BY: sharilyn

EMAIL: sharilyn



Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You're covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you've died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.

The speechless full moon
comes out now.

Part One

Jack paced restlessly in the hallway just outside Daniel's private quarters, his footsteps silent on the thick, dove-grey carpeting that stretched the length of the corridor in either direction. Ten minutes, he thought disgustedly to himself as he pivoted on one heel and began another pass in front of Daniel's tightly closed door. Ten minutes I've been wearing a trail into this fucking carpet, and still I can't bring myself to march in there and find out what the hell is wrong with my best friend.

Just do it, a snarky voice half-ordered, half-taunted from somewhere inside his head. Just drop your pissiness and your ego and get your ass in there before someone comes along and wonders why you're out here acting like some kind of disturbed stalker. And for God's sake, stop making lame excuses to yourself, like oh, he's probably asleep already or that tired old standby, he'll come to YOU if he really wants to talk about whatever's bothering him. Get real, O'Neill; you know good and well that getting Daniel to open up about his problems or feelings is like pulling teeth, even on the best of days. And today most definitely wasn't one of Dr. Jackson's better days.

So get your cranky, reluctant butt in there and at least make sure he's still in one piece and basically of sound mind. If you walk away now and then find out in the morning that Daniel did something dangerous or stupid because of the mood he was in tonight, you know you'll never forgive yourself. And besides, you ARE the commander of SG-1; if one of your people is having difficulties, it's your job to get to the bottom of the problem and weed out any potential complications before they have a chance to take root...

Oh, cut the crap and knock on the damned door, already, Jack ordered himself with growing irritation. Honestly. This is Daniel we're talking about here, Daniel who's moping on the other side of that door and who even now is probably working himself into a deep blue funk that will require copious amounts of alternate bullying and TLC to drag him back out of it...And time's wasting while you stand out here with your thumb up your own ass, frozen in this hallway like a deer caught in someone's headlights.

Swallowing down a sigh of resignation, Jack stepped up to the door and rapped twice, smartly, against its hard surface. "Um...Daniel?" he tried, and when there was no response from inside the other man's quarters, O'Neill cleared his throat and began again, louder now.

"You in there, Daniel? C'mon, open up, already. You're seriously compromising the dignity of my Colonelhood, here, making me wait out here in the hallway like this."

For a long moment there was no reply, no stir of movement from beyond the stubbornly closed door; but just as Jack was about to raise his fist to the uncooperative slab of wood again, there came the faintest snick of a lock disengaging on the other side. Grunting impatiently, Jack took a half-step back as the door finally opened to reveal a shirtless, barefoot Daniel, his blue gaze resting without discernible expression on Jack's mildly aggravated face.

"What is it, Jack?" he murmured after a heavy beat of silence between them. "I thought we were all done for the night. Don't tell me Ambassador Polidori is requesting our presence for yet another evening stroll through his rock garden. I don't mean to be impolite, but if you've seen one ugly gray stone, you've seen them all--at least as far as Polidori's private grounds go."

"Oh, I agree," Jack replied drily, keeping his tone light even as his observant brown eyes took in the slight slump of Daniel's shoulders and the telltale tightening of the archaeologist's strong jawline--always a sure sign of stress or unhappiness in his friend, Jack noted glumly. Something was definitely not right here, and Daniel was obviously not in a very forthcoming mood.

So, it's going to be like THAT, is it? Jack sighed to himself and leaned negligently against the doorjamb, forcing a quirky smile onto his face as Daniel studied him with an air of weary patience.

"And no, this isn't about Polidori or his rocks, Daniel," Jack forged ahead, injecting just enough authority into his voice to let Daniel know that he wasn't going to be brushed off so easily. Something WAS wrong with his archaeologist, and Jack was determined that he wasn't leaving until he'd found out what it was. AND made sure that it wasn't serious enough to throw a monkey wrench into the tedious, ongoing negotiations with Polidori's people, the Colonel added ruefully to himself.

Not that he wasn't genuinely concerned about whatever bug Daniel might have up his ass now; but they'd already invested a lot of time and energy--not to mention the torment of sitting through several excruciatingly boring dinners with the Garanian people--for their painstaking progress to suddenly be interrupted by a team member's personal problems. Even if that team member was his best friend. God, sometimes being the commander really sucks, Jack mused dourly to himself as he went proactive and pushed himself lazily but firmly across the threshold and into Daniel's personal space.

"Um...yes, come right on in, Jack," Daniel murmured with mild sarcasm as Jack brushed past him and wandered down the short entry hall that opened out into a comfortable suite of rooms done up in muted earth tones.

"Yeah, thanks," Jack tossed back over one shoulder, his astute gaze absorbing the familiar clutter of Daniel's books, journals, and a rather untidy heap of clothes and personal articles scattered haphazardly about the living area of the suite. His eyes zeroed in on the complimentary bottle of Garanian wine, now more than half-empty, that was sitting on the low table in front of the Garanian version of a couch; turning back to Daniel, he noted the empty glass dangling between two of Daniel's fingers as his friend slouched against one wall and stared back at him through spectacle-free eyes that were a bit more unfocused than they usually were without his glasses.

