The Eclipsed Series

by Jane Davitt




This story is told from Paul's POV in a narrative set during three separate times: Now, Then, Way Back When. As the story progresses, the earlier times catch up with each other and merge, until all that is left is 'Now'.

The 'Way Back When' section begins in Season Five a week after the events of 'Between Two Fires', covers up to Daniel's return, and ends just after it.

The 'Then' section begins in mid Season Seven and covers up to the end of S8.

The 'Now' section begins in S9, with Paul on Dakara.


Many thanks to Princessofg for reading it and making so many helpful suggestion.


Now

Next time around, I'm going to fall in love with a man who isn't in danger five days out of seven, even when he's flying a desk, who isn't forbidden, under pain of many unpleasant penalties, to fuck me into incoherent, breathless bliss, and, top of the list, isn't so many fucking light years away that even thinking about him has a seven year time lag.

I'm stuck on Dakara without Jack.

That's a really bad punch line to a really bad joke.

I'm not laughing.

Next time.


*****


Then

For a man I had to call 'sir', scattering it with a lavish hand through every conversation we had in public, until it was like a comma, a breath taken, a space filled, he was astonishingly relaxed about protocol when we were naked.

I still called him 'sir' a lot, though. Force of habit; got me off... And, like the push along toy dog I once had, fur rubbed off in a dozen places by my loving hands, the dog an uncle, guffawing into his beer, had named 'Killer', calling Jack, 'sir' when I knew how his skin tasted gave the word a whole new resonance.

Only with him, of course. I could snap out brisk, efficient 'sirs' from dewy dawn to dusky night to the people I worked under at the Pentagon and never notice that I was doing it.

But let me pick up the phone and hear Jack's drawled, "Major Davis?" in my ear and my dick would be saluting as I murmured, "Yes, sir?" back at him, fighting to keep every single emotion in check.

Not easy.

Luckily, I'd had practice.

And a sibilant 'sir' hissed softly against any one of a dozen places on Jack O'Neill's body would always get me a shudder and a breathless chuckle.

It had been weeks since I'd seen him. Three, and a handful of days, to be precise. That wasn't that long for us, not really. Once, it was four months, and my right wrist had ached.

Precise.

I was always that. Facts and figures, projections and statistics, tripping off my tongue.

Rather have Jack's come slicking it, dripping off it, splashing wet and heavy onto his belly or throat, just for the pleasure of watching his dark eyes narrow, his lips tighten in pretended annoyance. And I might get his hand in my hair, forcing me down to lap it up, lick him clean, or I might kneel back and see his fingers slide through the mess, contemplative and serene smile on his face as he proved once again that it was impossible to gross him out.

I really shouldn't have been thinking about him at work. Now I wanted him, and the chances of having him weren't good. So I tried not to think about him.

Tried hard.

I'm good at that, too.

It might have worked if my desk hadn't had an in tray and an out tray, both holding a discreet, well-managed heap of files with his name on every other fucking page.

He was part of my work, after all, and I reached for another file, praying that this one wouldn't have the torment of a black ink squiggle that was his signature, because right then, dick heavy and full, that would have meant that I'd be trapped behind this desk until my erection subsided, and I'd got a meeting in fifteen minutes on the other side of the building.

It had a memo inside it, brief and pointed, and I found out that he'd been hurt, that SG-1 was recuperating, that for a week they'd be stood down.

I gripped the stiff card of the folder tight enough to crease it and I let out a shaky breath, released it, and set the report down carefully in front of me.

Injured. Not dead. Hurt. Not dead. Alive. Not dead.

I read the report three times and my eyes were blurring as I persistently, stubbornly skipped over the part where his injuries got center stage, and then I closed it.

I wanted to fucking kill him.

And fuck him.

The two impulses went together too often for me to consider them incongruous.

*****


Way Back When


I'd been at the SGC for two days of a five-day stint stretching over a weekend; paperwork, pen pushing, nothing at all exciting, although I hoped to parlay my notes into an increase in their budget. Not quite my department, but when it came to the SGC I was prepared to fight on the beaches if needed. SG-1 had been on a mission and had come back tired and dusty but all in one piece. There was a certain relaxation in the control room as they stepped through the 'gate, whole and, as far as I could see, not pursued by bears.

Hammond smiled to himself, giving a short, decisive nod of his head, and turned to go down and greet them. As an afterthought he asked if I'd like to sit in on the debriefing and so, an hour later, I took my place at the long table and listened to the four of them recount a tale that would end up on my desk in due course, squeezed dry of juice like Doctor Jackson's rapid blinking as he complained in a low, intense voice about the inhumanity Colonel O'Neill had displayed in dragging him away from a fresco.

O'Neill's reports fascinated me even then and seeing their genesis in his drawled, informal words added another layer to that fascination. He was respectful, always, but clearly on good enough terms with Hammond to get away with the odd humorous comment. Major Carter was far more by the book in what she said and how she said it but it was easy to see that all of them were just that little bit indulged. They'd earned that, I supposed.

I found myself wondering how that indulgence translated to their off-duty lives at about the same moment as Colonel O'Neill's hands twirled a pen in a slow roll, fumbled the final twist, and sent it catapulting across the table at me. I caught it without thinking, the slim column of metal warm from his grip, and got a rueful, weary grin.

"Sorry."

"Quite all right, sir."

I held it out, he took it from me, Teal'c spoke the four words that were his sole contribution to the debriefing, and it ended.

Hammond stood, gathering up a sheaf of papers, and said, "Dismissed. Enjoy your weekend, people. Your next mission is scheduled for 0900 on Monday."

"Weekend?" O'Neill asked, rising to his feet a fraction of a second behind Hammond, beating Carter and myself by a head. "Daniel, care to translate?"

Hammond smiled. "I can't promise anything, Colonel, but I'll do my best to let you all have some downtime. You deserve it."

He wasn't wrong there. They'd been sent through the 'gate, slammed across the universe, over and over the last month, called from their homes -- or in Teal'c's case that dark, cramped room of his -- in the middle of the night at least twice. Stood last week where I'd stood with Hammond, and heard Tollana die, a whole world lost to the Goa'uld.

So much to do, so little time to do it in, so few heroes to do it...

Hammond left and the focal point of the room shifted to O'Neill. It was subtle, and it doesn't work if the commanding officer is a nonentity, or not as well, but put different ranks in a room and the lower ranking officers tend to always keep one weather eye on their superiors. That had given Carter two people to watch; O'Neill one, and now, with Hammond gone, he slumped slightly, hitching his ass onto the table and scratching at his ear.

"So, people, what'cha got on?" He didn't wait for them to answer. "Prize for anyone who can guess my plans for tonight."

Teal'c looked inscrutable, Carter did a head duck and smile, hands clasped behind her back, and Doctor Jackson stared into space, probably still brooding about his fresco. Why I spoke up, I don't know.

Oh, I lie. I do. I had the right answer, and they didn't, and I'm a smart-ass. Plus, he was looking a little hurt that no one was playing with him and even then I had enough quiet, respectful lust simmering away that I wasn't going to let that happen.

Not that I wouldn't have given a week's vacation to be capable of hurting him emotionally, to have that much power over him, but I didn't -- and I'm really being honest now -- ever see that being a possibility.

So I opened my mouth for O'Neill for the first time, if not the last, and said in the diffident tones protocol required, with the merest hint of a throat-clearing to get their attention as I'm not sure I was registering on anyone's optic nerve, "Do they involve a telescope and a beer, sir?"

Heads turned, frowns gathered, but the man gave me a blinding smile and nodded enthusiastically. "And Major Davis gets the kewpie doll!"

"Jack?" Doctor Jackson emerged from his pensive study of the table and raised his eyebrows. "Something happening in the night sky? Or did you get a new female neighbour under forty?"

Carter stared very hard at the floor and Teal'c's shoulders shifted in a way that told me Jackson had just gone a little too far in front of, well, me, but O'Neill seemed completely at ease.

And why not? He was O'Neill.

"No, Daniel, I haven't, but thanks for asking. I'll be sure to invite you over when I do." He turned to me and waved his hand graciously. "Go on, Major. Enlighten them."

Reminding myself that I might not have saved the planet but I held the same rank as Carter and Civilians Didn't Count, I gave him a small smile. "Tonight is the --"

"Total lunar eclipse," Carter interrupted me, nodding and looking eager. "Of course."

I closed my mouth and decided to leave before I breathed in some air they wanted.

I made it as far as the stairs, my murmured excuse unheard as Carter was explaining to Teal'c what caused the eclipse and Jackson was nipping in whenever she took a breath with a terminally dull story about one he'd seen in Egypt at the age of three. Years, I assumed. I was about to leave when the colonel stopped me, sauntering over as he called my name. "Davis. Your prize."

I turned, polite smile in place. "Thank you, sir, but I'll pass on the doll, with all due respect."

"Good, because I don't have one." He patted his pockets. "Nope. No doll. So you either take a rain check or pick something else."

I was lost. He was carrying the joke on too far and I didn't know him well enough to feel safe unleashing my own stunted version of humor.

I didn't know him at all back then.

This close, with his back to the others, he was shielding me. His face was bland and blank but there was something there that hooked out a wish and gave it words.

"The eclipse. I've never seen a total one through a telescope. I don't suppose you'd allow me to join you --"

I paused. I'd just invited myself to a colonel's house. No. Oh, fuck, no.

Jackson and Teal'c didn't react at first, and when they did it was in response to Carter's stiffening back, I think, taking their cue from her. I shook my head, cheeks burning. "Sir, I'm sorry, I didn't --"

"Relax, Davis." His hand came up to clasp my shoulder, a brief, impersonal reassurance. "Be glad of the company." He turned his head, which gave me the opportunity to suck in a swift, much-needed breath, my arm tingling where he'd touched it. Two layers of material and I could feel each finger. They'd be writing fairytales about me next. "Let's make it a party. You kids up for some beer and pizza by the rapidly disappearing light of the moon?"

The atmosphere lightened and dissolved as they made their excuses and by the time he turned back to me, I'd regained my calm.

"Looks like it's just us, then. See you around eight, Major; it'll be light enough for you to get a look at my equipment before the fun and games start."

And I had enough self-control to fail to respond to that in any way, which was just what he wanted me to do, and if I hadn't I think he'd have found some way to cancel.

He wanted a lot from me back then. Still does. Has it gotten easier to give it? I don't know.

But I managed it then.

Go, me.

***

I arrived at his house at 8.30, deliberately late for several good reasons. I didn't want to seem eager for a start -- and I wasn't, not entirely. This was taking a chance on ruining every fantasy I had about the man, like film exposed to daylight. I wasn't sure I wanted to gamble my well-worn dreams against the slim odds of getting more fuel for the fire.

I did want to push this a little out of the realm of having been given an order, though, into something that was a little more just the two of us meeting up socially -- it didn't have to be more than that -- and I indulged myself in the wistful hope that Jack O'Neill would be sitting there waiting for me, wondering if I was going to stand him up.

My capacity for self-delusion was, and is, infinite.

I knocked, smoothing my hand nervously over the crisp white cotton shirt I'd put over the only casual pants I'd packed; faded green chinos, too hot for the humid night. Somehow, off duty or not, I couldn't quite see myself turning up in shorts.

Doctor Jackson opened the door.

There had to have been an instant where my face gave me away because his eyes widened with interest and speculation before he smiled.

"Hey. You found it then. Jack was wondering if you'd got lost."

I grabbed at disappointment, and a completely inappropriate anger, and buried them deep. "Good evening, Doctor Jackson. No; no trouble getting here, thank you."

I liked the man, with some small reservations. I wouldn't have assigned him to SG-1 initially if it'd been up to me, but having seen what he contributed I was never in the camp sneering at the idea of including a bespectacled civilian scientist in an elite military team. He belonged with them, and that was that.

Now, seeing him here, totally at his ease, hair still damp from a recent shower, feet bare, I wondered if he belonged to Colonel O'Neill in a more personal way.

Shit.

I surrendered the dream at that moment, relaxed, gave him a natural, even happy, smile and stepped past him into the open room. I decided to stay for a while, manufacture a believable excuse -- child's play, that last -- and leave them to fuck each other's brains out the way they'd probably wanted to all the time they were off-world. I didn't grudge it to either of them. They deserved it.

Yes, I'd leave, and then I'd go back to the best hotel this place had to offer -- a Washington per diem went a long way out here -- the one I always stayed at because I loathed sleeping at the Mountain, trapped under the weight of it, and I'd get drunk and laugh at myself and jerk off, assuming I was still capable, to any one of a number of scenarios that didn't involve anyone in uniform, and that would be that.

Because, although he didn't do much for me, I knew enough to know that Jackson was O'Neill's best friend, and if that had tilted and tipped into something even friendlier, they'd be solid, not a crack between them, and if there was an opening to exploit I respected them both too much to take it.

I was wrong about that, as it turned out, because the two of them were heading for problems, but it was true enough in most ways. I couldn't even find it in me to hate Jackson for having what I wanted; he'd earned it; I hadn't.

He walked past me and scooped up a pair of socks and his shoes from the floor, one at a time, yanking them on fast, still standing, balancing and wobbling but getting the job done. "Jack's out in the yard, I think, setting everything up; want to go and join him?"

I nodded, still clutching my contribution to the night under one arm; a bag holding an assortment of imported beer I'd picked up, choosing names I remembered from long ago postings in Europe.

"Tell him if he wants a ride in on Monday to let me know."

I gave Jackson a puzzled smile and he laughed. "Sorry; Jack's truck died on him. He was furious. It's stuck out at the Mountain, waiting for a tow, so I gave him a ride home." He held out hands that still looked a little grubby from motor oil. "Can you believe he had me poking around inside the engine? Sam, yes; she'd have had it up and running in no time; me, not a chance."

That simple a solution to why he was here? I didn't think so, but I wasn't inclined to argue.

"You were probably as much use as I would have been."

He grinned and headed towards the door. "I doubt it. You look the practical type. Enjoy the eclipse."

"I'm looking forward to it."

He nodded. "Jack is, too." He rolled his eyes. "Really looking forward to it. Doesn't it do this quite a lot?"

"Well --"

"Noooo, don't tell me!" He held up his hands and backed away. I couldn't help smiling at him and then the front door slammed and I was left alone in Jack O'Neill's house. I took a single long, slow breath and headed directly for the yard without looking at anything not in a direct line between me and the back door. I had principles. Sneaking and snooping around would have been tacky. Tempting, but tacky. And I'd given them thirty minutes extra to get rid of any evidence; for someone like O'Neill that was plenty.

"Good evening, sir."

"Major."

He didn't even turn around from his sad contemplation of a small patch of limp, sun-bleached grass. It had been a long, dry summer.

"Daniel escaped?"

"He, ah, he just left, yes. He told me that you were out here -- oh, and that he'd take you to work on Monday if you still needed a ride."

He swung around and smiled at me. "Told you about my fucking truck, did he?"

I nodded and held out the beer, mute with lust in the face of a truly bizarre shirt and jeans so pale with washing that they looked paper-thin. It struck me that I'd never seen him in casual civilian clothing before. He looked... normal. Apart from the shirt. It was disconcerting. Both the shirt and the lack of heroic aura.

"You're all dressed-up," he commented. "What's this? Flowers and chocolate?"

I don't know how he gets away with saying things like that. There was no trace of innuendo, no leer -- and an equal lack of expectation that anyone would take him seriously, or concern that they'd mind him saying it.

He peered inside the brown paper bag and started to pull the bottles out one by one, placing them on a wooden picnic table. "Hey, nice... Hobgoblin? Drank that once in England. Gave me a hell of a hangover."

"Their beer can do that to you."

"No kidding..." He finished unpacking, studied the half dozen bottles in silence and then gave me a nod of thanks. "Want one of these? Or a cold one from the fridge?"

"Cold sounds good," I admitted, plucking at the wilting collar of my shirt.

"Yeah, it's warm tonight. Daniel was sweating by the time I'd finished with him."

Oh, now, come on...

"Would you believe the man doesn't know what a spark plug looks like?" he went on.

"No."

He pouted, stopped in his tracks. He'd picked that trick up from Jackson. "Well...close."

"I think Doctor Jackson has many other talents."

I made sure there wasn't an ounce of sarcasm in that because I meant it. He did. He was a walking library and, from what I'd read, was handy enough with a gun, and spit in your eye brave, too.

Getting all of that from an untrained civilian, and expecting them to fix your car as well, verged on the greedy.

I got an approving look. He clearly liked people being nice about Jackson. "He does, yes."

We stood there in silence for a moment and it was a little awkward but pleasant, too. The evening air was heavy and drowsy, sprinkled thickly with the summer scents of fresh-cut grass, barbecue and citronella hovering over a thousand backyards just like this one. It was Friday night and the sleeve of O'Neill's blue and white patterned shirt brushed my arm as he went by me to get us a beer and that was all it took to make me decide to stay as long as he wanted me to.

When we made it to the roof I lost a lot of my awareness of his rank because he was so eager to show off his toys that he became endearingly boyish. The line I couldn't cross was still there, but it had been redrawn much closer to him. As we bent over the telescope I could fool myself that he was a friend and batted him away impatiently as he leaned over me and tried to fiddle with a knob that I'd just got set to where I wanted it.

He gave a huff of near-silent laughter at that, beer-spiced breath warm on my neck. "Sorry. Wasn't expecting you to really know what you were doing."

"I said I'd never seen a complete eclipse through one," I said absently, staring up at the white shimmer of the full moon, its surface pocked and battered into familiar patterns. I never saw the face without effort, but I could pick out many craters by name. "Not that I haven't used one."

"You got one of your own?"

"In Washington?" I shook my head. "Not worth it with the smog."

"You're going to make me drag it out of you slowly, aren't you?" he asked, drawing out 'slowly' until I felt his voice reverberate through me, plangent and pervasive.

"Sir?"

He sighed. "If I said 'Call me Jack', you wouldn't, would you?"

I hesitated, wondering what he wanted me to say to that. "No, sir."

"And making it an order would be pointless."

"Sir." The yes was silent.

"So tell me instead, Major Davis, when did you get bitten by the astronomy bug?"

I leaned back in the chair and reached for the beer I'd abandoned on a small, round table. It was light enough with the moon high and full to be able to see his face and he looked expectant.

"I used to hang backwards out of my bedroom window when I was a kid," I confided, tipsy enough to show him, tilting my head and arching my back until the chair creaked and dug into my shoulder blades. I heard the scrape of his shoe on the wooden deck, sharp and sudden, as if I'd startled him, but he didn't say anything. "Holding on by my fingertips and staring up..."

I cocked my head to see his reaction. He winced, which wasn't what I expected until I remembered his son. "Sounds dangerous."

"I think my center of gravity kept me mostly inside the room."

He snorted. "Like you knew that at the time!"

I gave him an apologetic grimace. "I was eight. I knew about stuff like that even then."

"Geek," he said, making it a question, not an insult, and grinning when I nodded. "Thought so. You and Daniel..."

I wasn't letting him compare us. No fucking way.

"I don't think we're all that similar, sir."

Unless you counted the part where we both wanted to be naked with you doing illegal, inappropriate, filthy deeds to us. Or lying back and letting us get imaginative on your ass.

Either way worked for me. I just wanted -- just once -- to wake up with the memory of his skin against my hand and the taste of him deep in my throat.

Wanted to win the lottery, too, although God knows what I would've done with it. It's not as if I'd have retired. This was all I wanted to do. I'd have paid to have stayed a part of it.

"No, I guess not." He smacked me down, chalking the line again in a wide sweep, his voice tart and acid, green apples and lemons. "Unless you've saved the world when I wasn't looking?"

I pushed back my chair and stood, anger and disappointment in him making my heart hammer jerkily in my chest. My voice wavered, just enough to be noticeable, and I dug my nails into the palm of my hand, hard, using the small pain to distract me from the necessary grovelling I was going to have to do.

Fuck him. Both of them.

"No, sir, I don't believe I have. I assure you I intended no disrespect. Doctor Jackson is a man I hold in high regard and --"

"He's a geek," O'Neill said, moving away from the railing he'd been leaning against and taking the three steps needed to bring him close. "I know it, he knows it. Hell, even the Goa'uld know it. He's just my geek, that's all."

"I know." I was suffocating here, dismay and excitement and dread rushing over me. He was close enough that I would have had to step back to throw a punch. That close. "Believe me, I know."

"You know nothing," he said firmly. "Now sit the hell down, will you? I didn't mean to --" He looked me over and a small smile quirked his lips. "No, you're not ruffled, are you? Neat and tidy, spick and span."

Sweating and hard... wasn't he supposed to be observant?

"Sir, with all due --"

"We both know that's something you say when you're contemplating your superior officer head down in a swamp, so save it."

"I think I should go."

"Why? Because I defended a member of my team? It's what I do. You know that."

"No." I couldn't step back because of the chair and he was blocking my way to the stairs. "I shouldn't be here. I should never have invited myself. It was --"

"Unorthodox," he agreed. "A little. But it's not as if we don't know each other and you're on my favourite people at the Pentagon list, you know. You're on our side, aren't you?"

An invitation to sit at the cool table, twenty years too late.

"The Stargate programme is something I'm honoured to be a part of, sir." I left it at that. It was the simple truth.

"What I don't get is why you did it."

"Became the liaison?" I was floundering a little. "It was an incredible opportunity, sir."

"No." He waved at me to shut the hell up, looking impatient. "Not that. Here. Tonight."

"Sir?" Playing dumb with a superior officer came easy. I'd been doing that for years.

"It's Friday night, you're young, free and single -- you are, aren't you?"

"Divorced, sir."

Seven years and the thought of Claire still brought a metallic tang of dislike to my mouth. I swallowed and O'Neill's lips twitched with abashed regret. "Sorry. Me, too."

"I know." I couldn't keep the surprise out of my voice. I knew his fucking shoe size; how could he think I was unaware of his marital status?

"Yeah, I bet you do. I bet you know a lot more about me than I do about you."

I met his gaze without flinching. "Probably. It's my job, sir."

"I guess. So it's only fair that you tell me something I don't know about you." He was skating on ice as thin as the seat of his jeans, damn him, and he had to have known it. "Like why you'd risk getting embarrassed in the briefing room by me putting you in your place -- and you know I could have -- just for the chance to look at something that isn't all that out of the way special with a man who -- and I know you know this, too -- can't do a damn thing to help your career."

I'd never had him say that much to me before. It was overwhelming. He was overwhelming.

"I'm not interested in the night life this town has to offer and I am interested in the eclipse, sir."

He stared at me and looked vaguely disappointed. What he expected me to say, I don't know: 'Sir, I wanted to see if I could make it to the end of the night, sir, without coming in my fucking pants, sir, because, yes, sir, you're that big a fucking turn-on for me'? Hardly.

Stepping back, he indicated the telescope with a sweep of his arm. "So sit. Watch it. Me, I'm going to get another beer."

He left me up there, the stars lost in the milky light of the moon, my hands pressed together between my knees to stop them from shaking. Left me for long enough that I was about to go in search of him, and then appeared at the top of the stairs, two bottles clinking between his fingers.

"Sir, I'm driving; I think I'll pass on any more."

"Who said one was for you?"

The easy charm had vanished, replaced by the sourness I was coming to dislike.

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

"Oh, for crying out loud."

Hearing him say that; the phrase everyone used when they mimicked or quoted him, brought an involuntary snicker from me. He swung around from depositing the bottles on the table, his expression dark. "Excuse me, Major?"

"Nothing, sir. I'm sorry." I stood and edged past him. "I think perhaps I should --"

"It's starting," he said, interrupting me. "Look."

I turned my head and saw the curved edge of the moon lose the perfection of its arc, blackness sweeping over it, inexorable and frightening.

His hands found my shoulders, turned me and pushed me down. "You wanted to watch, Major. Watch."

His hands remained on me for a long moment, in a loose, light grip. If he felt me shiver he didn't comment. I put my eye to the telescope and I watched the moon darken and redden with Colonel Jack O'Neill standing right behind me, his leg close enough that when I raised my hand to adjust the focus, my elbow nudged it.

I didn't apologize and he didn't move back.

Arousal fought suspicion. I doubted that this was a trap; not his style, not his job, and if he had picked up on my feelings for him, he'd been around for long enough to know how to deal with that if it bothered him. Some straight men were flattered, or amused, by the knowledge that they'd attracted a man. Not many, but some. Others would lash out, overreacting in panic and fear. Neither reaction fitted the picture I had of him. He wasn't the sort to let his emotions drive him and he was pragmatic enough to appreciate the value of having someone like me -- a wholehearted advocate of the Stargate programme -- at the Pentagon.

It didn't mean I could tell him anything openly, though. Regs were regs, even for him, and you don't get to colonel without a healthy respect for the framework that supports your rank.

And if what I was getting from him was an invitation, subtle enough to leave us both safe if it didn't work out, well, I was still too raw from his change of mood to be receptive -- and wondering if he'd argued with Jackson and I was being set up as a revenge fuck.

His hand closed, warm and large, around the back of my neck and the image I was watching jiggled and wavered as my head jerked.

I made a stifled, strangled sound, deep in my throat, and was lost.

He could have me. He could have anything he wanted. I gave up pretending that there was any chance that I would ever walk away from this man, because it just wasn't going to happen until I'd had him in me or around me.

His thumb stroked up high behind my ear and I bit down on my lip.

He could have put the palm of his hand anywhere on my bare skin and I'd have loved it, but there... perfect. A shiver ghosted down one side of my body, from where his thumb was gently digging in, to my thigh, hair-raising in every sense.

"Tell me what you see."

I couldn't tell what he was looking at; the disappearing, swallowed moon or my bowed head.

"My knees?"

He grunted, either in amusement or impatience. "Then look at what you came here for, Major. Don't waste time."

I turned away from the moon, twisting out from his hand, managing it easily because he wasn't holding on. Slowly, I looked up at him and then down at the soft, hidden bulge of his cock, level with my mouth. There was a pause, a beat, and then he nodded.

"Thought so."

He didn't sound satisfied or smug. Thoughtful, maybe, as if I'd just become a problem he had to handle.

I could remember some of his past solutions. High body count.

He could have swept me aside if he wanted to. He had pull; way more than I did, for all my careful networking. I wasn't safe with him knowing about me and I knew it.

"What are you going to do about it, sir?"

I didn't bother trying to dissemble or cover it all over any more. Too late (how had it gotten to be too late? What the hell had I done that made him touch me?) and he wouldn't have appreciated it anyway.

"I don't know, Davis." There was a bite back in his words. "What do you suggest a colonel does with a major who's bucking for a dishonorable discharge?"

That made me shiver, reminding me of the penalties; the fear of which, for me, was rooted in the fact that the Stargate was the only life I had. If I lost that I wasn't sure where I'd go next, knowing what I did.

"Hypothetically?"

"Sure." He drawled it out sarcastically. "Hypothetically."

"The colonel could consider that the major's behaviour had, up to a certain point, been perfectly correct, sir. He could then give further consideration to his own actions and possibly take some fucking responsibility for them."

"Easy," he murmured as I shoved up from the chair, shaking with a bright, hot anger now. "Had to see..."

"See what? You knew." I reached out and put my hand on his chest, feeling the steady thump of his heart off to the right, distant and soft as I pushed at him. "Don't tell me you didn't! Don't tell me you and Jackson weren't having fun talking about it before I got here --"

"Hey." He shook his head, grabbing at my hand and holding it an inch away from his body so that my fingers curled and just managed to scrape a hold on that fucking awful shirt. "That didn't happen and I don't know where you got it from. Why the hell do you think I'd be discussing you with Daniel?" He rolled his eyes. "He knows enough about me to work stuff out but I don't -- we don't talk about it. Christ." He sounded pained, as if the thought of it was enough to freak him out.

I got a flash of Doctor Jackson looking earnest, liberal, and very understanding, and couldn't help the snuffle of laughter that escaped me.

"Yeah. He'd be too okay with it, wouldn't he?" O'Neill's voice was rueful but he was relaxing again, as if we'd gotten over a hurdle. For my part, I thought we were still staring up at it and not seeing any way past it. "Wouldn't see the problem. Some stuff Daniel doesn't get. Intellectually, yes, but deep down, no. It's okay, though. He gets everything else in the world I miss."

Jackson and O'Neill as jigsaw pieces, two interlocking pieces of sky...I didn't need it rubbing in how necessary they each were to one another.

"Sir --"

"What?"

Behind us, overhead and ignored in the summer sky, planetary bodies and stars were dancing for our amusement. It was getting darker now.

"Permission to speak freely, sir?"

"For God's sake. Yes."

"Fine." I took a moment to rephrase it as if he was just anyone, just a man I wanted, a man I knew wanted me. It was difficult. Maybe I needed Jackson to help me translate. "Did you want this? Is it why you let me come over? Because if it is, you can trust me. I'm the safest fuck you'll ever have."

He let a long silence speak for him, processing what I'd said before asking, "In what way?"

I made sure we were looking at each other. I needed to see his face for this, and dark though it was, we were close enough for that. "I'm clean. We'd still be using protection, that's not something I ever -- but I'm clean. I don't do this often and I don't do it twice with anyone. The risks become too great. I don't -- ever -- talk. Not even to you. We fuck tonight and you bring it up a week from now and I'll give you the blankest stare I've got." I smiled at him, eager now that we'd moved past uncertainty, the thrill of what was to come leaving my cock stiff and ready, pressing up against the back of my zipper. "And if you say no, sir, we'll just skip to the blank stare part right now."

His head tilted as he considered what I'd said. "Nice speech. Very... rehearsed."

Sarcastic fucker. "Yes, sir. I stand in front of my mirror every morning polishing it up in case I get lucky."

"The scary part is, I can believe that." He shook his head. "Sorry, Davis. I wanted more than that from you."

"More than what? Sir. In case I didn't make it clear, you can have me. Mouth, ass, dick, however and wherever you want them."

Talking frankly was like drinking; the more I did it, the harder it was to stop.

And I was getting off on using language like this to him.

"I got that part."

I waited and got a sigh from him. "More would be the option of a second chance, Major, assuming we both walked away happy from the first time. More would be something just a little less cold than your list of rules. I get to fuck someone... safe about as often as that happens," he jerked his head up at the eclipsing moon, "but if I wanted sex like you're offering, I'd just pay for it. And I don't like doing that." I noted the careful phrasing and wondered why he didn't lie to me. And knew that I should look into who he'd paid for sex and wouldn't because I trusted him to be discreet. "So thanks, but I'll pass. I'm good at waiting."

"You don't have to wait." I tried not to gape at him but I was losing it, indignant and disbelieving.

"Why? Think I'm that desperate I'll put up with second-best? Late forties, here. Not a horny kid. I can get by with my hand. Again."

"I'm not offering you that. Second best, I mean. This is it. It's all I have. It's yours if you want it."

I sounded angry and hurt, because that's what I was, and he sighed, pushing his hand back through his hair, leaving it sticking up and wild. "Davis --"

"You want me," I insisted.

"I do. I did. Hell, yes." He looked me over with a casual heat and I flushed, craving him with an intensity I thought I'd lost somewhere along the way, over the years. My cock was signalling, urgently, that it needed to come, very soon, thank you, and my nipples, usually a take it or leave it zone when it came to being touched, were erect enough that I was aware of them, an oddly distracting sensation I could've done without.

I was tempted to force the issue by going to my knees, but we were outside and I couldn't overcome training to that extent. Just the thought of it, though --

"Fuck."

"Did you just say something, Major?"

"Yes, sir. I said 'Fuck', sir."

"And why was that, Major?"

Oh, I could play that game all night...

"Because I think I've blown any chance of getting to --"

"Blow me?"

"Amongst other things, sir, yes."

"I know why I wanted you, but I'm still hazy on why it's mutual. Given that you're too bright to think I'd let anything that happened spill over into work."

'Wanted' faded the last of my happiness to gray. "I never gave that consideration a moment's thought, sir. I'll ask that you take my word for that, please."

He stared at me and nodded. "Sure. You're not the type. I know that. So why? I've got to be, what, fifteen years older than you?"

