Embers In Ash
Summary: Daniel’s radiation contamination is cured and something good comes out of it. His friendship with Jack is back on track. Then Jack tells him he loves him, but that love isn’t what Daniel hoped it would be. Or is it?
Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye
~ H. Jackson Brown Jr.~
It turned out that the sarcophagus didn’t heal you of nausea brought on by radiation sickness.
As Daniel knelt on the floor of his infirmary room’s bathroom, hands on the rim of the toilet bowl, he wondered just how long this was going to continue. It had been six hours since he’d come out of that damn Goa’uld monstrosity. Outside of the nausea, he could feel the pull of addiction, and wanted to go back into the insufferable thing. But all things considered, he was lucky.
Jonas had stood there, staring at him, stunned, horrified, and Daniel had experienced the same thing, but his immobility had been eliminated by the desperation filling him and his mind had begun to work the problem.
These people had a sarcophagus.
But these people didn’t deserve to have it.
He’d demanded that Jonas take him to the ‘artifact,’ then had purposely faked a sudden onset of a massive migraine and had asked Jonas to get him some water and some pain medication just to get him out of the room. He’d then gone to the drawer containing the crystals and pocketed them, not caring that they tinkled together. He’d thought that if Jonas had asked, he would make up something, but it turned out that it was set aside as unimportant.
“I need to get back to the SGC,” he’d said.
They’d rounded up Jack, Sam, and Teal’c, and on their way to the gate, Jonas had explained what had happened. That he was dying. He hadn’t been for long, although Jack, Sam, and Teal’c hadn’t found that out until after they’d returned to the SGC and Daniel had demanded to get to the inactive sarcophagus they’d rounded up after killing Set.
“It won’t work, Doctor,” Hammond had reminded him, but he’d withdrawn the crystals from his pocket and handed them Sam.
“They had a sarcophagus. I didn’t want to use it there, so I took the crystals.”
They found out that radiation sickness took a long time to heal because he’d been in that damn thing for thirteen hours. Fortunately, the addictive pull was manageable, and maybe that was only because the nausea took center stage. Once that was finished, he’d need to go through the same rehab regimen he’d taken before: lay in bed in the infirmary until the shakes abated and the desperate need stopped. Mercifully, a sarcophagus addiction wasn’t like a drug addiction. You didn’t continue to have the craving after you ‘dried out,’ and the memory of the after effects was enough to keep him clear of the goddamn things. Until he put himself in a position of needing the damn thing for a valid reason.
There was an unexpected side effect this time, and it wasn’t at all unpleasant. It was, however, inexplicable: Jack was being nice to him. However long it lasted, Daniel felt relief and gratitude. This change in behavior was probably going to stop the moment the fear of his death was gone—but that, too, was inexplicable. Until yesterday, Daniel was reasonably certain that Jack didn’t give a damn whether he lived or died because he’d made those feelings abundantly clear during that catastrophe with Reese.
But hadn’t there been a bit of kindness in the gateroom? What? After you called him a stupid sonofabitch? Get a grip, Daniel. But there was kindness now. Why? It made no sense.
Thinking over this mystery helped take his mind off the nausea until he realized the nausea too was fading. He sat back, then froze, waiting to see if the movement would bring the nausea back because it had done so up to this point. When nothing happened, he tentatively pushed to his feet and went to the sink. His stomach and abdomen hurt like hell, but he’d gladly put up with that as long as the nausea didn’t return. It was amazing how that bodily dysfunction could completely incapacitate you. Daniel had learned over time how to handle pain, but nausea was something that crippled no matter how well-disciplined you were with everything else.
He felt as if he’d lost twenty pounds and knew that was simply because he needed hydration. He washed out his mouth, then brushed his teeth twice and rinsed again, swallowing some of the water to try to replace that taste at the back of his throat. The action made him acutely aware how thirsty he was and when he returned to his bed, he downed a glass of water filled from the pitcher beside his bed. He looked down at his scrubs top, grateful that he hadn’t gotten any bile on it. Not even a drop. He’d have to replace the top and getting someone to do that, here, would take all day unless he did it himself. Unfortunately, his body was weak from vomiting and he wouldn’t have the strength to go on a search. Besides … movement might just bring the water back up.
He sat down on the side of the bed, refusing to get back into it. He really didn’t want to lie down. If he did, he’d sleep, and though the weakness in his body made him tired, he felt he’d slept too long. Janet would come in soon and tell him to get some sleep anyway and he sighed, dreading the moment. On the heels of that thought, the door opened, and he was about to protest but … it was Jack. Daniel’s eyes widened in surprise, and he hated the need that rose within that wanted to explain away the expression.
The need to explain himself had become habit for a while, whenever he reacted to anything Jack did that did not involve a negative emotion. Jack would say something or do something that would be either surprising or funny … and Daniel would react appropriately with a smile or raised brows. That was the normal response.
But instead of being pleased, or at least okay, Jack had scowled and demanded to know why he was either surprised or happy. So he’d explain, and Jack would grunt or growl or tell him to knock it off. But for over the last year, Daniel had trained himself not to answer. If Jack was going to behave that way, he didn’t deserve a rational response. Even now, despite the expansive and positive behavior Jack had been exhibiting, he waited for the scowl.
It didn’t come. Jack raised his brows in response instead. “You lost?” Daniel asked, and wished he hadn’t. Then the scowl showed up, albeit for a different reason.
“No, I’m not lost,” Jack argued, then looked around the room before running his gaze over Daniel like an examination. The scowl disappeared.
That was also a change. “Okay, sorry,” Daniel said, and he said it tentatively, as if getting off the bathroom floor and waiting for the nausea to return. He was now equating Jack’s bad behavior with nausea. He stifled the urge to laugh—it would have been sour anyway. He was suddenly, and disconcertingly, swept with the need to be alone. He wanted Jack to leave. But he couldn’t ask. Not yet. So maybe a hint was called for. Reluctantly, he got back into bed.
And his surprised brows and widened eyes returned because Jack came over to literally help him in. To tuck him in, as it were. Daniel couldn’t help it. He just couldn’t. “I’m fine, Jack. Please don’t stay out of some need as team leader to check up on a member of your team, as standing operating procedure dictates.”
Jack’s brows did a dance. First up, in surprise, then down a few times in consternation and anger. “I’m not doing it because it’s SOP, Daniel. For cryin’ out loud, you really think that’s all I’m here for?”
Daniel sighed, and kept his eyes on Jack’s despite the nearly overwhelming need to look away. “In a word, yes.”
Jack’s frown now showed that he was confused and puzzled. “I don’t get it.”
That was Jack-speak for asking ‘why.’ Daniel was torn between silence and explanation because explanations were almost always cut off after the first sentence. It depended on Jack’s patience. In response, it was partly why he had begun to speak rapidly. Admittedly, that wasn’t just because of Jack. There were too many rude people in the world who asked questions but had no interest in listening to the answer.
But given that Jack had been nice, and the fact that he was actually here, Daniel relented. “You’re being nice. It makes no sense. So I figured it’s gotta be out of a sense of duty,” he said, and hoping that’s all Jack would accept because any more honesty out of him would end up starting a fight and he really wasn’t in the mood.
Surprising him again, Jack cleared his throat and shoved his hands in his pockets. That was a signal that he wasn’t budging. He wasn’t leaving. When Jack opened his mouth to speak, then paused and frowned at the floor, Daniel sighed again.
“If I explain, you’ll cut me off after the first sentence and I’m really not in the mood.” And suddenly, Daniel’s anger rose up and he blurted out, “Actually, no, scratch that. I’m never the mood to be interrupted. Ever. So you know, just don’t do it. How about this. If you want to interrupt, just hold up a hand so I’ll stop talking. When I stop talking, then you can ask your question or make your statement. Unless you simply don’t want to hear anymore because you really don’t give a shit about my answer. So, you know what? It’s probably just that, as usual. So better yet? Just say, ‘Just checking to see how you’re doing, Daniel.’ And I’ll say, ‘I’m find, Jack. Thanks for visiting.’ Then you’ll leave and we can go back to business as usual. What do you think?”
Jack stared at him, mouth open. It was a full ten seconds that felt like eternity. During that time, Daniel expected to see the anger rising behind those brown eyes. He expected to see them go flat or hostile, which was the look he’d been on the receiving end of for two years. Even when Jack was being nice, and only when he felt he was in the wrong. That had happened only once, actually, now Daniel thought that over.
He closed his eyes and rested his head on the pillow, waiting for the sound that told him Jack was leaving. The door would open, close, then he’d open his eyes and find himself alone. Just the thought of it made a hole in his stomach, widening the one caused by the vomiting. He felt the heat of emotion spread over his cheeks and he fought it off. He couldn’t afford to feel because that never ended well and—
His hand was touched. Taken within another.
Daniel’s eyes flew open in shock. Despite the fact that being touched was a long-desired and long-absent event, he tried to pull his hand away as if he’d been burned, but Jack clamped down and refused to allow it.
“What’re you doing?”
“I’m sorry,” Jack said.
Daniel resisted the urge to be a smart ass because another surprise followed: there was emotion in Jack’s eyes, if not on his cheeks.
“For what?” Daniel ventured. “Admitting the truth? That’s not …” He tried to pull away again, and again, Jack refused. Daniel let out a sigh of exasperation, then put a pause between each word as he asked, “Jack, what are you doing?”
“I panicked,” Jack said, swallowing.
His cheeks were now pinking up and Daniel found it so fascinating that he nearly missed what Jack said next.
“You could’ve died from that appendicitis attack, and it scared me. I invited you to the cabin knowing full well you couldn’t go, but I did it anyway. Sort of a way to tell you how I felt. Except I couldn’t say it outright.”
Daniel’s eyes were wide with further shock. The words pouring out of him were impossible. And there was so much emotion in the depth of his eyes. More than he’d ever seen. Also impossible. Toward him, anyway. He had to be dreaming. But he wasn’t.
