Dare to Breathe

by The Grrrl

Title: Dare to Breathe

Author: The Grrrl

Author's email: thegrrrl2002@gmail.com

Author's URL: http://thegrrrl2002.slashcity.org/

Archive: Ask first.

Fandom: Stargate SG-1

Pairing: Jack/Daniel

Rating: NC-17

Summary: Jack and Daniel are imprisoned off-world.

Notes: First time, romance.

I woke with a start, confused and disoriented. Then I heard the sound—a soft, scraping sound—at the window.

"Hello?" I called to the window, high upon the stone wall. Then I winced at the weakness in my voice. And damn it, I had been sleeping. I hadn't wanted to fall asleep. I needed to stay awake. "Is someone there?" I called again.

I was sure I saw a movement, a shadow passing in front of the window.

"Hello!" I shouted, my voice stronger now. I pulled myself to a standing position using the bars on the cell. "Anyone there? Please—please—you have to help us!" Shit. I was still speaking in English. Switching to the native tongue of the planet, an odd evolution of Old English and Dutch, I yelled, "Help us, please—we're prisoners, trapped—we need food—we need to get out—" I stopped, the energy burst fading, feeling weak again. "Please," I whispered. I was desperate. We were desperate.

But there was nothing but silence. Complete and utter silence. Too much silence, I realized. "Jack?" I asked tentatively, turning to him.

He was still lying on the hard dirt floor, sound sleep. My yelling hadn't woken him. My blood ran cold, because maybe he wasn't asleep, maybe he—maybe—

I held my breath, listening, watching the frighteningly still figure. Then I went weak with relief when I saw that Jack's chest was rising and falling in a slow, steady rhythm, and I heard his faint intake of breath. Closing my eyes, I clung tighter to the bars so that I wouldn't fall to the ground. "Jack," I breathed.

I vowed not to fall asleep again, because someone might come, someone from the village might come upon us. It had been days since a guard had shoved a tin of scarcely edible food through the slot—how many days, though, I couldn't tell. A light burned brightly in the hall, and the window was high on the wall, making it difficult to keep track of the days.

The guards were gone, long gone, and all was quiet. There were no more sounds of fighting, although I couldn't be sure the civil war still raged elsewhere. All I knew was that we were abandoned, the only prisoners left in this cellhouse, and we were slowly, inexorably starving to death. But I clung desperately to the hope that someone would come and find us. Sam and Teal'c would never give up, would never stop looking for us.

But they didn't even know which planet we were on. There were still the villagers, and eventually someone would come past the small stone building. I had to believe that, because believing anything else would mean giving up, and I couldn't do that, because of Jack.

"Jack," I said again, just because I couldn't stand the silence anymore. "How long was I asleep? I'm kind of thirsty. I'll bet you are too."

Thank god there was a supply of water in the cell. A small pipe emitting a stream of water protruded from the back wall. I made my way toward it, stumbling, hating the weakness in my legs. And the hunger, the gnawing hunger. I thought constantly about food. I dreamed about it when I fell asleep. I was haunted by the thought of the food back in my apartment, so far away. Oreos. I knew I had Oreos in the cabinet, an entire package of them, and leftover lo mein in the fridge—big, greasy noodles with mushrooms, cabbage, and chicken, salty and heavy, and just the thought of that little white carton sitting on the shelf of the refrigerator made my mouth water and my stomach throb with pain.

I made it across the cell and leaned my forehead against the cool, dank stone as I filled the small cup with water. I drank it down, then had another. Refilling the cup, I also soaked my bandana in the water, then shuffled over to Jack.

"Hey," I said. "Time for more water, okay?" I fell to my knees next to him. He lay still, and I thought maybe it was cruel to wake him, that maybe I should just let him lose himself in sleep. I touched his grimy hair, brushing it away from his forehead. "Jack?" I said softly. "I thought I heard someone. Someone will come, you know." Maybe if I said it enough times, if I really believed in it, it would come true.

Jack grunted in his sleep, but he didn't open his eyes. I rested my hand on his forehead. He was still running a fever. He looked terrible. He was far too pale, his face shadowed and sunken. I touched his heavy growth of beard, fascinated by the texture, and the color—just as fascinatingly silver as the hair on his head. "Oh, Jack," I sighed.

A wave of panic seized me. I was afraid, afraid that Jack was dying, that Jack would die and break my heart, leave me here, alone in the cell. Just me, and Jack's rotting, decaying corpse, for all of eternity.

With a trembling hand, I picked up the wet bandana and began wiping Jack's face. "Don't leave me, you bastard," I whispered.

Jack's eyes opened. "Huh?" he muttered.

Despite Jack's confusion, I couldn't help but smile in relief. "Hey," I said.

Jack blinked, then focused on my face. "Hey, yourself," he croaked. His voice was breathy and weak, but he was alive, and that was all that mattered. He was alive.

"Come on, sit up a little. Have some water."

Jack frowned and shook his head. "Uh, no—wait." He struggled to rise. I put the bandana down and helped Jack to a sitting position, but Jack was struggling to stand.

"What?" I asked, worried.

"Gotta pee."

"Really?" I asked, suddenly excited. "That's good. Peeing is good, Jack." I felt silly getting this excited about it, but peeing meant Jack's body was still working, still hanging on.

Jack looked at me oddly, a glimmer of his old humor returning. "Okaaaay, Daniel."

I was still grinning as I helped pull Jack to his feet. It was no easy task. I was weak, and Jack was even weaker. But at last we were both standing, me holding him in my arms.

Jack leaned against my chest, wavering unsteadily. "You smell," he said to me.

I pulled him close. "You smell worse," I responded. Despite the water that was trickling into the cell, it had been forever since either of us had bathed. It took too much effort, and the water was too cold. I could feel the warmth of Jack's feverish body against mine as I hugged his smelly body even closer, gaining strength and hope from the contact.

"Anything you can do, I can do better," he muttered.

"Of course," I said, patting him on the back. "You win the stinky prize, Jack. I'll give you that one."

We shuffled slowly across the small cell to the bathroom area, me supporting him with an arm around his waist, and Jack's arm around my shoulder. He really did smell worse. It was that damn mud, dark and sulfurous, with a rank, indefinable odor. The guards had pushed him into the mud during our long, slow sojourn to the prison. Jack, of course, couldn't resist making a wise-assed remark, earning the wrath of one particularly unpleasant guard. The guard had pushed Jack face first into a sea of mud. Or maybe it wasn't mud. It was probably mud mixed with other things—very unpleasant things, judging from the smell. After that, Jack had vomited and kept vomiting; losing what little precious food he had been given. And even though that was some time ago, maybe two weeks, I figured, Jack never really had a chance to recover.

"Here we are," I sang out as we reached the small hole in the ground that served as the toilet. I stood behind Jack, holding him under his arms as he went about his business. To be honest I never thought I could be so happy to hear the sound of someone peeing. I even peeked over Jack's shoulder, trying to see if it was bloody or not.

"Hey, need some privacy here," Jack said.

"Right." I looked away politely.

By the time we made it back across the room we were both exhausted. "Here," I said, handing Jack the cup. "You need to drink," I told him.

Jack looked at me, his eyes flat and hopeless. But to my relief, he simply nodded, took the cup, and drank the water down. That look bothered me, because I knew if one of us admitted that our plight was without hope, I just might very well go insane.

"More?" I asked, taking the cup from Jack's hand.

Jack grasped my wrist. "No, please, you don't have to—" he said, his voice rough.

"No, really, let me get you more—" I stared at the fingers wrapped around my wrist, his skin streaked with dirt, pressing into my skin. I didn't want to break the contact, even to go and get him more water.

Jack didn't let go of me. "I'm sorry, Daniel. Sorry for all of this. Sorry I couldn't get you back across the portal—"

"Stop it. Just stop it." I could see the sorrow in Jack's face. I touched his cheek. "Just don't, okay? You couldn't have known we were walking into a trap."

Jack closed his eyes, sighing wearily. I touched his face again. Even like this, sick, dejected, worn out, Jack looked good. He always looked good to me. I wanted to hold him in my arms, bury my face in his neck. I didn't care what he smelled like. He was Jack.

"Your hands are cold, " Jack told me. He took my hands in his, his big warm hands, and held them gently, warming them, warming me. He leaned against my shoulder. "So," Jack said after a while, "You can give it to me straight." He lifted a hand and waved his fingers at his face. "The beard—is it coming in gray?"

I solemnly shook my head. "Nope."

Jack nodded. "Good."

"Actually," I added, "It's, uh, purple."

"Oh. Okay."

"On you, it looks good. Really."

"Good." Jack gave me a weak smile, then leaned back against the stone wall. I saw him shiver. I slid closer, putting an arm around him and pulling him against me.

I hated that Jack had stopped complaining. It was a sign of how sick Jack was, and how weak. I wanted a bitchy, complaining, pain-in-the-ass Jack. I wanted him to irritate the hell of out me; I wanted him to whine about that fact that I just had to check out that last wall on PX2200, the one that got us transported here onto this planet in the first place. I wanted him to complain that he was freakin' hungry, that he was cold, that he was god damn sick of being here, that he was missing the playoffs, that the water tasted bad, that I talked too much.

But he merely slumped against my chest with a weary sigh and fell asleep.

And I was by myself once again. Hungry, cold, and sick to death of being in this cell. But mostly, I was hungry. I tried not to think of food, of the leftovers in my fridge, of the brownies in the commissary, Sam's chocolate walnut cookies. Burgers on the grill at Jack's. Sizzling burgers, dripping fat into the fire, nice and rare and bloody, just the way Jack and I both like them, smothered with cheese, Swiss for me, cheddar for him. There would be loads of potato salad, baked beans, fresh tomatoes on the side.

My stomach growled, and Jack stirred against my chest. I resisted the urge to scratch my dirty, itchy beard, not wanting to disturb him. I listened to his steady breathing, finding comfort in it, then allowed myself to press a kiss against his grimy hair.

"I felt that," Jack mumbled.

***

When I woke again, I was lying down, Jack curled up around me. I had been dreaming of home, of last year's Thanksgiving dinner at Sam's. We'd had turkey, rich, succulent turkey, the skin all brown and crispy. Jack and I had filched pieces as Sam supervised Teal'c's mashing of the potatoes as she stirred the gravy, the wonderful, smoky brown gravy. I could see it dripping over the mounds of luscious mashed potatoes. Sour cream was the secret, Sam had confided.

It was such a happy dream, a dream of home and warmth and friendship. And laughter. I didn't want to open my eyes to the reality of the cold hard prison, of Jack's illness. I wanted to stay in Sam's kitchen, drinking wine, getting jostled by Jack as he tried to show Teal'c the right way to mash potatoes. I wanted to be back home so much that it hurt, a deep, sharp pain that twisted my insides. Not here, dying with Jack, lost and forgotten in some damn prison.

But when I opened my eyes, everything changed. Because there she was. She was young, maybe around ten years old, with a pale, round face, big brown eyes, and long brown hair in disarray. She appeared nervous. In her hands was a bulging sack, and, god, I knew immediately, I could smell it, there was food in that sack—there was bread, there was meat. I was sure of it. I could smell it, I could feel it, I could taste it. My stomach wrenched painfully.

"Hi," I whispered without moving, afraid that I might scare her away. Jack grunted behind me.

She eyed me cautiously, then took a few hesitant steps forward. My heart beat wildly as she bent down, shoved the sack through the slot in the bars, then backed away.

"Thank you," I said, crawling to the cloth sack, reaching for it with a trembling hand. "Thank you so much, I can't tell you—" But when I looked up she was gone.

I tore the sack open frantically. "Jack," I called over to him. "Look—food—we have—" I couldn't speak anymore because of the lump in my throat and I had the urge to laugh and cry all at the same time.

Jack was awake, bleary eyed and blinking at me. I dragged the sack over to him, pulling out a loaf of bread, sniffing it, tearing off a piece and stuffing it in my mouth. It was the most marvelous thing I had ever tasted: dark, grainy and chewy. "Mmmm—here—" I said as I chewed, tearing off a small piece and feeding it to Jack. Jack looked bemused when I slipped the food between his lips, but then he just closed his eyes and grunted as he chewed.

I swallowed, and my stomach nearly revolted, spasming and clenching as if offended by the intrusion. Jack was frowning, too. I think he felt the same way. Soon enough, my stomach relaxed and the food stayed put. I pawed through the sack and came upon a small clay pot of butter, beautiful, golden butter. I dipped a good-size piece of bread in it and gave it to Jack, who was sitting up, staring at our bounty in disbelief. I helped myself to it, and the butter was stunningly rich and creamy. It was the most amazing thing I had ever tasted. The Thanksgiving turkey of my dreams paled in comparison.

