Janet Fraiser's voice was curiously tinny and echoing in the huge, gilded room that held the gate and the just-arrived, newly stocked MALP. "The difference in your blood levels is clear; it's the reason for the difference that I'm not sure of. I can only speculate that their smaller body-mass caused Captain Carter and Loran to recover from their exposure more quickly."
"No fair," Jack whined. "Daniel and I are stuck here when everyone else gets to go home?"
Janet smiled, a flash of white on the small screen, but her voice was cool and professional as always. "Bigger guys; more of you to soak up the bad chemicals."
"Any estimate on how much longer it will be for us," Daniel chimed in, arms folded. He looked all frowny, but Jack couldn't tell if he was just pissed at the delay in getting back to his projects and their next missions, or if he was just thinking hard and listening. Jack didn't much want to think about how Daniel might be all frowny at the prospect of sharing an alien beach vacation alone with his team leader. Or maybe Jack was worrying for nothing; maybe his frown wasn't an emotion at all -- maybe he had a headache or something, part of the hangover from the effects of the addictive light. On the other hand, they were all definitely still rattled by Barber's death and Daniel's near-miss. Maybe that was what was bugging Daniel and making him look like that.
Janet was saying, "Just a few more days, I would guess. A week at the outside."
"Try to look on it as R and R," Hammond added. "You have your instructions for the last few step-downs in the device's output?"
"Sam left them for us," Daniel said, leaning in toward the mic. "Wrote them down, even."
"So you can try to relax. Take a break," Hammond concluded.
"Please call in right away if you see any resurgence of symptoms," Janet repeated. "If that's all, sir?" and she nodded to Jack and Daniel and then they could hear her jaunty footsteps fade.
"Thank you, Doctor. Jack, keep in touch."
"Will do. O'Neill out."
Jack paused, looking at the little blank screen. Daniel sighed.
"Well, there's always inscriptions to study," Daniel said.
"Oh, yes," Jack said, with false brightness. He was aware, all of a sudden, of the vast empty building around them, of the empty beach stretching for untold miles, of the green and deserted land. "You know how excited I get about a good inscription."
Daniel elbowed him as he turned away.
Jack sighed, and scratched his head. "So. Walk on the beach first, or inscriptions first?"
Daniel swiveled, looking speculative, then carefully neutral. "Flip a coin?"
They flipped. Daniel won.
Daniel, with all those new pillars to read, was deeply occupied and fairly cheerful, so Jack figured he'd been worrying for nothing over that initial frowniness. Daniel had plenty to think about and study, with no one bugging him to get on with things, which, for him, actually did amount to a vacation. And yet he was always willing to be pulled away from his notes and videos and translations for a stroll on the beach, a game of Frisbee, chess, cards, or Scrabble. He refused, with a shocked look, a game of laser tag. (Jack had packed up Loran's sad possessions to send through the gate, and found two toys that he swore would work perfectly for laser tag. Daniel had shuddered.)
They arranged their bedrolls in a room that had decent access to the gate and to an exterior door -- just in case, standard procedure, more than any fear that something could happen, at night or while they were separated. All the intel they could gather indicated there was no one for miles; probably no one on the entire planet. They talked it over and decided they didn't need to set a watch. The first two nights, Jack lay awake for awhile, listening to Daniel breathe in his sleep. He found the quiet life-signs comforting. Maybe too comforting.
During the day, Jack tried not to brood or give in to boredom, and he really was sincerely glad that Daniel had plenty to do. Because it wouldn't have been a good thing if they both had downtime alone together with nothing to occupy them. Because stuff might happen. Stuff was a good word. Yeah. Nice and vague. Stuff to not think about. To resolutely ignore.
Jack used the fishing poles he had asked for, but he found he couldn't zone out and just while away an afternoon fishing like he could at the cabin. Somehow his thoughts kept getting pulled back to Daniel, wondering what Daniel was doing inside there.
But between the games and the inscriptions and the fishing and the unbroken sleep, they both actually did manage to unwind, which was good. Jack knew the whole team was overdue for a break. The second morning, drinking coffee on a balcony overlooking the ocean, they even talked about Barber. Held a wake of two.
