WE PRACTISE TO DECEIVE BY BIBLIO


Slash: Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: PG-13
Category: Angst.  Drama.  First Time.  Introspection.  Romance.
Season/Spoilers: Season 3.  An episode tag for "Foothold."
Synopsis: Can two wrongs really make a right? When Sam pushes Jack to the edge of his control, an unsuspecting Daniel takes the consequences.
Warnings: None.
Date: 15 October 2005
Notes: Originally appeared in my 2004 Biblio Phile zine.  This version was revised for publication on the web.
Length:  816 Kb Download a printer-friendly PDF version of the story  Download desktop illustration

PART ONE

Sam's car was parked safely out of sight on the main road, camouflaged by the encompassing trees on this quiet, exclusive cul-de-sac on Cheyenne Mountain. The subterfuge was necessary if she was going to go through with the plan that had brought her to Colonel O'Neill's home.

Her slow, sly approach from the road to the house had given her too much time for reflection, bringing painful reminders of too many questions for which she didn't have answers.

It wasn't mystery Sam loved; rather it was seeking solutions. Puzzles nagged at her, skulking in quiet ambush, sapping her energy, disturbing her carefully maintained focus. Her driving instinct was always to find – and share – answers.

A deeply personal puzzle was driving her to distraction. It had been there at the back of her mind for months, surfacing time and again, giving her no rest.

The events of the past few days had brought it sharply into focus.

Their foothold situation was resolved only in the sense the aliens who had infiltrated Stargate Command with such terrible ease were either dead or had escaped through the Stargate. There were no answers for Sam, not about where the aliens came from, what their resources and capabilities were, how they'd discovered the existence of Earth. Certainly not about how their impressive technology worked or how their impersonations of dear, familiar friends had been so flawless. The SGC didn't even know if the threat was at an end, though the base had been swept clean and their personnel finally were all accounted for and recovering from their imprisonment.

Too many questions.

Sam sighed heavily.

Unanswered, increasingly pressing questions were the reason she was here, hovering in agonised uncertainty at the colonel's door.

Her conscience was loud and clamouring, her ethics offended, but louder still was her - curiosity wasn't the word for it. Curiosity - properly channelled - fuelled her work.

Zestful curiosity ran bone deep in Daniel, a certain quality to his make-up, a flavour uniquely his own, one she found hard to comprehend outside the austere beauty of her science. Certainly, Sam was curious about what engaged her. By her standard, though, everything engaged Daniel and this she found hard to comprehend. He went too deep for her at times.

Her presence here was not because of curiosity, not because Sam was engaged, but because she was driven. Her compulsive need for an answer was stronger than any honourable impulse or half-stifled qualm of conscience.

She had to have her answers because this mystery was giving her no rest.

Strange she could watch the colonel and Daniel together for years and only yesterday did she realise there was something there between them, something she sensed and saw, something painfully beyond her ability to quantify. The two men shared a specific, and, she had finally learned to her dismay, exclusive connection.

Sam didn't think this difference she had perceived was blatantly there in the colonel's interactions with her, nor in his with Daniel when she was there to see the two of them together. She wasn't that oblivious.

Only once had she been given cause to wonder at Colonel O'Neill, in her surprise at his irrational, intense dislike of the innocent Ke'ra, flirting in the library on Vyus with their charmingly shy but willing Daniel.

It had been so clear to Sam that Daniel was on the rebound, desperate to make even the smallest step away from Sha'uri, to re-engage and move on with his life.

After their return to base with Ke'ra and the Vyan volunteers in tow, Colonel O'Neill's near-obsessive watchfulness where Daniel was concerned had been quickly overtaken by their unexpected entanglement with the Destroyer of Worlds. Daniel's flirtation with Ke'ra, the colonel's violent reaction to it, was subsumed in dealing with the harsh reality of Linea, and Sam had buried the memory without pause for reflection.

In any other circumstance, with any other man, she would have unhesitatingly deemed his overreaction, his brooding, silent scrutiny and voluble anger as jealousy. But of course, since the man under consideration was Colonel Jack O'Neill, based on everything she knew about him, she hadn't hesitated in dismissing that possible interpretation of his reaction as absurd.

Today, all of Sam's assessments and assumptions were overturned. She felt as if she were blind and deaf, insensate.

The colonel was a completely changed man to her now.

She wished with all her heart she hadn't followed him from the control room, that she'd stayed put to help deal with the aftermath of Colonel Maybourne's clean-up operation in the wake of the alien incursion.

Curiosity, though.

She'd wondered why the colonel had turned and walked away from them without a word. So uncharacteristic of him when the base was in an uproar, barely functional, personnel unaccounted for, and Maybourne there to record it all to use against them. The colonel's place was right there, in Maybourne's smug, supercilious face.

It had taken her a minute to realise Daniel was missing, his alien copy the only one not killed in the self-destruct blast set off by their leader. A minute more, and she realised the colonel had gone to check on Daniel, make sure he was okay and fill him in on the events of the past few days.

Of course she had followed.

The medical team, summarily dismissed by the colonel, had met her as she exited the elevator on Level 23. It hadn't occurred to her that his prohibition applied to her too. She was his second-in-command and Daniel was her friend. Sam could only be grateful for the darkness in the damaged, reeking power plant and the colonel's complete absorption with Daniel.

Even after turning it over obsessively in her mind for hour upon hour, she couldn't pinpoint the moment she'd comprehended that what she was seeing wasn't the rendering of first aid, or even of common care. Colonel O'Neill had cradled Daniel's head and shoulders in his lap, stroking his hair and talking to him softly, patiently, asking Daniel to wake for him. He had touched Daniel's face; fleeting, gentle touches to brow, cheek and lips. A lover's touch, Sam had thought, her mouth drying now at the quiet, insistent power of what she'd witnessed.