"Daniel," Jack said, his voice full of wonder as he touched the loaf.

"I told you I had heard something," I said. "It must have been her. Here, look, oh, jeeze, Jack." I picked up a parcel wrapped in grease-stained paper, and unwrapped it. "Meat—she brought us meat." I wanted to cry again, because I was so touched by the generosity of a stranger.

The meat smelled fine, and I tasted a small piece before feeding it to Jack. It was reminiscent of pot roast, rich and tender, but more delicious than I could ever remember pot roast ever being. I was afraid it might be difficult for Jack to digest, but I figured a little bit wouldn't hurt. I stuffed a fragment into his mouth.

"Christ, that's good," Jack moaned through a mouthful. I was thrilled by the ecstatic look on his face, so much better than the hopelessness I had seen earlier.

"Mmm, yeah, uh, whoa, look at this." I continued the inventory. "More bread, some cheeses, fruit—or, er, I think it's fruit." I held up one of the oval-shaped, lumpy green objects.

"One way to find out," Jack said, taking it from my hand. He dug his fingers into it and began peeling it. He sniffed the juice running out onto his fingers, then, with a flick of his pink tongue, licked it. "Hey," he said, raising his brows. "Good stuff." He finished peeling it and gave me half—it tasted vaguely of lime but was much sweeter. It was still tart, though, which made my mouth hurt a bit, but I didn't mind.

We ate in comfortable silence. I was embarrassed to find myself rocking back and forth and humming, but I was so overcome with joy at our unexpected bounty, I could barely contain myself. By time I finished the fruit, my stomach ached, but in a pleasant way, even though I'd eaten only a few mouthfuls. Anymore and I would have made myself been sick. My head felt clearer, and I could feel the tension leaving my body.

Jack groaned and leaned back, rubbing his stomach. "Oh, god."

"You okay?" I asked, suddenly worried.

"Uh. Can't talk. Digesting."

I got him some water and made sure he drank it all, despite his protests. He belched loudly afterward, and I grinned while rubbing his back. "You're a real class act, you know that?"

"You betcha."

When I dropped my hand, and he turned and gave me an expectant look, one that clearly indicated he wasn't done with having his back rubbed. I obediently started up again. Truth was, I would happily rub any part of his body that he wanted me to.

Falling in love with a man who was so obviously, totally straight, a colonel in the AF, no less, probably wasn't the most practical thing I'd ever done. I've never been the most practical man in the universe, I suppose. I found Jack simply impossible to resist, charming, irritating, stubborn, affectionate, and enormously intelligent despite his outward demeanor. He was the most steadfast and best friend I have ever had.

So, without wanting to, I fell in love with him. He's not the first man I've ever cared for, but he was certainly the straightest. Sometimes I felt as though it was some sort of cosmic joke—me falling in hopelessly in love with him, done just to see how many times my heart could be broken. But then there were times when I'd catch Jack watching me with deep affection and with deep yearning in his eyes. I've always sensed something deeper, something more than friendship from him. There had always been a closeness between us, an intimacy in the way we always knew what the other was thinking, in the way our lives had become so entwined off-base, how we could spend so much time together and never tire of one another's company.

And I would think that maybe, just maybe, things weren't quite so hopeless after all.

***

We ate and slept for nearly two days straight. Bread, fruit, cheese, meat. We got a little obsessed over the food, staring at it when we couldn't eat anymore, Jack pretending to divide it equally when I could clearly tell he was trying to give me more.

"Stop it, you stupid ass," I snarled. "I know what you're doing."

"What?" Wide brown eyes stared up at me from above a silver beard.

"Don't play innocent with me. It doesn't work. Take that last piece of meat and eat it," I insisted. I was fully prepared to force him if he refused.

Instead he bargained. "Okay, I'll eat it if you take these two pieces of dried fruity stuff."

We faced off, sitting cross-legged on the gray stone floor across from each other. "Only if you eat the last of that loaf of bread. With butter," I said.

He started moving items around. "I'll eat the bread if you take some this cheese, and two of those cookies."

In the end, he had me so confused, I wasn't sure what to eat. But I was so happy to see Jack being Jack, I just nodded and ate half of what was in front of me.

It was wonderful to him gaining his strength back, able to walk by himself, go to the john by himself. And, to my utter delight, his fevers stopped. I was finally able to let myself sleep without waking in a panic, worrying over Jack.

They showed up on the third day, just as our food supply was running low enough to be of concern. I was dozing lightly when they came in, and was brought sharply around by Jack's quiet, "Hell-lo."

I sat up so quickly my head spun. There were two of them this time: the young girl I had seen earlier, and a much older woman. Her grandmother, perhaps? The older woman was tall, her short brown hair streaked with gray, and she was carrying a staff weapon. That made me more than a little uneasy, but her wrinkled face was open and friendly as she looked us over.

"So, Katrina," she said to the small child, "You were right. These men look as if they are not from around here. Their clothing—uniforms?"

"Please," I said in their native language. "We are not your enemy. We have committed no crime against your people—we just want to go home."

"You are soldiers?" she asked.

Jack was looking from me back to the woman, and I think he understood the gist of the conversation. "Daniel?" he asked, his voice tense.

I put a hand up to quiet him and proceeded to explain to her that we had been captured in error, that we were fighting another enemy, that we were from another planet. I knew I was taking a gamble, because telling the truth could very well backfire and make her more suspicious, but my gut instinct told me she would understand. And we didn't know enough about the situation we had inadvertently wandered into to come up with something convincing anyway.

"Daniel," Jack growled after I finished. I suppose I shouldn't have left him out of the loop. I wished he would just trust me with such things.

The woman nodded and lifted the staff weapon. I thought with horror that she really didn't understand at all. Jack leapt back, grabbing me and pulling me down behind him. We landed in an ungainly heap before we both realized she was blasting open the lock on the door.

"Jeeze, lady, give a little warning next time!" Jack exclaimed.

She just gave a little smile. "Come." Despite her grandmotherly appearance, I suspected she was a woman to be reckoned with.

I grabbed what remained of our food, and we crept toward the door, crossed the threshold, and then we were out—out of that damn cell. "Thank you," I said, "thank you so much. You've saved our lives. And thank you, Katrina." I addressed the little girl directly. She merely looked down and plucked at her sleeve shyly. "We wouldn't have lived much longer without the delicious food you brought to us," I added.

"Ah, yes, the food she stole from my kitchen," the woman said affectionately. Then she held out her hand. "I am Marta," she announced.

We introduced ourselves, Jack keeping a wary eye on her staff weapon. As we got close enough to shake hands she wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Come, I will take you back to my farm and you will get cleaned up. And then fed." She looked around the prison, shaking her head. "Our noble army, leaving prisoners to die. I don't know who the bigger fools are, us or our so-called enemy."

She brought us upstairs, and at last we left the building that had been our prison for so long. The sun was shining, the sky was a clear blue, there were fields and trees, and my heart was filled with joy at the sight of it all. She led us to a hay-filled cart, drawn by a large, sturdy hoofed creature.

"Hi there," Jack said to one of them, who regarded Jack in turn with round brown eyes. Then it snorted, spraying Jack with saliva. "Oh, thank you," he told it, wiping his arm.

I could see Katrina beginning to grin. Jack has that effect on everyone. "Susse," she said.

"Susse?" I asked. "Oh, the, uh, creature." I patted its head. "Hello, Susse." This seemed to please Katrina, and Susse too, since she didn't snort at me.

"I'd recommend you stay down," Marta told us as we climbed onto the back of the cart. "Lie in the cart, yes, like that. Folks around here tend to blame the off-worlders for all the trouble that has come to us." She shook her head in disgust. "Times like these, common sense is the first thing that goes."

I had a thousand and one questions to ask of her, because I didn't know anything about her people or why they were fighting. We had been transported to this planet by accident, and it was all new to me.

But for now, I simply climbed into the cart after Jack and lay down next to him in the hay, shielded from view by the walls of the cart. Marta and Katrina got into their seats, and off we went.

The hay was soft and fragrant, and I lay on my back as we bumped along slowly, staring at the cloudless blue sky and the tree branches passing overhead. It was all so beautiful that it hurt to see it. I was a little delirious, starting to laugh from sheer happiness. Because the sky—it was so blue, and the air smelled so fresh and clean, and we were free, free of that awful place. When I rolled over to face Jack, I found that he was watching me with a small smile playing on his lips. I felt silly then, getting so overwhelmed, but he didn't tease me. He simply put his hand over mine and gave it a squeeze. He understood.

We stayed that way, and the look on his face warmed my heart. Surely, I thought, you can't look at someone with so much love in your eyes and not love him, could you? It went against all common sense, that this old soldier should love me, but that look—it spoke volumes. It said all the things I had never dared say to him. I tentatively turned my hand beneath his, and our fingers became entwined. He looked surprised but didn't let go. Neither did I. The hay was tickling my nose, but I couldn't stop staring into those fathomless brown eyes.

Then the wheel hit a rut, dislodging our hands and rolling us against each other. Hard.

"Ow—nice elbow, Daniel," Jack complained, rubbing his ribs.

"Sorry, sorry," I said, spitting out bits of hay. I was fairly certain I heard a high-pitched giggle from the front seat.

Still, even though it was brief, I was certain that we had just shared a romantic moment.

***

We reached Marta's homestead without incident. Jack was asleep by the time we arrived, half-buried in the hay. I had become rather fond of our straw bed myself, sprawling out in great comfort, soothed by the warm sun, the rhythmic creaking of the wheels, and the rise and fall of Jack's chest.

But Marta hustled us out, pointed us in the direction of the field hand's quarters, and demanded that we shower and change. Immediately.

We stumbled groggily into the large cabin. There was no one living in it at the moment, and although it was sparsely decorated, it was clean, bright, and airy. Ten beds were lined up on one wall, and there was a friendly sitting area and a kitchen. The bathroom ran the entire length of the dwelling, with showerheads lining one wall, benches lining the other. We were commanded to shower and to use soap—lots of soap. Marta arranged several clean, white towels on the benches and made it clear that we didn't get to eat until after we had showered.

"And you should both shave—the beards—too strange. None of the men in town have beards," she told us. I translated her words to Jack and he nodded.

We were more than happy to comply. A shower and a shave—life didn't get any better than that. My skin was disgusting, and my scalp and my skin itched to be clean. My newly grown beard was irritating. I threw my glasses down, kicked off my shoes, shucked off my stiff, filthy T-shirt and pants, and was under one of the communal showerheads before Jack even had a boot unlaced.

"Oh, god, Jack," I moaned. The warm water was utterly blissful on my stiff, sore body. And the soap felt even better.

"Save me some hot water," he shouted over the sound of the running water. He pulled his shirt over his head. Even without my glasses, I could see how thin he was, how much his ribs showed. It brought me up sharply, reminding me of how sick he had been—and still was.

He used the showerhead next to mine, and I kept an eye on him as I scrubbed myself clean. He shaved first, then washed himself slowly but efficiently. I supposed it was a military thing. Left leg, right leg. Left arm, right arm. Chest, stomach, and—oh. I averted my eyes, realizing that I had stopped washing myself and was staring as his hands moved lower.

I finished rinsing myself, but when I dared look again, Jack had an arm braced against the wall, and was just standing motionless, his head hanging down. "Jack?" I asked gently, not wanted to startle him.

"Huh?" he raised his head and wiped his eyes. "I'm okay, just a little—" He waved a hand, spattering the water. "You know. Just ran out of steam."

"Oh. Well, then," I picked up my soap and my washcloth, and after a moment's hesitation, went over to him. "Let me?" I asked, touching my soapy washcloth to his back. I didn't know if I stepping over the line, invading his personal space a little far. "There's no telling what Marta will do if there's even one molecule of dirt left on you," I told him. "No food, maybe."

I earned a smile with that one, just a small one, but it was genuine. He nodded and closed his eyes. "Thanks," he said, so softly I scarcely heard him above the water.

I ran the washcloth across his shoulders and down his back with gentle, sweeping strokes. I attempted to keep my eyes focused on those broad shoulders, that proud, stiff spine, but those damn soap suds kept dripping down, right down to the small of his back, and then down over his ass, slipping between his cheeks. Yanking my gaze away, I told myself firmly that now was not the time to be ogling my best friend's ass, although to be frank, I wasn't sure when was a good time for such things.

As the soap was rinsed away, though, I could see the bruises on his skin, up and down his back, and reddened sores from lying on the hard floor of the cell. Ashamed of myself, and angry at his mistreatment, I found myself desperately wanting to hold him, to kiss him and fuss over him. Jack always aroused strong emotions in me. There was no middle ground.

