The type of guys that came here were willing to take no for an answer. He never felt threatened or uneasy. The other regulars were friendly and discreet and on the whole they left Daniel alone to eat and drink in peace. Occasionally he would get into the lively conversation at the bar but mostly he remained alone.
Yes La Café Noir offered Daniel the illusion of company and the option of solitude at one in the same time and had rapidly become his haven. Until he walked in and found Colonel Jack O'Neill sitting in the dining area,. holding hands with a really nice looking guy; big and muscular with hair even more silver that Jack's. He would have to be close to fifty but still devastatingly attractive and obviously besotted with Jack. Daniel tried to wipe the look of shock from his face but failed miserably.
Jack glanced up from his frosted glass of beer, straight into the shocked blue eyes of his best friend! Daniel stood frozen on the steps that lead from the upper bar to the lower, more intimate dining area where Jack was sitting at a table for two gazing happily into the eyes of another man. Daniel stumbled down the steps and halted at their table. He had no idea what he was going to say.
His voice went up an octave and cracked on the question. The object of his disbelieving gaze withdrew his hand from the warm embrace and looked very uncomfortable indeed.
"Daniel, what the hell are you doing here?"
"Asking you the same question?"
Daniels eyes flicked between Jack and his 'date'. The other guy looked slightly amused and leant back in his seat to watch the spectacle. Jack sighed and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hands.
"Daniel this is Nicolas Pierce, and old friend. Nick, Dr Daniel Jackson"
Nicolas got to his feet and extended a friendly hand to Daniel. Daniel shook the hand that was offered, his inbred sense of politeness allowing no less.
"Dr Jackson. Will you join us?" the silver fox asked in a voice like warm honey.
"No, I was just leaving. Thanks anyway."
Daniel turned and made his way blindly form the club. He had no idea where he was going, just that he had to get away. Oh God, this was NOT happening! For years, he had buried his feeling for Jack in the sure knowledge that his friend was straight. All this time, all these years - mooning over a man he thought he could never have! And now to find out that there could have been a chance, however slight? But then again, Daniel was pretty sure that Jack had worked out how he felt ages ago and as he'd never given Daniel the slightest bit of encouragement, perhaps the chance had never existed after all.
Obviously Daniel fell short of Jack's idea of the perfect man! Then he thought of the tall, muscular supremely confident guy that Jack had been drooling over and thought, of course I'm not his type, what on earth was I thinking off!
Jack looked up at Nicolas through apologetic eyes. Nick just patted his hand reassuringly and smiled, eyes twinkling in the candlelight that flickered between them on the table.
"Hurry, you don't want to loose him in the crowd. I'll pick up the tab."
"Thanks Nick. I'll call you tomorrow?"
"Sure you will flyboy."
Jack cast him an acid glare that failed to reach the smiling eyes and beat a hasty retreat out of the door, scanning up and down the busy street until he glimpsed Daniels hunched form striding through the throng.
His life had actually flashed before his eyes when he'd seen Daniel standing there. So many things had gone through his head that it was a wonder he'd even managed to find any words. Daniel's face had conveyed similar confusion. He had looked like he couldn't believe the evidence of his own eyes, which were telling him that Jack was gay and Jack was dating a man!
Jack couldn't blame him for making that assumption, but right now he was more concerned about Daniel's reasons for being in a gay club. He knew why he was there, and it really wasn't the conclusion Daniel had evidently leaped to, but the thought that Danny himself might be looking for male company sent a shiver right down his spine. As he hurried through the crowds, a sudden memory of his first meeting with Nick in that same bar flashed into his mind.
They'd met eight years ago, before the Stargate Project, before the trauma and hurt of Iraq and loosing his wife and son had turned Jack O'Niell into a bitter suicidal bastard!. He was a new recruit to the Special Ops unit and undercover for the first time in his life. The operation was a joint effort between the Air Force and the FBI and the target had gone underground amidst Colorado Spring's gay scene. Jack's superiors felt that he wouldn't fool anyone so they'd partnered him up with Nicolas Pierce. Six foot four, built like a Quarterback with black curly hair and a mischievous twinkle in his forest green eyes, Nicolas was an experienced FBI agent and also unashamedly gay!
While Jack wasn't actively homophobic, he'd lead a rather sheltered life and then joined the Air Force so he knew very few gay people. He was freaked to begin with but Nicolas soon put him at ease. They had to be comfortable with each other because they were playing the part of a gay couple. This was for Jack's protection more than anything and although he was grateful, he found it hard to relax in Nick's presence.
One afternoon while they were practicing slow dancing in the hotel room with Jack as rigid as an iron bar, Nick had laughed and pulled him in close.
"Look Jack, you're really not my type so you can relax. I don't get hard for anything less than blonde with blue eyes Ok?"
Jack had blushed furiously but felt the weight lift a little from his shoulders. If nothing else, he could appreciate the man's sense of humour! The operation went on for nearly eight weeks. That was eight weeks of working, driving, eating, sleeping and breathing Nicolas. The two became friends; it was impossible not to really. Nicolas was funny and brave and kind and went out of his way to make things easy for Jack. They worked well as a team, watching each other's backs. When things got hairy, they relied on each other and forged a friendship that would last a lifetime.
The FBI threw a huge party when the Target was finally behind bars. Jack didn't go. Instead he went for a solitary drink at La Cafe Noir. He'd gotten so used to drinking here and made so many friends that it somehow felt like his local and now he supposed he would never drink here again. The thought depressed him.
