Adjustments and Parameters

Author: Orrymain
Category: Slash, Angst, Drama, Romance, Missing Scene/Epilogue, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  2 - July 10-14, 1998
Spoilers:  Serpent's Lair, In the Line of Duty, Fire and Water, Solitudes
Size:  87kb
Written: September 14-15,19 2003 Revised: October 11, 2003 Revised Again: January 13,29-30, February 2, March 24, May 1,13-15,31, June 24, 2005; Revised for consistency: January 14, 2007 Revised Again for consistency: October 23, 2011
Summary:  With Sha're still under Goa'uld control, Daniel's guilt about his love affair with Jack threatens to end their relationship.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fics, “Wish Upon a Star,” “Waiting,” “Clarity: The Merger of Fire and Water”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Suzanna, Tina, Brynn, QuinGem, Sentarla, Robert, Tamara, Claudia, Allexandrya!

Adjustments and Parameters
by Orrymain

Jack sighed, wondering how long he had been lying in bed, just staring at the ceiling.  He'd woken up well before the alarm, again, with the feeling of being alone churning inside him.  Only this was worse than being alone, for on June twenty-sixth, a miracle had happened: Jack's loneliness had ended.  He'd been given a gift by one Daniel Jackson, and that gift was priceless: the gift was love.  His biggest fear now was that Daniel would reconsider that miracle and say it was all mistake.

The restless man looked at the clock that sat next to his bed.  It was 7:30 a.m. on a Friday morning.  Unable to resist the need to hear the voice that sounded like perfection to him, Jack picked up the phone and dialed Daniel's apartment, letting it ring over and over again, until, finally, a tired, groggy voice answered.

“H'lo.”

“Hey, missed you last night.”  There was no response.  “You there?  Yo, Danny, wake up.  Rise and shine, and all of that.”

“Hmm.  J'ck?”

“Well, you got the name right.  You should be up, Doctor Jackson.  We have a briefing at 0930 hours, you know.”

“Bri'ng?”

“Daniel, wake up!” the amused colonel commanded.

“J'ck?”

Jack shook his head.  His Daniel was definitely not a morning person, and, obviously, the younger man's definition of working late had meant working into the wee hours of the morning.

“Danny, I'll be there in thirty minutes.  I love you.”

Jack hung up the phone, not waiting to see if Daniel responded, mostly because he knew Daniel was still asleep, his brain having used remote control to get his vocal chords to react as much as they had.

~I know you didn't enter this relationship lightly, Danny, but I'm scared that you're scared, and that is one scary feeling.~

Jack was fighting to keep a cool head, to stop himself from being paranoid and jumping to incorrect conclusions about Daniel's feelings.

~I hope I'm not dreaming this.  Don't change your mind, Danny, and back away from me.  Geez, I don't even want to think about why you've been so quiet the last couple of days.~

Their love affair was only two-weeks-old, and was, in fact, a pleasant byproduct of a nasty event.

SG-1 had boarded one of Apophis' ships and saved the world from a Goa'uld attack, but in the process, they had almost lost Daniel to a Jaffa's staff blast.  Miraculously, he had saved himself, crawling his way to a sarcophagus and then leaving the exploding ship just before it was blasted into non-existence.  Like Lazarus, the shaggy-haired archaeologist had risen from the dead, filling Jack's heart with more love than he ever could have imagined and making the duty-worn career officer truly glad to be alive for the first time since Charlie's death.

Jack had been in love with Daniel ever since the nightmare on Oannes which was the first time they thought Daniel died.  In reality, the linguist had been captured by Nem, a sea creature convinced that the archaeologist could tell him the fate of his mate who had come to Earth during Babylonian times.

While Daniel had struggled with his captor, Jack struggled against his growing awareness that his best friend was much more than a friend to him. Indeed, Jack had discovered that he was in love with Daniel.  It had scared him, big time.  He had questioned himself, his manhood, and his sanity, as any man would, especially a career military officer, when suddenly faced with a unexpected facet of themselves.  It had taken some time, but eventually, Jack came to terms with his feelings.

Using a page out of his Special Ops training, Jack had thought his emerging feelings of love out logically.  With time, he had accepted that his feelings were not evil or wrong, but were just a part of him. How could a love that allowed him to breathe again, feel again, laugh again be wrong?  The worst part had been the realization that he'd have to keep his feelings a secret.

Being an Air Force colonel, Jack's loving another man was totally unacceptable, according to regulations.  Besides, Daniel was married and clearly in love with his wife, Sha're.  Jack didn't have a chance with the archaeologist, or so he thought.  Still, there had been times over the last several days when his ruminations would sweep all other thoughts aside:

~How could I have a chance with him?  At least my marriage to Sara was over before Daniel and I met; at least, emotionally, it was over.  I'm in love with, and sleeping with, a married man whose wife I saw taken by the Goa'uld.  I can't, I won't regret my love for him, or anything we've done, but would we be together if Sha're had never been taken?  What if Sara and I were only separated, and Daniel was single?  How would I feel about things then?  How would I feel in Daniel's shoes?  Am I still committed to bringing Sha're home, or was that only self-deception on my part just to keep Daniel next to me?~

Round and round the doubts would swirl in his mind, as loud as stage whispers, and then, Jack would look at the love of his life, and he knew, he just knew, what he was living for, and, in reality, what he had been waiting for his entire life.

Worrying about 'what ifs' and 'might have beens' was futile.  Jack loved Daniel. That was crystal clear.  The emotion filled every part of his being.  It was so simple, so right, so real.

~If only it would last, at least for a while,~ Jack often prayed, even though he wasn't sure he believed in any higher power anymore.

Daniel had discovered the truth about Jack's feelings a few months later after Jack had been severely injured in the Antarctic, stranded there for a few days with Sam.  Jack had been asleep in the infirmary when he mumbled words about being in love with a man.  Naturally, his words had startled and disturbed Daniel.

Still, the younger man hadn't said anything about what he overheard until Jack was recovering at home, and only then because Jack pressed the issue, knowing his best friend was bothered by something.

While it had been a struggle for Daniel at first to find out that Jack was in love with him, he didn't want to lose the older man's friendship.  They had talked it through, and Jack promised not to let his feelings interfere with their closeness.  Difficult as it had been, Jack stuck to his word, being Daniel's best friend and nothing more.

Amazingly, it had been Daniel who opened the door to their love affair after SG-1 defeated Apophis in his attempt to destroy the Earth.  When the SGC's celebration in honor of the defeat had ended, Jack and Daniel went to Jack's place.  They had gone to the roof deck and were gazing upward when a falling star whooshed through the sky.  As he had watched, Jack made a wish, and minutes later, Daniel made that wish come true.  He, too, had faced and embraced his true feelings for his best friend as he prepared to meet his death aboard the Goa'uld mother ship.

SG-1 had been given a full week of downtime in gratitude for their job well done, and Jack and Daniel had spent most of that trying to figure out their new relationship.  Making love with another man was new to both of them.  Rather than study books and other sources of information, they had decided to experiment and teach themselves -- exploring each other, discovering what pleasured them, mapping out each other's sensitive areas.

While there had been some little awkward moments, Jack and Daniel had mainly found themselves realizing new levels of making love neither man had known existed. They had no idea, none at all, that it could be like this with someone of their own sex, that they could feel so much joy in their hearts.  They were transported to heights of ecstasy and awed by the waves of pleasure that rippled through them, as they joined their bodies together.

After that week of having been constantly together, the lovers, along with their teammates, had returned to duty. That first Friday, Daniel had worked late, staying at the Mountain all night long.

Except for Teal'c, SG-1 had attended General George S. Hammond's Fourth of July party on Saturday. That had proved to be a little bit of a nerve-wracking experience for Daniel, so much so that he only stayed for about a half-hour, leaving Jack feeling somewhat confused and sad. That evening, though, the colonel went to his archaeologist's apartment and spent the night there.

Much of Sunday, Daniel was at his apartment, cleaning he'd told Jack, and then he'd gone to Stargate Command to work. Happily for the couple, they'd spent evening together at Jack's house, which Daniel loved dearly.

Monday morning, Jack had been called to Washington D.C. to meet with officials at the Pentagon. His return had come very late on Tuesday night, and though he pondered calling his partner, he decided not to risk waking him up.

Wednesday was the best day of the week in Jack's mind. It was Daniel's thirty-third birthday. He'd insisted on the two taking the day off, something that somehow got tongues wagging at the base. Regardless, it was a special day for both men, even though it had a tentative air to it, something the younger man felt responsible for causing.

Then on Thursday, Daniel had begun working on translating some writings discovered by SG-8 three days ago. He'd barely come up for air, much to Jack's chagrin. Once again, the linguist had worked late, staying in his office at Cheyenne Mountain.

Last night, Daniel had brought some books to his apartment to use in his translation research. He'd told Jack he'd try to come over, but Jack knew that was a long shot since the linguist wanting to finish the translations before SG-1's mission. Putting his Love's desires first and knowing he'd be a distraction, Jack had reluctantly stayed away.

Today brought a special challenge to the new couple. This would be their first mission since the dramatic events of late June.