I reluctantly finished with his back. "Hair?" I asked.

Jack grunted, which I took as a yes. I soaped up my hands and touched his head, massaging his scalp gently with my fingertips, washing away the filth. I was happy to see Jack's chest heave with a deep, contented sigh. I was pretty content myself, enjoying the feel of Jack's head in my hands, his soft, silky hair slipping between my fingers. Washing someone else's hair is an incredibly intimate experience. Shau're used to let me do hers while we bathed—so long ago, now. She had such beautiful, long locks, truly her crowning glory.

I lingered as long as I reasonably could, sliding my fingers down to Jack's neck, unable to break my contact with him. "Come on now, rinse," I told him, pulling directly into the spray.

Jack clung to my arm as he let the warm water flow over him. I wanted so much to hold him in my arms, to love him and comfort him and make him forget all about his mistreatment, forget everything about our long imprisonment. I felt so much wanting, so much longing, for this one man.

Instead, I went and got a towel, and I wrapped it around him after he turned off the water.

***

Jack and I dug into the delectable pies, rich with meat that really did taste like chicken, and probably was, along with vegetables and something starchy that could have been potatoes. The gravy was rich and creamy, and the crust—the crust was a wonder, flaky and buttery. There was bread to go with it, there was juice, and there was a spicy dark pudding that tasted of cinnamon and nutmeg. We marveled over the food, which clearly pleased Marta and Katrina. Even if we hadn't been deprived for so long, it still would have been one of the best meals I had ever eaten.

"It's a pleasure to cook for ones who are so appreciative," Marta said modestly. "Since my sons went off to fight and the farm is lying fallow—ah, what can you do. The food will go to waste if I do not cook it."

"We truly appreciate this." Jack told her. "And whatever you need for us to eat, you just let us know. We hate waste."

I played translator, and Marta nodded. "See then, we help each other."

"The portal," Jack said, and I knew we were getting down to business, the pleasantries over. "Have you heard of it? We need to get back to it, to get back home. Unless there's a Stargate? A chap'pai?"

I translated again, making circular motion with my fingers, trying to describe the Gate, while Katrina smiled behind her hand.

"I don't know of this Stargate," Marta said, which was in keeping with what are fellow prisoners had told us. "But the portals, yes, there are quite a few of those."

"Really?" Jack and I were both surprised. They did not seem in keeping with the level of technology we were seeing, which appeared to be on par with Earth.

"They were built by those that came before us." She shrugged. "Many want to destroy them. I take it you came through the local one, in the valley just beyond the hills?" She pointed to the rolling hills through the window, just visible in the waning light. "It leads to the warm planet with the large ruins. Few of our people have been through it in recent years. And no one has passed from there to here since I can remember."

"It only goes to one place?" I asked.

She nodded. "Of course."

I explained this to Jack, who said, "We've got to get back there. It's our only way home."

To my great dismay she shook her head. "There has been much fighting there. Still is. There used to be a train that stopped there, but now it is no longer running. And on foot—it's not safe."

I understood that all too well. We had walked right into that fighting and had been captured.

"We have to try and make it through," Jack told her. "Our people looking for us, worrying about us. We need to get to them."

"Not in your condition," she said dismissively.

I regretfully agreed. "Listen, Jack, we don't want to end up where we started—back in a prison. Or worse," I told him. "Believe me, I want to get off this miserable planet as much as you do, if not more. But you have to recover first." I hoped Marta didn't catch that 'miserable' part. But I just wanted to be home, to sleep in my own bed, to have Sam fuss over me, to have Teal'c, big solid, comforting Teal'c slap my back.

"Hey, I'm just fine," Jack said, glaring at me.

"Just like you were in the shower?" I challenged.

Jack stared down at his pudding, playing with his spoon. "Okay. There's got to be another option."

Marta had been watching our exchange curiously. "There is talk of a cease-fire," Marta continued. "It may happen soon. Wait, and when the fighting has ended, and you are strong again, then you can go."

There was something in her manner that reminded me of Bra'tac, and I tried not to smile. Jack contemplated his half-eaten pudding. He looked exhausted. Since he had shaved, I could see how drawn his face was, the hard lines on his cheeks and forehead seeming deeper than ever. "Jack, you know she's right," I told him. "Right now, lying low is the right choice. We need to get our strength back. Both of us."

"And in the meanwhile?" Jack asked.

Marta shrugged. "You stay here and rest. If anyone asks, you are farm hands." She pointed at Jack. "You must keep quiet if anyone from town comes around. Daniel can pass as a native with his accent but you—just stay quiet."

I grinned while translating that one.

"All right," Jack nodded. "Plan A is that we wait and see if the fighting stops, then make our way to the portal."

I asked, "And Plan B?"

Jack closed his eyes, clearly exhausted. "We'll work on that one later."

***

I woke to the sound of gently falling rain. A cool breeze blew through the window. At first I was disoriented, trying to figure out where I was, why I was lying on such soft, clean, sweet-smelling sheets—how did we manage to find these in the cell? Then my mind cleared and I realized where I was, that we had been rescued, and that we were on Marta's farm.

I stretched luxuriously—the bed was lovely, firm and comfortable. The sheets could have been silk for how good they felt on my skin. Still, I felt a gnawing unease. I listened to the rain, then realized what was bothering me. I couldn't hear Jack's breathing over the storm. The more I thought about it, the more concerned I grew. I peered over at his bed, close to mine, even put on my glasses, but he was curled up on his side, and it was too dark to see any movement. I sighed. I knew I was being ridiculous. Of course Jack was fine. He was fine through dinner, and was fine when he crashed on the bed muttering something about Plan B. There was no reason why he wasn't still just fine.

Which I had to prove to myself by getting up and seeing whether he was still breathing. I leaned over him, watching his chest rise and fall, hoping to god that he wouldn't wake up and make me explain what the hell I thought I was doing.

Once I was satisfied that Jack would survive the night without me staring at him, I realized I was wide awake. Wishing I had a book to read, I wandered out onto the porch and settled onto a bench, listening to the falling rain. I had no idea what time it was, but the sky was dark. The night air was a little cool, but it was marvelous just to be outside, seeing the trees sway in the wind. The damp air smelled fresh and green and cool. I was clean, I was well fed, I was at peace, and no longer afraid for Jack's survival. I felt like we had a chance for a future, a chance to get home. The sense of hopelessness I'd had in the cell was dissipating. Even though I had no idea how we were going to get home, all was right with my world.

There was a brief flash of light; thunder rumbled in the distance. I tingled with anticipation. I've always loved thunderstorms, ever since I was little. The rain fell harder, and a few drops blew in under the roof of the porch, tickling my bare feet. I liked it, and I propped my feet up on the railing so that they could get wet. Rain can be such a marvelous thing, pure and cleansing.

I wiggled my toes as the raindrops hit them, and a thought came to mind. I pulled my feet down, leaned forward, and gazed across the field, then over at the main house. No lights were on. No one else was up. With a grin I took off my glasses, shed the pajamas that Marta so thoughtfully provided for us, hopped off the porch, and ran naked out into the downpour.

Big, fat drops of rain splattered my skin, soaking me immediately. It was cold. And wet. And exhilarating. Thunder rumbled again, and I turned my face into the wind, spread my arms and closed my eyes, laughing a little at my own childishness. I could feel the rain on my body, making my skin tingle, giving me goosebumps. I needed it. Maybe while we were in that cell I had become numb, forgotten how to feel anything other than hunger and fear. But now there was wet grass between my toes and water trickling down my chest, and every inch of my body was alive.

Soon wind began to gust. The drops became finer, stinging my face. I turned from it, facing the porch again, wiping my face so that I could open my eyes. The first thing I saw was Jack, sitting right out there on the bench, a faint light from inside the cabin reflecting off his face. He was watching me with his arms folded against his chest, smiling as he shook his head.

Oops. Caught. "Hi Jack." I trotted over to him, belatedly realizing I was completely naked.

"Hi, Daniel." He seemed to have trouble looking at me, now that I was right in front of him. "Having fun?"

"Uh, yeah. It's—well—raining." I looked up at the sky, blinking, then boldly held my hand out to him. "Come on, give it a try. It feels marvelous."

"That's okay," he said. "Unlike some people I know, I know enough to come in out of the rain." But as he said it I saw a wistful little smile, and it gave me hope.

"You might like it. Take a chance, Jack." I added softly.

"It's raining," Jack told me, somewhat pointlessly as he stared at my chest. "You're getting wet." He waved his hands at me as his eyes flickered lower, to my stomach, and then to the porch railing, and then back to the center of my chest. "Rain, you know?"

I nodded, touching my hand to where he was staring at my chest. "Yes, Jack, it is. Come out and see." The wind gusted again, splattering me. I wiped my face again. "It's, ah, only a little cold." The wind gusted again and I shivered. "It was warmer, before. Really."

Jack suddenly shook his head, grabbed the towel sitting on the bench next to him and held out it to me. "Get in here. Before you catch a cold," he ordered, staring resolutely down at his bare feet.

"Jack, you know you don't catch a cold by actually being out in the cold," I scolded.

"Daniel—"

Okay, so I was cold, and he obviously wasn't joining me. I climbed back onto to the porch, accepting the towel, and my inability to tempt Jack. I obviously had a very overactive imagination, seeing romantic moments where there were none. None at all. "Thank you." I toweled off my head, trying to hide my disappointment as I dried my shaggy hair. More thunder rumbled, suiting my mood. I hoped the cease-fire would come soon, and we could get our asses to that damn portal.

As I lowered the towel to wipe my chest, though, I saw to my astonishment that Jack was looking at me again. As in Looking. There was no mistaking it, he was looking at my body—really looking at it, looking all of me. His eyes traveled up my chest to my face, and when our eyes met I could see the yearning, the hunger as plain as day. Hunger for me. He did want me, had wanted me all along. I wasn't imagining things.

"Jack?" I said hopefully. Now that I was sure, we were damn well going to talk about it.

Jack closed his eyes. "Just get dressed, Daniel," he said.

I obediently dried myself off, put my pajamas back on, found my glasses, then sat down next to him.

"Jack, it's okay," I said, lightly touching his shoulder. Thunder crashed, more loudly this time, and we both jumped.

He rubbed his face. "No, it's not okay." He sounded as though he were in pain.

"Why? Why can't it be okay?" I asked, fighting the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. "I think it can be okay." I wished I could string together a more coherent sentence, but it was the best I could do. My heart was pounding and I didn't know what to do with my hands, but for the first time I knew, knew for certain that Jack wanted me, and I wasn't about to take "no" for an answer.

"Damn it, Daniel, you don't understand," Jack told me. "Explain it to me." If he said one thing along the lines of "don't ask, don't tell," I was going to strangle him, no matter how much I loved him. Hadn't we bled enough for the damn military?

"I'm not—I've never—" Jack gave me a beseeching look.

I refused to help. I just sat silently with my hand still on his shoulder, waiting for him finish.

"You know, we, you—" Jack continued helplessly, before staring back out at the field.

I stared at his profile, his proud, handsome profile. I decided I'd be old and gray by time I waited for Jack to spit it out. He wanted me, and he obviously just needed a little help with the whole idea. I knew what he was trying to tell me. So I kissed him. I kept it simple. I just slid my hand around to the back of his neck, leaned forward, and pressed my nervous lips against his.

His lips were warm, and he kissed me back, maybe out of sheer surprise. Then he pulled his head back and regarded me quizzically.

"There now. Now you have," I said to him.

He let out a small huff of laughter. "Daniel, you're a real piece of work, you know that?"

What kind of work, I wondered. Yet there was affection in his voice—I figured I couldn't be screwing things up too badly. "I love you," I explained to him. Surely he knew that already.

"Don't," Jack said, closing his eyes. "Please. It only makes things—"

I continued heedlessly. "I've loved you since—well—for years."

"You have?" he asked. "I thought you were smarter than that. You know, a genius all and that."

"Yeah, well, so did I," I acknowledged, withdrawing my hand from his neck with a sinking feeling. I could hear my voice rising in pitch, like it always does when I'm upset. I leaned forward, my hands on my knees, looking out over railing. The rain had eased up at some point, and the sky was growing lighter as the sun rose.

"I'm sorry," he said, reaching out to touch my arm. "That wasn't right." I looked down at his hand. I've always loved his hands, so strong and rough, able to field-strip a P-90, but also capable of holding me gently when I needed it, such as when I was suffering from withdrawal from the sarcophagus. I'd spent many nights wondering how those hands would feel on my naked body.

Jack kissed my cheek, and it felt for all the world like a "you're a great guy, but this isn't going to work" kind of kiss. But to my surprise he said, "I love you too, and ain't that a real kick in the pants." His hand stroked my forearm, so lightly that he was barely touching me, just tickling the hairs.