“And I felt guilty, and I resented feeling guilty,” Jack went on. As he spoke, he seemed to be pulling the words out of him with tremendous reluctance. With each sentence, the flush in his cheeks darkened. “So I took it out on you. And I resented it. I took that out on you, too. Then time went on. The resentment built. And it got worse and worse. Pretty soon, I didn’t want to be around you. It was guilt. Resentment for feeling that guilt. And for not being able to say that I was scared when I thought you were dying. And now, again, only this time, the threat was bad. If we hadn’t had that sarcophagus, you’d be … dying really, really badly. And in an iso room, where I couldn’t tell you any of this.”
The flush in Jack’s face had spread downward and now covered his throat. Daniel’s mouth had been hanging open by then and he snapped it shut. But then opened it to speak, to find some way to let Jack off the hook. That it was okay. He didn’t need to express himself. He could go on being stoic and an asshole. Why he wanted to tell Jack that, Daniel didn’t know. Until it suddenly hit him that he did know. He couldn’t bear to hear more because it would only remind him of his own feelings. The ones that had been growing since Shau’re had died. Ones he couldn’t reveal, couldn’t act on. He shut his eyes and ordered those feelings to go back into hiding. That way only led to needless, masochistic pain.
“I think I love you.”
Daniel’s eyes flew open and the shock there was like a heat beam directed into Jack’s. “What?” he asked quietly. Irrational anger wanted to rise, and he stomped on it. Patience was called for, not resentful misplaced aggression.
Jack swallowed audibly and looked down at the hand he fervently held. He began to stroke the thumb. It was distracting. It was touch.
“I saw you dead,” Jack said quietly, his voice cracking, but Daniel recognized it as a frog in his throat and not as someone on the verge on crying—which would force him to scream for Janet or a corpsman or, hell, an SF, because that person would not be Jack. The man cleared his throat, then reached over and took the glass on the wheeled table and drank down the remaining two swallows. He didn’t look at Daniel as he put the glass back. When he finally looked up to meet his gaze, it was penetrating and mesmerizing. “I saw you dead,” he repeated, and just as quietly. “It scared the holy fuck out of me.”
Suddenly he let go of Daniel’s hand and began to pace around the small room. This was more like the Jack that Daniel was familiar with, so less unsettling. Even so, it was a let-down. He had a feeling that Jack had been about to say something else … well, other than I love you.
I love you.
He’d said, I love you.
Well, no, he’d said ‘I think I love you.’ But wasn’t that the same thing when coming from someone like Jack? For him to admit it out loud was also a declaration, so wasn’t it the same thing? Maybe. But it still—
Daniel blinked, realizing that he’d missed something during his inner Q & A. “I’m sorry, what?”
Jack frowned again, but it was the ‘I’m confused’ frown, not the ‘I disrespect you’ frown. “I said … um, where you’d go?”
“I was … realizing that you said you loved me. And then I had to correct that to say that you thought you loved me, but for you, admitting that out loud is tantamount to the same thing. And I was then going to wonder what it meant … and I realized I had stopped listening to you.” Daniel frowned. “Which, now that I think about it, is almost as bad as you interrupting me, so now I’m wondering if I really have any business getting mad—”
“Daniel,” Jack interrupted, but he held up a hand. “You’re going off topic. And you do that when you’re nervous or you want to avoid a subject or both. Normally, that has to do with something you’ve been through that makes you uncomfortable, but that doesn’t apply here. So … it’s about what I said.”
“You think you love me,” Daniel said, nodding. A flush crept up in his cheeks and he instantly hated himself for the reaction. He cleared his throat. “So uh, anyway, um, I mean, you, uh—” Jack held up a hand without saying anything and it shocked Daniel so much that he went silent for the wrong reason: Jack had done what he’d wanted after having heard a complaint.
How many goddamn times had he told Jack not to interrupt? How much he hated it? But now, because he’d come so close to dying, that was the time he chose to listen? Irrationally, and contrarily, he wanted to get mad. Instead, he took a deep breath and waited to hear what Jack had to say.
“What’re you doing?” Jack asked.
Daniel frowned. Annoyed. There was a smirk on Jack’s lips. Because he’d stuttered, embarrassed that he’d blushed. “Oh screw you, Jack,” he muttered, and crossed his arms.
Jack pointed at the body language, losing the smirk. “Do you know you do that whenever you feel emotionally threatened?”
“Do you know that you sidestep a direct comment about something you said? Probably that you want to take back?” Daniel countered, his anger rising again.
Jack blinked at him. “I don’t want to take it back. Where’d you get that idea?”
“Sidestepping. I jumped to a conclusion. So you’re saying it was the wrong conclusion?”
“Yeah,” Jack said, the annoyance frown appearing. At least it wasn’t The Scowl.
“Oh,” Daniel said, clearing his throat. “So … what did you say that I missed?” Jack sighed and chewed at his lip. It was a new expression and Daniel had no idea how to read it.
“I said, ‘You didn’t freak out over what I said. Does that mean you’re okay with it?’”
“Oh,” Daniel repeated, unfolding his arms. Instead, he clasped his fingers to make them have something to do so he didn’t pick at his nails or otherwise look like he was feeling emotionally awkward. Because he was. “I, uh …” He frowned this time, making sure Jack could read it as confusion. “I don’t know what to think, to be honest. I’d like to be okay with it, but it confuses me. You confuse me.” Jack opened his mouth, but Daniel held up a hand. “I remember what you said. But I’ve been trying to get used to that for the last ten or fifteen minutes and I’m sorry, Jack, but it’s up against longer, more entrenched memories. It’s hard to wrap my mind around it.”
Jack started to say something, stopped, started again, then stopped. He sighed heavily and finally nodded. “Mind if I drop by later? Fraiser said you’ll be in here for another day or so.”
“No,” Daniel said, frowning at him, but it wasn’t a frown frown. It was an ‘after what you just said, you think I’m gonna avoid you?’ frown. “Of course not.”
“Okay. I’ve got some stuff to do. And then there’s dinner.”
“Home or the mess hall?” Daniel asked, and found it worrying that he wasn’t the least bit hungry.
“Mess hall,” Jack said, going to the door. “I’m staying on base until you’re cleared to go home. I think we need to have a private talk.”
“Weren’t we just having a private talk?” Daniel asked, brows raising.
Jack chewed at his lip again. “I guess. But …” He suddenly shook his head and opened the door. “See you later.”
“Yeah,” Daniel said, and his reply reached empty air because Jack was gone just like that. “Later.” With a sigh, he stared at the ceiling, trying to go over everything and put it in proper perspective, comparing the Jack he knew two days ago to the stranger who’d just left. The result was that something was wrong with Jack. He needed to be scanned. He’d been taken over by something or someone. The person who’d come to see him and said those things was not Jack O’Neill.
But why not? Who was this man who’d just left? He was someone who was afraid of losing someone he cared about. He couldn’t say he cared until now. So stoic. So dysfunctional. And now, he was being given a second chance, so he’d come clean. So could that be Jack? Well. Yes. Only something horrifying or unavoidable could get Jack to face something he didn’t want to face. Like with the Unity crystal pretending to be Jack and scaring the shit out of Sara. Which had forced Jack to open up to her about losing their son. Something he hadn’t been able to face until he had been forced to do so. And now again. Only this time, it was about nearly losing someone he cared about. Loved.
And still, Daniel had no idea who this new person was. Or rather, the underlying person who’d been hidden away. More to the point, what the hell now? And what the hell was his response to the revelation? Yes, he loved Jack, and like Jack, he’d buried it, but for a totally different reason. He’d locked it away and thrown away the key because the fact of it had no resolution, no purpose, and would only serve to cause him angst and heartbreak because of circumstances both of them had no control over. Nor could he run away from it because he’d chosen his career at the SGC and Jack had chosen the same. It hadn’t exactly been a conscious decision for either of them.
He was back to the question: what now? He’d said he loved him, in that roundabout way, because the fear of rejection and the fear of revealing it had a deep hold. Should he return that love? Yes. He wasn’t one to be cruel and withhold out of retaliation. It wasn’t his way.
For a while though, it felt like it had been Jack’s way, by killing their friendship with harsh words and distancing because he couldn’t … what? Act on his feelings? Or was it that Jack had been afraid that their friendship was getting dangerously close to intimate? How? They couldn’t even look at each other now and admit they were wrong, unlike that time with those white-painted humanoids. Hell, they had been friends before that stupid Asgard-Tollan sting operation and afterward, Daniel still hadn’t wanted to listen to an apology because it was a given that he’d accept it … and it was embarrassing to hear him actually say it.
So the dysfunction wasn’t just Jack’s. But dammit, it was only because Jack forced it to be that way. Daniel had never been afraid of showing his feelings to other friends. He wasn’t like that with Sam or Teal’c. Just Jack.
Just Jack. Unique. Maddening. And he loved him. So he would tell him.
And then …?
A kink in his back forced Daniel to push up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. He needed to get up, take a walk. Find Sam and Teal’c. He needed a word or three with them. Just in case … just in case … Jack wasn’t Jack. It was a stupid suspicion, but over time at the SGC, it was better to cover all bases. Right when he started to push off the bed, Janet entered the room.
“You need to throw up again?” she asked, rushing to open the bathroom door.
“No,” he said, realizing there was no nausea created by his movements, as there had been for the last day. Relief swept over him. “I think it’s gone, but I don’t want to jinx it.”
“So where’re you going?” she asked, stopping him from getting off the bed by putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Got a kink in my back. I need to move around. And I need to talk to Sam and Teal’c. Could you tell them I need to see them?”
“What’s wrong?” Janet asked, giving him a worried look.
“Nothing,” Daniel said. “I just have to talk to them.” He groaned. “Janet, I really need to move around.”