It was hard for Jack to know whether or not to keep his distance. He knew Daniel wasn't used to intimacy, which meant he needed to tread softly. He didn't want to scare Daniel away now that his dream was coming true. He loved this geek of his, but he also knew Daniel's wife Sha're was out there, and one day, they'd find her and bring her home.

It was hard for Jack to know whether or not to keep his distance.  Daniel wasn't used to intimacy, and Jack knew he had to tread softly.  He didn't want to scare Daniel away now that his dream was coming true.  He loved this geek of his, but he also knew Daniel's wife Sha're was out there, and one day, they'd find her and bring her home.

Jack feared that when that happened, his dream would be lost to him forever.  In the meantime, he was going to take full advantage of every moment Daniel would allow them to share.  Letting his wonderful geeky archaeologist go one minute sooner than he had to was out of the question.

====

Jack reached the door of Daniel's apartment.  They still had so much to work out in their relationship, so many parameters to define.

~I don't know, Danny.  Should I knock or use my key?~

Jack rarely felt so indecisive, but his lover was a very private person, and with their romantic relationship so new, he wasn't sure of himself.  He feared that if he acted too relaxed and casual and perhaps pushed the boundaries, Daniel might back off.

~Look at me,~ Jack thought wryly.  ~The big, bad Special Ops colonel as hopeful, and as nervous, heck, and as afraid as an eighth-grader, suffering through his first crush.  Gotta hand it to ya, Cupid, you got me but good.  And speaking of good butts, Daniel's is really cu...  Stop it, O'Neill! Stop it right now.  Business; briefing at 0930.  I'd rather Daniel and I were debriefing each oth...  Geez, you've got it bad.  Pull yourself together, for cryin' out loud.~

Jack shook his head in frustration and knocked on the door.

“Hey,” Daniel said, standing bleary-eyed after he opened the door.

Daniel had on tattered gray sweatpants and a white tee shirt.  His long silky hair was tangled and mussed, and Jack deduced he'd probably only been up a few minutes.

~You look so beautiful.  Geez, I want you, right now.~  His thoughts may have been intimate, but, verbally, Jack spoke a calm, “Hey, yourself,” as he walked in the opened door.

Daniel had sauntered over to the kitchen, waiting in front of the coffee brewer for his first caffeine fix of the day.  His foot was tapping, and his arms were folded.

Jack smiled and had to take the risk of being slugged by his caffeine deprived lover.  He walked over to Daniel, put his arms around his waist, and pulled him close.  Happily, the younger man didn't resist, but the problem was that Daniel wasn't totally relaxed, either.

~I'll ignore that.~  Jack kissed Daniel's nape.  “I've missed you,” he uttered tenderly.

“I ... had to work ... late,” Daniel replied, guilt beginning to consume him.

“I know, but I still missed you,” Jack murmured.

“Mmm,” Daniel said softly, dipping his head slightly.  “Me ... too,” he added shyly, knowing it was the absolute truth.

Daniel was a bit embarrassed at how Jack made him feel.  He just wasn't used to all the words Jack was saying, let alone the sentiments that went with them.  The truth was, he had missed Jack, too, but saying the words was sometimes even harder than hearing them.  The archaeologist was an unusually shy man, especially right now when he felt so conflicted about his life.

Jack took a deep breath, deciding to tackle the separation of the last two days head on.  He sensed Daniel's distance and feared his worst nightmare was happening.

“Danny, you know how I feel, but, if you've changed  your mind, I'll ... back off.  I don't want to, so don't misunderstand, but ... I love you, and I don't want you doing anything you don't want to be doing.”

“I'm ... just not awake yet, Jack,” Daniel muttered against Jack's shoulder.

“Okay,” Jack said, releasing Daniel and walking into the living area.

Unconvinced, but not wanting to start anything, Jack stood in front of one of the bookcases, staring at the volumes of archaeology and anthropology books that looked like Greek to him.

His internal 'Daniel alarm' was blaring, and Jack was sure their love affair was over; he just didn't want to think about it until he absolutely had to.

~No, it can't be over, not yet, anyway.~

--

Daniel sighed, knowing he'd just hurt Jack, which wasn't his intention.  The coffee wasn't brewing quickly enough.  How could Jack expect him to function without coffee?  Daniel sneaked a peek at his lover and saw that Jack was being as patient as he could be.  It was Daniel creating the tension, not Jack.

None too soon, the coffee was done, and Daniel devoured it as if it were his first cup in a year.  The warmth filled him, the taste stimulated him, and his brain cells finally began to kick in, as was the intensity of his guilt.

Finishing his cup and pouring another, Daniel reviewed the last two weeks in his mind.  He had fallen in love, head over heels, magically in love with his best friend.  He'd discovered a side to himself he didn't know existed.  His entire world had turned upside down.  It felt good.  It even felt right, and maybe that was the problem.

Daniel was feeling ~good, sometimes even ha...hap.~  No, he still couldn't say it, but there had been moments over the last couple of weeks when the woes of his past had left his consciousness.  He had even laughed, romped playfully with his lover, and left his cares behind.  For brief periods of time, Daniel Jackson had remembered what it had felt like to be happy, because he had been -- with Jack.

However, the guilt was now reclaiming Daniel.  He was married, and his subconscious was taunting him that he shouldn't be feeling so good as a result of his affair with the Air Force colonel, and no matter how he tried to evade the issue, when he faced the truth, it boiled down to one hard, cold fact:  Daniel was having an affair, a homosexual affair.

What kind of a man was Daniel to be in this kind of situation now?  How could he continue this affair, knowing he was cheating on his wife, and yet, how could he give up being happy for the first time since he was eight-years-old?

Daniel had never felt this way about Sha’re, much as it shamed him to admit it.  No woman had given him the time of day until she came along.  Oh, there was Sarah Gardner, but her motives had nothing to do with affection, at least not for Daniel.

Years of loneliness and frustration had blunted Daniel's expectations of a relationship.  Sha’re was sweet, kind, and dutiful, as women on Abydos were reared to be.  At the same time, she possessed an unusual spirit and passion that other Abydonian women did not; it's one of the things Daniel loved about her so much.

Their relationship was loving and caring; everything was pleasant.  There had been lots of good times; and their sex was warm, enjoyable, and blessedly regular; but, in every part of life, no matter how beautiful and mysterious, no matter how caring and giving Sha're was, she never really excited him, not the way Jack did, and not to the depths of his soul like Jack did.

During the first week of their relationship, Daniel hadn't thought about his marriage at all.  He was at Jack's house with nothing of Sha're and no memories to intrude.  He'd let his mind be free of all constraints, and had fallen blissfully into a loving world of two -- Jack and Daniel.  No one and nothing else existed during that first, very special week.

This week, though, Daniel had been at his apartment more, where he looked at Sha're's photo on his nightstand every day and where he was surrounded by artifacts and memories he'd brought back from Abydos, things that would always be linked to his wife.

~I love her; I do, and we were good together, but ... but, gawd, I don't ... I ... I don't want her like I do Jack.  He ... he makes me so ... excited.  I see him, and I just ... I want him so much, in so many ways.~

At the SGC, especially in the wake of SG-1 having seen Skaara during Apophis' attempt to attack Earth, people were constantly asking Daniel about Sha're.  Personnel were used to Daniel's being sad, but putting on a brave face.  They were accustomed to the man who threw himself passionately into work.  It was what they expected of him.

The problem was that this week, Daniel hadn't felt all that sad, and instead of sympathetic ears helping, he felt awkward and embarrassed.  Everything felt like a lie, and now he was confused.  Lying was something Daniel felt strongly about.

--

The archaeologist took another sip of coffee, then put the cup down on the counter, and slowly walked into the living room.  Jack was still staring blankly at the books, trying to act casual as if nothing were wrong.

“Jack.”

Jack turned and looked into Daniel's eyes, thinking, ~Your soul; your eyes are your soul.  It's over, practically before it's really begun.~  His heart shattered into a thousand small pieces, but he wouldn't show it.  ~Okay ... o...kay.~  “Listen, that briefing needs to go off on schedule.  From what I've heard, the mission should be a piece of cake, in and out.”

“Jack, I ...”

“Don't, Danny,” Jack's cracked voice said.  He paused, and then Jack summoned all the resolve and courage he could muster.  “Just don't be late for the briefing.  Hammond has a thing about punctuality.  I'll see you there.”

Jack shot out the door before Daniel could react, leaving the young man feeling more uncertain about their romance than he had been a few minutes before.  He walked back to his cup of coffee and finished it, placing the empty mug in the dishwasher a moment later.

~What have I done?  Gawd, Jack.  I'm not worth it.  I'm so sorry I've hurt you.~

Like a man going to his execution, Daniel moved towards his bedroom to shower and dress.

====

Daniel stood in the shower, hot spatters of water pounding down on his smooth skin as he ran the lathered cloth of soap over his chest, and, yet, he felt cold.  He remembered feeling cold like this once before and tried to remember when it had been.  Then, suddenly, it hit him.

It had been a time before he and Jack had become lovers, when Daniel had first found the loft apartment.  Jack had helped him move in, and then, at the end of the day, when Jack left, Daniel had felt cold.  It was as if Jack had taken all the warmth with him.

