I Let You Go by Jude
[Reviews - 1] Printer
Category: Jack/Daniel
Genres: Angst, Established Relationship
Rated: Adult
Warnings: None
Series: None
Summary: Jack makes a difficult decision and asks Daniel to understand. Set between Season Eight and Season Nine.

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Jack could hear his parents talking in the hallway outside his bedroom door. They were trying to keep their voices down, but it was a small house, and not much escaped the sharp hearing of his 8- year-old ears.

"Liam, the boy needs to learn he can't just go keeping living wild things in little cages in the house."

Jack's father's rumbling voice carried better than his mom's clear soprano. "Ach, Colleen, he's just a kid. All boys bring things in and set up small zoos in their rooms. I did, and my father before me did, and I don't doubt that all boys everywhere do."

"I don't care about what you and your dad and your great-great-great- grandpa did, Liam! I care about Jack. OUR boy." The exasperation in her voice made her speak even more loudly than she intended. "That poor bird is dying. I can see it; my God, can't you? It just sits there, day after day. I don't think it's moved in the last 24 hours."

Liam O'Neill sighed. His voice was a raspy whisper. "Well, it's just a bird, honey. And maybe he'll learn something from this. Can't you just, I don't know, look the other way or something?"

As he listened to his parents walk away down the hall, still speaking in hushed tones, Jack pressed his face to the bars of the cage that held his hapless prisoner. He wasn't sure, but he thought it was a lady cardinal, since it had that little feathered point on its head, and it was kind of gold colored with some red tinges.

The neighbor's cat had been harassing it out in the O'Neill's backyard four days ago. Jack had shooed the cat away and the poor bird, whether injured or bewildered or both, had allowed itself to be scooped up and unceremoniously plopped into a shoe box with air holes punched in the cover.

His mom had been horrified that Jack intended to keep the bird in the box and had sent him to the attic to get Nana's old canary cage. And thus the bird had found itself in a fancy newspaper-lined gilt cage in Jack's room.

All appeals from his mom to let the creature go had fallen on deaf ears. Jack loved the little thing. It was pretty and interesting and altogether appealing to his little boy nature. And anyway, if he let it go, what would happen to it? Jack was convinced it'd be safer with him.

Shortly, his mom appeared in his doorway. "Jack, honey."

Jack didn't turn to look at her. He knew what she was going to say. They'd already talked about this, many times, and for some reason, he knew he just had to keep his pet bird. It was important. He couldn't tell her why, it just was.

His mom came in and sat on his bed, smoothing down the skirt of her housedress. She crossed her feet at the ankles and clasped her hands in her lap. "Look at me, honey."

Slowly Jack sat back, his long legs drawn up to his chest. He wrapped his arms around them and turned his face to his mom.

"Your bird, Jack," she began. She took a deep breath and then blew it out between pursed lips. "It's not eating or drinking, and look at it," she rolled her eyes towards the cage, "it looks so unhappy."

Jack turned away from her and regarded the cardinal again. It blinked at him and turned its head slightly, peering at him solemnly with one beady black eye. It was on the bottom of the cage, its body lowered onto its feet so he couldn't see its legs anymore.

"She'll be fine, mommy," Jack whispered. He felt tears prickle the backs of his eyes. He set his mouth in a straight line and swallowed. He wanted so much to be a big boy about this, to show his mom she was wrong, and he could take care of the bird. "She drank a little water this morning."

"Jaaaack. . ." his mom said in a warning tone.

Jack had lied, and he knew she knew it. His mom always knew when he was lying.

"Honest, Mom," he tried again, keeping his eyes on the bird, not daring to look at his mother.

Colleen O'Neill stood up and went to her son. She placed her hand on his sun bleached brown hair and peered down at him. "Hey, Jack?"

Turning solemn dark brown eyes up to her, he awaited what she would say.

"In the morning, the bird goes back outside. I give you tonight, but in the morning, it goes out."

When he didn't answer, just blinked at her, his face set impassively, she took it one step further. "Do you hear me, son?"

He nodded. "Yes, ma'am," he murmured, turning his gaze back to the little bird.

"All right, Jack. I'll call you for supper in a little while." She left the room.

Jack opened the cage and put his small hand inside. The bird never flinched as he used his index finger to gently pet it, down its head, neck, and back, over and over. It only huddled over its own feet, its head lower than ever, wide-eyed and unmoving.

In the morning, the bird was dead. When Jack slid out of his bed just after daybreak and went to check, he found the bird gone, lying on its side, eyes milky and half closed in death, its little feet crumpled together and dry looking.

No one ever saw him cry, but there in his room, in the early daylight, Jack lowered his head into his hands and wept for his little pet. He hadn't meant to kill it, only to love it. If he'd listened to his mom earlier, maybe it'd still be alive. But he'd held on, too long, too long, and now there was no turning back. It was gone.

~45 Years Later~

I came awake with a start, my mouth dry, my heart pounding. My breath caught in my throat, the welcome realization that I'd only been dreaming washing over me. I ran one hand down over my face.

Daniel. Daniel was in bed with me. Thank God. I turned onto my side towards him and moved closer, listening to him breathe comfortably.

Getting up on one elbow as gently as possible so as not to disturb him, I placed a kiss on Daniel's warm forehead. I left my lips there for a second or two, breathing in his familiar scent.

The bedside clock over beyond Daniel's head told me it was 2324. We hadn't been sleeping long. He'd be going home soon, but I let him sleep for now, knowing how exhausted he had to be.

Repressing a desire to shiver, I lay down again, bunching my pillow under my head. I was wide awake now. Damn dream. My mom had had a saying for it. "I feel like someone's just walked over my grave."

I'd never told my mom the bird had died. I'd put it back in the shoebox and had quietly left the sleeping house to bury it back under the far hedge in the yard. I'd never told her the truth. Returning home from school that afternoon, I'd found the cage had been returned to the attic. She'd never said another word about it, and neither had I.

Now, over forty years later, I was amazed I would relive such a small incident in a dream, and couldn't imagine what it meant.

I closed my eyes, determined to go back to sleep, but my mind reviewed the dream over and over. Most of a lifetime ago, and I could still feel the pain and guilt of hanging on to that damned bird instead of doing the right thing. Everyone has a few childhood memories that never seem to go away, and I'd never forgotten this one, but this was the first time I'd ever remembered it in a dream.

Slowly, my weird feelings subsided, and I felt a bit more settled. I slipped one arm around Daniel's waist, glad for his companionship, for our shared warmth and intimacy.

He stirred and made a little sound in his throat. "Jack?"

"Ssshhh, Danny, go back to sleep," I whispered.

Daniel snuggled closer, his head nestled under my chin.

