Better Late than Never by babs
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Category: Jack/Daniel
Genres: Challenge, Established Relationship, Hurt/Comfort
Rated: Mature
Warnings: None
Series: None
Summary: A belated birthday celebration gives Daniel a present he adores.

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"Dismissed, SG-1. And once again, welcome home." General Hammond nodded to the three people who sat around him at the briefing table.

The two Air Force officers saluted while Teal'c bowed his head in a gesture of acknowledgement.

"Carter, you have everything under control for later?" Jack asked as they headed towards the infirmary.

"Yes, sir." She smiled. "All I need to do is pick up a cake at Petersen's."

"Good," Jack rubbed his hands briskly together. "Teal'c?"

"I will secure the necessary accoutrements for the celebration of Danieljackson's birth." Teal'c headed down the corridor after giving Jack and Carter a grave nod.

"Sir?" Carter asked worriedly. "Is Janet going to let you pull this off?"

"Carter, Carter, Carter." Jack wagged a finger and shook his head in dismay. "Oh ye of little faith. All I need to do is persuade her this little jaunt will speed along Daniel's recovery and she'll be putty in my hands. Besides, we all know I have the doc wrapped around my little finger."

Carter let out a very unladylike snort. "Yeah, right."

"Go get the cake, Carter." Jack pushed his 2IC in the direction of the elevators. "At least I can warn her that Daniel won't be poisoned by your baking."

"You're killing me here, sir," Carter groaned. She pushed the button and turned back to her CO before the elevator arrived. "Sir, do you think..I mean.." Her blue eyes were troubled.

"Carter, General Hammond would have told us if anything else had developed," he reassured her and gestured to the open doors of the elevator. "I'm going to check on him now."

Jack had no intention of ever telling Carter that a huge lump formed in his throat as he walked into the infirmary. He certainly wasn't ever going to tell anyone that his knees felt like water when he caught sight of Daniel's empty bed.

"Colonel O'Neill," Dr. Janet Fraiser was beside him before he took one step further. "I'd like to talk to you." She gestured him towards her small office.

"Sit down, Colonel." She motioned to a chair. "Would you like a cup of coffee?" Janet asked as she poured a cup.

"Thanks, Doc," he said automatically as he accepted a mug from her. Jack grimaced as he watched her put four spoonfuls of sugar in her own brew.

She smiled at his expression. "Daniel used to make that same grimace, Colonel."

"Where is Daniel?" Jack suddenly had no saliva in his mouth. Why had the doc brought him into her office anyway? And 'used to?' What the hell was that supposed to mean. No, Hammond would have told them. Right? Right? "What happened? You said he was going to be fine."

"Oh dear," he heard Janet say over the roaring in his ears, and then her hands were forcing his head down between his knees. "Just stay there, Colonel. Take some deep breaths. That's it. I released Daniel to his home a week ago."

The lightheadedness receded as Doctor Fraiser's words began to sink in. Jack sat up slowly and accepted a bottle of water from Janet. He took a few slow sips and then chugged down the rest of the bottle.

Nodding his thanks, Jack handed the empty bottle back to her and gave a weak smile. "I don't know what came over me. Thanks for the water."

Fraiser's look told him she didn't believe him for a minute. "It's okay to admit you were worried about him, Colonel. I know you and the rest of SG-1 didn't appreciate being sent offworld when Daniel was still in the infirmary."

Jack shrugged halfheartedly. "We're soldiers, Doctor."

"Daniel's not." Janet busied herself with some papers on her desk. "And I know what he means to you and the others."

"How is he, Doc?" Jack leaned forward anxiously.

"Getting better, sir." Janet tapped a file folder with a pen. "You do realize that Daniel's not going to be ready for any offworld missions for another month at least."

"That's not what I meant. How is he really?"

"Are you asking for my opinion as his doctor or his friend?" Janet fixed her eyes on Jack's, her gaze never wavering.

"I think I've heard the medical opinion, Janet." Jack drummed his fingers on the desk. "How about the real story?"

Janet sighed. "Not so good, Colonel." She paused for a moment, as if considering her words carefully. "Colonel...Jack... you know as well as I do that Daniel is never very happy with taking it slow and easy. I thought sending him home would help."


