Daniel lay back on the bed in the comparative cool of a Cairo morning, hands laced behind his head, legs crossed at the ankles, listening to the sounds of the city drifting in through the open balcony doors: sounds of street hawkers, a noisy argument between a taxi driver and a cyclist, the hum of traffic and a sudden cacophony of car horns, the wailing cry of a child. Sounds that took him straight back to the happiest portion of his childhood, sounds that had remained essentially unchanged through all the intervening years. Sounds that really should have made him melancholy, he supposed, made him brood over what might have been - except that he now had a far more immediate problem on his mind.
Jack. Currently in the shower, sluicing away the sticky evidence of a night spent tossing and turning in the grip of one of his worst nightmares yet.
It had been a bad one, no doubt about it, the culmination of three nights' worth of increasingly disturbed sleep, which even Daniel's usually soothing presence had been unable to allay. Jack moaning and gasping, crying out in Arabic (Arabic! Who knew? He'd certainly kept that one close to his chest), yelling himself awake, shaking and shivering despite Daniel's efforts to calm him down, clinging to him with a painful desperation, sobbing great, heaving dry sobs as he struggled to catch his breath. And when he finally went back to sleep again the whole relentless cycle started over.
Then this morning, his refusal to meet Daniel's eyes, none of the usual joy in waking up and finding themselves draped over each other, just a surly, bleary-eyed, uncooperative presence, uncharacteristically curled into a surprisingly small ball at the furthest edge of the king sized bed. Jack had refused to talk, hardly even grunted out 'good morning', just scuttled, there was no other word for it, into the shower, firmly locking the door behind him; and there he'd stayed for the last twenty minutes.
This trip, thought Daniel gloomily, had undoubtedly not been one of his better ideas.
On the face of it, it had seemed ideal to start with. Jack had had to go to Turkey, to the Izmir Air Station, anyway: what better opportunity to tag along for a well-earned vacation? And what reason not to suggest that they take some leave and break their return trip in Egypt so that Daniel could show Jack the country that he really considered 'home', the sights and smells of his early childhood, the constant presence in his life that had, eventually, brought them both together, albeit by a strange and circuitous route? Jack had been enthusiastic, charmed by Daniel's own enthusiasm, his willingness to share his own experiences and perceptions, and looking forward to spending some quality time alone together without having particularly to worry about appearances.
Turkey had been great, even though they hadn't managed to see that much of each other - not alone, anyway. Jack had met a couple of his old cronies at the Air Station, and had spent a couple of nights with one of them, staying at his quarters, reminiscing about people they'd known and things they'd done.
"Daniel, you sure you don't mind? It's not exactly what I had in mind for this trip, but I haven't seen the boys for, oh, a good ten years or more."
Daniel smiled, and then it turned into a chuckle at Jack's anxious expression. "I'm sure, Jack. You go, enjoy yourself. I've got a couple of things I want to do anyway. There's a friend of mine, one of the very few from the old days, working on a rescue dig up in the hills - Zeugma, the one where the government is proposing the new dam, remember? Last mail I had from him he told me that they really needed all the help they can get to find and catalogue as much as they can before the waters rise. And you and I both know how much practice I've had in emergency archaeology over the last couple of years. I'd wanted to go and see Mark anyway, but a slightly extended stay would let me be of some use. And you know you'd be bored stiff hanging round a dig site for more than an hour or two anyway. So you go ahead, there's no need to worry about me."
Jack took him in his arms. "See, now, that's what I love about you - the give and take. If I'd ever suggested such a thing to Sara..."
"Well, I'm not Sara, flyboy."
Jack grinned as his hand drifted down to massage the front of Daniel's pants. "No, I think I can safely say that you're nothing like Sara..."
Their own personal reunion had been spectacular too, both of them relaxed and refreshed, pleased to be back in each other's company again, batteries recharged after the brief but enjoyable break. Jack was in high spirits, recounting to Daniel some of the stories about life in the military that he had all but forgotten and Daniel was full of the wonders that he had seen and helped to save. Their coupling had been playful and passionate, languorous and urgent by turns. Daniel's lips curved in a grin as he thought back - Jack had been at his romantic and inventive best.
The mood had lasted through their last couple of days in Turkey, spent not at the Air Station but in one of the resorts on the Aegean coast, in an apartment block with a glorious view of the sea and easy access to a beautiful beach. Two days spent lazing and swimming, eating wonderful food in tiny, friendly beachside restaurants, drinking ice-cold Turkish beer and raki, returning to the apartment through the warm, insect-noisy darkness and making love slowly and contentedly, celebrating and cementing their union before falling asleep wrapped in each other's arms. Idyllic. Too perfect to last.
The first two days in Egypt had been fine as well, companionship and passion punctuated with the usual bickering - bickering that had remained a comfortable habit of their new relationship as it had been of their friendship, nothing meant by it other than ease of communication, handy shorthand for expressing themselves in front of others.
"Dammit, Daniel, another museum? Must be the only freakin' one in Cairo that we haven't seen yet!"
"Inaccurate, Jack: not quite the only one, I could easily fill another week or two. C'mon, last one for a while - you'll like some of the stuff that's in this one. Indulge me - please? And then I've got something planned for dinner that you'll really enjoy."
So Jack had indulged Daniel, and he did end up enjoying it; as usual, the initial backbiting was rather a matter of custom than feeling. He liked watching his archaeologist, most especially when he was enthused and passionate; it led so easily to thinking about the particular situations in which he most often saw him that way these days. Although to be honest he'd probably enjoyed the long cold beer in a tourist hotel by the banks of the Nile just as much, despite the blessed air-conditioned coolness of the museum.
"Oh, this is good - my feet are killin' me. We musta walked miles today."
"What a fuss, Jack. You have to admit that the death mask of Tutankhamun was worth it - have you ever seen anything as magnificent in your life?"
"Well, yeah, I have." Jack waited a heartbeat before delivering his punch line. "Lookin' right at it, actually."
Daniel blushed rosily and ducked his head, a shy, delighted grin spreading across his face. Jack laughed quietly, his eyes sparkling, relaxed and good-humoured.
"I like it when you blush, Space Monkey. It's a good look on you. Matter of fact, there's only one other I prefer."
Daniel's head came up and he gamely rose to the bait, giving Jack an enquiring look. "And that would be..?"
"The look on your face just before you come. Does it for me, every time," Jack said softly, head tipped to one side, raising his glass in a mock toast. "C'mon, drink up - let's get back to the hotel. I'd kinda like to see that look again before dinner."
Daniel looked him straight in the eye despite the lurching in his stomach and the sudden tightening in his pants and said robustly, "Well, that's just as well, colonel - I kinda like the way you always manage to put it there. And just so's there's no misunderstanding here, that particular look is pretty good on you as well. Let's go."
Dinner that night had been Daniel's treat, cruising along the Nile on a floating restaurant, watching the banks slide by in an enchantment of lights and snatches of music, mooring for a while, pausing to consider the magnificence of the pyramids, gloriously floodlit for the tourist trade.
"You have to admit they look spectacular, lit like that."
"Yeah, but kinda scary too, when you know what we know."
"I know what you mean. But we did away with all the scary aspects as a species millennia ago. And we did away with the driving force behind them four years ago. Or you did, anyway. Something to be proud of, Jack." Daniel squeezed his hand in the darkness. "Even if no-one but us ever knows about it."
"There's plenty more of the damn snake-heads still out there, though. More than enough to go around,"
"But out there, that's the point. Not here, not again. Not if we can help it. Not now that we know what they are."
The river side had been crowded when they'd disembarked: families out for their evening promenade, enjoying the comparative cool of the night air, strolling along in sprawling groups. Here and there braziers had been set up along the walkway, their owners crying themselves hoarse advertising their wares. Horses and carriages and taxis lined the street, their drivers frantically trying to entice people to take a ride, voluble in their entreaties, gesturing and grumbling theatrically when these were ignored. Everywhere the sights and sounds and smells of Daniel's Egypt.
They'd been forced to walk close together, shoulders bumping and brushing, so as not to get separated in the crowd, and Daniel took the chance to curl his fingers into Jack's hand. It felt weird to be able to do this without having to be constantly looking over his shoulder: novel and enjoyable, another tiny memory to squirrel away into a growing hoard. Jack felt it too, squeezing Daniel's hand and grinning at him sidelong.
"Nice, huh?" His thumb stroked along the edge of Daniel's hand. Daniel shivered and squeezed his hand back.
"Yeah, nice. Strange too, though, when you're not used to it. In public, I mean."
"I know what you mean. We just have to enjoy it all the more while we have the chance. We have to go back to being careful again soon enough." Jack looked around and spotting a pool of deep shadow behind the line of carriages towed Daniel off to one side. "C'mon."
