Hebetude

Author: Orrymain and special guest co-author, Claudia!
Category: Slash, Major Angst, Big Time H/C, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel  .... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  2 - winter
Spoilers:  The Nox, Fire and Water, Serpent's Lair, Touchstone (minor)
Size:  209kb
Written:  March 28,30-31, April 1-3,13,15-16, 2004
Summary:  Something is wrong with Daniel, and Jack blames himself for missing the signs.
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) We had so much fun we decided to do it again ... and again.  Thanks to Claudia, my always beta, and now sometimes co-author!  She makes it so much fun to write some of these fics!
2) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my past fics, “Wish Upon a Star” and “A Matter of Choice”
5) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  QuinGem, Kalimyre, Jackette, Drdjlover, StarShadowHeidi!

Hebetude
by Orrymain and Claudia!

Jack looked out at the private beach backyard.  He and his lover had come to this picturesque paradise a few days earlier.  Daniel had been tired and needed time away, at least that was the stated “excuse” they'd both been telling themselves, so Jack had rented a villa on a very exclusive isle.  It was expensive, but something deep inside told him this was necessary.  They were in a secluded spot on an island off the North Carolina coast, near Fort Fisher.  There was no one else, nothing else, for miles.

It was winter, not summertime, but Daniel had wanted to go somewhere with a beach.  Now, as Jack watched him from a distance, his concern grew.  Daniel had on a blue jacket which was zipped up half way.  He wore tattered blue jeans as he sat on the sandy shore.  The wind was blowing, and Daniel's long locks were shifting with the breeze.

Daniel's knees were drawn up, with his hands resting on his kneecaps.  He looked blankly out over the ocean.

Jack made his way to his lover.  He didn't try to be quiet as he moved forward.  “Stay,” he said as he moved in behind Daniel, wrapping his legs outside of Daniel's frame.  Jack reached his arms around his lover's waist, snaking his hands under the jacket and blue t-shirt Daniel wore.  The muscles were tense, tighter than Jack had ever felt before.

“Shhh.  Let me hold you, Danny,” Jack said, moving his arms lovingly.  He kept one arm across Daniel's chest, outside the garments now, and with his left hand, he gently forced his lover's head to his shoulder.  He held the palm of his hand against Daniel's silky hair.

“Tell me what's wrong.”

The voice was weak and strained.  “I don't know.”

“That's not much help.”

“I'm ... tired, that's all.”

“No, that's not all.  What's wrong, Danny?”

“I don't know.  Gawd, I swear I don't know.”

Jack wondered if this was the result of one of their run-ins with a Goa'uld, but recently, things had been pretty calm, all things considered.  Daniel hadn't worked that much, either, so his constant state of weariness was concerning Jack.

“Is it mental?  I mean, is it the SGC?”  Jack felt Daniel's head shake in his palm.  Jack slipped his fingers through the soft strands of hair, now that he felt sure Daniel wouldn't try to escape his hold.  “Is it ... physical?”

Daniel didn't move, nor did he utter a sound.  Jack's heart stopped.  He knew it had to be.  He'd noticed little things over the last couple of months, but they had been ... little things.  He'd dismissed them, each and every one, but now, with Daniel trembling from his own anxieties, in Jack's arms, the long list of little things came flooding back to him.

He thought back to the events that led to this trip.  They made sense now.

//Flashback//
Jack arrived home from the SGC looking forward to spending some quality snuggling time with his lover.  He'd had a long, boring day filled with endless meetings about budgets.  It was one of those days when he was really sorry to be Hammond's 2IC.

“Hey, Danny, I'm home,” he called out as he closed the front door and walked into the living room.  He came to an abrupt halt.  Daniel was sitting on the couch, his knees pulled up to his chest, his arms wrapped tightly around himself.

~Oh oh, this doesn't look good.~ Jack hesitated for a moment as he pondered the best course of action to take.  In the end he couldn't help himself and walked over to kiss Daniel.  At least, that was his intention, but as he leaned forward to kiss his lover, Daniel leapt up and walked over to stare out the window.

~Definitely not good.~  Jack followed Daniel, but stopped a few paces behind him.

“Danny?  What's wrong?”  Jack saw Daniel's head drop forward a little before he straightened his shoulders and turned around.

“Jack, this isn't working.”  Jack felt as though all the air had just been sucked out of his lungs.  Daniel couldn't mean what Jack was afraid he meant.

“Uh, what's not working?  Your car?  You know you really need a new car, Love.”

Daniel sighed.  “That's not what I meant, and ... and you know it.  It's us.  You and me.  This ... it's ... it's, uh, not working.”

“You don't mean that.  You can't.”

“I'm sorry, but I do.  I think we should break up, go back to being friends.”

“No,” Jack spoke emphatically, shaking his head.

This wasn't right.  He knew Daniel had been worrying about something off and on over the last couple of weeks, but the archaeologist had assured Jack that it was just work issues, that the two of them were fine.

“Daniel, where's this coming from?  You haven't said anything to suggest that you've been unhappy with me, with our relationship.”

Daniel looked down at his feet.  When he looked up again, there were tears in his eyes.

“I tried, Jack.  I tried to persuade myself that I could do it, but ...”  he looked away, as if steeling himself to say what he had to, “I can't betray Sha're like this.”

He walked towards the front door.  “I'm taking some leave from the SGC, Jack.  I hope when I get back we can still be friends ... but if we can't, I'll understand.”

Jack stood frozen to the spot.  He heard Daniel's car start up and drive away.  He felt numb.  ~No.  This cannot be happening.  Why, Danny?  Why now?  We've worked through all the stuff with Sha're.  I don't buy it.  There's something off here, Daniel.  I don't know what it is, but I'm not letting you go like this.~

He grabbed the keys to his truck and raced out the door.  Twenty minutes later, he was standing outside Daniel's loft knocking relentlessly on the front door.

Jack debated whether he should use his key.  ~I'm not leaving until we've talked Danny.~  Just as he was about to pull out his key, he heard the lock turn.  The door swung open to reveal a very teary eyed Daniel.  It looked like he'd been crying ever since he left Jack's house.  His eyes were red and his nose was clearly blocked if the wad of tissues in his hand was anything to go by.

“Oh Danny,” Jack stepped forward and embraced the younger man, kicking the door closed with his foot.

“Let me go,” Daniel whispered, but there wasn't much conviction to the words, and his body wasn't exactly pushing Jack away.  “Please, just let me go.”

“No can do, Danny.  I love you.”

Jack felt Daniel hold out a little longer, his body stiff in Jack's arms, but not really trying to get away.  Whatever was going on in the archaeologist's head was apparently more of an internal struggle than one dealing with Jack.

Then, in one fell swoop, all Daniel's resistance simply fell away, and he melted against Jack.  As he rubbed soothing circles on Daniel's back, Jack realized the younger man had started crying again.  He was getting a very damp right shoulder.

“Tell me what's wrong, and ... we'll fix it.”

Daniel shook his head, his nose still buried firmly in Jack's shoulder.  “I need to get away.”  The words were muffled, but Jack managed to make them out.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Beach.  I need sand.  I don't know why.  Maybe ... my parents.  I just feel like that's where I need to be.”

“Okay.  We'll go to the beach.  Caribbean?”

“No, some place ... private.   I ... I just ...”

“I know just the place, Love.  We'll ... escape, together, because we do everything together.  We can talk everything out away from here, away from the SGC, just you and me.  Okay?”

The next few minutes seemed the longest of Jack's life.  He knew Daniel was fighting within himself, but he also knew he wasn't letting Daniel out of his sight until he got the answer as to what was wrong.

Finally, Daniel gave a quick nod.  “Okay.”

~I don't know what's going on, but I'm sure going to find out.~
//End of Flashback//

~It makes sense now, Danny.  You think something is seriously wrong with you.  That's why you wanted to break up.  Not going to happen, my Love.  Whatever it is, whatever happens, happens to both of us.~

Jack found his voice again.  “We'll talk to Janet when we get back.”

“I'm scared, Jack.  I ... I can't even think straight.”

“Me, too, but you know the Doc -- she can fix anything ... even Space Monkeys.”  Jack had wanted to laugh.  So did Daniel.  But they couldn't. With the wind blowing increasingly around them, the two sat motionless, still, and deathly quiet.

Daniel's words echoed in Jack's mind.  He couldn't think straight?  Here, in the calm of a peaceful beach?  ~For someone who claims to be observant, I sure missed it.  I'm sorry, Danny.  I ... guess I didn't want to see it.~

//Flashback//
“Daniel, which way?”

“What?”

SG-1 was on a peaceful mission, a visit with new allies actually, called the Holmetz.  Daniel had been on an excavation with SG-11 a few weeks earlier when the inhabitants had been discovered.  Apparently, the residents lived underground, in a system of elaborate tunnels during their “dark” season, and then moved to the surface for the remainder of their year.  Until the inhabitants suddenly showed up near the dig site, they had thought the planet was devoid of human life.

The people had welcomed the visitors, and invited them back to negotiate for the rights to continue their dig and for some rich minerals they promised were unlike anything the Tau'ri might have.

Daniel was to lead the way back to the village where the Holmetz resided.

The archaeologist now stood, staring in front of him.  SG-1 had taken a break at a spot Daniel had said was about half way to the village.  At the moment, Sam and Teal'c were talking, Sam taking the opportunity to refresh her lipstick.  The Jaffa thought it was odd, but Sam just shrugged.  “I am a woman, Teal'c, and I like to look my best, even in fatigues.”

“Indeed.”

Yards away, Jack approached Daniel.  “Danny?  Which way?”

“I ...” Daniel turned, taking in a full 360 degree panoramic view of the area.  He stopped where he had started, trying to examine the three paths at their disposal.

“Daniel?”

“I don't know.  Let me think.  Gawd, Jack, I'm an archaeologist, not a freakin' Boy Scout.  Give me a minute.  I ... I can't think with you yelling at me.”

“Yelling?” Jack said in surprise.  He hadn't yelled.  He hadn't even raised his voice.  He watched in total shock when Daniel stormed off, walking several feet down one path.  For a moment, he thought that was the way to go, so Jack had been about to call the rest of SG-1 to pack it up, but then Daniel stopped.  ~He looks ... lost.  Oh, well.  It happens to the best of us.~

Daniel returned the way he came and walked by Jack as if they had never uttered a word to each other.

“Hey, Sam, is there more coffee?”

~Ah, he just needs a caffeine fix.  I should have guessed that.~  Jack smiled, watching Daniel quickly down a cup of coffee.

“We should go.   Come on, Jack.”  With great confidence, Daniel led SG-1 down the path on the left.

~Definitely the caffeine.~
//End of Flashback//

~It wasn't the caffeine, was it?~

Jack kissed Daniel's temple, and together, they remained on the beach for another hour, before Jack insisted they go inside.  Daniel had begun shivering, even with his jacket on and Jack holding him.

====

A few hours later, Jack put the finishing touches on the roast he was making for dinner.  He slid the pan into the oven and went into the living room.  Daniel was lying asleep on the sofa, the book he had been reading lay haphazardly on the floor where it had fallen.  Jack sat down in the chair opposite and gazed at the beloved features of his lover.  He couldn't stop the tears from sliding down his cheeks as he ran through another one of those little things that may have been signs something was wrong.
 
//Flashback//
Jack strolled down the corridor to Daniel's office.  He thought his lover had lost a little weight recently and so was on a mission to fatten him up.  Part of this scheme involved collecting his archaeologist at lunchtime so that he could make sure Daniel had more than just coffee and chocolate for lunch.
 
As he grew closer to the door, he heard cursing in what sounded like Abydonian.  ~Artifacts finally biting back are they, Danny?~ Jack smiled.  Maybe a 'Jack' interruption was just what Daniel needed.  He reached the doorway just in time to see Daniel sweep a clay tablet onto the floor along with all the piles of papers that had been sitting on the desk.  Jack winced as he heard the tablet shatter into pieces.

“Ah, Danny?  Everything okay?”

Daniel sighed and looked up at Jack whose concern increased tenfold.  Daniel looked extraordinarily tired.  There were black circles under his eyes, and he didn't seem to care about the fact that he'd just destroyed what was probably a valuable artifact.  Jack knew that even if no one else thought the tablet was worth anything, Daniel saw every artifact as priceless.

“Hi, Jack.  Everything's fine.  I'm just tired, and I have a headache.”

Jack wondered why Daniel hadn't moved to pick up the broken relic, so he did, bending over and carefully scooping up the item.  He tried to remain nonchalant as he spoke.  “A little food should help with that.”

Daniel shook his head.  “I'm not really hungry.  I'll grab some lunch later.”

Jack wondered what the best course of action was.  He didn't want to force Daniel to eat if he really didn't feel like it, but it might do the archaeologist some good to get out of his office for a while.

“At least come and keep me company while I eat.”  Jack figured if he at least got Daniel to the commissary, he might be able to coax his lover into eating a sandwich.  Without any further argument, Daniel agreed, and the two went to lunch.
//End of Flashback//

Jack stood and walked over to stare out the window.  The gray sea matched his mood perfectly.  ~I should have known something was wrong then.  No matter how tired you might be, you'd never destroy an artifact with such equanimity.  And you've never caved into my mother-henning that easily before.~

“Jack?” Jack surreptitiously wiped his eyes and walked over to kneel beside Daniel.

“Don't try and hide your emotions from me, Jack,” Daniel caressed Jack's cheek.  “I ... I've been thinking.”

“I thought you were sleeping.”

“Ha, ha.”

“Sorry.”

“Don't be.” Daniel smiled.  “Humor is good.  Jack, I don't want to see Janet.  Whatever's wrong with me, she'll probably stop me going through the Stargate, and I couldn't bear that.  I need to be able to work, with you, Sam and Teal'c.  I couldn't bear to lose my family, Jack.”

“Okay.  Let me think.”

“I thought thinking was my department.”

“I'll help ... just this once.”

Daniel smiled.  His right hand reached over to touch Jack's cheek, the palm of his hand gently slipping back and forth across the skin.  “You need a shave.”

“Later.”  Jack took the palm of Daniel's hand from his cheek and kissed it.  His lips were still pressed against the palm as he closed his eyes, trying not to lose control.

“I'm sorry.”

“Sorry?  Ah, Danny, for what?”

“Always being the source of trouble, somehow or other.”

“You're the best kind of trouble, my love.  Hey, dinner will be done soon, but we still have a few minutes.  Wanna go for a quick walk on the beach?”

“I'd like that.”

With their arms wrapped around each other, the two walked the beach, but after only five minutes, Daniel's soft voice spoke up.  “Jack ... I'm kinda tired.  Maybe we should go back.”

Jack turned to face his lover, gazing into the cerulean blue eyes he loved so much.  Why didn't he see this earlier?  Would his delay be costly to the man he loved?  ~Why, O'Neill, weren't you paying attention?~

//Flashback//
“Daniel, rise and shine!”

“Sleeping, Jack.”

“Danny, you've been sleeping all afternoon, and besides, you didn't even get up until 10 a.m..  I think you're just trying to get out of yard duty.”

Slowly, Daniel turned over from his sleeping position on his stomach, shoving off the comforter that had been covering his body.  “Not trying to get out of anything.  It's been a long week.  I'm just ... tired.”

“Gold-bricker,” Jack teased.  “It's your turn to trim the hedges and flower bushes.  You hate doing that.”

“Allergies.”  Daniel smiled weakly.

Jack glanced at Daniel.  “Danny, you aren't sick, are you?”  Jack had been teasing his lover, and intended to continue, but first, he wanted to make sure the young man was just trying to get out of work, as he suspected.

“No, Jack.  You don't need to mother hen me.  I'm fine.”

“Okay, so, are you going to sleep away the entire afternoon, or help me out here?”

“I'm coming,” Daniel said as he sat up.

Jack walked over to his lover and planted a kiss on Daniel's forehead.  “Good boy.  Good things come to those who do their share.”

“Right,” Daniel responded, a yawn coming quickly on the  heels of the word.

“Let's go, Sleepy Head.”  Jack grabbed Daniel's hand and pulled him downstairs to help with the yard work.
//End of Flashback//

~You missed it, O'Neill.  Idiot!  You should have known something was wrong.   So many signs.~

“Jack, stop it.”  Daniel had seen the frown and the furrowing eyebrows on Jack's face.  Whatever the older man was thinking, Daniel was positive that somehow, Jack was blaming himself for their current situation.

“Stop what?”

“Whatever it is that you're blaming yourself for.  I'm not dead, you know.  Whatever this is ... it's just ... a temporary inconvenience.”

“You're right.”  Jack gave his lover a smile.  ~I can't add to his worry.  We need to stay positive.~   “Dinner's done anyway.  I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too.”

Walking back to the villa, Jack said, “Danny, back in those days I'd rather forget, there was a doctor.  I trusted him.  He saved my life once.”  ~Maybe he can do it again.~

“Who is it?”

“His name is Alex Weston.  We started off at the Academy together, but ... he was gay, and some of the other recruits found out.  He got beaten up quite badly.  He decided to go into medicine.  He's good, Space Monkey, and he knows how to be discreet.”

Daniel smiled at the use of the nickname, and its implied connotation -- that Daniel could survive the impossible.  The two had often joked he had at least nine lives.  So no matter what, they'd get through this, too. ~Strange, though, seems Jack would have called me Space Cat or something.  I wonder if monkeys do have more than one life?~

“Good.  Does that mean you can come with me?”

“Danny, Apophis himself couldn't stop me.”

“Thank you, Jack.”

“Love you, Danny, so friggin' much.”  The two kissed, their kisses growing more passionate until Jack realized that Daniel was shivering.  He took off his jacket and draped it around his lover's shoulders.

“Jack, I don't want you to get cold.”

“I won't, Love.  Come on, let's head back.”  Arms around each other's waists, the two made their way back to the house.  ~Oh, Danny, I should have noticed this.  You've never felt the cold this much before.  It's one more thing I let slide by, one more thing I refused to let sink in.~

//Flashback//
SG-1 emerged through the wormhole into blazing hot sunlight.

“Daniel, these ruins better be worth this 110 degree heat,” Jack grumbled.  “Okay, people, let's go let Dannyboy play in the falling down buildings.”

“Very funny, Jack.  I'm so ... underwhelmed,” Daniel snapped, stalking off in the direction of the ruins that the UAV had found northwest of the Stargate.

Jack looked after him in surprise.  He noticed Sam and Teal'c were doing the same.

“Sir, is Daniel okay?”

“As far as I know, Carter.  Maybe he's having a bad day.”  Jack hurried after the disappearing archaeologist followed by Sam and Teal'c.

“So, Danny ...” Jack said when he caught up with Daniel.  “What was all that about?”

“What was all what about?”

“Biting my head off back there.  You know I was just teasing.”

“What?  I didn't bite your head off.  What are you talking about Jack?” Daniel looked sideways at Jack who was disconcerted to see that Daniel genuinely didn't seem to know what he was talking about.

“Ah ... nothing.”  Jack didn't want to make a big deal out of it.  “Are you okay, Danny?”

“I have a headache.”

“Maybe you have too many clothes on.”  Daniel raised an eyebrow.  “I didn't mean ... Daniel, it's 110 degrees, and you're wearing a jacket.”

Daniel looked at Jack, then back at Sam and Teal'c who were just approaching the area, seeming to notice for the first time that they were all wearing t-shirts.  He shrugged.  “Maybe I'm getting the flu.”
//End of Flashback//

Jack looked out at the ocean and tried to blink back his tears.  He had to be strong, for Daniel's sake.

Daniel felt the tension in his lover.  He wished he could think of a way to make this easier for Jack.  He wondered if he should call things off between them until he was better.  The trouble with that idea was that he was scared.  He'd experienced a similar fatigue to this during his student days when he'd caught malaria on a dig in Africa.  He'd been alone then and had longed to have someone around to care for him, to care whether he lived or died.  ~Gawd Jack, am I being selfish to want you with me, to want your help to get through this?~

But then Daniel remembered one more thing.  If the situation were reversed, Daniel would need to be at Jack's side.  If Jack were to push him away, it would destroy Daniel.  ~I'd need to be with him, to try and help him.  It would make me feel like I was doing something -- anything.  Maybe I am selfish, but I don't think I'd be doing Jack a favor by pushing him away now.  He'd be miserable.  Together.  Whatever this is, we face it together.~

====

“Alex, it's Jack O'Neill.”

It was the next morning.  Jack watched as Daniel sat in a chair on the patio of their rented villa, a multi-colored wool blanket warming the young man as it lay wrapped around his lower body.  Jack was sitting inside on a chair, but his eyes never wandered from his soulmate.

Before going to bed the night before, Jack had managed to make a few phone calls, tracking down Alex Weston.  He had been pleased to confirm that Alex was still operating from an office in Wilmington, North Carolina.

“Jack?  What a blast from the past.  How ya doing?”

“Good.”

“You still doing things no one can talk about, Captain?”  Jack coughed, which was all the answer Alex needed, so he switched gears.  “How about Sara?  She was pregnant last I heard.”

“Geez, it's been a long time, hasn't it?”

“A long time, Jack.  I'm surprised you knew where I was.”

“Uh, it's Colonel now, and Sara and I are divorced.  Our son ... died.  It's old history now, and that's not why I'm calling.  Alex ...” Jack's voice trailed off.  He let the phone dangle a bit as he considered his words.

“Jack, what's going on that you're getting in touch with me after all these years?”

“I need a favor, and I didn't realize how crazy it sounded to ask until this second.  I've always thought of you as a friend, but ... I'm not much on writing or anything.”

“Jack, hit me with it.”

“You're still practicing?”

“Jack, you've called me at my office.”

“Alex, this is ... private ... extremely.  I have a ... friend.”

“Where are you?”

“Off the North Carolina coast at the moment.”

“Then you're close.”

“Yeah, that might be why I thought of you.”

“How urgent is this?”

“Very.”

“Hold on a moment.”

Jack listened as his friend shuffled some papers.  He heard him use his intercom to check some information with his supervising nurse.  It took about three minutes, but then Alex returned to the phone.  “Jack, if you want, I can clear my calendar at 2 p.m.”

“I think I might need the rest of your day, Alex.”

“I figured that out.  Some things don't change, my friend.  Be here at 2 p.m.”

“Thank you.”

Jack put the phone down.  He still hadn't taken his eyes off of Daniel.  He saw the younger man rub his head with his hands.  ~You have another headache.  You've always had headaches, but usually they're because of your allergies.  Why did I assume?  Because it was easy?~

//Flashback//
“Daniel, let's go.  We don't want to be late for the game.”  Jack was almost prancing around his lover's office.  He had prime seats for the hockey game in Denver, and was anxious to get there for some of the pre-game festivities.

“Don't yell, Jack.  I'm coming.  Just let me take an aspirin first.”

“Another headache?”

“Yeah, can't get rid of it.”

“Same headache from this morning?”

“Yeah -- must be something in the air.  It's been really bad today.”

“The Doc needs to do something about your allergies.”

“She's trying.  She thinks she may be onto something that works, but she wants to test it more first.”

Jack watched Daniel pop the pills into his mouth and then swallow some water.  He noticed the bottle was half empty.  “Danny, how many of those have you taken today?  Wasn't that a new bottle?”

“Oh?  Not sure.  It's just ... I have to work, Jack, and ... my head just felt ... uncomfortable.  I thought the aspirin would help.  We'd better go, or we'll get stuck in traffic.  I'm going to win the bet on this game.”

“Oh, no you're not.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Not!”

The two bantered their way out of the SGC, Daniel's headache a forgotten reality.
//End of Flashback//

Jack sighed.  It was such a little thing ... but was it?  He stood and walked outside, sitting down on a chair next to Daniel.  Jack looked out at the ocean, and then felt Daniel's hand on his arm.  The older man looked over at his lover and saw a beautiful smile.

“Jack, maybe we should see someone besides Janet?  I mean, she might keep me from going through the Stargate.”

Jack's heart sank.  They'd had this discussion.  Jack nodded, reaching down a second later to take Daniel's hand and kiss it.

