A Life Lived by Sideburns
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Category: Jack/Daniel
Genres: Drama, First Time
Rated: Mature
Warnings: None
Series: None
Summary: A few weeks before Christmas, a member of SG-1 is critically injured -- off duty and right here on Earth -- but the event brings everyone together as they were meant to be....

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I. The Event

Daniel pulled into the parking lot and cruised the aisles looking for a spot to park. It was two weeks before Christmas and even this small mini-mall was crowded what with several of the small boutiques and shops indulging in the "Colorado-in-winter" version of a sidewalk sale. Nice way to celebrate "only fourteen more shopping days left -- more or less," darn it. If he didn't have to go to the cleaners -- and if he didn't want Pho's wonderful Vietnamese egg rolls, sour fish soup, fried rice with sausage, crab and shrimp and the stir-fried lamb with mint and chili – he'd turn around and head for home. But for stir-fried lamb with mint and chili, he'd have braved a real mall on Christmas Eve.

On his left, he spotted a set of reverse lights, so slowed to a stop while thanking his lucky stars – literally. The SUV that belonged to the white lights backed out, leaving the spot open. Daniel pulled in with a relieved sigh.

Success.

He got out of his Jeep, walked around to the back and lifted the hatch. He pulled out his cleaning and headed toward 'Fast Dry' which was at the far end of the mini-mall. As he made his way around the crowds on the walkway, he found himself indulging in one of his favorite pastimes: people watching. It never ceased to amaze him how much he could learn from an individual's expression. Right now, he was seeing eager "Oooh, I want to go into every store" looks, "ah-ha, that's exactly what I'm looking for" looks, "hurry up, I've got to make dinner" looks and even a couple of "what the hell am I doing here" looks. He caught bits of conversations as he passed people but instead of ignoring them like he usually did, he found himself straining to hear – which was really odd and required some thought on his part as to why. As with many things he pondered, the answer eventually came to him.

They had lives and he was getting off on vicariously living through snippets of, "Why Uncle Al still insists on making that awful green bean casserole every holiday, I'll never know." Or "... I understand you want to get something special for her, honey, but you're only fourteen – yes, I know you're in love, but maybe something a bit less... personal?" And, "Don't forget we have to buy for the Maxwells this year – we drew them in the Secret Santa at church," or finally, "... and David winked at me! I think he likes me... yes, I plan to, but I need to get up the nerve to ask him so stop hounding me... yes, that's what friends are all about, but still...."

Damn, he could have sworn that at one time – he'd had a life – or at least -- almost had one. Okay, he'd been on the verge of having one.

Okay, that was strange – so strange that he paused in order to try and grasp what he'd just... thought. Surely there was a flaw in it somewhere because, of course, he had a life.
He was certain that he did.

Or at least -- had.

On Abydos – maybe?

Definite life. A much loved and revered life.

Except... he used to sit and stare at the Stargate and wonder....

But still the best -- albeit briefest – life since his early childhood.

And of course, walking through the Stargate with Jack, Sam and Teal'c all those years definitely qualified as life, not to mention ranking right up there with his year on Abydos. Which was also odd because he knew many people felt his life had been on hold those first three years while looking for Shar'e. And in a way – it had. But he'd taken so much comfort in his friendships with Sam, Teal'c and especially Jack, that it had seemed very much like a real life. After Shar'e's death – he had to admit – he'd been on hold, but Jack hadn't allowed that for very long and, pretty soon, he was back to having that life that included the rest of SG-1, along with General Hammond, Janet, and Jacob Carter.

That stopped him cold. Reminded him again of all that had been lost. People who meant home and family to others.

Okay, maybe his life had been more... theirs than his, but damn, he'd made it his, he was sure of it. Until he'd... given it up. But then, hey, he'd reclaimed it, right? Right. Okay, so it was different – then. But still, it was a life. Sort of. Kind of. Not the same kind because, well, let's face it, you can never go home again, but he'd made the best of it, tried to recapture what he'd had, to re-forge the friendships and, to some extent, had succeeded.

Maybe.

And now?

Hell, he was alive and there were days when that was a major accomplishment.

But was being alive – a life?

That thought suddenly reminded him of the time he and Cassie had watched the first Harry Potter movie. He could still see the younger-than-everyone-else Harry playing Quidditch, reaching out for the Snitch, fingers itching to wrap themselves around the golden ball, and getting so close, the breeze made by its wings caressing his hand....

Reaching for life, recognition, respect... and love. All in the form of a golden ball with wings.

Harry somehow had always managed to capture the elusive Snitch, even if he'd had to swallow it.

Daniel, on the other hand, always seemed to ... lose it. Elusive, always there, seemingly within reach, sometimes touching it... only to have it escape again... and again.

Strange way to live a life. Or not, as the case may be.

He walked into the cleaners and up to the counter.

"Hello, Mr. Jackson. It's been awhile."

"Hi, Burt. Yeah, it has. You haven't given them away, have you?" Daniel asked only half joking.

"No, not this time," Burt teased. "But we came close a few months ago. Again."

Daniel shrugged and put his pile of cleaning on the green faux-granite counter. "I have a terrible memory, Burt. You know that."

While a chuckling Burt counted out the items before stuffing them into a green laundry bag, Daniel went through his pockets for his receipt so his cleaning could be found. He came up empty and was about to apologize when Burt held up a pink piece of paper.

"Seems you were wearing these the last time you were in, Mr. Jackson," he said as he indicated a pair of slacks... the same slacks from which he'd pulled the lost receipt.

"Whoops," Daniel said, grinning sheepishly.

"I'll be right back with your cleaning," Burt said as he turned and headed toward the rear of his store.

While he waited, he noted the decorations – done by Burt's Christmas-loving wife, no doubt. At least there was no holiday music playing – thank somebody.

"Here you go, Mr. Jackson." Burt hung the plastic-covered clothing on the bar above his head and said, "The new load comes to twenty-five-sixteen. Did you want to pay in advance, like usual?"

"Oh, yeah," Daniel said as he took out his checkbook. He wrote it quickly, his stomach growling and insisting that he get over to Pho's. "Here you go."

Burt took the check, opened the cash register, put it under the change box and handed him the all-important pink receipt. This time, Daniel put it in his wallet, to an approving smile from Burt.

"Happy holidays, Burt, see you next week – more or less," Daniel said with a wave.

Burt nodded, knowing that Jackson worked up at Cheyenne Mountain and that the "week – more or less" could definitely stretch out – to over a year.

***

Once outside, Daniel took in the clean, cold, crisp air and thought there might be a chance of snow later. It felt like snow, anyway. He started toward Pho's and noticed the small boutique with the antique comb and brush set in the window. He paused, remembering something Cassie had said – something about just such a set that Janet had owned – and that Janet's mother had taken after the funeral. He could still hear the wistful tone of Cassie's voice as she'd described the set. Silver, engraved, and an angel on the back of both the brush and hand mirror. Which was exactly what he was looking at now.

He knew that while this set hadn't been Janet's – it would be the reminder Cassie needed and thus hold the same value for her. He walked in and purchased the three piece set. Cassie had arrived in Colorado Springs earlier in the morning, thanks to being on the debate team, which was competing Monday afternoon. He was supposed to take her to dinner tomorrow night after her practice session, so he could give it to her then, with strict orders not to open until Christmas.

Funny, he was actually excited by the idea of seeing her again – couldn't wait, in fact. She was life – big time. And the future.

He was glad Sam had found a way to be with her as much as she needed being with someone, even if it had meant disbanding SG-1 by relocating to Nevada, since Cassie was at the University of Nevada, Reno, attending the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources. He wasn't quite sure where debating fit in, but Cassie had joked that she'd need the ability to argue when she joined the SGC.

Once Sam left – Teal'c hadn't been far behind. With Jack leading the SGC and Sam transferred, there had apparently been no reason for Teal'c to remain – especially since he had a nation to rebuild.

One minute, they were all fishing at Jack's lakeside retreat in Minnesota – still a team – working through Sam's grief (while he worked through his own demons) and the next thing he knew, Sam, after her return a week after Daniel and Teal'c, put in her transfer request – which Jack had approved without so much as a raised eyebrow. Two days later – Teal'c had turned in his resignation, indicating that he was needed on Dakara.

For three weeks, Daniel had managed to hold on, to keep going, even though no one seemed to know what the hell to do with him, including Jack, who'd avoided him as much as possible. God, he'd missed his friends -- missed them something terrible – and that missing included Jack, who while just down the hall might as well have been on another planet. Even so, it had helped just catching a few glimpses of his friend. Then he'd shown up one morning only to find Jack's office empty of ... Jack. His awards, photos, models – all gone. He'd been standing there, mouth open, when General Hank Landry had walked in.

That was how Daniel had learned of the final loss. Apparently General Hammond had retired and Jack... of all people... had taken Hammond's job as head of Homeworld Security. Without saying a word to his good buddy, Daniel Jackson.

His good buddy. Teammate. Friend.

Why?

Why take the job and why not tell Daniel?

He'd asked himself those two questions over and over and so far – no answers. Which was when he'd thought about Atlantis and hitching a ride. He still couldn't believe he'd be leaving in a few days. Maybe he'd find the life he'd apparently lost. Although some would call this running away. Was that what he was doing? Running from one non-life to another? Why no joy in the thought of finally making it to Atlantis?

Good question – and one of these days – he'd try and figure it out. But not today.

"Here you go, sir. All wrapped and ready to present to the lucky young lady. Happy holidays."

Startled out of his reverie, Daniel took the package and thanked the woman. Walking out of the store, he had the sudden desire to have Jack next to him.

So he could punch his lights out.

Damn, the real truth was ... with Jack gone, Daniel had found himself adrift. There was no fucking life in sight. He chuckled to himself as he realized that he sounded like some underappreciated wife who, after finding herself alone -- even though the magic had long since ended in her marriage – was nevertheless aimless and without purpose.

Except... of course, Daniel was a man and he and Jack had never been married – to each other – let alone shared anything more than a hug, a few beers and the occasional pizza. And a few life and death situations.

With sudden – and rather sad -- clarity, he realized that he had been on the verge of having a life -- had been on the brink of something great. But now – now the days slipped by, his life unchanged, the battles fought forever repeating. But the friendships – the family – that had sustained him and that he needed by his side – were gone.

Wow, he'd been as defined by his friends as he had by his work.

He reached Pho's and walked in, the bell over the door sounding far too holiday-ish for his liking. And damn it, even Pho and his family had decorated their small little piece of capitalistic heaven on earth. The windows were painted garishly and fake garland traversed the shelves over the tables with more plastic garland and candles on the formica tables. He was glad he'd decided to do take-out.

He walked up to the small counter that separated the kitchen from the diners where Robbie Pho, Mr. Pho's third son, smiled a greeting. "Welcome back, Mr. Jackson. Your usual table?"

"No, Robbie, I'm taking out tonight, but I'll take my usual order."

Robbie nodded, wrote the order down quickly and handed it over to his uncle, who was the cook.

"It'll be a few minutes. Would you like something to drink?"

Daniel shook his head and said, "I need to go to the liquor store next door. Be right back."

Robbie nodded and gave him a small wave.

Back on the sidewalk, he noticed that the crowds had started to thin out. It was also much colder now and he was positive they'd have snow by nightfall. He turned to the left and headed for the small liquor store tucked into the corner of the mini-mall.

Once inside, he ambled over to the wine section and picked out something light to go with his dinner. Since he was out of toilet paper and aspirin – and he knew he'd need both -- he picked them up, grateful that he could now skip the supermarket. Groceries in hand, he headed for the cash register. The store was pretty busy, with a few kids buying soda, candy and chips, a couple of men buying cases of beer (and reminding him of the good old days when he and Jack would come here for the same purpose – usually before one of Jack's famous barbecues), and a young woman, maybe twenty, very pregnant, and buying two pints of ice cream and a jar of... pickles? Yep, dill pickles. Go figure. He decided to let the line go down a bit so he wandered over to the magazine racks and perused the sports section.

But Jack hadn't rubbed off on him – not at all.

He was deep into reading about the predictions for the Super Bowl when there was a loud yell. Startled, he looked up to find that three men wearing ski masks and carrying guns had invaded the store.

One of the men turned toward Daniel, who was only a few feet away, and motioned him backwards toward the other patrons who were now huddled against the snack shelves. Daniel moved cautiously back, cursing his armful of goods. As he moved, he found himself next to the soon-to-be young mother, who was clearly terrified. The ice cream containers were shaking in her hands and Daniel thought she was going to drop where she stood.

The owner of the liquor store got the cash register open and was then shoved aside while the tallest of the three began to empty it into a bag. Meanwhile, the man who'd moved Daniel was now ordering everyone to empty their pockets, which Daniel thought was a mistake, since everyone had items in their hands. Instinctively, he looked worriedly over at the two young men who'd been buying beer ... and sure enough, he spotted the glint of fight in their eyes. He needed to do something ... or innocent people were going to die.

"Do you really want to risk having us putting stuff down?" he asked quietly even as he moved just enough to place himself in front of the pregnant girl.

The man's eyes narrowed behind the mask and he looked quickly around before saying, "Chock, what do I do?"

Chock was apparently the leader, the man currently raiding the register. "Shut up is what you do. They won't have enough cash to make it worth the risk so just shut up and keep your eyes on 'em."

At that moment, the pregnant girl panicked and dropped everything in her arms. The robber closest to Daniel shoved him aside and turned on the woman, who began to scream.

After that, everything happened in slow motion. The liquor store owner used the commotion to reach under the counter and hit the alarm buzzer while, at the same time, pulling out his gun. The alarm rang out, screeching death even as Chock turned on the owner. Daniel knew who would lose the battle, so did the only thing he could: he gripped the wine bottle and, with an aim that would have made Teal'c proud, threw it at Chock. It struck him on the side of the head and he went down in a heap. At the same time, one of the other two thieves started for the door, but the two young men saw their chance and, taking a page from Daniel's book, used their cases of beer to stop him.

Which left the third man – the one who'd moved Daniel to begin with.

With eyes full of hate and accusation, he turned to the woman he deemed responsible for the fiasco that the robbery had become ... and raised his gun.

And just like on Kelowna, Daniel acted instinctively. He threw himself between the girl and the bullet.

When the projectile struck, it was almost less painful than hitting the floor. Breathing was immediately difficult and, just before he blacked out, he thought this had to be the height of irony that he should end his days of non-living on the floor of an Earthbound liquor store, three miles from home.

***

"General Landry, there's a Dr. Griffith on the line, from Memorial Hospital."

Puzzled, Landry nodded and picked up the phone. There was a bit of static while his aide transferred the call, followed by Sergeant Haskins voice saying, "Go ahead, General."

"This is General Landry, Dr. Griffith. What can I do for you?"

//"General, I'm the physician on call here at Memorial ER. A man was brought in a short time ago and, based on the information in his wallet, we instituted the appropriate military protocol. The man's name, according to his driver's license and military ID is Daniel Jackson."//

Landry's fingers tightened on the phone as he asked, "How bad?"

//"He's critical, General. They're still trying to stabilize him in preparation for surgery. I know you'll want your people here... and if he has any family...."//

"A team is on its way and I'll take care of notifying all necessary individuals. Can you hold a moment?"

//"Of course."//

Landry put the line on hold and said loudly, "Sergeant, get a medical team to Memorial on the double – Code Green. It's Dr. Jackson. Then get me General Hammond."

Expression showing his shock, the man nevertheless nodded and went to work. Landry turned his attention back to the blinking line.

"Doctor, can you tell me what happened?"

***


II. Waiting Period

Landry waited for word that General Hammond was on the line as he thought back to Dr.
Griffith's words. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head. It was unbelievable. Fucking unbelievable. He instinctively knew, in a way that military men couldn't ask about, that Jack needed to hear this news from Hammond.

Damn, he needed to let Colonel Carter know... and get word to Teal'c.

Fuck.

***

Jack sat back in the leather chair and closed his eyes. Long day and he was feeling every minute of it. But it was over now and he could finally head home – not that he could really call the building he now resided in – home. Doormen, awnings, quiet, understated elegance, thick carpeted halls that muffled sound and all just a block from Embassy Row.

Not him at all and neither was the apartment.

"Jack?"

He opened his eyes and, surprised, said, "George?"

Hammond stood in his doorway, the office behind him dark, Jack's aide having been dismissed hours earlier. His ex-commanding officer's face was pale and drawn which brought Jack forward, all his internal alarm systems blaring.

"It's Daniel. There's been... there was some kind of hold-up ... he was shot. I have a plane waiting for us now."

Jack was certain his heart stopped beating – he knew he wasn't breathing. George stepped in and lifted his uniform jacket off the coat rack and held it out. Jack didn't think he could move.

"It's bad, Jack."

Barely aware, Jack stood and let Hammond help him into his jacket. They walked out as Hammond said, "I've taken care of everything here, Landry's handling things in Colorado. Colonel Carter is on her way and they're contacting Teal'c."

They stepped into the elevator and, as it traveled quickly up from a lower floor of the Pentagon, Hammond said, "He'll make it – he'll make it."

***

They were an hour into the flight when George said softly, "Don't you want to know what happened?"

Jack turned from the window. "He was shot. On Earth. It hardly matters—"

"Protecting a pregnant woman. After saving the life of the liquor store owner by taking out one of the robbers with a wine bottle."

Jack leaned forward and hissed out, "On Earth."

"What, he can only protect from some far off planet or on some Goa'uld ship in outer space?"

Jack dropped back, the wind shot out of his sails of anger.

They were alone on the private military jet, the Airman assigned to their comfort at the rear of the plane. George braced his forearms on his thighs and said, "Why did you take it, Jack? Why did you leave the SGC?"

"What does that have to do with anything?" Jack asked softly, his attention once again on his window and the darkness on the other side.

"I'm retired now, Jack. I can ask."

Without looking away from the window, Jack tapped his shoulders and the stars that rested there.

Acknowledging the unspoken words, George said, "It's just you and me, Jack. Off the record. Why?"

"How long have you known me? Do I really need to say it, George?"

"I guess not." George sighed and sat back. "Jack, if he makes it – I think you'd better make some changes, don't you? Because to be honest, someone up there is probably figuring he or she has given you too many chances as it is. This may be it – if it's not late altogether."

Jack continued to stare out the window.

***

"Dad, he's in very good hands. Dr. Wayan is one of the best thoracic surgeons in the world."

Landry looked up at his daughter, who stood in front of him, two Styrofoam cups in her hand. She held one of them down to him and, taking it, he said, "Thanks."

She sat beside him and said, "Dr. Warner is in there now but I'll be going back shortly." She took a sip of her coffee before adding, "Do you know when they're due to land?"

Landry checked his watch and said, "Colonel Carter should already be on her way to the SGC to pick up Teal'c. General O'Neill's plane should be landing in another two hours. We're transferring him here via a chopper."

Carolyn Lam nodded even as she happened to glance up and at the television set. Surprised by what she was seeing, she quickly touched her father's knee and said, "Look."

He followed her gaze upward... only to find himself staring at a photo of Daniel on the television screen. Frowning, he rose to his feet and walked quickly over to stand below the set. He reached up and increased the volume.

"... is listed in critical condition. Mr. Jackson is being credited with saving two lives during the robbery attempt as well as being the primary reason the robbery failed."

The report continued with interviews of the owner of the liquor store as well as the young husband of the woman Daniel had thrown himself in front of to protect.

"She's here, at Memorial, Dad," Carolyn said.

He turned to give her a questioning look.

"She went into shock and she's very close to term. I understand she started having contractions a couple of hours ago."

He turned back to the set and was relieved to see that the news had moved on. Returning to his seat, he suddenly said, "He was scheduled to leave on Friday – for Atlantis."

"I ... didn't realize... hadn't heard. Why?"

"He should have been given command of Atlantis from the get-go, but Jack needed him here. Funny thing – he almost went the first time, wanted to be on Weir's team. Never occurred to him that it should have been his team."

She looked down at her hands and said, "If he'd gone...."

"Yeah. If."

"It's funny – did you notice, on the news broadcast, that they referred to him as 'Mister'. Why would they do that? Why not use his title?"

"I... you're right. I don't know. I don't... know."

"When I interviewed with General O'Neill, he told me all about Dr. Jackson." She had a slight smile on her face as she added, "I expected this cross between Don Quixote and Paul Bunyan, but then, of course, I realized that being this great person, he'd have to be more like Einstein, you know? Old, brilliant, but losing his hair and all stooped over." She laughed softly. "Imagine my surprise when I actually met him. Playgirl centerfold material."

At the look her father shot her, Carolyn shrugged. "What can I say? He's a good-looking man, Dad. Although... he really turned out to be a bit of an enigma," she went on quietly. "Have you ever noticed that he always uses phrases like 'we' and 'us' and never 'I' or 'me'?"

Landry looked at his daughter oddly. "I can't say that I have."

"I'm ashamed of you, Dad. You pride yourself on figuring people out and yet you never noticed that about him?"

"I never thought I'd have to. He was going to Atlantis. And admittedly, I was glad. To be honest, I didn't know what to do with him." He was shocked by his words, but realized how true they were now that he'd said them. Seeing the equally shocked expression on his daughter's face, he hurried to explain. "Look, he's like this icon... and while I'm the General in charge... he's got more experience than—"

Carolyn put her hand on his and said, "Okay, I get what you mean now. That wasn't an insult, it was actually a compliment."

Sighing in relief, he nodded.

Expression turning thoughtful, she said, "But I can't help wondering ... if you didn't know what to do with him – he had to know that – so what do you think he thought?" She gave a small shake of her head as her voice lowered as if talking to herself. "His friends – gone, having moved on, his new boss not knowing what to do with him...."

She looked up at her father and said, "I know I'd probably have felt ... passed by? And a bit... obsolete?"

"That's not so farfetched an idea," Landry said thoughtfully. "We talked about Atlantis when he put in his request. He was worried that he had nothing to offer them. When I think back on that conversation... there was definitely a sense on his part of having nothing to contribute to either Atlantis or the SGC."

She looked down at the coffee in her hand and asked, "Suddenly it seems very strange to be sitting here discussing someone who is, arguably, one of the greatest men of our time that no one knows." She looked up at her father, her expression one of stunned realization. "This incredible man is fighting for his life and no one even knows who he is? Am I insane in thinking this?"

"No. And not so arguably."

Blinking back sudden tears, Carolyn quickly rose to her feet. "I'd better get back in there. I'll keep you posted."

He reached out and took her hand, squeezed hard, and let her go.

Once he was alone again, he sat back and rested his head against the wall. Life made no sense at all sometimes. After all that Daniel Jackson had been through, it seemed beyond ironic that he might die at the hands of people whose lives he'd saved too many times to count.

Who the hell was in charge, anyway?

And obsolete? Dr. Daniel Jackson?

***

Sam pulled into the parking lot and was relieved to find open spaces. She swung into the first one she came to, shut down and looked over at her companion. Teal'c was wearing a heavy sweater, jacket, and had his usual "out in public" hat, this time a ski cap, pulled low over his forehead. He'd said very little since arriving through the Stargate, but they'd hugged fiercely before he'd changed and they'd started for the hospital.

Now, worried, she said, "Teal'c, are you all right?"

Hand on door, he said, "I am fine ColonelCarter. Should we not go inside?"

"Teal'c—"

But she got no further as he opened the door and peeled himself out of her small car. Giving up – for now – Sam got out, locked the car, and followed Teal'c inside.

***

"General?"

Landry jerked himself awake and looked up to find Colonel Carter staring worriedly down at him. He rose quickly to his feet. "Colonel, Te--Murray. I'm sorry this has to be the reason for bringing you both back to Colorado."

"What is DanielJackson's condition?"

"He's still in surgery. He was shot in the chest – close range. The bullet lodged just below his heart – which is the primary concern in removal. They've had him in there for," he checked his watch, "three hours. My daughter informed me that this type of surgery could take upwards of six to eight hours. And before you ask, General O'Neill and General Hammond are on their way."

"Your daughter, sir?" Sam asked as she sat down.

"Dr. Lam," he said, a trace of pride in his voice. Seeing her surprise, he added, "I've got Jack to thank for her assignment to the SGC. We haven't had what you'd call a close relationship, but things are improving. And why am I telling you any of this?"

She smiled gently. "Because we're in a waiting room, General."

"Good point."

They were silent for several minutes before Sam asked, "We heard the news reports – are they accurate?"

"The one I viewed earlier was," Landry admitted. "He saved the owner's life and the life of a pregnant woman – took the bullet meant for her."

"I am not surprised," Teal'c stated simply.

"No... not surprising," Landry said.

Sam didn't say anything. She just sat there, small tremors coursing through her body. She would need to leave shortly – she checked her watch -- and nodded slightly. Cassie's debate session was supposed to be over by nine and she needed to get to her before she heard about the shooting on the news.

***

The chopper ride was the bumpiest part of their journey, the weather definitely to blame. It had started to snow, albeit lightly, but Jack had barely noticed. He was just very thankful for the arrangements that placed them on the roof of Memorial Hospital. Ducking low and pulling up the collar of his jacket, he and Hammond were led – almost running – to the roof door and then hustled into an elevator. When it opened on the second floor, Carolyn Lam was waiting for them.

"General Hammond, General O'Neill. He's still in surgery and it looks like it will be another couple of hours," she said, knowing that they'd want an instant update. "Colonel Carter, Mr. Murray and General Landry are in the waiting room, which is right this way."

She led them down a long, surprisingly quiet hallway, at the end of which, Jack could see the double doors marked "O.R." He wasn't surprised when Carolyn turned left just before they reached them.

The waiting room.

God, he hated them.

Square, uncomfortable chairs, usually with speckled blue fabric; neutral walls; piles of magazines -- and the requisite television high on the wall, its volume too low to understand anything. These small, out-of-the-way rooms were always populated by nervous people, feet tapping worriedly while they pretended that they were calm and everything would be fine. They turned pages of unread magazines, whispered as if the ill could hear them if they didn't, drank coffee without tasting and slept the half-awake kind of sleep that had them jerking upright every time someone entered the room.

He really hated waiting rooms. Really.

"General!"

"O'Neill, General Hammond."

"George, Jack."

Jack moved into the small room, hugged Sam – awkwardly – and then Teal'c, but without the same reservation. George, having no reservations, gave Sam a huge bear hug before they all sat back down. No one said anything – there didn't seem to be anything to say. Carolyn, after giving her father's arm a quick, reassuring squeeze, hurried back to the OR, leaving them alone.

Jack was very glad to see that the television was off – and that they were the only people in the small room. He also noted that here, at Memorial, the chairs were speckled green, not blue. It didn't help.

Landry suddenly stood and said, "Look, let me go scare up some coffee for you and Jack. From what I understand, it's going to be a while longer."

Teal'c rose gracefully to his feet and said, "No, I will procure the coffee, please, remain here."

"I'll go too," Sam said. "We'll be right back."

Once they were gone, the three generals stared at each other. Finally George said, "A stupid robbery."

"Yes," Landry said. "A stupid robbery."

The irony didn't escape anyone.

***

"Teal'c, wait." Sam put her hand on his arm. "Please."

He turned and faced her. "Is there something wrong, ColonelCarter?"

"Sit down for a minute." She pulled out a chair from the nearest table and waited.

"I do not understand—"

"The tension is radiating from you in waves, Teal'c. Something – besides the obvious -- is wrong."

Teal'c sat down and, relieved, she joined him. Thinking she had an understanding of how his mind worked, she said, "Our being here wouldn't have changed—"

"You do not know that, ColonelCarter. There is a very real chance that he would have been – elsewhere – today."

"I can't accept that, Teal'c."

"Because you do not wish to. But it is true. I do not take upon myself that which is truly not mine to take. In this case, the loss of half of SG-1 combined with my own desires to become something that I am not, took me from the SGC – removed me from my friends and a battle that continues beyond the Goa'uld." He turned one of the cups in front of him with his finger as he added, "You had your own reasons for leaving – as did O'Neill – but I do not believe those reasons were shared with DanielJackson. I know that I did not discuss my decisions with him – my friend – to whom I owe more than I can ever repay." He glanced up at her again and said, "So yes, I believe had I remained, we would not be sitting here now."

Sam couldn't argue with part of Teal'c's reasoning. She hadn't talked to Daniel at all, but then, how could she? The truth was that General O'Neill was the primary reason behind leaving the SGC and the only reason Nevada had won out was because of Cassie's having been accepted at the university.