I pressed a kiss to his hair. Then I lay awake, thinking, for a long time.

~Later That Morning~

I stood up from behind my desk and stretched, listening to my knees pop and creak. For once, they weren't too painful. I leaned over and straightened the papers there, making neat piles of my current work. The paperwork of the SGC never stopped, and almost every piece of it found its way through my office at one time of another.

Reaching to my keyboard to save what I'd been working on with my computer, I straightened up and walked out to my assistant's connecting office.

Staff Sergeant Beverly Hobbs had been with me almost since the minute I'd received my promotion and taken over command of SGC from General Hammond. Two years now. So much water over the dam, or under the bridge, whichever the hell it was, I could never remember.

"It's quiet right now, so I'm just going to do a bit of walking around, checking up on things, Hobbs," I told her. "Back in an hour or so."

"Yes, sir," she murmured, glancing up at me before quickly returning to her own computer monitor.

I was going to see Daniel. Sure, I'd stop by the control room and talk with Walter and the others on duty there, and I'd go by Carter's lab, then I'd hit all the other high spots of my command, just allowing myself to be seen and keeping abreast of whatever was going on. But I wanted to find Daniel.

A few minutes later, after leaving the control room, I walked quickly down the corridor towards the elevator, thinking about Daniel as I walked. When I'd awakened that morning, he'd been gone. Nothing unusual about that. A couple times a week, our evenings together ended up with an always-satisfying session in one of our beds, but we'd never spent the whole night together.

Something was different today, but I didn't know what. I could still remember the weird feeling the dream about that bird had given me. I'd held Daniel, listening to his soft snores as he'd slept in my arms, and I'd searched my mind and heart, but I hadn't made sense of any of it.

All I knew for sure was that I needed to see him. Now.

The sound of their laughter reached me before I turned the corner to look into Daniel's office. I stood in the doorway for a moment, my hand poised to rap a greeting on the door jam. You know that old saw about how time stands still, or slows down, or whatever the hell it is? Well, it did that. Right there, with my ass in the hallway and the toes of my boots in Daniel's lab. It was just a moment, frozen in time, etched into my brain like one of those grainy Polaroid photos we used to take when we were kids.

Daniel was sitting in front of his computer, his hands in his lap. Standing next to him, hovering over him, really, was a tall, good- looking, blond guy wearing gold-rimmed glasses. He had one hand on Daniel's desk, propping himself up, and the other on the back of Daniel's chair. Leaning over, their heads were almost touching. I got an impression of youth, wide shoulders, high cheekbones, and lots of white teeth as he laughed along with Daniel.

But I guess what stopped me in my tracks was the look on Daniel's face. He looked happy. Not just happy, but content. He looked like a round peg very firmly tapped into a round hole, like everything in his life was a good fit. And what gave me pause was that I didn't know for sure if I'd ever seen Daniel look like that before.

"God, Ali," Daniel was saying as the other man smiled at him with another chuckle, "How'd you get that? You know, I've been staring at that damned bit of cuneiform for a day and a half, and you walk in here and take one look, and-"

I must have moved or made a sound, because Daniel abruptly stopped speaking, and he gathered himself together as he caught sight of me hovering there by the door. "Jack!" He glanced quickly at the man at his side and then back at me. "Come in!"

Blondie stood up straight, sticking his hands in his pockets. He smiled pleasantly at me, lifting his eyebrows in greeting.

"Hi, Daniel, just thought I'd stop by," I said in a quiet voice. I took two steps into the room, waiting for the introduction I knew was coming.

Daniel politely said, "Jack, I'd like you to meet Alistair Smyth. Dr. Alistair Smyth. Remember his name? He's one of our new hires here in archaeology."

He turned to Dr. Smyth and gestured at me. "Ali, meet General Jack O'Neill, CO of the SGC."

The man stepped towards me, his hand stuck out in greeting. His smile widened. "Of course, General O'Neill! I've looked forward to meeting you. I've heard so much about you, about SG-1 and all the stories."

As I grasped his hand and returned his smile, all I could think of was that I hadn't heard a damned word about him. "Welcome to SGC, Doctor Smyth," I managed. Of course, like Daniel said, I knew the man's name, since I'd approved his hiring. But I'd known nothing about him except that Daniel had recommended him. At the time, that'd been enough for me, since that was true for all the new hires in Daniel's department.

As quickly as I could without seeming rude, I disengaged my hand from his and started to back out of the room. "I didn't want to interrupt," I told Daniel. Yes, the fuck I did. I wanted to interrupt. I wanted Doctor Smyth to take himself out of there so I could close the door and talk to Daniel. But I couldn't ask. I just couldn't. I continued to back away. "I'll-- I'll-Um, I'll call you later, Daniel."

Daniel was looking at me in concern, his forehead furrowed, eyes narrowed as he studied me. So much for my trying to look cool and in control. I was stammering like an idiot, so surprised at my own reaction, I couldn't make sense, verbally, emotionally or any other way. I just had to get the fuck out of there.

"Bye," I said, my eyes fixed on a point somewhere beyond Daniel's head, over on his bookshelves. I raised one hand to wave at Dr. Smyth. "Nice to meet you. I'll be seeing you around," I told him inanely.

I turned and strode from the room, walking quickly down the corridor. At the first men's room I came to, I slammed through the door, went into a cubicle, and sat fully clothed on the toilet, my face in my hands.

What had just happened?

~Two Days Later~

The request came across my desk, written up on an official form, of course, duly signed by Daniel, as head of archaeology. It was a requisition for him to be released to travel off world for two weeks to work on a dig with SG-11. A significant find had been made on P2X-667, a stone circle reminiscent of Stonehenge, found to have been built above some ancient tombs. Once excavation had begun, SG- 11 had unearthed a treasure trove of ancient artifacts. I knew about this because I'd sat in on briefings and seen the video and photographic record that had come back. Daniel hadn't mentioned it to me, but then, we didn't talk about work after hours very much.

And now SG-11 had requested Daniel to come help catalog and advise. Very smart of SG-11, I thought to myself. I'd have asked for one Dr. Jackson, too. Ask for the best, I always said.

I turned to my computer and drew up a current roster of personnel assigned to SG-11. It was a short list, and the last name on it caught my eye. Dr. Alistair Smyth.

I closed the requisition file, shoved it in the bottom of my in box to be dealt with later, and leaned back in my chair to think.

I'd never been one to spend a lot of time examining my own inner man. No one'd ever accused me of being touchy-feely or sensitive or in touch with my feminine side. Ever. The friendship that Daniel and I enjoyed went way back, certainly to the time when he'd come back with us from Abydos and had ended up camping out on my sofa for two weeks until he could find his own place. For ages, we'd been in each other's back pockets, through the proverbial thick and thin. Friends for over ten years, brothers in arms, closer than family. And friends with benefits since right after we'd found Daniel in Vis Uban. Over two years now.

