Instinctive by Berty
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Category: Jack/Daniel, Daniel/Other Male
Genres: First Time, Romance
Rated: Adult
Warnings: None
Series: None
Summary: When your one and only turns out to be someone else's, what do you do? Pack up and call it a day? Retire gracefully from the field? Does that sound like Jack O'Neill to you? Nope, didn't think so.

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Author's Chapter Notes:
Many thanks to Pie and Saladscream for the wonderful betas, may your red pens never run out of ink. Thanks also to BJ for spotting my Brit, I just can't get the hang of elevator instead of lift! This is for the lovely Pepe, she of the endless good advice, the filthiest laugh I've ever heard, the kindest of hearts and the most enormous boobs. Happy Birthday my friend - hope you have a splendid one.
Instinctive by Berty


Chapter 1 - Revelations pl. n. the acts or instances of revealing.

Jack shrugged out of his jacket and toed off his shoes, years of training making him put them away neatly before padding to the refrigerator for beer. He wasn't, by nature, a tidy person and would sometimes despair of the learned responses that would have him automatically clean up after himself - sometimes it just seemed so...not him.

Jack knew that deep down he was a frustrated slob, and from time to time he would try to defy the conditioning and deliberately leave things undone - a beer bottle here, a dirty sock there - only to furtively return later, shamefaced and defeated, to clear up.

He supposed, on the upside, that it made him a good houseguest, which was useful, as it was Daniel's refrigerator Jack was currently raiding. Daniel had offered, more reluctantly than Jack had been prepared for, to put the colonel up while his house was being treated for termites and redecorated. It was perfect for Jack; he got to hang out with Daniel, and although he had to sleep on the couch, it was infinitely preferable to a bunkroom on base for ten days.

Walking into the living room to make a pre-emptive strike on TV remote privileges for the evening, Jack hit the play button on the blinking answer-phone as he went by. He knew the contractors and the base had this number in case of problems, so he didn't feel intrusive. Daniel's soothing voice invited callers to leave a message, although he wasn't promising anything.

As Jack had feared, the first message was from the contractors he had employed to sort out his place. Taking his cell from his pocket, he dialled the number on the message as it echoed around Daniel's tasteful living space.

While he waited for it to be answered, the messages continued and Jack's attention was drawn to the deep voice that was the second message.

"Daniel, hi! It's Ben. Look, my flight has been changed on Monday, so can we make dinner a bit later? Say nine?"

"HELLO?"

Jack jumped, and turned his attention to the phone in his hand where an irate man was trying to explain why the estimate for the work was a bust and why he couldn't move back in at the end of the week as agreed.

Jack idly listened to the builder speculate how many beams would need replacing and how much more this would cost, his mind distracted and wondering. He vaguely agreed to whatever the guy felt was necessary and finished the call as fast as he could, then walked over to the machine.

The display no longer flashed, but still registered two new messages. With guilty fingers, Jack played the second message again. Once more, the deep, educated tone of the man's voice floated from the tiny speaker.

"Daniel, hi! It's Ben. Look, my flight has been changed on Monday, so can we make dinner a bit later? Say nine? I'll call and change the reservation. I can't wait to see you; it feels like forever. I miss you, Daniel." The voice sounded genuinely subdued, almost sad. "Anyway, bye! I'll see you on Monday."

The recording clicked and a beep signalled the end of the message and possibly the end of Jack's ability to ever think clearly again.

He rested his hands on either side of the machine, resisting the urge to tear it from the socket and smash it to pieces. That voice, so knowing, so familiar and so intimate made Jack's guts clench and the breath freeze in his lungs. The way he said 'Daniel' would have told Jack everything, without the 'I miss you' or 'It feels like forever'.

Jack gritted his teeth, eyes tightly shut and willed himself not to listen to it again, even as his finger unerringly found the play button.

"Daniel, hi!" Jack fought back the irrational and unexpected groan that was his response to this voice and all it meant. He panted harshly, trying to regain some composure.

"...forever. I miss you, Daniel. Anyway, bye. I'll see you on Monday."

At the beep Jack slumped, his head lolling from his neck, a cold, never to be warm again feeling settling behind his breastbone.

"He's an architect," Daniel said quietly.

Jack whirled quickly to face his stealthy friend.

Daniel's eyes were wary, his body unnaturally still, like he was waiting for something. When Jack made no move, Daniel dumped his jacket and briefcase on the couch and came to stand in front of him, his arms firmly wrapped around his chest.

Daniel had watched Jack's reaction sadly; observed how pale he had gone and how his fists clenched on the polished wood the 'phone stood on. For one minute Daniel had considered trying to leave before Jack noticed him - the colonel was obviously so involved in his personal hell, that he hadn't heard his key in the door.

When he discarded this as unworkable, his survival instinct immediately offered the option of a lie. Ben could be anyone, anyone at all, as far as Jack was concerned; the part about being missed could be a sticky one to explain, but even as he began to think up solutions, he knew he couldn't do it.

He and Jack had been friends too long for deceit. Daniel had never told him the details of his love life, because until two months ago he hadn't HAD a love life. He'd remained faithful to Sha'uri, physically if not mentally, until the day she died. And even after that, he'd been too absorbed in his work or too hung up on his own futile fantasies to go out looking for a relationship, sexual or otherwise.

And then he'd met Ben, nine weeks ago, and the man had come into Daniel's life at a time when the archaeologist just couldn't remember why he'd been avoiding this kind of connection with someone anymore.

Daniel was a disciplined man, a cautious man, but he was also only human and having suppressed this side of his nature for so long, first in grief for Sha'uri and then for an unattainable dream, he was sick with loneliness and the need to feel...something... again.

Ben was uncomplicated, cultured and fun.

Daniel was grateful for it.

"Hi," Jack croaked. He looked tense and ashamed.

"Hi," Daniel said gently.

Jack's jaws worked as he fought to say something normal, but all he could think of was Ben; what did he look like? What had he done to get a guy like Daniel? How old was he? Was he a good guy? Did he love Daniel?

Did Daniel love him?

"Sit down," Daniel directed the colonel, "I need a drink to get through this conversation."

Jack complied, sitting numbly on the couch and staring at his hands. He was too distracted to realise that Daniel was gone for longer than it took to fetch a drink, and if he noticed that Daniel had swapped his suit and tie for a t-shirt and jeans he didn't mention it.

Daniel put down two ice filled tumblers in front of Jack and unscrewed the bottle of whisky, lowering himself resignedly to sit beside the unresponsive colonel.

"Do you want me to talk, or do you want to ask questions?" Daniel enquired politely as he poured two large measures of the rich, amber liquid.

"It's none of my business, Daniel," Jack murmured, "What you do is your own concern." He was pleased to hear his voice hadn't abandoned him, but even to his own ears he sounded tired and old.

Daniel nodded and took a swallow from his drink. "Yes, it is. But this is us, Jack; friends... best friends even and I want you to understand..."

"You don't have to explain yourself to me, Daniel," Jack assured the quiet young man. "This doesn't change anything."

"I could tell that from your reaction," Daniel smiled sadly as Jack winced. "I just wanted to say that Ben is not some sordid little secret I have been keeping from you for years."

"How long?" Jack grated instantly, then closed his eyes in mortification at his knee-jerk reaction.

Daniel waited until he opened his eyes again and gave him a look that he hoped was understanding. "Let me tell you, then you can ask me anything I've left out," he suggested. When Jack just looked away, he took it as a yes.

"His name is Ben Gross and he's forty-six. I've told you he's an architect. I met him nine weeks ago in a bookstore in town. We went for coffee a few times, dinner a few times and became friends. We've been lovers for a month. He's single, discreet and intelligent. You'd like him."

Daniel lapsed into an uncomfortable pause, filled only by the sound of the ice clinking against his glass as he swirled the contents. "Did I leave anything out?"

"Since when did you date men?" Jack asked softly, finally gaining some measure of control.

"Ah!" Daniel nodded. "Well, before I met Sarah actually. And never since, until now."

"What made you take up with this guy then?"

"I'm not sure, to be honest. Maybe I was sick of being lonely, maybe he was nice and interested. A right place, right time kind of thing. It's not complicated, Jack; there's no hidden agenda, we just enjoy each other's company."

"WE enjoy each other's company, Daniel, that doesn't mean..."

"WE don't have sex, Jack," Daniel cut him off starkly.

"So this is all about sex?"

"Not ALL about sex, but a big part of it, yes," Daniel admitted, bravely watching Jack's face for the disgust he was anticipating.

Jack finally sat back in the couch, never taking his eyes from Daniel. "What's it like?"

"Err...it's good," Daniel answered. Of course Jack would choose this moment to take this to his surreal plane of verbal interaction. Daniel was used to Jack's lightning changes in conversational direction and found them amusing and challenging under normal circumstances. But this was so far from normal circumstances Daniel wasn't even sure they would ever find their way back to the practiced ease they usually shared.

"Why?" Jack persisted.

If Jack was out to humiliate Daniel with his own words, he was going to have to try harder than that. The linguist chewed his lip, betraying his discomfort, but answered steadily. "There's something about being with a guy...You wouldn't understand, Jack."

"So explain it to me," Jack insisted, leaning forward to catch each word his friend uttered.

Daniel scowled at him, but still would not be cowed into admitting he was ashamed of his choice. "I guess it's partly a strength thing. When you're with a woman, you're always aware of having to be gentle, to hold back something of yourself to protect them. With a guy, you can just let all that go."

Jack nodded. "Go on."

"It's about being met by an equal, physically and mentally. Someone who thinks like you. When you push, he pushes right back; it's like a challenge - a contest almost. It's instinctive, you either enjoy that kind of edge or you don't."

"How did you know you'd like it the first time you did it?" Jack queried.

"I didn't. I suppose I just assumed I would, as being around guys made me..." Daniel fumbled over the word, but determined not to let colonel beat him at his own game, he blurted, "... hard."

"One guy in particular or guys in general?" Jack shot immediately.

"One guy," Daniel admitted, frowning at Jack's unusual questions. "I'm not into the whole promiscuous gay guy thing. I'm bi-sexual - I choose my partners on their personalities and their honesty, not their gender or how likely they are to put out."

"So you always love your partners?" Jack said in a dead voice.

"No, not always, but I have been friends with them all," Daniel told him and lifted his head defiantly, daring Jack to find fault.

"But how do you decide...?"

"It's instinctive, Jack. You are attracted to someone, you work out if they are interested, you make a move...or not. You just know." Daniel set down his glass sharply, betraying his mounting exasperation, and turned fully towards his friend. "I'm sorry, Jack. I wasn't expecting these kinds of questions - I thought you'd want to know...other stuff."

"What other stuff?" the colonel asked, looking slightly perplexed.

"You know, security stuff, his background, whether I might be compromised. Whether I was still fit to be on SG-1."

Jack's face was hard to read in the gathering dusk, but Daniel thought he saw something like pain cross his mobile features before the colonel composed himself once again.

"How did you know this...Ben... was interested in you?" Jack continued as though Daniel hadn't spoken.

"I don't know, Jack," Daniel sighed, irritated by Jack's interest in details that confused the archaeologist. He glanced across at his friend and was surprised to see that he seemed genuinely saddened by Daniel's reluctance to talk.

Daniel threw himself back into the couch, his body still twisted to face his temporary roomy, and wiped a hand over his weary face. "Look, if it's important...Ummm, I guess he was friendly, very friendly. He laughed if I made a joke, he talked a lot, made reasons to put his hands on me..."

"I do that stuff all the time Daniel...well I used to. But how did you know that it was an interest in you - sexually - when Ben did it?"

"I didn't at first. It's been a while since I've done this. I just thought he was being friendly." Daniel took his drink up and sipped it a few times.

"What changed your mind?"

"I guess the way he started looking at me, when we were talking. Like I was the only thing in the whole world."

"Much like I'm looking at you now," Jack murmured.

"What?" Daniel gulped, wondering what the hell Jack was getting at.

"Doesn't matter. Do you love him?"

"I...I don't know," Daniel spluttered. "Maybe not yet, but...Look, Jack. Why are you bothered by this part of it? I thought you'd be freaked by the whole guy thing, or angry or shocked - not worried about..."

"I'm not...uninterested...in the whole...guy thing," Jack admitted, keeping his eyes firmly on the wall behind Daniel's left ear.

The archaeologist was convinced that the world dropped a few degrees on its axis because his stomach definitely felt as if it had lurched about a foot to the right. "You're kidding me!" Daniel breathed incredulously. "Sorry, I'm sorry," he amended immediately, shaking his head in an effort to think straight. "Since when?"