"He's tired. As he put it, 'sick and tired of being sick and tired.'" She held up her hand as Jack opened his mouth to interrupt. "It's not an unexpected reaction to what he's experienced, but I am concerned that Daniel isn't showing his usual resiliency." Janet ran a hand through her hair. "Hopefully now that SG-1 is home, that you're home, Daniel will start to perk up."

"Perk up?" Jack gave an irreverent grin at her choice of words.

"You know perfectly well what I mean, Colonel O'Neill." Janet looked down at the file folders on her desk once again before fixing her concerned gaze on a pair of equally concerned brown eyes. "I've suggested that General Hammond give SG-1 a week of leave due to the stresses of the past month."

"That's good, Doc, because I've been thinking that Dan..." Jack stopped mid sentence as Janet raised her hand once again.

"What Daniel needs, sir, is peace and quiet. No birthday party. At least not the bash you have planned. Keep it simple-dinner with you and the rest of SG-1. I know you and the others wanted to give him a nice surprise and have been planning it for the past two months, but I'm afraid that for now I can't condone it."

Jack felt his heart sink a little lower. The big party had been his idea, ever since Daniel had let it slip one time that he'd never had a real birthday party. And he still wouldn't.

"Colonel, I'm truly sorry. I know you were looking forward to it, to surprising Daniel." Janet gave him an apologetic smile. "But trust me, what Daniel needs isn't a party, it's you and Sam and Teal'c."

"I know you're right, Doc. It's just...well, dammit, things never seem to work out the way I want them to for Daniel." Jack stood to leave, bringing his hand up to scrub at his hair.

"Just trust me on this, sir. Presents and parties aren't the important things about birthdays." Janet smiled. "By the way, I'll be stopping by your house on Tuesday to check on Daniel. I'm assuming you'll make sure he's there, Colonel." She gave him her patented doctor frown.

Jack felt a genuine smile spread across his face. "You can bet on it, Doc. Oh and we'll save a piece of cake for you."

"About that cake, Colonel. There's no point in Sam picking up one of those expensive sheet cakes from Peterson's. Daniel loves her chocolate cake with peanut butter icing. I'm sure she can be counted on to not poison him, with it." Janet left Jack sputtering in the doorway while she went to check on her patients.

"You and Carter have some sort of psychic connection, Doc?" Jack called after her and shook his head as her laugh floated back to him.

The drive to his house had never seemed so long before. Jack sighed in relief as he finally pulled into the driveway. He'd debated calling Daniel on his cell at least a dozen times on his way home and had abandoned the idea each time not wanting to disturb Daniel if the man was sleeping. He rested his hands on the steering wheel a moment longer, bowing his head to touch them and take a few deep breaths.

The last time he'd seen Daniel had been three long weeks ago. Daniel's fever had spiked again and his face had been flushed under the oxygen mask. A weak hand had come up to try to remove the mask as Daniel tried to speak to Jack. Jack had covered that hand with his and shook his head whispering to Daniel to be quiet, to rest. Daniel had already spent two weeks in the infirmary by that time and although Doc Fraiser had assured SG-1 that Daniel was past the crisis point, Jack had been terrified to leave him. Daniel just looked so damned helpless, the infection that had ravaged his body leaving him unable to care for himself in the slightest way. Jack had apologized to Daniel repeatedly for having to go on the mission. Daniel had just lay there, tired blue eyes fixed on Jack's brown ones and whispered, "I'll be fine, Jack." before falling asleep once again. SG-1 minus Daniel Jackson had left for their three week diplomatic mission that night. It was only when they'd stepped through the Gate on P3Z-122 that Jack realized he'd forgotten to tell Daniel happy birthday.

Shaking the fears of the past weeks from his head, Jack stepped from his Jeep and smiled at the sight of the lights shining from the house. He doubted Daniel was awake--Daniel just had a habit of leaving lights on when he was alone in the house. Jack had a sneaking suspicion that it made Daniel feel less alone.

He let himself in and frowned as he took in the sight in his kitchen. Daniel was asleep, his head pillowed on one arm that rested on the kitchen table, the other dangling by his side. Daniel's laptop was still on; Daniel evidently taking no notice of Janet's orders to rest. Jack moved to Daniel's side quietly although he doubted Daniel would wake up at any noise and hit the power switch on the computer. He crouched by Daniel's side a moment, just watching him sleep.