This was a truth she had been blind to when she saw those dark eyes, saw everything, looked right into them and into the core of Jack O'Neill as she'd worn the facsimile of Daniel's face. When she removed the alien device and revealed herself, Sam had watched the way the colonel shut down, shut her out, recognised his instinctive emotional withdrawal from seeing her in her own skin and out of Daniel's. She'd assumed it was only his usual, pantomimed reaction to freaky alien technology.

She'd assumed a lot. It made her sick now to think about it.

It was only when she saw the colonel with – no, she corrected herself. Saw Jack with Daniel, saw his warmth and intimacy, the naturalness of his concern, his compassion, all the tenderness in his reactions to Daniel, that she finally realised his withdrawal had been from her, that it was personal, and it meant something she could not afford to ignore, because she wasn't Daniel.

Daniel's presence or absence was the denominator, not hers.

She felt less than a whole person to the colonel, had been made to feel she was...inadequate. Not good enough. Not a poor substitute, not a friend or teammate or colleague of lesser degree, the colonel's unguarded response had been too absolute for that.

She was judged and found wanting.

Not-Daniel.

She had stayed quiet and watchful in the shadows a little while longer, sick with shame and shock at her realisations and her conduct, spying on her friends, her teammates, long enough to see Daniel stir and Jack withdraw, to become again the man she recognised and had believed she knew. Teasing, brash, friendly. Larger than life. Showing his public persona, even to Daniel.

Sam was punchy with exhaustion, confused by the myriad events and alarms of the past few days, the drug lingering in her system, the aliens wearing faces she knew, every word, look and mood of theirs familiar. She hadn't been able to tell deception from reality, friend from enemy, or trust her own instincts. Her faith in her perception was shaken even before she was confronted by the depth of the colonel's feeling for Daniel.

She had to know what it meant, had to discover if she really knew these two men, wherever the journey took her, because right now, she didn't even know herself. There were too many questions for her to be able to think clearly and she really, really needed to know what this all meant if she was going to be able to go on. There had to be clarity.

After sounding the all-clear, the general had entrusted her with the alien facsimile device for experimentation. Sam had breached his trust and brought it here with her. She would fulfil the letter of her duty, but the spirit was violated.

She was shaken by regret and doubt, but refused to go easy on herself. Her hesitation was conscience-driven, lip-service only. She'd already made her choice or she wouldn't be here. She wouldn't be wearing the device. She couldn't argue this was right, couldn't make herself believe it was fair. But she had to have an answer, she had to taste even for a moment the connection she'd finally learned was leaving her out in the cold.

Her feelings were too strong to be denied.

Sam raised a reluctant hand, seeing strong, slender fingers which weren't her own that she'd observed touching and exploring with such delicacy and precision, such passion, on so many different worlds across the galaxy. She stood for a moment, flexing her fingers this way and that, watching Daniel's beautiful hand move elegantly for her. It reminded her forcefully she was nothing but a construct, an avatar. There was no joy for her in this science.

With a shudder of distaste, Sam knocked softly at the substantial wooden door.

She was wearing Daniel's face.

The wait seemed interminable, then the door was open and the colonel was there, taking up all available space in that way he always did, his initial wariness dissolving into a broad, welcoming smile.

"Hey, Daniel," he greeted Sam casually, stepping lightly back to wave her hospitably into the house.

Sam was watching for the quick pleasure in his face, a surge of guilty nausea gripping her as she walked into the hallway, her booted footfalls seeming too light to belong to the man - the friend - she was pretending to be. Everything felt wrong to her. She knew Daniel, watched him every day, but her pace was too deliberate, her movements too contained to be his. Sam shared Daniel's energy, but training, discipline and the long practice of unequivocal responsibilities and obligations steadied her where passionate enthusiasm powered him.

The colonel was a trained observer - how could he not be aware? See right through - to her?

Too nervous to keep her back to her commanding officer, Sam turned abruptly to find his eyes sliding over her body in a way she was used to.

She had a jarring memory of standing before the quantum mirror, uncomfortably watching her alternate self kissing the colonel, wrapped around him with such aching familiarity only to slowly freeze and withdraw from him, closing in on herself as she realised this man was not her husband. He had her Jack's face and shared some of his experiences but he wasn't hers. There was a wrongness to the kiss that had finally convinced her clinging alternate self to let go. There was no connection.

The truth was blinding in its infuriating simplicity.

There had been no Daniel in Dr. Samantha Carter's universe. Was he the connection? The one variable that made Sam's relationship with Jack O'Neill possible or not?

The colonel's dark eyes were soft in response to the trouble they saw in what he thought was his friend's face, a steadying hand quick to find Sam's shoulder. He squeezed reassuringly as she stood speechless before him, struggling to make sense of the truths she was finally seeing.

What the other Jacks felt for Sam had little to do with the issues of civilian or military, oaths and regulations, honour and discipline. It was about what was right for Jack, but it wasn't about her. For him, it was about Daniel. Always.

Only when Jack couldn't see Daniel would he see Sam.

"I don't know what I'm doing here!" Sam stuttered, feeling rushed and heated, clumsily attempting to twist out from under the comforting, constraining clasp on her shoulder.

The colonel swiftly took hold of her other shoulder, turned her to face him, his hands brusque but not uncaring, only as careful as he thought he needed to be with another man. It reminded her that he was seeing Daniel, not her.

Wasn't that ironic?

"Whatever it is, we can fix it," the colonel promised her straight-forwardly.

Daniel. She had to remember he was seeing Daniel.

Sam suffered the guiding hand slipping down to rest at the small of her back, an intimate courtesy she was very familiar with in other circumstances, with other men. The colonel was so comfortable in this, she had to wonder why Daniel never questioned the way his friend touched him. Surely he realised there was more to this than mere manners or common friendship, more even than his admired best friend's signature protectiveness? Was Daniel really so nave, so blind?

