“I don’t understand,” Jack said, reclining on his bed. “It’s still me.”
“You understand perfectly,” Daniel said, sighing. He leaned against the dresser in the VIP room set up for Clone Jack. He had a few days to say goodbye to this Jack. There were a bunch of hoops to jump through before his new identity was created.
“That’s not what I meant,” Jack said.
Daniel blinked a few times. “Okay. What did you mean? Hey, did you decide on your name yet?”
“Nice sidetrack, Danny.”
“Cheap shot,” Daniel said.
“Okay, okay. I give,” Jack said, raising his hands. “It’s ironic. You were calling me Jim only twenty-six days ago.”
“Jim?” Daniel asked, surprised.
“Well, I’m not going by that. Ever. Not doing Jimmy, either. Or Jamie. Well, in a pinch, Jamie. Maybe. James is just fine. It’s my middle name. Or rather, his middle name. My entire new name is now James Patrick O’Neill.” Daniel raised his brows. “Sue me, I’m keeping my surname.”
Daniel held his hands up this time. “Okay. Not my business anyway.”
James looked down at his hands. “And that’s now the way it’s supposed to be. But how the hell do I just move on? I have the same feelings as my adult self. Think that doesn’t suck? Because it does.”
Daniel looked at his feet, clearly uncomfortable.
James sat forward, staring at him. “Don’t tell me. You finally remember us? Finally? What tipped it?”
Daniel grimaced a little. “On the way to find you at that fishing spot. It was a nice spot. Never seen it before.”
“Not many in Colorado, but they’re here. Will be more of them in Vancouver.”
Daniel’s brows rose. “That’s where you’re moving to?”
James nodded. “As soon as I’ve been made an emancipated minor with the requisite life history, I’ll be going to the University of Washington.”
“Huh,” Daniel said, chewing at his cheek.
“I’d have thought the immature, puerile part of you—”
“That’s redundant,” James scowled.
“—would’ve wanted to re-do High School.”
“No,” James said, with heavy emphasis. “No way, Jose. I am not doing that shit over again. All the power trips and facile chest thumping. And that’s just the girls.” Daniel grinned. James lost his own smile. “Seriously, I’m too damn smart and while my body isn’t mature, the rest of me is. Although Fraiser says that now that my genes have been corrected, I might start reverting to hormonal city.”
“Which means thinking about sex every ten seconds,” Daniel said, only slightly grinning.
James jogged his brows. “I hope I skip that shit. I hated it back then, but then while I was experiencing it, I was all kinds of angsty teenager who thought he knew what was right, what was wrong, and I gave attitude to everyone, even my friends.”
“Gee, I wonder what’s changed,” Daniel said, trying not to smile.
“Hardee har har, Daniel,” James said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
There was a knock at the door and Daniel opened it. Jack stood there, looking massively uncomfortable. “It’s done,” he said to James.
James nodded and rolled off the bed like his joints were made of springs. He grabbed his duffle. He had no idea what to say to Daniel, so he said little. “Take care of yourself. And look out for this Neanderthal.” He pointed a thumb at Jack, who rolled his eyes.
“SF will hook you up top-side,” Jack told him, handing him a large manilla envelope. “Everything you need, including cash. Don’t spend it all.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He looked between them, took a deep breath, and put on a brave face. To the SF, he gestured in front of him. “Lead the way, good sir.”
Daniel and Jack watched the teen walk down the hallway, a strut in his step that was clearly for effect.
“Think he’ll be okay?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah,” Jack said, sighing. “I don’t envy him. Not one little bit.”
“Not even a little?” Daniel asked. “Getting a huge Do-Over? Hindsight in foresight, as it were.”
Jack pursed his lips. “Nope, not even a little. I don’t look backward.” He eyed Daniel who was eyeing him. “I don’t.” Daniel gave him a look of extreme skepticism. “A little,” Jack said, raising a hand to show a slight amount between thumb and forefinger. “Where we are concerned. Had a lot of time while you were gone to figure out what I did wrong, and that if I ever got you back, I would do better.”
Daniel nodded. “A lot of stuff to unpack there.”