So. Now I sensed I was at a crossroads. Or, rather, we were. Daniel and I. We were, after all, only friends. Best, closest friends, who enjoyed a companionship on every level, but who had promised each other absolutely nothing. Absolutely. "And now what?" I asked myself.

I reached for my coffee cup and swallowed a couple mouthfuls of the vile, cold brew. My mind was so far away from my surroundings, I don't think I even made a face at the taste.

Something was stirring around on the inside of me, coiling and uncoiling like a small serpent, seeking a way to get out, to make itself known, to live. I'd been trying to ignore it for days, and instead of going away, the feeling was getting more insistently urgent.

The alpha male in me didn't want that Alistair Smyth guy anywhere near Daniel. I was sure of that. The man had more than an interest in archaeology in common with Daniel. It takes one to know one, and believe me, I was convinced that Dr. Smyth wanted Dr. Jackson in every way it's possible for one human being to want another.

But what did I want? And what was best for Daniel? I wouldn't allow my friend to be hurt, not while I had anything to say about it. But did I have anything to say about it?

The klaxon and Walter's voice over the PA system interrupted my private reverie. "Off world activation."

Impulsively, I reached for the requisition form for Daniel's assignment to SG-11. I opened the folder, signed my approval at the bottom of the sheet, in triplicate, yet, and shoved the file into my out box. Daniel wanted to go on assignment with the archaeology team, and who was I to say no?

I pushed my chair back and stood up, preparing to go down to the control room, fingertips resting on my desk. Fuck it. Want to or not, I had to talk to Daniel. This was crazy. Was I crazy? Maybe. Just maybe.

Later that night, I fixed myself a simple dinner and ate outside on my deck. It was June, and the sun was still above the trees in my backyard. It gave me pleasure to look at my neatly trimmed yard, where the shrubs were all evenly pruned and the flowers in the tubs on the deck cascaded over the sides in a riot of color. I'd worked hard around the house that spring and summer, and it showed. But sometimes I wondered if I were becoming like one of those old guys whose whole life is the evening paper, a couple of cold brews, and a little pottering in the garden. When I retired, would that be the sum total of my existence?

Had my life become as neatly trimmed as my yard? It's not what I wanted, at least I didn't think so, but almost 35 years career military will do that to a guy. Spit and polish, follow the regs, yes, sir, no, sir, demand and give respect, all my men lined up in a row.

Except for Daniel.

Daniel would never line up with the neatly trimmed life I'd made for myself. Daniel was a free spirit, a bone fide genius who marched to the beat of his own drummer. Always had, and always would. He stood out in my life like the eighth wonder of the modern world. Gorgeous, smart, maddening, funny, loyal, sexy as hell, a wonderful friend who was never boring, predictable or-- or what?

Straight. He wasn't a straight edge, he wasn't always straightforward, and he wasn't straight sexually. He sat in the middle of my life like some kind of alien objet d'art, beamed down by Thor to dwell with ordinary men.

And I was in love with him. How had I not admitted that to myself for so long?

I picked up my beer, one finger crooked around the neck of the now warm bottle, and raised it to my lips, letting the last dregs of the flat brew trickle down my throat. I swallowed, hard, as those five words beamed like a laser into my brain. I'm in love with Daniel. And now what?

I got up, walked to the railing of my deck, shoving my hands into the pockets of my jeans. And now I had to talk to Daniel, that was what.

Back in the house, I dropped down onto the sofa in my den and grabbed the phone. I punched in Daniel's number and listened to it ring.


"Hey, Daniel."

"Jack! What's up?"

"Nothing," I lied. "I was just wondering-"

"Wait just a sec, Jack."

I could hear Daniel put his hand over the mouthpiece of his phone to speak to someone else. Shit, he had company. I ran one hand through my hair and slumped lower on the couch.

As he took his hand away from the phone, I could hear his last words clearly, although apparently he was holding the receiver down away from his face. "No, open the red. It's on the shelf there by the fridge, see it?" I heard the low rumble of a male voice answering off in the distance.

"I'm sorry, Jack. What were you saying?"

"Oh, that's okay. I just need-- Um, to talk to you sometime. You have company tonight. Can we get together tomorrow night?"

Daniel hesitated. "I don't know for sure. Can you send me an email in the morning? I'll be able to tell you by then, okay?"

"Sure," I said too quickly, sounding phony even to my own ears.

He paused again. Lowering his voice, he said, "Are you all right? I can come over later, if you want me to."

I thought about it for a few seconds. I hated the confusion that was galloping around on my insides, added to the weird unsettled feelings I'd been having for days. "No," I finally murmured. "Don't worry about it. I'll email you tomorrow." When he didn't answer, I added, "Night, Daniel."

After the shortest of pauses, "Bye," he said simply and cut the connection.

I sat holding the phone in my lap until I realized I could hear the dial tone and needed to hang up.

I tried to go to sleep that night, I really did. But I lay there in the darkness, first on one side, then on the other, back and forth, pounding my pillow into submission, counting sheep, literally, until I finally gave up. Around midnight, I got up, threw some clothes on, grabbed my keys, cell phone and wallet, and went out to my truck.

I was pulling up just down the street from Daniel's house before I was absolutely sure of my destination. I had no intention of just ringing his doorbell and popping in, after all. I had my phone with me, and if I decided I wanted to see him, I'd for sure call and let him know I was on my way.

That'd been my half-baked plan, anyway, and so far, I'd stuck to it. Until I pulled up near his house, at which point any kind of plans I had blew up in my face.

A couple of car lengths down the street from Daniel's property, I put the truck in park, killed the lights and engine, and sat in the dark, regarding the small dove gray bungalow. Illuminated by a streetlight across from Daniel's house, I could see there were two cars in the driveway. Daniel's black Subaru was flanked by a red Jeep Wrangler.

I shifted my gaze from the vehicles to the house itself. No lights were visible. It was late, after all.

I sat and chewed on my bottom lip for a while, running the possibilities around in my mind. And I didn't like any of them, really.

"Dammit," I breathed in the quiet of the cab. I ran my damp palms over denim-covered knees. "You're sitting out here like some kind of fuckin' stalker," I told myself out loud. "Go home, O'Neill. You're turnin' into a crazy old man."

Finally deciding to leave, I was reaching for the truck's key to switch on the ignition when a lamp came on in Daniel's house, just inside the front door. As I watched, the porch light also was illuminated, and the door opened. A tall blond man emerged, and with a pang in the pit of my stomach, I realized it was none other than Doctor Alistair Smyth. I could see Daniel's silhouette just inside the house. The two men stood and talked for a couple of minutes as Daniel leaned in the doorway, holding open the screen door, and Smyth stood outside facing him, his hands jammed down into his trouser pockets.

