Thinking of that put paid to his erection, for which he was very glad. The idea of another jerk-off session in the empty darkness of his bedroom only made him miss Daniel all the more. He got up, padded to the bathroom to pee and splash some cold water onto his face. He examined himself in the mirror. "You look like shit," he complained to his reflection, tilting his face this way and that.
In a few months, Jack was turning 50. He remembered his father's fiftieth birthday, back when Jack had been fresh out of the Academy, a young, brash second lieutenant of 22. He'd looked at his father and seen an old man looking back at him, one with lines around his eyes, dark smudges under them, his hair lightly peppered with grey. It was the first time Jack had really thought about his father's mortality.
"Ya look just like dear ol' dad," he sadly told his image. His hair was almost white now in places. Silver, Daniel had called it, and he remembered how Daniel's fingers had felt buried in it, clenching tight as he....
Jack turned away from the mirror in disgust.
He'd been though this before, this loss and despair when Daniel had ascended, but the difference was that they hadn't been lovers then. He'd missed Daniel like crazy that whole year he'd been gone, and yeah, he'd fantasised a lot, but hell, it wasn't the same.
Now he had actual memories of their lovemaking. He'd had the real thing in his arms, in his life, in his body for crying out loud! He craved it. He craved Daniel like some insane drug addiction, and it was getting worse, not better, the longer they were apart.
It was still early, just gone 0600 hours, but there was no way Jack was getting back to sleep. He showered, shaved and threw some stuff into an overnight bag, then drove his rental car out to National Airport. He sat in the McDonald's on the concourse and drank cheap coffee for a couple of hours, watching the world go by before his flight came due.
Time to face the music. Jack had been dreading this like crazy. At one point, he'd considered just staying in DC, waiting until after the Daedalus had been launched before returning to Colorado Springs to finalise the sale of his truck and house. But that would have been the coward's way out, and he couldn't do it. He had to see Daniel one more time before he left, just to say goodbye.
Of course, he had no idea if Daniel would want to see him, but he had to give it a shot. He had to remind Daniel that when his tour of duty was finally over, there'd be someone waiting for him.
At the entrance to the airplane, Jack handed over his boarding pass to a smiling cabin attendant, found his window seat, and settled down as best he could in the cramped space. He'd done a lot of thinking since he and Daniel had parted, a lot of soul searching, and he'd reached some fairly unpleasant conclusions about himself. Daniel had been right about everything, but Jack was only seeing that now, after he'd let the most important relationship of his life slip through his fingers. If nothing else, he owed Daniel an apology, then perhaps he could get some measure of forgiveness in return.
They hadn't seen each other since the morning Jack had dropped Daniel at the base, nearly a month ago now, but Jack had called a couple of times, finding excuse after excuse to talk to Daniel, to assuage the terrible loneliness that plagued him day and night. Their last conversation had been the most illuminating of them all. He'd actually felt like he was getting close to the real problem, that Daniel was giving him little pieces of the puzzle, bit by bit. He began to feel that given enough time, he might actually be able to figure it all out and make Daniel want to stay.
Leaning his head back in his seat and closing his eyes, Jack waited for the plane to take off and remembered their conversation...
Jack had finally given up any pretence of official business when he called and just come straight to the point....
"Missed you," he'd said softly, hearing the gasp from the other end of he phone and smiling. It was nice to be able to get that sort of reaction from Daniel. Nicer in the flesh, but hell, he'd take anything he could get right now.
Daniel had hesitated a fraction of a second then sighed. "Same here."
There had been a moment of awkward silence between them. "Daniel..."
"Oh, hey, I'm trying to find someone to take over the lease of my apartment. Know anyone who'd be interested in..."
"Daniel I don't want to talk about your apartment," Jack had said softly. "That isn't what I called for."
"Well, what did you call for?" Daniel had sighed theatrically.
"I've missed you, Daniel," he'd whispered urgently. Jack had wanted to ask him again not to go, not to leave. He'd wanted to tell Daniel all about the nightmares, his fear of not being able to protect his friend, his loneliness, and his grief. But he couldn't do it. He couldn't make the words come out. His rehearsed speech had seemed to evaporate into the air. "I've missed you."
On the other end of the line, Daniel had sighed. "Can we please not go there, Jack? This is something I need to do. All the constant fighting, the battles, losing people... I can't do it anymore."
"Won't be any different if you go to Atlantis, and you know it. What's the real problem here, Daniel, my lack of commitment? Is that why you're running?"
For a brief moment, Jack had thought he wouldn't answer, then he'd heard a long drawn-in breath. "That's part of it Jack. I never expected a white picket fence and monogrammed bathrobes, but I did expect some measure of fidelity."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Jack had demanded with rising anger, despite his best intentions.
"You shouldn't have slept with her," Daniel had mumbled.
Jack hadn't been sure he'd heard right. His eyes had narrowed in confusion. "I never slept with Carter. How many times do I have to..."
"Not Sam," Daniel had hissed. "Kerry Johnston! The CIA rep. You shouldn't have done that."
"What?" Jack's brows had come together in a genuine frown of confusion. Kerry Johnston seemed like another lifetime ago. He'd been using her, just like she'd been using him. He'd done it to make Daniel jealous, but it hadn't worked. Or so he'd thought at the time. "You never seemed to care."
"I cared." Daniel had said softly, "It hurt, Jack."
Shit! "I'm sorry." Inadequate. But what more could he have said? He was sorry. That particular incident had backfired on all of them. Kerry wasn't stupid, and she was also very ambitious. She'd been putting more and more pressure on Jack to retire since she'd figured out that Jack's real interest lay not with his second in command, but with his civilian archaeologist. But he'd already told Daniel all this, even if only the abridged version.
"How'd she find out, Jack? I can't believe you told her."
"I got called into the mountain early one morning. Left her in bed with the spare key. Seems she did a little 'recon' while she was alone. Found some... personal stuff."
"That archaeology book I gave you for your last birthday. The one with the inscription on the flysheet." Jack had been really pissed off at the time, but also amused about what had tipped her off. Daniel had always said this particular gift would bite him in the ass one day.
There had been a short silence on the other end of the line, then Daniel's voice again, sounding a little odd, like he was trying to hold back a fit of the giggles. "You mean the one where you wrote, 'Budge sucks, but not as well as you do'?"
"That's the one."
It was almost funny. Almost.
"But that isn't proof of anything, Jack, except that you have a weird sense of humour."
"No, that wasn't proof, it was just the thing that got her suspicious. She nosed around some more, found other stuff-- letters, one of your private journals, and they were much more explicit. I'm sorry."
There'd been more silence... only the sound of a faint hiss on the line, and Daniel's breathing, the only thing telling Jack that his friend was still there.
"I knew why you were doing it..." said so suddenly, Jack almost dropped the phone. "...but it still hurt. I figured you couldn't care that much about me, if you'd go running to the first woman who fluttered her eyelashes at you after we'd had a fight. I guess I was relieved you didn't go to Sam, but still... it doesn't matter, I guess."
