Don't Mess With Danny

Author: Orrymain
Category: Pre-Slash, Angst, H/C, Missing Scene/Epilogue
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  1 - August 11-24, September 26, 1997
Spoilers:  Emanicipation, Bloodlines
Size:  88kb
Written:  March 25-29,31, April 1-2,5, 2004  Revised:  April 13, 2008, July 30-31, August 1-5,8-13, 2009
Summary:  SGC  personnel learn an important lesson -- don't mess with Jack's archaeologist!
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically. Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Claudia, QuinGem, Kalimyre, Drdjlover, Tina, Linda!

Don't Mess With Danny
by Orrymain

“I prefer the Abydonian robes.  They're much more comfortable,” Daniel opined to Sam as they walked along the corridors of the SGC.

SG-1 was about to ship out on a mission to Chulak to retrieve Teal'c's wife and son.  The Jaffa had informed the Tau'ri that he had a family, and that it was time for his son to undergo the religious rite known as the Prim'ta when he would receive his first Goa'uld symbiote, thus becoming a true Jaffa.  Teal'c had been determined to stop the ceremony, and after a great deal of convincing and pleading, General Hammond was reluctantly allowing the flagship team to embark on their mission.

To get past the Jaffa guards protecting the Stargate, SG-1 was dressed in robes, pretending to be temple priests, while Teal'c wore his Jaffa armor, claiming to be the team's escort.

“Daniel, I forgot something in my lab.  I'll meet you in the gate room,” Sam said, coming to a sudden stop.

“Yeah, uh, actually, I have to ...  I mean I need to, uh ... I'll meet you there,” Daniel finally replied, watching Sam walk away before turning and heading for the men's restroom.

As the archaeologist washed his hands, two Marines walked in and immediately began to smirk, staring at Daniel from head to foot.

“Well, well, what do we have here?” the first Marine asked superiorly.

“Looks to me like Pretty Boy is in the wrong room.”

Daniel tried to ignore the Marines.  Over the years, he had learned that sometimes just being silent would make bullies go away, but sadly, he was about to learn that these two weren't to be ignored.

“Isn't he pretty?” one of the Marines spoke nastily as he plundered his hands through Daniel's long brown hair.

“Excuse me,” Daniel responded, pushing the man's hand aside and then leaning forward a tad to turn off the faucet.

“Definitely non-regulation hair, Pretty Boy.  I think you should be across the hall ... in the women's john.”

“My name is Doctor Jackson,” Daniel reminded forcefully.

“Nice ... dress,” the second Marine mocked, walking around to Daniel's other side and tugging on the long sleeves.

“Leave me alone.”

“No can do, Pretty Boy.”

Angrily, Daniel corrected, “I told you that my name is Doctor Jackson.”

“Sure.  You want to play doctor?  I'll be the doc, and ...” the first Marine bumped purposely into the archaeologist, “... you can be my nurse.”

When the second man grabbed hold of his arms, Daniel grunted demandingly, “Let ... me ... go.”  His heart was racing a mile a minute.  These guys were big, too big.  Daniel was worried he wouldn't be able to fight his way out of this as he had done so many times before.  ~Not again.~

While the two Marines laughed loudly, the first one went deep into Daniel's personal space and spat, “Listen you ... queer.  Get off the Mountain.  We don't have room here for your type.”

The man put his hands on both sides of Daniel's head, while the second man continued to hold Daniel in place.  Running his hands through Daniel's hair, he let out with more threats.

“Either you get out, or we'll ... give you what you really want.  Boy toys are made to be played with, and if ever I saw a toy ready to be played, it's you.  Get off the Mountain ... *Doctor* Jackson.”

The man lowered his hands and slapped Daniel's groin, causing the archaeologist to wince;  still, he didn't let out a sound.

“All for show, I'm sure,” the first man cackled.

Daniel struggled, and this time the second man released him.  Daniel scurried out of the bathroom, hearing the raucous laughter of the men behind him.  He quickly turned the corner and ducked into a small storage closet.  He sank down to the hard floor, wanting to throw up but knowing he couldn't.

The archaeologist had to get to the gate room, no matter how much he was shaking inside.  Jack would ask questions Daniel didn't want to answer if he didn't get there soon.

~Stay calm.  This isn't new.  Just ... just get to Jack; I ... I mean the gate room.  It'll be okay.  I just have to get there.~

Slowly, the apprehensive scientist rose and began to open the door.  The timing couldn't have been worse.  The two men were walking by, still laughing.  He heard their words as he kept the door only slightly ajar.

“If that scrawny dude wasn't so repulsive, it might be worth trying him out, just to see him squirm.”

“He can't have much to offer.  They never do, you know.  Truth is, they don't even know how.”

“Well, if he doesn't get off the Mountain, we may just have to show him, for his own good, of course.”

“Of course.”

Daniel completely closed the door again and sank back down to the floor.  He didn't need this.  He had to be strong.  Sha're was counting on him to find and rescue her.  No one would do it; it had to be him.

~How am I going to fight them?  I can't resign.  Sha're is out there, depending on me.  Maybe I should tell Jack.  Gawd, no.  Just what I need.  I can hear him now, protecting his people.  Why should he believe me?  Besides, even if he believed me, even if he interfered, it would only make it worse.~

His breathing more labored than a minute ago, Daniel continued to ponder his options.

~The general?  Maybe if ... Gawd, Jackson.  Right.  Tell the general you need protection from a couple of goons and just see how many more missions he lets you go on.  Nice thinking, genius.~

Daniel felt ill, physically and mentally.  He wished he could stay and hide, pretend it never happened, but his teammates would be looking for him soon, if they weren't already.  How could he explain being found in a closet?  He stood and slowly emerged back into the world.

“Daniel, there you are.  The colonel sent me to look for you,” Sam explained when she saw her friend walking down the corridor, his head bowed.

“I, uh ... I ... I'm ready.  Let's go, Sam,” Daniel replied, not stopping and walking right past the blonde captain.

Turning and seeing nothing but the archaeologist's back, Sam called out, “Daniel, are you all right?”

“I'm ... fine,” Daniel responded without looking back.

For a moment, Sam considered the action.  She had a feeling Daniel wasn't fine, but if he couldn't confide in her, she had no way of helping.  With a blink and a slight shrug, she double-timed her movement to catch up with Daniel just as he was about to the turn the corner.

As she entered the gate room with the archaeologist, Sam reminded, “Daniel, glasses.”

~Gawd, can't I do anything right?~ the insecure archaeologist bemoaned as he removed his glasses, placing them in the pocket of his long robe.

====

Once through the Stargate, SG-1 headed for Teal'c's old home, but mere yards from the Gate, Daniel sneezed and tripped, not enough to fall, but to stumble.

~I'm a moron.  What am I doing out here?  At least Jack is in front of me and didn't see me looking like a fool, practically tripping over my robe.~

Putting his doubts aside, Daniel continued on, walking faster so as not to be called out for lagging behind.

====

At Teal'c's home, SG-1 was introduced to his first teacher, Bra'tac, “the greatest Jaffa master I have ever known,” according to his apprentice.  On the flip side, Teal'c told the Jaffa master that his friends were “warriors of great skill and cunning.”

Skeptically, Bra'tac approached Sam brazenly challenged, “You?  You are among the warriors who defeated the palace guard at Chulak?  A human woman?”

“Hey, I'll have you know I kicked my ...” Sam argued quickly, trailing off when she realized her words were falling on deaf ears as Bra'tac moved on to Daniel.

“And you?  A warrior of great skill and cunning?”  Bra'tac grabbed Daniel's arm as if he were going to bite his hand.  “I could snap you like kindling!”

~Don't worry.  You're not alone in that assumption.  Gawd, why is it everywhere I go, even on some strange planet, everyone thinks I'm a joke?~

Bra'tac turned to Teal'c, questioning, “How could you bring these hasshak with you?”

That was SG-1's first contact with the master Jaffa.  Obviously, he didn't think much of the Tau'ri, especially after Jack attempted to fight with him.

Finally, the two races got down to the reason for SG-1 being on Chulak.  Bra'tac informed his one-time apprentice that his family were now considered to be outcasts and lived in one of the camps outside the city, though he wasn't sure which one.  At this point, Jack ordered Daniel and Sam back to Stargate to “take up positions where you can lay down cover fire.”

“Ah, a minute ago we were warriors of great skill and cunning,” Daniel objected, frustrated when Jack ignored him.  ~Right.  Why should anything I say matter?  Besides, what good would I be in a fight?  Why did you even bring me on this mission, Jack, if you're just going to send me away when things get tough?  And, yes, I know Sam is my babysitter.  I'm a grown man, O'Neill.  I can take care of myself.~

Reluctantly, Daniel and Sam left the area to carry out their orders, though Daniel didn't like it one bit.

====

En route to the Stargate, Sam and Daniel happened upon a band of Jaffa priests wearing the emblem of Apophis.  The procession carried a container on a pole to a shrine of some type that had some kind of large tank at its center.  Sam and Daniel decided they needed to get a closer a look at what was there.  Once the procession continued on their journey, the two worked their way to the shrine.

“Bingo.  Goa'uld larvae,” Daniel observed as he examined the large tank, full of water and infant Goa'uld swimming about.

“Here in the open like this.  No guards?” Sam queried as she held her MP-5 at the ready.

“Well, who on Chulak needs to steal one?”

“We do,” Sam answered eagerly, handing Daniel her weapon and pulling out a thermos.  It took a couple a tries, but she eventually stuck her hand into the tank and grabbed one of the larvae creatures, quickly encapsulating it inside the thermos.  “Okay, come on,” she urged, ready to take their find back to the SGC for study.

Daniel stood in place, not moving an inch, his eyes focused on the tank of maturing Goa'uld.  His heart beat wildly, his mind racing with jumbled thoughts of Sha're, Skaara, and the many others who had been taken and those who would be taken as hosts in the future.  As Sam walked past the archaeologist, he cocked the gun.