“I have a friend ...”

====

Daniel pulled on his jacket and sat on the edge of the bed.  He was exhausted, and it was only midday.  He rested his elbows on his knees and held his head in his hands rubbing his temple.  His headache was bad today.  He looked at the clock and tried to remember when Jack had said their appointment was, but no matter how hard he tried,  he couldn't, and trying made his headache worse, so he gave up.  He wondered how he had managed to get anything done at the SGC recently.

~I haven't been getting much done, though.  It's been taking me so long to translate even the simplest document.  It's just as well no one else knows as many languages as I do.  They can't tell if a translation is simple or complex, so if I'm having trouble with it, they just assume it's difficult.  I know though.  Gawd, Jack, I'm so scared.  All my life, my brain has been the one thing that I could rely on.  No matter what else happened in my life, I could bury myself in my work.  Now I feel so lost.~

Jack came into the bedroom and saw Daniel sitting on the bed, his hands gently rubbing his temples.  The icy knot in the pit of his stomach grew a little more as he took in his lover's silent anguish.  ~Oh Danny, we'll get through this.  You'll be okay, you have to be.  I love you .. my geek.~  “Hey ... I've made you a sandwich.”

“Thanks, Jack.”  Daniel walked over to his lover and caressed his cheek. “I'm sorry about all this, to be causing you so much worry.”

Jack clasped Daniel's hands in his own.  “No, you have nothing to be sorry for.”

“I should have realized something was wrong sooner, should have gone to see someone before now, should ...”

“Danny, no!  You have nothing to blame yourself for.  This is not your fault, and I won't let you beat yourself up for any of it.”

Daniel smiled.  “Well, I'm not going to let you blame yourself either, and I know you have been.  This is certainly not your fault.”

“Okay, let's stop blaming ourselves for everything and have some lunch.  Then we'd better go see Alex.”

====

“You've got to be kidding me, Daniel!  Basketball is so not a better spectator sport than hockey.”

Daniel gave Jack a wicked grin.  The two had been making a concerted effort to talk about light hearted topics over lunch and arguing over sports was an easy way to distract themselves.  Daniel glanced at the clock, Jack following suit.

“We'd better go.”

“Yep.”  Jack reached over and gave Daniel's hand a gentle squeeze. “It'll be okay.”

Daniel stared down at the remaining half of his sandwich.  He had forced himself to eat the first half, but really didn't think he could manage the rest.  He looked across at Jack's plate and smiled.  His lover had eaten even less than Daniel.  “Not hungry?”

Jack looked into Daniel's understanding eyes and ruefully shook his head.  “Not really.”

They stood up and put the dishes in the sink.  Then Jack pulled Daniel into his arms and kissed him, a long gentle loving kiss.  “Love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too.”

They stood for a few minutes, just holding each other, taking strength from being together.  Reluctantly, they separated.  Giving his soulmate another kiss, Jack grabbed the car keys, and they left the house.

The two walked towards the rental car, Daniel a few steps in front of his lover.  That's when Jack noticed yet another thing that had happened at least once before, another something that should have warned him, another ... little thing.

//Flashback//
Jack and Daniel were at the loft, cleaning.  It was, of course, Daniel's idea.  “Spring cleaning, Babe.  I have to do it -- allergies.”

“Right.” Jack spring cleaned about once every five years, when things started to grow mold.

“Danny, could you bring those rags over here?”  Jack was on a step ladder to reach the top of the shelves, but he had forgotten to bring all of his cleaning materials with him.”  Daniel did as asked, and Jack leaned down for a kiss as he took hold of the cloths.  “Thanks, Beautiful!”

“Any time, Love.”  Daniel turned and walked back towards the balcony where he was working, but his walk was ataxic, uncoordinated, his legs almost giving out on him.

“Danny?”

“What?”

“You okay?”

Daniel smiled.  He knew something was out of kilter, but he hadn't eaten much of anything yet.  “I think it's lack of chocolate.”

“Daniel, didn't you eat breakfast?”

Daniel shook his head.  “Sam called and wanted some advice on her project, and I ... forgot.”

“You forgot to eat breakfast?”

“Well, after Sam hung up, you arrived, and we ... you know.”

“Oh yeah.  We ... you-knowed!”

“Much better than breakfast, Jack.”

Jack laughed.  “Okay, we eat as soon as we finish this, and no arguments, Love.  You eat every bite.”

Daniel chuckled, “Mother hen,” as the two returned to their tasks.
//End of Flashback//

Jack stopped, recognizing the same unbalanced gait that he had seen that day.  Another little thing.  Another ignored sign.

Daniel turned.  “Jack?”

“Right behind you, Beautiful.”

====

“Jack, good to see you!”

“Alex.”  Jack extended his hand to his old friend, patting the man's upper right arm with his other hand.  “Alex, this is Doctor Daniel Jackson.”

“Doctor?”

“Of archaeology.”

“And other assorted sciences,” Jack added with pride.

Alex nodded and watched as Jack and Daniel exchanged a look.  He closed the door behind them, and motioned for the two to sit, and then he went to his chair and took a seat in front of his desk.

“I'm tempted to chit chat, Jack, but I'm sensing that's not the thing right now.”

Jack looked at Daniel, and then back at Alex.

Alex Weston was about Jack's age.  His dark brown hair was just starting to turn gray.  He looked fit and tanned and had friendly looking blue-gray eyes.

“Alex.  I need to start with a couple of basics first.”

“Everything is confidential, Jack.  You know that -- Hippocratic Oath and all that legalize.”

“Yes, and ... the reason you left the Academy.”

“What about it?”

“Still?”  Jack raised his eyebrows.

Alex leaned forward, placing his hands on his desk.  “Always.  In fact, my partner and I are celebrating our tenth year together next week.  You'd like him, Jack.  His name is Ron.  He's a pilot, but not in the military, of course.”

Jack looked at Daniel again.

“Jack,” Alex continued.  He was beginning to get a sense that the man in front of him had changed.  “You are still military?”

“Yes.”

Alex looked over at Daniel.  “Are you military, Doctor Jackson?”

“Daniel.  And, uh, no, I'm not.”

“But Danny ... Daniel and I work together.  We're on the same team, and yes, it's classified.”

Jack seemed a bit fidgety to Alex.  “My friend, I remember very well the regulations that doomed my career in the service.  You, uh, said you and Sara are divorced?”

Jack smiled and nodded, sensing Alex had gotten the unspoken message.  Jack tilted his head for a moment, and then he reached over and took Daniel's hand, squeezing it.  His smile grew as he raised the hand and kissed it.

“I never would have believed it.  Crazy world, isn't it, Jack?”

“Very, and believe it, because it is forever.”  Alex saw the sweet smile on Daniel's face as Jack held his hand and gazed into his eyes.  He saw the nervousness, too, but the love ... the love was undeniable.

“Okay, so you've just gotten through the hardest part of this interview.  Now what's the problem?”

Jack and Daniel looked at each other.  His hand still firmly clasped in Jack's, Daniel began.

“I, uh ... I've been getting a lot of headaches over the last month or so.”

“Month?” Jack challenged.

“Okay, for ... a while now, but I've always had headaches because I have allergies, and I work a lot, and late at night, and ... I ... I guess I don't really know when it ... changed.”

“Go on,” Alex urged.

“At first, I thought I was just working too hard, or maybe I needed new glasses, but I've been waking up with these headaches, and they're often the worst in the morning, before I've even done any work.”

Alex nodded and began writing on what would quickly become Daniel's file.  “I've also been really tired, exhausted most of the time.  I feel tired even when I've just woken up.  Or ... just for no reason.  We ...” Daniel looked at his lover as he spoke, “We went for a walk yesterday, and two minutes out, I thought I was going to collapse.  I was just ... so tired.”

Daniel paused.  He really hated admitting that he was sick or injured, and these things all sounded so petty and small on their own.

Alex seemed to sense something of what Daniel was feeling.  He looked at Daniel and then Jack.  “Doctor Jackson ...”

“Daniel.”

“Daniel, these things you're describing are important.  They may turn out to be nothing, but I need to know everything, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.  And, Jack, if there is anything you've noticed, or that needs further explanation, please, speak up.”

Jack nodded, he didn't trust himself to speak at the moment.

“I also seem to be forgetting stuff, and I can't concentrate on anything. The simplest translation takes me hours.”  Daniel saw the surprised expression on his lover's face, so he explained.  “No one at work has realized, Jack.  If a translation or my studies of ... of ... stuff takes me hours, everyone just assumes it's a complex document.  And it's not like people are checking up on me.”

Jack noticed Alex's confusion.  “Like I said, he has a bunch of degrees.  He's not only an archaeologist, but a linguist, anthropologist, and negotiator.  He knows over twenty languages, and he's the head of his department.  He's also a genius, in case you didn't figure that out on your own.”

“Jack,” Daniel said softly, feeling himself blush at his lover's praise.  Alex smiled at Jack's obvious pride in his lover and Daniel's embarrassment.

“Well, it's true, Love.  On your worst day, you can think circles around the rest of us.”

“On my worst day ...” Daniel's voice trailed off.

Jack squeezed his hand in reassurance, and found the strength to add, “Yes, even on your worst day.  I have total faith in you and your abilities to drive me crazy with your knowledge.”

Daniel actually smiled, almost laughed, and that made Jack happy.

After a moment, Alex decided it was time to get back on track.  “Okay, anything else?”

Daniel sighed.  “I feel like I can't control my emotions any more, like I'm on an emotional roller coaster.  Quite a few times, I've snapped at people for no real reason.  And, sometimes I don't remember doing it, but people say things to me later, or ask me about something I said, so I know I ... got upset.”

**I'm just so tired, Jack.**

Jack moved his chair closer to Daniel's and placed his arm around the other man's shoulders.  He decided it was his turn to talk for a while.

“Alex, it's important to know that Daniel is just about the most compassionate man in the universe.  Snapping at people is so out of his character, that's it's ... well, Jekyll and Hyde.”

“I believe that,” Alex said as he continued to make more notations on what was now Daniel's file.

The Air Force Colonel took a breath to help him remain focused, and then continued, “I've noticed that Daniel's coordination, his balance, seems a little off as well.  And his choice of words, like earlier he said 'stuff.'  Alex, when Daniel uses common words to describe a specific situation or item, especially something like 'stuff,' it's not normal.  It usually tells me he's tired, but lately, lately I think maybe he can't find the word he wants.”

Jack looked at Daniel and saw the admission on his face.  Maybe that should have been the biggest warning of all, the struggle for words and languages.

//Flashback//
“The MALP and UAV both support the theory that not only is there life on P2X-932, but rich deposits of naquadah and another energy source I can't determine, but it's definitely worth checking out.” Sam stated confidently.

“Captain, on P85-296, didn't we get similar readings that turned out to be false?” the General asked.

Sam squirmed a little in her chair.  “Yes, Sir, and I realize that we had our difficulties on that planet, and the energy source turned out to be nothing more than what amounts to a tiny zap of electricity, but we did make a new ally, Sir, and I believe Daniel can attest to the cultural resources we've learned from the El...El ... Daniel, I can never get their name right.”

Daniel shifted nervously in his chair.  He looked down at the report in front of him.

“Doctor Jackson?”

“General?”

Daniel saw the expectation on all the faces around the room.  He knew the name, but at the moment, the pronunciation was foreign to him.  ~Think, Jackson.  Gawd, what's your problem?~

“The point is, General,” Jack took over, seeing Daniel's hesitation, “we did learn a lot from these people.”

“But was it enough to warrant the risk to our personnel?”

Again, eyes fell on the cultural expert -- Daniel.  “Um, yes, General.  We did get some technology from them, but the biggest gains were from their ... um, practices, the, uh ... things they do on a regular basis to ... uh, to celebrate religious ... events.”

Daniel was blinking fiercely, and his frown was obvious, to anyone paying attention, but Jack seemed to be the only one aware that Daniel had just struggled through his description.  He noticed his lover's continued difficulty over the next few minutes, but did his best to cover.

When the briefing ended, Jack approached Daniel, teasing him about what had happened.  “Speaking down for us commoners, eh, Daniel?”

“Yeah.  I ... I thought I'd give you a break.  I have to go back to work, Jack.  There's a ... thing I have to do.”

“You do that ... thing.   And I'll do your thing later,” Jack smirked.

Daniel rolled his eyes as he headed for his office.
//End of Flashback//

Jack had heard the vulnerability and even fear in Daniel's voice that day, but he had dismissed it, explained it away with several rational excuses.  Now, as he continued to fill Alex in on the changes in Daniel's behavior and actions, he realized that there had been so much more he had always tried to explain away.

//Flashback//
“Where's Doctor Jackson?”

General Hammond and three quarters of SG-1 were in the gate room.  SG-1 was about to head off on a basic recon mission, except Daniel was nowhere to be seen.

“He was right behind me in the locker room, Sir.  He should've been here by now.  I'll go check on him.”

Jack raced off to the locker room only to find Daniel sitting on one of the benches, playing with his shoelaces.

“Oh for crying out loud, Daniel, we don't have time for you to dawdle.”

“Jack?”  It was a timid calling of his name, but Jack was in command mode.  The fear and hesitation in Daniel's voice escaped him at the moment.

“Honestly, Daniel, I'm not your valet, you know,” Jack said, bending over and tying the laces on Daniel's boots.  “We have a mission.  Let's go,” Jack ordered, ushering the archaeologist out the door.
//End of Flashback//

Looking back now Jack remembered the look of utter sadness on Daniel's face.  A look he'd ignored, along with the desperate tone of his soulmate's voice.  He prayed his ignorance didn't cost Daniel any additional pain.

====

An hour later, Alex had a very detailed file on Daniel's current symptoms and his previous medical history.  He was almost ready to start Daniel's physical examination.

“I do need one more thing.  Daniel, who's your regular doctor?  I need to get a copy of your medical records.”

Jack and Daniel looked at each other.  “Ah ... could we ask you not to, Alex?” Daniel asked.  “We can tell you anything you need to know, or maybe I could get the copies for you.  We just really don't want anyone at work to know about this yet.  It ... would cause problems.”

Alex glanced at Jack who said, “Classified ... and all of that.”

Alex thought for a moment, but then he looked again at the pleading faces in front of him.  “Okay.  I probably won't need them, but if I do, I'll rely on you to get them for me, Jack.”

“Just tell me what you need, and I'll get it.”

“Before I start your physical examination, Daniel, can I get you a drink of anything?”

“Coffee?” Daniel asked hopefully.

Alex shook his head.  “Not just yet, Daniel.  I don't want the caffeine to mask any symptoms or mislead us.  I can offer you some water, fruit juice or milk.”

“I'll just have a glass of water.”

“Me, too. Thanks, Alex.” Jack smiled at his friend.

“No problem.  I'll be back in five,” Alex said as he left the office, closing the door purposely behind him.

Daniel looked at Jack with tired eyes.  “Did he really think we needed a drink, or was he just trying to give us a break?”

“I don't know, and I don't care.”  Jack leaned over to kiss his soulmate, then embraced him in a hug.  “I love you, Danny.”

“Love you, too, Jack.”  Daniel buried his face in Jack's neck, unable to stop the hot tears escaping his eyes.  Having just sat through ninety minutes worth of recalling all the things, things he now recognized were clear symptoms of something awful, that had been “off” in recent times, Daniel was scared.  ~Something is definitely wrong.  I'm scared.~

Jack rubbed soothing circles on his lover's back as he fought to keep his own tears at bay.  “It's good to let it out, Danny.  You're doing so well, and I'm so proud of you.  Love you so much.”

====

Jack sat beside Daniel and generally hovered as Alex carried out his examination.

“Is he always this protective?” Alex asked, amusement in his voice as he shone a flashlight into Daniel's eyes.

“He has a mother hen complex,” Daniel informed the doctor gravely.

“I do not.”  Jack's indignation brought a grin from Daniel and laugh from Alex.

“Okay, Daniel.  Jack, make yourself useful, and go stand over there.” Alex pointed across the room.

“Daniel, could you walk to Jack for me?”

“Do I have to?” Daniel mock whined, a small smile on his face.

“Hey!  Get your butt over here, Space Monkey.”

Alex shook his head at the antics of the two as Daniel walked across the room, but Jack could see that his focus was on watching Daniel.  The little frown that had been growing throughout Daniel's examination grew a little deeper.  Jack was really hoping that it was just a frown of concentration.  The alternative didn't bear thinking about.

“Gawd, Jack.  Space Monkey.  We're in public.”

Jack really didn't care, and he showed his lover that by embracing him as soon as Daniel reached him.  Alex saw how Daniel melted into Jack's arms, and how the older man supported the younger, in more ways than one.

Some time later, Alex let Jack and Daniel chat while he reviewed his notes during the examination.  He also asked several follow up questions, and then he moved on to the next step.

“We need to schedule some tests, an MRI for sure.  Uh, an MRI is ...”

“Trust me, Alex, I know what an MRI is.”

“You do?”

“They're ... routine in our line of work.”

“An MRI is routine?”

Jack nodded.  “Classified.”

“Wow.  Okay, but I also want to do an MRS.  Is that routine?”

Jack and Daniel looked at each.  “No, I don't think so,” Daniel said.  “Jack, has Janet done an ... oh gawd ...”

“No, Love.  The Doc hasn't done an MRS on us before, that I know of anyway.”

Jack looked at Alex, and knew Daniel's lack of memory recall hadn't escaped his notice, nor the fact that it was abnormal for him to have forgotten the acronym.

“Okay, well, an MRS is very similar.  It stands for Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, and what it does is look at the chemical makeup of ...” Alex hesitated, not yet wanting to say the diagnosis he had in his head, “the brain and surrounding areas.  We can learn a lot.”

**Tumor.  He thinks I have a tumor, Jack.**

**Danny, don't jump to assumptions.**

**But, Jack, that's what it would be for.  Gawd, Jack.  A ... a brain tumor?  Oh gawd.**

**Danny, don't.**  Jack's look had grown in intensity, and he shifted, again moving their chairs as close together as possible, so that he could put his arms around the younger man.  **Whatever it is, we'll beat it, but don't make assumptions.**

**It makes sense.  What if it's malignant?**

**Danny.**

“Um, excuse me.  Am I ... interrupting?”

Jack and Daniel turned to look at Alex.  Both men's faces were anxiety-ridden and taut.  They hadn't spoken a verbal word, but something was obviously going on between them.

Jack looked at his lover.  “We ... sorry, Alex, just ... looking through the eyes of love, I guess.”  **Danny, I don't think we should tell anyone we can do this, unless they figure it out, or we have to.**

**I agree.  This ... we seem to be able to do this more now.**

**Yeah, I know, and this is one of our longest exchanges.  By the way, I love you.  You're so beautiful and sexy, with the bluest eyes that make me want to just swim inside you.**

**Gawd, Jack.**

Alex watched as Daniel turned crimson red for no reason that he could fathom.  “Oooookay.  So ... as I was saying ...” Alex waited for the two to regain their focus.  “We need to do these as soon as possible ... like tomorrow.”

“Tell us when and where.”

“Just give me a minute.”  Alex picked up the phone and began dialing. “Hello, Joan.  It's Alex Weston.  I need to book a patient in for an MRI and an MRS, and I need it tomorrow morning.  Depending on the results, we may need to do further tests ... Yes, I know we're swamped, but I'd appreciate it, if there's a spot open anywhere.  What's the earliest you can fit him in?”  He covered the mouthpiece of the phone and looked at Jack and Daniel.  “Is 8:00 a.m. okay?”

The two men nodded.  “Okay, Joan.  Thanks.”

Alex hung up.  “All right, you have an 8 a.m. appointment at the Forum Diagnostic Center.  It's on Military Cutoff Road.”

He looked at the two men.  Their inner tension was obvious.  “Listen up, you two.  I know it's hard, but try not to worry.  We'll know more tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Alex.”  Jack shook his friend's hand.

“Thank you,” Daniel echoed.

“Hang in there, Daniel.  We'll get to the bottom of this as soon as we can.”  Alex shook Daniel's hand and walked the two men out.

====

Jack opened the car door for his lover, pulling him into a tight embrace before helping him in.  He could see that Daniel was exhausted.  He closed the door and walked around to the driver's side, blinking back the tears that were continually threatening to fall.  ~You have to be strong, O'Neill.  Danny needs you.~

As Jack started the drive back to the beach house, he looked across at Daniel who was trying valiantly to stay awake.  Reaching over with his right hand, Jack gave Daniel's thigh a gentle squeeze.

“Sleep, Love.  I'll wake you up when we get back to the house.”

Daniel gave him a tired grateful smile, and was asleep in no time.  Jack glanced across at his sleeping lover and felt his throat constrict.  Despite his earlier reassurances in Alex's office, Jack was terrified that Daniel was right -- Alex suspected a brain tumor or something equally bad.  ~I should have been more alert.~  The thought kept running through his head.  ~The signs were there.  I just ignored them.~

//Flashback//
Jack sat in a corner of the commissary trying to swallow the unpalatable serving of meat loaf in front of him when a group of Daniel's archaeological staff sat down at the table next to him.  They obviously hadn't seen him sitting there and continued on with their conversation, which happened to be about Daniel.

“You're kidding?”

“Nope.  Daniel cursed the guy in seven languages, and then told him that it was a wonder he could breathe since he clearly lacked more than one brain cell.”

“Poor Jones.”

“I know.  The poor guy was practically in tears, and Daniel just walked off.”

“All because he used Budge?”

“Yep.  I swear, I've never seen Daniel lose it like that before.”

“Do you think he's okay?”

“Who, Jones or Daniel?”

“Daniel.”

“He was probably just having a bad day.  Give the guy a break, he gets put under so much pressure, it's a wonder he doesn't lose it more often.”

Jack gave up on his lunch and stood up, enjoying the look of fear his action had just put on the faces of the archaeologists.  They knew of his reputation and of his friendship with Daniel.  He debated saying something, but decided to let them torture themselves over whether or not he'd tell Daniel about their gossiping.
//End of Flashback//

~I just put it down to a bad day, Danny.  Like, whatshisname said, everyone's entitled to a bad day, and you do get put under so much pressure.  But it wasn't like you.  You would never upset someone and just walk away, apart from a snake anyway.~

Jack turned into the driveway and parked.  He caressed his sleeping lover's face.

~Gawd, Danny, I'll never forgive myself for not picking up the signs, for not taking action and doing something.  They were so obvious, and I just dismissed them -- every single one.~

Gently, Jack woke Daniel, and they walked into the house.

**Jack?**

Daniel really wanted to just get into bed, snuggle into Jack's arms and forget the world existed.  He just didn't know how to ask.  He didn't even realize that he hadn't spoken his lover's name out loud.

“Are you hungry, Love?”

Daniel shook his head and looked hopefully at Jack.  He still didn't realize he wasn't actually talking verbally.  **Bed ... can we ... I need ... your arms.**

The thoughts were jumbled, but it was enough to let Jack know what his lover desired.  Drawing Daniel into his chest, Jack gave him a quick hug, slipped an arm around his waist, and guided him into the bedroom.

Daniel started to take off his clothes, but Jack stopped him.  “Let me.”

With infinite care, Jack helped Daniel undress and climb into bed.  Then stripping quickly, he slipped in beside his lover, drawing him into his usual position.  As he lay there, Daniel's head on his chest, leg in between his own, Jack felt his heart start to break.  Daniel had to be okay.  He just had to be.  Jack couldn't survive without this.  Daniel was the other half of him -- the best half.

Jack ran his fingers through Daniel's shaggy locks of brown hair, and then kissed the top of his head.  He snuggled his cheek against Daniel next, as his hand continued to massage the young man's head, gently, smoothly, calmly.

The older man's mind raced with more memories of missed signs, and fears about the future, but mostly, at this moment, he focused on the love, and he had a universe full of the emotion for the man he held.  It had been a very long year.  They'd just found each other, were still adjusting even in so many ways, and Jack was still working on getting Daniel to believe in their foreverness.

“J'ck?” Daniel finally spoke.

“Yes?”