Surprisingly Nicolas was propping up the bar on his usual stool when he came in. He should have been at the party which was largely being thrown in his honour. But it really didn't surprise Jack that he chose to come here instead. He slipped onto the stool next to his friend and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Buy you a drink sailor?"
Nicolas turned and his face split into a huge grin.
"Sure Flyboy, gin and tonic, you know the way I like it."
The two friends drank in companionable silence for a while then suddenly Nicolas turned those piercing green eyes on Jack and smiled.
"What's eating you kid?"
Jack snorted rudely. He was 36 years old, hardly a kid but Nicolas was six years older and sometimes it seemed sixty years wiser. He hated being called kid but he let the older man live.
"Just a little sad that its over I guess. I've enjoyed working with you Nick."
"Jack, just because the operation is over, doesn't mean we can't still be friends."
"Course not, so long as you don't mind drinking here - I cant stand those sports bars you're so keen on. We can hang out and eat pizza and catch a movie like we did before. Nothing has to change."
Jack looked down at his half empty beer glass and wiped the condensation distractedly. Nicolas reached over and snagged his unresisting hand.
"Jack, I'm gay. You're not. So what? Why shouldn't we be friends? And if this helps to make you feel more comfortable, I'd like you to be the first to know that I've met someone."
"You mean a guy?"
"Nah, a purple unicorn with a rainbow mane! Of course I mean a guy. He's the most beautiful, sexy, funny..."
And Nicolas went on to describe in loving detail, Drew Anderson, the man who would be his lover for the next five years. Jack should have been freaked, sitting there listening to one guy talk about another like this. But he couldn't help but notice how happy Nicolas sounded. Falling in love was a distant but fondly remembered memory for Jack. He was glad for Nicolas. And yes, he was a little relieved too. Despite everything Nicolas kept saying about Jack not being his type, Jack had always harboured the faintest of doubts. Now that they would both have partners to go home to, Jack could relax and enjoy their friendship.
Three year later...
It took weeks for Jack to call Nicolas when he got back from the military hospital. Nick would know right away that something was very wrong and frankly Jack couldn't bear any more questions about what he's been through. It was all still raw and painful, both physically and mentally. But he did eventually make the call and Nicolas invited him round to his house.
"Jack - you look like shit! Come in and I'll get you a cold one."
Trust Nicolas to speak what was on his mind. Jack pulled the door closed and gazed around the opulent apartment. That this was a gay pad was more than obvious, but most of the paraphernalia belonged not to Nicolas, but to his blonde haired, blue-eyed Australian lover. Talking of which...
Nicolas's voice filtered through from the kitchen, "Gone to visit his folks down under. His old granny is in a bad way and they asked for him to come home, bless him. I wanted to go with but it was something he had to do himself."
"Thanks." Jack took the beer and handed Nick his coat. He covered his silence by taking a gulp of his beer but his friend was not buying that.
"So spill. You disappear for five months, no calls, no letters, not even an E-mail and then you show up as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. Tell uncle Nick what's eating you?"
As Nicolas talked, he steered Jack into the living room and lifted a pile of ironing off the too-soft couch so that Jack could sit. It had always been a huge relief to Jack that while his friend wasn't military, being an FBI agent meant that he understood confidentiality and non-disclosure. He was often undercover for months at a time but then so was Nicolas. They couldn't talk about specifics, but they understood the pressures.
Nicolas wasn't asking for specifics now but he wasn't stupid. Whatever had taken Jack out of the picture for this long was related to the war in the Gulf. And whatever it was, it had damaged Jack. He could see that clearly in the hunched shoulders and the slightly unfocused eyes that wouldn't meet his own.
"Oh I think I DO need to know. Don't break the regulations Jack, just give me the outline."
Jack sighed from the soles of his feet and drained his beer in one long gulp then leant back on the sofa and tried to relax. He wanted to tell Nicolas, he really did. But weeks of counselling by unsympathetic bastards that called themselves doctors, the long and terrifying wait for the results of his HIV test (negative thank god) and the sheer force of the rage and anger that surfaced every time he thought about it, had him shaking before the words could form.
"Got shot down. Been in an Iraqi prison for a while. Wasn't fun."
Nicolas's eyes narrowed as he watched how much effort his friend had expended to get even that far. He got up and went to the faux leather bar installed in one corner, dusted off a bottle of Glennlivet and brought it and two large whiskey glasses back to the couch.
"This calls for some serious drinking Jack. We're gonna sit here and get shit-faced and I'm going to tell you all about the time I thought Drew was cheating on me, and you're gonna tell me all about little Charlie and then eventually you ARE going to tell me what happened."
The tone allowed no argument. Jack nodded and held the glasses as Nicolas poured. Maybe the whiskey would help. He had to talk about this soon or he would go mad and shoot someone or ever himself. God knows, he couldn't ever talk to his own wife about it. She thought he was shutting her out and of course he was.
He couldn't bear to be touched, not ever for comfort. She didn't understand so he threw up walls around his feelings. Shut her out and shut them in. Not healthy. He knew that but he couldn't let himself be vulnerable like that. With the benefit of hindsight, it had been the beginning of the end for his relationship with his wife. He just didn't trust her enough to lay his soul bare to her.
The evening wore on, the two men got drunk and finally it had all come out, every sordid, stinking gut wrenching detail, the words tumbling over themselves in their haste to be free. Jack felt the weight lifting as the tears rolled down his cheeks, sobbing now into muffling hands but he couldn't stop. Once the floodgates had been opened, the roiling mass of pain and hurt could not be held back.