"Jack? What on earth are you doing? Where are we going? Look out!" This as Jack stumbled in the dark. But Daniel was laughing at least as hard as he was protesting, even while he caught at Jack to stop him falling.
"PDAs are all very well, but I think we need a bit of privacy for a while - and we just found it. C'm'ere." Jack stopped in the shadow of a wall and leaning back, spreading his legs slightly, tugged Daniel into his arms and kissed him gently, nibbling his lips and sliding his tongue between them when they parted. Daniel leaned into him and laced his hands behind Jack's neck as he hummed his appreciation into the kiss.
They were both breathing harder than normal when they broke off and rested their foreheads against each other's, and Daniel felt another bubble of laughter welling up in his chest.
"You're crazy, you know that? But you have good ideas. The best." He leaned in for another kiss, as long and slow as the first.
"Yeahsureyabetcha, snookums." Jack grinned fondly at him and then chuckled. "I haven't done this since I was a teenager."
"What, making out in public against a wall? Me neither, and even then, not often. Probably nowhere near as often as you. I can just picture you now, a hockey jock with rampant hormones. And before you go into lavish detail, I'm just stating for the record that I'm not sure that I want to hear it, even if it was thirty years ago."
"'Rampant hormones' the man says! They couldn't have been more rampant then than they are right now, trust me."
Daniel kissed the corner of Jack's mouth. "You can go into lavish detail about the current state of your hormones any time you feel the need - and preferably up close and personal."
"Now who's the ideas guy?" He cocked his head. "Sounds like someone's coming. We better hit the road." He pressed a final quick kiss against Daniel's temple before pushing himself away from the wall and they headed back to the crowded walkway.
The crowds were, if anything, even thicker than before. It was impossible to walk at any pace greater than a slow amble, as the extended families lived up to their name and extended in all directions, expanding to fill the available space, strolling in long, straggling strings across the walkway, breaking into little knots to laugh and chatter with acquaintances they met. A youth darted out, trying to persuade them in broken English to take a ride. Daniel's response in fluent Arabic did nothing to deflect his attentions, but prompted a further flood of entreaty and gesturing, his hands on their arms the better to detain them as he outlined the charms of a carriage ride. He was less than pleased when Daniel and Jack both shrugged him off and sidestepped him, his entreaties turning to imprecations.
"Man, what a crush! There's hardly room to move here. Can we get outta this sometime soon, Daniel?"
"Jack? You okay? You look a bit white. Sure, we can take another route back to the hotel if you want. Look, over there to the left - see that alley? Try and head over to it."
The alley, when they finally threaded their way across to it, wasn't a lot better. In fact in a lot of ways it was worse, since most of the people in it were heading in the opposite direction to the two men, and they had to battle through a solid mass of bodies to reach the other end. Once through, however, the crowds thinned out appreciably and movement was easier.
Jack puffed out a forceful sigh. "Whoo, that's better. Sorry, Danny, I know you were enjoying soaking up the local colour."
"Well, you look a lot better. What was that, anyway?"
Jack looked a little shamefaced. "I'm just not that happy in huge crowds, they freak me sometimes. I don't like the feeling that I can't move freely when I want to. That, and the fact that usually when any of us are in the middle of a crowd like that they're usually intent on beating the shit out of us."
"Claustrophobia? I never knew that about you before."
"Doesn't happen often, I don't let it. It's not a problem any more, there's plenty of space here."
They had strolled companionably back to the hotel in the warm evening air, chatting inconsequentially about nothing much, planning what they were going to do the next day, but the silly, romantic mood of earlier in the evening had been broken. They'd turned in early, worn out by the day's exertions, and gone straight to sleep in each other's arms.
Daniel surfaced groggily just before the first streaks of the dawn began to lighten the sky. He lay for a moment or two, trying to puzzle out where he was, why he wasn't still sleeping, until Jack twisted restlessly against him, tightening the arm that was lying across his stomach. Daniel squinted through the twilight, trying to reassure himself that Jack was okay. A small moan and a muttered "No...no..." pulled his scattered wits together sharply, and he gently shook Jack's shoulder, keeping a wary eye on his fists. He'd done this before, many times, but never in the months since they'd become lovers.
"Jack! Jack? Wake up, Jack, you're having a bad dream."
Jack started awake, eyes wide and staring until he came to himself with a jerk and realising exactly where he was, relaxed back against Daniel's chest.
"Yeah, thanks. You caught it in time." Daniel could feel him trembling very slightly under his hands as he gently stroked all the skin he could reach.
"One of the many benefits of sleeping together that doesn't get widely advertised, I guess. Though I suppose there's not a lot of call for it, generally speaking. Are you sure you're okay?"
He felt Jack's lips curve into a smile against his chest as the trembling diminished and Jack gradually relaxed. "Yeah, I'm sure. You work a lot better than a teddy bear. Not as soft and squashy, I'll grant you, but more satisfyingly interactive."
Daniel kept up his ministrations until comfort gradually transformed into desire and they made love gently, masturbating each other while gazing into each other's eyes in the growing light, whispering nonsense words of love to each other, listening to the sounds of the waking city drifting in through the windows.
They'd slept late the next morning and by mutual consent spent the afternoon lounging in and out of the sun and cooling off in the pool, teasing and joking as usual, enjoying each other's company. No alarums, no excursions, no untoward excitements - no apparent reason, then, for the disturbances of the night, no reason at all that Daniel could see for them being worse this time.
They had both felt tired and sluggish yesterday morning, although better after a shower and a reasonable breakfast. They had made plans for more sightseeing and had stuck to them, more out of a refusal on Jack's part to allow himself to spoil Daniel's fun than out of a genuine desire to see sights, Daniel complying because that was what Jack wanted him to do. The day had turned out moderately well in the end, despite the unpromising start, and they had recaptured much of their holiday high spirits.
And then, last night: another spur-of-the-moment romantic dinner, this time in a small, open-air restaurant lit by hurricane lamps and scented with jasmine, full of couples firmly absorbed in each other and no one else; both of them careful to observe the proprieties above the table, but secretly enjoying the caresses with feet and legs that were going on beneath, watching each other's eyes darkening with want and anticipation. Amazing to be so in tune with another human being, Daniel thought, to pick up so intimately and immediately on what he was thinking, as they both decided simultaneously that it was time to head back, and both went to call for the bill. Amazing, and a bit scary too, sometimes, to have such a potential to hurt and be hurt, to know exactly where the tender spots were if only one were ruthless enough to exploit them. He shook his head ruefully at his own burst of cynicism, a new departure for him - wasn't ever going to happen. Not with him and Jack.
Back at the hotel they had a quick nightcap before heading up to Jack's room, both wanting to draw the anticipation out that little bit longer, up the stakes that little bit higher, both somehow needing the extra edge of just a little more sexual tension.
When they finally got to the room and the door was firmly shut, they fell upon one another as if they were drowning, shucking their clothes as quickly as they could before they collapsed in a tangle on the bed. Daniel gasped as Jack kissed his way down his body, shuddered as he licked at his balls and his dick while sliding a suddenly and mysteriously slick finger in and out of his ass, and tangled the sheets into a crumpled mess with his fists as Jack swallowed him whole, taking his dick down his throat in one swoop, withdrawing oh so slowly to suckle and nibble on the head before swallowing him again. One finger became two, then three, fucking his ass in perfect synchronization with the movements of Jack's hot, wicked mouth.
"Ohh, Jesus, Jack..."
Daniel thrashed and moaned for long, delicious minutes as he came, orgasm crashing through him with the force of a tidal wave as he pulsed into Jack's willing mouth, the aftershocks shuddering through him, shaking his entire frame, for long moments more. Jack scooted up the bed, taking him in his arms, and kissed him tenderly on the forehead.
"I love you, Danny. Ya know that, don't ya? You mean everything to me."
"I know, Jack - how could I not, after that? Just like you know I love you, always will."
Daniel kissed him then, long and slow, tasting himself and Jack mixed on Jack's tongue as he moved his hand down between them, and was surprised when Jack's hand suddenly shot out and caught his. But not before he realised with even more surprise that Jack wasn't erect, wasn't even close. It took a moment or two to sink in before he drew back and looked Jack in the eye.
Jack didn't even pretend to misunderstand what he was asking.
"Shh, don't sweat it. Doesn't matter - I enjoy getting you off as much as anything. I'm okay here. More than okay."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Guess the last couple of days have taken more out of me than I thought, the sightseeing and all. And a couple of nights' broken sleep too. I'm not as young as I used to be, remember. C'mon, snuggle back down here and let's get some sleep."
His eyes held Daniel's for a moment before they slid away and he began to fuss with the pillows, but not before Daniel had read the evasion at the back of them - not a downright lie, but not the whole truth either, if he was any judge. And when it came to Jack, he was a good judge, the best. This was bothering Jack, but he'd heard the finality in his tone. Sometimes discretion was the better part of valour: now was not a good time to press the matter. Didn't stop him worrying though, he was damned if he would stop that even if Jack did tell him to.
