Part III


Disclaimer: Kali & Muses do not own Stargate; we just borrowed it for this fanfiction.
Warnings: slash in the form of Jack/Daniel

Big thanks to my beta, Cryysis!

~ Part III ~

Chapter I
Friday afternoon

The page to the bridge of the Odyssey turned out to be due to the arrival of Richard Woolsey, the US representative to the IOA.  Once finished debriefing Sarah and Steven, and overseeing the collection of the rest of the data and media related to the confiscated items from the dig, he’d insisted on being allowed on-board to report to Landry in person – and Daniel, with reluctance, because he was very much involved in the entire situation.

“…General, I really must protest at my exclusion from this meeting with the other IOA members.  That such a major decision was made without my presence or opinion is, frankly, offensive!”

Daniel rolled his eyes and hid a jaw-cracking yawn, continuing to study the star map on the bridge absently while Woolsey whined and complained and Landry let him get it all out before he told the guy what an idiot he was.  It was really amazing to see just how many places in the galaxy that Earth had visited in the short span of a decade.  And yet there were still so many more places out there to explore…

A warm presence at this side made Daniel smile.  He didn’t have to look to know it was Teal’c.  “Hey, T.  Jack let you escape?”

“Indeed.  Col.Mitchell, ValaMalDoran, and I wished to discover the reason for your earlier summons.”  The Jaffa looked at the map his wise friend appeared so fascinated by.  “What has occurred?”

“Hmph!”  Vala, leaning up against the map on Daniel’s other side, crossed her arms and huffed, watching Woolsey with a distinctly predatory gaze.  “Him again?  Why do your leaders not see how spineless a worm he truly is and get rid of him?”

“He might be annoying and, yes, spineless when it comes to dealing with intense situations, but he’s good at bureaucracy.”  Mitchell tried not to sneer, but failed.  “The government tries to keep their good bureaucrats as long as possible.  Besides…he hasn’t actually screwed up badly enough for them to feel the need to be rid of him.  Yet.”

“Yeah.  As much as I don’t like him and no matter how much his existence annoys me…” Daniel sighed, “He hasn’t had it easy.  And circumstances haven’t been kind to him.  He’s only ever tried to do the right thing based on the information he had.  It’s just too bad that he can never seem to make the right choice at the right time.”

“Jackson, your capacity to forgive never fails to astound me.”  Cam shook his head, then jerked a thumb at the man in question.  “What’s he doing here anyway?”

“Don’t know.”  Daniel made a face.  “He’s too busy complaining to get around to stating his full purpose.”

“Alright, Woolsey, that’s enough.”  Landry barked sharply.  Dick’s mouth snapped shut immediately.  “Your protests are noted.  The decision is made, and that’s the end of it.  We have plenty of fine print to work out over the next few weeks, so get over it and concentrate!  Now…what did you want?  Or did you just come up here to waste my time complaining?”

Looking both chastised and offended at the same time, Woolsey cleared his throat and replied, “Of course not!  I wanted to report that the debriefing of all the required parties are complete, and that all pertinent data and media has been collected.  A full report will be forwarded to you by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Good.  And?”  Landry stared him down expectantly with an air of impatience.

Woolsey frowned.  “And I wish to report that Dr. Rayner has decided to continue his exhibition and lecture – under the programme’s supervision – before tying up his personal affairs and moving to Colorado Springs to join the SGC.”  His gaze flicked to Daniel warily.  “Dr. Gardner has also agreed to join the SGC under certain conditions she said you are aware of, Dr. Jackson?”

“Yes, sir.”  Daniel affirmed at Landry’s inquiring glance.  “It isn’t much, General.  The main thing was that she not sent out into the field – as in off-world.  She – and I agree – doesn’t believe she’s ready to face that yet.”

“I see.  We can sit down and discuss specifics at a later time.”  Landry nodded waving the topic aside.  “Was that all, Woolsey?”

“Yes, though I do want to be brought up-to-speed on this whole new team idea, and the findings SG1 have no doubt made concerning the artefacts they confiscated.“  Woolsey declared, drawing himself up to be standing ramrod straight.  “At your earliest convenience, of course.”

Landry glanced at his watch.  “You might as well come back to the mountain with me, then.  I have a briefing with SG6 in half an hour that I need to prepare for, but after that briefing we can chat.”

“Thank you, General.”  Woolsey said politely, if not sincerely.

“Any orders for us, General?”  Mitchell inquired, referring to SG1.

“Not at the moment.  Just continue on with the artefacts for now, and let me know if anything new comes up.”

“Yes, sir.”  Cam acknowledged, snapping a smart salute.

“Let’s go get our stuff and get everything beamed down to the labs at the SGC.”  Daniel suggested, motioning for the others to come along.  As they passed by, he paused long enough to speak to the Odyssey’s Communications Officer.  “Major, stand ready to transport to the SGC when you hear from us, please.”

“Certainly, Dr. Jackson!”

~*~*~*~*~

          The weekend passed quickly enough – almost too quickly, if anyone bothered to ask Daniel.  He kept himself busy enough to avoid thinking about Jack and his invitation, since whenever he did think about it, all he managed to do was to start second-guessing Jack’s motives and himself for even considering putting himself, potentially, through more heartache and rejection.  He was certain that he’d screw it all up again, just as he did every other meaningful relationship he’d ever had.  After all these years, he had finally learned that he wasn’t allowed to keep the people he loved most.  Eventually they left, and it was usually his fault somehow.

By Sunday evening, despite his best efforts, he’d still managed to work himself up to an agitated, grouchy jerk who snapped and snarled at pretty much anyone who came near him.  Which was how an unsuspecting Jack O’Neill (who tried really hard to give Daniel the space he’d asked for to think by not pestering him in his lab all this time, all weekend) found the linguist at the end of Daniel’s shift – or, the scheduled end, anyway.  Said linguist was still buried in a translation, reference books lying open all over his work table and paper strewn haphazardly over…everything.

“Hel-lo!”  Jack waltzed in like he’d never left and stopped dead in his tracks at the devastation of Daniel’s lab/office and the sight of its dishevelled, blood-shot eyed, caffeine buzzed owner.  The low snarl in both Ancient and Abydonian probably had something to do with it, too.  Geez!  Where did that boy learn such language?  “Holy…Swiss cheese, Daniel!  What happened?”

“I’m working.”  Was the short reply.  “Go away.”  The pen in Daniel’s hand never ceased scribbling away on the pad of paper at Daniel’s elbow, and his gaze never left the object in front of him.

“Uh, no…can’t.”  Jack put a carefully neutral expression on his face so as not to incite the angry beast, and cautiously approached with hands clearly visible and hanging loosely at his sides.  “I haven’t seen you this crazy thanks to a translation in years, Daniel.  Why don’t you take a break?”

With a curse that spoke of too much time around the Marines, Daniel plucked his glasses off his nose and tossed them on the notepad, turning to glare at the bane of his sanity.  “What part of ‘go away’ do you not get, Jack?  Too subtle for you?”

The corner of Jack’s eye twitched slightly, the only sign of the wince he hid at the memory of when he’d once said those words to Daniel, when he should have just listened to the man.  Well, he was listening now, and so far he was just confused as hell, because it seemed like Daniel was mad at him for something.  “Bull’s eye, Daniel.  Your aim is as sharp as ever.”  Jack snarked, confusion letting his hurt and rising temper colour his tone.  “I came to see if you wanted to go off-base for dinner, find you all wild-eyed and bitchy in the centre of a disaster zone, and – forgive me – got a little concerned.  Obviously I’ve done something to offend your delicate sensibilities, so you may as well let me have it with both barrels.”

Daniel’s face crumpled and he dropped his head to his chest in abject misery, the arms coming up into the all-too-familiar self-hug Jack hated to see.

“I’m so sorry, Jack.  No, you haven’t done anything.  I…it’s all me, and I don’t know why I took it out on you like that.  I never meant…I mean, I didn’t…”

Jack sighed and stepped up close, tossing an arm around Daniel’s shoulders and hugging him to his side – ever aware of the security cameras.  “Easy big guy.  It’s okay.  You’re a little stressed and I’m an easy target.  And I’d guess you’ve hardly eaten or slept in at least 24 hours, right?”  Daniel nodded and continued to hang his head in apology and shame.  “Wanna tell me why?  Maybe I can help somehow.”

Daniel shook his head and leaned into Jack briefly before pushing himself up to his feet unsteadily from the stool he’d been perched on for far too long.  His butt was numb, for crying out loud!  “It’s nothing you can do anything about, Jack, but thanks.  It’s just…my mind being too busy for its own good and not shutting off when I want it to.”

Ah.  So that was it.  Maybe it was a mistake after all to have left Daniel alone with his thoughts all weekend as Jack had.  His usually wonderfully imaginative brain probably came up with all kinds of off-the-wall reasoning and objectives for Jack’s invitation, followed by all kinds of scenarios and their (more than likely) unhappy consequences.  Well, if there was one thing Jack knew how to do, it was how to distract a worked-up, stressed-out archaeologist.

“I see.  If you’re sure…  Okay, so is this thing you’re working on urgent?”  Jack indicated the object of distinctly Goa’uld-ish design.

“Um, not particularly.  SG10 found it and brought it back months ago.  I was…just curious what it says.”  Daniel replied rubbing his raw eyes and blinking owlishly at it.

“Good, so you have no excuse to stay here any longer than the end of your shift.”  Jack declared, hoisting the rather heavy artefact with both hands and moving it away from Daniel.  “Supper, Daniel.  Then a very good night’s sleep.  That’s all you need to think about right now, so go change and meet me topside in 20 minutes.”

“Oh.  But…” Daniel frowned, looking at his watch then at Jack, then around his office.  “I really should…”

“No, you really shouldn’t.  Ah, ah!”  Jack waggled a finger at the protest dying on Daniel’s tongue.  “Don’t make me pull rank, Dr. Jackson.”

A baleful stare was his response.

“Okay, don’t make me call for reinforcements then.”  The General grumbled, having known the threat of making it an order wouldn’t fly with a man who never had nor ever would follow an order from Jack.  The threat of calling in his teammates – particularly Teal’c – to forcibly remove Daniel was a much more effective method of persuasion.  “Well?  Snap to it, Spacemonkey!”  He snapped his fingers for emphasis.

Muttering under his breath in Abydonian, Daniel plunked his glasses back on his face and started tidying up.  “Just let me clean this up, first.  I can’t leave it all like this.

“Fine.  I’d help, but I know you have your own unique organizational methods that I – or anyone else for that matter – have yet to comprehend.  And Heaven forbid I should misfile something.”  Jack perched his butt on the abandoned stool and watched in amusement.

“Which is why I am constantly surprised that they not only gave you stars,” Daniel gestured with a fistful of papers to Jack’s collar on his BDU shirt where the two stars of his commission were found, “but put you to work in bureaucracy central.”

“Boggles the mind, don’t it?”  Jack beamed cheekily.  “But then, they hire people like Woolsey, so…”

Daniel straightened, giving the older man a completely serious stare.  “Don’t ever compare yourself with that little weasel, Jack.  Not in any way.”  Looking away and stacking his papers carefully, trying to hide the heat crawling up his neck, Daniel continued, “You’re a better man than most of those people in the Pentagon.  So you aren’t so good at paperwork?  So what?  You’re a true leader, Jack, and an honourable and courageous man.  A hero.  That’s more important.”

Touched – and a little embarrassed – Jack fought not to squirm uncomfortably.  “Yeah, well, I wouldn’t go that far. I just do the job I’m supposed to do, that’s all.  If that makes me…all those things, then fine, I guess.”  He grabbed a pen and started fiddling with it.  “It’s not like I go looking for it.”

Finished the quick version of his tidying, Daniel smiled and dropped a hand on Jack’s shoulder, squeezing gently.  “I know.  Hey,” he waited until Jack met his gaze.  “You know Charlie would be so proud of you, right?  For everything you’ve done since?”

Jack managed a crooked smile and awkwardly patted the hand on his shoulder. No one but Daniel could say something like that to Jack, without being frozen out for daring to, and almost have Jack believing it.

Recognizing that Jack wasn’t going to say a thing on that subject, Daniel let it drop, along with the hand on his shoulder.  “It’s clean enough now.  I’ll go change and be up top right away, alright?”

“Yeah.”  Agreeing easily and with relief, Jack hopped of the stool and followed Daniel to the elevator.

Jack left Daniel to go change in his quarters while he, himself, went to get changed in the private locker/gear-up room that belonged to SG1 – where Jack’s locker still existed.  As he was about to walk in, he heard a couple of familiar voices.

“So, Teal’c…about this ‘special mission’ that General O’Neill has us doing for Jackson…” Cam inquired in a hesitantly curious tone.  Jack paused beyond the door to listen in.

“Col.Mitchell, was there some task you do not understand?”  Teal’c asked mildly.  There was a slight warning to his voice, one which Jack silently thanked his old friend for, but hoped he wouldn’t enforce unless Mitchell reacted badly.

“No.  The tasks I got quite clearly.  What I don’t understand is the why of it.  I mean, I believe – from all those reports I’ve read – that the General and Daniel were very good friends, that they’ve been through a lot of experiences together – stuff that wasn’t in the reports – and that General O’Neill wants to do something exceedingly nice for him…but giving him his own house?  Having some renovations made to it just to suit someone else?  Major renos, mind, not just fixing a few tiny things.  I suspect…things but I don’t know.  Ya know?”

Jack sighed.  The kid had a point, when he put it like that.  Maybe the whole thing was going a bit far right off the bat.  Then again, Mitchell didn’t know Daniel as Jack did, and he knew that when it came to proving that you loved the innocently oblivious putz – body, mind, heart, and soul – it took beating Daniel over the head with the grandest, most in-your-face evidence accompanied by three little, simple, serious words.  For Sha’re (as Daniel once confessed) it had taken being teased for doing women’s work – a wife’s work – by Skaara and friends, and Sha’re confessing that she hadn’t told them that he ‘hadn’t wanted her’ to make the poor guy see.  It was an ‘Oh by the way, we’re married; didn’t want to tell you because you obviously didn’t want me that way,’ sort of clue bus Daniel got hit with, but he caught on quickly after that.

“They are indeed the very closest of friends, Col.Mitchell, something I had long since feared was lost to us all, just as DanielJackson once was.  I must confess that it pleases me greatly to see that O’Neill has finally realized it and intends to continue mending their broken relationship.  I believe it can only be stronger now and grow beyond its former status.”

“Probably, yeah. I mean, any kind of relationship does that when it’s the kind that’s meant to be – and I’m not just talking about friends here.”  There was a pause where Jack could just see Teal’c’s head-bow of agreement.  Then Cam continued, “Look, I realize it’s none of my business, and that by the rules and regs I live under I’m not supposed to ask and you’re not to tell…but the curiosity is killing me!  Were they ever…?”

“We cannot speak of it, Col.Mitchell.  I have learned much in my time with the Tau’ri, particularly of these rules and regulations that your warrior societies hold in such high regard.  I have been cautioned about certain rules many times, rules that I find archaic, pointless, and quite ridiculous.  I will say only that love is love, no matter with whom such a glorious and rare emotion can be found, and that sometimes love is not expressed as early as it should have been because sometimes there were events and experiences that must occur to prepare the individuals for it.”

“Okay.  That was sufficiently cryptic.  But I think I get it.  They are but they haven’t because it wasn’t the right time.  I can understand that.”  Mitchell sounded like his mind was flying through facts and instincts and his own understandings as he spoke.  “I never pictured either of them as potentially…as capable of…  Well.”

Teal’c’s voice was neutral and careful with his reply.  “Does this knowledge disturb you, Col.Mitchell?  Does this knowledge affect your vision of them?”

“What?  No!”  Jack’s mouth tilted up at the corners a little at the indignation behind the denial.  “I’m not one of those Tau’ri, Teal’c, who are small-minded and bigoted and that’s probably why I have some trouble reconciling the reality to the stereotypes, the not always true images that we’re fed by the media, by that ridiculous regulation in the military, by many major religious institutions, and by those bigoted fools I mentioned.  But, no, I don’t have a problem with it – or them.”

“That is good.  I would have very much disliked having to attempt to persuade you otherwise.”

“So would I, my friend.”  Cam laughed, albeit a tad nervously.  Jack just smirked to himself.  “So, you don’t believe in love at first sight, then?”

“I did not say that.”

“Sure, you said…” Cam stopped himself, “Oh.  No, you didn’t.  Never mind.”

“For myself, it was so with Drey’ac, my deceased wife and mother to my son.”  Jack raised an eyebrow, Teal’c style.  My, my the Jaffa was uncharacteristically chatty today..  He usually had very little to say voluntarily, unless asked something directly or to inquire directly of someone himself.  And he rarely volunteered personal anecdotes.  “And perhaps with Ishta, also.  They were both strong, wise, and courageous Jaffa women.”

“So I’ve read and heard.  I would have liked to meet them.  I’ve never seen it or experienced it myself, but I do believe in it.  I’d like to think I’ll find something like that myself, someday.  I know my Mom sure wishes I do.”  Cam chuckled.

“Indeed, Col.Mitchel.  Mothers seem to universally wish such things for their children – except for the Goa’uld or the Ori, certainly.”

Jack smiled, feeling oddly content.  He was immensely glad that Mitchell seemed to have won over the gentle Jaffa warrior so well.  Teal’c made a new friend, one that he apparently felt comfortable talking to and trusted beyond even a teammate – just as he’d once trusted Jack and still did.  Teal’c needed someone like that in his life, a warrior brother among the Tau’ri who understood things as he did, who understood him even though he was Jaffa.  It relieved Jack to know that Mitchell (although he hadn’t replaced Jack, per se) had certainly filled a hole in the SG1 dynamic that made the team SG1.

Deciding he’d eavesdropped long enough, Jack pushed away from the wall and strolled in with ultra-casual General-type swagger.

“Good evening, campers!”  He tossed out the greeting loudly, making Mitchell jump visibly.  Teal’c, ever unflappable, merely tilted his head in a bow of greeting.

“O’Neill.  I thought you were dining out with DanielJackson this night.”

“Hey, T.  As you were, Mitchell.”  Jack waved Cam down from standing and saluting.  “I am.  Just came to change into some civies.  I refuse to go to O’Malley’s, drink good beer and stuff myself with excellent steak while stuck in this uniform. It’s an affront to my steak dinner.”

“Sir.”  Mitchell’s expression was hilarious.  Teal’c, far too used to Jack’s humour and irreverent comments, simply agreed.

“Indeed.”

Jack went to his locker and proceeded to strip off his dress blues, hanging them neatly in his locker before pulling out a pair of brand new, dark denim pants and buttoned black shirt.  “What are you gents up to this evening?”  He dug around for a clean pair of socks.

“We will engage in a boxing battle before partaking of the…excellent food of the commissary.”  Teal’c replied, holding up the t-shirt and shorts he usually wore to box.  Jack grinned at the ever subtle Jaffa sarcasm.

“Which means he’ll beat the crap outta me then make up for it with food.”  Cam drawled, finding the sarcasm in another part of Teal’c’s statement.

“Such is the Jaffa way, Col. Mitchell.”  Jack declared with mock wisdom.  He stuffed his feet in a pair of well-worn running shoes, and stood up, grabbing his beaten old leather bomber jacket and slipping it on.  “I’m gone, boys.  Have fun!”  He waved over his shoulder as he walked out the locker room door.  Jack stopped instantly, however, at Teal’c’s solemn, “O’Neill.”

“Hmm?”

“You will secure DanielJackson’s presence at your cabin, will you not?  I know he has not agreed to the excursion as of yet.”

Jack stuffed his hands in his pockets and met his friend’s gaze steadily, sensing that humour was not the way to go on this topic.  He was not one to be intimidated by Teal’c’s imposing bulk and stature, nor stoic Jaffa stare.  “That’s the plan, yes.”

“Good.  His temperament of late has been quite disagreeable.  You are the only one capable of reversing that.”