"Why, Jack? What's so terrible about loving me? Granted, I can be a little, ah, you know, but still—" I was still staring at his hand, moving gently over my skin, warming me.

"It's not the loving, as much as the wanting," he said. "Wanting you like this, hey, it's the kind of midlife crisis I really don't need to have. I've never so much as looked at a guy before. In, you know, That Way."

I could hear the capital letters. I looked up to see the wry humor in his dark eyes. "Never? Really?

"Never," he said, then sighed. "I just—you just—". He was at loss for words again.

Why don't you let me help you work through it," I suggested.

"This really isn't new territory for you, is it?"

I shook my head. "No, it's not."

"Okaaaay." Jack stilled his hand on my forearm, just resting it there, a warm, heavy weight.

"Does that bother you?" I asked, watching Jack's face, the flicker of his eyelids.

He thought for a moment. "Only that you never really mentioned it before."

"You never asked," I pointed out. "I would have, if you did."

He gave my arm a squeeze, and looked out over the fields again. Between the two of us we surely had memorized every blade of grass.

"I suck at relationships," Jack said suddenly.

"I like sucking."

Jack's head snapped around so quickly I was afraid he'd hurt his neck. "Ah," he said, his expression intrigued and concerned and panicked all at the same time.

I smiled at him, because he looked incredibly appealing at the moment, and because I was filled with hope. Despite our awkwardness, I suspected that we might actually be on the same page. "I know you, Jack," I told him. "I know how strong your heart is—how much you fight for what you think is right. And this is right. We're right. We can do this, and we can make it work."

That got a shy smile in response, the one that always melts my heart. I loved him so much.

"Can I kiss you?" Jack asked.

I nodded, and let Jack come to me, pressing his lips against mine. He made a small sound, then cradled my head in his hands. I parted my lips and the kiss got wet and fierce, and by the time Jack's tongue slid across mine, my heart was hammering so wildly against my chest that I began to feel dizzy.

When we came up for air, Jack looked shell-shocked, mouth open, his eyes wide. It made me want to do all sorts of naked, sweaty, and sticky things to him, to see if I could cause him appear even more astonished and confused. But I just caressed his cheek, and asked, "Was that all right?"

"Not bad," Jack answered after a moment. "It's, uh—" He hesitated once more, then dove back in.

This time, I nearly climbed into his pajamas, pushing him back into the bench and devouring his mouth. I could hardly believe I was kissing Jack like this, sucking on his tongue while I wrapped one arm around his shoulders and the other around his waist, beneath his shirt. His skin was so warm and soft, but I could feel the hard muscles underneath, the sharp jut of his hipbone through the thin pajamas, and his mouth—his mouth was wonderful and wet and sweet, and he kissed me back with equal fervor.

"Okay," Jack panted after we finished. "That's different."

"Huh?" I asked, licking my lips. I wanted to taste every inch of his skin. I wanted to suck on his hipbone. Among other things.

"You. You're, uh, big. And strong. And uh, there's that—" He gestured at my lap, at the obvious sign of my arousal.

"Is that bad?" I asked breathlessly, rubbing my hand on my thigh. I wanted to kiss him again. I wanted to kiss the bruises on his back. I wanted to kiss him everywhere.

"No, not really. Turns out I have one too."

"Really?" I asked.

"Really."

"Wow. I'll show you mine if you show me yours. Or I can just show you mine. Wanna see?" I reached toward my crotch.

Jack looked past me, then grabbed my arm. "Down, big guy, unless you want to give Katrina a quick education."

I looked up, startled. Katrina was indeed coming down the path from the house, carrying a large, covered tray. "Oh," I said. "Damn." Somehow it was morning already, the sun breaking through the clouds.

As Jack graciously accepted the tray from the young girl, he kept looking over at me, at my lap as I pulled my shirt down and tried to be discreet. "Thank you, Katrina," he said. "We were just starting to get pretty darn hungry. Some of us seem to have pretty big appetites."

My face grew hot, but I translated Jack's thanks to her. She graced us with a quick smile and dashed off back to the house.

Breakfast consisted of flapjacks, berries, sausages, eggs, and butter, loads and loads of butter. We ate in our little kitchen area, still thrilled by such delicious and abundant food. Jack avoided the subject of our feelings for each other, and I allowed him to. A relationship with me, an intimate one, was clearly a momentous step for him, and I didn't want to push him.

No, actually I did want to push him—push him hard.

At last Jack grunted and pushed his plate away. "I think my body is going into shock from all of this," he said. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you."

"I'd like to shock your body in some other ways," I blurted out. So much for not pushing. But now that I knew—it made me reckless.

"Huh," Jack responded. "Daniel, I had no idea you had such a one-track mind." He looked pointedly at my spoon, which I was currently licking.

My face grew hot and I put the spoon down. "Those berries, they were good, you know?" I said quickly. Jack snickered, then yawned, a huge, jaw-cracking yawn. His eyelids were heavy and I knew he was exhausted. "You need to get some rest," I said, uncertain of his mood.

"I do love you," Jack said, reaching across the table to take my hand. "And, god help me, I want you. Even though I don't even know what to do with you. Not that I ever did," he added with a wry smile. "I just never thought you'd want me back."

"I'm sure we'll figure something out," I told him, unable to suppress my broad grin. "After your nap. When we make love, I want to be sure you are in compete possession of your faculties." I got up and pulled him to his feet, and led him, unprotesting, to a bed.

"That implies I have some in the first place," Jack pointed out, as he stretched lazily.

I furrowed my brow, nodding. "Huh, good point." I bent over and kissed him, then kissed him again.

"I like the kissing thing," Jack told me when we finally finished. "Your mouth—it's, ah, nice."

Jack at his eloquent best. "I like your mouth, too," I told him, grinning.

***

I washed the dishes quietly as Jack dozed. I was still dazed by the whole thing, by Jack's admission that he loved me—and even more, that he wanted me. Maybe it wasn't some sort of cosmic joke, after all.

When I finished with the dishes, I got dressed, feeling restless and energetic. After checking on Jack, I left him a note and went out for a walk. The rain had cleared, the air had warmed, and the sun was shining. As I walked, I thought of Jack, of how he kissed me, how his tongue tasted against mine, how he touched me. I thought about how difficult it must have been for him to come to terms with his feelings for me, particularly as a military man.

I came up around the house and went in, carefully listening for any possible visitors. Luckily there were none; there was only Marta, and I found her in the kitchen, canning vegetables. She was happy to see me. She made me sit, and served me a cup of dark tea.

"Your Jack, he is feeling better?" she asked.

My Jack. "Yes. I made him sleep some more, though. He had been sick, in the cell. His stomach wasn't doing well." I sipped the tea, then added more honey.

"You worry about him," she said.

"Always."

"I can get medicine if he needs it," Marta said.

I shook my head. "No, he's much better now. No fever." I waved away a tray of cookies. "I can't thank you enough for all you've done for us. For helping us get home."

"Jack—he has a family waiting for him at home?"

I shook my head, then thought a moment. "Not in the traditional sense. But the rest of the team is at home, and that is his family."

"And that includes you, Daniel?" she asked, looking over at me speculatively as she chopped a long, green vegetable.

"Yes, yes it does," I told her, smiling warmly at the memory of how welcome Jack made me feel those first awful months after leaving Abydos. He made sure I was part of that family. He took me into his home and his life.

"Ah. Look at that smile." She scooped up the sliced vegetable and dropped it into a pot of boiling water, sighing dramatically. "Just as I suspected. The good ones are always taken."

I nearly choked on my tea. "What?"

"I see that you two do not wear your rings. They must have been stolen, no? What a shame. "

"Yes, well, you know—", I scrambled. Rings? Married? She thought we were married?

She picked up several yellow items—bell peppers maybe. "I suppose I will have to look elsewhere for a husband."

She grinned at me, and I realized she was teasing. I suddenly laughed. Maybe this planet wasn't so miserable after all. "Well, to be honest, he's not exactly a prize. A real pain in the ass, mostly."

"But you love him despite this, yet? Or maybe because of it?"

I held palms around the teacup, warming them. "Maybe a little of both."

This seemed to amuse her. "Well then, I will do everything I can to get you two back to your home, safe and sound."

"Marta, are we putting you in danger, us being here? What if someone finds out?"

She made a gesture of dismissal. "If someone finds out, I'll be an innocent old lady who was duped by two wily off-worlders—who will have taken off long before anyone could find and question them."

"Thank you," I told her. "I wish there were something we could do for you."

"When you both have rested, I'm sure there is some work you can do around here. But there is no hurry."

I realized she was probably lonely, even though it seemed as if she enjoyed being on her own farm, being independent. We talked for a while. I asked her to tell me about her world, her life, the war. It turned out Katrina wasn't related to her; she was a child whose parents had been killed in the war, and Marta had taken her in almost a year ago. I ascertained that the Gou'ald didn't feature strongly in their history, which made me wonder how they had gotten there in the first place, because they had never heard of the Aasgard, either. Perhaps it was so far into their distant past it had all been forgotten.

She showed me around the house, and I stopped in front of a wall of bookshelves, fascinated. This pleased her. "Go," she said, "help yourself. Go outside and read in the sunshine." We spent some time picking out a book, finally settling on a volume of fables that had been her favorite as a child.

***

I could feel his footsteps thudding on the soft grass as he approached. "Hey, good book?"

Peering out from under the open book resting on my face, I said, "Fascinating." Actually, it was very interesting, but warm sun had made me groggy, and I had at last succumbed to the urge to nap in the quiet of the early afternoon. Now, though, with Jack settling himself in next to me, squinting in the sunlight, my tiredness fled and my entire body was on alert.

"I had a nice little talk with Marta," I told him as I sat up. "Still no news on the cease-fire. She also told me a mass grave had been found recently, up in the hills, near the portal, where we were captured. It's probably from earlier in the war. Prisoners. Many of them were still shackled."

"Nothing like a little wholesale slaughter to liven up a war, huh?"

I sighed wearily. "It does seem to be a universal theme, doesn't it?"

"Hell, yeah." He lifted a familiar-looking cloth sack. "Well, this should cheer you up. From Katrina. She was afraid we might be feeling a tad peckish."

I watched Jack as he pulled out a loaf of bread and a tub of soft cheese. Smoothing out the empty sack first, he then placed the food on top and broke off a piece of bread. He had strong, hard hands that moved steadily, never faltering. Then the sight of bruises on his wrists struck me—faded, purple bruises from the shackles. I wondered what had become of the other captives, those men who had been forced to continue to march on after Jack and I were imprisoned. Would they be found in a mass grave somewhere too? Or had they been locked up in a dank, cold cell, like us, forgotten and left to rot? That had nearly been our fate.

The sun didn't seem quite as warm anymore. I sat up and stopped Jack's hands from moving, and held them in mine, my fingers stroking his palms. He looked at me curiously. "I was always afraid to go to sleep," I said quietly, staring down at his hands.

Jack frowned, not understanding at first. Then realization dawned and he squeezed my hands, waiting for me to go on.

I couldn't. It was as if confessing my fears out loud would be all wrong, a betrayal of hope. I shook my head, unable to meet his eyes.

"Daniel, talk to me."

Finally, I tried to continue, "I was so afraid to sleep because I thought—I thought—"

Jack pushed the food aside and pulled me into his arms, holding me against his chest. I clung to him, burying my face in his neck, part of me still surprised that we could do this, that Jack could hold me.

"I was so scared that if I fell asleep I would wake up to find you dead, that you had died all alone, by yourself in that hellish place." I choked out. "I would just lay there for hours, listening to you breathe—so afraid you would stop—and there was nothing I could do."

"Shhh, Danny, it's okay," he murmured, trying to soothe me. "It's over."

I kissed his neck, which somehow had gotten wet, then his jaw, his cheeks. Desperate kisses, all over his face—my beloved's face. His lips found mine, and his kisses were as sweet as they were steady and sure. I could feel the strength in his arms as he held me. He was healthy, he was strong, and he was alive. We had escaped. My panic began to ease. The words had lost their power as soon as I said them.

And in the bright sunshine, with Jack kissing me, the horror of it all became more distant, like a nightmare that fades away upon waking. With the way Jack was stroking the back of my neck, kissing my forehead, my nose, it was hard to remember what it felt like to be so afraid. I tried a shaky little smile, and I could tell by his expression that he appreciated the attempt. He gently wiped the wetness from my eyes with his thumb, then found my glasses in the grass and slid them onto my nose.

"Thank you," I said. I lifted his hand to my mouth and kissed the bruised area on his wrist. "I don't know what the hell got into me. I just—I just couldn't bear the thought of losing you."

