The Last Mission

Author: Orrymain
Category: Slash, Big Time Angst, H/C (Major Danny Whumping!!!), Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel  .... and it's all J/D
Rating:  NC-17
Season:   8
Spoilers:  The Fifth Race, Entity (minor)
Size:  378kb
Written:  December 7, 2003, January 25-30, February 9,11,13,15,18,22,24,28-29, March 12, April 3,5,8-10,15-16,25-26,30, May 4-5,23-26, June 2, 2004
Summary:  Jack is set to retire; Daniel is looking forward to becoming a full time archaeologist again; both are happily planning their new life together, living openly as a married couple as they start their family.  But will their final mission through the Stargate  ... the last mission ... prevent them from making their dreams come true?
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my past fics, “Beach Blanket Blond,” “Hebetude,” “Missing in Action,” and “Brothers”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Claudia, QuinGem, Drdjlover!
5) In alphabetical order, special thanks to the wonderful group of nurses, nurses-to-be, ex-nurses, fan fic writers, and those in and around the medical biz who provided the technical background for the severe Daniel whump portion of this fic:  Becky, Claudia, Maureen, Peggy, Sabrina, Sheila.  Special thanks to Becky who really picked up the ball with this and saw it through from beginning to end and brought the medical portions to life!  She really went above and beyond and made this fic much better than it would have been without her assistance!

The Last Mission
by Orrymain

“DANIEL!” Jack shouted, rushing to his husband's side and kneeling down.

Jack's heart was racing as he gasped, “Danny” while cradling his lover's head close to his chest.  Feeling moisture, Jack removed his hand from behind Daniel's head.  Fear flooded Jack's body as he saw the volume of red dripping down his hand.  There was so much blood that Jack couldn't even see the flesh on his palm.

“The ... last ... mission.”  Daniel's eyes rolled back with his weak and mournful statement, a frothy bloody discharge seeping from between his pale lips.

“Danny,” Jack whispered again, his voice cracking on the last syllable of his lover's name.

Jack gently wiped away the substance, his thumb caressing Daniel's lips.  Jack's Daniel was beautiful and caring and full of passion, and in that moment, Jack's heart joined again with his husband's, years worth of happy times and shared moments flowing through them.  It felt like forever, but in reality, it had been mere seconds.

Daniel closed his eyes again, his husband's touch making him shiver in spite of all the wounds threatening to kill him before he could speak again.

“No, Danny.  We're only just beginning,” Jack insisted.  “You can't leave me.  Remember, we go together,” Jack said, focused on his lover's eyes, oblivious to the blood flowing from the massive chest wounds which threatened Daniel's life.

Daniel tried to shake his head, “The girls ... can't ... leave them ... a ... lone.”

“Don't you do that to me.  Listen to me, Daniel.  We stay or we go together.  We have our dreams, and they're just about to come true.  Danny!”

“J'ck.”  Daniel tried desperately to raise his left hand to his husband's face.

Seeing this, Jack took his lover's hand in his and raised it to his cheek.

“J'ck, hap...happy ... you.”  The young man swallowed hard, determined to get his words out.  “Be...cause of you ... love ... I ... love you ... so ...mu...” Daniel whispered as his eyes closed and his head dropped to his side a notch.

“DANNY!” Jack cried loudly as his pulled his lover's limp body close to his own, rocking Daniel as he waited for help to arrive, his mind replaying the past fifteen minutes.

//Flashback//
SG-1 stepped through the Stargate to the new world of P3R-228, hoping to make contact with a civilization there known as the Larmites. Intel had reported that the Larmites would make strong allies.  They hated the Goa'uld and had successfully defended their world from invasion for hundreds of years.

The Pentagon was hoping that there might be technology the Larmites would be willing to share with Earth in its ongoing war with the Goa'uld, but soon after heading for the town which the UAV indicated was about four miles west of the Stargate, the team had came under attack from the inhabitants.

“I guess they don't want to make friendly,” Jack jested as he fired his P-90.  “Let's go.  Back to the Gate!”

As his teammates laid down cover, Daniel raced to the DHD and dialed Earth.  When the kawoosh ebbed, Jack ordered his team through.  Sam went first as Teal'c stood at the steps, firing his staff weapon.

“Daniel.  Go ... Now!” Jack ordered from his position, several yards away.

“Jack!  Come on!” Daniel shouted urgently, his hands motioning the Air Force Colonel forward.  **Not leaving without you, so get your butt in gear, Colonel!**

Jack mumbled, “Geez, I wish just once he'd follow orders,” as he started to make his way to his lover.  **My butt is in gear.  Daniel -- GO!**

“Jack!  Hurry!”  **NO!**

Teal'c continued to fire his staff weapon as gunfire and explosions broke out all around him.  He never even felt the bullet-like projectile that entered his left arm as he continued to protect his teammates.

Jack was pinned down.  He looked over to Daniel who was staring at him, refusing to budge an inch.

~Geez, I love him, but so help me, I'm going to kill him for not going through the blasted Gate!~

Jack ducked, just missing being hit by a bazooka-like charge.  He looked back over at Daniel and saw the funny look on his husband's face.  Seconds later, there was another explosion.

As Jack watched, Daniel fell, his head hitting the edge of the DHD as he sank down to the ground.

Jack's heart stopped, and no longer caring whether or not he had cover, he leaped up and ran to Daniel's side.  His pulse raced as he reached the younger man, afraid Daniel had died.
//End of Flashback//

“O'Neill, we must go!”

Glancing around, Jack realized they didn't have time to wait for help to come through the Stargate.  He didn't know whether or not it was safe, but Jack did the only thing he could do -- he picked up his soulmate and carried him through the Stargate.

“GET OUT OF MY WAY!” Jack shouted as Marines huddled around the ramp at the bottom of the Stargate.

Medical help hadn't arrived at the gate room yet, and Jack didn't want to waste precious minutes waiting for it.  Clasping Daniel tightly to his chest, Jack rushed towards the special elevator designated strictly for emergency transfer of SG teams directly to the infirmary.  Its large bay was able to accommodate a fully-equipped medical resuscitation team providing care to two patients, if necessary.

As Jack got within a few feet, the doors opened, and Janet and her team scurried out of the elevator.

“Move aside,” Janet ordered the personnel, Marines and others going about their business who stood in her path as she and her medical team hurried to get to Daniel.

“Colonel!” Janet exclaimed.

Gently, Jack put his lover on the rectangular cart.  Holding Daniel's hand, Jack spoke, “You can't die, Danny.  Not now.  I won't let you.”

Janet barked out orders for staff and equipment, “Colonel, I need you  to step back ... please!”

Jack nodded and reluctantly took several steps backwards, his mind continuing to speak.

**I know you can hear me, Love.  That connection of ours is strong.  Don't leave me, Angel.  If you do, I'll follow; be right behind you.  Cassie will take the girls.  I can't live without you, and I won't.  Live, Danny.  We're about to have everything we want ... Live!  Live!**

It was then Jack noticed the amount of blood Daniel was losing.  He had looked down briefly while stepping backwards, and that's when he had seen that his green BDU's were now crimson red at his abdomen, waist, and all along one arm.  Jack had then looked over at his lover and screamed inside.  For a moment, Jack thought he might be sick, not at the sight of blood, but from the reality of the loss happening in front of his eyes.

**I need you, Danny.  You can't go.**

Daniel's head and his entire torso were covered in blood.  The Air Force Colonel was stunned.  The man ... and the husband ... was the most frightened he had ever been in his lifetime.  Jack allowed himself a brief moment to close his eyes, and say a prayer to that greater power that both he and Daniel had finally acknowledged existed.

====

~Oh gawd.  Where to start.~

Janet pushed her silent thoughts out of her mind.  It was never easy to treat people that were considered family, especially at times like this, when their lives were in the balance.  Daniel had become part of Janet's extended family years ago, so now, it was difficult to look down at the young man she had learned to love and not be affected by the carnage that was currently his body.

She had to let her medical professionalism take over, forcing as much of her personal feelings to the side as possible.

~He's relying on you, girl.  This is no time to crumble.~

Immediately, she placed her right hand at Daniel's neck, her gloved fingers seeking a pulse.  Her left hand went to the bloodied forehead, her fingers pushing open Daniel's closed eyelids.  She observed unfocused, dilated black pupils in seemingly lifeless eyes.

“Daniel!  Daniel, can you hear me?” she asked aloud.  ~No response, poor respiratory effort, weak fast pulse.~  “Let's bag him.  He's not moving enough air.”

Janet's orders shocked Jack out of his prayerful state.  The older man could see that Daniel's respirations were fast and shallow, and he was fading quickly.

**It doesn't take a genius to see I'm losing you, Angel.  Please fight, Danny.  I need you.  Heaven knows I need you so much.  Stay, Danny.  Please stay.**

Jack's heart continued to make plea after plea to the man he loved as he helplessly watched the medical team fight to keep Daniel alive.

Marie, a nurse who had once had a crush on Daniel, quickly fitted the mask over his nose and mouth, pumping oxygen into the unconscious body.

Kim, who normally worked at the Air Force hospital, but often filled in at the SGC when the nursing staff were shorthanded, began to cut away Daniel's blood-soaked clothing.  Then, she attached the wires of the EKG monitors.

Janet began to push the cart that contained a defibrillator, IV's, and various medicines and supplies.

“Let's move, people!”

Her urgency was unmistakable.  Jack struggled to remember the last time he had seen such a look on Janet's face.  He couldn't -- not ever.

Janet entered the elevator, her team scooting the stretcher inside.  Jack swiftly moved in as well, just as Janet pressed the button for the infirmary floor.  The two exchanged a quick look before Janet moved on to the next task needing to be performed.

As Janet applied a blood pressure cuff to Daniel's right arm, Jack continued his silent mantra, begging his lover to ~stay.~

~You're going into shock.  Can't have that,~ Janet's determination took over as examined her patient.

Daniel's skin was pale and clammy, his pupils unequal and dilated.  His weak pulse raced at one-hundred thirty-five beats per minute, and his blood pressure was a way-too-low eighty over thirty-five.  There was an obvious trauma to the back of his head, and severe chest wounds.  Janet knew she needed to get Daniel into surgery quickly -- every second counted.

“Come on!  Come on!”

Janet looked impatiently at the elevator doors, willing them to open, and when they did, she and her team moved swiftly into the primary trauma section of the infirmary.

A waiting anesthetist quickly slipped into place at Daniel's head. Expertly, he inserted the metal blade of a laryngoscope into Daniel's mouth.  Next, he placed a breathing tube down Daniel's trachea.  These two actions allowed the team to provide life-giving oxygen directly to the archaeologist's damaged lungs.

Janet anxiously watched the procedure, then placed her stethoscope on Daniel's chest, confirming the tube was situated properly.

“Sounds good.  I want him hyperventilated for now.  Let's get his 02 SAT's up.”

Glancing over her shoulder, she shouted, “Portable chest X-ray - NOW!”

Jack watched from a few feet away as Janet and her team worked away in a frenzy.  He felt a breeze behind him and turned to see his 2IC now standing at his side, tears escaping from her eyes.  Jack looked back at his husband.  He would not give up.

**Danny, don't you dare die!  I mean it, Daniel.  I'll follow you.  It's our pact, remember?  Come on, Love.  We've got kids to raise, to love.  Diapers, piano lessons, baseball games.  Danny, please.  Fight!  You have to fight!**

Jack fought to keep himself under control as he watched Marie place a tourniquet on Daniel's left arm and then insert a very large needle into the crook of his elbow.  He saw Kim draw blood and then infuse a bag of IV fluid.

Janet's voice resonated through the chaotic arena:  “Level One Trauma labs.  Four units of blood stat.  Let's start with a liter bolus.  Watch his blood pressure.  With those chest injuries, I don't want to flood him with fluids.”

Janet noted the blood trickling from Daniel's right ear, the bruising just behind his ears deepening in its dark color, the swollen, black eyes, all three signs indicative of a fractured skull.

~Oh, Daniel.  This is bad.~

Still, right now, it was his chest wounds that were the most life-threatening of his injuries.  Quickly placing the stethoscope around her neck, her hands began to palpate the wounded chest.

~Oh, Daniel.~

Janet felt the rough grinding sensation of multiple broken ribs.

“He's got sub-q air.  How are the vent settings?”

Before Janet could make her next move,  Daniel's body suddenly began to convulse, his abdomen trembling while his extremities went into spasms, causing his body to jerk violently.

“Seizure!” Janet alerted her staff, as they hurried to take appropriate action.  “Valium, ten milligrams, IV push, over two minutes.  Repeat it in fifteen minutes,” Janet instructed.

Jack could hear Janet swear as she worked, something she never did.  It made his heart stop in fear of what it could mean.  He glanced at Marie, working feverishly to tend to her duties in saving Daniel's life.  He saw her focus ... and her fear.  His eyes went to Kim.  She was engrossed in her tasks, as well, but he saw the frequent worried glances she had given Janet.

**Fight, Danny.  We're worth fighting for.  There's so much we want to do.  Our business, our future.  All our dreams, Love.  Come on.  You can do it.  I know you can!**

Kim prepared the anticonvulsant drug, handing it to Janet who carefully administered it to Daniel.  It seemed like forever to Jack as he watched, but only a couple of minutes had passed when the convulsions finally stopped.  Janet let out a sigh of relief as she looked at Jack.

“Hopefully, that will help control the seizure activity.  We'll need to get a CT scan of his brain eventually, and then we'll know the full scope of what we're dealing with.  Right now, though, we need to deal with his other injuries first.”

Janet returned her attention to her staff, each of them keeping a close eye on Daniel as they awaited the Chief Medical Officer's next orders.

“Okay, people, we need to get this bleeding stopped.  Marie, call Doctor Warner, and get him down here stat!   Kim, check the vent settings.  I felt a lot of sub-q air on his chest.  Daniel has some major damage to his lungs.”

“Doctor Fraiser,” Casey Hemmings, one of the few male nurses at the SGC, looked up, concern etched on his face, and spoke, “his SA02 levels just dropped.”

Casey had just checked the large bandaid-like device that had been attached to one of Daniel's fingers to monitor oxygen levels.

“I already confirmed the probe's still on, Doctor.”

“Move aside,” Janet requested, moving into a better position to examine Daniel more closely.

Sam felt like she was about to suffocate, as if the walls were closing in on her.  This was Daniel, probably her closest friend in the world, next to Janet, and he was dying in front of her eyes.

~Come on, Daniel.  You can't die on us.  We're SG-1.  We survive everything.~

Sam was frightened, but she wanted to maintain her composure.  She knew her CO would need her to be strong and supportive, and that Daniel would want that, too.

~Keep it together, Samantha.  No tears.  Military, remember?~

Janet listened for breath sounds, and then she palpated Daniel's chest once again, feeling for trapped air in the tissue while also checking the position of his injured ribs.  The red-headed doctor was feeling the pressure.

~Daniel, fight.  Janet, stay focused.~

This was truly one of those times she had to work hard to keep her personal feelings in check.  Daniel was surely counting on her to bring him through, and Janet was determined to do just that as she continued to use every bit of her medical knowledge to keep him alive.

Jack and Sam exchanged another look, seeing the determination on Janet's face, and then silently acknowledged the presence of Teal'c who had moved to stand on the other side of Jack.

“Teal'c, maybe you should get someone to take care of that for you,” Sam commented out of concern as she motioned toward the Jaffa's injury.

“There is no need, MajorCarter.  It is only a flesh wound.  My place is here.”

Teal'c looked at Jack, who swallowed hard and nodded in thanks.  Not many truly realized that Jack wasn't quite as thick-skinned as his public persona indicated, especially where his husband was concerned.  Right now, having his family around, and Sam and Teal'c were part of his family, meant a lot and was helping him to stay strong for the man he loved.

The trio looked at the injured archaeologist with love for the man, and with fear for what was happening to him.  Sam tried to speak confidently, willing her words to become the reality.

“Daniel will be fine, Colonel.  You know him.  Daniel's ... always fine.”

Her misty eyes didn't quite match the firmness of her voice as she struggled to be strong for her commanding officer.

~Admit it, Samantha, you're scared.  No, you can't afford that.  It'll be okay.  It has to.~

She looked at Jack, the strong figure uncharacteristically looking meek, and took a deep breath.

~This is Daniel.  He always pulls through.~

The Major looked across the room, hating what she was seeing.  Her dear friend was in the fight of his life.  She repeated what was becoming a mantra for her, a plea for Daniel to fight, a reminder of who they were, and how they always live to battle on yet another day.

~Fight this with all you're worth, Daniel.  Come on.  You can't die on us.  We're SG-1.  We survive everything.  EVERYTHING!~

She watched Janet and her team working feverishly on her friend.  This was as bad as it had ever been for any member of SG-1.  On the verge of losing her composure, Sam lectured herself for what must have been the fifth or sixth time thus far.

~Enough, Sam.  Keep it together.   No tears.  The Colonel needs you to be strong now, and Daniel would want me to be there for him.~

Sam placed her left hand on Jack's right shoulder as she tried to put into action her plan to be a source of comfort and strength, “He WILL be fine, Colonel.”

“Indeed,” Teal'c spoke self-assuredly as he placed his right hand on Jack's left shoulder.

Jack was surrounded by his team, one member on each side, ready to brace him up if necessary.  He had never been more grateful in his life for his family of SG-1 than he was at this moment.

~Thank you, kids.~

Jack focused on Janet Fraiser, working diligently on his lover.  The diminutive doctor they had dubbed “Little Napoleon” knew her craft well.  If anyone could save Daniel, it would be her.

~She looks so calm.~

Janet, meanwhile, was full of worry for her patient and was anything but calm on the inside.

~Come on, Daniel! You have to help me here.  I don't like this.  Too much pressure.  I can't even treat your head injury yet.  Oh my heavens, I don't even want to think about everything that could go wrong.  Hang on, Daniel.  Work with me.  Work with me.~

As Janet continued with her assessment of the abrupt change in her patient's respiratory status, Marie completed her assignment to insert an arterial line at Daniel's left wrist, a device used to monitor his blood pressure and to draw blood for lab work as needed.

