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In a cramped A-frame tent offworld, hunkered down in a storm that had taken a third of their gear and left them with limited shelter and rations with which to survive until they could make their way back to the gate to report yet another failure to find the Lost City of the Ancients, Daniel discovered the flaw in his theory that if you pushed something out of your fantasy life and down into your dreams, it would conveniently work itself out in your subconscious, and leave your waking life in some semblance of peace.

It only worked if you slept alone.

The humid heat was a misery, the rain almost steaming, and the tent was a sauna. He cursed Jack silently for logistics that were beyond Jack's control, even though he agreed with the arrangement on principle. The tents were two-man, at a stretch, without gear. They were down to three tents. Teal'c was too bulky to share with anyone in anything resembling comfort; if Sam had her own tent, both remaining packs would fit in with her. That left him to share with Jack. Shoulder to shoulder, they could just lie flat without pressing the sides.

On top of their one opened-out bag, down to his briefs in the stifling air, filmed in sweat, acutely uncomfortable next to Jack's nearly bare body, grateful for Jack's taciturn silence, he managed to sleep.

Sleep was the great betrayer. In sleep, deepest desires bubbled up through the mind's crevices. In sleep he had no impulse control.

In sleep he had a tendency to sprawl.

At home he'd wake up with limbs flung to all corners of the mattress, or the sheets tangled as though he'd rolled every which way. Offworld, the sleeping bag restrained him -- but this time he wasn't sleeping inside a bag.

He woke up half on top of Jack. An arm across him, a leg bent across his legs, his forehead against an ear. If he could have seen in the dark, he'd have found himself looking at Jack's jawbone and neck. He could feel his own breath reflect off skin, bringing back a sharp, salty earthiness of sweaty Jack scent. He was hard, his erection angled along Jack's thigh and hip. It was sweetly, horribly arousing. He thought he might have just given an unconscious thrust of his hips.

He should jerk back. He should have already rolled over with a muffled oath. Should have said, "Jesus, Jack, I'm sorry," or "Well, that was embarrassing," or "I'm never going to hear the end of this, am I?" Should have made a joke, or at least an excuse -- something about a steamy dream. But he couldn't think of any funny lines or supermodels' names; words had deserted him. Volition had deserted him. He was paralyzed. Unable to roll away. Unable to control his breathing, pretend he was still asleep, play dead. Unable to control the panicked pounding of his heart. In the sweltering tent, he froze.

Jack was awake. Each rise of his chest was shallow. He lay there, on his back, motionless except for light, steady breathing. Waiting for Daniel to move. Waiting, the way you waited when someone had so intensely offended you that no response was possible. Waiting for them to become aware of what they'd done, and stop it.

Mentally he begged Jack to do it for him. Give him a shove. Say, "What the fuck, Daniel." Say, with the silken, deceptive mildness of the very dangerous, "I love you too, sweetheart, but move your ass. Now." Grumble something gruff to ease the tension, rib him cruelly and creatively, concoct humiliating plans for getting him laid as soon as they got back.

Jack lay still.

The deluge outside was deafening, but within it was a bubble of silence in which his own breathing rasped. He clenched his jaw, tensed his muscles, willing himself with every ounce of mental discipline to just roll away.

His muscles answered. Slow as rusted metal joints packed with tin foil, but they answered.

Jack's hand closed around his wrist.

Daniel drew his leg the rest of the way back, straightened it, shifted his pelvis. He gave an expermental tug on his arm. Jack didn't let go.

Daniel opened his mouth. His throat seized. No sound came out. He had to at least apologize now. Submit, show his belly, before Jack said something with that paradoxical mildness, something about arms and breaking and did he know how easily.

He tugged again, opening his hand to make his wrist wider, a subtle way of weakening a wrist lock, so ingrained now it was thoughtless.

Jack moved the open hand down, over his groin.

Daniel's heartbeat felt audible. He swallowed; that was loud too. Where his arm was now, he could break a lock without whacking Jack in the jaw. He tried not to understand why Jack wouldn't let him go. Jack's grip wasn't that tight; he tried to understand why he wasn't just pulling away.

Jack let go of the wrist. Fingers barely touching Daniel's knuckles, he urged the hand down halfway.

Halfway. Only halfway. No farther. The urging eased at the halfway point, no forcing, no pushing, message clear but still disregardable. Daniel's palm was an inch from where Jack's penis would be if it fell toward his belly and not his thigh. Daniel could feel the shape of it through the air. He could feel the pull of it, like an object with its own gravity or magnetism. He could feel the weightless curve of Jack's fingers.

Soft as a leaf, he let his hand fall.

It covered a long, straight erection, a shock of hardness through loose, damp briefs. Underneath it, Jack's hips rose, pressing it into the crease of Daniel's palm.

They do this in the military, Daniel thought, words flooding his mind. Nothing new for him, always available to me, doesn't mean anything, friendly hand job, pass the time, stress relief, probably been doing this with Teal'c for years, on and on as he inhaled sharply and then couldn't seem to release the breath. Another track in his mind said, I'm dreaming, but he'd experienced too many dreamlike things -- virtual realities, paranoid hallucinations, false memories, ascension itself -- not to know the difference. Another part of him thought What is he doing is he out of his mind?, and still another He's fucking with me, the prick, this is payback, he's freaking me out to punish me.

Jack's fingertips slid away.

Leaving it up to Daniel.

Daniel lay there in the dark, inside the deluge, palming Jack's dick in its sheath of steamed cotton, feeling his breath reflect hot off Jack's jaw. After a moment, on a surge of heartbroken yearning, he moved his thumb, found the swell of the glans, rubbed.

Jack would smack him away, burst out laughing, stop him with a cutting word. He'd fallen for a cruel practical joke, he'd stepped right into retribution for shoving a boner against Jack's hip in his sleep, he'd failed to snatch his hand away as he was supposed to, made an irretrievable error in judgment. He winced against the expected reaction as if it had already come. He stopped moving his hand.

Jack's hips lifted slowly, firmly into his hand again, then stilled.

Daniel closed his eyes against the pitch-dark and began to squeeze him. Gently, almost tenderly. Small upward pulls, working cotton over flesh, working skin over erectile tissue. The absence of biofeedback was strange, the unfamiliar contours even stranger. His own dick was thicker, more curved, uncircumcised. He could feel it weeping precome, right now, into his briefs. Jack's was more stingy, holding out to deliver it all in orgasm. What a profoundly odd, intimate thing to find out about a man who touched everything, everyone, yet kept the distance of command around him like a forcefield. What a weird thing to know about someone he'd slept next to, peed next to, showered with for years.

He had to stop. He couldn't let this happen. How Jack came wasn't something he should ever know. Jack's breaths were short and soft, opening out into whispery huffs as his lips parted, felt as much as heard under the drum of rain on the tight-staked tent. He couldn't stop now; Jack was too close, it would be worse than never starting. Their clothes were stretched between them; a button dug into Daniel's elbow. The other arm was moving up and down at a long-practiced pace. Jack's hips thrust into it three times. It might have been involuntary. Daniel's hand tightened. Distantly, he wondered if he would come when Jack did, from feeling it.

Jack's far hand moved to cover his. He stopped. He didn't think about it; he didn't consciously think about the fact that when he covered someone's hand like that it meant Stop, enough, too much. Jack's near arm, forgotten between them, rotated. Jack's hand made a knife of itself and pushed under his hip. Pressed him against Jack's flank as Jack's hips shifted toward him. Strong-boned fingers dug into his glutes, urging him to push. The hand covering his tightened and gave one terse jerk.

The sudden pressure on his dick, the hardness of bone against the head, the flesh and muscle against the shaft -- it felt too good. He expelled a breath, and thrust with the next downward pull of his hand.

It happened fast after that, in a blur. He rubbed his dick into Jack's haunch, worked his hand in tight strokes. Jack's hand rode his, lightly, then fell away when Daniel's fumbled through the doubled cotton barrier to wrap around bare flesh. Daniel started to come. No stopping it now. At the direct touch of his fingers, Jack's cock tightened down into itself. Jack's upper body arched. There was soft clink as his dogtags slid off his chest and down his neck, past Daniel's face. Jack grunted, once, and gushed fluid. Daniel followed in a blind tremble, trying to pull back, not come on Jack's hip. Jack's fingers drove hard into his ass and kept him where he was.

He came with Jack's cock still pulsing sweetly in the curl of his fingers.