As to not talking to Daniel – honesty forced the admittance that the reason had been simple: she'd been too embarrassed. How could she possibly have shared with him that in the week she and Jack had been alone at his cabin – after Teal'c and Daniel had left – the two of them had finally spoken of things long overdue but that he'd confessed things that to this day she found unbelievable? Things that had, ultimately, forced her to run away. Which turned out to have been totally unnecessary since not long after, Jack had left for Washington.

No, she could never have confessed the truth to Daniel. She'd been a fool and it was bad enough that Jack was a part of that. There was no way she'd wanted Daniel to know.

But still... so she and Teal'c – and even Jack – had left for their own personal reasons, but come on, those reasons had nothing to do with Daniel and they were not responsible for his life. He was a grown man who existed beyond them. He had his own life, one that was most definitely not dependent on them.

"I see by the lift of your chin ... that you have decided that our lives do not impact DanielJackson. That he has his own. Am I correct?"

"How do you do that, Teal'c?"

"I have known you for many years, ColonelCarter. You have already determined that your decision to leave couldn't possibly have had any bearing on DanielJackson, have you not?"

"Of course I have. It would be foolish to believe anything else. Of course we're friends, will always be friends, but we have our own lives, Teal'c. We can't refuse to change the course of them simply because we might be leaving someone behind or because they're choosing another path. After all, did Daniel worry about us when he chose to go with Oma? Did he consider that he'd be leaving us behind?"

Teal'c cocked his head and regarded her silently for a moment – before saying, "Do you truly believe there can be any similarity between our choices and his regarding the acceptance of such a great honor? His choice was between death – or a life half-lived – versus the opportunity to continue his good work with Oma. And do not try to tell me that life was good for DanielJackson when that choice was given. You and I know full well that it was not."

"But still—"

"You must make your own decision on this matter – I have made mine. Should DanielJackson survive this – I will be here for him."

***

The waiting room was quiet, words finding no home with any of the occupants. Sam had left to pick Cassie up and, since her departure, there'd been no talk at all. Jack was slumped in his chair, chin resting on his hand as he stared at nothing while George sat on one side of him – Teal'c the other. Landry held a magazine in one hand, but he wasn't reading.

"General Landry?"

All four men looked up as the nurse walked into the room. Hank stood up. "I'm General Landry."

"Sir, you might want to check on things downstairs – in the lobby."

Frowning, he said, "Excuse me?"

She looked at the four of them before saying, "It's filling up rather rapidly – friends of Mr. Jackson's?"

"I'll go," Jack suddenly said as he got to his feet. "Sit, Hank. I'll... go."

"Are you sure?"

Jack nodded and smiled wryly. "I need to stretch a bit anyway."

"All right."

"If you do not mind, I would wish to accompany you, O'Neill."

"Well, then, let's go."

***

"Holy shit," Jack exclaimed as the elevator opened onto the lobby.

There had to be over thirty people in the lobby with several more just outside in spite of the snow. And he'd bet anything more would be coming as shifts ended. He stepped out of the elevator, Teal'c beside him, and walked over to the group. Sergeant Davis was the first to step forward.

"General, is there any word?"

Clearly taken back by not only the amount of people, but by the thread of fear that ran through them all, he said as calmly as possible, "He's still in surgery and Dr. Lam is keeping us posted. I'll make sure word gets down here as well."

Siler walked up and said, "What about blood donations?"

"I believe the SGC medical personnel took care of that – but if anything changes, I'll let you know and we'll go from there."

At that moment, the front doors opened and Lou Ferretti walked in Before he could ask anything about Daniel, Jack said, "He's still in surgery." He turned back to Davis and said, "We'll use you as our line of communication for everyone down here – if you don't mind?"

"No problem, General."

"Good man. I'm sure that somehow – some way – Daniel knows you're all here. Of course, I'm equally certain that he's shocked that anyone is here for him. He probably thinks you all made a wrong turn somewhere."

Jack turned to Lou and said, "Go on up. General Hammond and General Landry are in the waiting room."

Lou nodded and headed toward the elevators while Jack thanked everyone again before turning to Teal'c. "I'm going to step outside for a moment so please, return to the waiting room, all right?"

"I do not believe so, O'Neill. I will accompany you."

"Teal'c—"

"I will accompany you," he repeated firmly.

Sighing, Jack nodded and they headed for the exit. Outside, both men acknowledged those who were taking cigarette breaks and then Jack moved away and out into the driveway, Teal'c right beside him. He crossed the asphalt and stepped onto the greenbelt, which was now white with the new snow. He walked a few more paces before coming to a stop and looking up into the night sky. After a couple of minutes, he said, "There won't be an Oma, you know."

Teal'c nodded. "DanielJackson stated that he believed the battle between Oma Desala and Anubis would be eternal unless the Others stepped in."

Jack looked at the few stars visible around the snow clouds and nodded. "So no Oma," he whispered.

"She will not be needed," Teal'c said, his voice ringing with sincerity.

***

Carolyn stared down into the operating theater, heart in her throat. They were losing him. Next to her, Dr. Warner had moved forward in his seat and she could feel his tension mixing with her own. She'd only known Dr. Jackson for a few weeks – and yet – she thought her heart would break if they lost him. She could only imagine how much more difficult this was for Warner, who'd been in on the project almost from the beginning, and therefore had history with all of SG-1. Suddenly Warner reached out and grabbed her hand – a gesture made on a purely instinctual level – as he whispered, "He's back – they did it."

She closed her eyes and sent up a prayer of thankfulness.

"They're closing – it's over," Warner said.

They rose to their feet, their intent to meet with Dr. Wayan.

***

Sam pulled up in front of the theater, put the car in park and looked toward the entrance. The double doors were open and people were just now beginning to file out. She sighed in relief. The traffic had been horrific, thanks to the snow and holiday shoppers, and she'd been afraid that she'd miss Cassie. Now that she knew the debate was over, she hoped Cass had her cell back on. She flipped hers open and hit 'star – 2', Cassie's speed dial number.

//"Sam?"//

"Hi, honey. I'm out front – there's been – there's a problem, sweetie. How soon can you get out here?"

//"Five minutes, okay? What is it? What's wrong?"//

"Just hurry, okay?"

//"I'm on my way."//

Sam closed her phone and tried to gather her thoughts. No one would have missed the fear in Cassie's voice – but Sam simply couldn't tell her on the phone, hell, she wasn't sure how to tell her at all....

***

Jack felt the nudge and turned his head toward George, who was nodding in the direction of the entrance. He looked up to see Dr. Lam and Dr. Warner walking in. He sat up immediately and started to ask about Daniel, but Dr. Lam held up a hand.

"They got the bullet and he's in recovery—"

"He's going to be okay, then, right?" Jack asked.

"General... he was shot in the chest – at close range. Right now, it's a miracle he's alive. Our main concern is the swelling around the heart and of course, pneumonia. His condition is critical and once out of recovery, will be moved to ICU." She paused, swallowed, and added, "If he makes it through the night – he has a chance."

"When can I see him?" Jack asked, his voice soft and tired.

"Once he's set up in ICU – I'll let you know. At this point, Dr. Warner and I will be taking over his care."

George leaned forward. "Should he make it to tomorrow – and I'm sure he will – what's the prognosis?"

Lam glanced over at Warner, who cleared his throat and said, "The swelling around his heart is worrying us. If it's due to the trauma – it will eventually decrease but if there's damage.... only time will give us a clear prognosis."

Jack stood up. "Worst case scenario, Doc."

"With a damaged heart ... well, it really depends on the extent, General. But there's really no point in projecting now, not until... not until we have a better idea of what's going on."

Carolyn placed a hand on Jack's arm and said, "I'll let you know when we've moved him, General."

"Thank you."

Warner and Lam left and the five men took their seats again. Jack stared straight ahead as he murmured, "Heart damage."

"Not the Doc," Lou said. "Not his heart – too strong, too big."

***

Sam watched as Cassie motioned toward the car and then said her goodbyes. A moment later, she was running down the steps. When she reached the vehicle, she flung open the door, threw herself into the seat, shook off the snow, and, as she pulled the door shut, demanded, "Tell me."

"I didn't want you to hear it on the news – there was a robbery attempt at a liquor store – Daniel was there. He saved several lives—"

"Just say it, Sam. He's dead, isn't he?"

Sam reached out and took Cassie's hands, which had tightened into fists, and said quickly, "No, no, he's... he was shot, yes, but was in surgery when I left. I'm taking us there now, honey."

As if all her energy had suddenly been siphoned out of her, Cassie fell back against the seat. Sam let go of her hands and started the car. As she pulled away from the curb, she added, "He's going to be fine – just fine."

"We were going to dinner tomorrow night," Cassie said listlessly.

Sam was surprised by that, but realized that she shouldn't have been. Daniel would just naturally connect with Cass. She took one hand off the wheel, gave Cassie's knee an awkward pat, and said, "He's going to be fine, honey. This is Daniel."

Staring straight ahead, Cassie whispered, "Exactly – it's Daniel."

Her words chilled Sam to the bone.

***

"General O'Neill?"

A nurse stood in the doorway and Jack immediately rose to his feet. "I'm General O'Neill."

"Dr. Warner asked that I let you know we've moved Mr. Jackson to ICU. If you'll follow me?"

Jack looked back at the other three as George said, "We'll go on up to the waiting room on Three. Let us know when we—"

"I will... you know I will," Jack said.

"I'm going to have to head back to the Mountain, Jack. Carolyn will keep me posted," Landry said.

He nodded and turned to follow the nurse out. As they walked down the hall, he said, "It's Dr. Jackson. He's Dr. Daniel Jackson."

***

Jack knew what to expect. Knew exactly what to expect. He'd seen Daniel in the worst of medical cases. In comas, body wrapped and choking to death on his own fluids, and skin charred and smoky from staff blasts. He'd seen him attached to more medical equipment than anyone should have to be. And yet – walking into the private ICU glass cubicle – his heart did a skydive number and hit the ground.

All the usual suspects were present and accounted for, from tubes to wires to IV drips. But there was one additional item that froze his blood.

Daniel wasn't breathing on his own. He was on a ventilator.

Jack should have expected it – but he hadn't.

He turned to the nurse – who was no longer there. Angry, he walked back into the corridor, ready to demand answers, only to come face-to-face with Hank's daughter.

"General, is there something wrong?"

"Why weren't we told that... and he isn't ... on his own," Jack stuttered out, all his ire gone in the face of Dr. Lam.

"I'm sorry, General. Dr. Warner and I must have crossed our communication wires. I thought he'd – it doesn't matter." She shook her head, took his arm, and said, "Let's move out of the way." She led him off to the side so that they were standing between cubicles. Voice low, she said, "Daniel's lungs collapsed, General. Right now, we're simply helping them recover by doing all the work for them."

Somewhat mollified, Jack nodded. "I see. So eventually... he'll be taken off—"

"We hope so," she answered, her tone, guarded.

His alarm bells ringing again, he asked, "What aren't you telling me?"

Carolyn glanced to her left, toward Daniel's cubicle before looking back at Jack. "General O'Neill... Daniel slipped into a coma approximately thirty minutes ago."

***

Cassie followed Sam into the lobby of Memorial Hospital and over to the elevators. ICU was on the third floor and, according to the information Sam had received via a phone call a few minutes ago, that's where Daniel was ... now.

ICU. Intensive Care. It meant Daniel was critical. Cassie stepped into the elevator next to Sam and closed her eyes as the doors slid shut. She felt her hand being taken into Sam's and didn't pull away. For just a moment, she imagined that it was her mother's hand and that she'd make Daniel all better.

***

Jack felt extremely awkward as he sat on the one straight-backed chair provided. It wasn't comfortable, but he had a feeling it wasn't supposed to be. They didn't encourage long bedside vigils in these rooms and he wondered why he was being allowed to stay as long as he had. So far, the nurses were simply ignoring him, which, considering they were all military and sent over from the Academy hospital, that was saying something. He was, after all, a general. He looked down at Daniel's right hand, the one nearest him, and had the wild thought that he wasn't even looking at Daniel, that it was someone else in the bed -- a stranger. Daniel was back at the Mountain, hunched over his work table, frowning as he tried to decipher God knew what. He most certainly was not here, in this oppressive room with beeps, glurgs and horrible sucking sounds. There were no wires or tubes hooked up to Daniel, no IV – unless you counted the invisible line that ran from the coffee maker to his mouth.

He'd never had difficulty believing that it was Daniel in the SGC Infirmary because of what they did for a living. In fact, he often wondered why Daniel didn't land in the damn place more often. But there was no reason for Daniel to be in this room now. He could save Earth in a big picture kind of way anytime he wanted, but he wasn't supposed to go out and start saving people on a one-on-one basis. That was asking too damn much.

"Daniel, what am I going to do with you?" he whispered.

He should go out to the waiting room, let the others have their time with Daniel. Sam was probably back by now as well – which meant Cassie would be sitting in whatever small, claustrophobic room they had set aside for the family and friends of ICU patients. She'd be scared and remembering a time when her mother had come home and told her that her Uncle Daniel had... died. And then she'd be remember a time when her Uncle Daniel had phoned her – even before Sam – to let her know about her mother's heroism and ... death.

Jack swiped a hand over his face and found a disturbing wetness. He rubbed his eyes and got to his feet. He wanted to touch Daniel – but was oddly afraid. Afraid that even a simple touch would somehow change the balance of machine and man in the small cubicle. Yet... he couldn't leave Daniel without touching him. He leaned over and gently pushed the soft hair up from Daniel's forehead – rubbed a bit of it between two fingers – and then straightened up.

"I'll be back, Daniel. But others need to be with you, so hang in there, all right?"

He slid out from between the chair and the bed and walked slowly out.

***

"Uncle Jack!"

Jack had no sooner stepped into the waiting room than Cassie, with a cry, threw herself into his arms. He held tightly even as he whispered, "He's fine. He's fine. Just thought it was time everyone else had their chance to sit with him for a while."

Sam got to her feet and said, "Cassie, shall we go together?"

Reluctantly, Cassie let go of Jack, wiped her eyes, and nodded. He reached out and ran the back of his finger down her cheek. "You need to be prepared, honey. He's hooked up—"

"I know... Dr. Lam filled Sam and me in when we arrived," Cass said with only a slight tremor in her voice.

He nodded and watched as Sam draped an arm around Cassie's shoulders and led her out. Once they were gone, he dropped into the nearest chair.

"Are you well, O'Neill?"

"I'm fine, T."

"According to Dr. Lam, Daniel's condition is stable," George said. "That's a very good sign."

"Yes," Jack said. He looked at his watch for the first time since arriving at Memorial and was shocked to see that it was after three. Then he remembered that he hadn't changed his watch back, which made it after midnight.

"Te—Murray, Colonel Feretti, you two go on in after Colonel Carter returns with Cassie and I'll go in after you two," George suddenly said.

Both men acknowledged the idea with a nod, and silence descended for a few minutes until George spoke again. "Seems strange to be here, in a room with a window."

There was nothing anyone could say to that because they all agreed. Lou got up and walked to the window. It was still snowing and, as he watched it come down, said, "General Landry is trying to reach the Tok'ra but without any luck."

"That's a surprise... how?" Jack asked.

Lou shrugged. "A healing device would be kind of handy."

Jack couldn't argue with that. "Since ours was destroyed, I think I'll mention it to Hank that he should make it a priority to get another one – the next time the Tok'ra deign to show up on our doorstep."

Lou turned around and, with a wry smile, said, "Hey, you're the Man now – you can order it."

"What I'd like to order ... is a miracle," Jack murmured.

"Daniel's kind of famous for those," Lou said as he walked back to his seat and sat down.

"Yeah, he is," Jack acknowledged. "But how many more can he possibly pull out of his hat?"

"As many as required, O'Neill," Teal'c said.

***

"What were your first thoughts about the Doc when you first met him, Jack?"

Without looking at Lou, Jack said, "Geek primo – high geek of all geeks – King of the Geeks. House of Nerds. I was bitterly disappointed that he didn't have a pocket protector."

Lou laughed outright and George grinned. Teal'c looked puzzled. "I have heard this word used before in conjunction with DanielJackson. What precisely is a ... geek?"

"Geeks -- nerds -- thick glasses, suspenders, backpacks, band-aids around their fingers, tripped over their own feet, couldn't string two sentences together in front of a girl, rode bicycles when the rest of us were driving cars, got stuffed into lockers, got beat up behind the bleachers, and were smarter than the whole school – teachers included. Eventually, they wound up doing that which no one else on the planet could. They sacrificed for others as easily as the rest of us get dressed. They watched our backs even though they'd rather be buried in a book or on a dig, and they could see beyond the obvious to the great. They embraced the different, the hard to understand, and then helped the rest of us to see the world the same way." Jack met Teal'c's steady gaze and added softly, "Geeks and nerds grow up to be heroes."

***

Jack looked at his watch and counted down one more milestone. It was nine in the morning and Daniel was still alive.

Now the doctors were saying that if he made the forty-eight hour mark, his chance of surviving increased ten-fold.

On the other hand, the longer he remained in a coma....

Whoa, O'Neill – one problem at a time.

If Janet were here, she'd tell him the coma was his body's way of getting Daniel through the trauma. She wasn't here but Jack was going to go with it anyway. Although, considering that Daniel had been her favorite patient, he wouldn't be one bit surprised if she were hovering overhead right now – watching over him. It would be just like her.

Jack looked at the ceiling and suddenly whispered, "Janet, if he so much as even begins an upward motion, you do me a big favor and kick his cute ass right back down here, all right?" He closed his eyes and added, "Please?"

***

The weekend came to a close and life had to go on – in a way – which meant that Jack was forced to go to a nearby hotel and sleep and eat and change on a fairly regular basis. Naturally he hated every moment he was away from the hospital, from Daniel's bedside, but he was an older, wiser general now. He had to face facts, one of which was that Daniel could remain in the coma for ... God help them ... several days, and thus, he had to be able to hold up his end of things. Do the right thing, in spite of how hard it was to do.

But he wasn't alone. Sam, Cassie and Teal'c had dorm rooms at the Academy (much closer than Cheyenne Mountain) which allowed them to travel together so that "the powers that be" didn't have to worry about an "alien" wandering around lose in Colorado Springs. When Tuesday rolled around and Daniel was still in a coma, Cassie took matters into her own hands and, following a phone call to her advisor at the university, started her winter break a week early. Between the four of them – they were going to ensure that Daniel was never alone. But as it turned out, they weren't in it alone either. Lou took his turn with Daniel and George was staying with his daughter until Daniel was out of the woods.

By Wednesday, Jack was starting to get nervous. While Daniel was now off the ventilator and the swelling around his heart had diminished to a point that his heart was being given a thumbs up, Carolyn had still been very thorough in educating him on comas. Sure, the first week was a given, to be expected following a traumatic injury like Daniel's, but it still meant that Daniel's recovery would be even more difficult. Short term memory loss; possible – all right – probable – brain damage; loss of motor and language skills -- the list seemingly endless. And with each passing day, the permanence of each loss became more likely. Which was unacceptable to Jack.

And still – the Tok'ra were a no show. Not that Jack was surprised by that fact. With Jacob gone – so went the alliance – for the most part.

Now it was almost midnight – Jack's usual shift – and there'd still been no change with Daniel. He remained so horribly still, a thin, pale shell of himself – part man, part machine.

"General, thought you could use some fresh coffee."

Jack turned in his seat to acknowledge Carolyn, who stopped by every evening on her way home from the Mountain. He took the offered coffee with a smile of gratitude. "How are things at the SGC?"

"Busy. Colonel Mitchell showed up today. I don't think dad knows what to do with him."

"Simple – he's the new SG-1."

"I don't think Mitchell wants that."

"That might be my fault. I wasn't exactly forthcoming on the real status of SG-1," Jack admitted ruefully.

"Dr. Jackson was right – you're incorrigible."

"He said that?"

"He did. He went out of his way to make me feel comfortable and welcome – knowing that I was feeling the pressure of replacing someone like Dr. Fraser. We talked at great length and when your name came up—"

"In a good way – hero and all that?" Jack said hopefully.

Hiding her smile, she said, "Not exactly. More along the lines of how much you hadn't told me. That's when the phrase 'incorrigible' came up."

"Oops."

"But he also said you'd done a very good thing – bringing my father and I together. Of course, he called it... how did he word it again? Oh, yes, a 'typical Machiavellian-Jack thing'."

Looking like a proud peacock, Jack said, "He said that, did he? About me?"

Laughing lightly, Carolyn nodded.

"That's my Daniel."

They both looked over at Daniel and the smiles slowly faded.

"The young woman had her baby," Carolyn suddenly said. "A boy. She named him Daniel."

"I'd rather have the grown-up Daniel," Jack said softly.

***

Jack couldn't help himself. When he got so twitchy that he had to get up and take a walk – his legs took him up to the nursery. There were twelve babies – four of them boys. Carolyn had given him the last name – Jacobs – and he found himself standing in front of the glass window and staring down at a wrinkled, red-faced baby boy – named Daniel.

Alive because of Daniel.

He smiled tenderly and tapped the window like an idiot. Small wrapped fists flailed aimlessly in the air as the child's mouth opened and closed, clearly searching for something full of milk to latch onto.

"You're probably going to have a weird-assed desire for coffee before you're two," Jack predicted.

***

On Thursday, Jack found it impossible to leave. He couldn't explain it but he couldn't leave either. At noon, he knew why. Alarms went off all over the small cubicle and Jack and Teal'c were quickly ushered out amid yells of, "He's coding!"

In the hall, Jack flattened himself against the wall and shook. The blinds had been lowered, but they only muted the sounds of the life-saving measures being taken for Daniel.

Teal'c stood next to him, partially shielding him, hand clasped around Jack's arm. Jack thought it altogether possible that without that hand on his arm – he might have slid to the floor.

And then there was silence. Complete. Empty. Silence.

"No...."

The door opened and machinery was rolled out as the nurses and doctors followed. Dr. Warner spotted Jack and Teal'c and took the few necessary steps required to bring him to their side.

"It was close, but we got him back. We got him back."

Words to live by, Jack thought. Especially where Daniel was concerned.

***

Late Thursday night, Jack wasn't alone in his vigil. The fact that they'd come so close to losing Daniel again kept everyone close at hand, with George, Lou, Sam, Teal'c and Cassie in the waiting room.

Jack moved his chair closer and readjusted the one small light so that its beam was directed toward the book in his hand. "Okay, tonight, I'm going to read to you again. Cassie recommended this book, said she'd always meant to tell you about it. It's called, 'The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt'. So here we go."

He opened it, flipped to page one, and read, "Professor, can we go home yet? My feet feel like they're gonna fall off...."

***

"...Puzzle experts -- people who know about cryptograms and codes – have been brought here from all over the world in an attempt to find out where the mysterious will is hidden. Many have tried, but all have failed. It is generally thought, though, that the clues are to be found...."

Jack flipped the page....

"Jack, what... the hell... are... you... reading?"

"It's called 'The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt', Cassie suggested it. I'm only on chapter one, but so far...."

Jack stopped talking. Slowly he lifted his head and looked at the bed. Myopic blue eyes stared back at him.

"Daniel?" he rasped out.

"Jack?" Daniel said, his voice rough from lack of use.

Jack pinched himself. "O-w."

Daniel looked puzzled. "You... pinched... yourself."

Before Jack could say anything, Carolyn and a nurse hurried in, both alerted to the change. Jack was forced to get up and move back as Carolyn stepped close to Daniel. She leaned over the rail and said, "Dr. Jackson, do you know where you are?"

Glazed blue eyes slowly looked around the room and finally Daniel said, "Not ... the Mountain...."

She smiled. "No, you're not in the Infirmary."

"But... hospital," he croaked out.

"Yes. Memorial. What's the last thing you remember?"

Daniel's face scrunched up in an oh so wonderfully typical confused-Daniel manner as he said, "Not fishing."

Looking worried, Carolyn started to say something, but Jack interrupted.

"You mean the cabin, Daniel?"

"Cabin... not ... fishing."

"You know what he's talking about, I take it?"

"Yeah, I know. Four months ago, all of us up at my cabin in Minnesota."

"All right, makes sense. General, you might want to let the others know while I run some tests on Dr. Jackson."

"I... right... okay. Daniel, I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere, all right?"

The snort that greeted his words lifted his soul like nothing else could have.

***

III. Recovery


"He's awake," Jack announced with a huge grin.

Cassie was in his arms in an instant, Sam right behind her. Teal'c's grin was mega-wattage, George's not far behind. Lou simply said, "Well, I'll be damned."

Crying, Cassie said into Jack's shoulder, "Is he... is he—"

"He spoke, clearly, and the last thing he remembers is being at the lake four months ago. He knew who he was, who I was... it looks very hopeful," Jack answered.

"When can we see him?"

He rubbed Cassie's back as he answered, "They're running some tests on him now and I'm sure when they're done, Dr. Lam will let us know."

George got up and said, "I'm going to give Hank the news so he can pass it onto everyone else."

"Thanks, George," Jack said as he rested his chin on the top of Cassie's head.

***

Well, gosh, Daniel was asleep again. But according to Carolyn, it was a normal, healthy sleep. At least before drifting off, he'd seen Sam, George, Teal'c, Lou and, finally, Cassie. He was so obviously surprised that they were all there that it had been almost painful to watch.

All these years and Daniel still had no clue. On the other hand, none of them had given him any reason to think other than he did regarding their feelings where he was concerned.

Lousy communicators – all of them.

***

By Sunday, Daniel was almost tubeless. Still wired, but almost tubeless, which meant an early morning move to a real room, signifying that he was truly out of the woods and thus, out of ICU. The real miracle was that he could also sit up for almost an hour, which to Jack was huge. Hell, to Daniel it was major. His speech was slow and required thought on his part, and a slight weakness on his left side had been noted by the neurologist during the additional testing completed on Friday. But the good news was that said neurologist believed both coma-leftovers were temporary, that time would bring him back to one hundred percent. The doctors were all stunned at the completeness of Daniel's return to wakefulness – but Jack wasn't. He knew Daniel.

Jack reached over and brushed the hair from Daniel's forehead, the gesture very telling had anyone been there to see it. He would have done it anyway – he no longer cared. The long hours by Daniel's bedside had put his life into perspective – finally. When it's two in the morning and the only sounds you hear are the machines keeping the man who means more to you than anyone else, alive, you tend to do some deep thinking. The hours where the majority of people are sound asleep, when you're alone with your thoughts while staring at the lax face of someone so important – you simply can't run away from yourself.

One would have thought such introspection and insight would have happened when Daniel had been dying thanks to a load of radioactive crap he'd subjected himself to in his heroic effort to save a planet. Yep, might have happened then, but Jack had too busy defending Daniel's name – and when you only have hours – and you don't believe the worst is going to happen – you waste precious time because you just don't believe it. And when you finally do get a moment with your friend, he's wrapped up like the mummies he spent a lifetime studying and the best you can come up with is that maybe you grew to "admire" the man who's dying because his body is melting and no one can do anything about it.

You can't do anything about it.

You could never do anything about it nor any of the other times he died -- or was about to die -- or almost died because he was a stupid son-of-a-bitch who had to act first, damn the consequences.

You never had any power or control over Dr. Daniel Jackson – the best you could ever do, you bastard, was drift away, hold a grudge over the fact that he chose Oma, that he didn't save you instantly in that GODDAMNED cell, that he couldn't stop the destruction of Abydos or save Skaara's life or keep himself from harm or....

Jack closed his eyes and buried his head in his hands. He was the schmuck of all schmucks. He'd known for years how he felt about Daniel – he didn't need the man dying to bring the truth out or to say it. He didn't even need guts.

Okay, maybe a few guts.

And it wasn't like he didn't know the truth behind all his grievances against his best friend. He knew. He knew damn well that Daniel had no choice – had been left no choice by the radiation that was eating him alive or by his friends – his best friend in particular – and if not for Daniel breaking more rules than was usual even for him, everyone on Abydos would be seriously and permanently dead instead of living the glowy life and, even worse, Anubis would be running around with the Eyes and destroying everything in sight, Earth included.

And as for cells and Baal and ... Daniel....

Jack lifted his head to stare at the sleeping man. His face scrunched up in thought as he recalled those hours of imprisonment... all of Daniel's pleading....

"Dear God," he whispered. "You... came for me. That whole thing was to... you wanted me to join you. You wanted me to go glowy so we could run around the whatever – together. You came for me."

He'd said it and still couldn't wrap his mind around it.

Jack got to his feet. Eat – he'd go eat, stuff himself, and see what his mind could figure out.

"I'll be back in a few – you just keep sleeping the sleep of the innocent." He ran a finger down Daniel's newly shaved cheek before leaving.

***

"O'Neill, I was about to bring you a meal," Teal'c said from where he stood in the hospital cafeteria line.

