his chest playfully.

"Leave Daniel to me," Vala chides. "But if you want something to do while I'm waiting for him. . . ." Her tongue brushing her lips makes the invitation clear.

"Vala," Daniel warns, the word laced with more emotion than he intended.

Mitchell steps away suddenly. "Ah, I think it's best to wait for the final score. I think this game's still in overtime."

Daniel rolls his eyes. "Can I forfeit?"

Vala flounces past him. "It'll just be rescheduled, darling."

"Lucky me."

* * *

Sam's playing the cello, trying to pick out notes with nothing more than a pitch pipe. The Asgard matter converters can make anything, but only what their minds can describe. Books they haven't read, movies they haven't watched, can't be manufactured because they have no frame of reference for it. And the Asgard didn't exactly offer music teachers.

"How's it coming?"

She grimaces, guilt spread across her features.

"You're allowed to take a break," Daniel offers.

Sam sighs. "That's not what Vala thinks."

Daniel rolls his eyes. "Leave Vala to me."

Sam grins, this half-knowing look in her eyes. Daniel is suddenly reminded of the time she and Jack filled Daniel's refrigerator with Jell-O: every flavor imaginable wiggling at him when he opened the door. Jack and Sam stood behind him, laughing uncontrollably, Sam admitting through her tears that she almost told him, that she had trouble keeping the secret.

"How are you and Vala doing?"

Daniel drops into the spare seat, scrubbing his face with his hands. "You really don't want to know."

Sam lets go of the cello, letting the neck rest against her shoulder. "Oh, it can't be that bad."

Daniel rolls his eyes, thinking back to the previous week. "Pink fluffy handcuffs," he mumbles.

The laughter bubbles out of Sam, filling the cold science lab with some warmth, chasing away the lingering morose notes of the cello. Why did Sam have to choose such a depressing instrument?

"I don't want to know," she laughs, grabbing the cello so that it doesn't fall. "TMI!"

Daniel sets his glasses on the console. "Apparently I'm very entertaining."

Sam looks him up and down, eyebrows rising, tongue poking out humorously. "I bet you are," she flirts.

"Oh, come on!" He pushes her shoulder, enjoying the teasing. "You're worse than Jack!"

Her smile wanes slightly, but she manages to keep it bright. Her eyes, however, have sobered.

"Sorry," Daniel mumbles. "I try not to think about him too much. But sometimes. . . . " Daniel puts his glasses back on, blinking as his eyes refocus.

The silence stretches between them, all the unsaid "sometimes" lingering.

A corner of her mouth lifts in a smile. "We don't usually talk about him."

Daniel scratches the back of his neck, suddenly feeling tight in his skin. "Usually." It's more awkward than he likes because even now, nearly three months in, he still can't tell her. What if they do make it out? If he tells her. . . .

"Did you talk to him? Before we left?" She blushes, turning to place the bow on the nearest console. "I mean, personally."

"Yeah," Daniel softly admits. "We . . . call each other a lot." He sees Jack more often than anyone knows. Jack sneaks into Colorado Springs just for Daniel. Just to see Daniel.

She holds back the tears, but Daniel can see the emotion flood her eyes. She nods swiftly. "I didn't talk to him before we left. I should have. I had a feeling, just . . . why didn't I tell him?" Sam saying Daniel's thoughts sobers him, knocking the good memories from his mind. They're both silent, both thinking of the same man, of the same things they should have said to him. Daniel has the added guilt of his actual relationship with Jack, unconsummated only by three words he now knows that he feels.

Daniel finally clears his throat, his voice filling a void Jack hasn't yet had enough time to notice. "Because we thought we had more time."

Sam misses the pronoun, or the revelation, and just nods. "I thought I had worked this all out already."

Daniel smiles wistfully. "Jack's a hard man to get over."

"You miss him?"

Daniel's look says everything.

"Right." Sam shakes her head. "Dumb question." She fingers the cello, eyes firmly on the instrument. "He, um, seeing anyone?"

Eyebrows shoot up and Daniel is completely unprepared for this question. "Uh . . . " Should he be honest, tell her yes or just . . . spare her feelings? Let her think that maybe, maybe she still has a chance. What right does Daniel have to take hope from her, especially now?

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked." Her cheeks are pink, and she's still not looking at Daniel. "It's not, I mean, your place."

Her shoulder is firm under Daniel's hand, still toned despite the months of lab work. "I think . . . he was waiting—to retire, I mean—before making any . . . decisions." It's as much as he can tell her. He doesn't want to take away what little hope she has, doesn't want to completely lie. Besides, the further removed he feels from Jack, the less sense it makes, holding on to this man. Jack is frozen—again—and Daniel is moving steadily forward because . . . because he has to. But he's not ready to let go. Not yet. The middle ground is the least hurtful for them both.

"How can we mourn someone who isn't dead?"

Daniel shakes his head. "I . . . I have no idea."