She withdrew her hand, nodding. “I’ll bring you a walker. But no overdoing.”
Daniel gave her a wan smile. “Short walks, I promise.”
“How’s the weakness?” she asked, taking out the rubber reflex hammer and tapping his knees.
“Bad,” Daniel sighed, and his hand was shaky when he placed it over his stomach. “But I’m not dizzy. I need some chicken broth.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” she said as a nurse came in and handed her a couple of small silver pouches with straws taped on the side. Janet handed them over. “Electrolytes. As a warning, they taste odd.”
He frowned at them. “Where in the world did you get those from?”
“NASA,” she said with a grin.
He smirked as he took the pouch and punched the straw through the perforated hole, then sipped. It was like granular water. “Yeah, odd.”
“These are your dinner, for the time being. Drink water with them.” After taking his vitals, she gave him a reassuring nod and headed for the door. “I’ll see about the chicken broth.”
“Call Sam and Teal’c.”
She nodded, giving him a worried frown. “Are you sure it isn’t anything I should know about?”
He shook his head. “I just need to talk to them.”
“Okay,” she said, the worried look still there when the door closed.
The dinner was horrid. After the second pouch, thankfully no bigger than a quarter cup, it started to taste metallic. Washing it all down with water had him relieving himself twice by the time Sam and Teal’c showed up an hour later, wearing the same thing Jack had been: green trousers and black tees.
And Sam carried a large thermos.
“Oh please let that be chicken broth, not coffee. And that’s something you’ll never hear me say ever again after this.”
Sam grinned and handed it over. “Couldn’t bring cookies, and she said you wanted broth. She also said you wanted to see us.” She stopped beside his bed while Teal’c stood at the foot. “What’s up?”
“Uh, hang on.”
He sipped directly from the thermos. The broth was drinkable, but he needed to make sure it didn’t come back up. He waited, staring down, focusing on his stomach. He took another sip. Then one more. He sighed and replaced the cap, waiting for a bit. Just in case he was jumping the gun.
“First, how’re you guys doing?” Before they could answer, he adopted a fake bit of outrage. “And why is this the first time I’ve seen you?” They didn’t get it and he had to wave a hand at them. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding.” They told him they’d been forced to go back to their regular routine while Jack and Hammond fought with the Kelownans about making Daniel the guilty party. Which was a good opening. “Yeah, he’s standing up for me,” he said carefully, putting just a bit of surprise in the tone.
“Of course he is,” Sam said, frowning slightly.
“Why should he not?” Teal’c asked.
“Well, because up until three days ago, he didn’t like having me around.” Partly to his relief and partly to his consternation, both his friends contradicted his statement. “I’m sorry, but you’re purposely trying to make things sound better than they were. He’s been a bastard for nearly two years and if you tell me you haven’t noticed, you’re lying.” The outrage was about to be very real, and not just on their side. Daniel cut them off with an angry gesture. “I’m sorry, but do me the courtesy of being honest.”
“I’m sorry, Daniel,” Sam said. “But I kept hoping it wasn’t personal. Or that he really didn’t mean it when he snapped at you. That there was a reason.”
“That he didn’t have control?” Daniel asked with an arched brow. “We’re talking about the master of control, Sam. He was purposely putting distance by being mean. And with Reese, it went way past mean. Now, I didn’t ask you here to complain. I’ve never once done that.”
Sam frowned. “No. Why not? You had a right.”
Daniel sighed. “Because it wouldn’t help. There was no point. You saw it. You couldn’t help. So I just …” He sighed again and said, “My point is just this: Jack’s being nice to me now. Because I damn near died.” At their perplexed looks, which said, ‘well duh,’ he added, “I’ve damn near died other times and there hasn’t been a change in attitude. And I’m not asking why. I’m asking how. Have either of you noticed any other changes?”
They looked confused. “To what are you referring?” Teal’c asked.
“I don’t know,” Daniel said, throwing up a hand. “I want to know if you’ve noticed if there’s anything wrong with him.”
Sam blinked. “So you think that there’s something wrong with him because he’s being nice?”
Daniel sighed heavily and didn’t answer. He just gave her a rise of his brows.
“I have noticed no change in Colonel O’Neill,” Teal’c said. “If his behavior has indeed changed toward you, then I am glad. For many months, it has been distressing to not be able to affect a change in the negative way he has treated you.”
Sam nodded, but she gave him a puzzled look. “How’s he been acting nice?”
“He came to see me, for one,” Daniel said. And he told me he loved me. He really wanted to add that, but even if he could, he wondered if Sam would take it as a form of rejection. Was there still something between her and Jack or had it finally moved beyond that idiotic ‘I serve with a beautiful woman’ and ‘I serve with a gorgeous man’ aspect. That attraction that came simply because it was forbidden. It wasn’t the same between himself and Jack because there’d been no possible risk to their careers. Outside of the homophobic regulations anyway. And once again, Daniel was caught woolgathering and he’d missed what Sam had said—judging by the stares he was getting. He made a face. “Sorry.”
“What were you thinking about?”
“I sort of tried once again to figure it out,” he half-lied, and hated doing it, and even more so as the lies continued. Damn Sam and Teal’c for being By-the-Book and not allowing him to speak the truth. “Point is, he was being nice. Asking if I needed anything. Admitting that he cared, was worried. It makes me paranoid, wondering if there’s something wrong with him, and I really, really hate thinking that.” Sam and Teal’c exchanged yet another look and both shook their heads. Daniel sighed. “Okay, well, thanks. Guess he’s in his right mind.” He earned grins. “Within acceptable limits.” That made the three of them laugh, which allowed a relaxation of pent-up tension, and though they talked about Kelowna and Jonas, Daniel felt things were back to normal.
Daniel had arranged for a lamp and was reading just past midnight when he detected a shadowy movement through the blind-covered glass of his room’s window. Outside, the infirmary was in subdued lighting while patients slept, and he figured the lamp in his room let out a bit lighter, letting whoever was on duty know he was awake. He therefore figured the movement belonged to the nurses and corpsmen because it made sense. However, when his door opened and Jack walked in, he was so taken by surprise that he was tempted to ask Jack if he was lost. He squashed the urge.
“Hey,” Jack greeted softly, the tone just above a whisper.
Jack shut the door. “Mind a visit?”
“No,” Daniel said. “You said you’d come back later, and I didn’t tell you not to so …”
“Right.” Jack looked around, found a stool, and rolled it over and sat down. “Whatcha reading?”
Daniel gave him a sardonic grin. “You really wanna know?”
“Sure, why not?” Jack said.
Daniel just stared at him.
“Okay, no, not really,” Jack admitted, “but it’s polite.”
Daniel had waited for the admission because he’d expected it. It had been the funny dance between the two of them long before appendicitis and Nazis and visits from Tok’ra with Zatarc machines. It seemed as if it had returned, except Daniel couldn’t trust it. Despite what had been said about love, he waited for the proverbial other shoe to drop. How long would it be before that wariness went away? Was Nice Jack here to stay?
“So, as for …” The man suddenly sniffed. “Do I smell chicken soup?”
“Broth,” Daniel said, trying not to laugh because Jack’s attention had been so sharply and abruptly diverted it was as if he’d been slapped into saying something else. “It’s almost all gone, and cold, but yeah. I asked for some and Janet had Sam bring it by.”
“Ah,” Jack said, tellingly.
“You talked with them?” Daniel guessed, as the penny supposedly dropped. He fervently wished he’d told them to keep their mouths shut.
“Yeah. They … made me feel guilty.”
“On purpose?” Daniel asked, surprised.
“No,” Jack drawled. “Not on purpose.”
“Oh. Why’d you feel guilty?”
Jack gave him a long-suffering look and held up his hands as if weighing two things. “Nice. Not nice.”
“Ah,” Daniel said, almost exactly like Jack had. Silent seconds stretched out between them, having found themselves at a loss for words. And the longer the silence stretched, the more it began to feel to Daniel as if their self-imposed gulf was widening again. Were things going to go back to the way they were now? With nothing to say? No. First, why say I Love You and then revert to old habits? Second, why was Jack here in the middle of the night? Bad news could wait, but a knot began to grow in his stomach, and with it came a hint of nausea. Daniel’s mouth watered a little and he swallowed. And again.
“Oh no,” he said, and threw aside the blanket and dashed to the bathroom, slamming the door shut—and that hospital door was heavy, so it made a fateful, horrible sound. It seemed to make his stomach wobble and he made it to the basin and dropped to his knees. But the moment he grabbed the edge of the bowl, the nausea abated, and the excess saliva evaporated. He swallowed, testing it. It didn’t return.
“I’m right here if you need me,” Jack said from the other side of the door. His voice was low, muffled, but Daniel heard him clearly anyway.
“Thanks,” he said, only slightly raising his voice. He set his forearm on the front edge of the toilet basin and rested his forehead there. Good grief. Had the mere thought of things going back to the way they were prompted his nerves to go all wibbly? Since when was he that delicate a flower? This was just great. In two and a half days, he’d had one hell of a scare, been sick, gotten a shock from Jack, and lastly, another shock was in store. All in all, he’d just as soon forget everything. Apart from the I Love You.
No, wait. The I Love You part. How could things go back to being bad after having said that? He pushed up on his knees, took a deep breath, then got to his feet, headed for the door, then abruptly turned around and sicked up the chicken broth. Well. Shit.
Daniel knew he looked a bit green when he opened the door. Jack’s face said it all and as he got back into bed, Jack went to the bathroom, wet a wash cloth, and came back to place it on his forehead. He spied the packets of Tylenol on the rolling table and tore open one after pouring a glass of water from the pitcher.
“Here,” Jack said.
Daniel looked at the water and the pills and his stomach lurched a bit, but he wasn’t in danger of losing control of himself again. “I can’t.”
“Okay,” Jack said, and set the glass and pills on the table.
