Clarity: The Merging of Fire and Water

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Pre-Slash, Angst, H/C, Smarm, Missing Scene/Epilogue
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  1
Spoilers:  Stargate: The Movie (minor), Children of the Gods (minor), Fire and Water
Size:  105kb
Written:  June 3,14-15,18,20-22, July 5, 2004  Revised for consistency:  January 22, 2007
Summary:  As Jack mourns the death of his best friend and in the process discovers a startling truth.  How will this revelation affect the Air Force colonel?
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) “The Pearl Fishers” was composed by Georges Bizet.
2) 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.**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Claudia, QuinGem, Drdjlover, Kalimyre, StarShadow!

Clarity: The Merging of Fire and Water
by Orrymain

Major General George Hammond looked at the three returning members of SG-1, his flagship team, and was shocked by both their worn demeanor and the horrified expressions on their faces.  More disconcerting to him, however, was the absence of the team's civilian member.

“Colonel?  Where's Doctor Jackson?”

“Daniel's dead, Sir.”

The phrase sounded more like a question than a sentence, and Jack couldn't believe he had spoken the words.  It couldn't be true.  Daniel wasn't dead.  It was just a nightmare, that's all.

~Just a nightmare.~

====

SG-1 had gone to the planet designated P3X-866, eventually known as Oannes, on a basic recon mission, but something had gone horribly wrong.  The planet appeared to be uninhabited, and they hadn't seen any threatening signs.  Sam had conducted tests of holes that were on the sandy surface which appeared to be emitting volcanic gases.  Somehow, soon after, Jack had heard his best friend screaming.

Instead of the regular briefing, the members of SG-1 met privately with General Hammond.  A technician was present to record each of their statements, and the interview was filmed, according to standard procedure. This was when Jack recounted the tragic events of the mission to General Hammond.

“He said ... he said, 'Colonel, help me' ... and then he was gone.”

“Gone?” the general asked.

“Engulfed ... in fire, Sir,” the Air Force colonel answered.

Jack had tried to get to Daniel, but the heat had blasted towards him, pushing the entire team away.

“And what did you do then?”

Jack hated being where he was.  He didn't like recounting the story and remembering the pain.  Hammond's question was a big part of his internal conflict.  The answer should have been that Jack had rushed to Daniel's aid, pulled him from the fire, and then led his team safely home.  Yet, that was far from the truth.  He had done the thing that he had sworn never to do, the one thing that had once been done to him and had ended up costing him four months of his life in a hellhole of a prison.

~I don't leave anyone behind, but I ... I left Daniel behind.~

His discomfort at the process was extremely evident.  Frequently, Jack bowed his head, pressed his hands together, even rubbing the heels of his hands against his eyes as if to shove the memories away.  He fought to stay in control.

~I'm a Colonel.  I have to be stable.  Why don't I believe what I'm saying?  I left a member of my team behind ... my ... best friend.  He called out to me, and I ... I left him.  Can't we turn off the cameras?  Friggin' Air Force!~

“There was a body of water somewhere nearby.  It was like a ... lake ... or a sea, maybe.  We all submerged ourselves.  That's what saved us.”

~Yeah, saved us.  Danny burned to a crisp, but we saved us.  It's not supposed to happen like that.~

According to the leader of SG-1, after that point, there was nothing much left of the area, and he had ordered the team to evacuate the planet.  When Hammond stated he'd send a team through to retrieve Daniel's body, Jack vehemently argued against it, saying the planet was “too volatile” and “unstable.”

~Why did I say that?  The least we could do is to bring you home ... but that's not the real issue.  I don't leave anyone behind.  I ... why did I leave you behind, Danny?~

Jack winced at his thoughts and emotions.  The briefing was long and difficult, and Jack just wanted to run.  He didn't want to remember; he didn't want to think about any of it, especially the loss of his best friend.

Finally, Hammond dismissed the team, and Jack immediately fled to his country-style home, hoping to find relief from the torment filtering through his mind.

====

After mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges, changing the oil in his truck, repairing the fence, and going for a long jog, something Jack never did, the colonel retreated to his kitchen to prepare dinner.  His afternoon and early evening had been spent trying to forget the events on Oannes.  Jack had hoped physical labor would help.  When it hadn't, he had prayed the run through the neighborhood would ease his pain.  When that didn't work either, he longed to get lost in cuisine.

He decided on spaghetti, pulling out a pot and filling it with water.  He placed it on a burner, and then moved to prepare the sauce, using a recipe passed down from his grandmother.  The more complicated the process, the happier he was.

The sauce prepared and simmering, Jack turned the burner on under the water-filled pot, waiting for it to boil.  In his mind, he replayed his favorite hockey game, not leaving out a single detail.  He watched the puck glide across the ice.  His focus was intense.

Hearing the bubbling sound from the pot, Jack pulled out the spaghetti strands and held them over the boiling water, but then he froze.  The bubbles of the boiling liquid held him in a trance, and then, without warning, the water turned a fiery orange, and in the middle of the flames was Daniel, begging for help.

“Jack.  Help me, Jack.  Please, Jack.  Help me.”

Jack dropped the pasta, stepping back as it fell all over the stovetop and onto the floor.  He stood staring, shaking his head.  Turning off the appliance, he ran up to the roof-top and paced back and forth.

“I tried.  I tried, Danny.  I did.  Hot.  It was too hot.  It was like an explosion, propelling us away.  We had no options.  I tried.  Daniel, I swear I tried.  I ... I tried.”

Jack paced some more, his blood pressure rising as he walked.  Finally, he bent over, his hands over his knees.  He closed his eyes, again shaking his head.  His anguish was overwhelming.  He felt as if he were being squished to death, the pressure about to suffocate him.

“FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, I TRIED, DANIEL.  THE HEAT.  I'M SORRY I LET YOU DIE.”

With a scream and a kick, Jack's despair took itself out on his beloved telescope, the astronomical equipment falling over, the lens cap snapping off.  He watched the item bounce once before rolling a couple of feet, and then he sank to the surface of the deck, his back against the railing.

~I feel so empty, just like I did when Charlie died.  Nothing matters now.  There's ... nothing left~  He looked over at the damaged telescope.  ~It's just an expensive toy.  Why look at the stars now that Daniel's gone?  They'd only remind me that he ... that he's ... gone.  He is ... gone, isn't he?~

Jack knew Daniel was dead, but he didn't understand why every time he said the words, they felt like a lie.  He began to wonder if maybe they had retreated too quickly.  What if Daniel were still alive?

~It's ... possible.  We should go back.  Yes, we'll gooooo...~

Jack's head charged with pain.  He put his hands to his forehead and then to the side of his head.  His face scrunched in agony.

~My head wants to explode.  Crap.  We ... can't go back.  Too dangerous.  He can't be alive.  It's impossible.~

As Jack thought the words, his pain eased, and then finally, he lowered his hands.  He felt the wetness on his cheeks, and suddenly realized he was crying ... ~For Danny?  For the geek?  My ... best friend.  Danny?  I'm ... cold.  I'm so cold.~

Jack sat in the loneliness of the night until nature called him away hours later.

====

The next day, the surviving members of SG-1 underwent a more thorough post-mission exam at the SGC.  Janet had already diagnosed each as being in shock, and as a result, going through even the simplest of exams had been taxing for Jack, Sam, and Teal'c.  Janet had told them that it would be okay to put off the formal exams, if they wanted to.  In fact, she had agreed to give them even more time, but they all decided they needed to put the trip to Oannes behind them as quickly as possible.

~I don't want to think about this any longer than I have to,~ Jack had thought when he requested Janet go ahead with the exam.

They'd also prepared their formal reports, Jack burying his emotions deep within his soul as he typed out his tale.  He distanced himself as much as possible because anytime he let the emotions seep in, anytime he thought about Daniel and not “Doctor Jackson,” he came close to losing control.

Once the reports were handed in, Hammond had told the team, and specifically Jack, to go home, but instead, Jack retreated to his office, catching up on paperwork.  Any other time, the major general would have had to force Jack to take care of his 2IC obligations, but today, the word “memo” was a blessing.  He read, signed, delegated, filed, and read some more, until the sun began to set outside the Mountain.

Towards the end of the day, Jack left the sanctity of his office to check on some new equipment that was supposed to be arriving for the SG teams.  As the elevator doors opened, Jack was deep into his internal thoughts, so much so that he literally bumped into Teal'c as he exited the elevator.

“Oh, sorry, Teal'c.”

“Sir, we were just coming to see you,” Sam said, appearing from behind the Jaffa.  Jack said nothing.  “We, ah, we thought we'd go get a drink somewhere.  Maybe ... talk.  You know, Sir, remember Daniel and ...”

“Carter, for crying out loud, I don't want to remember Daniel,” Jack hollered.

He twisted his body around, again pressing his hands against his forehead, hoping against hope the memory would just disappear.

“Look, I'm sorry.  I can't do this.”

Jack pressed the floor he wanted and looked downward, away from the faces of his teammates, as the doors closed.

“He is in much pain, CaptainCarter.”

Sam tilted her head a bit as she acknowledged the remark, “Yeah, well, they're close.  I mean, they were.  I miss him, Teal'c.  What are we going to do now?”

“I do not drink, Samantha, but I would very much be honored to accompany you and remember DanielJackson.”

Sam smiled gratefully.  Like Jack, she felt a tremendous guilt over having left her friend behind, and like Jack, she was having a hard time believing her own memory.  What she didn't know yet, was that Teal'c, also, was going through the same experience.

The two departed the SGC.

====

Two hours later, catching sight of Jack in his office, the lights dimmed, Hammond ordered the colonel out of the SGC.

“We've scheduled Doctor Jackson's memorial for the day after tomorrow.  I want you to stay home until then, Colonel.  You need to get some rest.  Did you want to speak at the service?”

Jack nodded.  It was his duty and obligation.  Daniel was a member of his team.  Daniel was ... life.

“I'll call you tomorrow, and we'll go over the details.  Go home.”

“Home,” Jack echoed dryly.

“Jack.  You did everything you could.”

“Yes, Sir,” Jack droned as he stared ahead into nothing.

Hammond sighed, fully aware Jack didn't believe his words, but at the moment, he also knew nothing would help but the passage of time.  He turned around and left, returning to his own office where he ordered an Airman to drive Jack home and make sure he didn't return.

Jack nodded, seeing the Airman at his door and hearing his words.

“General's orders, Colonel.”

“Yeah.  Right.”  He stood, grabbing his brown leather jacket, for the first time realizing that he had spent the entire day at the SGC in his civvies, and no one had said a word.  ~Geez, I've lost my mind.~  “Goodnight, Airman,” Jack said as he brushed by the man and headed for the exit.

“But, Colonel O'Neill, my orders ...”

“Tell General Hammond I've left.  I ... have things to do.”

The Airman stood uncertain for a moment, then quickly moved to the phone.

“I understand.  Thank you, Airman.”

Hammond walked out of his office and into the briefing room.  He headed for the large window that overlooked the gate room and the giant Stargate.

