Betrayal

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Angst, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  NC-17 (Sex; attempted rape; implied violence)
Season:  6 (Danielized!)
Spoilers:  Brief Candle, Hathor (very minor for both)
Size:  184kb
Written:  January 20-21,23-24,26-27, February 5-6,8, 2004  Revised for consistency:  February 6-8,13-14,16, 2007
Summary:  Daniel discovers Jack is cheating on him and kicks him out of the house.  Is Jack really having an affair, and how will this effect the lovers' nation of two?
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 fic(s), “Murphy's Law,” “Anger's Song,” “Dinner at Seven,” “Hand in Hand,” and “A Kiss is But a Kiss”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Drdjlover, Claudia, Suzanna, Charlotte!

Betrayal
by Orrymain

“Not again, Daniel,” Jack argued.  ~I don't believe him.  What is he thinking?~

“It's important work, Jack,” the hardworking archaeologist maintained, holding his stance behind his worktable in his office at the SGC.

“Blasted, Daniel, I don't friggin' care,” Jack ranted as he walked forward three paces.  “Do you know how many plans we've made recently that we've had to cancel because of your *work*?”

~It's not like I want to cancel them.~  Daniel sighed, “But I don't have any control over this.  The general ...”

“You *do* have control!” Jack shouted, the veins in his neck bulging from his anger.

Daniel glanced at the security equipment, glad his lover had turned everything off and locked the doors upon entering, though he knew Jack's plans had been more intimate than the fight they were now heavily engaged in.

“Jack, I want to be with you, but ...”

“DON'T GIVE ME THAT.  If you wanted to be here, you'd be here ... oh just forget it, Daniel.  Have fun with your rocks!” Jack spat as he turned, intending to leave.

Daniel scooted out of his spot, cutting his soulmate off at the door as he argued, “Jack, I have a job to do here, just like you.  Why isn't mine as important to you?  It can make or break a mission and save a lot of lives in the process.”

“Oh for crying out loud!  Haven't you ever heard that working too much can make or break a relationship?  You're more attached to your darn artifacts than you are to me these days, and I'm sick of it.”

“I'll pretend I didn't hear that, Jack.  What bug crawled up your backside, anyway?”

“Well, it hasn't been you lately, has it, Daniel?  I'm not sure you'd even recognize my backside anymore.”

“Jack, come off of it.  Don't make this into something it's not!” the younger man accused.

“Daniel, do you realize everything that has happened to us this year?  I've been tortured, you've been put through hell, and we're dang lucky to be still be alive and in one piece.  We should be together, but the truth is that I hardly see you anymore unless it's in the briefing room or maybe the commissary on those rare occasions I've actually been able to drag you out of your office for food.”

“You're exaggerating!” Daniel challenged.

“Am I?” Jack questioned.  “Daniel, a couple of weeks ago we were supposed to go to the cabin for the weekend.  We cancelled because you said you had to work, and you did.  This past weekend, we were supposed to go Aspen.  Guess what, Dannyboy?  You cancelled again.  Even when you come home, you're mind is still here.  Geez, I have to make an appointment to see you these days.”

“Now you're being ridiculous,” Daniel claimed, walking by his lover and returning to his desk.  “I have to finish this.  It's important.”

Turning, Jack replied, “It's always important, Danny, and I'm getting a little bit tired of it.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“It means that tonight, I want you home, and not at midnight, but on time,” Jack ordered.

Trying to remain calm, Daniel replied, “If I could, I would.  You know that.”

“That's just it, Danny.  I don't know that anymore,” Jack spoke with the softest tone he had yet during their tense conversation.  “You'd think that after Oma zapped your brain and tried to seduce you into ascension that you'd want to spend more time at home than here.”

Daniel sighed, “Look, I haven't got time for this right now, Jack.  We can talk about it when I get home tonight, okay?”

“What?” Jack asked in disbelief as his anger flared again.  “You don't have time for this?  Sorry, *Doctor Jackson*, that I've interrupted your busy schedule!”  He paused, then ordered, “Six o'clock, Daniel.  I expect you home at six.”

Daniel took a deep breath as he watched his lover disappear from his sight.  It was only four o'clock now, and he knew there was no way he'd make the needed progress in the next two hours.  He'd be late, and that meant that another fight was on the horizon.

====

The older man was stewing as he waited for his lover to come home.  Truth be told, he was a little lonely these days.  After he and Daniel had almost been killed in an alien structure the month before, they'd been on light duty at the SGC, due to their injuries that included fractured ribs.

In addition, Jack had suffered a somewhat painful recovery due to a torn ligament in his right ankle that had given him some difficulty at first.

Now, the colonel was frustrated at being stuck doing paperwork, lecturing airmen, or going on nothing more than diplomatic missions where the most dangerous thing present had been flies.

Actually, Daniel had gone back to work before Jack, the older man ordered to stay out of everyone's hair for a week.

“What hair?” Jack had sneered at the bald-headed leader of the SGC upon hearing the news that he had been banned from Cheyenne Mountain until further notice.

Naturally, the comment hadn't gone over very well.  Jack wouldn't have been so upset had his lover been working 'normal' hours.  Instead, though, Daniel had thrown himself into a backlog of work, leaving the colonel to putter around the house with just the fish to keep him company.

Finally, on this night, Daniel entered the house, tossing his keys onto the entranceway table and then entering the living room where Jack was standing by the sliding patio door.

“This isn't 1800,” Jack snapped as soon as his lover walked in the door at 10:20 p.m.

“Jack, I called.  I told you that ...”

“I know what you said,” the colonel responded about the phone call Daniel had made shortly after six o'clock.  “Daniel, wasn't it just a year ago that you said you'd keep work at work, that you'd make sure your priorities were in the right order.”

“Jack ...”

“No, Daniel.  I think you'd better decide if I'm even a priority for you anymore,” Jack stated, his eyes steely cold.  “I'm going to bed.  Goodnight.”

Daniel sighed.  It wasn't the huge fight he'd been expecting.  Their argument on the phone had been much longer and worse.  As he sat on the arm of the sofa, he closed his eyes, recalling not only the difficult year they'd had, but the situation Jack had brought up.  It was had been about fifteen months ago that the archaeologist had lost himself in his work, so much so that it had come within a hare's breath of ending the eternal love affair.

A few minutes later, Daniel walked upstairs.  His lover was already under the covers and, judging from his stance, there wouldn't be any cooing tonight, not that Daniel had the energy for it, anyway.

“Jack, I'll be home on time tomorrow night.  I promise.  We'll ... catch up, okay?”

“I've heard that before,” Jack muttered.

“Well, I'm saying it again.  I'll ... I'll be here,” Daniel promised again, though his soulmate said nothing.  “I will, Jack.”

“Fine,” Jack replied skeptically.  ~I'll believe it when you're here and not one second before.~

====

The next day, Daniel was sure he'd be done on time.  Every ten minutes, he checked the clock on the wall or his watch.

~I can't be late.  I can't be late.~

“Daniel?” Jack called out.  It was just noon, but the colonel's duties were done for the day.  “I'm on my way out.”

“Six, Jack.”

“You sure?”

Daniel smiled and nodded.

“Okay,” Jack responded, turning and walking out.  ~Benefit of the doubt; yup, that's what I'll give him.~

It wasn't their most intimate discussion ever, but it was calm, and both wanted desperately to believe.

====

As he drove home, Jack began to relax.  Daniel had made a promise, and he wanted to believe in that promise.

~Maybe it's not all his fault; the last several months have been full of nightmares for both of us,~ the colonel thought.  He smiled.  ~We need more romance, that's all.~

With his lighter scheduling allowing him more time to prepare, Jack had, in the last two weeks, prepared three surprise dinners for soulmate.  He'd planned out elaborate, wonderful evenings for two, nights when they would get lost in each other and their love.  All three times, though, Daniel had called, making his excuses for whatever important task needed to be completed.  Each time, being frustrated and angry, the older man had removed any trace of his surprise.

~One more time, Danny.  Don't let me down,~ Jack decided as he began to formulate the latest surprise that he hoped would woo his soulmate and culminate in a tender connection of their hearts and souls, and their bodies, of course.

====

Two hours later, Daniel made a startling discovery, but he needed more facts, information that wasn't readily available to him at his current location.  He checked his watch and did some calculations in his mind.

“I have time,” the archaeologist convinced himself as he left his office.

====

The Air Force colonel reviewed his handiwork and grinned.  The candles were ready to be lit, the table was in position to be perfectly 'attired' with all of his lover's favorite foods at just the right time.  Jack had worked hard all afternoon to prepare the meal specifically to the younger man's liking.  Daniel's favorite wine was chilled and in a bucket on the counter.  Red roses adorned the room, and instrumental interludes by one of their favorite performers, John Tesh, was on the CD, ready to woo the soulmates by a mere pressing of the 'play' button.  The pillows next to the fireplace had been cleaned and fluffed, and a roaring fire was lighting the room.

Doing a final check of the simmering foods, Jack whistled his way up the stairs.  All that remained on his mental checklist was a shower and changing into clothes he knew his lover preferred.

Everything was on schedule, until a phone interrupted Jack's off-key singing in the shower.  He rarely sang seriously, enjoying the mirth of the music to the seriousness of the song.  Wrapping a towel around his wet body, he sprinted across the room.

“O'Neill.”

“Jack, it's Daniel.”

Jack recognized the tone.  This was not an 'I'm on the way home' call, and he knew it.

“Daniel?”

Sure enough, the archaeologist was calling to say he'd be late, very late.  He couldn't help it.  He had made a breakthrough in his research, and he had to take advantage of the opportunity to review a specific reference source, not to mention, he was on a roll and wanted to continue while his mind was exploding with ideas and possibilities.

Jack was livid, his voice loud and demanding.  Daniel wasn't able to reply in kind, considering his location, but his voice was strained and forced with his anger of his lover's lack of understanding.

“*Now*, Daniel.  No more excuses; no more promises.  Get your butt home where you promised it would be!” Jack demanded.

“Jack, if you'd just listen,” Daniel requested.

“I've been listening for weeks.  Your priorities are all screwed up, Daniel.  It stops tonight.  *Home -- now*,” the older man ordered as he slammed down the phone.

Jack's annoyance at his absent lover was at a feverish pitch.  He was up to his neck in disappointments, absences, and excuses, all because of Daniel's “screwed up” priorities.

As he returned to the bathroom to properly shut off the shower and dry off, Jack's blood pressure was climbing as he recalled the cancelled weekends, the special nights he'd planned as surprises, and, in general, just the lack of time he'd had with his Love recently.

The reason for Jack's distress, according to Daniel, was work.  The overload was purportedly due to understaffing at the SGC, along with the archaeologist having never really been caught up this year.  They'd missed a lot of time at the SGC with all of their various maladies and close brushes with death, resulting in work stacking up.  At the same time, SG-1 was busier than ever.

Despite their latest close call, for which both were grateful to be alive, the two men had fought a lot in recent days.  Though Jack had grumbled a lot, what he wanted most was just to be with the younger man, which is why had prepared those special nights that had been intended to be romantic evenings with great makeup sex.  Unfortunaely, on all three of those occasions, his partner had been nowhere in sight.

Jack wasn't buying the backlog of work argument, either; at least, not fully. They'd already been through this, Daniel's over-devotion to his job, which is why, in part, the older man was so upset now.  How many times would work come between them, not because of differences of procedure or beliefs, but because of the choice to work late instead of investing time in being together.

There was something else, too, that had ruffled Jack's feathers.  The man of Irish descent was put out that the lovers hadn't had much of a St. Patrick's Day celebration this year.  He'd managed to round Daniel up for a fun lunch at the commissary and a bit of lightheartedness on the mountaintop during a break, but, all too soon, the archaeologist had spouted off about having research that he absolutely had to get back to.  Jack loved holidays, and St. Patrick's Day was one of his favorites.  Missing it because of scholarly pursuits hadn't gone over well with him.

What irked Jack at tonight, too, was that Daniel hadn't even been calling from the SGC, but from a library where they had some rare volumes not accessible other than by personal examination.

~Fine.  Whatever,~ Jack whined inwardly as he dressed.  ~Your choice; I guess you've made it.~

No longer in the mood for a calm, relaxing, romantic evening, Jack went downstairs and removed all signs of his planned evening.  By the time he was done eliminating the 'evidence' of romance, he was fuming, realizing he was about to be stranded home alone for yet another night.  The more he thought about it, the angrier he got.

“Oh, I don't think so, Dannyboy.  I'm not sitting around here on my duff by myself, not again.~

Furious with his lover, Jack grabbed the first thing within his reach and threw it against the wall.  Without cleaning the area or picking up the shattered object, he picked up his black leather jacket and left the house.

====

Five hours later, at roughly 11:10 p.m., the archaeologist unlocked the door to the home he shared with the colonel.  He had been surprised when he'd driven into the driveway to discover Jack apparently wasn't home, the Ford F350 missing from the front of the property.

Inwardly, Daniel thought it might be a good thing.  He was tired and not in the mood for a fight, which he was sure would have occurred had Jack been home.

Daniel did feel guilty about all their missed dates, but what choice did he have?  He had obligations, especially with all the downtime they'd had during the current fiscal year.  Still, he was well aware they'd gone through 'the battle of work' at least once before.

The last time had been the worst.  He allowed himself a brief moment to wonder if maybe he was working too much, but, as he reflected back on that experience, he decided it had been Jack's jealousy over Paul Davis that had been the primary cause of that horrible rift, not his decision to do his job to the best of his ability.

“Or maybe not,” Daniel sighed, simply too exhausted to think about it anymore.  He started to go upstairs, but then he saw the shattered glass, water all over the carpet.  “Oh, gawd!” he exclaimed as he hurried over to the now half-empty fish tank.

====

At 3 a.m., Jack yawned, walking in the door.  He wasn't angry anymore, just tired and depressed.  He figured Daniel would be asleep so they wouldn't fight.  He slipped off his jacket and put it in the entranceway closet.  Then, he went up to the master bedroom, not really paying attention to anything.  He unbuttoned his shirt as he stood in front of the dresser in the darkened room, and looking through the mirror, that's when he noticed -- Daniel wasn't there.

Jack twisted his body to look at the king-sized bed.  Not only wasn't Daniel in it, but the bed was fully made.  He glanced towards the bathroom, noticing that it was quiet, and the lights were out.  He made a small noise as he considered the facts.  Assuming his lover was angry and in the spare room, he went to the room in question, but it, too, was dark and empty.

“Daniel?” Jack finally called out.  He went downstairs, again calling out for his soulmate.  When he flipped on the light switch, he was surprised by what he saw.  “For heaven's sake, Daniel, why didn't you answer me?”

The younger man was sitting calmly in Jack's favorite armchair, still dressed in the same clothes he had worn to work that day.

“Danny?”

“Make it good, Jack.”

“Make what good?” Jack asked innocently.

“Where'd you go?”

Daniel hadn't looked at Jack.  His focus was straight ahead and slightly downward.  He hadn't really moved, and his voice had been monotone.  Jack noticed Daniel's eyes seemed icy cold.

“I went to a bar,” the older man answered honestly.

“When?”

“Daniel, does this interrogation have a point?”

“Just asking a question.”

“Look, you stood me up -- *again* -- so I decided to go out.  If I had stayed here, I'd have gone insane.”

“So, you what?  Hung up the phone and ... walked out the door?” Daniel challenged.

“Daniel, *the point*?”

“When did you leave, Jack?”

“Not long after our conversation.  Now if you want any more answers to silly questions, I expect you to at least look at me.”

“What did you do before you left?”

“Daniel, I'm through answering questions.  Goodnight.”

“Goodbye, Jack.”

Jack had gotten about two feet when Daniel uttered the chilling words.

The older man turned and stared, replying, “Okay, Danny.  I'll play.  I paced.  I yelled at nothing.  I was furious with you.  I don't have a friggin' clue what I did because I was just angry.”

“Think hard, Jack.  I'm sure you could do it if you set your mind to it.”

Jack threw his hands up into the air and walked towards the kitchen.  Then he turned back towards the entranceway, and as he made that turn, that's when he remembered.

“Danny, I didn't hit the tank?  Please tell me I didn't hit the tank!”  Jack swiftly made his way to where the fish tank was.  He saw it was empty.  His heart sank. At the side of the tank, about one-third of the way down was a nick.  He reviewed what had happened.  ~I picked up something.~  He searched his memory.  ~The sculpture,~ he thought, referring to the swordfish artwork that he'd grabbed out of anger and tossed against the wall.  Apparently, the sharp edge of the sculpture hit part of the tank as it fell.  He could see the opening clearly.  ~Crap, I'm a fish murderer.~

Jack turned and looked at Daniel, and now knew why his lover had those icy cold eyes.  He slowly looked back at the tank.  He didn't know how to get out of this one.  If he was responsible for a tank load of dead fish, Daniel would never forgive him.

After a moment of indecision, the older man walked cautiously over to the younger man.  He knelt down in front of him, shaking his head as he truly had no words.  Anything he would say would be trivial and meaningless, but he had to say something.

“Make it good, Jack,” Daniel repeated.

This time, Jack understood the demand.

Daniel wanted, no, he needed, Jack to have a tale, a spin, something “big” to explain away Jack's actions.  He desperately desired something to latch onto, something to use that would allow him to rationalize the event and ultimately forgive his lover.

“I can't, Danny.  I just can't.  I was angry.  I grabbed the sculpture and I threw it.  I remember it banging against the wall, but I didn't even look.  I just put on my jacket and left.  Gawd, Danny, I'm sorry, and you don't have to say it because I know that it's not enough.  Danny?  Say something.”

Daniel said nothing.  He just kept staring.

“Daniel,” Jack said as he looked at Daniel's hands, wanting to hold them but knowing Daniel wouldn't allow it, not now.  “I'm sorry.  I don't know what more to say.  We'll ... we'll get some more fish.”  He sighed and stood up again, urging, “Come to bed, Danny.”

“No, I'm going to stay down here.  You go ahead.”

“Danny, I'm sorry,” Jack spoke helplessly.

Jack turned and walked slowly up the stairs to their bed.  It felt like a death march to the older man as he took the steps, one at a time.  He changed his clothes and got under the covers, but he felt icy cold.  He didn't sleep, only rested uncomfortably, staring at the ceiling and wondering if Daniel would be there when he got up in the morning.

====

It was 7:15 a.m. when Jack braved the walk downstairs, having showered, shaved and dressed for the day.  He didn't know what to expect when he got to the living room, but he had to venture out sometime.

Standing at the foot of the stairs, Jack stared at the fish tank, suddenly full of fish.  He walked over and kneeled down to look at the swimming creatures, and within seconds, he found himself smiling.  He brought his right hand to the tank and rubbed it for a second.

“So, you guys are okay?  That's good.  I'm sorry.  I didn't realize.  I lost my temper because I so dang mad.”  Suddenly, Jack realized what he was doing and with a louder voice said, “Oh, for crying out loud, I'm talking to little fish.  Wait a minute ... *Daniel!*”

Jack turned quickly, expecting to have to look for his lover, but the young man was simply standing by the counter, arms folded, watching Jack.  He was still dressed in his clothes from the night before, and, like Jack, he hadn't slept.