She sat uneasily on the couch, her gaze fixed on the colonel as he walked around to the chair opposite, admiring his easy, practiced grace as he sat, absently pulling a cushion onto his lap. Sam automatically questioned if this gesture was an unconscious habit or a necessary camouflage designed to shield a body inevitably reacting to Daniel's presence.

"Spill!" the colonel ordered her roughly.

His eyes, though. Sam had to swallow a sudden lump in her throat as she saw the melting warmth for Daniel which made her desperately ashamed of her deception.

"I saw how you looked at me," she burst out in a rush, unthinking in her desolate exclusion.

The colonel's idle fingers stilled on the cushion, his strong, handsome face suddenly shadowed and watchful. He raised his eyebrows, his expression composed in a carefully uncomprehending questioning of this startling pronouncement.

Sam thought then that this tactic might have worked on Daniel, but she was a woman, one who attracted more men than she cared for. She could clearly see the signs; she'd had a lifetime of practice in reading them.

The colonel's interest in Daniel was sexual.

She was more sure of this than she wanted to be. Daniel might - would - question and doubt, but Sam was too experienced to be mistaken, not when the face and form she wore had lowered her colonel's guard.

It was difficult for her to remember she needed to keep the focus on her and her relationship with this man, that she could not speak for Daniel. It left her struggling for words, unsure how to proceed without compromising Daniel - all of them - more than she already was.

"That wasn't an accusation," Sam suggested slowly. "I just don't understand."

"Neither do I!" the colonel interjected forcefully.

There was a freedom here Sam wasn't used to, not just in what she was able to say to the colonel but in what he was able to say to her. Neither she nor the colonel could, or even needed, to hide behind their rank. It wasn't an issue here because Jack thought he was talking to Daniel, not to a subordinate, and for Daniel, Jack would say exactly what he felt and what he meant.

It was frightening to be so far beyond the limits and precepts that guided her life but Sam couldn't deny the intoxication. There were times the colonel was flat out wrong, times when she was forced to abet him against her judgement and on occasion against her will. Her frustration at being proved right in those situations went unexpressed. It built inside her, though. There was a limit to the protests she was able to raise on a mission without crossing the line into insubordination and back on base, she was always wary of her position, of appearing unprofessional.

It had at times galled her to see the way Daniel spoke to her commanding officer, issuing unmistakeable orders and unpalatable advice the colonel listened to and oftentimes obeyed, where she had been ignored. There was an equality between the two men, a mutual respect and collaboration unique to Daniel and the colonel. It was different even than the colonel's comfortable interactions with Teal'c.

"There was nothing between you and Sam, was there?" she asked quietly, her heart beating very fast.

The colonel looked stunned, his mouth agape.

"The Sam from the other reality, I mean," Sam hastened to explain, almost angry the mere suggestion of an attraction - a love! - for which they had incontrovertible evidence from two separate alternate realities hit her Jack O'Neill so far out of left field it floored him. She didn't miss the way he suddenly relaxed, his lips curving into a quick, biting grin.

"Is that was this is about?" he demanded, amused now. "Jesus, Daniel, would it kill you to once just spit it out?" he asked indulgently. "All of this 'I'm fine, Jack' crap gets on my nerves and you know that makes me get on yours, " he chided teasingly, shaking his head, his eyes soft again. "All this time, you've been eating your heart out over Carter? If you must have it, then no, there was nothing there."

"You kissed..." Sam began.

"She kissed me!" he contradicted hastily. "Big difference, Daniel. Huge. I already told you this. Quit your worrying, already!" His tone made this anything but a rebuke.

"Sam saw it too," Sam responded quickly, catching her error. Of course he would have talked it through with Daniel. Although it begged the question: why were Daniel's feelings about Jack kissing Sam's alternate self more important to him than Sam's own? The colonel had never spoken to her about the scene she'd witnessed.

"Carter?"

"She was there, remember?" Sam snapped. "Watching." It seemed Colonel O'Neill was going to have to take her word for this because the blank look on his face suggested he didn't remember. Or didn't care. "What is Sam to you?" she demanded, trying to stifle a flare of hurt.

"My second-in-command," he said at once. "Should I be asking what Carter is to you?" he asked suavely, his fingers suddenly still and rigid on the cushion.

"My friend," Sam answered stiffly. "But she isn't yours?"

"Sure she is," the colonel disagreed easily. "As much as she can be," he qualified. "You know the regulations don't allow for fraternisation between C.O. and subordinate, Daniel," he reminded Sam impatiently.

Was this all there was? Regulations? Dry condemnation of fraternisation? "You care about her." It came out almost as an accusation.

"Of course I do, I care about you all. I'm the C.O., I'm responsible."

"We're a good team," Sam murmured. She took great pride in SG-1; her team was now part of who she was. She wouldn't be parted from them. Nothing in her life could match the challenge or the sense of belonging. Nothing came close. She understood how it couldn't for her C.O. either and it softened her. Loyalty exerted a terrific pull for her, both a privilege and a duty.

The alien device nestled coldly against her skin, obliquely reminding her there was one person who meant more, the man Colonel O'Neill believed he was talking to.

"Where do I fit in that value system?" Sam challenged.

The colonel snorted with laughter. "Technically you're my subordinate too but if you didn’t buy that crap the first time we walked through the gate together then I highly doubt you'll buy it now."

"Technically, D - my," Sam stumbled, "rank is notionally equivalent to yours, but that isn't what I meant."

It occurred to her Daniel would probably never be able to ask the colonel a question like this, not right out, not in a million years. She was also doubtful the colonel would be able to answer. She'd seen the two of them reduced to monosyllabic conciliatory grunting often enough. Sam was going to ask, though, because all roads seemed to lead back to Daniel and how the colonel felt about him, not about her.