~Heaven help SG-1 ... and Jack O'Neill.~

====

Jack walked over to the sofa and sat down.  His hands fumbled with his keys; his jacket kept him warm.  He remained there as night fell, alone in the darkness, staring at the photos of jets that were on the wall.  The phone rang a few times, and he heard the concerned voices of Sam, Lou Ferretti, Catherine Langford, and General Hammond, all wanting to make sure the commander of SG-1 was okay -- but he never picked up the phone.

Finally, he drank a couple of beers and went upstairs to bed.  Sleep seemed like heaven to him as it was a time when he didn't have to think about Daniel dying and his failure to protect him.

His rest wasn't peaceful.  Jack tossed and turned as he struggled to sleep.  Then, two hours later in his tormented sleep, Jack saw the image of Charlie pulling the trigger of his gun, a picture he had imagined in his mind from the moment he had first heard the tragic shot ring out from the house.  He saw the blood and felt his son die in his arms.  Suddenly, Daniel appeared, his youthful smile turning to a horrendous scream as he pleaded for Jack's help as the burning flames wrapped around him.

Jack thrashed about more strongly.  The image of Charlie appeared again, playing catch in their yard, and then the blood on his hand as he saw the hole in the young boy's skull.  Then Daniel, tripping over his shoelaces, then screaming as he was burned to death.  Charlie.  Daniel.  Charlie.  Daniel.

It was an endless string of overlapping images, his son's death and his best friend's death.  He'd see their smiles, hear their young, exuberant voices, and then their smiles turned to frowns, their voices to maddening shouts for help.  Over and over again, Jack's mind interchanged the two images of Charlie and Daniel, the two people in the universe who both believed Jack was better than the man himself believed he was.

Charlie and Daniel, the two people who believed in Jack more than anyone or anything else, and Jack felt like he had let them down.  He hadn't saved Charlie, and he hadn't saved Daniel.

The sound of the bullet.  The sound of a body succumbing to flames.  Both tore through Jack's sleeping soul.

“Help me, Jack.  Why did you leave me?  Help me!  You left me behind.  Please, Jack.  You said you never leave your team behind.  You left me.  Left me behind.  Jaaaaaaaack!”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  I TRIED.  DANIEL, I ...”

With a jolt, Jack woke up, sweating profusely and breathing hard.  He stared at his surroundings for a minute as if he'd never seen them before.  He yanked off the sheet that covered the bottom half of his body and sat on the side of the bed, his hands grasping the mattress.

“Danny.  I ... miss you.  Geez, I can't believe I feel so ... I ... I want to see you.  I ... Oh crap, O'Neill.”

Jack put on his brown sweats, grabbed his keys, and went to Daniel's apartment.  He needed to be with things that Daniel loved.

“Crazy geek,” Jack said as he traced his fingers over the shelves of books.  “You lived in these things.  There's life out there.  You deserved to know more than ... rocks.”

In the bedroom, Jack picked up a navy blue sweatshirt.  He'd bought it for the young man when they had returned from Abydos.  Jack smiled as he held the shirt to him.  Then he chuckled as he said, “Blue brings out your eyes, makes you look so sexy.”

The words startled Jack.

“Eyes?  Sex...sexy?  What the heck do I care what color brings out his blue eyes?  His ... beautiful ... blue ... What's happening to me?  I can see them.  I see those eyes looking at me.  Crystal blue.  Shimmering blue.  Blue, like the event horizon.  Pure, like you, Danny.”

Jack sat on the bed, his form slumped forward.  He could barely stand to think, his mind and heart playing tricks on him.  He was sure of it.

~Innocent.  Charlie was innocent.  A child.  You were innocent, too, Danny.  You acted so strong, so tough, always hugging yourself.  I should have protected you from this mess.  It was my job.  It was ... I see your eyes, Danny.  Your eyes.~

Jack laid back on the bed, his own eyes now focused on the ceiling.

~I went back for you.  Abydos.  Oh crap.  I didn't go back because Hammond threatened to send another bomb.  It wasn't altruistic of me. I ... wanted to see you, and when I did, it scared the crap out of me, so much so I had to pretend I didn't even care.  Daniel, I'm sorry.  Hammond ordered me to bring you back, and the order made me happy.  I pulled you away from a life you loved, from people who loved you, from ... Sha're.  It's all my fault.  There had to have been another way that would have kept you and Sha're safe.  My fault.  First, Charlie, and now you.  Dead.  Both dead.  Both ... my fault.~

Jack's torment edged deeper inside until he felt frozen.  He pulled one of Daniel's pillows to him as he turned over on his right side, and finally fell asleep.  In his last waking moments, he heard himself say, “Pillow -- your scent.  Geez, I know ... your ... scent.”

====

Jack sat in his study, desperately trying to find the right words to say at Daniel's memorial tomorrow.  He stared at the blank piece of paper, pen in his hand, and sighed.  He'd been there for hours, almost from the moment he had arrived home from Daniel's apartment.

He had talked briefly with the general and with Sam to coordinate the details of the service.  He'd warmed food from two nights before to eat, though he wasn't even sure what it was (nor did he care), and then he'd taken a beer into the study, where he now sat behind his desk, a feeling of hopelessness and longing within him.

~How do I tell people who you were?  They need to understand how special you were, Danny, and how important you were to the SGC.  Geez, there wouldn't even be an SGC without you.~

He began to write.

“Daniel Jackson was the SGC.  Without him, none of us would be here.  He unlocked the secrets that some had tried for years to master in a matter of days, minutes really.  He was my teammate and my best friend.  He was my ... our soul.”

~No.  That's too personal.  It'll make Carter feel bad, too, and Daniel wouldn't want that.~

He lined through his words and tried again.

“Daniel Jackson made this place happen.  I don't know how many brilliant minds tried to unlock what was child's play to him.  As a member of SG-1, he walked into alien worlds unafraid.  He was our voice ... and our conscience.  He was my friend.”

Jack sighed.  That wasn't quite right either.  He wanted to show off Daniel's genius, but he knew his friend, and that friend wouldn't want anyone to feel like they were second fiddle to him, even if they really were.  He decided to take out the part about the opening the Stargate.  Instead, he'd talk about the more important aspect -- Daniel's value and place to the SGC, which went far beyond his genius.  In the end, the archaeologist's greatest gift to the SGC wasn't his brain, but his heart and soul, and that is what Jack decided to say.

Reviewing his written words, Jack nodded.

~It's not perfect, Danny, but no words can say what you've given us, or what you mean to ... to me.  My friend.  Oh, Danny.~
 
====

As he stood in the gate room, Jack felt like everything was moving in slow motion.  Every part of his body was numb as he watched the Color Guard march the flags to the proper places.  He couldn't believe this was really happening.  Airmen weren't really folding up an American flag, a flag that represented Daniel's death.  Hammond called to him, snapping Jack out of his reverie.  He walked to the podium.  He was an automaton, part of him just glad he was able to get the words out.  He felt so empty, so devoid of emotion, even though his heart and soul were crying in anguish.

“Daniel Jackson ... made this place ... happen.  As a member of SG-1 ... he was our voice, our ... conscience.  He was a very courageous man.  He was a good ... man.  For those of us lucky enough to have known him, he was also a friend.”

Jack's words solemnly resonated through the gate room as Daniel's memorial service continued.  The American flag was folded as Jack's eulogy was given, and then it was presented to him as he walked to the ramp.  He held it close, feeling a strange sensation.  It was more than being reminded of Charlie, but he wasn't sure exactly what the odd emotion was.

~It seems familiar.  I don't know what's going on inside of me.  How many of these services have I been to?  Too many to count.  Geez, Kawalsky wasn't that long ago, but this is ... different.  Why?  Woods.  John Michaels.  Kawalsky.  An endless sea of names, deaths, memorials, but none of them made me feel like this.~

The Airman saluted, after which Jack turned.  His face was taut.  He thought he might collapse at any moment.  He walked to Teal'c, and though it hurt to let go of the red, white, and blue symbol, he temporarily placed the flag in Teal'c's custody while he proceeded with the next aspect of the ceremony.  He saluted the flag, and then, along with Sam, carried a wreath up the ramp to the Stargate as a bugler played the sounds of a mournful Taps.

The shimmer of the watery event horizon made a serene backdrop for the elaborate wreath, but beauty and majesty were not on Jack's mind.  The loss of his friend was.

He heard Hammond's words reverberate through the room, and they pierced his soul.  The loss was about to crush him.  It was only his ability to bring forth his Special Ops training, that part of him that couldn't and wouldn't allow his heart to be a factor, that saved Jack from breaking down.

“We commend Daniel Jackson's spirit to the universe he opened up for us, and pledge to continue our journey of discovery in his memory.”  Jack and Sam saluted the wreath as it moved slowly into the world of the wormhole's universe.  “May he rest in peace.”

The service over, Jack bluffed his way through a handful of conversations as people exited the gate room.  He eyed Teal'c, and slowly, he walked to the Jaffa.  Teal'c nodded, handing over the flag to Jack who could say nothing.  He swallowed as he brought the flag to rest against his chest.  With a nod, he turned and made a swift exit from the SGC.

====

Jack was serving as host for a wake for Daniel that afternoon, but right now, he needed space, to be alone.  He knew if he went home, people would start calling, so he went to Daniel's apartment, hoping to find some solace there.

“Ah, Danny.  It's not fair.  You were too young.  There was too much life left for you to live.”

Jack had barely walked in the door when he felt as if he'd been stabbed.  He wanted to vomit.  The loss was overwhelming, and he just didn't understand that.  He'd expected to mourn his friend, to miss him, but his insides were on fire with grief.  He'd never felt like this ... except with Charlie.

He again thought about the loss of various friends, especially the more recent death of his then best friend, Charlie Kawalsky.  He missed Kawalsky, but he hadn't felt like this when that friend departed the Earth.

Jack held his head in his hands as he sat on the sofa, still wearing his dress blues, the flag at his side.  He slowly rocked back and forth, fighting for control.  He rubbed the end of his palms against his eyes and forehead, as if trying to force the memories away, but it didn't work.

Memory after memory flooded his mind, images he knew he'd never forget.

--Daniel at the blackboard, making mince meat of his colleagues as he unlocked the secret of the Stargate with a flick of a piece of chalk
--Daniel being dragged along the desert by some disgusting looking creature Jack remembered more for the volume of slobber than anything else
--Daniel walking down the ramp of the pyramid, staff weapon in hand, looking Jack straight in the eyes, and then turning and firing on the Goa'uld
--Daniel in Abydonian robes, looking peaceful and even happy at seeing Jack return to Abydos
--Daniel surrounded by the people of Abydos in a great big love fest hug that astounded Jack
--Daniel, the puppy dog, in the corridor of the SGC, lost, abandoned, alone ... until Jack took him home
--Daniel wearing Jack's old brown coat for weeks afterwards, even though they'd gone shopping and purchased him clothes that actually fit
--Daniel jumping out from the safe cover of trees to greet the priests, insisting they shouldn't shoot the first inhabitants they meet on a planet
--Daniel looking at Jack with such trust, asking “So what do we do?” and believing the older man when he answered, “We find them.”
--Daniel handing Jack a set of keys to his apartment, something Jack was well aware had been difficult for the younger man, trusting someone with his personal life after years of abandonment and rejection

There were a million memories from the last few months, and they all demanded Jack's attention.  He stared down at the flag, tears falling from his eyes.

