He forced himself to pay attention to the piece of paper that lay in front of him on the desk though his interest in it and its companions was minimal even on the best of days. And this certainly wasn't one of those. Bureaucracy was something Jack hated and days like today reminded him just why he'd always opted for those specialisms where you couldn't say too much about what you'd done, where you'd been, national security proving a useful excuse.
The words blurred in front of Jack's eyes as he forced himself to focus on them. He wouldn't think about it, wouldn't give the possibility another moment's thought. He could get through this.
Now if only his imagination would give him a moment's rest.
Because he could see it all just as it would happen. He could see every moment of it as if it was etched in glass, all sharp lines and razored edges, every word and action. He knew just what words Daniel would use, how he'd start the conversation Jack never wanted to have, how he'd take all the blame on himself. That he didn't realize what his actions would cost Jack wasn't Daniel's fault, after all.
When they'd first returned from Abydos this time, he'd found himself following Daniel around the base, watching him covertly, but that wasn't something he could do for long without arousing suspicion. Even though Daniel wasn't aware of it, others might put two and two together and Jack couldn't allow that.
Bad enough that just the thought of what Daniel was planning left him feeling hollowed out, echoing, empty.
It was inevitable, he would deal with it, he had no choice. Nothing Jack could say or do would dissuade Daniel from doing what he thought was right. He'd made his own choice, Jack reminded himself, so he had to stick with it no matter what. But that didn't mean that he had to like it, to smile wryly when the moment came. Nothing could make him do that.
Another requisition form joined the pile in Jack's out tray, his signature a spiderish scrawl in roughly the right place. Jack just hoped no one was asking for something outlandish because he had no idea what he'd just authorized.
Following Daniel around had left Jack feeling like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Something had gnawed at him, something with teeth that was setting up home inside himself as it hollowed out a space inside Jack for grief and loss to take up residence. It wasn't as if he hadn't played host to those feelings before, teetering on the edge of oblivion before an unexpected rescue happened. Except this time he had to hold himself together; this time there would be no cavalry.
He had to survive it. Even if that was the last thing he wanted to do, Jack had other people to think about now, more responsibilities than solely himself. He had to hold things together afterwards. If not for himself, then for Carter and Teal'c. Daniel's decision would have an impact on them too and he owed it to his team to be there for them.
It wasn't as if he hadn't known this day would come. That wasn't a luxury Jack could allow himself - he'd been ready for this day from the outset, preparing himself to deal with it from day one.
And that was before he really knew what was going on.
It had taken him forever, it seemed, to come to terms with the fact that he was attracted to another man. All those years of hearing the jokes, even using the words sometimes, and never once had Jack considered that he might possibly be on the receiving end of either. It was one thing to realise that he had those feelings, but quite another to find that they were directed towards a particular individual and that he was forced to decide what he was going to do next.
That had all changed one wet November night soon after his life had started up again.
He hadn't wanted to go, hadn't wanted to leave Daniel on his own in what was, after all, still an unfamiliar house, but there'd been no alternative to it. Jack had been summoned back to the SGC by Hammond, some question over a detail in his report, and there was nothing he could do about it. No words he could say which would make the general change his mind and allow him to come in tomorrow.
So, despite the incoming storm front, Jack had driven back up the mountain, his thoughts still firmly with the man he'd left behind.
Daniel had assured him that he was okay, and somehow he'd even been able to crack a smile. Neither of these things had encouraged Jack in the slightest, or made him believe that he should leave the other man on his own. But what choice did he have? This was, after all, what he had signed up for when he joined the Air Force, the responsibility he had shouldered when he'd become an officer.
It was the fragility Jack saw when he looked at Daniel that worried him the most.
That might seem a strange word to apply to another man, especially one just about the same height and build as himself, but for Jack, at the moment, it was the only one that fit.
He'd seen Daniel go through all kinds of desperation in the past few days, watched him tear his own heart out when he saw what Sha're had become, and he'd not said a word. Jack had stayed silent too, even though everything he saw the archaeologist go through echoed with him, chiming chords of pain from his own loss, his own deep-buried grief.
He knew that Daniel was trying to stay awake, trying to fight the onset of sleep and the nightmares that would surely follow. How could Jack be surprised when he'd been there himself?
And the fact that Daniel was currently occupying his spare room, that he'd been unwilling to let the other man drift aimlessly at the SGC? Jack had tried to tell himself that it was altruism, simple concern for another human being who was suffering, but all along he knew himself to be a liar. Jack was afraid for Daniel - he saw something in Daniel's eyes that he'd seen in his own reflection, looking in the mirror on more than one occasion.