Jack squinted at him. “What do you mean?”
“I mean there’s a lot of mistakes I made. We made. Sometimes just moving forward and not looking back is a better idea.”
As he spoke, Jack’s eyes grew rounder. “Wait. Are you saying you remember? Us?” He gestured between them.
Daniel gave him a sly grin. “Yeah, I think I remember.”
“Well, I’ll need reminding on a few things.”
Daniel grinned. “Take me out on a date and maybe I’ll tell you.”
“Oh, we’re like that, huh?” Jack said. They left the VIP room and headed for the corridor where Daniel’s room was. “I’ll make arrangements. Pick you up in . . .” He looked at his watch. “Eight?”
“Eight?” Daniel asked. “I gotta wait that long for dinner?”
“Seven?” Jack asked.
“Six-thirty?” Daniel suggested.
Jack stared at him. “What is this, a countdown?” Daniel just gave him a look he couldn’t read. “Fine. Six-thirty. Narrows down the places, you know.”
“Okay. Be up top at six.”
Daniel watched Jack mosey off in the direction of the elevator. And he began to grow nervous. This evening needed to be perfect. But since that wasn’t possible, the term open mind had to be applied.
Daniel felt acutely underdressed when Jack pulled up in his black truck. Daniel remembered the day Jack bought the thing. They’d been in a Chevrolet lot, looking at the trucks, when Jack had spotted it. For the next two hours, Daniel was invisible. He was there only to make sure Jack didn’t look crazy when he spoke to himself. Once they’d driven off the lot, Daniel had asked to be dropped off at home.
“Because you two want to be alone,” he’d quipped. He’d been completely serious. Jack had needed to be fully acquainted and Daniel hadn’t been in the mood to be a silent wingman.
“What’s that look for?” Jack asked as Daniel got in.
“Hmm? Oh, was remembering when you got this truck.”
“Seriously? Two days ago you said you weren’t sure about the whole memory thing.”
Daniel shrugged. “It began when I saw James in the holding room. I kept thinking, ‘he sounds like Jack but he doesn’t look like Jack. Not really. His face was sort of . . .”
“Handsome for a teen?”
“No, actually, you looked rather . . . nondescript. It was too bad about the acne.”
Jack grimaced. “Yeah, I don’t miss that.”
“So, where’re we going?”
“We were in luck. There was a cancellation at the Chop House.”
“MacKenzie’s Chop House. Remember?”
“Oh,” Daniel said, frowning. “Yeah, um. No.”
“Oh. Maybe because we ate everywhere but there?”
Daniel spent the next twenty minutes telling Jack about all the minutia he knew, or thought he knew. But conversations were a bit tougher. He had to associate a conversation with an image. He couldn’t just call it up. It was aggravating. But again, par for the course.
“One of these days, if I ever see Oma again, I’m gonna have a conversation she won’t much like.”
Jack grinned. “I’d love to see that.”
“Maybe not. The only way will be for me to be near death.”
Jack made a growling sound of disgust. “Always a catch with them, isn’t there?”
Daniel nodded. “So, you found a reservation at MacKenzie’s. I hope it’s a seat where we won’t easily be overheard. I’d hate to speak in low tones for over an hour.”
“Yeah, I think I got it covered.”
Jack swung the truck into a parking lot. As he pulled into a spot, Daniel looked around. He couldn’t see the entrance to the building. Just the sign. Way up the side of a red-brick building. “Where’s the front door?”
“Underground. Sort of. There’s a row of awnings on the other side of the building. We go through that. You’ll see. Then we get seated in a private dining . . . car is the best way to describe it. It’s way too claustrophobic for my tastes, but it was the only booth-type seating available.”
“Sacrifice noted,” Daniel said with a grin. They headed where Jack described, through two sets of doors, and in a waiting area that looked like the lobby of a hotel’s elevator room. “Sacrifice definitely noted.”