“Okay, Daniel, what's the big idea?”

“They could have died, Jack.”

“Where'd you put them?”

“It doesn't matter.  I ... kept them safe.”

“From me?”

“Apparently, I need to.”

“Oh, for ... Daniel.”  Jack walked half-way towards the spot where Daniel stood, “I'm sorry, and believe me, I'm glad the little buggers are okay.  But you did that on purpose, didn't you?  Come on, Daniel,” Jack walked a little closer, saying, “You *wanted* me to think they were dead!”

“You left them for dead, Jack.  If I hadn't come home when I did, they would have been.”

“It wasn't intentional, and you know it!”

“Do I?  What makes you think I know that?”

“Because,” Jack now stood in Daniel's personal space, “Because,” he repeated more softly, “if you thought for one second that I had tried to murder your ... our fish, you would have left me last night, but you didn't, Danny.  You know it was an accident ... a stupid accident, a careless one, and one I need to grovel about for a while, but it was an accident, and that's why you're still here.”

“You're awfully confident, Jack.”

“Not really.  I just love you.”

“That's nice, Jack,” Daniel said, suddenly moving away from Jack and intending to go upstairs to the bedroom.

“'That's nice, Jack?'  What does that mean?  I tell you that I love you and apologize, and you say, and might I point out, without much feeling, 'that's nice, Jack?'  Get real, Daniel!  This whole thing started because you seem to think more of your precious translations than you do of me,” the older man accused angrily.

“I do not!”

“Yeah?  Why aren't you ever home anymore?  Work, that's why!  So explain to me, Doctor Jackson, just how this whole mess got so twisted around so that I'm the only one at fault here?  Come on, Daniel.  Tell me!”

“I didn't say you were to blame.”

“You haven't said much of anything for weeks.  Maybe you wanted to stay with Oma,” Jack groused.

“Gawd, Jack, you know that's not true,” Daniel refuted.

“What do you want me to think, Daniel?  You're *never* here, and the most you've said is about the blasted fish!”

“You don't even like them!”

“I *love* the dang things.  Don't go telling me what I do or don't feel!  For crying out loud,  I broke the tank, and I'm sorry, from the deepest, most bottomest part of my heart, but it was a friggin' accident.  I wasn't dressed in black and armed with a P-90!  I didn't plan the attack for weeks beforehand and then wait for you to be out of the house so that I could carry out the dastardly deed.  *It was an accident*!”

Jack grunted as he turned around, completely baffled by the recent turn of events.

“Geez, Daniel, if I had seen that the tank was broken, I would have done something about it, and you *know* it.  It appears that, unlike you, I'm human and capable of making a mistake, *and* I'm willing to admit it without you having to arm wrestle me.”

“Don't be so dramatic, Jack, and admitting a mistake for you is something you sadly need to do on a regular basis,” the younger man retaliated.  “Just saying you're  sorry doesn't solve the problem.  You have to deal with the consequences of your actions.”

“And just who is being dramatic here?  They're fish!  *Fish*!  You're acting as though I've just run over a baby and blowing this thing way out of proportion.”

Daniel looked like a wounded lamb by his lover's last remark.

“Oh, what?” Jack asked with a harsh grimace.  “Don't look at me like that!  Danny!  What?”

“I thought you understood,” Daniel spoke quietly.  “You said you did ... once.  I guess you ... just wanted to make me feel better, or maybe you just wanted to get off the hook ... again.”

Jack's heart broke.  He closed his eyes and took a big breath, and then walked over to his lover.  He risked a move, holding his hand out to Daniel's cheek.

“I do know, Danny.  I'm sorry I said that.”

“They aren't just fish, Jack, not to me.”

“I know it.  I was wrong, Danny.  Geez, I just get so angry sometimes,” Jack admitted softly.

“Do you understand?  Really?” the younger man inquired cautiously.

Jack smiled, answering, “Yes, which is probably why I'm feeling so defensive.  Those little swimmers over there are as precious to you as Scruffy was to me.”

“Scruffy?”

“My first dog.  He was a mutt,” Jack laughed.  “But I loved that mutt, just like you love our fish.”

“Yes, I love them.”

Jack sighed, “Angel, I was angry and stupid and did an irresponsible thing, and I've compounded it by yelling at you and now look, you're wondering and questioning something that you don't need to be worried about.  It won't happen again.  I promise.”

Daniel nodded, mumbled an “Okay, Jack,” and backed away, saying softly, “I'm going upstairs for a little while.”

The archaeologist was still confused.  He loved Jack so much but the image of the tank and the potential harm to the fish was vivid in his mind.  He knew it hadn't been intentional.  Jack was right about that, but he felt limp, devoid of feeling.  Maybe it was just that it had been a long couple of weeks, full of arguments and not enough time together.  He wasn't sure. All he knew as he walked up the stairs is that he needed a bit of time to regroup, to get his thoughts together, to “feel” again.

Meanwhile, Jack mentally kicked himself for his dumb comment about the fish.  He knew perfectly well that Daniel's fish were the closest family Daniel had had up until Jack.  Inwardly, Jack called himself a myriad of names, lecturing his brain to try and use common sense next time so that there wouldn't be a next time.

====

Thirty minutes later, Daniel rejoined Jack in the living room.

“You fix the tank okay, or do we need a new one?” Jack asked as he sat in his chair.

Daniel looked at Jack long and hard and thought carefully before he spoke.  When he did, his voice was firm and strong.

“Jack, I know we've been ... having some problems and, uh, things are ... well, I mean, they've been better, but if you ever ... ever do anything like that again, I'll ... gawd,” Daniel turned, standing still.

Jack went to his lover, standing behind him.  Tentatively, Jack reached out, his hands gently feeling their way along Daniel's upper arms.  Jack took a breath, a loud one, as he moved as close to his lover as he could.  He slipped his arms around Daniel's waist, and held on.  They stood there for several minutes, and finally, Daniel leaned his head back against Jack's shoulder.  He closed his eyes.

“I love you, Daniel.  I just miss you.”

“I ... I don't want to lose you, but don't do that again, Jack.”  Daniel turned around and faced his lover, saying, “I have to go to the Mountain.”

Slowly, Daniel backed away.  As he touched the doorknob to open it, without turning around, he said, “Jack, I love you.  I love you more than anything, but I'm just ... feeling a little ... numb right now.  I have to go.”

Without waiting for a response, Daniel exited the house and headed for the SGC.

Jack took another breath and stared again at the fish, shaking his head.

“I can't blame him.  I'm not much of a package compared to all those wonders he studies all the time.  Maybe a dumb colonel's love isn't enough for a genius like ... My genius,” Jack lamented.

A moment later, the colonel also headed for the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.

====

The next two days were tentative.  Every time Jack looked at Daniel, there were hidden meanings, and vice versa.  For the first time in their relationship, they were unsure about each other.  Daniel hadn't left, which Jack realized was a huge accomplishment.  A few years ago, even the year before, Jack believed Daniel would have run.

Truthfully, Jack wouldn't have blamed him.  He'd been careless and hadn't thought.  He knew what those fish symbolized for his lover.  Jack mentally lambasted himself several times for being so unfeeling, and he had to admit, he had felt a tickle of gladness when he had seen their fish swimming alive and well in the tank.

“Geez, you really are my fish,” Jack chuckled at the realization.  It was actually a bit of an epiphany for him.  “Who would have thunk it,” he mused as he stood and headed for Daniel's office.

--

Daniel looked up when Jack entered, not reacting too much until, for the first time since their big fight in his office, Jack closed the door, locked it, and turned off the security camera.  And, for the first time in more than a week, Jack smiled, a big grin.

That's when Daniel reacted, sitting back on his lab chair stool, and asking with uncertainty, “Jack?”

“I love you.  I thought you should know that.  I also thought you should know something else,” Jack said as he walked to Daniel, reaching to the desk and grabbing his lover's hands, pulling the young man up to him.  “They are *our* fish.  I know that sounds crazy, but I was glad, Danny.  My heart did a little flip flop when I saw them kicking their little fins around the tank.  I just didn't know how to say that.  I'm guilty as charged of not being more supportive of them, and of being careless in their presence.  Danny,” he leaned in very close to his partner, “Sorry is only a word.  I'm going to ... no, I can't make it up to you, but I can show you I understand, and I will.”

At last, Jack's lips pressed against Daniel's.  It was way too short, lasting only a few seconds.  Both were hesitant, but it was a start, one they both wanted and needed.

“Dinner?”  After Daniel nodded his agreement, Jack continued, “I have big plans for us tonight.  Just you and me ... and our fish.  Okay?”

Daniel nodded again as his hands held firm to Jack's waist.

“I love you, Danny,” Jack intoned before kissing his lover one more time, this union a bit more daring than the last, though still tentative.  “Tonight, My Love, we get our world back on track, one step at a time.”

Daniel hadn't said much, but he smiled, and Jack took that as a positive sign.

“I'll let you get back to work. 1800 hours ...” Jack paused, “6 p.m. -- not taking chances here.  Okay?”

“Okay, Jack.”

Jack quietly backed away and exited the office.

Daniel sat back down, rubbing his arms where Jack's hands had been seconds before.  They hadn't been both this physically and emotionally close in days.  It felt good, and was warm inside.

“Back on track,” Daniel sighed quietly with a smile.  “Gawd, I hope so.”

Suddenly, Daniel sat up straight.  A thought occurred to him, or rather, he realized he had neglected something important.  Almost knocking over the stool by the desk, Daniel raced out of his office and down the hall of the 18th floor.

“Jack!  Wait!”

Jack was just about to get into the elevator when he heard his lover and turned to see Daniel running down the hallway.

“Daniel?” Jack asked with alarm in his voice.

“I forgot,” Daniel breathed heavily.  “I forgot to tell you something.”

“Okay.  What?”

“Gawd, now I can't,” Daniel said, glancing up at a security camera.  “Jack?”

“I know.”

“Do you?  It's important.”

Jack smiled, saying, “Get back to work, Doctor Jackson.”

“Again with the orders!” Daniel whined, smiling as he did so.

“I have matters that require your utmost attention this evening, so yes, orders!”

**I love you, Jack.  I forgot to say it, and I have to say it.  I love you.**

**Love you, too, Angel.  Forever.  Tonight, I'm going to remind you of what you've been missing.**

**Trust me, My Love.  I know, and I hate that we've been apart so much.**

“Colonel, you going up?” an airman asked, entering the lift.

“Yes.  See you later, Daniel.”

Daniel nodded and watched as the elevator doors closed.  He returned to his office, determined to get his work done in time for their big date.

====

“Doctor Jackson, I'm sorry.  I've tried everything I can think of, but I can't make heads or tails out of this inscription.”

“Let me see it,” Daniel requested of Estelle Shardon, one of the civilians on his staff.  “Yeah, I don't know.  This is, uh ... I'm not sure what this is actually.  Let me check some notes I have, and I'll get back to you later about this.”

“Thanks, Doctor Jackson.”

====

“Daniel, you about done here?” Jack asked, walking into Daniel's office a bit before five o'clock and, as usual, shutting the door and locking it.

“Oh, gawd,” Daniel said, totally immersed in the research for the inscription.

“Daniel, that had better not mean what it sounds like.”

Daniel closed his eyes.  It was inevitable -- the fight.  He sighed, but he didn't have a way out.

“Jack, Estelle was having problems with this,” Daniel held up some papers with alien symbols on it, “and I started working on it, and ... gawd, I've lost track of the time.”

“That's okay, I'm here to remind you that it's almost 1700 and time to go home.”

“I can't.  I need to finish the draft on the negotiation papers for SG-7 for tomorrow.  I don't have a choice, Jack.  I should have been working on it, but I ...”

“Forgot?  You *friggin' forgot*?” Jack shouted.

“I'm sorry.  It wasn't intentional.”

Jack walked to his lover, stared intensely into Daniel's eyes, and warned, “Listen to me.  I've had it.  We're barely making it through a day, and every time we plan something, *you*, repeat *you*, back out.  Not tonight.  I don't care what Hammond thinks, you *will* be home at 1800 hours,” he ordered, then turned around and headed for the door.

“Jack, I can't.  I'm sorry, but I have to get this done.”

“Be there, Daniel, or ...”

“Or what?” Daniel asked, accusation in his voice.

“I guess we'll find out ... won't we?” Jack asked quietly, but sternly.  He opened the door and glanced over at his lover one more time.  “Be there, on time, Daniel.  No excuses.”

Daniel flinched when the door slammed.  He looked down at the notes for the treaty he should have been working on and swore in Abydonian. Representatives from the Pentagon and the planet would be having a preliminary meeting the next day, and Daniel had to have at least the summary of the treaty prepared for that meeting.

The linguist felt angry and frustrated, confused and anxious, and guilty and sad. He felt so many things, being torn between the important work he was doing for the SGC and the wants and needs, not only of his lover, but himself.

~I've made a mess of everything ... again.~

====

Jack stared out the patio door and then glanced again at the clock in the kitchen -- 8:20 p.m.

Daniel had called, apologizing, but Jack had held his ground, ordering, “Come home, Daniel.  *Now*.”

That had been at 6:15 p.m.  Now, Jack sighed, walked to the stove, and turned it off.  He took all the contents of his special meal and dumped it into the garbage, as he done on four previous occasions this month.

When he was through, Jack left the house.  He headed for Denver, not really knowing why, except, eventually, he did figure it out.  He had planned to take Daniel back to their favorite little supper club, an intimate same-sex only spot that had always been special to them.

Parking the truck, Jack went inside and sat at the bar, requesting, “Give me a double of ... something.  I don't care what, just make it strong.”

====

Two hours later, Jack was still downing drinks.  He was already drunk by any legal definition with only his strong will and training preventing him from being the proverbial falling down drunk.

“When you leave, Mac, you're taking a taxi,” the bartender said sternly as he handed Jack another whiskey.

“Yeahsureyabeeach ... no, that's not right.  Yeahsureyabeatnick,” Jack laughed, “Whatever you say, fella.”

Just then, a man approached and sat down next to Jack.  He had been watching the silver-haired man for quite awhile, waiting to see if anyone joined him.  He liked what he saw.

“Hi, I'm Ryan.”

Jack nodded and took another drink.

“You look lonely.”

“Good word.  Give yourself a star for observation,” Jack cracked.

“What's your name?”

“Nosey sort, aren't you?”

“Just trying to make conversation.”

Jack looked at the man.  He stood six-foot-three, weighed one-hundred-sixty-five pounds, had brown shiny hair, which was a bit shaggy, but not long enough to be defined as long, and had blue eyes.

“Danny?” Jack asked, the hair and eyes throwing him back in time for a brief moment.

“No, Ryan.  And you'd be?”

Jack took another drink, answering, “Jack.”

“Nice to meet you, Jack.  I haven't seen you here before.”

“We come here ... sometimes.”

“We?”

“Danny,” Jack sighed, lost in his drunken thoughts about his lover.

“Is this ... Danny here somewhere?”

Jack smirked, “He's off playing with rocks somewhere.  He loves his rocks and statues and things.”

“Well, I hope you don't mind me saying so, but I'm glad Danny isn't here.  It gives me a chance to get to know you, Jack, and that's something I'd really like to do,” Ryan said as he put his hand on Jack's right thigh.

“I don't think so, pal,” Jack responded as he reached down and pushed off the stranger's hand.

“Okay, how about I buy you a drink?” Ryan asked, completely undaunted by Jack's action.

“Sure, why not.  Make it a double.  I'm only drinking doubles tonight.”

Ryan smiled, saying, “My pleasure.”  And silently Ryan thought to himself, “And it will be my pleasure, Jack ... very soon!”

====

“Okay, bar's closed.  I'll help you out.”

“You going to make sure he gets home okay?  I can't let him drive,” the bartender said.

“Oh, yeah, he'll be fine.  I'll take care of him,” Ryan said.

Jack had finished another drink and stood, reacting, “Whoa, who spun around the bar?”

“I did ... trying to get your attention,” Ryan laughed, taking hold of Jack and leading him to the parking lot.

“Hey, where are we going?”

“Bar's closed, and you can't drive.  I know a little place.”

“Does it have booze?” the off-duty colonel questioned.

“Oh, yeah, always.”

“Okay, you're on!”

Ryan got Jack into his Lincoln Towncar and headed for a small motel, just outside of town.

====

Once at the motel, Ryan helped Jack inside.

“Where's the booze?” Jack asked as he plopped down on the bed.

“Right here,” Ryan responded as he pulled out a cooler he had brought in from his car.  “Another double?”

“Only doubles,” Jack insisted.

Jack was leaning against the headboard as Ryan sat on the edge of the bed next to him, handing Jack the drink.

“You're a handsome man, Jack.  You carry yourself well.  Very sexy.”

“Danny thinks so,” Jack said, taking  a long sip of the vodka Ryan had handed him.

“Very sexy,” Ryan repeated.  He reached out, touching Jack's cotton shirt, rubbing up and down across the chest.  ~Yep, very.~

“I don't think so,” Jack said, although he didn't move.

“Like your drink?”

Jack drank a few more sips, saying, “Sure.  Vodka is vodka.”

“I like you, Jack.”

Suddenly, Ryan leaned forward and began to kiss Jack.  At first, Jack pulled back, but Ryan kept his lips pressed against Jack's.  Suddenly, Jack got into the kiss.  He was tired, hungry for affection, and now, he was getting it.  He leaned forward, powerfully participating in the kiss as their tongues mingled together.

It went on, seconds after seconds, until suddenly, Jack's dulled senses registered the different taste and feel of the other man's mouth than he was used to.  His eyes opened and with his right hand, he put distance between his face and Ryan's.

“This isn't what I want,” Jack said, almost talking more to himself than to the man trying to have his way with him.  He had kissed Ryan willingly, but Ryan wasn't his Daniel.  As the kiss had gone on, he'd realized that Daniel was the only one he wanted kissing him.  ~Only Danny.~

“I think it is.  Don't over analyze this, Jack.  You need this as much as I do.  Obviously, that rock guy doesn't know a good thing like I do, and you definitely have a good ... thing, Jack,” Ryan smirked seductively, as he placed his hand on Jacks groin and slowly moved his hand up and down the lax length.

“YOU'RE NOT DANNY.  DON'T!” Jack shouted.  He struggled to get up, but realized he was feeling numb and couldn't move.  He dropped back prone onto the bed, his head moving from side to side, finally focusing on the blur he assumed was Ryan.  “Why can't I move?  Geez, I'm tired.”

“Relax, Jack, we're going to have a good time.”

“No,” Jack refuted, but his voice was slurred.

“You'll enjoy it,” Ryan said, taking the drink from Jack's hand.

Jack couldn't move, and he still couldn't understand why not.  He was helpless to stop the stranger from undressing him.  Soon, the man had taken off his own clothes.  He straddled Jack and kissed him.  Jack wanted to beat the man for touching him, for sliding his tongue into his mouth, but his body wasn't cooperating with his mind.

“You are gorgeous, Jack,” whispered Ryan as he sucked on Jack's neck. He took Jack's hand and placed it on his own hardened groin, holding the hand in place as he moved the hand up and down against himself.  “This is going to be so good.  You'll like it, and then, next time, you'll want to do this all on your own.”

