Actions

Work Header

The Christmas Experiment

Chapter Text

It’s strange how we all find comfort in the familiarity of recurring behavior patterns. Take my pre-mission ritual, for instance. No matter what the mission consisted in or where I was being dropped, I always had the same way of approaching the critical moment when I’d have to leave the aircraft and just go-go-go.

Eyes closed. Slow deep breaths. Mental check-list. And then just letting my mind go quiet as the air whips my face and my heart thrums with the engine’s whine.

Today, I don’t know if it’s the chopper or what, but my eyes close on their own and I fall back into this reassuring habit on autopilot. The slow deep breaths. The quick mental checklist of small things – even though the plush cockpit is air-conditioned and the noise of the engine is tame and muffled. I fall back on my little ritual. A ritual that I like to think has kept me sane and alive through the vilest shit.

Today, as always, the mission is to get the guy. Every single mission I’ve ever been on has been about getting the guy. Whether for an unpalatable assassination or for a simple extraction, there’s always a guy to “get”.

And here, I really want to get the guy. Now I don’t want to kill him and I don’t want to abduct him… though I suppose the latter could be a last resort kind of thing. But I really, really want to get him.

Because I’m growing a little desperate here, to be honest. Now, I’m usually a rather patient angler, but there comes a point in any angler’s life where all you want to do is ditch the fishing rod and just throw a stick of dynamite in the fucking lake. Well, I think I’ve reached that point.

This is an opportunity I can’t let pass. I need to at least give this a try. I need to know. Of course, I could do nothing, enjoy the ride and be his fuck buddy for the next five or six years – until he finally wakes up one day, realizes his biological clock is ticking or some such crap, and decides to send me packing. Or… Or I could push my luck and see where it gets me. Faint heart never won fair lady and all that. What’s the worst that could happen?

I’ve survived too many Black Ops missions over my career to die from a stupid heartbreak in my retirement, right?

‘Megève Altiport’ the large sign says. It’s a small airfield perched on a nook, surrounded by the steep Alpine slopes on three sides, no less. Gives you a sense of cozy claustrophobia despite the blinding sunshine reflecting off the immaculate snow. The panorama is stunning, though, and I’m glad Daniel booked me a helicopter and not a plane: the mood I’m in I’d make a terrible backseat pilot.

Because, pre-mission ritual or not, I’m a little on edge. Been simmering for some time, in fact. The flight was long, the Swiss customs officers snotty and I’m pathetically nervous as fuck. I’ve been building up this twitchy mood for a few days now. A strange mix of anticipation, apprehension and sexual craving that means I’m not exactly Mr Suave at the moment.

I’ve thought about it long and hard. I’ve had a whole week to get myself ready, so I really gave it some good thinking, and the terrifying thing is that I have no idea how these few days are going to go, because I don’t know Daniel well enough.

I know his body by heart. The feel, the smell, the taste of his skin is imprinted in my very soul. But I don’t know him. I don’t know how he thinks, what he sees in me, why he invited me on this Anti-Christmas retreat in his chalet in the French Alps. I don’t know anything. And the more I try to figure it out, the less I understand what I’m supposed to be doing here.

There are so many possible scenarios for this little getaway, but they all tend to boil down to three main genres.

There’s the porn scenario, where we spend the whole stay in bed and I fuck the living daylights out of him until my body starts falling to bits. And as alluring as that scenario may sound, I can’t say that it’s exactly my first choice.

Then there’s this-was-a-bad-idea scenario, where we realize we have nothing in common and nothing to say to each other, and we spend the whole stay in awkward silence, just keeping each other company like a pair of uneasy strangers in an empty railway station. And you have to admit that this scenario sucks majorly.

And then there’s the Hallmark scenario, where I bring out the good old O’Neill charm, woo him ruthlessly and prove him that I’m the best thing since sliced bread. This scenario flawlessly results in his falling head over heels in love with me.

Guess which scenario has my preference.

As the opening credits finish rolling on the breath-taking scenery and the chopper lands smoothly, I’m happy to leave behind me the sleek, throbbing machine whose blades are beating the frigid mountain air, and even happier to see Daniel waiting for me on the snowy sidelines. I was afraid there’d be a driver involved or something equally off-putting, but once again, he’s gone the extra mile and is here in person. All sexy sunglasses and heart-stopping smile.

Fuck, but he looks good. Casual mountain wear and dusty expensive hiking boots. A pleased, but guarded expression on his face. I’m aware of our surroundings so our meeting is a sober though friendly handshake, but the contact is enough to make my hand tingle and my dick sit up and beg. I’m falling in love all over again, damn him.

He leads me to his ride: a sturdy, black Isuzu pick-up truck – certainly not a rental.

We buckle up and he drives us down to the fashionable village of Megève then out of it, through a well maintained road that snakes lazily at the bottom of the narrow valley. He knows exactly where he’s going and he hardly needs to look at the road. He’s at ease and in control and it’s almost as if the air in the truck is crackling with his pent up energy. Which is not doing my enamored condition much good.

We try a bit of small talk: about Geneva airport and its snotty customs officers, about the amount of snow on the slopes and the throngs of tourists in the ski resorts. It’s a little meaningless, but it gives us something to do instead of focusing all of our senses on each other. At a junction he takes a turn left and leaves the civilized world to start a steep climb through the forest, negotiating the hairpin bends flawlessly but a bit fast like someone who has better things to do than waste time on the road.

I agree whole-heartedly. The sooner we get to wherever it is we’re going, the sooner I can tear his clothes off, grab him by the hair and bury myself inside him – balls deep. Been thinking about little else since I landed in Geneva this morning, and now that he’s within arms reach, the urge is increased tenfold. All the polite small talk in the world will never blot out the fact that I can feel him. I can hear him. Can smell him. I can almost taste his presence on the air and it’s driving me insane.

“I need to buy a few things I didn’t have time to shop for this morning,” he announces apologetically, eyes on the road. “I hope you don’t mind. It shouldn’t take long. I’ll be as quick as I can.” He throws me a sidelong glance through his tinted glasses. The ice-blue eyes linger on my mouth a fraction too long, and his tongue peeks out to wet his lips.

I see we’re on the same page, here.

He steers the car into a small, unexpectedly busy parking lot that is essentially in the middle of nowhere. We’re surrounded by mountain forest and the only thing in sight is a small, grey, squat building that is apparently getting a lot of customer traffic. Daniel kills the ignition, jumps out of the truck, then leans back in on second thoughts.

“Want to come inside?” he asks ingenuously.

“You have no idea.” There’s just the tiniest hint of filthiness in my voice, I swear.

I hear him groan, then hiss a heartfelt “bastard,” before slamming the car door and walking away.

My, aren’t we impatient.

I’m glad I don’t have to get out of the truck, though. My stiff cock is killing me. He gets back after the longest 15 minutes ever, with a plastic bag, a remarkable boner and a scowl that probably means I’m in trouble.

“And now everyone here thinks I have a fetish for cheese. Thank you, Jack,” he snipes pettily, dumping the cold, dairy-smelling bag on my lap.

“I aim to please.”

The scowl turns into a feral half-smile as he maneuvers out of the parking lot.

“Glad to hear it,” he rasps evilly. “You’re going to have to do a lot of pleasing to make up for this embarrassment,”

Count on me, darling. It’s already planned. I brought enough lube to slick my way through a whole month of intense, relentless banging. A precaution that some people would consider presumptuous – but that I will only label as foreseeing.

The chalet, when we reach it after another quarter of an hour of driving steadily up the massif, is really nice and not as big and as impersonal as I feared. It’s a rustic but well-maintained mountain house perched in the middle of an ample clearing in the woods, away from everything. And I can see why Daniel likes the place: the neighbors won’t be an issue.

“Nice hut,” I drawl, throwing back his own words upon seeing my beloved cabin.

“I knew you’d say that,” he grins.

Daniel parks the truck straight into the garage, which is in fact the basement of the house. The doors close automatically behind us, leaving the place steeped in semi-darkness when he cuts off the engine and kills the headlights. We both remain seated, his hands clenching a little restlessly over the steering wheel as we enjoy the stretching silence.

I’m not sure what he’s waiting for. I’d like to say I know what’s going through his mind right now, but the truth is I don’t have a clue. This – all of this – is all unknown territory. He is not the easiest guy to read at the best of times, and there’s a lot I still don’t understand about Dr Jackson, but Daniel in the wild, so to speak, is a novelty to me.

I can feel him getting strangely tense and nervous for some reason. Is it because he gearing up to neck in the car like we’re a pair of goddamn sixteen-year-olds? I hope not, because I’m too old for this shit and he deserves better. I do have some style.

That and a massive, self-deluded erection that won’t quit.

I open my door, grab my bag and get out. The garage smells of a familiar and altogether masculine mix of concrete, wood, oil and gasoline that I find darkly alluring – which, again, doesn’t help. There are two doors leading out of the garage with presumably only one leading into the living quarters while the other leads to the second half of the basement garage. I walk to the front of the truck and wait for Daniel to show me the way.

He slowly gets out, a muscle jumping in his jaw. He leans on his door for a second, pulls his glasses off, pinches the bridge of his nose and takes a calming, steadying breath.

God, I’m weak. I know I am. And maybe he’s even playing on it, but I don’t care.

I plop my bag on the hood and go over to his side of the truck. He watches me intently as I gently close his door and crowd him against the bodywork. He looks hot and just a little desperate as his searing gaze travels from my eyes to my lips. His arms find a natural resting place around my neck and I settle my hands on his hips, my nails raking proprietarily over denim. My guts shiver and flip with sinful delight at how right the embrace feels, at how well he fits in my arms, while my heart purrs an endless, selfish chant of “mine, mine, mine.”

Surely he feels it too, doesn’t he? It can’t be just me, right?

And yet, his eyes are unreadable except for the growing lust telegraphed by the enlarged pupils and the butting erection. His highness is horny beyond the shadow of a doubt. But does he have feelings? Is he capable of falling in love? And more importantly, is he capable of falling in love with me? A fifty-year-old whore?

I’m afraid of getting the answers to these questions right now, so I stall. I take comfort in the fact that in this very moment in time, he seems more intent on kissing me than on having sex. My mouth is inches from his but I decide to tease him, try his patience. I lean in, engage him, part my lips, then withhold the kiss and nuzzle his cheek instead – I do it once, twice, just baiting the beast.

“Jack, I can still make you sleep outside,” he warns dangerously, and the grating asperities of his purr feel like a caress over my balls.

“Heartless,” I accuse wryly.

So I kiss him. I kiss him long and soft, like I’ve been meaning to do since… well, since I left him a week ago. A slow brush of lips that takes its time to spiral into a soul-stealing kiss. God, I’ve missed this so badly. And it’s a sentiment he seems to share – he moans his approval and drops his glasses behind his back on the hood before sinking his fingers into my hair.

Finally.

A part of me wonders if the soaring feeling building up in my chest will ever get old.

I grind into him and he arches and strains against me, his tongue rolling and curling luxuriously around mine. Fuck but he feels good. So good. And the sound he makes… Oh, the hot, demanding moan goes straight to my cock.

And it’s not the only thing that is aiming for my cock. His warm, capable hand grabs me through my jeans, squeezing me, working me. Tormenting me. Making me so hard I’m getting cross-eyed.

“Here, Jack,” he growls.

“Wha’?”

“Want you to fuck me right here, right now,” he says, his voice low and dirty. “Want you to do me against the truck.” Then he proceeds to further reduce my IQ by pushing his tongue so far down my throat it feels like he’s reaching for my heart.

And it’s my turn to moan because that’s as much coherence as you’ll get from me at the moment. He keeps doing that. Just bushwhacking me with stuff so filthy he should have to carry a license for it.

And I’m going to do him. Of course I’m going to do him. Because he’s ordered it and because now I can’t get the words out of my head and it’s what I want to do more than anything else in this world. Forget about the thousand and one cute scenarios I had in mind.

A quick, nasty, sleazy fuck against a dirty pick-up truck.

My blood-deprived brain currently thinks it’s a perfectly romantic encounter. I’m surprised I didn’t come up with the idea myself.

I fumble with the buttons on his jeans and after a few long seconds of fighting against the material, I finally reach… hot, smooth skin. Holy fuck, he went commando! The bastard, he’s not wearing anything under his jeans. I growl and grind against him, latching onto his neck, licking and biting in retaliation for doing this to me.

I am wearing boxer briefs, dammit. Because I had to go through customs and I had no choice but to encase myself in the appropriate extra layer that is now going to make things just that little bit more constraining. I push and twist my jeans down my hips and he gives a “helping” hand, groping my erection through the black material and smiling wolfishly at my frustration. Then his cool fingers peel the boxers down my thighs and close around my cock with proprietary interest.

I reach for my bag, open it and rummage in it single-handedly. His hand doesn’t slow its ministrations but he starts lapping at my throat: maddening little flicks of his lewd tongue that I do my best to ignore in my quest for…

“Lube,” I huff, reduced as I am to monosyllables.

“Not for me, thanks,” he whispers filthily against my jaw. And I swear to God, if I wasn’t professionally trained to exercise control, I’d have blown my load at those words.

By the time I’ve slathered myself with it, he’s assumed position: pants down, ass out, leaning against the fender. I press myself against him, my cock aligning and sliding between his perfect asscheeks. He’s down to a t-shirt and I slip my hands under it to caress his warm skin. My fingers must feel cold, but he doesn’t complain. Quite the opposite in fact.

To think I was hoping to instill a bit romance into our relationship.

Fuck, this is crazy. I only got here. Half an hour at most since the chopper landed. I haven’t even seen the inside of the house.

“Come on, Jack, just… ohhh fuckkk,” he breathes in amazement as I push into him.

Ditto.

We haven’t gone bareback in over a month and I’d almost forgotten how much more intense the drag of skin on skin feels. It’s such a rush. He’s tight and hot and perfect, and his ass must have seen some action not long ago because I haven’t prepared him, I’m the only one slicked up, and yet he takes me readily, inch after excruciating inch until I’m balls deep inside him.

“Someone’s been having fun without me,” I growl, finding strange pride in the fact that I know his body so well that I can tell he’s been toying with himself recently.

“Just enough to take the edge off,” he rasps breathlessly, bracing himself on the hood of the truck and grinding his ass back into me.

I pump my hips a few times, slowly, and his head tilts back in gasping pleasure.

“How do you want it?” I ask, keeping up the leisurely pace.

He gulps and pants, and arches into me helplessly for a few long seconds, then answers, “Hard and fast,” in one strained breath.

“Knew you’d say that,” I mumble, pulling at his hips and making him widen his stance as far as the jeans bunched around his knees will allow.

And for the next couple of minutes I go medieval on Daniel’s ass. I give him hard and fast and raging, and he loves it – swears and mewls and howls how much he loves it. It’s hot and addictive and I could spend the rest of the day doing this. Doing him. My cock feels raw and sweat is beginning to bead down my back, but the only thing that’ll stop me is his orgasm which eventually crashes through him and seems to shake him apart. He comes with a roar and a curse, obscenely splattering his release over the dirty bodywork of his truck, and I fall into the abyss right behind him, finally filling his ass like I should.

As I float back into the land of the living, all I can hear is the rush of blood pounding in my ears and his panting breath. I’m leaning against his back and I think it’s his heart I can feel hammering against my chest. I stroke a hand down his arm until it rests over his hand on the dusty hood. I mouth his shoulder through the damp cotton.

“I’ve missed you,” I rasp, trying to sound more in control than I actually feel. I have missed him. Pathetically.

“I’ve missed your cock,” he groans back honestly. A part of him probably means it in jest, but it still stings. He complains as I pull out of him not too gently. “Ow, ow... Hey, easy.”

No, sweetheart.

Loving you certainly doesn’t feel easy when you blithely trample all over my heart.

I slap his ass for good measure, hoping to make him feel a little cheap, and I pull my jeans back up, trying not to feel ridiculously used. My fingers are numb and a little uncoordinated, and I can just feel my teeth grind for no reason. There’s something dejected and bitter slowly coiling in the pit of my stomach and I’m scared it’s going to ruin everything. I’ve only been in the country for barely an hour and I’ve already had mind-blowing, kinky sex with the guy I love – what do I have to complain about? I wanted this. I wanted him. Couldn’t wait to get him out of his clothes and sheath my bare cock as deep inside him as it would go. And I just did that. I just did him. Had a nice quickie, and came up his oh-so-willing ass.

Everything peachy.

And yet, it’s left me feeling alarmingly empty and brittle – and sex with him has never done that to me. Something tells me that if this is how the rest of these five days is going to pan out, I’m not going to like it. And God, I want to like it. I so desperately want to like it and I want him to like it as well. This is my golden opportunity.

He turns around, parks his ass on the fender – avoiding the conspicuous wet, goopy spot – and looks at me with a sated, but puzzled expression on his face.

“Hey,” he breathes. A hand comes to cup the back of my head, fingers stroking through my hair; he observes me for a second and pulls me down into a kiss. A very soft and tender kiss that dissolves my stupid heart. “Thank you. That was amazing,” he whispers in his raspy, velvet voice.

“I know,” is all I can answer. It’s unfair how helpless I become when those ice blue eyes are on me. I could hate him for it.

He smiles and drags his jeans back up, pulling a slightly disgusted face as he only does the top button up. Yep, there’s no escaping that wet spot when it invites itself inside your pants. Serves him right.

He leads the way inside the chalet, walking up the flight of stone stairs – a little stiffly, I’m proud to say.

The place is nice: simple, functional and comfortable. Honey-tinted pinewood almost everywhere, anchored with a sturdy, pale granite hearth. The homely couch, the quaint armchair and thick, garnet-colored rugs give the living-room a very cozy feel. There’s a lot of light coming in from the wide French windows that lead onto a wide wooden balcony: there’s just enough of a break in the trees to get a beautiful view. The snowy landscape from the vantage point looks like something from a postcard.

Daniel goes straight to the open kitchen area that stands at the far end of the living-room. He puts his plastic bag in the fridge, tells me to make myself at home and goes back to the garage. When he comes back, his arms are laden with carrier bags filled to the brim with victuals.

“How many people have you invited to stay?” I ask incredulously. Seriously, the amount of food is nothing short of worrying.

“Heavy snow is announced. And I am not driving down to the village for groceries if I can avoid it,” he states, depositing what appears to be only the first load onto the counter. I grab a stray apple before it rolls off the counter top, then save some eggs from their precarious perch, while Daniel disappears again. The second load is just as impressive.

“You know, I don’t eat that much.” Really. I do enjoy a snack from time to time, but this is ridiculous.

“Something tells me you’re going to need the sustenance.” His grin is positively predatory.

Yikes. Anticipating much?

“Intend to get laid, do you?”

“Massively.” He surveys his handy work with a smugness that’s irresistible.

“Good to know,” I approve, throwing the apple at him to see if he’ll catch it.

He does – and with his left hand, too.

We then unpack the groceries and work efficiently together. He shows me where everything goes, and I take note, commenting on his choice of food and his insanely extensive range of coffees. And he snarks back when I get irreverent. It’s very… I dunno, domestic? Companionable? I don’t know what to call it. All I know is that it’s a whole new level of intimacy that I can’t seem to get enough of.

Daniel then proceeds to show me around the place, giving me the lowdown on everything a guest should know – from the amount of hot water available (lots) to the number of English-speaking TV channels on offer (next to none). I resist the urge to tell him that I’m most definitely not here to watch TV. We end the guided tour with the master bedroom.

“I assumed we’d share the bed, but there’s a guest room if you want,” he says, scratching the back of his head and sounding a little unsure all of a sudden.

I level him a look that I hope makes it clear I’m sleeping here with him. Or not-sleeping, with a bit of luck.

“Okay,” he says, a shy half-grin curving his lips. “I’ll, uh… I think I’ll grab a quick shower.” He opens the sturdy wardrobe and snatches a change of clothes, and leaves it open for me. “Just unpack your stuff and have a look around, I’ll be back in five.” He disappears out into the hallway.

I don’t know why he looks so surprised when I join him in the shower all of two minutes later. But he gets with the program fairly quickly and kisses me back greedily as I crowd him against the tiled wall under the spray of warm water. I’d like to make this about him, but I don’t stop him when he slides soapy hands down my body before kneeling in front of me, and I don’t stop him when he takes my overzealous cock into his hot, beautiful mouth. I just push my fingers through his soaked hair and let him do his worst. Which of course means I end up pulsing an impossible orgasm into his throat, grunting grateful curses as I try not to collapse on top of him.

He gets to his feet with a self-satisfied grin and an unsatisfied boner. And since Mrs O’Neill raised a polite boy, I’m about to return the favor when he clasps my shoulders to stop me.

“No. Just with your hands. I want your mouth for kissing,” he whispers, an infinitely sexy spark of desire in his lustful blue gaze.

So I do just that. I take him in hand. Fondle, stroke, cup and squeeze his heavy, slippery cock and balls – while he winds his arms around my shoulders and nips at my lips lazily. Under my expert touch, he gets harder, then harder yet, and as he gets closer, the kisses gain in fever and abandon. Sighs and gasps are now mingling with them, interrupting the play of his lips on mine, and it’s incredibly sexy. It’s like living the handjob from inside him, feeling him fight his labored breathing to keep the kisses going – and God help me, my cock is twitching hopefully. Daniel gives a disbelieving moan when he feels my half-erect dick knocking and rubbing against his own.