"I needed a break, thought I'd come down here and grab a bite. He's sound asleep – again."

"Then we shall eat together, if you do not mind?"

"Not at all. Sam and Cassie gone?"

"Yes, they desired a change of clothing and then they had to pick up a package."

Jack grabbed a salad, put it on his tray, and said, "A package?"

"Indeed. Apparently a friend of Cassandra's was kind enough to send her clothing, books and other study materials that she will need over the ice break."

Jack ordered a double cheeseburger from the cook and then said, "Winter break, T. Winter break."

"Precisely." Teal'c took the meatloaf and jello as they moved down the line.

Near the end, Jack took the pumpkin pie, two bags of chips and asked for iced tea while Teal'c took the chocolate chip cookies and a large glass of fruit punch. They moved to a table in the corner and, after putting their food down and ditching the trays, sat down.

"So Carter is taking a leave then?" Jack asked as he piled the lettuce, tomato and pickles onto his burger before slathering it with mustard.

"I believe that is accurate. She has stated her desire to remain here until DanielJackson is released."

"Which, according to Dr. Lam, could be in time for New Year's, but he'll be moved first – she thinks in the next day or two, which means Christmas in the Academy hospital for Daniel."

"But we will make it a good Christmas, will we not, O'Neill?

"You're damn right."

Teal'c nodded at that and then said, "Cassandra will be pleased that DanielJackson will be out of the hospital for New Year's – she does not return to school until the ninth."

"And obviously R and D can get along without Carter—"

"As can Homeworld Security survive without you?"

"Touche, T. But actually, George is working with General Lowell – he'll cover for me in my absence. And with Colonel Davis helping, I think HWS can get along very well without me. But what about Dakara? The new Jaffa Nation?"

"It is the Festival of Loc'Noc. The Council has suspended all activities until the conclusion of the Festival."

Jack had the burger to his lips, but at Teal'c's words, he put it down. "Lochness? Don't tell me the Jaffa worship a Scottish swimming dinosaur?"

"I would not be able to tell you that since it is not true. Loc'Noc was our greatest warrior turned priest. He attempted to unite the Jaffa before the Goa'uld enslaved us. He was killed by one of his followers who betrayed him to the Goa'uld. It is his ways we are attempting to re-establish. The Festival has been an event celebrated underground for centuries – the Goa'uld making it clear that Loc'Noc was a heretic. It is Loc'Noc's beliefs that Master Bra'tac followed."

Jack couldn't miss the similarities between the Jaffa, Loc'Noc, and Jesus. But he figured now was not the time to bring it up. He chomped down on his burger instead.

"Something is disturbing you, O'Neill. Perhaps speaking to a friend might help?"

Jack fiddled with a potato chip, started to arrange them into three piles: one holding the doubled over chips, one for the perfectly round ones, and the final pile for the broken pieces. "I... realized a truth while sitting with Daniel. About the time... you know... Baal and all. I realized that Daniel had come – not to – damn, why is this so hard to say?"

"Because you never understood how much you meant to him. Like many truly great leaders, you could be very blind where those closest to you were concerned, O'Neill."

Jack looked up from his potato art and cocked his head. "You know, you put on this all-knowing act and everyone eats it up, but I don't believe it for a minute."

"That is a wise decision," Teal'c said as inclined his head. "I do not know everything, but I do know what I am told. DanielJackson and I spent many hours in meditation, O'Neill. We shared our concerns, dreams, our hopes. He was the only individual to whom I could share my fears – and I am honored to say that I served in the same capacity for him."

Surprised, Jack said, "Hey, we're friends, brothers-in-arms – why couldn't you talk to me?"

"Because we are brothers-in-arms. We are alike, O'Neill. Too much alike."

"I think I'm wounded here," Jack said as he clutched at his heart.

"You are not. You did not confide in me for the same reason. You always chose to share with DanielJackson. He would listen and neither of us need fear that he would judge us or think less of us. Do I not speak the truth?"

"Damn, you do."

"So why are you so surprised that he came to you in Baal's cell? That he wished you to join him? Was it not your name he spoke when awakening from the disease of the Touched? Was it not always your name he would first speak? Would he not always be first to your side when you were injured? When you were all forced to drink the Blood of Sokar, were you not the one that came to him?"

Shocked, Jack asked, "I was?"

Teal'c nodded. "This he did not share with you when you asked him?"

Jack let his eyes drift shut as he shook his head. "I never ... asked. I told him about Charlie and never once... I just assumed Apophis used Shar'e on him."

"You assumed incorrectly. Apophis ascertained the one individual DanielJackson trusted and cared about above all others. So no, I would not be surprised that DanielJackson would come to you to aid you in joining him."

"So you're saying that should I tell Daniel that I'm going to retire in order to ... be with him... he wouldn't be surprised?"

"He will be extremely surprised. I do not believe that he would wish your retirement, O'Neill. You are needed – the battle is not over."

"I'm almost fifty years old, Teal'c. I want my life with Daniel to start now. I most certainly do not want a relationship that survives via the telephone."

"I see. So perhaps it is time for you to return to the SGC?"

"I believe it's time for me to retire, Teal'c."

"I repeat: DanielJackson will not be pleased."

Deciding it was time to change the subject, Jack took another bite of his hamburger.

***

"Hey, you're awake."

Daniel's bed had been raised and he was currently peering up at the television. At Jack's words, he simply nodded and then pointed at the screen and said, "News...missed a lot."

Jack sat down and smiled at him. "No, you just don't remember. You didn't miss anything."

Daniel frowned, took off his glasses, wiped them carefully since any kind of movement could cause pain, put them back on, and said, "Won't remember... the last... few days."

"Try last four months, remember?"

Daniel shook his head. "No...mean... coma... don't know what happened... catching up."

The light bulb went on. "Ah, gotcha. Well, to be honest, I don't have a clue what's been going on in the world either, and more importantly – couldn't care less. All that's mattered to me in the last few days has been – you."

Daniel blinked several times behind his glasses even as his expression worked itself into a frown. "Don't ... understand," he finally said.

"Hospital, hotel, hospital, hotel – reading to you – we finished two of the Harry Potter books, by the way. They were damn good. I was reading a mummy book to you when you woke up. In fact, I need to bring that back here, don't I? We can finish it together."

He could see he'd just confused Daniel even more, so he added, "What, did you think we just let you languish here in a coma while we went about our lives? Get real. Sam and Cassie took the morning shift with Sam doing the New York Times crossword with you and Cassie practicing her debating. Lou came next and I understand he read smutty books to you. He was damn certain you'd wake up during his shift – but we all knew better. We told him you'd be too embarrassed to exit your coma in the middle of soft-core porn."

At the dirty look Daniel gave him, he hurried on.

"George took over the afternoon shift and read reports and the news as well as sharing his granddaughters latest escapades with you. Then it was my turn, along with Teal'c, who used you as a sounding board for what's happening on Dakara and, believe it or not, you helped him...."

Daniel's eyebrow rose at that, so laughing, Jack said, "It was simple really – he just figured out what you'd say and acted accordingly. Anyway, as I already told you – I read Harry Potter and then took a break from wizards and moved to mummies."

Jack stopped then and let Daniel digest it all. He could see a wealth of emotions flit across Daniel's face – everything from shock to wonder to a kind of disbelief. Finally Daniel smiled a bit and said, "Not embarrassed by... smutty ... books."

"Yes, you would be."

"No ... wouldn't."

"Would."

"Wouldn't."

"Want the titles?" Jack asked with a grin.

"Would be... okay."

"Liar," he said fondly. "Hey, aren't you due for another therapy session shortly?"

Daniel grimaced but nodded. "Any... minute. Speech. Did... this," he held up his left arm, "earlier. Squeezed ... balls 'til I was... blue... in the face."

Jack narrowed his eyes, not sure if Daniel knew what he'd just said. Then he caught the gleam in his friend's eyes – which told him that he knew exactly what he'd said.

"You're a regular yuk-fest, Daniel," Jack said, chuckling.

Before anything else could be said, the speech therapist arrived and Jack was unceremoniously shooed out. He gave Daniel a wave and walked down to the waiting room. He had nowhere else to go.

***

"We got you moved over to the Academy, General," Lou said as he sat down next to Jack.

It had been one week since Daniel had opened his eyes and the doctors had finally okay'd the move to the Academy hospital and a private room. His two therapists would follow him – both having been plucked from their lucrative practices back east – at the behest of the President – and if Daniel continued his current rate of improvement, he would indeed be home for New Year's.

Only problem was – Daniel had no home to go "home" to. He'd sold his house once the decision to go to Atlantis had been made and had a short-term lease on an apartment – a lease that had just ended. To make matters worse, the landlord had already rented the place, so SGC personnel had to be dispatched in order to pack Daniel up. So far, Jack hadn't had the heart to tell Daniel and, until he came up with something, he had no intention of telling him. Now, as he listened to Lou, he had a brainstorm.

"Lou... I need a favor."

"You only have to ask, General."

"Would you be willing to try to find... Daniel's going to need someplace to live – I'll be taking care of him – and I was thinking of renting a house."

Lou jumped to his feet. "Say no more. We'll take care of everything, sir. How long a lease?"

"Let's go short-term for now – say – three months?"

"You got it, General."

Lou started to turn away but Jack grabbed his arm. "Thanks, Lou. For everything."

Something flickered in Lou's eyes but all he said was, "You and Daniel mean a lot to me, General. And we started out together, didn't we? We've got to stick together."

Jack grinned. "Yeah, Lou. Yeah."

"We've lost friends, made new ones, but at the core – it was us. We lived a miracle, thanks to the Doc. And it just keeps getting better."

Smile fading, Jack said, "Does it, Lou? Does it?"

Feretti sat back down. "You don't think so?"

Jack shook his head. "They want to cut the budget for the SGC by fifty percent – siphon off the saved dollars for Atlantis – build more ships that can make the trip. They think the chances of finding what we need to defend Earth lies with Atlantis rather than through our own Stargate." He sighed heavily. "Politicians just seem to get more and more stupid with each passing year. You begin to wonder just how many times you have to save Earth before people will listen. How many alliances will we blow before our own people catch on?"

"It's the old 'What have you done for us today' shtick," Lou said. "The bane of human existence. Not that anyone should rest on their laurels but some accomplishments are beyond expectations, if that makes sense? Jumping though hoops should be behind you and the Doc." Lou suddenly grinned. "Not that you're infallible – or anything."

"God forbid. On the other hand – I am always right," Jack smirked.

"Except when the Doc is," Lou said as he found something fascinating to look at on the ceiling.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Very funny."

Lou got up again and said, "I'd better get to work on finding a place for you two. I'll be back later to see the Doc. In the meantime, all of us at the SGC trust you, General, we know you'll do right by us."

As Jack watched Lou leave, he could only wish he had the same faith.

***

"Nice view," Jack said as he pulled up the blinds in Daniel's new room. They'd just settled Daniel in and it hadn't skipped Jack's notice that not only was Daniel exhausted, but he was cranky too. Not that anyone else would recognize the signs. Daniel didn't do a public crank. Public snark, yes. Public whine, definitely – but never public crankiness.

"Parking lot," Daniel sniffed.

"Hey, the room's decorated for the holiday, thanks to Cass, and yeah, it's a parking lot view, but it's covered in snow so you can't really tell."

The snort was a good sign.

Jack turned around to see his disgruntled friend inspecting the bandages wrapped around his chest from under his hospital gown. Jack couldn't help the smile that took over his face at the sight.

"Can't wait til the bandages come off. I'll get to see the scar."

Without lifting his head, Daniel said, "Jerk."

"Hey, you know me and scars."

"Umph."

"Your speech therapist would not be happy at the one word answers I'm getting."

Daniel looked up and said, "Fuck. You."

"That's better."

Daniel grinned.

Jack walked over and sat down. It was time to give Daniel some facts – fill in the missing time. "Look, I've talked with the doctors and the truth is – you're not likely to ever remember the last four months. It's kind of typical for someone who was in a coma. Which means we don't have to worry about letting you remember on your own or accidentally saying something that would trigger a memory – yadda-yadda."

"What aren't you ... saying?"

"Actually, this is about saying ... everything. I'm going to catch you up on the last four months."

"So let me... read the... you know... mission reports."

Jack looked down at his hands and closed his eyes. This was going to be harder than he'd thought.

"Jack? What's... did we lose... did something bad happen?"

"Whoa, don't start imagining the worse. Nothing like that... I mean, you know, no losses. But the last four months did see a good many changes. They kind of started after the ... cabin. Uhm... for instance... Carter took a promotion. She's now head of the R&D department—"

"But that's in ... Nevada!"

"Yeah... it is. See... well, see... Cassie was accepted at the university there and... and Carter felt that she needed to be close to her and so... well, you see where I'm going with this."

Looking very suspicious, Daniel shook his head.

"Okay, after you and Teal'c left, Carter stayed on a bit—"

"I remember... that," Daniel said, his tone suddenly more subdued.

"Right. Anyway, she and I had a long talk—"

Daniel held up a shaking hand. "Wait... wait. This makes... I don't ... if you talked, why Nevada?"

"Oh, boy," Jack muttered. "Okay, the truth is... she needed to put some distance between us and with Cassie being accepted... it just seemed like a natural fix. She could be near Cass, have all the time she needed to experiment, work on -- whatever it is she works on --- and get her head on straight – so to speak."

This time it was Daniel's eyes that narrowed. "You're not... you two aren't—"

"No, we're not. We came to an understanding regarding our true ... it was not a fun time after you two left, believe me."

It took Daniel several minutes to absorb that, but finally, in a demanding tone, he asked, "What else?"

The machine that registered Daniel's heartbeat started dancing the jig and Jack got worried. "Look, calm down. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."

"What. Else?"

"I... George retired."

Now Daniel looked truly shocked but, in the next moment, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that his mind had not been affected by the coma as he asked suspiciously, "Who ... replaced... him?"

Jack met Daniel's hard gaze and said, "I did."

There was silence – deafening in its completeness – and Jack thought maybe he'd made a huge mistake in telling Daniel.

Huge.

Daniel took off his glasses and set them on the hospital table in front of him. "I ...see. And Teal'c?"

"The Jaffa are trying to rebuild their world with Dakara as their new seat of government – so to speak. He left the SGC to take his place as a leader of the Jaffa – unfortunately, it hasn't been as easy as everyone had hoped. There's this one Jaffa – Gerak – he's a real pain in the ass and is trying to take over. Teal'c has a major uphill battle, trust me."

"Who... in charge?"

Jack couldn't fail to notice the lack of proper wording. Oh, yeah, he'd made a mistake all right. But it was too late to go back now. He scratched his chin and said, "Hank Landry. Picked him myself. Good man."

"Lan-dry?"

"Yeah. Your doctor – Dr. Lam – is his daughter. I picked her too. They had some problems but things are going better now."

"Me?"

Daniel still wasn't looking at him, but that one word – Jack knew exactly what Daniel was asking. He took a deep breath and said, "You were going to Atlantis. Sold your house, moved temporarily into an apartment. The Daedalus, that was your ride, just a left for the Pegasus Galaxy."

Daniel closed his eyes, smiled wryly. "I ... see."

"Daniel... I'm sorry."

"Other... trips," he muttered.

"No... I'm not sorry about your missing the Daedalus – I'm very glad about that. Although, I wish there could have been another way – one less hazardous to your health. No, I was apologizing for... we never talked. I never told you I was leaving. It happened very suddenly and I desperately needed to get away. You were off world and when you came back – I was gone."

"No... explanation necess—necess ... you know."

Damn. Damn, damn, damn.

"I don't agree, Daniel. You're my best friend—"

"Teal'c."

That stopped Jack. Did Daniel really think... of course he did. He was such a dweeb. Jack almost smiled at that. Instead, he just shook his head in exasperation. "God, Daniel, sometimes I wonder about you. You are now, have always been, and I pray will always be – my best friend. I would do anything to turn back the clock – for so many reasons."

When Daniel didn't say anything, Jack felt as though his heart might break. Time to take this that one – final – heart-crunching – step.

"Daniel, you're more than my best friend. Much more. Can I tell you a story?"

That got him. Jack gave himself a mental pat on the back as Daniel finally glanced up, the curiosity in his eyes as bright as a searchlight. When Daniel nodded – albeit a bit hesitantly, Jack launched into his tale.

"This story is about a fellow pilot – I went through the Academy with him. His name was Ben Harper. He was a great guy, Daniel. You'd have liked him. And yeah, I can see the question in your eyes. I'm using the past tense – he was killed the year before Charlie. Ben wasn't like anyone else – let alone any other military man – that I'd ever known.

"He was kind, gentle, and believed the best of everyone. He also believed in what he called 'soul mates'. I remember telling him -- rather sarcastically -- that for a handsome guy in uniform, 'soul mates' were a sure thing. That earned me a lecture, as you can imagine, and since, at the time, we were in an Iraqi prison – well, it was a mighty long lecture and me with no place to go. It seems soul mates weren't necessarily the person you ended up loving, as in, you know, in love with.

"Now, I have to tell you – that made absolutely no sense to me at all. The soul's a funny thing and it seemed that if it had a mate, well, there really wasn't room for anyone else. I know I wouldn't have wanted Sara to have a soul mate if it wasn't me. And I told him that. He just laughed and said, 'Some folks are lucky – their soul mate is the person they fall in love with.' I thought he was full of beans. Until we got home. We were both hospitalized for several weeks and in that time, he had one constant visitor.

"One person who was there no matter how bad things got for him. Even his parents couldn't handle it. Neither could his fiancée, although she was game – she tried. But... Mark Rogers... that was his name... an old boyhood friend of Ben's... he was there around the clock when things got their worse. He held Ben's hand, bathed him, cajoled him, listened to him rant, held him down when necessary, ran interference with the doctors, held his parents' hands and encouraged the fiancée when she was starting to fall apart. I got a first hand view of what a soul mate was and I found myself wondering ... wondering if Sara was mine."

"She... was," Daniel said quietly.

Jack shook his head. "No, Daniel. She wasn't. And I'm not taking away from what the two of us had – but it never approached anything like Ben and Mark. I know that now. If it had – we'd have weathered Charlie's death. We'd have made it. But it wasn't until... that year... the year you were on Abydos... that I understood. I'd sit on my deck and look through the telescope and wonder how you were and what you were doing and if you missed Earth. And I knew. You were it. My soul mate.

"Sounds so sappy now, but at the time... I can't explain it any better than that, Daniel. You're it. My best friend, my soul mate. And as long as I've gone this far – well, in for a penny -- because in my case – I'm also in love with my soul mate. And I'm pretty sure I just became a full-fledged member of the Harlequin Romance club. The Air Force will drum me out on my ass."

Jack got up. "Look, I'm gonna leave you now. Let you digest what I've said – I don't expect anything from you, Daniel. I don't think you've ever thought of us – of me – like that, and I understand. And no matter what else happens – you're my best friend and I want us to keep that. I'll be back tomorrow morning, okay?"

He'd managed not to look Daniel in the eye during his little speech so was somewhat taken back when he finally looked down at him. Daniel's mouth hung open, his eyes round with shock, but what worried Jack was the sudden pallor.

"Daniel... are you all right?"

Daniel snapped his mouth shut and nodded but that didn't restore Jack's faith. Daniel was silent. Silent. No words. Daniel.

Not good.

Very bad.

But Daniel was Daniel – so giving him until tomorrow was the right thing. He trusted Daniel. With everything he had.

"Okay, I'm going now. I'll see you in the morning and ... we'll talk."

With that, he turned and walked out. With still no words from Daniel.

Damn, he was in so much trouble.

***

The nurse came in, cheerful and smiling, and Daniel had the uncharitable thought that he'd like to punch her out. Okay, it was ungentlemanly too. Ungentlemanly and uncharitable. And down right mean. And maybe -- he meant it.

"How are we feeling, Dr. Jackson?" she asked brightly.

He quirked one very sarcastic eyebrow in answer.

"Oh, we're in a mood, are we? Well, maybe a nice massage will help."

He would have crossed his arms over his chest – but he'd found that bullet wounds tended to restrict that particular movement – and of course, his damn left arm still didn't work as well as he was used to. Damn useless thing.

The nurse – Diane Higgins – as she was always eager to tell him – moved his tray, lowered the back of the bed – slowly, thank God – and lifted his right arm. For the next fifteen minutes, he was massaged and rubbed everywhere she could reach or that he'd let her reach. More than a couple of times he'd been tempted to swat her hands away as opposed to the not-so-gently barked, "No way!"

Now, at last, she was done. Maybe he'd finally get some peace and quiet. His mind was in total disarray, thanks to a certain jackass of a general.

He rested his head back and closed his eyes. He still couldn't believe Jack. Soul mates, in love, yeah, right. And don't you always make moon pie eyes at your 2IC when you're in love with your archaeologist? And don't you always up and leave said archaeologist high and dry while you trot off the Washington D.C.?

Sure you do.

And when your archaeologist is dying and wrapped up like a mummy, the best you can come up with is that you've come to fucking admire the mummy? Golly, Sarge. So in love are we.

Not.

The asshole.

In love. Right.

Jack O'Neill in love with a guy? Let alone ... him? Not likely.

Damn, Jack O'Neill.

Damn, damn, damn.

How could he drop all that crap on him? Why drop all that crap on him?

Okay, so Jack meant everything to him, but damn, he wasn't in love with the guy. It was Jack, for crying out loud. He just... he just... okay, okay, soul mate sounded good. Goopy, but good. Sappy, but maybe a tad accurate.

"Damn you, Jack O'Neill."

God, he was so tired. And confused. And all right, pissed off.

Maybe a nap. A quick one.

***

Jack walked into his room and straight over to the window. He looked out over the Academy grounds and gave brief thought to running away to ... Fiji. Yeah. Fiji. Or... Tahiti. Some place warm, anyway.

God, he'd love to see Daniel on a beach somewhere. Those long legs all tanned up, big grin in an equally tanned face. Smiling at him. For him. Because of him.

He rested his forehead against the cold pane. He'd really blown it. Big time. He should never have told him everything. He should have just... just what? Kept his big, fat, fucking mouth shut, that's what.

No... just no. Daniel deserved the truth – all of it. And if anyone could handle it – eventually – it would be Daniel. They'd be able to go on as friends, he was sure of it.

He supposed retirement was no longer an issue.

***

"I thought perhaps we could all travel together to the hospital, join DanielJackson for dinner. ColonelCarter and Cassandra are waiting downstairs."

Jack motioned Teal'c inside as he said, "You guys go on ahead. I told Daniel I'd see him in the morning."

Puzzled, Teal'c asked, "Are you unwell?"

"I'm fine, Teal'c."

Searching his friend's carefully masked face, Teal'c nodded in sudden understanding. "You told DanielJackson of your true feelings."

"I sure did, idiot that I am."

"I would not believe he showed anger at your words, O'Neill."

"No, no anger. Just... shock. Hurt too. I caught him up on the last four months, told him everything and then topped it off with a nice cherry. 'Oh, by the way, Daniel. I'm in love with you.'"

"I see. So while he had to digest the changes he experienced, he also had to deal with hearing of your feelings. It is indeed wise that you have chosen not to see him this evening."

"Meaning?" Jack asked, angry in spite of the fact that he suspected exactly what Teal'c was talking about.

"I believe it would have been a wiser course of action to share the last months – and your true feelings – in small increments, thus allowing DanielJackson a chance to absorb everything gradually."

Just as Jack had thought. And damn it, Teal'c was right.

"Well, I didn't. But this is Daniel we're talking about – and there's no fairer man anywhere. If he doesn't return my feelings, I know our friendship won't suffer."

"Could it suffer any worse than—"

"Teal'c? I get it."

"Indeed. I will take my leave now as ColonelCarter and Cassandra are waiting. I believe General Hammond may already be with DanielJackson."

"Take care of Daniel tonight, Teal'c," Jack said as Teal'c moved back to the door.

"I will." Teal'c turned back at the last minute and, with head cocked, added, "I believe you have nothing to fear, O'Neill."

"Thanks, T."

***

"Why did ... why did Jack... take it?" Daniel asked.

Surprised, George looked up from their card game. Where the hell had that come from, anyway? "Dr. Jackson?"

Daniel smiled. "Even now... not ... Daniel?"

George grinned sheepishly. "Just seems – wrong – somehow."

Daniel frowned slightly and ducked his head, which clued George into the fact that the younger man had misunderstood his meaning. He put his hand on Daniel's arm, squeezed lightly, and said, "My respect for you, Daniel, demands I use your title. Anything less seems – inappropriate for all that you've done for Earth – for me."

Daniel's face went a nice shade of pink as he looked up in astonishment. He gave a little shake of his head, one that seemed to accuse George of being crazy, and picked up George's discard and slipped it into his hand. George looked fondly at Daniel and decided he deserved to hear it all. "As you know, I was blessed with a daughter and, later, two wonderful grandchildren, but I admit that I used to wonder about having a son – wondered what he would have been like. It stopped mattering to me several years ago, Daniel. About the time I began to think of you... as a son."

The cards dropped from Daniel's hand as he stared, open-mouthed, at George. "I... I don't know... what to say."

"You don't have to say anything, Daniel. I just thought it was about time I told you. Maybe this was one too many close calls and, because it happened here, you know what I mean, it made it that much more important to tell you."

"I... thank you, sir."

"After all I've just shared, I think using my first name would be appropriate," George said with a fond grin.

"Thank you... George."

"You're welcome. Now, back to what you were asking. What did you mean?"

"The ... your job. Washington."

Understanding dawned. "Ah, yes, that. I don't really know, Daniel. Not that I don't have a theory – but that's all I have. A theory."

Daniel pursed his lips and cocked his head in an impatient gesture telling George he'd better share said theory – and pronto. He wondered if he'd ever actually commanded Daniel ... and decided that the answer was no. Smiling at that, he said, "I think there was something so painful for him that he couldn't stay here anymore. But by the same token, he couldn't desert the program or his duties, so when I decided to retire and the President asked him to take the job – he accepted. I also think he regrets the decision – it's not him."

"Well, duh," Daniel said with a disgusted look on his face. "Stupid... jackass."

George almost choked on the coffee he'd just sipped. Wiping his mouth of the dribbles, he said, "Yes, well, I've heard it put a bit differently – but never so accurately."

George got to his feet and said, "I'd better be going – I have that conference call I told you about, but I think I heard a rumor that everyone else will be joining you for dinner."

"Not... asshole."

George had been sliding the chair back when Daniel spoke again, and he almost tripped over it. He turned to stare at the younger man before saying, "Jack used to try to convince me that you could be pissy, but I never believed him. I'm glad to see that he was right."

Daniel grinned at that. "Only... pissy... around him... or because of... him."

Laughing, George said, "On that note, I'll say goodnight. I'll see you tomorrow, Daniel."

Daniel nodded, gave him a small wave and said softly, "Bye... and ... thank...you, Gen—George."

Eyes suddenly moist, George turned and walked out. On the way to the elevator, he took out his handkerchief and blew his nose. When the elevator doors slid open, he'd composed himself enough that when Cassie said, "Uncle George!" he was able to smile and give her a hug.

"We're going to have dinner with Daniel," Cassie said as she stepped back. "You'll join us, won't you?"

"Honey, I have a conference call in thirty minutes. But Daniel and I had lunch together, after which he beat the pants off of me in gin."

"I should have warned you," Cassie said with a grin. "Chess and gin are no-no's. Next time try poker – Uncle Daniel can't bluff his way out of a paper bag."

Laughing, George said, "I'll remember that. Have fun and I'll see you all tomorrow."

Once the elevator closed, Cassie said, "Do you suppose Uncle Daniel ... well, he's not getting any alone time. Do you think he might not want us to visit him every day?"

"I believe that if we had not brought this," Teal'c held up a large brown bag, "he might indeed prefer his ... 'alone time'."

Sam laughed at that and, as she draped an arm over Cassie's shoulders, said, "But even without food and chocolate, Daniel needs us right now, honey. You know how he hates being sick or hurt."

Feeling somewhat better, Cassie nodded and they headed for Daniel's room.

***

Daniel hit the off button for the set and was tempted to throw the remote across the room, but it was attached -- damn it. Boy, where are all these violent thoughts coming from, anyway? Punching out nurses, killing remotes – but of course, he knew. Misplaced anger. Targeting people and things because he couldn't lash out at the intended target.

Damn it.

And to top it off, he felt like shit. Crap-ola. His chest hurt and his head wasn't feeling all that chipper either. He looked up at the large clock next to the television and groaned. His 'dinner', or at least what passed for dinner here, would be arriving any minute. He supposed he ought to be grateful that he'd moved beyond the broth stage and up to real food, but unfortunately, the Academy hospital wasn't any better at providing 'real' food than any other hospital. Gray, bland and icky pretty much described it.