“NO!” Jack wanted to shout, but nothing came out, and the next thing Jack knew, everything was black.

“We'll have fun, Jack,” the man patted Jack's cheeks slightly, causing Jack's eyes to open a bit.  “This is going to be special.”  Then, a noise went off, and Ryan cursed as he moved off Jack to get his cell phone.  “What is it? ... NOW? ... Can't Boyer cover? ... Okay, okay.  Be there in twenty-five.  Have Mattson standing by in the ER.”

Ryan got dressed, apologizing, “Sorry, Jack.  On call, believe it or not, and I just got called, but we'll do this real soon.”  He smiled as watched Jack whose eyes were closed again.  “Real soon, Jack.”

Before leaving, Ryan looked in Jack's wallet.

“Military?  Wow, now that I wasn't expecting, Jack, but some of my best lovers have been officers.  I will definitely be in touch.”

====

Several hours later, Jack awoke, alarmed to realize that he wasn't sure where he was.

“Whoa!  What am I ... Where am I?  Oh, crap!”  Jack stood quickly, but then fell back onto the bed, dizzy.  He realized he was completely naked.  He looked and saw his clothes on the chair.  He stood up more slowly and checked his khaki pants, finding his wallet intact, complete with ID and money.  As he looked around the room, he wondered, ~How the heck did I get here?~

As Jack dressed, flashes of memory exploded into his mind from his night at the bar, and then he saw it -- the kiss.

~Danny, you're going to hate me.~

====

“Finally decided to come home?” Daniel asked harshly when Jack appeared in the living room of their home at 10 a.m.

The young man had been worried about his lover's absence, but all that came out when Jack finally reappeared was his anger over their fight the day before.

Jack had gotten dressed and asked the clerk at the hotel where he was.  He had then walked a couple of miles to a mall and found a taxi to take him to a restaurant that was located about one-half mile from the supper club.  He had been relieved to see his Ford truck in the lot.

Unable to look Daniel in the eye, Jack responded, “Why does it matter?  You weren't here.  I waited for you.  I see work won again.”

“Jack, I didn't have a choice.  I had to get that treaty done.”

“But you didn't have to work on that ... whatever it was for .. crap,” Jack sighed, deciding to get a beer from the kitchen.

“I said I was sorry, and I am.  But what else was I supposed to do?  Estelle was having ...”

Jack turned, looking over Daniel but not at him, and shouted, “YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO WORK ON THAT BLASTED THING, AND YOU KNOW IT, DANIEL!  You didn't want to come home or you would have been here.  It was an excuse ... and that's about all you've had all month -- one excuse after another.  I'M SICK AND TIRED OF EXCUSES, DANIEL!”

“And I'm tired of coming home and finding you gone!”

“OH, GET OFF THE HIGH HORSE.  You love that moral high ground.  When exactly did you get home?”

Jack was lashing out.  He was furious with Daniel for creating this situation by having an overzealous work ethic, and at the same time, his guilt was about to overtake him.  It was either dissolve to nothing over his own actions, or go on the offense and attack Daniel for his lack of participation in their romantic life.  He chose the latter option.

“That's *not* the point!”

“WHEN, DANIEL?” Jack barked.  “Come on -- when?”

Daniel flinched as he confessed, “Two...ish.”

“Two in the morning?  And you're angry because I wasn't here waiting for you with open arms?  This is really beginning to get old, Daniel,” Jack snapped.

Seeing his lover heading for the kitchen, the younger man asked, “What are you doing?”

“I'm getting a beer.  Do you have a problem with that?”

“Jack, you can't just walk out!”

“I'm getting a beer.  Do you mind?” Jack shouted from the kitchen, returning and taking a couple of swigs and then putting the bottle down again to face the general direction in which his partner stood.

“Daniel, either you think this relationship is worth your time and attention, or you don't.  Right now, our domestic bliss, as it used to be known as, is suffering because of all the overtime you've been putting in, and yet you aren't even admitting that it's part of the problem!  All you want to do is blame me for anything that goes wrong!”

“I do not!”

“Yes, Daniel, you do.  It's like you think you can do  no wrong.  Well, I have news for you, Babe, you're one half of this partnership and while all those hours at the SGC may be great for your paycheck, they aren't doing bupkiss for our love life, now are they?”

“Work isn't the problem!”

“To heck it isn't!  You don't seem to believe that you need to be present and accounted for anymore.  Geez, Danny, it's not even important enough for you to feel guilty about.”

“I'm working, Jack.  I don't have a choice.  Gawd, how many times do I have to say that?”

“Maybe until you convince yourself!  You don't seem to want to spend any time with me, but you don't quite want to get rid of me either, so  just in case you change you're mind, you want me accessible, safe and sound where you can find me.  As you so frequently like to remind me when we fight, I'm *not* the little woman, and I'll be darned if I'm going to let you treat me like one.”

“You're going overboard, Jack.”

“We're falling apart, Daniel.  You should care enough to want to take a good look at why that's happening.”  Jack shook his head violently as he reached for his beer, muttering, “Two in the morning!  Two in the friggin' morning.”  Taking a couple of more swigs, he lashed out again, arguing, “You should have cared about not being home until TWO IN THE FRIGGIN' MORNING!”

“AND YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ENOUGH TO HAVE BEEN HERE WHEN I GOT HOME.  Where were you, Jack?” Daniel fumed, totally ignoring that Jack could actually be speaking some words of truth.

“At a bar, with people who at least act like they care!”  Jack still hadn't made eye contact with Daniel.  He couldn't.  He felt guilty.  He had slept with this stranger, this Ryan somebody.  Once Daniel found out, they'd be through.  ~We probably already are.~

Still, Jack couldn't face Daniel or bring himself to tell his lover about the man in the motel room.  He couldn't even make eye contact.

“Get over yourself, Jack, and, when you do, you might report in to Hammond.  He's called a briefing at noon, and he's been calling for you all morning.”

“You answered the phone?”

Jack and Daniel often screened their calls, but not always.  They also took advantage of Caller ID.  Still, more often than not, they didn't worry about it.  Daniel had been a regular at the O'Neill house from the day he had first came back from Abydos.  No one thought much about him being at Jack's house so much, not even General Hammond.

Jack suddenly realized his question was about as logical as his actions in the recent past, and that wasn't saying much for his degree of intelligence these days.

“Me?  Why would I?” Daniel retorted, picking up on the lunacy of the inquiry, but adding truthfully, “I listened to the answering machine, but I'm going to work now.  Silly idiot that I am, I was concerned you might be hurt, but you sure look healthy enough to me.”

Jack kicked the sofa cushion and swore as Daniel started to head for the door.

Daniel had had a brief moment of worry shortly after Jack had first walked in.  He had noticed that Jack was acting a bit strangely, evading his looks which was unusual, but any time he had started to ask about his lover's well being or where he had been, Jack had barked out some sarcastic retort.  Daniel had gotten angry and figured Jack was in a foul mood, and if that is how he wanted to be, then Daniel would battle back with words of his own!

“Do I need to stay to protect my fish?”

“OUR BLASTED FISH, AND NO.  JUST GO TO WORK DANIEL, AND LEAVE ME THE HECK ALONE,” Jack yelled as he went upstairs to take a shower and change.  “Stay to protect the fish!  NICE TO KNOW YOU'D STAY TO PROTECT THE FISH BUT YOU WON'T COME HOME TO SPEND TIME WITH YOUR LOVER!” Jack shouted at the top of his lungs.

As he walked in the bedroom, he heard the door slam shut.  Jack sank down on the bed.

~I'm sorry, Danny.  I can't fix this.  I don't know how.~

====

Jack had taken two showers in the past hour.  He didn't feel clean.  He felt dirty, in more ways than one.  After the last shower, he put on his robe and went to the edge of the bed and sat down.  His mind went to the last time he had worn the robe, which had been the last time he and Daniel had made love, weeks ago, during their happy reunion after the mess with Oma DeSala and the Kelownans.

Suddenly, Jack's heart stopped.  He had had sex, unprotected sex he assumed, with some stranger.  How could he risk being intimate with Daniel now, even if he could get over his guilt.

Needing some answers, Jack dressed and headed for Denver.

====

“Jack?  What are you doing here?” Doctor Sylvia Preston asked in surprise.

Sylvia was a friend of Jack's and Sara's when the couple had been married.  She was closer to Sara than to Jack, but Jack had re-established their professional contact a couple of years ago when Daniel had been sick and Jack needed a doctor outside of the SGC to tend to his lover.

“Syl, I didn't know where else to go.  I, um, I ...”

“Jack, come into my office.  Mary,” Sylvia said to a clerk in the office complex she used as her home base, “hold my calls please.  When is Mrs. Ignosti scheduled?”

“Two-fifteen, Doctor Preston.”

“Buzz me when she gets here,” Sylvia instructed, then walked into her office and motioned for Jack to follow.  Once seated, she asked, “How can I help you?”

“This is ... geez, this is a nightmare,” Jack stated as he paced, unable to sit.

“Jack, does this have something to do with Doctor Jackson?”

“It has everything to do with him.  I can't ...” Jack exhaled, leaning his hands to the stop of a chair, as if it was now supporting his entire body weight, “Sylvia, something happened last night.  I'm ... to tell you the truth, I'm not sure what, but Daniel and I ... we've been ... we've ...”

“Jack, is there anything I can do to make this easier on you?”

“Yeah, make it so that it never happened.”

“Is it really that bad?”

“I ... I had a ... I mean ... *oh, crap!*” Jack yelled, his blood pressure rising at his apparent infidelity.

“Jack, why don't you just say it.”

“I met a guy in a bar and I think we had sex and I can't touch Daniel without making sure that ... Sylvia, I don't know that man.  I know nothing about him.  I don't know if Daniel and I are going to survive this, but I know I won't risk his health if I've picked up some disease.”

“Okay, we'll run some tests, and I'll do a full examination.”

“I've ruined everything,” Jack lamented as he looked out Sylvia's window.

“I don't know Doctor Jackson really, but when we met, he seemed pretty devoted to you, Jack.”

“That was then.  He won't be able to forgive this, but then again, I can't either.  Maybe the tests don't even matter.  I'm dead anyway,” Jack said dryly.

“Come on, Jack.  Let's take it one step at a time.  Maybe it's not as bad as you think.”

“Yeah.  Right,” Jack mumbled, turning to follow his doctor to the examination room where she proceeded to run the appropriate tests on the Air Force colonel.

Afterwards, Sylvia said she'd be in touch as soon as she had the results.  Jack thanked her and returned home.

====

Daniel arrived home at 10 p.m. and found his lover was already in bed.  As he climbed in, he sighed.  Something had to give or this relationship was going to falter beyond repair.  He turned over to put his arms around Jack, who uncharacteristically was lying on his right side.  He was stunned and hurt when Jack shifted.

“Sorry, I can't sleep,” Jack said as he stood and walked out of the bedroom.

“Right,” Daniel replied dryly, turning over to his left side and trying to sleep while struggling to hold back the tears.  ~Where'd all the distance come from?  It's like we've ... gone back in time, like you ... hate me.~

====

When Daniel went downstairs at 9:30 a.m., there was a note on the kitchen table.  His breathing became heavy.  He was frightened of reading the note, but, slowly, almost laboriously, he walked to the table and looked down at the white paper.

“D.

Have errands to run.  Back later.

J.”

“Touching,” Daniel sighed, relieved, but frustrated.  He walked to the sofa, signs of Jack's having spent the night on the sofa still there.  ~Hope you slept well.~

====

An hour later, Daniel answered a knock on the door.  It was a delivery person with what looked like a large box of flowers.  Daniel smiled, certain the gift was Jack, trying to make up.

~He's such a sap.  He's probably got all kinds of things planned for today,~ the archaeologist thought.  “Thank you,” he said to the delivery man as he tipped him.

Daniel took the box inside, anxiously opening it.  He paid no attention to the card as he took in the gift.

“Oh, Jack,” Daniel cooed as he smelled the yellow roses.

Then Daniel saw the card.  Anxious to read Jack's words of love, Daniel picked it up.  As he read the words, he dropped the flowers to the floor, followed by the card.  His heart had stopped, but his tear ducts had only just begun to open.  On the verge of hyperventilating, the devastated man hastily walked upstairs.

“NO! NO!  Gawd, no!”

Daniel sat on the edge of the bed, holding his stomach as he rocked himself.

====

Meanwhile, Jack sat quietly in a park staring at some ducks swimming in a pond.

“Colonel, what are you doing here?” Sam asked, stopping her jogging for the moment.

“Get a life, Carter,” Jack spoke dryly, not even looking at the woman.

“Trying to, Sir,” Sam replied.  She watched with her CO with concern, well aware that he'd been on edge for quite a while.  She couldn't recall seeing him looking so down in a long time.  Gathering her courage, the blonde took a seat about a foot away from Jack on the park bench.  “Um, nice day,” she stated, almost hitting herself for having spoken such a drab line.

“Carter, go away.”

“Don't think I can do that.  How's Daniel?”

“He'll be fine, soon,” Jack answered in a low voice.

“Is he sick?”

“Yeah,” Jack smirked, his head jerking back for a moment.  “He's sick of me, and I can't blame him.  Gawd, what a month.  It's been like a horror movie.”

“Horror movie?  As in Frankenstein?  Dracula?”

“Creature from the Black Lagoon, and I'm the creature.  Do you know that my ex-wife used to complain that I wasn't as romantic as I should have been?  I loved her.  Heaven help me, I loved her, but she's right.  With Danny, it's so easy, or it was.”

Jack leaned forward.  He wasn't really talking to Sam.  He was just talking.

“His work.  He loves it, but lately, it seems like that's all there is.  It means more than me, which isn't, or shouldn't be, a surprise.  I'm certainly no prize package.  Just ask Sara.  But I've tried.  Made all his favorites a while back.  Spent hours on it.  He can be finicky, but I wanted it to be perfect.  Had the place looking like something out of Cosmopolitan, or whatever magazine applies.  Flowers, scents, herbs, fire, the right music -- and he had to work, again.”

Sam listened quietly while the leader of SG-1 talking for another twenty minutes about the nightmarish month they'd had thus far.  She was convinced that he didn't realize he was talking so freely.  He had never done so before, not with her, anyway.

The colonel wasn't talking much about personal things, but, rather, was providing a laundry list of everything that had gone wrong.

“And then I got drunk, and now it's over.  I made the worst mistake, and when he finds out ...  Gawd, it doesn't matter.  It's over.  It's ... over.”

Without saying another word, Jack stood and walked away.

“Sir?  Colonel?” Sam called out as she stood and sprinted forward a few steps.  Seeing Jack transition into a fast-paced run, she sighed.  ~Let him go.  I wish I could do something.~

====

When Jack walked into the house, Daniel was standing by the fireplace, self-hugging.  Still unable to actually look at his lover, the colonel considered trying to walk to the kitchen without saying a word.

“Why, Jack?  How could you do it?”

The despairing words stopped Jack in his tracks just as he had reached the stairs.

“What are you talking about?”

“You said we were forever.  Gawd, you lied to me.  I ... I let myself believe and you *lied* to me!”

Jack's blood pressure rose quickly as he replied with a raised voice, “What the heck are you talking about?”

Daniel pointed to the flowers that now were strewn along the kitchen counter.

Jack shook his head, asking, “Flowers?  Where'd they come from?”

“Apparently, they're from your lover, Colonel,” Daniel spoke in an icy tone, sending a spine-chilling cold up and down Jack.

“You sent me flowers?” Jack tried to ask, his voice shaky.

“Nice try.  I believe the card reads ... no, just read it yourself.”

Jack nervously walked to the table and picked up the card:

“Dear Jack,

Friday night was awesome.  You are one sexy man, and I can't wait for the next time, and, believe me, Lover, it'll be soon!  Can't wait to feel your lips on mine again!”

Ryan”

Jack tore up the card and tried to look at Daniel, but he couldn't.  He had hurt Daniel in a way he never thought was possible, and now, their love affair was over.  Daniel had a tremendous well of forgiveness, but not for this.  It would be asking the impossible.  Besides, Jack knew he couldn't forgive himself.  His failure to admit what had happened up front had only been a prolonging of the agony that he knew would come, and now it had.

So again, Jack put on his game face.  He'd make it easy.  Arguing was a sport to Jack and Daniel.  He just had to gear it the right way.

“You're having an affair, Jack.  *How could you do that*?”

“*Why don't you try staying home sometime*?” Jack spat back without responding directly to the question.

“*Grow up.  Gawd, whatever happened to forever, Jack?  You cheated on me!*”

Jack felt the worst he had ever felt since holding his dead son in his arms.  Everything Daniel had said was the truth, but the only thing Jack knew to do was to fight back, to act as if he hadn't been in the wrong, to lash out at the one person he cherished more than anyone in the universe.  Maybe if he did that, ended it, then Daniel would be able to get on with his life, a life without Jack.

Jack didn't deserve to have someone as special as Daniel, and he was sure he had long ago used up his share of Daniel's well of forgiveness.  How much more could there be?

Unable to see the errors in his logic, Jack followed through.  His advantage was that he wasn't making eye contact.  If he had been, his lies and rationalizations would have died the proverbial thousand  deaths.

“*Like you cheated on Sha're!  You're the pot calling the kettle black, Daniel!  Get real!*”

“*Get out, Jack!  Get out now!*”

“It's *my* house!”

“*What happened to 'it's our house'?  Isn't that what you always say to me?  Well, fine, now I'm telling you to get out of our house!*”

Jack stood, staring at Daniel, but still avoiding his eyes.  This was it.  Inside, his heart was crying, but he couldn't show that.

Sarcastically, Jack agreed, “Anything you say, Doctor Jackson,” and then turned, walking out of the house and Daniel's life.

====

Not knowing where else to go, twenty minutes later Jack found himself at Daniel's apartment building.  He rode up alone and exiting the elevator, he walked somberly to the rarely used loft.

“Colonel O'Neill!  My goodness, it's been a long time,” a friendly voice greeted.

Jack looked up and tried to smile as he acknowledged, “Hello, Mrs. Harper,”

“How have you been, Colonel?” the well-dressed woman, who was one of Daniel's neighbors at the loft, asked.

“I'm hanging in there.  Yourself?” the colonel asked politely.

“Oh, you know how it is.  I make do.  I miss Doctor Jackson.  He was always so kind.  How is he?”

“He's fine.”  Jack wasn't sure he had a voice left, “Excuse me, please,” he said, hurrying to the apartment door.

“Colonel, is Doctor Jackson all right?  Is he okay?” the woman asked, a concerned expression on her face

“Yes, he's fine.  You might be seeing more of him again soon.  He, ah, might not be ...” Jack struggled to remember the cover story.

“... traveling so much?” Mrs. Harper interjected as she smiled.

“Yes.  It's looking like he might be wanting to spend more time here again.”

“It'll be good to see you both milling around.”

“Yes, well, I probably ... I'll probably be moving out of state.”

Mrs. Harper watched Jack fidgeting with his keys nervously, and she could see he was breathing a bit hard.  As they stood in Daniel's doorway, she reached out to calm Jack's shaking hand, her palm on the top of his hand.  He looked up and saw her smile.

