Echoes by Cowardly Lion
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Category: Jack/Daniel
Genres: Angst, Drama, First Time
Rated: Adult
Warnings: None
Series: None
Summary: Daniel remembers something from before his ascension that Jack had hoped he would forget

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Story Notes:
This fic has timed out from Ancient's Gate 15: "The Way It Is". MASSIVE thanks to Mare and Whisper for the beta and special thanks to jd_junkie for guidance in the development stages.
Trying to put off the inevitable, Daniel upended the bottle and doggedly chased the last warm drops of his beer. He set the empty bottle back on the arm of the couch with a sigh. Comfortably slouched into the cushions with his feet next to Jack’s on the coffee table, he didn’t want to move, but he really wanted another beer. He peeked over at his friend’s side of the couch. Good, Jack was nearing the end of his beer, though from the way he was concentrating on the hockey game, it might be a while before he noticed. Maybe Daniel could hurry him along.

As casually as he could, he said, “When you get a refill, would you get me one, too?”

Jack picked up his beer, swigged it down, and held the bottle out to him. “Nice try,” he smirked. “Since I got the last round, it’s your turn now.”

“Hey, it was worth a shot.” Holding their empties by the neck between the fingers of one hand, Daniel hauled himself out of his cozy spot. His jeans had wedged up in the crease of his legs while he sat, so he took a moment to tug them flat. He heard an amused snort from behind him.

“Real classy, Daniel,” teased Jack. “You could at least wait until you get to the bathroom.”

Looking questioningly at his friend, he explained, “I’m adjusting my..." faltering as he realized what his movements resembled from that perspective, "...pants.”

“Oh, is that what they’re calling that these days?” Jack waggled his eyebrows.

Daniel rolled his eyes in response, grinning as he did. “Be nice or you’ll have to get your own beer.”

Jack raised his hands in mock surrender as Daniel left the room laughing.

Still chuckling from their little interchange, Daniel contemplated his relationship with the older man. Even on Vis Uban when he didn’t know who he was, he felt a connection to the gray haired soldier who sought out Arrom to convince him that he could be and had been much more than a simple nomad. As his memory strengthened, he found those feelings growing stronger and more complex. He soon realized that those emotions went well beyond the bond of friendship. At least, they did on his side. If he had ever seen any sign that Jack felt more than friendship, he would have declared himself. Jack, so far, had been the perfect friend – watching out for him and always there when needed. Daniel couldn’t ask for a better companion, appreciating every minute they spent together and hoping it continued. In the meantime, he’d keep looking for that sign.

As he stepped into the dining room, he had a moment of déjà vu and came to a halt as a precaution. Usually nothing more happened - it was a sense of heightened familiarity like everyone got. Occasionally, it was a precursor to the release of a memory that was so strong, so fresh, that it overpowered the real world around him. He saw, heard, and felt the events as keenly as the moment he first experienced them. Luckily, it happened rarely now. He tried to figure out what triggered the feeling. Sometimes, if he could identify it, he could stave off a flashback.

He’d only been descended a short time, but he remembered plenty of Saturday evenings spent just like this at Jack’s place. Tonight they were semi-celebrating the return of Master Bra’tac and Teal’c’s son Ry’ac who had been imprisoned in a Goa’uld internment camp for months. If Daniel hadn’t been able to access the memory of seeing them there while he was still Ascended, Bra’tac would be dead right now with Ry’ac still working himself to death as a slave in the quarry.

Daniel recalled a similar evening years ago, after Jack and Teal’c were rescued from what Jack liked to call their “impromptu cruise to nowhere” in a submarine crawling with replicators. The team was on stand-down after that and Jack and Daniel spent yet another evening in Jack’s den, this time semi-celebrating the successful mission against the metal bugs that had nearly ended with the deaths of his team mates.

Daniel tried to hand his empty bottle to Jack. “Get me one while you’re in there?”

Jack didn’t take it, holding out his bottle instead. “No dice, glyph boy. It’s your turn to fetch.”

Daniel grinned. “Well, it was worth a shot.” He took the bottle from Jack, their hands touching briefly.

“Besides, I had a recent near death experience,” continued Jack. “That means you have to be extra nice to me.”

He smiled at Jack fondly. “I think that can be arranged.”

Daniel nodded to himself in satisfaction. There, that was it. He continued through the dining room. Now that he knew what had set off the recall, he should be okay.

Instead, the feeling of déjà vu increased. There was a buzzing in his head that made his brain feel fuzzy. His mind returned to that same night.

The tang of sweat-slick skin on his tongue.

Gasping, Daniel paused mid step.

The pungent smell of arousal.

Flashes of memory tumbled through him, overwriting his senses as the room around him faded.

Calloused fingers wrapped around his cock.

The memories were as fresh, as real, as the moment he experienced them.

The reverence in Jack's voice as he explored Daniel’s body with lips and tongue, whispering words of love and desire into his flesh.