“Why, T!  I’m flattered you think I have that kind of magical power.”  Jack drawled sarcastically.  “No one has the power to do anything to Daniel he doesn’t want done, particularly regarding his moods.”  Jack paused, then winked.  “But I sure do try!”

Teal’c actually smiled.  “I do not believe your statement to be entirely correct, O’Neill, however I will say no more so long as you continue to try.”

Jack nodded, “Scouts honour, T.”  He made the sign, then shrugged at Teal’c’s raised eyebrow.  “My word as an officer and a gentleman?”

“Ah.”

Jack turned, then looked back at the two.  “Oh, if you both wouldn’t mind…around, say 2030, why don’t you round up the ladies of SG1 and meet me at the house for a bit.  I’ll call Ferretti and get him to join us.”

“As you wish, O’Neill.  It would be quite good to see LouFerretti once again.”

“Yes, sir.  I believe Sam was on her way to the airport to pick up Cassandra Fraiser, but they should be back in time.”  Mitchell responded readily.

“Good!  Call Carter, let her know, and tell her to bring Cass, too.”  Jack smiled.  The young woman was family, too, after all.  “See you later!  I’d better go before Daniel gets tired of waiting and dives back into work.”

~*~*~*~*~

          Rather than O’Malley’s, they ended up at the newest Italian restaurant in town, Café Roma, when Jack asked Daniel of there were someplace in particular he wanted to try.  Jack was agreeable.  After all, the Italians invented pizza – American Italians, but still.  It turned out to be a tad fancier than Jack expected (though not so fancy that they couldn’t get away with their dark jeans and nice shirts), and was real Roman Italian cuisine instead of American Italian (meaning no pizza), but even then Jack couldn’t find a reason for complaint.  He even let Daniel choose and order a bottle of wine.

The whole evening was beginning to smack distinctly of ‘date,’ even if Daniel was too oblivious to catch on.

Once the waiter disappeared with their orders, there was a long moment of silence.  It wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable – they were just too in tune with each other to be otherwise – but neither man seemed to be able to find something to say, which was an oddity in and of itself.  And that fact was glaringly painful to Jack, indicative of just how far their friendship had fallen.

“So…” he began, fiddling with his glass of wine.

“So…” Daniel agreed, blue eyes regarding his friend with interest.  The linguist could see he was at a loss for something productive to start a conversation about – some topic that wasn’t too deep and personal for a public, if not crowded, restaurant.  He obviously didn’t want to push the invitation either.  Daniel realized then, that for all his own insecurities about this whole situation, Jack had a few of his own.  The battle-worn officer across from him was afraid to say or do anything that might cause a setback, and appeared to be even more afraid that he didn’t know where the lines were anymore; when did he speak his mind and when did he keep his mouth shut?  When did he push Daniel and when not? Daniel could almost hear the thoughts spinning around in Jack’s head, could see the hesitancy and frustration on his face.  Yet Daniel had no idea how to go about setting those worries straight for Jack, as Daniel himself was just as confused.

“This is really pathetic.”  Jack grumbled, frowning darkly into his wine glass.  “Since when have I had problems making small talk?  With you, no less.”

“Have we ever really had small talk, Jack?”  Daniel asked, amused in spite of himself.  “When our conversations weren’t work-related, or in reference to Abydos, Sha’re or Charlie, the few topics we actually discussed were hockey, politics, or the Simpsons.  Or the O’Neill philosophy of life in fishing.”  That earned a small smirk from Jack, but it didn’t last long.  “I don’t think we’ve ever needed small talk, Jack.  So why start now?”

“Because…” Jack took a sip of his wine and leaned forward in his seat.  “We’re trying to start over, to re-establish ourselves.  And we can’t really talk about the more…meaningful things here in public.  And, I guess…I don’t want to screw it all up again.  I couldn’t live with that, Daniel.”  His eyes met Daniel’s across the table, the low lighting and muted glow of the candles on the table giving them a glitter of gold behind the amber brown.  It gave Daniel some unexpectedly pleasant tingles.

“Jack…”

“No, Daniel.  Like I’ve said, I know just what shade of bastard I’ve been and I will fight – to the death – for the relationship, friendship…whatever…we had.  To get it back again and maybe even make it more.”  Jack looked and spoke so fervently and with such sincerity and seriousness that Daniel closed his mouth and just let him speak.  “You are and always will be, to me, my best friend, no matter what else.  If…if this shouldn’t work out, though…  God, I didn’t want to get into this now!  Tonight!”  He rubbed his face with both hands and slid his fingers into his silvered hair to grip fistfuls tightly.  “I’m sorry.”

Daniel wished desperately that he could reach across the table and grip the other man’s hand, and never let go.  But he couldn’t, so he relied on his voice to convey what he needed Jack to know.  “It’s alright, Jack.  Making up isn’t an easy thing to do, and…I think I can safely say that fixing whatever’s still broken between us is something we both want very badly.  And you’re right, we can’t have the talk we want and need to have here and now.  But…will it rest your mind to know that we will?  We have a whole week to hash it all out, Jack.”

Jack’s eyes widened at the implication there, hope practically radiating from him at Daniel’s words.  “Do we, Danny?  You…you’ve decided?”

“Yeah.”  Daniel smiled softly, almost shyly.  His own eyes widened slightly as a shimmer of moisture trickled down Jack’s cheek and his eyes closed in painful relief as he swiped quickly at the tears self-consciously.  As weird as it was (and as guilty for it as it made Daniel feel) the younger man realized he really was that important to this strong, independent man from just that moment of unhidden emotion, and Daniel felt a surge of hope and relief for himself and all those long-ago dreams he’d once entertained before everything had unravelled around him, leaving him out in the cold and dark all alone again.

“Thank you, Danny.  You don’t know what that means to me.”  Jack’s eyes were still a tad shiny and wet, but they were bright, and happy, and the smile on his face was genuine.  If they’d been alone, sans audience, he’d have been across the table with arms around Daniel’s body and lips catching Daniel’s in a kiss that was as full of lust as it was of happy gratitude.  Jack promised himself then and there that if he ever got the opportunity, he’d seize it and spend hours just kissing his archaeologist insensible.  No more, no less.

To his surprise and interest, Daniel actually blushed and stared into his own wine glass shyly, unable to keep his gaze locked on Jack’s.  “I think I do, actually.”

Jack tilted his head curiously in question, reaching to refill his mysteriously empty glass with the bottle sitting off to the side of their table in a bucket.  He poured for himself, then Daniel when the younger man held out his glass while elaborating.

“I think…we’ve both wanted things, and maybe we’ve both let a lot of other stuff distract us and get between us.  And I think maybe we’ve been afraid to let each other know what we wanted because we dreaded millions of possible consequences – and saw only the bad ones.”  Daniel sipped at his wine, feeling much calmer and less restricted in what he said to this man than he had in so long it was ridiculous.  “We let the bad overshadow the possible good, and we didn’t choose to fight for what we wanted anyway.”

Jack’s smile was a little grim, but Daniel could see the agreement in his expression.  “So we’re finally working up the balls, then?  Doing what we’ve done all these years in battling,” his eyes flicked around, remembering their public venue, and his voice lowered, “our various snakes and bugs with all we had despite how bleak and dark it sometimes got?”

“Yeah.  Something like that.”  Daniel smiled softly.

The waiter appeared at that point with their first courses, and silence descended on them again for the rest of the meal as they gave in to their stomachs.  This time, however, the silence was a comfortable, relaxed one that was reminiscent of their former companionship.  A fact that was not lost on, nor went unappreciated, by either man.

 ~*~*~*~*~

{Jack}

At one point in the meal, Jack excused himself to use the washroom, and on the way back to the table, he placed a quick phone call to Ferretti to pass on the request to meet SG1 at Jack’s house later that evening.  Lou had readily agreed, and Jack spent the rest of his evening with an increasingly sleepy Daniel in a constant state of excitement and anticipation – though he managed to keep it from the linguist somehow.  Or maybe Daniel was just too exhausted to notice Jack’s enthusiasm.

Dropping Daniel off at the Mountain proved to be a challenge, though.  Jack had to come up with a plausible lie as to why he wasn’t returning with Daniel; it seemed the archaeologist had been aware that Jack had not left the SGC all weekend.

“Uh…actually, I’m at a hotel in town tonight, Daniel.”  Jack said, boldly lying right through his teeth.  “I have a few minor travel arrangements for our trip that I’ve got to work out, and I really didn’t feel like spending another night on base.”

Apparently he lied well enough to pacify Daniel’s curiosity.  The man yawned and nodded sleepily as he climbed out of Jack’s rental trunk.  “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then.  When do we leave?”

“Around 1030.”  Jack gave Daniel a little wave.  “Go on, get to bed before you fall over.  You’ll have time to pack and all tomorrow morning.  I’ll bring you Starbucks or something.”

Daniel yawned again, morphing the smile drastically that came over him at Jack’s thoughtful bribe.  “I don’t care where you get it, Jack, as long as it’s good coffee.  See you tomorrow, then.”

“Yeah.”  Jack grinned and watched Daniel wander away toward the security checkpoint.  “Good night, Danny.”  He murmured, then left the Mountain for the house and his co-conspirators.

~*~*~*~*~

          When Jack pulled up in his former driveway, he found only Ferretti already there.  Glancing at his watch, he noted he was a little earlier than the rest of SG1 as he slid out of the vehicle and sauntered over to where Ferretti was waiting for him, leaning against his car casually.

“Hey!  Welcome back, sir!”  Lou greeted him with a wide grin and a warm handshake.  “How’s it going?”

“Hey, Lou.  It’s very good to be back.”  Jack replied fervently.  “And so far…pretty well.  Everything is progressing steadily in the right direction.”

Lou smiled at the obvious contentment that surrounded his former CO.  He couldn’t ever remember seeing the hardened officer so at ease and generally happy. “That’s good.  I’m glad for it, Jack.  So!”  He clapped his hands together and rubbed them together eagerly.  “You want a quick tour before the rest show up?”

“Hell, yes!  Lead on, McDuff!”  Jack motioned for Lou to proceed him.  “Take point, Ferretti.”

Lou pulled out the house key and unlocked the front door, stopping inside and flicking on the light switches.  “Okay.  So, we did what you wanted in here.”  He stepped out of the way so Jack could see.  “Took out that wall and that wall, which really opened up the place, and I got that nice island counter installed in place of that wall between your dining area and the kitchen.”

“Wow.  This is great!”  Jack stood in what used to be his living room and looked down the length of the house to his kitchen, his view unimpeded by the two walls that once separated the three rooms from each other.  “It’s wa-ay bigger than I thought it would be.”

“Sure is.  Plenty of room for the Doc’s stuff, though, including his baby grande.”  Lou reminded Jack, who nodded absently and moved to check out the new island counter in the kitchen.  He could easily picture Daniel puttering around cooking.  “I went for granite tile instead of solid granite for the countertop.  I hope you don’t mind.  It was a hell of a lot cheaper, and I got an excellent deal for it.”

“It’s perfect, Lou.  You’ve got good taste.”  Jack ran his hands over the granite surface appreciatively.

“Hah.  Tell it to my wife.  She won’t let me touch anything in our house.”  Lou rolled his eyes.  “But come on.  You haven’t seen the really good stuff yet.”  He led Jack from the kitchen to the front hall, but instead of going upstairs he stopped at a new set of oak French doors.  With a grand flourish, Lou opened both doors and walked in.  “I think you’ll be pleased with the results, Jack.”  He said, flicking on the lights.

Jack stood in the open door and stared, awed and amazed at the expanse of room – though empty of furniture or accessories – and found himself speechless.  Slowly he moved inside what used to be his own home office, once a tiny, one windowed room that was hardly bigger than the main floor bathroom and what was now a sprawling space with floor to ceiling windows on one wall, floor to ceiling bookshelves along two more walls (surrounding both the oak French doors and a huge fireplace), and a cozy little bay window on the last wall that was farthest from where Jack stood.  Next to the bay window was another set of French doors – made of both oak and glass.

Lou watched with pride as Jack slowly walked around the newly extended study, taking in every detail.  “Well?  What’s the verdict?”

“Amazing.  Truly, Lou.”  Jack gave the heartfelt compliment without hesitation.  “You do fantastic work.”

“Why thank you, sir.”  Lou gave him a little bow, á la Teal’c, and grinned at Jack’s eye roll.  ”Check out the deck, Jack.  Well, you might not get the full effect, but the idea, at least.”

Nodding and already heading for the glass and oak doors.  Jack stepped outside and walked out onto the extended deck that now wrapped all the way along the additions Jack commissioned Lou to make.  Although it ate up a large chunk of his backyard and garden area, the General couldn’t find a speck of regret or disappointment for it.  This had turned out far better than Jack had imagined, and he really hoped Daniel would love it and accept it for the home Jack desperately wanted to give him.

Sniffing, Jack wiped at his eyes and cursed his emotional reaction.  Don’t be getting ahead of yourself, O’Neill.  He admonished himself. There are no guarantees, and you never know how Daniel will react to something like this.  Heading back inside, he gave Ferretti two thumbs up and a wide smirk.  “Excellent, Lou.  Totally.”

“Ah, but I haven’t even shown you the bonus prize.”  Lou winked at Jack’s surprised look and walked over to a spot near the end of the wall of windows.  He pointed up, then grabbed a rope dangling from the ceiling as Jack’s eyes followed.  “Pull on this, and…voila!”  There was a soft ‘click’ and suddenly the piece of ceiling began to break away, slowly descending to the floor to reveal a hidden set of stairs.  Intrigued, Jack followed Ferretti up the stairs until they reached a door.

“Where’s this lead?”  Jack wanted to know.  Lou grinned mysteriously and opened the door.  A cool blast of outdoor air told Jack it led outside, and the two men exited to find themselves on top of Jack’s roof, above the study.  A large portion of the flat surface was actually a miniature deck of sorts.  “Lou?”

“Well, the ideal situation is that it’s not all about the Doc, right? It’s for you to live here just as happily ever after.  So, I figured…you could use a newer, larger observation deck for your telescope and maybe a second one?  At least you’d have room for both of you up here, and it’s sheltered from the view of all your neighbours by the rest of the house…”

Jack closed his eyes and raised his face to the stars.  Goddamn it!  He was going to cry!  Just break down and bawl like a child rather than be the tough, badass General he was.  His eyes opened as the sound of car doors slamming and the low murmur of voices approaching the house told him the others were here.  He opened his mouth to speak, but found he couldn’t get any sound out.  His throat was too thick.

Seeming to understand (and having heard the arrival of SG1, too) Lou dropped a hand on Jack’s shoulder briefly and moved past him.  “I’ll go stall your team, sir.  Take a few minutes.”  He said gently before disappearing.

Alone, Jack’s legs wobbled and he sat down abruptly on the hard, wood surface of the deck.  One shaky, inhaled breath later, tears poured down his face.  For the first time since that fateful, original night of Daniel’s Ascension, Jack O’Neill wept.

Only this time, it was with hope and shy happiness rather than the despair and grief and sadness of last time.

~*~*~*~*~

          Cassandra Fraiser wandered around the open, empty space of her Uncle Jack’s home, taking in the changes and speculating about the causes for such changes.  She’d been surprised when Sam had called her to tell her that she was getting an entire week off, and that Uncle Jack had asked Sam and SG1 to do him a big, personal favour during that time.  She had not, however, been surprised when Sam, upon Cassie’s insistence that she fly home and help out, too, told her young friend about her conversations with Jack and the understandings they’d reached (albeit without great details).  Thanks to her mother, Janet Fraiser, and her own observations and opinions, Cassie had known all along that there was much more to the relationship between her two favourite Uncles, despite the way things appeared between Jack and Sam, and despite how Sam had believed she’d felt.

Being an alien human had the advantage of not necessarily having certain prejudices and beliefs instilled in her, even though she had grown up during some of those important, impressionable teenaged years here on Earth.  Thus, she had no societal pre-conceptions about the supposed ‘wrongness’ of a relationship (of a romantic nature) between persons of the same gender.  She’d left Hanka, her home planet, at too young an age to remember if her people had thought as many of the Tau’ri seemed to, and when she’d grown up enough to understand such things, she’d had Janet Fraiser for a mother.  A woman whose compassion and love of life had rubbed off on her adopted daughter, and who had taught Cassandra to never cater to the bigoted beliefs of others when it went against what her heart told her.

Not really listening as Lou Ferretti regaled Cassie and Sam with the details of the work he’d done, the young woman let herself drift down memory lane.  She had plenty of wonderful memories here, in this house.  SGC functions and private, SG1 family BBQs among them.

But she also remembered how, late one evening, her mother had finally come home exhausted in every possible way with the worst news imaginable: her Uncle Daniel was gone – dead or not, no one was really positive.  “He Ascended,” Janet had explained to her horrified daughter when she told her of what had happened on Kelowna, “and we don’t know for certain what that means.  But he’s gone, Cassie, honey.”

They had cried together, Cassie remembered.  Grieved together for the loss of a gentle, wonderful man who had done so much for both of them, who had loved them and whom they loved in return – even if neither side had ever really spoken of it.  Cassie also remembered that early the next morning, while Janet slept like a rock, Cassie had felt compelled to leave the house extra early (even though she wasn’t going to school that day).  She’d slipped out and walked the surprisingly long distance to her Uncle Jack’s house.

No one else – not even Janet – knew she’d been there that morning.  She’d gotten home before Janet woke up from her much-needed slumber.  And so no one but Cassie and Jack knew the true extent of the grief and loneliness Jack went through that initial period after Daniel’s Ascension.

* * * *

          At first she’d thought no one was home, but the same compulsion that had brought her there told her to go up the ladder at the side of the house to the tiny observatory on the roof.  It was there that she’d found her Uncle Jack, staring up at the sky – now devoid of stars – with dried tear tracks on his face and dull, anguished brown eyes that seemed to hold a knowledge and weight of emotion far beyond what any one soul should ever have to suffer.

Uncle Jack?”  She’d inquired softly, almost timidly, unsure of her welcome and intrusion of his immensely private grief.  “Uncle Jack, it’s me.  Cassie…” Tears of her own began to fall again at the absolute desolation of Jack’s expression when his head rolled lethargically to look at her, as if he couldn’t even work up more energy than that to actually turn toward her.

Cass…” his voice was hoarse, and gruff, but not angry.  Actually, it held nothing but pure sadness and…guilt, though she had no idea why at the time.  “Why are you here?  You should be at home…

She shook her head emphatically at that, laying her hand on his shoulder.  “Mom’s asleep, and I’m not going to school for a couple of days.  Something…” she paused, frowning to herself and wiping away the moisture from her face.  It sounded weird, but she didn’t know how else to explain it.  “Something told me to come here, Uncle Jack.  So I did.  I was worried.

Nodding, as if it wasn’t weird at all and he knew exactly what she meant, Jack opened his arms.  “Come here.

Cassie crawled into his lap, then, like the little girl she’d once been when they’d first met.  She laid her ear to his chest, lulled by his heartbeat, and he held her tightly as they grieved in silence.

At one point, Jack had begun to speak, although Cassie had been pretty sure he didn’t realize it.  It wasn’t anything deep or introspective, or about things an adult had no business speaking of to a young girl – a teenager and an intelligent one at that – who was older in mentality than her age supposed.  They were merely memories of Daniel, of their original Abydos mission, of later missions and adventures and close calls.  And Jack spoke of regrets – things he’d wanted to do with Daniel, to do for Daniel.  Things he wished he’d told Daniel in his last conscious moments.  All through it, Cassie had listened, just listened, and held onto her Uncle fiercely even though she was sure he didn’t even realize she was still there anymore.

She knew then that Jack loved Daniel with all his heart and soul.  She also knew that Jack hadn’t quite figured that out yet.  But she somehow sensed that he would buy a clue, eventually, and somehow she knew that everything would be alright.

Suddenly she could feel a warm, loving presence – a very familiar one.

It felt like Daniel.