I wanted to look away. I felt like the worst kind of voyeur, but I was drawn to the scene by some fatalistic urge to know what was going on. I was ashamed of myself but honestly didn't know how to get out of there so they wouldn't see and hear me. And so I sat there and watched.

Alistair took a half step towards Daniel. Pulling one hand out of his pocket to cup Daniel's chin, he pressed their lips together. Daniel never moved, as far as I could tell. He stood stock still, allowing himself to be kissed, until finally Smyth moved back. Apparently without another word, Daniel's visitor turned on his heel and strode to his Jeep. Daniel watched while he backed out before closing the door and shutting off the outside light.

I checked my watch. It was close to 0100.

Not five minutes later, my truck parked in Daniel's driveway, I stood in the gloom outside his front door, knocking on the wood with my knuckles, feeling like the worst kind of fool. What the hell was I doing there at that hour, unannounced, breaking all the unspoken "rules" of the sexual relationship Daniel and I had carved out for ourselves?

I heard his voice even before the door was really open. "Ali? Did you forget something? I thought-- " Daniel's eyes were huge behind his glasses when he saw who was standing there. "Oh! Jack!"

I pushed past him into the house, barely hearing his confused, "Okay! Come on in, why don'tcha."

I turned to face him as he closed the door. My hands were pushed deep into the pockets of my jeans. I stood there and scrutinized his face in the harsh light of the overhead fixture in his front hallway, my mind galloping along a mile a minute. Every one of my brain cells seemed hazy with a green fog of jealousy, overlaid with the red of anger and impatience, clouded with gray exhaustion, all laced with something very close to desperation.

"Jack?" Daniel stepped towards me, his face a shadowy mask of worry. "Are you all right? What're you doing here?"

I literally didn't know what I was doing there, in Daniel's foyer, after 0100 on a work night, uninvited and very probably unwelcome. I couldn't think, couldn't breathe, couldn't speak intelligible words.

So I kissed him. I put a hand on the back of his neck and hauled him close, my mouth taking possession of his, my tongue reaching for his throat, my other hand at the small of his back. I pushed at him until he was pressed against the inside of his front door. I proceeded to ravish him while he struggled to push me away, not kissing me back, obviously not appreciating the only method of communication I felt capable of at the moment.

Finally he wrenched his mouth away from mine, causing me to latch on to his warm neck with my teeth. From somewhere, seemingly a great distance away, I could hear him trying to reason with me. "Jack! Jack, listen to me, for crissake. Stop." He pushed at my shoulders with both hands. "What's going on?"

I pulled my face back enough to look into his eyes. "What was he doing here so late?" I demanded in a low growl, completely unsure of where the words were coming from. "What were you doing with him?"

Daniel's eyes narrowed, his forehead furrowed with displeasure. He continued to push at me until finally he was able to slide out from under my weight. He went and stood in the doorway to his kitchen, arms crossed over his chest like a shield. He didn't speak, just continued to give me that look, the same one he might use to scrutinize a dead bug.

"Answer me, goddamn it," I hissed. I took a step towards him, and he circled around me, moving for the front door again. "Did he fuck you? Were you in bed earlier? I wanna know what's going on."

Daniel put his hand on the doorknob, doing his best to look down his nose at me. "None of your damned business," he informed me in a carefully reasonable tone. "I don't even know what you're doing here, but if you've been checking up on me, you can-- "

"Answer me!" I told him again. "Did he fuck you?" I was furious, ready to slam my fist into a wall, fuming in impotent rage. "I saw him kiss you!"

Daniel's jaw dropped while he looked me up and down. Now he was as angry as I. "How dare you, Jack? How dare you come into my house and question me about anything I do on my own time?" Cold blue eyes snapping with righteous indignation, he wrenched open the door and stood back. "Get the fuck out of here," he ordered, pointing his finger towards the outside as if I didn't know the way. "And don't you ever ask me questions like this again! What I do is none of your fucking business."

We glared at each other for a few moments. "Get out," he snapped. "Now."

So I did. I strode past him, out into the darkness, listening to him close his door. I even heard the deadbolt lock being engaged. I slid into my truck and slammed the door as hard as I could, breathing harshly, unwelcome tears stinging the back of my eyelids. I'd made a fool out of myself, doing an imitation of a territorial rhinoceros, and on Daniel's own turf to boot.

I slid my hands onto my steering wheel and lowered my head onto my arms. "Fucking fool," I chided myself. "Crazy old asshole."

After a few moments, I sat back, ran my hands over my face, and started up the truck. I turned on the headlights and backed out of the yard, heading for home and my cold bed. I still had no idea what had happened between Daniel and Smyth that night, and it looked like I'd accomplished nothing except antagonizing Daniel.

It was close to 0130 when I let myself into my house. Standing in the gloom of the entryway, I barely had the door locked and was about to reset the alarm when the bright wash from headlights out in my driveway moved across the wall behind me. I went to the window beside the door and parting the horizontal blinds with two fingers, I peered out. As I watched, the headlights were extinguished, and I could make out the black shape of a small car, from which a tall, familiar figure was emerging. Daniel.

I opened my door just as he was coming up over the stairs. We stared at each other in the semi-darkness. Long moments went by while our eyes locked, until finally he stepped up into the house and pushed past me. I closed the door and stood there, facing away from him. The heat of his body radiated across the foot of space separating us.

Without a word, he stepped up behind me and slid his arms around my waist. One hand flattened against my belly, the fingers insinuating themselves just under the waistband of my jeans. The other plucked gently at one of my nipples, teasing it to hardness under my tee shirt. Daniel's breath on the side of my neck sent sparks of arousal deep into my groin. With a sharp exhalation, I let my head drop back against his shoulder. "Daniel..."

"Sssssh," he breathed. His teeth nibbled at my earlobe. His hand was alternately teasing both of my nipples now, and the other was deep in my pants, rubbing my hard cock through my boxers, his thumb flicking the foreskin back and forth across the sensitive head, smearing the pre come around on the soft fabric. "I know what you need, Jack," he whispered.

His hands got busy undoing my belt and the top button of my jeans, and then the zipper snicked open, the sound of it loud in the silent hallway. His lips and teeth were on the nape of my neck, and I could feel his erection digging into my ass.

I put my hands palm down on the door, bracing myself, spreading my legs so he could fit between them. Wantonly, I arched my back, grinding my butt into his groin, hungry for his touch, hungry for what he'd come over to give me. I wanted it all, everything he had, and I didn't want to talk or think anymore. I wanted to forget, to fuck until my head exploded. Both of them.

