Footsteps

Author: Orrymain
Category: Slash, Angst, H/C of the mental kind, Missing Scene/Epilogue, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel  .... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  3 - June 5-7, 2000
Spoilers:  Crystal Skull, Legacy (minor)
Size:  88kb
Written:  March 17-23,25, 2004  Tweaked:  January 5, 2018
Summary:  Jack agonizes over Daniel's disappearance while Daniel despairs about finding a way home to his lover.
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!

Footsteps
by Orrymain

“Good morning, Angel.”

“Mmmm.”

“Daniel.  Time to wake up.”

“Mmmm.”

“Danny, we have to go the Mountain.”

“Comfy.”

Jack laughed.  “I am, too.  Very comfy even, but Hammond wants us to check out P7... something or other.”

“Mmmm.”

Jack smiled and kissed the top of Daniel's head.  He loved waking up with Daniel in his arms.  It made him feel grounded and secure for reasons he still didn't quite fully fathom.

The two were at Daniel's apartment.  Though Daniel had unofficially “moved in” with Jack earlier in the year, the younger man still had to maintain the pretense of living at his apartment so once or twice a week they'd spend time at the loft.

“Angel, I need to go by the house.  I'm going to take a shower.  Don't go back to sleep.”  Jack gave Daniel another kiss as he scooted out from under Daniel's hold.

“Grrmph ... mmm ...”

Jack laughed.  Daniel made a variety of noises and sounds, apparently being unhappy about losing his Jack pillow.  He wished they had time to “play” some more, but duty was calling.  Jack also wished he could let Daniel sleep.  His lover was not a morning person and as funny as the situation was, a part of him hated waking Daniel up.

Jack showered and dressed and then walked over to the bed.  He leaned over and kissed Daniel's bare back in three spots, and then gently grazed his lips over the back of his partner's neck, before giving Daniel's earlobe a brief nibble.

“Mmmm ... yes.”

Jack smiled as Daniel turned over and automatically extended his arms to Jack's neck.

“Want” was the only word Daniel said as he pulled Jack down for a long kiss.

“Whoa boy!  I want, too.  Believe me, do I want, but we have a briefing in two hours and I need to go by the house.”

“Want you.”

“And I want you, butmmmmph ...”

Forty-five minutes later, Jack once again got dressed, laughing as he did so.

“Daniel, I really do have to go by the house, and Hammond is gonna be royally pissed if we're late, so don't go back to sleep.”

“No sleep.”

Daniel was still in the “Jack Zone,” which pleased Jack's ego greatly, but as the man's CO, he was a bit worried.  “Daniel ... work.”

“Work.”

Jack set Daniel's alarm to go off in five minutes.  He adjusted it to the loud, annoying buzzer tone.  He then gave his lover another passionate kiss.  “Gotta go.  I love you.”

“Love you.  Want you.”

“Oh geez.  My Energizer bunny.  When we get home tonight, I'm all yours.  See you at the Mountain, Love.”

Jack smiled as he exited the apartment, happily whistling as he made his way downstairs and into the parking lot where his Ford F-250 truck was parked.

====

“Well, it's about time.”  Jack said when Daniel ran into the locker room.

“Why didn't you ...”  Seeing Jack's warning glare, Daniel closed his eyes, and said nothing, opting instead to go to his locker to change from his civvies into his blue BDU's.

Jack walked over to his lover, and whispered very softly into his right ear, “Because you're beautiful and sexy when you're naked and sweaty.”  Jack swatted Daniel on his rear end and barked, “Hurry it up, Jackson.  We'll be in the Control Room.”

“Jack, you are so dead.”

Jack laughed as he walked out of the locker room and headed down to meet Hammond and the rest of his team.  If the planet checked out, SG-1 would have a go for a mission that afternoon.  If not, it meant hours of paperwork.  Jack was rooting for there to be something, anything, worth exploring.

====

“This is well over a thousand meters high,” Sam spoke as she studied her computer readouts and the MALP's pictures that were being sent back from P7X-377.  As she talked, Daniel walked in and sat down next to her.

**Nice of you to join us, Love.**

**I'm not talking to you right now, Colonel.**

**Yes, you are.**

**No, I'm not.**

**Are, too.**

**Am not!**

**Then how do you explain this conversation?**

**It's not a conversation.  It's your overactive imagination.  Now be quiet, and let me work.  This pyramid is fascinating.  It's huge.  Who knows what might be there?**

The structure appeared to be Mayan.  There was a “breathable atmosphere” as Sam called it, but no signs of any significant life.  But then, Sam became more excited about the readouts.  She identified some particles called leptons.  As only Sam could do, she explained the discovery to her CO.

“... that means something inside this pyramid is slowing down neutrinos.  Normally, neutrinos pass right through ordinary matter no matter how dense.”  She continued oblivious to Jack's disinterest, “A material that slows neutrinos could change everything we know about physics, the formation of the universe.”

Jack had a headache.  He figured the “nintendos” had lodged in his brain and were pressing on it.  Maybe if he hit his head with his hand, it would dislodge them.  Jack was pulled out of his crazy thoughts by Daniel's voice.  There was an excitement in Daniel's tone that immediately got the Air Force Colonel's attention.

“That's a crystal skull,” Daniel identified the object the MALP had just zoomed in on.  “... it's exactly like the one found in 1971 in Belize ... by my grandfather.”

“Excuse me, your what?” Jack heard himself say out loud, his shock obvious to all.

“My grandfather.  Long story, not really worth repeating.”  Daniel turned to the General.  “General Hammond, we have to go there.”

“I agree, Sir,” Sam added.

“Prepare your report, Doctor Jackson.  We'll meet in two hours.”

“Thank you.”

The personnel began to exit.  Jack called out to his lover, “Daniel.”

“Jack, I don't have time.  This is very important to me.  We can talk later.”

“Your grandfather?”

“In name only, Jack.  Please, let me work.”

Jack nodded and watched Daniel hurry down the long corridor.  As he walked slowly back to his office, his hands in his pockets, Jack had a worried look on his face.  ~Don't like what I saw in your eyes, Danny.  I have a feeling I'm not going to like whatever it is you have to say about this grandfather of yours.~

====

Signing his name to yet another piece of paper, Jack grew more anxious.  He tossed the paper in his “out” bin and stood up.  He paced his office for a moment and then stood, raising his right hand to rub the back of his graying hair.

~Why haven't you mentioned this grandfather of yours before, Danny?  It can't be good.  I don't get it.  If your grandfather was alive, why didn't he take care of you when your parents died?  Why let you ...~

**Jack, shut up.  Please.**

**Daniel?  Where are you?**

**In my office.  Where else would I be?  I have work to do.**

**Yeah, but normally when we have this silent thing going on, we're closer together.**

**I don't know.  Maybe you're just ...**  Daniel didn't know what to think.  Jack was right.  Normally, their telepathic-like communication had them in closer proximity, but then again, he had decided not to over-analyze this crazy connection of theirs.  He was afraid of jinxing it. He liked this bond he had with his lover and was afraid that if he tried to explain it scientifically, it would stop happening.

**I'm worried, and I love you.**

**I know that, but I have work to do, and so do you.**

**It's not like I interrupted you on purpose, you know.  You weren't supposed to hear that.  I was just ... thinking ... silently, so I thought.**

**Well ... you're ... you're, uh, thinking too loud.**

**I love you, you nut.**

**And I love you, too.  We'll talk later.  I ... I promise.**

**Okay.  I'll try not to think anymore.**

**Shouldn't be too hard for you, Babe.**

**Cute, Daniel.**

**Thank you, Love!**

Jack shook his head and smiled.  He decided he'd return to his paperwork before he began worrying about Daniel's lousy childhood once again.

====

Finally, the briefing began.  SG-1, General Hammond, and Janet were all present.  Jack watched his lover carefully as the young man presented a slide presentation of famous crystal skulls, explaining the significance of this particular skull.

“I could name at least a dozen different crystal skulls from various
parts of the world, but the skull that Nick discovered in Belize was unique.”

Jack's hair stood on the back of his neck at the sound of the man's name.  “Nick?”

Daniel stared forward as he spoke, glancing occasionally at those gathered around the table, but his words were hesitant.

“Ah, yeah. The, uh, the great explorer, the not so great grandfather, Nicholas Ballard.  He preferred being called Nick, even when I was a kid.  It was ...” Daniel paused, not wanting to go into personal matters, and then continued in a new direction.  “Anyway, uh, the point is that no one can explain how the skull that Nick discovered was carved, from a single piece of crystal, against the grain, given the technology of the day.  He claimed that it possessed a certain ... power.”

His heart pounding at the thought of possible reactions to what he was about to say, Daniel explained how his grandfather had insisted that by looking into the eyes of the crystal skull, one would be transported to a place where aliens were.  Nick had held firm in his statements to the entire academic community.

Janet asked, “I take it his claim didn't go over very well?”

“As you might imagine, no,” Daniel answered.  “Um, he tried for years under controlled conditions to make the skull teleport him again to where the aliens lived, but he never could.”

Jack immediately jumped in, giving Daniel a firm and supportive look.  “Doesn't mean he wasn't right.”