~That's how I feel now.  I might as well be at the North Pole.~

====

Jack sat in his Ford truck in front of Daniel's apartment for several minutes, at war with himself.  He felt as if he had divided himself into different countries, and none of them could live in harmony, each 'country' sending volleys to his brain.

One 'country' wanted to run back into Daniel's apartment and make Daniel see how perfect they were for each other.

~Go get him.  He loves you.  He doesn't deny that.  It's just new; he only needs a bit of reassurance.  Go on.  You want to, and you know that's what he really wants.  You're good together.  Be selfish.  Kiss him, and he'll do anything you want.~

Another 'country' taunted him, preying on Jack's self-doubts.

~Well, what did you expect?  He's young and beautiful, and you're old and run down, and you've done things that would make someone as idealistic as Daniel cringe if he knew about those things.~

Jack closed his eyes.  His past was full of secrets, nasty memories of things that, while done in the name of patriotism and the greater good, were still distasteful.  If Daniel had even an inkling of these events, Jack was certain his partner wouldn't want him as a friend, let alone as a lover.

Jack leaned his forehead against his arms that lay on the steering wheel.

~I don't deserve him,~ Jack thought, feeling unworthy of someone as good and innocent as Daniel.

The third 'country' inside Jack couldn't get Daniel's expression out of his mind.

~Okay, he loves you, but he's married to Sha're, and he loves her more. Every second you spend with him only makes him feel guiltier.  You saw the pain in Danny's eyes.  He's an honest man, and he's not used to cheating.  Crap!  That's what we're doing.  Danny's married, and I've roped him into having an affair.  Geez, an affair with an older ... man.  Face facts, O'Neill.  He's in love with his wife, and besides, maybe this same-sex thing was just too much for him to handle.  You didn't exactly have an easy time of it at first yourself.~

Jack sighed.  He had known that one day he'd lose his love, that Sha're would return, and Daniel would go with her.

~I just thought we'd, I'd, have more time.~

Jack's war was over, and his pure love for Daniel had won.  He couldn't cause his lover to suffer because of his own need to have a relationship.

It was going to be hard to go on as if nothing had happened between them, but Jack was determined to try.  Somehow, they'd go back to being best friends.  Jack couldn't lose that.

“How can I learn not to touch you anymore, Danny?  I don't know if I can do that now.”

The words were spoken softly to the silence of the truck, but Jack knew he'd find a way.  He had to.

====

The “piece of cake” mission to Nasya turned out not to be so easy.  After three-hundred years of peace, the Goa'uld suddenly attacked while SG-1 was negotiating with the inhabitants to set up a research outpost on the planet.

It had been an intense battle in which many were killed or injured, but the Tau'ri had managed to rescue over two-hundred of the Nasyans.  When things settled, Hammond held a briefing to decide on the next course of action.

Daniel sat next to Jack, but his body was leaning towards the general.  He was desperately trying not to look at his ex-lover.

Jack played it cool, but his eyes locked on to Daniel's slender fingers as they rubbed together, a nervous fidgeting habit of Daniel's.  He wanted to touch those fingers and kiss them.  He wanted to feel those fingers on his body.  Daniel's fingers had a magical quality to them when he touched Jack.

~This is torture.  Maybe it's time to retire again.~  Jack let out a defeatist snort.  ~But that would mean not seeing Danny everyday: worse torture.~

Jack mentally chided himself for thinking about his lover's fingers during a briefing.  He tuned back into the conversation and ended up making antagonistic remarks that virtually challenged anything that Daniel said, especially concerning the Goa'uld invasion of Nasya.

“In the past there was usually some reason.  Most often they seem to attack civilizations that are advancing to a point where their technology could be a threat, but that wasn't the case here,” Daniel explained.

“Maybe they found out we were there,” Jack offered.

“Well, how could they know?  Or more importantly, why did this particular Goa'uld care?” Daniel asked pointedly.

“They might have been a little concerned because we just kicked the crap out of Apophis,” Jack answered a bit abruptly.

There was definitely something in the air as the two men exchanged their thoughts, but, sadly, whatever that something was, wasn't loving.  They had too much unresolved between them.

“Well, the truth is we still understand very little about their society.”

Daniel's eyes lingered on Jack for a moment after his last comment.  There seemed to be an apology there, but Jack wasn't sure for what.  All he knew was that Daniel had the bluest eyes he'd ever seen, and he could get lost in them forever.

When the briefing ended, Daniel felt Jack's covert stare on his back.  The archaeologist felt so guilty.  His face winced slightly, but, never looking at Jack, he stood and left the room, leaving Jack and Sam standing by the conference table.

~Go on.  Run.  Crap, O'Neill, get over it.  He's made his choice.~

====

Later that afternoon, Daniel was recording some notes from his conversations with various survivors when Jack walked into his office and closed the door.  He looked up from his computer and smiled nervously.

“Danny,” Jack began as he automatically picked up some object to play with as he talked.

“Jack, be careful with that,” Daniel warned, extending his arm out, his finger pointing at the artifact as he spoke.

“Hey, I'm always careful.”

“Just ... you know.”

“You doubt me, Daniel?” Jack asked, his tone no longer lighthearted and his head slightly bowed.

Jack turned his head, still bowed as he toyed with the artifact he held, to see Daniel's face.  His eyes bore into those of the younger man.

“No, Jack, not at all.  I ... I doubt ... myself,” Daniel responded and then stared at the notes on his worktable.

Both men were all-too-aware that they weren't talking about rocks or artifacts anymore.

“I understand, Daniel.  I told you.  I don't want you to ...”

“Jack, it's not that simple.”

“Nothing ever is.  I guess ... Danny, all I'm saying is I don't want to lose you, so if to keep you, we have to be best friends, and that's it, then, that's okay.”

Daniel nodded.  He didn't know what he wanted, but he didn't want to lose Jack either.

“We, uh, mis...missed Friday night pizza,” Daniel said hesitantly.

“Nasyan mess, but there's always tonight when we get back from scouting relocation possibilities.  What do you say?  Hockey, pizza, beer ...”

“And?” Daniel asked, though he wasn't even sure what he wanted the answer to be, or how he'd respond if the answer was the cause of his guilt.

“And ... then I guess you go home.”  ~Or stay.~

The word home stuck in Jack's throat.  Even though their love affair had gone on for only been two weeks, Jack had begun to hope that in some small way, Daniel thought of his house as home.  Now, though, he knew that would never be.

“Sure, Jack.  Sounds like a plan,” Daniel answered, trying to sound as normal as possible.

Jack nodded and put the artifact back down, smirking, “See, safe and sound.  Don't be late for the ... mission.”

Jack turned and exited, again not giving Daniel time to acknowledge his departure.

--

Outside, in the corridor, Jack walked several feet, then stopped and looked back towards Daniel's office.  He stood there for a moment, wondering how he could possibly ever get used to just being best friends again.

~That was hard, Danny.  I'm just not sure I can do the best friends bit again.~

--

Inside the office, Daniel felt like a heel.  He also felt like he was making the biggest mistake of his life.  The problem now was that he didn't know if the mistake was letting Jack go or trying to return to being only friends.

~How did I mess this up so much?  If this is the right thing, why does it feel so wrong?  Help me, Sha're.  I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry.~

Full of regret and still very confused, Daniel returned to his reports.

====

The next day, shortly after entering the gate room with Teal'c, Daniel's confusion increased.  SG-1 was supposed to be leaving on their scheduled recon to find a new home world for the Nasyans.  All of sudden, though, things took an unexpected turn when Jack walked in casually, flashing Daniel a disarming smile. The simple act gave the archaeologist a comforting warmth, filling him with goodness.  Jack's smile always sent a shiver through him, but it was the best kind of shiver.

In a flash, though, Daniel's peaceful calm turned into a scene out of Jack's Twilight Zone.

Sam began speaking and acting as if she was a Goa'uld, glowing eyes and all, and, after Jack had injected her with something,  she had sent him tumbling across the floor with a jab of her elbow.  The next thing Daniel knew, a grenade was being bandied about.  Fortunately, Jack caught it as Sam fell down to the ramp and replaced the pin to secure the device from detonating.

~What the heck is going on?  What just happened?  I ... she could have killed you.~

Daniel stood, staring at his lover, total disbelief etched on his face.  In that moment, Daniel realized that had the worst happened, Jack would have died thinking Daniel didn't love him.

~But I do.  I do love you, Jack.  Gawd, this is such a mess.~

Daniel didn't have time to think about what had happened and how messed up his personal life was because the general immediately called SG-1 and Doctor Janet Fraiser into the conference room to review the situation.

~Just as well.  Egypt is looking good right now.  Maybe I'll ...~

“Doctor Jackson, now, please,” Hammond called out to the archaeologist who had lagged behind.

Daniel looked around, realizing he hadn't moved though everyone else had.

~Gawd!~

====

Towards the end of the meeting, Daniel left the broader subject of why the current events were happening and went to the specific concern in his mind.

“What are we going to do about Sam?”

~I can't believe he asked that question.~  Jack's voiced raised in anger as he glared at the younger man.  “We're gonna get that damn thing out of her is what we're gonna do!”

