A Failure of Imagination

(July, 2006)

(Thank you, Jeylan)


Whaddaya know, Jack O'Neill thought, I was right. Because there he was: Daniel. Within the same four walls for the first time in a while.

Jack's heart lurched like a happy drunk, did a skip of delight, tripped on anxiety and plummeted. His shoulders braced, his chest tightened, fingers curling around his drink. His mind tallied the reactions, jumped to the conclusion, handicap, and out of sheer habit, deflected: Of all the beer joints in all the ports of all the world, he had to come walking into mine — oh, he was way off his game. He should've been able to do better than bungling an innocent quote.

For starters, no ports in or close to Colorado Springs. It should've been a gin joint in the first place, but he cut himself some slack, he happened to like beer. Not that he was having any at the moment. No sense in asking for extra trouble when already pushing the odds, oh, let me count the waysno, let me not. Wouldn't improve the odds. The bar wasn't his, even if O'Neill's would be a fine name for a bar. Another bar. For this one, Cock&Bull said plenty, and the tattooed forty-something waiter, still trying to catch his eye despite the dirty look he'd gotten for winking at Jack earlier, looked eager to fill in the blanks. In any case, Daniel didn't happen to drop in out of the blue. As Jack had known for years and never let on, this was one of Daniel's periodic stops. The one he liked to keep strictly to himself, the only one further than walking distance from his apartment, at a little more than half hour's ride on I-25, in Pueblo.

If anything, the Ingrid Bergman role was here and now being played by Jack O'Neill. Well, crap. Granted, once his universe had expanded in one giant swoosh, his imagination had been forced to visit the strangest places --couldn't leave the honking big circle alone, could you, Danny? Just had to make it swoosh. It's been kicking my ass since, and look at me now. Really, you owe me a break. Still, there were places he didn't care to expand himself far enough to reach. Bogart, maybe, Bergman, no. He might have some wiggle room, given why he was where he was, but basically, no, he was pretty much set in half a century of stone. Of course, once Daniel bought the first clue tonight, it was going to be a challenge to persuade him Jack was still the same old Jack O'Neill Daniel knew and --last call for all bets-- loved.

Daniel looked good, even if a haircut wouldn't come amiss, and those pants had to be some other light color than the orange-to-peach the club lights coruscating red-to-purple insisted they were. Jack quickly checked the behavior of his own pants, nope, good old drab-olive doing no more than looking muddied. Reassured, he looked back at Daniel. God, he'd missed seeing the man, wanted to go to him, wanted to see him up close, wanted to hug him – allowed only in cases of return from the dead. In case of amnesia accompanying said return, tough luck.

I know it's been a while, but here I am, Daniel, you must remember this, 'cause time does go by.

You do look good, you look great. Gotta tell you, though, you can ease up on the gym sessions, like, yesteryear. It was a little disconcerting to be slighter than Daniel now, and how disconcerting was it going to be when --if-- in a naked, heaving tangle – ok, let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Since he'd left, he had made a point of finding out how his team was doing. Picking up the phone to ask how Daniel was feeling, sure, asking what Daniel was feeling, no-no. He had no way of telling if he was still wanted. Then again, this was Daniel, the man who'd made loving in absence and keeping faith against all odds into his immovable cornerstone.

Daniel nodded at someone, a passing nod, all out of proportion to the effort it took for Jack not to pick out and glare at the son of a bitch. Stop acting like a sulky adolescent. A nod is just a nod, and anyway, not like you don't know why he comes here. Daniel sidled up to the bar, attached himself half-heartedly to a stool, leaning sideways onto his elbow, one long leg stretched out in the opposite direction – really, he should've learned by now to keep his body better gathered and centered, but of course it was a nice stretch of his lean, sculpted length. Still, Jack would bet anything Daniel wasn't posing for any sort of purpose. He wasn't committed to staying yet.

Was he? While Daniel ordered a drink, Jack gave his eyes a break from him and looked around. So far, the bar looked uncommitted, too. Serious drinking and pairing on hold, just one couple dancing, two guys in the far corner playing footsies, a group celebrating something at one of the tables, the rest of the patrons in meandering drifts. Two of the four TVs were on. The boys of summer were scrambling on one, on the other Joey and his roommate were soundlessly bickering on an umpteenth rerun. The fact that he didn't bother to check out the baseball game or the score --okay, it wasn't hockey, but it was sports-- was enough to tell Jack, yep, he was committed all right. As committed as in mid-step into the 'gate, about to cede control to a force he really didn't understand, only hoping the GDOs had worked, Walter hadn't stopped to scratch his nose, and the iris was open at the other end.

He didn't think Daniel would squash him like a bug.

No, of course not. Not literally anyway, he thought, then caught himself. Science types split hairs, fine for them. Soldiers couldn't afford to waffle. In any campaign, confidence was all. Got it, use it. Got a little, fake the rest. Got none, fake better. Piece o'cake.

Cocky works for you, sure, a voice in his head mocked, but we both know if Daniel were a campaign, he'd be an entry on an old mission report by now. Face it, this is scaring you to death. If you never try, you never kill the possibility. Do you still want to try?

I have to try.

Daniel gathered himself tidily onto the stool, hooking his legs on the low rung by his heels, leaning onto close-set elbows, head down over his drink. His summer-weight clothes stretched nicely, the shirt across his broad shoulders, the mystery-colored pants across his hips and thighs, and the swoop and dip of the muscles down into the small his back, a lovely curve he never lost at any weight, deepened. Far from blind, Jack saw, avidly noted, but lust didn't begin to cover it. He regretted seeing so little of him, huddled like that, wondered if he was tired to be huddling like that – oh, yeah, Jack had to accept ruefully, I'm so far gone that if I keep sitting here I'm likely to meet myself coming back.

I want to try.

He knew Daniel loved him. He knew it because Daniel had come right out and told him one not-so-fine day, after the Shyla disaster, right there in that storage room, during the inevitable remorse fest over everything he'd let happen to his team. Jack had already waved the MPs away as Daniel was pouring forth a teary litany of what-did-I-dos and how-could-I-haves, when Daniel looked up at him with blood-shot, swollen eyes and told him quite clearly, "I believed I wanted her. I forgot I love Sha're, I forgot I love you." Jack had expected the list to go on to include Sam and Teal'c, but Daniel only said, "How could I do that?" and left him on a whole different level keeping company with Sha're. He had hurriedly waved away the rushing orderlies as well and asked Janet to let him help Daniel through the withdrawal in a private room. As it had turned out, Daniel hadn't uttered another indiscreet word, and Jack was convinced he didn't remember the ones he'd let slip. For his part, Jack wasn't given to indiscreet utterances even if there had been a time and a way to speak of it, if Daniel had stopped being one thing and become another in any noticeable, dateable way. Daniel simply was, and, more and more along the way, became.

Sitting on his ass and only hoping Daniel cared to become more wasn't accomplishing anything. Jack had places to go, things to do, the where and the what still up in the air, depending on whether he could add or had to subtract The Daniel Factor. He'd had no choice but to subtract it ruthlessly for years. He'd been a soldier most of his life; responsibilities trumped wants and needs and desires every time. But the newest version of life the Air Force had given him – well, he'd tried it on long enough to know he couldn't live one more day feeling like his own ghost in a parody of his life. To whom it may concern, Jack O'Neill is no longer subject to the requirements of the service. T-t-t-that's all, folks, it's been real. Well, lately, not.

Aw, drat, he seemed to have neglected to notify the Air Force of his departure. How thoughtless of him, on the lam with no in-triplicates on file. Hell, what could they do to him, dock his pay, scold him severely, hold back a promotion, rap his knuckles with a ruler? He was free now, not an active officer of the Air Force anymore, or the CO of an SG team, or the one responsible for making sure his civilian stayed within military boundaries. Now, at long last, time to push boundaries. His natural inclination anyway, barely kept in check by discipline, relieved by mouthing off frequently. And of course, Daniel had never met a boundary he didn't at least poke at.

So what was the problem? Here he was, there Daniel was, why was he glued to the damned booth, cringing like a teenager getting ready to ask for his first da – ah, I spy the problem.

Didn't I just settle this shit? He was not a teenager, for cryin' out loud, despite sweaty palms and racing heart and every other insecurity his body was trying on for the occasion; he was used to eating teenagers for breakfast and spitting out soldiers by lunch. He squared his shoulders and ordered himself to Get On With It. Long-trained, the misgivings stepped back, his resolve snapped to. He rose steadily, made an unswerving line until Daniel was right in front of him.

Also, being Daniel, miles away. He looked intent on the glass of wine he was delicately twisting between his fingers, but Jack knew that somewhere in the air between the drink and his nose he was forming and reforming an unsolved puzzle or some difficult text that had followed him from the mountain. In all likelihood he always sat here lost in contemplation until an interested party came to convince him to give it a rest. Might be one of the charms of this bar to him: labor unintensive.

"Hey, Daniel," he said quietly, so his voice would wade in instead of catapult over the clutter in that busy head and startle him. There it was, the interrupted-thinker lag, before his greeting registered and Daniel turned, wearing his social smile. He saw Jack and his smile got stuck, a paste-up left forgotten on his face. Jack could damn near hear the tumblers falling behind it. They seemed to have slotted into place by the time Jack added, "Some time, no see," the smile gone, his mouth slack, eyes impossibly round – oh, yeah, there's my genius, looking the part as usual.


"In the flesh," he said with flourish, rocking back on his heels to half-open his arms, and realized he was too closely mimicking his return after the NID incident, not a fond memory to resurrect. But Daniel must be too busy making more immediate, more alarming connections.

Another tentative, "Jack?" and Daniel's face drained of color, "Jack!" His eyes skittered around the bar, on and off Jack, unable to reconcile the who and the where. "What're you…how d-did you…how c-can you…what're you doing here?"

Jack hooked a thumb past his shoulder toward the corner booth, "Sitting there, waiting for you. And here you are."

"God, Jack, you can't be here! You know you can't be here."

"Hey, relax." He tilted his head and pointed at it for emphasis, "I'm old enough."

"Try telling that to the Air For–no, don't! You know how much t-trouble you can get in, j-just by…"

"What the Air Force doesn't know won't hurt me. Close your mouth, Daniel, people are starting to stare." Reaching around him, Jack picked up his wine and pressed it into his hand. Up went the glass like a tollgate, contents disappearing down Daniel's throat fast enough to impress Jack, who'd seen plenty of gold medals in speed-drinking. In addition to keeping Daniel from hyperventilating, the wine gave him an instant, lovely flush to replace the shocked paleness. Nice. Real nice.

"This is…Christ, Jack, I don't even know what this is! This is no place for you, you'll be in so much trouble if…when…"

Enough already. Jack leaned in and half-whispered, "We're both going to be in trouble if you don't quit that. You're no maiden aunt, I'm no innocent, and, well, didn't you always want to ask why the aunt was in the den of iniquity in the first place? So can we just say we're great in the don't-tell department, get past it, and take this some place private now?"


How interesting of him to get snagged on that word. But he was looking freaked, so Jack backed off. "Okay, we'll take it a step at a time." Which would mean the dreaded four-letter word, of course. Not his strong suit or preference, but clearly unavoidable. Might as well grab on by the horns, "Let's talk." He made a face, the things I do for you. "Get another drink and join me."

Still staring at Jack, Daniel motioned at the bartender and, without bothering to check if he had the man's attention, called out, "Whisky, double. Beer chaser."

Whoa! He may have to pour Daniel into bed and be a gentleman about it – so not in the plans. "Daniel."


No sense getting stuck on that old seesaw, seeing how he never ended on the upswing of it. He gave in and took himself to the booth, scooted into his seat. By the time he caught his hands at it, they were putting the odds and ends residing on one side of the table in a neat parade formation – Quit that! He stilled his hands, looked up and realized he wasn't the only one with a case of nerves. Daniel was off the stool, searching for his wallet by rote. He was patting himself down and looking for all the world like he was feeling himself up, checking too many places where he had no pockets, or any reason for them. Jack found himself beaming at the sight, ridiculously thrilled at being the one to know that if Daniel were in his field fatigues and tac-vest, every absent-minded pat would have landed on a pocket.