"About that."

"I'm not getting it."

"Neither am I, it seems."

The joke, pitiful as it was, had him chuckling softly. "Major, that makes two of us. And it's been a while for me, if you want to know."

I met his eyes. "Then don't turn me down. Please."

"Shit, Davis, if you're that desperate I can point you at some places in town --"

"Sir, tell me you haven't --"

"Relax. Not stupid." He rolled his shoulders, looking uncomfortable. I guessed that maybe it had been a close call sometimes.

"Neither am I, sir. Safe; I told you. You are; that wouldn't be. Besides... "

"What?"

I made a soft sound of frustration, smacking my fist down on the top of the railing. "Sir, you're hot as hell. You have to know that. I've been -- you're -- God, this is difficult!"

"Relax, Major." He blinked. "You're kidding though, right?"

"I'm not saying it again, sir."

"Had your eye on me for a while, have you?"

"No, sir. This wasn't planned. I never even thought you were --"

"Uh-huh," he said, shaking his head. "Don't say it."

"No, sir. But as far as it goes, you could have had me a long time ago if you'd wanted me."

He shrugged, starting to look as if he wished the conversation was over. I stood to attention automatically, registering the difference when I was doing it in civilian clothing; the incongruity of it in a conversation like this. "I really do think I should leave now, sir."

"I think you're right," he said, stepping aside. The moon was covered now, held in darkness. We both turned to look at it, one last time, and his hand brushed mine. I couldn't help grabbing it, needing, just once more, to have his skin on mine.

"Sir --"

His hand slipped free and came up to cup my face, holding me in place as effectively as a gun to the head. "You're really fucked up, you know that?"

"I'm just careful."

"No. I'm careful; you're... closed-off. You're too young for that."

"Military," I reminded him. "I made my choice and I don't regret it."

His hand dropped away. "Which choice? Enlisting, or scaring me off, when if you'd kept your mouth shut you'd be naked and having one hell of a good time right now?"

"I don't regret enlisting, sir."

"That it?" he asked when I didn't carry on.

"What do you want me to say?" I realized that we were having this conversation in low, careful voices and choked on a laugh. "God, yes, I regret being honest with you. Yes, I'm going to go back to my hotel room and kick at the wall and curse myself and jerk off until I can't stand to touch myself I'm so fucking raw. That what you want to hear, sir?"

"God, no. I hate to think of it." He shuddered theatrically. "You. Doing that. Coming over me. Not literally, of course --"

"Very amusing, sir," I said tonelessly.

"Oh, come on, Davis! I'm flattered, of course I am." He didn't look it. He looked... shocked, as if he couldn't believe what I'd said and the fact that I'd said it at all.

That made two of us. I'd have liked to have blamed the full moon, but that was just a little too easy, and, apparently, I didn't like making things easy for myself or anyone close to me.

And O'Neill was still close to me.

"Are you --?" He waved his hand around indecisively but the dip of his head made it clear enough what he meant.

"Erect?" I enunciated it carefully, hoping to make him flinch, but he didn't. "Yes."

"Still?"

I gave him the thinnest of smiles. "Have been, off and on, since you patted my arm in the briefing room, sir. May I go now? Or did you want to watch me squirm a little longer?"

The white moonlight was starting to seep back, enough of it to make his expression visible, although I was in the shadows from his perspective. He looked sympathetic and I hated him just a little bit more. "You know, I would. But not here. Want to take this inside?"

"Sir?"

He smiled and patted my arm, exactly the way he'd patted it earlier. "I'm offering you a pity-fuck, if you want it, Major. Out of the kindness of my heart and some fellow feeling for a man in your condition."

I didn't believe him, and I was tense enough to lash out. "Are you sure you'll be able to get it up with someone as second-rate as me?"

He shrugged. "Won't matter if I don't. In case I didn't make it clear, this is for your sake, Major so you'll be the one doing the heavy lifting."

"You want me to fuck you?"

This wasn't happening. Couldn't be.

"If you can get it up." He crooked his finger at me. "Come on. Before I change my mind and kick your ass the hell out of here for being an idiot."

***

When he'd gone back into the house he'd turned on some lights, because it was brighter than I remembered, but as we walked through the house he flicked them off, so that by the time we reached his bedroom the only light burning was the lamp beside his bed.

I took one look at the bed and wanted to find a wall to punch, a pillow to scream into.

It was made. Carefully, freshly made. He'd been expecting it to be used and he'd taken time, somehow, with Daniel hovering, or in the shower, to strip away the sheets he'd slept on the night before and put on new ones. I still wasn't completely certain he hadn't done it because he'd fucked Daniel on them but I was getting more certain with every moment. The resentment I'd been feeling broke away and crumbled as I pictured him getting into it alone, the crisp, cool sheets too pristine for comfort when he'd expected them to be rumpled, smelling of sex and sweat. Smelling of us.

I'd reached my limit for self-deception; I wasn't walking away from him, or this. Couldn't do it. Fuck my rules, fuck my scruples and his.

He reached for a button on his shirt and I started toward him, wanting to be the one doing that for him, caught up in a sudden passionate gratitude.

His hand warded me off. "No. This is the way you wanted it. You get to fuck me and you get to come. That's it."

Speechless, I watched him strip, economical, casual movements designed to get him naked, not to arouse me. When he was bare, his clothes tossed in the direction of a wooden chair in the corner, he gave me a sidelong look and then got onto the bed, face down. With a grunt, he settled himself so that his cock, half-hard from the quick glance I'd given it, was comfortable, and then rested his head on his folded arms. His legs were spread, not much, just enough for me to see shadows, hair and the wrinkled fullness of his balls. I wanted to do more than look but I couldn't move, sure if I did I'd turn and run because this was terrifying.

"You'll find what you need in the drawer beside me," he said after a moment. "Help yourself."

I fumbled my way out of my clothes, got what I needed from the drawer, mechanically checking expiry dates -- they were close -- and then hesitated.

"Major?"

"I can't --" My dick was reflecting my panic and even the sight of O'Neill's naked back, scarred just enough to be intriguing, and the understated, practical strength in his arms and legs wasn't helping. His ass was firm and lean. A muscle on one cheek jumped as if he could feel my gaze like a tickle and he reached down and gave it a casual scratch before returning to his previous position. If he was really as nonchalant as he appeared I was going to have to hurt him, because it was accelerating my meltdown.

I wasn't going to be able to do this cold. Not with him, in this house, in his bed. God, there was a photograph of his wife on the nightstand I'd taken the lube and condom from. I'd fucked strangers up against walls and walked away in less than five minutes, buoyed up by the seedy anonymity of it all, the thrill -- which was stupid and why I had rules now, to stop myself from doing that -- but I wasn't sure I could do this.

"Sure, you can. You've done it before, right? And if you haven't, you're a bright kid; you can --"

"I've done it before." Just how old did he think I was?

"Of course you have."

I sat beside him and let my hand rest against his ass, just to see what he would do. I could feel the muscles clench sharply but then he sighed and relaxed, spreading his legs wider.

"Anything off-limits, sir?"

"What?" He sounded annoyed, as if I'd spoiled the mood, or something. "Davis, what part of 'fuck me' are you having problems with? Everything's off limits but your dick in my ass, and I'm assuming you know enough not to just ram it in, so what the hell is taking you so long?"

I watched my fingers curl into a tight, frustrated ball, fingernails scoring his skin. He gave a yelp and twisted around to glare at me.

"Sorry, sir."

"And stop calling me fucking 'sir' when five minutes from now you're going to be balls deep in my ass. Christ."

"What would you like me to call you, sir?"

He thought that over and came to the same conclusion I had; there was nothing that worked.

"Don't see why you have to call me anything," he said finally, propping his chin on his crossed wrists again and staring at the pillow. "Are we going to do this?"

"You sound eager." I opened my hand and ran the tip of my finger along the crease of his ass, lightly enough that it didn't part for me. Every time I touched him I felt a quiver of amazement that he was letting me; that my wrist wasn't hanging broken from my arm, that my fingers remained uncrushed. "Are you going to admit that the favour thing is bullshit and you want this as much as I do?"

"No."

"It'll still be true." Clinging onto that was helping me to regain my calm.

"I wish your cock was as big as your ego." He turned his head enough to give me a sarcastic grimace. "No, wait; I take it back, You'd probably kill me if it was."

"I know how long it's been for you."

"No, you don't."

"I know names, places, times..."

"Major --"

"It's been longer for you than for me and I'm so fucking desperate right now I can't think, but I'm not fucking you until you let me touch you."

"They kinda go together, Davis."

"You know what I mean." I palmed his ass, stroking it roughly, avidly, over and over, pressing the heel of my hand into the solid weight of muscle. "Want to kiss you, sir. Mouth on mouth. Want to suck you and bite you and lick every place you've got that's going to leave my mouth tasting of you. I want to have you and yes, for you I'll break my rules. I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry. God, will you fucking look at me you cold-hearted bastard?"

He rolled over, hooking one hand behind his head, drumming the other against his thigh, drawing my gaze down to his cock. Still not all the way hard. Needed touching. Needed the warm wetness of a tongue to make it rise and fill. "I'm looking."

"Well?"

"Oh, do what you fucking want, Major. But next time I'm gagging you if you keep running your mouth off like this."

"Sir, with all due respect, that would be a mistake." I straddled him and made a grab for his wrists that he could easily have avoided and didn't. When I'd pinned them high and wide I smiled down at him. "Let me show you why?"

His eyes narrowed. "Major -- let go of me."

"Yes, sir."

"And sit back so I can -- yeah." He sat up, with me in his lap, my knees split wide. "Okay, let's just go over some stuff. You don't talk like a fucking whore when you're in my bed, you don't make this all your turn, my turn, or crap like that. I said you could fuck me, and you can, but let me know if you want it the other way around because that works for me, too. And right now I want to get off badly enough that I'm ignoring the way you're really pissing me off, but I can guarantee you once I've come, I'm going to be a lot less forgiving."

"No, you're not." I leaned in and bit at his lip feeling the heat of his skin on mine as my hands slipped around his shoulders. "You're going to be fucking purring, sir."

His hand slid around the back of my neck and I shuddered, letting him see just how much I liked that.

"God, your nipples just went hard, do you know that?"

"I did notice, sir, yes." His thumb rubbed over one and I moaned. "God, that doesn't -- I don't like that, sir...."

"Yes, you do."

"Don't --"

He pinched, his fingers skidding off because there just wasn't much there to grab and hissed crossly, his thumb moving restlessly across the strip of skin under my ear.

"Do."

"Involuntary, reflex action, sir, " I gasped. "Not an erogenous zone, I swear. Want to make me beg, go lower."

"Belly button?" He actually spent a few seconds playing with it, poking his finger inside the shallow dent and swirling it around.

"No, sir. God, please --"

"Oh, you mean your dick..."

Long fingers. Strong, long fingers, and all that I was getting was a barely-there graze of his fingertips across the head of my cock, flushed red and shining wetly, so that he brought his fingers away wet, too, staring down at them curiously and rubbing them together.

I could hear the shallow, fast pants of my breath and feel a pulse beating in my neck, smell myself, sweaty and aroused, heavy, rich, intimate smells that were turning me on because they were mixed with something unfamiliar and similar, all at once. I loved the smell and taste of my fingers after I'd jerked off, curling up in bed and going to sleep with my hand tucked under my chin, breathing in the acrid, organic, indescribable tang of come.

I'd got my kinks, my dark, dirty little fantasies, shameful and secret and precious, but if he gave me a chance I'd share one with him and lick my come off him, absorbing it back into me from wherever it had landed.

I squeezed my eyes closed against the dizzying pulse of lust that thought gave me and opened them just as he kissed me, his hand finally tightening around my cock.

Perfect timing.

He got my startled, open mouth to push his tongue into and he got the jerk forward of my body as I tried to fuck the hot clutch of his palm, too used to that kind of touch, self-conditioned into responding just like this.

"Easy, Davis. In me, right? That's where you want to come."

The whisper worked its way through to what was left of my mind and I nodded frantically, scraping my hands down his back, wanting to touch as much of him as I could so I could look at him later, in uniform, and know exactly how he felt and looked and smelled...

I saw him smile and went in for another kiss. He'd shaved as well as made the bed, and his chin was smooth, with just a tiny patch of stubble where he'd missed on the second pass over with his razor. I went for that roughness, mouthing at it and feeling the short, stiff hairs rasp against my lip.

I still hadn't touched his cock, like a kid saving the best bite for last, but when he let go of mine, probably realising how close I was to coming, I let one hand drift around and down.

"Oh, God, oh, God --"

"Fuck, Davis --"

It wasn't enough, any of it. I couldn't score his back deeply enough with my nails, couldn't bite and suck hard enough at his mouth, his throat, his collarbone -- couldn't squeeze and pump and work his cock fast enough. A strangled sob rose in my throat.

"Please --"

"Any time, Davis --"

I managed to focus and saw that his eyes were glazed with the inward concentration of a man trying very hard not to come. I couldn't take all the credit for his arousal, I supposed, given how long it had been since he'd done this, but I couldn't help feeling inordinately pleased that I was making him happy.

He pulled away from me abruptly, passing his hand over my chest, fingers shaking as he tipped me off his lap, his hand never leaving me so that I didn't feel rejected.

Without speaking, he glanced down at the lube beside us and then turned, kneeling with his back to me. I didn't want to do it. It would end when I did; the ostensible reason for my visit was over and we weren't close enough friends for it to be reasonable that I would stay and chat for long. We'd come, I'd dress, and I'd leave and that would be that, because I was going to climax fast enough to leave nothing but a scornful smile on his face.

He moved, leaning forward, hands and knees, for me, ass there, knees spread and I hadn't -- I needed --

"After --"

He grunted when my words tailed off, his fingers flexing uneasily in the white sheet he was kneeling on, and I swallowed and tried again. "I want -- I'll go, I will, I promise, but --"

"What do you want?" He sounded tired.

"Your cock. In my mouth. I want to taste you."

He shook his head, but in surprise rather than negation, because his next words were mild enough. "I'll have come before you're finished. Sorry."

"I don't care."

A shiver went through him and his voice went tight and strained. "Okay. Whatever. Just --"

I rubbed my hand along his spine and reached for the condom. My hands weren't steady either but the cool, slippery feel of it, and the chemical reek of the lubricant, took the edge off a little.

Then I slicked myself, cock and fingers, and touched him, going deep quickly, making it fast. I was moaning, harsh sounds escaping a bitten lip, and he was pushing, grinding himself onto the two fingers I was giving him to fuck, silent and shaking and hot around my skin.

Sliding into him, in a series of short, careful pushes, each one leaving my cock sunk a little deeper in his ass, left me wrung-out and dizzy. I realized at one point that I had my eyes closed, sparks and swirls of colour painted onto the blackness, and forced them open. I could stare at nothing anytime; I couldn't watch the bow of O'Neill's back, the way his skin caught the light when it was sweat-damped, the way it flushed darkly at the back of his neck, the neat, clipped line of his hair precise above it.

I watched it then as I felt his body open and take me. Wished I could see his face; wished I could make him say my name, my first name, and knew he couldn't and wouldn't.

And I fucked him, hard and fast and over too soon, my climax pouring through me and out into him, caught and kept safe by the damned condom. Years since I'd fucked anyone bare, and I should have stopped missing it by now.

I hung over him, panting softly, wondering if he minded that I hadn't touched him. I'd been waiting to deal with the shift in position as he reached down to jerk himself off but it hadn't happened. If he'd come, I hadn't noticed. I pulled out of him, slowly, knowing how that felt, the emptiness, the openness -- the vague sense of both relief and loss.

There was a box of Kleenex on the bedside table; I grabbed a handful and dropped the shrouded condom onto the floor, rushing because he hadn't spoken, just given a soft grunt as my cock slipped free.

I turned my head, remembering what I'd asked, and wondering if he would --

He rolled to his back and stared up at me, cock still hard, lip bleeding. He was still hard. He was still --

His hips tilted up and his hand came down, groping blindly, his eyes distant as if he wasn't seeing me. I knocked it away and planted my hands on his hips, holding him down as I ran my tongue over his cock in one greedy, selfish swipe. He cried out, pushing up so that the tip of his cock painted my cheek. I grabbed at the base of his cock and took him into my mouth, giving him a place to come, the thick, sharp warmth pulsing against my frantically lapping tongue.

I swallowed all he gave me, gentling the messy, sloppy sucks until his cock, still hard, was pulled out and his hand came down to pat heavily at my shoulder.

"Enough."

I stared at it as it lay against his belly, glistening and reddened, and then glanced up at him as he cleared his throat.

"Come here."

I moved up the bed to lie beside him, not touching him because I wasn't sure he wanted that from me. We lay on our sides, facing each other, and he ran his thumb across my lips and pushed it inside my mouth. I tasted spit and come and shuddered even as I licked reflexively at the ball of his thumb, the ragged edge of his nail scraping across my tongue.

He withdrew his thumb and reached down to rub it over the head of my cock, wet and slick, both of them.

"God --"

"That all you've got to say?"

"Thank you." I studied his bitten, bloodied lip. "Sorry."

"You should be. You owe me one."

"I didn't think -- you didn't have to do that."

His shoulder lifted in a shrug. "Wanted to see what you'd do. And this way the bed didn't get too messy; I've already changed it once tonight and there's a limit to how much laundry I want to do."

Knowing he was going to sleep in a bed that we'd fucked on, between sheets that smelled of me, had my cock stirring again but I didn't allow myself to hope that we could go again.

"I have to go..."

"Yes, Major, you do," he murmured, looking over my shoulder to the bedside clock. "And soon. Want to shower?"

"No."

I didn't elaborate and he didn't comment.

"Then you -- we'd -- better get dressed and I'll wave you goodbye like a polite host should."

"Sir --"

"You know, I don't bite at this point in the proceedings; why are you all the way over there? Not the cuddling type?"

I eyed him. "I wasn't sure that you'd want that."

"Well, I fucking do, so get your ass over here, Davis."

I smiled at him. "Yes, sir."

He sighed as we finished settling into a comfortable tangle of arms and legs, his hand coming down to rest against my ass as if that was where it belonged. I stroked his back and then scratched at it, getting an ecstatic moan. "Oh, yeah, up a bit --"

His hand moved up, following mine, so that for a minute or two we both targeted the places on each other that itched on ourselves, clueing into it eventually. At some point we started kissing, silly smooches that never got serious, leaving me utterly relaxed and content.

"So is this where you turn around and tell me it was good but you're still not interested in doing me again?" He sounded casual, as if my answer didn't matter.

"You know it isn't. And I promise I won't be such a selfish son of a bitch next time."

"Yes, you were, weren't you?" He pursed his lips. "Still, I did say this was for you, so I'll let you off. This once."

"Sir --"

"I know." He grabbed me and hauled me in for a final kiss, hard and stinging and sweet. "You've got to go. So go."

"Until next time?" I hazarded.

"Works for me."

***

I watched him step through the 'gate on Monday morning, from high up behind the glass. I'd slipped into the room at the last moment, earning a few curious looks because there was no reason for me to be there. Hammond gave me a welcoming smile and half his attention.

"Always amazing watching that thing work, isn't it, Major?"

"Incredible," I agreed. "I'm heading back to Washington now, sir."

He carried on watching the four of them walk up the ramp, but as soon as the wormhole had blinked out he turned to me. "Always good to see you, Major. Hope you got what you needed."

"Yes, sir. I think I did."

"Until next time, then."

"Yes, sir."

***

I got back home, the journey strung-out by delays, closed the door, poured a drink; vodka and tonic, bitter and tart and strong and began to shake. As delayed reactions went, it was a good one. 48 hours since his hand had slid around my neck...

The doorbell rang, piercing the empty silence of the room.

I opened the door, drink in hand, and stared at him. Brown eyes, brown hair, taller than me... they all looked like that these days.

I stepped back to let him walk past me and locked the door.

"I've only just got back from the airport; I need to take a shower."

He smiled, easy and polite. "Want me to take a seat out here?"

The ice in my drink clinked sharply against the glass as I set it down.

"I'm not paying you to sit down."

He slid to his knees, elegant and graceful, kissing at where he thought my cock was and getting nowhere close. "No point in having a shower if you're not dirty."

I took a handful of his hair and tugged his head sideways until it was on target. "Oh, I'm dirty. Trust me on that."

"You've been bad?" He sounded a little dubious. Not what he'd been told to expect, but I could see when he decided to expand his horizons. "Want me to punish you?"

"Oh, for crying out l--"

I cut myself off, took a step back, and then another. "Out. Yes, you'll still get paid. Just get out, okay?"

He blinked up at me and then stood. "Did I say something wrong?"

"No." I forced a smile. "Jet lag."

"Oh, right. Yeah, that can be a bitch. I remember this one flight from Honolulu--"

"Please. I'm feeling very tired."

He nodded. "Sure. Next time, I'll rock your world, okay?"

He'd do what?

"There won't be a next time."

The smile I got as he left was amused; there was always going to be a next time, it said. For a man like you, always.

I supposed he was right.

It just wasn't going to be with him.

Blue eyes. I'd ask for blue eyes, straw-blond hair --

"You're really fucked up, you know that?"


Couldn't have agreed more. I just didn't know what to do about it.


Now

I was starting to get homesick. The Jaffa equivalent of coffee had stopped tasting unfamiliar and the stronger, brighter sunlight no longer gave me a headache.

None of that was good. This place wasn't somewhere I belonged and if I had one more conversation where I was standing, ringed by warriors who made me feel short, my head crooked back, I was going to take my famed diplomatic smile and turn it, not upside down, but into a snarl.

Jaffa bickered and speechified and played power games; that, I could handle. Refreshingly like Washington, in fact. But they did it at a slow, measured pace I couldn't adjust to and they were way too polite.

I wanted to take my SG team and go home.

I wanted to see Jack.

Oh, I'd heard him earlier -- which was why I was in such a foul, vicious mood as I leaned against a wall and stared, unseeing at a score of Jaffa sparring. I'd MALPed in for a routine report and been patched through to his office. With the likelihood of his secretary being in earshot, even if she was out of sight, added to the probability that the transmission was being recorded -- even watched -- by people at the SGC, my own solitude seemed irrelevant.

He hadn't said hello. Just launched into a clipped, snapped request that I get the hell off my ass and report ASAP. I had nothing new to say and I got an impatient sigh.

"Then I suggest you get on with it, Major Davis. Unless you're enjoying yourself too much to want to come home?"

I'd gaped at him across the light-years, not caring that he was getting to see my jaw drop. Even someone as occasionally obtuse as Jack couldn't think that I wanted to be here, historically significant though my assignment undoubtedly was.

"Sir?"

"Oh, just do your job, Davis. You're tying up a valuable SG team; I don't imagine Landry's any happier about that than I would have been."

"Sir --"

"O'Neill out."

I'd cut the transmission with a hand that was literally shaking with rage and gone back to my quarters by way of the training ground.

The wall, warm with stored sunlight, pressed against my back, rough and solid. The men fighting ignored me, too used to an audience to care about a mere Tau'ri watching them. The pair closest to me was fighting using mock staffs, heavy and capable of doing plenty of damage. Gradually the fierce, staccato taps of wood on wood penetrated my blind, sullen resentment, and I paid them more attention.

Christ, they were close to killing each other. Grunted, guttural sounds of pain and exertion; the spray of spit, sweat and sometimes blood as they spun, feinting and closing in -- it was compelling, shocking and, given my mood, it wasn't long before I was taking the violence and turning it sexual.

If Jack had been around by now we'd have been doing the verbal version of this; savagely attacking, knowing only too well where each other's vulnerable places lay, both emotional and physical. I'd have been sniping, he'd have been sarcastic, and our voices would have risen until --

The taller of the two, his skin burnished brown, his dark hair swept back off his face and caught by a thin leather braid, cried out and sank to his knees, the blunt, shaped end of a staff at his throat.

"Surrender."

The command was given in a voice husky with weariness but the point of the staff was unwavering. The Jaffa glanced up, nodded, and held out his hand in a gesture that was a universal holler 'nough.

He got to his feet unaided and they bowed and walked away together, backs rigid, a space between them, neither turning to look at the other.

I sighed, pushed away from the wall, and began to walk back to my room. I got lost. I still did that, sometimes. One long, stone corridor lit by sconces looks much like another and I'd sunk back into a reverie that involved Jack on his knees to me apologising with an eloquence he only possessed in my fantasies and, just possibly, while he was down there he could...

Lost, turned around, and in time to see the two Jaffa I'd been watching finish what they'd started.

I really did think for a moment that they were still fighting. It'd definitely been too long since I'd had sex.

The room I'd almost walked into was open at both ends, water spilling constantly from several spouts on the wall to fall into a long trough that ran the length of the room at floor level. It was a crude shower room designed to allow the warriors to clean off the worst of the blood, sand and sweat before going through to the far more sophisticated baths to relax in deep, hot pools. Daniel had launched into a comparison with Roman bathing customs and history when he'd been told about it and I could see his point.

The splashing of the water deadened my footsteps and I don't think that they would have stopped if they'd seen me, anyway; not in here. I backed off, one step, two, into the archway of the room opposite, eyes refusing to look away as good manners required.

So very fucking beautiful and it had been so very fucking long.

The victor had that sleek fall of hair tight in his fist, pulling until he had a perfect curve of neck to bite and suck at, wet, hungry sounds that went straight to my dick.

They were naked and wet, locked together, jerking each other off, rubbing up against each other, frantic, hard, desperate slams of skin on skin.

They came silently, as if that was the only way they knew how, and for a moment they stood still, heads bowed on each other's shoulder.

I looked away then. They were going to kiss -- or they were very carefully not going to kiss -- and either would break me.

When they'd moved on to the next room I walked away, finding my way without mistake this time, face flushed, cock hard, getting curious looks from the Jaffa I passed in the corridors.

My room was mine alone, thank God, and had a lock. I didn't even make it to the bed. One hand eased my cock out and I closed my eyes, feeling Jack's hands on me, angry and bruising, his mouth sucking at a place my uniform shirt would cover unless I forgot and loosened my tie, undid the top button.... He'd mark me, knowing I'd have to spend the next day sweating, stiffly encased, cursing, remembering, wanting.

I had my own ways of making him think of me, but they were more direct. He could be subtle and inventive at times, more so than me.

My free hand scrabbled to cup my balls, rolling them the way he did. God, even this, something private, something personal, was tinged with him. I tried not to think about him when I was doing this, and usually I succeeded, but not today. The Jaffa -- no, I couldn't use them, and none of the faceless, blurred men who touched me, held me, fucked me in my head, or bent to take me deep, could get past the solid, unmoving figure of O'Neill.

I came to the echo of his voice telling me to come home.

Missed him.

Then

I waited until I got home to call him.

"O'Neill."

"Hi."

"Knew it was you."

"It's called caller ID."

"No. I've been waiting for you to call and give me hell. You had, oh, eight minutes before I decided you didn't love me anymore and began to drown my sorrows."

"I can't get used to you flirting."

He chuckled. "Am I any good?"

"Yes, but I'm still --" I paused. I wasn't really angry, was I? And if I was, what was the point? He'd been doing what he did; nothing more, nothing less. "Never mind. Any chance of you making it to the cabin to convalesce?"

"Packing right now. Any chance of you joining me?"

"Maybe." I was smiling, already making mental lists of what I'd need.

"Want me to order you to drop everything?"

"Literally? Because I've got the phone in one hand and a drink in the other."

"How about your pants?"

"That was..."

"Too obvious?"

"Little bit. And I'm not wearing any. Just showered."

"Towel?"

"Robe."

He abandoned that line of conversation abruptly. We'd tried phone sex once. Once. Not a success. I felt myself flush with embarrassment just remembering it. Tense, unaccountably shy, and reduced to whispers I'd faked a climax that had been met with a stunned silence and Jack growling, "I know what you sound like when you come and that was nothing like it," which got my limp, panicked dick twitching to life way, way too late.

"I'll be there until Tuesday, barring emergencies."

It was Thursday night. I could get leave, clear my desk, head off at lunch and be there late Friday... The thought of us having consecutive days -- and nights -- together for once, instead of snatched hours, was unbearably attractive. "I'll see what I can do."

There was a pause. We'd said all we could and neither of us wanted to end it.

"You're not in any pain?"

"You'll have to be gentle with me. Think you can manage that?"

I set my drink down so that I could clench my fist without ending up with a fistful of splinters. The words from the file swam in front of me and I was suddenly thinking less of the two of us curled up close beside a fire, hands on skin, mouths on everything, and more about contusions, bruises and two cracked ribs. Not much, not really; the downtime was more for some emotional healing; SG-1 had been hurt, but the team they'd gone in to rescue was down two men, their unrecoverable bodies destined to molder to dust a million miles from home.

That would disturb him, I knew. He'd wake up tense and shaking, or not be able to sleep, reliving the past; old anger, new guilt. I'd have to be careful with more than his body and the odds were good that I'd leave before Tuesday, a sullen bitter silence the best farewell I could hope for. He always apologized when that happened, always made an effort to come up and see me, rebuild whatever we'd torn down. The sex was spectacular but I'd be left hating myself for failing him, and God help Daniel if our paths crossed before I'd gotten over myself because I knew who I had to thank for Jack's contrition.

 "Why can't you be more fucking careful?"

"Hey..."

"You didn't have to do that. You took an unneeded risk and I don't know what you were trying to prove but --"

"You are so far out of line, here, Major."

'Major'. Clear warning that I'd gone too far. I picked up my drink again, took a long, slow sip and allowed myself the fantasy of throwing it against the wall so that he could hear it smash. I could feel the pull on my shoulder as I drew my arm back, see the sparkle of crystal, the languid schloop of liquid jerking out of the glass to spray over the wooden flooring, hear the crunch and slither...

"If I come to the cabin I'm going to take that line and tie you to the fucking bed with it," I snarled. "That gentle enough? Christ, Jack, what do you expect me to say?"

"Are you done?" he asked, his voice icy.

"Yeah..." I threw the glass again and again in my head, a loop of virtual destruction with no mess to clear up afterwards. Tidy. Efficient. So like me. "Still want a house guest?"

"Yeah. About time Daniel got to see the place. Been meaning to have him up here for years."

The click came after he'd given me time to reply, when it was obvious I wasn't going to.

So now we were having the fight before I got there? How very fucking efficient of us.


Way Back When


I didn't make any attempt to get in touch with him, or return to the SGC before I was ordered to. I wasn't even sure I wanted to. Away from him, the jitters had started and it was easy to forget past pleasure in the face of anticipated pain.

Because I'd fucked up spectacularly, hadn't I? From start to finish, there wasn't much I'd done that I didn't alter and amend as I replayed it, erasing words and actions until I was close to forgetting what I'd really said.

About the only thing that survived my revisionism was the memory of scratching at his back while we kissed, feeling the contentment build between us. He'd found a place beneath my shoulder blade that had made me gasp and groan and he'd watched me writhe back against his slow, tormenting fingers, smiling and looking pleased with himself, with me.

He'd know that place was there every time he looked at me, if he bothered to remember.

I went though a week of muttering savagely under my breath, cheeks heating when I remembered the look on his face as he told me I could fuck him. Pity? Not from where I was standing. Contempt? Closer. Somewhere, at some point, I'd clawed back a little of his respect, or he wouldn't have mentioned seeing me again, but I was damned if I knew how I'd managed it.

By Friday of the next week I'd stopped leaping like a salmon to the fly when my phone rang. At home, that was; at work it never stopped.

At home... well, even I got my fair share of wrong numbers and people wanting to sell me stuff.

I'd just finished shaving when someone knocked at the front door. I walked towards it teasing myself with the idea that it was him, see-sawing between scoffing at myself for being so fucking stupid and blowing gently on the small, dim spark of hope. It was going to be hard to smile with any degree of courtesy if it was Mrs. Burns, a neighbour who seemed to view me as her personal spider killer (I scooped them into a glass I never used for anything else and let them take their chances on my balcony but I sometimes wondered if a simple squishing wouldn't be kinder).