"A little while now," Jack growled evasively.

"Have you ever...?"

"No!"

"So how do you know you...?"

"That's what I'm asking YOU, Daniel, for all the good it's doing me." Jack's eyes met Daniel's for a brief instant, before he looked away again.

Daniel recognised what an admission like this must be costing Jack, given his career and his solidly heterosexual history. He carefully put down his glass and waited for Jack.

"I'm really sorry about the message. I would never have known if I hadn't heard it," Jack said, surprising Daniel with another change of tack. But he was glad of it; this he could cope with. The other stuff was making his skin prickle - and not in a good way.

"It's fine, Jack. I've been trying to think of a way to let you know for two weeks now. At least now that bit is over."

"Do you mind if I ask you another question?" Jack looked hopeful and Daniel realised that if they could talk about it, then maybe they could work through it too. He shrugged and smiled encouragingly.

"If I were interested...in a guy..."

"Are you?" Daniel asked immediately.

"If I were," Jack reiterated with a stern look "How would I let them know?"

"The same way as you would with a girl, I guess. Lingering looks, listening, noticing things about them," Daniel explained. "I'm not really the guy to ask. All the men I've been with have hit on me."

"ALL the men?" Jack frowned.

"Yeah, all three of them." Daniel rolled his eyes self-deprecatingly.

"So if I wanted someone to know I liked them, I would just be attentive to them."

"Yes, without scaring them, obviously - you being you, and all," Daniel explained with a sly smile.

"Obviously," Jack agreed sarcastically and suddenly it was all right between them. Daniel palpably relaxed and picked up his drink again, and Jack put his feet up on the table and lay his head back on the couch.

Daniel was so relieved, he felt light headed. This had been hanging over him since the first night he had spent with Ben and it had been making him sick with nerves. That Jack had not only taken it so well, but also confided his own interest was more, by far, than Daniel could have hoped for.

"You want to...find out then?" Daniel asked after a short friendly silence.

"Find out?"

"If the guy thing is for you?"

"You offering?" Jack drawled.

Daniel sniggered. "I mean do you have someone in mind or should I ask Ben if he has a brother?"

This time Jack sniggered. "Double dating, Daniel?"

"Why not?"

"Because I don't have the slightest idea what to do - I haven't been on a date since before I was married and I'm thinking things have moved on since a walk by the river and a bottle of cheap, sparking white could get you laid. I wouldn't want to cramp your style."

"You're a sociable guy, you'll get the hang of it quickly."

"I dunno, Daniel - I'm pretty old to be a virgin all over again. I've never even kissed a guy."

"It's easy, almost the same as a girl, and I'm sure you've kissed plenty of those."

"It's the 'almost' bit that worries me," Jack winced. "I mean what if I freeze? What if I decide it's not for me?"

"No harm, no foul. You walk away."

"I'd rather not have to find that out in public," Jack reasoned.

"Fine," Daniel snapped, put his empty glass down again and moved up to Jack.

"Daniel? What are you doing?" Jack asked as the linguist crowded him back into the corner of the couch.

"Sharing my knowledge with you," Daniel stated and laid a steadying hand on Jack's cheek as he leaned towards him.

"Daniel, this is such a bad...mphhhh."

Daniel's soft, warm mouth landed squarely on Jack's lips, smothering his half-hearted protests. He hung there, lingering over the gentle connection, tentatively nuzzling against the colonel's firm, straight and shocked mouth, trying to make it as unthreatening as possible - trying to make him want to do it again. Finally, he drew back and regarded Jack seriously.

"Oh!" Jack murmured and quickly moved in to meet Daniel this time as he angled his face for another kiss. Jack's lips parted as he sighed into Daniel's mouth. When Daniel's tongue touched his top lip, Jack's eyes flew open into Daniel's bottomless blue gaze and he saw the question reflected there. For an instant, Jack hesitated, then closed his eyes and opened his lips a little wider as Daniel's warm tongue slid into his mouth and swept long and slow over his own.

Finally, Daniel sat back, letting Jack catch his breath. A strange look was on the archaeologist's face as he watched the older man try to contain the blush that flooded up his neck and into his cheeks.

"Now you know," Daniel said - too loud and too fast.

"Know?" Jack asked stupidly.

"No freaking. You're a natural," Daniel smiled.

"Why did you do that?" Jack stuttered quietly.

"So it wouldn't be your first time," Daniel said matter-of-factly.

"You kissed me twice!" Jack accused.

"The second one was practice," Daniel shrugged and stood up. "I better start dinner." He walked away into the kitchen as Jack's eyes followed his progress, the short-lived understanding between them shattered.

Jack quickly made an excuse and locked himself in the bathroom. He started the shower running but sat on the edge of the bath and made no effort to undress. His head felt stuffed with cotton candy, frothy and insubstantial. Try as he might, he couldn't form a coherent thought.

He groaned aloud as he remembered Daniel's kiss, and again when he recognised his body's reaction to it. Jack reached down and forced the heel of his palm against the swell in his jeans, but he realised quickly that no amount of pressure was going to resolve this.

He knew what would be needed and without a fuss, he stripped, stepped into the shower and jerked off as rapidly as he could. He took no joy in the act; to him, it was a betrayal of Daniel's generous soul and all Jack felt was relieved, but dirtier than ever.

He waited for the shudders to pass before he washed, dried off and walked to Daniel's bedroom where his clothes were stored.

Daniel savagely speared a mushroom with his knife and wondered where the hell he had left his mind today, because it obviously wasn't in the immediate vicinity. Of all the outcomes he had foreseen as he'd stepped into his living room and understood Jack's white face, kissing him senseless had definitely not been one.

He had no idea where it had come from. One minute he'd been discussing Jack's potential dating chances and the next he'd been trying to get inside his skin with him from the lips down. It had seemed such a good idea at the time - kind of a joke and kind of giving Jack a non-threatening heads up. How could he have fucked up so badly?

He could still taste Jack's beer on his whiskey-flavoured tongue, bitter and cool. He tried to ignore the ache in his balls as he sliced mushrooms and sautˇed them in a pan of melted butter, tried to lose himself in the mundane tasks necessary to providing himself and Jack with a hot meal.

By the time Jack joined him, companionably making a salad beside him, Daniel had pretty much got it under control, but his body seemed super aware of Jack now.

He could smell Jack's shower gel; he could feel the warmth of his skin radiating the small distance between them. It was like Jack's proximity set up a resonant echo in Daniel's body, a harmonic response.

Oh yeah, fucked up SO badly.

They ate supper together, their conversation stilted and unnatural. Jack didn't return to the subject of Daniel's sexuality and Daniel bolted for his room under the pretext of having some reading to do as soon as he was able.

When all had been silent outside his bedroom door for a period Daniel felt was safe, he walked back into his dark living room. Checking for the heap of colonel on the couch, he made his way to the refrigerator and quietly got himself some water before walking to the windows to watch the lights from the town glitter in the clear night air.

"Hey," came Jack's quiet voice from close behind him. Daniel didn't jump despite his surprise, but he closed his eyes as he felt Jack come to stand at his shoulder.

"Hey," Daniel replied softly. "Look, I'm really sorry about the kiss, I must have been out of my mind..."

"Don't be. I know why you did it," Jack said, his eyes squarely on the multicoloured display, fractured and distorted by the layers of glass in the doors.

"You do?" Daniel's heart lurched painfully in his chest. His mouth suddenly dry, he wondered how much he had given away in that single...okay, those two reckless kisses.

"Yeah, and thanks."

"For?"

"Trying to make me feel okay about all this." Jack made an indistinct gesture, taking in Daniel, himself and the city lights. "It's...well, it's the first time I've actually said it out loud. Kinda freaked me out," he admitted.

"How do you feel now?"

"Scared beyond all reason," he laughed tiredly.

"I won't insult you by pointing out all you stand to lose by doing this," Daniel reasoned.

"Thank you," Jack replied, simply.

"If it's who you are, then you should be that person, Jack." Daniel was astounded by how sincere his own voice sounded. Here he was, condoning his friend's experiment with his sexuality, when only three short months ago he was at breaking point knowing that same friend could never be the thing that Daniel so desperately needed him to be.

He felt nauseated to know that all the time he had been hiding his feelings from Jack, the colonel had been much more open to suggestion than he'd ever imagined.

Maybe if Daniel had let a little of himself show, Jack might have come to love him, rather than this anonymous person that Jack sidestepped talking about so neatly. They were close, very close, it wouldn't have been such a stretch of the imagination for Jack to come to see Daniel in another way - and that was the delusion that had kept Daniel alive all those long months of seeing but not having.

Instead, he had himself the role of a mentor, helping Jack to feel comfortable about his sexuality, so he could go and declare his love to someone else. The irony wasn't lost on Daniel, that three months ago he'd finally given up on the colonel after all this time and it was Jack finding out about him and Ben, which had forced Jack's hand.

Daniel leaned forward and rested his forehead on the cold glass.

"So, does he?"

Daniel blinked a couple of times, mentally reviewing their words, to see if he had missed something.

"Who?"

"Ben."

"Does he what?"

"Have a brother?"

Daniel chuckled, but when Jack didn't laugh, he straightened and looked at him over his shoulder. "Seriously?"

Jack shrugged, avoiding Daniel's eye.

"Umm, I have no idea. But if you want, I could ask him if he knows anyone..."

"Maybe we could...you know, go somewhere all together? Somewhere neutral? Not necessarily a date, but just so I can see how this works. I mean I've obviously been doing something wrong because...this guy I'm stuck on, he has no idea that I'm interested. Maybe if I ..." Jack cleared his throat and looked miserable.

Daniel was shocked to the core, but agreed to ask Ben. Since when did Jack need his moral support to get through anything, let alone a date? Jack had more confidence than anyone he knew, hell - more than was good for him, sometimes.

"Are you sure? Why don't you just ask...whomever out?"

"Ahhh, not that simple."

"Never is, is it?" Daniel commiserated.

"Maybe, if I can go out and hang out with you guys, I can find the courage to approach this guy."

"Okay," Daniel hugged his water bottle to himself, suddenly tired and jaded. "Night, Jack."

Jack watched his friend go back to his room and softly shut the door behind him, then turned back to the lights.



Chapter 2 - Reservations - pl. n. 1. an advance booking; 2. the act of withholding something


"I cannot believe I am doing this," Jack muttered, a haunted look in his eyes.

"Eleven," Daniel replied quietly.

"What?"

"That is eleven times you have said that since we left home. And twice in the elevator. And four times while you were changing clothes...three times."

"Well I looked too smart in that white shirt. And too desperate in that stretchy top. And too..."

"Grey. I know. You told me...at length," Daniel said soothingly. "Do you get this irrational on a date with a woman?" He didn't take his eyes off the evening traffic but knew that Jack was giving him a withering look.

"It's not a date," Jack muttered petulantly.

"We can call and cancel, just say the word...."

"No," Jack humphed and stared moodily at the passing street life. "So what do we know about this guy?"

"Seven," Daniel whispered to himself and plastered on a cheerleading smile. "Not much. He's a chef, his name is Andy and he's a friend of Ben's. Ben says he's cute, but that could be just to get a rise out of me."

"And what does he know about me?" Jack mused, slightly mollified.

"About the same. Name, occupation...yes, the cover story one... and you're a friend of mine. And that I DON'T think you're cute," Daniel shrugged.

"Bastard."

"Backatcha."

Jack waited a few moments before asking, "Does he know I'm...ummm...new and not up with all this stuff and..."

"Scared to death?" Daniel supplied helpfully.

Jack extended an expressive digit in Daniel's direction.

"Yeah, he knows you're...inexperienced," Daniel said tactfully. He kept to himself that Ben had reported that Andy had been most thrilled by that part; it had, in fact, been the clincher.

Jack hadn't vocalised his rising nervousness during the last five days, but to Daniel it had been obvious. Jack was tense in a way he never got when faced with a Jaffa patrol, for example. But this evening, with only hours between him and his impending public outing, he had become verbose in the most distressingly repetitive way.

Daniel reversed into the only spot in the packed parking lot.

"Busy," Jack observed, unbuckling his seat belt.

"Yeah, like a double bluff kind of thing," Daniel explained. "Hiding in plain sight. Just some friends having dinner, nothing to see."

They walked to the entrance of the smart looking restaurant and both waited for the other to enter first. Jack gestured Daniel ahead at which Daniel smiled, shook his head and pushed Jack first into the well-lit foyer.

