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Slash and Yaoi Fiction
Title: A Little Place for Two
Author: Juxian Tang
Fandom: Stargate
Rating: R
Pairing: Jack/Skaara
Status: complete
Archive: yes
Feedback: juxiantang@hotmail.com
URL: http://juxian.slashcity.net
Disclaimer: They don't belong to me, no copyright infringement is intended, blah blah blah...
Spoilers: all Skaara episodes and the movie
Timing: set after Pretense
Summary: Jack tries to realize what he wants... and where it can bring him
Lots of thanks to Jodi and Dils for their wonderful help and guidance. I owe you a lot, friends :-) And thanks to Quinn for her advice that made me see some things more clearly.

A LITTLE PLACE FOR TWO

In the beginning things are not difficult. Well, no, they always are - since that first night on Abydos - since the very moment when he takes my gun and I shout at him in sudden painful fear. The fear that, should I want to analyze it, can be called impersonal - if there were anyone else in his place, I would probably make the same fuss.

But there is no time to analyze then - and later it has no point. The things are happening too fast - and I don't mean Ra and the bomb. When I understand that I should be telling myself that I shouldn't care, it's too late. I already care.

Such a mistake. I, of all people, should know how dangerous it is - how vulnerable it makes me. Yet I enlist him and his friends into helping us; telling myself that there is no other way - that the kids have already entered the war against Ra, there will be no way for them to be spared. I try to convince myself that I would surely do it - use them - if... if everything was the same way and he was not there; or if he was - but different.

Not so bright, smart, impulsive, not so passionately trying to imitate me or to please me. Not so unquestioningly trusting.

We win - and he is safe - and I return home... home that I find emptier than ever, even though neither Sarah nor me made it full lately. Return to my cigar box full of photos - to my telescope - to fighting my nicotine dependency - to the attempts to rebuild my life. To distilling memories incessantly, separating good from bad... as if it is possible.

But he is among good memories; I am sure I will never see him again - but it is all right, not seeing him, I can live with it... With just knowing that he is alive and okay - although you can ask how I can know it... well, let's say - not knowing it if he is not alive and not okay.

Hammond's idea of sending another bomb to Abydos knocks me down - but it lasts only a little while. I hardly have time to realize what hit me. And then I am on Abydos again and see Jackson and his beautiful wife... and I see him. He didn't forget me, didn't forget anything... well, not that I should be surprised, not even two years passed. But the truth is that I am ridiculously pleased... that he seemed to miss me.

True - maybe, things are easy then: to hear his thrilled voice - 'Oh-nil' - it comes out so naturally - hugging him is natural - meeting his laughing eyes, happy eyes, every time I look at him.

But it doesn't last long - and what can I say about what happens next?.. For months afterward, I roll around in my mind what happened on Abydos and what I didn't witness, what happened on Chulak and what I saw - trying to figure out where I was wrong, what step could be made to prevent it. If we didn't walk away from the gates... if at the moment when the Goa'uld came to the prison, I managed to keep him behind somehow... The thoughts obsessive like scratching a rash and exactly with the same much use. Freakin' 'what ifs'.

But I have done it before... About ten thousand times after that day when Charlie found my gun upstairs. And I know that sooner or later I'll let these thoughts go - or, rather, they'll let me go. Forgetting is a good tactic once you set your mind on dealing with it seriously.

I don't know if it is better or worse to see him as Klorel - to bend my mind around the idea that I can look at his face and see someone else. An evil twin concept, I guess. But the truth is that when he dies in my arms... I try to bury him in my mind forever. It's easier like that. My boy is dead... my *other* boy is dead, too.

Perhaps I am too good at learning to believe in it. Because even when the Triad is supposed to give him this chance to return, I barely know what to do with it. Oh, I do fine, I hope - I wouldn't be able to live with doing anything less. But all the way through the trial there is this haunting feeling of being split apart. My clearly working mind, cool and detached, almost frighteningly detached... and deep inside me - a fireball of... fear to believe - and longing to reach for him - and dumb unwillingness to resurrect him for myself because it can mean that I can lose him one more time.

The blue glowing gem on his chest has to mean that it is him. Not this abomination of existence - Klorel - but my boy, my funny, smart, buoyant, courageous boy.

But I can also see how he changed. He's grown up. Not a child any more - but a young man. So... dignified. And so sad, too. So hurt. They hadn't broken him - but they surely fractured him. And I clench my fists under the table to ban this thought from my mind - because it is too painful - and I need all my attention on what I am doing, not focusing on pain or whatever.

But at last he is free - the damned snake taken out of him. He enters the room - the exhilarated 'Oh-nil' call shocking me almost mute... I had been thinking the only way I would hear him calling me would be in my dreams - him screaming and screaming my name when they had taken him away in the prison on Chulak.