Cassandra never told anyone what she’d sensed – what she’d seen – that day.  The presence she felt became a physical sensation in the form of a very soft breeze that brushed across her skin.  Unable to move, with her head still resting on Jack’s chest, she could see, off to the side, the misty form of her Uncle Daniel, perched on the floor of the observatory at the ladder with one leg dangling off the side and one knee bent as he watched them with a sad little smile.  He waved and raised a finger to his lips, warning her to keep quiet.  Then she ‘heard’ his voice, even though his mouth never moved.

I’m so sorry to have left so suddenly, Cassandra, and I hope you know how much I love you and miss you already.  But don’t be sad, okay?  I think I’ll be gone for a while, but…I’ll never be so far away that if you need me I won’t be there.  Daniel smiled again, this time his eyes on Jack – who lay oblivious and still talking under Cassie.  I’ll apologize for…nudging you in Jack’s direction, too.  But…I think out of everyone else, you are exactly who he needs right now, and to be honest, there is no one else that could just listenHe can’t share his grief with anyone, Cassie, and he needs to or it will eat him alive – even though he knows I’m not really dead and gone.  I…  Daniel seemed to falter, worry etched on his features, his eyes shifting from Jack back to Cassie’s own sad eyes.  It’s my fault.  I asked him to let me go, even though I knew what it would do to him.  No matter what else may have been going on, he still cared about me as a friend.  Just…take care of him, okay?  And Janet, and Sam, and Teal’c, too.  He looked away, as if listening to something, then turned back looking regretful and wistful.

I have to go now, Cassie.  Oma let me make sure someone was going to be looking out for my family, but I don’t think she intended for me to be talking to any of you.  Remind Jack that I’m still around, and that he’d better not do this wallow-in-grief thing for long or I’ll have to kick his ass.  Daniel waved again, just sort of…fading away in the light.  Goodbye, Cassie.  Take care of the family for me, sweetheart.

And then he was gone.

* * * *

          “Cassie?  Cass, honey, are you alright?”  Sam’s voice broke through her memory and she turned to smile up at Sam reassuringly.

“I’m fine, Sam.  Just thinking.”

Sam and Lou laughed.  “I could tell!  The wheels were really turning.”  Sam glanced at the front door at the sound of car doors closing outside.  “Oh, that must be Cameron, Vala, and Teal’c.”

“Great!  Gang’s all here!”  Lou beamed.

Cassie smiled faintly.  “Where’s Uncle Jack, though?”

Lou gave her a fond pat on the shoulder.  “He’s up on the new observatory deck.  He needed a few minutes alone so I came to let you lovely ladies inside.”  Seeing the slight frown of concern on both women’s faces, he took Cassie’s hand and led her down the hall to the new study.  “Why don’t you go get him, Cassandra?  I have a feeling he’d really like to see you.”

The young woman nodded, barely noticing the grandeur of the room as she crossed quickly to the stairs and hurried up them.  Lou went to the door to let the rest of SG1 in, but found Sam had already done so.

~*~*~*~*~

          Cassie opened the door and stepped outside, spotting her uncle immediately.  She closed the door softly and walked over to sit down next to him, pretending not to notice the moisture on his face.  “Hey, Uncle Jack.”

Jack had, of course, heard her come out to find him, so he wasn’t startled by her quiet, concerned voice suddenly breaking his thoughts.  He raised his arm and draped it around her shoulders, pulling her close to snuggle against his side.  Her arm came up to curl around him in return.  “Hey, Cass.  I’m glad you came.  We’ve really missed you.”  He kissed the top of her head and returned to staring out at nothing.  He didn’t mind at all that she was here.  With this girl – no longer a child – he’d never felt he had to hide his emotions or any of the bad things in life from her, and she seemed to be far older and wiser than her age (which was no doubt understandable due to her childhood spent as one of Nirti’s experiments, the death of her people, and having to cope with all of that as the sole survivor).  In many ways, she was a great deal like Daniel, which probably helped Jack to talk to her about things he wouldn’t with anyone else (save Daniel).

“I wouldn’t be anywhere else.  I miss all of you, too.”  She replied, squeezing him with her arm in an affectionate hug.

“How’s school going?  Have you made any new friends?”  Jack asked, his hand rubbing up and down her upper arm over her jacket absently.  He couldn’t help it, he was a tactile person – particularly with kids, dogs, and archaeologists named Daniel Jackson.

“It’s good.  I like my classes, and yeah, I’ve made a few friends.  But…I still miss you and Daniel and Teal’c and Sam.”

“Yeah.  Going off to university is tough.  But it’s worth it.”

“I know.”  Cassie looked up at him.  “Sam filled me in on your plans for the house, Uncle Jack.  She said you were planning to turn it over to Uncle Daniel.”

Jack smiled a bit wryly.  “If he’ll let me.  You know Daniel.  He has a hard time accepting his worth to people and the nice things we try to do for him.”

“Yes, but this isn’t about that, is it?”  Cassie poked him with a finger.  “Are you really going to try and…well, ‘marry’ him?”  She giggled at Jack’s blush.  “About damn time!  What took you so long?”

“Cassandra Fraiser!”  Jack blinked down at her in mild horror.  He still wasn’t used to the fact that she was all grown-up (no matter her mental age).  She also did a damn fine impression of an unimpressed Teal’c with that raised eyebrow.  “Er…I’m a first class idiot?”  Jack sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.  “A lot of things happened, Cass.  But this whole trip to the cabin thing is supposed to give us time to work all that out, and hopefully end up here.  And do you know how much you sound just like your Napoleonic mother?”

Smirking, Cassie shrugged carelessly.  “I learn from the best.”

Jack grinned.

“Everyone’s here now, by the way.”  Cassie added, getting up and reaching down to give the man a hand when his knees creaked badly.  “We should go in.”

“Yeah.  Thanks for helping this old man with the noisy knees.”

Cassie scoffed.  “You’re not old, Uncle Jack.”  Pausing at the door, she glanced up at him.  “You okay, now?”

He smiled and gently brushed some hair out of her eyes.  “I’m good.  I wasn’t really upset, honey.  I think…just overwhelmed with happiness for once.”

Smiling back, she opened the door and went in.  “He’s going to love it, Uncle Jack, so don’t worry.”

“Ya think?”  Jack followed her, his voice coloured in hopeful apprehension.  Cassie stopped at the bottom of the stairs, looked around, then gestured with both arms.

“With this?  Yeah, sure, you betcha!”  Jack seemed to straighten slightly as he beamed at her for using his catch-phrase.  Then she winked at him and said as she walked away, “Almost as much as he loves you, I bet.”

Jack’s eyes went wide and he blushed, flustered.  “Cassandra!”

Her peals of laughter led him right out to the others in the living room.

“You are one devious young lady.”  Jack declared as he strolled in.  “Hey, campers!  Thanks for coming.”  He waved Sam and Mitchell down, as they’d begun to get up off the floor at his appearance from where they all sat.  “Cut that out, you two.”

Sam settled back down, smiling sheepishly.  “Sorry, sir.  Habit.  So what did you call this little meeting for?”

“I wanted you all to see the place, and get a feel for where to put stuff and whatever else might be needed to fill in the blanks, so to speak.”  Jack replied, leaning on one elbow against the mantle of the fireplace.  “Besides, I hadn’t seen the finished project yet, myself!  Had to give Lou the chance to show off his skill and craftsmanship.”

Lou grinned.  “Why thank you, General, sir!”  He snapped off a smart salute.  Jack flipped him a good-natured, one-fingered salute in return.

“The study is beautiful, Lou.”  Cassie praised.  “And everything else is pretty great, too.”

“Indeed, LouFerretti.  I had not previously known of your skill as a tradesperson.  It is quite impressive.”  Teal’c added his own compliments.

“Thank you, my big Jaffa friend!  I appreciate that you appreciate it.”

“Oh!  And I nearly forgot…  Cassandra Fraiser, meet the newest members of SG1.”  Jack introduced the young woman to Mitchell and Vala.  “That’s Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell, and that’s Vala MalDoran.  Guys, this is Cassie.”

Cassie, standing beside Jack and Teal’c (on the floor at her feet), smiled a little and waved.  “Hi.  Nice to meet you.  Sam’s told me about you both.”

Cam was at his charming Southern best, bestowing an easy smile and a warm gaze on her from where he lounged on the floor between Sam and Vala.  “It’s a great pleasure to finally meet you, Cassandra, after hearing so much about you from the rest of the band, here.”

“I haven’t heard a thing, myself, but I’m still happy to meet you.”  Vala added her greeting.  She glanced curiously at Cameron, then over at Teal’c hoping someone would explain who this girl was.  Neither man noticed her questioning gaze, however, and she resolved to ask Daniel about it later.

“So you’ve seen the whole place?  Kitchen, study, observatory…?”  Jack looked around at them, then blinked at a few wide-eyed expressions that he interpreted as a ‘no!’  With a sweeping gesture, he motioned for SG1 to get up and go explore.  “Well, come on, people!  If you thought Lou’s work in the kitchen was great…”

“I’ll give the official tour, sir.”  Lou grinned and led Cameron, Teal’c, Sam, and Vala down the hall to the study.

“So, Uncle Jack…” Cassie began, “You are going to bring Daniel back in time so that I actually get to see him before I have to go back to classes right?”

“I’ll try.  When were you going back?”  Jack wondered.

“Next Sunday or Monday.”

“You took a week off?”  Jack frowned, not sure if he should be flattered or upset that she was missing that much school for him.  And Daniel.  Cassie must have read his expression because she laughed and tried to reassure him.

“Don’t worry!  I don’t normally have any classes on Mondays, and I’ll get the notes for most of my classes from friends.  They’ll email me about any assignments, too.  Everything’s under control.”

“Ah.  Then yes, we’ll most likely be back in the Springs with plenty of time for you to visit Daniel.  He wouldn’t have it any other way, you know.”

Cassandra just smiled fondly.  Of all SG1, she was particularly close to Daniel, for reasons no one really understood.  Maybe it was how he’d picked up some of the parental responsibility for her after Janet’s death, or how he always seemed to know what she was thinking and how to talk to her, or maybe it was that he’d never treated her as a child but as an intelligent adult.  Where Sam was her best friend – almost a big sister, really – Daniel was…her guardian and protector.  A shield that kept the bad stuff from harming her in any way.

It was a late night for them, and nearly midnight when they broke off to go their separate ways.  Jack found himself crashing on Mitchell’s none-too-comfy sofa bed that night, after sheepishly explaining that he’d told Daniel he was at a hotel.  The poor guy was incredibly honoured to have a General – specifically one of his personal heroes – sleeping on his sofa bed, and to Jack’s amusement Cam fussed and tidied until Jack gave in and started laughing.

“For cryin’ out loud, Mitchell!  I’m not the President!  Relax would ya?  Go to bed, please.”

Flushing a bit, Cam grinned self-consciously and ran a hand through his hair.  “Ah…yes, sir.  Sorry ‘bout that.  I’ll just…” he pointed down the short hall to his bedroom, and Jack waved him away.

“Good night, Mitchell.”  He drawled, lying down pointedly and wriggling to get as comfortable as the rather lumpy mattress would allow.

~*~*~*~*~

Chapter II
{Daniel}

A playful knock on his door at 09:30 announced Jack’s arrival.  “Good morning, sleepy!”  Yep, this was one bright-eyed, bushy-tailed General.  Jack ruffled Daniel’s hair affectionately –  which of course annoyed the archaeologist, who glared and batted Jack’s hand away ineffectively.

“Jack.”  Daniel sighed and gave up.  He’d never change the man about mornings.  “I’m almost ready.”  He went back to packing.  “I just need a few things from my office…”

“Oh no, you don’t.  Va-ca-tion, Daniel.  No work allowed.”  Jack stamped down on that before it could even get off the ground.

Daniel gave him a brief scowl.  “I want some books I’ve been meaning to read.  They’re in my office.”  He clarified.  “And you can not forbid me from reading on this so called ‘vacation.’”  His eyes dared Jack to fight him on it.

Wisely, Jack gave in.  “Wouldn’t dream of it, Danny.”  He held up his hands in a gesture of capitulation.  Eyeing the clothing Daniel was packing, he made a quick suggestion.  “Ya might want a couple of sweaters, though.  Nights are getting pretty chilly in Northern Minnesota this time of year.

“I can’t decide what to bring.”  Daniel stared down at an open dresser drawer containing his warmer clothes.  Jack plopped down to the end of Daniel’s bed and spoke before he realized what he was saying.

“I’ve always liked the ivory, cable-knit sweater on you.”

Said sweater was in Daniel’s hand when Jack spoke, and Daniel paused to blink at it, then at Jack.  “Really?  I didn’t think you noticed what I wore as long as I was dressed appropriately for the occasion.”  To his surprise, Jack actually turned pink and wouldn’t meet his gaze.  Well, well.  What was this?

“Uh…well, I notice all kinds of things.  I just never…say most of it out loud.”  The older man floundered.  “I am, you know…trained to notice details, right?”  He gave the linguist a covert glance, hopeful that he’d bought that hogwash.

“Yeah, sure.  Whatever you say, O’Neill.”  Daniel rolled his eyes and carefully folded the sweater to add it to his bag, hiding the secretly pleased warmth that washed through him at Jack’s transparent cover-up with a neutral expression.  Besides, he was packing the damn thing, and wasn’t that telling enough?  “By the way…”

“Hmm?”

“What exactly are we going to do up there for an entire week?  Other than talk…”  Daniel asked in a quiet voice.  “Because I doubt I’ll fish.  Much.”

“Well, there’s always the nature trails, and chess games.  And apparently you’ll have reading material.”  Jack couldn’t help pointing that out glibly.  Daniel gave him a withering stare over the top of his glasses and zipped up the duffel bag.  “Okay, so I didn’t make plans for ‘activities.’  I’m not a travel agent!”

“I know.  We can always leave, I guess, if we get bored.”  Daniel slung his bag over one shoulder and grabbed his jacket.  “Let’s hit my office and get out of here, Jack.”

“Let’s.”  Jack agreed and got up, following along passively as Daniel collected his books (keeping an eagle eye on the linguist to make sure he didn’t smuggle any contraband work into this vacation).  “Got it all?”

“Yeah.  Oh!  How are we getting there, Jack?  Driving?  Flying?”  Daniel inquired curiously.  Jack smiled mysteriously and merely shrugged.  “Come on…”

“One last stop, to let Landry know we’re gone, and then…you’ll see.”  Jack pushed the button for Level 27.  He glanced at his watch as Daniel narrowed suspicious eyes on him.  “We’ll be right on time, too.”

They left the elevator and walked the hall to the commander’s office, where they could hear Hank Landry in conversation with someone.  Jack rapped his knuckles on the door and poked his head inside.  “Hank?  Bad time?”

“Not at all, Jack.”  Hank looked grateful for the interruption.  And who wouldn’t with Richard Woolsey in the room?  “We’re just hammering out the legal details of the IOA’s part in Dr. Jackson’s new team.”

“Ah.”  Jack gestured over his shoulder at said archaeologist.  “We just came to bid you a fond farewell, so you can consider us checked out from base.”

“Good morning, Jackson.”  Landry greeted Daniel (peering out from around Jack, who pretty much blocked the door).  “All ready for the big fishing extravaganza, I see.”

Blithely ignoring Woolsey, Daniel gave a little wave over Jack’s shoulder.  “Yes, sir. Apparently.”

“Well, time to go!”  Jack declared happily, with another look at his watch.  “See you in a week, Hank!”  He gave a sloppy salute.

“Have a nice trip, gentlemen.”  Hank chuckling at Jack’s antics just as the two men were suddenly enveloped in a bright light and they disappeared.

On board Odyssey, two seconds later, Daniel blinked, taking in the bridge, and rounded on Jack incredulously.

“Don’t you think this qualifies as an abuse of power, Jack?”

Jack just grinned and walked over to where his own duffel bag of belongings sat waiting for him, tucked out of the way of the bridge crew.  He hefted it easily.

“It’s one of the pros that came with the second star.” He replied genially, referring to the conversation they’d had when Jack had first been offered promotion to general and command of the SGC.  “I need to go places with all possible haste, after all.  It doesn’t get faster than Asgard beams.”

“Oh, of course.”  Daniel rolled his eyes, torn between amusement and horror at Jack’s irreverent abuse of that perk.  “I don’t think they meant when you’re on leave for vacation, though.”

Jack ignored him and signalled the Major at the ship’s control panel for transport down to Earth once more.  “Major, if you would?”

“Yes, sir.  See you in a week, General!”  The cheerful woman beamed at them and pushed a button on her console.

The next thing Daniel knew, he was standing in the cozy living room of Jack’s cabin in Minnesota, the older man already moving to start a fire in the large fireplace.

“Let’s get things warmed up a little in here.  Go put your gear in the spare room, Daniel, while I get this fire started and put on a pot of coffee.”

Resigned, the younger man took his bag to the cabin’s second bedroom and set it on the cedar wood hope chest at the foot of the bed, then sat down heavily on the bed with a sigh.  As he undid the laces of his boots slowly to take the footwear off, he contemplated his situation.  Now that he was actually here, with Jack, alone, and with no escape (unless he wanted to walk over the 20 miles to the nearest town)…his brain went into overdrive and he began to wonder if this was a mistake.  And why the hell did he always let Jack get away with his Machiavellian schemes, even when he knew he was being manoeuvred in some way toward a goal only Jack could see?

Running his fingers through his short hair in agitation, Daniel stood and followed the scent of coffee brewing and the comforting, welcoming scent of burning wood back out to the living room.  A glance into the kitchen before he flopped down ungracefully onto the couch told him where Jack was.  To keep himself occupied, he dug out the chessboard from the cabinet in the side-table at his elbow and set it up on the middle cushion of the couch.

A few moments later, Jack appeared with two mugs of coffee, which he set on the coffee table on coasters.  Taking the seat on the couch opposite Daniel, he smiled at the board and at his friend, shifting around a bit so that he faced Daniel comfortably.

“Good idea, Danny.  We haven’t had much of a chance to play for quite a while, have we?”  Jack commented, his tone subdued by the flash of loneliness and small tightening at the corners of Daniel’s eyes and mouth.  Fingers tapping his thigh nervously, Jack looked back down at the board as Daniel made the first move with a white pawn.  “Although I’m guessing that our long talk is going to start right now and continue while we play…”

Daniel huffed and reached for his coffee, taking a large swallow without even seeming to notice the heat of it.  “You’re the one that decided here and now was the place and time to talk, Jack.  I couldn’t turn you down, either – knowing how hard it is for you to do so and the fact that this is all your idea.”

Jack countered Daniel’s opening move with his own and frowned.  “You sound as if you don’t want to talk about it, Daniel.  If not, then why’d you agree to come out here with me?”

“Because…I owe it to the friendship we once had.  Because if we want that friendship back then we need to talk, whether either of us likes it or not.  And because…I haven’t liked life without Jack O’Neill very much and I’d rather you were in it than not.”  Saying that was like having a tooth pulled, and Daniel grimaced at the pain of it.  “Which is pathetic and hopeless of me.  I mean, the way things have been between us…  And I’d rather have that anger, and pain, and dislike than to not have you at all!”

All kinds of emotions were running over Jack’s face as Daniel spoke, and he actually twitched like he wanted to reach over and touch the other man but knew he wouldn’t be welcomed so he restrained himself.  He seemed to pull himself together enough to respond, however, after a few minutes.

“I don’t think it’s hopeless or pathetic, Danny.  Because if it is…” Jack’s voice cracked a little, growing thick, “…if it is, then I’m just as bad.  I would rather have you around, mad at me – even hating me – for all that I’ve done to you than to go another day without you at all.  And for all my plans to get us here and give us the time and opportunity to work our issues out, I don’t even know where to start, Daniel.”  Jack gave a vicious, self-mocking chuckle.

Daniel watched him silently for a moment, over the rim of his mug.  “I don’t know either, Jack.” He admitted quietly, setting the mug aside.  “I can’t really say much right now because I don’t really know at which point in our relationship things started to go wrong. The only question I can ask now is…why?”

