Games People Play

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Mini-Angst, Drama, Romance, Missing Scene/Epilogue, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  8 - May 20-24, 2005
Spoilers:  Avatar, The Gamekeeper, Icon (minor)
Size:  65kb
Written:  December 24-31, 2007, January 1,5,9,12, 2008
Summary:  Jack and Daniel relive some unpleasant memories when Teal'c ends up part of an elaborate video game and can't get out.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s), “Danny”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Ali, Jo, Lissa, Tammy, Carol, Claudia, Tonya, Linda!

Games People Play
by Orrymain

“Morning, Sir,” Sam greeted as Jack stepped out of the elevator.

“Sir,” Sergeant Davis said, handing the general his coffee.

“Davis, didn't we talk about this?” Jack sighed, reluctantly taking the cup.

“Sorry, Sir,” Davis said.  “Old habits,” he explained before turning around to continue the new routine that he was still adjusting to, one in which the general didn't want to be met at the elevator or served his coffee.  ~Most officers like to be waited on.~

Sam chuckled lightly and began to walk along with the general as she asked, “How's Daniel?”

“Peachy, or he will be soon,” Jack answered.

Daniel was on a forty-eight hour medical downtime, more to give him some emotional, rather than physical, recovery time since he'd just been rescued from being stranded off-world, where he'd been dragged into a cold war escalating into a civil one.

“When's this video game thing you called me about?” the general questioned.

“1030 hours in science lab five,” Sam answered, eager for her CO to attend the simulation.

“Is it on my schedule?” Jack asked.  He glanced over at the blonde and said, “These days I can't take a ... never mind.”

Sam snickered and answered, “Yes, Sir.  I had Sergeant Davis pencil it in.”

“1030 hours, science five,” Jack echoed as he rounded the corner to his office.

The colonel smiled, watching Jack wince at the stack of files sitting on his desk, and then she turned around and headed for her lab.

====

“I was sleeping,” Daniel whined over the phone, while trying to put the nearest pillow over his head to filter out the natural daylight in the room.

“Sorry,” Jack apologized with a chuckle.

“No, you're not.”

“Okay, got me there,” the older man admitted as he pictured his lover in bed.  “Danny, do you know much about what Teal'c is doing with that chair?”

“I know that I'm glad it's not me,” Daniel answered, rubbing his eyes as he continued to lie on his back in the large bed.  “Jack, as much as I hate to admit it, a training scenario like this one could be advantageous.  I mean, uh, a lot of athletes, especially in stockcar racing, are using high-tech video games to learn the racetracks.”

“What do you know about stockcar racing?”

“Just what you force me to watch every now and then,” Daniel chuckled.  “Seriously, though, I've read about them using video games for training.  I'm not sure I like using the chair as a glorified video game, but I guess I understand why they're doing it.”

“Yeah.  I could pull the plug on the thing.”

“But you won't.”

“No, I won't,” Jack agreed.  “You should be resting; go back to sleep.”

“You're the one who woke me up,” the younger man groaned.

“Don't get technical on me.”

“Me?  Technical?”

“Goodbye, Daniel,” Jack said dryly as he hung up the phone.

“Goodbye, Jack,” Daniel laughed, having already heard the click of the phone.  He placed the phone on the nightstand and settled back into his nice warm bed. ~Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Jack was naked, and we ...~

====

“Showtime!” Jack announced cheerfully as he entered the science lab where the experiment was about to take place.  “You sure you want to do this, Teal'c?”

“It will be a piece of pie, O'Neill,” the Jaffa spoke confidently as he was strapped into a gamekeeper chair by Doctor Bill Lee and one of his assistants.

“Cake, Teal'c,” Jack corrected.  “Piece of cake.”  He walked closer to the all-too-familiar chair, recalling the time several years back when SG-1 had been forced into the chairs and kept under the control of the Keeper.  While attached to the alien creations, the lovers had involuntarily relived past traumas over and over again.  “I really don't like these things.”

“We're ready,” Lee announced as he walked over to his computer station to monitor the activity.

“Do it,” Jack ordered.

The experiment was over very quickly.  Teal'c, linked to the chair, was put through a theoretical video game challenge where a super soldier, one of Anubis' drones, had come through the Stargate, intending to take over the SGC.  Teal'c had easily taken the drone down, though not without some cost to personnel.

“Simulation time: forty-nine seconds,” Doctor Lee said in awe.  Then he quickly covered and continued casually, “That's not bad, not bad.”

“How was it?” Jack asked his teammate, clapping his hands together a couple of times.  “Was it fun?”

“Indeed,” Teal'c answered as Lee unstrapped him from the chair.  Standing up, he regally bowed his head and informed Jack, “You died well in battle, O'Neill.”

~Died?  Me?~ Jack thought in disbelief as he took in the ramifications of the Jaffa's comment.  “Obviously, there's something *defective* with this thing,” he responded with aplomb, getting a big smile from Sam in response.

“Agreed,” Teal'c replied.  “An Anubis drone is a far more formidable warrior than this simulation would suggest.”

“What?” Doctor Lee asked, shocked.  “No, we've been working on this chair for two years to make it a viable virtual reality training tool for SGC personnel.”

“You have failed,” Teal'c bluntly responded.

Seeing Lee's stunned state, Jack noted with hidden amusement, “He's nothing if not honest.”

Upon further discussion, it was obvious that the game needed to be more difficult.

Lee explained that “... the vast majority of the simulation array comes from the mind of the user.  It ... the programming is actually built by interfacing memories from the individual's consciousness with the chair's matrix.”

Basically, that meant that the game learns from the person using it.  In testing the software, Lee and his associates had used themselves as the subjects, having no one else to draw on.  Hearing this, SG-1 wasn't the least bit surprised that the game was a little on the weak side.

“Hey,” Lee called out suddenly, with hope in his voice.  “If ... if Teal'c would agree to work with us a little more.”  He looked up bravely at the impassive face of the Jaffa and implored, “Look, all you'd have to do is basically just play the game.  Let it learn from you.”

With the plan in place, Jack left the scientists to work on their project.  Glancing at his watch, he picked up the pace towards his office.  He had a mission briefing in ten minutes with SG-3.

====

“Danny, I kid you not, Lee was making fun of me,” Jack said over the phone in his office after the briefing had ended.

“Jack, I'm sure he didn't mean to.”

“He said they'd make the game easier ... for me!”

“And what was it you said to make him say that?” Daniel inquired.

“Nothing; well, I just said for them to make sure there's a beginner version.”

Daniel laughed, “You played straight man for Bill.”

“That wasn't my intention,” Jack snarked as he doodled on a letter Sergeant Davis had brought in earlier for him to sign.  ~Walter can print out a new one.  He likes waiting on me.~

“Maybe not, but everyone knows your wit and sarcastic style of speech, Jack.  He's just playing along.”

“Sure, he is,” the general said dryly, seeing the stack of three incoming calls waiting for him, their lights blinking demandingly for his attention, not to mention Sergeant Davis standing by his closed door and SG-9 lurking in the court area.  Looking through the glass partition window, he decided, ~They can wait.  I want my Danny time.~

“When do you think you'll be able to leave?”

“Not for a while; the wolves are lined up all around me,” Jack spoke sorrowfully.

“Then shouldn't you be ...”

“Yes, but I like talking to you better.”