"Ah." Jack waved me off, looking flustered. "Can't get rid of me that easily." He held my hand for a moment longer. "I was scared too," he said. "I was sick and scared, but your being there comforted me. Of course I felt like shit about that too, because I didn't want you to be there with me. Suffering with me like that. But I did want you there, because being alone would have been worse." He frowned. "Did that make any sense?"

"Yes," I told him. "Oddly enough, yes."

"Now that's truly frightening."

I kissed him, and he rubbed his cheek against mine. "I have to keep telling myself that it's all in the past," I told him. "That this isn't some wonderful dream, that I'm not going to wake up and find we are still dying in that prison cell." I pressed my face against his, feeling his bristly beard against my skin.

"Daniel, this—" he kissed my mouth firmly, "this is real." He kissed me again, his hand finding it's way into my hair. "This is now. This is us."

"I like us the way we are now," I said, frowning at my garbled sentence. He always managed to do that to me. "Together. Safe," I clarified. "Kissing."

I felt a warm huff of laughter against my neck. "Me, too. Beats the hell out of being in prison," Jack said. He sat back, looking me over, then looking out at our surrounds. "Yup. A hell of a lot better than prison."

The thought of the prison made me hungry. I rescued the bread and cheese from the grass. We ate in a companionable silence, a light breeze rippling the grass all around us. It was a lovely spot, on the side of a gentle hill, secluded, invisible to all the main roads. The lake stretched out in front of us, a wide expanse of shimmering blue water. A few long-legged birds stalked the lakeshore, feeding at the water's edge.

"Think there are any fish out here?" asked Jack.

"Probably. Since this isn't Minnesota," I pointed out. Jack only gave me a dirty look.

Once we finished eating, we sat a while longer.

"So," Jack said at last, giving me a sidelong glance.

I responded eagerly, "So?"

"So." His fingers tapped his thighs. "So. You wanna go and, uh, fool around? See how strange we can get?"

"Oh yeah," I croaked, my mouth suddenly dry, my body all a-tingle. At last. After all the wanting and waiting.

We looked at one another, then scrambled to our feet. Jack packed the food as I retrieved my book, and together we hurried back up the trail to the cabin.

Once we stepped through the door, I couldn't take my hands off of him, his shoulders, his back, his waist. "Do you have any idea how many times I wanted to touch you?" I growled to him as my hand lovingly caressed from his biceps to his pecs. "You are so damn beautiful, Jack."

He looked at me curiously, as if I was someone he had never seen before. "We're really doing this, aren't we?" he said.

By way of an answer, I put my hands on his waist and pulled his body up against mine, then moved my hands onto his ass. He was lean, with long, hard muscle underneath the soft, loose-fitting clothing.

Jack's hands traveled up my arms, squeezing gently before coming to rest on my shoulders. "You're grabbing my ass," he pointed out. "Already this is kinda weird."

"Weird? Really, straight boy?"

"A good weird," Jack hurriedly corrected.

I smiled. "You think this is weird," I said, squeezing his ass. "Wait till I have your dick in my mouth."

The dick in question twitched against my thigh. "I think that will be an extremely good weird," Jack told me solemnly. He rubbed his hands over my chest. "This isn't exactly my area of expertise, you know. I don't—I'm not going to be—"

"You will be," I told him. Shy Jack—that was a first. I lifted his shirt off over his head, exposing that beautiful, wide, hairy chest. I stole a kiss as his face emerged, then put my hands on his chest, feeling him, feeling him breathe, feeling his heart beat, before continuing down to undo the fastening on his trousers. He hesitated briefly, then slipped off his shoes and pulled me down onto the bed.

God, he was just beautiful. Strong shoulders, chest covered in swirls of hair, dark nipples, flat stomach, cute little navel. I pulled his pants off and discovered my prize. "Oh, wow, Jack."

Emerging from a wild nest of silver hair was a magnificent cock, not too big, not too small, but beautiful, all smooth and shiny and flushed with excitement. It rested heavily against his thigh, his sacs bunched up underneath, exposed, vulnerable. "That's—that's just beautiful," I said reverently.

Jack looked down at his cock, then back at me with an odd expression on his face. "You think?"

"Oh, yeah." I reached out and brushed my fingertips along its length, hearing Jack's sharp intake of breath. It was amazing. I was touching Jack's hard, erect, soldierly cock. I knew I had a big stupid grin on my face but I couldn't help myself. "Wow," I said again.

"It's a real marvel," Jack said, in a voice clearly indicating he thought I was just a bit nuts. He grabbed my shirt and pulled me down over him and we kissed, long, slow, sweet kisses, as I spread my body over his, struggling awkwardly to remove my shirt.

Once I got it off, I swooped down and sucked on Jack's throat, licking his warm, damp skin. I buried my nose in his chest hair, sniffing and tasting and licking, working my way to his armpit, wondering if I'd ever get my fill of his heady scent and taste. All the while Jack's wonderful, capable hands were in my hair, on my back, touching my arms, and his cock, his hard, solid cock was pushing against my stomach. I licked a nipple and he really started to move under me, arching his back, thrusting his hips.

"Oh, Daniel—Christ, that's good," he murmured.

Every sigh, every moan—all of it went straight to my groin, and I was so hard my balls ached. I looked up to see his face, all flushed, eyes closed, mouth open. I just couldn't resist that mouth, kissing it harshly, plunging my tongue deep inside. I reached down took his dick in my hands, wrapping my fingers around it. I could feel the blood rushing through. It felt so good to have a cock in my hand again, one other than my own. I sat back, rubbing my thumb over the broad, spongy head, watching Jack as he moved, his mouth red and wet now, his breathing harsh.

His eyes opened, and he reached for me, touching my arms, petting me. "Look at you. All this for me," I gloated. I moved over his body, watching his muscles moving under his skin as I slithered down and pushed his long legs apart. Jack moaned before I even touched him, and I loved it, loved that I could get him so hot and bothered. I loved him, my Jack, loved his naked, hairy body, loved the way he smelled, loved his big hard cock, his wrinkly balls with all that wild hair. I licked his thigh, running my tongue up along that sharply defined tendon. His cock jerked, bumping against my cheek. I showered the length of it with kisses, the skin smooth and sleek against my lips, then nuzzled at the base, loving the way his hair tickled my nose.

When I pushed his legs back he moaned again, saying my name softly, then more loudly as I licked his balls. I treated them carefully, with long swipes of my tongue, not knowing how sensitive he was. I licked my way up the underside of his cock. His taste was tart and salty, then bitter when I got to the damp tip.

His hips came clear up off of the bed as I sucked him into my mouth, taking him in as far as I could, rubbing the head up against the top of my mouth. I could feel him moving even more, and when I looked up I realized he had propped himself up on his elbows and was watching me with utter fascination. I grinned, letting his cock slip out of my mouth into my waiting hand. I cradled it in my palm.

"A good weird, " Jack said faintly. Then he tugged at my shoulders. "C'mere," He rolled onto his side. "I want to look at you," he growled, plucking at my pants. "Take these damn things off. Now."

No more Shy Jack. I obeyed immediately, hopping off the bed. When my cock emerged Jack did stare with some concern, but then with a little smile, he said, "You shouldn't look so good to me, damn it, but you do." His eyes met mine. "This is all your damn fault, you know. Everything about you—just makes me want you more."

I dove back into bed, wrapping my body around his, my cock finding a warm, happy place between Jack's thighs. I held him so tightly that I could feel his heartbeat against my chest. "So, I lured you over to the dark side of the dick, huh?" I teased, licking his face. "I had no idea I was so irresistible to big tough colonels." I batted my eyes at him.

Jack growled and nipped my neck. "Oh, yeah, make fun of the heterosexual." He rolled over on top of me, his body mashing me flat into the mattress as I laughed.

"Oh, Jack," I groaned happily, jamming my cock against his stomach. Jack made it even better by grasping my wrists and pulling them up over my head. I whimpered with delight, spreading my legs so that our cocks slid up against each other. I rocked my hips, and after a few false starts we found a rhythm, a good one. "Yes," I whispered. It was more fantastic than I had even imagined, having Jack's body grinding against mine. His hands loosened on my wrists and our fingers entwined. "Yes, you want it, soldier boy," I panted. "You want me."

He growled in my ear, "You know it, you bastard—this is so fucking crazy, and you know it."

"Jack—Jack—" I stuttered. He was rubbing, rocking against me in all the right spots, and it all suddenly became too deliriously wonderful. I gasped sharply, pushed myself against him, and came, with long, arching spasms that took my breath away.

"Holy shit, Daniel," Jack buried his face in my neck, thrusting against me, sliding through my come. Half in a daze, I wrapped my legs around his waist as he pushed and stiffened. Then with a jerk, his body shook and he moaned, coming all over my stomach. "Oh, Christ," he grunted, then slumped onto my body.

I sighed happily, hugging him against my chest. Sex with Jack. Wet, sticky, messy sex with Jack. It was wonderful. He was wonderful. "You're so wonderful," I said.

He just held onto me tighter, tucking his head into my neck, kissing my skin with a contented sigh, his hands petting my head, fingers in my hair. "God damn, Daniel." There was a note of awe in his voice.

When he rolled off of me at last, he looked down at his body, frowning.

"You look good like that," I said, eyeing his glistening torso. "With my come all over you. Our come."

Jack closed his eyes and shook his head. "You're a filthy, filthy man, Daniel Jackson."

"If you only knew. I'll bet you always thought I was contemplating something profound during mission briefings." I laughed, and reluctantly pulled myself out of bed grab a towel.

Jack regarded me thoughtfully, then closed his eyes as I wiped his stomach clean. "I'm not even gonna ask."

"Then I won't tell," I responded, tossing the towel on the floor. Propping myself up on an elbow, I watched him as he lay there, sprawled out, one arm tucked under his head. He looked happy—naked and happy, and satisfied, because of me. After a while, he opened one eye and squinted at me questioningly. "We just had sex," I told him with grin, still somewhat amazed that it actually had happened.

"Is that what that was?"

I nodded solemnly.

"That explains all the semen," Jack said.

I couldn't help myself. I laughed out loud. Jack pulled me into his arms and hugged me. "I like that. You laughing so much. We need to have sex more often."

"Even though I'm a guy?" I asked, before kissing him.

"Yup." Jack rolled me onto my back and regarded my body thoughtfully. "It really not all that freaky, I mean, you're still you, even though we're naked. We're still us."

I knew exactly what he meant. "We are. And we're good together."

"We always were."

And he was right. We were good together, right from the start, despite our differences. We may have argued, disagreed, and annoyed the hell out of each other, but there was always a sense that we were two halves of a whole, right from the start.

He snuggled into my chest, and I held him in my arms as we rested quietly. The late afternoon sun was streaming in, lighting up the cabin. A breeze cooled our sweaty skin, and the air smelled of blue skies and green grass. I listened to Jack breathe, and after a while I thought he had fallen asleep, but then he stretched and propped his head up so he could look at me.

I smiled, because he looked so lovely, hair rumpled, eyes sleepy and content. He smiled back at me while reached out to my chest, touching my skin, cautiously at first, then with more certainty. His rough hand moved in a slow circle, stroking, feeling the curve of my muscles. He paused at a nipple, rubbing it lightly, making me sigh and squirm. "You like that?" he asked, glancing up at my face.

I nodded.

He bent his head and tasted it with a swipe of his wet, warm tongue. I was in heaven. I arched my back, pushing against his mouth, touching his silky gray hair in encouragement. "I like that a lot, " I murmured. He sucked harder, and I dug my heels into the mattress, my cock beginning to fill again.

Jack moved on, his mouth leaving a wet trail as explored my body, gently kissing a faded bruise on my ribs, licking the hollow of my sternum, nuzzling my belly until I laughed again from the ticklish sensation. "Oh yeah," Jack said with satisfaction, nipping at my side. "I like this too." His hand touched my thigh, and raising his head, he noticed my renewed interest in the festivities. "Hello," he said quietly.

Got to love a man who speaks directly to my dick.

He touched it, and then laid a kiss on it. "Oh, Jack," I said with surprise. "You don't have to—you know, if you're not comfortable—"

"Shut up, Daniel," he said, but his voice was gentle. He shifted positions and began licking my cock. Before long, I was completely aroused and eager, clutching at the sheets in desperate delight as he continued bathing my dick with that warm, wet heat. I lifted my head to watch, seeing his big hand wrapped around the base of it, holding it steady as his tongue moved all along its length. But when he sucked the head into his mouth I fell back onto the pillow, moaning his name. He sucked a while longer, then released it, crawling back up to kiss my mouth as he took me in his hand.