“Colonel, whatever the problem is, don't despair.  All couples have their fights.  It'll get better ... if you really want it, too.”

“Yeah, well not this time.  I sort of ...” Jack stopped cold, staring into Mrs. Harper's eyes.

Again she smiled, explaining, “I may act like an old prude, Colonel, but I'm alive in a new and wonderful age.  I don't make judgments about people's choices in life.  I pay attention only to their deeds, to what they do with their hearts.  Whatever you've done, Colonel O'Neill, it can be fixed.  There is nothing on Earth that can't be healed with love.  Don't get me wrong, I don't pretend to say that love is the cure or the solution, but what I am saying, is that where there is love, there is hope that brings with it an array of possibilities.  He loves you, Colonel.  Use your love to find the way.  You can, if you want to.”

Jack shook his head, refuting, “You don't understand what I did.  He can't forgive it, and I can't ask him to.”

“Then don't,” the wise woman suggested.  “Just love, Colonel.  Love's path is full of hidden turns and unexpected twists, but there's always a way through.  You just have to stay on the path.”

Jack gave an empty sort of half laugh as he asked, “How?  I don't know how.  Not for this.”

“Trust him.  Trust yourself.  More than anything else, trust your love.  Let it guide you.  Listen to me, lecturing you.  I'm sorry, Colonel.  I've shocked you.”

“How long have you known?”

“Oh, pretty much from the beginning I guess.  Eyes don't lie, Colonel.  The two of you have had eyes only for the other since I've known you.”

“We weren't, in the beginning; I mean, that first year, we didn't ...”

“Weren't you?” Mrs. Harper questioned, her smile piercing Jack's soul.

“I don't know anymore.  Maybe,” Jack admitted.

“Stay on love's path, Colonel.  Trust it.  You'll be fine!”

“Thank you.”

“Tell Doctor Jackson hello for me.”

“Yes, I will.  Goodbye,” Jack said and then went inside.  He walked around the apartment for a few minutes and then laid down on the bed.  He spoke aloud, but softly, “Love's path.  Gawd, Danny.  I'd do anything for you, but maybe you're better off without me.  I keep hurting you. How can I hurt you when I love you so darn much?  I'm sorry, Danny.  I'm sorry.”  He repeated the words as if he were counting sheep, over and over he said “I'm sorry” until he had finally fallen asleep.

====

Mid-morning the next day, Jack returned to his country-styled home, certain his lover would be working.

~That's all he does anymore -- work.~

Trodding sadly up the stairs, Jack let out a sigh.  He paused, just a moment, before entering the master bedroom.  Once inside, he pulled out a duffel bag and stuffed some clothes and accessories into it.  When it was almost full, he carried the bag downstairs and went to the kitchen, where he pulled out a beer and a few snack food items.

The colonel locked up the house and put the things he had gathered into his truck.  Just as he was about to leave, he remembered something.

~I have to have that; he won't care,~ Jack thought as he returned to the bedroom and took a box out of the closet.

The box was Jack's and Daniel's keepsake box that held their private memories, memorabilia collected over the years that couldn't be kept out, for fear of their romantic relationship being discovered.

Finding the item he wanted, Jack smiled at the photo of Goofy holding his lover at Disneyland.  The silly photo meant something to Jack.

“He just wants to burn it,” Jack lamented aloud as he took the framed photo from the box.

The fleeing man also grabbed another jacket, wrapping it around the picture, and then went down the stairs.  Making the turn to his left and then walking just a couple of steps, Jack's heart stopped, as did his movement.

“You came home,” Daniel observed, self-hugging as he stood in the entranceway briefly before walking by his lover and going over to the phone to check messages.  ~Why'd I come home?  I could be miserable at work,~ he thought.

The real reason the archaeologist had left early is because he was sure Jack would show up at the Mountain soon, and he just didn't want to face him.  Of course, if that were true in the deepest depths of his soul, he never would have walked into the house, since Jack's truck was definitely visible from its spot in the driveway.

“Just passing through,” the older man said coldly, though his breathing hitched at the unexpected meeting.  He wanted to hold Daniel.  ~It's been so long, Danny.  I miss you.~  He loved the younger man more than he could ever express, but they'd said so much and had ignored each other for weeks.  ~I'm not sure if there's anything left now.  Why bother.  Why should I even try?~  He was about to continue on his way, but he just couldn't get his feet to move.  ~No.  I have to try.  I can't let him go.  Maybe he can forgive me, just one more time.~

Summoning all of his courage, Jack walked a few steps towards the younger man who was shifting through the mail, his back to Jack.

“Danny, I ... maybe ...”

The tone was soft, the voice sincere, so much so, Daniel shivered for a split second, wondering, hoping they could get through this, and it would just become another nightmare they had survived.  He turned to look at his soulmate, to see if Jack was finally looking at him.

Hope shattered as the phone rang, interrupting the potential reunion of two hearts that longed to be one once more.

Daniel closed his eyes and sighed at the interruption, but he went to the phone and answered it, his temporary calm turning into instant anger.

“What? ... Who do you think you are?  ... Gawd, you're brazen,” the archaeologist accused without regret.

“Daniel, who's on the phone?” Jack asked, concerned by his lover's comments.

Daniel sneered, placing the cordless phone over his chest for a moment, and then snapped angrily, “Your lover,” as he threw the phone at Jack and stormed out of the house.

“Daniel?  DANIEL!” Jack called out, tossing the phone down and running after the younger man.  ~Crap!~  By the time he reached the driveway, Daniel was gone.  He returned the house, picked up the phone, and yelled, “*Get the blazes out of my life!*”

Not waiting for a response, Jack hung up the phone and left the house.

====

As he drove, Jack's anger was consuming him.  It's what he wanted.  The love affair was over, and that's exactly what he wanted.

~Don't I?~

With a sigh, Jack realized he didn't have a clue what he wanted.

~Dang synthetic was right.  I do lie to myself.  For crying out loud, O'Neill, you know what you want, and what you want is Daniel.~

Unfortunately, the colonel had a problem: he just didn't know how to live with himself anymore.

No matter how Jack worked it out, he had betrayed Daniel.  He had engaged in sex with another man, a stranger yet.  Daniel couldn't forgive that.  Jack was positive of that.  Still, he couldn't let go.  Maybe if he could force himself to look at Daniel, maybe then his lover would see the truth in Jack's eyes.  Maybe, somehow, they could get through it.

Though Jack thought he was crazy, he made a U-turn at the first opportunity and headed back for home.

====

Jack breathed deeply as he walked back into the house.  Daniel hadn't returned home, assuming he still considered Jack's house his home and assuming the younger man was planning on coming back at all.

Letting out a regretful sigh, Jack walked over to the fish tank and orated, “I've really blown it, haven't I?  He's right, you know.  How many times can a person say they're sorry and be forgiven?  He's a better man than I am.”

The man blinked, then walked to his favorite armchair, plopping down in it and just staring out into space as he mourned a life that he was sure had ended.

====

Minutes later, there was a knock at the door.  The visitor was persistent, clapping the door knocker against the wooden door several times.  Finally, Jack  relented and answered the door, shocked when he recognized the man on the porch.  It was Ryan.

“*Get out of here before I kill you*!” Jack shouted and then slammed the door in the man's face.

“Jack! Jack! Jack!” Ryan called out as he walked brazenly into the home and into the living room where Jack now stood.

In total disbelief of the stranger's gull, Jack turned around and threatened, “You must not want to live!”

“Did you get my flowers?” Ryan asked as he ignored the threat.

“You slime ball.  Who do you think you are?”

“Jack, you liked it.  You want it.”

“I want you to leave!”

“Now, Jack,” Ryan walked into Jack's personal space, “we had a good time, and we're going to have an even better time tonight.”

Jack punched Ryan in the abdomen, but Ryan was stronger than he looked and simply laughed, “I love a good fight.”

“A good fight with me will result in your death, so you might want to think twice about that,” the Special Ops colonel warned.

Ryan laughed again as he started to fight Jack.  The two rolled over onto the floor.  Jack was surprise at Ryan's skills, but he had had enough.  With Ryan atop him, Jack was about to engage his black ops skills when he heard a voice, a voice that made Jack die inside.

“Oh, gawd.  *You lying jerk!  I hate you for what you've done!*”

Jack punched Ryan in the nose and scurried to get up, calling out pleadingly, “Danny?  *Daniel*!”

Jack ran after his lover, but by the time he reached the driveway,  Daniel had already sped off.

“Oh, too bad, Jack.  I would have liked to have met him!” Ryan teased, having followed Jack outside.

“Set foot on this property again, and I swear, I'll kill you,” Jack threatened and then turned around and stormed back into the house, slamming the door behind him.

Jack knew it was over now.  Daniel had thought the worst about what he had seen, and he doubted he could convince his one-time soulmate otherwise.  Figuring it was no use, he left the house, wanting to escape the disaster of a life he was leading.

====

~Why did I come back here?~ Daniel asked himself for the tenth time in two hours early that afternoon.  ~Why ... am I still here?~ he asked himself as he stared out at the huge backyard.

Daniel had driven around Colorado Springs for what seemed like an eternity before returning home, only it wasn't home now.  Now it was just Jack's house.  He couldn't deny how much he loved the place, nor that he had been hoping the older man would have been there when he had returned earlier.

Everything in the uniquely styled home was in place.  Nothing was missing, except for Jack's aura.  Daniel could feel the emptiness.  Jack's love wasn't filling the home like it normally did.  It wasn't anything concrete that the scientist could put his finger on.  It was just a feeling, but, normally, he could sense his lover's essence, or presence, in the home, even when Jack wasn't physically there.

Now, Daniel felt abandoned, angry, hurt, frightened, indignant, guilty and so much more.  He had so many emotions going on inside of him that he didn't know which was really ruling his actions at the moment.  Added to the mix was hatred.  For the first time, Daniel felt a pure hate for Ryan, and for Jack.  What Daniel had assumed he witnessed earlier in the day had broken his heart.

A knock at the door drew his attention from his internal anguish.

“Oh, hi, Sam,” Daniel said with a cracking voice as he answered the door.

“Daniel, what's wrong?” Sam asked.

Sam had been worried about her friends since seeing Jack at the park the day before.  She'd planned on speaking to her science twin during the day, but when Daniel had left the Mountain so unexpectedly that morning, she decided to drop by the house.  Butting in wasn't her style, and, quite honestly, it made her nervous, but she felt she needed to try and lend a hand, or at least moral support.

~Holy Hannah, he's been crying,~ the blonde thought, though she knew Daniel was doing his best to hide it.

Daniel shrugged and walked into the living room, bemoaning silently, ~Why weren't you here, Jack?~

Closing the door behind her, Sam followed and called out, “Daniel?”

“He's cheating on me.”

“The colonel?” Sam questioned, shocked by what she'd just heard.

“No, General Hammond.  *Who do you think?*”  Daniel sighed, “Gawd, Sam, I'm sorry,” as he slouched down to the sofa, wishing he could just disappear inside the fabric.

Sam hurried next to Daniel and gently rubbed his back, comforting, “Daniel, I don't believe that.  The colonel loves you too much.”

“But it's true. The ...  he ... flowers,” Daniel said as he nodded towards the yellow roses, still strewn across the kitchen counter.

Sam didn't hesitate.  She'd never seen her friends at such odds before, but when she thought of all they'd done for the other over the years, she knew there had to be more to the story.  There had to be.

“Did the colonel admit to it?”

“It's not just the flowers.  I ... I saw them,” the heartbroken man confided.

“Daniel.”

“Sam, I came home and they were on the floor.  That man was on top of Jack.  Gawd.  He's cheating on me.  How could he do that, after everything?  I don't understand.”

“Daniel, look I, oh, geez, I'm not good at this,” Sam stammered.  “I saw him yesterday, at the park, and he was so sad.  Daniel, he loves you.  I'm positive about that.”

“Then why, Sam?  Why'd he do it?” Daniel asked, glancing over at his friend.

Sam shook her head, answering, “Maybe ... work.  I don't know.”

“Work?” Daniel asked in disbelief.

“Daniel, you have been working a lot ... an awful lot.”

“I have responsibilities.  He should understand that more than anyone else.  I wouldn't if I didn't have to.”

“Do you?  Do you realize just how much time you've spent at the SGC this month?  Or how many ... gawd, dates, you've broken?”

Daniel stood up and walked to the patio door.  His arms were crossed in front of his chest.

“It's not like I wanted to.  We're short handed.”

“I'm not arguing, Daniel, but you and the colonel have gone through so much recently, and ... Daniel, do you even know what the colonel had arranged for all those broken dates.”

Daniel turned and stared at Sam as he questioned, “What are you talking about?”

Sam relayed parts of her conversation with Jack to Daniel, telling him all about the romantic dinners Jack had set up.

“Apparently, he just threw the food and flowers out and didn't mention it.”

“I had to work.  Gawd, Sam, it's not like I wanted to.”

“He feels ignored.  I think maybe whatever has happened is because of that.”

“I'm not ignoring him.  Gawd, I'm ... not,” Daniel tried to excuse his lack of participation in Jack's life over the past few weeks.  “Am I, Sam?  I don't mean to.  I ... I love him.”

Daniel knew that was the truth.  No matter what Jack had done, even with what he had witnessed, he loved Jack with all his heart.  But the pain was sharp, as was his anger at the betrayal.

“You have been holed up at the SGC more than you've been home, at least that's what Colonel O'Neill said.  You've admitted it, Daniel.  How can you know how he's feeling or what's going on if you been spending all your time at the Mountain?”

“Look who's talking,” Daniel tried to retort.  “Where's that life Jack keeps ordering you to get?”  He closed his eyes as he turned to look at Sam again.  He shook his head and held up his hand, motioning for her to wait.  “Gawd, Sam.  Look at me.  I'm a mess.  I lashed out at Jack the other night, and now at you, and I don't know why.”

Daniel sank down on the sofa, burying his head in his hands.

Sam sat down next to him, briefly rubbing his back in support, as she offered, “Maybe it's because there's truth in what the colonel says, and you don't want to admit for some reason.”

Daniel lifted his head up and said, “Maybe.  Maybe he's better off without me.”

“Maybe you're jumping to conclusions.  Maybe you should try and step back and take a good look at whatever it is that's been happening, or not happening,” Daniel turned sharply and stared at Sam as she spoke, “Your answer might be there, Daniel.”

There was a silent pause, and then Sam smiled, saying, “And getting back to that getting a life business, that's exactly the point the colonel is trying to make.  Lately, you've been worse than me, and that should tell you something.”

“You think I'm avoiding him?”

“I don't know.  Do you?”

“No.  I love him.”

“Okay, then why the return to that workaholic pace that you kept when you first came back from Abydos?”

Daniel stood again, self-hugging as he walked over to his fish and replied, “I have a responsibility.”

“So do I, so I understand, and, because I can empathize with you, I also know that you have a choice to make.”

“Choice?”

“Who gets you, Stargate Command or Jack O'Neill?  If you aren't careful, you're going to work yourself out the best relationship you've ever had.  Think about it, Daniel.”

“Sam, I saw him.”

“Are you sure?”

“Wha...what do you mean?”

“I don't know, Daniel.  I just have a really hard time picturing the colonel doing that ... here, in the front room, knowing you could walk in at any time.  He's not like that, and you know it.  I watched you when you thought he was dead, and I watched him, when he thought you were dead.  I just can't believe either of you would ever cheat on the other.”  Sam sighed, “I'm just wondering if maybe something else was happening.  Just take a step back for a minute, and think about it.”

“Maybe,” Daniel responded, not sure what to think.

“One more thing,” Sam said.  “The colonel is a man of action.  Being home alone like he was while you went back to work probably wasn't easy for him.”

“I'm not the one who made him stay home, Sam, and he was hurt.  He needed to let his injuries heal,” Daniel replied.

“I agree, but he was home alone, and with you working late, maybe that was harder for him than it would have been otherwise.  Just think about it, okay?”

The archaeologist nodded, and the two continued to discuss the situation a while longer before they hugged and Sam left.

====

Daniel moped around the house for a while, debating Sam's comments.  He hadn't known about the romantic dates Jack had planned and had to abandon because of his work, nor had he considered that the older man might simply had been lonely.  He also hadn't allowed for the possibility that work might be overtaking him.  He didn't want to give up his work, but he didn't want to lose Jack, either.

“When did things get so complicated?  What's changed?” Daniel asked his fish, but the small creatures didn't answer, leaving Daniel to continue his debate.

The archaeologist spent some time thinking about their near break-up the year before, trying to determine if work had been more of a factor than he had admitted to.  At the time, he did concede he wasn't delegating enough.  Had he backslid?  Or was there something more, something deeper that was pulling him away from the life he loved?  He also replayed the scene he had walked in on.  Had he jumped to conclusions?  But they were on the floor.  What could the explanation be?

Daniel finally decided he needed to talk to Jack.  He dialed the older man's cell phone number.

“O'Neill.  I'm on a date with a big fish.  Leave some bait, and maybe I'll reel you in, or maybe I'll just unhook my line.”

That was the message Jack always left on his cell whenever he went on downtime to go fishing.  Thus, Daniel knew his lover had gone to the cabin.  He didn't know which one Jack had gone to, the one they rented in Colorado or the cabin in Minnesota, but he'd find out.  As he was about to leave, the phone rang. He listened as the message recorded:

“Jack, this is Sylvia.  I put a rush on the tests, and I have the results back.  Give me a call and I'll give you the details, but to put your mind at ease about you and Doctor ... um, everything's okay, but there is something that concerns me.  Call me, Jack; this is very important.”

~Rush?  Tests?  Sylvia?  Sylvia ... Preston.~

Daniel's mind recalled the doctor who had once come to the house when he had been ill.  He hadn't realized she was there, and when Daniel had awakened, he had leaned up to kiss his partner.  There would be no hiding from this friend of Jack's.  He hadn't seen her since, but he was aware that Jack had talked to her off and on since that rekindling of their friendship.

~What tests?~ Daniel wondered as he turned and finally left the house.

====

Dressed in blue jeans and a blue plaid long-sleeve shirt, Daniel exited his sporty silver vehicle.  The Minnesota air was crisp, but clean and fresh as well and felt good against his skin.  He stretched for a moment, the drive having been long and tiring.  He had only stopped for one meal, had taken just a couple of catnaps along the side of the road, and had admittedly violated posted speed limits during portions of the trip as he had ventured from Colorado to the secluded lakeside cabin where he now stood.

Daniel began to walk to the cabin door when he glanced toward the lake.  There, sitting on the end of the dock, was his lover.  He paused, not sure what would happen.  After only a moment's hesitation, he walked to within a few feet of the older man.

Standing behind him, Daniel knew Jack had to know he was there, but the older man hadn't moved or spoken.  Daniel looked out over the lake, and then up into the sky at some birds that had noisily flown by.

“We have to talk,” Daniel finally said.

“So talk.”

“We ... as in both of us, Jack.”

“Well,” Jack stood up, or rather, he hopped up, his knee aching at the moment, “that's too bad, Daniel.  I'm all out of talk.  Have some nice sarcasm for ya, though.”

Daniel sighed, “I don't want sarcasm.”

“What do you want?”

“To talk, I guess.”