I know, sweetheart, but that’s what you do to me.

A final twist of the wrist and he comes, spurting long and hard, and stifling his mewl of pleasure against my mouth as the climax shudders through him.

He’s weak-kneed with the force of it, so I press him against the cold wall and hold him there. And it takes him an age to come down from his high. When he does, he opens eyes where the black has devoured most of the blue – he’s swimming in endorphins and it’s a good look on him.

“To think there was a time when you didn’t want to be kissed,” I remark, framing his face with my hands and pressing my lips over his with infinite care.

“There was a time when people thought the Earth was flat,” he slurs with a smile.

“Your point being?”

“Only fools don’t change their minds.”

“An easy cop-out if I ever heard one.”

“Maybe. Would you rather I told you I was wrong and you were right?”

“That would be much more honest,” I tell him, magnanimously licking a drop of water from the tip of his scrunched up nose.

“You’re hard,” he informs me cheekily, wrapping an appraising hand around my half–hard, suicidal dick.

“Ignore it. It’ll go away.”

“Why let a good thing go to waste?”

“Because you won’t get anything out of it. Stupid dick is delusional and running on fumes.”

“Is that a challenge?”

“No, basic biology.”

“Spoilsport.”

I drop a quick kiss on his evil grin and we head out of the shower on wobbly legs.

It’s 5pm by now. I’ve only been here for a couple of hours and I’ve come twice. If we keep things up at this pace for five days, I’m going to need sustenance indeed. Along with medical attention.

With the assurance of a man who’s just lost a few IQ points, Daniel starts lecturing me on the importance of respecting meal hours in your country of destination in order to fight jet lag. To which I reply, fuck that. I’m going to need the proteins if he wants me to keep up with his spritely libido. He sees my point. We end up having an early dinner of fresh, crisp bread and fragrant cheese with some fine red wine from his cellar.

I could get used to this life.

I could get used to this Daniel.

He’s… smiling. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile so much. He shows me how his behemoth of a coffee maker works and prepares us a coffee, and he’s got this radiant grin that turns my insides into mush. The ever-present frown that usually etches the chevron of doom on his brow is nowhere to be seen. It’s like it was never there. He looks carefree and it’s a wonderful look on him. If this is what vacations do to him, I think he should take a freaking gap year. Or better yet, retire.

I watch him light a cheerful fire in the hearth – and I like that he knows how to build a proper fire. He doesn’t need stinky, artificial firelighters. Just some balled up piece of newspaper, some kindling, a couple of small logs and he’s got a nice little blaze going in no time. He sits back on his haunches and gazes at the flames, the ghost of a smile on his lips.

Seeing him so at ease and so happy tugs at something deep in my chest and I can’t help but wonder what part I’m playing in his current state of happiness.

I’d do anything to make him happy like that all year round.

Comfortably ensconced in my armchair, I observe him retreat to the couch where he lies down unashamedly, one arm folded under his head as he stares dreamily at the massive wooden rafters criss-crossing the ceiling. And I realize it’s this place that makes him happy. Not me. He loves this house and it makes him quietly glowing to be here, away from his high-flying city life of brushed steel and business deals.

“How did you find this place?” I hear myself ask softly.

A little grin crinkles up his nose.

“It’s a bit of a long story.”

“We’ve got all night,” I assure him.

He ice blue gaze drifts down from the ceiling to my face for a second, trying to decide if I’m really interested or if I’m just being polite.

“I first came here with my parents when I was a kid,” he begins, his voice a low murmur. “We came here for Christmas two years in a row. The last two Christmases I spent with them: I was six and seven.” He rubs a finger to his eyebrow and continues with a little half-smile. “I really liked it here. There was so much snow – I’d never seen so much snow before.” He then glances my way and further explains, “My parents and I were traveling a lot of the time and mostly in the Middle East.”

“Snow must’ve been a bit of a novelty to you.”

“Yeah,” he admits, and his eyes get lost in the past. “It was magical, all that white, freezing cold stuff. I don’t remember many details about those two stays, but I remember how much I enjoyed the snow.”

“So you inherited the chalet?”

“No, my parents had only rented the place. After they died, I got bounced around in foster care, until I was adopted by Theodore, as you probably know,” he throws me a furtive look, and I give him a small nod. “And when I came into his inheritance, I started looking for this house to see if I could buy it. The problem was that I didn’t have any recollection of an address or even the name of a village. And no one seemed to know where it was, or even whether it existed – to the point where I began to wonder if I hadn’t dreamed it up.” He gives a small self-deprecating twist of his lips.

“No one could help? Not even your parents’ friends?”

“I don’t know that my parents had that many friends. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in that respect, I guess,” he says pointing a playful finger at his face. There’s something terribly lucid and yet very harsh in the way he judges himself. In some matters he’s aware of his incredible capabilities and skills – to the point of being arrogant. But in others, he ruthlessly condemns himself as sadly lacking.

“Took me three years to find it. I used to come to these parts as often as possible and drive around for hours, checking every conceivable nook and cranny of the massif. And then one day I found it. Belonged to a Parisian couple by then: it was their winter holiday house. It took some convincing, and probably three times as much money as the chalet is really worth, but I got it in the end.” There’s something closely resembling smugness in his soft voice.

I watch him sit up, stretch his arms lazily and roll the kinks out of his neck. “I come here as often as I can, which means only about twice a year. This place is my hide-out, my… uh, fortress of solitude?” he smiles at me.

“So it’s a nice story that ends well,” I note.

“It is. I hope to come to live here someday. Someday in the not-too-distant future, hopefully.”

“You’re not one of those workaholics who intend to run themselves down at the task and die at the helm?” I ask, curious to know how he sees himself.

“Definitely not,” he counters pleasantly. “This job I’m doing, Jack, is not something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. I’ve given enough years of service to that corporation. One of these days, I’m going to leave it all behind me, and that day I’ll come here to start all over again.” I can hear the iron certainty behind the words. It sounds like he’s had his mid-life crisis all planned out for a long time. Like he has a clear vision of where he wants to go and what he wants to explore. What I don’t get is why it sounds as though his current job is something that has been imposed on him.

I don’t know if I should push with the questions. I guess there will be other little chats by the fireside this week. Might as well keep some of the interrogations for later.

We fall silent and just listen to the fire’s peaceful crackling for what feels like a small eternity. Until I realize I’m actually dozing off.

He notices it, gets up and banks the fire in for the night. As he walks past my armchair, a finger traces a light path over my shoulder and I’m dragged to my feet by a not-so-unknown force.

We’re retiring for the night apparently, and a nice little knot twists my guts with anticipation.

When we reach the bedroom there’s a bit of an awkward moment. He looks at the bed, then looks at me, then looks at the bed again.

“What?” I yawn.

“Uh, which side do you sleep on?” he asks, obviously perplexed by this point of sleeping etiquette.

“I don’t care.” Which is not true. I sleep on the side next to the door. Always. But this is his bed, so it’s his rules.

“Okay. I sleep on the side closer to the door,” he says.

Crap.

I walk around to the other side of the bed and sit on the mattress. It’s barely 8 pm and I’m exhausted. I couldn’t catch a real good wink on the 11-hour flight so I’ve been up for over God knows how many hours and it’s beginning to take its toll. I can usually sleep in any sort of place, no matter how noisy and bumpy the ride, but lock me up with total strangers on a plane and I can’t switch my inner paranoid off.

I get rid of my clothes tiredly and lie down under the covers with a grateful sigh. He switches the lights off.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to go out like a light, too, but the mattress dips with Daniel’s presence and my libido is suddenly reminded of something too pleasant to ignore. I turn to him, my hand reaching for all the smooth, warm, bare skin it can get, when I hear him tut patiently.

“You need to sleep, Jack,” he tells me.

“Yeah, and I know of a few things that work like a charm to send me to sleep,” I try enticingly, stroking the fabulous expanse of flat abs under my palm.

“Just so you know, I won’t help you with any of these things, so you might as well forget about it.”

“You’re cruel.”

“You’re tired,” he argues with damning finality.

I groan theatrically as I take a nibble at his shoulder.

“Come on,” I wheedle – and hear him snort. Then I feel his abs tense and tremble until he starts chuckling helplessly.

“What now?” I huff.

“Nothing, sorry,” he wheezes, then bursts out laughing.

“Oh for cryin’ out loud… What?!”

And I have to wait a good, full minute for him to stop giggling like a schoolgirl and catch his breath.

“Nothing, I’m sorry,” he promises, virtually in stitches. “I’m so sorry, Jack,” he hiccups, putting his hand over mine in a placating gesture that misfires and makes me harder than he could possibly wish for at the moment. “I’m sorry. It’s just… This is just so surreal to me. I mean, we sound like an old married couple! You know: ‘not tonight, dear, I’ve got a headache’. How much more ridiculous does it get?”

Yeah, hysterical. I’d give my left ball to be half of that particular old married couple.

“Oh God…” the little sonuvabitch grins, then calms down. Then starts chuckling again, like this is simply the funniest situation he’s ever been in.

Okay that does it.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I roll on top of him, and pry open his thighs with my knees as I grab his wrists and pin them to the pillow above his head. The laughter dies in his throat and turns into a drawn-out moan as our cocks rub and align. He’s not as hard as I am but he’s not far behind.

“Something you want to tell me about, dear?” I growl dangerously.

“Nnngh… Jack,” he breathes, suddenly light-years from laughing. His fists clench, making the bones and ligaments in his wrists play under my hands.

“I like it when you say my name,” I purr, giving an experimental thrust that yields delicious friction. His wrists are still blocked but he’s not fighting me – more like stretching and writhing wantonly within my restraining grip.

“You’re tired,” he protests half-heartedly.

“Do I feel tired to you?” I ask, rolling my hips and grinding our eager cocks together. He’s getting harder and harder by the second, and in the near-darkness I can just see his eyes roll back in his head under the luxurious onslaught.

He gasps and arches beneath me, bending his knees and planting his feet on the bed to get leverage as he rolls his hips to meet my thrusts.

“Mmm yeah… That’s it, sweetheart,” I murmur my dizzy approval.

I transfer both wrists to only one hand as my restraining him is more for show than anything else, and use my free hand to brace myself, tweaking a perky nipple on the way. One of his wrists slips free, but instead of pushing me off his hand clamps at the back of my head and yanks me into a ferocious kiss.

“Fucking… stubborn… bastard,” he grunts with each surge of his hips.

“You say the sweetest things, dear,” I growl back, grinding hot and heavy into the cradle of his open thighs.

The rhythm of his halting breath escalates some more and then he arches up, his whole body going wire-tense as he moans in disbelief and comes in burning spurts between us.

“Oh fuck…,” I manage stupidly, giving the final couple of shoves that push me over the slippery edge.

Suffice to say I die a messy death and collapse on top of him, utterly spent and finally ready to sleep like the proverbial log. I’m pulled out of my stupor by his complaining of my weight.

“Jack,” he groans, thwacking my hip.

“Ssshhh. Sleeping,” I slur, pressing a couple of sloppy fingers over his mouth.

He gives a shove and I end up rolling off him bonelessly. I’m vaguely aware that he’s fumbling around with something and I finally get it when the mess we’ve made is wiped off my belly. It’s a strange reversal of roles and I’m uneasy with the fact that I’ve been selfish enough to let him do it.

“Thanks,” I whisper low in the darkness when he tucks himself against me.

“Welcome.” A hand slides over my chest, absently stroking a pec. “Can we sleep now?”

I mumble my agreement.

“We need to slow down on the fuckfest,” Daniel eventually mutters. “I’m going on forty, you’re going on fifty. We’ll never survive five days like this.”

What he said.

 

***End of Day One***

Chapter Text

A dull, repetitive thud pulls me out of slumber. It’s 6 am, I’m groggy with an overdose of sleep and searing hot sex, and something somewhere is pounding away in a broken rhythm. The low vibrations travelling through the very walls of the house.

I grunt my annoyance and roll onto my back.

“Daniel?” My voice is a hoarse croak, but I can already sense I’m alone in bed and alone in the room. The sheets are cold on his side and I remember he once mentioned he didn’t sleep much. Ergo the pounding sound must be his doing.

It’s not that it’s all that loud, mind you. It’s way too muffled to be truly bothersome to a normal person. But to the feather-sensitive, high-strung senses of an ex-Special Ops with jet lag and a bad disposition, it’s pretty loud.

And now that I can hear it, I can’t unhear it.

What on Earth is he doing?

There’s a pause in the thumping.

Then, silence.

Finally.

I toss and turn, punch the pillow for good measure, and find the perfect position – lying on my stomach.

And the thumping starts up again.

For cryin’ out loud.

I get up, pull the first clothes I lay my hands on and go in search of my oh-so-gracious host. No one on the top floor and nobody in the living-room, so I go downstairs into the garage: no one there either. But the pounding is now much clearer and I recognize the sound for what it is – wood chopping.

The same little bastard who was so intent on my getting some sleep last night is now rattling the foundations of the whole house, blithely splitting wood in his basement, at 6 am in the freaking morning.

I’m gonna kill him.

I stomp past the truck and head for the other door, open it abruptly… and feel my mouth dry up at the sight.

Shit.

I get a brutal eyeful of a topless Daniel. Smooth skin glistening with sweat, broad shoulders, rippling muscles – the works.

My axe-wielding hunk has his back turned to me and is wearing earbuds connected to an MP3 player sticking out of his back pocket.

And he’s having at it on a thick block of pine, the moves nice and fluid. He’s neither forcing it nor slacking it. Just steadily demolishing his way through the huge stack in the corner of the room.

He can’t see me and he can’t hear me, so I just get comfortable leaning against the doorjamb and take my time feasting my eyes on him. This is free porn, right there.

He’s hot. No other word for it. Literally and metaphorically.

What did I come down here for, again?

Ah yes.

Time to take my dear host on a little guilt trip.

I play with the switch and make the light flicker to get his attention. He looks up at the ceiling, then towards the doorway, and sees me. The flash of smile that lights up his face is enough to make me forget how to breathe for a second. He pulls the earbuds off – the faint sound of a mean electro beat now coming off them.

“Hey,” he says, reaching into his back pocket to cut the music. “Did you sleep well?”

His naivety is endearing.

I keep quiet and glower at him.

Which makes his face fall somewhat. “Did I wake you up?”

I raise an eyebrow and give him my best ‘Ya think?’ expression.

He looks around him at the amount of split wood at his feet, then has the decency to appear apologetic.

“Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t think you’d hear it.” He plants the axe into the block and reaches for the t-shirt that hangs on the corner of a shelf. He’s about to put it on, when he realizes he’s drenched in sweat, so he uses it to wipe himself down instead – while my libido howls to the moon.

But I keep on with the glowering.

“I’m sorry,” he insists. “I stayed in bed for as long as I could. I got 6 hours of sleep: that’s usually what I get in two nights.”

“And wielding an axe is your activity of choice at 6 am in the morning?” I finally enunciate.

“We need the wood,” he shrugs.

I bite my lips and resist the urge to make the obvious bad pun.

“Besides, you’ve had what, 8 hours of sleep? Do you really stay that long in bed on a weekday?”

“I sleep in. I’m retired. Twice,” I remind him, holding up three fingers to make a point.

He gives me an insolent ‘you’re so full of shit’ look as he walks past me. I’m about to follow up on that when something catches my eye in a murky corner of the room – something that makes me plant a firm hand on his damp chest to stop him on his way out.

“Hello, what do we have here?”

I see him close his eyes and give a long-suffering sigh: he knows exactly what I’m talking about and he obviously hoped I wouldn’t see it.

“Something I keep telling people is absolutely useless and pointless, and that they yet keep pushing on me in spite of all the imaginable rules of politeness and decency,” he says crisply.

“Uh-huh. I just call it a Christmas Tree.”

“I’m warning you, Jack. That thing is staying down here where it can’t insult my feelings.”

“Who gave it to you this time?”

“The neighbors. They own a tree nursery.”

“Neat.”

“And you can wipe that look off your face right now.”

“What look?”

“The eager, dopey look that says you intend to put that thing up in my living-room. Again.”

“The thought hadn’t crossed my mind,” I promise untruthfully. I let my hand travel up from his hot, clammy chest to his rough, stubbly jaw, lean in and kiss him. And kiss him. “Good morning, by the way.”

He looks a little light-headed for a second, then his blue gaze sharpens again.

“Morning. And don’t think you can charm that thing’s way upstairs.”

“But a guy can try, right?”

He throws me a dark, engaging look, and if that isn’t a challenge then my name isn’t O’Neill. Which it is. I think the little shit is throwing the gauntlet at me.

Thirty minutes later I have him flat on his back on the bed and I’m leading a well-planned assault on his prostate courtesy of his transparent dildo, while working his gorgeous, silky length with my mouth.

He wasn’t expecting me to use his own toy against him, and the element of surprise is doing wonders. He’s writhing and panting and slowly going out of his mind with the intensity of it.

I caught him when he came out of the shower. I know he expected me to join him there, so I didn’t. Instead, I used the borrowed time to hunt for his dildo. His readiness yesterday told me the little piece of plastic naughtiness must’ve come along for the trip. I eventually found it, all pristine and well-wrapped in his travel bag. The rest was your ordinary, decent, text-book seduction: pin him to the mattress, kiss all sensitive spots, murmur dirty things, wrap lips around beautiful cock and insert dildo to silence his scruples.

The resulting sight is amazing. His taut body arches as I withdraw the toy, dragging heavily over his prostate – and push it back in slowly with a twisting motion. And repeat. His breathing is strained and he squirms under me in a way that has me almost worried.

“Jack, please…” he moans, a shade of desperation in his voice. Mmm, begging is new.

I hum and take him deeper in my throat while massaging slower circles over his prostate.

“Hnnngh… No… Jack,” he pleads.

And that stops me, because moans and writhing can be ambiguous but ‘no’… Well, with Daniel, it’s always meant ‘no’. I slow down my ministrations almost to a standstill and wait for him to tell me what he wants, what he needs.

The heel of his hand comes to my forehead, applying the merest pressure to push me away. So I let go of him, release him. Let his cock slip wetly out of my mouth and slowly withdraw the dildo. He gasps in relief and I’m astounded that I could get it so wrong.

“Did I hurt you?” Please tell me I didn’t get it that wrong. I mean he was achingly rigid in my mouth, to the point where I could taste pre-come oozing steadily out of him, and even now that I’ve stopped everything, he looks about ready to explode and I’m fucked if I understand what’s going on. “Hey, Daniel…”

“Shit.” The hiss seems to be aimed at himself as he turns on his right side and squeezes his erection as though he wanted to strangle it.

I shift up the bed and lie behind him, my hand finding anchor on his hip.

“Tell me.”

He huffs impatiently, his body still hot and clearly wanting, which is reassuring me somewhat. Means I haven’t fucked up too badly.

“I don’t want… Not… Not when I can…” he says between gritted teeth, leaving his broken sentence unfinished.

Think I’m going to need subtitles, here.

I stroke his arm soothingly, pressing a kiss to the nape of his neck.

“Tell me what you want, sweetheart. I’ll give it to you.” Or die trying.

“I don’t want that plastic thing, I want you,” he grinds out with savage anger.

Oh. Shit. It was so simple.

“Sorry, I got carried away,” I whisper in his ear as I feel around for the bottle of lube. “Let me make it up to you.” I drag my lips over his neck and he arches back into me, allowing me to slide an arm under his head. As soon as I’ve prepped myself, he tries to roll onto his front, but I tighten my embrace. “Stay like this. Stay in my arms.”

He stifles a sound in his throat, then complies and pushes his ass back against me. I enter him easily and he gives a moan of pure contentment. Like I’ve just given him the missing piece of an invaluable, treasured puzzle.

And I make love to him that way. Gently. Unhurriedly.

This is so different. He’s flush against me, our bodies are spooned up and joined, and a dizzying amount of skin is in warm, sinuous contact in a way it rarely is. The penetration is not very deep but the sensations, the intoxicating intimacy of holding him so secure in my arms is enough to take my breath away. I kiss and nibble his shoulder, listening to the halting rhythm of his breathing, feeling his moans vibrating through my chest as I roll my hips into him over and over again.

The build-up is slow and gentle and I take my time – I want to make sure I’m getting it absolutely right, this time.

And I think I’m doing good, here, because his hand grips the back of my thigh just under my ass, fingers digging hard in my flesh. So I get bold. I entwine our fingers and hang on tight until eventually his body tenses and he comes silently.

I’m far from coming – not even close – but I slide out of him nonetheless. This was too good and I don’t want to make him sore and uncomfortable. So I finish myself by hand as I hold him to my chest and bite on his sweet skin. It takes me a full minute to reach the brink of orgasm, but he accommodates me, his hand stroking my hip lasciviously. And when the moment comes, I press the tip of my cock to his slack opening without really entering him – and I come inside him. He gasps in surprise, then moans a lustful curse. I know he felt every spurt and drop of it.

Before I doze off, I hear him mumble something very quietly.

“Wha’?”

“I said, that was good,” he murmurs, his voice low and soft.

“God, yes,” I slur before sinking into sleep.

The next time I open my eyes, it’s around 8.30 and Daniel’s getting out of bed. I try not to regret not awakening before him. I would have loved to feel him wake up in my arms.