"Do you care about me?" she asked determinedly, once more flooring the colonel.

"Are you drunk?" he demanded with astonished suspicion.

Just pissed, Sam thought dryly, beginning to realise talking was solving nothing. What was it they said about eavesdroppers? That they never heard good about themselves? Was this before or after they opened up that whole new can of worms?

"Are we friends?" she tried again, painfully aware that with every word she was compounding her deception. She didn't see a way to get clear except to see this through. It was so wrong, so grieving to her, she knew she would pay and pay for it. Hearing the unvarnished truth about her place in the colonel's life was only the start of it.

Daniel had once challenged her to take something on faith, to act on instinct. At the time, she hadn't been able to and he'd turned away from her in impatient, dismayed dismissal. Sam had been judged by him in that moment and without a doubt found wanting. Now though, she would have to answer Daniel's question differently. She couldn't explain this horrible, compulsive thing she was doing any other way. It felt wrong, it was tearing her apart, but it also felt necessary.

"We're friends," the colonel promised, his face softening once again. "You haven't had an easy time of it lately, Daniel," he prompted, taking it carefully. "Losing Sha'uri and her baby, then everything that happened on Netu, being taken prisoner by Apophis again, the torture." His sentiments appeared to be too tangled and difficult for him to do anything but trail into stumbling silence. He looked at Sam, unwontedly earnest. "If I haven't been there for you?" he began hesitantly. "Aww, crap!" he burst out, scrubbing rough palms over his eyes and temples, impatiently up into his hair. "I suck at this stuff!" he snapped accusingly. "You're the one who didn't want me around, remember?"

Sam was startled by this revelation. If there was tension between the two men she hadn't been aware of it. There had been nothing between them on missions. There never was, not the personal stuff.

"You wouldn't talk about Netu at all. Not that you ever talk," the colonel complained.

Daniel had talked with Sam.

No.

No. He'd listened. Let her ramble through the welter of confused memories and feelings, soothing her fear for her Dad, who'd been so slow to recover physically and mentally, and so angry over her ordeal and his own. Then there was the fear for herself, that she was getting lost again in Jolinar. Everything they'd both suffered at the hands of Bynar, Sokar and Apophis was so real to her, so close and wrenchingly vivid, and Martouf was at the heart of it all. She was no nearer understanding her heart than she was his, but there was a part of her which touched Martouf, which allowed him to reach her in turn. Daniel had done everything he could for Sam as she tried again to separate herself from Jolinar, borrowed memories from reality, and it was only now she was horrified to realise he hadn't spoken to her of his experiences at all.

The loss of Sha'uri was mirrored by the loss of Amaunet, a difficult bond shared by Daniel, Apophis and Teal'c. Sam had presumed it was Sha'uri whom Daniel saw in his torture, but she hadn't asked, had she? She'd never shaken her guilt over failing to find the one Tok'ra memory she'd wanted to access, the one which had never surfaced no matter how hard she'd tried to trigger it. She'd never learned whether Jolinar had spoken the truth to Daniel about knowing where his wife was.

Sam had taken Daniel at his word about Netu because Sha'uri's sacrifice to save his life and her son was still too recent and too difficult for them to have begun to deal with, let alone the ramifications of Apophis using those memories to torture Daniel.

Of course Daniel had acted as if what had happened to him was minor, that only she was important. Sam groaned inwardly. Dammit, how could she fall for that? She knew better! The colonel was right, Daniel never talked, not if he could help it.

Sam looked up blindly, heedless in her distress. Daniel made it too easy not to think about him or worry over him but it was her own fault for going along with it, for leaning on him when she needed support without offering him much in return.

Lost in regretful thought, she jumped when the colonel sat suddenly beside her, at first unable to make sense of what he was saying to her and then retorting with classic Daniel defiance.

"You're not fine!" the colonel snapped.

Sam was shaken to have him so close to her when he was thinking she was Daniel and feeling so much. She was looking right at him and what he wanted was written so plainly on his face.

With so many of his barriers knocked down by addiction, Daniel had once told Sam she'd never known love. To Sam, love was uncertainty and opportunity, a transcendent offering of self as well as needing and wanting of the other, selfish and selfless at once.

What the colonel felt for Daniel was love. She was sure now.

"I've been so blind," she whispered, stricken. "You love!" she gasped, choking and panicked, unable to finish. What in hell did she think she would accomplish here? Peace of mind? For whom? Not for her and certainly not for the oblivious Daniel, who was going to have to deal with the fall-out from her intrusive stupidity as well as everything else!

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have come," she muttered disjointedly, jumping urgently to her feet, the alien device jarring against the swell of her breast in sharp reminder of her perfidy.

Sam made for the door, panicked and determined to get out of here while there was still time to repair the damage. Her first remarks about how the colonel looked at her - she meant at Daniel - were hopefully forgotten in the disjointed conversation after. She would have to tell Daniel of course, the truth, everything, whatever he asked of her. They would decide together if she needed to tell the colonel, if she - if she needed to leave the team.

There was a price to pay for all this.

Of course it was never going to be that easy. She was grabbed by the upper arm, wrenched powerfully around to reel hard into the colonel's chest, quick arms there to steady her as she staggered. The colonel would never handle her so roughly but she was Daniel, she had to remember she was Daniel.

Her alternate self had looked at Jack like this but she was as blind to him as Sam had been. He was in love with Daniel. She hadn't known, hadn't understood anything. Not his heart, not her own.

She was never going to have her Jack, was she?

It was a resolution not hers to seek. All the choices of her life had brought her here and she couldn't unmake them. This man would never be more to her than her commanding officer but ultimately she wasn't the one to be pitied because her alternates would never realise they held onto him only because he'd never laid eyes on Daniel Jackson.