Daniel wished he could melt into Jack's safe arms right then and there, but he knew, of course, that he couldn't.  Still, Jack's quick and steady comment gave Daniel a resolve to persevere and get through this difficult situation.  As Jack indicated, and Sam commented after, Daniel's own theory about the pyramids being built to serve as landing sites for alien ships still was laughed at in academia.

General Hammond authorized a standard recon mission to the planet and dismissed his personnel.  SG-1 would depart in ninety minutes, shortly after lunchtime.

====

As he checked over the items in his pack, Daniel heard the familiar footsteps of his lover enter his office.  He wasn't surprised to hear the door close or the lock turn.  Next, he knew he would hear the click of the security camera as Jack turned it off.  And next ... yes, that felt good.  Jack's arms wrapped around his lover and squeezed gently.  Instantly, Daniel leaned back into his partner's hold.

“You're tense, Love,” Jack observed from his touch.

“It's ... gawd, Jack.  I didn't want to think about him anymore.”

“I get that.  You never told me about him.”

“He didn't want me.  I was, uh, in his way.  He was obsessed with the crystal skull he found and the alien thing.  It consumed him.  I can't blame him, Jack.  I understand what he went through.”

“Danny, the foster care thing ...”

“Jack, no one wanted me ... well, mostly no one, but even if they had, Nick wouldn't sign the release papers.”

“Why?”

“I don't know.  I rarely saw him.  When I did, he was just passing through and mostly uninterested in anything I had to say.  He wasn't big on ... children.”

Jack could feel the tension in his lover's body and the hurt in his voice as Daniel tried to understand the incomprehensible.  Jack could not believe that a grandfather would act the way Daniel's apparently had.  “There's more to this, isn't there?”

“What's more than being there in name only?”

“I don't know, but I feel it.  Danny,” Jack turned his lover to face him.  “We don't have time right now, but we are going to talk about this in detail.”

“I know.  I'm ... doomed,” Daniel tried to smile.  He placed his right hand against Jack's heart.  “Stop worrying so much, Jack.  Nick isn't a part of my life anymore, and, uh, I guess he never really was.  But this skull, it's very intriguing.”

“Danny ...”

“I love you, too.”  Daniel kissed his caring lover, his arms reaching around Jack's neck and pulling their bodies as close together as he could.  The touch warmed his body and his soul.

Jack brushed his lips against Daniel's one more time.  Daniel gathered his things and walked with Jack to the locker room to prepare for the mission.  As they walked, Jack shot anxious glances at his lover while imagining the many ways in which he could kill Daniel's “in name only” grandfather.  Nick didn't even deserve to be remembered, and he certainly wasn't worthy of the defense Daniel was giving him.

Jack's thoughts were angry and vicious as they entered the locker room.  ~Wherever you are, Nick old boy, you'd better hope we never meet.~

====

SG-1 stood inside the enormous pyramid on P7X-377, amazed at the enormity of the structure.  The pictures from the MALP had not done justice to the dimensions of the place.  They appeared to be standing on a ledge partway up the pyramid.  A narrow walkway, or perhaps it was meant to be a bridge, barely wide enough for a single person, led to what appeared to be a circular platform and an altar.

Stalagmites rose from the black depths of the structure.  Slowly, Jack led his team across the walkway.

**Gawd, I'm glad I'm not afraid of heights anymore.**

**Just don't look down.**

**Easy for you to say, Jack.**

**Hey, it's a pyramid.  You climbed a pyramid once.  This should be a piece of cake for you!**

**Yeah, well I'd like the plate my cake is on to be a bit wider.**

**Danny ...**

**I'm okay, Jack.  The heights thing was a long time ago.**

**You sure?**

**Yeah, I'm sure.**

**Jack?**

**What?**

**I love you for caring.**

**I love you ... for being you.**

Not quite soon enough for Daniel's tastes, even if he did have his old fear of heights under control, the team stood on the stone circular platform.  As Daniel made a bee line for the crystal skull sitting on the altar, Jack looked over the edge of the platform into the black depths of the structure.

“I wonder how far down, that is?” Jack asked, both curious after his silent exchange with his lover and wanting to avoid listening to the scientific mumbo jumbo that Sam had begun to espouse.

Daniel bent down and looked into the eyes of the skull, entranced by the contours of the crystal.  As he did, Sam reported, “Radiation is spiking.”  Jack ordered a retreat, but Daniel didn't move.  Jack looked at the younger man, raising his eyebrows in concern at the lack of response.  “Daniel?”

What looked like sparks and shards of light began emanating from the skull and surrounded Daniel.  Acting on instinct, Teal'c pulled out his zat and fired.  Instantly, the light sparks disappeared, along with Daniel.

“Where'd he go?” Jack asked.  His heart stopped.  He couldn't believe his eyes.  One minute his soulmate was there, just a few feet away, and now ... now he was ... where?

**Daniel, answer me!**
 
The lack of response from Daniel to his silent scream of anguish only increased the fear coursing through him.

“He seemed to disappear,” Teal'c answered.  The Jaffa seemed as stunned as the other two members of SG-1, which Jack didn't find reassuring at all.

“Sir, these readings are off the scale now.  If we don't leave here soon …”  Sam collapsed mid-speech as the radiation overwhelmed her.  Jack picked her up and ran back towards the pyramid exit and the Stargate, yelling for Teal'c to follow.  He had a responsibility to his 2IC, but as he ran, he knew he'd be back.  Daniel was here, inside the pyramid, and Jack would find him.  He had to.  Daniel was his life.

They ran through the Stargate and collapsed on the ramp.  Jack could see General Hammond talking to them but couldn't make out the words.  Not only was he feeling the effects of the radiation, he felt like someone had just ripped out his heart.  As he struggled to answer Hammond, he lost consciousness.
 
====
 
“He's coming to, Sir.”  Jack recognized Janet Fraiser's voice, and as he opened his eyes his memory came flooding back.
 
“Carter?  Daniel?”
 
~Oh, gawd, no.  I remember.  He disappeared.  Danny!~  Jack tried to move.  He had to go and find his lover.  Unfortunately, his body didn't seem willing to co-operate with his mind.  As he listened to Janet's explanation of his physical condition, all Jack knew was that he needed to get better soon so that he could find Daniel.
 
====

Daniel awoke.  **Jack?**  He got up, still feeling a little groggy, but assuming his teammates were nearby.  He called out to Teal'c, who had returned to the planet to retrieve the crystal skull for study.

“What happened?  Where is everybody?” Daniel asked.  Teal'c ignored him, turning and heading towards the exit.  Daniel was shocked at what happened next, as Teal'c began his return trip to the Stargate.  “You just ran right through me.”

The young man was frightened.  He had no idea what had occurred, and Jack was nowhere in sight.  **Jack?  Jack, where are you?**  Silence.  Seeing Teal'c running across the walkway, Daniel tossed his pack over the side of the platform and ran after his friend.

Daniel walked through the Stargate, just making it through before the event horizon was shut down.  He shouted up an angry “Hey,” at nearly being killed by an early closure, not fully yet accustomed to his current state of invisibility.

Meanwhile, Jack was in agony as he waited for Teal'c's return.  He felt lousy.  He was hot and weak, and his heart had stopped beating.  It didn't matter that Janet said he was alive, inside he was dead.  Until he could see Daniel, feel him, kiss him, Jack O'Neill would be living his life much like a mechanical robot.

**Danny?  Where are you, Love?  I need you.  You were there, and then you just ... Where'd you go, Angel?  Come back to me, Danny.**

====

Teal'c handed the crystal skull to Sergeant Siler, and the General ordered him to take it to Lab 3C where Robert Rothman was waiting to study it.  Teal'c was surprised Hammond gave that particular order.  “Major Carter will also want to study it.”

“As soon as she's fully recovered,” Hammond responded, causing Daniel to grow more concerned.

“Recovered from what?  What happened?”  Daniel stood for a moment, shocked.  He was invisible, and Sam was hurt?  What about Jack?  Fear consumed him, but he was relieved when he heard Teal'c talking to another Marine they had met en route to the infirmary.  Jack was fine.

**Jack, do you hear me?**

Daniel was disappointed at the silence, but soon he'd see his lover.  They walked into the infirmary, and for a moment, Daniel forgot he didn't have to play the game of being “just” a friend.  Glancing towards Jack's bed, Daniel walked to Sam's bed, genuinely concerned.  From what he had heard, Sam was worse off than Jack.

Hearing Jack bellowing for Janet, Daniel knew his lover was safe.  That was Jack's special bellow, the aggravating, “I want out of here and leave me alone” bellow.  His body might need more time to heal, but Jack was fine.

Feeling reassured about that, Daniel turned around, facing the entrance to the infirmary and continued to work on the puzzle of what was happening to him.  He heard Teal'c and Jack talking about the situation, commenting that the skull was not a weapon, but still not sure what exactly it was.

Daniel's soul smiled as he heard the next exchange.  When Teal'c told Jack about Rothman studying the crystal skull, Jack's immediate response was, “Rothman couldn't figure out an ashtray. The guy we need working on that skull is Daniel.”