"I see you started without me," Jack quipped, gesturing at the glass in Daniel's hand, and Daniel kept a level gaze on the other man as he replied quietly:

"I don't recall inviting you here for a drink at all, Jack."

"Really? Well, maybe you could offer me one anyway, Daniel," Jack returned silkily, a note of warning underlying the words. "I could actually use a little...libation...right about now."

"Help yourself." Daniel tilted his head in the direction of the wine bottle on the table, and Jack lifted an exasperated brow at his friend's less-than-effusive offer.

"Do you want me to drink it straight from the bottle, or does this suite come with more than one glass?" Jack was still smiling, but there was an edge to his voice that had Daniel heaving a sigh of resignation as he turned to the small kitchenette to retrieve a clean glass. Jack was in his pugnacious, full-speed-ahead commander mode, the archaeologist realized despairingly, and he had a feeling it was going to take more than a quick glass of wine to get rid of the other man tonight.

Great, he thought; just great. Exactly what I DON'T need right now, having him here, right here in my face, so close...As he returned from the kitchenette with the glass for Jack, clutching it loosely in one hand alongside his own empty glass, Daniel forced down the first, faint stirrings of anxiety coiling in his gut and kept a carefully blank expression on his face as he joined Jack in the living area.

"So. I figured you would have already called it a night by now, Jack," Daniel offerred wryly as he stood across the low table from his commander and friend and reached just far enough to deliver the clean glass into Jack's waiting hand.

"You and me both," Jack murmured sardonically, then leaned down to snare the wine bottle. After he'd poured himself a glass of the rich, plum-colored liquid, he raised an inquiring eyebrow in Daniel's direction and gestured at the empty glass his friend still held. Sighing silently, Daniel nodded and held the glass up for Jack to refill it.

"So why are you here, then?" Daniel questioned after he and Jack had both taken an obligatory sip of wine. "Last I heard, we have an early day tomorrow, we'll both need our rest--"

"Then why don't we just cut the crap and get right down to it?" Jack cut in, his eyes hardening with determination as he lifted the glass to his lips once more. Daniel forced himself not to look away, made himself keep his own gaze steady on Jack's as the other man drained the wine with a slight grimace at its sweetness and reached to pour another glass. "Something's wrong with you, and I want to know what it is."

"Nothing's wrong with me, Jack; just because this particular mission has been a big snooze-fest for you in general, that doesn't mean you have to go sniffing after me, making up some nonexistent crisis to alleviate your own boredom." Daniel's tone wasn't quite as chilly as the expression that rose in Jack's eyes at his friend's words, but the dead flatness behind the statement sent a chill of dread down Jack's spine that was stronger than the surface anger Daniel's cool accusation had aroused.

"You mouth off at me like that, and yet you stand there insisting nothing's wrong. Well, I think there IS something wrong with this picture, Daniel; something is definitely NOT a-ok with you, and I have neither the patience nor the luxury right now of waiting you out. Insulting me like some adolescent smart-ass isn't going to do you any good, either; you know you're talking to the master where that's concerned, and you haven't got a damned thing over me in that department. So I'll say it again; cut the crap and come clean. What's up with you, and what can I do to help?"

Jack had swallowed down two more glasses of wine in quick succession as he'd made his half-irate, half-worried speech, and he gazed down rather ruefully at the now-empty wine bottle in his hand as he waited for Daniel's response to his demand.

" have some bedside manner there, Jack," Daniel murmured, draining the last dregs of his own glass of wine and leaning over to set the empty glass on the table. As he raised back up, a cynical light entered his eyes. "How can I resist such gentle persuasion?" he snorted.

"Let's agree that you can't," Jack replied shortly, and Daniel reached to pry the empty wine bottle from the Colonel's fingers, a small gleam of sardonic amusement coming briefly to his blue eyes.

"You really don't want to hear this, Jack," he warned softly, tugging at the wine bottle as Jack refused to relinquish control of it. "You have absolutely NO idea what you'll be letting yourself in for if you insist on pursuing this line of inquiry tonight."

"I think I can handle it, Daniel," Jack murmured smoothly in reply, a dangerous lilt in his voice, and Daniel sighed hugely and let go of the disputed bottle.

"Then we're going to need more wine," he muttered dolefully and bent to retrieve his glass. "There's another bottle on the bedside table in my room; come on, then." And without a backward glance the slender archaeologist turned and walked out of the living area through the darkened doorway that led to his sleeping quarters.

What the--? Jack thought, a scowl of confusion crossing his lean face; but it was obvious that Daniel had no intention of returning to the living area with the wine, so the older man heaved an exasperated sigh and followed after, telling himself that the warning bells going off in his head now were nothing more than the aftermath of a long day and those three glasses of wine he'd just had on a basically empty stomach.

Dammit, Daniel, he groused to himself as he stepped into the amorphous gloom that was his friend's bedchamber; I'm getting too old for this shit. And you're getting too old to keep stirring it up. But Jack couldn't deny the frisson of worry that glided like ice down his spine as Daniel's voice spoke from the darkness:

"Close the door, Jack."

Part Two

"Isn't it a little dark in here, Daniel?" Jack's low voice sounded muffled in the dimness, and he heard Daniel give a little cluck of impatience from somewhere off to his right.