“And an all-encompassing one it is.”  Jack slouched back, absently moving a chess piece.  His mind was completely away from the game, even as he continued to play.  “We had our philosophical differences, and I think that contributed to an extent, but I don’t believe it was something powerful enough to bust us up.  For a while, those differences were coming between us, but each time we somehow managed to come to terms with it and move on.  But…in my case…Daniel, you know I’ve never been as close to another person as I have been to you.  Not even with Sara.  And…every time something happened to you – whether or not you were seriously injured, believed dead, or actually dead – a piece of me was injured or died along with you.  I was beginning to see just how important you were to me, and I guess I allowed myself to push you away out of a ridiculous, futile effort to protect myself from losing yet another loved one, another important person in my wretched life.”  Jack picked up a pawn and fiddled with it, unable to look up at Daniel and see the reaction his admission caused.  “I’m not making excuses, Daniel, just explaining as best I’ve figured out for myself, no matter how foolish or just plain stupid I was.”

Daniel sighed and reached over to pluck the chess piece out of Jack’s fingers.  He put it back on the board and set the entire thing aside on the coffee table.  “Jack…I can understand protecting yourself; I mean, I know exactly what it’s like to lose people and to not want to get too close to others out of fear of losing them, too.  But…you could have said something!  We could have talked about it.  You know I would have listened to anything you needed to say, and maybe we could have worked it out together.  When I lost Sha’re – permanently – I was so lost, Jack.  It hurt, deeply, to have lost yet another someone I love but I was able to cope because I had Sam, and Teal’c, and you…and General Hammond and Janet, too.  As much as I wanted to push them all away because I was afraid to have to watch them die, too, I realized that it was pointless, and that having them in my life for whatever time I got with them was infinitely better than being alone.”  Daniel swirled the dark liquid caffeine in his mug watching the light reflecting off its inky black surface.  “I’ve been there and done that, after all.  I hated every second.  It wasn’t worth buying the t-shirt.”  He glanced up at Jack sorrowfully.  “I guess…I just don’t understand why you felt you couldn’t come to me and let me know you felt like that.

“Because there were other factors, too, Daniel.  Though the truth is that I didn’t recognize what those factors were until much, much later – too late to really do anything to make amends.”  Jack couldn’t sit still anymore, so he got up and began a slow pace in front of the fireplace.  “I didn’t understand, then, what I felt or how to deal with everything.  And there were outside influences that just confused me even more.  And before you repeat yourself, I couldn’t talk to you about it because  not only did I not know what was going on with me but I also feared your reaction to some of it.  I was so afraid to lose my best friend – yet ironically, I lost him anyway.”

Daniel processed that for a moment, watching Jack pace with growing agitation.  “So…now that you do get it, you want to tell me?  That – since you’ve already ‘lost’ me – it’s as safe as it’ll get for you to tell me?”

Jack paused mid-step and frowned at him.  “Uh…I hadn’t thought of it like that, but when you put it that way…  That’s pretty much true.  I do want to explain myself, Daniel.  And it’s not for the selfish reasons you’re probably thinking I’m doing all this.  It…has less to do with easing my guilty conscience than fixing the mistakes I made, if I can, or at least setting the record straight with you so that your mind, at least, will have some closure.”

“Uh huh.  Okay, just so we’re absolutely clear, Jack?”

“Yeah?”  Jack responded, eyeing him warily.

“Tell me exactly what goal you have in mind for us.  What is it you’re aiming for?”

Surprised, Jack floundered a little.  “I…of course I have idealistic dreams about where we’ll end up, Daniel, but…I am honestly too afraid to hope.  I only planned to bring us out here and do my best to explain everything to you.  After that…it’s all up to you.  I…if you decided I was worth one last chance, then…I admit I have some ideas up my sleeve but even if you decided not to give me a last chance I had decided what I would do.” The older man shuffled his foot, looking for all the world like a lost little boy.  Daniel tried to ignore the pang in his chest from it.

“And if I did give you another chance?”  He asked cautiously, taking careful note of every nuance of Jack’s expression and body language, as if he could tell simply from that the sincerely of Jack’s words.  “What are you hoping for, Jack?”

“On the good side, at the very least…your friendship.  I’d be forever contented if I got back what we once were, Daniel.  It would be enough.”  There was a note of fearful hope in Jack’s voice that nearly broke the younger man’s heart.  “On the bad side…I’ll retire for good this time.  I’m no use to anyone in Washington anymore, and without you, I don’t think I could go to the SGC everyday and function even one iota as well as I do with you at my side, watching my six.”

The implications of that made Daniel swallow back the emotion rising in his throat – hard.  Blue eyes went wide behind his glasses and he croaked, “You can’t be serious, Jack!  Basing such a huge decision on whether or not we’re still friends?  That’s crazy!  Even for us!”

Jack closed his eyes wearily, his hands stuffing themselves in his pockets as he hunched over miserably.  Daniel seemed to be missing the point entirely, but Jack wasn’t ready to drop the three word, emotional, life-altering bomb on the man yet.  Not until he at least had the friendship back.

“Alright.  Putting that aside for now,” Daniel took pity on him.  “You said at the very least you would be content if we were friends again.  But what do you really want, Jack?  Because one would think the most you could want out of me is friendship.”

“Daniel…” Jack began, trying to protest.

“No, Jack!  We’re going to lay it all out, right now.  No more tip-toeing around each other, and no more hiding behind past issues.”  Daniel stood and moved until he stood only a foot away from Jack, face to face.  “We say what we want, and then we find some way to work toward it, even if it means we have to wade through all that murky water under our bridges.”  A stubborn gleam darkened Daniel’s surreal blue eyes dramatically.

Jack should have known that this whole thing wouldn’t go down how he expected it to, not with Daniel involved because nothing ever did around the man.  In none of the scenarios Jack imagined did he see himself having his soul bared raw and open to Daniel within the first few hours of their time at the cabin.  But it looked like he wasn’t going to have a choice.  He knew if he didn’t cooperate with Daniel now, it would all be over before it even had a chance to start.

Grabbing his coffee and downing it in a couple large gulps, Jack pointed at the couch and picked up Daniel’s mug before heading for the kitchen.  “Sit down, Daniel.  If you’re going to make me do this so damned soon, then I need something stronger than coffee.”  He pulled two tumblers from the cupboard and dug out a bottle of whiskey, taking it all to the living room.  Daniel watched him pour two fingers of the amber liquid into each glass silently.  “I wanted to ease into this, but you’re too damn stubborn to just let it lie for now.  So…” Jack handed Daniel one glass and took a drink from his own.  “I’m going to do this my way, and you have to promise to just sit and listen and let me say what I have to before you start asking questions, or get mad at me, or kick my ass.  Whatever.”  Jack raised an eyebrow at Daniel in question, and received a nod of agreement.  He downed the rest of his whiskey and poured another.

“I already told you I was afraid to lose you, either in death or in friendship, and so I started pushing you away.  But what I didn’t really understand until after you went off with Oma and the glowy brigade was the other reason I’d been such an ass to you, why I was so confused by what I felt.”  Jack moved to the fireplace, staring down into the crackling flames as he spoke.  “It wasn’t just that you were my friend and how close we were as such.  It was that I was falling, Daniel.  Truly, madly, deeply.  Over the moon.”  A sardonic smile flashed briefly, and he didn’t seem to hear Daniel’s shocked gasp at the confession.  “All those stupid clichés and more.  But like I said, at the time, I didn’t get it.  And suddenly there were other things that were distracting me and only serving to further confuse the shit out of me.  And I totally blame all of it on that fucking quantum mirror!”  Jack slammed his tumbler down on the mantle hard, making Daniel wince around the wide, glassy-eyed expression.  “That’s where it started!  If I’d never had any sort of confirmation of a possibility I’d only ever entertained as a…passing fantasy once or twice, something I’d never really considered with any true seriousness…  If I had never known about alternate realities where Jack O’Neill met Samantha Carter and they got together…” Jack raked his fingers roughly through his silvered hair.  “It planted seeds, Daniel, in not just my already bewildered brain but in Carter’s, too!

“Maybe…just maybe we could have forgotten about it and moved on, but then that whole Zatarc thing after the incident with Anise’s armbands from hell.”  Jack’s hands waved about in the air expressively.  “That made it almost impossible to discount the idea that…that maybe I really did feel more for Carter than I thought.”

Daniel stared at his whiskey silently, then downed the whole thing in one shot as his foggy memory dredged up the emotions he’d gone through back then.  Worry, shock, sadness, and fear…but on top of it all, an irrational jealousy aimed at both Sam and Jack.  Unable to look at the former Colonel, Daniel muttered, “Yeah.  I heard about it.  The base rumour mill started grinding immediately.”

A fact which still annoyed Jack.  What he’d said, in that room, was supposed to stay in that room between the people present.  Other than Jack and Carter, only Teal’c, Janet, and Anise had been there, and Jack always had a very definite suspicion as to which one had leaked the story.  Taking a glance at Daniel, he could almost see the green monster hovering around the linguist, and he felt perversely encouraged by that.  Still, he sought to set the record straight.

“You need to understand, Daniel, that I spoke the truth in that room.  I did – do – feel more than I should for Carter.  But!” Jack shrugged unapologetically when Daniel’s head whipped up and his gaze flashed dangerously.  “I’d have said the same about you or Teal’c, if it had been either of you on the other side of that energy barrier.  As your CO, I felt way more than I should have.  We all did!  It’s part of why SG1 was so successful.” He smiled a little when Daniel’s fierce frown eased and he relaxed somewhat.  “But like you said, the base’s rumour mill blew it all out of proportion.  And you know as well as I do that it’s pretty impossible to shut that thing down once it gets going.  Carter and I are damned lucky no one decided to bring us up on charges, and that Hammond pretended he’d never heard any such rumours; as long as we didn’t do any real monkey business on duty, on base, or on a mission he looked the other way and ignored rumours and gossip.

“At the time…it seemed like one incident after another would come along and something with a sick sense of humour kept throwing Carter and I at each other.  All the while, with my head up my ass, I was continuously pushing you away, never listening to you or paying attention to your place and purpose on the team, taking Carter’s side on most issues – not to mention her opinion and advice over yours…” Jack’s expression was so pained, and he looked every one of his years at that moment that Daniel couldn’t find the heart to be all that angry about all of those things any longer.  As Jack had listed off his past transgressions the hurt, anger, and annoyance that Daniel had long since believed he’d buried away came bubbling up once more.  But seeing very real contrition and immense regret in Jack now made all of that negativity begin to fade away.  It occurred to him that – back then – this had been all he’d really wanted to hear from his CO and friend, he’d wanted the acknowledgement of his wrongs, and a real apology for his treatment of Daniel both personally and professionally.

Back then, Daniel had give up any hope of getting any such regrets from Jack O’Neill for as long as he was busy flirting with Sam and trying to be what she wanted.  Even after he’d Descended again, and his memories returned, it was clear as glass that Jack was still mooning over Sam Carter and oblivious to Daniel.  Oh sure, Jack was ecstatic to have him back again, and welcomed him back to SG1 without hesitation, but gone were any of the things that had made them such good friends in the first place.  And despite being a member of SG1, Daniel became more of a free agent, going on missions with other teams more often than he did with SG1, or doing things of his own accord.  Like the mission to Honduras/Nicaragua.  By that point, he’d given up completely.  It had become painfully obvious he was totally on his own.

Jack returned to sitting on his end of the couch, partially turned toward Daniel.  He’d watched the myriad of emotions play across Daniel’s face, and he could almost hear the scholar’s thoughts spinning wildly in his head.  Jack also noticed how Daniel’s arms moved into that protective, unconscious, self-hug.  He didn’t think Daniel noticed, though.  Deciding that one more refill of whiskey was warranted, Jack poured liberally, then closed up the bottle, setting it far out of reach.

“All these things I did, the way I treated you and what I said to you – or didn’t say, even…  I got a giant slap upside the head that horrible day we hurried to get you home to Janet with the desperate – if impossible – hope that she could save you.”  Jack stared into his glass.  He didn’t have to clarify because they both knew what he was talking about.  “I knew, even before Janet said it herself, that I was going to lose you, that I’d wasted precious time and energy on something I didn’t really want and now I would have no chance to tell you all the things I wanted to.  Hell, all I came up with was that I admired you!  True as it was, it wasn’t what I wanted to say at all.”

Daniel grabbed the whiskey after downing his glass quickly, and poured another for himself.  Even now, the memory of that particular death still required a lot of alcohol to be able to spend any amount of time dwelling on it.  “I knew you cared, Jack.  I knew you’d miss me a little and grieve for my loss.  We may not have been all that close, but I was still important to you.  I understand all that without you telling me.”

“No, Daniel, you don’t have any idea what watching you die like that did to me.  Something in me died with you.”  Jack shook his head when Daniel opened his mouth to protest.  “Ah!  No.  Ask Teal’c or Carter what I was like the year you were…away.  They’ll tell you all about it.  But back to those awful hours I spent sitting with you – when I wasn’t in Hammond’s office begging him to call the Asgard again, to let me take a team and retrieve a sarcophagus we’d gotten intel on…something.  And then…”  Jack’s voice went distant and almost vague, causing Daniel’s gaze to snap up and pin itself on the other man with trepidation.  “Next thing I know, Jacob’s trying to fix you with that healing device, and it seems to be working, but I’m suddenly standing with you in the Gate Room, her glowy Highness, Oma standing on the ramp.  And you asked me to tell Jacob to stop.  To let you go.  I wanted to refuse at first, to accuse you of just giving up.  But…I couldn’t do it.  You said you thought you could do more that way, and in that moment I realized just how badly I’d minimized your place with the team, with the SGC, because I knew you wouldn’t leave us if you thought you still had something to offer.”  Jack sniffed unaware that tears trickled slowly from his eyes – which were a deep, dark, sorrowful chestnut brown by this time, slightly unfocused with memory recall.  “And I…I had no right to stand in your way, no right to ask you to stay…when all I wanted was to grab you and tell Oma to fuck off and find someone else to turn glowy.”

A mental picture of that made Daniel choke on a watery laugh.  He had tears of his own dampening his face.  This part of dying – and consequent Ascension – he did not remember.  “God, Jack…” but with Jack’s words, it was all flooding back.

A very faint smile flashed across Jack’s features.  “So I did what you wanted.  I told Jacob to stop.  And you Ascended, left us…left me.  Broke my heart, Daniel, to do it, but…I’d do anything for you.  Anything you ask.”  Much to Jack’s horror, he could feel what was left of his control slipping away on a tidal wave of memory, emotion, and whiskey.  He was going to cry.  Just burst into tears and probably not be able to stop once started.

It was too much for Daniel, and more than enough for one day’s worth of cathartic explanations.  Without even considering the implications or repercussions, Daniel reached over, took Jack’s glass away and set it beside his own on the table.  Before Jack could protest (though it looked like he was too busy fighting his emotions to care) Daniel crawled across the cushions and leaned into Jack, back to chest.  He grasped Jack’s arms and pulled them around himself effectively making Jack embrace and hold him.

“I’m right here, Jack.  And I’m so very sorry I did that to you.  I…honestly believed you wouldn’t care all that much and besides…you were my ‘next-of-kin,’ right?  If I had asked anyone else, they wouldn’t do it.  Not Sam or Janet, not even Teal’c.  And not Hammond.  Out of all of you, Jack, you are the one I had – have – the deepest connection to, so probably I wouldn’t have been able to ask one of them to let me go even if I wanted to.  Despite what I believed you thought of me, despite the rocky relationship we had, I trusted you.  I trusted you to see what I wanted, what was best for not just me but everyone.  I trusted in you to help me continue the fight in the only way open to me, then.”  As Daniel spoke, he snuggled right in, slowly rubbing his hand up and down one of the arms that finally reacted to his proximity and curled tightly around him.  “Jacob was healing me, yes, but even though I’d be alive, I’d never go through the Gate again.  I’d be off SG1, not to mention any other SG team.  Chances were that I’d be trapped in my own body for the rest of my life, nearly invalid, reliant on others completely.  Oma or death.  Those were my only real options.  Still…I’m so sorry I put you through that.  I-I didn’t realize…”

A hoarse, mildly hysterical bark of laughter came from Jack.  “God, Daniel, please don’t apologize!  How were you to know what was going on in my head or heart when I hardly knew?  You can only make decisions based on the info you have at the time, and that’s what you did.”  Daniel kept up his steady stroking of Jack’s arm, unconsciously mirroring the way Jack was rubbing the back of his neck as he spoke.  “And while I knew all that…I was still irrationally hurt, and angry.”  Jack pulled him closer, dipping his head just enough that he could rest his cheek on top of Daniel’s head.  “And you were gone.  I did my best to hold it together – for the team, if nothing else.  I was worse than a wounded old bear with my temper for a while after.  The Marines certainly discovered my reputation wasn’t without truth, and…I sort of was a tad short with Carter, too.  It wasn’t her fault.  She was grieving for you, really grieving, and she couldn’t understand why no one else seemed to be.  Me…I clung to the fact that you Ascended, and therefore you weren’t really dead.  You were out there, somewhere, even if I might never see you again.”  Daniel tilted his head back to look up at Jack’s face from an odd angle.  Jack was staring across the room blindly, looking haggard with old pain and infinite sadness and grief.  His expression reminded Daniel of the old Jack, the one he’d first met and gotten to know on Abydos so very long ago – the suicidal, grief stricken, hardcore soldier.  He knew from that alone what was coming next, before Jack could even say it.

“If it hadn’t been for that, Danny…that one piece of knowledge…I’d have done it.  I wouldn’t have lived one more day without you.”  The admission was whispered with no small amount of shame.

Hoping to lighten the mood a bit and drag Jack back into the present, Daniel gave the arm he’d been stroking a hard punch, followed by a half-serious admonition.

“You Jack-ass!”

“Ow!  What the hell?”

“If I had been dead, you idiot, and you’d done something so stupid and selfish as to go and kill yourself after all the hard work I did in convincing you to live, I swear I’d have come back to haunt your ass for eternity – after convincing the PTB to resurrect you first, just so that I could!”

The scowl of indignation on Jack’s face melted into a misty grin.  “Yeah, you would.  I should have known.  That alone would have made me think again; I mean, who wants a vociferous, nagging, snarky linguist/archaeologist/anthropologist haunting them for the rest of their lives?”

Daniel snorted, wallowing back a laugh.  “Gee, Jack, I love you too!”

Instantly sobering, Jack went very still.  “I do, Daniel.” He said very softly and carefully.  “I really do…  That’s sort of why I’m doing this, you know.”

Daniel remained where he was, unmoving, with wide, tenuously hopeful eyes.  He’d already suspected as much when they started this conversation, but it was still a shock to his battered, abused heart to finally, actually hear Jack say it.

“This?” he croaked, feigning confusion in an effort to buy time to going some semblance of control over the sparks of hope that were re-igniting in what he’d thought were long-forgotten places deep inside himself.

Thankfully, Jack played along.  “This trip up here to the cabin.  This…cross between an Oprah moment and a Maury revelation.”  Jack’s voice cracked and Daniel could hear real fear in it.  “I told you if I could get our friendship back that would be enough, and it will be!  But Daniel…god, Danny, I want…  What I truly hope for, someday, is…”

“Shh…  Jack, hush, before you start hyperventilating or something.”  Daniel reached up to place two fingers over Jack’s mouth, silencing the man.  “So what you’re saying is that if we can be friends again – which, by the way, I think we’ve already accomplished or I wouldn’t even be here – then great!  But ideally, you want me.  As in…what?  Partner?  Significant other?”

“Partner works.”  Jack agreed, swallowing thickly.  He stared down at the man in his arms (and wasn’t that strange to say after so many years of heterosexuality?), pondering the idea of bringing up the ‘soulmate’ story as he’d told President Hayes.  No.  Maybe not quite yet.  Easing Daniel into just how much Jack now realized he loved him was probably the best idea.  “Though I’d say we’ve been that – are that – already.  ‘Love of my life’ sounds great.  ‘Lover’ just plain turns me on and makes me sappy.”