Make a note: Never use the word icky in front of Jack. He'd have a field day.

Gray, bland and... nocens.

Much better.

Wasn't it amazing how everything came back to Jack? Everything in his life always came back to Jack.

Everything.

In his.

Life.

"Uncle Daniel?"

Startled, Daniel blinked and realized that Cassie, Sam and Teal'c were now standing just inside his room. "Hey, guys."

Cassie hurried over to his bed, leaned over the railing, kissed his cheek, and asked, "You okay? You looked – I don't know – as if—"

"I'm... fine, honey. Just thinking."

"We have brought you a gift, DanielJackson," Teal'c said as he set the large bag down on the tray table.

"Smells... terrific and... suspiciously like... hot dogs? As in... Woody's?"

Giggling, Cassie opened the bag and started removing the contents, which included six of the world famous Woody's Chicago-style hot dogs. There were also bags of chips and almost just out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies.

Daniel, clearly much happier, said, "Wow, I can't... believe you guys... did this."

"Why wouldn't we?" Sam asked as she sat down in one of the four chairs in Daniel's room.

"Yes, well... how 'bout drinks for you guys?" Daniel said in answer.

"I would be happy to procure liquid refreshment for us," Teal'c offered.

"Thanks, T," Daniel said as he made covert motion indicating Cassie.

"Cassandra, would you assist me?" Teal'c said, catching on.

"Of course. Sam, you want your usual?"

"Please. Daniel, what about you?"

"They'll be... bringing my ...dinner in a minute... and it'll have juice."

"What, no coffee?" Sam said, astounded.

Looking thoroughly disgusted, Daniel said, "Still ... not allowed."

"Then we shall return," Teal'c said as he took Cassie's hand and led her out.

Once they were gone, Daniel asked bluntly, "Why ... the move?"

Sam, who'd been arranging the food – unnecessarily – paused for a fraction of an instant before continuing – with shaking hands. "What do you mean?"

"You know."

Leaving the food alone, she sat back and clasped her hands together on her lap. "Cassie. I really didn't want her to be alone those first months at school. It seemed the right thing to do."

Daniel studied her for a minute ... and then said, "Now... the truth."

"Oh, for heaven's... really, Daniel, why else?"

"SG-1 was everything... to you. If you didn't ... think she needed... you full time... after Janet's death... she didn't need you a year later... at school."

"Whoa, that was—"

"True."

"Daniel—"

"Just tell me... why."

She looked up at the ceiling and let out a breath. "It was too hard to stay."

"Because of ... Jack?"

Surprised, she nodded. "He and I talked after you and Teal'c returned home. It didn't go the way I thought it would, which is a major understatement, by the way."

"You ... love him."

She nodded miserably. "But it turned out ... that he didn't feel the same way. There was someone else... so staying at the SGC became unbearable. Then two things happened that made it possible to leave. The R&D position opened and Cassie was accepted at Nevada. It seemed the answer to a prayer, so off I went. I never thought of anyone but myself, not even Cassie. All I knew was that there was no way I could look at him every day."

"I ... see." Because Sam was on his left, he couldn't reach out and take her hand – it would have been too difficult and he still couldn't trust his left side.

"I'm sorry, Daniel. I should have told you – talked to you—"

"You owed me... nothing, Sam. I'm just ... trying to ... you know... put the pieces together."

"You're my friend, Daniel. My little brother. I owed you a discussion. I owed you the truth instead of just up and disappearing."

"You said... there was someone... else?"

"Her name is Kerri Johnson. I think you know her. When I decided to tell Jack how I felt – the second time – they were together and he was barbecuing. Then I got the call about dad – and Jack was there for me and I thought maybe – there was still a chance, so when we went to the cabin, I thought 'this is it' ... only it wasn't."

"This... was while... I was ... missing?"

She nodded. "It was funny in a way. I wanted to comfort Jack – and be comforted in return – but he was receiving what he needed from her."

That was more than Daniel wanted to know and he felt oddly – hollow all of a sudden. After several quiet moments, he brought himself back to Sam and her needs.

"How are you... now? Seeing him?"

She smiled. "I'm fine. Really. He's a wonderful man and I'll always love him, as in ... you know, the way you love a friend. But I'm dating someone now – a really great guy." Her cheeks dimpled. "A civilian brain trust. Dr. Brian James."

His eyes narrowed. "I know that... name."

"You probably met him at the Antarctic site. He was one of Dr. Weir's original expedition team members, but when his brother had a heart attack, he chose to remain behind. I'm working with him."

He remembered him now. James had been Weir's choice over ... him. Although, in all reality, he didn't think he'd ever actually been on her list.

"So what... you're over Jack?"

She laughed lightly and said, "I don't think anyone gets over Jack – he's too there. Larger than life. But my feelings are where they belong and I'm moving on."

"Could you work... with him?"

She nodded. "I could."

"I'm ... glad. And happy... for you, Sam."

***

He had peace and quiet again. Sam, Cassie and Teal'c were gone, there was nothing left of the hot dogs but the faint odor of mustard, and the cards were now back in their box. He picked up the remote and hit the button for the light over his bed. Darkness descended and it was just what he wanted – needed. His door was partially open, but the small bit of light didn't bother him. It was only a little after eight, but he didn't feel like watching television or reading. His headache, which had receded with the ingestion of the hot dogs, was now returning and he debated calling for the nurse in order to get a couple of aspirin or whatever they 'served', but decided to just close his eyes and see what happened.

Unfortunately, his mind wasn't as willing to shut off as the rest of him and everything, as usual, came back to Jack.

Jack and Kerri Johnson.

While he'd been missing.

Exasperated, he rubbed his forehead and actually debated calling the asshole.

Hell, why not? He picked up the phone, fumbled for the slip of paper on which Cassie had thoughtfully written all their numbers, realized he needed the light, groaned, put the phone down, and picked up the remote. Once the light was on, he peered at the list, found Jack's number, and dialed.

//"O'Neill."//

"Jack, it's me. Have I told ... you lately... that you're ... an... asshole?"

//"Erm... not to my face, anyway."//

"You are... an asshole. And on that... note ... Kerri Johnson." With that, Daniel hung up. He only wished he could have slammed the phone down, but in hospitals, it was all one piece, damn it. Life really sucked sometimes.

***

Jack stared at the phone for several seconds before finally setting it down. Kerri Johnson? How the hell....

He sat down. He needed to think this through before he jumped up and overreacted.

All right, so Daniel knew about Kerri, a person for whom there was no plausible explanation. And on the heels of his declaration of love, Kerri must have really blown his mind.

Okay, so now he could overreact. He jumped up, grabbed his coat, and headed out.

***

IV - The Turn for Home

Daniel wasn't thinking clearly – that much was obvious. Maybe there'd been more brain damage than the doctors knew. Yeah, that had to be it. How else to explain why he'd be angry at Jack? Why he'd be feeling this... this ... okay – he was experiencing ... jealousy.

He was jealous. Of Kerri.

Damn, this was confusing.

If he wasn't in love with Jack, then why the hell was he so damn jealous?

Okay, there was a rational explanation. He'd been missing – actually – dead – again – and his good buddy was having a great time barbecuing with the lovely Kerri Johnson. And undoubtedly doing other ... more ... athletic type 'things'. Yeah, that was a good reason for being pissed off and jealous.

Except... by that time, he wasn't Jack's best bud. And in all honesty – he didn't care what Jack or any of them had done. He'd had no expectations. If Jack had found happiness in Kerri's arms, more power to him.

Bull Shit.

The guy was a Class A jerk. And about as faithful as a rabbit in spring. And no, he didn't know what that meant – he was obviously brain damaged, thank you very much.

Man, he wished he could curl up on his side. Damn. Damn, damn, damn.

***

Jack strode down the quiet hall, his step purposeful, his chin high. No one spoke to him, saluted, or otherwise bothered him. They didn't dare. When he got to Daniel's door, he paused. If anyone had been looking, they would have seen his shoulders slump and the sense of being in command drift away. He raised his hand and started to knock, then thought better of it. He was, after all, a general. He pushed the door open.

The light was off and, for a moment, he thought Daniel was asleep. But only for a moment.

"Well, well... look who's ... here. General Asshole."

Nope, not asleep.

Jack removed his coat and draped it over one of the chairs before pulling up the most comfortable one – the one Daniel would use when they let him get out of bed. He sat down, cleared his throat, and said, "How did you learn about Kerri?"

"Sam. I ... was worried about ... her after your little ... confession. Curious too, I admit."

"You told her?" Jack asked, surprised.

"Don't be an... even bigger ass... than you... already are, Jack."

"Right. Wouldn't want to do that," Jack said sarcastically. "So ... you had a nice discussion with Carter, did you?"

Daniel nodded but Jack only knew that because the light from the hall was illuminating the area around Daniel's bed. But he couldn't see the younger man's expression.

"Do you think you could turn on the light?"

"Rather... not."

Jack turned on his heel and walked out.

***

Open-mouthed, Daniel stared at the spot Jack had occupied just moments ago.

Sheesh, it was just a light, the asshole.

***

"May I help you?"

"I'd like something for Dr. Jackson. He has a bad headache."

"Oh, of course. I'll be right there."

"Thank you."

Jack turned around and headed for Daniel's room. When he was once again standing outside, he waited a moment, uncertain on how to resolve the latest problem between them. And then it hit him.

Daniel was mad.

About Kerri.

Daniel was... mad. As in ... jealous?

Daniel was jealous?

Daniel was jealous.

Jack smiled.

***

The door opened and Jack walked back inside, which surprised the hell out of Daniel.

"The nurse will be here momentarily – with something for your headache," Jack said as he retook his seat.

"My... headache?"

"You do have one, right?"

"I... erm... I—"

"Never mind. You'll have something to take for it any time now."

Daniel felt all the anger melting away, leaving him with a feeling he hadn't experienced in years, namely, the warmth of Jack's total friendship.

And love.

He was now more confused than ever. "I don't ... understand you, Jack."

"That's okay, neither do I."

Nothing else could be said as the nurse walked in at that moment. She had to be a truly good one, because she didn't turn on the light over his bed. She simply lifted his hand, emptied the contents of the small cup into his palm, and handed him his water.

"This should do the trick, Doctor. If not, just ring and we'll get Dr. Lam on the phone." With that, she straightened his blankets and walked out.

"Nice ... one," Daniel said after swallowing the pills and water.

"Mothering type," Jack said. "She doesn't want to jump your bones, she just wants to tuck them in at night."

"Beats ... the alternative," Daniel said.

Jack smiled in the semi-darkness. "I guess I need to explain a few things, don't I?"

"I don't ... think you can, Jack. You've never struck ... me ... as the type of man... who has a clue... why he does... what he does."

"Good point and, as usual, very astute. I can tell you only one thing: I was working very hard at pretending that everything was fine and that you'd come waltzing into my office at any time. Combine that with my total idiocy where my feelings about you and Carter were concerned, and you have my ... dalliance ... with Kerri. I was one hell of a screwed up man."

"Poor Jack," Daniel said dryly. "Me... I was just... dying again and trying to decide... whether to ascend or just finally give ... up the ... ghost."

"You know, people don't believe me when I tell them you can be pissy as hell."

"Only ... with you. No one... ever sees it."

"Good point. By the way – the fact that you're pissy about Kerri means you're jealous. You do realize that, right?"

"Yes."

"I mean, come on. I get a pissy Daniel just because I was getting some while – wait, what did you just say?"

"I said... yes."

"You did?"

"Yes."

"So... you are jealous?"

"Is that... pride in your ...voice?" Daniel asked, his voice sounding dangerous.

"Pride? Me? No, no, not at all. Not at all."

"Liar."

"How's the headache?"

"Fine."

"The headache is fine? I'm so happy for it."

"Jerk."

"How 'bout some cards? Strip poker, maybe?"

"In ... your dreams."

"Well, now that you mention it...."

***

Half an hour later, Jack was still sitting in the dark with Daniel, who seemed to need to think things through – in the dark. Jack was more than okay with that, he was comfortable, although a cup of coffee would have been nice. He crossed one leg over the other and waited. For Daniel – he'd wait forever.

Another silent hour passed and Jack thought that maybe Daniel had fallen asleep, but then Daniel shifted and moaned at the action. Jack sat forward, worried, but Daniel said, "I'm fine. Just ... wish I could ... sleep on my ... side, you know?"

"I know. You love sleeping on your side."

It was an odd thing to know about another man, but Jack loved that he did. He also loved that he knew the sounds Daniel made when he slept and when he was about to awaken and how he couldn't function until the first cup of coffee but once that had been ingested, he was a whirlwind, no matter what time it was. He loved knowing that Daniel could be a morning person, a mid-day person or a night person, as long as he had coffee. He loved knowing that since his return from Abydos all those years ago – showers were a guilty pleasure for Daniel, that he could remain in one as long as the hot water held out and had no problem emerging from one with skin that made a prune look soft, supple and unblemished.

He loved that Daniel's mind was so quick because it would, inevitably, make this whole "Jack loves Daniel" thing go much easier. But it wasn't just that he was intelligent – it was also that Jack didn't know a more honest man than Daniel, especially when it came to himself. If Daniel discovered that he felt for Jack, what Jack felt for him – he'd dive in with both feet – right after he'd made Jack suffer a bit. Not much – just enough to get his point across. And Jack would take it. Was taking it.

"Jack?"

"Yeah, Daniel?"

"I ... it's altogether possible... that I ... love you."

"This would be the kind of love where we generally get very well acquainted with each other's most intimate body parts?"

"It would be... that kind of love, yes."

"This is good news, then."

"I don't know... your body parts are now... almost fifty. Fifty."

"I'm in my prime, Daniel," Jack said rather huffily.

"Jack, you were... in your prime... over thirty years ago."

"I bet with you – I won't even need Viagra."

"Needed it... with Kerri, did you?"

Oh, yeah, there it was – pissy Daniel, even though he'd said the 'Kerri' remark with a smile – it had been a smug one and Jack hadn't missed the fact that a barb, even from Daniel, was a barb. No, sir. He was sharp as a tack when it came to Danielspeak. Sort of. Sometimes.

"That was beneath you, Daniel," Jack finally said, with what he hoped was just the right amount of self-righteousness.

"No, it... wasn't," Daniel shot back.

Jack thought flattery might work at this stage. "You're a better man than that remark."

"No, I'm not. I'm exactly... the right kind of man for ... that remark. I died ... horribly at ReplicatorSam's hand – er – sword, and... alone too. And while I was... trying to figure out... how the meaning... of life could collide... with ... waffles and how... that related to the... Ancients, you were boinking Ms. Johnson."

"It's not like you were in love with me then," Jack sulked. "And boinking is beneath you too."

"Of course... I was. And what, Daniel Jackson can't... boink? I'm a damn fine boinker – but I know when to boink. It might surprise... you to know that I never... boinked once while you were... trapped – and there's a laugh – trapped my eye, and boinking -- on Edora, or while you... were in the deep freeze."

"Ah, but you didn't know you were, therefore, you weren't. And you didn't? Not once in three months? Or several weeks?"

"Not once. Not even – alone." He gave him a "so there" nod before suddenly changing direction and asking, "Jack, do you... agree that trees... are alive?"

Used to Daniel's method of moving from one topic to another, Jack simply narrowed his eyes while nodding slowly. "Ye-es."

"And humans... are not the be all... and end all, right?"

"O-kay," he said, now highly suspicious.

"So trust me... when I tell you that a... tree falling in a forest does... make a sound even if... no humans are there to hear it."

Jack frowned. There was a message hidden in that – somewhere. But it was probably beyond him. And he really didn't want to know – didn't want to ask Daniel. On the other hand – maybe he did get it....

"Okay, so the tree is saying that just because you didn't know you were in love with me, doesn't mean you weren't in love with me because even though a human isn't around to hear the tree when it falls, doesn't mean it makes no sound because obviously the tree can hear itself fall, not to mention all the other creatures in the forest, including the ones crushed to death when the damn tree falls, and didn't you wonder – in the philosophy class – who the hell chopped the tree down to begin with? And don't we all know that the fire that is cold – is cold because – idiot – it was put out hours ago?"

"Exactly," Daniel said smugly. "And an Asgard... chopped the tree down, you asshole. Everyone... knows that. And a fire... can't be cold if it's been... put out."

"Damn, someone needs to tell me why I love you."

"Maybe you should ask ... oh, say... Kerri Johnson?"

"She's going to come up for quite a while, isn't she?"

"If that's your... way of asking if... I'm going to throw her in... your face every chance I get... for weeks to come – yes."

"Gosh, I'm so damn lucky."

"Suck it up, Jack."

"Could I just clarify one thing before we go any further?"

"Sure," Daniel said amiably.

"You are in love with me, right?"

"I am."

"Sweet. In that case, I can take all the Kerri remarks you want to dish out."

"Good, because... right after you have your... first mind-blowing orgasm... due to me? I plan on whispering... something along the... lines of 'Take that, Kerri Johnson.'"

Jack smiled in the dark. "Good."

***

V. Solutions to Life


Daniel's final days of incarceration – as he liked to call it – went fast, wonderfully so, for Jack. Christmas had been celebrated in Daniel's hospital room and, while hardly a typical celebration, it had been full of love, relief and gratitude. Presents had been exchanged, (after Jack had done some last minute shopping for Daniel) the best moment coming with Cassie's opening of the gift Daniel had purchased on the day he'd been shot.

Jack could still see her face – the way her eyes widened and filled with tears, and the soft, gentle manner in which her fingers traced over the engraved design on the back of each piece. She'd finally looked up to ask when and how and where Daniel had found them – and being wise beyond her years – had known. At that point, she'd stood up and done something that had brought tears to all their eyes – she'd carefully crawled into his hospital bed with him – and careful of the machinery and his wound, had simply curled up against him.

It had been a great – and grateful – Christmas celebration.

The day after Christmas had proven almost as good thanks to the fact that Lou finally found a house on an acre of land, nestled among a stand of evergreens. Not as many windows as Jack's old place, but beautiful and spacious nevertheless. Furniture hadn't been a major problem, not once he and General Landry had worked some magic on the U-Storage place where Daniel had packed away his life when he thought Atlantis was his future.

Daniel's speech was improving by leaps and bounds and was almost back to its rapid fire speed and, while he still had to do therapy for his left side, especially his left arm and hand, his recovery was being touted as practically a miracle.

Now as Jack walked down the hospital corridor for the last time, he thanked God for Daniel and miracles that kept the younger man in Jack's world. So many miracles. And damn, no one should need that many – and how many more could they all count on, anyway?

Pushing that thought aside, Jack gave out with a mental cheer because today – today he was taking Daniel home.

He shoved Daniel's door open and walked in only to stop cold. Daniel was sitting on the edge of the bed, legs swinging impatiently – very impatiently. He was wearing the blue sweater Jack had brought by yesterday, along with a pair of denims. Jack hadn't realized how much weight Daniel had lost – but now – seeing him dressed, seeing the sweater which used to fit like a glove, hanging off of him – Jack realized he had his work cut out for him.

"Hey, you ready to hit the road?" he asked as he schooled his expression into one of nonchalance.

"You're late," Daniel accused.

"Oh, yeah, you're ready. The Doc discharge you?"

Daniel held up a sheaf of papers. "We have to stop at the Academy pharmacy – pick up a ton of crap."

"Oh, okay, no problem. Look, why don't I go scare up a wheelchair and we'll blow this popsicle stand."

"Duh."

Right. Pissy Daniel again. Oh, joy. Grinning, Jack turned right back around and headed out. Five minutes later, he was rolling a chair up to Daniel's bed.

"Hop in, Daniel. Your chariot awaits."

With Jack's help, Daniel got into the chair – and Jack found himself suddenly frightened. Daniel really had needed his help and he was pale too. Were they releasing him too soon?

"No, they're not releasing me too soon. I overdid it this morning, got dressed by myself and I've been sitting here since eight even though I knew you weren't coming until nine. I'm an idiot. Sorry if I sounded... you know—"

"That would be pissy."

"Yeah, that."

They were alone, the door three-fourths shut. Jack leaned down and touched his lips to Daniel's – their first kiss. Peck. Whatever. When he straightened and started to wheel Daniel toward the door, he said, "I like a pissy Daniel."

"Than you're about to be a very happy man."

Laughing, Jack wheeled him out even as he watched Daniel touch his lips.

***

"Okay, we've got a bag of medicine, two bags of barbecue potato chips – a funny thing to sell at a pharmacy – and two cups of hot coffee. I think we're ready to leave the Academy behind us, Daniel."

The coffees were put in the holders between the two seats and Jack then handed Daniel his chips after tossing the pharmacy bag onto the dashboard. He got in, put the key in the ignition and started up the truck. After cranking up the heater, he opened his chips and, while holding them in his left hand, pulled forward and headed out of the hospital parking lot.

"Do we have to go to the Mountain right away?" Daniel asked as he struggled with his chip bag.

"Not at all, why?"

"Haven't been out much in the last three weeks, thought it would be nice to drive around, find a nice spot and watch trees," Daniel said, a bit on the sarcastic side.

"Sounds... exciting," Jack said as he somehow managed to dip into his chip bag and take one out. He popped it into his mouth, chewed it lovingly, swallowed, and said, "I know just the place too. Lots of snow-covered trees to ... watch."

Daniel looked truly happy for the first time since leaving the hospital and Jack realized that he was most definitely not looking forward to staying at the Mountain. And why would he? Jack had noticed that in the two weeks since they'd both met in the middle of their feelings for each other, Daniel had purposely not asked about the future. Now Jack grinned as he thought of Daniel's face when he pulled into the driveway of "their" home. Okay, he didn't know how Daniel would react to his decision to retire in order to be with him, but that news could wait until after the New Year, since he didn't know if that would be a good thing or a bad.

Okay, he did know -- Teal'c was right -- Daniel would be pissed. Which was why he was waiting. They were going to have a good New Year's no matter what. So there.

The chips were gone, the coffees not far behind, and, judging by the noises coming from Daniel's stomach, he was still hungry. Which was fine. The chips had only been to tide them over until they got "home".

"Uhm... Jack? Where are we going? I don't know of any parks or... this is a residential...."

"But it has trees. Lots and lots of trees."

"Gosh, yes it does," Daniel agreed.

Jack turned onto Evergreen Drive and, without looking over, knew Daniel was truly puzzled now for the simple reason that Evergreen was a cul-de-sac. He drove down to the end and turned left into the last driveway.

"Jack?"

"Welcome home, Daniel," Jack said as he shut off the truck and turned in his seat to smile at his friend.

"You might want to explain? " Daniel asked as he stared at the sprawling ranch-style home.

"Well, I knew about your apartment, naturally, and that the last thing in the world you'd want when you were finally released was to hole up at the SGC during the final weeks of your recovery. And since I wasn't all too keen about that either – and I'm your official nurse -- I had Lou do some looking and he found this. We have a three month lease, it has two bedrooms, two and a half baths, a large, terrific kitchen, a formal dining room, a long, comfortable living room, a den, and a deck out back that overlooks... more trees. In short, it's perfect for us. And no stairs or steps of any kind that you need to worry about in these first days home. Oh, and by the way? As your official male nurse, I should tell you that I come with a pretty impressive perk package."

"Oh, so that's what it's called now? A perk package?"

Jack waggled his eyebrows suggestively and was rewarded with an outright Daniel-laugh, but he didn't miss the relief buried in the laughter either. He opened the door, got out, reached for the pharmacy bag and then hurried around to Daniel's side. He helped Daniel out, grabbed the small overnighter that had made it to Daniel's hospital room a couple of weeks earlier, and then, with a hand under Daniel's arm, they started up the brick walkway to the front door.

Jack got it unlocked, shoved it open, helped Daniel inside and moved him toward the living room, which was to their right.

"Okay, you sit, rest, and I'll get us situated. Carter and Cassie did the shopping, so I'm sure we're well stocked—"

"With blue jello," Daniel quipped.

"Cassie helped, which means Fruit Loops for me and Count Chocula for you, so don't worry about it. Plus I gave strict orders regarding jello, which I assume you've had up to here." He drew his finger across his throat. "Now, I figured I'd make us a nice lunch, you can take whatever you're supposed to take, medicine wise, and watch the trees to your heart's content."

But Daniel, because he'd finally looked around, was no longer paying attention for the simple reason that he was too shocked to speak. The living room furniture – was mostly his. Everything he'd put into storage after selling his house, now surrounded him. Including his beloved piano – which he'd missed during the weeks in the small apartment while waiting for the Daedalus.

"Jack – how?"

"Come on, Daniel. We're the military. We can do anything, so getting your stuff out of storage was hardly a problem for Generals Landry and O'Neill."

"I... thank you."

"You're welcome," Jack said with a huge grin on his face. "Now, you okay until I can get lunch on the table and the heater on?"

Daniel, look of wonder still on his face, nodded.

"Okay, then, hang on a few and let me do my thing. There are some magazines to your right there, on the table."

Daniel nodded again and Jack, satisfied, headed for the thermostat and then the kitchen.

***

Still having difficulty believing the house and his furniture, Daniel kept looking around and spotting more of his belongings. Funny, he hadn't thought his 'stuff' meant so much to him that he'd be so damn happy to see it. Sure, he'd known he'd miss his piano, but that was about it. When you were traveling to another galaxy – and were already leaving behind the person who meant everything to you – what were a few artifacts, some artifacts and books? Yet here he was – eyes tearing up like a kid.

Damn.

"Okay, lunch is on its way to being a fait accompli, the heater is working its ass off, so let's get you a bit more comfortable," Jack said as he reentered the living room. "How 'bout we eat in the bedroom? We have a large set of sliders and you can look out on the back area while we eat."

As much as Daniel would have loved staying up and actually eating at a table, he was exhausted and knew he needed to be in bed. He hiked himself up, with help from Jack, and then allowed the older man to lead him to the bedroom.

"Okay, this is spectacular," he said as they entered.

"Told you so," Jack said as if he'd found the house instead of Lou. "Now let's get you into some sweats and then tucked in."

Daniel sat down on the end of the bed and, with Jack doing most of the work, got out of his jeans and sweater and into a pair of gray Air Force sweats. But before slipping the top over Daniel's head, Jack checked the bandages around Daniel's chest. A couple of minutes later, Daniel was comfortably settled with a mound of pillows behind his back, the drapes open, and the television on.

"All right, I'll get lunch and be right back."

"I think I'll be here," Daniel said with a smile.

"Damn right you will."

***

Jack ladled the thick vegetable soup into mugs, topped them with some crumbled crackers, and set them on the tray with the grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. He checked over everything – napkins, yep – spoons for the soup, yep – juice for Daniel and beer for him, yep. Okay, he had it all. Jack picked up the tray and headed for the bedroom.

Daniel was awake and watching the mid-day news. As Jack moved carefully over to the bed, he sniffed and said, "Smells great."

"Vegetable soup and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. Sound good?"

"God, yes."

Jack set the tray over Daniel's lap and then walked around the bed and sat down on what now obviously "his" side. As he toed off his shoes and debated changing into sweat bottoms, he realized that it felt damn good having "a side" again. Smiling, he got up and walked to the dresser – Daniel's – and opened several drawers before he found his stuff. He shook out a pair of sweats that matched Daniel's, and then, bravely, took off his clothes and slipped the sweats on. When he was done, he turned around to find Daniel staring at him, a spoon of soup halfway to his mouth.

"What?"

Daniel put the spoon in the mug, frowned, and said the last thing Jack thought he'd say, "Clothes? You have clothes here?"

"Sure. You were in the hospital for three weeks, Daniel. I had a good chunk of stuff sent back here and Carter and Cassie took care of putting everything away this week. We actually took possession of the house on Tuesday, which gave them time to get everything ready."

"Oh."

"Is that the only thing you were wondering about?"

"Yes. No. Yes."

"My changing in front of you didn't bother you, then?"

"No. Yes. No."

"Thank you for that ... definitive answer. Both times," Jack said as he sat back down on the bed.

"I... liked watching you change. It felt right. I've certainly seen you change before, just not, you know, in ... our ... bedroom."

Jack settled himself with his back against the headboard and his long legs stretched out in front of him. "Our bedroom. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"

"Very. Here, your soup's getting cold."

Daniel handed him his mug, which he accepted gratefully. "Seems like it should always have been like this, doesn't it?"

Daniel nodded as he took another bite of the sandwich. "We've shared so much," he finally said after swallowing, "that this seems a natural extension."