~Tears?  Where are they coming from?  Geez, O'Neill, what's the deal here?~

He picked up the flag and held it close, and once again, repeated his sorrow, not knowing what else to say.

“I tried, Danny.  I tried to save you.  The heat.  That blasted heat kept me away.  I've never felt anything like it.  I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry.”

Jack buried his face in the flag, praying for some kind of peace of mind before having to leave in time to prepare for the wake.

It never came.

====

“So we're sitting around eating some kind of gourmet Abydonian cuisine.  Daniel tells Sha're he's going to show us this cartouche thing, but before we leave, she stands up, plants a kiss on him that makes his face disappear for a day.”

“Sounds like it was quite a kiss, Jack,” Melanie Leary, one of the SGC technicians spoke as they walked from the kitchen to the living room.

“It was.  The Abydonians love ... loved Daniel a lot.  Um, excuse me.”

Jack headed outside, needing a few minutes to himself.  This wake was taking more out of him than he thought it would.  Somehow, painting happy memories of his fallen teammate wasn't as easy as he had imagined.

As Jack struggled for peace of mind once again, Sam and Teal'c arrived at Jack's house.  They stood in the entranceway, watching those who had already arrived.

“I do not understand this ritual.”

“It's called a wake,” Sam explained.

“On Chulak, when someone dies, it is custom we do not eat for three days and nights.”

“Yeah, well, a wake is like a big party.  It's supposed to give the departed a jolly send off.”

Jack walked back inside and saw his teammates.  He called out, “Sam, Teal'c, glad you made it.  Something to drink?”

“Yeah, sure, beer,” Sam requested.

Teal'c declined the offer, so Jack began to poor his 2IC's drink when suddenly he saw bubbles floating at the top of the glass.  It turned orange, morphing into a fire, Daniel standing in the middle, calling out to his friend, “Help!  Jack!  Help!  Help!”

Daniel's screams cut into Jack as he endured the unexpected flashback. He began to shake slightly.  Quickly, he put the drink down and walked outside, leaving his teammates behind.

~Danny.  Gawd, Danny.  I let you down.  I failed you.  I'm so sorry.  I can't do this anymore.  I'm getting out, Daniel.  The cabin.  I think I'll go there, or maybe just find someplace new, someplace ... secluded.  Yeah, that's it.  I'll be a hermit.  Me and ... the fish.  I just can't go through the Stargate again, not without ... not ... this doesn't make sense, but I can't do it without you.  I'm retiring.  That's it.  I'm ... out.~

It was a warm day, and yet again, Jack felt himself shiver inexplicably.  His muscles were tense, and he was breathing hard, not from any physical labor, but almost as if gasping for air to survive.  He longed for a rope to hang on to, a rope that would lead him out of this dark pit he was sure he was in.  The pit was empty, cold, with no means of escape.

Jack's insides churned violently from all the emotions flowing through him.  He had a hard time sorting out the sensations, not even knowing for sure what he was feeling.

What he did know was that he had reached a point where he couldn't hold all those emotions inside any longer.  He needed to strike out, to lash out at the world for causing him to be this mass of confliction.

He walked to his driveway where some cars were parked.  At the front of his house, he had street hockey game equipment.  Ignoring the cars, he put the net up against the garage door, and then he took hold of one of the hockey sticks.  His hand bore into the handle, squeezing so hard his hand almost turned red.  He attempted to knock ball after ball into the net.  When the last one was hit, he swung the stick against the net, and then he turned and faced the car closest to him in the driveway.  It made a harmless adversary.

He had tried desperately to take out his frustration in sport, but then his rage, fear, and confusion took root.  His heart pumping at a rapid rate, his blood pressure boiling inside of his veins, Jack lost his control at last.  He used the hockey stick as if it were a baseball bat and slammed it into the car's window, shouting out that the car shouldn't be there.

The noise of the breaking glass grabbed the attention of several guests, including the general, who immediately walked around to the front to check on his friend.

“What's on your mind, Colonel?”

Jack looked down, a bit embarrassed, and yet not.  He held on to the hockey stick like a life preserver, his nails boring into the handle as he gripped it tightly.  What he really wanted to do was continue smashing the car.  It had felt surprisingly good to smash the window.

~Why isn't there ever a Goa'uld around when you want one to murder?~

“Retirement, actually.”

“You don't mean that.”

“I think I do.”  ~Gonna go be a hermit.  Mourn my son and my ... friend.~

Hammond knew he needed to get Jack occupied with something to stop the talk of retirement.  He wasn't sure this was the right time or the right thing to do, but he also knew that the members of SG-1, and Jack in particular, were the only ones with any kind of moral right to carry out the deed that needed to be done now that the service for Daniel had occurred.

“Well, I can't let you do that.  I've got an assignment for SG-1.  Doctor Jackson’s apartment needs to be closed by Stargate personnel.  National Security aside, you're probably the closest thing he had to a family.  It's not an order; it's a request.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Jack couldn't refuse that request.  He owed it to Daniel to protect his privacy, and silently, Jack vowed to do just that.  He knew there were things that Daniel held near and dear, that he wouldn't want others to see or carelessly discard.  He decided to return to Daniel's that night, survey the place, and make plans.

He'd also retrieve a few things that he knew even the rest of the team didn't know about.  Those items he'd take to his home and store.  Other items, like Daniel's journals, he'd retrieve after the walk-through with Sam and Teal'c.  It would stand out too much if he took those type of things now, but he'd take them, separating them from other items that would eventually be discarded or handled by the military “spy bots” as Jack called them.

~No way are they getting your journals, Danny.  I won't let them invade your life like that.  I ... promise.~

He'd go through the motions with Sam and Teal'c, opening drawers, closets, and chests, and detailing items on shelves and otherwise on display.  In the end, Daniel's most cherished possessions would be protected -- by him!

Hammond spirited his 2IC back to the party, trying to lighten the mood.

“You know that's my car, don't you?”

“You should get that window fixed,” Jack said, going along with the facade of life being normal.

====

“Oh wow, look at these: expedition journals, one for each planet we visited.”  Sam pulled a book off the shelf, opening it.  “One for Abydos.” For a few moments, she read silently, but with a smile on her face, she began to read aloud:  “Colonel O'Neill thinks I'm a geek.  I have no idea how to get us back.  I'll never get paid.”  She turned the page, not seeing Jack rubbing his eyes as he stood by the fireplace.  “Oh wow.  He must have written this right after we got back.  'Sha're is gone.  Jack says we'll find her.  If anyone can, he can'.”

Jack felt very uncomfortable.  He didn't like the praise.  He didn't want it.  He had ... failed.  Daniel's faith had been misplaced.  He knew it as sure as he knew his name.  Besides, Daniel wouldn't want anyone reading his journals, not even him.  How could he tell Sam to stop without making it sound harsh?

“Oh, come on.  That's his diary.  I mean what's he going to think if ...”

Jack stopped.  He had forgotten.  It was just an instant, but for that moment, Daniel was alive, and they were invading his privacy.  It was an awkward silence that followed his words.  Sam couldn't look at her CO, and Jack looked downward himself.  Daniel was dead, but it felt like he was alive.  For that instant, Jack was sure Daniel would walk in any moment and be outraged at his friends daring to read his private thoughts.

Sam quietly put the volume back in its place, and then they continued to mill about the apartment, not really doing anything.  Jack wanted to leave.  It was wrong.  It was all wrong, but he couldn't explain it. Surrounded by Daniel's things, the young man seemed so alive to him.  Jack assumed it was just because he wanted Daniel to be alive, but nonetheless, it was a feeling that was growing within him.

Sam looked into the fish tank, and suddenly, she saw a vision of Daniel screaming for help as he was engulfed by fire.  It startled her, and she turned around quickly.  Jack rushed to her side, seeing the shock on her face.

“What is it?  Are you all right?”

“Uh ... I just had this image in my mind.  It's the second time,” Sam admitted.

Jack felt a shiver.  The visions were real.  He knew it.  He couldn't yet say it, but he knew it.  Something on that planet was out of whack.  Daniel ... Daniel.  Jack was almost afraid to breathe.

“What was it?”

“Water ... under ...”

“Bubbles rising?”

“That is correct.  I have experienced it as well,” Teal'c answered.

“I'm telling you something is wrong.”

Emphatically, Sam responded, “Yeah, what's wrong here is that Daniel is dead.”

“Is he?”  ~There.  I said it.  Is he dead?  He's not.  I know he's not.  Daniel's dead, but he's alive.  I ... my ... heart knows he's alive.~

“You were there.  We were all there!”

“Then why don't I believe it?  I mean, I keep expecting him to walk through the door!  I ... I keep getting these ...”  Jack stopped, looking up at the ceiling, bouncing on the balls of his feet.  He had had enough.  It was time to get to the bottom of what was happening.  The truth was on Oannes, not in Daniel's apartment.  “Screw this packing.  Let's get back to the base.”

Jack walked purposefully out the door.  For the first time in days, he felt a sense of hope that he couldn't explain, but the lies were going to stop.  The lies.  The lies that Daniel was dead.

~He's not dead.  Geez, I know he's not, but how do I know that?~

The Colonel decided to stop thinking about it, at least during the drive back to the base.  Still, his heart was pounding ... it was ... alive, and he knew it hadn't been since the moment he'd ordered the retreat from Oannes.

====

Back at the base, the three teammates discussed their feelings with Janet.  When the klaxons blared and the announcement of an off-world activation came over the loudspeaker, all three inexplicably ran to the gate room, all inwardly believing that Daniel was coming back, that it would be him walking down the ramp.

Jack's heart beat harder than ever, and it cried more than ever when he realized it wasn't Daniel.  It was a moment that stopped in time, the moment he saw Daniel, and not the returning Marine.

~Danny.  I ... I needed it to be you.  I wanted it to be.  My heart ... I ... I'm not supposed to feel like this, but crap, I want you back.  If I have to be the star of some freak show, then I will be.  I'll do anything.  I just want you back.~

Hammond entered the gate room, wanting to know what was going on.

Janet explained, “General, there, uh, there seems to be some question in their minds as to whether or not Doctor Jackson is dead.”

Looking at SG-1, the major general spoke firmly, “Well, you three were the only witnesses.  If you're denying what you saw ...”

Jack spoke quickly, almost automatically.

“No, Sir, I saw him die.  We all did.  I know he's gone ... but I know he's still alive.  Sir, we have got to go bac...”

Jack's words were cut off by a tremendous pain.  He thought his head would explode at any moment.  He also couldn't comprehend why he'd spoken so quickly about Daniel being dead.  It wasn't what he had intended to say.  Now, though, his head ached more than it ever had before.