She picks up the bow, carefully picking out a few notes, long and low, vibrating through Daniel's ribs. "How long do you think you can last?"

"On the ship?" Daniel hedges; he spent three months on Tegalus, stranded and uncertain if he would return home and be reunited with SG-1. He'd been alone and he'd never given up because he was fighting to get home, to get back to his friends, to get back to Jack. Of course he didn't need to wait years, didn't have to even think about waiting years because he was either going to contact the SGC or be killed—whatever happened would happen quickly. But Sam doesn't need truth. "As long as it takes."

She nods. "I figured. You don't give up."

"No," he says softly. "We don't."

She strings a few notes together, not quite a song, but much more lyrical than her random strokes. "If I figure this out," she says, leaning into the bow, continuing her haunting song, "we'll probably be old enough to retire."

Jack talked about retirement, but not in the way that interested Daniel. He'd say things like, "If things settle down out there, off world would be nice. Maybe even go back to Edora." But he'd never asked Daniel to come with him, never suggested that maybe he'd like to be off world to get away from the regs and the threat of a court martial.

"Are you mourning?" Sam suddenly asks.


"I mean, mourning sort of implies acceptance." She lowers her bow, letting the tip touch the ground.

"Oh, uh. . . . " A worse thought. "Are you mourning?"

Sam turns back to the cello, finding her fingering, concentrating on the strings, feigning nonchalance. "It's going to take longer than I'd like."

He can't help the impatience in his voice, "How much longer?"

"Gangway!" Vala hollers as she barrels into the room on skates. She skates circles across the room, tooting on a kazoo. She waves to them both, a broad smile on her face. "I'm trying to see how long it takes me to do the whole ship." She blows a kiss to Daniel, winks, and is off again before they can comment.

When Sam starts laughing, Daniel realizes he is already smiling, that he started smiling as soon as Vala entered the room. Roller skates on a spaceship remind Daniel of a Gameboy that trekked numerous times through the Stargate. Sometimes he can't help but see the similarities. Can't help but understand this new feeling.

He rubs at his neck as their laughter fades. "You think it's all right to accept this?"

Sam leans her head back, her fingers back on the instrument, moving smoothly, confidently, an up-tempo song. "For right now."

Daniel nods. Maybe she's right. Maybe for right now it's okay.

Maybe—under the circumstances—it's not cheating.

* * *

Daniel's fingers find their way into his sweats when he finally crawls into bed. Jack is the first person on his mind, carefully recreated from the hands up, the rough calluses on Jack's palms a sense memory on Daniel's dick that cascades until Daniel can smell Jack's sweat. Falling into a comfortable memory is easier, almost so easy that Daniel forgets it's a memory, forgets he's not actually having a conversation with Jack. Forgets that Jack isn't the one wrapping his hand around Daniel's dick, that Jack isn't pressing Daniel into the mattress, warm breath panting in his ear until Jack finally rolls away, something on his mind.

"So," Jack hedges, biting his lip. "Leda seemed . . . nice."

Daniel groans. "We really have to do this now?"

"What?" Jack rolls over, flattening Daniel to the mattress, hand back on Daniel's penis, leg pressing against his balls. "Now not a good time to bring up someone else?"

"Jack, you know I wouldn't—"

"That's not the problem." Jack kisses Daniel, long, slow, deep, then presses into him, flesh hot and slick. "Just . . . sometimes in those situations, when it looks like. . . ."

Daniel swallows hard, cold despite Jack's heat. "Edora."


"We weren't together then," Daniel reminds him.

Jack pushes up, eyes moving over Daniel's face, the gaze long and assessing. His hand is warm on Daniel's cheek, so relaxing Daniel closes his eyes. He's never felt so protected, so . . . complete. It's different than being with Sha're, just as terrifying but less vulnerable. These are the moments when Daniel thinks that maybe he can do this, maybe he and Jack. . . .

"It's different in those situations," Jack whispers.

Daniel opens his eyes.

"When you're not sure that . . . you're coming home. You have to do what you can to survive." Daniel swallows hard, fairly certain where Jack is going with this. "Even if that means moving on."

"Jack. . . ."

"I wouldn't blame you," Jack blurts. He sighs, frustrated. "We're in a fucked-up situation. We can't—the military thing—it puts enough stress on us and just. . . . We're in a fucked-up situation. I wouldn't blame you if anything ever happened."

"Nothing did," Daniel whispers.

"I mean ever."


"It's a get-out-of-jail-free card, Daniel. We both need them, all right?"

"Yeah," Daniel says, blinking. "Yeah, sure. I won't blame you."

"You have to mean it." Jack rubs against Daniel, angling so that their cocks press against each other.

Daniel throws his head back, thinking, not fair. He finally groans out, "You planning on putting it to the test?" Daniel laughs, acting like it's a joke, like there's not a rock in his stomach.