Even as he was explaining to Hammond exactly what he meant by the phrase he'd used in his report, Jack's thoughts were with Daniel. He wondered when that had begun to be the case, why it was that his wayward mind turned in that direction so often. What was it about Daniel that made every protective instinct Jack had leap to attention? And a few more instincts besides, ones that weren't quite as socially acceptable in an officer of the USAF...
Jack wondered idly as Hammond spoke whether he'd always been this way, whether it had just taken living around the dynamo that was Dr. Jackson to make him realise an eternal truth about himself. Surely that had to be the case? After all, was it possible to change horses in mid-stream like that, going from preferring women to being attracted to men in one easy step?
Not that this was easy. If anything, the concept of being attracted to Daniel was a minefield for Jack. One filled with hidden emotions, each one deadlier than the last. Not only would his career, or what was left of it, be jeopardised if anyone found out how he felt, but what would happen to Daniel? No-one would ever believe that Daniel was innocent, wagging tongues would firmly place the blame on him, as if he'd somehow led Jack astray, corrupted him, turned him into something strange.
Thinking of Daniel, then remembering the pain he'd seen on the other man's face when he had seen Sha're again, it took little imagination for Jack to see Daniel surrounded by faceless tormentors, their words sharp and their fists solid. No, whatever happened to him, there was no way Jack could live with that kind of responsibility.
When he finally got back to his house, having driven down the mountain in the teeming rain, Jack entered the door to silence. The house itself was dark, an empty feeling its only inhabitant as far as he could tell.
Methodically, Jack searched the rooms, finding Daniel's USAF-issue coat, even his shoes, but no sign of the man himself. It was then that he found the back door standing slightly ajar, the occasional gust of wind blowing rain into the house.
Suddenly, all he could think about was Charlie.
Even though there was nothing similar, not even the location, the same cold feeling that had ripped through him when he heard the gunshot made Jack's heart clench inside him. No. Surely...
The wind whipped away the word almost before Jack uttered it, his shout smothered by its fury.
That cry too, was swept away by the wind. Jack's eyes raked the garden, searching for any sign of Daniel's passing, but the gate was shut and bolted, which meant...
He couldn't.... Could he?
Jack felt the growing storm tug at him, the wind's strong fingers pulling at his clothes as he climbed the slippery ladder up to the observation platform. It was as familiar to Jack as walking through his darkened house, each nail and knot known to Jack's fingers as he climbed.
His eyes had adjusted to the darkness by now and he saw Daniel at once, huddled in on himself, every line and curve of his body projecting abject misery. His feet were bare, the clothes he wore clung to his sodden body, his hair likewise drenched by the rain that beat upon him.
Daniel didn't even look up when Jack spoke, his head unmoving from where his face was curled into his arms, making him one tight foetal ball of pain and loss.
"Let's get you inside," Jack said, coming closer to where Daniel was, not sure whether his words were heard. Daniel didn't move, didn't respond, and that cold feeling that had clenched Jack's insides seemed to tighten its grip.
"Daniel?" he said, crouching down next to the man in question. No response. Jack reached out, tentative, feeling the sodden texture of the borrowed clothes, the shirt he recognised immediately as one of his favourites but that he'd never expressed a qualm about Daniel borrowing.
"You were expecting someone else?" Jack asked, feeling a flood of warmth at Daniel finally responding.
Silence once more, the only sound the rain hitting the wooden boards, and Jack felt his momentary pleasure begin to abate. This was the kind of thing he'd been worried about, the reason he shouldn't have left Daniel alone in the first place.
Daniel had been too bright, too cheerful - that should have been Jack's first clue. As if stretched too tight, he'd snapped, the emotions he'd been pushing back so hard then overwhelming him and forcing him to seek shelter somewhere. And was he punishing himself somehow? Was this self-imposed isolation some kind of penance for Sha're?
Jack had no idea. Though he'd always considered that Charlie's death took him to the brink of hell and back, and those memories were still guaranteed to make him shudder, he'd somehow never been this way. He'd locked himself inside, retreated in on himself mentally rather than physically.
Suddenly, overwhelmingly, like a light had been switched on for him, Jack felt sorry for what he'd done to Sara.