Jack cringed at the next task, watching with empathy as Casey inserted a Foley catheter.  There was no dignity in the fight for life.

“Sounds like a tension pneumothorax.  Let's needle him now.  Set up for bilateral chest tubes, thirty-six French.”

Janet turned to take the betadine-soaked dressings from Casey.  She immediately began a quick scrub of Daniel's chest, just below his collarbone areas, and then she looked over to the leader of SG-1.

“Colonel, maybe you'd better step out.  This isn't going to be easy to watch.”

Her eyes locked with Jack's briefly.  He wasn't moving.

“Sir,” Sam prodded.  “Maybe Janet's right.”

Sam looked at the doctor and shook her head.  Jack O'Neill wasn't going anywhere, and Janet might as well get on with what she needed to do.

“This is bad, Colonel,” Janet spoke as softly as the moment would allow.  She had hoped to spare him from witnessing what might appear to be a barbaric and painful procedure.  “Remember, he's out.  He can't feel anything.”

Briefly waiting for the surgical trays to be opened, Janet looked at Daniel, silently urging him to fight again.

~Don't give up, Daniel.  You're losing too much blood.  It's everywhere. I have to stop this.  This isn't good, Doctor Jackson, but you still have some of those nine lives left, so use one!  Look at the Colonel, Daniel.  If you die, I think he might, too.  And who would use your bed in the infirmary?  Come on, Daniel.  Work with me here.~

“Doctor,” Marie called out.

“Okay, Janet, concentrate,” she reminded herself as Marie handed her the necessary medical equipment.

Janet accepted the scalpel from Marie.  She used her left hand to palpate Daniel's chest to find the precise location she needed, then quickly made two puncture wounds just below the clavicles.  Turning once again to Marie, she exchanged the scalpel for a very large, very long angiocath.

Holding her breath, she pushed the needle into the right side of Daniel's chest at a ninety degree angle, then pulled the needle out of the angiocath.  Blood immediately squirted from the plastic guard that remained in the chest.

Jack cringed as he watched, but he wouldn't leave.  He stood his ground, still praying, still urging his lover to fight for their future together.

“Oh, geez,” Jack said to no one in particular.  He felt so lost watching the action unfold.  Daniel wasn't winning this fight, not yet, and Jack's heart was aching with pain as his entire system panicked at the thought of losing the man who was his heart.

“Look at him,” Jack's cracked voice continued, “He's blue.  Blue's not good.  Don't look blue, Danny.”

“DanielJacksonO'Neill will be fine,” Teal'c said confidently.

Jack looked at Teal'c in surprise.  It was the very first time that Teal'c had said Daniel's married name.  They had only told a few people their plans to legally change their names once Jack had retired, and Teal'c was one of those people.  Hearing the name now gave Jack a boost of hope.

Janet repeated the same procedure on the left side of Daniel's chest as she had on the right.  When she was done, she looked up at the monitors positioned above Daniel's head, noting the slowly climbing oxygen saturation number.  Janet let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding and gave her own silent moment of thanks to the Heavens.

~Hang on, Daniel.~  Janet drew in a deep steadying breath, attempting to slow her own accelerated heart rate.  ~Okay ... keep moving Janet.  Stay focused.~

“Vent settings are better.  Coming down nicely, Doctor Fraiser,” Casey reported, relief audible in the tone of his voice.

“Let's get the chest tubes placed, and then we need to get that CT scan.”

Janet turned to don the sterile gown and gloves that Kim held out for her and asked, “How much longer before we get blood hanging?”

Marie answered, “Right here, Doctor Fraiser.  Just getting it primed.”

The nurse hung the bag of blood from the IV pole and proceeded to fill the tubing with the precious red fluid.

Daniel's arms were positioned to rest at either side of his head, and then Jack's hair stood up on the edge of his neck as he watched Janet begin the chest tube insertion on the right side.

Jack's thoughts turned to another time, another place, when he had been injured and forced to suffer the torment of a chest tube.  He remembered the sharp pain of the scalpel's cut and the immense pressure of having the foreign tube forced into place.  It had been one of the worst physical pains he'd ever felt, despite the pain medication he had received.  Jack swallowed, his mouth arid.  He felt his face becoming sweaty, his head light.  He wished it was him, and not his beautiful and compassionate soulmate.

He knew Janet was saving his husband's life, but he also knew the agony of Daniel's torment.

~I know you're hurting, Babe.  You don't deserve this.  Geez, you don't deserve anything bad happening to you.”

Jack didn't realize he was falling until he felt the strong arms of Sam and Teal'c holding him upright.

“Colonel?”

“I'm okay,” Jack's trembling voice tried to convey a strength he didn't really have, but he repeated the words again -- “I'm okay.”

Janet caught sight of the activity in the corner of the room.

“Jack, there's nothing you can do in here right now.  Why don't you go catch your breath for a few minutes?”

Addressing Teal'c while still focusing her attention on the procedure of placing the tubes, Janet ordered, “Get him out of here for a while.”

“No!” Jack felt a surge of new-found energy.  “I'm not leaving.”

The words were commanding.  There wasn't an Airman in all the United States Air Force who would have dared to touch Jack at that moment, but inwardly, Jack spoke to his lover gently, making a silent vow.

**I'm not leaving you, Angel.  I won't leave you alone, I promise.  I'm right here.  Hear me, Danny?**

Jack stood firmly on his own two feet, pulling away from the support of his teammates.  He would do whatever was necessary to stay by Daniel's side, and Janet Fraiser had another think coming if she thought she could make him budge one fraction of an inch.

“Fine.  Get him a chair,”  Janet ordered, a bit frustrated.  A moment later, she glanced over and saw Jack was resisting the offer of the chair.  ~Stubborn as a mule,~ she cussed silently, and then she took her rank into her hands.   With all the authority she could muster, Janet's  firm voice boomed from the center of the room, “Jack, sit down, NOW.  I don't have time to worry about you passing out.”

Jack sagged into the hard-backed chair, scared that he had distracted Janet from her task at hand.  In a desperate plea, he spoke his agreement, “Okay, Janet.  I'm sitting.  PLEASE, just take care of Daniel.”

“I'm doing just that, Colonel.”

Jack sat by silently, never taking his eyes off his lover being attended to by Janet and her staff.

“Let's do an ultrasound,” Janet spoke to her team once she had the tubes in place.

Quickly, Kim maneuvered the compact machine over next to Daniel's bedside.  Grasping the ultrasound probe in her right hand, she quickly spread the contact gel over his bruised abdomen.  Janet moved into a position over Kim's shoulder; both women focused on the gray-white grainy images as they began to appear on the display monitor.

At the same time Kim pointed at the new images on the monitor, Janet noticed the readings.

“Yeah, I see it.  Let's see the other quadrants.”  Kim manipulated the probe to the lower aspects of Daniel's abdomen.  “Good, all negative.  Let me see that upper right quadrant again.”

Janet concentrated on the new images, then placed her hand on the nurse's shoulder, as she said, “Thanks, Kim.”  She turned to the male nurse next.  “Casey, confirm with OR we'll be heading their way in five to ten minutes.  Have we heard an ETA on Doctor Warner?”

As she waited for a response, Janet covered Daniel with warm blankets.

“The main gate confirmed he's checked in and on his way down.”

“Great.  Tell him to get scrubbed in; we'll meet him in the OR.”  Janet moved to put on a new pair of gloves.  “Let's get Daniel logrolled.”

Casey moved to the head of the bed and placed his hands at both sides of Daniel's head.  Three other staff members moved to Daniel's left side and extended their hands across the injured man to grasp his right shoulder, waist and hip.  Janet positioned herself on Daniel's right side as Casey addressed the team.

“We roll to his left on the count of three.  Kim, watch the ET tube and the chest tubes.”  Casey confirmed with a glance that all team members were ready.  “One, two, three.”

Daniel was rolled as a unit onto his left side, held in place by the team members as Janet began to palpate down Daniel's spine, noting the wide variety of abrasions and bruises that had appeared on the pale skin.

She softly reported, “Spine feels in-line.  There's some bruising and abrasions, but nothing here that needs sutures.  Let me see that head injury.”

Her hands slowly palpated through the short hair.  This wasn't the way Janet Fraiser had ever wanted to be “playing” with Daniel Jackson's hair.  The young man's silky brown hair had always been a subject of conversation around the SGC, even long after Hathor had cut his shaggy locks.  Now, instead of appreciating the soft texture, the SGC doctor had to remain focused on her task of diagnosing Daniel's situation properly.

“There's a large hematoma present, starburst laceration.  I don't feel any bone crepitus.  That's good.”  She drew in a deep breath.  “Let me do a quick rectal, and then we're done.”

Janet took the new glove offered by one of the nurses, applied a small amount of lubricant to it, and inserted her index finger.  Upon withdrawing it a moment later, she noted, “No blood, some rectal tone.  That's good.  Okay, roll him back.  We need to get to the OR.”

“What does all that mean?” Jack asked no one in particular, hanging his head down.  He hadn't understood much in the last several minutes, and he desperately felt a need to know exactly what was happening to Daniel.  After all, Daniel was his husband, his soulmate, his everything.
It was Casey who found a moment to respond, speaking with great patience and understanding, “It means he's bleeding internally in the abdominal area.  Not a good thing, Colonel.”

Janet was also worried about the potential of swelling from the head injury.  For now, she lightly wrapped the base of Daniel's skull, trying to stop the bleeding from the deep scalp laceration.  X-rays would be required the first moment they could spare.

Jack felt shell-shocked watching his lover being handled like a cadaver dummy.  He knew everyone was being careful, but Daniel looked like a puppet, his body limply doing whatever others made it do.

“Sir, um ...” Sam felt nervous as she brought this up.  She wondered if she should just take the item back to the locker room.

“What is it, Carter?”

“You dropped this in the gate room.”

Sam held out the item with her left hand.  She had kept it in her jacket until now.  Jack stared at the item in disbelief.

“I don't even remember picking it up.  When he went down, it fell off.”

“It's part of him, Sir.  I'm not surprised you reached for it as you picked Daniel up.”

Jack gave a weak smile as he took the Boonie hat into his hands.  It was soaked with blood and torn, but still clearly the green hat Daniel often loved to wear.

Another weak smile and with a cracked voice, Jack commented, “You know, I never understand why sometimes he wears this and sometimes he chooses that bandana.  What's the advantage?”

“Maybe it's just a fashion statement?”

“Fashion?  Danny?”  Jack actually chuckled for a split second.  “He still wears those dorky plaid shirts.  Loves 'em.  Geek.”

The last word was barely audible as Jack was suddenly overcome with emotion, tears filling his eyes.  With both hands grasping the Boonie, he held it up to his face, the Boonie covering his nose, eyes, and forehead.  Jack's tears mixed with Daniel's dried blood.

Sam and Teal'c backed away, giving Jack a few minutes of privacy as the medical team continued to prepare the young man for surgery.

====

“Jack, what's happening?” General Hammond asked upon entering the infirmary.

“They ...” Jack gulped, finding it difficult to speak, so Sam took over.

“Sir, Janet is prepping Daniel for surgery.  She says he's bleeding into his chest and abdomen.  It's, um, something Janet called tension hemopneumothorax.”

Jack looked away as he sarcastically wondered aloud, “For crying out loud, can't doctors speak English?”

“Go ahead, Major,” the General instructed, ignoring Jack's outburst.

Sam glanced at her CO and continued.  “Apparently, Daniel has both blood and air in his chest cavity, and it can't get out.  Janet says that when that happens, there is a danger that the heart and lungs could actually get shoved out of position, um, move to the opposite of the chest, or simply be crushed.  She has to operate to relieve the pressure, or he could die even before she has a chance to deal with his head wound.”

Just then they heard Janet's voice.  “Okay, let's get him to surgery. Move it!”

“Doctor Fraiser?” General Hammond called as she approached.

Janet shook her head lightly.  “We're doing all we can,” she said as she hurried by the General and the others gathered near the doorway.

Jack turned and watched her follow the stretcher out.  His heart pounded and pulse raced, and then Jack found himself running after them.

“Colonel ...” Hammond followed his 2IC into the corridor.

Jack reached the moving stretcher and begged, “Janet, please!”

“Fifteen seconds, Jack.  That's all he can afford.”

Jack nodded and leaned over his lover, touching Daniel's cheek with his left hand.

“I love you, Space Monkey.  Forever and always.   I love you,” and then, with the rest of SG-1, General Hammond, Janet, Marie, Kim, and Casey looking on, at the door of OR-2, Jack placed a tender kiss on the side of his husband's lips ... at least, as much as he could touch with the tube in Daniel's mouth.  “Need you, Angel.  Love you.  Be strong.  Fight for us!”

“That's it, Colonel,” Janet spoke quietly but sternly, fighting back her tears, knowing she had to keep her personal feelings second to her skills as a doctor.

“Thank you,” Jack said, barely audible, as he backed away.

Casey smiled at Jack.  Casey had once thought he had a chance with the archaeologist, but that had been years ago, and he had learned quickly that Daniel's heart belonged to one man, and that was Jack O'Neill.  Daniel had never told him the name of the person he was involved with, but he didn't have to.

Casey remembered their first meeting, how quickly and easily Jack had moved Daniel away from him, giving him a very clear “back off” look with his eyes.  Over the years, the male nurse had watched these two men from afar.  They were clearly hiding in plain sight.  For a time, Casey had tried to come between them, but he had stopped almost before he had begun, not long after the Colonel had had the language of the Ancients downloaded into his brain.

The nurse had seen Daniel's worry over Jack, and he had witnessed a private conversation between them in the infirmary after Jack had returned from wherever he had been.  He had seen Jack briefly take Daniel's hand and smile.  He knew Jack must have been reassuring Daniel about something, but Casey thought then that Jack O'Neill was a man with a lot of guts, to put Daniel's feelings ahead of the risk of being caught.

That was the moment, when Jack had taken Daniel's hand in his, that  Casey knew he hadn't a chance with Daniel.  The smile on Daniel's face, the loving gaze between the two, and the way their hands laced together, not just holding on, but caressing and rubbing the other in reassurance -- all these things told Casey that Jack and Daniel were forever.

Now the male nurse felt nothing but compassion for Jack.  He saw the love on the Colonel's face, and the worry that was eating at his soul.  Casey would do anything he could to help, including answering those little questions as patiently as possible.

So, now, witnessing this public display of affection, Casey smiled, happy that once again, Jack was putting Daniel first, ahead of the military and their antiquated regulations.

Marie and Kim, however, each exchanged a look, having been totally flabbergasted by what they had seen and heard.  Neither had had a clue, and both were stunned into speechlessness.

“Excuse me.  You two coming?” Janet asked sternly.

Remembering her crush on Daniel, and having to admit she had still had a small hope that someday something might happen with the archaeologist, Marie was wide-eyed as she stared at Jack when she passed by him.

Her mind went back to a brief kiss she'd once given Daniel and to a break she had shared with him in the commissary, one interrupted by a very angry, and now Marie realized, obviously jealous Jack.  She didn't know what to think, but she also knew she didn't have time to wonder about it.  Her patient's life was at risk and she needed to focus on that.

As the door closed, General Hammond looked at Jack who lamented, “This was going to be our last mission, Sir.  Do you believe it?  Our last friggin' mission!”

“Jack ...” the General started to speak, but Jack darted away, needing some privacy for just a few minutes.

====

Jack sat almost totally still, barely breathing, as he viewed the surgery from the observation deck.  Sam and Teal'c were again at his side, though at the General's insistence, someone had now tended to Teal'c's wound.

Finally, Janet glanced up towards the trio.  Jack stood, staring at her, fear filling him.  Janet smiled slightly and walked out.  Jack waited until Daniel was rolled out of the OR before heading for the infirmary.  When he walked in a few minutes later, Janet was waiting for him.

“I won't lie to you, Colonel.  He's still in critical condition.”  Janet's quiet voice paused as she looked at the tears that welled in Jack's worried, tired eyes.  “He has a flail chest,” she paused again, seeing Jack's grimace, “That means he has multiple rib fractures on both sides of his chest.  The broken ribs punctured both of his lungs, and they began to bleed.  As a result, pressure built up in his chest from all the blood and air in the lungs.  It's called tension hemopneumothoraces.”

“ENGLISH, JANET!” Jack yelled, but quickly mellowed, “I'm sorry.  I need you to talk English here,” Jack requested desperately.

His emotions were raw, and his nerves pressed to their limit.  This wasn't just Jack being the grizzly bear he was noted for acting like; this was a man who was scared to the edge of his life and had an agonizing need to understand everything that was happening to the man he loved so dearly.

“Okay, Colonel, I'm sorry.  We relieved the pressure immediately with the needles that we placed here ...”  she placed her hand on Jack's chest under his right collarbone, “and then we placed the chest tubes here ...” she moved her hand to the side of Jack's chest just under his armpit “to continue to drain the air and blood  from Daniel's chest.  They also enable us to breathe for him through the ventilator, give him lots of oxygen, and allow the lungs to start to heal.  Hopefully, they'll heal on their own without any further surgical intervention.”

Janet paused for a few seconds, allowing Jack time to absorb this information, knowing there was so much more to come.  Sometimes being a doctor wasn't easy, and this was one of those times.

~Why on Earth did I decide to become a doctor?  Maybe my ex had the right idea -- stay home and have babies.~  But then she remembered why.  ~This is your life, woman.  Saving lives, especially special souls like Daniel.  Now concentrate.  Jack is waiting for answers.~

“There were numerous open chest wounds.  We removed some pieces of shrapnel from his chest.  Those wounds were debrided and sutured during surgery.  We'll watch them closely for infection, but Daniel will be on antibiotic therapy for a long time.”

Janet sighed.  She saw Jack wilting with each new word of potential doom she spoke.