"Not planning to." Jack kisses him, firm and deep, tongue dipping into Daniel's mouth, flicking with the same rhythm as Jack's thrusts. "I just want to make sure that you know: in that kind of situation, you don't have to wait for me." Jack kisses Daniel again, the saliva sticking to their lips. Daniel swallows.

"I'd wait for you, Jack. I would," he says against Jack's mouth, meaning it more than he ever thought he would.

"I know you would—God, Daniel—that's why I'm telling you not to."

Daniel's next sentence is lost in Jack's persistent mouth, pressure Jack keeps up until Daniel forgets what he was going to say, nearly forgets their entire conversation, until Daniel is trapped on a spaceship for three months and it doesn't look like he's going home, doesn't look like he's going back to Jack, doesn't look like he's going to survive unless he does what Jack asked him to do.

Daniel's penis spasms in his hand, orgasm pulsing out desperately. First time since they got stuck here and it's nowhere near as satisfying as it should have been. Even thinking about Jack. . . . Daniel closes his eyes, pumping out the last of his come.

His cheeks are as wet as his hands; he has to get tissues before he can dry them off.

* * *

After dinner Vala walks back with him to his room, idly listening as he rants about the Asgard, about what he's learned from the database, about how the Asgard tried and failed for thousands of years, just trying to find a way for their civilization to survive. They'd fought against the Goa'uld and the Replicators, and who knows what other megalomaniacal races, but they couldn't protect themselves from their own mistakes.

Daniel can relate.

He'd unburied the 'gate on Abydos, allowed Apophis to take Sha're, and then failed time and time again; every chance he'd had to save her, he fell just short. And worse yet, he'd been distracted. SG-1, Heliopolis, a number of girls on other planets who were just vague memories . . . he'd let all of it get in the way and he'd lost Sha're. He'd been naïve to think that she could fight against Amuanet. Really naïve. It wasn't as easy as he wanted to believe, and Sha're was strong—she was strong—but she wasn't that strong. He wasn't that strong.

And then he fell for Jack.

Jack is another mess of mistakes, things they said to each other, fights they had, times they died. . . . All the things he should have said to Jack. But one fatal mistake and everything's gone.

"I guess no matter what you do, at the end of the day, life is too short."

"I agree."

Daniel rubs his eyes, trying not to think any more about Jack, about how he lost Jack because he knows now that he has. He shouldn't have come on this mission. Or he should have pushed Jack harder to come with him. He would have come if Daniel had just. . . . There's movement out of the corner of his eye. Vala.

"What are you doing?" Vala's shirt is off, a flimsy undershirt modestly covering her.

"Something we should have done a long time ago." She grabs his belt, quickly releasing the buckle, undressing him.

"Don't do that." How could she do this to him?

"Why not?" The innocent smile on her lips is infuriating. Hadn't they moved beyond this? Weren't they developing a real, a real, a real . . . something else! He pushes her away.

"We've been here three months, Daniel. Three. Months."

He concentrates on his belt buckle, tucking away his desires, his longing for something more, his desire to fill the void left by Jack.

"You do like girls?"

So not the question he needs. "Yes," he snaps.

He responds to her question, but he's already gone, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he can shield them. He mentions Sha're and that hurt, but that's not what breaks him. He stops himself, he doesn't say Jack, he doesn't say that he's already painfully in love and that not being with Jack, not having told him, not—just not—is breaking him.

So when she starts crying, he feels it, and she fades for a minute and when he moves to her it's not for her sake.

"Look at me."

When her eyes lock with his, he doesn’t see her. There's a set of brown eyes looking back, lost without Daniel. But Daniel knows Jack's not lost; knows Jack doesn't even know that he's gone; knows that their relationship is stuck in time just like this ship, not progressing, not developing, just stuck in the fractions of a second that have ticked by for Jack during which he may or may not be thinking about Daniel.

And he knows what Jack would expect Daniel to do. He finally sees the permission to take it, knows he has to.

Even as he leans forward to kiss her, he can't help but hope that he means as much to Jack as Jack means to him. He smiles when he pulls back because Vala is beautiful and more like Jack than he cares to admit.

"You better not be messing with me," he says, with a hint of a joke, because the truth is that he can't take this heartbreak again.

He leans her back, kissing her, keeping his mind on the present, putting Jack into the past because that's what these three hellish months have been about. They're not getting out of this any time soon. By the time Daniel gets back to Earth—if Daniel gets back to Earth—he'll be older than Jack, much too old for this. And they might still have something; maybe, maybe love, but they won't have this.

Daniel pulls Vala's shirt over her head, latching on to her neck in one of Jack's favorite spots. She tilts her head back, arching into him.

He stops to remove his glasses, and she holds his face staring into his eyes, openly, saying everything Jack maybe meant to say.

He takes a deep breath, knowing she can't help him, can't understand his pain, knowing that he doesn't want to explain it. But she smiles, a familiar cocky smile, and Daniel knows: If he can't have Jack, he can have the next best thing.