At their evening check-in's, Jack got updated on baseball scores by one of the gate technicians. But no one would send them beer. Janet said she didn't want to risk a depressant until they had been totally away from the light device and safely back at home for several days. Jack was quite disappointed, and fear of Fraiser among the gate techs kept his offers of bribery from working. Nevertheless, the atmosphere on their enforced vacation was peaceful. Exactly like a long weekend in an empty resort. Except all those hours Daniel spent studying inscriptions gave Jack a little too much time to think. And remember other times when they'd ended up alone somewhere secluded offworld, somewhere isolated, him and Daniel. And the things they had done. Then. But that was the stuff he wasn't thinking about. So he didn't.
The third night, they were sitting out on the verandah nearest the gate room, listening to the ocean surge against the gravel beach, and eating their MREs.
"Trade you my osmotic cranberries for your brownie," Daniel offered.
"Not a chance," Jack said. He nibbled the brownie reflectively, newly appreciative of its taste, since Daniel, a known choco-holic, wanted it, and that made it more appealing. Daniel was shaking the pouch of dried fruit and looking at it dubiously.
Jack had tried -- God knew he had tried -- to leave Daniel alone this mission, not hover or bug him, but the circumstances that had brought them here weighed on him now. He watched Daniel munch on fruit, and kept feeling Daniel's heavy body across his shoulders. Kept feeling how Daniel had sagged against him when he'd persuaded Daniel off the balcony back in the Springs. It froze a core of ice in his gut, actually. Yeah, Daniel was making the best of this break, enjoying the inscriptions and so forth. But was Daniel okay, or not? Were they okay?
Jack watched Daniel chewing his tart cranberries, watched his mouth, and said, cautiously, "What did you mean, on your balcony, when I came and got you."
Daniel swallowed, and that frowny expression was back again. "On my balcony?"
"You don't remember me dragging you inside from the balcony, the day after Barber died?"
Daniel stared at him, but it was a faraway, remembering stare. "I remember you came looking for me," he answered slowly. "But I can't remember much else about that morning, or why I couldn't make myself come in to the mountain on my own, or what exactly happened after you got there. I remember waking up here, on the floor, in the palace, with you bending over me, but what happened before that is fuzzy...." He met Jack's eyes again, sharp and demanding. "Why? What did I say to you?"
"You were talking like you were losing something, or had already lost it. And you told me I had no idea what you were saying." Jack decided for the time being he would leave out the part about how Daniel had been on the wrong side of the railing at the time.
Daniel's gaze pinned him. "Lost something."
"Yeah." This was dangerously close to ... stuff ... they had previously agreed not to discuss. But damn. Daniel had been on the other side of the railing. Barber was dead. It was hard to stick with the plan. "It kind of seemed like something important."
Daniel's frown deepened. The implied message was clear. You're bringing this up? Really? But then Daniel shook his head. "That whole morning is fuzzy. I can't remember what I was thinking. It had to be the effects of the light machine, obviously, or more accurately, the withdrawal from them, but I don't know what I meant by that." He thought about it, tried to remember; that faraway stare again, seeing Jack without seeing him. It made Jack want to pinch himself to make sure of his own reality. "That first day, after the team came back, after Barber, everything seemed hard, uphill, impossible. Frustrating. I've been depressed before; I know what that feels like. This was... this was something else." He shook his head, as if to shake off the memory.
"Yeah," Jack said. "I know." He thought about the fit he'd pitched, himself, in the infirmary, while he was withdrawing, before they all had realized what was up. He knew, without Fraiser or Mackenzie ever having to tell him, that he tended to express fear and depression as anger. No big surprise there.
"So I'd lost something, huh," Daniel mused. And this time when he turned his too-sharp, almost melancholy gaze to Jack, Jack had to look away.
Before Daniel could say any more, Jack got up and gathered their dinner trash and took it all out to the bag they'd started in the room where the gate was. And then he double-clicked Daniel their standard "all's well" signal on the radio, grateful he didn't need to actually talk to convey the message, and he went outside. He walked an imaginary perimeter. He stayed gone until the stars were out and the second moon had set.