So he bit his tongue and did as he was asked, pressing his head into Jack's shoulder to silently reassure him that he was here, no matter what, managing to slide into sleep surprisingly easily despite the turn his thoughts were taking. He stayed asleep until he was dragged towards consciousness by Jack's struggles to free himself, and was shocked into full wakefulness by his tormented cries. In Arabic. Gutter Arabic at that, a string of staggeringly poisonous colloquialisms interspersed with fluent and scatological cursing.
And now he was lying on their bed, in the cool of the morning, trying to make sense of it all and wondering how the hell he could help, if Jack would even let him try to help.
At least he had some clues, something to work with. Clues he could deal with, they were his stock in trade. 'Doesn't happen often, I don't let it.' A telling comment that one, Daniel thought, as he lay reviewing the events of their holiday so far: it summed up Jack's whole philosophy of life. Jack never allowed things to just 'happen' to him, not without a fight: he was a doer, not a drifter.
The Arabic had to be an important key, if only because Jack had never so much as hinted that he knew how to speak it at all. So the general area of Jack's past life that was prompting this had to be Iraq. Of course, it could be Egypt and the association with the Goa'uld, but he was fairly sure it had to be Iraq. Jack's contact with his old buddies, the 'boys he hadn't seen for ten years and more', could have stirred memories other than the pleasant ones he'd shared with Daniel. But this in turn raised more problems than it solved. Jack was notoriously tight-lipped about his past, and about the Gulf War more than about anything else, even more so than about Charlie and Sara and the wreck of his marriage. He'd only once let something slip, to Sam that time they'd been stranded in the Antarctic, and even then it had been under the duress of extreme pain. Daniel remembered Sam telling him about it, gossiping comfortably in his office not long before she had been declared fit for duty again, and with a queer little twist of his heart remembered also the prickle of jealousy that he had felt when she was telling him, enthusing over 'the colonel's heroic trek' in a fit of hero-worship.
But he was straying away from the point: he gave himself a mental shake and resumed the course of his thoughts. From the tenor of Jack's curses last night that particular incident wasn't at the root of all this. Maybe it was connected though, in some way, a minor strand in a much bigger story. Trouble was, when it came to Jack's pre-stargate past, there was simply so damn much that could have triggered last night's events. Or at least that was the impression that Daniel got, he didn't have much concrete information. But it didn't seem to be Egypt, being here with Daniel, that had set it off, at least not directly, and that in itself was a comfort, albeit a small one.
He sighed gustily, going from cautious optimism to profound pessimism in two seconds flat. It was probably hopeless, this process of trying to second-guess what exactly was going on. He was probably chasing shadows, theorising ahead of the facts, one of his besetting sins. Better if he could inveigle Jack into actually talking about what was troubling him - better, but probably next to impossible. He had had experience of trying to get Jack to tell him what was ailing him in the past, and had found that it had only been possible to anger him into it by a combination of deadly accurate intuition and steamroller-style persistence. Now, with so little to go on, he was stuck in the classic Catch-22: Jack wouldn't talk without considerable prompting, and with no hard-and-fast ideas about where to start specific prompts were impossible.
He reached this uncomfortable conclusion just as the bathroom door opened and Jack came out, his damp hair standing up in spikes and a towel twisted round his hips.
"Hey! Feeling a bit better?" Daniel winced internally at the false brightness of his tone.
"Yeah, feeling fresher, thanks." Jack hunched a shoulder and sketched a smile which didn't reach his eyes, not looking directly at him: body language that told Daniel that he was hurting, but that he had it locked down tight.
"What do you want to do today?"
"Dunno. Nothing much, I guess. Catch up on some sleep, maybe. You're looking remarkably bright-eyed and bushy tailed for an archaeologist who didn't get much sleep and hasn't had a caffeine fix yet."
The style was right, but the tone was wrong - none of the gentle teasing inflection that Daniel had grown to value over the course of their relationship, even though the content was par for the course. And Jack wasn't yet beside him on the bed, as he would normally be. Determined not to feel rejected, Daniel tried hard to keep his tone light.
"How about we go get some breakfast, then just hang about by the pool again this morning? Kick back, do nothing much for a while, see where the mood takes us?"
"You go. I'm not hungry." Catching Daniel's eye when he took a breath to speak Jack added irritably, "Don't start fussing over me Daniel, I can't stand when people start to fuss."
"I'm not fussing, I'm concerned. There is a difference, Jack. I don't like to see you hurting."
"I'm not hurting, I'm fine. Really. Just a little tired is all. You go ahead, get some breakfast. I can join you later."
" No, Daniel. No, I'm not hungry, no, I don't want any breakfast, no, I'm not hurting. Okay? I just want some time to myself for a while."
Daniel considered this for a moment or two then decided to capitulate for now. He needed some time to think things through a little better anyway, plus he really could use some coffee to kick-start his thought processes, especially after last night's interrupted sleep.
"Okay. You finished in the bathroom?"
He rolled off the bed and stretched before reaching out to snag a towel. He was surprised when Jack grabbed his arm and said gruffly, "Daniel - sorry. I really didn't mean to get snappy. And yes, I'm done."
As an amende honorable it wasn't much, but it was a lot better than nothing. Daniel puffed out a little breath and gave a rueful grin as he squeezed the hand on his arm. "Yeah, sure. I'm going to take a shower."
He didn't linger in the shower: as he had suspected, Jack's extended ablutions had used the majority of the hot water, and the sun had not been up long enough nor yet shone strongly enough to reheat the large solar tanks on the hotel roof. Still, he reflected philosophically, a cool shower was probably for the best in this climate - more refreshing, certainly, and equally effective in getting him clean. Not as comforting though somehow, and he felt a little in need of some comfort this morning. Considering the turn that events were taking he needed a little something, he felt, to buoy himself up against the strain of attempting to rush in where angels feared to tread.
When he came out of the shower, Jack was already dressed, standing barefoot on the balcony, leaning his forearms against the balustrade, gazing out unseeing over the city. Daniel dressed quickly before stepping out behind him.
"Jack? I'm just going then. Sure you won't join me?"
Jack jumped as Daniel spoke, but made no comment about it, didn't even look round.
"I'm sure. I'll see you later."
The tone of his voice brooked no further argument. Daniel extended his arm to touch him on the shoulder, but thought better of it and shrugged instead as he let his hand fall back to his side.
"Yeah, sure. See you later. I'll take the key in case you're sleeping when I get back."
Despite his worries, Daniel couldn't help luxuriating over breakfast. Sitting in the strengthening sun, eating the food of his childhood, chatting and joking in Arabic with the waiters, did much to restore his equilibrium and take his mind off the empty chair opposite him. By the time he was on his third small cup of the strong local coffee, he felt bolstered enough to return to considering the problem.
He had to leave aside his feelings if he was going to get anywhere at all with this, he decided: his emotional investment in Jack would only muddy the waters. Okay, he could do this, this was his profession, to assemble fragments of information and consider them dispassionately, to organise the jumbled pieces of the jigsaw into a recognisable, logical framework. Difficult when it came to Jack (somehow the words 'Jack' and 'dispassionately' didn't fit well into the same sentence), but not impossible for a trained academic. It was just a matter of finding the right frame of mind to start with, eradicating the stubborn memories of his lover in the throes of passion and the contrast with the sullen individual he had left in their room this morning, images that kept on popping unbidden and unwanted into his head.
So then, what exactly did he have so far? He methodically ticked off recent events in his mind. First off, nightmares involving Jack speaking Arabic - no, wait, better to start at the beginning. The very first thing that had happened was Jack's unexpected attack of claustrophobia in that crowd the other night. That was the first night that the nightmares had started. But was it as simple as claustrophobia? God knew, they had been in confined spaces plenty of times before and Jack had never given any sign that he was particularly worried about being there.
But then, he'd said that it didn't happen often - he didn't let it. So what was it about the circumstances of that attack that made it impossible for him to stop it? He'd also said that it was the crowds that had triggered it, but maybe that wasn't the whole truth either. They'd been in crowds before as well, and Jack had always seemed calm, even amongst a hostile crowd, any anxiety always being on his team's behalf, about their immediate situation and their chances of getting out of it unhurt, a result of his overwhelming urge to protect them all. No, if there was anything out of the ordinary about this crowd, Daniel couldn't immediately see it.