Then strong arms encircled him and he was sobbing into Nick's chest as the other man rocked him and shushed gently into his hair.
"Its Ok Jack I'm here. Let it all out. Hold onto me."
Jack's fingers closed tightly onto the lapels of his friend's shirt and held on like he was his anchor. In many ways he was. Nicolas was always there for him. He listened on the rare occasions Jack needed to talk, and he offered quiet support and unquestioning friendship no matter how out-there Jack was feeling. And now he simply held onto his rock in an ocean of roiling emotions and let the big, gentle hands sooth his fears away.
It was a long time later that Jack finally pulled back and smiled shakily at his friend. Nicolas's eyes were haunted and seemed to mirror Jack's pain. He'd expected to see sympathy there; perhaps even pity but there was only acceptance and love. Jack pressed the heels of his hands into his damp eyes and scrubbed the last of the tears away. Nicolas got up and pulled him to his feet.
"Jack, I'm not letting you go home tonight. You're going to have a shower and get into bed and I'm going to watch over you all night. If the nightmares start, I'll be right there."
Jack looked dazedly at his friend. How the hell did he know about the nightmares? But the outburst had left him tired and weak, so he followed Nicolas meekly to the bathroom as let him switch on the shower. It felt good to be looked after for once. Finally Nicolas stopped fussing over towels and shower gel and turned to Jack.
"If you're not out in ten minutes, I'm coming in after you."
For the first time in weeks, Jack slept soundly wrapped in his friend's tender embrace. He felt so safe and comfortable that the nightmares didn't come and he awoke feeling like a million dollars still held in Nicolas's arms like a fragile child. He admitted to feeling a little disorientated too. He'd never woken up in another mans arms before and yet it didn't feel awkward. Jack tried to pull away but the arms just tightened and he felt Nicolas's lips press against the top of his head.
"Jack, I'm going to tell you something that I've never told another soul. When I was nineteen and at University, I started seeing a guy called Robbie. He was a bit older than me and far more experienced, but he was gentle and kind and I loved him like hell. After about six months together we had a fight over something silly and I stormed off in a major huff......"
Jack felt the tension begin to form in his friend's muscles and instinctively he drew closer and hugged him tightly.
"I went to a bar that Robbie had told me never to go to. I got very drunk and started flirting with a couple of good looking guys...."
Jack lifted his head and looked into Nicolas's wide green eyes. But before he could tell his friend that he didn't have to say anything else, Nicolas started talking again, his voice low and full of pain at long forgotten hurt.
"The next thing I know I'm in the alley at the back of the club, my pants missing, two guys holding me down over a dumpster and another one fucking me senseless. They all took turns, apparently, but I'd passed out by then. Woke up in the emergency room five and a half days later. They beat me up when I was unconscious and I got some bad head injuries."
Jack propped his head up with one hand and took Nicolas's shaking hand in the other. He didn't know what to say. His friend had been gang raped and left for dead. And this was the first time in over twenty years that he's been able to tell someone? Jack squeezed the trembling hand then raised it to his lips and kissed it gently. Nick smiled weakly and continued.
"......What you told me last night took guts to say Jack. They hurt you in ways most people couldn't even begin to understand. They took away your dignity and they took away your pride. But they also took away control. Being powerless is a terrible thing to face up to. But you're beginning to. Now you have to start accepting what happened and use the anger in positive ways Jack. They won that one. You lost. New game."
Jack let his eyes fall.
"Is that how you coped?"
Nicolas laughed but there was no humour in the sound.
"Oh no. I didn't cope at all. I ended up being admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a while. Robbie was my lifeline but I still pushed him away. Sex was out of the question after what had happened and I guess he got tired waiting. We split up and I didn't have sex again for nearly three years."
"I can relate to that."
"It passes Jack. You and Sarah will be OK."
Jack threw back the sheets and hauled his tired butt out of the warm bed. Nicolas made no attempt to get up, but his eyes followed Jack as he prowled the room collecting up his clothes.
"Actually Nick I think Sarah and I are in trouble. We were having a few communication problems before this, then we were apart for five months and I couldn't tell her what happened or why I couldn't bear to touch her. I think she's having an affair. Can't say I blame her."
Jack pulled his sweater over his head and looked down at Nicolas.
"I can't be there for her like I used to Nick. She needs a man who can at least be there to cut the grass at weekends! It's always been hard with me being in the Air Force and now Special Ops. They kinda own me and because I'm good at what I do, they just keep sending me off on missions without a minutes notice. Makes family life impossible!"
Nicolas got up and pulled on his robe and Jack saw that his friend was naked. SHIT - he'd slept the whole night wrapped around him like a limpet and never even noticed!
"I'm sorry about that Jack. The next few weeks are going to be rough on you. Call me if you need to talk. I mean it Jack. I'm here for you Ok?"
Jack walked over and enfolded his friend in a warm embrace.
"I know. You're a good friend Nicky."
Two years later........
Jack got the call at 4am. Nicolas's voice was hollow and frighteningly quiet.
"Jack, can you come and pick me up. I'm in the emergency ward at St Mary's."
"Shit Nicky, are you Ok?"
"No Jack. Please come."
The phone went dead and Jack fell out of bed, trailing the quilt as he went. A quick splash of cold water to wake him up and he was pulling on loose jogging pants and a sweatshirt as he made for the door.