**Thank you, Love, for the support.  I'm, uh, still not used to people believing in me like that.  Why can't you hear me, Jack?  I want you to hear me.**

Daniel watched as Janet and Teal'c left the room.  Sam was still asleep.  The young man walked over to Jack's bed and sat on the edge.  He leaned over to touch his lover, but his hand went right through Jack's head.

**Oh, gawd.  I can't touch you.  Jack, I can't even touch you.**

Daniel felt lost.  Nothing made sense, and now he felt like he had just punched in the stomach.

**Jack, please hear me.**

Jack's eyes were closed.  He hadn't reacted to Daniel's silent thoughts at all.

“Jack.  JACK!”  Sadly, Daniel stood up.  He stared at the bed.  “Someone explain why I can sit on the bed, but I can't touch my lover.  That doesn't make any sense.  I can stand on the floor, and it's solid, but Teal'c can walk right through me as if I wasn't there.  I don't understand.  Jack?  I need you.  I ... I miss you.”

Daniel decided the solution wasn't in the infirmary and that the sooner he could get his friend Robert focusing in the right area of research, the quicker he could touch, and keep touching, his partner in life.  Thus, Daniel headed for Lab 3C.

====

“Okay, you can do this Robert, I know you can,” Daniel encouraged. “Focus on the Mayan legends -- the lost pyramids of Belize, the Ballard Skull -- that's where the answer is.”

“Well, it's a crystal skull.”  Rothman nervously responded to General Hammond's inquiry about the artifact.  Daniel listened as Robert made the connection between this skull and the Ballard Skull.

“We believe it to be a teleportation device,” Teal'c informed the archaeologist.

“Are you serious?”

“That’s good, Robert.  Be skeptical,” Daniel encouraged his friend. Maybe Robert really would figure this mystery out.

“We were hoping your archaeological expertise could help provide insight into where he may have been sent.”

“It’s a skull!”

“Not that skeptical,” Daniel said, closing his eyes in despair.

Daniel felt deflated.  Robert Rothman was very intelligent and knew his craft well, but he didn't have Daniel's genius, and it showed.  He just couldn't think outside the box like Daniel could.  Hammond ordered Rothman to continue his work, demanding a report within 12 hours.  Rothman saw a pink slip in his future, certain that he was soon to be fired.

Daniel left the lab.  He headed for the infirmary, but Jack wasn't there.  “Where is he?  Janet?  JANET?”  Daniel panicked.  No one had said anything about Jack being released, and Sam was still sleeping.

The young man ran through the corridors of the SGC.  He went to his lover's office.  It was empty and showed no sign of Jack's presence recently.  Daniel spun around.  “Locker room,” he thought desperately.

The need to see Jack suddenly overtook all other fears.  He ran as fast as he could, zipping through walls.  “Whoa, that feels weird.”

Daniel walked through the door of the locker room and closed his eyes in relief.  Jack was there, taking a shower.  Daniel smiled.  He was a ... voyeur, and loving every minute of it ... for a minute.

He walked over to Jack who was standing motionless under the downpour of the showerhead.  Water passed through Daniel.  “That is really weird.”

Daniel reached out to touch Jack, but once again, his hand passed through the older man's body, so this time, he just grazed his lover's cheek.  Jack's eyes darted open.  “Jack, I'm right here, Love.  I'm trying to find my way home ... to you.  I just ... I don't know how, Jack.  I'm so scared.  I love you.”

Daniel felt the tears welling up in his eyes.  “Can you ... feel me, Jack?  At all?  Anything?”  Daniel let his hands glide down his lovers body.  He longed to feel Jack's skin, but he couldn't.  He closed his eyes, letting his mind take him back to the morning, before the mission, when they had made love.  He'd felt Jack then.  He felt him now.

Jack's chest was rising and falling rapidly as his breathing quickened.  “Danny?”

“I'm here, Jack.  I'm here.”

Jack shook his head, sure he was losing his mind, which didn't matter if he had lost Daniel.  He reached his hand through his invisible lover to turn off the shower.

Daniel stuck close to Jack, watching him dress.  He didn't watch with lust of the body, but lust of the union, the union of their hearts and souls.  He could see the despair Jack was trying so hard to cover up.  He recognized all too well the mechanical movements of his lover that indicated Jack had shut himself off from everything, relying on his 'Colonel' persona to get him through this nightmare.

“I'll keep trying, Love.  I'll never stop trying to find my way home.”  Daniel promised.

====

SG-1 was gathered in the control room, meeting with General Hammond and Janet.  Daniel had willed himself to a position atop some of the large computers.

~I just don't understand this, but it's kinda fun ... but what good is fun without Jack?  He'd love this.  He'd be like a kid in a candy store doing who knows what to whom.  Yeah, he'd love this.~  

Daniel thought silently some more about Jack's childlike characteristics and the fun he could have, but then he realized the truth.

~No, you wouldn't like this.  Maybe for five minutes, but it's lonely here, Jack.  You're right there, and yet I'm so alone.  I want you to hold me.  I ... I want to kiss you.  It's cold here, wherever here is.~

The chatter of his friends drew Daniel from his silent despair.  A UAV was being launched to search the pyramid for any signs of the archaeologist.  Jack was desperate to go back to the planet, but Janet was afraid of the potential harm from the radiation, and the General didn't want to risk any of his personnel, including Jack, without something more concrete to go on.  The group was still groping for answers.

“I can't believe I'm gonna suggest this, but what about Daniel's grandfather?” Sam asked.  “... He claimed that the skull teleported him somewhere.  He may be the only person who actually knows where Daniel is.”

“I'm not so sure, Major.  I've already taken the liberty of looking him up.”

Daniel was mortified by Janet's comment.  “Oh, you didn't.”

Janet continued, “His current address is a psychiatric institution in Oregon.”

Jack was surprised.  “Psychiatric?”

“Apparently, his failure to prove the crystal skull was more than just a curiosity caused a severe mental breakdown from which he's never been able to fully recover.  Nick checked himself in.”

“Why wouldn't Daniel have told us that?”

“Oh, yes, by the way, he’s insane,” Daniel said from his perch atop the machines.  Not the easiest thing to tell people.  Daniel looked at Jack.  He knew Jack was going to make him talk about this when he finally got home.  His dread was short-lived, however.  He'd gladly spill his guts to be visible again.

~Danny, why didn't you ever tell me this?  More pain, that's why.~  Jack's blood pressure had risen with the thoughts about Nick's abandonment of Daniel, but he had to put that aside for now.  His focus had to be on doing whatever he could to find his missing lover.

Janet explained that Daniel had been a regular visitor at the institution up until joining the program.  Daniel listened incredulously.  He and Nick had had yet another big fight, and this time, Nick had thrown Daniel out, yelling at him to never come back.  Daniel was honoring his request, adding another suitcase to the nasty baggage that was Daniel's life.

Janet's next words shocked Daniel out of his miserable recall.
“Apparently, Nick still talks about him all the time.”

“He doesn't want anything to do with me,” Daniel retorted in utter disbelief to his friends who had no clue he was in the room with them.

“The doctor I spoke to says any friends of Doctor Jackson's are welcome.”

Daniel couldn't believe his ears.  Nick could barely tolerate his grandson.  He had rejected not only Daniel the child, but Daniel the scholar.  Why would he welcome friends of Daniel's?  It made no sense, but SG-1 was given a “go” to visit the institution and learn what they could from Nicholas Ballard.

====

Jack went to his office to make a couple of calls before the team left for Oregon.  On the way, he stopped by Daniel's lab.

~It's too quiet in here.~  Jack picked up a small statue.  They had found it on some planet that had more trees than Jack had ever wanted to see in one place, but it also had one heck of a burial site.  Daniel had had a ball for eight days exploring and excavating the area before Hammond had pulled the plug, insisting SG-1 had more pressing matters to attend to.

Jack had given Daniel much grief over the “boring” time on the planet, but inside, the older man had been tickled pink.  Daniel had been excited and enthused, more so than he had been since Sha're's death a little while before the mission.  Jack suspected it had given his lover a bit of renewal.

~I need you, Danny.  Come home to me.~  Jack sighed and stared at the statue a moment longer.  Then, very gently, he put it down, his fingers still tracing its shape after he had put it on the shelf.

“Come home to me,” he whispered softly.

“I'm trying, Jack.  Gawd, I'm trying.  Nick has to have the answer.  Make him trust you.  And ... and, Jack, you have to trust him.  I don't ... I don't know the answer, my love.  But I know it has to be here ... somewhere.”

Jack took another deep breath and then left the room, going to his office to make the calls and then meeting up with Sam and Teal'c for the ride to the airport.

Sam and Teal'c sat on the right side of the plane, and Jack on the left.  He stared blankly out the window.

“He will be fine, MajorCarter.”

Sam started, unprepared for the Jaffa's words.  “Oh, I ...”

“You are worried about O'Neill.”

“And Daniel.”

“As am I.  O'Neill will be himself again once DanielJackson returns.”

“And what if we don't get him back, Teal'c?”