Okay, that was one strand of this whole tangled problem. Next, Jack's apparent impotence the other night. Of all the strands, this was the one that in most respects worried Daniel the least. It happened, it had happened to him on a couple of occasions, though never yet with Jack. It was something that you accepted, an occasional occupational hazard, something that could be dismissed when it didn't persist. But maybe Jack didn't view it in quite the same light - he was, after all, much more the alpha male than Daniel could ever see himself being, personally, professionally and sexually. Maybe it struck deeper with Jack, struck at his essential sense of his own masculinity, which was giving every indication of surviving his sudden change of... orientation... unscathed.
But no, this couldn't be the whole truth either; it was too glib, although it was maybe a part of it. Throughout the time that he had known Jack, right back to that first Abydos mission, the man had rarely been known to think with his dick. Even their current relationship had, he knew, been thought through before its inception and been accepted as a calculated risk, an assessment that Jack had used to override Daniel's initial objections after that first night. No, if anything, Jack tended in the privacy of his own thoughts to do exactly what he often accused Daniel of, to think things well-nigh to death before he acted, even if he often gave the opposite impression because he thought so rapidly. Jack was first and foremost a tactician, an analyst, trained to assess before reacting. It was often easy to overlook this fact, especially since Jack himself worked so assiduously to hide it: only those who knew him very well indeed fully appreciated that the dumb homeboy public facade was a tactical position. Beneath it there was a quite formidable intelligence and a well-developed imagination. Daniel knew all too well that an active imagination could be both a curse and a blessing, and a particular curse during sleeping hours. Some of his own nightmares were quite spectacular...
Ah yes, the nightmares, and Jack's sudden and hitherto unsuspected familiarity with Arabic. It was unfortunate that he had only heard snatches of it, and had been so surprised at hearing Arabic at all from Jack that he hadn't really listened to the content, beyond registering shock at Jack's fluency and colloquial creativity. He couldn't remember exactly what had been said except that Jack had been cursing a blue streak. And Daniel's major concern had been to wake him and try to calm him down.
At least that familiarity settled one thing: Jack's parachute accident couldn't have been what was preying on his mind. If Daniel remembered correctly, Sam had said that it took Jack nine days to make his way to safety: even allowing for the fact of a probable crash course in Arabic before being sent on Special Ops to Iraq, there was no way Jack could have reached that level of colloquialism in nine days. Something else must have happened. Maybe some longer term operation, was that a possibility? Maybe that was what this was, the stress of possible discovery and its inevitable consequences, mostly forgotten or ignored over the intervening years, being forced to the surface again by being amongst crowds of Arabic speakers.
The more he thought about it, the more it seemed to fit. Jack, he knew, suffered from an almost pathological self-reliance when it came to sorting out his own problems, whether as a result of his inclinations or of his training Daniel was never quite sure. Whichever it was, it manifested itself in a profound distrust of professional help: Daniel would be willing to bet that he'd never really opened up about whatever was bothering him, preferring instead to just dismiss it as far as he could and not allow himself to dwell on the rest. 'It doesn't happen often, I don't let it.' The phrase surfaced yet again in Daniel's mind as the bits of the puzzle fell into place. That had to be it, and that was the key to helping him. He could badger him into talking now that he had a working hypothesis.
He glanced at his watch, and was surprised to see that it was almost one o'clock. He grinned self-deprecatingly to himself, his mood lightening slightly now that he felt surer of his ground: it didn't usually take him quite as long to formulate his thoughts. But then, it didn't usually matter this much that he get it right. Well, Jack had had long enough to stew: time to take the bull by the horns and see if he couldn't make some headway here. On the thought, and with only a momentary spark of amusement at this mixed bag of metaphors, he fished out his wallet and left a tip on the table, rose and headed for Jack's room.
When his quiet knock drew no response, he gently slid the key into the lock and went in. Sure enough, Jack was lying on the bed, but when Daniel got closer, he saw that he wasn't asleep. He was lying staring at the ceiling, ankles crossed and hands laced behind his head, mirror image of Daniel's position earlier that morning, apparently miles away.
He jumped as Daniel spoke, startled, but didn't look at him directly.
"How are you doing? Did you manage to get some sleep?"
"Nah, didn't happen."
Daniel waited for some expansion of this bald statement. When it wasn't forthcoming, and the pause started to stretch into awkwardness, he crossed over to the bed and sat down on its edge.
"Would a back rub help?" He reached out to put his hand on Jack's belly, but Jack pulled away, almost smoothly enough to convince Daniel that it wasn't cause and effect, rolling over to the other side of the bed and straight off it to stand in one fluid motion. He crossed the room and started to rummage in the dresser drawer, his back resolutely turned. Daniel watched his face reflected in the mirror; saw the shuttered look as he said abruptly, "I've got a headache. We got any Tylenol?"
"Next drawer down."
"Thanks." He popped a couple out of the packet and headed for the bathroom. Daniel sighed quietly: this obviously wasn't going to be easy. When he came back into the room, Jack didn't come back to the bed, but started to prowl around, picking things up and putting them down again at random, fiddling with whatever he could find and refusing to meet Daniel's eyes.
Daniel watched him for a moment or two in silence.
"Jack, are you going to stop that and come and talk to me?"
"Nothing to talk about, Daniel."
"I'm not so sure about that."
Jack finally turned round to face him, flashing him a small, tight grin that didn't reach his eyes.
"I am. Just a headache, Daniel. I haven't had enough sleep for a couple of nights is all. Nothing worthy of 'discussion'." He invested the final word with heavy scorn.
"You haven't been sleeping because you're having nightmares. And they're getting steadily worse. I was worried about you last night, Jack, it was a bad one. Or several."
Jack shrugged. "It happens. You know that, you're not immune either. Just forget it, they'll go away, they always do." He plastered another unconvincing grin onto his face - a better attempt this time, Daniel thought, almost good enough to fool someone who didn't know him as well as he did. "You got plans for the rest of the day? I've really gotta try and get some sleep..."
"No, no plans. Not beyond being here for you."
"No need to put anything on hold for me, Daniel. I can work this out by myself."
"Well, that's a start, anyhow. At least now you're admitting there is something wrong."
Jack gave an exasperated sigh: he was starting to look irritated. "Daniel, just drop it, will ya? It's really no big deal. Just a couple of nights' worth of restless sleep. It's happened before, it'll happen again. Like I said, no biggie."
"I'm not convinced. Jack, you really need to talk about this. Talking would help."
"No, Daniel, talking doesn't help me. It helps you, maybe, but we're different. I prefer to deal with things in my own way."
"What, by shoving them down into your subconscious, hoarding them up so they can pop out and bite you in the ass every so often? Don't you think that's taking self-pity a bit far, even given your track record?" It came out more sharply than Daniel meant it to: he was starting to get exasperated too.
Jack was starting to breathe heavily, his nostrils pinched white, his eyes stormy. But when he spoke, his voice was quiet, the tone flat.
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. You're way outta line."
Daniel felt his temper beginning to rise, and struggled to keep his tone level while he forced it back down again.
"Am I? Don't ever pull that commanding officer crap on me when we're not in the field, Jack. When it's just the two of us, alone, I'm your lover, not your subordinate. In my book, that makes us equals, or it should."
"So because I get to shove my dick up your ass on a more or less regular basis I have to suffer your amateur attempts at psychoanalysis? That's the price I have to pay? That what you're saying here?"
"No, and if you were in the mood to be reasonable, you'd realise that. This is not your problem, it's our problem - for once can't you just accept help when it's honestly offered to you, instead of swatting it away and trying to be Superman? Please don't shut me out, Jack. It doesn't make you any less of a man to accept help - quite the reverse; it takes courage to admit that you need it."
"Yeah, like you always do. I never see you heading up the queue to spill your guts."
"I talk to you and you listen: it helps. I think it's time for me to repay the favour."
"Geeze, you just don't give up, do ya? I'm telling you over and over but you just don't seem to be getting the message. Okay, here it is then, in words of one syllable, just so you understand: I don't want your help. I don't need your help. I don't need help at all, not from you or anyone else. And I'd very much appreciate it if you would stop trying to shove your nose into my business. Now, don't you have some rocks or something to go look at?"
Daniel shook his head stubbornly as he rose from the bed and took a couple of steps towards Jack. "I'm not leaving. Not until you calm down, see some sense, and agree to try to discuss this rationally. You can't deal with everything on your own, nobody can. And lashing out at me isn't going to do either of us any good, short term or long. I'm not your problem, Jack, but whatever it is, I'm damn sure you need to work it out and not ignore it."
Jack refused to meet his eyes and half turned away. "For the last time, can you possibly just admit that your kind of 'help' just doesn't cut it with me? Or are you arrogant enough to assume on the basis of screwing me for a few months that you know me better than I do?"