He found Nicolas in the empty waiting room of the hospital. He sat staring ahead without seeing. Jack assessed him as he approached but could see no physical damage. No blood, no bandages, just that dazed and haunted look. Jack crouched down so that his eyes were level with his friend's.
"Nick? You Ok buddy?"
Nicolas tried to focus on Jack's face but the tears were beginning to form again. Jack watched in horror, as one broke free from the red-rimmed eye and rolled down his friend's cheek. Suddenly a cold hand of fear squeezed his spine and he knew what was wrong.
"It's Drew isn't it?"
"Its our anniversary Jack. Five years today. I took him to La Belle Nota for a romantic candlelit dinner. We had Oysters and Steak Au Poive! He went to call a cab and ..."
As Jack watched, Nicolas's eyes grew round and vivid with recalled memory. Jack took his hands and held on as he saw the panic rising.
"... It came out of nowhere. Must have been doing 50 miles an hour. Driver was drunk. Mounted the pavement and killed him instantly. They said he never felt a thing ... Jack?"
"Oh God, Nick.."
"Jack - he's gone! He can't be gone. What am I going to do without him?"
10 months later......
Sarah took a deep draw on her cigarette and stubbed it out into the ashtray. She stood with her back to him staring out of the window at nothing in particular. Jack sat in his battered old leather armchair trying not to let the hurt show on his face because Sarah didn't deserve to see it. She turned to face him then and drawing in a shaky breath she continued with her confession.
"His name is Bob. He's divorced with three grown up children. He's an Estate Agent. We've been seeing each other for almost two years now."
He wanted to be happy for her but deep down he felt betrayed. They hadn't been a couple for a long time and he knew she had been seeing someone else. They'd stayed together for Charlie's sake but now Sarah had a chance to start afresh with a man she loved and wanted. Jack should be relieved. But he just felt empty. And he knew he wasn't being fair on Sarah. She wasn't to blame for any of this and God knows she deserved some happiness. He shook his head and got up to follow her into the kitchen.
"So, you want to file or will I?"
"You really should do it Jack. After all, I'm being unf..."
"DON'T Sarah. Just don't OK? I'll call the lawyer in the morning; see what we can put together. I'm sorry."
"I haven't been a very good husband have I? I'm sorry I couldn't make you happy."
"I'm going to find Charlie, maybe throw a few hoops or something. We'll talk later?"
There had been no later. Charlie had died that afternoon.
Out of curiosity, or childish rebellion he had been playing with Jack's handgun and it had gone off. Even weeks later Jack would wake up in the middle of the night to the echoing sound of that gunshot, soaked in sweat and crying like a baby. After the funeral he went to General West and requested early retirement. The Air Force had destroyed his marriage and now he'd lost his son too. He spent the next three months sitting in Charlie's room staring at his loaded gun and trying to find reasons not to swallow a bullet.
Every day it got harder until Sarah had begged him to pull himself together. Nicolas came round regularly and tried to offer comfort but Jack was too far-gone now. Too much had happened to him and he was tired of fighting. Nicolas was beside himself with grief. Drew had only been dead a little under a year and he was gradually picking up the pieces of his own life. This brought it all back with shattering clarity.
Then finally Nicolas had flown off to South Africa on an extended mission for the FBI. Sarah brought Bob round and introduced him to Jack and asked again if they could start the divorce proceedings. Jack had lost the will to live and to fight and just nodded and went up onto the roof to look at the stars.
The next day he sat in Charlie's room and looked down blankly at the gun in his hand. He had agreed to move out and let Sarah have the house if she promised to keep this room the way it was. He got no argument there. Now he sighed and picked up the gun, turning it over in his nerveless fingers. He could do this cleanly and painlessly. Sarah would get everything without the expense of divorce proceedings. And he could finally rest. It would finally be over. Then he heard voices in the hall.
"Mrs O'Niell, is your husband at home?"
Jack knew the mission was a one-way ticket and he was glad. This way he still got to end it but he also got the chance to make a difference while doing it! And Sarah would be entitled to the insurance and Air Force Widows pension. It couldn't be working out better. He agreed to the reactivation and went home to finalise arrangements.
She seemed happy that he was back in the Force. She took it as a sign that he was beginning to pull himself together and offered to look for a nice place for him while he was away. He could think of no reason to dissuade her and agreed, helping her to pack his things into boxes in the few days before the briefing. He felt more at peace than he had in months and when Nicolas called from South Africa, he commented on the change in Jack's voice.
"I'm going away for a while Nick. Top secret, you understand? There's always the chance that I wont be coming back so I just wanted to say thank you for standing by me all these years."
"Aw Jack don't get mushy. I have something to tell you too."
"You're joining an obscure religious cult and will be dying your hair purple and hoping on one leg on Tuesdays?"
"No you ass - I've met someone. He's a vet at the National Park here and Jack - he isn't blonde!"
"He's African. He's like an ebony statue, all glistening black skin and....."
"Woa - TMI!!! Sounds like you're in love again?"
"Actually, yes I am. The mission will be over in a couple of weeks but I'm seriously thinking about packing in the Bureau and staying here permanently. It's the real thing Jack. I think Drew would have wanted me to be happy again."
"I'm sure he would. I'll miss you Nick."
Only Jack knew how empty the words were. He knew full well he wasn't coming back so it hardly mattered what Nicolas did with the rest of his life. Jack was glad he had found love again. It would help him get over Jack's demise that much sooner.