"Oddly enough – it does."

For the next forty-five minutes, they ate, watched television and enjoyed the closeness and the idea of sharing a bed for such simple things. Eventually, Daniel's exhaustion caught up to him and he fell asleep, at which time, Jack took the tray of empty dishes back into the kitchen. He then spent time going through the house, finding out where everything was and making himself at home. He also double-checked the kitchen and pantry again to see exactly what Carter and Cassie had done in the way of shopping and was quite pleased. They'd done a great job and there was even wine and eggnog. The big surprise was the huge rib roast -- obviously for New Year's – with all the trimmings. Nodding happily, he mentally planned the meal: the prime rib, roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, creamed corn, wilted spinach, a salad and pumpkin soufflé for dessert.

Sweet.

For the next couple of days, he would have Daniel to himself, but the plans were already in motion for New Year's Eve when the gang would descend in celebration. But, for the next couple of nights – it would be just them. The two of them.

***

Daniel slept for four hours – four solid, comfortable, peaceful hours. And Jack puttered.
At five, Daniel woke up refreshed and eager to explore the house, which he did, with Jack dogging his heels in case he needed a hand. When he was done, they settled back in the bedroom on Jack's orders – which he'd made in the form of a brown-eyed, puppy dog plea. While Daniel gave in, his stubborn streak showed up in the form of refusing – silently – to get under the covers. He'd lie on the bed – with Jack – but not under the covers. That would be too much like actually being in bed. For his part, Jack preferred Daniel on top of the covers. He could see all of him, including his bare feet.

Yes, Jack had a thing for Daniel's feet. Go figure.

"We're having company for New Year's Eve," Jack suddenly said from his side of the bed.

"We are?"

"Yep. The gang decided you'd need some peace and quiet for a couple of days, but after all, Saturday is New Year's Eve, so we're going to have a little party. You don't mind, do you?"

"I'm a little... surprised. And confused. Yeah, confused. What about Dakara and Area 51 and school, and what about General Hammond's retirement and what about."

Daniel stopped. Just... stopped. But Jack had a feeling he knew what the next explosive question would have been. Time to face the future.

"Carter's on leave until after the holidays and of course, Cassie's on winter break until the ninth. Teal'c feels that you're more important than anything on Dakara—"

"He's wrong, Jack. The future of their nation depends on what happens—"

"And of course," Jack went on as if Daniel hadn't interrupted, "George is retired and his family is here, so he's very happy. And as far as Washington is concerned, and Homeworld Security – well, that's being taken care of with the help of General Lowell and Colonel Davis." He took Daniel's hand in his. "Funny thing – General Lowell should have been the man to step in when George retired. I feel guilty about taking the job."

"How have you been handling it? You and politics, not to mention politicians, aren't exactly on the best of terms."

"I don't honestly know. I can tell you one thing – it hasn't been boring."

"No... I don't suppose. You've probably been in one battle after another."

Jack nodded. "Right now, I'm in the middle of the biggest battle of the war – and I don't think I'm the one who should be leading it." Keeping Daniel's hand in his, he flipped onto his side. Head propped up on his other hand, he said, "They want to take a part of the SGC budget – a large part – and split it between Atlantis and building more ships like the Daedalus. They want to cut the teams down by half, Daniel. No more exploration at all. Only military teams."

Daniel rested his head back and closed his eyes as he said, "Figures."

Surprised, Jack said, "You don't seem very upset."

"Maybe because I'm not. It's over, Jack. I've known that for months." Suddenly he lifted his head and looked at Jack. "Funny. I don't remember anything of the last months, but I remember knowing that."

Jack had a sudden insight – and it blew all ideas for the future right out the window.

Atlantis. Daniel's future.

Who could possibly need him more? Where would his skills be best utilized?

Atlantis.

Well, damn.

***

"You sure you'll be all right for the short time I'll be gone?"

"Of course I will, Jack. Go. Do your thing."

Jack nodded. It was Friday and Jack had just lied to Daniel. Since his – epiphany – Jack had lived on the edge of a cliff. He felt as though he had everything – and was about to lose it. Now he'd lied to Daniel, telling him he needed to get a few things at the store for the party tomorrow, when in reality, he desperately needed to talk with George. With one final glance and a smile, he walked out the front door.

On the drive over to George's daughter's home, Jack tried to marshal his thoughts, prepare them for his ex-commanding officer, but his mind was just too muddled. When he pulled into the driveway, George was on the porch – waiting – as promised.

It was cold out and there was snow on the ground, but they went for a walk in the backyard anyway. Coat collars turned up, they strolled down the rolling, snow-patched covered lawn.

"So, what's wrong?" George finally asked, after Daniel's current health and recovery had been thoroughly discussed.

Jack stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and said, "I've been trying to figure out how to put this into words – these damn feelings – and I'm still at a loss."

"You and Daniel – things are all right there, aren't they?"

"Very. We're – you know."

Smiling gently, George nodded. "I know. And I'm damn happy about it too. So what's wrong?"

"We're not going to win the battle to protect the budget for the SGC. You know it, and I know it. And therein lies the problem -- because there won't be a place for Daniel – and yes, he knows. Funny thing – the one and only thing Daniel remembers of the last four months – is that no one knew what to do with him." Jack shoved his sunglasses to the top of his head. "George, the only place left for Daniel – the one spot in this or any other galaxy where Daniel's skills will not only be of use, but needed – is Atlantis. Which means – I lose him."

"I can see where that kind of long distance relationship would put a crimp in your style, Jack," George said with a smile.

Jack stopped walking and faced his ex-commanding officer. "Wait, you think this is funny?"

"Not at all, but then I know a couple of things you don't."

"Oh, really? Care to share?"

"You and Daniel are slated to go before the Appropriations Committee on February fifth. I fully expect Daniel to change their minds."

"You're ... joking?"

"No. He should be more than able to make the trip by then and if anyone can change their minds – it's him. We should have thought of it a lot earlier, Jack. The man stopped a war with the Unas, for heaven's sake. I think he can take on the Appropriations Committee, don't you? But – if by some stretch of the imagination, he fails – then you go to Atlantis with him."

Jack thought maybe his jaw really had hit the ground – it certainly hurt enough to have dropped on the floor. "Go to Atlantis – with him?"

Apparently his jaw hadn't dropped – he could, after all, talk.

"Go to Atlantis with him, yes, Jack, that's what I said. Why shouldn't you?"

"I... I could," he said as if he'd just discovered the secret to the universe.

"But I suspect you won't have to. I have every faith that between you and Daniel – funding will not be an issue. Of course, he might want to go to Atlantis, in which case, you'd still have a decision—"

"No decision," Jack interrupted. "He wants to go – I'm there."

George smiled at that, but shook his head. "It won't matter. A part of Daniel would love to go but ... the majority of him knows where the real action is, and that's at the SGC."

"Which means I resign from my current position, as planned."

George nodded. "Makes sense. And of course, there's another idea – if the two of you can sell it."

Jack cocked his head. "And that would be?"

"The International Committee has been making sounds about having a representative stationed at the SGC."

Jack felt like shaking his head – maybe he had a screw loose or something. "I don't think I'm catching your point, George."

"Woolsey vacated his spot, which leaves an opening. I think—"

"Woolsey left? But why? He was the President's hand-picked boy."

"He's now working directly for Senator Fisher."

"Oh, that's just great," Jack muttered.

"It is, actually. And I would have thought that the one thing you'd have learned in your months at the Pentagon, was the Woolsey isn't the enemy. Neither is Fisher. They just think they know what's best for the US. It's up to you and Daniel to convince them otherwise. In fact, you two need make it very clear to both committees that Daniel is the person to fill the opening left by Woolsey. Then," he looked Jack squarely in the eyes, "you need to take control of the SGC again."

"You seem to have this whole thing – George, just how long have been you thinking about all of this?"

"Since Hayes told me Woolsey would be leaving. I'll admit – all of this is rather – complicated, but doable."

"And what about Hank?"

George grinned, a grin that Jack could only call – evil – which on George, looked ridiculous.

"Hank could be persuaded to take over Homeworld Security. General Lowell is eager to retire – he's got five years on me – and while he'd sign on should you leave, it's not his preference. And he's not the same kind of fighter Hank is, which is why you chose Hank to replace you in the first place."

"Jeez, you're something else, George. Who'd have thunk it?"

George shrugged. "I've had way too much time to think about this."

Jack gave him a shrewd look. "Maybe you should retake the HWS job, what with all that time on your hands."

George looked out over the lawn and said, "Actually, I have my eyes on something else. Your idea of dividing the Academy is going to happen, Jack. I got word early last week."

Jack's eyes widened. "You're kidding?"

"Nope."

"So... you'd head up the—"

"The Gateway Division – yes, they're even adopting the name you suggested."

"Well, I'll be damned."

George smiled... but a moment later – it faded. "The only real wrinkle is Daniel himself. Convincing him to do this. To go before the—"

"Don't worry about that, George. I'll take care of Daniel," Jack said firmly.

"That's what I was counting on, Jack."

***

Jack decided on nuts. He needed to come back with something from the store, and he was in a nutty mood. Not to mention that whenever you have a party, you're supposed to have little bowls of nuts around – and maybe M&M's – and some bridge mix wouldn't be bad either – so he pulled into the parking lot, his mental list ready. Fifteen minutes later, he was still in the store. Which was crowded. With last minute New Year's shoppers.

He was an idiot.

And which bridge mix? And should he go with cashews or peanuts, or honey-roasted peanuts? Or maybe chocolate-covered macadamia nuts? Or maybe he was going crazy?

He whipped out his cell phone and punched in the number to the house.

//"Hello?"//

Sleepy Daniel. Jack grinned like a fool.

"Hey, Danny, how you feeling?"

//"Erm... fine. You're not here?"//

"Nope, not yet. The store is really jammed – all that last minute food shopping for tomorrow night and Sunday – and Monday."

//"Oh. Okay. What the hell time is it, anyway?"//

"Not too late. I'll be home in a few, okay? You hungry?"

//"I could eat."//

"Want me to cook, or bring home?"

//"Uhm... whatever is easier."//

"I'll surprise you then. You in bed?"

//"You won't think less of me if I say yes?"//

Hearing the humor in Daniel's voice, Jack chuckled. "No, Daniel, I won't think less of you." He lowered his voice. "Janet would be proud."

//"She was bound to rub off on us."//

"Absolutely. Okay, question: You're going to a party. Which of the following would you prefer to see in little bowls around the room. Cashews, honey-roasted peanuts, or chocolate-covered macadamia nuts?"

//"That's a tough one. But... do you see a bag of candied walnuts?"//

Jack's gaze traveled over the rows of nuts... and finally he nodded. "Got 'em."

//"Those are pretty good. And then maybe a can of mixed nuts. Oh, and a can of cashews for you."//

For a strange reason, Jack was feeling very warm all of a sudden. The good kind of warm. The cared-for kind of warm.

"Right. I just put it all in the little basket. Okay, I'm on my way."

//"I'll keep a light on."//

Jack closed the phone and, content that he had what he needed for his unnecessary trip to the market – although he did now have a tin of cashews for himself and an extra bag of the candied walnuts for Daniel – he headed for the check-out.

An eternity later, he was finally in the car and headed home.

Supermarket shopping before New Year's was a no-no in the future. Lying about needing to shop was AOK, but next time, a gas station quik-mart would be his poison of choice.

***

"Good?"

Daniel, whose mouth was full, nodded. It was enough. Jack had made the right choice. A hot, home-cooked meal – courtesy of Emma's Diner, which he'd passed on the way home. He'd immediately remembered how much Daniel enjoyed the 'fried' meatloaf, so he'd pulled in and ordered their dinner. Emma was behind the counter and, once he'd told her the meal was for Daniel, she'd jumped into preparing the meatloaf and trimmings herself. She also packaged the food so that by the time he'd arrived home – everything was still piping hot and ready to serve.

As Jack looked at their plates, he had to admit that Emma threw together one incredible meal. Her cooking was definitely comfort food – but very upscale and with a gourmet touch. The meatloaf was hand-formed, baked, then sliced thin, lightly dredged in flour and cooked in olive oil until the outside was crispy. The slices were then piled on top of a decorative mound of the best red-skinned mashed potatoes this side of the Pegasus Galaxy. Sautéed mushrooms (in wine and butter) rounded out the plate and salad topped with fresh chopped vegetables helped alleviate the guilt of eating the gourmet comfort food.

When they were done, Jack cleared away the mess and then helped Daniel into the living room. Once he got him settled with the exercise balls he'd been sent home with, he went back, tidied up the kitchen and got some fresh coffee brewing. Emma had included two pieces of apple pie with their dinner and Jack figured by the time Daniel was done working his left arm and hand, they'd both be ready for dessert. Later, he'd look at getting a few things done for the party tomorrow.

Walking back into the living room, he noticed the grimace on Daniel's face as he flexed one of the smaller balls in his hand. Frowning, he said, "Does it hurt?"

"What?"

Jack indicated Daniel's hand. "That. The squeezing." He sat down next to him, his expression one of concern.

"Not really – it's just a pain in the ass. Reminds me a lot of you."

"In that case, when the doctors tell you they're no longer necessary, we'll have them bronzed so you'll never forget me."

"Like I could do that to you, Jim? Never."

The reference to the name Daniel had called him after being found on Vis Uban startled Jack, but then he grinned wryly. "Oh, you're a wit tonight."

"I try," Daniel said with a dazzling smile even as he dropped the small ball and picked up the larger to begin the exercise again.

"How 'bout a fire?"

"Goes without saying, doesn't it?"

Jack couldn't argue with that. While Daniel kept squeezing, Jack got up, knelt down in front of the fireplace – with a groan at the protest his knees put up -- and piled a few logs on the grate before adding kindling and a couple of pinecones. He reached for the long matches, took one out of the tube and, after crumpling up a few pages of the morning newspaper and tucking them in and around the wood, he struck the match and set the edges of paper aflame. He then sat back on his heels to watch the sputtering flames catch, grow, and spread. Satisfied, he got up and walked back to Daniel.

"Do you need the light on?" he asked as he stood over Daniel.

"Nope. It'll be nice with just the firelight."

Jack took his seat next to Daniel again, reached over and turned off the light on the end table. "Nice," he murmured.

"Very," Daniel agreed.

Jack settled back comfortably, repositioned the couch pillows behind him and sighed happily. He thought he could watch Daniel forever, even doing something as mundane as squeezing a rubber ball.

"You know," Daniel suddenly said. "There are other balls I could squeeze. Other things I could practice on, so to speak."

Jack thanked God he wasn't eating or drinking anything. As it was – he nearly choked on his tongue. "Excuse ... me?" he was finally able to say.

"Just a thought," Daniel said.

"Daniel... Daniel... you still have your stitches. They don't come out for another week or more and the fact is – you're not up to, you know... other balls."

Daniel looked at him then. A look Jack doubted he'd ever forget – and a look he wanted to see for the rest of his life. Which basically confirmed his seat of honor in the Horniest Man Hall of Fame because it was the lustiest – and was that even a word? – look he'd ever seen on anyone and aimed at him. Hell, aimed at anyone.

Jack swallowed hard, blinked, looked again – and yep, it was still there. Lust and desire radiating out of those incredible blue eyes and damn, he was actually breathless. But... Daniel was a couple of days out of the hospital – and it would be wrong on oh, so many levels.

For crying out loud – the man's chest was sewn up like quilt.

Wrong. Just wrong.

And he was a strong man. Horny he may be, but that didn't mean he had to give into it. So there.

"Daniel, get that look out of your eyes right now because it's not going anywhere, understood? When your stitches come out – we'll look at exercising a new set of balls – but until then – damn it, Daniel, would you at least look away?"

Smirking, Daniel turned his head away as he said, "Who knew you were so virtuous?"

"I am not virtuous, Daniel. But I'm not going to let anything happen to you that would put you back in the hospital, all right? Now damn it, be good."

Chuckling, Daniel said, "Bet you never thought you'd hear yourself say that to me – under these particular circumstances."

"Ya think?"

Daniel turned back to him, smiled that dazzling smile again, and said, "You're all right, Jack O'Neill. You're all right."

Jack O'Neill puffed up like a peacock.

***

"Okay, this place smells terrific," Daniel said as Jack helped him out into the living room. He'd been in bed all day – at Jack's order – in preparation for the evening's festivities, and now, well rested and dressed in dark slacks and a navy blue crew-neck sweater, he was ready for their guests.

Jack had been prepping most of the day and the pumpkin pie had just come out of the oven -- thus the heavenly odor. The prime rib was seasoned and waiting its turn in the oven, as were the potatoes and the creamed corn. The salad was in the fridge and the spinach was drying. He had the mini-bar set up on the counter that separated the kitchen from the dining room so that all he needed to do when the guests started arriving was to put the ice in the bucket. And no, he wasn't worried about his guests drinking and driving since most of them would be 'drop-ins' so that they could say their hellos to Daniel. They'd be either moving on to other parties, or to welcome in the new year in the relative safety of their homes. The core family group, however, would be spending the night. The guest room was ready for Sam and Cassie while the den was set up for Teal'c and Lou. George would stay for awhile, but ultimately would be ringing in the new year with his daughter and grandchildren, both of whom were now old enough to make it to midnight.

Jack smiled down at Daniel and said proudly, "You know, in a crunch, I'm pretty good at this 'nursing slash party planner' thing."

"So the hors d'oeuvres are ready then?"

Jack looked puzzled. "Er... hors d'oeuvres?"

"You know, appetizers, munchies? For the drop-ins? Vegetables and dips, chips, yadda-yadda?"

Jack looked around the room and, puzzled, said, "But that's what the nut bowls are all about."

"Jack, a couple of bowls of nuts aren't going to cut it. You need 'stuff'. And since Sam would know that, there must be stuff in the freezer. Did you look?"

Looking like a five year old – a petulant one at that – Jack said, "No-o."

"So... do you want to go look?" Daniel asked with a waggle of his eyebrows and thus his glasses.

"Daniel, they don't need 'stuff'. Nuts and drinks and saying hello to you is it, you know?"

"Don't make me get up," Daniel warned.

"Damn." Jack rose to his feet and headed for the kitchen. As he went, he said, "Will I know this 'stuff' when I see it?"

"Yeah, Jack, you'll know it."

Yeah, right, Jack thought. He opened the freezer and peered inside. He tapped his fingers on the door and chewed his lower lip. He closed the door and walked back into the living room. "Okay, there are several boxes in the freezer, blue boxes. They say they have a," he looked up at the ceiling, 'variety of appetizers including fresh tomato mini- quiches, asparagus mini-quiche, tortilla cornucopia, mushroom phyllo triangles and bleu cheese puff pastries'." He looked back down at Daniel and asked, "Would that qualify?"

"Yep. Now open the boxes, put the 'stuff' on cookie sheets, and start baking them. If all my dishes are here – and since we've been eating off of them – I can assume they are, you'll find a couple of platters for serving the goodies."

Jack touched his forehead and then his chest as he bowed. "At your will, Master."

"Putz."

***

The house was full, the sound of voices filling every nook and cranny. From five o'clock on, members of the SGC had been dropping by -- as planned -- to see Daniel, say hello to their two generals, and wish all a Happy New Year. The hors d'oeuvres had gone over very well, and thank God for Cassie, who'd taken over as hostess upon her arrival. Now Jack could sit with Daniel and watch him as SGC personnel showed their love, respect and admiration for their archaeologist. The number of emotions that trooped across the handsome face – the almost constantly red handsome face – was a wonder to behold.

And suddenly very illuminating too, Jack realized.

In all the times he'd died – and returned – Daniel had never experienced anything even remotely like this. His first resurrection, after blowing up Apophis's ships, had meant something only to the other members of SG-1, Daniel having glossed over the reason for the separation to George. When they brought him back from Nem's planet there'd been no hugs, just a ton of sushi jokes and good-natured complaints about "owing" everyone for the wake, the food and the drinks. Daniel had also been forced to listen to everyone – again good-naturedly and in great detail -- describing Jack's "full of bullshit" speech on Daniel's behalf.

After his descension – things had been very odd, with everyone, including SG-1, choosing to act as if nothing had really happened. Sure, that philosophy could have been blamed on the fact that Daniel had no memory – but the blame would have been misplaced. Lack of memory doesn't mean you don't share your joy at having someone lost to you – back again. But there was no sharing of anything other than a few "good to have you back – from wherever, Dr. Jackson."

Now Jack found himself wondering if the lack of any real reaction had somehow affected the way in which Daniel remembered his past. After all, if Victim A comes back from the dead with no memory – and is treated as if his absence had little impact – would regaining said memories be tainted by the lack of emotion? Would the way Victim A viewed themself be equally affected in the negative? But Jack quickly realized that if so, Daniel would never have shown it to anyone. He had, in fact, simply slipped back into the swing of things, maybe a bit quieter, a bit more laid back, but he hadn't taken long to resume the mantle of Doctor Daniel Jackson, member of SG-1, had he?

But... by the same token, he'd never really been the same Daniel. He'd been more like someone observing from a distance. Observing rather than living.

Okay, now Jack was confusing himself. He sighed and went back to Daniel-watching.

***

Dinner had been planned for approximately nine and it was now a quarter to. The drop-ins had come and gone and, while Daniel looked tired, it was in a happy, relaxed way that left Jack wondering if he'd make it to midnight.

Cassie and Sam had taken over in the kitchen and Jack could hear them laughing and talking as they puttered about getting the last of the meal ready. George had come and gone, but promised to join them the next day for football. His day was free since the Rose Parade in California – a family viewing event with his granddaughters – was on Monday.

Lou was sitting with Daniel at the moment, and they were both going over a book on bathing suits throughout the ages – a gift to Daniel from Lou – and laughing their heads off. Well, Daniel was laughing as well as he could considering the bandages and stitches. Teal'c was watching with interest, but clearly mystified as to why such "bathing uniforms" should solicit laughter at all.

Jack was just about to educate him when Cassie bounced in to announce that dinner was ready. He moved quickly at that point in order to help Daniel up and, with Teal'c on the other side, they got him into the dining room.

The overhead light had been dimmed and several lit candles were scattered over the table, causing Daniel to give a low whistle of appreciation as he sat down. All the side dishes were in place and as Jack took his seat, Sam came out carrying a platter with the sliced prime rib, Cassie right behind her with a bowl of au jus and another one of horseradish. The roast was "modeled" amidst much oohing and ahhing, with Jack preening and demanding the appropriate kudos for the dinner.

Eventually, the food was passed around and, from his end of the table, Jack looked at Daniel through the candlelight – and winked. Daniel grinned and winked back. If anyone thought about the significance of the two men taking each end – they were keeping it to themselves. But as Jack took the roast platter, he made a decision.

At midnight, he had every intention of kissing Daniel. On the mouth. In front of everyone.

***

"I think we should put the game up," Jack suggested. "It's a quarter to midnight."

"Good thinking," Lou said. "Cassie's winning anyway."

Lou, Cassie, Sam and Teal'c had put up the card table at ten and sat down to play the poker version of scrabble while Daniel rested – and yes, napped. Jack had taken over the job of cheerleader and referee of the game while remaining seated next to Daniel, their shoulders touching. Now he got up and went into the kitchen for the champagne while Cassie got the hats and whistles she'd brought with her.

Once the champagne was opened and the television turned on and tuned to ABC, Jack moved to Daniel's side. He bent over and... blew in Daniel's ear. He knew the others were watching now – probably smiling – so he did it again and followed it up with, "Oh, Danny boy, wakey-wakey."

Daniel's eyes slid open and, after blinking a few times, he said, "Jack?"

"None other. Nice nap?"

"Nap?" Daniel asked around a yawn.

"Nap. It's almost midnight."

"Wait, isn't it ... New Year's Eve?"

Jack grinned. "Yeah, Daniel, it's New Year's Eve. Care to join us in ringing it in?"

Since Daniel wasn't actually lying down, it was a simple matter to help him swing his legs around and get him propped up with pillows at his back. He smiled almost shyly at everyone as he said, "Sorry, guys. I guess I drifted off."

"You were supposed to, Daniel," Sam said with a smile. She handed him a glass of champagne, put a finger to her lips and said, "On the QT – we won't snitch – and it is a special occasion."

Daniel took the offered flute of sparkling wine and made a small humming noise to show his appreciation. "No wonder I love New Year's so much," he said as he rotated the glass between his fingers.

He started to sip it, but Jack stopped him. "Tht-tht, not until midnight, Dr. Jackson. You only get one glass – unlike the rest of us – so save it for the appropriate moment."

"Well, drat."

"Well said, DanielJackson," Teal'c smirked.

"Jack, Teal'c just... smirked. He smirked," Daniel said in wonder.

"He's gotten damn good at it too," Jack observed.

"It is my 'O'Neill' smirk," Teal'c responded proudly.

"No wonder it looked so familiar," Daniel said dryly.

"On that note," Jack picked up one of the party hats, "you need this, Daniel." He then pulled the band and put the hat on top of Daniel's head, allowing the band to fit snugly under the younger man's chin. "There, now you look ready for the New Year."

"Look Teal'c – the O'Neill smirk," Daniel said as he pointed to Jack's face. "You really have nailed it." Then he held out his hand to Cassie, who was holding a couple of hats. "Give me one of those, Cass. I think Jack looks a bit too naked for ringing in the year."

Laughing, Cassie handed him the more garish of the two and Daniel snagged Jack's shirt before he could move away. "Oh, no you don't. If we have to wear them – so do you." He plopped it on Jack's head and let the band snap under Jack's chin.

"O-w. Who knew you had such a violent streak?" Jack said as he rubbed his neck.

"That would be you," Daniel said rather smugly.

"Oh, look, there's Times Square," Cassie interjected excitedly. "I've always wanted to be there on New Year's Eve."

"It's insane," Daniel said.

"You've been there on the thirty-first?"

He smiled at Cass and nodded. "When you go – and I'm sure you will – just remember to breathe. I didn't. Major claustrophobic episode."

"You have now hit the nail on the head as to why I've never done it. Oh, I've been there on the thirty-first, but chose to watch from high above," Jack offered. "All those bodies pressing against each other – nowhere to go, no way out – brrrrr."

"Guys? It's eleven fifty-eight," Sam said.

"Jack, it's eleven fifty-eight," Daniel intoned.

"Daniel, did you know that it's eleven fifty-eig-nine?"

"There goes the ball!" Cassie exclaimed, almost jumping up and down where she stood.

Jack quickly got to his feet and helped Daniel to his. Hats on, they watched the television screen as the ball continued its descent. At twenty seconds to midnight, Jack took the champagne from Daniel's hand and set it down along with his own, in spite of the puzzled look on Daniel's face.

At ten seconds, he slipped his arm around Daniel's waist as he faced him. Daniel's puzzled expression was backed up by a whispered, "Jack?"

At midnight, just as the rest of the gang was yelling "Happy New Year" to each other, Jack kissed Daniel with all the love and passion in his heart.

***

Cassie turned to hug her "Uncle" Jack, but found him kissing her "Uncle" Daniel. Mouth open, she could only stare. It was... it looked so... wow. A gasp next to her forced her to tear her eyes from the sight and focus on Sam, who was staring just as open-mouthed as Cassie.

"Sam?" she whispered. "Are you—"

"Wow," Sam breathed out. "That's... they're ...."

"Hot?" Cassie offered with a half-smile.

Nodding slowly, Sam said, "Hot."

"Euwwww," Lou said as he held a hand up to Teal'c's eyes. "Teal'c should not be seeing this – he's too young."

Jack finally pulled away, leaving a glassy-eyed and flushed Daniel in his wake. "Lou, Teal'c is older than you, me and Daniel combined."

"And I am not witnessing anything I haven't seen many times," Teal'c said. "I am glad to see that you and DanielJackson have come to terms with your relationship."

Blinking rapidly, Daniel said, "In the room here, hello?"

Running his thumb along Daniel's bottom lip, Jack said softly, "I can attest to that."

Rolling his eyes, Daniel said, "Happy New Year. Cassie, get over here for a hug and a kiss."

"A gentle hug," Jack reminded. "Bandages."

Smiling, Cassie moved into Daniel's arms. When she was done, everyone got into the act as New Year's hugs and kisses were exchanged. When Sam moved into Daniel's open arms, he whispered into her hair, "Are you okay?"

Eyes closed, she held on tight – but careful of his injury – and murmured, "More than. It's so right – the two of you. So very right. I love you, Daniel. I should have told you a long time ago – I didn't even say it after Kelowna, but I should have. I love you so much."

He palmed the back of her head, rested his cheek against her hair and said, "I love you too, Sam."