“Oh, well, thank you,” Daniel replied, smiling.  “But hang up, Jack.”

“Dictator.”

“Sometimes,” Daniel laughed as he hung up the phone.

Jack knew he had a lot to handle, but he also had a surprise to plan, and he was determined to do it.  Of course, it meant he somehow needed to clear his schedule.  He wasn't sure if he would be able to pull it off, but he desperately wanted to take his lover away for the weekend after the trying time he'd just lived through.

~Where there's a will, there's a way, and, Dannyboy, I have a lot of will on this one.  I'm going to get us the weekend even if I have to do paperwork all day long.~  Jack grimaced and shook his head at his thought.  ~Yep, all day long,~ he reaffirmed as he picked up the phone to take the first call that had been holding for him.

====

Monday morning, Daniel was getting some fresh coffee for his office when he ran into Sam.

“Hey,” Daniel greeted.

“Hi,” Sam responded.  “How was the weekend?”

“Good.  Definitely good,” the archaeologist replied.

“Are you feeling better?”

“I was fine when we came back from the planet.  Janet's the one who insisted on the time off.”

“Daniel, you have to admit you went through a lot while you were there.”

“Yeah, but ...” Daniel paused; then shrugged.  Then he smiled as he said, “It did get me a great weekend.”  After a moment, he asked, “How's the testing going?”

“Actually, we're just about to start.  We had to make a lot of modifications based on Teal'c's input,” Sam answered.  “I devised a code translation program, too.”

“For?”

“It will let us monitor Teal'c's progress through a graphic representation of his point of view.”

“That should be ... interesting,” Daniel said with a bit of a smirk.  “I'm not sure that's a part of Teal'c's brain I'd want to go to.”

“Well, it's necessary.”

“And you're going to be able to use this to develop a training scenario?”

“Mmm-hmmm,” Sam acknowledged.  “Everything will be recorded for us to choose from later.  We can incorporate any parts of his experience that we want into our programming.”

“What about the risk?” Daniel asked curiously.

“Well, there's a risk to anything, but this is pretty mild.  Once Teal'c is interfaced with the chair, we won't be able to remove the connection, or cut power to the chair, without endangering him.”  Seeing the archaeologist's concern, she stated, “But that shouldn't be necessary.”

“There is a failsafe, isn't there?” Daniel asked, not really liking the sound of Teal’c being locked into the chair like that.

Nodding her confirmation, Sam explained, “The game will reset automatically if Teal'c is killed during it, but the chair will only disconnect at the end of the scenario or if Teal'c engages the failsafe, which is to get in the elevator and go to the surface.”

“Sounds simple enough,” Daniel agreed.

“Yeah, well, since the Keeper had such fun with our minds; well, yours and the colonel's, anyway, they built the shut off command into the internal programming of the chairs, so that only someone in the chair can control it.”

“Too little, too late,” Daniel quipped about the unpleasant experience that had forced him to repeatedly relive the death of his parents.

“I think we'll learn a lot from Teal'c for the training scenario.  The game is intuitive, so it will actually learn from him.”

“Good luck,” Daniel expressed as he turned and headed for his office.

“Thanks,” Sam called out while reaching for a bagel.  ~Breakfast: a bagel.  Well, it's all I have time for today.~

====

A bit later, Daniel decided to take a small break from his work and drop by his lover's office.  As he headed that way, he suddenly heard Jack's voice from around the corridor where one of the storage rooms were.

~Ut oh.  He doesn't sound happy,~ the archaeologist opined as he peaked his head around the corner to listen in.

Jack sounded a bit agitated, his hands thrusting out in front of him in frustration as he spoke, “Walter, I don't really care.”

“I realize that, General, but it is an essential item,” Sergeant Davis replied as he held up a roll of tissue paper.

“Then order some more!” Jack suggested strongly as the two men faced off.

“I have, Sir, but the requisition came back as 'unidentifiable material'.”

Jack growled as he threw his head back in disbelief and then snarked, “Sergeant this isn't some Cary Grant movie where an overworked World War II clerk doesn't know what toilet paper is.”

“Yes, Sir, but we've only got three rolls left, and we did send in a sample of the material with the last requisition.”

Jack stared at Walter Davis, observing him closely.  The man looked deathly serious, and he had the paperwork with him to prove that the requisitions for toilet paper had been properly completed and returned as a material not recognized by the supply clerks.  Still, he felt like he was in a scene from a wartime comedy called 'Operation Petticoat' in which a submarine commander played by Cary Grant had had a similar conversation with his clerk.

“You did not!” Jack finally accused.  ~I'm being set up.~  He saw the sergeant standing firm in his position.  “This makes a great scene for a movie, Walter, but it couldn't really happen.”

“Actually, General, it did.”

“Did not,” Jack said, putting his hands in his pockets.

“June 11, 1942, Commander J. W. Coe of the USS Holland wrote a seven-point memorandum to the supply officer at the navy yard in Mare Island, California about this exact issue.”

“No?”

“Yes, Sir,” Walter acknowledged with a nod.  “Cary Grant was quoting Commander Coe in the movie.”

“Wow.  Well, okay, but this isn't 1942, and we're *not* the Navy!” Jack argued.  Seeing the other man's continued stare of expectancy, he barked, “Fine.  If it's good enough for Cary, it's good enough for me.  Send in a memo to the friggin' supply clerk and tell him that the head honcho, the king of the hill, the big cheese, *me*, for crying out loud, the Commander of Cheyenne Mountain cannot help but wonder what is being used by those stuffed shirts at the Pentagon in place of this unidentifiable material, once well known to this command.”

“Already written, Sir.  Sign here,” Walter requested, handing Jack the clipboard he'd been holding.

As Jack began to sign it, he groused, “Oh, for crying out loud.”  Throwing the pen down so hard against the board that it fell to the ground, he thrust the item back into Davis' hands and asked, “Where is he?”

“In the recreation room, Sir,” Walter answered with a smile, clearly amused as Jack stalked away.

The sergeant turned and headed towards Daniel's direction, so the archaeologist called out, “Uh, Sergeant.”

“Sir?”

“Can I see that?” Daniel requested, motioning towards the clipboard.

Not seeing any harm, Davis agreed and handed Daniel the item.  He watched as Daniel flipped to the page with the supposed letter to the supply clerk.

Daniel chuckled, seeing, “Gotcha!  Paybacks, Jack!”  He handed the clipboard back and said, “Thanks,” before heading back towards his office.

As he walked, the archaeologist knew the little prank had been a follow-up to Jack's recent joke on the lieutenant colonel when he'd had Ferretti's team purposely not follow him through to PC2-653, a planet where clothing was prohibited in its entirety.  He'd had a field day, ordering his friend to have a one-on-one session with the planet's representative, a creature best described as a cross between a Gorn from the old 'Star Trek' TV series and 'Dino' from 'The Flintstones'.

~Good one, Lou.~

====

“How's it going?” Daniel asked sometime later as he entered the experimental lab, his hands in his pockets.

“Good, I think,” Sam responded.

“You don't sound so sure.”

“The chair's been inducing a pain response every time Teal'c is killed,” Doctor Lee advised.

“You mean it's hurting him?” the archaeologist asked with concern as he looked at Teal'c, who was securely strapped into the chair.

“That's what's worrying me,” Sam admitted.  “The chair is learning from Teal'c, and Teal'c knows that in any real situation like this, there would be pain.”