It took a little while to get Daniel moving, to get those long limbs untangled and working as they should. The rain was running down Jack's face now, he could see how drenched Daniel was and knew he had to look the same - like a pair of drowned rats, he thought, a sudden burst of humour at the idiocy of their situation breaking through.
By the time they reached the bottom of the steps, Daniel was shaking, his body wracked with shivers that made him seem as though he was about to fly apart at any moment. Like he would shudder into nothingness, become dust to drift away on the wind that swirled around them still.
And Daniel was still silent, that was the most worrying thing of all. His eyes were dull, as if he'd buried himself so far inside that no-one could see him, pulling down the shutters behind himself as he left.
Jack sighed as he steered Daniel towards the door, concentrating on making him walk a straight line. It wasn't easy - Daniel was barely this side of coordinated, and he reminded Jack of nothing more than a new-born colt, still shaky from the experience of birth and struggling to order its legs.
He guided Daniel towards the couch, ignoring how wet he was, how wet they both were, before going into the kitchen briefly to turn the thermostat up. When he returned Jack crossed to the couch. Daniel's face was pasty and drawn, his eyes closed as he lay slumped there, his every breath a rasping sound.
"What the hell were you thinking going out there?" Jack said, knowing even as he spoke that he was talking to himself. Daniel was there in the room with him as well, but it was clear that he wasn't listening; Daniel was too far inside himself to think of anything at the moment.
If it wasn't for the circumstances, Jack might have been overwhelmed by the thought of getting Daniel out of his clothes, but he knew that there was no time to think about that. He had to get Daniel warmed up, before his core temperature fell too low. Jack was just starting to shiver himself, while Daniel seemed to be a little too still, which was in itself a very bad sign, warning that his body was dangerously cold.
Shaking his head at the situation he found himself in, Jack hurried upstairs, taking the steps two at a time. He pulled blankets and a sleeping bag from the closet in his bedroom, snagged a towel from the bathroom and then headed back down again, finding Daniel just where he had left him.
Jack dropped his armful of blankets in an untidy heap on the floor by the couch. Picking up the towel, he tried to get the worst of the wetness out of Daniel's hair, so that it at least wouldn't be dripping water down his neck, smiling at the odd picture Daniel presented with damp hair sticking out all over the place.
"We need to get you out of these wet clothes, Daniel," Jack said, once he'd dropped the wet towel on the floor, his fingers fumbling at the buttons of Daniel's shirt.
Daniel didn't react, still silent and unmoving, his eyes still closed. After a couple of attempts, Jack managed to get all the buttons undone, then began to peel the shirt off his unresponsive body. Taking hold of Daniel's shoulder, Jack pulled him forward, peeling the saturated sleeves off Daniel's arms.
The shirt hit the floor with a sodden thud.
Reaching down, Jack snagged one of the blankets he'd brought downstairs with him, pulling it round Daniel's shoulders before letting him fall back against the couch once more. Now for Daniel's jeans.
Those were more tricky, and Jack considered for a moment how best to tackle them. Daniel was practically a dead weight, as he lay motionless on the couch, in no state to cooperate with Jack in any way. Finally, Jack just began to pull down the zipper, pausing when he discovered that Daniel had gone commando.
Of all the times, Daniel... Jack thought, swallowing nervously before continuing to undress him.
This was so different to what he'd imagined. Not that he'd given it all that much thought, the idea had been so new to him, but Jack had considered what it might be like to make love with another man.
Not that he had much to base his theories on, but there had to be ways in which it was similar to what he had known, didn't there?
Removing Daniel's jeans proved just as difficult as Jack had expected. Jack had to shove Daniel over to his side, then pull them down a little, before rolling him over to his other side and repeating the process. The removal of Daniel's jeans left red marks on the exposed legs, or at least the parts of them that Jack allowed himself to look at, the rough material chafing as it slid over wet flesh.
The jeans joined the wet shirt on the floor, the legs twisted and tangled.
Jack grabbed the sleeping bag, taking hold of Daniel's feet gently and sliding them into the bag's embrace. He slid it upwards, finding himself face-to-face with Daniel's lax genitals as he maneuvered the bag under Daniel. Jack backed off quickly and zipped it closed, pulling the zip up to where the sleeping bag pooled round Daniel's waist.
Pulling the blanket that was wrapped round Daniel's shoulders closer round him, Jack turned away, picking up Daniel's wet clothes and the towel he'd discarded, and headed upstairs to get out of what he was wearing.