Soon his tongue was in my mouth and his fist was pumping my dick. I was swept away by his touch, moaning, thrusting my hips, our kisses getting sloppy and messy. The pleasure rolled up, from deep inside my gut, spreading through my body, warm and wonderful and agonizingly good. I was half-sitting up, clutching his shoulders, digging my fingers into his skin, panting as he worked my cock. My balls tightened as the sensation intensified.

"Oh, yeah, baby, that's it," Jack whispered as I began to shake.

"Jack, Jack, I'm gonna—" And I did, all over his hand, coming in long, luxurious pulses. Then I fell back down onto the bed with a thump, bouncing a little. "Oh. That was good. That was really, really, ah, good," I babbled. "You're good. I love you. Love the things you do."

Jack contemplated me thoughtfully, his eyes moving from my wet, twitching cock, still lying in his hand, to my face. "Cool." He seemed pleased with himself.

I pulled his face to mine and kissed him, then hugged him close, getting us both sticky and wet, but I didn't care, and he didn't seem to either.

***

"I just wish there was some way to get a message to them, to let them know we are okay," I said. "Sam and Teal'c—they must be so worried." We still had no word on the cease-fire.

"Yeah, I know," Jack agreed. "Do you have an idea how you even managed to activate that portal thingy?"

"Not a clue." I pulled on a high branch and neatly dodged a falling gruenfruct. It landed softly on the grass, unharmed, and I picked it up and placed it in my sack. We were harvesting gruenfructs, the marvelous green citruslike fruit that Katrina had first brought us. It was a beautiful sunny day, and Jack insisted he was ready for some exercise.

"I just moved that one block, then—" I shook my head, going over it again in my mind. It had all happened fast. Poor Sam—I was sure she was scouring the area, but it was likely they didn't even know where we were in the large, rambling ruin when it happened. I plucked a few more gruenfructs. "I just don't know. But I think if Sam and Teal'c had found the portal and activated it, Marta would have heard something about more off-worlders."

Jack nodded. "Even if they just shoved a MALP through."

I missed them, and I was sure they were missing us. "I just remember how hard it was on all of us," I said, "when you were lost on Edora. And at least then we knew where you were. I was so desperate to get you back. I was so worried." I bit my lip, thinking of how he had hugged that woman when he left. Laira, that was her name. At the time, I knew I had no right to be jealous. But I was.

Jack was silent as he plucked several gruenfructs from low-lying branches.

I asked, "You didn't think you were ever going to come home again, did you?"

Jack peered at me from under his straw hat. "No, I didn't," he said quietly.

We moved through the trees quietly after that, the only sound an occasional bird chirping, the breeze in the trees, and Susse's wet snorts.

"I only slept with her once," Jack said, startling me. "She wanted a baby."

"She wanted you," I said. I hadn't known for sure, but I had suspected. He had made a home there—a home away from us.

Jack shrugged. "I wanted to prove that I could still—that a woman would still." He bunched a long, broad leaf in his fist, yanking it from the branch. "Damn it, Daniel, all I thought about was you."

Well, he could have told me. "And then you left us. It almost broke my heart," I said conversationally. "After the thing with Maybourne. Pretended to go back to Edora to be with her. I hated you for it. I know that wasn't fair, but I hated you. No fucking foundation, you told me. After all we had been through together."

"Daniel?"

The rush of bitterness surprised me as much as Jack. I didn't realize I had still been carrying that around, letting it fester. I waved my hand at him. "No, Jack, sorry. Really. I have no right to—"

Jack came up behind me, putting his hand on my shoulder. "Hey, it was shitty thing to do. I'm sorry. I know I hurt you. I thought it was the only way—".

"It was the only way," I said, turning to face him. "It was your duty." I knew that with Jack, duty would always come first. I took in the expression on his face, so open and free now, and wondered what would happen to us when we got back home. After Jack got over his little midlife crisis, I thought as I turned back to the tree, shrugging Jack's hand off my back irritably.

"Hey," Jack said, taking me by the shoulders and turning me back around again. "You all right? You've been kind of weird all morning. "

I stared down at Jack's chest, at the wisps of gray hair swirling up over the collar of his shirt. I had been out of sorts all morning, I realized. It was as if the blackness was creeping up around the edges, the blackness I felt while trapped in that cell. I had dreamed this morning of being back in the cell, but there was no Jack in my dream. I was all alone, dying. I woke feeling cold and nauseous, miserable until I woke enough to realize my arms were around a peacefully sleeping Jack, that we were snuggled together in the small bed. Even so, I had been feeling unnerved all day, haunted by a sense of impending doom.

"It's, it's nothing," I said unconvincingly.

"It's us, isn't it? You've realized that I'm not quite the prize you thought I would be?" Jack asked, his fingers toying with the sack slung around his shoulders.

"What?" My head jerked up and I met his eyes. "Jack—no—I—" It was time for honesty. "What's going to happen when we get to Earth? With us? How are you going to accept being in the military and having a male lover? One of your team members—"

Jack shushed me by putting a finger over my lips. Then he kissed me gently. "Daniel, you're a real freakin' flake sometimes, you know that?" I tried to get indignant, but he just kissed me again. "I'm the same dumb-ass colonel right here on this damn what-ever-the-hell-its-name-is planet that I will be back on Earth. And even though it's nuts for me to love you like this, I will keep on loving you we are home. Don't you think I've already wracked my brain over all of this? Before we ever even kissed?" he told me fervently. "We'll have to be discreet, I know. But I'm not giving you up. Not now. Especially since I've finally figured out what to do with you," he said with a small smile.

"Oh," I said, not realizing how naive I had been. Of course he had thought it through. He was good at strategic planning. "But Jack, we are going to have to hide everything that we are to each other," I said. "To act just the same way we were before all this—" The very thought of even pretending we weren't lovers made me feel empty inside. I didn't want to go back to that. Ever.

"I know, I know. It sucks. But think about it. Illicit sex. Assignations." He leered at me, making me smile despite myself, despite my fears. "Romantic little getaways."

"Not the cabin—," I groaned, just to annoy him.

"What's wrong with the cabin? You've never even been there!"

"Because you never invited me," I pointed out.

Jack rolled his eyes. "I'm inviting you now. A weekend of fishing and sex. As soon as we get home. How about it?"

I thought it over. "Both at the same time?" I regretted it as soon as I said it, because Jack's face lit up like a Christmas tree. He was just so—so damn Jack, sometimes. No wonder I loved him. "It's a date," I said, just before I kissed him. And just like that, I felt better, my soul as light as air. Jack was right. We'd find a way to make it work.

He hugged me, both our hats falling off as his mouth found its way to my ear. "Better now, Danny?"

I nodded, turning my head so he could nuzzle my neck. "I guess I'm just not used to getting what I want, Jack. I keep expecting something to go wrong."

"I know the feeling," he acknowledged. "But you know this can work. You're the one who told me that, " he whispered in my ear. "I love you here, and I'll keep right on loving you when we finally get home."

I smiled reaching up to touch his head, to run my fingers through his hair. "Home," I said, as his lips brushed along the length of my ear. Although somehow I wasn't in such a hurry anymore for us to get back to Earth.

***

The days turned into a comfortable routine, spent outside picking fruit or doing small repairs around the farm for Marta, although Jack did most of the repairs. He was surprisingly handy, and I appreciated the sight of him working on windows, doors, fences. The cabin we shared was a delight, simple, functional, and, because it was intended for at least several farm hands, it had that sizable communal shower. We enthusiastically made good use of it. We were the cleanest farm hands around.

"I think we definitely need to shower before dinner with Marta. You know how she gets," Jack said, tossing his hat and sending it flying, Frisbee-like, across the room.

Usually we had dinner alone, in the cabin, when Marta thought some friends from neighboring farms might stop by. But when she was certain no one would come along, she would invite us to her table, and with some encouragement would tell us about herself and what her world was like when she was growing up. I enjoyed her company enormously, and I was pretty sure she enjoyed ours. As long as we were clean, of course.

"Oh, yes, Jack, I'm sure you are just filthy dirty. Sweaty. Nasty. Awful." I told him as we finished stripping off our clothes.

"I think I can safely say I'm not nearly as filthy as you. Filthy mouth, filthy mind. Filthy," Jack said.

I neatly dodged the socks he threw at me. "As if you truly mind," I told him laughing as I wrapped my arms around his naked body, catching him before he made it into the bathroom. I rubbed my dick against his ass. "You love my filthy mouth. And I think you are plenty filthy, too," I purred, licking his back. He was salty and smelled wonderfully of earth and grass and of gruenfructs. I licked my way down to the small of his back, sliding down onto my knees. "Nasty." The taste was more intense there, and I pictured the sweat dripping down his back to pool up along those little fine hairs, just like it would if he were fucking me. I wanted him so badly, yearning for the feel of his dick inside of me, sliding up my ass, taking me, owning me.

Cupping his ass in my hands, I licked one cheek, then the other. Jack was still softly moaning his appreciation, so I spread his cheeks further apart and daringly ran my tongue right down the center and across his tight, puckered hole.

"Ah, Daniel, what are you—" Jack said, sounding puzzled. After a more licking, I heard a soft, "Ooh," in the tone of one who has had a divine revelation. Then more loudly, "Oh. I get it now."

I thought he would. And I was glad, because it was something I loved to do. I loved the intimacy of it, the taste, the smell, the sense of being totally immersed in your lover. I circled the area with my tongue, playing with the ring of muscle and Jack gasped. "Daniel—" He clung to the doorframe and I could feel the way his body shivered with pleasure in my hands. I pushed my tongue inside of him and he moaned, deep and low, almost a growl.

"Daniel—that is so fucking good," he moaned.

I licked again, working my tongue into him, loving every moan, every tremor.

"But—oh, oh god—no way in hell am I kissing you now."

That, of course, was clearly a challenge. I finished up with a gentle kiss to each furred cheek, but as stood and tried to spin him around by the shoulders he neatly evaded me. "Get over here," I growled, chasing him into the bathroom. "I am so kissing you—"

I caught him up against the shower wall, grabbed hold of his head and kissed him soundly, sticking my tongue halfway down his throat. It wasn't easy; we were both on the verge of laughter. Jack fumbled about and managed to turn on one of the showers while we were kissing, dousing us both in cold water. I cursed him, still laughing.

"Ewww, you are so gross," Jack complained. I noted it hadn't stopped him from kissing me back.

I pulled him under the now-warm water. "You're delicious," I told him. "All of you. And I didn't hear any complaining when my tongue was up your ass."

"Why does that feel so good, anyway?" he asked, running his hands up and down my body.

I shrugged. "I have no idea. But it does, doesn't it?" He still looked dubious. "Don't worry," I said, retrieving the soap from the holder. "It's not something I'd expect you to do in return. It's not everyone's cup of tea."

Jack shrugged, closing his eyes, leaning his head back, wetting his hair. "Hey, you never know. I never used to think you'd be my cup of tea."

I kissed his cheek through the spray of water. "Well, baby, you've always been the cream in my coffee." I began lathering his chest as he laughed, loving the feel of his muscles under my fingers. I remembered the first time I had washed him in these showers, weeks earlier. He had been weak, and I had been hesitant, even to just wash his back, scared at the intimacy it implied. Now, though, I could touch him everywhere. He was mine. I put my arms around him and moved him away from the water, and he followed willingly. Soon I got us both slick and sudsy, Jack's body moving sensuously against mine as we wrapped our arms around each other. Our cocks bumped up together, and I put an arm around his waist and pushed our hips together as we kissed again.

"Oh, yeah," Jack sighed. "We definitely needed a shower." He slid a curious, soapy hand down my back, onto my ass, then down between my cheeks. My cock surged against his body as I got impossibly harder at the suggestion.

"Please, please Jack," I begged. "Your finger, I want it inside of me." He fingered my opening, and I whimpered as he breached me and a finger sunk deep inside.

"Like that? Does that—is it okay?" Jack asked.

Jack had such wonderful hands, such wonderful long fingers—"Oh, god, yes, right there—deeper." My body jerked, and I saw stars as he hit the spot. "More—another finger—please—" I panted.

"Okay, okay," Jack crooned, and I felt the tightness of another finger entering me. "You like that." It was a statement.

I could only moan in response as he began to slide his fingers in and out of me. My arms were wrapped around him, my head resting on his shoulder, my hard, aching cock pushing against his stomach. I was beyond speaking, beyond reason. I could only feel, and ache, and need. To be touched like this, touched so deeply by Jack, filled a need deep within my soul. My hands were slipping through the soap as I clung to him, trying to hold him even closer, hooking a leg around his thigh, pushing harder as he fell back against the wall.