A hostess appeared and after finding their reservation on her guestbook podium, led them inside. There were odd bar tables with chair-backed stools, regular booths, and a great-looking long bar. At least a dozen people sat at it with room to spare. But the hostess led them off to the right past a neon sign that said BAR and PRIVATE DINING. So apparently there was a lounge, too. They made their way down a long hall with doors on either side every twenty-two feet or so. At the end of the hall, the hostess opened a door and they entered a room with a long U-shaped booth and table, with chairs for additional guests. The table was set for two.
“Your waiter will be with you shortly. May I get you anything to drink? One of our single malt neat choices perhaps?”
“Glenfiddich,” Daniel said, not knowing if that was what she’d meant.
But Jack said, “Glenlivet,” so apparently it was a thing.
She nodded as they sat down next to each other and handed them their menus. “Your waiter be here shortly with your aperitifs.”
“Thanks,” Jack said.
“Aperitifs?” Daniel asked. “Odd way to refer to scotch neat.”
“It’s a thing here,” Jack said, opening his menu. He pointed at the back sleeve. It read “Whiskey Neat Pours.” Daniel opened his menu to look, scanning the long list of whiskeys and scotch brands. Then there were signature cocktails, and whole host of alcoholic sections.
“Wow,” Daniel said.
“Yep. Go to the front. There’ll be the appetizers but check out the Sides & Accompaniments.”
“Okay, what am I looking for . . .” Daniel grinned. “You remembered.” He liked mushrooms cooked in wine. In this case, they were served in a sherry glaze. He scanned the other menus and had his mind made up by the time the waiter appeared. Jack was ready too. Daniel ordered the calamari and mushrooms, baked potato, and a massive porterhouse steak. Jack went in for the porterhouse, too, but he added king crab, white cheddar mashed potatoes, and shrimp cocktail for the appetizer. To drink, he added a cabernet sauvignon. Daniel did the same, plus made sure they had the standard iced water.
“So,” Jack began.
“So,” Daniel repeated.
“So Teal’c says you’re joining him in kel’no’reem, even though he says he’s not getting enough out of it, not like he used to.”
“It helps him, whether he knows it or not.”
“Plus, you know, all those candles are a fire hazard.”
Daniel grinned a little. “It helps me focus, too. In the parlance of the locals here on Earth, it helps me focus my chi. Without it, I may not have remembered . . .”
“Ah. Chi. Isn’t that what Iron Fist uses to make his fist glow?”
Daniel rolled his eyes. He was hoping Jack would follow the trail he was leaving. But it’d take a bit more direct words. “I have no idea. But if my fist starts glowing, I’ll let you know.”
Jack chuckled. “Done deal.”
“I was wondering if . . .”
The waiter brought them their appetizers and sides.
When he left Jack asked, “Wondering if?”
“Do you want to be together like we were before it all went kinda bad?”
Jack picked at his shrimp salad. “I don’t . . . not like . . . Look, here’s how it is. I love you. I never stopped. And when you got sick, I thought . . . something negative.” He colored.
Daniel nodded. “You’re a pragmatist, Jack. There are lines you’ll cross, but they have to be practical for the most part. There are only a few lines that are exceptions. Saving people is one. You couldn’t stop doing that if your life depended on it. But when something is getting in the way of doing that job, or the job the Pentagon’s demanded we do, then you choose practicality. You don’t like complicated. You hate it. And we . . . I . . . got complicated.”
Jack studied for a long silent minute. “Just work all that out or was it in your head before you left?”
Daniel shook his head. “After I came back. And after I started remembering. We can be together if you want us to. And I’ll promise to not be such a big pain in your ass. I promise to follow your lead. But I’d like the same in return, okay? Follow my lead if I’m a hundred percent sure, whatever it is. If I’m not one hundred percent sure, then I’ll follow your lead until you say otherwise.” He half-smiled. “Except for the bit about the burritos.”
“Ya lost me.”
“Gas, Jack,” Daniel said, his smile widening. “While it isn’t toxic, it does tend to . . . kill the mood.”
Jack began to chuckle and shake his head. “You never cease to amaze me. Even when I think you’re nuts. I agree with all of that. But I have a condition.”
“Name it,” Daniel said simply.
“You don’t even know what it is.”
“I trust you or I don’t. Name it.”
“We’re never gonna get to a place where we can be out as long as we’re part of the program.”