“Tell me about ... tomorrow.”

“You mean the tests?”

“No.  Our ... tomorrow.”

“Our tomorrow is like now.  You and me, together, like this.  Me holding you in my arms, maybe in front of a warm fire.  Some peanuts or chips in a bowl.  Chocolate truffles and that Arabian Mocha coffee you're addicted to.  Hot chocolate when it's the coldest.  But mainly, it's just you and me, anywhere, holding each other.”

“I ... I like that.”

“Me, too.”

“Jack, what did you tell Hammond?”

“Nothing.  You took a leave, and so did I, that's all.”

“Didn't he ask?”

“I don't know.  To be honest, I ...”

“Gawd, Jack.  Didn't you talk to him?”

“Yes, but ...”

“Jack, you should have talked to him!”  Daniel shot up out of Jack's arms, moving to a seated position on the bed.

“Danny, I ...”

“We owe him more than to just take off.  I can't believe you'd be so insensitive ...” Daniel got up and began to pace the room.  “That's rude, Jack.  I won't tolerate rudeness like that, not to General Hammond.”

“Okay, Danny.”

“DON'T PATRONIZE ME, JACK!  I DESERVE BETTER THAN THAT.”

Jack stood up, moving very slowly.  “Yes, Love, you do.  You deserve the very best life has to offer.”

“YOU'RE STILL DOING IT.  GAWD, I JUST ASKED YOU A SIMPLE QUESTION.  WHY COULDN'T YOU ANSWER IT? ... OH, FORGET IT ... JUST, LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Daniel started to walk out, but Jack grabbed his arm.  Daniel turned and took a half swing at his lover.  Reacting automatically, Jack twisted Daniel's arms around his back, putting his own across Daniel's chest and pulling the young man to him.

“Danny, please don't.  I love you so much.  Please, Danny.  Geez, I love you.”

“Jack?  What ... what just happened?  Why are you holding me like this?”

“Oh, Danny.”

Daniel turned and saw the terror in Jack's eyes.  He shook his head.  “I'm sorry.  Whatever I did or said, I'm so sorry.”

Daniel fell into Jack's strong hold.  Jack nestled his chin into Daniel's neck, unable now to stop tears of his own.  He held his lover, whispering words of love and devotion, and then led him back to bed.

“I love you.  Love you so friggin' much.  You're mine, Danny, and I'm never letting you go.  Not now.  Not ever.  I didn't give you up to that sea monster Nem or that snake Apophis, and I'm not giving you up to ... whatever this is.  You're my love, my heart, and I need you.  You're mine, and I won't let you go.  Love you.”

Over and over, Jack repeated his words, even after his love fell asleep.

~Nem.  That's when I first knew I was in love with you.  I thought you had died.  It turned my life upside down.  Funny.  I didn't realize that it made my world right, whole.  Sushi.  I teased you about sushi when you emerged from that watery hellhole, but all I wanted to do was hold you, like I am right now.  I like holding you.  I need this, Daniel.  I'm not sure I know how to live without it ... and ... I ...~

Daniel moved within Jack's hold, drawing the man from his inner thoughts.  The moves became more violent.  Jack recognized the signs -- it was a nightmare!

//Daniel's nightmare//
Daniel was in a pit, surrounded by snakes.  They were hissing and lunging at him, their tongues taunting him as they moved back and forth.

He had nowhere to run, the snakes climbing all over his body, slithering around his hands, arms, legs, and over other snakes.  One slid over his forehead.

Daniel was trying to scream, but nothing came out.

The snakes laughed.  “Snake got your tongue?”  

Daniel struggled, but couldn't move.  He was paralyzed.

“Snake got your brain?”  The voice reminded Daniel of Apophis.

Still, though his mouth opened, his voice was gone.

“We don't want your body.  What intelligent Goa'uld would want a puny body like yours?”

“But we want your mind.”

“Snake got your mind?”

“Your mind!”

“Snakessssssss taking your mind.”

“We got your mind.”

“Nothing, but a puuuuuuuny body left.”

“A zzzzzzzzzzzzombie.”

“Snakesssssssssss got your brain.”

One of the snakes leaped inside Daniel and back out, his brain now attached to it.

“Snakessssssssss got your brain!  Our brain.”

“Ssssssssssssssssssssso funny.”

Daniel fell to nothingness, now just a shell, his brain gone.  He saw Jack hovering over him.  “Snakes got your brain, Dannyboy.  See ya round.”

“Danyel, snakesssssssssssss got your brain.  I shall eat it.”  It was Sha're, biting into Daniel's brain.

“Danyel, snakesssssssssssss know best.  Look at you.  Just a body.  I knew you couldn't save my sister.”  It was Skaara.

“Daniel.  Don't worry about Jack.  Snakesssssssssssss got your brain, and I've got Jack.  Always wanted Jack, and now that he's realized who he really is, he's mine.   Snakessssssssssssss got your brain.  Snakessssssssssss.”  It was Alex Weston.

And in unison, all the snakes, Sha're, Skaara, Jack and Alex hissed, “Bye, bye Daniel.  Snakesssssssssssss got your brain.”

“Snakessssssssssssssss.”

“Snakessssssssssssssss.”

“Snakessssssssssssssss.”
//End of Daniel's Nightmare//

“Danny, wake up.”

“Snakes.  Don't let them.   No snakes.”

“Daniel.  Hey.  Danny!” Jack shook his lover as gently as he could.  Daniel seemed so deep into this nightmare.

“No, Jack.  Not Alex.  Mine.  You're mine.  No snakes.  He can't have you.  Mine.  Brain.  NO!”

“Hey!”  Jack finally just pulled Daniel upright, moving himself off the bed, and literally picking Daniel up until he was standing on the ground.  “Danny, look at me.”

Finally, the young man seemed to wake up.  “Jack?  Snakes?”

“No snakes here, Danny ... just you and me.”

Daniel sobbed, collapsing into Jack's hold.  In fact, Daniel lost all strength to stand, so Jack eased them down to sit on the edge of the bed.  “That was a wallop of a dream, Love.”

“Snakes ... snakes got my brain.”

“No, they don't.  Your brain is safe, just like the rest of you.”

“He can't have you.”  Daniel was throwing out phrase after phrase from his nightmare.  Things that didn't make sense.

“Daniel, look at me,” Jack said more sternly than before.  He cupped his lover's face.  “Look at me.  I'm yours.”

“Al...Alex?”

“Danny.  He's your doctor, and an old friend.  And he has someone, and whether or not he did, I have someone.  I have you, the most beautiful, compassionate, intelligent, sexiest, gorgeous, wonderful, forgiving, beautiful ...”

“You said that ...” Daniel sniffed, “...already.”

Jack chuckled, seeing a small smile on Daniel's face.  “I love you, only you, and that is forever.  You just had a nasty nightmare, and ... and honestly, Danny, I'm surprised you haven't had more before now.”

Jack felt the trembling within his lover, and took him into the safety of his arms.  “No one but you ... ever.  I love you, Daniel Jackson.”

Daniel couldn't recall feeling this frightened since the death of his parents.  His nightmare was extreme, but it felt so real, and he was afraid of what the tests might show, and what that might mean for him, and for Jack.  His mind was everything ... almost everything.  As Jack held him, Daniel silently reaffirmed what he had already admitted within his heart.  ~Forever and always, just you, Jack.  Love you and need you so much.  Please don't leave me.  I couldn't handle it.  Don't leave me, Jack.~

Jack gently swayed his lover back and forth, trying to comfort him.  When Daniel had settled, he fixed them a cup of hot chocolate.  They chatted in their bed about inconsequential things until Daniel had tired again, falling asleep in Jack's protective hold.

====

Jack woke up to the insistent beeping of the alarm.  He felt like he'd just fallen asleep.  Looking at the clock, he realized that he had ... just minutes earlier.  He'd spent most of the night taking comfort from the feel of Daniel lying in his arms.  He kissed the shaggy locks of the head that lay on his chest and carefully slid out from underneath his lover.

Yawning, he made his way to the kitchen and started brewing some coffee.  He went back into the bedroom and sat down, drawing gentle circles on Daniel's bare back.

**Hmm, nice.** Daniel wiggled closer to Jack, his eyes firmly shut.

Jack smiled sadly.  He wished he could let Daniel sleep.  He wished they didn't have to go anywhere today.  ~Okay, O'Neill.  Time to be strong.  Daniel needs you to be strong.~

“Time to get up, Danny.”  Immediately the muscles under his fingers tensed, and Jack leaned down to place a kiss on Daniel's neck.

Daniel froze at the thought of what the morning held.  He knew he should be strong, yet even as that thought ran through his mind, he found himself sitting up, turning towards Jack so that his face was buried in his lover's neck, his arms holding on tightly to his soulmate.  He felt Jack's arms encircle him and was never so grateful to be held.

“I'm scared, Jack.”

“I know, Love.  Me, too.  But it'll be okay.  Together, we can beat this.”

“Unbeatable?” Daniel asked.

“Exactly.”

The two sat like that for several minutes before reluctantly separating to shower and dress.  Neither felt the least bit hungry, so Jack simply had a cup of coffee while Daniel lusted after it from afar, having to make do with orange juice.  Then, they got  into their rental car and set off for the ferry dock, the island they were staying on being accessible only by water or air.  It was roughly a forty-minute trip on the ferry that had a thirty-eight car capacity.  And once on the mainland, it was roughly another forty-five minutes to their destination.
 
====
 
As they drove into Wilmington, they each made a concerted effort to focus on anything other than the morning's activities.  All too soon though, they were parked outside the Diagnostic Center.  It was built in a kind of Georgian style, four white pillars, two on each side graced the entranceway.  It looked almost like a luxury hotel. The two stood outside the building, arms around each other.  It reminded them both of a happier time.

//Flashback//
“Gawd, Jack.  You didn't have to do this.”

Daniel stood outside the luxurious hotel in Palm Springs, gazing up at it in wonder.  They'd had a bad week, that business with the Gamekeeper had rocked both of them.  So, Jack had decided they deserved a little pampering, surprising his lover with a weekend getaway.  As Jack so often did, he had kept the details a secret.

In stunned amazement, Daniel followed Jack to their room.  He looked around at the opulent surroundings.  No one had ever indulged him like this before.  He'd stayed in first class accommodations since going to work at the SGC, but nothing ... nothing had the ambiance and facilities of the huge suite Jack had reserved for them.

“Jack.”  It was only a whisper, but it filled Jack's soul with joy.  He loved the look of wonder on Daniel's face.  Before he had time to soak it up any further, he found himself locked in a fierce embrace, Daniel's mouth on his, his tongue trying to excavate Jack's tonsils.

“Jack.”

Jack knew what Daniel wanted.  “Love you, Danny.”

“Love you too, Jack, so freakin' much.”

After thoroughly ravishing each other, the two had finished exploring their room, making excellent use of the large shower, bath, spa, and the fireplace.  They spent most of the weekend in their room, although they did venture out for a daily swim.
//End of Flashback//

~We'll do it again, when this is over, Danny.  I promise.~  “It doesn't look hospitally.”

“Jack, hospitally is not a word.”  Daniel hesitated and looked at Jack, uncertainty in his eyes.  “It's not ... is it?”

Even if it had been a word, Jack felt for a moment that he would have lied.  His heart had just melted again.  Instead, he smiled and gave Daniel's waist a reassuring squeeze.  “No, Love, it isn't a word.”  He grinned.  “But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be.”

Daniel shook his head, and with one last look at the facade of the building, they walked inside.

====

After filling out a series of seemingly neverending forms, the two men sat in the foyer of the Center, waiting to be called.

“Okay, now this is just weird.  Hospitals and their kin are not supposed to have armchairs, carpet or soft lighting.”  Jack leaned back in one of the armchairs that adorned the lobby of the Center.  “And they are certainly not supposed to be comfortable.”

Daniel gave his partner a nervous smile, and Jack reached across to take hold of his fidgeting hands.  “It'll be okay, Danny.  The MRI is first up, and that's a breeze.”

“Stop saying that Jack!  It's not.  Yes, we have MRIs all the time at the SGC, but not like this.  Janet's not even looking for ... for things like this.  The MRIs we have concentrate on our spinal cords.  Gawd, we know my neck and torso are fine, but this is ...” Daniel took a deep breath, suddenly realizing he had lost control for a moment.  “Gawd, I'm sorry Jack, I don't mean to snap.”

“I know.  It's okay.”

“No, it's not.  I hate losing control.  Jack, wouldn't Janet have seen something if it was there?”

“That's a good point, Love.”

“There's just one problem.”

“What's that?”

“I ...” Daniel looked down.  Guilt was written all over him.

“Danny?”

“Jack, I was on that dig for a while, and then I was working on negotiations, and we've only actually had a few missions recently, all peaceful.”

“Daniel, what's your point?”

“I'm not sure when Janet took the last MRI.  I've sort of been ...”

“Sweet talking the Doc?  Napoleon?”

Daniel shrugged.  “She thinks I'm tired, and if I do it right, she rather have me eat and sleep.”

“Danny!”

“I'm sorry, Jack.”

“No, Love, it's okay.  Nothing can pop up that quickly.  You did have an MRI last month.  I remember it clearly.”

“I did?”

“Yes, after we came back from Chulak.”

“Oh, I don't remember,” Daniel spoke softly.

An approaching nurse interrupted the discussion.  Daniel stood up, Jack a second behind him.

“Doctor Daniel Jackson?”

“Yes.”  Daniel took hold of Jack's hand.  “This is my friend, Jack O'Neill.”

“Along to give him moral support.”

The nurse smiled.  She had seen a notation on the test order to allow a Jack O'Neill access to everything.  He was “family” and not to be pushed aside.

“This way, gentlemen.”

====

“Doctor Weston will be in touch.  Good luck, Daniel,” the nurse said, reaching out to touch his arm in support.  “I'll be sending up good thoughts on your behalf.”

“Thank you, Melly.”

Jack shook his head in amazement.  In the course of a few hours, Melanie Chandler, the lead technician/nurse overseeing both the MRI and MRS tests, had totally fallen under Daniel's charms.  ~Call me, Melly~ Jack's mind mocked.

“I heard that, Jack.”

“Sorry.  You haven't lost your charm, Love.”

“Jack ... it's so far ...”

“Would you like us to rent a room at a hotel for the night?”

Daniel wanted to say yes.  He was so tired, but it was silly.  Jack was spending a ridiculous amount of money on the villa.  “No, let's go back to the villa.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, let's go.”

====

“Daniel.”

“What?  Is it time to go to the SGC?”

“No, Love ... just inside to the villa.”

“Villa?  Oh, yeah.”

Daniel had fallen asleep the moment he had gotten into the rental car, and he hadn't awakened during the two-hour trip back at all.

They went inside, and Jack headed for the kitchenette to prepare a light meal.  He knew Daniel wouldn't eat much, and it would only make him feel guilty if Jack served too much.

“It's cold in here,” Daniel said, taking a seat on a chair in the lounge area, just outside the kitchenette.

~Soup.  He needs to warm up.~  Jack checked to see what foods they had on hand.  No soup, but there were the makings for a stew.  Tossing some assorted food items in a pot, Jack prepared his impromptu creation.  He noticed Daniel had picked up a book to read, but when Jack looked up, the young man was frowning.

“Danny, is something wrong?”

“I ... I just had to read something a couple of times, that's all.”  Daniel turned the page and continued on.

They ate a quiet dinner and then snuggled in bed.  Daniel seemed to want to do that a lot these days, and Jack had no problem accommodating his lover's desires.

It had been a long day, and Jack hadn't slept much in the last two days, so when he finally fell victim to sleep, he was soon sleeping deeply.

In the middle of the night, Daniel awoke, yawning as he untangled himself from Jack's hold.  Jack grunted, but he was so tired, it didn't sink in that Daniel had moved.

The young man took a shower, drying himself off when he was done.  ~I'm hungry.~  Daniel went into the kitchenette to see what was available.  He studied his choices and decided on a box of Twinkies.  ~No cooking.  I like that.~

He took the entire box and walked over to the door that led to the beach.  ~The ocean?  Cool.  I think I'll go for a swim.~  Putting down the box, but carrying a few of the treats in his hands, Daniel walked out of the villa and towards the water, ignoring the fact that it was 3 a.m., extremely cold, and that he was buck naked.

“Danny?” Jack mumbled as he slowly woke up.  Realizing his lover wasn't on the bed, Jack leapt up, calling out more loudly.  ~Crap, Danny, where'd you go?~

Jack threw on a robe and searched the other rooms of the villa.  Finally, he saw a Twinkie wrapper next to the kitchenette.  He then realized the room was extra cold.  Moving back the vertical blinds, he saw that the glass door had been left open.  A few feet away, he saw another snack wrapper on the edge of the patio.

“Daniel?  DANIEL?”  Jack ran out, looking right and left.  He finally saw yet another Twinkie wrapper rolling along the sand.  “DANIEL?”

“Jack?  Hey, Jack, this is great!”

~Geez, it's freezing in there.~  “DANIEL, GET OUT OF THAT WATER NOW!”  The waves were rough, adding to Jack's concern.

“Come on in, Jack!”

Jack ran down the edge of the shore, swimming out to his lover.  Daniel was at least thirty feet out.

“Daniel, come on.”  Jack tugged on the young man.

“I'm swimming, Jack.”

“Daniel, we don't go swimming at this time of the morning, in the ocean, on our own.”

“We don't?”

“No, we don't.”

“But I like the water, Jack.”

“Daniel, we'll discuss it inside.  I'm going to drown here with this heavy robe on.  Now, please.”

“I don't want you to drown, Jack.”

“Then swim to shore.”

“Okay, Jack.”  The older man was concerned.  Daniel had a sloppy smile on his face.  His words, their sounds and tone, were almost juvenile, and every sentence ended with “Jack” which normally wasn't a bad thing, but ...

Once on shore, Jack escorted Daniel into the villa.  They were both shivering, something Daniel didn't seem to realize.  Jack turned on the shower, and put Daniel under it while he took out new clothes and then Jack joined him, holding the young man close and trying to warm him.

“I like the ocean, Jack.”

“I know.  I do, too.”

“Sha're would like it, too.  Jack, where's Sha're?”

Jack cringed at the question.  “She's ... not here right now.”

“Where is she, Jack?”

“I don't know, Danny.”

“Jack, why are you in the shower with me?”

“Because you went swimming in the ocean in the middle of the night, and we don't do that.”

“But why ...”

“Daniel, be quiet.”

Jack hated himself for being abrupt with his lover, but he was scared.  This hadn't happened before, not like this.  He didn't know what to do, so he continued to warm Daniel, and then he led him to the bed and made sure Daniel was warm under the sheets.  Daniel hadn't said a word.

“Can I talk now, Jack?”

“Geez, Danny, you can talk whenever you want,” Jack said as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“But you told me to be quiet.”

“Since when do you do what I tell you to do?”

Daniel thought.  “I ... I ... Jack,” Daniel decided to ignore the puzzling question.  “I want to see Sha're.”

“Soon.  Go to sleep, L...Daniel.”

Jack grabbed a blanket and made himself as comfortable as he could on the chair near the bed.  He would not fall asleep again this night.

====

As the soft light of dawn filtered through the bedroom windows, Jack wiped away the tears that had been trickling down his cheeks.  In his worst nightmares, he hadn't anticipated that Daniel would simply forget their relationship.

~What will you remember when you wake up, Danny?~

Tired and annoyed at life in general, Jack got up and went into the kitchen.  He put some coffee on to brew and then walked over to the windows to stare out at the choppy ocean.

~Geez, you could have drowned.  You seem to get so tired now.  What if you'd swum out too far and not been able to make it back to shore?~

Jack leaned his head against the cool glass of the window pane and focused on squashing his mounting anger.  He was tempted to smash anything and everything in sight.

~It is so friggin' unfair! ... so much crap!  ... so blasted wrong!  Why did this have to happen?  And why now?~

====

A 8:30 a.m., Jack was back in the bedroom watching Daniel sleep.  He had no idea how long Daniel would rest after his little jaunt in the wee hours of the morning.  He was broken from his reverie by the sound of the phone ringing and raced in to grab it before it woke Daniel.

“O'Neill.”  Jack walked out of the bedroom, believing it was important for Daniel to not be disturbed.

“Jack, its Alex.”  Jack heard his friend's voice and sank down onto the nearest chair, one that sat at the end of a long hallway.  ~No, gawd, no.~  Even though Alex was keeping his voice calm and neutral, that in itself was an indication to Jack that the news wasn't good.

“Jack, I have the results of Daniel's tests from yesterday.  I don't want to discuss it over the phone so could you come into my office today? ASAP.”

“It's not good, is it Alex?” Jack couldn't help asking for confirmation of what he already knew.

“Ah, no Jack.”  The Air Force Colonel heard his friend sigh.  “I wish I could tell you different.  I also need you to bring an overnight bag for Daniel.  I want to run some more tests, and he'll have to stay in the hospital, at least for one night, possibly two.”

“Okay.”

“Jack?  You sound like you're going into shock.  Will you be okay?”

“Honestly, Alex, I have no idea.  Last night ...” Jack's voice broke, “last night, Daniel didn't remember we were together.  He thinks I'm just his friend, his best friend, but still, just a friend.”

“Oh, gawd, I'm so sorry Jack.  I know what that must be like.  I don't know what I'd do if I were in your position.”

A movement at the end of the hall caught Jack's eye.  He looked over to see Daniel standing there at the doorway, tears streaming down his face, a look of horror in his eyes.  They gazed at each other, frozen for a second, then Daniel rushed back into the bedroom.

“Alex, Daniel's awake.  I've gotta go.”

Jack hung up the phone and made his way to the bedroom, emotions of hope, fear and concern all warring within him.

He found Daniel sitting in the bed, knees pulled up to his chest, head resting on his knees, his arms around his legs.  Jack could see the fine tremors running through his body and heard the muffled sobs.

He sat beside his lover and embraced the taut, trembling form.

“Danny?”  Daniel didn't move.  Jack realized that he was saying something although he couldn't make out the words.  “Danny please, look at me.”

Slowly, Daniel looked at Jack who was nearly bowled over by the emotion in his lover's blue eyes.

“I'm sorry, Jack, so sorry, didn't mean it, didn't mean it, so sorry, didn't mean to hurt you.  Don't deserve you.  You should go, leave me, so sorry.”

Daniel kept mumbling the words over and over again.  He couldn't believe he'd hurt Jack like that.  **And I don't remember, I would never have known if I hadn't heard you.  I'm scared, Jack.  I'm scared of what I might do.  I can't live with myself if I hurt you.**

“Danny, it wasn't really you.  And I'm not leaving you, so forget about that idea.  I need you.”

Daniel looked up at Jack.  “What happened, Jack?  I don't remember any of it.”  He saw Jack hesitate.  “Please.  I ... I need to know.”

Reluctantly, Jack told him of everything that had happened -- the swim, the shower afterwards, Daniel's asking for Sha're, and Jack's night in the chair beside the bed.

“I'm so sorry.”

“It's okay, Daniel.”

“No, it's not.  It's so not okay.  I love you, love you so much.”  Daniel started kissing Jack passionately.  Just as he was beginning to lose himself in Daniel, Jack remembered that they had to get to Alex's office.

“Danny, we have to go see Alex.” Daniel looked up from the spot he was kissing on Jack's chest.

“I know, Jack.  But first ... I need you ... please.  It seems like forever.”

Jack looked at his lover and caved.  He could never deny Daniel, and if he was honest he really needed to reconnect with Daniel after the night's events.  Their lovemaking was hard and fast, and less than an hour later, Jack had Daniel bundled up in the car as they set off for town.

====

“Jack, Daniel,” Alex greeted the two men and guided them into his office.  He really hated this part of his job.

Daniel sat down in one of the chairs in front of Alex's desk, grateful when Jack pulled his own chair close, placing his arm around Daniel's shoulders.

“I have the test results back.”  Alex pulled out what looked like an X-ray.  He placed it on the light box at the right hand side of his desk.