"Yeah, er...sorry. Let me find the lamp..." There was the sound of fumbling, a half-audible curse, then the heretofore stygian gloom surrounding them gave way to a mellow golden light that was far from blinding but still had Jack reflexively squinting his eyes for a moment.

"Better?" Daniel inquired, and Jack nodded.

"Much," he retorted drily and busied himself with looking around while he waited for the strange tendrils of unease curling through his body to subside. He was aware of Daniel scrounging on the cluttered table next to his large, rumpled bed but kept his gaze focused on other things instead--on the trail of wadded-up papers littering the floor from a desk against one wall to an overflowing waste basket several feet away from it, to the half-opened closet doors across the room that revealed the closet's interior and the sparse row of clothes hanging inside that Daniel had brought with him for this mostly diplomatic mission.

"Did you bring your glass with you?" Daniel asked, and Jack turned his head to find Daniel standing next to his bed, a full bottle of wine in one hand and his own empty glass in the other.

"No, I guess I left it in the other room," Jack replied. "But I don't really want any more, at least not right now. Are you so sure YOU want another drink, Daniel?" He tried to keep the question casual, but the instant flare of defensive anger his words called up in the other man's eyes brought a concerned frown to Jack's lips.

"I'm a big boy now, Jack; I think I can decide for myself when I've had enough." Daniel's tone was even, but his hand shook slightly as he opened the wine's stopper and poured his glass half full.

"Fair enough." Jack raised both hands in a gesture of surrender and nodded placatingly, feeling a fresh wave of tension tighten his neck muscles as he did so. Silently cursing the uncomfortable silence rising in the room between them, the Colonel merely slid both hands into the pockets of his dress pants and eyed the tangled mess of bedclothes on Daniel's bed with a questioning lift of one eyebrow.

"Housekeeping skip out on you today?" he quipped, and Daniel scowled blackly at him.

"I told the Garanian woman who came by to clean for me that I didn't need her," he said dismissively, his tone the smallest bit defensive. "She just kept moving all my journals and DUSTING everything...I'll clean it all up myself, before we leave. It's not a problem."

"Whatever," Jack returned, but the keen look he sent Daniel from across the room said otherwise. Daniel was nothing if not unfailingly polite to the citizens of all the cultures they came into contact with, and it was almost unheard of for him to have so abruptly dismissed the Garanian woman from her assigned duties. It just wasn't like him, and the disorganized condition of the suite added one more notch of tension to the pain growing across Jack's shoulders.

"So. You've got your wine, I've seen your's about we go back into the living area and talk like civilized human beings?" Jack suggested, losing patience with this strange game Daniel seemed to be playing. "You can unburden your soul, we'll sort everything out, then we'll both grab seven hours of sleep and be off to the races again tomorrow."

He knew the instant that the words left his mouth that his glib tone had been a mistake, but it was too late to call it all back now; the dark hurt that flared in Daniel's eyes cut into Jack like a knife from clear across the room and had the older man taking an apologetic half-step forward. The look of mute disgust that Daniel unleashed on him at the movement was enough to freeze Jack in his tracks, and the bitter smile that curled the edges of the younger man's lips at Jack's aborted step never reached his eyes.

"You make it all sound like something of a running joke, Jack," he murmured almost conversationally now. "Don't worry, folks, it's just Daniel Jackson going off his rocker again, pulling another patented emotional breakdown stunt for the amusement of all present. Is that how I seem to you, Jack?" Lifting the glass of wine to his lips, Daniel took a long, slow swallow, his eyes never leaving Jack's.

"No, dammit, that's not what I meant at all...and you know it," Jack responded, his tone starting out hot and angry and ending on a cold note of hopelessness. "Jesus, Daniel, what IS this? What the hell is up with you, why are you suddenly acting this way? You were completely fine when we first gated here five days ago, and I'm as certain of that as can be. Hell, even as late as yesterday evening, at that boring old Duke of Wherever's dinner party, you were fine. Everything was normal with you, with all of us; you were...fine," he finished lamely, his eyes flashing dark frustration.

"Yes, I guess maybe I was," Daniel agreed, taking another sip of wine and gazing almost pensively down at the rumpled state of his bed. "Or I THOUGHT I was, anyway. No, you're right; I was basically just fine. Everything was running smoothly, all of us getting along with the Garanians like we were old friends--"

"Well, I wouldn't go THAT far," Jack grimaced and surprised a small, quick flutter of wry agreement in Daniel's downcast gaze. "But yeah, things were running exactly on shedule. And then today the sun came up, we got up and met for breakfast, started our day...and you just weren't with us, Daniel. All day long, you were just...somewhere else in your head. Somewhere that must not have been very pleasant, by the looks of you."

All trace of glibness had left Jack's voice, and his eyes were quietly somber as he took several slow, careful steps across the floor. Daniel watched him come, his expression inscrutable, and his seeming acqiescence encouraged Jack to move around the end of the bed and come to a stop a mere eighteen inches from his troubled team mate.

" wanna tell me what's up, Daniel?" Jack murmured, a sudden gentleness transforming his features from confused aggravation to quiet empathy. A brief look of chagrin crossed his face, as well, as he sighed ruefully. "I know I haven't been exactly...compassionate...since I walked in here tonight; but you know me, Daniel--I just don't handle this sort of stuff very well."