“That is not an option, Samantha.  As O'Neill says, there is always an 'or' and we will find it and bring DanielJackson home.”

Sam smiled and sat back, staring out her own window.  She missed her friend terribly.

Across the aisle, Daniel sat next to Jack.  “Jack, it's going to be okay.  I don't know how, but it will be.  It has to be.”

Daniel leaned his head over to rest against Jack's shoulder, but instead he fell through Jack. “OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.  I HATE THIS.  DO YOU HEAR ME, JACK?  I HATE THIS.  I ... I HATE THIS, JACK!  I .. I hate this.  Gawd,” Daniel sank into the seat and yelled, “WHY CAN I FREAKIN' SIT ON A SEAT, BUT NOT TOUCH JACK?  WHAT KIND OF SICK EXISTENCE IS THIS?  IT'S NOT FAIR!”

Daniel tried to calm himself.  He wondered if he tried hard enough, willed it strong enough, if Jack might feel his presence, but no matter what he did, Jack remained staring out the window, saying nothing until the plane had landed.

====

The trio, and their invisible teammate, were met by an Airman who transported them to the institution.  Jack was again silent as they drove through the city streets.

~I don't know what to do, Danny.  I can't stand this.  I'm used to action, to dealing with things by ... doing something.  What am I supposed to do?  How can I fight to save you when I don't even know where you are?  It's like ...~  Jack closed his eyes.  ~It's like that time when they locked you up in that padded room.  I didn't know how to fight that, Love.  I didn't know how to save you, and I don't know how to that now, either. I feel so empty, Angel.  I feel so empty.~

====

As SG-1 waited for permission to talk to Nick, Daniel followed a nurse into Nick's room.  He stood there, staring.  He felt so many things that he couldn't even process the emotions.  This was his mother's father.  His mother had been so caring, so loving.  Daniel had been her pride and joy -- her little Pharaoh.

How could Nick have abandoned Daniel to a life of foster families, rarely even calling to check on his welfare?  How could he have let his own daughter's little boy rot away in abusive home after abusive home?

At that moment, more than anything, Daniel wanted to feel Jack's loving arms around him.  He was always safe in Jack's arms, and right now, Daniel ached for the security of his soulmate's hold.

“Hi, Nick.  Long time no see.”  Daniel knew Nick couldn't hear him.  He wondered if that wasn't a good thing.  In truth, Daniel didn't know what he wanted from Nick now ... except for help in returning to his home, to his Jack.

Daniel knelt down.  “Nick, I need your help.  Friends of mine want to ask you about the skull you found in Belize. Tell them everything ... just trust them.”

Jack came in and began to talk to Nick, who went right to the heart of the matter; that is, the matter important to him.  “Daniel followed in my footsteps.”

~You idiot.  He followed in the footsteps of his parents.  You know, YOUR DAUGHTER and her husband?  They loved him.  Your daughter must be ashamed of you for letting her son suffer through the abuse he did.  Geez, I could kill you with my bare hands.~

“You must be very proud,” Jack choked out verbally.

“He made a fool of himself,” he said in a dismissive tone.

“Oh yeah, here we go,” Daniel responded.  It was a painful place for the young man in any phase of existence.  Daniel retreated into the background, taking a self-hugging stance near a window in the corner of the room.  He'd heard this diatribe many times before, and the ache from his grandfather's rejection never lessened.

~I have news for you, pal.  He's a friggin' genius, and someday, the world is going to know that his theory was right.  I'll see to that myself, if I have to.~  Jack's anger inside his calm mask was on the verge of boiling over.

Nick continued, “He staked his entire academic career on this belief that ... that the great pyramids of Egypt were made by aliens.”

“Yes, well that's ...”  ~the gospel truth.  Geez, you laughed at him, didn't you?  Your own grandson and not even you listened to him.  Did you?~

“He was more insane than I was,” Nick said rather smugly, then continued to ramble.  “I told him so.  I told him to forget all that nonsense.”

“Uh, it wasn't nonsense, I was right,” Daniel said from the corner, near the window he had been leaning against.

~Nonsense?  It's a good thing you're insane.  It might be the only thing that'll keep me from making you feel every ounce of pain you, yes, you, inflicted on my lover.~

Almost without missing a beat, Nick talked more.  He seemed to enjoy listing Daniel's various failures.  “He lost his apartment, his research grant; he hasn't published a paper in two years.  Now where is he? Where is he now?”

Jack was angry, but used his military training to maintain a strong exterior.  He'd play along for a while.  If Nick had any clue about what had happened to Daniel, Jack couldn't afford to make the senior citizen angry.

Sam answered Nick's question.  “In a way, that's what this is all about. We wanted to hear exactly what happened to you back in '71 when you first found the skull.”

“Nothing happened.  There were no aliens.”

“Trust them, Nick,” Daniel urged.

“No one believed me.”

Jack stated, “Daniel believed you.”

“Oh, no, no, no, don't.  Don’t.”  ~Wrong thing to say, Jack.~

Nick refuted the statement, but added, “He wanted to.  He did listen.  In the end, he did not believe in my theories of the skull just as I did not believe his theories of the pyramids and the aliens.”

From his corner spot, Daniel spoke the acknowledgement.  “I guess we both were right.”

Daniel felt the irony of that reality, that both he and his grandfather had suffered similar fates with academia, a world they both cherished, and yet, instead of supporting each other, helping each other, the two fought and were more adversaries than relatives.

Jack told Nick about finding a skull, and Nick refused to help unless he was taken to see it.  Sam explained it was a classified facility, but Nick threatened, “If you don't, then I won't tell you anything.  It is up to you.”

~Blasted idiot.  Geez, you are just like Daniel -- stubborn to the core.  But unlike you, he doesn't have a selfish bone in his body.  I can't believe you are willing to hold your own grandson hostage just to get your own way.  Fine, you win.  I'll do anything to try and get my angel back, but so help me, old man, you play games with me, and I'll play games with you  ... and Nick, I won't lose.~

“Carter, arrange to get him out of here ... now.”

“Sir?”

“You heard me.”

“What about ... the General?”

“I'll deal with him.”

**You're doing the right thing, Love.  Nick is our only hope.  Can you hear me, Jack?**

Daniel sighed at the lack of response while Jack sulked silently in a chair as they waited for Nick's release.  It took all of Jack's inner strength to avoid challenging Nick about his treatment of Daniel.  To avoid strangling the man, Jack kept his hands clasped together and his eyes focused on the wall and away from Nick.

====

~Okay, O'Neill, buck it up.  Hammond isn't going to be happy with you, but you had no choice.  Ready?  Let's go face the music.  Be sharp.  You'll need to be.~

The Major General wasn't very thrilled with the second-in-command of the SGC bringing a civilian residing in a psychiatric institution to Cheyenne Mountain, but somewhere inside, he understood Jack's desperation.  Truth be told, he felt a little of it himself.  He had begun to look on Daniel as a son, and was well aware that without the civilian archaeologist, the SGC would be a very empty place.

~He's reaching for straws, but if there were ever a straw worth reaching for, it would be the one that would bring back Doctor Jackson. Those two are close.  I've seen it.  They are different men, and both have strong, conflicting personalities, but I've rarely had the privilege to serve with two such honorable and brave men before.  I'll cut the Colonel some slack, and pray that somehow, this man can pull off a miracle and help us bring back the most valuable member of the SGC.~

After their “discussion,” Jack exited Hammond's office.  Daniel remained for a moment.  He had something he wanted to say.  As he stood, the General's phone rang.

“General, I know you can't hear me, but thank you.”

Daniel knew he should leave, but the General's current conversation had lured him in.  It was the General's youngest granddaughter.

“Kayla, sweetheart, this is Grandpa.  Isn't this past your bedtime? ... You lost another tooth?  Well, you put it under your pillow tonight.  I bet your big sister Tessa wishes she lost a tooth ... I'd love to come to see you in your school play tomorrow night, sweetheart, but can't ... Well, a very close friend of mine is lost, and he needs my help ... Yes, he's a very close friend ... I hope so, too.”

Daniel was flooded with emotions as he heard the conversation.  He felt envy for the young children.  For a moment, he let himself feel self-pity. “Why couldn't my grandfather be like that?  Why couldn't he comfort me when I lost a tooth?  Why couldn't he come and see me ... do anything?”

That place was too painful for Daniel.  He could feel years worth of tears fighting to get out so he did what he had always done and blocked it out.  He focused on another emotion.  The General had called him a close friend.  He had sounded sad, invested in the life of Daniel Jackson.

Even now, after three years with the SGC, Daniel still felt out of place.  He was still searching for a way to make a contribution.  Incredibly, he continued to suffer from the illusion that he hadn't made a difference.
Thus, Hammond's words were like an explosion, not unlike Jack's words in the infirmary when the older man had placed so much faith in Daniel's abilities.

He had to escape, so Daniel left the General's office.  He wasn't sure where to go, so he went to the only place he could go -- Jack's office.

Jack was seated behind his desk.  His arms were on the surface, his head buried in them.  He shook his head from side to side and whispered, “Danny.  Come back to me.”