Hammond ordered SG-1 to the infirmary, informing Janet that he wanted answers.

====

Jack, Sam, Teal'c, Hammond, Janet, and Doctor MacKenzie assembled in the briefing room to try and determine the truth.  They reviewed the reports and what SG-1 remembered for what seemed like an eternity to Jack.

“General, one minute Daniel was there, standing a few feet behind me.  Everything was fine.  Then, I heard him, calling me for help.  I tried to run to him, to pull him away.”

“We all did,” Sam interjected.  “The Colonel was first, then Teal'c and I realized what was happening, and all of three of us tried to reach Daniel.”

“CaptainCarter is correct,” Teal'c confirmed.

“But there was a blast.  We were so close.  I reached out for him, but the heat was so strong.  We could feel it.  It pushed us back, literally lifting us into the air and throwing us back several yards.  When I looked up, Daniel ... he ...”

Jack shook his head, looking down.  He couldn't say it, not again.

“Daniel was gone, Sir,” Sam said softly.

“Sir, if I might get a clarification.”

“Doctor,” Hammond acknowledged the petite physician.

“Colonel, you say you approached the fire.  How close?”

“He was ... close, a foot.”

“No more than a yard away, Janet,” Sam offered.

“Okay, then, what I don't understand is why none of you show any physical effects of that blast.”

~What?~  Jack's head jolted upward and over at the doctor.  “Burns?  No burns,” he said, suddenly making the connection.

“That is correct.  I was not harmed,” Teal'c stated, the irony present in his voice as he had spoken.

“None of you were,” Janet pointed out.  “Look, you guys get a lot of ... bumps and bruises in the course of a mission, but when you returned from P3X-866, you were in shock, but in that preliminary exam and those done the next day, there were no new bruises, and there's not a burn mark on any of you.”

“What are you saying, Doctor?” Hammond asked.

“I'm just saying that we can't make any assumptions here.  Colonel O'Neill, Captain Carter, and Teal'c have no physical injuries that would support their version of the mission.  Combine that with their hesitancy to believe that Daniel is dead, and I think we need to be skeptical, Sir.”

Hammond agreed.  He informed SG-1 that they couldn't return to active duty until the situation was resolved, which didn't bother Jack since he was retiring anyway.

~No burns.  No bruises.  I saw you die, Danny.  My head hurts.~

At the general's request, Jack once again recalled the events on the planet, though as he spoke, he'd had enough.  He needed answers, to go back to the fiery planet.  He was tired of talking.

“The fire Daniel was caught in lashed out towards us; that's when we went to help him.  It was ... hot.  It was very hot.  Uh, there was water, a body of water nearby.  Sir, how many times are we going to have to go through this?”

Hammond was more and more convinced that something unknown happened on the planet.  There were too many discrepancies, and now, yet another fact seemed out of whack.

“Try to bear with me, Colonel.  How long do you estimate you were on the other side of the Gate?”

“Um, twenty minutes, twenty-five maybe.”

Sam added, “Half hour, tops.”

“Teal'c?” Hammond asked.

“I concur.”

Hammond stunned his flagship team when he revealed, “You were gone almost four hours.”

They also became more aware that the team seemed to be answering with conditioned responses anytime it was suggested they return to the planet.  There was no logic to it, only heightened emotion.  It also explained Jack's headaches whenever he considered returning to Oannes.

For the second time, MacKenzie suggested hypnosis to try and find out what happened during the missing three and one-half hours of SG-1's mission.  Jack acted skeptical, preferring not to go through the procedure.

~What if I say something about this ... these ... feelings I'm having for Daniel?  I can't chance that.  I can't afford to lose what's left of ... myself.~

Jack's problem was that he wasn't that sure anymore who he was.  His feelings for Daniel seemed to be morphing into something the colonel knew they couldn't be.

~It's impossible.~

Teal'c didn't think the technique would work on him because of his symbiote, but Sam believed in hypnosis and volunteered to be put under for the purposes of trying to find the desperately sought after answers.

~Good.  You do it, Carter, but ...~

Jack again rubbed his hands against his eyes.  His head was throbbing.

~Okay, okay.  I'll do it.  If Carter strikes out, I'll ... do it, Danny.  If they find out the ... truth?  Is that what this is?  Some kind of twisted truth?  Geez.  Whatever, if she can't find the answer, I will.  That's the deal.  Carter first, then me because ... because I know you're alive.  Oh geez, Danny.  What does that mean?~

Under hypnosis, Sam remembered their visit to the planet.  They had met a strange looking creature that had emerged from the water.  He had faced Daniel, then walked to Teal'c, studying him close.  He had returned to where Daniel stood and drew a sign in the sand.  Daniel mentioned he thought the creature wanted to know if they were from the world that had built Babylon.  He had responded by drawing the symbol of Earth.

Daniel had started to introduce the team, when the creature stunned them, taking them prisoner in some cold, dark, and wet place.  She remembered being tied to tables in a lab beneath the sea.  Then she recalled the fire that wasn't, and an urgent need to get to the water.  She felt the implanted memory, seeing Daniel's death, knowing their only way to survive was to leave.

It was the memory all three of them had been given -- Daniel burning to a crisp and their escape into the water.

Off to the side, as Sam spoke, everything began to crystallize in Jack's mind.  The watery creature had approached them, Daniel had done his first contact bit, and then for no reason, SG-1 was kidnapped and studied like guinea pigs, and when the bluish creature was done, he had tossed Jack, Sam, and Teal'c away, keeping Daniel.

~Keeping Daniel for what?  What have you done to him?  He's alive.  Daniel is alive, being ... tortured?  Danny, I left you.  Forgive me, but I'm coming back.  I'm going to find you and get you away from there.~

Sam jumped up, screaming, having also realized Daniel was alive, the trauma physically jolting her out of the hypnosis.  She visibly shook, her voice shrill.  She was almost hysterical from the recall.  To calm her, Jack pulled his shaking 2IC into a hug.

“We left him behind,” she cried.

Firmly, Jack responded, “It's all right.  We're going back.  We're going back.”

~I'm coming, Danny.  I'll find you if it's the last thing I do.~

“Teal'c, do you remember, too?”

“I do, O'Neill.  The creature conducted tests on us.  Apparently, we did not suit his needs.”

“But Daniel did?” Sam asked, pulling out of the embrace, her body still shaking just a bit and her voice unsteady.

“That would seem to be the case, CaptainCarter.  When do we depart, General?”

Jack smiled at the Jaffa.  There wouldn't be any delays.  Hammond was tempted to order the team to wait until they had adjusted to the truths just revealed.  He looked at Sam.

“I'm fine, General ... or I will be, once we bring Daniel home.  We need to go now, Sir.”

“We are, Carter,” Jack said firmly.  It was a “don't mess with me” tone that everyone knew all-too-well.

“Very well.  SG-1, you have a go.  Departure in thirty minutes.”

“Thank you, General,” Jack said, acknowledging everyone in the room, and then rushing for the locker room.

~Geez, suddenly, I feel like I can breathe again.~

====

Sam and Teal'c had already changed into their gear, but Jack had been delayed as he discussed the return mission to Oannes with General Hammond.  Now, he stood alone in the locker room, changing into his desert BDUs.

He looked over at Daniel's locker, or what had been his.  Daniel's name had been removed.  As if in a trance, Jack calmly moved to stand in front of the locker.  He reached his hand out very slowly to touch the handle.  Holding his breath, he opened the door and saw that it was empty.  There was no trace of Daniel Jackson having ever used the locker -- no uniforms, no personal items, no ... chocolate candy bars.  The Colonel's blood boiled, first a soft boil, and then it spilled over.

“Oh, I don't think so.”

Jack darted out of the locker room, tracking down Sergeant Siler.

“Get his clothing back in that locker room, and the name back up.  I want it there by the time we return from the planet.”

“But, Colonel ...”

“I SAID 'DO IT,' SERGEANT.”

“Yes, Sir.”  Jack began to move away when a thought hit him.  “Have you touched his office?”

“I'm not sure, Sir.”

“Well, check it out.  I want Daniel's things as he left them.  No excuses.”  Jack paused, speaking more softly this time, but still firm, still commandingly.  “He's coming home, Sergeant.  Make sure he knows this is home.”

Siler acknowledged the order, and the plea, with a nod and a small smile.

Jack returned to the locker room to get his gear.  Looking again at the  place set aside for his best friend, Jack smiled.

~You're coming home.  If you don't, I'm not, either.  Why do I feel so strongly about that?  Why is my soul so desperate to see you?  Geez, Danny, be alive.  Please be alive.~

Jack visualized seeing his best friend again.  He focused on the eyes.  Daniel's eyes seemed to speak a truth to Jack that could never be ignored.  The voice might say “I'm fine,” but the eyes would tell the real story.  Jack pictured Daniel, focusing on those soulful pupils.  He closed his eyes, realizing his heart had begun a faster pace in anticipation.

~I want to see those eyes, Daniel.  Then you can lie and say everything is okay, and then we'll get to the truth of it later.  Your eyes give you away every time.  Eyes.  Blue eyes.~

Checking his watch, Jack picked up his gear and headed for the gate room.  It was time to bring Daniel home.

====

On Oannes, near the ocean they had visited days before, Jack called out for his friend, “Daniel!”

“Maybe we're too late,” Sam said.

~Oh no.  I don't think so.  I'm going to find him.  He's ... alive.  He has to be alive.~  “We're not leaving here without him this time, Captain.”

A ripple in the ocean water interrupted their conversation.  Jack moved forward a few steps and prepared his MP-5 weapon.  He'd kill anyone or anything that threatened them this time around.  As they watched, a blue-colored sea creature emerged from the ocean.  It was the same one from before, the one that had captured them, the one Jack knew had Daniel now.

~You are so dead.  Dead ... as in D-E-A-D.  I'm giving you one shot ... just one.~

Before anything more could happen, another ripple drew Jack's attention.

~Danny?  Oh gawd.  Danny!~

Daniel burst out of the water, his head popping backwards as he gasped for air.  As soon as he could, however, he shouted, “Don't shoot!”

~He really is alive.  Look at him ... in the water, swimming.  Danny, you're alive!  It's real!  Geez, he's defending that thing.  Oh, for ... It doesn't matter.  He's alive, and I ... I want to ... help me.  Someone help me because I just want to grab him from the waters and pull him into my arms.  I want him to know he's safe, to protect him.  I've held him before, but ... no, I want to hold him, to ... hug him, and ... geez, O'Neill, he's a man, but I want to kiss him.  Danny is alive!  He's ... alive!~

Stumbling onto the sand, Daniel approached the creature, making eye contact.  Jack shook his head subtly from side to side.  For a moment, he had gone back to his wedding to Sara, seeing her as she had walked down the aisle, the most beautiful sight he had ever beheld ... until now.