Daniel swayed where he stood, overcome by the intensity of the emotions.

The sighs, the moans, the hitch in his breath as pleasure flowed through his body like a living thing with appetites of its own.

Faintly, he heard a voice call his name then something scraped along the floor. He was barely aware of something bumping the back of his knees as his legs gave out.

Daniel panted into the pillow, riding out the last vestiges of orgasm that rippled through him. His body pushed down into the mattress, as his lover collapsed on top of him. Jack’s heart pounded against his back, setting up a syncopated rhythm with his own. He reveled in the feel of warm skin touching his nakedness everywhere, the hardness still inside of him, the moist gusts against his neck as they caught their breath.

It had been so long since anyone had caressed him, held him, loved him. Never before had Daniel gone so far so fast, not even in grad school when he had that fling with Ian the summer he interned at Cambridge. But this was different. This was Jack. Jack, who he’d known for years. Jack, who always watched out for him. Jack, of the warm smiles and friendly touches. Daniel was elated to learn that Jack felt the same way – he’d even said so. For the first time in years, Daniel felt happy, truly happy.

A hand patting his cheek drew him back to the present. He was sitting in a chair at the dining table, his friend crouched before him. Dazed, he stared at his hands before spying the bottles on the table where Jack must have put them. Anxious brown eyes looked him over as Jack called his name. Daniel’s face lit up, replete with regained joy. He touched his fingers lightly to Jack’s face.

“We were lovers,” he whispered in awe. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Jack froze for a split second then subtly eased away. “Is that what you remembered?”

He nodded. “We were making love,” he blushed as he smiled. “I think…I think it was our first time together. I remember the excitement, the satisfaction, and the sheer happiness of finally being with you. It was the best, most wonderful thing I ever felt.” He shook his head in disbelief. “How could I have forgotten that?”

Jack grimaced and looked away. “Is that all you remembered?” His voice was so low, Daniel could barely hear him.

“Well, yes, but…” Daniel studied his friend, or rather his lover, closely. Jack's face was drawn, his mouth pursed. There were lines of tension in his shoulders and jaw. “Jack? Are…are you upset because I didn’t remember us?”

Biting his lip, Jack rose from his crouch and sat in the nearest empty chair. His body faced Daniel but his eyes were still downcast. One lean arm draped along the table top, pressing into the surface hard enough to turn the pads of his fingers white. The fingers of his other hand worked themselves into the hem of his t-shirt.

“No, Daniel,” sighed Jack, “I’m not upset but you might be.”

Brows pinched together in confusion. “What do you mean?”

Errant fingers twist-tortured soft fabric. “Keep remembering. Do…” fingers fluttered at him then returned to their cloth nest, “whatever it was you did with Teal’c that made you remember Bra’tac and Ry’ac.”

Daniel gazed at that down-tilted face and hidden eyes and tried to judge the other man’s mood. If he didn’t know better, he’d think he saw anxiety and dread. Why would his remembering such happiness upset Jack? Oh hell. What essential portion of his life experience was still unknown to him? Delving back into the fragments that had surfaced, he concentrated on the images.

For the first time in years, Daniel felt happy, truly happy. Not since that blissful year on Abydos with his beautiful wife Sha're had he felt this way.

As their breathing slowed to normal, he felt the other man stir above him. Daniel opened his mouth to speak when Jack moved off of him. He hissed at the brief sharp pain as Jack abruptly pulled out of his ass. The loss of the body heat trapped between them coupled with the cooling sweat on his back gave him a chill. Rolling over, he saw Jack sitting up, his elbows parked on bent knees, head dipped forward as he ran his hands through his hair. Basking in the afterglow, Daniel reached out, smiling, his fingers grazing his lover’s arm. He wanted to prolong the closeness, the connection, the indescribably wonderful feeling of being so in tune with each other.

Flinching away from the contact, Jack muttered, “This was a mistake.”

Daniel was stunned into stillness. “What?”

Eyes closed, Jack repeated more firmly, “This was a mistake.”

Daniel’s his heart started to pound again. “Wh-what?” He sat up, tugging the sheet around his lower body. Please don't let this conversation be going where he thought it was.

“I can’t do this.” Staring down at his knees, Jack frowned. His hair stuck out in little clumps, still wet with the sweat of their exertions. “I’m in the military. You’re on my team.”

“What do you mean, you can’t?” Feeling exposed, he tugged the sheet farther up, as though flimsy percale could shield him. “You already have. WE already have.”

“I can’t do this.” Enunciating clearly, Jack waved one arm. “It’s against the regs!” The bed jiggled with the force of his movements.

“So? It was against the regs before we started but you didn’t have any problem with it a minute ago,” snapped Daniel. “Funny how it wasn’t an issue until AFTER you got what you wanted. Now you can't wait to get rid of me?” His chest hurt and his throat wanted to close up. “You son of a bitch.” He choked out the words.