"It was a mistake," Jack had admitted, putting as much sincerity in his voice as he could muster. "A great, big, huge, fuckin' mistake, Daniel, and I wish I could take it all back." Jack regretted every minute of his ill-advised affair. "Believe me, I would take it back, if I could."
Jack had never intended it to go in as long as it had, but then Daniel had disappeared, and Jack had been so deep in denial about what had probably happened, so shit-scared that Daniel was really gone, he'd just rolled with it. Maybe somewhere deep inside, he'd known Daniel had ascended and was trying to provoke him into appearing - to confirm it one way of the other. Truthfully, he hadn't given it that much thought.
"Well, you can't take it back. It's part of the reason why I need time, Jack. Seeing you with her made me realise how deep my feelings for you go, and frankly? It scared me. You have the power to hurt me so easily, and... I don't like it one bit."
Jack had bit his lip hard. He'd really fucked up badly this time. Love was all about trust. Daniel had loved him, and trusted him, and Jack had gone and flushed what they'd had, right down the toilet. "I've missed you," he'd repeated, letting Daniel hear the truth of it in his voice. "I've missed you a lot."
"I've missed you too," Daniel finally admitted. "But it's not enough. It's gonna take us a long time to move on, isn't it?"
"Don't wanna move on..." Jack had said petulantly, letting his voice trail off into silence.
After the shortest of pauses, Daniel had cleared his throat and said briskly, "Jack. I have to go finish packing. There's less that a week left until the Daedalus is launched. I'll... I'll call you later, okay?"
He'd been dismissed. "Sure, Daniel." Call him later? He hadn't believed that, but he'd decided to let it slide. "Catch you later." ...
Jack had hung up the phone and spent the rest of the night staring up at the ceiling.
As soon as he had his baggage, Jack called General Landry, who'd offered to come pick him up at the airport. He told him he was way too restless to wait around, and he'd get a rental car to use for his visit and make his way out to the suburbs
At the house, the door opened, and Jack was almost knocked flying by a large, black Labrador Retriever.
Landry laughed from the hall as he ordered the mutt back inside. "Sorry 'bout that, Jack. Damned dog thinks she owns the place or something. Come in, come in."
Jack wiped his feet on the mat and followed Landry through the house to the kitchen. "You settling in okay, Hank?" he asked. He sat at the kitchen table and made nice with the dog, which, like most canines, was a slut for a good scratch behind the ears.
"Can't complain," Landry replied, handing Jack a cold beer without asking him if he wanted one. "Carter and Jackson have been a big help. And, of course, Walter."
"Ah, Walter." Jack sighed theatrically. "I miss Walter."
"Really? I could have him reassigned, if you..."
Jack held up one hand. "No, really, Hank, I wouldn't think of stealing your staff."
Both men shared a grin. They knew Walter had been working for General Hammond for a while in DC, but when Jack had taken over, the Master Sergeant had almost immediately put in for a transfer back to Stargate Command. Jack had tried not to feel too insulted.
"So, "Landry tipped his head towards the back yard, "you wanna finish our game? I still have it set up out there. If memory serves, I'll have you in check in five moves." They'd begun the game of chess a few weeks ago, just before Jack had left for Washington.
Jack took a swig of beer and grinned. "Bring it on."
Jack's house was cold and empty, musty, devoid of both furniture and a human presence for too long. Down in the living room, he stopped at the fireplace and ran his hand over the wooden mantel, absently noting the telltale ring he'd spent 8 years trying to hide beneath a photo. Daniel had done that, the first night back from Abydos. He'd stood in front of the fireplace, looking like a lost puppy, and he'd stuck his sweaty beer bottle up there. Jack had found the mark the next day and smiled, thinking that Daniel Jackson had a way of leaving his mark wherever he went.
He'd certainly left his mark on Jack.
Turning, Jack looked around the empty room, trying to remember what it'd looked like before all the furniture had been moved out, but all he could see was an empty shell, muslin drapes hanging forlornly in the huge windows, windowsills and corners dusty with disuse. Desolate, echoing, empty; pretty much a metaphor for his life right now.
He'd lived there for nearly ten years, a long time, through good times and bad. It was hard to walk away from the memories the house held for him. But now it was no longer his home. It was just a house, just four walls and a roof, a place made of solid logs held together by some mortar, with some windows and a couple of doors. It was only a thing, a possession, and he could turn his back on it and walk out the door, albeit with heavy heart.
Walking away from Daniel, though, was far harder. Or rather, watching Daniel walk away from him. Which was why he was here right now, hiding out there in the house, when he could be out at the Daedalus' loading dock, saying good-bye. Too scared of another rejection, it hadn't occurred to him that maybe Daniel was just waiting for that one last gesture. He'd come here from the General's house, instead of arranging transport out to Area 51, as he'd originally intended.
Jack looked at the cold grate, letting his mind wander back to the night when Daniel had come over to 'give him something to remember him by', right there, in front of the fireplace. He reached out and touched the stone, not surprised at the sudden pressure in his throat and the burn of unshed tears behind his eyes. He leaned his hand hard on the mantle, remembering. That particular memory was etched into his brain now, and it constantly haunted his dreams and plagued his waking moments.
For three years, he'd taken everything Daniel had given and offered nothing much in return; certainly no promises, and no assurances. He'd done nothing to make Daniel feel they had a future together. Only now was Jack coming to realise what a bastard he'd been all along. That night, he'd finally given something to Daniel he'd never thought he could give. He'd given it freely, and he was now changed, never to be the same again, liberated by what they'd had together. But it had been too little, too late.
Stuffing his hands into his pockets, his fingers closed around the house keys, and he squeezed them until the pain drew his focus away from his inner turmoil. Looking down at his watch, he noted absently that the Daedalus would be launching in a few minutes. Too late now. Too late to grow some balls and tell Daniel how much he loved him and wanted to be with him, whatever the cost.
Shaking his head, Jack turned his back on the fireplace, the memories it invoked, the life he'd led, and walked out the front door for the last time.
Outside, he locked up. Stepping off the porch, he tossed the keys to the waiting real estate agent, who'd been leaning against his car. "We'll get you a good price, General O'Neill," the man assured him, but Jack didn't even acknowledge his words. He didn't give a flying fuck if the place burned to the ground. Without looking back, he got into his rental car and drove away.
As he made his way through the neighbourhood that was no longer his, Jack realised he had to get it through his thick skull that it was probably over between them. Daniel wasn't going to rush back after his tour in Atlantis was over, to an uncertain future with a man who was too repressed to 'come out' for him. Why should he?
Yet it wasn't in Jack's nature to give up hope entirely. He would wait. He could do that much at least.
