Jack shrugged out of his jacket and toed off his shoes, years of training making him put them away neatly before padding to the refrigerator for beer. He wasn’t, by nature, a tidy person and would sometimes despair of the learned responses that would have him automatically clean up after himself – sometimes it just seemed so…not him.
Jack knew that deep down he was a frustrated slob, and from time to time he would try to defy the conditioning and deliberately leave things undone - a beer bottle here, a dirty sock there - only to furtively return later, shamefaced and defeated, to clear up.
He supposed, on the upside, that it made him a good houseguest, which was useful, as it was Daniel’s refrigerator Jack was currently raiding. Daniel had offered, more reluctantly than Jack had been prepared for, to put the colonel up while his house was being treated for termites and redecorated. It was perfect for Jack; he got to hang out with Daniel, and although he had to sleep on the couch, it was infinitely preferable to a bunkroom on base for ten days.
Walking into the living room to make a pre-emptive strike on TV remote privileges for the evening, Jack hit the play button on the blinking answer-phone as he went by. He knew the contractors and the base had this number in case of problems, so he didn’t feel intrusive. Daniel’s soothing voice invited callers to leave a message, although he wasn’t promising anything.
As Jack had feared, the first message was from the contractors he had employed to sort out his place. Taking his cell from his pocket, he dialled the number on the message as it echoed around Daniel’s tasteful living space.
While he waited for it to be answered, the messages continued and Jack’s attention was drawn to the deep voice that was the second message.
“Daniel, hi! It’s Ben. Look, my flight has been changed on Monday, so can we make dinner a bit later? Say nine?”
Jack jumped, and turned his attention to the phone in his hand where an irate man was trying to explain why the estimate for the work was a bust and why he couldn’t move back in at the end of the week as agreed.
Jack idly listened to the builder speculate how many beams would need replacing and how much more this would cost, his mind distracted and wondering. He vaguely agreed to whatever the guy felt was necessary and finished the call as fast as he could, then walked over to the machine.
The display no longer flashed, but still registered two new messages. With guilty fingers, Jack played the second message again. Once more, the deep, educated tone of the man’s voice floated from the tiny speaker.
“Daniel, hi! It’s Ben. Look, my flight has been changed on Monday, so can we make dinner a bit later? Say nine? I’ll call and change the reservation. I can’t wait to see you; it feels like forever. I miss you, Daniel.” The voice sounded genuinely subdued, almost sad. “Anyway, bye! I’ll see you on Monday.”
The recording clicked and a beep signalled the end of the message and possibly the end of Jack’s ability to ever think clearly again.
He rested his hands on either side of the machine, resisting the urge to tear it from the socket and smash it to pieces. That voice, so knowing, so familiar and so intimate made Jack’s guts clench and the breath freeze in his lungs. The way he said ‘Daniel’ would have told Jack everything, without the ‘I miss you’ or ‘It feels like forever’.
Jack gritted his teeth, eyes tightly shut and willed himself not to listen to it again, even as his finger unerringly found the play button.
“Daniel, hi!” Jack fought back the irrational and unexpected groan that was his response to this voice and all it meant. He panted harshly, trying to regain some composure.
“…forever. I miss you, Daniel. Anyway, bye. I’ll see you on Monday.”
At the beep Jack slumped, his head lolling from his neck, a cold, never to be warm again feeling settling behind his breastbone.
“He’s an architect,” Daniel said quietly.
Jack whirled quickly to face his stealthy friend.
Daniel’s eyes were wary, his body unnaturally still, like he was waiting for something. When Jack made no move, Daniel dumped his jacket and briefcase on the couch and came to stand in front of him, his arms firmly wrapped around his chest.
Daniel had watched Jack’s reaction sadly; observed how pale he had gone and how his fists clenched on the polished wood the ‘phone stood on. For one minute Daniel had considered trying to leave before Jack noticed him – the colonel was obviously so involved in his personal hell, that he hadn’t heard his key in the door.
When he discarded this as unworkable, his survival instinct immediately offered the option of a lie. Ben could be anyone, anyone at all, as far as Jack was concerned; the part about being missed could be a sticky one to explain, but even as he began to think up solutions, he knew he couldn’t do it.
He and Jack had been friends too long for deceit. Daniel had never told him the details of his love life, because until two months ago he hadn’t HAD a love life. He’d remained faithful to Sha’uri, physically if not mentally, until the day she died. And even after that, he’d been too absorbed in his work or too hung up on his own futile fantasies to go out looking for a relationship, sexual or otherwise.
