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Daniel had never known darkness like it. For the briefest instant he had seen a wide staircase sweeping down to a large stone chamber and then all light had been doused completely. It was like having a black velvet sack dropped gently over his head; a soothing blackness that wrapped itself around him as fondly as a lover. It smothered light and anxiety in a single embrace; dousing his flashlight and his alarm in the same instant. He made his way down the stone staircase by touch alone, led on towards an invisible something that was pulsing a signal to him of welcome; promising knowledge, and, perhaps, even love.

He could feel his way by the rune carvings under his fingers; perhaps Asgard, perhaps people they'd transplanted; but he felt at once a sense of great age and great knowledge. If the Asgard had brought them here, he thought it was probably a long time ago. He felt that familiar catch in his breath at the thought of meeting others who knew so much more than they did. He closed his eyes to give himself an illusion of control over the darkness, feeling the words, anglo-saxon more than Viking, although there were common roots.

Unlif…leornung…lufian…stillness…

Death. Knowledge. Love. Peace.

A whisper in his mind: All these you seek.

"Not death." He didn't know if he said it aloud, but he was shaking his head emphatically. Not that. Not now.

Not death. Unlife.

He didn't think he sought that either. Wasn't positive about the love for that matter. He had known love and lost it again.

And found love.

He blinked, opening his eyes in confusion and finding the darkness still around him, gently stroking his cheek. Where had he found love? Did the voice mean his work? That was love of a kind, yes. It quickened his heart and his pulse; it gave him a reason to wake up each morning and to go forward with anticipation and interest. His work was a love affair of a kind. But it wasn't the kind of love he'd been thinking of when that word had sounded in his head. Warm skin. Kisses. Caresses. Not just sex; sex was easy to find; but true physical love; two bodies needing to be together so much the skin was sensitive with wanting; that awareness of another; their body heat something that could be sensed even through two layers of clothing. The peace that came from lying tangled with their limbs… All that he'd known and lost, and he thought it unlikely he'd find it again. Two eyes across a crowded…desert; two hearts tentatively seeking one another; so fast but so sure there had never been time or need for doubt.

Some love comes swiftly. Some comes upon the lover day by day and hour by hour without conscious realization.

He'd never known that kind. The comfortable love of Victorian marriages, he presumed. Cousins who looked around one day and noticed they had somehow, somewhat carelessly, fallen in love. He'd never really grasped quite how that worked. To him love had always been a lightning bolt illuminating the heart. He found it difficult to envisage a love that altered you gradually, like sunlight yellowing the pages of an old book. Sha're had been love and Sha're was gone, so there could be no more love for him. Not like that. Never as perfect as that. And having known perfect love, was it surprising that he didn't want to settle for some inferior attachment; something born of loneliness, insecurity, sensory deprivation and lust.

He felt his way gingerly down the last few steps, jolting a little awkwardly as he expected another stair and instead met with the smooth invitation of a stone floor. There was a hum of energy around him in the darkness. A soft sound like a thousand people sighing. And somewhere down here was something calling to him; a pulse of warmth and comfort. It was a light without light; a noise without sound; a sensation that did not actually touch his skin; but still it beckoned to him and still he went forward. The sighing was louder; a sweet sound; the warmth billowing at him like the drapes of an open window on a sunny day. He imagined light streaming all around him; a glowing sphere. He thought of the console on Ernest's planet; that universal language in the symbols of the chemical elements; an alphabet composed of the periodic table. If he touched this he would be able to understand it. If he touched this he would be able to understand everything. He knew it as surely as if the darkness had whispered it to him. He stretched out his hands.

As he did so, he heard the sound of running feet, boots on stone, the clank of something metal against the rock. Not a good place to bring a gun, Jack. Daniel mentally shook his head even as his fingers felt the warmth play against their tips. For a millisecond he thought of Sha're as he had last seen her; the ribbon device burning his brain as she also lay in his bed, the heavy softness of her hair upon his chest, smelling her perfume, the delicious comfort of her skin... Then as his fingers played upon the light he couldn't see he realized that the dead were probably the people who saw and understood everything; but they had no one to tell it to, and no way of ever coming home.

"Daniel! No!"

Then he dissolved into a million points of light.