“Daniel, this is the MRI scan of your brain.”  He looked at Daniel and noticed the young man's gaze run over the scan and stop when they got to the frontal lobe.  It was unusual.  Most people had no idea what to look for when shown these scans.  He looked at Jack who mouthed 'Genius.'

Daniel looked at the scan of his brain.  He'd never seen a photo of his brain before.  He ran his eyes over it, looking at the different markings on it, the variations in color.  And found it.  The spot that he was fairly certain shouldn't be there.  As an archaeologist, he was used to looking for patterns, and his instincts told him that the shadow he was looking at was definitely not supposed to be a part of the pattern of his brain.  He looked down, trying to fight back the despair that threatened to engulf him.

**It's a tumor, Jack.**

“Alex, just tell us the bottom line here.”  Jack moved even closer to Daniel.

“This shadowy area here is some type of tumor.  At this stage, we can't tell if it's benign or malignant so we need to do a biopsy.  Once we know what we're dealing with, we'll discuss how best to treat it.”

“And it IS treatable.”  Jack made it statement, not a question, but the look on Alex's face wasn't the one he wanted to see.  Jack wanted to see that old “Marcus Welby” grin that he'd seen so often on TV.  But this wasn't a TV show.  It was all too real.

“We'll do everything we can, but we won't know what action to take until we do the biopsy.”

Alex moved in front of his desk, sitting on its edge, holding Daniel's file in his hands.  “Listen, I know you have questions, that this seems grave.  It is, but a lot of people get through it, and right now, we have more questions than we do answers.  So tomorrow, we get those answers and then we make plans.  Daniel, we have a room waiting.  Jack, where will you be staying?”

Jack looked down.  “Alex, no disrespect intended with this comment, but the best doctor I know has tried to keep me away from Daniel when he was sick, and that was before he and I became lovers.  She couldn't do it.  There isn't a wall thick enough to keep me away from him.  Where he is, I'll be.  Special Ops, Alex.  I'm not going anywhere.”

“I figured you might say that.  It's unusual, Jack, and against hospital policy, but ... I have connections with the Supervisor of the Night Shift, and she's agreed to ... look the other way.  Can't spare a bed, but she's ... covertly placed extra pillows and a blanket in there.”

“What about other nurses?”

“She'll take care of that.  Just ... play dumb ...”

“That won't be hard.”  Daniel said, a devilish expression on his face.

Jack smiled.  It was a big grin.  “Danny ...”  It was Daniel's first joke in quite a while, and for just a moment, Jack's heart sang.

Alex wasn't sure what he had missed, but he decided he didn't really need to know.  Whatever it was had made the two men in front of him smile and perhaps, just for a minute, forget their troubles.

“So ... if you have problems, ask for Eleanor, and feel free to mention my name.”

“Thanks, Alex.”

“No problem.  The biopsy is scheduled for 9 a.m., and I'll be doing it along with Doctor Rudy Schoman.  He technically doesn't need to be there, but we help each other out a lot  and should the worst case scenario happen, he'll know first hand what we saw going in.  It's an advantage Rudy and I like to have whenever possible.

====

Daniel had been officially checked in, examined, lectured, and tucked into bed.  Jack played the friendly visitor as the afternoon passed.  They shared dinner.  “Please, Jack.  I can't eat all this, and you know they'll hassle me.”  So Jack had assisted his lover, helping to clean the tray completely, surprising and pleasing the doting nurses.

They watched some shows on TV and chitchatted, trying to act like they were at home, and not in a hospital, and then a nurse came by.  “Sorry to interrupt, but visiting hours are ending.”

Jack just nodded as the nurse exited.  Then he got up and closed the door, returning to his spot in a chair next to the bed.  They watched more shows, although Daniel slept through most of it.  A night nurse entered around midnight, surprised to see Jack sitting there.

“Um, Sir ...”

Before Jack could respond, a fiftyish gray-haired woman entered.  She smiled at Jack.  “Noreen, I need you to accompany Rochelle on her check of Mrs. Felipe.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

“Oh, and Noreen, I'll take care of this room tonight myself.”

Noreen reacted with a surprised expression, but simply nodded and exited.

“Eleanor, I presume,” Jack said softly, not wanting to wake Daniel.

“Yes, Colonel.  You won't be disturbed until morning rounds -- 6 a.m.”

“Thank you.”

“Keep the faith, Colonel.  We don't really know anything yet.”

“I will.”  Jack barely got the words out, his emotions raw and so near the surface.

When the door closed, he stood and sat on the edge of the bed.  He took his hand and placed his palm on Daniel's cheek.  “Keep the faith.  I have faith in you, Love.  Nine lives, Space Monkey.  Nine lives.”

====

The next morning, Alex escorted Jack to the observatory.  “I'm bending the rules again, Jack.  Remember ...”

“Play dumb.”

“And name drop, if necessary.”

Jack smiled, and then sat on the edge of his chair.  It seemed like it took forever before Daniel was wheeled in on the cart.  He watched as a tiny area of Daniel's head was shaved.  “We'll just need to clear a very small area for a minor craniotomy.  Don't worry, Daniel.  With all that hair, no one will notice.  Just comb it over this way a tad for a couple weeks,” Alex had explained earlier that morning.

Rubbing his head in his hands for a moment, Jack wished someone would explain what was happening.

“They are making a minor incision, Colonel, just big enough to insert a needle and grab a sample.  It's really a very small piece of the skull broken away for this.”  Eleanor was trying to be comforting, her voice calm.  This wasn't exactly a simple cut being bandaged, but it was a routine procedure for a biopsy.

Jack looked up.  It was Eleanor, the Supervisor of the Night Shift.  She sat down next to him and then looked out at the procedure below.  “Now, Doctor Weston is inserting the needle ... there ... it's going inside the skull.  He only needs to remove enough for a microscopic analysis.”

Time passed, and Eleanor explained every minor detail to Jack.  When they were through, she added, “You'll be able to see him soon.  I wish you well, Colonel.”

“Eleanor, I really appreciate your being here, but I'm curious ...”

“My daughter died of a brain tumor when she was only ten years old.  At the time, I was a housewife.  I remember sitting and wondering what was going on, and being shielded.  There was no one to explain to me what was happening.  It was more agonizing to wonder, than to have known the truth about what they were doing.  I became a nurse to try and make sure that doesn't happen again ... at least, not on my floor.”

“Thank you.”

====

Daniel struggled to consciousness, only to realize he had his usual headache.  He'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be free of pain.

“J'ck,” he croaked, trying to force his eyes open.

“Hey Beautiful.” Jack ran his hands through Daniel's hair and smiled at his sleepy lover.

“You look awful, Jack.”  Daniel was concerned.  He knew Jack would have been sitting beside him all day, and he wondered if he'd even taken the time to go and get something to eat.  ~Somehow, I doubt it.~

“Gee, thanks Dannyboy.”

“Jack, you have to sleep, and eat.”  Daniel fought to keep his eyes open.  He was so tired still, and the anesthetic wasn't helping.  He was nauseous and felt a bit like he was drifting on a cloud.  It wasn't pleasant.

“I've been eating.  Eleanor,” Jack saw the blank look on Daniel's face and swiftly explained, “one of the nurses brought me supplies before she went home.”

**I wish you could hold me.**

Jack smiled and looked around.  “Scoot over a little.”

Daniel wriggled his way across the bed, and Jack hopped on, stretching out and then bringing his sleepy lover back to lie across him, his head on Jack's chest.

“Sleep, Danny.”  Jack stroked Daniel's hair.  “I'll be here when you wake up.”

It was 6:00 p.m. when Alex came into Daniel's room.  Jack took one look at his friend's face and had to fight the urge to throw up.  Unconsciously, his hold on Daniel tightened.  ~No, please, gawd, no.~

“Jack.  How's he doing?”

“He's been sleeping all day.  Alex, what is it?”

“Do you want to wake him?”  Jack looked down at Daniel's face.  Even in sleep, there was a faint grimace of pain across the beautiful features.

“No.  I know it breaks all kinds of rules but ... whatever it is, tell me, and then let me tell him.”

Alex hesitated, looked at Jack, then Daniel, and then back at Jack.  It was a like watching a ball go back and forth during a tennis match as the doctor debated breaking yet more rules.  Finally, he nodded, his decision made.

“Okay, Jack.  The tumor is a malignant meningioma.  What is unique about Daniel's case is that normally this type of tumor is benign, but Daniel's seems to be very aggressive.  We need to operate as soon as possible.”

Jack nodded.  He felt numb.

“We think we'll be able to get most of it in the surgery, but there is some risk of brain damage.”  Tears began to leak from Jack's eyes. “He's also going to need radiotherapy and maybe chemotherapy as well, just to make sure we eradicate it completely.”

Alex reached over and squeezed Jack's hand.  “I'm so sorry."

Jack struggled to process everything.  “The surgery.  When?”

“Tomorrow, or the day after.  There's a neurosurgeon I want to contact first and see if he's available to do the operation.  He's the best there is.  Normally, I'd use Rudy, but in this case, I'd like to try and get this guy.”  Jack nodded.  “I'll go and make some phone calls, and then I'll be back later tonight to let you know when the surgery will be for sure, and to answer any questions Daniel might have.”

“Thanks, Alex.”

After Alex left, Jack lay trying to fight back his emotions.  He couldn't help thinking back on happier times.  The possibility that he might lose all those times, all that happiness, was more than he could bear.  With a tear rolling down his face, Jack remembered one of those precious, happy moments with his soulmate.

//Flashback//
Jack opened the door to his house, feeling overjoyed at the sight of his lover's car in the driveway.  Daniel had told him that he wanted to cook dinner, and Jack was incredibly touched that Daniel wanted to go to so much effort for him.  He was barely through the door when he found himself with an armful of one hot archaeologist.

“Oh, Danny, what you do to me,” Jack panted when they finally broke their liplock.

Daniel ground himself against the older man earning himself a groan.  He grinned wickedly.  “Wait till you see what I have planned for dessert.”

“Can we skip dinner and go straight to dessert?” Jack asked hopefully, his brown eyes dark with lust.

“No way, Flyboy!  I spent hours slaving over a hot stove, and you are going to sit down and enjoy it!”

With that said, Daniel led Jack up to their roof deck.  He'd set up a picnic, candles surrounding the picnic rug.

“This is great!  You didn't have to do all this.”

“I ... I wanted to.”  The two kissed again and then enjoyed their picnic of roast chicken, potatoes, pumpkin and parsnips.

“That was magnificent, Love.” Jack rolled over.

“Do you want dessert?” Daniel licked his lips enticingly.  “I think that's a yes,” he said looking down at Jack's groin.

“Go to the bedroom, and I'll be there in a minute,” Daniel kissed Jack passionately and then was gone.

Lying on the bed, Jack heard Daniel coming up the stairs.  He stared at the sight of his lover, who was naked and carrying a bowl of strawberries in one hand and a bowl of cream in the other.  ~Oh yeah, that's my kind of dessert!~
//End of Flashback//

Jack smiled through his tears as he recalled their marathon session of lovemaking.  They'd ended up with very messy sticky bodies and sheets by the time they'd finished all the strawberries and cream, but they'd been very happy and satiated.  ~Gawd, Danny, we will get through this. I can't lose you.~

====

“Better?”

“I hate throwing up,” Daniel said, returning to his spot on the bed.  He had awakened only minutes earlier and immediately felt nauseous.  Jack had helped him to the bathroom where Daniel had vomited.

~Another missed sign.  Remember on P2X-881?  You felt so queasy there.  We blamed it on the environment, but you were the only one.  I missed another sign.~

“Jack, you're frowning.”

“Sorry.”

“Alex has been here, hasn't he?”

Jack couldn't look at Daniel.  The tears had started to fall.

“Oh, Jack,” Daniel reached out, his right hand caressing his lover's cheek.  “It's okay.”

“Oh crap.  Danny, I'm supposed to be the strong one here.”  But Jack wasn't.  His voice cracked.  He had intended to be stoic, to say what had to be said, but one sound of his lover's soft voice, one look at those cerulean blue eyes, and Jack lost it completely, fearing that soon, he might lose the love of his life.

“Jack, come here.”  Daniel pulled his love to him, wrapping his arms around the older man.  Daniel rocked Jack back and forth as he kept their heads touching.  “Shh, my love.  It's okay.”

For several minutes, Daniel comforted Jack, swaying slowly, making loving caresses, and uttering whispered reassurances.  Finally, Jack regained his composure.  He pulled back, his red, swollen eyes immediately standing out.  Daniel knew this wasn't Jack's first cry of the night.

Cupping his lover's face, Daniel leaned forward for a kiss, and then asked, “Tell me.”

Jack repeated what Alex said, and when he was done, Alex arrived, asking if they had any questions.

“He'll be okay?”

“I hope so.”

“My work.  I ...”

“He's a friggin' genius, Alex.  You have no idea what's in that brain of his.”

“I can't make you promises or guarantees.  This tumor ... it can be rough.”

“When you say brain damage, what exactly do you mean?”

“If we have to remove an abundance of tissue, if the brain swells, if convulsions occur, if an infection sets in, if any hemorrhaging happens ... lots of ifs, but it could affect the same things you've had trouble with -- memory, coordination, personality.”

“Personality?” Daniel said alarmed.

Jack was surprised.  He had thought Daniel would react more violently to memory and recall.

“I DON'T WANT MY PERSONALITY TO CHANGE.  Medical incompetence.  Jack, I want a second opinion.  This is the worst treatment I've ever had.  Personality.  I'll give you pers...pers...personality,” Daniel finished softly, looking sadly at his lover.

Jack smiled in support, taking Daniel into his arms.  “That's not me, Jack.”

“I know.  So does Alex.  Shhhh.”

Alex spoke very quietly.  “If you two need anything at all, or just need to talk, call me.  I'm going to leave you alone now.”  The physician backed out of the room, leaving Daniel sobbing into Jack's shoulder, fear overwhelming him.

====

“We don't have a choice do we?” Daniel lay in his usual position, head over Jack's heart, hand on his chest, his leg hooked between Jack's.

“No.  We really don't.”  Jack ran soothing fingers through his lover's hair.

“Jack, if ... if after the surgery my .... my personality does change, promise me you won't stay with me because you think you have to.”

“Danny, I'd never leave you.”

“But I want you to Jack.  It wouldn't be me.  I can't bear the thought of you staying with me out of some misguided sense of loyalty.”  Daniel sat up a little to look Jack in the eye.  “Promise me, Jack.  Please, promise me.”

There was a touch of desperation in Daniel's voice now and so Jack acquiesced.

“Okay, Love.  I promise I won't stay with you because I think I have to.  That's the best I can do.  If I really stop loving you, I won't stay.”

Daniel nodded, and Jack continued stroking his hair.  ~It'll never happen, Danny.  I'll love you till the day I die.  No, that's wrong.  I'll love you forever, this life, and whatever happens after.  You're my everything, Love, and it won't end just because I stop breathing.~

====

At 10:00 p.m., Alex came back.  Daniel was asleep once more.  Jack gave his friend a sad smile and beckoned him in.

“How is he?” Alex eyed the young man sleeping in Jack's protective embrace.

“As well as can be expected.”

Alex nodded.  “Jack, we want to do a PET scan of Daniel's brain before the surgery.”  He saw the question coming and headed it off.  “It allows us to measure the metabolic activity in the brain.  Daniel will be given a small intravenous injection of a radioactive sugar solution.  We have it scheduled for tomorrow morning.  I've pushed the surgery back to 1 p.m.”

“Why, Alex?” Jack asked as Daniel began to wake.

“It's a bit more precise.  It'll show us the progression of the tumor and gives us more detail than the other tests.  Daniel, you'll have eat a low carb meal tonight, and I hope you like water because before we bring you in for the test, you'll have to drink 32 ounces worth.”

Daniel nodded.  “So the PET is similar to the MRI?”

“In some ways.  You'll get the injection when we bring you down for the PET.  You won't feel any changes or different from the shot.  We'll have you just relax, lying quietly for roughly an hour, and then you'll get on the table that will move through the scanner.  That takes another hour.”

“Do I HAVE to have another scan?” Daniel's sleepy voice enquired.

“Technically no, but it would help us ensure that we remove the bare minimum necessary which minimizes the likelihood of loss of function.  It's something that Doctor McLaren has used with great effect.”

“Doctor McLaren?”  Jack looked at Alex, his hand drawing continual circles on Daniel's back.

“Doctor William McLaren, one of the best neurosurgeons in the country.”

“What time tomorrow?” Daniel looked at Alex.

“The PET scan is scheduled for 9:00 a.m.” Alex stood up.  “I'll come and see you tomorrow before they take you down.  Hang in there, both of you.”

“Thanks,” two voices said from the bed.

====

After Alex left, Jack and Daniel just lay silently holding onto each other, drawing comfort from the other's presence.  They didn't feel the need to talk, there was nothing to say.  They just wanted to be together.

A few hours later, Eleanor poked her head around the door.  Daniel was asleep, and Jack waved her in.  She sat in the chair beside the bed.

“I'm so sorry, Colonel.”  Her kind words were enough to set Jack off again, and as the tears trickled down his cheeks, he wondered absently how many tears it was possible for one person to shed ... and when he had turned into such a sentimental sap.  ~Easy, the day I first loved Daniel Jackson.~

“I can't bear the thought of losing him, Eleanor.  It's so unfair.  Why did this have to happen to Daniel?  He doesn't deserve this or any of the crap life has thrown at him.  I wish I could take his place, bear this burden for him.”

“I don't,” Daniel struggled awake.  “Elean...gawd, I'm going to be sick again.”

Within seconds of Daniel speaking, Eleanor had pulled out a bowl from the cabinet beside the bed and held it under the young man.  When he had finished emptying his stomach contents, she took it away and returned a minute later with a fresh damp washcloth.  She handed it to Jack and left to fetch a new bowl.

“Feel any better now, Love?” Gently, with infinite tenderness, Jack wiped the washcloth over Daniel's face.

**Gawd, Jack.**  Daniel buried his face in Jack's shoulder, unable to stop hot tears from escaping.  He felt awful.  His head was aching, he was tired, depressed and agreed with Jack that it wasn't fair.  He certainly didn't want Jack to have the tumor in his place.  He didn't want either of them to have it.  ~I should have known that things were going too well for me lately.~

“We had fun in Arizona, didn't we?  I mean, once we got through all that ... stuff,” Daniel struggled with his words.

“You mean my stupidity?”  Jack remembered how he had almost lost Daniel after meeting up with old Air Force friends.  He had been confused, and made some bad choices, but in the end, Jack had realized that all he ever needed was the man he was holding now.  Nothing else mattered, and he really didn't care who knew, Air Force regulations or not!

“Yeah, we had fun.  It was our first real vacation, but I promise you, Love, it won't be our last.  I love you, and we are going to get through this.”

Jack continued to murmur reassurances and endearments, his own tears falling unheeded as he tried to comfort his lover.  Eventually, Daniel fell asleep again.

Sometime later, Eleanor brought Jack a bowl of soup.  “Eat.  You have to take care of yourself, for his sake if not your own.”

Jack nodded.  He couldn't bear the thought of food but he knew she was right.  He needed to stay strong for Daniel.

====

Once again, Eleanor was at Jack's side.  “This is the Position Emission Tomography.  Think of it as a geological map of the brain.  It will help the doctors pinpoint the nerve cells that are functional, and those that aren't, and give them a broader view of Daniel's cognitive functions.”

“What are they giving him?”

Eleanor glanced over at the attendants near the young man.  “Oh, I'm not sure which particular one it is, but it's a radiopharmaceutical, which is a substance absorbed by certain brain cells, and that's what helps the cells to emit ... well, a type of electron.  It's how they map the brain and know what's happening with it so precisely.”

Jack watched his lover be placed into the opening of the large machine, his head inside.  He wished he could be there, holding Daniel's hand.  Finally, it was over, and Jack was allowed to briefly see Daniel before he was prepped for surgery.

“Danny, I love you.  I'll always love you.”

“Love you, too.  No ... no regrets.  None.”

“We'll go home soon, and everything will be back to normal.”

“Back to normal,” Daniel repeated, “... doing the ... abnormal.”

“You got it, Space Monkey.”

“Space what?”

Jack shook his head, his heart having just sunk to the ground.  The nickname was so basic to their relationship that it was like a knife had just cut through the older man when Daniel didn't remember it.  Still, he had to be positive and reassure the younger man.  “I love you, forever and always.”

“Always.”

Jack was told to leave, and went back to his perch in the observation area.  He waited, his mind replaying his entire relationship with his lover.  He refused to think about the loss of memory he had just witnessed.  It was too painful.

Jack stood and walked the narrow aisles of the deck, pacing back and forth.  ~I don't understand.  Alex said they would be starting by now.  There's not even anyone here.  Am I in the right place?  Yes, I'm sure of it.  Daniel?  Gawd, what if? ... No, he's ... fine.  What the heck is going on?~

“Jack.”

Alex's voice startled Jack O'Neill.  He wasn't used to being startled, and now, seeing the expression on Alex's face, his apprehension rose.

“We ... the PET Scan ... I'm sorry, Jack.”

“I don't understand.  The surgery ...”

“Daniel's back in his room.  He'll be awake shortly.”

“Alex, the surgery.  You're supposed to be removing the tumor.”

“Jack ... ”

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING STANDING THERE?  GET HIM IN HERE!  DO YOUR FRIGGIN' JOB!  THAT'S WHAT WE'RE PAYING YOU FOR!”

Alex listened as Jack continued to yell, demanding action and treatment.  He stood calmly, until his friend had let it all out, finally sinking down into a chair, leaning forward, his head in his hands.

Slowly, Alex went to Jack, and placed his hand on Jack's shoulders.  “There's a second tumor, and it's ... Jack, it would kill him just to try and reach it.  We might get in, but the risk to his life ... he'd be a vegetable.”

Alex took a breath and sat down.  He kept his hand on Jack's back.  “The PET also revealed that the first tumor was much bigger than we first believed.  Put those two together ... I'm sorry, Jack.  There would be no gain for Daniel.  We couldn't get it all.  He might gain a few months, but he wouldn't be the man you know.”

“How long?” Jack croaked out.

Alex sighed.  “With medication and treatment to try and halt the growth, maybe two or three months.  It's a very fast growing tumor, Jack.”

“What kind of treatment?”

“Radiation.  Chemo.  We'll have to give him some steroids to stop the possibility of convulsions or seizures.  They'll reduce the inflammation of the tissues and control the swelling a bit.  I'm leaning towards Dilantin at the moment.”

Jack could barely speak, but he needed answers.  “What's involved in the ... radiation?”

“He'll have to have treatment every day, Jack, Monday through Friday.  He can skip the weekends.  Chemo these days is a lot less invasive, as long as he doesn't have a reaction.”

“How long if ... if he doesn't ... if ...”

“Maybe half that time.”

Jack nodded.  He said nothing as he started to walk out, and then he ran.  He ran out of the observation deck, and kept right on running, taking the hospital stairs.  He ran out the main doors and kept on moving, never stopping.  He ran until his knees gave out.

Not even knowing where he was, Jack dropped to the ground, on all fours, and cried.  ~Please don't do this.  Not Danny.  Take me.  I'm the one who's done things I shouldn't have.  He's innocent ... like Charlie.  Please don't take him.  Gawd, no!~

====

“J'ck?”  Daniel opened his eyes, expecting to see his lover.  “Jack?”

“Hi, Daniel.”

Daniel blinked.  “You're not Jack.”

“No, I'm Alex Weston.  Remember?”

“Alex,” Daniel repeated.  “Oh, Jack's friend.  Where's Jack?”

“He ... went for a walk.  He'll be back soon I'm sure.”

Daniel stared at Alex and calmly asked, “What time is it?”

“It's 2:15 in the afternoon.”

“Just ... 2:15?”  Alex nodded.  “That was ... one quick surgery.”

“Daniel ...”

“Hey,” Jack said enthusiastically as he entered the room.  “Danny, whatcha doing on this sick bed, huh?  We're getting out of here.  No more beds for you.  We have plans.”

