Jack O'Neill dumped another spoon of sugar into his already sweetened coffee, trying to add some flavour to the brown sediment swirling in the cup. He missed Daniel's coffee. As far as Jack was concerned, the only one on base who could make good coffee was Daniel, but the scientist was off-world and had been for the past week, working with SG3 on P2H- something-something-something. He would be gone for another week, too, unless something went wrong. The thought that the price of a really good cup of coffee might be someone's life made Jack quickly review the situation. Pulling a face, he took a sip of the steaming brew.
"Colonel?" asked an enquiring voice. He looked up to see Stan Kovacek standing beside his table.
"Major." A nod of his head indicated a vacant chair.
"Don't often see you in here at this time of night, sir."
Jack was tempted to answer that at this time of night he was usually either in his quarters catching a pre-mission nap or at home, tucked up nice and cosy in his warm, comfortable bed. Feeling very much not in the mood to share such information, he simply shrugged. "Once in a while it's good to see how the other half lives."
Kovacek peered into his own cup of sludge and grinned. "Never figured you for a masochist, Colonel," he said, raising his cup in mock salute.
"I have my moments." Jack met the smile with one of his own. He liked Kovacek. They had known each other almost as long as he had known Charlie Kowalsky, had served together on more than one mission in the past. More than that, Kovacek had been part of the team sent to negotiate his release from the Iraqi prison, something for which he would always be grateful. As commander of SG-9, at Jack's recommendation, the man had a tough job to do, and Jack still recalled how it had been his skills as a negotiator that had pulled all their butts out of the fire on more than one occasion.
"How come you're here? I thought SG-9 was heading out to - " he scratched his head, searching for the information, then waved his hand distractedly " - somewhere."
"P5D-184. Yeah... But I've got two men down with the 'flu and Marriott broke his ankle playing one-on-one with his kid, so the general put the mission on hold for a couple of days, till he can find replacements."
Jack sighed. "That's getting to be a familiar story. I had to loan Daniel to SG3 while Carter's in the hospital. Somebody's gonna have to do something soon, before the whole place shuts down. We need more people. Not more teams, more people, so we can plug the gaps when they happen."
"Trained people," the major added. "I had a guy with me last time out, didn't have a clue what he was doing. Got himself so wired by being 'surrounded' by all those 'aliens' he almost blew the whole mission."
Nodding, Jack scrubbed his hands over his face, a wave of fatigue dropping over him like a blanket. There was a knot of tension in his neck and he stretched, flexing his muscles to try to ease it, dropping his head back and rolling it from side to side, but nothing helped. He was in the middle of a jaw-cracking yawn when he noticed Kovacek's amused look.
"Sorry... Been a long week."
"So why don't you go home?" the major asked. The cafeteria was empty, but still he leaned forward, dropping his voice so that only the colonel could hear. "C'mon, Jack. We both know how dangerous fatigue can be in this game."
"SG-1's on stand-down..."
"Which is even more reason to go home and get some rest. You don't need to be here. Hammond will have you paged if there's an emergency."
Jack leaned back, slipping lower in his seat, his gaze fixed on the abandoned cup. Kovacek was right on all counts: he had no need to be on base and lack of sleep was a dangerous thing. But where else was he to go? Home? Yeah, right. Borrow a tent and camp out on the back lawn. At least here he had a bed.
Finally giving in to the tide of self pity that he had been holding in check all week, he said softly "I hear what you're saying, Stan, but - I can't go home."
"Can't? Or won't?"
"Can't. There's nothing to go home to. I lost the lot, three days ago." The breath hitched in his throat as he remembered that night, watching everything he possessed, his whole life, turned to ashes.
Kovacek's eyes widened. "You're kidding me, right?"
"I wish I was," he said sadly.
"There was a gas explosion in the house next door. The guy had a lot of chemicals or something stored in his garage, some of them exploded, hit my place. I'd gone out for some beer. By the time I got home..." he spread his hands, indicating emptiness. "I've salvaged some stuff, got it stashed here in my office, but the house is gone."
"And you're homeless," Kovacek said softly. "Why the hell didn't you tell someone?"
Jack shrugged. "I was hoping Daniel could put me up for a few days, till I find somewhere else -"
"- but he's with SG-3." The major sighed, a trace of annoyance threading the sound. "Jeeze, Jack. You think Jackson is the only friend you've got in this place? I've been rattling around in that barn of a place ever since Maggie walked out." He waved his hand between them, face set sternly as he met the brown eyes. "I'm offended you didn't ask me."
"No, I mean it, Jack. We've known each other a lot of years, I thought that counted for something."
Again Jack passed his hand over his eyes, grinding his thumb and index finger into his eye sockets. The man was right, of course, and at the time Jack had actually thought of asking, but his pride had gotten in the way. He hated talking to people about his problems or his personal life, never could bring himself to open up, even to people he knew cared about him - and the nature of their friendship left him in no doubt that Stan did care. The only exception was Daniel Jackson. Maybe it was the very fact that Daniel was outside the realm of the military , but somehow, talking to him had always been easy. But, Daniel hadn't been there, and Jack had reacted to the situation by pulling up the metaphorical drawbridge and sitting it out in his cramped quarters until he figured out what to do next.
"It does, it does," he murmured, refusing to look up. "I just didn't want everyone knowing what happened. They'd start in with the sympathetic looks and the 'poor Jack's, and I hate that stuff."
Kovacek's brows lifted above a pair of amused grey eyes. "Oh, and you think I'm going to spread it all over the base, make an announcement over the p.a.? Be honest, Jack, you'd rather feel sorry for yourself." Pushing back his chair he got to his feet. "C'mon."
"I'm off-duty as of ten minutes ago. Let's go get your stuff and haul it over to my place. Least you'll get a good night's sleep."
He moved towards the exit, leaving Jack little alternative but to follow. He had to admit that after three nights in his cramped quarters on base, eating cafeteria food and fighting for a space in the communal showers, it would be nice to get some privacy.
"I'll need to let the general know where I'll be."