Daniel frowned. “I know that. What’s your point?”
“If we get to that point, I’m not doing it for some activist reason. I’m doing it because you’re my partner and I love you.”
“Sure,” Daniel said slowly. “What gave you the impression that I would expose us just because I may want to force people to accept us? Because that’s never entered my mind. Hell, I haven’t even asked you to marry me because we’re not at that point. I don’t even know if we’ll ever get to that point.” He paused because Jack’s eyebrows skyrocketed into his hairline. “What?”
“Don’t get all excited,” Daniel said with a long-suffering sigh. “I’m not going to ask.”
Perversely, Jack took it as an insult. “Wait, why the hell not?”
“Jack, don’t be an ass.”
Jack went stock still, then a slow smile crept across his face. “Now I know you’re back. You haven’t said that to me in a long time.”
Daniel snorted. “Way to change the subject. We went from you being startled that I mentioned getting married to you being miffed that I never said it would happen. Focus, Jack.”
Jack smirked. “Yeah, well. You blindsided me, so it’s your fault.”
Daniel sat back and laughed, then downed the rest of the Glenfiddich. It had a hell of a burn but the taste afterward was nice and smokey. Soon, their main dishes arrived and the size of the steaks was unbelievable. Still, eating them while talking about wine was a pleasant nothing conversation.
Because while they talked about nothing, there was one thing that each of them had on the back of their mind. What happened when they left? Clearly, they’d go to Jack’s. Then they’d get intimate and have sex. For the first time since before Chaka. Each felt awkward and nervous, worried about performing, worried about pleasing each other.
When it became clear that they couldn’t eat anything more, Jack left a big tip for the waiter and they headed out after paying an extravagant amount for their dinner. “I can’t believe that whole thing cost over two hundred,” Daniel said as they left the restaurant.”
“Yep. But hey, I can afford it. And it was worth it.”
Daniel slowed to a stop. “Is it? Are we back together or . . .”
“Let’s discuss that when we get home.”
They were silent for the twenty minutes it took to get home and inside Jack’s home. Jack took off his jacket and hung it on the coat rack by the door, then took Daniel’s and did the same.
“Sorry I couldn’t dress better for that restaurant,” Daniel said, looking down at his jeans and Air Force issue grey t-shirt and white sneakers.
“Don’t be stupid,” Jack said, giving Daniel a chagrined look. “You look fine. Better than fine. Perfect, if you’ll allow—”
“Jack, put a sock in it.”
“I haven’t had time to go shopping, but that might get me a pass since I haven’t been fully paid yet.”
“So . . . wait. What?”
“I haven’t been fully paid yet.”
Jack opened his mouth to protest, frowned as he remembered his own pay issue. But that had been eight years ago and . . . “I’ll front you till you get your full salary.”
“That’s all well and good but I need to apartment hunting, clothes shopping. You threw out almost all of my kitchen stuff—”
“Well, to be honest, it was a bit dated—“
“So,” Daniel said with a sardonic grin. “About being back to normal, whatever that is.”
Jack took Daniel’s hand. “This.” He twined his hand with Daniel’s. “Is normal.”
“Yeah,” Daniel said, looking at their hands.
He started to speak but Jack shushed him with a finger over Daniel’s lips. “No, listen to me. Couple of things to say.”
“Okay,” Daniel said, giving Jack his full attention. “Go ahead.”
“First, we’re gonna be fine, Daniel. I’ve had plenty of time to think about this.”
“Right. Well.” Jack stared down at their joined fingers and took Daniel’s other hand to do the same. “This is about as complicated as I’m willing to be for now.” A bit more lightly, he added. “It might change in a few hours. It might not.”
“Ah,” Daniel said, grinning. “Guess it all depends on how I measure up compared to who I was.”
“Starting here,” Jack said, and led him rather quickly down the hall to the bedroom. Once inside, he let go and began to abruptly ditch his clothes. “I know that once I start kissing you . . .” He cast Daniel a sidelong look. “It won’t . . . stop.”
“That might be a little hard,” Daniel said drily, removing his regulation shirt.
Jack paused. “Ha. Funny.”
