Protective Coloration
by Graculus

Long years of practice had made it almost flawless; hiding his true self was as much a part of Jack O'Neill as his trademark wisecracks.

Over time, he had come to almost believe in the fašade he presented, forgetting how he really felt and burying those terrifying thoughts and feelings where daylight could never touch them. And if he were careful, and consistent, no one would ever need to know the truth.

His father's words, the acrimony within them, had burned their way into him, forcing him to opt for camouflage. A natural sporting ability had helped with that subterfuge, making the charade easier, more believable. No one had looked twice at him, no one had questioned, and for that he was glad.

Adolescent fumblings had been passed off as experimentation, as college pranks, nothing more. How else could Jack bear the labels that would otherwise have attached themselves to him? Those hurtful, hateful words?

Burying himself, denying it all behind a mask of normality...but what other choice did he have?

He couldn't fool himself, even as he worked to fool other people, watching every word, every gesture, with a terrible intensity. Success had a price, a heavy cost. If he wanted to get on, to be all he could be, Jack had a choice. In the end, he reasoned with himself, it was a choice between living and dying, between friendship and isolation. It was as simple as that.

If he felt guilty about anything, it was Sara.

He had cared for her. Not so much that he wouldn't use her, that he wouldn't manipulate Sara's obvious love for him to make it serve as a smokescreen, but enough that each endearment had burned him even as he'd spoken it. Each whispered declaration had been like acid and as each day passed Jack had hated himself a little more.

Charlie had been a godsend in so many ways. At least the birth of their child had given Sara something else to focus on, something to turn those increasingly perceptive eyes towards. Charlie had been the link that held them together, wrapping the two of them tightly even when forces beyond their control threatened to send them spinning apart.

For one, as time had passed, Jack had found himself becoming more and more careless. He'd told himself that it didn't mean anything; that the words he loathed so much didn't apply to him. But it had become harder and harder for him to believe that was the case.

Did Sara know that their whole relationship had been based upon a lie? Jack hoped not, that hope growing more desperate with each passing day, but how could he ever be certain? He'd seen the way she looked at him sometimes, with equal parts of amazement and disdain, and suddenly he was no longer sure.

If it hadn't been for Charlie... Sara had focused on him, channeling all her former care for Jack onto Charlie.

The only change from that had been when Jack had returned home after being MIA. He'd hardly known what response he would receive, when he finally returned home after a lengthy debriefing. Jack had spoken to Sara after being released, but he'd hardly known what to say to her - the words he'd felt he should have spoken had stuck in his throat, their hypocrisy choking him. Both of them would have known those words to be a lie, so Jack had settled for "I've missed you," which was closer to being the truth, after all.

At least, Jack realized, if Sara had known the truth about him, she'd never thrown it in his face. Even in those darkest of days after Charlie died, she'd held back from using that most potent of weapons against him. And for that, if nothing else, Jack had to be thankful.

Every so often there had been scandals, some officer or other caught in flagrante delicto, and all Jack could do was thank whoever made him so lucky that he wasn't involved.

One time, Sara had told him in not so many words that any kind of scandal would mean the end of everything between them. That while Jack was discreet, she could ignore anything, knowing how much Charlie loved him, how important he was to their child. But the unspoken promise had been clear - jeopardize that and prepare for the consequences....

The liaisons had meant nothing to Jack anyway. He couldn't allow them to, wouldn't risk forming an attachment that could be used against him.

It was bad enough for him that he needed them in the first place, that he couldn't bury those desires deep enough, that they always proved too strong. The anonymity, comforting as it was, of those back- street encounters in strange cities, left Jack still wanting. Something was missing, something intangible, indefinable, something....

Charlie's death had been an awful tragedy, something that should never have happened, and it had torn Jack apart molecule by molecule. But it had made him vulnerable, made him drop his guard in a way he never had before and probably never would again.

And it had made him collide with Daniel Jackson.

There was no appropriate way to describe their first encounter in any other terms. There'd been something primal there between them, something that had unsettled Jack more than he had expected - after all, it wasn't as if he hadn't dealt with civilians before. The Air Force employed so many of them that it would almost have been an impossibility. Handsome young men, civilian or otherwise, were no novelty, either. But Daniel, disheveled and wide-eyed as only he could be, was different.