"Fine. You do that, I'll start loading your things. You wanna pay me back you can spring for some takeout on the way home."
"I thought you said you lived alone," Jack mused as he carried the first of his boxes into the brightly lit living room. Somewhere a radio was playing, tuned to a talk station.
"Never heard of security lighting?" Kovacek grinned and shook his head. "Leave your stuff there till we've got it all in, then I'll show you the room."
It didn't take long to unload the few boxes and bags containing all that remained of Jack's life. There wasn't much - a few items of clothing that had been in the washer, tools from the garage, books and c.d.'s that had escaped with only minor smoke damage. One box held an assortment of broken, glass-less picture frames containing medals and citations. They had hung on the wall above the fireplace, site of some of the worst damage, and some of them were badly charred, but he had to have them, not because he liked to boast about his achievements, but as a reminder of the price he and others had paid. They were as much a tribute to friends lost as victories won.
When everything was unloaded and his car was tucked neatly into the drive behind his hosts, Kovacek led him along the hallway towards the back of the house.
"Everything's where you remember. Kitchen... bathroom... my room... This is you." he pushed open the door to a large, airy room. It was sparsely yet tastefully furnished in shades of blue and dark-stained wood. Despite the gloom hanging around his shoulders, Jack cocked an eyebrow at his companion.
Stan snorted indignantly. "When she left this room was cerise and gold. Maggie had no taste, Jack. Not like Sara."
Jack found himself nodding, remembering. "Yeah. Sara always had style. I could leave that kind of thing to her and always know I'd like the results." His thoughts drifted away for a moment, lost in a happier past, until he became aware of Kovacek watching him. "Sorry, Stan. Guess this is a time for raking up the ghosts." He made a sweeping gesture with his hand that took in the room before him. "This is great. I really appreciate you letting me stay here."
A large hand settled on his shoulder and the grey eyes looked into his with a softness they never wore at work, the kind of affection that only comes with knowing and depending on someone for a lot of years.
"Hey, like the song says - that's what friends are for. Just remember you've got a few, Jack. Your team mates aren't the only ones who care about you."
Feeling the heat climb into his face as a whole new set of memories surged around him, Jack ducked his head. "Yeah, I guess I do - have a few friends, I mean." Reaching out, he gave Kovacek's shoulder a friendly punch, which quickly turned into a one handed hug. They stayed like that for several moments, before Stan cleared his throat loudly and stepped away.
"Let's shift your boxes in here and you can unpack some while I fix supper. Then we'll talk about the house rules."
"House rules?" Jack's voice hitched up a notch.
"Uh-huh. Makes life a lot easier if everyone knows what they're doing, don't you think?"
Jack swallowed the sarcastic response and simply shrugged. "Ah - yes. Yes, I guess it does," he said, trying not to wince at the idea. House rules. He expected someone like Daniel to have house rules, but not Stan 'hang-it-where-it-drops' Kovacek. The man must have changed one heck of a lot since Jack last spent any real time with him.
They ate the Chinese food Jack had willingly paid for, washing it down with ice cold beer from the fridge. After three days of cafeteria food, it was like a banquet to Jack and when it was finished, and he sat back replete, he was smiling contentedly for the first time in days.
"So," he said, waving a hand to indicate the room. "You do this, too?" Kovacek nodded, making Jack laugh. "What are you, a frustrated interior decorator?"
"No. Just someone who likes things to look nice, same as you - and don't tell me some of Sara's influence didn't rub off on you. I've seen that house of yours..." He bit off the rest of the sentence, realising suddenly what he had said. "Damn! Jack I'm sorry. I didn't think...."
Jack's face darkened, but he shook his head. "Forget it. I have to get used to the fact that place is gone. Sooner I do that the better."
"Will the insurance cover it?"
"Yeah, no problem. Least I didn't have a whole load of memories invested in it, and I was able to salvage the important stuff." He gestured with a nod of his head towards the one remaining box on the floor. At the top was a large biscuit tin. Suddenly it was important to make those memories live again, to dip into the past and try to find some stability to smooth the way through the turbulence that lay ahead.
Collecting the box, he opened it and began sifting through the contents. Photographs, letters, a piece of ribbon from his wife's wedding bouquet, a lock of Charlie's hair in one side of a tiny frame that had the child's picture in the other. He set those aside quickly, not ready yet to share those memories with anyone, even a friend as old as Stan. Further down, sandwiched between the layers of family life and his own childhood, he found what he was looking for.
"Remember that?" he asked, handing Stan a photograph. Four young men, clad only in shirts, standing barefoot on a beach somewhere hot, their arms linked in loose friendship about each other's shoulders.
Kovacek stared at it, his own mind turning back through the years. Charlie Kawalsky, John Michaels, himself and Jack. A successful mission had won them each a three day pass and they had spent the time at the beach, working off the adrenaline high swimming and playing volleyball. Reclaiming the lives they had put on hold for the duration.
"Yeah, I remember it. Kawalsky got so drunk he could hardly stand and Michaels tried to get hitched to that girl - Marie?" he frowned.
"Maryanne," Jack corrected. "We just about got him away from the altar in time." he picked up another photo, of himself and Kovacek each wearing silly native hats. "Do you ever miss those days?"
"All the time. It was - different then. Less responsibility, more time to have fun. Ah hey! Will you look at that guy!" he sniggered, reaching across Jack to pick up the image of himself with thick, chestnut hair. "Where'd it all go?"
"The hair?" Jack smirked. "Same place mine's going I guess." He stroked his own head, the hair thicker than Stan's was now but heavily streaked with grey. "The price of command."
"You thinking about retirement again?" Kovacek raised the beer bottle to his lips, tipping back his head to suck the chilled brew into his mouth. Jack shrugged.
"Sometimes I get to thinking this is a young man's game, yeah. When I stand in the gate room and watch kids come back dead, and I wonder what the hell we're doing it for. Sometimes I think Kinsey's right and we should just shut the whole damn thing down, bury it back in the desert and get on with our lives."
