Anger had followed hard on the heels of relief. When Daniel had walked through the Gate, safely tucked between two Marines, Jack had wanted to take him into the dark space behind the staircase and kiss him until he struggled to breathe. Five minutes later and three minutes into the debrief, he'd wanted to grab Daniel by the shoulders and shake him until some of his insane academic detachment had rattled loose.
He'd managed to hold back on the yelling until Daniel made a late-night visit to his quarters, hours later.
"They held you prisoner, Daniel!" he shouted, hands pressed against the table that stood between them. He pressed them harder because, goddamn, if he lifted them for even a second he was going to give into his desire to give Daniel a good shaking. Or fucking. Or maybe a little of both, and he did not, did not, want the line between sex and violence to get blurry where Daniel was concerned. "You know we don't let anyone hold our people prisoner. I thought the incident with the Genaii made that clear."
"They weren't keeping me for revenge, Jack." Daniel sounded frustrated, pleading, and reached out across the table toward Jack as if with a touch he could make Jack understand his point. His utterly insane point. "I've been given the Ancient gene therapy. When I touched the artifacts in the temple, they worked. It was like…"
"Like they had you prisoner," Jack growled.
"No!" Daniel's hands fell to the table with a thunk. "To them it was like like the Resurrection. Like like the members of a Baptist church might feel if they saw something out of Revelations. They just wanted me to stay and make things work for them I told John that. They would have wanted him to stay, too, if he'd touched anything." Daniel's eyes became a little unfocused, as if he were looking at a point just slightly behind Jack's head, and his face was alight with wonder. "They've developed the most intricate mythology around the Wraith cullings and the Ancients. It's the closest thing to theology we've seen around here. I'm not sure if it's because of their lack of technology or their "
And there he went again, off on his academic tangent, hardly even noticing Jack was there. Jack wondered how McKay had put up with this behavior for so many years, and stopped that train of thought sharply. The last person he wanted in this room right now was McKay, or even the idea of McKay, especially connected to Daniel and their former relationship. "Enough with the academics," Jack said sharply, cutting Daniel off. "This isn't a classroom. It's real life. When the natives get pissed at you, they don't just give you an F."
"You think I can't take care of myself?" Daniel shot back. "Is that what this is all about?"
"That's exactly what this is about!" Jack shouted, slamming a fist against the table. "You're a college professor, Doctor. You think just because they're primitive, they're going to be nice. You haven't got a clue what it's really like out there."
Daniel's eyebrows drew down and together over his nose, and his full lips pursed slightly. "Before my parents died, I lived half my life in Egypt. Nick took me on digs in the Yucatan. I've lived in places where outhouses would have been a massive technological improvement over the trenches we were shitting in." Jack blinked at Daniel's crudeness, and Daniel leaned forward over the table, pressing his attack. "I told John I'd be fine. I told him to come back in three days."
Jack folded his arms. "Sheppard leads your team. Just your team. There's a reason I'm the one who was sent here to lead the troops. Sheppard has no experience with assessing an offworld threat, and he's got no idea how to see the big picture."
Daniel drew himself up, folding his own arms, unconsciously mirroring Jack's posture. "If it had been Teyla or Ford who wanted to stay, would you have sent the troops in to pull them out? Or would you have trusted their judgment?"
"Teyla's traded with people all over the Pegasus Galaxy for years," not that she ever got a bead on the Genaii, he thought, but kept that to himself, "and Ford went on plenty of missions as part of SG-13," Jack said flatly. "They know how to protect themselves."
Daniel's eyes got wider, and he reached toward Jack again. "Didn't you even wonder why I know how to use a gun? It wasn't just to kill snakes and jackals. I had to keep thieves from robbing our dig sites." His voice got lower and slower. "I don't need you " Jack's brain stopped short right there, a cold chill flushing through him, before it skittered on to the rest of Daniel's sentence " to take care of me."
Daniel was racing ahead before Jack could catch up, coming around the table. "Look, just send me back there. Let me talk to them. The things they have it's Ancients' technology like nothing we've ever seen!" He was close to Jack now, close enough to touch. "I was telling Rodney about it, and he says "
Jack's jaw clenched for a moment. He took a step back. "You could have gone all night without mentioning that name." The amount of acid in his voice surprised even him.