Back in his nondescript, utilitarian apartment in DC, Jack filled his glass with whiskey and stepped out onto the balcony. The constant sounds of the city traffic were muted up there, but still far noisier than what he was used to. He was gradually getting accustomed to it, to the hustle and bustle of city life, the pace, the noise, the smells. But he missed his garden, his yard, and especially his rose bushes back in Colorado. He hoped whoever bought the house was a rose lover. He hated to think of them getting neglected.
It was dark now. There were a few of the brighter stars visible even over the constant glow of the city. He leaned on the railing, took a deep swallow or the fiery alcohol, and raised his glass skywards. "Be safe, Daniel," he toasted sadly. It was all he could think of to say; by saying it out loud, maybe the words would protect Daniel somehow.
Daniel... he'd be well on his way to Atlantis by now, to new adventures and certain danger... and Jack couldn't be there to protect him, so the words would have to be enough.
He shook his head and smiled a little at his flight of fancy. Daniel was a competent, skilled soldier in his own right, but even if Jack lived to be a wheelchair-bound old man of one hundred and fifty, he'd still feel protective of Daniel. Taking another sip, he smiled at that image, just as his phone rang.
He fished it out of his pocket and flipped it open. "O'Neill. Speak, it's your dime."
"Jack?" General Landry's voice sounded a little strained. "Jack, we ran into a slight problem and ... well, let's just say Doctor Jackson won't be going to Atlantis after all."
Jack couldn't speak. Couldn't breathe.
"Jack, are you there?"
"I'm here," Jack croaked, fighting back the panic and despair. "What happened?"
Landry cleared his throat. "Vala Mal Doran happened," which meant less than nothing to Jack, so he waited for some more information. "Some old girlfriend of Doctor Jackson's. She showed up and gave us a few ... moments. He missed the launch."
"He's all right?" Jack asked tightly, completely ignoring the comment about Vala being Daniel's girlfriend. Daniel's still here? Daniel's still HERE!
"He's fine, Jack. Gave us all a bit of a fright for a few moments, but he's okay. This... woman showed up with what amounted to a treasure map, you see..."
Jack held the receiver to his chest and took several steadying breaths. He wasn't stupid enough to believe Daniel had done it deliberately, so he could stay close to Jack, but at least now Jack had a fighting chance of putting things right between them.
Feeling a little calmer, he lifted the receiver back to his ear in time to hear Landry finish his short mission brief. "... so he woke up looking like shit and threw a pillow at her."
Jack's mind was racing, hardly hearing a word his old friend was saying. All he could think of was getting back to the Mountain to see for himself that Daniel was really all right, and he already had a great excuse to go. "Hank, I'm gonna be flying out there myself, as soon as I can make arrangements. Got a little surprise for Mitchell, so you can fill me in when I get there, all right?" He hadn't planned on taking Mitchell for a joy ride for a few more weeks, but if things went as he hoped, he wouldn't be here in a few weeks.
"Checking up on me again, Jack?" Landry asked.
"Actually, checking up on Daniel, but if he ever finds that out..."
"My lips are sealed. See you soon, Jack."
Jack replaced the receiver and headed for the shower, where he always did his best scheming. He had a great deal to do over the next few hours, but his mind was more focused that it had been in months. Yes! Daniel was still here. Now maybe he'd have a chance to put things right.
Jack sat slumped in a guest chair in what used to be his office, surreptitiously checking his watch for what seemed like the hundredth time since he'd arrived at the mountain. Landry had briefed him very quickly on arrival, and then Hank had been called away, needed elsewhere. Since then, Jack had just been cooling his heels, while he waited for the man to come back. Not good - it gave him way too much time to think.
When the door finally opened, and General Landry came in, Jack sat up a little straighter, but one look at Landry's face told him this wasn't the time for formality. Landry walked over to the coffee machine and poured them both a cup. "I don't mind telling ya, Jack, these Ori scare the damned crap out of me."
Jack nodded, running the tip of his tongue over his teeth to prevent himself from asking about Daniel again. He'd been there for two whole hours now, and the desire to rush straight to the infirmary to check on Daniel had been almost overwhelming. No one had thought twice about Jack watching over Daniel in the infirmary when he'd been his team leader, but now that was no longer appropriate. Friends or not, a recently promoted two star didn't fly in from Washington every time an ex-team-mate got a hangnail. It would draw unwanted attention to them both; but for the first time in his life, Jack found that he didn't much care.
Landry handed Jack a cup of coffee and sat back down behind the desk, giving him a long look. "Jackson's out of the infirmary and already insistin' he's fit for work. The man just keeps bouncin' back, don't he?" he said, seeming to read Jack's mind. "He handled himself damned well, by the way. I was very impressed." He took a sip of his drink and let his gaze linger on the contents of his cup. "If Mitchell has his way, Daniel'll be stayin' with SG-1"
Jack found himself nodding slowly. It wasn't the best-case scenario, but what he wanted didn't matter anymore. It was all about Daniel now, and what he needed. "I'm glad they all made it back in one piece," he said neutrally, taking a sip of the lukewarm coffee.
"You gonna go say hi to him?" Landry asked, waggling his eyebrows almost comically. Not for the first time, Jack wondered how much Hank Landry had actually guessed about his relationship with Daniel.
"Sure." Jack put his cup down and smiled tiredly. "Can't very well come to the SGC and not say hi to my old friends."
Landry suddenly leaned forward in his chair. "Jack, are you all right? You don't look so good, buddy."
Jack sighed and nodded. It was the height of summer, but he'd barely seen the light of day for nearly a month. He missed his house and yard, he missed his truck, he missed the Colorado sunshine, and he really missed being able to go on missions, but his new job kept him chained to a desk for hour after boring hour, and it showed. His tan had paled considerably since he'd taken the job in Washington. "I'm fine, Hank. They're working me too hard at the Pentagon, that's all."
Of course, there was much more to it than that. Ever since he'd stuck his head in that damned Asgard database thing for the second time, he'd suffered from chronic headaches. Thor had scrubbed the information again, but there'd been some repercussions. The doctors had suspected mild brain damage, and he'd spent months under medical observation. Eventually they'd pronounced him fit for duty, but only with certain provisions. He'd never confided in Daniel, Carter, or Teal'c that his promotion to a desk job had its roots in that medical evaluation. Given a choice, Jack would still be leading his team thought the gate every other day, but this was no time for regrets. Life had dealt him harder blows in the past, and he'd survive this one, too.
Landry reached to shake his hand as Jack got to his feet. "Tell those paper-pushers to ease up a bit, ya hear?" Landry quipped, giving the other man's hand a firm squeeze.
"Will do." Jack waved his hand around the office and grinned. "Love what you've done with the place, by the way." The two men shared a chuckle. "Desk looks good there."
In the hall, Jack walked as quickly as propriety allowed towards the elevator. He leaned against the wall as he waited for it to arrive. He had to talk to Daniel, but no matter how many times his mind played out the way their conversation might go, he couldn't really imagine how it would end. It looked like the ol' flyboy would be navigating by the seat of his pants again.