The words were meant to goad, and they had the desired effect. Daniel's temper finally snapped. "Jesus Christ, 'arrogant', the man says! I'll show you fucking arrogant, you self-absorbed prick! Your whole attitude is arrogant and dismissive - you just assume that I'm unable to do any fucking thing to help you at all; you won't even give me the chance to try. You have absolutely no faith in anything about me except my ability to get you off. So what does that make me? The colonel's sweet little piece of ass? His fuck buddy? His whore? That's what it seems like from where I'm standing. I thought we had the start of something better than that here, I thought we had a shot at a relationship of equals. I should have known better - you're such a fucking control freak, you can't bear to give of yourself, you can only take, and call it giving."
Jack's face was absolutely white as he turned back to face him, and his jaw was set. Daniel looked in his eyes and shivered involuntarily. They were black and cold, like pebbles on the beach, no love in them, none at all. Eyes that he hadn't seen since before they'd first gone to Abydos. He wondered fleetingly how many Jaffa had taken that look with them as their last memory of this life.
"How the fuck you can dare say that to me, I don't - oh, I get it. You can't wheedle anything out of me so you're going to try needling it out of me instead. Well here's news, Daniel, I've been double-teamed by experts in the past: it didn't work then and it's not going to work now. Just admit that you're way out of your league here, shut the fuck up and back off. "
"Yeah, that's always your reaction isn't it? 'Shut up Daniel.' 'You're out of your league, Daniel.' 'My way or the highway, Daniel.' Well, here's some news for you, Jack, it isn't going to work this time."
Jack's speed took him off guard: pinned up against the wall, no time to react, Daniel could only watch as Jack's fist drew back, hovering behind his head at the level of his chin, could only register surprise at hearing himself say cuttingly, in the seconds before it whistled past his ear to connect with the wall, "That's right, Colonel, violence is the obvious answer. If you can't shut it up, beat it up, huh...?"
He watched as Jack kept him pinned to the wall for a moment longer, before dropping him with a sneer and turning away, saying tiredly, "Just get out, Daniel. Get out and leave me alone."
If Daniel had been angry before, now he was coldly furious. That was it then: nothing he could do here. His place in the scheme of things had yet again been made blindingly obvious. His lips tightened as he considered the truth of his outburst: the Colonel's whore, nothing more, nothing less. Oh no, wait, he was forgetting something: when the need arose, the Colonel's punching bag too. He looked again at Jack's rigid back, gave a small exhalation of disgust, turned on his heel and left without another word, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Daniel walked blindly, deliberately not allowing himself to think about the reasons behind the ugly little scene that had just played out, nothing in his head but the pressing need to put as much physical distance between himself and Jack as possible. There weren't many people about in the heat of the day, and for that he was vaguely grateful. He needed to walk fast and without constantly having to sidestep people who wanted to sell him something, wanted him to give them something, wanted anything to do with him at all.
As he walked his anger gradually dissipated and he wondered idly if Jack's had too: normally he would be able to say with certainty that it had, they were very alike in that their occasional flare-ups burned bright and hot but were never sustained for long. Where they differed was that Daniel could only rarely be bothered to summon the energy to bear a grudge, whereas Jack's ability to nurse a grudge was practically legendary.
No, realistically, that was never going to be a problem. They'd had some quite spectacular battles in the past, and come out of them with their friendship barely dented: even when their estrangements were prolonged and they found themselves at polar opposites of the spectrum of opinion, they were never permanent. But then, of course, that was the way it worked with their relationship as it had been, not as it was now. Now everything had more of an edge since they had become lovers as opposed to merely friends. Once again Daniel's mood swung from optimism to pessimism as he considered the changes that sexual intimacy had brought in its wake.
Chief amongst them of course was that the whole thing mattered so much more now. Much as Daniel treasured their friendship, he treasured their intimacy even more. He enjoyed everything about it: the closeness, the sense of possession and being possessed, the intense physical rush that sex with Jack never failed to bring. Most of all he loved the idea that he alone got to see a side of Jack that very few others did on a regular basis, even if they did get the occasional glimpse: the essential softness at his centre, the mile-wide romantic streak at such odds with the tough, wise-cracking, hard-bitten exterior that he so carefully cultivated. Even the need for circumspection added its own frisson at times, although in the main that was a downside rather than a positive aspect.
But he wanted it to continue, to grow, to develop, despite the difficulties. There was more there than what Jack termed 'sparkage', he was one hundred per cent certain of that on his side at least. He loved Jack, loved the whole package, he embraced the bad as well as the good. And until earlier today he had been sure that Jack felt the same. Not that he said it often, but that just made the times he did say it all the sweeter. And he'd said it last night. But now? Now he wasn't so sure that that hadn't just been something to say, a smokescreen to distract him from the issue of Jack's inability to get an erection for whatever reason.
He hated this feeling that something of vital importance was slipping away through his grasping fingers. That it was happening again, same as it always did. Exactly what always seemed to happen with every important relationship in his life. And worst of all, he couldn't figure out why it always seemed to happen.
He stopped dead as he realised dully that this could be a breaking point for their relationship if Jack couldn't, or wouldn't, let him help, that the whole thing might indeed be built on convenience. And then berated himself for being overly dramatic even as he resolved that it wasn't going to happen, no way would he let it happen, not while he had the ability to fight. Some things really were worth fighting for. Jack was pretty well at the top of the list.
For the first time since leaving the hotel he paused to take in his surroundings. He was in a part of town that he didn't immediately recognise, but that held no worries for him: he had a tongue in his head and cash in his wallet; he would soon find his way back again. A more pressing need was to find something to drink and a shady place to drink it before the vague dehydration headache he was developing solidified into a full-grown thumping migraine.
A little further down the ramshackle street he found himself standing in was a shop with a pavement café, its only apparent patrons a couple of old men playing backgammon at one of the small, rickety tables set out underneath a spreading fig tree. Absorbed in their game, they only glanced up incuriously and nodded as Daniel stepped past to sit at the free table furthest from them.
After the inevitable exchange of pleasantries with the owner as he swiped the accumulated dust from the table top with an already dust-laden rag, his compliments to Daniel for his grasp of Arabic, Daniel's compliments to him for his foresight in opening a café in a most fortuitous spot, the old men joining in, their interest piqued by the tall American who spoke their language so well, Daniel was soon the proud possessor of a bottle of water, a cup of coffee and some meze. When the owner finally retreated into the depths of his shop, bowing and smiling as he went, and the old men returned to their game, he was at last left in peace. He sat for a while thinking of nothing, lulled by the click of the backgammon counters and the soft comments of the two players as they settled down to while away the afternoon. The ever present scraping of cicadas was the only other sound, soothing and whispering of sleep in the drowsy heat of the day.
He was startled out of his reverie when the cicadas abruptly stopped, for no reason that he could see; the backgammon players sounded loud in the sudden silence as they called for more coffee. A figure came out of the shop, not the owner this time but a boy, yawning and scratching as he appeared in the doorway.
Daniel pulled himself together, glancing at his watch as he did so. It was well after three o'clock. This wouldn't do: he was supposed to be thinking about his immediate problem, trying to decide what to do to keep his life on course, not sitting mindlessly in the shade in a back street. He took the opportunity of ordering more coffee himself, relieved to find that the headache had dissipated during the interval of calm, and settled down again to review the evidence.
One phrase kept on reverberating through his head: 'I've been double-teamed by experts in the past...' And then another conversation, half-forgotten, floated up from his subconscious: 'Oh, Daniel? Gotta trust me on this. Signs of weakness are not a good thing in prison.'
Where had that come from? Daniel's brows knitted in thought. Got it! Hadante. Jack had said those words to him in Hadante. He had asked outright then about Jack being in prison, but Jack had turned the question with a small half-smile, refusing to answer directly.
And suddenly, Daniel knew: knew with a certainty that welled up from the core of his being. Jack had been in prison. Where and when? Jack had more than a passing familiarity with Arabic, and not drawing room Arabic either. What contact had he had in his career with the Arab world apart from the Egyptian connection? Iraq. Where in Iraq could he pick up language like that? Prison, that was exactly where. Full circle, right back to the starting point; a beautifully complete, absolute jewel of an hypothesis. It wasn't the only possible explanation, but it fit, fit far better than his original premise. He knew he was right this time. Every way he turned events over in his mind they slotted into place smoothly, no sharp corners, no loose ends.
Not that it helped much to have finally worked it out to his own satisfaction, not now. After what had already happened, he doubted very much if he would get another chance to raise the topic. Hell, he wasn't even sure that he wanted to. Maybe it would be best just to cut their losses and go home, not that that thought appealed much with this hanging over their relationship. If nothing was resolved here and now, nothing would be resolved, and this had more far reaching implications than a couple of nightmares, no matter how bad they were.
So, doing nothing was not an option, even if trying to sort this mess out wasn't a very attractive proposition either: caught between a rock and a hard place. Daniel smiled sourly to himself - story of his life, in a nutshell - then mentally shook himself. Self-pity wasn't something he allowed himself to indulge in or that he generally approved of, and there was no call for it before the event in any case. There really was no decision to be made here, this could not be allowed to lie between them and spoil everything. He had to go back and try again.