“Jack, Daniel was bleeding into his abdomen.  He had a small liver laceration which we also repaired in surgery.  He lost a lot of blood, but we are in the process of replacing that volume.”

Janet continued, “We need to get his vitals stabilized, and then we need to get a CT scan done of his head and neck as soon as possible.  I don't know the full extent of his head injury yet.  What we find with that scan will determine our next step.”

“Neck?  Janet?”

“I don't know, Jack.  I haven't had time to run all the tests I need to.  Once Daniel stabilizes, we'll do the CT scan, and that will tell us more ... but some questions can't be answered unless he wakes up.”

Jack glared at Janet.  He looked at her as if she were a Goa'uld and said forcefully, “You mean WHEN, Major!” and then Jack's voice cracked as he repeated, “... when he wakes up!”

Janet nodded.  “Yes, that's what I meant, Colonel.  We'll know more then.”  The petite doctor reached out to hold Jack's hand.  “I promise I will let you know what is going on as soon as I have more information.”
After a pause, she spoke softly.  “I'll let you into the ICU for a few minutes to see Daniel while we get him stabilized.  Then we'll need to do the CT scan.”

Without saying a word, Jack walked towards the room where Daniel was being cared for, but Janet's call made him stop and turn around.

“Jack, you need to be prepared.  Daniel is ... well, there are a lot of monitors, tubes, and machines.  He's still unconscious and sedated, unaware of all the tubes.”  She paused and met Jack's eyes, hoping her next words would provide her friend with some comfort.  “He's not in any pain right now.”

“Right now,” Jack said under his breath as he nodded quietly, tears silently sliding down his face.  He drew in a deep breath, then wiped them from his face, and turned back and headed towards his life ... his Daniel.  With an approving nod from Janet, Sam and Teal'c quietly followed their CO.

====

~Ah, Danny.~  Jack paused just inside the doorway, overwhelmed at the immediate sight of his husband, quiet, bruised and seemingly broken, lying in the cold and bland ISO Room.  Daniel seemed so small, even frail, as he lay on the narrow bed, surrounded by a mound of medical equipment.

Swallowing the large lump in his throat, Jack moved to Daniel's bedside, taking Daniel's cool, seemingly lifeless hand in his.

“I'm here, Danny.  It's going to be all right.”

Jack's voice was a whisper as he spoke.  He squeezed Daniel's hand lightly, and with his other hand, Jack gently brushed the bangs of his beloved back from his forehead.

~Time for a haircut, Love, except ... I miss that long hair a little.~

In the corner of his eye, Jack saw Sam and Teal'c keeping their own vigil near the doorway.  He wasn't surprised.  They loved Daniel, too.  He knew they also had a need to communicate their love, so difficult as it was, Jack would share his lover with them ... for a few moments.  It was all he could bear to give them, but at least it would be something.

Jack cleared his throat in an effort not to lose his composure when he spoke.  He turned his head towards his friends.

“Carter, Teal'c, why don't you come say hello to Daniel?”

“Sir, we don't want to intrude.”

“You're not.  He ... he'd like to know you're here.”

Sam and Teal'c moved to the opposite side of Daniel's bed.  Sam reached down and took the young man's hand and mustered up a smile as she watched Daniel's expressionless face.

“Daniel, please get well.  We need you, you know.”  She wiped a falling tear from her face and then placed a kiss on Daniel's cheek.  “I love you.  Don't you dare leave us.”

Sam pulled back, looking at Teal'c.  The warrior stood tall and brave, and confident.  He didn't move, and when he spoke, his voice was strong.

“DanielJackson, you will wake up soon.  You have promised me another game of The Jackal and the Hound.  Since I have known you, you have never broken a promise.  I will be waiting for you to honor your word.”

“Daniel never breaks a promise,” Jack said.

“Indeed, and therefore, DanielJackson will be fine, O'Neill.”

Jack nodded, desperately wanting to believe Teal'c's words.

“Sir, we'll leave you alone.  We'll be just outside if you need us.”

“Thank you, Carter.  You, too, Teal'c.”

As his friends walked away, Jack's eyes scanned the ISO Room.  To Jack, it felt like some high tech episode of The Twilight Zone, or one of Daniel's documentaries from The Discovery Channel.  It was a strange environment of new sights and sounds.  He'd seen some of the equipment before since neither he nor Daniel were strangers to traumatic and life-threatening injuries, but this was the worst.

There was medical hardware Jack had never even seen before, new noises, new technologies.  Just by the sheer volume of it all,Jack's fears were reconfirmed -- nothing about this whole scenario was good.  

There were machines of all types, each displaying a variety of multi-colored numbers and waveforms, some with flashing lights,  some emitting odd rhythmic sounds.  A multitude of drainage canisters hung from the bed frame or sat on the floor.  Jack noted the multiple bags of IV fluids, most clear, some yellow, some milky-white, some red.

“Geez, finally something I recognize,” Jack said softly, staring at the life-saving plastic bags of thick maroon blood.

Jack continued his scan, seeing some fluid in plastic bags, others in glass bottles, all in varying sizes from small to enormously large, the multitude of tubings somehow appearing to be intertwined and twisted. And all of these machines, bags, and tubes, each one doing something Jack had no idea about, were somehow hooked up to one very small,  frail body lying in this enormous room -- his Daniel.

It would be so easy to lose sight of that person, that identity, here amid all the technical gadgets and gizmos.  Jack hated the coldness of the room.  Suddenly, military gray seemed like death.

“Daniel's here.  He's a human being,” Jack suddenly heard his voice say.

With his hand still firmly holding Daniel's, Jack laid his weary head down on the edge of Daniel's bed.

“I don't know what these are all for, Danny.  You're not a pin cushion, Love.  Why do they have you hooked up like you're just some rag doll?  I don't understand these machines.”

Jack's cracked and raspy voice seemed muffled as his head rested on the bed.  He hadn't noticed that Casey had slipped into the room a minute before.

“Colonel,” Casey answered softly.

The young man had learned years ago that knowledge replaces fear in almost everything, including being overwhelmed by a large volume of medical technologies.

“If I may,” Casey moved to the opposite side of the bed and began pointing to each piece of equipment as he explained their functions.

“This is a nasogastric tube,” the male nurse indicated at the tube that was taped to Daniel's nose.  “It empties the bile from his stomach, keeping it empty and also allows his chest to expand to its full capacity as it's not pushing on a stomach full of air and bile.

“And I'm sure you know that this baby,” he touched the machine itself, “is the electrocardiogram which monitors Daniel's heart rate and rhythm.  It's noisy, but that's exactly how you want it to be right now ... keeping a nice, steady beeping sound.”

Casey smiled and saw Jack looking at the CVC.

“This is the central venous catheter.  As you can see, it is inserted into the mid-collar bone area of Daniel's chest.  The three IV ports are used for a variety of purposes.  We'll use them for the medications, sedatives, IV fluids, and blood that Doctor Fraiser prescribes.”

“What's the yellow stuff?” Jack asked softly about the large IV bag containing a yellow looking fluid attached to the CVC.

“Essentially, Sir, it's food.  It contains all the nutritional elements that Daniel's body needs for fuel, for healing.  His body will burn an unbelievable amount of calories while it's healing.   An IV of this solution will continue to infuse twenty-four hours a day until he's able to eat properly again and absorb those things from foods and liquids.”

“It all seems so barbaric,” Jack said, almost without realizing he had spoken it aloud, “especially this thing.”

Jack had sunk down into his chair as he stared at the endotracheal tube that had been placed into Daniel's throat to allow him to breathe.

“It's painful, I know ...” Casey had begun to explain, but Jack interrupted.

“Yes, I remember.  I've had one of those things in my throat before.   When he wakes up, it's going to hurt like heck.”

“But then he'll be awake, won't he, Colonel?”

Jack looked up and saw Casey's smile.  It wasn't smirky or confident, but instead was simply reassuring and hopeful.

“Casey, one more thing.  Janet talked about sub-q something ...?”

“Sub-q air.  That's actually medical slang for 'subcutaneous air.'  It means air has become trapped in the subcutaneous tissues of the body.”

“And in English that means?”

“Sorry, Sir.  Daniel has a flail chest, meaning he's got numerous rib fractures.  They punctured both of his lungs.  The air that escaped from his lungs built up a lot of pressure in his chest, which collapsed his lungs;  it makes it impossible for a patient to breathe on his own.  Before Doctor Fraiser could relieve that pressure with those large needles she put in here,” he pointed to the places on Daniel's chest where Janet had needled the chest, “the air was literally forced into the tissues of his chest.  It kinda feels like Rice Krispies under the skin when you press on it.”

“A little too much information.  Thanks, though.  It helps to know what's going on, makes it just a little more tolerable.”

“Yes, Sir.  Let me know if there's anything else I can do to help.”

“I will.  Thank you, Hemmings.”

Casey turned and walked out.  He had come in on orders to check on Daniel and to make sure Jack was okay.  Now he returned to his other duties.

Jack put his head in his hands as he leaned over on the bed.  He knew from experience how painful this would be for his husband when he woke up.  Even knowing that the machines were sustaining Daniel's life, he couldn't stand it.  The more he stared at the young man and the collection of medical equipment Daniel was attached to, the more he felt the pain ... and the more frustrated he got.

“He's not a pin cushion,” Jack repeated, his voice muffled as he still held his head in his hands.

“Sir ...” Sam and Teal'c had returned to check on Daniel and their CO, entering just as he had spoken his painful comment.

“I know, Carter ... I ... live, Danny.  Please live,” Jack prayed as he lifted up his head and took Daniel's hand once again.

“Do you need anything, Sir?“

“Yes.”

“Just tell us.”

“I need him.  I need Danny to live,” Jack spoke softly.

Sam and Teal'c exchanged a worried look, and then Sam spoke again, “We'll be close by if you need us.”

Sam took another look at Daniel and then left the room, Teal'c following her.

“Danny,” Jack spoke softly.  “I'm here, Angel.  I know it hurts, but we'll get through it.  Hey,” Jack moved from the chair to the side of the bed, needing to be closer to his husband, “you know what we're going to do when you get out of here?  We're going to go on a dig.  You can ... play in the dirt and drive me crazy with history and all kinds of mumbo jumbo about some Pharaoh or some ancient civilization no one's ever heard of before.  I need you, Danny.  I'll haunt you forever if you leave me.”

Jack felt the tears rolling down his cheeks, but couldn't find the energy to wipe them away.  He leaned over and gently placed a kiss on Daniel's right cheek.

“I wish I could hold you, make you feel safe.  These dang machines, Danny ... dang machines ...”

Jack was out of words.  All he had left were their words of devotion from over the years -- “Forever and always, I love you.”

====

“Is Daniel going to be okay?” Sam asked as Janet approached.

“I hope so, Sam, but right now, it's anyone's call.”

Hearing the doctor's footsteps as she entered the room, Jack stood up in anticipation of her words.

“Colonel, this is what is going to happen.  Right now, Daniel is getting everything he needs to sustain his life.  I know you don't want to hear this, but these machines are keeping him alive.  As I said,  we need to get him stabilized, and then we may have to operate again.  I won't know that for sure until I see how he responds to treatment, and until we see what the X-rays and CT scan reveal about the injury to his skull.”

Janet reached out again, this time taking both of Jack's hands in hers,  “Jack, we have a fight on our hands.  Now, I know better than to ask you to leave and get some rest, so you know the routine.  That bed over there is yours, and I expect you to use it, at least occasionally.”

Jack started to push her away, but Janet held on like a mother cub protecting her young.

“He needs you, Jack, and you can't help him if you collapse from lack of rest or food, can you?”

Jack said nothing so Janet looked to Sam for support.

“Don't worry, Janet.  I think Teal'c and I can handle him.”

“We're going to do the CT scan now, so this is a good time for you to relax for a few minutes.”

Jack nodded, not trusting himself to speak, but as Janet walked away, he called out, “Hey, Doc ... thank you.”

Janet nodded and then proceeded with her scheduled task.

====

“Doctor Fraiser, here are the results of the CT scan,” Marie said, handing Janet a group of large black and white X-ray films.

Janet frowned, shook her head, and glanced over at Daniel who lay motionless on the hospital bed, hooked up to the various machines that worked diligently to keep him alive.  It had only been six hours since Daniel's first surgery had been completed, and Janet didn't like what she was going to have to do next.

“Doc?” Jack asked quietly.

“Daniel has a depressed skull fracture, which, in this instance, means a fracture at the back of his skull.  There's a piece of the skull acting like a shard, Colonel.  It's ... well, it's poking into his brain, and we have to correct that right away.  If it's small enough, we'll just remove it.  If it's too big for that, then we'll have to try and fix it with a drill.”

“DRILL?” Jack asked with alarm.

“Calm down, Colonel.  I'm not talking a Black and Decker here,” though Janet had to admit silently that strangely enough some of the medical drills did resemble the famous Black and Decker tools, “and I can't be certain, but hopefully, it's a fairly small fragment causing the problem. There are ... other concerns, but right now we need to take this one step at a time.”

“Operate.”  Jack looked down at Daniel and squeezed his lover's hand.  “What else, Doc?  Tell me now what else can happen.”

“Colonel ...”

“I said tell me!”

“Alot of things.  There's always the possibility of meningitis or a blood clot.  We're going to have to watch carefully for that.  The problem is the safest treatment for a clot would be an anticoagulant, but right now, that could kill him.”

Jack closed his eyes as he listened to the words.

“Colonel, doing any kind of brain surgery, the risks are great, and the main thing is just to make sure he can breathe on his own when we're done.”

Jack looked at Janet and for the first time realized there was something she hadn't said.  He stood up and walked over to her, his eyes piercing into hers.

“What haven't you told me?”

Little Napoleon held her ground, but her voice cracked just slightly, “Colonel, he may have a more severe respiratory problem than we realize, or even a spinal injury.”

Jack shook his head and backed away, returning to his position as he refused her comment, “No, he doesn't.”

“Colonel ... Jack, the scan wasn't as conclusive as I would have liked.  I can't rule out the possibility of brain stem damage.  Maybe he'll be lucky, but we won't know for sure until he wakes up.”

“Brain stem ... as in?”

“Jack, the brain stem attaches to the spinal cord.”

“NO!  He's not paralyzed,” Jack spoke defiantly.  “Janet,” Jack asked softly, “I didn't ... when I brought him through the Stargate and carried him to the elevator ... gawd, did I hurt him?”

“I highly doubt that.  In the first place, my understanding was if you had stayed on the planet, you would have been killed or captured within another couple of minutes.  I doubt they would have had the equipment or the inclination to help Daniel.  He'd be dead now.  As for the trip to the elevator, whatever damage was done was probably done with the original impact.  I saw how you held him, Jack.  You were cradling his head, holding him close to your chest.  It was the safest way.  No, I'm sure of it, Jack.  You didn't hurt him.”

Jack breathed deeply, holding back his fears.  He wanted to believe Janet's words.  He could never live with himself if he had hurt the man he loved more than life itself.

“Colonel, we can't wait on the surgery.  I'm calling in Doctor Steven Jankowski.  I'll ... have to get him clearance, but he's the best.  It just may take some time to get through the paperwork.”

“Have you called him?”

“Yes.  I was worried this might happen.  He's willing to come whenever I call.”

“He's not from here?”

“No, he's a specialist ... the best.  He lives in Seattle ... but it's the paperwork,” Janet sighed, praying silently that Daniel had the time to wait for the red tape to be processed that would allow the renowned surgeon to enter Cheyenne Mountain.

Jack stood and walked to Janet's office.  He picked up the phone and called General Hammond's office, but the General had been called off base to a meeting and couldn't be interrupted.  Jack looked at Janet and asked, “Time is of the essence?”

“Yes, he needs the surgery now.”

Jack picked the phone up again.

“This is Colonel Jonathan O'Neill.  I need to speak with the President.”

Janet's eyes widened.  She knew, of course, that her friends knew high officials, including the President, but she had never witnessed this kind of action by any of them.  Yet, one minute later, Jack was indeed speaking with the President of the United States.  Two minutes later, Jack hung up the phone.

“Call the specialist.  By the time he gets here, he could walk through the Stargate,” Jack said casually, returning to Daniel's bedside.

“Wow,” Janet exclaimed internally, but wasting no time in making the arrangements for Doctor Jankowski's arrival.

====

Doctor Jankowski was huddled with Janet reviewing various test results. The newcomer had already examined Daniel, and now they were about to agree on a course of action.

“Colonel O'Neill, this is Doctor Steven Jankowski,” Janet said.  “I know you've spoken, but I don't believe you've actually been introduced.”

“Save him,” was all Jack said as he shook the man's hand.

“I'll do my best, Colonel.”

The doctor excused himself to prepare for the upcoming surgery.

“You'll be there?” Jack asked Janet, a plea in his voice.

“Of course, I will.  Jack, you may not have considered this, but you do realize we're going to have to shave Daniel's head?”

“He's always wanted to look like Hammond,” Jack said, his eyes shimmering.

“I just wanted you to be prepared.”  Janet sighed, a half smile on her face.  “He's come a long way from that adorable shaggy hair he had when he first walked in here.”

“Loved that hair,” Jack said, a tear falling from his eye.

Janet reached out and touched her friend's hand for a second and spoke quietly, “The nurses will be attending to that momentarily.  I have to go.”

Jack nodded, and Janet exited.

As she walked, she saw Teal'c approaching and stopped him with a special request -- “Teal'c, don't leave him alone, not for a while.”

“Has something happened, DoctorFraiser?” Teal'c asked, his hands behind his back in a stance he frequently took when speaking casually with others.

“We're preparing Daniel for another surgery.  Colonel O'Neill hasn't gotten more than an hour's rest that I know of, and I don't think he's eaten, and ...” Janet looked back towards the infirmary, “I know technically, it's a small thing, Teal'c, but the nurses will be shaving Daniel's head in a few minutes.  It can be traumatic, watching hair falling off of someone you love like that, and Daniel,” Janet couldn't help but smile, “that gorgeous hair has always been such a part of who he is.  I just think the Colonel could use some friends nearby.”