“Told you, that's your thing.  I've never been good at it,” Jack said, staring at Daniel's neck since he still couldn't bear to look at the young man's face.

“Jack, will you look at me?”

“It doesn't matter.  Why don't you just go home?  Take the house.  You can have it and everything in it,” Jack brushed by Daniel walking towards a wooded area.

“Jack, stop.  I don't want the house.  I want ...  gawd, I don't know what I want.”

Daniel was frustrated.  He knew full well what he wanted -- Jack!  But the older man was being so aggravating, and Daniel was still confused about so many things.  He stood there, pulse beating rapidly, butterflies of anxiety running rampant in his stomach, waiting and hoping Jack would give him an inch ... just an inch.

“Well, when you figure it out, tell the Nox, or someone who cares!”

Jack kept walking.  His heart was racing from his lies, lies designed to push his lover away.  He couldn't live with himself, so he couldn't ask Daniel to live with him either.  Jack had finally done the one thing that neither man would be able to forgive or forget.

Daniel stood on the dock more confused than ever at Jack's total refusal to even look at him, but then he ran up to Jack, reaching out and stopping the older man's movements by holding on to Jack's left arm.  He had to reach him, to make him listen.  If he didn't succeed now, Daniel feared they'd not get another chance.

“*Let go of me!*” Jack shouted as he pulled loose.

“You can't just walk away.”

“*You kicked me out of my own blasted house!*” Jack reminded angrily.

Remaining calm for the moment, Daniel responded, “You said it was our house.”

“Figure of speech,” Jack explained to the ground, to anywhere except towards his lover.

“Jack, why?  Just tell me why.  What did I do?  What happened that made you want ... someone else?”

“I don't ... I don't know.”

Jack wanted to scream that he didn't want anyone else, that it had all been a horrible mistake, but the damage had been done.  If he backed down, Daniel might relent, might feel guilty.  Jack didn't want Daniel to stay because of guilt or worse, because he felt sorry for him.  He stood his ground, but was becoming more confused about his feelings.  He wanted Daniel so much, and here he was, purposely pushing him away.

“You *have* to know.  *Look at me*.  Gawd, will you look at me?” Daniel pleaded.

“I'm tired of looking at you,” Jack lied, believing Daniel was better off without him.  Too much had happened, and his guilt was drowning him.  “Why would I want some scrawny geek?  It's over.  It doesn't matter whether or not I cheated.  Go on.  Get out.”

“Scrawny Geek?  Is that what you really think of me ... what you've always thought of me?”

“What part of me not wanting to talk about this don't you understand?  Go away!  You're a linguist.  Surely, you know the definition of *get out*!”

“How long have you been lying to me?” Daniel held his ground, stunned into a quiet shock where he couldn't have moved even if he had wanted to.

“Oh, stop.  You just have your hackles up because now the shoe's on the other foot!  You've always been the one calling the shots before.  You picked when and where I got to see you, and you decided we were through.  How many times did I have to run after you, Daniel, to keep this relationship alive?  But that's what you wanted ... to be chased.  Well, sorry, BABY, but *now*, I'm the one making the decision to call it quits, and I'm saying it's over, finished, done, went with wind!  Now *leave* before I call the local gendarmes and have you forcefully removed.”

Daniel still didn't move.  He looked at Jack as if he were a stranger, and that's how it felt.  He didn't recognize this man, not at all.

“GET OFF MY PROPERTY,” Jack yelled.

“NOT UNTIL YOU TELL ME WHY YOU CHEATED ON ME!  TELL ME!”

“WHY DOES IT MATTER?  YOU DIDN'T CARE ENOUGH BEFORE TO EVEN BOTHER TO COME HOME OCCASIONALLY.  HAS YOUR PRIDE BEEN HURT, DOCTOR JACKSON?  SOMEONE'S BEEN WHERE YOU HAVEN'T BOTHERED TO GO FOR THE PAST MONTH, AND YOU FEEL SLIGHTED?  SO SORRY -- NOT!” Jack screamed out, feeling sick to his stomach for the lies and sarcastic words he was spitting out.

Still, the older man knew this would be the last time, that Daniel would never come back after this, and that would be best for the younger man to move on and forget.

Daniel wanted to answer that it mattered because they loved each other, that they were one nation, united in ways that most people couldn't imagine, but at the moment, there was so much distance between them that Daniel let his doubt win out.  He took the more traveled road, the one of expectation.

“TELL ME!  I deserve that much, and you know it, Jack!”

“A few weeks ago I might have agreed with you about that.  I thought nothing could come between us.  We survived crazy renegades, Iraq, Oma; we've survived it all, Danny.  I really believed that I would grow old with you, that I'd never loved anyone as much as I love you.  That's still true, but it just isn't enough, is it?  You told me once that it's all or nothing with you, and it's the same with me.  It just seems that lately I've been getting the nothing end of the bargain.”

“That isn't true.  You know what kind of pressure I'm under at work,  and as much as the SGC would like to believe otherwise, I've only got one pair of hands and one body.  I can't be in two places at once, Jack.  There's only so much of me to go around.”  Seeing Jack's glare, and considering the recent experience with Oma where the archaeologist's body had been separated from his essence, or soul, Daniel blinked, flinched, closed his eyes, and said, “Well, you know what I mean.  Forget about Oma and ... that.”

After a moment, Jack asked harshly, “Is that your excuse?  If it is, then it's a pretty pathetic one.  I thought we resolved that last year, but I guess I was wrong, again.”

“You were jealous last year.”

“I'm *always* jealous, and you know that.  I can't hide how it makes me feel when someone else ... forget it, that doesn't matter anymore, but this work thing, it was part of it and you seem to have forgotten that piece of the equation.  For crying out loud, Daniel, you of all people should know not to let your job come before your personal life.  After everything we've been through, shouldn't taking care of us be our first priority?  Your work won't keep you warm at night, and it certainly isn't keeping me warm.”

“You could have talked to me.  You can talk to me now.  Why sleep with someone else?  Why ... in our own home?  You say you love me, and yet you do that ... let someone else do ... let them ... gawd,” Daniel paused, unable to even verbalize his agony.  “Where was your love when you were in that bed with him, Jack?  Is it my face you pictured?  Or was I conveniently *thrust* to the back of your mind?  Why, Jack?” Daniel pleaded his query again.

“I don't know why,” Jack answered as he turned around, facing the woods, his hands running through his silver-gray hair.  “If I did cheat.  If I did, it was because I didn't know what I was doing.”

“You didn't know?”

Now Daniel was truly angry.  He had been prepared for a lot, but denial or flat out ignorance was something he couldn't handle.  He became furious.

“YOU DIDN'T FREAKIN' KNOW YOU WERE IN SOMEONE ELSE, OR VICE VERSA?  EXCUSE ME, JACK, BUT I THINK YOU'D KNOW IF YOUR ... LITTLE COLONEL THERE,” Daniel yelled sarcastically.  “WAS FREAKIN' INSIDE SOMEONE.  MY GAWD, WHAT DO YOU TAKE ME FOR?”

Jack shouted back, “YOU ASKED ME, AND I'VE JUST TOLD YOU.  I'M SORRY IF I DON'T HAVE AN ANSWER THAT SUITS YOU, BUT THAT'S THE TRUTH.  YOU'VE PUSHED ME AWAY, AND I'VE TAKEN THE HINT.  I'VE HAD ENOUGH.”

The frustrated colonel took a breath.  This needed to end.  He didn't think he could last much longer.  Soon, he would break down, and it would all be for naught.  It didn't even matter to the older man whether or not Daniel could forgive Jack, because Jack knew he could never forgive himself.

For a split second, Jack almost looked at Daniel's face, but he caught himself.  He knew one look at those cerulean blue eyes would have him curled up into a ball.  Quickly, Jack rearmed his mouth full of venom, trying to deliver the death blow to the grand love affair of his lifetime.

“I DIDN'T THINK I WOULD EVER FEEL THIS WAY, BUT I'M TIRED OF IT ALL.  IT'S TOO MUCH LIKE HARD WORK WITH YOU, WORSE THAN BEING MARRIED EVER WAS.  MY LOVE ISN'T ENOUGH FOR YOU.  I DON'T HAVE THE BRAINS YOU NEED, OR APPARENTLY ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU ARE INTERESTED IN ANYMORE.  I DON'T KNOW WHAT ELSE I CAN GIVE YOU.”

“It is enough! I don't understand what's going on here, Jack.  Do you really love this ... this other man?  Gawd,” Daniel shook his head, unable to imagine that, Jack loving someone else, but he couldn't understand Jack's harshness.  ”If that's the case, then you're right, there's nothing else for us to talk about.  I'm not going to beg you, Jack, but I want you to be very careful, and be sure of what you're doing, because once I've gone, I'm never coming back.”

“You know,” Jack said softly, totally ignoring the argument and Daniel's understandable outburst and final threat, “Mrs. Harper,” Jack laughed, “She said love is like this path you have to follow, full of twists and turns, but that if you stay on it, trust it, everything works out.  But she's wrong.  Love's path is a joke, a cruel cosmic joke.  I don't know why.  I don't have your answers, Daniel.”

Jack turned, mumbling something that sounded like, “I don't even remember,” but at the moment Daniel was still too angry to wonder about the words, and his brain hadn't fully digested what he had heard.

“You cheated on me, and you talk about ... philosophy?”

“Interesting switch of personalities, don'tcha think?  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date with a fishing rod.”

“Fishing!  Gawd, I'm sick and tired of fishing.  You were going to do it in OUR FREAKIN' HOUSE!  Explain that one, Jack.”

“You wouldn't believe me.”

“Try me.”

“We were fighting, Daniel.  Okay?  The moron showed up, let himself in, and I punched him.  We fought, and that's when you walked in.  I don't expect you to believe me.  I wouldn't believe me.  Now, we've been through this for long enough, and like it or not, I AM going fishing!”

Daniel shook his head at Jack's story, “So ... this is it?  The end?”

“10-8, over and out, see ya around,” Jack walked away from Daniel again.

“And you accuse ME of running away?” Daniel spoke sharply.

“You're better off without me, and you know it, so pack up your rocks and go play!  It's what you want to do.  It's all you've done for weeks.  So, now you don't have to worry about me anymore.”

“IT'S NOT WHAT I WANT.  Whatever gave you the idea that I want work more than I want ... you?  I love you, you idiot!”

“I know that, but maybe it's not enough.  You're always at the SGC, or the library, or off at some lecture.  You love your books and your rocks, and ... all that ... Einstein stuff.  I'm not part of that world, Daniel.  Maybe ... maybe you just need someone more ... brainy.”

“OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, JACK!  GAWD!  DON'T TURN THIS INTO SOMETHING ABOUT INTELLIGENCE.  Gawd,” Daniel spoke, feeling totally exasperated as he tried to breathe and was on the verge of hyperventilating. “You know ... *know* ... I don't buy the dumb colonel bit.  This is *not* about that, and you freakin' know it!”

“Okay, maybe not ... at least not totally, but lately, I'm just part of the furniture, and those other things seem to be more important to you.”

“We're understaffed, Jack!”

“Weeks, Daniel, almost an entire month,” Jack argued.  “What do you even care?  You're rarely at home anymore, and when you are, it's ... a robot.  You've pushed me away.”

“No, I haven't!” Daniel denied.

“YES, YOU FRIGGIN' HAVE PUSHED ME AWAY.  Geez, Daniel, stop living in a fantasy.  You've cancelled or just not showed up for every friggin' date or night together that we had planned for weeks.  Helluva a way to show your love, isn't it?”

“AND SO IS HAVING AN AFFAIR!” Daniel accused.

“I DIDN'T FRIGGIN' HAVE AN AFFAIR.  IT WAS ONE STUPID NIGHT.  I DON'T EVEN KNOW IF ANYTHING REALLY ... FORGET IT, DANIEL,” Jack spat.  He tried to calm himself.  “You're on that high horse again.  Lonely up there, isn't it?”

“You don't get it, do you?  It might have only been one night, but that one night was enough to break my heart,” Daniel said, letting his vulnerability out for a moment.

Jack couldn't bear to be so close.  He moved a few feet away as Daniel spoke.  These words, spoken more calmly, were breaking his own heart.  Jack's heart was pounding, his stomach in his throat.  He was desperate for the nightmare to end.

“You're my life, Jack, not the SGC, not Sam or Teal'c, *you*!  You gave me a reason to go on, to give life another chance.  I get up in the morning and the first thing I think about is you.  I go to sleep in the evening and the last thing I think about is you.  Do you think I want us to end?  If we split up, my life might as well be over, but ... gawd, okay, I ... I, uh, don't know if I can forgive this.  You've betrayed me, Jack, no matter how you look at it, and you just can't take it back with some apology, not ever.”

Jack almost became unglued.  The tears were pounding against his eyelids, clamoring to fall.  His pulse was threatening to betray his body.

“Go away, Danny,” Jack said, almost inaudibly, so much so that Daniel did hear it as he continued his words.

“It'll always be there in between us.  The trust is gone, and it's going to be very hard to get back.  I don't trust easily, Jack; you know that.  You were the one person that I did.  How can I get over this?  Please ... gawd, Jack, *please* tell me how.”

Daniel's eyes filled with tears as he desperately looked for a way back for them.  As he paused, waiting for a response, some response, any response from the man who he had to admit still owned his heart,  Daniel's mind rippled.

His mouth had been way ahead of him during this battle, but Daniel had felt a 'need to review this later' flag going up earlier.  Jack had said something important, but he hadn't had time to process it during the heat of battle.  He still didn't.  Instead, he stayed on his current path, feeling rather like a train running out of track.

“I don't know, Daniel, I really don't.  I just know that I need to be alone right now, to sort my own thoughts out.  I can't handle any more of this at the moment.”

“You're acting like it's all my fault when you're the one responsible for this mess.”

Jack sneered and let out a haunting laugh of disdain as he spoke, “Oh stop!  You sound like a broken record, a sniffling, whining broken record.  You're acting like it was some sleazy affair.  It was ONE FRIGGIN' NIGHT, Daniel!  ONE!”

“WHY?  GAWD, WHY CAN'T YOU TELL ME WHY!  I DON'T BUY THE WORK STORY.  That hasn't changed.  WHY?”

“Alright, fine.  I don't friggin' care anymore.  You want to know the truth?  Will it make you feel better, Doctor Jackson?  Okay, apparently, I slept with some guy I've never seen before in my life and probably wouldn't even recognize again, but he was there; at least he was there, and you *weren't*.  He kissed me and I kissed him, and that's about it.  End of story.  Woke up naked and stranded in some seedy motel.  Feel better, Daniel?  GET OFF MY PROPERTY!”

“Have a good life, Jack.”

“I very rarely get what I want, Daniel.  I'll settle for a quiet life with no ups or downs.  I'm not even sure I want to go back to the SGC.  The idea of staying here on my own and keeping the rest of the world at bay is sounding more and more like heaven.  If I don't let people in, then I can't get hurt.  Maybe you should do the same thing.  Get as far away from the SGC and me as you can.  Go on some dig in a remote part of the world.  Don't let anyone get inside your skin. Daniel.  You'll only get hurt later.”

“It's too late for that, Jack.  I've already let somebody in.  I can't quite throw that away as easily as you seem to be able to, but, uh, you win.  I'm leaving now, and I hope that you and your isolation are very happy together.  Congratulations!  You've got what you probably wanted all along.  Oh, and Jack?”

“Yeah?” Jack said, looking off to Daniel's right, still refusing to look anywhere near his ex-lover's face.

Daniel walked slowly up to him, requesting, “GAWD, WILL YOU FREAKIN' LOOK AT ME!” He physically cupped Jack's face and made him look into his eyes, but Jack pulled back instantly.  He had only seen a glimpse, a split second of Jack's soul, and now he was angrier than ever, that Jack wouldn't look at him, so the younger man said softly as he closed the distance between them again, “I owe you something.”

“And what would that be, Daniel?”

“This ...” Daniel drew his arm back and dealt Jack a resounding blow to the side of his face.

Jack staggered backwards, stating,“I guess I deserved that.  It's nice to know I've ... taught you something after all these years.  And now that you've done what you came here to do, I suggest you go.”

“I hope you find the happiness you deserve, Colonel O'Neill.”

“Same to you, Doctor Jackson,” Jack spat, never looking back as he returned to the dock.

Daniel went to his car and drove away.  He didn't want to think, but he was angry at Jack's flippant remarks and cold demeanor.  He had wanted to talk, to try and salvage something, but, instead, Jack had slammed the door in his face.  As Daniel drove, his speed increased.

====

Daniel had driven for almost ninety minutes, muttering in a variety of languages almost non-stop.  He had never been so furious, and then words and phrases started to jump out at him.  Daniel slammed on his brakes.  Breathing heavily, he exited his car after pulling over to the side of the road.  He walked around the silver sports car, again and again, as words and pictures filled his mind.

~I'm missing something.  I know I am.  Think, Jackson, think!  This is important.  It's the most important thing you'll ever have to think about.  Think!~  Daniel stared at some bushes at the side of the road.  ~Okay, play it back.  He ... cheated?  How do I know that?  He came home late.  He wouldn't look at me.  Gawd, he hasn't looked at me since ...~

Daniel paced back and forth a few times, working through his problem.

~Flowers.  What did the note say?  Lips.  I made a big leap there, didn't I?  But he didn't deny it.  He won't look at me.  Guilt?~  The young man stopped at the side of his vehicle, leaning against its silver body.  He was self-hugging as he thought, “But when we argued, he kept saying he didn't know.  Didn't know what?  Gawd, he said if.  He said *if* he slept with him.”

Daniel stood straight up, his heart stopping for a moment, and said aloud, “He doesn't remember.  He doesn't ... He doesn't know what happened?  How could he not know?  I don't understand.”

The scientist's mind was exploding with thoughts and possibilities, and then he remembered Sylvia's strange message.

~I need more information.~

Daniel picked up his cell phone and dialed.  He closed his eyes as he prepared the deception.

“Doctor Preston's office.”

“This is Jack O'Neill.  I'm calling for my test results.”

“Oh, I'm sorry, Colonel, but Doctor Preston had an emergency.  She'll be out of the office until tomorrow afternoon.”

Daniel took a breath and then worked hard to suppress his thoughts and let Jack's military essence possess him.

“Listen, I don't have time for this.  I'm a colonel in the United States Air Force and I'm leaving on a mission tonight.  I need the results of those friggin' tests *now*.  Give them to me ... *now*, for crying out loud!”

The nurse jumped at the harshness of the voice and quickly pulled the file, “Everything was negative, Colonel.  All the STDs ...”

“STDs?”

“Um, yes, Colonel ... sexually transmitted diseases ... those were negative, as was the HIV.  Doctor Preston wanted to speak with you, though ... something about a police report, but she didn't write the details.  As I said, she'll be in tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” Daniel said and then turned off his cell phone.  He was on the verge of becoming angry again, the tests seeming to confirm Jack had had an affair.  Yet ... ~Police report?  Why?  For what reason?~

Daniel began to pace again, and now Sam's words began to echo in his mind, words about work and choices.