The release was expansion, soaring, a sparkling eruption in the darkness, fireworks in the measureless black of space. When he came back down, warmth was spreading through his groin, an echo of the wet spreading through his briefs. Jack's body felt drenched and boneless, already melting into sleep, but his hand moved back over Daniel's, tightening when Daniel would have withdrawn it, and his hand cupped Daniel's butt to keep him from shifting off his hip. Jack's head turned slightly toward him. He felt breath on his hair.

He felt Jack fall asleep.

He let go of his own resistance. He surrendered to the postclimax lethargy. There was shakiness at the center of it, a flutter in his belly that trembled out, once, through his limbs before he sagged. Jack's hand lay heavy on his now. He cupped Jack's softening genitals with a sense of wonder. Amazed, and moved, that in sleep Jack would still want a hand on him. Would trust his hand.

It was so strange and senseless and contrary to everything he assumed that he couldn't process it. He could only lie there, listening to Jack's deep breathing under the pounding, streaming deluge of rain. As his body temperature fell, with the release of orgasm and the onset of sleep, the steaming heat of the tent became comforting instead of oppressive. Dreams began to lap at him like warm water. His hand slid out of Jack's briefs; he was dimly aware of Jack's heavy hand groping up his forearm, of Jack's body turning, a long leg pushing between his, the slide of damp-haired flesh.

The muscled, angular arm Jack slid around him closed, squeezed. Warm, wet chest and belly came solid and yielding against his. Ear and jawbone and neck came against his face.

Daniel pressed in, with a deep sigh, and slept safe and not-alone for the first time in seven years.

Deep in the rain-lashed night, he half-woke to find Jack's arms loose and heavy around him, one of Jack's legs hooked over his. As though in sleep he'd tried to sprawl out of the twine of limbs and Jack had thrown a leg over to recapture him. Something soft and unarticulated like this is insane went through him, and crap when he wakes up he's going to be so pissed, and he tried to extricate himself without rousing Jack, but he was still half-asleep himself and not really in control of his limbs, and Jack stirred, and murmured something (oh god tell me that wasn't his wife's name), and shifted him back closer, limbs tightening before they relaxed back into sleep.

Daniel gave up. Daniel gave in to contentment he hadn't known since Abydos, comfort so sweet it hurt. Daniel let the thunder of the rain and the hot, sweaty warmth of the inconceivable embrace take him down.

>>>>>>>

"Daniel."

He surfaced slowly, reluctantly; burrowed his face and arms into soaked folds of nylon.

The elastic waistband of his briefs snapped against his skin. He startled, eyes opening to a dark green blur of tent interior and the deeper blur of Jack sitting up. A shock went through him, a shiver of remembered climax, a cringing wince. He opened his mouth, drawing breath sharply to force an apology for what hadn't been his doing alone.

"Roll over," Jack said. "You're lying on all the clothes."

He rolled over. It must be something like dawn. The storm had tailed off to a spatter, sharp discrete raindrops on the tent. His briefs were sticky, unbearable.

"Get those off," Jack said. Voice low, relaxed, matter-of-fact. "We're going commando today."

Daniel stripped them off, sluggish with sleep and mortification as Jack dug through the tangle of BDUs and dragged his pants free. A wetnap landed on Daniel's chest. Jack took the soaked cotton out of his hand; he didn't look to see where it went, but he heard the crinkle of plastic, the sound of a ziploc. Opening the wetnap packet felt weirdly and unpleasantly like tearing open a condom packet. He wiped himself up, heard Jack doing the same.

From one of the other tents, he heard Sam groan as though she'd woken with a hangover. Teal'c's voice called, "Are you awake, O'Neill?" It sounded as though he might already be out and about. There was no camp to speak of; it had been all they could do to get the three tents pitched on relatively high ground and crawl inside to wait out the deluge and the darkness.

He still couldn't look at Jack. The wetnap was taken from him, the ziploc zipped. He groped for his pants. Jack called, "We secure, Teal'c?"

"Indeed," Teal'c replied, from several feet away. A tent unzipped, and Sam said, "Oh my god. I might as well have slept out here." The crackle of a tarp, the thud of packs. "Will I prepare coffee?" Teal'c called.

Back arched, Daniel had just about managed to get his pants on. Jack had already buttoned and buckled. He called back, "Make mine an iced double latte." He was lacing his boots while Daniel was still struggling to get his damp T-shirt down over his sticky chest. "Don't pull it, roll it," Jack said, and again the condom image brushed across Daniel's mind, disturbing. But he got his shirt on.

Before he could grope for his boots, Jack pressed his glasses against his hand. He took them. He didn't want to. He didn't want to be able to see until Jack had left the tent. He could hear Teal'c messing with the cranky little propane burner and Sam brushing her teeth. Ordinary sounds of an ordinary morning in camp. He opened the earpieces of his glasses, trying to delay raising them to his face.

Jack's hand fell warm and easy on the nape of his neck. Squeezed. Slid away. It left him still, dazed, as Jack unzipped the tent and contorted himself out of it, saying something chipper and acerbic to the rest of the team. A touch like that would have been big-brotherly, once -- long ago, before he'd stopped touching him that way, stopped touching him at all. A tousle of his hair, gruff affection. This had been something else. Not reassurance. Not gratitude. Not possessiveness, though it came just short of it. Something else, something he couldn't quite define. Not regret; more like --

He shook it off. Put on his glasses. Rolled on his socks, shoved into his boots, lay back to tuck his shirt in as well as he could and arrange himself carefully inside his pants before he buttoned them. He looked around. The ziploc with the underwear and wetnaps was nowhere to be seen. He reached down inside Jack's stuffsack and found it, a tight flat package with the air pressed out of it. It would be buried under the bag and be spirited out somehow on the other side. At some point in the future, the briefs would be returned to him, discreetly, with or without comment.

He sat for a moment, hugging his knees, overcome with a vast, aching loneliness. The price of a selfish fantasy of comfort within whatever fever-dream illusion Jack had been functioning under, whoever Jack had been dreaming that he was with.

He shook it off. Life was pleasure, life was pain, life was life. He had purpose; he had work. He had a place with these people, in this effort. That more than made up for a personal loneliness no different from what he'd felt for most of his life. His juvenile issues were negligible.

Be happy you got some, he told himself. Leave it at that. He stuffed the sleeping bag into its sack, forced himself bodily out of the tent, and got on with the day. Jack acted not one whit differently than usual; Teal'c slid no veiled, knowing looks his way, gave no indication that he knew and that Daniel had undergone some warriors' rite of passage; only Sam, at one point as they slogged the long miles back toward the gate, dropped back to his position to ask quietly if he was OK.

He could read nothing in it but mild, general, curious concern. "Sure, shouldn't I be?"

She grinned. "Besides the fact that you're wet, you can't stand the smell of yourself, your bones ache from sleeping in the damp, you think you might already have crotch rot, and Teal'c's coffee sucks?"

He couldn't help but smile back, just a little, eyes on the washed-out blur where the trail used to be, but there wasn't anything he could say.

"I'm sorry those ruins didn't pan out," Sam said. "I know you're disappointed. I know how sure you were."

"I wasn't sure. I was hopeful. It's OK. Back to the drawing board."

"We'll find it, Daniel. The last time we came back half-drowned like this we were looking for Kheb, and we found that a couple of missions later. You know I believe in you, right? We all believe in you."

He couldn't close his eyes; he looked aside to hide the wince, and hoped it looked like embarrassment at the declaration of confidence.

"I know," he said.

"So you believe in you too, OK?" she said, and squeezed his arm, and slogged back up to her position, between himself and Jack on point.

He tried not to feel Teal'c's gaze on him, from behind, but he did, and all he could do was ignore it, and concentrate on getting home and back to that drawing board.

>>>>>>>

He worked solidly for two days straight, catching catnaps in quarters. He was hitting a dead end and he didn't want to admit it, because then he'd have to take a substantial break, go back to the house. Then there might be a space of time in which he'd lie on the sofa and think about the breath ruffling his hair, the limbs slung around him. He was fairly good at thought-stopping; when a sense-image came of his hand on an erection not his own, or a lean body arching in orgasm, he cut it off and returned his attention to his work. But the soft memory of breath on his hair would make him go still, lose focus, and indulging it to the point where the gentle thrill ran across his skin was nearly irresistible. He fought it. He called maintenance to change the angle of the louvers in the ventilation duct behind his desk because when the air came on high it ruffled his hair almost the same way. He scrubbed his head and the back of his neck, trying to desensitize himself, and poured coffee into the hollow in the pit of his stomach.

