He didn't expect that anything was wrong, just that maybe Daniel had
overslept; he'd seemed tired lately, after all, and it happened to
everyone some time.
Certainly taking off for Siberia at the drop of a hat was enough to tire anyone out - Jack himself had felt like he could sleep for a week and he hadn't been the one who'd gotten up close and personal with a bunch of weird water aliens.
In hindsight, Jack was glad he hadn't been around for that particular part of the mission. Bad enough he and Teal'c had seen what they'd seen, finding Maybourne in the deep freeze and discovering just what it was the Russians had let themselves in for.
But if he'd been there in the mini-sub, like Carter was, watching helplessly as Daniel was pulled out into the water...
He pushed that thought away and tried to concentrate on now. Daniel was fine, they'd all made it back safe and sound and now he needed to see just what was going on.
The key turned easily in the lock and suddenly Jack was glad that Daniel had given it to him all those months before, back when he'd been sidelined in the infirmary and had wanted Jack to pick up his mail and water his plants. Not that a little breaking and entering was beyond Jack, he'd done it before after all, but having an actual key made life so much easier.
The apartment door opened silently, and at least there wasn't a body sprawled across the floor or anything, not that he could see. Which had to be a positive sign.
Jack crossed to the bedroom door, pushing it open as he spoke.
"Daniel? Rise and shine!"
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness in the room, any words Jack might have said next dried up in his mouth. There was Daniel, lying sprawled across one side of the bed as Jack had expected, those usually sharply-intelligent eyes blinking fitfully up at him. He was clearly naked, the sheet barely covering enough for decency's sake, his skin pale against the darkness of the bedcovers.
The only problem was, Daniel wasn't alone.
This was his worst nightmare. For a moment Daniel wasn't sure whether he'd imagined Jack standing there at his door, till he glanced across at the alarm clock and saw what time it was. When he looked back at the doorway, it was empty.
This couldn't be happening. He couldn't really be that late for work and Jack couldn't have just walked in on the two of them. Daniel's mind rebelled against the idea of dealing with either of those possibilities any time in the immediate future.
The voice that came from his companion was more than a little sleep- roughened, his name just a slurred bunch of syllables. Daniel didn't even bother to turn round as he got out of bed.
"It's okay." He quickly searched the dresser for a matching pair of socks. Or just two socks of any description, matching or otherwise. "Just late for work, that's all. Go back to sleep."
He heard the bed creak slightly as its occupant moved. All Daniel could think about now was getting ready, the idea of Jack waiting impatiently for him in his living room adding extra incentive to leaving the bedroom itself in a hurry.
As much as Daniel didn't want to face Jack, he knew he had no choice. He couldn't hide in here forever, not if he didn't want to starve to death - if he wanted to carry on picking up his paycheck he needed to go to work some time.
"Two minutes," Daniel said to Jack, as he finally emerged from the bedroom.
He found himself speaking to the back of Jack's head, as the other man stood by the balcony door looking out across the city, his back rigid. Daniel headed towards the bathroom, closing the door gratefully behind him. He was glad that he hadn't been forced to look Jack in the face, he had no idea what to say to him - all Daniel could hope was that Jack wouldn't go back into the bedroom again while he was in here.
"Daniel?" Jack's voice came through the bathroom door, startling him a little. He was suddenly glad he used an electric razor the way his hand had jerked when Jack spoke. "I'm going back up the mountain, I'll see you at work."
So, Jack had no intention of waiting for him - he clearly didn't want to discuss this. Why should that be any kind of surprise?
"Okay," Daniel called out. "I.. I'm sorry you had to come all the way down here, Jack."
I'm sorry you had to find out the truth about me this way; that I didn't have the chance to tell you something months ago; that you didn't have to try and figure out what to tell Hammond when you get back to the SGC.
The only response was the sound of his apartment door closing more loudly than necessary.
Jack paced in the elevator car on the way down, two short strides taking him from wall to wall and back again.
He hadn't seen this coming.
As he climbed into his truck and began the long drive back up the mountain, Jack's mind was working overtime to try and make some sense of what he'd just seen. What he'd just walked in on unexpectedly. What he could just as easily have walked in on.
He'd never realized Daniel had someone. How had he not realized?
It wasn't as if Daniel was all that subtle, but there was no way he should have been able to keep something like that a secret. Not from his team-mates; not from his friends.
Jack felt his hands clench on the steering wheel, he watched clinically as the skin whiten over his knuckles, noting the way the tendons moved. He couldn't make his mind up why he was angry, even as he turned the possible options over in his mind.
Was it because Daniel hadn't told him he was seeing someone?
Jack wasn't Daniel's keeper, after all, even if they were friends. And it wasn't like they'd been close the last few months, the things they'd lived through putting barriers between them that hadn't existed before. The things they'd never talked about, that Jack had never taken the time to try and explain. If he even had an explanation that would make sense, one that Daniel would buy.
It had taken him forever, it seemed, to understand the whole situation himself. And explaining it to Daniel might just be more than Jack could deal with.
Or was he jealous?
That intimacy had been something he'd shared with Daniel, all innocence and closeness. A closeness he had welcomed, once the novelty factor had worn away, once he'd reminded himself he was still alive, that mourning Charlie didn't mean he had to bury himself in that grief as well. It had been comfortable, reassuring. Most importantly, it had felt right.
Jack had seen Daniel asleep often enough to know exactly what he looked like, the way he sprawled, arms spread from his sleeping bag unless it was unusually cold. He'd shared enough tents with Daniel to know the way his face relaxed, those mobile eyebrows settling into stillness for once, the innocence of Daniel's expression when his brain wasn't working double time. So none of that was new.
Jack just hadn't ever expected to walk into that room and find Daniel in bed with someone else. He'd always thought, since Sha're died at least, that the intimacy engendered by off-world missions was his alone, never expecting to find that someone else experienced it too. At least without warning.
And particularly if that someone else was a man.
There wasn't enough time to take a shower, but all Daniel could think was how grateful he was for the fact that he hadn't missed leaving for an actual mission because he'd overslept. It was bad enough, Daniel decided as he drove up the mountain, that Jack had been forced to come see if he was okay without adding that misdemeanor to his situation.
Daniel had gone back into his bedroom in search of some shoes and discovered that his bed was empty, the sound of running water from the bathroom giving him a clue to Nat's whereabouts. Good. He really hadn't wanted to face him after Jack's sudden appearance, unsure exactly what it was he would say to him anyway.
"I have to go," he'd said, standing by the bathroom door. "Let yourself out, okay?"
There had been a response, more a grunt than an actual word, but Daniel had taken that as affirmation and headed out.
Now, all Daniel could think about was seeing Jack when he got to work. What would he say to him, anyway? How could he know how to begin to explain exactly how he'd come to be in the situation that he was?
He'd been happy these last few weeks, feeling relaxed and comfortable in the relationship he'd begun to build with Nat, and in some ways Daniel realized he'd been waiting for the other shoe to drop. He just hadn't expected it to happen in the form of Jack turning up at his bedroom door.
It wasn't all that difficult to avoid Daniel, not if you had a mind to, anyway.
Jack had hidden himself away in lengthy meetings with Hammond, showing an interest in the correct procedure for processing requisitions that he knew would come back and bite him in the butt when he least expected it. He'd seen the way the general had been eyeing him during their conversation on the subject, wondering just what he had done to get Jack's whole-hearted cooperation and attention when normally it was all he could do to get a signature on something.
Still, Hammond hadn't pressed him on the subject of exactly what it was that had kept Daniel from getting to work on time, so that had been something of a relief. He'd just accepted Jack's passing comment on Daniel oversleeping and inquired no further.
And for that Jack was extremely glad - he could manage most things, but he wasn't sure he could stand there and lie to Hammond's face.
Because what could he have told the general anyway?
That he'd found Daniel in bed with another man?
It wasn't as if Daniel was subject to the regulations in quite the same way he was - as a civilian consultant, if he wanted to get involved with someone on his own time, someone not involved with the project, whose business was it but his own? As long as it didn't jeopardise national security, not that Jack considered Daniel was ever likely to cause concern that way.
If anyone was going to comment on Daniel's choice of people to share his bed, Jack had no intention that he was going to be the first.
He just wished he'd known, that was all. Or, at least that's what he kept telling himself. Good, honest concern, that was all it was - not jealousy and a feeling of having missed the boat where Daniel was concerned.
It hadn't taken long for Daniel to realize that Jack was actively avoiding him.
It wasn't as if they lived in one another's pockets at the SGC, but Daniel had become so used to Jack just appearing at his office, pestering him to come have lunch with him and the rest of the team, or making some other excuse to drag him away from what he ought to be doing, that the sudden and apparent absence of Jack was marked.
Of course, it wasn't a surprise either.
It was clear from this morning that Jack had been somewhat lost for words, more than a little surprised to find Daniel with anyone at all, let alone a man. He'd squinted at Jack as he stood in the doorway, trying to discern the expression on his face as he was silhouetted there, and if he'd been able to see it clearly, Daniel wondered just what he would have seen.
Surely there was no way that Jack wasn't aware Daniel was bisexual?
Once he'd calmed down from the initial shock of finding Jack standing in his doorway, the drive up the mountain had given Daniel lots of time to think. The USAF security records had to have detailed Daniel's sexual proclivities, he had no doubt about that, probably with times, dates and names all carefully and methodically noted in triplicate.
And it wasn't that he thought Jack was homophobic - if Daniel had thought that was the case, he would have known with more certainty how to deal with what might happen next. After all, Jack wouldn't be the first person he'd come across since he started work for the SGC that felt that way. But Daniel was certain that wasn't the case, that Jack would probably be the last person he worked with who would stereotype someone based on something as simple as who they had sex with.
So all Daniel could assume was that Jack *hadn't* been told about him, that the decision had been made when he joined the SGC in the first place to keep Daniel's sexuality a secret.
Daniel had to agree that had probably been wise - he hadn't been all that popular in his new-found world where scientists were basically the bottom of the pecking order, so if word had got out that he wasn't solely interested in women, he might not have lived long enough to get to Abydos in the first place.
Then, of course, Daniel had made a decision to keep his budding relationship with Nat secret, which might have been his first mistake.
Should he have told his friends he was involved with someone?
He smiled to himself, imagining their response if he'd done so. He knew that Sam would likely interrogate him for all the details he was prepared to give her, so there was no way that the minor fact that his relationship was with a man would pass her by.
Daniel didn't expect her to be anything other than accepting of that possibility, or even a little relieved, maybe. He'd heard the gossip and knew that Sam had to know the grapevine said she was sleeping with at least one of her team-mates, if not all of them. That hadn't been helped by the little revelation that Anise had forced out of Jack, that particular piece of information travelling round the SGC faster that energy through a wormhole. The idea that Daniel was 'safe' and doubly so once she realized where his true interests lay, would probably appeal to Sam greatly.
As for Teal'c, Daniel had no idea how the idea of him being involved with another man might be received by the Jaffa. Half the time he seemed tolerant of the odd ways of the Tau'ri, while at others he seemed to prefer the relative simplicity of the very ordered society of Chulak. Daniel had wondered what their attitude was to same-sex relationships, but that hadn't been something he could just drop into the conversation as they were going along.
It was Jack's likely attitude he found hardest to consider.
Not that he didn't feel he knew Jack, but that this was something he'd never really thought about. Something that was kept very separate from work, even as his relationships with his team-mates, and Jack in particular, spilled over into what he had formerly considered his private life.
The boundaries between the two had blurred, casual phone calls inviting him to some sporting event or other as commonplace now as quiet evenings at home catching up on those little domestic chores that kept things ticking over. Both were equally a part of Daniel's life now and he found that he liked it that way.
As a result, he wasn't sure he could have started a conversation that ended with him telling Jack all about Nat. Daniel wasn't even sure he'd have managed that if Nat had been a woman, knowing how much Jack knew of his ill-fated liaisons with the women they'd met because of their trips through the 'Gate. And then that whole thing with Sam had created a whole new awkwardness between them, a whole new area marked out with 'no entry' signs as it created friction within the team.
Was it that Jack knew him too well, maybe?
Maybe the problem was that sometimes Daniel felt that he didn't know Jack at all. At least, he knew what Jack wanted him to know, respecting the walls that Jack placed round himself, the walls that had allowed him to know just what to say to push Daniel away when he'd needed to. Jack knew Daniel's faults and foibles too - he could probably list them alphabetically or by date - but large parts of Jack were still a mystery to Daniel.
And, as much as Daniel liked a mystery, his whole academic career springing from that fact, some mysteries just seemed too big to contemplate.
He wasn't surprised in the slightest when Daniel arrived on his doorstep later that evening. If anything, Jack would have been more surprised if Daniel hadn't made an appearance, particularly after he'd tried so hard to avoid him at the SGC. The kind of conversation they were likely to be having shortly was really one Jack just didn't want to have on USAF property anyway.
"What are you going to do, Jack?" Daniel asked before he was even completely in the door. He looked tense, worried; in short Daniel looked like he could jump out of his skin at the wrong word.
"Do?" Jack echoed, wondering if that made him sound like an idiot.
That clearly wasn't the right answer. Daniel was wringing his hands together now, long fingers twining with each other in an outward sign of the nervousness he was clearly feeling.
Suddenly Jack got it.
"You think that I...?" The words choked him, surprise making them hard to speak. How could Daniel think that of him? "What kind of asshole do you think I am?" He paused for a moment. "Don't answer that."
To his credit, Daniel looked embarrassed to have even suggested Jack might make life difficult for him. He was looking at the floor now, rather than at Jack, and oddly Jack found the sight of that kind of embarrassment was a little comforting. At least that suggested they might be able to rescue something out of this almighty mess.
"Sorry," Daniel muttered. "It's just you were avoiding me, and I thought..." The words trailed off.
"It's okay," Jack said, feeling awkward as he wished for a remote. That way he could go back and make things as if he'd never walked in on Daniel this morning, and he wouldn't have to deal with this now. "Who is he?"
There was silence for a moment. What little of Daniel's face Jack could see grew a little redder.
"Just some guy I met," Daniel said. "In a bar."
Jack found himself lost for words. Not only was his friend clearly not batting for the home side, which in itself was something he'd never suspected, he was out cruising bars?
"Daniel, what the hell were you thinking?" Jack said, finding the words emerging from his mouth before he even realized he'd spoken them. "A bar?"
This was no way to get Daniel to look at him any time in the near future, if the implacable way he was studying the carpet was anything to go by, but it was too late to stop that now.
Jack wondered whether Daniel realized just how difficult a situation he was putting himself in. He couldn't tell anyone what he did for a living, for starters. Did Daniel ever take confidential material home, despite all the rules against him doing so?
He studied Daniel for a moment, seeing the misery that was clear in the way he stood, hearing all the things he didn't say. Jack had expected Daniel to be angry at him for walking in on the two of them - he hadn't expected to find himself standing here like Jack was the school principal and Daniel had been hauled onto the carpet in front of him for some infraction.
"Does he have a name?"
Daniel looked up at this question - it was clearly one that he hadn't expected to be asked. It seemed to take him a moment to clear his head, to make his voice work.
"Nat. His name is Nat. He's an architect."
"And you met him in a bar?" Jack was trying his hardest not to sound judgmental - judging from Daniel's reaction, it was working.
"Three weeks ago. Just before we went to Russia." Daniel looked intently at him now, as if trying to see something, though Jack had no idea what. "You're okay with this?"
He wasn't. How could he be? This was the first clue that Jack had been given that his friend, who normally seemed to be beating women off with a stick, had the same problem with men as well. And he'd missed the boat.
"No chance of him getting Goa'ulded if he's not in the program," Jack said, with a smile.
"I hope not," Daniel replied, relaxing visibly at this new tone in Jack's voice. "Maybe I'll get lucky this time."
"I wish you'd told me, that's all. So I didn't walk in on you both that way."
"Now that's a conversation I'd have *no* idea how to begin," Daniel said, a small smile quirking his mouth. "Somehow I thought that you knew... how I am." Daniel paused and Jack wasn't sure what reaction he was expecting. "Whatever happened to 'don't ask, don't tell', anyway?"
Jack frowned at that and saw Daniel's smile disappear as quickly as it had been born.
"You know I wasn't talking that way," he said. Jack paused, wondering. "You do know I wasn't talking that way?"
"Colonel to civilian consultant?" Daniel asked, the smile almost reappearing.
Jack shook his head. Some days Daniel just didn't live up to his genius billing.
"I don't care who you sleep with, Daniel, it's none of my business. As long as it doesn't interfere with work, anyway."