"Good evening, Major."

Not Mrs. Burns.

"I knew it was you," I blurted out, and had to stop myself from gnawing on my fist in mortification. Another response to revise. Let me see... "Colonel?" Yes, that would have done just fine. Cool, calm, threw the onus back on him... why the fuck hadn't I just said 'Colonel'?

"Really?" He looked interested. "Still spying on me, are you?"

"What?"

He pushed past me without being invited and I stood aside automatically because he was in full uniform. It looked better on him than on most colonels of my acquaintance, but it set him apart from me with an impersonal shove. I'd been in the Air Force way too long to get off on the uniform but I couldn't help feeling a perverse quiver at the thought of fucking him while he was still wearing it.

Some of it, anyway...

"Colonel?" There. A little late, but at least I'd achieved a certain hauteur, because what the fuck he thought he was doing here after two weeks of silence...

"You know, for someone who's lived here for three years, you really need to unpack."

The place was bare, granted, but what the hell did he expect? I'd done the homebuilding once; been there, done that, she kept the good china.

"I like things simple, sir."

I took a look around the open-plan room, bisected by a couch I slept on too often to have it anything but long and wide. Chairs, table, TV and a wall of books. Looked fine to me. Easy to keep clean.

"Boring."

"All due respect, sir, but you're being fucking rude."

That got me an amused look. "So are you; I don't get offered a drink? Or rate a 'Hi, Jack, good to see you?'"

I checked my watch without bothering to make it surreptitious. "Excuse me, sir. I'm about to leave, but I'd be happy to get you a drink before I do, and it's good to see you, as always, Colonel O'Neill."

"Leave?" His gaze tracked me from neatly combed hair, to robe, to bare feet. "Like that?"

"I'd just finished shaving; I was about to get dressed."

His hand came up and I stood very still as his finger tested the smooth skin on my chin before stroking up along my jaw, his hand curving to cup my face.

"No cuts."

"No, sir."

He placed a fingertip against the wild throb of the pulse in my neck, only moving it away when I swallowed hard.

"So under this, you're naked?" He eyed my robe and raised an eyebrow.

I resisted the conflicting urges to rip it off and let him see for himself, and clutch it to me, tightening the belt.

"Sir? That drink? I really do have to be somewhere soon. If you'd called --"

"I don't need a drink, and I know you do. Want a ride? Maybe I can tag along?"

I shook my head. "Sorry, sir. Invitation only; I'm going to -- oh."

"You know, I've had turtles faster than you at catching on." He tapped his top pocket. "Got mine right here. Might be embarrassing if they didn't get the memo that I'm standing in for Hammond, but you'll vouch for me, won't you?"

I'd known that Hammond had been invited to the retirement party of a general who was damned lucky he'd made it this far without getting thrown out on his ass, but I'd expected him to send polite regrets; waste of his time to fly in for this. I was only going because no one senior to me wanted to and someone had to show up.

"Is the general unwell?"

"Officially? Stomach bug. Off the record; it's his eldest granddaughter's birthday."

"So why not just say no?" I was calming down a little. This was about work. I could do work. Even almost naked under a robe with O'Neill looming.

"It's complicated," O'Neill said vaguely. "You know what it's like; never know when you might need a favour. And when you invite a general, you can't exactly send a captain instead."

"Major Carter?"

"She's better at this sort of thing than me, yes, and ordinarily I'd have delegated myself right back at the Friday night poker game, but not this time." He wasn't meeting my eyes. "And she's got some project going; don't ask me what."

"The naquadah research? I hear they've made something of a breakthrough on the conversion process of --"

"Davis. Stop right there. Seriously. Yes, that sounds about right; you probably know more about what she's up to than I do."

Not a chance in hell. O'Neill considered his team part of him and I doubted they could change their brand of toothpaste without him noticing.

"Anyway," he went on, "I got tagged and here I am. Simple as that. No ulterior motives whatsoever for coming to Washington. Looking forward to warm wine, hot rooms, and sparkling, witty speeches full of lies. Aren't you?"
 
I stared at him and then shook my head. "Whatever you say, sir. If you're going, then, yes, I'd be glad of a ride. If you just give me a moment to dress --"

"Car's waiting downstairs; I told him we'd be a while."

I gaped at him. "You -- there's a driver waiting? And you're up here, with me -- shit, O'Neill, what the hell are you playing at? You're in uniform!"

His eyebrows shot up. "I'm following orders, Major. Hammond told me to call by for you. Seemed to think the two of us could keep an eye on Kinsey and get a feel for who he's hanging with these days. You did know he was coming tonight? Of course you did. And could you keep your opinion of my intelligence to yourself? I'll take it from certain members of my team, but not from you."

"What will you take from me?" I demanded. "You can't have it both ways. You can't walk in here and flirt and then smack me down when I forget who you are. Either, or, sir. Not both."

"You can handle both," he told me, his expression cool. "And you know what's appropriate when as well as anyone of your rank. You just lost sight of it then, and that's okay. Once. Don't do it again."

"Fuck you."

"My turn, isn't it?"

"Thought we weren't taking turns."

"Good memory."

"Can't say the same for you, sir."

"How's that?"

"Did you forget how to use a phone?"

"Did I what?"

No guilt. Damn. He hadn't done it deliberately then. And he'd never said he'd call and I'd never expected to regress to sixteen... I changed the subject without any of my usual finesse.

"Sir, I really should get dressed. If you want a drink, there are glasses in that cupboard there and drinks in the one beneath it. Help yourself. I won't be long."

I walked past him and got as far as the bedroom door before his hand halted me. He was close behind me -- I wanted to turn, grab him, grind up against all that blue. "You expected me to call you?" His voice was neutral, giving me nothing to work with.

"I -- no, sir, of course not. That would have been indiscreet and completely unnecessary."

"Yeah... plus I've been off-world or up to my neck in work. I've slept at the SGC one night in three since you were there last. By the time I got home most nights, you'd have been fast asleep, nice and cosy." His hand left my arm. "And what the hell would I have said?" He looked at me, frowning slightly. "You know I liked it. I told you I wanted to do it again; what's to say?"

"You want to fuck me? Or do you just want to come?"

"What?"

"We've got a window of about fifteen minutes. No more. You'll need to strip; no matter how careful you are, it's too risky doing anything wearing that, even if I blow you. Accidents happen."

"How did we get from me not phoning you to me apparently wanting a quick fuck before we go out and socialise?"

"You said you wanted to do me -- I'm sorry, it, again; when else will we get the chance? You can't seriously think we'll be able to at the function? I won't do that."

I was thinking about it now, though. Leaving the room, finding somewhere quiet, dark... one hand over his mouth to keep him from making too much noise, one on his dick, same for him... or he could take care of keeping himself silent while I gagged myself on his erection, thick and hard, spreading my lips wide...

He shook his head, jolting me out of one of the most badly timed fantasies ever. "You confuse me, you know that? Make my head ache. It's like being drunk without the fun part. Fucking before or during the party was never part of the plan. I'll admit I was hoping we could after it's finished, but I'm having second thoughts as you seem to have a low opinion of me and I find that intimidating. No, wait. Another word that begins with 'i'. Irritating. As hell. Get dressed. I'll tell you what you need to know while you figure out how to fasten buttons."

"I'm going to be busy afterwards, sir," I hissed at him. Not true, but he was pissing me off as much as he was making me want him. For a fleeting, wistful moment, I remembered when I used to get off thinking about how he'd fuck me silently, hard and fast.

Silently? He just didn't do silence. Didn't do anything the way he should. He should have called to say he was coming, should have made sure I was free, should have --

"Yes, you are," he said, leaning in to kiss me briefly. He was crisp and clean and in uniform and his tongue slid past mine, deep and smooth and dirty. "Want me to tell you what you're going to be doing?"

I shook my head, stubbornly clinging to the belief that I could say no to him. "This isn't how I want it."

"So tell me how we act in your perfect little fantasy," he said. "Go on; I want to know."

I turned my back on him and took off my robe as soon as I was close enough to be able to grab at the undershirt laid out neatly on the bed with the rest of my uniform.

"Not naked," he said, sounding put-out as he saw that I was wearing shorts.

"I wouldn't have answered the door if I were."

"I thought you knew it was me. I wouldn't have minded."

I yanked the undershirt over my head and reached for my shirt. "Sir --"

"I'm still waiting for you to tell me what you want. Might be interesting. Hey; another word beginning with 'i'."

He was being deliberately annoying and I wondered how the rest of SG-1 dealt with him in this mood. I didn't think he saved it for me; he was far too good at it. "I want you to brief me on whatever I need to know about tonight with regard to the senator. I doubt he'd be indiscreet in public, but if General Hammond's heard anything that suggests he might be making a move against the Stargate programme then I want to help."

I glanced over my shoulder and swallowed. He was leaning back against the wall, arms folded across his chest, watching me, his gaze skimming up and down, lingering here and there until I felt like a sniper's target, red dotted and vulnerable.

"Stop it."

"Stop what? Looking at you? Why? I like doing it. Didn't get chance last time, not really." He looked mildly regretful. "There was a lot we didn't have time for."

"Sir? Please? We don't have much time and I don't like going into a situation blind."

"I know." He drummed his fingers against his upper arm and then shrugged. "You don't have to do anything much. I meant it; this is just a show up and schmooze deal mostly. I don't imagine you and Kinsey are good enough friends that he'd trust anything you said? Because that might come in handy."

I shook my head as I sat on the edge of the bed to tug on my socks. "He sounded me out early on and realized I wasn't going to be any use to him."

"Unlike your predecessor."

I pulled a face. "Yes."

"Okay. So we go, pour on the charm, take one last look at General Edwards getting drunk at the tax payers' expense, and get the hell out of there as soon as we can."

I nodded, realising it was all I was going to get, but promising myself that come Monday I was going to dig deeper into what was going on. Kinsey was poison.

It felt weird dressing in front of him. Undressing would have been easier; I'd have known where we were going with that. I fastened my pants and walked past him to get my shiny black shoes. I didn't want to do this. It'd been a long week and I was tired. I'd wanted to lie on my couch, lights off, staring at nothing, something quietly melancholy playing in the background and a drink to sip at until I passed out. I'd resigned myself to that having to wait until Saturday but now O'Neill had turned up I was probably going to spend the entire weekend pacing and smacking my head against a wall cursing my inability to handle him with anything resembling poise.

When I was ready I risked a glance at him. He was gnawing on his lip, teeth scraping off -- what? Any trace of me? Even thinking that made me realize how insecure he made me. I was used to undervaluing myself in every capacity but professional, but not to this extent.

"Did you buy any of that?" he asked abruptly.

"Sir?" Oh, such a useful monosyllable. I could make it mean a dozen things just by changing the inflection the barest amount, add another half-dozen interpretations by making it toneless but letting my face show an emotion... And given the very real risk of it being misinterpreted, well, it'd have someone like Jackson reaching for his pen, eyes gleaming as he drafted a dry, scholarly article for an obscure publication.

"Work with me a little."

"I honestly don't know what you mean, sir. You're not here at General Hammond's request?"

"What? Yes, I am. But I didn't suffer a three-hour flight just to save George from missing his turn at pass the parcel."

"No. You wanted to get laid." I shrugged, feeling my uniform jacket tighten across my shoulders, keeping the movement within acceptable parameters. "I hope I'm worth the airline food and the upcoming boredom."

He gave an incredulous grunt and then smiled. "I hope so, too, Major. I don't deal well with disappointment."

"No?" I pushed past him, trying to remember that he was in my house, dammit, on my territory, not letting myself dwell on the implications of what he'd just said. I didn't flatter well; a cynical voice always soured the sweetness and right now it was telling me that I was a diversion, not the destination.

"No."

"What are you going to do if I don't make you come hard enough or don't get you up again?" I used the same voice I'd be speaking with later, asking about charity work, children, cocker spaniels... whatever I'd remembered of the interests of a dozen wives; a light, pleasant voice, unthreatening and just warm enough to be polite, not encouraging, because I really didn't care.

Well, I didn't care about them. I cared about O'Neill's reaction. And I was getting entirely too much pleasure out of fighting with him when I wasn't sure he wanted that from me.

He had the same baffled look I'd seen on the face of my father, my teachers... I never was very easy to get on with. Unlike them, it didn't twist into anger or indifference; instead he sighed very quietly. "I should have known after that first time you'd be a pain in the ass. I just thought we'd got past it. My bad."

It took me a moment to get my mouth the right shape to murmur, 'Sorry' and get a rueful nod in reply. We stood for a moment, eying each other uncertainly and then I asked, "Did you really -- you wanted to see me?"

"Yes. I wanted to see you and you got dressed, I wanted to talk to you and you've done nothing but bitch at me, and I wanted to --"

His eyes were dancing and I couldn't help the snort of amusement that escaped me. "You were hoping we could fuck before the reception, weren't you?"

We moved closer, skin separated by blue and white and intangible red. He was just that much taller and broader in the shoulders to make me want to fight back, fight hard. Always had. Always would. It's why I was where I was, doing what I did.

"If I admit it, I'll make you pay, you know that, right?" His tongue licked out across his lips, taking my gaze with it. "Want to hear me say it that much?"

"You just did, more or less, so no, I'll pass."

"Tricky Pentagon type," he murmured. "Sneaky. Devious."

I nodded. "Yes, I am. But I told you that you could trust me. You do, right?"

"I'm here, aren't I?"

"And later?" I was going to do this without fucking it up. I was going to have something to look back on that was me at my best. "Will you be here later?"

"Do you want me to be?"

"Yes, sir. I want that."

He'd know what we had to do; the separate rides, the staggered exits. He'd have to go back to his hotel to change, leave my bed early to be seen having breakfast back there; all the tiresome, tawdry tricks, as if we were cheating on someone, screwing around.

 I suppose we were.

I watched him move around the reception room, crowded when we arrived, emptying fast as the free booze ran out. He was always easy to find, or maybe I just never stopped looking. Kinsey was there, his gaze hard and angry when Jack threw back his head and laughed, the sound ripping through the canned music and chatter.

I made sure that I spoke to Jack once or twice, always when we were part of a group. It would have looked odd not to.

And I drank more than I should have done, and left ten carefully counted minutes after he did.

The knock at my door came after I'd persuaded myself he wasn't coming back. Plenty of people there tonight who would've been glad to have made themselves available for anything he had in mind; I'd seen the looks he was getting. And it really shouldn't have taken him that long to change and join me.

I opened the door and he stepped by me. Instant replay.

"Did you know it was me, this time, too?"

I didn't bother answering that. My home. My rules. I'd decided that while I waited for him. He'd changed into jeans and a white shirt, soft-collared and hidden under a leather jacket that looked beat-up and abused. Perfect. I took a handful of leather and pulled him along to the nearest interior wall and slammed him up against it. He let me, where another man would have struggled, panicked, just for an instant.

"No ornaments," I told him, biting my way down his jaw, open-mouthed kisses with an edge, feeling the shape of the bone and the prickle of stubble. "No clutter."

"Yeah..." He turned his face away from me and I took the invitation and went lower to his neck, feeling the thin skin stretch over tendons as he arched and bent it, giving me a curve to slide down, until my mouth and teeth were nuzzling into a double layer of collar. His hands were tentative, on my hips. I was still wearing my uniform, although I'd taken off my shoes and jacket. I wanted him to take the rest of it off me, or watch as I did. I needed whatever happened to start with me in uniform and end with me naked.

"Can we --? Bedroom?"

"Wait." I went to my knees without kissing his mouth. "Wait..."

He placed his hands, palm-flat, on the wall behind him, not helping, which helped a lot.

I didn't hurry. I wanted to see how much patience he had.

Not much, but as soon as I felt him tense, about to move and help me, I finished unzipping his jeans with a smooth jerk and he relaxed, giving a satisfied, pleased little grumble that translated to 'about time'. I didn't touch his cock, poking out, eager and hard, moving instead to undo the last two buttons on his shirt so that I could mouth the still-firm skin of his belly, hairy and warm. His skin smelled faintly of expensive gel --I'd have put money on it being a Christmas present -- but not enough for him to have showered after the reception. I was glad he hadn't wasted time on that, although... yes, he'd taken a moment to wash his cock and balls; they held the tang of hotel soap, very different to the way the rest of him smelled.

Nice of him, I supposed. Thoughtful, even if I was ungrateful enough to miss the rich, intimate scent I'd hoped for, getting nothing more than a faint trace of sweat and musk as I licked across the head of his cock. Oh, that was better... He groaned and I watched, fascinated, as it deepened in colour, jerking itself harder.

"Are you waiting for something?"

I didn't look up. "Yes."

His hand came away from the wall and he held his cock in a familiar, unselfconscious grip. "Major --"

I didn't give him chance to finish what would probably have been an order to suck him, or something equally banal. Instead, I turned my face and leaned in so that the head of his cock, beaded, lubricated, ripe, rubbed across my cheek. I groaned, soft and intense, letting him have a clue, the last one he was getting, about what I wanted.

There was a second or two when I thought he wasn't going to do it, but then his free hand came to caress the back of my neck, strong fingers tickling bare skin before his hand clamped down and his thumb swept around to force my chin up with an impatient nudge.

I let him position my head and closed my eyes, waiting.

"Oh, you'd better look, Major. You know you want to, and I don't mind."

He sounded shaken, but he was hiding it well. Just that slight tremor in his voice and that might have been excitement but I didn't think that it was. Not yet.

He rubbed his cock across my closed mouth, high on my cheeks, leaving them damp, marked, and then, when I panted, harsh and loud, pushed in against my teeth, not trying to get me to take him, just making sure I had the taste of him, thick and heady in my throat as I swallowed.

I sighed and knelt back, running my tongue across my lips.

"Okay, now we're going to go somewhere more comfortable, right?"

"Bed, if you want."

"Sure." He walked away, letting me get up unaided. "But I want to talk to you."

"After."

He turned and shook his head, his eyes glittering and a determined smile on his face. "Nope. Before. Not flying you blind, Davis, and we've got all night."

I didn't want to talk. When we got to my bedroom I stripped, letting him see me. He'd gone to lie back on the bed, a pillow shoved up casually behind his shoulders to support him. He was so at ease in my home it was disconcerting; I hadn't felt like that in his; I'd felt like an intruder, a guest at best.

He waited until I was naked, my uniform set aside with some care, and then said, "Nice."

"Thank you."

"Didn't really get chance to look last time."

"So you said."

"Still want to get a few things straight."

"Good luck when you get to me."

He flashed me a wry smile. "Funny man. You going to come here?"

"Sure." I lay on my side next to him, propped up on an elbow. The head of his cock was jutting out of his open jeans but he didn't seem to care. I cared. I cared that I was only getting to look at it. The night, hell, the last two weeks, had been one long, slow build of tension for me and I was sick of it. It was affecting my work, for God's sake, and nothing ever did that. I'd been at my desk the morning after Claire left me and cleared it by lunchtime. One fuck with O'Neill and my in-box was brimming over.

Stupid. So very fucking stupid. Should have kept him a fantasy.

 I lifted an eyebrow. "You don't look comfortable."

"I strip, we'll fuck. You know that, Davis."

"Because I can't keep my hands off you?" I do sarcasm well; there was just a smidgen in that, not enough for him to be able to call me on it without looking stupid.

"I want your hands on me," he snapped, grabbing my wrist and smacking my hand against his face, my fingers curling around his jaw instinctively. "There... and here..."

The damp heat of his cock thrust up into the center of my palm and he sighed, holding still as I rotated my hand, grinding gently down. "Fuck, Davis, I'm being considerate and you're giving me hell for it. Why is that?"

I took my hand away, slipping free of his hold on my wrist. "Because I don't see what there is to talk about."

"You hadn't done... that, in there, and we wouldn't be. I'd be nailing your ass right now."

"Mmm. Okay." I could see his point. It had been a little out there, I supposed. A very little. My point of reference had shifted so much over the years..."Don't worry; I'm more than happy to just be, uh, nailed. Do it. Do me. Any time you're ready."

He shook his head. Stubborn. How could I have forgotten that it was one of his defining characteristics? "Did you like that? What I did?"

I rolled to my back, reaching up to feel the drying streaks across my face. "Obviously. Look, do we have to? Really? I'm not used to this."

"Fucking?"

"Talking."

"Your lovers are all psychic, are they? Know just what gets you off without being told?"

"Most adults, most experienced adults, work it out without a spoken dialogue."

"I don't know you," he said with a terrifying gentleness. "We don't even call each other by our first names."

"Jack?" "Yes, Daniel?"

Fuck.

"I can do that if it's what you want."

Could I? I tried it out in my head. "Jack, please fuck me. Please fuck me now, Jack. Please, Jack, fuck me nownow now dammit, Jack."

No. He wasn't Jack to me; he was Colonel O'Neill. I liked him being that. Which wasn't very politically correct of me, as it defined objectifying him, but I was a selfish bastard and I had that in writing.

And, to be fair, any colonel wouldn't have done; I wanted him.

"Is this too much? Too fast?"

I choked on laughter, the third drink too many I'd had tipping me into inappropriate amusement. "Are you kidding me?"

"Hey." The sharpness of his tone sobered me.

"Sorry. Sorry." I took a breath. "I'm... drunk. Little bit, anyway. It's making me loosen up and I knew it would, and I wanted that and I was scared of it, but I let myself get past the point where I should have stopped, so maybe I wanted it more than I was scared --"

His fingers pressed against my lips for a second. "You're babbling. Stop."

He rolled on top of me, heavy and solid, buckles and buttons digging in, and kissed my mouth quiet, working his tongue against mine until I was swallowing his spit along with mine. When he lifted his head, breaking the contact, I whimpered with frustration, digging my fingers into his back.

"You're going to tell me what I need to know," he said. "I want to know."

"Why?" It came out quietly enough that even I had trouble hearing it but I didn't have the energy to repeat it. He was holding me, body and hands, one hand slipped around my neck -- oh, he knew I liked that and I'd never told him -- and one on my hip, thumb drawing circles in the hollow.

"Why don't I just fuck you, you mean? Why don't I keep it simple?"

I nodded, about all I could manage right then. I'd left one lamp burning in the corner of the room and it was throwing a shadow on the ceiling behind his head, making his light hair stand out and turning his face into fuzzed-out lines and deeper shadows.

"Fatal flaw," he whispered. "Curious. Got me in trouble before this."

"Not that interesting." I got a hand free and pushed at his shoulder. "You want conversation, then I need oxygen."

He slid off me and put a bit of space between us.

"And could you get undressed? Get under the covers if you want to, but get naked?"

"Any more requests?" he asked, rolling his eyes. "Okay, okay... one bare-ass colonel coming up..."

He'd been right; both naked was just on the edge of being too tempting. We eyed each other warily, appreciatively, and then exchanged a quick grin before he tugged back the quilt and got under it, leaving me nothing to look at but his chest and arms.

Which was plenty. I traced a starburst scar on his shoulder and shivered.

"Not as pretty as you," he observed.

"Oh, I've got scars," I told him.

"All on the inside?"

His mouth screwed up as if even hinting at anything so touchy-feely was too much for him. I brought my knee up and pointed to a white, triangular gouge. "Bike crash. Aged ten." I tapped my face. "You'll have to get close to see these. Maybe they're not even visible now; I don't know. I don't look for them."

His hand cupped my chin and turned my face to the dim light. "Can't see anything. What am I looking for?"

I put my crooked fingers to his cheek and dragged my nails lightly down his face.

"Ah. Wife?"

"Good guess."

"Is this relevant? Because I'm not after your life story."

"Yes, you are," I said. "You want to know what turns me on so you can either back away or leave me thinking you're the best I've ever had, because you're too damn competitive to be just another fuck. To ask that, this early, is..."

"Intrusive?"

He ran a joke into the ground, beat it up and left it for dead. Three months later he was still giving me a knowing look every time he had occasion to use a single, starts-with-i adjective.

"Invasive. Impertinent. Impossible."

"Sounds just like me."

"The last man I fucked didn't ask questions."

"Didn't he?"

"He didn't need to. The agency had briefed him thoroughly; they're good like that."

Score one for the major. A hit, a palpable hit.

"And now I'm wondering if you've lost it. You don't think that's just a little bit indiscreet?"

"More so than picking up a stranger in a bar? No." I rolled to my stomach and tried not to spread my legs automatically. "It's a very... reputable agency. It took eighteen months, a physical, a credit check, and a heart attack to get me on their list. I don't use them often, but there's an annual fee, so they don't care."

"Who died so you could get fucked?"

"I don't know. I didn't ask." I did know, but O'Neill didn't need to.

"So..."

"So I can have sex that's precisely to my requirements whenever I want and you can stop feeling sorry for me and get on with doing what you came here for."

"You have no idea how I feel right now."

I gave him a sidelong glance and got nothing from him but a blank stare. "I get off on using them. I get off on hiring them for sex. I don't hurt them or humiliate them. I do it possibly three times a year and I cancelled my membership last week." I bit down on my lip. "Okay, maybe I can't have sex just the way I want it any more. Even so."

"You cancelled because of me?"

"Not exactly. Yes."

"Which?"

"Both. Neither." I went to my back, jittering inside, needing him to shut up and touch me. "Fuck me. Just -- stop talking unless it's telling me what you want me to do. Fuck me or get dressed and get the hell out of here. I don't want to be close to you emotionally, just physically and you're too far away. I don't want to be analysed, I don't want pity or fellow-feeling or sympathy. I don't want to swap stories of self-discovery, alienation or former lovers. We know what we are, we know where we are, and we know why we shouldn't be doing this."

He stared at me and pushed back the covers. Still hard. Going to be tricky getting that back inside his jeans. Guess he was going to have to give up and do it my way.

"I'm going to hate myself for this in the morning..." He was back on top of me again before he'd finished speaking, leaving me riding a wave of disappointment that he'd caved that easily.

"Not as much as I would if I spilled my guts when I was drunk."

"You've said more than you realize."

"Then shut me up. Please."

Snarling orders at him came surprisingly easy.

"My way?"

"Anything you like," I agreed.

He straddled my chest, high up, so the soft squash of his balls was centered between my nipples and braced himself against the headboard with one hand.

"Open wide, Major."

"It's not that big."

His thumb hooked inside my teeth and tugged down. "Shutting you up is starting to get more appealing by the minute."

If he hadn't started to fuck my mouth without waiting for a reply, I'd have pointed out that I liked this very much and he'd worked that out solo, proving my point that we didn't need to talk.

Wouldn't have been the most tactful thing to say, on reflection.

I'd still have said it, though. Pissing him off was addictive. I wanted to push and shove and take whatever that got me.

Right now it was getting me a slow rock of his hips, punishingly, tantalisingly slow. I slapped at his ass and dug the heel of my hand into it a moment later but he just smiled down at me and carried on.

By the time my cheek muscles were in spasms and the trickle of drool from my mouth to my ear had soaked the pillow I was ready to give up. I closed my eyes and stopped trying to make him go faster and deeper, concentrating on making my numb tongue do as much as it could to the slick thickness of his cock.

"Finally," he muttered and I got three, count them, three, perfectly timed swift thrusts just to show he could, before he pulled out and collapsed beside me, his cock swollen and wet. "What happened to doing this the way I wanted?"

I shrugged, rubbing the feeling back into my cheeks. "I thought you wanted to come. I was helping."

"No, you were being a control-freak."

I supposed that was a fair comment.

"You into being tied-up?"

He sounded hopeful.

"No."

"Pity."

"I've never trusted anyone that much."

"You don't trust me?"

"You want to do it?"

"I want to have your hands out of the way the next time we do that. My ass is throbbing."

I sat up and studied it. "I might have left a few marks," I allowed. "I could apologize if it'd help."

"It wouldn't."

I ran my finger over the deepest welt and he yelped. "Major..."

"She told me I was dirty. Disgusting."

I pushed at the inside of his knee until he spread his legs wide enough for me to get between them.

"She came back early from a night out with a girl friend. Found me watching porn, jerking off to it."

I licked a wet stripe along the reddened skin.

"No girls in it?"

"No girls," I agreed. "She was drunk, giggling, ready to fuck me where I sat. It'd been a while since -- Well. Then she focused on the screen and ..."

I slapped my hand down hard on his ass. "Wham."

"Uh, Davis... do that again and I'll start getting serious about the tying up."

I watched the print develop and did it again when it had, marking up his other cheek. "Wham-bam."

"Okay..." He was lying flat; zero leverage, and he brought his knee up, preparing to turn over and give me hell. I put my hands over the warm skin, bending to lick at the reddest part and blow it cool, and he stopped fighting.

Dirty. Disgusting. I tipped my hat to Claire, who with two words had left me weak with lust and heading, smiling, for a divorce, and reached over O'Neill's shoulder for the lube and a condom.

They dropped within reach of his hand and he pushed them away, down the bed to me.



Now

Teal'c's eyes were making me remember a chalk-dust haze and the indentation of carved graffiti on a wooden desk; my initials, by chance. I'd rubbed a finger over the curved, smooth indentations, following the lines as a teacher's voice droned in counterpoint to the buzz of a fly, the sky outside drenched blue, cloud-pocked and distant.

Night's candles are burned out --

I resisted the urge to touch him for the space of three breaths and then held out my hand and used the ensuing handshake to ease him down into a chair. He was hurting. Happy, yes, glowing with it, but hurting. He didn't heal as fast these days.

I knew how he felt.

"This day could not have come about without your assistance, Major Davis, and that of SG-7. We are in your debt."

"You're kind, Teal'c, but we did very little. You owe this victory to nothing but the spirit of the Jaffa Nation and their --" I realized, belatedly, that I was about to launch into a measured speech of my own, all rolling rhetoric and unselfconscious platitudes.

Really had been here too long. I started over.

"Teal'c, if we helped, I'm glad, but honestly, I think you guys would've got there on your own."

He nodded, gracious as ever, and began to get up, hiding a wince of pain. I stopped him. "Drink to it?"

I poured us some of the light, one step from grape juice, wine that was drunk more than water here and was about as alcoholic, and he sat sipping it for a while.

"You will now return to Earth?"

"I think so." I shrugged. "You didn't need us much before; you really don't need us now."

"And if we did, you would return?"

"Well..." I covered my hesitation with a gulp at what was left in my cup but he spotted it.

"You wish to go home, do you not?"

"I do, yes." I glanced around my quarters. "I'm on another planet. As a kid I'd have been ecstatic at the thought; hell, even now I have to pinch myself sometimes. But I miss Earth and my work there's important, too."

"Indeed it is. You have been a good friend to the Stargate programme."

"It means a lot to me. It's been my life the last eight years or so."

Easy to tell him that, easy to be open with him about emotions I kept hidden at home.

And easy, of course, to tell more than one truth with my words.

Dark eyes met mine. "We will then both be returning, Major Davis."

I had to ask. "Are you happy about that, Teal'c? Or am I the only one going home?"

He smiled and placed his cup on the table. "It will be good to see my friends, as always." He stood. "You will see O'Neill."

I didn't miss a beat. "Bound to, yes. I'll have to report to him."

"Tell him that he is often in my thoughts."

I nodded, trying to think how to rephrase that when I repeated it, and realising that I couldn't and shouldn't.

It wasn't until he'd gone that I wondered if he'd have asked anyone else to pass a message like that along and how much he'd guessed at over the years.

I must be gone and live, or stay and die

I let the half-forgotten words slip back into my memory. It wasn't that dire; I could live without Jack. I could even be happy away from him; it was how we usually were, after all.

I just wasn't very good at it and getting worse, not better.

Of course, I wasn't trying to improve.


Then

I drew up outside the cabin with the mosquitoes thickly clustered around a lone citronella candle stuck into the ground, lop-sided and useless, by the small jetty. The smoke that was supposed to drive them away hung heavy in the air but the light and the warmth drew them to it anyway.

I don't get bitten; never have, even as a child. It wasn't the bugs that were keeping me inside my rental car. I studied the unmoving figure on the jetty and spared a glance for the dark cabin. I'd phoned Daniel's house from the small town twenty miles away, hanging up when I heard his voice. That I'd had to do that before finishing my journey, because I really didn't know if Jack was going to go through with his threat, left me feeling desolate and uncertain.