In one smooth action, Jack slid out of bed, grabbed his jeans and pulled them on. Zipping up, he walked over to another crumpled heap of blue denim lying on the floor, dog tags dangling as he leaned down.

“I’m sorry.” He held the jeans, white briefs still nestled inside, toward Daniel. “This was a mistake. It’s better to stop it now than to keep on and make it worse.”

Daniel clumsily climbed out of bed to grab the clothing. Leaving the briefs in the jeans he fumbled into both at the same time. He barely had the jeans fastened when Jack slid one foot across the floor, pushing his shoes to his feet.

“It’s late,” Jack said quietly. “You should go. This?” He wagged a finger toward Daniel then himself. “Never happened," he declared as he walked out of the bedroom.

Daniel threw on his shirt not bothering to button it. He stuffed his socks into his pocket as he shoved bare toes into shoes. The bedroom, which had seemed like a welcome haven an hour ago, felt oppressive. Laces untied, he grabbed his glasses off the night stand, rushing to follow Jack down the hall to the dining room. Despite his hurt, he was still drawn to the sight of that lean body draped only in jeans riding low on slim hips, which confused him even more. Jack raked up the documents Daniel had left all over the dining table, tossed them into the open briefcase and hastily snapped it shut. Bits of paper stuck out on one side of the case.

His stomach knotted. “I thought-“

“It doesn’t matter what you thought, or what we want.” Jack picked his jacket off of the chair and tossed it to him. “This is the way it is.”

He caught the jacket without thinking. “ this some kind of...are you...what...” Maybe Jack just needed reassurance of some kind. Daniel could do that. “I mean, you said you’d been with other men, too, right?” He could help him through whatever this was.

Jack shook his head sadly. “This is about the rules I pledged to uphold.” His voice was a weary drone. “Rules that make this impossible.”

“But – “

“- and as long as those rules still exist, this will never happen again. It shouldn’t have happened to begin with. That’s just the way it is.” Jack frowned at him. “Better put your coat on. It’s chilly out.”

Trembling fingers made the task difficult but he struggled into the coat while Jack stood there, making no move to help, sneaking glances at him, but flicking his gaze away if Daniel tried to make eye contact. Once the coat was on, he buttoned it slowly over his open shirt, stalling for time.

“What if--“

“Time to go, Doctor Jackson.” Jack spoke softly. His attempt at a smile twisted into a pained look and he dropped his gaze to the floor.

“You said you loved me.” Daniel heard his voice break and knew he sounded desperate but he didn’t care. For a moment, Jack paused and he thought maybe he’d gotten through to him.

But he was wrong.

Jack’s hand wrapped around Daniel’s upper arm as the man escorted him the few steps over to the entry to the house. Letting go of Daniel’s arm, Jack reached past him to open the front door. With his other hand, he pressed the briefcase against Daniel’s chest. Daniel automatically gripped the case as he staggered backward onto the stoop. Jack opened his mouth, drawing in a breath as though to speak but winced instead. Eyes locked onto his, Jack slowly closed the door. With a snick that seemed loud in the early morning hush, the deadbolt shot home.

Daniel stared at the pattern of the wood grain on the door in disbelief as the porch light went out, plunging him into darkness. Still he stood there, expecting the door to open. Any second now, Jack would pull him into the house, apologizing and telling him everything would be all right. Daniel waited. Any second now, the door would open. An owl hooted in the distance. Any second now. The late night chill settled around his bare ankles and crept inside his coat to his naked chest.

The house stayed dark.

The door stayed closed.

He was never sure how long he stood there before he finally stumbled down the steps to his car, half dressed and clutching his briefcase. Numb in mind and body, he had only a vague recollection of the drive home. Later, his single clear memory would be of driving with one hand holding both the steering wheel and his glasses, as he rubbed his watery eyes with the sleeve of his coat, trying not to cry and failing miserably.

A soothing warmth circling his back brought him out of the memory. He was hunched over in the chair, clasping his chest against rediscovered pain. A discordant jumble of hurt, shame and bewilderment crashed through him. Jack knelt beside him, holding him in an awkward one-armed hug and rubbing his back. His face was pressed into Daniel’s neck while a murmured litany of “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so, sorry” flowed from his lips.

With a strangled cry, Daniel broke free of the embrace and surged to his feet. Behind him the chair crashed sideways to the linoleum. Kneeling before him, head bowed, Jack rested his hands on his thighs.

“Sorry?” barked Daniel. “You fucked me and used me and dumped me like trash the instant you were done. I still had your come trickling out of my ass when you shoved me out the door.” Sniffing to clear his sinuses, he angrily wiped his wet cheeks.

Jack’s head snapped up at that, and for the first time, he looked directly at Daniel. “No,” he said firmly, shaking his head. “Not like that.” With the fluid grace of a man 10 years his junior, Jack rose to his feet. “It wasn’t like that.”

Daniel backed away as Jack advanced, halting only when he ran up against the front door. Jack raised a hand as though to wipe his tears, but Daniel shied away. From the corner of his eye, he saw the hand fall back to Jack’s side.