Daniel threw up his hands in frustration. "He's a scientist. His opinion is pretty relevant to this discussion."
"You think his opinion is relevant to every discussion!" Jack said.
Jack could see Daniel's chest rise as he took a deep breath, deliberately releasing the tension in his shoulders. "That's not true, and you know it. And for this discussion, his opinion matters. Rodney's the head scientist on Atlantis. It's not because he's my friend."
"Your friend," Jack said coldly. "Do you sleep with all your friends?"
Instead of the instantaneous reflexive denial Jack was expecting, Daniel's eyebrows crinkled together as he thought about it, his eyes once again looking at some point between the back of Jack's head and the next solar system over. "Mmmm…most of them, actually."
Jack just stared at Daniel for a moment, something inside him curling up and withering. "Jesus, Daniel."
Daniel's eyes snapped back from whatever galaxy they'd been fixed on, sharp and angry, to focus on Jack. "You weren't exactly a virgin when we met," he retorted.
"I didn't whore myself out to half this base, either. In your first week here, you started up with your former lover and slept with my 2IC. What the hell am I supposed to think? With your taste for casual sex, you probably would have worked your way through half the base by now if you weren't with me."
Now Daniel's voice had gone quiet, too, and tightly controlled. "It was never casual."
"And that's supposed to reassure me," Jack spat, throwing one hand out in front of him in a gesture that would have tapped Daniel's chest if he'd been two steps closer. "All I know is, you keep going back to McKay. Whatever it is with you two, it's not over. Last time he left you just so you couldn't leave him first, and you still went back to him the first chance you got."
"What?" Daniel said, blinking rapidly. "Who told you that?"
"Your ex. We had a lot of time to kill in a closet on the Genaii base," Jack said, ignoring Daniel's little smirk at the word "closet". "McKay seemed to think it was the perfect time to bring me up to speed on your history."
Jack could tell by the way Daniel's eyebrows moved, going through four different positions in a few seconds, that he was thinking hard, thinking about something important. His next words hit like a slap in the face. "He left me before I could leave him. He said that?" Daniel said.
Any fight Jack had left in him vanished with that question. He slowly sat down in the chair next to the window and looked at the patterns the rain was making on the colored glass, letting out a breath. Then he looked at Daniel, resigned. "Go ask him yourself. I'm done trying to compete."
Daniel took two slow steps forward, then squatted in front of Jack, putting his hands on Jack's knees. "There's no competition. I'm with you."
"But you…" God, he hated even saying the word. If he said it, then he was admitting what he wanted, and this thing with Daniel was suddenly thick with wrongness. "You love him."
"But I picked you," Daniel said, not denying anything. "It's not people have the capacity to love more than one person at a time. Love isn't a finite resource. Just because you loved Charlie, did you love your wife any less?"
Jack's skin crawled under Daniel's hands. "How can you " This was insane. Daniel was insane, and he'd let Daniel's insanity make sense to him for too long. "If you could, you'd be with him, too."
Daniel reached his hands toward Jack's. "You want me to yourself. And I picked you."
Jack crossed his arms, putting his hands safely out of Daniel's reach, and looked at the window again. He'd risked everything for Daniel not just his career, but his very identity and Daniel thought of him like he thought of everyone else he slept with. It had never mattered to him.
When he looked back to Daniel, everything inside him had gone hard and cold. "Get the hell out," he said calmly.
Every day, Rodney sent out a silent thanks to the person who'd invented the laptop, and whoever else invented the 802.11.b protocol. Working in his lab was fine, but there was something luxurious about being able to take his laptop back to his rooms, still connected via Atlantis' wireless network. He could take it to bed with him, curl up under the covers with a cup of the cocoa he'd brought as part of his personal supplies allotment from Earth. He could even take it into the bathroom with him and had, when the call of nature got too painfully insistent to ignore and he was too intent on whatever problem he was working on to leave it behind even for a second. One of those problems was a waterproof casing that didn't block the cooling fan output. He was almost sure that he could modify an Atlantis force field to serve that purpose and to channel the fan output to turn the deep, Japanese-style Atlantean bathtub into something more like a Jacuzzi.