Even after four years, Jack could clearly recall the first moment he had set eyes on Dr Daniel Jackson. He had come as a shock to Jack. The kid looked bumbling and inept, clumsy and geekish. Nick would have loved him. Golden brown hair (not blonde but close enough) and huge blue eyes made even larger by the spectacles. The face was animated, mobile, glowing with rapt wonder at all he saw, like a child in a candy store. Like Charlie at the baseball match!
Jack listened to him speak in rapid breathless sentences that made no sense to the Air Force Colonel. The voice was pleasant enough, if a little unsure and hesitant at times. But when he spoke about Egypt or anything archaeological, he suddenly lit up like a torch and became confident and animated again. Jack wondered if he really knew what he was doing or if he was just full of shit!
He seemed to think that he could get them home again, and he HAD managed to solve the mystery of the Stargate in a week where all the other science geeks had been struggling with it for months, years actually! Jack let himself trust the young doctor. Maybe HE wasn't going home, but there was no reason for his men to go down with him. Dr Jackson would get them back and O'Neill would stay behind and neutralise the threat to Earth. Except it hadn't happened like that.
Jack had found himself opening up to Dr Jackson in a way he would never have believed to be possible. Daniel was like the Sun and he was a flower, slowly opening itself to the warmth. He was so full of life and wonder that Jack found himself wanting to live longer, to get to know him better. Maybe they could have become friends. And odd combination, the geeky linguist and the hard-assed Air Force Colonel, but Jack somehow knew it would have worked.
Then it had all gone to shit! They'd detonated the bomb on Ra's ship and effectively neutralised the threat to Earth but it was Daniel that wanted to stay behind, not O'Neill! He had a wife now and a ready-made family, people who loved him and cared for him. Jack couldn't blame him for wanting to stay behind but he felt suddenly lonely! There was no wife and child waiting for him on the other side of the Gate. His best friend was leaving to start a new life with a new love and his new friend was doing the same. Where did that leave Jack?
Daniel had made him see that life was worth living. He wasn't going to swallow his gun anytime soon. The mission had given him a purpose that had been lacking in his life but he still couldn't quite imagine signing on full time again. He needed time to get his head together and think about what to do next. He was 41 years old, not a young man anymore. Daniel was going to be ok and so was he.
One year later............
He was standing in front of the Stargate again, a new General in charge and a new Threat to Earth looming. For several weeks Jack had been growing more and more restless. He was bored with his retirement and unfulfilled. When the boys had come to get him, a secret thrill of pleasure had speared through him at the thought of seeing action again. The time was right.
Sarah had remarried, Nicolas and Ebutu were happier than ever and Jack was no longer a suicidal mass of neuroses. He had made peace with himself over Charlie even if he couldn't quite go that extra mile and forgive himself. He was ready.
He nearly begged General Hammond to let him take his team through the Gate. Getting confirmation that Daniel was alive and well on the other side lifted his heart enough to let him be magnanimous about the addition of another science geek to the party in the form of Captain Sam (as in short for Samantha) Carter.
The fact that his orders to bring Dr Jackson back may not be met with anything bordering on approval from Daniel didn't faze him in the least. Maybe Daniel would welcome the opportunity to show his bride how he had lived before he came to Abydos. But Shaur-ai had been taken as a host and they had come home without her, towing a reluctant Jaffa who had to be one of the bravest people Jack had ever met. Daniel was a wreck and desperate to begin the search for his wife. General Hammond was desperate to have Jack stay on and use his expertise to help in the ongoing battle. Jack used that to get Daniel and Teal'c assigned to his team and so it had all begun.
Jack had seen Nicolas only once more before tonight. It was right after Kawalski had died. Nicolas was back in Colorado Springs to sell his house and finalize things and he had brought Ebutu with him so they all met at La Cafe Noir. Nicolas and Ebutu were already there, drinking Guinness and talking softly to each other, oblivious to anything else going on around them. Jack checked Ebutu out and had to agree with Nicolas that the man was breathtaking! Even someone as straight as Jack could appreciate the broadness of his shoulders and the strength of his profile. He really did look like a magnificent statue carved out of ebony. And his effect on Nicolas was obvious. The man deserved to be happy and he certainly seemed to be. Jack approached the table and was immediately enveloped in one of Nicolas's full-body hugs. This he'd missed.
Once the introductions were completed and they had settled down to getting caught up, Jack had told Nicolas about Kawalski. Not the specifics obviously, just the fact that he'd lost someone under his command who had also been a good friend. Nicolas had sighed and squeezed his hand.
"Jack, it's the fucking job. People are going to get killed. We know it, we think we're prepared for it, but it still hurts like hell when it happens. Have you considered calling it a day? You could retire again?"
"No I couldn't. I love what I'm doing. General Hammond gives me plenty of leeway, which I've never had before. I respect his leadership more than I thought possible. And what we're doing makes a difference even if I'm not at liberty to discuss it. I like my team too. They're good people. I don't want to give it up"
Ebutu leaned forward and surprised Jack by taking his other hand
"You are lonely O'Neill?"
"Sometimes. Daniel is moving in with me until he finds an apartment of his own so at least there will be someone to talk to for a while. He was staying on the base but they don't have cable or beer!"
Nicolas's eyes narrowed.
"Yeh - Doctor Daniel Jackson. He's one of my team. Speaks 23 languages, is an archaeologist and drives me nuts because he's a civilian and has not a CLUE about taking orders. He puts himself in danger without even considering what he's doing. I swear he's going to give me a heart attack before I'm 50...."
Jack trailed off and looked at the two faces smiling indulgently at him from across the table.