The morning promises to be the last few hours of blue sky and sunshine we’re likely to see for a couple of days, so Daniel insists we go out snowshoeing. It’s not rough terrain – just a smooth, gently ascending forest track – but snowshoeing’s a bitch when you’re out of practice and you’ve fucked your brains out one time too many over the last 24 hours. Thank God, we can switch for snow blades once we’re at the top, and what took us the better part of two hours to trudge up, barely takes 15 minutes to barrel down.

And this is where I’m glad my savvy host stocked up on food, because I’m ravenously hungry when lunchtime rolls around.

By 2 pm, the forecast snow is beginning to fall thick and steady, making us very grateful for the warm, cozy atmosphere inside the chalet. The morning work out and the full stomach are making me doze over my mug of excellent coffee.

I think now’s the perfect time to decorate a Christmas Tree.

“What is it with you and Christmas Trees?” Daniel asks in all seriousness, looking up from the book he curled up on the couch to read. “Is it some kink of yours?”

“I could return the question: what is it with you and Christmas Trees? Is it some phobia of yours?” I lob back.

“They’re useless.”

“They’re decorative.”

“I don’t care for such empty, pointless decorations.”

“You have one in your penthouse apartment, why not have one up here too?”

“I went with the Christmas Tree charade at my place because I was sick and because I knew I wouldn’t have to see it over the next couple of weeks.”

I sit heavily on the couch, jolting him and forcing him to look at me over the wire frames of his sexy glasses.

“Come on, Daniel. It’s Christmas Eve, it’s snowing outside and we’ve got nothing better to do.”

“Speak for yourself,” he states, waving the thick novel.

“Okay, so I’ll do it on my own then, shall I?” He’s about to say something unpleasant when I raise an admonishing finger. “Aht! A good host should humor his guest once in a while. I did risk breaking my neck on your silly midget skis. I deserve to be humored.”

“You deserve to be gagged,” he mutters mildly, not even sparing me a glance. “And they’re snow blades.”

“Invented by ACL surgeons, were they?” I ask, reaching for new levels of sarcasm.

He throws me a dirty look over his book.

And after gazing at me for a couple of seconds with pursed lips and a mix of challenge and long-suffering annoyance smoldering in his ice blue eyes, he eventually huffs, “Fine. Knock yourself out. Just don’t expect me to take any part in it.”

O’Neill shoots, he scores and the crowd goes wild!

So I get to work and bring the Christmas tree up from downstairs, trying hard not to grin smugly, but I soon realize Operation Christmas Blitz has hit a snag.

As is confirmed by the velvet voice speaking quietly from the couch behind me.

“By the way, it goes without saying that I don’t have any Christmas decorations here.”

Bastard.

“Not a problem,” I chirp airily.

Hey, I’m a resourceful guy. And I was married to a woman whose guilty secret was crafts. She put me to contribution on far more projects than I’d be willing to admit – these things scar a man for life.

Now if I can just remember how those origami star thingies go, I’ll be able to wow my love with how unexpectedly delightful I am.

Fuck, the crazy things we do for love.

With an evil twinkle in my eye, I leave the scrooge to his book and start hunting for supplies. I soon come up with several meters of aluminum foil, a not-too-rumpled, glossy plane magazine I dig up from my bag and a pair of sharp scissors. I set myself at the table, kiss my dignity goodbye and get to work.

I have to say, nowhere in my seduction scenarios was I ever busy making origami Christmas decorations, but hey that’s my life for you. Unpredictable and cringe-worthy.

My little craft project soon turns into an amusing experiment, though. Because it turns out Daniel Jackson cannot resist a good puzzle. Curiosity gets the better of him after all of ten minutes and he gets up and comes puttering around the kitchen, taking ages to make a cup of coffee – just to peek at what I’m doing.

I can feel his eyes drinking in the way I’m manipulating the little squares, the way my fingers press, pinch and slide the paper into submission. Field stripping an assault rifle has nothing on folding these little fuckers. The scrutiny could be unnerving, but I suspect he’s got a thing for my hands. He wouldn’t be the first.

You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve been told I have sexy paws.

After a while I hear him clear his throat and walk leisurely across the room. I give him a smirk as I catch him adjusting himself. He gives me a pissed off scowl as he trudges upstairs.

Huh.

Interesting.

As I walk down the hallway to the bedroom in stealth mode, I hear a telltale rustle of clothes in the bathroom. A strained huff of breath as I listen at the door. I lay a careful hand on the doorknob, cross metaphorical fingers and turn.

“Jack! Fuck! Get outta here!” Daniel yelps, his reflection in the mirror glaring at me. He’s standing at the sink, his shirt rucked up over his abs, his fist firmly wrapped around his rigid, shiny dick.

“Hello, there,” I greet easily as a grin fights to lift a corner of my mouth. “Need a hand?”

“Fuck off,” he snaps, staring straight into my eyes as his hand slowly strokes his distinctly non-wilting shaft. I’m impressed.

I hold the pissed blue stare as I move behind him and lay a possessive left hand over his taut stomach. Let my lips brush the side of his neck. God, he smells so good – musky and aroused. I nip at the warm skin.

“You gonna stay here and watch?” he asks wryly.

“Mmm-hmm.” You bet your sweet ass, I’m gonna watch. “Knock yourself out,” I purr.

I start rubbing slow, suggestive circles over his abs, my hand drifting lower and lower with every pass as I wait for him to catch up with the program. He holds his breath as the tip of my fingers graze his pubic hair, and snuffs a chuckle as I rake my fingernails leisurely through the coarse curls.

“Don’t mind me,” I whisper into his ear. I bring my right hand to touch and stroke his wrist. It’s solid yet pliant from the way he holds his erection. My fingers follow the strong, angular path down the back of his hand, then trail along the knuckles to finally entwine with his fingers around their precious burden – until I’m holding the hand holding his cock. “Show me how you do it,” I nuzzle the sensitive spot below his ear and feel him shiver as his cock swells and hardens in reaction. I tighten my hand around his fist and we squeeze his erection together.

His eyes flutter closed and his lips part on a murmur of approval.

“Look at me,” I beg him low and soft. “Don’t close your eyes, look at me.” It takes a few seconds for him to react. First he frowns, then he licks his lips, then he opens hazy eyes. The black pupils are so huge there’s hardly any ice blue left to speak of. “Come on, show me.”

And he does.

Gazes into my eyes as he strokes himself – and I can feel everything. I can feel the way his breath rushes in and out of his chest, the way his abs tremble with restraint even as hips try to refrain from thrusting, the way his hand moves, voluptuous yet ruthless, over his length. His eyes grow wanton and hooded as he nears his goal, and I hold them while I kiss and suckle his neck.

A few insistent, twisting rubs around the crown on every upstroke and we’re there. His cock impossibly hard and burning hot – shooting arcing ribbons of come across the sink. His whole body jerks in my arms, his head tilting back, his eyes widening in shock then scrunching shut from the overload. His moan is trapped in his throat and it takes a few seconds for it to slowly seep out of his mouth as all his muscles unwind.

He’s undone and once again I’m reminded of how much I’m fucked because I love him beyond reason and in moments like this I’d do anything for him. Absolutely anything he asks.

As it is, he doesn’t say anything. He just sags back against me, his head lolling onto my shoulder as he nuzzles my neck lazily. He lets me milk the last drops of his orgasm, his soft groan vibrating in my ear as I gently roll the slippery head of his cock between my fingers. And when I finally can’t wait anymore, I kiss him.

A strange, awkward kiss that requires contortions, but that I wouldn’t want any other way.

“You never cease to amaze me,” I whisper against his curving lips.

His voice is hoarse and low when he says, “And that’s a very good thing.”

With these enigmatic words and a half-hidden smile, he straightens and pushes from me. I give him space as he rinses his hands, and tucks himself in as the rosy flush slowly fades away from his cheeks. There’s something I don’t quite understand in his eyes – but he averts them before I can investigate it further.

When I join him downstairs, he’s resumed his reading on the couch, the very picture of comfort and contentment, and something tells me I’ve sort of lost this round.

Snow’s still falling outside and so, with slow care, I deck the tree with my creative efforts at festive origami. I half-expect Daniel to join me but he doesn’t. He merely surveys the proceedings from afar. And after ten minutes of arranging and rearranging, I declare my work done and turn to him for his verdict.

He lets the book fall on his chest and looks at me, then stares at the Christmas tree, a studiously neutral expression on his face.

“So? Whaddya think?” I prompt after a long ten seconds without any sort of reaction on his part.

His pale blue eyes shift from the tree to me – quite non-committal.

“It’s… fine,” he eventually says.

“Fine,” I echo flatly.

“Fine,” he nods. “Bothersome, but ingenious,” he then decides to offer generously. “It’s very you, actually.” A devious half-smile finally tugs at a corner of his lips.

“Thanks, I think.”

“Still insults my feelings,” he states, resuming the reading.

“You don’t have feelings,” I bitch, plunking my ass on the couch.

“Oh yes, you’re right.” Like I just reminded him of it.

And there’s a smidgeon of seriousness in his tone that twists my guts unpleasantly. Does he really believe that?

“Seriously, what do you have against Christmas trees?”

“I already told you: pointless,” he replies in a monotone that lets me know he’s only partly involved in the exchange. He turns a page and continues reading, a faraway look in his eyes.

“They’re decorations: that’s their point, right there.”

“So the point of a Christmas tree is to eat up half the livable space in a room for no good reason and make a mess when they crap out,” he grouses.

“Well, without them where would you put the gifts?”

“I don’t get gifts.”

“You mean ‘get’ as in ‘understand’ or as in ‘receive’?”

That seemingly drags him out of the book for a second and gives him pause.

“Both, probably,” he finally answers with a dry smile.

And something tells me I’ve unwittingly hit a nerve.

“And before you start trying to pop psych me to death,” he sighs, “yes, my parents got me presents; no, most foster homes didn’t because I didn’t stay with them long enough to warrant it; yes, my great uncle only gave me money for Christmas; and no, I’ve never had to pick a gift for any significant other.”

Bingo.

I look at him for a moment. He has quietly resumed reading, but his senses are turned towards me, I can tell.

So it’s not so much the Christmas tree he doesn’t like as what he sees as the inevitable emptiness underneath it.

I file that information for later. Then I cock my head to the side and nudge his socked foot.

“Fascinating. What’s for dinner?”

His carefully schooled expression falters – the indignant scowl is priceless.

His cooking skills are quite something, though. Dinner is an informal, but delicious affair that he cooks with impressive ease. Outside the snowstorm rages on, somehow accentuating the comfortable, cocoon-like atmosphere in the living-room. I think I don’t ever want to leave this place in time.

A mellow Daniel, a bottle of red wine and a plate of tasty tartiflette in front of a crackling fire all contribute to make this one of the best Christmas Eve dinner to date as far as I’m concerned. My man is relaxed, snarky and sexy beyond words – it’s a killer combination.

As I clean up the dishes and store away the leftovers, Daniel digs a battered chess board out of a cupboard. I mentioned in passing earlier this afternoon that I liked chess but could never find anyone interested in playing against me.

He drags a stool in front of the fireplace and sets up the board and pieces on it. He then settles down, cross-legged on the floor, his back to the Christmas tree and the fireplace, and waits for me to take position on the couch and start the game. There’s a spark of unspoken challenge in his ice blue eyes as he makes his fingers crack promisingly.

And so we play.

He’s good. Efficient. Knows his classic moves, but takes his time thinking up other options. Been a long time since I was up against someone who gave me such a hard time. And as the game slows, we start talking. Silly unrelated things, really. Daniel pours us a bourbon, which only serves to point out that he sees this as indeed foreplay.

“Can I ask you a personal question, Jack?” he says, moving his king’s knight into an unnecessarily vulnerable position.

“Mm-hm.” I ponder my next move carefully.

“How many clients have you had?”

Uh-oh. An uneasy feeling settles in the pit of my stomach.

“Why are you asking?”

“I was just wondering how in demand you were in your line of business,” he explains, quietly sipping his amber drink, apparently unconcerned that he’s losing. “Did you keep track of all of them? Did you have some sort of customer file or something?”

“I had a diary,” I answer cagily. I don’t know if he’s fishing for info or if he’s just trying to distract me with weird-ass questions to prevent me from making the right move. He’s sneaky that way.

“Do you mind my asking questions about your previous occupation?”

“Depends on your motivations.”

“Raging curiosity.”

That I can believe. It’s not the first time he’s tried to worm things out of me. And here again, he wouldn’t be the first to be curious about my exotic borderline occupation.

“What was the strangest request a client has ever made?” he continues, tilting his head to the side as the corner of his mouth lifts with enigmatic thoughts. I’m not sure I like where this line of questioning is headed, but I figure if I play along now I’ll get to turn the tables on him later.

“Well, there was this batshit crazy guy who wanted to go bareback with me, once,” I smirk easily.

I pick up my queen’s bishop and hesitate. I place the piece on the set but keep my hand on it: I’m sure I’m missing something, it can’t be that straightforward.

“Ever sold the Boyfriend Experience?” he asks out of left field.

I’m so startled by the question that the bishop skids out of my grasp and rolls over. I have to pick it up and place it on a square that I wasn’t sure of to begin with. Daniel gives a Mona Lisa smile. He’s done it on purpose, I realize.

“That’s underhanded, don’t you think?”

“I wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. And I’m waiting for an answer.”

“Why do you want to know?” I ask suspiciously.

“It was among the services Dustin provided and I’ve been wondering what it consisted in.”

“Why didn’t you ask him?” Funny how hearing that guy’s name can still raise my hackles.

“Because it didn’t sound like something I’d be interested in at the time and I wasn’t there to play twenty questions with him,” he says, his focused blue gaze never leaving the chessboard. “But now that we’re just the two of us, I figured I’d educate myself a little.” His eyes flick up at me as he moves a pawn, but I’ve lost all interest in the little wooden figures.

“It’s exactly what the name says,” I mumble.

“Meaning?”

“Your escort pretends to be your boyfriend for whatever period of time you’ve agreed upon.”

“And how does he do that?”

“You go to functions, you go on dates, he takes an interest in you, kisses you, acts loving and tender, throws in some PDAs – in addition to the usual stuff.”

Basically, what I’ve been dying to do with you for the past few months, Sunshine.

“That’s it?”

“Yup.” I place my next move without really thinking it out, then bitterly survey the mess I’ve made.

“Interesting,” he says, his voice soft and easy. Like he’s just trying to make small talk, and not actually fucking with my mind to win a game of fucking chess. He moves his rook and damn it, I recognize the strategy now. I’m pretty sure he can hear my teeth grinding. “So… Have you ever provided this service?”

“Yup.”

He snorts on his bourbon at that. “You have?” he says, vastly amused. “God, how did that go?”

“You don’t think I can deliver?” I’m this close to feeling insulted.

“Well… Have you even had a boyfriend?” he questions. “I mean a man you truly loved.”

Tricky question.

Trickier answer.

“I don’t see what that has to do with it, but I’ve never been in a relationship with a guy, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“So how would you be able to provide a satisfactory Boyfriend Experience?” he asks with just a touch of condescension. “Sounds like there’s a distinct lack of ‘experience’ to your service offer. I fail to see how you would even be credible.” There’s a smug curve to his lips that just makes me want to rub his nose in the fact that I have way more experience than he cares to hear about.

“Still had a few girlfriends. And I was married for 13 years, so I’d say that counts as pretty heavy-duty experience.”

“You were married?” he sputters, the content of his glass sloshing dangerously as he straightens up from his heretofore relaxed position. “You were married?” I’m happy to see his eyes are round as saucers. It’s good to know I can still get one over on him from time to time.

He seems absolutely horrified by the news, though. I guess it can seem like a big deal, but that life is so far behind me… Feels like another man’s life, to be honest.

“You were married! And you chewed me out because I never told you I lived in the hotel? Nice double standards, there,” he bitches. Then a new idea crosses his mind. “Christ, do you have children?”

“No.” Let’s not even go there.

“Are you even gay?”

“What kind of ridiculous question is that?!” Where does he get all that shit?

“I don’t know. You were military, you were married for 13 years: it’s all beginning to sound rather heterosexual to me. You wouldn’t the first to be gay for pay.” There’s a very slight sneer to his words that makes me think I’m gonna wring his neck before the night is over.

“I thought I’d made it clear that I never want to see a dime of your money again. Besides, I’ll have you know that sexuality is not a black or white thing. Many shades and nuances.” Which I’m pretty sure the bastard knows very well as he makes his next move. The queen is plopped into its lethal position.

I’m to all intents and purposes cornered.

And fucked.

Sonuvabitch, he really played me.

There’s no point pretending I can save myself anymore: I’m too wound up to think clearly and work myself out of his ambush. I knock my king over in defeat.

I take a deep breath to calm down, but my skin is crawling with barely contained anger. Not because of the fact I lost, but because of the way I lost. And I shouldn’t be surprised: he is manipulative – I’ve always known that.

And that’s what makes me angry at myself.

I’ve been played by this guy from day one. And at first it was okay, because he was paying me for it and it was a contractual relationship and I didn’t care as long as I got to fuck him. But then we became friends/fuck buddies and he kept playing me, simply because I allowed him to get away with it. Never called him on it.

I’ve allowed him to toy with me like a cat toys with a half-dead mouse, all because I’ve carried a fucking stupid torch for him for longer than is strictly healthy or sane. All because somewhere in the back of my deluded mind I thought it would bring us closer. But let’s face it, I’m no closer to knowing the real him than I was on that first appointment.

Playing by his rules has gotten me nowhere: he still sees me as his boytoy. He’s still very much in control – even when he’s sweaty and undone, moaning and writhing on the end of my dick. It strikes me that we’re not equals, we never were and we will never be at this rate. He’s still in control of me and I’m still acting like I’m at his beck and call. Maybe it’s time I started playing by my own rules.

I can’t be a powerless, lovesick puppy for the rest of my life.

So I guess this is it.

Make or break.

Fuck all the scenarios.

I shift to sit on the edge of the couch and push the stool unceremoniously out of my way.

“Does that mean I win, or is it just that you’re a sore loser?” he says, an evil smirk floating about his lips. “Hey!” he complains as I retrieve the glass from his grasp and press a socked foot to his chest, pushing him back to lie on the thick hearth rug. He goes down easily and chuckles as I finish his drink and put the glass out of the way. He tries to sit up but I’m on him now, grabbing his hips a little brusquely, forcing him to tilt back again. I kneel comfortably between his open thighs. He props himself up on his elbows.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he breathes, all velvet eyes and expectant smile.

“I don’t know. Knocking my king over?” I raise an eyebrow at the notion. The simile seems fitting. “That’s what you are, after all: my little ice king.”

“Little?” he questions, observing me with indulgent humor and tipping his face up to meet my lips when I lean down to kiss him.

“My little… manipulative… cold-hearted… scheming… ice king,” I insist, punctuating the sentence with soft nips to his curved mouth.

“Does that make you my ice queen?” he grins, his breath a little short and his cheeks somewhat flushed.

“No, I think it makes me your fool.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” he soothes. “After all, the fool was the only man in court a king actually trusted and listened to.”

“Yet the fool was a slave and never got any respect.”

“I respect you,” he promises, his eyes seemingly captivated by my lips now. “And I’m sure no one could ever make you a slave.”

And there’s something so beautifully at ease in him right now. Reclining under me, relaxed and pliant with pleasure. He looks so sure of where this is going, I just have to take a chance.

“Daniel, I’m in love with you,” I finally tell him. I can’t believe how viciously good it feels to say it. To finally have the guts to word it. And God my heart is pounding so hard in my chest I can feel it in my throat.

But Daniel turns suddenly petrified beneath me. The sensual strokes of his left hand up and down my side are suspended. The subtle, sinuous moves of his hips and thighs against and around me have stopped.

“I don’t get the joke,” he says, his tone bleached of all emotions. We’re nose to nose and he’s squinting at me: the smile is gone, replaced by a confounded expression.

“No joke,” I explain. “I just love you. Thought you should know.”

“But… Why are you saying that?”

“Because I think you need to understand that we’re not playing on an even field anymore: you have an unfair advantage.”

“Jack, just because I beat you at chess…”

“This has nothing to do with it. I’m just telling you there’s no glory in striking a man when he’s down.” There’s such a look of utter incomprehension on his face that I feel the need to elaborate. “There’s nothing smart about manipulating a guy who’s in love with you.”

I see him gulp slowly – uneasily.

“If this is a strange parody of your Boyfriend Experience, you can cut that crap right now, because I’m not interested,” he says sternly, trying to keep his voice steady. “I’m not your client anymore.”

“And I’m not your escort anymore,” I agree. “But I’m the man you invited into your home and into your bed. And the only reason I’ve folded so readily is because I’m impossibly weak when it comes to you. So all I’m saying is, be gentle – I’m weak because I love you.”

“I’m… What are you saying? That I’m abusing you?” There’s a storm of defiance and mild panic brewing in his steel eyes, and he suddenly bucks against me. Tries to twist away and roll aside, but I’m on top of him and he curses without really putting up a fight – there’s nowhere to go anyway, we both know that.

“Daniel.” I want him to look into my eyes. I need him to understand that I’m not accusing him of anything, I’m just begging him. “Daniel, I love you.” As I lean down, his eyes are huge – only timid rims of ice blue lost and hanging on to the edges of deep black pools. Who knew panic could look so much like arousal?