But they had a mission, one which Jack fully intended not to come back from, and that had been foremost in his mind.

So, once it had been clear that their newly acquired 'expert' was struggling with how to get the rest of the team back to Earth, it had been only with a small amount of guilt that Jack had turned a blind eye to their behavior towards Daniel. He could almost reason that the kid had brought it on himself, that he'd just been contributing by his lack of intervention to a few life lessons for someone who seemed to stand way over on the other side of 'naive'.

Not that, despite all of this, 'the kid' hadn't come through for the entire team, and not least for Jack himself. He'd done all of this for the last person he should have been concerned about. Daniel, with all the bravery of an innocent, had stood up to one of Ra's heavily armed goons on Jack's behalf and been blown away without a second thought. Then after his miraculous return to life, through sheer persistence as much as anything else, Daniel had found the point of origin symbol and so found a way home for Jack's team.

Why should this one death mean so much to Jack, who had seen so many?

Their time together on Abydos had been like being on a roller coaster, the relative placidity of living with the locals combined with the adrenaline rush of fighting Ra's guards. And, through it all, Daniel had been there, life shining from him like the light of the Abydos suns.

Leaving him behind had been difficult for Jack, but it had also been right.

Something inside Jack had contracted at that moment, some small quiet voice telling him that Daniel was different somehow. But he'd shoved that voice aside, ignoring it as always, before walking resolutely into the event horizon.

The next few nights had been some of the worst of his life.

After what had been a lengthy debriefing, Jack had returned home only to find he didn't have a home any more. He had a house still, but Sara, whose presence was the last thing that had made it home, was long gone.

In some ways, Jack accepted this as his punishment. He'd always felt that he deserved to be punished for Charlie's death, and had sometimes wondered whether this was leading him to destroy what few relationships still existed. Wasn't that enough? Was the universe now conspiring against him to make sure Jack was completely alone?

Jack could barely believe it when he'd been recalled to the SGC. How many nights had he lain awake thinking of Daniel, wondering if he'd done the right thing? How many times had he jerked off with Daniel's name on his lips as he came?

The intensity of his feelings had frightened Jack a little. Considering all that he'd been through in his life, he wondered how it was that thinking about Daniel was one of the most terrifying experiences of all. Maybe it was the reality of it. If Daniel hadn't had Sha're, Jack wasn't sure whether he would have wanted to stay there on Abydos with him. Or perhaps he would have tried to persuade Daniel to give Earth another chance, just so they might have had the chance to spend some time together.

But the vibes Daniel had been sending out were clueless ones. His eyes had been full of life and hope as he'd gazed at Sha're, so Jack had suppressed his own hopes and desires. He'd learned long ago that you had to be realistic, that you should only aim so high unless you wanted to be disappointed. How would he have borne being rejected by Daniel, Jack wondered. What would he have done if Daniel had been repulsed by the idea of spending time with him?

Not that this seemed to be the case once Daniel had come back to Earth in reality.

As time had passed, it had seemed that Daniel was supremely comfortable in his presence, and Jack had relaxed. Even if he couldn't have the kind of relationship he wanted, at least he was able to see that Daniel was his friend, learning to trust in the strength of that friendship when difficult missions threatened. Daniel seemed to rely on him in a way that made Jack feel necessary, responsible, wanted.

That had to be a good thing. Didn't it?

Not that it had all been smooth sailing. There'd been times when it seemed like that easy friendship was in danger of being destroyed, torn apart by forces beyond their control.

When he'd been forced to leave Daniel behind on Apophis' ship, Jack had felt himself retreat, pulling back behind walls that had been created when Charlie died. Walls that had shattered in a moment when he saw Daniel walk into the Gate room, smiling sheepishly as if embarrassed at his own survival.

And then there'd been the whole thing with Maybourne, when Jack had chosen to lie to Daniel about what his friendship meant, pushing Daniel away to protect him and ensure that his change of mind was believed. The look in Daniel's eyes at that moment had made Jack feel lower than pond scum.

Things had been different between them since that mission - Daniel was more watchful now, less trusting.