“It wasn’t like that,” Jack repeated softly. He stood close enough that his warm breath puffed across Daniel’s wet skin, chilling it in lines down his cheeks. “It was an issue of control.”

Still facing away, Daniel looked at Jack up from under his lashes. “So, so, you fucked me to prove you were The Man? Is that it?” What the fuck kind of explanation was that? Anger flared up, pointing at the other man the way a compass points to North.

“No, that’s not-“

“It wasn’t enough to order me around at work as The Colonel; you had to control my private life too? Prove your dominance?” His voice was harsh as the anger flowed out.

“No!” Irritated, a short blast of air burst from Jack. “Dammit, will you let me finish?”

“Oh, sure,” Daniel faced him, waving one hand, “wouldn’t want to take control from you.” He took refuge in sarcasm, wanting to hurt Jack as much as he possibly could. He liked the symmetry of making Jack feel the same amount of pain, but he didn’t think it was possible for anyone to hurt as deeply as he did right then.

Jack hesitated, his hands flexing and clenching at his sides. The small sound of short fingernails scraping across the denim was the only thing to break the silence.

Daniel crossed his arms and stared at him mockingly. “For someone that couldn’t wait to talk, you don’t seem to have much to say.”

Jack unconsciously mimicked his stance, crossing his arms and shifting his weight onto one leg. He took a deep breath to steady himself. When he spoke it was with the tone of someone trying very hard to speak calmly. “It’s not about controlling you. It’s about controlling myself. I should have been more disciplined. I have had years of training, years of practice and drills, all designed to keep me sharp. Keep me doing the right thing automatically, to help me stay in charge. If I’m disciplined, my men are disciplined and missions go more smoothly. That discipline has to extend to my personal life. If I get lax in one area, I’ll start slipping up in both - the personal and the professional. The nature of my job means that if I’m not on the top of my game, someone could get killed. Years of living the way I’m supposed to and I threw it all out the window at the touch of your hands on my face.”

That wasn’t at all what he had been expecting to hear. “But-“

Jack uncrossed one arm to raise a warning finger at him. “Please." His voice was soft, pleading not demanding. "I would appreciate it if you would let me finish.”

It took him a moment to realize that Jack was waiting for a signal from him before continuing. He nodded once.

“Thank you.” The finger folded back into crossed arms. “I lost control that night. Control of myself. Control of the situation. I should never have allowed that to happen. I should have stopped it long before it got to that point.”

Anger still roiled through Daniel but it was losing its focus. The man in front of him both was and wasn’t the man he was mad at. There were two images of Jack before him, one superimposed on the other. It was hard to distinguish which was the real Jack, the here and now man, and which was the perfect recall of Jack from his memory. The conflicting emotions engendered by each image were confusing. One Jack had hurt him badly, and the other had been supportive, kind, and welcoming. The double effect was making his head ache. He tried to shake it off, concentrating on the man standing before him. “Well, why didn’t you?”

“Because I couldn’t” Jack replied simply.

Daniel eyed him guardedly. “What do you mean, you couldn’t?”

“I mean that in that moment I realized that not only did I love you, but that I’d do anything for you. Anything.” The matter of fact tone jarred with what should have been a romantic declaration. “It wasn’t until…after…that I could think again.”

Daniel blinked, astonished by the confession. Jack really meant it. His avowal of love that night wasn't some trick to bed him, but a heartfelt declaration.

But it didn't stop the man from kicking him to the curb like yesterday's garbage, did it?

Knowing that Jack's feelings that night were sincere made his actions all the more upsetting. Daniel pushed away from the door. Jack staggered back as he shoved past him into the dining room, propelled by a rekindled ire. He could feel his cheeks flushing and his heart rate speeding up as adrenaline coursed through him.

"Anything." Daniel mimicked. "You'd do anything for me."

Snatching one of the empty beer bottles off the dining table, he hurled it through the pass-through at the stone wall over the fireplace in the living room. The sharp crack as it shattered was satisfying in a primal way. Grabbing up the other bottle, he swung around to face Jack, who flinched and raised his hands defensively but stood his ground.

"Anything?" Daniel raised his voice. "Like fuck me and dump me all in one go?" Staccato jabs with the bottle accentuated his speech. "The second you came you wanted me out of your bed - hell, out of your house - so badly that you couldn't even wait for me to get dressed. Is that what you mean by anything?" A white hot anger boiled up inside spilling out into a shout. "You spend the next how many years befriending me one minute and tearing into me the next so that I never know what the fuck to expect from you? Is that how you show love?" He escalated to a full throated roar. "BECAUSE IT SURE AS HELL DOESN'T FEEL LIKE LOVE FROM HERE!"

