Stepping invited over his threshold seemed to have improved my status a little; he took my bag from me and set it down out of the way, nodded at the coat rack, and went to get us both a beer. I hung my jacket beside his and we sat at the kitchen table sipping beer in silence until he noticed I was shivering.
"Go start a fire; I'll make coffee." He cleared his throat. "I left it banked, but it's mostly died down now; you'll need to add a few logs."
Big concession there; the last time I tried to improve the blaze from a fire he'd built, he'd snapped at me and sulked for an hour until I'd distracted him with an on my knees apology that didn't involve actually saying the words 'I'm sorry' at any point but worked just fine.
"I can do that."
The act of poking at the fire, hearing the crunch of metal against wood, watching embers glowing and sparks whirling out of sight up the chimney, was enough to warm me; I'd been shivering more from nerves than anything and it was a good way of calming down.
I gave the biggest log a final, unnecessary shove and sat down in the visitor's chair just as Jack came in with two mugs of coffee and a bottle of whisky tucked under his arm.
"No, you're not." He poured a dollop of whisky into each mug and gave me mine without acknowledging my startled look.
"You -- I don't need to stay here if it's not what you want."
"It wasn't. It isn't. But I guess you're right; this needs to be dealt with." He sat across from me and took a sip at his laced coffee. "This needs to end. You can't do this again, Paul."
I put my untouched coffee down on the hearthstone. "Fine. It's over. Sorry to have bothered you."
"Get up from that chair and I'll shoot you before you reach the door."
I looked him over. No visible weapon, but then, there wouldn't be, would there? "What with?"
"My rhetorical rifle, what else?"
"Jack --" I heard the echo of Daniel saying that a hundred times, whining and cajoling, or just plain irritated, and snapped my teeth shut.
He gave me a kinder look than I deserved and sighed, obviously hearing it, too. "Yeah. Let's start with him."
No use pretending I didn't know who he meant. "I know he's not an issue. I get it. I'm a believer. You don't fuck, you never have, you never will."
"You've always known that." Sip, swallow. "What stuck in your craw was thinking I wanted to. Still think that?"
"Yes." I reconsidered. "Well. I'd do him, too, so I guess we're even."
He chuckled, dry and harsh. "You think I'd let you?"
"Daniel's choice, not yours." Maybe the whisky was making me braver.
Jack leaned back in his chair, his eyes on my face. "Do you think I'd let you fuck someone else?" he said, and heat lapped over me as I rearranged his words in my head based on that added emphasis. I'd known he was possessive about Daniel, hell, his whole team, but me? In my dreams.
"I don't --I don't know. Once, maybe not, but now? Do you really care if you're cutting me loose?"
"You think I'm being unreasonable."
"If you think I'm staying celibate because you don't want me anymore --"
The flat ambiguity of it slapped me breathless as I waited for more. It didn't come. "I don't understand."
"I don't think that," he clarified, sounding impatient. Tough hanging round with geniuses for years and then having to get used to conversations with the common folk, I guess.
"Daniel's good at chipping stuff out of stone; I'm more likely to take a hammer to it. Can you stop being so fucking cryptic and talk to me?"
"Before you hit me?"
"I'm hoping it won't come to that."
He stared at me, blank-faced and, I thought, stubborn as a fucking mule. Then he blinked slowly, his forehead creasing and a doubt crept in. He didn't know. He wasn't giving me the runaround; he genuinely didn't know why he couldn't easily let go of me, pushing me away with one hand while his other remained firm around my wrist.
"Jack --" I shrugged off the doubts and went for it. "It's okay. I don't have to go anywhere. We can just -- start over. God, did we ever really stop? I mean, I haven't -- no one else, there just -- and you haven't -- have you?"
He shook his head, not fast enough to be suspicious, his expression still giving nothing away.
"See?" I ran out of stammered words abruptly and held out my hand before letting it drop back into my lap. I couldn't reach him. Not without moving. And I wasn't moving closer without permission, overt or tacit.
"Carry on? Start over?"
He looked off to the side and sighed.