Daniel squared his shoulders, straightened up and called for the bill.
Buoyed up by having decided on a definite course of action, Daniel made good time on his way back, only distracted a couple of times by conversation with the people he stopped to ask directions of in the maze of streets. His determination wavered when the hotel came into sight, and almost failed him altogether when he turned into the building's main courtyard. For once he felt justified in having a stiff drink before he continued and turned into the hotel bar, ordering araq and taking time to savour it sitting once again by the pool. After a second one he found he had recaptured his earlier strength of purpose and headed for the elevator.
Once again there was no immediate answer to his soft knock and for a moment he stared at the unresponsive door in bafflement. Here was another problem he should have anticipated. Jack now, Jack would probably know at least a dozen ways to get round this problem, all of them effective and most of them probably of questionable legality. But he didn't. And he didn't want to linger here in the corridor like a naughty child that had been put out of the room, nor draw attention to himself by hammering on the door. He vaguely patted at his pockets, some thought in his head of finding a credit card or something, anything to help him gain entry, and was surprised when his palm encountered the outline of a key: he'd forgotten that he'd slipped it back into his pocket after using it the last time. He had no idea what sort of reception he was going to get as he gently slid the key into the lock, opened the door and quietly slipped into the room.
For a moment he thought Jack had run out on him before the door to the bathroom opened and Jack barrelled out and headed straight for him. Daniel's heart leapt in his chest as he took in the expression on Jack's face, the unsettling mix of anger and desperation stamped there as he charged towards him, and the wild thought flashed into his mind that Jack was about to finish what he had been tempted to start earlier. Daniel braced himself, his arms automatically coming up to defend himself, and saw the moment when Jack faltered, stopped dead two paces from him and took his measure.
He had no time to finish the thought as Jack gave a sharp, satisfied nod and ducked under his arms, slamming him backwards a couple of paces against the closed door, one arm across his shoulders, pinning him in place, the other trying to worm its way down past the waistband of his jeans. Daniel struggled as adrenaline kicked in in earnest, pushing hard enough to dislodge Jack and force him back a pace before he surged forward again, more strongly this time, once more pushing Daniel off-balance and forcing him backwards, pinning him in place even more securely, pushing against him with the length of his body.
They stood like that, nose to nose, for what seemed to Daniel like an eternity before he collected his wits enough to start pushing him off. Jack was holding him in place with almost insolent ease, an intent, fierce look on his face as he stared into Daniel's eyes, daring him to fight back. He shifted his weight slightly: Daniel could finally feel his burgeoning erection pressing into his hip, felt it swelling and hardening, and his earlier anger surged back again in full force, outraged that Jack was apparently getting off on the violence of his assault. But almost against his will felt himself start to lengthen and stiffen in response as anger dissolved into lust, raw and urgent. Still staring into Jack's eyes, but now with his own challenge evident in his, he deliberately gathered his strength and shoved. He watched the spark that flared through Jack as he telegraphed his decision and gasped when Jack's eyes darkened and he bent his head forward, growling, to bite down on the curve of Daniel's shoulder through his shirt, worrying at it like a dog.
Daniel's stomach lurched at the sound and his penis hardened dramatically, straining uncomfortably against his jeans. He shoved again, harder, and succeeded in dislodging Jack long enough to tear free and wriggle out from under him before flipping him round, slamming him in his turn against the wall. He grabbed Jack's wrists and forced his arms out from his sides and back, using his weight to hold him there spread-eagled and swooping down to capture his mouth in a fierce, bruising battle of lips and tongues, grinding his erection against Jack's groin.
The muscles in Jack's shoulders bunched and strained as he forced his arms down the wall behind him before heaving convulsively under Daniel, breaking his grip and forcing him away yet again. Jack heaved once more, and his impetus propelled them both back a few paces towards the bed. Clamping his arms around Daniel, Jack pinned his arms to his sides, his mouth latching onto Daniel's neck as he tried to capitalise on his advantage and Daniel strained to break his grip, panting with the effort.
They stood poised for a moment or two, swaying as they pushed against each other, before Jack's slight advantage in height and weight finally told and he managed to shove the backs of Daniel's legs against the bed: they tumbled down heavily just as Jack released his arms, Daniel underneath. Temporarily winded by Jack's full weight landing on him and pinned in place by Jack straddling his legs, Daniel could do nothing to counter him as he tore at his shirt and fumbled with his button and zipper. There were no sounds in the room except the sounds of harsh breathing and once, briefly, the rasp of ripping cloth: Jack, usually so vocal in bed, was bending to his task in total silence and Daniel found it almost unbearably erotic.
Snarling with frustration when he realised he was unable to remove Daniel's jeans and shorts while he was sitting on his legs, Jack turned his attention to his own clothes, shucking his tee one-armed while his other hand tackled his own pants, swiftly unzipping and yanking them viciously down over his hips, his erection bobbing down and then back up, slapping against his belly. Daniel waited until Jack's pants were down to his knees before making his own move: once Jack's legs were as hampered as they could be by his clothing, Daniel braced his shoulders and feet against the bed and surged upwards with his hips, knocking Jack off-balance and tipping him off his thighs. The element of surprise gave him the advantage as he wriggled out from under and flung himself towards Jack, rolling him onto his belly and yanking his pants down to his ankles before lying on top of him and sliding down his own.
Jack started to squirm again, trying to get his knees under him to flip Daniel over, but Daniel kicked his legs apart, denying him purchase, and grabbed his wrists, forcing his hands above and to the sides of his head while he worried at the nape of Jack's neck with his teeth.
Spread-eagled under Daniel once again, pressed into the mattress by his weight, feeling his solid and leaking erection sliding over his buttocks, the fight went out of Jack all at once and he went limp. He lay panting with his eyes closed as Daniel kicked both their clothes and his loafers all the way off, triumph singing through him and heightening his arousal almost beyond bearing, celebrating his victory by arching his neck to lick and graze on Jack's shoulders as Jack gasped softly, pausing only to bite down and suck hard where neck met shoulder and mark Jack as his own.
Jack finally broke his silence, his voice rough and startling in the quiet room.
"Daniel... fuck me. Do it now."
Daniel paused and raised his head slightly, enquiring silkily, "Chain of command again, colonel?"
Jack's throat worked as he swallowed convulsively.
"Not... not an order. Please, Daniel. I need this... need it so much. Need you. Please..."
Daniel raised his head higher and looked carefully at Jack's face. What he read there, the raw and frantic desire, had him scrambling for the lube, his hand trembling as he slathered it onto his twitching penis. This was neither the time nor the place for finesse: Daniel recognised this as he spread Jack's legs further apart with his knees, pried the cheeks of his ass apart with one slippery hand and snaked the other arm under Jack's hips, lifting them a little to line up the head of his cock with Jack's opening. A small hiss of excitement escaped him as he nudged the head against Jack's anus and he felt it relax and dilate for him with little resistance. The urge to thrust was so strong it was almost a physical hurt. Unable to fight it any longer, he pushed hard, breaching Jack with one single thrust, sinking balls-deep into him with one smooth, deep stroke. Jack moaned a little, but bucked back hard against him. Daniel exulted in the twin sensations of gripping heat and slickness: all thought fled and he became a thing of feeling only. He toppled onto his side, clamped his free hand on Jack's shoulder and set up a deep, driving rhythm, in, out, in, out, fast and deep, deeper, faster, grunting softly and biting down on his lip with the effort every time he jabbed into Jack's ass, Jack answering him with a low groan every time he withdrew.
Once again the quiet in the room was profound, punctuated only by the soft slap of flesh on flesh and the muted dissonance of their lovemaking, grunt and moan, point and counterpoint. He raised his head and glanced over Jack's shoulder, watching them reflected in the mirror over the dresser, staring at Jack's face, feeling a fresh surge of triumph as he watched the effect of his efforts. Jack's eyes were slitted half shut, his face red and his mouth slack, his brow furrowing as Daniel surged into him. Pain or pleasure, it made no difference, Daniel couldn't stop, couldn't slow down. He felt the familiar tightening as his balls drew up and knew he was close, then felt Jack tensing under him and knew that he was close as well. Almost on the thought he felt a low rumble through his chest wall as he slid along Jack's back, felt the warmth of Jack's semen as it scalded his arm, felt the muscles of Jack's ass rippling around his dick.
It was enough and Daniel exploded into his own release, sending a scalding stream of his own deep inside the body clamped against his, panting and shuddering as he rode the waves of pleasure, finally succumbing to bone-deep, open-mouthed, gasping lassitude as he relaxed and sank onto his side, holding Jack tight against him.
It took him a while to realise something was wrong.