Jack bit back the obvious response to that. In some ways, starting with the fact that Daniel hadn't managed to make it into work on time this morning, coupled with the fact that now he understood why he'd been more than a little distant in the past couple of weeks, it already was.
"And I hope you're lucky as well," Jack continued, though the words were bitter in his mouth.
He didn't hope that at all.
He hoped that Daniel would realize soon that this Nat wasn't able to give him what he needed, because when he did and their relationship was over, Jack intended to be there.
And this time, he knew what it was Daniel wanted.
That went better than he had expected. From the time he'd left work to when he finally arrived at Jack's house, Daniel had almost worked himself up into a fever pitch of concern. Almost convinced himself that Jack was just biding his time before telling Hammond just how it was his favourite archaeologist liked to spend his free time.
Which was ridiculous, really.
The moment Daniel opened his mouth, that he'd seen Jack's reaction to the suggestion that somehow Jack would make his life difficult now he was aware of Daniel's sexual tendencies, he'd realized just how idiotic an idea that was. If Jack had ever wanted him off the team, he'd had a dozen opportunities before now, a hundred incidences that could have justified his removal from SG-1.
That just wasn't the way Jack liked to do things.
He wasn't sure if he believed Jack's good wishes, there was something that didn't quite ring true about them, but at least now things were out in the open between them.
Daniel had almost taken the opportunity his own confession presented to press for Jack to do likewise. To clear the air between them over just what was going on between him and Sam, but something told him that wasn't a good idea. Some small spark of self-preservation, even though Jack kept on telling him his survival instincts left much to be desired.
Dangerous ground. Particularly now that Jack seemed to have taken a step or three back from that whole idea, scrupulously fair towards all the team and seemingly oblivious to the chilly atmosphere between them all that was barely beginning to thaw.
Still, it was a weight off Daniel's mind to tell Jack something, if not everything. There were some things he didn't need to know; after all, he wasn't even sure himself whether his relationship with Nat would last. There would be time to say more, if the need arose.
Weeks passed and Jack became more and more uneasy.
He was waiting for it all to fall apart, for Daniel's relationship to break down so he could step in and pick up the pieces, make himself indispensable. Jack found himself mentally practising the things he'd say, how he'd comfort Daniel in his loss, telling him that it was clear him and Nat just weren't meant to be. That there was no future in a relationship when Daniel couldn't even talk about what he did for a living when he went home at night.
All the right things, said the right way, guaranteed to build a foundation for Jack getting what he found he was wanting more and more. What his daydreams seemed to consist of, most of the time, let alone his fantasies. The only problem was, it seemed, that Jack wasn't likely to get the opportunity for that conversation with Daniel any time soon.
Daniel looked happier than Jack had seen him in a long time.
He didn't hang round the SGC like he used to any more; he wasn't spending long hours poring over whatever the SG teams brought back from off-world. Daniel did his job, Jack couldn't fault him for that, but the obsessive edge he'd brought to it before just wasn't there.
Jack couldn't rely any more on wandering into Daniel's office in the middle of the night and finding him still there. If he did, he was more than likely to find it empty.
Now it seemed Daniel worked with one eye on the clock, as much as their schedule allowed them to do; as soon as it was time to head for home from the SGC, Daniel was out of the door.
Jack kept telling himself that he was thinking first and foremost of Daniel's welfare, but he knew that for the lie it was. Every time he looked at Daniel he could see the evidence of that. Jack couldn't keep on kidding himself that he was being anything other than jealous and selfish where Daniel was concerned, no matter what he might want to think.
Daniel was happy, but he was with someone else, and the idea clawed at him.
He found himself starting to hate this 'Nat', even though he knew virtually nothing about him. Jack had caught just the swiftest of glimpses of him that day when he'd walked in on the two of them, so he didn't even have a clear mental picture to direct his venom towards. If he'd been asked, he couldn't have even said whether Nat was light or dark, he'd been so fixed on the discovery of a nearly- naked Daniel sprawled out across the bed as if in invitation.
Except Jack had missed that party completely, it seemed.
So, what could he do now?
Patience was never his strong suit, but what choice did Jack have any more? He couldn't exactly order Daniel to end things with Nat, he knew what kind of response that would get and rightly so.
And he wasn't egotistical enough to think that Daniel would throw this guy over just because he figured out Jack had a thing for him. How would he figure that out anyway? It wasn't as if Jack was going to tell him any time soon - just the idea made Jack shudder, that wasn't who he was.
That kind of event only happened in the cheesiest of romantic movies, anyway - that wasn't the way the world worked, and who should know that better than Jack O'Neill?
But it was clear that waiting it out wasn't working either.
If anything, giving things time was only letting Daniel and Nat become closer, not giving Jack the opportunity to get between them.
He hadn't realized before what a wide possessive streak he had. Not until this had all happened and his immediate response to discovering what was going on had been 'my Daniel, get your own'.
Jack smiled to himself at the kind of response he was likely to get if he ever voiced those words in Daniel's earshot. Somehow, he couldn't see Daniel falling into his arms like some romantic heroine just because he was getting all macho and possessive.
In fact, if Daniel ever figured out how Jack felt about him, unless Jack was very very careful, Daniel might never speak to him again. And if he realized that Jack had anything to do with his relationship with Nat coming to a sticky end, that was almost a racing certainty.
Daniel lay on his side, watching Nat sleep. He was finding that he didn't suffer from insomnia as much as he used to - if he gave it any thought, Daniel supposed that the more regular hours he was keeping, combined with Nat's undivided attention when they were together, pretty much ensured that.
But sometimes his brain just kept on working, despite everything, and that meant he would find himself watching Nat sleep. Daniel had decided that he liked the closeness, liked the fact that Nat was there; he was real and solid and wanted him.
He'd waited long enough for a certain someone else to get an idea that he was interested and waited in vain.
After a while Daniel had started to wonder whether there was something wrong with him - seeing just about anyone he had a relationship with develop something even more up close and personal with a Goa'uld kind of put a dent in his self-esteem.
He'd tried to tell himself that he was happy, that being Jack's friend was enough for him, but it just didn't fill the void he'd discovered inside once he'd buried Sha're. And while Daniel appreciated Jack just being there for him, his steadfast friendship invaluable in the most difficult times, Daniel couldn't lie to himself and pretend he didn't want more, much more from Jack.
More, it seemed, than Jack himself was able to comprehend.
And then things had worsened, spiralled out of his control. Jack had made little effort to hide the fact that he was attracted to Sam, and Daniel had begun to wonder whether their team was starting to fall apart. Suddenly he didn't feel quite as important any more, quite as able to rely on Jack the way he always had. It was like waking up one morning to discover the sun rising in the west, everything he had come to rely on turned upside down.
Finding Nat had been such a godsend; it had kept Daniel going when he'd felt like he was being pushed aside by two of the people he'd formerly considered his closest friends on the planet.
They'd found themselves on a rollercoaster, moving from interest to intimacy in a matter of weeks, with a speed that Daniel had always been uncomfortable with before. But this time he'd needed that, needed to feel important to someone, and Nat had been there, more than willing to oblige.
Nat himself was kind and funny - he was interested in the things that Daniel could tell him about himself and didn't press for more. For that alone, Daniel was eternally grateful.
And the sex... the sex was great.
He'd forgotten just how good it could feel, all the intimate memories of Sha're and the others before her pushed to the back of his mind so he didn't go crazy. The closeness, the rawness of it all, something Daniel had forgotten he needed, had made himself forget.
Nat muttered a little in his sleep, rolling over so his back was to Daniel now. Daniel studied the line of Nat's side for a moment, and it took all the self control he could muster not to reach out and trail his fingers across the silken skin.
But they both had an early start tomorrow, so at least one of them should get some sleep.
Jack found himself watching Daniel more and more - was he looking for the first sign of unhappiness? Or was it just that he wanted to be sure that this 'Nat' was treating Daniel okay?
Yeah, like he was that virtuous and selfless.
Jack sighed, turning his head as the door to the 'Gate room opened and Daniel came in. Daniel was smiling, chatting with Sam, and Jack turned his attention back to the 'Gate itself, watching the chevrons light one by one.
He didn't need to even look round when the 'Gate engaged and the wormhole billowed out to know that the rest of the team were there. Jack could almost sense their presence, their solidity beside him. If he tried, he could even imagine just what kind of expression he'd seen on their faces right now if he turned round.
Some things hadn't changed, it seemed, even if Daniel had apparently turned into someone Jack didn't know any more.
He'd tried not to think about Daniel having sex, really he had, but it just didn't work. It didn't take very much for Jack's overactive imagination to fantasise about what kind of expression would cross Daniel's mobile face, courtesy of the attentions given him by someone faceless.
Someone Jack very much wished to take the place of.
Missions like this were the bread and butter of what the SGC was about. Daniel knew that but that didn't stop him wishing he was back home. Instead of which, he had two more days of negotiations at least to look forward to, and at least another night under canvas.
Another night sharing a tent with Jack when he'd much rather be home sharing a bed with Nat.
Not that this was something he'd tell Jack, of course. Nor give him even the slightest inkling that this was the case. He had a reputation to maintain, after all, one of single minded obsessiveness to the cause of making nice with the locals. All the things that Jack found most tedious and Daniel found most likely to keep him coming back for more.
Except Jack protested too much, sometimes. Made it seem like all he was interested in was fighting the Goa'uld, looking for new technology, when in fact he was just as good at the diplomatic stuff if he put his mind to it as anyone else on the team. But he had to be in the mood, had to see that it would benefit the SGC. Once that was clear, Jack could schmooze with the best.
He couldn't help noticing that Jack was keeping an eye on him - nothing new about that, it was something Daniel had been forced to get used to from way back, Jack's mother hen instincts kicking in at the most inopportune moments.
But this seemed different somehow. Jack was watchful, but not jumpy, so it wasn't that he thought there was the possibility of trouble. It almost seemed as though he was watching Daniel for the sake of watching him, a look of what almost seemed resigned sadness in his face.
What was with that?
Daniel filed that away mentally, marked 'will deal with this some time'. Of course, that likelihood hinged on him and Jack still talking at the end of the day - at times, that possibility seemed more than a little far-fetched.
He'd tried to find a reason to deny Daniel's request for a temporary transfer, really he had. But all the possible excuses he could use sounded as petty and trivial as they were - destined to cause more problems than refusing Daniel the chance to go off-world with SG-11 would solve.
The last thing Jack needed was to get Daniel mad at him, unless he had a clear and undeniable reason that he could wave in Daniel's face to fend him off. And since he didn't have one this time round, it looked like Daniel would be going off-world soon, trowel in hand.
Somehow, for some reason he couldn't quite put his finger on, Jack had a bad feeling about this.
He knew Jack didn't like it.
It would have taken a thicker skin that he'd ever possessed for Daniel to be able to ignore Jack's palpable dislike of the idea of 'lending out' his archaeologist to all and sundry. Even when he was asking to be lent out, asking to get the chance to go study a planet that could possibly be the home of the Goa'uld themselves.
Daniel had even gone so far as preparing his argument, point by point of 'why I should go', each item supported by at least one vaguely military reason. All of which work had been wasted when Jack had done the unexpected, just signed the appropriate form and wished Daniel happy digging.
Too easy by far.
Still, the idea of excavations on what could be the centre of the Goa'uld universe appealed greatly. So much so that, by the time he'd started to make a list of what he needed to take, Daniel had pushed the concept of Jack being obliging to the back of his mind.
For now, at least.
Walking into the infirmary to the sound of Daniel grousing about his wrists being bandaged was like taking a step back in time. Jack felt the weight of responsibility lessen a little as he crossed to Daniel's bedside unobserved. All the hours spent looking for Daniel, hardly knowing whether he would be alive when they finally tracked down the Unas that had taken him, had been a heavy burden.
And then there had been Rothman.
"Doctor's orders?" he asked, smiling to himself as Daniel jumped a little. The nurse, just putting the finishing touches to the second of a matching pair of bandaged wrists, said nothing.
"Well, isn't this just a little like overkill?" Daniel asked, flourishing one wrist in Jack's general direction.
"So do you want to tell Janet she doesn't know what she's doing, or shall I?"
Daniel just looked at him for a moment, then his mouth snapped shut and he looked away without speaking. The nurse finished up, gathering her equipment and leaving the two of them alone. Jack could have sworn that she winked at him as she passed.
There was silence for a moment.
"What're you going to say?" Jack asked, wondering if Daniel had an answer for him.
"About what?" Daniel looked round, shuffling a little on the bed so they were face to face now, his hands resting in his lap.
"The bandages," Jack said. "Explaining them should be an interesting conversation."
Daniel looked down at his hands, then up again.
"Looks like I need to do some avoiding," he said.
He didn't like to think how it could have turned out. If his guess had been wrong, if he hadn't been able to communicate with Chaka after all, make him understand that he wasn't just a nicely packaged human Happy Meal. Seeing the way the Unas had dealt with that Goa'uld, the casual ease with which it had been dismembered, made Daniel try not to think about that kind of possibility at all.
Not that his subconscious necessarily cooperated with that.
He'd been almost forced to hide out at the SGC, his all-too-obvious injuries impossible to explain away. The bandages alone were a giveaway, would lead to far more questions from Nat than Daniel could ever care to answer.
If he had the words to explain.
Jack found himself making a special effort to spend time with Daniel over the next few days, now Daniel's avoidance tactics where Nat was concerned meant that he had the prospect of Daniel all to himself for a little while.
It took a surprisingly short amount of time to fall back into the old routines, hanging around Daniel's office and pestering him when someone just a little less polite than Daniel might well have told him to get lost ages ago. Now if only Jack could stop thinking about what had happened back on the planet, and what had almost happened.
That could just as easily have all taken place the other way round, Rothman dragged off by the Unas and Daniel made a host. That was a combination Jack didn't want to think about, for lots of reasons - not only did he suspect that Rothman wouldn't have lasted long enough not to become Sunday dinner for the Unas, the very idea of putting a bullet in Daniel, regardless of the lack of alternatives, made Jack's stomach head directly for his throat as if it was trying to escape.
It had to be the bandages.
He'd keep forgetting what had happened, allowing himself to push it to the back of his mind, then Jack would catch sight of them, a flash of white peeking out of the sleeve of Daniel's jacket, and it would all come flooding back.
Jack snapped back to reality, realizing Daniel was speaking to him.
"Jack? You okay?"
"Sure," he said, wondering what he'd missed. "Just thinking about Rothman." He saw Daniel turn at his thoughtless words, back to the papers he'd been studying, his back stiff with unspoken sorrow. "Damn. Sorry. I didn't think."
They hadn't spoken about it at all.
Wasn't this a prime opportunity for Jack to drive a wedge between Daniel and Nat? Give Daniel the comfort he needed over the death of an old friend, make himself indispensable?
Daniel said nothing, he didn't need to.
What the hell was he thinking, anyway? The realization hit Jack like someone had turned on a light in his brain, suddenly blinding him. He was planning to use the death of one of Daniel's friends, someone he had killed, for his own benefit? Even the thought of it left a sour taste in his mouth.
"I should go," he said, getting up from where he'd been sitting and heading out of Daniel's office as fast as he could, not looking back.
Even the pile of reports, normally the last thing Jack wanted to spend an afternoon doing, seemed better than thinking about what he was turning into, what he was willing to do in order to have a chance at getting something he so desperately wanted.
This was rapidly turning into another one of those days when Daniel had no idea whatsoever how Jack's mind worked. One minute he was sitting there, comfortably annoying Daniel, and the next they'd wandered onto dangerous ground.
Of course, he didn't want to think about what it might be like for Jack to have to kill someone he knew, even if he wasn't sure how Jack felt about Rothman. Even if Rothman had taken residence in the place in Jack's heart reserved for annoying geeks, the one that Daniel had not long left vacant, that couldn't make shooting him any easier?
The bandages round his wrists were a tactile reminder for both of them, it seemed. They certainly made it impossible for Daniel to forget the decisions Jack had been forced to make back on the Unas planet.
He looked down at them once more.
Just another thing to add to the long and ever-growing list of 'what we don't talk about' where Nat was concerned. No talking about work at all; no sharing in the excitement of discovery or a translation problem finally cracked; no solace for losing someone at the hand of a friend on a far distant planet.
It was a nasty idea, and probably wrong, but the moment Jack had considered it he'd been forced to wonder. It wasn't that he didn't think Daniel capable of attracting someone - he'd seen the way Daniel was with women, so why should it be any different with men? But when he actually gave it some thought, it seemed too convenient that Daniel had found someone so easily, considering how little free time they seemed to have.