Teal'c nodded as he spoke an emotionally charged, “Indeed” and watched as Janet walked off.

====

“O'Neill, you need nourishment.  I brought you this,” Teal'c spoke firmly after having made a detour before entering the infirmary.

“I'm not hungry, Teal'c,” Jack said without looking at the Jaffa.  His voice was low, monotone as he added, “They're shaving his head.”  ~It's like Hathor all over again.  He's not even awake to give his permission.~

“Hair is highly overrated, O'Neill.”

Jack looked up at Teal'c and nodded toward the item the Jaffa held in his hand.

“Yeah, I suppose so.  That's what you brought me?”

“I remember it is what you gave me when I was in the infirmary once.”

Jack smiled, taking the colored Jell-O from his friend.  He took three bites and placed it on the floor, his focus again on his lover's still body.

“You must eat, O'Neill.”

“I did.”

“If DanielJacksonO'Neill had eaten but three bites, what would you have said?” Teal'c asked as he bent down, retrieving the Jell-O, and then held it out boldly to his friend.

“Okay, okay!  Anyone ever tell you that you're a mother hen?” Jack saw Teal'c's eyebrow raise up as he took the blue food from the Jaffa and ate some more.  “I suppose we can rent a bunch of movies.  We'll have a ... bald movie night.”

Teal'c looked at Jack questioningly.

“Yul Brynner, Avery Brooks, Carl Reiner ... we'll ... laugh because ...” Jack clanged his spoon against the Jell-O glass container.

“You shall laugh because DanielJacksonO'Neill will be temporarily bald.  He can be ... like me,” Teal'c said with a smile.

“Danny would like that, to a point.”

“What is not to like?”

“He's not big on gold emblems, Teal'c.”

“I see.  Is there more?”

“The pouch.  Don't think he'd be crazy about having a pouch, even if Junior has ... passed on.”

“Being a Jaffa is an honorable thing.”

“Of course it is.  He ... loves the Jaffa, just as long as they aren't trying to kill us.”

Jack shrugged his shoulders as he ate another bite.

“There is nothing wrong with being bald.  Many men worthy of respect are bald.  It has advantages.”

“This I have to hear.  What advantages, besides having no need for shampoo and a comb?”

“Light.”

“Light?”

“If in a dark room, a bald head will provide light.”

Jack blinked a few times as he looked quizzically at his friend, and then exhibited a quirked smile on his face.

“You're trying to be funny, aren't you?”

Teal'c said nothing, standing proudly in his place.  Jack sighed, finished off the Jell-O, and looked over at the nurses.  Daniel's hair was gone.

“Thank you, Teal'c.”

“I have done nothing.”

Jack looked at his friend.

“No, you just saved me from ... Thank you, Teal'c,” Jack repeated, getting up a second later and walking over towards the bed, passing Marie who had overseen the shaving with Kim.

“Colonel, we ...”

“I need a minute, Kim,” Jack said.

“But ...”

“Kim,” Janet called, “Give him one minute.  That's all, Jack.”

Jack leaned over and kissed Daniel on the cheek.

“You're so beautiful, Danny.  La Mio Bello Stella Cadente ... that's what you are ... my beautiful falling star.”  Jack sniffled, “You're going to be just fine.”

Jack placed his lips on Daniel's forehead and held them there for several seconds, and then when he moved back, he whispered, “Love you, Beautiful.”

Jack turned and nodded at Kim.  He went back to the chair where he had been sitting, using his right hand to rub beneath his nose.  He was on the edge of losing control.

“You must be strong, O'Neill.”

“Trying.  Heaven knows I'm trying,” Jack said, taking a big breath that he exhaled very slowly.  “Okay,” Jack spoke more to himself than to Teal'c, having regrouped his mental focus.  He was ready again for the next challenge.

====

“Casey, do you have those test results yet?”

“Not yet.  I'll go check on them, Doctor Fraiser.”

“What's wrong?” Jack asked Janet, worry in his voice.

The surgery had gone perfectly, according to Doctor Jankowski.  The shard causing the problem was a small, one-inch piece of bone that had been easily removed.  He didn't foresee any complications from its removal.  His only concern had been the same one Janet was now about to voice to Jack.

“I'm concerned about the swelling.  Jack, we have to be careful giving Daniel any anticoagulant right now.”

“What's the problem exactly?”

“Jack, he's been bleeding internally.  We need his system to stop that.  We've done the surgery, and now it's time for the body to help itself heal, but anticoagulants prevent clotting.  Now, normally, if Daniel hadn't had the bleeding, we could safely give him the drugs, but giving him something now to prevent clotting, when he's already been bleeding ... he could just bleed out.”

“So what do we do?”

“We wait, and keep a close eye on him.”

“Don't worry, Doc.  I'm not going anywhere!”

====

Having endured two major surgeries, Daniel was in an induced coma and had been for two days.  Janet used Pavulon to keep Daniel safely asleep, the drug causing a paralysis of Daniel's muscles.  She also utilized a variety of sedatives and painkillers, including morphine, valium, versed and dilaudid, to keep the coma stable.

He was still surrounded by machines, bags of IV fluids, medications and blood, and as she monitored the young man, Janet was still worried about infection and the questions she couldn't answer yet -- potential respiratory problems even spinal injuries if Daniel's brain stem had been damaged.

Jack sat on his chair, his hand tightly holding on to his husband's.  His head was leaning sideways against their joined hands, on the edge of the bed.

“I love you so much,” he whispered.  “I want to hear your voice, to hear you ... just ... geez, Danny.”

His thoughts were jumbled from his weariness and the concern that was tearing through his heart from watching his lover suffering so much.

When he raised his head back up, he focused on their fingers.  He let out a small sniffle and looked around.  Jack was in desperate need of something, but he couldn't leave his husband.  He was afraid if he did, Daniel would slip away.

Jack picked up the phone sitting beside Daniel's bed and dialed Sam's office.  Both she and Teal'c had been in and out since the team had returned from the planet, and he knew he could count on her to do him this important favor.

A while later, Sam entered the infirmary.

“Here you go, Sir.”  Jack only nodded, still unable to speak.  “Is there any change?”

Jack shook his head, holding the two wallets his 2IC had handed him.  Sam sighed, taking a look at Daniel.  She walked to the side of the bed, leaned over and placed a kiss on his forehead.

“We need you, Daniel.  I ... I love you.”

Sam looked at Jack who smiled, or tried to, and then she turned and left, leaving her friends to their nation of two.

Jack pulled out Daniel's wedding ring, and as he began to slip it on his husband's ring finger, he said their words of devotion, “Forever and always, I love you, Danny ... always,” but then Jack's heart began to pound, his panic and frustration soaring.  “NO!” he shouted, slapping the side of the bed with his right hand, and then bowing his head into Daniel's hand.  Tears fell.

Daniel's fingers had swollen.  The ring wouldn't fit, and Jack took it as a bad sign.  It felt as though the Fates were conspiring against them, trying to keep this important symbol of their unity from happening, and it was destroying the older man.

“No, I don't give up that easy.”

As he had done earlier, he picked up the phone and called his 2IC.  It took a while, but eventually Sam returned the infirmary, a package in her hands.

“I hope this will do,” she said softly, handing Jack his solution to the crisis.  “Are you sure, Colonel, that this is okay?”

“I don't friggin' care, Carter.  He needs this, and so do I.  Excuse us ... please.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Sam headed for the door.

“Carter?” Jack turned to face his friend.  “You know me.  I ... thank you.”

Sam smiled and left.

~Yes, Sir, I do know you, and right now, you're scared stiff Daniel is going to die.  Don't leave him ... Jack. I have a hunch he needs you right where you are to keep him here with us.~

Jack smiled as he talked quietly to his husband.  Daniel may be unconscious, but Jack was positive he could hear the words anyway.

“Okay, Love.  We have to be a little creative here.  It's a stretch, I know, but ... it'll work,” Jack said, as he took Daniel's wedding ring and slipped it on the chain Sam had brought him.  Carefully, Jack tied the tight-fitting chain around Daniel's wrist, making sure to avoid whatever doodads Janet still had affixed to his lover's body.

“This'll have to do for now, Danny.  When the swelling goes down, we'll put this ring where it belongs.”

Closing the link on the chain, Jack again repeated his words of devotion.  Then, he pulled out his own gold band, and he put Daniel's hand on it, using his lover's fingers to push the ring on.

“I know, Danny.  I know ... you love me, too ... forever and always.”

Jack put the wallets on the table and sat back down in the chair, holding Daniel's hand close to his face, a few more tears falling down his cheek.

Daniel was hooked to so many machines, and Jack absolutely hated the ICP device that was inserted above the forehead where the skull starts to curve.  He didn't like the thought that anyone would actually drill a hole into his lover's head, even a tiny one.  Jack looked with hatred at the monitoring device, thinking how gruesome and painful it must be.

Janet had assured Jack that the ICP device was necessary to monitor the pressure of the brain.

//Flashback//
“He's not Frankenstein,” Jack said after Janet told him she wanted to insert the ICP device.

“Jack,” Janet said firmly, “Swelling is a real possibility.  We  need to keep a constant eye on what's happening with Daniel's brain, and this is the BEST way to do that, no matter what it looks like.”

“But it's a friggin' bolt!  He's not a machine, Doctor!” Jack barked, the unending string of medical horrors taking its toll on the silver-gray haired man.

“Colonel, please listen,” Janet insisted.  “What we do is insert a small disk into Daniel's head, between his skull and the brain.  The disk is screwed into the ICP device.  Jack, it will help us to know how he's doing, how much sedative to give him, and what kinds of medication he'll need.”

“How many times do I have to say this?  He's NOT a machine.”

Jack's voice drifted as he looked at the catheter that looked to him like a metal bolt.

Janet reached out with her left arm to touch Jack's hand.

“It's not a bolt; it's just a small silicone tube.”

“It looks like a bolt,” Jack whined wearily.

“It's necessary, Colonel.  Let me do my job.”
//End of Flashback//

Jack had nodded his agreement, and now he sat in anguish waiting for the cruel looking device to do something that would make its presence worthwhile.

“Does it hurt, Angel?  I'll make it all go away, Danny.  Just ... wake up, and let me make the pain go away,” Jack said softly, a tear falling from his left eye.

====

As Jack stood back, Janet and Marie were reviewing Daniel's chart and studying the latest test results.  Marie spotted the chain and the ring, pointing it out to Janet.

“Um, Doctor Fraiser,” the nurse said, motioning towards the jewelry.

Janet sighed and glanced over at Jack.

“Colonel, we ...”

“Doctor Fraiser, does having that around his wrist jeopardize his life?”

“No, Colonel, but if we have an emergency ...”

“Then leave it be.”

“Colonel ...”

“I said ... leave it be.”

Janet saw Jack's expression.  She'd seen it before, and combined with his current tone, it was one not to be messed with.  Janet nodded to Marie and they continued their review.

====

SG-7 was returning from a standard recon mission, about to enter the infirmary for their regular post-mission examinations.  Only a few minutes behind them, would be SG-3, returning from a separate rescue mission.  The previously quiet and empty infirmary was about to become crowded and full of Marines and other personnel.

“Sir,” Janet warned, nodding towards Jack's current position -- sitting at the side of Daniel's bed, holding his hand and caressing his cheek.

Jack shook his head, not moving, as SG-7 strolled by ISO-1 on the way to the general infirmary.  Two of the members returned to the doorway as they had immediately noticed Jack and his proximity to the injured Daniel Jackson.  Questioning looks were exchanged between a couple of others.  Eventually, Jack heard one Marine say in a disgusted tone, “I told ya so.  They've been doing it for years.  Queers.”   He heard the laughter fade as they continued on down the corridor.

Jack didn't react.  The last thing on his mind at the moment were morons.  All he cared about was the weakening body of his spouse, and making sure Daniel knew how much Jack loved and needed him.

====

Kim frowned as she reviewed her findings, only she didn't realize the look on her face was so evident.

“What's wrong?” Jack asked, anguished that lately those two words seemed to be coming from his voice more and more.

“His temperature is up a bit.  Not too bad, Colonel, but ...”

Jack nodded in understanding.

“But how much more can he handle, right?”

“Doctor Jackson is a force to be reckoned with, Colonel.  I've heard you say that a hundred times.  Keep the faith.  Excuse me.”

“Keep the faith,” Jack mumbled to himself.

Jack was tired.  He had slept only when his body had betrayed him.  He needed a shave badly, and he hadn't changed clothes in two days, either, which meant he was also in need of a shower, but he just couldn't talk himself into leaving Daniel's side.

“Colonel.”  Janet appeared several minutes later.  “We're going to do some more tests now.  I want you to go rest for at least an hour while we do what we need to do.”

“No, I ...”

“Colonel, don't make me pull rank ...”

“You can't.  I'm not ... I mean, it ... we're retired.”  Jack stumbled over his words, and that more than anything told him how exhausted he was from the entire affair.

“Jack, if you don't go take a shower, put some real food in your body, and rest for an hour, I will have Teal'c literally pick you up and carry you out of here, after which I will inject you with a sedative, and Colonel, if I do that, you will be asleep for at least twenty-four hours.  Now,” Janet paused for effect, “are we in agreement?”

Jack knew he had just been bested by Little Napoleon.  He stood and gently placed a kiss on his husband's cheek.

“I love you, Danny.  I won't be gone long.”

He turned and walked to the door, but as he did, he could feel his muscles rebelling, aching, throbbing, and threatening to down him where he was.  His lungs began to constrict, and for a moment, Jack felt like he was going to suffocate.  He desperately wanted to turn and run back to his spouse.  He stopped and turned, his breathing rapid.

“Jack, I promise you ...” Janet moved to stand in front of her friend, “I promise you, that if there is any change, and you aren't back, I will have someone get you.  No tricks ... no games.   I promise.”

Seeing Janet's sincerity, Jack said, “Take care of him” and hurried down the corridor, afraid if he didn't, he'd never do as Janet requested.

====

Jack had done as Janet asked.  He had something else he needed to do, though, before returning to the infirmary.  He knocked on his CO's door.

“Come in.”  Seeing Jack walk in, General Hammond put down his pen and stood.  “Is there any news?”

“No, Sir.  The Doc is running some tests.  I'm about to go back.”

“Sit down, Jack.”

“No, I'm ... I'm too wired.  General, I wanted you to know that ... no matter what ... happens to Daniel, I'm done.  This was going to be our last mission, and one way or the other, it was.  I ... just thought you deserved to know that, that I'm serious, so ...” Jack hesitated.

“Colonel, I think you should take some time to ...”

“No, Sir.  If Daniel lives, we are so out of here.  If he ... I'm out of here.  I'll help with the transition for whomever you choose to replace me, but I won't be talked out of it.  Excuse me, General.  I have to get back to ... my husband.”

Jack didn't heed the General's request to wait.  He'd been away from Daniel for too long -- two hours.  It seemed like an eternity.

====

“Janet?  How is he?”

“About the same, Colonel.  You're looking better.”

Janet watched sadly as Jack returned to his lover, taking his hand, and leaning down to place a kiss on his cheek.

**I'm back, Angel.  Did you miss me?  I missed you.**  “I love you, Danny.”

Her thoughts about her friends were rudely interrupted by a distraction just outside ISO-1.  Janet looked with a cold heart on a snickering Marine, one of SG-7's injured, returning by wheelchair from a test.  The man was shaking his head, an ugly expression on his face.  She heard him say under his breath a word she considered not only ignorant but repulsive.

She quietly exited ISO-1, following him down the short hallway, and watched as he got back into his assigned bed in the general infirmary.
Her plan made, she walked over to Marine.

“Captain Wesson, I see from our examination that it's better if you stay off your feet for a few days.  Your injuries to your lower extremities are of great concern.  I'm afraid I don't have a choice here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Casey?”  Janet called out.  “Bring over a Foley, please.  A twenty or twenty-two French catheter will do.”

She looked back at the Marine whose eyes had grown wide.

“Come on, Doctor Fraiser.  Is that really ...”  the Marine's words were cut off as Casey proceeded with the insertion.

“Thank you, Casey,” Janet acknowledged when he finished the task and walked away.  Looking at the Marine, “By the way, Captain, have you ever heard the saying 'if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all'?”

Wesson looked at her in surprise.

“Sure.  Who hasn't?”

“And perhaps you've heard that old one about 'Walls have ears' as well?”

“Of course, I have.”

“You might try thinking about them some more.  There's a reason those words of wisdom exist.  Hmm, I'm considering some other tests that just may be necessary.”  She continued the conversation using her innocent Southern-drawl voice.  “You know, it's truly amazing to me how one's voice can carry down a hallway in this place.  Sorta echoes, if you know what I mean.  You can hear all sorts of things when you're in ISO-1.  Yes, just purely amazing to me.  Don't you agree, Captain?”

Janet looked over to the hallway leading to the critical care rooms, the surprised Marine following her gaze.  He knew Jack and Daniel were currently occupants of a room on that corridor.

“Yes, I can think up all sorts of tests to run while I'm on my way down that hallway from, say, room ISO-1?”  There ended the comfy Southern-drawl innocent speech and then began Janet's more well known authoritative, no nonsense, 'I'm-the-boss' voice.  “Get my drift, Captain?”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

“Good.   I'm so glad we had this little conversation, aren't you?  Clears up a few things for you, I hope.”  Her dead-eyed glare reinforced her message.  “Now, I'll see what your latest test results show.  Maybe we can put off those other tests.  Excuse me.”

Wesson gulped.  He may not like what was happening between Jack and Daniel, but he wasn't about to mess with Little Napoleon, especially not after their little talk.  From now on, he'd be keeping his opinions to himself, without uttering a sound.

====

**Be right back, Love.   I'll only be a minute.  Don't go anywhere because ... I need you.**

Jack turned away from Daniel's bed, having to take care of a call of nature.  He walked down the hall, into the general infirmary, on his way to the restrooms.  He saw the looks his way, but again, he ignored them, having no time nor the desire to deal with anything other than his injured husband.