A tiny pause that might look like I am examining his new attire - a mumbled phrase:

"Much better," for all sense it makes - but the truth is that I am scared - plain and simple. As if in the mere act of opening my arms to him I will let the gap in my mind, closed and barred so carefully for almost two years, open - and then it will flood me; joy that would inevitably mean pain.

What makes you think that I am strong? I won't survive it.

Only the thing is that I don't have much choice. Not when he looks at me with these defenseless - shining - eyes... elated and yet frightened. Can I reject him? How can I hurt him like this? For Christ's sake, he had been hurt enough.

I hug him - and it is almost like before - his arms clasping around me tightly, the mass of his dreadlocks against my cheek. He smells different - not sand and dust, like on Abydos - but some soft perfume - and yet I still can recognize his own smell beneath it. It feels good to hold him - so good that I can't regret doing it.

I let him go and watch him thanking Teal'c and embracing Sam and Daniel - and I think with amazement that I already miss him. This moment is, I think, the one when things became really complicated.

Yes, I still can try to convince myself that everything is normal. In the evening, during the dinner made for us by the Tollans, when I almost force myself between Teal'c and Lya - just to eliminate the possibility of sitting near to him - it might be by chance, right? After all, he is with Daniel - and Daniel was his sister's husband, they surely have a lot to talk about.

And isn't it presumptuous of me, anyway, to think that he would want to be near me? But he always did. My shadow... Since the moment when I took his hand then, on Abydos - and made him special by my god-like touch.

Well, since then he'd known way too much about god-like touches, hadn't he?

I shouldn't be thinking about it - what with my inability to fight this pathetic and yet practically invincible fear to commit myself to caring for him again... as if there is any other way. I avoid looking at him because I can meet his eyes - and I don't want it.

Yet I see it all the same - how the years while he hosted Klorel left their mark on him. He was a kid... *my* kid... when they had taken him away. It hurts worst that he is still a kid - volatile, easily fascinated, exuberant. And yet there is the jagged edge in him where his childishness comes to an end abruptly, replaced with a huge dark hole of the time torn out of his life.

He was not given a chance to grow up. He was forced into it - living someone else's life, robbed of control and yet fighting for it every day.

I wish I didn't see it because it reminds me of how I failed him... and how impossible it is to mend.

"Are you sure you don't want to talk to him - or are you going to just stare like this?" Sam's voice, soft and ticklish against my ear as she leans to me, walking around the table.

"Err... what is it you mean?" finding nothing better to ask.

"Ooh... I see, sir," she chuckles - a sweet and familiar sound that makes a tiny part of my mind settle down while everything else in me is such a mess.

I look at him again, beyond my best intentions, watch him put his arms around Daniel, hold him for a few moments - and it is almost a gesture of an older brother.

Carter... she doesn't understand. I have to let it go now. Or I would never be able to.

Best laid plans, huh? We come up to the gate and when I send Daniel and Sam and Teal'c through them, Skaara lingers - almost as if he is afraid. But he is not, of course - and when he looks up at me, I understand suddenly what it is. Just an attempt to stay alone with me. At least for a brief moment - but enough to ask - so very softly:

"Are you angry with me, Oh-nil?"

Only his eyes are not soft - but insistent - almost desperate - and with so much pain that I want to kick myself for hurting him like this. You old fool, O'Neill, have you any idea what you are doing?

He steps through the rippling surface - and in a fit of absurd fear that I won't see him again, I hurry after him. The seconds while my body disintegrates and re-assembles... time not nearly enough to think what I can answer him.

Then we are out - and Sam and Jackson stand protectively in front of Skaara - and for a split second I feel a pang of envy - that they can do it so easily, that they don't have to deal with all these idiotic dilemmas that I should be ashamed to admit to have. I hang behind - while none-too-happy Hammond waits for explanations.

Later, in the debriefing room, he sighs and says:

"I am glad that everything ended up this way. And I am sure the kid wants to go back home as soon as possible - but the knowledge he has is indispensable."

I should've known they would want him to stay.

"But sir..." Sam says softly. "There was just too much for him to handle last time. Maybe, he can stay for a while - in neutral surroundings."

"You want to say - not in our quarantine quarters?" Hammond muses a little. "Well, it can make sense to keep him under unofficial observation for a little while."

"He can stay at my place, sir," Daniel says.

One wouldn't expect anything less from Danny-boy. And it's a good idea, isn't it? And then I turn slightly and through the glass look at the kid in another room, sitting with his legs stretched, in the uncomfortable chair, arms folded - see his eyes blinking tiredly. I don't understand how it happens that, quiet enough not to be heard, I mutter... really mutter, no more than this:

"Or at my place."

But somehow they hear - they look at me.

"You take personal responsibility for him, Colonel?" Hammond says - and what else can I do but nod?

And say to myself that the kid probably will want to go to Daniel's all the same.