Right now, instead of finishing the work on that very necessary, not at all self-indulgent invention, he was lying back on the Anciently-modern couch, head on the armrest and bare feet propped up on the back, trying to figure out a way to harness the power output of the Stargate during a wormhole connection in order to recharge a ZPM. He kept circling around a solution to his equations. He would come closer until the answer was nearly in sight, would be visible with just a turn of his head to the right angle, and then suddenly ricochet away until he was positive there wasn't an answer at all, that any solution he'd glimpsed was a mirage. Right now, he was closer than he'd ever been, and he gnawed on a PowerBar absently as he stared at the long parade of symbols and numbers across his laptop screen. The solution to all of their problems was just there, on the tip of his tongue. He could almost see it.
Daniel, master of timing as always, chose that moment to walk in the door.
Rodney sighed, the carefully ordered lines of the equation suddenly a catastrophic shambles in his brain, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Remind me to set the sensors on the door so you have to knock, first."
"I didn't want to bother you," Daniel said absently, glancing from the window to Rodney, that spot between his eyebrows creased as if he was working on a problem of his own.
Daniel's presence had never bothered Rodney when he was working; some of his best work on wormhole theory had been done when Daniel was sitting on the floor with his back propped against whatever couch Rodney was sitting on. Daniel could be remarkably non-intrusive when he wanted to be; it was a trait John shared, which was one of the reasons Rodney liked him so much. It wasn't Daniel's presence, or lack thereof, that was a problem; it was the transition between Daniel-presence and Daniel-absence that had always been so disturbing to his concentration.
Rodney stared at his laptop screen, trying to will the formulas back into cohesion. But Daniel wasn't settling into his spot on the floor; he was walking around the room, picking up a DVD case, looking at the back, and putting it down, standing next to the window and glancing through it into the rainy night, licking his thumb so he could wipe off the stains left on the coffee table from an MRE burrito. Rodney knew what this behavior meant; he'd seen it plenty of times. Daniel had one of those problems that wouldn't be solved unless he could verbalize all his theories with someone as an audience. And "someone" invariably translated into "Rodney". He wasn't sure what Daniel had done all those years they hadn't spoken but maybe that was what all those journals lining his bookcases were about.
Rodney considered tossing Daniel out on his ear because, damn it, he'd been thisclose to a solution but it would take hours to get back to a zen-physics state. Better to let Daniel talk out whatever issue he had, and then send him on his way. He closed his laptop with a sigh. "Let's move past the part where you wander around the room, OK? You're making me motion-sick. Cut to the talking."
Daniel leaned against the wall, arms folded in that self-hugging way he had. He looked at the Ancient-deco glass window next to him, little shadows formed on it from the water-spatters of the rain outside, but it was apparent from the crimp above his nose that he wasn't really seeing it. "Did you ever wonder how things might have been different if you hadn't taken the job at Area 51?"
Oh, great. This wasn't just Daniel-With-A-Problem. This was Existential-Crisis-Daniel, and experience told him that there was a long night ahead; it was a lucky thing that John was offworld on a training mission until tomorrow. With an exasperated roll of his eyes, he slid his laptop under the sofa and sat up, swinging his heels down to the floor with a muffled thunk. "No," Rodney lied. "It was the job of a lifetime. And if I hadn't taken that job, we wouldn't be here, and you'd be in some lousy adjunct position in Portland or Sheboygan or, or…"
"Minneapolis," Daniel said helpfully, sitting down on the coffee table in front of Rodney.
"And we wouldn't be having this conversation," Rodney said, arms folded, proof made. Then his mind ticked back over what he'd just said. "This is about the last mission, isn't it? After being taken prisoner you've decided you don't want to be here anymore."