Jack looked utterly out of his depth and Daniel knew that he was just itching for his P-90 right now; Jack could face anything with the right ordnance, even his first gay not-date.

Gently propelling Jack towards the maitre-de with a subtle hand in the small of his back, he murmured "Relax" in his ear.

"Table for four in the name of Gross?" Daniel asked politely and once again prodded Jack to follow the dark suited waiter to their dinner companions.

Jack spotted them straight away, not because they looked obvious or anything, but because Ben stood up to greet them the instant they walked into the dining room.

If Daniel hadn't been behind him, Jack would have lost the power of locomotion.

It was George fucking Clooney, moving towards him, hand outstretched. Ben was totally not the pale, interestingly dressed wimp Jack had been praying for at all - he was tall, he was tanned and he had this whole friendly, easy charm that just oozed from every completely invisible but scrupulously clean pore.

Damn him to the hell reserved for celebrity look-alikes.

Somehow he took Ben's hand and said something polite, then watched as the dark haired man reached out and squeezed Daniel's upper arm before retaking his seat.

"Jack, Daniel, this is Andy," Ben smiled. A big, blonde haired man stood and shook Jack and Daniel's hands before they all took their seats and ordered drinks.

Andy was nothing like Jack had imagined either. He was fit and tall with a thin, rather severe face and somehow un-chef like, Jack thought. He looked composed and confident - entirely in his environment in the tasteful restaurant.

Both Ben and Andy ordered Perrier and the waiter waited for Jack's order.

"I'll have a beer," Jack requested. There was no intake of breath from his dinner companions, but Jack was immediately aware that this was not what was expected. Cautiously he looked up from his menu.

"I'll have a beer too, please," Daniel quickly ordered with a smile. Ben looked askance at his partner beside him, but Daniel ignored him and began to discuss the menu as the waiter scuttled off to fulfil their drinks orders.

After the initial awkwardness of introductions and opening lines, Jack began to relax a little. Conversation flowed around the table equally and with good humour. Daniel turned out to be right, Jack did like Ben despite his best efforts to the contrary. The man was modest, discreet and interesting and Jack wanted to hate him with every ounce of his strength, but just couldn't find a reason to.

Until coffee.

The meal had been good despite Andy's sniffy comments about the choice of ingredients being done to death and the lamb being overcooked and the herbs in the gravy not being fresh and... Andy had not enjoyed his meal but everyone else found no fault and Daniel in fact was at pains to praise his food fully, each time the big blonde guy got too bitchy.

Jack was so comfortable, that when he was reminded that this was a not-date he was rather taken aback.

They had covered non-confrontational topics all through the meal and Daniel had steered the conversation to subjects that Jack was interested in, a fact that Jack had not missed.

"I just need to..." Daniel excused himself with one of his expressively vague hand gestures. For one moment, Jack thought Ben was going to stand when Daniel rose, but he just shifted in his chair and settled again, but Jack saw that he'd noticed his surprised, amused gaze.

Jack shook himself and drained the contents of his wine glass.

"So, Jack," Andy began, stirring his espresso idly. " Daniel tells us that you are kind of new to all this."

"This? Nahhhh, I've eaten in restaurants before," Jack countered smoothly.

Ben smirked. "You should have heard the list of do's and don'ts, Jack. You'd think Daniel thought you might change your mind."

"He's just being a good friend," Jack smiled, his spidey sense beginning to tingle.

"You've known each other how long? Three years? Four?"

"We met briefly in 1996 but lost touch for a year or so."

"So you looked him up again?" Ben pursued. Jack looked directly at the perfectly groomed, white toothed, handsome man who was regarding him idly, feigning polite interest and nothing more, and saw that Ben disliked him...immensely.

Jack knew what Ben was asking. Nothing like cutting to the chase, was there?

"Kind of. Daniel is the kind of guy that leaves an impression," Jack admitted with a questioning lift of his eyebrows.

Ben sat back in his seat, an amused but cold smile on his perfect lips. Jack disliked him right back. He knew Ben was rattled by the history he had with Daniel, and maybe something more. Maybe Ben had an inkling of what this really was. Maybe Ben knew that Jack was assessing a perceived threat.

Well, it was mutual.

Daniel had obviously spoken to his lover about Jack, and Ben wanted to know what Jack was to Daniel, as much as Jack wanted to know how committed to Ben his best friend was.

Jack decided to let him stew for a while - he didn't want to upset Daniel by pushing Ben into open hostility. Ben had let Jack know that he was aware of him and Jack had done the same; time to back off and watch developments.

"So, where did you train, Andy? Anywhere I'd know?" Jack asked, turning his attention fully on the blonde chef. Jack watched out of the corner of his eye for Ben's reaction to Jack's blatant dismissal of him and was quietly pleased when the man scowled.

He continued to talk to Andy about his career, asking questions and nodding in all the right places. Daniel returned to the table and smiled broadly at Jack when he saw how charming he was being with his not-date, and Jack flashed a winning grin back at him.

The waiter came and offered refills but Daniel countered with an offer of another coffee at his place, which was instantly accepted by Ben.

"What do you think?" Daniel asked as soon as they turned out of the parking lot, Ben's Mercedes with Andy and Daniel's disgruntled boyfriend in it, right behind them.

"Of Ben?" Jack asked guilelessly.

"Err, no. Of Andy," Daniel replied, rolling his eyes. Jack's ignorant act had not worked on Daniel in years; he had no idea why he persisted with it.

"He's okay," Jack said cagily.

"Yes, I expect he's a bit nervous himself. Once you get to know him a bit better I expect he'll loosen up a bit," Daniel mused enthusiastically.

"Get to know him?" Jack echoed. "Daniel, I don't think that is very likely."

"Oh?"

"I mean he seems nice and all, but..." Jack trailed off shrugging.

"Oh. So no...?"

"No," Jack said definitively.

"What, not even...?" Daniel glanced across at the colonel's sullen face. "Oh."

Daniel drove on in silence and Jack didn't try to alleviate the tension in the car at all. As they made the last turn before his street, Daniel quietly said, "If it's any help, Ben told me that Andy is interested in you."

"Did he now?" Jack replied in a flat voice.

"As in...interested," Daniel tried to elaborate, but Jack wasn't co-operating. "As in...umm..."

"Interested, Daniel. I get it," Jack barked.

"He wouldn't turn you down and he wouldn't expect any more," Daniel muttered, flushing with embarrassment. He was so not happy about discussing Jack's love life with him.

"Convenient," Jack drawled.

"In case you wanted to...find out...what it was about...with a guy," Daniel stumbled on, "...without...any..."

"Thanks, that's not what I'm looking for," Jack told him coldly.

"I'm sorry...I didn't mean to imply..."

"Let's just drop it, Daniel."

Daniel switched off the car and Jack looked across to where Ben was parking. In the unnatural glow from the streetlamps, Jack looked tired and disappointed to Daniel, as he watched Ben and Andy get out of the sleek, shiny car.

"Can I ask one more question?" Daniel said quietly. Jack nodded, a small, resigned smile touching his lips. When did Daniel NOT have one more question?

"What ARE you looking for?"

Jack turned his head towards the linguist, his expression unreadable. Daniel thought he wasn't going to get an answer, Jack gazed at him for so long. So he blinked in surprise when Jack finally spoke as the other men approached Daniel's VW.

"Something I can't have," Jack said simply and got out, leaving Daniel none the wiser.

Jack reminded himself of his resolution to leave Ben to stew as they sat and sipped coffee and whisky. He had found himself irrationally pissed when Ben had gone to Daniel's CD player and chosen some music. He moved around Daniel's apartment easily, as if he knew it well. He'd fetched the glasses when Daniel had suggested a nightcap; he'd visited the bathroom without having to ask where it was.

All these little things had Jack's teeth grinding together and his fingers curling, anticipating the thought of having Ben's smooth-shaven, wrinkle-free throat in his grasp.

So he was jealous.

So what?

Daniel had been his best friend for years and this guy was moving in on his turf after only ten weeks of having known him?

Jack didn't think so.

It took months to get to know Daniel Jackson, PhD - linguist, archaeologist, etymologist, Calvin and Hobbes fan, Baskin Robbins aficionado and peaceful explorer. If Ben was looking to prove how tight he was with Daniel, he was going to be in for a rough ride; Jack knew Daniel inside out and upside down, maybe better than anyone had known him. Ever.

Had Ben stood by Daniel at his wife's funeral? Had Ben talked a gun out of his hands and held him as he screamed out an addiction? Had Ben wept when he thought Daniel had died? Ben had no idea what Jack and Daniel were to each other.

And neither had Jack.

Until he had heard Ben say his friend's name on that 'phone message. The same way Jack had been saying 'Daniel' in his head for...God...it felt like years.

Ben wanted to play? Jack hoped it was for high stakes, in fact the highest stake of all.

Jack knew all this posturing shit was lost on Daniel, a fact that he was heartily pleased of; he could imagine the linguist's view of being a prize to be won or lost - and he didn't fancy that particular lecture.

And what if he did win? What if he managed to drive Ben away by rubbing his nose in the fact that Jack was Daniel's No. 1, best buddy and confidant. Where would that leave Daniel? Minus a boyfriend and stuck with a best friend who hadn't been able to express his feeling for the younger man in the last four years and still wasn't certain he could.

Was that fair to Daniel?

Jack watched Ben smiling at Daniel and was struck by the genuine expression - so unlike the smiles he bestowed on himself and Andy.

Ben really did love Daniel, damn him to hell.

And Daniel? Could Daniel be happy with this handsome, urbane, cultured, wealthy, intelligent, successful....ahhh, fuck it. Of course he could.

Jack felt cranky and old, although there were only a couple of years between him and Ben. He guessed that drawing houses and flying first class didn't tell on a guy in the same way that being in a front line military unit did - and he had the scars, the grey hair and the crappy knees to prove it.

He watched as Daniel stood beside Ben, chatting lightly to Andy. Ben looked up from the couch and raised a hand to the small of his lover's back, rubbing gently and insinuating an index finger beneath the material of his shirt. Daniel didn't react, Jack wanted to think it was to discourage him, but had to admit that it was more likely that Ben was so tactile that Daniel didn't think anything of it anymore.

When Andy moved off to the CD player, Ben rose from his seat and stepped into Daniel's space. His hands resting now on Daniel's waist, Ben leaned in and kissed Daniel's bottom lip softly. Jack tried to look away, but he was unable to move as he watched Ben coax a smile and a kiss from the younger man. Seizing the moment, Ben deepened the kiss and consolidated his hold on Daniel, bringing their bodies together.

Jack felt sick and unsteady. This possessive crap that Ben had been playing all night had finally borne fruit. Watching Daniel kiss Ben was the final straw and the truth of Daniel being another man's was suddenly very real to Jack.

Unable to bear any more, he walked quickly into the kitchen to fetch more ice for his glass and was surprised when Andy followed him and leaned against the counter, taking up a good part of Daniel's small kitchen.

"So, Captain Jack? You fly all over the world?"

"Used to. Semi retired now, just cherry pick the best jobs," Jack answered with a shrug. Not too much info, not too little, that was the key to a good cover story.

"Got any cherries lined up?" Andy asked with a sly smile.

"Not this week," Jack replied in a non-committal way, opening the freezer door and crouching down.

"I'll give you my number. Next time you fly somewhere warm, maybe you could smuggle me onboard."

Jack clinked the cubes into his tumbler, and leaned out to stand up, only to find Andy's long, black clad legs blocking his way. Awkwardly, Jack stood, nose-to-nose with the sharp-faced guy and shuffled around him so he could swing the freezer closed.

"Sure," Jack muttered, "Don't hold your breath though, I usually city hop these days."

"Great," Andy beamed, "You could take me somewhere interesting." He moved deliberately and slowly into the space Jack had created between them, close enough that Jack could smell the strong coffee on his breath and distinguish the highlights from the natural in his hair. "You could show me the..." his grey eyes slid down and back up to Jack's face with unconcealed desire, "...sights."

Jack opened his mouth to laugh it off as Andy closed the gap between them and brought his groin against Jack's hip. His mouth caught the colonel's in a hard kiss that Jack had not seen coming.

Instantly Jack pushed the well-built man away, not hard, but hard enough to let him know he was serious. "Andy," he warned.

"C'mon, Jack, you'll never learn what you need to know from Daniel's descriptions. Let me show you..." Andy stepped in again as Jack stepped back, bringing up his hand to keep him off.