Jack was lying sprawled beside him, perfectly still and quiet apart from his ragged breathing. It was the breathing that finally clued Daniel in when he came back to himself: Jack wasn't drowsing in the pleasurable aftermath of orgasm, as Daniel had assumed. He was crying, awkwardly at first from lack of practice, but with rapidly increasing fluency and ease.
Daniel said nothing, but turned Jack in his arms so that he lay with his head on Daniel's chest and held on tight, stroking him gently as they rode out the storm together, ignoring the discomfort of his wet and sticky chest.
He knew that the worst was over when Jack finally moved, snaking one arm over his belly and hugging him tight, but it was still a considerable while before the silence was broken. When Jack finally spoke, his voice was thick and rough, still sounding clogged with tears. After a false start, he cleared his throat loudly and rubbed his hand over his face before clamping it back around Daniel's waist again.
"Damned if I can figure out why women think this is such a good idea. I feel like shit."
"Let me up and I'll go get a wash cloth. You'll feel better once you've cleaned yourself up some."
Jack nodded against his chest. "Yeah, I guess. Thanks." He loosened his arm and rolled over onto his back, his forearm across his eyes. Daniel got up and went into the bathroom, taking the opportunity to clean the slimy mess from his chest. He made no comment when he returned, just handed Jack the cloth as he hopped back into bed, waiting while Jack wiped his face, deliberately not looking at him. When he'd finished, he burrowed back down into his previous position in Daniel's arms.
Again the room was quiet. Daniel was loath to say anything at all, worried in case he said the wrong thing, but eventually he could stand the waiting no longer and said, "Are you going to tell me now what this is all about?"
He felt Jack's lips harden into a straight line against his skin, but he only said, mildly enough, "I suppose I have to, don't I?"
"No, you don't have to. But I think I've worked it out. Some of it, anyway. You were in prison weren't you? In Iraq - you were a POW."
Jack chuckled mirthlessly. "I mighta known you'd get there under your own steam." He sighed heavily then took a deep breath, a decision apparently considered and made.
"Yeah, I was a POW. But only sorta - the authorities knew that I was military, but I was Special Ops by then, the unit went in sterile - no dog tags, no ID, no backup, so no obligation on their part to follow any sort of rules at all. Not that they did anyway, by all accounts. Which I suppose was fair - I wasn't following the rules of war, not any that you'd recognise. Anyway, things were a little confused when I was first captured. I'd managed to get a fair distance away from the theatre of action and I was captured by civilian militia rather than the army. They weren't quite sure what to do with me, other than a little bit of roughing up just on general principles, me being an American and all. But they were scared to go too far, just in case I didn't come through it, so they stuck me in a shithole of a prison and left me to rot for a while, until they managed to contact someone higher up who'd have a better idea of what to do with me, I guess.
"It came as a shock to me - up until that point I'd survived my career virtually unscathed. I always had the kind of luck that we seem to have in the field - things may look bad, may even get bad, but we survive pretty well intact. Things always take a turn for the better. This... didn't. Not for the longest time."
"Four months, I was told afterwards." Jack's mouth twisted crookedly. "It was a bit difficult to keep track, no matter how hard I tried.
"And that's when you learned to speak Arabic."
"Not what you'd call 'speaking' it - not any Arabic that you'd want to take into polite company, anyway. Crude but effective might just be about right."
Daniel grinned faintly. "Yeah, I heard. That does seem to sum it up."
"There was a kid there, in the prison, at the same time that I was - nice kid, about twelve or thirteen. I asked him how old he was once and he wasn't really sure. Sort of the prison gopher, I thought at first, you know the type. Actually no, you probably don't, come to think of it. Nice looking kid too - typical Arab type, curly hair, brown eyes, golden skin - he would have been a handsome man."
"Would have been?"
"He... didn't make it." The words were bitten off sharply, but not before Daniel heard the catch in Jack's voice. He stayed silent, waiting quietly for Jack to continue. After a couple of deep, shuddering breaths, he did, his voice back under control again.
"I never found out what he was in there for... Anyway, as I said, nice kid. He kinda looked out for me, you know? He always seemed to be sticking around. Didn't figure out why to begin with and never questioned it - I was just glad to have somebody on my six. Although, thinking back, afterwards, I figured out it was maybe the novelty value, I kinda stuck out in there like a sore thumb... plus I was building a rep for myself of being pretty handy with my fists if anyone messed with me..."
"I can imagine."
"Yeah, well, anyway... took me a while to realise he was the local bend-over boy - not that I had much interest in him for that reason, no matter what it looked like; I was a married man with a young family for Chrissakes. I just liked him was all, he was a spunky kid and he looked out for me. Stuck to me like glue, showed me the ropes, and I was grateful. He never asked for anything in return, nothing at all, except for once..."
The silence stretched out but Daniel said nothing to break it, unwilling to take the chance of Jack drying up on him if he pushed too hard.
Eventually, Jack took a deep breath and plunged on, his voice now flat and unemotional, speaking quietly, as much to himself as to Daniel.
"I suppose he got something out of it though - nobody messed with him in all the time I was there. He didn't have to put out once. I never asked him if he enjoyed it or not, if he'd been forced: I was too busy thinking about myself. If I thought about it at all I guess I just assumed he was glad of the time off. Plus a couple of the local bullyboys had been pretty hard on him. They were pretty pissed at me when they suddenly weren't getting their 'rations' any more, but I could live with that.
"I musta been there for about two weeks before the authorities finally got wise to what they had right under their noses. Somebody higher up the food chain finally joined up the dots and the military came for me. They took him too: I couldn't figure out why right away. Cut a long story short, when they eventually got tired of trying to get some information out of me, they started on him. One of the other assholes musta told them we were close, and I guess they assumed... well, whatever they assumed, they didn't see him as one of their own at all, just a weakness to be exploited. I got to watch the whole thing from the ringside seat."
The incongruity of their situation struck Daniel as he waited, yet again, in patient silence: the early evening sunshine slanted into the quiet room, highlighting the motes of dust hanging in the air. From outside, the sounds of life drifted up, muffled a little because the French doors to the balcony were only slightly ajar, snatches of laughter and traffic noise, muted and less urgent than the early morning hum as the city wound down towards another evening. A small breath of a breeze wound through the slightly opened doors, making the dust dance in the light, bringing with it the scent of the city, the dry smell of sun-baked brick mixed with the sharp, chemical whiff of traffic fumes, interlaced with cooking smells as housewives embarked on their preparations for the evening meal; life going on as normal, self-absorbed, determinedly domestic and oblivious, but at a distance, a sharp and poignant contrast to the more immediate horror of the ugly story that was unfolding inside.
"They worked him over pretty good, but they were careful not to do too much damage, just concentrated on the surface stuff, fingernails and cigarette burns, stuff like that. Guess they didn't want to lose him 'cause they figured he might turn out to be a pretty good lever over me. They were right too - it was worse watching him getting the treatment than it had been getting it myself. He was only a kid, for Chrissakes!"
Jack's voice cracked again and he was silent for a moment or two. When he resumed, his voice was shaking with bitter fury. "He had nothing to do with why I was there, not a damn thing! I didn't break though, didn't tell them a thing. Cursed a blue streak inside but didn't crack, didn't say a goddamn word. Stayed the good soldier. Used the anger to keep myself going, just like they told us in training school, and even congratulated myself for getting it right. He was begging me to make it stop, to tell them what they wanted to know, crying and screaming, cursing them and me, but I held out. Didn't even have the brains to feed them any old load of bullshit just to get them to leave him alone. No, I stuck to the fucking rules, just gave them name, rank and serial number, and the kid suffered for it. Just once he looked to me to help him out and I didn't... wouldn't."
He passed a shaking hand over his face. "It's strange... things got a lot worse than that during my time there, but right now the kid stays with me clearest. I don't even have to shut my eyes to see him..."
His voice tailed off and Jack sat up, reaching for the glass of water that was sitting on the nightstand. It was tepid and he pulled a face as he took a gulp before setting it carefully back down again. He didn't lie back down but stayed sitting, his knees drawn up under the sheet, cradling his head on his arms as they rested on his knees.
Daniel said gently, "And that was what the nightmares were about." He added, thinking out loud with a sudden flash of insight, "It was that boy that wanted us to take the carriage ride, wasn't it? He was the one that brought it all back."
"I suppose it must have been," Jack said tiredly.
"So what happened after that?"
"Hmm?" Again, Jack pulled himself together with an effort. He didn't raise his head as he spoke, and his voice was muffled as he carried on.
"Oh, you know, same old, same old. When the kid finally passed out they had another go at me. When I finally passed out they just fucked off and left us there to recover enough for the rematch. Took a while, they didn't come back for a couple of days, just periodically shoved some slop at us to eat, when they remembered. I did what I could for the kid, bandaged him up some - his hands had taken the worst of it. I remember he was grateful... that was a laugh, it was my fault he was in that state in the first place. Wasn't enough though, I had nothing to clean him up with. He got sick and just kept getting sicker.