“Daniel?  What are you thinking?” Sam asked, having a funny feeling in her gut, a feeling she wasn't used to having around the normally mild-mannered archaeologist.

Daniel answered, “Just that every single one of these infant Goa'ulds will one day take a human life, and all I have to do is ...”

The archaeologist didn't need to finish his sentence.  Sam now knew exactly what he was thinking.

“If we kill them when they are as vulnerable as they are right now, we'd be no better than the Goa'uld.  Let's go.”

~Maybe.~  Daniel heard his friends words, but his mind wasn't ready to go.  ~This is our chance to save a few lives.  What if someone had a chance to destroy the larvae that was Ammonet?  Would it have made a difference?  How can we just walk away when we have a chance to do something?~  After a pause, the highly morale young man answered his question.  ~Ethics, that's how.  Go.  Move your feet.~

Sam turned, and Daniel reluctantly followed her, for a few feet.

~No!~  It was a like a thundering scream within him.  ~Sorry, Sam, I can't just walk away, except I'm not sorry, Sam.  When will we ever get this opportunity again?  Wh...when will I ever get to be more than the klutzy one who always gets into trouble?  I know you can't do it, but I can.~

Releasing the safety on the MP-5, Daniel turned and fired repeatedly at the Goa'uld tank.

~They're dying.  Right in front of me, they're ... dying.  Why don't I feel anything?  I'm just ... numb.  I don't feel victorious, angry, or even sad.  I did what I had to do, but I feel ... nothing.~

Stunned, Sam approached and simply stared at her conflicted team member.  Reclaiming her MP-5 without saying a word, she turned and walked off.

Seeing the water that had been sustaining the Goa'uld larvae spilling to the ground, Daniel gave it a final look before leaving the scene and following Sam.

~I wonder what those jarheads would think now?  See, I can do what I have to do.  I was able to do something that you couldn't, to rid the world of a bit of evil.~  As he walked, Daniel closed his eyes, almost tripping on his feet.  ~Gawd, Jackson, who are trying to kid?  You can't blame the Marines.  It was your choice, and you made it all on your own.~

====

~Put it behind you, Jackson,~ Daniel urged as he walked with Sam towards the Stargate.  ~And how do I do that?~ he asked himself.  A moment later he came up with the answer.  ~Pretend.  Pretend it doesn't matter, at least until you're back on Earth and can go hide ... somewhere.  Eat.  Talk about nothing. You've done it before.~

With that, the archaeologist began a casual conversation with his teammate while putting behind him what had occurred with the larvae tank.  He pulled out a power bar and began to eat it, silently wishing it was a Twinkie, which was one of his comfort foods.

Suddenly, a blast hit a nearby tree.  Reacting immediately, Sam pushed Daniel towards the bushes, urging him to move quickly.

“Go, go!”

Daniel took cover behind a large tree, nervously amused that he was still holding the power bar in his hand.  He stared at it a moment and then tossed it aside.  With his Beretta in hand and Sam by his side, he wondered what their next course of action would be.

“Drop and cover your head,” Sam instructed.  “This is gonna be close.”

Sam pulled out a grenade, removed its pin, and tossed it in the direction of the Jaffa.  Fortunately, her hit was right on, and the Jaffa were killed.

“Well, that was insane,” Daniel commented when the two regrouped.

“Let's get back to the Stargate,” Sam stated.  They'd gone a half mile when something inside her prompted to ask a question.  “Daniel, are you okay?”

“Just fine, Sam.  We'd better hurry,” Daniel answered, though he was moving at a leisurely pace.

“Um, yeah, that's sort of what I was thinking,” the blonde replied.

“What?” the archaeologist asked.  “Oh, sorry,” he apologized upon realizing that he wasn't hurrying at all and that Sam was several paces in front of him.  “I guess I was lost in thought.”

Sam nodded and gave Daniel a supportive smile.  He'd had a hard day, and she was understanding of his emotions.  She was sure that he was full of sad thoughts about Sha're.

Meanwhile, Daniel continued to berate himself and his situation.

~Gawd, I'm an idiot sometimes. If it weren't for Sha're, I'd leave, but I can't.  She's depending on me.  Or is she?  Maybe she's given up.  Look at me, tripping over everything; sneezing every five minutes.  Why did Jack let me on the team?  Don't answer that.  He owes you, so he thinks.  You're an obligation, Jackson, a debt he's paying back, and at whose expense?  His.  What if I get him killed?  Gawd, I want to die.~

====

SG-1's original plans had changed.  Teal'c had found his family, but his son had developed an illness which Jack recognized as being scarlet fever, or something similar to it.  They did their best to tend to the boy as they headed for the Stargate, but it was a useless battle.  Finally, in desperation, Teal'c removed his larval Goa'uld and allowed it to enter his son, saving his life, but putting his own at risk.

Thus, when Daniel and Sam rendezvoused with the group shortly thereafter, the specimen they had stolen from the tank proved to be a lifesaver for Teal'c, even though it was still very young.

Ultimately, it was decided that Teal'c's family would stay on Chulak, now that the Prim'ta wasn't an issue any longer.  First, though, the team and Bra'tac had to engage in a brief battle with the guards and priests watching the Stargate so that SG-1 could return to Earth.  With the Gate in their control, SG-1 said their good-byes.

~Bra'tac's a warrior.  Listen to Jack.  He's giving him a full salute, like we're at some military commando meeting.  I'm just a twig both of them could snap in two, just like those Marines,~ Daniel sighed.  It was time to go.  Unable to move on from his silent torture, he just hoped he'd be able to get through the debriefing and go home.  ~Home is safe, I hope,~ he thought as he and the rest of the team walked through the Stargate.

From his perch in the control room, General Hammond questioned through the microphone, “Colonel, I thought your mission was to bring back Teal'c's family?”

“Not necessary, General,” Jack replied, seeing Hammond's displeasure and knowing what was behind it. ~He's *so* not happy about being kept in the dark about Teal'c's family.~

“We'll debrief in fifteen,” Hammond ordered and then turned around, disappearing from sight.

~Yep, not happy,~ Jack acknowledged internally.  “Dan...” he began, looking around and realizing his archaeologist had just walked through the exit.  ~Okay.  I guess it'll keep.~

--

As soon as Daniel turned right from the gate room into the corridor, he saw them, the same two Marines who'd threatened him prior to the mission.  He saw their menacing faces, filled with hate.  Inside, he was jelly and grateful that SG-1 hadn't returned in the robes they'd worn when embarking on their mission.

Now just a foot or so behind his friend, Jack observed the exchange.  He saw the stares, though he didn't realize as yet what was behind them.  He also noticed how Daniel had looked at them and then immediately put his head down and actually quickened his pace to get by the Marines as swiftly as possible.

The colonel glanced back behind him, seeing the Marines laughing, only it didn't look to be lighthearted.  It reminded him of something else; he just wasn't sure of what.  Looking forward again, Jack was surprised to see that Daniel had disappeared from his sight.

~Where'd he go?~ Jack questioned internally.  Something didn't seem right as he reflected on the recent exchange between Daniel and the military men.  ~I wonder what that was all about.~

====

The post-mission medicals were done, the briefing was over, and Daniel had just submitted his report.

~What to do now?  I could work on ... no, I don't want to work.  I'm tired.~

The archaeologist thought for a moment about the possibilities for the evening.

~Jack?  I wonder if he feels like doing the pizza bit tonight.  Gawd, I'd endure pizza and hockey just to have some company tonight.~

Taking a breath of encouragement, Daniel did something he rarely did.  He walked to Jack's office to propose that they eat and watch some ridiculous hockey game on TV.

“Hey, Jack.”

“Daniel,” Jack acknowledged, looking up from his desk with a hint of relief on his face.  He was still working on his report, hoping to get it done before General Hammond got on his case for being late with yet another mission report.  ~I hate paperwork,~ he opined strongly.

“I ... I wondered if maybe you might ...”

“Might what?”

“Um, pizza?”

Jack looked at his friend, surprised.  Daniel had never initiated their nights together.  Unfortunately, the archaeologist had picked the wrong evening to gather up his courage and now, the colonel felt like a real heel.

“I'd like to, Danny, but I promised Teal'c we'd get in some boxing.  I think he needs to stay busy, with everything that happened.”

“Oh, yeah, that makes sense.  Okay, maybe another time.”  Daniel backed away, ready to make a super quick escape.  His heart was beating too fast.  He felt so stupid.  He'd just put himself on the line and lost.  ~Why am I surprised?”

Jack leapt up and approached his archaeologist and eagerly suggested, “Hey, why don't you join us?”

Daniel assumed a self-hugging position, swaying slightly and looking downward as he answered, “No, thank you.  Boxing isn't exactly something I enjoy, but, uh, it's okay.  I'll pick up some Chinese, or something.  Have a good night, Jack.”

“Daniel ...” Jack began, only to have his sentence ended before it began.

“I'm fine.  Goodnight,” Daniel interrupted politely, risking a brief glance at Jack before he hurried away from his friend's office.  ~Please don't stop me.  Let me go,~ he pleaded, his feet moving as swiftly as they could without running and attracting undue attention.

~No, you're not fine.~  Jack returned to his desk and sat down, leaning back into his chair.  ~Something's wrong.  I wish I could change my plans, but I'm sorry, Danny.  I owe it to Teal'c to be there tonight.~

====

Instead of going home, Daniel returned to his office.  Though he'd recently rented his own apartment, he had to reluctantly admit that he missed Jack's presence.  Tonight, he didn't feel like being home alone, so instead, he was alone at work.

Hours passed as Daniel catalogued and studied artifacts recently discovered. Part of him was happy to be doing this.  It was work he loved, and the normal business hours at the SGC often didn't afford him the luxury of studying relics and ancient civilizations the way in which he would prefer.