***

They were certainly a knowledgeable people. They'd been smart enough to keep themselves completely hidden while he and his team had done their reconnaissance. He, Daniel, Carter and Teal'c had gone into what they thought was every room of an extraordinarily well-maintained ruin in which nobody had lived for centuries, and then the previously hidden inhabitants had appeared apparently out of the walls when they were needed. And, God, were they needed.

Of course he should never have let Daniel out of his sight. This was their first mission since they'd lost Sha're to Amaunet and Teal'c's staff weapon blast, and he hadn't needed Hammond to tell him that keeping an eye on the archaeologist was something to be advised. But the place was so…pure even he had been distracted. It looked as if it was made from white wood, a faint greenish grain to the surface when you touched it, but impossible to see any signs of how it had been fitted together. It looked as if the walls had just grown upwards; all domed ceilings and high arched windows; drapes as fine as cobwebs blew in some rooms, drenched in sunlight; the floor was paved; black and white slabs, curiously warm to the touch. In a few rooms fountains played in ornamental pools.

Here and there were panels with incomprehensible lettering on them. Daniel fingered the carvings and muttered unintelligible things about Olde English. O'Neill tested him as if he was younger brother with an algebra exam the following day, pointing at things at random and asking for the local word.

"What's that?"

Daniel looked at the web in the corner an industrious spider was spinning and said something that sounded like, 'rengay'.

"What's that?" He pointed at the window.

"Eagoyrel."

"And that?"

"Flet. Or flor."

"So 'flor' means 'floor'?"

Daniel nodded. "Yes."

O'Neill shrugged. "And you needed how many years in college to work that out?"

He'd felt a curious sense of peace creeping through him that told him he probably wasn't going to need his MP-5 on this trip. He'd touched the walls curiously, then smelt his fingers. No dust. Just sunshine and greenwood. The Stargate had been facing this place across what could only be described as a grassy knoll and Daniel had said at once it looked like a temple. Teal'c had said it was like no Goa'uld structure he had ever encountered. Carter had said it reminded her of the Nox. They'd all felt that made the best sense, but as they drew nearer they'd realized the doorways were very tall for such a diminutive people.

Whoever had made this place, O'Neill liked it, if only because for the first time in much too long Daniel had stopped pretending interest and actually seemed to feel it. He'd touched everything and talked about the Furlings, and the Ancients. O'Neill had let him. He would have let him paddle in the fountains and turn cartwheels across the high-ceilinged hallways if it would banish that look in his eyes. No one as young as Daniel should look like that. No one who thought the way that Daniel thought should be that quiet and still either. He should be noisy and enthusiastic and annoying, the way he was meant to be. He shouldn't try to take up the smallest amount of space as if he was constantly trying and failing to become invisible…

 

Invisible. Now, sitting on the edge of the bed in one of the chambers, O'Neill ran a hand through his hair. Daniel was laid out to his left, and to his right was that huge old book whose function he couldn't even guess at. Was he supposed to read it while he was watching Daniel dissolve into the counterpane to distract himself from what was happening to his friend?

He'd been negligent in taking his eyes off Daniel. He knew what he was like. If it was touchable, Daniel had to touch it. Even if it had a big flashing warning light on it saying 'Do Not Touch'. And in this instance there hadn't been a sign of any kind; just a dark staircase into a dark chamber and a humming in the stillness that beckoned you in.

He'd got there in time to see but not to save; his warning coming a second too late. He'd seen Daniel standing there with his eyes closed and something glowing at him on what looked like a lectern. Seen him touch it. Seen his friend dissolve into what looked like a swarm of fireflies tossed upon the wind. Seen the book appear out of nowhere, as huge as an old family bible, illuminated pages undulating from a non-existent breeze; and then a violent ripple had gone through the book and Daniel had reappeared as a ghostly shape upon the stone floor. He'd run towards him only to find tall people in silvery robes appearing from everywhere, holding out their hands to stop him touching Daniel.