My lips brush over his, very softly, and the ghost of a sigh escapes him. Then our lips catch and hold and he kisses me. A gentle, closed-mouth kiss as my fingers slide through his hair.

“I love you,” I whisper again, relishing the sound of those three little words. I’ve waited so long to be able to say them.

“Okay,” he breathes, his voice unrecognizable. And it sounds like he’s agreeing to something, but I don’t really know what. To be honest, I don’t know if he believes me or even if he understands what I’m trying to convey. Maybe he was only truthful when he said he has no feelings.

But it doesn’t matter because my heart is about to blow a hole out of my chest and I’m about to make love to him. And he’s apparently okay with that.

It’s all I need to know.

And the moment and place are so perfect it could be a vast joke. It’s Christmas Eve and I have my lover sprawled out under me, lying on a hearth rug in front of a crackling fire by our Christmas tree. I couldn’t get it more right if I tried.

Soon my hands are riding bare, trembling skin and his fingernails are raking needily down my back. And we kiss – soft and hard and deep and light and tender and rough. We cover the whole spectrum of kisses, and I’m off my head with lust and love and relief, because he’s finally mine. He’s finally agreed to be mine. And sure, he didn’t say the words back, but the urgency of his kneading hands and canting hips, the bare need in the insistent mouth and the soft moans leave me hopeful. God, so hopeful.

It feels like a first time, even though I’ve had him so many times that know every inch of him. It’s still the first time I can watch his eyes go hazy and hooded as I push inside him. The first time I can see his eyelashes flutter as my cock drags over his sweet spot. The first time I can look at his expression of tense, keen wonder as my thrusts bring him closer to the edge.

But the best thing of all… is that it’s the first time I’m free to tell him how I feel, and I let myself go and murmur how much I love him as I fuck him deep and slow. He arches and strains and pants, gritting his teeth to keep in his secrets. So I push and thrust and coax, whispering that he’s mine and begging him to tell me I’m his, and that undoes him.

A sound escapes him, halfway between a sob and a moan, and I recognize it. It’s the sound that spelled my original downfall. It’s the real him, crying out with amazed, aching pleasure. And he comes in slow, hard spurts that seem to jolt him right down to his very core.

Sadly, I can only follow his lead and blurt out an unromantic “Oh fuck, Daniel,” as I pour myself into him.

But when the world finally stops spinning, I’m drenched, exhausted and emotionally drained, and I can tell he’s pretty wiped out too, and yet we kiss lazily, unendingly because doing anything else would somehow feel wrong.

After a few twists and turns, I manage to drag the soft polar fleece cover from the couch over us and that’s how we fall asleep – in a warm tangle of limbs on the floor in front of the now slow-burning fire by the Christmas tree.

And I’m flying.

I’m so on top of the fucking world right now, you could probably stab me through the heart and I wouldn’t feel it.

 

***End of Day Two***

Chapter Text

Dear Jack,

 

I don’t get it. I really, honestly don’t get it, and God knows I’m trying.

Why did you say these words? Why would you say these words? No one says them without an agenda.

So what is it you want from me?

Special favours? A wilder ride? You think I’m going to say them back? Because let me tell you, you won’t get anywhere by saying ‘I love you’ to me.

The magical words won’t work on me. It’s not that they don’t sound beautiful when you say them. It’s not that you’ve lost your touch. It’s just that you’re barking up the wrong tree, Jack.

These words won’t get you any extra kudos or bonus where I’m concerned. I’ve already given you everything I can – everything I have and everything I am. There is nothing more to me. No hidden treasure, no secret chamber, no Philosopher’s Stone to be extracted from me. I am nothing more than the moaning, sweat-drenched, quivering body you’ve already taken dozens of times.

So why would you say you love me? Why go to such lengths? It’s like artfully picking the lock of a door that’s standing wide open. I can’t spread my legs any further or take you any deeper than I already do.

Do you need my heart? Is that what this is about? You’ve had my body too many times and you’re growing tired of it, so now you want my heart?

But my heart is worthless, Jack. What would you do with it? It’s clunky and messed up and way too unskilled to be of any good to anyone. Do yourself a favour and stop wasting your time trying to win that pitiful trophy.

If you feel that you need to move on to the next level and up the ante in this game we’ve been playing, then just dump me already, because you’ve already won and there is no next level. What you have right here and right now with me is the top floor, the metaphorical penthouse – the sexy swimming pool on the roof. Don’t say you love me and hope for more, because I am nothing more than this.

Save those words for someone else. For someone who might take them at face value, or someone who might need to hear them. I don’t.

These words hurt, Jack. They hurt because all they mean to me is that you’re getting restless and that you’re digging for more. More thrill, more adrenaline, more inventive sex. More unconquered parts of Daniel Jackson. But guess what? I am conquered territory. There isn’t a square inch of me that you haven’t already blithely raided and ransacked. You have my word.

So please stop digging. Stop saying you love me. I know our time together is coming to an end. I know it. I don’t need a reminder.

Why do you think I asked you to come here? I wanted to have this with you. I wanted this place to soak up a bit of you, so that I’d have something left after we go our separate ways. Haven’t you noticed? We’re slowly working our way around the house and soon there won’t be a single room here that won’t have been imprinted. The echoes of us will be something to keep me warm at night when I come back here alone next year. I only hope I’ll be able to deal with the memories being just that – memories.

And stop saying you want to be mine: you could never be mine in a million years. The fact is I don’t think you could be anyone’s. There’s too much of you. So much of you that you’ve felt the need to turn giving yourself into an occupation. Hell, you’ve given yourself to your country!

How could I ever make you mine, and more importantly how could I ever keep you? I just don’t have what it takes to keep someone like you. I’ve lived on my own for too long, wrapped in what people see as loneliness – but what I call safety and independence. I don’t know how to share my life with someone and I don’t think it’s fair to ask someone to be subjected to my whims and obligations. Believe me, you would go crazy with boredom if I were to make space for you in my life. You’d get royally sick and tired of being mine and you’d soon rattle your cage. And then you’d leave me.

I’ve learnt that sometimes the only way to win is to deny battle.

So the only way I can avoid losing you is by not having you.

So please don’t poison my well and taint this place with declarations of love and belonging. It is unnecessarily cruel. And I’m sure you’re not a cruel man. You’re kind and thoughtful in your own way, and I don’t think you’d willingly hurt me.

But then what do I know?

You are a trained killer, after all. Maybe I should try harder not to forget that.

Actually, it seems like the more I learn about you, the less I know who you are – the less I understand how you work.

The latest example? You were married, Jack. For thirteen years, you were one half of a couple.

You probably have no idea how weird that sounded to me at first. And yet, the more I think about it, the more obvious it seems now. I can totally see it. A touchy-feely, warm-hearted, good-looking man like you – of course you were going to get yourself a wife. I’m surprised you didn’t get yourself a whole brood of kids to go with it. You’d have made a terrific dad.

So yeah, I can see Jack O’Neill, dashing officer in the Air Force, tying the knot with a gorgeous firecracker of a woman. Thirteen years of marriage. Thirteen years of being a husband to your wife. Of sharing a life and a bed with her, of making love to her and telling her you love her. And by the way, how can you even use those same words on me?

Thirteen years of being a military officer and a husband, and then… you become an escort. What happened? That’s not a career change, it’s not even a 180 – it’s a planetary shift the magnitude of which could only be explained through quantum physics.

A suave, handsome escort with a killer smile – too criminally attractive and too vastly charismatic to limit his appeal to one gender. You need to charm both. And that hurts too, you know. Knowing that I can only ever be a half of what you need, of what you like. Knowing that it’s not a statistical half of the population that’s my competition – it’s the whole of it. It’s stupid but it really fucking hurts.

God, there used to be only pleasure in being with you, but the longer we stay together, the more suffering I encounter. You’re making me discover fresh, untested forms of torment – adding newly sharpened spikes to my iron maiden. It is high time I let go of you. Before the pain offsets the pleasure. Before I cross the line and begin to hate you. That would be too horrific to consider. A clean negation of all these months of effort to keep you sated and entertained by my side.

And so all I have to do now, is prevent you from saying these words again, at least for a few more days. The end is in sight, my dear Jack. Please be patient. Please don’t ruin it. Just a couple of days and I’ll set you free. Kiss you goodbye. Send you off. I promise I’ll go back to my lonely life, where I belong, and never bother you again.

The time we’ve shared will have been a beautiful interlude in my existence.

Barely a blip on your radar.

In the meantime, don’t say you love me. It’s not helping, because now I have to give you the talk. The stupid, ridiculous talk where I tell you it can’t happen – like you don’t know this already, like you actually meant these words. But how else can I do it? You’re not leaving me any choice. I don’t want to confront you and call you on your sweet lies. I don’t want us to have that sort of argument. Not here. Not now. Not when we’ve only got a few days left together.

So I’ll play along with your charade and pretend I believe you before I pretend to break your poor little heart.

I hope you know your lines. I’d like this to be dealt with before breakfast.

And please…

No love,
Daniel

Chapter Text

Fuck but the floor is hard.

No matter how soft, warm and plush the hearth rug looks, tiles are still tiles, and this is where I realize I’m getting older. Sleeping on the floor used to be a real breeze – now it’s just bruises.

It would help if I wasn’t alone, too, but once again, my lover has deserted me.

Damn.

My lover.

Can’t believe I can finally use this word.

He’s somewhere in the kitchen: I can hear him. The barely audible sounds of someone trying to be discreet. It’s only the faintest brush of clothes against the counter, the most muted clink of a spoon in a mug that tell me I have company.

I know he’s a bit of an insomniac, but it’d be nice if he could just stay horizontal with me long enough for me to actually wake up with him in my arms. I always figured I was an early riser, but he’s definitely raising the bar on that one.

I hold back a tired grunt as I sit up, and ow-ow-ow. That floor feels even harder now. Christ, how did I ever manage to survive last night’s activities? And the answer to that question is painfully clear as I tentatively bend my knees: I didn’t. My knees, ass, hips, and every single one of my vertebras are screaming and cursing at me – in German.

It was worth it, though.

Think I’d actually do it again. Provided I can catch a hot shower in the meantime, that is.

I bravely grit my teeth and take comfort in the thought that Daniel’s apparently bringing me coffee.

He’s fully dressed.

That’s in fact the first thing that strikes me as odd. Not dressed as in ‘I slipped into the first warm, comfortable thing I could lay my hands on’, but as in ‘I’ve got a hundred things to do outside’. He’s even got his walking boots on.

As he crouches next to me and hands me the steaming mug, I catch the fresh, wind-swept outdoors smell that clings to him. So he’s already been out. Probably cutting down a couple of trees before breakfast or something like that. Not that he looks tired or worn or even the slightest bit sweaty or anything, mind you.

I take the mug with a raspy ‘thanks’, and he backs up to sit on the edge of the couch, observing me.

And that’s another thing that pings on my radar: he’s watching me. Not in the usual, civilized making-eye-contact-while-we-communicate kind of way, nor in that more promising making-eye-contact-and-discreetly-checking-you-out way of his. No, he’s just watching me, and his eyes never leave my face.

“Morning,” I mumble over the rim of my coffee mug, trying to initiate conversation with the life form currently analyzing me.

“Hello, Jack.”

And with these two words, I just know the shit is about to hit the fan in a big way.

I’ve heard him say them a few dozen times – face to face or on the phone. That’s how he’s always greeted me, and I’ve heard him breathe every possible intonation into it, from business-like to flirty to downright filthy. But this morning, these words sound calm and reasonable and just a tad distant. This morning, these words sound like…

“I think we need to talk,” he says.

And I think a part of me goes into shock at that point. The part with the feelings and all.

The rest of me keeps drinking coffee and scratches a ball while waiting for the other shoe to drop. That’s what military training will do to you. It allows you to function under the worst conditions.

And that excruciatingly painful moment where I discover that Daniel Jackson does not, in fact, return my feelings in any way, rates as a ‘bad condition’ in my book.

“Can we wait until I’m showered and lucid to do this?” I ask with as much casual dignity as I can muster.

I can see he’s slightly put out by this, like he wasn’t expecting my perceived tactic to delay the ablation of my heart. But he obviously realizes how rude it is to pounce on a guy to rip his soul out and tear it to shreds before he’s even fully awake.

“Sure, I didn’t mean we had to talk right now,” he murmurs, a frown crinkling his brow. “I just meant, we’re going to have to talk, you know.” God bless his merciful aortic pump, he’s trying to be gentle about it. That’s even worse.

I gulp down more coffee – which isn’t easy what with my throat being crammed with the usual content of my ribcage – then I decide offence is the best defense.

“All right, Daniel, let’s cut to the chase and clear up the misunderstanding,” I tell him, straight-faced. “I’m sorry I went too far last night, okay? I got a little carried away with the Boyfriend Experience thing and I apologize. I didn’t mean to freak you out.”

I get a slight kick of satisfaction when I see his face fall, registering incomprehension.

“You mean, you were…”

“Experienced enough for you?” I snark, feeling numb in the chest.

That’s right, your highness. You’ve been had. Can’t believe you fell for it. Really. An old whore falling in love with a younger, handsome client? Just one big joke, right?

Now pardon me while I try to gather what’s left of my heart and my dignity.

His expression fills with a mix of unidentified emotions, even as his body seems to unwind after an excess of pent-up tension. Somewhere in there I also hear a distinct sigh of relief.

I decide now’s the moment to get up. I grit my teeth and achieve verticality with minimum wincing. I’m buck naked, I’m shivering with cold and misery, and I’ve got dried jizz flaking at my crotch. I’ve had better exits.

“Wow, you really got me,” he says, a shade of admiring disbelief in his soft, educated voice.

“I know,” I reply simply, handing back my empty mug. “Thanks for the coffee.”

And with that memorable parting shot, I make my way upstairs, feeling his eyes on me. I don’t know if he’s really buying into my bluff – I think I’m past caring.

That shower is long and ragingly hot and goes a long way to soothe the aches in my body. I just wish the thing shrieking in agony inside me was as easy to quell. Because, fuck, that thing is dying a long, horrible and very loud death.

But hey, it’s okay. Just a little bit of unrequited love. It’s not like I ever entertained any real hope of him loving me back. And he does like me. Has said so more than a few times. That’s just as good, right? Even better, some would say.

I feel my eyes prickle and my throat tighten, and I have to bark a wry laugh. Seriously, Jack? You gonna cry like a baby because he doesn’t love you?

You stupid moron.

I get dressed quickly, then hesitate in front of the content of my bag. The small token present seemed like a good idea last night – it looks utterly foolish and inadequate in the cold light of day.

Daniel is standing looking out the window with his arms folded over his chest when I return downstairs. It stopped snowing sometime during the night, but there’s a couple of feet of snow on the ground now and such a thoughtful air about him that I feel obliged to ask.

“Anything to worry about?”

“No, we’re good,” he says. And for an uncertain second I wonder if we’re talking about the same thing. But he turns to me, eyes sharp and clear – and an amazing shade of blue with all the reflected light. “This place has seen worse, and someone was clever enough to stock up on supplies,” he announces, a little smile tugs at the corner of his mouth.

“God help me, I’m stuck in a snowstorm with a smartass genius.”

“And don’t you forget it,” he admonishes as he bumps my shoulder on his way to prepare breakfast.

Breakfast, which consists of delicious, insanely fluffy brioche, and Nutella. It is almost a walk in the park but for the queasy feeling deep down in the pit of my stomach.

Truth is, I don’t know where to take it from here. Last night was as fantastically real as this morning is abominably surreal. I feel like I got pushed from a very high cliff and have yet to reach the sharp rocks at the bottom of it. Like I’m still falling. Still waiting for the mighty splat that will end me – and hurt like a sonuvabitch.

I have yet to touch Daniel today. So far I’ve kept a safe distance with him, because I just don’t know if I can make contact and act normal around him. I ponder my next move as I wash the mugs in the sink. When I turn around I find him seated on the couch, in deep contemplation of the Christmas tree.

I join him, bracing myself for what’s coming.

“Jack?”

“Hm?”

“What is that?” he asks, pronouncing the word ‘that’ like he’s talking about something the cat dragged in.

I make a show of bending to get a good look at the offending object.

“Well, I’m no expert but it looks like a poorly wrapped present.”

“I thought I told you not to do anything… Christmassy. You agreed,” he scolds reproachfully.

“This is not Christmassy by a long shot. This is… Well, I don’t know what it is, but believe me if you knew anything about real Christmas, you wouldn’t call this Christmassy.” It’s more like a pathetic attempt at doing something nice for him. A totally improvised attempt that now feels doomed to backfire in the worst way.

Daniel crouches and reaches for the little gift under the tree.

It’s wrapped in a glossy, perfume ad from what was left of that plane magazine. The worst part is that it’s not even a real present because it’s not something I got for him. Up until yesterday, I honestly intended to respect his wishes – until I understood why it was important to put something under that tree, that is.

I’m not sure the item in question is a good idea. He could have one in each drawer or jacket he owns across the globe, for all I know – I wouldn’t be surprised. I just thought it would be something he might like. Besides, it wasn’t like I had much of a choice in terms of potential gifts. It was either that or a half nibbled bar of Toblerone.

I bought it for myself at Geneva Airport, in replacement for the one I lost somewhere around my cabin this summer. I figured, what better place to buy a Swiss Army knife than Switzerland? So I got myself one. Nice, sturdy and with just the right amount of basic tools to make it useful and not too bulky.

Daniel looks at the present, then starts carefully unwrapping it. And I mean bomb-defusing carefully. For crying out loud, he’s just like my ex-wife Sara: taking forever to unwrap a gift in order not to damage the paper. These people drive me insane. I grit my teeth and bite back a snippy comment.

His eyebrows rise as he recognizes the logo of the manufacturer on the packaging. Once the knife is in his hand, he handles it like a familiar artifact. A pleased smile curves his lips and warms his eyes – and I feel my heart expand in my chest at the sight. He likes it.

“Thank you, Jack,” he says, almost grudging me his unexpected contentment. “I lost mine in Egypt last year.”

I nod, secretly happy that I lucked out on this at least.

“They had bigger ones, but…” I shrug awkwardly.

“No, this is just right,” he smiles, unfolding the blade experimentally. It clicks smoothly into place. A slight frown contracts his brow as he seems to be reminded of something. I watch him dig a hand into his jeans’ pocket and fumble for a second. “I know you said you’d never accept money from me again, but it’s supposed to be bad luck otherwise,” he tells me, handing me a coin.

Fuck, I’d forgotten about the superstition – “A gifted knife cuts friendship,” my mother used to say. Way to go, Jack: you had to pick the one and only thing that is not ever meant to be a gift.

The small, body-warm piece of currency is actually quite pretty and clean: a copper-colored, two-eurocent coin with a nice oak twig on the reverse side and a groove running along the edge. Kind of exotic.

“I’m not that superstitious, if it bothers you,” he amends perceptively. I close my hand before he can take back his offering.

“Mine now,” I tell him. “Merry Christmas, Daniel.”

He folds back the blade with a snick and smiles at me.

“Merry Christmas, Jack,” he says, sliding the present into his pocket. His eyes catch on my lips and he hesitates for a second, then leans in and kisses me. A token, closed-mouth kiss that rips my chest in half with its simple tenderness.

Yeah, Merry memorable Christmas, Jack.

“So now that the present opening is out of the way, what have you planned for the day?” I ask airily, at ease with the slow-motion nightmare that promises to be the rest of my stay here.

“Depends,” he says cryptically. “How good are you at repairing vehicles?”

“I know where the gas goes in, if that’s any help,” I quip.

I actually know more than that, thanks to various trouble-prone vehicles and years of taking apart and repairing all the motorized junk I have at the cabin, but I’m not going to show my hand just yet. Not before I know where this is going.

He leads the way downstairs but doesn’t stop in the garage and enters the room where I found him doing his impression of a lumberjack yesterday. He stops by a tarp-covered mass next to the door. A mass that I assumed to be yet another pile of wood but turns out to be… a black and yellow skidoo.

“The track needs changing,” he says, pulling the tarp out of the way and looking at me. “Have you ever done it?”

“A couple of times, a few years back.” Last time, I was helping a buddy with his scrap heap of a snowmobile and it wasn’t a stellar experience: hours of grueling work listening to him bitch and rant about shit every single step of the way. Still don’t know how I didn’t end up hanging him by his own entrails and using his blood as grease for the bearings. I’m hoping Daniel isn’t the same, because I don’t need the day to be anymore aggravatingly painful than it already is, thank you very much.

“I only watched it done once,” he says, pursing his lips in doubt. “I hoped a Minnesota boy would be familiar with that sort of thing. Do you feel up to the task?”

“Sure,” my proud, gullible, inner Minnesota boy answers without thinking. “Hope you’ve got more than your shiny new Swiss army knife to do the job.”

“Oh, I’ve got tools,” he assures me lightly, with a hint of filth in his voice. Or maybe that’s just my imagination.

And so, without further ado, we get to work, although groveling on concrete is not exactly what I was looking forward to after spending the night sleeping on the floor. I strip the machine of its hood and seat, get its backend in the air, and even take out the exhaust, while Daniel opens the garage door to let in more light, gathers his tools and retrieves the new track.