"I'm sorry," Sam swore, seeing how close she'd brought Jack to the edge of something, a word or look or act that couldn't be ignored or explained or interpreted except for what it was.

Love.

Sam stretched up and kissed Jack helplessly, hopelessly, the only time she would ever - she couldn't not.

There was no connection.

Jack stood stupefied by his open front door for a long, long time after Daniel disappeared from sight.

What the - what the fuck just happened to them?

He hadn't understood most of what Daniel had said to him in that stupid abortive conversation they'd suffered through and then Daniel had kissed him and he just stood here.

Daniel kissed him.

Kissed.

This was insane! He should be killed utterly to death. How in God's name could he just stand here? Like it meant nothing? Why was he still standing here dumbfounded, for chrissake, when he should be going after Daniel? There was no way he could leave it like this.

Jack had no idea how he'd given himself away, God knew he had enough practice in hiding his feelings from himself let alone anyone else, but the only thing that mattered was to find Daniel and fix this. Like now!

The first thing he tried was Daniel's cell phone but when he got Daniel's messaging service, Jack grabbed up the keys to his truck, his mind a sullen, baffled blank as he went rapidly through the familiar routine of alarm setting and locking up. Only when he was driving did his brain abruptly kick into gear.

Daniel was upset and edgy when he arrived, Jack had seen that at once, his pleasure at the unexpected arrival evaporating instantly. Relief that Daniel was lowering those walls he hid behind, even just a little, had rapidly given way to astonishment as the most inane touchy-feely chick-flick questions were fired at him, one after another.

Jesus. Daniel had said - he knew Jack was watching him, he knew why. The kiss said he knew why.

His gut clenching, Jack nervously speed-dialled Daniel's cell phone again, his mood not helped when he only got the messaging service again.

Jack didn't do the panic thing but he had to admit he was close to it. Daniel knew how he felt. Didn't he say so? And now he seemed to be avoiding Jack.

As he pulled out onto Nevada Avenue and headed for the downtown district, he ran an agitated mind over the strange, stilted conversation they'd just had, sick to his stomach at the thought that maybe Daniel felt some kind of obligation to him. The boy could not be that stupid, to presume he had to respond just because Jack wanted him.

Daniel could, though. He damned well could. It was exactly what Daniel would do, get in Jack's face, give it a shot, see how it made him feel. Daniel had never backed down from anything he considered a necessary fight in his life.

Only – crap! - he ran right out on Jack.

That was an answer, right there, huh?

What a mess, what a Goddamned mess!

Jack tore down the fortunately quiet highway, driving fast and tightly controlled, his mind racing. Where did it come from, the loss he'd tasted in the kiss? Daniel kissing him as if it were the end of everything. Why hadn't he kissed Daniel back? He'd lost sleep over this for months, fighting every instinct that took him to Daniel. When he was scared about how much he wanted him, when scalding desire was daily eroding his self-control, how in hell could he just stand there and do nothing when Daniel kissed him?

It made no damned sense!

What was going through Daniel's mind? How could he think Jack wouldn't want him? That he hadn't churned this over and over in his head, that every choice wasn't made except for Daniel's? It was the only thing that held Jack back, his fear for Daniel.

Jack had to get to him, had to tell him, what, he didn't know. Something. Anything. Maybe, if he could just put his hands on Daniel, he wouldn't need words. He'd always thought he would touch Daniel just once, touch him just right and that would be all it took, that Daniel would feel Jack and know he was in love with him. He'd be able to believe it if it was there in the way Jack touched him and held him.

Daniel's friendship wasn't easily given and it wasn't a small thing for Jack to take, to rely on. It was unbearable to him to be in a space where Daniel couldn't love him. He could not take that, Daniel meant too much to him, and while he had this doubt, while he risked losing everything of Daniel he had, Jack had kept his silence.

It felt like this space.

"You've blown it, you fucker!" he hissed under his breath as he took the exit for Daniel's district too quickly, stepping down hard on his brakes as he hit the inevitable crawling traffic edging block to block on North Tejon Street.

He was fully occupied with his driving then, inching his way through the sluggish oxymoronic evening rush-hour in raging impatience. Daniel wasn't answering his cell phone or his apartment phone, Jack was surrounded by fools in four-wheel drives and he didn't know anything.

After driving and driving and getting nowhere for half an hour, Jack greeted the final turn onto Daniel's quieter street with a gusty sigh of relief, parked sloppily and dashed through the slow moving cars, dancing neatly around a startled elderly couple on the sidewalk to dart into the lobby of Daniel's building. He pulled up short when he saw Sam Carter turning away from the doorman's reception desk, unwelcome suspicions crashing in. He'd just asked Daniel what she meant to him and hey, here she was!

"Carter!" Jack was very aware Daniel hadn't given him a straight answer to his question about her and he was angry to find Carter here before he was.

She spun jerkily to face him, her face flaming. "Sir, I need to talk to you!" she hailed him urgently, her voice low and hasty.

"You need to leave, Carter," Jack retorted stonily, wondering angrily if Daniel was making a habit of turning to her instead of to him. It bothered him that he was hurt by this.

Now he took the time to actually look at her, he realised that she was dead on her feet, spots of stark colour burning in pale cheeks. He was incredulous Daniel would tell Carter that he'd kissed her C.O., but Daniel cared about her and why else would she have run right here in this state? It was only the end of the world as she knew it. "You're a mess," he snapped edgily.

"I've made a mess!" Carter argued heatedly. "Sir, I've done something incredibly wrong and - and stupid."