Though, when he thought back on the last few months since everything between them had gone to hell in a handbasket, Jack knew he had no idea any more how Daniel passed his time. Not since they'd stopped hanging out together in the wake of what happened. They'd just stopped doing some of the things they used to do together, stopped making the casual arrangements they used to, drifted apart before Jack had even realized what had happened. And when he had, Jack did nothing about it.
Jack assumed Daniel had immersed himself in books even more than before, that he'd maybe gone to the movies, but he'd never envisaged him going to bars.
That just didn't seem to fit with the Daniel he knew - the Daniel he'd known before Jack's hormones and an alien machine conspired to rob him of what little sense he'd formerly possessed.
Jack sighed, wondering just when he'd stepped into the Twilight Zone. He had to admit that he had a pretty good idea, if he was honest.
One minute he was going along, knowing Carter had something of a hero-worship thing going on for him, and the next he was admitting to something that wasn't really something at all. Just the idea of a moment's creation, a pipedream that never should have been discussed but was brought to light when Jack had least expected it.
After all, he should be flattered, right? That someone as smart as Carter, someone who made men's heads turn when she walked in the room, was interested in Jack O'Neill in any way, shape or form. He might not feel the same way about her, but he wasn't dead, after all.
And he did care about her.
Carter was part of his team, his second in command, someone Jack considered a friend and a damn good one at that. But he knew it couldn't go anywhere, that any chance of it producing something positive was buried under a ton of regulations, paperwork so heavy that tiny possibility was left crushed and lifeless. He didn't have to like it, but that was the way it was, so Jack had to live with it.
Then Anise had messed with his head, messed with both their heads, till they hardly knew which way was up.
It had taken a while for them to figure it out, an awkward space of time characterized on both their parts by long looks that made Jack wince to recall them. It was only when he'd kissed Carter that Jack knew there was nothing to it. He'd been slowly going crazy, trapped in an endless loop like that god-awful film, and he'd decided to see what it was like.
And it had been fine.
Not great, not earth-shattering, not fireworks in the sky. Nice, fine, and never to be repeated.
Of course, afterwards, Jack had avoided the subject completely whenever he could. With Carter in particular, but also with everyone else, pulling back behind the wall of professionalism he so often chose to ignore. Trying to forget how he'd concentrated on Carter, the damage he'd inflicted on his relationship with the others, hoping against hope that it would all just go away.
But somewhere in that space, while he was doing a damn fine tortoise impersonation, Daniel had found someone else. Someone who could give him something Jack wanted to provide, and wasn't that just a little too easy?
He had to find out more about this 'Nat', make sure he was just who he said he was, that he didn't have an ulterior motive for getting up close and personal with Daniel. He still had enough contacts from his previous life that it wouldn't be all that difficult - it wasn't as if surveillance was that difficult when you knew all the tricks he did.
Nat wouldn't know, Daniel would never find out, and at least Jack would be able to decide whether this guy was an NID plant or something.
Daniel looked up from the book he was reading to the man who'd spoken, the man under whose legs Daniel's feet were currently tucked. This was one of the things he liked about being with someone, the closeness it afforded him, as well as the sex, of course.
"You can't talk about it. I know." Nat shook his head, then turned his attention back to the TV.
Daniel sighed, resting the book against his legs. Why didn't Nat understand? It wasn't that he didn't want to talk about work, it was just that he couldn't do it.
As much as a part of him wanted to ignore the exchange, to continue reading, Daniel studied Nat's profile as the light from the TV flickered over his face.
What the hell am I doing? he thought suddenly, as he watched Nat. I'm in a relationship with someone I have to lie to all the time, someone I can't even tell what I did at work today. Daniel sighed, replacing his bookmark as he closed the book. Suddenly he just wasn't all that interested in reading. This isn't going to work, is it?
Had he been kidding himself all this time? Telling himself that the sex was enough, the closeness was enough, that they had sufficient things in common that the large area of his life Daniel couldn't talk about just wasn't important any more? It was certainly starting to look very much that way.
He'd had to be selective every time he opened his mouth.
Selective about his past, ruthlessly editing it to leave no room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding, turning Sha're from a woman from another planet into someone he didn't see any more. Flat words, hiding a pain Daniel still carried, turning the woman he had once loved more than life itself almost into an acquaintance instead of someone he'd once planned to spend the rest of his life with.
She deserved better than that.
It was as though, with Nat, for all his understanding and compassion, Daniel found himself becoming two-dimensional. He had to hide so much of what he'd seen, what he'd experienced, turning significant chunks of his life into things he'd read about in books, or that had never happened in the first place.
At least with Jack and the others he was able to talk freely, when he needed and wanted to. They knew Daniel's history, even if parts of it had been discovered reluctantly, old pains exposed unwillingly. They'd shared so much with him, and he missed that.
He missed Jack.
Jack knew it would have been a mistake; even if it had worked it would have been a mistake.
Harassing Nat directly would have been even more unthinkable, something he could only contemplate in a moment of madness. After all, there was no way that Daniel wouldn't have figured it out in time, wouldn't have known just what Jack had done, and that would have been the end of everything.
He could almost forgive himself for checking up on Nat - there'd been the possibility, after all, that he was an NID plant. If there was information about Daniel's sexuality in his initial security clearance, there was no way the NID didn't know about it by now, even if Jack himself had been unaware. Hopefully, if Daniel ever discovered Jack had done what he needed to, to make sure Nat was who he seemed to be, he'd understand.
Anyway, Nat had checked out, had turned out to be just exactly what he'd told Daniel he was, the junior partner in a firm of architects, posessor of a spotless police record and all-round nice guy. The more he knew about the guy, the things he liked, the causes he supported, the more perfect Nat seemed for Daniel. At the same time, Jack found that he hated him more and more.
He kept trying to tell himself that his conscience was clear, and that was the important thing, but his bed was empty too. Jack had chosen to do the noble thing after all, no matter what his motives, when he could have traded on the things Daniel had lost to get what he wanted - now he was paying the price for being moral.
And meanwhile, over on the other side of town, Daniel was with someone else. Someone Jack didn't like, someone he still didn't trust even slightly despite all he'd discovered when checking up on him, someone Jack still felt he knew almost nothing about.
He couldn't tell Daniel any of this. Even if he wanted to. There was no way that Daniel could possibly understand how Jack felt about him, no way his actions over the past days and weeks wouldn't be misinterpreted. His relationship with Nat was Daniel's business and his alone, Jack told himself, and who was he to pry?
But a part of Jack still wanted to know more and more, craved that knowledge like a junkie craved a fix.
What was it about this 'Nat' that Daniel liked so much? Even with what he'd discovered about him, Nat was still an enigma. Jack didn't want to think that there was something he couldn't give Daniel, some need this other man was able to recognise and meet, with Jack left floundering in his wake.
Who was he kidding? Even if he'd realized Daniel wasn't straight, would he have actually done anything about it?
For longer than he cared to think about, despite the rebellious fašade he put across, Jack had known himself to essentially be a conformist. Someone who lived by the rules, the big ones at least. A conservative with a small 'c'.
And maybe, just maybe, that was part of the reason why Daniel had gone looking somewhere else.
Jack didn't know whether he wanted to shake Daniel till his teeth rattled or kiss him with relief.
He'd asked Daniel to find him an alternative, so who was he to argue now he'd done just what he'd been asked to do? Even if the thought of Daniel still being on that ship when Jack gave the order to blow it away made his blood run cold. He intended to have a few words with Daniel next time they had a room to themselves, a few choice words that would probably involve a large amount of shouting if the way he was feeling at the moment was anything to go by.
Thinking of Daniel seemed to conjure him up, appearing from nowhere in a flash of light, Lotan at his side.
He recognised the unspoken question, wrapped up in Daniel speaking his name. Just checking that Jack wasn't about to attempt to separate his head from his shoulders, it seemed.
No clues, Daniel.
He saw the uncertainty grow in Daniel's eyes, the way Daniel turned his attention back to Lotan, mediating between him and the people he'd saved. The people he was about to evacuate to another planet, their own home planet.
So, Daniel had saved them, using his words to make a difference like so many times before. Jack didn't want to think what Hammond's response would be once he read everyone's reports, once he realized that Jack had disobeyed a direct order and tried to destroy the ship. Two mistakes rolled into one. He'd pushed Daniel into proving himself somehow and then he'd almost pushed the button on him.
Somehow, didn't it feel a little like things had gone full circle?
Only a couple of months back, Jack's life had been in Daniel's hands, and now positions had been reversed. Maybe now they could move on, move forward? Maybe.
He'd been nervous of his reception, there was no doubt about that. Even though he'd expected Jack to be angry with him, known that, despite doing the right thing he might well have done it the wrong way, Daniel hadn't thought that anger would last. He'd banked on Jack just being glad to see he was alive and well to take the sting from the tail.
Clearly he'd been wrong about that.
Jack was giving him the great stoneface routine, studiously avoiding looking at him as he talked with the villagers and Lotan. Daniel couldn't help being pleased with himself, regardless of Jack's attitude - he'd made a real difference to the lives of all the people here. And now they were going home.
That sounded really good all of a sudden, except that this time he really didn't want anyone else there. Daniel wanted sanctuary, time to figure out just how he felt about coming that close to death once more, but the moment Nat knew he was back in town what chance was there of that?
That thought stayed with him all the way back to the 'Gate. He'd arranged everything with Lotan and the Enkarans, and now Daniel wanted nothing more than his couch, his books and his bed, not necessarily in that order.
Of course, Jack actually talking to him would be nice as well.
Daniel studied the back of Jack's head as he followed him back to the 'Gate, wondering just how long Jack could delay the inevitable shouting match. Long enough to drive him crazy? Or would Jack's anger with him make his patient silence snap first?
They waited in silence by the DHD, Jack's terse instructions to dial the only words exchanged between them.
That silence continued through into the 'Gate room, where Jack paused at the foot of the ramp for a brief conversation with Hammond, letting Daniel and the others head for the locker room without him. Daniel had noticed the sidelong glances from Sam and Teal'c, the ones full of enquiry, wondering how Daniel was going to deal with the conflict ahead.
"Just say it," Daniel said, as they headed down the corridor. "I was wrong, I shouldn't have gone to the ship without telling Jack, I shouldn't have saved the planet." He couldn't help it, the sense of achievement just bubbled over.
"I'm not sure that's a line I'd use on the colonel," Sam said, with a smile.
Daniel smiled, feeling a little more certain of his survival. Even if Jack was angry with him, the rest of his team could see beyond that, could see the bigger picture.
Daniel was getting dressed after the hastiest shower in history when Jack walked into the locker room. Suddenly the air there seemed icy. He couldn't help repressing a tiny shudder when Jack walked past him, eyes looking anywhere but at Daniel.
He didn't want to make the first move, because what would that mean?
After all, Daniel told himself as he pulled on his shirt, he was in the right. He'd done what Hammond wanted of him, found a way to make things work for both Lotan's mission and the Enkarans, so why should he have to crawl to get back into Jack's favour?
No, Daniel decided, ignoring Jack the way he was being ignored. He wouldn't do that. No matter what.
He didn't speak with Jack before he left the locker room, heading out to the elevator and up to the surface. But Jack's suppressed anger, the silent disapproval written so clearly in every line of his body, stayed with Daniel.
All the way down the mountain, driving home, Daniel's mind kept going back to Jack's attitude, and he grew angrier by the passing minute.
Daniel rested his forehead against the cool wood of the apartment door as he closed it. That was all he needed. Nat appeared in the doorway, a magazine in his hand.
"I wasn't expecting you home yet."
"What are you doing here, Nat?" Daniel asked, trying to push the anger he felt towards Jack back to where he could deal with it.
"You gave me a key, remember?"
Anger bubbled so close under the surface Daniel could almost taste it. He knew it was wrong, after all it wasn't really Nat he was angry with, but that wasn't enough to stop the words from slipping out.
"Go home, Nat," he said. "I can't deal with this right now."
Nat looked at him, and Daniel saw the way his hand tightened on the magazine he held.
"Go home?" he echoed. "What's going on with you, Daniel?"
Daniel shook his head, suddenly more tired than he could recall feeling in a long time. The successful mission, all the things he'd achieved no matter how unorthodox his methods, seemed a long way past now.
Nat laughed, the scornful sound echoing in the narrow hallway.
"Top secret, you could tell me but you'd have to kill me?"
It was Nat's voice Daniel heard, but the words were pure Jack, destined to push him straight to the thin end of the branch.
"Enough." The vehemence of his tone surprised Daniel - it clearly surprised Nat as well, who eyed him a little warily. "You've had all you're going to get from me, Nat. It was fun while it lasted but I can't do this any more."
"So that's it?"
"It looks that way." Daniel took a couple of steps past where Nat was standing, heading towards the bathroom and sanctuary. "I'm sorry," he continued, without turning. He couldn't deal with the expression he expected to see on Nat's face, not right now. "I didn't want things to end like this."
"But you did want them to end."
The words cut through him, not their tone, but the emotion behind them. They stopped Daniel in his tracks, uncertain for a moment. He could still change this, turn around, grovel as much as he needed to and try to make everything okay between him and Nat. If he wanted to.
"Yes," Daniel said, surprising himself a little with the calmness of his own voice. "I think I did."
"Then I'll get the hell out of your life, Daniel," Nat replied.
Daniel moved then, heading for the balcony this time.
He opened the door and let himself outside, careless of the coldness in the air. The view from here, right across town, was the first thing that had attracted him to this apartment, and it never failed to fascinate him. At least it gave him something to look at while he could hear Nat gathering his things in the apartment itself.
When the apartment door finally closed, Daniel looked down at his hands where they gripped the balcony railing. His knuckles were white, the skin stretched so tightly across them that they looked as though the bone might pop through at any moment. He took a deep breath, relaxing his grip as he did so, wondering just when everything in his life had spiralled so out of control.
As usual, Teal'c was already set for the mission, one of the perks of living on base, Jack supposed. Not that there were many of those, what with the almost continual surveillance and the lousy food. But Teal'c was punctual, he was neat, and he didn't seem to object too much as long as he got out once in a while.
And that readiness for the mission left Jack and Daniel alone in the locker room, which was usually something Jack looked forward to. Well, most of the time, the times unlike now, the times when Daniel didn't look like a puppy that had been kicked a few times too many and then left by the side of the road.
He'd considered giving him the silent treatment once more, but as the hours had passed, Jack had begun to wonder how much of his anger towards Daniel was related to the mission and how much was due to something else. Due to another emotion completely, if he was honest with himself. And now he'd seen the expression on Daniel's face, Jack was glad he'd made that decision.
"Trouble in paradise?" Jack asked. His tone was joking but the way that Daniel whirled round on him showed that he was anything but amused. "Hey, just a joke."
"Save it, Jack," Daniel snapped. "I'm not in the mood."
Jack watched him walk away, studied the way Daniel stalked out of the locker room as if a small dark cloud hovered overhead. He shook his head, then turned back to doing up his bootlaces.
Daniel finished typing up his post-mission report and leaned back in his chair, waiting for the printer to finish whirring. He couldn't understand why, in this age of technology, he couldn't just mail his report to the general but, whether it was the reassurance of routine or some other reason, Hammond still seemed to prefer everything in ink and paper, rather than pixels.
Trust Jack to make that dumbass comment just before the briefing, one that had left Daniel fuming silently all the way through the mission itself. And as for himself, Daniel wondered that every time he opened his mouth, he seemed to come out with comments that only kept reminding him of Jack, as if they had some kind of pyschic link or something. Was he channelling Jack now?
He stretched, hearing the vertebrae pop.
Of course, Daniel reflected as he leaned back in his chair, sassing Dr. Tanner the phony psychiatrist might have been a bad idea in the long run, but he'd been threatened by far scarier and lived to tell the tale.
Most of the time, anyway.
At least Sam hadn't asked him to explain himself, or done anything but accept his snarkiness as they'd ventured into danger together. There was something about that kind of acceptance which Daniel found immensely comforting. She'd seemed to sense that all was not well with him, but unlike Jack she hadn't joked about it, just been there for him without pushing.
The sound of his office door opening brought Daniel back to the here and now. He glanced over his shoulder.
"Daniel? You done yet?"
"Just printing it off, Sam." Daniel turned his attention back to the printer, just in time to see it finish. "You?"
"Done." Daniel looked back to where Sam seemed to be loitering by the doorway, a slightly uncomfortable expression on her face.
"Is everything okay, Daniel?" Whatever response Sam had expected, she seemed to be relieved by what she saw in Daniel's face, rushing on with her words. "I mean, you and the colonel haven't said much to each other in the last couple of days and I wondered..."