He didn't think about it. He didn't follow the trains of thought that began with It was just a handjob, no big deal or It's just sex, I'm too old to get stupid about this. He didn't follow any train of thought that might lead anywhere in the general direction of what had happened on P7X-592. He did his best to remove it from his mental dialing program. Back at the house, he'd download some porn and masturbate until he couldn't stand up; tomorrow he'd call some acquaintances at the university, people who could have become friends if he hadn't backed off, and see if his come-and-go social life could be at least superficially resurrected. He needed new input, something to jog the needle loose from the scratch in the record. Something to keep him from looping and looping on what had happened. Sometimes the damnedest things people said in casual, oblivious conversation could form a bridge in his mind between concepts or datapoints he'd never have spontaneously connected. He couldn't invite that kind of serendipity, but if he sat alone at his desk it would never find him. Nothing in, nothing out. He had to get out.

Jack sauntered by several times a day. There was no stopping that; he'd always done it and always would. Daniel had never understood whether Jack was bored, or dodging his own work, or trying to disguise team management with goofy charm. There was no difference in the way Jack did it now. He'd swing by, Daniel would say "Hey Jack, what's up?" in his usual abstracted way, Jack would say "Nothin', whatcha doin'?," a few sentences of inane dialogue would follow, and Jack would say "OK" and wander off. He did it to Teal'c and Sam, too; they'd used to joke about it, back when things were easy, even good sometimes, back before too much unresolved shit had started weighing them all down and then ascension had wiped his slate nearly clean and replaced it with an Ancient tablet. He'd used to hang out in Sam's lab himself. He'd used to drive Teal'c to area tourist attractions; they'd gone as far as Yellowstone, Mesa Verde. They'd been talking about a bigger trip before he left, maybe Disney World, maybe the whole team. Nobody had mentioned it since he'd come back.

They'd lost so much of what had made them good, and he didn't know whether his own emotional withdrawal was at fault, or whatever wasn't going on with Sam and Jack anymore, or a combination, or what. Only Sam and Teal'c had seemed to grow closer over the years.

He couldn't get any farther with this lead. End of the road. No more excuse to stay on base and try to drive himself into the concrete. Too fatigued to think up a new excuse, though he had some hope for what a couple of the other teams might find on their upcoming missions. SG-1 had another offworld on Tuesday. He had to get his brain unscrambled by then. He might as well make a start on it.

"Done for the day?"

He usually heard Jack's steps approaching. He hadn't this time. He didn't look over from his computer as he started to close down programs. "Unfortunately, yes. The cuneiform tablets from P2X-022 were a snipe hunt. I know I'm behind on some of my departmental work. I'll get to it tomorrow."

"Not my beef," Jack said easily. "You get your mission reports in on time, I'm sweet."

Something slapped down on the one clear spot on his desk. He glanced down through a hazy retinal burn of cuneiform. Looked like two tickets.

"Hockey," Jack said. "Tonight. Wanna go?"

The hollow pit in his stomach extended downward into a ten-story drop, like an elevator shaft he'd never known was in there. "Um ... " What the fuck is this, Jack? An apology? Some lameass attempt to put us back where we used to be? You think we can ever get that back?

"It's actually NCAA women's hockey, so it lacks all the brutal finesse of busted heads and broken arms, and there's a rumor that a couple of the forwards still have all their teeth, but it's the finals and a pretty tough ticket to score."

Yeah? Who did you have to blow to get these? Did you break his heart too? "Um, yeah, OK. Why not."

"Cool. Starts at seven, though. You wanna follow me, or just jump in the truck?"

It was after six. Jack was already in street clothes. They'd have to leave as soon as he changed out of his fatigues. What are you doing, Jack? What is this? He raised his eyes to Jack's face, though his head was still dipped toward the tickets. Jack wore the same mild, inquiring expression he'd worn when he invited him fishing all those years ago. No way to read anything from it.

"I guess I wouldn't mind if you do the driving," he said, levelly, aware of the double entendre and not caring. Almost any response he made would carry an overtone.

"I'll be in the truck," Jack said, scooping up the tickets.

Daniel didn't watch him leave. He shut down his machine, headed for the locker room, changed into the jeans and Oxford and jacket he'd worn to work two days ago, and headed up to the parking bay. The truck started up as he walked the few paces to Jack's VIP spot; his Jeep was two rows over but no farther from the entryway. On a different track, he thought. But in the same place.

He realized he was thinking, and shut it down, and stepped up into Jack's monster overkill-on-wheels. Ordinarily he hated these things; they wasted gas, they blocked his view, and the kind of people who bought them should usually not be at the wheel. But he had to admit that on Jack the fit was right.

Thinking again, he thought. Stop.

Jack pulled out, waved a loose two-fingered salute at the guys at the gate, and gestured at the radio as he negotiated the twisty road. "Pick your poison," he said. "Presets are jazz and classical."

Jack always kept to the speed limit, which made Daniel, who liked to drive fast, antsy. For something to do, he cycled through the stations. He paused on a country song, then processed what he was hearing and changed it. No wailing misery, no broken hearts. This wasn't about that. It was about making half an effort to mend a friendship. He left a college station on for a while, some world music from Madagascar.

"What is that?" Jack said. "I get the French, they're singing about land and blood, but what's the other stuff?"

"Malagasy," Daniel replied, surprised. Sometimes he forgot that Jack had classroom French. The field Arabic and Spanish he knew about. In fact, he had excellent Latin, too, since the time loop. Jack usually made them overlook things like that, with his studied affectation of density. It irritated Daniel, but he could see the purpose in inviting people to underestimate you, so he played along.

Thinking again. No thinking.

"From ... Madagascar?"

"Yes. The island continent split off from Africa about three million years ago. Rainforest ecology. The native population cuts the trees to burn for charcoal they can sell, and because of that the land is eroding. The soil is red laterite. As the rivers wash it away into the sea, it looks as though the island is bleeding to death."

"No shit?" Jack turned onto the main road. "Lot I don't know about this planet. Don't know why I spend all my time going to new ones."

OK, this was just plain fucking weird. Jack could be human when he wanted to be. Jack could cooperate socially, hold up his end of a conversation. But not with him.

He shut the meta down. He let the conversation run its course. Jack asked him what he was working on; after a brief hesitation, he gave an honest, thorough answer. Jack asked a couple of intelligent questions, kept him talking. Even gave him an idea, a perspective he hadn't considered, one last thing he could try in the morning.

There's your serendipity, he thought, thinking again without thinking about it. Go figure.

They pulled into the ice-rink lot and shop talk ended.

He let it happen. He started to have a pretty good time. The game was close, exciting, and the sport aesthetically beautiful when played sans testosterone attacks. A liquid flow of physics and tactics and athleticism across the ice. He took the metaphor, and went with the flow. A couple of Coors went down cold and smooth. They ate hot dogs and shared the fries without thinking. Jack's company was easygoing, not too heavy on the charm. Daniel hadn't enjoyed himself like this in a while. It should be unsettling, but it wasn't.

He didn't want it to end. That was unsettling.

"Drop you home?" Jack said, as they pulled out of the parking lot into the streetlit night. "I can pick you up in the morning, or Carter can."

He didn't answer right away. He wanted nothing more than to go back to that house, Jack's house, the safety and welcome he could still taste in the back of his throat. The longing was acute. He hated the cramped ranch that Jack, in his vast paternalism, had insisted he rent to get himself off the base. He'd been considering subletting it for peanuts to some grad student, putting his few personal things back in storage, telling Jack to fuck himself and moving back into quarters. He didn't need a private space to bring home dates. He didn't need a place to entertain friends.

"Daniel?"

"Yeah."

"It's not a hard question."

He bit the inside of his lip and looked out the passenger-side window. He could fix this. Any number of things he could say right now to fix this. He froze, again. Like a teenage kid. Complete inability to speak. Thirty-nine years old, twenty-six languages at his disposal, an experienced diplomat. "Jack," he said, "I, ah ... "

Jack kept driving, quietly, one elbow propped in the open window, hand draped on the steering wheel. Just driving around, Daniel thought. Driving around, and giving me a chance to spit out whatever I need to say. That's what this was. Him giving me a chance. Showing me that he'll listen. I finally get him to listen to me, for the first time in eight fucking years, and I choke.

A long time passed in which there was only the soft throb of jazz from the radio and the whoosh of air through Jack's window. Daniel stared out of his. He'll drive all night. If I don't say anything, he'll just keep driving, and if the tension and embarrassment doesn't kill me, I can just keep sitting here with him, and it doesn't ever have to end.