Jack almost snapped to attention at the sound of authority in that voice. He turned around, plastering a huge goofy grin on his face. It'd been too long since he'd seen his old friend. "Hey, T. How's it hanging?"
"It hangs as it always does, O'Neill. To the left."
Jack returned the warrior's hearty handshake, and then throwing caution to the wind, drew Teal'c in for a hug. To his surprise, the big guy returned the embrace warmly. "It's dammed good to see you Teal'c. Man, you're even bigger that I remember."
Teal'c inclined his head politely. "Rya'c's wife is an excellent cook," he said by way of explanation. "You, on the other hand, do not look so well."
Jack let out a frustrated whoosh of breath. So he'd lost a pound or two and hadn't been working on his tan lately. Was everyone going to tell him he looked like shit? "Don't you start, T, " he groused, "I'm fine."
"As you wish," Teal'c allowed graciously. "Have you as yet spoken with DanielJackson?"
The elevator doors finally opened, and Jack took a step inside, turning to face his friend as the doors began to close. "Heading there now. We should meet up for dinner later..." He waited a beat, until the doors were almost closed, then yelled, "Your treat!" Teal'c's snort of laughter made him grin.
Jack hesitated outside Daniel's office, watching him at his computer. Probably writing up his report while it was all still fresh in his mind, despite having just been released from the infirmary. It was a 'Daniel' sort of thing to do.
Aware that his heart was beating a little faster, Jack cast his eyes over the man he hadn't seen for over four weeks. Daniel had that intent look on his face, deep in concentration, eyebrows drawn into a frown, eyes bright with the light of new discovery. Jack remembered when Daniel used to look at him like that.
Licking dry lips, he stepped into the office, and it was a measure of the depth of Daniel's concentration that he didn't notice Jack until he was standing right in front of his desk.
"Hey," Daniel said, looking up in surprise. His eyes took in the Class A uniform and worried expression, and he frowned a little. "Wow, what the hell are you doing here?"
Jack was a little taken aback by the disbelief evident in that voice. "Nice to see you, too!" he sniped, letting some of his pissiness show.
Daniel hastily got to his feet, stepping around the desk "No, no, no! Sorry... I just... wasn't expecting to see you."
"Nah, well... I was in the neighbourhood," Jack said defensively, not liking the awkwardness of this meeting at all. He'd expected Daniel to be pleased to see him, but so far, he hadn't so much as cracked a smile. "And I've got a little surprise for... Mitchell." Which was true, but he also had a little surprise for Daniel. Only problem was, he had no idea how Daniel was going to react now.
"Oh?" Daniel drawled sarcastically, looking away from Jack as he delivered his little dig, "Yeah, he loved the last one... the fact that you didn't tell him we were all moving on to different positions..."
"Yeah." Jack heard the faint trace of disappointment in Daniel's tone. He looked Daniel right in the eye, trying to sound sincere. "Sorry you missed Daedalus."
"No, you're not."
"You're right. I'm not." He looked up guiltily. There was no point denying it. They both knew how glad Jack was that Daniel hadn't gone. Jack wasn't arrogant enough to believe he could have persuaded Daniel to stay, if he'd really tried. He knew how much the trip to Atlantis had meant to him, and he was genuinely sorry he was missing out. But since Daniel was still scowling, now clearly wasn't the time for it. Something was worrying him, and Jack was probably the only person Daniel would open up to.
"Listen, I just had a briefing with Landry. About...your... stuff." Jack knew everything Daniel had been through, knew how traumatic it must have been, and he was offering him the chance to talk.
"Yeeeeeah," Daniel said slowly.
"Sounds like it could be a problem."
"Well," Daniel shrugged, "we've been up against pretty bad guys before..."
"Eh, not so pretty," Jack quipped, hoping that a small injection of humour might loosen Daniel up enough to get him to say what was really on his mind. "Overdressed... yes."
"...been though some tough situations," Daniel continued, as if Jack hadn't spoken, but his eyes had begun to sparkle a little.
"That we always won," Jack shot back.
"Yeah, but didn't you feel that was because we had someone...looking out for us?" And for the first time since their conversation had begun, Daniel smiled.
Jack found that he could barely breathe. Those eyes, that smile.... God, how he'd missed this. He couldn't stop staring. Couldn't stop wanting. One step forward, and he'd be able to...
"I don't think I'd say this to anyone else," Daniel said, forcing himself to look Jack right in the eye, "but for the first time... I'm scared."
Jack felt a cold shiver go down his spine. First Hank Landry, a man Jack had fought beside on some of the hairiest missions of his career, had admitted he was scared. The man had balls of steel. Now Daniel, who regularly faced off with Jaffa, System Lords, and the NID alike, without showing any fear, was admitting the same thing? The fact that Daniel was admitting to being afraid said an awful lot about their new adversary, and a lot about the level of trust he had in Jack. Still, Jack let his eyebrows show his surprise.
Daniel didn't look scared though; he looked wonderful. Maybe a little tired, and there were signs of stress in the lines at the corners of his eyes, but he still looked good to Jack. Good enough to eat, like a banquet set before a starving man.
"I'm hungry," Jack said, keeping his face neutral. His hunger had little to do with food.
Daniel's answering look told Jack he was well aware of that. With a tremulous smile he replied, "Me, too."
Jack cocked his head towards the door, and Daniel made a small sound of assent. They walked in silence to the elevator, moved aside to allow a group of scientists to wheel out a trolley full of equipment, and stepped into the now empty car, where Daniel pressed the button that would take them to the commissary's level. As he watched, Jack reached over and hit the button that would take them to the surface, and the doors closed.
"So... " Daniel eyed Jack suspiciously. "nothungry?"
Jack leaned back against the wall and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I could eat," he said cryptically, staring down at his shiny shoes as thought they might hold the meaning to life, the universe, everything. "But first, there's something I want to tell you. Not here..." he added quickly when Daniel looked like he might have some questions. "Can we go to your place?" Jack threw Daniel a sideways glance and shrugged. "We can't go to mine. I have no furniture."
"Um, me neither. I thought I was leaving, so I sublet my apartment. They let me have one of the VIP rooms temporarily." The doors opened on the floor where the commissary was housed, but no one got in, and they didn't get off. The doors closed again.
Jack nodded. The VIP quarters had no surveillance cameras. "That's fine," he said stabbing at the elevator buttons again. "We can go there."
"Okay," Daniel accepted without a qualm. He studied Jack out of the corner of his eye, obviously curious as to what this was all about, but just as obviously determined not to give Jack the satisfaction of seeing him squirm.
Jack, on the other hand, would have been happy to embark on one of their famous conversational fencing sessions, anything to break the awful tension he could feel building. He leaned back against the wall and took a deep breath. Might as well start the ball rolling. "Daniel, I put in for retirement."