Daniel was dripping wet, the water causing his brown tee-shirt to weigh more heavily than usual.  His hair was naturally mussed, the usually smooth strands clumpy and dingy from both the salt water and lack of proper care over the past week or so.  Rings of water fell from the shaggy mane.  The young man clearly needed a shave, the stumble noticeable on his face, but what Jack noticed more was how tired Daniel seemed, his eyes and expression weary.  Yet, when Jack gazed into those eyes, he saw his friend there.

~Heaven help me, Daniel.  What a picture you are.  Definitely not ready for Cosmo; yet ... you are to me ... You are to me.~

Hearing the archaeologist speak, Jack snapped out of his trance.  They weren't out of danger until they got off the volcanic-like planet.

Daniel spoke solemnly, “Nem, you have your answer, now let us go.”

~Nem?  The thing has a name?  What answer?~  Nem looked over at Jack, his stare focused and intense.  Jack wondered if he had read his mind.  ~Fine.  Read this.  He said let us go, and I advise you to do it.~

“You may go,” the creature agreed as he looked at Daniel again.

~That's right.  Glad you got the message.~

Jack felt like he was in a circus, and yet he didn't care.  His Daniel was alive, doing his “peaceful, compassionate explorer” thing.  Jack was still at the ready, just in case.  He'd blast this creature into the next millennium if he made just one false move, but he didn't.  Besides, Jack needed the time, time to regroup.

As he watched Daniel, Jack realized just how happy he was to see him.  For a moment, instead of his best friend, he saw Sara at the altar as he had slipped the ring on her finger, looking so elegant in her wedding gown.  He shook it off, certain the creature's mind control must be influencing him, and yet he knew it wasn't.

He wanted to comfort Daniel, knowing the young man had just been through a horrible ordeal.  He remembered times when he had needed to protect his wife, and others, and had sought to comfort them.  He became astutely aware that at this moment, his feelings for Sara seemed to overlap onto Daniel.  No, overlap wasn't the word.  The feelings were separate.

~No, this can't be.  It can't.  I can't feel for you what I felt ... feel for Sara.  It's ... impossible.~  Jack swallowed.  ~I want to make you feel safe.  Geez, Danny.  I ... no, I can't.  Not here.  Stop it, O'Neill.  That creature is still around.  Get your act together.  He's alive.  Let that be enough.~

Daniel's words to Nem brought Jack back to the moment.

“I'm sorry I couldn't give you the answer you wanted.”

“I am sorry also.”

“We could still become friends, your people ... and ... and mine.”

Sam jumped into the discussion, offering “That's why we we're here.  We meant no harm.”

“Perhaps ... in ... time,” Nem agreed as he looked at Sam.

“Right,” Daniel responded, a bit disappointed, and yet realizing all things took patience.

“And in time, Daniel, you will find what fate Sha're.”

~What does that thing know about Sha're?~

Jack let out a release of air as he watched Nem return to the ocean. Though Jack didn't understand anything that had happened since Daniel's return, he didn't care.  He relaxed, walking over to his friend.

They all stood around a bit nervously, unsure of what to say, so they broke into a bit of banter designed to get them all through any torture.

“Ah, this ... this is a long story,” Daniel explained.

“Yeah, I bet,” Sam said, a smile on her face.

Jack couldn't resist the pun -- “Tell us about it over sushi?”

Daniel just stared at his friend.  ~Gawd, I've missed you and that ridiculous, silly, outrageous so-called humor of yours.~  “That's funny.  I will ... after I go get some sleep.”  **Jack, I ...**

**Me, too, Danny.**

They stared at each other for a second and then quickly shook off the silent communication.  It had happened a handful of times, and it was a bit overwhelming, to be able to communicate nonverbally, almost telepathically.

They headed for the Stargate, and Jack couldn't resist teasing his friend.  They needed as much humor and light-hearted conversation as they could get right now, and it stopped him thinking about all the different emotions coursing through him.

“Ah ... home.  Yeah, about that apartment.”

Jack's tone was alive and vibrant, the smile on his face genuine.  It was the first time in days that he felt like life was worth living.  The disquiet that had filled Jack so torturously had vanished.  Daniel was back, and they were doing what they did best -- teasing and bantering. After the trauma of the past week, Jack was at peace, at least to some small degree, but he also knew he still had some personal issues to work out.

Daniel suddenly remembered military protocol.  He'd been gone too long.  ~Gawd, I've lost everything ... again.~  “Oh, you didn't!”  ~Please tell me you didn't.~

Sam went along with it.  She felt the need for a bit of trivialness, too.

“The, uh, the day after the memorial service.”

~A memorial?  For me?  That's embarrassing.~  “Memorial service?”

“The Colonel said some really nice things!”

Daniel looked back at Sam who was a few steps behind him.  He was surprised.

“He ... he did.  He did?”

**Yes, Daniel, I did.  Want to make something of it?**

**No.  Jack?**

**Yes?**

**I ... I missed you.**

Daniel had shocked himself.  He rarely put himself on the line like that, but the need to confess those feelings was great.  He had missed Jack greatly, and wanted him to know it.

**I missed you, too, Daniel, which is why I said all those nice things.  You can make it up to me.**

**Oh, I can?  How?**

**Hockey.  Pizza.  Beer.  We'll figure it out.**

**No way, O'Neill.**

**Danny?**

**What?**

**We're having a conversation in our minds.  I'm, uh, not too certain about this.**

**Me, either, but ...**

**Yeah, but ...**

Jack looked back at his friend and smiled.  They'd never talked like that before silently, not ever.  They'd had very short words or phrases, for brief seconds, but this had been a two-minute conversation.  It was both frightening and exhilarating.  Daniel returned the smile, and then they returned to verbal conversation, suddenly realizing Sam was talking non-stop about everything that had happened while Daniel was gone.

**She's prattling on.**

**We should listen.**

So they did, all the way back to the Stargate.

====

“Gawd, what am I going to do?  What happened to my fish?  The artifacts from Egypt?  My books?  It's a nightmare.  It's going to take me forever to try and track it all down.  My fish.  My poor fish.”

The archaeologist had been bemoaning the loss of his apartment and possessions for thirty minutes, and Jack couldn't take any more.  Silently, he chuckled, thinking Daniel should realize that if his locker room spot was intact, his apartment would be as well.

“Daniel,” Jack moved from his locker over to where Daniel stood.

He put his hands atop Daniel's shoulders, and then something inside the older man erupted.  He stared at his friend, saying nothing.  His heartbeat pounded within him as his breaths became deeper.  Jack wanted to run and hide, to disappear and never be found.  At the same time, he just wanted to hold Daniel in his arms and never let go.

“Jack?”

Hearing his name snapped Jack out of his statue-like trance.  He briefly lifted his hands, but then he put them back down.  He swallowed, and then finally found his voice.

“Daniel, your apartment is fine.  Your fish are alive, waiting for you.  Your precious artifacts and books are all where you left them.  Your office is fine, too.  Hammond decided not to clear it out once we began having those mental flashes, so ... everything's fine.”

“Oh.”

Jack looked at his hands, still on Daniel's shoulders and finally peeled them away, looking at his best friend as if he were a pariah of some kind.

“Jack, are you okay?”

“Yeah, fine.  How are you?”

“Fine.  I'm fine.”

“Good.”

Jack walked back to his locker, glancing over at Sam and Teal'c who were looking at him a bit strangely.  He finished dressing quietly, and surprised everyone when he put on his jacket, took out his keys, and spoke quickly, “I'll see you guys next week.”

Daniel looked positively stunned when Jack walked out of the locker area, and Sam and Teal'c stared at one another.  Sam looked tentatively at her friend.  She could see his shock and disappointment at Jack's departure.

“Um, Daniel, why don't you come over to my house tonight?  We'll kick back, watch a movie or something?”

Daniel turned towards his locker, fiddling with a towel he held in his hand.

“No, thanks, Sam.  I just want to go home and sleep.”

“DanielJackson, it would honor me if you would stay and have dinner with me.”

Daniel smiled briefly, knowing what his teammates were doing, but he shook his head and turned to face them.

“Guys, I'm fine, really.  I'm ... going to go home and check on the fish, pay my bills, clean.  Don't worry about me.”

He hadn't mentioned sleep.  As tired as he was, Jack's departure had seemed to awaken him.  He wasn't sure now if he'd sleep at all.

“Daniel ...”

“Sam, please.  Really ... I just want to go home.”

====

Daniel arrived home and promptly checked on his fish.  Sam told him they had been fed and not to worry.  She also told him that it was Jack who had convinced Hammond not to clear out the apartment.

“We need to be sure, General,” he had said, “And we're not.”

~Thanks, Jack.  That was nice of you,~ Daniel thought as he enjoyed his reunion with his colorful fish.

She also told him about her CO's outburst at Sergeant Siler, though Jack wasn't aware she knew about it.

“I was going to get something I had forgotten in the locker room when I heard the colonel talking with Sergeant Siler.  You should have seen him Daniel.  He wanted to make sure everything was in place by the time you got back.”

Daniel smiled at the words Sam had spoken before he had left for home.  He wasn't used to anyone going out of their way for him.  Jack was the first in a long time to show any real signs of caring.  It warmed his heart, but then he remembered Jack's departure.

~Maybe I'm just lying to myself.  He would have done that for anyone.  I'm ... I'm not special.  It's probably some protocol I don't know about, and Sam was just wanting to make it up to me because Jack left.  Yeah, that's it.  I'm just ... deluding myself to think he wants to be friends.~

Not wanting to think about Jack's quick exodus any longer, Daniel began to sort through his mail, tossing half of it into the trash.  ~Junk mail should be outlawed.~  He paid his bills and balanced his checkbook.  ~I'm glad I finally got paid so I can actually pay these bills.~  Then he went to the kitchen.  ~I'm hungry.  I should eat.~  Instead, his mind went to Jack and his unexpected exit from the SGC.  Daniel's hunger evaporated.

Still, he felt like he should eat something.  ~Gawd, I didn't go shopping.~  His fresh fruit and vegetables had died a cruel death, and he was grateful he hadn't purchased any meat that would have rotted before the last mission.  Thus, the only thing the archaeologist could find that was the least bit appealing was a box of Wheat Thins, already half gone.  Nibbling on the small crackers as he walked into the living room, Daniel felt very alone.

~I'm cold.  When did I feel cold like this before?~  He searched his memory for a time not that long ago when he had similar feelings, and then he remembered.  ~When I moved in here and ... Jack left.~  He wished he hadn't tried to remember, because the answer only reminded him of Jack's absence, and somehow, that disturbed him.

Daniel walked to his balcony and sat down on the cold concrete.  He looked up at the stars, his heart not understanding why his best friend wasn't with him.  Maybe Jack had finally grown tired of him.

A lone tear fell down his cheek as he tossed the box of crackers to the side and buried his head in his arms.
 
====

Jack's head was leaning forward onto his hands that braced the steering wheel of his truck.  The opera that had been blaring over his CD player was ending, the two lovers Nadir and Leila about to leave to live their life together, leaving Zurga alone.  Yet, Zurga was Nadir's best friend, and he, too, was in love with Leila.  Nonetheless, he had sacrificed everything so that the two lovers could live and be free, his own fate uncertain.