But when I see Skaara's eyes - dark and shining with so much joy that it makes me uncomfortable - I can't really be sorry for doing what I have done, even though I know that I should feel sorry. He just steps to my side and never leaves - and he doesn't need to say anything to indicate his choice.

By the time things are all fixed up, the kid starts reeling and rubbing his eyes. I am pretty sure he would be interested with the ride in the car - but there have been too many impressions for today - and it is dark outside anyway. He curls on the backseat - and as I glance at him once or twice on the way, his eyes are closed. There is a small frown between his brows, trembling slightly as something must be coming before his shut eyes.

He doesn't look quiet; more exhausted than tranquil, long eyelashes not masking the shadows under his eyes. I don't want to see it; it's too much. Too much for me to start brooding in silence under the monotone sound of the tires on the asphalt. I reach for the radio and don't turn it on - don't want to wake him up.

The real truth and the main source of my guilt is not even that I am afraid; to let myself feel - endanger myself with feeling - again. There is not much I can do about it - it is already here. The thing is that - despite everything - I am happy. Taking the kid home in my car feels somehow right.

Even if it is wrong.

He is free - he is safe - and he is with me. And do I need to evoke in myself the familiar - and totally adequate, of course - feeling of instability of all this? I remember I couldn't protect him when I had to - and, maybe, I won't be able to protect him again, when he needs me. But so far - between the definite past and possible future... can I just let myself be with him?

I pull up at my house and he wakes up with a short gasp, sitting up immediately and looking around with slightly wild eyes. His hair is messed up, not styled so carefully any more - and strangely, this breach of perfection pleases me... makes him more familiar. More *mine*.

"Oh-nil," there is a doubtless expression of relief in his eyes, as if he was afraid to see someone else. Then reproach. "You let me sleep in..."

"Well, you'll see the road a lot of times, I promise," I say and reach to the handle to open the door for him. His warmth startles me - even through the clothes; his closeness... and my hand doesn't even brush against him. For a moment it makes me almost disoriented - like I hadn't spent half an hour in the car with him by then. I beat my stubborn self into control again. It is not easy.

Okay, O'Neill, if this was what you were afraid of - you should have been.

With dry mouth and flushed cheeks I get out of the car. Cool night air does me good as I stand there breathing in full lungs - and Skaara stands near me, looking at my house. He has this way to drink new things with his eyes, devour them eagerly - but this time he doesn't look this way.

He looks like... that I barely bite down an unbidden phrase letting him in - 'Welcome home'. It would be ridiculous, wouldn't it? His home is in light years away from here - where his father waits for him - where he will return sooner or later. And this... this hasn't been a home even for me for the last few years, stopped being home even before Sarah left. A place to sleep - a hole to crouch in between missions.

But the truth is - and suddenly I realize it - that something has changed. Right now. Bringing him here has made this place a home. At least for a little while, at least in a way.

"I want to tell you something," he says passing the hall carefully, as if he was afraid of ruining something - although what is here to ruin except a few none-too-clean pairs of boots on the floor and dust bunnies in the corners? "I often thought about how you live. I wondered if I'd ever see it."

"You did?" for a moment I am so taken aback that I can't find anything more coherent to say. And yet, beyond all logic, his words warm up something in me... as if this confirmation that he had been thinking about me is what I needed. "Well, does it look a little bit like you imagined it?" He turns to me and laughs, seriousness gone from his eyes - and in his accented voice he repeats eagerly:

"No. Not a little bit."

It's well past midnight; but he looks like the short nap in the car was all he needed. So, I try to keep up with answering his unceasing questions - tentative at first and then, when he realizes that I am not likely to yell at him, flooding:

"What's this?" starting with CDs - and newspapers I forgot before leaving - the TV set - the heater - pens and pencils and other stationery.

I realize in embarrassment that I have nothing in my freezer but some apple pies... it had been a while since I had guests. But for today it should do - and I hand Skaara a can of Sprite hoping that it will shush him a little. No way the kid is going to drink alcoholic drinks in my house, I decide, tearing the lid off of a beer bottle... even if Daniel had taught them to make moonshine.

He gets restless eventually and I show him the way to the bathroom - where he likes it immensely - I hear him flushing the toilet and turning water on and off at least a dozen times before he reappears.

"You live alone, Oh-nil?"

Partly I've been expecting this question - afraid of it - because of how it will drive home the painful reality of my situation... my loneliness... don't like this word. I am not lonely...

And he is here. And every dull senseless thing he touches seems to get aglow.

"I live alone," I say and smile trying to mark the end of the topic. And am surprised when he presses:

"You don't have... a wife?"

"No, not any more."

"A girlfriend?"

"Ah, no."

"A lover?"

"Nope. Hey, shall we eat? Why such attention to my personal life?"

You are daft, aren't you, O'Neill? Tell me again you don't know why he asks these questions - his eyes getting a little bit more shining with every negative answer.