The bartender was being chatty while pouring the whisky and pulling the beer, unaware of Daniel's preoccupation, or used to it. After paying the man and getting his order, Daniel turned, took a few steps, focused on Jack and stopped in his tracks in the middle of the dance floor, which now held four couples and one odd arrangement that resembled a football huddle. You looked less misplaced among naked plant people, Jack thought, crooking his finger to summon him. Daniel obeyed as if attached to a yanking chain. That wouldn't last, of course. Not a compliant sort, his Doctor Jackson, once he found his footing.

Sliding into the seat across from him, Daniel took a big swallow of the whisky, grimaced the grimace of the infrequent drinker, then settled back and pushed the beer across the table at Jack -- Oh. And, God, it was welcome. One long, cold, satisfying pull on it, and Jack felt a genial glow he wished he could wrap around Daniel. Take notes, Carter. "Thank you."

Daniel waved vaguely with the fingers of the hand that wasn't keeping a white-knuckled grip on the shot glass. He couldn't seem to decide where to start asking all the things he had to be dying to know. Jack was not a conversation starter by nature. They made inroads into their drinks silently, while through the speakers someone with a twangy voice kept singing about how it didn't feel like sinnin' to him. It was, Jack supposed, a fitting sentiment for the place, but by the time the next singer started bemoaning I'm getting gray from being blue, he'd had enough. "I don't like country western." Not much of an opening gambit, but hey, he'd parted his lips for more than alcohol, which put him one up at the moment.

Daniel glared at him. "We are in Pueblo," he said, but clearly meant: Who invited you?

"I'm just sayin'." Daniel getting pissy with him was reassuring. If he'd had a change of heart lately, he'd be more solicitous.

Daniel sighed and relented, "Okay, I don't either, but…uh…part of the package."

Well, yes, ignore the fancy colored lights, the bar was as laid back as its music, unlike most of its ilk. Must've been why Daniel chose it. "You got a point."

"What are you doing here? I didn't even know you were in town."

"I'm not. Not supposed to be," he shrugged, "not."

"You carry too high a clearance for them to mislay you."

"They didn't. For them, I'm nowhere. Let's keep it that way."

"Jack, is there a prob – " Clearly, the words had marched out of Daniel's mouth without orders. Jack saw the impetus behind them register in his expression, become an apology as he lightly covered Jack's hand with his, "I don't believe I didn't think to ask. Seeing you here threw me, I'm sorry." For the first time tonight, his eyes fully engaged with Jack's, all concern and will to help. "Are you in trouble? Did something happen?"

"More like nothing. Relax, no worries." It came out gruff, dismissive, then turned bristly, "I can deal with trouble myself." Too much pure Daniel too abruptly, like heat on frostbite. Need it bad, have to flinch.

Daniel disconnected. His eyes, his hand. "Nothing happened, no worries, so you just, what? Got up and walked away?"

"Right off the GPS." He assigned his hand the job of picking up his mug instead of lying there uselessly.

"Somebody's bound to miss you," Daniel pointed out.

"Long's it's by miles, I'm a happy camper." He drained the last of the beer, mourning it already. "Look, it was never gonna to work. Round hole, square peg, no way. I'm AWOL." Daniel looked volumes at him. "Hey, I'm not just playing hooky. Call it my great escape."

"Without sanction? Jack, this is crazy, what you're doing, it's – "

"Like it was so sane before?" When did you turn into a mouthpiece for The Man? "So tell me, I'm curious, how long did any of you think I was going to sit on my ass and molt?"

Daniel looked stricken. "I never…we never – nobody forced you, it was your choice. It's what you wanted."

"No life left here." He leaned closer so he could drop his voice, "Couldn't lead my team through the 'gate anymore, could I? I wasn't any use to anyone, if anybody cared. Were any of you really interested? I took a stopgap to figure out what to do rest of my life. It wasn't for keeps. Always knew I couldn't do idle for long – no, I take that back," he pushed away the empty mug and cast an imaginary line in the air, "Long's I have a fishing pole in my hand, I'll idle. Decided I'd like a fishing boat under me, too, so I'm going away to get one. Way away." Come on, Daniel, it's right out of your book – Abydos ring a bell, Oma chime? She wouldn't let you do anything, so really, what did she offer except float somewhere and contemplate your navel? At least now you have a navel, and I'll cover the floating. Your imagination can handle this. Think about it and come on.

"It doesn't work like that, Jack, and you know it. You know too much for 'way away' to be a reasonable option for you."

"I also know how to disappear." Blackops, Danny, remember?

"No doubt," Daniel granted with a mumble.

Silence fell again and, now that the drinks were gone, stretched unbearably.

"You've put on some weight," was how Daniel chose to break it.

Jack tried not to grit his teeth. "Not that much."

"No, you're intrinsically ectomorphic."

He could a have ball misunderstanding that, make his linguist jump through hoops to explain, no, nothing to do with stubborn ghosts, that was intransigent, and that was ectoplasm, but he was trying hard to bypass his instincts to parry and deflect. Daniel had to ask the question sometime.

"So all this is…just for…goodbye?"

Oh, come now, even by his own tone Daniel didn't give credence to that nonsense. Falling for a brainy type should mean not having to suffer stupidity. "Yeah, and wouldn't you know, I just couldn't figure out any other place to say it."

Daniel had the grace to look chastened. "Yeah, okay, right…it's just that…I'm having a really hard time thinking of you lurking in this place on the off chance I'd show up here."

"I didn't. I came ahead of you on the good chance you'd show up."

Daniel's eyebrows put forth his doubts before he did, "Oh?"

"You betcha."

"I know the As -- " he caught himself, and leaned in to continue quietly, "the Asgard think you're the next step in our evolution." A barely arrested eye roll, the meaning of which Jack figured he was better off not seeking, "But telepathy wasn't mentioned. At least in my hearing."

"No mumbo-jumbo. Basic surveillance." In order to answer the re-elevating eyebrows, he hitched closer. They really had to go some place a lot more private. "Yes, I've been around for a few days, no, you didn't notice. Don't feel bad, you're archeology, I'm covert ops, that's life. I'm sure you'd have seen me if I were squigglies on a rock." He cast a look at the mug at his elbow. Nope, it hadn't magically refilled itself. He scowled at it.

"I assume there's a reason you didn't simply ring the bell and come in," Daniel grumbled.

Showing up at the first likely place is the way to keep 'em guessing, sure. "Better beer," he said dryly, lifting the empty mug and waggling it in the air.

Instead of taking the hint, Daniel was making an impatient 'give' motion with his hand. Jack put the mug down and took a sip of the soda he'd put aside earlier. It was warm, flat and awful. "You always shower and change before you leave work. Unless you're going out, you don't shave. So I'm watching your apartment, you get home, unshaven." A good bet he'd come home to stay home, no other plans, until he'd gotten restless. "Later the light comes on in the master bathroom and stays on." Anything that left his hands free for reading would've had Daniel in the half-bath to spare his books the humidity. "A good chance you were shaving. You wouldn't bother with it just to roust out Carter or Teal'c. Odds were on your going out to pick up a little R&R for the night." Luck o'the Irish, and here we are.

Not hard to follow, but Daniel took longer digesting it than he would have coming up with the origin of a language that had mutated for a thousand years. His brain circuits must be shorting on how much attention was Jack paying to my personal habits? "And, you happen to…uh," his voice wasn't quite equal to the task, he stopped to clear his throat, "You happen to know this is where I come for…that… how?"

"Saw you once, coming out of here with someone. Mostly by chance." No fair to uncover Daniel's secrets and safeguard his own, so he scrupulously added, "The first time."

"Which was?" Daniel asked in exageratedly measured tones.

Go on, tell him. "Right after Kyra." Which had been right after Sha're, causing Jack enough worry to keep a discreet eye on Daniel off and on. The first time. He had no justification for all the other times. As a soldier, he'd known to bury what had to be buried, but, like a careful thief, he never forgot where. It was his loot, Daniel had said so, he could check on its whereabouts even if he couldn't touch it – but as justification, squat. Put the shoe on the other foot and he'd be using it to kick Daniel, who had to be furious by now. Jack braced for the onslaught, hoping for the sputtering kind, expecting the strafing one, dreading something colder, distant – Huh? Okay, that hadn't figured.

Daniel was, instead, laughing. "I don't believe this." Rarely used, his laugh had an untried, raw sound, and when he dropped his face into his palms, it almost sounded like sobbing, but no, he was laughing. "That was the first time."

"Yeah, like I said."

"No," He caught his breath and raised his head. "I meant that was my first time. I don't mean -- " a couple of loop-the-loops of his hand to cover the unsaid, "I mean, coming here."


"I can say what a tangled web we weave and you can pretend not to know the source, but the, uh, practice to deceive has little appeal at the moment. Right?"


Daniel lifted his shot glass, frowned at finding it empty, "If you know…."

"Kinda follows."

All trace of laughter gone, Daniel put the glass aside. "Still begs the question."

It did? To keep his mouth from dropping open, Jack tightened his lips into a line. It had never occurred to him Daniel, who could leap six impossible intuitions before breakfast, wouldn't have a clue. "You're a smart guy, think about it."

"You made a point of confronting me here, because?"

Damn it, after what he'd said half a minute ago, Daniel wouldn't playact. He was no hypocrite. The obstinate bastard was now resisting just to resist. "I hoped it'd establish a few givens and take a shortcut past all this bullshit, but you're being pig-headed."

Daniel pinned him with a direct, intense gaze, electric-blue laser. "I can open my head pretty far, Jack. Are you sure you want me to open it that far where you're concerned?"

"Hey, I wasn't born wearing a uniform. You know those wild and wooly days of Purple Haze you only heard about? I lived them. Which I won't get into here." He had to break this entrenchment before Daniel got too attached to huddling in it. "So how about that motel you go to? It's right up the road."

"How did you – oh, never mind." Daniel dropped his face in between his hands again and dug into his skull with his fingers, mumbling to himself, probably in one of the many languages Jack didn't speak. He took a deep breath, looked up to hold a consultation with the ceiling, or the heavens, while he leaned to pull his keys out of his pocket. "Come on then," he said, sounding resigned, as he slid out of the booth.

Jack stood up and reached to pull his backpack out from under the seat where he'd stowed it. As he slung it over his shoulder, Daniel studied it as if he could catalogue its contents. "Are you roughing it?"

"I like roughing it. Been doing it most of my life. I'm roughing it out of a backpack instead of a duffel bag now." He shrugged to settle the pack comfortably. Daniel automatically reached behind him and tugged it into the exact spot it needed to be. No looking, no checking, as if he knew in his own bones where it should fit. Sweet.

"There are better ways of going about this great escape you're so set on, you know that, right?"

"Probably. But they all carry restrictions. Don't wanna carry restrictions anymore. And guess what, I don't have to." The bar was switching to a more energetic mode; some unholy mutation of country with grunge aspirations issued out of the speakers at twice the volume. "How well do you know the bartender? See if you can talk him out of a couple of bottles of beer to go. I'll be in the parking lot."

Daniel had parked in the larger lot behind the building. The car held its requisite number of empty Starbucks containers in the front, tomes of books and papers in the back, holding down a heavily lined parka Daniel must've thrown in during the dead of winter, yet to be freed at the height summer. Jack started to lean against the car to wait, found the metal hadn't lost all the heat it had absorbed through the day. He put his backpack against it and leaned on that instead. As usual, the thin layer of sweat that sprang to the surface on his skin made him yearn for a nice, long stretch of water softly whispering right in front of him, or better still, gently rocking under him – all in good time.