“Fortunately, we limited the chair from being able to deliver any sort of lethal jolt,” Lee interjected.

Daniel didn't find that comforting, and while the last thing that he wanted to do was watch his friend suffering, he felt he owed it to his friend to stay.

“Mind if I stay and watch?”

“No, of course not,” Sam responded.  “Looks like the game just reset again.”

“So, Teal'c died again,” Daniel surmised.

“The auto-destruct went off,” Sam spoke.  “That's where the game is programmed to end.”

====

A bit later, the scientists were becoming alarmed at the continued jolts of pain being given to Teal'c at the end of every failed attempt to win the game.  Daniel had actually passed the alarmed stage some time ago and was internally begging his friend to take the failsafe and get out of there.  Finally, Sam called another colleague, Doctor Carmichael, to join them.

As the science twins waited for Carmichael, the two standing side-by-side in front of the primary monitor, Daniel suggested quietly, “By the way, Sam, uh, you might want to stay away from Lou Ferretti for a while.”

“Why?”

“He just got his payback for that naked thing on PC2-653.”

“What'd he do?” Sam asked eagerly, happy for a tiny bit of humor in the middle of the increasingly intense situation developing in the lab.

“He TP'd, Jack,” Daniel replied as he proceeded to tell her about the joke.

====

After examining the Jaffa, Carmichael spoke, “Well, you were right to be concerned about these readings.  Frequent sympathetic spikes in his natural adrenaline production are causing blood pressure and heart rate *way* too high to be sustained over the long term.”

“That last ambush should have worked.  Why did the energy weapon have no effect?” Sam asked, referring to the last game scenario.

“I don't know,” Lee responded.  “Have you ever known a super soldier to be resistant to the weapon like that in reality?”

“No,” Sam answered.

“But it is possible, right?” Daniel asked.  “I mean, we've seen situations where the Goa'uld have adapted their technology to defend against something we've thrown at them.”

“Well, hopefully, the game will also extrapolate possible solutions and offer them to Teal'c,” Lee spoke.  Seeing the reactions from Sam and Daniel, who just looked at each other, he added, “Well, I mean, it'd just be fair.”

The game scenario began again.  Just like the last time, two Anubis drones had managed to penetrate the security of Cheyenne Mountain, and none of the weapons available were effective against their armor, the armor having been altered to resist the effectiveness of the energy weapon.

In the game, Sam told Teal'c that she'd been working on a frequency modulator chip, a prototype, that was in her lab.  Soon, the auto-destruct sequence was activated.  Having been joined by Daniel, Sam and Teal'c gained control and hurried to the control room, where they aborted the destruct sequence.  The threat was eliminated.

Watching the game play out in lab number five, Doctor Lee became extremely concerned.  The game should have ended with the auto-destruct abort, and the chair should have disconnected its link to Teal'c, neither of which happened.  Worse, the game wasn't resetting to its original parameters.

“Well, that's not fair.  You can't win a race if someone keeps moving the finish line,” Daniel pointed out sarcastically as he stood beside Sam, both of them having been watching the game play out on the large monitor.

“He said he wanted it to be harder; more realistic,” Lee said about Teal'c.

“In reality, we haven't defeated the Goa'uld,” Daniel noted.

“Are you saying the game won't end until he defeats all the Goa'uld?” Lee asked.

“I don't know, you tell me.  You said the game is learning the rules from Teal'c,” Daniel replied.  ~Come on, Bill; this is your brainchild.  You have to know what's going to happen here.~

“Yeah, but the parameters can't go beyond the base invasion scenario,” Sam stated.

Daniel cleared his throat and then asked, “Can you get him out?”

“Not without risking serious neural damage,” Carmichael answered.

“The game has a failsafe.  All Teal'c has to do is quit,” Sam stated.

“Yeah.  Teal'c quit,” Daniel stated as he glanced over at Doctor Lee for a moment.  He just didn't believe his friend would ever quit.  ~I'm not sure this was a good idea, to use this technology.  I don't even like being in the same room with one of these chairs.  Okay, Jackson, focus.  The problem is getting Teal'c out of this game alive, not dealing with your neurosis.~

The group watched helplessly as the game continued, reaching a new point of conclusion, where the drones overran the base.  At that point, the game reset, resulting in Teal'c's heart rate and blood pressure rising to dangerously high levels.  Doctor Carmichael informed the others that while the individual pain stimulus wasn't life threatening, the cumulative effect might be.  It was possible that the Jaffa could have a heart attack or run out of adrenaline which would cause his heart to slow and his blood pressure to drop, after which his entire organ system would fail.

“Death by a thousand cuts,” Daniel quipped sarcastically, not happy with anything he'd been hearing.  After a few minutes, he said, “Uh, I'm gonna go talk to Jack.  I think he needs to know about this.”

As Sam nodded, Doctor Lee called out, “I'm sure we'll find the answer.”

“Before he's dead, Bill, would be a good idea,” Daniel called out while walking out the door.

====

Seeing his husband waiting outside the office, Jack waved him in while finishing up his conversation.

“It'll be okay, Anton.  Trust me,” Jack urged the chef of the day and then hung up the phone.  “Do you believe it?  There's an avocado shortage, and Anton's about ready to flip.  I told him pears would be fine.  He says no.  If we can't get avocados, he's going to resign.  Danny, Anton is an airman.  He can't resign.”

Daniel chuckled, “Well, it beats worrying about bunting.”

“There's that,” Jack agreed.

“And, uh ... toilet paper,” the younger man chortled with a smile that showed off his dimples.

“You heard about that,” Jack spoke in a deadpan.

The younger man nodded and asked, “Is Lou still alive?”

“Yes,” Jack said with a sour puss expression.  Then he grinned, “I was thinking about giving him a temporary assignment, like maybe -- kitchen guard duty or ... assistant to Walter.  What do you think?”  Seeing Daniel's firm shaking of the head, he sighed and vowed, “I'll think of something.”

“I have confidence,” Daniel mused.

“What about making him clean the Stargate using nothing but a toothbrush?” Jack looked hopefully at the scientist for a second before answering his own question.  “Nah, not humiliating enough.”

“Jack, general of my heart, love of my life,” Daniel leaned down, placing both fists against the top of the desk, “you need to learn when to let things go.”

The archaeologist stood back up in complete seriousness, except for the laughter twinkling in his eyes.

After answering Daniel's remark with a short smile, the general asked, “You doing okay?”

“Jack, stop worrying about me.  You *know* I'm fine,” Daniel stated, his eyes telling his lover to remember their extremely active weekend at the cabin.

“You've got that look.”

“What look?”

“The 'something is wrong' look,” Jack answered.

Daniel sighed as he sat down in the chair in front of his lover's desk and then stated, “Teal'c's being held hostage by that chair.”

“I really don't like those things,” the general spoke, his hands clasped together on his desktop.

“They aren't exactly one of my favorite things, either,” Daniel replied.  “The point is, the game isn't ending when it should, and Teal'c isn't quitting.”

“Quit?  Who was crazy enough to think Teal'c would quit?” Jack asked.

“Uh ...”

“That Lee idiot,” Jack spoke.

“Bill is a fine scientist, Jack.  He's just ... uh, he gets overzealous sometimes, and he, well, he means well.”