He is checking the ground in the only way he can.

"Come on, the pies are going to get cold," I don't add that they probably are not very good anyway.

But he doesn't mind - and with a bit of weary amusement I think that it could be anything, even a military ration - and he would eat it happily, just because I am serving it.

When we are finished:

"You are not going to smoke... your little sticks... cigarettes?" a carefully pronounced word, Jackson must've taught him.

"I quit," I smile and shake my head. "Not any more."

"I lost your lighter. *He* smashed it," he says suddenly, exultation and slyness gone from his eyes abruptly - and this seriousness - solemnity - he looks with is as shocking as a blow. He hadn't been like this, something is screaming in me, what did they do to my boy - but I know all too well what - and what drives me mad is that I can do freakin' nothing about it.

"It's okay," I say gently. My voice must be casual - while in reality I want to lock my arms around him and never let him go. It wouldn't do, I know. He is not a child; he doesn't want to be cuddled... it is not what he needs from me - it's just what *I* want... must never want. "You can have another one. Come to think about it, you can have any other thing you want."

And on it starts again. Pointing at every odd object:

"What is it, Oh-nil?"

He is not going to sleep tonight, certainly - but, maybe, I am not so eager to go to bed, too. Tiredness accumulated for days should've put me to rest - and I know it'll catch up on me later... thank God for small mercies - for example, three days off Hammond gave us.

We climb onto the roof and I show him the telescope - and the starry dark sky through it. There, with him looking into the lens, I settle back in the chair and sip my beer. It's cold but I think I can stay like this... indefinitely. Until Skaara examines the whole space above us.

He leaves the telescope and turns to me - there is enough streetlight to see how his face, dark and pale, glows with intensity, his mouth trembling as if he wants to ask something.

"You want to see Abydos?" I ask. "You can't see it from here."

"I don't want to see Abydos," he says quietly. "I don't want to go back there."

Ouch. He is not serious, is he? So much for the little - naughty - thought that slides through my mind a moment before - that he must be missing Abydos, doesn't really want to stay here.

"No, I do," he corrects himself. "But not forever. I don't want to live there."

"Your father will be overjoyed to see you," I say hoping that my voice sounds convincingly. "You are the only one he has left."

I see something breaking in his eyes at this reminder of his sister's death - and see how his lips press tightly. Trying not to show what he feels - not if he can help it, at least.

"I know," he says. I bite my lip in impotent anger at my own inability to do some right thing, here and now. To talk to him about Sha're, to comfort him. He and Daniel talked about her... but I don't know what to say.

I had never known what to say. To Sarah after Charlie's death - and it ruined us more than the death itself, maybe. I failed her when she needed me. I always fail - in these things.

How is it that I always know, very deep in my heart, what I need to do - but I can never do it?

Skaara glances at me - these impossibly long eyelashes fly up - and behind grief I see some other - so definite, so undisguised - feeling there.

"But I want to stay here. With you."

Hey, wait! Not so fast. I get up abruptly - and he rises as I rise - and he is too close - and too overwhelmingly warm - I can feel him in the cold of the night. He is staring up at me so intently like he's trying to make me read in his eyes... and for sure I can read in them, he conceals nothing. The point is that I don't want to read in them.

He had been talking with his eyes to me since the first time we met. Awe - and delight - and possessive caring... but with every friggin' synonym one can use, the truth is that it always had one name... and now I can't misread it.

He loves me. With almost two lost years - with whatever they had done to him - whatever I had done to him - this one thing stays unchanged. He loved me then, on Abydos, and he loves me now.

And God help me because I love him, too.

No, I don't! I deny it, deny immediately - even though it is already too late. I can't... it's not right... he doesn't need it. I lost my child and he has his father - and how stupid it would be to try to replace him?.. Only it is another lie. I don't love him as a child... Maybe, I never did. I just didn't realize it until I saw him on Tollana.

"Oh-nil," he says - sighs - and I feel the warmth of his breath on my lips, his hands on the sides of my face as he reaches up and touches my mouth with his - and as crazy as it is, I nearly open my lips for him, nearly let his tongue slide in. I am so close to feeling it - to enjoying it - that it seems totally impossible - unbelievable - when I find enough willpower to step away from him.

I can see his eyes again - distraught - and I want to say that I am doing the right thing, he will understand it. Only I can't say it. Maybe, because he will *not* understand.

His hands let me go - without resistance. And while I am racking my mind in search for something to say, he nods quietly:

"I am sorry. I know you can't forgive me. You will never be able to look at me and not remember what *he* had done."

Ooh shit! He can't mean it, right? He can't think me such a heartless son of a bitch.

But you are a heartless son of a bitch, aren't you, O'Neill?

I recall that time on Klorel's ship when Teal'c and I captured him... the Goa'uld. I knew he was there, too - hoped for it because it was our only chance.