"You what?" Daniel's head snapped around sharply, eyebrows drawn into a frown just as the elevator doors opened again. This time they were at the surface, which had been their second choice. Jack sighed and stabbed the buttons repeatedly until the doors closed again, before someone could get on with them.
"Yeah. Should be final by the time I get back to DC. They were just considering a replacement for me."
"What?" Daniel was blinking madly. "And... and who...?"
"I recommended Davis."
"Paul Davis? Oh, that's good. He'll be good... that's ... that's..."
"Good, yes. So.... retirement, huh? Wow."
Jack watched Daniel chew his lip worriedly. This did not bode well for the rest of the conversation Jack had planned. "Yeah, I know, this makes the third time."
Daniel stood in the corner, shoulders hunched and hands deep in the pockets of his fatigues. "Third time's the charm, huh?" He even tried for a little smile.
Suddenly Jack was scared. He wanted to get this right. He was desperate to get it right. "I... I need to ask... I mean I...I wanted to tell you...." He half expected Daniel to say something, and when he remained silent, Jack ventured a small sideways glance, but Daniel was staring straight ahead.
"I've been a bit of a shit, Daniel."
"A bit?" Daniel murmured, and Jack couldn't keep a tiny grin from forming. Despite his obvious tension, Daniel still had his sense of humour intact.
"Okay, a huge shit. Remember our argument?"
"Which one?" Daniel turned his head and threw him a sideways glance. "There've been so many."
Lowering his voice considerably, Jack leaned a bit closer. "Oh, the one where you told me I was scared to retire so we could be together openly. The one where you told me I was afraid to admit to the world what we meant to each other. That one."
Daniel's fingers dug even deeper into his pockets, and Jack could see he was choosing his words carefully. "I was angry..."
"Yeah, but you were also right."
At last, the elevator arrived at the right level. Daniel didn't look like he was going to get out, so Jack grabbed his sleeve and pulled. They walked along the corridor towards the VIP rooms in silence. Jack's head was spinning. He'd expected Daniel to be shocked by his little surprise, but he'd also expected to be fielding a whole bunch of questions by now. Perhaps Daniel was just biding his time, waiting until they had a little more privacy.
They reached Daniel's room, and he reached into his pocket, withdrawing his key card and swiping it down the lock. "So what're you saying here, Jack?" he murmured. "That you've put in for retirement, so you and I can come out of the closet and live happily ever after in your cabin in Minnesota?"
Jack pushed open the door and shoved Daniel inside. "If that's what you want," he answered, spinning Daniel around and pressing him back against the closed door with two hands against his shoulders.
"What I want?" Daniel gasped.
"Yes, you. It's all about you now." Jack let his hands drop to his sides. The urge to touch Daniel made his fingers itch, but this couldn't be about sex right now. This was too important to blow it all with lust and longing.
Daniel removed his glasses and wearily pinched the bridge of his nose. Jack recognised it as a sign of impending headache. Having suffered though one of his own for most of the day, he could sympathise. Daniel stuffed his glasses into his jacket pocket and sighed. "Jack, you have to know that if I hadn't been lying unconscious in the infirmary at the time, I would have been on that ship."
"You do?" Daniel sounded really surprised. "You really do believe I was going?"
Jack shoved his hands into his pockets before he could grab Daniel and pin him to the door again. "I do."
"I was going to go. I was leaving... leaving SG-1, leaving Earth... leaving you!."
"But you do still love me," Jack said, and it wasn't a question. You didn't just stop loving someone overnight.
Daniel closed his eyes and took another deep breath. "That was never in question."
Jack forgot his promise not to touch and reached out, running his fingers though the soft brown hair, letting his hand settle on Daniel's cheek. "Daniel, I love you so much. I'm so sorry I hurt you. All I want is to be with you." Suddenly the full force of those blue eyes were on him, bright and intense, staring into his soul, searching for the truth, and Jack knew he could give it, finally. "You want to go live in my cabin in Minnesota? We're there. You wanna relocate to Egypt, and spend the rest of your life diggin' in the dirt? I'm right there with you."
"What if I want to stay here, with SG-1? What if I want to continue to go thought the gate?"
"If it's what you want, then it's what I want, Daniel. I can move back here, take the house off the market..."
"What if I still want to go to Atlantis when the next opportunity arises?"
Jack licked his lips and took a deep breath. After the smallest pause, he said, "Then I'll be here waiting for you when you come home." He didn't like the idea, but he could do it, if he knew they could finally be together in the end.
Daniel looked like he was finding it hard to breathe. "What if I decide I never want to come home?" he said softly, testing Jack's devotion to its limits. "What if I want to dedicate what's left of my life to studying Ancient technology in the Pegasus Galaxy?"
"Then I'll pull a few strings and get myself on the next ship out there. I still have friends in high places. I could have a going-away party. Invite all our friends." He tried for a tremulous smile. "There could be cake."
Jack sighed. "Deadly serious." He swallowed the sudden pressure in his throat, not caring if the tears he felt behind his eyelids made themselves visible. "Daniel, if you decided to hijack an alien ship and fly off to destinations undisclosed to become a space pirate, I'd be there, standing at your right hand. HOLDING your right hand."
Daniel's mouth twitched up into a reluctant smile. "Vala could probably help make that scenario work for us," he said. He sobered again. "You really retired?"
"Yep. They were happy to see me go. I'm a pain in the ass."
Daniel was silent for a moment. "I must admit; the space pirate idea has its appeal."
"You'd look good in an eye patch and one of those open necked shirts," Jack mused. "The ones with all the lace and frills..."
Daniel licked his lips, the small teasing smile growing wider. "And the knee length black boots, Jack? Don't forget the boots."
Jack got a vision of Daniel dressed like that and suddenly had a whole lot less room in his pants. He shifted uncomfortably, chewing on his own lower lip to stop himself whimpering pathetically. "You could let your hair grow long again. You know, tie it back in a ponytail. Got the beard already." He cupped Daniel's jaw, rubbing his thumbs back and forth against the soft beard in wonder.
Daniel was watching him intently "You like my hair long? I always thought you hated it."
Jack was staring at Daniel's mouth, at the tongue poking out to wet his lower lip, and it felt like all the air had been sucked out of his lungs. "Didn't hate it. Just wasn't used to it at first. Don't see that many long haired hippies in the military."
Daniel took a step closer. Jack matched it. "You have a hair fetish?" Daniel whispered.
"So it seems," Jack replied, sliding his fingers into Daniel's short hair. "But more accurately, I have a Daniel fetish." Daniel's eyes were dark, the pupils dilated, swallowing the blue of his irises. Jack took another step, pressing Daniel back against the door, lifting his other hand to frame Daniel's face.
"Jack," Daniel breathed, eyes drifting closed, "this is so not a good idea. Someone could come in..."
"Don't care." Jack murmured against Daniel's lips. "I'm retired, remember?"