Finally, hopelessly, he said, "I can't say what I need to say."

"I get that," Jack said quietly, and pulled into his own driveway.

Daniel blinked at the familiar landscaping.

Jack put the truck in park, rolled up his window, killed the ignition. "Comin' in?"

"Uh, yeah," he said, and got out of the truck.

Jack unlocked the front door, let him in, locked it behind them, flipped on the hall light, took a couple of steps toward the kitchen. "Coffee?"

"No, that's OK." Too much trouble, too much waiting for it to brew, too much commitment; if he accepted coffee, he'd be staying awhile.

"Beer?"

"No, I've had enough."

There was a pause while Jack regarded him in silence. Then he just turned, and walked the rest of the way down the hall, toward his bedroom.

Daniel stood there for a long time. Long enough to be sure that Jack hadn't just gone to take a leak. Long enough to be sure that Jack wasn't coming back out. Easy enough to leave; he had Jack's keys, along with Sam's, on his keyring and could lock up behind himself. Easy enough to go watch TV for a while and sack out on the sofa. But if that had been what was on offer, if Jack had interpreted his reluctance to admit that he didn't want to go home as an inability to express a need for the company of a friend, Jack would have said something like, "Well, I'm wiped, I'm hitting the sack. You know where everything is. The TV won't bother me. Knock yourself out."

Jack wouldn't have brought him here to begin with. He'd have brought him back to his own house and shouldered his way in, stayed for an hour or two, then sacked out on Daniel's sofa -- or driven home, if Daniel kicked him out. Jack had brought him here because it was easier to walk away than to kick somebody out. He'd brought him here so that if he wanted to, he could leave.

He left the entry light on, and walked down the long hall to the dark bedroom.

It wasn't as dark as it could have been. The bathroom light was on, the door slightly ajar. The hall light leaked in. In this wooded development there were few streetlights, but a couple of Jack's property lights shone muted through the drawn blinds. He could see the covers turned down on both sides of the bed. He could see Jack lying naked on his back, arms behind his head, one leg bent up to leave his groin in shadow. He could see, beside a box of Kleenex on the nightstand, a boxed bottle of lube and a string of packets. The box looked new.

Jack watched him in silence. No pretense of sleep.

Easy enough to turn and leave. Nothing would ever be said about it. He had grounds for rejecting this that had nothing to do with Jack personally. Protecting Jack's career. Protecting his own career. The never-ending possibility of surveillance. Not screwing with the team dynamic. Not risking the implosion of an already difficult friendship. Not jeopardizing the purpose that made his fall back to earth tolerable.

He could put the lube and the rubbers into the nightstand drawer and get into the bed in his underwear. He was half-tempted to do that; to say, in effect, "Can I just sleep here? With you?" The thought of it made the ache of loneliness profound.

He was hardening, looking at the long, lean bareness of the man lying on the bed.

He undressed in silence. Stepped to the nightstand to put his glasses down, incidentally making it plain that he'd seen what Jack had laid out there. He considered opening the drawer and dropping the condoms in; he'd had no sexual contact since well before his ascension, and if Jack had he could just pull the condoms out again. But it might imply that while he'd accept the lube for manual stimulation, he was saying no to intercourse. And although the prospect of sex, real sex, shut his mind down cold, it also sent a hot electric jolt of lust through his lower body.

He left the condoms where they were. He lay down on his side, hyperaware of his erection, and the erection that mirrored it when Jack rolled to face him.

He'd never seen Jack's penis hard. Jack was free with rough and ribald humor and easy about his body, amused by sexual innuendo and a merciless ribber. They'd showered together for years. They'd suffered a variety of humiliations in front of each other. But this, he'd never seen. Jack lay quietly for long breaths, letting him look. He felt faint with a desire to touch it, put his mouth on it. There seemed to be no reason for him not to. He'd already felt it in his hand, felt it bare under his fingers, felt it ejaculate. He'd never had any problem taking the initiative in bed. But his vertigo was so extreme it was almost a disconnection. There was Jack, as familiar as his own hand; and there was Jack's dick, Jack's sexuality, stark and alien. He was supposed to be the envoy, the one who could make first contact, the one who could find the familiar in the unknown. But he didn't know how to bridge the gap between the Jack he knew and the Jack who was offering himself. He didn't know how to bridge the gap between terror and desire. He didn't know how to reach out.

His eyes traveled up. Met Jack's.

They were huge, soft. As he looked up, they creased slightly. Did he think Daniel wasn't liking what he saw? Did he think Daniel wasn't weak with wanting this?

"Jack," he said softly, and reached out, and laid his hand flat in the center of Jack's chest.

Jack's heart thundered wildly. The crease around his eyes deepened, and something came plosive and voiceless from the soft line of his mouth.

Daniel slid the hand down to Jack's hip. Moved his other hand to dig under Jack's other hip, into the mattress and under the point of bone. Took him by the hips and urged more than pulled, pressing his lower body forward at the same time, until his penis touched Jack's.

Jack twitched, let out a breath. Laid a hand on the side of Daniel's neck and squeezed. Daniel kept pressing forward with his hips, searching Jack's eyes and face. The pleasure was intense. The strangest thing he'd ever felt, that hardness against him. His penis angled across Jack's, then slid under it as he moved his lower body closer, pulling Jack into him. Jack's eyes fogged; his hand tightened; a small sound escaped him, and he winced away into the pillow.

Daniel rubbed with his lower body, slow and easy. After the fourth push, Jack trembled back and came. His hand squeezed a convulsive rhythm into Daniel's neck. Daniel groaned, his neck arching into Jack's grip, as semen bathed his thigh.

Jack didn't let go of Daniel's neck, but his grip eased into a rough caress, his thumb stroking behind Daniel's ear. It was his left hand, his upper hand. His right was trapped between them. He dragged it free, moved it down, and took hold of Daniel's penis. His palm corkscrewed around it as he lifted it. He laid his fingers along the shaft and stimulated it with short, careful milking motions, a little awkward with his arm half under him. He didn't shift to get a better position. His eyes were open; he was looking at Daniel. Daniel couldn't hold the eye contact. His focus blurred, his awareness coopted by the fingers on him.

Jack's fingers, on him. Feeling him, feeling the shape of him, searching out the sweetest places. He was dissolving into orgasm before Jack had even jerked him. He tried not to cry out but the soft sound he made extended into a long moan as his eyes sank shut and Jack kept milking him, massaging with his fingertips. He came for a long time, deliciously. Perfectly. Gratitude flooded him. The surge ebbed, but Jack kept stroking -- gently rubbing the foreskin up and down, delicately prolonging the pleasure. His fingers moved more lightly, more slowly as Daniel softened, until they weren't moving at all, just cradling him, limp and spent.

Daniel opened his eyes to find Jack ... lost in him. Lost in absorption with Daniel's expression. It was how he'd gauged how to handle him. Watching and responding to every shift in the muscles of his face, the creases around his eyes, the shape of his lips. Daniel had never felt himself so known before, not by another human being, not during sex. He looked back at Jack with a raw wonder, and self-awareness returned to Jack's eyes, and he smiled, slow and warm.

"Jack," Daniel murmured, tipping his head forward, his brow against Jack's brow. It was too much, too intimate, all of it; he was giving too much away. He couldn't let Jack know.

He pulled back with some idea of reaching the tissue box down. It was going to take a lot to clean this up.

Jack pulled him forward, wrapping arms around him, legs. Warm, engulfing, secure; a sweet press of warmth, a slide of soft, flushed skin against skin. Jack's hand moved from his neck to his head, combing softly into his hair, massaging. Limp genitals, cool and wet, nestled in a lump between them. Jack shifted him closer; he heard a soft exhalation. Breath on his hair, then lips, as Jack's head settled on the pillow with his.

>>>>>>>

Jack roused him at six with a cup of coffee; half dressed, fresh from the shower, a whiff of deodorant and shaving cream. There were fresh towels in the bathroom, and Daniel's clothes were in a neat pile on the lid of the toilet. A new toothbrush and disposable razor lay on the sink counter. Daniel cleaned up, dressed, and came out to hear the truck idling in the driveway. Jack handed him the paper and hefted his house keys. "Need to stop by your place?" he said.

It was strange to hear his voice. Daniel shook his head and followed him out to the truck. They drove wordlessly to the mountain. Jack walked beside him to the inner security checkpoints and through them; Daniel had expected him to find some reason for them to walk in separately. "Breakfast, or you rarin' to go on that cuneiform thing?" Jack asked, swiping his card at the first elevator.