"Huh? Oh, no!" Daniel said, a look of surprise on his face. "No, that was actually a very interesting experience, from an anthropological point of view." His face lit up as he warmed to his subject, and he leaned forward, his knee pressing in against Rodney's. "They were very friendly, except for the part where they wouldn't let me leave. When I got back, I talked to Halling about the way they handle prisoners, and I'm thinking of writing a paper on the way Wraith incursions have influenced the manner of incarceration among cultures in the Pegasus Galaxy."
Rodney looked at Daniel with narrow-eyed frustration. "Someday, some aliens are going to tie us to a stake so they can burn us, and while I'm trying to devise a clever scientific way to get us out of there, you'll say to me, 'I wonder how this differs culturally from the witch-burnings in Salem?'"
Daniel smiled, just a little. "Most of them weren't burned at the stake. They were crushed to death."
"Whatever. Apparently your experience was much more terrifying for the rest of us than for you. So if that's not the reason you've decided to disturb me in the middle of the night with your crisis, what is?"
Daniel looked at Rodney, his blue eyes intense. "What if you hadn't left?" he asked. "What if…" He stopped speaking for a moment, looking around the room, as if searching for the next word in his sentence, his mouth a little open. Then he looked back at Rodney, his eyes wide and vulnerable. With a barely perceptible motion, he seemed to square his shoulders. "What if I'd told you I loved you when we had dinner that night?"
Rodney opened his mouth, then closed it. Daniel's hand moved up to cup his cheek, the whorls of his thumbprint catching on the stubble of Rodney's five-o-clock shadow as he stroked just below the physicist's cheekbone. Rodney opened his mouth again. "Daniel, what why are you asking this now?"
Daniel shook his head. "Would you have stayed?"
"I don't know. Maybe. Maybe I would have brought you out with me. Why do you care?" And Daniel did care he was leaning forward, everything in his manner screaming urgency.
"Because " Daniel shook his head. "Because I wasn't going to leave you."
"Then why didn't you say so?" Rodney asked, exasperated.
Daniel's blue eyes were as wide as the event horizon. "Because I didn't think you wanted me!"
"You're telling me a little late, aren't you?" Rodney said.
"Better late then never," Daniel said, and then, to Rodney's shock, pressed his mouth against Rodney's, swallowing anything more Rodney might have said.
When John had asked Rodney to explain his relationship with Daniel, Rodney had told John that sex with Daniel was like hugging, only with closer contact and more bodily fluids. It slowed down the constant whirring cycle of thoughts in Rodney's head to a tolerable speed. And, most of the time, this was true. But then there were the other times, the times Rodney had forgotten to tell John about, because they were so long ago he honestly didn't think they'd ever happen again. These were the times when just kissing Daniel was like riding the Tower of Terror. The spinning churn in Rodney's brain was brought to a sharp, stunning stop, and he was reduced to his primal instinctive responses. The need for Daniel's mouth, Daniel's hands, Daniel's body, became even more urgent than his hunger for air.
The shock of it, the white lightning electromagnetic pulse of Daniel's lips on his, wiped clean Rodney's forebrain. Suddenly everything was warm and wet and the air was full of moaning and there was no possible way to press himself close enough. Someone had set all of his nerve endings on fire, and Daniel's hands were making them burn more, but it was okay; if they were going to burn at the stake together, oh, he just wanted the flames to get hotter. All of those thoughts of the Wraith and ZPMs and Ancients and Genaii and defense systems and naquadah that kept chasing chasing chasing each other day and night through Rodney's brain were quiet, were gone because Daniel had taken them all with his glorious linguist's tongue and brilliant hands that slid over him, knowing the history of his territory. Rodney slid his hands into Daniel's hair, pulling his mouth crushingly close, his hips rising toward Daniel's without any thought, pulled there like a magnet, as Daniel moved forward, rising up to press Rodney back against the couch. God, he thought in a moment of clarity, it was like that first night at Oxford all over again, but better, because there was no clumsiness, because they'd known each other long enough to know exactly how they fit together. And then there was no clarity, because his hips were pressed against Daniel, he was rubbing hard against the inside of Daniel's thigh, and if he could he would have climbed inside Daniel just then.