"And then?" prompted his companion when the silence became too protracted. It won him a tired, knowing grin from the chocolate eyes.
"Then I think about the folks we met on Abydos, Chulak, Cimmeria, the Nox... and I wouldn't - I couldn't - ever give it up. Not willingly. Does that make sense?"
Stan nodded, reaching to give his shoulder a supportive punch. "Yes, it makes sense. Every time we negotiate a new treaty, take one step further, I know we're doing the right thing. We may not be able to change the galaxy, Jack, but sometimes we can make a difference in our own small corner of it." He seemed about to say more, but suddenly he was overtaken by a wide yawn. Glancing at the clock on the mantle he sighed. "Bed time. SG-1 might be on stand-down, but I have to try to find some replacements for SG-9."
Carefully packing his treasures back into their box, Jack slanted a look up at him. "Well, I'd offer myself, but I think we all know diplomacy isn't my strong point. I leave that stuff to Daniel."
"Wise decision, Colonel, can't have you starting the first interplanetary war. C'mon, O'Neill, wooden hill's thataway. I suppose I better play the gracious host and let you use the bathroom first...."
The face reflected in the bathroom mirror was ashen and lined, dark smudges beneath troubled eyes told of the lack of sleep. Sighing, Jack dipped his head to the washbasin, scooping the cool water over his face. The stubble on his chin scratched at his palms, reminding him that in his haste to be away from the complex he had left his only surviving razor in his locker, along with his toothbrush, comb and assorted other personal effects. Ah well, he'd just have to leave that much earlier in the morning. Inconvenient, but it wasn't the end of the world.
"Everything okay?" Kovacek asked as they passed in the hall.
"Fine," he said, then asked "What time are you leaving in the morning?"
"Have to be on base by seven," Stan frowned "Why?"
"Haven't had time to buy a new alarm clock yet and I left my wash bag in my locker."
Stan grinned and patted him on the shoulder. "Don't sweat it. There's a pack of disposable razors in the cupboard over the washbasin and a couple of new toothbrushes in the cabinet."
Jack flicked an enquiring brow. "Expecting visitors?"
"They were on sale," Kovacek laughed. "Maggie was always complaining I could never pass up a bargain, but she was always grateful when it saved her a special trip to the market."
Jack said nothing but simply shook his head. It was the same kind of thing that Daniel would do and he could almost hear his friend protest that he was actually saving money... Perhaps it was a habit he had acquired while living on digs, having to stockpile the basic necessities of life.
Alone, now that Stan had taken over the bathroom, he wandered into the spare bedroom. The bed was freshly made - Kovacek must have done that while he was washing - and the main light had been turned out, leaving only the soft illumination from the bedside lamp. Grateful for the quiet comfort after the days he had spent on the base, he sat down on the bed.
Stan had placed the biscuit tin on the night stand, within reach should he need the consolation it might offer. Picking it up, he ran his fingertips over the embossed picture of the White House, the irony of it not lost on him. His mother had given it to him on his twelfth birthday, filled with photographs and other souvenirs of his childhood, encouraging him to add his own memories to it as he grew. To a twelve year old boy it had seemed like a crazy idea, a waste of time even, and he had tucked the box away at the back of his closet where it had remained until he joined the Air Force. As he had packed the things he was taking with him he had found it again. It felt a little heavier than he recalled as he lifted it from its hiding place under an old winter coat, and when he opened the lid he found layer after layer of pictures covering the ensuing years. His mother must have found the box untouched soon after giving it to him and continued to add to it, in the hope that he would one day come to realise just how important memories could be. In the years that followed he had come to appreciate the reminders of a happier past, not least in the weeks and months following his son's death. It had been difficult at first, looking at the pictures of Charlie that charted his growth from the tiny day-old baby that he had held so carefully in his shaking hands, to the boy he had become, laughing bright-eyed wonder as he swung the baseball bat and connected with the ball for the first time. Jack had believed that his happiness then would last forever and it had never occurred to him that one day he might lose it all.
"I thought you were going to bed," said a voice from the doorway, and he looked up into the concerned grey eyes.
"I was," he replied, gesturing to the box. "Got a little - side-tracked."
Kovacek walked uninvited into the room and sat down beside him. "You want to talk some more?"
"You need your sleep..."
"I'll be okay. If talking helps..."
Jack shook his head. "Nothing helps, Stan. I tell myself I can handle this, deal with it and move on, but - I don't know if I've got the strength to start over a third time. Losing Charlie, then losing Sara, and now this... What if it happens again?" His voice hitched on the question and he found himself sucking back the wave of emotion battering at his defences.
The arm that slid around his shoulders surprised him, but he made no attempt to pull away, needing the comfort, however brief. He was tired of being strong, of hiding his misery behind a false wall of bravado. With Stan Kovacek he could let go.
"It won't," the major promised. "You don't have to do this alone, Jack. You want to talk, I'm here; you want to yell and curse, that's okay, I've heard it all before. And when you're ready to start over, well - Jackson's back in a few days. Might be the chance you two have been waiting for."
Jack stared at him, unable to comprehend what he had just heard. The words were clear - Stan's diction was always precise - but their meaning was no more intelligible than jumbled letters on a scrabble board. "What chance?" he echoed and the arm around his shoulders tensed. "Stan? What the hell are you talking about?"
"Ah - I just meant you and Jackson might be able to work something out at last. Privately." And then, in answer to the look of astonishment that Jack felt crawl across his face, added with a shrug: "Well everyone on base knows the two of you --"
"Whoa!" Jack jerked away as if a sudden burst of static had sparked from Stan's arm to his body. "Wait a minute. Just back up a little here... Are you saying what I think you're saying?" His voice rose, bordering on hysteria. "Are you telling me that... that everyone at the SGC thinks Daniel and I are --" he waved his hand, searching for the right word yet at the same time not wanting to voice the thought aloud.
"Lovers," Stan supplied quietly. "Yes."
"NO!" Jack yelled. "No way! Fercryinoutloud - Daniel? Daniel Jackson? You gotta be kiddin' me here, Stan."