"Is everything okay?" Daniel's voice sounded brittle and loud in the echoing kitchen.

Andy froze and Jack slowly lowered his hand as the silence grew. The question hung in the charged air, no one meeting anyone else's eyes. One of Jack's ice cubes cracked, the popping noise making everyone start slightly.

"Fine. Everything is fine," Jack ground out finally. He turned towards the counter to avoid having to look at Daniel. For some reason it was his friend's flinty eyes that shook him, not the bored, 'win some, lose some' expression on Andy's face.

The blonde haired man walked from the kitchen, passing only inches from Daniel's cold glare but seemingly unbothered by it. Daniel didn't move, just hung by the doorway and watched Jack, apparently in deep contemplation of his glass.

They both spoke at the same time.

"Jack..."

"Well I guess that answers that question,"

"No," Daniel said softly. He couldn't believe this had gone so bad, so fast. At the restaurant Jack had seemed at ease and was being charming to both Ben and his not-date. Now suddenly, via a conversation he hadn't heard, but that he could make a good guess at, Jack was backing off? Walking away from this newly acknowledged side of his personality?

Jack turned towards Daniel finally, and walked back towards the living room. "Look, I'll make myself scarce tonight as Ben is here," Jack smiled. "I'll crash on the base."

"There's no need, Jack. He doesn't stay here," Daniel explained. They kept their voices low; Daniel's open plan apartment didn't exactly lend itself to quiet corners. They could hear Ben and Andy talking over the music in the next room.

"Really? He seemed to know his way around, I kind of assumed..."

"He's just acting out. I don't think he's very happy about you staying here, even though you're not...I mean even when you weren't..."

"So maybe I should get my stuff and get out of your hair. I don't want to cause problems between you and your significant other," Jack said gently.

"He's not my..." Daniel took a deep breath and started again more quietly. "Jack, this is my place, you are my friend. I don't care what he thinks and if he's worth the effort, he'll get over it."

"Daniel..."

"Jack..."

"Daniel..."

"JACK..." Again Daniel modified his tone. " Please. Let's just..."

"Everything okay?" Ben asked, appearing at Daniel's side like an avenging angel, his mild smile did nothing to soften the aggression in his stance. His posture screamed 'MINE'.

Jack was struck by the echo of Daniel's own opening line on finding a 'situation' in progress in his kitchen. "Can I get you more ice, Ben?" Jack asked, when Daniel's face registered his displeasure at the interruption.

"No thanks, I'm fine," he responded politely. Jack nodded to him, then walked past them both back into the living room.

The evening was pretty much over at that point. Andy hurried to finish his drink and asked if he could call a cab. Daniel looked pointedly at Ben until he offered to give the suddenly quiet young man a ride home.

Daniel herded his guests to the door, anxious for the uncomfortable atmosphere in his apartment to be gone. Finding coats and keys seemed to take an age and Daniel's body language was tense and tired. He suffered Ben to kiss him goodnight, but his eyes were looking to see Jack's reaction rather than Ben's.

"Daniel, I could come back after..." his lover asked softly and hopefully in the doorway.

"No, not tonight."

"But I have to go to Vancouver on Thursday..."

"I'll call you in the morning, Ben," Daniel said in a final tone.

Ben didn't make any move to go and his eyes slid past Daniel to where Jack stood, quietly waiting. Jack thought that the dark haired man was going to make a scene, he seemed on the verge of losing his composure, but a quick glance back at Daniel's weary looking face had him nodding sadly and murmuring his goodnights.

Daniel closed and locked the front door and turned to lean against the wood, closing his eyes before straightening to face Jack. When he saw that Jack had been there to witness this, he shook his head and walked straight to the couch, throwing himself onto the upholstery with a groan.

Jack walked to where Daniel lay with his head buried in a pillow and sat down on the floor, his back against the couch seat.

"I'm so sorry, I had no idea..." came a muffled voice

"Don't sweat it, Daniel. It was my dumb idea."

"You've probably been scared off for life, but it's not always like that. Sure, men are often more direct in their approach, but..."

"Honestly, it's fine. No harm done. It was an education," Jack sighed, letting his head flop back onto the cushion by Daniel's shoulder. "I learned some useful things."

"Like?" Daniel asked incredulously, his curiosity sufficient to get his face out of his hiding place.

"Like it's not just any guy that floats my boat - not even if he IS throwing himself at me. It's just this one guy."

"Lucky guy," Daniel responded immediately, then flushed. Thankfully his pillow was still handy, so he rode out the worst of his embarrassment in its concealing depths.

"Is it always like that?" Jack asked tiredly, unconsciously contradicting Daniel.

"Like a warm body for the night and nothing more?" Daniel clarified.

"That's a nice way to put it," Jack snuffed.

"No, not always. I don't know what you were expecting, but there are lots of guys out there who will be whatever you want for the night or a week or a month and then never see you again. But there are also a lot of guys who are looking for more."

"How much more?"

"The whole nine yards," Daniel said simply.

"Which sort is Ben?" Jack asked levelly.

"You gonna hit on my...on Ben?" Daniel smiled.

Jack craned his neck so he could see Daniel's face. "Boyfriend, Daniel. Isn't that what you'd call him?"

Daniel shrugged. He was uncomfortable talking about Ben - it was like his name just didn't fit in the familiar relationship he had with his friend and CO. Jack seemed to want to discuss him, like he was unable to prevent himself from returning over and over to the subject. Daniel dreaded it - not because he didn't want Jack to know, but because each minute they discussed Ben, they were wasting time when they could be talking about something else. Daniel knew this was an odd reaction, but he didn't like to soul search too deeply for the answer to that particular conundrum.

"No, I'm not gonna hit on Ben- not a big ER fan myself, although Ocean's Eleven was okay." Daniel made a "Huh?" face that Jack just shook his head at. "You guys going for the whole nine yards then? Shacking up? His and His bath towels? A cat?"

"Jack, we've only known each other for a few weeks."

"Ten."

"Exactly."

"So?"

"It's not long enough to know," Daniel mumbled.

"It was with Sha'uri," Jack said. He blanched as the words left his lips and he quickly spun around on his ass. "Sorry! I'm so sorry. That was...stupid, unforgivable...fuck!" He bounced his head off the couch seat a few times. "I'm sorry Daniel - I don't know why I keep asking these questions. If I need "Gay Men for Dummies" I should go and try and meet some myself."

"No," Daniel said quickly. He was still taken aback by the reference to his dead wife, but the thought of Jack blundering his way through the downtown Springs gay scene was horrifying to him. He could imagine the newspaper headlines even now. "I'd rather you asked first, than found out yourself."

"Ben is not just a fling, is he?" Jack asked softly, looking up. His eyes held Daniel's for a few quiet moments before Daniel dropped his head back into the abused pillow.

Jack twisted back towards the coffee table and wiped a heavy palm over his face. "He's a nice guy. You look good together," Jack said hollowly.

"He is a nice guy, Jack. I know you didn't exactly hit it off tonight, but he is...nice." Daniel wanted to explain, his reticence to speak his lover's name overcome in an effort to put Jack at ease. If only he could put into words how he felt about Ben and how much he'd had to think about that in the last few days. Daniel struggled for a way to explain, the irony of which was not lost on him, given his profession.

"Right, I need to sleep," Jack announced suddenly, standing up.

"Oh...okay. Goodnight," Daniel smiled up at the colonel, disappointed that he had missed his opportunity to clear the air.

Jack stood silently, staring at Daniel sprawled across the couch. His eyes seemed to linger as he took in the sight of the sleepy looking younger man.

Daniel watched the play of expression on Jack's face, visible only to a guy who had spent so much time with him; enough time to spot the tiny nuances that Jack O'Neill let slip. Daniel saw Jack was weighing something up, measuring pros and cons and something else he couldn't put a finger on, an expression he had never seen so openly displayed on Jack's face.

With a dry mouth, and a stern word to himself about not whimpering, Daniel finally asked, "What?"

"Bed," Jack growled. Daniel felt a surge of excitement flare in his belly and his heart make a bid for freedom - right through his ribs.

"Jack..."

"You're on my bed," Jack elaborated, oblivious to the sick, sinking sensation in Daniel's stomach.

"Wha...? Right. Bed, of course," Daniel blathered, feeling like an idiot. He climbed off the couch and threw a "Night," over his shoulder as he walked to his room.

"Daniel?"

The confused archaeologist stopped in his tracks, but didn't look back at Jack. He didn't want to risk making more of a moron of himself than he already had. "Yes?"

"Can I have my pillow back?"

Ah.

Of course.

Daniel hurled the pillow he had been hugging, over his head in Jack's general direction and stomped off to bed.


Chapter Three - Retribution n. something done as punishment or vengeance.


He'd tried counting sheep and when that failed, he'd tried counting Mary Steenburgens, F-14 Tomcats, donuts, and disturbingly, George Hammonds, but Jack had to face it; he wasn't getting any sleep until he'd tried to explain a few things to Daniel.

The only sounds Jack could hear were Daniel's weird-ass loud grandfather clock and his own heart 'lub-lub'-ing at a terrifying pace for someone who had only crossed the living room.

The door of Daniel's bedroom was shut, symbolising exactly how Jack thought Daniel felt about him. Like Daniel didn't see him at all, like there was all this other 'stuff' that Jack was, if Daniel would only open his eyes and see it. Jack laid his forehead softly against the wood.

And now he was thinking in fucking metaphors - could it get any worse?

Apparently it could, for at that moment Daniel yanked open the door, his determined expression quickly replaced by shock when Jack stumbled into him.

Both men made a grab for the other to stop themselves from falling. When they'd established that they were still upright and not in immediate danger of any kind, they looked at one another. With slow wariness they leaned out of each other's space and let go of the handfuls of skin they had both clutched at.

"Bathroom," Jack blurted suddenly.

"Next door," Daniel replied.

"Sorry."

"No problem."

Jack turned to leave, then quickly turned back to Daniel.

"Look..."

"Look..." they began together. In the dark, Jack could make out the hunched shape of Daniel inviting him to continue.

"I wasn't looking for the bathroom. I know where that is."

"Yes," Daniel agreed.

"I was looking for you."

"Oh?" Jack thought he saw a small smile on Daniel's face as he said this, but in the unlit room it was hard to tell.

"Yeah, I wanted to..." Jack's brain regained normal operating parameters and threw out a 'before we do this' query. "...where were you going?"

"Oh. I was pretending I needed a glass of water - I was coming to find you," Daniel admitted equably.

"Yeah?" Jack couldn't stop the happy grin that wanted to take up residence on his face. Daniel wanted to see him - this was a good thing...right? "Nice cover story," Jack added admiringly.

"Thanks." Daniel wondered how much more surreal his life could become before he had to admit he was losing the plot.

"Right, I wanted to talk to you...about stuff...stuff that you need to open the door for," Jack rambled.

Daniel squinted at him, his brow furrowed in concentration as he tried to make sense of Jack's three-minute litany of increasingly desperate phrases.

"...and it might be kind of important stuff, as stuff goes. But the whole door thing...okay, forget the door. This stuff...is..." Jack trailed off in exasperation, blew his cheeks out, balled his fists and looked up to the ceiling for inspiration. Finally, he looked back down to Daniel, who was patiently waiting for the next shining moment of perfect clarity, biting his lip in that worried little way he had.

Jack groaned inwardly thinking how much easier it would be to show him, standing there in his boxers, his eyes bright and questioning, and so much smooth skin on show that Jack found it hard to find somewhere safe to look.

"Did you get any of that?" Jack sighed.

"Something about doors and stuff," Daniel repeated dutifully, nodding as if it made perfect sense.

"Right. Good." Jack was unable to see his way clear, and it had nothing to do with the lack of light. "Can we sit down to do this?" he whined.

Daniel whirled and went back to his bed, gratefully scooping up his quilt and covering himself with it as he sat down, cross-legged by the headboard.

Jack had no idea how distracting it was to be standing and talking to him in just a tee and shorts with his hair all mussed up and the chain of his tags caught, making Daniel's fingers itch to straighten it and accidentally brush against that warm, muscled skin on his shoulders.

Jack prowled around Daniel's bed several times - eyeing it suspiciously, before throwing himself down at the opposite end with a soft, "Oh, for crying out loud." He pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his arms across his knees.

He had no idea how to start this conversation, so he hit upon the idea of making Daniel talk until he could find the right words.

"So why were you coming to see me?" Jack asked.