“I thought so,” Daniel said, only he was in much more of a hurry than before. “Won’t really . . .” As he spoke, the desire in him suddenly ramped up to Eleven. Once his sneakers and jeans were off, he wrapped his arms around Jack’s neck and brought their lips together as if the kiss was dessert. The feel of his lips were warm, inviting. Hungry. “Oh god,” he murmured over them and moaned when Jack thrust his tongue into his mouth and they began a soft wrestling match of rediscovery. That extended to their hands as they reacquainted themselves with the newly familiar tactile sensations of round, firm muscle. Butt cheeks filled their palms, eliciting louder moans.
Daniel found himself being led to the bed, walking backward, and it was all he could do to indulge in Jack’s touch while he shucked off his tight boxers. When his groin met Jack’s, he wrapped his calves around Jack’s and pulled their legs apart enough to hug their bodies together. He rubbed his cock hungrily against Jack’s and whispered, “Oh god” again and again before uttering, “I need you in me.”
Jack grinned around his lips. “What, no sucking first?” he quipped.
“That’s dessert,” Daniel said as he separated enough to reach for the nightstand drawer.
“Isn’t this dessert?” Jack asked, fumbling in the drawer to give Daniel the bottle of lube.
“No, this is the second main course.” He deliberately met Jack’s gaze. “Sucking you off is dessert.” Jack growled and kissed him hard while Daniel squirted a bunch of lube over his anal area. “Enough talk,” he grunted, and reached between them while he raised his knees.
The moment he rubbed the head of Jack’s cock against his entrance, he tried to throw his head back but Jack kissed him again. He wrapped his arms around his back and squeezed him tight, squirming slightly to rub their nipples together. “I love you,” he rasped as Jack thrust inside him. “Yes!” He spread his knees wider and raised his ass to meet Jack’s ensuing pumping actions. “Oh fuck yes!” He threw his head back and groaned deeply. “Fuck yes!”
Jack matched the gesture and words. Then let his hips do the talking. “I love you,” he growled. The sound turned into a deep, guttural noise as Jack wrapped his arms around him to amplify the rubbing of their chests and bellies. He barely allowed his hips to separate. All he was interested in was burying his cock deep while he mashed their groins together. “You feel so good,” he managed. It was an eternity later before he was able to speak again. “I love you.”
“I love you back,” Daniel groaned, then spread his knees wider. “Now fuck me hard.”
Jack growled loudly as he took Daniel’s hands and pinned them to either side of his head. “Gladly.”
Daniel let his head fall back even more as he lifted his ankles to spread his legs ever wider, taking Jack’s punishing thrusts as deeply as he good. “Fuck me,” he began to whisper.
But suddenly, it was over too soon. Their mutual desire abruptly skyrocketed with the inevitable lust caused by not having gotten any in a while. “Harder!” Daniel screamed as his balls tightened. He wrenched one hand away from Jack’s and reached between them to jerk himself off. He bent his head forward and his body tightened. “Yes!” he screamed repeatedly. “Fuck me!”
“Jesus, you’re beautiful,” Jack said, staring down at him while his hips flew in a rapid pace while Daniel’s heat surrounded him, tightened his mind, and all he could feel was that hot grip when his balls tightened and the orgasm began. It was a pleasure so keen that he willingly gave himself to it, hips pumping madly. “Daniel, oh god, Daniel,” he said repeatedly.
Daniel wrapped his arms around his neck and kissed him hard once more while he matched Jack’s thrusts, eagerly reaching upward with each pump Jack plowed into him. It was desperate, maddening, exquisite, as their orgasms merged into a heat they hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
It was several seconds before their orgasms subsided enough for their breathing to return to normal. Daniel hugged Jack to him, refusing to release him long after the climax had transferred into afterglow. Only when it became awkward did Daniel let him go. Only then did Jack let him go.
Resting on a tide of bliss, Daniel turned them over to relinquish his grip and Jack playfully groaned against his neck.
No words were needed.
No mutual declarations about the relationship.
They simply knew.
They weren’t back to normal.
They’d gone way past that.
And It. Felt. Good.