Daniel’s chuckle sounded just as heavy with emotion as Jack’s.  “Hadn’t noticed the sap.”  He sighed and pushed himself up to a sitting position reluctantly, but let Jack grasp his hand and tangle their fingers together to hold on to him.  “Well, it took you long enough to get here, but I’m…tentatively hopeful?” he turned shiny blue eyes on Jack, squeezing his fingers. “You’re saying things I’ve wanted to hear from you for a long time, Jack.  So long…  And part of me is ecstatic and jumping for joy and asking me why I’m even still thinking about it rather than leaping on it – you – for all it’s worth.

“The other parts of me are competing.  There’s disbelief – that I’m in some sort of elaborate dreamscape that’s fulfilling my greatest fantasy or some alien influence is messing with me again.  And there’s a part of me that believes you’re serious but also says that there’s no point now, that it’s too good to be true and even if I have you for a little while you’ll eventually go away just like everyone in my life eventually does.  I…can you understand that, Jack?”  Daniel gripped Jack’s hand hard, trying to convey his inner turmoil through their connected hands.  “I want the same thing you do.  I’ve wanted it longer than…we’ll, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”  Before Jack could ask, Daniel ploughed onward.  “I want you and I…I love you.  But…I need some time.  I need to think, to wrap my head around this new Jack you’re offering me.  Hell, this new life you’re offering me.”

“Daniel, Daniel, I do get it!  I knew you wouldn’t just roll over and go ‘woof!’ immediately.  And I fully expect to spend every spare moment I have proving myself, proving my commitment to you.”  Jack dropped Daniel’s hand and cupped his face between both hands instead.  “Whatever time you think you need, I’ll wait patiently.  Or,” Jack’s grin was a bit wry, “as patiently as I can.  You know me…”

“Obviously not as well as I thought, or I’d have known what was really going on with you all this time.”  Daniel shook his head at himself in recrimination.  “I’m supposed to have all this great insight into people as on anthropologist, yet I can never figure you out.”

Patting Daniel lightly on the knee, Jack offered up a bit of wisdom that had taken him a failed marriage to figure out.  “But when you’re observing people, you’re on the outside looking in, Danny.  You’re a neutral, objective third party.  It doesn’t work that way when you’re involved personally.  Everything is entirely subjective.  Can’t see the forest for the trees, or something like that.”  He pushed himself up off the couch with a slight groan as his knees creaked like the old wooded floorboards of the cabin.  “Damn knees!  Should have got Thor to hook me up with some spiffy replacements a long time ago.”  Jack picked up their empty tumblers and the whiskey bottle, preparing to take them back to the kitchen.

“Now, see, at least there’s one part of Jack O’Neill I got right.”  Daniel announced, rising to follow his friend.  “There really is a keen and intelligent mind hidden under all that macho, dumb flyboy act you insist on displaying.”

Dumping the glasses in the sink and leaving the bottle on the counter, Jack leaned a hip against the edge of the countertop and folded his arms, putting on a mock scowl.  “I must be losing my touch!  People can see right through me!  Truth is, Daniel,” he leaned into the younger man and whispered in an exaggerated conspiratorial voice, “I’m really just as smart as you or Carter.  My IQ’s enormous!”

Rolling his eyes, Daniel gave him a friendly swat.  “No, that’s your ego.  While your IQ is probably well above average, I don’t know that you quite reach Sam’s level.  She’s what they had in mind when they coined the phrase ‘rocket scientist.’”

“Ow!  Wounded, here.”  Jack laughed, clutching his heart dramatically.

“You’ll live, I’m sure.”  Daniel smiled, then had to cover it as he yawned.  What with the early morning he’d had, plus the whiskey and the emotional rollercoaster he’d ridden all week (let alone this morning), it was no wonder he was feeling pretty drained.  “I can’t believe it’s nearly two in the afternoon!  Where does the time go?”

“Need a nap, do we?”  Jack’s pithy question was ruined by his own yawn.  “Damn it!  Stop that!  Those are contagious, you know.”

“While I would normally blast you for treating me like a child, I’ll refrain because I think we could both use a nap.”  Daniel poked Jack in the chest with a finger.  “After you make lunch.  We should eat…to balance out all that alcohol.”

Jack raised an eyebrow and moved to check out his fridge.  Thankfully, having had one of the locals he knew well come in to stock the place for a week, there was plenty of food to choose from.  “So I’m designated chef, huh?  And by the way, when did you develop a tolerance to alcohol?”

“I’m the guest at this party so of course you’re cooking for me – unless you want me to starve to death.”  Daniel stood back out of the way as Jack pulled sandwich items out and placed it all on the counter.  “I can drink just fine, for your information.  It’s only beer that I can’t seem to tolerate.”

“That is such a crime against Guinness.”  Jack remarked with a sad pout.  It was his favourite drink, after all.  Or food substitute, as he’d once said to Hammond.  “Want soup?”

“Nah.  It’s not my fault.  Besides, I prefer wine over any other alcohol.  Most days.”  Daniel watched the older man work with practiced efficiency.

“You make a horrible Irishman, Daniel.”

“That’s probably because I’m not.  Dutch on my mother’s side, remember?”

“Yadda.  Coffee or something else?”

“What’d’ya have?”  Daniel bumped up against Jack as he leaned over to peer into like refrigerator.  He was aware of Jack’s eyes on him, and couldn’t help smiling just a little smugly to himself in delight.  Pulling out two cans of Coke, he straightened and set one on the counter for Jack.  “This will do just fine.”

“Thanks.”  Jack picked up a plate laden with sandwiches and handed it to Daniel, then picked up another with his Coke.  “Let’s eat in the living room.”

The two men dropped onto the couch, side-by-side, and ate their lunch in companionable silence with their feet propped up on the coffee table.  When they finished, Jack took the dishes and empty cans into the kitchen and cleaned up.

Returning to the living room, he found Daniel half-asleep on the couch just as Jack had left him.  He stepped up to Daniel and gave the dozing linguist a nudge in the leg with one of his knees, then held out a hand as Daniel’s eyes opened abruptly, startled out of his near sleep.

“Bedroom, Danny.  Much more comfortable than that old sofa.  Come on.”  Jack tugged Daniel up to his feet and, keeping his hand in his own, pulled Daniel down the short hall.

Agreeable because he was too sleepy to argue, Daniel let him.  But as they passed the guest room altogether, he made an attempt to dig in his heels.  “Jack?  Where’re we going?”

Pausing in the door to the master bedroom, Jack turned to look at Daniel questioningly.  “Sleep.  Bedroom.”  Then he blinked, realizing what he’d done without even thinking about it – namely assuming Daniel would be with him, in bed or out, from now on.  “Oh.  Just sleep, Daniel.  Promise.”

Daniel dropped his gaze to the floor, obviously reluctant and unsure what to do.

“Um…look, why don’t you change into something more comfortable to sleep in.”  Jack reluctantly released his mate’s hand (which was how he would always think of Daniel no matter what else happened) and stepped back with a hesitant but welcoming smile.  “Then, if you decide to join me, there’s plenty of room.  If not, that’s okay, too.  I, ah, didn’t mean to rush you into anything, Daniel.  Sorry.”

Daniel looked down at his clothes, having forgotten he wore jeans, and looked back up with a nod.  “Okay.  Jack…it’s not that I don’t…I just…”

“Danny,” Jack cut him off softly, in an incredibly patient and gentle tone Daniel had rarely heard directed at anyone but kids and dogs.  “It’s okay.  Honest.  I wasn’t thinking about it, just…reacting.  Go change, Spacemonkey.”  He turned and went further into the room, leaving Daniel to decide what he wanted.

For once, the anthropologist was obedient enough to follow Jack’s orders, going to his room to change out of the jeans and long-sleeved turtleneck he wore.  Instead, he donned a pair of cotton drawstring pants and an USAF shirt (that he suspected he’d once…borrowed – read stolen – from Jack).  In an attempt to buy more time to decide, Daniel escaped to the bathroom.

After using the facilities and washing his hands and face, he stared at himself in the mirror.  He asked himself a lot of questions, but the answer to them all lay with one simple one: was he ready to put himself on the line for love again?  Because this was not just some fling Jack was offering.  It wasn’t about sex – or not all about it, anyway (hey, they were male, after all!) – and it was something Daniel had once desperately wished for.  In fact it was everything he ever wanted.

The only answer he had was ‘yes.’  There was no way he could pass up this chance at a little real happiness, not with his life.

Feeling a tad light-headed out of pure nerves, Daniel emerged from the bathroom and silently went back to Jack’s room.  He found Jack waiting for him, sitting up on the mattress with his back to the headboard.  A bright, relieved smile welcomed Daniel, and he felt a little better as his nerves calmed.  Without a word, the linguist clambered up onto the bed, stretching out next to Jack, and removed his glasses.

Jack plucked them out of his fingers and carefully set them on the bedside table for safekeeping.  He shuffled down until he was stretched out at Daniel’s side, on his own side, and propped up his head with one hand.

“I wasn’t sure you’d join me.”  Jack said softly.  “I really didn’t mean to…push you into anything, Danny.  But…” he paused and ducked his head in such a shy way Daniel could only call it endearing.  “…I’m glad you did.”

“Jack?”  Daniel swallowed against the lump in his throat.  He needed something, but he wasn’t sure if he could ask.

“Daniel?”  Jack could see how uneasy his mate was, and that he seemed to be struggling with something.  Those big, surreal blue eyes hid very little from him now, without the glasses to hide behind.  “Whatever it is, Spacemonkey, I’ll listen.  That’s what this week is about, both ways.”

A hint of a smile kicked up Daniel’s mouth.  “Well, first…please stop calling me ‘Spacemonkey,’ Jack.  That’s not one of my favourite nicknames.”

Jack put out his lip in a blatant pout.  It was one of his favourites.  “I’ll try.” He offered.

Daniel nodded his acceptance.  “Thank you.  Um…the other thing…I don’t know how to ask, especially without sounding…clingy and emotional.”

Reaching out with his free hand, Jack placed it on Daniel’s chest and gently rubbed affectionately in soothing motions.  “I think we should establish a couple rules for whenever we’re…together like this.  In our bed.”  Jack couldn’t quite keep the awed, sappy grin off his face at those words.  “Here we can say whatever we need to say, no matter what it sounds like.  Neutral conversation territory, I guess.  It’s just you and me here, no one and nothing else.  And I promise that whenever you need to talk to me here, I’ll listen as objectively and compassionately as I can.”

“Wow.”  Daniel stared up at him in shock – pleasant shock, but still shock.  “I’d ask where you’re hiding the pod, but I know it’s really you.”

“What?”  Amused, Jack raised an eyebrow, his hand never ceasing it’s movements.  “I may have sucked as a husband and father, but I do learn from my mistakes.  Plus…I suppose a certain someone may have rubbed off on me more than he knows.”  Whiskey brown eyes gazed pointedly down at Daniel with a wry grin.

“Wore you down, maybe.  Rubbed off?”  Daniel chuckled.  “Not yet.”

The grin turned wicked.  Daniel realized what he’d just said, much to his embarrassment, and blushed.  “Agh!  Just…ignore me.”

“Why Dr. Jackson!  Do I detect hints of a naughty mind?”

“Shut up!  Don’t be an ass, Jack!”

“Aww!  Look at the blush!”  Delighted, Jack flopped back onto the mattress smiling happily.  At least he’d managed to lighten things enough to distract Daniel’s all too busy brain.  His hand sought out Daniel’s and he linked their fingers together, holding on firmly.

Daniel let out a huge gusting sigh, and let Jack have his hand.  He’d never been much for hand-holding, but it felt oddly right with Jack O’Neill.  Safe and reassuring.

“So?”  Jack ventured, the curiosity eating at him.

“Buttons?”  Daniel answered blithely, hastily continuing at Jack’s impatient grunt.  “Okay, sorry.  I just…I need something solid to hang onto.  Something real to really make this all sink in and…”

“Make you believe it?”  Jack finished quietly.  Daniel turned his head to look at his friend sideways.  “Yeah.  I get that.  You need something to tell you that all those things you wanted – want – from me you’re allowed to have now.”

“Something like that, yes.”  Daniel blinked myopically at him, amazed by the insight Jack seemed to have into the linguist.  Perhaps Jack knew Daniel much better than Daniel ever gave him credit for.

“The only thing I can do to alleviate all your fears, Danny, is to spend the rest of my life trying to show you how much you mean to me every way I can come up with.”  Jack squeezed Daniel’s fingers.  “But right now?  Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do.”

Staring up at the ceiling of the cabin, Daniel nearly whispered, “Then, can I hold you?  While we sleep?”  He just knew his face was red as a stop sign, and couldn’t look at Jack.  Therefore he missed the blink, then widening of Jack’s eyes in surprise, then the huge grin that was somehow softer than anything previously seen on the hardened soldier’s face.

“How do ya want to do that, Danny?”  Jack asked, turning over just enough to be able to face the younger man.  He smiled at the shy, relieved smile on Daniel’s face and waited for some direction.

“Um…you don’t mind?”  Daniel wanted to be sure.  At Jack’s amused nod, he made a twirling motion with a finger.  “Then could you…lie on your side, facing away from me?”

Obediently, Jack rolled over, settling into place comfortably.  “Now what?”  He sounded curious, like he was waiting to see what Daniel would do next.  He didn’t have to wait long, because suddenly Daniel was curling himself up against Jack’s back, one arm sliding under Jack’s pillow just above their heads while the other slowly curled itself around Jack’s waist.  Then Daniel’s leg slid against Jack’s legs, insinuating itself between them, effectively spooning the younger man around Jack.

Daniel made a soft noise of contentment, his warm breath fluttering against the small hairs at the back of Jack’s neck.  Jack, unbelievably touched and feeling very…cherished, laid his own arm alongside Daniel’s at his waist and slowly rubbed his fingers over the back of Daniel’s hand, savouring all the sensations that being surrounded by his mate was bringing to him.  He closed his eyes and sighed happily, wiggling backward into Daniel’s embrace as much as he could.

Jack closed his eyes, listening to Daniel’s light breaths and counting the man’s heartbeats – which he could actually hear in the deep silence around them – and nearly dozed off to sleep when he heard a muffled, “Jack?”

“Hmm?”  He acknowledged, drifting on a pleasantly hazy cloud of wakefulness.

“Thank you for making me come here with you.”

Jack’s answer was to bring Daniel’s hand up to his lips, brushing a soft kiss across his knuckles and holding Daniel’s arm prisoner against his chest possessively.  An involuntary shiver ran through him when he felt the linguist’s lips at his nape, his nose rubbing back and forth lazily.

“Sleep, Danny.”  He murmured, almost asleep himself.

“Mmm hmm…”

~*~*~*~*~

Chapter III

The next five days seemed like an eternity.  Maybe it was the lack of other people around or the lack of civilization for miles in any direction, but it seemed very much like time had slowed to a crawl for them.  They took many nature walks, exploring the woods of Northern Minnesota.  They enjoyed the trees for once because there were no enemies to be concerned about that might pop out of nowhere and attack them, no strange plant or animal life that might be hazardous to their health, nor any of the usual worries that they had in forests off-world.  Nothing but trees, moss, flowers, birds, deer, squirrels, and the (at least) one fox they spotted.  Jack said there were bears, and moose, but it wasn’t likely that they’d ever come across either, as the animals here were too wary of humans; a fact Daniel actually bemoaned and complained about because he’d never seen some of these animals before except in books or on TV.

They also played plenty of games, from chess to gin to crazy eights to Monopoly (the NHL version, much to Daniel’s wry amusement), spent a lot of time sitting on Jack’s little dock on his fish pond in the warm autumn sunshine (Jack would ‘fish,’ Daniel would read), and actually doing some minor repair work around the cabin that Jack decided to get done while he had the time, opportunity…and extra set of hands.

And they talked. It was a sharing of memories – good and bad – and a sharing of emotions from the past. There were no accusations or recriminations over any of the past events they discussed, simply the statements of “remember that?  I felt this because of that.”  And there were no apologies – something they agreed on at the beginning after their initial catharsis.  They agreed that there was no point in getting upset over spilt milk that had long since evaporated, and if they spent all their time apologizing to each other, they’d never get anything else accomplished.

Jack suspected the talking thing was still more difficult for him than it was for Daniel, but he was pleasantly surprised with himself to find how not hard it turned out to be for him to do this talking thing.  It was even easier to listen – really listen – to everything Daniel would say and hear the things he wasn’t saying.  Every detail and emotion that Jack found he filed away and kept close at heart and hand, anxious to learn from his mistakes so that what had happened between them never, ever happened again.

Daniel could hardly believe that this was Jack O’Neill, his Jack O’Neill, talking calmly, rationally, and unashamedly about his emotions and experiences.  Most of the things Jack told Daniel that week were things the linguist had pretty much already known on one level or another at the time, but here was Jack actually confirming a lot of it for him.  He’d always known that they’d had a sort of unspoken insight into one another, right from that initial Abydos mission, but he hadn’t realized how even though he knew something that Jack felt or wanted to do but never actually said/did anything about it or admitted it aloud, it was entirely a different, more reinforcing knowledge now when Jack finally did verbalize things.  It was the same as knowing a person cared, but actually feeling it when the person told you so aloud.

It wasn’t just the talking thing Daniel was slowly coming to terms with (for himself, too, since the reality was he didn’t like talking about his tragedies and dramas to others either – excepting that it came more naturally and easily with Jack than anyone else), but the physical side of their building relationship.  And no, he wasn’t thinking about sexual stuff, at least not yet.  It was just the smaller, intimate touches, the frequent invasion of his personal space, and the sheer presence of Jack anywhere in Daniel’s general vicinity that was taking a great deal of getting used to.

Jack was a tactile person, especially with people close to him.  In the past, Daniel had gotten accustomed to that innate need of Jack’s to touch – as often as he could and get away with, but still within the boundaries of acceptability according to both society and the military.  Friendly stuff, just buddies, good friends and close team members, etc.  Easy slaps on the back or shoulder, good-natured punches to the arm, teasing ruffling of the hair, stuff like that.  For Daniel, those were easy to get used to, despite his wary, self-protective dislike of being touched (no matter how casually) if he didn’t invite it.  But there were other types of contact that had been so rare that they became precious commodities.  Things like hugs.  Real, bone-crushing, breath-stealing hugs or the fierce, soothing, protective embraces that Daniel had almost never experienced after his parents’ deaths.  And there were the few, more intimate gestures that Daniel had never seen Jack bestow on anyone else.

…on Klorel’s ship, a badly injured Daniel urging Jack to see the mission through and leave him behind with a promise to “watch your backs” and Jack reaching out to cup and stroke Daniel’s face as if silently acknowledging Daniel’s courage and Jack’s affection and regret and sorrow…

          …Jack’s arm quickly wrapping around Daniel’s shoulders to steady and anchor him until he was able to climb back over the railing of his apartment balcony to safety, the rubbing motion up and down Daniel’s arm meant to soothe and calm and reassure as he battled confusion and depression thanks to that Goa’uld Pleasure Palace and its funky, addictive light display…

          …the hundreds of times Jack sat at Daniel’s bedside in the infirmary, every time he would wind up there no matter how serious his condition – or Jack’s own – and the way he held on to Daniel’s hand (if he could without harm) during particularly bad recoveries, or brushed the hair out of Daniel’s face when Daniel couldn’t do it himself – or when he thought Daniel was asleep and wouldn’t know…

          …the way Jack just reached out and slowly, carefully pushed Daniel’s glasses back up his nose in the SGC elevator without regard for the fact that Sam and Jacob were right there with them…

Well, there were actually more such little memories than Daniel thought, he soon realized, but those were the ones that seemed to stand out most.  Now, in the present, it wasn’t just these touches he had to become reacquainted with, but the kind that would scream a much more personal, intimate relationship going on than just good friends, best buddies, close team members.