Jack changed into dry clothes quickly, unwilling to leave Daniel alone for long. He took a moment to think about how close he'd just been to Daniel, savouring each sensation of his fingers on Daniel's skin for later contemplation. That was as close as he was ever likely to get to what he found himself wanting so desperately anyway.
He headed back to the couch, noted that Daniel was still in the same position as when he'd left him, and then went over to the fireplace. The room still seemed too cold and Jack applied himself to lighting the fire that was already laid there, before carefully putting the ornate metal fireguard back in place. As he turned back to the couch, he heard Daniel speak for the first time in what seemed like hours.
"Jack?" Daniel's voice was barely audible, more a whisper than anything else.
"Here," Jack said, sinking onto the couch next to him. Daniel rolled his head slightly across the couch back, opening his eyes reluctantly to look at Jack.
"You're back from the SGC already?" Daniel sounded confused, and Jack wondered just what he remembered of what had happened. Did he have any idea why he was now on the couch, swaddled up the way he was?
"Been back a while," Jack replied. "What were you doing outside in the rain, Daniel?"
Daniel looked confused at this question, his eyes still a little unfocussed as he looked at Jack.
"I was outside?" Jack nodded. "In the rain?"
"You don't remember?"
That was odd, but not completely unexpected, Jack supposed. If Daniel was hurting as badly as he suspected, the last thing he was going to want was to admit it to anyone, and any action he'd taken because of that hurt had to come into the same category.
What was it that Daniel was asking? Jack wondered about this as he watched him carefully. Daniel's face had regained a little colour, his eyes had a little more life, but he still wasn't himself. Not by any stretch of the imagination could Jack see Daniel allowing anyone to see behind the capable mask he wore if he realised what they could see. That simply wasn't Daniel's way.
"Why were you outside?" Jack hazarded a guess, wondering if that was really what Daniel wanted to know.
He had a feeling that it wasn't - that Daniel's question was really one he couldn't answer, being more about why the universe had conspired against him to destroy the happiness and sense of belonging he'd so clearly found on Abydos. But that was a question he had no way of answering, like ones he himself had stockpiled over the years, most of them surrounding the untimely death of someone or other.
Before he knew it, Daniel was clutching at him like he was drowning, like he was being pushed down by the relentless weight of it all and, who knows, maybe he was. For a moment, Jack was overwhelmed. It was everything he'd imagined, yet there was an undercurrent to it of pain, something that left him feeling unsettled and a little like he was somehow taking advantage of Daniel's vulnerability.
"Why don't you try and get some rest?" Jack asked, disentangling himself from Daniel's embrace. "Slide over and put your head on the arm of the couch."
As Daniel began to move, slowly, as if coordination was something alien to him, Jack reached down and took hold of the foot of the sleeping bag. He lifted it, depositing Daniel's feet in his lap. This was much safer than the alternative. There was much less chance of Jack betraying himself and his true feelings to Daniel's feet than to his face.
Jack watched the flames flicker in the fireplace for what seemed like hours. Daniel's breathing had quieted as his body had begun to warm, but still he slept on, those sleepless nights that Jack had suspected having taken their toll.
Jack looked down at his lap, the amorphous lump of Daniel's sleeping bag-encased feet as it lay there, warm under his hands. He studied his hands then, looking at his fingers as they curved over the material, just skin and bone and muscle like anyone else's. So why was it that they seemed to crave the opportunity to touch Daniel? Why did the moments he'd spent stripping Daniel of his soaked clothing just keep on repeating themselves on an endless loop in his brain?
This was just wrong. Daniel was hurting, almost torn apart because of his grief over the loss of Sha're and he was thinking about how it felt to run his fingers over Daniel's skin? How sick was that? What kind of friend did that make him?
Jack looked back at the fire again.
He'd missed Daniel, even though they'd hardly known one another when he'd returned to Earth, coming back to lie to General West and to return to an empty house. He'd sold that house soon after - it held too many memories of Charlie and Sara, so there was no way Jack could find it in himself to live there alone without blowing his brains out. Though he'd been suicidal once before, embracing the mission to Abydos like the one-way trip it had originally been, that just wasn't who he was any more.
So, he'd bought another house, put the same pictures on the walls, arranged things just as he'd liked them, and tried to call it home. He'd even built the observation platform, a copy of the one he'd had before, the honest labour that took a welcome relief from the humdrum nature of the rest of his life.
He'd become almost nocturnal for a while, the clear nights of summer tempting him to spend long hours up on the platform, the days passing in uneasy sleep with the air conditioning unit running at full blast. Not that it wouldn't have been too hot to sleep at night as well, of course.