"What sort of stuff would that be, Jack?" Daniel replied, and Jack bit back an impatient oath at his friend's rapid return to hostility. Okay, okay, he cautioned himself, forcing down his own quick surge of anger; maybe he deserved a little baiting and pissiness from Daniel after his own less-than-diplomatic approach to this whole bizarre conversation. And beneath the sulky smugness in Daniel's tone lay something so dark and full of pain that Jack felt his chest tighten with a very real spasm of fear for his friend.

"I don't know, Daniel; emotional stuff, I guess," Jack mumbled, beginning to wish he HAD brought his empty glass with him. A fourth glass of wine didn't sound like such a bad idea right about now. Sighing, Jack closed his eyes and absently massaged the bridge of his nose as he tried to organize his steadily fragmenting thoughts; God, he mused drily,whatever's got Daniel in such a state must be contagious.

"Look, Daniel, I really do want to hear what's bothering you; I want to help however I can. And I know that...well...that talking about your feelings and stuff isn't all that easy for you, either." Lowering his hand, Jack opened his eyes and was startled by the open expression of emotional turmoil gazing back at him from Daniel's unbelievably crystalline eyes.

"God, Daniel...please, tell me what this IS, what you need from me in order to get you--to get US--past this!" His voice rough with tension, Jack reached out without thinking and closed one hand on Daniel's bare shoulder. With an audible hiss of breath Daniel jerked away and almost sloshed the remnants of wine left in his glass all over his hand. The look he raised next for Jack's worried perusal was one of such desperate, lost emptiness that it felt to Jack like someone had taken a brutal fist and rammed it straight into his solar plexus.

"Daniel, what?!" he almost groaned the words out, forcing them up from the level of his own growing distress; and at sight of the beseeching glint in the older man's eyes, Daniel suddenly turned and hurled his wine glass at the nearest wall. The glass shattered on impact, splattering a messy arc of plum-colored violence across the smooth expanse of almond-tinted wall. Glittery shards of glass winked reproachfully at the two humans from the now-stained carpet on the floor, but neither man seemed to notice the destruction Daniel had wrought.

Agitated brown eyes locked with anguished blue ones, and Daniel spoke suddenly, brokenly, into the terrible tension between them: "You don't want to know what's in my mind right now, Jack; God, you don't want to know."

"But I do, Daniel. C'mon, now, why don't we just...sit down, right here on the edge of the bed...take your time, gather your thoughts...whatever you have to say to me, Daniel, I promise I'll listen without freaking out on you. Is that a fair deal?" Moving slowly, Jack levered himself down onto the side of Daniel's unmade bed and gingerly patted the space next to him, his hand absently smoothing the sheet covering the thick, comfortable mattress beneath.

"You don't want to be here, Jack," Daniel muttered, gazing down at Jack's moving hand as though hypnotized by his friend's long, graceful fingers. "Especially when you do hear what I have to say. When you hear what I...what I need."

"Sit down, Daniel," Jack repeated, tucking both hands between his thighs and gazing soberly up at his friend. "Please, just...sit. Now."

Daniel studied the other man for another long breath, his arms coming up as though to wrap themselves protectively around his own midsection. Belatedly he became aware that he was still clutching the bottle of wine in his fingers, and with a grimace he turned and set it back on the bedside table with a delicacy that seemed incongruous after his recent outburst with the hurled glass.

"Okay, Jack," he murmured obediently, turning back toward the bed with an expression of quiet intensity. "I'll sit now. And I'll tell you what I feel; what I need. Because believe me, Jack--whether it makes sense to you or not, whether it grosses you out or not--I still need this. I...I NEED it, Jack. And it's so strong, I feel like it's eating me up from the inside, like it just came out of nowhere and it's growing and growing until I can't keep fighting it..."

"What is it, Daniel? I can't help you if you don't tell me what it is," Jack replied quietly, and with a last sigh of surrender Daniel came and sat on the bed next to his friend and commander, a strange, tremulous little half-smile contorting his face as both men turned sideways just enough to hold one another's gaze.

"Just don't hit me, Jack, okay?" he whispered fervently, and at Jack's bewildered frown of negation Daniel drew in a breath and began, slowly and with amazing calm, to tell Jack just what it was he needed. And Jack, with a corresponding calm born of pure shock, just sat and listened.

Part Three

"No," Jack said, his voice rasping with quiet disbelief. "No, Daniel."

"Yes, Jack. Yes, and YES. You asked, and now I'm telling you." Daniel's voice was low and hoarse and absolutely rock-steady with conviction; and when an undeniably shaken Jack O'Neill managed to gather enough courage to raise his bowed head and look into the younger man's eyes, what he saw there was nothing more than the truth.

"Jesus, Daniel...I mean, for crying out loud, what do you want me to say? What do you EXPECT me to say?" Running agitated fingers through his short, salt-and-pepper hair, Jack sighed deeply and tried to collect the scattered fragments of his composure as Daniel slumped quietly beside him, his slender fingers plucking rhythmically at the crease in his left pants leg.