For instance, they’d be in the kitchen fixing a meal, and while close contact would be expected in such a small, cramped space (which was barely enough to fit two grown men), Daniel was sure Jack intentionally stood as close as possible, brushed up against his side or arm more often than was plausible, and deliberately leaned over across Daniel to reach for something instead of asking him to hand whatever he wanted over to him.

Or, something that has happened two nights in a row now, the way Jack shoved the coffee table aside so they could sit in front of the fireplace on the floor to watch the fire and drink Jack’s whiskey – or Daniel’s wine, included in the stores the local stocked the place with for Jack.  Somehow Daniel ended up lying on the floor on his back, head pillowed on Jack’s lap with Jack’s rough, calloused, lean fingers stroking through his archaeologist’s short, dusty blonde hair and lightly massaging his skull.

The ultimate contact that Daniel was slowly becoming used to, however, was admittedly his doing.  He’d started it with that request to hold Jack while they slept.  Every night since, the linguist found himself crawling into Jack’s bed – with the General, of course –  to sleep, rather than occupying the guest room.  Here, he had to come to terms with the inevitability of waking up to find himself wrapped around Jack like the bedclothes – and likewise, having Jack wrapped around him.  Not to mention the logistics that came with sharing a bed with another person; cold feet, snoring, late night bathroom trips, blanket-hogging, restless sleeping, and yes, even drooling.

Neither man would ever admit which of these applied to himself.  In a silent agreement of sorts, they simply dealt with it and accepted it all, keeping the knowledge of each other’s bad habits to themselves.  Some things they’d already known thanks to countless missions sharing quarters or tents, but others one only discovers when sharing a bed.  Daniel hadn’t shared a bed with anyone since Sha’re, and after ten years (give or take, Goa’ulds and alien women not included) it was something that required some adjusting to again.

What it all boiled down to, ultimately, was relearning to trust.  Daniel finally realized that truth early Friday morning as he lay awake watching his bed-mate sleep from two inches away from his nose.  Oh, when it came to their jobs, Daniel still trusted Jack to do the right thing, make the right decisions and choices, etc.  And now their personal relationship was improving in the trust department, so things were looking up.  Although…Daniel knew that no matter how solid they became each would always hold an unfathomable amount of power over the other, and that either of them was capable of abusing or misusing that trust.  That’s just how relationships worked.  Daniel just didn’t know if he was really willing to put himself on the line that way again.

The trust issue was huge between them, as last night’s explosive argument had proved.  Daniel let out a tiny sigh and snuggled deeper into the covers to ward off the morning chill as he remembered the confrontation.  They’d been outside raking leaves and tidying up the wood pile Thursday afternoon, and talking while they worked.  They had already made it through most of the last decade and now had finally come up to the most recent incident that was a bone of contention for Daniel – Daniel’s stint as a Prior, and Jack’s lack of belief in Daniel and trust in his word.

* * * *

          Daniel raked up leaves with previously unseen ferocity, frowning deeply.  “I know we’ve been over this same issue already, Jack.  But this last time…  I don’t know why it still bothers me or why it bothers me so much.

Daniel…it wasn’t that I didn’t believe you so much as…I had to be that cautious and sceptical!  We had no way of knowing if you were really in control and, well, you under that creepy Prior look you had going on.”  Jack swung his axe, chopping another log – perhaps a bit more forcefully than necessary.  “Hell, you know if you’d been in my place, and it was me where you were – or Carter, Mitchell, or that Vala woman…or anyone – you would have been just as wary of anything I said.

Daniel ceased raking and stood watching Jack set up another log, eyes filled with hurt, sadness, and anger he’d thought long since forgotten. “That’s where you’re wrong, Jack.  And you’re being obtuse.  I knew that you knew I was me.  Maybe your initial caution was warranted, but after you had confirmation from Teal’c?  Please.  Maybe you didn’t believe me, but you and I both know that not even I can pull the wool over his eyes.  From that point on you should have had no reason to worry about my…007 routine on the dark side.  I told you everything you wanted to know – probably a lot more than that – answered every question, gave you every bit of cooperation you demanded, yet…where did I end up?  Strapped to a very uncomfortable chair while you left me to weasel-Woolsey and his misguided machinations.”  His hands fisted at his sides and blue eyes flashed behind his glasses.  Jack was staring back at him with his own whiskey browns hardening defensively, axe resting on the log nearly forgotten.  “I had a plan!  A good one!  But it wasn’t enough for you.  You’ve never taken my plans seriously in the past, so I don’t know why I got my hopes up that you’d do so then, but I did.  I even helped you and SG1 out when you all came up with that other scheme – which, by the way, held the exact same risks and dangers that mine did but affected not just myself but SG1, too, instead of just me.

Jack scowled and swung the axe, leaving it stuck in the chopping block and leaving his work to stalk toward Daniel.  “You didn’t get it, Daniel.  Then or now.  You going Prior was no damned different than if you’d gotten snaked!  We had no way of knowing for certain – 100%! – that you were speaking truthfully of your own violation – especially when you admitted you weren’t alone up there.”  Jack wagged a finger at the linguist’s head.  “And I’m sorry, but as long as there was some other guy in there, someone I didn’t know let alone trust, then I couldn’t take your word for anything either.

Like I told you all then,” Daniel grit his teeth, wishing he could beat some sense into the obtuse General, “Merlin couldn’t control me, just tell me what to do and how to do it.  Anything I did was me not him.  All he could do was protect my mind from Adria and other Priors.

But we had no proof, Daniel!  You had nothing to give us to prove what you said was true, and we had no way of proving that ourselves.

Damn it, Jack!  Can you never trust what your instincts say?  I know you rely on your intuition all the time!  Why is it always different with me?  Teal’c believed me.  Sam believed me, and she hardly ever listens to me about stuff – just like you!  Mitchell…Cam may have gotten to know me a little over the last couple of years but he didn’t – doesn’t – know me half as well as Sam, Teal’c, or you.  And as for Vala, well, I don’t blame her for not really believing me because of all of you, she has infinitely more and better reasons to be suspicious of anything involving Priors or the Ori or Adria.  Sure, it hurt, but not so much as your absolute lack of faith in me after everything we’ve been through together.”  Daniel leaned the rake against the woodpile and ran a hand through his hair in frustrated misery.  “If this distrust of me and my actions on the job is an indication of anything, then maybe, no matter how much either of us want this…” he waggled a finger between himself and Jack, “…should go no farther than friendship.  Because if you can’t trust my judgment out there, saving the planet and the rest of the galaxy, then how can I expect you to really trust me when it comes to us?

Jack scoffed, a flash of panic streaking across his face almost before Daniel saw it.  “Me?  It sounds like you don’t have much faith in me or us, Dannyboy.  You’ve had your say, and I get that you’re mad and hurt, and I’m sorry, I really am.  But if you were in my shoes, with the pressure I was under from the IOA, the President, the Pentagon…and my own goddamn conscience and heart…then you would have done what I did!  You’d understand!  I can only say that I did what I thought best for everyone – including and most especially for you, you asshole – with the intel and facts I had that were confirmed and as true as I knew them to be.”  Reaching out, he grabbed Daniel’s arms, gripping tightly and shaking him as if to emphasize his point.  “And trust goes both ways, Dr. Jackson.  I made a hard decision in sending SG1 off on that mission, but did you trust my plan or your own team?  No.  You had to go hijack the Odyssey and me, then go rushing in after them like a heroic avenging angel.

Blue eyes hardened into crystal shards that glinted warningly as Daniel broke Jack’s hold and stepped back.  “I had no choice.  You left me with no choice.  I knew they’d fail without me.  I had to help them, and if I hadn’t gone, they’d be dead and chances are we wouldn’t be here to bitch about it now.  And what’s more, Jack, if I hadn’t hijacked Odyssey then Woolsey would have froze me in fucking Antarctica!  I’d have been even more useless to everyone!  I didn’t harm anyone – not even that weasel, no matter how much I’d have liked to crush him.  What I did wasn’t out of distrust but out of knowledge that I had and you did not.  You weren’t even willing to listen anymore, even after I gave you all the info you said you needed for SG1 to attempt their crazy plan.  So it’s not the same thing at all.  Not even close.

Jack glared back and threw his hands up in the air. “For cryin’ out loud, Daniel!  I don’t know what I could say or do that you’d accept!  Why can’t you understand that I do trust you.  I trust you as I trust no one else, anywhere!  But sometimes it’s not about that!  Sometimes I have to set aside my personal feelings and act accordingly, no matter how much it hurts me or…you.  I didn’t earn two stars easily, damn it, and as long as Uncle Sam owns me I will continue making hard decisions like that, like it or not – for either of us.

Why can’t you understand that I can’t set aside my personal feelings to make huge decisions like that?  I’m enough of a scientist to be able to be objective about most things, most of the time, but I always listen to my gut instinct over my objectivity.  As long as I’ve known you, you’ve never gone wrong when you did listen to your gut, Jack.  But this last time…if I hadn’t had the power to do what I did…”  Daniel closed his eyes, a constricting, invisible hand clenched around his heart and lungs painfully.  “Fuck it.  I can’t talk about this anymore.  Obviously we’re too fundamentally different to be able to have a real relationship, because if either of us always has that small shade of doubt…”  He turned away and plunged his hands into his pockets.  “I’m going for a walk.  I…I need to think.

As he started to walk away, Jack reached out in an effort to hold him back.  It felt very much like if he let Daniel leave then he’d lose him for good, and Jack absolutely refused to allow this issue to impede the progress they’d made let alone ruin it completely.  “Daniel!  Wait!  Just…come inside and we’ll…

No, Jack.  I need some space.”  Daniel glanced over his shoulder, pausing only long enough to respond.  “You need to think about what I’ve said, and to decide if you can trust me completely.  Because I’ll tell you right now, Jack O’Neill, if you can’t, in every aspect of our lives, then this ends before it goes any farther and someone gets hurt.”  The anguished honesty in Daniel’s expressive face froze Jack to the spot and dried up any words he might have spoken.  Slowly, his arm dropped back to hang at his side.  The younger man nodded slightly at the acceptance, however reluctant, on Jack’s face.  “I’ve lost everything and everyone far too many times, Jack.  I won’t go into any relationship easily and without absolute certainty when it comes to things like trust.

With a final nod – almost to himself – Daniel walked off, heading for one of the nature trails.

~*~*~*~*~

{Daniel}

He’d walked for hours, not realizing the lateness until the sun began to noticeably disappear behind the trees of the forest around him.  Overhead, clouds were forming.  Shivering a bit (only then remembering he wore just a ratty old pair of jeans and a t-shirt, having stripped off his sweater when they’d started doing yard work) Daniel decided to head back to the cabin.

Twenty minutes later, he approached the building slowly.  He stopped outside the door, hesitating.  If he was honest with himself, he wasn’t ready for another confrontation with Jack yet.  But, damn the man, he had nowhere to go.  Considering his options, Daniel decided he’d go in, get his jacket or sweater, then come back out again.  Maybe he’d sit on the dock and watch the non-existent fish (he still didn’t believe there were any) until he was ready.

Decision made, he opened the door and walked in.

A quick glance around told him Jack wasn’t in the living room or kitchen.  Good.  He could grab his sweater – lying over the back of the couch where he’d left it – and get out again without seeing or talking to Jack.  As he moved to do just that, unable to help wondering where the infuriating man was despite himself, he heard the plumbing go off, and Daniel didn’t wait around for Jack to show up.  He hurried over, grabbed his sweater, and hurried back out the door, allowing it to close loudly behind him.  He pulled the sweater on as he made his way to the deck, where he dropped down to the wooden boards and sat staring out at the dark, murky waters while he let his mind wander.

If he’d stayed a bit longer indoors, he’d have seen a haggard, dejected Jack O’Neill, looking every one of his years and then some, come rushing out to the living room with a desperate gleam of hope in his dulled brown eyes at the sudden sixth sense that told him Daniel was there.  If the archaeologist had lingered just a bit longer, he’d have seen the slump of disappointment to Jack’s shoulders, and heard the whispered, “Danny…

He did not see or hear any of that, however.  All he could hear was the continuous never-ending flow of his thoughts…which explained how he missed the rumbles of a thunderstorm approaching.

~*~*~*~*~

{Jack}

After Daniel left Jack behind at the cabin, the older man proceeded to take out his frustrations on the remainder of the logs, chopping them into kindling with rapid, angry, practiced motions.  When he finished, all Jack felt was exhausted and lonely.  Infinitely lonely.  He was certain that Daniel would come to the conclusion he wasn’t worth the risk, not if Jack couldn’t trust him at work, a huge part of their lives, let alone in a serious relationship that would require just as much trust and secrecy and other tough things in order to just be together.

Jack understood Daniel’s concerns and the point he made about them.  And he understood why that particular incident stood out between them like a sore thumb.  Walking around to the front door of the cabin, Jack went back inside and washed up before grabbing a Guinness from the fridge and settling into his favourite armchair to think and brood.

He figured Daniel didn’t realize that Jack knew he’d made a mistake not listening and trusting his archaeologist the moment he’d returned to the SGC and found himself battling Woolsey in Landry’s office about how they would not kill Daniel to prevent another Khalek incident.  Of course, Daniel probably didn’t know about how Jack fought for Daniel’s life, so be wouldn’t have any clue about how much Jack did trust him – because if Jack didn’t, honestly and truly, trust Daniel with all that was at stake, then he would have left him to Woolsey knowing his best friend would rather be dead than allowed to wreak havoc and destruction on the galaxy for the darkside.

Jack probably wouldn’t live much beyond Daniel’s death, of course, but no one needed to know that but Jack himself.  And it hadn’t happened that way, so Jack had put it from his mind when it was over.  Daniel, obviously, had not.  And Jack understood.

He just didn’t know how to convince the man to let it go and see it his way.

Daniel’s words picked and poked at his brain, despite his surety in his trust in the younger man.  If he was faced with a similar situation ever again, could Jack be sure he wouldn’t do exactly the same thing as last time?  He didn’t know, and that was a harsh truth.  It wasn’t likely they’d ever end up in a situation like that again, though that was small, cold comfort to Jack.

Face frozen in a seemingly permanent frown, Jack realized he was out of Guinness so he got up to get another, leaving the empty bottle in the sink.  Back in his chair, he glanced at the clock on the mantle, noting that Daniel had been gone about an hour already.  He contemplated going after him, but squashed the idea knowing it would only aggravate Daniel further.  He’d give him until dark, and then he’d go looking if Daniel hadn’t returned.

Daniel had every reason in the world to be wary.  It was a miracle to Jack how any one person could continuously suffer disappointment and loss and grief as Daniel had (and no doubt would continue to) and still be sane, still be fighting, still be living.  Jack thought about that for a moment.  Was Daniel really living?  As far as Jack knew, Daniel didn’t have a life beyond the SGC, had no friends or extra-curricular activities that weren’t work related.  And among the friends he did have at the Mountain (or out there among the stars), he rarely had time to spend with them beyond the job and the missions. There were no hockey and pizza nights, no BBQs, no trips to Denver to museums or bookstores, no game nights with the team…no dates, even if Daniel wanted to.  Hell, the poor guy never left the Mountain even when he was on the planet, since he didn’t live off-base any longer.

That wasn’t living, Jack knew.  Even though things were as bad as they were and it would have been extremely difficult to get away anyway, Jack wondered if Daniel had simply given up trying to find time to himself – for himself – and just…existed for the next mission, for the next opportunity to possibly rid the universe of the Ori and Priors and Adria for good.  And what would happen to Daniel, Jack wondered, when that day finally came?  What reason would he have to latch onto that would be motivation enough to keep going?  Atlantis and all the knowledge and wonders yet to be found in Pegasus?  Maybe.  He had, after all, been willing to run away to Atlantis two years ago when he found himself alone, deserted by his team and family.  But even then, he wouldn’t have lived.

No.  Jack tossed back the remainder of his second Guinness with finality.  No, he wouldn’t let Daniel continue to exist without any spark of happiness, without a reason to live – really live. That was why he was doing all this, after all, wasn’t it?  His own selfish reasons for it were incidental, secondary bonuses to the one true purpose of everything Jack had planned.  He could only hope Daniel would see that, would see that what Jack did for him was proof that there was trust in Daniel.  More, that Jack loved him and wanted to give Daniel everything he ever wanted, all that he deserved and more.

Another glance at the clock told Jack he’d sat around brooding long enough.  Feeling a bit better now that he’d found his determination and motivation again, Jack decided to make supper for them so it would be ready by the time his linguist finally did return – hopefully with a hungry stomach.

~*~*~*~*~

          Two hours later, the soup and grilled cheese sandwiches he’d made were cold and the Caesar salad he’d thrown together was put away in the fridge.

Disconsolate and worried, Jack nursed another Guinness, sitting in front of the fireplace where the nice, roaring fire he’d built up was beginning to burn down.  He glanced up and out a window, checking the light, debating if he should go out and start searching for his wayward friend.

To hell with it.  Be mad at me, Daniel.  I’d rather you were here and mad at me than out there somewhere unknown to me with no way of calling for help if you need it.”  Jack said to the air, shoving himself to his feet stiffly.  Mind made up, he took his bottle to the sink, then went to the bathroom.

He was washing his hands and staring at himself in the bathroom mirror when his Daniel-radar suddenly went off.  Hurriedly drying his hands, he quickly opened the door and walked briskly out to the living area, desperately hoping he wasn’t going crazy.  Just as he was about to enter the room, he heard the cabin door shut loudly, and found himself standing in a yet empty cabin.  Jack’s posture drooped and he whispered Daniel’s name without knowing it.

Then he noticed Daniel’s sweater was gone, and realized Daniel must have come inside just to grab it because he was, no doubt, getting a tad chilly.  However, he must not be ready to face Jack yet so he didn’t stay inside.  Well, at least Jack knew he was back and okay – physically, anyway.

Going over to a window, Jack pushed aside a blind and searched the yard for the younger man.  He breathed a deep sigh when he spotted him sitting on the dock, staring out across the water.  It took some effort just to step back and make himself leave Daniel to it, going into the kitchen to warm up the soup and sandwiches, and put on a pot of coffee for his resident addict, instead of going outside to Daniel when he clearly wasn’t welcome.

Gritting his teeth, Jack reminded himself that for Daniel, he’d have the patience of a saint.

Leaving the soup on low on the stove to heat slowly and the sandwiches in the microwave for later, Jack stretched out on the couch with a National Geographic after stoking the fire and adding another log to get it burning strong again.

~*~*~*~*~

          He didn’t know how long it had been, but he must have dozed off – lulled by the heat from the fire and the Guinness in his belly.  Jack woke up with a start, the magazine falling to the floor with a thud as he sat up.

Confused, he looked around, trying to figure out what woke him.  Then he remembered Daniel and got to his feet quickly.

Daniel?  Hey, Danny, are you around?”  Jack called, glancing at the clock as he passed by.  It was nearly 20:00 hours, dark outside now, and there was no answer from the anthropologist.  Jack checked all the rooms in the cabin, in case Daniel had snuck in past him while he was crashed out on the couch, but nope.  No Daniel.

Frowning in concern and mounting consternation, Jack made his way to the front door.  He was slipping into his boots and jacket when a low rumble of thunder rolled through – loud enough to rattle the windows.  It sent Jack into a near panic.  Wouldn’t Daniel have enough sense to come in during a storm, no matter how mad he was?

No.  No, he wouldn’t.  Not if he was so lost in thought he didn’t even notice the storm, the damned idiot.”  Jack muttered to himself, more in worry than ire.

When he opened the door, he was greeted by a familiar, Northern Minnesota downpour.  Cursing, he could just make out the man’s huddled form on the dock, unmoving.  Before he went out to drag Daniel inside, he rushed into the bathroom and grabbed a couple of towels, then the big, warm afghan from the guest room bed, and left the lot in the living room near the door for later.  Jack eyed the umbrella on his way out the door, but decided against it, in case he had to physically muscle a stubborn linguist into the cabin.