I counted, ten, twenty, thirty, and then sighed and got out of the car, breathing in the tang of smoke and forest and the flat, damp scent of the water. Walking over to him was difficult because I was sick with anger and terrified of what I was capable of saying and doing in this mood.

Didn't want to lose him.

Which was why I'd been angry in the first place...

I came to a halt behind him, He was sitting on a fold-out canvas chair, a beer in his hand and a rod on a rest beside him, the line dripping water from a clump of weeds tangled up in it.

I squatted down and began to clear the fouling from the line, working at it in silence, giving it all my attention. When it was weed-free I stood, wound it in, and then cast out with a hiss of line and a soft schloop as the weight took the un-baited hook deep. I reeled it in slowly and held it out to the side for him to take.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome."

"Hope you brought your own; I'm not sharing. Not after you lost my favourite spinner last time."

"It's all in the car."

He stood up and slapped irritably at a hungry bug. "God, I'm feeding every mosquito in the state tonight. Get your gear and let's move inside before I need a transfusion."

I did as I was told, dropping a rod and tackle inside the front door and my case inside the bedroom door.

"You never give up on me, do you?"

"I don't think I can."

"Do you even try?"

I turned then. "Would you like me to?"

He closed the distance between us so that all I had to do to touch him was reach out. "No. God, no." He screwed up his mouth and gave me a helpless look. "Good enough apology?"

It had to be. It was all I was going to get and more than I expected.

I nodded, letting him see that I meant it, and moved on. "Do I get to eat before or after I'm gentle with you?"

"Come here, will you?"

I stepped toward the soft voice that was as demanding as it was pleading and tried very hard not to hold him too tightly.


Way Back When

We woke at six; a fraction before the alarm clock would have disturbed us if I'd bothered to set it. It was Saturday and Saturday I lay in bed late, letting sleep curl away from me slowly until something clicked and the world was back in focus and waiting for me to be busy in it. I usually spent an hour or two at work because there wasn't really much else to do that was more entertaining, but I'd had that extra hour or two of sleep, and the luxury of a leisurely self-induced climax to start the day, and I got a lot done.

I didn't think I'd be going into work today.

 He slid out of bed to shower and I whimpered at the flood of light from the bathroom and closed my eyes again until the bed creaked and heaved, rocking underneath me.

"I'm going."

"Fuck."

"Well, I considered it, but necrophilia's not high on my list of kinks."

I forced my eyes open. "I looked that bad?"

"Still do. Open up."

I let him push two aspirin into the desiccated interior of my mouth, where they stuck to my tongue and began to dissolve. Tasted foul, but I barely noticed; too busy sorting through a jumble of memories. Party, on my knees… oh, God, yes, that insistent wet drag of his cock across my face… bed, talk, fuck, once, twice, pass out… I gulped at the glass of water he handed me, trying hard not to throw up.

"Don't get drunk much these days," I told him, surrendering the glass and letting him put it on the night table. "Out of practice."

"You weren't that bad."

"At what? No, don't tell me." I lay back, closing my eyes because I knew without looking that they were sleep-swollen, I'd drooled copiously into my ear, and my hair was sticking up in clumps. If I couldn't see him, he couldn't see me. It made sense. "Fuck."

"You keep saying that."

"Sorry. Don't have the energy to kick myself."

"For what?"

He sounded amused. He found me amusing far too much for my liking -- amusing and irritating -- but there didn't seem to be a lot I could do to change that.

"It's been a while -- years -- since I woke up with someone. I was --" I came to a halt and sighed, forcing my eyes to open because if I was going to be sentimental I wasn't going to compound the felony with cowardice. "Looking forward to it. A quiet moment or two with someone. And you're dressed, about to go, and I missed it. So... fuck."

He pursed his lips, considering that. "I've really got to go. Get my stuff, catch a plane..."

"I know."

"Go back to sleep."

"Yes, sir."

"Davis --"

"Mmm?"

"I'm not done with you yet."

I snuggled back down between sex-warmed sheets. "You haven't even started."

"Are we doing this, then?"

"Be more specific, sir." I was waking up now. Still in no condition to drag him back to bed, assuming he was draggable, but able to talk with some degree of intelligence. "Fucking when we get the chance? Yes. If you want that."

"It won't be often."

"I know." I yawned. "Don't feel you have to pass up any opportunities that come your way."

"What?"

"You heard me."

"Davis, my sex-life for the last year consists of you and my hand; I'm not likely to --"

"Even so." I focused on him. "No guilt. Just... be safe."

"Thanks for the PSA." He eyed his watch and muttered something.

"Was that Goa'uld?" I asked, interested.

"Teal'c says it when he's pissed. Daniel won't translate it, just to be annoying."

"Ask Teal'c."

O'Neill snorted. "I did. He gave me one of his thoughtful looks and said he couldn't think of an English equivalent. I think he made it up and Daniel's in on the joke."

"That sounds... nice." I meant it. I didn't have anyone to tease me in a way that was based on affection not contempt. Never really had.

"Davis, we're almost out of time. Come here, will you?" He looked awkwardly determined and I realized he wanted to kiss me or hold me or do something more than walk out with nothing more than a murmured goodbye.

I sat up, letting the sheets slip down to my lap now he hadn't given me the speech about how it'd been fun, but... "You used my toothbrush?"

"Toothpaste and a finger."

"I'll taste vile."

"Depends where I kiss you goodbye."

He shifted closer, cupped my chin in his hand and stared at me. "I can't do it."

"What?" I whispered, trying not to breathe on him too much, my cock hardening obediently, expectantly. "Can't do what?"

"Share. Share you with anyone who comes along. Sorry. If that's more commitment than you were looking for this soon, I'll understand."

"Fine."

"That easy?"

I shrugged. It was, actually. "It probably won't require any effort at all. I'm not exactly beating them off with a stick, you know. You trust me not to lie about it?"

"You won't have to. I won't ask."

"But you'll know."

"Probably."

"Now, do I get kissed goodbye?"

"Note to self: Major Davis wakes up in one hell of a pissy, demanding mood."

I felt an ache of need kick in, deep-down and low. "Sir..."

"Oh, you get kissed," he murmured against my mouth, his hands stroking my arms, my back, all he could reach of my ass.

"Change your flight?" I wiped his mouth dry with my thumb and then leaned in and got it wet again, pushing against his mouth with mine, feeling something like desperation, all the stronger for needing to be hidden. Don’t scare him off… don’t let him get a look at just how much you need this, need him. I cut off the lecturing voice, shaking my head and regretting it a moment later. "Check out and come back here?"

"I can't." There was regret in his voice but I took more comfort from the way he didn't let go of me, hands still moving over my back. "Got a training session scheduled this afternoon with some cadets."

"I don't know who to feel sorrier for; you, them, or me."

He grinned. "Them. Or do you think I'm too mature not to take my frustrations out on a bunch of innocent kids?"

"I think you'd make them suffer if I sent you back well-fucked and exhausted, too."

"You're probably right. It's good for their souls."

I didn't want to talk about the cadets anymore. They were getting to spend time with him, trying to please him, working their asses off for a nod of approval, the glimmer of a smile, a brief pat on the shoulder. I wasn't really feeling the need to be sympathetic towards them.

"Sir..."

"Major?" His hand slid around and under the sheet to find my cock, lingering for a moment and then pulling away sharply. "Fuck."

I bit down hard on my lip. "What did you expect?"

"Ten minutes ago you were dead to the world."

“Ten minutes ago you weren’t doing that.” I pushed back the sleeve of his shirt and tapped his watch. “How long do we have? Exactly?”

Watching him work it out was a study in precision. I could almost see him doing the mental arithmetic; flight time minus travel time, minus checkout time, minus packing time, minus from here to his hotel time… He knew Washington well enough not to underestimate the traffic so I didn’t warn him about that.

“Twelve minutes before I have to be the other side of your front door and moving fast.”

“Oh…”

“Fuck?”

“No time.”

“I was completing your sentence, and, yes, there is.” He pushed me back on the bed. “It occurs to me that you might not remember much about last night.”

“Sir, I remember plenty.”

The sheets were pulled back and his gaze tracked down my body. “Still didn’t get enough time looking at you. Wasn’t expecting to be the one left awake.”

“God, did I pass out? Really?”

He nodded, his attention concentrated on me. My head was still aching but it was easy to push that aside, because lying here, on display for a man who wasn’t even touching me was erotic enough to make anything as trivial as a hangover fade to nothingness. I felt my body grow heavy and slow, arousal licking hot and wet at every pulse point. Suffused with lust and longing and acutely aware of the time ticking down. He’d leave me when his time was up, I knew it. No matter how close I was to coming, I wasn’t worth missing his plane -- no, that wasn’t fair. He had to catch it, because he’d promised to be somewhere. I’d have done the same.

“I want you to remember me.”

“You’re unforgettable, sir. Trust me.”

He smiled, a small, complacent smile. “So I’ve been told.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t always a compliment.”

His complacency deepened. “No, it wasn’t.” He took hold of my wrists and pulled them up. “Hang on. Don’t let go.”

I curled my fingers around the horizontal struts of the headboard, feeling my heartbeat speed up. My legs spread wider and I arched up an inch or two in as primitive and atavistic reaction as I was capable.

Take me. Fuck me. Yours. Nice and simple.

Not that he could. He didn’t have time to strip the minimum amount required -- and I’d settle for him unzipping -- fuck me, clean up, and get dressed again.

“You are so damn tempting,” he said regretfully. “Spread out like that. You have no idea.”

“You put me like this,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, I did. Three-hour travel time; need something to distract me from the in-flight movie.”

I tried to smile but it was difficult because I kept wanting to moan instead.

“Eight minutes,” he told me. “Know what I can do in eight minutes, Davis?”

“Save the world?”

He grinned. “Sometimes.” His eyes did that track and scan again and I shivered, nipples and cock standing to attention. “Think I can make you come?”

“And have time for a coffee and a donut.”

“You’re that easy?”

“You have a way of making me into an over-achiever, sir.”

He chuckled. “Oh, Major, we both know that’s the way you were born.”

“Sir…”

“Okay, so let’s make it harder.”

“Not possible.”

“You do seem to be… excited, Major. Do you know how much of a mess your cock is? It’s wet and red and every time I look at it, it gives this little jerk. Cute.”

I’d lost control about the time his hand brushed my cock and I wasn’t going to get it back if he kept on fucking talking to me, his hands folded across his lap, his eyes on me, fuck, all over me, staring and looking and approving.

“I want to see you come. Never have. You’ve always been behind me.”

I had, hadn’t I? Hidden safely.

“Think I could talk you into coming?”

Probably. Yes. I flashed on him telling me not to come and me disobeying him, and heard a hard, guttural grunt and felt the ache in my throat that told me I’d made it.

“God, I’d like to do that some time.”

“Sir, you can do what the fuck you want to me, just –“

“Shh.” He bent over and brushed his mouth against mine, too fast for me to shove my tongue between his smiling lips. “Stop it. You’re distracting me.”

“Good.”

“Not really. There’s only going to be time for one of us to come; you feeling selfish?”

“Yes,” I said as distinctly as possible. “I’ll make it up to you, I swear, just get me off before you go. Please, sir, make me come.”

“Please, sir, can I have some more?” he murmured. “Sure, Davis, sure… just tell me what you want. My hand? Could grab hold and it wouldn’t take much, would it? One stroke, two and hey, look at that, you did that twitchy thing again. It’s like it’s got a mind of its own.”

“You are a fucking bastard and I swear I’ll jerk off thinking about –“

He didn’t let me finish, which was just as well. “Who?”

I got a look that usually comes accompanied by a bullet and shook my head, a slow, syrupy roll across the pillow. “Forget it. You. I’ll be thinking of you. Just… you wanted to see? Let me show you.”

He shoved his fingers into my mouth so I could suck on them and snatched them away as I convulsed, come jolting and jerking out, graceless and messy and open.

I didn’t take my eyes off him the whole time and he didn’t look away.


Now

Earth was noisy, stank and I didn't care. Not as first, at least. The euphoria of a returning traveller wore off quickly on the flight back to Washington, rubbed away by surly grunts in place of courteous inclinations of the head, smog-tainted rain instead of clear blue skies, painted fresh and bright at sunrise and sunset.

It was going to take a while to adjust. I side-stepped a group of tourists, slammed into a narrow space a hairsbreadth in front of a girl with a suitcase who scowled at me and got an unrepentant smile in return, and tossed a handful of change neatly into a busker's guitar case, tired of it jingling in my pocket.

Maybe not that long.

I was about to get into a cab when I realized some of the change might have come from off-world, swore, retraced my steps, and spent a difficult five minutes explaining why I wanted my money back.

Cost me a twenty and left me with my ears burning and my nerves shredded.

I should have gone straight to my office to report, but I went home first.

The air was fresher than I expected. Someone had been coming in. I'd been anticipating the customary startled thrill of surprise that, yes, that hastily rinsed mug was still where I'd left it draining, weeks earlier, that the towel was still lying on the bathroom floor, the bed still rumpled because I'd sat on it as I tied my shoes the morning I'd left. Coming back after a trip was like walking into a room and hitting 'play' on a paused DVD; you'd missed nothing; it'd all been waiting for you.

Now I was walking back, not into the home I'd left, but a place someone else had been using. Books were put away, but in the wrong places, cushions were piled on the couch, not the armchair with the ottoman in front of it, indented and squashed to afford comfort to someone not me. I pressed play on the CD player and flinched back; too loud, not mine, what the hell...

I knew it was Jack who'd been here; just didn't know why. Coming in to stock the fridge and air the place; yes, that would have been thoughtful and not entirely unexpected, no matter how pissed off he'd seemed to be the last time we'd spoken. Spending longer than a brief stay here was less so.

I made sure he hadn't left me a note – unlikely; we'd never even exchanged Christmas cards - and glanced around feeling uneasy, unsettled.

Without showering I got into a clean uniform and went to find him. Four o'clock; he'd be in his office until six, at least.

His secretary smiled at me. Anne and I got along well considering we knew absolutely nothing about each other, as proven by the fact that she flirted with me in a ladylike way.

"Major. Good to have you back."

"Glad to be here, Anne." I pulled a conspiratorial face. "Any chance of a minute with the General? I've got orders to submit an immediate report and the sooner I do, the sooner I can go home and pass out."

"Gatelag?"

It was as good an excuse as any and not far from the truth; if I'd still been off-world, it would have been late evening, almost midnight, not late afternoon. I nodded, and she smiled sympathetically.

"He's supposed to be clearing some paperwork, but I'd say you took priority, wouldn't you?"

If only.

She was about to buzz Jack on the intercom when he pulled open his door, gave us both a cold stare and jerked his head at me. "Davis. Get your ass in here, will you? What did you do; take the scenic route? Your plane landed two hours ago."

Anne primmed up her mouth and scooped up a stack of folders, heading out into the corridor without looking back.

I watched her leave, glad of the chance to glance away from him. He looked like hell. He looked old. He looked every inch the general. He looked pissed, unapproachable, and sour. He looked a hundred things that hammered an 'off-limits' sign deep into his chest and I didn't give a fuck how worn-out he was, I was so happy to see him it was hurting to keep the smile from surfacing.

But not here.

Never, ever, at work. Ever.

It wasn't a rule; it was the foundation of what we had. And I'd let our first meeting after weeks apart be in uniform – well, that didn't matter so much; God knows we'd fucked each other raw in Air Force blue often enough – and in his office.

Now that did matter. I might have my fantasies about being fucked over his desk, or on my knees sucking him slowly for hours and hours – fantasy, definitely a fantasy -- licking and tasting and teasing while he worked, ignoring me until his hand brushed my hair in an unspoken signal and I took him in deep – God, yes, I had a dozen of those.

And I knew he had plenty like it himself, where he was the one kissing oak, hips bruised by wood, nails scrabbling for purchase on a polished surface as I screwed him in a silence we couldn't break with anything but a soft, stifled gasp.

It didn't mean they'd happen, any of them. I couldn't recall even shaking his hand once I'd closed the door behind me. No contact. No personal conversation. Major and General.

It was too ingrained a habit to break.

I swallowed down the need to yell at him until we started kissing to shut me up and followed him into his office, closing the door with a respectfully quiet click.

"Sir. My luggage was delayed and I –" Wasn't going to tell him about the man with the guitar playing Beatles songs badly. "I needed to change so I went home first."

"I don't need spit and polish, Major. I could care less if your buttons are shiny. Report."

The desk lay between us and he hadn't offered me a seat. I fixed my eyes on a point on the wall, my hat tucked neatly under my arm, and began to recite a brief summary, composed and committed to memory on the flight between dessert and a disappointing brandy. Nothing he didn't already know, but it filled the thirty seconds of his attention span.

"That's it?"

"Yes, sir. I'll write it up tonight and have a copy on your desk by tomorrow."

"Lunchtime will do."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." I paused. "Sir?"

"Dismissed, Major."

He was staring down at his hands, folded and resting on the desk. Still hands, empty hands.

"Sir."

"I said you were dismissed."

I couldn't force the words to sound the way they should; my voice was uneven, my throat was closing up. Anger, a little, but mostly bewilderment.

"Jack –"

I rarely called him that. Never here. Never on duty. It brought his head up, his dark eyes momentarily as confused as mine must have looked. The confusion didn't linger, swept away by anger.

"Major Davis, for the third time –"

"I'm going. God."

I'd just sworn at a superior officer. A day of firsts. Maybe he'd take it as a flattering alternative to 'sir'?

His eyes sparked dark and furious.

Maybe not.

Just when I was bracing myself for a sharp reprimand, scouring my ears like sandpaper, he stood up and walked past me, opening the door and staring at Anne's empty desk.

Then he turned, took a handful of my jacket, and dragged me onto his mouth, kissing me ravenously, all spit and teeth and spite.

He tasted wrong and the place was wrong and I pushed at him, one-handed because of my hat, keeping my hand flat, not a fist, because I didn't trust him right then and striking a superior officer was much, much worse than swearing at one.

He tasted, I thought, as I twisted my mouth away, of a particularly foul lemon-mint toothpaste I'd received in the mail just before I'd left. I'd tried it, shuddered, and left it out on the counter in the bathroom instead of consigning it to the trash because the phone had rung as my hand was reaching for it.

A triviality, lost in weeks of work, called back by a kiss.

I'm logical. Persistent. Quick-thinking. It says so frequently on my progress reports; the ones that never seem to see me promoted as a result of my excellent qualities.

I caught my breath, my hand still on his arm, his grip slackening, and took a moment to do some deducing. He'd used my toothpaste. So it had been him stopping over at my place. But he shouldn't still taste of it after a day drinking coffee. So he'd been back there since the morning. Waiting for me? Was that it? Angry because he'd missed me, in two senses of the word? Maybe... but although he could be surprisingly fastidious at times, would he have bothered to brush his teeth while he waited? It didn't seem likely. I wasn't the fussy sort and –

Oh.

"Who have you been fucking at my apartment? Who got to give you a liquid lunch?"

It wasn't a leap in the dark. I was watching a score of memories spin languidly by; Jack leaving my bed, or his, his mouth slickly coated with come, grimacing and gargling because he hated the aftertaste, scrubbing fiercely at his teeth, and once doing it before coming back to bed and shoving a minty-fresh tongue up my ass.

It had tingled and burned. Fucking Listerine.

"It wasn't like –"

"Give me a name." I was hissing the words through clenched teeth, keeping my voice low because that way it didn't shake as much. "If you bothered to ask –"

"Daniel. It was Daniel, but I didn't – I slept with him, yes, but we didn't fuck. Christ, Davis! What does it get to make you trust me?"

I stepped back, gaping at him, deprived of words. I think my mouth opened and closed three times before anything intelligible emerged.

"Sir?"

Before I could add any of the obscenities curdling on my tongue he slid his hand behind my neck and I swallowed each and every one, treacherous body responding with a flurry of excited signals and nudges that yes, sex was imminent, feast after famine, even if my brain knew damn well it so fucking wasn't.

"Go home, okay? I'll be there as soon as I can. God, this is so fucked-up, but not the way you're thinking, I swear."

The rough warmth of his hand soaked into the nape of my neck, anchoring me in a swelling, quease-inducing sea.

"Four years."

"I know."

"Four fucking years."

He opened his mouth and I realized that he didn't know what to call me. 'Paul' fitted the discussion, but he rarely used it, and in here? Not a fucking chance. He settled for a nod, looking wretched and determined and tired.

"Just go home, will you? I'll be there."

I wiped my mouth, stepped back, smoothed down my jacket and gave him a salute, snapped off and quivering to attention, holding it as he rolled his eyes in exasperation, looking more like himself.

"Oh, for crying out loud..." He sketched a salute back at me and snarled a final, "Dismissed, dammit," to speed me on my way.

Asshole.


Then

I woke, screwing my barely-open eyes closed again against a dazzle of sunlight and shifting so that when I opened them again it was less of an assault. There were curtains, and they were drawn, but as they were washed to threadbare they weren't doing a good job of keeping the light at bay. Jack was warm beside me, fast asleep, his bitten, kissed, well-fucked lips slightly parted, snoring enough that if it'd been the middle of the night, I'd have kicked him until he rolled over.

I'd been mostly gentle with him. I didn't think he had any new bruises... He stirred and the sheets slipped away, exposing his right shoulder blade.

Oh. Well, that one didn't count.

His face contracted in pain – and that had to be the cracked ribs, not me -- and I watched it wake him, taking him out of sleep and back with me.

"Hey."

I smiled at him. "Good morning."

We were talking in library whispers, close enough that it didn't matter. I hesitated and then kissed his shoulder, tasting the sweat sex and sleep had left on his skin. He moaned, which could've meant anything, and I began to draw back. His hand worked its way to my thigh through the covers and held me in place.

Good enough.

I felt my balls tighten, my cock swell full and hard.

Just from that. One kiss, one testing, tasting lick of my tongue, and his hand on me. He said sometimes that I made him feel old, when I wanted sex and he wanted sleep, when he hummed along to a song that made me grin derisively -- Well, he made me feel young. Young enough that I could be dangerously aroused, stupid with lust, drugged with the needs of my body, clamorous and insistent.

Sometimes I hated that he could do that; a couple of decades of learned, rigid self-control flicked casually aside.

I swallowed back a whimper and watched his eyes get speculative, interested. Never failed; he thought I was hiding something, holding back, and he went digging. Something else to resent, because he didn't own me. Body, yes, heart, mostly, but the rest... not so much. And it wasn't as if turnabout was fair play in his book. Oh, no. Fuck, no. I remembered what I'd had to do to get anything approaching the truth from him after Daniel had... gone. There was a scar on my knuckle to remind me.

Just thinking about that, and the threat he'd held over me about inviting Daniel in my place had me angry all over again, fresh and hot and bitter, better than coffee for a wakeup call.

"You son of a bitch –"

"Davis?" He drawled it out but there wasn't much surprise there. We never seemed to manage the quick fixes and last night's reconciliation had been partly pragmatic; I was there, he was there, we wanted to fuck and couldn't if we were fighting. Simple solution was to make nice, and that's what we'd done.

No surprise.

Add something else to the list of his sins; I'd become predictable to him. Had to know me inside and out for that to happen and dammit, when had I ever said he could? I breathed out sharply, tasting my temper.

"Sometimes, you just –"

"Piss you off. I know."

It was too early to let loose with a primal scream and he wasn't fit enough for us to fight and fuck our way to a less self-serving peace.

"Don't do that. Don't – don't assume."

"Hey." His hand slid up and down my arm, soothing me with that as much as his voice, mellow and calm. "I'm entitled. I –" Barest hint of hesitation, just enough to warn me –

"Don't. Don't fucking say it."

"I know you," he finished.

I rolled on top of him, weight on my hands, grinding them into the ancient mattress, close enough to him that I could brush and drag my thumbs against his shoulders.

"So you do, sir." He pulled a face at the 'sir' and my irritation dissolved because he wriggled and he was there, naked under me, and we'd got all day...

I bent my arms, slowly, achingly slowly, until I could rub my nose, my mouth, my face against his, making soft little noises, giving him everything I was feeling without reservation.

Not an apology. More of a taunt, really, as I was depriving him of the fun of teasing a reaction out of me, but I hoped he'd take it in the spirit it was meant.

His foot lashed out, kicking the covers off us both, and his hand came down on my ass in a solid smack. I yelped, grinned and bit his lip hard, wishing he wasn't hurt – but there was nothing wrong with me...

"You done sulking?" he asked.

"Think so."

"No," he decided, long fingers of one hand busy with the heavy dangle of my balls – which felt nice, but risky, with him in this mood. He squeezed and tugged and I winced and ground against his palm. Not a hope of hiding my arousal, ever. "No, I don't think so."

"Want me to prove it?" My voice was thick, struggling past an overwhelming need to pull the covers back up and over us, to press closer and not move away. How often did I get this; his attention, his time? What the fuck was I wasting it on pointless bickering for?

He smiled. "Now, how would you do that, Paul?"

Espresso-strength thrill.

Paul.

 We'd got our code, as any couple had. Needed it more, too, given how much we were under observation when we were together.

Proving I wasn't angry with him as Paul meant...

Anything.

No limits, none. No constraints of rank, no fallout, no reference to it afterwards. Major Davis felt a natural reticence about exploring the various ways Colonel O'Neill could be tied to a bed, well-spanked ass squirming against a cool, rough sheet; Paul loved it. The colonel's fingers, four of them, didn't fit inside the major's ass; Jack's slid into Paul's slowly and although when we'd finished I'd told him that was it, no more, too much, don't ever even ask and ignore me if I do, it was something we were both waiting to take to a conclusion. One day. One night.

But it was early in the morning and the sunlight made the shadows we slipped into sometimes thin to nothingness, giving us – me – nowhere to hide.

He was studying me, the barest hint of a smile on his face, as he waited.

"Let go of me," I told him hoarsely.

"Sure."

He got in one last, gentler, squeeze, his departing fingers dragging slowly upward over my cock.

"If I was still ... sulking, I wouldn't kiss you, would I?" His body took my lips as I trailed kisses over it, took them and flushed and warmed under them, until he was pliant and murmuring increasingly ragged repetitions of, "You might... yes, you might..."

Hard sell.

I didn't go near his cock. A blow job didn't prove a damn thing; he knew I loved sucking him.

There was something he liked that I didn't do often, not because I didn't want to; he'd never asked me for anything I wasn't willing to do; I sometimes wished he would, because I was curious; would I, or wouldn't I?

I suppose it would depend on who was asking me.

No, I didn't do it often for a simple enough reason; I needed to keep something back he wanted. Give him everything, every time, and how long would he stay? How much of his feelings for me were based on a fascination with the unattainable, the forbidden?

But sometimes...

I rolled him over carefully and split his ass with my fingers, running my tongue over the exposed skin with an indiscriminate, lavish appreciation, flicking the tip of it against his hole, planting kisses meant to tickle so he was choking with laughter even as he gasped out ecstatic, incoherent applause.

No one had ever done this to him before me. Hard to believe and he'd flushed scarlet when I'd gaped at him in surprise, scrambling out of bed and getting halfway dressed before I got myself under control enough to apologize. He hadn't let me do it to him until he'd done it to me first, though, making me talk him through it and tell him what felt good, what wasn't working, and stopping every time I dissolved into pleading whimpers.

He had his own ways of getting revenge.

And, no, rimming him wasn't something I saved for special occasions. Hell, no.

I gave his asshole one final, swirling lash of my tongue and knelt back, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand and reaching for the water bottle by the bed to rinse my mouth, spitting into a handful of tissues. Good enough for now, and we didn't kiss much when we were fucking anyway.

He sat up and cupped my face in one hand. "Nice. Thanks. Well?"

I met his eyes and smiled. "Jack? Fuck me? Please?"

And watched his face soften in relief, even as he pushed me down to the bed.

Jack.

If I ever told him I loved him – and I never had – it'd have to be Jack I told, or he wouldn't want to hear it.

And I wouldn't want to say it to anyone else.


Way Back When

I'd never spent this long with Daniel, just the two of us. I was left wondering how O'Neill kept his hands off him.

Earnest, sincere, maddening, and spiffed up beautifully in a suit and tie. Lecturing me incessantly, as aware of political finessing as a duck is of sauce a l'orange, and ultimately, the only reason we got what we came for.

The man was lethal.

There was nowhere inside that we could expect privacy; even outside, escaping into the chilly, thin air for brief walks, our heads aching from tension, talking, and tea, we weren't completely safe from being overheard. It imposed a welcome strain on our conversation.

Left alone, we'd have talked about O'Neill at some point, and I'm not sure I would have handled that well.

I hadn't seen him for a while; difficult to meet, unwise to phone or write... any relationship we had was being conducted via a series of hastily arranged encounters in random hotels, maybe once a month, if that. I'd been praying for a chance to go to the SGC, and getting nothing but paperwork in return.

I was starting to think that the ending on a whimper had begun before I'd had chance to scream.

The last walk Daniel and I took as we waited for the DHD to be loaded onto the plane was the only chance we had to talk freely. It was night, we were standing in the middle of a field, and the guards assigned to us were a hundred yards away, squinting up at a sky that was sending down lazily spinning snowflakes, a few a minute.

"You have to be proud," I told him sincerely. "You've done what I frankly didn't think was possible."

He shrugged, huddling into his jacket, the clear, sharp lines of his jaw blurred by the wavering shadows. "But will it be enough?"

"I don't know." We stood in silence, contemplating Teal'c's situation. "It has to be."

"Yes. It does."

He sounded intense about it and I gave him a curious look. Teal'c was, after all, involved with the capture, snaking, and death of Jackson's wife and yet they seemed to have moved past that to become friends with surprising ease.

Anyone who'd killed Claire, especially to save me from a painful death, would have had my eternal gratitude, but that wasn't likely to have been Jackson's reaction.

Of course, I saw them from a distance. Teal'c and I weren't close; I found him intimidating, not because of his size, or even the snake coiled in his belly. No; he watched. Watched, listened, absorbed, all with an impassive, polite, barely there smile.

I felt, sometimes, that at a moment of his choosing, he'd tell us all exactly what conclusions he'd come to, and it was a terrifying thought.

So for all I knew, Teal'c and Jackson still had issues; I knew now that SG-1 was both tighter and more fragmented than I'd blithely assumed before I'd starting fucking its leader.
 
In fact, a theory I'd have shared with O'Neill only under threat of death as I could imagine his reaction, the fragmentation was what made them fit; otherwise they were four squares jostling to fill a circle.

Edges and corners had to be broken off, rubbed down, discarded. After working with Daniel for a couple of days, I knew what O'Neill must have gone through to form any kind of workable relationship. Can't have been easy. I felt bruised all over.

Daniel stared up and I tilted my head back, too, wanting a snowflake to settle on me in acknowledgement that I existed, I was there. I hadn't slept much, and I felt distanced and remote, detached and invisible. Maybe I was ill, coming down with something...

"Are you coming back with me?"

"Of course."

"To see Jack."

He met my wide-eyed stare with a small nod, and a smaller smile, and caught a snowflake neatly on the end of his tongue.

And I wondered, again, how O'Neill kept his hands off him.

Two months later, he was dead, out of reach of us all.



Now

It was obvious that it'd been Daniel. Jack was all kinds of any bastard you cared to name but I should've realized that he wouldn't have used my place to fuck just anyone in.

I'd never given anyone but Claire the right to walk into my home when I wasn't there. I'd given a key to Jack because it made sense; I was going off-world for an indefinite time and I had plants to water, mail... all the mundane chores of a modern existence. Having someone check on the place was reassuring.

Jack had given me a key to his house the same day purely out of a quid pro quo sentiment, I think. I'd left it, unlabelled, in a drawer, but I'd appreciated it all the more because it wasn't necessary.

I hadn't told him, but I'd planned to slide it onto my key ring when I got back.

Now I just wanted to demonstrate its usefulness as a weapon.