And then he’d met Ben, nine weeks ago, and the man had come into Daniel’s life at a time when the archaeologist just couldn’t remember why he’d been avoiding this kind of connection with someone anymore.
Daniel was a disciplined man, a cautious man, but he was also only human and having suppressed this side of his nature for so long, first in grief for Sha’uri and then for an unattainable dream, he was sick with loneliness and the need to feel…something… again.
Ben was uncomplicated, cultured and fun.
Daniel was grateful for it.
“Hi,” Jack croaked. He looked tense and ashamed.
“Hi,” Daniel said gently.
Jack’s jaws worked as he fought to say something normal, but all he could think of was Ben; what did he look like? What had he done to get a guy like Daniel? How old was he? Was he a good guy? Did he love Daniel?
Did Daniel love him?
“Sit down,” Daniel directed the colonel, “I need a drink to get through this conversation.”
Jack complied, sitting numbly on the couch and staring at his hands. He was too distracted to realise that Daniel was gone for longer than it took to fetch a drink, and if he noticed that Daniel had swapped his suit and tie for a t-shirt and jeans he didn’t mention it.
Daniel put down two ice filled tumblers in front of Jack and unscrewed the bottle of whisky, lowering himself resignedly to sit beside the unresponsive colonel.
“Do you want me to talk, or do you want to ask questions?” Daniel enquired politely as he poured two large measures of the rich, amber liquid.
“It’s none of my business, Daniel,” Jack murmured, “What you do is your own concern.” He was pleased to hear his voice hadn’t abandoned him, but even to his own ears he sounded tired and old.
Daniel nodded and took a swallow from his drink. “Yes, it is. But this is us, Jack; friends… best friends even and I want you to understand…”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me, Daniel,” Jack assured the quiet young man. “This doesn’t change anything.”
“I could tell that from your reaction,” Daniel smiled sadly as Jack winced. “I just wanted to say that Ben is not some sordid little secret I have been keeping from you for years.”
“How long?” Jack grated instantly, then closed his eyes in mortification at his knee-jerk reaction.
Daniel waited until he opened his eyes again and gave him a look that he hoped was understanding. “Let me tell you, then you can ask me anything I’ve left out,” he suggested. When Jack just looked away, he took it as a yes.
“His name is Ben Gross and he’s forty-six. I’ve told you he’s an architect. I met him nine weeks ago in a bookstore in town. We went for coffee a few times, dinner a few times and became friends. We’ve been lovers for a month. He’s single, discreet and intelligent. You’d like him.”
Daniel lapsed into an uncomfortable pause, filled only by the sound of the ice clinking against his glass as he swirled the contents. “Did I leave anything out?”
“Since when did you date men?” Jack asked softly, finally gaining some measure of control.
“Ah!” Daniel nodded. “Well, before I met Sarah actually. And never since, until now.”
“What made you take up with this guy then?”
“I’m not sure, to be honest. Maybe I was sick of being lonely, maybe he was nice and interested. A right place, right time kind of thing. It’s not complicated, Jack; there’s no hidden agenda, we just enjoy each other’s company.”
“WE enjoy each other’s company, Daniel, that doesn’t mean…”
“WE don’t have sex, Jack,” Daniel cut him off starkly.
“So this is all about sex?”
“Not ALL about sex, but a big part of it, yes,” Daniel admitted, bravely watching Jack’s face for the disgust he was anticipating.
Jack finally sat back in the couch, never taking his eyes from Daniel. “What’s it like?”
“Err…it’s good,” Daniel answered. Of course Jack would choose this moment to take this to his surreal plane of verbal interaction. Daniel was used to Jack’s lightning changes in conversational direction and found them amusing and challenging under normal circumstances. But this was so far from normal circumstances Daniel wasn’t even sure they would ever find their way back to the practiced ease they usually shared.
“Why?” Jack persisted.
If Jack was out to humiliate Daniel with his own words, he was going to have to try harder than that. The linguist chewed his lip, betraying his discomfort, but answered steadily. “There’s something about being with a guy…You wouldn’t understand, Jack.”
“So explain it to me,” Jack insisted, leaning forward to catch each word his friend uttered.
Daniel scowled at him, but still would not be cowed into admitting he was ashamed of his choice. “I guess it’s partly a strength thing. When you’re with a woman, you’re always aware of having to be gentle, to hold back something of yourself to protect them. With a guy, you can just let all that go.”
Jack nodded. “Go on.”
“It’s about being met by an equal, physically and mentally. Someone who thinks like you. When you push, he pushes right back; it’s like a challenge - a contest almost. It’s instinctive, you either enjoy that kind of edge or you don’t.”