At 1 a.m., Daniel decided to go home at last, only because he remembered that his beloved fish needed feeding.  He checked out of the SGC and headed for the apartment, his car slowly going down the narrow, winding road that led straight to Cheyenne Mountain.

Suddenly, two cars appeared behind the scientist's clunker.  One vehicle passed Daniel's, only instead of fully going by, the car forced him off to the side.  His heart pounded as he slammed on the brakes.  With his car stopped, Daniel got out and prepared to read the riot act to the idiots who had just run him off the road.  Normally, he'd be calmer, even in this situation, but he was tired and frustrated.  Shouting at a stranger who'd almost just killed him might just bring him some relief.

The scientist's confidence died when he recognized the Marine who got out of the lead car.  Daniel turned around, instantly seeing the second Marine.  They were the same two who had threatened him before.

“We told you that your kind aren't wanted here.”

“I'll have you court-martialed,” Daniel asserted as strongly as he could.  ~Why can't I sound as commanding as Jack?~

“Will you now?” the second military man questioned in complete disbelief.

“We'll kill you if you utter a sound,” the first man warned as he grabbed Daniel.

Daniel fought valiantly, but the two men were too big for him.  They pulled him, kicking and struggling, down into a ravine.

“We don't need queers in our work space,” the second soldier decreed as he punched Daniel in the gut.

“We sure don't.  You homos have caused us enough problems lately.  Get out,” he ordered as he released the archaeologist, shoving him to the ground and kicking him repeatedly.

“I'm not gay.  I'm ... married.”

“Nice try, Pretty Boy.  We see the way you look at O'Neill.  He'd eat you alive if he knew the truth, or maybe you're doing it with him.”

“O'Neill.  Nah.  He's a Marine, even if he's Air Force,“ the second man commented back.

“Maybe,” the first Marine agreed.  He looked at Daniel and spoke with a smutty expression.  “Listen up, you queer.  You say one word to O'Neill, and we'll spread the rumors.  O'Neill will be toast.”

The second man added, “Last warning.  Next time, we'll show you what we promised the last time.”

For emphasis, the man straddled Daniel and violently tore off Daniel's blue plaid shirt, ripping it in several spots.

Daniel fought back, but the first Marine pinned down his arms.  Within a minute, the second man had him completely naked.

The two Marines stood and laughed evilly at the humiliated scientist.

“Pretty Boy isn't much,” the man cackled as he stared at Daniel's skinny physique.  “But we'll show you if you come back,” he exhorted sternly.

Daniel felt pilloried and dehumanized.  He wanted to crawl into a corner and die, but the two men weren't done.  Just for their own added pleasure, they punched and kicked him until he finally passed out.

====
 
When he came to, Daniel was alone.  It took him only a moment to recall why he was naked in the ravine.  This was easily one of the worst days of his life.  What he regretted, is that he'd had worse.  While he had no clue what time it was, he was fully aware that his entire body ached.  Those Marines had done a good job beating him.

~A+.~

Slowly, Daniel stood and looked around for his clothes, his head dropping in despair as he realized they were gone.  Of course, it could be worse, and that thought prompted him to close his eyes in fear of the possibilities.

~What if they took my car?~

Fortunately, when he Daniel finally made it back up the ravine, his car was still there, locked.  He placed his arms on the roof and leaned his head onto it.  There wouldn't be an easy way out of this.  The shorter route would be to go back to the Mountain for help, but he just couldn't.  The second option was to continue down the road, but it was a long way before he could find any place open at this time of the morning, whatever that time was.

~Think, Jackson.  If you don't come up with something, this nightmare will only get worse.~

Daniel looked up and blinked a few times.

~That might work.~

The weary man returned to the ravine where he found the sharpest and thickest piece of wood he could carry.

~I hope this works.~

Once again standing by his old car, Daniel rammed the wood into the glass until the window finally gave way.  He sighed a breath of relief.

Getting in his car, but not without cutting himself on a few pieces of glass, Daniel opened his glove compartment, thankful that he had done one thing right.  He always kept a set of spare keys in his car.

Using a blanket he kept in the backseat to wrap around himself, Daniel again headed for his apartment, being careful not to speed.

====

The next morning, Daniel's body was full of aches and pains, not to mention that parts of him were purple and red from the bruising.  His eyes were puffy and swollen.  He called in sick with the flu and returned to take refuge under the covers, though it wasn't long before the phone began to ring, and ring, and ring.

“Hello,” the archaeologist finally answered after the tenth ring.  It wasn't just the first time the phone had rung ten times, either.  In fact, this was the third set of  irritating rings within a five-minute period.  That meant just one thing.  ~Jack,~ Daniel had sighed while staring at the phone.  ~I wish he'd just leave me alone,~ he'd thought, though he'd also quickly added, ~No.  No, I ... don't,~ while reaching for the phone.

“Daniel.”

“Jack.”

“What's new?” the colonel questioned casually.

“Uh ...”

“You called in sick,” Jack stated when nothing followed the unresponsive expression.

“Yeah, uh, I'm ... sick.”

“Well, we know that,” Jack smirked lightheartedly.  He was surprised and concerned, though, when Daniel didn't come back with a sharp retort.  Something was wrong with his friend.  “Other than your mind, what's the problem?”

“Problem?” the not-quite-with-it younger man asked.

“Daniel, you called in sick.  I'm asking why.”

“I'm sick.”

“We've established that,” a frustrated Jack responded strongly.  “Sick with what?”

“Oh, uh, flu, I guess,” Daniel answered in a noncommittal tone.

“You guess?”

Daniel cringed.  Why did Jack have to call?  Why did he even pretend to care?  Okay, they had admitted to being best friends, but surely that was a temporary situation.  It wouldn't be long before the military-minded colonel would tire of the inept geek, as Daniel often thought of himself.  After all, he'd never had a true best friend before.  At this point in time, he didn't have a clue as to the depths this friendship meant to Jack, or even to himself.

“It's the flu, Jack, and if you don't mind, I'd really like to go back to sleep.”

“Sure.  I'll see you tomorrow,” Jack offered.  ~Or maybe sooner.~

“Actually, I'm going to take a couple of days off.”

~Okay, definitely sooner,~ Jack thought to himself.  “You?  Time off?  That's not like you, Doctor Jackson,” he teased, not believing anything he was hearing at the moment.  ~Sorry, Danny, but I'm not buyin' this act,~ he considered as his internal Daniel alarm blared.

“You're always telling me to take a few days, so I'm, uh, listening to you.  Congratulate yourself.  Jack, I really want to go back to bed now.”

“Okay, Buddy.  Feel better, and have fun.”

“Thanks.  Goodbye.”

“Yeah.”  Jack hung up the phone.  He tried to go back to work, but he couldn't.  The unusual elements from his conversation kept jumping out at him.  ~My gut is telling me that there's more to this, Danny, and I'm gonna find out what, whether you want me to or not.~

====

Concerned about his friend, Jack used his key to gain entrance to Daniel's apartment.  He'd brought with him his grandmother's special recipe for 'soup that fixes what ails ya'.  Choosing not to disturb the archaeologist, Jack prepared the home remedy to perfection, taking a spoonful himself and smiling at the results.

Jack filled a bowl and placed it on a tray with a couple of other items.  Gently, he carried it into Daniel's bedroom.  With one hand, he began waking the sleeping man.

“Hey, soup is ...” Jack paused, shocked by what he saw in front of him.

Reacting to an feeling his shoulders being jarred, Daniel involuntarily rolled over to reveal his battered body.

“Crap, Daniel, what happened to you?” Jack questioned while placing the tray down on the nightstand.


“Jack?” Daniel sighed in question.  “What are you doing here?” he asked as he covered himself with the ivory sheet that lined his bed.  He felt terribly embarrassed.  ~Why couldn't he leave me alone?~

“Taking care of you,” Jack answered truthfully.  “Someone has to.  Now I've answered your question, so you answer mine.”

“It's nothing.”  Daniel tried to roll back over, but Jack's hand took hold of his arm, causing a shiver to shoot through the archaeologist.  ~Shock.  Electrical shock, or ... or I'm just ...~

Jack's next words interrupted the younger man's thoughts.

“Danny, roll over,” the colonel ordered.  When his friend didn't move, he added, “Look, I already know.  I have eyes, so you might as well let me take a good look.  Come on.”

Reluctantly, Daniel rolled back over.  He wasn't wearing a pajama top, so the bruising to his abdomen was obvious, as were those on his beaten face.

“Ah, Danny.  Who did this?” Jack questioned in a combination of compassion and anger.

“It doesn't matter, Jack.”

“Yes, it does.”

“Let it go, Jack,” Daniel implored.  “If you make an issue out of it, they'll ... it'll just make it worse.  Please let it go.”

“No can do, Daniel.  Tell me.”

“Jack, please.  Don't do that making me talk thing.  I can't go through it.  Gawd, it was so humiliating.  Please!”

Daniel got out of bed as quickly as he could, but he couldn't help making “ouch” and “ow” comments as he moved.  He really wanted to run, but his body wouldn't allow for a fast pace.  Still in bare feet, he went to the balcony, opened it, and sank down along the glass patio door.  He ducked his head inside his arms which rested on his drawn up knees.

Jack followed, but he stopped by the kitchen to put the soup back in the pot, putting the burner on warm.  He searched Daniel's cabinet for aspirin and filled a glass with water.

Walking onto the balcony and leaning over, Jack insisted, “Daniel, take these.  No argument.”

Almost out of what little fight he had left within him, Daniel did as Jack asked, placing the glass to his right when he was done and then resuming his previous position.

While Daniel took the aspirin, Jack ambled over to the balcony wall.  He realized his archaeologist needed a bit of space, so he slid down to the deck, sitting directly opposite Daniel.

“Go away, Jack,” Daniel requested, his voice muffled from his position.

“Not a chance.  You're going to tell me.  We both know it, so why not just get it over with?”

“Please,” the soft and timid voice pleaded.

“No.”