There wasn't a sound in the dark hallway except for our harsh breathing. Daniel pushed my jeans and boxers down around my knees and ran his hands over my ass, up and down over my hips and then around my waist to cup my balls and squeeze my painfully hard dick. With a low groan, I let my head drop so that my chin was almost on my chest, aware of nothing but the fact of his presence and the reality of what was about to happen between us.

I whimpered as he removed his hands and waited impatiently while he fumbled with his own clothes and exposed his cock. He pressed himself against my naked ass, and I pushed back at him again. "Fuck," I ground out between clenched teeth. My eyes were screwed shut. My whole body was simply a firestorm of need, and every moment that went by felt like ten. "Hurry!"

A little more fumbling, and then Daniel had one lubed finger up my ass. A startled gasp tore out of my throat as my muscles clamped down on the cold intrusion. Daniel lost no time getting a couple more fingers in there, moving them in and out, opening me up as quickly as he could. It burned like fire, but it was what I needed, and I knew what was coming would make any pain worthwhile.

He moved back a couple of inches, and I heard him tear a condom packet open with his teeth. A few more seconds, and he was sliding into my ass. Hanging on to my hips to steady me, he simply pushed inside in one long, smooth glide, stopping only when his balls were knocking against the back of my own. "Gonna fuck you now," he growled. "Fuck you and fuck you," he ground out, thrusting into me in time with his words, "and fuck you some more."

It was exactly what I'd had in mind, but my only reply was a harsh groan. I braced my hands on the door, pushed my ass back as hard as I could and welcomed whatever he wanted to give me.

The man had always had staying power, I'll give him that. He could fuck like a wild man when he wanted to, and he had some way of keeping his own orgasm at bay that I could only marvel at. Marvel at, and enjoy.

One hand on my hip and the other holding a big fistful of my shirt just below my neck, he pressed me up against the door and totally dominated me. For what seemed like ages, he alternated slow screwing motions with longer thrusts and hot, short jabs against my prostate that left me crying out.

I was weak and trembling, gasping for breath, by the time I came against the door, without his ever having touched my cock again. I could feel the sweat running down between my shoulder blades and off my flanks, and my upper lip was beaded with moisture.

"Had enough yet?" he asked me in a low, ferocious voice, never missing a beat as he fucked me.

"No!" I gasped with a shake of my head. "God damn you, Daniel. Fuck me more. Harder!"

He obliged me, ramming into me with his full strength, tearing long moans out of me as my ass protested the treatment it was getting. He angled his cock against my gland again and gave me several short strokes, massaging it until I actually screamed, sparks going off behind my eyelids.

As the moments ticked by, the pleasure was morphing into an edge of pain. My dick was coming to life again, leaking as it bounced against my thigh. I reached back to grab one of Daniel's hands and pulled it around, putting it over my half hard cock. I held his hand there, and together, we masturbated me.

Daniel was rumbling in some language known only to him now, and I could tell he was progressing past the point where even he could wait any longer. With a long, keening whimper, finally he came, stilling his thrusts while we both enjoyed the twitching of his dick deep inside me.

I collapsed against the door, sodden with sweat and semen, and he laid full length along my back. I squeezed my ass muscles a few times, milking him, just the way I knew he liked it. He moaned appreciatively, moving his shrinking cock in little rotations inside my ass.

After a minute or so, he reached down to hold the condom on and stepped back a bit, pulling it off and tying it, and then dropping it on the floor. He held my shoulders and gently turned me around until we were facing each other. Stepping close again, he stood between my spread legs, pressing our soft cocks together. He took me in his arms, and there in the dark, we kissed, slow and deep, our tongues intertwining. Many minutes went by, not a word being exchanged as we let our hands roam over each other's bodies.

Finally he stepped back a bit. Resting his forehead on my chest, he reached down around his knees and hauled up his clothes.

"Stay," I whispered. I put my hands on the sides of his warm neck and kissed the top of his head, running my lips back and forth in the soft strands of his hair. "Stay with me tonight."

Silently, he zipped up and buckled his belt. He lifted his head and kissed me again, his fingers insinuating themselves up under my shirt, stroking along my ribs, his thumbs rubbing deeply, possessively, into my skin. "No," he murmured. "I can't. It's late. We have to be up in just a few hours to go in for that early meeting with Sam."

"Fuck the meeting," I hissed. "Fuck it all. I just want-"

"Ssssh, Jack." He cut off what I was going to say with another kiss. Tilting his head back, he whispered, "You know I won't stay. I never do, do I?''

I shook my head with an impatient huff of breath. "No," I admitted in a harsh whisper. "You never do."

Daniel stepped back again, his hands on my shoulders. "Look, you need to know something. I have no idea why you were there at my house so late tonight, but Ali and I didn't-" He took a deep breath. "We didn't-- do anything," he admitted in a quiet voice, answering the question I'd asked him almost an hour earlier. When I didn't answer him, he stepped away from me and reached for the door handle. "He wanted to. He kissed me. But I wouldn't do that to you, Jack."

I caught Daniel by the elbow, trying to draw him near again. "Wait. Don't go yet. Talk to me." He sighed, but stood still. "We've never promised each other anything, Danny," I murmured. "You could have been with him."

Daniel stroked my cheek with one finger. "No," he said quietly. The streetlights outside reflected on his glasses. His eyes looked like lumps of coal in the gloom. "I wouldn't do that to you," he repeated.

When I didn't reply, and the silence stretched out between us, he squeezed my shoulder and let himself out the door.

I did a lot of thinking about Daniel and I in the next couple of days. I felt like my whole life had taken a one eighty, and my south was now my north or something. I lectured myself sternly that I was altogether too old, too mature, for such nonsense. I talked to myself in the shower, while shaving, in the truck on the way to the base, sitting behind my desk, joking with Walter and Siler, doing rounds in the SGC, waiting on hold for the President to pick up, standing in line in the commissary for apple pie, driving home from the base, fixing dinner, eating alone, watching TV. You could goddamned well name it, and I'd lectured myself during it. What was I going to do?

I had no idea. I loved Daniel. Was in love with him. I had to decide something. Do something. I just didn't know what.

So I spent most of my free time during the next few days working around my house. I mowed the lawn. I got the carpet shampooer out and did the rugs in the living room and the hallway. I flipped the mattress on my bed, vacuumed it, and chased the dust out of the corners of my bedroom. I took down the drapes in the whole house, took them to the cleaners on the way to work, picked them up that afternoon, and hung them up again. Little Mary Sunshine, that was me. What had my life become, that the man who had led the flagship team of an organization that had saved the world over and over, the man who was now The Man, had turned into one of the flippin' Merry Maids?