He'd already done a lot, seen more than anybody should. This time around he wanted it simple, no more good-of-the-many decisions that jeopardized the people he loved or left them disgusted with him. A quiet, out of the way place nobody gave a damn about, an unpretentious boat on a wide expanse of water where he could live and work: peace. If possible, he would also like a reasonable measure of…happiness might dare fate, so, contentment. And one single thread of continuity to keep, of having been, having known, having loved, the only one he couldn't bear to sever, surely not too much to ask, or need, but that was up to --

Daniel came around the corner, using the remote to unlock the car as he approached, letting Jack open the back door and toss his pack onto the pile. After wresting the passenger seat from the coffee cups, Jack got into the car, Daniel got into the car, the beer --thank God-- got into the car, and that seemed to be the end of progress. "It usually starts by turning the key."

"You wanted private, this is private," Daniel told the steering wheel.

Not for what I have in mind. Jack kept an eye on their six and all points around. Being in the bar was one thing, two guys sitting in a dark car parked behind a gay bar was asking for it, but Daniel wasn't done wrapping his mind around the situation, and until he did, they were going nowhere. Jack yearned for one of those bottles of beer sitting by his ankle, losing their wonderful chill, but this mix didn't need an open bottle in the car.

Ah, gum. He searched in the many pockets of his cargo pants and finally located the pack. He'd been sitting on it, and the gum was spreading into ooze, but he managed to roll up two sticks and stuffed them into his mouth. He held the pack out to Daniel, who looked at it as if he were already peeling the gum from under his shoe. Jack shrugged and tucked it away. "I know Sha're was the real deal for you, and you're too young for Purple Haze." He made it a statement, leaving Daniel the choice of taking it as a question or not.

It was answered right away. No minefields there, obviously. "I don't have a good explanation for you, never thought about it much. Not a whole lot to think about, urges come, urges get resolved by means of this or that. It never struck me as something I had to declare one way or another once and for all by a certain time. I know most people do, but most people think Budge is the last word in archeology, too."

You really do live in your head, don't you? The body is just something to attach it to. No wonder he'd been able to cast it off like so much hindrance when Oma gave him the option. If only it weren't for those pesky loyalties and concerns he hadn't been able to discard, he'd still be happily without it.

"Puberty is hit and miss anyway, " Daniel added. "College was a free-for-all, but I was too busy most of the time. Later, when I was living with Sarah while working on my doctorate, well, I didn't live only with Sarah, Steven was part of it."

Ah. So for Daniel this love thing didn't operate on the basis of one tenant moving out and another moving in. Jack had wondered when he'd gotten the indication he was sharing occupancy with Sha're. Okay, cool. Well, so far. He might lack in the coolness department if he held the first lease.

"Sarah instigated it, Steven went along, I had no objections anyway. She expected to be our focus, though. If she noticed some overflow, it was only the heat of the moment, more proof of how progressive we were. When she walked in one day and saw she didn't have to be there to generate the heat, she changed her mind. I thought it was an even bet which of us she'd throw out. Steven was really stuck on her, but he's the one she tossed. Probably because she knew it'd hurt him more."

In other words, he hadn't cared who was at hand to lend a hand when he was up for one. Which might explain Cock&Bull -- but no. On an impersonal, practical level, sure. Otherwise, no. How could the same Daniel Jackson who cared enough to put life and limb on the line for the total strangers of the galaxy, up to and including freeze-dried aliens, have been that callous about a lover? "You let her?"

"I left her," he said, proving the world was as round as ever. "I liked Sarah, still do. I also liked Steven. Now that he's more bewildered than spiteful, I still like him. But it became such a distraction at the time that ending it was a relief."

Sounded like a case of: Steven wanted Sarah, Sarah wanted Daniel, Daniel wanted his PhD.

"I left Chicago as soon as I gave my dissertation, went in search of funding," Daniel concluded.

Jack knew the rest of the story, which meant another subject had just bit the dust. Daniel fell silent, going through his repertoire of nearsighted squints he never seemed to realize he could do without while his glasses were on. Jack ducked his head to see what had caught his eye. Someone had painted a mural on the back wall of the bar, and he could just make out a strutting, small rooster in macho-man leathers, including chaps and spurs, leading by the nose-ring a huge bull, mincing in something frilly and gauzy.

"Let's hear it for artistic expression," he said.

"Let's not," said Daniel.

It'd be a different story if you were dusting a thousand years off of it, Jack didn't say. Somebody had to do something to move this along. Daniel's right hand was resting on the gearshift. Jack reached and took it. Daniel looked down with a start and almost pulled away before he stopped, brought his other hand around. He ran his fingers over Jack's hand as if carefully authenticating an artifact, feeling the marked protrusion of bone at the join of the thumb, tracing its long curve – Shouldn't that be in reverse, Daniel? Jack was the one to pull away. So much for that shortcut, too.

Okay then, back to words. What do you give a linguist who owns more languages than he can use? More words, of course, from the source who normally cared to spend very few. "If you need me to fill in some blanks," if you somehow missed the point of that whole pathetic confession, "this was part and parcel of the seventies for me," he indicated the bar with a tilt of his head. "Exploration, pretty much. I tried more than one thing Uncle Sam frowns on, but that was a long time ago." He paused to hear himself. He'd kept things from Daniel in the past, sure, but he'd never lied to him outright before that blasted NID-probe, nor since. Didn't want to start now.

No lies there. Enough of a soldier, though, and still attached to need-to-know, he continued carefully, "Once I signed on, long's I was under oath, I never looked back. I wasn't at liberty to look back. But that's just behavior. Any grownup should be able to control that," he stressed the word deliberately and waited. Nothing. Goddammit, Daniel couldn't possibly be this dense, but just in case he hadn't yet caught on, "You weren't the only one stockpiling maybe-somedays."

Daniel's only reaction was to let his head drop until his chin was on his chest. Oh, he'd caught on all right, just didn't know what to do about it.

"Now that we both know where we stand, start the damned car, Daniel." He could at least roll the windows down and get some air if they were moving.

No such luck. "What did I do to…?" Daniel raised his head and waved toward Jack vaguely, "You know…."

"How many years did we spend joined at the hip? I'm quite a Danielogist. I noticed." He would have noticed without Daniel's slip of the tongue --wraparound shades were useful for more than blocking the light-- but he'd have assumed it was only carnal curiosity and dismissed it. "I'm not a kid, and I'm not stupid." He continued quickly in case Daniel begged to differ, "I mean, you never took the opportunities to look at Teal'c like that, and let's face it, any way you look at him, he's got so much more to look at. For just a pressing need for a great big hunka-hunka-burnin'-love-machine, how can anyone see past Teal'c?"

Daniel started to sputter, caught himself and heaved a great big sigh. "You know, the only 'pressing need' I have right now is to wash your mouth."

"You've always had a skewed perception of me." He still remembered the argument in Baal's cell even if Daniel didn't. "This is really one more, if you think about it."


"No, really, Daniel. I know long-held perceptions are the hardest to get past, but hell, if anyone can, you can." The heat was getting to Daniel to the extent of a bead of sweat that rolled down from his temple and caught Jack's eye. He reached to wipe it with a finger.

Daniel tilted up his shoulder like a barrier and swiped the side of his face against his shirt. "Say I can, say I did -- Christ, Jack! Where do you think it can possibly go?"

He figured he'd just put it out there, straight-forward. "My choice would be, you chuck all this, we snag you your own backpack, and we head for South America."

"Lots of degrees, not the first one in bank robbery."

"Daniel! You just used a cultural reference less than five-thousand years old. I'm so proud of you."

Daniel didn't deign to notice he'd said anything. "The degrees I do have, however, I like to utilize to some extent."

Fine. If that's what your imagination can handle, I'll deal. "Okay, sure. Doesn't have to be any place far away. If you want to keep on doing what you're doing, I can disappear right here. Fishing boat is not mandatory."

For a long moment Daniel stood stock still, then twisted to face him. The headlights of a car slowly coming around turned his glasses to searchbeams, hid his eyes. "You'd stay? You'd be willing to settle for the great escape without your boat?"

Jack's heart gave a hard thump. Don't jump the gun, he told it, "Basic rule of life, you want, you pay. Boatless great escape, sure, I'll pay." The car drew more of his attention by parking close behind them. "No settling about it, either." As passionate declarations went, that was a dud. But anybody who got around to loving Jack O'Neill would know only his actions elaborated.

"I got the impression the boat is the most essential point of 'way away.'"

"Well, there's essential," he held a level line in the air with one hand, "and then there's essential," he held another line with the other hand, lower. It dawned on him he was illustrating it backwards. He'd been thinking essential, like breathing, and his hands were pointing out the vast difference of doing it at high altitude and at sea level. He flipped them, but it was confusing, what with the boat and the sea on different levels, and he gave up, let his hands fall to his lap. Daniel was good at unscrambling botched messages.

Three men were getting out of the car. The dome light didn't come on when the doors opened, immediately sharpening Jack's attention. The driver was slow in turning the motor off and dashboard lights reflected off the brass buttons, braids and shoulder cords of a uniform for a second. In a few more seconds, though, the light color of one man's headgear resolved into a hardhat instead of an MP helmet, and another man pulling a feathered headdress out of the back seat clinched it. The car had a bum dome light, and the entertainment had arrived. Didn't people get new ideas anymore?

"Boatless…" he heard Daniel murmur, wonderingly. "It's like the fishless lake, isn't it?"

"What?" He turned, startled to see how close Daniel had come, his fond, lenient expression.

"The things that make you…" his fingers gently touched the side of Jack's face, "…can make you happy."

He felt breathless, leaned closer, drawn… "Danny -- "

Oh boy, that was a mistake. Whatever had turned on that soft look in Daniel's eyes and given the tender curve to his mouth, his nickname on Jack's lips switched it right off. He pulled back, faced front again. "What am I thinking?"

He had never minded the diminutive before, not from Jack. He did now. Jack knew he'd lost the moment. He hoped he could get it back. Later. For now, it was gone.

"What are you thinking?" Daniel was shaking his head, looking like he also wanted to flail about in the cramped seat. "What were you thinking? This is – it isn't – Jack, this isn't like you. You've never done anything irresponsible in your life."

Just like the time in Baal's cell, when Daniel had heaped all sorts of ridiculous ascension candidacy qualifications on him. "Yes, Daniel, I have," Jack had to disabuse him again. "Many things, many times. One of them killed my son."

Even though he meant it only as a reminder that Daniel hadn't known him until after Charlie, it was, of course, the heaviest gun in the arsenal of last words. Daniel bit his lip, ducked his head, and started the car, didn't look up until he had to get his eyes on the road. He said nothing for the time it took to pull up in front of the motel, aware as ever that whenever Charlie woke up Jack needed some space to ease him back to sleep.

"Wait here," he said quietly as he turned off the motor. He got out, leaned in before closing the door and added, just as quietly, "This is so you can get a comfortable night's sleep, okay?"

"Comfort's good. Like comfort," Jack said to let him know he could stop treading softly, and waved him on his way. When Daniel passed under the lit awning, it was his first opportunity to see the linen pants he was wearing were flaxen, like pale, graying straw, and the true color of his outrigger shirt, with the button tabs keeping his sleeves rolled up, was a washed-out olive-green that had probably started life close to the color of Jack's pants. Daniel never worried about the fit of his clothes, but lately his body had grown to fit them. Was Teal'c a harder taskmaster than Jack, or had Oma upgraded him from the basic model during reassembly? He kind of missed the long, lanky, uncoordinated Daniel of the early days, but this version had a better chance of keeping himself alive and whole in the big bad universe, so he wouldn't complain.

Taking advantage of the moment, he installed himself in the driver's seat, fingered the keys Daniel had left in the ignition with a passing notion of turning the radio on, then chose to supply his own music. Now that he had dredged up Purple Haze, he chose another goodie from the same period to hum quietly to himself: How does it feel --he paused to get rid of the gum—to be on your own, in no direction home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone. Dylan had it all over Eminem as far as he was concerned.

When Daniel came back, he took a long moment to stand and glare at Jack, who stopped humming but kept the beat going --he had jumped ahead to Dark of the Moon-- by drumming it on the steering wheel, until Daniel gave up, rounded the car and climbed into the passenger side. He gave Jack a look of protest and made a hand motion that immediately brought to mind the room on Ernest's planet, afloat with the-meaning-of-life-stuff, and Daniel saying, go ahead, shoot it.