It was as if what Jack had done had forced Daniel to change, too, even as Jack had pretended to alter his views. Daniel seemed harder now, more certain of himself, less reliant on others. And Jack wasn't completely sure he liked that.

Like so many times in the past, one name was on his lips as he jerked off. This time, it was the wash of cold air across him that told Jack he was no longer alone.

He felt the weight of that gaze on him, even before he turned to meet the look. Jack knew who it was, that certainty burning its way into him, the sheer fatalistic necessity of it being Daniel something Jack could not deny. There was something karmic about it, some kind of twisted justice that the man who he loved, the one Jack couldn't get out of his mind no matter how many anonymous fucks he sought, should see him this way.


How was it possible that the simple syllable of his name could contain such a universe of differing emotions? That Daniel could tell him everything and nothing in one word?


"What, Jack? It's not what it looks like?"

He couldn't do it, not faced with that lucid gaze, those eyes that saw their way through him at this very moment, in the way he'd wanted for the longest time.

Why hadn't he been able to keep his mouth shut? Maybe, if he had, Jack reasoned, he could have passed this off. Made some joke about fantasy women, pretended he was one-hundred percent heterosexual, thanks very much. But Daniel had heard him, he knew what Jack was doing, and it didn't take a genius to connect the two things together.

The only thing that heartened him was the fact that the expression on Daniel's face wasn't one of disgust. That would have been unbearable. Instead, Daniel had the look of someone who'd finally put the pieces together and made a recognizable pattern, curiosity well and truly satisfied. No reproach, only understanding.

"I thought you and Sam..."

Jack felt his face redden, knowing from that moment that this conversation wasn't going to be easy. He'd been friends with Daniel for years, so Daniel knew him better than just about anyone else on the planet. And that meant that Daniel was basically now immune to the Jack O'Neill bullshit defense. There was no way he was going to be able to talk his way out of this one.

"Does she know?" Daniel continued.

Straight for the jugular, eh? Jack thought. "No, of course she doesn't know, Daniel. No one does... did."

"No one?"

Jack looked at Daniel, seeing the face he'd watched so carefully over the past couple of years, but not recognizing the expression he saw there now. Was Daniel disgusted with him? Annoyed on Sam's behalf?

"It's not exactly the kind of thing you advertise, Daniel. Not if you want any kind of career in the US Air Force."

"And that was more important than making a fool out of Sam?"

Now that tone he recognized. Jack had heard it before, those times when he remembered he was an Air Force officer a heartbeat before he remembered he was a human being. Not that he always paid attention to what Daniel was saying when he used that tone - sometimes Jack didn't have that luxury.

"I didn't plan for this to happen. You have to believe I never knew things would go this far. And it was never my intention that Carter get hurt in any way."

Daniel looked unconvinced.

"What were you thinking, Jack?" he asked, frowning. "Letting everyone believe that there was something going on between you and Sam, when nothing could be further from the truth?"

"It was a mistake, okay?"

"I don't think so, Jack."

Jack looked up at this, startled into a reaction.

"I think you did it deliberately, so no one would think twice about you. How long have you known that you're attracted to men?" Silence. "And were you ever going to tell Sam the truth, or was your plan to string her along for a while and then 'lose interest'?"

Put that way, in that clinical tone, Jack could see just how his behavior looked. It wasn't that he'd never considered the impact on Carter, just that he'd made that by far a secondary concern. He never intended to let things get far enough between them that Carter's career was threatened by it, but at the time it had seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

Old habits died hard, it seemed, and this one was still clinging desperately to life.

When Jack looked up again, Daniel was still watching him, his eyes wary, considering.

"So," Jack began, surprising himself with the relative calmness of his voice, "if I admit that I knew exactly what I was doing..."

"Had you thought at all about Sam?" Daniel pressed, his tone still hard, cutting through Jack's defenses. "How she might feel about being used this way? If nothing else, I thought that she's your friend."

"I'm her commanding officer, Daniel," Jack replied. "Nothing was going to happen between us. Nothing could happen."

"But you used her. To cover for yourself, so no one would suspect that..."

"That I wanted you instead?" Jack snapped, angry now. "Didn't work, though, did it?"