The air in the apartment seemed soaked, saturated with stale sex. I couldn't breathe. I wasn't even sure why I'd come back. Why obey him in this? Why agree to his terms for the setting of a break-up I supposed I should've seen coming?

Habit. Had to be.

Strip for me. Want to see you. All of you. Want you to suck me. Make it last, Major, take as long as you want... Cancel that, I want to see you this weekend. Do you know how long it's been since I had your dick up my ass? Yes, of course I missed you, God, get over here, will you?

And I'd smiled, nodded, given him what he'd asked for, given him more when he'd ordered me.

I ran my thumb over the rim of my glass. Empty, but I didn't plan to refill it. I'd needed something to stop me shaking but I wasn't doing this drunk. I'd need that escape later. I wasn't being fair anyway; every culled memory was taken from the times he'd been tired, dispirited, angry; there were plenty of others; times when he'd begged, cajoled, or just looked at me and I'd moved closer.

And I couldn't, even with my anger this encompassing, accuse him of using me just for sex. Or if he had, I was just as guilty.

The door opened and he walked in.

He'd used his key. Well, of course he fucking had. I'd given it to him, hadn't I?

He'd taken time to change into jeans and one of the soft, baggy shirts he liked. It made a difference that he was out of uniform. Equals. I appreciated that, I supposed.

I put my glass down and tugged at my regulation tie, loosening it. Clothes had been the last thing on my mind, though. I didn't get up.

"Nice of you to keep me waiting, while you chose the perfect outfit to fuck me over in."

I shouldn't have mentioned fucking me in any context. If this had been a normal homecoming we'd have been sprawled on the couch by now, coming in a rush and a groan after an embarrassingly short encounter. There'd been times we hadn't even made it that far, times when the first words we'd said that made any sense came much later.

He closed the door, flicking it locked, and went to pour himself a drink. I had to admire his complete indifference to etiquette. He should have been feeling awkward and out of place, but I suppose years of sauntering into alien hovels, houses, and palaces had knocked that out of him. He was good at making himself at home and this was somewhere he was used to being.

"Get it out of your system. Go on; I won't stop you."

He came to sit on the chair nearest the couch I was lounging on, close enough to touch until he leaned back.

"What does stop you? What gives you pause?"

"Look, Paul --" He said my name so naturally. I put it down to a few days -- a week? More?-- of saying 'Daniel'. "Let's just cut the crap, shall we? Yes, Daniel stayed here. I didn't think you'd mind and it was better than him stopping with me. Closer to my office, for one thing."

"How convenient."

"Yeah, knock yourself out." He took a gulp of whisky and gave me an unfriendly look. "You know, I should be the one getting pissed here. You're quick to make me into a faithless son of a bitch, aren't you?"

"I haven't made you do anything. I haven't been here." I gave him a cold smile. "Unless you want to blame me for a posting your department arranged, or suggest that deprived of your usual fuck-toy you were entitled to --"

He set his drink down on the coffee table and stood up, taking the two steps needed to bring him to my side, and leaning over me, his hands gripping the back and arm of the couch. I rolled to my back and squinted up at him. "Is that supposed to intimidate me?"

"'Fuck-toy'?"

"Well, wasn't I?"

"You are my --" He broke off. "You know what you are."

"Yes. Your ex. Ex-fuck-toy. General O'Neill's EFT. Is that better? Less offensive?"

"Oh, you're going to feel so fucking sorry you said that."

I nodded. "Right. Because you're going to explain how you slept with Daniel but it was pure and innocent, despite the fact you've wanted to nail him for years, and then you can tell me why you brushed your fucking teeth in the middle of the fucking day --"

At some point in the middle I rose with my voice, so by the time I'd finished, my hand was beside his on the back of the couch and I was sitting up, right in his face. I wanted to spit into it, make it bleed. If he'd tried to kiss me, I would have done both, but he didn't. He eased away from me and sat down by my feet.

"I had chili for lunch," he said, looking utterly bewildered. "With a ton of garlic in it. I reeked of it. How the hell did you even know?"

Ah.

"Okay, forget the teeth."

"No." He smacked my foot. "Let's not. I'm just getting that crack about liquid fucking lunches."

I kicked out at his hand. "Took you long enough."

"You suspicious-minded little fuck."

"Love you, too," I snarled back at him.

I think he could tell I didn't mean it. Or maybe he could tell I did. My head was aching; stress, tension, dislocation of space and place -- a dozen reasons, all of them circling the sun gone nova that was the fucking disaster of my homecoming.

I'd wanted kisses, I'd wanted sex. I'd wanted a decent fucking drink, a bath, soft, white toilet paper, and my bed, two-thirds of it occupied by the man who was glaring at me now, sprawled out and sleepy, his hand groping for mine.

I'd planned it. Exhaustively. It'd been all that kept me from cracking during the endless, ponderous debates and speeches I'd been subjected to.

And if I could have fucked it up more spectacularly, I didn't see how.

"Are you going to shut your mouth and listen to me?"

I opened it instead, another withering retort ready, but something -- probably the warning in his eyes -- stopped me. I nodded, slumping back against the cushions and rubbing at my head.

"You look like hell," he told me.

"Headache. It'll go. I'm missing God knows how many hours of sleep and about two meals."

"Stay here. I mean it; don't move a fucking inch."

He came back with tap water, a few tepid inches lost in a pint glass that must have been the first one he saw, and some aspirin. I swallowed them down and muttered a thank you.

"You want to get some sleep? I can stay."

"We're in the middle of breaking up," I reminded him. "No time-outs."

"No; we're in the middle of round ten of you being an insecure, possessive son of a bitch."

"So what the hell are you doing wasting your time with me?"

I closed my eyes. Too soon for the tablets to be kicking in but I was relaxing anyway. Oh -- Jack's hand was warm on my leg, rubbing my thigh in slow, firm circles. I could feel myself unravel, spin off, come apart.

I fell asleep to the sound of his voice, halting, awkward, embarrassed, telling me that he'd missed me and couldn't quite make my mouth work enough to tell him I'd missed him, too.

***

I woke about four hours later, clear-headed and languid. I was naked in bed and Jack was lying beside me, fully clothed, which didn't seem fair, squinting at a thriller I'd left by the bed because it hadn't captured my attention enough to be worth packing for the flight.

"Thank God," he said, tossing the book aside. "I wasn't sure how much more of that crap I could take."

"That bad? I haven't finished it."

"If you get past the seduction in chapter seven when they're in a building that's about to explode, you're a better man than I am."

The gush of small talk dried and we were left staring at each other through the shadows. He'd been reading by the bedside lamp, angled away so that it didn't shine in my eyes, barely adequate illumination for him. He needed reading glasses and wouldn't wear them.

"Jack..."

"I didn't do it. Tell me that was the jetlag speaking."

"He was here." I plucked at the sheet covering me. "In this bed? With you?"

"Yes, yes, and sort of."

I sighed and let it turn into a yawn. "Oh, what the hell. When is it ever just two of us? There's always that ghostly third person... this time it was me. Or did you manage to forget I existed?"

He doesn't have much patience, but he eked out what he had for long enough to answer me calmly. "I've never been with you and imagined I was fucking him. Ever."

"I have." I wasn't planning to tell him that but I felt the sick, swooping soar of relief confession brings. "Once. Twice, maybe. Sorry."

There was a pause. "Do much for you?"

"Enough for a second time, but after that? No. It's always been you I wanted. I was just... curious."

He nodded and visibly stopped thinking about it for the time being, although I knew he'd come back to it. "He came to see me, and like I said, I didn't think you'd mind him stopping here --"

"Well, I fucking do, and if you knew me as well you say you do, you'd have known that." I sat up and jammed a rigid finger into his shoulder, finding a scar to target without trying hard. "This place, this bed is mine. There're things here I don't want people seeing -- hell, you know there are!"

"Daniel wouldn't have even thought of looking, prying --"

"He digs up graves! He plunders and loots and uncovers secrets for a fucking living. It's what he does."

"He likes you, Davis. And there's the whole good manners thing; he just wouldn't, okay?"

Yeah. Of course he wouldn't. Did O'Neill really see Daniel with a halo? Good manners? Daniel was the consummate adaptor to any local custom, yes, and he had a certain innate courtesy, but he was ruthlessly pragmatic and endlessly curious, and if he'd found himself with time on his hands, he'd have gone looking.

I found myself wishing, with a savage spite, that he had found something we'd used for sex, something to flush his cheeks, bug out his eyes, but I knew he hadn't. My mission hadn't been at all high-risk, but I was going thousands of light years away to a planet in turmoil; I'd taken care to leave nothing like that to be found.

Just in case it wasn't Jack clearing my apartment out.

"Even so."

"Yeah, well, I didn't think you'd mind."

"Will you stop saying that? It won't become true, no matter how often you repeat it."

"Will you accept that it's what I thought, at least?"

I gave him a grudging nod.

"Okay, then... He came because he wanted to see me."

"How much did he get to --"

His hand came across my mouth. "Okay, I've had enough of the bitching. Stop it. Listen."

I jerked my head away and gave him a knowing, taunting smirk. "Or what? I get a spanking?"

He held up his hand and flexed his fingers. "I would, but I sprained my wrist seeing to Daniel."

I made a small, soft sound that was part pain and part vindication and he smiled sourly. "Joke, Davis. Just a joke."

God. I swallowed and felt my lips ache from being compressed.

"You --"

He gave me a snarl of a smile. "Feel spanked now, do you? Because I can carry on hurting you if --" I shook my head in surrender. I couldn't deal with another jab like that. Even knowing it was a fake-out, because suppose the next one wasn't? "Good. Moving on --"

I held up my hand to stop him. "Please?"

"What?"

"Wherever you're going with this --"

"If you'd ever stop yammering, you'd find out."

"I will. I just want to tell you that you don't need to tell me everything. I know what you two are to each other. I know there are times you need each other. I'm not stupid, and I'm not as emotionally fucked-up as you like to think." I couldn't be and still function. Christ, he really did get off on being the bone Daniel and I fought over way too much. My fault, but I never could hide anything from him.

"I wouldn't tell you anything Daniel told me that was personal in any case, but thanks."

I felt slapped again. His mouth twisted ruefully. "That came out wrong, didn't it? Look, it goes both ways; if it's about you, or you and me, I don't tell Daniel."

"Neither do I."

He's quick. He connected the dots right away. "You two talk about me?"

"Sometimes." I didn't elaborate. "I'm shutting up now. Talk. Tell me what you can. Make me feel like an idiot for doubting you, as I'm sure you can, and then get the hell out if you want to punish us both."

"I might," he said. "Or I might stay. Play with my contrite little fuck-toy."

The deep irony slathered over the words didn't stop them from making my mouth water and my dick harden in a dizzy rush. "Oh, you fucking --"

"You deserved it." No irony now, just iron-hard inflexibility. "And don't make the mistake of thinking I don't want that. You've been gone a long time. I've missed you."

The darkness of the last three words wound around me, blinding me. I reached out, pressed the heel of my hand against the hardness I knew was waiting to be touched. "Tell me later."

He moved my hand aside with a terrifying gentleness I remembered. Long fingers on me, in me--

"Oh, no. You wanted to know. I'm going to tell you."

I let his grip tighten until it hurt, and then prized his fingers off. He settled back, watching me.

"He came up here with a few days off. With a few questions, stuff he wanted to get off his chest... You know Daniel; he thinks, and he carries on doing it until something gives. This time it was alternate versions of him. You heard about that?"

I nodded.

"Yeah, well, that, and the fucking Ori --still got some cracked idea it's his fault they found us -- and he's --" Jack glanced away. "He misses me. Sometimes. Oh, we can get by; not joined at the hip, it's just... we were together a long time."

"I get it," I said tightly before he got maudlin.

"So he got here, we got talking, he did some sightseeing, talked some more, he tells me he got hit on by an alternative version of Mitchell --"

"Colonel Mitchell?"

"The one and only."

"He's not --"

"No, he's not. The one Daniel works with is most definitely not."

Of course not. Or he wouldn't be working with Daniel.

"Still..." I shrugged. "Daniel's had passes before." I'd made one myself, once. "He knows how to say no." And maybe sometimes he's even polite about it.

"He's never wanted to say yes, so it was easy."

I could connect dots, too. "He wanted --wants -- Colonel Mitchell?" Either would be awkward; the one he stood a chance with had disappeared into the ether; the one he saw daily wasn't interested.

"No! Christ, no. He didn't want to say yes this time either; the guy was a liar and a thief, for crying out loud. But it got him looking at his Mitchell --okay, that sounds wrong -- and he started getting all wound-up and flustered; hell, I don't know why, but he did."

I held back a yawn. Didn't sound much like Daniel to me. I'd had years to work out that O'Neill-translated Daniel wasn't always that close to the original, though, so I didn't comment.

And I supposed it might have been a fairly odd experience, to be fair to Daniel. He just had so many of them that I couldn't see this being the straw that broke his composure.

"Should you be telling me this?"

"I called Daniel. While you were asleep."

"And told him --?"

"That you'd gone fucking nuts about us sharing a bed -- and nothing else -- and he told me to go ahead and make it right."

I may have whimpered. "Don't make me have to thank him."

Jack looked insufferably smug. "I won't. Good manners might."

"You're not off the hook yet," I reminded him coldly. "So Daniel had a moment of doubt about his sexuality; it happens."

"I didn't say that."

"Oh, please. Why would Daniel care about an alternate version of a man he doesn't know that well yet, being gay? If he's bothered, it's because maybe, just for a moment, he was tempted, and now he has to work with this Mitchell without letting him find out, because I can guarantee you, it wouldn't go over well." I shrugged. "Mid-life crisis. It happens. Even to world-saving heroes. Might not even be the first time."

"It's never happened before."

"That you know of." God, did he think he owned our thoughts? Daniel could have been lusting after clean-cut military types with tight asses and stars and stripes colored eyes for years, and kept it to himself. I sincerely doubted it, but I wasn't ruling it out. And I noticed that Jack had been really quick to accept my theory that Daniel had been fleetingly interested.

"I'd know."

"Mmm."

"I'd know."

"Whatever you say, sir."

"Christ, why are you being so -- And that was just one thing, okay? One small thing that was worrying him."

"And yet it's the one thing you're focusing on. Let it go. It was probably just weird with it coming from someone he works with. In a manner of speaking. He'll jump a mile the next time Colonel Mitchell slaps his ass in the showers, and then forget about it. It's not like he had chance to do anything with the other Mitchell."

Jack's gaze slid away. "No."

"Is that a no that means, 'Yes, he did'?"

"It's a no that means I asked him that, and he told me 'no', and I wasn't going to push it."

In what universe?

"Jack, can you skip to the part where you crawled into bed with him?" And lunched with him, and came back here after lunch, and...

"Nothing to tell. I came over last night, got too drunk to drive. Stopped here. Didn't think you'd --"

"Oh, please!" I took a temper-filled breath. "There are cabs; you could have walked, if it comes to that. You wanted to stop. Wanted to see if you had a chance. Wanted to take advantage of his state of mind and make one last play for his ass. And if you really were drunk, I'm guessing you fell asleep on him before he had chance to point out that compared to the dashing young Colonel Mitchell you're hardly in the run--"

The bedroom door slammed before I could finish my sentence, echoed by the deeper thud of the front door a moment later.

In between, I was fairly certain I'd heard the clink of a key being thrown at a wall.


Then

I drank the dregs of a cup of coffee that hadn't been hot for hours, too tired to spit it back into the cup. The reports were coming in, pouring in, endless yak and chatter, jubilation and triumph. If one more person slapped me on the back, their face split in a beaming smile, I was going to have bruises.

We'd won. We were safe. We'd whupped those slimy alien sons of bitches and shown them what happens when they come up against humans, by God.

Yeah.

And good luck pinning a medal on the hero of the hour without an ice-pick handy.

I stared at the memo in my hand. Something utterly trivial about a change to medical benefits. I started to laugh, helpless gusts of it shaking me. Earth had come close to being destroyed or enslaved, but I could get my teeth cleaned three times a year, instead of two, courtesy of the Pentagon.

I went home, pushing my way through a corridor filled with people who were still talking, making for the corridors filled with people out of the loop, who didn't know how close they'd come to dying on this bright and sunny day.

The streets were filled with equally oblivious people, and I walked amongst them feeling as alien as if I had a Goa'uld squirming in my belly.

It wasn't that I wasn't glad. I was. We'd won, and done it in style, with panache. Thrilling, edge-of-the seat, last-minute stuff.

There'd been one voice, cracking with excitement and awe --

"Thousands of bright yellow…I don't know…They're coming from the surface. I don't know what they are…They're cutting the enemy fleet to shreds. My God…beautiful!"

Yes.

He was.



Way Back When



Getting Jack alone at the SGC was, as always, difficult. He was hovering around Teal'c, who was bored of his solicitude after five minutes and had to endure it for an hour, and doing his best to avoid the Russians. As they were, to a certain extent, my responsibility, that would have meant that he was avoiding me, too.

Luckily, they were also Daniel's, as he'd invited them along and spoke their language, and Jack didn't, couldn't, wouldn't ignore him.

So I stuck to Daniel, and that got me Jack, and then Daniel... faded away, leaving us in his cluttered room staring at each other, mindful of the cameras but careful not to position ourselves in a way that would imply we were being mindful.

That didn't take much thought; it was automatic by now.

"You hanging around? Overnight, maybe?"

I wished. That would have got me a few hours with him, naked in the dark. I was tired enough that for once just that would've been enough.

"No; I have to be back in Washington as soon as possible. The deal Doctor Jackson set up --"

"You, too."

I shook my head. "No. If it goes wrong, then, yes, me, too, but it was him. He's a born negotiator."

"Still. You let him do it his way. Not everyone would. He can be..." Jack waggled his hand and grimaced. "Took me a while to get to the point where I trusted him. He's not military, or even politically-minded."

"No," I agreed fervently.

"So thanks. For helping get Teal'c back."

I shrugged. "It was my job. And one I was glad to do. Teal'c's worth any amount of effort."

That got me a nod, but I could tell his attention was wandering. It was difficult being alone, yet watched, in a place where we couldn't even stand close to each other for long. Conflicting impulses were making me dizzy.

"Anyway, as I was saying; I have to get back. The fallout from this will be huge. I'll be swamped."

"Sorry to hear that," he said easily. I knew he didn't mean my soon-to-be-overflowing in-box.

I held his gaze. "I'm sorry, too." I lowered my eyes and looked him over, storing up a few memories. He was leaning back against Daniel's desk, arms bare and crossed over his chest. As I watched, his thumb scratched at his forearm, leaving a white line against the tan.

"Got to go," he said softly, regretfully.

"Yes, sir." I turned, knowing he wouldn't want to leave me here, in Daniel's space. "Oh, one thing --"

"Major?"

This wasn't the time and it really wasn't the place, but I had to warn him. I moved so that my back was to the camera, making it look natural. "He said something. I think -- sir, I swear he didn't get it from me, but he knows --"

Discreet. No names. None needed.

O'Neill looked blank, and then he got it, and then he looked blank again. "You mean...?" He mouthed a careful, slightly theatrical 'Us?', covering it with a raised hand, and I nodded.

The snort of quiet laughter was disconcerting.

"You knew," I said flatly.

"I told him, so, yes, I'd say you were correct, Davis." He frowned at me. "What?"

I controlled myself, I really did. "Is there anywhere we can go to discuss this?"

"Nothing to discuss."

"Oh, yes, there fucking is."

I was forced to keep my emotions confined to my expression and voice, and it meant that I was damn near growling out of a contorted face. He flinched. "Hey. Calm down..."

"We go somewhere, or I do it here."

His face closed down. "Fine."

We ended up in his quarters, getting there in a strained silence, staring straight ahead. He left the door open and as soon as I'd moved inside the bare, utilitarian room he dragged me into the tiny bathroom, kicking that door shut.

"You'd better make this fast, and you'd better have a damn good reason for throwing this particular fucking tantrum," he told me.

He filled the room with his anger and unease and I'd have been the one flinching if I wasn't so angry with him.

"Reason? I'm an Air Force officer and you just told someone you were fucking me! I'd say that was a reason!"

"I told Daniel," he corrected me. "Whole different thing."

"Why? Why is it?" I still couldn't yell at him but we were close enough that I didn't need to.

"Because it's Daniel."

I nodded, lips clamped together until fury burst them apart. "He's your friend, not mine. A member of your team, your buddy, your pal. Whatever he is, he's yours. Not mine. And you gave me to him. Told him something he could use to kill my career stone-dead. You had no right. None."

"He wouldn't do that. He likes you, and I'd trust him with my life, Davis." He spoiled it by adding, "And think about it; it'd kill mine, too."

"You just don't get it, do you?"

"I do, I just --" His hand came up and he patted awkwardly at my arm. "He'd pretty much figured it out."

"Oh, God." I leaned forward, resting my head against his shoulder, all the strength leaving me. "Who else knows?"

"No one. It's Daniel, dammit; he knows me better than I do; he sees me happy, he starts to wonder why; he starts digging. It's what he does."

His fingers stroked through my hair, finding the nape of my neck, cupping it and pulling me closer.

"Hey. We good now? Because we've got to get the hell out of here, you know."

"I know," I muttered into his shoulder. Happy? Because of me? We hadn't -- there just wasn't -- "And no, we're not, but I suppose we'll have to be."

He got me to look up by tugging on my hair, his fingers slipping away with a jerk because it was too short for that, really. "Yes, we will." He nodded down, not giving me the kiss I'd have been shocked to get here on base. "You fit to be seen?"

"What? Oh..." I stepped back. "Yes, sir. Arguing with you isn't exactly a turn-on."

He grinned. "Liar."

I smiled back. Couldn't help it. "You, too?"

"If we weren't on base..."

"On duty..."

"In uniform..."

"Okay, you're not helping."

He opened the door and I saw past his shoulders that we weren't alone. Daniel was in the room, leaning against the wall where he could be seen from the corridor. Safeguard, chaperone, and audience, all in one. He nodded at us, with the small, secretive smile I seemed to be seeing a lot, and spoke directly to me. "The Russians are ready to leave."

I nodded back and left with him, without looking at Jack again.

"I'm sorry," he said as we entered the elevator. "I honestly wasn't being curious for the sake of it."

"I --"

"No, please." His eyes were earnest. "It's important that you believe that."

"Fine."

He gave a soft, frustrated groan. "I've really made this worse, haven't I?"

The elevator lurched to a halt and I pressed the button to keep the doors closed a moment longer. "I'm trusting you because I have to. Don't make me regret it."

"I won't."

The doors opened and we side-stepped a bunch of nurses and headed along a corridor.

"You know, if you ever want to talk about this --"

"I can't tell you how much I don't."

He paused at a corridor junction. "Well."

I held out my hand. "Nice working with you on this, Doctor Jackson."

He shook my hand and murmured, "Likewise, Major Davis."

I glanced back before I turned the corner, and saw him disappearing down the corridor we'd just walked down, heading back to Jack.

I trusted him with my secret way more than I trusted him with Jack.



Now

The phone rang on the third day.

Not Jack.

Daniel.

"Paul?"

He'd been calling me that for years, but it still took me by surprise a little. "Yes."

"I've just been talking to Jack."

I checked the clock; pointlessly, as it didn't matter what time of night it was in Colorado; Daniel could be at his desk at midnight, or at home at eleven in the morning. SG-1 didn't exactly stamp a time card.

"Where are you calling from?"

"What? Oh!" His voice got dry. "The library in downtown, actually, and my quarters are disappearing rapidly."

Safe enough.

"Give me the number."

He did, and I put the phone down without a word, breathing quickly, feeling my heartbeat speed up painfully, disconcertingly aware of it.

Talking to Jack was more than I'd done. I'd fallen asleep because I was exhausted, and woken a scant handful of hours later, rare, unfamiliar-feeling tears leaking from my eyes, conjured by a dream where Jack was -- I couldn't remember. Something bad. Dead. Fucking someone else. Gone.

Lost again.

I'd seen him once at work, in the distance, stalking down the corridor, back straight. I'd sent my report over by messenger, instead of hand-delivering it, and heard nothing back.

All lines of communication were effectively sealed because we were each waiting for a call neither of us was prepared to make -- I was waiting, anyway. Maybe Jack had already pushed me aside, out of his life. I'd worn the skin on my thumb to a raw, blistered mess compulsively stroking his key, buried deep in my pocket. He hadn't asked for it back.

Stubbornness and hurt had kept me from making that call. I wasn't sure what I'd say if I did, anyway. I needed him to call me; needed to feel wanted.

I reached for the phone and called Daniel back, agreeing to meeting him, agreeing to fly in the next day, assuring him that, yes, I could fake up a pretext for a visit.


***

He met me in the small office they assigned visitors to the SGC; broom cupboard size, bare and anonymous.

"Hi."

He looked relaxed and strained at one and the same time. I felt the same way. "Doctor Jackson."

He was too used to me being formal at work to even quirk an eyebrow at that. "You're here for the night?"

I nodded. "I've got a flight back at one tomorrow."

"Let me take you out to dinner, then."

He was so direct about it, uncaring about the way it looked. I nodded slowly. "Thank you."

"I'm leaving at six; I can give you a ride to your hotel..."

"I'm staying on base. Hardly worth a hotel for one night."

"Oh, you can't stay here," he protested. "I know you never sleep well on base." I didn't, no, but I didn't recall telling him that. "You're welcome to stay at my place, and I'll bring you in with me tomorrow to finish up what you have to do, and collect your car."

I tried to picture Jack's face when he found out I'd spent the night with Daniel, failed, and nodded again.

He didn't take me out to eat.

He drove directly to his apartment, and gave me a complicit smile. "I thought maybe you'd like to skip dinner."

"No. I refused to let him manipulate me any more. "I'm hungry."

"I'll order in," he promised. His eyes met mine. "Paul -- I'm going to talk to you about it. You know I am. I don't see much point in putting it off, do you?"

I undid my seat belt, surrendering, because he was right; what was the point? Daniel's show; I was just the audience. "I suppose not."

That got me an approving smile and a pat on the knee. "Good. Come on, then."

I followed him up the stairs, my overnight bag heavy in my hand because I was tired.

"Are you checking out my ass?" he threw back over his shoulder, sounding amused.

I didn't rise to the bait. Besides, I hadn't been. "I did that years ago. It hasn't changed much."

"Hey, I work out these days!"

I eyed it. "Looks the same as it ever did, Daniel. Out of reach, and in my face."

He was still snickering when we got to his door, but he shut up once we were inside, doing the host thing with an awkwardness that made me wonder just how often he entertained.

We ended up on the couch, not by my choice, drink in hand, stale chips in a bowl on the table that neither of us touched.

"What did he say?" I asked him.

"You're very direct, aren't you?"

"Yes. Tell me what he said."

Daniel took a sip of his red wine, leaving his full lips stained until his tongue swiped across them. He was pretty. I preferred what I had -- what I used to have -- but I could see his appeal, always had.

"He's..." He hesitated.

"Angry."

"You know he is."

"Hurt."

"Has to be." Daniel looked thoughtful, as if he was comparing past experiences with current events. "Jack's good at hiding that particular emotion, though."

"He's just sick and tired of all my bullshit." It sounded bleak. I swallowed, tasting the wine, thin and sharp. "Daniel -- I don't know why I came. It's over. I know that. What I don't know is why you care."

He looked intensely uncomfortable. "God, this is -- I hate this."

I frowned. "Then why do it? We're grown men, Daniel. We can fight without you stepping in to referee, and I don't see you playing Cupid." I stared at him. "Oh. You feel guilty. Don't. This is -- nothing new."

"If I hadn't gone to see him --"

"We'd have had this fight next week, next month." I shrugged. "Daniel, it's taken me a long time to see that you're not the problem. I am. I got that eventually, remember?"

It was amazingly easy to be forgiving and mature. I basked in the glow for a moment, enjoying the moral high ground. Hey, Jack; see? I'm not always a suspicious, bitter fucked-up --

"Yes, you are."

Agreement brought my exalted state to an abrupt end. "Right," I said coldly. "You know, we seem to have covered everything. How about I get the hell out of here, and leave you to whatever you normally do?"

"I can get you Jack back."

"I don't want him back like that."

"Then I guess you don't want him much at all."

We'd spoken quickly, snapping out the words, but now we paused. "I want him," I said finally. "I miss him. It's killing me that every time we get a chance to start over, I fuck it up, and you're involved. Always." I took a deep breath. "Forget it, Daniel."

"No." He could be an obstinate devil at times. "You've got questions, doubts; ask me. Anything. I want it all to be clear in your mind, so that you can decide what you want to do."

"Anything?"

A flush rose in his face, but he nodded.

"Have you really got the hots for Mitchell?"

A look of utter astonishment crossed his face. "What?"

"Jack thinks --"

"Stop. Wait." He held his hand up and then stood, stalking around the room, his brow furrowed.

Daniel thinking. All movement, absolute concentration.

He whirled around, shaking his head, less in denial than incredulity. "Jack is the most --"

"Isn't he?"

"He thought --"

We shared a smile at Jack's ability to misread a situation and sometimes manhandle it into the shape he wanted by sheer force of will. "Oh, yes."

"And that's why he asked so many questions..." Daniel rolled his eyes.

"Did you answer them? No, you can't have done, or he wouldn't still think it."

"None of his business," Daniel said indignantly. "I love him, but I must have missed the memo where that gives him the right to know about my sex life."

"He doesn't want to know about it; he wants to be part of it."

"You've always believed that, haven't you? I convinced you I didn't want him, but that's only half of it." He sank down beside me again, lolling back, looking more relaxed than I felt he should be. "It's not true, you know."

I didn't answer.

"Jack knows it would have been a disaster."

"Goes with the territory."

"We don't have stellar records when it comes to our romantic lives, do we? Any of us."

"You could say that." I don't know what I'd flown in for, but it wasn't this. "You still haven't told me what he said."

"From memory?" Daniel closed his eyes and then opened them again, his lips curling in a smile as he quoted Jack's words back to me. "'Daniel? If I kill Davis, we can get rid of his body off-world, right? Smuggle him through the 'gate, drop him in a volcano? There was an active one on that planet with the --'"

"Stop." Daniel had captured enough of the cadence of Jack's voice to make listening to him acutely painful. "Did he say anything he meant?"

"Oh, I think he meant that," Daniel murmured. "I thought I was the only one who could get him that mad."

"Something else for us to be rivals for? The keys to Jack's temper? I don't think so."

"It was supposed to be comforting."

"Thanks, but I already know I can piss him off."

Daniel nodded. "Then you also know you matter to him."

"It's possible to be angry with someone and not want to fuck them," I said dryly.

"Jack always wants to fuck you." He sounded matter-of-fact. "We were off-world once, a few years back, got separated from the other two and got pinned down in some caves by this electrical storm. We had time to talk, and we talked about you, amongst other things."

I rubbed at my ear and he laughed. "No; it was all good, I swear, and he didn't break any confidences. Jack's too discreet to say much, but something stuck with me."

I had a vague suspicion that I was being played, but I wanted to hear it. It didn't make any difference to where we were now, but if Jack had said something nice about me, I wanted to know.

"I asked him what he saw in you. It wasn't as negative as the words imply; I really wanted to know. You're not what I'd have imagined he'd go for -- and it was still a lot to take in that he had a type when it came to men.

"He said you'd never bored him. Ever. And you'd never backed down, no matter how much pressure he put on you. He --" Daniel flushed, glancing away and back. "He said you could be kneeling, begging, and still have this look in your eyes that --"

"I'm going to fucking kill him." My face was burning. That was Jack being discreet? "He had no fucking right --"

"It was only me he was talking to," Daniel said quietly. "Trying to make me see, so that I'd accept you. It was important to him."

"But you didn't. Not for a long time."

"I didn't try very hard," he admitted. "And there was a lot going on with me back then. Jack and I weren't all that close. We were on opposite sides so often -- I think he wanted to share something with me that mattered."

"It's not important." I watched the shadow of a tree sway on the wall, endlessly reinventing its shape. "That was then. This is now."