The washcloth began to slide down and Daniel caught it and pressed it over his eyes and sinus.
“I’m so embarrassed,” he said weakly. “And I wish Janet would hurry up and get that goddamn medicine in.”
“What medicine?” Jack asked, taking his hand back when Daniel gently pushed it away.
“Some new anti-nausea medication that she said had to be ordered. Frankly, I’d rather have a joint. It’s legal here, you know.”
“No it isn’t,” Jack said, frowning.
“Medical marijuana is.”
“Oh. You can use it for nausea?”
“Radiation therapy has nausea, Jack.”
“Right. I forgot. You couldn’t anyway. It’s not federally mandated, therefore illegal to use by federal employees.”
Daniel groaned again. “My turn to forget.”
Jack grinned at him. “Daniel, it’s not like you had a chance.”
The double entendre, unintentional, of both pot and Jack himself made Daniel sourly laugh softly. He couldn’t see the man’s face, and right now, he wasn’t going to remove the cloth. The coolness felt good, although it was fast approaching warm. Jack would have to rinse it soon. “Is that what you came to tell me?” he asked, not paying attention to his words. He just had to say something to divert his attention from his stomach. “That there’s no chance, regardless of how you feel?” There was silence and the longer it stretched, the more Daniel realized that he needed to see the man’s face. He removed the cloth and found that Jack was scowling at him. But this scowl was the sort of one Jack held when offended.
“You think that little of me?” Jack asked after a few more seconds of silence.
Daniel made a face and held out the cloth. “Rinse this for me, will ya?”
Jack took it slowly, giving him an admonishing look. “Answer the question,” he said, but he went to the sink anyway.
Daniel raised his voice a little. “I don’t want to think that way, but over the last two years, you’ve forced it to be. So now, it’s habit for me to expect the worst.” When Jack came back and handed him the washcloth, freshly rinsed and cold, he saw the contradictory emotions of hurt and guilt on Jack’s face. “I’m sorry.”
Jack looked down for a few seconds. “You’re right though.”
He turned around and Daniel thought he’d leave, but he went to the foot of the bed and paced in the short space there. Take two and a half steps, turn around, take two and a half steps, turn around. He was doing the ‘I’m convincing myself not to break something’ dance.
Daniel resisted the urge to smile. “Feel free to throw something. I won’t mind.”
Jack stopped mid-step and stared at him, stunned. “How’d you know I was feeling that?”
“Because I’ve gotten to know you in five years, having lived with you twenty-four seven for weeks on end, offworld, on base, in enemy hands, and in sort of friendly hands. I’ve seen everything you’re capable of and I can recognize and accurately predict nearly every bit of body language. If you like, blame my Anthro courses.”
“Anthropology. The study of human behavior.”
“I thought that was animal behavior,” Jack said.
Daniel grinned wanly at Jack’s attempt to dodge, probably out of embarrassment. The man loved to keep people guessing. It’s why he played dumb, which drove Daniel crazy. “Humans are animals.” Jack snorted, making his grin slightly more genuine.
Jack rubbed at his chin. “You can read me that easily?”
Daniel sighed and closed his eyes. “No. It’s taken years of watching you, and you can still fake stuff.” He then grimaced and got out of bed.
“I need to brush.”
“Yeah. Gross. If I had antacids, it wouldn’t be so bad, but there’s left over bile that’s just sitting there, and since my stomach has decided to imprint the feeling of chucking everything up, the bile thinks that’s where it should go. Put that on my list of things I need to ask Janet for.”
Jack jogged his brows as he watched Daniel grab his toothbrush and paste. He leaned against the door jamb. “I can go get the ones I have in my locker. If you think that’ll help.”
“No, don’t bother. Janet can give me a few tablets in the morning. I can wait. In the meantime, I’m brushing. Besides, if I get another urge to heave-ho, I don’t want to waste the pills that would come back up.”
“It happens,” Daniel said, brush in mouth. Self-consciously, he tried not to get the paste all around his mouth in order not to look sloppy. Or like a kid. And Jack was watching him as if he was studying the way he brushed. He might be. He might also be thinking about something else entirely. There was a type of hesitation hanging in the air; thick, like fog. To Daniel, it felt like expectation, and as he spit, he realized that he hadn’t said those Three Little Words back. So why wasn’t Jack asking why he hadn’t said them? It was the logical thing to ask, or at least wonder about.
Wondering why he hadn’t asked, however, was immaterial. Daniel wouldn’t wait for him to ask because it implied he was willing to play head games. He wasn’t because he hated the very idea. In his opinion, the only useful place for mind games was against an enemy. Like the Goa’uld. Jack wasn’t his enemy.
Rinsing several times, making sure any residue was gone from his teeth, he wiped his mouth with a paper towel, then approached the doorway and stopped in front of the man in question. “I love you, too,” Daniel said carefully, and was a bit amused when Jack’s eyes widened. “Didn’t expect that? Well, you should have because why admit your feelings to me in the first place?”
“Um …” Jack said, frowning in contemplation.
Daniel then realized that he’d made a false assumption. “Oh. You really didn’t expect me to say anything back, did you?”
Jack seemed to color a bit, but it could’ve just been the low light. It was rather romantic, even within a hospital room. His small reading lamp with its low-wattage bulb cast interesting shadows and if Jack was blushing, it was sort of hard to tell.
Before Jack could answer, Daniel said, “Now what?”
Jack started to move, and for a wild moment, Daniel thought he was moving toward him. To kiss him? Here? Now? Panic filled him and Daniel was afraid the emotion would bring on another bowl attack.
“Uhh,” he said, sidling away and heading for the bed. Relief was about to fill him until Jack grabbed his hand and pulled him back. “No, no, you can’t, you—” Jack pulled him in his arms. And hugged him. Just that. The relief was replaced by embarrassment and it was his own cheeks that flushed hotly with embarrassment. “Oh.” Jack chuckled against his neck and the sensation filled Daniel with another feeling. And he stomped on it ruthlessly. This was not the time nor the place for that sort of reaction. Instead, he hugged him back, but stiffly. He wouldn’t relax, for fear that the desire would return. Clearing his throat, he stepped out of the hug and Jack let him.
“I’m well aware of what’s appropriate, Daniel,” Jack said, watching him get back into bed. “A hug is okay. And it was appropriate, given what you just said.”
“Just … don’t hold my hand or anything.” Daniel wanted to take that comment back immediately. Where had it come from? Jack grinned at him, obviously finding it funny, but in what way, Daniel couldn’t guess.
“I have to hit the rack. See you tomorrow.” He patted his foot over the blanket as he headed for the door, and after he was gone, the room felt three sizes too big.
After two more agonizingly boring days, Daniel left the infirmary with an enormously light heart, generously sprinkled with anxious hopefulness at what would happen next. It was a bit of a letdown professionally because Janet wanted to carefully monitor his blood for any abnormal changes, and figured a month should be enough time to fully clear him. That meant light duty. Jack, Sam, and Teal’c would be going on missions without him. To say he felt abandoned was the least of it.
He felt excluded. It was an old resentment that had begun in Junior High, when his intelligence had propelled him forward, and he’d learned to build walls to protect himself. The opinions of others mattered only to a point. If they turned negative, so be it. Nothing he could do about it, so move on. But for the last five years, there had been one person whose opinion really mattered: Jack’s. So when the wall went back up after the man had distanced himself, the effort had been twice as hard.
And now, did he give himself permission to bring the wall back down? Could he risk it? Daniel was so used to cutting off his feelings that he wasn’t sure he could properly express them anymore. And maybe he wasn’t alone.
For the last few days, after being told those Three Little Words, things had returned to the normal of four years ago. Jack was friendly, talkative, teasing. He was still the bossy leader, which was an aspect of his personality that would never change, and Daniel certainly didn’t mind. He wasn’t a pushover, nor a submissive in relationships, but he liked the alpha-ness of Jack. So aside from knowing the man loved him, there was no sign that it would be anything else. So … as he’d asked Jack, now what?
Weeks passed and Daniel discovered his feelings for Jack were increasing, and it was beyond maddening because it appeared that they weren’t reciprocated. Not even in a glance or a long look or a snarky word with hidden meaning. It was getting to the point where at times, alone in his office, and between jobs, he found his mind wandering into intimate fantasy territory. He’d look in, get just enough to remember the feeling, but then back out in a hurry and return to ordinary thought. He didn’t dare focus on what Jack looked like naked—he’d only seen him from the side and rear, and holy shit, what a nice view. He’d imagined what a kiss would be like. What his hands would feel like. But the moment his mind would imagine a sex act, he balked and purposely thought of the mundane just to stop himself from going there.
Day after day, he told himself to ask Jack what he thought they should do about their feelings, but he’d dismiss it and just let the man take the lead since he’d been the one to have started this … thing. Whatever it was. Was it just a friendship? A loving but platonic relationship? An irony, since platonic used to mean same-gender love until the church of Rome went all homophobic on old Plato.
And despite Daniel’s ability to read the man, Jack’s behavior was a mystery. Sure, he could read his body language, but when it came to knowing what was going on in that head, he didn’t have a clue unless Jack chose to tell him. And the man wasn’t talking. He was simply acting as if their friendship was back on track and there was nothing else to discuss. It was adjustment time.
. . .
After the twenty-eighth day of light duty, it was almost time to get back to team form. He was excited and couldn’t wait to go off world. Hell, even walking a klick or two wouldn’t even bother him. Although it would later. Despite using the weight machines and the treadmill, walking was a whole other set of muscles.
Daniel had also made a decision. There would be no more thought of a possible romantic relationship with Jack. There would be no more waiting to see what he would do. The message had been received and accepted—not gladly, nor sadly, but with a sigh. And after that, he convinced himself that it was for the best. He’d mentally jotted up a pros and cons list and the cons list was a bit longer. Disconcerting, but par for the course where the military was concerned.