"Whoa, Daniel—"

I wanted more, I needed more—I needed— "Harder," I gasped, thrusting my ass back against his hand, moaning shamelessly. Jack obeyed, plunging his fingers deep inside of me, over and over. It was astonishing, how good he could make me feel, how willing he was to do this for me. I moaned again and again, thrusting against his body, holding on for dear life, until finally I climaxed sharply, crying out with delight and relief as the sensation took over my body.

"Oh, Jack, thank you—thank you," I panted, kissing his face all over. "Thank you."

His lips caught mine and he kissed me thoroughly, holding me up so that I didn't slither down to the floor. "I could feel you," he said. "When you came, I could feel it from the inside." He looked sweetly awestruck. "Your body, all around my fingers."

I laughed, feeling sexy and wanton and, for once, so much more worldly than Jack. "Fuck me," I purred, nuzzling his face. "Fuck me and I'll really show you a good time," I teased, fondling his very interested cock.

"Really? I can? Now? After you just—?"

I gave him a squeeze and he groaned. "Yes, really, now, right now," I told him.

"Daniel," he sighed, then his eyes narrowed. "Wait, you mean to tell me that you can, you know, again? Already?"

He sounded so indignant, I couldn't help but laugh. "I wish. No, but I'll still like it. A lot. I want it. I want you," I told him. I put my hands on his waist and turned him as we changed places. "Just like this. It's easy. I'm easy. Just use lots of soap, okay?" I said over my shoulder.

"Am I going to hurt you?" He looked up from lathering his dick.

"No, Jack—I mean, you're big, but you're not that big." Truth was, soap wasn't the best lube, but I wanted him, wanted to feel him, and even more, wanted him to know what it was like to fuck another man.

In a moment, I felt his hot, slippery cock sliding against my ass as he positioned himself and then, with a grunt, he began to push. I was loose, and he did use a lot of soap, but it still hurt a little. He entered me slowly, carefully, and I could tell he was nervous, endearingly so. I sighed, "It's good Jack," to encourage him, because, god, it was so good. He was stretching me, filling me in a way I hadn't been filled in a long time. It was pleasure with a little pain mixed in, but mostly pleasure.

At last he was in. I could feel his balls brushing against my body. He whispered my name as he put an arm around my waist, leaning the other up against the wall, his hand on top of mine. "Am I hurting you?" he whispered harshly in my ear, his chest pressed up tight against my back.

"No, no, oh god no." A joyful little laugh rose up from inside of me. "I've wanted this. I've always wanted this, wanted you." Jack moved inside of me, thrusting carefully, his body trembling as he rained kisses my shoulders and my neck. He was so gentle, so loving. I wanted to tell him he could pound me into the wall, that I wouldn't break—god—I would have loved that, but I loved the gentleness even more. "Do you like it?" I gasped.

"Like it? My god, Danny," he panted into my ear, "This is good, so fucking good. You are so mine." He kissed my neck again, then sucked on my skin.

I leaned my head against my forearm. "Yes, Jack, fucking good. You are fucking very good," I said, feeling giddy.

He snorted, then moved faster, thrusting steadily into me. My ass was beginning to burn, but the way he was grunting, moaning, I knew it wouldn't be long. And I was right. Soon he convulsed against me, straining, pushing, his cock pulsing.

"Oh, god, Daniel, Daniel, shit." He collapsed against me, one arm around my chest. "That was fucking amazing. You're the most amazing man I've ever made love to," he gasped. I felt the pressure inside me lessen as he pulled out.

I turned in his arms, and we both slid down to the floor. "I'm the only man you ever made love to, you ass," I told him, slapping his arm.

He just laughed and held me tighter. Then he asked, "Can we do that again? Soon?"

"After dinner," I told him. "And I'm going to make you howl."

***

"Hold it steady, there, just like that," Jack explained.

With a look of intense concentration, Katrina held the hinge in place as Jack marked the holes with a thick black pencil. They were kneeling together on the wooden door, lying flat, Katrina's small, dark head next to Jack's scruffy gray one.

"There. Next we have to make starter holes for the screws," Jack said. I translated for her, although I didn't think it was really necessary. She and Jack seemed to have an instinctive understanding, and it was fun to watch them in action.

Jack tapped small, precise holes with a hammer and nail for the upper hinge, then handed both to Katrina and pointed to the set of marks for the lower hinge. With painstaking care she imitated Jack's movements, hammering small holes into the wood. "A little deeper," Jack said, indicating with his thumb and forefinger.

It was a wet, drizzly day, and we were working inside the small barn. The door to Susse's stall had apparently been broken for some time, and Marta's temporary replacements hadn't deterred Susse in the least. Katrina had to spend most mornings looking for the animal, although the big, oxlike creature really wasn't all that difficult to find, especially when it came to Katrina—given the opportunity, the beast would follow the child around like a dog.

"Daniel—have you got those screws?"

"Uh, yeah, someplace around here." I put my book down and rose reluctantly rose from my comfortable nest in the hay. The screws, damn it. I knew I had them a moment ago, I thought, patting my pockets, hoping that they hadn't fallen and gotten lost.

"Any time now," Jack added.

Katrina grinned at me. For some reason, I seemed to amuse her. "Front shirt pocket," she told me.

I checked that pocket, and sure enough, there they were. "Oh, hey. Here you go," I said, handing them to her. "Careful, they're sharp."

"Thank you, Daniel," she said, rolling her eyes, very much like Jack.

Jack repeated, "Thank you, Daniel," his brown eyes sparkling with humor.

I suppose they both found me amusing, to some degree.

"Now you've gotta push so the screws cut into the wood—that's why you have to make sure to use wood screws, not those other ones," Jack explained, indicating the sharp point on the tip of the screw. Katrina nodded, even before I began to translate. "Now hold this in place, and I'll do this first set."

Jack deftly screwed the hinge to the door as I watched. Jack's sleeves were rolled up, and I enjoyed watching his sure movements, muscles flexing as he worked, his big hands gripping the screwdriver firmly. His hair fell into his eyes and he impatiently shoved it aside with a forearm. As he reached for the next screw he caught me watching him over my book, and smiled warmly.

Katrina nudged him and they got back to work. She seemed to be well aware of the sort of relationship Jack and I had and did not seem to find it unusual in the least. Apparently same-sex relationships were accepted here. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to experience such a thing back home. A small part of me was still concerned about what would happen when Jack and I returned, to our own world. Our own reality. I wondered how our relationship would fare under the stress of secrecy, particularly during missions.

"No, no, I've got it," Katrina complained as Jack tried to help her with the screwdriver. She worked the screws into wood, more slowly than Jack had, but just as effectively.

The barn door creaked, we all looked up, startled, but it was only Marta. She was breathless, as if she had ran to the barn, and I grew concerned. "What is it?"

"The cease-fire. It has been ratified," she announced.

I explained to Jack. We both knew this meant we could go home. I felt a pang of regret, and I suspected he did, too. I had thought when I heard the news that the cease-fire went through, we would be packing within minutes, ready to head for the portal. Instead, we looked at each other thoughtfully. I didn't want our time here to end. Kissing Jack, out in an open field—I couldn't do that at home. Our relationship wasn't welcome at home.

"The train?" Jack asked. "It's running again?"

I translated, and Marta nodded. "Yes, but they are checking papers for all passengers. Problems with sabotage already. Not everyone agrees with the outbreak of peace," she added ruefully. "Crowds of young men have been making trouble, rioting, breaking storefront windows, looting."

I told this to Jack, and I could see his body tensing. "Any trouble by the farms?" I asked.

Marta shook her head. "There's nothing here for them. It's under control, or so I've heard." She did not seem convinced.

"Does this mean you're leaving us now?" Katrina asked Jack.

Jack patted her shoulder gently. "Soon. I'm sorry. But we have our own home to go to, and a whole lot of folks who are waiting for us."

She nodded sadly as I translated. "You've done so much for us," I added, "and we will always be grateful."

"Susse will miss you both," Katrina pointed out.

Jack grinned and tugged on her ponytail. "I think you're going to miss us. Especially me."

When I translated that, she just snorted. "Well, you'd better help us hang the door before you go. It's too heavy for me to lift on my own."

The door really was large and heavy, and it took the three of us to hold it in place while Jack lined up the hinge pins. "We still have to actually get there," he mused. "Either we find false papers, or we try to get to the portal on foot. Papers maybe—there's always a black market for those kinds of things."

"We wouldn't even know where to start when it comes to getting counterfeit papers, though," I told him. "And we definitely can't involve Marta."

Jack nodded. "Too dangerous—hey, don't move, hold it steady, okay, just like that—there." The door fell into place with a satisfying thud. "They've done enough for us already."

Katrina swung the door open and closed a few times, pleased with her handiwork. As we talked, I noticed Marta peering out the door. She seemed concerned. "What is it?" I asked.

"Some movement, up in the hills. I'm not sure—"

Jack was beside her in a flash. "Daniel, take them back to the house," he said quietly.

"Jack?" I felt a sudden stab of fear at the thought being separated—unreasonable fear, of course, I told myself. Jack could more than take care of himself. Just because we were lovers now—

"Go, Daniel. I'm just going to go up and take a look."

His tone brooked no argument, but I argued anyway. "You won't be able to understand what they are saying. Let me come with you."

"Daniel," he warned.

"Take the staff weapon at least."

He shook his head. "Go," he told me, pointing to the house.

We went.

***

I paced from window to window, peering through the sheer curtains, trying to control my panic. I felt as though I were underwater—I couldn't breathe, sounds were distorted, I could barely walk. Jack. Jack hadn't come back. He had been gone for hours. I didn't like that. I didn't like it at all. The power had gone out hours ago; the phone lines were down. We had no idea what was happening in town or out among the farms. I itched to do something, anything, to find Jack. No matter how many times I told myself that Jack could take care of himself, because Jack was a soldier, and a cunning one at that, I was still afraid for him.

Furthermore, I knew I couldn't leave Marta and Katrina, even though Marta was pretty handy with that staff weapon. I would never forgive myself if anything happened to either of them. They had risked a lot to help us. I couldn't abandon them.

Marta wiped the spotless kitchen table down for the third time. "I don't like this waiting," she said. "You should go."

I shook my head as I stared out at the quiet countryside. The rain had stopped.

"Then I will go."

I went over to her. "No, please, just stay here. No need to go looking for trouble."

"Why would anyone want to hurt Jack?" Katrina asked.

I saw movement on the road. "Marta—someone's coming."

She came beside me, squinting in the afternoon sun, watching the cart come up the road. Then she relaxed. "Ah, it's the Guestungs. The next farm over. Good neighbors." I breathed a sigh of relief. The younger couple and their brother had been frequent guests, friendly and helpful to Marta, and they were fond of Katrina. "Go in the back pantry," Marta instructed. "I'll find out what's happening in town, and then you will go find your Jack. Frank and his family will take care of me."

I hesitated, wanting to talk to them myself, but I understood that the less others knew of me, the better it was for Marta. She seemed to know that I had determined not to leave her, and she was thinking of ways to make it acceptable for me to go after Jack.

I slipped into the back room, scented strongly with the smell of clean earth and root vegetables. I tried to listen to their conversation, staring blankly at the rows of glass jars on the shelves, all full of food canned by Marta. I could make out a few words—rioting in town, watch over Marta, the power distribution lines, quiet by the farms. But they must have wandered as they talked, because I couldn't hear them anymore. Getting more and more anxious by the minute, I began to pace restlessly, but I halted, cringing, when I heard the floorboards creak beneath my feet.

There was a gentle tapping at the door. I froze. The door opened a crack, and there was Katrina, her young face tense with worry. She motioned for me to follow her, and she led me out the back door. "Marta says you are to go," she whispered. "An off-worlder was taken into custody. They say he was tall, with gray hair. Go find him," she insisted. "You must go to him."

Taken into custody. That meant he was still alive, at least. I nodded, and she gave me a rib-cracking hug before sending me off. She looked worried.

"He's going to be just fine," I assured her. "Everything will be okay, Katrina, I promise."

Hoping I wasn't making empty promises—and was I talking to myself, or to her?—I headed toward town at a dead run.

***

I came upon a crowd in the town square. Everyone was shouting and arguing. Stumbling to a halt, breathless, I stood watching, my legs trembling, my shirt soaked through. I gasped for breath, feeling chilled and nauseous from the exertion.

The crowd shifted. People were moving, milling about, and sure enough, I caught a glimpse of Jack, shackled, on his knees. He was alive—alive and scowling—and the very sight made my heart sing. Surrounding him were three large, hulking men, one of whom carried a staff weapon, I noticed to my dismay. They were typical-looking thugs, the sort we seemed to come upon far too often in our travels. They were arguing with a handful of men, gesticulating wildly, while others watched with interest.