But when he came back in, a little more settled physically but just as roiled emotionally as when he'd left, Daniel was awake. He was a shadow-outlined shape against the far wall, because he'd thoughtfully left one of the fancy dimmer-equipped torchiers on so Jack could see his way in without having to use a flashlight. Daniel was lying there on the cool stone floor, not fidgeting and not reading, glasses off, looking up to the high, carved ceiling, his legs a little splayed, one hand cupped on his thigh, one behind his head. Jack's heart turned over. He busied himself with his bedroll, and with setting his boots ready to hand.
When Jack was lying down too, Daniel said quietly, "You think what I was saying I lost, was us. What we agreed not to do any more after P3R-118. When we were Jonah and Carlin--"
Jack held his reaction in check for the planet designation, but couldn't suppress his flinch, or the thrill that ran down his spine, when Daniel said the names. Their names. Too, too easy to remember how Daniel had spoken to him, called that name, Daniel's flushed and sweaty face a mask of ecstasy, dappled by the torchlight. Called Jack by that name that was not his name, when they'd broken right through the hard crust of tradition and protocol and regulations, and found the molten desire bubbling so obviously and so wildly, just beneath the surface. So easy to come together, to touch, to give pleasure, to share it. When they weren't themselves.
"...and Therra and Tor," Daniel was continuing calmly. Yeah. Bunch of stuff they'd all agreed to put behind them from that place, and to blank out of their reports.
Daniel got up on one elbow and put his glasses back on. Jack closed his eyes and stayed still, flat on his back. Daniel could probably see him getting hard through his slacks, but that couldn't be helped right now and Jack was damn sure not going to draw attention to it by pulling a corner of the sleeping bag over, or bending his knee up.
"You think I lost that, and it upset me, and you think the withdrawal symptoms amplified it."
"Yeah, maybe," Jack said, eyes shut tight.
"You got me back to the mountain and checked me in, and you probably stayed in the infirmary with me the whole time, didn't you."
"I didn't want what happened to Barber to happen to you. You were acting weird. Not yourself."
"You stayed with me till we got back here. Sam said you had to carry me through the gate."
"Yeah, well," Jack started, but his eyes flew open at the touch of Daniel's hand. Daniel had crept closer while Jack was holding himself still, underlining his resolve to Not Do This Stuff Any More Or Think About It Either, and when Jack opened his eyes he was looking right up into Daniel's, and Daniel was cupping the side of his head.
"I don't remember what I thought I'd lost," Daniel said, and he was bending so close, and bringing his lips to Jack's. Jack covered Daniel's hand with his and kissed him back, completely unable to resist. The kiss went on for a while, warm and soft and friendly and oh so familiar.
Then Daniel pulled back and looked at him, very seriously. "And this is the part we're not doing. The part we can't do."
"Because that's what we said," Jack agreed. He noted absently that his heart was beating fast and his dick was very hard now. Kissing Daniel had reignited everything. It was like no time had passed at all. The dim light seemed to flicker in the room, bringing back memories of Daniel's face, much scruffier and dirtier than it was now, more desperate, less calm. More open, more demanding. Less careful. Less controlled.
But despite repeating the rule about what they couldn't do, Daniel was still hovering over him, as if waiting for something. He still had his hand pressed against Jack's temple. Jack reached up and gripped him around the neck, and Daniel's eyes fell closed and Jack felt Daniel give, felt Daniel readily acquiesce to being pulled down for another kiss even though Jack didn't pull.
They waited, suspended there.
"No sales pitch?" Jack said, and his voice was hoarse. The skin of Daniel's neck was so warm under his hand. "No trying to convince me after all that the military rules are stupid and outdated and repressive?"
Daniel smiled. His eyes were still closed. Jack was suddenly sure that he was soaking up the one point of contact where their skin was touching, storing it up, feeling it, closing his eyes to focus only on that, and perhaps also on Jack's voice. A wave of regret and longing washed through Jack, relentless as the ocean outside.