"Oh...I...are we finished on the doors and stuff already?" Daniel stumbled.

"For the moment," Jack said slowly.

Daniel was quiet for a minute, and then said, "Close your eyes."

Jack was so taken aback, he did the opposite, and found himself blinking stupidly into the soft light from Daniel's bedside lamp.

The archaeologist looked determined once again and pushed his glasses up his nose purposefully. He found being able to see Jack hadn't helped at all, but soldiered on regardless. He licked his top lip and wagged an index finger at Jack, building up to something. It was a long time coming and Jack was starting to drift when Daniel finally spoke.

"Can you be sure? Can you be absolutely sure that your...uh...attraction to this guy is not down to a lack of other...uh...options?"

Jack looked at Daniel as if he'd cracked. "Hey! I HAVE options," he asserted with a dark look. "Maybe not as many as you and not as many as I used to, but I still get looks and not all of them from middle aged women."

"So why don't you follow any of them up? What is it about this guy that is so damn compelling?" Daniel asked with some heat, causing Jack to give him another confused look.

"You changed the subject," he said petulantly.

"I know. Answer the question."

Jack looked sulky as he considered Daniel's enquiry. How did you explain why you were crazy, nuts, whacko in love with someone? Surely you just were?

"He's...different, challenging. He's the best person I know," Jack finally came up with, rather pleased at his verbal acuity. He smiled gently at Daniel who rolled his eyes and looked away.

Daniel scowled at the soft expression on Jack's face as he spoke of his mysterious friend. For the umpteenth time today he wracked his brains for who this paragon of manhood could be. Jack lived his job as far as Daniel knew, so either this was someone he knew but never spoke of or it was someone on the base or...or...an alien. Daniel mentally took a grip on himself and shook...hard.

Once again Daniel went over the list of suspects and had to concede that Teal'c was at the top of it again. Different was the perfect word for the big Jaffa and if raising a smile from him was anything to go by, challenging also fitted perfectly...and he was an alien.

Oh God - he knew it; he was going mental.

"So, it's him and no other," Daniel said flatly, clamping down on his fruitless speculations.

"It would seem so," Jack said a little sadly.

"Is he gay? Bi?"

"Apparently," Jack replied rather strangely.

"Attached?"

"Allegedly."

"That's tough," Daniel commiserated and had the heart to actually feel sad for Jack despite his own baser instincts, which insisted that if he could only get his hands on Jack, he'd make him forget that 'dream-lover' had ever existed.

"Yeah." Jack played with the comforter on Daniel's bed, running his fingers along the stitching. "So, you gonna answer my question?"

"Oh, well, that was it really. I wanted to know if you were certain that only your guy would do."

"Why? You got another blind date for me?" Jack smiled wryly.

Daniel laughed and slid down in his bed a bit more, settling in. "Nope. No point. If he's the one and only."

"One and only," Jack repeated, and rolled his eyes self-depreciatively. "Pretty pathetic, huh?"

"No, not at all. Kind of nice, actually." They tailed off into a silence only punctuated by Jack's fingers swishing on the quilt.

Jack looked around Daniel's room, trying to keep his eyes off the man himself. He liked this room, although this was the longest he had ever spent in here. The rough brick of the wall and the solidness of the wooden bed were grounding, unusual and masculine, but unpretentious - very much like Daniel himself. His personality was also reflected in the quirkiness of the room, with the large space split in two by steps, a work area overlooking the balcony and the bed.

Jack always thought that Daniel's living room must feel a lot like being in Daniel's head - kind of full. Like some sort of eclectic museum, the walls and floors of Daniel's space were filled with plants, books, artefacts and musical instruments, and their only possible connection was the man's wide ranging and voracious curiosity

On the whole, Jack preferred it in here; compared to the living room, Daniel's bedroom was a serene space. There was less stuff demanding your attention, provoking a reaction. Jack idly wondered if that made him a bit simple.

Finally, he cleared his throat. "So, Ben. One and only?" Jack asked. His fingers were still stroking the comforter, moving faster and faster over the smooth material as if he were trying to rub a hole through it. He cast his eyes down, mesmerised by the movement of his hand.

"No," Daniel said immediately but quietly. " I...um...I couldn't have my one and only either."

"Sha'uri?" Jack asked gently.

Daniel's face softened at her name and a sweet smile touched his lips. "Yeah, for a while, she was. And after she...was gone, I thought that was it. I didn't think I could be that lucky twice. But, you know, things happen and you begin to see things differently, things you never noticed before." Or maybe things that you did notice but ignored. "But he was...not interested and I...moved on in the end."

"You're still in love with him," Jack said, glancing up; it wasn't a question.

Daniel shrugged and Jack nodded.

"So, Ben is...?"

"Nice. He's a good guy."

"Yes, so you keep saying," Jack muttered darkly.

"He's...I care about him. But he's not..." Daniel made a graceful but completely ineloquent gesture with his hand, which Jack understood perfectly.

"That's why you kissed me," Jack said sagely.

"Err...what?" Daniel asked, already feeling the slippery slope to a surreal O'Neill moment beneath his bare feet.

"Well, if Ben is not the love of your life, you wouldn't feel so bad about...you know...helping out a buddy."

"Helping out...no," Daniel agreed, hiding his smile at Jack's choice of words. "Happy to help, in fact," he elaborated absentmindedly.

"Yeah?" Jack asked, his fingers finally still and his eyes firmly on Daniel's deliciously sleepy face.

"Of course. Anything for a friend," Daniel yawned.

The silence that followed this remark alerted Daniel that he has said something stupid.

His metaphorical feet went out from under him and he reached sanity escape velocity as his metaphorical ass hit that slippery slope to the place Jack called home.

"Really?" Jack drawled with a comical leer. "Anything?"

Daniel laughed and threw a pillow at Jack, which he threw straight back and much harder.

"You know you can ask me anything, Jack," Daniel told him sincerely, stuffing the pillow behind his head. "Ask away."

"How did you know what to do...the first time?" Jack asked, stunning both himself and Daniel into sobriety. The linguist raised his eyebrows in surprise and Jack blinked to himself, then straightened, full of bravado.

"Oh...err..." Daniel tried to match Jack's ballsy attitude. "Well, I can recommend some books if you like and there are endless websites dedicated to this."

"Books? We both know how I feel about books, Daniel," Jack groaned. "And I can't exactly have my laptop on the pillow when I'm...entertaining, can I?"

"Well, a little research wouldn't kill you, Jack, and I told you, most of it is instinctive."

"Instinctive, eh?"

"Yeah, one thing leads to another. There's no right or wrong about how you do it."

"But you both have to know what goes where and how."

"Well, you'd have to be pretty innocent to not know what goes where. The how is more tricky, but there's a whole lot more to it than penetration." Daniel knew he was blushing, dammit, but he pretended not to notice. "There's loads of other good stuff you can try before the big one."

"Good stuff, eh? Care to share?" Jack's eyes glittered with amusement in the low light, or was it something more than having Daniel on the ropes?

Daniel was convinced that if he blushed any more, he would spontaneously combust. Only Jack had this ability to make him feel completely stupid - it was a feeling he wasn't used to and he didn't enjoy it one bit.

Daniel was the one with the experience here; he should be making Jack squirm and flush - not the other way around.

Forcing down his nervousness, Daniel decided to let Jack have it - give him the facts and scare the bejeezus out of him in the process. Maybe that would make him stop trying to embarrass him at every opportunity. He wanted to play dirty? Well no one played dirtier than a flustered, cornered Daniel Jackson with every reason to want to deflect attention from himself. He had his considerable verbal skills to help him, not to mention a healthy dose of wanting to stick it to a smug, self-satisfied looking Jack.

"Sure," he smiled insincerely, sitting himself up and dredging up an earnest and caring expression. He'd lectured to Marines, to his peers, to idiot students, to politicians and to SG-1, this was just another lecture - information to be disseminated, questions to be answered; he could do this.

Daniel could see Jack mentally regroup; he hadn't expected such an enthusiastic response. "Well, we've covered kissing," Daniel began.

"I hardly call two kisses 'covered', Dan..." Jack bleated.

"So the next step would be stroking, petting and touching," Daniel mused talking over Jack's pathetic attempt at redirection. "Well it's pretty much the same with a woman. You might find that men prefer it a little rougher..." Did Jack just flush? Was that shock registering in his brown eyes?

"Yeah, but all the same places work on a guy. Don't forget that. Neck, chest, nipples, inner thighs, ass...all very popular. Take your time and find out what does it for him."

Yep, Jack O'Neill was definitely getting uncomfortable here. He was shifting his weight from cheek to cheek and he cleared his throat more times than was strictly necessary. Daniel felt a thrill of delight at the power in his hands. He could definitely get used to rendering the colonel beet red and speechless.

"So preparation is everything - especially for a first time. Fingers, hands, lips, teeth and tongues, whatever you like really, but make sure you're very, very thorough," Daniel drawled, looking directly into Jack's eyes as he emphasised his point.

Daniel congratulated himself on getting the colonel breathing through his mouth already.

Was panting too strong a word?

Daniel didn't think so.

Jack was alternately squeezing his knees together and letting them fall apart with a pained wiggle. Daniel could see why Jack couldn't sit still and was inordinately pleased with himself for having a nice thick comforter between his groin and the look of longing on Jack's face.

"So, let's discuss a couple of ways you can pleasure your partner without having to go all the way."

Jack's eyes felt gritty, he knew he should blink, but he didn't seem to be able to drag his gaze from this verbal aphrodisiac wearing Daniel's face. His geeky, open, genial best friend seemed to have a dirty, slutty, sexy twin. His voice positively purred, imparting his experience with brutal directness and it was doing terrible things to the colonel.

If Daniel didn't break eye contact soon, Jack was going to have to do it and DAMN if that didn't go against everything he stood for.

"So I'm sure you've experienced fellatio before..." Daniel enquired mildly.

Yeah, but not half as often as he wanted to. Jack nodded, trying to compose his features into something resembling sensible, which was hard when you wanted to whimper and your dick was doing its damnedest to climb out of your shorts.

"...but do you know frottage?"

Jack had a brief vision of saying that he didn't and would the good doctor care to demonstrate, before flinging himself at Daniel with a "Geronimo", but contented himself with a polite shake of his head and a quizzical look.

Damn! Daniel was sure that one would have broken him. Okay, so this one was a gamble, but he thought that Jack was WAY more au fait with these terms that he was letting on. And if it got him an "Ew!" then at least it would be a truthful reaction as opposed to this interested, serious act that Jack was doing so well.

"No? How about rimming?"

Jack crumbled spectacularly.

His mouth dropped open and he flushed deep purple. Yanking the neatly tucked comforter out from the end of Daniel's bed he quickly leapt under its blessed camouflage.

Daniel gave a mild smile and glanced at him questioningly.

"Cold," Jack wheezed, sighing with bliss as he gratefully gave his dick space to swell.

Daniel manfully managed to keep a straight face as he mentally did a victory lap around his bedroom, complete with some offensive butt wiggling and name-calling. He wanted to crow and make Jack admit he'd lost, but that would involve Daniel admitting that he'd been competing. "Look," he began, pleased with himself, but not wanting to rub Jack's nose in it, "I'm making you...uncomfortable."

"No, no," Jack said breezily.

"Why don't you find yourself a nice, experienced guy and have some simple, uncomplicated sex."

"Is THAT what Ben is to you?" Jack shot back, quicker than Daniel was prepared for.

"No!" Daniel said suddenly angry. But he wasn't glaring at Jack; he was staring off into the distance, frowning as if some internal confrontation was going on.

"I'm sorry...sorry, Daniel," Jack replied quickly.

Daniel sighed and shrugged. "Don't be. It's an honest question. I guess he's neither one thing or another."

"Not your one and only and not a convenient body," Jack agreed.

"I like him a lot."

"You like me a lot," Jack countered. Daniel looked at him strangely, but Jack didn't back down and calmly fielded the glance.

"He's..." Daniel trailed off, lost for words. He felt terrible, like he was letting Ben down by being unable to define the relationship they had. Ben was...Ben was...a friend; a friend he happened to have sex with. Ben was perfect for Daniel. Ben was all the things that Daniel would look for in an ideal man.

Except for one thing.

He wasn't Jack.

"Look, Ben might be a brain and all," Jack muttered, "But would he die for you? Can he talk to you about your day? Will he understand when you are gone for days on end? Can he...can he..."? Jack cast around desperately. Reasons why he was better for Daniel than boring Ben - come ON! There must be more than that Jack worked with him. "Can he do a kick-ass Homer?"