“How did you know you’d like it the first time you did it?” Jack queried.
“I didn’t. I suppose I just assumed I would, as being around guys made me…” Daniel fumbled over the word, but determined not to let colonel beat him at his own game, he blurted, “… hard.”
“One guy in particular or guys in general?” Jack shot immediately.
“One guy,” Daniel admitted, frowning at Jack’s unusual questions. “I’m not into the whole promiscuous gay guy thing. I’m bi-sexual – I choose my partners on their personalities and their honesty, not their gender or how likely they are to put out.”
“So you always love your partners?” Jack said in a dead voice.
“No, not always, but I have been friends with them all,” Daniel told him and lifted his head defiantly, daring Jack to find fault.
“But how do you decide…?”
“It’s instinctive, Jack. You are attracted to someone, you work out if they are interested, you make a move…or not. You just know.” Daniel set down his glass sharply, betraying his mounting exasperation, and turned fully towards his friend. “I’m sorry, Jack. I wasn’t expecting these kinds of questions - I thought you’d want to know…other stuff.”
“What other stuff?” the colonel asked, looking slightly perplexed.
“You know, security stuff, his background, whether I might be compromised. Whether I was still fit to be on SG-1.”
Jack’s face was hard to read in the gathering dusk, but Daniel thought he saw something like pain cross his mobile features before the colonel composed himself once again.
“How did you know this…Ben… was interested in you?” Jack continued as though Daniel hadn’t spoken.
“I don’t know, Jack,” Daniel sighed, irritated by Jack’s interest in details that confused the archaeologist. He glanced across at his friend and was surprised to see that he seemed genuinely saddened by Daniel’s reluctance to talk.
Daniel threw himself back into the couch, his body still twisted to face his temporary roomy, and wiped a hand over his weary face. “Look, if it’s important…Ummm, I guess he was friendly, very friendly. He laughed if I made a joke, he talked a lot, made reasons to put his hands on me…”
“I do that stuff all the time Daniel…well I used to. But how did you know that it was an interest in you – sexually - when Ben did it?”
“I didn’t at first. It’s been a while since I’ve done this. I just thought he was being friendly.” Daniel took his drink up and sipped it a few times.
“What changed your mind?”
“I guess the way he started looking at me, when we were talking. Like I was the only thing in the whole world.”
“Much like I’m looking at you now,” Jack murmured.
“What?” Daniel gulped, wondering what the hell Jack was getting at.
“Doesn’t matter. Do you love him?”
“I…I don’t know,” Daniel spluttered. “Maybe not yet, but…Look, Jack. Why are you bothered by this part of it? I thought you’d be freaked by the whole guy thing, or angry or shocked – not worried about…”
“I’m not…uninterested…in the whole…guy thing,” Jack admitted, keeping his eyes firmly on the wall behind Daniel’s left ear.
The archaeologist was convinced that the world dropped a few degrees on its axis because his stomach definitely felt as if it had lurched about a foot to the right. “You’re kidding me!” Daniel breathed incredulously. “Sorry, I’m sorry,” he amended immediately, shaking his head in an effort to think straight. “Since when?”
“A little while now,” Jack growled evasively.
“Have you ever…?”
“So how do you know you…?”
“That’s what I’m asking YOU, Daniel, for all the good it’s doing me.” Jack’s eyes met Daniel’s for a brief instant, before he looked away again.
Daniel recognised what an admission like this must be costing Jack, given his career and his solidly heterosexual history. He carefully put down his glass and waited for Jack.
“I’m really sorry about the message. I would never have known if I hadn’t heard it,” Jack said, surprising Daniel with another change of tack. But he was glad of it; this he could cope with. The other stuff was making his skin prickle – and not in a good way.
“It’s fine, Jack. I’ve been trying to think of a way to let you know for two weeks now. At least now that bit is over.”
“Do you mind if I ask you another question?” Jack looked hopeful and Daniel realised that if they could talk about it, then maybe they could work through it too. He shrugged and smiled encouragingly.
“If I were interested…in a guy…”
“Are you?” Daniel asked immediately.
“If I were,” Jack reiterated with a stern look “How would I let them know?”
“The same way as you would with a girl, I guess. Lingering looks, listening, noticing things about them,” Daniel explained. “I’m not really the guy to ask. All the men I’ve been with have hit on me.”
“ALL the men?” Jack frowned.
“Yeah, all three of them.” Daniel rolled his eyes self-deprecatingly.
“So if I wanted someone to know I liked them, I would just be attentive to them.”