Jack had only seen the motel from the street. In the back, it wasn't the row of rooms inside a long cement block he'd expected, but small bungalows separated by bushes and trees. Nice. He pulled into the vacant spot in front of the one Daniel pointed at. "Take my pack in, will you? I'll be just a minute, soon's I park somewhere less specific." A sensible caution, and a legitimate explanation for taking the wheel. So that Daniel wouldn't have it to drive away with if he got jittery at the last moment was another, but hey, need-to-know. As he found a spot on the back street past the open side of the lot, he kept an eye on the rearview mirror. He saw Daniel note where he parked, get in the room and, always a quick study, close the drapes before turning the lights on. Good boy.

Who had, naturally, forgotten the beer. Jack hooked both bottles with one hand, happy to find them, if not ice cold, still cool. He locked the car, put the keys in his pocket, hurried across the lot and Daniel let him in. Ah, yes, air conditioning. One requirement: check. Next requirement, the beer -- the wont of bar bottles, no twist caps. He used the lock slot of the doorframe of the bathroom to pop the top off of one. At a tilt, it immediately foamed up. Ready for it, he immediately got it to his mouth, losing as little of it as possible, and greedily poured it down his throat while standing in the hallway, until it was half gone. Second requirement: check. Next requirement -- he saw Daniel, fixedly watching him drink and swallow, and then watching him lick and suck the initial spill off of his hand until he noticed Jack noticing. He wouldn't meet Jack's eyes, looked away. Third requirement: coming along nicely.

The room lived up to the promise of the exterior. While Daniel did rough with no fuss, he didn't do squalid if he could help it, that was a given, but Jack had expected utilitarian, knowing Daniel never stayed the night. At least those times Jack had seen fit to find out about, but it was a safe bet. However, this was a fine, comfortably appointed room, minus showy clutter. Nice soft lighting, too. Classy guy, Daniel. Jack held out the unopened bottle of beer to him, got a headshake, put it in the small refrigerator under the coffeemaker. "Coffee?" he suggested instead.

Daniel wrinkled his nose at the available choices. "No."



"Is that a no-hell-no, or no, you're not sure?" Daniel didn't pick an answer, kept looking at the coffee packs. Lesser choices all around, huh? Jack made a command decision, randomly picked a pack and started the coffee. It could stay in the pot. Daniel's choice.

Leaving the coffeemaker to do its thing, he sat on the edge of the bed to take off his shoes and socks, wiggling his toes against the cool surface of the carpet. Much better. Daniel still looked unwilted, heat hog that he was. Jack stripped off his t-shirt, noted how Daniel took half a step back, decided not to remove anything else until much later. He tossed the shirt in the direction of his backpack and went to the bathroom to splash some water around. By the time he came out, applying the towel half-heartedly and leaving the rest to the air conditioner, Daniel was standing with his nose in a cup of coffee. The taste might not have enticed him, but the smell looked to have done the trick.

Jack went to turn on the radio beside the heavy, two-poster bed. The last guest, or a dust rag, had left the volume way up, and the first thing that issued from it was the Temptations blaring out I can turn a gray sky blue before he could lower it. "Better than country western, but I'm starting to detect a pattern."

Daniel took his nose out of the cup to look at him blankly. Typical. Despite his curiosity, Daniel was selective about what he let register on that intricate brain. It probably had a sign: Useless crap, stay out. No, probably more like: Only meritorious miscellanea need apply. Jack had learned to register everything in as wide a range as possible, perforce shallowly because of the sheer volume. Anything he looked past, any pattern he didn't see could mean another body bag. Something he never again, please God, wanted to carry or look at. Enough eulogies. He'd done more than his share already.

Why couldn't Daniel understand that? That a day came when what should be done, had to be done, and the proper way to bow out if it couldn't be done, meant absolutely nothing. The only thing that made sense was to get up, shoulder a backpack and walk away. Just because Jack couldn't dissolve into sparkly streamers to float away, or wouldn't when he could have, shouldn't prevent Daniel from understanding the need to go, just go. Yes, Daniel had done it at the extremity of his body's limit, but surely he knew the spirit had a limit, too; it hurt no less for bleeding out of sight.

He kept going up and down the dial until he ran into early Debussy on a classical station. If they were doing a dedicated segment, with any luck, they'd get to La Mer. In the meantime, Daniel and his coffee had finally made a move, a prim one. He'd chosen one of the two upholstered chairs on the other side of the bed, in front of the windows. Jack peered at it out of the corner of his eye and hid his grin. The nice room had nice chairs with plush, wide seats. Daniel wasn't filling his to capacity. Plenty of space.

He retrieved his beer and sipped it as he went to sit on the side of the bed facing Daniel. Patting his chest a couple of more times with the towel, he put it aside, leaned to place the empty bottle on the floor out of the way, and, straightening, took hold of Daniel's leg to bring up with him. "Jack?"

"You'll feel better, trust me." He placed Daniel's foot on his knee and removed the shoe and the sock. Shoes tended to get forgotten until the last minute when they inconveniently got in the way. Basic rule of strategy, identify and neutralize as many impediments as possible prior to engagement. He tapped the ankle to indicate Daniel could have his foot back, patted his freed knee to ask for the other one. Daniel huffed, placed his cup on the table and doubled over to take off his remaining shoe and sock. "Okay?" he asked, sitting up.

"I don't know, they're your feet," Jack disavowed, happy to annoy. Dropping back onto the bed, he bounced a few times to check the firmness, and finding it just fine, spread out on it, finally cool and comfortable. His eyes drifted closed. For the moment he let them be. "You know," he said conversationally, "there are other singles bars." Another not-a-question-if-you-don't-want-it-to-be.

"Unless it's just a transaction, it's complicated with women. Much simpler with men." Another prompt answer, proving, no, Daniel wasn't being skittish on his own behalf, so it was down to Jack. Figured. "I don't go out looking for intimacy, just the basic means to an end. Don't go looking that often, either."

"Pretty much monthly, unless you're stuck at the mountain or halfway across the galaxy."

"How often am I not stuck at the mountain or halfway across the galaxy? I won't apologize for wanting someone else to touch me eight, nine times a year, for a couple of hours at best."

"I wasn't angling for an apology."

"Then what are you ang -- Christ, I feel so weird talking to you about this!"

"Get over it. What would you prefer to talk about?" Since you're determined not to make a move.

"How about, how do you plan to pull off this jaunt? With all the top secrets in your head – hell, Jack even if our side agreed to cut you loose to go play fisherman in the wilds somewhere, which I don't see happening, one hint of you so far outside a security net, and Kinsey will send every NID goon after you, not to mention the rogues and the bounty hunters likely to pass through our patch of the galaxy."

"What's the big difference?" He bent one elbow to point at himself, miles from where he should be, in a totally unauthorized motel room in the company of the man he planned to seduce, "What a bang-up job the security net's doing now, huh?"

"We never should've let you leave. We may have noticed sooner when you went missing," Daniel said, a sigh wrapped around his words. "Or went nuts," he saw fit to add.

Jack sat up, pulled one leg onto the bed to fold under him casually, telegraphing nothing. "It wasn't anybody's fault. I didn't fit in any longer."

"You're good at lots of things. It depends on where you want to fit in, but I've been thinking and -- "

He didn't let Daniel lead him past the too-good-to-miss opening. His folded leg levered him, his foot on the floor propelled him the scant distance, hands grabbing the armrests to hoist and fold himself into place, and he was straddling Daniel's lap. "Right here, I figure," he said as Daniel, with time for only an automatic reaction, long habit making it a protective one, supported him within the circle of his arms. "Oh, yeah, right here's great."

"Jack, please, this isn't a good idea."

With slow deliberation, he removed Daniel's glasses to the table, cupped his face in both palms and, as it was right there, stroked the lush lower lip with his thumbs. Looking at Daniel for so many years, he'd always resisted the lure and not let his eyes drop to this mouth, but now – look, Ma, hands! Daniel seemed wary, his eyes down, not giving anything away, but the tip of his tongue retraced the stroke on his lip. Jack slid one hand to his nape, his skin warmer there, the hair a cool contrast, thick and smooth, and just long enough for his fingers to grip confidently, but he didn't give in to the urge.

"This is in fact a very, very bad idea." What a surprise, Daniel was still talking, protesting too much. How clever of nature, then, to have made mouths for multitasking. Jack watched Daniel's face as he took his time bending toward it, watching it close and closer a sweet thrill in itself. He saw a lovely flush rise to the surface, until, close enough for his eyes to lose focus, felt him, lip to lip, just breathing, tasted him lightly with the tip of his tongue. A hint of coffee on the full lips, slightly salty at their corners, a tame sensation, predictable, almost homey. The sudden…unspooling…he felt at finally, finally being able to do this just as predictable but nowhere close to tame or tamable, Come on, Daniel, meet me halfway and this can be the best. "The worst idea you ever had, and that's saying something – Jack, stop!"

Fuck it. He was trying to be good, take it slow and easy, and Daniel didn't seem able to get past some silly hangup – not turning away, though, or pushing away, and his arms were still around Jack, however loosely. He must know by now indecisive signals surrendered the decision. Time to take a page out of Sha're's book, who had once demonstrated that Daniel could be kissed to mute stupor. He gripped Daniel's hair to tilt his head up, secured the wide shoulders with his arm, and took Daniel's mouth as it was opening yet again, kept it open with lips, teeth, tongue, whatever got the job done. Daniel moaned, or maybe it was a muffled protest, but Jack preferred to call it a moan. Just in case, though, he applied himself to making sure. Inside Daniel's mouth, he hunted down, stifled, shoved back into his throat all chance of speech, leaving him no air, no room, no choice -- This is not the original sin, dammit, get over it.

Backing off for a brief second so they could both gasp for air, he saw in the blue glaze of Daniel's eyes the attempt to regroup. Jack didn't give him a chance, pressing back with the same determination, beggaring Daniel to small, inarticulate sounds which, very soon, stopped. Reveling in his ascendancy, high on it and purpose-driven, he was literally climbing on top of Daniel, who kept sinking lower and lower under him – and damn it to hell, that was wrong. It was turning into a sheer adrenaline kick, Daniel didn't seem able to come up with any to join his, or throw against his, and that was just plain wrong.

Loosening his fingers twisted in Daniel's hair, he pulled away his hand, sat back, made himself meet Daniel's eyes. For all he knew, they may have stayed open all along. Jack had accomplished mute, but not stupor. As it turned out, there was a big difference between quiet-Daniel and silenced-Daniel, and he was finding the latter an unnatural, uneasy fit. Daniel stayed sprawled half off the chair where Jack had driven him, his mouth wet and reddened from its captivity. The silence hanging in the air between them was a brittle thing, the sound from the radio a distant, flat backdrop of dull strains, something heavy and bleak, probably Mussorgsky. "I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry, Daniel."

"Not that sorry," unexpectedly gentle, and a touch…wry?

Out of nowhere, Jack's memory replayed releasing his hold on Daniel's hair and pulling his hand back. But he couldn't remember removing his other hand, which should've been at the end of his arm he'd thought was around Daniel's shoulders, but – he looked down. Oh.

Okay, apologizing to a man for oppressing him while pressing his hand into your too clearly interested groin deserved wry, and more than just a touch of it. When had that happened? When had that found time to happen? It was humiliating, his body's march to its own fast beat without a single memo to his brain. He immediately let go. "Uh…sorry about that, too."

Daniel left his hand, warm and steady, in place, his other one bunching Jack's waistband, anchoring him down as he attempted to rise. "I'm not a kid either, Jack." He let go of the waistband to make a handle of his hipbone, his thumb digging into its hollow as he braced his legs and easily moved both of them into the full support of the seat.

Earlier, Jack hadn't given room to the thought Daniel could break away from him if he really wanted to, all such thoughts disallowed during an offensive. Clearly, he'd consented to bending to Jack's will, not his strength. "You know you can stop," he said, in case any remnants of coercion lingered.