The email arrived on Tuesday, right after lunch, interrupting my self-lecturing, which was still almost constant. It'd been close to five days since Daniel and I had done the deed against the inside of my front door. Five days, during which I'd thought of little else but him. Us.

"Dinner tonight? Your place. I'll bring the steaks. 7:30? D."

I sat there, slumped over with my hands in my lap, my mouth dry, eyes riveted to the screen. Dinner, my place, steaks. Sex is what he meant. He'd come over at 7:30, all right, but the steaks would be barbecued much, much later, once the worst of our other hunger had been taken care of. It was not a new routine for us.

Leaning back in my comfortable leather chair, I put my hands behind my head and stretched. I searched my mind and heart once again, in just the same way I'd been doing for the last few days, without coming to any conclusions. Is this what I wanted, to continue the status quo? Should I tell him, say something, risk losing what we had? Say something, and perhaps gain the whole world? Maybe he loved me, too. Dare I hope? After all, I hadn't told him the truth. Maybe Daniel was keeping the same secret from me. It wasn't beyond the realm of possibility.

I lifted the phone and buzzed my assistant. When she answered, I said, "Hobbs, find out Doctor Jackson's schedule for the next two hours, will you? I need to see him."

"Want me to ask him to come in for an appointment?"

"No, no," I hurried to tell her. "I'll go to him. Just find out where he is today, will you? I'll go meet up with him."

An hour later, I made it so.

He was holding forth in one of the SGC classrooms, teaching what looked like Goa'uld 101. It was required for all the archaeology and linguistic staff, of course, and others could take the course, too, if they wanted.

I eased through the back door of the small lecture hall and slid into a seat in the last row. Daniel had his back to the class, writing something indecipherable, in Basic Snakespeak, no doubt, on the whiteboard.

When he turned around to face the students, he spotted me immediately. After all, it's kind of hard to hide in a room with only 25 other people in it. He lifted one hand in a small wave and graced me with a grin. "General O'Neill!" he called out. I swear to God, every single person in the class turned around to stare at me, like they didn't know what I looked like or something.

I slid down in my seat, suppressing the desire to groan. I put a smile on my face and waved at the room in general. "Just carry on," I announced. "It's just the principal, come to grade the teacher." Everyone tittered politely, turning back around in their seats to face front again, and Daniel went on with the class.

I sat for about fifteen minutes, watching my brilliant, beautiful friend. He was in his element. There wasn't a proud or phony bone in his body, and there never had been. He taught because he loved his subject, he loved to impart knowledge, he was sincere and caring and always polite. His students showed him respect, because there wasn't a person in the room who didn't know their teacher was an SGC celebrity, a hero, and a bone fide genius. The textbook in their hands had been written by Daniel, with Teal'c's help, published in- house for our purposes in the command. Doctor Jackson was funny and engaging, patient, and so handsome, he made my teeth bleed.

I love you, Daniel, I chanted to myself, the droning of his lecture lost to me as my brain cells swam in a shower of affectionate, adoring goo. I love you. What in hell am I going to do?

You're going to talk to him, tell him, a voice in my head said.


I snapped out of it, the room coming back into focus. I sat up straight and looked around, smoothing down the green fatigues jacket I wore. I needed to go back to my office and answer Daniel's email.

Before I could get up, a student in the front row asked a question, and Daniel went over to help him. He stood beside him, leaning over and pointing at something in the textbook, as Daniel answered him loudly enough for the whole class to hear, sharing the knowledge they were all seeking.

The student was Alistair Smyth. I was sitting thirty feet behind them, but the emotion behind Smyth's dazzling white smile and bright eyes, visible to me as he turned his head and watched Daniel move along the front row to help someone else, was not lost on me.

I wasn't the only one in the room who had it bad for the teacher.

I'd had days like it before; days when I'd gotten out of bed more or less on the "normal" side of life but when something good or bad, oftentimes very good or very bad, happened and changed me forever. The day I found that bird dead in its cage. The day my dad dropped me off at the Academy as a scared 18-year-old from East Bohunk, Minnesota. The day I got my pilot's wings pinned to my Class A's. The day I married my Sara. The day she gave birth to our Charlie. The day I was shot down over Iraq. The day my son was also shot down, by his own hand, in my bedroom. The day I met Daniel. The day I went through the gate with my team for the very first time. The day Daniel came back to us. The day he and I exchanged a decisive look across my dining room table, and minutes later, we became lovers.

And then there was today, a day during which I thought I'd only tell Daniel I was in love with him. But then I'd answered my phone late in the afternoon, had a short, five minute conversation with George Hammond, and knew it was another one of those days in which my life would be irrevocably changed again, and very soon.

Hammond's call reminded me that it was all about saving the world, after all. It'd always been about saving the world, ever since I'd met Daniel. Everyone who worked at the SGC, who was aware of the gate, knew there was a Higher Purpose to everything we did. Sure, life went on and groceries were bought and love was made and floors were washed and asses were kissed, but after it was all said and done, it was only, ever, always, about saving the world with us. Where'd I'd ever gotten the idea that my life was my own, to do with as I chose?

That evening, showered, shaved, changed into jeans and a clean tee shirt, barefoot, I sprawled in the leather armchair in my living room, open bottle of Guinness suspended in my fingers, and waited for Daniel. I hadn't bothered to turn on the lights in the house. Sunset was creeping across the sky, bathing the room in shades of orange and pink and golden yellow, pale rays of light slanting through the large windows and playing across the face of the fireplace and the couch across the room.

The front door was ajar, so when I heard Daniel's car drive up and then a moment later his knock on the door frame outside, I called out, "Come in, it's open!" and he did so, shutting the door behind himself.

He stood in the hallway for a moment, looking for me, dressed in bleached blue jeans with torn knees and a tight white polo shirt, his hair clean and tousled around his head, his feet shoved into brown leather sandals. I swear, he could have passed for a grad student on any street in any college town. My teeth were bleeding again as I looked him over.

"Hey, Jack," he greeted me. As I gave him a sloppy two fingered salute, he smiled and said, "Mind if I get myself one of those?" indicating my beer.

I gave him a wave, and he went into the kitchen to help himself, giving me a couple of moments of reprieve as for the hundredth time that evening I mentally reviewed what I had to tell him.

When he came in and took a seat across from me on my sofa, taking a long slug of the beer, I put my bottle down on the coffee table and crossed over to perch on the other end of the couch from him. "Did you eat?" I asked inanely, putting off the inevitable.

With a small shrug, he took another long swallow. "Yeah, I'm all set." He rolled his beer bottle in his hands and lowered it between his thighs. He turned towards me, one knee up on the sofa cushion. "What's up? Your email was cryptic."