~I'm not arguing.  I just want to know what we're going to do.  I ... I care about Sam.~  Even though he sensed Jack wouldn't like his comments, Daniel stated, “Well, that didn't really work with Kawalsky, and if any of those NID guys like Colonel Maybourne find out about this, then ...”

“Well, they're not going to!  Right, General?” Jack questioned forcefully.

Daniel was taken aback by the harshness of Jack's tone.  It wasn't that he disagreed with Jack, but why was the older man so angry at the few who were gathered in that room?  Why be angry at him?

~You're so hostile.  Maybe you don't ... maybe ... you don't really love me.  Maybe you never did.  May...maybe it's Sam.  You two are a natural.  In the alternate reality, you were engaged to her.  Maybe ... maybe ... Do you have feelings for her?  Is that why your first comment that day was about it being against regulations?~  Daniel felt the pressure building inside him.  He was certain he'd explode at any minute.  He was nothing.  It had been Sam all along.  ~That has to be it.  What else could explain your reaction and outburst during the briefing?~

Daniel's tenseness increased; his heart was constricting, and his lungs were working extra hard to breathe.  He closed his eyes to calm himself. ~No, Jack, you can't ... love her.~  Daniel was called away from his thoughts by the general wanting his input on the Nasyans.  As he tried to refocus, he lamented, ~I feel horrible.  Can't I just go hide somewhere until ... until th...the next century?~

The archaeologist's life had become such a chamber of horrors recently.  Jealousy, guilt, anger, and remorse, punctuated with dizzying joy, had put Daniel on an emotional roller coaster ride that threatened to go on forever.  Right now, his former lonely stoicism was beginning to look like heaven.

Wanting to hide, Daniel did the next best thing.  He decided now would be a good time to head over to the Air Force hospitality and check on some of the Nasyan survivors.

====

Yesterday afternoon, a new home had been found for the Nasyans, who were eager to get on with their lives.  Daniel was continuing to help them, talking to those staying on the base as well as those who were still at the hospital.

Today, Jack and Teal'c had confronted 'Jolinar' again, trying to get any information that would help them.  They were sure she'd know something about a doctor who had rendered unconscious at the hospital the day before.  Sure enough, Jolinar revealed that an Ashrak, or Goa'uld hunter, was after her.  She was certain she'd be assassinated as soon as the Ashrak discovered her presence.  She insisted there was no way to identify the would-be killer.

SG-1 met with Hammond in the briefing home to go over the situation, though they really didn't have a solution.  All they really knew is that while they were helping the Nasyans with their relocation that somewhere out there a Goa'uld assassin was lurking.

Sometime after the briefing ended, Daniel took his turn in an to attempt to get a description of the Ashrak hunter, or to find out anything else that might be helpful.  He wasn't looking forward to talking to Jolinar, but with the best of intentions, he entered the holding cell area and tried to find out what he could.

It wasn't long, though, before the archaeologist realized he wasn't having any luck.  Disturbed at seeing Sam held hostage, so to speak, Daniel began to leave.

Suddenly, the voice inside Sam claimed to know where Sha're was.  It was something the abductor of Sam's body knew would get Daniel's attention, which it did.

~Gawd, I don't need this right now, or ... wait.  Maybe it's ... it's the perfect thing.~

Daniel's heart stopped as he processed the words.  This was good news,
the answer to many prayers and hopes.  Sha're's return would be
confusing, but at the same time, he hoped he'd find peace of mind for
everyone involved in this unusual romantic triangle.

Eagerly, Daniel took his new-found information to Hammond.  Jack was already there when he arrived at the general's office.  The Air Force colonel refused to believe anything the 'Goa'uld', who now claimed to be an alien race called the Tok'ra, said; he was convinced the parasite was lying.

As Daniel sat in one of the chairs, Jack sat at the end of Hammond's desk.  There was distance between them, more than just the physical distance of their bodies.

After hearing the story, Jack responded adamantly, “Daniel, it's a ploy.  He's playing on your greatest weakness.”

“Well, that may be so, but this may be the only chance we have to see Sam again.”  Daniel was clinging to the new hope.  Maybe if they could find Sha're, he'd be able to sort through his feelings, and his guilt.  ~Don't you see, Jack?  We need to find her; it's our, my, only hope.~

The general wasn't sure he believed the information, but Daniel tried his best to convince him that the Tok'ra resistance was real, and that the people calling themselves the Tok'ra were different from the Goa'uld.  He tried his best to explain that the Tok'ra in Sam, Jolinar, was genuine and trustworthy.

“They take humans who are about to die, who choose to continue to live and co-exist with the Goa'uld.  Now, according to Jolinar this can be a rewarding relationship.”

“Daniel, I'm sorry, I know what this means to you, but I will never, never trust a Goa'uld.”

Jack was sympathetic, but he couldn't help thinking it was a all sham set up by this Goa'uld investing Sam.  He wasn't yet a believer in this new potential ally.

As Hammond paused to answer his phone, Jack and Daniel exchanged a look.

**Sorry, Danny.**

**You're wrong, Jack.**

Both were still a bit surprised at their growing ability to communicate silently, even now, when both were distressed.  Yet, in that moment, Daniel's hope had died a quick death.  Neither Jack nor Hammond were going to believe Jolinar and that left Daniel back with his original state of confusion.

====

A few minutes later, Daniel had returned to his office.  He wasn't the least bit surprised to see Jack walk through his office door not long after.

“Daniel, I promised you we'd get Sha're back, and I intend to keep that promise.  I hope you know that.”

“I do, Jack.  It's just Jolinar says he knows where she is.”

“He's lying, Daniel.”

“How do you know that, Jack?  How do you know you're not putting your own desires ahead of ...”

~He’s gotcha there, O’Neill: how do you know?  I know because I promised, and I'd never break a promise to you, not to you.  I wouldn't do that.~  Jack's self-doubts caused him to pause, but only briefly, and when he responded, he did it with confidence, even if he wasn't sure he believed his own words.  “Danny, I swear to you, I would never stop you from finding Sha're and bringing her home. Tell me you know that.”  Even with his strong tone, Jack still struggled.  ~I want him; gawd, that's true, but I love him enough to see him happy, even if it means we aren't together.  Right?~

Jack's voice had risen, and Daniel could see the anger in the chocolate brown eyes that he loved so much.  Jack was visibly hurt at Daniel's implication.  Ashamed he had even thought such a thing about his lover, Daniel hung his head.

~How could I have thought that for even a fleeting moment?  Jack would never do that, not even for ...~  Daniel paused, too shy even in his mind to admit that he had thought Jack's love for him would overrule a long standing and very strict code of honor.  “I know it, Jack.  For a moment, I thought we had a chance to find her, that's all.”

“We ... will find her.  I'll do everything in my power to bring her home to you.”

In that moment, Jack's self doubt died.  He knew it was true, that he would do anything to bring Sha're Jackson home.  To do less would be unconscionable, and Jack found a new level of peace within himself, knowing his honor was still intact.

~I love you, Danny, and I made you a promise, and nothing ... NOTHING ... is going to prevent me from keeping that promise, and then whatever happens, happens.~

The pain in Jack's eyes reached deep into Daniel's soul, and the younger man longed to reach out and hold him.

~It would just make it worse, Jack, to ... to touch you.  I'm so sorry.~

Daniel knew he had just hurt Jack again, accusing him of putting himself
ahead of Sha're.

~Gawd, I'm such an idiot.  You're better off without me anyway.  Apologize, Jackson.  You were so out of line just now.~

Daniel felt like he'd been kicked in the abdomen when he realized Jack had quietly backed out of the office, leaving Daniel alone to his thoughts.  He'd been so self-absorbed in his own despair that he hadn't seen or heard his one-time lover walk out.

~What else can I do to hurt the man I love?  Jack and Sha're are both better off without me.  Oh, gawd, what did I just say?~

Anguish and a feeling of utter despair flooded through his body, and Daniel wished he could just disappear.

====

The next day, Daniel lost himself in his task of helping the Nasyans prepare to go to their new location.  He took his time, wanting to make ensure that each of the inhabitants felt comfortable going to their new home via the Gate.  As a result, he spent extra time assuring them that they wouldn't be alone, explaining that an SG team was waiting on the other side of the Stargate to help them adjust and get situated.

Meanwhile, Jack and Teal'c had gone to check on security when one of the cameras went offline.  They found Sam, lying in her cell, dying.  Janet was called, and both men accompanied Janet to the infirmary as the SGC doctor continued to fight hard to save Sam's life.

About the same time, Daniel saw Talia, the final Nasyan, go through the Stargate.  As he walked down the ramp, he recognized a Marine as being a doctor he had seen back at the Air Force hospital.  In fact, he'd seen the man while visiting Talia and other Nasyan refugees at the medical facility.

When Daniel spoke, the man grabbed him, threatening to kill him if the Stargate was not reactivated.  The Marine/doctor was in fact the Ashrak, who had been going after Jolinar.  He'd been in hiding as he searched through the refugees.  Finally, he had used his powers to return to the Mountain with the Nasyans and get through the security gate undetected.  Now, the assassin held Daniel at gunpoint.