Kovacek closed his eyes, a soft groan of annoyance slipping form his lips. "I assume from your reaction that the rumours are unfounded."
"You bet your ass they are! Me and Daniel? Jeeze - Where in the hell did they get that idea from?"
"C'mon, Jack! You've got to admit the way you two are together, the way you look at him, the way you touch him... It's like the two of you can't get enough of each other."
The greying head shook emphatically and the brown eyes blazed defiance. "This is crazy! I'm not saying we're not friends, but - - Aside from anything else, he'd drive me nuts in a week! And I don't touch him. Well, not much..." As if to taunt him, a whole parade of images marched though his mind, moments when Daniel had been hurt, or upset and Jack had held him, or those times when the anthropologist was bouncing around with enthusiasm over a 'find' and his joy was so infectious that Jack had responded in kind with a slap on the back or an enthusiastic squeeze of his shoulder. Other times, too, when he came across Daniel stooped over a workbench, trying so hard to decipher some ancient text, and Jack found himself touching the tensed shoulders, the touch becoming a gentle kneading of the tired muscles...
He ran a hand over his eyes and sighed. "I do, don't I?"
"All the time," Kovacek nodded. "It's as if when you're in the same room together the rest of us just - don't exist." There was a catch in his voice and he looked away suddenly, but not before Jack had seen the shadow cross his eyes. He knew immediately what the cause was and cursed himself for his short-sightedness: Stan was jealous. As one of Jack's oldest friends he had been pushed aside for the sake of a stranger.
Setting the box aside, Jack reached out and covered Stan's arm with his hand. "Daniel isn't my lover, Stan. He's a friend and a member of my team, and for that reason I care about him, but it's never been more than that - and it never will be."
"You can't be sure."
"Yes, I can. For one thing Daniel is so straight you could draw a line with him, and he's so in love with his wife he'll move heaven and earth to find her if he can. And second of all..." He licked his lips, willing Stan to recall - as he did - a certain night in a certain European city fifteen years ago "...he's really not my type."
The words hung between them for a moment or two, each of them looking not at the other, but at Jack's hand where it lay over Stan's arm. Jack held his breath, needing Kovacek at least to believe him, one voice of sanity in the apparent madness. At last his patience was rewarded by the slow, shy smile that spread across the major's face.
"That was a long time ago, 'Captain'."
"Yes it was, 'Lieutenant'... but I've never forgotten."
Kovacek raised his head at that and eyes the colour of storm clouds met Jack's gaze with a look of entreaty. "Then don't shut me out now, Jack. Let me help."
Jack's own pulse began to race and his lungs refused to work, strangling the breath in his throat. The world had shrunk to no more than this room, the problems that had turned his life upside-down all left behind as he stroked his fingers back and forth over the tanned forearm, poised on the precipice of one of the most important decisions of his life. He could fall back, and maybe throw up a wall between them that they might never breach, or he could move forward into the unknown and trust Stan Kovacek to catch him if he fell. Third time lucky, his subconscious urged, and the desire to fight against it fled.
Leaning forward, until his mouth was almost touching the soft, full lips, he whispered "You already are... " and with a sigh of surrender, stepped off into Kovacek's waiting arms.
The kiss was sweet - sweeter than any he had known in a long time. It began at his lips and spread like wildfire through the parched wasteland of his body, setting his senses ablaze with desire and need. He felt a hand graze its way through his hair, cupping the back of his head to hold him close... safe... and he let go, opening his mouth wide to allow Stan to feast on him. Every nerve in his body was firing sensations into the pleasure centre of his brain, spiralling him further and further away from despair and deeper and deeper into the spell this man was weaving for him, taking away his pain.
He eased away, looking up into the smoky eyes, breathed "Oh yeah..." into Stan's mouth before rejoining with him. The kiss was powerful, sapping his strength with the sheer intensity of it, yet there was less passion in it than compassion, and therein lay the secret: this wasn't a selfish act to answer Kovacek's need, it was to assuage his own, to offer comfort and consolation, to bring light and warmth and gentleness back into his life. To make him whole again.
Held close against the strong chest, he felt himself turned and lowered to the bed, still cradled in Stan's arms. The attentive mouth kissed them apart and the hand that had held him captive trailed down along his jaw line, fingertips tracing his swollen lips. He kissed them as they passed, rubbing his face against the broad palm as it curved against his cheek. "Please," he murmured, and Stan's mouth returned, teasing his lips apart to touch tongue tip to tongue tip.
Jack's own hands slid around to Stan's back, sealing them together, wanting to give back some of the pleasure he was receiving. It was a long time since anyone had made him feel like this, made him feel so wanted, so - cherished. He shied from the word and felt himself blush, but it was true. Stan was treating him as if he were the most precious thing in his world, and the part of Jack's brain that was still functioning wondered just how often the major had thought about this, for this was not the attitude of someone who was acting on impulse but a considered, and quite effective, seduction.
His hand against Stan's chest eased them apart and he sat up, pulling his top up and off, tossing it into the corner, reaching down to untie his boots and kick them aside before he lay back down. If Stan wanted to seduce him, he was not about to leave any obstacles in his way.
The softest of smiles lit Kovacek's face and Jack could feel the first ripples of anticipation run through him. "Are you sure?" he asked, and Jack grinned, leaning forward to kiss him, dipping his tongue into the dimple on the stubbled chin. The feel of it sent a jolt of sensation through his own body, centring in his groin, and he laughed softly, wondering how he had never noticed that dimple before. It was sexy as hell.
"Hey," he said, nibbling his way to Stan's ear. "If I wasn't you'd be laid out on the floor, waiting for an ambulance. Oh, I'm sure, Stanley..." he trailed his lips down the strong neck, the feel of the first wispy curls tickling his nose turning up the heat another notch. "I'm very... very... sure..."