"Every time someone came near, I asked to see a doctor. They just laughed, said the doctor wouldn't come out for vermin like us. One of the kid's hands started to stink really badly. That's when I opened up the bandage and realised what was wrong with him. Gangrene. When the guards heard that they finally decided to do something about it."
Daniel listened to the quiet monotone with a sick feeling of horror growing in the pit of his stomach as he pictured the scene, the filthy, stinking cell, the battered soldier, the sick child. He knew what was coming next even without being told, that it would be too little, too late. Jack had started to cry again, tears leaking down the side of his face and trickling over his nose, Daniel could see them glistening on his forearms. The tears were short lived this time though, and Jack only paused for a moment to sniff before continuing.
"They came back a while later with another guy - I thought he was a doctor. I remember thinking, 'At last - at least the kid'll be okay now.'" Jack gave a short bark of bitter laughter. "Wrong again. He looked at the kid's hands and didn't say a word. Just produced a big fucking knife and swiped them off then and there while the guards held him down. Picked them up and chucked them into the slop bucket when he was done."
Daniel almost gagged, but forced the nausea down and made himself remain still as Jack carried on talking.
"The kid never made a sound, too shocked I guess. Not even when they stopped the bleeding and tried to dress the stumps. He just lay there, staring up at the ceiling until they'd left, before he started to wail. There was nothing I could do to comfort him except hold him while he screamed for help."
"And you couldn't help him."
"Oh no, this time I realised I could. And I did."
Jack took another long, deep breath and finally lifted his head to look Daniel straight in the eyes before saying, almost too softly for Daniel to hear, "This time I did help him, the only way I could think of, the only way I had left... I killed him."
Daniel had no idea what Jack expected him to say, could think of absolutely nothing that wasn't trite: so he kept silent, trying to school the sudden surge of anger he was feeling - anger at the inhumanity of it, anger that Jack had been put through that and, irrationally, anger at Jack for precipitating the situation.
Something of it must have showed in his eyes though as Jack continued, almost pleading, "It wasn't a decision I regretted, not rationally - the kid was doomed anyway. Even if he'd survived the gangrene he'd never have made it in prison, mutilated like that, always supposing the guards didn't just kill him anyway during the next session. At least my way was quick. It was the only decision I could possibly make."
Daniel had himself back under control again. "I can see that you'd think that. Actually, I can almost see that you were right, in the circumstances. Where there's life, there's not always hope. But how did you feel about it?"
For a moment the soldier looked out of Jack's eyes. His voice hardened and he shrugged slightly. "Fortunes of war, I guess. In a battle situation, shit happens."
"Okay, that's the military version, but that's not what I asked. How did you feel, Jack O'Neill the man?"
The thought flashed through Daniel's mind that Jack wasn't going to answer that, but he was only groping for words. He said slowly, as if he was only now working it out for himself, "I was really pissed that I had to do it - but in a strange sort of way it actually helped me. Whenever I thought about the kid, about what I was pushed into doing, I got so angry... holding out on them was my way of spitting in their eye, of getting even. Anger became a way of life, the only thing that I could really feel that could help me through the bad times. Eventually I pretty well forgot about the kid and just concentrated on the rage, not the reason for it."
Daniel snorted in agreement. "Yeah, I know that feeling."
Jack glanced sidelong at him and smiled briefly. "I figured you did. I've watched you do exactly the same thing every time you go head to head with a snake. Those guys that trained us really understood the way it worked."
"But they didn't ever train you in how to let it go once you got out."
Jack's arms tightened across his knees, the hand nearest Daniel curling into a fist, his eyes unfocussed, staring into a past that Daniel could only imagine. "Exactly. You couldn't just switch it off when you got home again, go back to being a regular Joe overnight, no matter how much you wanted to. It was too much a part of you, all you had to keep you going. And it changed everything."
"It must have been tough on Sara when you got home."
"Yeah, it was. I don't think it had ever really hit her just how tough it might sometimes be, me being in Special Ops. She'd never really thought it through. Guess she thought it would never happen to us. Oh, she was far too practical to think it would all be hearts and flowers and happily ever after, but she didn't really appreciate how deep it went and just how long it would take to work it all out. It didn't help that our sex life was shot to hell; I was so terrified the anger would surface big time if I lost control and I'd end up hurting her that I couldn't get it up. We both needed it to get back to normal so badly and it didn't, things just got worse, a lot worse, the more I bottled it up. There was a distance between us that hadn't been there before and I couldn't do anything to close the gap."
His voice had dropped all the time he was speaking and Daniel had to strain to hear what Jack said next.
"I screwed up royally there. And then, last night, when I couldn't get it up, I got scared that it was happening again... that this was the start of me screwing things up with you as well. And I don't want that to happen. I couldn't have done with Sara what we just did - the way that we did it - without her thinking I'd raped her. With you, it's different, the playing field's level. And somehow it was exactly what I needed."
Another part of the puzzle fell into place, and as it did, Daniel felt the first real stirrings of hope. He pushed it back and answered matter-of-factly.
"Yeah, I can see that. Didn't you get any kind of help at all?"
The calm steadiness of his tone seemed to have been the right approach: Jack's body language relaxed as some of the tension dropped away from him, then he turned to Daniel and lay back down again, sliding back into his arms with a sigh before he continued talking.
"Sure, I saw the shrink for a while. It helped a little, I guess. But I loved my job, loved being in the military, couldn't imagine doing anything else. I didn't want to lose it by spilling my guts and being discharged as unfit so I didn't tell them much. Maybe I shoulda told them more, I don't know. Maybe things would've gotten back to normal sooner, maybe they'd even have gotten back to what they had been before I went away. Sara and me, we worked it out between us gradually, though things were never quite the same. But they were good enough. Charlie helped a lot, kept us going through the bad times. Life carried on, I went back to Special Ops and once I was back in the field it was like riding a bicycle - you know, you never forget how."
"I know. So you've never told anyone any of this?"
"Not until now, no. I pushed it down and forgot about it as much as I could. I didn't want to tell the shrink and get hung out to dry and I couldn't tell Sara much of anything at all, it was all classified."
Daniel's curiosity was piqued. And he was honest enough with himself to realise that he needed the reassurance: the answer to his next question mattered, and mattered a lot.
"So what made the difference this time then? Why tell me, I mean?"
"You've got the security clearance."
It was stated quite matter-of-factly, without thinking, and the tension inside Daniel suddenly broke.
He stared down at the top of Jack's head, incredulous for a second or two, and then burst out laughing. If he'd needed proof beyond a willingness to explain that Jack was regaining his balance and that he'd played a large part in that process, that Jack indeed loved and trusted him enough to treat him as an equal, this had to be it. The most typically 'Jack' response possible in this or any other circumstance.
"What? What did I say that was so funny?"
He sounded a little hurt, but Daniel was laughing so hard he was wheezing, couldn't catch his breath to reply for a few minutes. Eventually he wiped his eyes and sobered up a little.
"Jack O'Neill, for a dyed-in-the-wool romantic, you sometimes say the damnedest things. Security clearance? Well at least I suppose that means you won't have to shoot me..." And he lapsed into gales of laughter again.
It was contagious, and Jack started to smile, then chuckle, and finally guffaw. They lay tangled round each other, chests heaving, until Daniel's sides were so sore that he had to stop and they both gradually ran out of steam.
"Okay, that came out wrong."
Daniel dropped a kiss on the top of Jack's head and said quietly. "'S okay, Jack, I know what you meant."
Jack hitched himself up on one elbow, serious again for a moment, and looked down into Daniel's face.
"I know you do. And it matters to me that you do. It matters a lot." The expression in his eyes, warm and earnest, not regretful at all, made Daniel's heart thump in his chest with relief as Jack leaned in to kiss him gently.
He broke off and gazed down at Daniel again for long moments. Daniel caught his breath at the sheer intensity of feeling he read there, before it shaded, typically, into embarrassment and Jack said suddenly, "You hungry? I could eat a horse right now. All this soul-baring crap gives a guy an appetite."
The sudden plunge back into normality was oddly steadying: Daniel considered the question and was surprised to find that he was. "Uh, yes, actually."
"Good. C'mon, let's get cleaned up and hit the town, scare up an early dinner."
"Okay. You go first."
Jack rolled out of his arms and off the bed, snagging a towel as he headed for the bathroom.
Daniel lay back, hands laced behind his head, ankles crossed, smiling as he listened to the sounds coming from the bathroom, the hiss of the water, the splashes as Jack moved underneath it and finally, after a few minutes, Jack whistling softly, off-key as usual.
Things were going to be all right.
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