"Of course I know. Now be quiet."

Jack had to smile at his nerve. Or maybe it was payback. In any case, he didn't care. His pulse suddenly drumming in his ears, a hot flush sweeping through him, he truly didn't care about much of anything as Daniel's hand became active, cupping, squeezing, rubbing. Except, settled again into Daniel's lap instead of damn near on his chest, he could tell he was at wheels-up while Daniel still idled at systems check. Since it looked like they would take this flight, he should bring him up to speed first.

And for that, first-- he lost the thought when Daniel took him by the nape to bring closer and started down his throat, across his collarbone, kissing, laving, and his hand… First-- back up his throat, nipping, licking away the little hurt that hurt so good, the consolation even better, no, go back to the hurt, okay, sucking is good, too. First the-- down his chest, tugging at the sparse hair gently with his teeth, then firmly, and, God, his hand…. First the shirt-- tongue flicks at his nipple, mouth closing on it, wet and warm and insistent. First the shirt had to -- edge of teeth, quick, sharp bite, rasp of tongue over and over, and his hand, dear God…. First the shirt had to…what?

Go. First the shirt had to go. Wet swathe across his chest, the busy mouth devoting itself to the other nipple – think! Shirt, buttons. Buttons, fingers. Where would I be if I -- ah, there. Lots of fingers, tangled in Daniel's hair. He spared some to send on a blind, fumbling search between their bodies, barely able to hold its mission fixed in his head as his awareness kept plunging down and soaring up in a loop between Daniel's hand and mouth. He got as far as the second button when Daniel decided to do some unbuttoning of his own, and all he could think was he should've worn something with a zipper, one tug and there you are, but no matter, the button fly took no longer in Daniel's hand, clever, clever hand used to unearthing all manner of stuff deftly, delicately, carefully – please, Daniel, not too carefully.

The hand supporting him at the small of his back spread open, slipped inside the pants and the boxers, making them slide to his thighs. Splayed fingers cupped his buttocks and pulled him to rise higher on his knees, delivering him more firmly into the hand doing things that made Jack dizzily think he may have been wrong while watching Daniel excavate. Those hands couldn't have been doing anything as mundane as digging and sifting the earth, there must've been seduction involved. Caught between the press of Daniel's open hand and his grip, suddenly unable to imagine any other state of being, any other way to move but how they willed, he had to yield to them. Unpredictable and arbitrary, they sometimes let him shuttle feverishly between them, sometimes made him reel and pitch, desperate to find a rhythm, any rhythm.

"Daniel, let me?"

"Sshh," his face pressed to Jack's breastbone, his breath a cozy current across his midriff, "I'm trying to make it last."

Maybe some time, maybe then, he'd have had the patience for it. Not now. Now he thought he'd lose his mind if he stayed strung out exitless for another second. Right now leaping the tallest buildings with a single bound sounded good. And, dear God, possible. His mind maintained just enough of its distance that he could mock his body propelling itself faster and faster, straining for an impossible, juvenile illusion of a scramjet ride without the jet. His hands gripping the back of the chair, he dropped his head on top of Daniel's and found a breathless chuckle for his hyper-charged hormones, but then Daniel let them have their way, Daniel's hand did something that burned off the last bit of fuel for thought. His hips snapped forward one last time, gave him a final second to gasp and catch up to his body on the downstream of the shockwave.

Barely grounded again, while his heart was still on quick-march and he had not a single bone to call to attention, he felt Daniel shift to tuck himself into one corner of the chair. He was moved from a curled up heap to a comfortable sprawl across Daniel's lap until his head was pillowed on the back of the chair, one leg hooked over the arm rest, the other hanging off of Daniel's knee. The move teased a trickle of memory, felt familiar, made him smile. It took a long minute of collecting himself and his breath to equate it with settling an armful of sleeping child. Okay, that was truly embarrassing for his age. Only a blip on the radar though, compared to his latent display of going from lift-off to Mach-9 like a streak.

Seeing Daniel looking at him from the distance of a hand span alerted him to the fact he had opened his eyes. He hadn't meant to do that yet. No other cover, he opted for the left field, looked down his nose at their position -- oh, for cryin' out loud, where was his true age that he could still be mostly erect after that? "Are we having a Pieta moment?"

"Jack!" The exclamation was pure pretense, Daniel's voice mellow, eyes indulgent, his head resting companionably close to Jack's on the chair back. "You just used a cultural reference more than five years old, I'm so proud of you."

Didn't pay to forget Daniel had near perfect recall and an agile tongue -- no, no, bad thought, bad thought. Too late, as his skin remembered the wet trail with its every stopping point and a fine shiver ran through him. Daniel brushed the back of his fingers, a little tacky, against his chest, knuckles lightly catching at his nipple. Still sensitive, he hissed in a breath, caught Daniel smiling at him in an oddly satisfied way. "I know why I must look sappy, why do you?"

"Seeing you like this, not something I ever imagined. I mean, even when I ima -- "

"I got it," he snapped, then, just because he hated seeing Daniel's expression try to change into something he wouldn't snap at, closed the short distance and kissed him. A second, two, Daniel was carefully taking him by the throat, pressing back, contributing his share. God, yes, that was more like it, this was as it should have been.

Daniel's hand slid down, on too direct a path, again its back brushing his chest, the fingers already curved to wrap around him -- oh, no, he wasn't about to go slipping the surly bonds like a speeding bullet again. He arrested its progress as he parted their mouths. "You're making me mix my metaphors," he accused. "I was thinking," he started to explain, couldn't bother. "Never mind, who cares, where were we?"

Daniel chortled softly. "I thought you might be many things, insatiable wasn't one of them," he said. "Barring burritos, of course."

It hit his funny bone, wrested a sudden laugh from him.

"What?" Daniel asked, catching a smile from his laugh.

"I don't know, how it sounds I guess. Barring burritos." Or maybe I'm just jazzed. As soon as he thought it, of course he had to say it, "Jack's just jazzed."

Daniel's smile gained a wicked edge. "Jack might lack the knack for word play."

"Don't be a schlemiel, Daniel," the only word he could think of to echo the name so much more problematical than Jack.

"That's Yiddish."

"Burritos was English?"

"I didn't start it. AdiprAsa, antyaprAsa."

"What's that?"


Oh, that was just unfair. "How now, brown cow," he said, and promptly reclaimed Daniel's mouth, their merriment caught in the middle like a playful bubble as lips tried to smile and lock at the same time. The silliness dissolved into the kiss, turning it into something fizzy and fun and delightful, and with another minute's dedication, heady --'Scuz me while I kiss the sky. Jack twisted, trying to match the rest of him to Daniel without letting go of his mouth, but as soon as he managed to align them to his satisfaction, Daniel was scooting forward and lifting them both off the chair.

Not going to go smoothly, he knew. He tried to help by wrapping his arms securely around Daniel's neck to let the broad shoulders take his weight. Sure enough, Daniel failed to consider he was carrying someone taller if not heavier, had forgotten there was loose clothing in the way, preventing Jack's legs from wrapping around him. He tried to take a step, got caught short by the boxers still binding Jack at mid-thigh. As soon as he recovered from the misstep and heaved Jack higher, he promptly tripped on the cargo pants that had pooled trailing from Jack's ankles to the floor. Due solely to the bed's close proximity, he managed to deposit them, or at least parts of them, onto it, the rest requiring a scooting, slipping scramble, which conveniently served to slide the boxers far enough that Jack could shake them off to join the pants left on the floor. "Remind me to give you Impediment Removal, the Strategic Importance of, lecture," he said, trying to talk and chuckle at the same time, Daniel literally weighing down both endeavors.

Leaning onto his elbows, Daniel raised himself far enough to give him another blank look. Of course. If he spied an objective he wanted enough to aim for, he always went off like a heat-seeking missile, unfazed by fumbling and stumbling, or a phalanx of Jaffa, along the way. "Never mind," Jack told him, amusement turning into affection, which promptly took a sharp left into aggravation as Daniel exhibited more of the same tendency and aimed south, sliding off the edge of the bed onto his knees. "Ah-ah-ah," he prevented any further moves by gripping two fistfuls of Daniel's hair and holding him off, even though part of him --visibly, in one aspect-- stood taller and whined about it. "Give me a chance."

"Let me -- "

"God, yes. Later."

Daniel looked ready to be stubborn. Jack yanked him by the hair, hard, got the usual Ow! Daniel had to be using unchanged since age three. A couple of more yanks supported by heaving up with his thighs Daniel had foolishly left his arms hooked over, and they were both on the bed. Then Jack had to dig into his supply of dirty tricks until he had Daniel flat on his back, straddling him and pinning his arms. He remembered holding him the same way after Shyla, in the infirmary. He wasn't breathing as heavily this time, but neither could he contain him as surely, so he established another point of contact much more appropriate to the here and now, covered Daniel's mouth with his.

He kept his eyes at a slit and watched Daniel's eyes, looking a little startled with their pupils pushing the blue irises to a narrow band in the shadow of Jack's head. He coaxed Daniel's tongue to come out and play, and knew to the second when Daniel lost all focus, went charmingly cross-eyed for a hazy instant, and his eyelids dropped shut as he pushed into Jack's mouth. That's right, close your eyes and it's fine, it's me. It's really me, Daniel.

And you know it. Daniel devouring him as if after famine, moaning with it, arching off the bed, looking for more of him. You're as tired of waiting as I am. The hands loosely resting on either side of Jack's waist took another second, then they were sweeping up and down his back, going lower each time, starting to grip and pull and press, trying to get him to give up hovering like a tent and lie down on him already. In a minute, in just a minute.

He sat back up, Daniel's hands sliding to his thighs, clenching and loosening. The earlier-missing stupor had arrived and he could finally divest Daniel of his shirt. While he was working on it, he scribbled a quick mental memo to find a few minutes later to rinse and hang it over the air conditioner. It was Daniel's fault for not letting it come off in time, but Jack was a responsible guy; he'd clean up after himself. He spread the shirt open -- Damn, Daniel, you were always beautiful, but when did you turn into solid acres of it?

The flush of the skin tight over flesh was warmth to him once he laid hands on it. The rise and fall of the wide chest were small flexing stretches pounding with a strong heartbeat against his palm. He felt Daniel's body was translating itself for him, from the known to the language of the intimately known. Wondering what else it had to say and wondering at his unlikely fancy, he lowered his head, closed his mouth on a nipple, trapped it gently between his teeth and teased with the tip of his tongue. Daniel took a sharp breath, dug his head back, his hands tightening and tugging on Jack -- Okay, okay, I hear you. He took his weight on his elbows to lower himself slowly, matching thighs, bellies, chests, gently touching foreheads at the end, intending to start there and take his time going down inch by inch. Daniel took Jack's hips between his hands and pushed up against him -- oh, yeah, he was certainly interested now. Nothing fanciful about that, no translation required.

With Daniel on his back, the shirt was still an issue. Age and guile, Jack thought, working the sleeves until they restricted the next time Daniel wanted to move his arms, rocking gently on him enough to make him want to move them, and he squirmed, pulled them free, raising a pang of nostalgia. You always had to work your way around Daniel as he single-mindedly did whatever he was intent on doing. The freed arms wrapped them tight together, sure as surety, but Daniel said, "Oh, Jack," on a broken breath, added on a shaky one, "This isn't fair."

"Tell me about it." I'm trying to make it fair where I can, so work with me here.

Daniel bit his lip, tossed his head side to side, threw it back. The tendons on his neck stretched, the veins close to the surface looking like faint, smudgy lines in the ambient light. Jack bathed every one, the soft skin such a thin covering that he knew they'd be delicate blue tracings in daylight. Say, if they were --God, yes, let's say-- on a boat, miles from anywhere and anybody, and came out into the full light of day, free to do anything under the sun under the sun -- that's freedom, Daniel. Just a pipedream to Jack O'Neill hanging on to medals and insignias. Do you get that? Please, please get that. He felt a strong pulse against his lips, suckled there, fast-rooted. Just work with me. We beat hell together.