“Yes, without scaring them, obviously – you being you, and all,” Daniel explained with a sly smile.
“Obviously,” Jack agreed sarcastically and suddenly it was all right between them. Daniel palpably relaxed and picked up his drink again, and Jack put his feet up on the table and lay his head back on the couch.
Daniel was so relieved, he felt light headed. This had been hanging over him since the first night he had spent with Ben and it had been making him sick with nerves. That Jack had not only taken it so well, but also confided his own interest was more, by far, than Daniel could have hoped for.
“You want to…find out then?” Daniel asked after a short friendly silence.
“If the guy thing is for you?”
“You offering?” Jack drawled.
Daniel sniggered. “I mean do you have someone in mind or should I ask Ben if he has a brother?”
This time Jack sniggered. “Double dating, Daniel?”
“Because I don’t have the slightest idea what to do – I haven’t been on a date since before I was married and I’m thinking things have moved on since a walk by the river and a bottle of cheap, sparking white could get you laid. I wouldn’t want to cramp your style.”
“You’re a sociable guy, you’ll get the hang of it quickly.”
“I dunno, Daniel – I’m pretty old to be a virgin all over again. I’ve never even kissed a guy.”
“It’s easy, almost the same as a girl, and I’m sure you’ve kissed plenty of those.”
“It’s the ‘almost’ bit that worries me,” Jack winced. “I mean what if I freeze? What if I decide it’s not for me?”
“No harm, no foul. You walk away.”
“I’d rather not have to find that out in public,” Jack reasoned.
“Fine,” Daniel snapped, put his empty glass down again and moved up to Jack.
“Daniel? What are you doing?” Jack asked as the linguist crowded him back into the corner of the couch.
“Sharing my knowledge with you,” Daniel stated and laid a steadying hand on Jack’s cheek as he leaned towards him.
“Daniel, this is such a bad…mphhhh.”
Daniel’s soft, warm mouth landed squarely on Jack’s lips, smothering his half-hearted protests. He hung there, lingering over the gentle connection, tentatively nuzzling against the colonel’s firm, straight and shocked mouth, trying to make it as unthreatening as possible - trying to make him want to do it again. Finally, he drew back and regarded Jack seriously.
“Oh!” Jack murmured and quickly moved in to meet Daniel this time as he angled his face for another kiss. Jack’s lips parted as he sighed into Daniel’s mouth. When Daniel’s tongue touched his top lip, Jack’s eyes flew open into Daniel’s bottomless blue gaze and he saw the question reflected there. For an instant, Jack hesitated, then closed his eyes and opened his lips a little wider as Daniel’s warm tongue slid into his mouth and swept long and slow over his own.
Finally, Daniel sat back, letting Jack catch his breath. A strange look was on the archaeologist’s face as he watched the older man try to contain the blush that flooded up his neck and into his cheeks.
“Now you know,” Daniel said - too loud and too fast.
“Know?” Jack asked stupidly.
“No freaking. You’re a natural,” Daniel smiled.
“Why did you do that?” Jack stuttered quietly.
“So it wouldn’t be your first time,” Daniel said matter-of-factly.
“You kissed me twice!” Jack accused.
“The second one was practice,” Daniel shrugged and stood up. “I better start dinner.” He walked away into the kitchen as Jack’s eyes followed his progress, the short-lived understanding between them shattered.
Jack quickly made an excuse and locked himself in the bathroom. He started the shower running but sat on the edge of the bath and made no effort to undress. His head felt stuffed with cotton candy, frothy and insubstantial. Try as he might, he couldn’t form a coherent thought.
He groaned aloud as he remembered Daniel’s kiss, and again when he recognised his body’s reaction to it. Jack reached down and forced the heel of his palm against the swell in his jeans, but he realised quickly that no amount of pressure was going to resolve this.
He knew what would be needed and without a fuss, he stripped, stepped into the shower and jerked off as rapidly as he could. He took no joy in the act; to him, it was a betrayal of Daniel’s generous soul and all Jack felt was relieved, but dirtier than ever.
He waited for the shudders to pass before he washed, dried off and walked to Daniel’s bedroom where his clothes were stored.
Daniel savagely speared a mushroom with his knife and wondered where the hell he had left his mind today, because it obviously wasn’t in the immediate vicinity. Of all the outcomes he had foreseen as he’d stepped into his living room and understood Jack’s white face, kissing him senseless had definitely not been one.
He had no idea where it had come from. One minute he’d been discussing Jack’s potential dating chances and the next he’d been trying to get inside his skin with him from the lips down. It had seemed such a good idea at the time – kind of a joke and kind of giving Jack a non-threatening heads up. How could he have fucked up so badly?