Daniel smiled then, though his eyes were still a little sad. It was, Jack realized, the first relaxed expression he had seen on Daniel's face for what seemed like hours.

"Did you think I didn't know what was going on?" Daniel asked. "You may have been able to fool people who don't know you, Jack, but there was no way you could fool me."

What was Daniel going to do with his newly found knowledge? That was the question, Jack realized.

"What now?" he asked, trying for casual and almost managing it.

"Well, I've seen what you want, Jack," Daniel began.

"But you don't feel the same way."

"Don't do that," Daniel said, frowning. "Don't try to tell me how I feel."

Jack felt an absurd surge of hope, like someone had given him a reprieve, told him that everything was going to be fine now when all he'd expected was disaster.

"You do?" he asked, hardly managing to get the words out. Daniel nodded tersely, saying nothing. "Then what's the problem?"

Daniel's frown grew.

"You don't get it, do you, Jack?"


"This pretending. It has to stop. Now." Daniel's gaze was intense and Jack squirmed slightly under it. "You have to tell Sam the truth."


"How can I know that I can trust you, Jack?"

"You don't trust me?"

"Not with this. You're too good a liar."

It had been awkward, to say the least - that conversation had made the one he'd had earlier with Daniel seem like a cakewalk. Carter had been, in turn, amused and then angry, before walking away from him in the end, fists clenching at her side. Jack had watched her leave, hoping desperately that he hadn't just signed the death warrant for his team. How could he explain to Hammond why his second-in-command was suddenly so mad with him?

And he still hadn't told her the complete truth. Even though he trusted Carter as a friend, and respected her as a fellow officer, Jack didn't dare tell her that he was attracted to men. There was too much risk that, angry as she was, Carter could let something slip that both of them would regret later.

But he'd told her that he'd made a mistake.

Jack had stressed how much he hated leaving anyone behind, saying that this had made him think he felt more for Carter than he actually did. That he'd have felt the same way about leaving Daniel or Teal'c and that the Tok'ra device must have misinterpreted that. That, as flattered as he was that Carter might feel something more for him, there was no way anything should or would happen between them.

And, as he'd spoken with Carter, all Jack could think about was Daniel. Jack had done this for him. Done what he'd asked without a second thought, though he knew it would be painful. Hoping that Daniel could trust him enough, now, for his fantasies to become reality.

Jack hesitated before knocking on the apartment door. What if he was wrong about this? What if it didn't work out between him and Daniel? He'd burned his bridges with Carter - the look she'd given him over the briefing room table that morning had left him in no doubt that he was far from being forgiven. And that left Daniel.

Daniel had watched him, too, Jack knew, as he sat beside him, ostensibly engrossed in the briefing. On a couple of occasions he'd caught Daniel's eyes on him, noticing Daniel look away as soon as he realized he was observed. Then Daniel had brushed him off in the corridor, making some excuse about having a lot of work to do, and why didn't Jack come by later?

The afternoon had crept by, punctuated by paperwork, until Jack had been almost climbing the walls. He'd watched the clock in a way that was completely alien to his nature, his mind, at least, already with Daniel. When 'later' had arrived, Jack had grasped the opportunity to leave with alacrity, heading home as soon as was possible.

Jack knocked, finally, then listened for a response from inside. He felt himself tense as he heard footsteps cross to the door.

"You said later?"

"I've been expecting you," Daniel said, with a small smile. "From the dark cloud that's been hanging over Sam's head today, I guess you did what I asked?"

"She's not happy with me."

"I don't blame her." Daniel paused, head cocked to one side slightly, considering. "Just how much did you tell her, Jack?"

"Enough to end things, not so much that I'll face charges."

"Good." Daniel smiled again. "Because I don't think prison orange would be your color."

He was uncertain, indecisive, outside of his area of knowledge. All the things he'd ever thought true of himself were steadily being proved false, it seemed. In short, Jack was unsettled by the changes that he saw in himself.

In the past, he'd sought to meet his desires and quench them with anonymous liaisons - he'd always been the one to set the pace, determining exactly what went on and how. Jack had always been in control, always on top in every encounter, and he'd liked it that way. It had given him the illusion that he wasn't what he feared - it had given him something to hide behind.