"Why did you get so angry about me staying at your place?" Daniel sounded almost hurt. "I didn't think you'd mind, or I wouldn't have gone there."

"I didn't. Not really. Not you. I told you that you were welcome to use it. Gave you a key."

"I didn't mention that."

"No?" It didn't seem to matter. "It wasn't you being there; it was --"

"Me being there with Jack."

I nodded. "I trust you."

"But not him."

"I just -- I don't know anymore. Should I?"

"If you trust me, I don't see the problem. You can't think Jack would ever force the issue, and I'm not exactly helpless to defend my virtue."

I gave him the smile he wanted. "That's very logical, Daniel."

He smiled back. Sweet smile, still, after all he'd been through. "Impressive, isn't it?"

"But I still want to know what happened. You said you'd tell me anything and that's what I need to know. Because if Jack even tried anything, I'm going to kick his fucking ass."

"I don't need protecting by you, either."

Oh. That obvious?

"Just tell me. Please?"

Daniel looked up through his lashes, brow creased deeply. "And you'll believe me?"

"You don't lie very well."

"Actually, I do, but I don't see the point very often. Okay. Jack got drunk and told me, in way more detail than he had to, about how much he was missing you. He mentioned how not amused he was that as soon as he arrived in Washington, you left the planet, and then he pretty much passed out."

"God." I'd dealt with him like that once or twice. Not easy. "I'm sorry."

"I didn't mind." Daniel held up a finger in warning. "This is the important part. I got into bed with him. I wanted to be there if he needed something, or threw up, and it's not as if it mattered. Your bed's big and, well, it was Jack."

Put like that, it seemed fair enough, but I wasn't letting go of my suspicions that easily. If I did, I'd have to move onto the part where I'd ruined everything all by myself. "And?"

"I had to shove him over to his own side of the bed a few times, and we woke up wrapped around each other and both feeling like hell. I guess I'd had more to drink than I'd realized. He worked out where his hand was - south of my waist -- and moved it just as I rolled away, so it went from my ass to my dick in the space of a few seconds and I froze. We both did. It was...well. Awkward, I guess. But it didn't matter because, at the risk of repeating myself, it was Jack."

I was biting back a grin just picturing it, but I had to ask. "What did he do?"

Daniel's mouth curved in a reminiscent grimace. "Patted me, muttered something about an archeologist's tools that didn't really make either of us laugh, and tripped over the bucket I'd left beside the bed. He was barely speaking to me up until he left, and then I got a hug and he swatted my backside, which is a habit I'm hoping I can break him of, but I'm not holding my breath."

"That was it?"

"Mmm." Daniel gave me an enchanting, dazzling smile. "You feel like an idiot now, don't you?"

"A suicidal one."

"I don't advise it. Jack doesn't like people he loves dying on him."

"I'm not in that group. Not sure I ever was, but I know I'm not after this."

"Now you're fishing."

"Only if I'm the worm."

"The bait," Daniel corrected me. "Paul, you can get Jack back in your bed without even trying. Don't make me go into details about that, because I just -- no. Don't want to go there. Once he's, uh, feeling more kindly towards you, apologize. The shock will shut him up for long enough that you'll be able to sell him on anything. Tell him you were angry on my behalf because you thought he was taking advantage of me."

I snorted.

"It's one approach," Daniel protested. "We are good friends, after all."

"We are?"

"Aren't we?"

"Oh, you know we are!"

"I'm not the one -- never mind." Daniel leaned over and refilled my wine glass. "Protecting me is something Jack thinks is his job, so don't overplay that angle. Just make him see that I've had it up to here with being used by you both."

"We don't use you!"

"Yes, you do. As a way to spice things up, as a reason not to commit, as a weapon..." Daniel pulled a face. "It's annoying. Stop it. Seriously."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that," Daniel agreed. He stood, snapping the conversation off neatly. "Chinese? Pizza? Or there's leftover pasta salad from last night; I made way too much, expecting Mitchell to come over, but he had a ton of paperwork."

"Salad's fine." I stood as well. "I'll give you a hand. Just need to --"

"Over there, down the hall."

"Thanks." He turned back to look at me and I said it again. "Thank you."

He gave me a considering look and then took two steps over and hugged me. Not a token, quick hug; he fitted his body to mine, wrapped his arms around me and held it for long enough that I had time to recover from my shock, return it, and start to shake, just a little.

Which was when I got a kiss somewhere in the vicinity of my ear and a smack on my ass.

"That's as much as Jack gets," he told me, retreating. "Just so you know. And he doesn't get it often."

"That qualifies as flirting," I told him when I'd got my breath back.

He grinned. "Jack's definition is less polite. But he never stops me."

"I bet he doesn't."

"Ah-ah!"

"No." I shook my head. "I didn't mean it like that. It's just -- it was nice. Thank you. Again."

He nodded, beaming at me. Daniel in his happy place.

Jack and I still not. Not yet.



Then


"Hello?"

"You have to do something. You have to." Daniel's voice splintered through the alcoholic haze that was keeping my misery at bay, and I felt a stab of resentment.

"Daniel?"

There was a pause. "Yes, of course it's me." He took a deep breath and let it out with a shuddering sigh. "Good evening, Major Davis. I hope I haven't disturbed you --"

"Do something about what?" I asked, taking a perverse pleasure in derailing him for a second time.

"You know what. The talks. The not-going-well talks."

"Daniel, I'm one of a team working long hours trying to get a dozen countries to agree on something huge that scares them to death. I am doing something."

"What, exactly? Getting drunk?"

"You can tell from all the way over there?" I waved in the direction of Colorado and didn't spill a drop from my glass. "Impressive."

"I can tell, yes." Exasperation roughened his voice. "I wish you wouldn't, Paul."

"It's a way of coping. I'm not doing it every night. How about you?"

"He'll be back. Eventually. I know that. It makes it easier."

"You said that before." I stared around the room. "Don't see him. Let me check under this cushion... nope, not there, either."

"Stop it."

"I can't." My voice thickened and twisted and I stood, phone clamped to my ear, pacing because immobility became unbearable after a while, and I felt as if it was me frozen, held captive. "Suppose he's... aware, Daniel? Suppose he isn't asleep? Weeks. It's been weeks, and he's in there, fucking buried alive --"

"I've seen him," Daniel sounded tense but certain. "He's asleep; more than that. In stasis, I swear it. He doesn't know what's happening. And I've told you; when he went under, it wasn't really him, not entirely..."

"He said goodbye," I broke in. "Goodbye to you. He knows -- knew -- that it was a one-way trip--"

"Is that the way you're persuading people to push to get him out? Telling them he's probably insane by now, or that it's impossible to reverse?" he demanded, disgust souring his words. "God, does he even get mentioned at these talks, or are we pretending he doesn't exist, because it's simpler that way? He deserves better than that. Than you."

"Shut the fuck up!"

"I don't know what the hell he saw in you."

"You sanctimonious, jealous --"

"Of what? That you got his dick and a few hours of his time whenever he got an itch I wouldn't scratch? I don't think so."

There was a dull, buzzing roar in my head. I couldn't speak. Words couldn't get past the scream building and I wasn't going to let the scream out to make room for them.

We'd got to this point of mutual vulnerability before; got close and sheered away.

Now we'd left it squirming, flip-flopping in the dust, back broken, blood oozing. Hit and run.

I'd always thought I'd be the one to break and lash out first. There was an odd comfort in it being Daniel. I heard his fast, jerky breathing, and then the click as he hung up.

I finished my drink and didn't pour another. I didn't want it, and I wasn't going to drink it to spite him.


***

The next night I logged onto my computer, after swallowing down a meal I didn't want to eat. I couldn't work from home much, for security reasons, even though my computer was as secure as humanly possible, but there was a social event coming up, and I'd been volunteered into organizing the food. Definitely something I had to do on my own time, as it involved my soon-to-be married secretary. I really didn't have time for it, but crises came and went; secretaries, good ones, stuck with you.

I clicked to get my mail, dealt with the junk and a few replies from various caterers with inflated ideas of what our budget was, and stayed online to read some headline news articles with a desultory interest.

A new e-mail arrived, appearing as if it had been waiting for me to sit down.

Daniel. I eyed it, trying to get a feel for what it would contain when I pushed my finger into clicking it open. At the moment, it didn't seem to want to move. Sensible finger. The subject line was a single word.

No. A single question.

Talk?

I clicked and blinked the words into focus.

Paul, I don't know when you'll get this, or if you'll even open it as you'll be able to see that it's from me. I'll assume that you have.

I need to talk to you about this and I don't want to do this face to face.

And not on the phone, either. It's too easy for that to spin out of control. Like last night.

So this works for me. I can talk without you interrupting me -- you do that a lot, do you know that? -- and you can read this when you're sober.

If you're not; if you're drunk now, please walk away and read this later. God, I imagine you're snarling 'Fuck you' at the screen right now, aren't you? You do that a lot, too.

There's no point in me spending time on this if you're not reading it, or don't plan to, or don't want to communicate using any method, so I'll wait to hear that this is okay with you.

And, no, I'm not going to apologize for what I said. You deserved it.

Daniel


I read it twice, clicked 'reply', and typed an answer one-handed, leaning back in my chair, watching the words appear, hanging suspended, black on white, waiting for the send key to make them real.

I'm sober. Which is none of your fucking business. Lecture me all you want, Doctor Jackson. Knock yourself out.

It doesn't matter now, does it?


It was 8.15 for me; two hours earlier for him.

Time to kill, for both of us.

I poured myself another cup of coffee, tipped a bag of chips up over a bowl, leaving the counter strewn with fragments, and settled down in front of the computer again, provisioned and ready for battle.

It didn't take him long to answer.

It matters to me. And it might make you get off your lachrymose ass and pull strings, call in favors -- Weir isn't Hammond. She's okay, and she's trying, but she doesn't really know Jack -- never had chance -- and she doesn't see why we need him above and beyond personal reasons.

He saved the planet, and no one seems to care, or realize that we might need him to do it again.

But you know that, don't you? So why aren't you helping me?

Is it easier to mourn him than to deal with him in person, with all his flaws? Was the gilt wearing off your shiny colonel? Or do you think if he came back, it wouldn't be to you?


He liked to end with a zing-sting in the tail, didn't he?

My ass isn't weeping, thanks; we had safe sex. Mostly. You mouth off at me again, Doctor Jackson and I'll go into detail.

You want to tell me what you think of me? Fine. But don't say I glorified him, or didn't see him for what he was. Maybe, a little, when I didn't know him well, but that didn't last past the first time I fucked him.

And you know when that was, don't you? Yes, of course you do. I bet you noticed the next day because I put a fucking smile on his face. Night of the eclipse. He seduced me. Wanted me.
Took me. Into his bed, his body -- God, you have no idea how fucking lonely he was, did you? And you left him. What was it, eight, nine months later? We've never talked about that. How I held him together until you got off your ascended ass and remembered your roots.

Maybe I've got stuff to say, too, Daniel. About people who die heroically -- you know, I cried? Actual fucking tears for you -- both of us did. Must be the Irish in us -- though mine's a long way back -- but we gave you a send-off. Hell, maybe you were watching, even if you can't remember it now.

Jack yelling out my name as I nailed him on the couch, whiskey spilled everywhere, his face still wet? Ringing any bells?


There was a long pause, and I got sick of waiting and wandered around the room, restless and angry. I didn't know what he wanted. A slanging match? It wasn't helping. Well, it wasn't helping me. This fearless and frank fucking with each other's feelings wasn't leeching out the poison; it was pumping it in, and I could feel myself swell with it, monstrous and vile. Mr Hyde...

I'd always thought he liked me. Thought, as far as it went, that we were friends; that any bitterness or jealousy was all on my part, because he had Jack's thoughts and love, unstated, sure, but as real as the warmth from sunlight, if equally intangible.

And I had... how had Daniel put it? His dick, and the ability to satisfy his sexual needs.

It sounded dirty. Cheap.

I went back and read Daniel's messages again. I'd never had anything written from him before. Oh, his mission reports, yes, but apart from the odd flash of exasperation, they were fairly bland.

Looking at his words, divorced from him, even the first message had a coldness to it that was a little shocking. Daniel got away with a lot because he said it in a soft, persuasive voice, blue eyes blinking, tongue darting out to wet his lips. I tried to picture him speaking the words aloud, his delivery slipping them past my defenses.

That wasn't going to happen now that he'd written them down, immutable, unsoftened. I wasn't going to let him get to me, but he already had.

Did he know something I didn't? Had Jack been planning to end our relationship? It hadn't felt that way to me, but I wasn't good at reading people when my own emotions were involved.

I was certain of just one thing; I wanted him back in the world. His choice what happened then, but I was going to make damned sure he knew I wanted him. Jack wasn't any better than me at the subtleties; maybe he'd misread me, as I had him, so many times.

We were fucking hopeless at communicating. We fought, fucked, and I fell deeper in love every time I saw him, but I didn't tell him that, and I had no idea if he loved me, or not.

Daniel would know, which was why I was scared shitless of doing this.

An email appeared and I closed my eyes, hiding from it until I got sick of being a coward.

I didn't spy on you. I wouldn't have done that.

I think.

I don't know, Paul. I don't remember, if that's any consolation, and I'm not going to waste time apologizing for something I might not have done.

Which is why I'm never going to tell you I'm sorry about fucking Jack, because to the best of my knowledge, that's never happened either.

Which has either dispelled one of your fears, or ruined one of your fantasies, because, to be perfectly honest, you've got to know it didn't happen, so your obsession with it is starting to look... weird?

***

My
what? I'm in a relationship with a man who's fixated on someone else to the point of being ridiculously possessive and protective, and I'm the one with a problem? Jack is in love with you, and if there was a chance in hell you'd let him fuck you, he'd grab it, and your ass while he was at it.

***

I don't think so. Where are you getting this from? What are you basing it on? Something Jack's said? Paul, this is insane. I'm not competing with you for Jack in that way. The relationship we have is based on friendship, trust, and mutual respect. And a lot of fighting. There isn't room for a sexual element in there, and you don't know Jack very well if you think he'd ever be that unprofessional.

***

He's fucking me, isn't he?

***

Yes. Well, no one's perfect.

***

Fuck you.


***

I wondered how long it would be before you said that.


***

There was nothing from him after that for over an hour. I got frustrated, then bored, and walked away, staring out of the window at the blurred light trails from car headlights. That deepened my boredom into an apathetic slump I couldn't shake off. The effort required to breathe; shift positions in my chair; rub at an itch on my leg, seemed huge, and, once accomplished, trivial.

I was losing it, all my control, all my distance, and it scared me.

In an unpremeditated burst of movement, I stood, made it across to the computer and sat down. Somewhere I had the details of a screen name I'd set up for a chat session with a friend who'd gone to live in Europe. We'd used it once, then he'd left Paris, and I'd lost touch with him, apart from a postcard every so often.

I logged on, made sure it was all still working, and sent Daniel an e-mail with nothing but the details and my screen name. It flashed up a warning that I needed a subject line and I added 'Faster?' and hit send, wondering if he was still around to read it.

He wrote back at once, which got him some points, answering with a cautious, 'Okay. Give me a few minutes to do this.'

It took him twenty minutes to get it set up and invite me to chat. By then I was on my second drink, the burn of the vodka hidden under the sweetness of fresh orange juice, not drunk enough to have any trouble typing, but starting to feel a certain recklessness.

danielJ34 Paul?

paul100 I'm here.

danielJ34 Are you sure this is a good idea?

paul100 No. But it's more fun fighting with you than staring out the window.

danielJ34 I don't want to fight.

paul100 Yes, I think you do.

danielJ34 Why do you think that?

paul100 Uh... your e-mails? You told me I was delusional, convenient, and about to be dumped.

danielJ34 That wasn't an attack.

paul100 And yet I'm bleeding.

danielJ34 I'm sorry.

paul100 Going to tell me that the truth hurts?

danielJ34 No. Which part hurt the most?

paul100 ALL of it! Christ, Daniel...

danielJ34 No. I need to know.

paul100 I don't -- the dumped part, I guess. Why do you think that's going to happen?

danielJ34 You and Jack are fighting. Were. A lot more than usual.

paul100 We do that.

danielJ34 This much? This violently?

paul100 Yes. We always have. You just didn't know about it. How did you find out?

danielJ34 How do you think?

paul100 What did he say?

danielJ34 That you were being a pain in the ass about stuff.

paul100 What stuff?

danielJ34 You tell me.

paul100 He got hurt off-world, and I -- but we worked through that at the cabin.

danielJ34 Oh. Then. No, before that.

paul100 I don't know. Either tell me, or admit you're guessing.

danielJ34 What do you think Jack wants from you?

paul100 What? We're in a relationship; what does anyone want from that?

danielJ34 He's never once used that word to describe what you have, do you know that?

paul100 For God's sake, Daniel. I'm having trouble using it. It's about more than the sex, if that's what you mean. And, yes, for him, too, no matter what he's told you. I know that.

danielJ34 Do you love him?

paul100 Do you care?

danielJ34 I'm curious.

paul100 Jack's important to me. In a lot of ways.

danielJ34 Me, too.

paul100 I like him.

danielJ34 No, you don't. You just want him.

paul100 You know, this is getting us nowhere, Daniel.

danielJ34 Funny, that's what Jack said about the two of you.

paul100 What is your fucking problem, Daniel?

danielJ34 You. You and your hang-ups and your issues and your hold on him. You're not helping him, Paul. You're not giving him anything worth the risk he's taking by seeing you.

paul100 I'm giving as much as I'm getting. He's not interested in more from me. I wish he was. If he wants to know if I -- God, this is -- He's just got to ask, Daniel. Everything else I give him, but that he has to ask for.

danielJ34 Why? Why does he have to do it? Why can't you just unbend for once?

paul100 Because he likes me bent? Sorry. Cheap shot. Because that's not how it is between us. You wouldn't understand.

danielJ34 Because I'm not gay?

paul100 Because you're not military.

danielJ34 That can't make a difference. Not now. You've been with him for years...

paul100 And I still call him sir, sometimes.

danielJ34 God, that's -- not in bed?

paul100 :-)

danielJ34 I can't imagine that.

paul100 Why are you trying? Are you curious about that, too?

danielJ34 A little. Yes.

paul100 I'm surprised. Or maybe not. It's one of your defining characteristics, after all.

danielJ34 I suppose it is.

paul100 What, specifically, are you curious about?

danielJ34 I'm not sure. Not what you do, don't worry.

paul100 We fuck, Daniel. It's not like you didn't guess that, or know what it entails.

danielJ34 No, I meant I wouldn't ask for details.

paul100 Only because you know I wouldn't give them.

danielJ34 Wouldn't you?

paul100 No. Not without Jack's permission -- good luck on that -- and even then -- no. None of your business. What else?

danielJ34 Is there anything else?

paul100 Ouch.

danielJ34 Okay, and you can just not answer if you don't want to...

paul100 Gee, thanks.

danielJ34 Paul? After years of working with Jack, sarcasm isn't an effective weapon to use with me.

paul100 Better than a P90.

danielJ34 You really do have a lot of hostility toward me, don't you?

paul100 Want the truth?

danielJ34 Usually, yes.

paul100 There have been times I've hated you, times I've liked you, times I've come hard thinking about you. Take your pick which one sums up how I feel about you the best.

danielJ34 Are you drunk?

paul100 I'm drinking. I'm not drunk.

danielJ34 How can you --

paul100 Jerk off thinking about you naked when I know you're straight, untouchable and off-limits? Born rebel.

danielJ34 Does Jack know you do that?

paul100 You're kidding, right? And it's not often, so don't flatter yourself.

danielJ34 You don't think about Jack?

paul100 Sometimes. Not recently. Not since he's gone.

danielJ34 Why?

paul100 Why do you fucking think? Because it hurts. He's gone.

danielJ34 Paul -- we'll get him back. I came back, didn't I?

paul100 Which time? :-)

danielJ34 Humor. Okay, that's... something. Any time. Jack's alive. The Asgard helped him once; we've just got to tell them what's happened and get them to do it again.

paul100 Or something.

danielJ34 Yes.

paul100 I'm doing what I can, but he's a relatively minor part of the negotiations; sorry, but he is, and I have to be careful.

danielJ34 What the fuck for?

paul100 Because, Daniel, Jack would kick our asses if he woke up to find himself outed because people worked out why that nice Major Davis was freaking out over him being like he is. And Jack -- and you -- might get away with sweeping in and playing hero but I don't have that much pull or that much... audacity. Just a pencil-pusher from the Pentagon, right? A go-between. A flunky.

danielJ34 You've kept Jack interested for a long time; I seriously doubt that's all you are. I know it isn't. I've worked with you, remember? You're passionate, intense and intelligent.

paul100 Are you flirting with me? Because I'm spoken for.

danielJ34 And I can see why you piss Jack off so much. Do you ever let your guard down?

paul100 I'm sorry. That was rude of me, wasn't it? Thank you, Daniel. You're all of those things yourself. Hey; what a coincidence! I wonder if that's why Jack's doing his starving donkey/bales of hay impression.

danielJ34 Now I'm wishing we were face to face because I can't tell how angry you are right now.

paul100 Not very. Just resigned.

danielJ34 To what?

paul100 Daniel -- you're straight, right?

danielJ34 Yes...

paul100 Not tempted to try Jack on for size for curiosity's sake?

danielJ34 Not even a little.

paul100 Does he know that?

danielJ34 It's never come up in conversation. Not explicitly. But he does, yes. He has to.

paul100 Then I guess I don't understand it. He's stubborn, but he's not stupid.

danielJ34 Occam's Razor. Stop making it complicated when it's simple. I am Jack's friend. Jack is my friend. We are not fucking because we are just friends. Come on, Paul; you don't want to sleep with all your friends, do you? It's not that difficult a concept.

paul100 What friends?

danielJ34 Oh, come on!

paul100 What friends? I don't have any friends; I don't have time for them and I'm not -- look, Jack's it, okay? And I don't need to tell you how I feel about him because you know.

danielJ34 I was about to tell you I'm sorry and that's pitiful and then I realized...

paul100 You don't have many, either.

danielJ34 Outside work? No. Sam, Teal'c... they're the closest I've got.

paul100 Sucks to be us.

danielJ34 Sometimes.

...

danielJ34 Paul? You still there?

paul100 Still here.

danielJ34 I miss him.

paul100 I know.

danielJ34 He'll be okay.

paul100 Sure he will.

danielJ34 I'm going to go now.

paul100 Okay.

danielJ34 Did this do anything? Did this help?

paul100 I guess. Do I say thank you?

danielJ34 No. Do I say sorry?

paul100 No need. Never? Really never?

danielJ34 Nope. You're more my type ;-) Night Paul.

paul100 Sweet dreams, Daniel.



Way Back When


The seventh time he told me that it was his fault, I agreed with him. Anything to break the pattern. I was hanging onto my temper and my patience with difficulty, willing myself to hold back words I'd regret saying, and he'd never forget hearing from me.

"What?"

He gave me a glare that was blurred and unfocused, but still managed to burn through me. I stood and walked over to the couch, closing the distance between us, distance he'd enforced on me from the moment I'd arrived at his house and he'd stepped back, away from my offered, instinctive hug.

Fine. He didn't want hugging. I'd fed him, later I was going to suggest he showered, and I wasn't leaving until he'd slept, properly slept.

I'd seen his bed; neatly made; he hadn't been using it. Passing out on the couch, most probably.

It was safe for me to be there. No one would be around; Daniel had been ... missing for a few weeks now; the rallying around, such as it was, had been and gone.

I hadn't had chance to be part of that; Jack had told me not to come to see him, then a mission had taken the remnants of SG-1 away to rescue the Asgard, and this was the first chance I'd had to do more than call him and get grunts and bitten-off tags of sentences in reply.

He'd been coping until Hammond gave him a week off. This was day four and I didn't think he'd left the house the whole time. It smelled fusty, and he stank of beer, takeaway food, and sour sweat.

I had no doubt that on Monday he'd be showing up crisp and clean-shaven, Colonel O'Neill reporting for duty, sir, but I didn't care. He might have needed this, but it was time for it to end; it'd slopped over from cathartic to self-indulgent wallowing in his misery.

"It was your fault." I stood in front of him and stared down. "It happened off-world, on a mission, and he -- Daniel -- was part of your team. Ultimately, you were responsible for his action. Yes?"

"Yes."

"Congratulations."

His head jerked up and I swear he bared his teeth, although he stopped short of growling. "Excuse me?"

"Millions of lives saved? A large section of a populated planet spared from being turned into a radioactive wasteland? I'd say you deserved praise for that, wouldn't you?"

"Daniel saved them, not me."

"You were in charge --"

"Save the Pentagon logic, Davis. I'm not stupid. I see where you're going, it just isn't true. I'd have ordered him not to do it; to save himself."

"That wouldn't have been possible, given the circumstances, and, no, you wouldn't. You might have done it yourself, if you'd been there --" I shook my head. "Yes, of course you would. No doubt about it -- but you weren't there. Just him. And Daniel knew what needed doing, and he did it."

He stood up and pushed me out of his way. "I don't need to hear this. I know it."

"Then why are you blaming yourself? He had no choice --"

"Yes, he did! He could've let one of them do it! That fucking Quinn guy; his planet, his project, and he's still walking around, he's still alive, and in my fucking face --"

I sighed. "People --most people -- don't react quickly in emergencies."

"But Daniel did." He turned on me. "I trained him to. Taught him to fight, to shoot, to think fast --"

"And because of that, millions of people are alive who wouldn't be. You can't think Daniel would want it any other way."

His hands rose, clenched, and jerked down to his sides again. "Will you stop? Christ, Davis, just -- I don't want to hear it. I don't want comforting, I don't want to share what I'm feeling, not with Carter, not with Teal'c, not with you."

"You just want Daniel." I felt exhausted, tiredness dragging at me. I hadn't been sleeping well myself.

"Yeah." He was watching me now, cruel, cool eyes sharp. He'd woken up. "I want Daniel. I've always wanted him."

"I know."

"And he's gone."

"Yes."

He walked closer and put his hands on me, tilting up my face, stroking my ass, proprietary, possessive touches, roughly impersonal. I swallowed dryly, letting him do it.

"You're going to let me fuck you, aren't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Think it'll help?"

"I don't know."

"Thought you knew everything, Major. Thought you came here with all the answers."

"No."

"Came to fuck me?"

"I wasn't expecting to, no, sir."

His hand moved from my face to my cock, a swift drop and clutch that had me breathing out sharply.

"Liar."

I drove my fist into his stomach, making up for the lack of distance between us by throwing every ounce of strength I possessed behind it. It had to have hurt, but he'd been expecting it, I think, because it didn't wind him.

The fight that followed was quick and dirty. We were both trained, and I was technically in better shape, but I never even considered the possibility of winning. The controlled, artificial fighting I did in a gym was a world away from field combat, and I'd read his record.

Around the time he cracked one of my ribs, I began to have second thoughts about my sanity. I'd already lost all confidence in my tactics. He wouldn't kill me; I trusted his skill level too much to think he'd do it accidentally, and he had no reason to do it deliberately. Being alive when Daniel wasn't; did that merit a snapped neck? I didn't think so. A sharp, sweetly agonizing pain tore through my wrist.

"I write with that one."

He grinned at me, eyes focused on me. "Not all you do with it, Major."

"Let go."

"Beg."

"Break it, then."

"You know I won't."

"I really --ah, God --"

Something -- my bones -- grated, ground, the sound of it turning my stomach more than the pain.

"Jack --"

He released me, stepping back, his hands rising to ward me off, though I hadn't moved. Too busy cradling my wrist to me, moaning and cursing under my breath.

"Oh, God. Paul."

"Mmm," I managed. "I'm okay."

"The hell you are."

I took inventory. Bruised ribs --maybe not broken after all -- swelling wrist, assorted places that were throbbing in time with the beat of blood in my ears. "Stupid."

I meant me, and he wasn't going to disagree. "Yeah. You're lucky it isn't worse. Want some ice?"

"Ice?"

"Sure." He nodded, his tongue licking across his lips nervously. "For your hand. I'll go --"

My good hand closed around his shirt and tugged him closer.

"Davis?"

"You're going to let me do this first," I whispered tensely. Relief was washing away the pain, leaving me waiting to be written on, bare sand to be marked.

"I'm tired --"

"I know."

"Paul..."

I mouthed at his jaw, sucking the point of it, high up, by his ear, until his skin tasted of me and his throat was working, pained, soft noises swelling it.

"You're going to come with me."

"Right here?" He swayed against me, his hands coming up to grab at me with helpless scrabbles that didn't connect, crooked fingers skating over skin and cloth. I took his hands and locked them in mine, feeling the tremors running through him, barely noticeable to my eyes. My wrist throbbed sullenly and I ignored it.

"Not like that. Bedroom. To sleep."

"Because I'm tired?"

"Because you're tired," I agreed.

I guess it'd worked after all. I stripped him, gave him something for the pain he wasn't even close to feeling yet; the pain he'd wake to, and curled up beside him, fully-dressed, my hand on his shoulder. He rolled over, turning his back on me; not a rejection, just an automatic settling into sleep, and my hand slid away. Without speaking, he reached back and found it, rubbing his thumb over my bruised, split knuckles.

Even gently, it hurt.

***

He slept, and after I'd dealt with my own injuries, taking a deep, scalding bath and raiding his medicine cupboard, I slept, too, stretched out on the couch. He had been using it as a bed; I could tell. The cushion he'd used as a pillow was stiff where tears had dried on it, messy and salt. I leaned my face into it, and closed my eyes, letting my own slow, hot tears leak out and soak in.

Crying was a luxury; an indulgence. A rebellion, too, as it was something I wasn't supposed to do. It just had to be a private rebellion, and that meant I didn't bother often, because what was the point?

And it left me with a headache, a running nose, and a lightheaded emptiness, none of which were all that pleasant.

I just felt that Daniel deserved something, and this was the best I could offer.

I threw the cushion down onto the floor and woke early the next morning with my body complaining and my nose stopped up, which meant my mouth was open, which meant...

I sat up, winced and whimpered as there was no one around to impress, and went to get some water and more painkillers so that when Jack woke I'd be ready for whatever he needed.

We started the day with a peaceful truce, kicked off by him giving me a crooked smile when he appeared in the doorway, his hair rumpled and his hand scratching reflectively at the stubble peppering his chin.

"Morning."

"Just about." I nodded at the coffee pot. "It's all ready to go. Want some?"

"Have I got time for a shower?"

"Yes."

He grinned at my decisive agreement. "Stink that bad, do I?"

"On the ripe side. I can stand it."

I thought for a moment that he was going to cross over to me and put a receptive look on my face, but he settled for another nod, his grin softening to a smile, and disappeared. By the time he emerged from the bedroom, clean, shaved, and wearing a loose green shirt over jeans, I'd made breakfast.

We ate, alternating silence with inconsequential talk, and then he sighed and went to refill our mugs. "I ache in more places than I've got places."

"I'm flattered."

He gave me an amused look over his shoulder. "I won, though."

"As you didn't have one hand behind you and your foot in a bucket, yes, you did."

"Now I'm flattered."

"Don't be. It's the simple truth."

"You?"

I shrugged, testing the pull and play of muscle. "I'll live."

Wrong words to choose, to use. His face closed up.

"Yeah. I didn't really -- I was holding back."

Not from where I'd been standing, but I didn't argue. He came back to the table, setting the mugs down carefully. He always filled mine too full because I took more milk than he did.

"I was out of it yesterday; did you tell me how long you could stay for?"

"I was planning on going back tomorrow, on the lunchtime flight. Is that -- look, if you want me to go sooner, I get it. It's okay."

"Why would I want you to do that? I don't get to see you all that often as it is."

It was such a normal thing to say that it left me floundering. "Oh. Well, good. That's good."

"Yeah?" He gave me a weird look, half wary, half pleading, the skin under his eyes tightening as he grimaced. "You sure you want to hang around? I'm not up to doing much."