Suddenly, he was flipping over, got an instant flash: your legs A, mine B, go for A-B-A-B, wrap tight, and remember, push they'll expect, pull they won't, so roll with your hip, pull with your legs. And there he was, on his back, with their legs braided just the way he'd taught Daniel on an exercise mat once, before doing such things had turned risky. Somehow on the same page, Daniel gave him a haughty your-just-deserts smirk and made the mood also flip over, tumble into elation. "I wasn't done with my turn," Jack complained, doubting he could make it stick since he suspected there was a big grin on his face. He was sure of it when Daniel licked it corner to far corner, and there wasn't much to complain about after all, except for those damned pants, still in the way. How was Daniel standing them? With that fitted flat-front, they had to be strangling him.

"Yes, you are," Daniel said belatedly, aiming for his mouth.

Jack knew if he didn't wrest some control now, he was going to get swamped again. "Ah-ah," he said, even raised the forbidding finger. Daniel gave it no more than an eye flicker and came swooping down to engulf his mouth. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack glared at his finger with chagrin, uselessly stuck in the air next to Daniel's head. Obviously, it had lost all…gravitas, rose out of the remnants of those pesky Latin lessons. But his eyes were closing of their own volition, his hand decided it had better places to be and took his finger along, gravitas-deficiency and all. Well, okay, Daniel could be in charge again if he liked, it was fine for now, more than fine. He'd see to his turn later. He could keep going all night. Bet Daniel never saw that coming.

Something ferocious about the kiss this time, and Daniel broke it too soon, latched onto Jack's neck, marking him, making blood rush under the skin to meet him as he chose. He was no fan of his own pants suddenly, trying to burn them off by friction. Having only naked flesh to counter with, Jack held onto the bucking hips and moved with him instead of against him. Daniel buried his head in the curve of his shoulder to breathe so deeply his muscles were defined like relief against Jack's chest and belly. "God, you smell just…" Daniel said into his neck, but it came out of his mouth already half-swallowed by his decency, and when Jack's fingers tightened convulsively, he didn't finish. One day, Jack hoped, he'd learn not to start it at all. Or think it.

Surging like the lift and fall of a tight wave, Daniel took him along, locked and rocking together, rolling just to the edge of capsize and back and again – this is good, this is great, no need to get fancier, just a little longer, a bit stronger -- if we can just get rid of those pants. He fumbled at the waistband, squeezed his hand between their bodies by sucking in his stomach, but Daniel grabbed his wrists, stretched his arms out to the sides and held them there. I know you can put a mule to shame, but this is ridiculous, you're driving me crazy. He could no longer make his hips stop thrusting against the chafing material. He dug his heels to scoot himself higher, anticipating the firm, smooth skin undulating against him, and maybe when Daniel had nothing but the bed to push himself into, it'd finally dawn on him to get rid of the last hindrance. Except Daniel seemed to think Jack's moving up was directing him to move down, and he did, the man notorious for not taking even clearly articulated directions, down he went obediently, much to Jack's instant frustration, "Wait, will you wait a minute."

"I can't!"

The sudden outburst made him realize Daniel was a lot more frustrated than he was, had been for a while. "Anything you want, but come up here where I can reach you."

"Will you just let me do this? I want to do this."

He had said anything. He let Daniel slide off the bed to his knees, let himself get pulled and positioned as the hasty hands saw fit. "You do know two can play together, right?" he attempted one last time, mildly.

"Sshh," he was hushed like a child again. He considered getting seriously annoyed this time, but damn it, just the spill of breath on his overheated flesh felt so good, even Daniel's gaze on it close to a touch, marking him to be touched, not quite yet, but soon, very soon. Jack felt he was about to start vibrating like a tension wire. Being so implacably hard was something he had forgotten quite a while back until forced to remember again, so hard that when Daniel finally lifted his erection off his belly and angled it, it plucked and pulled at some place deep inside, making him want to writhe. As if he knew, Daniel laid his palm over the spot and kneaded soothingly. Then he leaned in and watching became more riveting than moving anyway. Future reference, no ice cream cone for him in public, ever. Daniel's eyes fluttered closed, and now Jack wanted them open so he could have a clue how this felt to him. He sank his fingers into Daniel's hair, not to push or pull, just to feel and enjoy, to tangle his fingers in the cool, frayed silk of it.

Infuriatingly delicate, Daniel's lips closed under the crown, his tongue drawing tiny hairpin curves. Jack's breath caught, got neglected until Daniel plunged lower, sucked lightly, and he found himself panting. Daniel's thumb joined him inside the warm mouth, rubbed circles into him, then drew a firm, wet line down his shaft, over and under his balls, stopped just on the verge of entering him, rubbing and pressing with even pressure, setting up a shivery anticipation, never releasing him from expecting it, his thoughts barely cohesive enough to recollect --Daniel --never as hopped up at the solving as on the verge of it -- verge of -- verge -- oh, God. He squeezed his eyes shut with a silly notion of cutting off one sense to keep from being overwhelmed. Instead, it narrowed his focus instantly and plunged all his senses down like a grounded charge. No, no, not yet --

Daniel released him just in time, took him by the waist and pulled him forward. Jack banded his legs around him before he realized how far he'd be pulled. His lower back cleared the edge of the bed and he was suspended. Instinctively, he threw his arms wide, grabbed fistfuls of the covers and hoped they were folded under tightly enough to resist his tugging. He thought of letting his legs drop to the floor, but Daniel rose higher on his knees, bent his head and swallowed him, nothing delicate about him now, made a tight ring of his fingers at the base of the shaft, and Jack was going nowhere, had no desire to go anywhere except into the descending haze of pleasure. All those times, trying to teach you to balance – this is what you prefer, off balance, off center? Okay, I'll learn your way.

Daniel's free hand came up under his buttocks, for much-needed support, he thought, but it delved between his thighs, cupped his balls, squeezed just tight enough for a thin current of alarm to shoot through the pleasure and make it spike. He couldn't help a sound of protest, but it only caused the hand to pull, a quick sharp tug that made his back want to arch, up and maybe away, not the least bit possible -- Christ! You like the edge, don't you? He should've known the second he saw the brainy scholar stick his face into the unknown like a breathless adventurer.

Each sink and rise of Daniel's mouth sent wanton sensation through him like wildfire. Unable to move with it, his thighs corded with the attempt and only managing short, shallow lunges, he sought the distraction of small details. Something outside: the covers holding firm at the foot of the bed, the other end coming loose in his grip -- making him try harder to stay in place for Daniel. Discomfort: the shaky strain on his leg muscles -- holding, delivering him to Daniel. Something silly: his toes just hanging out there -- curling tight, rooted to the same hunger as the rest of him. He gave up, let the ravening pleasure take him high, higher, keep him there --I can't…need to move…have to…move. A deep growl rose in his chest, wordless and desperate.

One at a time, Daniel took his legs over his shoulders, grasped his hips, half-lifted, half-pushed him back onto the bed. Rising off the floor and putting one knee on the edge of the bed, he curved over Jack, took him in his mouth again, held one ankle then the other to place his feet flat, allowing him to thrust if he wanted to. Way past want, he had to, nerve-lashed, muscle-driven, a miracle he kept a sliver of will to leave Daniel an out by not latching onto his hair, until Daniel gripped him by the wrists and insisted on it, and he had no idea what he did after that, just aware of the vigorous winding deep inside, tighter and tighter into a thrumming knot trying to get even tighter, until the second it couldn't, tried again, couldn't, held for an instant and the knot fell open, the thrumming broke into singular pulses, he came undone.

He must've yanked Daniel up at some point. By the time he could tell that hadn't been obliteration but pure ecstasy, he was trying to suffocate himself with the mouth holding too much of his own taste when he so badly wanted Daniel's. He started loosening his hold and Daniel broke away to duck his head, his neck muscles tense under Jack's fingers, his breath hitching, catching. Another sound registered, the radio. Who had added a martial beat to a waltz, for cryin' out loud? Wait, that was his heart, pounding against Daniel's that was out-tripping his with less cause. Jack yearned to laze, just breathe and let his pulse settle and enjoy lying covered all over with Daniel, feel him so truly there, solid and real, but his attention seemed needed right now. The next second Daniel took the decision out of his hands by scrambling off of him to his feet, looking dazed, stumbling like a drunk, catching himself with a hand on the corner of the bed. He stood leaning into it, bowed as if around pain, breathing heavily. "What's wrong?" Languor forgotten, Jack rolled and reached to grab his arm to help.

Daniel didn't allow it, backed away, shook his head as though he'd surfaced from water, rounded the bed. "Wait, what is it, where're you go -- " Oh, okay. The heat that hadn't bothered Daniel outside had caught up to him with a vengeance. Yanking open the refrigerator, he pulled out the remaining beer, hooked the cap on the corner brace of the small door, hit it with the heel of his hand to send skittering away. He threw back his head, opened his mouth and upended the bottle. When he had his fill, he pressed and rolled the cold glass against his forehead, his temple. The fizzy streams that had escaped the sides of his mouth sluiced down each breast, a drop caught at the hard nub of a nipple. As he lowered his head, a tributary collected in the small hollow at the base of his throat, a tiny little amber pool Jack couldn't have seen without the refrigerator bulb throwing hard light into the room. It shivered there, then spilled out, a shiny trail bisecting his chest. The condensation from the bottle became a fat drop and followed the line of his jaw, trembled suspended at his chin. Jack thirsted to lick every single one. "Wanna share?" he prompted, breathless again.

Before shutting the refrigerator door, Daniel tilted the bottle against the light to check if he'd left enough --oh, buy a clue-- took two steps closer to the bed to hold it out. "You can keep the beer," Jack told him, hoarse. "Especially if you can manage to spill some more."

A quick glance down his chest and Daniel finally got it. "You can have the beer," he said and put the bottle on the nightstand, wiped his chest with the side of his hand.

"Come back to bed, Daniel," he never could manage begging, it came out as a command.

"No, Jack. Not going to happen. I can't do any more without losing my mind." He looked at him with a serious frown, "Do you really expect more from me?"

Why shouldn't he? Daniel loved him, he knew that. He'd just lived that. Nobody made love as if he were swallowing the last mouthful of life without the love. Why shouldn't he have his turn? "What would be the big deal?"

"I can't. You think holding back was easy? Do you have any idea what it took to stop?" He added something that went into hiding under his breath.

Jack heard just enough of it to demand, "What did you say?"

Daniel threw him an exasperated look, looked away and gave it up, "I feel like a molester already."

He suspected child was left out of the audible version, but in any case, he so got that; it was the bane of his existence lately, be it in a whole different way. But admitting that would be retreat when he was trying to advance. "It's just a perception that doesn't signify a damn thing. Why are you letting it get in the way when you know better? You don't really want to stop."

"Yes, I do. I mean it."

Yeah, sure. "Hate to break it to you, but those pants aren't made to keep big secrets."

"Right, I get turned on by doing sexy things with a sexy man, what a revelation. What I do with it past that, that's behavior. Any grownup should be able to control that."

By all means, let's never let a petard go without a good hoist. Small mercies, at least Daniel had said man. "The point is, you don't have to."

"The point is, I choose to. You're not just somebody I brought from the bar."

He got that, too. What Daniel wanted, what he ached to have, was both too close and too far now. He had done that to the man. Maybe he shouldn't have, but dear God, it had seemed like the one last chance to have what he'd been wanting for so long, what he knew he would never, ever have unless he took a chance, however crazy. He couldn't have waited for one of those stockpiled somedays. "Come on, Daniel, even if you can't get past the surface, I'm eighteen. You know, age of consent, not that it applies in the first place."

"If you want to get technical, you're three. But this has nothing to do with being prudish, I know who you are under the skin -- "

"That would explain the molester bit," he spat out, felt his tightening lips pull and release sharply at their corners when Daniel's eyes shied away, knew it for the smile it wasn't. "Then why the fuck did you --?" but he didn't need to ask. He'd been burning up with the hormones of his body's age. Daniel had recognized that blaze when he saw it. Did he also realize how all that joy tasted when it turned to ash? He'd have to forgive Daniel for it someday, but at the moment he just wanted to pummel him. Yeah, fat chance of that, too. Right now he could do that as effectively as his well-trained former body could ever pummel Teal'c.