"Cuneiform," he said, and cleared his throat. "Then departmental stuff."

"Ah, the eternal backlog," Jack said, as the doors opened and they stepped in. They went down and through the next checkpoint and to the second elevator in silence. Jack punched 22, which meant he was heading to breakfast. After a brief hesitation, Daniel punched 18. As the car stopped at Daniel's level, Jack said, "Lunch?"

"I might work through," Daniel replied, getting out. He turned only just as the doors closed, to see Jack lounging, hands stuffed in pockets, against the back wall. The same mild expression on his face -- a balance of affection and diffidence and bemusement -- as when Daniel had told him he was staying on Abydos.

Daniel headed straight for the coffee station, then his lab.

Jack didn't stop in once that morning to bug him. He wrestled with the cuneiform for a couple of hours, then admitted defeat. Sam came by and mentioned that the colonel had jumped on an opening for some simulator time and wouldn't be back on base 'til late. Daniel worked through lunch, clearing his backlog. Teal'c came by in midafternoon, cocked his head and raised his brow unhelpfully, and left with no meaningful exchange. Before he knew it it was five o'clock, and he'd actually finished what he had to do. He changed back into his street clothes, got into his car, and drove to his rented house.

Halfway there, his cell phone rang. A call from the base. Crap -- an opportunity for a quiet night off, not that he had anything to use it for but catching up on trade journals and trying to process the incomprehensible turn his private life had briefly taken, and the damned mountain was going to call him back. Well, work was therapy, in its way. The more work he had, the less aware he was of the soft, sweet ache in his heart and the unfamiliar repletion in his body.

"Daniel Jackson," he said into the phone.

"Thought I'd swing by tonight," Jack's voice said. "Bring some takeout. Game's on. OK?"

He blinked; shook his head a little to clear it. "I don't have a TV set, Jack."

"Have you heard of this thing called radio, Daniel? It's these waves they broadcast. Some are frequency modulated and some are amplitude modulated. They -- "

"OK."

"OK?"

"OK."

"OK. 'Bout an hour?"

"OK."

He pulled up at the house that had never felt like home, let himself in, changed into sweats, roamed uneasily from room to room; at the turn of an hour Jack came bearing takeout. They talked shop while they ate, and then Jack sprawled on his couch with a radio by his ear, listening to a ballgame and watching Daniel read through a pile of magazines. When the game ended, Daniel set the last issue of Smithsonian aside and said, "I'm going to bed."

"Mind if I grab a shower?"

"Go ahead. There's fresh everything in the closet."

He slid out of his clothes and into his bed, vaguely wondering when the last time was that he'd jerked off into it and whether he'd changed the sheets. He hated this house, but he loved the sound of Jack's presence in it. He lay on his back, then rolled onto his side, up onto an elbow, restless and tense.

Jack came in, bare, turning lights out in his wake. He got into bed and turned Daniel onto his back in the same motion, then pushed the covers down. His hand slid warm up Daniel's body, then down to his thigh; his mouth closed on the top of Daniel's shoulder, then on a nipple, then on his belly. It came through to him what Jack intended and he arched helplessly, involuntarily, hardening in a hot swell. When Jack's mouth closed over his penis, he felt orgasm surge up, but astonishment delayed it. Jack took him in deeply, sucking with an intense tenderness, then drew up to tease his head with a tongue tip, lips ringing his shaft just below the ridge of glans. Daniel made sounds this time -- a lot of sounds, embarrassing sounds, sounds that didn't need words to reveal too much about how good this was, how unbearably, amazingly good. Jack teased him for a while longer; slid up and down a few times, a long, slick slide of lips and tongue; and then closed his mouth hot and wet on the head of Daniel's cock and sucked him until he came. Daniel cried out high and ragged, his tailbone driving down into the mattress, his limbs splaying. He hadn't been sucked in years. The release was sharp, involuntary. Ecstasy, pure and out of his control.

Jack choked a little, coming off him; swallowed, coughed, choked, swallowed, swallowed again. He drew the covers up with him and tried to settle against Daniel. Shakily, Daniel pushed, tried to move his head down, return the favor, but Jack grunted a low mmn-mm and hauled him in close. His erection came smooth and hard into the softness between Daniel's legs. His hand slid down to cup Daniel's cheek, work that softness against him a little; then he relaxed, settling in for sleep.

Daniel tried to stay awake. Sooner or later some words were going to have to be exchanged. He was going to have to protect himself. He'd been falling for a long time, but there was no way Jack could have known that, or how much faster and steeper the fall had become. Eventually Jack would see what this was doing to him, what it meant to him, but if he waited until then the loss, when Jack withdrew, would be devastating. This could be sexual team management. He would offer Daniel what he needed for a few days, take care of whatever problem he'd assessed, and then ...

Daniel couldn't hold on to the train of thought. He slid into sleep aware only of the warm affection that engulfed him, and a dim sense of a faraway plea.

He woke into grayish darkness, in his own bed, ravenous for the body that still shared it with him. He thrust hard against the hard groin, hands closing on buttocks, and heard a sharp grunt. He ground himself into yielding flesh, ground the other erection into him, and then thought no i want him to come harder than that. He rolled Jack's hips down flat on the mattress; they resisted, then reluctantly submitted, the body following. He kissed down into the hollow between the points of collarbone, then moved his mouth up the throat, hungry for more submission. He sucked on the softness under the jaw, felt the chin go up, felt the vibration of a low moan under his tongue. He slid one arm up for leverage while his other hand came around to cover the groin, press. Under the pillow he felt the dented tube of much-used lube, half forgotten; he closed his hand on it and brought it with him as he straddled Jack's legs and started working in long, slow sucks down his body.

He was hot, hungry, desperately turned on. Jack's skin was sticky and salty, the soft hairs down the center of his chest damped down into a fresh bloom of perspiration. His nipples were intensely sensitive; when Daniel teased one with soft licks, he heard a palm slap the mattress and the rustle of sheets under a clawing hand. Jack didn't touch him, or try to. He mouthed across for the other nipple, felt it come up against his tongue, felt Jack's body trying to curl. He didn't know vestigial nipples had that many nerve endings; he didn't remember this feeling that good. He teased the other with his fingertips, circling and petting, deeply aroused by Jack's response. Somewhere dimly in his mind he thought that if this was it, a couple of nights of no-holds-barred relief because the surprise in the tent felt so good, then he was going to make it something Jack wouldn't forget after he walked away.

He licked and sucked down the valley between the ribs, the abs, working into them when they contracted, and followed the convergence of damp hair down into the groin. Jack let out a sound he couldn't parse and grabbed the sheet with both hands. You're not turned on if you can lie flat on the bed without holding on, Daniel thought, and made a soft 'O' with his lips against the tip of Jack's penis.

Jack arched with a loud groan. Daniel swallowed involuntarily, thinking Jack would shoot; Jack had come from less last night, he seemed to be as primed as a teenager, ready to burst at the slightest touch. But in the arching and swallowing, the erection dropped away from his lips, and Jack didn't come. He lay passively. But he was fisting the sheets. A ripple went through the skin under Daniel's hand on his thigh.

Daniel refused to let his mind go where Jack's responses were trying to send it. He mouthed down the front of the shaft in nipping, tonguing sucks, and thought, He probably samples first times like a connoisseur, it's just the forbidden that does this to him, he gets off on new partners like a drug and then moves on, once we've fucked it's over. He licked back up, firm and hot and wet, and when Jack planted his feet Daniel got between them and levered him wide. Complete submission now; head back, throat exposed, legs open. OK, he thought. If this is what we're doing, then let's do it.

No more thinking. He sank his mouth down on the smooth erection. Not thinking about now he'd longed for this. Not thinking about the deep erotic heartbreaking dreams he'd left on the shores of countless other nights. Focusing only on what he was doing. Fierce concentration. No room for doubts or hurts. It tasted so good. It felt so good along his tongue, nudging his palate. He could feel the vein pulsing down the front. He pressed the pulse in his tongue against it, and flipped the cap of the lube, and greased his fingers.

Jack's knees drew up. Daniel didn't know if he'd heard or sensed the lube or was bracing for orgasm. He loosened his mouth, easing up partway. Slid his greased fingers into the crack, spread him, stroked over the tight heat. Jack let out a muffled, nasal sound and groped up more sheet. Daniel sucked gently, tipping Jack's dick downward, positioning himself better; he stroked in light circles until Jack's body trembled past some threshold and yielded. Then Daniel slid his finger in, a long, slow, slick penetration. Breath came out of Jack in a sobbing expulsion, no sound that Daniel had ever heard from him before. The muscle inside him relaxed into the push, then gave a fluttery spasm, then relaxed again.