====

In the infirmary, Jack heard the warning about an intruder in the gate room.

~Intruder?  Must be the hunter guy, but they know he's there.  Teal'c can handle it.  Daniel should have finished with the Nasyans thirty minutes ago.  He's safe in his office by now.~

Unaware of Daniel's life being at risk, Jack nodded for Teal'c to check out whatever was transpiring, choosing to remain in the infirmary as he waited for word on his 2IC.

====

Teal'c entered the gate room, apologizing to Daniel as he zatted the Ashrak, since he knew his friend would be stunned by the fire.  Daniel fell to the ramp, and when he did, Teal'c zatted the Ashrak for the second time, killing him.

Still on the metal ramp, Daniel breathed heavily.  He felt groggy and off-balance from the zat blast, but he was alive, and thankful for it.

“Just don't ever do that again,” he said to the Jaffa, only half-teasing.

“Doctor Jackson, are you all right?” the general asked from the control room.

“Yes, Sir, I'm fine.”

“Let's be sure.  Have Doctor Fraiser check you out.”

Daniel wanted to argue.  He was scared to death, not physically injured, but he could tell he wasn't going to be able to talk his way out of it, especially with a big Jaffa staring him down, prepared to 'escort' him to the infirmary personally, if necessary.

“Okay, General.  I'll go there now.  Thanks again, Teal'c.  I'll, uh, see you later.”

“You will go straight to the infirmary, DanielJackson.”

“Yes, Teal'c, I'm going,” Daniel spoke as he rubbed his neck, still feeling the alien's hands around him.

====

As he walked to the infirmary, Daniel realized that if he had been killed, Jack would have thought he had died not loving the older man.  It was just like before, when Sam, under Jolinar's influence, had thrown Jack in the gate room.  It just didn't feel right to think of Jack dying without knowing the truth.  Then again, nothing about the last few days seemed right to Daniel.

~It's wrong; it's all so wrong.  He's miserable; I'm miserable, and I feel so guilty.  How do I get over that, or do I have a right to?  Maybe I'll go on a dig, leave this all behind.  Gawd, I can't do that; I don't even want to do that. I just ... I just want to be able to sleep at night.~

Daniel reached the infirmary and saw Jack watching over Sam, his arms folded, almost stoic.  He saw Jack react, walking towards her when Sam's pulse and heartbeat grew stronger.  He watched silently as Jack leaned over his 2IC, talking to her.

Suddenly, Daniel didn't want to be anywhere near the infirmary.  He was happy Sam was okay, but he felt things that confused him again.

~Fine.  Be with her.~  The anguished man blinked.  ~Oh, gawd; I'm ... no, I can't be.~

Daniel closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  He couldn't be; he certainly didn't want to be; but he was.  Daniel was jealous.

He started to turn around when Janet saw him and called out, “Doctor Jackson, what can I do for you?”

Hearing the name that warmed his heart, Jack immediately turned, but Daniel wouldn't face him.  Instead, Daniel focused on Janet, explaining what had happened in the gate room and that the general wanted him to get checked out.  He added that he felt fine.

~Danny, you always feel fine.  Let the Doc do her job.~

“It was just your standard every day zat blast, that's all,” Daniel said casually to the petite physician.

“Daniel?”

“It's okay, Jack.  Teal'c killed the Ashrak.  Everything's fine.”

Daniel still hadn't looked at Jack, who stayed nearby to make sure his archaeologist was given the all clear by Janet.  He felt like an idiot for not making sure Daniel was safe before staying with Sam in the infirmary.

~Crap, O'Neill, you blew it.  You should have checked on him.  Why didn't you?  Because it's hard playing this game.  Best friends.  I can't lose you, Danny.  There has to be a way out of this maze.~

====

After his exam, Daniel headed back to his office; Jack followed, quickly catching up to walk beside his best friend.

“We never did manage to have that pizza.”

“I know.  Things got a little ... hectic,” Daniel replied quietly.

“How about tonight?” Jack asked hopefully.

Daniel stopped walking and, when Jack turned to face him, expressed softly, “Jack, I ... don't think that would be a good idea.”

“Why not?  It's just pizza.”

“I just, um, I do...don't think it ... I'm sorry, Jack.  I can't, not tonight away.  I'm sorry,” the guilt-ridden and now jealous archaeologist stated evasively.

Daniel moved swiftly by Jack and into the elevator.

~What happened?  It's only pizza,~ Jack pondered.  He felt like he'd lost his best friend.  In fact, he suspected that was exactly what had happened.  ~Danny.~

====

Jack sat on his roof deck, looking up at the stars.  He'd prepared a roast beef sandwich earlier, but only ate half of it, his appetite having disappeared.  He was cold, lonely, and feeling old.  He missed his lover.

“My ... ex-lover,” the distressed colonel sighed to the winds.  He played back the last few weeks, wondering where things had started to go downhill.  ~I misread the signs or misinterpreted the words, or both.  The truth is as plain as my nose.  Daniel loves Sha're.  It's not me he wants.~

Jack's head flew back gently, tilting upwards so he could stare at the bright stars in the night sky above.  He shook his head in disbelief at all that had happened recently.  The truth was stabbing him in the heart.

~You were just grateful, weren't you, Danny?  Or maybe you were just happy we were alive after we defeated Apophis.  That's the truth.  You only made love to me to ...~  Jack suddenly felt like a volcano about to erupt.  “To what?” Jack yelled, looking around to make sure he hadn't disturbed any of the neighbors, though as usual, he was glad that there was a nice amount of distance between his home and the neighbors'.

Jack finished off his second beer and tossed it against the railing of the roof deck.  Then he stood up from the white deck chair he had been sitting in and began to pace the deck.  He hated the empty void that was spreading inside him.  Something was missing -- Daniel.

Jack stopped, again looking up towards the heavens.  That first night when they had finally shared their love was the truth.  There were no lies.  Jack was sure of it.  His mind spoke softly to the winds.

~No, Danny.  We talked about it.  You were sure.  You said you loved me, and you don't lie, so ... you do love me.  So why then are we in this doo doo?  Everything was fine that first week.  I know you felt the same thing I did; it was just us, and we were in heaven.~

Jack paced some more, trying to sort through it.

~It was heaven, so when did things change?  The SGC?  When we went back to work?  Yes, that's it, but why?  What changed everything?  There had to be a catalyst.~

Jack rubbed his tense neck with his right hand.  He cocked his head and slowly stopped his motion as the answer came to him.  A smile formed on his face.

~Oh, no, Danny, you are so not running.  No way.~

Jack climbed down the ladder, picked up his brown leather jacket, and pulled it over his gray tee shirt that he wore with his brown jeans.  Eagerly, he grabbed his keys from the entranceway table and headed to the apartment to reclaim his lover.

~You are so mine, and believe me, Danny, I am all yours.~

====

Daniel had tried to sleep, only to toss and turn restlessly in his bed.  He finally got up, glancing at the clock as he did so.

~Seems later.~

It was just 11:24 p.m., but to Daniel, it felt like 3 a.m.  Wearing only his blue pajama bottoms, he ambled into the living room.  He yawned as he opened the patio door and walked to the edge of the balcony.  He looked around at the silhouette of buildings, pockets of lights shining throughout them.  He looked upward to the sky and stared at the moon and the abundance of stars scattered throughout the heavens.

“What happened?” Daniel asked the stars.  He folded his arms across his chilling torso and rubbed his forearms to warm himself briefly.  “I love you, Sha're,” he again spoke to the stars, adding, “but I ... I love him, too.  Gawd, Sha're, please don't hate me.  I didn't mean to fall in love with him, but he's ... he's so inside of me now.  Don't hate me, Sha're.  I'm so sorry.”

====

Once again, Jack stood in front of Daniel's door, faced with the same decision he'd faced not long ago -- knock or use his key.

“It's ... just a key, Jack,” Daniel had said when he gave it to Jack almost a year ago now.

“It's more than a key, Danny; it's my heart,” Jack said softly as he placed the key in the door and opened it, silently making a note to lambaste his soon-to-be-lover-again for not latching the chain at the top of door, allowing Jack easy access to the apartment.

Entering with stealth-like quiet, Jack saw Daniel on the balcony and smiled.  For a moment, he just stood and watched as Daniel's head bowed in his own private nightmare.

~You look so alone, but you'll never be alone again, Danny.~

Risking being hit and losing Daniel forever, Jack approached silently.  He eased his arms around Daniel's waist, kissing the bare back of the man who held Jack's heart on the edge of the cliff.

Daniel startled, but he didn't move away, and Jack smiled inside with that awareness.

“I made a mistake, Daniel,” Jack declared as he chanced yet another brave move, raising his arms to find Daniel's hands, prying them lose from Daniel's forearms.

Jack took the hands and lowered them to Daniel's abdomen.  He continued to smile at the lack of resistance.  Now, his hands warmed his heart's as both gently swayed small caresses on his abdomen.

“Mistake?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, a big one.  The last time I was here, I walked out.  I didn't even let you say the words I saw on your face.  I didn't want to hear them, so I let us both off the hook.  I ran, Danny.  I ran from the fight, but, I'm not running anymore, and I'll be danged if I'm going to let you run anymore either.”