To admit to himself that he was attracted to men, that he wanted more than those encounters had given him - that would mean that Jack would have to admit to himself that he'd lied about so much of who he really was.

It seemed as though Daniel had seen right through him, regardless. All those long years of pretending, the experience of a lifetime's hiding in plain sight, had all been for nothing. Where Daniel was concerned, all Jack's attempts to dissemble had been doomed to failure, a failure crowned by a name gasped at the moment of release.

But now what?

For Jack it was like learning to walk again. He remembered that well, thinking back to the aftereffects of his knee injury, the long painful hours of rehab and practice. It was like that, learning to be who he really was, trusting this time that Daniel would be there to catch him if he stumbled.

Daniel's knowing eyes were on him now, Jack realized, as he stared out of the apartment window.


He turned at the sound of his name, finding that Daniel was much closer to him than he'd thought. Had he been so lost in his thoughts, Jack wondered, that he'd not heard his approach?

Daniel looked uncertain, too. Jack took some comfort in that fact - if Daniel had looked like he knew what he wanted, Jack wasn't sure what his response would have been.

For all the times he had fucked someone, there'd never been any tenderness involved, any kind of attempt to share in pleasure. Everything he'd done, Jack realized, had been motivated by his own need. The others involved had just been handy participants, people who would help him achieve what he wanted, but barely people to him at all.

He couldn't do that to Daniel, even if Daniel would let him. Jack didn't want to have that kind of casual encounter with him, or see the coldness he had seen in so many eyes forming there in Daniel's. He wanted something different with Daniel. Something he'd never had before. Something that he wasn't really sure about at all.

That was why, Jack supposed, he was uncertain even of the first step. It was like jumping out of a plane, hoping beyond hope that your parachute would work, but never knowing till you pulled the cord. And by then it was too late to do anything but trust everything to work out.

"Daniel, I..." What? I want you? I need you to help me? I trust you? All those and more.

Daniel stopped just within arms reach, his eyes assessing, clearly hearing all the things that Jack wasn't able to say. The things that Jack didn't know he wanted to say until he saw that look.

"It's okay, Jack."

"Is it?" Jack turned back to the window as he spoke - he couldn't look at Daniel and say the things he needed to say. "I did what you wanted. I told Carter."

"You make it sound like I was punishing you," Daniel said. "Was that what you thought I was doing?" Jack stared out of the window, fixing his gaze on a car parked across the road. "You needed to do that, Jack, as much as I needed you to."

"Did I?" Jack turned back to him, angry now. "Or did you just want to make sure I was miserable? How do I know what you want from me, Daniel?"

"You thought it was spite that made me do that? Or some kind of twisted desire for revenge?" Daniel shook his head. "I know what I heard when I walked in on you, Jack. I thought I knew what it meant, but now I'm not so sure."

It was the story of his life. Open mouth, insert foot. Now, Jack wondered, how the hell was he going to make things right?

Daniel was angry with him, and he was angry with himself; he couldn't stop the bitter words that poured from his mouth. Words meant to hurt, calculated to dig as deeply as possible - absolute evidence that it's far easier to hurt the ones you love, because you know their weaknesses.

It was stupid anyway.

Even if Daniel had meant telling Sam as some kind of penance, Jack knew that he would have done it. To pretend otherwise just added to the catalog of lies. He'd wanted Daniel for so long, with what had seemed like a hopeless desire, that Jack knew he would have done anything Daniel asked of him.

"You made me do that and now you're not interested?"

More stupid, bitter words; they dropped from his lips like venom.

Jack froze as Daniel touched him for the first time, uncertainty nailing him to the spot. His hand was warm, the touch light, but it shook Jack to the core. Daniel's fingers were gentle and Jack's eyes closed almost of their own accord - his every instinct told him that the darkness could make that touch more memorable, that it would allow him to tuck that experience away inside himself for future study.

"I never said I wasn't interested, Jack." Daniel's voice was almost a growl, rough with suppressed desire. "Look at me."

Jack's eyes opened, growing uncertainty increasing his reluctance. Daniel was even closer now, his breath warm on Jack's face, his eyes darkened with arousal.