Jack winced as Daniel gave him a 'WTF' look. "D'oh!" he ventured quietly.

"He's kind and discreet," Daniel responded woodenly, his eyes becoming unfocussed.

"Yeah, great guy," Jack yawned.

"He likes Opera,"

"I like Opera."

"He likes me." Daniel brought his vacant gaze to Jack.

Jack shook his head, if Daniel didn't know this by now, he must have been one hell of an asshole for the past four years. "I like you, Daniel. I like you."

Daniel regarded him steadily. Was this Jack O'Neill, master of the understatement or Jack O'Neill, really bad with words and trying to look out for his best buddy?

"I see that," Daniel said slowly, drawing on his last reserves of courage. "You have an erection." He helpfully pointed at Jack's possessive hands, cradling his groin through the fabric.

"So do you," Jack countered. Classic O'Neill strategy; defend with offence.

"Do not," Daniel replied.

"Do so!"

"Not!"

"Do!"

"Not!"

"Prove it!"

"NO!" Daniel squeaked. There was no other word for the incredulous noise that he made.

"'Cos you can't," Jack shrugged.

"No proof necessary," Daniel said loftily.

"You caaaaaaa-aaaaan't," Jack sang, his smug look firmly back in the ascendant.

"I could if I wanted to, but I'm not ten years old," Daniel countered.

"Let me help you out then," Jack said unexpectedly and pulled hard on the material. Daniel just managed to get a handful of the comforter before he was exposed and he wrestled with the slippery fabric, scooching himself further down the bed.

"Jack! CRAP! Stop it..."

Jack hooted with laughter and leaped into the fray. THIS he could cope with - assing around, behaving like a teenager, making Daniel laugh - this was his area of expertise. He might not be the culture-vulture that boring Ben was, but he could tickle like a pro. And Jackson was going DOWN!

Daniel's eyes opened wide in horror as Jack happened to him in the most appalling sense of the word. While he was grasping the comforter for dear life, he was unable to use his hands to fight off a motivated, turned on and very heavy colonel.

Jack alternated between yanking on the covers and attacking Daniel's ribs and waist, eliciting language from the archaeologist that had no place in a lecture theatre.

Daniel tried to roll into a ball to avoid the deadly accuracy of Jack's fingers, tried kicking him through the sheets and actually threatened to bite him, but to no avail. With a triumphant "AH-HA!" Jack sneakily tickled with one hand and tugged with the other, leaving the gasping linguist spread-eagled on the bed and quite obviously with his pants on fire.

Jack sat back on his heels with a triumphant grin on his rosy face. However, it quickly softened into something else entirely as he took in the sight of Daniel glowering at him from the mattress.

The fighting had put a sheen on his flushed body and his chest rose and fell rapidly. In the low light, Daniel's skin was pale gold with the subtly muscled planes of his torso so smooth and hairless that Jack's fingers itched with the need to verify what his eyes drank in.

Beneath the lowered brows, Daniel's eyes glittered with something more than embarrassment, something more than pissed off; a kind of challenge and a kind of question.

"Told you. You like me," Jack growled. Daniel didn't answer, just regarded the older man steadily, making no attempt to cover himself or hide from Jack's obvious scrutiny.

Slowly Jack leaned forward to kneel on all fours above Daniel. He moved with care, if he had got this wrong there would be nowhere he could go to avoid the fallout. Daniel hadn't thrown him out of his room, and he'd got hard having Jack around, and he wasn't moving or saying anything now, so that meant that he was okay? Did guys say no in the same way as girls? Was he about to get his face punched?

Jack knew that this was the best chance he'd ever get and if boring Ben got his way, the last chance too.

Jack's gaze met and held Daniel's as he inched his mouth down towards the parted lips. Daniel didn't come up to meet him, but neither did he look away or protest. Jack decided that this was another good sign, although the feeling that he might throw up from nerves was becoming more insistent every second.

The jolt to Jack's lips as they touched Daniel's was the best kind of static charge he'd ever felt. Like magnetism, it was as if the opposite polarity of Daniel's mouth had captured Jack's, and now they had come close enough to attract, there was nothing that could pry them apart.

The press of Jack's mouth against the linguist's was returned softly and he closed his eyes. All the tension in the colonel's body and all the apprehension he had felt about his reception was washed away in a flood of warmth and peace and overwhelming rightness.

Daniel lifted a hand to Jack's hair and gently scratched his nails against his scalp, guiding Jack's head to achieve the best angle for him to softly slip his tongue into Jack's mouth.

Jack had never known a kiss like it, not even in the earliest days of his marriage when everything he and Sara did together seemed to end up in the bedroom.

This kiss was like a full conversation. It was an argument and an apology and a lecture and a lullaby. Jack felt himself give up the fight and admit that Daniel owned his ass, not to mention his heart, his soul and any other damn bit of him he wanted.

It was like the score that his life had been following had suddenly resolved itself; all the sour notes and disharmonies were less than a memory as it all magically slid into place and the melody became everything - dominant, glorious and perfect.

Jack drew back and watched Daniel's eyes narrow in reaction. He smiled softly and reassuringly at the younger man beneath him, sat back and pulled off his shirt before returning to hover over Daniel. Carefully, he took Daniel's glasses off and placed them on the nightstand before clicking off the lamp.

In the sudden blueness of the moonlight, Jack saw Daniel return the smile then reach up to grasp his dog tags and pull him slowly back down for another kiss; stronger this time, more demanding, more certain.

Daniel's hands swept trails of sweet fire down his back, making him burn, making him ache. With a subtle pressure of hand on hip, the linguist showed Jack where he needed to be and he complied willingly, kneeling between Daniel's thighs.

Once again, Daniel smoothed a firm path down his flanks, his large, strong hands so unlike anything Jack had ever experienced before and yet somehow the most natural thing in the world to him. This time the hands paused at the waistband of his shorts. Jack opened his eyes to see Daniel's dark gaze asking permission. Jack swayed his hips encouragingly and smiled into Daniel's mouth.

Quickly, Daniel raised himself up, his abdomen tightening as he stretched to reach, making Jack long to lick the ridges of muscle that flowed beneath the skin there. Daniel swiftly hooked Jack's shorts over his ass and his hands carefully pulled the material over his swollen cock and pushed them to his knees.

He relaxed back taking the colonel's mouth in a soft teasing kiss as he gently pulled him down on top of him. With a calf curled over Jack's, Daniel hooked the shorts with his foot and pulled them off, kicking them away to land unmissed on the floor with a soft rustle.

Jack groaned aloud as his skin met Daniel's and his newly liberated dick eased against the crisp hair at Daniel's groin. Jack snuffed in surprise, not having noticed Daniel remove his underwear, but the archaeologist began to stroke his spine again, setting up that amazing floating feeling once more, and Jack just went with the flow, sure of his security in this man's strong arms.

The glut of sensation Jack was experiencing, making him shiver and moan, meant that it was instinct rather than judgement that made him begin to imitate the subtle sway of Daniel's hips against his. By the time he realised that he was doing it and how incredible it felt, they had already found a slow, sweet rocking rhythm.

Daniel smiled as Jack blinked in surprise and faltered, pushing when Daniel was pulling, ruining the delicious, easy friction. Jack tensed, trying too hard to get it back. Daniel put his hands back in Jack's hair and made him focus on his face. "Shhhh," he whispered. "Relax. Just let it happen."

With a push on his shoulder, Daniel eased Jack over to roll onto his back, reversing their positions, and waited, watching for a reaction.

Jack was surprised at how much his friend weighed, even with some of it being borne on his elbows. Jack was pinned to the mattress, another new experience for him. His mind immediately began to think of the best way to get out from under the deadweight, years of training provoking an aggressive response to this kind of situation. As his muscles tensed, ready to throw his opponent off, Jack became aware of Daniel's bright, intelligent eyes, observing him calmly.

With a slight, regretful smile, Daniel shifted his weight onto his hip and prepared to roll them back. He had seen Jack's alarm and cursed himself for an idiot to try and push him too far, too fast. When Jack resisted the pull that would take them back to the way they were before, Daniel thought he'd blown it and expected Jack to start stammering expressions of remorse.

Instead, Jack reached up with shaking hands and smoothed the hair back from the linguist's face then pulled him in for a hard, determined kiss. He ran his hands down Daniel's neck and followed the strong curve of his shoulders before mimicking the stroking glide that Daniel's fingers had teased his back with. Daniel hummed with pleasure and flexed at the touch.

Very slowly and gently, Jack began to press up into Daniel, bending his knees either side of him to give himself the control he needed to keep it gentle. Although he was still slightly freaked by the feeling of being smothered in archaeologist, he could appreciate the benefits to be had. And after all, this was Daniel here, and Jack knew without a shadow of a doubt that no matter what they did tonight, he was safe and in control.

Daniel's smile dazzled Jack when he felt the easy pace begin to catch hold again. Daniel rocked oh-so-gently into Jack's thrusts, kissing his neck and his eyes and his cheeks and his forehead, murmuring encouragement.

Jack felt the delicious flicker of arousal glow brighter and brighter with each slide of skin on skin. Slowly building, the energy and tension between them rose, making hands grasp tighter and words become more difficult. Daniel's litany of praises became ragged, punctuated with gasps and curses. Jack's fingers bit into Daniel's hips, holding him right where he needed him to be, guiding him to where it felt the best. Their sweat-sheened skin slid and slapped as they urged each other towards their mutual goal.

Fighting to keep the rhythm even and slow, Jack cried out hoarsely, as the flicker became an all-encompassing flare of brilliance. The strength with which they strained for release would have shocked him if he hadn't been so caught in the burn. Suddenly there was no rhythm, no pace and no rocking, just powerful thrusts, desperate teeth and lips clashing as they strove to completion. It was a brutal culmination of what they needed and everything they had.

They seemed to hang forever in the limbo before they came, every other sensation but desire blotted out by the intensity of their passion. They neither breathed nor felt, caught in between nothingness and everything.

And then they fell.

The sweet, soft darkness of release rushed up to meet them and drew their burning, flaming bodies down into welcoming oblivion.

Twice more that night they loved each other. Daniel had gently and patiently led Jack and taken him to where he'd wanted to be for so long if only he had known the way.

When he had recovered faster than Jack, Daniel had assured the colonel that what felt good on himself, held good for Daniel too. Jack had watched in wonder as his hand on the younger man's hard length had drawn a bone-melting second orgasm from him. When Jack had felt himself begin to swell at the sight of his lover's unashamed enjoyment of the experience, Daniel had coaxed another erection out of the colonel with his mouth and hands, then sucked him off with such skill, that it made Jack see stars.

Jack had awoken some hours later, unused to finding another body in bed with him, let alone such a large, hard, masculine one. He'd rolled away from Daniel's heat, seeking a moment of clarity in the haze that his brain had become after the best sex he'd had...well...ever.

He must have disturbed him however, as Daniel immediately spooned up behind him and sleepily whispered his name. He'd curled a heavy arm possessively over Jack's waist and rubbed soothing circles on his belly then had very deliberately slid his hand down to his soft cock and began to pull gently on it. Jack's body had reacted immediately despite his exhaustion, and Daniel had kept up the lazy, slow tug and glide, making him delirious with the need for him to pump faster, but also to keep it exactly like this.

When Jack came it was as long and slow and intense as Daniel's hand had been upon him. Seconds later he'd felt the scald of semen hit his ass and realised that Daniel had been stroking himself in time. He'd reached over his shoulder to stick a badly aimed kiss on Daniel's head, and slumped back into a deep, drug-like sleep, not even registering when his lover pulled the blankets to cover them and kissed him back.

Jack hadn't needed to open his eyes to know where he was. His nose was full of the smell of sex and a damp warmth rhythmically gusted over the skin of his shoulder. Careful not to move, Jack cracked his eyes open to look at Daniel tucked up against his side.

One heavy, warm hand lay on Jack's belly and the other was tucked under the archaeologist's cheek. Daniel's hair stood in manic tufts and his face was pink from the warmth of the covers. Jack thought he had rarely seen anything so sweet and resolved to tell his lover so at an inopportune moment.

The first Daniel knew that morning, was that something was cooking, that there was coffee occurring somewhere in his vicinity and that someone was strangling a whole sackful of cats.