The infirmary had been unusually quiet despite the influx of people --  mostly due to Janet's orders, and though there had been lots of whispers, there'd been no real conversation -- that he knew of. Two minutes later, Jack was on his way back through the infirmary, exiting down the hall.  He heard the voices as two of the team members of SG-7 followed him.  They sounded derogatory, demeaning, hurtful.

“I should have run a pool.  I'd be rich.  I knew those two were doing each other.”

“I still don't believe it.”

“What more do you need?  O'Neill's been over there drooling since we walked in.”

“Did you see the ring?  Look -- Jackson's wearing some bracelet or something with a gold ring on it.  I'd bet money O'Neill has one, too.”

“How the heck have they kept this a secret?”

“Politics.  O'Neill and Jackson are Hammond's favorites.  They could get away with murder and never be touched.”

“They're homos.”

“It's out now.  O'Neill's career is shot.”

“Can't believe someone like O'Neill is a ...”

Just then, Jack came into the view of the gossiping Marines, abruptly turning to stare directly at the two men who had been engaged in the conversation as they followed him down the short hallway to the open doorway of ISO-1.  It was a very intimidating death stare, but while the men took a natural step back, well aware of Jack's reputation, Jack only smiled, held up his left hand, and said, “I guess one of you wins the bet.”

And with that, he turned and walked over to Daniel as he lay on the bed, and kissed him on the mouth, at least as much as he could touch, saying sincerely, but loudly, “I love you, Danny, with all my heart.  Love you so friggin' much.”

Jack didn't look back at the Marines.  He didn't care about their reaction.  Instead, he began talking to Daniel, reminding him of all their plans for the future, to adopt children, and that now, they were finally free.

“No more hiding, Danny.  Never again.”

====

“General, you wanted to see me?” Sam asked as she entered the Major General's office.

“Close the door, and sit down, Major.”

Sam did as instructed and waited for the General to continue.

“Samantha ...”  Sam startled, eyes widening at the sound of her first name.  She began to fidget.  “Do you understand that I'm talking to you as George, your kindly surrogate father, if I might presume.”

“Um, yes, Sir.”

“George.”

“Ggggg... yes,” Sam stuttered, not quite able to bring herself to call the Major General by his first name.

“Samantha, Jack isn't hiding anything about his ... relationship with Daniel, is he?”

“No, S...   No, he's not.”

“Do you know how widespread the RUMORS have become?”

Sam flinched.  ~Rumors?  Okay, what is he trying to tell me?~  “Well, I ... there have been two SG teams in the infirmary, and Janet's staff.  I don't think it's had a chance to go ... further than that ...” Sam swallowed her last word, the usual “Sir.”

“I want you to get together with Doc ... Janet, and make up a list of everyone who has or who does come into contact with Jack since Daniel was injured.”

“You mean anyone who is now aware of ... their relationship.”  George Hammond just looked at the blonde woman.  They needed to say as little as possible, but still be sure they were on the same page.  “I understand.  I'll speak with Janet.”

“Thank you.”

Sam rose and exited.  ~That was strange.  I wonder what it was all about.~  She pressed the button on the elevator.  ~Oh, they are going to try and convince them to stay, which means ... oh!~

Sam understood now.  They needed to keep it as quiet as possible.  She figured everyone on the list would be “spoken to” and “requested” to ignore, ~make that forget~, that they had learned what little information they may have about the romantic bond between Jack and Daniel.

====

For Jack, the days and nights began to blur together, and the simple truth was that to him, time no longer had any meaning.  Each day -- its hours, minutes and seconds -- was now measured by Daniel's treatment.  Jack's personal timetable existed almost as checkmarks on Daniel's medical chart --  medications given hourly, IV antibiotics hung at varying intervals of six and eight hours, breathing treatments every four hours, suctioning of the breathing tube every two, and on it went.

Yet, not everything had a schedule.  This was what gave Jack's new existence some variation.  Blood seemed to be taken at an assortment of times, and the staff ... well, the staff loved Daniel, and even though there was an established schedule for checks, most of the SGC nurses, and even the doctors, frequently dropped in.

“Just checking,” they'd say to Jack who would smile his thanks and then whisper to his lover, “See, Danny.  Everyone loves you.  Live, Angel.”

Jack pondered the talented medical staff as he continued his bedside vigil.  The assigned nursing and other support staff changed shift every twelve hours.  Jack had known most of them, but not all.

It was a core group looking after Daniel, handpicked by Janet, the best of the best, cream of the crop, the elite, all working tirelessly to nurture that small spark of life that was the essence of Daniel Jackson.  Each provided their own expertise to ensure that Daniel would one day gain back his strength and his health to continue on at the SGC.  ~and in my life.~

Jack was grateful to all of them, even the ones who didn't approve of his relationship with Daniel.  They hadn't had to say anything.  Jack could tell from their look or glances how they felt.  But Jack refused to pretend anymore.  He wouldn't hide his love for his husband.  He didn't care who saw what, not anymore.  He was, however, proud of Janet's staff.  They may not approve, but he saw their dedication and their focus on getting Daniel well.

“Sir,” Marie had said one night, “I didn't mean to stare that day when ... it's just, it was a surprise.”

“I understand,” Jack had responded.

“He'll be okay.  And, Sir, I may not understand, but I really care about Daniel.  He's always been so nice to me.  I mean, he's been a real friend, and ... well, he told me recently that he was really happy with his life.  That's all he said, but I think it's pretty obvious he was talking about you.  I just thought ... you might want to know he said that.”

“Thank you, Marie.”

~Definitely special people.~ Jack thought as he continued to hold Daniel's hand and ponder the young man's care.

So many of Janet's well-trained staff were coming by, and what amazed Jack, was that many were doing it voluntarily.  Aside from those with scheduled shifts to tend to Daniel, there was a steady stream of medical staff “Just checking, Colonel” on the young man.

~Definitely special people,~ Jack once again thought as he kissed Daniel's hand and rubbed it against his cheek.  **Wake up and thank them, Danny.  Wake up soon.**

====

It was turning dark out.  Of course, the only reason Jack knew that was because Casey had just walked in with an armful of clean linens that he laid on a table.  To Jack's new method of telling time, that meant it was nighttime.

“Colonel, time for the nightly dressing change bath time ritual.  Up for the challenge?”

“Ready to go when you are.”

Casey nodded and smiled gently.

“Good.  Let me make sure we have everything we'll need, and then we'll get started.”  He began to check through the bedside cabinet, pulling out packages of sterile dressings and tape.  “Be right back.  One more thing I need.”

Jack acknowledged him, then stood and extended his arms over his head, attempting to stretch out some of his exhaustion.  This was the time of night he always looked forward to.    He remembered back to the second night Daniel had been in the infirmary.

Jack had watched with curiosity that night as Casey had begun this new nightly ritual of bathing Daniel and changing his dressings.  Casey had suggested that Jack leave the room, somewhat afraid of Jack's reaction to the numerous wounds, surgical incisions, and tubes, but Jack had steadfastly remained at Daniel's side.

“It won't be pretty, Colonel,” Casey had warned just before he had  unsnapped and removed Daniel's gown, exposing Daniel's chest and abdomen.

Jack remembered his initial reaction of shock, then dismay at the variety of dressings that clung to his husband's torso.  Casey had used words to get Jack through that initial shock, caring words of comfort and compassion, words to educate and  inform, words to reassure and provide strength at a time when Jack had sorely needed both.

With Janet's permission, Casey had included Jack in providing this care to Daniel.  That night, it had been Jack who had gently washed his husband's face, caressing his forehead and eyes.  And since then, Jack had followed Casey's lead and directions in learning how to assist with the dressing changes, watching as each wound was cleaned and redressed, as the chest tube insertion sites were cleaned, redressed and resecured.

At this point, another nurse, usually Marie or Kim, both of whom had a hard time letting anyone else tend to Daniel if they were on duty, would come in, and with Casey, they would carefully roll Daniel onto his left side.  The other attendants would leave at that point, no longer needed, with Jack preferring to tend to Daniel himself now that he knew how.

As the routine played on this night, and every other night, Casey moved to hold Daniel on his side.

“Go ahead and wash his back with the facecloth, Sir.”

Jack did as instructed, drying Daniel off when he was through.  Then, as he had learned, Jack walked to the bedside table, picked up the hand cream, and gave Daniel's back a nice rubbing.  Casey spoke to Daniel as Jack focused on his task.

Tonight, Jack remembered that first night, and the words Casey had spoken to Daniel then.

“It's got to be tiring, lying on your back most of the time, huh, Daniel?  Bet you're stiff and sore.  Well, this will help.  Trust me.”

Jack remembered how Casey had tightened his hand on Daniel's shoulder in a reassuring gesture as he spoke.  When Jack had looked at Casey with questioning eyes, the nurse had replied, “I know he's paralyzed and sedated, but I talk to my patients all the time, Colonel.  I think they can hear me and that it helps them so they don't feel so  scared and alone.”

Jack relished the thought that he was comforting his lover as he administered tonight's back rub.  A sense of peace flowed through him as he felt the familiar muscles and curves of a body he knew so well.  Up until this time of day, there had been so little that he could do to contribute to his lover's care in this strange new world of monitors, wires, alarms and machinery.  He felt so helpless just sitting and praying.  He wasn't doing enough, but at least during these moments, Jack felt like he was doing something to make Daniel feel better.

The nightly physical contact never failed to awaken a new resolve in Jack that things would be all right.  It was his own form of daily therapy.  When Jack finished massaging Daniel's lower back on this night, he looked to Casey and spoke a most sincere, “Thank you.”

“Yes, Sir,” Casey responded quietly.

“Hemmings,” Jack sighed as he wiped his hands, “not just for tonight, but ... I'm sorry ... I mean ... oh crap, Hemmings, words are Daniel's thing, but I'm sorry if I ... bellowed,” Jack flinched as he spoke, “at you over the years.  I really appreciate how you're taking care of Daniel and ... and me,” Jack admitted softly.

“No problem, Sir,” Casey smiled.

The male nurse had watched Jack's face as Jack had provided care for Daniel.  Casey drew great satisfaction from knowing that not only was he caring for his patient, but he was caring for a very integral person in that patient's life, a person who was feeling very lost and afraid himself.  He decided it was time to change the tone of the room.

“Sir, if you'll come over here and trade positions with me, I'll watch all the lines, and we can roll Daniel back and get this job finished.”

Jack did as he was directed, and soon Daniel was lying quietly in clean sheets in a darkened room.  Casey had gathered the dirty linens and dimmed the lights.

“Colonel O'Neill, why don't you try to catch a couple of hours of sleep?  I'll keep a close eye on Daniel, and I'll wake you up immediately if things change.”

Jack rubbed his hand over a tired forehead, not moving an inch.

Casey continued, “Sir, you have got to get some rest.  You need to sleep when and where you can.  This is going to be a long, rough road.”

“It's just I ...”

“I understand, but I promise, I won't leave the room, and I'll wake you if there is even the slightest change.  It's what Daniel would want.”

Jack nodded, stood and turned to the bed Janet had provided for him upon Daniel's initial admission to the ICU.  This was almost a routine, too.  Jack never voluntarily left Daniel's side, so most every night it was Casey who would convince the older man to relax for an hour or two.

As he settled into the small bed, Jack recalled that first night when Casey had talked him into getting some sleep.  Jack had fought harder, been more resistant to leaving Daniel's side, but the nurse had been firm, reminding him to put Daniel's needs first.

When Jack had finally relented, Casey had reached out his hand to Jack's arm and looked squarely into Jack's eyes.  “Don't forget.  Daniel does need time to rest, but the sound of a warm caring voice and the feel of a familiar touch can go a long ways.  I'd encourage you to do that when you can.  It can make all the difference in the world.  Still, you need to have strength to give him strength, Colonel.”

Jack had swallowed hard at the gentle lesson and reminder.

“I won't forget, and thank you.”

That first night had been a turning point for Jack.  He had taken Casey's advice and had begun to take a more active roll in Daniel's care.  Now, not only did Jack assist with the nightly bath, but he also worked daily with the physical therapist, massaging Daniel's extremities with the “range of motion exercises” that were designed to maintain muscle tone.

Jack found that he felt less afraid and overwhelmed, and more knowledgeable and prepared as he increased his participation in delivering Daniel's care.  Besides, it made him feel more useful and connected to his lover.
     
Lying in his bed, watching Casey keeping his promise, sitting by Daniel's bedside and even talking to the archaeologist, Jack thought back to their first meeting.  He felt remorse at having thought so badly of the man.

Casey had been at the SGC almost five years, and he was a long-time friend of Lou Ferretti's.  However, Casey had taken a fancy to Daniel from the first time he had seen him, when Daniel's hair had accidentally been bleached blond by too much exposure to the sun.

Since that first day, when Jack had recognized Casey's interest in Daniel, Jack had been arrogant and usually a bit snarky around the man, but now, having watched Casey work so vigilantly and tenderly to save Daniel's life, Jack regretted his attitude.

Actually, Jack had to admit that once Casey got the message that Daniel wasn't available, or interested, he had backed off.  He'd always done his job well at the SGC, too.  It's not that Casey hadn't tried to get Daniel; he had, but Daniel had politely told him he wasn't interested, and after reinforcing that three or four times, combined with a myriad of scowls and death glares from Jack, Casey had finally seen the writing on the wall.

Still, Jack was surprised Casey was being so ... nice ... to him now.  Jack wondered if it was a shortcoming within himself that he wasn't as forgiving as Daniel or others like Casey.

====

“Jack,” Janet said, approaching Daniel's bedside, “We're going to wean Daniel from the Pavulon today and start to lighten up on the sedations as well.  He should wake up on his own some time in the next twenty-four hours.”

“And then what?”

“And then we see where we stand.”

Jack was holding Daniel's left hand tightly.  He leaned forward and kissed it gently as Janet watched.  With all the machines and doodads, Daniel's hand was just about the only part of him that Jack had free access to, and he made good use of it, never just holding, but squeezing, caressing, kissing ... doing whatever he could to relay his love from their touch.

“He has a lot going for him, you know.”

“Is this the pep talk, Doc?”

Janet tapped the chart she held in her hand as she answered, “No, this is the 'you'd better get some sleep, because once he wakes up, you're going to want to be alert' talk.  It's going to be painful, Jack.”

Jack looked up at Janet, closing his eyes briefly as he literally felt a jolt of pain flow through him in empathy.

“We need to see how he feels.  What works or ... what doesn't.  We can't give him anything for a while.  Get some rest, Colonel.”

Janet exited the small room.  Jack moved to sit on the edge of the bed, still holding Daniel's hand.

“How can I rest, Angel, when you're asleep like this?  I can't rest until you wake up.  Wake up for me, Danny.  Wake up and ... say my name.”

====

“Gary, any more scuttlebutt on O'Neill and Jackson?”

The question was asked by Bob Torkleson, a member of SG-7 that had witnessed Jack's words of love spoken aloud to the comatose Daniel Jackson.  After his post-mission exam, the Marine had gone on vacation, and this was his first day back.

Gary Baker, Torkelson's teammate, stared at him in disbelief.  They were in the middle of the commissary and from where they sat, he could see Sam Carter and Teal'c sitting two tables away.

“Bob, not a smart question.”

“Why?  I would have thought it would be all over the base by now about those freaks.  Has O'Neill been brought up on charges yet?“

“Bob!”

“What?  It's a simple question.  Is there a problem?”

At that moment, Torkelson felt the presence of others.  He looked up to see a very stern looking Jaffa staring down at him, Sam at his side.

“Yes, Private, there is.  Come with us, please,” Sam instructed

“Why?”

“Bob!  Go.  She's a Major!”

It became obvious that Torkelson's problem extended to women in the military as well as homosexuals.

“Move it, Private,” Sam ordered.

The Marine stood and followed Teal'c out of the room.  Sam looked back at Gary Baker, giving a slight warning with her eyes that he had better remember his orders.

A few minutes later, Bob Torkelson was nervously standing outside General Hammond's office.  He'd never been inside the General's office before, and he didn't understand why he was just a few feet away from it now.  He also didn't understand the intense stare Teal'c continued to give him.  What he did understand, though, was that he never wanted to get in a fight with Teal'c.  A minute later, the door opened.

“Private Torkelson, General Hammond would like to see you,” Sam announced.

The private gulped as he walked forward.

“Son, we need to have a little chat,” Hammond said as he welcomed the young man into his office.

Sam smiled as she closed the door.

“How'd it go, Teal'c?”

“He had difficulty with his breathing.  He sweated profusely.  He was unable to focus clearly.  I believe it went well, MajorCarter.”

“Good.  Let's go finish our dessert.”

====

“Sir?  Janet ... she wants you to get some rest.”

Jack shook his head, not taking his eyes off his heart, and his heart was fighting to beat.

Sam was misty-eyed.  Her CO hadn't left Daniel's side for more than two minutes at a time, and the young man hadn't shown any sign of life.  He was hooked up to more machines than Sam wanted to think about.  His head was bandaged and his skin pale.  It had been thirty-six very long, grueling, and agonizing hours since the drug that had induced the coma had been stopped.   As the clocked ticked on, Daniel remained asleep, showing no signs of regaining consciousness.

“Daniel.”

Sam spoke quietly, rubbing her hand against his left cheek for a moment.  She looked again at Jack and wished there was something she could do for him, but since she didn't have the power to make Daniel well, she knew there was nothing ... ~Or is there?~

Sam exited the infirmary quickly and hurried to the General's office, but he wasn't there.  She looked around and saw that a briefing was in session with SG-3.  Sam's heart raced as she debated, but not knowing how long the meeting would go on, she barged into the room.

“I'm sorry, General.”

“Major?  Doctor Jackson?”

“No change, but it's imperative I speak with you for a moment ... privately, Sir.”

Hammond excused himself and walked with Sam into his office and closed the door.