Jack heard the sniffle, and while he still believed Daniel wanted distance, he just couldn't stay where he was.  His friend was crying, and that was too much for him.  Jack stood and walked the couple of steps to get to the patio door.  He moved the now-empty water glass away and sat down, putting his left arm around Daniel's shoulder and squeezing tightly.

“It's okay, Danny.  Whatever happened, we can get through it.  You just have to tell me.”

~Go away!~  Daniel shook his head.  He didn't want to tell Jack that he was afraid.  ~You'll kick me off the team if you know how weak I am.~  Tears fell as he recalled what the Marines had insinuated about Jack and Daniel.  He was certain the colonel Jack would run away from him quicker than he could say “Marine,” if he knew.  Still, Jack wasn't budging, and Daniel could feel the strength in his friend's touch on his shoulder.  Daniel's tears increased in spite of his best efforts.  ~Why am I like this in front of him?  No one else ... I never break down in front of anyone else.  Gawd, why Jack?~

“Tell me, Danny.”  Jack ran his hand gently up and down Daniel's upper arm in reassurance.  His voice was calm, gentle.  “Whatever it is, it's okay.  Just ... tell me.”

The sensitivity of Jack's request was more than the distraught younger man could handle.  In seconds, the sobs came and were unable to be stopped.  Before Daniel knew it, the friends had shifted positions and he was in Jack's arms, his face buried against the man's left shoulder.  Jack's hold on him was tight and secure, his hands patting Daniel's back softly and making soothing massaging motions from time to time.

“Take your time, Danny,” Jack urged as tenderly as Daniel had ever heard him speak.  “Start at the beginning.”

Knowing he'd lost the fight to suffer alone, Daniel told Jack everything, about the two Marines threatening him in the bathroom before the mission to Chulak, about his self-doubt and self-perceived shortcomings during the mission, from killing the larval Goa'uld to the chocolate bar incident, and about the beating in the ravine.  Finally, he had just one more thing to reveal, and he did it with the quietest voice he'd used yet.

“And ... they said they ... it wouldn't do any good to tell you ... that they'd ... they'd tell lies about ... us.  They ...”

Jack never released his hold or stopped his calming massage, and Daniel couldn't help but notice that even now, Jack hadn't paused or hesitated.  He didn't understand that.  Why hadn't Jack run?  Why was he still holding him without any hitch in his motion?  Even as Daniel's tears continued, the older man was there, supportive and understanding.

Jack didn't cease his motions until Daniel's tears had stopped, until his trembling had ceased, and ultimately until Daniel knew what Jack already knew, that he wasn't going anywhere.

Finally, Daniel pulled away, but not far.  He looked into Jack's chocolate brown eyes, and slowly shook his head.  He couldn't believe it.  No yells, shouts, or angry words.  Jack wasn't making a hurried or slow exit. He was just sitting there, being there for his friend.

Seeing Daniel's surprise, Jack asked, “What?  You thought I'd leave?”

“Well ...”

“Daniel, we're friends, best friends.  I don't give that title to just anyone, and I don't bail when it gets a bit rough.  I thought you knew me better than that.”

“But ... they ... military ... the rumors, Jack ...”

“Daniel, they've been talking about us from the beginning.  Heck, when I came back from Abydos the first time, a couple of the guys were talking.  I don't care about gossip.  It's stupid and petty.  You and I know the truth.  What do we care what some idiots with nothing better to do with their time than gossip think?”

Daniel nodded his agreement, still in shock.  He wasn't prepared for this.  He looked down and then away, trying to stop the next tear from falling.  The next thing he knew, Jack had his hand on the side of Daniel's head, forcing the young man to look at him.

“We're friends, and that *is* what matters.  Now, we're going inside, and you're going to take a shower.  Then you're going to eat some of my grandmother's soup because, flu or bruises, it's the best thing I know of to warm your insides; and then, my friend, we're going to my house, and we're going to watch some movies and relax.  No arguments.  Go.”

The archaeologist was out of arguments, so he did exactly what Jack asked, even packing an overnight bag as requested.  Obviously, Jack wasn't planning on letting him out of his sight for a few days.  Actually, as he got into his friend's truck, he thought that was okay with him, too.  It had been a very long time since anyone had cared for him the way Jack O'Neill was doing now.

====

For two days, Jack tended to Daniel's needs, not so much the physical as the mental.  He did everything he could to reinforce that their friendship was solid, that he wasn't going anywhere, and that Daniel's place on SG-1 was his to earn or lose, and not in the hands of some ignorant Marines.

Often the colonel stated, and with so much conviction that it almost amused Daniel when he wasn't deeply depressed, “And for the record, Daniel, your spot on the team is probably more secure than mine.  No one is kicking you off. Got that?”

Jack had just repeated his mantra about forty-eight hours after he'd said it the very first time.  Finally, Daniel smiled in response.  He finally felt like he could breathe again.  The bruises were fading and his face looked close to normal again.  Aside from the physical, Jack had also taken care of Daniel's car, calling a friend of his to fix the window on site in the apartment parking lot.

“Jack, I still need to take another day or two off.  It's still ...”

“Nah.  I can take care of it.”

“You can?” Daniel queried in surprise.

“You betcha.  Deal,” the older man instructed about the cards Daniel was holding in his hands.

One more game of War, and it would be time to hit the sack.

====

The next morning, Daniel was shocked to see what Jack had just pulled out of his shaving kit.

“Uh, Jack, that's ...”

“Makeup.  It was Sara's.”

“You've kept it?” the inquisitive man asked.

“Sure,” Jack replied as if it were the most natural thing in the world for a man to have makeup available for use.  “Always be prepared.”

“Boy Scouts wear makeup?”

“Of course not,” Jack answered as he began to apply the product to Daniel's facial remnants of the beating.  “You never know when a little foundation will come in handy.”

“You wear makeup?”

“I'm just sayin' that when you get in a skirmish you don't want the man to know about, you do what's necessary.”

“I never noticed.”

“Exactly.”

“Oh,” Daniel responded, blinking a few times while hoping Jack was right and no one would notice his slightly unnatural look.

====

After breakfast, the two again got into Jack's truck and headed for the Mountain. It was a silent ride, until Daniel spoke.  “Jack, thank you, for everything.”

“Friendship is serious business, Danny.  You're my best friend.  That's a lasting thing ... for me, anyway.  You can count on me, no matter what.  Don't forget that in the future.”

Daniel smiled, and he didn't miss the warning tone that had been in Jack's voice.

As they traveled up the winding mountain road, Jack had Daniel point out the area where the attack had occurred.  He even stopped the truck and had the younger man show him the exact spot where he'd been beaten.

“Jack, let's go.  I don't really want to be here,” the young man stated nervously, self-hugging.

Jack stood next to him.  “It's a ravine.  Kinda nice out here actually.  Danny, you'll never be alone as long as I'm around.  It's not the place you need to remember, it's that our friendship can beat anything, as long as we're honest with each other.”

Daniel looked at Jack for a moment, and then down the ravine.  “It's just a place,” he spoke softly.  He did a little nod, adding a small smile after a few seconds.

“Do you really believe that ... now?” Jack asked.

“No, but ... I'm getting there.”

“Good.  Let's go to work!”

====

“Sergeant, I need a favor.”  Jack approached Sergeant Bill McAtee, the man currently supervising the checkout station.  ~McAtee's a good man; he won't ask questions.~

An hour after his request, Jack held in his hand two lists.  The first was a listing of all base personnel who had been at the Mountain during the morning of the mission to Chulak.  The second was narrower in scope, detailing just those who had checked out in the late evening and early morning hours when Daniel had been attacked.

Daniel had done his best to describe the men, but he didn't know them, and they weren't wearing name tags.

~Smart guys,~ Jack had thought at the time.

The Air Force colonel compared the two lists, developing a shorter list of possibilities based on his gut instinct of the names he was reviewing.  Then, he headed for Sam's lab.

“Carter, I need a favor.”

“Yes, Sir.”  Sam blinked when she saw her commanding officer shut the lab door and locking it, something he'd never done in the past.  Saying nothing, she realized that this wasn't just the average visit when Jack covered up the security camera.  ~Holy Hannah!  What is he doing?~ she asked herself, coming to terms with the purpose of the visit apparently being very private.

“Don't get nervous, Captain,” Jack advised as he approached his 2IC's worktable while feeling a sense of uncertainty about her.  “I just need your computer finesse to tap into our system.”

~Thank goodness,~ Sam thought, unable to hide her look of relief.  Not wanting to dwell in what her mind was imagining, she asked, “Sir?”

“I also need you to trust me.”

After hearing the details, Sam took a seat in front of her terminal and logged into the appropriate systems.  Name by name, she brought up the service records and profile of the personnel on Jack's list, waiting while her CO made notes, scribbles that she couldn't see.

As he walked to the door, Jack stated appreciatively, “Thank you, Captain.  I also need you to forget I was here and not to mention this to anyone.”

“Sir, about Daniel ...”

“What about him, Carter?”

Hesitantly, the captain acknowledged quietly, “Nice makeup job, Colonel.”  She saw the stare that didn't confirm or deny.  It was very Special Ops appropriate, which in itself was all the confirmation that Sam needed.  “If there is anything else I can do to help, please don't hesitate to ask.”

Nodding, Jack replied, “SG-1 sticks together, Captain.”

“Always, Sir.”

With Jack gone, Sam looked over the list.  She wasn't positive and didn't have any proof, she'd been with Daniel earlier in the day when he'd forgotten that he had makeup on and rubbed his eye.  She also heard the soft “ouch” from the touch.  ~Go get 'em, Colonel.~

====

Later that day, an airman delivered a group of files Jack had requested to him in his office.  The colonel stopped what he'd been working on to go over the files.  He hated paperwork, but these eight personnel files were his highest priority at the moment.

~Two of you are about to be in some big dog do,~ Jack thought as he scanned the records.  ~Now, who's it going to be?~

====

Two hours later, Jack returned to Sam's lab and repeated his earlier actions.