"I don't care!" Jack flared, cutting her off. He did, of course he did, his second in command mattered to him a great deal, but he didn’t have time for her now and he wanted her gone. He was reeling with confusion, wondering why the hell Carter was here if it wasn't for Daniel - if it wasn't because of what had just happened between them at his house. He wasn't any easier in his mind knowing Carter was as likely to run to Daniel as it seemed he was to her. Jack had a responsibility to her, though. As little as he felt like it right now, they could pick up whatever was bothering Carter back at the base. They could pick it up anytime. "Take a rain check, Carter," he ordered brusquely.

"I must talk to you! I have to explain!"

"Not interested!" he cut her off, making a quick, emphatic motion with a chopping hand. "Tomorrow, Carter," he promised. Whatever this was, it had to be work-related. Her family was fine and Carter had no life outside the Stargate.

She glared up at him, then her face changed. "You came for Daniel," she observed with odd, drained finality.

"Go home, Major," Jack ordered her. "We'll talk tomorrow." When he knew what she knew, what Daniel had confided in her, if anything. What he was going to do about it. He was at a loss to decide which way Carter would jump if she did know. He didn't want to compromise anyone, least of all a good officer like her. He would walk into a sexual relationship with Daniel with his eyes wide open. At some point, Jack knew he would have to trade up command of SG-1 for Daniel. He just hadn't expected it to happen before he was sure of Daniel or even of himself.

If she knew. If Daniel had told - Daniel wouldn't do that. He wouldn't compromise Jack that way. He just wouldn't.

Jack gritted his teeth, feeling like his head was exploding.

"I need to talk to you now," Carter insisted quietly, staring up at him, her eyes shadowed.

"Tomorrow," he contradicted with flat finality.

Carter hung her head for a moment, her shoulders slumping. "Just remember that I tried to talk to you first."

Her 'sir' was a long time coming and then she was gone, barrelling out the door like she couldn't get away from him fast enough.

The insensitive bastard turned with relief to the doorman, waiting for him with an inquisitively cocked eyebrow. "Dr. Jackson?" Jack snapped.

"Laundry room, Sir," the doorman responded readily. "As I already told the lady."

Jack shot him a look which deflated his prurience completely, then loped over to vent some of his frustration on a dead run down the stairs to the basement. He followed the signs through the dingy, baldly lit maze of hallways, where Daniel was drawn by the low, lulling hum of machinery. His 'trouble' place. It wasn't the first time Jack had found Daniel hiding out down here with a book for show and a blind look in his eyes.

When he opened the right door, Daniel was sitting perched in the alcove at the rear of the room above the tangle of water-pipes. His feet braced against the wall for balance, his head was bent as he wrote intently in his journal.

Jack's heart sank. How much time had his indecision cost him? How much time had he wasted bumper-to-bumper with those asshole armchair jocks and cowboys on his slow crawl through town? Was he going to have to deal with a Daniel already decided, hurt and sorrowful for having to inflict pain with a refusal, brooding on how to let Jack down easy?

He stood braced against the door, staring at the long, denim-clad legs, the casual navy sweater clinging faithfully to broad shoulders and flat belly, skimming the narrow hips. Ivory skin and soft hair gleamed, glasses glinting in the light striking into the alcove from the centre of the room.

Daniel was in a world of his own, nibbling at his lip, frowning in concentration as he wrote.

Jack almost hated what the sight of this man did to him, how little control he had over himself, how easily his feelings surged and sex overwhelmed reason. He was already walking forward, almost unaware of doing so, his gaze fixed on Daniel as he looked up with languid eyes at some thought or memory only he could see. Then he saw Jack.

The shock on Daniel's face, the colour flaming, the convulsive, protective closure of his journal and every thought went from Jack's head. He was so afraid he'd blown it, lost the only chance he was ever going to get to tell Daniel what he did to him, what he made him feel.

If he could only touch Daniel.

"Jack!"

Daniel was rocked off-balance as Jack's arms went around him, gasping aloud as Jack's mouth closed forcefully on his. Jack pulled him from the ledge, was there to catch him as he fell, Daniel's firm, graceful body sliding the length of his, the feel of him incredibly erotic against Jack as he eagerly pinned him with his weight.

The soft, generous lips parted beneath the pressure of his. Jack slid deep into velevty heat, tasting Daniel in the rich bitterness of coffee. Daniel shuddered as Jack's tongue stroked with slow, eloquent passion over his. There was only one thing for Jack to say and he expressed his promise with the whole of his body, that this wasn't over, that Daniel had him, Jack was with him.

Loved him.

Jack tried desperately to keep his head but he'd wanted this for so long he found himself lost in Daniel's gentle mouth, pushing urgently into the warm, strong body straining enticingly against his, rubbing himself cat-like against the slow swell of heat and hardness between the slim, sprawled legs. Clenched hands drove fingernails bruisingly into his upper arms, a thrill of pain to darken the pleasure.

Then strong arms wrapped around Jack's shoulders, long fingers curved over his nape as Daniel relaxed into him, a shy tongue pushing uncertainly into his as he rocked their bodies together in satisfyingly sensual age-old rhythm.

Jack's desire added an edge of hunger to their kiss, his hands restlessly shifting over the fine navy wool and finally beneath it to bare skin. Daniel shook helplessly as Jack stroked his back with clumsy fingers, the breath sobbing in his throat as Jack's hips ground demandingly into his.

It was wild and deeply sexy, each of them burning and achy, shaking and hanging on to the other like he was the only thing that made sense, kissing and kissing.

Jack was shit-scared and exhilarated at the same time, eating Daniel alive, hands everywhere, his whole body throbbing, electric with need. He was parched, crazy for Daniel, for the sex, fumbling between their bodies to tug at painfully confining buttons and zippers as he lowered his head to feast on the hot skin of Daniel's arched throat.

"No!" Daniel gasped as his mouth was freed, grabbing for Jack's wrists. "Jack, stop!"