“Okay, Major, what is it?”

“Sir, my father.  The Tok'ra.  Maybe they can help Daniel.”

“Major, as you know, the alliance, such as it is, with the Tok'ra is shaky at best.  Their whereabouts are uncertain.  However, I've already used the communication device they left with us.  As yet, we've not had a favorable response.”

“What?  You've got to be kidding!  Sir, they may be Daniel's only hope!”

“I know that.”

“They haven't responded at all?”

Sam couldn't believe that her father would ignore a crisis like this, alliance or no alliance.

“We had a single, brief message, reminding us that the Tok'ra are severely low in numbers.  Garshaw said they don't have anyone to spare at the moment.”

Sam stared at the Major General in disbelief.

“But my father, Sir ...”

“She indicated he would be informed, but that was all the message said.  I've also spoken with representatives of the Asgard High Council.  They are trying to contact the Nox for us, but so far haven't been able to.  I have to get back to the briefing.  How's Colonel O'Neill doing?”

“About as well as could be expected, Sir.  Thank you, General,” Sam, feeling totally frustrated, turned and exited.

====

“Jack, how's he doing?” General Hammond asked upon entering ISO Room 1, Jack's and Daniel's home since the nightmare had begun so many days ago.

Janet had kept Hammond informed, and he knew that Daniel had been completely weaned from the drug-induced coma they day before.  She had asked him to visit on a more frequent basis, as there had been no change in her patient's condition, and the Colonel was becoming more frantic with each passing hour.

“He needs our support, Sir,” Janet had explained during one conversation with the General.

It was the middle of the sixth day since SG-1 had been attacked on the planet.  Since Janet had expected Daniel to be awake by now, everyone was on edge.  The nurses, even those not assigned to Daniel, were in and out constantly, monitoring the machines and Daniel's progress.  Sometimes, they had just smiled reassuringly at Jack, trying to give him hope as he continued his vigil.

Jack stood at the foot of Daniel's bed, leaning against a tray that had been placed there temporarily.  He hadn't been standing long, but his legs had started to cramp from his vigil in the chair so he'd decided to get up and walk around for a few minutes.

Hearing the General, Jack straightened.  “He's ... the same, Sir.”

“Doctor Fraiser has been keeping me updated with regular reports.  She's hopeful of a full recovery.”

“Yes, Sir,” Jack answered dryly as he stared at Daniel.

“I thought you might like to know that we've learned more about the inhabitants on that planet ...”

“No, Sir.”

“Excuse me?”

“I'm sorry, General.  I told you.  That was our last mission.  We agreed.  Our letters of resignation are sitting in my office, signed, just waiting for us to give them to you officially.  We were going to step back through the Stargate, do the debriefing, and then meet with you privately.  We're out.  No matter what happens, General, Daniel and I are done.  So, no, Sir, I don't give a rat's behind about the inhabitants ... not anymore.  As I told you before, Sir, I'll help you with the transition to a new second, but beyond that, I'm through.”

Jack walked over to Daniel's side, sitting on the edge of the bed.  With a smile, he caressed Daniel's left cheek.

“Come on, Love.  Wake up for me.  It's been too long, Danny.  I need you to wake up now.”

General Hammond slowly walked out, leaving Jack and Daniel alone together.

====

Four hours later, Janet found Jack in the same position when she entered the private room.  Quietly, she examined Daniel and exchanged a quick look with Jack, and then she walked away.

Jack continued on with what he had been doing before Janet entered.  Holding Daniel's hand, he continued to talk.

“So, I thought we could go back to Egypt again.  You loved it when we went there before.  Our trip down the Nile.  Remember that, Angel?  Oh, you'll want to know this.  I talked with Cassie.  She's taking care of the girls for us.  She says they know.  She's tried to play with them, but Katie is acting lethargic.  You know our girls.  They always know when something's wrong, but ...” Jack's voice cracked, “Cass ... she's making sure they eat, and she's spending a bunch of time with them so they have someone familiar around.  When she has classes, she's taking them to Mrs. Valissi.”

Jack leaned over for a quick kiss on Daniel's cheek, refusing to let the machines deter him.

“Danny, I thought maybe I'd buy a plane.  You know, one of those little jobbers like we flew to Utah that time.  Think of all the little getaways we could go on.  Yeah, I know, that's a splurge, isn't it?  I'm just rambling.  Listen to me ... talking like it was going out of style or something.”

Jack shook as his head as reality hit him.  He continued on, his voice as steady as he could make it.

“We don't need Egypt or a plane.  We only need each other, and the girls.  And ... Angel, we need our family, our kids, but we can't have those if you don't wake up.  Wake up, Danny.  I need to hear your voice.  Angel, please wake up.  Wake up, Danny.”

Jack felt something that stunned him.  ~Movement?~  He realized it was his hand.  No, it was Daniel's hand ... his fingers were twitching.

“Danny?  Angel?  Are you awake?  DANNY!”  Daniel's eyes fluttered. “Danny.  Geez.”  Jack stood up to look as closely as he could at the man he loved with every fiber of his being.   “Danny, can you hear me?  Open your eyes, Angel.  Come on.  I want to see your baby blues.  Come on.  Wake up.  Open those eyes for me.”

Daniel slowly opened his eyes.  ~Where ... what ... what's going on?~ His mind raced.  ~Light, bright light, hurts my eyes.~

Slowly, Daniel closed his dry eyes, focusing instead on sound.

~Familiar sounds ... infirmary?  Not again ... last time ... last mission, but why am I here?  Think, just think.  Hard to focus ... doesn't make sense ... Jack!~  Daniel finally felt a peace as he struggled to rouse from his coma.  ~That's Jack's voice.  Help me, Jack!~

Daniel opened his eyes once again.  ~Jack.  Where's Jack?  I need Jack. Jack?  Where are you?~

Feeling a sense of panic arising within himself, Daniel tried to call for Jack.  He felt his lips forming that one precious word.

~Pain.  Gawd, it hurts.  My ... my throat hurts so bad ... what's going on? ... need my Love, my husband ... must try again ...  pain ...  help me ...~

“J'ck?”  A gravelly, almost gurgling sound came from Daniel's throat, making Jack's heart skip several beats from the sheer joy of the indistinguishable noise.

“No, Angel.  Don't try to talk.  I'm right here.  Open your eyes, Love.  It's okay now.  You're safe.”

Anxiously, Jack watched Daniel's dry lips forming his name around the breathing tube, attempting to call for him.  Jack squeezed Daniel's hand and gently caressed his forehead, remaining close to Daniel's face.  Daniel's cerulean blue eyes fluttered open once again.  Jack squeezed Daniel's hand as he spoke.

“Danny. I'm right here.  Can you see me?”

Daniel struggled to focus on his lover's face, to digest the words being spoken.  How he wanted Jack, to feel safe in his strong arms, arms that could swallow Daniel in their protectiveness.  Daniel wanted that now, to be enveloped by Jack's embrace, to be lost in the safety of his soulmate.

“Hey, you are awake.”  Jack felt tears filling his eyes.  “I've missed you.  I love you so much.”

Jack leaned over and kissed Daniel on the cheek.

“Hang on, Love.  I've got to get Janet.”

Jack released Daniel's  hand and ran to the doorway.

~No, Jack, don't leave ... help me ... there's so much pain ... what's happening? ... Jack, come back, Jack.  Need you.  Jack?~

Daniel's mind cried out in agony for the man he loved, the man who was his safe haven, his security.

“JANET!  FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, WILL SOMEBODY FIND JANET!” Jack bellowed to anyone who was around as he stuck his head outside the door and then returned to his husband, taking his hand again.

Then Jack chuckled at himself.  He had ignored the call button in favor of yelling down the hallway.  ~Oh well,~ Jack thought silently.  ~My Love is alive, and that's worth a few echoes in the hallways any day.~

Returning to his husband's bedside, Jack grasped Daniel's hand again.

Daniel felt relief rush through him.  He knew that hand.  ~Don't leave again, Jack.~  Daniel had tried to speak the words aloud, but the words wouldn't come.  He tried to focus on Jack, on their love, but the pain was so strong, as if it were eating him alive.

“J'ck?” the sound came again.  It wasn't so much Jack's name as a croaked noise, but Jack knew it was his name.   The first word out of Daniel's mouth after enduring any trauma was always “Jack.”  It was a little fact that warmed Jack's heart.

Daniel wanted to scream.  ~Why ... can't talk ... hurts ... sound ... why can't I talk? ... Jack, what's happening to me?~  Daniel clutched at the warm hand holding his, but he couldn't hold it the way he wanted to. ~Strength ... weak, Jack ... gawd, tired.  Scared.  Jack, I'm scared.~

The older man saw the apprehensive eyes begging him for support.  Jack smiled sweetly.

“Settle down, Danny.  I'm right here.  I'm not going anywhere.  I've got your six.   Everything's going to be all right now!”
 
At that moment, Janet, followed by Casey and Marie, ran into ISO-1, “What's happening?”

“He's awake.  Look!”

“Well, hello, Doctor Jackson.” Janet smiled at the worried blue eyes that stared at her.  “It's nice to have you back with us.”

Daniel blinked, confused, frightened, not sure what was happening.  ~Janet ... oh gawd, I'm dying ... must be dying ... never hurt this much before.  Janet, am I dying?~  He tried to talk, visibly cringing at the pain it was causing him.

“No, Daniel.  Don't try to talk.  You have a breathing tube in at the moment so you can't talk yet.  Just rest,” Janet ordered with a smile.  “It's going to be fine.  You're at the SGC in ISO-1.  We'll be running some tests in a couple of minutes,” Janet said as she immediately began checking his pupils for reaction to light.  

She smiled and noticed Jack holding Daniel's hand.

“Daniel, where's the Colonel?”

Daniel looked over at Jack and back at Janet.  Covertly, Janet reached over and gently took Jack's hand away from Daniel's.

“Do you feel him holding ...” but before she could finish, Jack had called her name.  She looked over and saw Daniel's hand reaching back up for Jack's, even while he was still focused on Janet.  She smiled.  “We'll be right back.”

Janet tapped Jack's elbow and nodded for him to follow her off to the side.

“Angel, gotta talk to the Doc for a minute.  I won't be far.  I love you.”

Jack kissed Daniel's hand and then walked over to where Janet stood.

“Colonel, we need to leave the tube in for a while.  He needs time to rest.  We'll have to go slow, but we can start to wean him off the vent soon.”

Jack rolled his eyes, ready to battle the fiery doctor, but Janet quickly cut him off.

“That's the best you're going to get, Colonel.  No negotiating on this one.”

Jack sighed as he glanced back at Daniel.

"Be patient.  Small steps for now.  Jack,” Janet spoke, an enthusiasm in her voice that hadn't been there before, ”He's awake, and he's trying to communicate with us.  That's all good news.”

“It's darn good news,” Jack agreed.

“And you know Daniel ...” Janet smiled, “Even though he can't talk right now, he'll still have a million questions, and he'll be expecting the answers from you.”

“A billion.” Jack grinned in anticipation.  Daniel talking, asking hordes of questions was always a healthy thing.

“He may not remember what happened, or even the actual mission.  That's normal.  Don't push it.  Let him remember, or not.   Try to be reassuring.  He's also going to sleep a lot over the next day or two, so don't be alarmed at that.”

“Janet, how long does all this stuff stay in?  That ... ICP thing?”

“The numbers have been looking good, and now that he's awake, I'll remove it later this afternoon.”

“Janet ...”

Janet saw the concern, no, the agony in Jack's face.

“Don't worry.  I'll give him something to let him sleep while we do that.  He won't feel a thing.  Now, I'll give you two minutes with him, and then I'm kicking you out for a while.  I need to examine him, do some tests, and both of you need some rest.”

“What tests?”

“The first thing we need to do is check his reflexes ...”

“That pin prick stuff?”

“Right, and then we'll do some further cognitive testing.”

“Who are you?  Who's the president?  That kind of crap?”

“Jack ...”

“Sorry, I'm just ...”

“You're tired, Colonel, and that's why you will get some sleep while I do my examination.”

“If he can't talk, how are you going to ask him those questions?”

“We ask 'yes' and 'no' questions, and there are other ways to judge his awareness.  I think you know that.”

“Yeah.  I'm just ... tired,” Jack acknowledged a bit reluctantly, then asked, “What about later?  What happens later?”

“Well, after we remove the vent, if there aren't any complications, we'll do an MRI, and I think we'll do a PET.”

~I remember that thing.  Daniel had one before, when he had the brain tumor.  Another nightmare.~

Jack was frowning, and Janet assumed it was because of the medical lingo she had just used.  She decided to explain the procedures to try and cut off Jack's impatience.

“I know you are aware of what an MRI is -- Magnetic Resonance Imaging.  We frequently do those after missions.   MRIs use a magnetic field to map the biochemical activity of the brain.  Now, PET is short for Positron Emission Tomography, and it uses a radioactive dye injected into the blood stream.”

“I ... remember.”

“You do?  Good, and you're right, we had to do one a few years ago when Daniel was injured,” Janet said, referring to yet another instance when the PET had been done.

Jack, however, had forgotten about that situation, and wasn't sure he could remember right now.  He was just too tired, and the truth was, they'd both had so many injuries that it was hard sometimes to keep track of all that had been done to keep them alive.

Janet continued, “The PET will measure chemical activity in specific areas by giving us, well a color map of brain activity, brain chemistry and circulation.”

Jack sensed a slight hesitation in Janet.

“What aren't you telling me?”

“It's a valuable procedure and will tell us much more than the MRI and CT scans.  It'll probably take about an hour or so.”

“Doc, what aren't you telling me?” Jack repeated.

“It's going to be a little painful.”

Now that Janet mentioned it, Jack remembered more fully about the PET Daniel had years before.  His lover had told him later that it hadn't been a “nice procedure.”

~That was Daniel-speak for it was definitely painful, Doc.~

“Jack, I know you don't like that, and neither do I, but if you want us to make sure we're doing absolutely everything we can to make sure there aren't any complications or side effects, or just things we've missed, then we need to do this test.  Now, reassure him, and then go get some sleep.”

Jack started to debate the issue when Janet spoke up again.

“Don't argue, Colonel.” Janet put her hand up, palm to Jack, her sternest look on her face.  “Let me do my job, so that you can take him home.  Isn't that what we all want?”

“Yes.  Okay.  Five minutes,” Jack stated, bravely stretched his time.

“Five minutes, and then you eat, shower, and rest until I call you.”

Janet raised an eyebrow at Jack, who nodded their silent deal, and then Janet smiled over at Daniel and motioned for Casey and Kim, who were also in the room, to follow her out.

“Angel, my Angel.  I love you, Danny,” Jack said as he leaned over for a very brief kiss at the side of Daniel's mouth.

Jack's hand caressed Daniel's cheek.

“I know you're frightened, but hey, we've gotten through the toughest part already.  You gave me a scare, Love.  Do you remember?”

Daniel had tried to speak, and Jack saw the panicky eyes, especially when the younger man then tried to shake his head, a painful expression appearing on his face.

“Don't try to talk, not while that tube is still there.  Janet says we'll work on getting it out soon.”  Jack smiled slyly. “Seems like for once I have the advantage.  I can talk all I want, and you have to listen.  I know, you have better things to listen to than this creaky voice of mine.”

Daniel's eyes shouted a loud “No“ that made Jack smile.

“Okay, we go the smoke signal route.  One blink for yes, two for no.  Do you remember what happened?”

Daniel blinked twice, but also motioned his eyes towards the side of his head.  He was confused, but his head hurt, and he wanted to know why.

“They've got some doohickey up there.  Don't worry about it ...  and it's okay not to remember.  We'll talk about all of it later.  Right now the Doc wants to check things out, and then she wants you to rest.  She's kicking me out, too.”

Jack saw the resistance, the fight and need.  Daniel didn't want him to leave anymore than he wanted to go.

“I'm being kicked out on the theory that we both need rest.”  Jack took a sneak peak around the room to make sure no one was in hearing range, and then quietly spoke, “Don't worry, Danny.  I plan on staying close, real close.  Just ... don't tell Janet.”

Daniel's mouth displayed a bit of a smile, and he squeezed Jack's hand.

“Danny, no one keeps us apart, not even well meaning doctors that we love.  I need to be here with you, and ...” Jack felt Daniel squeeze his hand.  It was the tightest hold Daniel had been able to manage since waking up.  “Right, you need me here, and that's where I'm going to be.  We just have to, you know, do a bit of covert decoying.”

Jack leaned over as close as he could, his eyes shining with love and adoration as he spoke, ”Daniel, I love you, and I need you.  I want to take you home and hold you for the rest of our lives.”

Daniel blinked once, and Jack smiled.

“Soon, My Love ... very, very soon.”

Just then, Janet and her team returned.  Daniel tried to react to the fact that Jack hadn't moved, his hand was still touching Daniel's cheek.

“We're retired, remember?  No more hiding, Danny,” Jack spoke, seeing a bit of distress in his lover.

Daniel wanted to smile.  He tried, but wasn't sure his mouth cooperated.  Jack saw the unspoken question in the young man's tired eyes.

“We're done, Danny.  You and I ... we're going to burn that closet.  Crap, we're going to have the biggest bon fire of that closet that ever was.”

Daniel blinked once, and again Jack smiled and spoke softly, “See, now I can do this with Janet and everyone watching,” and then Jack kissed Daniel again.

Another blink ... and after a pause, another.

“Oh, you like that?”  Daniel blinked and  tried to nod his head.  “So do I.  Get used to it.  I'm going to do it a lot.”

“Okay, you two.  Daniel, your body is mine ... temporarily.  Out, Colonel.”

Jack looked at Daniel and gave him one more kiss, and then promised, “I'll be back soon.  Behave yourself.  No hanky panky with the nurses or anything.”

Jack started to walk away, but Daniel struggled to reach out and shake his head.

“Colonel.”

Jack turned back.