As if to underline just how much he did want this, Jack raised himself on one elbow and very gently pushed Stan onto his back, all the while smiling into the kind grey eyes. Trembling fingers opened the buttons of Stan's shirt one by one, tugging it free of his waistband and spreading open each side like the blue cotton wings of a butterfly. What lay beneath reinforced Jack's long-held opinion about military uniforms. After all, who would have guessed that the boring BDU of an Air Force negotiator might conceal a body as beautiful as the one that lay before him now, with it's fine pelt of dark, silky body hair that reminded Jack of a great, black cat, sleek and slightly dangerous - an analogy further enhanced by the vibrant purr that echoed in his lover's throat.
Lovers. The thought set his pulse racing again. This was so much different than the last time when, high on the success of a mission and too much cheap beer, they had found themselves alone in a hotel room, far away from home. Then it had been the drunken fumblings of two horny young men working off the adrenaline surge, responding to the survivor's compulsion to mate and so perpetuate the species, the need for each of them to remind himself in the most basic way that he was still alive. They had fucked all night, like minks in heat, but in the morning the memories had been locked away and the incident had never been referred to again. One night, that was all there had ever been, with Stan or with any other man. Not that he wasn't interested. As far back as his late teens Jack had realised he was 'different', that a part of him was attracted to others of his sex, but that was more than twenty years ago and everywhere he turned the world told him it was wrong, not least the Air Force. He wanted that - to fly, and to maybe one day make it into space - more than anything, and so he had shut his other needs away, sublimated them into his career, found a woman he could love and made a son he adored... But always, always, in the darkest corners of his mind, the need remained. It was for that reason he could say, with unwavering certainty, that his feelings towards Daniel Jackson would never be more than a deep friendship, for as nice as the guy was - and he'd deck the first person to claim Danny was not a nice guy - as sweet and caring and brilliant as he had proven himself to be, the spark that was needed between them to tip the relationship over the edge into something more, just wasn't there. He liked Daniel, a lot - hell, he would even admit that a part of him did love the guy! - but he would never fall in love with him, and they would never be lovers. Jack knew that and accepted it, and got on with his life.
With Stan Kovacek, however, it was a different matter. With Stan the spark was there, and Jack's desire to act upon it had grown even stronger since he had brought the man into the SGC to replace Jonas Hanson as the new commander of SG-9. He knew he was treading on dangerous ground, that if he allowed nature to take its course and someone found out it would be two lives, not one, that were wrecked, but it was a chance he was willing to take to have a friend alongside him. At least, until now, the very nature of the SGC interposed between them, keeping them apart for most of the time, making it easier to look but not touch.
But he was touching now, nuzzling his head through the almost black thatch that adorned Kovacek's chest from the base of his throat to his sternum, where it thinned out into a wispy 'V' that seemed to point the way down his abdomen to other delights still concealed within the snug fitting jeans. Raising himself higher, Jack placed one hand each side of Stan's shoulders, caging his body, and lowered his head, circling one hidden nipple with the tip of his tongue. Stan squirmed beneath him, back arching off the bed, and one knee lifted to press hard between Jack's spread thighs. As he continued his assault the purr became a moan, and the moan broke and reformed into Jack's name, chanted over and over in a sweet, breathy litany of desire. Jack chuckled, pulled himself up and gazed down into the unfocussed eyes for a moment as his mind continued to whirl. Years of ingrained attitude and self-control made a part of him fight against what he knew he wanted, yet when he heard Stan's voice break on a sob of pure need, he knew he could not resist. If they only had tonight it would go some way to making amends for all the omissions in between, the times when they should have been together, when he had looked at Stan and known that all it would take was one word from him and they would be together, and still he had walked away. If they only had tonight, somehow he knew he could make it enough.
"Hey..." he murmured, then dipped to steal a kiss from the trembling lips, slipping and sliding his tongue against Stan's until he felt him respond. Only then did he pull back, waiting and watching until he knew he had the man's undivided attention. "You okay?"
Breath caught in little hitches as he tried to form the words. "Ah - yeah... Yes, I'm... I'm okay... Oh damn! Jack... I never meant..."
Jack silenced him with his mouth, hard and deep, swallowing whatever apology he had been preparing to make. "Shhhhh.... I don't wanna hear it, okay." His teeth found a spot on Stan's throat, just below his left ear, that wrenched a whimper from the parted lips and he feasted on it, tasting salt and musk and the fading essence of cologne, until he sensed Stan slipping away from him again.
"Stay with me, babe," he urged, turning Stan's face back to him. Much more of this and neither of them would be controlling the situation.... and it suddenly occurred to him that maybe that wasn't such a bad idea after all. "I'll make you a deal..." he said, and the twitch of Stan's eyebrow conveyed his interest. "If you let go - so will I..."
"Let go?" The voice of the negotiator was tremulous, unsure and utterly endearing. 'I - I don't know if..."
"I don't want to be in charge here, Stan. Don't think you do either. Am I right?" A curt, wary nod answered him. "Good." He moved over Stan to take another kiss, but as his body aligned itself he felt a strong, insistent hand press upwards against his chest, holding him away.
"But what happens tomorrow?" Stan asked. "Do we pretend this never happened? Spend another fifteen years hiding from each other? Because if that's how you want it to be, Jack, you'd better let me up now."
Jack sat back on his heels, the cool air of the room dancing over his damp skin and making him shiver. "Are you saying you want some kind of - commitment from me?"
"No. But I do want some honesty."
"Honesty?" Jack repeated, his eyes widening. "And by that you mean...?"
Stan licked lips that were suddenly dry. Reaching out he snagged a pillow and stuffed it under his head, the action serving to forestall any further attempt at seduction - on either side - until this matter was settled. "We were lovers -" he began, but an annoyed flick of Jack's hand made him pause.
"For one night," Jack reminded him, in a tone that suggested he didn't want it turned into some kind of issue between them.
"For one night, yes - but it mattered. At least, it did to me. We never talked about it afterwards, did we, Jack, so I never got to tell you how important it was. Never got the chance to let you know how that night with you changed my life."
Stan ignored him. "I'd - never done anything like that before."