~But I saw them on the floor!  I did.  That ... that homewrecker was on top of Jack.  Wait.  Jack's hands.  Close your eyes, Jackson.  Picture it.  Forget the hurt -- visualize.  His arm was out.  Oh gawd.  Jack was telling the truth.  He was getting ready to hit the moron.~

Daniel closed his eyes, and then he recalled what Jack had said about love and paths.

~Mrs. Harper?  When did Jack see Mrs. Harper?  Why?  Why would she talk to him about love?~

Daniel's breathing was becoming more rapid as he stood facing his car now.  He closed his eyes again in concentration, and in a minute's time, he replayed years of loving and caring between the two men.  He heard Jack's words of love and devotion, promises of forever.  He felt Jack's hands on his body, comforting, loving, protecting.  He saw Jack's chocolate brown eyes gazing at his, full of emotion and commitment.

Daniel shook his head in disbelief at all the miscommunication.  He was sure now that Jack hadn't spoken the truth about his “affair” ... at least, not the entire truth, and when he looked inside himself, he realized now that Sam was right about choices, and just maybe, he had chosen work a bit too often.

“Jack,” Daniel spoke softly.  “I didn't miss anything, I just ignored it.  You love me.  I know you do.  You would *never* hurt me like this on purpose.”  He began to feel free of the chains that had been tying him down for weeks.  With even more resolve, he repeated,  “He wouldn't.  He couldn't cheat on me.  If he wanted out, he'd tell me.  But ... oh gawd, we're forever.”

Daniel's emotions continued to fluctuate as he struggled to understand. He was convinced Jack loved him, that whatever had happened wasn't planned.  He was also beginning to wonder if Jack even knew what really happened.  If Jack was telling the truth, he may not.  His own words -- if -- seemed to say he didn't.

Daniel had witnessed too much in the universe to assume there wasn't a possibility that Jack had been coerced, set up, or maybe it was just as simple as things not being as they seemed.

“But ... the phone call,” Daniel continued to struggle to sort out the mystery, and then the light bulb went off.  “Gawd, Jackson, you're an idiot.  If Jack were going to cheat on you, do you really think he'd give out our home phone number?”

Daniel groaned as he stood, wanting to scream, and then he did yell.

“YOU'RE AN IDIOT, JACKSON!  A ROYAL, FRIGGIN' IDIOT!”  The archaeologist was tired, worn out from his mental exploration, but still he went on.  ~There's an explanation.  I know it!~

The young man's mind returned to the phone call with Sylvia's nurse.

~Police report?~  Suddenly, a chill ran through Daniel.  ~He doesn't remember ... if ... he kept saying if he had sex ... why would he need a police ... oh gawd,~ he lamented, his hair now standing on the back of his neck as a nightmare scenario filled his brain.

Standing totally still, the last several weeks, all the arguments and disagreements replayed in his mind.  This time, he felt Jack's hurt, too, and, this time, his brain processed all the hints that Jack unintentionally given during their flare-ups.

Finally, Daniel remembered the single most important split second of the last several weeks, that split second when he had cupped Jack's faced and forced the older man to look into his eyes.  He saw it there -- the love, the confusion, the pain, the devotion, the fear.  He saw Jack's soul, and that soul belonged to him.  Every fiber of Daniel's being recognized that now.  Jack's soul was a part of him, and now he felt it all.

“You're so mine, O'Neill,” Daniel said at his realization that Jack's soul was alive in him.

Daniel stood erect, sputtering, “Wokena!”  It was one of a wealth of alien swear words Daniel knew and often used.  ~Jack, so help me, we are *so* going to get through this, and then, Love, I'm going to strangle you myself.~

The archaeologist let himself smile for a quick second at how he had channeled Jack, knowing his words echoed sentiments his lover would speak at a similar moment.  Quickly, he got into his Silver Fox and turned it back around, driving even faster than he had been.

Life had a purpose again, and Daniel was anxious to hold that life and purpose in his arms once again.

====

An hour later, Daniel drove up to the cabin.  It was dusk, and Jack had gone inside.  When he entered, he walked towards the kitchen area quietly.  Jack was leaning forward against the sink, the water running slowly.  His hands were gripping the edge of the counter, as if holding on to them for dear life.  His head was slumped forward, shaking just a tad from side to side.  Daniel saw the falling tears that were running down Jack's right cheek.

Daniel's world was standing there, just a few feet in front of him, looking lost and alone.  He saw the vulnerability, and, for the first time ever, his lover looked beaten, defeated even.  The younger man understood that mournful feeling, but it wasn't going to last.

Jack and Daniel were about to reconnect; Daniel was about to make sure of that.

Daniel unbuttoned his shirt and took it off as he watched Jack.  Maybe this was wrong.  Maybe they should talk first, discover the mystery of what had really happened over the past month, but Daniel decided that it had been words had gotten them into this mess in the first place.

The two lovers had never been able to lie with their bodies.  Daniel had a little smile on his face as he thought about the fact that his soulmate hadn't even been able to look at him, not once, because of the supposed affair.

No, their bodies couldn't lie.  Daniel wanted Jack.  He wanted Jack more than ever.

Unlike earlier, he hadn't thought Jack knew he was there, and that had been okay.  It had given Daniel time to be sure of his actions and emotions, and he was.  What he felt now was only love, want and need for the man who gave his body life -- for Jack O'Neill.

“You're mine, O'Neill,” Daniel said silently as he began to approach Jack, “and no one is going to take you away from me, especially not me!” Daniel thought, remembering all the choices he had made to work late instead of coming home to his partner.

Reaching Jack's position, Daniel put his arms around Jack's waist, ending the distance that had divided them for way too long.  The separation was over.  He loved Jack, and Jack was his, all his, and he wasn't about to share, not with anyone!

Jack reacted to the touch, not as a specially trained soldier who hadn't heard his enemy sneaking up on him, but as man, who had thought he had lost the most important part of his life.  Jack let out a soft moan, and his breathing stopped for a moment.

“Danny?” Jack asked, his voice weak, broken barely audible.

“Quiet, Jack.  You're mine.  Do you know that?  That I love you and belong to you, and that you love me, and belong to me?  Do you know that, Jack?”

“Danny, I ...”

“Do you know that?” Daniel kissed Jack's nape as his hands worked on unbuttoning Jack's black shirt.

“I ...”

“Well, then, Colonel O'Neill,” Daniel spoke with a low voice, “Since you're not sure, I'm going to have to remind you.”

“Danny, I ...”

“Shh,” Daniel whispered, slowly pulling Jack's shirt from his torso, letting it drop to the floor.

That's when Jack felt Daniel's warm flesh against him.  The sensation was almost overwhelming.

“Not a word, Jack.  You're mine.  I love you, Jack.  I love you,” Daniel said, biting into Jack's shoulder.

Jack threw his head back in a painful pleasure.  He closed his eyes, just wanting to let Daniel take over his body.

“Mio!  Love you.  Mine!” Daniel said, losing himself in the anticipation of Jack.  He unfastened the button to Jack's jeans, and unzipped them.  His hands slid down inside the older man's underwear, making contact with the hardened shaft.

Daniel chuckled for moment, “Missed me.”  It was a statement, not a question.

“Heck, yes,” Jack gasped as Daniel's hand stroked his shaft, up and down, the smooth fingers tickling and teasing as he massaged.

But then Jack remembered his nightmare.  How could he risk passing on some disease to his soulmate?  He felt like he was falling, about to crash to the ground.

“We can't,” Jack croaked out, still reeling from the joy of Daniel's touch on his shaft.

Daniel removed his hand for a moment, and Jack felt a cold emptiness, but then he heard the sound of Daniel's zipper, and knew his lover was removing the rest of his own clothes.  It had been less than a minute, but to Jack, it seemed like an eternity before Daniel's hand again pressed on his length.

“Yes, we can.  It's okay.  You're fine.  I'm fine.  And now, we're going to be fine together.”

“Danny, you don't understand.”

“But I do, Jack,” Daniel said as he stroked Jack's erection, “I understand better than you think, but right now, this is all that matters.”

Jack was lost in Daniel's touch.  He couldn't fight anymore.  He prayed as hard as he could for that power that be to keep Daniel safe from Jack's weaknesses.

“Love you, Danny,” Jack finally said with a trembling voice.

“I know you do.  You're mine, Jack.  Don't forget it.  You've told me that for years.  Guess what?  I've believed you!  I still believe you.  You are mine.”

“Forever,” Jack moaned as Daniel's hand moved quickly in its work.

It felt so good to have Daniel's hands on him.  It had been longer than they'd ever gone before.  Jack was already gone, and then he felt a finger inside of him as he leaned forward more against the sink.

“Danny ... oh, Danny,” Jack said at the double pleasure.  And then there were two fingers, turning and twisting, and finally, three, jabbing and sliding against his prostate, “Danny ... my Danny,” Jack said lightly.

“MINE!” Daniel said, as he plunged himself inside of Jack.

“GAWD!” Jack yelled, “Danny ... love you.”

Daniel moved quickly inside his lover.  His hands held on to Jack's shoulders and sometimes his back as he needed leverage.  He impaled himself deep and hard.

“You ... listen ... Jack ... Are you ... listening?”

Daniel was panting already.  His movements were faster than usual, demanding.  It was rare that Jack and Daniel ever dominated the other.  It happened off and on, but still, mostly, their lovemaking was equal, or they'd take turns, but tonight, it was Daniel staking his claim, reminding Jack of their forever.

... pounding ...
... thrusting ...

... “Mine, O'Neill ... Always ... Tell me ...”

... gasping ...

... sweat rolling down their bodies ...

... yells of pain ... screams of pleasure ... shouts and grunts of motion ...

... “Love you ... love you so ... much, Jack!”

... “Danny!  Ener...gizer ... bunny!”

... groans of action ...

... thundering connection of Daniel entering Jack ...

... “TELL ME NOW!  FRIGGIN' TELL ME, JACK!”

... “Yours ... My Danny's ... all ... yours ... always!”

... “Mine!” ...

... more sweat ... more grunts ... tears ... lots of tears

... and then a final, powerful eruption, Daniel's release long, full ...

... and Jack came with a final stroke of his shaft by a weary Daniel.

Still, Daniel stayed, holding Jack, his hands caressing his lover, stroking, as if not wanting it to be over.

“Mine, all mine,” Daniel whispered, his head leaning against Jack's bare back, as Jack leaned his head into his hands, gripped against the kitchen sink.

“Yours, geez, Danny.  You still want me?”

“Mine.  Forever mine.  Just mine.”

Jack turned, and, for the first time in days, he looked Daniel in the eye.  The young man was drained, tired, and the tears were falling, which was okay, because Jack was crying, too.

“Bed?”

Daniel nodded, and with Jack taking the lead, the two went to the bedroom and collapsed onto the bed, holding each other, loving, tender, united.  Within minutes, they were asleep in a position that was unusual for them.

They were facing each other, on their sides, their bodies pressed as close together as possible.  Their heads touched, nose to nose, eye to eye, as they rested on pillows.  They needed to see each other, chocolate brown eyes meeting cerulean blue ones.

Jack's arms surrounded Daniel, and Daniel's arms encircled Jack.  Their hands moved gently along each other's arms and backs as they embraced.  Daniel's left leg hooked over Jack's, as if to hold him place.

It wasn't very comfortable, but their hold was tight, and right now, after all the miscommunication, and all the lack of eye contact, this is what they needed the most.

====

Hours later, neither had moved, not even an inch.  When Daniel opened his eyes, chocolate brown eyes were gazing into his cerulean blue eyes.

“Hey,” Jack said softly.

“Hey,” Daniel whispered.

Then, slowly, almost magically, Jack moved his head just a fraction so that his lips could meet Daniel's.  It was their first kiss since the nightmare had begun and both moaned.

~Good, so good.~  Daniel closed his eyes, the kiss having been like a dream.  “Do that again,” he asked, needing affirmation they were both awake.

Jack smiled and gently pressed his lips to Daniel's again.

“Mmmm,” was all that escaped from Daniel's throat as he moved onto his back.  Jack leaned over and kissed him with a tenderness that made Daniel swoon, “Mmmm ... Gawd, I love you!”

“Oh, Danny, I'm so sorry.  I ...”

“Shh.”  Daniel cupped Jack's face.  “No more.  You didn't cheat on me, Jack.  I know it.”

Jack looked confused, but more than anything, he still owned a huge body full of guilt.  He placed his head on his partner's chest, and Daniel held him protectively placing kisses on Jack's head.

“Jack, I know you didn't cheat on me.”

“But, Danny ...”

“No, I ... I thought it out, Jack.  Forget the part about us over the last month.  I mean, just for now.  I remember, Jack, when you walked in the door.  You were hung over, but I didn't want to see it.  Tell me.”

“Gone, Danny, rip-roarin' plastered.  I was so furious at you.  I went to our favorite supper club, and drank as much as I could.  It's ... just a blur to me now.”

“What do you remember ... exactly?”

“I don't remember, Danny.”

“Jack, this is important.  Everything ... it's just ... important.  No lies.  No rationales.  Don't make assumptions.  Tell me exactly what you remember.”

“Danny, I kissed him.  I don't know how you can ignore that.”

“I'm not.  Don't argue with me.  We're going to walk through this, like a ... proof.  Tell me.  What do you remember?”

“You're so stubborn,” Jack chuckled.

“Sometimes, I have to be,” Daniel said with a vulnerability that made Jack's momentary smile fade and a new tear escape from hiss eye.  “Tell me.”

“I was drunk.  This guy, Ryan, kept flirting with me.  I told him I wasn't interested, but I was angry.  I'm sorry, Danny.  I let him buy the drinks.”

“And then what?”

“The place closed.  They wouldn't let me drive and ... Ryan said he'd take me somewhere.  I wasn't exactly sober so I went.  Geez, I didn't care.  I just wanted more booze, to get as drunk as I could, and he, Ryan, supplied it.  He ... he kissed me and I kissed him back, but ... gawd, Daniel, I saw you.  I felt you and all of a sudden, I knew it wasn't you that I was kissing.  The lips were wrong.  The taste -- it wasn't you, and I knew then that I needed to leave, to find you.  I pushed him away, but I couldn't get up.”

“What do you mean?  Why didn't you leave?”

“I don't ... Danny, I don't know.  I mean ..”

“Jack, remember what I said.  Just walk through it ... calmly.  I'm here, and ... Jack, I'm not going anywhere.”  Daniel's hold on Jack hadn't wavered, and now his right hand moved to Jack's silver-gray hair, gently massaging it as Daniel leaned down and kissed the top of Jack's head.  “Not leaving, Jack.  Tell me.”

“I don't remember.  I tried to leave, but I couldn't move.  I was drunk, and he had given me another drink.  The next thing I remember I woke up alone.  It was morning.  I didn't have any clothes on.  Crap, I was stranded, didn't know where I was, and didn't know what the blazes had happened.  It took me a while to remember what I did.”

Daniel's hands roamed his lover's body in comforting caressing motions.  Jack looked up and saw Daniel's scrunching nose.

“Danny, you're thinking too hard.”

“No.  Jack, you were drugged.  I'd bet ... I'd bet my life on it.”

“Drugged?” Jack plopped his head back down on Daniel's chest and when he did, Daniel tightened his grip.

The young man was getting angry again, but not at Jack, at Ryan, the unknown Ryan who had brought this pain to their lives.

“You wouldn't cheat on me.  You *didn't* cheat on me.  He drugged you.”

“But how do you know that?” Jack questioned, wanting to believe.

“Because I love you, and you wouldn't do that.  I know you wanted to leave that motel.  And ... you said you couldn't move.  All those drinks, but Jack, even at your worst, you handle yourself too well.  You've never passed out like that.  You wouldn't let that happen.”

“Don't you think that's a stretch, Danny?  I just don't want you to ... to ...”

“Jack, maybe you don't believe in us right now, but I do.  Maybe I'm stupid, but every part of me tells me to trust in our love, so I am ... and I think you were drugged.”

“So I blacked out.  I tried to leave, and I ... Danny, I felt sort of numb.  I remember that now,” the colonel recalled.

“We're ... we're going to find him ... this Ryan.  We can't let him get away with this, Jack.  He might be doing it to others.”

Jack began to speak, but something stopped him.  He realized that Daniel's muscles had quickly tensed, and his breathing had become more rapid.  Then he heard Daniel mumble something.

In a near drone, Daniel spoke, “He's going to pay for what's he's done.”

Jack's eyes widened.  He had never heard Daniel sound so chilling before, not even against Apophis.  He almost spoke, but he thought maybe Daniel was just venting, so he thought it best to let it go.

“I'm sorry.  It's just, um, I'm getting a little tired of the fates trying to split us up.  It ... gawd, it hurt.”

Jack shifted upwards and looked into Daniel's misty eyes and smiled, “It's my fault for making stupid choices.  It's why I fought you so hard.  I hurt you, Danny, when I don't mean to, and that hurts me more than I can say.”

Daniel lifted his right hand to caress Jack's cheek as he spoke, “I think maybe we've both made some bad choices recently, but the important thing is that we're still here, together, in spite of everything.”

“I don't deserve you, Daniel, but I sure as heck am not going to lose you.”

“Remember what you always say ... together ...”

“...we're unbeatable,” both men said in unison, each smiling and then uniting in a warm kiss.

“Jack, you know what else?  I mean, what, uh, really told me I was right about this?”

Jack shook his head, “What, Angel?”

“These,” Daniel's right thumb gently traced Jack's eyes, one at a time, “these beautiful brown eyes.  When I made you look at me, I saw your soul, Jack, just like now.”

“My ... soul,” Jack swallowed, “isn't always a bright place to be.”

“But I was there.  I saw me.  Your soul was me, wanting me.”

“You have no idea how much I want you.”

“Oh, yes, I do.  Jack, we can't do this anymore.  We've been together too long to let an argument go this far.  Gawd, how much did we hurt each other?”

“Too much,” Jack admitted, taking Daniel's hand in his right hand and kissing it.  “No more, Angel.  No more fighting like this.  I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too, Jack.”

====

The couple spent the next several hours just resting on their cabin bed. They made love, this time more tenderly, their nation of two reuniting in a joyful song of their bodies, and then they went for a walk, still holding on to each other.

In fact, since Daniel's return, except for their needed trips to the bathroom, Jack and Daniel hadn't let go of each other.  They both had a need to be connected, physically, to the other for a while, and so they were.

“Jack, I need to tell you something.”

“I'm right here,” Jack said as he smiled, both at the words and the reality.

“I, um,” Daniel took a breath, “before I left the house, Doctor Preston called and left a message.

Jack stopped in his tracks, but didn't let go of Daniel's hand.

Daniel turned to face him, saying, “All she said was that the tests were negative, but that she wanted to talk to you.  I didn't know what it meant then, but later, when I was working through things, I called her office and I pretended to be you.”

“I didn't think we sounded that much alike, Daniel.”

“I pretended to be a surly grizzly bear,” Daniel tried to tease.

“Maybe a snarky bear, Danny, but never a grizzly,” Jack smiled.  “So, she told you?”

“No, she wasn't there so I ... I threatened her nurse, just like you'd do.  She pulled the file and said the STDs and HIV were all negative.  Gawd, I thought I was going to die because at first I thought that meant ... that it ...”

“Danny,” Jack bemoaned, hanging his head, shame overtaking him.