Daniel packed his extra kit and the moment he left his office and headed for the locker room to change into his field gear, the new thought processes were put in place: What had been said had been platonic in nature and nothing more.
Daniel rubbed at the back of his neck as continued the four-hour examination of the wall inscription that Bra’tac had shown him the day before. The Ancients language on this one was both aggravating and fascinating, and a puzzle for him to figure out. City and the lost? City of the lost? Well, something was lost. And it was his mind. He got up, groaning at the creaking in his limbs for having sat too long, and when he turned around, it was too fast, and he suffered a neck pinch.
“Ow,” he muttered, grimacing, and removed his bandana as he bent over to rub that dip at the back of his skull. It hadn’t been the site of the pinch, but it sometimes helped. After several seconds, he retied his bandana and adjusted the knot, so it didn’t press on the spot. He really had to figure out a new way to retie the damn thing.
He stood in a three-sided outbuilding that was at the end of a long stretch of buildings that seemed to be assembled like a line of playing cards. Overhead were short awnings instead of standard roofing, and there were no identifying ornaments. Just messages etched on each side of the dark grey marble-like walls.
He’d spent a long time recording what was written on the ‘card’ walls that were six feet in length, seven feet high, and five inches thick. They were also pristine. The tall weeds, shrubs, and moss that grew on and around the structure didn’t mar the surface in any way, so ‘ruins’ was a description that indicated abandonment, not their physical state. Like other Ancients’ structures they’d found in the past, the stone was as unblemished as the day it was left. And he hadn’t been the one to discover them. That had been Bra’tac.
Two days ago, the Jaffa Master had arrived at the SGC to tell them about a trinium mine he’d heard described from another Jaffa. After arriving through the gate, they’d spread out in the standard search pattern and Bra’tac had radioed him that he’d found “something interesting” without explaining. Just something interesting.
Now here he was, but it wasn’t just Bra’tac and SG-1 anymore. There were two more teams, with a third team of geologists, inspecting a mine half a klick to the south of the ruins. While they worked, Daniel had been happily busy recording.
“Daniel, come in,” came Jack’s voice over the radio.
Daniel keyed his mic as he went to the pack he had opened up on the floor. “Here.”
“Tell me you have all you need. Hammond wants us to move on.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. He wanted more time. Using reference video just wasn’t the same. “Yeah, I got it, but I’d like more time, Jack.”
“Meet us at the gate.”
With a sigh, he folded and rezipped his pack, hauled it over his shoulder, and slid his camera and notebook in his side pockets, then headed for the gate a quarter of a kilometer away.
“Could you double-time it?” Jack asked.
Daniel sighed more heavily. “Fine,” he said, and began to jog. In less than two minutes, he had the gate platform in sight, and Jack, Sam, and Teal’c … weren’t there. He looked around as he slowed his jog and didn’t see them. And he should have. In fact, he didn’t see anyone. It was pretty much level land for at least half a klick and the mine wasn’t that much further on. He should have at least seen a few members of the other teams, and … shouldn’t there be someone watching the gate? Hadn’t that been the standing order for missions that were increased in duration and personnel?
When he got to the gate, he chewed at his lip and waited a few beats before keying his mic. “Jack,” he said, exasperated. “I’m not in the mood for having my chain yanked.”
Tentative alarm bells pinged the hairs on the back of his neck and when he reached the DHD, dialed home. Standing at the FRED’s camera, he waited for the wormhole to connect and the SGC to signal him. But the DHD died. He stared at it, a deep frown forming between his brows, then pressed the tiles again. Again, the DHD died.
He keyed his mic. “Where the hell are you?”
Daniel snapped awake, bewildered and in a panic. Then he realized he’d nodded off. And the sun had gone down.
“Daniel, come in.”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry,” he said, keying his mic, and pushing off the wall as he got to his feet.
“You’re not working in the dark, Daniel.”
“Yeah, no, I know. What’s up? You need me for something?” He had no intention of telling him he’d fallen asleep. He was in no mood for ribbing.
“We’re packed up. Hammond wants us back home and to leave this to the geologists.”
Daniel blinked. “Right,” he said, more than a little spooked. “I’ll meet you there.”
While he wanted to spend more time here, he was also a bit relieved. He wasn’t in the mood for another night in the tent. Between Sam and Jack, the snoring meant earplugs and the damn things itched. He sometimes wondered how Teal’c tolerated it until he reminded himself that the Jaffa was over a hundred years old and had lived most of it under the dominion of the Goa’uld. Given that, snoring was probably easily ignored.
As he went to his pack to fold it up and rezip it, the déjà vu he experienced sent a frisson of cold down his spine. If Jack radioed to have him hurry up, he’d really get weirded out. He hurriedly gathered his things and jogged to the gate anyway. And got there before his teammates did.
“Well shit.” He sorted himself out, putting his camera and notebook in his side pockets, and wondered if he should dial home or wait. A grin that was not altogether a sign of amusement spread over his face as he keyed his mic. “I’m here. Want me to dial home?”
“Damn, Daniel. You in a hurry?”
“No, just wondering.” Actually, now he was in a hurry. It was just because he was spooked, dammit. “Get a hold of yourself,” he muttered under his breath. A minute later, he heard movement in the distance and looked over his shoulder to see three flashlights bobbing his way. The sight made him relax a little and he dialed home.
. . .
After getting cleared in the infirmary through the standard post-mission tests, Daniel headed for the elevator. He wasn’t in the mood to work anymore because his nerves were still frazzled from the strange dream and having it repeated in reality. Time to go home and distract himself with something else.
“Hey, wait up,” Jack said, half-jogging to catch up just as the elevator opened.
Daniel nodded as he punched the Level 25 button, then folded his arms and stared at the door near the floor, but his eyes weren’t focused on it. He was busy trying to find why his mind would have conjured up something somewhat prescient. Laws of probability didn’t cover this stuff. They’d had their share of paranormal run-ins, so and it wasn’t impossible that that was the likely answer. But the scientist in him said that just wasn’t the answer. He was suddenly reminded of the small argument he’d had with Sam about rigid thinking and it was about to make him smile—
“Hey,” Jack said, and bumped him gently with an elbow.
“Hmm?” He wasn’t really paying attention to Jack and didn’t look up.
“Hey,” Jack said, bumping him again.
“What?” Daniel asked, forcing himself not to frown in annoyance—even though he was, for a second. Jack wasn’t looking for an argument and it would be plain bad manners to be the ass he often accused Jack of being.
“Whatcha doin’ for dinner?”
“No plans,” Daniel said, shaking his head as he looked back down.
“Come on over. I’ll put on some steaks.”
Daniel absently nodded. “Sure, okay.” He realized Jack was giving him an odd look. “What?”
“That’s my question. You’re distracted. Been that way since we got home.”
Nope. Not explaining. He’d get ribbed. “Just thinking about … a dream I had last night.” Half a lie. He hated doing it but, hey, ribbing was worse.
“Wanna share … or, maybe … is this something I shouldn’t hear?” Jack asked, suddenly wary.
Daniel snorted softly. “It’s just a weird dream about … stuff. It’s not really important. You’d be bored.”
“Oh really?” Jack asked as the doors opened.
Daniel didn’t answer until they arrived at SG-1’s side of the large locker room. “It’s about translations,” he said, lying again.
“No it’s not,” Jack said flatly, but not unkindly.
Daniel looked over at him, startled. “What?”
A soft smirk marked the corner of Jack’s mouth. “I’ve been learning how to read you, too. And you just lied. It’s the way you won’t look at me. Or anyone. You’ll flit your gaze a few times my way while not looking directly at me.”
Daniel frowned. “I do that?”
Jack’s frown was one of amusement as he opened his locker. “You didn’t know you did that?”
Daniel’s frown was one of disturbance. “No, I didn’t.”
Jack’s frown turned upward, and his grin grew mischievous. “You blink a lot, too. If you don’t watch that, someone’ll think you’re flirting.”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open and he snapped it shut. “I do not bat my eyelashes.” Jack held up his hands while he turned away. Daniel knew he was trying not to laugh at him. “Shut up. I do not.”
“I didn’t say that’s what you were doing,” Jack said as he shucked off his fatigue trousers and grabbed his baggy jeans.
Daniel’s frown turned to wondering why Jack had to wear such baggy clothes. He needed a wardrobe adjustment. Just as he himself had needed until Janet had dragged him to the mall. Truth was, he still had some crappy clothes he was just too in love with because they were so soft. But at least he only wore them at home.
“What’re you staring at?” Jack asked.
Daniel realized he was standing there without his own pants on, staring at Jack’s as he slid them on. He blinked and shook his head. “I’m way too distracted lately,” he said quickly, and quickly put on his own jeans. “Sorry.”
“What were you staring at?” Jack asked again.
“You asked for it,” Daniel said, rolling his eyes. “I was looking at how baggy those are, and wondering when you were going to upgrade your wardrobe. And that reminded me of when Janet took me shopping to upgrade mine, and then that reminded me of—”
“Okay, okay,” Jack said.
Daniel blinked again. And this time, the stare was deliberate. Jack had just interrupted him. Cut him off because he didn’t want to listen to his answer. Even though he’d asked. Jack’s behavior had implied that he’d given his word not to do that again, and even though he literally hadn’t promised, the fact of the matter was just this: he’d gone back on his word. A dread filled Daniel and he suddenly saw history repeating what he thought was over and done.
“Now you’re really staring,” Jack said, looking worried.
“You didn’t even realize you were doing it,” Daniel sighed. He was incredibly tempted to tell Jack he had to wash his hair rather than share a dinner. But that would’ve been beneath him. Mostly.
“Doing what?” Jack asked as he changed shirts, donning a short-sleeved green button-down.