"Everything's fine. I can't talk about it, Sam, but it's nothing Jack's done."
Those few words seemed to be enough to reassure her.
"Good. Because I thought when the colonel and Teal'c went one way and we went another that you were mad with him or something..."
She left the sentence hanging, clearly waiting for Daniel to deny it. He turned his attention back to the report he was holding, shuffling through the pages to make sure they were all there, straightening them unnecessarily.
"Or something," he replied, eventually, answering her unspoken question. He'd spoken more to fill the silence that hung awkwardly between them than for any other reason.
It wasn't a lie, after all. He wasn't mad with Jack as such, even though his crass comment had ruffled Daniel's feathers - though he'd argued with Nat, though that relationship was over, he hadn't thought himself so easily read.
And then there was something about Marty that struck a little too close to home. More than one something, to be precise - that could so easily have been him, Daniel realized, the crackpot with the odd theories, drugged up to his eyeballs to keep him 'safe'.
"We didn't mean it to happen, you know?" The words were sudden, unexpected, and there was something in Sam's voice then apart from the content of the words themselves that made Daniel turn back to her, the report clutched in his hands, forgotten. "It kind of sneaked up on the two of us and even now I don't know how much of it was real and how much was Anise's machine."
Daniel found himself looking at Sam this time, really looking at her for the first time in what seemed like months.
They'd been close before, close in a way that Daniel had found both strange and comforting, a closeness that he'd missed as much as he had missed Jack. She looked worried, that was obvious enough, the uncomfortable expression still lurking there too - she also looked like she wasn't sure of anything any more.
"That's got to be... unsettling."
That had to be the understatement of the century. Daniel thought for a moment about how he'd felt pushed aside, like he suddenly wasn't as important to either Jack or Sam as he'd always expected to be.
"It hurt, Sam." Even those simple words stuck in his throat.
Sam seemed to find the small patch of carpet in front of her feet a great source of fascination.
"That was the last thing we wanted, Daniel," she said. "The last thing I wanted. And once we'd thought about it, I think both the colonel and I realized there was no way it could ever work anyway. Even if it was real. Neither of us wanted it badly enough to give up the things we'd have needed to for it to stand a chance of working."
"I'm not angry, Sam," Daniel found himself saying. "Not with you and not with Jack either. Not about that. Not any more. There's other stuff, stuff I can't talk about, that's all. Not now, anyway."
Daniel knew that sounded lame, but that was as much as he was prepared to say for now. The words seemed to spiral in on him even as they left his mouth. The other things had been painful enough for Daniel to voice them, he couldn't now turn round and tell Sam all about Nat.
He needed more time and distance, to give both those things a chance to dull the ache he was feeling.
He'd looked for the opportunity to make it all okay, it was just that opportunity never arose; at least that's what Jack kept on telling himself.
Sure, he shouldn't have opened his mouth in the first place, he should never have made that crack to Daniel when he'd seen all wasn't right in ArchaeologistWorld, but as usual Jack knew he couldn't quite help himself. Another prime example of 'open mouth, insert foot' to add to an already lengthy list.
Jack picked up the paper from where it lay on the porch, tucking it under his arm as he fumbled with the keys, taking his time in selecting the right one. Another night at home, alone; as the door opened he wondered just what it was that Daniel had to be so moody about earlier anyway.
Maybe there really was something going on in that otherwise perfect relationship between Daniel and Nat? Maybe the gilt was starting to wear off of the gingerbread?
And not before time...
Then, with his own consummate sense of timing, Jack had managed to make himself the last person Daniel might turn to for comfort in his hour of need.
Heading into the kitchen, Jack tossed the newspaper onto the counter as he opened a cupboard. The weight of the glass in his hand was comforting and it seemed to pull at him. He could just lose himself that way - a few drinks and an inane movie and Jack could push aside all his thoughts about Daniel. For tonight, anyway.
But that wouldn't make them go away permanently. Nothing would.
Jack placed the glass carefully back into the cupboard and closed it once more. There was no escape that way, not without putting his foot onto a downward slope, one he'd travelled before. Climbing inside a bottle of booze wasn't a permanent answer to how he felt about Daniel. The problem was, there wasn't one.
He could find someone else, Jack told himself, as he waited for the coffee to brew. He could do what Daniel had done, try and find someone outside the SGC, someone who wasn't involved in all the crap they lived with day by day. Someone who wouldn't ask for more than he was able to give, who would tolerate him disappearing for days on end without an explanation. The more he thought about it, the more Jack realized he'd be lucky to find someone like that.
But, if he even could, that still had to be less fraught with problems that the situation he'd got himself into with Carter. For a while he hadn't even been able to meet her eyes, because of what they'd been forced to confess to.
He'd known for a while that there was precious little secrecy in the SGC, that was a given for any place where people worked so closely. Jack just hadn't counted on that particular piece of news travelling quite so fast and in Daniel's direction at that.
Jack had seen the look of disbelief on Daniel's face the next time they met, even if at the time he hadn't quite known it for what it was. Daniel tried so hard to hide his feelings, trying to 'fit in' better in his new military world, but he wasn't always successful. He'd turned away from the team at the same time Jack's own actions had caused a rift between them, making their every interaction awkward and unnatural.
Had he driven Daniel to look for someone else?
Of course, it wasn't right that Daniel should be alone, just because he was alone too. And it didn't look like they were going to be solving that loneliness by being together any time this millennium either. That was just a pipedream, one that Jack didn't even know he had until he discovered it was something unobtainable.
Even if things weren't going so well for Daniel, at least he'd had someone.
For as long as it lasted, Jack somehow found a tiny corner of his soul that was happy for Daniel, that wanted him to be happy even if he wasn't the one Daniel turned to when things got rough.
This time, at least, when Daniel got home he found he was alone.
No unexpected visitors, no messages on his answering machine, just silence and solitude.
Closing the apartment door behind him, Daniel took it all in, comparing everything to the last time he'd been home. The last time when he and Nat had argued, when the anger and self-pity he was feeling over losing a friend, let alone all the other emotions Daniel had been bottling up for so long, had come rushing out and Nat had just happened to be around.
Wrong place, wrong time.
Because if he was going to be angry with anyone, shouldn't that someone be Jack? They were the ones who'd gone head to head over what should happen back on the planet, as they both searched for a way to save the Enkarans. And even before that there was the death of Robert Rothman and the betrayal Daniel had felt when he'd heard the things Jack had admitted to concerning Sam.
All the things they had never talked about just turning over and over inside Daniel's head till he thought he'd go crazy.
Jack had been the one who was responsible, the one at the heart of all those situations, but Nat had ended up with the fallout. That didn't seem fair, somehow.
Daniel crossed to the telephone and picked up the receiver. He could call Nat, ask him to come over, go over to Nat's place.
He cradled the receiver, his hand still resting on the cool plastic.
What would it achieve anyway? It would just be a temporary solution, if Nat would even go along with a reconciliation - Daniel couldn't tell himself that it could last. How could it, when he could never truly be himself with Nat? The same would be true for anyone outside the SGC that he was involved with. He wouldn't be lying to them, there was no way he could countenance that, but Daniel also knew he would never be allowed to tell them the truth.
And that, one day, they could just get some coldly-worded letter to say that Daniel had been killed - something that said very little of the true circumstances but that was all that could be said. Something just like Robert Rothman's family would have received.
He couldn't do that to anyone. Not now he'd begun to realize what was at stake. How could he put someone through that? After all, Daniel told himself, every time they stepped through the 'Gate, that was always a possible outcome.
So what did that leave? Only someone within the SGC, and even that held distinct possibilities for making life difficult for everyone concerned. The downside of such a relationship could so easily outweigh the benefits. There were no easy solutions there.
Particularly as Daniel realized that there were very few people in the SGC that he trusted, despite the years he'd now spent working among them; even fewer of those people he could summon up any kind of desire for. It was an ever dwindling field of possibilities, populated sparsely once he also winnowed out the people who just wouldn't be interested or who already had someone else.
In fact, it left few enough people for Daniel to count on the fingers of one hand with fingers to spare.
This time he caught up with Daniel just as he was getting into the elevator. As the doors closed, it took a moment for Jack to make his brain work, to make the words he wanted to say emerge.
"Are you... you know..?" Damn, way to go with the smooth and suave, O'Neill.
Daniel looked at him for a moment, his eyes intent as if they searched Jack's face for the missing words.
"Okay?" Daniel suggested. Jack nodded.
"Because I was a putz," Jack continued, reassured by Daniel's input to the conversation. "Hard as that might be to believe." Daniel smiled a little at this, still tentatively. "I was out of line. That thing I said."
Damn, this wasn't easy, apologising without broadcasting to the entire base exactly what Daniel had going on.
"You could argue with me about that..." Jack said. Daniel frowned. "Or not."
There was silence for a moment - Jack realized Daniel was watching the numbers on the wall panel flicker, the numbers that told him how far down into the mountain they were.
"And are you?" Jack continued, suddenly aware he'd never received an answer to his stumbling question. "Okay, I mean?"
Daniel looked at him then.
"Why do you want to know, Jack?"
"Because I'm a little worried I opened my mouth just to change feet," Jack said, thinking he was still in danger of doing just that. "Is that allowed?"
Daniel turned his attention back to the floor numbers and watched the lights flicker there for a moment before he answered.
"That thing you said, Jack. You were a little too close to the bone, I guess. I think I just got thrown out of paradise, if I ever really lived there."
Before Jack could ask just what that meant, the elevator doors opened, and Daniel walked out, leaving him behind. It took a moment before Jack moved, his mind still reacting faster than his body, as he pondered Daniel's parting shot.
He hadn't been able to shut Sam up for days, once she knew that the test flight had been given the okay. The only thing better, Daniel decided, would have been if she'd been allowed the pilot's seat itself. Instead of which she just got to drool over the way it worked, which seemed to be more than enough to keep Sam Carter's scientific mind happy.
And Teal'c liked the idea of flying again, even if he didn't show the same amount of enthusiasm. Or any at all, in fact.
The stories of him flying that ship through the 'Gate to help rescue them from Hathor had circulated incredibly quickly round the complex just as soon as SG-3 had got back. Seemed as though even Marines appreciated a fancy piece of flying when they saw it.
And Jack? Jack was just himself.
He didn't seem overly excited about the test flight, or overly disinterested either. But then maybe when you knew there was a seat just waiting for you the next time round, whether you were planning to drool over the prospect or not, that was the way it affected you? Not that this had stopped Jack from using the fact he would soon be up there in the damn plane to get Sam going more than once. That would have been too much to ask.
The door to his office had opened without him even noticing, and it wasn't till he heard his name that Daniel turned round to greet his visitor.
"Paul. I'd heard you might be joining us."
Major Davis smiled.
"Wouldn't have missed this for the world," he said.
Funny how a near death experience makes a hell of a lot of things much clearer, Jack decided, as he lay back on the bunk.
Of course, he supposed it would just have been too much to ask for nearly freezing to death to clarify just how he felt about Daniel. That still wasn't certain, every time he thought he had a handle on it, the feelings just seemed to slip from his grasp.
He knew there was an element of jealousy, of possessiveness, but he still had no idea how deep that went. Whether it was that feeling of being pushed aside in favour of someone else that had sparked this all off in the first place. Or whether there was something more, something that he was kidding himself about, at the root of it all.
And if he'd known that he stood a chance with Daniel, assuming Daniel was inclined to feel the same for him?
Nope. Jack stared at the ceiling, wondering just when he'd lost his mind.
Hadn't he learnt anything from that run-in with his hormones over Carter?
A nasty thought surfaced, like a shark coming up from the depths. What if this was there all the time, the way he seemed to feel now about Daniel - what if the only reason he'd allowed the thing with Carter to go so far was so that he could pretend he didn't feel that kind of emotion towards another member of his team entirely?
Was he really that capable of fooling himself? Jack didn't like to think so, but he had to consider the possibility.
And he'd felt jealous when he'd walked in on Daniel and Nat, that much was certain.
So was that it? Was he cursed to feel this way about Daniel, with no hope of anything ever happening between them? After all, Jack reminded himself, he'd missed what chance he might have had - it could have been him that Daniel had turned to that night, not some stranger in a bar. Instead of which, he was alone.
Something nagged at the back of Jack's mind, something that Daniel had mentioned, like an itch he couldn't scratch. Something wasn't quite right between Daniel and Nat, that was certain, but Jack was fed up with making himself crazy over the things he'd missed out on. Over Daniel.
Whatever else, he couldn't do this any more.
He'd been glad to see Paul, more glad than he'd expected when he'd heard the major was on his way there from the Pentagon again. After all, he was one of the few military officers Daniel really got along with, there was something about him that Daniel always felt comfortable about.
And maybe there could have been more between them, if it hadn't been for Jack.
The moment he'd realized something was wrong, that Jack and Teal'c were in trouble, Daniel found that he couldn't think about anything else. If he thought back on the events of the past few hours before everything went to hell in a handbasket, Daniel knew that he might not be too happy about his own behaviour. He'd been seriously flirting with Major Davis, there was no other way to describe it, and he'd thought that the other man had responded.
Which had to be a good thing, didn't it? Because if anyone understood just what kind of risks Daniel took on a daily basis, who better than someone assigned to liaise with the SGC from the Pentagon?
And he trusted Paul, more than he trusted most people anyway.
The major was essentially a kind-hearted individual, and he'd tried to reassure Daniel everything would be okay when Daniel had thought he'd never see any of his friends again. Even at the darkest moment, when Jack had been yelling at him to push the button that would blow him, Teal'c, and a submarine full of replicator bugs to kingdom come, Paul had been there for him.
That had to count for something? Didn't it?
Except Daniel wasn't sure that he felt anything more than friendship for Major Davis. Somehow he couldn't imagine feeling the same intensity he felt for Jack, even though Jack was just a friend as well.
Daniel stared out of the window, watching the stars move past. He'd never got used to seeing this first hand - it had always been something he couldn't envisage, travelling through space, at least not until he'd experienced it first hand.
There were lots of things, it seemed, that Daniel couldn't quite envisage. That, despite everything, he couldn't quite wrap his mind round. Like Jack feeling anything more than friendship for him. Even if he wanted him to, which Daniel wasn't completely sure about.
Still, knowing Jack's life was in danger had made him wonder just what it was he wanted and whether he was prepared to risk everything to try and get it.
The problem was, Daniel just wasn't sure, didn't know how to *be* sure, how to prove anything to himself one way or another. That he was over Jack, that his infatuation was a thing of the past, that he could move on and find someone else and who was he kidding?
It wasn't over. It probably wouldn't ever be over. Not anytime soon, not when the memories, false as they were, of Jack's arms around him as Daniel turned from packing his things and said goodbye to the only people alive who mattered to him now, lingered.
He couldn't forget that moment. Even though Daniel knew logically it had never actually happened, the memory was too strong. So strong, in fact, that it had fuelled his fantasies for weeks afterwards, that intimacy turning subtly into something more that involved him and Jack and a good deal less clothing.
Something that wasn't likely to be repeated in real life, at least not in this reality.
It was petty and vindictive.
He knew that, but Jack still couldn't stop himself from acting that way, pushing Teal'c into a fishing trip he clearly didn't want to take, just so he wouldn't have to go alone. Just so he could use his friends solid presence to stop him thinking how much he'd rather be with Daniel.
Not that Daniel wanted to be with him, it seemed.
He was spending more time at the SGC, so it looked to Jack like his theory had been correct. Daniel's relationship with Nat was over. No more competition and he should have been happy about that, if not for the things he'd done to make what he really wanted almost impossible to achieve.
If things had been okay between them, Jack might have expected to be asked to tag along when Daniel left, hitching a ride when Daniel headed off to Chicago, but things hadn't been okay for a while. And they didn't look likely to be okay without some serious repair work going on from both of them.
Daniel had thrown himself into finding out what had happened with his former mentor with all the concentration his work had been lacking for a little while. All the obsessive qualities that made Daniel so damned good at his job were now focussed onto dealing with his former colleagues, of re-establishing his place in the academic pecking order.
Was Daniel tempted to give it all up, walk away from the SGC and go back into academia once more? Jack wondered if Daniel knew himself what he wanted - even if he did, he wasn't talking to anyone.
So Jack had walked, dragging a reluctant Teal'c off to stare at the surface of a lake which hadn't known fish for a couple of years now. But, like he said, it wasn't the fish that were important.
