|The house was just as Colonel Davies had
described it. But it
still irked him that the generous, successful, young and
not-bad-looking-for-a-guy Air Force Colonel who, just for
had spent a fraction of the time with Doctor Jackson that he
not only the location of the man's home but had obviously
enough times to be able to describe it without a second
Jack had driven up through miles of forest before the trees had fallen away and he'd found himself in a massive clearing with an impressive view over the small town in the valley below.
The house was equally as impressive. The front was two-storey, floor to ceiling glass. The back vanished into the forest behind it. He sat in his jeep and stared. It was just as Davies had said. Faded wooden floors, stainless steel fittings, creme walls. He could see stairs going up from the open plan living area to a mezzanine bedroom.
It was a bright, sunny day and from what he could see the house's glass front and partial glass side-walls soaked up as much sun as possible. Still, the only sign that anyone was home was an old, battered, light-coloured jeep parked out front in stark contrast to the luxury of the modern build.
Jack climbed down from his truck, struck by the incredible calm and stillness of the place. He'd never imagined Daniel anywhere like this, but now he was here it fitted perfectly.
With his heart in his throat and a terrible gnawing anxiety in his belly, he crossed to the door set into the glass frontage and rang the bell. He couldn't hear its chime and wasn't sure whether it was working, so he rang again and rapped on the glass. Now he was here he wanted it over with, one way or the other.
He saw Daniel appear out of a room in the back of the house and turned away, not wanting to face his estranged friend for the first time in five years through glass panels.
It seemed forever before the door opened and for a moment or two Jack wasn't sure Daniel would even acknowledge him. But suddenly he was there and he hadn't changed one bit.
Golden brown hair still neatly cut, steel-rimmed glasses framing wide-eyed surprise, creme sweater and loose, faded denim jeans. Bare feet. Jack swallowed, his mouth dry, and he knew now without a doubt his mistake had been made years ago and now he was right. Whatever happened, he knew that.
"Can I come in?"
Daniel said nothing, just stood back and held the door open, closing it once Jack was inside. The house was beautiful - the cold steel set off by thick creme rugs and a creme leather suite, the sofa looking out over the clearing and its view. The open stairs went up against the far glass wall and dog-legged back to the mezzanine balcony where Jack could just imagine a huge, low, luxuriously soft bed.
"How are you, Jack?"
He could hear the forced cheer in the voice that had been present only in his dreams for too long.
"I'm... fine." Thrusting his hands into his pockets, he bounced on the balls of his feet and smiled a tight smile. "How are you, Daniel?"
"Good. Really, really good." His voice dropped off and Jack hoped the disappointment wasn't showing on his face.
"Thank you." Daniel hesitated, taking a long, appraising look at Jack. "I didn't sell a single word, if that's what you're thinking."
"I never thought you did."
"It was only when I left that I realised just how much the Air Force had been paying me. I funded a dig and it got results. Some... high profile results."
Jack watched Daniel get embarrassed about his success. "I know," he said gently, "I read about you. You're a shining star in the archaeological world."
Daniel blushed and turned away, leading him into the kitchen area under the mezzanine. Jack hovered at the end of the breakfast bar while Daniel filled the coffee pot. And he waited.
"How's Sam?" The words were muffled and Jack felt a spark of hope.
"She's good. I guess. We broke up."
With predictable sympathy, Daniel turned and took a couple of steps towards him before hesitating. "I'm sorry."
"You guys... were good together."
"No, we weren't. And you know it. You tried to tell me and I wouldn't listen. Then you left."
"I had to, Jack." Daniel looked straight at him. "Why are you here? Because she left you? Because you need a shoulder to cry on?"
There were two tones Jack knew he could take, the one Daniel would be expecting and the one he used. "What makes you think she left me?"
He was treated to further scrutiny. "You left her?"
"It wasn't working out. You knew it wouldn't work out."
"So you're blaming it on me?"
"No." Jack sighed inwardly. Their first conversation in five years and Daniel seemed determine to turn it into a familiar argument. Just like their last conversation.
When Jack had gone round to Daniel's apartment to apologise, two days later, he'd gone. Moved out. His stuff had been in crates and two strangers were emptying the rooms into the back of a large van. He hadn't seen Daniel again until today.
"Why did you leave?"
With a sigh, Daniel moved away to fetch a couple of mugs. "I didn't belong any longer. Too much had changed."
"You could've called."
"Why? You didn't want to hear from me."
"We were friends." It sounded like whinging even to Jack's own ears.
"We were once. But we weren't when I left. You didn't want me around, you made that perfectly clear." He poured the coffee and taking a bottle of milk from the fridge, he splashed in just the right amount in each mug - knowledge held over from a time he made Jack coffee on a daily basis.
Handing one over, he led Jack into the lounge and dropped down into one corner of the sofa. Jack lowered himself cautiously into the armchair closest to where Daniel was sitting, being careful not to spill a drop of the dark liquid onto the beautifully kept suite, or the rug under his shoes, or the glass coffee table with steel legs.