He hurried out into the rain, feeling the moisture soak through his jacket almost immediately.  When he reached Daniel, he took in the man’s self-protective huddle (knees drawn up to his chest, arms hugging his legs, and head buried in his arms) and shoved any anger he may have had down.  Daniel nearly broke his heart.

Carefully, Jack knelt down next to him and gently laid a hand on Daniel’s shoulder, squeezing slightly. “Daniel?  Danny, please come inside, okay?  You’re soaked right through.

Daniel lifted his head with a jolt at Jack’s soft, clearly worried voice in his ear.  “What?”  He turned to look at Jack in confusion, somewhat dazed-looking.  “Jack?”  He glanced down at himself, then turned his face up to the sky, eyes closing behind his glasses as the rain pelted down on them.

Danny, come inside…” Jack urged, nudging the man to prod him into moving.  “Please?

Jack?”  Daniel frowned, letting the older man hoist him up onto his feet.  He swayed a bit until Jack wrapped a steadying arm around his waist and hung on.  “It’s raining.”  He sounded confused about that, almost like the few times Jack had ever seen Daniel drunk.

Gee, so it is.”  Jack bit back the sarcasm and decided getting Daniel warm and dry was the first step to coherency.  “Let’s go inside, then, shall we?  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not catch hypothermia or pneumonia or something standing around out here.

No.  That would be bad.”  Daniel agreed.  He sniffed loudly, sneezed, then gave an almighty, full-bodied shiver.  “Um…it’s awfully cold.

Jack rolled his eyes and made his way to the cabin, Daniel stumbling slightly along with him.  “Ya think?  Don’t worry, Spacemonkey.  I’ll get you warm and dry as soon as possible.  I promise.

Almost falling through the door when Daniel tripped over the last step, Jack closed the door behind them and propped his mate up against it. Then he proceeded to kick off his boots, toss aside his jacket, and strip Daniel down to his boxers where he stood.

Shivering violently and continuously, Daniel didn’t protest.  His mind was making a reappearance by now, having returned from wherever it had been lately, and he realized how foolish Jack must think he was.  Freezing, his skin a worrisome tint of blue, teeth chattering and shaking like the proverbial leaf, the linguist watched Jack grab a towel and start rubbing him down with it.  Embarrassed, but touched and grateful, Daniel opened his mouth, feeling he had to say something.  Anything.

J-Jack?  S-s-sorry ab-bout thi-s.

The General glanced at him briefly, pulling off his glasses and setting them on the side table before reaching for Daniel’s head with the towel.  As he dried Daniel’s hair, he answered quietly.

Yeah, well, it’s partly my fault.  You had all kinds of things to set that all-too-busy brain of yours off on a tangent because of me, after all.  Aht!  Don’t.”  Jack held up a finger when Daniel looked like he was going to refute that.  “And I shouldn’t have dozed off waiting for you to come in.  I probably should have dragged you inside before I sat down.”  Tossing the towel aside, Jack grabbed the afghan and draped it around Daniel snugly, steering him to the fireplace.  “Here, sit.  Warm up.  I’ll get us some coffee in a second.

Th-thanks.”  Feeling pathetically grateful, Daniel squinted at Jack, watching him grab the other towel and dry himself off.  “And…I-I’m sorry about…b-before.

Jack disappeared from view, going down the hall to the guest room where he hung up all of Daniel’s soaked clothes to drip dry.  He called back, “What for?  You have every right to be mad and careful, Daniel.  And didn’t we agree to no more apologies?”  Then he quickly took off his own wet clothes (not as soaked as Daniel’s but still uncomfortably damp), slipped into a pair of sweatpants, and grabbed a spare set for Daniel before heading back out.  “Here’s some sweats, once you’re feeling a little warmer.” He said, draping them on a sofa cushion and moving to the kitchen for their coffee.

Daniel was struggling into the pants when he came back carrying two steaming mugs of java.  He was still visibly shivering, too, and immediately sat back down in front of the fire and rewrapped himself in the afghan.  Jack sat down next to him and waited until he’d settled before handing one mug to Daniel.

With a grateful noise, Daniel took it and wrapped his fingers around the mug, absorbing the heat.  Continuing the conversation, he replied to Jack’s denial of his apology.  “Maybe I do, but Jack…you only reacted how you thought best, considering what you knew.  I can’t blame you for that, not with the planet at stake, not when billions of lives depend on your decision.  You made the same choice once before, and I guess I forgot that.”  Jack frowned into his coffee mug, remembering the Enkaarans and Gadmeer.  “And the more I thought about that, the more I came to realize…” Daniel’s eyes slid away, “I don’t think I can say, honestly, that I wouldn’t do what you did if I had been in your shoes.

Jack took a sip before answering.  “Who knows?  Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that.  I think we both can see the situation from each other’s point of view, and we both understand why we said and did the things we did.  But Daniel, I think there’s a few things I need to clarify for you, because even though you get it up here,” he tapped a finger to his forehead, “You don’t get it in here.”  Jack laid a hand over his heart.  “You’re still hurt, and I hope I can ease that for you, and get you to take a chance on me yet.

Daniel paused in drinking from his mug, vivid blue eyes clear and curious over the rim, contemplating Jack.  “What do you mean?  What’s to clear up?

When I said I didn’t trust that it was you…” Jack sighed and set his mug aside, running fingers through his silvery hair, trying to come up with the words to explain.  “I’m not trying to wiggle out of it, Daniel.  I’m telling you the absolute truth here; I didn’t know you were you at the time.  I needed something concrete, proof-wise, but there was no way for either of us to do that.  I…because I couldn’t be sure, I treated you as if you’d been snaked – Goa’uld or Tok’ra, it didn’t matter.

Light dawned and Daniel mentally began smacking himself stupid for not seeing it sooner.  “Because if I’d been snaked, the symbiote would know everything I knew almost immediately and therefore telling you things that only you and I would know about wasn’t really proof that I was me, since the snakes can pretend to be the host very believably…and you equated Merlin to them since he was in my mind at the time…

Smiling grimly, Jack nodded, his brown eyes softening in relief that Daniel got it.  “When I said…what I said…Daniel, I wasn’t really meaning you, I meant more generally ‘you’ – as in snaked/dead Ancient inhabiting your brain you.  If you’d been alone up there,” he nodded at Daniel’s head, “I’d have trusted and believed you completely.”  Jack fiddled with the knee of his sweatpants, then picked at the edges of the afghan.  “Then everything started happening so fast…I never really go to explain myself; whether I believed you had understood already or not, I should have tried.

God.”  Daniel hung his head, feeling just a little light-headed as the weight of Jack’s non-existent distrust just…evaporated.  Without looking, he set his mug aside with one hand and reached toward Jack with the other.  Long, lean, rough fingers grasped his hand and slowly wined with his until they were inescapably linked together.  Looking up into Jack’s earnest gaze, Daniel offered a smile and squeezed Jack’s fingers.  “God, Jack, all this…time and energy and emotion wasted on a misunderstanding…

The corners of Jack’s mouth twitched and he raised his free hand to Daniel’s cheek.  “I’m so sorry I didn’t come clean earlier, Danny.  I should have known better.

No!  No, Jack, there’s nothing…look, enough apologies for us, okay?”  Daniel covered Jack’s hand with his own, holding it to his face.  He released a deep, heartfelt sigh, absorbing the warmth and affection of that touch.

Jack felt infinitely better now that the Prior thing was really settled between them.  And he could sit here and do this forever – ‘this’ being to sit there softly stroking Daniel’s cheek and the corner of his mouth with a thumb while staring into the deepest, most vibrant pair of blue eyes he had ever seen.  Eyes that belonged to the most passionate, kind, intelligent, and compassionate human being he’d ever known.  Oh how Jack loved him.  Watching as those blue, blue eyes smiled questioningly at him in a sleepy, content way, the General asked himself how he could have ever not understood what Daniel meant to him, how he could have denied his emotions.  Thank god he’d seen the light (a glowy octopus of an Ascended Daniel was the real start) and gotten over himself, formerly repressed asshole that he used to be.

Jack?”  Daniel blinked lethargically at the other man, who had this dazed, dreamy expression on his face and a far away gleam in molten brown eyes.  He had no idea what was so fascinating about himself, but it seemed to have Jack totally enthralled.  Daniel hadn’t experienced anything like it before.  He’d never felt so special to anyone in quite this way.  Actually it was kind of nerve-wracking.  He gave a hard squeeze and tried getting Jack back again from wherever it was he’d gone.  “Ja-ack…

The sappiest grin Daniel had ever seen on the other man’s face made him smile and chuckle.  “Whatever it is, I don’t think I want to know.

Daniel.”  Jack shrugged and, with a laugh, leaned into plant a kiss on the linguist’s forehead, then simply rested his own against Daniel’s.  “Feel better?  I mean, you’re not shivering anymore and you aren’t turning blue…

Huh?  Oh.”  Daniel blushed, having forgotten he’d ever been cold.  Besides, he had all sorts of reasons to be warm right now.  “No, I’m fine.  It was just a little rain, Jack.

Snorting, Jack pulled away and stiffly got to his feet.  Damned weather was making his joints ache (meaning his knees were killing him).  “You were definitely on your way to hypothermia out there, Danny.  But I’m glad we got you all warmed up.  Hungry?”  Jack padded to the kitchen, turning on the microwave to heat up his grilled cheese sandwiches (probably soggy by now) and fishing out the salad from the fridge.  “I made supper a while ago, but…

Daniel got up, folded the afghan neatly, and left it on the armchair, wandering into the kitchen to see what Jack made.  He felt a little guilty about Jack’s efforts nearly going to waste.  “I could definitely eat.”  He admitted, feeling a rumble in his stomach that agreed with him.  “Mmm…soup.

Jack made an apologetic sweep of his hand, looking endearingly sheepish.  “It’s not big or special but…it felt like a simple soup day.”  He poured two bowls of soup, grabbed a couple small plates for the salad, and the sandwiches.  Daniel took out utensils and set them out, then slipped into the living room to retrieve their coffee mugs for refills.

Apparently the two men were hungrier than they’d thought because they at everything Jack made.  While they cleaned up in companionable silence, Daniel brought up the subject of returning to work.

So…when were you planning on us going back to the Mountain, Jack?”  He asked, drying dishes and putting them away as Jack washed them.

Jack gave him a glance and kept scrubbing.  “Getting eager to go back already?” he teased, hiding the flash of disappointment when he realized their week of freedom was nearly up.

Honestly?  No.  But I have so much unfinished business to deal with now…” Daniel sighed, “I hadn’t realized how badly I needed time off until you shanghaied me and whisked me off to the cabin like that.  Do you know…the last time I read a book for fun…I can’t even remember it.”  He sounded so wistful it made Jack’s heart pang.

Jack grimaced, knowing how important it was to his mate to be able to read all manner of books just because, and not for the job.  His thirst for knowledge was insatiable, a need akin to food whatever, clothing…  He let his shoulder bump Daniel’s.  “I kinda figured you needed a break.  I’m glad I was able to do that for you, even if it’s not nearly long enough nor for as long as you deserve – my own selfish motives notwithstanding.”  He had the grace to flush under Daniel’s raised eyebrow and the scoff that followed.

It wasn’t what I’d call selfish, Jack.  If anything, I’d call all this more selfless then selfish.  Besides…we had too many ghosts to banish, and I think things will be a lot easier between us, different anyway, now that we’ve worked a lot of things out.

Well, I don’t know about easier, but definitely different.  In a good way.”  Jack smiled, filching the towel to dry his hands after Daniel finished drying the last dish.  Tossing the towel onto the counter, he reached for his archaeologist’s hand and held on loosely.  “To answer your question, Odyssey is scheduled to swing by and retrieve us Saturday morning at 0800.  Unless of course they get called away on a mission or something.

Ah.”  Daniel gave Jack a pained look.  “Why so early?

As in why not Sunday or Monday, or why 0800?”  Jack snickered at Daniel’s aggrieved pout.  “Well…I actually have a bit of a surprise – or two, or three – for you, and everything’s supposed to be prepared by Saturday morning.

Daniel squinted at him suspiciously.  “I don’t generally like surprises, Jack.”  Then he frowned at the suddenly nervous, almost scared look that flashed in Jack’s eyes.  “Jack?

Daniel?

Jack.”  A foot began to tap and eyebrows dipped warningly.

What?”  Jack was all innocence.

What did you do?”  Daniel demanded, not liking how Jack was doing his very best to be cagey when he was clearly unsure of something.  “You’re worrying me.  What great O’Neill scheme have you gone and gotten started?

I can’t tell you yet, Daniel.”  Jack tried a patient – and yes, hedging – tactic.  “It’s a surprise.  It’s nothing bad!  I promise.

Then why are you acting like it’ll be the end of the world if I don’t like it?”  Daniel couldn’t imagine what Jack would do or have up his sleeve that would be so earth-shattering.  Even more suspiciously, he moved forward and backed the older man up against a well.  “And what exactly did you have planned for the second week of leave you wrung out of General Landry for me?

Look, Danny, I promise I’ll tell you everything when we get back.  For now, let’s just say it’s all for you and I really hope you like it.”  Jack hastily searched for more info that he could tell Daniel without giving the whole thing away too soon.  “Uh…did I mention Cassie is going to be around and she made me promise to bring you home in time for her to get to see you before she goes back to classes.

What?  Cassie!  She’s in the Springs?  Now?  Why didn’t anyone tell me?”  Daniel looked positively horrified at the fact that he’d missed spending any time with her, then glared heatedly at Jack.  “You knew?  And you brought me out here instead?  Jack O’Neill!”  He smacked Jack on the bicep for that, hard.

Daniel!”  Jack protested, back-pedalling like the political pro he’d learned to be at the Pentagon.  “She knows all about the Plan and why I brought you out here.  She knew you wouldn’t come with me if you knew she was in town so none of us told you.

Wait a minute… You mean SG1… Teal’c, Sam, Vala, and Cameron all know about this, too!?”  Daniel’s eyes were huge and stormy blue.  “They’re all in on this elaborate scheme of yours?

Of course they are, Danny.”  Jack said quietly, gently rubbing up and down Daniel’s bare arms soothingly.  “They’re family, right?  And I couldn’t just steal you without letting your family know where you’d be.  Besides, they wanted to help us fix our friendship if they could, so they’re helping me – us – out by putting the last finishing touches on my ‘elaborate scheme,’ as you call it.

Mollified, Daniel huffed and let Jack draw him into a hug.  “Um…just how much do they know?” he inquired, curling his arms around Jack loosely in return.

Most of it.”  Jack admitted slowly.  “I didn’t come right out and say it – I couldn’t after all – but they’re smart.  They figured out the parts they couldn’t ask about and that I couldn’t tell.

Shocked, Daniel pulled back slightly and stared into Jack’s eyes.  “You mean they all know that you…that there’s more than friendship…that you wanted to…” Daniel clamped his mouth shut, took a steadying breath, then exclaimed, “And they’re okay with that?!

Jack tilted his head with a smile.  “Yes, they know all that.  And yes, they’re okay with it.”  His hands were moving unconsciously, tracing odd patterns over the bare, broad expanse of Daniel’s back.  It was distracting them both.

Sam?”  Daniel bit his lip and frowned, torn between shaking Jack loose so he could think properly and encouraging those rough hands.  “I mean, I know you’ve talked to her, and all, but…

Maybe Sam most of all.”  Jack’s smile got bigger.  “I think she’s finally figured out a lot of things for herself and made some decisions in her life.  I do know she’s happy for you, and us, if things should truly work out.

Stunned, Daniel leaned into Jack’s embrace fully.  “Wow.

My sentiments exactly.

What about the others?

Well, I’m fairly sure T’s known longer than anyone – including you and I, I might add.  So he’s alright with it, if not ecstatic in his Jaffa way.”  Jack grinned at the laugh Daniel expelled.  “As for Mitchell, I happened to overhear a conversation between him and Teal’c, and he didn’t care one way or the other.  He was curious as all hell, but T set him straight – without actually telling him anything.

Again – wow.”  Daniel smiled though.  He’d been fairly certain that Cam wasn’t one of those military homophobes, and – like Jack – didn’t care what people did on their downtime as long as it didn’t affect the job, the mission, etc.  Still, it was nice to have a little confirmation, since Daniel had grown to really like Cam and respect him.  In some ways, the young officer was like a brother to Daniel.  When Mitchell worked so hard to ‘get the band back together,’ he’d earned his place in the SG1 family, which was only right because, from the start, he’d gotten what made the SG1 dynamic, understood how they worked and why they were successful, understood their relationships to each other on and off the job.  Cameron Mitchell understood what pretty much everyone outside of SG1 (extended family included) did not.  Therefore, he fit right in.  “And Vala?

Jack absently rubbed a hand up and down Daniel’s back, thinking about the feisty women he knew very little about except that she frequently go his archaeologist into massive trouble.  “I didn’t really talk to her directly, but she’s…very worldly, and very intelligent.  I will assume because she eagerly offered to help out with the Plan almost immediately that she’s fine with it, too.

Daniel nodded and pulled away with a reluctant sigh.  “Yeah.  I’ll…have to have a chat with her sometime, I suppose.  She’s forever trying to get into my pants.

Jack raised an eyebrow  and ignored his jealous side.  “Oh?” he replied mildly.

Daniel’s smile was exasperated.  “Yep.  It isn’t because she’s…you know, easy…” he winced, disliking that term for anyone let alone Vala.  “I think she’s just lonely, and happens to like sex, and happens to be grateful to and rather fond of me.  She feels safe with us, something she’s never really had before, not to mention having real friends.

But you don’t think she’s…in love with you?”  Jack asked cautiously.

Ahh…no.  I think she could fall for me, and I probably would love her in return, but…she’s not Sha’re.”  Daniel looked up the mere inch or so to meet Jack’s solemn whiskey gaze.  “And she’s definitely not you.  Maybe we’re together in one of those alternate realities, but I believe that would only be because I never met you.

Jack swallowed hard, eyes widening at the weight of emotion behind that admission.  He said the only thing he could in response to the sincerity and truth shining out at him from the deep blue depths of Daniel’s eyes.  “I love you, too, Daniel.

After one long, meaningful, saccharine stare at each other, Daniel coughed exaggeratedly and gave a bright, sunny smile.

And that’s our sap quotient for about a decade.  I’m exhausted.  Bed?”  He was already heading for the bedroom before he’d finished speaking.

Jack grinned widely and scratched at his head, then his chin thoughtfully.  “Yeah sure you betcha!  I’ll just put out the fire and lock up.

Okay.

* * * *

          Now Daniel was slowly coming around to the real possibility of getting his fondest wish: Major General Jack O’Neill – with two ‘L’s, thank you.  Not just his friend, not just his co-worker, but a…what?  Significant other?  Partner?  Lover…  Maybe all those.  Unable to help himself, Daniel brought his hand up to trace Jack’s mouth with a whisper of touch by fingertip.  It felt strange, and unfamiliar…and thrilling, and sweet.  He’d never had this level of intimacy with another man.  Sex, yes, but not the comfort or affection or trust that Daniel was discovering between himself and Jack.  And that had been a very long time ago.  This…being able to lie awake and watch Jack sleep on unaware, to reach out and touch him just because he wanted to and because he could in this intimate way…this was living.  This was wonderful and beautiful and made Daniel want to cry with the overwhelming joy of it.

He’d regained something last night.  Something that followed that old cliché about not realizing what you had until it was gone.  Daniel regained his trust in Jack, his trust in them, together, Jack and Daniel…Daniel and Jack.  And maybe, if he dared believe one last time, just maybe…he’d found what he’d looked for all his life: a place where he truly belonged and made a difference.

Home.

Those lips moved beneath his fingertips, curving slowly then pressing with the utmost tenderness against his fingertips in an unmistakeable kiss.  Daniel trembled and flicked his gaze up to fall into sleepy, warm, darkened, pads of brown like burnt chocolate.  His fingers slipped away, but only so far  as Jack’s stubbled chin where they rested lightly.