Daniel followed Jack's movements as he walked over and sat down on the bed.  Jack placed a quick kiss on Daniel's lips, and then gently pulled him up.

Daniel grabbed Jack's arms.  “Jack?”

“We're going back to the villa, Danny.  You, me ... and the ocean.”

“For how long?”

“Forever,” Jack creaked out.

“Forever?”

Jack nodded, tears welling in his eyes.  “Now, let's get you dressed.”

“I can barely sit up.”

“That's okay.  I'll carry you, if I have to.”

“Jack, Alex ...” Daniel looked over, realizing Alex had left the room.

“Okay, let me get your clothes.”

“Jack ...”

“Here we go, Love,” Jack said, returning to his spot.

Daniel let Jack dress him.  He knew the answers to his questions.  He also saw Jack had been crying, more than just from the last few minutes.  Sometimes, Daniel wished he wasn't so smart.

A few minutes later, Alex returned with a wheelchair.  Jack stared at him when the doctor entered.  “Come on, Jack.  He can barely stand.  You aren't really going to carry him, are you?”

Jack said nothing as he buttoned Daniel's shirt.  Daniel knew he should have been embarrassed, but he was too busy studying Alex's expression.

“Jack, the release papers are at the main desk.  Sign them before you go.  And ... I'll need Daniel to sign these and ... you can mail them.” Jack nodded.  He knew what they were -- papers refusing treatment, stating his wishes and desires.  “Call me ... any time.”  Alex retreated quietly.

Doing what Alex asked, Jack wheeled Daniel out of the facility.  He made sure his lover was comfortable in the car, and set back out for their villa retreat.  Daniel wanted to talk, but he fell asleep within a few minutes, not waking until they drove up to the roomy villa.

With care, Jack helped Daniel into the residence.  He settled his lover into a cozy spot on the loveseat, and then went to make some coffee.

“Here, Love.”

“Coffee?”  Daniel sipped it.  It tasted so good.  He hadn't had coffee in days.  “Jack, you have to say the words.  I need to hear them.”  Daniel's words were almost whispered.

Jack nodded, but remained standing.  “Later,” was the only word he managed to say as he sat down next to his lover and held him.

In silence, they cuddled for hours.

“Jack?”

Jack finally found the strength.  “There's a second tumor.  It's inoperable because of its location.  And the first one is larger than they thought.  Even if they did the surgery, it wouldn't help much, and not for long.”

Daniel listened as Jack told him everything Alex had said.

“We're here ... forever?”

“Forever and always, my love.  Forever and always.”

====

The next few days were rather hazy for the two lovers as they tried to come to terms with this sudden change in their lives.  Daniel was still sleeping much of the time, and Jack was content to just lay next to his love and hold him.  Every time Daniel woke, they'd make love.  There was an urgency in their passion, now that they knew just how short their mortal forever was going to be.

As they came down from the high their latest round of lovemaking had produced, Daniel decided that the time had come to talk about the things they'd both been avoiding.

“Jack,” his hand played with Jack's gray chest hairs that he loved so much, “do you think I should tell Sam and Teal'c?  And General Hammond?  And Janet?”

There was barely a hitch in Jack's breathing.  He'd known that sooner or later they'd have to talk about the future, but ever since their return from the hospital, he'd been trying not to think about anything but the fact that Daniel was here now.  If he didn't think, he could lull himself into believing that none of this was happening, that it wasn't real.  He'd known, though, that sooner or later, they'd be having this discussion.

“What do you want to do?”

Jack really didn't want to tell anyone else about all this.  If they told their teammates, Sam and Teal'c would want to spend time with Daniel, and Jack wanted his lover all to himself.  He didn't want to share the precious time they had left, not even with their closest friends, and if that made him a selfish S.O.B., then so be it.

“I should tell them.  And I should go back to the SGC, organize all my work so that ... that it's easier for ... whoever ... whoever takes over.”

Jack picked up on Daniel's wording and hoped it meant what he thought it did.

“But I want to know what you WANT to do, Danny, not what you think you should do.”

Daniel looked up at Jack.  Unshed tears shone brightly in his eyes.  “I don't want to tell anyone.  I don't want to spend whatever time I have left organizing files and paperwork.  I just want to stay here, with you.”

Jack smiled, his own tears threatening to well up again.  “That's what I want, too.  It might be selfish, but I really don't care.  I don't want to share you with anyone.  I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“Hey, Space Monkey, why don't we ...”  Jack stopped, seeing the confused look on Daniel's face.  He felt his heart crumble a little at the reminder of their situation.

“Where did that come from?”

Jack shrugged and reached up to kiss his lover, leading to another round of lovemaking.

====

Daniel sat staring out at the ocean.  He pulled the blankets a little tighter around himself and smiled.  Jack was in full mother hen mode.  Every time Daniel set foot outside, Jack would make sure he had on plenty of warm clothes, then he'd usually bring blankets as well to wrap around Daniel when they sat down.

~It should be driving me crazy, Jack, but it's not.  It's nice to feel so loved and cared for.  Gawd, I love you.  But I'm ... I'm worried about you, my Love.  I'm not sure how well you're going to handle my death.  Charlie's nearly killed you.  Gawd, this isn't fair.  You shouldn't have to go through this.~

“Hey, Danny.” Jack sat down behind his lover and wrapped his arms around him.

“Dinner in the oven?”

“Yep, cooking away nicely.”

“You're such a good housewife, Jack,” Daniel teased.

Jack nuzzled his nose into Daniel's neck.  “Only for you, Love.”

~Would it be kinder to try and push you away now?  Would that help make my death easier to bear?~

**Don't you dare try it, Dannyboy.**

**You weren't meant to hear that.**

**Tough, I did.  And don't even think it.**

“I ... I love you, Jack.”  Daniel still struggled with being the first to say the words, though now, he wondered why he should feel so insecure.  Now, more than ever, he should be believing in Jack, and in their love.

“Love you, too, Danny, so much.”

They sat, Daniel staring out at the ocean, Jack just soaking up the sight, scent and feel of his lover.

“Jack,”  the word was soft, and Jack knew it heralded the beginnings of an unpleasant discussion.  He took a deep breath and steeled himself.  If it was something Daniel needed to talk about, he'd do his best to listen.

“Hmm,” Jack hugged Daniel a little more tightly.

“I ... I want you to ... after ... crap,” Daniel hated it when he couldn't find the words to express himself, and found himself using a word Jack used more often than he.

“Shh, Love.  Just say what you feel.”

“I want you to move on.”  Daniel felt Jack tense, and the rest of his words came out in a rush, “After I ... die ... I want you to find someone else.  There's got to be someone else out there for you.  You deserve to be happy, to have someone to love and ... and who can give you love.”

Jack closed his eyes and nestled his face back into Daniel's neck.  He'd already decided that there was no life for him without Daniel.  The day Daniel died, would be the day that Jack died, too -- at least on the inside.  But he certainly wasn't going to place that burden on Daniel.

“I'll try, Danny, I'll try.”  It wasn't really a lie, Jack told himself.  ~I'll give myself an hour or two, see if moving on is even in the realm of possibility.  And I can tell you it won't be, Danny, and then I'll just ... wait for time to end.  Maybe I'll stay here.  No one will know where to find me.  Maybe I'll be a hermit.~

Daniel felt Jack's tears trickle down the back of his neck.  He turned around and held his lover as Jack sobbed his heart out.  Eventually, when Jack had no more tears left, Daniel kissed the brown hair with its ever increasing flecks of gray.  Actually, Daniel smiled, seeing Jack's hair was much more silver-gray now than brown, and he liked that ... a lot.

“Let's go back in the house.  I want to show you how much I ... how much ...”

Jack nodded and then kissed his soulmate.  Together, they walked back to the house.  Occasionally they'd walk along the beach, but often Daniel found it too tiring, and he wanted to conserve his energy for other things, namely making love with Jack.  So, like now, they'd taken to just sitting on the patio or just beyond it on the beach behind the villa, enjoying the view of the ocean from there.

====

Daniel was resting on the sofa, two blankets covering him.  Beside him, on the floor, was a backpack full of books and notes.  He had been writing letters, notes to friends and colleagues, trying to explain not telling them in advance, but letting them know that he respected them or liked working with them or appreciated their efforts on his team or, for a minor few, that he loved them.  Those had been the hardest, and the fewest -- Sam, Teal'c, General Hammond, Janet, Cassie, and Catherine Langford Littlefield.

Jack had finished preparing a few sandwiches, in advance, for midnight snacks.  He and Daniel weren't really keeping anything close to regular hours, and when Daniel was awake, Jack didn't want to leave him, not even for a moment.

Then, something unusual happened.  Within seconds of each other, Jack's cell phone rang, as did Daniel's.  Jack had forgotten he even had his cell phone in the house.  He was even more surprised Daniel had his ... apparently in the backpack.

Daniel stumbled awake, picking up his phone, just as Jack found his under some newspapers on a corner table.  He had put it there after calling Alex a couple nights earlier to ask about a medication that might help with Daniel's headaches.

“General?”

“Jack, I know you're on leave, but we have a crisis.  I need SG-1 back in harness immediately.”

“General, we ... I ...”

“Jack, it's an order.  Captain Carter is trying to get in touch with Doctor Jackson in Canada as we speak.  I'll expect both of you back here within 24 hours.”

“But General ...”

“This is an order, Colonel.  The threat is very real and urgent.  Twenty-four hours.”  The phone line disconnected.

Jack looked over at Daniel, listening to his conversation.

“I ... I'm sorry I haven't been in touch.  Yes, the ... research is going well.  Sam, I don't know if ... I ...”

Jack wanted to grab the phone, but their cover would be blown for sure if he did.  Daniel was supposed to be studying in Canada, working on a research grant.  He'd taken leave, temporary, for a few months.  Jack had taken leave as well, using a recent injury as an excuse.  Of course, it had been minor, but Jack made it out to be like he wanted to regroup after some difficult missions in the recent past.   Part of him really didn't care if their cover was blown.

“Sam, I'll try, okay?  ... I ... Sam ...”

Jack knew his 2IC obviously had orders to hound or guilt Daniel into returning.  He also knew that she had probably guessed they were together.  Sam knew about Jack and Daniel, but it wasn't a comfortable situation for any of them yet, even though she'd begun helping them to hide their relationship from others.

“I know, but ...”

Daniel was tiring.  One hand held the phone, the other was rubbing his temple vigorously.  A minute passed in which Jack was sure Sam was prattling on about whatever.  Then, Jack saw the phone begin to slip a little.  He moved into action, grabbing the phone from Daniel.

“Carter.  We'll talk about it, and don't say 'Sir' or anything if you aren't alone.  Just ... say 'goodbye, Daniel' and hang up ... NOW!”

“Goodbye, Daniel.”  Sam hung up, turning to face Teal'c.  She smiled.  “I tried.  He said he'd think about it.”  Sam turned back to face the wall.  ~I knew they were together, and they must be having a super time.  Daniel sure didn't act like he wanted to come back.  The Colonel must really be good.  Oh gawd, Samantha.  You do NOT want to go there.  Think solar flares, energy sources, stellar drifts ...~

====

“Daniel, no!  You can't handle it!”

“Jack, Alex can put me on medication.  We'll see how it works.  We can go back to Colorado Springs, find out what's happening, and then make a decision.  Please, Jack.  Let's just ... find out what's happening.”

Jack sighed.  He picked up a pen and before he realized what he was doing, he broke it in half.  Daniel saw it.

“Jack.  I need this.  Please.”

“We do this MY way, Daniel.”

Daniel nodded, watching as Jack picked up the phone.  He called Alex and explained the situation as best he could.

“You realize going on and off medication could be dangerous?”

“Yes, Alex.  It's Daniel's decision, though, and he ... he wants to give the medication a try for a ... a few days anyway.”

Jack finished that call, and then made another, booking two tickets on a flight to Denver the following morning.   When he was done, he walked over to Daniel and pulled him to him.  “We do this my way, and so help me, Daniel, I see you waver ... I see danger ... we're out of there, no arguments.  That's the only way I'll allow this.”

Daniel smiled.  “It's my choice.”

“Geez, Danny.  Don't argue with me.  Not now.  Not about this.”

Daniel moved into Jack's embrace where he remained for several minutes before they finally moved to the kitchenette area for dinner.

====

Daniel awoke, surprised that he was alone.  He reached out with his left arm, his hand feeling for Jack, but feeling nothing but the silk sheets.

“I'm over here, Love,” Jack said.  He had been sitting in a chair near an open window.  From their room, they could see part of the ocean, if they positioned themselves right.  Jack had been half focused on the sound of the waves in the darkened night, and the beautiful sight of his lover, sleeping serenely.

Daniel rolled over on his back.  “What are you doing over there?”

“Just thinking.”  Jack stood and walked over to the bed, sitting next to Daniel.  He leaned down for a kiss.  “Danny, the Nox.  If we are going back, maybe we should try and get in touch with them.  Maybe they can help.”

“Or the Tollan.”

“You've already thought of this.”

“And decided against it.”

“Danny, why?”  Jack couldn't believe his lover would have considered the medical advancement of allies could save him, but then opt not to take advantage of it.

“And there's even the healing device.”  Daniel sat up, leaning against the headboard.  “Jack, I know you're going to be angry, but ... I don't want to take advantage ...”

“Take advantage ...”

Daniel could see Jack getting angry, and tried to calm him.  He placed his hand over his lover's mouth and whispered, “Shh.  Please listen.  This is important.”

“Okay, I'm listening.”

“Jack, the Tollan won't help us.  You know that.  They've made that very clear.  The Nox ... they might, but we don't know if they know about our neurological patterns.  There's a big difference, Jack, in healing a wound than in cutting out a tumor.  Maybe I'm being silly not to ask them, but there's a bigger concern.  What right do I have to ask them?”

“You have every right.”

“No, I don't.  Where we do we draw the line?  How about Major Fordham's little daughter?  She has leukemia.  Or Artie McIntyre's wife?  She's battling breast cancer.  Or Private Griffin?  You said yourself she had a promising career, and it's being cut short because she's dying of ... gawd, I don't remember ... some crazy disease.  Jack, what gives me the right to say 'save me' and not them?  I can't.  It goes against everything I believe in.”

Daniel cupped his partner's face.  He pressed their lips together as he slid his hands down the older man's neck.  “I know you want me to go along, but aside from the risks, I can't.  I can't put my life above another's, not like this.  Please respect that.”

Jack was shaking his head.  He wanted desperately to argue, but he knew Daniel's spirit, his soul, the ethical ways that ruled him were greater than anyone else's he'd ever known.  “What about the good you can do?”

“Those people can do good, too.  I don't have the moral right to be the exception.”

**But you do, Danny.**  Jack hadn't meant to say that so Daniel could hear it, but he did.

“No, I don't.  I'm just one man, no worse, no better than Private Griffin.”

“How about the healing device?  Can't we try it?”

“Sam doesn't know how.  She keeps trying, but she hasn't made much progress, and I wouldn't want her to feel guilty.”

“The Tok'ra?”

“Jack, let it go.  Please.  Let's just ... make our time ... ours.”

Jack nodded.  He hated it, but every reason Daniel gave was one of the reasons Jack loved the younger man so much.  “I love you.”

“I love you, too.  Love you so much.”  Daniel pulled Jack down to the bed, beginning a tender fusion of their bodies.

====

Jack and Daniel walked into the SGC and were greeted repeatedly by co-workers as they made their way to the locker room to change, and then to the briefing room.

“Sir?  Daniel?”  Sam smiled, happy to see her friends.

“Carter.  Teal'c.”

“O'Neill.”

“Hi, Teal'c.”

“DanielJackson.  You look ... it is good to see you.”

“Colonel, Doctor Jackson.  I'm glad you made it back.  I'm sorry we had to interrupt your leaves, but I'm sure you'll agree we had no choice.”

“General, we're here.  What's the problem with the universe this time?”

“It's Apophis, Colonel.  SG-3 were on a recon mission to PXJ-356 and came across an army of Jaffa in the service of Apophis.  The race of aliens there, the Mengal, are quite advanced, almost like the Nox.  It seems that Apophis is trying to find technology that will allow him to penetrate the iris.”

“Geez, doesn't that snake ever die?  What do you need SG-1 for, General?”

“Like many of the advanced cultures we've come across, the Mengal are reluctant to have too much to do with us at this point in time.  Unfortunately, the Mengal also seem to be too trusting, much like the Nox.  Given the advanced technology of the Mengal, we need to be sure that the Mengal are aware of the aggressive tendencies of the Goa'uld.  In short, we need Doctor Jackson to open communications with them.”

“Daniel's not the only negotiator in the SGC.  Can't some one else do this one?”

Jack realized that Hammond, Sam and Teal'c were all looking at him in surprise.  “What?  All I'm saying is he's not the only negotiator we have.”

“Colonel, of course, we have  an excellent staff of diplomats and first contact personnel, but I think you'll agree,” Hammond said with a stern, focused expression, “that Doctor Jackson is our best, and has skills and abilities that far exceed those of others.”

Jack coughed.  “Yes, Sir, but ...” Jack was desperately searching for a way out.  Daniel wasn't up for this mission, even if Jack wanted to go.
It put Jack in a quandary.  He didn't want to point out Daniel's illness, but in the end, that was his only option.  “... just look at him.  He's obviously not feeling well.”

**Sorry, Love.** Jack kept his gaze on Hammond, while Daniel simply sighed and fiddled with his pen.

**You know we're going to have to do this, Jack.**

**No.**

“Doctor Jackson?”  Daniel looked up from the table and faced the General.  “Are you up to this mission?”

“I ...” Daniel rubbed his temples.  His head was pounding.

**Danny?**

“Daniel?  Are you okay?”  Daniel could see Sam's concern.  He knew he must look bad since even Teal'c's concern was evident.

“I'll ... how ...” Daniel felt a sudden wave of nausea rising up.  Blindly he stood.  “Going ... to be ... sick.”  He ran from the room.  Jack stood up to follow him.

“Colonel?” General Hammond looked stunned.  “Where are you going?  We are still in the middle of a briefing here.  I'm sure Doctor Jackson will go and see Doctor Fraiser in the infirmary as soon as he recovers.”

Jack simply raised his eyebrows in a manner befitting Teal'c.  The General sighed.

“Perhaps you're right.  We'll adjourn for now and resume again at 1400 hours.  Colonel, make sure Doctor Jackson sees Doctor Fraiser.”  As Jack reached the doorway the General called him back.

“We need him for this one, Jack.  We need both of you.  I'll make sure you get the remainder of your leave when this mission has been completed.”

Jack nodded and made a beeline for the nearest bathroom.  He was pleased to find that it was deserted apart from one very forlorn looking archaeologist.  Locking the door behind him, Jack crouched down beside his lover.  He caressed Daniel's back and walked over to the sink to dampen his handkerchief.  He returned to Daniel and carefully wiped his lover's face.

“How are you feeling now, Love?”  Jack reached out to envelop Daniel in a hug.

**Tired.  What did the General say?**

“He wants you to see Fraiser.”

Jack felt the tremors run through Daniel and had to concentrate hard on quashing his rising anger.  They didn't need this.  They didn't have much time left, and it wasn't fair to put all of this mess on Daniel's shoulders and expect him to fix it.

**What am I going to do, Jack?  I really don't want to tell anyone.  I can't deal with their reactions.**  Daniel was too tired to even speak, letting his telepathic-like communication with his lover take over.

“We'll tell Fraiser that you have the flu and admit that you haven't been eating or sleeping properly.  Everyone will buy that.  And after we've seen Fraiser, I'm taking you back to the villa, Danny.  No arguments.  You need to rest.”

**Okay, Jack.**  Daniel knew he should insist on staying and working, but he really couldn't summon the energy.  He was too tired.

Daniel giving up so easily confirmed for Jack that his decision to “say no” to Hammond was the right one.  A healthy Daniel would have fought him tooth and nail for days, but instead, Daniel had given up in mere minutes.

“Hi, Doc.”

“Colonel.  Daniel.  Um, Daniel, you look a little pale.”  Janet immediately noticed the young man was unwell.

“You know Daniel, Doc.  He's got the flu, I think.  He's been playing with those rocks of his, up all night, little sleep, and without me to nag him to eat, he's admitted he hasn't eaten much.”

“Maybe I should run some tests.”  Janet began to pull out some equipment, making Daniel panic.

“Janet, I swear.  It's ... it's what Jack said.  I, uh ... I promise, I'll take better care of myself now.  I just ... I'm on leave, Janet.”

**Good tactic, Love.**  “Yeah, Doc, look I'll ride shotgun for a while, make sure he does what he's supposed to.”

“I'm sure that'll help, but still ...”

“You know our archaeologist, Doc,” Jack put on his best Irish grin, slapping Daniel lightly on the back as he stood next to him, **use the pout, Danny ... and don't argue with me, you know what I mean ... USE IT!** “he's always coming up with an excuse, but I'll mother hen like crazy until he's all caught up on sleep and food.  I'll even drag him back here myself if he doesn't behave.”

This had to work.  Jack's charm and Daniel's pout -- an unbeatable combination -- it had to be!

“Well, I don't know, Colonel ...”

**Pout, Daniel!**

Janet looked at Daniel and saw the drooping eyes and the quivering bottom lip.  He milked the expression for all it was worth.  “Janet, I promise.  Please ... I'm on leave.  I don't want to go through all this.  I'll ... I won't even argue with Jack.”

“Okay, but Colonel, the first sign ...”

“The absolute first, Doc.”  ~I'm sorry, Janet.  I'm lying through my teeth, but I love him, and he comes first.  You'll understand ... later.~

The two exited the infirmary and headed back for the briefing room where everyone else had already returned.

“I hope you're feeling better, Doctor Jackson,” the Major General spoke.

“Yes, Sir.  I'm ... I'm sorry, I just ... flu.”

“I understand, Son, but we need you.  This situation is the worst we've had to date.  Apophis' fleet has grown, and the Mengal need to be made aware of the dangers of negotiating with the Goa'uld.”

“Sir, if the Mengal are like the Nox, they won't be negotiating with anyone,” Jack commented.

“Jack, it's not so much negotiating, as letting the Goa'uld walk all over them.  They won't fight back.  Whereas we won't take from them ...”

Jack sighed, completing Hammond's sentence, “... the Goa'uld will.”

“Jack, they're coming.  The Tok'ra have sent us a message that we only have 48 hours to convince the Mengal.”

“And what if we can't?” Jack asked.

“Then we're in for a battle, and if that's the case, I still need my flagship team leading the way.  Jack, this is an order, not a request.  SG-1 will depart in one hour.  Dismissed.”

Jack looked at Daniel.  **I'll have to retire, Love.**

**No.  Jack, please.  Let's talk.**

Jack started to walk out, surprising Sam and Teal'c.

“Sir,” Sam called out, “your orders?”

Jack looked at Daniel, who had begun to follow him out of the room.  He considered his words for a moment and then answered, “You heard the General, Captain.  Prepare to ship out.”

Jack and Daniel left, going to the older man's office, and leaving a still surprised Sam and Teal'c behind.

“That was ... odd,” Sam commented.

“DanielJackson is not feeling well.  O'Neill is a ...”

“Mother hen,” Sam smiled.  Teal'c nodded.  “Yeah, I guess that's it.  He's just worried about Daniel.  We'd better gear up.”

Jack closed his office door, locking it, and making sure the security equipment was off.

“Daniel, you can't go through the gate.  Look at you, Love.  You're beautiful, but ... you're sick, Danny.”

“Jack, this is ... my chance, to do something, to make a lasting contribution.  We ... we failed with the Nox.  If I can convince the Mengal to ally with us, that would mean something.”

“Daniel, don't start that.  You've already made multiple contributions that have made a difference.  For crying out loud, Daniel, you saved Earth!  You!”

“You didn't believe me.”  Daniel didn't want to go back to the incident of the quantum mirror and the subsequent battle with the Goa'uld.  “Jack, that was luck.  This ... this is different.  Please let me try.  I need this, Jack.  I need to know that I ... that I really ... please.”