As the last sounds of “The Pearl Fishers” died out, Jack remained motionless.  He had listened to the soundtrack for over two hours, lured by the theme of friendship and sacrifice.  He had driven as the opera played out until his emotions got the best of him, and he pulled over to the side of the road.  He wasn't even sure where he was except that he had driven through Denver and was somewhere beyond the large city.

A noise from a passing semi-truck stirred Jack from his motionless state.  He looked up, taking a breath, and then got out of his truck.  It was dark out, and Jack couldn't see much about the area he was in.  He walked the empty field at the side of the highway for several minutes, trying to get the opera out of his head, trying not to think about anything, trying to run from a truth he didn't want to admit.

~I don't know who I am.  I don't know why I missed him so much.  Why did I want to hold him ... like that when he swam to shore?  It doesn't make sense that when I touched him in the locker room that it took all my willpower to remove my hands and not pull him in close.  What's happening to me?  He's just ... Daniel.  What's so special about ... Daniel?~

Jack ran the palms of his hands along his face, stopping just below his nose as he opened his eyes wide.  He still saw nothing but the field, not that he was expecting anything else.  He wasn't sure why he was even out there except that he wanted to escape from feelings that he didn't want or understand.

~Sara.  I'll call Sara.  It's been too long.  I need to see her.  That's what I'll do.  Sara.~

Jack turned, walking swiftly to his truck, but as he approached it, his pace slowed until he stopped, standing stiff as the breeze cooled his face.  He felt cold, very cold, only it wasn't from the late night air.  He struggled to remember the familiar chill, and then he knew.

~It was when Daniel left, after he moved into his apartment.  I was ... cold.~

The older man knew Sara wouldn't have his answers after all.  Whatever was wrong with him needed to be solved inside his own mind, and he had long ago shut his wife out of that.

Jack slid down against his truck, his back leaning against the front tire of the passenger side.  His mind returned to the second mission to Abydos, the one where he now knew he had returned for Daniel, not for the Abydonians.  He sighed as he reflected again on what had transpired, the facts becoming even more clear than they had been just a night or two earlier when he had first faced the truth.

~Abydos.  I didn't go to save a planet.  Hammond didn't convince me to go because of some alien threat.  I ... I wanted to see him again.  Him.  Daniel.  The idea of seeing him brought me back to life.  Oh gawd.  Daniel.  NO!  This is so wrong.  Who am I?  What's happened to me?~

Jack brought his knees up to his chest, wrapping his hands around them, and lowered his head.  He wished he would shrivel up and disappear.  He was confused and scared.  In all his life, Jack had never felt so twisted inside, not even when Charlie had died.

~I'm military.  I'm a man, blast it!  I am NOT in love with him.  I've had enough.  I'm getting away from this zoo before it turns me into some kind of ... sick, perverted, freakish ...~

Jack closed his eyes.  That was not how he thought about homosexuals. They were just people like him, only they had made different choices about how to live life and who to love.  Jack was scared, though, scared in a way he had never known was possible.

~I'm straight.~

He knew it.  He was married, had a son, was macho through and through.  Suddenly, the feelings inside his soul for Daniel threatened to betray all Jack had ever known about himself.  Truth was becoming fiction, and Jack didn't know how to deal with that.  Neither could he deny what his heart was telling him.

The military officer replayed the last two years of his life, all the torturous days and the rebirth of his soul.  The rebirth was all because of Daniel, and he knew that.

~Daniel.~

Then, almost like a bolt of lightning, Jack stood up, a wave of anguish washing over him.

~Danny?  Oh geez, what did I do?  I ... left you alone.  You've just been through a nightmare, and I ... I just left you.~

Jack rushed to the other side of the truck, turned on the ignition, and made a U-turn to head back for Colorado Springs.

~I don't know what I feel, or why, but he's still my best friend, and crap, I deserted him.  I turned and ran like a coward, like a f-ing coward.  I'm sorry, Danny.  I won't turn my back on you.  I'll ... survive, somehow.~

Zurga's sacrifice in the opera returned to Jack's mind.  It was one of the greatest gifts, to give up self-happiness for the benefit of a friend.  Jack would do this for Daniel.  No matter what, he'd stand by and be the best friend Daniel wanted and needed.  He'd be ... the hero that the archaeologist so often made him feel like he was.

Jack slowed, again pulling off to the side of the road.

~I am a coward, Danny.  I hate myself right now.  I'm a man, for crying out loud.  I'm not supposed to ... to ... feel like this about you.  Geez, I want Sara back.  I've been trying to work up the nerve, to beg for her forgiveness, to show her ... Who am I kidding?  Me, that's who, because right now, I'm not sure I am a man.  I don't want Sara.  I know who I want, and it doesn't make sense.  Stop it, O'Neill.  If you can't be a man, at least be a friend.  Don't make Daniel pay because you're having an identity crisis.  It's ... probably just male menopause or something ridiculous like that.  Suck it up, O'Neill.  Suck it ... Oh geez, stop that.  Don't think like that.  What are you doing to yourself?  STOP!~

Jack again ran from his truck, darting off into the field yet again.  He ran until he couldn't run anymore, collapsing to the ground on his weakened knees.

“IT'S WRONG!  WHAT'S HAPPENED TO ME?  WHAT DO I DO NOW?”

Jack couldn't remember ever sharing his anguish aloud with the night, not even when Charlie died, but now, he felt more lost than ever.  He hadn't just lost people; he'd lost himself -- the macho, military, heterosexual, overconfident, sometimes cocky ... man.  For the first time in his life, he questioned his manhood, his soul, his true self.

If he'd had a gun, he thought he might just use it, coward's way out or not.  His eyes closed as he knelt under the stars, Jack begged for strength to get up.  He couldn't do it to Daniel, couldn't abandon him, couldn't be yet one more loss for the young man to endure.

Slowly, mustering all the resolve he could, Jack stood and again returned to his vehicle.  He leaned forward against the driver's side door, his arms outstretched and head bowed.

~I have to think about Daniel.  He's what matters, not me ... not ... me.~

====

Jack drove to Daniel's apartment in Colorado Springs, arriving in the parking lot shortly after midnight.  He had lectured himself for over an hour on the treasure that was Daniel Jackson and how being his friend and not disappointing him was the number one priority at the moment.

~He's been through a big ordeal.  He needs his friends.  Crap, Jack, he needs you, and you know it.  Crazy geek won't open up to anyone else.  He'll hide, bury his pain, fear ... the hurt ... he'll bury it and add it to all that hurt from growing up ... unless you get your act together.  He comes first.  Best friends ... or ... whatever ... Daniel comes first.~

Jack got out of his truck and took the elevator to the eighth floor.  He stepped slowly to his friend's apartment, pausing in front of the door as he held the key in his hand.

~Be positive.  Jovial.  Don't let him see the truth.  You have to do this, O'Neill.  You'll lose him.  No -- forget about that.  What you need, what you want isn't important.  Daniel needs someone he can count on, and for some reason, he's chosen you, so ... Daniel can't suspect.  You have to do the acting job of your life, Jack, and ... make it stick, for the rest of your life.~

He took another breath, and then inserted the key.

“Showtime,” he said softly, opening the door.

“Oh for crying out loud, Daniel, lock the blasted door!”

Jack was temporarily stopped by his frustration.  Only the regular door latch had been locked, both the dead bolt and the security latch unlocked.  He sighed and took in the darkness of the area, and then he reminded himself -- “Showtime.  Make it count.”

“DANNYBOY, where the heck are ya?”

Jack flipped on the lights and checked out the living room, kitchen, and balcony before going into the bedroom.  He knew Daniel couldn't have been asleep that long, if he even was.  Any other person would have been fast asleep hours ago, but Jack knew his friend.  His long ordeal and Jack's unexplained exit would be racing through the archaeologist's mind.

~He's been up all night.  I know it.~  He walked into the bedroom, chirping as brightly as he could, “Rise and shine, Danny.  Bed?  A little early isn't it?  Wake up!”

“Jack?”

Daniel was on his left side, beneath the sheets and comforter.  He tilted his head up to look at his friend.

“Who else?  Of course, it's me!”

Jack pulled out a pair of sweats from the dresser and tossed them over to Daniel.

“Get dressed.”

“But, Jack ...”

“Don't keep me waiting.  The pizza will get cold, and the beer will get hot!”

Daniel struggled to understand what was happening as he sat up on the side of his bed.  He hadn't slept.  After spending most of the night on the balcony, he'd come inside to lay down.  Neighbors from the floor above were having a party, and the music was unusually loud.  Daniel had found a note in his mailbox from the neighbors, explaining it was a special occasion, and the music would stop by 1 a.m. at the latest.  The young man hadn't been in the mood for the upbeat party tunes, so he'd locked up and come inside.

Seeing Daniel had stirred Jack's emotions.  While Daniel still sat on the bed, the older man exited and returned to the living room to give himself a quick pep talk.

~Hang on, O'Neill.  You can do this.~

Jack heard Daniel approaching and turned to face him.  It was then he noticed the red, puffy eyes.  He almost melted on the spot.  Daniel had been crying, and Jack knew it was because of him, because he had fled instead of being the man Daniel believed him to be.

~I'm not who you think, Danny.  I'm ... not him.  I'm not brave and noble, and I'm not ... I can't ...~

“Jack?  What's wrong?”

“Nothing.  We have pizza to eat.”

“Where?”

Jack almost couldn't speak.  Daniel looked his best in the navy blue sweats Jack had given him.  His hair was mussed, a slight stubble on his cheeks.  The older man looked away, needing to remind himself of his goal.

“Danny?”

“What?”

“Shoes?”

Daniel looked down at his bare feet, wriggling his toes as he looked.  Jack followed his gaze, feeling a shiver run through him, and once again, he wanted to run from the truth, a truth he still couldn't embrace.  Unfortunately, his body could and was beginning to react to the sight of a mussed-looking Daniel Jackson.

“Shoes?”

“Daniel, get your shoes.  I want my pizza.”

“Didn't you bring the pizza?”

“Oh for ...” Jack brushed by his friend, disappearing into the bedroom.  He returned moments later, holding out a shoe.  “Step in.”

“Huh?”

“DANIEL, STEP INTO YOUR FRIGGIN' SHOE!”

“Oh.”

Daniel did as instructed, and then repeated it for the other foot.  Jack walked to the door, the younger man close behind him, bumping into the colonel when he didn't open the door.  Jack chuckled for a second, and then turned.  He put his hands atop Daniel's shoulders, as he had done earlier in the day in the locker room.

Softly, he asked, “What would you do without me?”

“Do you want me to answer that?”

Jack had a small smile on his face as he released a puff of air and shook his head.  He again saw the red eyes, and became keenly aware that  his friend must have been in tears for most of the night.  He pulled Daniel into a hug, a hug he knew he should have given him hours before.

Daniel was tense in Jack's hold, but Jack held on as he talked, his words sighed, sometimes muffled against Daniel's sweatshirt.