"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Good intentions abandoned, I stood up, closed the gap between us in two hasty, stumbling steps, and landed in his lap, batting away the hands that rose to fend me off and getting my mouth on his a moment later in a clumsy, hard bite of a kiss. "Stop it," I muttered, feeling the rush of having him this close, legs all sinew and bone against my ass, the smell of him strong in every breath I took -- God, I'd missed him so fucking much. "Jack, for once just let yourself have something you want, will you --"
He pushed me away, his hands sure and strong, controlling the shove enough that I managed to keep my footing, looking up at me as I stood over him, my breath ragged, his eyes wincing in anticipation of hurting me. "Paul." He braced himself, sitting up straight, back not touching the chair. "Major."
"What? No." I shook my head, dismayed by the way my voice sounded, high and panicked. "Don't call me that."
"Major Davis." He stood, one knee cracking, the pop of bone just audible over the crackle of the fire, and waited, inexorable, unyielding.
I chewed my lip until I felt the skin tear and then gave him a sullen, "Sir?"
"I love you." He didn't wait for me to get my face under control. "And that shouldn't come as a surprise, so stop looking at me like that."
"I don't know." He looked vaguely irritable. "A fish?"
"Huh." I tried my best to look non-piscine and he gave me a grudging nod of approval. "You can't blame me. I know you've said it before, but --"
"Never when we were wearing clothes," he suggested wryly.
"So you didn't believe me? Any of those times?"
"I wanted it to be true." That sounded weak and he looked disappointed with me. I tried again. "You -- you didn't say it often."
"Neither did you."
"I was just --"
"Waiting. For me to make the first move." He nodded again. "You say rank doesn't matter, but it does. You're always going to feel that difference between us, aren't you? Defer to me."
"It's always been there," I pointed out. "It's nothing new. And I'm a lot better at being insubordinate these days, you have to admit that."
We were standing so close that I kept leaning in, swaying forward without moving my feet, drawn to him. I could see the faint, fading flush of red on his mouth where my teeth had cut in. I wanted to lick it redder, taste the salt.
"Okay. Yes. So if I drop the orders, will you listen?"
"Man to man?"
His jaw tightened, muscles working a little, holding back a grin or maybe exasperation; I knew I could make him feel both at the same time.
Two of us knew that trick.
I stepped back, knowing if we stayed this close I'd grab him again; wouldn't be able to help it. "So talk."
We sat down again in our separate, facing chairs, staring at each other in silence. I wondered what he saw when he looked at me. Nothing special, I knew that. I knew me. Someone he loved. Maybe. Yes. God, I could hate him for convincing me that was true as we were on the brink of walking away from each other.
"Did you ever stop to think how nuts it was? You, me, right from the start? How sex, even sex as good as we had it, wasn't worth the risk we were taking?"
I gave a soft, surprised huff of breath. "Well…"
"You didn't, did you?" He shook his head, the words spoken quietly enough that they seemed to be directed at him, not me. "You're so very fucking young, Paul."
"Not really." I frowned at him. "You can't think I was blind to the consequences --"
"No. Not blind. You've seen enough men and women leave, disgraced, dishonoured, to know how fucking hard they'd come down on you."
He gave me a pitying look. "Not so much. Not now. Paul, you're as much a politician as you are military; you know they'd find a way to keep my reputation clean. Ease me out, rap my knuckles, sure… but these days, with Kinsey gone, no one wants my hide on the wall. I'm worth too much as a hero to turn me into a scapegoat and they don't trust me if I'm backed into a corner." He smiled, feral and fierce. "Can't think why."
"So you're breaking it off to protect me? Is that it?"
"You don't like that idea?"
"No." I said it coldly enough that the word splintered and cracked like ice hitting water. "Not much."
"I didn't think you would."
"It's a risk, sure. If you say it's not a risk to you, providing we're discreet, then, good; fine. It makes it easier; I'll sleep better." I leaned forward, stretching out to tap his knee and managing it because he was sitting hunched forward now, as if he was trying to make the gap between us smaller. "I worry about you, too, you know." He rolled his eyes and I grinned. "I do," I insisted. "But you don't need to worry about me. It's worth it. You're worth it."