He could still taste Jack’s beer on his whiskey-flavoured tongue, bitter and cool. He tried to ignore the ache in his balls as he sliced mushrooms and sautéed them in a pan of melted butter, tried to lose himself in the mundane tasks necessary to providing himself and Jack with a hot meal.
By the time Jack joined him, companionably making a salad beside him, Daniel had pretty much got it under control, but his body seemed super aware of Jack now.
He could smell Jack’s shower gel; he could feel the warmth of his skin radiating the small distance between them. It was like Jack’s proximity set up a resonant echo in Daniel’s body, a harmonic response.
Oh yeah, fucked up SO badly.
They ate supper together, their conversation stilted and unnatural. Jack didn’t return to the subject of Daniel’s sexuality and Daniel bolted for his room under the pretext of having some reading to do as soon as he was able.
When all had been silent outside his bedroom door for a period Daniel felt was safe, he walked back into his dark living room. Checking for the heap of colonel on the couch, he made his way to the refrigerator and quietly got himself some water before walking to the windows to watch the lights from the town glitter in the clear night air.
“Hey,” came Jack’s quiet voice from close behind him. Daniel didn’t jump despite his surprise, but he closed his eyes as he felt Jack come to stand at his shoulder.
“Hey,” Daniel replied softly. “Look, I’m really sorry about the kiss, I must have been out of my mind…”
“Don’t be. I know why you did it,” Jack said, his eyes squarely on the multicoloured display, fractured and distorted by the layers of glass in the doors.
“You do?” Daniel’s heart lurched painfully in his chest. His mouth suddenly dry, he wondered how much he had given away in that single…okay, those two reckless kisses.
“Yeah, and thanks.”
“Trying to make me feel okay about all this.” Jack made an indistinct gesture, taking in Daniel, himself and the city lights. “It’s…well, it’s the first time I’ve actually said it out loud. Kinda freaked me out,” he admitted.
“How do you feel now?”
“Scared beyond all reason,” he laughed tiredly.
“I won’t insult you by pointing out all you stand to lose by doing this,” Daniel reasoned.
“Thank you,” Jack replied, simply.
“If it’s who you are, then you should be that person, Jack.” Daniel was astounded by how sincere his own voice sounded. Here he was, condoning his friend’s experiment with his sexuality, when only three short months ago he was at breaking point knowing that same friend could never be the thing that Daniel so desperately needed him to be.
He felt nauseated to know that all the time he had been hiding his feelings from Jack, the colonel had been much more open to suggestion than he’d ever imagined.
Maybe if Daniel had let a little of himself show, Jack might have come to love him, rather than this anonymous person that Jack sidestepped talking about so neatly. They were close, very close, it wouldn’t have been such a stretch of the imagination for Jack to come to see Daniel in another way – and that was the delusion that had kept Daniel alive all those long months of seeing but not having.
Instead, he had himself the role of a mentor, helping Jack to feel comfortable about his sexuality, so he could go and declare his love to someone else. The irony wasn’t lost on Daniel, that three months ago he’d finally given up on the colonel after all this time and it was Jack finding out about him and Ben, which had forced Jack’s hand.
Daniel leaned forward and rested his forehead on the cold glass.
“So, does he?”
Daniel blinked a couple of times, mentally reviewing their words, to see if he had missed something.
“Does he what?”
“Have a brother?”
Daniel chuckled, but when Jack didn’t laugh, he straightened and looked at him over his shoulder. “Seriously?”
Jack shrugged, avoiding Daniel’s eye.
“Umm, I have no idea. But if you want, I could ask him if he knows anyone…”
“Maybe we could…you know, go somewhere all together? Somewhere neutral? Not necessarily a date, but just so I can see how this works. I mean I’ve obviously been doing something wrong because…this guy I’m stuck on, he has no idea that I’m interested. Maybe if I …” Jack cleared his throat and looked miserable.
Daniel was shocked to the core, but agreed to ask Ben. Since when did Jack need his moral support to get through anything, let alone a date? Jack had more confidence than anyone he knew, hell – more than was good for him, sometimes.
“Are you sure? Why don’t you just ask…whomever out?”
“Ahhh, not that simple.”
“Never is, is it?” Daniel commiserated.
“Maybe, if I can go out and hang out with you guys, I can find the courage to approach this guy.”
“Okay,” Daniel hugged his water bottle to himself, suddenly tired and jaded. “Night, Jack.”
Jack watched his friend go back to his room and softly shut the door behind him, then turned back to the lights.