"Maybe I don't expect you to say anything," Daniel responded after a moment, his voice immeasurably weary. "Maybe, if you hadn't barged in on me tonight, I would have kept this whole business to myself, which was my plan all along. Maybe I would have gotten quietly and thoroughly drunk, done a bit of private raging and ranting until at last, mercifully, I passed out. And maybe--hopefully--by tomorrow morn all of this would have passed and no one but me would have been the wiser."

"Do you really believe that?" Jack asked softly, and the smile Daniel gave him then shattered some deep, nearly-forgotten part of the Colonel's heart. It was the saddest smile Jack had ever seen, and yet there was something immensely beautiful in it, even as it ripped asunder the protective walls guarding Daniel's deepest soul and left the younger man's inmost spirit exposed to Jack's wondering eyes.

No, Jack realized absently, his hands beginning to shake the smallest bit; neither one of us really believes that. You can't just drink this one away, Dannyboy; and I can't joke it away. Wherever this came from and why it came NOW, of all the inconvenient times, didn't really matter. What mattered was the certainty in Daniel's eyes, the muted hopelessness in every line of his slumped body as he sat waiting for Jack's refusal.

"Oh, God; you really did mean it, didn't you?" Jack murmured dazedly now, one hand lifting and hovering uselessly in the air between them as its owner pondered the things Daniel had just told him. "It's also true, then, what you said about...about NEEDING..."

"You feel it," Daniel realized, his voice barely above a whisper. "Tell me you feel it, tell me you can SEE..."

"If by SEE you mean understand...then no, Daniel, I can't tell you that I do. Not fully, anyway. But yes, yes...I feel it. I feel..." Jack's voice trailed away and he closed his eyes again, blocking out the sight of Daniel sitting next to him, trying without success to block out the increasingly powerful physical awareness of him, as well.

"God," he repeated again, completely at a loss. "God." And then, his brown eyes flying open to connect instantly, intensely, with Daniel's subdued azure stare, he felt the hesitant stretching of muscles around his mouth and understood that he was trying--painfully--to smile.

" what?" he murmured after a short, awkward interval between them. "Where do we go from here?"

"Well, I suppose that's up to you, Jack," Daniel answered; and though his tone was mild, the almost desperate look he slanted Jack's way told the older man just how tenuous the younger man's self-control really was right now.

"And if I say no?" Jack began carefully, gazing down at his hands where they rubbed up and down, up and down, atop his own thighs.

"Then you say no. And we say good night, you leave, and we both try to get some sleep," Daniel intoned with absolutely no conviction in his voice.

"Yeah, like either one of us would be able to sleep; you're so full of shit, Daniel," Jack retorted huskily, half-angrily. And then his hands were moving, lifting from his thighs to reach across and take hold of Daniel's left hand, squeezing it tightly in his when Daniel gasped shakily and tried to pull away.

"So. All things considered, then, I guess this means I don't leave, huh?" Jack murmured; and as Daniel raised dark, disbelieving eyes to his friend's face, Jack took Daniel's captured hand and lifted it slowly to the smooth, strong line of his own jaw.

"How do we do this?" Jack questioned softly, resignedly, and for the briefest instant Daniel was stunned by the other's surrender, his breath stolen away by the magnitude of what Jack was agreeing to. It was all too much, too great a sacrifice for Jack to make; and for a moment Daniel wanted to pull away, wanted to lash out at Jack that it had all just been a stupid joke, a drunken mistake...but he knew it wasn't so.

Daniel could feel it rushing through him now like molten lava, surging up now from the bottomless pit of emptiness and longing at the center of his being; he could feel the uncontrollable trembling taking hold of him at the simple physical sensation of his fingers curving helplessly, hungrily, along the strong outline of Jack's jaw, and he knew the need would eat him alive if he didn't do something to assuage it.

And it isn't even about sex, he told himself dazedly; no, nothing so mundane as that. The fire burning inside him--this dark demon of insatiable need welling up from deep within his soul--was hungry for something far more intimate than the bump and grind of mere intercourse. That wasn't what Daniel wanted from Jack now, wasn't what he needed. Oh, it seemed close to it--very close--but this wasn't really what it looked like right now, with Daniel moving inexorably forward, irrevocably closer to Jack's face, his mouth moving up to brush tentative lips lightly, hesitantly, against Jack's...

"Why, Daniel?" Jack murmured suddenly against the other's mouth, pulling back just enough to stare puzzedly into Daniel's need-drunken eyes. "Why ME, of all people? I mean, why not Carter? Wouldn't...wouldn't she be the logical choice for this, the best choice? I know how close you two are, how much she loves and respects you--"

"I can't do this with Sam," Daniel demurred quietly, his fingers sliding down to stroke restlessly along the strong column of Jack's throat. "Not Sam; it would be too much kissing my sister. That's how I think of her."

"Then I guess that WOULD be a problem in this particular situation," Jack murmured with a disgusted grimace. "Ewww. So, okay, we'll let that one slide. But isn't there someone else, some other girl you know...?"

"No, Jack," Daniel sighed quietly, his eyes going dark and pensive. "I've tried that; I TRIED having a normal dating and sex life, tried investing my energy into new relationships...but it didn't work. Nothing helped; nothing HELPS. No matter how much effort I put into trying to push these feelings away, they just keep getting stronger...deeper. And I don't think I can handle this any longer, Jack; I don't think I can keep denying what's going on inside me. I can't...I can't handle it alone anymore, Jack."