“I'm sorry, Danny.  I was scared; thought you had died.  I needed some space, and I know that doesn't make sense, but ... Geez, I'm glad you're alive.  I'm ... really glad you're here because ... you're my best friend, and I've missed you.”

Holding the young man in his arms sent shivers through Jack's body.  He wanted to do more, and he fought himself to not let his hands roam, and to not squeeze Daniel closer to him, something that would be ... inappropriate.  Still, holding him, his chin so close to Daniel's nape, the soft strands of Daniel's hair teasingly rubbing against Jack's face, he felt sensations he hadn't since the last time he and Sara had made love.
Realizing that those thoughts would destroy him, Jack again lectured himself.  Daniel was alive, and that had to remain his focus.  Theirs was a close friendship.  They shared a bond unlike many others, and Jack knew that was all there should be.

~Platonic.  Keep it ... platonic, Jack.  Geez, you are a man, aren't you?  Stop.  STOP!  Think about Daniel -- his needs, not your own ... inadequacies as a human being.~

Daniel had relaxed into Jack's hold as he listened to the words, and when Jack pulled back, he made sure to look into his friend's eyes as he spoke some more truth.

“You said you were fine this afternoon, but I don't think you're fine, and frankly, I'm not fine, either.  I want you to come to my house, have some pizza, drink some beer.  Forget that.  I want us to get drunk, Danny, and not worry about this nightmare we just lived through until tomorrow.  Please, Danny.  Come to the house.  Stay a few days.”

“I ... I'd like that.  I should get some things.”

“You still have stuff at the house.  Come on, Danny.  Let's just go.”

Daniel nodded, and the two headed for Jack's, stopping for a case of beer at a convenience store and then picking up a pizza on the way.

====

“Have another beer, Danny.”

The two had demolished the large, supreme pizza long ago, and were well on their way to achieving their goal of getting drunk.  Daniel was on the sofa, Jack in his armchair that sat next to it.

“I don't really like ... <burp> ... beer.”

“Have another one anyway,” Jack said as he reached over with another brew for the archaeologist.

“Oooookay,” Daniel said, adding with a smile, “Give me ... two!”

Jack laughed as he handed the young man a second beer, watching as Daniel chugged the first one down.

“I thought I'd never see you again,” Daniel suddenly spoke seriously.  After a pause, he added, “Or Sam or Teal'c.”  Another pause.  “You didn't believe the memory Nem gave you, did you, Jack?”

“Yes.  No.  No.  Yes.  It was so mixed up, Danny.  I knew you were dead, and I knew you were alive, and life ... it just sort of stopped.  Nothing made sense.”

Jack took another swig of beer, as did Daniel.

“We don't want to think about this now, do we?” Daniel asked, his voice a tad slurred from the intake of beer for the past few hours.

“Not tonight.  Drunk, remember?”

“Good.  I think I'm ... there.  Jack?”

“Yes, Danny?”

“I'm ... gonna go sleepy sleep now, okay?”

Jack couldn't help but chuckle.

“Okay.”

He watched as Daniel instantly slouched over on the sofa, lying on his right side.  Jack silently gazed at his friend, wishing he had gotten drunker than he was, which wasn't much.  Daniel, however, was long gone, probably as much from the lack of sleep as the intake of beer.

It was 4 a.m. and chilly.  Jack rose and pulled out a blanket from the hall closet.  He walked over to the young man and carefully tucked the blanket around him, making sure it wouldn't easily fall off.  He tucked the top up to Daniel's chin, and then Jack brushed back the long strands of shaggy hair from Daniel's forehead.  He froze, his right hand stroking the hair.  He closed his eyes, and then opened them.  Like a magnet, he felt drawn to the man who was his friend and who was ... more.

Seconds passed, or was it just one second?  He leaned down further, placing a quick, chaste kiss on Daniel's forehead.  Jack was frightened, of himself, of what he had done, and then he heard the sigh, a contented sigh, and as he looked at Daniel, he saw a smile on the sleeping face.

~Danny?  I'm so scared.~

Jack backed away, inching his way back to the buffet that sat against the wall.  He stared at Daniel, and whispered, “What now?”

~I don't understand this.  What I'm feeling isn't normal.  I mean, I don't even know what I'm feeling now.  I ... I don't know who I am, not anymore.~

Jack turned and walked over to the steps, sitting on the lower ones so he could still see Daniel's face.

~But I tried to run today, Danny, tried to escape, to leave you and this crazy world behind.  I couldn't.  You see, I learned something.  It's a hard lesson, and I'm not sure I'll be able to make it work, but I realized that while I can run from me, my career, and the world, I can't run from you.  I need you in my life ... and you know something, Danny?  You need me, and I think that's what saved me ... knowing that you need me.~

Jack rubbed his hands together, then clasped them as if holding on to himself to keep from falling.

~Those red, swollen eyes you had earlier -- tears thinking you were alone again, that I was like all the others who had gone away.  Not me.  I'm not going anywhere.  I can't do that to you.  I may not know me anymore, but I won't let you suffer because of my weakness.~

Daniel's body shifted just slightly, giving Jack a better look at his face.  The older man smiled.

~Geez, you're so ... there's no other word ... you're so beautiful.  I ... Forgive me, but I love you, Daniel.  I ... love ... you.~

“Jack?”

Jack panicked, standing from his spot.  He wondered if he had spoken those words out loud, ruining everything.  His heart rate increased as the blood pumped through his veins more aggressively.

“Missed you, Jack,” Daniel said, a smile on his face as he rolled over to turn his face towards the cushions of the sofa.

Jack smiled, his breathing calming.  He walked over to the couch and readjusted the blanket, making sure Daniel was covered again.

“I missed you, too, Danny,” he whispered.

Jack walked up the stairs to his bedroom, to an unknown future that held only one certainty in it -- Daniel Jackson was his friend, and he'd never let that friend down, not ever.  He saw that now with a crystal clarity that he had never known before.  They were different, Jack and Daniel, as different as fire and water, and yet, they were best friends, and what they shared, their bond, that link, was real -- very real.  Jack vowed to make sure it was a friendship that Daniel would never regret.

====

Daniel was in the spare room, happy to be alive and staying at Jack's for a couple of days.  The archaeologist sensed that his friend needed for him to be there.  He needed it, too.  It was a need to be close, to prove that life was real and not just a dream.  Thus, they would be together, reconnecting, discussing the nightmare they'd just lived through, and just ... hanging out together like best friends do.

After they had gotten drunk the first night, they both slept in.  When they had awakened, they ate a late breakfast, or maybe it was an early lunch.  By mutual agreement, they both had agreed they wanted more time to process what had happened with Nem before discussing it.  They needed to talk about it, but, for one more day, each felt a need to come to terms with their own feelings privately.

Thus, the friends had relaxed the day away, watching a couple of old movies on TV, then a repeat of a baseball game, and, finally, they had gone for a walk, just two friends sharing the air.

It was early evening, the sun having set, and the weather cool and crisp, but perfect for a casual walk.  The two men had chitchatted about Egypt, tree conservation, Jack's fishing skills, and Daniel's interest in music, but no conversation went too deep.  It was all light-hearted and free.

When they approached a nearby park, the friends decided to sit for a while, choosing a bench near the play area so they could watch children playing.

“This is a great place for kids to play,” Jack observed casually.

“And dogs,” Daniel added, having no idea why he thought of it.  He'd never even had a pet, only fish.  “It's a good neighborhood, Jack; perfect for families.”

“That it is.”

In a complete non sequitur, Daniel revealed, “I'm hungry.”

“Now that makes this a red-letter day.  Let me mark it on my calendar.  Daniel Jackson is actually hungry,” the older man quipped.

“Jaaaack!”

The two laughed and headed for home.

====

After they prepared and ate a steak and potatoes dinner, Daniel read a book, while Jack worked on a model airplane.  Silence filled the air, but it wasn't uncomfortable, and every now and then one would say something to the other, or just look up and smile.

This was a part of their friendship they had enjoyed from the very beginning.  Silence was never awkward.  The two enjoyed such different things, but they had discovered quickly that just being together while each enjoyed a hobby of interest was pleasant, more than pleasant even.

Often times, Daniel spent their time together reading, watching a documentary on ancient history, researching something on the internet, writing a paper, studying an artifact, or listening to music he particularly enjoyed.  At the same time, Jack might be reading a magazine he liked, watching some sports event on TV, working out tactical moves in his mind, studying the stars, playing games on the internet or on his Game Boy, or putting a model plane together as he was doing now.

It didn't matter what they were doing, as long as they were doing it with each other, and there were, of course, many things the two friends enjoyed doing together:  playing chess and a variety of card games, especially gin, the one game Jack could win; listening to music, especially opera which Jack was introducing his friend to; cooking which they thought was strange since neither was a really a good cook, but somehow, preparing a meal together was fun; going for walks, something neither understood, but they always had a good time walking, sometimes chatting, sometimes just being lost in their private thoughts; and their favorite thing to do, just being together, usually on Jack's roof or sometimes Daniel's balcony, under the stars, just enjoying the feeling of being alive as they talked about SG-1's missions or whatever was happening in their lives.

So the silence was calm and pleasant as time passed.

The night concluded with a late night beer as they sat side by side on the steps of the patio deck, Jack rambling on about the stars and legends.  He didn't discuss facts, just stories and myths about how this or that constellation came to be.  Daniel loved to listen to Jack discuss the stars.  His friend was full of passion when he did, and Daniel knew astronomy was one of the few things Jack truly cared about.

It had been a very restful day when they said goodnight at 11 p.m., both surprising themselves by falling asleep quickly.

====

At 2 a.m., Daniel awoke and couldn't go back to sleep.  He found himself thinking about his experience on Oannes, once again curious about Nem and his mate who had died so long ago.  His mind raced with questions and theories.

In the master bedroom, Jack was still asleep, but it wasn't a pleasant slumber.  He began to toss and turn as his nightmare heightened.

In his sleep state, Jack kept seeing dark images, bloody recollections from his Special Ops days, Charlie's gruesome death, the nightmares during the first weeks of the Stargate program, and then, Daniel's fiery death at the hands of Nem.

Jack's arms reached out for his friend, desperately trying to pull him from the fire.  His own hands felt like they were burning.

“No.  Daniel.  Have to get you.”  Jack's dream intensified, his body sweating from his trauma.  “NOOOOO!  DANIEL!  Charlie ... NOOOO!  DON'T DIE!  DANNNNNNIELLLLLLLL!”

In the next room, Daniel heard the shouts.  He jumped out of his bed, running to Jack's room.  He knocked on the door in case Jack had awakened, but there was no response except for more shouts -- “HAVE TO SAVE YOU ... DANIEL!  DANIEL!”

The young man burst into the room and saw his friend violently tearing at the sheets and blankets around him.  His face was red, droplets of sweat rolling down his face ... and the shouts continued.

“Jack,” Daniel said approaching the bed.

Jack was reaching out, screaming from what Daniel assumed were flames burning the older man.

“DANIEL!”