It’s not so much that it’s hard work per se. It’s just that it’s fastidious if you’re doing it alone, and a real pain in the ass if you’re burdened with an unhelpful klutz. It is, however, relatively quick and easy if you have the right kind of help. And surprisingly enough for someone who’s got so many acronyms after his name, Daniel is the right kind of help.

He’s academically smart, that much I already knew, but I’m pleased to see his is a clever kind of smart, too. He knows his nuts from his elbow, listens to my directions, suggests helpful solutions and shuts the fuck up the rest of the time. He also happens to be quick and skilled with a ratchet wrench – a state of fact that I find unspeakably sexy, unfortunately.

After a short hour of manly industriousness – requiring the recurring use of verbs such as ‘undo’, ‘slide’, ‘lubricate’ and ‘screw’ – the track is replaced, the insides of the skidoo are cleaned and greased, and I’m putting the seat back into place, trying very hard not to watch Daniel wiping his dirty fingers on a rag with a twisting, wringing motion that makes my balls ache. I should add he’s got a smudge of dirt on his nose that I’ve been itching to wipe off for him for half an hour.

Oh and there’s the score of a lousy porno playing in my mind.

Jesus, what is it with me? Shouldn’t I be moaning about the bruises and pains to my old body and crippled soul? Shouldn’t I be wallowing in self pity at the idea that my hot fuck buddy doesn’t love me? Shouldn’t I be trying to bravely put up a good front while my poor heart suffers in relative silence? I wish I was that deeply emotional and melodramatic, but I apparently have the emotional depth of a horny rabbit. In my defense, I guess it would be easier to have loftier thoughts if my hot fuck buddy didn’t seem to be harboring incredibly familiar porno plots.

“I’d ask you if you fancied taking me for a ride,” he says, a sly grin tugging at his lips, “but I guess it would be a little too clichéd, even for you.”

The bastard.

I unsubtly lean into his space, relishing the look of barely concealed hunger in his eyes, in the curve of his mouth, in the flare of his nostrils, and stop my progress just inches from his lips.

“I think you’re going to have to rub that one off,” I tell him. Then slowly rub the smudge of dirt off with the back of a finger and cock my head to the side expectantly.

“Eat me,” he bites back filthily.

Which is when I lose all semblance of coolness and dignity, and push him back to land on the skidoo. He chuckles at my antics – until I tear his jeans open and try to suck his brains out through his dick.

“Oh shiiittt,” he moans in disbelief, grabbing at everything in reach to maintain his balance. He smells of dirt and grease, and it’s a huge, unexpected turn on. Somewhere in the back of my mind, the silly Minnesota boy shakes his head: he is never going to be able to look at a can of WD40 the same way ever again. Meanwhile I go to town on Daniel’s juicy cock, eliciting so many strained Ohgods that I’m beginning to think he’s about to find religion.

He comes explosively with a pained, triumphant grunt, flooding my mouth with his briny release. This is the taste of heaven, right there. I lap it up until he mewls and grabs my face and redirects my attention to his lips. His kiss is sinuous and wicked, which tells me he isn’t done with me.

“Stand up and feed me your cock,” he purrs, and it’s a miracle I don’t cream my pants there and then.

There’s one thing I’ve always liked and admired about Daniel: it’s that he’s a quick study. The importance of visual stimulation in a blowjob is one lesson he sure learnt by heart. He’s slurping at my dick like it’s the finest candy cane, and the sight of his sinful tongue curling around my cockhead is enough to make me go from zero to sixty in five seconds. That and… Oh God, the long, slow, highly obscene licks to my balls. Christ, he’s gonna kill me.

His hands place mine on either side of his face and encourage me to fuck his mouth. My fingers are greasy and I know I’m leaving smears over his skin but god it feels so good to just take control of him and leisurely pump past his accommodating lips. He knows exactly what he’s doing to me and knows exactly when to add that little throaty hum to the proceedings – the thrilling bonus that tips me over the edge.

“Fffuuuckkk,” is all the eloquent warning I can give before filling his mouth.

He takes his time to suck me clean, with all sorts of contented noises that make me weak at the knees. He ends on a feather light graze of teeth – a sweet touch of imaginative torture over my sensitized cock. Yep, the guy’s a pro, now. Out of nowhere, I’m reminded of what Belinda once reported to me, namely that Daniel could turn his hand to anything and succeed. I wonder what it’s like to live in a world where everything you try works out. Where nothing resists you for long.

I mull over the disturbing thought as we zip up and head upstairs.

After discussing what lunch should consist of, we both discard the idea of anything elaborate and agree on steaks and roasted potatoes. Not particularly Christmassy, but then neither is repairing snowmobiles.

All in all, the meal is a pleasant, informal affair and once again we work surprisingly well together. Like an old married couple or something. I think the universe is openly mocking me. After coffee, it starts snowing again, so Daniel brings out the chessboard again and sets it up on the table this time.

“Right. I’ll give you a rematch provided you agree to play fair this time,” I warn him. “No dishonorable attempts at distracting me with stupid questions, okay?”

“Come off it, Jack. You’re just one sad, bitter, sore loser,” he nags.

“Is that so?”

“It’s not my fault you can’t concentrate on a game.”

I nod magnanimously as I dig the means to counter strike out of my pocket.

“I suppose you won’t mind indulging the musical tastes of a sad, bitter old man, then.” I plop my MP3 player onto the docking station on the shelves behind me and flip through my playlists until I find what I was looking for. He groans theatrically as the first notes of “Jingle Bells Rock” fill the room. Payback’s a bitch, huh?

Let’s see who can’t concentrate, now.

I have to hand it to him, though: at first, he takes it like a man – even absently nodding his head to the beat of a couple of songs. But after all of 20 minutes, the jumping muscle in his jaw and the homicidal squint he’s developing tell me that I’d better dial it down if I want to sleep under a roof tonight.

I charitably turn the sound down until the festive, slightly corny songs are nothing but easy-to-ignore background noise. He rewards me with a grateful look over his sexy glasses, and we start playing in earnest. The game is somehow more balanced today. I know my adversary, for one thing, and I neatly fight back the ambush that spelled my early demise yesterday, eliciting a quirk of his lips. The game then settles into a pleasant rhythm.

“That was some Oscar-winning performance, last night,” he ventures a little slyly after a while. “The Boyfriend Experience, I mean.”

Shit. Is this really the time to give me a review of what has to be one of the bitterest moments of my life?

“Thought I was going to have to give you the talk,” he continues.

“Damn, now I’m sorry I missed it.”

“I’m not.”

“Why?” I quip insanely. “Afraid of running out of convincing arguments?”

“You want me to list all the reasons why it would be a bad idea for you to fall in love with me?” he asks, a tad bewildered by my masochistic penchant. “How long have you got?”

“Judging from the amount of snow outside? Two or three weeks.”

He scowls – and damn, I’m beginning to like that ‘Jack, don’t be an ass’ look on his face.

“The snowplow will get here tomorrow, like it always does.”

“If you say so. Now, bring on the talk,” I taunt him, with a little ‘gimme’ flick of the fingers. Call it morbid curiosity, but I want to hear how he intended to gouge my heart out of my chest, if I’d given him a chance.

“There’s no need to give you the talk, I’m sure someone like you is aware of all the reasons why such a thing is a very bad idea.”

“Someone like me?”

“A retired sex worker.”

“So my previous occupation would be the only thing that would stand in the way of a beautiful idyll between you and I?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“So what did you say?” I insist.

“God, you’re annoying,” he grinds out. “Why do you want to know?”

“You’ve got anything better to do?” I wave my hand at the mottled whiteness filling the windows.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he snaps. “You want to hear it? Okay, let’s just count the reasons why falling in love with me is just plain ridiculous, shall we?”

“Let’s.”

“One: we have nothing in common and we barely know each other. In fact, we hardly live on the same planet most days so I don’t see how we’d even begin getting romantically involved.”

“Uh-huh. Go on.”

“Two: well, I hate to break it to you, Jack, but much like Christmas, Love isn’t a real thing. It’s a social construct I don’t want to buy into. I don’t want to be that close to anyone. I’m better off living on my own, minding my own business, and not relying on anyone for crumbs of affection.”

“Interesting,” I nod. “But I hope you’ve got better than that, because, so far, I’m not impressed – nor discouraged. Number three?”

“Three,” he says, lowering his voice to an almost menacing purr. “If I ever had to pick someone to be my significant other, I wouldn’t choose a guy who’s fucked half the eligible population of Illinois, if not North America.”

“Ouch. Touché.” Yeah, that’s more like it. We seem to have hit the nail on the head. “So you’re the jealous type, uh?”

“Just as possessive and as territorial as the next guy,” he informs me pleasantly, bringing his attention back to the board long enough to take one of my knights.

“Number four?” I prompt.

“I rest my case. There’s no need for a number four.”

“Okay. Do I get to do a point by point rebuttal?”

“Why? I just gave you the talk. If this were for real, you’d just have to accept it and leave me alone.”

“Ah but I beg to disagree,” I point out. “See, if I loved you – and I mean, if I really loved you with all my heart and soul – you’d need more than a lousy list of three arguments to scare me off.”

“You make it sound like I’d need a restraining order.”

“Possibly.”

“Charming. I believe lawyers call it harassment.”

“I believe Hollywood calls it romantic comedies. Wanna hear my rebuttal?” I offer, leaning back nonchalantly.

“Do I have a choice?”

“Always. I’m just offering entertainment, here.”

Daniel’s eyes narrow and his chin lifts in defiance as he says, “Okay, let’s hear it. Why should I fall helplessly in love with you?”

“Alright, rebuttal number one. We know each other, and I’d say we know each other pretty well.”

“We don’t!” he scoffs. “You know we don’t. You don’t know the first thing about me; you even threw a hissy fit about it a few weeks ago.”

“I’ll demonstrate then, shall I?” I sit forward again, knitting my fingers on the table in front of me and training my best no-nonsense gaze on him. “You are Daniel Jackson, aged 36, born in Chicago on July 8th. You’re 6 feet and 180 pounds of iron-willed, four-eyed dweeb with multiple PhDs and an ass that defies gravity. You’re self-sufficient, pig-headed and manipulative to a pathological degree. You speak a shitload of languages, own a shitload of money, and probably piss off a shitload of people on a daily basis. You’re good at making tartiflette, giving head and pretending nothing ever gets to you. You’re bad at letting go of things, asking for help and obeying orders. I’m pretty sure you fear absolutely no one, but you’re definitely wary of trusting anyone. As a consequence I suspect you’re jealous in the extreme. Oh and of course, you’re a competitive little shit and you hate losing.” He’s gone silent and tense, a frown gathering on his brow. “And this is just off the top of my head.”

Daniel blinks, folds his arms over his chest and cocks his head to the side.

“Jean-Michel knows more about me, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever consider him as a life partner,” he tells me challengingly. “It takes more than a handful of facts and figures to know a person.”

“You’re right. But I happen to know some pretty intimate stuff about you. I’m ready to bet I know your body better than you do, as a matter of fact – from the smell of your hair to the taste of your come. I’m fluent in all your smiles and most of your frowns. I’m the world-renowned expert in how to get you off and make your heart race. No one knows his way around your ass better than me. No one knows better how blissfully perfect it is to be surrounded by you or what a head rush it is to come inside you.” I should shut up now. I should really shut up, because I’m giving away too much, and Daniel is silent and he’s gone a little pale.

I see him swallow.

“Okay,” he forces out, his voice raspy. “So that’s number one taken care of. What do you have for number two?”

“Number two is bullshit. You may not want to call it love and you may not want to have anything to do with it, but what would you call what we’re doing here? We kiss, we fuck, we argue, we prepare meals and repair snowmobiles? What do you think love is exactly, if it isn’t that? You say you don’t want to be close to people, but you brought me here: you’ve literally invited me inside your so-called fortress of solitude. Oh and let’s not forget that I tried to stay away from you but you came after me.”

“Are you saying I’ve been pursuing you?”

“I’m saying there’s something pretty special between us, whatever you want to call it, and I’m saying that what bothers you here is that you’ve come to count on me a lot more than you feel entirely comfortable with.”

The slightly conflictual silence stretches between us as he tries to kill me with his ice blue death ray.

“Number three?” he prompts dryly, one finger lightly tapping the tabletop.

“Number three doesn’t hold the water either. We all come with baggage – my baggage just happens to be larger than most. Besides, I may have fucked half of Illinois’s elite as you so nicely put it, but you now have my whole, undivided and exclusive attention. And if it makes you feel more special, you get to have bits of me that none of my former bedmates have ever had a right to.”

“Wow, VIP access. Do I get a laminated pass, or a gift basket?” he inquires, full of bile and spite.

“I quit the job and the lifestyle that you now find so offensive,” I point out. “By the way, remind me how we met, again?”

“I never said I found escorting offensive. I said I don’t see how I could be in a sentimental relationship with someone who has been so promiscuous. Some of the people I come across at those goddawful functions would know my lover better than I do, and that’s not something I could overlook.”

“Do you actually care about that sort of gossip?”

“I don’t give a fuck about the gossip! I don’t want everyone and their neighbor to know what it’s like to be taken by my lover!” he flares suddenly, banging an angry fist on the table that rattles the chess pieces on the board.

Yep. Jealous.

“I think you’re going about this the wrong way,” I tell him quietly. “There will always be people who claim they know your lover better than you do; the world is filled with competitive assholes and they don’t matter unless you allow them to. The only question you should ask yourself is this. Would you rather be with someone who has been with no one else? Someone who is still discovering and exploring his sexual urges? Someone who might be tempted by the thrill of the unknown? Or would you rather be with a guy who’s been around the block a couple of times and chose you knowingly? A guy who knows exactly what’s out there and knows nothing will ever compare to you? Which of these two men would make a better life partner?”

The silence is deafening.

“You apparently have an answer to everything,” he eventually murmurs, the frown creasing his brow turning sullen as he eyes the board and nudges the pieces back into the center of their respective squares. “You make it sound like we should be in a relationship. Like it would only be the most logical, most natural thing to do.”

“That’s not what I’m saying, Daniel.”

“No? So what are you saying?”

“I’m saying we already are in a relationship. Whether you like or not, we’ve been in a relationship for some months now and only you seem to be unaware of it. Hell, your concierge gave me his blessing.” I didn’t really understand it at the time, but it’s now obvious that’s what he was doing. That and the silent equivalent of ‘make my baby cry and I’ll make you cry’.

Daniel’s expression closes down. “Don’t be ridiculous, Jack,” he mutters, looking away from me.

He moves a piece at random and gets up. He paces to the window and stands there for a moment, arms crossed over his chest, looking at the swirling flurries of snowflakes. I guess this game is on standby for now. I follow him and settle on the couch, leaning back and counting the painful kinks in my aching body, just to take my mind off the ever-widening hole in my chest.

“So there was no boyfriend experience at work last night,” he says matter-of-factly.

“No. That was just me embarrassingly spilling my guts out.” And I’m not proud of it, in retrospect. But I don’t know how I could have done anything differently.

“Why did you lie this morning, then?”

“You were going to give me the talk. It was a tad brutal, considering I was barely awake,” I explain. “There were sparkles and glitter still hanging in the air from all the romantic lovemaking as far as I was concerned. You, however, looked intent on shitting all over the parade, so I obfuscated.”

“You panicked,” he corrects meanly.

“That too.”

I hear him huff.

“It can’t happen, you know,” he states flatly. “You and me, it just can’t happen.”

“If you say so.” My reply is on the nonchalant side of tired. Which doesn’t agree with him.

“Jack, it’s never going to happen,” he promises more firmly. “Not now, not ever.” And I have to say… It’s not so much the cold, stainless-steel certainty he puts in that promise that quenches any trace of hope I may still have had, as the hint of regret in his words.

“Okay.” What else can I say? I gambled. I lost. End of story.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” he says to the window. Then he turns to me and comes to sit on the edge of the armchair to my left, hands joined over his knees, pinning me with his ice blue, earnest gaze. “I’m sorry, Jack. I didn’t know that you felt this way. Never suspected you could feel this way. Not… Not a guy like you.”

Christ, could he be anymore hurtful and cruel if he tried?

“I know. A promiscuous whore having feelings is just so preposterous, isn’t it?”

“No, I mean I…”

“Shut up, Daniel,” I order gruffly, upset and worn out.

I rake a hand through my hair – I feel so old and inadequate. I hate having had to explain it all to him. I hate having had to dissect our relationship for him to understand exactly what’s been going on between us.

Actually, no, what I really hate is having done it all for nothing. I so didn’t need the post-mortem.

“It’s okay,” I tell him. “I got it wrong and I read you wrong last night and I’m sorry for that.”

More sorry than his stubborn, dried-out little heart can ever imagine. I guess I had it coming.

I get up, strangely relishing the pain in my screaming joints. It matches the pain everywhere else.

“I think I’ll be using that guest room of yours tonight, if you don’t mind.” I’m kind of proud that my voice holds up, because it feels like everything else is collapsing in on itself. I can’t imagine sharing a bed with him now. Christ, what have I done?

Daniel doesn’t reply, so I’ll consider that silence gives consent.

He doesn’t move when I leave the room.

The air in the guest room is cold and stuffy, but just like any other unused room – nothing a little airing and heating can’t remedy. I dump my bag on a chair. There’s a bedspread on the mattress but nothing else, so I need to make the bed. I quickly check the wardrobe and find everything I need in there. I get to work. And of course as I go about the mundane chore, I get thinking.

Am I overreacting here? Surely, just because he doesn’t return my feelings doesn’t mean I can’t stay with him, right? Except it does mean exactly that. I can’t stand the idea of him getting all self-conscious around me, or worse, of him behaving just as if nothing had happened. So one way or another I just shot myself in the foot and there’s no turning back.

“Jack, you don’t… oh.” Daniel just barges into the room, swept by his own momentum, then stops abruptly. “Uh, I was going to say you don’t need to leave our bedroom because I’ll sleep on the couch,” he says. “But it looks like you’re already done here.”

“Yeah. And there’s no reason for you to sleep on the couch. It’s your bedroom, your house.”

“My fortress of solitude,” he quotes strangely. He lingers in the doorway, silently observing me as I tuck the sheets on one side of the bed. His hovering is unnerving as much as it annoying. I hear him tapping his fingers on the doorjamb, clearing his throat and generally making a nuisance of himself. “So how does this work out exactly?” he finally taunts challengingly. “You come here to lick your wounds and then what?”

“I don’t know, Daniel. I’m kinda winging it,” I bite.

He prowls into the room, like a big cat pondering a too small prey. He sits unhelpfully on the side of the bed that’s already made as I start to fold and tuck the sheets and covers on the other side.

“Are you going to leave me?” he asks pointedly.

I straighten up and meet his calculating eyes. What is he playing at?

“Leaving you?” I ask. “Leaving you would entail that we are together. As in, a relationship. As in, not now, not ever.”

“Alright. Let’s admit that we are an item of a sort, you and I. What do I do to keep you?”

“Daniel, what are you doing?”

“I’m negotiating,” he says in all seriousness. “I’m sure we can reach an agreement.”

“An agreement for what?” I blurt out louder than necessary as anger starts to tingle in my blood. He’s got to be kidding me. “There’s nothing to negotiate. You don’t negotiate with feelings, dumbass!”

That apparently doesn’t satisfy him. He gets up and comes to my side of the bed where I futz with a pillow.

“You want something I have and I want something you have,” he explains coolly. “I’d say that leaves room for negotiation.”

“It’s not about anything you have, Daniel. What I want is something you can’t give me because you don’t have it.” As pathetic as it is, I want him to love me. I want him to overcome all his hang-ups and jealousies – I want to be as necessary to him as he’s vital to me.

“And I’m not ready to lose you.” His voice is suddenly lower, more urgent as he grabs my arm. “If we both make compromises we can find a way to make this work.”

“And what kind of compromise do you suggest? You ready to love me one week out of two?” I snipe into his composed face.

“I already do like you, Jack. Every week of the year. You’re the closest thing I have to a friend. Why can’t that be enough?” he questions all too reasonably.

God, that question.

I don’t know! I don’t know why it’s not enough. I just know that I need it. I can’t go back now. I made the mistake of telling him how I feel and there’s no putting it all back in the box, now. It’s way too late for that and my stupid heart won’t settle. Why can’t he understand that?

“Have a little empathy, Daniel. If you loved someone and that person rejected you, would you…?”

“I didn’t reject you!”

“Hello? Not now, not ever?” I quote again mercilessly.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” he rages and reaches for my face, to kiss me presumably. As I recoil from his touch, the bed catches me at the knees and I flail midair like a dork before landing ridiculously on the bouncy mattress. He’s on me in a flash, a smug, predatory grin spreading over his face as he pins my shoulders with his strong hands and straddles me. “Now we can talk.”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“I like you, Jack,” he rasps, plunging his lustful gaze into mine. “I really like you and I want you. I promise we can make this work.”

“Don’t do this, Daniel.” He can’t play like this. This is no joke and my heart is no game.

I think he reads this in my eyes, because he changes the mood with a slow, soothing caress of his hand to the side of my face.

“We can make love as much as you want,” he murmurs softly. “Just don’t say those words to me. That’s all I’m asking. Don’t say you love me. It hurts to hear you say it, you have no idea.” His head tilts back and his eyes briefly close in pleasure as his groin grinds into mine – breathtakingly wanton. His hips are engaging me in their back-and-forth, swaying rhythm and I can feel I’m losing this battle – my cock is beyond rigid.