He'd almost pushed Daniel from his mind when the phone rang, the phone Teal'c wasn't even supposed to have brought along. Jack snatched it from the bag, resolutely ignoring Teal'c as he slapped the latest in a long line of mosquitoes and answered it.
It had taken a moment for Jack to control his reaction to Daniel's voice, letting the irritation he felt at being treated like Teal'c's secretary wash over him so he'd forget how much he wished it was Daniel there with him. Not that Teal'c wasn't good company, taciturn as he was, but he didn't yearn for Teal'c's company the way he found himself wishing for Daniel's.
Even when they weren't communicating, it was Daniel Jack wanted to be not communicating with.
He supposed that was pretty dumb, when he came to think about it.
Jack heard Teal'c's thinly-disguised plea for rescue, even if Daniel didn't seem to, and that was enough. He cut Daniel's words off, even as he knew what he was doing was a mistake - still, Daniel was already not talking to him, so how much worse could it get?
By the time they got back to the SGC, Jack had his answer.
Daniel had found back-up, even if Jack had been hiding in the boonies, dragging Carter and Janet off on some wild-Goa'uld chase and making him wonder just what it was he did around the place that Hammond hadn't made them wait for his return.
He wanted so much, the empty echoing void inside himself longing for some kind of contact with the people he cared most about in the world. Sam and Janet, at least, had been willing to go to the other side of the planet with him - if he'd even got around to asking Jack, he wasn't sure Jack would have crossed the road on his behalf.
It was as if they spoke two different languages now, no common ground between them that was worth a damn. No frame of reference to even try and communicate to bridge that difference. Besides, did Jack even want to? Daniel wasn't sure he was ready himself, his experiences with those people he'd considered his friends too fresh in his memory.
That Steven would put academic success before his conscience didn't surprise him, Daniel realized. That Sarah could be so easily led, putting herself into a situation where she could be taken as a Host - that was harder to contemplate. His run of bad luck seemed to be continuing, another victim added to the list of names sacrificed to the Goa'uld.
And Jack had been so damn pig-headed, just about as unsupportive as it was possible for one person to be.
Daniel found he was overwhelmingly angry, angry with Jack, angry with himself for trusting that everything would be fine now. Everything clearly was not fine and didn't look like it would be that way any time in the near future.
If they couldn't even recapture the relationship they had once known, how could Daniel consider staying a part of the SGC? It had been his three team-mates, those people he considered himself close to, who had supported him through the darkest times of his life.
Jack had usually offered beer and sympathy, not the pity that Daniel would have found impossible to stomach.
Teal'c had spent a long time trying to come to terms with the fact that he had been responsible for the death of Sha're, but they'd moved on - it was only when things were desperate that this particular spectre came back to haunt Daniel with any kind of vehemence.
Sam had been a good friend over the time they'd known one another, even as she was dealing with losses of her own, personal things that could have made her curl up inside but which instead made her look to comfort others.
"So, this is where you've been hiding yourself?" Daniel asked, as the door opened.
Jack paused, looking at the man who stood on his doorstep, an unexpected visitor, to say the least.
"Daniel. Come on in."
His mind worked furiously. Why was Daniel here? He didn't look pissed, which had to be a minor miracle considering what Jack had done, the things that he'd belatedly thought over and realized were the behaviour of a complete dumbass.
"How was the fishing trip?" Daniel asked, his tone innocuous enough if Jack hadn't known exactly what he was aiming for.
"Fine. Didn't catch much, Teal'c was bored."
"I got that impression," Daniel said, with a small smile. "He practically begged me to rescue him, right before..."
"Yeah, I know." Jack interrupted, sensing danger on the road ahead if Daniel continued. "About that.."
"You want to explain?" Daniel's voice was colder now and Jack wondered if the temperature in the room had dropped a couple of degrees. "So, tell me, Jack. What was so all-fired important about your fishing trip that you put what I was doing in jeopardy?"
Jack swallowed. Put like that, his actions looked even more petty than he'd thought. Things weren't looking good. Another conversation between him and Daniel was clearly spiralling out of control, taking Jack to places he wasn't sure he ever wanted to be.
"Would a grovelling apology work?" he asked, deciding to go for broke.
"Maybe." Daniel eyed him, his ever-present curiosity clearly starting to get the better of him. "Though I'd still like an explanation."
No escape there, then.
"I think I've been going a little crazy, Daniel." He paused for a moment, considering his options. Absolute honesty had certain things going for it, but it also pushed him to the edge of the cliff where Daniel was concerned and he wasn't sure the ground was all that safe there any more. "Since I found out about you and Nat."
There, he'd said it now. No going back.
Daniel was silent for a moment, just looking at him, his face giving nothing away, till Jack was on the verge of making it all a joke. Back-pedalling for the sake of their friendship would work, wouldn't it?
"If it wasn't for you," Daniel began, finally, after the silence had almost crushed him. "I don't think Nat and I would have ever met."
"What?" Jack asked. "What did I have to do with that?"
"I got tired of waiting for you, Jack," Daniel said. "Simple as that."
"So you ended up in some bar, picking up a complete stranger?" Jack's words were full of fire, fuelled by his concern at what could so easily have happened. "Don't you watch TV, Daniel? You could have ended up as bodyparts buried in someone's cellar!"
Daniel was looking at him as if he was crazy and Jack had started to wonder if he might be right. If he'd thought he was feeling possessive before, that was nothing compared to how he was feeling now.
"You made it pretty clear a while back that the only one you cared about was Sam," Daniel said, his voice calm. "What was I supposed to think?"
"You just don't get it, do you?"
"Then explain it to me, Jack!" Daniel's voice rose. "Because all I'm hearing at the moment is you saying I have no right to a normal life, or at least one that doesn't include you!"
When had this turned into a confrontation between the two of them? That wasn't what he'd wanted, not what he'd planned at all. Had Jack been expecting that, the moment Daniel realized Jack was interested in him, that would be enough? That now he wasn't with Nat, that would be enough?
If that was Jack's gameplan, it was clear that Daniel wasn't in on it, or if he was, he'd decided not to play along.
"I had no idea you weren't straight, the first I knew of that was walking in on you," Jack said. The words were arid, choking him, but he had to speak them, rid himself of them, or he might never speak again. "If I'd known..."
"Like I said, I waited on you till I got tired of waiting any more."
"So that's it, is it?" Jack asked. "I missed my chance, so sad too bad?"
Daniel shook his head.
So that was it then, the final nail in the coffin. He'd turned and walked away from Daniel almost before he knew he was moving - the last thing Jack wanted was to see any pity in Daniel's eyes.
Daniel's voice followed him. Then there was silence, punctuated only by the sound of footsteps and the door closing behind Daniel as he left Jack's house.
He'd wanted to explain it all, tell Jack why he'd realized that what he'd had with Nat would never work, why even the things he could share with Paul weren't enough, but the moment Daniel had actually been face to face with Jack all those good intentions had withered and died.
The truth had come out, finally, between them, and Daniel still wasn't sure quite what had happened.
He'd told Jack that he'd met Nat in a bar, knowing what reaction that would get. As if he wanted to have an effect, more of an effect than the truth would have had - he figured that bumping heads over a book in the gay section of a Denver bookshop wouldn't have had quite the same result. And he'd been right. Jack had been horrified, so much so that Daniel had almost seen the serial killer headlines scrolling through his mind.
And while Jack's concern warmed Daniel, it also irritated him in equal measure. He'd survived well enough without Jack's involvement in his life for most of it, and Jack hadn't seemed all that inclined to be around recently. So why now?
Except that, in so many ways, Daniel found himself vulnerable now, open to Jack's involvement, welcoming it even. Where before he'd been able to rage against him, internally at least, his wounded pride over what had happened between Jack and Sam making him unwilling to tolerate anything, now he was starting to weaken.
Starting to think that he needed Jack more than he'd realized, more than he'd wanted to need anyone. Anyone since Sha're at least and look how he'd stumbled into that situation unawares. This time, at least, Daniel was going into things with his eyes open, with the knowledge of just what he was letting himself in for.
Except this time he wasn't sure Jack was anything other than horrified by what he'd just admitted to. So where did that leave him?
"Okay," Jack said, as the echoes of Daniel's exit faded. "What was that?"
He'd heard of people being left speechless by something they'd discovered, but it had rarely if ever been his experience, despite the things he'd seen and lived through. This time, however, Jack found himself all but lost for words.
What had started out as Daniel looking for an explanation for Jack's behaviour had turned into something more revelatory.
Something that explained more about Daniel than Jack had ever cared to enquire, knowing that if he took the lid off that particular can of worms the action was irreversible. He had to know what he was letting himself in for before he told Daniel everything, admitted the things about himself he wasn't sure Daniel wanted to know.
Except that now he was more confused than ever.
Jack hadn't expected Daniel to fall into his arms the moment he realized how Jack felt about him, but he also hadn't expected to start world war three by raising the possibility that there might be more between them in the future than just friendship.
Would the shadow of him and Carter ever be removed from his relationships with the rest of his team? Would Daniel in particular choose to hold that against him forever, that error of judgment clouding any possible future they could have had together?
That seemed likely at the moment, the pain of his relationship with Nat, the betrayal of those he'd once considered friends still fresh in Daniel's mind as well.
Jack knew now that Daniel had never intended to go back to academia; the mysteries of the unknown, those things that still lay undiscovered the other side of the 'Gate was too strong a pull. That alone, even when Jack had casually whittled away at any other reason to stay, kept Daniel tied to the SGC more surely than any promises of affection could.
But he'd been kidding himself if he thought Daniel would walk straight from the ruins of his relationship with Nat into one with someone else, regardless of the shared history they might have.
Despite how much Jack wanted that to happen, when he seriously thought about it he knew it for the fantasy it was. Even if Daniel wasn't as angry with him as he clearly was, even if the past could be put behind them when they needed to, it wouldn't be easy.
But no-one ever said Jack O'Neill wasn't determined...
The way Jack was hovering around him made Daniel more than a little uneasy.
He'd expected Jack to be distant since their confrontation, he'd expected him to pull back the way he had so many times in recent memory, allowing space between himself and Daniel because of the harsh words they'd exchanged. Instead, Jack had been more solicitous of him than he had been in quite a while, bringing Daniel coffee and chocolate without being asked, an unspoken apology in food form.
Daniel had appreciated that, even if it made him feel a little uncertain and more than a little guilty.
After all, it wasn't as if the argument had been one-sided - he'd been more than a little responsible for the crisis that his relationship with Jack had reached. What with the meltdown of things with Nat, it looked like Daniel's inter-personal track record was well and truly established.
So where did they go from here?
He wanted Jack. The more time Daniel spent with Jack, the more their old friendship seemed to be attainable once more, the more he found his former desire for Jack growing again. It was as though it had been in hibernation, not dead just sleeping, waiting for the right moment to awake once more.
Pushing aside the way that mental image made him think of Goa'uld sarcophagi, Daniel decided he liked the idea.
Now he just had to figure out how to make it work between the two of them - work out how to get Jack to see that he wanted it too, that his relationship with Nat was well and truly over. That jealousy was unnecessary now, because the reality of a relationship was there for the taking, if only Jack would stretch out his hand.
He couldn't stop himself.
Even though he knew the two Carters were watching him from the elevator, Jack's instincts had kicked in, making him complain like hell even as he'd been picking up Daniel's other bag. What was Daniel packing in there? Rocks?
Then, when they'd finally made it to Jacob's cargo ship, he'd had to endure long hours of waiting as they travelled to the Tobin system.
There was nothing new about that, but this time Jack had to make himself not watch Daniel, even covertly. He had to keep his mind on the job, try not to think about Daniel, wonder whether they'd manage to pull off this mission safely, or even what Teal'c might be up to back on Chulak right about now.
Of course, the more Jack tried not to think about those things, the more they circled in his head like a flock of birds.
He'd been reluctant to let Teal'c go; Jack had a bad feeling about this. But Teal'c had been adamant, the few words he'd used to justify this return to his home planet full of the determination his silent demeanour rarely hid. An argument would have been futile.
That didn't mean Jack had to like it.
By the time they reached the minefield he was more than glad for the diversion that action would give, even if the likelihood of them being blasted into a million tiny pieces added a little something to the experience.
Jack hadn't said anything but it didn't take a genius to figure out that he was worried about Teal'c. They should have heard from him before they left Earth, but the only communication had been from the Tok'ra - the message that had sent them on this mission.
In some ways, Daniel was starting to wish they'd left Jack behind. Worrying about what he was worrying about was playing havoc with Daniel's concentration, making him second guess himself more than he might like. He was sure that he'd almost given the others a heart attack when Sam was contemplating opening the access panel on the mine itself.
He had to concentrate. He had to be right about this, their lives depended on it. No use wondering what Jack was planning if none of them were going to be alive long enough to find out.
Daniel took a couple of deep breaths, forcing himself to focus on the words that covered the pages of the books he was studying.
Damn Jack anyway. Why did he have to make life so complicated? Why couldn't they both argue, both get angry and then act like none of it mattered anyway? Why couldn't Jack keep the same distance he'd been so comfortable with for so long now?
Somehow, they'd survived, rescued Teal'c, and the next thing they knew Hammond was walking away because of a firefight gone almost wrong.
There was something about that which didn't ring true and Jack was determined to find out what. He could smell a rat as well as the next guy, suspicious nature and all.
So, he wasn't at all surprised to discover strings being pulled from high places, Hammond being put under pressure to move on, a more 'easily persuaded' general ready to take his place before the big comfy chair in Hammond's office had cooled down. It wasn't right and there was no way on this planet or any other that Jack was going to stand for it.
Not when standing for change meant losing his team, Daniel getting tied to a desk, Teal'c assigned to work with the Marines and Carter off to be a good little scientist. As if he'd wasted all the time he'd taken getting his team just the way he liked them and could now start again from scratch. Yeah, sure.
Of course, the new general didn't take too kindly to the idea of Jack speaking his mind on the subject, as he'd somehow expected would be the case. Had ended up, in fact, practically threatening Jack with dismissal or a desk jockey job himself if he carried on pushing. That was enough to confirm his suspicions, even if he hadn't been able to get Hammond to talk.
Just the thought that this could be the end of SG-1 was enough to make Jack determined to do whatever he had to, make whatever alliances he needed to, in order to safeguard something he considered important. Even if it meant working with Harry Maybourne, of all people.
He didn't have to like it, he just had to get on and do it.
Get out there and dig up the dirt he needed to, trying not to think about how pissed Daniel would be at the idea of being cooped up in the SGC when he was now so used to 'Gate travel. At all the missed opportunities out there, even though his primary incentive for walking up that ramp was now buried under the sands of Abydos.
So, he wasn't just doing this for himself, saving himself the trouble of breaking in a whole new team. It was for the team, that was the thing to remember when he wanted to turn the gun on Maybourne and save the taxpayer the cost of execution.
It was just plain ridiculous, but there it was. The more Daniel thought about it, even if saying it out loud would make him laugh till he cried, the more he knew there was an element of truth to it.
He was jealous of Maybourne.
Because Maybourne was out there with Jack, doing what needed to be done while he was stuck here, facing a future as the SGC's pet archaeologist if the new general had anything to say about it. And there wasn't a great deal, if anything, he could do to change that. This feeling of helplessness was one Daniel wasn't used to and it just didn't sit well with him.
Daniel found himself fidgetting, restless, wanting to know just what was going on and waiting for the phone to ring again. Not that he expected Jack to keep checking in, like he thought he had to keep tabs on Daniel to stop him going off the deep end. At least, he hoped that wasn't what Jack was thinking.
And meanwhile, Sam was being pushed to be the good little scientist, treasuring progress over all else. There was something wrong about what she was being asked to do, something that didn't quite fit, but Daniel couldn't put his finger on it. Though thinking about that, at least, got his mind off Jack.
Because the more he thought about Jack O'Neill, the more Daniel wondered if he understood him at all. If he'd been kidding himself all along and Jack was far more complex than he first appeared.
He'd seemed relatively unfazed by the idea of Daniel being interested in men, taken that in his stride like it was something he thought about regularly. But Daniel had seen no sign that Jack was made that way. Not that the USAF was an ideal place to exercise your right to be different.
Still, he should know by now if Jack was interested in him like that. Shouldn't he?
He'd known the guy for years and now Daniel was starting to wonder if he'd missed some important clue along the way, drawn his own conclusions based on the evidence he had but overlooked something that would have pushed his theory in a whole different direction.
They'd argued, the last time they were alone together away from work, and Daniel wondered in hindsight just why Jack had become so angry so quickly. Sure, he often yelled, but it hadn't taken very much acquaintance for Daniel to realize that Jack yelling and Jack being truly angry about something weren't necessarily the same thing.