Jack tilted a cold, hard look at him, a look that was laced with fear. This was getting too damn close for comfort. "Oh, and you think I had?"
That stopped Kovacek in his tracks, and for one of the few times ever Jack watched his composure rocked by the onslaught of realisation. "Oh god... I didn't know. I swear. I thought... I mean... Dammit, Jack, you were the one who knew what to do, you were so - confident. I thought you were... " Abruptly his mouth snapped shut, cutting off the stream of words, and an expression of intense anguish contorted his face. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Jack let the silence string out between them while he fought for his own control. Had he really given Stan such a wrong impression all those years ago? He'd been drunk at the time - they both had - but he'd been scared, too, just like Stan. Scared of getting in too deep, scared of being hurt. Scared of losing everything he had. God, if only he'd stayed awhile the next morning, talked it through with him, explained that it was his first time too... Had he bothered to tell Stan? No. Had he let him know how good Stan had made him feel or how much he had enjoyed the experience? Again, no. Wham, bam, thank you Stan and he was gone. A few mumbled words as they passed en route to and from the shower, an almost silent breakfast in the cafe down the street, and two days later Jack had shipped out. He had pushed the events of that evening into the back of his mind and had assumed Stan had done the same. They were adults, they could handle it... Except it seemed that Stan hadn't, and for the past fifteen years he had been carrying around these feelings of confusion and - abandonment.
"No," he said softly, surprising himself with the guilt he was feeling. "I'm the one should be sorry."
"If I'd said something..."
"No. I was the senior rank, it was down to me to... lay things on the line. Truth is - I was scared. I thought everyone would know what we'd done, just by looking at me."
Stan reached out to him then, running his fingers lightly down the bared flesh of Jack's upper arm. "Nothing's changed. We both know our masters in Washington only pay lip service to 'don't ask, don't tell'. Things are still as bad as they were fifteen years ago Jack, and you're still the one with the most to lose."
Jack closed his eyes, absorbing the truth behind the words and then, with a sigh, dismissing it as irrelevant. "No," he murmured. "This time, you are." Capturing Stan's hand, he held it fast between his own. Stan frowned at him, the confusion clouding his eyes.
"Because it's not important to me anymore. I've done everything I ever wanted to do - even made it into space - " a slow smile of satisfaction spread across his face at the memory. It hadn't been planned, was the one thing he had accepted he would never do, and then suddenly he was there. And he had helped save the world in the process. What more could he ever hope to achieve? "Everything else is a bonus, and if they want to throw the book at me because of this, I'll let my record speak for me. It's you I'm worried about, Stan. You've still got so much ahead of you."
Using the grip of Jack's hand around his, Stan levered himself up until he was close enough for Jack to feel the warmth radiating from him. "What does any of it matter if there's no-one to share it with?"
"You've got friends --"
"Exactly - and you're one of them. Maybe even the one who matters most." He met Jack's gaze, his free hand lifting to the colonel's cheek. "I want this to happen between us, Jack - God, I've been hoping for it since the day I transferred to the SGC! - but I don't want it to end the way it did before. I'm prepared to take the risk with my career, but not with our friendship."
Jack sucked in a breath, blew it out in a silent whistle. "You're giving me an 'all or nothing' ultimatum."
"That's - pretty heavy. What if I don't want it?"
A shrug of dismissal lifted the broad shoulders. "Then I go back to my room and we forget this ever happened."
"And - you could do that?" Jack asked, knowing he sounded uncertain but past caring about it.
"If we stop right now... Yes." His thumb grazed Jack's lips with the lightest of touches, making the older man shiver. "Do you want to stop, Jack?"
He knew that for Stan's sake he should say yes, walk away, find himself somewhere else to stay and go back to the way things had been just a few hours ago. That was what his head told him he should do. His heart, however, was pulling him in another direction and he had been alone too long to fight back. He wanted this, and the more he thought about it, the more important it became. More important than anything the SGC had to offer.
Raising Stan's hand to his lips, he nuzzled a kiss into the palm, took Stan's face between his own hands and kissed him deeply. "No," he confessed. "I don't want to stop. Not now... maybe not ever."
Hope flared in Stan's eyes. "You sure about that?"
"Yes. I promise you..." he licked his lips nervously, realising the impact of the commitment he was about to make. "I'll stay in your life until... we both decide it's time for me to move on."
"That... could be a long time."
"Or it could be the first time you taste my cooking," Jack grinned, trying his best to lighten the mood, and was rewarded with the sound of Stan's gentle laughter. They kissed again, longer this time, the first sparks of passion re-igniting. But before he abandoned himself to his physical needs, Jack knew there was something else that he needed to make clear.
"I meant what I said, Stan. I want for this to happen as much as you do, but at the same time I don't want you getting hurt."
"My life is so screwed up right now with everything that's happened, how do I know I'm not just - grabbing hold of the first helping hand? What happens if I wake up tomorrow and realise it was all -- "
" --a big mistake?" Stan silenced him with a kiss, the merest brushing of their lips together. "I'm not asking for 'till death us do part', Jack. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. All I'm asking is that this time we talk about it before you walk away, okay?"
Talk. The notion held little appeal for Jack, who had always found it difficult to vocalise his emotions. Hell, that had been the underlying cause of his marriage breakdown, the fact that he had been unable to talk to Sara about Charlie's death, to explain his guilt and accept her condemnation. But if that was what Stan wanted he would have to at least make an effort.
"Okay," he said. Suddenly, the urge to laugh overtook him and he found himself grinning broadly into Stan's confused gaze. "I'm sorry...," he wheezed. "I was just thinking, if this is how you negotiate we should never lose a treaty. You're - very good..."
"Yeah?" Kovacek's attempt at being offended failed miserably. "Well you're not so bad yourself, Colonel."
Sniggers swelled into laughter, dissipated into a long and intense look, ended in a gentle meeting of mouths, tongues entwining, tasting, teasing. This time it was Stan who was lowered to the pillows, Jack moving slowly over him as they sank down into the well of desire once more. All the problems were forgotten, all the arguments pushed aside, until only one thing remained, the giving and receiving of pleasure.