Not that touching Daniel was an option anyway. Daniel was not only naked, but also transparent, and O'Neill had been able to see the floor straight through his body. Seeing the archaeologist crumpled upon the floor in a protective curve, his strongest impression had not been of the tiles which he could see straight through the pellucid flesh and bones, but of how small Daniel looked and how defenseless. Like a child he had utterly failed to protect…

 

Now, he looked up at the two tall pale people who had earlier wound those strips of linen so delicately around Daniel's transparent body; trying to ascertain just how much trouble Daniel was in here. But their faces were unreadable, their concentration absolute. When he'd try to touch his teammate his hands had gone straight through him, but they could apparently find the almost imperceptible friction that was Daniel's outer husk, and make cloth find it too.

It wasn't a complete wrapping, like a mummy; just a piece here and there; a wrapped thigh; a bound shin; bandaged hips; delicate strips wound around his arms in a loose spiral. It could almost have been some form of tribal custom, except he knew it wasn't; it was a last ditch attempt to keep Daniel in one piece; to stop his…essence or whatever dissolving into the atmosphere and being lost forever.

"So, what happened?" he asked.

The female one turned to look at him, compassion in her gaze. "To tell you that I must tell you more of our history than such an impatient spirit as you would like to hear, O'Neill."

He didn't ask how she knew his name, or his nature. But for once he was actually in the mood to have them be higher greater beings because that gave them a better chance of being able to put Daniel back how he'd been when they first reached this temple. He didn't think see-through was a good look on his friends.

"Tell me anyway." He reached out to touch Daniel and then remembered that he couldn't. "I can always tune out the boring bits."

She didn't actually smile but all the same he got a sense that she was amused. He was trying not to notice the way they glowed a little; not like someone who'd been standing too close to Chernobyl, but a faint whitish light that made people who'd been raised as Catholic think of angels. He got the sense these people neither were nor were not human; they were humans in the process of becoming something else; something better, no doubt, but nevertheless he wanted Daniel to stay the way he had been. Human. Mortal. Alive…

He made himself look at him. His transparent face was so peaceful; more peaceful than it had looked since Sha're had died. He should have been glad he was peaceful, he supposed, lying there so calmly, eyes closed, apparently sleeping, yet only a breath away from dissolving into the bed. The only consolation was the way his half-bandaged see-through chest was still moving up and down with each faint but regular breath.

"When we came here we were a dying people. We had been fleeing our enemies for a long time and our people were fading. Many of us were old. Few of us were young. So much wisdom was about to be lost to us, and we mourned its passing."

O'Neill remembered Daniel telling him about that library that had burned down; all those irreplaceable volumes that had been lost. So many hundreds of years ago it made O'Neill's head spin even to think about it, but Daniel still felt the loss of it, even now.

"There was an ancient race here, who were not as we were. They pitied us. They learned our ways and our speech and our customs in the hope that they might help us in a way we could understand."

"How?"

O'Neill wondered that he'd never noticed how beautiful Daniel was until now. If he'd had that thought in the showers, it would have shocked him; disturbed him with how sordid it was, and how clichéd: lonely old soldier gets horny for smooth young flesh. But there wasn't really any flesh here; there was just the…essence of Daniel; an outline so faint he had to concentrate to find it; but still it was beautiful. His friend was beautiful.

He stretched out a hand and then sighed in frustration. His friend he could no longer touch. Damnit! Daniel needed to be touched. He needed reassurance, comfort; sometimes he just flat out needed to be shaken until his teeth rattled in his head; but he needed those pats on the arm, on the back, that ruffle of the hair, sometimes he needed to be held down as he twisted and sweated from a fever; sometime he needed to be pinned to the mat in the gym so he got a reminder that however many damned degrees he might have, the Jaffa out there wouldn't care. Sometimes he needed to be hugged so hard his ribs creaked so he knew he was missed and wanted. And loved.

She had waited politely for him to start listening to her again and he became abruptly aware of the silence. He looked up at her and grimaced. "Sorry."

"For us, knowledge was something that came in these." She pointed to, but did not touch, the book lying on the bed next to O'Neill.

"Books?"

She nodded. "This was how we recorded our knowledge. How we passed it on to others. The ones who lived here created a device that would pass on our knowledge in the same way, so that those who had reached their time would still leave us all they knew."

O'Neill stared at her in disbelief. "You're saying that when your old folks die they get turned into…books…?"

He looked between his transparent friend and the ornate volume on the bed in horror.

The woman placed a hand on his shoulder. "Not exactly, O'Neill. Our 'old folks' become one with the air and the earth. It is their knowledge that remains in these books."