"I won't protect you." He said it calmly, his eyes fixed on my face. "Can't. When the shit hits the fan, I'll step back, keep clean. You'll be on your own. They'd insist on that."
I ducked my head, fighting to keep from saying something about how he'd have done better for Daniel, knowing I wasn't being fair. Sure, he'd put it all on the line for Daniel more than once, but the world was usually about to go boom. This was a little smaller in the scheme of things, by a factor of a billion to one.
I stopped myself thinking on those lines before one of us began quoting from Casablanca.
"Assume I accept that."
"Yes." I held his gaze. "Yes."
"So drop the other shoe."
"Hmm? Oh…" He sank back in his chair and into the waiting shadows. He looked old again, the occasional flicker of firelight illuminating the deep lines on his face, turning the silver of his hair to ash. Scratching at a mark on the chair arm with his thumbnail, giving it too much attention, he murmured, "You're just not going to be around much longer, Paul. Why pretend? Why drag this out?"
Sometimes I really wanted to hit him. Hard. "I've stuck around for a few years, in case it's slipped your notice. I've done everything short of handcuffing myself to your ankle to stop you walking away --"
"No. You've done everything you could over the years to push me into telling you to fuck off -- all that jealousy crap over Daniel -- and I ignored it because I wanted you too much to do that." His eyes were bright with anger and I felt the emotion coming off him as if it was tangible, scorching my skin. "Wanted you from the start. You knew that. You felt it or you wouldn't have come over that night, cleaned up and hungry. What was it, Paul? Too scared to piss off a superior officer directly once the novelty wore off? Wanted me to do the dirty work? Well, I did. I cut you loose and you followed me here, you keep fucking touching me --"
"I like touching you!" I got up, not missing the way he tensed, needing to move, even if the room was too small to do more than pace restlessly. "I love you. Yes, I don't say it, but we're not the kind of men who do. You know why. God. I'm -- I'm unhappy." I rounded on him, seeing his face soften a little, seeing him smile. "It's not fucking funny! I can't work. I can't -- I'm looking for you, waiting for you to call, to show up, to fuck me --"
"It always comes back to that."
"What? Sex?" I shrugged, bewildered. "We're in a relationship; it's part of it."
"Most of it, for us. It's not like we go out to movies or even dinner. And I'm…" He lifted his shoulders, a resigned shrug. "Getting too old for that to be my strong point."
"Tell me you didn't just say that."
"What? It's true."
"We talk." I was working hard to keep my temper. Again. "We've come here, we've gone fishing… Now we're both in D.C, there's no reason we can't, as friends, eat out once in a while --"
"Rank, Paul. Every reason why we can't."
"And it doesn't matter." I chopped at the air with my hand, a frustrated, pointless gesture. "I'm not twenty-something, needing a social life. You think you're old? I'm not that far behind you. I get home from work and I head for the sofa, not a club. I work hard for long hours; I get tired; we both do."
"You can still get it up twice a night."
I couldn't look at him. "This is -- not a conversation I'm comfortable with."
"Why?" So fucking reasonable, drawing strength from my embarrassment. "You're not the one getting a little slow off the mark."
"Neither are you." I glared at him, getting past the awkwardness. Hell, given what we'd done to each other, how naked we'd gotten, stripped bare, exposed, especially after Daniel had gone, it was ridiculous to feel that we were on dangerously intimate ground now, with just words, nothing but words. "We meet once every month, if that, and I've got so much… so much need built up -- fuck, yes, I could go all night. But you can't imagine it'd be like that if we were seeing each other all the time. You can't picture yourself coming over and us just… talking? You going home with nothing more than a -- a kiss?" God this was difficult. I pushed on. "Or staying over because you'd had too much to drink and maybe just sleeping with me and nothing more?"
"I can. I'd even like it."
We ran out of words again, looking past each other, caught in a sticky, thick silence.