***

Jack moved silently through the house, double checking that everything was secure. It was after one and everyone was in bed, having decided to hit the sack around twelve-thirty, following the first toast of the new year and another attack on the second pumpkin pie. As he made his way back to the bedroom, he smiled in memory of what he was now calling the "midnight" kiss. He hadn't expected the way in which Daniel would kiss him back, though. Even now the feel of it was more real than the moment he was living in, and that was saying something.

He walked into the semi-darkened bedroom, took off his robe and quickly slipped into bed next to Daniel, who said sleepily, "All secure, are we?"

"We are."

"Finish off the pie?"

"I did."

Daniel chuckled low as Jack got himself comfortable, a process that took some time and reminded Daniel of a dog settling in, circling its pile of blankets, digging in until the bed was just right. As Jack punched the pillow one last time, he said, "What?"

"You and the way you have to get the bed just right. One of these days I'm going to film it. It's very educational."

"Bored with me already?" Jack asked as he flopped onto his side.

"Not even. You're fun to watch."

"So are you, Handsome."

Daniel laughed outright at that. "Whoa, you flyboys really know how to dish out the lines. In case you missed it, I'm a sure thing now. Well, I will be, when the damn stitches come out."

"What, I can't compliment you? And it's not like you're not handsome. You are, and I can say so whenever I damn well please," Jack said with a shit-eating grin on his face.

"Yeah, well, you're pretty damn good-looking yourself, and now that we're done with our mutual admiration society, how 'bout some shut-eye?"

Jack reached out and ran his hand down the side of Daniel's face. "Do you mind if I try something?"

"No."

Looking surprised, Jack said, "Just like that?"

"Yes."

"Sweet. Tell me if it hurts, okay?"

"O-k-ay."

Jack scooted over and, being very careful to avoid the stitches that ran beneath Daniel's breastbone, he put his head down over Daniel's heart. With his arm across Daniel's stomach, he closed his eyes and listened.

"Jack?"

"Am I hurting you?"

"No, but—"

"Your heart. I just want to listen to your heart."

Daniel put his hand on Jack's head, closed his eyes, and prayed his stitches would come out early.

***

Everyone slept in on New Year's day, but by the time they were moving around, bleary-eyed, stomachs were growling and, by some kind of silent agreement, everyone moved toward the kitchen. Still clad in their pajamas, robes, slippers and sporting various degrees of bedhead, they all worked together to make pancakes, sausages, eggs and fruit. Daniel supervised from the kitchen table, which meant that he drank orange juice, was snuck bits of fruit by Cassie and read the morning paper. When the food was ready, they sat down with him and, acting as though none of them had eaten in days, scarfed the food down.

The rest of the day was spent snoozing, watching games, snacking and generally having a great time. But as all great times do, this one had to end and Jack found himself actually sorry when Lou and Teal'c left, followed by Sam and Cassie. Of course, the good news was that he was left alone with Daniel.

Who was sound asleep.

"Ah, my Sleeping Prince," Jack said as he sat down in the recliner and grabbed the remote. Grinning, he kept the volume down and started looking for another game.

***

For the five days leading up to Cassie and Sam's return to Nevada, life was quiet and easy, with Sam and Cassie permanent fixtures. They watched television, played cards or their poker board game, talked, cooked and basically enjoyed life with Daniel in it. Unfortunately, on the third of January, Teal'c had to return to Dakara, but knowing that Daniel was well on the road to a full recovery made leaving bearable. Besides, he intended to return at every possible opportunity.

Eventually, Sunday the eighth rolled around and it was time for Cassie and Sam to leave. It could have been a very teary farewell on Sam's part, except Jack had talked with her about the SGC and the plans he and George had made, and Sam's return wouldn't be permanent, not that Daniel knew that. Jack still hadn't shared anything of his talk with George, but planned to – right after the stitches came out.

Since it was snowing, everyone decided that Daniel should remain home while Jack drove Sam and Cassie to the airport, so hugs and kisses were exchanged in the doorway. As Cassie stood on tiptoe to kiss Daniel's cheek, she whispered, "Love you, and thank you again for the mirror and brush set. I'll cherish it forever."

"Love you too, sweetie. Be good and if you need anything, you call, okay?"

"You know I will." Cassie turned away before Daniel could see the tears in her eyes. She almost ran to the truck where Sam and Jack were waiting, but turned around to give Daniel a final wave.

As she got in next to Jack and Sam slipped in next to her, she made her own decision. The University of Colorado, Colorado Springs was just as good as Nevada.

***

On January tenth, Jack drove Daniel to his appointment with Lam and sat outside the examining room awaiting the verdict. Thirty minutes later, both came out, Daniel still buttoning up his shirt. Carolyn was smiling and said, "Two more weeks and those stitches can come out. You're healing very nicely, Dr. Jackson."

"Don't you think by now, it should be ... Daniel?"

She grinned. "You're healing very nicely – Daniel."

"So two more weeks?" Jack said as he got up and held out Daniel's coat.

"Yes, General. He's doing beautifully."

"Sweet."

"Just keep up the good work, Daniel, and I'll be able to restore you to full duty."

Jack was looking at Daniel as Lam spoke and spotted the strange look that came over his face. Puzzled, he tried to pin the look down as they said their goodbyes and headed out.

It was on the drive home that it came to him. The look had been ... trepidation. Daniel didn't want to return to work because, of course, that meant things back the way they'd been and Jack back in Washington. Maybe it was time to tell him.

"Hey, want me to stop anywhere for lunch?"

"Nah. Not really up to it, Jack. But if you want something to take home, no problem."

"Oh, okay."

He hadn't missed the somber tone and Jack decided to stop at Pho's and get Daniel's favorite meal. He pulled into the mini-mall, parked in front of the restaurant and said, "Surprise."

Grinning, Daniel said, "Cool. You remember what I like?"

"Please," Jack said as if Daniel could even think that he wouldn't. "I'm leaving the engine running so you'll have the heater. Be back in a flash."

He jumped out and hurried into the restaurant, eager to elevate Daniel's mood in preparation for his "news".

***

Daniel sat in the warm truck and looked around. It had been awhile since he'd been outside for any length of time and he settled back, eager to do some people-watching. It was snowing again, but lightly, and it wasn't keeping folks from doing what they wanted to do, but then, in Colorado Springs, it rarely did. His gaze moved to the liquor store ... and he frowned.

His fingers tightened around the bottom of his jacket as the snow faded and the scene changed....

The liquor store.

Three men. Okay, he'd been told that much, but now... now he could see them.

Daniel closed his eyes as odd smells and weird sounds surrounded him. The jangling of a bell, a woman's gasp, sharp commands, breaking glass, and finally... finally pain as something slammed into him.

Breathing was suddenly difficult but he managed to say one word....

"Jack...."

***

"General O'Neill, it has been too long," Danh Pho said from behind the counter at the back of the restaurant.

"It has. How was your holiday?"

"Very nice, General. And yours?"

"Excellent."

Danh, the owner of the restaurant, leaned forward and asked, "Could you... would you be able to tell me how Mr. Jackson is? We have been most worried since the shooting and he has been in our prayers. My son, Robbie, was preparing Mr. Jackson's dinner at the time and has been very worried."

Jack should have put it together. He was a smart man, but admittedly, after the shooting, his mind had been otherwise occupied with whether or not Daniel would live. Finding out where the shooting had occurred simply hadn't been a part of his agenda, especially once Daniel had awakened with four months of his life gone. The police hadn't been an issue once they'd been told of Daniel's condition and, thankfully, there'd been enough people involved to take care of putting the three gunmen away when the trial rolled around. But now, to realize that Daniel had to have been at the liquor store next door – shit, it hit Jack like a sledge hammer. Even so, he managed to stammer out, "He's fine, Mr. Pho. Recovering nicely... in fact, he's in the truck."

Pho bowed slightly and said, "I will tell my son and my wife. Thank you. Perhaps when the food is ready, you will allow me to bring it out to you, and thus offer my good wishes to Mr. Jackson?"

"He'd... appreciate that. Thank you."

Jack started to pay him, but Pho waved him off. "No, no, Mr. Jackson paid last time but never ate – this is on my family and I, please. We would be most honored.

Anxious to get out to the truck, Jack nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Pho. And happy New Year."

With that, he hurried outside, needing nothing more than to make sure Daniel was all right. He knew on one level that Daniel didn't remember, but still, better safe than sorry.

***

Daniel walked slowly into the liquor store, his eyes taking in every detail. There was a man buying cigarettes at the counter and a boy of maybe fourteen or fifteen standing in front of the magazine rack, a motorcycle magazine in his hand.

Daniel walked uncertainly toward the counter, but stopped halfway. He looked down at the floor....

//... wet and sticky. Something warm and thick at his mouth... breathing so difficult... and a face moving close before swimming away....

"Can you hear me, Mr. Jackson? We're going to transport you to the hospital, just hang on...."

He could hear snatches of conversation, panicked words....

"He just dived in front of her and went down. We tried to stop the bleeding, and we could hear the air escaping and it made this horrible sound...."

"He saved me... he saved me... oh, God, my water... my water broke!"

Pain, darkness, a sense of aloneness again... a cold, hard surface, a woman smiling wickedly above him as blood dripped from the sharp, silver implement that had once been a hand... the overwhelming sense of failure... of knowing his death would mean nothing, would go unnoticed....

If only he could see Jack one last time ... just see his face or hear is voice... one ... last ... time....//

"Mr. Jackson? Oh, God, let me get my chair from the back room. Just... stay here, don't move... I'll be right back."

Daniel blinked rapidly and found himself staring at the boy with the motorcycle magazine.

"It's okay, mister, don't worry. Eddie went to get you a chair to sit on." He put his hand on Daniel's arm and smiled. "He said you were the one. The guy who saved his life. Are you, sir? Are you?"

"Don't pester him, Joey, now move out of my way... that's it. Okay, Mr. Jackson, just sit down right here...."

Ed Lauer, the owner of the liquor store, gently pushed Daniel down onto the chair. "Joey, get me one of the cold waters from the case, would you?"

"Sure, no problemo. Wait til I tell my dad about this."

"Go, Joey. Hurry."

Daniel swiped a hand over his face and said, "Sorry, Mr. Lauer, I didn't mean to—"

"Don't you dare apologize, Mr. Jackson. I owe my life to you. I was at the hospital when you were in ICU, saw all the folks from Cheyenne Mountain, knew they'd take care of you. Sent flowers when you were moved to another room. A nice man, General Hammond, told us about the coma, us being my wife, Loretta and me, and that you didn't remember anything... oh, damn, I shouldn't have said—"

"It's all right, Mr. Lauer – I'm remembering."

Joey skidded to a stop next to Lauer and handed him the cold bottle of Dasani. Lauer twisted off the top and put it in Daniel's hand. "Drink this, it will make you feel better," he said in a tone very reminiscent of Jack.

Smiling, Daniel did as he was told – and the water truly hit the spot in spite of the cold outside. He felt instantly better and anchored once again in the present. Sort of.

He glanced to his right ... and down... and of course the blood had been cleaned. He must have left a great deal of blood... poor Mr. Lauer, having to clean it up....

***

Jack hit the sidewalk and... froze.

Daniel wasn't in the truck.

"Daniel, so help me...."

He turned around so that he was facing the liquor store and let out a whoosh of air.

Daniel appeared to be sitting in the middle of the store.

He took the necessary steps to the door, pushed it open and walked in. Daniel, who'd been looking at the floor, glanced up and his eyes widened. In a manner definitely atypical of Daniel, he said, simply, "Whoops."

"Understatement, Daniel. Major understatement." He moved quickly to his side and, hand on his shoulder, asked, "You okay?"

"I am now. Mr. Lauer was kind enough to bring out a chair and offer me this," he held up the water, "which really hit the spot."

Jack looked over at the store owner and said, "Thank you for taking care of him, Mr. Lauer."

"Not at all, General O'Neill. Not at all. I owe him—"

"Yes, well," Daniel said quickly as he rose – rather unsteadily – to his feet. "We should be going."

Seeing the need to get 'the heck out' in Daniel's eyes, Jack nodded and took his arm helpfully. "Our dinner is almost ready anyway. Thanks again, Mr. Lauer. See you later and Happy New Year."

"Yes, Happy New Year," Daniel repeated. "You too, Joey, and thanks."

The boy nodded happily before looking over at Jack and saying, "Do you need any help, General?"

Smiling at the thoughtfulness, Jack shook his head. "No, but thank you, son."

Looking disappointed, Joey hung his head until Daniel said, "Actually, would you mind carrying the water, Joey?"

Head shooting up and, with a grin to beat the band, Joey said, "Sure!" He took the bottle as if it were a baby, and followed Jack and Daniel out.

At the truck, Jack helped Daniel inside and, with a grateful smile, took the water from the boy. "Thanks again, Joey."

"My pleasure, General. Bye, Mr. Jackson. See you around."

"Bye, Joey, and happy New Year."

With a wave, the boy ran off, obviously eager to tell his family about meeting the hero of the One-Stop Liquor Mart.

Shaking his head in wonder, Jack got in on the driver's side and held out his hand for the keys, which Daniel, after fumbling for them in his jacket pocket, placed in the open palm.

"Sorry I was gone when you got back. I kind of—"

"Remembered?"

"Yeah, sort of. I realized this is where it happened. I don't remember anything leading up to it – just a bunch of feelings and sounds and... stuff."

Jack started the truck to get the heater going again as he said, "Oh, yeah. 'Stuff'. It's the 'stuff' that'll get you every time."

"Sorry if I worried you," Daniel said uneasily.

"You always worry me, Daniel. Sound asleep and you worry me, okay? Anyone who dies as often as you do, well, you tend to worry folks. I'm just sorry that I didn't realize this is where... you know... that it happened."

"Yeah, all your fault, really. You're impossible, now that I think about it," Daniel said, one eyebrow raised, daring Jack to argue with him.

Smiling foolishly, Jack said, "Okay, I get it. We're both idiots."

Daniel held up a finger. "Wrong. Only one idiot in this truck and I'm looking at him. I was in a coma, can't be blamed for anything, including not remembering other 'stuff'."

"Hey, which one of us threw themselves in front of a stranger, huh?"

"That would be me, but if you'd been there, you'd have done it too. Only difference is – you would have died because you simply don't have the same practice with dying that I do."

Jack scratched his chin at that and said, "O-kay – that makes a certain amount of sense."

"Damn right it does."

Before Jack could say anything else, Pho was hurrying toward the truck, hands full of bagged food. Jack rolled the window down and took them even as Pho nodded and smiled at Daniel.

"So very glad to see you looking so well, Mr. Jackson."

Daniel leaned forward enough to see around Jack as he said, "Thank you, Mr. Pho. Say hi to your wonderful family for me."

"I will."

"Are you going to have another open house to celebrate Tet on the twenty-ninth?"

"We are, and we pray you will join us again this year. It is the year of the dog."

"We wouldn't miss it, Mr. Pho. We'll be here," Daniel assured.

Pho stepped away and touched his heart before waving goodbye.

***

From the comfort of a chair at the kitchen table, Daniel took the food out of the bags while Jack got out the plates, bowls, napkins, glasses, juice and beer. Daniel sniffed appreciatively at the delicious foods as he took off foil tops, opened cartons, and unpackaged the chopsticks. As soon as Jack joined him, the two of them started parceling out the egg rolls, sour fish soup, fried rice with sausage, crab and shrimp and the stir-fried lamb with mint and chili.

It had always amazed Daniel that he and Jack loved the exact same foods and, as he plucked a sausage from the rice with his chopsticks, wondered if he liked it because Jack did or if Jack liked it because he did.

The great puzzle of life. Which came first? Jack doing it or Daniel?

Smiling at the thought, Daniel popped the sausage into his mouth and "mmmmed" gratefully.

"I don't know which I like the most, the way you look when we eat Pho's or the way you sound," Jack said as he poured Daniel's juice and twisted the top of his beer.

Daniel chewed happily even as he picked up an egg roll. Waving it in the air, he said, "Heaven, that's all. Pure heaven."

"Yeah," Jack said as he smiled tenderly at his friend, life-partner, whatever, "Heaven."

***

"It's safe to say that I'm one stuffed puppy," Daniel said as he sat back and regarded the mess on the table with a jaundiced eye. "To quote someone, somewhere, 'I can't believe I ate the whole thing.'"

Laughing, Jack started clearing the table and, when Daniel looked as though he were about to help, said, "Aht! I don't think so, Daniel. Stay put – I'll do this."

"You've been doing for a week, Jack. Come on, I can help."

"If I recall correctly," Jack mused as he carried their plates and bowls to the sink, "Dr. Lam said if you keep doing what you've been doing, those stitches come out in just two more weeks. That means I clean up and you sit and watch." He turned on the water and, as he rinsed the dishes in preparation for the dishwasher, added, "Given our history, there will, undoubtedly, be a future event that will require you to do this for me."

Laughing, Daniel said, "Actually, given our history—"

Jack held up a wet and dripping hand, "Right – I'll be doing this again in the future."

Daniel decided to keep his mouth shut. On the other hand, maybe now was the time to tell Jack about his decision – the one he'd just made.

"Uhm, Jack?"

"Yeah?"

"When you have the stuff in the dishwasher, sit back down – we need to talk."

"Funny you should say that – there's a few things I'd like to discuss with you too."

Nervous now, Daniel started gathering up the trash on the table, readying it for dumping. He had to work hard to keep his hands from shaking.

***

"Okay," Jack said as he pulled his chair out and sat back down. "The kitchen is spotless and I've put this off long enough. Obviously, we need to consider our future as well as our jobs—"

"Actually, Jack, I'm... going to resign."

"... and how – what?"

"I'm going to resign. I can probably find something to do in Washington or Virginia."

As quickly as Daniel said it, his hopeful expression took a nose-dive. "Damn, that won't work, will it? People would definitely wonder, right? I mean, General O'Neill goes back to work, his archaeologist in tow?"

"Okay, I admit it, you've managed to throw me for a loop," Jack said, stunned by Daniel's announcement. "But maybe there's another road to travel, which brings us to ... my news."

"Your news?"

"Yeah." Looking as nervous as Daniel, Jack went on. "See, George and I had a nice talk the day I went to the store for—"

"That would be for... nuts, right?" Daniel said sarcastically.

"Er, right. Anyway, uhm, we talked about ... and I explained my decision to retire, and he came up with another idea, actually, one that he'd been thinking about for awhile. You know about the proposed budget cuts, right?"

"Of course," Daniel said, suspicion coloring his tone.

"You and I are slated to go before the Appropriations Committee in early February."

Daniel stared at him. And stared at him a bit longer before finally asking slowly, "Why would he want me to go?"

"Gee, I don't know, maybe because you're our numero uno first contact go-to guy?"

"Who's never been asked to address any politicians in the past, and only a few aliens, and usually when there were ulterior motives I knew nothing about," Daniel said matter-of-factly.

"Boy, you're never going to let me live that one down, are you?"

Daniel sniffed with disdain. "I don't know what you mean."

"Like you were ever really angry with me? I don't think so. You probably had the whole thing figured out from the moment I stole that thing-a-majig from the Tollans."

"I did."

"See? Now, can we get back to the matter at hand?"

"Which is the ridiculous idea that the Appropriations Committee would listen to anything I had to say. And what's the purpose anyway? How does that help us? How does it get me to Washington and in your apartment, and consequently, in your bed?"

"Okay, getting you in my bed was not the reason George penned us in, okay? One doesn't usually use the AC to get someone in their bed."

"Like anyone believes that," Daniel sniffed again.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Okay, serious here. The International Committee is losing a representative – namely Woolsey. George wants you named in his place and he thinks he can get that to happen, especially if you're convincing with the AC. Now, why would you want to be on the IC? Because they want to place a member with the SGC – to oversee the project, get it? And who better – than you?"

"This is without a doubt, the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my entire life, Jack."

"But you'll do it, and you'll be brilliant, and we could even buy this house—"

"But you're still in Washington, hello?"

"Oh, I forgot the best part. Heh. See... okay... we're going to play a little game of shuffle the generals." At Daniel's puzzled look, he smiled. "Lowell wants to retire, so he's out as far as taking over Homeworld Security is concerned. But Landry would love the job. And he'd be great. He's got the forked tongue required when dealing with politicians, if you know what I mean. He also has friends in high places, knows the ins and outs of Washington, and he loves the SGC, would do what it takes to protect it. Which leaves... me. Now, if you've been following our 'shuffle-the-generals' game, you may be able to predict where to move General Jonathan 'Jack' O'Neill." He cocked his head. "Well?"

Daniel scratched behind his ear, pulled on the edge of it, and said with an endearing expression on his face, "Back to the SGC?"

"Check and checkmate," Jack said triumphantly. "We'll be working side-by-side, running the place together, and at the end of the day, guess who'll be in whose bed?"

"Given that it's my bed – I guess you'll be in it with me."

"Ta-da!"

"Gee, and all we need to win this chess game and put all the happy generals where they belong – is to change the minds of a bunch of pencil pushers who never liked us anyway. I'm underwhelmed."

"You know, Daniel, sometimes you drive me to ... yes, well, never mind." Jack leaned forward, reached across the table and took his friend's, soulmate's, lover's, whatever, hand. "Okay, it's time you listened to a few truths and... hear some things I should have told you a long time ago." He rubbed the skin between Daniel's thumb and index finger with his own thumb and said, "When you were in surgery, a nurse had to come upstairs to ask Landry to do something about the lobby. About the people in the lobby. The SGC personnel who'd driven down the mountain and across the city because of what happened to you. When I went down, there were over thirty people with more arriving every minute. As shifts ended, even more arrived. All there to do whatever was required – for you. Pray, give blood, kidneys, livers, arms, legs, you name it. By eight that morning, there were over a hundred personnel in and around the hospital – waiting. Just... waiting. Oh, and praying.

"And how many stopped by on New Year's? Gave up time from their families to come by and see you? How many flowers did you have to send up to Pediatrics and how many visitors did you have once you were moved out of ICU? The President made sure I got here ... in time. He brought in the top speech therapist, neurologist and the top thoracic surgeon in the world. Why?"

"I... I—"

"Speechless, are we?"

"I... I didn't... and I'm sure you're—"

"What? You're sure I'm wrong? Which one of us was in the coma, buddy?"

Slowly, Daniel moved his hand so that his fingers could wrap around Jack's. His gaze remained fixed on their clasped hands as he said, "So, what do I say to the committee?"

Jack grinned.

***

VI - Life Number Nine

"How does that feel, Daniel?"

Daniel closed his eyes and sighed happily. "Great."

Carolyn smiled, patted his shoulder and said, "You can get dressed now. I'll get Dr. Nelson."

Daniel nodded and, as Carolyn stepped out of the examining room, he ran a hand over his now stitch-less chest. The scar was vivid, long but thin and he thought it odd that the two primary scars on his body were from Earth. One due to his appendix bursting and the other, a bullet from a thief. Just too... funny.

The door opened and Dr. Hiriam Nelson walked in. "Afternoon, Daniel, it's good to see you again."

"I assume we're going to have some fun testing me?"

"Well, that is why I'm here. One final round before writing my report stating without a doubt that you're back all the way. You ready?"

"Oh, sure. Nothing better to do this afternoon," Daniel said, thinking of a certain bed and the man who should be in it with him – and not to sleep, either.

"Then let's get started."

***

Jack was not going to pace. He simply wasn't. That would be too... too... mushy. Yeah, mushy. And he wasn't a mushy kind of guy. He was... stoic. He lifted his chin stubbornly. Stoic, that was him. Strong and stoic. And patient. Don't forget patient.

Jack got up and started to pace.

He figured he'd walked three miles when Daniel poked his head in, scratched his chest and said, "I'm tired, Jack, need to go to ... you know... *bed*."

Boy howdy, life was good, Jack thought.

***

"Oh, yeah, unbutton that shirt, Daniel," Jack commanded in a husky voice.

Daniel smiled seductively and undid another one.

"God, you're hot. Come on, one more ... give ... me... one... more," Jack encouraged.

Daniel undid another one ... and then ... another.

Jack's eyes widened and he took a step toward Daniel. "Only two left, Daniel. Do it."

Slowly, Daniel unbuttoned the last two and let his shirt hang open.

"Oh, God," Jack murmured. He moved to Daniel's side and gently pushed the shirt from Daniel's shoulders, his gaze moving downward....

"Oh, man... that's ... incredible," Jack murmured, awestruck. His breathing came in small pants, his eyes gleaming with amazement. Finally he sighed, gave a small shake of his head, and said, his voice full of wonder, "It's even better than the one on my knee, or the one on my shoulder... you know, when that trinium arrow of Tonane's hit me?"

Daniel let his eyes roll heavenward.

Jack and his love of scars. Jeez.

***

"Has it occurred to you that what we just did – was highly illegal in God only knows how many states?"

Daniel cracked open one eye to look at his bedmate, who'd finally managed to overcome his fascination with scars in order to actually engage in lovemaking with Daniel. "Would it interest you to know that I don't care?"

"Well, technically – you broke the law. I'm just the catcher."

Daniel held out his arms, wrists together, and said, "Take me in, General."

"Okay," Jack said almost breathlessly, "I just learned something rather interesting about myself." He indicated Daniel's wrists. "Namely that – that -- makes a very enticing – picture."

One well-defined eyebrow rose as Daniel said, "Oh, really? I guess we'd better do some shopping tomorrow on the net."

One not-so-well-defined eyebrow rose. "Oh?"

"Toys, Jack. Toys. They come in plain brown wrapping paper?" He wiggled his wrists. "Padded cuffs?"

"Oh, wow."

"We'll see if we can't give you a new fetish – one that will be far more fun than examining my scars."

Jack ran a finger down Daniel's still-sweaty chest. "I don't know, that's a tall order to fill."

Daniel stuck Jack's finger in his mouth, thus effectively shutting them both up.

***

With Daniel doing so well and unhampered by stitches, it was amazing how quickly they settled into their new routine. Sex when they woke up -- breakfast -- shower – sex in the shower – a healthy walk – sex upon their return (and sometimes during) – lunch – tidy up – sex (sometimes during) – television or books or games or just talking – which quickly moved into more sex. They'd eat out or cook in and occasionally enjoy their food with sex (if eating in). They'd take an evening stroll and then come home and have sex. Jack learned the joys of pitching and Daniel, the joys of catching, thus making Jack a criminal in the state of Colorado, just like Daniel.

Equal opportunity felons, as Daniel liked to say. Jack would then smugly correct him by pointing out that they A) hadn't been caught, and B) certainly hadn't been convicted, thus C) they couldn't be felons.

Daniel would usually spank Jack's bare ass at that point – and they would quickly engage in breaking the law again.

Unfortunately, their idyllic life had to come to an end – thanks to their scheduled appointment with the Appropriations Committee. On the day before they were to leave for Washington, Daniel was, basically, a nervous wreck. Jack tried sex – to help alleviate the stress – among other things – but once they were both on their backs, sweaty and still breathing hard, Daniel went right back to nervous.

"Daniel, friend, amigo, ma céadsearc, you've got to loosen up here. You'll do brilliantly in Washington."

Daniel glanced sideways at him and said, "Ma céadsearc?"

"What, you don't believe that you are?"

"No. Sara was your first love, but more importantly – I'm your last."

"I like your thinking, Daniel."

Before anything else could be said, the door bell rang. Looking at each other, they said at the same time, "Who—"

Laughing, Jack tossed off the sheet and got out of bed. "I'll go. It's probably nothing more urgent than another upcoming end of the world emergency."

"Right."

Jack quickly stepped into a pair of sweat bottoms, pulled on a sweatshirt, stepped into his loafers and, after taking a fast swipe at his hair, headed for the front door.

***

It was only a bit after four, so still light out when Jack opened the door to the couple standing on the porch: The couple with a small bundle in the woman's arms, a bundle that looked suspiciously like a baby.

"General... O'Neill?"

Looking at the young man who'd spoken, Jack nodded. "I'm O'Neill. What can I do for you?"

The woman, who didn't look a day over eighteen, gave the man a hesitant look before saying, "I... we... my husband, Tony, he called the police to find out about Mr. Jackson and they referred him to a General Landry? Who, after meeting with us, gave us Mr. Jackson's address. My name is Pamela and this," she turned the baby just enough so that Jack could see its face, "is Daniel Anthony Jacobs."

***

Smiling, Jack walked into the bedroom and tossed Daniel's jeans and sweater onto the bed. "Get dressed, we've got company you're going to want to see."

Daniel sat up and said, "Company?"

"Yep. Hurry up. I'm going to put some coffee on. Do we have more of those cookies? You know, the almond things?"