“Danny ...”

“If we don't try, Apophis will steamroll the Mengal.  He'll take their technology, and if the General is right, the Goa'uld will have everything they need to overtake Earth.  Jack, if that happens, I may die from the invasion long before anything else has a chance to ...”

“Oh, Danny ...”  Jack walked to a chair and collapsed into it.  “It's so risky.”

Daniel walked to Jack.  He knelt down and took Jack's hands in his.  “Jack, we have to do this.  We have to try and save Earth.  And I need this.  It goes so deep inside me, this ... need to make a difference.  Please, Jack.  Support me.  Don't fight me.”

Jack stood, bringing Daniel up to a standing position with him.  “I love you.”  Jack kissed his lover, and then held him.  “You stay close to me, Daniel.  I mean it.  So help me, one deviation from my orders ... one ... and I'll drag you back.  Do you understand me?”

Jack's voice was cracking.  His order wasn't loud or angry, but fearful and needy ... needy for the man he held in his arms even more tightly than before.

“I promise, Jack.”

Jack nodded, pulling back and then cupping Daniel's face.  He used his thumbs to caress Daniel's cheeks, and then leaned in for another kiss.

Jack smiled softly.  “Let's gear up.”

“I love you, Jack.”

Jack's heart was so full.  Daniel rarely said those precious words first.  He couldn't think about that right now, though, or he'd crumble.  So instead, he nodded, whispered, “I love you, too,” and led his soulmate to the locker room where they geared up.

Thirty minutes later, SG-1 stepped through the Stargate to PXJ-356.  Five other SG teams trailed them.  Jack left SG-2 to guard the gate, and signaled the three other teams to follow, each five minutes behind the other.  “Teal'c, take point.  Carter, the rear.  Daniel,” Jack looked at his lover, “you're with me.”  **Forever and always with me, Love.**

With that, the Tau'ri set out to find the Mengal, hoping to avoid the Jaffa as they traveled.

====

Slowly, the SG teams made their way northwest, the direction in which most of the Jaffa seemed to be concentrated according to intel.  Jack wanted to get a good idea of how many of them there were before they took off on their search for the Mengal.

**Daniel?  Do you need to take a break?**

**No.  I'm fine.**

Jack looked across at Daniel.  His lover was pale, the dark circles under his eyes were standing out vividly.  Jack knew that it was only the sheer force of Daniel's will power that was keeping him upright.

Daniel met Jack's gaze.  **Please, Jack.  I need to be fine.**

Reluctantly, Jack nodded.  Five minutes later, for the first time ever, Jack was glad when Teal'c called out a warning.  As the SG teams melted into the forest to watch a group of Jaffa marching past, Daniel was able to collapse onto the ground and take a much needed break.

“Okay, Ferretti, you take SG-3, 4, 7 and 9 and keep watching the Jaffa.  Try and determine whether or not Apophis is actually on this planet or not.  I'll take my team and try and find the Mengal.”

Ferretti nodded, but asked, “Jack, are you sure you don't want some backup?”

“No, I think it will be better this way.”
 
Holding out a hand, Jack helped Daniel up, covertly squeezing the hand in support before releasing it, and then SG-1 continued to make their way deeper into the backwoods of the planet.  Their intelligence indicated that the Mengal seemed to dwell somewhere in the depths of the forest.

“Carter, how are those energy readings?”

“Getting stronger, Sir.”

Jack nodded.  Something in the direction they were headed was emitting high energy readings, and the chances were, they were coming from the Mengal civilization.

====

“O'Neill, I believe we have discovered the Mengal.”

Two tall trees stood on either side of the rough path that SG-1 had been following.  The others watched as Teal'c put out his hands and touched some kind of energy barrier.  A ripple ran through the otherwise invisible shield.

“That's amazing,” Sam moved forward to touch it herself.

“I thought these people were supposed to be friendly.  Why have they got a defense shield?”

Daniel spoke up from the perch he had found on a fallen tree.  “I don't think it's a barrier, Jack.  I think it's a kind of doorbell.  Try walking through it.”

Tentatively, Teal'c moved forward and passed through the energy field with no difficulty.  The others followed.

“If it's a doorbell, where are the ...” Jack trailed off as a figure materialized in front of them.

“Greetings.  I am Yumash.  Welcome to the home world of the Mengal.”

Yumash seemed human in appearance.  He looked fairly young, in his mid-twenties, and wore rough homespun clothing.

“Hello, I'm Daniel Jackson.  This is Colonel Jack O'Neill, Captain Samantha Carter, and Teal'c.  We're peaceful explorers from the planet Earth.”

“Yes, we have heard of you.  You are most welcome.  Come.”

Yumash turned and led them deeper into the forest.  After they had walked for fifteen minutes, Yumash stopped and smiled at them.

“This is our main city of Pargia.”

The four members of SG-1 stood transfixed.  The Mengal, like the Nox, clearly believed in nurturing their environment.  The Mengal city was built around the trees of the forest.  Some of the buildings were on ground level, many were in fact tree houses.

**Amazing, isn't it, Jack?**

Jack looked at Daniel and smiled, his brow creasing at the same time.  Even in their telepathic communication, Daniel sounded tired.  He knew he had to get his lover somewhere quiet to rest for a while.

“Yumash,” Daniel walked forward a few steps, his hands in front of him as he spoke emphasizing his words, “It's important that we talk about exchanging information about our cultures and history, and, uh, hopefully, to build an alliance between our peoples.”

“The Mengal understand your desire, but we prefer the simplicity of our ways.  You are welcome to stay and refresh yourselves, to observe, but we do not need nor wish to have this ... alliance, as you call it.”

“Thank you.  We would like to meet with your leaders.”

“Leaders?”

“Um, elders?”  Yumash shook his head.  “The guys in charge,” Jack stated from behind Daniel.

“The Initiators.”

“Initiators?” Daniel's face scrunched in question.

“Yes, they are the wise ones who guide the Mengal.”

“I see.  Well, could we ... speak with them?”

“I shall inquire, but beware, our ways are firm.”

“I understand,” Daniel acknowledged.

“Yumash, you said we're welcome to observe?” Jack asked.

“Yes, we have nothing to hide.”

Jack coughed.  ~That's the problem.~  “Can we ... move freely through your city?”

“Of course.  All are welcome here.”

“Is there a place we can ... refresh ourselves,” Jack asked, using the Mengali's word from earlier.

“Yes, there.”  Yumash pointed towards a tree house.  “You may stay there.  All you need will be there.”

“Will be?” Daniel asked.

“You need only to request.”

“Of you?”

“Just ... tell your host.”

“Aren't you our host?” Daniel asked, a bit confused.

“There ... there is your host.”  Yumash was pointing at the tree house.  “I will go speak with the Initiators.”

“Thank ... you,” Daniel said, stunned that when he turned to look at Yumash, he had vanished.

The teammates walked over to the tree house and entered.

“It's empty,” Sam said.

“Thank you for telling us,” Jack smirked, earning a glare from Daniel.

“I don't get it.  The tree house is our host?”

“Yumash said just to ask.”

“Fine.  I'd like a nice, cold beer.”  Jack stated with attitude.

Suddenly, a table appeared, and on it, a tray with four mugs, full of beer -- or what looked like beer anyway.

“Wow!”

Carefully, Jack sauntered over.  He picked up the mug, swirled it, sniffed it, and finally tasted it.  He tilted his head.  “That's beer all right!  I wonder if they get lots of requests for beer here?”  ~Not that it matters.  That's good beer!~

“I would like a chocolate bar,” Sam requested, and again, on the table appeared four bars.

“They seem to do everything in fours,” she said with a smile as she reached for the chocolate, taking a taste.  “Oh, Daniel, you have to try this.  It's the best chocolate I've ever tasted.”

Sam held out a bar.   Daniel smiled half-heartedly, taking the bar.

**Gawd, Jack.  I think I'm going to throw up again.**

“Carter.  Teal'c.  I want you to explore this place.  Top to bottom.  Talk to the people.  Try to make friends if you can.  Report back in one hour.”

“One hour, Sir?”

“Go!”

Sam thought these orders were a bit strange, but like the good soldier she was, she proceeded to carry them out.  Teal'c followed as well.

“Danny?”  Jack walked up to his lover.

“No, I'm ... I want the chocolate to be gone.”

In an instant, the chocolate bars that had remained on the table and in Daniel's hand were gone.  Daniel sighed.  “The aroma.  Gawd.”

Daniel was breathing more heavily.  He reached with his right hand to touch his forehead.

“Come here.”  Jack pulled Daniel to him, holding him close.  “Relax, Love.  We're going to take a few minutes.”

Jack looked around.  “We need a bed ... please.  Comfortable.”

In a flash, a bed appeared, and Jack walked Daniel over to sit on it, easing him down to it gently.  “Lay down, Love, just for a few minutes.”

“Jack, we don't have ...”

“Close your eyes, Danny.”

“But, Jaaack ...”

Daniel never had a chance once he lay down.  He was asleep before finishing his sentence.  The medication Alex had prescribed was helping with the headaches and keeping Daniel going on some level, but the archaeologist hadn't exerted this much energy in quite a while.  Daniel slept, enjoying a peaceful dream.

//Daniel's Dream//
Daniel stood in front of the Great Pyramid at Giza.  The plateau was deserted, which was unusual.  It was extremely rare to see the Pyramids like this, without tourists milling around them.

“Danny.”

The faint voice echoed across the desert sand.  Daniel blinked and looked around for the source of that voice.

“Danny.”

~She has to be here somewhere.~  Daniel looked around again, then when the voice called out his name a third time, he looked up.  There she stood, at the top of the pyramid.

He smiled, joy radiating through him as he raced to the pyramid, climbing up it as fast as he could.

“Mommy.”  As soon as he reached the top, he was pulled into a warm, loving embrace.  Then Daniel felt another pair of arms surrounding him.

“Danny, my brave son.”  Daniel looked into the warm smiling eyes of his father.

“We're so proud of you, Danny,” his mother wiped away the tears that were falling down his cheeks.

“I've missed you both so much,” Daniel whispered.

“We've missed you too,” his father smiled lovingly at him, “but we've been watching you.  We've always been with you.”

They saw the doubt in his eyes.  “Look.”

Daniel looked out at the wide expanse that had been the Giza plateau.  Except now it seemed to be Jack's living room.  Then his bedroom, then his office at the SGC, then the room in which Daniel was currently asleep, with Jack watching over him.

“There is always a way to be with those you love, Danny.  And we'll be with you while you wait for him.”

“We love you, Danny.  You have to go back now, but we'll be waiting for you.  Just like you can wait for Jack.”

“Mommy?  Daddy?  Jack ... I love him.”

“We know.”

“You aren't ... I mean.”

“He loves you,” Daniel's mother smiled as he stroked Daniel's long hair.

“And his love for you, Son, is pure.  That's all we could ask from ... the man you've chosen to give your heart to,” Daniel's father reassured.

“Love Jack.  Love him so much.”
//End of Daniel's Dream//

Jack caressed Daniel's cheek.  He was just a tad stubbly, but oh so beautiful in Jack's opinion.  After a while, Jack stood, standing guard at the door.  No one would know his lover was taking a nap.  Finally, Jack woke his love.

“Daniel.”

“Mmm ... J'ck?”

“Time to get up.  Carter and Teal'c will be reporting back soon.”

“Oh.  Where?  Oh yeah.”  Daniel set up gingerly.

“Feel any better?”

“A little bit.”  Daniel reached into his vest, taking out a small package that held two pills.  “I need ... water, please.”

Taking the newly appeared liquid in one hand, Daniel popped the pills in his mouth, swallowing them with the water.  Daniel noticed Jack looking at him, just staring.

“What?”

“It's just you looked so peaceful when you were sleeping.”

“I ... had a dream.”

“Better than a nightmare.”

“My parents.”

“Oh,” Jack looked away.  He had to admit he had been hoping Daniel would be dreaming about him.

“But ... it was ... I mean ...”

“Danny, it's okay.”

“No, you don't understand.  They said they were watching me, and they showed me your house.”

“Our house.”

Daniel smiled.  “They approve.”

“Approve ...”  Jack wasn't sure what Daniel was saying and then suddenly, “Oh ... us?”  Daniel smiled.  “I approve, too.”

“They said they'd wait with me while I wait for you.”  Daniel had looked down at the floor when he spoke.

Jack sat next to him, leaning over to place a kiss on his cheek, not caring if someone walked in or not.  “Wait for me, Love.”

The two stared into each other's eyes for what seemed like forever, though it was only a minute, and then Daniel knew they had to get their focus back on their mission.

“Jack, I need to talk to the Mengali people.  It's why we're here.”

“Yumash hasn't returned yet.   Let's see what Carter and Teal'c have to say when they get back.”

Daniel stood.  “Um, please remove the bed and provide us with chairs instead.”  He added, “Thank you,” when the task was completed moments later.

“Sir,” Sam said upon entering.  “The Mengal seem to be very warm, caring people.  They don't say a whole lot, but are very free with what they do.”

“Which means what?”

“Well, they don't hide that they are advanced, that they have the weapons and technology to protect themselves.  They'll even show it to us, but they won't go into detail about it.”

“The we're too young to understand thing?” Jack asked.

“Something like that.  They say maybe in time, but not yet.”

“What about the Goa'uld?” Daniel asked.  “Did you talk about that?”

“They aren't afraid, Daniel, and from what I can make out, they won't fight either.”

“But you said they had weapons to protect themselves?”

“They do, but whether or not they'd use them, I don't know.”

“Or maybe it's when they'd use them,” Daniel suggested.

“What do you mean?” Jack asked.

“Maybe their idea of being taken advantage of is different from ours.”

“You mean maybe they won't object to being overrun by a bunch of snakeheads?”

“I don't know, Jack.”

“O'Neill,” Teal'c said entering.

“Teal'c.  Learn anything?”

“Yes.”

Jack stared in frustration as the Jaffa didn't elaborate.  “Teal'c, what did you learn?”

“That the Mengal are a fascinating race, one worth protecting, but that like the Nox, they may not seek nor want our help.”

“Great.”

“My friends,” Yumash said upon entering the tree house.  “The Initiators have agreed to a Loquerapaxia.”

Jack looked at Daniel who whispered, “I think it means, uh, peace talk.”

“Yes, come.” Yumash nodded, bidding SG-1 to follow him to the edge of the city.

As they walked, Daniel engaged Yumash in conversation trying to learn more about the Mengali people.  It seemed that the Mengal were a race entirely without prejudice, and they simply didn't understand the concept of aggression.

“But what do you do if someone should attack one of your people?” Daniel asked, his brow furrowed in concentration.  His head was pounding, and he was struggling to remember everything he'd read and learned about the Mengal in a very short period of time.

“It is not a concern,” Yumash said calmly.

“How can it not be a concern?” Jack piped up.  He was becoming irritated by these people.  He simply could not understand how some races could refuse to see the dangers they faced.

Yumash stopped and smiled at him.  “Attempt to attack me.”

“What?”  Jack was confused.  “You mean hit you?”

Yumash shrugged.  “However you would usually attack someone.”

~Great, he makes it sound like I go around all day attacking people.~  Jack looked at Daniel who gave him a tired nod.

**Just go along with it, Jack.**
 
Jack shrugged, pulled out his MP-5 and fired at Yumash.  As he fired, Yumash disappeared.  He reappeared a moment later, the bullets having flown harmlessly into the trees behind him.

“Okay, but what if you don't see the attack coming?” Jack was impressed with the Mengali abilities, but he still believed they were being incredibly naive.

Yumash sighed.  “Very well.  Try again.  He turned around so that his back was to Jack.  This time, Jack nodded to Teal'c for him to fire with his staff weapon.

Again, as soon as Teal'c fired, Yumash disappeared.  He reappeared a moment later.  “Your race relies very much on your sense of sight, Colonel.  We do not.  Now, we must continue, the Initiators will be waiting.”

**Jack, what's this guy's name?**

**Yumash.**

Jack knew his lover was struggling to ensure he remembered everything he needed to.  Although he was more or less succeeding, Jack could see the toll it was taking on him.

“Yumash, if you are not vulnerable to attack, why do you have weapons?” Daniel asked as they walked.

~Yes, good point, Danny.~ Jack smiled.  ~His brain outdoes the rest of the pack even when he's asleep.~

“We are not vulnerable.  However, the environment around us is.  We have weapons to defend the land, should we ever need to.  So far, there has never been a need.  Small areas of damage such as that caused by your friend's weapons just now are not longlasting nor serious.  However, we are not oblivious to the dangers that exist in the universe. We know that some races possess technology that would destroy entire planets.”

“And you do not feel the need to stop those races from their path of destruction?” Teal'c inquired.

“What right have we to do that?” Yumash nodded towards a small building that had just become visible.  “This is the place where the Loquerapaxia is held.  The Initiators are waiting for you inside.”

Yumash nodded his farewell, but before he left, Jack ushered him aside. A small grain of hope was growing in his chest.

“Yumash, what kind of medical abilities do your people have?” Yumash simply looked confused.  “When your people get sick, how do you treat them?”

“Our people do not fall ill, Colonel.”  With that said, Yumash disappeared.

Jack tried to suppress the crushing disappointment he felt.  He'd been hoping these people would be able to cure anything, like the Nox seemed able to do.  Now he was really starting to get irritated by these people.  “Okay, let's get this over with.”

With Jack leading the way, SG-1 entered the building.  Inside was a round table at which three people were seated.  As SG-1 approached, the woman in the middle stood.

“Welcome, People of Earth.”  She bowed her head in greeting.  “I am Helishia, this is Talen,” she indicated the older looking man on her left, “and this is Zalex.”

The man on her right smiled at them.  Daniel moved forward.  “Thank you for agreeing to meet with us.  I am Daniel Jackson, this is Colonel Jack O'Neill, Captain Samantha Carter and Teal'c.”

“Please be seated.”  They pulled out their chairs, Daniel stumbling a little as he lost his balance.  He managed to right himself before anyone except Jack noticed.

“We are told you wish to discuss the possibility of forming an alliance with us.”

“Yes,” Daniel said, ready to launch into his familiar spiel on the need for such an alliance.  The problem was, he couldn't remember it.

**Jack.**  Thinking Jack's name was instinctive for Daniel.  He didn't even realize he'd done it until Jack smoothly started talking.

“We would very much like to form an alliance with your people.  Our planet is under threat from a very aggressive, hostile race.”

“The Goa'uld.”  Helishia nodded.  “We are familiar with these people.”

“Yes.  We are looking for technology we can use to defend ourselves.”

“We understand this, Colonel, but were we to share our technology with a race as technologically underdeveloped as yours, the likelihood is that you would use that technology to destroy yourselves and your planet.  This we cannot do.  You are, however, welcome to study our culture, history and languages.”

“So you're willing to just sit back and let the Goa'uld destroy us?”

“What right have we to interfere?”

Daniel could see Jack bristling and hastily stepped into the fray.  “By choosing to do nothing, you are in fact interfering anyway.  The decision to do nothing is still a decision.”

Helishia smiled.  “Your reputation is well deserved, Doctor Jackson.” Daniel blushed.  “However, it is our way.  We have no need for alliances.”

Daniel sighed and rubbed his temples.  “Okay, we have another request then.  You have technology that would help the Goa'uld get past the defenses of our world.  We ask that you also refuse to share that technology with them.  In fact, just knowing about your culture and history could give the Goa'uld what they need.”

“We do not understand.”

“You may not share your technology specifically.  I mean, you may not show us how to do something, how it works, but just by seeing it, we can learn, as can the Goa'uld.  If you allow them access to the technologies as you have us, even something that is probably simple for you, like our host, then the Goa'uld could destroy our planet.”

“We do not believe this to be the case,” Zalex spoke.  “The Goa'uld might change your planet, but it would not be destroyed.”

“The planet might not be, but the people of Earth would be,” Jack snapped.

“We do not believe this to be so, Colonel.  Come, we will show you.” The three Initiators stood and walked towards the back of the building, SG-1 following.  They walked out of the building and led the way back into the heart of the city.

Jack looked at Daniel.  He could see his lover's exhaustion growing by the minute.  ~Someone should tell these people about cars.  But of course, that would hurt the precious environment, and we can't have that.~

The Initiators led the way into another tree house, like the one that SG-1 had been given.  As they followed the Initiators in, all four members of SG-1 stopped short.  Sitting in a luxurious chair, surrounded by Jaffa and wearing an extremely smug smile, was Apophis.

As Daniel stood stunned into silence, Jack, Sam and Teal'c immediately aimed their weapons at the Goa'uld System Lord and his “associates.”

“He's a Goa'uld,” Jack snapped.

“Yes, we know, and he has promised us that he wishes just to study our technology, as you do.”

“Study?” Jack bristled.  “He wants to destroy us, make us all like him.  Are you blind?”

“He has done no harm.”

“HE'S A GOA'ULD.”

“Please, Colonel,” Zalex spoke.  “He has attempted no harm.”

“Yet.”  Teal'c spoke.

“You should be more trusting ... Shol'va,” Apophis spoke from his perch.  After a moment, he stood, an eerie confidence in his demeanor.
“The Goa'uld wish to study further.”

“You may do so at your leisure,” Zalex responded.

Staring at Jack, Apophis arrogantly spoke, “We shall do so, and then, we will ... prepare.”  The Goa'uld's eyes glowed, seen only to SG-1 and none of the Initiators who were mostly behind him now.

“Sir?” Sam asked as Apophis started to walk out.

**Jack, it would serve no purpose here except to convince the Mengal that we are the aggressors.  You have to let him go.**

**But Daniel, maybe ...**

**Let him go, Jack.**

Jack looked at his lover.  He was at the end of his rope from the emotional ordeal that the negotiations and the presence of the System Lord had taken.

~I don't like this.~  Jack shook his head, lowering his weapon at the same time.  Reluctantly, Sam and Teal'c followed suit.

Apophis grinned, a dirty, sick, merciless grin, and exited.

“Listen, you have to refuse them access.  They'll destroy us.”  Jack demanded of the Initiators.

“We are sorry, Colonel.  We see no harm.”

“Look, please,” Daniel spoke up.  “You don't know what they are capable of, what they will do.  Gawd, what they have done.”

Helishia felt Daniel's torment.  “Tell us what you mean.”

“They ... the Goa'uld ... they aren't human.”

“He was human who just left.”

“No, he wasn't,” Sam jumped in.  “He has a human host, but he is controlled by another entity.  It's called a symbiote.”

Helishia looked at friends.  “Let us return to our chamber.  You will tell us more.”

Daniel nodded.  **Jack, I feel like ...**

Jack knew Daniel was about to collapse from exhaustion.  The medication was helping, but this was just too much.  Having to think quickly, and perhaps do something a little harsh, Jack said, “Okay, let's move out,” and then made a sharp turn accidentally, on purpose bumping into Daniel.  **Fall down, Danny.  Quick.**

Daniel didn't understand, nor did he have time to think ... or argue, so he fell to the ground.  Moving in before anyone else could, especially his 2IC, Jack looked at Daniel's ankle.

“Sorry, Daniel.  Does it hurt?”

“Um, no ...”

**Say yes, Babe.**

“I mean, um, no, not much.”

“Teal'c, I think maybe he jarred it.  Can you carry him to the chambers?”

**Gawd, Jack.**

**Solves the problem, doesn't it?**

“As you wish, O'Neill.”

Daniel rolled his eyes as the Jaffa picked him up.  By the time they reached the tree house, Daniel had gotten some of his zest back, enough to fake it anyway, especially since he could sit down.

“Better?”

“Yes.  Thank you, Teal'c.”

“Anytime, DanielJackson.”

~No, that was enough.  I'm a grown man ... I think.  With Jack, sometimes I wonder though.~

When everyone was settled, Helishia began.  “Tell us about this ... symbiote.”

Over the next hour, with Daniel in the lead, SG-1 proceeded to explain the parasitical nature of the Goa'uld.  Jack and Sam helped out quite a bit, and Teal'c provided the Jaffa history and the implications and devastation done to Chulak as a result of the Goa'uld takeover, even showing them “Junior,” his own larval Goa'uld, and lastly, Daniel spoke emotionally about Sha're.