Jack had hated the idea of Daniel being with Nat, even though he'd tried to cover it with a thin veneer of tolerance. He'd heard it said there was a thin line between love and hate - that was a pack of bullshit if ever he heard one. All the strong emotions were tied together, entwining round one another, till you couldn't separate them out without destroying the whole thing.
Jack had been angry about Nat for lots of reasons. And Daniel was just starting to piece together what those reasons were.
That was his job, wasn't it? Pieceing together the past based on fragments of evidence; as much as digging up ruined civilizations, as much as Indiana Jones, it was about pottery fragments and human detritus. More so. Daniel had always been good at that, good at seeing the bigger picture.
So why had he been so lousy at seeing the bigger picture where Jack was concerned? It had to be because he'd already told himself what to see, had pushed the things he learned till they fitted that theory, like pushing ill-fitting pieces into a jigsaw puzzle, bending the card till it fit whether it wanted to or not.
That was no way to live.
He couldn't say how he knew, but he knew there was something wrong. Something in Daniel's eloquent silence that told him there was more to the story than Daniel had told anyone. That he wasn't ready to let anyone in, to share the things he'd experienced. Not yet.
It had taken quite a while to get all the details last time round, back when they had a friendship that was unquestioned, back before Jack's best efforts had de-railed it, one way or another. Back before Anise and her damn machine, Maybourne and his interfering ways. Those had been simpler days and Jack wished he'd made the most of them then, though he knew now he hadn't been ready to do so.
But Jack was ready now. Ready to take the slightest opportunity to prove himself invaluable, to prove himself as essential to Daniel as oxygen and coffee. No way would he miss out this time.
So, he bided his time, took his lead from Daniel though the thought of it chafed at him.
He could see the misery in Daniel's eyes, as palpable as if it hung in the air between them like smoke. But as much as Jack longed to take that look away, replace it with any other emotion, he knew that he was crossing thin ice with Daniel. One false step and it would crack beneath him, throwing him into a world of cold and darkness and that would be the end of it all.
He'd come so close a hundred times, hearing the ice creak underfoot before it gave way, stepping sharply sideways to avoid the danger. Diplomatic, cautious, those had never been words Jack would have applied to himself before. But this time he had the sense that the price would be too high, his own damnation secured if he messed this up.
He knew that Daniel was watching him, intelligent eyes bright with life and pain as they sat across from each other at the briefing table, in the messhall. It took an effort for Jack to bite back the words, but he felt it was an effort well spent.
Timing was everything.
How could he begin to explain it all?
Even in his imagination, it seemed, Daniel had thrown himself into his endeavours wholeheartedly, leaving nothing to chance. Even when it came to taking over the planet, he was as dedicated as ever.
Would Jack make a joke of it? He couldn't be sure any more. Once, Daniel would have said he knew what Jack would say, could anticipate the words before they were spoken, but that time had passed. That time when he'd thought he knew which way was up, how the world turned. All gone in the flash of a moment's revelation, an expression of overwhelming concern for someone other than himself.
So now Daniel was left floundering, trying to put together a picture of reality with what felt like half the pieces missing.
It had seemed so real, so much more than what he had experienced with Sha're, the edges of reality and imagination clear and crisp, not blurred and surreal like before. And that hadn't been the most unsettling thing of all. The last time round, Daniel had walked away from everything he knew, and it had felt like losing a piece of himself.
This time he had gone further. He had killed one of his friends, imprisoned another, and who knew what he had planned to do with Jack?
There seemed no way to tell it all, despite the worried looks Jack gave him, fear and concern warring for precedence in his eyes. Jack might think he was being discreet, but his expression gave him away to anyone who cared to look.
Daniel found himself turning inward, seeking his own counsel as he tried to make sense of what had happened, the creature he had become. He had turned into something worse than the Goa'uld, who at least could blame their deeds on centuries of unswerving obedience from those they enslaved. That kind of devotion, regardless of its root, had the potential to warp even the most altruistic. And then there was the undeniable effects of the sarcophagus, effects he knew all too well himself to doubt their power.
He had surpassed the Goa'uld in so many ways, systematically destroying all he held dear and telling himself he did it for the good of the planet. That was true, in some ways - Daniel had planned to rule it all, so he needed the planet intact.
And Jack had seen through it, seen that something was wrong even when he hadn't wanted to believe it of Daniel, even though Sam had urged him to act. He'd needed to see it with his own eyes before he'd acted, even though he'd come prepared.
Jack had loved him enough to try and stop him from becoming the monster that he knew Daniel would hate to be. From becoming like Apophis, with all that entailed, all the darkness inside that would consume him whole. Somehow, that was a comforting thought, in amidst the chaos that was Daniel's subconscious.
And out in the real world, things went on as usual.
His team-mates were quiet, consoling him without words, attentive without being smothering. Daniel had to think they'd learned how to deal with him by now, how to support him through the dark times without making him run and hide. God knows they'd had enough practice over the years.
They watched the things they said to him in the aftermath, Jack especially.
Sam was always kind; it wasn't in her nature to be anything else unless she got the scientist bit between her teeth. And even then, Daniel couldn't find it in his heart to be angry with her. She'd been fascinated by the reality he'd lived through, her questions about it a clear indication that her scientific interest had overruled Sam asking just why it was Daniel had felt her so dangerous.
As for Teal'c, he had said little, as was his way. Daniel was left feeling like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop, secure in the knowledge that when Teal'c spoke it would be worth listening to, as it always was. But it might not be anything he'd want to hear.
Even after it happened, Jack couldn't quite believe what he'd seen. Sure, he'd seen the wormhole take someone out before, back on Hadante, but this was deliberate, Barber placing himself in its path, and that made the difference. That and the fact he'd known the guy.
And now he was waiting for Daniel.
Jack stood at the bottom of the ramp, watching the event horizon as the various members of SG-5 emerged. There was no easy way of doing this, no set turn of phrase that could let Daniel know just what had happened and how it had affected all of them. How the sight of Barber running to his death had affected everyone who'd seen it, whether they wanted to admit it or not.
And then there, suddenly, was Daniel, bright eyed and gesticulating like a champion fisherman.
It took some effort for Jack to break the flow of words, to make Daniel understand that he wasn't there on some social call, or because he'd missed Daniel, but because something had happened. Something bad. Something that Daniel needed to shut the hell up and listen to him about.
It took a moment for the words to sink in, a long moment. And even then Jack wasn't sure Daniel really comprehended what he'd said.
He could feel his patience evaporating - every passing minute made it drain away until he was reduced to crossing and recrossing from one bookcase to another in search of the elusive piece of information that would make everything make sense again.
Daniel could feel Teal'c watching him as well, even though every time he looked towards where Teal'c sat, the Jaffa was supposedly engrossed. He was meant to be concentrating on watching the film SG-5 had shot of the palace, looking for clues about its purpose and origin. Not watching a hyped-up archaeologist, even covertly.
Daniel recognised this feeling, small tendrils of concern wrapping round himself even as he thought about it.
Jack provided a welcome interruption, let Daniel pretend he wasn't losing control completely and gave him someone to scowl at. Someone who'd react more than Teal'c. He was getting nowhere fast with this device and he knew it, the failure implicit in that knowledge burning at him.
He had to do something, push Hammond to get back to the planet. Whatever happened there, Daniel knew he couldn't bear to wait.
No sign of Daniel at the SGC, no word from him to explain his absence. Carter on the phone to his apartment - she thought he'd answered but now she couldn't get through to his number at all. And after he'd been so keen to go back to the planet. Something didn't feel right. Jack felt something circle inside him, like a snake coiling in the pit of his stomach. Surely not.
He couldn't be that unlucky twice in a row. Could he?
Jack grabbed at the opportunity Hammond gave him, heading off to find out just what was going on, just like the last time. Except, somehow, he knew that he wasn't going to find Daniel in bed with someone else. Lightning didn't strike twice in the same place, or at least he hoped that wasn't the case.
Jack wasn't sure he could live with that.
This time, though, Daniel's apartment door was open, standing slightly ajar.
Jack hesitated, pushed it. The apartment was silent, like last time. In a couple of strides, he crossed to the telephone, which lay with the receiver off the hook. Daniel's glasses lay next to it. Jack pushed the receiver with his finger, his eyes cutting round the familiar room looking for evidence of where Daniel was.
Not far away, that much was certain - the boiling kettle gave evidence of that. So where was he?
Something caught Jack's attention, though he couldn't say what.
The door to the balcony Daniel loved so much was standing open. It took a moment, one that felt like the longest of Jack's life, before he was able to move. When he reached the doorway, he was almost glad he hadn't rushed.
Well, at least he knew where Daniel was now.
Afterwards, Daniel wasn't sure he could explain what had happened, how he had come to be standing just seconds from oblivion. It was as if time had stopped for a moment, then been forwarded on, taking him somewhere he couldn't remember arriving.
Jack had looked at him like he was the one suffering, when Daniel had turned to him, sudden awareness flooding back.
He'd come so close.
At least Jack hadn't commented on anything that had happened, and for that diplomacy Daniel decided he would be eternally grateful. When Janet had asked, like Daniel had known she would, Jack had shrugged his way through their conversation, frustrating the usually inquisitive doctor enough that she had eventually given up trying. Instead she had turned to Daniel, who himself had probably been taciturn enough for the two of them.
He didn't remember much about it, didn't want to.
Delving back into the emotions that had brought him to that point, even if they were truly not a part of himself as the others suspected, was something Daniel was more than reluctant to do. Like turning over a stone, exposing all the things that shouldn't be seen to the harsh light of day.
As he tried to get comfortable in the infirmary bed, Daniel wondered if he should tell Janet he'd rather see any shrink bar McKenzie. If that request would do any good.
Oblivion had beckoned him, taken him by the hand and led him onwards, and Daniel had followed its lead without a second thought. Just the thought of it was enough to make him shiver a little.
If it hadn't been for Jack..
He was getting too old for this.
Jack signed the next requisition form and tried not to think at all. About anything. Particularly about the fact that the man he now knew he wanted desperately had been seconds away from making himself into pavement pizza.
If he'd been a minute later, if he'd stopped to look in the bedroom first...
Jack signed another form, barely noting what he was giving permission for. All he could hope was that the scientists who'd filled it in weren't asking for anything outrageous, since he had no idea at all what he was agreeing to.
That had been a joke between him and Daniel from way back.
Ever since Daniel discovered Jack was effectively the man who could get him whatever he wanted, the man who signed the requisitions for his section at least, they'd always joked about furnishing Daniel's apartment that way. And occasionally, just to keep him on his toes, Daniel would slip some item in there, something outlandish that Jack would rag him about.
If he noticed it.
And if he didn't, Daniel would bring it to his attention. Hell, one of the forms, the one he'd signed agreeing to let Daniel have an item of pottery shipped in order for it to be appraised by one Dr. Abbott and his colleague Dr. Costello, currently held pride of place in a frame on Jack's office wall.
Proof positive, if he ever needed reminding, that there was nothing on the planet sneakier than an archaeologist with way too many doctorates if he put his mind to it. Except maybe an ex-covert ops colonel with dodgy knees and a few too many years on the clock.
Jack put down his pen. This wasn't achieving anything. He wasn't where he needed to be, doing something. Doing anything. Even sitting by Daniel's bedside till Janet got too annoyed with him being there would be better than this.
Maybe if he sat there long enough, he could find the words.
The world was grey and featureless, the past full of pain and the future devoid of hope. Those were the only certainties in Daniel's life, the only reality the cold metal of the balcony rail in his hands, the cold concrete on which he stood.
He was one step from oblivion.
So what stopped him? Why hadn't Daniel been able to walk away from everything, to cast himself into the darkness that beckoned?
Daniel felt his grip on reality begin to loosen. He was back on the balcony once more, staring out towards the city; the view that had once fascinated him now made him feel trapped.
Nothing mattered any more, he couldn't get it back.
And this time there was no Jack there to reach him before he fell.
Jack could kid himself it was the exertion. Carrying Daniel up the ramp and through the 'Gate wasn't beyond him, despite the knees and the fact that Daniel himself was no lightweight. Better to convince himself that the reason he shook as he searched for Daniel's pulse was the adrenaline running through his system, not the fear of a future alone, a future without Daniel.
That way Jack could think about keeping Daniel alive to see if there was a future for the two of them.
Come on, he thought furiously as he worked on Daniel. Don't do this to me.
Don't leave me, that was what he meant, really. If he hadn't been concentrating on breathing for Daniel, Jack might have even said it out loud.
Where the hell was the kid?
"Where are my friends?" Were they still in there? Had they been there all the time, still looking at that damn light while Daniel was fighting for his life? "Get them for me, will you?"
"They won't come." The kid just stood there, his voice thick with misery.
No time to look, no time to yell, just concentrate on breathing.
Come on, Daniel!
There. One choked breath from Daniel as he started breathing on his own at last. Jack rocked back on his heels, his eyes still fixed on Daniel's face, his hand resting lightly on Daniel's chest so he could feel each breath as well as hear it.
It was a sign, it had to be.
He'd been in the right place at the right time to pull Daniel off that god damned balcony and now Jack had been right about bringing him back to the planet. His gamble had paid off.
Even now the colour was starting to come back into Daniel's face, his breathing was already less rasping than before, his eyelids fluttering as if he was trying to wake.
"Take it easy," Jack said, more to himself than Daniel.
Daniel looked as though he was asleep. He had a peaceful expression on his face, as if Jack was watching over him on a mission like any other, not like minutes before when he'd been hooked up to half the gadgets in the infirmary.
When Jack himself had started to lose it, a bad combination of addiction and anger pushing him over the edge. It was get back here or five-point restraints, he could see that look in Janet's eye.
No choice, really.
Jack was hovering over him when he opened his eyes, the worried look on his face evaporating like the morning mist.
Daniel tried to form the words but just coughed instead, accepting Jack's help to sit up a little and take some water before trying again.
"Back on the planet." Jack made an expansive gesture, taking in the ornate pillars covered in inscriptions that had fascinated Daniel so on his first trip there. "You were.. you almost died."
"I don't remember," Daniel said, letting Jack help him sit up completely. He rested his forearms on his knees and took a few shaky breaths as the room spun around him.
"Not surprised. You were pretty out of it." Jack paused. "What do you remember?"
Daniel thought for a moment.
"My apartment. I was on the balcony and you were there." He looked at Jack, considering. "That happened?"
Jack nodded. "Took five years off my life, seeing you out there. Ten, maybe."
"Sorry." Jack shrugged. "Really. I don't know what happened."
"That damn light. Loran says that Carter and Teal'c are in there still. If you're feeling okay, I need to go get them."
"Sure." Daniel was suddenly conscious of needing to be alone. Jack had a phrase for it - getting all his ducks in a row. That was what he needed now, not Jack hovering over him as if he'd fly apart if he so much as sneezed too strongly. "Go see what's happening with them."
"If you're sure?" Jack looked worried still, but he'd tucked the extreme concern away now, the 'you almost died, Daniel' look no longer present.
By the time he'd dragged Carter and Teal'c out of the light room, Daniel was sitting on the steps by the 'Gate, his head resting on his crossed arms again. He looked miserable, like he'd been wrung out and hung up to dry.
It was instinct alone that made Jack sit next to him, keeping his distance in case Daniel felt uncomfortable about it, but close enough that he had to know he wasn't alone.
Carter was asking what had happened and Jack tried to explain the best he could, even though he could see from her expression that she didn't believe him. It took Loran piping up in agreement before her face darkened a little with the realization that he was right - the two of them had been stuck in the light room for hours.
At least she looked concerned for Daniel now, Jack reminded himself. It wasn't their fault they got addicted, any more than it had ultimately been Daniel's fault with the sarcophagus way back when the team still seemed new.
He couldn't help glancing across at Daniel where he still sat, silent. What was going through his head? Were the suicidal thoughts still something he needed to be worried about or had that begun to subside once they'd returned to the planet itself? Jack wasn't sure he liked the idea of leaving Daniel again, now Carter and Teal'c were out of there, but they needed to turn the damn device *off*.
This feelings thing had a lot to answer for. It messed with his head, making Jack second-guess his own decisions, doubt himself in a way he hadn't done for so long it was barely a distant memory. He didn't want to leave Daniel alone, but could hardly drag him from where he sat to help them try and figure where the 'off' switch was - the guy looked like a strong wind would blow him away.
He'd managed to pull himself together, get in touch with the SGC and apologize to Hammond - the last thing Daniel remembered with any degree of clarity was shouting at the general. After that, it was hard to determine between reality and dream, and Daniel wasn't really sure he wanted to think about that too much.