“I'm here, Jack.  Gawd.”  Daniel was more upset than ever.  He wanted to comfort his soulmate, but didn't know how.  “Jack, let's go fishing.  When this is over, let's ... leave for a while.  I want to go fishing, Jack.”

“I hate this, Danny,” Jack talked into the desk.  “I have to go through the motions.  Everything seems so difficult to do.  My head hurts, Danny.  Everything hurts.  I can't live without you, I just can't.”

“Jack, this is so frustrating.”  Daniel struggled to touch his life partner again.  He still didn't succeed, but he didn't go through him this time.  “Jack,” Daniel traced the back of Jack's head, “I love you.  I love you so very much.”

Jack's phone rang.  Saying only “Okay,” Jack stood and walked out of his office.  Daniel followed and realized they were headed for Lab 3C where Robert was studying the skull brought back from the pyramid.

In the lab, Nick was fascinated by the crystal skull.  He agreed it was just like the one in Belize.  He began to talk about the incident when he had been teleported to the place where the aliens were.  Teal'c and Sam tried to get Nick to pinpoint where he had been taken to.

“Nowhere on this Earth,” Nick answered.  “It was so enormous that ... that the light of my torch never reached the bottom.”

“Yes, but how did you get there?” Daniel asked, apparently still invisible to everyone.

“I don't know how I got there.  A field of energy surrounded me, and suddenly, I was simply there.  And then they came.”

“They?” Sam asked.

“The giants.”

“Giants?”

“The giant aliens. They rose up as if they were made of mist; they flew around me like specters.”

Daniel sighed and spoke, “Now you know why no one believed him.”

Nick continued, “And then they spoke, 'Uy ah ual ing ual ing wetail.”

Robert stated, “That's Mayan ... the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Daniel asked himself as much as anyone else, “But what does it mean?”

“I was afraid to answer.  I just closed my eyes, and suddenly, I found myself back again under the temple in Belize, and the ground was shaking as if an earthquake, and I just grabbed the skull and ... and climbed out, and everything collapsed.”  Moments later, Nick added, “I spent years trying to find it again but it was as if the temple never existed.”

Sam asked, “So I guess you couldn't take us there either?”

Nick answered with a lament that silenced all present for a moment, “Can you imagine what it feels like to go on the most incredible journey of your life and have no one believe you?”

Jack's inner voice didn't hesitate for a moment.  ~And can you imagine what it's like to watch your parents die a cruel and bloody death in front of your eyes and then turn around and be abandoned by your only living relative?  Can you imagine that, Mister Ballard?  Can you imagine how that felt to that innocent eight year old child who wanted and needed only love?  You make me sick.~

Jack felt himself welling up with anger.  He needed to escape from Nick's presence before he did something that would result in his court-martial for sure.  Jack knew he needed to remain calm, but he had just about exhausted his supply for the week.  Daniel had been gone too long, and Jack's worry was growing by the second.  He feared he might never see his lover again.

At the same time, Sam wondered about this man.  ~I don't understand. Daniel never mentioned having family.  He was in foster homes.  Why would he have gone through that if his grandfather was alive?  I don't know very much about Daniel's childhood, but the little he has shared with me hasn't been pleasant.  How could any sane person let a child grow up the way Daniel did if they had the power to stop it?  I must be missing something.  Nick seems nice enough.  Maybe I don't know everything.  Gee, I pray I don't know everything.~

And by the door, Daniel had his own thoughts.  ~Oh, yes, I know what it's like, Nick.  I've been laughed at now for years.  I do know, but I promise you this.  I will never let that laughter destroy me the way you did, and ... I'll never destroy the life of a child because someone doesn't believe my theories.  Yes, Nick, I do know what it's like not to be believed ... or loved.  Do you even know what love is?~

Daniel looked at Jack with longing and desire.  This time, when he continued his thoughts, he spoke his words out loud, proud of the man he was speaking about.

“Love.  That man right there ... he's love.  It's amazing how he fills me.  He drinks me up like I'm his nourishment, and ... I know he's mine.  Jack is love.  My love.  He's also a little ... possessive.  He gets very angry when he knows I hurt.  And I hurt, Nick.  Right now, I'm hurting a lot.  You could learn from Jack, Nick, but for your protection, I'd advise you to stay away from him.”

Seeing Jack and Sam walk out, Daniel didn't miss a beat in following.  He felt hope when he was near his soulmate.

====

“Going home, Carter?”

“Just for a few hours, Sir.  You?”

Jack gave her a rueful smile.  “Home is ... I don't know where, and until I do, there's not much point in leaving the Mountain.”

“Daniel's grandfather might have the answer.  I mean, it's obvious he knows something about the skull and the planet.  He described the cavern perfectly, Sir.  He had to have been there.”

“Ah, giants?”

Daniel thought out loud, “Yes, that's weird, I admit.”

“Somebody built that place,” Sam commented.

Jack felt sad as he spoke.  “Doesn't help us.”

Daniel made a realization as he stood by his lover and his friend at the elevator doors.  “But if he really was transported to P7X-377, maybe the skull was trying to send me somewhere, and something interrupted the process.”

~That has to be it, Jack, but how can I tell you.  What ... what is it we need to do?~

Sam held open the elevator doors for a moment.  “You get the feeling Daniel's still around?”

“We have to go back there,” Daniel said, knowing now that the answer was back on the planet, on finishing the process that had begun and been interrupted somehow.

“Kinda,” Jack answered Sam's question.

The blonde smiled.  “I guess it's 'cause we miss him.”

Daniel didn't have time for the sentimentality.  He'd collapse into Jack's arms later, but first, he had to get back to the planet and reverse whatever had happened to him.  “And we have to talk to those giant aliens,” he spoke aloud, though no one could hear him.

Jack was afraid if he answered with emotion, he would lose it on the spot.  He was barely holding on.  So, Jack did what he always did to survive.  He used his dry wit when he responded to his 2IC's mushy moment about missing Daniel.  “Or radiation sickness?”

She wasn't fooled, knowing how Jack used humor and sarcasm to cover his pain, but she let it go and smiled again.  “Good night, Sir.”

~Goodnight, Sir?~ Daniel thought incredulously.  The archaeologist couldn't believe that they were going to bed.

“Wha...That's that's it?  Whatever happened to working through the night?  I'd do it for you.”  

Daniel stood stunned in the corridor.  He had, in fact, worked through the night many times to save his lover.  His immediate thoughts went  to the Antarctica and Edora incidents where sleep was a totally foreign concept to the young man.

Daniel wanted to strangle his lover.  For the first time since this whole incident began, he became angry with Jack.  ~As soon as I get back to normal, I might just strangle him myself.~  Daniel headed for Jack's office.  He wanted answers, and most of the time, Jack simply settled in on the sofa in his office when he had to stay over instead of using a VIP room.

Daniel walked into Jack's office.  He had been shocked at his lover's conversation with Sam, about them calling it a night, and then he had become angry, and hurt at the thought that Jack could apparently stop working on trying to solve the puzzle that kept Daniel invisible.  But now, Daniel was horrified, not in a frightened way, but in a despairing kind of way.  His heart ached for the man he loved.

Hunched in a corner of his office, speaking in barely a whisper, Jack desperately said, “Footsteps, Danny.  I need to hear your footsteps, need to see your blue eyes, need to feel your hands.  Footsteps.”

Daniel recognized the position.  It was like one he had taken in that padded cell last year.  He thought his heart would crumble into a thousand pieces watching Jack, knowing how desolate the older man felt.  There was no one there to help Jack, and Daniel felt so distraught.

“Jack, I'm here, in front of you.  Look at me, Love.  Feel me, in your heart and your soul.  Oh, Jack,” Daniel whispered.  He needed the communication of touch.  He had to touch Jack somehow.  ~He needs me.  Please let me help him.~

“Shhh, my love.  Somehow, I don't know how exactly yet, but ... but somehow, I'll find my way home to you.”

Daniel knelt down to the floor.  He focused only on the love that he and Jack shared.  This was important.  They had to connect in this moment.

“Listen to me, Jack.  Look inside your heart.  I'm there.  You know I'm there.”  Daniel reached out with his right arm, placing it across Jack's hunched back.  He leaned down, determined to be felt and to feel, and placed a kiss on the fine strands of Jack's silver-gray hair.

“Feel me, my silver fox.  You're so sexy, Jack.  I love you so much.  This separation won't be long.  I have to get back to the planet.  That much, I know.  Jack ... my Jack.  Shhh.  I've got you.  I'm here.”

As if he were a magical blanket, Daniel held his lover close.  His focus was strong, his need even stronger.  He whispered in his soulmate's ears words of love and want.  “I love you, and we're going to be together.  You promised, Jack.  Forever, you promised.  I want that forever.  I've ... relied on it for a long time now.”

Daniel leaned his head against Jack's.  He was getting better at hugging someone whom he couldn't physically feel, and then, Daniel made a decision.  “Maybe ... maybe that's why Teal'c seemed to sense me.  It's a funny feeling, Jack, but I ... I want to feel you.  I need to feel you.”

Daniel took a breath in the phase of life he was living in, and then he simply merged with Jack's body, totally assuming Jack's hunched position in the corner of the room.  He closed his eyes.  He stayed as long as he could.  It felt ... intense.