Daniel leaned into the kiss for a moment before reluctantly pulling back. "Not yet you're not," he whispered against Jack's lips.
"True," Jack agreed, reaching past Daniel and pressing a series of over-ride codes into the keypad, "now no one can accidentally walk in on us. See, being in charge had its advantages." Taking Daniel by the hands, he walked backwards into the room.
Jack finally turned to look at the rest of the VIP room. It was a mess, with half filled crates and boxes strewn on every available flat surface. Jack couldn't tell if Daniel were unpacking again, or if he'd never finished the job in the first place. After making a 360-degree inspection of the place, Jack stopped facing Daniel.
"If you want to sit, we need to move some stuff..." Daniel nodded his head to where the couch stood in the middle of the floor, piled high with books and boxes.
Jack looked at the couch and shrugged. "I'll be honest with ya. I wasn't thinking of sitting per se..." As he spoke, he advanced on Daniel, who seemed to be doing his best to resist Jack's charms.
"Coffee! I could make coffee... I think I unpacked the espresso machine..."
"Maybe later." Jack continued to advance, backing Daniel towards the head of the large double bed.
Daniel's shoulders impacted with the wall beside the bed. "Something stronger then?"
Jack immediately trapped him there, one hand on either side of his face. "Oh, yeah," he growled, bending his head down to nibble at Daniel's earlobe, "that's exactly what I'm hoping for."
Daniel gasped and let his head roll back against the wall, which gave Jack more access as he licked a wet trail from Daniel's ear down his neck, using his nose to nuzzle his t-shirt out of the way. "Jack, we should... oh, fuck... we should talk about this... oh, God!"
Jack slipped one knee between Daniel's thighs and pressed him back with the full weight of his body. "Missed you," he whispered, moving his lips gently over Daniel's chin, learning the new texture of the beard, and trying to imagine how that would feel brushing against the tender skin of his inner thighs. "God, missed you so much, baby."
Hearing the endearment that'd always set him afire, Daniel growled, there was no other way to describe the sound. He seized Jack's shoulders and whirled him around, pushing him down onto the bed, tumbling down full length on top of him. This was always the way it played out when Jack called Daniel 'baby' which, of course, Jack had been counting on.
"This is a really stupid idea," Daniel rasped. He shoved Jack's Class A uniform jacket off his shoulders. Jack lay back and let him. This is exactly what he'd been dreaming about for weeks-- Daniel going alpha on his ass again. "We shouldn't be thinking with our dicks!" As he spoke, Daniel tugged the knot in Jack's tie loose, enough to haul it off over his head, then his fingers were making short work of the buttons on the pale blue shirt.
Jack propped himself up on his elbows and watched Daniel's face. He looked so serious, so intent on his task, but Jack could also see the hungry need burning in those expressive blue eyes. It turned his knees to jelly and sent a bolt of pure lust straight to his groin. This was something he could not live without. He'd been insane to think he could.
"I do all my best thinking with my dick," Jack croaked, "you oughta know that." He lifted his hips so Daniel could tug off his underwear, dress trousers, socks, and shiny black patent leather shoes in one move. "See, my dick is thinking very hard already." And then Daniel's hand was wrapping around that hard-thinking dick, and there were no more words for Jack, at least none that made any intelligible sense.
"You have no idea how much I missed you... " Daniel earnestly told Jack's dick before bending down to plant a soft kiss on the tip. Jack hissed and canted his hips upwards, hoping for a more fervent, less vocal response. "And you..." Daniel continued, swiping his tongue over one of Jack's balls. "And of course, I missed you, too..." Daniel's tongue slowly made its way lovingly over to the other testicle.
Speechless, horny as hell, Jack just lay back flat on the bed, spread his legs, and let Daniel have his way. Then he didn't have to wonder what the beard would feel like on his skin, because Daniel's mouth was burning a hot wet trail from testicle to mid-thigh and back up the other side, and the beard was softer, oh, so much softer than he'd imagined, but the feel of it was incredible, like nothing he'd ever experienced. Like raw silk on his skin. Like freefall.... Jack gasped and quickly squeezed his cock at its base as hard as he could before he came right then and there. He threw his head back, sheets bunching tightly between the fingers of his other hand. "God, Daniel, that's... just... fuck!"
Daniel raised his head and smiled, giving Jack some well needed breathing space. Jack opened his eyes and noticed that Daniel was still fully clothed, while he was naked, save for the blue shirt still hanging off his shoulders. Daniel had been too impatient to undo the cuffs.
"You have me at a disadvantage," Jack grinned, waggling his eyebrows.
Daniel looked down at his t-shirt clad chest, then further to the tenting green fatigues, then slowly looked back up at Jack, eyes lingering over all the points of interest on the way to Jack's face, and boy, was that ever a turn on. "So I do," Daniel purred, licking his lips just before he lunged, burying his head in Jack's groin, licking and nipping.
With a low moan, Jack put his head back and let his eyes roll shut. There was that beard again, brushing against his skin... Jesus, that was so fucking hot!
Daniel must have figured out how much Jack loved the feel of it, because he began to make his way upwards, letting his chin trail against Jack's belly until it began to rub against the soft silver hairs of Jack's chest.
Jack groaned, already anticipating how it would feel against his nipples, and as if Daniel could read his mind, he felt the bristles graze the left one, which immediately swelled and hardened. Then there was moist heat surrounding it, and Jack was totally gone, drowning in his own senses.
Back arching, he dug his heels into the mattress and pushed upwards, revelling at the feel of his naked skin pressing against Daniel's clothes. The friction was incredible. He strained closer, trying to rub his body against the material. "Need you!" he panted, releasing his death grip on the sheets to grab at Daniel's hips and pull him in closer.
Daniel's breathing wasn't exactly steady either. He dragged his mouth from Jack's nipple and pushed himself up to kneel between his thighs. In one fluid movement, he'd tugged off his t-shirt and thrown it across the room. Then he let his fingers glide over his own stomach.
For fear of hyperventilating, Jack tried to calm his breathing as he avidly watched Daniel unbutton his fatigues, eyes never leaving Jack's face. Jack's eyes flickered between Daniel's face and what he was doing with his hands. It was all Jack could do not to reach for him, but he was enjoying the show way too much.
Once the buttons were all undone, Daniel let his fingers steal inside, his eyes fluttering closed as he moaned.
Jack's cock twitched in response, slapping wetly against his belly. He wasn't surprised about the wet part, since he was about as turned on as he'd ever been in his life. Daniel's back arched, giving Jack a delicious view of crotch, stomach, and chest, and he couldn't stand another second of the seductive show being put on for him.
With an ease borne of years of hand-to-hand combat training, he flipped them both over, and hauled the fatigues down to Daniel's knees. He didn't have the patience to deal with Daniel's boots right now; he just went down on him without warning or finesse; like a man dying of thirst in the desert suddenly finding an oasis.