“Just what we need, Gilligan's Mountain,” the older man groaned.

“Jack, this is serious,” Daniel spoke solemnly.  “Doctor Carmichael thinks Teal'c can only survive for another day or so.  I think you'd better come and see for yourself.”

Annoyed that he couldn't check on the situation right away, Jack sighed and replied, “Danny, I've got a call from the President coming in.  I'll be right there as soon as the call is over.”

Daniel knew his spouse hated having to wait, but it was part of being the general, the part Jack didn't like.

“Okay.  Lab five,” Daniel reminded his lover as he stood and exited the room.

====

Roughly thirty minutes later, Jack joined the scientists and watched as the game played on yet again.  He'd already been brought up to date.

“That thing is torturing him,” Daniel stated unhappily as he looked over at his soulmate.

“No chance of just unplugging it?” Jack asked, seeing the negative shaking of several heads in the room.

“I don't understand this,” Sam sighed.  “Teal'c attempted to use the failsafe just five minutes ago, but when he stepped out of the elevator, he was back on Level 28.  The game should have ended.”

~This is *so* not a good thing,~ Jack thought while standing in front of the chair Teal'c was strapped into.  He turned and began walking over towards Doctor Lee as he said harshly, “You know, I always thought a failsafe system was supposed to be somewhat safe ... from failure.”  He noted Lee's reaction was just to raise up his hands and sit down.  ~Get the hint, *Doctor*,~ he thought as he looked down at the scientist, who was doing his best to ignore the stare.

“From the beginning, in Teal'c's mind, the goal was to make the simulation as real as possible.  As much as he must now wanna quit, we think the game evaluated his character and decided that, if this were a real situation, Teal'c would never give up under any circumstances,” Sam stated.

“Well, it's right.  It's also just a game,” Jack spoke.

“The game doesn't know that,” Sam responded.

Nodding, Jack asked, “So how do we get him out?”

“Well, removing the connections while the system is operating is very dangerous, potentially fatal.  On the other hand, the physical stress that the chair is putting him under will eventually kill him anyway,” Carmichael answered.

Sam told the general that the only way out of the game was for Teal'c to win, but that the game was increasing in difficulty, adding new twists every time that it looked like the Jaffa was winning.

“So it's not going to let him win,” Jack surmised.

“No.  The chair doesn't have an ego; it's not trying to beat Teal'c, just provide a challenge that's worthy of his abilities,” Sam expounded.

“Ironically, it's Teal'c's ego that created this problem in the first place, not that his self image isn't entirely accurate,” Daniel added.

“If this continues, he's gonna require adrenalin to sustain his heart rate, and the thing is, I can't keep him going like this for long,” Carmichael advised.

“There has to be a way for him to win,” Sam stated.

Concerned, Jack stared at Teal'c for a moment before facing the anxious colonel and strongly advised, “Then I suggest you find it, and fast.”  He paused and whispered not-so-quietly to Lee, “I'm thinking some place chilly.”  Glancing over at Daniel, he requested, “Keep me posted.”

“Yes, Sir,” Sam acknowledged for the archaeologist as the SGC commander left the room.

“Chilly?” Lee questioned, looking around at the others in the room.  “He's just kidding, isn't he?” the man asked nervously.

“Of course, he is,” Daniel replied, mumbling towards Sam, “That's what he said to Felger, too, right?”

“I think so,” Sam agreed, playing along.

Seeing Doctor Lee begin to sweat and swallow hard, Daniel chuckled, “Relax, Bill.  We're just kidding; so is Jack.”

“Are you sure?”

“Totally,” Daniel answered, turning around and shrugging in Sam's direction.  Then he sighed, “Sam?”

Sam looked over at Teal'c and shook her head as she responded, “I'm not sure what we can do.”

“You'll think of something,” Daniel asserted confidently.

After a moment, the colonel said, “Daniel, I'll be back.”

“Idea?”

“Maybe.  I want to run some tests in my lab,” Sam responded and then walked out of the room.

====

“Any news?” Jack asked when Daniel entered his office sometime later.

“Nothing good.  Sam's working on something; I'm gonna go check on her progress in a minute,” Daniel said.

“But?”

“But,” Daniel echoed.

“Daniel, I'm still in the middle of an avocado crisis.  Anton hates pears.”

“Did you try beets?”

Jack sat back and raised an eyebrow before asking, “Why beets?”

“Why not?”

“Good point.  I'll suggest that during the next crisis negotiation.”  The silver-haired man saw his lover smile and bow his head at the small musing. He also sensed the concern deep within him.  “You're worried.”

“Just a bad vibe from those chairs.  I guess I wish we hadn't brought them here.  I mean, uh, I know they're serving a purpose, but ...”

“But you can't forget that nightmare.”

“I should.”

“Human nature, Daniel.  Don't be so hard on yourself.”

Artwork by Maureen Middleton

“You know, it seems like another lifetime ago,” Daniel stated, his eyes saying more than his words.  With the recording equipment on and their friend in danger, now wasn't the time to get lost in old memories, so the younger man redirected his thoughts away from the nightmare of a couple of years earlier.  “I'm just worried, Jack.  We're playing with alien technology, and it's biting us in the behind.”

“Yes, well ...” Jack began, trailing off, realizing he really didn't have any words of comfort for the younger man right now.  “Daniel, I don't think any of us are going home tonight.”

“Not unless the game stops,” Daniel agreed.

Jack sighed, “When you see Carter, strongly suggest she get some rest before things become critical tomorrow.”

“Suggest?”

“Strongly,” Jack reiterated.  “As for you ...”  Seeing Daniel's challenging stare of disobedience, the general raised his eyebrows and held up a hand, saying, “Three hours, strongly suggested.”

Daniel chuckled, knowing his lover was avoiding giving direct orders that would be broken in a heartbeat.

Jack added, “Meet me in the commissary in an hour for dinner.  You may not sleep, but you *are* going to eat.”

Just then the phone rang.

Daniel smiled and shrugged off the fact that he should be sleeping, saying, “I just wanted to see you.”

Jack grinned in response, while at the same time answering, “O'Neill.  Anton!”

“Beets,” Daniel called out as he left the general's office.

“I know you don't like pears, Anton.  How about beets?”

====

Looking up from the computer, Sam saw Daniel enter the lab.  The room they were in was one of the other science labs and had another of the Gamekeeper chairs in it.  Sam was seated in front of a monitor, intently watching the display.

“How's he doing?” the colonel inquired as the archaeologist walked towards her.

“Not well.  His physical exhaustion is translating into the game.  It's like he's having trouble even playing anymore.  It still won't let him go,” Daniel answered, standing next to the blonde and looking down at the monitor she was watching.

“I spoke to one of the scientists on P7J-989,” Sam reported, referring to the Keeper's planet.  “He says there's nothing they can do under the circumstances.”

“What are you doing?”

“They had a neural imprint of Teal'c's mind on file from when we were trapped in the chair six years ago,” Sam answered.

“Creepy.”

“Yeah, I try not to think about it.  Anyway, I'm running a simulation on this chair, using the same parameters that Teal'c's dealing with now.”

“And?” Daniel prompted.

“Well, the imprint is nowhere near the same as a live active mind.  Plus, a lot has changed in the last six years.”

“Yeah, but not the essence of Teal'c's character,” Daniel stated.