But Jack's sleep had been uneasy for quite another reason than the heat.
He'd dreamed of Daniel, dreamed of him more often than he thought he had a right to, considering how short a time they'd known one another. They hadn't even really been friends, just two people thrown together to try and survive a common enemy, that was all.
But that sensible attitude didn't seem to have reached Jack's libido. He wasn't sure whether it was the heat, or the lack of a viable alternative at the moment, but Jack found that he just couldn't stop dreaming about Daniel.
And these weren't innocent re-runs of the events they'd experienced together on Abydos - no, Jack's own personal mental home movie collection seemed to lean towards the R-rated. More than once he'd woken from a restless sleep to discover that his body had reacted as well as his mind.
He'd been more than confused by this turn of events. Jack had to wonder what he hadn't been admitting to himself, or had he just never had someone of the same sex that he was interested in enough to know this was how he might feel? After all, it wasn't as if he'd ever moved in circles where being all that different was tolerated, so how could he be sure he hadn't been repressing these kind of desires all along?
Jack felt Daniel move slightly in his sleep, his feet shifting on Jack's lap and brushing the slight erection even this casual contact with Daniel had given him. That feeling snapped him back to the here and now, making Jack consider the implications of what he had been pondering.
He wanted Daniel. That was clearly what his libido was telling him, and it didn't take a genius to figure out how. And Jack wasn't sure how Daniel felt about him, whether there could ever be anything more between them than friendship, no matter how long they knew each other for. Who knows how long they'd be looking for Sha're, that quest wrapped up in another search, for technology to help defend Earth against the Goa'uld.
But whatever Jack's motives for stepping through the 'Gate, it was clear that Daniel didn't share them - Sha're was first and foremost in his mind every time.
So, there was Sha're to consider. How could Jack ever justify trying to push himself between Daniel and Sha're? Wouldn't that make him the lowest of the low, even if there was the slightest possibility that Daniel might go along with any of it?
And if he wasn't interested, if Daniel was horrified by the whole idea of Jack wanting something more than friendship, there went everything that currently stood between them, right out of the window at great speed.
Jack was in a lose-lose situation, and he knew it.
As long as Sha're was alive, Daniel would look for her. As long as Sha're was between them, Jack could do nothing, would do nothing.
Daniel had woken, hair sticking in a dozen different directions, and for a moment Jack wasn't sure whether Daniel knew where he was.
Well, that answered part of the question, anyway - Daniel had obviously figured out his surroundings, even if he wasn't sure where Jack was.
"Here, Daniel," Jack replied, patting his feet through the sleeping bag. Daniel squirmed up slightly so that he could meet Jack's gaze, blinking at him as he did so.
"Why am I on the couch?"
Jack considered what to say. He discarded the plain and unadorned version immediately, Daniel would probably be too embarrassed by it all - instead, he settled for brevity.
"You were outside, got soaked by the storm."
"What was I doing outside?" Daniel asked, frowning. "And why am I naked?"
Jack couldn't help smiling to himself at the way Daniel's voice had shot up in alarm at the last question. At least he was reacting a little more as Jack would expect him to.
"Like I said," Jack replied. "You were soaked through, on your way to having hypothermia, and what would the docs have said about that?"
Daniel had the sense to look sheepish at this, pulling the blanket closer round him as he did so.
"I... thanks, Jack," he said, quietly. "The last thing I needed was to get stuck in the infirmary."
He struggled to move himself, swinging his feet down to the floor and Jack reached out and helped him sit upright. Once vertical again, Daniel closed his eyes once more, pulling the blanket even tighter around himself.
"That's what I thought," Jack said. "How're you feeling? Warm enough?"
"Hungry," Daniel replied, his eyes still shut. "And embarrassed."
Jack said nothing. What could he say that wouldn't make Daniel feel worse than he already did?
"Food. I can do that."
Jack pushed himself up from the couch, intent on heading for the kitchen. He could do this, it wasn't a problem. The ordinary day to day caring for someone just wasn't as big an issue as the more intimate things. He could do this, Jack decided - after all, he had to.
Somehow, despite Daniel being thought dead on at least one occasion and Jack having to cope with both that and the exhiliration of discovering that they'd been wrong, he managed to keep his promise to himself.
They kept looking for Sha're, and the next time they found her, she was carrying Apophis' child.