“Hey, I'll be back, Love.  Yes, I promise.  Look at this!” Jack raised his left hand, revealing the ring on his finger, and then he carefully, reached over and lifted Daniel's left wrist. “We match ... sort of!”

Jack saw a concerned expression and knew instantly what was bothering Daniel.

“Your fingers are a bit swollen, Danny.  Janet says it's perfectly normal, but right now, the ring won't fit, but it will soon, and then we'll really match.  Okay?  Now, I have to go, but I'll back.”

Daniel blinked again, but still tried to shake his head.  He didn't want Jack to leave.

“Doc, come on,” Jack pleaded.

“Daniel,” Janet spoke softly, “I've blackmailed your husband here into getting an hour of sleep.  Trust me, he hasn't had much.  Help me out here.  I'll let him come back soon, and in the meantime, he'll have eaten and showered, and if we're lucky, rested just a bit.”

~That's dirty pool, Janet.  I need him.  Why can't you understand that?~

Daniel looked over at Jack and blinked once, but his eyes said so much more, about loving, wanting and needing Jack.

“I love you,” Jack spoke strongly and then quickly turned and walked out, fearing that if he didn't now, he wouldn't ever.

“Okay, Daniel, let's ...”

Daniel squirmed and blinked twice and then looked off towards his departing spouse.  He mouthed  a word around the tube, “J'ck?”

“Daniel, he's perfectly fine ... now that you're awake.  You've been in a coma for six days, so you know, don't you, where the Colonel has been?”

Daniel looked over at the now-empty chair that sat by the bed and then back to Janet.  ~Here, with me.~

“That's right.  He hasn't left your side for more than a few minutes at a time.  He's exhausted and probably starved, but once we get you up and around, I'm sure he'll make up for both!  Now, let me take a look and listen at you, then you need to rest.  It's so good to have you back with us, Daniel.”

Daniel blinked once, wishing he could smile.

“Thank you.  Okay.   Casey ...” Janet and her team began their battery of tests on the injured man while Jack finally ate and rested for a while.

====

Jack went to the commissary and ate the quickest meal of his life, but if Little Napoleon or one of her cohorts asked, he could truthfully answer that he had eaten.  He had to admit, though, that he wasn't sure what the food was.  ~Meat, I think.  Meatloaf?  Veal?  Chicken?  I don't know, and I don't care.~

 He went to the locker room and took a two-minute shower, and then changed into fresh clothes.  He called his house, and Cassie answered the phone.

“Hey, Cass!  Daniel's awake.  Will you do me a favor and stick Bij on the phone?”

“Sure, Uncle Jack ... Bijou!  Here, Girl.”

“Woof!”

“Hey, Bij.  Love you, you beautiful mutt!”

“Woof!  Woooooof! Woooofffff!”

Jack chuckled, and it was one of the few real pleasant moments he had had in days.

“Danny's awake, Bij.  I have to get back to him.  You take care of Katie.  We'll be home soon.  We love you, Bij!”

“Woof!  Woof!  Woof!”

Cassandra returned to the phone, laughing as she spoke, “She ran over to Katie.  I swear, Uncle Jack, I think she's telling her what you said.”

“Believe it, Cass.  Believe it.  Thanks for being there tonight with the girls.”

“I wish I could be there.”

“Soon.”

Jack hung up the phone and went to his office.  He set the alarm for thirty minutes.  He closed his eyes and dreamed of making love to Daniel.  When the alarm buzzed, he reached for his husband, and then he remembered.

“Danny ... soon ... soon, I'm taking you home.”

Jack walked quietly to the infirmary.  He peeked around the corner and saw Janet was in her office.  He smiled, turned, and walked towards the ISO Room.  Slipping stealthily into the private room, Jack walked to the bed.

Daniel was asleep.  Jack got a chair and pulled it up to the bed.  Before sitting, he leaned over to kiss Daniel on the side of the mouth and whispered words of love and forever.  Then, he sat quietly, holding Daniel's hand.

Soon, Marie entered and saw Jack had resumed his vigil which she knew was against Janet's orders.  Their eyes connected.  She said nothing as she checked the machines and Daniel's vitals.

“Please,” was all Jack said, hoping the nurse wouldn't warn Janet of his presence.

The nurse looked at Daniel, still asleep, and then again at Jack, but her last glance before walking out was at the joined hands.  They were solid.  She couldn't tell where one hand ended and the other began.

Knowing Daniel's vitals were steady and that he was sleeping peacefully, she smiled warmly and nodded at Jack as she exited the room.  ~Sometimes, rules are meant to be broken.~

Jack moved forward, resting his head against his arm.  He stared at their entwined hands.  He kissed the tip of one of Daniel's fingers and closed his eyes, falling asleep.

====

Marie was headed for another routine check on Daniel when she heard a voice calling her back.

“I'll do it, Marie.”

“But Doctor Fraiser, I ...”

“Is there a problem?”

“No, no problem, but ...”

Janet recognized Marie's look.  She'd seen it before, not only on her, but on others of her medical staff whenever they thought they'd get one by her.  She sighed in exasperation.

“How long has he been in there?”

Marie looked away for a second before answering, “Almost from the beginning.  He's just ...”

“Never mind.” Janet walked furiously down the hall, ready to give Jack O'Neill a piece of her mind.

The feisty doctor opened the door and almost immediately lost her anger.  How could she be so angry at such devotion?  Jack hadn't moved.  He was sound asleep, and so was Daniel, their hands binding them to each other.  Janet did the usual checks, and noticed Daniel had improved quite a bit.  She was pleased.

“Some day, Colonel, you and I are going to rumble ... but it's not going to be today,” Janet said just before she turned and exited.

Jack lifted his head and smiled.  He looked up at Daniel, and with a devious smile on his face, said confidently, “Told ya, Love.  Just takes a bit of covert maneuvering.”  Daniel's eyes fluttered open, and he tried to smile.  “I love you, Angel,” Jack spoke as he returned to his previous position and whispered, “Close your eyes, Danny.  Rest.”

Jack felt Daniel squeeze his hand again.  Their nation of two was united.

====

“... and then Lou dropped the bag, and it went all over the floor.  He said Carolyn was ready to kill him,” Jack chattered away at Daniel's bedside a few hours later.

He had awakened not long ago when Daniel had repeatedly tugged on his hand.  His lover was tired of resting quietly.  Daniel had needed to see Jack's face, to hear the voice that always made him feel like they could overcome anything, even ... whatever it was that had happened to him.

Daniel had faded in and out of sleep, but every time Jack had asked if the younger man wanted him to be quiet, Daniel had indicated no, so Jack rambled on about their future and the dogs.  He hadn't talked about the SGC or the mission that had blown up in their faces, choosing to focus on the personal.  Now, though, Jack noticed a restlessness in his partner.

“Wait a minute, Danny.  Just going to get Janet, okay?”

Jack walked out of ISO-1 and saw Marie talking with Kim.

“Did you need something, Colonel?” Kim asked.

“Yeah, would you ask Janet to come into Daniel's room?”

“Sure thing.”

Jack returned to Daniel's side, and a few moments later, Janet entered hurriedly, “Is there something wrong?”

“I don't know.  He's not very comfortable.”

Janet took a look and smiled.

“Oh, you don't like this anymore, huh?  I think we can start to take care of this.”

Janet studied the equipment carefully and made a few adjustments and then looked at Daniel.

“Colonel, keep an eye on him.  I'm going to have Marie check on him in an hour to see how he's doing.  Maybe by tonight, we can remove the tube.”

“You better believe I'll keep an eye on him.”  Jack smiled down at his lover.  “Forever and always.  Geez, I love you,” Jack said gazing into Daniel's weary and frightened eyes.

====

Jack walked down the corridor, an air of anticipation somehow making his step lighter and his thoughts more positive.  He was en route to ISO-1, his temporary home of the past week.  Temporary, yes now there was another word that brought a small grin to his face.

Temporary meant short-term, transitory, short-lived, end in sight, light at the end of the tunnel kind of home.  Yes, ISO-1 was definitely temporary.  Soon, they'd really be home, at their home, and starting their lives as a normal couple, living in the open, hiding nothing, just ... living and loving their lives.

~Home!~ There was no better word in the world right now.  Home with Daniel.  Jack allowed himself a small smile, small only because Janet had said not to be too overly optimistic, that Daniel still had a long ways to go despite the progress that had been made.  But Jack only saw it as positive, a definite improvement over a few days earlier when Daniel had been so still and lifeless in a drug-induced coma, literally fighting for his life.

True, he did have a long way to go, but small steps were to be cherished and celebrated.  Yesterday, Daniel had awoken from his coma, had recognized Jack, and was able to follow simple commands.  Things were definitely looking up.  Jack felt better today, too.  Amazing what a little sleep, a little breakfast and a hot shower along with a clean set of clothes could do for one's outlook.

~Actually, it's more like what a healthy lover can do for my outlook.  Seeing your eyes, feeling the touch of your hand.  You breathed life into me, Danny.~

Jack was determined that today would be another good day.  He made it an order to the Fates, and more than anything, today he wanted to hear Daniel's voice, the voice that filled him with harmony.

Yesterday, seven days since the disastrous battle on the planet, Janet had begun to wean Daniel off the vent, allowing him to take more breaths on his own, slowly decreasing the number of breaths the vent provided to support him.  Daniel had done very well, but Jack could see him fade as the day wore on, the work of breathing depleting his already shallow reserves.

Last night, Janet had left the breathing tube in and turned the rate of the vent back up, thereby allowing Daniel to rest through the night and gain more strength.  Jack had been disappointed, but he had seen how weak his husband had been.  The pain had been excruciating at times.

Jack knew Janet would do her best to control the physical hurt as much as possible, but some pain was just part of the healing process and an expected obstacle to be overcome.
 
Jack arrived at the entryway to ISO-1 to find Marie at Daniel's bedside.  He knew it was important to be cheerful.  Daniel needed to see the confidence in Jack's eyes, to hear it in his voice, so when he entered, he did it with style and finesse.

“Top of the mornin' to you, Marie dear,” Jack said in his best Irish accent.  “How's our Dannyboy doing this lovely morning?”

Marie laughed warmly as she responded, “My, but aren't you in a good mood this morning, Colonel?”  She turned back to her patient.  “As for ... Dannyboy here,” Marie laughed, “we're just getting our day started.  He had a good night.”

Daniel's anxious eyes followed Jack as he approached the bedside.  He reached out his hand to meet Jack's, the strong grasp further fueling Jack's cheerful mood.

“Behaved yourself, huh?  Amazing!”

Deep chocolate brown eyes gazed intensely into beautiful cerulean blue ones.  For a minute, Jack simply let his eyes talk.  He put his left hand against Daniel's cheek, though Daniel seemed nervous about it, glancing briefly at Marie.

“Hey, I don't know about you, but I'm sure anxious to get rid of this dang breathing tube.  How about you?”

Daniel silently nodded his head.  He knew it was necessary, but he hated it.  He needed to talk to Jack.  He was so confused.  He couldn't remember much.  Why was he here?  He worried about Jack holding his hand in front of Marie.  Jack was taking it beyond their “best friends” norm.  He needed to talk to Jack.  He needed the tube gone.

~Jack, I don't remember.  Did you tell me already?  I don't remember, Jack.  Gawd, I love you.  I wish I could tell you.~
 
Marie watched the interaction taking place in front of her.  She was still confused about these two, still feeling disappointed that she didn't have a chance with Daniel.  She could see that now.  In fact, she wondered how she had ever missed it.  His eyes were full of love for Jack O'Neill.  He didn't need a voice to utter the words.

“We started turning the vent down at 0600, Colonel.  He's well on his way to having Doctor Fraiser remove the tube.  He's a hard worker,” Marie said, referring to the work involved in breathing on one's own, an ability often taken for granted by most until it gets taken away.

“Working, huh?  Why is it that I can't ever get you working that early?” Jack's fingers softly cupped Daniel's bruised cheek.  “Is it going all right?”

“He's doing great.  We made two vent changes in two hours.  If he continues at the same pace, we'll do a set of parameter checks and arterial blood gases at 1000.  If everything looks good, maybe pull that tube at 1030.”

Marie winked at Daniel, knowing how much he wanted the tube out and to be able to talk to Jack, but that only confused him.  Why was she winking?  Had he missed something?  ~Was I awake yesterday?  Jack, I don't remember what you said.~

“Yes,” Jack whispered excitedly to his husband, squeezing Daniel's hand strongly.  “Marie, has the Doc been by yet this morning?”

“No, but she should be in soon.”  Marie completed her tasks at the IV pumps and turned her attention to Daniel.

“Now, I want you to rest.  Just breathe like you normally do.  The vent will still help with a few breaths.  Don't fight those, okay?  You need to make your breaths slow and easy, just like we talked about earlier.  Remember?”  Daniel slightly nodded his head which made Marie smile.  “Seems pretty basic, doesn't it?  You're going to be fine, Daniel.  It won't be long now.”

Looking across the bed to Jack, “Colonel, would you help me roll Daniel on his side?”

“Sure.”

Daniel was surprised at Jack's ease at helping the nurse, and at how much he seemed to understand what she was saying.  He noticed that Marie seemed to expect Jack to help.  How long had he been in the infirmary?  Daniel's confusion continued, even though he was breathing more easily now.

Grasping his lover's shoulder and hip, Jack carefully pulled Daniel onto his left side as Marie tucked two pillows behind her patient's upper and lower back.  Jack then allowed Daniel to rest back into the pillows. Daniel gagged slightly on the breathing tube as movement caused irritation at the back of his throat.

“Easy, Daniel, easy.  Slow breaths,” Jack soothed his husband with gentle strokes on his face.  Daniel opened his eyes to meet Jack's, silently acknowledging him.  “Rest now, Love.”  Jack bent low to Daniel's cheek and brushed a light kiss there.  “Soon, Danny, soon.”

Daniel had so many questions.  He wanted answers desperately, but with every calming word Jack spoke, he was lulled further into a restful state.  He closed his eyes and settled into the pillows to rest, confident that Jack would remain nearby.  Jack would never leave him.

~Jack will be here.  My Jack.  Need to tell him ... love ... so much ... Soon ... We can talk soon ... and you'll take me home.  I want to go home.  Home ... hooooome ...~ Daniel fell peacefully asleep.

====

Daniel had awakened once, panicking when he realized Jack wasn't at his side.  Marie had managed to assure him that the Colonel had only gone to brief the General on Daniel's condition.  Jack would be back in a few minutes.  In the meantime, the nursing staff had to suction the breathing tube.  It was painful, and Daniel wished Jack had been there to keep him safe.

Daniel's right hand clenched the sheet.  It was the first thing Jack noticed as he entered the room.  His heart raced.  He hurried to Daniel's side, taking hold of the hand.

“Danny, what's wrong?”

Daniel blinked.

“We're just finishing up some business, Colonel,” Marie spoke.  “I'm afraid it's a bit painful.”

Jack glanced down at Daniel.  His anger grew.

“Listen to me,” Jack erupted, “You don't do anything like that again without me here.  Do you understand?”

“Colonel, Doctor Fraiser said ...”

“I DON'T FRIGGIN' CARE WHAT FRAISER SAYS.  YOU DON'T TOUCH HIM WITHOUT ME HERE.  IS THAT CLEAR, NURSE?”

Daniel tapped on Jack's hand, and tried to shake his head as strongly as he could.  Jack sighed.

“I'm sorry, but whatever you just did to him hurt like heck, didn't it?”

Marie gave a reluctant nod, then answered, “Yes, as I said a moment ago.”

“Then, please, next time, wait for me.  That's all I ask.”

Marie exited, saying nothing.  Jack sat on the edge of the bed, his body slumped.  Daniel's fingers tapped the hand holding them.  Jack looked up and smiled.

“I know.  She was just doing her job, and it wasn't her fault, but Daniel, you were in pain, right?”

Daniel blinked once.

“And you wanted me here, didn't you?”

Daniel blinked once, his hand grasping Jack's stronger than before.

“I'll apologize to her again, okay?  She's a good nurse, and I know you like her.  I just don't do well when you hurt, Love, that's all.”

Jack leaned over and placed a kiss on Daniel's cheek, and for a few minutes, they simply gazed into each other's eyes, and then Daniel fell into another tranquil sleep.

====

When Daniel awoke the next time, Jack's eyes were the first thing he saw.  He wanted to tell Jack he loved him.  He wanted to kiss his husband.  Daniel wanted to smile, but he couldn't do anything with the tube stuck in his throat.

“Hi there.”  Jack smiled as he caressed Daniel's cheek.  “The Doc will be here in just a minute.  She's impressed.  You've actually slept.”

“How's our patient?” Janet asked as she walked in on the heels of Jack's comment, taking a position opposite the older man.

“He's positively beautiful,” Jack said with pride.  He chuckled when he saw Daniel roll his eyes.

Janet took some readings and observed the various machines still attached to the injured man.  She looked down to make eye contact with Daniel.

“You're doing much better.  Keep taking slow and easy breaths.  Relax.  Tonight we'll take out the tube,” Janet spoke enthusiastically, smiling as she finished her words.

~Slow and easy ... in and out ... as deep as you can ... breathe in ... and out ... I can't do it.  Please, just take the tube out, NOW!~

Daniel felt jittery, anxious, and frustrated.  He didn't want to wait any longer.  He didn't need the tube anymore.  He was sure of it.

Daniel blinked once, his signal that he needed attention, but Jack and Janet were talking and didn't see his call for attention.

“I'll be back in a little while, Colonel, and I'll walk you though the removal process for the breathing tube.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

Almost in a panic, Daniel reached for Jack's hand as best he could.  Jack felt a slight tap, and looked down.

“Hey, what?”

Daniel blinked once.  ~Pay attention to me.  I want this thing out.  Please, Jack.  I need to tell you.  Please.~

“Danny, I don't know what you want.”

“Daniel, is something wrong?” Janet asked, anxiously checking for anything she might have missed or some new sign of distress.

Daniel looked over at Janet and blinked once.  The doctor shook her head, not understanding.