I pushed my way through the crowd. They quieted upon my arrival, and stared curiously. Jack looked up, his eyes narrow, face angry. He shook his head sharply at me, but I ignored the signal. No way was I going to leave. As if I could just walk away and save myself.

"Why—why have you taken him?" I asked, still trying to catch my breath.

"And why do you want to know?" demanded one of the thugs.

"Bah!" exclaimed the man with the weapon. He had beady eyes set deep within a round, florid face. "I will be happy to explain it. He is an off-worlder, and that is enough."

A slight, balding man in the crowd protested, "No, the killing has to stop here, and now." The crowd muttered its agreement.

"Killing?" I said, my blood running cold. "Killing? You can't kill him."

Beady eyes smirked. "Who said anything about killing? We're just going to toss him in prison, that's all. He's a danger to us all. He is not a citizen, and he does not belong in our country. He can't even speak our language. He has no papers, no identification. He is probably a spy." He pounded the ground with the staff weapon, then snarled, "He belongs in prison."

"Wouldn't a spy know how to speak your language?" I asked, although I suspected reason would not go far with his kind. Prison. I wasn't going to let Jack out of my sight, because, as both Jack and I knew from personal experience, prison here in this place could very well mean a death sentence.

Beady Eyes looked momentarily confused, but he quickly recovered. "Do you deny he is an off-worlder?" he demanded of me.

Jack's inability to speak any kind of language native to this planet was a dead giveaway. "No," I admitted.

"Then he is going to prison. Now." He gestured. "Out of my way," he snarled at the men surrounding them.

"No!" I shouted. "I know this man. Jack is not a spy." I caught myself as my voice got higher and more panicky. I continued in a low, reasonable voice, even though my stomach was tied in knots. "I can vouch for him. And he's done nothing to you. To any of you."

The thug standing at Beady Eye's shoulder leaned forward and asked me, "And where might you be from? How do you know this man? This—Jack." He shoved Jack's shoulder, and Jack fell over.

I clenched my fists but remained calm, wishing I had a 'zat. "I hail from Ortle," I told him, choosing one of far counties by the coast. My accent must have been convincing, because they all nodded, accepting my story.

"And do you not have trouble there from off-worlders? We know they are the ones who started it all. I've heard the stories, you know." Bearded Man spat in the dirt.

Stories? Trouble? I had no idea what he was talking about. "That's not the point," I said, thinking furiously. An idea struck me. "And this man is as citizen, even though he is from another world. Because—because he is my mate," I announced. Marta had told me that citizenship is bestowed upon marriage. I drew myself up to full height and approached the unsavory crew. "And I want him back. Release him. Now." I stood, staring him down, my heart pounding.

The crowd fell silent, watching. The captors seemed taken aback by this new information. Jack was watching our exchange carefully, but I could tell he had no idea what we were saying.

"Daniel," Jack said deliberately, "whatcha doin'?"

"Rescuing you." I crossed over to him and touched his head gently. To his captors, I said, "He had better not be injured in any way."

Beady Eyes wasn't so easily deterred. "If he is indeed your mate, we should be able to request the public record of the union, correct?"

Shit. I stilled my hand on Jack's head. "Yes, yes you should, absolutely, uh, there were records, a big, you know, ah record," I scrambled. "In Ortle. Our union took place in Ortle, where I am from." Shit. Shit. They could just call up Ortle, now that there was a cease-fire and the phones were working reliably again. "But—you know, they were all destroyed in—in the fire, because of the trouble," I finished, with a sinking feeling. I was beginning to suspect prison was going to feature strongly in both our futures.

"This is outrageous," Beady Eyes growled. "Let's just take them both. Then we can decide if they are mates or not. Fire. Hah. Surely you don't expect us to believe you would marry a stranger such as this."

"Why? Why is that so hard to believe? We are indeed married. Let him go, and I can request replacement papers from Ortle and prove it to you." I didn't like the way this was going, not at all, but I had learned from Jack that brazening it out was often the best policy.

There was a small commotion behind me. I glanced back to see an official-looking man striding through the crowd. "We'll end this here and now," he stated, his voice booming as he glared at the captors. He turned to me. "Kneel and take his hands," he said quietly.

Confused, I hesitated before I knelt and took Jack's shackled hands in mine. His eyes met mine, and he shook his head again, this time in an exasperated manner. We held onto each other so tightly I was sure they'd have to pry us apart with a crowbar. I wasn't ever going to let go.

A heavy hand rested on my head, and I realized the man was saying something in an archaic tongue, his hands resting on both our heads as I held Jack's hands. Beady Eyes was protesting loudly, but I tried to tune him out and focus on what the man was saying. I concentrated, trying to decipher the words. Then it hit me.

It was a marriage ceremony.

I found myself grinning. Jack raised his eyebrows questioningly, but his eyes never left mine. When the man asked if I entered the union of my own free will, I said yes honestly and without hesitation. Then I translated the words for Jack. He looked sharply at the man standing above us, realization dawning.

"Yes," he told the man, then, quietly, to me, "Way to go, Daniel."

The man patted my head. "You may authenticate the union with a kiss."

I kissed Jack gently, to the disgusted mutterings of the men around him. They had lost their prey.

"Did what I think just happen actually just happen?" Jack asked me softly, squeezing my hands.

"Yes."

"Oh. Sweet."

I rose to my feet and glared indignantly at the men. "Thank you," I said to the official. He asked our names and place of birth, and I gave them to him, listing my place of birth as Ortle and Jack's as Chicago, which made the man frown, but he wrote it exactly as I spelled it. He painstakingly copied the information out on a piece of paper and notarized it, then handed it to me. I folded it and carefully put it in a pocket. It was my marriage certificate, after all.

"This is outrageous," Beady Eyes snarled. "I can't accept this. This off-worlder cannot be allowed to stay in our great country." The other men nodded in agreement. "You both must go back through the portal to where you came from. Where he came from." He gestured at Jack with the staff weapon, which almost made my heart stop.

"The—the portal?" I asked.

"Yes, the portal in the valley. Surely you know of it," he said, sneering at Jack. "You are going right back through to the abandoned world on the other side. We don't need your kind here."

My heart leapt with hope. They were offering the very thing we needed: safe passage to the portal, and from PX2200, which had a Gate—home. "Oh, well, if you insist—" I started, convinced that if they figured out it was what we wanted, they would turn around and deny it.

The official touched my shoulder. "Are you certain of this?" he asked kindly, although I could see the relief in his eyes. It would make his life a lot simpler, and I was more than glad to help.

I nodded. "It's where we belong," I told him.

He nodded. I think he realized that I really did not hail from Ortle, but he didn't say anything.

Jack was unshackled, and I took his hands in mine again, this time checking for bruises. To his embarrassment, I kissed each wrist. "Daniel," he said, looking around, tugging his hands away. I just grinned. "Daniel, did I hear them say something about the portal?"

"Yes, my darling, uh, mate," I said. Jack rolled his eyes. "We're being kicked out."

"What a cryin' shame."

We were told we must leave immediately. We were to be escorted on the very next train heading out that way.

I thanked the official again. Jack promised to name our firstborn after him. I chose not to translate that comment. We were soon hustled onto a waiting train under an armed guard, including Beady Eyes, who we certainly could have done without. Just before we got on board, I took one last look through the crowd and saw Marta. I called out her name, then stopped, uncertain. I wanted to thank her again—for saving our lives, for giving us such an idyllic refuge at a time when we needed it so much, to tell her goodbye and good luck. But I didn't want to implicate her in our crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had no idea what the consequences would be to her.

Her eyes met mine, and she nodded to us. I knew then that I didn't have to say it. She understood. She would explain to Katrina that we found a way home. As we climbed into the car, Jack's hand steady on my back, I knew that her farm would always be a special place to me: the place where Jack and I came together.

We were locked in a private sleeper for the two-day train ride to the portal, the door heavily guarded, which amused us both. Jack assured them it wasn't necessary, that we wanted to "get the hell out of Dodge as soon as possible." Escape was the last thing on our minds. We were going home at last—and on an express route, no less.

The room was small but functional, and the food we were given was palatable, although not up to the standard we had become accustomed to with Marta. I somehow expected Jack to make light of our shotgun wedding. I was wrong. Jack surveyed the room, then pulled the blankets and mattresses off of the narrow bunks, creating a spacious bed on the floor. He informed me in all seriousness that this was our honeymoon suite and we were going to celebrate our union properly. We spent two long, lazy days lying naked in each other's arms, touching, kissing, stroking. The rhythmic swaying of the train as it traveled over the rails added a new, hypnotic aspect to our lovemaking.

We decided to withhold the information regarding our new status after we got back. Jack said that he knew that we would have to treat it as a joke if we reported it, and he simply could not do that, because it meant much more to him. Because he loved me.

Who would have known the man was such a romantic. But then again, maybe I was too. I took out the wedding certificate two or three times a day and read it over and over again, because it said in words what we felt in our hearts. It was hastily handwritten, but the script was elegant—and only I could read it. Our secret was safe.

Then we were there, at the portal, where it had all began. Jack squeezed my hand reassuringly as the device was activated. We were shoved through the shimmering haze unceremoniously, to emerge almost directly into the arms of several very surprised and delighted members of SG-12.

***

One thousand, four hundred twenty-six new e-mails.

I pushed myself away from my desk in disbelief. Surely that couldn't be right, even after two and a half months. I gazed at the piles of paperwork on my desk. I picked up one stack of MALP photos, displaying extensive pictographs drawn on a crumbling wall. PX9923, the report stated. I dropped it back to the desk, and picked up a bound report, a five-hundred-page translation of an ancient Sumerian text. Life at SGC had gone on while we were away—not that I had expected anything less.

Somehow my office seemed smaller than I remembered. And darker. I thought of Marta's quiet little farm with deep longing. It seemed like years ago that Jack and I had kissed under the gruenfruct trees.

It was good to be back, though, to see our friends and colleagues again, who had never given us up for lost. We had been greeted enthusiastically as we stepped back into the Gate room. Sam teared up at the sight of us, and Teal'c's stoic face was not quite as stoic as usual as he shook our hands. Then routine began as we were hustled off to a lengthy medical exam, then the debriefing, then a long, question-filled lunch at the commissary. Sam touched my arm constantly, as if to reassure herself that we really had returned, and she kept smiling at Jack.

And people, so many people—soldiers and scientists and technicians—hustling around us, stopping to welcome us back, then hurrying off to do whatever it was they had to do. I had forgotten about, about busy the place was, people coming and going and working.

I was dazed by the suddenness of being back in the middle of it all. I wandered around my office, feeling lost, feeling as if I were trying to jump on a moving train. I didn't know what to do, whether I should stay and plow through my e-mails or just go home. I wondered if Jack was done meeting with General Hammond. I wondered if my car would start. I wondered if Jack would love me here on Earth—illicitly as he put it—as much as he did on Marta's farm. I wondered if should go home to my empty apartment, to stacks of unpaid bills, to rotting lo mein in the refrigerator, to the dirty dishes waiting for me in the sink.

I didn't want to be illicit, I thought suddenly. I went back to my desk and picked up a dirty coffee cup, wrinkling my nose at the fungal mat inside. None of my choices were appealing.

"That good, huh?" came a familiar voice from the doorway.

I looked up to see a beautiful sight—Jack's long, lean body slouched against the doorframe. "Hey. Hi," I said, ridiculously happy to see him, even though we had only been apart a few hours.

Jack must have seen it in my face, because he smiled sweetly, brown eyes shining. He asked, "So, what's up?" as he gestured toward my full desk.

"All kinds of things, from what I can tell. Not that I can, really. There's so much to do I don't even know where to start. So many reports, translations—" I noticed my voice mail light was blinking. I hadn't even thought about phone messages. I took of my glasses and kneaded my nose. "Messages…" I shook my head.

"It can wait. Fraiser's given us the okay. We're outta here."

"But Jack," I protested halfheartedly, turning and waving my hand at my desk. "I have so much to do—"

"Yes, you do," he said, suddenly close behind me. I could feel his warm breath on my neck, and it felt like the sunshine. "And the first thing you're going to do is come home with me."

Home. I turned my head, so I could just see him out of the corner of my eye. "Oh, really? And what's going to happen there?"

He leaned closer and whispered in my ear. "We have a new life to start together, remember? How does you and me, naked in bed with some Chinese take-out sound to you?"

I thought for a moment. "Can we have lo mein?"

"You can have whatever you want, Daniel."

Mindful of the security cameras, I leaned back ever so slightly, so my body was just barely touching his. "I already have everything I want, Jack." I slipped my hand into my pocket, fingering our certificate.

He took me by the arm and led me out of my office, toward home.

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