“She's ... my wife, and ... she's living as a slave, being forced to do things that go against everything she believes.  She ... she doesn't deserve that.  No one does.”

Zalex spoke firmly, “Helishia, this changes everything.  We must discuss this.”

“Yes, I agree.  Excuse us, please.”

Without further word, the three Initiators vanished, leaving SG-1 with some hope.

Half an hour later, Jack was pacing anxiously.  He was tired of waiting.  It was using up precious time that he and Daniel didn't have.  He looked across at the younger man who had fallen asleep in his chair and felt such love and compassion.  ~Oh, Danny, I wish it was me and not you.~

He sighed, his thoughts going to the situation they were in.  ~At least Carter and Teal'c bought the flu story. They aren't questioning anything.  It's so easy for them to envision Danny not eating or sleeping.~

Just as Jack turned to pace out another length of the room, Yumash appeared.  Jack walked over to Daniel and gave his shoulder a surreptitious shake.

~Where am I?~  Daniel opened his eyes to see himself in unfamiliar surroundings.  He frowned.  He had no recollection of being in this place.  **Jack?**

**Danny.**

**Jack, I don't remember anything.**

Jack could see the panic rising in his lover and closed his eyes in despair.  He suspected that Daniel had forgotten, not only that they were on a mission, but that he was in fact, dying.  More than anything, Jack wanted to forget about Apophis, the Mengal and just take Daniel back through the Stargate to live out whatever time they had left together, just the two of them.

**We're on a mission Danny.  These people ...** Jack ran down the sequence of events that had led to them being on this planet as Yumash led them towards the chambers of the Initiators.

As Daniel listened to Jack speak, everything came flooding back, including the knowledge that he was dying.  He stumbled and was grateful to find Jack at his side helping him right himself.  He fought to quash the tears that were fighting for escape.  He looked into Jack's chocolate brown eyes and felt his lover give his shoulder a reassuring squeeze.  Before he lost complete control of himself and threw himself into Jack's arms, Daniel looked down and continued to follow Sam and Yumash.

**I love you, Danny.**

**Love you, too.**

Yumash led them to a long narrow building where they saw the three Initiators holding discussions.  Once again, they were seated at a round table.

“Come, our friends.”  Helishia beckoned them over.

====

~We are so screwed.~  Jack thought for what seemed like the millionth time.  The Initiators had, too late, accepted SG-1's assessment of the Goa'uld.  It seemed that Apophis had already been shown all the technology of the Mengal.

“It doesn't make sense.  If Apophis has learned everything you have to offer, he would have attacked you or left by now,” Daniel argued.

“I concur with DanielJackson,” Teal'c intoned.  “There must be something Apophis still wishes to learn from your people.”

“Our scientists say he has been shown everything.”

Daniel sighed.  “What about things that you might not consider technology?”

“I do not understand.”  Zalex looked at the archaeologist in confusion.

“There might be things that you know or use that seem to you to be so basic, you don't consider them to be technology,” Sam picked up Daniel's line of reasoning.

“I cannot think of anything.” Zalex shook his head, so too did Helishia and Talen.

Jack ground his jaws together.  He was fed up with these people and the mess they had created through their own naivety.  ~And these races keep telling us that we're young.~  He listened with one ear as Sam and Daniel tried to think of things that would interest Apophis yet the Mengal would not think of as technology.  It didn't escape his notice that Sam was coming up with most of the suggestions, something that was telling in itself.

“You are very in tune with nature, do you have anything that utilizes your surroundings, natural ...” Daniel waved his hand absentmindedly, lost for words to express what his muddled mind was thinking.  “Is there anything you possess that you are not willing to share with anyone, perhaps something that your planet cannot survive without?”

“Like the touchstone on Madrona,” Sam nodded.  “That might make sense.”

“Could he know of the Liberetta?”

“He would.  I have heard of this tome, but did not realize you were the race of whom the myth spoke,” Teal'c said surprising the Mengali as well as his teammates.

“Teal'c?”  Jack turned to the Jaffa.  ~Hopefully, we are finally getting somewhere.~

“There is a myth amongst the System Lords that the teachers of the builders left a book containing all of their collective knowledge.”

“Who?”

“I think the legend is referring to a race that existed before the Ancients, Jack, to a race that actually taught the Ancients.  I wonder what happened to them?”

“Forget that for now.  So Teal'c, what about this book?”

Jack squirmed when he saw the funny look on Daniel's face.  Jack's choice of words could have been better.  **I'm sorry, Love.  I didn't mean that.**

**I know.  It's okay.**

**No, it's not, but I am sorry.**

“They did not feel any race to be advanced enough to possess all the knowledge the book contained, yet felt it too valuable to be destroyed.   It was entrusted to a people who would have no interest in its contents.”

“Okay,” Jack said, “so Apophis wants the Library ...”

“Liberetta,” Daniel corrected, making Jack smile ... and then Daniel gave a small smile in return.

“Where is the Liberetta kept?” Sam asked.

“In the Tomb of Our Fathers on the edge of the city.  We have passed it, but it is concealed to visitors.”

“Apophis will not leave without the book, O'Neill.”

“Listen, you have to trust us.  You're going to have to fight, and then you're going to have to protect that book at all costs.”

“To fight is against our beliefs.”

“If the Goa'uld get a hold of the Liberetta, they'll destroy you.  They'll use your own technology against you.  The knowledge in that book is a much greater power than even you know.  I know it's hard to believe me,” Daniel said urgently, “but I'm telling you the truth.  We,” he pointed at each member of SG-1, “we're ... too young to know how to use it.  You are right.  We'd destroy ourselves with all the book holds.  You can't let us have it ...”

“Daniel,” Jack walked a couple of steps towards his lover.

“Jack, you know it's true.  They have to take that book and ... destroy it, or put it someplace with protection so that no one will ever find it, at least no one who isn't able to handle its contents.  Jack,” Daniel looked into the piercing brown eyes, “The very young do not always do what they are told.”

Jack sighed.  It was the warning of the Nox, and while Jack didn't want to admit it, he didn't have much of a choice.

“Daniel is right.  Don't give it to us. Don't give it to anyone, but ... Apophis knows it is here.  Is there ... some place else, some ... other planet or ...”

“Zalex, what of the New City?” Talen asked.

“Yes.  Yes.”  Zalex nodded.  “We have a place.  The Liberetta will be protected there from all who would seek it.”

“We must go to the Tomb.”

“Follow us.”

With some urgency, the Initiators led SG-1 to a place not far from the edge of Pargia.

“It is here.”  Helishia made a sweeping motion with her hand, reminding Jack of what the Nox had done to reveal their city in the air.  Slowly, the entrance to the tomb appeared.

“O'Neill!” Teal'c shouted.

Apophis had suddenly appeared along with an entire contingent of Jaffa.  Apparently, he had already reproduced a device used by the Mengal to disappear.

“I will have the book!”

“Oh, I don't think so,” Jack said opening fire, but Apophis had his protective shield activated.  The battle began.

Jack clicked his radio,  “Ferretti, we're under attack.”  He gave the Major their coordinates as SG-1 scrambled for cover.

Jack looked at Daniel.  His lover had pulled out his Beretta, but his hand was shaking, and he was sweating.  The long walk had taken a toll on the dying archaeologist.

“Sir, we're outnumbered,” Sam called out as she fired her MP-5.

“No, we're just ... having a bad day.”  ~Geez, I wish it was a bad day.  A bad week.  A bad month.~

He turned to the Initiators.  “You must have some defenses you can activate.”

Helishia shook her head.  “We are a peaceful people.  We have no need for them against this type of attack.”

~Well, you do now.~ Jack resisted the urge to say the thought out loud.
“Where is Talen?” Daniel suddenly realized one of the Initiators was missing.

“Zalex?” Helishia asked.

“Perhaps he left when the battle commenced.”

“Where's Apophis?” Daniel muttered.  Jack, Sam and Teal'c were still firing at the Jaffa, keeping them from advancing.  ~That's wrong, too.  They could advance if they wanted to.  No!  I'm such an idiot!~

Jack turned just in time to see Daniel racing into the tomb Helishia had opened.

“Daniel!  Geez, DANIEL!” Jack turned on Helishia.  “Can you get Carter and Teal'c out of here?”

She nodded.  “Then do it now!”

“Sir?” Carter had heard the exchange.

“Carter, meet up with Ferretti.  I'm going after Daniel.”  Jack raced inside the tomb.  ~Danny, so help me I am going to ... to ...~ Jack found he couldn't finish the thought.  All he wanted was to hide away from the world and keep Daniel safe.

====

Daniel raced along the passageway of the tomb.  He just prayed he wouldn't be too late.  A minute later, he prayed he'd make it.  He felt as though he was on the verge of collapse and was fighting down rising nausea.

Ahead, he heard voices.  Relieved, he allowed himself to slow down and lean back against the wall.

**Danny?**

Jack's panic stricken voice echoed in Daniel's mind.

**I'm here Jack.  Apophis has Talen.**
 
“Tell me how to open the crypt or I will destroy your world.”

“But I don't know how to open it.” Daniel could hear the confusion in Talen's voice.  The Mengali people simply could not understand the mentality of the Goa'uld.

Daniel turned to see Jack round the corner of the passageway.  A minute later, he found himself in a desperate embrace.  **Danny, don't do that.**

**Sorry, Jack.**

**I know, you had to ... for some insane reason that you're about to tell me about, but geez.**

“Pathetic human.”

Jack suddenly saw why Daniel had run inside as he looked in the direction of the words he had just heard.

An explosion followed the comment, and Jack and Daniel watched as Apophis entered the chamber beyond.  He returned a few second's later clasping what looked like a solid gold book under one arm.  He raised his other hand.

Before Jack was even aware of it, Daniel had moved, launching himself at the Goa'uld.  Taking him by complete surprise, Daniel actually managed to knock Apophis over, and the book dropped to the floor.  Jack shoved the tome towards Talen.

“Take it, and get out of here.”

“No!” Apophis roared as Talen disappeared.  He stood, dragging an unconscious Daniel with him.  “You will pay for your interference!”

Jack didn't know why he did it.  Perhaps he was developing a sixth sense about the Goa'uld now, but he knew Apophis was about to use his transport device to ring out of the tomb.  At the same time as Apophis activated the device, Jack launched himself at his lover.

====

Jack landed on the floor of Apophis's mother ship with a thump.  Before he had a chance to orient himself, he found himself in the grip of two large Jaffa.  He closed his eyes.

~I'm sorry Daniel.  I don't know if we're going to get out of this, but at least we'll go together.  And you did what you wanted to.  You made sure the book was safe.  You made sure Earth was safe --again.~

“Colonel O'Neill.” Apophis smiled and looked at Daniel who was now struggling to open his eyes.  “And Doctor Jackson.  I look forward to telling Amaunet that you are no more.”  With that, Apophis raised his hand and hit Daniel with the ribbon device.

“NO!”  Jack struggled to free himself, unable to bear the sight of his lover in agony.  **Danny.  I love you so much!**

Suddenly Apophis stopped.  He looked disappointed.  “Weak human.” He walked over to look at Jack.  “You.  You I think, it might take longer to kill.”

Jack looked at Daniel's limp body, lying on the floor a few feet away.

**Danny?  My angel.  I love you.**

“Go ahead.  Kill me, you snake!”

Apophis backed away at the challenge and the insight it gave him.  “You want to die.  Then, you will be a host.”

Jack watched as the System Lord went to Daniel's dead body.  He kicked it, and then spat.  “Puny human, but finally, you are no more.  I shall serve you to Amaunet for dinner.”

Suddenly, Jack felt a rage he had never known before -- not from his experiences in Iraq and not even from Charlie's death.  His adrenaline was at a lifetime high.  Daniel would not be humiliated in his death.  Somehow, Jack was able to elbow one of the Jaffa holding him.

The other began to turn towards him, but Jack did a jump kick, knocking the Jaffa down.  Quickly, Jack grabbed a staff weapon.  He aimed it at Apophis who moved swiftly out of the room.  Jack turned on the downed Jaffa, killing both of them.

He ran to Daniel.  “You're still warm.  Oh, Danny.”  Jack caressed his lover's cheek.  “We've done this.  Remem...remember?”

Suddenly, Jack started to get up.  He cursed his knees, but he lifted his lover into his arms and then opened the doors.  “There has to be one, Danny.  Has to be!”

Jack made his way down the halls of the ship.  He heard noise, and ducked inside one of the cubbyholes, but a Jaffa saw him, turning around.  Jack put his lover's body down, more roughly than he wanted to and surprised the Jaffa, not by trying to hide, but by running straight for him, engaging him in what was essentially a wrestling match.

Finally, Jack knocked the warrior out, but just as he stood, another Jaffa appeared, firing his staff weapon.  Jack fell to the ground on his knees.  The Jaffa approached, wanting to present Apophis with the “gift” of the Tau'ri, but as he approached, Jack pulled the zat gun out that he had just taken off the other Jaffa's body.  He fired three times at that Jaffa, and the one he had knocked out.  Their bodies disappeared.

Jack staggered up.  ~Danny ... have to get ... Danny.~

Blood was oozing from Jack's shoulder as he returned to Daniel's body.  **Don't get cold, Danny.  We're almost there.**

Again, getting strength from somewhere deep within him, Jack picked Daniel up and walked through the now empty corridors of the Goa'uld ship.  Finally, he reached his destination.  Relief surged through him at the sight of the sought-after object.  Carefully, Jack laid Daniel's body down on the floor.

Remembering what Teal'c had said about how to seal the doors, Jack fired the zat gun at the appropriate space on the wall.  Then he pressed the button, opening the sarcophagus, prepared to kill anyone who might be inside, but it was empty.

Jack felt so weak.  His wound was bad.  He was dying.  Daniel was dead. They had nothing to lose.

Grunting, Jack managed to get Daniel inside, and then he got in next to his lover.  He wrapped Daniel securely next to him.  As the doors began to close, Jack kissed Daniel's head and whispered, “Forever and always, I love you, Danny.”

====

Jack heard the lid of the sarcophagus slide open as he drifted back to consciousness.  He was aware of a warm familiar weight in his arms, the weight of a body he'd know anywhere.  Sliding his fingers up to Daniel's neck, he felt for a pulse.  As he felt the reassuringly regular rhythm of his lover's heart, Jack felt numb with relief.  He tightened his arms around Daniel and thanked whatever power had been watching over them.

“J'ck.”  Daniel snuggled back against the body behind him.  Even half asleep, he recognized the scent and feel of his lover.

“Love you, Danny.  Love you so much.” Jack spoke with a cracked voice.

Suddenly Jack became aware of activity outside the room.  It seemed Apophis' Jaffa were trying to open the locked door.  Reluctantly, the two separated and began looking for the ring device that the room was almost certain to have.

“Got it,” Daniel called out.  He began to activate it, then paused.  “What about the knowledge that Apophis obtained from the Mengal, Jack?  Shouldn't we try to do something about it?”

“Like what?”  Daniel shrugged.  “I'll tell Hammond to send a team back, find out exactly what Apophis learned from the Mengal, and then Carter's mob can try and come up with mechanisms to counteract them. We also need to ensure the Mengal protect themselves.  They might be more open to an alliance now that they've seen what the Goa'uld are capable of.”

Jack drew Daniel in to lean against his chest.  “I just want to spend time with you, Danny.  I want to forget about the SGC, aliens, everything but you and me.”

“Me too.  Let's go home.”

Daniel activated the ring device, and they found themselves deposited in the middle of a grassy field.  Of course, Daniel immediately started sneezing.

“Carter?” Jack called into his radio.

“Sir!  Are you okay?  Have you got Daniel?”

“We're both fine, Carter.”  Jack smiled sadly at Daniel and caressed his cheek.  “We're about a mile northwest of the Stargate.  We're heading back there now.  What's your situation?”

“The Jaffa withdrew approximately half an hour ago.  We're all in the Mengal city and have the perimeter secured.  We've also been working with the Mengali scientists and think we have a pretty impenetrable defense system rigged up.  Even that mother ship shouldn't be able to get through it.”

“Good work.  Okay, hold tight.  Daniel and I are headed back to the Stargate.  I'll get Hammond to send through some replacement teams.”

Sam acknowledged the order, and Jack turned his attention back to his sneezing archaeologist.

“How are you feeling?”

Jack was worried that Apophis might be so intent on revenge that he'd come after them.  Sam and the other SG teams might be safe, but he and Daniel were pretty much sitting ducks standing out in the open as they were.

“Splitting headache, tired,” Daniel gave his lover a wry smile. “You know, I'm fine.”

Jack pulled Daniel in close and with his arm firmly around the younger man's waist, they set off for the Stargate.

“Jack, did I ... die again?”

“Yes.  Apophis used the ribbon device.”

“I remember ... a little.  I usually remember more.”

“It was over pretty quick, Danny.”

“Oh.  Jack, you were in there with me.”

“Staff blast.  I figured we'd live or die together.”

“Oh.  Jack, you know it couldn't ... I mean ...”

“I know, but it brought you back to me ... for a little while, and I'll take that while.  I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

====

They reached the Stargate just in time to see Apophis' ship start to rise. They watched as it fired at the Mengal city and breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the impact of the blast absorbed by the energy shield Sam and the Mengali scientists had rigged up.

“Way to go, Carter.”

“Are you all right, Doctor Jackson?” One of the Marines from SG-2 asked, seeing Daniel taking a packet of pills from his pocket.

“Allergies.”  The man gave Daniel a sympathetic grin.  Daniel's allergies were legendary at the SGC.  Swallowing two of the pills Alex had given him, Daniel had a horrible thought.

**Jack, do you think the ribbon device might have sped up the growth of the tumor?**

**No, crap, I hope not.  We'll ask Alex to do another scan when we get back, though, just to be sure.**

As they walked, Jack became excited.  **Danny, maybe the sarc healed it?  It could do that, couldn't it?**

**Jack, I feel lousy.  The sarcophagus won't fix a pre-existing condition like this.**

**How do you know?**

**I still wear glasses, Jack.  Gawd, I feel like I'm going to collapse.  My head is pounding, and I'm so tired.**

**We'll be home soon.**

Daniel gave Jack a small smile as they continued their trek towards the Stargate.

====

“Well done SG-1.”  Hammond was all smiles when Jack and Daniel walked down the ramp.

Jack quickly briefed the Major General on the need for replacements, and within minutes fresh teams were being sent to Pargia to replace those there at the moment.

“I knew you were the only man who could have found a way to make this happen, Doctor Jackson.”

“I ... just wanted to make a difference.”

“You did, Son.  When Captain Carter and Teal'c return, we'll debrief, and then you two can get back to your leaves, as I promised.”

“Thank you,” Daniel spoke softly.

“In the meantime, Doctor Fraiser awaits you for your post-mission exams.”

**Jack?**

**We'll double team her again.**

**Twice and for the same mission?**

**Pout ... a lot ... and bat your eyelashes.**

**Jaaaack!**

**Daniel, do you want her to do an exam?**

**Pout.  Bottom or top lip?**

**Bottom gets the best results.**

**I'll remember that, Love.**

**I hope so.**

====

“It looks very promising, General,” Sam stated.  “The Mengali understand now about the threat.”

“What made the difference, Doctor Jackson?”

“Slavery.  Once they found out that the symbiotes invade their hosts, that it's not free will, they became concerned.  The Mengal believe in peace, General.  They won't fight for themselves, but they won't allow others to be dominated in this way.”

“Daniel, what happened to the book?”

**The book?  Jack, what book?**

“The Libretta was given to Talen.  They have some ... city somewhere that they believe will be safe.”

**Thank you.**

**Anytime, Love.**

“Okay, Captain Carter and Teal'c, I'll need your final reports in twenty-four hours and you may proceed with your current assignments.  Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson, thank you for coming in and you are free to continue your leaves once I have your final reports on my desk.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Jack said.

“Um, Sam ...”

As Daniel walked over to his friend, General Hammond engaged Jack in conversation about upcoming policy changes, asking his 2IC for his opinion while he was there.

“Daniel?”

“I, uh, I just wanted you to know that you did great out there.  You always do, but this was especially and, uh, well, you did great.”

Sam grinned.  Praise from Daniel meant a lot.  “Thanks!”

“You're a good friend, Sam.  I ... I appreciate that.”

“Are you feeling guilty about eating all those chocolate bars yourself?”

Daniel looked down, and then over to Jack who had stopped listening to the General and was watching Daniel.  Focusing again on Sam, the archaeologist smiled.  “Yeah, that's it.”

“Take care,” Sam leaned forward for a super quick hug.  “Come back soon now!”  The blonde Captain left the room, unaware Daniel had just said goodbye.

“DanielJackson, when will you be returning?”

“Um, well, Teal'c, I'm ... not really sure.  The, uh, research is taking longer than I thought and ... well, I need to be there.”

“I shall look forward to your return.”

Teal'c started to exit, but again, Daniel called out.  “Teal'c ... I ... haven't said this ... out loud, but I want you to know ... I mean, seeing Apophis again ... I don't want you to ... feel ... I mean, none of it was your fault, not ever, and I value your friendship a great deal.”

“I am honored.”

“As am I, Teal'c.”

The Jaffa nodded and then departed.  Daniel turned back to see the General and Jack staring at him.  “I should go do my report.”  Daniel turned and left.

“Jack?”

“Yes, Sir?”

The General paused.  “Make sure you get that report done.”

“I'll get it on right now, Sir.”

Jack went to his office, leaving General Hammond staring at the now empty doorway, an unpleasant feeling of dread settling over him.

====

Thirty minutes later, Jack entered Hammond's office on Level 27.  “Here you go.”

“That was quick, Jack.”

“Yeah, well, Carter and Teal'c know the details more than I do.”  Jack glanced at his watch and looked towards the door.

“Jack, mind if I ask where you're headed?”

“Back on leave, General.”

“Where?”

Jack paused.  “A little place I know.”  Jack's voice was unusually soft when he responded.

Hammond considered asking more when Daniel walked in.  “My report, General,” he said, handing over the report.

“That was ... quick.”

“Sam and Teal'c really know more.”

“So the Colonel has told me.”

“If you'll excuse us, General, we'll be ...” Jack pointed toward the door.

Hammond nodded, not sure what to think or say about the unusually quick speed for getting the reports done, and their equally unusual brevity, especially Daniel's.

“General,” Daniel looked at the bald man's eyes.  “I guess ... you know, when, um ... thank you, Sir, for everything.  It has definitely been an honor to know you, and ... thank you for giving me a chance.  We have ... I mean, I have to go now.”

“Take care, Doctor Jackson.  Keep me posted on your status.”

“Of course.”

Very quickly, Daniel turned, hurrying quickly out the door.  Jack began to follow.

“Jack?”

“Sir?”

“Keep me posted.”

“I'll ... be back, Sir.”  ~to say goodbye myself.~

Jack left, scurrying to catch up with his lover.

====

“Danny.” Jack shook his lover gently.  He had been tempted to stay in Colorado Springs for the night and then return to North Carolina the following day, but Daniel had really wanted to return immediately to their beach hideout.  Jack had been unable to refuse.  Once in the car, Daniel had fallen asleep.

“J'ck?”  Daniel looked sleepily up at his lover.

“Come on, Love.  Let's get you inside and into bed.”

Jack helped his swaying lover inside and sat him down on the bed.  “I need a shower, Jack.”

Jack grinned.  “I think I could manage that.”

As Jack went into the bathroom to turn on the shower, Daniel managed to strip himself of his last remaining clothes.  He yawned and then froze as he felt nausea welling up inside him.  He hesitated wondering if he'd succeed in quashing it.  A second later he knew he wouldn't.  He ran to the bathroom, almost knocking Jack over on the way.

“Oh, Angel.” Jack knelt beside his lover, rubbing his back while Daniel emptied his stomach contents.