Ebutu grinned like a Cheshire cat. "Your face lights up when you talk about him."
Jack tugged his hands free and rubbed the back of his neck. "Does not! Look guys, were friends ok? He saved my life a while back. That means I care about what happens to him. It does NOT mean I'm in love with him. I like WOMEN remember?"
Nicolas smiled enigmatically and pulled Ebutu in close.
"Jack, try to remember that love is the most precious gift you can receive so it really doesn't matter what sort of package it comes in."
Jack made a mock gagging sound and smiled indulgently at his friend."A real Hallmark moment guys. I'm fillin' up here. But I'm SO not interested in Jackson! Come on Nick, you KNOW me. How come you're even entertaining the thought?"
"Like Eb said, you're face gets all squishy when you talk about him. You can deny it all you like but anyone can see you're smitten."
Jack went home that night and thought it over. Sure he liked Daniel. What was not to like? Granted the guy was a science geek and usually he couldn't give them the time of day but Carter was a science geek too and he could put up with HER. He was just mellowing, that was all. Daniel brought out the best in him. He reminded Jack about the wonder of it all - let Jack see from a different perspective - kept it real.
He was funny and brave and quietly dignified despite everything he'd been through and Jack was drawn to him. Attracted if you will. But not in a sexual way. If anything, it was paternal. He felt protective towards the younger man. His wife had been taken by the Gouald and he had promised that they would get her back. It was a promise he intended to keep. He remembered that kiss she's planted on Daniel back in Abydos and the look of stunned arousal on his face even after a year of marriage. He wanted to see that look on Daniel's face again, but put there by his wife not by Jack! The very idea was preposterous! He fell asleep dreaming of Daniel and Shaur-ai and that kiss.
So much had happened over the next four years. The first time they all thought Daniel dead, Jack had been distraught with grief. Their tentative friendship had grown and blossomed and Jack would have gladly died himself to save Daniel. Giving the Eulogy at Daniel's Memorial Service had been one of the hardest things he had ever had to do.
So many times over the years he thought he'd lost his friend only to get him back and gradually the realisation struck. He loved Daniel! It wasn't gender specific, it wasn't sexual, it was just a deep-rooted need to be connected to another person on a spiritual level. As time went by, Jack began to suspect that Daniel might have feelings for him too. By that time, Jack needed Daniel in his life so badly that he wouldn't do anything to risk their friendship, and that included bringing up the subject of the strange unspoken tension that shimmered between them.
It manifested itself odd ways. Every time they shared a tent, they would wake up wrapped around each other. Daniel didn't seem to mind and it was never commented on but Jack secretly longed for protracted off world stays, as he never felt so secure as when he woke up encircled by Daniel's arms. They started hanging out together and Jack decided that he was using Daniel as a surrogate Nicolas. The younger man was so honest and open that talking to him about deep stuff came naturally and easily. Now that Nicolas was in South Africa, he had no one to open up to but Daniel. They enjoyed each other's company. What was wrong with that?
Then there had been the Tollan/Asgard sting operation and Jack had nearly blown the whole thing worrying about what he'd done to Daniel. It had never been the same between them again. Jack had explained that he'd done things for the Air Force that he wasn't proud of but it was his job. They made him a Special Ops Colonel because he had a dark side that was capable of getting things done at any cost and that was something he had to live with. It scared Daniel to the bone, he could see that. But it was who he was.
After the op, Jack had gone home and called Nicolas. He desperately needed to talk to someone who could understand what he was going through. Nick offered to jump on the next plane.
"I appreciate it Nick but don't be an ass. Even you can't make everything better."
"I still want to die trying Jack. Have you at least admitted to yourself that you're in love with the boy?"
"No......yes.......no.........SHIT Nick you've got me all confused again. I care for him a lot but........."
"Just because you've been straight for 42 years doesn't mean you can't fall in love with a guy. Trust me - I've seen it happen."
"Nick I don't think of him like that. If I'm in love, surely I should be fantasising about him?"
"Not if you've been in denial for all these years. Try something for me Jack. Go to bed tonight and try consciously fantasising about Daniel and you. Start small - just a kiss to begin with. Call me tomorrow and let me know how it went ok?"
"Jack - please! Just do it and remember, it's only an innocent kiss. I have some leave coming and I'm going to fly over. I'll make some arrangements and let you know when to expect me."
"I already told you........."
"Jack - you're gonna need me so shut up and get off the phone. I'll speak to you tomorrow."
Jack hung up and stared at the phone for a moment before pouring himself a large whiskey. This was silly. Was he actually gonna sit here and try to imagine what it would be like to kiss Daniel? Of course he wasn't. He was going to get shit faced and fall asleep on the couch.
The trouble was that he couldn't NOT think about it. Now that the idea had planted itself in his mind, he kept getting flashbacks to that look on Daniel's face on Abydos. He prowled the darkening house from room to room, looking for something, anything to take his mind off it until finally, in frustrated surrender, he threw himself face down on his bed and let his mind take over.
He imagined they were in a tent, they had been asleep but something had awakened them and they lay quietly in each other's arms listening for the sound again. Daniel sighed after a moment and whispered softly, "probably a lizard climbing up the tent."
"Or a big honkin' bug."
Daniel rubbed his cheek supportively against Jack's naked chest...
Woah - why is my chest naked? Jack's eyes shot open but he closed them tightly again, refusing to be distracted from his mission. Taking a deep breath, he allowed his mind to wander back to the fictional tent.