The longer they stayed as one, the more intimate it seemed to get.  Daniel could feel Jack's aftershave.  It was the first scent of his “real” self that he had noticed.  And then he ... “Wow, Jack.  Gawd, your knee hurts, Love.”  Daniel could feel the ache of the knee on which Jack had already had one surgery.  Daniel mourned the pain and yet welcome the sensation of feeling something.

It took all his strength to remain merged with Jack, but he did it for as long as he could, until finally, he rolled out of Jack's body, onto the floor, struggling to catch his breath.

Jack's head shot up.  His tear-laden eyes darted around the room.  “Daniel?  Danny?”

“Here,” Daniel gasped, reaching out his hand to Jack's left leg.

“What the heck was that?”  Jack shifted, slowly and carefully standing up, his hands walking up the wall as he moved.  His face was wet from his tears.

Daniel had been shaken, but he was able to stand now.  He stood in front of his lover.  “It was me.”

“Daniel?  Where are you, Danny?  I ... I felt ... something.  Geez, my brain hurts.  What'd you do?  Download your brain into mine like that darn Asgard machine?  I ... Danny, I smell your cologne.  It's that fancy stuff I gave you a few weeks ago.  Geez, I think I'm losing my mind.”

“No, Jack, it was me.  We ... we merged, Love.”

“Footsteps,” Jack's cracked voice said.  He was sure he was going insane.  “The sound of footsteps.  Need to hear your footsteps.  Need to feel you.  Come home to me, Angel.”

Jack's voice trembled and cracked.  His eyes darted around the room in search of the man who was his heart, part of him expecting to see Daniel there.  Jack was practically hugging the wall from his inner turmoil.  He knew something had happened.  He just didn't know what.

Daniel reached up with his left hand and caressed the side of Jack's face.  Jack wasn't sure if he was going insane or not, but it was like he could suddenly feel Daniel's presence.  Jack had lost control for a while, and he feared he might again.  “I AM going insane.”

“No, you're fine.”  Daniel continued his caress.  Somehow, he felt like he was giving Jack strength.  He spoke again, softly, “It's okay, Love.  You'll find me.  We'll figure it out, Jack.  I'm not really gone; I'm right here.”  Daniel paused, watching Jack's still falling tears seep through his fingers.  “I'll be back.  I need to see Nick.  It's going to be okay.”

Daniel leaned very close to his lover, and touched their lips together.  He couldn't feel Jack's skin, but he felt his essence.  He saw Jack blink.  “You felt me, didn't you?  We're strong, Jack.  You and me.  Unbeatable. Be strong, Love.  I'm coming home soon.”

Daniel was sure Jack had felt him just as he had felt the older man.  He thanked whatever or whomever it was in the universe that allowed that moment to happen, and then with a new desperation, Daniel headed for Nick's VIP quarters.

Nick was the key to everything, to Daniel's getting home.  He didn't know how he knew that, but he did.  Daniel waited in the empty room.  He figured Teal'c had probably taken the aged man to have dinner in the commissary after the session in the lab had ended, so Daniel waited anxiously until at last, the door opened, and Nick walked in.

Nick took off his jacket and sat on the bed and then seemed to speak to Daniel.  “I am sorry.”

“For what?”  Daniel answered automatically.

“For not adopting you when your parents died.”

“You were traveling all over the world.”

“That wasn't your fault.”

“I was eight years old.  How could it be my fault?”  Daniel was using all of the courage and belief his lover had instilled in him over the past two years.  It wasn't Daniel's fault.  It wasn't.  It wasn't.  It wasn't.  Daniel figured if he said it enough, if he let Jack insist on it enough, that his doubt and guilt would go away and maybe, just maybe one day he would actually believe that his tragic childhood wasn't somehow all his own fault.

“I am sorry for allowing my obsession to drive me to madness.”  Nick looked over to where Daniel was leaning against the wall.  He looked straight at Daniel.  “Would you forgive me?”

Suddenly, Daniel realized he had been having an actual conversation with Nick, and at the same time, he realized Nick was looking at him.  Daniel walked a step or two towards the old man.  ”You can see me?” he exclaimed with amusement, shock, and energy that came from some place he couldn't identify within himself.

“Yes, Daniel. I can see you,” Nick admitted.

“Why didn't you say something?”  For a moment, anger swelled up in Daniel threatening to overwhelm him.  All this time, Nick had been able to see him.  ~Why did he do this to me?  Why couldn't he have said something?~

“You're not real, so it doesn't mean anything.”

Daniel saw the light at the end of the tunnel.  Nick was sure Daniel was a hallucination.  The young man knew Nick was his only hope of getting home to Jack.  He knelt down beside his grandfather and spoke with passion.  “No, I'm real. I'm real.  You're not hallucinating.”

“Hallucinations always say that.”  Daniel allowed himself to feel sorry for Nick, for just a few seconds, but he didn't have time for sorrow, even though Daniel knew what it was like to doubt your own perceptions.

“Not this time, Nick.  The skull ... the skull did this to me.  I'm ... I'm  trapped.  I'm in another dimension; I'm out of phase; something.  Look, all I know is I need your help.  If you don't help me, I don't know how I'm gonna get home.”

“So what do you want me to do?”

**Yes!  Thank you, yes!  Jack, I'm coming home.  Be patient.**

“Nick, we have to figure this out, so I can come home.”

“Do you hate me, Daniel?”

“No.”

“I hurt you.”

“You ... did the best you could.”  Daniel stood and walked to the other side of the room, self-hugging as he stood by the wall.

“Still, Claire would have expected me to have taken care of you.”  Daniel bit back the urge to agree, and add that his father would have done something to have prevented Nick's from having any guardianship of Daniel at all, had he had any concept that Nick could abandon Daniel as he had.

“We've been through this before.  What's the point of rehashing it now?”

“Because you're my grandson, Daniel, and you deserved better from me.”

“Yes, I did, but we can't go back.”  Nick looked down, disappointed at Daniel's tone and words.  “But,” Daniel added, “we can always go forward.”

“Forward would be good, Daniel.  We have a lot of time to make up for.”

Daniel nodded.  “A lot of time.”

“Your theory, about the pyramids, it was true?”

“Yes, there's a ... world out there, Nick, that you can't even imagine.  Yes, it's true.”

“What is this place?”

“I'll tell you, Nick, and then we have to go see General Hammond.”

Nick nodded, and then Daniel told him all about the Stargate Program and the connection to a universe full or worlds to explore.  Daniel didn't want to notice, but he couldn't help it.  As they talked, Nick was full of excitement about the Stargate, and the aliens of the universe, but not once had he asked anything about Daniel personally.  Everything was professional.  Aside from the discussion about Daniel's theory, not one moment had been spent on Daniel's happiness or welfare.

~Don't you even care if I'm married, or have a wife or children?  Aren't you curious what I do when I'm not exploring worlds?  Do you know what kind of music I like, Nick?  My favorite food?  You know what is really sad?  I don't think there's a Marine or Airman in the Mountain who doesn't know I'm ... a coffee addict, but you, Nick, you haven't a clue, do you?  ... and ... and you don't care?  Do you?~

Nevertheless, they continued to talk for quite a while, and then Nick got the attention of the guard on duty and insisted on being taken to see General Hammond.

It was early in the morning, 6 a.m., when Nick had demanded to be taken to General Hammond.  The General hadn't gone home that night, and neither had Janet who had been busy trying to figure out a way to overcome the severe radiation threat should the General order a return to the planet.  The two had gotten together for coffee and then headed for the briefing room to further discuss the situation.  When they got there, Jack was leaning against the wall, waiting, both hands in his pocket.

“I want to go back to the planet, General.”

“Jack, come in.”  The three sat around the long table.  “Jack, I know you're anxious to try and find Doctor Jackson, but Doctor Fraiser doesn't think ...”

“Sir, with all due respect to the Doc here, we may be running out of time.  How long can we afford to wait?  We have to do something.  He's there.  He has to be.”

“Colonel, the risk ...”

Janet's words were cut off by the sound of footsteps.  Jack almost startled.  For a moment, he thought he heard Daniel.

The Airman announced, “Sirs, Mister Ballard insisted on seeing both of you immediately.”

“Forgive me,” Nick stated.  “He insisted.  Daniel is here.”

“Here?” Hammond asked, doubt permeating his voice.

Daniel instructed Nick.  “Repeat what I'm saying.  I'm standing right beside you.”

“Standing right beside me.”

Jack wanted to believe Daniel was there, but he couldn't.  And given Nick's complete lack of concern for his grandson, he couldn't be sure this wasn't an attempt by the old man for more information.  Again, he let sarcasm cover his pain.  “He's lost a few pounds.”

**For crying out loud, Jack, this isn't the time for sarcasm.**  “Jack, don't be an ass.”

Nick repeated Daniel's words aloud, prompting Jack to perk up.

**Danny?  Geez, that has to be you.**  “Daniel?” Jack asked, looking at the space next to Nick.

Daniel was beginning to feel alive again.  “Yes.  We have to go back to the planet, and we have to let the skull finish what it started.”