“Hey.”  The linguist murmured.

“Hey.”  His General replied huskily, voice rough with sleep.

“Did I wake you up?”

“Nah.  Even if you had, it’s a very nice way to.”

Fingers moved again, stroking and smoothing the lines of Jack’s weathered face.  Daniel wiggled closer until they were nearly nose to nose.  “Don’t mind me…I’m just still working on getting used to the idea that I can really have this – have you, Jack.”

Jack’s nose bumped playfully against Daniel’s, and suddenly his fingers were echoing the movements of Daniel’s over Daniel’s face.  “Not an idea, Daniel.  It’s a fact.  I’m so yours.”

“Sweet.”  There was a devilish twinkle Jack had rarely seen in his mate’s fathomless eyes – growing darker with every second and slowly being hooded by his eyelids, framed with eyelashes that probably made women everywhere envious.  Jack sure appreciated them.

“Daniel.”

“Jack?”

“Are we having a moment?”

“I’d say so, yeah.”

“Sweet.  Are you going to kiss me, ravage me, and generally make me lust after you for the rest of our lives once I’ve experienced the Daniel Jackson way of sex?”

Daniel blinked at him once, frowned cutely as if he was trying to figure out what was wrong with that question, then burst out laughing.  Jack just grinned, pleased with himself for getting that reaction out of the younger man.  Daniel, in his opinion, needed to laugh more, needed more happy times in his life.

“God!  You’re incorrigible!”  Daniel gasped in exclamation, trying to catch his breath as he lopped backward onto his back.  Still shaking with mirth, he raised his arms and tucked his hands under his head.

Jack put on a mock-pout and rolled over on top of Daniel, propping himself up with his forearm so his full weight wasn’t resting on the man.  “What?  You mean there isn’t going to be a fabulous morning make-out session to start the day? We could so be starting a precedent for future mornings, you know.”

Daniel shook his head from side-to-side on his pillow, pulling his hands out from under his head and reaching up to smooth over Jack’s bare shoulders in apology, his smile fond and regretful.  “Not this time, Jack.  I think…it’s a little too much, too soon.  Plus, I have this sneaking suspicion that if we started, we couldn’t stop.”

“Hey, if it’s too big a step right now, then we don’t take it.”  Jack agreed easily.  He hadn’t really expected his archaeologist to actually go for the suggestion.  “We do have to, uh, talk about all that, I suppose.”

“Yeah.”  Daniel sighed and wiggled out from under Jack to sit up on the edge of the bed.  “Coffee?”  He asked hopefully.

“Timer on the pot should have…” Jack glanced at the alarm clock.  “Oh.  Yeah, it went off half an hour ago.  It’s probably well percolated by now.”

Daniel didn’t hear him.  He was already out the door and moving toward the kitchen.

Jack stretched, yawned, scratched at his belly absently, and wandered into the bathroom.  “I’m taking a shower, Daniel!”  He called out before shutting the door.

“Fine!”  Daniel yelled back, pouring his first blissful mug of coffee.  “Pancakes!”

“Waffles!” came the muffled reply.

Daniel blinked, drank coffee with one hand and opened cupboards with the other until he found a waffle iron hidden behind the pots and pans.  “Ah ha!  Waffles it is.”

By the time Jack had emerged from the bathroom, Daniel had breakfast ready and waiting.  When they’d finished eating, Jack cleaned up while Daniel took his turn in the shower.

The rest of the day passed by quietly, contentedly, sitting together outside on Jack’s little dock.  Jack fished and Daniel read his book, both enjoying the mild autumn weather and warm sunshine.

At one point, Daniel did bring up the topic of sex for their conversation.  There would be fewer chances to be able to discuss this topic once they left the cabin tomorrow, he knew, and therefore they may as well get on with it.

Flipping a page, he asked, “So have you always swung both ways or is this a midlife crisis?”

Jack frowned and pried his ball cap off his face, tugging it onto his head properly as he sat up.  “It’s not a mid-life crisis, Daniel.  I haven’t had one, nor do I expect to.”

“Well, you’re not supposed to expect it.  It just happens.”  Daniel pointed out reasonably.  “I know you really care about me, Jack, but…I guess I can’t see how you’re suddenly handling the idea of a relationship with me – another male – so easily, when (as far as I knew) you were straight as a board.”

“I don’t believe any person is totally straight.  I think everyone at some point in their lives wonders about the other side of the coin.”  Jack said, going through the motions of reeling in his line and tossing it out again.  “In my case, though, my board has always been…warped.  Until I met and married Sara, I’d played the field.  Although, with the guys, I never really go so far as…intercourse.”  Jack felt the heat rising up his neck, sensing Daniel’s complete and undivided attention on him, his book lying forgotten in his lap.  “And there were never relationships.  Just…relations, if you get my drift.”

Daniel nodded, pretty sure he understood.  “And of course you had to be very careful what with the hostile military environment you were in.”

“Yeah.  There’s that.  In all honesty, though, I probably wouldn’t have had it any other way – military or not.  It’s no one’s business but mine who I was with, ya know?  I’m very private that way.  I never did engage in that stupid ‘locker room’ macho bullshit from high school on into the Air Force.”  Jack shifted in his choir, relieving sore muscles that were falling asleep from sitting still so long.  “After I signed up, I was too busy being a soldier to really exercise my hormones, and then I had Sara.”  Jack shrugged.  “I admit I looked, once in a while, but it was never more than looking.”

“You know, it’s amazing that I never clued in that you were bi.”  Daniel shook his head at himself.  “My people-reading skills must have some sort of blind spot when it comes to you.”

Jack smiled, glancing at him.  “Nah.  You just saw me as I wanted you and everyone else to see me.  I worked really hard to shape my image, you know.”

Snort.  “Please.  You think I ever fell for your dumb flyboy routine?  For that macho asshole, hard-ass soldier shtick of yours?”

“Nope.  But when it came to my sexuality, Dannyboy, I never gave away any hints about leaning in the same direction, did I?  You can’t read something that’s not there.”

“I don’t know, Jack.  You’re well known for some off-the-wall comments that are pretty bent.  It’s a good cover.  As for me…I was probably too wrapped up in my own, self-created image of you to really pay attention.”  Daniel sighed and smiled fondly at Jack.  “Not that you don’t have your moments as a hard-ass, macho asshole…” he teased.

“Yeah, so do you.  Have your moments, I mean.”  Jack hastily tried explaining himself at Daniel’s raised eyebrow and foreboding glare, á la Teal’c.  “As a pissy, anti-military academic, that is.  To be fair, however, it was usually in response to one of my moments so…”

“Not always.”  Daniel conceded gracefully.  “Others had their fair share of my moods.”

“We’ve all been better off for your point of view and willingness to put us in our place when the occasion called for it, Dr. Jackson.  I don’t know where we’d be today if you hadn’t stood your ground countless times.”

Daniel actually blushed, touched and embarrassed by this glowing praise he felt was totally unnecessary and not as warranted as Jack seemed to believe.  “Nah.  You’d have muddled through somehow, Jack.  Everyone at the SGC is intelligent, clever, and resourceful enough to have made it through the hard times.  I’m not…”

Jack swung his chair around to face his modest linguist, fishing pole forgotten, leaning forward in earnest.  “Yes, Daniel, you are very much that special, that important.  Not just to the SGC or the rest of the programme, but to the whole planet!  Even if they don’t know it yet, nor ever will know the true extent of all you’ve done, lost, experienced, and given freely for the benefit of humanity.”

Blue eyes were wide with shock and embarrassed gratitude.  “Jack..”

“Danny, please!”  Jack, determined to get this through the archaeologist’s thick skin, reached out and clasped Daniel’s hand.  “I’m not exaggerating, here.  Fact is, you’ve done so much, shown us so much, that we stand in awe.  And we’ve never adequately shown our appreciation or respect.  Hammond and I have tried over the years to come up with something – anything! – to do that, but nothing ever seems enough.  And I think it’s affected you more than you’ll admit.  Aht!  Let me finish.”  Jack held up a finger and waggled it in the air when Daniel opened his mouth to speak.  “We’ve all been remiss in giving you our thanks for a job well done.  We have no way of awarding you – or any other civilian, for that matter – like we do for the military personnel in the programme.  Even if we did, I don’t think we could because such things are in the public domain and to give you any award would be a security nightmare of epic proportions.”

“I don’t want any awards, Jack, nor do I…”

“I’m not finished!”  Jack interjected, making a zipping motion across his lips.  “So hush.  But all of that aside, I think that on a personal level, we – your team and colleagues – have lacked a decent show of appreciation for all that you do, and I suspect it’s affected your confidence and esteem all this time, hasn’t it?”  Jack stated in an infinitely gentle, yet regretful, tone of voice.  Daniel squirmed and looked away, unable to keep his gaze locked on Jack’s.  It was if the man was seeing right into his soul, laid bare for Jack to scrutinize at will.  “Your apparent modesty isn’t entirely modesty; it’s actually that you honestly don’t feel you’ve done anything that special or important, that you’ve yet to do something that would make us fully appreciate you and your position in the programme.”

“Jack…” Daniel tried to tug his hand away, his body retreating into himself protectively, but Jack refused to let him go.  His voice was small and husky.  “Jack, don’t…”

“I’m so very sorry, Daniel.”  Jack whispered sadly, hating to see how accurate his statements were as they made Daniel immediately withdraw into himself.  “It’s just another of those things I’m going to spend my remaining years of life trying to fix with you.  I hope someday you’ll finally see that not only do we love you just because you’re you, but that professionally you’re our guiding light.  Our conscience.  Our very own celestial prophet.”

That brought Daniel’s head up, a sardonic twist to his smile.  “Come on…that’s a bit much.”

Jack shook his head emphatically in denial.  “No.  It’s the simple truth.  I believe it completely, and I know at least six living souls who would agree with me – and three deceased ones.  And probably more of those glowy folk than you or I know, not to mention a large percentage of Asgard.  As you once told me…you think the Asgard named a ship after you because it sounded cool?”

Bright red and incredulous, and waffling between extreme embarrassment and exasperated love for this man, Daniel sat there staring at Jack with an absolutely stupefied expression on his face.

Completely committed to this conversation, Jack kept on going.  “I know you finally found that you did have a place to belong and a purpose a couple of years ago, Daniel.  But I think that…you may have gotten lost again somewhere after.  So much has happened to you, personally, and in general around you, in life, and I know it’s really difficult to hold on to your perceived place in the grand scheme of things.  But you’ve done such a remarkable job of staying the course and never wavering in your resolve to see this ride through.”  Seeing that Daniel still didn’t believe what Jack was saying – or maybe that Jack was saying it? – the General tried another track.

“Danny, let me ask you: in all the alternate realities we’ve come across – for whatever reason – why is it, do you think, that we are somehow doing pretty damn good compared to any of the others?”

The shocked man huffed and rolled his eyes.  “What?  Jack, come on.  There are an infinite number of those realities, and just as many reasons for their existences so how could I know that?”

Jack shook his head.  “No, Daniel.  That’s not what I’m asking you.  Out of the ones we’ve experienced, I’m asking why things are always going so badly versus why we are doing so well.”

“Jack, there are still too many possible reasons to…”

“Because none of those realities have you.”  Jack interrupted before scientist-Daniel could go off on a tangent.  “Maybe in some of them you were there at one point but the moment you weren’t everything went to hell for that reality.  And sure, those of us left over continued the fight as best we could, maybe even succeeding to a certain extent, but we are still better off here.”

Daniel moved from incredulous to downright flabbergasted.  “I…I…no.  I’m not that special or…cosmically important!  Come on, Jack!  No one person could hold that kind of influence.”

Jack held his mate’s gaze steadily.  “I think some people can.  I think you do.  I’ve seen it, Daniel, enough to really believe it.  I think it’s entirely possible for one person to influence the course of humanity’s development that significantly with words and/or actions.  You’re the history expert, here.  You can’t tell me that you don’t know a few names right off the top of your head that have managed to influence humanity’s path just by being who they are or doing what they did to get their names in all the history books.”

“It’s not that simple, Jack.  You think just by being here I’m somehow causing humanity to go down a certain path that just happens to be a fairly decent one compared to the very few we’ve seen?”  Daniel just couldn’t wrap his head around that idea.  It was…arrogance of the supreme kind to think he had that kind of power, and Daniel had seen where that arrogance could lead – in the Goa’uld, in the Ori, and in himself from that dream Shifu used to ‘teach’ the linguist why his genetic knowledge was so dangerous.

He did not ever want to be that monster.

“No, Jack.  I don’t want that power and I don’t have it.”

Jack smiled gently, unconsciously rubbing this thumb over the soft skin on the back of Daniel’s hand still firmly held in Jack’s.  “Well, whether you believe that much or not doesn’t matter.  The point is that you are that important to a lot of people, and that we all have a huge amount of respect for that.  Fact is, you don’t have to believe all of that yourself.  Just keep on being you, Dr. Daniel Jackson, and the rest of us will follow willingly wherever you lead us.”

Daniel was appalled to feel his eyes watering with unshed tears and he let his head drop, chin meeting chest, as he tried to collect himself.  He stared at the slightly darker-skinned, weathered, rough hand that was curled around his own.  Never in his life had he ever felt so appreciated, so full of someone else’s pride and respect in him and in his achievements.  And at his age he hardly ever expected to ever have someone in his life that was proud of him.

Sniffling loudly, Daniel pulled off his glasses with his free hand and rubbed an arm across his wet eyes before putting them back on and giving Jack a shaky, somewhat watery smile of gratitude.

“You never cease to amaze me, O’Neill.”  He commented lightly, squeezing Jack’s hand.  “And how did we get from your sexuality to my cosmic importance?  Way to deflect the subject, Jack.”

“Ah…not on purpose.”  Jack grinned boyishly, his own eyes suspiciously bright with moisture.  “It’s just really important to me that you understand that you are appreciated and respected, that’s all.”  He tilted his head at Daniel.  “Was there anything else you wanted to know?”

Daniel shook his head.  “No.  Not right now, at least – not this early in the relationship, I mean.”

“Okay.  But, so you know, if there’s something you ever want to know, please ask me.  I don’t want you to feel like you shouldn’t intrude or that you have no right to know something about me because, Danny, if there’s anyone who deserves to know things about me, who’s allowed to pry into my life…it’s you.”  Jack said, completely serious.  “I won’t hide anything from you.  I’ve learned the hard way what secrets do to a couple, and I never went to see that happen to us.”

“Me neither, Jack.  And ditto, on the ‘ask me stuff’ part, I mean.”  Daniel offered, his smile turning shy.  It was absolutely endearing to Jack, who grinned.

“Hey, you know me!  If I wanna know something, I will pester you until you tell me.”

Blue eyes rolled good-naturedly.  “Yes, Jack.  I’m quite familiar with curiosity.”

Still grinning, Jack finally released Daniel’s hand with one last squeeze and returned to his fishing equipment.  “So, Dannyboy…”

“Hmm?”

“What’s your story?  You’re taking my…advances quite well.”

Daniel shrugged and picked up his book.  He didn’t have much trouble talking about the subject when applied to himself, surprisingly.  “I had a couple relationships with other guys but it never lasted long.  I had better luck with women, and even those relationships were short-lived.  I’m not very good at relationships, Jack.”

“No.  I think you’ve just had the world’s worst run of luck, that’s all.  You were doing fine with Sha’re, right?”

Daniel sighed, closing the book as memories assaulted him.  “Honestly?  Probably not as well as either of us would have preferred.  It’s bad enough that I had no real idea what to do with a girl when it came to dating, but suddenly I was married.  And to make it all that much more difficult, I was not only on another planet but married to a woman of a completely different culture.  As a husband I think I disappointed Sha’re a great deal.”  He smiled sadly, remembering his beautiful, strong-willed wife.  “I loved her, and I made sure she knew that, but in a relationship…love isn’t always enough.  Even if I failed miserably at that role, though.  I wouldn’t have chosen differently.  I wouldn’t have come home with you, Kawalsky, and Ferretti, Jack.  I found a chance to have everything I ever wanted on Abydos, and I couldn’t have passed it up.”

“No.  I would hope not.  It’s why I let you stay, Daniel.  I understood what Abydos meant to you, even if I didn’t know you well beyond your file and our short experience together on Abydos.”  Jack cast his line once more, raising his feet to prop them on the closed lid of a cooler.  “I wish we could have gone back more often to visit.  We could have explored some more, spent some time with Skaara and Kasuf…”

Daniel smiled softly at Jack’s musing.  He knew the older man held Abydos and it’s people in a very special part of his heart and memory, just as Daniel did.  In a way that no one else understood – expect maybe Ferretti – Abydos was theirs.  Daniel’s and Jack’s.  Even Lou didn’t have the attachments that they did to that sandy, hot planet.  And despite that the planet was gone, their Abydonian friends and family somewhere above their plain of existence as Ascended beings, Daniel knew that no matter what, he and Jack would always have Abydos between them, with them.

“Why did none of your male relationships work out?”  Jack asked curiously.

Daniel glanced at him, shrugging self-depreciatingly.  “Oh, all kinds of reasons, I guess.  One or two for the same reasons Sarah and I didn’t work – I didn’t have the right kind of ambition career-wise, and I was too involved in my work and studies for their tastes.  There were a couple who simply were not compatible with me for a long-term anything.  And there was one who seriously disliked that I was bi.  He was particularly possessive, and he didn’t like that I could not only see the benefits of either gender but I could enjoy them, too.”  Daniel scratched his head absently.  “Actually, I believe he was the last guy I ever dated, because shortly after I was on Dr. Jordan’s staff and soon dating Sarah.  It wasn’t very long after Sarah broke it off that Catherine recruited me to the project.”

Jack frowned, but nodded in understanding.  “I can get that.  It’s hard enough competing with members of one gender, but both?  Still, that guy had serious insecurities and issues if he couldn’t see how loyal you are.  He obviously had trust issues.”

“I guess.  But…I don’t think it really mattered if it was me with him or someone else.  I got the impression that he would have acted that possessive and jealous with any of his lovers, gay or bi.”  Daniel stretched out his legs, then his arms.

“Well, I can’t promise to never get jealous, Danny, but I won’t let it affect us.  I trust you implicitly.  It’s everyone else I don’t trust.”

Laughing, Daniel picked up his chair and moved it so that he was sitting side-by-side with Jack.  Propping his feet up next to Jack’s on the cooler, Daniel held out his hand, palm up, inviting his General to take it and hold it.  “Don’t worry, Jack.  I’m fairly sure I’ll have my moments, too.’

Smiling with smug contentment, Jack grasped Daniel’s offered hand, linking their fingers intimately.

After another couple of lazy hours outside, they packed everything up and went inside, where they spent the remainder of their evening cleaning up the cabin and packing up their stuff for the early morning departure the next day.  Finally, they had a late supper, a quiet game of chess with the last of Daniel’s wine and Jack’s Guinness, and went to bed.

This time, Daniel fell asleep to the soft snores of his gruff old General with Jack’s arms banded around his linguist and his face buried against the back of Daniel’s neck.  It was the serenity, peace, and sense of safety and belonging that gave Daniel a deep, dreamless, restful sleep that night, and he knew from his first waking moment the next morning that he could easily get very used to it.

When Odyssey beamed them aboard Saturday morning, Daniel had decided that, no matter what happened in the future, taking the risk this one, final time and accepting everything Jack was offering him was worth it.

And if the PTB took this happiness from him as they had everything else in his life, then he probably wouldn’t survive much longer beyond that loss anyway.  He was infinitely tired of solving the universe’s problems at the expense of himself.  All Daniel wanted was one thing, one person, one small piece of happiness and that was Jack.

Because, like all those years ago on Abydos, Daniel recognized the significance of what exactly it was Jack was offering to him…

Home.  And everything that went with it.

~*~*~*~*~

 On to Part IV:  https://kalichaos.wordpress.com/stargate/infinitas/part-iv/

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