“No, Jack, don't.  Please don't,” Daniel took his free hand to Jack's cheek, making Jack look at him.  “We're going to work through this, and if I'm right, and I know I am, it wasn't your fault.  Jack, there was a note in the file, an incomplete note, about a police report.”

“Police report?”

“Daniel, I didn't file any police report because I ...”

“Because you thought you consented, but you didn't, Jack.  If this happened, then ...”

“Hathor,” Jack said, preferring that analogical name over the word rape.

“Yes.  Jack, I think we need to call Doctor Preston and find out what she feels is so urgent.”

“Okay.”

The two walked further in silence, listening to the sound of nature, and then Jack saw something that caught his eye.  Releasing Daniel's hand for just a moment, he ran to the item and picked a couple.

“Jack, what are you doing?”

“Here.  Aren't they beautiful?” Jack asked as he handed Daniel the two Pearhip Roses he had just plunked from the plant he had seen.

Daniel sniffed the flowers, and looked up at Jack, nodding.

“But not as beautiful as you,” Jack said, his eyes speaking with such sincerity that Daniel thought he himself might break down and cry.

Jack reclaimed Daniel's hand and they continued to walk, Daniel still holding the Pearhips in his left hand, occasionally smiling down at them or taking in their aroma.

“By the way, I'm sorry I hit you,” Daniel apologized.

“That's quite a right hook you have there, Love.”

“Did it hurt much?” Daniel asked, his voice full or regret.

“Danny, everything hurt.  My whole body has been hurting for ... for a long time, but not because you hit me.”

Daniel squeezed Jack's hand, replying, “I'm sorry, but we're going to fix it, Jack, for both of us.”

“Forever and always, Danny.”

“Forever and always, Jack,” Daniel agreed as they continued to stroll through the wooded Minnesota area where Jack's cabin was located.

“Jack, when did you see Mrs. Harper?” Daniel asked a bit later.

“When you kicked me out of the house.”

“Oh, Jack.  I kicked you out.  Gawd, I'm sorry.  I mean, it's not even my house.”

Jack pulled on Daniel's hand, scooped him up into his arms and kissed him soundly; then he looked deep into his lover's eyes, stating, “Listen to me, Daniel Jackson, that house is ours.  Yours and mine.  You had every right.  Do you hear me?”

Daniel smiled, responding, “But I didn't listen, Jack.”

“I hurt you.  Danny, you're entitled to be angry when you get hurt.”

Daniel shook his head, his hands moving to rub against Jack's chest, as he acknowledged hesitantly, “I guess.  I was ... gawd, Jack, I was angry.”

“I know,” Jack said, then kissed Daniel's forehead.

At that moment, the lovers did something they hadn't done in a while -- they leaned their foreheads together, uniting them in yet one more way.  It had always been a symbol, this small and simple stance, of their togetherness, and now each were almost overcome with emotion the longer they stood there.

“I love you, Danny.”

Suppressing a sniffle, Daniel responded with his own declaration of love, and then he swallowed hard.  The two looked into each other's eyes, struggling not to break down from the power of what they had just shared.

“Come on, Love,” Jack finally pulled himself together, taking his lover's hand in his and continuing their long walk.

After a few moments, Daniel picked up where they had left off in their conversation earlier, prodding, “So, you went to the apartment?”

“Didn't have anywhere else to go.  Danny, she knows about us.”

“You told her?”

“No, she just knew.  I guess I must have looked like I had just lost ... you,” Jack raised Daniel's hand to his mouth and kissed it, “and she wanted to give me hope.”

“The path of love?”

“Yeah, told me to trust it and you.”

“She was right then, wasn't she?”

“Yeah, I guess so.  But, Danny, I still don't get it.  How did you know?  For sure?”

Daniel shook his head slightly, replying, “Just ... images started popping into my head.  You wouldn't look at me.  You hadn't looked at me for days until this morning.  You were hung over when you came home, avoided me.  And when we fought, it was just the words you used ... not knowing what happened, if you slept with him, if you could remember.  I shut out those words.  I guess I was so lost in my anger and what I thought was your betrayal of our love that I just didn't pay attention like I should have.  I'm sorry,” Daniel squeezed Jack's hand as they walked.

“Sorry,” Jack once again stopped their motion, turning his lover to face him, “Daniel, you don't have anything to be sorry about.  I created this mess, not you.”

“Jack, I'm not discounting what you did.  You were wrong.  You lost faith in us for a while, and, gawd, I can't blame you .  It's ... the last few weeks have been one of our worst times ever.  You shouldn't have kissed him, and, yes, I'm angry about that, but I love you, and I won't throw away what we have over a kiss, Jack.  If you had done that, we never would have made through Ke'ra, or Sha're,” Daniel acknowledged about his own past as he looked down at the ground.

Jack pulled Daniel into his arms, kissing the young man's forehead as he did so, and said, “Danny, that well of forgiveness runs deep within you.  I thank God for that every day.”

Daniel smiled as he moved to look into Jack's eyes again, replying,“I love you ... so much.”

“And I love you, with all my heart, Danny.”

“How about we both be sorry, and then we just ... let go and move on with our life together?” the younger man suggested.

Jack nodded, and the two began walking again, their arms around each other's waist as they made their way through the wooded area.  It wasn't long before Jack spoke again.

“Danny, we do have to talk about the SGC, though.  That's what started this.”

“I know.  I, uh, thought we had it figured out last year, but I guess I still have to get my priorities in check.”

“It's not just you.”

“Yes, it is, where the SGC is concerned.  Jack, you've wanted us to quit for a while.  I know that, so yes, when my work at the SGC comes between us, it is my fault, and I need to make sure I remember that my life is you, not artifacts.”

“What you do is important, and it also happens to be something you enjoy and have a passion for,” Jack put forth strongly.

“Yes, but it's not more important than you.  I just get wrapped up in it too much some times.  I am sorry about that, Jack.  Help me, okay?”

“Okay, Angel,” Jack kissed Daniel on the temple as they walked.

“And we have to talk about your holding out on me,” Daniel stated calmly.

“Holding out?”

“Sam told me about those special meals and things.”

“Carter?  How'd she know?”

~Sometimes he's so funny.~  Daniel chuckled in disbelief and this time he stopped their movement.  He looked at Jack, asking, “You don't remember?”

“Remember what?”

“You talked to Sam in the park.”

“Oh, yeah, but that was just for a minute.  I wouldn't tell her stuff like that,” the older man claimed.

Daniel smiled.  It was a strange smile Jack couldn't place or  understand.

“Danny, what's this?” Jack questioned as his hands traced his soulmate's lips and then pulled him for a kiss.

“Jack, my Jack.  My Special Ops trained lover, always aware, always focused.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Jack, you were so messed up that you don't remember bearing your soul to Sam!” Daniel responded, practically grinning as he talked.

“And that makes you happy?”

“You love me, Jack.  You *really* love me,” Daniel laughed, so much so Jack had to begin to grin and laugh, too.

“Love you to the moon and back and beyond, Space Monkey.”

Daniel attached his face to Jack's, sucking and keeping Jack pressed to him.

“Wow!  Whoa!  Do that again,” Jack demanded lovingly.

“Yes, Colonel,” Daniel agreed, repeating his motion.

“Geez, Daniel, what you do to me.”

“And I will ... do it again ... and again ... and again.  Gawd, you love me.”

“That I do, because you're nuts, and I still don't know why you're grinning.”

“Because you don't remember ... I mean talking to Sam.  Because you were so far gone you weren't you.  Gawd, I'm a lousy linguist.”

“You're a beautiful linguist.”

“For you.  Just for you,” Daniel crooned as their tongues danced another waltz together.

As the Pearhip Roses dropped out of Daniel's hand, the two lovers gently collapsed to the ground and made love.

====

“Boo!” Jack exclaimed, smiling, as he entered his lover's office at the SGC.

Daniel laughed, removing Jack's hands from his eyes, and teased, “Boo to you, too!”

Daniel stood and kissed his lover, ignoring the fact that the security camera was on.  He'd get Sam to retrieve the tape later.  It had been nine days since their reunion in Minnesota.  They'd worked through most of their issues and, while work was important, the two vowed to try and remain focused on the most important thing in their lives -- each other.

Jack had refused to let Daniel take the blame for too much of their problems, though Daniel had tried hard to outdo Jack in that department.  It had been Jack's jealousy, after all, that had gone on overdrive last year, and it was his stupidity at getting drunk and leaving the bar with a stranger this year that had been at least half of the problem, if not more.

“Jack, in both instances, last year and this year, had I not been glued to my desk at the SGC, you wouldn't have had a moment's reason to think I was cheating on you with Paul or that I thought my work was more important than our life together.  So, we share the blame, Love ... both of us,” Daniel had insisted during one of their 'it's my fault' discussions.

For the most part, life had been returning to normal.  They'd even had some playful times when their troubles seemed far behind them, most notably on April Fools' Day, which had helped in their quest to get back on track.  Each man was feeling more and more at peace, though they both were smart enough to know that they would have struggles to overcome in the future.  As a result, they sometimes still approached each other a bit cautiously.

“You coming home, Danny?” Jack asked tentatively as he entered his lover's office on this afternoon.

Daniel had stayed late the last two nights.  Still shorthanded in the civilian department, there was a lot to do.

The Doctor of Archaeology sighed, “General Hammond wants this in the morning.”

Jack nodded, acknowledging, “Okay, I'll see you when you get home.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, too, Angel.”

The hardworking man smiled as he sat down at his desk.  He stared at the research papers he had been studying.  He picked up his pen and started to work on a new passage when he heard Sam's words in his mind -- “If you aren't careful, you're going to work yourself out the best relationship you've ever had.”

Daniel listened to those unspoken words, and then he remembered how he and Jack had almost broken up a year ago because of his work.  Recently, he'd almost let it happen again.

~No, I won't let it happen,~ Daniel determined and then threw down his pen, hurrying out of his office and the SGC.  He raced home, still dressed in his BDUs. He pulled up just as Jack had closed the front door.  Seconds later, Daniel rushed in.  ~Not going to let that happen; no way.~

Hearing the door, Jack turned, ready to battle some fiend or opponent, but what he got was a mouthful of his lover.

“I love you, Jack.  I won't lose you because of some translation.  I won't!” Daniel declared emotionally.

“Danny, it's okay,” Jack soothed as he tried to calm his anxious lover.

“Mine ... you're mine.”

“You got that right!  Danny, listen, if you need to finish that report ...”

“No, not tonight.  Jack, I love you.”

Daniel hadn't been afraid of losing Jack, not really, but he was still desperately trying to solve his work dilemma.  He wasn't sure what the answer was, but he knew that he had to make certain that Jack knew he was first, and more importantly, he had to make sure he showed Jack that he was first.  Words, Daniel had learned, only went so far.  He owed it to Jack, and to himself, to be true to their nation above all else.

“You're first in my life, Jack.  You matter the most.  You know that, don't you?”

“Yes, I mean, I hope I know so.  I'm glad you came home.  I've missed you.”

“Gawd, I've missed you, too.  Two days, Jack, way too long.  Make love to me.”

“Don't you want dinner?”

“No, I want you ... just you.”

Jack grinned, replying, “Geez, what you do to me!”

====

“Jack, it's late.  What are you doing up here?” Daniel inquired two nights later upon finding his soulmate on the roof deck at three in the morning.

Restless, Jack was searching for redemption for his action, which he still felt guilty about.  His insomnia had begun almost from their return.  While the couple was happy, in love, and keeping communication flowing, Jack hadn't been able to get rid of his guilt and sense of betrayal.

“I couldn't sleep.  Did I wake you?”

“Yes.  I was ... cold.”

Jack took Daniel in his arms, “I'm sorry.”

“Let it go, Jack.  It was just a kiss, and he drugged you.”  When his lover didn't respond, Daniel sighed, “Gawd, Jack.  Trust me, okay.  I know you.  I know you better than you know yourself, and I know in my heart and soul that you didn't do anything.”

“I hurt you, Angel, and I'm having a hard time dealing with that.”

~Guilt is a killer; I have to get him through this.~  Daniel took Jack's hands in his and held them tightly.  He stared at them for a moment, and took a deep breath, and then he looked into his lover's eyes and smiled, “Let he who is without fault or wrong doing step back.  Jack, we're human, both of us.  We make mistakes all the time; it's ... it's part of life.  We, uh, do our best, but especially where strong emotions are involved, there will always be moments when we push what we have to its limits.”

“Danny, I betrayed you.  Wait, listen.  I know I was drugged, after we got to that run-down motel.  But I don't know, that first kiss, I just don't know.”

“Babe, you told me you stopped it.”

“I did.”

“Because ...” Daniel prodded.

“Because I suddenly realized the taste was wrong.  The lips weren't as full, the dance with our tongues not as joyful or complete.  There was no emotion or depth.  It was robotic -- no heart, Danny, and no soul.  It was a ... a ...” Jack struggled to find the words he need.

Daniel surmised, “It was a physical response, like with Kynthia ... like ... Hathor.”

Jack shuddered with the mention of the long-dead Goa'uld System Lord.

“And, Jack, when you realized, really knew that you weren't with me, you backed off.  You would have left and come home ... to me.”

“Not sure I could have looked you in the eye.  I don't think ... Danny, you told me once that there wasn't any such thing as a harmless kiss.  Remember that AU thing?”

Suddenly, Daniel kissed Jack simply because he wanted to.

“Geez, I like it when you do that,” Jack said with a smile.

“Me, too,” Daniel said as he cupped Jack's face.  “Jack, we've evolved.  Our relationship has grown with us.  That was a different time and a different situation, and yes, I didn't like that kiss and no, I don't like this one, but it was one kiss, Jack.  Why would I give up our life together for a mistake that took both of us to make happen?”  He kissed his lover again, and, after he nibbled for just a moment, spoke softly into his ear, “Come to bed, Jack.  Keep me warm.  That's all you have to do now.”

As Jack and Daniel made their way to their bedroom, Daniel was already working on a plan.  For all the times his lover had 'fixed it' for him, it was now his turn to 'fix it' for Jack.

====

“I'll take another,” Daniel smiled to the bartender.

The bartender was busy.  It was Friday night, and the place was buzzing with lovers wanting to make a connection.

The young man was handsomely attired in a silky red shirt with black pants.  The top three buttons of his shirt were undone.  His hair was slightly mussed, not messy, just enough to say, 'come walk through me'.  He had on his best after shave and smiled alluringly as he sat in the supper club that he and Jack dined and danced at sometimes.

It didn't take long before a man sat down next to Daniel and introduced, “Hi, I'm Ryan.  Are you here alone?”

~Bingo.~  Daniel smiled confidently, answering, “Sure am.  You?”

“Not anymore,” Ryan said confidently.  “What are you drinking?”

“Jack Daniels.  It's a favorite of mine,” Daniel noted with a sly smile.

“I'm not much for whiskey, but when I drink it, I prefer Black Bush Irish Whiskey.”

“Can't go wrong with the Irish,” Daniel opined, then grinned before taking a small sip of his drink.

“So, what's your name?”

“Patrick,” Daniel answered, using his middle name to make sure his true identity wasn't revealed.

“Well, Pat, how about if I buy the next round?”

“It's Patrick, and I'd like that.”

For two hours, Ryan and Daniel talked.  Ryan got more and more familiar with the younger man, his left hand frequently roaming Daniel's leg, thigh and arm.  Daniel smiled and laughed, acting very interested in what Ryan had to offer.

“It's getting late, Ryan.  Time to go,” Daniel said, batting his eyelashes a couple of times covertly.

“I know a place,” Ryan said seductively.

“Actually, I have a place not far from here.  It's just a small cabin, but it suits my needs when I'm in town.”

“I'd love to see it sometime ... like tonight,” Ryan suggested as he put his hand to Daniel's backside, squeezing the scientist's right butt cheek.

“Okay.  I'd welcome the company.  Why don't you follow me?”

Ryan nodded and the two exited.  Daniel stretched, eyeing Ryan who was watching him.  He smiled, noticing that Ryan's eyes were bulging in want.

Daniel got into the jet black 2003 Buick LeSabre that he had rented at the Denver airport and pulled out of the parking lot.  Ryan followed closely in his Lincoln Towncar.

Ryan was practically salivating at the thought of having sex with Patrick.  The young man was a looker, charming and friendly, with a body that made Ryan tingle, especially since the silk shirt Patrick had worn was a bit tight and clung to him in such a way as to accent his body.

As he followed his almost-conquest, Ryan drooled over the man's lips.  They were full and succulent and he couldn't wait to kiss them and have them on his length.  He was getting hard just thinking about it.

Ryan felt lucky to have met Patrick since he was not only good looking but smart.  He was some kind of entrepreneur apparently, but Patrick hadn't said exactly what he did for a living, only that, “I love cameras and ... experimenting.”  He had nearly choked on his drink from the places his imagination had taken him after that remark.  Driving cautiously on the bumpy road, he was curious about Patrick's profession.

====

Separately, Daniel, aka Patrick for the moment, and Ryan traveled almost thirty minutes to a secluded cabin in the woods.  Ryan had never been in this area before.  The road leading to the cabin was narrow and unlit, and he was surprised when he saw the cabin was so small.

“Sorry, I hope you're not disappointed.  Like I said at the bar, I'm not here that often, but when I am, this place is perfect for my ... needs,” Daniel said sweetly, motioning for the door.

As soon as they walked into the cabin, Ryan grabbed Patrick and tried to kiss him.

“Whoa, Big Boy, good things come to those who wait,” Daniel claimed with a cute smile while starting to unbutton Ryan's shirt.

“Oh, I see ... you have a ... style.”

“Hmm-mmm, a very definite ... style, so you need to pay attention, close attention,” Daniel replied as he removed Ryan's shirt and yawned.  “You know.  I'm really sorry, but I'm more tired than I thought, and I have a big meeting tomorrow.  Maybe next time?”

“*What*?  What is this?  A tease?” Ryan expressed angrily.

“No,” Daniel cooed softly.  “It's just ... <yawn> ... I just realized I'm tired.  We could meet some other time, though.”

“Sure,” Ryan agreed as he put on his shirt.  “But, uh, how about a drink, a night cap before I hit the road?”

“Okay, I could go for that.  Um, I'm going to change.  The bar is over there.” Daniel pointed to a cubbyhole on the far corner of the small cabin.  “It's my hidden stash.”

Daniel walked to a suitcase and opened it, pulling out a sleeveless v-neck tee shirt.  Ryan drooled again as he watched Daniel slowly removing the silk shirt he had been wearing and let it slide gently off his body and then put on the tee.

“Did you change your mind about the drink?” Daniel asked, seeing Ryan hadn't moved.

“Oh, no ... you're a sexy man, Patrick.”

“Thank you.  I ... do my best.”

Ryan turned to get the drinks, secretly slipping something into the one for Patrick.

“Here you go,” a smiling Ryan said as he handed Patrick the drink.

“Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Very ... very much,” Daniel said, passing by Ryan, yawning as he did so.

“This is good,” Daniel said, smacking his lips after a sip.

“I have a talent for mixing drinks, but I have other talents to show you, Patrick.”