This time, Sam wasn't panicking at all.  Instead, she made a final note on the project she was working on and then sat down in front of her main computer. Patiently, she waited for Jack to fill her in on what he needed.

“Carter, you know I can't talk about this, and you can't ask questions.”

“Yes, Sir, I understand.”

Jack handed Sam the paper on which he'd written the eight names.  By now, he'd already decided on the two he thought were responsible for Daniel's beating, but he had to be sure.

“I need a minute by minute account of what each of these men were doing on ...” Jack took out another piece of paper on which were listed dates and times, “these days in this period of time?  I need verification, Captain.”

“Yes, Sir,” Sam replied.  Aware,though, that this wasn't something she could do quickly, she advised, “It'll take me a while.  I'll have to tap into several systems.”

“That's fine, and Carter, just so you know, I don't want you to know the specifics. It's better if you don't.”

“Understood,~ Sam acknowledged as she began her secretive project.  ~I can try to ignore what I discover, but Daniel wouldn't hurt a fly.  He's a sweetheart, and some morons on this base hurt him.  Okay, Samantha, let's see what we can find.~

====

The next day, SG-1 was unexpectedly required to go off-world.  The Shavadai from Simarka were undergoing a crisis, having adjustment problems to their new way of living with women now being treated more equally.  They had requested that Sam and her team come back to meet with them before the situation worsened.  Fortunately, it was a minor flare up of the old ways, and level heads prevailed.  SG-1 returned through the event horizon only hours after having gone to the planet.

“Daniel, pizza?” Jack called out as the archaeologist was heading for the exit of the gate room.

“Okay.  Seven?”

“That works,” Jack agreed.  “You buy.”

“It's your turn, Jack.”

“I'm bringing the beer and my company!” Jack smirked, at least until he saw the disapproving look of the major general standing next to him.  The colonel coughed and opined, “Good company is worth a little effort, General.”

“Yes, it is, Colonel.  Buy the pizza,” Hammond ordered as he turned and walked away, leaving Jack alone to ponder the directive.

====

That evening, the two friends were sitting on the small balcony of Daniel's apartment home, just enjoying a leisurely evening as they ate their dinner and enjoyed each other's company.

“I think Sam noticed,” Daniel sighed and then took a couple of swigs of his beer.  ~Gawd, I hate beer,~ he thought as he swallowed one more swig.

“Daniel, Carter doesn't have time to notice anyone else's makeup,” Jack replied, noticing his friend's quizzical look.  “She's too busy trying to touch up her own.  Did you see her dab on that lip gloss on Simarka?”

The archaeologist smiled and tried not to laugh.  He had noticed her quick lip treatment in between handling the problem on the planet.

Jack reared his head back, shaking it as he mused, “She almost caused an incident.  The Shavadai are just getting used to seeing their women without veils.  I don't think they're ready for Revlon.”

This time, Daniel did laugh.

~That's better,~ Jack opined, pleased that he'd managed to get a laugh from his friend.  He picked up another slice of the supreme pizza and took a bite.  A smile began to form on his face.  “Daniel.”

“What?”

“Why did the blonde put makeup on her forehead?”

Daniel stared at Jack, trying to figure out why he'd just asked such a strange question.

“Um, I, I don't know.  Why?”

“To make up her mind.”

“To ...”

“... make up her mind,” both men said at the same time, each looking at the other as if the whole conversation was dead serious.

Suddenly, Daniel began to laugh and then he suggested, “Uh, Jack, I wouldn't ask Sam that question.”

Just as he was about to take a drink of his beer, the bottle almost at his lips, the colonel muttered, “I'll give T the honors.”

As Daniel laughed even more, Jack searched his mind for more jokes.  They didn't need to be good ones, just silly enough to tickle Daniel's funny bone.

====

Early the next morning, Daniel took a sip of coffee from his thermos before adjusting his seatbelt and starting his car. He took another larger sip before pulling out of the parking lot and heading for the SGC. The post-mission briefing about the meeting with the Shavadai was scheduled for 8 a.m., and he had some ideas to propose about the Tau'ri's future involvement with this culture. He needed a couple of hours to get them in shape for his presentation.

At 5:40 a.m., Daniel parked his car in the SGC lot and headed for his office.

A little more than two hours later, Jack arrived and spotted Daniel's car in the corner of the lot.  It was a place where the young man had never parked before.  Intrigued, he walked over to check it out.

As he got closer, Jack's blood pressure rose, as did his anger.  Daniel's tires were slashed and the windows broken.  Inside the car on the seat was a newspaper with an article about gay bashing circled.  The article covered an array of circumstances, including the military regulations. Highlighted was a quote from an anonymous soldier talking about homosexuals being abhorrent and a detriment to society.  “They should be segregated, away from mainstream society,” the source had asserted.

The message was clear.  Jack grabbed his cell phone and made a couple of calls, the first to Lou Ferretti, who minutes later joined the colonel in the parking lot.

“Holy crap, Jack.  Someone did a heckuva number on the Doc's car,” Ferretti observed as he walked around the battered car.

“Can you handle this?”

With a nod, Ferretti answered, “Sure thing, Jack.  It's doable.”

“Lou, I don't want Daniel to know about this.”

“Don't you think he'll notice the new windshield and tires?” the Italian officer questioned.

“Daniel notice his car?  He barely knows the make and model,” Jack quipped.  A second later, he pointed out, “Look, this is important.”

Ferretti knew that look.  It was his friend's Special Ops cover-up expression.  There was more to this story than a mere act of vandalism.  He didn't need Jack to say more.  It was now very obvious that someone was giving Daniel a difficult time.

“Why are you frowning?” Jack questioned curiously.

“Just remembering,” Ferretti sighed.  “We gave the Doc a hard time ourselves once upon a time.”

“He didn't deserve it,” Jack responded firmly.

“I know that, and I'm not proud of how we treated him on that first mission to Abydos.  Give me a couple of hours, and I'll have this handled on the QT.”

“Thanks,” Jack acknowledged with a nod.  “I have to get to a briefing.  Let me know when it's done.”

“Copy that.”

====

After the briefing, Jack once again slid covertly into Sam's office.  He was certain this new information would wrap up the hunt for the victimizers.  His 2IC was still finalizing her step-by-step analysis of the eight names, but had indicated it would be done soon.

Saying nothing, Jack handed the captain a piece of paper with the approximate date and time of the car vandalism.

Sam looked up, anger in her eyes.  She didn't know details, but she knew something else had happened. She nodded and made finishing her private project her number one mission for the rest of the day.  Soil samples could wait.

====

~Where'd I put ...~  Daniel's thoughts halted with the sound of the ringing telephone.  “Hello.”

“Doctor Jackson, there is a problem in the archives.  Some items have been removed, and we don't know what goes where.  Can you come down?”

“Um, okay.”

Daniel thought nothing of the fact that the caller hadn't identified himself.  As he left his office, he figured someone had probably mislabeled a container, or maybe someone had knocked over some boxes and just didn't want to admit it.  He knew the Marines assigned to work in the archives to assist with cataloging weren't very happy about the job and could easily have sabotaged or mislabeled materials in accordance with their own strange sense of humor.

Stepping off the elevator at Level 24, the archaeologist walked swiftly towards the archive room.  No one else was around.

“Hello?” Daniel called out upon entering the room.  The lights were dimmed, but not completely out.  “Hello?” he called out a second time as he took a few more steps forward.

“Here.”

Daniel looked towards the back of the room, near the rear storage shelves, where he'd heard the voice coming from.  It was a bit muffled.

“Okay, so what's the prob...” Daniel's words were silenced by a cloth being placed over his mouth.

At the same time the sound of the archive doors being closed were heard and the lights were turned off completely.

As he struggled for his freedom, Daniel was dragged between two sets of tall shelves.  In front of them, were rows of file cabinets, full of records and relics.  The inanimate objects full of treasured history in the archaeologist's view were about to be the only witnesses to the beating that was just beginning.

“We told you to leave the Mountain ... <punch in the gut> ... You didn't listen ... <hard slap to Daniel's face> ... You have seventy-two hours ... <punch in the abdomen again> ... to resign, queer ... <another forceful slap against Daniel's cheek> ... We'd advise you to pay attention because this is your ... <yet one more punch at the abdominal region> ... very ... <and another punch> ... last ... <left cross to Daniel's face> ... warning.”

With a final jab, the man who had been holding Daniel literally threw him across the floor.  He banged into the bottom of a metal shelf, artifacts falling down on top of him.  Daniel's hands automatically tried to shield his eyes, and then they gravitated to his abdomen, the pain consuming him.  He let out a moaning groan and then a gasp from the trauma his body was being handed.

~They're going to kill me,~ Daniel thought as the two men towered over him.

That wasn't the plan, though.  Working together, the two tormentors turned Daniel over onto his abdomen, pulling his hands behind his back.  He was hogtied with one of the men snugly tying Daniel's feet together with rope.  The evildoers topped it off by applying duct tape to his mouth so that he couldn't call for help.

“Maybe when your geek friends find you here, they'll get the message, too!” one of the men suggested.

The two Marines exited the room, pressing the door lock for good measure.

 ~Gawd, why me?~ Daniel asked just as he passed out.

====

“Teal'c, have you seen Daniel?” Jack asked not long thereafter as the two teammates stood in line in the mess hall.

“I have not seen DanielJackson since the briefing this morning.  Is something wrong, O'Neill?”

Jack put a sandwich and bowl of soup on his tray as he answered, “No.  He just wasn't in his office earlier.”

“Perhaps he is with one of his staff.”

“Probably.”

====

Jack flung down his phone.  He had been trying to locate Daniel for two hours.  Finally, he decided to do a silent search, working from the bottom up.  As he approached the archive section of Level 24, he didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.  He was about to head back when something stopped him.