“You asked me to explain,” Daniel sighed again. “Then cut me off.” He took the dark blue and black plaid shirt off the locker hook and shook it out just a bit too sharply, displaying an anger he hoped wouldn’t appear. Dammit. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Never mind,” he muttered, mostly to himself. A headache abruptly popped up between his brows and he kneaded it with the heel of his hand after he put on the shirt.
“Hey,” Jack said, and he placed a hand on his shoulder.
Daniel opened his eyes. “I think I’m more tired than I thought.”
“No, no, you’re right. And I’m sorry. I guess it’s gonna leak out occasionally. I’ll try to be more mindful, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, okay. Um, thanks.” Daniel blinked again, and this time, he realized he was doing it too rapidly. And too many times. Good god. He did bat his eyelashes. But he wasn’t lying about the thanks. What the hell? He looked directly at Jack. “Thanks,” he enunciated.
“Sure,” Jack said, closing his locker. “Still coming over?”
“If you still want me to,” Daniel countered.
Daniel nodded, watching him walk sideways toward the door. “I’ll be there. Want me to bring anything?”
Jack just grinned and shook his head, then backed out the door and was gone.
What the hell was that grin about?
There was a flutter of a thought that might have strayed into dangerous territory and he cut it off as swiftly as one … bats an eyelash.
. . .
Standing in front of the closet mirror, Daniel grew angry with himself. He was flustered, trying to find something to wear because, without thinking, he’d been behaving as if he was going on a date. Of course it wasn’t a date. He was being stupid. It was just dinner. He’d had dinner with Jack two weeks ago. Okay, that was at the mountain so maybe that didn’t count. But still, the last time he’d had dinner with Jack was … was … Wait. He’d never had dinner with him. Lunch, yes. Afternoon snacking while watching hockey. Yes. But dinner? Never. But why had he thought he was on a date? That made no sense. Friends invited each other over for dinner all the time.
“You’re being stupid,” he muttered at himself. “You’re supposed to be past this.” But he still reached for another shirt, and told himself that the one he had on was dirty, so of course he had to change. He’d keep his jeans on, though, dammit. Steak dinner at Jack’s, not prime rib and lobster at a restaurant. The thought sent another frisson down his back and this one felt hot.
. . .
He disciplined his mind on the drive over and by the time he got to Jack’s, he was calm and back to normal. He’d decided to bring a bag of chips so when Jack opened the door, he handed him the bag and walked in.
“What’s this?” Jack asked, then shook the bag. “Never mind. I’ll save ‘em for another day. We’re having steak fries.”
Daniel’s brows raised as he walked into the living room. “No shit?”
“No shit,” Jack said as he disappeared in the kitchen. “Beer?”
Daniel rolled his eyebrows. “I knew I forgot something.”
“What’s that?” Jack asked, in that way one asks when they haven’t heard you correctly.
“I said, ‘I knew I forgot something.’ I don’t like beer, Jack, remember?”
“Then why do I keep bringing you one when you come over?” Jack asked.
Daniel winced and didn’t respond. As he went to the living room, he wondered if Jack would do an internal audit before bringing him the beer, because the last time he’d done it had been the day he’d told them their friendship had no foundation. That had been two years ago. And Daniel hadn’t been back since.
He sat down on the sofa and was startled to find a flatscreen hanging over the fireplace. Jack would have to move that come winter or he wouldn’t be able to use either. On the screen was a pre-season football game. Daniel could tell, since it said so across the leaderboard tape at the bottom of the screen. Movement came from behind and Jack came around and down into the living room.
He held two glasses of wine, and wore an air of embarrassment in his body language. Daniel got the feeling that he needed to stand up, so he rose and took the glass Jack offered. The man then clinked their glasses together.
“Here’s my apology for being a shit friend. And not remembering what happened the last time you were here. Alone.”
The wine was a rich, dark red and Daniel sniffed before taking a sip. He rubbed his lips together afterward, forcing himself to look at Jack without blinking. He was now hyperaware ever since Jack told him what he did with his eyelashes. How long would it take him to retrain and not think about it?
“Thanks,” he said, clinking back.
Jack took a drink, grinned, and went back to the kitchen, adding over his shoulder, “Come on back. Talk to me without shouting.”
“Sure,” Daniel said, following him. He leaned against the entryway’s support post, wishing the dining room didn’t have a wall between it and the kitchen so he could sit down. Despite what Jack said, they didn’t speak over the next few minutes and Daniel had the feeling Jack simply wanted the company while he cooked. It was endearing, really.
He sipped at his wine and watched the man busy himself with setting up the deep fryer, slicing the already-peeled potatoes. On the unlit stove grill, steaks were resting, having been salt-and-peppered. They were large, thick-cut pieces of porterhouse. It reminded Daniel of that unfortunate—albeit yummy—visit to O’Malley’s over a year and a half ago, when they’d been wearing those damn armbands. One of the side effects of those armbands had been something he hadn’t told Anise, and had never planned on telling her, even on pain of torture or death: instant, massive erections. He swallowed against the thought and shoved it away. Not something he needed to be thinking about.
Jack did a double-take in his direction and grinned. “You’re cheeks are flushed. You that big a lightweight?”
Daniel coughed. “I, uh.” He cleared his throat. “I was looking at the steaks. Last time I had a porterhouse was at O’Malley’s, when we were wearing those armbands. And I was just remembering …” Why are you telling him this? Shut up! “… a side effect I never told Anise about. And never will either.”
Jack eyed him sharply, then cleared his throat and went back to slicing. “I, uh, yeah.” He cleared his throat again. “I think I know what you’re referring to.”
Daniel’s brows rose. “Do you mean that you, too, got a little, or rather, not so little, um …?”
Daniel couldn’t help it and let out a short laugh. He cleared his throat, preparing to share something else, and this time, he wasn’t going to stop himself. Four years ago, he wouldn’t have shared, but now … screw it. “Shocked the hell out of me when I went to take a leak and I passed someone in the corridor that looked kinda nice. I mean, it was just a casual, throwaway, stray thought, you know? Normally there and gone.”
Jack nodded. “Oh yeah, I know.”
“And then …” This time he did stop himself. “Not something I should be thinking about right now,” he blurted out, then cursed at himself. What are you doing? Have you lost your mind?
The two-second look Jack abruptly gave him was inexplicable. It sort of said, interested, but that wasn’t the right word. It also might have said, I agree, but that wasn’t right, either. Daniel took a longer drink of his wine, then ordered himself to go back to sipping because the truth was, he was a lightweight, and he could feel a bit of the wine swimming through a current in his head. Careful. Had to be careful. He got a bit silly, even when tipsy. And the inhibitions … well, they became nonexistent. Not a good idea. And besides, he wouldn’t be able to drive home. And that was so not a good idea, either. Sleeping here? Oh no.
Daniel suddenly cleared his throat again and straightened. “Maybe I’ll go sit down.” He swallowed hard and started to turn when Jack suddenly stopped washing his hands and quickly wiped them dry.
“Okay,” Daniel said. “What?” Then to his surprise, Jack drank half the contents of his wine glass and set it down. He swallowed again, perhaps nervously, which, in turn, made Daniel nervous. “Jack?”
“Listen, I, uh, need to talk to you.”
Daniel smirked. “Right. That talk you wanted to have that never happened?”
Jack damn near blushed. It was in his eyes. Or that’s how Daniel read him.
“Okay. But what about …” Daniel asked, gesturing at the counter and the stove.
“It’ll keep.” He indicated the living room and Daniel returned to it with Jack right behind him. Making him even more nervous. “Have a seat.” He complied, retaking the one on the couch. But then Jack sat down next to him instead of taking the armchair. Daniel wondered if that was deliberate, given what happened the last time they were both here.
He forced himself to calm down, just as he had on the way over. He’d pretty much succeeded as Jack sat down next to him, then turned to face him, bringing a knee up on the cushion. He set his wine glass up on the divider that separated the living room and dining room, and as he did so, his shirt rode up a little, exposing a patch of abdominal skin. He felt warm and when he tried to ignore it, he failed. “So,” he said, clearing his throat.
“So.” Jack took a deep breath. “You’ve probably been wondering why I haven’t said anything since I told you I loved you. And that you told me the same.”
Daniel barely nodded, not saying anything because the air suddenly seemed to be sucked out of his lungs.
“Well, it’s because I wanted to give us time. Give you time. Give me time. In case we both regretted saying it.” He shook his head. “I haven’t. Have you?” Daniel shook his head and Jack’s shoulders seemed to relax a bit. “Okay. That’s out of the way.” He took a deep breath, and his gaze wasn’t on Daniel, but on the back of the couch beside him. As if he was embarrassed to look at him. But that couldn’t be right, could it? That wasn’t Jack O’Neill. “And …”
Jack suddenly looked at the wine glass in his hand and reached for it. Confused and surprised, Daniel lamely let him take it and set it down next to his own. Why? What was going to be said that required Daniel not be holding anything? Was he afraid he’d throw a glass of wine at him? No, that was stupid. Jack should know he wasn’t like that. The man’s regard was intense. Maybe even emotional. It wasn’t the teary-eyed sort of emotion. It was the dark, smoldering emotion that signaled …
Daniel froze, wondering if he could allow himself to return the look, or if he was somehow misreading him. What if he was? What if … he …
Jack was leaning forward a little. He raised his right hand, tentatively, or maybe slowly, as if giving Daniel a chance to move away. Daniel didn’t. Not one millimeter. He’d been giving Jack the lead on how this would go between them and he had no intention of changing that decision. His hand reached him, and the fingers slid past his left ear. The touch was electric, and breath found his lungs as he inhaled sharply. The fingers slid further until they were fully cradling the side of his head, then pulling him forward.