Jack lifted his head and kissed Daniel hard on the lips. "Not here," he wheezed his understanding. It was cheap to do Daniel against the wall of the laundry room. Cheap and dangerous. As sexy as the images tumbling through his mind were, Jack understood. He had just about that much self-control left.

"Bed!" he growled.

"N-no, Jack. No," Daniel stammered breathlessly. "I'm not s-sleeping with you!"

"What?" Jack asked, leaning back to stare at Daniel's pale face, too astonished for anger.

"You can't do this," Daniel argued, too bewildered to even push Jack away. "You can't. You didn't even ask, Jack. I can't believe..." he broke off in stuttering confusion.

"Neither can I!" Jack flared. "You were all over me a minute ago."

"That doesn't mean you've a right to have sex with me!" Daniel snapped, angry and mortified.

"You kissed me back!" Jack retorted.

"I didn't know what to do."

The soft, hurt voice and the pain in the expressive eyes shying away from his hit Jack like a hammer blow. He put up his hands and backed off a careful step. He was stunned and beginning to feel a little sick. "I would never hurt you," he swore, understanding at last Daniel didn't know this. He'd maybe just given him too much cause to doubt it.

"I know!" Daniel said at once, his eyes falling.

"Do you?"

Jack couldn't believe he'd read the signals so wrong, couldn't believe what he'd just done to Daniel. "Jesus," he whispered, appalled, realising now what that straining body hard against his meant. The exhilarating physicality he'd been exulting in was panic. Struggle. His own response - he'd restrained Daniel without even realising it. Forced him and been excited by it.

"I practically assaulted you!"

"No!" Daniel denied this passionately, stepping impulsively forward.

Jack's arms went around him automatically and they froze, neither of them knowing what to do.

"You're attracted to me - your body reacted," Jack carefully reminded Daniel, as bewildered by this as he was.

He didn't want Daniel to think he was shifting the blame here. He hadn't given him a chance to refuse him but he also hadn't been able to feel a refusal as Daniel's body had quickened against him. Fixated on the physical, seemingly betrayed by it, he didn't know now what to trust. What to think.

"I don't know that I want to be," Daniel confessed unsteadily, beginning to shake again.

His heart aching, Jack held Daniel more tightly, unable to offer anything but his presence, for what good it might do.

"I need you," he admitted starkly, knowing it wasn't anything Daniel wanted to hear and he was hurting them both with it. "I hurt you. I – I'm sorry for that, Daniel, I swear. I never meant – I would never."

A promise meant nothing if it wasn't delivered, though. Daniel had trusted him, and Jack had not delivered.

"I hurt you," he said again, sorrowfully.

"What are we going to do, Jack?" Daniel asked wearily, not bothering to deny it, a comforting arm cradling tenderly around Jack's shoulders.

It was this simple gesture which made Jack realise he'd succeeded in everything he'd set out to do.

Daniel knew Jack loved him alright, he knew it beyond any doubt and because of it, Jack had left Daniel exactly where he'd dreaded he would be.

Obligated.

They sat in heavy silence on either side of Daniel's dining table nursing lukewarm coffee. The other table was littered with the detritus of one of Daniel's customary heavy-duty research sessions, books and papers spilling over onto this table too.

Jack was still painfully aware of Daniel's journal perched out-of-bounds on top of a neat pile of dry-as-dust scholarly journals. He would have given anything to know what Daniel was writing in it when he arrived tonight. He needed to buy a clue from somewhere, because he was more confused now than when he got here.

Neither of them knew what to say to the other, so the silence dragged on.

"I want to have sex with you," Jack announced abruptly, much too loudly, making Daniel jump and spill his coffee.

"I grasped that, yes!" Daniel snapped, embarrassed, impatiently wiping dripping fingers on his thigh.

"I mean, I want to make love with you," Jack amended, his voice all over the place.

Daniel went very red and grunted unintelligibly.

Jack tried - and failed - to clear the annoying obstruction from his parched throat. He strongly suspected it was his heart.

"You're attracted to me too."

He didn't seem to be able to leave this one alone.

"Unless it was just the friction," he sniped.

"I'm going steady with the spin cycle on machine Three," Daniel replied coldly. "But I appreciate the thought."

"I'm going insane," Jack remarked. "I do not appreciate it at all."

"You are?" Daniel complained with a certain cynical incredulity. "Until now, I thought the most surreal thing that could happen to me was travelling from a dig to a wedding for thirty-six hours straight with no sleep, no food except chocolate and twelve mini bottles of champagne to make up for there being no food except chocolate. I get off the fifth plane on my third continent, panicked, drunk and punchy, and the first thing I see is a llama."

Jack blinked at this embittered pronouncement. "Where were you?"

"Canada."

"I beat the pants off that," Jack sniffed disdainfully, instantly regretting his tactlessness as Daniel clammed right back up again.

Jack badly wanted to know exactly what Daniel thought was happening when he first grabbed hold of him like that and pinned him against the wall.

Hell, if he was sitting on a jury of his combat-experienced peers, he'd convict, no question. A solid lock on the Uniform Code of Military Justice Articles 133 and 134, with intent to indulge quite a lot in Article 125 if the victim proved receptive.

He glanced up and regretfully concluded the victim was not in the least receptive. The victim was in fact completely pissed and miserable. Jack wanted to hold Daniel and kiss away that look from his eyes.

"Please don't tell me you're sorry," Daniel begged quietly.

"I'm not. I want you not to be sorry."

"You want me to make love," Daniel accused him.

"You want it too."

There was no comeback this time. Daniel slumped.

Hesitantly, Jack reached across and took Daniel's resistant hand. Daniel looked up at him, blinking suspiciously bright eyes and absolutely furious with himself.

"I feel completely lost, Jack."

"I know."

For this, Jack was truly sorry.