"I... I haven't done this before."


"No. It was always about getting what I wanted and then getting the hell out of there."

Daniel nodded, his eyes never leaving Jack's face. His fingers still rested against Jack's skin, thumb brushing gently over Jack's lips. Jack felt a surge of desire - he wanted those long fingers elsewhere, needed them to map him, explore, chart, discover.

Then Daniel kissed him and he shattered completely.

That kiss seemed to unlock everything for Jack, making him shiver with a need to experience, to immerse himself in the things Daniel was offering. Even as he pulled back slightly, wanting, needing to see Daniel's face, Jack realized that it was too late for him. There was nothing he could do to take that moment back, even if he'd wanted to. That kiss had made everything different, had remade the universe.

Daniel's eyes were closed, his face peaceful - it was the same expression Jack had seen so many times before, when he'd woken up alongside Daniel on some distant planet. He'd never seen it so closely, though, and Jack studied it minutely in the moments before Daniel's eyes opened once more.

"What's wrong?" Daniel asked, frowning slightly.


Jack made himself smile then, even though he hardly knew whether he was happy or not. He didn't know how he felt - numb, he decided after a moment's consideration, he felt numb.

Daniel's hand had moved so that his fingers now caressed the back of Jack's neck, twining slightly in the short hairs at his nape. Jack felt the grip tighten even before he'd made his mind up to pull away - how did Daniel know what he was about to do before even he did?

"Don't try to lie to me, Jack. I told you before, you're no good at it."

He still could have moved, escaped the hold that Daniel had on him, but what good would it do him? Jack knew that he couldn't escape, that he couldn't forget all of this had ever happened. Daniel wouldn't tell anyone, he knew that, but Daniel would also never forget. It would always be there, between them, hanging over the two of them every time they spoke, or touched in any way.

Jack sighed, resigned to his fate.

Daniel's frown grew, his eyes intent on Jack.

"Tell me," he pressed, his grip tightening slightly.

"It's not that easy," Jack began, trying to buy himself time to figure out what the hell he was going to say.

How could he explain to Daniel that he'd underestimated what he was letting himself in for? How could he tell Daniel that he couldn't be the person Daniel wanted him to be?

"This really is all new to you, isn't it?" Daniel asked, suddenly letting go.

The loss of sensation was like being cut adrift.

Jack leapt for the shore, grabbing Daniel by his arms and turning him, shoving him back against the wall in one smooth and sudden movement. Daniel's eyes were wide, startled for a moment, before he responded.

If the last kiss had been exploration, this was conquest.

Daniel's fingers twined again in Jack's hair, holding his head as Daniel plundered his mouth with fervor - his other hand moved down Jack's back, before slipping under his leather jacket in search of skin. His hand was warm through the thin cotton of Jack's shirt, before it was sliding under and making contact; Daniel's fingers traced their way along Jack's spine.

When he pulled away, gasping slightly for breath, Daniel slumped back against the wall, the heated press of Jack's body against his own all that kept him upright. He smiled then, before leaning forward and kissing Jack again, then he pushed against him once more. Daniel propelled them from their place against the wall, using his foot as leverage to move them across the room in the direction of the couch.

They fell onto it in an ungainly sprawl, Daniel on top, Jack's grip on Daniel's arms shaken loose by the impact. Daniel used this opportunity to remove his shirt, shoving it off impatiently over his head even as he used his weight to keep Jack in place beneath him. Jack looked up at Daniel as he leaned over him, shifting slightly to allow Daniel to settle between his legs. Jack's hand seemed to have a will of its own, moving before he realized it, stroking over Daniel's side and causing him to shiver slightly.

"Cold?" Jack asked, as Daniel's hands were impatient with Jack's shirt, pulling it from his chinos and then sliding his hands beneath. Jack hissed with pleasure, eyes closing as he felt the friction of Daniel's palms sliding over his skin, his fingers tracing their way across Jack's ribs.

The first touch of Daniel's mouth made Jack shiver - the trail his tongue left on Jack's skin felt like fire.

Jack's thumb traced lightly over Daniel's scar, and he frowned as he felt its slight imperfection, made all the more noticeable by the smoothness surrounding it. Jack opened his eyes.