"Uhm, yeah, I think so. If we do, they'll be wrapped in foil in the cupboard."

"Okay, hurry up."

With that, Jack, still smiling like a goofball, walked out. Trying to figure out who'd be here and why it was such a mystery, Daniel nevertheless got up and got dressed.

***

Jack started the coffeemaker, and smiled at the gurgling sounds coming from behind him. Daniel wasn't being fussy, but he was, apparently, fascinated by the process of making bubbles. And he was only a month and a half old.

"Daniel... er, the adult Daniel... should be out any minute. He was napping, per the doctor's orders."

Jack felt guilty about the lie for a fraction of a second, but immediately justified it by the fact that Daniel would have napped if not for the sex and now their guests. He turned around in time to watch Daniel enter the kitchen, led there no doubt, by the sound of their voices.

"Well, here's the sleeping – prince – now. Daniel, I'd like you to meet Pamela and Anthony Jacobs and their son... Daniel... Jacobs. It was Pamela and young Daniel there that you saved in the liquor store."

Daniel, as Jack had mentally predicted to himself, stood and stared – openmouthed – and looking a great deal like his namesake.

***

Daniel was holding the baby gently in his arms as Pamela told him what a good baby he was.

"I expected sleepless nights, walking the floor – everything mom said I should expect with a newborn, but Danny is so good. Sleeps, wakes up, gives out with a little cry when it's time to feed him, plays a bit, then goes right back to sleep." She smiled the way only a mother can even as she reached out with her fingers and smoothed the baby's hair.

"He's beautiful, Pamela," Daniel said, meaning it.

"He's here because of you, Mr. Jackson," Tony Jacobs said. "We can never thank you enough – I can never thank you enough. That's why we wanted to see you. I know we kind of barged in, but we're leaving in two days – going back to Philadelphia where our folks are – and I'm going back to school, so this was our last chance, you know? I tried in the hospital, but I lost my nerve. There didn't seem to be any way to adequately—"

"Tony, honey, it's okay. I think Mr. Jackson understands," Pamela said gently.

"Oh, yeah. Sure. Sorry," Tony said awkwardly, his face going a nice shade of red.

Pamela, wise for her young age, simply reached up and patted his arm even as she said, "We just needed to see you, assure ourselves that you were really on the mend, and to thank you from the bottom of our hearts. No matter what the future brings, you have two friends you can count on in us, Mr. Jackson. No matter what."

Dropping a kiss on the baby's soft, warm cheek, Daniel said, "Thank you, Pamela, Tony. And if you two need anything, or if Daniel here, needs anything, ever, you just call, okay?"

Jack stood against the counter, arms crossed over his chest as he watched Daniel deal with two very grateful parents. Smiling, he nodded when Pamela, who, judging by her expression, had tumbled to the nature of his and Daniel's relationship, looked up at him.

Daniel carefully handed little Daniel back to his mother as Tony said, "We probably should be going. The weatherman predicted more snow for tonight and I want to get Pam and Danny home before it hits."

Daniel got to his feet as Tony helped Pamela up and, together, all four plus one baby, headed for the front door.

"Daniel, you stay put while I walk the Jacobs out to their car," Jack said as he put on his jacket.

"No, please, General, stay inside where it's warm," Pamela said as Tony helped her on with her coat. "We're fine."

"You sure?"

She and Tony nodded as they moved out onto the porch. "Thank you again, Mr. Jack—"

"Daniel, please."

"Daniel," she said with a soft smile. She pulled him down, got on tiptoe, and kissed him on the cheek. "I'll never forget you, Daniel. Ever."

"Ditto, Pamela," Daniel said as he straightened up.

Jack moved to stand next to Daniel as the Jacobs walked to their car. Draping an arm over Daniel's shoulders, he said, "You know, you're all right, Dr. Jackson."

"So are you, General O'Neill. So are you."

***

"Jesus, your hands are shaking," Jack said as Daniel put on his seatbelt.

"Are not."

"They are."

"Aren't."

"Are."

"So what?"

"Well, I know you're not afraid of flying, so it must be something else. Like... oh, giving an impassioned speech to a bunch of ... what did you call them? Oh, yeah, pencil pushers who never liked us anyway – all in order to save the SGC."

"Dickwad."

"Language, Daniel. This is a government issue private jet."

"Speaking of which, how do we suddenly rate?"

Jack looked pointedly down at his shoulders and said, "Hello? General here?"

"Oh, right."

"Speaking of which, we need to put some kind of sign on you that alerts everyone to the fact that you're a doctor, you know? It's a title of respect and one you more than earned and yet, it's never used."

"Of course it is."

"No, it isn't."

"Yes, it is."

"Isn't."

"Is."

"Daniel, it isn't. When you were in the hospital, and the news reported the shooting, they used the infamous 'mister', not your title. Same thing at the hospital itself and even at the Academy. I mean, come on, the Academy?"

"And why not? No one knows me from Adam at the Academy hospital, let alone at Memorial. And titles don't just pop up, you know."

"Yeah, so how do you explain that Pamela and Tony knew to call me 'General' O'Neill?"

"Didn't you listen to the message Landry left? Hello?"

"Oh, yeah, the message letting us know they were coming – the one we missed because we were in the throes of—"

"Exactly."

"Well, nevertheless, I'm going to have it tattooed to your forehead."

"Gee, thanks, Jack. You're just so thoughtful."

Grinning, Jack said, "Yeah, I am."

***

"Jack, Daniel," George said as he welcomed them into the Capitol building. "How was the flight?"

"Smooth, George. And thank you for the private jet," Jack said as he took off his sunglasses.

"Don't thank me, thank the President. He's got his fingers crossed today."

"I'm not worried," Jack said confidently. "Daniel'll have them eating out of his hand."

Daniel, in response, fiddled with his tie and pulled at his collar even as he rolled his eyes.

George smiled as he looked at the two men – both of whom held what he believed to be the fate of the world in their hands today – and gave a mental nod. Jack looked every inch the general that he was, but Daniel, looking incredibly handsome in a dark suit and tie, looked not all like the brilliant doctor of archaeology and linguistics that he was, even with his glasses, but then how many brilliant men looked like Daniel? He did notice the slight pallor and the fact that the suit had to be new, since it fit like a glove in spite of the fact that Daniel had yet to gain back all the lost weight.

"Come on, let's get seated. We're in one of the committee rooms on this floor. Follow me."

They let George lead them across the Rotunda, with Daniel looking upward, amazed as always at the beautiful sight. Not that he'd actually been in the building all that much – okay, twice – in his life. But he wasn't nervous ... or anything. Not at all, other than giving a vague thought to why, just once, he couldn't have actually, you know, died? Or at least stayed in the coma a bit longer. Like until, say, June?

They moved down the long hallway -- almost the end -- where a podium and two red ropes, not to mention three hefty-looking men in dark suits, prevented them from going any further. Hammond took out his ID, as did Jack, thus clueing Daniel in to do the same.

The man standing behind the podium nodded in acceptance and pushed a clipboard at them and, after they'd all three signed in, unclipped the red rope on his right and allowed them to pass.

There was only one set of double doors left this far down the hall and it was guarded by two very serious looking Marines, both of whom saluted Jack before opening the doors to allow them entrance.

Daniel sent up a prayer, something along the lines of how an alien invasion would be nice about now, before following George and Jack into the room.

***

Once inside, an aide led them down an aisle, past the stadium seating and to the front of the room where a table with three microphones sat before the dais. As they took their seats, George at one end, Jack at the other and Daniel in the middle, the aide said, "No audience is permitted today and you are the only three addressing the Committee. The meeting will begin in precisely ten minutes, General O'Neill."

"Thank you."

The aide nodded and immediately left. Jack poured himself some water and, at a nod from Daniel, poured for him as well. As he set the pitcher down, he said, "Damn it, Daniel, you're going to do fine."

"What?"

"Daniel, you're shaking like a leaf, okay? You have to have faith in yourself. Drag your mind back to that brash, overconfident kid you were when you opened the Stargate and tear them all to pieces today, all right?"

"I wasn't brash – wasn't overconfident either," Daniel said, indignant at the idea.

"Yeah, so you say."

"Yes, I say."

"Daniel," George said, "I don't know about when you opened the 'Gate, but I do know that when you believe in something – nothing can stop you. Talk from the heart and everything will be fine."

Daniel had no chance to reply as the door behind the dais opened and the seven senators that made up the special subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations stepped out and took their seats. Senator Fisher, the chairman, cleared his throat and said, "General Hammond, General O'Neill, Mr. Jackson—"

"It's Doctor Jackson, Senator Fisher," Jack said quietly but with great authority. "He has not one, but two doctorates, both well-earned."

Eyes narrowing, Fisher nevertheless nodded. "Of course. Doctor Jackson. My apologies." He cleared his throat again and said in what had to be his best "Senatorial" voice, "We're here today, at the request of the President, to allow your input on the decision before us regarding the current budget of Stargate Command. To put it bluntly, this committee believes that part of the monies currently slated for the SGC would be put to better use if directed elsewhere. There is certainly no doubt that the Stargate program has succeeded in acquiring alien technology and, after eight years and billions of dollars, the Goa'uld have been neutralized, along with the Replicators. Which is why we believe that now is the time to devote our resources to exploiting those technologies for planetary defense, namely by building more Daedalus class ships as well as applying monies directly toward the Atlantis program.

"It is not our intent to shut the SGC down completely, but rather offer a budget at approximately thirty percent of the current one. We think this is more then enough money once you deemphasize your explorations."

Hammond leaned forward and said very clearly, "Senator Fisher, if not for the exploration mandate, we wouldn't have those new technologies, nor the new medical advancements, let alone the agricultural advancements."

"We understand, General Hammond, but we feel that right now, defending Earth is our priority, thus the SGC should be maintained simply as a defense."

"Simply a ... defense?" Daniel suddenly asked, stunned.

"That is correct, Mr... Doctor... Jackson. We believe that the SGC's new role should simply be to serve as another branch of our defense system."

Jack, tired of the disrespect clear in the Senator's tone toward Daniel, decided it was time he put things in perspective for the man. He rose commandingly to his feet and said, "We appreciate the fact that you're allowing us to speak to you today and we all know that we're here to change your minds." He smiled disarmingly. "We also know that will be an uphill battle, but it's one all three of us feel important enough to wage. Now, I fully intend to turn this over to Doctor Jackson, but before I do, I think it might be valuable if this esteemed committee were reminded of his... contributions—"

"Jack—"

"Daniel," Jack warned before turning back to the committee. "It would serve us all to remember that it was Doctor Jackson who discovered the key to the Stargate—"

"A fact that many still believe to be in question as to whether it was a good thing," Fisher said snidely.

"And they've been proven wrong on numerous occasions," Jack shot back. "And of course, this committee knows better as well, doesn't it?" Without giving them a chance to answer, he went on.

"The fact is that without Daniel, we wouldn't be here at all right now, and by 'we', I mean all of us. You can argue this fact until your blue in the face, but we know the truth. The Goa'uld and or the Replicators would have destroyed us by now, if not for the SGC, and we wouldn't have the SGC if not for Daniel."

Knowing which argument would come next, he quickly said, "And yes, it could certainly be argued that eventually someone would have figured it out, but the fact is that for two full years, we had our top scientists, the top minds in the world, working on the Stargate – all to no avail. Daniel succeeded in fourteen days – fourteen -- and I have no reason to believe that anyone else would have been successful in time to save us, and neither does this committee nor anyone else.

"In Daniel's first hour at Cheyenne Mountain, he gave them more than they'd been able to come up with in twenty-four months. Now, I'm not going to bore you with the many times his mind and or actions saved our collective butts, besides, it would embarrass him to a degree that he might not be able to speak today. But I will say this: it was usually his voice, his beliefs, that guided us into doing the right thing and kept us from doing the wrong. His vision is worth considering, ladies and gentlemen, because it's the vision that has never failed us in the past – and won't fail us in the future."

Jack sat down and looked expectantly at Daniel, who was shaking his head hopelessly.

"Doctor Jackson, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the future of the SGC," Senator Barbara Coors said from her seat to the right of Fisher.

Seeing the nodding heads of half of the committee, Daniel felt hopeful for the first time since knowing he'd be appearing before them. Taking a quick and much needed drink of water, he finally stood.

"Thank you, Senator Coors. And believe me, we appreciate the fact that we're being allowed to try and sway you today," he said with a smile. He paused until he felt the slight kick from Jack under the table. Biting back a grin, he said, "The fact is... there are still thousands of Stargate addresses left unexplored in this galaxy—"

"Doctor Jackson, we've already learned enough to defend this planet against any potential threat, and to be quite honest, this program doesn't exist to satisfy your curiosity."

"Actually, Senator, it does."

Daniel waited a moment, allowing his words to sink in. The fact was, Senator Fisher was starting to bug him, what with his condescending attitude and his mind, which was clearly made up and very closed.

"My curiosity, Senator, should be yours. The desire to explore, to find the answers that the ever-curious mind will always ask – this almost urgent curiosity and need to discover is a basic and fundamental human trait. And admittedly," he conceded, "it's a trait I possess in spades." He smiled at the Committee members and was heartened when Senator Coors nodded approvingly.

"The fact is that we don't know what else is out there, Senator. We don't know what other worlds may hold a wealth of wonders that can improve our lives, or what additional dangers are currently making their way toward us right this minute. And because we don't know, we must continue to go through the Stargate and, to quote a certain fictional icon, 'to bravely seek out new worlds'. Yes, it's risky, but so it was for the first family that courageously took their wagon over the Appalachians, and later, across the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and finally over the Rockies and across blazing deserts. The first flight by man was risky as hell, as was our dream to go higher and faster until, eventually, we shot for the moon. There is risk in our everyday lives, it's part of living, part of exploring – and exploring is what we must do if we're to continue to grow. And yes, I said grow. There is no doubt that weapons technology is necessary and should be a priority, but not the only one. Any civilization that depends solely on the search for weapons is doomed."

"I hardly think the need to defend this great nation, let alone this planet, will doom us, Doctor Jackson," Senator Bowles, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said.

"The need to defend is as ingrained in humans as the desire to explore, Senator. But when you put the search for weapons ahead of all else, yes, you doom this world. It's that kind of single-minded thinking that ultimately brought down both the Goa'uld and the Replicators. The Asgard, the most advanced alien race we've thus far encountered, could not devise – nor find – a weapon to destroy an entity that was gradually destroying their worlds and threatening ours. And this in spite of the fact that they put forth all their available resources and devoted all of their time and knowledge to defeating them. And by the way, this forced them on numerous occasions to leave us to our own devices when we needed their help as they were often in worse straits. And yes – on more than one occasion, it was SG-1 that saved them and it was the SGC, working with the Tok'ra and Jaffa, who ultimately succeeded where the Asgard could not.

"And why did we succeed? Because we turned our backs on exploration? Because we focused entirely on finding ways to destroy? No, it was because we reached out – not primarily for weapon technology – but for contact with other worlds. We worked ceaselessly on forming alliances that would ultimately better our world and it worked. And I wonder how you can not see that."

"Oh, we see it, Doctor Jackson," Senator Fisher commented. "The Tollan are an excellent example, wouldn't you say? They steadfastly refused – on every occasion – to provide us with technological advancements—"

"Excuse me, Senator, but we never actually asked for anything but weapons technology. And to be perfectly honest, their reasons for refusing to share their ion cannons, as an example, were valid. This government was ready to incarcerate them in some kind of fancy concentration camp, to take away their freedom, their intergalactic civil rights, if you will, in order to take information from them. And ultimately, a rogue group working with the knowledge and backing of certain high-placed government officials, stole from the Tollans, the Asgards and several other allies, thus putting our fate at risk. If not for General O'Neill going undercover – again, at great risk to himself-- I firmly believe we would not be here today.

"We have, in fact, proven over and over again that we believe our needs to be more important than the rights of others. The Tollan, on the other hand, and in the form of Narim, put our world first and ultimately sacrificed his own to correct a wrong. They were correct to refuse to give us weapon technology, just as we would be right to refuse, the same, for instance, to Tuplo and the people from P3X-797. But then, they have never asked. For medical assistance, most definitely, but weapons? No. Isn't it amazing that a people many would consider less advanced would somehow know – intuitively -- that it would be both wrong, and to their detriment, to ask, let alone accept, advanced weapons?"

When no other comments were forthcoming, Daniel took a much needed sip of his water and wished desperately for a blast of cold air to hit his heated face. Calming himself with the act of putting his glass down, he then continued.

"The Stargate holds the key to so much more knowledge that to stop the search via exploration through its portal would be nothing less than criminal. No one here can deny that we have severe problems on this Earth – overpopulation and pollution, to name but two. Well, I can guarantee you that some of the answers to solving these problems can – have -- and will be found through the Stargate. But that's not all. Of perhaps equal importance is what we can learn about ourselves. We're out there and we've barely touched upon the questions of how our ancestors evolved when torn from this Earth and relocated, and the answers could very well help us as we go forth.

"We should be increasing our teams, not the opposite. We should be sharing the cost with the other countries now involved with the SGC, thus creating a true international program unlike what we have at the present."

"I would say that nine years and billions of dollars is more than enough, Doctor Jackson," Senator Fisher said.

"Really? Then perhaps a short history lesson? The first successful flight by man occurred – arguably – in 1903. Fifty-eight years later, we launched our first manned space capsule and it took another eight years before we walked on the moon. Sixty-six years and billions and billions of dollars from the first flight to the first walk on the moon, Senator. By comparison, our nine years is a mere drop in the bucket of time and qualifies as our baby years. And yet, in less than a decade, look at what we've accomplished. Look at the number of and ratio of worlds visited to date to those remaining to be explored and just think of the demonstrably exponential opportunity for further discoveries given the nature of the significant knowledge and tools so far acquired, thanks to our alliances to date.

"And what about the idea that we could be the fifth race with the unbelievable opportunity to help shape the future of the Universe? A future you can affirm – or deny – today. Ladies and gentlemen, in nine short years, we've only scratched the surface of the possible potential benefits of the SGC."

Daniel could feel himself running out of steam and experienced a moment of panic until Jack's foot reassuringly nudged his. Taking another breath, he said, "I'm not sure what else I can possibly say to get you to see the truth and value of the SGC but it would be very refreshing if, for once, our government would actually listen to the real experts. And no, I'm not referring to myself, but to the other two men at this table. General Hammond has led Stargate Command from its inception through seven of the last nine years. His experiences in those seven years surpasses any military leader of this nation – or any other – that we have ever known. General O'Neill, a man who routinely risked his life and was willing to sacrifice it on numerous occasions, led the flagship team through the Stargate to worlds unknown more often than any other individual, and in doing so, has garnered a wealth of experience and knowledge that no one else can hope to duplicate. The honor, courage and intelligence of both men has commanded the respect of those we eventually called allies, not to mention every man and woman who has worked under them. In short, their experience knows no equal. There is no one on this Earth who can match what they've accomplished or learned. They are the experts, the ones we all should be listening to."

Legs shaking, Daniel sat down before he could fall down. His hands were shaking as well, so he kept them in his lap even though he would have killed for more water.

The silence that greeted his final words told him more eloquently than a verbal denial that he'd failed the SGC. But he wouldn't let Senator Fisher see his disappointment – wouldn't give him the satisfaction.

"Thank you, Doctor Jackson. General Hammond, do you have anything you'd like to add?" Senator Coors asked encouragingly.

"As a matter of fact – I do." George got to his feet and, after giving Daniel a look telegraphing his pride, said, "I couldn't agree more with the sentiments expressed by General O'Neill and Doctor Jackson with regards to the SGC and its value. But I find it necessary to add something that might shed additional light on why we've been so successful to date." George picked up a folder he'd brought with him and opened it now. He took out a piece of paper, put on his reading glasses and said, "I'd like to read something to you... from a memorial service that was held for a member of my command on October 17, 1997." He cleared his throat and read, ""Daniel Jackson made this place happen. As a member of SG-1, he was our voice, our conscience. He was a courageous man... a good man. For those of us lucky enough to know him, he was also a friend."

Hammond put the paper down and smiled. "You might find it odd that I should choose to read General – then Colonel – O'Neill's words as spoken at a service for Doctor Jackson, whom we believed to be lost to us, but I think it's fitting for today. Daniel did make the SGC happen and he has always been our voice and our conscience and there's a damn good reason why. Many decisions made by both myself and later by General O'Neill, were made because of Daniel's words. We have both been guided by Daniel over the years, sometimes gently and without even realizing it and, at other times, well, Daniel can be very vocal when he's inspired. I think this committee would do well to listen to him now. To take to heart his words and his faith in the project and the benefits we have yet to claim."

Hammond sat back down and it was clear that all three men had said everything they'd come to say.

Senator Fisher smiled benignly and said, "Thank you, gentlemen. We'll take your words under advisement. And I must say, it's been – educational -- listening to your little mutual admiration society." With that, he stood up. "I'm sure you'll hear soon enough if our decision has changed in any way. Good afternoon."

He started to turn and walk out, but Senator Coors stopped him with her words.

"General Hammond, General O'Neill, and Doctor Jackson, this country, indeed, this world, owes all three of you, as well as the rest of the men and women of the SGC, a debt that can probably never be repaid. I must admit that I've been less than thrilled with the idea of something like the Stargate existing, let alone in use, but now ... now I know it's in the best possible hands. I will rest safer knowing that you three are involved and... how do you word it? Watching our six?"

Jack grinned jauntily and nodded.

"I believe in man's need to explore the stars and that which is beyond his ken. It is exactly that spirit upon which this country was founded. I also see the immense value in discovering all we can about our history, be it here on Earth or on planets we've yet to discover. I see the hope the Stargate offers us in the form of medical advancements as well as the drive to find new technology that will aid in helping us defend ourselves. I find it a true miracle that all those needs can be met by the Stargate and therefore I don't believe it would be in Earth's best interest to in any way hamper the SGC's ability to do what it does best."

Daniel, who'd been looking down at the table, lost in his failure, glanced up sharply.

"I believe most of my fellow committee members are in agreement?" She turned to look past Fisher and at the other five, all of whom were nodding. Smiling, she looked back at General Hammond. "The current budget for the SGC will stand and we'll take into consideration the idea of increasing international support for the project – which could ultimately increase the budget."

She rose to her feet, as did the others, and, after smoothing down her skirt, said, "Doctor Jackson, I'm sure my colleagues would agree with me when I say that we're all extremely grateful that you were well enough to appear today."

Looking surprised, Daniel managed to mumble, "Thank you, Senator Coors."

She smiled again and said, "No, Doctor Jackson. Thank you."

With that, the Appropriations Committee exited through the same door they'd entered, Senator Fisher a bit less inflated than when he'd arrived.

When the door closed, Hammond let out a whoosh of air and said, "We did it, gentlemen. We did it."

Jack let himself slump back against the chair as he said, "Danny, you done good."

***

The three men made their exhausted way out of the Capitol Building and, standing on the steps, in the wind and snow, looked at each other – and grinned.

"You know," Jack finally said. "I could eat."

"I could definitely eat," George agreed.

Jack looked at Daniel, who said, "I'm thinking we should get something to eat and since you two have been hanging around this town of late, where's the best place to chow down?"

Smiling, George said, "The Caucus Room – great steaks and fish and they're famous for their mile-high coconut cake."

Jack draped an arm around both men and said, "Danny, you're about to see how the power people of Washington eat and drink."

"As opposed to making committee decisions?"

"Exactly."

***

As the limo drove through the city streets, George made two calls: one to the restaurant to ensure a table, and the first call – to the President with the good news. President Hayes was obviously pleased, his only regret being that he couldn't join them at his favorite eatery.

When the limo pulled up in front of the Ninth Street restaurant, their driver quickly got the passenger door open. As George exited, he said, "Take your break now, we'll be a while, John."

"Yes, sir."

The three men entered the restaurant and George immediately went up to the Maitre 'd who said, "Welcome back, General Hammond. We'll have your table ready in just a few minutes."

"Thank you, Henry."

Daniel was already impressed as he took in the understated elegance of the place. It was early yet, only five, so the restaurant wasn't overly crowded, but he suspected that by eight – it would be extremely busy. Washington was known for its late hours and dining well after midnight wasn't unheard of in the nation's capitol.

Exactly four minutes after entering, they were shown to a quiet corner table and seated. Their coats had been taken up front and Daniel felt that he could actually relax for the first time in days. He was deeply tired, a testament to the fact that yes, he was still recovering from the gunshot wound, stitches or no stitches. They were given menus and, before anything else could be said, Daniel ordered a coffee – which if he didn't get soon – well, he wouldn't be responsible for his actions.

The menu was short, with starters, entrees, sides, and the famous coconut cake. He perused the starters – yes, he was starved – and decided on both the Oyster stew with "Yukon gold potatoes, spring onions and salmon caviar" as well as the bitter greens salad which came with white cheddar, apples, walnuts and a shallot vinaigrette. He checked out the entrees and it didn't take long to choose the two pound lobster with seafood ravioli in a lobster cream sauce and, finally, to round out his meal, the fresh asparagus. He also had every intention of having wine with his meal no matter what kind of looks Jack gave him. It had been almost two months since the shooting so why the hell shouldn't he have a drink? He was going to celebrate and that was final. He just hoped Jack didn't give him that silly puppy dog look – he really wanted wine with his meal.

While Jack and Hammond continued to decide, Daniel picked up the wine menu. It only took a moment to decide -- he could almost taste the white Burgundy from the vineyards of Puligny-Montrachet with his lobster.

"Daniel, what's your pleasure?" Jack asked as he put his menu down.

"Lobster," Daniel answered with a grin. "I'm betting you're going with the bone-on rib-eye, onion strings, the wild mushrooms, and... the black bean soup?"

"Damn, I'm no mystery at all anymore," Jack groused. Then he brightened and said, "And you're wrong, I'm not going with the black bean soup at all – I'm going with the," he hurriedly picked up the menu, "calamari. Yeah, the calamari. So there."

"You are so transparent, Jack," Daniel said.

Looking superior, he put the menu down and said, "George, you going with your usual roasted chicken?"

"Not tonight. Tonight, I'm celebrating, so ... it's the steak au poivre. Or maybe the filet mignon. I'll decide when I order," he finished with a smile.

"Ah, so a good red for you and I, then."

George nodded and put his menu down just as their waiter arrived to take their order. When Daniel ordered his and the wine, he was relieved to note that all he received was one scruffy eyebrow raised in question. He simply smiled and took a sip of his coffee.

Take that, Jack O'Neill.

***

The meal was excellent and all three men, thanks to the wine, the atmosphere and the company, were feeling no pain. They talked easily, laughed with the relief that came with a successful mission, and basically just enjoyed the hell out of the evening. Over coffee and coconut cake, they finally got around to discussing George's other ideas for the SGC.

"I've spoken with the President and he's very agreeable to our plan, so all that has to happen now is to get Daniel named to the IC and then assigned to the SGC."

"Does the President think that will be a problem, George?" Jack asked.

Before he could answer, the maitre 'd walked up and said, "General Hammond, you have an urgent call that you can take in my office."

Looking at Jack and Daniel, he shrugged, got up and followed the man toward the back of the restaurant.

"What could be wrong, Jack?"

"I don't know. But if it had been personal, he wouldn't be going into Henry's office, I can tell you that. Henry has a special number due to his clientele."

"Only in Washington D.C.," Daniel said.

Ten minutes later, George returned, a strange expression on his face. Looking dazed, he sat back down and, when several moments passed without a word from him, Jack finally asked, "George? Is everything all right?"

With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, Daniel said, "The AC changed their minds, right? Budget cuts as planned?"

George shook his head. "No-o... that's not it."

Jack looked worriedly over at Daniel, who gave him the same look right back before returning his attention to George.

"It was the President. It seems the Appropriations Committee has already been in discussion with the IC – who have the same stake in maintaining our budget as we do. The AC surprised the hell out of them by putting a condition on retaining the current budget."

"Oh, shit," Jack said. "Okay, let us have it."

Looking all the world like a man who'd just discovered El Dorado, Hammond said, "It seems that only if their representative is placed on the IC and then assigned as their watchdog to the SGC, will our budget be safe."

Looking defeated, Jack slumped back in his chair and shot a look full of worry toward Daniel as he said, "Damn, I really thought you'd won them over, Danny."

Daniel shrugged, hid his disappointment, and asked, "Do we at least know this person? Is it someone we can work with at all?"

"Oh, I think so. And Jack, you definitely know him. In fact, it's safe to say that you know him – extremely well – now."

Jack's lips started to curl up as he realized what George was saying. "We don't need to go into how well I know him—"

"No, no, not necessary," George hastily agreed, his own lips twitching.