He then takes his shirt and pullover off in one fluid move, leaving his hair enticingly ruffled. His nipples are hard and begging to be stroked and licked. He takes my wrists and guides my hands to his waist.

“Make love to me, Jack,” he whispers, making my heart skip a few beats. My hands wrap around him in spite of my better judgment. So much skin to caress. It’s irresistible. I pull him down into a deep kiss. He obliges, his hips never losing their rhythmic assault on my sanity as my hands slide under the waistband of his jeans.

“Daniel,” I hear myself moan piteously. I’m so gone on him, the heartless bastard.

He undoes the buttons on his jeans and my traitorous hands do the rest. He’s soon naked over me and working at my jeans. Hard and bare and oh-so-willing. My clothes don’t put up much of a fight and end up in a heap on the floor.

Which leaves us both naked and hard and devouring each other. I’m beginning to feel lightheaded from lack of oxygen, when he breaks the kiss.

“Here’s the deal,” he offers, his voice a hushed purr as he nuzzles my lips. “Make love to me, then say you love me one last time.” He grinds his leaking cock onto mine to press his advantage and I mewl helplessly. “Just this once. I’ll let you say you love me, just this once and then no more.”

He leans to the side for a second, stretching to retrieve something from his jeans hanging from the headboard. He then peels my right hand from his ass long enough to squirt half a tube of lube onto my fingers while the other half gets slathered over my cock.

“What do you say, Jack?” the Devil asks sinfully, between two soul-stealing kisses, even as two of my fingers start pushing into him.

A little voice in the back of my mind screams at me to resist, to back off, to push him away because he’s heartless and he doesn’t love me. But that silly little voice should know better. Because I may be in love with the guy, but that doesn’t mean I won’t go down without a fight.

“I say we have a deal if you say the words back to me,” I rasp. His hips stop moving. His eyes go wide for a second, then he closes them and shivers as my fingers unerringly find his sweet spot. “Just this once,” I continue. “Say you love me just this once and then no more.” Two can play this game, my love. “What do you say, Daniel?”

“I don’t… I don’t feel that way about you,” he gasps, a strain of desperation in his breathless voice.

“I know. It doesn’t matter. I want to hear it,” I insist. “These are my terms. Do we have a deal?”

I can feel his heart hammering in his chest as he finally says, “We have a deal.”

He then rears up and sits back on me, giving a long keening moan as my cock impales him slowly, while I try not to pass out from the overload of sensations. He’s beautiful and hot and driving me to insanity with the way he licks and bites his lips in concentration while he looks for that perfect point of friction deep inside him.

He sets a punishing rhythm. Rolling his hips and riding my cock hard and deep. We’ll be done in a minute if he keeps this up. And something tells me that’s his intention. I indulge him for a moment and even let him take me to the brink, then I gather my courage, grip his bunching thighs and sit up, unbalancing him. His eyes are feral with need and black as sin as I flip him onto his back and resume the fucking at a more leisurely pace.

“Don’t forget our deal,” I remind him with a harder thrust that drags a smug grunt out of him.

I lean down and taste the sheen of sweat that is beginning to cover his heaving chest. He sighs contentedly.

“Say it,” I mutter around a nipple.

“I can’t…” he pants. “I don’t feel that way.”

“I… don’t… care…” I rasp, punctuating every word with a screwing jab to his prostate. He mewls under me, his fingers curling and clinging at the nape of my neck. “We had an agreement. Now it’s time to hold your part of the deal.”

“But it won’t mean anything,” he grinds out, his eyes scrunched shut.

“Exactly. So what’s stopping you?” My logic is infallible, which means he’s screwed. Oh yeah, he’s screwed and then some, I think wryly as I thrust deep inside him. “Come on, say it.”

Every muscle in his body is coiled tight and his breathing is ragged: he’s fighting something and I’m not sure what or why. His hands are needy and sensual over my skin, but he’s still resisting me – his eyes closed and his lips sealed. He’s shutting me out as much as he can.

“Daniel, this is all I can ever have, sweetheart,” I breathe against his chest. “Don’t back out on me now.”

I feel him cave and it’s a bittersweet realization – it takes a fucking guilt trip to make him do it. A sigh whooshes out of him as he frames my face between his warm hands and pulls me down. His eyes are finally open and they’re filled with misgivings. He’s about to say it. I can see he’s about to say it, and I can already tell it’s about to come out wrong – serious and awkward and emotionless and contrived. And it’s not how I want this. I kiss him to stop the words from being forced out. He goes along with the kiss, relieved at the unexpected reprieve.

I change tack.

Sweet and intimate isn’t going to cut it. He’s never going to say the words if the mood is too emotional. He thinks the words are an admission of some sort of horrible, shameful, damning weakness. So I have to work at it from another angle.

I rear up and change position, drag his ass up my thighs a little. As I jerk and jostle his body, his arms flop out, up and wide – an inspiring picture of helpless pleasure as I ram back into his heat. He roars a curse, then chuckles in delighted surprise. This is better, much better. If I can’t coax the words out of him with tenderness, I’ll just have to pound them out of him with hard, dirty sex. It’s all he’s ever wanted from me, after all.

The assault on his prostate is simple, methodical and merciless. I’m holding his hips in a tight grip that means he can’t escape. But then he clearly has no intention of escaping. He’s offering me his ass if anything, his head tilted back and his hands fisting the sheets. I fuck him hard and deep, making the head of my cock drag heavily over his sweet spot on every recoil. His voice is soon raw from the harsh grunts that my thrusts force out of him.

“Okay, sweetheart. Crunch time,” I finally rasp with one vicious stroke that earns me an amazed cry. “You either say it or I’m pulling out and walking out of here.”

That makes him laugh, the little heartless shit. A beautiful sound that feels half caress, half slap in the face.

I start to pull out to show him a lesson.

“Hey!” He complains roughly, eyes flaring as his hands grapple behind my knees and his calves suddenly press against my lower back to prevent my withdrawal.

I look down on him and raise an admonishing eyebrow. “Say it,” I order, giving a long slow screw in sign of goodwill.

“Mmm…” he purrs, eyes half-closing in bliss.

“Say it.”

His lips curve evilly. “More.”

Negotiating again, are we?

I give a generous thrust and he angles his hips to make it perfect, so we both moan at the heavenly sensation.

“Ah… Daniel...”

“More,” he repeats maddeningly, breathlessly.

“Come on, say it.” Impatience and need are tainting my voice more than I’d like. And I drive into him again, because what else can I do?

A panting murmur answers, “I need you.”

“Please, Daniel,” I choke. I push deeper, giving a hard jolt inside him.

He mewls and digs his head into the bed. “Jack… I love you,” he finally breathes.

“Oh fuck…”

I lose it.

I just… entirely lose it.

The words sound so fucking beautiful in his soft, velvet voice. And God help me, they ring true. Undone. So I lose it.

I grab his ass in a bruising grip and give him what we need… and, of course, I say the words back. I rasp them and I groan them as I pound into his hot body. And it seems he takes a liking to saying the words, too. The room fills with furious, lustful declarations of vigorous love until we get blown away and shattered to pieces by the rogue wave.

The comparative silence that settles following this is anti-climactic. But then we’re both busy trying to breathe, and I personally have a hard time trying to get my knees and my back to cooperate.

I collapse next to him on the freshly made bed that now looks like a complete mess.

“Wasn’t so hard to say, was it?” I rasp wryly.

He snorts. A cute, comforting sound. I watch him wipe sweat from his brow and run a hand through his damp hair with a deep sigh of contentment. Ribbons of come are cooling on his stomach. He looks well fucked and sleepy, which should make me proud. But more than that, he looks happy. Just very simply happy and very honestly buzzing on sex-induced endorphins.

He’s happy and he loves having sex with me – but he doesn’t love me. It’s just not there. And yet it sounded so heartfelt when he said the words. He sounded so broken by the realization. I wasn’t expecting it. I guess he’s just good at lying. Or maybe he just found in his heart a grateful piece of something that loved the owner of the cock wringing a mind-blowing orgasm from his body in extremis. Who knows?

Daniel reaches tiredly for his discarded clothes, disentangles his t-shirt from his pullover and uses it to wipe the mess on his stomach. He also uses it to awkwardly rub my cock clean. He then contorts to turn down the bed sheets and lazily rolls under the covers, pressing me into following his example.

That’s how we go to bed – at 6pm on Christmas day.

He’s said he loves me for the first time.

I’ve said I love him for the last time.

There isn’t an ounce of me that isn’t aching, one way or another.

***End of Day Three***

Chapter Text

A tickling and, frankly, annoying sensation on my chest drags me out of hard-won, and therefore much-needed slumber in the middle of the night.

The truth is I haven’t slept so badly in years. Yesterday was quite the roller coaster and my subconscious is apparently failing to cope with it all: I’ve spent the past six hours half-awake and having weird, twisted dreams. And when exhaustion finally catches up on me and I start to doze off, the blue-eyed bane of my existence decides to set up an after-party.

I try to bat him away, only to have my hand blocked in a gentle, warm grasp.

Daniel is busy licking one of my nipples and he doesn’t like to be interrupted.

Too bad we don’t always get what we want.

“Fuck off,” I grouch thickly, for no other reason than the fact I’m sleep-deprived and bitter and I want him to experience some form of refusal at least once in his privileged little life. “I’m beat. Go to sleep.” Why should I be the only one to get his heart’s dearest hopes crushed mercilessly?

The licking stops instantly. My hand is slowly released and the cover falls back over my chest as unobtrusively as possible. A soft ‘sorry’ is whispered in the dark and I feel his body retreat to his side of the bed. He doesn’t sigh, he doesn’t huff, he doesn’t even make any sound. He simply curls on his side, facing me – an arm’s length away. Half a freaking continent away.

I feel like I’ve kicked a puppy.

How does he do that, the fucking bastard?

A few more minutes trickle by and I’m now wide awake. Waiting for him to come back to me. But when he finally moves, it’s to get up and leave the room.

“Where are you going?”

He freezes where he stands, almost guiltily. Then he turns a little. “Bathroom,” he tells me. Which sounds close to a lie, but I can’t really call him on it – why would he lie about that? So I stay in bed and wait for him. And wait. I hear the shower being turned on. It reassures me for some reason.

I know why I’m out of whack. If I had to give it a name, I’d say it’s emotional disorientation. Layman’s term, I don’t which way is up with Daniel anymore.

I love him, he knows it and he clearly said ‘no, thanks’, and if this was the usual unrequited love story, it’d be fine. I’d pick up the pieces of my broken heart, try to leave in good terms and move on with my life. Problem is, I did everything backassward with him. We were having sex before I even began considering the possibility of feelings. Sex was our default mode of interaction. Conversation came later, and smiles even later than that.

So what does it all mean? Now that I’ve been neatly turned down, what am I supposed to do? Revert to just having hot sex with him and pray that my stupid heart fucks off and dies?

Christ, how could I go along with it last night?

I close my eyes and sigh as a few mental snapshots give me the answer. It’s not rocket science: I can’t resist him. Can’t resist his bedroom eyes, can’t resist his velvet voice. Can’t resist the promise of his willing body. He can wrap my mind and my heart into a pretzel anytime and anyway he wants. I’ve never been at anyone’s mercy so completely. It’s fucking scary. Not to mention utterly insane.

How can a man lose his own free will out of love?

I mean, I know love is all powerful and all that, blah blah blah. But this is just too much. Too extreme. He’s killing me. Slowly but surely.

Taking me apart.

Stripping me of everything.

I need…

I need to leave.

The chalet is perfectly quiet again. I didn’t notice the shower being turned off. I can’t hear anything and that tells me Daniel is not coming back to bed.

I drift off to sleep before I can determine how that makes me feel.

It’s 5 am in the morning when I wake up for good, feeling half-way human again. The house is still steeped in silence. I catch a quick shower and head downstairs.

A reading lamp is on in the living room and the low fire is giving a warm peaceful glow to the room. Daniel is sitting sideways on the couch, with his back to me: knees bent and socked feet on the cushions. His toes are resting against the edge of his laptop in front of him. It’s playing a movie that he’s only half watching because he’s busy poring over a bunch of papers stapled together and scribbling notes in the margin with a pencil. He’s got one of those expensive, state-of-the-art headsets on.

I make the lights blink to let him know he’s not on his own anymore and I see him square his shoulders a little. He turns his head slightly to throw me a sidelong glance as I join him on the couch. He presses the spacebar with his toes and drags the headset off his ears to hang around his neck.

“Hello, Jack,” he says, bone-weary.

“Hello, Daniel,” I greet him. “I think we need to talk.”

A hint of a wistful smile tugs at a corner of his mouth as he puts away his papers and his pencil. He tiredly slips his glasses off, places them on the sheaf of paper and rubs the heels of his hands into his eyes. When he finally turns his attention to me, his eyes are a little red and watery.

“I know,” he says in a low voice. “I need to apologize to you for last night. I was… I was out of line and extremely selfish. I’m sorry.”

I acknowledge this with a cautious nod. At least he’s aware of the situation.

“It’s not going to work, Jack,” he murmurs regrettably. He looks at his hands in his lap for a second, idly playing with the cord of his headset, then looks up at me again. “You deserve better than this.” There’s a new vulnerability in his pale blue eyes, something I’ve only ever seen in… the real Daniel.

My heart trips over itself at the realization. This is the ever-elusive, real Daniel speaking to me for the first time. A year and a half of catching glimpses of him here and there and this morning he’s sitting on this couch with me, apparently ready to speak to me.

“Tell me what’s going on, Daniel.”

“Nothing’s going on. I’ve simply come to terms with the fact that I can’t do this to you. You said it yourself: I’m not playing fair. I guess it’s the result of swimming with sharks on a daily basis: I’ve grown…” he trails off, dismissing the tangent. “What I mean is, I think we should stop seeing each other.”

The massive punch to the guts is almost enough to make me double over with shock.

“Why?”

“Because apparently you love me and I don’t want that. We can’t be together, there’s no reason to pour salt into that wound.”

“You said you like me.”

“I do. But it’s not enough.”

“What if it’s enough for me?” I offer insidiously. Hopelessly.

He looks at me intently for a long moment, obviously trying to figure out how to get out of this logically.

“I’m going to hurt you, Jack. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Well thank you for the sentiment but you’re a little late to that party: you’ve already hurt me. By turning me down.”

“I don’t understand what you want me to say.”

“I just want the truth,” I tell him honestly. “You’re breaking up with me. And I can tell you’ve made your decision, I can see you want to cut me loose as soon as possible. What I want to know is why.”

“Because… because of all the reasons we talked about yesterday.”

“Reasons that I debunked methodically, as I recall. Try again.”

“Because…” I see him waver and I can tell he’s trying to make something up. “Because…”

“Spit it out,” I snap.

“Because that’s what I always had in mind, right from the beginning!” he chokes out angrily, eyes flaring. “I’m not a good person, Jack. I played with you. You’ve always been my whim, my toy, my rich boy fancy!” Fuck, I don’t think the words couldn’t be more painfully honest. “I saw you, wanted you, hired you… Then I got to like you, and after that, it all went to shit because it got complicated and I soon got in over my head, but all along there was only ever going to be one end to this.” He trains guilty eyes on me, even as he stands by his choices. “I used you. I’m sorry. I can’t be with you. I could never be with someone like you.”

I’d like to reply something stingy and smart, but the ice cold sludge that has taken up residence in the pit of my stomach is distracting.

“So I was right. A whore is not good enough for you.” The bitterness in my voice knows no bounds.

His teeth clench and he glares at me but remains silent. I can see he’s dying to vindicate himself and make me eat my words, but he’s also aware that if he denies them he’ll have to come up with something else to explain what he meant by ‘someone like me’. He’s so fucking twisted and stubborn it’s like… like… actually, it’s like looking in a mirror. Fuck!

“I’m beginning to see what Sara hated about me,” I snarl to myself.

“What did you say?” he gasps.

“I’m saying I’m gaining new respect for my ex-wife.”

“Your ex-wife’s name was Sarah?”

“Yes, Sara, no H, why?”

“My last girlfriend’s name was Sarah.”

“Sarah is a common name,” I reason.

“Still a little creepy, though,” he mutters.

“Proves we do have stuff in common.” My dry smirk is met with a no-nonsense scowl.

“Yeah, well that’s hardly what I’d call the foundation of a lasting relationship.” He’s dripping sarcasm all over the couch. “Listen, Jack, I’m a selfish asshole, okay? And a bit of a weird, reclusive one on top of that. I can’t help it. And you… you’re a generous, outgoing person. If we were together… You’d soon get bored,” he explains, closing his eyes like that would be a catastrophe of world-ending proportions. “You’d get bored and restless and you’d go looking elsewhere for your share of excitement.” When his eyes open again, they’re filled with a form of resentful acceptance that chills me. “You would leave me.”

What the…

“That’s your fucking excuse for dumping me?! You want to get rid of me for something I haven’t even done yet?!”

“It’s not an excuse,” he grinds out. “That’s how it would inevitably happen.”

“Oh and so you figured you might as well dump me first? Oh yeah, that makes so much sense.”

“Don’t make it sound so trivial. And don’t make me sound so irrational.”

“Irrational?! That’s not what the word I was going to use.”

“Jack, I know you think you know me – and to a certain extent, you do. Better than most people, I’ll grant you that. But you have no idea the sort of life I lead and you don’t know how uninteresting I truly am.”

“And that’s reason enough to break up with me?”

He gives a long hard sigh.

“Trust me. We are incompatible, I just know it.”

“Of course. Because now you’re such an expert at relationships.”

“Well, look who’s talking. Mr I’ve-seen-more-ass-than-a-fucking-toilet-seat!”

There we go again.

“Funny how this state of fact never stopped you from dancing on the end of my dick! Bareback, I might add.”

I see his fist tighten and just for the briefest second, I think he’s about to lunge forward and punch me in the face. But instead, his expression closes down, the real Daniel receding behind his usual lines of defense.

I’ve gone too far. It’s time to do damage control. I put a placating hand on his knee.

“Listen, Daniel. Let’s just put the name calling and insults trading on hold, alright? I get it. You want to end this and it’s your right. I don’t like it and I don’t understand it, but I guess that’s my problem and I’ll just have to accept it,” I tell him, trying very hard to be a balanced grown-up about this when all I want to do is roar curses and fight and beg and grovel and kiss and have torrid make-up sex with him.

Which is not going to happen any time soon apparently.

To be honest, I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know if it’s fight or flight. I don’t know whether to push the issue or give him some space. I don’t know which course of action will yield the best results. I don’t even know if I should expect any result anymore.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly.

“My return flight is scheduled in two days, but I can leave as soon as the roads are...”

“You can stay. I’m not kicking you out.” His voice is raspy and the words are guarded.

“I know.”

“Do you want to leave?”

I can’t help a sad quirk of the lips as I answer, “What do you think?”

“Then I don’t see why you’d have to shorten your holidays. You’re still my guest.”

“But maybe an unwelcome one.”

“No… You will never be unwelcome in my home.” There are lots of negatives in that sentence and I think he realizes it. “I’d like you to stay. Two more days, as intended.”

“Okay,” I nod quietly. I let my hand slip off his knee. I don’t have a right to this anymore: I might as well start weaning myself.

I turn away from him and slouch back on the couch, my eyes taking in the low-burning fire in the hearth and the forlorn, derisory Christmas tree in the corner. I feel like a tired fool.

Maybe if I close my eyes now, I will wake up in my bed in Chicago and realize the past year and a half was nothing but a bad dream. I give it a try.

“I lied to you, Jack,” Daniel’s voice says in the dark. I open my eyes to keep breathing. “The man you’ve been having sex with all these months doesn’t really exist. I invented him to keep you interested.”

Aaand down the rabbit hole again.

“What do you mean, you invented him?”

His ice blue eyes evade mine for a second. Real Daniel is back.

“I’m not… I’m not…” he fights to get the words out, like he’s so ashamed of what he isn’t that the term sticks in his throat. “I’m not him.”

“Then who are you?” I ask, though I already know the answer to this one.

“I’m not someone you’d be interested in. I’m not… the daring, sexy guy you’ve apparently fallen for.”

“You mean you had a stunt double all this time?”

The joke gets me nothing but a pure, venomous, withering ‘Daniel’ stare. It’s almost worth it.

“So, what do you mean? Someone told you what to do or say to me?” I enquire, feeling myself frown in confusion.

“No! God, no!” he exclaims, beyond shocked that I could imagine anyone but me knew about his dirty talk and his rough, kinky play. “I mean, the normal me is not like that. I’m a vanilla kind of guy. I never even fantasized about that sort of stuff before I had to become… creative with you.”

Right. I see I may have to burst a bubble or two, here. I purse my lips thoughtfully then let him have it.

“Do you honestly think a guy can fake dirty talk and kinky sex convincingly and keep his boner, if he’s not remotely into that sort of thing?” I ask quietly. “And before you say anything: yes, I’ve seen some try, and the result was not pretty.” I watch him frown and try to come up with some far-fetched. “Look, I’m sorry to have to break it to you, but all the stuff we did, all the stuff you said: it was all you. Whether you want to admit it to yourself or not, you are the kind of guy who will order me to deep-throat him or tell me to come on his ass. And you are the kind of guy who will let me fuck him against a window of the eleventh floor. There’s nothing to be ashamed of – I was there with you, an eager participant every step of the way.” Eager? Try desperate.