He remembered Daniel touching the lectern, the book appearing, Daniel dissolving then reappearing again.

"It was not your friend's time. The device was not meant for him."

He looked at Daniel again, feeling an ache that felt very like the way he'd felt when the life support had been winking beside his son's head. Some losses were unsurvivable. One kept on breathing in and out, but you could never be the same again. He said dully, "Daniel's always touching things he's not supposed to. I keep telling him about that."

"The device makes the transition easier for those who want to die. It tries to soothe them and encourage them. Your friend was grieving and so it locked onto his signal. But there is a safety mechanism for those who seek…self-murder."

"Daniel wasn't suicidal!" He turned on her angrily. "I would have…I would have known."

"Yet you were afraid for him. Afraid that he would be as you once were."

He reached out to touch him again, and it hurt more than he could have described when his fingers only brushed air and a faint tingling of light. "I would have wiped out an entire planet just to find oblivion. He would never do that."

"But you did not, O'Neill. You saved an entire world. And you saved him in the desert when the sandstorm was too fierce for him to bear. You fought bravely. You continue to fight bravely although you have suffered much. You do what is right because you wish the world to be a better place, just as he does. You are a good man."

He looked up at her in shock. It was as if his mother had brushed her hand across his hair; told her that everything was forgiven; all his failures; all the times he might have disappointed her. That there was absolution here. He felt embarrassingly close to tears. "I'm not so sure about that."

She pointed to the transparent glow that was Daniel. "He is. You are his certainty, O'Neill. If he is to come back to us, it is you who must bring him here."

He swallowed hard, trying to focus. "You're saying your…atom-splitter rejected him?"

"It did not complete the process. His knowledge is safe in this book, whatever he decides, but it has left him a way to come back. If he wishes it."

He looked at the book again with more interest. A huge volume, very ornate, all gold corners and carved leather binding. "That's Dannyboy?"

She also looked at the book. "A very impressive volume for one so young."

"Well, Daniel always knew too much about everything." Still, he was a little proud of him, and couldn't completely disguise it. He shrugged, trying and failing to be casual. "More degrees than a thermometer in July."

"Yet, his own heart is a mystery to him." She bent low over Daniel, her long hair brushing his bandages, yet for some reason not falling into the space where his skin should have been. "His own body is a stranger to him. He does not know what he wants, O'Neill, he only know that behind his present grief there is another grief, and although he strives to overcome it, he feels that he has nothing to live for."

He looked at her in exasperation. "And I'm supposed to fix that…how, exactly?"

She smiled at him gently. "Show him his heart, O'Neill."

"I don't know his heart," he protested. I don't even know my own heart. Christ, some days I don't know if two and two makes four, five, or three hundred and sixty degrees. I'm the dumb one on this team. You want me to outsmart Daniel?

She pointed to the book. "I cannot read the language in which your friend's knowledge is written, but I think perhaps you can. Read what he is. Teach him what he wants. Give him a reason to come back to the world in which you live."

Then she was gone, and he was left in a chamber with the sunlight streaming through drapes as fine as muslin, his transparent friend breathing softly in the stillness, and the book of all his knowledge beckoning to him illicitly from the counterpane.

***

Touching what he mentally christened The Book of Daniel felt dirty, wrong, and yet disturbingly… sensual. It was the intimacy of it, he supposed. It was just a book, after all, just leather and metal and paper and ink. Yet it felt a little wicked; as enticing and forbidden an exploration in its own way as second base in the back of a Chevrolet with the warm leather seats smelling of spilled beer.

An impression not helped by Daniel's reaction when he touched it.

As he laid hands on the ornate cover, Daniel gave a whispering little sigh that was unnervingly…erotic. O'Neill snatched his hands away, looking at Daniel guiltily. But his body, transparent though it was, still looked at peace. He reached out and touched the cover again, watching Daniel as he did so. As his fingers brushed the leather, Daniel gave a little shiver and then sighed again, but it was a pleasurable sound; the sound of someone too used to sensory deprivation finally feeling the warmth of another hand upon his skin.