I should've talked to him in another way then. Not to Klorel but to Skaara - no matter who smiled at me contemptuously. I should've talked to him - not to ask to help us but to tell that I still cared for him, that I always would - that he was my boy...

"Don't you ever think that," I start awkwardly - too rushed to deny his words. "No one can blame you for what Klorel did."

"I tried to fight," he says - and there is distress and guilt and hopelessness in his voice that cut on my nerves like a jagged blade. "But I failed."

It's not you who failed, I want to say, not you at all.

Then he looks at me - and there is this dignity in his stare - I recognize it - just like how he looked when pushing away the hands of the guards who tried to support him.

"If the decision was not for Skaara but for Klorel - would you kill me then, Oh-nil? You wouldn't let me live forever... like that?"

I can do little more but stare - and lick my dry lips. I hadn't been thinking about it... that they could choose Klorel - couldn't afford any defeatist thought. But if they did choose Klorel...

"Because I wouldn't be able to make this choice for myself then," he says and pauses waiting for my answer - the answer that I can't give me. "Would you?"

I spread my arms helplessly.

"No."

Not again.

He turns away slightly and I see him biting his trembling lip - and I don't know what is more distressing - that he is about to cry or that I know he won't let himself cry.

"But I didn't have to," I say - the voice of reason that doesn't mean anything. "It's all over now. He's gone."

"Then why don't you want me?" turning towards me again - almost crying out - in desperation. "*He* said that you won't ever want me."

Oh no, I think with cold rage. And before I can think of something else - something sensible and unnecessary - I reach to him and hug him.

For a moment I am afraid he will push me away - but he doesn't. There is such immediacy in how he wraps his arms around me. His head is pressed to my neck, his warm breath ticklish on my throat - a little sigh, so sad in its relief. And I run my hands over his hair, whispering insistently something like:

"Forget it, everything's okay now, everything will be okay."

His body pressed into mine, his tight silky braids sliding between my fingers, his arms locked around me - but strangely, it is easier to deal with this kind of closeness than it had been with his palms cupping my face and his lips on mine.

"I want you! Who said I don't want you, kid," and before he tries to look up at me again, I add hastily. "Just not... not like that."

You are a worthless liar, O'Neill.

But hugging him seemed to do it, after all. For a few moments he holds on me so tightly that it was hard to breathe. His shoulders tremble once, twice - as much of a suppressed sob as he allows himself. Then he stills - and I stay with my lips pressed to his hair, lulling him in my arms.

The things were never easy. I guess they're not supposed to be.

And I admit to myself tiredly that yes, I probably would like to stay like this with him for... ever.

It's him who lets me go. His eyelashes are still wet and sticky but his face is composed.

"You are cold," he says, his fingers brushing against my elbow. Not an electrifying gesture - rather... careful. He is the one taking care of me.

Now he does look weary - stumbles a little as we descend the stairs and I catch him - and at this moment I think, I really believe that I will learn touching him like that, without having fits of terror that I am doing something wrong - criminal - incestuous - whatever.

I make the bed for him - in the guest room - while he showers. Looks like the small bed will be wide and long enough for him to be comfortable; Daniel slept there... Sarah had slept there before she left. She was always the one who left - first our bedroom, then our house and my life - even if it was me who drove her to it.

He appears from the bathroom, clad in my old t-shirt, and I can't help but chuckle.

"What? Funny clothes?"

Yes, they are - on him... but mostly it makes him look... closer, even though hardly more ordinary. Common clothes and the fall of his incredible hair.

"Get in here," I pull off the blanket and show him at the couch. "Call me if you need something," reaching my hand to the light switcher.

"Where will you be?" he asks.

"I'll be there," I say. "Right."

I am so tired that even the cold voice of all regrets and remorse doesn't hassle me for once. I mostly have to fight the urge to fall asleep under the shower - and I switch off a second before me head hits the pillow.

It seems I've just laid down - no more than a moment passed - but it must be more. There is this nasty stinging in my eyes that indicates that I had slept - a little bit - before I open my eyes and stare into the darkness.

I can hear it. He is not calling for me - not really - it's just muffled words that I can't understand. But I understand the tone. I get on my feet abruptly, my heart clenching at the sound of his voice... so desperate - stumbling even on the words of his own language. And as I enter the guest room, in the dim streetlight seeping through the window, I can see him toss and turn, his long thin braids like snakes lashing over his distorted face.

I reach my hand to him and stop myself, recalling that if someone has a nightmare, it's better not to wake up him abruptly but try to comfort him into a better dream. So, I sit on the couch at him and touch his shoulders - and he is feverish hot - shivering. I stroke him, hoping that it will calm him down, put the end to his tossing.

He stops talking - and for a moment I see it as my little victory - until I notice in the ray of light that his mouth is bitten deadly, a small trickle of blood welling from under his teeth, black on his white lips. This terrifies me. I can't let it go on - shake him almost roughly, just to make him come round.