"Do you even live here?" he grouched.
"Sometimes. I spend a lot of time on the digs, in Montana and out in Egypt, although Steven's heading up the Montana dig now. I'm flying out again in a couple of days and I have no idea when I'll be back. Even when I'm here I'm usually in the office working or sleeping off the jet-lag." He shrugged, self-consciously. "I just like having somewhere to come back to, somewhere that's mine."
Not wanting to talk about why Daniel left or, more to the point, why he'd made him feel like that was his only remaining option, Jack looked around with his patented 'threat assessment' expression. Even after so long Daniel knew it.
"The glass wouldn't break if you drove your truck into it. I have a ten-digit alarm code, internal motion detectors hooked up to the local control centre, external cameras hooked up to the local Air Force base, a team of SFs on call with a two-minute-thirty-second response time and a pathologically protective colonel on the webcam almost every evening I'm here."
Jack bristled. Years ago that was him. Protective, jealous, treating Daniel as if he had some sort of claim on him. But at least they'd been friends and Daniel had put up with his behaviour because under all the teasing and the agro, it made Daniel feel wanted, needed and above all, loved.
He'd taken all that away, and he could guess who'd filled the position of Mother-Hen Colonel.
"Davies." He tried not to sound bitter but he wasn't quite sure he pulled it off.
"Paul," Daniel corrected smoothly.
"Sneaky little slimball -"
"- all over you that time with the sub -"
"Jack!" He shut his mouth. Daniel's tone was dangerous. "You don't have the right anymore."
He took a very deep breath. "I'm sorry." Shaking his head he went on, "I'm sorry for what I did, back then. You want to know why I blanked you? Why I stopped inviting you over for a chat under the pretence of watching the game? Want to know why I stopped trying to get you to come fishing with me?" Daniel stared at him, and after a couple of seconds he nodded. "Sam."
A deep sigh, a shake of his head, smile of utter bewilderment on his lips. "I know. You were obsessing. You wanted her, she wanted you and there was no room for anybody else. Believe me, I'd worked that one out all by myself."
"You don't know." Jack hesitated, tearing his gaze from Daniel to stare into his coffee. Good, expensive coffee he hadn't touched. He'd ask Daniel for a beer if he thought for one moment there was anything but coffee in the house. "Sam was jealous of you, of... us. She said... we were closer than she and I would ever be. Naturally me being me I told her she was talking crap and I sidelined you to make a point." He could hear Daniel's silent attention but didn't dare look up. "Trouble is, she was right. I just didn't know it until it was way too late."
For a minute or two neither spoke. But in the end Daniel had to clarify a couple of details.
""Sam was jealous of me?"
"And you dumped me for her."
Jack's head snapped up. "I didn't *dump* you, Daniel. We were friends not...." He bit off his words. 'Not really appropriate, O'Neill, considering why you're here.' Daniel was staring at him, his expression clearing declaring that 'nothing ever changed'. "Sorry."
"You broke my heart, Jack. I loved you. And you...." He finished his coffee in three long gulps. "I don't know why you're here but I think you should leave. We - whatever 'we' was - was a long time ago. A different life." He got to his feet, padding away to the kitchen to rinse his mug.
Jack watched him for a heartbeat, shocked, stunned, incredulous. Then flew after him. "Hey! Not that different! You're still hanging out with AF personnel, still living under their wing!"
"You think that's what I'm doing?" Daniel didn't turn around.
"You don't think it's possible Paul's given me all this security for some other reason?"
That threw Jack for a couple of seconds. "What?"
Drying his mug, putting it away, Daniel leaned on the counter, eyes flaming. "Paul. And I. Think about it. But think about it somewhere else." He waited long enough for the light to dawn in Jack's brown eyes, then pushed off the counter and stalked back along the hall towards the office. "Let yourself out."
Placing his mug gently onto the breakfast bar, Jack crossed the deep carpet and stopped with his hand on the cool door handle.
He'd been so sure Daniel would forgive him, so convinced Daniel was the only one who could fix the mistake he'd made five years ago. They'd been so *right* together, every memory of him felt as if it could support a lifetime based on the feelings neither had ever had to acknowledge.
But Daniel had destroyed his faith with three words. 'Paul and I.' Jack recalled the smug pride on Davies' face as he'd given slow and precise directions to Daniel's home. He leaned on the handle and pulled open the door.
Wasn't it exactly what he deserved? Wasn't it the same thing he'd done to Daniel? How smug would Sam have been if Daniel had ever been a guest in their home? That final evening, that terrible row that hadn't even registered as special or different in the spate of nasty arguments that had occurred between them during those last months. He'd left if two days before going to apologise because he'd told Sam about it and she'd told him Daniel would get over it.
Maybe he hadn't.
He closed the door again, looking around at the sparse, clean decor. There were a few things around that marked this as Daniel's space, but not many. A tribal mask here, a vase there. No bookshelves. No organised mess of artefacts. No fish. No photographs.