"Play safe?" Jack asked with a lift of his brow. Stan released the tiny bud he had been nursing and nodded.
"Good... good... So, do you...?" he gave an awkward one-shouldered shrug as the heat rushed to his face. Damn! He really wished he could get the hang of this 'talking' thing.
Stan's frown deepened. "I don't..."
Jack sighed. "Rubber doesn't stand up to fires too well, Stanley - or hadn't you noticed? - and it's not something that's exactly high on your list of priorities when you don't even have a roof over your head. So, do you have anything in that stockpile of yours, along with the toothbrushes and the lifetime supply of disposable razors?"
Kissing them apart, Stan rolled from his arms and stood up. "Be back in a minute," he promised. "Don't start without me."
Jack watched him leave, admiring the view in ways he would not have dared to do even a few hours ago. Stan's muscle tone was perfect, a sure sign that he worked out as regularly as he himself did - maybe even more - but he had a way of moving that suggested everything was slightly - disconnected - co-ordinated, but casual. Especially his hands, which appeared to dangle at his sides as he walked. And his legs, which seemed to go on forever.
When Kovacek returned, he was naked but for his dog tags, his jutting erection pointing the way into the room, and as Jack watched him approach the bed he could not help but be impressed. The term 'well endowed' was something of an understatement, and Jack felt his own cock rising to meet the occasion, at least as far as the confines of his pants would allow.
"You're out of uniform, Major," he quipped.
"And you, Colonel, are overdressed." He tossed the items he was carrying onto the bed and crossed the room to the dresser, pulling two fluffy fuschia-pink towels from one of the drawers.
"Maggie?" Jack queried, wondering again how anyone with Stan's taste could have tied himself up with an air head like Maggie.
"Who else? And I can't think of a better use for them, can you?" Returning to the bed, he stood looking down at Jack and suddenly all the games and the teasing and the prevarication was over. His fingers settled on Jack's lips to collect a kiss before marking the way slowly, almost arrogantly, down through the gold and silver strands dusting his chest, down the still-taught abdomen, until they slid just beneath the clasp of his belt, tugging lightly at it.
"Let me see you. Please." There was such a sweetness about the way he asked it that it cut right through any lingering reluctance on Jack's part. Hitching up on his elbows, Jack nodded towards his still-fastened jeans.
"Be my guest," he grinned, making no attempt to help this time, some selfish demon deep inside him needing Stan to do this for him.
Clink of metal on metal, rasp of leather sliding through denim. He sucked in his stomach as Stan's fingers worked the button free but he could not resist the temptation to thrust his hips upwards, pressing himself against the trembling hands as the tag of the zipper was drawn slowly down.
And then he was free of the confining cloth, his jeans and shorts stripped from him and tossed carelessly onto the floor. Released, his cock arced towards Stan's hand, touching a moist kiss to his palm. Stan closed his eyes, chest swelling as he sucked a steadying breath before raising his hand to his own lips and licking Jack's essence away.
Jack groaned - "Oh God!" - at the erotic gesture and held out his hand, imploring him to come closer and end this delicious torture. "C'mere."
Hip to naked hip, Stan's fingers danced over Jack's chest. "Last chance to back out, Jack," he whispered, making Jack laugh. The sound was harsh and filled with a need that was fast approaching his ability to contain it.
"Ya think?" he moaned, his own hand falling to stroke himself. "This has other ideas."
"So I can see. Mine never learned to obey orders either. See?" Taking Jack's other hand he wrapped it around his shaft. The tip was dark and weeping copiously, and Jack held the grey gaze, watching for the tiniest response as he slid his thumb across the taut flesh, spreading the slickness.
"Worst case of insubordination I've ever seen," he agreed, then abruptly pushed the lightness aside, too aware of the ache deep within him to allow the games to continue. He stretched his hand to the fine-planed face above him, running his sticky thumb across Stan's lips, letting his lover take back that part of himself. "Do it, Stan." Voice no more than rasping breath in the stillness, his desire laid bare. "Don't know why I need this tonight, just know I do. I want you... I need you... inside me..."
A stubbled cheek rubbed against his palm, a kiss against his wrist, and then Stan was flowing over him, his body a living blanket across Jack, filling him with such a sense of warmth and security he might have been content to stay that way forever, wrapped in Stan Kovacek's arms. He drew up his leg and hooked it over the bony hip, pressing his heel hard into the warm cleft, and felt the long legs move apart, permitting him access, even as his mouth was crushed by the most demanding of kisses. Heat slammed into his groin, his cock chaffing against the hard shaft trapped alongside it as they rocked together. Stan's tongue filled his mouth until he couldn't breathe, vision turning red-to-black as his lungs were starved of air. Beyond caring, he clasped his lover's head between his hands and sealed their mouths together, surrendering to the darkness, surrendering to the man who held him so tightly and yet so lovingly.
Cool air touched his heated skin as Stan fumbled for the tube of gel, never once breaking the kiss, never once releasing him from the embrace, and then a hand worked its way between them, between his thighs, seeking to touch the place where he most needed to be touched. He planted one foot firm on the mattress and lifted his other leg over the sweat-slicked shoulder, spreading himself as wide as he could. Stan rubbed his face against the pale inner thigh, stubble grazing tender flesh, teeth nipping, lips suckling and Jack laughed, exultant, arched his head back and let out a long, agonised moan as a finger slid expertly inside him, working him, stretching him. Two fingers: he rode them slowly, fighting the forgotten pain, centring on the pleasure, picking up the pace to meet the steady rhythm. Three fingers, one grazing his prostate, driving him wild. A thumb massaged the base of his cock and he almost came, teeth sinking into the flesh of his upper arm as he tried to stifle the scream, tried to bite back the urge to release.