"Yeah." I wanted to go to him, put my arms around him, kiss him. I wanted to make love to him, mark him, forget that this was one of those days I would always remember. I didn't want to talk, and I'm sure he didn't, either. But there was nothing for it. "George Hammond called me this afternoon, after I saw you."

"Oh?" Daniel brightened. He liked the General, probably considered him a kind of a father figure. Fuck knows, I did, so Daniel probably did, too. "How is he?"

"Well, that's why he called. He told me he's retiring," I blurted.

Daniel raised and lowered his eyebrows, the furrow in his brow deepening. "And? Yet? Therefore?" he prompted impatiently.

"Look, Daniel, there's no easy way to tell you this, but I wanted you to be the first to know. Hammond's recommended me to the President. To take his place as head of Homeworld Security. In DC."

Daniel leaned forward and put his bottle next to mine on the coffee table. He slid over a bit closer to me, his hands clasped together while one thumb rubbed the skin of his other hand in an abstract motion that was probably meant to be self-comforting. "DC?" He blinked. "But you can't do that. You can't leave... um, us. We need you here, taking care of.... us. Ah...being The Man, you know." He made a halfhearted effort to smile. "Right?"

"I know. It's a shock. The whole idea seems kinda sudden. But Hammond is adamant. Says he wants to get back here to his daughter and grandkids, you know, before the girls are all grown up. He's 65 years old, Daniel. He's tired. I understand, I really do."

"But why you, Jack? You hate all that crap, all that kissing ass and smoothing out ruffled feathers and stuff. You've never been one to follow the rules. How will you stand it there?"

I sighed and reached out one hand to touch Daniel's arm. He lowered his eyes and looked at my fingers, like he'd never seen them before.

"I'll learn," I told him softly. "I'll adapt. I'll have a whole staff to help me. It'll be a lot easier than I have it at the SGC, in a way. So much of what I do in the mountain could be done by a trained monkey; it's not even funny. And being back East, so far away from here, I won't have to worry, every time I see you and T and Carter go through the gate. You don't know..." I paused as he raised his eyes to me, challenging me. He DID know, and he knew I knew he did. "It's so hard, staying behind now, not going along with you." I squeezed his arm and then let go, letting my hand fall into my lap.

"No," he whispered with a frown and an imperceptible shake of his head. "I won't let you go. You can't. You have to stay here."

I shook my head and pursed my lips. "I can, and I will," I told him softly. "You'll all do just fine. They'll bring in a new guy to sit in my office, and it'll be like nothing's changed," I lied, sounding stupid even to my own ears.

He moved so fast, I had no warning at all as Daniel launched himself into my lap, straddling me and pushing me against the back of the couch. He tore off his glasses, flinging them down beside us, and his mouth found mine, his tongue forcing its way between my lips, reaching for my throat, a low growl coming from somewhere in his chest. My arms came up around him as I rode the wave of his emotions- - frustration and anger, maybe even some fear-- as he kissed me and worked his hands up under my shirt, grasping at my skin, pinching my nipples and running warm fingers over my ribs. My mind started that whiteout thing it always did when Daniel took control of me like that. His mouth, his hands, his hard cock pressing against my own were all I knew.

He moved away and slid to his knees, his fingers working the buttons of my fly with deft touches. I ran one hand over his soft head, emotion filling my throat. I knew I should stop him, but fuck if I could. How could I tell him to stop, knowing this might be the last time I could allow him to love me?

And God, his mouth was on me then, and I was helpless as he moaned around my cock, sucking me, cupping my balls. I could feel the muscles of his throat encasing me, working me, and I held his head and fucked his mouth and finally shot like a freight train, my spine melting, fusing with the back of my couch as I dissolved into it.

Slowly, he released me and then gently cleaned me with his tongue. Still on his knees in front of me, between my legs, he slid his arms around my waist and laid the side of his head on my belly. We were quiet for a couple of minutes as I absently ran my fingers through his hair, and he held me in a tight hug, his breath warm on the skin of my hip.

The words were like a litany in my poor over-worked brain. I love you, Daniel, don't ever leave me, come with me to DC, I can't give you up, you belong to me, and I belong to you, I want to live with you, I want to take care of you, I want to eat dinner with you and sleep with you and wake up with you and take you on a trip around the world. I want to grow older with you, baby. I love you.

"Stay with me tonight," is all that came out when I opened my mouth. "Please, Daniel, please," I whispered, not caring if I sounded desperate. I was desperate. I had to tell him we couldn't be together anymore, we had to stop this thing between us, it would be the best thing for both of us, but tonight was ours, wasn't it? Tonight, I could pretend for a little while that he really was mine. Tonight was all we had.

I guess somehow he sensed it, because he tilted his head back and searched my face with wide eyes darkened with emotion. He nodded. "Okay," he murmured. "But tonight, I want it all." He almost smirked at me. "Everything."

"You got it," I promised him. "As long as I'm also ready for crutches by dawn, okay?"

"Yes, sir, General, sir," he said as he sat back on his heels. He stood and gave me a hand up, and we moved to the bedroom to make it happen.

The next morning was Saturday, and it came all too soon. I got up and left Daniel in my bed. A few minutes later, showered and dressed in clean sweats and a tee shirt, I made the coffee, knowing the smell of it would wake him up. I wasn't surprised to hear the sound of the shower start as soon as that welcome fragrance had made its way down the hall.

Cup of black coffee in my hand, I stood at the kitchen window, leaning my belly on the counter, watching some birds flit back and forth between the pine trees lining my back yard. Daniel was quiet coming in the room, but I heard his soft footfalls and turned my head slightly as he came up behind me and pressed a kiss to the side of my neck. "Mornin'," he whispered.

I didn't answer him, just lowered my chin to my chest and gazed stupidly down into my kitchen sink. I listened to Daniel get himself some coffee and finally turned to watch him. Dressed in the tight jeans and white polo shirt from the evening before, his hair was still damp and tousled from the shower, his face covered with dark, shadowy stubble.

My beautiful friend, love of my life, I thought. I made an effort to smile at him, trying my best to look cavalier. "Hey, hot stuff," I told him. "So did you limp, getting out of bed this morning?"

He chuckled as he lifted his mug and took a long swallow of the hot brew. "Yep. You did your best, Jack."

I sure as hell had. The both of us had pulled out all the stops. Now here, in the morning light, did he remember some of the sappy things I'd said to him during the night? Words I'd never before brought to our bed had flowed past my lips without a thought. As my tongue and my hands had traced the lines of his body, my lips kissing every scar, every ridge and hollow, I'd used words like love, so beautiful, yes, and mine. I'd known it was our last time together, the last time I could have it all, and so I'd just let the words come.