Daniel probed him gently, a little farther with each push. He couldn't find the prostate. It didn't seem to matter; Jack's balls had pulled up, his lower back had curled, his body was begging. Daniel pushed all the way in, down to the big knuckle, and held there. He jerked the base of the shaft, thumb and two fingers. He licked around the head, got everything good and wet, and then bobbed on it. He gave one more push and wiggled his finger.

Fluid spilled into his mouth. Daniel stopped moving his lips and tongue and let it collect there. Jack came with tremors running down the insides of his thighs, running up the length of Daniel's finger inside him. His moans were tight and stunned.

Daniel swallowed what he could, slid his lips up and down through the rest. When Jack seemed to be finished, he withdrew his mouth and his finger and took hold of himself and drove his face into Jack's belly and pumped himself, fast and desperate and groaning. He came with Jack's hand on his head, the sharp musk of Jack's groin filling his sinuses, the alkaline sweetness of Jack's come coating his tongue and throat.

He was left gasping against Jack's skin. Jack was limp, motionless except for the fingertips combing through Daniel's hair. Daniel didn't want the stroking to stop, but he couldn't stay contorted at the foot of the bed like this. Before he could get embarrassed and freeze, he moved up and collapsed onto his front, face driven down into the pillow on his side.

Jack's arm had come up with him, flopped across the mattress just under his pillow. His throat touched the soft hollow of Jack's elbow. His arm stretched down between them, the hand at the end of it sticky and smeared. Jack's far arm reached across, stroked down his triceps, rested there. He couldn't suppress a shiver. After a while Jack drew his arm out and sat up, finding and capping the lube, sliding it back under Daniel's pillow. Then he turned onto his own stomach, his hand on Daniel's head, elbow between Daniel's shoulder blades, forearm resting along Daniel's spine.

Backfired, Daniel thought, dazed and sated. He'd wanted to make Jack lose it and he'd ended up losing it himself. When it got hard to breathe with his face in the pillow, he turned his head, very carefully to avoid dislodging the hand, and made himself open his eyes.

Jack smiled at him, a sweet, small, inscrutable smile. Held it for a moment, then closed his eyes and settled his face into his own pillow. His fingers combed through the hair over Daniel's ear, around and down, around and down. As he started to doze, their movement slowed. Daniel watched him fall asleep. When he was under, the hand slid limp and heavy down Daniel's head to rest on the back of his neck, warm and possessive.

>>>>>>>

"Wake up, Daniel."

For the first split of a second, he thought he was offworld, Jack rousting him out of his bag; then he knew he was in his own bed and thought he was dreaming the sound of Jack's voice and the weight of Jack sitting at the edge.

He wasn't dreaming the smell of coffee.

"Wake up. I want to ask you something."

He dragged himself over and sat up, bleary and mussed, only half aware of Jack looking away, a muscle working in his jaw. He reached for the coffee. "I'm not awake. Don't let the sitting position fool you." All three of them had told him he could carry on entire conversations in his sleep, lucid and reasonable.

"Might be better if you answer this one before you think about it too much."

"What time is it?" Oh my god I blew him last night, I had my finger up his -- He gulped coffee one-handed, keeping those fingers under the twisted sheet.

"Seven. You don't have to be in for two hours. I need to go in, but I'd -- " Just the briefest hitch, stumble. " -- like you to come with me. I can wait while you shower. I'd like you to pack whatever you need for a weekend and come home with me after work. It's OK if you don't want that, I'm not ... Just say yes or no." Jack kept his eyes on the window, and winced slightly when he was done.

"Yes," Daniel said quietly.

Jack blinked, swallowed. Got up. "OK. Get a move on then. I'll be in the truck." At the bedroom door, he said, "OK if I take your paper?"

"Sure, Jack," Daniel said, in a calm, reasonable voice that he knew immediately was his answering-questions-in-his-sleep voice. He swung his legs out of the bed; the movement dragged a tangle of sheets with him and sent up a thick scent of sex. He had to hold the mug with two hands to get the rest of the coffee down. He showered fast, stripped the bed and stuffed the bedding into one of the pillowcases, threw it in the closet. He packed a bag in less than five minutes, a habit nearly as old as he was. His laptop was still in its case. He slung both over his shoulder, left the house, locked up behind him. He put the bag and case down in the backseat footwell of the truck, and climbed up into the passenger seat.

Jack had been doing the crossword. He clipped the pen to the folded paper and tossed them into the backseat, then turned the ignition and pulled out of the driveway. In his shades and loose clothes, he looked paramilitary. Superficially casual, but dangerous and armored. They didn't talk on the half-hour drive. The radio had come on to a classical station, something by turns sprightly and heroic. In the parking bay, they got out of Jack's truck together, again; for the second day in a row they checked in through security one behind the other. This is bad, Daniel thought. This is really bad, we really can't do this. It occurred to him to wonder whether it was intentional -- whether he was some kind of mid-career crisis for Jack, some form of rebellion against strictures. That just wasn't Jack, he tried to tell himself, but it seemed depressingly possible anyway.

They changed into fatigues with their backs to each other, in silence, and Jack went off to an 0800 meeting while Daniel headed to the mess for breakfast.

Sam was there, a technical manual in front of her weighed open by salt and pepper shakers, eating fruit salad. "You're in early," she said, when he set his tray on her table. Waffles, sausage, toast, the whole shebang; he had plenty of time to eat it. "I thought you liked to sleep in on Fridays."

He shrugged, and gestured at the manual with his fork, reading the page header upside down: "Boning up on aeronautical engineering?"

That took care of conversation for the next fifteen minutes, while she expounded on planned Prometheus upgrades. At one point she said, "I don't understand why Colonel O'Neill doesn't get more hands-on with this -- he did his master's in this stuff, he's logged more hours in space than any pilot we have, he could really contribute a lot," and Daniel looked at the sweet strength of her, the bright enthusiasm and burning intelligence, and thought, I'm just as forbidden. Far more taboo. An absurd fallback. I don't understand what's happening.

"He says it's a job for a navy man," he replied vaguely, translating what Jack had actually said, which wasn't very complimentary to the Navy and cast aspersions on Captain Kirk.

"Well, commanding her, maybe; that debate's pretty ongoing. But not design and development. I mean, sure, a lot of what we've learned from the construction and operation of deep-sea vessels applies to deep-space vessels, but there are still countless non-trivial aerodynamic considerations ... "

Eventually she left him to finish his meal with an accretion of anthropologists. He was swept up into his own work, and out of the depths and currents of his own head, for the rest of the day; Jack didn't drop by until late afternoon, and then only to coordinate quitting times. He looked tense and harried, which usually indicated bureaucratic hassles. Daniel wondered if he would have made that observation three or four days ago, or cared. He'd cultivated a dry detachment from Jack's problems for so long that he couldn't remember, now, what he'd actually felt, or hadn't.

He considered going to Teal'c. If Jack had been doing it with Teal'c, and he asked straight out, Teal'c would tell him. Either way, Teal'c knew something. He was on the way down to Teal'c's quarters when he came to his senses. Teal'c had been repeatedly assured of privacy, but a lack of surveillance couldn't be assumed anywhere on the base. If he had questions, he couldn't ask them here.

If he had questions, it was Jack he should ask.

Jack was waiting for him in the truck. "I was gonna see if you wanted to hit that new steakhouse over on Eleventh, but I'm really wiped," he said, on the drive down. "You mind?"

You don't have to court me, Jack. You don't have to take me to dinner. I'm already putting out for you. Let's just leave it at that. "Not a problem," he said mildly. "Bureaucracy hitting the fan?"

"Gives me a headache," Jack said. "You're good at that stuff. Couldn't I send you as a proxy?"

"Not a chance," Daniel said. "I paid my dues in departmental politics."

They chatted amiably enough about the job for the twenty minutes to Jack's house. As they moved from the truck to the house, Daniel glanced at the yard with a wish to go sit out, take the open air. He thought of what he'd barely listened to of what Sam had said this morning, structural integrity this and pressurization that and things he didn't expect to understand or care about, and he suddenly felt that he lived his life inside shells -- tents, offices, vehicles, houses, spacecraft -- and that none of them were proof against the pressures they had to withstand, not even the mountain. Inside, he dropped his shoulder bag in the bedroom, then hesitated by the night table. "Hey, Jack?" he said.

Jack pivoted in the hallway, leaned through the door.