“See?  That's what worries me.  I hope it has.  Now, I have run hundreds of simulations.  No matter what Teal'c does, the programming adapts.  Every time it looks like he's won, the chair makes it harder.  It's almost like the game is reading Teal'c's mind and somehow seeing this one game as a microcosm for our war against the Goa'uld,” Sam informed.

“Well, that's how Teal'c probably treats every battle we fight with them.”

“Well, according to these results, six years ago, despite what Teal'c led us to believe, deep down, he didn't really think the Goa'uld could ever be defeated.”

“Well, he doesn't think that now,” Daniel stated.  ~I hope.~  Seeing Sam's questioning shrug, he spoke, “He can't, not after everything we've accomplished.”

“I hope you're right.  Otherwise, no matter how long or hard Teal'c plays the game, he won't win,” Sam responded.

“I hope I'm right, too,” Daniel said doubtfully.

Sam looked up at the archaeologist and asked, “You don't think we should be adapting the chairs, do you?”

“I don't know, Sam,” the archaeologist stated.  “I guess I'm questioning whether it's necessary and really worth the risk.  I'm all for advancement and improving what we do, but maybe we should have done more testing before linking one of us up to the chair.”  He blinked as he added, “I guess that sounds funny coming from me.”

With a soft smile on her face in acknowledgement, Sam responded, “The computer technology had taken us as far as we could go.  I don't think we could have foreseen this.”

“I guess not,” Daniel reluctantly agreed.  He added, “But, sometimes, I wonder if the Tok'ra and the Tollan were right.”

“You don't really believe that,” Sam refuted..

“No, yes, no,” Daniel said with a small smile and a shrug.  “I mean, only at times like this.”

“Well, you know what they say,” Sam began.  “No advancement is without risk, whether it's alien technology or our own.”

“That's true,” Daniel acknowledged.  “Have you gotten any sleep?”

“No,” Sam sighed.

“I think you should try,” the archaeologist suggested.  Seeing the questioning and surprised expression on the colonel's face, he explained, “I'm just saying that Doctor Carmichael expects things to get worse tomorrow.  I don't think it would hurt to get a few hours sleep.”

“Daniel, are you relaying a message from the general?”

“No, uh, well, yyyy...eah,” Daniel acknowledged with a tiny smile.  “A couple of hours, Sam.”

“He's having you tell me so that when I disobey the order, I can't be court-martialed.”

“Something like that,” Daniel acknowledged.  “I'll let you get back to work.”

====

“Well?” Jack asked as the couple sat down with their food trays to eat.

“I told her.”

“Good thing it wasn't an order?”

“What do you think?” Daniel asked as he bit into a piece of meat loaf.

“I think I'd rather not think about it,” Jack responded.

When their meal was completed, the lovers went topside to take a walk.  It was something they often did, usually more covertly than they had on this night, though.  They didn't say much, but when they were far enough from the entrance that he felt it was safe, Jack took his lover's hand in his as they ambled through the wooded area.  After a while, both knew it was time to return.  They shared a kiss and headed back.

“Jack, did you put food in the girls' feeder?  I meant to check it this morning, but forgot.”

“All done.  It's full.  They have plenty of food and water,” Jack assured about the lovers' beagles, Bijou and Katie.  “Your place or mine?”

“What?”

“Sometime tonight, Daniel.  My VIP room, or your office,” Jack stated.

“Jack!”

“Pick.”

“But ...” the younger man objected.

“We're going to rest up for a few hours, take a shower, put on some clean clothes, and eat a decent breakfast,” the general informed his lover sternly.

“What about Sam?”

“She can take her own shower,” Jack quipped.

“Jack!”

“Daniel!”

“Gawd, you're incorrigible,” Daniel complained.

“Right now, I think we should check on Teal'c and see what Doctor Carmichael says,” Jack opined.  With the entrance in sight, he repeated, “Your place or mine.”

“Mine.”  Daniel chuckled, “Security is used to the cameras not working there.”

====

The team stayed up late, monitoring Teal'c and the game.  Sam was still studying the imprint of Teal'c's mind as well as running some other simulations, hoping to find a solution.  Finally, when her eyes started blurring, she agreed to get some sleep.

Doctor Lee had already gone to bed a couple of hours earlier.  Doctor Carmichael, however, planned on staying up all night.  His duty shift had begun only an hour before Sam had first called him, and so he wasn't as exhausted as the others.  He also felt that he had an obligation to monitor the Jaffa.  He had, however, adhered to Jack's request that he rest for a couple of hours after eating dinner.

Jack and Daniel remained up until two-in-the-morning before the general finally insisted they follow through on their plan.  Though the VIP room would definitely have been more comfortable, they loved the little cot in the archaeologist's office, and Daniel was certainly right in that 'camera trouble' there was normal and raised few questions, if even noticed these days.

After a few hours sleep, the couple got up, took a shower, put on fresh clothing, and then ate a healthy breakfast.  As the clock struck eight, Jack pulled his lover into a storage closet, gave him a tender kiss, and whispered his love, as did Daniel, after which the two men began their new day by checking in on Teal'c.

Finding no change, Jack headed for his office, while Daniel continued to monitor the video game and catch up on the versions that had played out during his time away.

After a while, Daniel decided to see if Sam had turned up anything.  He wasn't surprised to find her at work again in the other science lab.

“Any luck?”

“No.  I don't know what to do, Daniel.  It's like Teal'c is doing himself in,” Sam lamented.  “Has there been any change?”

“You can tell he's tiring,” Daniel spoke.  “But he's still trying.”

“Because he won't give up.”

As Daniel nodded, the phone rang.  She answered it and acknowledged the message, after which she hung up.  Her expression was definitely one of concern.

“Trouble?”

“I'm afraid so,” Sam answered, leading Daniel out of the lab.

====

“Sir,” Sam acknowledged as she and Daniel reached the experimental lab, arriving at the same time Jack had.

“Carter.”

“Jack.”

“Daniel.”

“General,” Doctor Lee, now dressed in a shirt and tie versus the more casual attire he'd worn the day before, added.

“Enough,” Jack called out, raising his hand to halt the greetings that could have kept going for another minute or so.  “What's the status?”

Doctor Carmichael finished his examination of Teal'c and then walked over to look at some of the screens, finally responding, “This can't go on for much longer. We're gonna have to make a decision pretty soon about forcibly removing the connections.”

Having leaned to the side to check one of the computer readings, Jack commented, “You know, it's too bad we can't hook up a joystick to this thing; give him a little help,” he looked at his lover, who was standing next to him, “a little backup maybe.”

Daniel nodded, but didn't say anything as he continued to study the monitor in front of him showing Teal'c going through the game yet again.

After a moment, Lee pointed towards Jack and spoke, “Actually, we could link up another chair and send someone else into the same simulation.”  He looked down, shaking his head as he let out a sound of dismay and then muttered, “It wouldn't make any difference.  The processors would network and the second person would just fall victim to the same altered elements in the simulation that have already trapped Teal'c.”

“Unless, the new player had an advantage,” Sam responded.  To Jack she noted, “Sir, you may have done it again.”

“Yes,” Jack replied dryly.  “How did I do it this time?”

“These graphics are being generated by a data recorder that's tracking the game. It's actually interfaced into the system between the chair's processor and Teal'c. The chair decides what's gonna happen; Teal'c responds.  Those responses are then incorporated, processed, and we see the results.  It's a continuous loop of ever changing data.”