"We never do much." I lifted my mug in two hands and took a quick slurp at the coffee.

"No, but we usually do something."

"Name it."

He got a baffled look on his face as he thought back. "Shit, we just fuck, don't we?"

"You're complaining?"

"Maybe."

"What else can we do?" I waved my hand. "This... thing we've got is a secret. I got the cab to drop me off two streets over. I checked before walking up your path. I stay away from windows, don't answer your phone... it's not like we can go out for dinner or a movie."

"And that doesn't bother you?"

"I'm just glad we've got something." I shook my head. "Why are you asking me this? You know how it has to be."

"Side effect of losing someone you care about. Gets you thinking about stuff."

I studied him. He looked better, but not by much. "It wears off, trust me."

"It shouldn't."

"It has to."

He didn't argue with me but it left us with nothing to say. After we'd cleared away the dishes we ended up facing each other, stuck in an awful silence.

"I've got to get out of here," he said finally, almost visibly shrugging off his depression. "Both of us," he added before I could offer to go again. "There's got to be something we can do together in public that won't get us arrested."

I grinned. "The fun stuff's usually best done in private."

"We can do that later. Right now I'm trying to broaden your horizons."

"Well, what do you like doing?"

"I thought you knew me."

"Fishing's out."

"Why?"

"Season hasn't opened yet."

He tilted his head and gave me an admiring look. "You know that? You fish?"

I shrugged. "Sure. I grew up on a farm and we had a creek." Sun-warmed shallows to paddle in, feeling the green treachery of moss against speckled brown rocks, sharp stones and grit, dams I built and watched wash away, reeds rustling dryly... "Be another month before the bass season opens; you might get some panfish maybe."

"We won't get anything, but that's not the point." There was an eagerness in his face only another fisherman would understand. "You up for it?"

It'd been fifteen years or more since I'd fished. I wondered if I was up to casting a line and decided it was worth the pain if I wasn't. "Sure, if you've got some tackle I can use. If not, is there a bait and tackle shop around? I can pick up something cheap for the day."

"Oh, I can sort you out," he said, looking vaguely shifty-eyed which I took, correctly, to mean that he had more rods, reels, weights, hooks, sinkers, spinners and flies than the shop. "Help yourself."

I did, and got my hand smacked when I reached for his favorite rod.

We ended up on the banks of a river settling down after the rush of snowmelt, running clear and fast. The ground was dotted with yellow and white flowers, winding thin stalks through wiry mint-green grass and the mountains were hazy against the flat, faraway blue of the sky. It was the definition of idyllic and for an afternoon, at least, I found it was just where I wanted to be.

Jack relaxed in stages and then fell into the silence required, turning his face up to the sun now and then, and smiling when the breeze lifted his hair.

We caught nothing, drank beer and ate sandwiches, perched on foldaway stools, and I watched Jack get torn by conflicting feelings when an old man and a dog came by. Jack wanted to pet the dog, who was only too willing to be fussed over, but it barked, chased a stick thrown by its owner into the river, tangling itself in our lines, and then shook itself dry over what was left of our lunch.

Bad dog. Jack still gave it a forgiving final pat as the owner hauled it away, muttering under his breath about some of the things Jack had said to him about dog-training and riverbank etiquette.

"Are you laughing?" he asked suspiciously. "Because that wasn't funny. They were starting to bite."

The hell they were. "Inside. Where it doesn't show."

"Oh, it shows, Paul."

"Really?" I blinked innocently as he began to patiently unknot his line, reeling it in slowly. "I'm known for my poker face."

"Huh. Next time I'm short on cash, I'll show you how wrong you are about that."

"You'll lose," I warned him.

"I don't think so."

We turned to look at each other, steely-eyed and determined. He broke first, grinning at me. "Later," he mouthed. "Going to take you for everything you've got."

I had something witty to snap back but I got lost in staring at him and he frowned, then hitched his chair closer, nearly falling off it, and touched his fingers to my face. "Hey."

A fish broke the water, leaping high to catch something unlucky out of the air and his head snapped around. "Did you see that? Give me your rod!"

"I don't think so --"

"Major. That's an order."

I shoved it at him without a scrap of good grace and took the last beer while he lost every bit of tackle to a clump of weeds.

Served him right.


Now

I got back to Washington too late to do anything but eat, shower and roll into a cold, big bed. Fucking delays. Daniel got to step half way across the universe in a split second and I got stranded in airports on a regular basis. That summed us both up, right there.

The euphoria I'd felt at Daniel's place the night before had dissipated like dew in the scorch of the rising sun. Easy for him to play Cupid, secure in the knowledge that both of us loved him too much to ever call him on his bullshit -- yes, both of us. It'd taken me a long time to see that whatever hell of longing Jack was in when it came to Daniel, he had company, but he did. Thank God we'd never have to choose, because I had a feeling -- one I was never going to share with Jack and didn't have to discuss with Daniel -- that I'd choose Jack, Jack, Daniel, and Daniel, me, and wouldn't that be interesting.

If Daniel ever got adventurous with his sexuality, I'd fucking geld him.

It could work now, with Jack. I really thought it could. Daniel thought it could.

Of course, we were the easy ones to convince.

The first time I'd seduced Jack, I'd been terrified, shy, and furious, and he'd done all the hard work. None of those emotions were left. I knew him too well for the first two and the last… I'd been angry for long enough. It was eating me hollow.

That first time he'd wanted me, and, which mattered more, he was curious about me. I didn't have anything left to give him. He'd had me. Every which way. No mystery left about Major Paul Davis, none at all.

There was the plus side that we lived in the same city now. If I walked, assuming I didn't get mugged on the way, I could be at his place in forty minutes. If I drove, more like ten, depending on traffic. He was close. Maybe not a plus. I thought about bumping into him on a regular basis and getting an indifferent nod, a murmured, "Major." Okay, that would hurt. Close could be a problem.

And now I was knotting my tie, slipping on a coat as it looked like rain, and going into work where he'd be three floors, four corridors and eight doors away.

I wanted to see him. Even with all the doubts I was harboring. I caught sight of myself in the elevator mirror, and I was grinning; a tight, exultant, ferocious grin that scared the shit out of me. I toned it down as I stepped out into the lobby, and still got an appraising look from a man on the fifth floor I'd wondered about, a not-at-all subtle invitation in his eyes.

I got in to my office and found that in addition to a terrifying amount of new and urgent, right now, please, the building was missing a general. General O'Neill had taken some leave and gone fishing. Strict orders not to be disturbed for anything short of an alien invasion.

Fuck.

Even I couldn't arrange one of those at a minute's notice.


Then

"I've never been fucked by a general before."

"And that hand on your ass was shaking the President's a few short hours ago."

I shuddered. "Thinking about what you did with it after that, I hope you washed it first. I'm picky that way."

He snickered. "You don't like him?"

"I didn't like his first choice of Vice President."

"God, no." Jack's fingers stroked over my back. He was touching me a lot since he'd come back, as if he thought I'd changed while he'd been gone and he had to get to know me all over again. "Kinsey'd got his eye on bigger and better than VP, though; now, that's a scary thought."

"Not before bedtime; you'll give me nightmares." I rolled over and curled up against him. He wasn't the only one who needed reassurance.

"So… I got here, was wined and dined, made my excuses to come here and get welcomed back --"

"I do hope that you did feel welcome, sir," I murmured against his shoulder, biting it gently, and then reconsidering and biting it hard.

"Ow? And, yes, the way you went to town on getting me naked before I even got the part where I said I'd missed you was heartwarming."

I snickered. "I seem to recall having some help. And get used to the pain. I can mark you up as much as I damn well want to now."

"Within reason."

I straddled him, moving slowly, because there was no need to rush; he wasn't fighting me, pinning his hands to the bed. "No. Not within reason. I'm not feeling reasonable. I'm feeling…"

"Out-ranked?"

"You mention that you're a general one more fucking time…" And Carter out-ranked me, too, now. That stung, just a little, for some reason.

"And?" He was trying very hard not to smile and I didn't like it. He didn't laugh enough. Didn't smile enough. Shouldn't stop himself.

"You know I can never think of anything that sounds scary and vaguely possible," I complained, letting go of his wrists.

"Yeah. You suck at threats. And I don't scare well."

"I've noticed that. Help me out here."

"You want me to tell you how to make me quiver in the boots I'm not wearing? Isn't that cheating, Davis?"

"In my circles, it's viewed as creative and gets you patted on the… head."

His eyes narrowed. "I think you just found something."

I thought about what I'd said, coming up with the right answer almost at once, but drawing out the wait time, savouring it. "Jealous?" I asked. "Of me getting petted?"

"Patted. And, yes." He looked a little surprised. "Yes, I am."

I crowed like Peter. "That's just perfect."

"Why?" There was a mutinous set to his mouth now. "Because you do it? All the fucking time, and you like company in being nuts?"

"Can you see why I'm like that, now?" I flicked my fingernail against his nipple, a stinging bite of a move. "You get a flash of me with some other general's hands on me and turn territorial --"

"That fucking hurt," he ground out. I did it again, watching the tender skin redden and swell. "Davis --"

I leaned down and bit, taking the marked skin into my mouth, feeling him struggle under me but not hard enough to make me stop, bruising him, hurting him, wanting him.

His hand caught at my hair, yanking me back, hard enough that he was lucky that I opened my mouth in time to save him from losing some skin. "Stop that," he said, his breath unsteady.

"Why?" I wriggled my ass back an inch or two, feeling his erect cock settle against it, riding the divide. "Seems to be working for you." I pinched at the wet skin on his chest with my fingers, feeling the heat held there, and the throb of his blood. He arched up, lips parting, supporting himself on his elbows.

Then he drew my gaze down to his other nipple, erect and waiting, and raised his eyebrows.

I drew the edge of my fingernail over the inflamed skin, down and across, in an X. "I haven't finished with this one yet."

"Paul…"

"You still feel cold." I bent over and kissed him and couldn't stop. He tasted of sex and he tasted of nothing but himself. No toothpaste, no food, no drink. Just Jack, and it was driving me crazy. Sometimes that was what his cock tasted like right from the first lick, no bitterness to slick away with spit, no overlay of soap. Times like that I'd keep going back to it, sliding down his body to take just one more taste until he gave up trying to stop me and let me do it for as long as I wanted, as long as he could last. Now, kissing him, I was making soft, eager sounds, grunting and moaning and licking at his fucking teeth, for God's sake, tears leaking out of my eyes as I finally accepted that he was back.

"Supposed to be seducing me," he whispered. "All sorts of depraved ways. Not crying on me."

"For crying out loud?" I added, getting back enough control to joke.

He nodded, swiping his fingers across my cheeks and bringing them away damp. "Well, yeah, Paul. For crying out loud."

"Oh, God, I missed you." I'd slid off him mostly, and we were lying in a position we'd worked out years ago, which looked awkward, but which let us get as close as humanly possible. Basically me plastered to his side, my legs curled under his raised knees. "We all did."

He peered down at the marks I'd left on him, probed them gingerly with a finger, sighed, and turned his head. "Who's we?"

"All of your team, but… well, Daniel. He and I, ah…"

"Oh, God, you didn't have a fight, did you?" Was that the faintest trace of smugness? I bet it was.

"Yes… and no. Mostly no. I think."

"Spill."

I was back to myself again. "Absolutely not, sir."

"You've got nipples, too, Major."

"Two of them, sir, and all I'm willing to say is that Daniel and I… bonded over missing you."

"You two teaming up makes me fucking scared. Petrified. I'll get it out of him, you know."

I snorted. "His nipples are off-limits. How?"

He tried to look mysterious and failed to pull it off in any way, shape, or form. "I know how to handle Daniel."

"Not according to any mission report I've ever read."


Way Back When

"You really get off on that, don't you?"

I opened my eyes a bare, grudging crack and nodded. "Mmm." Shut up, Colonel. Still in the moment.

"Are you corrupting me?"

I sighed, forced to respond when I wanted to doze, and filed the memories away for later, when he was light years away and out of reach. I was still too hung up on the number of times he'd --we'd – come close to dying on our last mission together to respond with anything like my usual fluency. I guessed I owed Quinn a thank you letter. Dear Jonas. Thank you for being brave and heroic yesterday and saving my boyfriend's ass from drowning so that I can continue to treat it with the care and attention it deserves. Yours sincerely, Major Davis.

Yeah. Maybe not. And I wasn't stupid enough to mention Quinn’s name to Jack. Tolerance and acceptance only went so far. I was willing to bet it'd be one hell of a long time before O'Neill walked into Daniel's old office and gave its new occupant a genuine smile. Besides, I’d wanted to be heroic, too, dammit, and I’d been packed off, safe and sound instead.

"Can we settle for 'spoiled' instead of ‘corrupted’? In the sense of indulged and treated, because you enjoyed it, too."

He didn't deny it, although his face heated slightly. Sweet. Since Daniel had gone I was seeing a new side of Jack. Darker at times, but more playful, too, as if without Daniel around, some restraint had slipped free. Although given the experimenting we’d been doing, that wasn’t the best choice of words.

"Maybe." His self-possession was back. "It's just -- sex has always been one of the simpler parts of my life. What we just did... wasn't."

"Sex? Simple?" I rolled my eyes. "You've got to be kidding me."

"Dick gets hard, dick gets attention, dick gets soft. Simple."

I went to my stomach, nuzzling my face into the pillow that he'd slept on, partly because I was more comfortable like that, partly so that he could get a good look at my ass. I didn't get a shocked gasp; didn't expect one, either. I got a low, satisfied grunt of approval and a spit-wet finger drawing a line between red skin and pale.

"Did a job on you, didn't I?"

I was back to a murmured, appreciative, "Mmm". He had. A moment at the start when I'd been tense with apprehension, expecting tentative, shy swats when I wanted solid, hard hits, but he hadn't let me down.

"So I get that me whacking your ass was simple --"

"It's not as easy as it looks to do a good job, though. Which you did." I stretched, feeling hot, tight skin protest and grinned. "Thank you kindly, sir."

He chuckled. "You're welcome, Major. But if I was to ask why you wanted that when you never have before --"

"Have." I was relaxing again, sinking into a happy mush of muscle. "Just not from you."

"Yeah? Huh. So why now? You woke up and put your kink hat on, or something?"

"Bad day. I got pissed off at the wrong people and had to apologize. I hate that. Hate being wrong."

"So I got to be the one who punished you?" He sounded doubtful, like he'd looked when I'd picked up his hand, put it against my ass and said, "Hit me. Please. Hard. As long as your hand can take it."

I took a moment to organise my thoughts so that I gave him enough to shut him up; not enough to leave me too exposed. "No. I don't see it as a punishment -- I like it too much for that to make any sense -- and I don't want to pretend it's something I deserve, to sugarcoat it. Kink. I know that. I just needed something to take the taste of the day away, and that does it for me." I tilted my head around until I could see him. "Might not ask for it again for weeks. Months, even. Is that okay?" I didn't specify what was okay; the asking again, or the delay. I was curious about how he'd interpret it.

"Sure."

He said it a little too quickly, a blanket reassurance that could mean anything. He'd been hanging around me too much; that was a politician's response. I couldn't decide if he was glad, or covering disappointment, but my money was on the latter. He'd fucked me afterwards with an intensity that didn't go with distaste.

I pushed him a little harder, taking a small revenge for having my afterglow dimmed. "I might want to do it to you before that, though. Is that okay?"

"What?"

I shrugged against the mattress, hiding a smile. "I'll take that as a no. Fair enough."

"No. Not a no." He pushed at my shoulder and I let him turn me onto my back, wincing as my ass scuffed against cotton sheets. "At least, I don't think it is. I might change my mind. You're going to have to earn it, though."

Interesting idea, and now I was going to have to go through with it. Not a problem, exactly; just unexpected. "How?"

He lay on his side next to me, face propped on his hand, free hand roaming over me possessively. I wasn't capable of physical arousal; the remnants of come, clinging stickily to my stomach, were still wet, for God's sake, but when he touched me, he had my mind fogging up with need. We weren't together long enough or often enough for either of us -- so far -- to ever be truly sated. No unspoken agreements that tonight, just for once, we'd settle for a chaste kiss and roll over to sleep because we were tired.

No.

I'd fucked him drunk and dizzy with fatigue, feeling distanced from my body and its climax but craving it anyway. I'd had him fall asleep while his cock was still in my mouth, lullaby-licked to dreams I'd hoped were of me.

We fucked. It's what we did. Sharp, raw; need and lust driving us. It'd wear off eventually, but for now we were enjoying ourselves.

"How do I earn it?" I repeated, stretching out and kicking him alert with the side of my foot because I wasn't the only one who'd just come howling and was feeling sleepy.

"Tell me why it feels good. Which is better? Getting or giving?"

"Why do you care? It won't necessarily be the same for you." So he was just intrigued? Wanted a taste of what had made me come that hard, that fast?

"I don't care; I just want to know."

"Elephant's Child," I muttered.

"Kipling," he said smugly. "And my curiosity's not insatiable."

"Yes, it is. When it comes to me, it is." I found it flattering, puzzling, or annoying, depending on my mood and how much he pushed.

"Want to get to know what makes you tick."

"And I want to spank your ass from time to time, sir." I found that I did after I’d said it. He'd struggle and hate it, most likely, dealing with it all wrong, as if it was an attack, or a challenge, rather than a means to an end, a diversion, but even so...

"Spank away," he said easily, settling himself down on his back and smiling up at the ceiling. "Once you've told me why it gets you off."

"Because it does."

"Not good enough."

I took hold of my temper. "It's a kink. We all have them. It's not something I do often, but now and then... I want it. I trusted you enough to let you know that much about me, and because I had a feeling that you'd get off on it, too. If you'd turned me down, that would've been it."

"You wouldn't have gone looking for it somewhere else?"

The question hung between us. Too many weeks apart for us not to think about it sometimes; to wonder if the faithfulness only went one way.

"I'd have done without. There's no one else. Only you. Christ --" I twisted and sprawled out on him, awkward and unbalanced, not caring as long as he could feel my weight, see my face as I told him; see the truth of it in my eyes. "There's no room for anyone but you. You're my addiction. My obsession. I think about you more than I should, I miss you more than I expected, and if you fucking crack one of your O'Neill jokes about that, I'll feed you your balls for breakfast, okay?"

His eyes glittered. "You're very fierce, Major. Very... dictatorial."

I sighed, resting my forehead against his. "Sorry."

His chin tilted up and his mouth found mine, teasing me into kissing him with soft, insistent nudges until I capitulated, opening my mouth to his tongue, catching at his lip with my teeth as his hand stroked over my ass.

"Regretting it now?" he whispered, tapping the center of one buttock where the bruises would be buried under the skin, faint mottled shadows, for days.

"No."

"It hurt you. I hurt you."

"It was supposed to. It's what I asked for."

God, yes, it had hurt. A lot. Delivered in measured, deliberate, careful slaps that only became flurried and fast at the end when I was writhing and wriggling, spoiling his aim.

After I'd done it to him, assuming he let me, I doubted he'd ever hit me quite that hard again, not without being pushed into it. He'd know what it felt like, and it'd make a difference. Easy, with my skin doing no more than redden, and the sounds I was making close to the ones I made when he was fucking me, sucking me, to fool himself that he wasn't really doing much damage.

"Fucking you after that -- was it too much? I should've asked --"

I buried my head in the crook of his neck, a dry sob of laughter shaking me. "God, I'd have killed you if you'd waited for permission. Did I look like I was capable of talking?"

His hands ran over my back in slow, soothing sweeps, and then he rolled us so that we were on our sides. "No. But I thought I'd be able to tell if it was something you didn't want. Glad I wasn't wrong."

"Not wrong," I agreed. The sharp ache inside my ass was almost lost in the burn and throb of the spanked skin around it. Almost. He'd hurried, trying to get inside me before one or both of us came. I'd felt the drag of his cock, smeared unevenly with lube, against my heated skin, a shock of cool wetness, and heard him moan and freeze in place, his hands cupping the scalding-hot skin he'd been slapping, his thumbs digging into my hole. He'd lasted about six strokes and I'd come with the first deep thrust.

"I can't tell you," I said abruptly. "Just trust me enough to try it, or don't. I wasn't really serious, to be honest." His face reflected just how much he didn't like that admission, and he started to pull away. I grabbed at him. "Don't. I will. I'd like to. I just -- I said it expecting a flat rejection, and I was all set up to deal with that. Not with you agreeing."

"I haven't yet," he snapped out. "God, you piss me off, sometimes, you know that? I can see the wheels turning in your fucked-up little head, spinning away -- Stop it. You want something, just ask. I'll do it, or I'll let you do it, or I won't. Simple as that."

The last three words were spat out at me from a mouth that closed in a tight line right after.

"That goes both ways, you know," I offered, when the silence between us was brittle and painful to breathe in. "I told you once I was safe."

"That, I remember," he said sarcastically. "Should've paid more attention to that little red flag, shouldn't I."

I relaxed. He was talking to me again. "Yes, well, you wanted my ass in your bed, didn't you? That tends to buy a lot of leeway."

He pounced, pinned me on my back, fingers cruel around my wrists, and ground against me. My ass sent up a flare of protest and I moaned, trying to buck up against him.

"Yes, Major, I did. Wanted your argumentative, insane, tight little ass right where I could nail it."

"Except I fucked you," I reminded him between gasps and ouches.

"See? Right from the start you wrecked my plans."

"I don't think so," I told him, giving up on struggling as I was making the skin on my ass sting worse. "I think you wanted my dick up your ass back then, and I think you want my hand on it now. Any other requests?"

"Bite me." It was snarled out, but we were playing again, getting hard again, maybe not enough for a second round, but enough to hang a flag of truce on.

"Yes, sir. Where, sir?"

He looked frustrated. "God. You can't," he said. "None of it. I go off world day after tomorrow."

They weren't giving him much time to recover, were they? I ducked my head and set my teeth gently around his nipple, feeling the tickle of hair against my chin, biting down hard enough to get a soft exhalation of pleasure from him, but no more than that.

"I can spank you without it leaving anything that'll show by then," I told him. "I wouldn't have done much more than that anyway."

"Later, maybe," he said, his gaze shifting to a really dull piece of wall. "Oh, hell. Forget it."

"No. I won't mention it again until you do --" 'Until' not 'unless', because I knew that he would. "But I'm going to think about it. Often. In detail. Every time I jerk off thinking about you." I gave him a smile even I found annoying.

"That's disturbing."

I yawned. "The fantasies with you in are usually the tamest, actually. I find there's a limit to what I'll do to you."

"To me? Do I want to know?"

"I don't plan on telling you, so it's irrelevant."

"Why do I get the feeling you're all talk?"

I smiled, refusing to rise to the bait. "I'm sure you're correct, sir."

His hand settled on my belly, his nails scratching at the drying flakes of come. "Get your ass in the shower, Major. I want to hear you yell when the cold water hits it and starts to steam."

I picked his hand up and studied his palm. Little bit swollen, little bit red. I kissed it better, licking across it with a wet swipe of my tongue.

"Feels nice," he said.

I finished with another kiss, mockingly, precisely centered, and let his hand drop. "Feels hot."

He closed his hand into a fist, testing it. "Guess the pain goes both ways. Maybe next time I should use something else."

"No!"

It came out with too much vehemence and his eyebrows shot up. "Sorry?"

"Don't be. Sorry. I just -- if I do it I want your hand. Nothing else."

I'd had a paddle used on me once and hated it. No ritual, no coy 'bad boy' talk, no toys. Never over the knee, never tied down. Although that last one, well, maybe... definitely a good look for him…

"You asked me once if I was into being tied up."

"I did?" He thought about it, visibly sifting through our past conversations, and then nodded. "You said you'd never trusted anyone enough."

"I do now."

"This is turning into an interesting weekend."

I shrugged. "We're playing. No more than that."

He looked as if he was having trouble with that concept.

"It's not complicated. It's not unusual."

“It is for me.”

“My poor, innocent Jack,” I whispered mockingly. “Maybe I have corrupted you with my wicked, Washington ways.”

Maybe I had.


Now

"Go to him."

"No."

Daniel sighed down the phone, loud enough to be almost tangible. "He's probably waiting for you. It's probably why he went out there, made sure he wouldn't be interrupted --"

"No."

I couldn't do it. Not because I thought he had to make the first move, but because this limbo was better than a final rejection and any courage I'd had had seeped away.

"No," I said for the third time. "He's gone away and he wants to be alone; I can give him that, at least."

Daniel muttered something in a language I didn't know. Somehow, I felt I could translate it. I tried again. "I go, and odds are he'll have just left and we'll miss each other -- He can't stay away for long; I can wait."

"Paul, I've put up with your shit for years; don't push me on this, okay?"

He sounded coldly angry and I flinched. Jack had warned me once, making enough of a joke of it that I hadn't taken it seriously, that if there was one person I never wanted to piss off, it was Daniel because he'd take a grudge to the grave and beyond if it involved someone he cared about. It came to me, sharply, that for all our friendship, Daniel loved Jack and tolerated me.

I caved abruptly. Hell with it. "I'm going. Fuck you, Jackson, I'm going, okay?"

His voice thawed out enough to let a smile trickle through. "Of course you are, Major. I never doubted that for a moment. Say hi to him for me, will you?"

I sighed. "First words out of my mouth, I promise."

I ended the call and started looking up flights. Daniel's a hard person to argue with because he never gives up until you're doing it his way.

And with me, he didn't even bother trying to hide what he was doing.


Then


"You went back in time," I marveled, still trying to get my head around it.

"Not for the first time."

I shook my head, ignoring the pun. "No. Saving the planet, yes, I can see how that'd get old," he gave me a knowing smirk and I grinned back, "but time travel? No way."

He shrugged. "Looked at one way, I never went. One of me went, so I didn't have to. Remind me to send him flowers or something, will you?"

I crumpled the piece of paper I'd tried to work it all out on and tossed it at the empty fireplace. "It makes my head ache."

"Mine, too," he agreed easily, pulling me in and giving me a kiss, casually affectionate and brief. "So let's forget about it."

"If you insist." We were sprawled out on his couch, buzzed enough on beer to be relaxed without being sleepy, his fingers playing with my hair in a way that would irritate the hell out of me if he kept doing it, but which just right then felt nice. Intimate. It took me a moment to realize, with an odd startle of shock, that I was about as happy as I'd ever been.

"I'm being reassigned."

I felt myself go still. Well, that really had been a brief, shining moment. "I hadn't heard."

"You don't hear everything."

I gave him an 'Oh, come on' look and he chuckled. "Well, you didn't hear this."

"True." I straightened up, his fingers sliding free. "Where?"

He was smiling; the wide, happy grin that made me smile, too, because it was so encompassing it took the world with it. "Washington."

"What?" I was matching his grin now. "You're kidding me."

"Nope." His smile faded. "It means leaving the SGC. I'll be connected still, sure, but --"

I was joining the dots about what desk he'd be sitting behind, my mind working overtime as I fitted together some comments, some hints. "You'll be right in my building…"

"Closer."

"Too close."

He blinked. "Well, that's one way of looking at it."

"Chain of fucking command --"

"That's an issue for you?"

"It isn't for you?" I knew what he meant; word got out about us and we were both fucked, but I'd always clung to the crumb of mitigation that we weren't, technically, in the same line of command. His new job, I might be, depending on the inevitable reshuffle. Hell, given my links to the SGC, it was almost inevitable that we'd be working together; they'd expect him to want me, given his habit of sticking with what worked, and if he wanted me, he'd get me. Generals got spoiled that way.

"I guess at my age, no. I trust myself to be impartial --"

I spoke without thinking. "Oh, please! If it was a case of SG-1 in danger, you'd throw every warm body you'd got through the 'gate to save them!"

Stupid, stupid… His face closed up, clouded over.

"I'd do that for any of my teams."

"Sure." I tried to make it sound sincere because it was true, he would. He'd just do it a little bit more for the golden team.

Just a little bit. Yeah.

"Davis --" Scary voice, calm enough to be a warning.

"No, I'm sorry. I know they all matter to you. Everyone under your command --"

"Yeah…" He wasn't convinced. In fact, he was glowering, good mood ruined. After three years, I was good at doing that. I gave him my best pleading look, all big eyes and hopeful smile -- look, see, harmless, less than the dust beneath your chariot wheels -- and he relented enough to ease back close enough that our legs were brushing, even that small point of contact reassuring.

"And, after this job…" I hesitated. We didn't talk about the future much, but it didn't mean I didn't think about it. Three years of scraps, eaten on the run… to hammer the metaphor into the ground, we were both a little hungry.

"I'm retiring." He sounded definite about it. "For good, this time. I want… I want some peace."

"You've earned it." I put out my hand, and he turned his head away, stretching out for his beer, the long line of his neck taut, timing it so that I wasn't quite sure he was avoiding me. "Jack -- when you do --"

"It'll all be different?" He shook his head, tipping the bottle up and draining it with a grimace because it had gone flat. "Not so much. Not for us. I'd like it to be, but it won't."

"No," I said bleakly. I had years ahead of me and he had years behind him, years no one, military or political would want, oh, let's be tactful and say 'tarnished', by scandal. Who wants their planet saving by a general who bends over for a major with a hard-on?

"But I'm not -- I want someone around." The bottle went back on the table and he spread his hands expansively. "I'm a solitary kind of a guy, but I've never spent months out at the cabin, and I don't know, by the end of the first winter, I might be talking to the trees… or the squirrels…"

He sometimes spoke of retiring to live in that damn cabin, building on, adding a deck, but I'd always put it in the realm of fantasy because you don't go from roaming the universe to a shack in the woods. You just don't.

"Someone around?" He couldn't mean me. He knew I couldn't --

He didn't meet my eyes. "There's no reason why not after all we've gone through. It's not like we'd be out of reach if they needed him --"

"Daniel. You're talking about Daniel. Living with Daniel."

I pictured it in a series of flashing stills; visiting him there and feeling just that; a visitor, with Daniel excusing himself at intervals so that we could fuck, nights where we'd lie waiting to hear Daniel start snoring before we reached for each other -- if either of us could get it up with him a few yards away. Or worse -- no, not going there…

He looked at me then. "Well, yes. It couldn't -- he's not military and he's getting older, just like me. I'm guessing he'll give up on going out in the field in a few more years and --"

"Are you insane?" I was having trouble breathing. "He wouldn't, and if he did, you'd just be confirming every fucking rumor about you two --" I ran out of words just as his slowly curving lips told me he'd been joking and sank back against the cushions, heart hammering. "You -- God, tell me why I love you again?"

"I wish I could." He wasn't joking now. "Do you?"

"Do you?"

We didn't say it. We never said it…

He stood, scooping up the bottles littering the table. "I'd like the chance to find out."

It was better than an apology for what he'd just done. "Maybe now… when you're in Washington…?"

He nodded. I think even then he knew they were sending me to Dakara.

He could save the world, carve out new histories for everyone on the planet -- I really was going to sit down and work through the implications when the sight of that tape with Jack, my Jack, no, a Jack -- stuck thousands of years in the past wasn't making my mouth go dry with panic -- but he couldn't make a space for us to find out what we had going for us beyond lust and longing.

Two, three years ago, I'd have settled for that much, but somewhere along the way it'd stopped being enough.

I guess that was the same as being in love.


Way Back When

I lay beside Jack in the dark, my hand clenched into a fist to stop it from reaching out and touching him. He needed to sleep. He needed to heal. Fuck the sarcophagus and the snake they'd shoved into him; his body needed more than that. Or less. Needed to fix itself the slow way, the natural way. The human way.

Except...

He would have been dead if he'd done that.

He had been dead. Over and over, he'd died. I'd read his report, and even stripped and clipped, terse to the point of shorthand, it conveyed a bone-deep revulsion at what he'd endured at the hands of both friends and enemies.

I'd found him staring into the bathroom mirror, eyes empty, face set in stern lines as if he were judging himself for some crime, some sin.

His knees were better but he still walked and knelt as if they hurt and I think inside his head they did, still protesting the dampness of the air, a position he had to hold too long. He clung to the memory of pain like a child to a blanket.