Manfully, he ignored the fact that he was up early on a day he didn't need to be, and staggered to the bathroom. He peed, washed his hands and face and even brushed his teeth. Still the terrible caterwauling kept up. Returning to his bedroom, Daniel pulled a sweatshirt and pants on, found his glasses and courageously went to find the origin of the good smells and bad noises.

However, nothing could have prepared him for the Jack O'Neill Breakfast Extravaganza.

Daniel knew from hard won experience, that Jack was a morning person. On many off world missions the day started with Daniel being shaken awake by Jack's booted foot and Daniel then explaining, in graphic detail, where Jack could put his "rise and shine"...and his boot.

But this was even worse than that.

As Daniel rounded the corner into his kitchen, he was confronted by a half naked, ass-wiggling, forty-something colonel, liberally covering his worktops and every utensil he possessed with yellow goo whilst singing at the top of his lungs.

Daniel's mouth dropped open as he struggled for something to say. But, before anything came to him, the song ended and Jack added a pirouette flourish to his routine, catching sight of Daniel as he did so.

With a jaw-busting grin, Jack bounded over to Daniel, hugged him as best he could with a wooden spoon and skillet in his hands and planted a big, wet kiss on his mouth.

"Morning!" Jack beamed.

"What are you doing?" Daniel whispered, caught between horror and confusion.

"I am embracing my new found gay-ness," Jack stated with mock seriousness, punctuating his sentence with utensils.

"Did my kitchen have to die for that?" Daniel asked watching a particularly viscous pool of goo begin its inexorable slide onto the floor.

Jack turned and looked at the offending area with new eyes and winced a little. "Making breakfast," he explained in a wheedling tone. The CD player moved onto the next track and Jack stiffened immediately as he heard the opening bars. "Oh! This is a great song!" he whooped and handed Daniel the spoon and skillet, then jumped down the steps into the living room to turn up the music.

Daniel looked down at the yellow, encrusted pan and sighed. "Build Me Up, Buttercup?" he asked weakly, but it was too late.

Jack was dancing...again.

Putting the kitchen implements into the overflowing sink, Daniel followed Jack to the living room to stop him before he hurt himself. He paused to watch, smiling despite his confusion, at the greying man gyrating his way across the floor.

Jack had only a pair of tight jeans on, with the top two buttons carelessly left undone, so they sat low on his hips and exposed the line of hair that ran from his navel down into the denim. His feet, like his chest and arms, were bare exposing his lightly tanned skin.

Daniel licked his lips as he watched the colonel shimmy and turn, hamming it up all over his living room. Despite Jack's stupid, over-the-top dance routine, Daniel still felt himself stir as he watched his lover's muscled torso sway, flexing and twisting in time to the music. Jack's eyes told Daniel that he knew what he was thinking and he smiled secretively and seductively, before turning around to shake his ass at Daniel, comically.

"Why do you build me up, Buttercup, baby/ Just to let me down, and mess me around?" Jack took up the chorus.

Daniel groaned and held his head in his hands as he sat down heavily on the couch. "Could you be a little less gay, do you think? For the neighbours?" he asked over the noise of the cranked up music.

Jack simply shook his head and continued to dance around behind the couch.

"And then worst of all, you never call baby/ When you say you will, but I love you still," he sang, trailing a hand across Daniel's shoulders and neck as he passed behind him.

"I need you..." he continued, reappearing on the other side, "...more than anyone darlin'/ You know that I have from the start..." Jack completed another spin and came to a stop in front of Daniel, swaying his hips and singing the words into the linguist's laughing face.

"So build me up, Buttercup, don't break my heart."

Jack backed away and blew Daniel a kiss as he continued his outrageous routine. Daniel sniggered and shook his head. Only Jack could have thought of this kind of a reaction to what could have been an awkward awakening. It wasn't every day that two best friends woke up in bed together, and frankly, Daniel would much sooner deal with this bouncy, over-the-top colonel than an introspective, 'crap, what have I done?' one. There would be time later for a reckoning and Daniel didn't doubt it would come.

Finally the song ended and Jack took a bow as Daniel clapped enthusiastically from his seat. Jack blew more kisses to his smiling audience.

"What do you do for an encore?" Daniel asked with a predatory grin.

Jack returned the smile. "Well, for a start I do a great confession."

Jack knew he could do this now; it was easy. How could he have wasted so long? Since the second he'd found out Daniel's secret, he'd wanted to tell him. If he was honest, it was a lot longer than that, but with his smiling friend, his gentle, honest, brave best friend, waiting expectantly on the couch, Jack knew he could tell him anything; even that he was the guy he'd been fantasising over for so many months.

"If I could have a volunteer from the audience..." Jack stopped when he noticed Daniel freeze, staring over his shoulder. Jack had never seen quite such a sudden reaction, one second the younger man was laughing, his eyes shining, and the next, his face was pale and pinched, his eyes wide but guarded.

"Ben," he said softly and stood up.

Jack followed Daniel's line of sight and turned slowly to face a very unhappy looking boyfriend, standing by the steps. Jack met Ben's accusing eyes, his own gaze wary but unrepentant. At that second the CD changed tracks again; Jack moved reluctantly over to the player and switched the music off.

The silence was deafening; Jack stayed where he was, making the third point of a tense, angry triangle. Ben looked from Daniel to Jack and back again, over and over, as if expecting something. Daniel kept his gaze firmly controlled, neither apologising nor admitting anything, and Jack watched Ben for any sign that he might want to take this further.

"Daniel," Ben said boldly, then turned his attention fully on the colonel. "Jack," he acknowledged, spitting the word as if it left a bad taste in his mouth. His eyes bored into Jack's, all the veiled malice and jealousy from last night now blazing from him like a beacon. Jack met this onslaught calmly and without giving an inch.

"How did you get in, Ben?" Daniel asked quietly.

"Key," Ben said without looking at his questioner and unexpectedly threw the answer to Jack, who caught it with ease. "Jack's key," Ben elaborated. Jack glanced at the bunch of keys in his hands, verifying that they were, indeed, his. Ben must have lifted them from the table in the hall last night without him noticing.

"So, not a commercial pilot then, eh Jack?" Ben challenged, jerking his head at the dog tags on Jack's chest. Jack resisted the stupid temptation to touch the tags, to hide them even though it was too late. He didn't say anything, merely continued to meet Ben's hostile gaze with his own impassive one.

"How long?" he suddenly demanded, turning to Daniel. The archaeologist's eyes flicked momentarily to Jack's, then back to Ben.

Jack squashed the impulse to move closer to Daniel. He itched to stand in between these two tense men, to stop Ben's angry expression falling on Daniel, but he knew the gesture would infuriate Ben and probably Daniel too. His archaeologist had always been a man to fight his own battles, neither asking nor grateful for help, as Jack had learned to his cost over the past few years.

Daniel hated to be seen as weak. Like his own personal vendetta, he fought against any form of favour for the civilian on the team; he did the same gun drills, target practice and physical exams as the rest of SG-1 and consistently proved his position on the team was merited.

Jack had found ways to subtly keep an eye on the youngest member of SG-1, telling himself it was because he was 'the civilian'. This hadn't fooled either of them; it made Daniel ever more determined to prove himself and caused Jack to bury his conflicted feelings for his friend under a veneer of sarcastic wit and, at times, harsh words.

But Jack was glad that when Daniel did need it, it was him he would turn to for help. Jack only wished he'd ask more, particularly since Sha'uri died. The dreadful experience of his wife's death had been compounded by the difficult nature of the following missions and for a while Jack had wondered if he would ever get his friend back.

Daniel had withdrawn from him and the team as a whole, and Jack, being a past master at emotional ineptitude, had been unable to express his willingness to listen, let alone his desire to assist. It had been a long, slow trip back from this low point in their relationship, and only recently Jack had felt the familiar and long missed ease of their friendship had returned.

Daniel had faced those terrible circumstances alone, determined to overcome them in his own way and Jack knew that he would always regret that he had let him do so. But he knew better now, than to give assistance without being asked, and Daniel was definitely dealing with this situation with Ben on his own. It was in the stillness of his body and the hard expression in his eyes.

"I don't think discussing this with you now would be beneficial, Ben," Daniel said quietly and with dignity.

The furious man took four strides across the room towards Daniel, coming to rest close enough for him to reach out if he so chose. Daniel didn't even flinch, watching the older man calmly.

Jack's teeth ground together in reaction to his need to get to Daniel's side. His hands clenched as he watched his friend for any signal that he was out of his depth. Jack was almost praying for it to come; he could already feel his fist connecting with that firm, sculpted, Clooney-esque jaw.

"How...long?" Ben gritted.

"What are you asking? How long I've known Jack? How long is he staying? How...?"

"How long have you been in love with Captain Camp, here?"

"RIGHT!" bellowed Jack, closing the gap between them only to be brought up short by Daniel's hand on his chest.

"I can handle this," Daniel told him, his eyebrows drawn down angrily.

Jack glowered at Ben around his friend and raised a warning finger at him. Daniel neatly stepped across to block Jack's view. "I'm dealing with it. Can you give us a few minutes?" His expression told Jack that this was a command, not a request.

Jack blinked at Daniel. Had he just been dismissed? Had Daniel just asked him to leave? Jack couldn't quite fathom why his friend...his lover... would not want his presence now. Surely what they had done last night had been an indication of their unity, their commitment. Why would Daniel shut him out of this conversation that affected them both so deeply?

Jack's eyes searched Daniel's, hurt and confusion in equal measure apparent in their brown depths. Jack longed for him to wink, grin, roll his eyes...anything to let him know what was going through that complex brain of his, but Daniel's face was closed, giving nothing away except possibly a hint of an apology.

Apology for what?

Jack shook his head slightly.

Apology for WHAT?

He jerked back from Daniel's restraining hand, his own hands brought up in a gesture of submission and defeat. Ben's face over Daniel's shoulder had an excited air about it, almost like he scented a triumph. Unable to bear the unguarded antagonistic expression, Jack turned and stalked from the room.

He strode into Daniel's bedroom, hearing Ben's bleating tones as he closed the door behind him. He felt as if someone had pulled the cloth from under a table laid for dinner and he was watching the crockery tumble. All his assumptions and hopes, all the things he thought last night had meant to both of them, were as shadows, fading now the sun had gone behind a cloud.

How could he have been so stupid? How had he reached his age, had a wife and several prior long-term relationships and never felt this vulnerable before? With a bitter snort of laughter he realised that he had never come up against someone as strong as Daniel before. He had been calling the shots in every other romantic...crap... in EVERY other relationship in his life and this was a new experience for him.

He hated it.

He felt exposed, he felt out of control and that made him angry - not with Daniel, but with his own inability to adapt. Daniel hadn't promised forever, he hadn't told him he loved him and he had not said that he was ditching Ben in favour of his best friend and commanding officer. Jack had mapped all that out last night, in his own head.

Daniel's kisses had been so possessive, his hands so knowing, his face so alive with passion and tenderness, Jack had joined the dots and made love and a lifetime of togetherness. Maybe Daniel's dots made something else - lust, companionship, pity?

Jack viciously yanked open his holdall and pulled a hockey shirt and some socks out. He put them on, his jaw clenched and his face pained. As he turned back towards the living room, determined to get out of Daniel's space and find some perspective and control, his eyes fell on the messed up bed. He could still see the hollows where his and Daniel's heads had laid in the pillows; so close together it was like one space, not two.

He caught sight of his shorts discarded on the floor and picked them up. Jack stilled briefly, realising that he'd made a breakthrough against his military conditioning. He'd left his clothes on the floor, he'd trashed Daniel's kitchen and he hadn't even thought about it. For the first time since he was a teenager, he hadn't been threat assessing, planning an escape route or expecting the worst. He had gone with the moment, knowing that he could sort out the mess tomorrow and that what he was doing was more important.

More important.

The words clutched at his guts. Nothing had merited them since his son had died. Being with Daniel had been more important than being himself, than being a product of his training. And he hadn't even had to stop to consider it. Daniel was simply more important than anything else in his life.

He searched around and found his tee shirt too, and placed both items in his bag carefully. The kitchen would have to fend for itself, but in Daniel's bedroom at least, you would never have known he had been there.

When Jack walked back out into the living room, Ben was sitting alone on the sofa and Daniel could be heard in the kitchen. Without a word, Jack moved across the room to the step up into the hallway. He felt Ben's eyes follow him and paused to look at the dark haired man.

Ben held his gaze easily, the hint of a smile on his handsome face. Jack's gaze tracked to the kitchen where he could see Daniel making coffee, then back to the self-satisfied man sitting on his bedroll. He wondered whether to call a goodbye to Daniel, but couldn't stand giving the smug bastard more to smirk at, so he stamped his feet into his boots by the door and left.