Twisting away, he flung the second bottle crashing against same wall as the first. He stood there, shaking with rage, his back to the man who had set this all in motion, waiting for him to respond. Jack would probably have some sarcastic comeback, or maybe he'd let his fists do the talking. Fine let him. If he wanted a fight, Daniel would be glad to give him one. Or maybe Jack would...Daniel realized that long moments had gone by. He spun around, prepared to quarrel.

But Jack didn't intend to engage in hostilities. He stood unmoving, staring at the floor blinking rapidly, his face flushed. His arms hung loose at his sides with one hand curling up to clasp the hem of his shirt.

The outburst had expended most of Daniel's anger. Without an adversarial exchange to provoke him, his desire for confrontation ebbed as well. Instead he felt drained as he faced Jack. "Well?" he asked wearily. "Is that how you show love?"

Jack slowly shook his head. His lips moved in a soundless "No." Inhaling deeply, he cleared his throat then looked at Daniel. "No," his voice was barely above a whisper. "It's not. I treated you badly. It was wrong - very wrong - and I'm sorry."

Daniel acknowledged the speech with a brief nod, but was already moving past Jack, down the four steps to the living room. Wrong. Sorry. Easy words to say. Hearing them didn't make the pain stop. Picking up his keys and wallet from the end table, he pivoted to find that Jack had trailed after him. Nimbly sidestepping him, Daniel headed for the front door, but Jack quickstepped to block his way.

"Daniel? What are you doing?" Jack sounded worried.

"Just what you're hoping I'll do. I'm leaving." Forearm raised to press him aside, Daniel brushed passed him up to the door. "Only this time you don't have to insist," he said coldly, taking the stairs two at a time. "I'll see myself out." He was already stuffing the hurt down, trying to lock it away someplace. Someplace deep enough inside that he wouldn't feel it.

Jack's long arm reached from behind him to grab the knob, holding it in place. Glowering, Daniel half-turned toward him and Jack used the movement to wedge himself between Daniel and the door.

"Last time, you couldn't wait for me to leave," he snapped. Which was true enough. This time, though, he was as eager to leave as Jack was to see him go. There was that report on P4X-585 waiting at home. It wasn't due for a week, but if he concentrated he could crank it out in a couple of days. As long as he was working on that, he wouldn't have to think about any of this.

"Last time, we didn't deal with this." Jack's voice was low, insistent, hard to ignore. "At least, I didn't. I don't want to make that same mistake again."

Daniel shrugged dismissively. "We talked. We're done. I'm leaving." He reached for the knob but Jack blocked the way.

"We didn't talk. Not the right way, the right kind of talk. Stay," he begged. "Stay and work this out with me."

Thwarted, Daniel stalked into the dining room, tossing his keys on the table. Moving to the window at the far end of the room, he nearly tripped on the overturned chair, but managed to avoid it in time. He stared out of the window into the backyard. Evening was starting to fall. The dim light outdoors gave the glass a reflective quality showing the room behind him. He watched covertly as Jack sagged against the front door seemingly exhausted. Daniel couldn't quite make out his expression as Jack straightened his shoulders and followed Daniel into the dining room, stopping just over the threshold. Sighing, Daniel turned away from the reflection to examine the man. Oh yeah. Daniel knew that expression - tired, stubborn, and determined. He'd seen that mood on Jack more than once over the years, usually while on a mission.

"Last time," began Jack, "I dealt with this by not dealing with it. I mean...okay, technically not dealing with something is actually a way of dealing with...I mean..." Sounding frustrated, Jack ran a hand through his hair then waved it between them in an 'erasing' motion. "Okay, starting over." He took a deep breath and crammed his hands into his pockets. "Part of why I treated you so badly was because I didn't want to examine what I was feeling and how I reacted because of those feelings." One hand worked free of the restrictive pocket and began swooping around. "Deep down somewhere I knew that my initial response was way out of line and any analysis of the situation would have to acknowledge that. So, I didn't." The other hand emerged, gliding through the air in counterpoint to the first. "Acknowledge it. Or analyze it. Or do anything even remotely constructive. I just shoved it aside and watched our friendship deteriorate and refused to admit that it was all my fault." The hands slid to a stop at Jack's sides. "It wasn't until after you...left that I did a serious self-assessment and over the course of a few weeks, I finally dealt with it. Now, you probably did that soon after it all happened, but -”

"No," interrupted Daniel. "I didn't." He recalled most, though not all, of what happened during the intervening years between that night and his ascension, but this he knew. He could feel it in his bones, as his father-in-law Kasuf would say. "No, I didn't. I did what I was going to do tonight."

Even as he spoke he wondered why he was being so open. Maybe it was Jack's example? If the original stone-faced man could talk about such an emotionally charged event, then how could Daniel not do the same?

"What were you going to do tonight?"

Jack’s question was quiet, unassuming, yet compelled him to reply.