Daniel said, "I really do try hard not to state the obvious. And beating dead horses is not my specialty any more."
"And here I always admired your stubbornness."
Daniel opened his eyes then, and they were sad. He put his hand over Jack's hand on his neck. Jack wondered if he was aware he was doing it. "Flattery will get you nowhere," he said, lightly, but then he added, "Right?"
Jack squeezed his neck. "I admired Carlin's stubbornness, too. It was one of the things that got us home."
Daniel started when Jack said the name. He closed his eyes and slowly, slowly peeled Jack's hand from his neck.
"Thanks," he said, and, still moving slowly, as if his joints pained him, he lay down again on his bedroll, on his back. He took off his glasses and held them loosely in one hand and rubbed his forehead with the other.
"Headache?" Jack said.
"Not really," Daniel said.
Jack released a breath he felt he'd been holding for way too long. Daniel was hard too, Jack could see, now that Daniel was lying down again. He rolled up and reached and took Daniel's glasses from his hand and slipped them into his nearer boot, which was just within reach at the head of Daniel's bedroll.
After a few minutes Daniel rolled away, putting his back to Jack and shifting and scrunching, getting comfortable. It was like the sun going behind a cloud, or having to move away from a fire on a cold night.
Jack watched his breathing even out, watched the slow expansion and contraction of his ribs, and then, slowly but emphatically, words formed in his head. Simple Anglo- Saxon syllables, solid and final:
Fuck this, Jack thought.
He carefully slid over and put his head down by Daniel's, molded his body to Daniel's back, slid his arm around Daniel's middle and found his hand. Daniel squeezed his hand hard and made an indefinable sound of surprise and smothered yearning. He melted against Jack, leaning back a little.
Jack did nothing but press his face to Daniel's nape. He didn't kiss. He just lay there, soaking up the closeness.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Are you going to make me talk about it?"
".... I guess not. But don't you think we need to?"
Daniel sighed, long and gusty and resigned, but he didn't move away, and he didn't escalate things, though he had to feel how hard Jack was against his ass.
Jack closed his eyes, inhaling Daniel, and stayed still where he was, in a cloud of soap and ink and coffee and warmth, and eventually he fell asleep, because the next thing he knew, the slanting hazy light of morning was filling the room. Daniel was still lying close beside him, and Jack could tell he was awake. Jack lifted his head. Daniel was watching sunbeams, and the dust motes floating in them. As far as Jack could tell, they'd barely moved in the night. They were still spooned together atop Daniel's bedroll. Jack's leg was between Daniel's now and Jack had changed the position of the arm he was lying on. That was about it. Apparently their bodies hadn't wanted to separate either, all night long.
"Jack," Daniel's voice was quiet and strained. "I don't know what we're doing, but whatever it is, I can't go forward without talking about it. I'm sorry."
"Coffee first?" Jack said hopefully.
"But that would mean moving apart," Daniel said, and the suppressed laughter in his voice gave Jack more hope than he'd had since he'd come back to himself on that damn planet and realized he wasn't Jonah the miner, but himself, after all, a colonel in the United States Air Force, and that he'd just broken a boatload of regulations and was about to go home and lie about them all.
Jack cleared his throat. "Talking first, then, huh." Daniel tightened his arms around Jack's arms and interlaced their fingers. The feel of that made Jack close his eyes. He had rehearsed and rehearsed all the reasons to not do this. But Daniel was showing him why they had the best reasons to do it anyway. Jack said, "I'm gonna.... No, I want to disregard the regs. I've disregarded regs before, officially and unofficially, so you know we can make that work. It's not gonna give me a complex or anything. I was actually more worried about the chain of command thing than the fraternization thing--" (at this point Daniel mocked him with a very undignified chuckle) "-- but yeah, I know, you've always laughed at the idea that I was any kind of CO to you so, there's that."
"Kind of takes all the sting out of a harassment accusation," Daniel observed, and oh God that was his bedroom voice, and he was snuggling himself tighter back against Jack, hooking an ankle around Jack's ankle. Jack opened his eyes and pressed his lips to Daniel's neck, making Daniel shiver.