Tentatively, O'Neill opened the book. Daniel put his head back further in response, spine arching a little as the light from the window streamed down onto him and through him. O'Neill turned another page and this time there was text. It was in a language he didn't understand, which perplexed him, as he'd somehow expected Daniel to be written in English. But still the beauty of it shocked him. He'd seen nothing like this outside of places he preferred not to visit. Standing around, yawning with boredom, in the Newberry Library or the Metropolitan while Sara looked at the illuminated manuscripts; then getting sucked in despite himself. They'd been more open to each other's interests in the first years of marriage, before parenthood and Black Ops had started to eat away at what they had. But he remembered the illustrations of extraordinary creatures; and painted kings; the richness of the colors. The huge capitals with dragon tails coiling down the page; the swirls and coils in red and blue and extravagant gilt. Bibles and books of hours for missionaries, monks, and emperors, all in the Latin of a faith he'd rejected, yet with their own power, despite his lack of belief; like poetry learned for school assignments he'd later tried in vain to forget.

This was like those others books and not like them. If the abstract artists had illuminated manuscripts they would have done it like this; so you looked at the page and thought you knew exactly what you were looking at; then when you looked again you didn't know any longer how you could have been so sure. It was all swirls and possibilities; things that could have been something but probably weren't yet nevertheless held so much power; surreal and unreadable and yet irresistible at the same time. As maddening and as intriguing as only Daniel could be.

Jackson. Pollocked.

In between this page of ornate black text there were streaks of red and gold from right to left, like banners blowing in the breeze. When he touched the streaks tentatively, he imagined he felt Daniel's skin across his ribcage, smooth as warm silk, shocking to the touch. He snatched his hand away and looked across at Daniel. "Danny…?"

There was no response but when he opened the book wider, the transparent thighs also opened, legs flexing in a way that was at once limp and yet subtly receptive.

Feeling more than a little grubby, he ran his hand across the open pages, feeling the smoothness under his fingertips. The paper was as soft as the inside of a thigh and when he stroked its surface, Daniel gave another of those little shivering sighs that were so disturbing. Even more disturbing was his reaction to them. Was this some kind of power kick he was on? Liking the fact that he could make Daniel respond to him? And was it his actions making Daniel respond to him? He was just turning the pages of an old book, it wasn't really as if he was…

He put his face close to the pages and inhaled. The book smelt faintly of caffeine. With his face so near to the lettering, it seemed only natural to let the tip of his tongue just touch the paper. It tasted…good. Smooth and warm and silky and…good.

Another shivering sigh from Daniel; a flex of his left leg; exactly as if someone had just run a warm wet tongue across his sensitive flesh. God, this was nuts. It was just a book. He wasn't doing anything wrong. Daniel was always telling him he should read more books and he'd practically been instructed to read this one anyway. He was just following orders.

He turned another page, touching the illustrations curiously, trying to pretend it wasn't starting to arouse him when Daniel gave those little shivers or sighs or opened his legs wider in response, before letting them fall closed again. A modest boy at heart; perhaps if he hadn't been transparent he would have been blushing at his own reaction.

Okay, he'd thought that was his left arm he'd just licked and Daniel had certainly shivered there; and perhaps that had been his flat abdomen he'd run his fingers across so delicately, feeling a slight undulation in the page as he did so. Perhaps that sharp ridge of illumination was a hipbone. Perhaps that page like a locked casket all wrapped around in chains and fastened with a golden padlock was the place inside Daniel where he hid things even from himself. Maybe when he bent his head to lick something delicately rose-tinted the transparent Daniel's nipples had hardened a little in response…Or perhaps it was just a book with pretty pictures and Daniel was having a nice dream in his own little transparent world. But all the same he couldn't resist going back to the page that had made him think of navels and letting his tongue lap across it. It was just a book. He would never do this to any guy. That wasn't where his interests lay. Even though Daniel was so…

He looked at Daniel and although he was undoubtedly all guy, from the width of his shoulders to the narrow planes of his hips, from the faint dusting of stubble on his jaw, down the muscle on his upper arms, to the bulge beneath his bandages, down an endless length of slender legs; yet, still he had better skin than any woman he'd ever seen. Not to mention longer eyelashes than any guy had any right to own, and that same flawless innocence and purity the girls back at High School had… Hope and belief in the future. All that energy and trust. The way they looked at you as if you had all the answers but still challenged your perceptions all the same. He remembered the sweetness young people had; the ones who thought themselves so adult and yet were still so young. Even he had been like that once. Daniel still was like that and the passing years didn't seem to make any difference. That was why he liked his company so much. It made him feel better. Lifted the heart; challenged the mind; enriched the hours…Friendship was meant to do that, right?