"Don't..." Daniel muttered, raising his head from his exploration of Jack's stomach and meeting Jack's gaze. "Don't think about it."

"If we'd been off-world..." Jack began, his thumb still tracing the slight line of the scar, over and over.

"We weren't." Daniel's voice was quiet and firm, and his hands stilled on Jack's body as he spoke. "I was in my office, then I was in the infirmary." Removing one hand from Jack's stomach, Daniel took hold of Jack's fingers, guiding them lower, pushing them downwards. "Can you get with the program, here?"

Jack allowed his hand to be moved, feeling it slide over skin and then brush the leather of Daniel's belt before it encountered fabric - cotton, soft from countless washes. Warm, body heat leaching through it, heated even more by what it contained, as Daniel urged his fingers to cup. When his fingers obeyed Daniel's gentle command, Jack heard Daniel groan, a mixture of passion and relief, it's about time, Jack unspoken in its midst.

Despite his experience, the startling intimacy of the moment struck him - absurdly Jack realized that he trusted Daniel, trusted him enough to do this. Enough to do anything Daniel asked of him. He could follow Daniel's lead, do as he was bid. He was safe.

Daniel had closed his eyes once more, and Jack watched him for a moment, watching the way his eyelids flickered as he leant into the touch of Jack's hand, listening to each breath that Daniel took. Daniel's fingers were still wrapped round his own, urging Jack's hand to stay, warmth one side, heat searing his palm.

Daniel's opened his eyes and looked down at him then. His fingers let go, leaving Jack's hand still in place, as if he was attracted to the heat, the throb that the soft cotton held. Daniel's gaze moved, working its way down Jack's body, as his hand mirrored that movement, fingers moving to Jack's belt. There was a certainty to them, a knowing. He pulled at the tongue of it, his fingers working dexterously to undo, and Daniel bit his lip for a fraction of a moment before success made him smile once more.

He looked up, meeting Jack's eyes.

"You need to move your hand." Jack flexed his fingers experimentally, tightening his grip slightly as Daniel moved restlessly. "Not..." he gasped. "Not quite like that, Jack."

Jack smiled, trying for guileless and seeing by Daniel's expression that he'd failed. Daniel smiled back, and Jack felt something lurch inside him.

He couldn't remember the faces of any of the men he'd fucked, as he'd shoved them roughly against some wall in a dark alley, or the anonymous mouths he'd used in a dozen different bathroom stalls. He'd always been careful, or at least he thought he had, but how could he be sure? Jack closed his eyes at this thought, his hand falling away from where it had been caressing Daniel. He swallowed, pushing back the nauseous feeling that threatened to overwhelm him.

"Jack?" Daniel's voice held a note of concern, making it sharp. His hands had stilled again, but Jack could feel their warmth, as though it was his only link with reality.

"Get off me, Daniel."

"Not till you tell me what's going on, Jack," Daniel said. "You wanted this. I thought you wanted this..."

"I can't."

Jack opened his eyes once more and brought his hands up to push Daniel off. Whatever desire he'd felt had evaporated now, driven away by the thought of everything he'd done before. He avoided looking directly at Daniel - Jack knew what he'd see in Daniel's face, and he also knew that there was no way he would be able to stand it.

Daniel went along with Jack's insistence, sliding slowly back along Jack's body till he was able to stand. He sneaked a look at Daniel and felt his guilt increase as he saw the uncertain expression on Daniel's face. Jack busied himself with his belt, taking his time to do it up, straightening his clothes.

When Jack looked back to where Daniel had been standing, he'd gone. Jack hesitated for a moment, wondering whether he should try to explain, try to make Daniel understand that he'd been wrong, that although Jack wanted him, it could never work. That though Daniel thought he knew him well, there was a depth of darkness to Jack that he could never understand, should never have to experience.

But, though Jack waited there a little uncertainly for a couple of minutes, shifting uneasily where he stood, Daniel didn't re-emerge from wherever he had gone.

In the end, Jack left - he let himself out of Daniel's apartment, and heard the door click shut heavily behind him.