The fingers left him then, slowly, so slowly, and he squeezed his eyes shut against the delicious sensation and felt a tear ooze from the corner of his eye and settle above his ear. He groaned with the loss but was as quickly rewarded by the moist heat of Stan's mouth as it engulfed his cock, feeding gently on him. Distantly, he heard paper tear, the distinctive sound of latex being unrolled onto swollen flesh, the schoolboy farting sound of the gel as it was squeezed from the tube. And then Stan was ready.
Blindly, Jack fumbled for a condom, only to have it taken from his fingers and feel those fingers kissed softly. Glazed brown met burning charcoal. "I want to watch you come," Stan explained, voice catching on the wave of emotion, and Jack nodded, just once, understanding at last how long his lover had waited for this.
Face-to-face, because he couldn't bear not to see those eyes, Jack lifted his legs over Stan's shoulders. A moment of pressure, a minute of pain as the muscles were stretched even further. Fifteen years: he had forgotten what it felt like to be taken, filled, possessed, the stinging pain, the innate fear that something so large could not possibly fit into somewhere so small without causing irreparable damage, the indoctrination of forty years that told him this was wrong. But how could something that felt this good be wrong? How could they be condemned for the synchronicity of feeling that flowed between them at that moment in time?
Stan paused, buried deep within him, joined in the most intimate of ways. Waiting for him. Jack drew in a deep breath, expelled it in a sigh of contentment that shuddered through them both. The tension that had been building within him surged away like a spring tide and he relaxed, his body opening fully to Stan's, welcoming him deep inside - so deep that he imagined he could feel Stan's soul brush against his own. He moved then, matching thrust for thrust, muscles clenching around the invader, milking him, riding him. Yet still, a part of him held back, afraid. One fumbling, drunken night fifteen years ago did not make him queer - but this did. He was doing this by choice, by admitted desire, without any chemical stimulant to free him from responsibility. He had asked Stan to take him, to fuck him, because he wanted it, needed it, as much as he needed to breathe. What did that make him? And what would it make of his future?
"Let go, Jack...." The trembling entreaty shattered the stillness, Stan's voice barely recognisable beneath the hunger bouncing back and forth between them. Balanced precariously on hands and feet, he drove himself down into Jack's body, so deep Jack thought that at any moment he might be split in two.
A hot, demanding tongue licked the sweat from Jack's thigh, sending ripples of heat along tortured nerve endings. He reached for the sensation, but before he could grasp it the sharpness of teeth sank into the tender flesh, marking him, wrenching a cry of pleasure/pain from his lips. It was enough to snap what little control remained, to push the terrors away and consign the consequences the cold light of dawn. He would worry about what it meant tomorrow. Tonight...
He let his legs slip down to Stan's waist, using them both to pull Stan deeper and to lift himself harder and higher into each thrust, letting go... letting it all go.... and in the next moment he was coming, his cock spurting its load between them as he threw back his head and screamed....
"Nothing.... Just checking...."
"That I'm not dreaming."
"Maybe you are... Do you want to be?"
"Dreaming?" (pause) "No."
"Good. Neither do I."
"Go to sleep, Jack."
The alarm went off at six o'clock, but Jack was already awake, lying on his side, watching Kovacek sleep. His own body... glowed. There was no other word for it. He felt as if he had been hosed down and scoured clean of all the misery and loneliness and loss that had turned his life to a bleak, grey existence. Was it possible that one night with someone who showed a little caring could produce such a transformation, or did it go deeper than that? Skimming his fingertips down the darkly furred chest, he hoped he would get the chance to find out.
Grey eyes slitted open, blinked him into focus, crinkled into a smile. "Good morning," he greeted, then caught his breath as Stan stretched, body flexing enticingly against him.
"'Mornin'...." Drowsy, warm, content, snuggling into Jack's chest. It was tempting... so tempting....
"Time to get up, lover."
Groan of protest, snuggling closer. "Five minutes...." Fingers brushed Jack's lips: he kissed each one in turn, teasing the tips with his tongue, the salty taste filling his cock once more. He went with the flow, gathering Stan to him and kissing him awake.
"Get up now," he offered "and we can share a shower...."
One eye opened wide. "You mean it?"
"Oh yeah. Save water... save time...." he hinted, figuring that twenty minutes in the shower with Stan was infinitely more appealing than ten on his own, and they would still have time for a quick breakfast.
"I like a man who can think at .... ugh!.... six a.m."
Jack was first out of the bed, but as he reached the bathroom door Stan called his name, and when he turned back there was such a look of trepidation in the younger man's eyes that he was instantly drawn back to his side.
"What's wrong?" he asked, cupping the stubbled cheek.
"Last night..." he began, and Jack felt the world shudder.
He swallowed hard. "You - gonna tell me it was all a mistake?" he asked, remembering the conversation he had hoped Stan would forget.
"No. I just want to know... it wasn't out of gratitude, was it?"
That wasn't what Jack had expected to hear. "Gratitude?" he repeated, and then realisation dawned. "You mean did I let you screw me because I was grateful to have a roof over my head?" His eyes narrowed and he shook his head, uncertain whether to be angry or to laugh. The silence stretched out between them, until Stan broke it by asking softly "Well, did you?"
Jack cupped Stan's face between his hands and smiled intently into his eyes. "No. I give you my word, Stan. The fact that I'm here might have made it easier, but what happened last night happened because we both wanted it. Maybe it would have happened eventually, I don't know, but I don't regret one minute of it."
Stan let go the breath he had been holding and raised his own hands, holding Jack's in place." Neither do I," he confessed.
"Good." Jack leaned in and kissed the soft lips. "And if it happens again....."
Stan slanted a look at him that was one part delight at the prospect and two parts pure evil. "If it happens again?" he teased and, when Jack's brows pulled together in a frown, added with a shrug "Well, you have to start paying rent sometime."
"Rent?" Unable to believe what he had just heard, Jack released him and stepped back. "And you plan on... taking it out in... trade?"
"Uh-huh." Stan jabbed a finger over Jack's shoulder, pointing in the direction of the bathroom. "Starting right now, Colonel..."
As he turned and walked into the bathroom, Jack could not help but think that he was getting the better end of the bargain.