Toeing his shoes off, Jack headed upstairs.
From the dog-leg landing the view was incredible. The sun was setting, lighting up the town below in a breathtaking display of orange fire. No wonder Daniel had chosen this spot. All the privacy he needed along with the constant reminder that he was not alone.
Jack climbed the six stairs up on to the balcony and smiled to himself.
Long, wooden masks hung in a tidy line along the back wall. There was a door leading through to what looked - from where he was standing - to be an opulent bathroom done out in blue.
There was a familiar rug folded across the bottom of the deep red duvet. The king-size mattress, with matching sheets, sitting just off the floor on a dark wood platform.
Here was the colour. Here was Daniel.
On the other side of the bed, running the length of the third wall, was a low chest of drawers that matched the wardrobe opposite - the only furniture except for the bed. There were photos, displayed in an array of wooden and metal frames, all shapes and sizes.
Jack crossed the room as quietly as he could and looked at them, smiling as he recognised almost all of them, stopping when he realised that the one closest to the bed was of them. He and Daniel. Arms thrown casually around each other's shoulders, grinning like idiots.
His eyes searched for one of Paul Davies and the only one he found was taken at the SGC Christmas Party and featured all of them - him, Teal'c, Hammond, Janet, Daniel, Paul, Sam. His eyes lingered on her smiling face, caught in a moment of carefree happiness, and he silently apologised to her.
Jack could feel a well of joy overflowing inside him. He knew now that Daniel had lied about Davies. And he also knew what the expression on Davies' face had been yesterday afternoon. Not smugness. Relief. Finally the thick ex-colonel had put two and two together and come up with Jack and Daniel. A couple. Just like they'd been in the days of the SGC, before he'd got together with his 2IC.
Turning, he trotted back down to the lounge and searched out Daniel's office.
"Wow." He couldn't help it, despite the shock on Daniel's face that spoke of an impending heart attack.
The office was almost as big as the lounge. It was decorated in the same neutral colours and materials but the difference here was the wall-to-wall shelving along one side. Bookshelves, stacked with old volumes, journals, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, the works. There was another sofa, a two-seater this time, with books littered on the floor around it. Daniel was sitting at a wide desk that held a malevolent-looking desktop PC, wireless mouse and keyboard, flat, wide-screen monitor, surround sound speakers, bluetooth port and a laptop.
Very expensive, very impressive. And very stylish. Perfectly Daniel.
"I thought you'd left."
But Jack knew by his tone that the words were only for the sake of protocol.
"No you didn't."
A tiny smile touched Daniel's mouth and he shrugged. "Didn't buy it?"
"Not for a minute."
"Really? Not even for a couple of minutes at least?"
Jack leaned on the doorframe. "Okay. Right up until I found your photo stash."
Daniel smiled another small, private smile and Jack groaned inwardly. God, he was predictable. "I am sorry. I know what I did was shitty. You deserved way better than that and you deserve so much better than me. But... I'm a selfish bastard and I love you. So...."
Daniel sat back, arms folded. "So..?"
The sound of laughter filled the house and Jack wondered if it had ever heard that wonderful peel before.
Finally, Daniel managed to decline. "No, thank you."
Sobering, he sat forward. "Come to Egypt with me."
"It's where I'm going, Jack. And like I said, I don't know when I'll be back. I would say we've wasted enough time as it is."
Jack grinned, nodding. "Okay." This was so like them. Proposals of marriage, commitments made on nothing more than a feeling and an invitation.
Daniel stood slowly and Jack met him halfway, feet sinking into the carpet. Their arms went around one another easily. This was familiar, this was something they'd both been comfortable with once upon a time.
They stood together for a long time, the overtly masculine bear hug melting slowly into something else, something that was a welcome, a transition, a physical connection.
When Jack slid his hands up to cup Daniel's face, when he pulled back just enough to press his lips to Daniel's and wait for the other man to respond, it felt natural.
"Where's my shirt?"
Daniel laughed around his toothbrush. "Bottom stair, I think," he called back as best he could.
Jack bounced down and found it, pulling it on as he looked into the deep black beyond the glass. It was *dark* out here. Opening the door, he stepped outside and looked up. The sky was a pincushion of bright dots - stars, planets, galaxies, nebula, clusters, suns, moons....
He gasped when a strong pair of arms wrapped around him from behind and Daniel's head appeared next to his.
"It's beautiful," he breathed, aware of how sappy he sounded and knowing he didn't care. Just like he didn't care about the noise they'd been making for the last couple of hours. No neighbours to complain, no eyes to see. Just the two of them, metaphorically naked under the scrutiny of the universe.
"You staying?" Daniel asked quietly.
"Forever." It was the easiest thing in the world. "I don't belong anywhere else, Daniel."
He was rewarded with a gentle kiss to his nape - one that set his skin alight.
"Forever's a long time," he heard as Daniel caressed his throat with his tongue. "We'll need snacks."
Jack grinned as teeth bit him lightly. "I think we have snacks."