Daniel had completed the question in his head, was now worrying it to death, "I, uh…that made you think…? I thought you un -- if I thought it'd make you exp -- damn it, I shouldn't have. I'm sorry, didn't mean to give you the imp -- Jack, did you really expect more than… now? Tonight?"

Years of sentence scraps passing as talk-for-two, it served once again, and the answer to Daniel's stumbles was: Yes. But in truth, it had little to do with tonight. He always expected Daniel to be with him past all the dust settling. He had stopped giving credence to any other possibility. It had been ridiculously easy to discount Daniel's three-year absence as a more extended version of his last one in ascension. Of course Daniel would be with him at the end of the day, at the end of someday, because Daniel was the one who never, despite all odds against, ever failed to come back. Unlike everybody else he'd loved and lost, anybody else who'd loved him but went away and stayed away, Daniel always came through and came back.

So what are you going to tell the man, you expected exactly that because he's the Timex of your life, his mind covered its underbelly by warping into farce, the Energizer bunny of your dreams? "It's okay," he made himself say past the aching vacancy already taking shape inside, a hollowing that was Daniel, would always be Daniel. "I knew it was a gamble. Every time I looked in a mirror, I knew I couldn't cover the stakes." If only he could've managed to remember not to forget in between instead of letting it catch him by surprise each time. "I don't stack up," he tried to joke. Daniel reacted as if slapped. "Sorry. Bad pun."

"Jack…." Daniel came to sit on the bed, twisting sideways to face him, looking so earnestly accessible that he deserved a real slap. "Under any skin, you're the bravest man I know. If I needed any more proof, tonight would be it. The fact that you're right, that this," his hand cupped the side of Jack's face, "makes a difference in more ways than is fair to you, that's my failure of imagination."

His hand lingered, probably meant to be consoling, and Jack felt he should be tolerant enough to let Daniel think it was of some use, but now the hand was moving, the thumb lightly tracing his left eyebrow --no, no scars there. The fingers carded briefly through his hair --sorry, not coarse gray yet-- and whispered over his chest --that hair's still sparse, not much I can do about it. Damned, though, if he'd let the body Daniel wouldn't be distracted from get conjured into shape on the one he had no choice but call his own. The fact that it was so much younger, healthier, more virile, and undamaged, didn't seem to count except as shortcomings. He gripped Daniel's hand and stopped its wistful journey, "I get the point." It came out more harshly than he'd intended.

He was trying not to be bitter, he really was, but damn, it was hard. It had been hard since the day he'd left Cheyenne, to resist going to find and grab any one or all of them to ask: What the fuck happened to no one gets left behind? Because that's exactly how it felt to him, abandoned to some freakish version of life in a place no less alien for being familiar, the familiarity just a cruel, final joke. Insult to injury, they didn't so much as miss him as long as they had their own Jack O'Neill. Damn it, even Harlan's clone got to keep his team and die with them.

"Sorry," Daniel mumbled, took his hand back onto his lap and kept it to himself. But then he had to open his mouth and be candid. "Even in my wildest dreams, how could I have imagined anything except when, if, I'm ever this close to you, we'd be in the bodies that hold our history."

Bullshit. From Loki's lab rat to Oma's bouncing boy, bullfuckingshit. That body you're wearing, it's older by what, months, weeks? Most of "our" history is just as inalienable to me, and I'm the one who's here, I'm the one who didn't leave you by choice. How many ways was the universe going to find to fuck up his life? If he'd died and been reincarnated into this body, Daniel would've been falling over himself to assure him it made no difference, but with the hope of the Real Thing still out there -- nope, he didn't stack up.

Once Daniel watched his own hands and heard the silence long enough, he quietly said, "I'll go, let you get some sleep."

Stupidly, he panicked, his anger folding up like a holed parachute and making his insides plummet. He found himself grasping the wrist of the hand he had cast off. "Stay." Just a little bit longer, the ditty followed, unbidden. He never should've let himself get caught up in the Oldies. That wasn't even one of the goodies.

"Jack, I -- " Daniel didn't look up, his lashes shading his eyes, their shadows like bruises under them. "I'm only making it worse, I should go."

"I never had the chance to get used to having you back, you realize that?" Unlike the bastard who obviously got used to it enough to be able to leave. "You weren't even yourself yet when I left. I didn't know what you ended up remembering – not remembering. All I had were three words out of something you said to me. Could've been interpreted many ways, too. So just…I won't push for anything, just…stay." Okay, yes, just a little bit longer, if that's the only option.

Still looking down, Daniel bit his lip and nodded, giving the hand holding his wrist a small pat before he rose, making Jack wonder if he didn't trust his voice. He motioned at Jack to stand up, and started taking the covers off the bed, fishing out his shirt and the towel caught in the folds. He tossed the towel, put his arms through the shirt, went back to the covers. Jack found his briefs and pulled them on. "I'm curious," Daniel said, voice forcibly matter-of-fact, eyes on what he was doing as if it required attention.


"If he -- you'd made a habit of, uh, keeping an eye on me, how could you be sure you wouldn't run into yourself tonight?"

"He's been in D.C. for a year." Damn. One need-to-know, blown. He grudgingly explained when Daniel's eyes snapped up to him, "We talk off and on." After solemnly promising to stay out of touch, he'd been the one to break and he hated it. He wasn't the wonder-of-it-all sort like Daniel. He preferred his thoughts, feelings, memories safely vaulted within his own singular body, moving to his choices, obeying his will. He'd forgotten Harlan's version as fast as possible, until he hadn't the option. This time, he'd wanted to avoid the Colonel-now-General, swore off after each call, and each time his need to know if Daniel, Teal'c and Carter were still sharing the same mortal coil overcame his determination, despite knowing they weren't bothering to find out about him.

Daniel, of course, connected the dots. "I take it back, you don't have to rob banks. He's financing you, isn't he? He knows what you're doing, and he's aiding and abet -- oh, God," the covers dropped out of his hands, "does he know you're here -- does he…"

Know about this, Jack heard the unspoken. "He knows I'm on the move, that's all. We're neither of us fans of too-much-information, you know that."

"Right." Sheepishly, he picked up the covers again. "He's okay with your road trip to nowhere?"

"Not really. But he did say he wondered what took me so long." Oh, little things like having to wait until he got his last growth spurt, until those fake IDs indicated an age that wouldn't make every busybody stop him at every crossing. "It's what he would have done." The mystery to him was how any Jack O'Neill stayed stuck at a desk in the middle of the D.C. bureaucracy without killing someone or blowing up something. Maybe there was a vicarious gratification for the General in one Jack O'Neill's bid for freedom. "Is doing," he corrected. Hello. Still me here. Just because we're talking about him doesn't make me any less me. Maybe he should've been nicer to Harlan's version; karma did tend to come back around to bite you on the ass.

Daniel remembered he was holding the covers up for a reason, motioned at him to get in the bed, pulled them over him once Jack arranged the pillows and settled. "He has to think of the security aspect."

"We did the rounds, no-you-can't, yes-I-can, yadda. What's he gonna do, throw me in jail?" Jack drew the line at being swaddled like a papoose, freed his shoulders and arms. "For the record, the 'financing' is a loan, until I get somewhere I can work. I'm not up for adoption." It was a sore point. He was painfully aware the General dealt with his own problems with Loki's handiwork by treating him as a distant cross of himself and Charlie – because, damn him, he could. "Can we give him a rest now?" He frowned at the layers and layers that had ended up tucked around him. Fine for now, the air conditioner a bit much since he'd cooled off, but bound to get hot real soon. "An ounce of prevention?" he asked, trying and managing to make it a light comment.

"Prudence." Daniel looked everywhere but straight down. His scapegrace smile with its dash of shy came and went like a fugitive. "My body has its own mind, too."

And stubborn, one and all. Figured. "Don't take bets on mine, either." Even after all that, he thought ruefully, still aware of Daniel in more ways than he should be. "I'd forgotten what a hassle it is, having a body running on teenage hormones." It thumbed its nose at all his long, carefully cultivated discipline when it wanted to go out and share itself, not as much fun now as it had once been, taking him places he hadn't meant to revisit. At least not with strangers.

"I remember."

I noticed. "I'm living it." You wouldn't like it either. He motioned at the light and rolled away, to his side. Daniel turned it off, stretched out on top of the covers. Jack had left the bathroom light on, but neither bothered with it. The door ajar, it was an easy light to see enough and not too much.

Surprisingly, Daniel moved to fit himself to Jack's back, put one arm over him, nestled his head against him. "I was wrong, it's not weight gain so much. Your chest and shoulders widened. A lot."

"Compared to the little dweeb I was, yes."

"Jack – "

"It's okay, Daniel. I know I don't have a man's body yet. It feels weird to me, too."

"I think you're seeing a younger person when you look in the mirror than I do looking at you." That was probably true. With only a dozen years' difference, Daniel looked too young to him sometimes. "You have your full height now, your voice, your looks, they're all turning into…what they should be."

"Don't forget the zits."

"What zits?"

"Exactly. Noting their passing shouldn't get old."

Daniel's smile marked itself against the curve of his neck. "I'm surprised nobody tried to pick you up at he bar -- or did they?"

"Told them I was just there waiting for my uncle -- the bouncer."

Soft chuckle. "See, you're very attractive."

"Right." Whole lot of good it was. He'd been using the damned body for three years after all, he knew it would fit somewhere, but it wasn't going to fit somebody. He might joke about it, but he couldn't imagine touching the ones who fit the way he looked. He would feel like he had molested Cassie, and slit his throat. No shortage of Mrs. Robinsons, but he had no patience for the predatory ones who wanted to be the first to teach him things he'd already forgotten, and if anybody had aspirations of nourishing the sweet innocence of youth, sorry, he wasn't. Lately, when adolescent hormones drove him to look, he'd done as Daniel, looked to men. No boys and no daddy-wannabes, but after that it was okay. For sex, anyway. The nameless, fast, don't-talk-just-do sex that appealed to lots of men. The moment it was more than that, his speech, behavior, references, attitude --and yes, his was attitude, thank you, not 'tude, dawg-- marked him as one thing while he looked like another. People didn't understand why, but they did know the freaky kid creeped them out. Now his choice was to be alone, or act through his life --he'd worked undercover, he was good, not that good.

Daniel had gone silent. When he spoke, it was clear he'd been sifting through memory, "'I remember enough.' That's what I said to you, right? We were in the locker room."

"Yeah." He should get a dog. A water Lab would be happy on a boat.

"You interpreted correctly," Daniel said softly next to his ear as he tightened his arm.

Look at all the good it's doing me. "Yeah." He'd get another telescope, yes, that sounded good. It'd be a while until he could afford a set up as powerful as the one he used to own, though. Not to mention affording a boat. Whatshisname had offered to help, bending enough to say that, really, the money had been earned by both of them, if you looked at it a certain way. He hadn't been able to bend enough to accept. He'd manage it himself. In time. Time, he had.

"Jack, I've been thinking. I started to say earlier, but…anyway. You know you have more options than South America, don't you? I'll help you."

"Through the 'gate, you mean. Considered it."


"No," he said shortly. If he kept hanging onto fragments, he was going to miss the whole too much, it had to be a clean break. "Although…"

"Yes?" Daniel sounded so hopeful, trying hard to be of some use, setting Jack's teeth on edge again.

"If we had held off screwing with the fast-forward virus, I could've slept an Argos a coupla nights. Would've solved your big problem, right?" He never could help fighting back, however uselessly. Daniel was quiet and still long enough to make him feel rotten. "Sorry. Cheap shot." Another tightening of the arm around him told him to forget it.

Ah, there, the classical station had taken the strangest route back to Debussy, but there it was, the first movement of La Mer, starting out like an echo in a seashell, foretelling the ebb and flow to come. Might as well have used a paintbrush, old Claude, the color and the light and the mood of the sea, right there, for the next twenty minutes or so.