“Jack, I’ve never…”

“But you did and that’s the way it is,” I interrupt him. “We don’t know what we are really capable of until the opportunity comes along. I never thought I’d fall in love with a man, if it makes you feel any better. Yet here I am.”

“You’re saying I’m a...”

“I’m saying you’re hot,” I cut him off again before he says something stupid. “Better yet, you’re my kind of hot.” I give a sly wink, feeling my spirits soar as I realize I’m scoring points here.

I see him shake his head at me.

“Jack, even if you seem to think there’s a porn star – or more probably a slut – inside me begging to come out, I regret to inform you that I’m still a secretive, manipulative asshole and I’m still not boyfriend material.”

And as he lists all the things that might indeed be a turn off, I realize I never asked him the only question whose answer really matters.

“Do you like me?”

He pauses in his diatribe and gives me a dismissive, “I already said.”

“Do you love me?”

His eyes grow wary. “That’s beside the point.”

“It is the only fucking point,” I chuckle.

“No, it isn’t. It doesn’t change anything to…”

“Do you love me?”

“For God’s sake, will you stop interrupting me when I’m talking?!” he snaps.

“Answer the question. Do you love me?” I repeat calmly.

“How should I know?!” he huffs in irritation, his ice blue gaze plunging into the fire so as not to meet mine.

“How can you not know? You either love me or you don’t.”

“Then I don’t.”

I give him my best ‘Yeah, sure’ look.

“I don’t!” he repeats defensively.

“Alright, let me just list a few things for you,” I propose very reasonably and start counting on my fingers. “You kiss me, you have sex with me, you allegedly go out of your way to make it ‘creative’, you’re jealous of my attentions, you give me the key to your penthouse apartment, and you invite me to spend the holidays with you in your secret retreat,” I finish, trying to keep the smug out of my voice. “Now, you do understand how a guy could get the wrong idea, right?”

He sighs and rubs a hand over his face in desperation. “I know, I know. I know what it looks like, but I promise you I never meant to lead you on.”

I raise an eyebrow and he has the decency to look a little uneasy.

“I just… I never thought you’d come to love someone like me. Someone like him,” he amends.

“How could anyone not love someone like you?”

He snorts grimly. “You’ve seen me in public, Jack. I’m not loveable, I’m bankable.”

“You don’t let anyone get near you. If you allowed them to see what I saw, you’d have the world at your feet.”

“Well, you see, the thing is it’s already at my feet, fawning and wheedling for favors, without my having to be so much as civil to it,” he informs me bitterly. “Besides, I let someone get a little too close and look how it ends.” He nods at us, and drops his eyes to focus on his fingers that have resumed fiddling with the cord of the headset. He looks immeasurably upset and I watch him worry at his lower lip for a good half-minute.

“What did you see in me?” he then asks quietly, curiosity getting the better of him – as I knew it would.

“I saw you.” A brief frown of incomprehension, so I feel obliged to elaborate. “The real you. The guy sitting on this couch with me right now, not the impeccably smooth and occasionally eccentric façade of Dr Jackson.”

“I am Dr Daniel Jackson,” he reminds me tersely. “Says so on my passport.”

“No, you’re not. That guy, as interesting as he may be, can’t hold a candle to you.”

“You don’t know that. And he has his uses,” he counters with a dry smile.

“I know. That’s why I allowed him to tag along and watch.” I can’t help the smirk from twisting my lips.

He sighs heavily again and runs his hand through his ruffled hair before rubbing at his eyes again, which leaves him looking raw and hurt and unspeakably sexy.

“God, listen to us. Even you can see I’m nothing but a schizophrenic basket case,” he rants, hands flapping in frustration.

“Yes, but you’re my basket case.”

“I don’t love you, Jack,” he states stubbornly through clenched teeth. “I wish I could, but I don’t know how to do it. I’m not sure I ever knew how to love anyone. I certainly don’t know how to love you. How do I show love to someone who’s already had everything I could give? I don’t have anything new left to offer. I’m conquered territory. You know me inside out because you’ve already had me in every possible way.”

“You think sex is all I want from you?”

“What else is there?”

“What about companionship? Tenderness? Or just plain old fun in the sun?”

“I don’t know about these things either. I’m a loner, Jack. I’m not sociable, I’m not fun, I’m not tender. What I am is smart, boring, organized, driven, hard-working. And… and that’s all I am. Once you realize that, you’ll see I’m not such a good catch, and...” He grits his teeth before the rest of the sentence is out, but I know what he was going to say.

“…and I’ll leave you.”

“Exactly!” he agrees, his expressive hands joining in to punctuate his vindication.

“Why would you think that?”

“Hello! Basket case, here!” he waves madly, his eyes comically big and beautifully alive. “Rampant insecurities. Trust issues. Fear of abandonment issues.”

A damn knowledgeable basket case, at that.

“You know what?” I prompt, as serious as the moment requires. “I could do with breakfast. Couldn’t you?”

His shoulders sag and he rolls his eyes.

“Sure, go ahead, make light of my issues,” he grouches.

“That’s not what I’m doing. On the contrary. Big issues call for a full stomach,” I tell him, patting his ankle. I get up and head for the kitchen. “Want some coffee?”

I hear him huff and then move his laptop out of the way. “Yes, give me a second.”

A slightly pouty Daniel joins me in the kitchen where he uselessly monitors my use of his intricate coffeemaker. Hey, I’m a quick study too when it’s important – and I soon learned that coffee was important to him.

He reaches for the Nutella and I bring out the decadent brioche, trying hard not to think of the satanic rituals the village baker had to resort to in order to produce a brioche that can stay so fresh after three days. We sit companionably at the table and munch through breakfast.

The chessboard is still there, just the way we left it yesterday. And as I pop the last crumb into my mouth, I move a piece. One of his pieces, actually, because for some reason we switched sides this morning when we sat down at the table. He looks curiously at the board over the rim of his coffee mug, and starts to analyze the game from his new perspective: he’s clearly at an advantage now, because I was going to sweep the floor with him yesterday.

“By the way, I meant to ask: where did you see me?” I inquire, a propos of nothing.

He looks up from the board and blinks. “What?” I think I lost him.

“You mentioned that you saw me, wanted me, hired me. And you said it in that specific order, so… where did you see me?”

“Why do you want to know?” he asks suspiciously, eyes narrowing.

“I don’t know. A condemned man’s last request? Ego petting?” I grin easily.

“Your ego doesn’t need to be petted,” he mutters. “It needs to be neutered.” He moves a pawn. Yep, he’s gonna sweep the floor with me.

“Humor me.”

He throws me a brief glance.

“Entropy.”

Entropy? That ridiculously expensive Chicago restaurant serving so little actual food that I always leave hungrier than when I go in? Chances are I was there with Julia, seeing as it was one of her favorite haunts.

“Blond, 5 feet 10, ultramarine dress, with a smug carnal smile,” he provides helpfully – yep, sounds like Julia.

“Who do you mean?” I ask innocently.

“The client you escorted that night.” He keeps his eyes on the chess game, but I see a bunch of conflicted emotions swirling in his gaze. I’m pleased to see I wasn’t wrong about his jealous streak.

“I don’t remember seeing you there.” Which is surprising: a man like Daniel is hard to miss.

“I’m not surprised: you only had eyes for her.” And I almost tell him that it’s just as well because that’s I was being paid for. “While the rest of the dining room only had eyes for you.”

“Including you,” I can’t resist noting uncharitably.

“Including me. And probably my date.”

“Probably?”

“I wasn’t really paying attention to her,” he admits, like that makes him a terrible person.

“Sarah, your fiancée, right?”

“Yes,” he replies, a little grudgingly. “And don’t waste your breath. I did almost get married, but it didn’t mean anything. I wasn’t in love with her, I wasn’t even really that attracted to her. She was interesting and she had conversation and our tastes seemed to match pretty well, and… she was convenient.”

“A match made in heaven,” I comment wryly.

“Fuck you, Jack. It raises fewer questions to marry a woman and sleep around discreetly than to be openly gay in a monogamous relationship. It’s utterly screwed up but that’s my life for you.” His lips curl into a bitter smile. “Someone in my position, with the kind of attention I’m likely to draw every time I sneeze? Some people would make me a poster boy for gay rights or something like that and that’s pretty much the last thing I want.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being a poster boy.”

“I’ve already dedicated half my life to a career I didn’t choose, I’m not going to become some sort of homosexual icon! I don’t give a fuck about being gay. It’s just the way I’m wired, nothing more. I don’t want people to make an example out of me. My sexuality is no one’s business, and there’s definitely nothing exemplary about it.”

“Okay, I get it: being gay is a PR no-no. So, you intended to marry that girl and get your rocks off with the big boys on the side?” Somehow it sounds a little too offhanded for him.

“No… I was going to be faithful to her,” he says quietly.

Wow. Talk about a bleak prospect.

“So why did you break up your engagement with your ladylove?” I ask, trying to keep the sarcasm level down to a minimum.

He doesn’t bat an eyelid, and that in itself tells me he was expecting the question, but he pretends to focus his attention on the chess pieces.

“I couldn’t go through with it,” he eventually says, clearly holding a tight control over his voice. “Cold feet, I guess.” He frowns a little too hard and moves his knight – rather stupidly, I might add.

Oh.

Holy shit.

“Could it be that you saw something on the menu that appealed to you more than the heterosexual slice of vanilla cake you had already ordered?” I ask, my voice just on this side of insufferably smug.

His pale blue eyes flick up to me.

“You know what they say: the grass is always greener,” he retorts dryly. I nod understandingly, which only irritates him further. “Sometimes, though, it’s just plain, aggravating grass.”

I hide my smirk, play my move swiftly and let him simmer down. I don’t want to antagonize him, but I have to say my heart is swimming in happy juice at the moment. Daniel has all but admitted that I’m the reason he dumped his high class girlfriend – if that doesn’t warrant a little bout of giddiness, I don’t know what does.

I get up and go for a refill. He thanks me when I bring him another perfectly brewed coffee, and I’m about to resume the open-heart surgery, when a throbbing mechanical sound breaks the silence outside.

“Snowplow,” Daniel says automatically. He then rushes downstairs without another word.

And indeed, 30 seconds later, I watch from the window as a small snowplow crawls into the courtyard and starts maneuvering to leave the way it came. Daniel saunters into view, zipping up his stylish winter jacket. He trots to the snowplow that has come to halt upon seeing him and jumps onto the footboard, shakes hand with the two cheery guys in the cab. Discussion ensues, complete with pleasant smiles and nods and helpful fingers pointing in every direction under the sun. I swear if these two guys don’t stop with the smiles I’m going to start throwing rocks at them. When they’re done holding their conference on how to look hideously chummy, Daniel finally drops back into the snow, taps the side of the vehicle and waves goodbye.

“They confirmed some of the tracks and most of the roads are passable,” my good host announces as he climbs the stairs two by two. “The only good point about living near a fashionable place like Megève.”

He comes to my side, the smell of clean, cold mountain air clinging to him. “Want to go for a ride?” he asks, before adding, “No dishonorable intentions, of course. There’s a place I’d like you to see and I have stuff you can borrow.” He looks hopeful and kind of upbeat all of a sudden, so I agree and decide to put off the meaning of life discussion till later.

The ‘stuff I can borrow’ looks suspiciously new and fits me perfectly. Uh-huh. I keep my mouth shut and help Daniel pack a few things for the ride. It turns out the little bastard has a second, brand new snowmobile patiently waiting for me in the garage. He insists on taking the old one we repaired, claiming that he likes it better.

So there I am, pampered ex-boytoy of the year, following his lead on a mountain track, astride an insanely powerful machine, wearing a sleek new outfit that looks taken straight out of a Dior brochure. Feeling a tad self-conscious here.

After about an hour of racing and spraying each other with fresh snow, we reach the place Daniel had in mind. The vague unease at feeling like a spoiled catamite was actually worth it: the sight from the vantage point is simply breathtaking. A grandiose landscape of craggy, vertiginous mountains made smooth and easy by snow in shades of white, blue and grey. The sunshine is a little timid and watery, but the weather is so clear and the air so pure that the massif in the distance looks but a stone’s throw away.

I turn around to see what’s holding Daniel up, only to realize he’s taking a picture of me with his Smartphone – probably a nice one at that with such an amazing backdrop. He hasn’t even bothered to take his helmet off yet. When he does, he’s sporting a smug grin that traps the breath in my chest. God, why does he have to be so irresistible?

“So, what do you think?” he asks, still a little breathless from the ride.

“Beautiful,” I tell him, without sparing the landscape so much as a glance anymore. “That was sneaky, by the way.” I indicate the Smartphone he’s quickly putting back into his pocket.

“If I’d asked you to strike a pose I’m pretty sure you would’ve made goofy faces before pulling yourself together to look all suave and impeccably charming. That way I spare us a waste of time and I get a candid shot of a wind-swept, unvarnished Jack,” he explains shamelessly as he joins me on the bluff.

“Did you just call me vain?” I ask, inconspicuously pretending to fiddle with the fastening on one of my boots while in fact scooping up snow.

“You do tend to be a bit of a show-… AARGH! What the…” he flares, spitting out snow after my shot landed squarely in his face. “Oh, you bastard,” he purrs menacingly.

“Snow fight!” I warn belatedly as I scamper for cover behind his skidoo.

The battle is ruthless and rages on for longer than is dignified for two adults. He’s younger and determined but my aim is flawless so it’s an even match. When I finally tackle him to the ground and shove one last handful of snow in his ear and down his neck, he cries uncle, laughing so hard that he needs a full minute to catch his breath again. I stay suspended over him, hands braced on either side of his head. I want to kiss him so badly. Hell, he wants to be kissed so badly…

I lean down, bringing my lips close to his, but I stray to his stubbly cheek at the last moment. I drop a chaste kiss there – barely a brush of lips – and nuzzle cool, Daniel-scented skin.

“Too bad we’re not lovers,” I murmur. “I’d have given you the kind of romantic kiss to suit the occasion.”

A steely grasp clutches the back of my head suddenly as Daniel tries to drag me down to meet his lips, but I resist it.

“No, my love,” I chide. The unexpected term of endearment gets a choked snuff of white mist out of him. “You can’t have your cake and eat it. And as of this morning, you put us on a diet because you made it pretty clear we are not seeing each other anymore.” It kills me to see the spark of laughter die in his eyes as he realizes I’m dead serious, but I stand firm. I need him to understand what he’s imposing on us if I want to have a last chance at swaying him.

Christ, this could be the worst plan in the history of stupid, half-assed plans.

“Isn’t that a little childish and spiteful for a guy your age?” he snipes. “We’re still friends.”

“Sure. But not kissing friends.”

He sighs and I feel his body sag into the snow in defeat. I get up and offer him a hand to help him up. He stares at it, then stares at me, his ice blue eyes trying to hide a growing amount of hurt. Then he takes my hand and lets me haul him up. He stumbles a little and I take the opportunity to wrap him into a hug.

“We are friends, Daniel. Don’t ever doubt it.”

He lowers his head into my neck for a few long seconds. His arms tighten around me briefly, then he lets go. The wistfulness I catch in his averted eyes feels like a stab through my chest, but what choice do I have?

We take the long way home – probably because he needs to process a few things and the long miles of challenging ride in the snow help with that. We reach the chalet somewhere around 3pm, dog tired and ravenously hungry. We don’t bother with cooking a proper lunch and just grab bread, paté and reblochon, snag a bottle of rouge and make a meal of it all.

The chessboard looks way too intellectually taxing to be appealing, so I just drag myself to the couch and slump in it. Daniel finds the energy to revive the dead fire from a few embers, and joins me for nothing more exciting than an afternoon doze. I’m comfortably ensconced in a corner of the couch, and I watch as he looks longingly at my relaxed slouch.

“Do you mind if I…” he wriggles his finger to indicate my shoulder.

I nod and flick my fingers in welcome. He sits next to me and analyses the space between us, obviously trying to figure out how to lean on me without actually touching me.

“C’mere,” I huff impatiently at his skittishness. He leans against me gingerly so I wrap an arm around him, scoot my butt a little, and haul him closer until his head finds its natural resting place on my shoulder. “Don’t make me into a monster, Daniel: I still love you,” I rasp into his hair. “Just trying to protect myself, here.”

“I know,” he whispers, and I close my eyes at the feel his mouth brushing just under my collarbone. “I’m reaping what I sowed.”

We fall asleep like this, in a warm, bittersweet embrace. The irony is that he’s never felt so relaxed in my arms – so open and so tender. The nap extends well into the beginning of the evening, and I wake up to his raspy breathing, a heavy arm slung proprietarily around me and what feels suspiciously like a little patch of slobber on my chest. He gives a complaining groan as I try to move to get some feeling back into my left arm and shoulder.

“Sorry but I gotta get up,” I mutter under my breath, trying not to jostle him too much. I need to piss like a racehorse.

He’s up and pouring himself a glass of wine when I come back to the living room. He’s being slow and distracted as he puts together a few things to complete the aperitif. I sit quietly at the table in the same place as this morning and resume our game of chess. After Daniel’s stupid move I now have all my chances.

He places a glass of wine in front of me, a tray of salty snacks and seasoned black olives, and takes up his seat. He eyes the board suspiciously for a second.

“Did you touch my pieces?” he asks evenly.

“You wound me, Daniel. No, I didn’t touch your pieces. That knight is just where you placed it this morning.” He narrows his eyes some more. “You were busy telling me about grass,” I remind him ruthlessly.

He scowls as it all comes back to him. “Right,” he sighs disparagingly.

And so we play.

I watch as he tries to turn the game around, and in the interest of making him feel in confidence, I’d like to say I let him. Except Daniel is a good player, he doesn’t need my condescending benevolence. He does manage to make up for this morning’s unwise move, and continues the steady demolition of my troops. Slowly and surely, he scatters my attacks, pares down my defenses, until the end feels near.

“So, what are you doing for New Year’s Eve?” I ask, trying to make small talk.

He looks up at me briefly, his expression a little lost. He was a million light-years away. Already dismissing me from his thoughts? Getting away from me?

“I’ll be in Toronto. You?”

“I don’t know. Seattle, maybe.” Lou has been asking me to visit him for some time. Maybe I should take the opportunity to spread my wings a bit, visit some pals.

“I said we shouldn’t see each other, but we can still get together as friends, you know?”

I try to minimize my wince. “We’ve been there already, Daniel. You know we don’t do the ‘just good friends’ shtick.”

“Are we that bad?” he asks softly.

“We can’t keep our hands off each other.”

He snorts and we exchange smiles.

He then takes a deep breath while I move a pawn, then looks into my eyes – seemingly straight into my soul.

“So this is it,” he says, his soft educated voice caressing me for what feels like the last time.

“This is it,” I nod. My heart achieves terminal velocity, coming closer and closer to the jagged rocks at the bottom of that cliff.

His hand is resting idly on the table next to the board, and for a second it almost looks as if it wanted to extend its fingers and reach for mine. But the hand closes, the fingers tucked away from temptation.

“I’m sorry, Jack.”

“I know. I’m sorry, too.”

He moves his rook and nails my king.

“Check-mate.”

Victory has never worn such a bitter smile.

The evening is incredibly peaceful. Almost terminally so. We make dinner together, eat it companionably, then do the dishes like we’ve been doing this all our life, which is slightly unnerving, but maybe that’s just me.

We settle on the couch and watch TV. After surfing through the dozen channels available we fall back on ‘The Good The Bad and The Ugly’. Clint Eastwood’s French voice is sharp and manly – it takes some getting used to. More surprisingly, Daniel knows all of Blondie and Tuco’s lines both in French and English. I’d never have pegged him for a spaghetti western buff.

At the end of the movie, I get up, stretch my arms, but Daniel doesn’t move. He resumes the position I found him in this morning: sitting sideways on the couch with his socked feet on the cushions. He picks up the sheaf of papers and the pencil, and gets back to reading and annotating. Like today’s events were nothing more than a long coffee break in his day of work.

Smart, organized, driven, and hard-working indeed.

But not boring. Never boring.

“Goodnight, Daniel.”

He looks up from his papers but doesn’t hold my eyes for long, like he’s already trying to forget me. “Goodnight, Jack.”

I go to bed in the guest room. The sheets smell faintly of him, of us.

So many things have happened today – sad, melancholy, bittersweet things – and yet only one cold realization fills my mind.

I lost Daniel today.

***End of Day Four***

Chapter Text

Damn those salty snacks is all I have to say.

I wake up at 4 am, my throat parched and my tongue desert dry. I consider manning up, rolling over and going back to sleep, but seriously, the discomfort is too ridiculously acute. I get up, berating myself for not bringing a bottle of water to the bedroom. I slip a flannel shirt over my back and head downstairs, hoping against hope that I don’t bump into Daniel.

And I don’t, actually.

But only because I don’t make it past the second step down the stairs.

I hear Daniel talking. Jesus, is he really spending all night on that couch?

I stop where I am and listen. It’s a phone conversation and from the easy, casual tone of his voice, the occasional lapse into French and the topic of conversation it doesn’t take me long to understand who he’s talking to. Jean-Michel is on the other end of that line, reporting news of what’s going on in Chicago in general and at the hotel in particular. After a lull in the exchange, I hear Daniel’s voice grow a little tense as he asks the concierge to get rid of the Christmas tree in his apartment before his return.