“Oh!” Jack replied.  “Still waitin' on my good idea.”

“The recorder causes a two second delay between the programming in the chair and the experience in Teal'c's mind.  He won't know the difference, but we could use it to our advantage,” Sam explained.

Sam and Doctor Lee expounded that they could hook up a second chair to the first without using the recorder.  The new player would know what was going to happen in the game two seconds before it occurred.  The downside was that there was the risk the game would adapt.

“Which would mean that there's a good chance that the second player could be trapped along with Teal'c,” Doctor Carmichael summarized.

All together, Jack, Daniel, and Sam volunteered, “I'll do it!”

For a moment, the three volunteers just looked at one another.

“Carter, we need your smarts out here to make sure this stuff works,” Jack said, swiftly eliminating the colonel from contention.

“So, I'll go,” Daniel reiterated.

“Hey, I'm still here,” Jack objected.

“Yes, and you have important decisions to make.  Avocados,” Daniel teased, earning him a glare from the older man.  “Come on, Jack.  It makes more sense for me to go, than you.”

As Jack groaned, Sam opined, “Daniel's right, Sir.”

Jack studied the woman and then his lover as he struggled with the decision inwardly.  He knew Daniel was fully recovered from his recent trauma; Janet had given him full clearance.

“You know I'm right, Jack,” Daniel stated, looking at his lover with sympathy, knowing how difficult a decision this was.  He didn't say more, believing it wasn't necessary.  ~The last thing we need is for the game to learn from you as well as Teal'c, not with your background and everything you've experienced in Black Ops,~ he thought.

Jack sighed.  He knew exactly what his lover was referring to.  It wasn't necessarily his training, as much as his impromptu and dark experiences that could take the game to unsafe places.  As much as he hated it, he also knew that as the commander of the SGC, he had to limit his exposure to danger.  He wished he could ignore the protocol, but it came with the territory.

“Jack, I can do this,” Daniel stated confidently, well aware his husband was silently debating the issue.

Jack heard the tone.  He'd spent years protecting his lover from harm, but he'd also trained Daniel in operations and tactics that no one else knew about.  The man was extremely capable.  Though he could easily prevent Daniel from becoming the second player, he realized that would be the wrong thing to do.

If the brigadier general began giving out orders designed to keep Daniel safe, not only would he be acting with gross unfairness and misconduct in his position as leader of Stargate Command, but he would be putting their relationship in jeopardy.  He knew Daniel would never allow himself to be protected like that.

~Okay, Danny,~ Jack sighed.  ~But only because Fraiser swore to me earlier that you were one-hundred percent a-okay.~  With a reluctant sigh, he agreed, “Daniel, you're it, but listen to me.”

The younger man looked at his lover with questioning eyes.

“Your mission is to get Teal'c out of there, but if he refuses, *if* you can't reach him, then you *promise me* ... do you hear me?  I mean you *promise* me that you'll go for the failsafe on your own.”

“It won't let me out without the game ending,” Daniel stated, not willing to lie to his lover in any way.

“I want you to try.”

“Okay, I promise,” Daniel agreed.

Seeing Jack's nod for her to proceed, Sam stated, “This won't take long to set up.”

“We'll be back,” Jack stated.  “Daniel,” he said, motioning towards the doorway.

The lovers walked quietly down the hall, eventually making their way to Daniel's office on the eighteenth level.  As Daniel locked the doors, Jack used the remote control that Sam had gifted them with for Christmas last year to turn off the security equipment.  Then, the two made their way into each other's arms and shared a tender kiss.

“Jack, I'm not exactly going off somewhere to do battle with the Goa'uld,” Daniel spoke with his arms wrapped around his soulmate.

“I know, but this is still the unknown, and I don't like those things.  They've been nothing but trouble from the first time we saw them,” Jack replied.

“Danny,” Daniel said quietly.

“What?”

“Remember, Jack?  I was so confused and upset, but you explained it to me that day.  You helped me to understand who Danny was and why Daniel was always protecting him.”  The archaeologist mused, “Sounds a little schizophrenic.”

“Not at all,” Jack refuted.  “I told you that Daniel the adult protector didn't need to worry anymore, because I'd keep that little boy safe from now on.”

“And you have,” the younger man stated firmly.  “You've let me be Danny.  Gawd, I love our trains.  Every time we ... play with them, I feel like a child on Christmas, and that was something I really never thought I'd understand, not after my parents died.  That chair: it's a place I don't want to go back to, but I guess it was part of our ... evolution.”

Jack sighed and placed a kiss on his lover's nose, causing Daniel to laugh.

“Jack, why do you do that?”

“Because you have a beautiful nose, and kissing it makes me happy,” Jack answered.  “Any objections?”

“None,” Daniel said, amused when his husband repeated the act.  “Gawd, I love you.”

“And I love you.  Danny, you keep your head up in that game.  You do know that if I weren't the blasted headmaster of this place that you wouldn't be going.”

“Maybe; maybe not,” Daniel mused with a smile.  “I'll be careful, Babe; I promise.”

Sharing a more passionate kiss than their first, Jack and Daniel gave themselves a few more minutes of privacy before returning to the experimental lab.

====

With Daniel secured in the second chair, which was on Teal'c's right, the archaeologist entered the game.

Jack and Sam were standing next to Teal'c's chair, where the primary monitor was hooked up.  The general's right hand was raised to his chin as he watched the game unfold.  Much to his horror, though, just seconds after his husband had found Teal'c in the game, the Jaffa shot him dead.

In the chair, Daniel shuddered, the pain stimulus attacking his body.  Jack's heart jumped in response, his hand automatically lowering from the surprise.

“Why'd he shoot him?” Jack asked, briefly looking at Sam for an answer.  ~So help me, if you kept something from me, Carter.~

“Because Daniel was a Goa'uld in the last several simulations,” Sam admitted.

~I may send you to Elmendorf yet,~ Jack thought, fighting off his initial urge, which was to say something not-so-polite to Sam in front of the other scientists.  Instead, he waited a moment, letting everything sink in.  Then, he said calmly, “I told ya I shoulda gone.”

“The last thing we needed was the game learning from your tactical experience,” Sam explained, verbalizing something both Jack and Daniel had already thought about earlier.

At that moment, the sound of gunfire was heard over the monitor, and Daniel shuddered again.

Jack walked over and, standing looking down at the still shaking form of his lover and said, “Everyone but Carter out for sixty seconds.”  When the room was cleared and the door closed, he said in a calm and deadly tone, “Carter, team or no team, the next time something like this happens, if you keep anything like that from me again, you'll be an airman.  Do you understand?”

Sam gulped, hearing the sound of the man's voice.  He wasn't looking at her, and this wasn't one of his normal rants.  He was scared about the welfare of the man he loved, and she knew it.  She knew, and he knew, that she hadn't told him about the archaeologist being the Goa'uld in the game because if she had, he would have insisted on doing this himself, something she still believed would have been a costly mistake, considering his vast military experience.

Turning to face Sam, Jack asked the question again: “Do you understand?”

“I'm sorry, General.  I know what you're saying, but it would have been a mistake for you to be in that chair.”

“That's not what I'm asking you.  Whether or not I would or would not be there is not the issue.  Do you need me to simplify for you?”