As Daniel cried out his name, he bucked upwards in surprise, but Jack moved with him, pulling back enough so he didn't choke. He gave Daniel no time to recover his composure, hollowing his cheeks and sucking hard. He got a good grip on the base of Daniel's cock and worked it hard and fast, loving the taste, the scent, and the frantic, desperate sounds Daniel was making. He could feel Daniel's fingers scrabbling at his hair, gripping... pulling... trying to tug him away, but he ignored the silent warning and doubled the pace.
"Stop... Fuck!... Stop!" Daniel's head was thrashing on the pillow, but his fingers were tight in Jack's hair, no longer pulling, just holding him in place while his hips bucked helplessly, no pace, no rhythm just... "Oh, God, oh, God, oh.... OH, GOD!"
Jack loved it when Daniel got religion like that, but there was no time to smile or laugh about it. A rush of hot, salty fluid hit him in the back of the throat, and Jack was swallowing what he could. It was hard to do with his mouth still full of Daniel, but he was absolutely determined to make this the best damned blow job of Daniel's life.
"Jack...fuck...Jack....God....oh, God" Daniel panted, hips still moving languidly as he pushed his groin against Jack's face.
Incoherent? The linguist was incoherent? Now Jack couldn't help grinning, and the momentary lapse in concentration lost him his prize as Daniel's cock slipped from his mouth. He rolled onto his side, propping his head on one hand as he watched Daniel slowly come back to Earth.
Dazed blue eyes flickered open and tired to focus on him. "Wow, Jack, that was..."
"Wow. Yeah, just wow." Daniel was still out of breath.
Jack smiled, tracing the outline of Daniel's lips. The soft bristles of his beard made his finger tingle.
His train of thought must have been showing on his face, because Daniel grinned back at him. "Gimme a minute, and I'll return the favour."
Jack bent his head and nuzzled Daniel's throat, licking the artery that still throbbed wildly beneath his lips. "Whatever you want," he said softly. "I'm good."
Daniel sighed, relaxing back against the pillows. "Jack, I don't know what I want! Right now, I should be sleeping in a bunk on the Daedalus, well on my way to my new post."
Jack raised his head, tracing the shape of Daniel's chin with his tongue. "Still wanna go to Atlantis, huh?"
Daniel sighed again, "I... I don't know. I thought I did." Frustrated, he pushed Jack away and sat up, swinging his legs off the bed. "I didn't really think you and I could..."
"Don't!" Jack said sharply, scooting over to press against his back, "I don't want to talk about that. Listen, Danny, I screwed up, but I wanna put it right. You are all that matters to me now. I don't give a flying fuck about the Goa'uld, the Wraith, the Oreos..."
"Whatever! Daniel, I love you, I want to be with you. Where doesn't matter. I'll go wherever you want, I swear to God. Openly and proudly."
Daniel turned his head and looked over his shoulder with a smile. "Well, whattaya know? I think I actually believe you."
Jack slipped his arms around Daniel, letting one hand rest over his heart and the other on his stomach. Gently kissing the back of his neck, he whispered, "I've missed you."
Daniel twisted around, wrapping his arms around Jack and holding on tightly. "I think I want to stay with the team, Jack. This business with the Ori... well, I'd be lying, if I said I weren't intrigued."
Jack pulled Daniel down onto the bed, encouraging him to rest his head on Jack's chest. "More than enough adventure and discovery for ya right here then?"
Daniel nodded, his breath ghosting over the fine hair on Jack's chest and making him shiver. "Mitchell's a nice guy. He deserves the best, after all he did for us in Antarctica."
"Keep talkin'..." Jack urged, letting his eyes drift closed.
"And it'd make us all a lot happier, knowing you were backing us up in DC..." Jack's eyes snapped open. "Hey, wait just a minute..."
Daniel got up on one elbow and loomed over him, looking very serious. "No, hear me out. We're gonna need someone who can fight our case with the President; someone who's on our side and has friends in high places, as you put it. We need you exactly where you are, Jack, lookin' out for us."
"But what about..." Jack waved his index finger in the space between them.
Daniel smiled, and it was radiant, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. "I hear they have these things now called airplanes..."
Jack's fingers were in Daniel's hair again, stroking the soft golden brown strands. "But if I stay in the Air Force, we couldn't be open about what we are to each other. I need to prove to you ..."
"Ssshhh." Daniel pressed his hand over Jack's mouth, cutting him off before he could finish the sentence. "The fact that you were willing to do that for me is proof enough. I don't need you to retire; I need you to keep fighting. Okay, so we can't go out there side by side anymore, but damn it, Jack, it'd be wrong to stop now. I just need to know that one day, we will be together. Permanently. And out in the open, where everyone will know about us," he added in a rough whisper. "Even if it takes forever, I can wait. What about you?"
Jack gazed up into the intense blue eyes and felt his heart swell with pride. For a while, he'd put himself and his fear before everything else. Daniel was showing him that there were still things that were worth fighting for, things that were more important than either of them.
Letting his hand slip from Jack's mouth, Daniel wove his fingers into his Jack's hair and smiled into his face.
"If that's what you want, Daniel. We can make it work. And when we kick the Oreos' asses back into whatever cookie bag they came from, we are SO buyin' a second hand spaceship, gettin' matchin' pirate boots, and flyin' off into the sunset together."
Daniel's smile got wider, until he was laughing out loud, burying his face in Jack's neck. "Oh God, Jack, don't put images like that in my head!"
"Turning ya on is it?" Jack asked, wiggling his hips and finding that Daniel was indeed turned on.
But although his body was responding, his face was still serious. "Jack, are you okay with this?"
"Yeah," Jack replied truthfully. Sure, he was a little disappointed. He'd been prepared to give everything up to be with Daniel. He would have walked away from everything-- his life, his friends, his home, his career, but Daniel didn't want that from him. All he wanted from Jack was the promise of a future together. And Jack could give him that. "Yeah, I'm more than just okay with this," he replied solemnly, placing a small kiss on Daniel's forehead. "We'll get together as often as we can. Air Force couples do it all the time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that."
Daniel pulled him down into a blistering kiss that robbed him of breath and illustrated graphically how pleased he was with Jack's answer. When Daniel finally let him pull away to suck in some oxygen, Jack was very close to exploding all over the sheets. "Daniel," he panted harshly, "If you don't fuckin' do me in the next five seconds, I'm flyin' solo!"
Daniel's smile was absolutely filthy. "Much as the thought of watching you jerk off appeals to me, Jack, I would prefer a more active role in this... mission." As he spoke, Daniel reached right over him and pulled open the bedside drawer. Jack took full advantage, licking Daniel's armpit until his lover was squirming above him.
Daniel was just about to uncap the bottle of lube when a dull thump from the closet followed by a muffled exclamation made them jolt upright. Jack narrowed his eyes, straining to hear.
Daniel almost fell off the bed in his haste to pull up his BDU's, buttoning them quickly as he crossed to the closet. He hesitated, one hand hovering over the handle, and he looked questioningly over his shoulder at Jack.