Jack wondered how Daniel would cope with that discovery, the proof that more had happened between Sha're and Apophis than he probably ever wanted to think about. The kind of thing that probably kept him awake at night anyway.
In the end, Daniel had delivered the child himself, and Jack had found himself thinking about what that must have been like for him. He thought about it a lot. Because Daniel wasn't talking. Or at least, if he was, he wasn't talking to Jack.
What must it have been like for Daniel to hold in his hands a life created that way?
Even though Daniel had to know that there was no way Sha're had given her consent, the Goa'uld had used her anyway, used her DNA and that of Apophis' host in the hopes of creating something more. Something that Apophis planned to use to extend his power, never caring whose lives he trampled on in the process - that was his M.O anyway, so at least the snake was consistent.
And then he'd given the child up to Kasuf, and walked away, walked through the 'Gate without looking back.
Jack had watched him, Daniel's back rigidly straight with all the tension and anger he was attempting to deal with, and had expected he would hear all about it sooner rather than later. But he hadn't. That wasn't how things stood between them now, it seemed, though Jack was determined to be 'there' for Daniel if he ever needed that again.
He'd just tried to be available, be the best friend he could be, tamping down on all the other stuff and trying to keep it under control. Most of the time he succeeded, and noone was any the wiser. Most of the time.
Occasionally, usually after some brush with death and disaster, things got a little blurred around the edges, but Jack was sure that Daniel had no idea how he felt. Well, pretty sure.
Dress blues weren't the best thing to be wearing under the heat of the Abydos suns, but that was the price you paid for giving someone an appropriate funeral. This wasn't the kind of thing that Jack was used to, no armed escort, no last post, but it was what Sha're would have wanted, and if Daniel needed to do that for her then that was reason enough for Jack to swelter.
At the moment, Daniel was kneeling motionless at the head of Sha're's grave, his eyes hidden by the sunglasses he was wearing, hands clutching a single white feather. Jack watched him covertly, wondering just what was going through his head.
They hadn't really talked much since that day, the day that Teal'c had been forced to kill Sha're, and Jack wondered how Daniel was doing. After all, he'd seen the way Daniel was when Sha're was first taken - who was giving him the support he needed now? The support that Jack had been happy to provide, but this time round Daniel hadn't given him the chance.
He'd read the report, of course, heard Daniel's crackpot theory about the message Sha're had been trying to send him about the Harsesis child. Jack had tried to make sense of it all, but he had to admit to himself that it had just left him confused, and he hadn't even been the one in the middle of it all.
There were things in there that made Jack feel okay about it though, the fact that Daniel had said that he'd tried to leave the SGC but discovered that he couldn't just walk away being one of them. He wondered what role he'd played in Daniel's subconscious, but that was a question only Daniel could answer.
But Jack would still feel better about the whole deal if Daniel would only talk to him.
He looked up when the door opened, almost glad of a reason to stop staring at the paperwork in front of him, at least till he saw who it was. That hollow feeling came back, amplified, making Jack wonder if his voice would echo like the Goa'uld when he spoke.
Daniel had changed from the robes he'd been wearing before, back into the BDU's that seemed to suit him so well by now. It had been a while since he looked like he didn't fit, and Jack wondered for a moment when that change had occurred. When had Daniel suddenly begun to look like he belonged?
Jack pushed his seat back from the desk, eyeing Daniel speculatively.
"Not really," Jack replied, putting down his pen. He bundled up the papers he hadn't got round to yet, shoving them all back into his intray without taking his eyes off Daniel for a moment.
Daniel seemed to suddenly find the floor an immense source of fascination and Jack studied him as he stood there.
"Did you want something, Daniel?"
This was dangerous ground, Jack knew that. If he'd misjudged the situation, if Daniel wasn't ready to talk yet, then his words, and the tone of them, could drive a wedge between the two of them. But if he was right, and Daniel needed to offload...
"I was just thinking," Daniel began. "It's been a while since we did the pizza thing..."
Jack smiled to himself - it looked like tonight would be showtime after all.
"Should I round up Carter and Teal'c?" Jack asked, reaching for the phone. Daniel had to be the one to say it, he had to be the one to make the decision that it was just going to be the two of them - Jack just didn't trust himself to be doing it for the right reason.
"I'd rather you didn't," Daniel said, looking up from his contemplation of the standard USAF floor covering.
Jack removed his hand from the phone and nodded.
"Just you and me, then." Jack got up, then crossed to where the jacket of his dress blues was hanging, before draping it over his arm and gesturing with his other hand that Daniel lead the way.