And when I'd touched him, my hand on his chest, he'd flinched, rolled over, given me a grunt that might have meant good night, and that had been that.

I didn't know much about the cumulative effect on the human body after sustained use of a sarcophagus. Who on Earth did, really? Enough to know that it wasn't advised, which was all I needed to know until it became important that I knew more. When Jack had escaped Baal and we'd found out what had been done to him, I'd gone digging through the archived mission reports and read Doctor Fraiser's report on Daniel's similar ordeal. He had been using it on a healthy body, which made a difference, but it was still worrying. Medical reports tended to shy away from the spiritual but there was a note from Daniel, hand-written and scrawled, bringing up the Tok'ra's belief that the sarcophagus was soul-destroying, a tainted device.

Judging by the way Jack had stared at my hand, he'd agree with that. He'd showered alone but I'd watched him dry off, his skin scarlet as if his shower had been scalding instead of the lukewarm one he preferred at this time of year.

I lay and thought it through. I knew him well enough that it didn't take long. It wasn't that he didn't want me touching him; he just didn't see why I'd want to. Dead skin and bone, miraculously warm and alive under the tentative press of my fingers. He thought it should bother me, thought it should matter.

And all I'd been thinking was that he was back and I hadn't lost him, two months after we'd both -- all -- lost Daniel.

"You stupid fuck," I said quietly and waited until he'd stirred awake and aware enough to be safe to touch before rolling him over and putting my hands on him, everywhere I could reach, getting him back.

More Way Back When

"I can't make it."

I froze, half in, half out of my pants, my phone tucked under my ear, the hotel carpet unfamiliar and rough against the soles of my feet. "Problem? Something I need to get back for?"

I answered as the major, not the man. Old habits. And if the world was ending, I wanted to know.

"No, nothing like that. This is, uh, personal."

Personal? O'Neill didn't have any personal beyond me, not that I knew of. Unless, maybe… his ex-wife? I kicked free of the pants, leaving them in a heap, and went to sit down on the bed wearing nothing but shorts, a chilly disappointment sinking in.

"I'm sorry?" It was as close as I was going to get when it came for asking for details. Pride. I had some. Some.

His voice was reluctant to the point of being ridiculous. "It's, uh, well, I forgot year before last and Carter gave me hell…and when she found out I'd forgotten this year, too…"

"It's Major Carter's birthday?" I guessed, trying to picture their personnel records in my head.

"Daniel's."

"Ah."

"So we're doing this thing, all of us. Can't get out of it. I mean, we just got him back from the dead…"

"I see."

"You're pissed, aren't you?"

"Not at all."

His voice warmed with amusement suddenly, the worst over now I knew, his hesitancy replaced by something far more familiar. "Liar."

"Fuck off."

"Oh, yeah. You're sitting there just steaming -- where are you? At the Holiday Inn, right?"

Three towns over, and even that didn't feel like enough to be safe. Sometimes, nowhere did. "Room 303, not that you need to know that now. I checked in an hour ago. After the flight I took. Lying naked on the bed I was hoping to get well and truly --"

"Stop it."

What? Making him feel guilty? Or making him wish he was here? "Yes. I just might. All of it. Because this isn't working for me."

"Paul --"

I thumbed off the phone when he used my name -- that was just cheating -- placed it very precisely on the night stand, and buried my face in the pillow so I could scream silently, leak some angry tears, and generally have a nice, private meltdown.

It took all of five seconds to get bored with that, and then I rolled over onto my back and stared dry-eyed at the ceiling of the room I'd paid to stay in for what was supposed to have been a dirty weekend crushed into one incandescent evening and whatever we had the energy for in the morning.

Sex. With Jack. That was all I'd wanted. Clean water for a thirsty man simple, not meaning of life stuff. Except for the part where sex pretty much was the meaning of life, even the way we did it, wary and violent and suspicious as often as it was friendly, even -- well, no. Not loving. Neither of us was that bravely stupid.

 It'd been weeks. Weeks and weeks and weeks and --

Stop.

And now he was with Daniel instead, Daniel, getting to give him a hug and make it last longer than was permissible because they'd all be drunk, well, not Teal'c, but he wouldn't care what O'Neill did. He'd ruffle up the short strands of Daniel's hair, jar Daniel's glasses askew and straighten them, taking his time, smiling into Daniel's blue eyes --

Stop.

Fuck Jack O'Neill and fuck Doctor Daniel Jackson, too. And his fucking parents for not choosing a better night, however many years back, plus nine months, to do what I was apparently doomed never to experience again.

I'd been planning to be waiting naked for him, sprawled out and hard. I hadn't wanted there to be any mistake about my intentions (him, in me, hard), any awkward fumbling around getting us both horizontal and happy. I'd wanted the wham-bam and I'd have said thank you any way he asked, and now…. Now, I felt humiliated, with the insane urge to pull on every item of clothing I'd stripped out of, smiling, and huddle under the covers until it was time to check out.

At some point, my dick, crushed and spiritless, twitched with a returning alertness. I frowned. I was angry with Jack, but not the good kind of angry that we sometimes let ourselves use as foreplay. No. This was rooted in disappointment and that wasn't ever going to turn me on. I wasn't pissed that he'd put Daniel first; wasn't at all surprised, or resentful. He'd had to. A birthday? How could he have gotten out of that with anything they'd have accepted as reasonable? He couldn't. And he wouldn't have wanted to. He had Daniel back. He had a miracle. I was just two years worth of everyday.

So he had to be there. That was fine.

What wasn't fine was forgetting Daniel's birthday and double-booking me.

And Daniel would've been pissed, too, if he knew, on my account, anyway, but he never would know. O'Neill would have scrawled his name on the card Carter had bought, tossed her some money towards the gift she'd picked out from all of them, settled down at the head of the table she'd booked in Daniel's favorite restaurant with a proprietary smile as if he owned the place… And never, with anything he said or did, let Daniel think he was so unimportant a person in Jack's life that his birthday had almost been forgotten.

Which wouldn't have been why it'd been forgotten, anyway; O'Neill was too male to remember his own birthday, let alone Daniel's; it wasn't a reflection on his feelings and Daniel would've known that.

I realized that I wasn't making any sense, but I couldn't seem to shut up.

Even so… Jack should've fucking remembered. Logic had left the building. I lay there, my hand idly scratching my stomach, and enjoyed a pleasant fantasy of O'Neill flinching and stammering excuses as Daniel ripped into him for fucking us both over.

I said it was a fantasy.

And I still didn't know why I was erect again, not hard enough that it wouldn't go away if ignored, but attracting my attention in a subtle, gently coaxing way.

Daniel… me… Partners in being screwed over by Jack O'Neill…Or, rearrange the words a bit and we had… Oh.

Perfect revenge. An orgasm, sticky, sweaty, as hot as I could crank it up, starring Daniel Jackson, front and center, which would, in a twisted way, get back at him, too, for having Jack when I couldn't, for being the prodigal fucking son getting the fatted calf in the shape of a medium-rare steak with all the trimmings.

Daniel. Enemy and fellow victim.

My ability to be utterly convinced of two conflicting truths simultaneously came in very useful at work, as well.

I started to shove my shorts off and then caught sight of the clock. All the time in the world… no need to rush. I left my shorts where they were, took a final sip of my drink, and locked the door, already decorated with a 'Do Not Disturb' I'd known would make Jack grin as he pushed it aside, knowing it didn't mean him, couldn't possibly, ever, mean him.

Then I lay back on the bed, in a room lit dimly enough to be relaxing, not so dark I wouldn't have been able to see and be seen, and conjured up a memory I'd forgotten I'd saved.

Daniel. Naked and wet, hair two shades darker with water. I'd been good, been careful, not stared -- at Jack -- which meant I'd spent a lot of time with my gaze automatically flickering to Daniel, because he was talking to me, dammit, and hadn't shut up.

In the SGC showers with Daniel between Jack and me -- where else -- was no place to get hard, so I hadn't. Too exhausted, which helped. An hour of working out with them in the gym, pushing myself out of a need to show off for my… well, whatever he was, and the equally compelling need to watch him sweat and flex, and I was wiped out emotionally and physically. Jack's hair had been slicked back in the gym, beads of sweat gathering at his temples, his skin flushed and hot, his T-shirt clinging. Daniel had been an object in my peripheral vision, stripped to a muscle T-shirt, conscientiously lifting weights as Teal'c spotted him, giving him the odd word of advice in a low rumble.

It'd been torture and I'd loved every minute. Teal'c, barely warmed-up, had stayed behind to terrify three marines who wanted to try to kick some alien butt, although they didn't put it quite that way, and the three of us, perspiring gently, had crawled to the showers.

Which was when it had dawned on me that we'd be naked, all three of us, in a conveniently empty locker room, and I didn't dare catch anyone's eye because we all knew, but we couldn't mention it, mention any of it, and we couldn't even acknowledge that we couldn't mention it…

So we didn't, and Daniel, with the sangfroid of the diplomat he was at heart, had started to chatter, until Jack had relaxed and I had been distracted.

Until I'd been forced to look at him naked. Jack was a distant blur in the billowing steam, pink and soapy. Daniel was close enough to touch, a suds-filled hand cupping his balls and rubbing them absently, taking time to scratch and generally acting as if he was in the room by himself. And he kept closing his eyes as the water coursed down, a blissful look on his face, lips parted so the water filled his mouth and spilled out, trickling down his chin in rivulets…

Okay. That would do.

I stroked one fingertip over my hardening cock through the thin cotton of my shorts, focusing on the shape Daniel's lips made as they pursed and spat out a mouthful of water so he could tell me about… oh, God, what was it? A book? A movie? Something like that. And Jack had held the diametrically opposite view -- okay, had to be a movie because jack and Daniel weren't likely to have read the same book -- and Daniel had turned, briefly, to Jack and I'd seen his ass, heat-flushed and splotched, just like it would be if he'd been on the receiving end of --

I kicked out of my shorts faster than I'd planned, my hand fumbling to grip and squeeze, my legs feeling the weight of Daniel across them, pliant and contrite.

I paused. Hardly likely, now, was it? He'd be talking the whole time, shifting position as he pushed his slip-sliding glasses back up… I added a gag and tied his hands together for good measure, so that his fingers brushed the carpet, flexing curiously, imploringly, as he made soft, muffled sounds that didn't sound like 'no' or 'stop' in any language.

Better…

I got a minute in, rocking my wrist in a slow, languid movement that was more than enough to keep me interested without risking coming, and found that Daniel's smooth curved ass had acquired a scar, a couple of freckles I'd licked dot to dot more times than I could remember, and an entirely different muscle tone, rangy and lean.

I gave Jack's ass a sizzler of a slap, stared at the scarlet handprint, and switched fantasies.

Daniel on his knees, shut up the best way, mouthing my cock as I traced the shape of his upper lip with my finger, wet with his spit, sliding it into his mouth, sandwiched between the slick, sheathed hardness and the lick of his tongue.

I pressed my hand against my thigh, upside down, yes, but just about where Daniel would rest his for balance, his fingernails, blunt and ragged, digging in, hurting just enough, just a little…

Daniel was good at this for a straight man … too good. I was just replaying the last blow job but two from Jack, down to the finger sliding into my ass and the biting kisses around the base of my cock that had reduced me to babbling incoherency, my toes curling, my heel grinding into the carpet hard enough to leave friction burns.

I gave up, jerked off to Jack, and came two minutes later, resentful, teeth-gritted, and messy.

He was a hard habit to break.

And that would have been it, if he hadn't turned up at one in the morning, tapping insistently, quietly on the door, a rhythm which fed into my dreams like a cold trickle of water into a hot bath.

I stumbled over to the door, caught in a sleep I'd only just fallen into, heavy and troubled. I shook off the disorientation enough to grab at the robe I'd left over a chair, shrugging it on and tying it before easing the door open cautiously.

He was standing close enough that I jerked back a little, my body wakening fully under the combined jolts of perceived threat and instant arousal. It really wasn't fair how quickly he could do that to me; I was sure it wasn't mutual. He smelled of smoke and beer but his dark eyes were clear enough; he wasn't drunk.

And he wasn't all that certain of his welcome, which was why I stepped back, letting him slip inside quietly, discreetly, into the waiting dark which I shattered, flicking on a lamp and blinking until my eyes adjusted.

"Paul…"

Twice in one night? I'd have to use the sparkly gold pen when I wrote my journal. Maybe outline it with hearts. He took an invitation into my room as forgiveness and his hand slipped up to caress my cheek, his tense shoulders easing, a smile only I got to see -- I thought -- lighting up his face. "Paul," he repeated.

"Most people settle for 'hello'."

The smile was practiced, charming. "Hello, Paul. Paul, hello."

"Fuck off."

Bye-bye smile. "I just drove eighty miles to see you when all I wanted to do was go to sleep. It's been a hell of a week, so you can drop the fucking attitude, Davis."

"Too tired to fuck me, you mean?" I smiled, thin and sour. "Don't worry about it; I've already come twice tonight and even with sex you can have too much of a --"

His eyes went to the bed and then the bathroom and I hit him, my fist traveling in a short, vicious lunge until it connected with his ribs. It never occurred to me that I was striking a superior officer until after the punch landed, but I'd retained enough common sense to avoid his face.

"Alone. I jerked off alone you mistrustful fucking son of a bitch."

He held up his hand to ward me off as I crowded in closer, my breath emerging in choppy, uneven pants, fists driving forward. He let me hit him until he realized that I wasn't going to stop and then did something fast and painful to my elbow that had me yelping and surrendering sulkily. I had other, better ways to hurt him, after all.

"You really are pissed at me, aren't you?" He sounded bewildered. "I thought you'd be pleased to see me. Thought you understood why I couldn't make it earlier."

"I am. I did. I'm still pissed." Cradling my arm, numb where it wasn't tingling spitefully, I went to the bottle of whisky I'd brought with me, pouring us both one into the cheap, thick glasses the hotel provided. The ice in the bucket had long since thinned to slush but I reached in and scooped out some slivers of ice, letting the chilled water stream through my crooked fingers before dropping the ice into the glasses.

"Mind telling me why?"

"You forgot his birthday."

"No."

He took the glass I held out, studying it before downing a healthy gulp and then setting it aside. I left mine untouched, watching the ice melt and lighten the amber to gold.

"No, I know when it is. When he was -- gone -- I was waiting for it to roll around, for Carter to remember and get upset. Knew she'd need helping out, knew I'd -- I wasn't going to do anything that day. Maybe go and sit in that room on base for a while, the one with all his stuff in." He smiled, a wry twist to his mouth. "Or not."

That room had given me the creeps. Full of Daniel's detritus, empty of him. If his ghost walked, it wouldn't have been there.

And it had walked. Through Jack's mind, through his dreams, through his hell.

Oh, yes. I knew about that now.

"And then, when he came back --" Jack shrugged. "I went back to forgetting. Hey; it's a guy thing. You know that."

I nodded. Couldn't argue with that.

"And since when did you give a rat's ass if I forgot Daniel's birthday?"

Good point.

"You think I chose him over you."

His voice went gentle, if not kind, knowing and I felt flayed, exposed. That was worrying, but I didn't get chance to think about it because he was close to me, pushing me back against the wall beside the window, empty space behind it, his hands insistent, remorseless. "You've really got to focus on the facts, Major Davis," he whispered in my ear. "Like where I am right now, and where you are, and where Daniel is."

"Where is he?" The words were hard to articulate with his breath warm against my face, the scrape of stubble burning my neck as he nuzzled into it.

"In my bed. Covering my ass if anyone calls and wonders where I am."

"What?" I tried to push him away and he didn't let me.

"Everyone came back to my place. Daniel fell asleep on the couch around eleven. Or pretended to." His tongue wet down a piece of my skin just under my ear and he bit it a second later, the angle awkward, making him grunt and push my head to where he wanted it. I let him, rolling my shoulders against the cool wall. "So there's a tiptoed exodus and he gets three blankets draped over him, then when we're alone he stands up and heads for my bedroom."

"Thought it was his birthday, not yours."

His mouth dropped down to my collarbone, and then to my nipple, and I screamed silently against his forceful, rapidly applied palm as he came close to fucking chewing it off. My dick was solid, leaking, jumping with every breath he took. This close, this intense, he was overwhelming.

"He told me he wasn't waking up with pins and needles and I should get going as there had to be a reason I'd stayed sober and he was guessing you were it."

His hand was still across my mouth and I licked at it, tasting salt and sweat and tough, smooth skin.

"You should be flattered, Davis. He doesn't remember everything yet, but you… oh, he remembers you."

I was sucking in air through flared nostrils and it wasn't enough given the way my heart was pounding. My nipple ached, a vicious throb of pain. I wasn't sure the wetness air drying on my skin was just spit, but I couldn't look down.

Couldn't do anything but lick and kiss and fuck at that smooth stretch of skin suffocating me slowly as his other hand roamed over what it could reach of my body. The belt of my robe was still fastened, but the robe itself had parted, exposing me to his eyes -- but he wasn't looking -- his hand, his mouth. He dragged that hand over me, chest to belly to balls, nails crooked and savage, hurting me as my chest heaved, trying to suck in more air past the seal his hand had made against my mouth.

"Are you going to pass out on me, Major? One for yes, two for no."

I had to think about it, but I moved the hand gripping his shoulder, tapping my fingers against his face twice and leaving them there. His skin was hot and he was chewing the inside of his cheek; I could feel the shape his teeth made in the hollowed skin. I let my fingers drift to his mouth and eased one inside, making him stop.

Stop everything.

His hands fell away from me and he wrenched his head back, his tongue swiping over my finger as it slipped free, and then made a sound I barely heard over the noisy, graceless gasps for air I was taking, a throaty grunt of satisfaction. I don't know what I'd done right, but he went to his knees and I swear the wall and his hands were all that kept me upright because there was only one reason for him to do that, and if my finger had appreciated that brief moment inside the wet heat of his mouth, my cock would give it all up to get in there and come.

Wouldn't take long for that to happen. Not long at all.

His hands locked around my ankles, squeezing tight and tugging my legs wider apart so that he could get between them. I felt each finger as a separate bond, burning into the thin, spare flesh. That was hurting, too.

Watch me not care.

His right hand slid away and up, urging my leg over his shoulder, putting me off-balance, struggling to keep upright, the heel of my foot grinding into his back as I tried to hook him closer, get his face against my groin. He wouldn't even have had to suck me; I just needed to get something to fuck against; his closed lips, hell, one abrasive rough rub from his chin and I'd have come, splattering him, hair, face, neck, wherever he let it land.

And I'd have licked him clean and been hard again by the time I'd finished if he'd have let me but he was keeping us apart with one hand shoved hard against my hip, fingers splayed. That hooked, curved thumb of his scratched a thin, hot line across muscles so tensed up they thrummed and he exhaled, his breath ghosting over my balls, making them crinkle up tight.

Not enough.

"I think about you when I shouldn't."

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned …

"I pick up the phone to call you, and holding it, imagining hearing your voice in the time it takes to dial and work through the Pentagon's fucking switchboard, gets me hard."

He was talking and the words were reaching my ears long after they'd registered on my skin as a flow of air and heat, snarled out and angry.

"I have fantasies about you even you'd flinch away from, and, no, I'm not going to share, but most of them revolve around getting you to shut the fuck up about Daniel."

He sighed as if he'd been wanting to say that for a long time and rested his forehead against my stomach, the head of my dick nudging his chin. "Are you going to let me suck you off now or do we have to keep on fighting?"

I whispered an answer, sincere and heartfelt. "Going to let you do whatever you want to do to me, sir."

He moved his head back and took me inside his mouth, sucking me slowly, slowly, soft, until I was kicking his back, clawing at his shoulders, begging with every filthy sweet word I'd ever made him shiver with for him to suck me harder, let me come.

He stopped, eased my leg off his shoulder so that I was standing on both feet, and rocked back on his heels looking up at me, his face expressionless. "Do it yourself."

"I've been doing nothing else for fucking weeks." It came out frustrated and snappy. God, I needed him to fuck me into a better mood or I was going to corrode away from the inside out.

"Not when I could see."

I took a deep breath, fisted my cock, and met his gaze because he was staring at my face, not the obvious target. "Look down, then."

"No."

"Watch me come."

"I am, Davis, I am."

I was getting close now but I couldn't -- I'd thought all it would take was a touch and I'd been wrong and my hand wasn't doing it and he'd be disappointed in me if I didn't --

"Jack -- please."

He sighed, and leaned in, flicking his tongue over the slippery, shiny head of my cock as it poked through the circle of my fingers and wrapping his hand over mine, forcing my cock back, pointing up, not out.

I came from that, eyes snapping closed, mouth hanging open on a low, anguished howl, shoving the back of my hand far enough into my mouth to gag myself. As soon as I could, I blinked and got my vision back.

He was looking at my cock now, his hand and mine gripping it, still hard, come lying -- not much of it; he needn't have worried -- in a trail on my stomach, a Morse Code message of dots and dashes that had to spell 'Fuck you, Colonel O'Neill' in at least one language.

"Messy," he observed.

"Not my fault," I hissed.

He took my wrists and pinned them to the wall, matter-of-factly enough to have my cock twitching before giving up. Three times in as many hours; I was done.

He came when he tasted me, his tongue starting at the top and working down, lapping carefully, cleaning me up thoroughly. I could tell when he came because he stiffened, shuddered, and swore under his breath, but he didn't pull back until he'd taken care of me.

Then he stood and walked toward the door.

I let him get there before I moved to stop him, pressing myself up against his back, my arms going around him.

"I can't fuck you tonight, if that's why you want me to stay."

"I don't need that."

He turned and stared down at me and then nodded and began to strip, grimacing as he peeled his shorts off. He was asleep before I slid in next to him, but he grunted out something that sounded like, "Yeah…" when I squirmed as close to him as I could get and put one hand on his ass, kissing his shoulder as his face was buried in his pillow.

For us, it'd been romantic.

Now

It came to me as I drove along wet country roads in the deepening dusk of a February day -- not the fourteenth; that'd passed when I was off-planet, thank God -- that a week before, I'd been getting ready to step through the 'gate and come home. In a week, I'd taken everything I'd built up over four years with Jack and brought it down around us. No; less. I'd done it that first day, attacking him, mistrusting him --

I pulled over. What the hell was I doing this for? It was over. Like a child erasing poorly drawn lines until the paper was smudged and spoiled, we had nothing left to work with. Too many fresh starts, resolutions, promises to do better… both of us, because I wasn't the only one at fault here, even though I was clinging to my guilt because it was about all I had at this point.

I'd fallen in love with someone who would never see only me, no matter how much he filled my view. I half-wished Jack and Daniel could fuck and get it out of their systems, because I was sure, without knowing why, that it'd be a disaster. Jack's expectations would be sky-high and Daniel was human. Sort of. And his many abilities didn't necessarily translate, no fucking pun intended, to being an animal between the sheets.

I stared out through a rain-bleared windshield at a field of cows, placidly chewing, the way cows did, and smiled sourly, picturing Daniel's expression when Jack tried something just a little bit outside his comfort zone; a nose-wrinkle followed by a game attempt to be open-minded? A thrown punch and a swift exit? An earnest look through his glasses, accompanied by a blush, a throat-clearing, and a lecture about kinks and fetishes?

Or maybe Daniel would be perfect, just what Jack wanted in every way, and really, what difference did it make? Straight. Not interested beyond a mild curiosity, and without vanity, I was more his type than Jack from some hints he'd dropped, not that they meant anything, and why the fuck couldn't Jack just let it go? Christ. My head hit the back of the seat and I closed my eyes, breathing deeply as the familiar anger and frustration built up and my thoughts churned themselves to leaden, indigestible lumps.

Oh, this was really going to be a successful reconciliation…

I didn't doubt that I could get Jack to fuck me. Unless he'd been unfaithful while I was away -- unlikely; Daniel was the only one I -- he --oh, let it go, Paul, let it go -- or gone out and screwed the first warm and willing body he came across after our fight, he'd been without sex for a while. Me, too. And though both of us were used to that condition, on edge and restless until the need sank back, pouting, dulled and dormant, it didn't mean we liked it, and it did mean that shove us close together, sparks flying, and we'd be slamming each other against walls, fucking half-dressed and cursing, and coming in a nicely messy splatter three minutes later.

Which would solve nothing, maybe even make things worse.

No sex.

I felt like writing it in pen across the palm of my hand, an aide-memoire for when I saw him and my brain heated and turned to mush.

I needed a game plan. I needed to go in there knowing what I wanted and how to get it.

And it was Jack, just him, and I didn't have a fucking clue.

I pulled back onto the road leading towards the cabin. Best done quickly… and maybe I'd get there and find him with someone, and I could just drive away, tell Daniel it'd been too late, I'd blown it… And if he was, I couldn't even indulge myself with a nice little screaming match and a fight as the betrayed lover. I couldn't claim Jack publicly on this or any other planet without repercussions I didn't want, and not purely for selfish reasons, either.

Earth needed him saving her, actively or from a desk. I wasn't sure I had it in me to be enough of a hero to give him up; self-sacrifice wasn't one of my virtues -- or failings -- although I'd been told by Claire often enough that I got off on playing the martyr and I was firmly of the opinion that having me to fuck had kept him mellowed to the point of being bearable. I should have gotten a medal for it. No. I wouldn't turn away from him for the sake of the regs we'd both been flouting for years, either, but I wouldn't expose him, ever.

When it came down to it, we trusted each other on that point without reservation, without doubt, always had. Daniel was the only person he'd ever told about me and that, once the shock had faded, struck me as being another example of Jack covering both our asses and protecting me the best way he knew how. Daniel exuded trustworthiness and morality; he could lie for us and be believed; play the chaperone while turning a blind eye to whatever we were doing.

He'd done both and he'd done more. We owed him. I was just of the opinion that debt was paid in full now that Daniel and I were friends. Time to move on when it came to that, too.

The cabin lay dark by the water when I pulled up, no lights glimmering, locked and silent, no car parked outside. Not that I knew what Jack was driving these days, and wasn't that something? I used to know his life from the smallest detail up.

Gone. I knew it. One of the cars that had passed me, barely registering because I was hunched over the wheel and focusing forward, must have held him, or maybe we'd been yards apart at the airport, or maybe he'd already been back in town when I'd left --

I unpeeled my hands from the wheel, because it was in danger of bending under the pressure, and said 'Fuck' more times than was really necessary. After a while, I got out of the car into the light drizzle and swiftly on-rushing dusk and wandered around, kicking at stones, hands in my pockets because I was off-duty and I could.

It hadn't changed since the last time I'd visited, the summer before: over there was the dock we'd fished off, sharing the last beer, swapping it amicably, with Jack chasing me, yelling, when I took it off him, half-full, and drained it in three long gulps as he stared indignantly. He'd tackled me just inside the woods, catching me because I was laughing too much to breathe, bringing me down in a patch of grass, soft and damp, warmed by the sunlight filtering through the trees.

I'd let him pin me, turning my head and feeling the blades of grass tickle my chin, the solid weight of him on my back unbearably welcome. He'd leaned down, his mouth close to my ear, and whatever threat he'd been about to murmur had turned into a kiss, with me rolling under him until I was on my back, and his hands were cupping my face.

"You laughed," he'd said, rubbing his thumb through a tear-track on my cheek. I still was, but it was quieter now, broken into chuckles, the thrill of the chase fading to happiness spiced with need. His mouth had moved over mine, sure and certain and slow, and I'd closed my eyes and let his tongue stroke across my lips.

"No one around for miles, Paul," he'd said, the words soaking into my skin as he pushed my T-shirt up and kissed down to my belly. "Make all the noise you want."

"No hope of rescue?" I'd sounded breathless still, and I could tell how much he liked that, having me off-balance.

"For someone who steals the last fucking beer? What do you think?"

"I think I'm repenting. Want to make it up to you."

"Nice when we're in agreement…"

I shook myself free of the memory of what he'd done to me to make me yell and curse and love him just a little bit more, and turned away from the dock. Time to go.

With a perfection of timing that verged on slapstick, his car -- had to be a rental, no way did O'Neill ever put down good money for that piece of blandness -- pulled up just as I was leaving, both of us slamming on our brakes, glaring blindly at each other through a mutual dazzle of headlights. The lane leading away from the cabin was too narrow at that point for us to pass; we were blocking each other and one of us would have to back up.

Symbolic, I guess. I doubted it would have occurred to Jack to think of it like that; he'd have just assumed, with the arrogance of a landowner, that it was his fucking lane, and I should get the hell out of his way.

So I did. I reversed in a wet squeal of tires on leaf-strewn mud and spun the car around, leaving him space to pull forward and take the best place to park. He got out after a moment, letting the car door slam closed, and leaned back on the hood, arms folded, waiting.

I contemplated driving off and wondered if he'd follow or let me go. Not worth putting it to the test; he looked annoyed as it was.

I killed the engine and the lights. I wasn't used to seeing him this way. Angry, he was usually all action, loud and forceful. I had a memory of him striding towards me as if he was going to walk right through me, yelling about the loss of the Prometheus and blaming me. He'd never apologized for that and I'd never wanted him to; it was work and I'd fucked up.

Kind of.

He wasn't making any move towards me tonight. I walked over to him slowly, eyeing him with an uncertainty I couldn't fake into calm.

"Paul."

Neutral. Edging to hostile?

"Hi, Jack."

His eyes crinkled at the edges and he did that grimace that says a lot if you know him, none of it good. "You know, I left these orders about not being disturbed --"

"This isn't work."

His gaze skimmed up and down me pointedly. Right. Out of uniform; of course, it wasn't work. Stupid.

"I mean, I can --"

He cut me off before I could offer to go, completing his sentence as if I hadn't spoken. "And I mostly meant by you."

I let that sink in. When it had, I smiled.

"What's so funny?"

"You ran away from me?" I was so fucking close to elation… "You came the hell and gone out here because you were scared of bumping into me?"

"No --"

"Yes. Oh, thank God."

"Davis --"

"Oh, no." I shook my head. "Stick with 'Paul'. For once, just do that, will you? Because if I remember your rank I'll --"

"Like you've ever cared about that," he muttered.

"I have." Close enough to see he looked tired, to notice the heaviness in his expression. He looked older. Not old, just… older.

Close enough to touch, but his arms were still folded forbiddingly across his chest and my hands were at my sides, fingers curled slightly, loosely, the way I'd stand when I wasn't at attention, wasn't relaxed.

"What do you want?"

"Daniel says hello," I remembered to say. Daniel would ask if I had, I knew he would.

"Does he?" Jack's mouth twisted. "Glad to see you two getting on so well."

"We always do."

"Not from where I'm standing."

"Then I guess you should get your head out of your --"

"Major!"

"Ass," I finished, refusing to back down.

That got me a glare, the kind that slammed slouching spines straight and had eyes facing forward, sir, yes, sir.

Didn't work on me. Not now. Not with what I knew of him, which included the gasping, shuddered breath he took when I bit down on his nipples.

I never said I didn't understand the fraternization regs.

"What do you want, Paul?"

I hunched my shoulders against the rain. "An invitation inside? A talk where we stay dressed and reasonably civil?"

He glanced up at the dark sky and sighed. "Fine. Get your gear and come in." I turned away to hide my smile and had it wiped from my face by what he threw back at me as he stalked towards the cabin. "But that last one's going to take some doing. After sex is the only time you're even halfway human."

The hell? I took hold of my temper, got my overnight bag, and followed him into the cabin, tensed up already.

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.

"I'm driving."

"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."

"Still care?"

"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 --"

"I don't."

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?"

"Yes."

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."

"Like what?"

"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.

"Right."

"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."

Oh.

"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.

"Yeah. Sure."

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, dishonored, to know how fucking hard they'd come down on you."

"And 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."

"Do you?"

"Yes." I held his gaze. "Yes."

"Okay…?"

"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?"

"Honestly? No."

"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."

"Fine! Whatever!"

"Calm down." He stood, coming over to stand in front of me.

"No!"

"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.

"Understood, sir."

"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 skeptical 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.



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