Daniel was straddling him on the couch, still fully clothed, his hips moving in an unbelievably filthy fashion. Rodney groaned into Daniel's mouth, his hands pushing up on Daniel's shirt to feel the muscles there, more solid than they'd been when they came to Atlantis. Daniel pulled back suddenly, the tangle of ashy-blond hair falling on either side of his face as he looked down at Rodney, his eyes heavy lidded, almost drugged; at the sight of him Rodney's hips rose again, his hands sliding down into Daniel's pants to grip his ass.
Daniel tugged Rodney's shirt up, pulling the blue uniform shirt up and over his head. Rodney was momentarily enclosed in darkness as Daniel tried to get it the rest of the way off, and he had a breathless moment to recover and think to himself, What the hell?
Then the shirt was off his head, tossed into a corner somewhere, and his eyes were filled with the sight of Daniel shirtless, that desert-sand skin that never looked quite as pale as it should have been, Daniel staring down at him hungrily, his mouth open and wet, his blue eyes dark, the tawny, musky smell of him intoxicating. And then Rodney thought of another set of eyes, sea-green, and stopped cold for a moment. "What about John?" Rodney gasped.
Daniel smiled down at him. "I like John," he said, and tilted his head a little, looking down at Rodney for a second out of the corner of his eye in that way that always made him look a little bit exotic, made Rodney wonder what else there was besides Dutch and British lurking in Daniel's tangled genetic heritage. Rodney wanted to continue the conversation. He wanted to ask what Daniel wanted. He wanted to explain that most of John's usual good humor and lazy equanimity had burned to ashes with the Genaii, to tell Daniel he was scared because he felt like John was slipping away to someplace deep and walled off and this thing with Daniel might just send him further away, to wonder if he wasn't enough to help John and maybe it would take Daniel and Rodney together to pull him out again. He wanted to beg Daniel not to make Rodney choose between Daniel and John, because it would hurt too much to lose either of them. He wanted to ask why no one ever thought Rodney mattered enough to say they refused to share him.
But then Daniel's hand slid down Rodney's chest, and that electromagnetic pulse flared white again, and there was nothing he wanted more than to get all of these clothes stupid, pointless, obstructionist objects off and to feel his naked body slide against Daniel, both of them slick with sweat and hot with need, throbbing and desperate and moaning into each others' mouths. He knew there was some reason he shouldn't be doing this, some reason Daniel was off-limits, but he couldn't remember why. There was only the sense that Daniel was somehow against the rules, and that just made the fire burn higher. While Daniel had been many things over the years they'd known each other, he'd never had the allure of forbidden fruit.
He slid both his hands up Daniel's beautiful, smooth torso, brushed his lips against Daniel's throat, in that spot just above the hollow in Daniel's collarbone that had always been such a trigger, and felt Daniel's back arch at the feather-light caress. "Oh, God," Daniel said in a strangled voice, his hard cock bulging against the cloth of his pants as he strained to move closer to Rodney without breaking that contact. Rodney moved his mouth down, lower, lower on his chest, and as his tongue flicked out to taste one pink nipple, Daniel looked down at him, his jaw clenching for a second and then falling open in a hungry, almost feral look, something dark moving behind his eyes as his hands moved to Rodney's pants.
Rodney saw the darkness and remembered yet another set of eyes, such a dark, cold brown they were nearly black. A chill of fear went through him, and reflexively, his hands clamped down on Daniel's wrists. "What the hell are you doing?" Rodney said quickly, his voice high-pitched with fear. "You've got an army colonel out there who knows sixteen different ways to kill me with his breakfast cereal."
Daniel's hungry eyes went wide and hurt for a moment. He glanced away, and in that moment, Rodney knew everything. His heart opened to Daniel for a second, wanting to hold him against the hurt, and then suddenly flipped shut as he realized he'd been had again.
Suddenly, Rodney was filled with an oddly gleeful rage; he could have laughed with it as it bubbled through him. He considered, just for spite, nailing Daniel right there on the couch - a long, hard, vicious fuck - and then kicking him out on his ass. He had no doubt it would be the best sex of his life, because for once he didn't care what Daniel wanted at all, and he probably deserved it after half a lifetime half a lifetime! of Daniel dragging him through this over and over again.