Daniel was silent and withdrawn again in the elevator, his gaze fastened on a patch of the opposite wall as they headed towards the surface. Jack studied him covertly, out of the corner of his eye, glad that there was only the two of them in the car.
Daniel looked tired, dark patches under his eyes, like he hadn't slept in a week. He seemed tense as well, despite his relaxed pose, like a bowstring drawn too tight. This was all starting to look very familiar.
"Should we leave your car here?" Jack asked, as they left the elevator and headed for the security checkpoint to sign out. "You could stay over."
Daniel appeared to consider this for a moment, before nodding. They signed out and Daniel headed for his own car anyway.
"I've got a change of clothes, I'll meet you at your car, okay?"
The words were thrown over Daniel's shoulder as he headed away, and Jack watched him for a moment. This was both easier and more difficult than he'd expected - the fact that Daniel had taken the trouble to bring an overnight bag meant he must have been planning to make the pizza suggestion, but what did that mean in the greater scheme of things? Jack shook his head, deciding to let things play out as they would, and headed for his own car.
By the time he'd dealt with the security system, which was being temperamental at the moment, Daniel had almost made it to Jack's car as well. Opening the passenger side door, he shoved his overnight bag over the seat and let it fall.
"What, you couldn't put it in the trunk like normal people?" Jack asked, as he slid behind the wheel.
"Apparently not," Daniel replied, closing the door and reaching for the seatbelt.
There was silence between them for a moment as Jack started the car, and they headed out of the SGC parking lot.
"You know, I think it might rain," Daniel said suddenly, looking round at him.
Jack glanced across at Daniel, or at least he'd meant it to be a glance. But once he caught sight of Daniel's eyes, the understanding and the raw desire he saw there so unexpectedly, he couldn't look away.
It wasn't till Daniel coughed slightly, then broke his gaze deliberately by looking away, that Jack wrenched his attention back to the road. He was driving, damnit, and it wouldn't do to wrap the car round a tree at this all-important point in time.
When had this trip down the mountain changed suddenly? It had transformed from two friends just heading out to share a pizza into something more, that much was clear. Something that could change the path of both their lives.
Jack heard the words and it took a moment for him to realise that they had issued from his mouth. He concentrated on driving, not daring to look round in case he didn't like what he saw.
"Of course I remember," Daniel said. "You think I'd really forget something like that? I don't do casual, Jack, not when I'm in my right mind, and I needed to know that you were going to be there for me, no matter what."
Suddenly it seemed as though there was no air in the car. This couldn't be happening. Could it?
"And did I pass?" Jack asked.
He felt those simple words wrap around him, all his hope and dread and worry combining together, pushing the breath from his lungs.
"After three years of keeping your hands to yourself, you have to ask?"
Daniel was making no attempt to hide his smile, even though he was still looking out of the passenger side window as they turned the corner into the road where Jack's house stood.
"It was the right thing to do," Jack replied. He wasn't sure where the words came from, but they seemed to be what Daniel needed to hear. Jack concentrated on parking, but when he looked across to where Daniel sat, Daniel's smile was even wider. "We should get inside," Jack continued. "You're right, it looks like rain."
"Why now?" Jack asked, as he hung up his coat.
He was feeling oddly calm about all this now, like he'd been preparing for a moment all his life and now it was suddenly upon him and, for once, he was completely ready for it.
"Because it's time for me to move on, Jack," Daniel said, handing Jack his coat to hang up as well. "Because I've done what I said I'd do; I kept looking for Sha're till we found her, and now I can let her go."
"But I thought..."
Jack wasn't sure what he had thought, even as he began the sentence. He'd never thought that Daniel would ever get past this moment, that the burying of Sha're would somehow signal the end of his own life as well. But it seemed that the whole experience he'd had with Ammonet trying to fry his brain while Sha're tried to tell him something more about himself, had truly made Daniel consider what to do next.
"What? You thought that I didn't know how you felt?" Daniel smiled at that idea. "That I didn't remember how you looked after me when I lost Sha're the first time round? How you held me when I fell apart and then helped me stick myself back together?"
"You never said anything."
Daniel shook his head at that statement and walked away, leading the way down into the living room and to the couch where all of this had started.
"Like what?" he asked, turning slightly to watch Jack head elsewhere, in this case towards the kitchen and the beer. He pitched his voice a little louder to make the next part carry into the other room. "What could I say, Jack? You did the right thing."