“Jack, I ...”

“No, listen, then you can say what you need to,” Jack requested fairly.  “Daniel, I meant what I said.  I made you a promise and I intend to keep it.  We will find Sha're, and when we do, I'll walk away, but until then, unless you can convince me that it's really what you want, I'm not going anywhere.”

Jack sighed and placed a kiss on Daniel's nape.  His soul rejoiced and felt alive again when Daniel let out a small moan from the kiss.

~Oh yes, you love me, Danny.~

“It's just not a good idea, Jack.”  ~Even if it's what I really want.  I'm not entitled to be happy right now; maybe not ever.~

“Why?”  Jack nuzzled his nose and mouth against Daniel's neck.  He sighed contentedly.  “Daniel, if you can look me in the eye, and tell me you don't love me; if you can stand here, and face me, and somehow explain to me that our week in heaven together was somehow a lie, then I will go, but you're going to have to look me *straight* in the eye when you say it.”

Daniel sighed in Jack's hold.  He hadn't realized it, but he had rested his head back on Jack's strong right shoulder as he looked out for answers among the stars.

Jack kissed his forehead and leaned his head slightly against Daniel's.  This felt good.  Jack's determination grew.

~I am *so* not going to lose you,~ the colonel professed strongly.

“What about ...” Daniel began to ask hesitantly, moving his head slightly away from Jack.

“What, Danny?”

“Sa...Sam.”

“Carter?”  Jack was confused.  What the heck did his 2IC have to do with anything.  “What about her?” he asked sharply.

“I ... I saw you, Jack.”

“Saw us?” Jack's head jutted away a bit, totally at a loss as to what the younger man was talking about.  “Danny, I don't know what you're talking about.  You saw me what?”

Daniel finally broke away from Jack and walked back into the living room.  He went to the other end of the sofa and turned, his arms self-hugging, taking the protective stance Jack had seen so often in the past year.  It was Daniel's 'You aren't going to hurt me because I'm not going to let you in' pose.

~I've got news for you, Dannyboy, I'm already in, and I won't ever hurt you.~

It was a silent pledge and a vow made deep within Jack's heart and soul.

Daniel looked at Jack as if he had heard the unspoken words, but all he did was blink a few times and ask, “Why didn't you come to the gate room when the intruder was announced?”

“I thought it was handled.  A member of my team was down, and I felt I should be there.  The intruder apparently was contained.”

“Yes, he was; yep, he, uh, was holding a gun to my head,” the anguished younger man spoke, trying not to admit just how vulnerable he felt at the moment.

Full of regret, Jack responded, “I didn't know, Daniel.  I thought you were done with the Nasyans.”

“You're second-in-command of the SGC.  I just ... would have thought you'd come.  I, uh, really needed you to ... to be there.”

Daniel had lowered his head and spoken quietly.  He felt a little like a child scolding a parent for not coming outside to watch him play.  Jack's reasons made sense, but Daniel was still mixed up about the right and wrong of his often conflicting emotions.

“I'm sorry, Daniel.  I would have been there in an instant if I had known.  Sam was dying.  Did you want her to be alone?”

Daniel's head shot up in anger as he spat back, “No, of course not.  It's just ... forget it,” he said loudly, his arms flailing out towards Jack.  He turned and walked around in a circle before stopping again and facing Jack.  “And what about ... what about how you were, uh, with her?”

Jack's confusion mounted.  He hadn't done anything different with Sam than he'd done with any member of his team that had been hurt, except of course for Daniel.  When Daniel was hurt, Jack couldn't be pried from his side, at least not very far.

“Daniel, I don't know what you're talking about.”

“I saw you watching her, how you reacted when she got better, leaning over her.  It's why you got so angry in the briefing, too, isn't it?”

“Briefing?  Crap, Daniel, what the heck are you talking about?” Jack nearly shouted, feeling clueless and getting angrier by the second.

Daniel responded sharply, “You got angry when I asked about her and what we were going to do.  All I did was ask, Jack, and you turned on me like ... like I said we should shoot her or something.  You got angry ... at me.  You ... you care about her ... a lot.”

Jack was so surprised that he didn't know what to say, but then, all of a sudden, his mind pieced together the mystery.  Jack smiled, confusing Daniel.  In fact, Jack laughed, loudly, which made Daniel very uneasy and caused him to fidget quite a lot.

“Daniel, you're jealous.”

“I am NOT,” Daniel retorted quickly.

“Oh, yes, you are,” Jack said, beaming at the realization.

Jack grinned as he approached Daniel, who backed up one step for each one Jack took.

“Am not,” Daniel denied as he blinked.  ~Crap!~

“Are, too,” Jack smirked happily.

“Am not.”

“Are, too.”

“Am ... not,” Daniel said as his back hit the counter that separated the living room from the kitchen.

Jack encircled Daniel's waist with his arms and scooped Daniel into him.  He let out a tiny chuckle as they stood together, so close that nothing could pass between them.  Daniel's hands were on Jack's shoulders, as if to bar him from getting any closer, not that that would be possible.

“Are, too,” Jack insisted softly.

“Am ... Jack,” Daniel's hands slipped around Jack's neck, and he let his head rest on Jack's shoulder again.  He felt the strong, comforting hands of his lover on his back, making slow and tender caresses.  It felt good, so good that Daniel could admit the truth.  “I guess, uh, I am.”

“I love you, Danny, and I'm going to fight for us.  Listen to me.  Carter is a member of my team, and she was dying.  My only crime is that I didn't want her to be alone.  Had I had any inkling that you were in danger, I would have left her in a split-second.  I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, but I'm glad Teal'c was and that he saved you for me.”

Jack kissed Daniel's silky hair, running his fingers through the long strands of the shaggy mane.

“Jack ...”

“You really need to cut this.  You do work for the military you know,” Jack jested lightly.

“I'm not cutting my hair, Jack.”

“We'll see,” Jack said, cupping Daniel's face and caressing it.  “Talk to me, Danny.  Tell me what you've been thinking.”  Daniel started to pull away, but Jack wouldn't let go.  “Na-uh.  You're staying right here while you tell me what is really going on inside you.”  Jack's hands were turning Daniel to Jell-O.  “I want you to feel how much I want  you.  I want you to know that I'm not leaving, so I'm not letting you walk away from me, not even to that bookcase.”

Jack's hands slid behind his heart's tense back.  He was relieved that Daniel hadn't fought him.  It was another sign to Jack that he was right.  Whatever was wrong had nothing to do with Daniel loving Jack.

“Tell me, Danny.  What's upsetting you?”

“Jack, what kind of man does it make me that I would ... be searching for my wife but ... but ... be having a ... love affair with someone else?”

“You're the same man you were before, Daniel, and that's one very amazing man who is full of more compassion, caring, and love than most people.”

“But what would she say, Jack?” Daniel asked with a certain desperation in his tone.

Shaking his head, Jack answered, “I don't know.  Is that it's ... <sigh> ... guilt because we're together?”

Thoughtfully, the younger man admitted, “I guess so.  Jack, I don't have a right to be involved with someone, to, to, to ... love someone ... when she's still out there like that.”

“You have a right to live, Daniel.  You can't stay in a bubble.  We'll get her back, but I don't know when that's going to be.”

“You don't understand how this feels.  People ask me about her all the time.  They feel sorry for me.  Before Nasya, before we went back to the SGC, I almost forgot.  Everything was so ... perfect.”

“I wish I had the answers to what you're asking, Daniel,” Jack intoned and then placed a kiss on Daniel's forehead.  “This isn't a normal situation.  Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe I shouldn't be here, complicating your life.  Maybe I'm just being selfish, but I love you.”  Jack closed his eyes.  ~No.  No, no, no!~

Jack hadn't thought of this, that Daniel might have been tearing himself apart because of guilt.  When he broke it down into its simplest element, he and Daniel were having an affair.  Daniel was married, and there were no two ways around it.

~That's why you're in so much pain.~  Jack sighed heavily.  Maybe he was wrong to force the issue, even if Daniel wasn't resisting.  Maybe he should go.  Just a few minutes earlier, his heart had been full of hope, singing as he mused about Daniel's jealousy.  Now, Jack's heart cried, feeling sad and aching over Daniel's pain.  ~I can't do it, not knowing that I'm doing this to you.~

Jack pulled back to look into Daniel's eyes, trying to find an answer, but he couldn't.  How could it be, though, that Daniel had been brought into Jack's life, had made him want to live again, only for Jack to be barred from loving him the way he wanted to now?

“I don't want to hurt you, Danny, but I am, aren't I?”

“It's not you, Jack,” Daniel claimed.  ~It's me.  It's always me.  I'm not worth it.~

Taking full responsibility, Jack spoke with conviction, claiming, “Yes, it is.  I shouldn't have let it happen.  I started this, and I have to end it.”

“Jack ...”

“I should have known.  You care too much to ever just walk away from Sha're or to do anything you didn't think was right.”

“But I have.  It was my choice,” Daniel insisted.

“And look at you, beating yourself up for something I caused.  I caused the pain in your eyes,” Jack said, full of emotion.  “Danny, our affair goes against everything you are; it's the opposite of what you stand for.”