He opens his eyes, unseeing for a few moments - sits up abruptly - and there is a strangled cry caught in his throat, just slightly louder than soft 'shh, shh' I keep whispering. This utter terror in his eyes - I can't bear to see it. Damn them, damn them all. What had they done to him... and what can I do to make it go away?

Nothing; you know it - nothing. It had been a while since you could scare the monsters away from your son's bed. And anyway, you couldn't help him when he needed you...

And this boy's monsters are real.

"Oh-nil," he sighs at last and I say:

"Shh, it's okay," and he leans forward to me and I wrap my arms around him. "Trust me."

It's easier to say than to do, I know. He is all rigid under my touch - and yet clinging to me, arms wrapped around me.

"I won't let anybody hurt you," I say. It might turn out to be a lie - and, maybe, it is not even what he needs to hear now. But it's what I need to say.

I can feel the sharp angles of his shoulders under my hands, the warmth of his neck under his hair as I keep patting him - until he becomes heavy and relaxed, settling against me.

"Do you want me to sit with you until you fall asleep?"

He nods - I can feel it as his forehead bumps against my collarbone twice. But it is a long time - minutes - before he untangles himself from me - and God forgive me but I am not going to make him hurry up.

He is embarrassed. When he falls back on the pillow again, his lips are pressed hard, the lower one, the one he's bitten, is swollen slightly - and his eyes are not happy - looking as if he expects me to start ridicule him.

There is nothing he can be ashamed of in front of me.

I take his hand in mine, shocked slightly with how hard he clenches it. As if he really trusts me - trusts that I can protect him, that I can help him. He doesn't know that I can't even help myself; never could.

But I give him my best we'll-get-through-no-matter-what face, whether he can see me in half-darkness or not - and eventually I notice that he closes his eyes. He might be already asleep - but his hand is still in mine - and the truth is that I don't want to leave.

Who would think - Colonel Jack O'Neill as a cuddly type?

I watch a bit of the dark blue sky through the window - as it grows brighter very slowly - and there are not many thoughts in my mind - for once. No regrets or guilt - and no necessity to spur myself into going through one more day.

Then the picture changes. I open my eyes - when did I close them? - and the room is full with obnoxious sunlight. I look at the ceiling - from a twisted position on the couch. My arm is outstretched - and still held tightly - and I realize slowly that I lie against Skaara's thigh. Perfect! Let's see what my neck will say about it... nothing too favorable.

I nearly squeak trying to shift. Not so young any more, huh?

The only good thing is that the kid appears to be fast asleep - and for once his face is smooth - peaceful; his braids make a halo of darkness on the pillow around his head.

It is half past one on the clock and I start freeing myself from him carefully - but of course I am not careful enough. He wakes up and I am almost startled with the openness of joy shining out of his eyes immediately. It had been a long time since someone looked at me like this in the morning... aw, crap, it had never been.

"You were all night here?" he unclasps his hand slowly and there is worry on his face when he sees the traces his fingers left. "I am sorry..." he raises my hand to his lips. His breath is the first thing my numb fingers start feeling - warm and enveloping - and a slight lick of his tongue.

So... weird. The gesture is so unfamiliar - and suddenly I can't help thinking that his body might have remember how to be Klorel better than he wants it. I never asked myself if he had had a lover on Abydos... well, I didn't allow myself to ask - what for? - but being Klorel - he must've had lots... Women, men... he could have anyone.

Oh, this is crazy! Do you really think... but then I realized that even these thoughts are a defense mechanism of my mind. Because I don't have other defenses against him.

Danger... Too fast, too easy - the stirring in my groin... what will become of me if this much is enough to cause it? I take my hand away - not abruptly but resolutely. Skaara is staring at me - attentive, questioning gaze - but at least not a wounded one.

"Gotta get up, what do you think?" I ask. He nods.

While he is in the bathroom I check my answering machine - and find a message from Daniel. "How about stopping by at me tonight? Let me know if you are interested." I tell Skaara about the offer when he comes out and he is pretty excited about it.

"I need to do some shopping today," I explain to him. "Want to join me? Or you can stay and watch TV."

He is enthralled with TV - well, I thought he would be. For a few moments he is apparently going through the conflict of interests and then shakes his head:

"I'll go with you."

Now why am I so glad? I try to propel myself into calmness.

"Well, then we'll buy you some other clothes... more conventional. And we can have breakfast... er, lunch, somewhere. Okay?"

It is a good day. Well, come to think of it, the day could be any kind. It's just that for once I almost forget that I should dwell on things and question everything. Skaara looks striking - just a little bit less striking in jeans, t-shirt and jacket. People are staring at him and I register it with a mixed feeling. Mostly it is pride, though - and I don't really care what they think about me. How interesting. Some time ago appearing publicly with someone who could be taken for my lover - a man, for crying out loud - would freak me out totally. That long ago - long before Sarah - affair... and the guy had been the same eager to keep it as secret as I had.