"Okay, would someone like to clue me in, here?" Daniel asked, knowing damn well he was missing something important.

"For a smart man, he can be oddly obtuse, can't he, George?"

"Definitely."

"You want to give him the guy's name?"

"Of course." George grinned. "The representative's name is... Doctor Daniel Jackson."

"Well, I'll be damned," Daniel said softly.

***

They sat in Jack's apartment, each holding a glass of brandy as they pondered how quickly their lives were about to change. A fire blazed in the fireplace and all three men were enjoying a rare cigar.

"We won't be going back to Colorado right away," George said conversationally.

"No, I don't suppose so," Jack agreed.

"We have a meeting with the President at ten in the morning," George added.

"No doubt with more to follow," Jack said easily.

George looked happily at his cigar and said in true Texas fashion, said, "Yup."

Daniel simply puffed away, happy as a clam.

***

"Whatcha thinkin'?"

"How life turns on a dime," Daniel said as he pulled on a t-shirt.

Jack was already in bed, a book open on his lap, his reading glasses on. He watched Daniel getting ready to join him and thought he could handle this feeling for the next thirty or forty years. When Daniel sat down on the other side of the bed, Jack reached out and slipped his hand under Daniel's t-shirt and rubbed gently. "You feeling okay?"

"Tired, but good."

"George suggested we take you over to Georgetown tomorrow and have his physician take a look at you."

"Why?"

"He's worried about you. This was a heavy duty day with more of the same coming up. He wants to make sure you're okay."

"I don't need to see anyone, Jack. I'm fine."

Huh-oh, the whole "I'm fine" thing was back. Jack put up his book, took off his glasses and put them on the nightstand. "Come here," he commanded softly.

"Er... I am here, Jack."

"Yeah? Well, I'm sorry, Danny, but my arms are definitely empty."

Daniel turned to look at him and grinned. "Okay, that was ... nice."

"So get over here, then."

Still grinning, Daniel got quickly under the covers and moved into Jack's arms. Resting his head on Jack's shoulder, he said, "Feel better now?"

"Much."

"You took your reading glasses off," Daniel said, surprised.

"Well, duh. I'm not reading anymore, Daniel. I'm kind of occupied at the moment."

"Too bad. You look damn sexy in those things."

Jack removed one arm from around Daniel and picked up his glasses. Putting them on, he said, "Better?"

"Hubba-hubba."

Jack chuckled, a deep, rumbling sound in his chest that made its way right to Daniel's groin. He slipped his hand under the covers and then into Jack's pajama bottoms.

"Daniel?"

"Yeah?"

"Watcha doin'?"

"If you don't know – I'm doing it wrong."

"So we're going to break some laws tonight?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Sweet."

***

"Does it strike you that for a man my age, I'm doing pretty damn well in the repeat performance category?" Jack asked as he ran a hand down Daniel's bare back.

"Nah. You had a lot saved up – other than what you spent on Kerri, of course."

"I knew we'd gone too long without her name coming up," Jack groused.

"Would you like me to go out and sleep with someone so you'll have equal ammunition?" Daniel suggested kindly – and got a swat on his ass for his efforts. "Guess not," he said as he smiled against Jack's skin.

***

The next five days were an exercise in patience. No matter what meeting was scheduled, nothing started on time and Jack, Daniel and George wound up waiting. Patiently. But waiting or not, their days were ultimately productive. Everything was put into place with regards to Homeworld Security, with General Landry having accepted his promotion with a gleam in his eye that said he'd been anticipating something of this sort since Daniel had been released from the hospital. He was back at the Mountain now, awaiting the day when the changes would be official.

On day five, Daniel was 'sworn' in as a card-carrying member of the International Committee for Stargate Command. He accepted his 'new' assignment with great élan and a smile that was just short of smug. Not that anyone but Jack would have noticed.

And only Jack would have noticed that Daniel's energy was definitely winding down. He was close to the wall, and it was up to Jack to make sure he didn't slam into it. Their final meeting with the President was over and it was only ten in the morning. Tonight, they were scheduled to attend a White House cocktail party and dinner, and then fly home tomorrow. Jack's apartment had been packed up four days ago by the ever-eager to help Air Force, his belongings already in Colorado Springs and undoubtedly being taken care of by Lou. All of which meant that for the last four nights, they'd been 'camping' out at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown in one of the nicest two bedroom suites. Not that they were using the second bedroom, other than to mess it up in order to make it look as though it were being used. They were both getting pretty good at looking like they were "just friends".

Now Jack maneuvered Daniel through the East Wing and out to the waiting limo. He had every intention of putting the man to bed – to sleep – until it was time to get ready for the evening's festivities.

"I'm hungry," Daniel said as Jack ushered him into the car.

"So, we'll get you breakfast. And since when aren't croissants, coffee and fruit enough for you?"

"That was five hours ago, Jack," Daniel almost whined.

"And the pastries in the meeting room?" Jack asked as the limo pulled smoothly away from the side portico.

"Three hours ago," Daniel said as he settled into the comfort of the limo.

"Three hours ago is when the platters of pastries arrived, Daniel. And they kept arriving every hour, and every hour you demolished three or four. You had your last cream cheese and strawberry pastry twenty," he looked at his watch, "six minutes ago."

"And your point?"

Eyes rolling heavenward, Jack picked up the phone that would connect him to their driver and, when he answered, said, "Would you take us to Georgia Brown's? Great, thanks."

He put the phone receiver down and said, "You're about to enjoy the best Sunday brunch in town. And soul food at its gourmet greatness." He held up a finger. "But you have to eat fast. I want to get you to bed so you'll be rested for tonight."

"Uhm, Jack? Bed isn't going to get me rested, if you know what I mean?" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

"It will if all you do is sleep, Mr. Sexy. And sleep is what you're going to do."

It was Daniel's turn to roll his eyes.

***

"Okay, the smells alone are enough to make me happy," Daniel said as he and Jack were led to a table in the lovely restaurant. It was airy, light, and very conducive to a Sunday morning brunch. They'd only been open for thirty minutes but already the place was bustling with activity and patrons. As they took their seats, the hostess said, "General, your usual?"

"Please, and make it two."

She nodded and said, "Ralph will be right with you, but you know how it works, so feel free to start helping yourselves."

"We will, thanks."

As she walked away, Daniel said, "What's your usual?"

"Georgia's version of a Bloody Mary. You'll never forget it."

Daniel nodded and then said, "You sure are well known around town, but then, I'm not surprised." He frowned a moment and added, "You going to miss this place? Miss being in charge of Homeworld Security?"

Jack put his sunglasses in his pocket and said, "Not on your life. The only thing I could miss – would ever miss – did miss – was you."

"I read the regular menu when we came in, Jack."

"Okay, okay, I'll miss Georgia Brown's. Now, this is how their brunch works. We go to what's called the Chef's table where you can help yourself to ham with sausage gravy, to die for, by the way, but don't even think about it, and a truly sinful couple of rashers of applewood smoked bacon. You can help yourself to the best grits in town and you have to try the red potato hash browns and at least one slice of their special battered French toast. Oh, and of course, they have a very nice fruit assortment. But that's not all. After that – you get to choose an entrée."

"Excuse me?"

Grinning, Jack said, "You heard me. An entrée. Gumbo, or fried chicken – another dish to die for so you'd better stay away from that one – or shrimp and more grits, and so on. And then there's dessert. Which you'll see on the way to the Chef's table. So ... are you ready?"

"Oh, yeah."

***

Jack watched Daniel eat and figured that their six days in Washington would be responsible for putting on the last of the pounds Daniel needed. At the moment, the younger man was just finishing off the southern fried chicken, braised greens and whipped potatoes with gravy. He'd already tried every single item at the Chef's table, including seconds on the French toast. He'd also been given a private tour of the kitchen and had, in his pocket, the recipe for said French toast. Jack grinned. Only Daniel.

By noon, they were in their suite and Daniel was looking with longing at their bed. Twenty minutes later – he was dead to the world. Jack pulled the comforter up and tucked him in before heading out to the living room. It was, after all, Sunday, and there was bound to be sports on to keep him busy.

***

Daniel looked in the long mirror – and gave a slight shake of his head. Who'd have thought he'd be wearing the proverbial 'white tie and tails'? Okay, technically, he wasn't wearing tails – he was wearing a cutaway, but still. Close was close.

"Hey."

Daniel glanced up to see Jack's reflection in the mirror. He was lounging against the door jam and Daniel knew he was gaping at the man, but really, he hadn't seen anything that beautiful in a long time.

Jack, his silver hair, longer again, thank God, shining in the bedroom light, was nearly taking Daniel's breath away. He was dressed in the Air Force Mess Dress, the jacket, cut just above the hips, showing off Jack's lanky frame to its best advantage. The rows of ribbons and medals, the stars on his shoulders, all combined to send Daniel's pride into overdrive. He let his eyes travel down the incredibly long legs encased in the pressed dark slacks all the way to the dress shoes polished to within an inch of their lives, and as he continued to stare at the vision before him, one phrase popped up in his mind and repeated itself over and over again....

"He's one long, tall, cool, drink of water – and he's mine."

Damn, Daniel really wanted a sip of that water – hell, a gulp. But since they'd run late if he did, he gave a low wolf-whistle instead and said, "You're looking damn fine, General O'Neill. All these years and I've never seen you in full mess. Hot stuff."

Jack grinned, came up behind him, put his arms around his waist and said, "You clean up pretty good yourself, Doctor Jackson."

"Everyone looks good in a tux, Jack."

"Bill Lee?"

"Even Bill," Daniel said as he watched Jack in the mirror. "I can't get over how ... you just look... I may have a new Jack-fetish. I thought your Class A's could get me going but this – yowzer."

Jack turned Daniel around and planted one on him – and when he was done, said, "There are distinct advantages to kissing a guy – no worries about the make-up."

"Just the hair – don't mess the hair," Daniel said with a cheeky grin.

"Come on, the car's waiting and we don't want to keep the President waiting."

"What, he's in the car too?"

"Ha-ha."

***

The party, which was being held in the Diplomatic Reception Room, wasn't nearly as large as Daniel had been expecting, but it was in full swing as the powerful few mingled, sipped various champagnes, took tentative and dainty bites from artistically created appetizers and shared their traffic stories, war stories and beauty parlor horror stories. Oddly enough, he knew almost everyone present. The Joint Chiefs (and their spouses), the seven senators (and spouses) that made up the Appropriations sub-committee, and the majority of the International Committee (and spouses) for Stargate Command. In addition, Colonel Davis, General Lowell and yes, General Landry, who'd evidently returned just that day. He was with Carolyn, who'd actually checked Daniel's pulse when she'd first spotted him. He was still put out about that.

There were a few others, members of the Presidential staff and the Department of the Defense, but basically, they were a small intimate group, one that, for the most part, knew the secret of the Stargate.

Which probably explained why they were here instead of one of the more typical venues for entertaining. Supposedly, this room had only one purpose: to allow the President to welcome new diplomats. It was situated off the South grounds and served as an entrance to the White House for both family and visiting dignitaries. It was considered very private and was rarely used for photo ops – which might also explain why this room.

For Daniel's part, he'd done his best to schmooze, but was now in a corner doing what he did best – people watching -- while sipping his champagne. As he looked around, he was glad they were here – it was a truly lovely room. Bright, welcoming, with the most beautiful murals on the wall that he'd ever seen. Another server glided past him, a tray of appetizers in his hand, which reminded Daniel that he was starving. It was almost eight and he hadn't eaten since that morning – and okay, he'd had a huge meal, but still, his stomach was growling and dinner wasn't scheduled for another hour. Jack was doing his "general" thing and Daniel wasn't the least bit surprised to see the ladies following him wherever he went. It was a real kick in the head, and Daniel was just so damn proud of Jack, he thought he had to be puffed up like a peacock. Besides looking incredible, Jack was moving easily about the room, speaking to everyone and charming their socks off.

It was hard to believe this was the same guy who thought the height of fun was playing with yo-yos – when he wasn't playing with priceless artifacts.

"Hi, Daniel."

Daniel whirled around to find himself staring at Sam – and Teal'c – and Cassie – and Lou.

"Uhm... wow?" he finally managed to say. "What... how... when--"

Sam saved him by saying, "We flew in this afternoon, at the request of the President, no less."

Daniel quickly hugged her and then Cassie, who, thanks to the beautiful pale blue evening gown she was wearing, looked all grown up. Sam, like Jack, was wearing her mess dress uniform and had never looked lovelier or more comfortable with herself. In fact, both women were shining and clearly glad to be there. Teal'c was wearing a strange outfit, but Daniel could guess that while it had its roots in Jaffa history, a few Earthy touches had been added, including the strange headdress that managed to cover his tattoo.

Teal'c bowed gracefully and said, "It is very good to see you looking so well, DanielJackson."

"Thanks, T... er, Murray."

"Actually," Lou said, "it's Teal'c tonight." He leaned in close and, in a stage whisper, said, "His cover for those not in the know, is that he's a visiting dignitary from a little known country in Africa—"

"The name of which can not be pronounced," Teal'c added. "Your government is very ... imaginative."

Daniel gave Teal'c a thoughtful look and said, "Indeed," which immediately cracked everyone up, Teal'c included.

"Where's the general?" Sam asked as she looked around.

"Over there, surrounded by that bevy of beauties," Daniel said with a smile.

Cassie glanced over and said, "What, are all the women in Washington blind?"

"Cassie!" Sam said, shocked. "General O'Neill is a very good-looking man."

"Oh, I didn't mean...."

She let her voice trail off as she covered her mouth with her hand and giggled – a sound that was distinctly at odds with the gown, upswept hair and makeup. "I meant... Uncle Daniel, Sam."

"Ah. Well, honey, in Washington, a man in a uniform – especially a good looking man – is worth more than any man in a tux – even when that man looks like Daniel."

"Excuse me? Standing right here?" Daniel said.

"And looking good enough to eat, Uncle Daniel," Cassie said as she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

As she stepped back, Daniel blinked in surprise and said, "Sam, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that the ... isn't that our governor?"

Sam followed his gaze ... and nodded. "Sure is."

Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Sam? What's going on?"

"Hey, guys," Jack said as he joined them. "Cassie, you look like a dream." He gave her a big hug, not worried in the least about crushing any part of her gown, and added, "Carter, you look beautiful. Teal'c, love the headdress."

"Thank you, O'Neill."

"Thank you, General. You look rather nice yourself," Sam said with a dimpled grin and a wicked gleam in her eye.

"I do, don't I?"

"That's our Jack," Daniel said. "Modest to a fault."

Ignoring Daniel – after sticking his tongue out at him – Jack said, "We might want to move closer to the music. Things are about to get interesting."

"Jack?" Daniel said, his tone dripping with suspicion.

"Come on, let's move it."

Jack started to herd them toward the focal point of the room, a beautiful fireplace, and the string quartet currently providing the barely there music. Suddenly Daniel froze, his eyes on the entrance to the ballroom, where several people stood with Hammond.

"Oh, shit – I'm outta here," Daniel hissed out.

Following Daniel's gaze, Jack cursed under his breath, but quickly recovered and said, "No, you're not, Daniel."

"Oh, yes I am, Jack." He turned back to the older man and said, "You should have told me – warned me."

"Daniel, I'd have never gotten you out of the suite. Now come on, be nice, play nice and pretend you're thrilled."

At that moment, two aides moved a Presidential podium toward the fireplace and set it down a few feet in front of it before moving to either side of the stand. Jack felt, rather than saw, Daniel move backward and had to reach out and pull him next to him. "Take your medicine, Danny boy. Take your medicine."

"You're enjoying my misery, aren't you?"

Giving him his best grin, Jack said, "Yep."

"Bastard," Daniel hissed out.

President Hayes moved forward as the quartet began to play the Presidential theme. Everyone in the room had begun to gravitate toward the podium and now stood silently – and expectantly. Daniel didn't want to look, but he knew Hammond was moving up the side, toward the President – and with him, the six people he'd come in with as well as Governor Bill Owens. Daniel closed his eyes and prayed desperately for a giant hole to open up and swallow him.

There was no hole.

The music died away and Hayes looked out over his guests as he said, "Thank you all for joining me tonight. We're here to celebrate a job well done by all of us this last week, we've worked hard and I believe the changes we've instituted will carry us bravely forward into a future that I know will fulfill the promise we've made to our children and our children's children." He paused a moment, nodded at Governor Owens who was now only a few feet away, and then turned back to his audience.

"Our celebration tonight has its roots in more than just what we've completed this last week, and to kick it off, so to speak, I'd like to introduce a very special guest, and a good friend in spite of the fact that he's a Republican, Colorado's very own Governor Bill Owens."

To gentle laughter and applause, Owens nodded and smiled as took his place next to President Hayes. "Thank, Mr. President, and I do believe this is a first – to be introduced by you is a high honor indeed." He faced the guests then and said, "I'm very proud to be here tonight because of the reason. My job originally was to introduce the president of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, but his wife went into labor five hours ago, so I'll be happily taking over his duties. For those who may be unaware, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission has two primary duties."

He opened a folder and began to read: "To recognize persons who perform acts of heroism in civilian life in the United States and Canada, and to provide financial assistance for those disabled and the dependants of those killed helping others. Founded by Andrew Carnegie, the fund is administered by a 21-member commission in Pittsburgh, who have been charged with honoring those whom he called the 'heroes of civilization,' whose lifesaving actions put them in stark contrast to the 'cowards of barbarism, who maimed or killed' their fellow man. That the mission of the Hero Fund as set forth by Carnegie is unchanged over 102 years, despite massive upheaval in the social and world order, is testament both to his foresight and to essentially unchanging human nature.

"The Commission's working definition of a hero as well as its requirements for awarding remain largely those that were approved by the founder. The candidate for an award must be a civilian who voluntarily risks his or her life to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the life of another person. The rescuer must have no full measure of responsibility for the safety of the victim and there must be conclusive evidence to support the act's occurrence."

He closed the folder and looked up again, his eyes sparkling with pride. "On December 11, 2005, at approximately four-twelve in the afternoon, Doctor Daniel Jackson walked into the One-Stop Liquor Mart to pick up a few items while he waited for his dinner, which he'd ordered at the Vietnamese restaurant next door. There were three other patrons in the store, along with the owner, Eddie Lauer. Mr. Lauer, would you join me?"

Daniel gave a low moan as Eddie bounded forward, clearly excited. He too was wearing a tuxedo and, as he joined Owens, the President shook his hand and Daniel thought Eddie just might burst with pride.

"One of the customers was a young pregnant woman by the name of Pamela Jacobs. Pamela, would you?"

Pamela, who'd been standing with Hammond and her husband, grinned and walked up to the front of the room. She was wearing a slinky black gown that showed off her figure and even Daniel had a moment to think that no one would ever guess she'd given birth a little under two months ago. She received a hug from President Hayes and, when she took her place next to Eddie, was literally beaming.

Owens shook both Eddie's and Pamela's before turning back to the podium and addressing the guests again.

"I'm going to read from a report given to me late last month." He re-opened the folder and started reading again.

"It was close to four-thirty when the store door swung open and my worst nightmare came to life. Three men wearing ski masks stormed in and I know the guns were ... guns, but at that moment, they looked more like cannons. I never had a chance to hit the panic button – that's what I call the alarm – because the tallest of the three jumped over the counter and one of those cannons was pointing at my nose. I knew I was going to die – no matter what happened, I knew, right then and there, that I would die and my mother would have the satisfaction of telling everyone at my funeral that she'd been right – that I'd be killed during a robbery because liquor stores get robbed all the time and the owner is always left bleeding and dying on the floor. But that's not what happened.

"The other two herded my customers – there were four of them – together and I was real worried 'cuz one of them was a young girl, maybe twenty, and she was pregnant. There were two young men, maybe in their late twenties, and I was worried 'bout them too, but not because they were pregnant. They were just young and had that look, you know? And I was really afraid they'd do something stupid. The fourth customer was a nice man, I've known him awhile, Daniel Jackson. Funny thing, I just learned he's a doctor – the really smart kind, not the medical kind. He was the only one who looked calm and just by concentrating on him, I was able to stop my shaking and do what the guy with the cannon in my face asked me to do – which was to get the cash register opened. One of the other thieves told my customers to empty their pockets, but Jackson very coolly asked him if he thought that would be wise. I knew just what he meant too because they all stuff in their arms and so many things could happen and the bullets would start flying – and those two youngsters were looking eager to do something – and I'm rambling. Sorry. Anyway, the thief asked the guy with me – he called him 'Chock' – what he should do and Chock told him to forget it. But something happened then – I think the girl got dizzy or something, because she kind of gasped and then dropped her stuff – and I had the chance to hit the alarm, but damn, it was so loud and then all hell broke loose...."

***

Jack was listening to Owens as he read from what was clearly Eddie's report, when suddenly a hand clamped down on his forearm. He glanced down and realized it was Cassie's – and that's when it hit him. It was one thing to intellectually know what happened that day – that vague kind of intellectual way because you were only half listening, the bulk of your attention being focused on the critically injured person you cared most about, but another thing altogether to hear like this, in Eddie's simple words and honest voice. Cassie was pale, tears running down her cheeks and Carter looked exactly the same, and Jack didn't have to look to know that it was hitting George, Hank, Carolyn, Lou and Teal'c the same way.

Lord, they'd made a mistake. If they were being hit this hard, how must it be for Daniel? He had to be reliving the whole experience yet again. He turned, looked at him, and winced. Daniel's head was down, his hands stuffed into the pockets of the black slacks.

Damn it.

Jack fought down the desire to take Daniel's hand – and then thought, why the hell not? He pulled Daniel's hand out of his pocket and wrapped his fingers around it. A moment later, Teal'c did exactly the same thing, and then Jack felt Cassie's hand in his other one and so it went. Sam's hand crept into George's, who took Carolyn's, who took her father's. Teal'c took Lou's. Slowly Daniel's head came up and he looked at Jack, who felt his emotions rushing to the top and his eyes filling with tears....

"...and I could see his finger squeezing and all I could think was that I wanted to see my darling Jesse one more time, to see her beautiful face in the morning. Then Daniel yelled and something flew out of his hand and it spiraled over and over in the air and I swear it was moving in slow motion and the guy who was about to shoot me turned his head and blinked and then the bottle – it was the wine Doctor Jackson had chosen -- hit him square in the head and he went down, just like that. And I was alive. But it wasn't over... because of course, the other three panicked then. Two of them headed for the door but the young men shoved their kegs in their path and down they went, but... but ... the other one, he didn't run. He was angry and he pushed Doctor Jackson, who'd earlier stepped protectively in front of the young girl, aside and turned his weapon on her – and the alarm was screeching and Doctor Jackson just did it – he just – did it. He threw himself in front of her and took the bullet meant for her."

The room was incredibly quiet as Governor Owens closed the folder. He looked up again, gave a slight shake of his head, as if trying to come back from a long distance, and finally said, "Doctor Daniel Jackson took a bullet in his chest in order to protect Pamela Jacobs and her unborn child. He was rushed to Memorial and spent over eight hours in surgery as the best surgeons in the world attempted to remove the bullet and save his life. His condition remained critical as he slipped into a coma. But God was watching over us all in this instance, as Doctor Jackson recovered – fully – from his wound.

"His heroism came to the attention of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission via a series of news articles, and thus, the reason I'm here today. Doctor Jackson, if you would join me?"

Jack released Daniel's hand, as did Teal'c, and pushed him – gently – forward. Shooting him a look that could kill, Daniel nevertheless started to walk toward the podium.

When he reached the Governor's side, Owens said, "It is with great honor and pride that I now present Doctor Daniel Jackson with the Carnegie Medal for his act of incredible heroism that resulted in not only foiling the intended robbery of the One-Stop Liquor Store in Colorado Springs, but directly and indirectly saving the lives of Pamela Jacobs; her son, Daniel Anthony Jacobs; Edward Lauer; Ben Cooper, and Stanley Beymer."

He lifted a small leather jeweler's box, the lid open, so that everyone could get a look at the bronze medal before he removed it and pinned it to Daniel's tux. Smiling, he stepped back so that Eddie, his wife, and Pamela and Tony could step forward and engulf Daniel in a group hug as the normally restrained audience of some of the most powerful people in Washington blew their noses and then broke into raucous applause.

***

Daniel was exhausted – completely, utterly – exhausted. Thanks to Jack. He lay on his back and Jack, who was asleep, had his head on Daniel's chest. The evening had certainly been more than he'd bargained for, that was for sure.

After the medal ceremony, his hand had been pumped until numb, his back slapped so many times, he knew he was bruised. But in spite of the embarrassment, it had been fun to watch Pamela, Tony, Eddie and his wife as they actually shook hands with President and Mrs. Hayes, not to mention the senators, Joint Chiefs, and of course, their own governor. Their total joy with the evening had been worth everything.

And sex with Jack the minute they'd walked into their suite had made it all worthwhile too, now that he thought about it.

Daniel smiled in the dark as he ran his fingers gently and tenderly through Jack's hair.

***

"The rumors are really flying, General," Sam said as they all stood in the parking lot.

"Yeah? Who's winning?"

"Right now, they're betting on General Alistair – and they're not happy."

Jack looked towards the entrance to the Mountain and grinned. "Aw, that's too bad." His grin faded. "Of course, they might be just as unhappy when they find out that I'm in charge again."

"Very funny, Jack," Daniel said. "They love you and you know it. I think it's the way you walk-the-dog with your yo-yo."

They'd been home for a week, with the SGC having already happily welcomed Sam back into the fold, but Daniel had only been cleared for duty two days ago, so this was his first official day back. All three looked at the Mountain again as Jack said, straightening from where he'd been leaning against his truck, "Well, let's get it done, people."

They headed for the entrance and, while Jack knew that word would spread about his being on base, he also knew that everyone would just assume he was there to introduce their new boss.

Fifteen minutes later, Colonel Paul Davis was grinning and welcoming Jack back. They were standing in front of Jack's old – and now new again – office and Jack frowned. "Hey, what happened to my chair?"

"Oh," Daniel said, his face scrunching up. "Landry didn't really like it so he shipped it off and brought in his own."

"But that chair was great," Jack whined as he walked in. The boxes containing his photos, plaques, trophies and model airplanes were stacked next to the desk since he'd given strict orders not to unpack them. He walked around them and tested the chair by pressing on the seat – and grimaced. "I want my chair back. Where's Walter?"

"Downstairs with everyone else, General," Paul answered.

"Oh. Okay, then, let's get down there. I need Walter to chase down my chair so the faster we let everyone know I'm back – the better."

Sam shared a knowing look with Paul as they both followed Jack and Daniel out and downstairs, bypassing the control room and going straight down to the 'Gate room. The door slid open and Jack, with Daniel beside him, walked in, Sam and Paul behind him....

...and the room was immediately filled with applauding SGC personnel.

Stunned, Jack looked around, spotted the huge "Congratulations to Carnegie Medal Winner and New IC Member: Doctor Daniel Jackson" banner, and finally, across the Stargate itself, another banner which said simply, "Welcome Back, General O'Neill and Doctor Daniel Jackson."

Jack froze – and then slowly turned to Sam. "You told."

***

The party was over and Jack and Daniel had finally finished putting Jack's office back together. Now Daniel sat on the other side of Jack's desk, while Jack lounged in his chair, feet up on the desk, a small rubber ball in his hand. "Nice party, eh?"

"Very," Daniel agreed.

"Funny how Walter knew exactly where to go for my chair, though."

"Wasn't it?" Daniel asked as he scooped another piece of "Welcome Back, General O'Neill & Doctor Jackson" cake onto his fork.

"Funny how he found it in your office."

"Yeah, wonder how it got there."

"You should know."

"Yeah, wonder how it got there."

"Putz." Jack tossed the ball against the wall and said thoughtfully, "Mitchell looked happy, didn't he?"

"Yep."

"Okay, so, SG-1 is a team of three and you need a fourth. You gonna help Mitchell and Carter find the right person?"

"No-ope."

"No?" Jack sat up straight. "Why not?"

"Because Teal'c will be back."

"Oh." He slouched back down and put his feet back up. "So you really think he'll be back?"

"Ye-ep."

"You're sure verbose today."

"Yep."

Jack tossed the ball a few more times as Daniel finished his third piece of cake. Eventually, Jack said softly, "We've lived a good life, haven't we?"

"Yep."

"And it just got a whole lot better, didn't it?"

"Yep."

"So you're happy?"

"Yep."

Satisfied, Jack grinned, tossed the ball against the opposite wall and, as he caught it, said, "Me too."

The End
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