...and snuggled in closer, his bare leg sliding over and between Jack's until his knee nestled against Jack's groin.
Hey hey- his leg shouldn't be bare! What's going on here?
Jack groaned and let his fingers trail up the soft smooth flesh of Daniels naked back to the nape of his neck.
Ok there is WAY too much nakedness in this dream.
Daniel sighed and lifted his face to gaze up at Jack. His eyes were half closed and sleepy and his mouth was pouting, the lips slightly parted. As Jack watched, Daniel's tongue slipped out and began to slowly moisten those lips and Jack felt himself harden almost painfully quickly.
STOP, that's enough! I want to get off RIGHT NOW!
But the fantasy prevailed. Pushing away the nagging voice of sanity, he hauled the sleepy archaeologist on top of him and pulled his face close. The kiss stared off tentatively and Jack began to think that he was safe again. The suddenly Daniel moved his hips and Jack felt his erection slide over the satin smooth skin of Daniel's belly and a bolt of liquid desire shot right through him.
Within seconds, he was hungrily kissing the panting and writhing man held tightly in his arms and he was seeing stars flashing before his closed eyes. Oh God could it really be like this? He really hoped not. He jerked awake suddenly, the familiar surroundings of his dark bedroom coming into focus as his heart rate steadied. He looked down at the throbbing erection trying to burst free from his pants and groaned. That fucking bastard Nicolas knew this would happen.
Taking himself roughly in hand, Jack jerked-off thinking about anyone but Daniel. As he felt the tension build in his groin, he moved faster and harder thinking of Sarah, thinking of Carter, even Janet Fraiser made and appearance. But it was Daniel he saw in those final seconds, it was Daniel he imagined hoarsely shouting his name as he fell over the edge and into oblivion! SHIT!
And so it had come to pass that Jack and Nicolas took a nostalgic trip to La Cafe Noir on the first evening after Nick flew in and Jack admitted to Nicolas what he had refused to admit even to himself. Yes he was in love with Daniel. When the object of his love had first spotted them, Nicolas had been in the middle of congratulating Jack on finally getting with the program! Daniel was the last person Jack had expected to see in La Cafe Noir!
So now he was pushing through the busy Christmas Shopping crowds in the hope that he could catch a fleeing archaeologist before he caught a cab. He was glad of his height and of Daniels. So far, the younger man seemed to be walking in a straight line. He took advantage of a break in the crowd to sprint ahead and finally clamp his hand around Daniel's upper arm.
"Danny - wait up."
Jackson whirled round, the barely controlled anger bubbling to the surface and for a moment, Jack thought he might swing a punch. But the fight went out of him almost instantly and he sagged. Jack pulled him into a dark alley and let him lean back against the wall as the merry shoppers flowed past oblivious to their presence.
"It's not what it looks like ok?"
Daniel raised hurt eyes and fixed them on Jack.
"Really? You were sitting in a gay bar, holding hands with a guy and laughing! I can't wait to hear how you think it looked like anything less than a date. Oh right you said he was an old friend. So tell me Jack, how long have you been sleeping with him?"
"I'm not gay Danny."
"Oh right - sorry, course not! Just experimenting then?"
"Danny....Nick and I....."
"Oh, spare me the details please Jack! It really is none of my business, is it?"
Jack felt his anger rise. Daniel had no claims on him, yet he was acting like a jealous lover! No way was Jack having that.".
"No it isn't. Just like it's none of my business why you were there. But I'm gonna tell you anyway. I've been friends will Nicolas for more than 9 years now. He is gay so we always meet at La Cafe Noir. He feels more relaxed there. We go way back Daniel but I swear to you, we're just friends nothing more. I've never had sex with a guy in my life."
Daniel sagged back against the wall and shivered.
"It looked like you were intimate."
"I'm not his type. He left Ebutu back home in South Africa. He looks a lot like Teal'c but three shades darker and much more talkative! You'd like him."
"So - you're not gay?"
"I'm not gay."
"Neither am I."
"Cool. So you come to La Cafe Noir because ...?"
"I like the food. And after the first couple of propositions, they leave you alone. Gay guys seem to be more able to take a hint than straight women. I don't know why they plague me everywhere I go but I needed somewhere to relax and be left alone."
"Daniel do you even own a mirror?"
Daniel pushed away from the wall and ran his hands tiredly through his hair. "Well I suppose I should head home. I'm not really hungry anymore."
"Really? I'm starving," Said Jack. "We'd ordered but the meal hadn't been delivered yet. Why don't you come back to my place and we'll order a pizza. I'll even let you pick the toppings."
Daniel smiled weakly and let Jack lead him back through the crowds to the parking lot where Jack's truck was parked. Daniel had taken a cab.
"Maybe you should go in and make peace with your friend?" he suggested hesitantly.
"It's ok. He really doesn't expect to see me again tonight."
Daniel lifted a prompting eyebrow at that but Jack only opened the passenger door and ushered him inside.
They ordered the pizza by mobile phone on the way to Jack's house and got there as it arrived. While Jack unlocked the door and scrabbled in his pocket for some cash, Daniel took the box and headed for the kitchen. By the time Jack had paid the delivery boy, Daniel was lighting the fire already set in the hearth. The pizza was cut into six pieces and arranged on a large plate. He's set out paper napkins and two bottles of beer. It was a familiar and comforting routine. Jack picked up one of the bottles and looked at Daniel quizzically
"You don't like beer remember?"
"Yes, I was hoping you'd forgotten I said that."