Getting home was a blur - Jack had driven back in something of a daze, his mind still with Daniel. He'd done it now, broken things off with Carter and almost committed himself to a relationship with Daniel that could never work out. Only in his fantasies, Jack told himself, could he have what he wanted. In the cold light of reality, Daniel deserved better.

Jack nursed a beer as he sat and stared at the wall. He heard the phone ring, but didn't stir to answer it, letting the machine pick up. There was only one person who could be calling, and he was the last one that Jack wanted to speak to right now.

Had he single-handedly done what Apophis and the other Goa'uld they'd met had failed to do, and destroyed SG-1? He'd already alienated Carter, though there was still a chance that she'd enough professionalism to try to work past it - Teal'c could always be relied on, of course. But without Daniel, how different would things be? And how could he expect Daniel to want anything to do with him now, after tonight's fiasco?

"Pick up the phone," Daniel's voice said, when the beep sounded. "Jack."

"I can't, Daniel," Jack said, speaking into the silence. "You'd want me to explain, and I can't."

"I know you're there, Jack," Daniel's voice continued, as if carrying on the conversation. "We have to talk."

"I can't..."

"I know you probably don't want to," Daniel's voice said, and Jack had to smile at that. Daniel knew him too well, or at least he thought that he did.

There was a knock on the door. Daniel's voice was still speaking on the machine, and as Jack wondered whether he wanted to see whoever was there, he caught the last few words that Daniel spoke before the final beep sounded.

"Open the door, Jack."

As Jack opened the door, Daniel was putting the cell phone back in his jacket pocket.

"How did you know I was here?"

"Where else would you be moping, Jack?" Jack hesitated for a moment, just looking at Daniel. Daniel cocked his head to one side slightly under the scrutiny, his eyes narrowing. "Can I come in?"

Jack turned, leaving the door open, and headed back into the living room. Behind him, he could hear Daniel walk into the house, then the sound of the front door closing and a rustle of material, which had to mean that Daniel was taking off his jacket. Jack went back to the armchair he had been occupying only moments before; he settled back into it with a sigh and picked up his bottle of beer once more.

Where was Daniel? Jack wondered, after he'd been alone for a few moments. He looked back towards the living room door and Daniel was standing there, looking impossibly uncomfortable. Like there were a thousand places he'd rather be at this very moment than here, and some of them involved pain.

"Take a seat, Daniel," Jack said. Daniel nodded, before he followed Jack's suggestion and perched awkwardly on the edge of the couch. "If you've come to yell at me, you may as well do it in comfort," Jack continued, trying for sarcastic and missing it by a mile.

Daniel's gaze cut through him, like he'd known it would. It asked for explanation, begged for understanding, and demanded answers.

"I thought I knew what was going on, Jack," Daniel said. "I thought you wanted me."

"I did." Jack wondered if Daniel heard how difficult those words were to say.

"Then why?"

"Because it can't work, Daniel."

"And you just...just decided this?" Daniel asked, leaning forward. Jack looked away, feeling uncomfortable at the emotion he could hear in Daniel's voice. "One minute everything's fine, and then you decide this?"

"You don't understand..."

"Too right I don't," Daniel interrupted. "Tell me you don't want me, Jack. Say it. Make me believe you, and then I'll go. Life will carry on as usual and you can go back to hiding how you really feel."

Jack looked down, hoping Daniel hadn't seen how much those last few words had hurt. They'd struck him with the force of a blow, proving again that Daniel knew more about him than Jack had ever dared to think.

"You want me to lie?" Jack asked, without looking up.

"If that's what it takes."

There was silence between them then, the ticks of a nearby clock echoing loudly.

"I can't," Jack said, finally, as he brought his hands up to cover his face. He let them rest there for a moment, as if they could protect him from the inevitability of having to face Daniel. Of seeing Daniel when he knew all that there was to know about Jack, when Daniel had proof that he was weak and human after all.

"Then come here," Daniel said, his voice soft, coaxing. Jack let his hands fall, looking across at Daniel once more. "Come here, Jack. Daniel had moved back onto the couch, making room. "It'll be okay. I promise."

For the first time, the space that stood between them didn't seem so wide.

~ fin ~

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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.

This page created by Graculus - last changed 3/5/2004.