“I don't stand for much,” Daniel confided, his self-esteem not allowing him to believe that his beliefs, when applied just to him, were worth much.

“Daniel, you're wrong!” Jack exclaimed.  “You stand for everything that's pure and honest.”

Jack's hands caressed Daniel's cheek as a lump that felt like the size of an apple formed in his throat.  The tough, hard-nosed colonel felt moisture escaping from his eyes.

Daniel watched, bewildered by the change in his strong companion's demeanor.

“I'll always love you, Danny.  I'll be your friend for the rest of time, but I won't hurt you, not anymore.  We'll bring her back, and that's a promise.”

Jack released Daniel, backed away a couple of steps, and then turned.  As quickly as he could, Jack hurried out of the apartment, leaving Daniel standing in a sea of despair.  The archaeologist sank to the carpet floor, sitting Indian-style.  His head leaned into his hands as his owns tears began to fall.  His heart and his soul cried in sorrow at the emptiness he now felt.

====

It was 3 a.m., and Jack, unable to sleep and wearing his gray sweats, was sitting on the patio deck steps.  He felt dead inside, and wondered how he was going to go on.  He had lost the only thing that mattered to him.  He had lost Daniel.

~Maybe I'll resign -- again.~

Jack didn't know if he could continue to work with Daniel, now that they'd taken a step that wouldn't easily be forgotten.  Yet, the thought of never seeing the archaeologist again made Jack's heart stop entirely and his lungs work extra hard to keep air flowing through them.

~I'm Special Ops.  If I can live that life, then I can do this.~

The military man knew he would have to be strong and put on his best game face.  He couldn't let Daniel see his pain.

~I promised myself I'd always protect you, Danny, and I will, even if it means protecting you from me.~

Jack renewed his pledge, vowing to honor it for the rest of his life.  No matter what, he wouldn't ever give Daniel a moment to question himself or to feel Jack's broken heart.  Jack's game face would laugh, tease, and cajole. He'd pat Daniel on the back and watch his six, like he'd always done, and he'd do it with his most convincing best friend smile.

~I'll do it, Danny.  I'll do it for you, even if it kills me inside.~

Jack let the truth sink in one last time.  Daniel needed to be true to Sha're, and when they found her, Daniel and his wife would probably go back to Abydos.

~That's when I'll let go for good, but until then, I'll do whatever is necessary to undo the pain I've caused you.~

As the dead of night rolled on, Jack's tears ran silently down his cheeks.

====

Daniel sat on the edge of his bed, staring at the photo of Sha're.  He loved her.  He replayed their meeting and thought about her surprising bravery, her strength, the feel of her skin, her frequent teasing, and how she never let him get a swelled head from all the adoration the Abydonians placed on him.  He remembered their kisses, full of promise and love.

Sha're loved to laugh, and sometimes, Daniel had laughed with her.  For the first time since the death of his parents, Daniel had felt loved and wanted.  They had a good life.

~It's my fault.~

As he so often did, Daniel blamed himself for Sha're's fate with Apophis.  If he hadn't unburied the Stargate, Daniel was sure that he and Sha're would still be together, safe and sharing a warm love.

~A ... a warm love.  Our love was ... oh gawd.~

Daniel closed his eyes and realized that was the difference.  His love for Sha're was warm and tender, sweet and gentle.  Their lovemaking was regular, good, and pleasurable, but the hard truth for Daniel was that his love for Jack consumed him.  It was a blazing fire that roared through every cell of his body.  While it could be tender and gentle, it was often a burning rage, a rough passion exploding as their bodies joined together.

When Jack had been inside him that first time, Daniel had thought he'd die.  He had never in his life felt anything that both hurt and felt so good at the same time; and burying himself inside Jack also brought Daniel a feeling that he had yet been unable to describe.  Sex with Jack was truly euphoric.  It just hadn't been like that with Sha're.  The aftermath of lovemaking with Sha're had never been as complete or as blissful.

~I didn't even know it wasn't ... I mean that it ... I just didn't know.~

Jack had made Daniel laugh, and loudly, during their week together.  His lover had discovered Daniel's ticklish spots and made good use of them.  Jack had also told a lot of bad jokes, so bad that Daniel laughed in a way he had never laughed before.

Yet another thing, Jack had stood by Daniel from the beginning of their friendship.  Daniel remembered all their moments of friendship, the bonding, the hockey, the museums, and even the banter.  Their time together had grown from a Friday night ritual to spending entire downtimes together.  Daniel had lived for those days.

~They were the best.  I learned I wasn't alone.  At least, I thought I wasn't alone.~

At first, knowing Jack was in love with him had been difficult for Daniel, but it hadn't been as hard as he thought it should have been.  He found why he hadn't been so hard on him when, aboard the Goa'uld mother ship, Jack placed his hand on his cheek.

~You touched me, and I knew.  It took me a minute, but you just ... you filled me up, Jack.  The thought of never seeing you again gave me a strength and a purpose.  I had to live for you, to tell you, to ... gawd, to touch you.~

Daniel leaned back against the headboard of his bed.  He couldn't explain it, but he needed Jack in a way that touched both his body and his mind.  It wasn't just physical, it was an intense emotional need and want.

~You make me feel complete, like I'm finally a whole person.  I didn't feel like this with Sha're.  There was always something missing.~

As Daniel reviewed his past in slow-motion-like detail, he became aware of just how much time he'd spent away from the woman he loved.  He had spent hours in the Cartouche in the name of knowledge and science.

~No, science had nothing to do with it.  I was just trying to find out what was missing from my life.~  Daniel let out a small laugh.  ~It was you, Jack, and being in the Cartouche was the closest thing I had to being with you.~

Daniel now realized that the elation he had felt when handed the box of Kleenex on Abydos was from knowing the box had come from Jack, not from the gladness at the impending return of his friend.

~I guess that was the first moment I began to discover myself.  I touched that box, and you felt so close, Jack.  My heart beat so fast.  Friends.  I said we were best friends.  I told Sha're you were coming back.  Gawd, she knew. She knew before I knew.~

The realization hit Daniel like a falling pyramid.  He reminded himself one more time how he had dragged his burned and bleeding body into the sarcophagus, not to see Sha’re again, but to see Jack.  It hadn't been Sha're on his mind as he lay his body in the ancient machine, hoping he would revive in time to gate back to earth; it was Jack.

~How many times did I avoid the truth, running away when it came too close?~

The truth?  When Daniel looked inside his soul, he saw Jack.  Jack, the man who excited Daniel in more ways than he could describe, and in more ways than he knew existed.  Even when they were arguing, there was an edge to it that brought them closer and made them want each other.  It had happened on Day One, at the SGC: a tiny seed that grew later on Abydos and then blossomed on a mother ship.

Coming to terms with this truth, that it had always been Jack that filled his soul, still didn't solve his problem.

~What am I supposed to do, Sha're?  I don't want to hurt you.~

Daniel closed his eyes again.  He didn't know what he'd do or how'd he'd feel if, no, when they were able to bring Sha're home; all he knew was that right now he wanted Jack.

~He has to know the truth.  I ... I want him to know the truth.~

====

Jack was glad SG-1 had the day off after the conclusion of the Nasyan situation.  He had managed to sleep a couple of hours, but couldn't rest comfortably.  Though he was basically exhausted, Jack began his day.  He still wore his gray sweats as he brushed his teeth and combed his hair, though he wondered why he did that.  After all, he wasn't expecting company.

It was still early, only 5:40 a.m., when Jack began his morning routine.  He went downstairs, walked over to the window, and opened the blinds.

~What's that?~

Something grabbed his attention.  Wondering if he was seeing things, Jack unlocked the door and went outside.

~Where is he?~

Just as Jack had thought, Daniel's car was parked on the street.  Jack looked around, but didn't see his friend.  Still looking all around, he went back into the house and over to the patio.

~Okay, I know I locked this door.~

Not sure what to think, Jack climbed up the ladder to the roof.  Daniel was sitting against the wall of the house, his knees drawn to this chest and his long arms holding his knees to him.  His head was bowed as the archaeologist stared at nothing.

~Geez, you're beautiful.  I wish ... stop wishing, Jack.  Friends; just friends.~  Jack walked past Daniel and then slid down next to him, leaving his legs outstretched.  He let his shoulder and forearm bump softly against Daniel.  “Hey.”

“Hey,” Daniel whispered, his head still looking down.

Jack watched his friend closely.  Daniel had put on a short-sleeved white tee shirt and was wearing his own gray sweatpants.

“Danny, not that I'm complaining, because I'm not, but what are you doing up here?”

“I'm ... cold, Jack.”

For the first time, Daniel looked at Jack.  His eyes were asking for something that he couldn't ask for with words, at least not yet.

Jack responded softly, “I ... may have a way to ... fix that.”

“I was hoping you might,” Daniel said, swallowing hard and then letting a tiny smile emerge on his face.

Jack stood up and held out his hand.  Blinking for a few seconds, Daniel took hold of the hand, letting Jack pull him up.  The two stood silently, staring into each other's eyes as they remembered the first time they had spoken those words.  It hadn't been that long ago.