Jack nodded and pulled the sheet up to his chin, wishing he'd brought a sidearm with him, or at least a zat. He watched as Daniel braced himself, tugged open the door and reached inside to grab the intruder who, as they were both very painfully aware, had heard and possibly seen everything that had just gone on.
After a brief struggle, something gave, and Daniel had his arms full of a very attractive female with long black hair, dressed from top to toe in dominatrix gear. This would have to be the 'ex-girlfriend' Landry had mentioned. Her clothing went a long way towards explaining Daniel's boot fetish.
Vala's gaze raked over Jack's form where he lay huddled under the sheet, only his fingers, eyeballs, forehead, and hair showing. She gave him an impudent wink before turning back to Daniel. "Well, you sneaky thing," she said in a teasing way, poking one finger into Daniel's collarbone until he reached up to swat away her hand. "I always wondered why you wouldn't have sex with me, Daniel." She grinned at him as she ran the back of her fingers over his bare chest. "Actually, I came here to give you one last chance to make up for that."
"Really?" Daniel drawled sarcastically. He slipped two fingers inside her ample cleavage and came out with a small gold amulet. "Do I have to strip search you, or are you gonna hand the rest over?"
Vala glared at him through narrowed eyes. With a heavy sigh, she reached back into the closet and held up a large muslin bag. "What, this old stuff?" she pouted at his impatient expression. "They're just keepsakes."
Daniel snatched the bag from her, grabbed her elbow, and angrily marched her over to the bed.
Jack hastily pulled the sheets up a little tighter around himself as her eyes began to roam all over him. "How the fuck did you get in here?" he asked, one eye on her and the other watching Daniel empty the contents of the bag out onto the bed.
"Picked the lock," she grinned proudly, showing a great many white teeth. Then the bed dipped alarmingly as she bounced down next to Jack. "Oh, Dan-yell," she drawled, looking into Jack's eyes. "You know, if you ever need any help with this fella, I'd be happy to supply an extra pair of hands... or whatever you need."
Daniel's eyes narrowed, but before he could answer, Jack piped up "It might have escaped your limited `attention span, but Daniel and I were having a private moment..."
"Keep your pants on, Tiger," the irritating female said. With a leer, she gave the sheet a little tug, which revealed more of Jack to her gaze than he was strictly comfortable with. "Oops, too late! And I'd hardly describe what you were doing as private! Half the base must have heard you gasping and groaning..."
"Vala, is this everything?" Daniel growled, entirely ignoring Jack's embarrassed blush.
" 'Course it is. Listen, gentlemen, I couldn't help overhearing your... um... business plans. If you need another partner... 60/40 split, naturally..."
"Naturally..." Daniel interrupted sarcastically.
"...then I'm your man. Since you obviously prefer them to women!"
Jack pulled the sheet up over his lower face again, mostly to hide his smile. She was a persistent bitch; he had to give her that.
Daniel didn't seem to find her nearly so funny. "Yeah, listen, about that... "
"Don't worry, Daniel," she crooned, selecting a rather gaudy necklace form the pile on the bed and passing it from hand to hand. "Your secret is perfectly safe with me. Given the right...incentive?"
Daniel bit his lip, and then staring down at his feet, he took a step back, silently giving her his permission to take the necklace. Jack knew why he was doing it, that he was compromising his principles to protect Jack and his reputation, but he couldn't let that happen.
While Vala was busy putting on the necklace, Jack slipped out of bed and into his trousers. He intercepted her as she made for the door, placing himself between her and her exit. "Hold up there, Xena. Before you go, there's somethin' you and I need to get clear."
With a smug little smile, she tilted up her chin, placed her hands on her hips, and waited.
Jack stepped closer and showed her his own predatory smile. He took her by the waist, tugged her tight against his body, and leaned in to whisper in her ear, "Take anything from this room, and I'lll kill you where you stand. Make trouble for Daniel, and I'll hunt you down like the money-grabbin' bitch you are and shoot you in the head. Clear?"
Stepping back, he released her with a small shove and gave her a tight grin. Her eyes were wide with shock and showed considerably more respect than had been there two minutes before.
Jack closed his hand around the necklace she wore and tugged it free.
She staggered back, warily watching Jack as he tossed the stolen artefact back on the bed. "Really, there's no need for the caveman tactics, you know. I happen to like Daniel, and I would never let anything or anyone hurt him."
Jack was surprised to see a brief flare of sincerity flash in her eyes, but it was soon hidden. Her gaze met Daniel's as he stood there watching the exchange with curiosity. She shrugged, pulling her composure back around her like a cloak. "It's a fake anyway," she announced, flouncing past Jack to the door, where she deftly tapped a series of numbers and slipped out into the corridor. Before the door closed, she poked her head back in, "Sure I can't talk you boys into a threesome?"
Two sets of narrowed eyes glared back at her.
"Ah, well, your loss," she shrugged, pulling the door closed just as the pillow Daniel hurled at her impacted with it.
Jack went to the door to relock it. Picking up the pillow, he turned slowly to face Daniel. "She won't make trouble. She genuinely likes you," he said softly.
"No, she won't say or do anything, so long as it's in her best interest," Daniel said, chewing on his lip.
Jack knew he was probably treating the whole thing too lightly, but he was no longer worried about safeguarding his career or his reputation. While he had no intention on being overt in his feelings for Daniel, if it did somehow get out... well, it wouldn't be the end of the world.
Lying back on the bed, he drew Daniel down onto the bed beside him. "C'mere." Once their arms were once again wrapped around each other, he asked, "So, what do we do now?" For once in his life, he was at a loss as to how to go forward. None of the scenarios he'd been contemplating had them living in different states.
"We carry on as usual, Jack. You do your thing; I do mine. And on the weekends we do each other."
Jack couldn't help smiling. He wasn't sure if they could really make a long distance relationship work, but as Daniel had said, they could still have weekends and downtime together, either here, or in DC, or maybe even halfway between, and there was always phone sex....
"What?" Daniel said softly.
"Missed you, too."
In the corridor outside the VIP room, Vala Mal Doran slipped silently into the first supply closet she came to and loosened the fastenings of her tight black leather pants. She slipped her hand inside the waistband and after a little bit of wriggling, she finally located what she was looking for, a small gold amulet that would definitely fetch a good price at some of the more disreputable trading posts she knew of.
She slipped it into her cleavage and refastened her pants. The really nice thing about it all was that she hadn't put the amulet in there. Daniel's silver haired lover had slipped it into her clothing during their brief exchange. This was obviously his way of paying for her silence, without letting Daniel compromise his principles.
Which meant he cared about Daniel.
Which meant Vala could trust him to take care of Daniel, so it was all good.
With a happy sigh, she let herself out of the closet and went in search of the handsome SF who had winked at her in the infirmary.
Really the End