He'd always thought it was people you fell in love with, anyway, not their gender. It had just happened that until now the people he had fallen in love with had been women. Did that mean they always would be…? Maybe not. But that didn't mean that he'd fallen for Daniel Jackson. That would just be nuts. They didn't have a damn thing in common except the fact they liked each other perhaps too much. Which was exactly what could have been said about him and Sara but… Lust, maybe. Lust happened where it happened and with whoever happened to be handy. Your cock stood to attention and you used what was nearest to hand. Which was usually your hand, come to think of it. And he would come if he kept thinking about…

Damnit! His friend was lying there barely visible, why was he thinking about sex?

Because this is foreplay….

O'Neill looked around with guilty anger at that whisper in his mind. "It's just a book!" But his fingers strayed to the next page and although he told himself it was a painting of something that might or might not be a unicorn, when Daniel gasped and put his head back further he knew exactly why. Then he examined every page, tracing the lines with a forefinger, touching everything, breathing on the brightest letters, letting his tongue savor the different tastes of every color. And beside him Daniel squirmed, and gasped, and dreamed, half present and half lost forever, his bandages flapping gently in the breeze.

It couldn't be dirty to kiss the pages of a book; or lick them even, work the tongue between the letters, trace the swirl of gold leaf, taste the delicate flavor of the blues and greens; slide a finger across a raised bump of gilt, even if you did it over and over, licking your finger in between, imagining that golden softness was warm oil you were working into heated skin, increasing the pressure a little, changing the angle. Even when barely a foot away your transparent friend moaned so sweetly as you did it; arched his back and gasped and whimpered, opening his legs to you as if you were exploring him as intimately as a lover, before his knees swayed back together, then opened to you again.

And yes, okay, if Daniel had been physically there, in just that position but with his eyes open, looking at him in a way that said it was okay to do this, his mouth half open just the way it was now, and the sweat beading his fine skin, and his legs spread like that, canted up, his back arched as if he was concentrating all his energies on some point at the base of his spine… Yes, he would have… Wouldn't have been able not to.

He gasped because he was hard now, erect and aching with wanting and with loss. He'd lost so much; he couldn't lose all this; all these pages of bright and beautiful things that were his best friend; all this knowledge; this capacity for joy he saw in every curve and swirl; this loyalty and love and trust and hope. No, he didn't understand the words, but yes, this was a book he could read. It was beautiful and it was Daniel and it couldn't be lost forever. He turned the pages again, so fast they were a blur, a breeze that made Daniel's bandages dance, made him whimper as if he was on the very point of orgasm…and there it was; what he'd been looking for all the time.

It was red and gold and full of words that O'Neill had no translation for but still he understood it. He stroked it very gently with his fingertips, as if it was a wild animal he wanted to soothe, letting it know that however badly it was wounded, it was safe to beat again.

"Jack…"

He turned his head, and there was Daniel, transparent still but with his eyes open, looking at him with so much confusion and wonder and hope upon his face.

Returning his gaze, O'Neill bent and kissed the page of the book that might or might not be Daniel's heart and said, "I love you."

And then the light from the window was momentarily too bright to bear and when he blinked the moisture from his dazzled eyes, there was Daniel gaining solidity with every second. As he stared at him in disbelief, he felt the warm pages dissolve beneath his fingers and when he looked down he saw the book lose all its solidity and then fade away. He felt a pang of terrible loss, banished instantly as he turned his head again and saw that Daniel was whole again and still gazing at him with a look in his eyes he'd never seen before.

Daniel spoke hoarsely, "It said I'd found love."

O'Neill moved across the bed, and he knew he should ask him ordinary things about how he felt and what the hell he'd been doing going into dark underground places and touching dark underground things, but it was obvious from the way Daniel was looking at him that he'd felt every touch and lick and breath upon his skin, so what was the point in playing games.

O'Neill stroked the short fringe back from his forehead, feeling the texture of it against his fingers in a way he'd never noticed anything before. "You have."