Daniel's restless fingers pressed themselves gently against the pulse beating strong and somewhat rapidly in Jack's throat, then stilled there, every beat of Jack's heart transferring from the older man's body through Daniel's fingers and deep, so deep, into his spirit. This was life, warmth, hope; this was Jack, whom he needed now, with a need deeper and stronger and more frightening than any he'd ever experienced before--this was Jack, his friend,and in the bewildered, slightly chagrined depths of this friend's brown eyes lay safety and sanity and refuge. And he doesn't even realize what he is, Daniel mused fondly, sorrowfully. But he will; if we do this, he will.

"So, not Carter. Then how about Teal'c?" Jack mumbled futiley now, cocking one ironic eyebrow the tiniest bit. "No, Daniel? Not even Teal'c?" He reached clumsily to give Daniel's free hand a reassuring squeeze as he spoke, and Daniel saw by the muted, sardonic gleam in Jack's eye that the other man was only joking.

"Not even Teal'c," Daniel seconded with the hint of a smile; but then, at the sudden, helpless flash of misgiving he saw in Jack's eyes, the younger man released a heavy sigh, pulled away from his companion, and rose to his feet. It felt like the hardest thing he'd ever had to do, distancing himself from the lovely warmth of Jack's body, from the strangely sensual vitality emanating in a slow, lazy wave from the other man's soul.

"I'm sorry, Jack," Daniel spoke quietly, his tone going dull with defeated resignation. "I can't even believe I asked you to do this for me. It's okay, really; you can go now. I'm actually rather mortified that I even brought it up. It must have been that damned wine. You were right about that; I shouldn't have had so much of it."

"Don't blame it on the booze, Daniel," Jack scolded, his forehead wrinkling with concerned annoyance as he rose to his feet and gestured at the wine bottle on the bedside table. "You didn't drink nearly enough to get DRUNK enough to say the things you just said to me. Don't turn and run now, Daniel; it's much too late for that."

"You don't really want to do this, Jack; I told you what I need--as difficult as it was for me to do so--and in some brief moment of insanity I thought it might actually be possible...God, why did you let me make a fool of myself like that, Jack? Why couldn't you just be honest with me, tell me straight up that I'm crazy, mental, disturbed--"

Daniel was getting wound up, his nude torso gleaming in the rich glow of the bedside lamp as he wrapped his arms around himself and stood with his back to Jack, shoulders hunched in angry misery. Very quietly Jack rose to his feet and took two steps, coming up behind Daniel and hesitating only briefly before laying his hands on Daniel's bare shoulders.

"Don't, Jack," Daniel rasped, trying to jerk away; but Jack would not be denied. Firmly the commander of SG-1 forced his team mate around, dug his fingers just hard enough into Daniel's upper arms to hold him there while calm brown eyes made a thorough assessment of the miserable expression on the younger man's face.

"Why do you always assume you know what I want or don't want, Daniel?" Jack murmured conversationally, his eyes darkening with some emotion that Daniel couldn't name but which made the breath hitch convulsively in his throat. Almost as if unaware of what he was doing, Jack lifted one hand from Daniel's arm and cupped the archaeologist's chin between his warm, blunt fingers, tilting Daniel's head back just far enough to gaze reproachfully into his friend's rather dazed blue eyes.

"I told you I would do this for you, Daniel," Jack continued in a low, dangerous tone, a glint of something very near to anger sparking briefly in his eyes. "And no, I can't say that I'm completely comfortable with this, that I'm at all sure this is the right thing for me--for us--to do at this point. But it's like you just said, Daniel; I can FEEL it in you, I can feel whatever this is that has you behaving this way, whatever it is that's put that lost, desolate look in your eyes. And God, you know how I hate that look! It kills me, Daniel, I can't take it. And even WEIRD as this whole thing is turning out to be, I see now, when I look in your eyes, that maybe this IS what you need. Maybe--just this once--I can do this for you. I WANT to, Daniel. But on your end, I gotta say that I'm still just not sure...why. I mean, I guess I should be flattered and all, but Daniel...WHY ME?"

"Just because, Jack," Daniel replied, his voice so low Jack had to strain to hear each word. "Because there's no one else it could be, no one else now who...fits. And maybe, most of all, because it's you I trust." The sudden, dark intensity that flooded like thick, indigo ink into Daniel's eyes sent a surge of dizzying emotion straight to Jack's chest, and for a long, strange moment the older man quite forgot the simplest mechanics of breathing.

He could feel himself drowning in Daniel's eyes, spiralling down and down into the ravenous vortex of need and desolation pulling at him, calling to him from the ravaged depths of Daniel's soul. My God, Jack thought, stunned almost senseless with the force of empathic sorrow streaming from Daniel's gaze to lodge like burning coals in the center of Jack's chest. My God, how has he harbored such pain, such loss, and none of us ever known it?

"Daniel..." he began, his voice choked and husky; his brown eyes had darkened to an impossibly dark hue, and his fingers trembled as he clutched Daniel's chin and drew the other man inexorably closer. "God, Daniel, I never knew...I'm sorry, so sorry..."