“No, Sir, I don't.”

“Then do we understand each other?”

“Yes, General, we do,” Sam acknowledged, getting a nod from the man and then heading for the door to let the others back in.

“Carter?”

“Sir?”

“It's just ... I should have known,” Jack said as he turned back to Daniel again.  ~And, Danny, you better come back to me so we can have our own discussion about this, and we will.  You should have told me about this.~

Sam nodded and opened the door, after which she returned to her place to monitor the activity.  She glanced over at the general, standing calmly and acting as nonchalantly as he could.  Yet, she knew his fear for his husband's safety was preying on his mind.  She couldn't blame him for that.

~He's right; he should have been told,~ Sam admitted inwardly.  ~He would have made the correct tactical decision.  He always does.  You made a mistake, Samantha.~

Finally, after several attempts in the game, Daniel managed to convince Teal'c that he was himself and was there to help him get out of the game.  The archaeologist told him about his ability to see two seconds into the future, while also admitting it was a little weird.

Outside the game, Doctor Carmichael called for a crash cart.  It was his belief that Teal'c couldn't survive another reset of the game.

~Where would that leave Daniel?~ Jack wondered.  He was concerned about Teal'c, but his heart was aching for his archaeologist as well.  After all, while it would be devastating to lose Teal'c, it would kill him to lose Daniel.  Obviously, the archaeologist had more time before reaching a critical juncture in the game, but that didn't make him feel any better.  ~Come on, Angel.  Fight for me.  Get Teal'c and you out of there, fast.~

Unfortunately, the game reset again, and, as predicted, Teal'c went into cardiac arrest.  Having the necessary equipment nearby thanks to his foresight, Carmichael was able to revive him and get a pulse.

“That's not going to work again,” the doctor stated after he injected Teal'c's heart with stimulants to help revive him.

“I don't wanna see that again!” Jack exclaimed.  “I thought they were gonna be able to beat this thing.”

“It may take Daniel a while to adjust to the precognitive abilities.  Plus, two seconds isn't a lot of time.  He'll need the right opportunity to take advantage of it,” Sam stated.

~Right,~ Jack thought as he watched his lover running down a corridor.

Back inside the game, Teal'c made a change in his game play, choosing not to shoot an approaching drone.  He told Daniel that in previous versions of the game when he'd shot the drone, it had attracted the attention of a third, cloaked drone.  He now realized that the drone at this location was a diversion to allow the Goa'uld to destroy the facility, either through the SGC's own self-destruct mechanism or the naquadah generator, which was rigged to overload and explode.

Hearing that, Daniel realized that whichever method Teal'c had tried to stop, the game would use the other.  The identity of the Goa'uld, which had been Daniel for several versions of the game before he joined it, changed continually as well.

Teal'c confirmed that suspicion, adding that he believed the identity of the Goa'uld to be the final component of the game to be overcome.  As yet, he hadn't been able to identify the Goa'uld in time.

Soon, the entire SG-1 team ended up in the same room with the generator.  Sam, who had been kneeling down by the generator, was now standing, pleading with Teal'c to believe her.  Motioning towards an unconscious Sergeant Siler lying a few feet away, she claimed that she'd entered the room and found Siler rigging the device to overload and that he was the Goa'uld.

The face-off escalated with the four teammates aiming their P-90's at the other.  The Jaffa was hoping that with his seconds of future-sight, Daniel would know who the Goa'uld was, but he didn't.

In the end, the weary Jaffa decided to trust his family, SG-1, and he slowly lowered his weapon, as did the others.  Immediately, Jack ordered Sam to deactivate the generator. A moment later, Daniel shouted out, having seen Siler, who was indeed the Goa'uld, rise.  Gunfire broke out, and Teal'c killed Siler, after which the game ended.

~It's over,~ Jack thought, relieved.

Daniel came to, but was still disoriented as he asked, “Is it finished?”

“Yeah, you did it,” Sam confirmed.

~Good,~ Daniel thought as he rested his head against the chair.

**Danny?**

**I'm okay; just tired,** the archaeologist replied.

As Teal'c awoke, Sam shut off the power to both chairs.

“O'Neill,” the Jaffa spoke.

“Hey,” Jack responded casually as he patted his friend on the shoulder.

“We have won.”

“Well, it's what we do,” Jack said, smiling.  ~And if we hadn't, then we just wouldn't be.~  The general looked at his lover, wanting desperately to hold him, but he couldn't.  After a moment, he said, “Let's get them both to the infirmary for ...”

“Jack ...” Daniel began to object.

“No arguments, Daniel,” Jack interrupted.  Part of him wanted to ignore protocol and just hold his soulmate close and check over every perfect inch of him.  The other part of him wanted to throttle the stubborn archaeologist.  “Doctor Carmichael, I want both of them checked out fully.  I'll be in my office.”  As he headed out the door, he communicated, **I love you, Angel, but you're in big trouble.**

**I am?**

Silence was Daniel's response, and he opened his eyes again, searching around for his lover, finally realizing Jack was gone.  Frowning, he began trying to work out what had upset the older man so much, because Jack was clearly upset about more than Daniel's near death experience.

====

A few minutes later, Sam was walking with Daniel to the infirmary.  Teal'c had already been taken there on a stretcher with Doctor Carmichael.

“Um, Daniel, I think you should know something,” Sam said as they rounded a corridor.

“Jack's upset about something,” the archaeologist responded.

With a nod, Sam elaborated, “We didn't tell him that you'd been a Goa'uld in those last few game plays before you became the second player.”

“Oh.”

“He wasn't happy,” Sam stated, her tone making it evident that she'd taken some flack for the decision not to tell him.

“Elmendorf?”

“No,” Sam sighed.  “Airman.”

Daniel stopped and asked, “Airman?”

“He was ... Daniel, this was different from all those times when he ... barks.  He was pretty upset.”

“It'll be okay.”

“I know.  I'm not worried about my rank.  I actually agree with him.  I know you and I didn't talk about this; I mean, it's not like we plotted not to tell him, but neither of us did, apparently.”

Daniel chuckled lightly, “No, uh, I guess I didn't think to mention it, either.”

“But we should have told him.  I think he would have made the right choice.”

The archaeologist sighed, “You know, Sam.  I didn't think about it like this until just now.  I guess we both sold Jack short a little.”

“I think maybe we did,” Sam agreed as the teammates continued on to the infirmary.

====

“Hey,” Daniel said, entering his lover's office.

“Carmichael clear you?”

“Actually, Janet did.  I was her first patient this shift,” Daniel affirmed, not getting much of a reaction from his husband and knowing that it was at least partially because of the little lie of omission.  “Jack, I want to talk to you about, uh, well ...”

“Daniel, it's been a long two days, and Kendrick just left, huffing and puffing all the way.”

“Teal'c's apartment?”

Teal'c had finally been granted permission to live off base, and Daniel hoped that the higher ups were not about to rescind that.  Unfortunately, the Jaffa was not exactly an invisible presence in the neighborhood, and all of the attention he'd been attracting was making the higher ups edgy.

“Teal'c's insisting on being the savior to the community,” Jack spoke sarcastically.  “I'm expecting a call from Hammond and ...”