At last, Daniel had nothing left to throw up.  Taking a towel from beside the basin, Jack wiped his lovers face and then brought Daniel's head across to rest on his shoulder.

“Do you still feel like taking that shower?”

Daniel nodded.  After helping the younger man into the shower, Jack took the bar of soap from its holder and began to gently wash his lover.

**I really want to make love with you, Jack.**

**Me, too, but right now, you can barely stand.**

Daniel hated showing any sign of weakness, but he couldn't bear this disappointment on top of everything else.  Jack noticed the fine tremors running through the beloved body in his arms.

“Hey,” Jack paused to gently kiss his lover, “We can still make love, just not standing in the shower.  We'll get in bed, and I'll do all the work.”

Daniel nodded and allowed himself to be dried and put to bed.  He watched with anxious eyes as Jack finished drying himself and then slipped into bed beside him.

“Love you, Space Monkey.  My Angel.” Jack leaned over his lover and looked into the blue eyes he adored.  “Love you so much.”

“I need you, Jack.”  A tear escaped from the young man's left eye.
Jack bent down and dried the tear, and then he bestowed a gentle kiss on his lover.  “You are so beautiful.”

“I ... I ... I love you, Jack.”  Daniel pulled Jack down for another kiss, more passionate than that last.  His need was great, even if he was too weak to do much about it himself.  True to his word, Jack led his soulmate in a gentle round of lovemaking.

As they came down from the dizzying heights they had taken each other to, they moved into their usual positions.  Daniel fell asleep listening to the steady beat of Jack's heart and the feel of the older man running his fingers through Daniel's  soft brown hair.  It felt so soothing to Daniel, and for Jack, he simply enjoyed savoring the weight of his lover against his skin.

====

Jack lay entranced by the sight of his lover in the early morning sun.  ~You really are an Angel, Danny.  The very word means love and goodness, purity, and that is the essence of you.  My Angel.~

He sighed.  For the last hour, he'd been steadfastly ignoring a call of nature, but he knew he was just about past that now.  Reluctantly, he slid out from under Daniel.  He smiled as Daniel reached out in his sleep and snatched Jack's pillow, burrowing his nose in it.

After putting on a pot of coffee, Jack walked over to pick up the phone.  He was terrified of making this call.  He didn't want to find out that he had even less time left with Daniel than they thought.  Taking a deep breath he dialed the number.

“Alex, it's Jack O'Neill.”

“Jack!  How is he?”

“Pretty much the same.  Alex, this mission that we had.  Daniel was exposed to ...” Jack hesitated.

“Something you can't talk about, right?”

“Yeah.  We're concerned it may have sped up the growth of the tumor.  Can we get another scan done to make sure we don't have less time than we think?”

“Of course.  Hang on a moment.”  Jack waited while Alex checked the availability of the CT scanner.  “There's a free slot at lunchtime, Jack, and I can come with you then.  We can get the results immediately that way.”

“We'll be there. Thanks.”

“Jack, if it helps, there are very few substances on Earth with side effects that have the ability to speed up the growth of a tumor.  It's much more likely that whatever it was had no effect on the tumors or may even have slowed the growth a little.”

“On Earth,” Jack sighed.  ~I wish I could give you details, Alex.  You have no idea what this stuff is.  The sarc, the ribbon device, even traveling through the Stargate could be effecting this thing.~

“Jack?”

“Sorry.  Yeah, we'll cross our fingers.  See you at lunchtime.”

Jack hung up the phone and stared at it blankly.  What might be true for substances on Earth didn't matter.  They were talking about alien technology here and knowing all the crap that the universe seemed to enjoy throwing at Daniel, they'd be looking at the worst case scenario.

“I'm ready now, Jack,” Daniel walked into the kitchenette two hours later.

“We still have a little time before we have to go.”

“I kind of want to get it over with.  We both know what it's going to say.”

“No, we don't.  We should keep an open mind.”

“Jack, I don't want to play games.  I'm so tired of ... lies and ... gawd, we're always having to hide.  And ... and, it's ... just ...”

“I know,” Jack moved close to his love, embracing him.  Then, he got an idea.  “Be right back.”  Jack moved to the stereo and turned it on.  He returned to Daniel, taking him into his arms, and softly asked, “Dance with me?”

“Dance?”  Daniel looked down.  “We've ... never danced before.”

“Then it's time, don't you think?”

Daniel smiled.  “You lead.”

“Okay.”  And with grace and charm, and a world full of love, Jack and Daniel danced for the first time.  It was a simple thing ... a little thing, and yet it filled them with joy.

“Why haven't we done this before?”

“I don't know, Love,” Jack answered, his hand caressing Daniel's back as they slowly moved to the music.

Three songs later, they pulled apart.  “We should go,” Jack said.

“Thank you for the dances, Jack.  I'll ... never forget them.”  ~Gawd, I hope I'll never forget them, I can't forget them.~

“We'll have more.”

Daniel could only nod weakly, and then they left for the Center to see how much time they'd have left to love and be loved.

====

“Okay, Daniel.  You know the routine.  Down you go.”

“I'll be right here.”

“You don't have to leave?”

“Not this time, Love.”

“I'm glad.”

Soon, it was over, and Daniel sat up on the platform.

“Daniel, why don't you stay here with Jack while I go speak with the technician?”

Jack moved next to Daniel, holding his hands in his.  “Even if it's just a day, it's our forever.  I love you so much.”

“A day or a week ... Jack ...”

“What, Angel?”

“Promise me that you'll make sure everyone understands about why we didn't tell them, and ... promise you'll take good care of the fish.  You haven't cleaned the tank.  Have someone teach you, okay?  I ... I love them, Jack ... and my journals ... I ... my personal journals.  Keep them, and ... I want you to read them.  Promise me.”

“I promise, Love.”

The two kept talking, Daniel suddenly thinking of a thousand and one things for Jack to do.  He wondered why he hadn't considered all these things before, but now that he did, it was important to make sure Jack understood.

“WHAT?  There must be something wrong.  Let's run it again.”

Alex's raised voice got Jack and Daniel's attention.  The physician walked over to the pair.  “Listen, I think we had a malfunction.  They're rechecking the equipment now, but I'm afraid we'll have to redo the tests.

Daniel sighed.  “Okay.”

====

It was four hours later, and Daniel had endured not just one, but two more repeats of the CT Scan, plus others.

“I do not understand this,” Alex spoke with another man.

From his spot next to Daniel, Jack assumed the other man was also a doctor.  Alex returned to Jack and Daniel.

“I don't ...”

“Alex, enough is enough.”  Jack had entered protective mode.  “He is NOT going through another test.  We had a simple question, that's it.  We don't need ...”

“Jack, sit down.”

Jack sat back, only after Daniel reached out and took his hand, his blue eyes pleading with his lover not to fight.

“I don't know how to explain this, but as you know, we ran the CT Scan twice and did another PET, plus some other tests ... even old fashioned X-rays.  I just don't understand it.”

“Alex, Daniel's tired.”

Alex laughed.  “Daniel, how much sleep have you had in the past couple of days?”

“Um, not much, I guess.”

“Of course, he's tired.  He hasn't slept.”

Jack was about ready to kill his old friend.  “Alex, I'm taking him home.  Daniel, let's go.”  Jack pulled Daniel up and started to walk away when Alex's words stunned them to stillness.

“The tumors are gone.  They aren't there anymore.  Not a trace.  Not a glimpse.  In fact, the hole we drilled for the cranioscopy is ... gone, and the small piece of skull we broke away for the biopsy ... it's there.  There's no tumor.  None.”

Jack turned, looked at Alex, and saw the truth.  “If this is a game ...”

“Jack ...”

Jack couldn't stop the tears.  He turned to Daniel.  “Gone?”

“Jack?” Daniel asked incredulously.

Jack burst into a grin.  He picked his lover up and spun him around in a circle, and then held him close, refusing to let him move as Jack buried his head in the hollow of Daniel's neck, tears escaping faster and harder than before.

Daniel began to cry.  Alex motioned for everyone to clear the room, and quickly, Jack and Daniel were left alone, to their tears of life.

====

Ten minutes later, Jack and Daniel were still clinging to each other.  Then Daniel came plummeting back to Earth.

~It doesn't make sense.  I was sick last night.  I've still had headaches.~  Daniel's happy tears had changed to tears of distress now.  He simply couldn't take any more ups and downs.

Jack felt the change in his lover immediately.  “Danny?”

“I was sick last night, Jack.  Why?  And my headaches.  They're still there.”

Jack froze.  What Daniel had said was true, but he refused to accept that Alex was wrong.  He'd been given his lover back, and he was not willing to give Daniel up again.

“Right.”  Jack composed himself.  He wasn't used to letting go in public, but his love for Daniel was so huge that he couldn't help himself.  Now though, Jack called on the Colonel to get him through this.  “We need facts.  Let's find Alex and get some answers.”  Jack took hold of Daniel's hand and marched over to the door flinging it open.

“Jack!” The smile on Alex's face faded. “What's wrong?”

“Daniel was sick last night, and he still has headaches.  Why?  If the tumors are gone, why?”

Alex recognized the tougher side of Jack.  Though he had never actually gone on a mission with him, he remembered back to Jack's presence in the Academy.  He was a great bluffer.  Their commanding officers had been particularly impressed with Jack's ability to play mental games, and to hide behind the exterior of duty and protocol when necessary.

“Okay, Daniel without telling me what you were exposed to, its fairly obvious that it killed the tumors, and instantaneously at that.  Now, after you were exposed to whatever it was, did you take any of the pills I gave you?”

“Yes.  I was still feeling tired, and I had a pounding headache.”  Daniel shrugged.

“Before the exposure, though, you hadn't eaten much had you?”  Daniel shook his head.  “So the headache was probably caused by lack of sleep and lack of food.  The nausea would have been caused by the pills.”

“Of course.”  Daniel smiled, relief shining from his face.

“Danny?”

“The pills Jack.  They made me sick last night.”

Alex nodded.  “The pills are designed to help people whose system is out of whack.  If a healthy person takes those pills, it will actually cause their system to become ... well, out of whack.  After a couple of days of sleep, proper meals and no medication, you should be feeling better than ever, Daniel.”

Jack looked at Daniel, a huge grin breaking out on his own face.  He pulled Daniel into a fierce hug.  “Love you, Space Monkey.”

“Love you too, Jack.  Let's go home.”  Daniel grinned.  **I want to 'you know' in the shower.**

Jack turned to look at Alex.  “Thank you, Alex.  You've saved my life, again.”

Alex saw the truth of that statement in his eyes.  He hadn't told Jack, but from the time the two men set foot in his office that first day he'd known that two lives were on the line, not one.

“Jack, I know it's classified, but what Daniel was exposed to could save so many lives.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a glance.  They knew it had to have been the sarcophagus that removed the tumors, but they certainly couldn't tell Alex that.

“Alex, you know me.  If there was any way that ...”  Jack looked at Daniel.

“Trust us.  If there were any way, any possibility at all that we could give other people what we've been given, we'd move heaven and earth to make sure it was available to everyone.  But effectively, it was a freakish accident.  I'm sorry Alex, we can't tell you more.”

Alex nodded, then grinned at the two men.  “Go on.  I suspect you've got some celebrating to do.  Jack, make sure he eats and sleeps and, he'll be fine.”

“I wish I had the words, Alex.”

“You don't need them.  Don't be a stranger.  Come by sometime, and meet Ron.”  He turned to Daniel.  “Lovely to meet you, Daniel.  I'd never have believed anyone could turn Jack O'Neill to mush if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.”

Jack knew he should bite at that remark but he couldn't.  He was too happy.  Taking Daniel's hand, he began pulling his partner towards the exit.

“Bye, Alex.  Gotta go.”

Daniel gave Alex a shy wave goodbye and the two men virtually raced out of the building.

====

“No more arguing with me about getting sleep or eating.  You do as I say.”

“Yes, Jack.”

“If I tell you that you've been working too hard, you stop.  There's always tomorrow.”

“Yes, Jack.”

“If I walk in with an apple, and tell you that you need to eat, then you eat it.”

“Yes, Jack.”

“If I ...”

“Yes, Jack.”

Jack looked over at Daniel.  He had a huge grin on his face as he watched the other man rattle off their new rules.  They were still on the ferry, and for almost the entire trip, Jack had been lecturing his lover about the proper need for rest and nourishment.

“I'm sorry, Angel.”

“You've been calling me that a lot lately.”

“You are my Angel.  I told you that at Christmastime.”

“I ... I just want to be your anything.”

“Danny, you ARE my everything.”

Jack leaned over for a quick kiss as they continued to cross the waters on the ferry.

====

Once back at the villa, the two made love for hours, beginning in the shower, per Daniel's desires.  He was still tired and weak, but now they knew it was a natural weariness, not one brought on by death.

That night, Jack awoke.  It was only 10 p.m.  He kissed his lover gently, and rolled out of bed, putting on gray sweats.  He stared at Daniel for several minutes, just admiring the beauty of his lover, and then he went to the kitchenette to get something to snack on.

He ended up devouring a few grapes, and then he opened the doors and went outside.  In spite of the cold winter air, he felt surrounded by life.  It was the crispness of the night air that made him feel alive.  The stars were out, shining brightly in the sky.  It reminded Jack of another night, not quite a year ago.

//Flashback//
Jack and Daniel were on the roof deck of Jack's home, talking.  They had just survived the Goa'uld attack against Earth.  Each had believed the other had died.

Daniel smiled shyly, his head lowered for a moment until Jack asked, “Are you okay, Daniel?”

Daniel looked out into the night sky, and said softly, “Actually ... I'm ...cold.”

“Cold?”

Another nod.  Jack's heart thundered, his pulse throbbing.  His knees felt like Jell-O, sure to collapse at any moment.  

“Danny?”  

Daniel turned his head towards Jack who slowly took his left hand and placed its palm on Daniel's cheek.  The young man closed his eyes, and sighed at the contact.  

Jack's heart skipped a beat in delight.  Daniel was reacting to his touch, and Jack himself was melting like butter at the sound of Daniel's low moan of pleasure.  

“Danny.”  It was a statement, a question, a desire, a wish, and a thousand other things.  

Daniel opened his misty eyes and blinked a few times.  

“I'm ... cold, Jack.”  

His voice trembled, but Jack wasn't sure if it was from the evening chill or a panicked mind.

“I ... may have a way to fix that.”  

Jack's hand was still on his soon-to-be lover's cheek, caressing it now, tenderly, wantonly.

“I was hoping you might ... think of ... something.”

Jack smiled.  He glided his hand to Daniel's arm, then to his waist, turning the young man to face him, as he moved within Daniel's personal space.  They were close, their bodies brushing slightly.  Their eyes locked onto each other's, full of both expectation and fear.  

Jack brought his other hand to Daniel's waist, and then tentatively wrapped them around him, giving Daniel a chance to back away if he wanted.  But the linguist held his ground, moving his own hands to the small of Jack's back.

More confident now, Jack pulled Daniel into him, leaning his chin against Daniel's shoulder.  Daniel was a little tense, but the longer the embrace lasted, the more relaxed he became.  Daniel laid his head on Jack's shoulder, enjoying the scent of this man he treasured.

“Still cold?”

“No, getting ... warmer by the minute.”

“Me, too.”

They held on to each other, best friends on the verge of being lovers, preparing themselves for something destined to change both of their lives forever.

They talked a while longer as they stood, sorting through the details of Sha're and their feelings, but finally, Jack inched his face towards Daniel, brushing their lips together. It was quick, tentative, a brief interlude.

He pulled back for a few seconds to look into Daniel's eyes, and still seeing permission and desire, Jack's lips again met Daniel's, but this time he nibbled slightly at the man's soft upper lip, then with his tongue licked the tender lips, urging them to part, which they did.

They talked more, Jack concerned about rushing Daniel, and the younger man wondering if Jack had any experience in same-sex relationships.  And finally, they reached a climax.

“Let's go to bed, Jack.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

As Jack led Daniel to what he hoped would be their bedroom for the rest of time, he thanked the heavens and the stars for the blessing of Daniel Jackson.  He would keep his precious falling star safe forever; he'd never hurt him and he vowed to kill anyone who tried to hurt Daniel.

With a last look at the night sky as he locked the patio door, Jack whispered “thank you” to a falling star.  From now on, he'd always wish upon a star, and the wish would always be Daniel, safe, alive, and happy in his arms.
//End of Flashback//

“My falling star.  You've made me so happy, Danny.  I love you so much, and I was so blasted afraid.  Whoever you are out there, thank you ... thank you for my falling star.”

“Jack?”

His eyes full of tears, Jack turned to see the man who was his heart.  Jack smiled.

“Jack, I need to tell you something.”

“What?”

“I'm ... cold, Jack.”  

Jack smiled.  “I ... may have a way to fix that.”  He moved to his lover, placing his hand on his cheek, caressing it tenderly.

“I was hoping you might ... think of ... something.”

“I have another idea.”

“Let's go to bed.”

“I love you.”  Jack couldn't even get the words out.  They were choked, mumbled.

“I love you, too.”

The two lovers returned to their bed to celebrate their love.  It would not be cold for them ever again.

====

Several days later, the two said goodbye to their beach villa and returned to Colorado Springs.  As the drugs had worked their way out of his system, and he'd caught up on food and sleep, Daniel's health had improved.  By the time they left they were taking long walks on the beach, and Daniel still had plenty of energy to make love afterward.  He was once again Jack's Energizer Bunny.

“Jack, I have to go to my apartment.  I need to pick up my mail, feed my fish and get some new clothes.”

The two were curled up on Jack's couch.  Tomorrow, they'd have to return to the SGC, and they were savoring every last minute of their leave.

“I'll drive you.” Jack kissed his lover and went to get the keys to his truck.

“You have to let me out of your sight sometime, Jack,” Daniel walked over and placed his arms around Jack's waist.  “I really am okay now.”

“I know.  But not yet.  I can't ...”  Jack's voice trailed off, emotion still so close to the raw surface.  **I just love you so much, Danny.**

Daniel smiled and gave Jack a passionate kiss.  **Love you too.**

It suddenly hit Jack again, just how close he'd come to losing Daniel.  He dove in for another kiss, losing himself in the other man, reassuring himself yet again that Daniel was alive and well and in his arms where he belonged.

Several hours later, as he lay listening to Jack's heartbeat feeling very mellow and satiated, Daniel decided visiting his apartment could wait for another day.

====

As dawn broke the next day, Jack looked down at the man in his arms and sent up another prayer of thanks to whoever was watching over them.  He slid out of bed and went to start brewing some coffee to wake his lover with.

“Good morning.”  Daniel bounded into the kitchen and threw his arms around Jack giving him a long passionate kiss.

Even though Daniel wished he had more time to spend alone with Jack, he was looking forward to returning to the SGC.

“Good morning, Love.  Now sit and breakfast will be served.”  Jack handed Daniel his third cup of coffee for the day which Daniel finished almost before he sat down.

“Jack!”  Daniel stared at the plate Jack had just placed in front of him.  A mound of bacon and eggs sat on one side of the plate, three pieces of toast graced the other, and beside that Jack had just placed a banana, an orange and an apple.

“You know I can't eat all of this, don't you?”  Jack gave the younger man a wry grin.

“I went a little overboard?”

“Maybe just a tad.”  Daniel grinned at the sheepish expression on Jack's face.  “Come and help me eat it.”

====

Jack and Daniel stood in the entranceway to Jack's home, kissing.  They were about to return to the real world.  Though sad that their private time had come to a close, each rejoiced that they'd have a longer forever than they had believed just a week earlier.

“Danny, I need you to be a little ... tolerant for a while.”

“Tolerant?”

“I know me.  I know what I'm feeling this second.  That ... leash we tease about, it's ...”

“Going to be a little tight for a while?”

“Yeah.  Can you ... humor me, just for a while?”

Daniel nodded.  “Just a for a little while.”  The young man smiled reassuringly as he caressed Jack's cheek.  “Thank you, Love, for loving me.  Jack, I don't know how I would have gotten through all of these last few months, and especially the last several weeks without you.  Gawd, you've spoiled me rotten.  I ... Jack, if I had died, I would have died happy.”

“My Angel ...” Jack leaned in for another kiss.  “Listen, I'm probably going to be annoying at work today, so how about we each drive our own vehicles?  After work, you can take care of things at the apartment, but ...”

“Just an hour, okay?  Then, I'll come here.”

“I'll be waiting, Danny, forever and always.”

====

“Daniel, you're back!” Sam exclaimed as she walked into the briefing room, automatically going to hug him.  She hadn't known her CO and friend would be returning today.

“It's good to see you, Sam ... so good,” Daniel enjoyed the hug.  Even though he was very reserved with anyone but Jack, being good felt good, and he hadn't thought he'd ever see his friends at the SGC again.  “I have so much to tell you, Daniel.  SG-9 just ...”

“It's good to see you, too, Carter!”

“Oh, sorry, Sir.  Welcome back.”

“Thank you,” Jack said, inflecting a mock hurt in his voice.

“O'Neill.  DanielJackson, it is good to see you both well.  Are you returning to the SGC?”

“It's good to see you, too, Teal'c,” Jack gave a 'see he loves me' glare at his 2IC, “and yes, SG-1 is back in business.”

“This is good!” Teal'c almost smiled, something everyone noticed.

“All right, whose idea was it to call a briefing and demand my presence?” Hammond barked, entering the room.

Jack stood proudly, grinning like an innocent child who was guiltier than sin.  “That would be me, General!”

“Jack!  I didn't know ...” and then Hammond saw Daniel, the heart and soul of the SGC.  Uncharacteristically, the General took several quick paces towards the archaeologist, and broke out into a large smile.  “Dan...Doctor Jackson?  You look ... well.”  Hammond had to stop himself from not only being informal with Daniel's name, but his first instinct had been to hug the young man whom he cared for a great deal.

“I am, General.  Um, the research I was doing is ... finished.  And, with your permission, I'm ... back!”  Daniel's smile was also uncharacteristically huge.

Hammond turned to Jack, “And I assume, Colonel, that you've ... regrouped, your injuries are fully healed, and you, too, are ...”

“Fit as a fiddle and ready to kick more Goa'uld ... butt,” Jack said with his own unique flair.

“Very well.  SG-1, you have a go for a standard recon mission to PR9-442.  Captain Carter has some promising energy readings.  She can fill you and Doctor Jackson in, Colonel.  You'll depart this afternoon at 1350 hours.”

“Thank you, General.”

“Jack, a moment, please.”

“I'll get the pre-mission report and bring it to Daniel's office, and we can review it there.”

“Sounds good, Carter.”

“I'd better make sure my office hasn't grown mold or someone else hasn't moved in,” Daniel said.

“There is no mold, DanielJackson, and no one could ever take your place in the SGC.”

Daniel blushed.  “Um, thank you, Teal'c.”

The three members of SG-1 exited, leaving Jack with the General.

“I'm glad you're back, Jack.”

“Me, too, Sir.  Was there something ...”

“No, although we do need to review some personnel assignments that I would like your input on before you embark on your mission.”

“In an hour?”

The General nodded, and Jack started to exit.  “Jack?”

“Sir?”

“He used up another of those nine lives ... didn't he?”

Jack saw a tender look in the eyes of his CO.  He looked down at the floor, nodding.  “Yes, Sir,” Jack croaked out in a very low voice.

General Hammond smiled in acknowledgement of Jack's response.  “He's a good man.  I'd hate to lose him.”

“Me, too.  Excuse me, General.”  Jack walked swiftly away, afraid if he stayed another moment, he'd lose all composure and end up sobbing out his relief in the General's arms.  After all, George Hammond was every bit a friend as he was Jack's commanding officer.

General Hammond moved to the large window that overlooked the Stargate on the floor below.  He still found it hard to believe just how important one long haired 'unmilitary' archaeologist had become not just to the SGC but to him, personally.  He remembered all too vividly the state of mourning into which the facility had plunged the previous year when the young man was believed to be dead.  He took a deep breath and smiled.  “Welcome home, Doctor Jackson,” he spoke quietly, then turned, and returned to work.

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