"Did you sleep at all?" Jack barked in furious concern at Daniel the instant he set foot in the locker room.

Daniel stopped in his tracks, sourly noted the suspicious absence of both their teammates, the rigid arms crossed ominously over Jack's chest, and sighed.

"Carter is being strange," Jack informed him, not missing his swift, sidelong glance. "Teal'c was concerned."

"You weren't?" Daniel queried.

Leaving Jack floundering for a come-back, Daniel walked over to his locker, wondering if he was actually going to have to ask Jack to leave or if he was going to get through this with a modicum of dignity intact.

He was tense, exhausted and frankly uncomfortable about having to strip in front of his best friend, who would be watching his every move and coincidentally really, really wanting to have sex with him.

"I was more concerned about you," Jack admitted frankly as Daniel slipped out of his favourite tweed jacket.

"I know what you're doing," Daniel said as he knelt to unlace his shoes.

"Oh?" Jack enquired pleasantly.

"It won't work."

The silence behind him was sceptical.

"You can't be my friend, not for this."

The silence invited Daniel to explain.

Socks carefully balled and tucked into his shoes, Daniel stood, his fingers moving with reluctance to the top button on his shirt. He was wearing some old, familiar and frankly staid friends. This was who Daniel was and apparently this was who Jack wanted.

"It should be obvious why," he snapped, horribly self-conscious and resenting Jack for pushing him into it.

He hadn't felt like this since his high school's star quarterback used to look at his skinny little ass in the showers after every session in the swimming pool. At least, Daniel thought he did. He also used to wonder why, although this was hardly the time to get into any historical consideration of compare and contrast.

He dragged himself back to the point.

"For a start, you're totally biased over the outcome."

He unbuttoned a little further, his skin prickling.

"I can't turn to you, Jack, not about you."

Daniel shouldn't have to explain this and he was angry at Jack for making it all as difficult as possible for him.

"Who else knows you like I do?" Jack riposted in an outrageously patient mock 'reasonable' tone.

"Can't you give me a break, Jack?" Daniel pleaded, unable to refute the truth of Jack's argument despite the aggravating delivery.

"A break? Time? Space?" Jack enquired. "No."

"Jack," Daniel sighed, emerging stiffly from his blue shirt, filled with that old high school locker room fear, panic and dread, still refusing a decent burial after twenty years. He took down a clothes-hanger, draping his shirt with precise, economical movements in a vain attempt to distract himself from his extremely interested audience, who seemed to be filling every available molecule of space without apparent effort.

"For cryin' out loud, Daniel! I'm not going to jump your bones!" Jack complained impatiently. "Not here in the gear-up room!"

"Off-world more convenient? Or home?" Daniel murmured innocently, not missing the unthinking ambiguity of Jack's response.

"Exactly!"

Outraged by the expected confirmation, Daniel turned to glare at Jack.

His ears abruptly catching up with his mouth, Jack glared right back. "Talk. I meant we could talk - it's more convenient," he argued lamely.

"To talk?" Daniel prompted, gripped by a cold certainty. "Something you've already taken steps to ensure!"

They were due off-world tomorrow. 'Were' being the operative word, he was sure.

This was - this was typical! Jack refused to play by anyone's rules but his own, rules he changed whenever he felt like it. Hadn't Daniel learned to his cost already if he gave Jack an inch, he took everything, as if he had a right to it?

Jack's gaze clashed with his. "If I was perfect, you wouldn't be single!"

It occurred to Daniel then that Jack didn't know what he was doing any more than Daniel did, and that this arrogant display was the classic Jackian response to uncertainty. Attack. His aggression was usually in direct proportion to how threatened he felt, which meant right now Jack wasn't waving. He was drowning.

"You weren't very convincing," Daniel blurted out nervously, disconcerting both of them. He turned edgily back to his locker, shifting deprecatingly from foot to foot, imagining he could feel Jack's eyes sliding over his bared skin.

Jack appeared to have no difficulty interpreting this seeming non sequitur. "I wish I could be," he admitted heavily.

Daniel froze with his fingers on his belt buckle, his heart beating very fast when he felt how close Jack was to him, just beyond his vision.

"Don't be angry, Daniel. Please."

"I'm trying," Daniel said with difficulty.

There was nothing subtle about the wrongness between them, it jarred him constantly. He had been struggling on his own to comprehend the uncomfortable intensity of his feelings for Jack, the unsuspected depth of his dependence, revealed to him without warning under the worst possible circumstances on Netu.

"I wasn't ready for this," he whispered to himself.

A careful hand settled on his shoulder, the heat from Jack's body making Daniel freeze involuntarily.

He didn't know how to make Jack let him go. Didn't know how to ask. He just stood there, heart and mind racing. How could Jack have known Daniel's confusion was sexual before he knew himself? He hadn't known, hadn't even considered - until Jack kissed him and all the fight went out of him and he kissed back.

Daniel turned a little, the hand at his shoulder rising to rest a gentle knuckle caressingly against his cheek. It made him swallow hard. Jack had touched him many times but never with such tenderness or meaning.

"I can't even stop talking to you, can I?" Daniel helplessly recognised the impossibility. Jack was right, he was the only one Daniel was able to confide in, the only one he trusted to be so close.

"I know, Daniel," Jack said sorrowfully. "Believe me, I know." All the regret in the world was in Jack's eyes but he didn't move his hand and he didn't back away. Jack's cards were all on the table and all that was left was to deal.

Daniel was afraid of where this was taking them and who they'd be after all their choices were made. He was in hell before he knew he felt far more than he was supposed to for Jack.

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 |

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Biblio, PhoenixE, babs, Brionhet, Darcy, Devra, Fabrisse, JoaG, Kalimyre, Marcia, Rowan and Sideburns, 2001-2008.
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