Jack said, "Beyond all that, I don't know what you want me to talk about. But I know you. You have something to say here."
Daniel breathed, in and out, like he was getting ready to do something hard. Without letting go, really, he awkwardly rolled in Jack's arms until they were facing each other. Without the frame of his glasses, his eyes looked bigger than ever, and so startlingly blue. "I want to know that if we pursue this relationship, you can still put it aside when you have to and do what we need to do on missions. That you won't start trying to protect me or worry about me, any more than you do about Sam or Teal'c."
"I've always worried more about you; you know that. Civilian, okay?"
Daniel was shaking his head. "Do we have to go to the range again? Drag Sam or Ferretti or someone in to keep score and keep you from cheating? Or no. Better: Do you need to see me run that scenario course we put the new teams through? Again? Aren't you over all that shit yet about my delicate civilian nature?"
Jack pursed his lips and shook his head. He was still thinking -- barely -- but he was mesmerized by the shape of Daniel's lips, by the crinkle of laugh lines around his eyes, by the way the early sun dusted his stubble with gold.
"Ja-ack. I was standing guard at digs in remote areas of Egypt when I was twenty. I've saved your life as many times as you've saved mine. If we're... lovers, you can't switch gears. You have to let me do my work. Take risks, same as the rest of the team."
Jack pulled him even closer and put his face in Daniel's neck, giving in to what his body had been asking for for months.
He had to admit Daniel was right to worry about this. He kept his "protect the civilian" instincts at bay as much as possible, but add in an even closer relationship with Daniel? Tough to promise. "I'll try. That's all I can say. I'll try."
"You'll succeed. I know you can do it because you've done it perfectly well with Sam."
"Yes, well, I think we've established that." Daniel's tone was dry as paper, but it was an act. He was hard, his torso and his thigh muscles tight as he strained to press himself against Jack as Jack was pressing himself against Daniel. Daniel was just as worked up as Jack was, and not hiding it very well.
Jack said, "Have we talked enough?" And he rolled his hips, just a little, without really deciding to.
"Yes. No." Daniel nudged his cheek and found his mouth, and they kissed, and the taste of Daniel's mouth was like falling from a great height into the ocean. Jack got lost in it immediately, the familiar and much-missed warmth and depth. He chased Daniel's taste around Daniel's mouth, the aggression in the kiss ebbing and flowing between them. Daniel sucked on his tongue, making Jack groan into his mouth and making his dick jump. Soon he'd be leaking into his shorts. Suddenly the tight embrace and the endless wet kisses weren't enough.
Jack pulled his lips from Daniel's and looked in his eyes. "I love you," he said, and Daniel grinned at him.
"I can wait for coffee if you can," Daniel said, his mouth wet, and he shrugged away just enough to get his arms crossed so that he could strip off his shirt. Jack followed; their clothes and tags and socks in a messy pile around and below them, and they were skin to skin again, after all this time, kissing and touching and moaning as long-shuttered desire was finally expressed again. Jack knew Daniel had wanted it as much as he had, and now he could see that, feel it in his warm skin, in the touch of his fingers and the press of his mouth.
They stroked and kissed and rolled, first one, then the other, on top, their legs tangling, urgent and starving. Finally Jack found himself aggressively kissing Daniel again, and Daniel was opening to him, just taking it, their mouths an imitation of penetration, and Jack had Daniel's wet cock in a tight grip, long firm strokes, a twist at the head, and soon Daniel was shuddering and coming and Jack caught his sounds and swallowed them. He didn't let up until Daniel's hands slid limply from around his ribs. He let go of Daniel's dick to pull Daniel in tighter, feeling his gasps against his neck and shoulder, feeling them slow and gradually get under control again. Jack leaned back and kissed Daniel's eyelids, slowly, tenderly, one, and then the other. And then he put his head down on the folded bag that was Daniel's pillow and pressed his erection to Daniel's flank and waited.
Soon, Daniel groaned and flopped onto his stomach. "There's hand lotion in that bag, right there. By my boots."
A thrumming zing went down Jack's spine at the sight of Daniel lying like that, at the words. "Already?" Jack said.