“I'll talk to you later,” Daniel said.  “Uh, I have an errand to run, so I'll meet you at home.”  **I love you.**

**I love you, too,** Jack said, his mind focused on the laptop he was using to reply to an email.

====

“He said he had an errand to run,” Jack said as he patted Bijou and Katie, the couple's two canines.  “We had a narrow miss today, Girls, but he's okay.”

After playing with the beagles for a while, Jack walked into the house, intending to get a beer from the kitchen, but the sound of the front door opening stopped him.

“Danny?”

“Jack, for someone who has spent so much time harping on me about locking the door, I'd think you'd pay more attention to locking your own.”

“Our own,” Jack corrected, his eyes focused on the object in his lover's hands.

“Uh, these are for you,” Daniel said, handing his lover a beautiful bouquet of flowers, wrapped in tissue.

The assortment was made up of a variety of lovely pasqueflowers, columbine, which was also the state flower of Colorado, asters, larkspur, mountain blue bells, and more.  It was a colorful array of wildflowers from the local area.

“Thank you, Love,” Jack said, leaning over to kiss his husband.  “You picked these yourself,” he observed, looking at the flowers and knowing some of them were unique and not frequently found in the stores.

“I didn't want to just buy them for you.  I wanted this to be from my heart, so I went for a walk and tried to find flowers that expressed my love for you.”

The lovers shared a kiss and a gaze of foreverness, after which Jack asked, “What's the occasion?”

“Read the card,” Daniel requested.

Cradling the wildflowers in his left arm, Jack removed the card and opened it, smiling at the words:

“J.

Sometimes, not saying something is worse than saying it, especially when it leads to the assumption of a lack of trust.  What's worse is when that assumption is the furthest thing from the truth, because there is no one in the universe that I trust more than you.  I'm sorry, and I love you.

D.”

“Jack, Sam and I didn't conspire to keep you in the dark about Teal'c seeing me as a Goa'uld in the game.”

“I never said you did,” Jack corrected.

“We never discussed it, but I think she was worried you wouldn't let me go in, and her bigger concern was that the computer would take that Special Ops training of yours and apply it to the game.  If that had happened, we might have lost Teal'c, and you,” Daniel continued.  “I was going to mention it, but it slipped my mind, and then we were committed, and time was running out, and I didn't want you to ... freak out.  I realize now, as does Sam, by the way, that my failure to tell you about the game version might seem like I didn't trust you.  I need to make sure that you understand, that isn't the case.”

“I know, Danny.”

“I was trying to avoid an argument, and that was the wrong choice.  I believe, Jack, that even though you wouldn't have liked it, you still would have made the same choice you did today, to let me go.”

“It was the right thing,” Jack affirmed.  “You and Carter were right.  That game was intuitive; that had already been proven.”  He walked over to the cabinet and reached inside, pulling out a vase, after which he headed into the kitchen to fill the vase with water.  “You didn't need to bring me flowers.”

“Yes, I did,” Daniel insisted, following his husband inside.  “Jack, I was wrong. I did you a huge disservice, and I want you to know I realize that.  I also want you to know how much I love you.  I volunteered to be the second player because Teal'c needed my help.  Sam couldn't do it, and neither could you.  If I hadn't done it, there was no one else.  I mean, you wouldn't have wanted Bill to ...”

“For crying out loud, Danny, the idea was to save Teal'c, not kill him!” Jack spoke with wide eyes.

Daniel chuckled, “I am sorry.”

Jack put the vase at the center of the table that was in the dining nook and smiled at the arrangement.  He rearranged them slightly until he was satisfied with their look.  Then he walked over to his husband and took him into his arms.

“I love you, Angel.  I was pretty mad at Carter.  Did she tell you?”

“She ... gave me an idea.”

“Flowers?” Jack asked, wondering if he needed to second the blonde an arrangement as an apology.

“Actually, I don't think it's necessary.  She understood,” Daniel answered.

“Good.  Saves me forty bucks.”

“Of course, it would be a nice gesture, since you threatened her with being an airman; that was a first.”

“I wanted her to know this wasn't just our usual ...”

“Word play?” Daniel completed as his lover struggled for the right phrase.  “It was my place to tell you, and I had the chance, but you were holding me and kissing me, and I just ... gawd, Jack, I didn't want anything to interfere with what I was feeling inside.  If something was going to happen, that's what I wanted to remember, not an argument.  I'm not trying to rationalize, because as much as I hate to admit it, I really didn't think about it that much.”

The lovers' hands rested on each other's waists as they stood, talking.

“Angel, there is one more thing I want to say, about why I left the lab so abruptly and why in my office, I was so ...”

“Cold?”

“Preoccupied,” the man with the silver-gray hair countered.

“Distant?” Daniel offered.

“Busy,” Jack refuted, raising his hand to scratch the end of Daniel's nose playfully, causing the younger man to smile, his dimples showing nicely.

The truth, though, was that both men knew Daniel had been closer to the truth with his word choices.

“You see, one of the things about being the friggin' man is that I have to make choices I wouldn't normally make, and I don't like that.  I don't like that I have to think about Earth before you, because I prefer to think about you before Earth.”  Jack sighed and elaborated, “When you opened your eyes, you don't know how much I just wanted to hold you, but I couldn't.  I had to stand there and play it cool with Teal'c.  I couldn't take not being able to wrap my arms around you or even just touch you the way I needed to.  I had to leave when I did and not think about it.”

“I understand.”

“Do you, Danny?”

Daniel leaned in for a quick kiss and then raised his arms to go around his soulmate's neck as he spoke, “I know it's a part of the job you don't like and that you couldn't ... hold me like you wanted to then, just like you can't always protect me like you want to.”

Jack's mouth opened in surprise, and not for a kiss.  He wasn't quite sure how to respond to the revelation.

As he ran his finger around a few strands of Jack's short hair, Daniel continued, “Babe, come on.  We haven't really talked about it, specifically; well, just a little, but I know you, and inside of you somewhere, you've thought about trying to lock me up in my office where the worst thing that could happen to me is a ... a paper cut.”

“Those can be dangerous,” Jack responded, making a feeble attempt at levity and then reaching up and taking his lover's left hand, bringing it to his face so that he could examine the fingers.  When he looked over and saw Daniel's pointed stare, he released the man's hand and sighed, “It wouldn't work.”

“No, it wouldn't,” Daniel answered seriously while returning his hand to its previous position and starting to gently caress the back of Jack's neck.  “We protect each other.  Maybe it's not quite the same in the field anymore, but you wouldn't like it much, Jack, if I kept you locked up in your office with ... memos all day long.  I mean, uh, you may not get out as much as you like, but you do go off-world with us sometimes, and you still disappear to who knows where for a day or two here and there.”

“Not even our love could survive putting each other in a box,” Jack stated knowingly, his head lowered just a tad.

“Oh, we'd survive, Babe, but it would come at a cost that would, I think, destroy who we are, and ... Jack, I like who we are now.”

“So do I,” Jack acknowledged, sharing another kiss with his Heart.  “You know what?”

“What?”

“We've already spent too much time on this.  Let's forget about it and just enjoy our night.  Hungry?” Jack inquired, patting his lover's behind as he stepped back and towards the deeper part of the kitchen.

“Starved,” Daniel agreed.

“I love you, Danny, and I love the flowers.”

“I love you, too, my sexy Silver Fox.”

The lovers kissed and then continued on with their evening.  They were happy and in love, and that was all that mattered.

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