"You're saying I was right?" Jack asked, returning with two bottles of beer. He smiled as Daniel peered at them. "It's the kind you like, don't worry. But the other thing, the me-being-right thing, can I have that in writing?"
Jack handed Daniel a beer, smiling to himself as Daniel checked the label anyway despite his earlier statement. Then he sat down facing the couch, pulling the cushion from behind him onto his lap so his fingers could play with the edge of it.
"Everyone would just think you forged my signature, Jack," Daniel replied, taking a healthy swig of the beer he'd been given before settling back into the couch's embrace. He closed his eyes and leant back, resting the bottle of beer on his stomach, both hands still holding it as if it was somehow about to make a break for freedom otherwise.
Jack studied Daniel, remembering that night well despite the years that separated it from now. Even after all the things they'd experienced together since, being that close to Daniel, being able to offer him the comfort he needed, was something that stuck in Jack's mind as a milestone in their relationship.
And the fact that Jack hadn't crossed the line he'd set for himself. Not that the dreams about Daniel had stopped, they'd just become a little less in charge, a little more rooted in the reality of what he and Daniel already had, rather than the sensual possibilities.
"I should order us pizza," Jack said, putting the bottle of beer down on the floor by his chair.
"I'm not that hungry," Daniel said, without opening his eyes.
"And when did you last eat?" He could hear the mother-hen accusation before Daniel opened his eyes, let alone his mouth. "Don't say it."
"Say what?" Daniel asked, his face innocent though his eyes told a different story.
"You know what," Jack said, walking out of the living room to the phone. "You want the usual?"
"So, what do we do now?" Jack asked, walking back into the living room, pizza ordered.
Daniel looked at him as he sat down once again, pulling the cushion back to its place on his lap before bending to snag his beer from where it stood.
"I'm not sure," Daniel replied. "I thought you'd know."
"Just because I thought about this moment all the time, doesn't mean I have any idea how this kind of thing works."
"Well," Daniel began, "you could come over here and kiss me, then we could see what happens next?"
Jack pretended to consider that offer for a moment. In reality, he was becoming hard just from the idea, and was suddenly glad that the cushion was giving him an element of secrecy. It wouldn't do for Daniel to know that his words alone could have that kind of effect on him, would it?
"This isn't some kind of crazy rebound thing, is it, Daniel?"
"A part of me knew that I'd lost Sha're the moment she was taken," Daniel said. "I somehow knew we'd end up doing what we did today. I just couldn't see any way something else could happen."
"So, is that a 'no', then?" Jack asked, frowning.
"Yes, it's a 'no'," Daniel replied. "Even if we'd been able to rescue Sha're, somehow get Ammonet out of her without killing her in the attempt, did you think I'd just go back to Abydos and pretend everything was going to be okay?"
Jack shook his head, then took another mouthful of beer while he thought this over. He hadn't given much thought to what might happen if they did get Sha're back - that had been an alternative he'd tried not to consider. Mostly because it involved an assumption that Sha're and Daniel were a unit, that where one went the other would follow, and that was an idea Jack hadn't liked to consider.
And it seemed he had been wrong about the certainty of it happening after all.
"Was I that obvious?" Jack asked.
Jack wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer, but he had to ask anyway. Had everyone else figured out that he wanted something more than friendship from Daniel? Or had his determination to keep his hands to himself allayed any suspicion that they might have had?
"Obvious?" Daniel smiled. "Not really."
Jack was reassured by that, at least. It was one thing to want Daniel so badly he could taste it, but it was quite another to have everyone at the SGC talking about him behind his back. Quite apart from the legal implications if anyone ever suspected that he and Daniel had some kind of relationship beyond the obvious, he wasn't sure what he thought of being talked about at all.
Jack looked up from the contemplation of his beer to see that Daniel was leaning forward, hands on his knees, watching him with an intent expression on his face.
"If you're not coming over here," Daniel began. He got up and headed towards where Jack sat.
"Daniel?" Jack frowned as his voice squeaked a little on the familiar name.
"This noble self-sacrificing thing is all very well," Daniel said, leaning over him. "In its place." He put his hands on Jack's shoulders. "But, you know what, Jack?"
Jack shook his head, since his mouth was suddenly too dry for him to speak.
"You don't have to keep your hands to yourself any more," Daniel continued, then proceeded to kiss him thoroughly enough to drive that lesson home.
Disclaimer : Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is written for entertainment purposes only - no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story-line are the property of the author - not to be archived elsewhere without permission.