"Don't be sorry, Jack," Daniel murmured, his voice catching on a ragged whisper that was half-laugh, half-sob. "Don't be sorry. Just...just give me what I asked for; give me what I need. Please, Jack...please."

"Show me, Daniel," Jack rasped, lifting his other hand to stroke it with clumsy care along the side of Daniel's face. "Show me what to do. I'm not...used to this, at least not EXACTLY this, you know..."

A small, grave smile lifted the corners of Jack's mouth at this admission, and Daniel looked up at him with an expression of such dumb, desperate gratitude that Jack didn't know if he could bear it. So he did the only thing he could do at this point--he ran one light, exploratory thumb along the edge of Daniel's bottom lip, drawing in a shuddering breath at the strange sensation of Daniel's tongue flicking out--quick and tentative--to christen this maiden voyage of discovery. And then Daniel was pressing in on him, fisting his hands in Jack's hair and plundering Jack's mouth with his like a starving man sitting down to a banquet. And as the two of them tumbled awkwardly onto Daniel's bed in a tangle of limbs and grappling hands, Jack found himself wondering dazedly just what he'd gotten himself into.

Part Four

"Daniel...? Um, Daniel, er...can't...breathe, here, need oxygen..." Jack's breathless gasps for air sounded feebly from somewhere in the middle of Daniel's bed, and with a groan of deepest reluctance Daniel slowly released the voracious suction he'd just been applying to Jack's mouth with his own. Both men were breathing harshly, with Jack lying flat on his back atop the rumpled bedclothes while Daniel's half-naked body pressed him deeper into the mattress; dimly Jack was aware that Daniel had flung his right leg over both of Jack's legs and that one of Daniel's hands was running distractedly up and down Jack's chest, fingers fumbling at the material of the other man's shirt as if longing to rip every button off to reach the warm flesh waiting underneath.

This is just too much, Jack found himself thinking rather desperately as he dug his hands into Daniel's biceps and tried to hold the younger man back from a renewed assault on his mouth. I didn't bargain for this, I wasn't expecting this to be so--so--goddamned POWERFUL! I'm not supposed to actually FEEL anything when he's kissing me like this, I shouldn't be trembling this way, shouldn't be so freaking aware of every single detail of Daniel's body, of his mouth...

Not that it was merely just some mindless, sexual thing, Jack realized with a degree of awe as fresh air found its way into his burning lungs and Daniel's incredible, unmistakably aroused blue eyes melded with his. God, it's just like he said, Jack marveled, something huge and original and oddly majestic busting loose from deep inside his soul. It's just how he described the emotion--the NEED--churning inside him. I FEEL it, dammit; I feel HIM, all through me...God, he's been lonely, so lonely...

"Jack..." Daniel was muttering against his neck now, his head down, fingers scrabbling with hopeless urgency against the barrier of Jack's shirt. "Jack, it's too strong, it hurts..."

"Shh...slow down, Daniel, let's just...slow it down." His voice low and soothing, Jack slid his hands up Daniel's bare, nicely muscled arms and gently ran his fingers through Daniel's hair, stroking and massaging the other's scalp till he felt the tightly coiled tension leaving his friend's rigid body.

"Jack..." Daniel murmured brokenly, and Jack was suddenly overwhelmed with a wave of such helpless tenderness that he had to bite his own lip to keep from crying out with the pain of it.

"It's all right, Daniel; it's gonna be all right," Jack whispered against the shell of Daniel's ear, and the slow, easy warmth that suffused his entire body now as he lay here with his best friend filled him with a sudden, savage joy. "It's all right; kiss me, Daniel, just the way you want to. Just how you need it."

"I need...I need to be closer, Jack; I need...I need to feel your skin, to feel more of you." Daniel's voice was muffled, his tone one of quiet embarrassment that yet conveyed the overarching need beneath his surface chagrin. "Sorry, Jack, I'm sorry for this--"

"Don't be sorry; just...tell me what you want. What do you want me to do?" Jack encouraged gently, and now his arms were sliding comfortingly around Daniel's torso, his hands moving up and down Daniel's back in light, even strokes.

"I want...I think...take your shirt off, Jack; just that. I meant what I said earlier; I don't want you to fuck me, Jack, I don't want to have sex with you. I just need...I need this so much, Jack, I need..."

"I know, Daniel; I know," Jack replied, gazing up into Daniel's tormented face with a gentle intensity that had Daniel groaning with the intensity of his own unvoiced need. Slowly, as if mesmerized by the sight of Jack's slumbrous brown eyes and kiss-roughened lips, Daniel lowered his head and took those lips in another kiss, covering Jack's pliable mouth with his own and carrying out a slow, thorough exploration that had both men's hearts pounding out a syncopated rhythm of shared need.

"The shirt, Jack," Daniel reminded him rather breathlessly, his mouth drawing reluctantly away from Jack's just long enough to get the words out. "Take it off."

"Help me," Jack rasped back, his fingers dropping shakily from their hold on Daniel's bare back to fumble at the buttons of the shirt that now seemed too tight, too unbearably hot on his body. His head was spinning, spinning, with the slow, sweet drunkenness of wine and lazy, sun-warmed summer days; and he made no protest when Daniel reached rather impatiently to work at the stubborn buttons of the unwanted shirt.