But the kid is not my lover. Will never be.

I just wish there was no other - cold voice asking me: really?

I won't hurt him like this. I can't.

Time is running amazingly fast. We finish with his clothes and other stuff he is going to need - then have lunch in the nice cafe in the Plaza - then raid the supermarket... By the time we get back home and shove the packages in their places, it is already time to go visit Jackson.

At Daniel's place, sipping a beer, I stand at the window, listening to the kid fighting with Nintendo that we bought him today. And even without looking at Daniel I know that he listens, too - and I wonder if it is his loss he thinks about when looking at Skaara.

Is it my loss I think about?

"He said he didn't want to go back to Abydos."

"I know," suddenly he answers. "He told me, too. That's why Sam and I suggested he stay with us for a while."

In surprise I turn towards him.

"In a way I understand him," Daniel adds. "He changed a lot. He will never fit in Abydos' life again."

Oh yes.

"But it is his native land," I mumble knowing how weak it sounds. "His family is there."

"Do you think he will ever be completely accepted? He would be better off if he were a total stranger, like I was," he says mildly - and distantly. "Jack, I don't know if you realize it... how scarred he is with these years as Klorel's host. It is difficult to imagine this... this kind of violation."

Well, Daniel is not the one who witnessed his nightmares last night... I try to relax my hand on the beer can because a little more and my fingers will dig through it.

"But how can he stay here?" I am not really regarding it, do I?

"How could Teal'c stay?" he shrugs - and I glare at him. The thought of Skaara joining SG team makes me gag. To watch him risking his life... well, let him do it somewhere else, where I can't know about it. "No, I didn't mean that," Daniel corrects himself quickly. "He might... learn... and his experience as the host..."

They had said it before...

"Hammond will never agree," but it is a futile conversation, anyway, right? I still believe that as soon as Skaara gets back to Abydos, he won't want to go back.

"Maybe, the real reason is that you won't agree to it," Jackson says. And before I can 'What?' indignantly, he adds. "If he is too much trouble... I can have him here. He won't bother me at all."

"He doesn't bother me at all, either," I say grudgingly.

"It was not very polite to force him on you."

Now I am really pissed off - and if Daniel were less up in the clouds, he would be more careful.

"Don't you think I can decide for myself?"

"It's just that he doesn't have eyes for anyone but you," he says and a chill runs over my spine.

I can't. I can't hurt him. And suddenly these words I keep repeating turn into others - true ones. I can't give him as much as he expects from me. I can't give him as much as he deserves. I am... afraid.

But there is no way I am going to ditch him here, at Daniel's!

The twisted order of the day continues successfully when we return home around midnight and neither of us feels sleepy. I am going through the newspapers while Skaara soaks in the bath - already for half an hour. The door is open for a few inches and whenever I look up I can see the half-misted mirrors... and hear him muttering some silly tune he had picked up from the radio today.

I still can't completely believe it, you know. He is singing in my bathroom. What a weird crossover between normalcy and impossibilities.

Suddenly he stops.

"Oh-nil!"

I stand up dutifully and walk to the bathroom door.

"Need something?"

"Yes," nothing more is said. I wait a little and come in. The tub is full of the hills and mountains of honey-n-milk smelling foam - and the peaks of his dark knees stick out of it. His hair is fastened high on his head which makes him look really funny... but makes look him good, too... well, everything does.

"What?"

He nods, showing at the edge of the tub, and I sit down with a sigh.

"This," he reaches his wet hand for mine. It is warm and soft - and it pulls my hand under the water, to the smooth skin of his midriff. Straightening my fingers against his ribs, making the stroking motions for me.

His eyes are half-shadowed with these eyelashes of impossible length - but still so bright as he studies my face. "He has eyes for no one but you," I recall Daniel's words. An awkward idiom. And it is not true. It won't be true if I don't want it to be.

How smooth his skin is under my palm, how hard the contours of the ribs... No, don't. Please. Because it's so easy - so frighteningly easy - to let myself *feel* it.

"I can't," I free myself. Again. Again seeing this pain in his eyes. Why does he hurt himself like this? Why does he hurt me like this? Oh Daniel has no idea of these battles I have to fight... but I must fight them...

"Why?" he asks only with his lips. "I can make you feel good. Really good. I learned some things..."

I would laugh if my throat was not contracting like this. Feeling good is the last thing that would bother me. And I don't want him use his knowledge making me feeling good. Nothing that Klorel could leave him as heritage.

"You don't really mean it," I say - and it sounds so pathetic - yeah, try to convince him what he really means. "It's just... a hero worship case. You'll out-grow it."

I know he doesn't understand. Those concepts are too complicated for him yet.