Again, Nick echoed Daniel's words, and with the mention of the planet and the Stargate, everyone present knew that indeed, Daniel was there.  It was the only explanation for how Nick could know the things he was talking about.

“Daniel told me all about the Stargate.  We must replace the skull on the pedestal so that the giant aliens will come.  Something must have interrupted the process.”

“Teal'c fired a zat ...” Jack mentioned to the General.

**Yes, Love, that's it.  I'm coming home to you.  I've missed you, Jack. You have to let it happen this time.  Don't interrupt the process.  Trust it.  Trust me.**

Hammond wanted to believe.  Nick's knowledge seemed to indicate it, but still, he had to be sure.

Daniel told Nick, “Tell General Hammond if we go back right now he might be able to see his granddaughters' school play after all.”

And that was all it took.  Hammond was convinced, and Jack felt like singing.

**Danny?  Soon.  You're coming home.  I can feel it now.  I wish I could hear you.  I know you're trying to talk to me.  I ... I love you, Angel.**

====

Sam had been called and was en route to the Mountain, and Teal'c had geared up and was staying with Nick.  Jack went to the locker room to change into his green BDU's and get his gear.

He sat quietly on the bench in front of his locker for a moment.

**Danny, I thought I really had lost it before, but you were there, weren't you?**  Jack struggled to concentrate.  “I hate this.  I need to hear you.”

Daniel knelt down, gently holding his hand atop Jack's.  “I hate it, too.”
**Soon.  Gawd, soon.**

Jack headed to the VIP room to get Nick while Daniel decided he needed a final moment alone.  He had to process what he had witnessed, the strength of Jack's emotions.  He had never seen Jack that close to losing control, permanent control.  “I ... I ... matter.”

====

Nick had taken advantage of his time alone with Jack, telling him that he had to accompany SG-1 to the planet.  When Daniel caught up to them, they were in the corridor leading to the gate room.

Jack asked, “So it wasn't the skull alone that did this, it was its connection to the cavern?”

“Yes, I think the skull is just the icon that represents the human form,” Daniel answered.

“Yes,” Nick said simply.

“And Daniel said you should come along to make it work?”

Daniel reacted immediately.  “Wait, I never said that.  You're taking advantage of me.”

“Yes,” Nick answered, responding to both Jack's and Daniel's questions in a bold confidence that bordered on arrogance.

Inside the gate room, Nick watched the Stargate engage.  With wonder, he asked, “So this is what you have been doing these past few years?”

“Exploring planets,” Daniel said with peace and satisfaction.

“Then, behind that, there's another world.  You must tell me everything.”  Nick's statement was more a demand, than a request.  He was curious.  He had to know.

“As soon as we get back, I promise.”  Daniel was hopeful that maybe he might finally have a grandfather.  He could hope.  He was entitled to dream.  Jack had been trying to teach him that, so now, Daniel was going to dream of a grandfather who was present and accounted for. And maybe eventually, Nick would start being interested in Daniel the person, not just Daniel the scholar.

SG-1, with Nick along for the ride, returned to the center platform where Teal'c returned the crystal skull to its place on the pedestal.  Again, Daniel stared into the skull's eyes, and again, radiation rose to dangerous levels, but this time Jack held his ground.  “Daniel said to let it happen.”

The emissions seemed to envelop the entire team.  Then, suddenly Sam spotted her friend and called his name.

“Sam!  It worked.”  Daniel headed towards his lover and teammates.

**Danny!  Geez, Danny, I've missed you ... so friggin' much.  I love you Angel.**

**I love you too, Jack.  Gawd, I love you.  I have so much to tell you.**

They stared at each other a moment longer, then both had to look away to stop themselves from losing it completely.  Then they realized that Teal'c had not been transported with them to their alternate phase of existence.  Teal'c reported to Hammond, who ordered him back to the SGC.

At that point, a giant alien appeared, rising up from the mist of the deep cavern.  Jack startled, moving backwards. “Holy smokin' Bullwinkle!” he exclaimed in shock.  Once recovered, Jack continued with a more straight-forward response to the alien's presence.  “Hello. What's your name?”

The alien spoke, saying, “Uy ah ual ing ual ing wetail.”

“Daniel?” Jack said, glad his lover was back for more reasons than one.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“I know what it's saying.  Why's it saying that?”

“It didn't affect Teal'c.  Why?” Daniel posed the question to everyone.

Sam answered, “Because he's Jaffa.”

“He's carrying a symbiote. The Goa'uld,” Daniel said, finally understanding.  He looked to the alien.  “We are enemies of the Goa'uld.”

The alien responded, “Then you are welcome here.”

Jack encouraged his lover, “Keep talking.”

“We're travelers.  We come in search of friendship.  We'd like to exchange our knowledge and culture.”

The alien agreed and pointed at Nick.  “You may remain.”

“Me?”  Nick grew even more excited.  This was his own true dream come true.

Jack was about to explode again.  “Him?”  ~Isn't that just great.  Daniel gets his grandfather back, and now you want to take him away?~

“This is not the first time you have journeyed here.”

“You remember,” Nick stated to the giant alien.

Daniel was eager for his grandfather to stay on Earth.  For the first time in his life he felt that he actually had a chance of getting to know this man.  He tried to convince the alien that others could do the job, but Nick pleaded with Daniel to let him remain.  “This was my life's work.  I've been hoping for another chance at this for 29 years.  Please.”

~I may kill the man if he doesn't come back with us.  One little shove and over the edge he'd go.~  Jack had to back away.  He was about to lose it big time.  He could feel Daniel's attachment to the selfish old man, and he saw the abandonment of nearly thirty years ago happening all over again.

“You just came back into my life,” Daniel tried to get Nick to stay.

“I'll be back again.  Please.”

~Gawd, he's doing it again.  I'm second, all over again.  I don't matter.~

**You matter to me, Daniel, and yes, I heard you.  Even if I didn't, I know you.  Geez, you are so important to me and to others.  You matter a great deal, and I love you, Angel.  Let the idiot go.  He doesn't deserve you, and you deserve far more than him.**

“Well, Nick, take notes.”  Jack looked at the man before him with barely concealed disgust. ~And don't bother ever coming back to Earth.  You contact Daniel again, and you'll be dealing with me.  I've had enough of you and your selfishness.  Go on.  Visit with the jolly green, okay he's not green, he's misty, but that's not the point.  A giant is a giant, so go on, Nick.  Play with that giant.  Don't look back.  I'm cutting down your beanstalk.~

“You have to tell me everything,” Daniel insisted, not missing the irony that only minutes earlier he had promised to tell Nick everything about the Stargate and the worlds they had explored.  ~I guess Nick will find out for himself, now.~

“I promise.  Daniel, I am proud of you.”

~Oh, go stuff a cabbage.  Get out of my sight before I push you off this platform.  How dare you do that to him.  Proud of Daniel?  Why couldn't you just love him?  He's so easy to love.  He's ... forget it.  You wouldn't understand, Nick.  I'm not sure you even understand what love is.~

“Goodbye ... Grandpa.”  Daniel's tone was strained.  He had tried, and tried hard, but he still felt a failure.  Nick had promised him a new connection, and now, now he was leaving ... again.  Just like before, Daniel was alone.  No, he wasn't alone.  Daniel looked over at his lover.

**Gawd, Jack.  I can't go through a debriefing now.  Please, get me out of here, and take me home.**

**Leave it to me, Love.  Let's go.**

“Daniel, are you all right?” Sam asked as they went to the skull so they could return to their usual phase of existence.

“No, but I will be.”

====

“Doctor Jackson, it is definitely good to see you again,” General Hammond beamed as he watched Daniel walk down the ramp.

“Thank you, Sir.”

“Doctor Fraiser is waiting for you in the infirmary.”

“Yes, I'm on my way.”  Daniel looked over his shoulder at Jack, his cerulean blue eyes begging.

**Go on, Danny.  We make our escape right after Fraiser clears you.**

“Colonel, we'll debrief ...”

“General, Daniel's tired.  He's had a long two days.  No sleep.  Don't you think it would be better if we gave him a chance to rest?”

“Um, after all, Sir,” Sam chimed in, “we do know what happened.  It's not like there's anything Earth-shattering to be learned at the briefing.”

Jack smiled his thanks at his 2IC for the backup.

“Very well.  SG-1, once you clear medical, you're dismissed.  We'll debrief at 1300 hours tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Sir.”  Jack watched the General turn and walk away.  “And thank you, Carter.”

“He looks tired.”

“He is.  Well ... tally ho,” Jack said, exiting for the locker room.

====

Jack changed his clothes and headed for the infirmary, getting there just in time to hear, “Okay, Daniel, you're free to go.”

“Thanks, Janet.”  Daniel smiled as he turned towards the door and saw Jack standing there.

**Time to go home, Love.  Wanna change or just run for the exit?**

**Run.  As fast as we can.**

“Come on, Daniel.  I'll ... give you a lift home.”  Jack looked over at Janet who was making a few notes on her chart and was definitely in earshot of any spoken word.  She lifted her head up only briefly to acknowledge Jack's presence.