Taking my coffee with me, I went and sat down at the kitchen table. I used one foot to pull out a chair and waved at it. "Here. Sit." He came over and lowered himself carefully into the hard seat.

I blinked at him. "Daniel. Look. We've never really talked about this..." I indicated the air between us. "This thing we have goin'."

"Thing?" he asked with a gentle smile. "Is that what they're calling it this year?"

I ignored the question. "And now I'm goin' to DC..."

"I thought I told you you can't do that," he stated. I couldn't tell if he was serious or not. Not that it mattered. I was going. Had to. And we both knew it.

I sighed at him, watching him push his glasses up on his nose with one finger. "You're just in shock about it right now, but in time, you'll see I have no choice. I have to-"

"Let someone else do it, Jack. We need you here."

"I don't want to talk about DC or saving the world or any of that damned stuff," I huffed at him. "I want to talk about US, god damn it, so don't change the subject, okay?"

"Okay. So talk." He sat up a little straighter. "I'm not stoppin' you."

I lowered my eyes to my hands, clasped in front of me on the table. "I'm not supposed to... ah, have you for a lover." I glanced up at Daniel, and damn him, he was smirking at me. Well, duh, his face was saying. "An' now I'm goin' to DC, and you'll be back here, and they're gonna expect me to be Brigadier General Jack O'Neill, you know, 24/7. They're gonna want me to hang out with the brass and go to those cocktail parties those types go to... and they're gonna want to meet my..." I wrung my hands, horrified that I had to say the words out loud. "My..."


"My.... uh, significant other... okay?" I risked another quick glance at Daniel's face and was not surprised to see a bit of a storm cloud gathering there. "Andyoucan'tbeher," I added quickly.

Daniel put his coffee mug down with a thump. He leaned towards me a bit. "No, you're right. I can't be anybody's 'her'. And I know you can't introduce me as anything but a friend. What's new about that?"

"I love you, Daniel," I whispered. "I've always loved you as a friend. But then we started... um, doing this." My finger was waggling between us again. "And I've fallen in love with you." I looked up at him again.

"I see." His brow was furrowed, but I knew my confession couldn't have been that shocking.

I winced a bit, remembering again my sappy words, said during the night. "No, I don't know that you do." I shook my head. "I love you so much, I..." Christ, this was hard. "I just want what's best for you. And you've gotta see that I'm not it."

"Excuse me?" He made no effort to keep the incredulity out of his voice. "What?"

"Both of us need what we can't give each other." I looked full into his face now, willing him to understand. "I need someone on my arm in DC, some female someone, Daniel. I'm sorry, but you know the score." He did, but I know he didn't like it one iota, any more than I did.

"And what about you? You need someone who can understand you and how you think," I hurried on. "Someone who will love you, yes, but someone who can share your life, your work, your interests." When he only gazed at me, blue eyes blinking behind the lenses of his glasses, I added, "You know I've never 'gotten' what you do. Hell, half the time I don't even know what you're talking about..." I swallowed, hating to say that out loud, but both of us knew the truth of it. We'd always known it. It was a big reason why we never talked much.

"Why're you doing this, Jack?" he whispered. He wrapped the fingers of both hands around his coffee mug, squeezing until the knuckles were white. "I... uh, care about you. A lot. You and I have been there for each other for years. We've gone to hell and back together, a couple of times. And now you say you love me..."

I nodded, waiting for him, waiting for his magnificent brain to put two and two together.

"So why do we have to... um, break up? Is that what we call it? Why now..."

"Don't you see?" I asked miserably. "You don't love me. I mean, like that. You're not in love with me, are you?" He only blinked at me, apparently powerless to deny it and unwilling to lie.

"So I'm letting you go, Danny," I murmured, horrified to feel the prickle of tears behind my eyeballs. "You have the rest of your life to live, and I want you to find someone to love you who can share it with you. I can't do that. I can't love you; not in public, anyway. As long as I wear that uniform, I can't commit to you.

"Don't you worry that they'll find out about us and make me leave the Air Force, so we can't save the world together anymore? Don't you get sick of sneaking around with me? And don't you wish I could follow what the hell you're talking about, when you start going on about your dusty rocks and hieroglyphics and stuff?"

I made an attempt to smile, but it was pretty weak, and my eyes were getting wet in spite of myself. I pinched the bridge of my nose with my thumb and forefinger, trying to wipe at the tears gathering in the corners of my eyes.

"Anyway, Alistair Smyth is in love with you," I told him abruptly.

Daniel's mouth opened in a round little O of surprise at this news. I nodded at him. "And I think you should hook up with him; give him a chance." Daniel started to shake his head, so I reached for one of his hands and squeezed his warm fingers. "Yes, Daniel. Listen to me for once." I made a try at a smile again, but Daniel's face remained serious. "He's got it bad for you. It takes one to know one, and I can see it. He'll be a good companion, and he's even good lookin'."

Daniel shook his head with an impatient snort of breath. "I can't believe you want to do this. I never figured you for the noble type, Jack," he scoffed.

"Not noble. Just trying to love you and do what's best for you. Hopefully, in time, for both of us. I hope someday you'll understand."

I withdrew my hand and sat back in my chair. "Thanks for last night," I added, practically in a whisper. "I'll never forget how it was with us in bed, Danny. I don't know that I'll ever have anybody love me the way you have. But I know this is the right thing to do, so I'm letting you go..."

Daniel got to his feet and looked down at me. He fished in his pocket for his car keys and stood there playing with them as he regarded me. "Is this your final decision?" he asked.

I nodded, not trusting my voice.

"Okay." He stepped towards me, and I was afraid he'd try to kiss me, but he didn't; he only reached out with one hand and squeezed my shoulder. "I've never known you to lie to me, and I trust you, that you'd never hurt me on purpose." I gazed up at him, willing him to see the truth of his own words in my eyes. "So I believe you when you say we can't be together anymore. It makes me sad, though."

He bent down, and sliding one arm around my shoulders, he brought our foreheads together. "Friends, Jack?" All I could do was nod. He kissed my temple. "Okay," he murmured.

He stepped back, turning to go, but added, "I'll never forget what we had together. For the rest of my days, I'll never forget any of it."

When I heard my front door close, I got up, taking our coffee mugs with me. Placing them in the sink, I leaned my belly against the counter and gazed out the kitchen window again. "Come back to me someday, Daniel," I whispered. "I need you."

It was a long time before I realized why the little birds playing in the branches of the trees outside were so blurry; the reason was dripping off my chin.

If you love something, let it go free.
If it doesn't come back, you never had it.
If it comes back, love it forever.
Doug Horton

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