"It's not me you want. If there was someone else, on Abydos then... the first stranger you meet. But you changed - you became strong and... You don't really need me any more."

"I need you," he says with absolute certainty. "I want you. I always wanted you... I kept thinking about you even when he was in me."

I can't watch... How everything comes to a halt in him when he recalls Klorel. Will he ever be able to overcome it? He is a tough kid; he will, I know. Just how is it that I would do anything to help him - and all I can do is to make it worse?

"Please don't make me go away," he says.

I can't go through it any more.

"I'll show you something," I say. "Come out when you are ready."

He is out in a few minutes - and I wait for him - and then I take him upstairs. I knew I would have to do it one day - I just didn't think so soon.

It's empty in the room. In her father's house Sarah had made everything as if Charlie had just left for a moment. But I don't keep anything... let it be this way. What does *everything* mean when it all turns to nothing because he hasn't left for a moment... because he's gone.

"It's my son's room," I say. "He died. He shot himself. With my gun."

I had said it before. Maybe, I can even believe that every time it is easier to say it. Maybe, it's even true.

I can't say anything more - but somehow I believe that I don't need to. Don't need to explain him what a coward I really am - how afraid I am of getting hurt - again.

I just watch him and think how strange he looks here - so much alive - warm - in this cold and empty room. Not only empty because there is nothing here... just empty. Just like life can be a little empty place - when you are alone there.

Years ago, in this room, I imagined that if I stayed here for long, I could feel Charlie coming to me - his soul or something. Well, the whole thing about the Goa'uld and sarcophagi and stuff transformed my belief in souls a bit.

And I know at last that the emptiness is not here - it is inside me. But if it is empty - what can still hurt there? What can still... feel?

He turns to me, very straight and very tense - and yet his eyes are shining with gentleness that stuns me. He looks at me as if I am his little one - in need to be comforted and protected.

"But I am not him, Oh-nil," he steps towards me and touches my lips with the tips of his fingers. Warm... hot... hurting.

"Okay," I say.

Just like that?

Yes, just like that. I can't push him away - one more time.

"Okay?" he tilts up his head and questions my idiotic answer once more and as I nod, he smiles - an incredulous but absolutely delighted smile. "Okay! Okay!"

And in a moment he is right next to me. His arms are around me - he is all around me - engulfing warmth... it feels good... it is wrong... I don't know...

He is more delicate than I am - he pulls me out of the room - because I am frozen still. Starts kissing my lips right on the stairs. His tongue is quick and darting - but his hands hold me tenderly and tightly, never letting me go. I can't look at him, so confused - but I can't stand not looking at him, too - so, I blink helplessly as he smiles and kisses all over my face. I still can't believe that he wants to do it, wants to kiss me... but if he does... Christ, I want it so much.

I've given up... I don't want to be the only one in my little place any more.

He stops kissing me to pull up my t-shirt - and at the door to the living room he kisses my chest, fingers running through the wisps of hair, his tongue swirling around my nipples.

I hiss slightly - too much sensation, too overwhelming - and I am so messed up that the only way I can participate is just to take it passively. All I do is to reach to raise his face - and he kisses me again. He hardly lets me do anything. He reaches for my pants, pulling the string loose, digging through my underwear impatiently, his other arm around me, holding me as if I were a toddling child in need of support. His lips are on mine - melting warm.

And then, as soon as, after a short draft of cool air, his palm envelops my cock, something happens. A blast in my head - more powerful than I could imagine... more overwhelming - and I just gasp while my cock pulses hopelessly in his hand, spurting come all over his fingers and my belly.

I would flush if any blood stayed in my face. It had never been... so quickly. Not since my first times, that is.

When I can be coherent again, I mutter:

"I'm sorry..."

And see him laugh again, happily. Okay, O'Neill - don't you know? Here is someone whom even your premature ejaculation will make happy.

"My Oh-nil," he says and pushes me to the guest bed - kneeling in front of me to free me from my pants. I just look mutely how he discards his own clothes - so swiftly - and then he is all over me, his body along mine - the sensation so strong that I swim away. Impossible to resist.

Not necessary to resist.

"You don't have to do it," I utter knowing how senseless these words are. They won't buy me a good conscience... and I don't care for a good conscience - at least not now.

"You don't have to do it," he repeats. Oh yeah, that's how much conviction must've been in it - that he's taken it for some sacred phrase said in bed. And against his own words he proceeds with covering me with his warm, furious mouth and flying hands.

I wish I could say that I made him feel good. But the truth is that I just surrender to everything he is doing. He is making love to me.

Maybe, some other time I'll be able to make it up to him... Some other time? Yes, there will be some other time...

Later we are on the same bed, the light is switched off - and I hold him as he spoons against me - his braids against my lips, his back against my chest - my arm around him. He is asleep - and I just think that if he has these dreams again - or, rather, when he has them - I will be here to drive them away. I will be here for him.

The End

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