Hammond had been understanding, anyway, and had promised them supplies while they tried to figure out what was going on. And, more importantly, how to fix it so they weren't stuck on the planet for the rest of their lives.
Loran had appeared from wherever he'd been, saying very little, and when the supplies had arrived a short time afterwards, Daniel had concentrated on trying to decipher the inscriptions that seemed to cover every spare inch of wall space. He hadn't given much thought to the fact that the others had headed off to try and shut the device down, at least not until his stomach began to complain.
He'd become so used to regular meals again, to Jack or one of the others dragging him off to the messhall, that it was second nature to wonder where they were. When he realized, Daniel dropped the pad he'd been scribbling on, snatched up the alien device and headed for the light room.
They were there, of course. If he'd thought about it, before he'd become engrossed in what he was doing, Daniel would have known that was where they would be. Where the three of them had to be, trying to turn off the device before it could do any further damage.
He was as surprised as they were that the device worked. It had been worth a try, but when it actually switched the light off, as neatly as if the power had been cut, Daniel was equally amazed. The others moved suddenly, as if released from a magic spell, then turned to where he stood in the doorway.
How long had the three of them been in there? Jack frowned, wondering just what Daniel had been up to in order to forget the rest of them were there - engrossed in something or other, no doubt.
All in all, Daniel seemed to be taking this all very calmly. Considering how close he had come to not being around to react to anything at all.
That wasn't a conversation Jack was looking forward to having. And he knew it was unavoidable, the moment Daniel started to wonder just what he didn't remember, he'd be asking for information to fill those gaps, whether he liked what he discovered or not.
That was a part of who Daniel was, that relentless curiosity, and Jack couldn't find it in himself to think it was a bad thing.
He found himself spending more and more time with Loran, drawing on some element of his own experience of being an orphan, perhaps? Certainly Loran was well-adjusted, considering he'd been on his own for a number of years before they had arrived.
Loran was currently showing him a picture of his parents, talking about them as if they'd still just walked out of the palace a little while ago and could return imminently. Daniel knew that feeling, knew that for the comfort it had been, that denial of reality when reality gets too hard to bear.
Except now Loran wasn't alone. And it was starting to look like he would never be alone again. If they couldn't figure out a way to counteract the effects of whatever Goa'uld device it was they were addicted to, Loran would have permanent guests.
Loran had said he didn't want that, but Daniel wasn't convinced. What could be better for someone who'd been alone for years to suddenly not be?
He'd felt fine, anyway, all the time since the others left on their reconnaissance mission, so that was positive. Maybe the effects were wearing off and they'd be free to go home? He had to think positive, focus on that rather than all the half-glimpsed memories that would otherwise drive him crazy. It had been bad enough for Daniel that he'd had to eat humble pie where Hammond was concerned, all he needed was to discover there were other people just waiting on an apology.
A noise made him look up again, to discover Jack and the others had returned. There was an odd expression on Jack's face, like he was going to be sick or had smelled something bad. Then, just as soon as it had appeared, it was gone.
What they said, the symptoms Jack reported made Daniel realize it was more serious than he'd feared. Trapped, not just on this planet, but tied to this palace.
"So, not only are we stuck here. We're stuck here."
Saying the words made it real, the thought of being trapped so far from home made Daniel wonder just what it was he would miss. After all, the SGC was quite capable of keeping them supplied, but it was less tangible things like that. Like the ability to get away from the people currently looking at him like he'd shouted in church, to create a degree of aloneness that would protect him from whatever it was that Jack wanted.
He didn't need to be forced into a situation where there was nowhere to run. Nowhere Daniel could go where Jack couldn't find him, because his need for the palace and whatever it held would draw him back every time.
A strange expression crossed Jack's face and was gone so quickly that Daniel almost thought he'd imagined it - a mixture of fear and hope and concern, all disappearing in the flicker of an eye.
So, he wasn't the only one.
They'd found Loran's parents, or what was left of them, and still Loran wouldn't accept that they were gone. Jack knew that feeling, knew the comfort of denial, but he also knew it wouldn't last. Knew it was a feeling that ebbed away eventually, replaced by acceptance if you didn't want to go crazy. And there was no room for that here.
They were trapped, tied to this place with an invisible cord, one that they couldn't seem to cut no matter how much any of them wanted it. He'd never felt so helpless, not even when he was being held prisoner - at least then there was the hope of escape, the chance of rescue.
Here, instead, the future stretched out endlessly before him, days and nights all the same. Daniel and Carter could study, still work on stuff the SGC sent them, but what was there for him to do? Jack knew that his usefulness to the SGC lay in the things he'd done, the missions he'd survived, and that kind of experience couldn't be transmitted as easily as equations and translations.
At least Teal'c was going to go home. He didn't seem to be affected and Jack was absurdly glad about this. He hadn't helped free the Jaffa from service to a false god in order to trap him here light years from the people he had vowed to liberate.
That helplessness, that feeling of uselessness had to find some outlet though, and Jack had found himself lashing out at Loran, though he hated himself for it even as the words left his mouth.
Even if a small part of him liked the idea of being stuck there with Daniel, the rest of him rebelled at not getting any kind of choice over this. And Daniel didn't look impressed with the idea either.
He'd watched Loran run off, then the guilt over the things he'd said had really hit home. Jack left the others to tinker with the alien device while he went to try and make peace.
By the time he returned, Jack discovered that the others had made progress, that the device could be turned down gradually. That their life sentence was suddenly reduced to three weeks, which didn't seem so long in the great scheme of things. He could count the days, even choose to keep away from Daniel as much as possible if he wanted to, that would work.
Except that Jack found himself watching Daniel, trying to see what his reaction was to the idea of enforced vacation. Still unimpressed, a little panicked maybe.
All Jack's resolutions were forgotten when he saw that look. He didn't want to avoid Daniel, didn't want to make things easier for either of them. Instead, Jack began to wonder if this wasn't just the perfect opportunity to find out a few home truths, to discover whether there could be something more between them than friendship.
Whether he had missed the boat where Daniel was concerned, or whether there was still time to jump aboard after all.
Daniel sipped at his coffee and tried to think of an innocuous subject for conversation. He hadn't been alone with Jack since, though he didn't remember any of it himself, Jack had carried him back here through the 'Gate.
"Three weeks in a palace by the beach. That's a good excuse..." Daniel heard his words trail to a halt as he took in way Jack winced slightly. "What?"
"That's just what Carter said."
"Oh." Daniel paused. "Well, it is. I don't mean that in a bad way, but you must be exhausted too, Jack. We all are."
Jack eyed him for a moment and Daniel felt himself shift uncertainly under that scrutiny. Conversations between the two of them were such a minefield in so many ways now. All the things they'd shared in the past, combined with the things Jack knew about him that no-one else did, made Daniel feel more vulnerable than he liked. Open to the possibility of Jack catching him unawares, off guard, on the back foot.
He didn't like that at all.
"I guess." The words were reluctant but hung heavy between them.
Daniel shrugged, took another mouthful of coffee and savoured it.
There were things he wanted to know from Jack, things that didn't fit easily into a casual conversation, but if he didn't ask them how would he ever find the chance again?
"I..." Did he really want to know? "Tell me what happened." There, it was out now, the words spoken, he couldn't take them back. Jack said nothing, looked at the floor as if searching for clues there. "Please."
Jack didn't look up. Daniel was absurdly glad. He wasn't sure he could just sit there, just listen to the stupid things he knew he had to have done if Jack's reluctance to talk was anything to go by, and look him in the eye as he did so.
"What do you remember?"
"Coming back from the planet. You telling me Barber was dead, the briefing with Hammond." The thoughts ran through his mind, the memories gathering pace like a runaway train. "Studying the Goa'uld device while Teal'c worked on the computer. You.."
Jack was looking at him now, eyes unreadable. Daniel felt his face heat, embarrassment sweeping over him with the memory.
"You made some comment about the device and I snapped at you. And then I went to Hammond, made a fool of myself and insulted him."
"You always were an over-achiever, Daniel," Jack said, with a small smile.
Daniel was struggling with the idea that there was anything left to smile about. He'd always respected Hammond a great deal, admired him for his commitment to the SGC and the men and women that worked there. So it had been inconceivable that he should act that way towards the general, of all people.
As for Jack, he was slightly more used to getting the sharp edge of Daniel's tongue. Not that this excused the way Daniel had behaved, but at least he didn't feel quite so mortified at the concept of behaving badly towards him.
"And that's really all I remember clearly. Something about my apartment, the balcony. You were there.." Again, Daniel almost added, then squashed that thought as soon as he could.
"Yep. Again." Jack's eyes were still unreadable, dark and mysterious. "We keep making a habit of that, don't we, Daniel? Me turning up at your place and walking in on things."
This time it was Daniel who looked away. He got up and walked over to the coffee pot, refilled his mug with more care than he needed, anything to delay the inevitable. When he turned back, Jack was still watching him and made no pretense of doing anything else.
"I guess we've got lots of time to talk, don't we?" Daniel asked, blowing across the surface of his cup.
He could focus on the steam that rose from the liquid, not look at Jack and chance the possibility of seeing things that could change everything forever. One way or another. Jack said nothing. Daniel could almost feel the weight of his gaze.
The three weeks stretched out in front of Daniel like an eternity.
Jack told himself that he'd made a mistake. Pushed Daniel too hard, too fast. Well out of his comfort zone before he'd fully recovered from his time in the infirmary. That was the explanation he was sticking to, rather than the alternative - the alternative being that Daniel just didn't want to talk to him any more.
He couldn't believe that, didn't want to live with that.
Over the next couple of days, Jack found himself making excuses to be with Daniel, as if he didn't want to let him out of his sight. Usually he'd bring Loran along too, use the excuse of Daniel's extensive cultural knowledge to justify the time they were spending together.
He wasn't sure that Carter was convinced - Jack had seen the way she looked at him sometimes and wondered just what she was thinking. He was too far gone to care about that.
And he could use Loran in other ways too - the boy was obviously infatuated with Carter and Jack used that at every opportunity he was given. The slightest suggestion that Loran might accompany Carter to the beach, or help her organize the supplies, and Loran jumped to it. Carter was too soft-hearted to turn him away, Jack knew that.
In fact, he was counting on it.
He looked up from the book he was reading, squinting slightly at the figure silhouetted against the doorway even though he knew from the voice that it was Jack.
"Time we finished that conversation."
Daniel looked round where he sat. He knew he had a bookmark somewhere and he hated turning over the corners of books if he could avoid it. Besides, it delayed the inevitable, if only for a matter of moments.
"Is it that bad?"
Jack was sitting on one of the other boxes now, across from the nest of spare sleeping bags that Daniel had made for himself. He hadn't thought of anything than the shipment of books Hammond had just sent for the last few hours, losing himself in the intricacies of a well- turned phrase. Escaping from this almost-imprisonment any way he could.
"You never seemed to have a problem with talking before, Daniel. You might not say much when you do, but you've never been short of words."
Daniel considered that statement, mentally holding it up against himself.
"Some things are more difficult to talk about than others," he conceded. "Where's Loran?" The last thing they needed, if the conversation he'd been thinking about the most was on its way, was an interruption from their enthusiastic new friend.
"Helping Carter," Jack said, with a smile.
Daniel found himself smiling despite himself. Jack's expression was infectious. He wasn't sure when he'd last smiled - last time he'd been here? Before he knew Barber was dead, well before he'd almost joined him. He couldn't remember.
He wasn't going to start, wasn't going to be the one to lay it all out for inspection. Jack could do that, if he wanted - Daniel would see how the land lay and then decide.
"The other day," Jack began. "I said something about walking in on you..." Daniel nodded, trying for encouraging. He wasn't sure he managed anything other than hesitant and embarrassed. "About making a habit out of it."
Jack was swinging his feet now, his boots striking lightly every so often against the side of the box he was sitting on. Daniel found himself almost mesmerised by the movement, but also annoyed by the echoing sound that accompanied it, even though he knew Jack fidgetting that way was likely to be a result of him feeling uncomfortable.
And for that reason, aggravating as it was, Daniel could ignore it. For now.
"What do you want me to say?" he asked, thought it felt a little like a delaying tactic. "I'm not ashamed of of what Nat and I had together."
There, cards on the table. Deal with it or walk, Jack, those are the only two options.
"I wasn't asking you to be," Jack said. "It's about possibilities."
"Possibilities?" Daniel echoed, wondering just where this conversation was going. Clearly it wasn't going to be quite what he'd thought.
"You. Me." Jack paused, looking at him for a moment. "You and me."
"I didn't think you..." Daniel was the one hesitating now, as he searched for the right phrase. Direct seemed to be the way to go. "That's not how you are. Is it?"
"I started thinking.."
"You were jealous," Daniel said, interrupting. If he sounded accusatory, Daniel wasn't sure he cared.
"Can't deny that," Jack said, his eyes moving from Daniel for the first time. As if they were moving out of a comfortable depth and into deeper water, so he needed to concentrate. "I was. At first."
"Okay..." Daniel thought back on what Jack had just said. "So what happened? You said you were thinking?"
"I checked up on Nat."
The words were hurried, running together and Daniel had to run them through his mind a couple of times before he was sure he'd heard correctly. Even when he'd figured out what Jack had said, he could almost think he'd misheard, except it was just the kind of thing he would expect Jack to do for any of his team, given half a chance. And that thought warmed him, sending tendrils of comfort down into himself, even as he got angry at the idea itself.
"You did what?"
"Jack, what the hell were you thinking?" Daniel asked. "No, scratch that. I'm not sure I really want to know."
"I needed to be sure things were okay." Jack was looking at him again, his face set and cold as if discussing whose turn it was to clean up after dinner. "That he was okay. Not NID."
Daniel paused for a moment. He hadn't given much thought to that possibility, he realized, though he probably should have. After all, he knew NID had access to his files, more access it seemed than Jack had, so it wouldn't be totally out of character for them to try something like that. And he could have fallen for it, could so easily have taken that kind of bait if someone had managed to meet him at the right time.
The thought horrified him. The thought that Jack had discovered something about Nat horrified him even more.
"I don't want to know what you did, Jack," he said. "Just tell me this. Nat was who he said he was." Statement, not question. He wasn't sure he could ask.
"Good." So, he hadn't made a complete idiot out of himself after all. At least that was something.
Well, that was a better response than Jack had expected to that particular revelation.
In the times when he had run that particular scenario through his imagination, usually on the nights when he couldn't sleep and was looking for any alternative to counting sheep, Jack had never thought Daniel might possibly be so calm.
Then again, maybe in comparison to the overall craziness that they'd been living through for a while, even the idea your jealous would-be lover had been checking out your current boyfriend because he might be a government double-agent was pretty easy to swallow.
So, that was part of the story told, now for the punchline.
"I was jealous," Jack agreed, watching Daniel's face intently for any sign that he was heading onto dangerous ground. "When I thought about it, I figured I had reason to be."
Daniel didn't respond, just looked at him, and Jack wasn't sure whether to be worried or heartened by this. Normally he could read Daniel's expression, at least tell if he was annoyed, but this time he couldn't. No clues.
"Throw me a bone here?"
"What do you want me to say, Jack?" Daniel looked at his hands, as if fascinated by the cover of the book he'd been reading when Jack had tracked him down. "Isn't it kind of late for us to be talking like this?"
"You told me before I missed my chance," Jack said, Daniel nodded, without looking up. "Did I?"
"And if I said yes?"
"Then this conversation is over." Jack felt the weight of that possibility settle on him, bowing him down. "Permanently. No re-runs."
"Okay." Daniel looked up. "I changed my mind."
"About it being too late. It's not."
Holy shit. He'd said it, he'd really said it. To Jack.
He'd admitted that he still felt something for him, if not in so many words and now Daniel would have to deal with the consequences of that. Whatever those consequences were.
But at least he wouldn't have to pretend to himself any more.
And at least Jack wasn't looking insufferably smug, that cat-that- got-the-cream expression he could get at times when he got his own way. That would have made Daniel want to react, want to wipe that smirk off his face no matter what it took, even if it hurt him along the way. Petty as that was, it was just how he felt.
Because that smug look would tell Daniel he'd made a major mistake and he didn't want to think that.
He hadn't said anything more, he realized, and that had spooked Jack a little. So much so that he'd stopped banging his heels against the box on which he sat and had leaned forward a little, his hands resting on the box edge as if about to cross the small distance between the two of them.
"Yeah," he said. "Sorry."