That Daniel had lost weight was evident, Daniel's collarbone stood out in sharp relief. Even sleeping, Daniel still looked exhausted, dark circles remained under his eyes. Jack caught his breath at the sight of the bruises that marked Daniel's arms--reminders of the IVs and tests Daniel had been given. Jack reached out a finger to lightly brush Daniel's cheek, smiling as he felt the warmth, the reality, of Daniel under his touch.

"Danny?" Jack reluctantly whispered.

There was a sleepy mumble before Daniel opened his eyes and blinked dazedly at Jack. It took a few moments but then a slow smile spread across Daniel's features.

"Hey there," Daniel whispered hoarsely.

"Hey there yourself," Jack whispered back. He rubbed his thumb across Daniel's cheekbone once more and then moved back as Daniel sat up in his chair.

Daniel accepted Jack's help in getting up with far more grace than Jack expected. "I don't even remember falling asleep," Daniel admitted as they made their slow way to the bedroom. "I wanted to be awake when you got home."

"I thought Doc told you you were supposed to take it easy," Jack chided, unable to keep the worry from his voice. Daniel was moving as slowly as Jack's grandpa had used to in his last years.

Daniel gave a sigh of relief as he flopped down on the bed. "I thought I could stay awake for more than a few hours. Guess I was wrong." Daniel shook his head disgustedly. He rolled on his side away from Jack.

"Hey," Jack sat down on the bed, not bothering to finish undressing. "Hey, Daniel." He tugged on a tight shoulder. Daniel turned reluctantly, face shuttered. "Do me a favor this time. Listen to Doc Fraiser." Jack kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the bed, his hand coming up to stroke that beloved face. "It was too close this time, Danny." Jack blinked hard, finding his vision blurry. "So please..."

Daniel nodded and curled closer to Jack, closing his eyes and pressing a kiss to Jack's throat. "Missed you." Daniel's voice was rough.

"I missed you too, Danny." Jack pulled Daniel even closer, kissing the top of Daniel's head and breathing in the scent of Daniel's herbal shampoo. "Oh God, I missed you." He knew there'd be no answer, Daniel was asleep once again. Jack tightened his hold on his lover. After the past hellish weeks, there was no way he was letting Daniel out of his sight for a long, long time. Jack was smiling as he fell asleep to the miraculous sound of Daniel's breathing.

"Sorry guys," Daniel apologized as he yawned yet again. Jack made a small shooing motion at Carter and Teal'c smiling as Carter gave a small nod in acknowledgement.

"It's okay, Daniel. Teal'c and I should be going anyway." Sam made a show of looking at her watch. She knelt before Daniel's chair. "I'm so glad you're okay." She made no effort to hide the tears that started to flow. "I was so scared."

"Ah, Sam, don't cry." Daniel leaned forward to give her a hug. "I'm going to be fine." He began pushing himself out of his chair as Sam stood. They hugged once more and then Daniel found himself enveloped in Teal'c's embrace.

"I, too, am glad you are recovering, Danieljackson." Teal'c stepped back and regarded him gravely.

"Thank you, Teal'c. Thanks to both of you." He gestured to the books that lay in a pile by the sofa. "And, Sam, the cake was wonderful." Daniel patted his stomach.

Sam beamed. "Thanks, Daniel." She glanced at her watch again. "Teal'c and I really need to be going. We'll see you tomorrow afternoon, okay?" She raised her eyebrows at Jack in question, smiling when he nodded.

Daniel sank back in his chair as Jack walked Sam and Teal'c to the door.

"Damn," Jack heard Daniel mutter as he came back in the living room.

"What's wrong?" Jack was at his side in an instant, a hand coming up to check for fever. Daniel pushed it away impatiently.

"I'm fine, Jack." Daniel leaned back in the sofa and closed his eyes. " know...sick of this."

"I know, Daniel." Jack sat down beside him, pulling Daniel's head to his shoulder. "I remember getting mono in high school. I was tired for a couple of months. Give it time. You've had a rough couple of weeks. You'll get better."

Daniel was silent for a long time. "Yeah," he finally breathed. "Sorry if I'm being a pain in the ass about it."

"Nah, I'm used to it. You're usually a pain in the ass," Jack couldn't help teasing. He made a face at the light punch Daniel gave him.

Daniel stuck out his tongue and bent over to pick up the books Sam and Teal'c had given him for his belated birthday presents.

"This was nice, Jack." Daniel placed them on the coffee table in a wobbly stack. "Thanks for having them over."