Daniel swallowed, parted his lips, and his gaze flitted back and forth between Jack’s eyes and his lips. Lips that he’d never once allowed himself to wonder how they’d feel against his own. Closer now, and the warmth of his breath was like an appetizer to a kiss. He couldn’t help it and his eyes began to close, just a little, but he made himself look into Jack’s. His were doing the same. Then came the whisper of skin as the edges of their lips touched. There was a millisecond pause before they closed in, pressing just a bit in a testimony of touch.
Remember this moment, his mind babbled as their lips pressed together, chaste and dry, and Daniel closed his eyes and sighed into his mouth. The sound seemed to release something in Jack, like the snap of a string, and he exhaled and pressed in harder, lips opening. Then there came the touch of the tip of his tongue and Daniel couldn’t help the tiny, breathy moan that came with the sigh of desire and relief. He ventured to meet Jack’s with his own, and there was, once more, the millisecond pause and the formation of sense memory.
Then Jack mashed their lips together, their noses together, and the stubble of whisker rasped against another man’s chin. That sensation, more than the further entrance of Jack’s tongue in his mouth, made Daniel open to him, seeking tongue and breath, and the need skyrocketed.
Jack wrapped an arm around his waist, and he did the same, forcing each other to their knees on the firm cushions. The feel of him in his arms, the taste of his tongue in his mouth, wrestling to see who could taste more and more, was mind annihilating. And at that moment, all Daniel wanted to do was … what he was then doing. He pulled Jack with him as he fell onto his back and wrapped his arms around him as he intensified their kiss. Jack growled deep into his mouth and Daniel returned the compliment.
Desire was rising along with his erection and he ran his hands over Jack’s back and down to his ass. The moment his hands arrived there, touched him, felt him, it seemed to break the moment in Jack and he, in turn, broke the kiss. He pushed up a bit and stared into Daniel’s eyes.
“You okay?” Daniel asked, suddenly apprehensive. Was Jack changing his mind? Or was it that he wasn’t ready for Daniel to go that far?
“More than okay.” He gave him a crooked grin that melted Daniel’s bones. “You?”
“More than okay. But you look like there’s something wrong.”
Jack suddenly pushed up a bit more and he ran his fingers through Daniel’s hair, unnecessarily brushing it back. It sent a chill of desire down Daniel’s spine and settled in his balls.
“There’s nothing wrong. I just don’t know if we should keep going. I mean, already. If we should wait. Or if we should just wait until after dinner. Or if …”
“Or if dinner could just be dessert,” Daniel said, swallowing. An enormous amount of fire filled his body and he ran his hands over Jack’s chest. “If you want to wait, then we wait. I’m leaving the decision up to you. But whatever you decide …”
Jack gave him a look that melted more bones. “Do you want to stop?”
“No,” Daniel breathed, and he pulled Jack down for another long kiss that lasted several minutes.
Finally, Jack separated, kissing him a few times as he pushed back up. “But there’s just one thing.”
“What’s that?” Daniel asked, trying to read what he was about to say but he had to remind himself that it was just body language he could discern, not his mind. And the body language he was clearly reading matched his own.
“We have to relocate to the bedroom.”
“True,” Daniel said. He thought of nakedness, condoms, lube and … anal sex. “Oh wow.”
And at that moment, the reality of it hit him, and it seemed to him that it hit Jack as well. The deep, sudden passion that had overwhelmed them didn’t leave. It shifted. There was a moment where a silent commitment solidified their mutual declaration, never mind the important decision they held at the moment.
“Oh wow is right. And … um …” Jack swallowed. “Who pitches and who catches?”
Daniel couldn’t help it and he bit his lip to swallow the giggle that tried to rise up. “You mean who tops and who bottoms?”
“Who gives and receives?”
“We’re not doing that, Jack,” Daniel said with mock severity.
Jack looked at him warily. “Not doing what?”
“Metaphor exchanges,” Daniel said, realizing that the man had misread him.
“Oh,” Jack said, grinning. “Back to the answers.”
Daniel suddenly had worry creeping between his brows. “I prefer to bottom.” Jack groaned and dropped his forehead to Daniel’s chest. It made Daniel run his fingers through his hair, making that little tuft in back worse. It made him smile for a second before going back to business. “You too?”
Jack abruptly lifted his head. “Oh, hell no. I mean, I will on occasion, but I prefer to top.” He kissed him tenderly. “It’s just that when you said that, I saw myself inside of you and it just …”
“Ah,” Daniel said, and he shifted underneath him, getting comfortable. Then quite deliberately, he wrapped his legs around Jack’s hips—ostensibly to toe off his shoes, but the body language was clear, and the sudden proximity of their crotches, and the body placement, made his erection throb. “Oh,” he said, and it was half a moan. “Jack.” He swallowed. Then he licked his lips and the thought of having Jack’s cock his mouth made it water. Jack seemed to read him loud and clear.
“Damn,” he said, and pushed Daniel’s legs off him as he pulled back and stood up. He pulled Daniel to his feet.
“I somehow forgot about that.”
“About?” Daniel teased.
Jack took him in his arms, and he met his lips for another long kiss, and suddenly Jack’s stomach growled, and it forced their kiss to end with a laugh and a smile. Daniel couldn’t help it. “Maybe that settles the matter. Dinner first. Then a long dessert after.”
“Okay,” Jack said, “but if something should happen on the way to the kitchen …”
But they were able to maintain control to satisfy one hunger before satisfying another. As he watched Jack grill the steaks, and then devour his, he wondered just why it was that it took a rather nasty sickness to change the course of their lives. But there was no answer. He could only be grateful that it had.
They ate in silence and studied each other throughout dinner and by the time it was finished, Daniel was eager to get out of his jeans. That damn erection had only gone down slightly and it was beginning to ache in the wrong way. It was odd, and yet somehow amusing, but they both rose from the table at the same time. Dessert. Daniel finished the wine in his glass, happy that he’d only used water during the meal, and was even more amused when Jack took his hand and led him back to the bedroom.
“What a romantic,” he quipped softly. And then he spied the bed and raised a brow. “Um. Wow.” It was a Full-sized mattress and for two men, it might as well have been a Twin. “Is there room?”
“Ah huh. Next time. My bed. It’s much bigger.”
They paused, then things slowed down considerably as they came together. Daniel unbuttoned Jack’s shirt while Jack did the same, and it went on like that until they were almost naked. Briefs for both, and Daniel swallowed and stepped back, unwilling to remove Jack’s for two related reasons.
“What is it?” Jack asked, looking curious. He took a step toward him and Daniel took a step back. Jack’s curiosity adopted another mischievous grin. “What’re you doing?”
“If I take off your briefs,” he said, swallowing. “I won’t be able to help myself. And frankly, I’d rather swallow you while you’re on your back. Just so, you know, you don’t lose your balance.”
Jack’s brow rose as a big smirk appeared. “You’re boasting?”
“No. I don’t want to be interrupted.”
“And I’m not sure I’ll let you,” Jack said, and with that, he pushed off his briefs.
Daniel did the same as his cheeks flushed hotly. Jack was … well, it was clichéd, and he really loved that it was. His mouth watered even more, and he hoped he could … wait … “What did you say?”
“You heard me,” Jack said, coming forward to take Daniel’s hand and pull him on the bed. He pushed him onto his back, then crawled over him. He hovered there, on his knees, looking down at his cock, then the rest of him, before meeting his gaze. “You do that and I’ll …” He swallowed. “Come. And I don’t want to that way. Not the first time.”
“Oh,” Daniel said, suddenly shy with his smile—but not with the rest of him. “I’ll just have to wait for round two.”
“Two? You think there’ll be—”
“Oh hell yes, there will.”
“I don’t know, but I can’t wait for you to prove it.” He pushed Daniel’s knees apart and knelt between them, sitting back. “That drawer to your right.”
Daniel looked over and reached up to pull the knob. He had to push up to twist over and reach in. Lube. He handed the bottle to Jack, then felt around. No condom. “Uh Jack? No protection? Is that wise? I mean, I’m clean and all … but …”
“I, uh … haven’t been with anyone since Sara,” Jack said, and then hotly blushed.
The look of it so enamored Daniel that he couldn’t laugh or make fun. “I haven’t since Shau’re was taken.”
Jack stared at him, brows knotting in obvious confusion. “But I thought … There was Shyla. And Kyra.”
Daniel frowned and slowly shook his head, and suddenly their moment of lust seemed to be evaporating. But was it really, or was this just going to be something with them? Where they talked about uncomfortable things before sex? Or … no, actually, this was First Time business and couldn’t be avoided. “I couldn’t.” Just the thought made him visibly shudder. “No.”
Jack’s brows went up. “Then why’d you make me think you and Kyra did?”
“I did?” Daniel asked, surprised, and pushed up on his elbows. “I didn’t mean to.” When Jack gave him a dubious look, he pushed up further to lean on his hands. “I’m serious. I didn’t. You misread.”
“Daniel,” Jack said, and he set the lube aside and slowly lowered himself onto him.
The tactile sensation of it, of the First Time of it, was marred by the doubt on Jack’s face. “I didn’t.” He frowned, no doubting himself. “Did I?” A few emotions or thoughts flicked across Jack’s face and they were too fast to read. But Daniel could have sworn that Jack had just replayed a few still scenes in his head.
“I thought so at the time, but now, maybe you didn’t, after all,” he said finally. He frowned then and threaded a hand through Daniel’s hair.
“What?” Daniel asked, and was suddenly worried that Jack might be changing his mind. His body didn’t signal he was so … “More questions?” he guessed.
“Not precisely. I just realized that maybe I rushed the whole top-bottom thing.”
Daniel felt a bit of dread. “Meaning what?”
Jack brushed his lips over Daniel’s, then did the same with their chins, physically pointing out the whisper of stubble. “You said it’s been a while. How often …”
“How many times have I had sex with a man, or do you mean relationships?” Daniel asked, finding the question a bit worrying, never mind that it was hardly the proper timing. Jack should have asked before they got to this point. In the past, he’d had a jealous boyfriend and he’d ended the relationship because of it. If Jack was going to be like that …
“Experience,” Jack said, clearing his throat. “I’ve had some, but it’s been over twenty years.”