"Go home," he whispered. "Ignore it. Pretend it never happened. One more rejection in a lifetime of them. One more time I was abandoned, turned away as not good enough. Yet more validation that I'm deficient on some basic level so that I'll never be acceptable. Never be accepted." He closed his eyes against the press of tears, but they leaked out anyway, crawling down his cheeks. "It hurt too much to deal with. I never...never processed it. Never acknowledged it. And because I didn't, I couldn't forget it. Couldn't move on. It kept coming back to me, festering inside me, consuming me. When I couldn't ignore it, I'd just work harder. Kept my brain too busy, too tired to think of it."

Daniel sniffed and opened his eyes. The urge to cry was passing, supplanted by embarrassment for crying in public however briefly. A surreptitious glance at Jack showed that Daniel wasn't the only one overcome and that fact made him feel somewhat better. "Initially, I did try to stay friends, to be a friend, but I never knew which face you would be wearing. Eventually, in the months before my ascension, I stopped trying to be anything more than your co-worker. It was pointless to try salvaging a friendship when the absolute most I could hope for was civility."

"I noticed the change," admitted Jack. "There was a...a coldness between us. It was as though the only wavelength we could relate on was work. Missions. We didn't feel like friends anymore. Everything was strictly professional like we'd never been anything but co-workers. And even with that distance separating us, we didn't always do so well."

Jack leaned back against the counter separating the dining room from the living room. The fancy napkin holder with matching salt and pepper shakers that Cassie had gotten him several Christmases ago was an instant target for restless hands.

Daniel watched him, waiting for more but Jack concentrated on the objects at hand. Daniel righted the chair he had knocked over during his initial headlong rush from the room. Replacing it at the table, he slumped in it and pulled his glasses off, absently rubbing his eyes. He tried to ignore the knot in his stomach and wished he had some water to wash the sour taste from his mouth. Once his glasses were back on, he doodled on the tabletop with the tip of his finger in hieratic. The faint 'tink' as Jack fidgeted with the glass salt and pepper shakers was nearly swallowed by the muted drone of the television in the living room. It sounded as though the game was over. He wondered who won, but couldn't even remember which teams were playing.

Switching to cuneiform for his finger drawings, Daniel considered everything he had remembered, everything Jack had said this evening and, most importantly, how Jack had said it. His sincere delivery was supported by body language. It was clear that Jack had been punishing himself all this time. The man looked abjectly wretched. He had acknowledged his fault, apologized for his transgression, and seemed willing to make amends. Maybe...maybe this relationship could be salvaged after all? Daniel was upset - as he had every right to be - but it didn't change how he felt about Jack.

After several minutes in silent contemplation, Daniel spoke. He tried to avoid an accusatory tone, but wasn't sure how successful he was. "Mind telling me how you treated the next person you slept with?"

There was a long pause before Jack replied. “There was no one at all after that night, at least not while you were…" fingers of one hand swirled in a circle then waggled downward, "here. There’ve been a couple of women after you…” the hand flipped palm upward, fingers spread, “left. Ascended. Whatever. Nothing serious, just...comfort from strangers." Jack carefully slid his fingers down the salt shaker the way he would pick up a stack of poker chips. "You’re still the only man since before I married Sara and you’re still the only person that really matters to me.”

Daniel's heart sped up at the admission. That such simple words could hold such weight...

“I know it was the only choice you had. Going glowy, I mean." Brown eyes never left the salt shaker as Jack transferred it to his other hand. The dissociation between his speech and his actions was extreme. It was as though the only way he could talk about his feelings was to sneak the words out while the rest of his attention was absorbed in some mundane thing. "But when you left me, it hurt so bad that I thought about doing the one thing guaranteed to make the pain stop.”

Daniel exhaled sharply, as though he'd been punched in the chest. Oh, god. Like most people, he was petty enough to want the person who hurt him to be hurt in return, but not to that extent. Never that. How close had Jack come? "Why didn’t you?” he asked, uncertain he wanted the answer.

“You ruffled my hair.” Jack gave a sad half smile, rolling the salt shaker between his palms. “How lame is that? One puff of air and I’m ready to stick it out, knowing you’re still with me. Even after the way I-“ His voice dwindled to a voiceless whisper as he stared through the object in his hands. "You still cared.” Breaking off, he thumped the salt shaker firmly back on the counter. The haunted look receded as he spoke normally again, glancing over at Daniel. “Besides, I could just picture the lecture you’d give me once I got to the other side.” There was a trace of the O'Neill twinkle in his eyes though it quickly faded. "You're giving me a funny look."

"No...yeah...It's just..." Daniel gestured vaguely toward Jack, "I can't believe you're talking about feelings. Your feelings. In a rational discourse with no sarcasm or levity to cower behind."

"Ah." Jack rubbed his neck with one hand. "That's one of the things I promised myself. If you came back. That I'd tell you all the things I should have told you back then."

Daniel looked away. "Maybe if you had we could have worked something out." He picked at a minute chip in the table top while he watched Jack from the corner of his eye.