"They were worried about you too, Danny." Jack straightened out the pile. "I'm sorry I couldn't do more."

"Do more?" Daniel had grabbed the first book, something about PreColumbian architecture and was already paging through it.

"I wanted to give you a birthday party," Jack admitted.

Daniel closed the book deliberately and placed it carefully back on the coffee table. "But you did, Jack." Daniel pushed his glasses further up his nose. "This was really nice."

"No, Daniel." Jack gestured at the small Happy Birthday banner, the remains of the cake on the table and the few presents Daniel had been given. "A real party. You know, lots of people, big cake, lots of decorations, lots of food, lots of presents."

Daniel was looking at him as if he'd grown another head. "Don't you think this was enough, Jack?"

"Was it?" Jack countered.

"Jack," Daniel looked down at his hands, forcing himself to keep them still. " You were here."

"I wanted your birthday to be special, Daniel," Jack whispered. "And then you got sick and I forgot to tell you happy birthday before we left. When we got back Doc Fraiser said I couldn't give you a big party." Jack didn't even try to hide the disappointment in his voice. Daniel's arms closed around him.

"That was sweet, Jack." Daniel smiled into his shoulder.

"I'm an Air Force Colonel, Daniel. I don't do sweet," Jack grumbled, feeling a smile twitching at his own lips.

"Oh yeah?" Daniel nudged at him and took his hand. Jack stood at Daniel's insistent tugging.

"Yeah, don't spread that rumor around or you'll ruin my image, Danny." Jack followed Daniel into the bedroom.

"What image would that be, Colonel O'Neill?" Daniel's hands were busy unbuttoning and unzipping Jack's jeans. He grinned up at Jack. "What? You don't like it?"

"What are you doing?" Jack gulped in air. "I mean, I know what you're doing, but what...

"Oh, I just thought I'd unwrap your birthday gift to me." Daniel's grin was positively sinful. He pushed at Jack's legs and Jack stepped out of his jeans. "So what image are we talking about here?"

"You know, my rough..." Jack gave a gasp as Daniel's hands lowered his boxers and gave a squeeze, "tough.." he fell back on the bed as Daniel gave a slight push..."hard assed Air Force Colonel image." He caught his breath as Daniel's hands roamed over the ass in question.

"I'll agree with that one," Daniel murmured between the kisses he was currently distributing randomly across Jack's chest and neck. "That hard assed one, although if you keep eating Sam's cake like you did tonight it won't be hard for much longer."

"You'll love me anyway," Jack said with an air of confidence.

Daniel pushed himself up, looked Jack in the eyes with his own penetrating blue gaze and yawned hugely.

If it hadn't been for the look of dismay that crossed Daniel's features, Jack would have called Daniel a tease.

Daniel rolled over onto his back and pounded a fist into the bed. "Well, that was a really romantic moment. I thought I could at least..."

"It's okay, Daniel." Jack sought Daniel's hand and gave it a quick squeeze. "There's plenty of time."

They lay in the dark, Jack listening to Daniel's breathing slow to a more normal rhythm, thinking of Janet's words.

"You're awfully quiet, Jack," Daniel finally said.

Jack pushed himself up on one elbow to look at Daniel in the moonlight. "I thought maybe you fell asleep. I was thinking."

"About what?" Daniel asked in a tone that indicated that he was very close to sleep.

"About something Janet told me before I came home. I was feeling sorry for myself because I had this big shindig planned for you and she told me that I couldn't have it. She said that birthdays are more than presents and parties."

"Jack," Daniel turned on his side, urging Jack to lie back down beside him, "believe me, I don't need presents or parties. I learned a long time ago that they didn't matter." Daniel reached up a hand to trace Jack's features. "What I need is you. That's all. You're all the birthday present I need."

Jack smiled and placed a kiss in the palm of Daniel's hand. "Thank you, Daniel."

"Mmm-hmm," was his only reply.

Daniel moved closer in his sleep, snuggling up to Jack, throwing an arm over Jack's chest and one long leg over Jack's.

So this is what it came down to ....Jack O'Neill, United State Air Force Colonel, leader of SG-1, teddy bear to one frighteningly brilliant Daniel Jackson, PhD. Jack smiled broadly to himself. Janet had forgotten one thing about presents, though. It sure as hell was fun to be one.
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