Daniel was laughing at him again. "Yes, fuck me before you have your coffee, come on." And then he wasn't laughing any more and he turned his head to meet Jack's eyes. "I don't care what kind of etiquette you have about what kind of sex when or off world is appropriate or if you think we're supposed to recapitulate how it was the first time, or the second time, or if you have imaginary issues with me skipping blow jobs or what the fuck ever. I haven't been with anyone besides you; you don't need a condom. I want to feel you inside me. That's what I want. You want to hear me beg for it again? Because I will."
Jack, eyes wide, was already reaching for the bottle, slopping lotion into his hands, reaching for Daniel's ass and for his own more-than-ready erection. "No rules, Daniel. I'm not arguing about anything. We just... agreed.... to throw the rules... out the window..."
He had to pause at crucial points in the sentence, because his words wouldn't come out right. He was losing track of his retort as he slid careful fingers in to Daniel's expectant body, then rolled close, shivering as his dick brushed Daniel's skin, shivering harder as he rubbed once, twice, over the hole, then got up on quivering fists to find the right angle and push. Daniel helped, groaning and raising his hips, tilting them, and then Jack was inside, inside that tight welcoming heat, and he couldn't talk at all, only moan what would have been Daniel's name if he could've made his mouth do anything much besides make sounds.
Daniel was quiet, intently focused, once again soaking up feelings and sensations as Jack fucked him with gradually lessening caution and control, until Jack came with a shout and let himself collapse onto Daniel's broad back. It was like Jack's skin was twice as alive, twice as sensitive as usual -- he was absorbing the touch of Daniel's skin from thighs to lips. It was incandescent.
Jack panted and groaned and collected Daniel to him and rolled them onto their sides.
"When you were Carlin, you had to beg."
Daniel chuckled, muzzy and satisfied. "Demand, is more like it. Order you to get on with it. I don't know why you were so reluctant."
"Buried sense of some rules I was breaking. Something. I don't know. I don't care now."
"No," Daniel agreed. "It doesn't matter now. Except that I wonder how long it would have taken us to get here if we hadn't had our surface personalities suppressed."
He was absently stroking Jack's hand and fingers where they rested against his sweaty chest. Jack kissed his hair again, kissed the clipped line of his nape. He felt drunk, drugged. It was almost too much, the reality of Daniel in his arms like this.
"I don't know," Jack admitted.
"I don't want you to regret this, going back on our plan of trying to leave all that on Calder's planet. I want to try to do this. I don't want to pretend it didn't happen. I know it will be hard, but I love you too. You know that."
"Yeah," Jack said, and tightened his hold. He felt Daniel smile. "I won't regret it. I... um..."
Daniel turned to him then, separating them gently and making Jack wince a little, and Daniel smiled in understanding, but he searched Jack's eyes and touched his face. His expression said, "Go on," more eloquently than words.
Jack put a hand on his face, too, careless of the drying gunk, his and Daniel's. "I lost it, in the infirmary. When you were going downhill after Barber died. I saw you lying there, out cold, maybe dying yourself. Again. And I lost it. Pretty much like I did when you were on the sushi guy's planet and we thought you were dead."
Daniel nodded, frowning again. "I don't remember."
"Be glad. But. Well. That's when I started to realize we might do this here. That we might need to change the plan. Maybe."
Daniel smiled at him, bright and hopeful as the morning. "I'm really glad you changed the plan. It was a lousy, sucky plan. No relationship, no sex, no you, sucky."
Daniel fell silent, and went on gazing at him, as if storing up how Jack looked in the morning light, like this, when he was on vacation, free of having to be The Colonel, at least for the time being. Jack smiled and let him look, let Daniel see the love in his eyes. They had nowhere to go, nothing to do but rest and think and play and make love for a few more days. As vacations go, it was wonderful.
"So, coffee?" Jack said. "And then more etchings?"
Daniel's grin came back, wattage doubled. "Coffee sounds good." He leaned in for a kiss, which Jack was only too glad to give. "And I think the etchings can wait a while today, don't you?"