**Gawd, Jack, I'm such a weakling.  Why have you even kept me on SG-1?**

**Daniel?**

Stunned by the sounds he'd heard in his head, the colonel spun around, searching for his archaeologist but not seeing him.  This had happened a couple of times before, times when Jack could have sworn Daniel was actually talking to him and yet he wasn't even in the room.

~Weird.  Totally weird.  I must be ...~

**Jack?  Help me.**

Jack cocked his head to the side just slightly and called out mentally, **Uh, Daniel, where are you?**

**I must be going insane.  I actually think I hear you,** the beaten scientist replied.  **Oh, well, insane or not.  Level 24, archives.**  Struggling to regain his senses, he thought, ~Gawd, I'm hearing things in my mind.~

“Daniel?”  Jack pushed on the door handle, realizing it was locked.  Using his security card, he opened the door and turned on the lights.  “Daniel?”

For a second, Jack thought he'd made a mistake, but since he was here, he decided to check the room out fully.  Then he heard a noise, a tap, like someone rapping on metal.  The Air Force colonel followed the sound until he stopped in shock.

“*Daniel*!”

Daniel had been painfully kicking his bound feet against the bottom shelf to try and get his friend's attention.

Jack hurried over to his friend and did a quick assessment of the situation.

“This is going to sting,” Jack announced before he pulled off the duct tape.

“Ow,” Daniel responded afterwards.

“Sorry,” Jack replied as he began to untie the younger man.  “Danny, did you ... call me?”

“Gawd, I don't know.”

~Maybe I'm losing it.~  Jack shook it off.  This crazy, silent communication wasn't important right now, if that's what it was.  “Who did this?”

“I don't know,” the archaeologist returned weakly.

~Why don't I believe you?~ Jack questioned internally.  “This might be a stupid question, but are you hurt?”

“My pride, more than anything else.”

“Danny, don't.  They're cowards.”  Jack finished untying Daniel and helped him up.  “We need to get you to the Doc.”

“No, I'm okay.  I let them think they did a better job than they really did.”

Jack was skeptical about Daniel's condition even as he used a handkerchief to wipe a spot of blood from the side of the man's mouth.

“It just hurt a little.  Please, Jack.  Don't make a big deal out of this,” Daniel implored.  “I have to get back to work.”

Not convinced but unable to do anything about the situation at the moment, the colonel watched his teammate walk out of the room.  He knew Daniel was struggling to stand up.

~Nice act, Danny.~  Covertly, Jack followed Daniel back to his office.  ~I guess you'll be safe enough here, surrounded by your toys.~

Reluctantly, Jack headed back to his office, all the while developing a plan.  He knew he needed to get something set into motion as soon as possible.  Another beating like this one would do severe emotional harm to his friend, and he just couldn't let that happen.

====

“Here you go, Lou,” Jack offered, tearing the check from his checkbook.

“Hey, Jack,” Daniel called out.  Then he saw Lou Ferretti and gave him a nod of acknowledgement.  “Oh, sorry.  I'm probably interrupting something.”

It was ninety minutes after Jack had found Daniel in the archives, and the older man was amazed how well Daniel was covering up his injuries.  He looked pretty good, all things considered.

~You may look okay, Daniel, but it's an act,~ Jack opined.

“How ya doin', Doc?” Ferretti asked with a smile.

“Fine, thanks,” Daniel answered, looking downward and hoping the questioning ended there.

As Jack handed Lou the check, he spoke, “Thanks for taking care of that situation for me.”

“Anytime.  Catch ya later,” the major responded, nodding to Jack and Daniel as he left the colonel's office.

“Whatcha need?” Jack asked his friend.

“Um.”  Daniel's mind was on the check.  He wondered why Jack would be giving Lou money.  Then again, he knew the Ferretti's financial status wasn't very stable at the moment.  On the other hand, Jack had thanked him for something.  ~It's really none of my business.~

“Daniel, did you need something?”

The question stirred the young man from his internal debate, and he responded, “Sorry, yes.  Um, are we still ...”

“Of course.  The game starts at 1800.  Don't be late, and don't forget the pizza.”

“We're having Chinese tonight,” Daniel corrected.

“Supreme, extra cheese, with all the works.”

“Chinese, Jack,” Daniel reiterated confidently as he walked out the door.

~Chinese isn't so bad.~  Picking up the phone, Jack made a quick call.  “Lou? ... Yeah, he's on his way out ... don't let him see you ... I owe you one.”

Jack hung up the phone and pondered the arrangement he'd set up.  After the incident on Level 24, there was no way he was going to let Daniel out of his sight, at least not until the Marines causing the problem had been dealt with.  However, there was something he needed be mindful of, and it was ultra important: Daniel's self-confidence, which was taking a definite beating.

~You're stronger than most of those goons give you credit for.  Geez, Danny, you've got more guts and courage than even you know,~ Jack thought as he leaned back in his chair.  ~But your confidence just got a whack in the behind, and if we don't play this exactly right, your self-esteem is going to sink right down the ole toilet.~

Still, Daniel needed some protection, and with that in mind, Jack had set 'Operation Don't Mess With Danny' into place.  Basically, the operation would focus like this.

While on base, a member of SG-1 would be with the archaeologist as much as possible.  Knowing that wouldn't always be natural, Sam was in the process of covertly tapping into the security system so both she and Jack could monitor Daniel's lab from their office computers at all times to make sure he didn't have any unwelcome visitors.  Of course, that meant Sam had to schedule time to teach Jack how to use this “confounded” program, as the colonel referred to it.  Computers and Jack weren't best buddies as a rule.

Jack had also enlisted the help of Lou Ferretti.  Lou would be trailing Daniel during his off base pursuits, which for the most part would mean making sure the archaeologist arrived home safely and then to Jack's house.  There might be a few trips to the market or for errands, but Jack's hunch was that his friend would be sticking pretty close to home.

The colonel would take care of ensuring that Daniel returned to his apartment safely after their evenings together and then to the Mountain in the morning.  He knew he'd lose some sleep in the process, but the truth was that he didn't care about his sleep.  He'd make up for it later.

~It'll work,~ Jack decreed before getting up to attend a meeting with General Hammond.

====

After his meeting with Hammond, Jack went to his 2IC's lab and inquired, “Making any progress, Carter?” as he walked inside.

Sam knew from her CO's expression that he wasn't asking about the UAV modifications that had been her current official assignment.

“Quite a bit, Sir.  I'm waiting for verification of one piece of information.  Once I get it, I'll correlate that ...”

“Carter!” Jack interrupted impatiently.

“I'll let you know the results as soon as I have them,” Sam promised.

“Sooner is better than later.”

“I understand, Sir.”

====

The next day, SG-1 was called into an all day briefing about protocol and procedures.  It was the kind of meeting that always had Jack yawning in his seat, Daniel mentally practicing the lesser used of his twenty-three languages, Sam calculating the distance between the last planet they had been on and Earth, and Teal'c wondering if being First Prime had really been all that bad.

The attending personnel were given only two fifteen minute breaks and a short, thirty minute lunch.  During the last break, with Teal'c on 'Daniel watch', Jack decided to head to his office to check his memos.

~Geez, it's a sad day when I think memos look exciting, but compared to this crap, they're hot tamales.~

As he approached the elevator, Jack saw a Marine.  Every vibe Jack he'd ever experienced told him that this man, the one who had stared at Daniel days ago upon returning from the Simarka mission, was one of the two men who was harassing his friend.

Jack clasped his hands behind his back as he stood next to the Marine, waiting for the doors to open.

“Elmendorf,” Jack stated.

“Sir?”

“Nice place, Elmendorf,” the colonel put forth casually, his eyes facing the closed elevator doors.

“Yes, Sir,” the confused Marine replied.

“Lonely, of course.”

“So I've ... heard, Sir.”

“Cold, too,” Jack added.  He glanced at the man and asked, “Ever considered being stationed at Elmendorf?”

“No,” the Marine answered nervously.

Jack glared at non-com, raised his eyebrows, moved his head in expectation, and challenged forcefully, “No *what*?”

“No, *Sir*!” the Marine answered smartly.

“You are aware of command structure, aren't you, Marine?”

“Yes, Sir!”

“Good.  You might want to study up on it,” the colonel suggested.

“Study, Sir?” the Marine asked, gulping at the confrontation which was occurring.

“Protocol.  Civilians.”

The elevator doors finally opened, and while Jack walked in, the Marine held his ground, having had enough of this strange conversation with Colonel O'Neill.

“Coming?”

“Uh ...” the Marine responded as he looked around, searching for a way to escape what he feared was coming.

“*In the elevator, Marine*!”

“Yes, Sir!” the man responded, entering the elevator and glancing out of the corner of his eye as Jack pressed the button for the appropriate level.

“Don't be indecisive.  You were waiting for the elevator, so you take the elevator.  A dawdling Marine is not going to make it at the SGC.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Tell me, Marine.  What's the protocol for civilians on base?” Jack questioned with fierceness written all over his face.

“Protocol, Sir?”

“Their rank,” Jack clarified.

“I ... I don't know, Sir.”

“Study up, Marine.  Elmendorf needs more personnel.”  When the Marine simply nodded in reply, the colonel barked, “*What was that*?”

“Yes, Sir!”

Jack spent the next several seconds just staring at the service man.  It was an intense stare.  His eyes didn't waver, nor did he blink.  He had this intimidation technique down pat.

The Marine prayed the doors would open soon.  He wanted out bad.  He sighed in relief when the elevator finally came to a stop and Jack exited.  Then, though, he heard the colonel whistling.  The Marine recognized the tune.  It was 'Taps'.

====

With the Protocol session finally, and thankfully, over, Jack adjourned to his office to complete some paperwork.  He made a few phone calls, ending with one to Daniel in his office.

“Pizza?” Jack asked hopefully.

“Uh, no -- Chinese,” Daniel reminded steadfastly.

“Pizza.”

“Not if you want my company, O'Neill.”

“Who said anything about your company?  I just want the food,” the older man teased.