Daniel was perfectly limp underneath him, except for one important area that was straining against the bandages harnessing it. He looked up at him with that same awed confusion on his face, but as O'Neill knelt over him, his body heat placing itself over Daniel's, he opened his legs wider, staring at O'Neill as if he'd never seen him before. He must have seen the heat in O'Neill's eyes because he flushed, and said hoarsely, "Finish what you started."

O'Neill reached down and unbuttoned himself, unable to look anywhere except into the biggest bluest eyes he'd ever seen. "I was just reading a book." He reached down and tugged at the bandage around Daniel's hips, freeing a cock that leapt into his hand, slippery and erect and clearly very glad to no longer be confined.

Daniel was still looking at him as if he was as strange and monstrous and astonishing as any creature of any bestiary since the dawn of time; as if he was the griffin and the phoenix and the centaur combined. He swallowed hard. "You didn't get to the end."

O'Neill bent his head very slowly so there was every opportunity for Daniel to tell him to stop and then brushed his lips against his mouth; his lips were warm and soft and even sweeter than when he'd tasted them in red ink and gold leaf. "Is the end good?" His body held Daniel's cock between their flat bellies as he pressed the head of his cock against an opening angled perfectly to welcome him in.

Daniel looked very young then, and his smile was so shy it almost broke O'Neill's heart. "I don't know."

O'Neill pushed forward slowly and found the passage already prepared and lubricated with warm oil, the prostate tender and aching to be touched again; so sensitive to the brush of his cock that Daniel gasped. He bent and kissed him again, Daniel opening his mouth a little tentatively, letting their tongues intertwine in wet heat; Daniel moaning into his mouth as he pushed deeper with such tantalizing slowness.

When he was buried inside him, Daniel moaned again, louder this time, arching his back, so receptive and so beautiful it made his heart jump. He kissed him harder, fierce with desire and longing and the need to let them both know Daniel was safe and alive and wanted to live, damnit. Daniel wrapped his arms around him, those long sensitive fingers furrowing through O'Neill's salt and pepper hair, opening his mouth, opening himself, too shaken by the realization that he was dreadfully in love and hadn't known it, and his love was returned, to be able to do more than respond.

O'Neill found the place inside Daniel where the fear of rejection lived, the locked box where he'd buried feelings so deeply even he didn't know he had them, and used his cock as a lockpick; closing his eyes and imagining the padlock giving way to that last deliberately angled thrust; another thrust snapping it open; a third breaking the chains; the box lid pushed open by a fourth; the gold inside there so beautiful it was dazzling; wanting to dissolve like warm honey. He thrust again, kissing him hard as he did so, growling how he'd damned well better never do anything like that again, did he hear him, never go into the dark without him, never go anywhere without him ever again. Daniel gasping in reaction to each thrust, eyes closed again, holding tight to O'Neill as his whole body was jolted with pure pleasure, panting something in reply that no doubt made sense to him although O'Neill had no idea what language it was supposed to be in. But whatever it was, it sounded deliciously and uncharacteristically acquiescent and it made O'Neill growl deeper in his chest, thrust even deeper; a love Daniel could feel so clearly there could never be any doubt about it again.

But there were doubts, of course, because this was Daniel. A maze of them he'd traced with his fingers and his tongue; a pattern he had seen and could soothe eventually if he was only given time enough, and trust. What if you don't…? What if I don't…? What if we…? It's so sudden… Is it just sex…? Do you really…? What about your career…? Our friendship…? Maybe we should…?

To which the only possible answer was: 'Ah, phooey…'

You're loved and you're wanted and you're mine, Daniel....

Daniel's eyes opened, perspiration pouring down his face, short hair sticking up in spikes, their skin sticky and slippery with sweat, their flesh making music of its own. He looked at O'Neill as if he'd never seen him before and could never get enough of looking at him. O'Neill kissed him again, hard and possessive then tender and lingering. He breathed, "Just say 'yes', Daniel."

Say yes to life, to loss, to grief, to anger, to despair, to joy, to love, to me. Accept the whole package because whatever it brings from now on, you'll never have to face it alone again….

Daniel smiled then, sudden and absolute, a decision made, an acceptance. He kissed O'Neill hungrily as if he was tasting him for the first time, and said a very emphatic: "Yes."

The End