Daniel looked down again, focussing on the blurb on the back of the book. Using it to escape, to give himself time to think. About what he was doing, what might happen next, all the possibilities that spiralled round his brain till he hardly knew which way was up any more.
He hardly heard Jack move, crossing the distance between them on silent feet, until Jack was there in front of him. Crouching down so close in front of him that Daniel thought he could feel Jack's breath. The heat from his body. All the things he'd missed since Nat, had wondered if he'd ever had again, the closeness that had eluded him.
"It's okay." Jack's voice was quiet, steady, a rock in an ocean of uncertainty.
"It will be."
He'd backed off then, left Daniel to his thoughts rather than push too much. It felt like the right thing to do and Jack was able to walk away with no more than a couple of glances over his shoulder as he walked away. Daniel didn't look up, didn't seem to even recognise that Jack had left the room.
He'd hardly made it a couple of yards away from the room where Daniel was before Carter caught up with him, Loran trailing at her heels as Jack had expected.
"Carter. Finished doing whatever you were doing?"
"Yes, sir. Loran was very helpful." Since she had her back to Loran, Carter didn't see the lovesick expression that crossed his face when she said that. Jack just about managed to stifle a smile, knowing Carter wouldn't appreciate it one little bit. "Have you seen Daniel?"
"He's busy," Jack said. "Got his nose in some book Hammond sent."
"I was hoping he might explain a few things to Loran."
So, was she trying to get rid of Loran already? Her tolerance level for the attentions she was receiving was clearly diminishing as time went on. Jack wanted to spare Daniel that for the moment, though; he really wanted to give him a chance to think about what they'd discussed too.
"You know how Daniel is once he goes all bookworm, major. You can try..."
He let the words hang, hoping Carter wouldn't push. If anyone would know how Daniel could be when he got into something, she should be the one.
Once, back when he'd first met Carter, Jack had thought how much the two of them had in common. Maybe, he'd thought, if it wasn't for Sha're, there might have been something more than friendship between them. Of course, now he knew better. And her friendship with Daniel had been one of the things sacrificed to the Tok'ra's desire to use the SGC and its people any way they could.
They had a lot to answer for, one way or another.
Back when they'd arrived on the planet, it had almost been second nature to set things up the way they had. Carter in one room, Jack and Daniel together in another, Loran still living in the room he'd clearly inhabited since he was a child. Anything else and Carter might well have asked exactly why the two of them didn't want to be anywhere near each other and neither of them would have been comfortable with explanations.
Which meant Daniel was now faced with the prospect of being a lot physically closer to Jack than he might otherwise have been.
He'd dealt with this for the first few nights by waiting till he was pretty certain Jack would be asleep and sneaking in. They'd set proximity detectors round the palace itself, so they wouldn't get any unexpected visitors, which meant that they hadn't needed to take it in turns to keep watch.
So they'd fallen into routine, after only a few days had passed, which made avoiding Jack when he wanted to a great deal easier for Daniel to manage.
"Daniel? Get over here."
Was he rooted to the floor? Daniel's limbs felt heavy and ungainly even as he crossed the small distance to where Jack was, an indistinct shape in the gloom.
"You sure about this?"
"No," Jack replied, and Daniel was sure he could hear the grin in Jack's voice. "But get over here anyway."
Sometimes you just had to make a move, take the opportunities life gave you and then deal with the consequences.
For a split second Jack wasn't sure whether he'd just made the biggest mistake of his life or merely taken a leap of faith he should have already made a while back - the time that passed between him speaking and Daniel crossing over to where he lay seemed like an eternity.
Jack closed his eyes. He could hear every breath that Daniel took, the slide of material over skin as he undressed. Finally he heard Daniel move even closer and Jack slid over, making room for him.
"You sure about this?" Daniel asked, quietly. He lay with his back to Jack, what little light there was coming through the doorway defining his shape clearly.
"No, but stay anyway."
He inched closer. Daniel was lying stiffly, the tension clear in every line of his body. Jack took a deep breath and reached out, resting his hand carefully on Daniel's hip, feeling the warmth of skin and curve of bone and muscle even through the boxers that Daniel wore. Daniel didn't react, didn't say anything and Jack took that as tacit permission, moving closer until he was pressed against the other man's back.
"Do I need to say this is okay?"
Jack smiled to himself as he felt Daniel relax a little at his words, the tension leaving his body in a moment. He slipped his hand from Daniel's hip and down across his stomach, just resting it there as he closed his eyes and tried to make himself relax.
Not easy when Jack had been thinking about just this for so long. Not easy at all.
It felt somewhat surreal, only the steady sound of Jack's breathing and the warmth of his body pressed against Daniel's back reminding him that this wasn't some kind of crazy dream. Even the things he'd experienced in his subconscious hadn't affected him as much as this.
Jack's arm rested almost casually across Daniel's side, Jack's fingers splayed across his stomach as if he feared escape, not that there was anywhere left to run. The effects of the Goa'uld device, combined with the conversations they'd had meant there was no escape, even if that was what Daniel wanted.
And it wasn't.
This was what he'd been wanting all along, the thing he'd been searching for with Nat that he hadn't been able to find there. Because, for all his faults, Jack knew Daniel intimately, in a way Nat never could even if he'd wanted to. The things they'd lived through ensured that, as did their current working relationship. There was nothing secret, nothing they couldn't experience together.
That was as intimate as the physical embrace they shared currently, as comforting as the way Jack's body was pressed against his own.
Daniel closed his eyes, concentrating on the slow and steady breaths that feathered the hair by his ear and tried to sleep.
It took a moment for Jack to realize where he was, to recognize the person he was currently wrapped around, that realization making him tense for a moment. Daniel didn't move though, clearly still asleep, and Jack was relieved. Less chance of embarrassment for now, time to pull himself together and figure out what ought to happen next.
He moved his hand surreptitiously, sliding it down Daniel's t-shirt clad stomach in search of warm skin and the chance to touch him more intimately without comment for once. Jack's questing fingers encountered something else, something that shouldn't have been unexpected if he'd given a moment's thought to what it really meant to be involved with another guy.
Morning hard-ons were, after all, part of the territory.
It was just the fact that it had been a while since Jack had touched one other than his own that threw him momentarily, making him jerk his hand back to safer ground on Daniel's hip.
Daniel was hardly awake, the muttered question evidence enough of that. He was awake enough to speak, but barely enough to make sense - without an answer, Daniel might well drift back to sleep, relaxed as he seemed to be.
Time to choose.
Slowly, deliberately, Jack moved his hand again, skimming it over Daniel's boxers where they tented out before resting his hand there lightly. Cupping Daniel's erection carefully, every sense alert for the slightest reaction from Daniel, the slightest sign his attentions were unwanted.
"Okay?" he asked, the word whispered into Daniel's ear.
Daniel said nothing but moved slightly, his back arching so that he moved into Jack's touch, his eyes still closed.
What more did he need, Jack wondered. An engraved invitation?
Smiling to himself at that idea, Jack rolled over onto his back, pulling Daniel along with him slightly. His free hand came up to rest over Daniel's mouth, the palm heated immediately by Daniel's hissed breath, even as his other hand began to move.
"When we get back..." Jack muttered, hoping he had the right to plan ahead like this. Jack felt Daniel's hiss of pleasure against his covering hand as the heat of Daniel's erection seemed to sear him. "Your place... or mine.." Daniel chuckled this time, the sound running through Jack's body too.
Jack increased the pace, as he felt Daniel responding, ragged jerking movements under Jack's direction. Daniel's moans were almost audible, despite Jack's attempts to stifle them, and he felt himself begin to respond too. The way Daniel was rubbing against him, his ass and Jack's groin in intimate proximity, was having inevitable consequences.
"Let's not.." Jack muttered, shifting uncomfortably as he felt Daniel gasp again. "Let's not wake Carter." Jack began to laugh quietly at that thought, picturing Carter's face if she walked in on the two of them together like this.
Jack felt Daniel begin to shake, whether with laughter at his words or the closeness of completion he wasn't really certain. He removed his hand from Daniel's mouth once the shudders ceased, his arm wrapping round Daniel. Holding him in place before Daniel could even think to move away.
"You bastard." Daniel muttered the words into the quiet that surrounded them before relaxing back against Jack's body. His hand came to rest over Jack's, trapping it where it lay.
All Daniel could hear now was his own heartbeat, as it thundered in his ears. Almost loud enough to drown out his thoughts, for which he was immensely glad.
That way he didn't have to think about what they'd just done, what Jack had just done to him, the implications of it all. About the fact that Jack had made him come but never kissed him, going from friendship right through to intimacy without a number of the accepted steps along the way.
He wasn't sure how he felt about that.
Was it just a sense of obligation on Jack's part? Something to tie the two of them together closer than ever but on Jack's terms? He couldn't believe that, didn't want to, but as his breathing returned to normal Daniel couldn't ignore the small voice that cried out at the back of his mind.
It had all been one-sided. Jack had decided what would happen, forced the pace, taken control of the situation. And Daniel had let him do it, bereft of thought the moment he realized what Jack had planned, desire driving away all common sense and not for the first time.
Daniel shifted a little, still sprawled across Jack's body as he was, Jack's steady breathing a counterpoint to the turmoil of Daniel's thoughts.
"Daniel?" Jack's voice, quiet as it was, interrupted him. Startled him a little even.
"What?" Jack sighed. Daniel thought for a moment. "I can't help it," he said, finally.
Was it comforting or disturbing to be lying in such an intimate position?
Jack's hand still rested on Daniel's stomach, the same hand that had brought him to a climax, long fingers splayed across Daniel's now semen-stained shirt. Jack didn't seem in any hurry to move - it was still early, the palace was quiet enough to suggest neither Sam or Loran were awake yet.
"It's okay. We're okay."
Was Jack right? Daniel slipped from his embrace and turned to face him. Found himself looking down on Jack, the evidence of Jack's arousal pressed against his hip as he wanted to scowl, wanted to be angry with him for taking liberties and then discovered he wasn't really angry at all.
"Yeah," Daniel said, closing the distance between them. "We are."
The first kiss was exploratory, testing the water before he could dive right in. One of Jack's hands was trapped between them, the other made a fist, grasping a handful of the sleeping bag with white knuckles as Daniel's mouth stifled any objections Jack might have had.
Daniel didn't expect any, Jack's restless movements beneath him weren't a struggle to escape. He knew them, recognized them as surely as he'd made those self-same movements himself a hundred times, danced that dance of desire and longing for release.
Maybe he'd been wrong all along. Maybe Jack wasn't as much in charge of whatever this was between them as he'd feared. Maybe that control was still there for the taking, if he wanted it. All the evidence pointed that way.
Daniel pulled back, looked down at Jack once more. Another expression he recognized, as surely as if he looked into a mirror. Jack's hand released the deathgrip on the sleeping bag, rose to take hold of Daniel's collar and pull him downwards once more.
Maybe control was over-rated...
He was going to die. Daniel was going to kill him, or maybe he'd already done so and Jack had unexpectedly received his reward?
Because this certainly didn't feel like the place Jack's Catholic upbringing had warned him about if he didn't mend his ways. The place he'd always expected to end up in was a lot hotter than this, much less pleasant, and certainly didn't involve discovering a partly- naked Daniel draped across himself. Jack discovered that his arm was completely numb where their position trapped it beneath him.
"We should get moving, Daniel..."
Daniel grunted a little, shifting his weight so that blood began to rush back into Jack's arm. The pins and needles feeling confirmed that this was reality, as did the unpleasant damp feeling between them. Proof positive that they'd both enjoyed themselves.
"Before we get a visit from Loran..."
That made Daniel's eyes open, snapping wide as if he expected Loran's name to summon him, as if their compromising position would be discovered any moment.
"I'd forgotten your mean streak," Daniel said, as he levered himself up.
Jack just grinned, felt his grin widening as he saw Daniel smile back and him, and wondered just when he'd become a complete sap.
"If we don't want to advertise what we've been doing," Jack said, as he watched Daniel stretch, "we need to get showered and change clothes."
His grin widened even more as he watched Daniel look down at himself, then frown. Jack felt his heartrate start to rise again as Daniel wrinkled his nose in disgust at what he found on his shirt then simply dealt with it by stripping off. He closed his eyes, tried to get his arousal back under control. They didn't have time for this, impressed as he was with his own recovery time, all things considered.
"Something wrong, Jack?" Daniel's voice broke into his thoughts as he pondered glaciers and polar bears. Jack didn't need to open his eyes to know the expression that was on Daniel's face - it was there in his voice, teasing. "I don't have anything you haven't seen before..."
He was right. Daniel was going to kill him, if he didn't kill Daniel first.
All he could think about was getting home. Home to his books and his coffee machine and the opportunity to be alone. Daniel couldn't wait.
He couldn't bring himself to regret the past few days. The furtiveness of it all annoyed him a little, but he'd always known that any kind of relationship with someone else working for the SGC would necessarily be covert. That as much as Hammond might well be aware of Daniel's sexuality, he couldn't see the general turning a blind eye to him being involved with Jack. That just wasn't going to happen.
Walking into his apartment was such a relief.
The silence was like a balm to Daniel's senses, after the busyness of the SGC. Going back there after the relative quiet of the palace had felt like walking into an ants nest, hundreds of people scurrying here and there as they headed down to the infirmary to submit themselves to Janet's usual post-mission poking and prodding.
Then Jack had been called away by Hammond and Daniel had been able to make his escape.
Of course, once he'd had the chance to get away from everyone else he began to wonder just what would happen next. He'd seen Sam watching the two of them, no doubt thinking she was being subtle, but he'd known her too long for that. Daniel wondered what she was thinking - when he thought back to the conversation he'd had with her just months before, he decided she'd probably be a little relieved that he and Jack weren't being downright nasty to each other any more.
Except Daniel knew wouldn't ever be able to tell her what was really going on between him and Jack.
He couldn't take the chance, couldn't expose Jack to that kind of attention or risk his own removal from the SGC. She'd never ask, not directly anyway, she had too much common sense for that. At least that way Daniel wouldn't have to confirm or deny, could rely on not being asked so he didn't have to tell.
And then there was Jack.
He'd probably turn up some time. If this meant anything to him at all, if he hadn't got the idea of getting it on with Daniel out of his system while they'd been stuck on P4X-347. Daniel didn't think that was the case, but only time would tell if this was real. Not the result of cabin fever, of Jack starting something he had no intention of continuing, some momentary aberration that wouldn't continue now they were safely back home.
If he'd had the energy, Daniel would have picked up the phone. Called Jack and asked him to come over, set the stage for some kind of confrontation. Made Jack decide whether he wanted things to continue or not.
He didn't want to shatter the moment. The idea that Jack could still want him, after everything they'd experienced, both together and separately. Daniel wanted to treasure that, even if it was fleeting, and if he took the initiative and it all went horribly wrong, what would happen then?
It took an effort to be positive, but he had to try. Had to think that they could make this work, if they both wanted to. And Daniel certainly wanted to, had wanted that for longer than he could remember. All he had to consider was whether Jack wanted it too.
All he could do was wait and see.
Daniel kept telling himself that as he futzed around in the apartment, ditching most of his mail unopened into the trash, tentatively examining the contents of his refrigerator, generally doing anything he could to put off thinking about what might happen.
If things went to plan, Jack could be here any time now. That thought alone was enough to make Daniel smile and the strength of his reaction surprised him a little.
This could work, they could do this.
Driving over to Daniel's apartment after Hammond's well-intentioned attempt at checking up on the team had separated them, Jack was certain only about one thing: he had to make Daniel realize that he meant it all.
Jack couldn't deny that jealousy had played a large part at first in how he'd acted - he'd never thought about Daniel finding someone else. If he'd been pressed to say why, Jack probably would have talked about Sha're, about how Daniel losing her had defined his life for so long that he barely knew how to move on from there. That no- one could take her place for Daniel, no-one could follow in her footsteps and give Daniel the things he so clearly needed.
And he'd been wrong about that in so many ways.
He hadn't thought too much about what he needed, the things he'd been looking for when the Tok'ra had caught him off-balance. The things Jack knew now were there for the taking in Daniel, would always be there because that was the kind of person Daniel was. Committed to something, Daniel wouldn't let go without a fight - he wouldn't be the one to turn and walk away without a hefty shove first.
And Jack knew he needed that kind of determination in anyone who dealt with him, that he could be an unthinking prick at times and tolerance or downright stubbornness would be a necessary virtue. One that he knew Daniel possessed in abundance.
This could work. They could make it work.
He found himself there again, standing at Daniel's apartment door. The first day of the rest of his life. Jack knocked and waited for Daniel to answer.
~ fin ~