It had been the night when Daniel finally realized that he loved Jack, too.  After a celebration at the SGC in honor of the Tau'ri defeat of Apophis, Jack and Daniel had stood on the roof deck, Daniel soulfully searching for a way to tell his best friend that he was much more than a best friend.

Late that June night, Daniel had said he was cold.  Full of hope, Jack had said he could fix that, and then he did, and the two men became lovers.

On this early morning, Jack and Daniel had just replayed that moment, a sort of rededication to the other.  Both smiled, and then they embraced, their hands wrapped around each other.

Jack kissed Daniel's nape and nuzzled his chin against Daniel's shaggy hair.  He closed his eyes and inhaled the sweet scent of the man he treasured so dearly.  Moments later, Jack took his deepest breath since the last night Daniel had slept beside him.  He wasn't just existing now; Jack was living.

“I love you, Danny.”

“Make love to me, Jack ... please.”

====

Jack held Daniel in his arms.  They had made love and fallen asleep, and now Jack was contently lying under his warm Daniel blanket, his arms rubbing the soft skin of Daniel's back.  Jack placed a kiss on Daniel's mop of hair and snuggled his chin to it.

“Jack?”

“You're awake.”

“Good observation,” Daniel teased.

“I love you, Danny.”

The words filled Daniel with warmth, and he immediately replied, “I love you, too, Jack.  I was jus...just so scared, not of you, but of me.”

“Why, Danny?”

Daniel sighed, then explained, “It's so different, you and Sha're.  I was scared of how much I feel when I'm with you, and I felt guilty for loving you when Sha're is still out there, living some nightmare.  She thinks I'm here, waiting for her, Jack.”

“You do love her, Danny.  You don't have to pretend; it's okay,” Jack assured.

“Jack?” Daniel said and then placed a kiss on lover's chest.

“Yes, Love?”

“I don't want to go back to how we were.  I mean, you'll always be my best friend, but I ...”

It was so hard for Daniel to say what he wanted or needed.  He had been rejected so much in his life.  He needed Jack, and he wanted him more than he'd ever wanted anything in his life.  He just couldn't say the words, not outright.

“What do you want, Danny?  Tell me.”

“Fight for us, Jack.  Don't ... walk away, even if I tell you to.  Hang on to me.  Don't let me go, Jack.  Please don't.”

Jack letting go of him was what Daniel was the most afraid of in the deepest recesses of his soul.  He had so many barriers to break through, so many ghosts to exorcise from his past.  He was frightened.  Somewhere deep inside, he knew Jack was his happiness, or would be, if he didn't mess it up, and that's why he was begging, pleading even, for his lover to always be strong, to never let go, and to always fight for them, even though Daniel himself might not be able to.

“Fight for us, Jack,” Daniel asked again, his body actually trembling.

Jack kissed his lover's mussed hair and then shifted his body.  Daniel followed his movements, and soon, Daniel was on his back, and Jack was looking down at him, his right hand caressing Daniel's cheek.

“I'm never going to let you go, Daniel, not now, not ever.  You're my life, my Love, and I will fight for you until the day I die.  You're stuck with me, Danny, and whatever happens, we'll figure it out together.”

Jack leaned down and pressed a trail of moist kisses up his lover's chest and around his neck, being sure not to miss his pulse point.  Then he looked again at the face that he was sure could offer competition to that lady who launched a thousand ships.

“You're so beautiful, Danny.”

“Gawd, Jack,” Daniel responded bashfully.

Jack kissed both of Daniel's tearing eyes, then followed the trail of leaking moisture down his cheeks, and then back up, finally capturing Daniel's mouth.  Their tongues united as Daniel's hands wrapped around Jack's.

“Never letting me go?” Daniel asked tentatively when their kiss ended.

Jack shook his head and spoke adamantly, “Never.  Never, ever.  Never, ever, ever, not even in a billion years.”

“Not even if I have to go to the bathroom?”

Jack laughed, “You do have a romantic flair about you, Doctor Jackson.  Be my guest.”

Jack started to move, but Daniel held him close and admitted, “I was only kidding.”

“Why, Doctor Jackson, are you joshing me in the middle of a touching, poignant moment?”

“I'm ... learning from the best ... Colonel.”

Jack kissed Daniel again; it was a tender, lingering kiss that spoke of the love he had for Daniel.  It made Daniel shiver.

“You cold?” the older man inquired.

“No,” Daniel answered, his hands running through Jack's hair.  “Jack, I don't know about the future, about Sha're.  I'm, uh, still, I mean, I don't know.  I love her, but I love you, too, so much.  I just ... everyone asks me about her, and then I remember ... and I feel guilty ... but I can't give you up, Jack.  I just can't, and if that makes me not quite as ...”

Daniel stopped his rapid rambling.  His breathing was faster than normal, almost on the verge of hyperventilating.

“Shh, Love, it's okay.  I told you: we'll find Sha're, and then we'll deal with it.  If you go to Abydos with her, or keep her here, then we'll move on the best we can. But if ...  Danny, we'll deal with it when we get her back.  In the meantime, how about we just take it one day at a time?  Maybe it'll be easier if we try to keep it small.”

“Sounds like a good idea.”

“And you need to not think so much,” Jack advised.  ~Cute geek thinks all the time; turn off the brain sometimes, Danny.~

“I can't help thinking,” Daniel chuckled.

“Oh, yes, you can.  I'll help you with that.”

“You will?  Uh, how?” the archaeologist wondered out loud.

“Like this,” Jack said, kissing the man of his dreams, a soft moan coming from both of them as the kissed progressed.

“Hmm, that might work,” Daniel said, adding, “but there's always the possibility I'll get used to that, adjust, and start thinking anyway.”

“Ah, well, then I'll do this,” Jack suggested, nibbling Daniel's lip, after which his tongue slipped into Daniel's mouth and danced a tango with Daniel's.

“Mmm, that, uh, definitely could work, but you know, Jack, sometimes my brain just goes on and on and on.”

Jack smirked, kissed Daniel again, and stated, “Never fear, Love, because there's a simple solution.”  He began to lay down another trail of kisses around his lover's neck and then his chest.  Lower and lower Jack moved, Daniel reeling at the sensation.  “If you're going to go on and on and on like the Energizer Bunny, I think it should be down here, and not up there,” he spoke lustfully as he kissed Daniel's belly button and continued his descent.

“That ... would ... definitely work,” Daniel agreed, a lightness in his voice and pleasure filling his body.

Jack moved up for just a moment to look into Daniel's eyes and promised, “Danny, no matter what, I love you.  Together, we're unbeatable.  Don't forget that.”

“Fine, but let me make this clear, Jack.  *Finish* what you started, or I'm going to start lecturing you about what SG-11 brought back from PRX-189.”

“I love it when you get demanding.”

“Oh, I'm demanding, Jack, and I'm demanding it, NOW!”

The couple laughed for a moment and then shared another happy kiss.

Speaking tenderly, Jack surprised his lover by saying, “Love you, too, La Mio Bello Stella Cadente.”

“Jack, you speak Italian?” Daniel asked, astonished by the language of love spoken by his lover.

“Mmm, I'm learning,” Jack confessed.  “I thought we might need, well, options, so I've been studying with a friend of mine a little.  I wanted to surprise you.”

“La Mio Bello Stella Cadente.  That's so beautiful, Jack.”

“It's what you are, Danny, my beautiful falling star.  You shine for me, those blue eyes of yours.  I get lost in them, you know, and even this mop,” Jack said with a teasing smile as he rummaged his fingers through Daniel's long hair.  “It shines for me.  You're beautiful and sexy and absolutely delicious,” Jack said, nibbling a moment on Daniel's neck.

“Geez, Jack, who knew you could say this stuff?”

“Too fluffy?  Don't want you to feel uncomfortable.”

Daniel shook his head as Jack continued to feed on him.

“No, it's ... nice.  Just funny sometimes to think about us, here, like this.  No one would believe it, and I'm not talking about the ... you know.”

“Sex, Daniel; it's called sex.”  Daniel started and looked off, prompting Jack to chuckle as he moved over to nibble Daniel's lips again.  “Geez, I love you.  Okay, you're not talking about the ... you know,” Jack repeated with a chuckle.

“I love you, too, and I love what you say to me.  I just didn't know you were such a romantic.”

“I'm a romantic fool where you're concerned.  I have a plan, Danny, and that plan is to make sure that every day you know that I love you.  That little jealousy thing was cute.  It makes a guy feel good, you know?  But I'd rather you know in your heart, in your soul, that there's no one for me, but you, so I'm going to dedicate myself to that, and if that makes me a romantic fool, than so be it.”

“Jack?”

“Yes, Love?”

“I'm ... thinking too much, way too much.  You need to stop me now, before I think up an entirely new theory about the Stargate.  Any chance you could stop that from happening ... now?”

“I think I can handle that,” Jack declared with a smile.

“Handling sounds good, Jack.”

Jack and Daniel lost themselves in each other.  Neither could tell for certain what would happen when they found Sha're, but they had a plan now.  One day at a time, making adjustments as necessary, they'd deal with the future together, because together, they were truly unbeatable.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
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