Chapter 4 - Renovations - pl. n. act of restoring to good condition; repairs; making new again.


Jack spent an aimless day in the depths of self-pity. He didn't have the guts to call Daniel and he didn't have the peace of mind to turn his hand to anything constructive. Instead he went to his house and shouted at anyone who stood still for long enough to listen. But even when his best testosterone fuelled rant yielded an early completion date for the work, he didn't feel anything but empty.

His troubled mind continuously listed for him what Ben could give Daniel that he couldn't.

Stability. Honesty. Security.

No unexpected reassignments for an architect. No covering up their relationship, no hiding, no lies. And only the kind of everyday threats that your average Joe faced on a daily basis, none of the insane risks he had to take whenever his duty demanded it.

All his arguments from last night, the ones that had seemed so obvious to him then, were like morning mist - burned away by the rising sun. Yes, Jack was one of the few people on Earth that Daniel could talk to about his work, but that wasn't the basis of a lifetime together.

One day the Goa'uld threat would be eliminated, one day the Stargate would be made public knowledge, one day they would retire. Because they had seen paradise and hell together, it had forged a bond between them that was permanent, but it wasn't necessarily the foundation for a relationship.

Why didn't Daniel call? It couldn't have taken all day for him to tell Ben that it was over between them. And surely he would have called if that were what he had done?

Jack's mind took him places he didn't want to go; places where Daniel chose stability over risk, openness over deception, and the novelty and lust of Ben over the familiarity and abiding love of Jack.

He'd sought comfort in the routine and custom that had always served him so well in the past. He went to the mountain, put on his BDU's and looked to make himself invincible once more. He thought his uniform could stop the gaps in his erstwhile impregnable armour. He hoped that this simple act, this symbol of his life's work would still his mind and let him gather back the level head he was famous for.

And to some extent, he succeeded. He did his paperwork, he answered queries and he judged who was fit and who was not to work in the most important project on the face of the planet. To even the most sharp-eyed of outside observer, Colonel O'Neill was in control, walking the walk and getting it done.

Only Jack knew that it was hollow. Now he was faced with the knowledge of what else might have been out there for him, had he had the eyes to see; he knew that his job, with all its responsibilities and consequences was a substitute for a life, not the real thing. And as pleased as he was that he could still do his job with this new knowledge, he nevertheless had no illusions that he was anything but settling for a poor second best.

It was late by the time he left the mountain and the lights of the oncoming cars had a hypnotic effect on Jack as he headed home...or wherever the hell he was going to crash that night. He reacted to the stimulus of the other road users and the traffic directions without conscious effort. So he was interested, but unsurprised to find himself pulling up in the parking lot in front of Daniel's apartment building.

He cut the engine and sat, listening to the quiet ticks and sighs of his car cooling down. The sounds of the city seemed quite distant here and the weird, pinky quality of the street lighting just added to the surreal feel.

He knew he should go in and tell Daniel the truth; it was the least he owed him. He knew Daniel prized honesty above almost anything. But even to his own ears, his story sounded shallow and unworthy. How he had known of his deep attraction for his team linguist - body and soul - for months, years even, but had been too cowardly to act upon it. Until he had heard another man's voice full of love for Daniel, saying the things he only dreamed of saying. All in all it just sounded like Jack didn't want Daniel to have anyone else, despite the fact that he couldn't or wouldn't offer himself.

Jack pondered on how much Ben's maleness had influenced his reaction. He wasn't so irrational as to desire Daniel to be alone for the rest of his life, but he had always imagined Daniel with a nice, mousey, sweet, geeky girl, blissfully happy in their combined brainpower and strictly vanilla sex-life.

That Daniel was man enough to be bi-sexual had blown Jack away in the most welcome manner. And he had been thrilled when Daniel had been so pro-active in bed, knowing what he wanted and getting what he needed. But that he had been such a considerate lover at the same time had come as no surprise. Daniel made love in the same thorough, generous way that he lived his life. That Jack had not foreseen this adventurous side to Daniel's sexuality was a might-have-been he would carry around with him forever.

So Jack sat in the eerie, flat light inside his now quiet car, unable to stay but unwilling to go. He wondered sadly if Daniel's mythical one and only had been the man to intercept Ben's message, would he have fared better than a hapless, clueless colonel who had let his fear of the unknown and rejection rob him of a chance at happiness?

His cell shrilled from his pocket and he was surprised to see Daniel's cell number on the caller ID. He stooped to look up at Daniel's apartment windows and saw a safe, reassuring glow from the living room. So why was Daniel calling from his cell? Did that mean that BEN was...?

Jack cleared his throat quickly and answered his call.

"Hello?"

"Hey."

Jack's eyes were drawn from Daniel's windows to the lobby, where a party were leaving the building, laughing and calling their goodbyes as they walked to their cars. Jack hunched lower in his car and averted his face from the approaching people.

"Hey, Daniel," Jack said quietly and tiredly. He didn't know what to expect, but he figured good news would have arrived quicker.

"Where are you?" Daniel asked tensely.

"On the way to the base," Jack lied quickly, casting a glance at the noisy party people. He hunkered even lower and cupped a hand around the mic on his phone. He quickly scanned the faces, looking for Ben, he wasn't sure if he wanted to see him leave or if he was dreading confirmation that he had been there at all. None of those he was close enough to see was Ben.

Jack turned his back to his door and bent himself awkwardly over the passenger seat, pretending to read something. There was no doubt, he looked a little odd, and to add an arrest for suspicious behaviour to his already crappy day was something he really didn't need.

"Oh," Daniel replied stupidly and sighed. Jack kept silent, he didn't have any inclination to hasten the words he had been dreading since breakfast. "Look," Daniel began and Jack covered his eyes with his free hand. "Ben...me and Ben, it's... it's over, Jack." Daniel said softly.

Jack froze in the process of swiping his hand over his face with his fingers pressed against his mouth. Why was Daniel telling him this? How was he supposed to react to that news? He wanted to punch the air, but settled on letting his head drop back on his shoulders, bringing his eyes to heaven in a silent thank you. "I...I'm sorry, Daniel. I don't know what to..."

"What we talked about last night, it made me think. About the one and only?"

Jack idly watched the last of the reveller's pile into a nearby car, leaving the parking lot still and deserted once again. "Yeah?" Jack said encouragingly.

"Yes. I realised that settling is not an option for a guy like me, not while there is the faintest glimmer of hope."

"You're going to lay it on the line for your one and only?" Jack asked, trying to sound upbeat and supportive. What did Daniel expect him to say? They had made love last night and now he was supposed to cheer Daniel on while he pursued the man of his dreams? Was that how gay one-night-stands worked?

"Yes, I think I am," Daniel sounded pleased but nervous. "And I think you should too."

"It's not that simple, Daniel," Jack chuckled mirthlessly. "But you should, definitely. Just make..." Jack had to clear his throat again. "...make sure he deserves you. Let me know how it goes," Jack croaked. He felt ridiculously close to tears and his throat was becoming tight. Whoever this guy was, he was good enough that Daniel loved him and that must say something for his character. And that would have to be enough for Jack.

The colonel laid his head back against the window, feeling its hard, cold plane against the hot skin of his neck.

"I will," Daniel agreed. "Jack, I REALLY think it would be a good idea for you, too. In fact I think you should do it right now."

With his phone pressed to his ear, Jack heard a car horn through the tiny speaker from where Daniel was, just like the one that was the final goodnight of the partygoers... outside... in the parking... lot.

Jack turned with excruciating slowness. There, not two metres from his car, wrapped in a black wool coat, stood Daniel, cell in hand and looking at him with more trepidation than he had seen in many a mission. The glow from the streetlights cast a strange hue over his face, making him look impossibly young and his eyes were dark, wary shadows. Stupidly, they both continued to cradle their phones against their ears.

"Daniel..." Jack murmured, half expecting this to be some deranged kind of vision.

"I love you," Daniel blurted. His free hand was stuffed deep in his coat pocket, his shoulders were hunched and everything about him screamed discomfort. Daniel face gave away that he was no more sure of his reception than Jack had been.

"I love YOU," Jack replied, shocked by Daniel's blunt admission into one of his own.

The two men stared at each other, their mouths both slightly agape. Finally, Daniel recovered enough for a smirk to start to grow on his face at the ridiculousness of their appearance. He straightened up as his smile became a beaming grin. Flipping his cell shut, he slipped his second hand into his pocket and dropped his face to the floor in an attempt to compose himself, but the smile would not be gainsaid.

Jack opened his door and snapped his phone shut. On legs of rubber he stepped out into the cool night.

"You knew I meant you," Jack accused, walking up to Daniel to stand toe to toe with him. "How did you know?"

"I didn't...well not for sure..." Daniel told the colonel, so close to eye-to-eye that it made no difference.

"You were sure enough to say...what you just said."

"Yeah. Phew!" Daniel rolled his eyes self deprecatingly. "Could have been a bit embarrassing if it wasn't...I mean if I wasn't... you know...the one." Daniel's eyes narrowed and his smile slipped down a few volts.

Could it be that he was still not totally, one hundred percent certain that he was the man Jack had been referring to through all those awkward heart-to-hearts? "You are," Jack assured him.

The smile came back, brighter than ever, brighter that Jack could ever remember seeing it. It made Daniel glow, even in the warmth-sapping street lighting and Jack wanted nothing more than to take this luminous being into his arms and keep that smile there forever.

"This isn't going to be easy," Jack said, his cautious words at odds with his own beaming face. The need to touch Daniel was overwhelming, but even this first act of affection in their newly found understanding was too risky and Jack's heart was breaking that he couldn't show Daniel, the way he wanted, how much he was loved.

"I really am sorry about Ben. I just didn't know...I mean, I did know, but I didn't KNOW know...how much I...what you were...to me...you know?" Jack's verbal flailing gentled Daniel's smile as he watched his lover struggle for the words the linguist already knew.

Jack sighed, rolled his eyes and tried again. "I can't give you what he can, not yet anyway. The house, the openness, the his and his towels?" Jack managed looking apologetic but hopeful. "But I do love you...and I think I always will. And I promise I will be good for you, even if I can't give you what he has."

See, this was why he didn't say this stuff; there was a lump in his throat and his heart was apparently getting bigger with each beat, both conspiring to suffocate him. He'd heard the adage "love hurts"; he hadn't expected it to be so soon though.

"I know," Daniel nodded and in those two words, Jack knew that Daniel had spent hours thinking this through, weighing it up, and finding that he was willing to pay the price. Jack loved that about Daniel, he didn't have to even try to explain himself. Daniel just knew. Which was just as well, if this relationship was going to get off the ground.

Jack shrugged his shoulders in an invitation and Daniel caught him up as they crossed the parking lot, moving from one pool of light to the next towards the warm, well-lit lobby of Daniel's building, shoulder to shoulder.

Recalling that it had only been a week since he had heard Ben's message on Daniel's answer phone, Jack smiled and returned to one of his questions from that life changing evening. "So how DID you know I was...you know...crazy about you?"

"Other than the fact that you slept with me?"

"Yeah, other than that," Jack agreed with a laugh.

"Instinct," Daniel said mock-seriously.

"And you didn't get that instinct at any other time in the last four years?"

"FOUR years? REALLY?" Daniel looked slightly smug and very pink as they stepped in from the cold outside. He smiled shyly and looked at Jack out of the corner of his eyes, but the older man wasn't buying the innocent act anymore. He had empirical proof that the angelic looking Dr. Jackson was in fact a wanton and demanding slut in bed.

God, how Jack loved him.

He brushed against Daniel as they walked towards the elevators sending a spark of heat straight to his belly. The linguist pressed the call button and stood close enough that Jack could smell him and feel the warmth of his skin coming off him in waves.

"Your instinct not all it's cracked up to be?" Jack teased quietly, his eyes burning with the suppressed desire to throw Daniel against the lobby wall and give him a tonsillectomy with his tongue.

"Oh, I don't know. I think I have a pretty good feeling for what we'll be doing in about five minutes," Daniel said equably moving imperceptibly closer and touching a hip against his lover's.

"Yeah?" Jack drawled, all his blood heading south at the secretive smile on his lover's face. With a quiet chime, the elevator doors slid open and the men entered.

"Ohhh, yeah," Daniel said softly, pressing "8" and watching the doors close again. "And I didn't even know you knew how to play Backgammon."


Fin
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