Daniel lifted the string of condoms. "You don't need these with me."

"Toss 'em," Jack said, and called as he went down the hallway, "Beer? Barbecue?"

Ninety minutes later he was on his knees on Jack's bed, upright but bent forward with hands white-knuckled on the headboard, sheened in sweat, his head dropped, panting. Jack was on his knees close up behind him, lubed fingers working inside him, mouth on his shoulderblade, hand on his chest. The fingertips inside him stroked and circled, sending waves of pleasure up through his body and down his legs. The fingers on his chest played with a nipple, twisting and tugging it, sending waves of sharper pleasure back down into his groin. He was half out of his mind, pushing himself back onto Jack's hand, trying to force him deeper. Finally he groped back, caught Jack's hip and part of his butt, clawed nails in, pulled.

Jack screwed his fingers out. Daniel had already lubed him, making it clear what he wanted. The sheets were already half off the mattress. The room was a warm burnt orange, sunset burning the blinds. The head of Jack's cock pushed between his cheeks. He straightened, reached back to spread them. Jack's body curved to support him, chest a warm expanse against his back. He let his head fall back on a moan, heat and desire blooming up through him. He sank down, past the burn of entry, sliding down on the long, slick, hard shaft in a mindless blur of yes oh god yes that's it. Jack's face drove down into his neck with something like a muffled whine. He clawed Jack's hip again, and Jack pushed in deep, and then they were leaning forward, arms braced side by side on the headboard, and Jack was fucking him in short thrusts, and Jack's hand was sliding down to wrap around his cock and pump it. He came in a silent implosion, locked in the curve of Jack's body.

The aftershocks took a long time to pass; the hard dick inside him pushed another spasm through him every time he thought he was done. After a while, Jack started to move again -- carefully, holding back; Daniel rocked himself into the movement until it got firmer, until Jack found the rhythm he needed, long slick steady strokes. It felt good in a whole different way. A harsh, hungry way. He shoved back, his body demanding more. Jack gave two sharp, stuttered strokes, then groaned Daniel's name in a tight, rising voice and shot. Daniel hadn't expected to be able to feel the fluid fill him, but he did; overwhelmed by the swell of pressure, he groped the headboard, the wall. Jack was plastered against him, quaking.

Jack eased him back when he was finished, eased him down so that he was sitting on Jack's thighs. He was melting. He wouldn't be able to stay upright. Jack's arms wrapped around him, tightened. Jack's mouth roved over his ear, his neck. Kisses, he realized. Those are kisses. But "kiss" was too sweet and innocent a word for what Jack was doing. A rough, passionate affection, something he couldn't control, couldn't stop. His hips were still rocking in minuscule thrusts.

Finally Jack gave a low groan and went still. He loosened his grip as though Daniel had been trying to get free. Daniel sank down more deeply into him, laid his arms over Jack's, pressed them tight, gripped his wrists so he couldn't let go.

They stayed like that for a long time. Jack softened and slipped out of him, but neither of them moved. The leak of fluid felt like less than he expected. Smoky orange light deepened to rusty crimson. Finally Daniel shifted up and off. Jack rolled around him, down onto the bed, and reached the Kleenex box across, setting it between them. They grabbed handfuls of tissue and wiped up, glances grazing, sliding away, grazing. Jack wadded all the sticky tissues together and arced them into the wastebasket. Daniel was staring at the box. He picked it up, turned it over in his hands. Bit his lip. Jack looked curiously at what he was doing, and then made the connection, and chuckled, low and warm. Took the box from him and spun it in his fingers, shaking his head. Smiling.

Daniel got up and went into the shower before Jack could see the change in his face. He stood under the stream of water for a few minutes without soaping up. He played with his ass a lot -- he didn't know if Jack had picked up on that from the lube under his pillow -- but the experience of being penetrated by another person was entirely different. His insides felt pleasantly pulverized; he'd come down off the endorphin high, and now it just felt as though his body had experienced an invisible, immeasurable change. It didn't make him feel any differently about Jack. That damage was already done. But he felt distinctly different.

And deeply lonely. Again. Maybe more deeply than before. Once we fuck it's over, he'd thought. Maybe Jack had thought it would take the whole weekend to work up to it. He was pretty sure Jack hadn't expected him to take the initiative, maneuvering him aggressively into the bedroom. He'd wanted it, and so he'd done it. Sexually there was no point in holding back anymore; it was obviously why Jack had invited him here. But it only made him want more. A lifetime of more, if he was honest with himself. And he had a deep, bleak conviction that this was pretty much it.

Jack was intensely affectionate in bed. Heartbreakingly affectionate. He smiled -- real smiles, gentle happy smiles, with warm, soft eyes above them. It was sweet, endearing; but it was a reflex. It had to be.

If it were anyone else, he thought, I'd probably believe that he loved me.

Well, he knew that Jack loved him. But not that way. Not with the romantic ardor that his behavior simulated when he was sexually aroused and sexually sated. The stroking and kissing was just an extension of the touching, the impulse to lay hands on people, connect with them physically the way he wouldn't connect verbally. The smiles were just his happy face.

He startled when the door of the shower stall slid back. How long had he been in here? He thought Jack was coming to roust him out, take his turn. He glanced at the soap dish, wondering how fast he could get clean before he was shouldered out of the way, and realized there'd never been any soap in it to begin with. Jack followed his glance, looked at him thoughtfully, and took a fresh bar from under the sink. Then he got in with Daniel -- the space was cramped, with two of them -- and reached around, and started soaping him up.

This isn't bad enough already? Daniel thought, despairing, as his body melted under the caress of lather. It wasn't a rough, efficient scrub. It was a slow, sweet massage. It went into every crevice of him, gently, intimately. He closed his eyes and let it happen. He wondered how many times his heart could strain toward breaking before he finally felt the mortal crack.

When he was rinsed and ready to get out, Jack stopped him with hands on his shoulders and started to turn him. He resisted; he didn't want eye contact right now, he didn't want to stand naked and vulnerable while Jack delivered the thanks-a-lot-now-it's-time-for-you-to-leave speech. Jack let go. Daniel put his hand on the inner towel bar, but paused before he slid the door back. He was such a fucking coward. He turned, and looked at Jack. Looking slightly upward, from under wet lashes. Prepared to hear what he knew he would hear.

Jack laid a hand on his jaw. Brown eyes explored his face, calm, curious, a little hesitant. A thumb smoothed across his lower lip. No, no way, there's no way, he thought, his heart starting to race. The water was beating against the back of his neck, coursing down his spine. Jack closed the distance between them with a shift of weight. His thumb stroked again, and Daniel's lips parted. He tilted Daniel's chin up, just a little. Daniel had done this himself how many times? He knew the gesture. He knew what it meant before Jack's head tilted, before he felt breath on his lips. Jack paused. Not hesitating; waiting for him to choose.

He gave Jack his mouth. The press of lips was almost chaste. Jack held it for a moment, his eyes sliding closed. He took the upper lip, then the lower lip between his, releasing them with soft stroking tugs. His tongue traced just inside them, and then he pressed forward, pressed his tongue into Daniel's mouth.

A soft, nasal sigh came out of Daniel, a low sound of pleasure from Jack. The kiss was warmly erotic, a slow exploring delve of tongue, and though gentle it was unmistakably masculine, a light rasp of beard shadow against beard shadow, a mouth broader and deeper than he was used to. The melding of tongues sent a sweet warmth down his body, a slow-molasses arousal. It lasted for a long time. Then Jack drew back, with a last, soft press of lips, and touched Daniel's jaw once before dropping his hand away. Looked at him with the same curious expression in his eyes.

Daniel was too dazed and stilled to respond in any coherent way. He just laid a hand on Jack's breastbone, gave a warm squeeze that he didn't mean as anything really except that he wanted to touch him, and then backed away, stepped out of the shower stall. He found his towel -- the same one he'd used the other day, no doubt left there in haste, not in hope of his return -- and scrubbed himself dry in silence, listening to Jack soap and rinse with his quick efficiency. He went out into the musk-drenched bedroom, put on some sweats. He'd wandered into the living room before he realized that he'd forgotten to expect to be kicked out: he hadn't put on street clothes and shoes.

Not much later, Jack came out. Offered him beer or coffee, said he could probably dig up a bottle of wine somewhere if Daniel wanted, but knowing his cellar the digging thing might be literal. Daniel took a beer and curled his feet under him on the sofa, having no idea what should happen now. Jack plopped down beside him, grabbed the remote, and sprawled comfortably to channel-surf.