Jack himself hadn't yet had his post-mission exam, but sometimes Janet would let it slide for a while.  Jack figured this was as good a time as any to forego protocol, and since Janet hadn't spoken up, he assumed she was silently agreeing.

~Amazing how that woman has a sense of when Daniel needs to get out of here, and now.  Thanks, Doc.~

“Thanks, Jack.  I'd ... appreciate that.”  Daniel said, trying to sound normal.

Quietly, with mere inches separating them, bumping shoulders every now and then, Jack and Daniel headed for the exit.  “Let's take my truck,” Jack suggested as they entered the parking lot.

“I don't really feel like driving anyway.”

Daniel felt Jack thinking about stopping somewhere, anywhere, so they could finally reconnect.

“No, Jack.  Home.  Please.  I need to be there.  Once we start, I don't think I'm going to be able to stop.”

“Okay, Love.  Danny, I ... when I thought ...”

“I know,” Daniel spoke softly.

Jack glanced over at him.  “Did you see?”  Daniel nodded.  “Danny, there was this moment.  I don't even know how to explain it.”

“In your office.”

“Yeah, I ... kinda lost it for a while.”

“Footsteps,” Daniel practically whispered.

“Angel, that moment I can't describe ...”

“I'll tell you later, okay?”

“Okay.  I love you, Danny.”

“Gawd, Jack.  I love you so freakin' much.  Move this truck.”

Jack sped home, making the forty-minute trip in twenty-five.  When Jack pulled into the driveway, Daniel leapt out of the truck and dashed for the house.  Jack followed quickly, unlocking the door.  Once on the other side, the two flew into each other's arms.

“Don't let go of me.  I was so afraid I'd never feel this again.  I want you to make love to me all freakin' night.  Touch me.  Make me feel again.”

The two hurried up the stairs, tore off their clothes and began one of their most passionate lovemaking sessions ever.  Daniel wanted to be reborn, and Jack was the one to do it.  

As they came down from the dizzying heights to which their love had sent them, Jack held tightly onto his lover as they lay in their usual positions, Jack as the comfortable pillow and Daniel as the warm blanket.
 
“Danny, you do know that Nick's decision to stay on that blasted planet isn't any reflection on you, don't you?”
 
Daniel froze and buried his face in his lover's chest.  He was on the verge of losing control totally.  Jack could feel the tension emanating from Daniel.  He knew he needed to get his lover to let go and trust Jack to catch him.
 
“Angel, it was never your fault that Nick can't love.  Maybe he doesn't know how.  I don't know.  But you can't blame yourself for his shortcomings.”

Jack rubbed Daniel's back and kissed the top of his head, nuzzling against it with his chin afterwards.  “Listen to me, that old man is just ... an old man.  He has no power over you.  All he ever did was assist in the birth of your mother, a wonderful, sweet, intelligent woman who would have disowned that selfish fool if she had known what he would do to you one day.  Let him go, Love.  He's just an old man, obsessed by his work.”

Daniel clung to Jack even more, trying to burrow inside the other man's skin as he made a last-ditch effort to stop the dam from breaking.  He felt his lungs tightening as he held his breath for a moment, and his muscles tensed as he fought off the release.  He closed his eyes and tried to force his mouth shut to prevent the sobs that were on the verge of escaping.

“Oh, Danny.  You're my beautiful Angel, and I love you so much.”

The simple words decimated the last of Daniel's defenses, and he finally let go.  Heart-wrenching sobs were torn from the young man as he gave in to almost thirty years worth of grief.  Jack held his lover securely, tears running down his own cheeks at hearing his soulmate's pain.  It was, after all, his pain, too, because Jack and Daniel were one heart and one soul.

“He didn't even ask about me,” Daniel sniffled.  “Jack, all he cared about was the skull and ... and learning about the Stargate.  He never asked if I was happy or ... or anything.  What did I do, Jack?”

“You didn't do anything.  It's not you.  It's his loss.  It's his blindness.”

“I ... I could have been him.”

“What?”

“My work.  I lived in my work until ...”

Jack smiled.  “... until some old worn out Colonel dragged you away from it all?”

Daniel's wet face rubbed against Jack's chest.  He was still crying, the sobs intermittent but still present as he continued his emotional release.  “Drag...ging me from ... my work.”

“Because there is more to life than artifacts, and I promise, I'll make sure you always remember that.  I love you, forever and always.”

“Jack?”

“Yes, Love?”

“Do you think he'll ever come back?”

Jack sighed.  “Do you want me to be honest, Danny?”

“Always.”

“I think if he does, he'd better steer a wide course from Colorado Springs, or I may kill him.”

“Overprotective grizzly bear,” Daniel tried to tease.

“I told you.  No one hurts you, and that's all Nick did was hurt you, over and over.  I won't let him do that again.”

“He's my ... he's ...”

“He's an idiot.  He could have had a relationship with his grandson.  Instead, he went off to play with aliens.”

“He said he was proud of me.”

Jack heard another sniffle and responded, “I hope he is.  Whether he is or not, I know I am.  You've accomplished so much in your life, Danny.  You've overcome incredible odds to achieve what you have in your education and ... geez, you've saved the friggin' universe.  You're a top-notch negotiator and the best first contact player at the SGC.  You're a genius, and with that genius, you've solved so many mysteries.

“But more incredible than that, instead of giving in to the hurt and pain, instead of being defeated by all the garbage that surrounded you as you grew up, you've become this compassionate, caring, and ultra-forgiving soul.  I am so proud of you, Danny, and it goes way beyond being a scholar.

“I'm proud of you, the man, the friend, the lover.  My lover.  I'm so honored to know you, and so thankful you've picked me to love.”  Jack's own voice was cracking.  He would never understand Nick.  He didn't even want to anymore.  He just wanted the man to stay away, to not inflict anymore pain on his life partner.

Daniel tried to let the words flow through him.  He wanted to soak them up.  Jack loved him.  All the things Nick wasn't, Jack was. Eventually, Daniel's sobs completely subsided, and Jack wiped his lover's cheeks.  “I will always love you, and I will never, ever leave you.  You know that.”

“I love you, too, Jack, so freakin' much.  I need to feel.  Show me ... show me I can feel.”

“I can do that,” Jack assured with a smile, after which he made love with Daniel once again, a union that took them into the wee hours of the next morning.

As they settled again, their convulsing bodies gasping for air, Daniel finally felt his renewal.  Jack had given Daniel his strength and love, shown him the way to survive this latest nightmare, and now it was Daniel's turn.  As he lay in Jack's arms a few minutes later, Daniel wondered if his lover had fallen asleep.

“Jack, are you awake?”

“Awake and feeling very lucky.”  Daniel smiled and then slipped out of Jack's hold and rolled over onto his back.  “Hey, where are you going?”

Daniel reached out his right arm.  His eyes spoke volumes to Jack.  Without needing to hear the request, Jack moved to rest upon Daniel's chest, and now it was the young man's arms that wrapped around the older man's.  Daniel warmed Jack's skin with the loving motions of a tender massage.

“You had a hard time, too, my Love.  I ... I saw how difficult it was for you.”

“You were gone.  Danny, I can handle it when I have something to fight, but just like with Quack MacKenzie, there was nothing I could grab a hold of.  One minute you were there, and the next you weren't.  You couldn't hear me.  I couldn't see your blue eyes, or hear your tender voice.  I felt ... Daniel, I was alone and empty.”

“I know.  Me, too.”

“I didn't know what to do to get you back.  Carter was stumped.  Rothman ... I know he's your friend, but he's not you.  He doesn't come close to your capabilities in solving the puzzles of the universe.  What was I going to do without you?”

“I was with you, but you couldn't hear me.  Jack, in your office, what did it feel like?”

“Like you were in me.  I couldn't hear you.  It wasn't anything I could define, but you were there.  It was like I felt your heart beat.”

“I'll never leave you, Jack, and if I ... if I, uh, ever get ... lost again, no matter what, I'll always find my way back to you.  You have to have faith in that.”

Jack raised his head.  “I have faith you.  I believe in you.  I love you.”  The two began another round of lovemaking, both of their emotions still running high, but at least now, they had both had a chance to release some of their demons.

For a brief while during the past several hours, the younger man had let his inner child out, the one who hungered for the home life he had missed as a child, and then, as Jack had held him in between their lovemaking, a lightning bolt went off in Daniel's mind.

~Why am I feeling abandoned when My Jack, my human blanket, is here, holding me, kissing me, touching me, waking up my senses, reminding me what “home“ means, and home is this wonderful, sexy man who fills my heart?~

The two were about to break their record for endurance, each surprised at their own performances, but their motivation had been greater than ever.  As Daniel impaled himself into his lover, he asked, ”Can you hear me now, Jack?  Can you see me, Love?”

“Geez, yes.  But ... you'd better keep going.  Gotta ... make sure, Babe.”

Daniel smiled, his heart overflowing with love for his soulmate.  They were alive and together, and soon, both would be seeing stars.  But in the here and now, each heard and saw nothing but the other, nothing but love, as once again, they grounded themselves to eternity.

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

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