"It wouldn't matter to me if we didn't have sex," I said finally, knowing I meant it and surprising myself. "But you're getting ahead of yourself. It's going to be true one day, sure, assuming we live that long, which given our jobs --"
"Your job. You're still going through the 'gate on missions. I'm flying a desk."
"Calm down." He stood, coming over to stand in front of me.
"I mean it." His voice was warning me now but I wasn't in the mood to listen.
"Your dick stays down; so what? You've still got your mouth. You've still got a hand."
He blinked at my crudity, looking vaguely shocked, which I liked, before he retreated behind a poker face. "Thanks. Nice to know you appreciate the blow jobs."
"Yeah. Love them." I rubbed at my face with the heel of one hand. "Love just about everything you do to me in bed. Love what I do to you. Like you as a person. Laugh at your jokes. Miss you when you're not around. Get scared at the hold you have on me, and that's all you get, because this is something we really don't need to be saying four years in. We're past this. God. So far past it."
"It hasn't been four years. Four months, maybe, spread really thin."
I nodded. "Yes. True. Doesn't matter." I was jittery, eyes burning with tiredness. The room was shifting around me and I couldn't take much more of this. I needed him to stop me talking.
"You don't want it to matter."
"No. I don't. I just want you." I stepped closer, grabbed for his hand and held it to my face, my burning skin, pressing it against me and feeling it yield and curve and slip to clasp the back of my neck. "Your hand. There. Just there." I stared at his mouth, knowing the shape of it, learning it again, anyway. "Your mouth. Talking to me. God, no one ever talks to me like I matter but you, do you know that? Ever asks… me…"
His head tilted and his hand tightened and tugged me to him, dragging his mouth over mine in slow, deliberate sweeps, wetting my lips, working them open. His other hand hung down, not touching me.
Just his hand on my neck and his mouth kissing me until he stopped, resting his forehead against mine, breathing evenly, audibly, waiting. It was enough. It always had been.
"Please." I whispered it, not knowing what I was asking for. Something. Everything.
"You're just not going to give up, are you?"
"No." I arched my neck a little and his hand loosened and he rubbed at the strip of skin under his palm, absently, automatically, finding some places for his fingers to dig in. It felt good. He'd done it before, often. He knew I liked it.
"It's not going to work. Not for long." His thumb stroked the skin under my ear, making me shudder.
"And I'm not going to go through this a second time around. When I tell you it's over next time, you just say --"
"Sir, yes, sir," I mumbled into the short, soft hair at his temples. It smelled of wood smoke and there wasn't going to be a next time.
"Right." He sounded sceptical and I didn't blame him. "You know, Davis -- Paul --"
"Davis is fine." I was used to it. And for all that he could snap and snarl it he could make it sound like an endearment, too.
"No," he said stubbornly. "You wanted to start over and that's something we can change. I want to."
"I don't." I bit his ear, worrying the lobe, sucking it hot and wet. "Sir."
His hand palmed my ass in a promise of retribution and I smiled against his neck and then yawned, startling us both.
"Am I boring you?" he asked.
"Haven't been sleeping," I admitted, keeping hold of him as another yawn pushed past my clamped jaws. "Long journey… long drive… emotions running wild. I'm going to hate myself in the morning."
"So what's new?"
"You're so very fucking funny, sir."
"Go to bed," he said, patting my face. "I'll lock up and see to the fire. You know where everything is."
I nodded, feeling my head dragged down. "If I'm asleep when you come in --"
"You can stay like that and we can pretend we're on duty or something." He gave me a not-entirely sweet smile. "Well? It's what you said you wanted." The smile got a little scary. "Hey; we can pretend you're Daniel and your ass will be completely safe."
I gave that suggestion due consideration until his eyes widened and he started to look disturbed -- served him fucking right -- and then broke off the thoughtful hum and shook my head. "He snores more than me; I'd never be able to pull it off."
"How do you know --? Oh, never mind."
I was asleep but I still knew when he slid in beside me, his hand finding its usual place to rest in the small of my back, his mouth brushing a kiss against my head.
I always knew when Jack was there.
That's the end of the series but there will be stand alone fics set during and after it as the mood takes me.
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