“Right,” Daniel laughed.  ~I'm no prize.  Why is he making it sound like I am?~  The answer was clear.  It was because it was Jack, and that's how Jack made him feel.  ~Gawd, that's weird.~

“Okay,” Jack acquiesced, sounding like the world had ended, but wearing a smile that the younger man couldn't see.  “Chinese, but get a lot.  I'm starved.”

“Seven?”

Jack checked his watch and agreed, “Yeah, that's about right.  This has been the day from Hades.”

“I know what you mean.  I made it through Japanese and Swahili.  Jack, I never speak Swahili.  I had forgotten I even knew the language!”

Jack laughed, “When are you leaving?”

“Hmm ... in about ten minutes.  I need to finish this report and ...”

“Daniel!” Jack interrupted.  ~He'll never leave if he starts a new report.~

“I won't ...”

“Daniel!”

“Okay, okay,” Daniel capitulated.  “I'll leave now.”

“Thank you, Doctor Jackson.”

“Gawd, you're full of yourself,” the archaeologist asserted as he began closing the books spread out all over his desk.

“I will be when you bring the Chinese.”

“Goodbye, Jack.”

“Goodbye, Daniel.”  Immediately, Jack opened his desk drawer and pulled out a radio, like the ones the teams used off-world.  “Big Bass to Testarolo.”

“Testarolo.  What's up, Big Bass?” the voice on the other end of the radio returned.

“He's on his way,” Jack answered.  “Rendezvous is set for 1900 hours.”

“Roger that.”

“Ah, by the way, Testarolo,” Jack began.  “You'd better lose a few pounds.”

“Why's that?”

“You're a bit bulky to disguise yourself as thin crepe bread,” the colonel teased.

“Big Bass, you're living up to your handle.”

Jack looked around thoughtfully a second before responding, “No fish here, bass or otherwise.”

“It's a cover up, Big Bass.”

“Excuse me?”

“You know darn well that Big Bass is short for Big Bad ...”

“Gotta go,” Jack interrupted.  “Don't lose the target.  Clunker can be slippery when he wants to be.”

“Not a chance,” came the reply.  “Clunker won't slide through my fingers.”  Then there was a more urgent message.  “He's on the approach.  Over and out.”

Jack ended the transmission and checked his watch again.  He had a bit more time before he needed to leave to be home in time for Daniel's arrival.

~Big Bad ...~  Jack sighed.  ~Okay, Lou's right, but he did the same thing with that Testarolo business.  He wasn't thinking about bread when he chose it.~

====

A few minutes later, Sam tapped on Jack's door and walked in as soon as he looked up from his desk.

“This is for you, Sir.”

Jack picked up the envelope and opened it.  Scanning the information, he nodded.  This is exactly what he was looking for.

“Good work, Carter.”

====

“What'd you do, buy out Chang?” Jack questioned as he saw the table full of Chinese food that evening.

“You said you were hungry and to buy a lot, so I did,” Daniel replied as he poured himself a cup of coffee.  ~I'm glad he had it ready.  I could drink three cups without evening thinking.~

Patting his abdomen, Jack smiled and admitted, “Yeah, I'm hungry.  Let's eat.” As he began to dig in, he asked for no reason other than to keep the conversation going, “Is Chinese part of your repertoire?”

“My repertoire?” Daniel echoed, not sure what the other man meant.

“All that mumbo jumbo you speak,” Jack attempted to clarify, only he saw Daniel's confusion.  “Languages, Daniel.  Do you speak Chinese?”

“Oh, well, uh, that depends on what you mean by Chinese,” the linguist answered in an obtuse manner.

“Daniel, either you speak Chinese, or you don't,” Jack insisted, taking another bite of his food.  ~What this stuff needs is a good steak to go on top of.~  He frowned.  ~That ends with a preposition.  Okay, a good steak on which to top.  Awkward, but it works.~

“Not necessarily be...”

“Daniel, it's not a hard question.  Either you do or you don't.”

“Actually, Jack, it depends on ...”

“So, you don't want to tell me.”

“I'm trying to expl...”

“Yes or no?” the colonel questioned abruptly.

“Which dialect?” Daniel returned.

“Dialect?” Jack responded.  “Daniel, what are you talking about?”

“I'm trying to answer your question.”

“What did I ask?” Jack queried, having totally forgotten what the two were talking about.

“If I spoke Chinese.”

“Well, do you?”

“It depends on ...”

“Never mind,” Jack interrupted with a growl.  “Let's discuss something easier, like quantum physics.”

“Right,” Daniel replied dryly, rolling his eyes.

====

Early the next morning, Jack visited Teal'c in his quarters and advised, “Teal'c, we're having a special refresher course today with some of the troops.  I need you to do a little hand-to-hand combat training for me, and I don't want you to hold back.”

“Hold back, O'Neill?” the Jaffa asked curiously as he stood with his hands clasped behind his back.

“Let it all out, Big Guy.  These guys need a reminder that they need to stay in shape.  I want you to make them sweat -- hard.”

Teal'c stared at his CO and asked, “O'Neill, would these personnel have anything to do with DanielJackson acting strangely in the past week?”

“That's affirmative.”

“I shall endeavor to do my duty, O'Neill.  I shall not ... hold back.”

Jack acknowledged Teal'c's comment and led him to the recreation hall, where he had already ordered several SG teams to be assembled.

====

“Robinson.  Cardinale.  Front and center!” Jack ordered, his words echoing through the room.

Two of the biggest Marines on base, Deke Robinson and Kevin Cardinale, stepped forward.

With his hands clasped behind his back, Jack paced in front of the group, his eyes frequently staring down the two men as he spoke.

“I've noticed a lack of enthusiasm lately for training maintenance.  Gentlemen, in our business, we must always be in tip top shape.  As such, today we are starting a new program, a refresher,” Jack smiled at the two men, “during which your skills and endurance will be tested to the maximum.  We'll begin with hand-to-hand combat.  Teal'c will be your opponent.  Do your best.”

Though there wasn't an audible response, the military eyes told the story.  No one wanted to do battle with the large Jaffa.

Jack walked towards the large rubber mat that had been set up earlier and ordered, “Robinson, let's start with you.”

“Sir, with all due respect, I don't think ...” Robinson began.

“That's correct, Marine.  You *don't* think, you *obey*.”

“But, Sir, the Jaffa is not a fair opponent.”

“The Jaffa?  His name is Teal'c, and when you are in battle, you will have to go up against whomever is challenging you; or is it that you are afraid, *Marine*?”

Jack made sure he emphasized the service.  A scared Marine?  If Robinson didn't go through with it, he might as well resign, especially with all eyes on him as they were at the moment.

“*No, Sir*!” Robinson exclaimed and then reluctantly prepared to fight with Teal'c.

Jack nodded at his teammate, a reminder to not hold back.

For the next five minutes, the Jaffa made Robinson's life miserable, repeatedly tossing him over and onto the mat.

“Cardinale, you're next.”

The same result occurred.  Both men were knocked down, jabbed, punched, and tossed with a relentless pursuit.  They were sweating profusely while Teal'c remained calm, not the least bit out of breath.

“Round two is tomorrow at 1000 hours.  Robinson, Cardinale, I hope you'll fare better then.  This was a very poor showing. Tsk Tsk,” Jack snarked.  “Dismissed.”

As the men dispersed, Teal'c approached Jack and asked, “Did I not hold back enough, O'Neill?”

“You held back ... not ... good, Teal'c,” Jack praised, patting the Jaffa on the arm and ignoring his poorly worded response.

====

After a second day of misery in their refresher training with Teal'c, Robinson and Cardinale were ordered to yet another special training class, making it three days straight of their unique training.  This time, the two were to report to an outdoor location on the base grounds.

“What do you think he has in mind today?”

“I don't know, Deke, but O'Neill is crazy.  What was with all that hand-to-hand stuff anyway?”

“I'm so glad you asked,” Jack called out as he gut-punched Cardinale, much to Robinson's surprise.  “You really need to work on your self-defense, and so do you, Robinson,” and before the well-built Marine could move, Jack proved that with the right offensive skills, size doesn't matter.  He decked the man.  “Like I said, your skills are lacking.  We're here to remind you about certain skills.”

Robinson and Cardinale had both stood up.  They really weren't sure what exactly was happening.

With a false smile, Jack instructed, “Robinson, you're with me.  Cardinale, you're with the Big Guy here.”

Kevin Cardinale looked at Teal'c, his fear obvious.  Teal'c didn't bat an eye as he stared intently at the Marine and nodded in his traditional way.

Jack led Robinson to another area, about a quarter-mile away, talking all the way about survival skills, self-defense techniques, and offensive maneuvers in hand-to-hand combat.

“You getting all of this?” the colonel questioned.

“Yes, Sir,” the Marine lied.  He was getting nervous, not knowing why he was being singled out along with his friend, Kevin.  He wondered if the colonel had somehow found out about the attacks on Daniel Jackson.  Jack O'Neill's reputation was flashing in his mind, and the flash said 'run'.  ~He's gonna kill me.~

“Good.  Let's make sure.  I want to make sure you understand this.”

Jack proceeded to engage the man in combat, but the larger Marine was truly no match.  He made hit after hit using his special training, eventually tossing the man to the ground.  His anger grew during the training, and by the time Robinson was on the ground, Jack, full of ire, continued his attack until he willed himself to calm his nearly out-of-control rage.

“You listen to me, you no good scum.  You touch Daniel Jackson again, and I'll kill you; and I advise you to be very careful about any comments you may make in the future, about him or to him.  I  have everything I need to put you away, and believe me, I'll do it.”

“Then why don't you?”

“Respect.  I know that's a foreign concept to you, but to Doctor Jackson, it's a big deal.  He doesn't need to go through the aggravation of dealing with the likes of you.  I respect him enough that I won't let you cause him another second of worry.”

Jack's eyes were fierce with a rage that he was barely containing.  His voice was stern, firm, and very intimidating.