They spent Friday evening quietly watching TV. When the beer made Daniel sleepy and he started to nod off, Jack stroked his head to wake him, clicked off the set, and got up to go inside. Daniel could have flaked out on the sofa; he dimly felt it as his last chance to say No, I got laid, that was enough, I don't need any more than that. He followed Jack inside, and went to sleep with Jack spooned up behind him, snoring softly into his hair.

He woke up the same way. He never woke up before Jack did. Some internal scheduler must have told Jack it was Saturday and he didn't have to get up for work. A squint at the clock radio told Daniel that it was nearly seven. He pressed back a little, into delicious warmth, and Jack's arms tightened around him, Jack's leg slid through his. He went back to sleep.

He woke up again very hard, hungry for sex. Subliminal cues in his sleep, evidently; Jack was hard against the back of him, thrusting a little. He put Jack's hand on his cock and moaned in a blur of arousal as it closed and worked him. He used to wake up this way with Sha're and damp it down; at night she was hot, sinuous, erotic, eager, but she hated to wake up to sex. Now he felt Jack just as warmly, intensely aroused as he was. But he was sore, his butt closed down on a dull ache, and when he twisted hungrily, seeking Jack's mouth, Jack drew back a little, smiling, and rubbed the stubble on his jaw, shaking his head.

OK, no beard burn. Not around the mouth, anyway. He dipped down and around to lick behind Jack's ear, and reached between them, intending to take both cocks in hand. Jack belayed him again and pushed the covers away, then flipped around, stretching his long body out diagonally on the bed. He looked up in inquiry.

Daniel went right down on him. Jack's body twitched in response to his enthusiasm, then flushed with heat. When Jack sucked him in, he thought he'd lose it; he focused on the sweet taste of cock in his mouth and for a minute or two staved off the inevitable. But it didn't take long; he was hot and ready, and the psychological stimulation of doing to Jack what Jack was doing to him, of feeling what Jack was feeling, put him over the edge fast. He came sucking, suckling, and Jack erupted into him, filling his mouth and his throat. He swallowed eagerly, better at it than the last time.

After a couple of minutes, Jack flipped himself back around. He looked happy, almost playful, and Daniel blinked at the strangeness of the expression. Jack took his chin in his fingertips and, with exquisite care not to rub faces, parted Daniel's lips with his and stroked his tongue over Daniel's, gave Daniel the taste of his own come. The sharp eroticism of the delicate sharing spread deliciously through the afterglow of climax.

Jack passed on a real breakfast in favor of something that might have once been rice pudding and Daniel really, really hoped hadn't been in the fridge for as long as it looked. Daniel fixed himself eggs and toast; they ate, read the paper, and then Jack made a start on his tax return while Daniel took care of the work he'd brought his laptop to do. After lunch Jack announced that he was overdue for some puttering in the yard. Daniel thought about what he'd do if he were at his own place with a genuine day off: laundry, some lifting, a run, an afternoon with some leisure reading out in the back. Then he realized what Jack was doing.

Jack was courting him. But not with manufactured activities. Not with hockey games or steakhouses. Not with dates.

Jack was courting him with his ordinary life. Going on with an ordinary day. But why? To what end? To show that they could still be friends?

Or ... to see if Jack's ordinary life might be something Daniel would want to stick around for?

He used the free weights in Jack's basement while he ran the bedding through the laundry; when the bed was made up fresh he helped Jack prune shrubs, then sat on the deck and read an old, battered Tom Clancy novel he'd found on one of Jack's shelves, half-watching Jack rake and mulch, appreciating the lines of the long, lean body in an open way that he'd never been able to before.

They played chess while the sun set, ate barbecue and potato salad. Jack suggested a concert at the college. Daniel said he'd rather stay in. Daniel said he'd rather call it an early night.

In bed, he tried again to jerk them both, but Jack shifted away after just a few pulls, and stopped him with fingertips on his shoulder when he started to elbow down to suck him. Jack reached him the bottle of drugstore lube and flipped over onto his stomach.

Instantly his mind warned him: Last checkmark in the column next to the list of sexual acts. Last novelty sampled, last curiosity satisfied; once they'd done this he'd have had Daniel just about every way he could, and he'd move on to other --

He shut it down, once and for all, and made love to the person who'd invited him to make love to him. He spent a long time working up to more than one finger, then a much longer time working himself in. He lay full-body on Jack and laced his fingers through Jack's and nearly came just because Jack's curled to hold them tight. He pushed his face against Jack's, murmured to him, rocked in him. Through Jack's body he felt fused to the mattress, to the bedrock, to the planet in its peaceful, ponderous turning beneath them; Jack's orgasm was a deep quaking of the earth, and his own a molten surge within it, filling and sealing the cracks and fissures.

Afterwards, Jack didn't let go of Daniel's hands for a long time.

When he did, it was more of an experimental flexing to see if he could still move, or learn how to move again. Daniel shifted slowly, stickily off him and flopped over onto his back, beyond spent. His groin felt tight, dehydrated; he felt drugged; he felt as though he'd stepped off a cliff. He felt as if he'd just screwed his employers instead of his friend; he felt flooded with feeling for Jack, concern and tenderness and a profound ebbing of caution that should worry him but didn't.

He reached out, let the heel of his hand rest on Jack's shoulder blade. Couldn't quite bring himself to initiate the are-you-OK yeah-fine exchange. Jack's head was turned away from him. No onslaught of affection this time. He wanted to roll towards him, throw limbs across him, sink into sleep and Jack's skin, but the back of Jack's head was a signal he couldn't resolve.

"It started on Abydos," Jack said. "That first trip through the gate." His voice was rough, a little scratchy, very low, but the words were clear. He lay unmoving except for the breaths he took to speak. "It wasn't sexual then. That came later. I loved you for a long time before you started to get me hard. I kept thinking about you, the year you were there. Hoped you were happy, glad I didn't have to be there to see it if you were. When we went back I took one look at you and it was like a staff blast hit me in the chest. After we'd worked together about a year, I knew I had a problem that wasn't going away. I dealt with it. But it got worse. Right about the point where I couldn't deal with it anymore, you ascended. Ripped my heart out, but I stuffed it back in and went on. I wanted you to be happy, and you were happy, so it was OK. I was OK." He paused, swallowed. The sound of it was loud in the bedroom's silence. "Then you came back."

Daniel was speechless. Not a word for five days, not a word about what was happening between them except the tight and awkward request that he spend the weekend here, and then this.

Jack rolled abruptly onto his back. "The thing in the tent -- that's not something I do." He was silent for a moment, staring at the ceiling, and then he said, "What I want from you I have no business asking. But you should know those things."

Years of habit closed on him like a vise; years of learning to pull his sleeves down over his heart. Years of having all the conversations in his head before they could be had out loud, invalidating them because he already knew what he would hear.

Days of refusing to believe what his senses were telling him about Jack. Explaining away the affection, the soft wordless inquiry. Convincing himself it was friendly assistance, conquest or curiosity, a substition of forbidden fruit. Protecting himself with conclusion after unfounded conclusion, deliberately misinterpreting the empirical data. He'd never been able to apply his scientific skills to himself, and he'd never inhabited his social skills; he'd developed them because they were necessary, but he always employed them at a distance. Letting the shell of himself appear to be himself, while the real him was tucked way back inside, safe and unconnected. In the flimsy tent of his skin. In the rented house of his life.

Shoving his hands under his arms, drawing his legs up and pressing his knees together, holding himself tight and forcing it out, Daniel said, "You already asked me, Jack. You've been asking me all day. All week. I already said yes."

"Yeah?" Jack said. A genuine question; more hurt in it than hope, but no sarcasm, no bluff challenge. His head turned. His expression was soft and open. "'Cause it's not sex I'm talkin' about here."

"I get that," Daniel said. He relaxed his arms; relaxed his legs and let them slide down straight. Then he turned and threw a leg across Jack's legs, an arm across Jack's body. Shifted so that Jack could move his arm into a comfortable place, wrap it around. Eased his head down onto Jack's pillow, felt his breath reflect off Jack's jaw. He smiled, slowly, and didn't stop it; let it grow. "It's meaning-of-life stuff."

"Borrowed time," Jack said.

"Cross that bridge," Daniel said.

"Helluva fight on our hands," Jack said.

"Business as usual," Daniel said.

Jack pushed a leg between his legs, squeezed tight with the arm around him, curled a hand around his forearm, and said, "So that's a yes."

"Yes means yes," Daniel said, and pushed in as close as he could get.