“I look forward to it, just ... <yawn> not tonight.  Oh, excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom.”  Drink in hand, Daniel walked into the tiny bathroom.  When he returned two minutes later, he yawned again, and took another drink.  “Wow, I think I'm getting ... gawd, dizzy,” he said as he reached for the bed.

Ryan hurried to him, pawing Daniel's chest, and said, “Don't worry, Patrick.  I'm here to help you.”

“It's good to have friends to help.”

“It sure is,” Ryan agreed as he slipped his hand up Daniel's tee.

“You'd better go.  I'm about to fall asleep,” Daniel expressed, adding a tiny yawn for dramatic effect.

“I think not, Patrick.”  Ryan mounted Daniel, who couldn't move.  “We're going to have a long night.”

“I can't ... can't ... what's happening?”

“I'll take good care of you, Patrick,” Ryan stated as he leaned over and kissed Daniel, or at least, that was his plan.

Leaning forward, just as his lips were about to make contact with Daniel's, the younger man laughed, startling Ryan.  And then, in a move that any Special Forces officer would have been proud of, Daniel flipped Ryan over and pulled out a small gun that he had in his back pocket.

“I should kill you.  I really should,” Daniel said in a crazed tone.  “Now ... stay purrrrrrfectly still,” he teased.  “Or I'll be forced to ... shoot!”

Ryan wanted to run for his life, but Daniel held the gun on him.  Carefully, Daniel tied up Ryan.

“Oh, you're kinky, Patrick,” Ryan said, realizing the kind of ties that had been used to tie both his hands and his feet -- ones used in sex games and domination houses.

Daniel straddled Ryan, aiming the gun at his head for a moment, but he said nothing.  He just stared at Ryan.

“What are you doing?  Is this some kind of ... fantasy?”

“Fantasy?  Hmmm?” Daniel slid the cold barrel of the gun against Ryan's cheek.  “No, no fantasy.  You're going on a trip, Ryan, a trip far, far away.  You know, normally, I wouldn't do this kind of thing, but ... I'm making an exception ... just ... for ... you,” Daniel put the gun up to Ryan's mouth.

“You're crazy!”

“You think so?  You want to know crazy, Ryan?  Crazy is being so sick that you drug people.  That's sick.  That's crazy!”

“Oh, yeah, that's what this is.  Oh man, sometimes people have reactions like this.  Hallucinations and paranoia.  It figures.”

“I don't know what you're talking about.  I'm thinking a nice little planetoid, between Mars and Venus.  How'd you like to live on Venus, Ryan?”

“Patrick, be calm.  It's okay.  You're just having a reaction, that's all.”

“Reaction?  Reaction to what?  I'm fine.  Everyone who knows me knows that I'm ... fine,” Daniel claimed.

“No, you're not.  It's the drug, and you need to let me help you,” Ryan insisted.

“Drug?  I haven't taken any drugs,” Daniel spoke, moving downward.  He unfastened and unzipped Ryan's pants.  “Just want to make sure I don't miss,” he added, smiling wickedly as he pointed the gun at Ryan's now-limp shaft.

Ryan was petrified of Patrick and wanted nothing to do with him.

“Drugs?  Who needs drugs when you have a gun,” Daniel cooed, holding the gun as if it were an artifact.

“Say, Patrick, how about cutting me loose here?”

“You do drugs, Ryan?”

“Of course not.”

“But you give them?”

“Only when it gets me an advantage, but Patrick, I'm here to help you.”

“Help me?”

“Yes ... to protect you from the drugs,” Ryan lied.

“But you gave me the drug,” Daniel said as he cocked his head, now looking at the gun as if it were a loving creature.

“I just wanted to help you,” Ryan responded.

“By drugging me?  Hmm ... strange way of helping me.  I think it's time to play,” Daniel cocked the gun as he made contact with Ryan's shaft.

“NO, DON'T ... PLEASE, HOLY ... DON'T ... I BEG YOU, DON'T DO THIS.”

“Beg?  No, I'm not into begging.  Tell me about the others.”

“Others?”

“My ... riiiiivals, the others you've ... drugged.  I don't like having rivals,” Daniel said, fondling the gun.

“Um, there haven't been that many.”

“Tell me about my rivals, or I'll have to make sure they can't please you anymore.”

Ryan thought Patrick was truly a crazy man, and that the drug he had slipped into his drink was causing a horrid reaction.  He was sure, however, that Patrick would pass out soon and then not remember about what was happening.  That's how the drug worked, even on the worst cases, so he figured he'd stick with the truth.

For twenty minutes, Ryan rattled off case after case of men he'd taken advantage of by slipping them a well known date-rape drug called Gamma-Hydroxybutyerate, or GHB for short.  As a doctor, he knew that GHB worked quickly, usually within five to twenty minutes, and the effects lasted two or three hours, plenty long enough for him to get what he needed.

The drug had an alcoholic-like effect on people, sans the hangover, and it tended to suppress user's inhibitions and heighten their prosexual behavior.  Side effects ranged from sleep paralysis, delusions and hallucinations, and dizziness to respiratory arrest, seizures, and vomiting.

GHB would make Ryan's victims compliant, and, when they awoke, they'd have no memory of the events.

“And it always works?  Have you always succeeded, Ryan-Baby,” Daniel asked, allowing his left hand to run down Ryan's chest slowly.

“Always.”

“So you've never had any ... bad times?” Daniel questioned.

“Only when the cursed cell phone rings.”

“Why?”

“It interrupts things,” Ryan admitted.

“Tell me,” Daniel requested while he ran the gun down Ryan's chest, inserting the barrel between two buttons, causing Ryan to squirm a bit.

“There was a time recently.  Had a guy all primed and ready to go.  Sexy guy.”

“Sexy?  Sexier than me?” Daniel acted upset at the thought.

“No, no way, Baby.  No one is sexier than you,” Ryan said, hoping Patrick was becoming more compliant and the side effects were calming finally.

“So tell me about this ... sexy man.”

“Jack.  His name was Jack.  Good kisser.  Gray hair.  Military, yet.  I was really hoping for something, but he keeps hanging up on me.”

“Hanging up?” Daniel asked innocently.

“Yeah, or punching me in the mouth.  Do you believe it?  I sent the guy beautiful flowers and go to woo him and he hit me!  His loss!”

“He's my riiiiiival?”

“No one is your rival, Honey!”

“Not even Jack?  Wasn't he ... good?”

“Never had the chance to find out.  Had a dang emergency right when I was going to find out.  Good looking body though, and a big kahuna I was dying to taste, but Mrs. Cranby fell down the stairs.  I had to go.”

“So, nothing happened with Jack?” Daniel queried.

“Just that kiss.  Hmm, sure wish I could find out if he's as good as he looks,” Ryan answered with longing.

“Trust me, he is.  Better even,” Daniel replied.

Ryan laughed, “You think so?”

“I know so,” Daniel said, turning serious as he pointed the gun at Ryan.

“Patrick?” Ryan called out, seeing the coldness in Daniel's eyes.

Daniel aimed the gun at Ryan's skull and pulled the trigger, causing Ryan to scream.

“Bang, you're not dead,” Daniel said with satisfaction.  “Gawd, you make me sick.”  He got off of Ryan, shaking as if the man were a slimy bug crawling on him.  “*Jack*!”

Ryan's eyes opened wide as Jack walked in, smiling.

“Why are you shaking like that?” Jack asked his lover.

“He's got ... cooties ... ewwww!”

“I'll make it all better,” Jack promised, walking over to Daniel and kissing him.

“Oh, I'm going to hold you to that.”

Jack and Daniel kissed for three minutes, long passionate kisses that made both moan.  Then, Daniel eased into Jack's embrace and looked at Ryan, who was  “reacting” to watching them.

“Oh, gawd, ewww,” Daniel said.  “Look, Jack!”

“Like cheap thrills, Ryan?”

“Jack!  You know Patrick?”

“Oh, yeah.  Love my Danny!”

“Danny?” Ryan asked in surprise.

Daniel smiled wickedly as he observed, “Gawd, you're easy.”  Then he became serious.  He walked to Ryan, sat down on the edge of the bed, and pointed the gun at their captive.

“Listen to me ... Ryan.  You have no idea the nightmare you've put us through.  This has been nothing but a big game to you.  Well, it ends here and now.  You see, I've got you on tape.”

“Tape?  That's illegal.”

“You think the police care?  Or the media?” Daniel leaned in very close, saying, “No more, no more drugs, no more games.  We will be watching you.  You see, we have friends ... very good friends.”  He got up and took out the tapes -- audio and visual.  “We'll be keeping these in various locations.  Just for ... safety reasons.”  Walking up to the end of the bed, he added, “And one final piece of advice, and I'd advise you to listen well.  You stay away from Jack.  Don't call.  No more flowers.  No gifts.  Stay away from our house.  You touch him, and you won't get a second chance.”

Daniel backed away and grabbed his duffel bag, making sure everything was inside.

“Ready, Jack?”

“Ready, Daniel.”

“Hey, you guys aren't going to leave me like this?  I'll die.”

“Isn't that a shame,” Daniel snarked, looking back at Jack and nodding.  His part of the plan was over, so he got in his rental vehicle and left, leaving Jack with Ryan.  **Be careful, Babe.**

**No problem, Love,** Jack replied.  He stood, staring at the man for several minutes.  ~I love it.  He can't take the pressure.~

Sure enough, Ryan finally cracked, squealing, “What are you going to do to me?”

“I was thinking something like murder,” Jack spoke, being his most sinister.

Ryan began to squirm, desperately trying to free himself.

“Won't work.  Danny is great with knots,” Jack smiled.

Ryan was breathing heavily, fear overtaking him.

“Listen, Doc,” Jack said sarcastically.  “I've checked you out.  No one's going to miss you if you disappear.  No one.  Now here is what is going to happen.  You're leaving the country, Ryan.  It's all arranged.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I have friends, and I called in a few favors.  Danny ... Danny likes to give people chances.  I don't object normally.  He's a gentle soul.  Bet you didn't know that wasn't even a real gun, just a prop piece.  Geez, not even loaded with blanks.  Daniel couldn't hurt a fly, but,” Jack pulled out his gun, “I'm not Daniel. And I will not take chances with his life.  Oh, and this one,” Jack held up his gun, “this gun is real; just thought you might want to know that.”

“Hey, it's just a drug.  Drugs don't do anything.”

“I told you, Ryan.  I checked you out.  In the first place, and by your own admission here tonight, I'm not your first victim.  There's been a few brave men who have reported being raped with GHB as the drug.  Funny, my doctor found traces of GHB in my system the night you tried to rape me.  I'm guessing, and it's a pretty strong guess, that you were responsible for those other cases, too.”

“You can guess all you want, Jack.”

Jack smirked, “And in the second place, you're not a doctor.  You're just ... playing one in Denver.”  He leaned the gun into Ryan's neck.  “And in the third place, and this is the one that is really going to do you in, you're a child molester and a murderer.”

“Prove it.”  More seriously, Ryan added, “but you can't.”

“I don't need to.  Like I said, I don't take chances with Daniel's life.”

“You won't kill me!” Ryan spat confidently, his fear replaced with his won arrogance.

“You don't know me very well.  I will do *anything* to protect Daniel.  Killing you would be easy, but you're right, I won't.”  Jack walked away and called out, “Thor?  You there good buddy?”

In a flash, Thor appeared in the cabin and announced, “Everything is ready.  The Sqignacks are prepared for the arrival of the Tau'ri prisoner.”

Ryan's eyes were as big as dollars at seeing an alien.  He was sure he must be hallucinating.  He automatically tried to back up, but he had nowhere to back to.

“Goodbye, Ryan.  You'll like Sqignacks.”

“Sqi...what?” Ryan tried to speak calmly, though he was anything but calm now.

“You like worms?” Jack asked.

“Worms?

“They're worms -- big, slimy worms.  Have a good trip.”  Jack whistled as he headed for the door.  “Owe ya one, Thor!”

Thor nodded, and, in another bright flash, he and Ryan were gone.

“Thor?  The car and the cabin!” the colonel shouted.

Seconds later, nothing was left at the site but dirt.  Jack was happy to have such a good friend as the Asgard leader.  His only concern with his plan initially was that when Ryan disappeared, people might place him with Daniel at the bar, so Thor had agreed to relocate the car far away from the now non-existent cabin.

Jack had still been concerned about police investigating Ryan's disappearance.

“Do not worry, O'Neill,” Thor had assured him.  “There is a device that works well on humans.”

“Device?”

Thor had nodded and explained about the small, handheld item that could wipe out or rewrite the memories of an event.  It was foolproof.

“Sounds very Men in Blackish,” Jack had spoofed, but Thor had simply stared expressionless.

Jack coughed, then clarified, “You know ... Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith ... Agents K and ... *that* kind of device”

“It is incapable of failure.”

Jack had nodded, feeling once again like he had been in the Twilight Zone.  So, the plan was that as soon as Ryan and Daniel had left the bar, one of Thor's associates had 'flashed' the place with the device, making sure that everyone there had absolutely no memory of seeing either man that night.

Jack smiled as he prepared to leave, thinking, ~Geez, I love that little guy!~

====

“Jack, what took you so long?  You didn't do anything ... crazy, did you?” Daniel asked, concerned for his soulmate.

“He's alive and well, Danny,” Jack said, meeting his lover in the living room and sharing a kiss.

Daniel stared into his lover's eyes for confirmation of the words, and intuitively surmised, “But you did something, Jack.  And you got Thor to help you, didn't you?”

“Daniel, he's alive, breathing, but he's in a place where he'll never hurt another living being, especially not you.”

“Or you,” Daniel spoke softly.  Then he pushed on, wanting to know exactly what his lover had done.  “You had Thor send him somewhere, didn't you?”

“To a place far, far away, just like you had teased the jerk,” Jack mused happily.

“Jack ... you heard what he said.”

“Yeah.”

“I told you.  You could never hurt me like that.  Never!”

“Angel, let's go to bed.”  After his lover took his hand, and they started to go upstairs, he queried, “Danny, you aren't into that chained up stuff, are you?”

“Never.  I don't need games.  You make me so excited.  You're all I'll ever need or want.  I love you.”

“Love you, too, forever, forever and always.”

That night, Jack slept peacefully, knowing his Daniel was in his arms, and their future was brighter than ever.

====

On Monday, Daniel scheduled an appointment with General Hammond.  He walked in, arms loaded with files and paperwork.  He dropped the brown folders onto Hammond's desk dramatically, as if for emphasis.

“Doctor Jackson?  What is this about?” the general inquired.

“This, uh, Sir, is about one man trying to be five.  General, I know we have budgetary issues, and I realize that even now, the civilian contribution to the Stargate program is, uh, highly overlooked, but we need more help.”

“I've approved most of your requests, as you know.  Unfortunately, the dollars just aren't there.”

“Well, Sir, then these,” Daniel waved his right hand in front of the pile of files, “aren't going to be processed in a timely manner.  I've put in a lot of overtime, a lot of which I haven't even asked to be paid for, but, now, General, now, uh, I ...”

“Spit it out, Doctor Jackson.”

“With all due respect, General, I have a life, and as much as I love the program, and as much as what I do here is important, I won't let it own me anymore.” Daniel turned around and walked a few feet before turning back to face the general.  “If something demands my attention after hours, naturally, I'll be here.  I'm not talking about emergencies, but treaties, research and reports ... well, uh, there's only so many hours in the work day, and, from now on, I'm ... I'm choosing my life.  I'm sorry.”

Daniel felt like a heel, but he wasn't going to retreat.  He had come to realize that the near break-ups with his lover, both the one last year and the recent occurrence, were as much his fault as Jack's.  He had tried to hide between his work ethic and the urgent need for his work to be done.  Now, though, he had become aware of the fine line between dedication and being a workaholic.

Jack was first in his life, and Daniel was going to make sure that the older man never doubted that fact again.

~Interesting.~  General Hammond sat back in his chair, twisting a pencil that he held in his two hands as he studied his Head of Archaeology.  Slowly, a smiled emerged on his face.  “Very well, Doctor Jackson.  I'll forward your requests for additional staffing to the Pentagon, with a stern addendum from myself urging that they approve the necessary monies immediately.”

“Thank you.”

“I don't know that they'll agree to it, Son.”

“I meant what I said, General.  You have to understand that.  I ... I, uh, almost lost something very important recently because I ... I forgot that life is more than this facility.  I won't make that mistake again, Sir.  I can't.”

The general acknowledged Daniel's comments and then briefly reviewed the archaeologist's staffing needs with him.  Then, Daniel  exited the office.  He had one more thing he wanted to do before getting back to work.

Making a quick stop in his own office, Daniel searched the shelves looking for the item he wanted.  He smiled when he found it, a feeling of warmth coming over him.

====

“Hey, Jack,” Daniel greeted, entering Jack's office, closing the door, and locking it.

~Beautiful.  He's positively beautiful.~  Jack smiled and immediately turned off the security equipment.  Obviously, Daniel's visit was personal in nature, since he had locked the door.  He walked to his lover, greeted him with a kiss, then asked, “What's that?” as he motioned to the object Daniel held in his hand.

It was a small object, a square roughly three inches by three inches.  It looked to Jack like a piece of granite with an black etching on it.

“This, uh, this is something I want you to keep in here,” Daniel said, pointing to the top drawer of Jack's desk.

“Okay.  Why, and what is it?”

“Jack, this is an African symbol.  It means love.  Well, actually, it means 'love never loses its way home.'  Basically, it's a sign of the power of love.  They call it, uh, Odo Nnyew Fie Kwan.”

“Obi wan ... what?”

“It doesn't matter, Jack,” Daniel chuckled as placed the stone in the drawer and then walked over to his lover.  “What does matter is that if I ever again forget that what we have and what we mean to each other is more important than treaties or artifacts or some System Lord, then I want you to take that relic and give it to me.  It'll remind me.”

“Remind you?”

Daniel cupped Jack's face, saying, “Jack, nothing is more important than us.  Nothing.  I talked to General Hammond.  I told him I wasn't going to try and be five people anymore, that I had a life and am going to live it.  You're my life, Jack, so, if I goof up, just give me that ... rock.”  He laughed, looking over at the desk, and added, “And I promise, I'll remember.  I love you.”

“Angel, I love you, too.”  Jack paused, looking downwards for a second before he gazed into his partner's eyes.  “Danny,” he sighed, just before the younger man silenced him with a kiss.

“No more sorries or regrets, Jack.  It's over now, and we're ... we're stronger than ever.”

“I don't deserve you,” Jack claimed.

“It's the other way around,” Daniel refuted.

“No.”

“Yes.”

“No!”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

“No, I don't think so.”

“But I know so!”

“Love you!”

“Love you, too.  Jack?”

“Yes, Love?”

“Let's go home,” the overworked archaeologist suggested.

“Don't you have work to do?”

“A ton.  Overloaded.  Swamped.  Let's go home,” Daniel repeated.

Jack smiled as he kissed his Love and then quickly put away a few papers that were on his desk.  Then the two went to the locker room and changed from their BDUs to their civvies, each eyeing the other seductively as they changed.

Having made their proper excuses for leaving early, Jack and Daniel headed home to renew their nation of two, proving that once again, their power of love was stronger than anything fate could toss their way.

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