“This is what's going to happen.  From now on, Daniel Jackson gets your respect.  You will treat him as if he were General Hammond.  That means, you stop, salute, and wait for him to pass before you continue.  It means you make sure you don't spread your filth to another living soul ever again.”  Jack patted the man's cheeks.  “And if you do, I *will* kill you.”  He smiled in such a way that the Marine was more frightened of that look than the verbal threats.  “I promise you that should you decide to make any accusations against me, I have it covered.  Training schedules.  Oh, so sorry you fell.

“I'll be watching you.  Teal'c will be watching you, and you don't want to get the Big Guy angry.  I'll kill you, but he'll tear you limb from limb.  Now the key lesson to be remembered here is don't mess with Daniel Jackson.”

Jack got up and smiled deceptively, while the Marine was breathing heavily and nursing his wounds.

“Interesting what you can learn,” the colonel continued.  “I've learned, just for example, over one hundred ways to kill a man. I know even more ways of disposing of a body.  You know, Robinson, if I wanted to, I could easily kill you right here and now, and no one would ever know.  I have so many resources at my disposal that no one would ever find your body, or should I say, what might be left of it.  It's good to pay attention to your teachers.”

Robinson's eyes widened as Jack pulled out a dagger and began maneuvering it all around.  He couldn't recall ever seeing a weapon quite like it on base.  It definitely wasn't standard issue.

Jack took a cleansing breath as he spoke again, blowing on the knife and then wiping off a spot before observing, “Oh, looks like ... blood.”  He glanced covertly at the Marine and noted, ~Yeah, he's listening.~

“Tomorrow we'll have another session, just to make sure you've paid attention to today's lesson and that you fully understand what I'm trying to teach you.  1200 hours.  Don't be late.  Dismissed.”

Robinson backed slowly away.  Finally, he turned and ran as fast as he could until he practically ran into Cardinale, who was even paler than he.

“What happened to you?” Robinson inquired, panting from being out of breath.

“You don't want to know, Deke, but we need to talk.”

====

A few minutes later, Jack met up with Teal'c.  From their vantage point, they could see the two Marines talking and then eventually leaving the area as they headed for the safety of the inside of the Mountain.

“Any problems?” Jack asked of his teammate.

“None,” Teal' answered.  “I believe he understood my message.”  The Jaffa faced his commanding officer and, mimicking Jack, inquired, “Any problems?”

Jack smiled as he answered, “None whatsoever, T.”  He patted his friend on the shoulder and suggested, “Let's get back to work.”

====

Early the next morning, Daniel was hurrying to a briefing.  He was deep in thought, pondering being fired for being late to the briefing.  All of a sudden, a command drew his attention.

“Ten hut.”

The order was so clear and loud that the archaeologist dropped his files, having been startled by the noise.  He looked around and observed that all of the military personnel were saluting him.

“Um ...” Daniel looked around.  He was sure some big wig must be around somewhere, but there was no one else in the area except for himself, a few airmen, and a couple of Marines, all of whom were standing at attention.  Looking more closely, he recognized that the two Marines who had attacked him were among those standing still and erect.  “Um ...” he repeated nervously.

Not knowing what else to do, the archaeologist saluted, and the airmen all continued on their way.

“Let me get these for you, Doctor Jackson,” Deke Robinson offered, bending down to pick up the files.

“Thank ... thank you.”

“My pleasure, Sir.  Excuse me, Sir.”

Daniel nodded and watched in confusion as Robinson and Cardinale walked away.

~I don't understand.~

Full of confusion, Daniel continued on to the briefing room.  He looked at Jack, who was laughing at something.

Jack caught Daniel's stare and called out, “Daniel, nice of you to join us.”

“Jack?  Uh ...” Daniel turned to look into the corridor, but then the general entered and the mission briefing began.

====

Late that evening, Jack and Daniel sat on Jack's roof deck, enjoying another pizza.  They were sitting on the floor of the deck, side by side, leaning against the wall of the house.

“Jack, a funny thing happened today.”

“I love humor,” Jack responded.

“Well, this was ... pretty funny.”

“I'm all ears.”

“Two Marines saluted me,” Daniel stated, staring intently at his friend.  He went on to tell him about other incidents that occurred during the day.  No matter where he went, he was saluted and even fussed over by the Marines. “It's ... not normal.”

“It should be, Daniel,” Jack refuted.  “By the book, you're officer ranking, on par with me, in fact,” he pointed out, not changing his expression at all.  ~Nice to know they were paying attention, but maybe I shouldn't have said he's on par with me.  I might regret that one of these days.~

“Tha...that's not all,” the archaeologist admitted nervously, not responding to Jack's notation about them being on equal footing at the Mountain.

“I'm listening.”

His head bowed slightly, Daniel began, “Jack, I know I'm not ... I mean, you don't think I know much about cars and stuff, other than what you've taught me, but ... I know enough to know when I have new windows and tires, especially when the tires are about ten times better than the brand I had before and when there was a crack in the top left corner of the windshield that isn't there now, and when all the windows are suddenly tinted.  It's, uh, sort of an upgrade.”

“Funny story.”

“Jack ...”

“Daniel.”

“Jack, I ...”  Daniel swallowed hard, unable to get his words out.

“Danny, it's time to move on.  Crisis over,” Jack interrupted as he stood to stretch.

Daniel looked up at the colonel.  He'd never had a friend who'd done so much for him.  He knew Jack must have put the fear of death into those Marines.  Part of him wanted to chastise Jack for doing it, but another part of him wanted to embrace him for it.

“How about a walk, Danny?”

“Sure,” Daniel agreed, standing.

“It's a nice night out,” Jack commented as headed for the ladder.

“Jack.”  Once his friend had turned to face him, Daniel continued, “Um, thank you, and you know for what, though I ... I mean ... thank you, but ... well, Jack, I really don't want them saluting me.  Can you, uh, take care of that?”

Jack smiled as he replied, “They just needed to learn a little respect.”

“I ... appreciate that, but ...”

“I'll take care of it,” Jack interjected.

“Thanks.”

Jack smiled and turned around, intending to go down the ladder.

“Uh, Colonel.”

With a slight grimace, Jack turned around and repeated, “Colonel?”

“Where's my salute?” Daniel asked.  “I mean, if ...”

“Daniel, don't push it,” the older man warned and finally headed down to ground level.

Smiling at the stern advice, Daniel followed Jack and the two began their peaceful walk through the neighborhood, chatting about all kinds of things, except for anything concerning Marines.

====

A couple of weeks later, Sam was smiling as she entered her CO's office.

“Carter, you look like the Cheshire Cat with that smile.”

“Sir, you know how the general asked me to recommend two people to work containment at the new dumping site?”

Jack sat back in his chair and answered, “You mean that job I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy?  The one that makes peeling potatoes look ... appealing?”

“Yes, Sir, that would be the one,” the blonde affirmed.

Having a hunch where his 2IC was headed, Jack grinned and prompted, “And ...?”

“And, well, Colonel, I've given it a great deal of thought.  I've evaluated all the qualified candidates, as per the general's request.  I have spent, oh, seconds, Sir, thinking about who deserved such a position.”

Jack was about to bust out laughing listening to Sam and watching her expressions as she spoke.

“It's a very delicate job, Sir.”

“Oh, I agree, Carter.  Cleaning the dumping site and cataloguing all the ... dump ... is definitely ... delicate.  Who do you recommend?”

With a huge smile, Sam placed her official report in front of her CO.

Reviewing the recommendations, Jack praised, “Excellent choices, Carter.  Excellent.”

“You approve then?”

“Absolutely.”  Jack signed his name as Sam's CO, approving her report.  “Take this to Hammond ... right away, Captain.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Sam replied, leaving immediately to carry out her orders.  ~I love the military.~

~Way to go, Carter.~  Jack laughed hysterically, standing as he did so.    ~Ah, Danny.  The loyalty of SG-1 is amazing.  No one messes with you, my friend, and gets away with it.  Not ever.  Not ever.~

Letting out a final laugh, the colonel returned to his work.  When he looked at the clock again a little while later, it 1600 hours.

~Time to check out.~

====

A few minutes later, Jack cheerfully entered Daniel's lab and chirped, “Come on, Dannyboy, we're going out to celebrate.”

“Celebrate?”

“Celebrate.  Let's go.”

“But ...”  Daniel recognized the look.  Jack had a secret, a good one, and Daniel's work would have to wait.  There would be no escape.  Resigned to his fate, he put away his current project and walked out the door.  ~He wants to celebrate.  I have a year's worth of work to do, and because he wants to ...~

Daniel's thoughts were interrupted by the warmth of Jack's arm around his shoulder as they walked to the elevator.

“Yep, Daniel, we have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to celebrate.”

“Like what?”

The two entered the elevator, turning around to face the front.  Jack pressed the appropriate button.

As the elevator doors closed, Jack answered, “Like loyalty and friendship.  We're celebrating SG-1.”

“Oh,” Daniel responded.  “I'll go along with that.”

“We'll have ...”  Jack paused, seeing the slight cringe.  He knew Daniel was waiting for those magic words, the ones concerning the flavor of pizza they'd have.  “Chinese.”

Slowly, Daniel smiled.

“Danny, you never told me.  Do you speak Chinese?”

“Well, it depends on what you mean by Chinese.  There are multiple dialects and ...”

Suddenly, Jack put his hand over Daniel's mouth, silencing him.  Their last conversation about the Chinese language had just come flooding back to his mind.

“Let's forget I asked.”

With Jack's hand away from his mouth, Daniel responded, “Okay, Jack.”

“Okay then.”

“Jack?”

“Daniel?”

“Thanks for being my friend.”

Jack grinned and put his arm around Daniel's shoulder again as he declared, “Best friends, Danny, and that's forever.”

Daniel felt the sincerity, and right now, he believed it.  It would be a good night, one he knew he'd remember for a long time.

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