Instead, he pushed Daniel off him; the archaeologist made an ungraceful recovery just before slipping to the floor. "This got old a long time ago," Rodney said coldly.
Daniel looked down at him, wide eyes pleading. "It's not like that. I swear. Not this time." Rodney looked away, and could feel Daniel slipping to his knees between Rodney's legs. "It wasn't last time, when you left, it wasn't what you thought then, either." He reached one hand out, pressing it against Rodney's cheek to turn his head. "Please, Rodney, look at me. I love you."
Rodney looked at Daniel, at those bright blue eyes full of vulnerability. He felt calm; he felt like laughing. He felt like the world was frozen. The words he could say appeared, sharp as ice, in his head. He knew they weren't true; he knew the only reason to say them would be to cut Daniel to the bone. If he spoke them, it wouldn't be because they'd slipped out; it would be because he'd made a conscious decision to tear Daniel's heart out the same way Daniel had ripped his out, again and again, all these years.
He looked into Daniel's bright blue eyes, the ones it seemed he'd stared into for half a lifetime, and was calm and still inside. "You should have said that seven years ago, when I still cared," Rodney said.
Daniel's eyes went a little wider with shock; Rodney could hear his sharp intake of breath. Then his eyes were like ice, glassy and closed-off; only the bright spots of color on his cheeks gave away his emotion as he slowly stood and picked his shirt up off the floor.
Rodney just sat back and watched. "Maybe if you'd had the guts to say that to your Colonel, he wouldn't have thrown you out," he said.
Daniel's eyes closed tightly, and his lips tightened. Rodney could see his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. Rodney's compassion warred with his rage, his urge to stand up and patch Daniel's hurts battling with his desire to just once, just once, watch Daniel walk away heartbroken.
"Rodney, please," Daniel said quietly, like a whisper dragged out over ground glass.
Somewhere under the anger, Rodney could feel something in his heart crack, like fault lines shifting. Even now, he knew, this could be salvaged. All it would take was a word from him, and Daniel would come back to the couch, all hurts patched in a few moments.
Daniel looked at him for a moment, hope in his eyes. Rodney reached under his couch to pull out his laptop. He could feel Daniel watching him; he resisted the urge to look up, to make any contact, and focused on the formulas in front of him. Daniel tugged on his shirt, the sound of fabric on skin loud in the silent room, turned and walked out the door.
Rodney stared at his laptop screen for a long time without seeing anything.
Jack pulled the fisherman's hat low on his head and grabbed his pole and tackle box, ready for an early morning on the pier. His grandfather had always told him the fish bit best when it was raining, and with dawn just beginning to turn the horizon a deep gray, the fish would be slow and dull, easier to catch.
A few hours ago, he realized sleep would not come, and decided to do something productive with his insomnia. After polishing his boots, pressing his uniforms, and cleaning his weapons, he was left with a long day ahead of Heitmeyer-imposed down-time with nothing to fill it. Fishing had always cleared his head; he'd practically lived at the lake after Charlie died. And Atlantis could always use something to liven up the dinner menu.
The rain had slowed, but hadn't stopped, and he could hear the gentle patter of it on the window as he stepped up to the door, prepared for the solitary enjoyment of a cloudy dawn.
The door slid aside to reveal Daniel standing on the other side, soaking wet, drops from his chin and elbows adding to the not-insignificant puddle at his feet. He was half-turned away from the door, as if he'd been caught halfway between going or staying.
They stared at each other for a minute, the hallway silent except for breathing and the whispery drumbeat of droplets falling from Daniel's hair down to the floor, perfectly mimicking the rain outside.
"I love you," Daniel said, blue eyes vulnerable, unguarded, pleading. He reached one hand out to touch Jack's face. "I'll do whatever it takes to be with you. Just let me try."
Jack stood, silently staring at him for a moment. Then he leaned down, putting his tackle box beside the door, leaning his fishing pole against the wall.
"Come on in," he said quietly, resting a hand on Daniel's forearm, guiding him through the door with gentle pressure. "Let's get you dried off."
The door slid shut behind them.
We live for feedback.