"You've been humouring me all these years, why?"
Daniel plucked the poker from its stand and began beating the smouldering coals into submission. He was quiet for so long that Jack almost repeated the question.
"I guess it started off with me trying to get you to like me. If I drank beer, ate pizza and watched hockey matches with you, I thought we might become friends. After I moved out, it was a good excuse to hang out with you. I didn't see you wanting to accompany me to the Opera or the Ballet."
"You could have asked. I actually like Italian Opera. And I took Sarah to see Swan Lake once. I stayed awake through nearly the whole thing."
"We like different things Jack, but I know now that it really doesn't matter. Our friendship is stronger because of the differences not the similarities. Took me a while to realise that but I'm a bit older and wiser now."
Jack took the unopened bottle of Bud and returned to the kitchen. When he came back a moment later he was carrying a bottle of red wine and a single glass.
"Is this ok?"
Daniel raised and eyebrow and nodded. The two sat in silence for a while munching on their pizza, drinking their drinks and watching the fire crackling in the hearth. Daniel accepted another glass of wine and Jack drank another couple of beers. It was almost midnight now and the rain had stared up again; blown in splattering gusts against the windowpanes by the wind. Jack got up and closed the curtains leaving the fire as the rooms only illumination. Daniel stood up too and faced his friend.
"Its late. I should call a cab."
"You could stay. It's been a while but the spare room is still made up. You're always welcome."
Daniel took a step closer.
"I don't want to impose. I should probably just......"
Jack matched Daniels hesitant step.
"Its no imposition. The sound of your snoring through the wall always helps me get off ...to sleep."
One more step and Daniel stood right in front of Jack, barely a handbreadth separating them. His voice lowered and became husky and deep.
"I don't snore."
"I've shared a tent with you Daniel - you snore."
"And you're not gay?"
"Nope, not gay."
"And neither am I?"
"Wouldn't know about that Daniel."
"I'm telling you that I'm not."
"So why do I have the urge to kiss you?"
Jack closed the remaining distance by grabbing Daniel's waist and pulling him into an embrace. "No idea Danny, but I have the same urge. What do you want to do about it?"
"I guess we'll have to kiss. That should get it out of our systems."
Jack remembered the dream kiss and silently thought that if reality in any way mirrored fantasy, Daniel was in for a big surprise. Out loud he agreed with the sentiment. "Sure it will. So here goes."
Nick quietly let himself in using the spare key Jack had given him six years previously. He tiptoed through the quiet house avoiding the creaky floorboard and stepped down into the living area. Like a true FBI Agent, he mentally recorded the evidence; an empty plate with one slice of cold pizza, three beer bottles and a wine glass and two pairs of shoes kicked off under the coffee table. He crept back up the stairs and headed along the corridor where he found a discarded pair of trousers and a checked flannel shirt. He was beginning to smile broadly.
Jack's bedroom door was slightly ajar and another shirt and pair of trousers lay in a crumpled heap just inside the room. Nick shamelessly peered around the door at the huge bed and its two sleeping occupants. Jack lay on his back with one arm thrown up over the pillow and the other curved tightly around Daniel Jackson. Daniel's head was resting on Jack's chest, one leg thrown over Jacks thigh. They were both naked but the quilt had long ago landed on the floor.
Nick retrieved the fallen cover and gently laid it over the two men. Daniel jerked awake and peered up myopically at the man towering over him. His movement woke Jack who nearly jumped out of his skin at the sight of Nick leering down at him.
"What the fuck....?"
"Jack O'Neill you old dog, its about time!"
Daniel clutched the quilt and pulled it up to his neck while he flushed red with embarrassment. But the big silver haired bastard just sat himself down on the edge of the bed and reached over to punch Jack's shoulder.
"Nick I want my key back you tactless bastard!"
"Oh come on Jack, let a guy gloat will you. I told you four years ago you were in love with this guy."
Daniel peeked out from under the quilt.
"Shut up Nick."
"No Nick, do tell."
"Shut up Daniel."
Nick got to his feet and headed for the door again. "Oops. Guess I've caused your first domestic. I'll leave the key on the hall table. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
Jack made no comment. There were plenty of things he wanted to do with Daniel but had no idea how to go about doing them. He was going to be asking Nick a lot of questions but right now, there were things he could work out for himself. He waited until he heard the front door slam then rolled over to pin Daniel to the mattress.
Jack bent forward and kissed Daniel long and hard until the younger man began to rock his hips in time to Jack's darting tongue. When he lifted his head, he expected Daniel to sigh in surrender.
"Four fucking years?"
Ok somaybe he didn't kiss that good. He rolled back onto the bed and propped his head on his hand to watch Daniel's face.
"When we came back from Abydos and you moved in here, Nick told me that he thought I was in love with you."
"But you weren't?"
"I was in denial. I told myself that Nick saw gay relationships where none existed because he was gay. Then one day he said something that really got me thinking. Love is the most precious gift we can receive, it really doesn't matter what sort of package it comes in!"
"That's beautiful Jack."
"So are you."
"Gaack! Good job I'm not diabetic! So do you?"
"Do I what?"
Jack bent forward and kissed Daniel tenderly on the lips. Then he whispered into his mouth, "more that life itself."
"I feel the same way about you."
"Aww this is so fucking romantic, I think I'm gonna puke!"
Nick's voice from behind the still ajar bedroom door had both men bolting upright then as one, they threw their pillows at said door causing it to slam shut in his face! Damn his FBI stealth training to hell!