"Let me," Daniel murmured a soft reproof when Jack made a lethargic move to assist him; sighing, Jack sank down, down into the comfort of the mattress and closed his eyes, a langorous feeling of anticipation creeping over him as he sensed Daniel's eyes on his face.

"Damn...damned, stubborn buttons...!" he heard the younger man exclaim with vexation, and a lazy smile of amusement curved his lips as he cracked one eye open to see Daniel's face above his own, mouth twisted in irate concentration.

"Can you get it, Daniel?" he asked, and the other man responded by grabbing Jack's shirt on either side of the row of buttons and giving a sudden, mighty yank.

"Got it," Daniel muttered with satisfaction as Jack's now-ruined shirt gaped wide, revealing the lightly furred expanse of bare chest hiding underneath. "There, that's better. Now, where were we...?"

"Kissing, Daniel; just kissing. Or so you said," Jack returned, and Daniel leaned down to capture Jack's lips in another long, leisurely kiss. As their lips melded and slid back and forth together in a slow, wet dance of gently simmering heat, Jack became aware of Daniel's hand circling the expanse of his upper chest,fingers swirling round and round in the soft mat of Jack's chest hair with a light touch that was gentle torment.

"Just kissing, remember?" Jack murmured, lifting a hand to cover Daniel's and stop the other's restless exploration.

"You don't like it," Daniel guessed, a hint of disappointment coloring the words; and Jack responded with a short bark of sardonic laughter.

"No; I mean, yes; I mean, that's the problem, Daniel. I think maybe I like it a little too much. And that's not what this is all about right it?" Calm brown eyes gazed patiently up into frustrated blue ones, and after a beat Daniel sighed and smiled a small, rueful smile.

"No, it isn't," he agreed, and an expression that was equal parts hunger and awe briefly distorted his features. "God, Jack, this feels...this is really...just, God."

"Very succinct analysis, Daniel," Jack smiled wryly, and then his eyes darkened with an unexpected hunger of his own as Daniel picked up where they'd left off.

"Daniel...Daniel, you okay?" Jack's husky murmur sounded in the quiet of the bedroom much, much later, and even to himself the jaded Colonel had to admit that he sounded like someone who had been well and truly tumbled. Which was strange, considering the fact that he and Daniel truly had done nothing more than kiss, with just a hint of almost mind-shatteringly euphoric stroking and friction thrown into the mix to make things...interesting. But MAINLY kissing, Jack reminded himself righteously, then felt a downright evil grin crinkle the edges of his eyes as he thought back over just how long, deep, and intense all that kissing had been. My God, he marveled silently to himself, a sense of reluctant reverence coursing through him. My God, I never even CONSIDERED something like this, never even realized that maybe I needed this, too, almost as much as Daniel...

"Earth to Daniel," Jack murmured now, and the sweaty, satiated, VERY relaxed lump lying wedged half beneath him mumbled an almost incomprehensible complaint before reaching up to wind a possessive arm around Jack's neck.

"Shh...sleeping now, Jack. Sleep..." Daniel slurred, and in the muted glow of the lamplight his half-shadowed face looked so peaceful and serene that Jack sighed in disgust at the feeling of ineffable tenderness that the sight of his friend evoked in him.

"This is ridiculous," he groused to himself. "Daniel simply needed my help tonight to get through a bit of a bad patch, and as his friend and commander, I was duty-bound to oblige. That's all. But I can't let us get caught like this; I have to get the hell out of here."

But he felt strangely reluctant to leave Daniel's bed and the quiet, sheltered bubble of serenity he'd discovered here in the late, late hours of a Garanian summer night. There were no words to describe the deep, completely nonverbal level of communication that he and Daniel had shared; no words could cover the sense of comfort and succor that had bound them together as solidly and strongly as chains of enduring iron.

As he lay here now, Jack felt ridiculously, supremely grateful that he'd been able to draw out--like poison from a wound--the greatest part of the anguish that had been eating at Daniel's soul like acid all evening. Part of him was vaguely worried what it all meant, this srange, almost surreal body/soul connection that had taken place between them tonight as a result of Daniel's acute emotional turmoil; but right now, lying here draped lazily across his best friend's lightly snoring form, Jack felt too contented, too drained and drowsy, to let himself dwell on the inevitable consequences which would follow this strange but undeniably satisfying evening. Right now all that mattered to him was that Daniel was sleeping soundly, easily, those tight, pain-filled lines on his forehead smoothed into nonexistence in the wake of a marathon session of intense face-sucking.

"This was wrong on so many levels, Daniel," Jack sighed dolefully now as he began to gingerly extract himself from the other man's grasp. "I know that. So why don't I have any regrets?"

And as Daniel snorted once, rather inelegantly, and clutched protestingly at Jack's departing form, Jack couldn't seem to prevent himself from leaning over and planting one final, lingering kiss on his best friend's swollen lips.

"I'll see you in the morning, Spacemonkey," the older man whispered; "I just hope we'll both be able to look each other in the eye in the 'cold' light of day." And as Daniel turned onto his side and clutched a pillow to his chest with a disgruntled little mutter, Jack gathered up his ruined shirt and quietly let himself out into the warm, deep stillness of the waning Garanian night.