Daniel nodded slowly. “I’ve had boyfriends, Jack. Is that knowledge going to be a problem, because I don’t do jealous over old relationsh—”
Jack kissed him, without tongue, but it eventually did, and the kiss turned passionate, and he moved against Daniel in obvious enjoyment where there was no hesitation. There was a bit of shakiness, but Daniel was doing it too simply because they were both so damn pent up. When the kiss broke, Jack said, “No, it’s not a problem. I asked because experience is better for at least one of us.”
Daniel grinned at him. “I’ve plenty of experience. I just haven’t been with a man for a while, but definitely a lot more often than you have.” He paused, staring into those dark, emotional eyes. “I think you’ve just cemented my decision to let you lead. That way, you can go as far as you like and can tell me what you want.” Jack moved his hips and Daniel smiled at him. “I know where we’re going now, but later …”
The look Jack gave him was sly. “Now that that’s out of the way … this is …” He moved his body, writhing slightly, and most of the pressure was centered on their groins as Jack thrust against him. “Nice.”
“Nice,” Daniel echoed as he wrapped his arms around Jack’s neck and pulled him into another deep kiss that was coupled with a lot more thrusting, and that was done by both of them, not just Jack. When he spread his knees wider, they broke the kiss with matching gasps.
The feel of his skin, his cock, against his own was intoxicating, and Daniel ran his hands down to grab his ass, again, and this time, there was no hesitation from Jack. He suddenly felt the urge to be on top for a while, to rub against him, and if the bed had been bigger, he’d have rolled them over. Instead, he decided to save it for next time. In his bed. Just knowing that would happen sent hot flashes of excitement through his body.
“You want to go further?” Jack asked. He looked hesitant for a second, which Daniel found odd.
“You having second thoughts?” he asked back.
“No,” Jack said, slowly shaking his head. “It’s just that I really, really want to be in you right now.”
Daniel swallowed hard, knowing that though it wouldn’t hurt, it was going to be a bit uncomfortable for a few seconds. It wasn’t going to hurt. His desire and experience would prevent it. “It’s not going to take long.”
“For what?” Jack asked as he pushed off, knelt between his legs, and picked up the bottle of lube. Daniel raised his knees and just the act of it felt odd. He was doing this with Jack. He hadn’t dared fantasize, or hoped, or merely, barely thought. But it was now here. In the midst of the realization, he sucked in a breath through his nose as Jack rubbed the slick lube over his hole.
“To come,” Daniel finally answered.
He reached down to grab his hand and guided the tips of two finger over his entrance, to rub again, and then to push them inside. Jack’s eyes darkened as his own seemed to water a little, so he closed them. Jack took over, sliding the tips carefully in and out, not even to the middle knuckle.
“Yes,” Daniel whispered.
“God,” whispered Jack.
Then Daniel’s eyes flew open in shock and lust because Jack had bent over to slide his tongue up his hard shaft. He grabbed Jack’s face and pushed him off while inching his body away from him. It made Jack’s fingers slide out of him. “No, don’t, I’ll come too soon.”
“I couldn’t help myself,” Jack said, licking his lips and rubbing them together. “The idea makes my mouth water.”
Daniel half-laughed. “Mine, too, but let’s save it for later. I don’t want to do everything at once.” When Jack made to return his fingers to his hole, he shook his head. “Now.” He held his hand out for the bottle of lube and Jack handed it to him with a raised brow. He gestured for him to move closer and he squirted lube onto his hand, then encircled Jack’s shaft and pumped him twice before Jack swallowed hard as he took his hand away. He took the lube from Daniel, squirted more directly onto his dick, then set it aside and leaned over him, bracing on one arm. With the free hand, he lined up, and Daniel placed his hands behind his knees and pulled up a bit.
“Look at me,” Jack said, when his attention wandered downward, so Daniel met his gaze. Jack pushed slowly, steadily, and Daniel’s eyes fluttered closed in long-missed pleasure. “Look at me.” He did. Jack paused after a few inches, pulled back, and pushed back in even further. He kept doing this over and over until he was nearly all the way inside his body.
“Jack,” Daniel said, and made his name a plea. When Jack pulled back and stroked, just once, Daniel grabbed at his arms, urging him on. Another thrust, another pause, then it began. It was clear that Jack had let go, and the wildness, the lust in his eyes, only made Daniel respond by opening to him. His cock strained with need and he wanted to pull Jack on top of him, but the man pushed back on his knees and filled him to the root before thrusting with an undulating twist. The point was made clear, the touch of his gland sent a rapture of keen pleasure through Daniel’s body, and he threw his head back and dropped his mouth open. “Oh god, yes!”
Continuing the same movements, but bending over him as well, Jack sped up and the rocking of their bodies made the bed move and creak. Neither of them noticed as they brought their lips together, trying for kisses that couldn’t be focused on because the crux of the pleasure was far below. The moment finally arrived as Jack aimed particularly hard and Daniel slapped his hands against the mattress and gripped the sheets in white knuckled fists.
“Yes!” Jack said, panting.
Daniel thrashed his head back and forth, then his eyes widened in shock and he gasped repeatedly. “Oh fuck!” His body went rigid as he hips rose off the bed and he came hard. The pleasure was so intense, the desire so long-sought after, that his orgasm was prolonged. “Yes, yes. Oh god.”
Jack’s hands were on his thighs and he fucked him hard and fast. It didn’t last even a minute before his body spasmed to a halt, except for the uncontrolled jerks his hips made as he came. Like Daniel, his orgasm kept going and Daniel responded by stroking his cock and squeezing out a few more bits of his own climax while Jack continued his release.
“Oh my god,” Jack gasped, dropping on top of him for a long, passionate kiss that stole the breath from both of them.
“My sentiments exactly,” Daniel panted.
Afterglow stole time from them both and Daniel was only vaguely aware of Jack’s weight. He was too satisfied with the feel of his body on top of him as well as the way he could feel Jack’s heartbeat against his skin. He was about to try to roll them on their sides when Jack pushed off to the side, though he kept half of his body on top. Daniel moaned at the loss of his cock, but he didn’t mind too much. However, a shower was in their immediate future … right after a nap.
Daniel was vaguely aware of birdsong and he cracked open his eyes to a blurry blackness. He started to move, then realized he wasn’t at home. He was in Jack’s bed. And uncomfortable. They’d both had a bitch of a night trying to sleep soundly in too small a bed. It was a horrible way to end what had begun so beautifully. His rear end ached a bit, but it made him smile for a moment as he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Jack was still snoring a bit and he realized that the afterglow had made him ignore it. But this was a first time. And early days. Sooner or later, he’d start wearing earplugs.
Still. His heart pounded as he looked over his shoulder at the man lying on his stomach with his arms over his head. Jack. They’d had sex. The man had finally made the move. Now what? The quick answer was to take things day by day. The longer answer was more complicated. He knew which one Jack would prefer to tackle for now, and very likely, to do it unspoken. He’d soon find out.
Daniel got out of bed and went to relieve himself, then came back to put on his clothes. He’d have to go home to shower, then change. They would go to work and act as if nothing had changed . . . because they had to. He didn’t like it and was tempted to rebel, but his rational mind overrode the impulse. Pick your battles, he told himself as he slid his briefs on and grabbed his jeans.
“Hey,” Jack said, his voice muffled because he spoke into the mattress.
“Hey,” Daniel replied, a small grin on his face. “Time for me to go. Work today.” Jack groaned and slid his pillow over his head. “I know.” The man lay there like that as Daniel completed dressing, and didn’t budge until Daniel walked over and kissed the back of his head.
“Hey,” he said, even more muffled.
“I love you,” he said.
Daniel grinned more widely. “I know.” He turned to leave, took half a step, and Jack turned over, frowning.
“What?” Daniel asked over his shoulder.
“Well?” Jack asked as he pushed up on his elbows.
Daniel took a breath and sighed happily. “I love you, too.”
“Better,” Jack said, slumping back down.
“Now get out of bed. I’ll see you later.”
Jack groaned again and rolled over.
“I think they know something,” Jack told him two weeks later. They were divesting themselves of their mission uniforms in the locker room. Sam and Teal’c hadn’t arrived yet from the infirmary.
“I don’t think so,” Daniel said, making a face. “It’s a big leap for either of them. Their minds wouldn’t even go there, Jack.”
“No?” Jack asked, but he looked dubious.
“No. So just chill, okay?”
“I can’t. They know something. They’re suspicious.”
Daniel sighed, looked around, and took the moment to make a playful tug at Jack’s trouser waistband. “We’re just getting along a lot better than we used to, and that’s all they need to know.” Jack made a growling sound of disbelief but said nothing else.
“Hey, see you in an hour?”
“Yeah,” Jack nodded. “Let’s have another steak night.”
After setting a bottle of wine on the dining table, Daniel made his way down the hall, frowning because of the mischievous wink Jack had given him from the kitchen. He found out why when he came to a halt in the bedroom doorway. There was a new bed. He heard movement behind him, and Jack’s arms went around him. He snuffled his neck, making Daniel smile and shy away.
“When did this happen?”
“While we were gone, obviously.”
“You let strangers into your house?” Daniel asked, turning around in his arms.
“I know them. Old buddies of mine.” He gave him a wicked grin. “Now, I think we can do this before dinner.”
Daniel felt warm, but pretended ignorance. “Do what?” he asked, adopting that innocent look, even as Jack began to move forward, making him walk backward.
“Break in the bed.”
After dinner, there was a second round of lovemaking, and afterward, Daniel lay staring at the ceiling, thinking about how much things had changed in just a few months. And all because he’d damn near died. Again. He looked over at a sleeping Jack and reached up to caress the man’s arm.