"Yeah." Jack tugged a paper napkin from the holder. "I fucked up." He tore the napkin in half, then half again shredding it into smaller and smaller pieces. "I closed down, shut you out. I fucked up the same way with Sara. The marriage counselor had a fancy name, like 'emotionally unavailable' but," Jack shrugged, "pinning a label on something doesn't make it any easier for your partner to live with." Bits of ragged white confetti scattered across the counter as he brushed his hands together.

"You said you panicked that night because you lost control, right?" Daniel waited for Jack's assent. "By reacting the way you did, you took away my control. You didn't make your choice, you made our choice without once considering my wishes. A relationship isn't just about you, it's about us and there will always be things that don't go your way. Hell, I was Ascended - damn near omnipotent - and I can guarantee you that things didn't turn out the way I wanted." He still couldn't bear to think about the destruction of Abydos.

"I was an asshole. A really big asshole and I was really shitty to you." Jack carefully swept the confetti into a neat pile. "I can't undo it, but I can swear to you that I will never treat you like that again, either at work or during any personal time we might possibly have together."

Rising from the chair, Daniel stood at the pass-through by Jack, leaning one hip against the counter. "You didn't say anything after I came back. Why?"

Jack snorted. "How could I? What could I say? Hi, I'm the son of a bitch that ripped your heart out and now I'd like to be your friend?" Desolate eyes turned Daniel's way. "Besides, I was afraid that once you remembered you wouldn't want to be around me anymore. While you were gone, I swore that if you ever came back, I'd be the best friend you ever had. I'd take every opportunity to show you how important you were, how much you mean to me."

"Even though you thought that once I remembered, I'd cut you out of my life?" The pressure of the counter edge was cutting into his hip so he shifted his weight to his other leg.

Jack nodded as he spread the confetti into the shape of a star. "I didn't want to ruin it, have things to go back to the way they were right before you left. We were almost like strangers to each other. I missed my friend. I missed you. When you came back with Oma-nesia I was hoping we could kind of start over. Be friends again." The star disappeared, morphing into a heart. "I was so grateful for that second chance that I didn't want to screw it up with you. Once our relationship was solid, when it could withstand anything, then if you hadn't remembered on your own I'd tell you, even though I'd be running the risk of losing you again.

Curiosity made Daniel ask, "You keep saying 'risk' and 'ruin'. What kind of reaction were you expecting? What did you think I would do?"

Methodically, Jack flicked out a finger to enumerate each item. "You'd punch me out and leave the program. You'd punch me out and have me leave the program. You'd punch me out, stay with the program but only on the condition that we not work together. Then of course, all the above but without the punching out."

Surprised, Daniel repeated, "Punch you out? If I didn't do it the first time, why would I do it now?"

" just..." Puzzled, Jack said, "I don't know. It just seems like you should."

Daniel contemplated a moment. "The subconscious is a funny thing. It makes itself heard in very subtle ways. Maybe," he suggested, "subconsciously you think you deserve to be punished so your mind immediately goes to the worst case scenarios that include physical violence."

"Huh." Jack mulled it over. "You have a point there. But tell me - why didn't you hit me back then?"

"Maybe for the same reason you expected to be hit. Subconsciously I thought I deserved it."

"No!" Jack was emphatic. "You did not deserve that, not at all. I was way out of line, both that night and afterward."

"Um-hm," agreed Daniel. "But I let you get away with it. Even if I didn't hit you, I could have confronted you in some way, but I didn't. I could have refused to leave that night until we talked, just like you wouldn't let me leave tonight - good idea by the way. Conversely, I could have taken time to compose myself, then returned to discuss the events of that evening, but I didn't. Maybe it's because subconsciously I was expecting something like that to happen eventually. I carry my share of culpability for not challenging you." Jack had a gleam in his eye. "What?"

"You came back different, you know. More assertive. I like it," Jack said warmly. "You were always willing to stick up for everyone else and his alien brother. Now you're willing to stick up for yourself."

"Really? I don't feel any different inside." Even this supposedly more assertive self would never have assaulted Jack. Daniel frowned, mentally reviewing Jack's list. "You didn't mention forgiveness," he pointed out.

Jack's mood changed abruptly. “I don’t deserve forgiveness.” With his downcast eyes and mumbled monotone, he radiated misery and the last vestige of Daniel's anger dissipated. He had never seen Jack look so dejected, hopeless.

"Hey," he clasped Jack's forearm. "That’s for me to decide,” he said softly, pausing when Jack gave a rueful smile. “What?”

“Oh,” Jack drawled, “we’ve had this conversation before.”

“What?” Daniel was startled. “When?”

“When I was a guest at Ba’al’s five star resort. You came to see me. Helped keep me sane until the team picked up the clues you fed them and gave me my chance to escape.”

Images tumbled through Daniel's mind - Jack infected with the Ancient's plague; a dying Jack implanted with the Tok'ra symbiote Kanan; Jack abandoned by Kanan to be tortured to death then revived over and over and over again at the hands of Ba'al. Daniel had done everything he could in an effort to save his friend. He didn't just bend the Ascended rules, he stretched them out of shape.