I’m amazed the sound of my heart imploding messily in my chest doesn’t reveal my position to my oblivious host.

“Because I don’t want to have to see it,” he explains a little defensively to the Frenchman.

A beat.

“Je n’ai pas envie d’en parler, Jean-Michel,” he then murmurs grimly. And I wonder what he doesn’t want to talk about – though I can make an educated guess.

“…”

“Non, ça va.” Oh yeah, everything is peachy.

“…”

“Non, je…” And he gets interrupted by a torrent of long-winded French advice apparently, because a full minute goes by without him being able to get a word in.

“Il dit qu’il a des sentiments pour moi,” he announces. Like my feelings for him are second only to plague and cholera in the order of calamities.

“…”

“Ce n’est pas si simple, Jean-Michel. Tu ne comprends pas à quel point…”

“…”

“Eh bien tant pis pour moi, alors.” Which I think means something like ‘Well, too bad for me’.

“…”

“No need to get rude, I get it,” he grouches.

Thank you, Jean-Michel. No idea what you’ve just said, but I’m pretty sure you’re rooting for me.

“I’m independent,” he corrects. “Not lonely.”

“…”

“I don’t need anyone. And certainly not someone I’ve had to pay to be with me.”

“…”

“All the difference in the world!” he replies with a bitter chuckle. “He didn’t choose me: I hired him.”

I swallow past the sudden lump in my dry throat.

“And maybe he would never have looked at me twice if he’d had a choice in the matter. He had to take me to bed, so he had to at least pretend he fancied me. Maybe he would never have even wanted to hold a conversation with me, had we met under other circumstances.”

“…”

“I know but that’s for me to decide, don’t you think?”

“…”

“No, not yet.”

“…”

“Yes, alright,” he hisses pettily.

“…”

“Yes, I will.” A sullen promise. “Listen, I have to go.” Which is a complete lie of course, as I’m sure good old Jean-Michel knows very well.

“…”

“No, keep it valid,” Daniel says in a smaller voice. “Okay, bye, Jean-Michel. And… you know, thanks. I know you care. I just… This is something I need to do for myself.”

“…”

“Bye.”

Silence descends on the living-room. And in my chest.

I feel foolish, standing there listening in on a conversation I wasn’t meant to hear. This is so clichéd. Not that it actually changes anything to my predicament. It merely serves to illustrate how very contrary, insecure and self-willed Daniel truly is. Still, I appreciate the concierge’s effort on my behalf. Good to know I’m not the only one who thinks we belong together – the little bastard was beginning to make me doubt.

A feather-light draft of cold air sends a shiver up my bare legs as I stand there at the top of the stairs. Technically, I’m still thirsty but there’s no way I’m going down to the kitchen now. Tap water from the bathroom will have to do.

“You have them all wrapped around your pinkie, Jack,” I hear Daniel murmur grudgingly as I turn to tiptoe back the way I came. For a second I freeze on the spot, thinking I got busted. He heaves a sigh and I hear the sound of his phone being dumped on the coffee table.

And then silence. A rustle of paper. And more silence.

I think he wasn’t talking to me. Well, he was, but he wasn’t aware I was there to hear it.

Wrapped around my pinkie? If only.

I go back to bed after the mandatory pit stop in the bathroom for a glass of Chateau Faucet. As I wriggle back into the comparative warmth of the covers, I mull over the possibility of salvaging the situation to my satisfaction.

Okay.

Hope springs eternal, they say, and to be fair, all doesn’t seem exactly lost here. Just very, very badly engaged and precarious.

But still doable.

As doomed missions go, this one seems to be a doozy, but just hang in there, Jack. You have them all wrapped around your pinkie, remember?

I fall asleep, firmly hanging on to that comforting thought.

Breakfast is a quiet affair this morning. Daniel is being agreeable and evasive – and not meeting my eyes unless it’s absolutely necessary. As far as the activities of the day are concerned, we agree that we need to clear some of the snow from the courtyard – if only to allow the pick-up out of the garage tomorrow morning. He makes me take a frigging oath not to launch into a snow fight, though. Word of honor and everything. Spoilsport.

And so we start shoveling.

In a fit of undue chivalry, I give Daniel the broad, light-weight snow shovel, while I keep the heavy, bulky piece of crap that someone thought hilarious to label ‘snow spade’. As a result, he’s ten times more efficient than me and gets the job done in under an hour without breaking much of a sweat. The only thing that makes it worthwhile is the fact that he is now down to a black form-fitting thermal t-shirt.

He joins me by the garage door just as I stick the stray pinecone into the middle of my snowman’s face – my beautiful, 5’7”, aluminum-foil-eyed snowman.

“Glad to see you didn’t mind helping with the shoveling,” Daniel says dryly, apparently unimpressed by my masterpiece.

“I helped. It’s not my fault you only have one good shovel,” I reply airily.

He throws me a dirty look. Not the right kind of dirty if you ask me, but still. It’s interaction.

“I don’t suppose you have a hat, or a scarf or something,” I add, pushing my luck. “Or maybe a spare muscle shirt.” I let my eyes rake down his molded chest. “Wouldn’t want my snow buddy to catch a cold.”

“If I were you I’d be more worried your snow buddy got run over by a pick-up truck.” The mischievous glint in his eyes is disquieting.

“Road rage is a very ugly thing, Daniel,” I admonish his retreating back as he enters the garage.

“Better than a shovel up your ass,” he mutters to no one in particular.

“I heard that!”

We take turns in the much needed shower. Then it’s lunch, then it’s coffee, then it’s Daniel taking up yet another book and settling at the table for what promises to be 400 pages of deadly, boring, yet historically accurate blah.

What to do, what to do?

Apart from drive an insufferably stubborn man up the wall with my patented O’Neill fidgeting.

I slowly work my way across the room, touching, turning, analyzing every book, rock and knick-knack I lay my hands on. He keeps an eye on me from afar, I can sense it, but he doesn’t say anything. So after half an hour I have no choice but to come back to square one, sitting opposite him at the table.

“Can I see that picture of me you took yesterday?” I eventually ask ingenuously.

He frowns for a second but accedes to my request easily enough. He reaches for his jacket on the back of the chair and takes his smartphone out a pocket. He unlocks it, deftly taps and slides his fingertips over the screen this way and that a few times, then shows me the picture. I was right. It’s a nice picture. The shot is well framed, the composition is clever. I look… quite stunning. Which is humbling somewhat.

“Can I…?” I gesture to the phone, mutely asking for permission to take it and have a closer look.

The frown deepens, and the ghost of an indulgent scowl lifts the corner of his mouth, but in what I know is a genuine show of trust, he hands me device willingly.

I peer at myself on the hi-res screen. I look happy, carefree, in control. I should know better: so much can change in 24 hours. My thumb slips on the edge of the screen and the picture slides out of sight as the phone switches to camera mode. I now have the live feed of a tranquil Daniel on the screen, looking at me half-expectantly. I press the button before his candid expression turns wary. I smile at the photo I’ve just taken and brush an affectionate fingertip over a familiar cheekbone. Which somehow makes the phone’s picture gallery appear in thumbnail view.

I throw a quick glance at Daniel who’s already resumed his reading, soon engrossed in the written word. I briefly consider whether this would qualify as a breach of confidence. Then I tap the last picture in line. It’s the one I’ve just taken. A slide of the finger brings me the previous one of myself on the bluff.

Another swipe and I discover a picture of a cozy living room – more precisely, this living-room. The picture was taken yesterday or the day before, as the Christmas tree is visible sitting snugly in the corner by the fireplace. Actually, it’s not that the Christmas tree is visible in the picture, it’s that it is the reason the picture was taken I realize from the layout of the shot. The picture is taken close enough that the origami stars can be clearly seen. The scene looks good, with an almost bohemian chic air to it.

Another slide and I get the photo taken before that. Contrary to the others, its composition seems haphazard – almost like the shot was random. It’s at a strange lopsided angle for one thing, the focus of it being the solitary figure of a man that’s off center. It’s the picture of a guy walking towards the camera across an open expanse with a travel bag in his hand: there’s snow everywhere and a black helicopter in the background and… I suddenly realize I’m looking at a picture of me again.

My guts do a silly, self-conscious somersault.

Daniel took this picture as I got off the helicopter when I arrived in Megève four days ago. From the angle, I’d say he just slipped the phone out of his pocket snapped the shot without taking aim and slipped it back in. A sneaky paparazzo trick.

Another swipe and Daniel’s penthouse apartment comes into view. The lounge area – with its Christmas tree – in the full glory of a winter morning sun.

I revert to the thumbnail view of the gallery again. There aren’t many pictures in it – fifteen at most. And very few of those feature people in them. There’s just one group photo around a birthday cake in what looks like a restaurant’s kitchen, and a selfie of Daniel and blonde woman pulling a haughty duckface. The rest are pictures of landscapes, mainly taken at dusk or dawn. The oldest picture was taken almost two years ago apparently. Two years worth of pictures: fifteen shots. And four of those were snapped within the past ten days.

That stupid, ever-hopeful part of me wants this to mean something.

“Jack, what’re you doing?”

I switch back into camera mode and watch an attentive Daniel on the screen giving me a suspicious look over his wire-frame glasses

“Trying to figure out how this thing works to take some interesting pictures,” I tell him innocently. “Come on, give us a thrill. Take your shirt off.”

He snorts and I snap another picture of him. It’s achingly beautiful in its simplicity: the cute, shy scrunching of his nose, the slight, indulgent curve of his mouth, the soft glow of amused contentment in his eyes. This is the real Daniel: the man I finally got to meet here at the chalet. The man I fell in love with all over again.

A man who’s doing everything he can to push me away, but a man who took pictures of me and pictures of the Christmas trees I put up for him even though he repeatedly confessed his dislike of them.

I give him back his smartphone.

He checks the last pictures I just took, scowls a little for effect and slips his phone back into his jacket pocket before returning to his book.

So pray tell me, Dr Jackson… Asking Jean-Michel to take down the Christmas tree, but keeping a picture of it on your phone? How do you rationalize that?

“Do you want me to get rid of the Christmas Tree?” I ask a little out of field.

His head lifts slowly from the book – a mixed expression on his face. There’s badly hidden shock written into his wide eyes. And I think I also recognize wistfulness and guilt somewhere in there. He takes a good long fifteen seconds to figure out a reply. His voice is very soft and abashed when he finally answers.

“If you want to. You don’t have to. I mean, I can do it later.” An attempt at sparing my Christmas feelings?

“No problem.”

I get up, and with more spring in my step than I actually feel in my heart, I grab a waste basket on my way to the tree. This should be quick anyway: it’s not like there’s all that much to take down, apart from the tree itself.

I pick the ugliest star of the lot, the one I wasn’t really happy with anyway and crumple it in my fist mercilessly before letting it fall into the basket. I hear Daniel get up all of a sudden.

“Jack, don’t… You don’t have to do this,” he flounders for a second, trapped in his own paradox as he joins me in front of the fresh-swelling Nordmann. “Don’t throw them away. You’ve…” He lays a hand on my forearm to stop me from destroying the next star. “You made them. And they’re nice… it’s…” he stumbles over the words, unable to decide what course of action is the right one now.

“You want to keep them?” I ask, cranking up the disbelief in my voice.

“Well… No, but… it’s a shame to throw them away.” His eyes are huge and lost as they plead with me to stop being so cruel.

“Daniel, be honest. If you’re never going to set up another Christmas tree in your life, you don’t need this useless stuff taking up space in your home.” Come on, work this out for yourself, sweetheart.

He blinks and remains dumbstruck, like I just blindsided him with some unexpected piece of awful news. The hand that was holding my arm slips away in defeat.

“Shit,” he curses under his breath. Takes a step back. And another. Standing in front of the window now, he looks poised to make a run for it, but I can’t let him go. Not when I’m so close to such a big breakthrough. I drop the basket and reach for him – take him by the elbow.

“Hey,” I prompt softly.

“What have I done, Jack?” he asks in dismay.

“I don’t know. What have you done?”

“I… I invited you here for Christmas and I made you come here and forego all the holiday things you obviously like doing and… How could I be so fucking selfish? Why did you let me do this to you?”

“Your house, your rules,” I shrug easily.

“That’s not an excuse to make you a hostage to my… my fucking neurosis!”

“Daniel, Christmas Eve was amazing.”

“No, I totally ruined the holiday. You told me what it meant to you and… God, I almost gave you the talk first thing on Christmas morning!”

“Okay, so Christmas was kind of peculiar,” I hedge, with a wince. “But it ended with a bang, in every sense of the word, so you shouldn’t feel bad about it.” I try to joke. “Boxing Day took the cake in the most appalling celebrations of the year contest, hands down.”

“Don’t… Don’t make fun of this,” he scolds, immeasurably upset.

I wrap a comforting hand around the nape of his neck and force him to look into my eyes.

“Daniel, it’s okay. I’m a big boy. I had a great time here, break-up notwithstanding.” I give him a wry smile and a warm squeeze.

“How can you say that? You could have been somewhere else with people you love, with family or friends who actually know how to make Christmas good and loving and special. And instead you had to put up with my fucking, self-centered, loveless crap.” I watch him gulp around the knot of misery in his throat. “I’m sorry, Jack,” he whispers. “I’m so very sorry.”

“Hey, don’t get all worked up about it,” I reassure him as I slowly enfold him in a hug – he comes willingly, if unhappily. Lays his head on my shoulder. And again, I’m overwhelmed by how wonderful it feels to hold the real Daniel so close. “I’m telling you it’s okay.”

“Why did you let me do this to you?”

I rub his back gently and catch the scent of his hair – I’ll take all I can get.

“I didn’t let you do anything to me, sweetheart. I’m not a powerless victim. I chose to come here. And I chose to come here because I love you.” He needs to get this: he may have hired me at first, and I may have resisted the mess of feelings I had for him for a while, but I did end up choosing him. “And I don’t regret a single second of being here with you, heartache included.”

“I don’t know how you can love me.” The edge of self-loathing in his voice is painful.

“I don’t know how I can love you either,” I grouse playfully, “what with the rotten attitude and the asymmetrical ass-cheeks.”

His shoulders give a little shake, and I hold onto him.

“I have asymmetrical ass-cheeks?” His resenting amusement is like a thread of sunshine breaking through the clouds.

“You never noticed? It’s disturbing. I like symmetry.” I let my hand just skim down his hip a little.

He snorts, then sighs. “I know what you’re trying to do,” he warns, his voice now warm with a smile.

“Yeah? Is it working?” A guy can hope.

“No, but I appreciate it.”

I tighten my arms around him – until it’s less friendly hug and more loving embrace.

“We could be happy together, you know,” I sigh low in his ear. “I mean, I’d have to teach you a thing or two about being happy, but I’m sure you’d get the hang of it eventually.”

“It would never work, Jack.”

“Says who?”

“Says me, the rest of the universe and the laws of physics.”

“I’d still like to try.” I let my mouth nuzzle and nip at his lobe. “I know loving me wouldn’t be easy for you, but I’d like to be important enough for you to take a chance on me. The same way you were important enough for me to take a chance on you.” Hear me, goddamn it. I damn well fucking chose you.

“You shouldn’t have,” he notes sadly.

“But I did.”

“And look what it gets you. I’m a dead end.”

“Jesus, I don’t care if you’re dead end, a bypass or a fucking freeway – I love you! Why are you so fucking stubborn about it? What is wrong with loving someone?”

“I can’t do it, that’s what’s wrong about it. I can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know how to do it. I just don’t know how to love you and not become weak. If I let you in, you’ll be the end of me, Jack. I know it. I can feel it,” he tells me dejectedly.

“But?” I prompt hopefully and watch him close his eyes in defeat.

“But…” he rasps, not sure he can finish that sentence and speak out his worst fear. “But I’ve come to need you so badly. Sometimes it feels like it’s already too late.”

It takes every ounce of control I have not to whoop, sweep him off his feet and twirl him around. Goddamn Hallmark movies.

“Is wanting me such a bad thing?” I whisper, instead.

“It’s like losing a part of myself, losing a battle.”

“Love is not a fight for dominance or survival,” I promise him, stroking the nape of his neck.

He drags himself out of my embrace and turns to the window. Turns to the white, numb, motionless world outside.

“Everything is, Jack. It’s the way of the world,” he says with dreary certainty.

“Is this really what you think?”

“I’ve known nothing else, and I’ve seen nothing to prove me wrong in almost 30 years.” His eyes are so hard and cold when he says it. Christ, what have they done to him?

And pieces of things start to fall into place before my eyes. Daniel sees everything as a fight for control: even what we’ve been doing. All his rules of engagement, paying for sex, ordering me around, keeping me hooked, keeping me guessing, hiding behind the cold persona… Everything is about coming out on top, about staying in control of himself and keeping me in check. Letting himself go, letting his guard down, letting himself enjoy and live his heart’s dearest wishes is the epitome of weakness to him. That’s the world he’s been living in.

Christ, how can I reach out to him now? How can I make him understand?

“Daniel, it doesn’t have to be this way. Not between you and me,” I tell him gently. “And if you really want to see the world as one large, merciless battlefield, well think of it this way: we can be a team. You can have my back and I can have yours.”

His eyes are trained on the landscape, but I can see his gaze is focused inwards. He’s analyzing what I’ve said, presumably trying to find the catch.

“I played you,” he reminds me. “I hired you and played you. The man you love doesn’t exist.”

“He’s right in front of me.”

“I have issues,” he says, throwing a mean sideglance at me. “Lots and lots of issues.”

“By the bucketload,” I agree.

“I’ll never be able to keep you,” he mutters.

“You’ll never be able to get rid of me,” I correct him, then come behind him, my hands itching to just touch him. A single minute away from his arms and I’m already twitchy with withdrawal. “Look what you’ve done to me, Daniel,” I breathe low in his ear. “I used to be a stray, feral bastard, but now I’m domesticated and house broken and I’ve grown to depend on you for happiness. It’d be cruel to send me away.” I want to trail my mouth up the side of his neck – and he shivers.

“You only have yourself to blame. It’s not my fault you fell for the wrong guy.”

“You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed, you know?” I murmur.

He turns to me, an eyebrow raised – a part of him indulging in fond disbelief, in spite of his better judgment.

“Are you actually feeding me a line from The Little Prince?”

“Maybe. Is it working?” I’m literally bleeding romanticism all over the place; he’s got to have a heart of stone if he doesn’t give me something. “The guy who wrote it was an aviator, you know?”

“I know,” he smiles at my artless come on.

“Little Prince,” I explain, pointing at him. “And fox. Well, silver fox.” Pointing at my noggin. Just in case he didn’t get it.

“I see. So I tamed you?” And I could swear there’s a hint of timid smugness in his soft–spoken, velvet voice.

“Foxy escort to lovesick puppy in under 8 nights.” Which is nothing but the depressing truth. Eight appointments was all it took.

“One runs the risk of crying a bit if one allows oneself to be tamed,” he quotes.

“Don’t I know it,” I gripe, taking his hand. I lock gaze with him and am again blown away by the amazing, doubtful ocean of ice blue. I bring the base of his palm to my lips, reaching for the addictive smell and taste of him. This is it. This is where I take the jump and pray that he takes it with me. I gather my courage and wrap an experimental arm around his waist, which he accommodates willingly, so I pull him close. I hear myself murmur, “But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me…”

“Pour moi, tu seras unique au monde. Pour toi, je serai unique au monde,” he finishes the line, his eyes closing and his pulse racing under my thumb.

I brush my lips over his mouth tentatively and feel my heart hammer and soar in my chest when he responds to the feather-light contact and kisses me back. One of his closed-mouth kisses. So achingly slow and tender. So ravagingly sweet.

I think the embarrassing, broken moan is mine.

He breaks the kiss and fights the smile that tries to break out on his face. He ends up leaning his forehead against mine.

“This is a big mistake,” he says quietly.

“Probably, but at least we’re making it together.”

“Wow, were you always so appallingly sappy?” he asks, a pained expression on his face.

“I would recite poems in my head every time I fucked you.”

“Oh do shut up,” he scowls.

“God, I love you,” I grouse, tightening my hold on him.

“I know. I… I guess… Same here.” He closes his eyes self-consciously, but there’s something appeased in the way he says it.

“You’re never going to say the words back, are you?”

“I don’t think so,” he agrees somewhat apologetically – with a touch of impish spark in his ice blue eyes. “Or maybe in the throes of passion.”

“That can be arranged,” I promise evilly, leaning in close again to capture his mouth.

This kiss is deeper and more thrilling. One hand sliding from the nape of my neck into my hair, he receives my tongue and shares his with increasing hunger.

We’ve kissed a thousand times before, but this… This feels like a first kiss. That dizzy, scary feeling that your heart, your head and your guts are going to explode with the overload of sheer fucking happiness. That delicious twinge of raw, pulsing need deep down in your balls. That slow-burning fire igniting deep down in your soul. The promise of a small, blissful eternity of headboard-rattling pleasure and stupid arguments.

Our love life is probably going to be a train wreck, but we’ve deserved each other.

And the following hour or so does prove that he can say – or roar – the words when motivated.

 

***The End***