Jack thrashed outwards towards the center of the bed, sitting up as his nightmare played on, fighting with all he had to save his best friend's life.  He screamed Daniel's name again.

It was an agonizing shout, and though he was sure he was taking his life into his own hands, Daniel scooted onto the bed, narrowly escaping a punch, and pulled Jack into his arms.

“Jack, wake up.  It's just a nightmare.  Come on, Jack.  Jack!”

The screams stopped.  The thrashing ebbed, and in a few seconds, Daniel felt Jack's arms wrap around his back.  The older man's chin was buried in the archaeologist's neck.  Now, the screams were cries, and the sweat was tears.

“Shhh!  It's okay, Jack.  I'm here.  Gawd, I thought my nightmares were bad.  I'm alive.  You found me.”

~Scent.  Daniel's scent.  I smell it.  Smells like Danny.  Voice.  Soft.  Lilting.  Comforting.  Sounds like Danny.  I saw him die.  No, it's his scent.  It's his voice.  Hands.  Geez, I feel his hands, and I know they're his.  I'm scared.  So scared ... except ... safe.  These arms make me feel safe.  Is he ... real?~

“Danny?”

It was an incredibly soft question.  Daniel couldn't remember ever hearing Jack sound so tentative.

“Yes, it's me.  Remember, SG-1 went back to the planet.”

“Creature from the Black Lagoon messed with my mind,” Jack said a bit more steadily.

Daniel swayed his head a little at that characterization of Nem, but now wasn't the time to get technical.  His friend had just suffered through a horrendous nightmare.  He needed reassurance.

“Nem let us go.  It's okay now.”

Daniel noticed Jack wasn't in any hurry to move out of his hold, but then again, Jack had certainly held Daniel in his arms after the throes of more nightmares than he wanted to remember.  Daniel, too, had comforted his friend a few times, but this seemed more desperate, and Jack was more clingy than usual.

~Must have been a nasty nightmare, Jack.~

So Daniel held his friend, rocking a bit in a soothing motion, speaking calmly that things were okay, and he was alive.  After a few more minutes, a period that seemed surprisingly short to both men, Jack finally pulled back.  He stared nervously into Daniel's eyes, and then looked around the room.

“Uh ... sorry.  I guess I woke you up.”

“Jack, don't be silly.  You didn't wake me up; I woke up a while ago.  Besides, how many nightmares have I had since we've met?”

“Yeah, but ...”

“Yeah, but you're the big, bad Colonel who's not allowed to be frightened?  That's ridiculous, Jack, and you know it.”

Jack coughed a little, still looking around the room, somehow finding it a bit difficult to look at Daniel.

“Jack, are you okay?”

The older man braced himself up.  He couldn't fold.  He had come to realize that he was in love with Daniel Jackson -- a man -- his best friend, and he was having a hard time dealing with it.  At the same time, it made him feel more alive and safer than he had in years.

Daniel was so close, his scent undeniable, and Jack ... Jack wanted to be close to Daniel, to touch him.  The military man couldn't afford that.  He was frightened of himself, of giving in to emotions that he knew were wrong.  They had to be wrong.  It was still a nightmare.  So, he gave himself a moment to distance himself from the strange feelings stirring within him, and then he spoke again.

“No ... but like you say, I will be.”

Daniel smiled at that, and said, “You think you can go back to sleep?”

“No, I'm ... Danny, how about some cold pizza and beer?”

“Sure.  I'll go change.”

“Change?  Oh, yeah.  Me, too.”

Jack hadn't even noticed that Daniel was in his pajamas ... bottoms only, but he did now, and his body was beginning to react.  He was thankful when Daniel quickly walked out.

~Oh geez.  I ... I want ... NO!  I can't.  I can't love him, but ... I do.  I love you, Danny.  I'm so sorry.~

Staring into the mirror, Jack ran the palms of his hands over his face, trying to get himself together.  With a deep breath, he turned and put on his brown sweats.  Opening the bedroom door that Daniel had shut on his way out, Jack was surprised to see Daniel standing there, arms folded, waiting.

“Hey.”

“Hey,” Daniel said with a smile.

“Why didn't you tell me you were waiting?”

“Jack, it's only been a minute.  I figured you just needed a couple of minutes to yourself.  It's understandable.”

“Yeah.  Let's go.”

====

“Jack.”

“Hmm?”

“Who was going to replace me on the team?”

Jack's head turned sharply towards his friend.  Daniel had opted to sit against the rails, not far from the still-fallen telescope.  Jack was across from him, leaning against the wall of the house.  He was stunned by the question.

“No one.  We hadn't gotten that far.”

“I'm ... surprised.  I mean, you had the service and everything.  Hammond would have ...”

“Daniel, I don't know.  I ... I was going to retire.”

“What?”

Daniel's eyes were wide as he listened.

Jack sighed as he continued, “I was going to retire.  Go fishing.  Live life somewhere beyond ... gray walls.”

“Be...because of ...”

Jack looked at his friend, seeing the disbelief on his face.  The cocky part of Jack wanted to deny the emotion, to lie and come up with some other explanation for his plans, but he couldn't do it, not with Daniel looking at him like that.

“Yes.  Daniel, I've gone through one loss too many.  I won't endure another.  When you ... died, I decided that was enough.  It was time to go on living in peace, maybe in Minnesota or maybe some place new.  I just wanted out.”

“Oh, I see.”

Jack snorted, shaking his head.

“No, Danny, you don't.  I'm sorry.  I'm not good with words.  You know that.  I ... Danny, I lost Charlie, then Sara.  I couldn't lose you, too.”

“Mmmm...me?”

“Oh for crying out loud, Daniel, you're my best friend.  You KNOW that.  I didn't want to do this anymore if ... if you weren't going to be around to ... share in the fun.”

“Oh,” Daniel said softly, bowing his head, then looking off to his right a bit nervously.

“You're my best friend, too.”

“I know that.”

Daniel smiled as the two locked eyes.  They'd admitted it before; it wasn't exactly a secret, but neither were very good at talking about personal things, especially feelings.

“How about we change the subject?”

Daniel nodded, looking again at the telescope.  Nodding towards it, he asked, “What happened to your telescope?”

“I thought we were going to change the subject?”

Daniel started, looking again at Jack in surprise.  The older man sighed as he stood up and walked over to the astronomical equipment.  He had forgotten about his outburst, and this had been the first time he'd been on the roof deck since knocking it over.

Hesitantly, Jack spoke, “I didn't have a Goa'uld to kill, so I took it out on the 'scope.”  Picking it up, he glanced at Daniel and smiled.  “Best friends.”

Daniel nodded and looked downwards, knowing Jack was a bit uncomfortable with the conversation, but inside, he had to admit he felt warm.

~He was angry because he thought I was dead.  I ... He ... Me.~

Daniel couldn't complete his thought.  He wasn't ready to admit that another human being truly cared about him that much, but deep in his soul, he knew Jack did.

“Hey,” Jack looked down at his friend.

“What?”

Jack extended his hand, motioning for the younger man to take it.  Blinking a few times, Daniel took Jack's hand, standing as Jack pulled him up to a standing position.  Jack continued to hold his hand.

“It's good to have you home, but you know what I want?”

“No, what?”

“Froot Loops.”

“Froot Loops?” Daniel asked incredulously.

“Yeah, I'm all out.  Let's go shopping.  We'll get some of that chocolate mess you like so much.”

“Mess?  Jack, chocolate is not mess.  It's ... heaven.”

Jack laughed, gave his friend a quick hug, and then motioned towards the ladder.  The two walked to it, climbed down, and headed for the all-night supermarket where they stocked up on all kinds of frivolous delights.

When they got back to Jack's house, the running would be over.  They'd rehash their trip to Oannes from both men's experiences, and then they'd go back to work at the SGC, ready for whatever the next mission would bring.

Daniel picked up some donuts from the pastry section.

“Just delivered, Jack.  Smell that.”

Daniel lifted the pastry to his friend's face, and Jack took a whiff.

“Best smelling creation in the universe.”

“It's just a donut.”

“Yeah.”

~But I wasn't talking the donut.  Heaven help me, Danny.  I don't know how I'm going to make this work.  My insides are twisted and tangled.  One minute I'm sure about everything, the next I'm not.  I ... love you, and that's so wrong.  It goes against everything I thought I was ... or does it?  I have a headache, Danny.  I don't want to think about it anymore.  I just want to be your friend.~

“Jack, let's go,” Daniel called out from the checkout stand.

Jack hurried to catch up with his best friend, his best friend who was much, much more than that, and Jack knew he was going to have his hands full in the future as he tried to come to terms with the love he felt for the man smiling at him now.

~Geez, you're sexy.~

“Did you say something, Jack?”

Jack backed away in alarm, afraid Daniel had heard his thoughts.

“Yeah.  I said you're nuts for buying all that chocolate.”

“You love chocolate, too.”

“Yeah, but I never buy that much.”

“You do, too.”

“I do not.”

“You do, too.”

“Not!”

“Too!”

“Um, excuse me, that'll be $56.79.”

“Fifty-six ... Daniel, what did you buy?”  Daniel just smiled and shrugged, and Jack laughed.  ~Geez, I'm such a goner.~

He reached into his wallet and paid the cashier, who Jack noticed seemed to have a funny smile on her face.  For a moment, he was shaken.

~Gawd, does she know?  Know what, O'Neill?  There's ... nothing to know.~

“Thank you, Sir.  You two have a fun night.”

“We will,” Daniel affirmed as he walked away.

Jack looked at the clerk again, her smile even more knowing.  He was surprised when she said, “Wish my boyfriend was as cute as that one, but I guess we can't all be that lucky.  Enjoy him, I mean, your food, Sir.”

Jack froze, staring at the clerk.

“Jack, come on,” Daniel called out from the open doors.

He nodded, and then finally followed Daniel to the truck.  He didn't say anything as they walked and put the groceries in the Ford vehicle, but then Jack thought, ~So what?  He is ... cute.  She really thought we were ... together, as in a couple.  It'll never happen, but if you're honest, O'Neill, you'll admit that as startling as her words were, you felt ... pride ... pride that Daniel is your friend and that anyone would think he'd ... No, don't go there.~

“Hey, are you going to stand there all night?  I want to make us some hot chocolate when we get to your house.  Oh -- maybe you can make us some Smores.  Gawd, I love those.  We did get marshmallows, didn't we?”

“Yes, Daniel,” Jack said as he laughed, finally opening the door and getting into his truck.

~I don't know what the future is going to bring, but if nothing else, Dannyboy, as long as you are around, it's going to be exciting.  Let's go home.  I'm ready for this Creature from the Black Lagoon nightmare to end.~

“You're such a chocolate addict,” Jack said, as if an accusation, though he had a smile in his tone.

“I am not.”

“Are so.”

“Not!”

“Trust me, Daniel, you are.”

“I do trust you, with my life, but you are so wrong.”

“I am not.”

“Are, too.”

“Not!”

“Too!”

Life in Colorado Springs would never be the same, and both Jack and Daniel would be better because of it!

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