He waited to hear the cymbal break in like a splash of seawater before he said, "Yes?"

"I know you went to Denver and…why. Or so I thought. What have you been doing?"

Daniel's bottomless curiosity wanted to know. Nothing to do except haul in a breath and feed it. "I had twenty-four-seven watch on me, and they were wide-awake at first. George must've been standing on their tails. Shouldn't've pulled that disappearing act on him. Anyway, can't really blame him, we all knew how much of a chance I had if NID came after me then. Looking like a kid, that small. I couldn't even stand up to our own guys, Carter had to pull 'em off. At least now -- did you know I was a hell of a runner before I blew my knee? Anyway, I stayed with the stupid setup for a while. Thought I should have a paper trail in case college looked good again. Thought of law enforcement, maybe. In the end, couldn't stick it out. Gotta tell you, high school is worse, if you can imagine." The worst part, being a pretender at things that should've been his kid's rites of passage.

He paused to hear the sport of wind come into the music, tiny bright sounds frolicking under it like sparkling spray off the tops of curling waves. "Kept the place they gave me, checked in regular like a good boy. Until they get complacent, you gotta. Worked odd jobs, mostly mechanical." Anything that put him in, under, behind something, preferably somewhere noisy enough to curtail conversation. "Volunteered at the fire department."

"Really? Huh. Good call, Teal'c."


"Oh, nothing, he told me a dream he had once. Go on."

He decided he really didn't care about Teal'c's dreams. The big guy could handle his own. "They have youth programs, but they don't let you do anything worth doing. Found one of those keep-kids-off-the-streets places offering crafts." The music was swelling into the surge and roll of high, white capped waves, the pull of foam-streaked eddies. "Threw clay a lot."


"Yeah. I like it. When I get my own boat, I'll probably set up a turnwheel in the cabin. Anything really decent comes off it, I'll send it to you."

After everything, somehow, that seemed to be the thing that broke Daniel. A sound between a sigh and a sob left his throat. "Jack…" held-back tears in his voice, "I wish -- "

"Don't." Join me any other way you want, but don't join me in regrets. That's a bit too much irony, even for me.

But Daniel insisted, "I do wish. I don't know how to make you -- say Loki had created another Sha're. My wife, everything she was to me, past the scars of that snake, or even without them at all, would I have been tempted? Yes, of course, the chance to have her back, keep her, not someday but right then, how could I not? But do you think I'd have been able to take her and forget my Sha're existed, stopped searching, waiting? Even when I knew in all probability I'd never get her back, never hold her again?" As he was talking of holding Sha're, his arm was banding tight across Jack's chest, tying his two loves into an awkward bundle, the best he could manage.

Yes, okay, I see your point. Jack found room in the fist Daniel's hand had become to lace their fingers together. Guess irony's built-in, no fault of yours, okay. It was a matter of loyalty to Daniel. In the end, that was just Daniel being Daniel. He couldn't take the sure thing, had to keep faith with the maybe, even if he had no assurance of getting it. It was a dangerous universe, who knew if either would be alive or on the same plane of existence when the someday took its sweet time to become today.

"But the other Sha're, you think I could've let her go without aching? Do you imagine I could break her heart without breaking mine? I wish it were simpler, it's not."

No. It was anything but simple. It was simply the way it was.

There was one thing he could give Daniel today. To hold him until that someday. Or if fate was really unkind to him, in its stead. He pulled away, tugged at the pillows until he was sitting up against the headboard. "When he's through doing his bit keeping the world safe, after his retirement party…"

Daniel bent his arm, propped his head on it and looked up at him, "Yes?"

"Don't leave with the others. Stay behind."

Dear God, Daniel's eyes right then, his expression. He'd instantly rooted himself in those few words, was drawing sustenance from them. "You think so?"

"Hey, it was my ultimate fantasy -- " But, no. Fantasies took off and went to all kinds of crazy places, some he wouldn't think of attempting in real life. This one had always been unembellished, standing there, holding the door to see everyone off, Daniel bringing up the rear, taking Jack's hand off the knob to close the door on the rest of the world, that was it, period. "Actually, make that hope." That's one you owe me, General, you son of a bitch. "Should've let you find out for yourself in time. Spared you this bit of drama."

"No." Daniel considered, then repeated decisively, "No. I liked seeing you, just seeing you, how you are. As you are."

As you were, Jack heard the more accurate version. Couldn't blame him. He probably wouldn't mind a look at Daniel at eighteen, either, even if the geek factor was likely to be off the scale.

"I'm glad I found out…you want me." It was the tiniest pause before that 'you,' not even long enough for a heartbeat, or heartbreak, to fit in.

Jack heard that accurately, too, and hanging on to his resolve by his fingernails, corrected, "Pretty sure it's called love. You found out he loves you." There. He'd taken the difference that made none, acknowledged it as a difference separate from himself, and that was the final break. He'd just given up ownership of his emotions, memories and severed himself from his own self, his own life, his own past. It hurt like field amputation with no medi-kit on hand.

For a second he saw all the couldn't-have-been-asked, wouldn't-have been-answered questions that become shared confidences between lovers once assured of the love, saw them line up and clamor in Daniel's eyes, but only for a brief second. Genuinely incapable of the requisite cruelty of asking him, Daniel shuttered his eyes and let them go unvoiced. Jack decided to forgive him today instead of one day after all. He slid down until his head on was back on the pillow. He'd missed the start of the second movement, the shimmering tones of Frolics of Waves were there already, the distant siren call of the flute rising in urgency, unanswered.



"Thank you."

He knew Daniel meant well, but he'd just done his bit in delivering the final cut. "Sure thing."

So he really, really hurt right now, so what? He'd get over it. His capacity to get over was turning into the blackest hole deep inside him capable of absorbing anything the rest of him couldn't endure, and leaving him barren as total freedom. There must be something to be said for total freedom. He didn't know what yet, but he'd figure it out. Someday he would. "Daniel?"


"Suit yourself, of course, but I'd prefer -- "

Daniel didn't let him finish, "I won't tell him."

"You know he wouldn't like it."

"No, he wouldn't. But that's not why I won't tell him."

Daniel got it --this doesn't belong to him. That was something. He thought the chances were good he could now persuade Daniel to let them make love properly, make it good for each other just this once, but what would it serve in the end except to turn it more difficult for both? He'd spent too long a time anticipating the first intimate touch, the first kiss. He didn't want to spend too short a time anticipating the last ones. It was done. "Let's get some sleep." He closed his eyes, gave himself over to the music fluctuating with the rhythms of the sea, capricious and seductive in turns.


"Hmh?" He felt Daniel move, ignored it. The flute was a wail now, the strings like swelling seas rushing to it.

"Look at me. Please?"

He opened his eyes. Daniel was propped on his elbow, leaning over him, his expression so intense it hurt to look at him. Jack knew to his marrow what was coming. I just decided I don't want to know the last one, don't do this to me.

He cupped Daniel's face in his hands to distance him, but he didn't. When Daniel's eyes drifted shut, his head tilted and dipped, he intended to hold him off, but he didn't, of course. First a brush of lips, almost wistful, then mild, snuggling kisses, soft and tantalizing, as if they hadn't yet devoured the possibilities of each other's mouths. When Daniel sighed, cradled his head and pressed for more, he thought of keeping his lips closed to make him work for it, but of course, he didn't. This was for him, him alone, purely his -- unadulterated, he thought, couldn't help smiling, because Daniel would think that pun too sophisticated for him. Daniel eased off to kiss his smile at each corner and, Jack could tell by the deepening creases under his thumbs, smiling himself. He took a deep breath and Daniel came with it, their mouths locking again, disconnecting him from time and place and space. One last jump through the 'gate together, Jack felt, too sensate for thought. He almost braced for the brief riptide of energies, but what washed over him was like tidewater with the music in his ears, the blue ripples for once not false, and the sidereal seconds were long, long minutes now. He craved to stay in its absolute thrall. But of course, he didn't.

Motionless, his eyes closed, he left it up to Daniel to let go. Daniel pulled away as carefully as he'd started, slid down, tucked his head under Jack's chin and settled there, putting one arm across his chest. Jack moved just enough to curve his arm around him. He felt Daniel take a breath and open his mouth as if to say something, but mercifully he changed his mind and stayed quiet. On the radio, the last movement of the piece was crashing in, voluptuous and turbulent and rising, and there, that was its true spell, the mournful seduction of the wind instruments surging in under the tumult of the orchestra, the chorale of the hidden depths.

After a while, uniquely Daniel sounds joined the stormy dialogue between the wind and the sea. Settling into sleep and getting stuffy from lying down as usual, Daniel started breathing through his mouth. Here, the majesty of the sea and the tyranny of the storm, and here, Daniel snuffling into Jack's chest and smelling faintly of beer -- shouldn't even be a contest. But it was.

He gladly heard both, until the percussion of the storm climaxed and for the briefest moment left soft, eternal sounds behind, and went silent. He could never decide if the sky had cleared over a calming sea, or something or someone fighting the raging storm had gone into the dark, quiet deep.

Jack tuned out the radio, listening to Daniel. For how long he didn't know or care, he kept his eyes closed and listened with the most ridiculous sense of home. Just Daniel. Just breathing. He could remember missions when he'd barely restrained himself from strangling Jonas for keeping him awake in the small hours by breathing too quietly in the next bedroll.

Sometime later, the radio station lost its way and took a wrong turn into chamber music, started emitting an annoying harpsichord arrangement that scratched at his ears like Scarlatti, allowed other sounds to intrude. Outside, he could hear the distant static of traffic slacking off with the night, the rustle and creak of leaves and branches -- a brisk wind had come up. He thought it was probably pleasant out there now, and somewhere in him, some place that held life, if not dearly at the moment, then at least desperately, the sounds of the sea had lodged deep enough to call. He could almost smell the moist air, salt, seaweed, brine, lichen growing on eroding wood. The sea was a long way away from here; he should get going. In the end, he was just a proxy in this room, enjoying an indulgence briefly allowed on someone else's rights. He was still Jack O'Neill, he didn't know what else to be. But he wasn't that Jack O'Neill. He was something yet to be made into someone.

Disturbing Daniel as little as possible, he left the bed. After washing up and digging out another pair of boxers, he inspected his pants, decided against them. He fished out the car keys to leave on the dresser, stuffed the cargo pants into the backpack and pulled out his khakis, properly baggy as youth uniforms had to be. He could tell he was going to be wearing a haphazard necklace of purple in the morning. Wrong time of the year for turtlenecks, he dug deep until he found a bandanna. He got dressed very, very quietly, not so much not to wake Daniel up, but should Daniel wake up, to let him know that Jack wouldn't care to be made aware of it.

He took his iPod from the pocket of the backpack, securely placed the small headphones in his ears, didn't turn it on. He could recognize the fast track to deaf when he heard it, but what teenager would be caught without one? He put his arms through the straps of the backpack, jiggled it into place, set his mesh cap on his head and left the room. He didn't look back. All he was and all he had, he was taking with him. Anything else of value in there belonged to another man.

He came out into the street, chose a direction and headed into the night. He picked up Hendrix again. Jimi didn't belong to any one man's memories or past, he was up for grabs. I said, stone-free to ride the breeze, he wondered if he should take a bus, hitch a ride, or hot-wire a car, decided that he just wanted to put his shoulders back, lift his face into the wind, stretch his stride and hike for now, stone-free, do what I please, hey, stone free goin' down the highway, the wind was chasing away the luminescent clouds, leaving a clean dark sky. Once he left all the lights behind, there would be lots of stars to watch, stone-free, baby, I can't stay, got to, got to, got to get away.



Every drought-resistant plant has its own story

each had to learn to live

with less and less water, each would have loved

to laze in soft rains . . .

but where drought is epic then there must be some

who persist, by a constant study

of the price of continuity

a steady bargain with the way things are.


The Desert as Garden of Paradise

Adrienne Rich