Helping Jack ascend would be an enormous breach of protocol; therefore Daniel hoped to present the Ancients with a fait accompli. Once Jack had ascended he hoped the Others might be less likely to send him back. There would still be the matter of consequences for himself, though as long as Jack was safe, Daniel didn't care about his own fate. But the stubborn bastard would rather argue than move to a higher plane of existence. All-powerful, yet utterly helpless, Daniel had looked at him with affection, exasperation, love, and frustration all mixed together with a big portion of fear. Jack refused to join Daniel in Ascension because deep down Jack thought he didn't deserve it. Thought he deserved to suffer for acts he considered unforgivable.

"You're a better man than that," insisted Daniel, desperate to convince the man of his own worth.

"That's where you're wrong," Jack thundered in denial.

"Right now, I can't imagine doing or being anything other than what I am. I see things, I understand things, in a way I never could have before. But I chose this. Even when Jacob was trying to heal me, I chose this. But you in the place you're at right now, you don't have any other choices." Persuasive discourse gave way to impassioned pleading. "This is not your life we're talking about, Jack. This is your soul!"

A silent shake of that willful grey head negated every argument. Eventually, it was Daniel's subtle nudging of Teal'c, Sam and Jonas that set in motion the chain of events leading to Jack's freedom.

Daniel swayed, momentarily dizzied under the torrent of memories. It was as though a dam had burst open. The deluge of images, sounds, smells and sensations overwhelmed him. He remembered everything - everything. What he had seen, what he had done, what he had felt, what he had learned - the totality of it was restored. Concerned, Jack reached out to steady him. Daniel clung to him until the flood receded.

"I was right, Jack," he murmured refocusing on Jack's face. "You are a better man than you think."

Jack's mouth twisted up as he shook his head. "Actions speak louder than words. If I had been a better man, I wouldn't have treated you the way I did that night.

Actions do speak louder than words." Daniel nodded absently. "So what does my visiting you time and again while I was ascended tell you?"

Jack open his mouth then clicked it shut clearly at a loss for words. "It...umm..."

"It tells you," explained Daniel patiently, "that I cared enough to keep a constant eye on you. It tells you that I couldn't let you go. That you meant more to me than the rules, more than being Ascended. No matter how hurt or angry I was when I left, you still mattered to me."

Jack's eyebrows hiked up and an "oh!" of surprise escaped his mouth.

"As I said, I'm not going to punch you out. I'm not going to leave the SGC and I don't want you to leave either." Daniel shuffled closer to Jack until they were nearly nose to nose. Jack looked impassive, but Daniel could see the vein at the base of his neck pulsating rapidly. He put his hands on Jack's shoulders and they locked gazes. "What I do want is for us to try this again, but there have to be ground rules that we both follow. I'm just as bad as you are when it comes to verbalizing my feelings. Communication is key. If we can't talk to each other, we're bound to fail. Open discussion is paramount despite our natural aversion. As difficult as this evening has been, it's made a world of difference. You were right. We did need to discuss this. Thank you for persisting. We need to discuss every issue that comes up from now forward."

Hope flickered across Jack's face. "Do you really mean that? You're willing to try this?"

"Yeah, I really mean it."

"Cross your heart and hope never to die again because I swear to God I can't take it anymore not even one more time?"

Smiling, Daniel wrapped his arms around the broad shoulders, pulling the muscular body into him. The scents of beer and aftershave and something indefinably Jack combined into a heady perfume that smelled like home, safety, and love. Daniel breathed deeply, as Jack's arms encircled his waist. "Cross my heart and hope to stay alive."

"You know, another thing I promised myself, was that if you came back, and you DID want a relationship" Jack's voice was muffled against Daniel's neck, "was that absolutely everything would be the way you wanted it. Trying to be in control was what fucked me up last time."

"What if I don't want to make all the decisions? What if I want you to make some choices too?"

“Nope." Jack's hair brushed across Daniel's cheek as he shook his head. "You’re the one in control of this relationship. You set the pace. You mark the boundaries. I’m not in control of this and I’m okay with that, now.”

Daniel frowned. "I don't want to be in charge, I want to be equal. Putting control in my hands leaves you helpless. I don't want that and neither should you."

"Fine. Daniel Rule Number Two - everybody's equal."

"You're not going to passively do everything I say, are you?" Daniel voiced his suspicions to the side of Jack's head. "Because that's not the Jack I fell in love with."

"Well, I'm pretty sure this sudden agreeability is going to wear off," Jack chuckled then got serious again, "but I swear that I am willing to do what's necessary to make this relationship work. If you want me, you've got me."

“That’s the way it is, huh?” Daniel said fondly, tightening the embrace and pressing his lips to Jack's temple.

“Yeah,” replied Jack, burrowing deeper into the enfolding arms. “That’s the way it is.”

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