**Danny, hey, forgot about this -- our special link.  Talk to me.  What do you need, Love?**

Jack frowned, especially when Daniel looked at him funny, not understanding Jack's expression.

**You don't hear me, do you, Danny?**

Daniel's expression hadn't changed.  Jack sighed, sad at the thought that perhaps the two lovers had lost their non-verbal connection.  Still, Jack was fluent in the language of Daniel.  He knew he just needed to think about it a minute.

“Doc, we were talking about the tube.”

Janet looked at Daniel, and he blinked once.

“Tonight, Daniel, we'll take it out then if ...”

Daniel blinked twice.  ~Now, Jack.  I'm okay.  Tell her!~

“He wants it out now, Janet.”

“We need to make sure he's breathing on his own and can sustain it.”

Jack looked at Daniel who blinked once again.

“Danny, you sure?”

Daniel blinked once.  ~Gawd, stop being so stubborn.  You know me better than that, O'Neill.~

“He wants it out.”

“Colonel, I can't do that yet.  I wouldn't feel right about it.  Tonight, if all goes well.”

Jack sighed and looked at Daniel again.  Their eyes connected.  Jack leaned over.

“She's the doctor.  She needs to be sure.  You almost died, Danny.”

Daniel's look was strong and firm, which wasn't easy for him considering how weak he felt.

Jack closed his eyes for a split second as he spoke, “So help me, Danny ...” and then he looked at Janet.  “Take it out.”

“No, Colonel.  We'll do that tonight, and now I have some tests to review.”

Daniel's eyes pierced Jack's.

“Doctor Fraiser, take it out ... now.”

Janet looked at Jack, anger in her eyes.  Jack walked over to her and stood silently before her for a moment.

“Look ... Janet, he wants it out.  He thinks he can handle it.  You know Daniel.  Once he makes up his mind, he's like ... well, he's stubborn as a mule, and he's made up his mind.  It ... it's hurting him, and he's breathing okay now.”

“I understand that it's bothering him, and I realize his breathing is beginning to stabilize, but I am his physician, and I'm going to proceed on the side of caution.”

“He's my husband, Janet.  We've been through this once before.  Oh, you didn't really know what was going on, did you?” Jack said softly, referring back to another time when he had forced Hammond to override Janet's orders.

“Janet, I have the legal right to control what happens to Daniel.  He wants it out, so it's coming out.  Either you do it, or I'll get someone else who will.”

Janet shook her head and walked hurriedly over to Daniel.  Her face was stern as she asked harshly, “And when did you get your MEDICAL degree, Doctor Jackson?”

“Danny, maybe we should listen to the Doc!”  Daniel blinked twice.  “Do it, Janet.”

“Someday, I'm going to make the two of you pay for all the things you've put me through.  Stubborn, ornery, mule-headed, men who think they know everything.  You never listen to me.  You feed each other food you shouldn't eat.  I don't even want to think about the things you do when you go home, things that you know you're not supposed to when you are hurt and recovering.  Men!  Typical self-involved macho maniacs wanting only what you want when you want it.  I could just scream!” Janet vented as she opened the door and yelled for her team.

“Marie!” Janet shouted, her temper flaring.

Soon, the room was bustling with activity.  In addition to Jack and Janet, there was Terri, one of the respiratory therapists on staff, and Ty, an anesthesiologist who was present in case of complications.

Daniel closed his eyes.  He wanted the tube out, but all the action was doing little to calm his fears, especially since he could literally feel Janet's wrath seething down at him.

But then Janet took a calming breath.  She gave Jack one last intense glare that spoke of words Daniel didn't think Janet knew, and then she looked down at Daniel.

“I don't agree with this, Doctor Jackson, but if we're going to do it, let's do it right.  Stay calm.  It'll be all right.”

Daniel wanted to smile.  ~Thank you, Janet.  It's just ... I need to talk to Jack.  Please don't be angry.~

Daniel wished Janet could hear his thoughts, and while she couldn't, she could see the look in his remorseful eyes.

“I understand, Daniel,” she said in a soft, compassionate voice.

Her anger would take a secondary position as she focused now on her patient and getting him calmly and successfully through a painful procedure.

Daniel wanted her to hurry.  ~Come on, Janet.  Let's get this show on the road.  Oh no.  I'm sounding more and more like Jack.  Actually, that's not so bad.  I love him -- love Jack so much.  Need him to know, never forget.~

Daniel felt comforted.  Any thought of Jack was soothing.

~Soon, I'll be able to talk to Jack.  I need to tell him.  Gawd, I need for him to know how much I love him and how much I've missed being able to tell him that.  He needs to hear it, and I need to say it.  Hurry, Janet.  Please, hurry.

Daniel closed his eyes, trying to calm himself.

“Hey, you.”  Daniel opened his eyes to the familiar voice and feel of smooth warm fingers stroking gently against his cheek.  “You doing okay, Love?  Just relax.  They're almost ready.”  A wide genuine smile spread across Jack's face.  “Soon, very soon.”

Daniel smiled a weak smile, as much as the breathing tube exiting from his mouth would allow.  He felt Jack take hold of his right hand. Daniel squeezed Jack's hand tightly.

~Don't let go.  I need you.~
 
Jack seemed to be able to read Daniel's thoughts as seconds later, he quietly said, “Don't worry.  I'm not going anywhere.  Remember, forever and always.”

Daniel closed his eyes tightly, a single tear slowly making its way down his bruised cheek.  ~Forever and always,~ his heart sighed.

Daniel was roused from his thoughts by Janet's voice.

“Daniel ...”  He slowly opened his eyes to hear the doctor's words.  “We're ready to start.  We're going to go slow.  I need you to listen and just breathe.  It's going to be uncomfortable when the tube comes out.  I don't want you to try to talk.  We'll give you a breathing treatment right after we remove the tube, and that will help.  But for now, you just need to breathe, nice and deep and slow.”

Janet gave a nod to her staff, making sure everyone was ready and in position.  “Okay, Daniel, we're going to start.  We need to suction the tube out one more time before we remove it.”

~No, no, please don't do that.  Do you have to do that?~  Daniel remembered the pain from the previous suctioning procedure, the one when Jack wasn't there to comfort him.  ~It hurts when they suction that tube, Jack~ Daniel thought as loudly as he could.  ~It makes me cough.  Coughing isn't good, Jack.  It hurts my chest so much.  Jack?~

“Danny, it'll be all right.  I'm here this time.  Look into my eyes, Love.  Breathe.  Slow and easy.  I'm here, Danny.”
 
~Jack is here.~  Daniel calmed himself with his thoughts.  ~Jack is here.~

Marie helped to steady Daniel's head, caressing it with her fingers as she positioned him properly.

“You can do this, Daniel.  This is a piece of cake compared to other things you've been through.”

Janet disconnected the vent from the breathing tube.  Terri then quickly inserted the thin suction catheter down the breathing tube.

Daniel clamped his eyes closed tightly as his mind reeled at the ache.  He felt the irritation as the end of the suction catheter arrived at the open end of the breathing tube deep within his trachea.

He began to cough repeatedly.  Sharp pain erupted from deep within his lungs, extending to both sides of his chest at the chest tube insertion sites and back to the front of his chest.  He wanted to be strong, but the tears silently flowed down his cheeks anyway.  Then he felt the comforting, familiar hand squeeze his in silent support.

Daniel looked at Jack, into his brown eyes.  ~Jack~  Daniel's heart called out.  ~It hurts so much when they do that.~

Janet hated to see Daniel in so much pain.  This part of the extubation process was the worst.  Patients typically received little to no sedation at this point in the procedure.  She sighed, knowing that successful extubation demanded patients be awake and alert.

She also knew how much it hurt to cough with the tube in, especially when multiple rib fractures, bilateral chest tubes, and a host of other injuries were added to the mixture.

“You're doing good, Daniel,” she tried to assure her patient.

Daniel endured two additional passes of the suction catheter down his breathing tube, each pass excruciatingly more painful.

“Okay, Daniel, we're all done with that now.”

Janet's voice emerged through the waves of pain.  She rubbed his arm, attempting to offer a small amount of comfort.

“Let's give him a minute,” Janet instructed her staff, backing away to give Jack and Daniel room.

“I'm so proud of you, Daniel,” Jack said.  “I cried like a baby when they did that to me the first time.  I know.  You think I'm pulling your leg.  Ask Sara.  She'll tell you.  You're doing great.  I love you.”

Daniel had kept his eyes closed, struggling to regain some control, as he took in the loving sound of Jack's voice.  He had been telling himself to relax, that it was almost over, and the pain had finally started to  subside to a more tolerable level when he opened his eyes and saw Jack smiling at him.  He could get through anything as long as he had that smile to look at.

Janet motioned for her team to get back into position.

“Let's get the tube out now.”

She used a pair of scissors to cut the thin white corded ties that had kept the tube secured and then a syringe to deflate the cuff at the end of the tube.

“Remember, no talking.  Just breathe.  Let's begin,” Janet instructed.  “Take a deep breath in and let it out slowly.”

Closing his eyes, Daniel drew in a deep breath, and felt the tube scrape the back of his raw throat as it was pulled from his trachea upon exhalation.  A mask was immediately placed over his mouth and nose.  Daniel could feel the cool mist of the breathing treatment covering his face.  He breathed in the moist medication, and then he swallowed.

It was a simple action, a swallow, but to Daniel it felt like a miracle.  He had control again.  He reveled in the joyful freedom of breathing on his own.  Then, he felt the cold disk of Janet's stethoscope as it moved across various locations on his chest.

“Sounds good,  Daniel.  You're doing great,” Janet said confidently.

Marie's voice added to the support -- “SAT's ninety-eight percent.   You're doing a wonderful job.”

She was relieved Daniel was doing so well.  A high SAT percentage meant that Daniel's oxygen intake was closer to normal.

Daniel continued to relax and breathe as the treatment was finally completed.  A different oxygen mask was placed on his face, once again covering his mouth and nose.  It smelled lightly of plastic and was warm, a little confining, but all in all, it felt great.  His throat continued to feel raw and swallowing was painful, but it, too, felt great.

With the procedure over, and Daniel resting comfortably, Janet's anger at the potentially premature procedure returned.  Jack felt the sting of her glance.

After the staff had cleared out, Janet took a final check at the equipment, and listened one more time to Daniel's breathing.

“I have a NEEDLE with your name on it, Doctor!” Janet fumed as she headed for the door and stormed out.

Just as Jack was about to settle next to his lover, Janet opened the door and boasted, “AND IN CASE YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN, COLONEL, YOU HAVE TO TAKE AN EXIT EXAM AND OH, BELIEVE ME, DO I HAVE SOME TESTS FOR YOU!”  Janet banged the door and left.

“I don't think she's happy with us, Danny, so whatever you do, breathe!”

“J'ck.”  Daniel could barely speak, his voice raspy.

“Just keep breathing, Angel.  Take it easy.  Relax.  We have the rest of our lives!”

“J'ck ...”

“Shh, it's okay.  I don't think she wants you to talk yet.”

But Daniel kept on.  He had something important to say.

“J'ck ... luv ... luv you.”

“I love you, too, Angel!”

“What hap'n'd?”  Daniel still wasn't clear about why he was in the infirmary.

“Danny, we can do this later.”

“Now.”

“Have I mentioned lately that you're as stubborn as a mule?”

“What ...”  Daniel swallowed, and Jack could tell he was getting upset, so he proceeded to tell Daniel what he wanted to know, relaying the events of the mission and a brief overview of Daniel's seven days in the infirmary through his awakening and the removal of the breathing tube just minutes earlier.

“J'ck?”

“What, Love?”

“Don't 'memb'r.”

“It's okay.  Janet said that was normal and not to worry about it, and right about now, I suspect you should be resting, not stewing over a sour mission.”

“Re'tir'd now?”

Jack grinned as he reaffirmed, “Oh, yeah, Babe.  We're free!”

“Kiss me.”

“That's my Danny,” Jack said before doing as requested, and then he caressed Daniel's cheeks and said calmly, “Go to sleep, Angel.  I'll be here when you wake up.”

“Pr'mis?”

“Wild horses!”

“Love you ... J'ck ... always ... love you.”

Though he desperately wanted to stay awake, Daniel closed his eyes.  He began to drift, his body finally succumbing to the overwhelming weariness he felt.  The last words he heard before he slept were the most important in his life.

“I love you, Danny.  Forever and always.”

====

Daniel opened his eyes in response to a soft voice calling to him from afar, or at least, it seemed to come from afar.

~Where am I?~  Daniel glanced at his surroundings.  ~Infirmary, definitely infirmary.~

“Daniel?” Marie touched his shoulder.  “Hey, can you wake up for me?  Sorry to disturb you, but I need to check things out here.  Then you can go back to sleep.”

“J'ck?”  He mumbled through the oxygen mask.  ~Oh, this has so got to go.  I don't need this anymore.  Janet.  I'll ask Janet.~

“He just went in to talk to Doctor Fraiser.  She'll be out soon to look you over.  Colonel O'Neill will be back then, too.  Are you having any difficulty with your breathing?”

“No,” came a weak, hoarse response.

“Feeling short of breath?”

“No,” he replied.  ~My mouth is so dry.~  “Wat'r?”

“Let's wait to see what Doctor Fraiser has to say.”

Daniel closed his eyes in frustration at her response.  ~Please, my mouth is so dry.  How can a little water hurt?~

Marie touched his cheek to get Daniel's attention.

“I know.  Your mouth is dry, and your throat hurts.  That's from the breathing tube.  I'll make you a deal.  You let me listen to your chest, and I'll see if Doctor Fraiser will let me give you a few ice chips.”

Daniel nodded his agreement, closing his eyes again, not wanting to further irritate his throat.  Placing her stethoscope in her ears, Marie listened carefully, her intense concentration broken by the sudden appearance of Janet and Jack at Daniel's bedside.

Janet held her index finger up to her mouth as a signal for Marie not to  acknowledge her arrival.  She then proceeded to do her own assessment of Daniel's breath sounds as he rested quietly, unaware of her presence.

Janet then laid her hand on Daniel's shoulder, and gently called his name, “Daniel?”

Daniel aroused to see not only Janet at his bedside, but behind her, his beloved Jack.

“Hi, Janet,” and with a special warmth, “Hey, Jack.”

Daniel stretched out the fingers on his hand, a silent invitation for Jack to take his hand, and one quickly met.

Jack's voice broke as he spoke softly, “It's so good to hear your voice, Danny.   You had me pretty scared there for a while.”

“I'm fine,” came the standard weak reply, a brief playful smirk graced his lips.

“Yeahsureyabetcha,” Jack smirked.

“If I can interrupt the two of you for just a few minutes.  You two just never stop, do you?” The tone of Janet's voice was firm.  “You're doing a good job, Daniel, but I do want you to not try and speak so much.  I know it's hard, but ... just try and relax a little and save your voice until you get more of your strength back.  Now, you've been off the vent for about four hours.  We'll replace the oxygen mask with a cannula ...”

Jack interrupted, “You know, the prongs up the nose thingamajig, uncomfortable, but very stylish ...”  Jack's comments faded in response to Janet's disapproving glare.  “Sorry, Doc.  Please, continue.”

“As I was saying, your lungs sound a little coarse, so now the first phase of hard work starts.  You know the usual routines.  You've been through these before -- the cough and deep breath routine, the getting-up-out-of-bed-and-in-a-chair routine.  It's very important, Daniel.  I want to keep you off the vent and get the chest tubes out.  The rest will follow.  How's your pain, one to ten?”

“Six.”

“Six?” the SGC doctor looked at him skeptically.

Daniel swallowed, blinking his eyes as he admitted, “Nine if I move or cough.”

“Now that I can believe.  I'm going to start a morphine drip.”

“J'ck?” Daniel looked at his lover nervously.

“Hey, Doc knows best.”

“I wish you'd remember that,” Janet scowled at the Colonel.

“Morph ... no.”

“I'll keep an eye on it, okay?  Trust me, Danny.”

Daniel nodded.  He hated drugs, and now that he felt he was getting more control over his body, he didn't want it loaded down with any more drugs than absolutely necessary.  His one-time addiction to the sarcophagus had never been forgotten, and more recently, his withdrawal from alien drugs had caused him to almost kill Jack.  Daniel feared drugs almost as much as he feared losing Jack.

“Daniel, it'll help manage the pain.”

“For a little while,” Jack quickly intervened, glaring back at Janet.

Janet rolled her eyes.  These two were impossible where medical care was concerned.  Neither were doctors of medicine, but both so often seemed to think they knew her profession better than she did.

With a sigh, Janet asked, “Is there anything else you need right now?”

“Wat'r, and want to know more.  Jack, tell me ... more about what happened,” Daniel requested, his voice regaining a tiny bit of strength along with the rest of his body.  “Everything is so fuzzy.  I can't 'member.”

“We'll start with some ice chips,” Janet spoke commandingly.  “If those go down okay, we'll let you have some water.  You may even get some clear warm broth tonight if you're lucky,” she stated, winking as she spoke.

“As for your memory, you need to take it slow.  You have some bad chest injuries, multiple rib fractures, and a head injury.  That's why you hurt so much.”  Janet smiled and couldn't stop herself from placing the palm of her right hand on Daniel's cheek for just moment.  When she spoke again, her voice almost cracked.  “I'll explain more later.”

The doctor had lost her composure for a brief second, relieved and thankful that her friend had come through this far without further harm.

“Right now,” Janet's voice regained its strength, “you and your cohort here can have a few minutes.  Then I want you to sleep.  I'll allow him to stay if you sleep.”

“Thanks, Janet, for everything.”  Daniel's voice was weak and winded.

Marie reappeared at the bedside, handing the small cup of ice chips to Jack.   She removed the oxygen mask and replaced it with the cannula.
 
“I know, Daniel.  It's not the most comfortable thing in the world, but it stays on.”  Marie looked up at Jack, “Go slow with the ice chips, Colonel.  Five minutes, then he needs to rest.”

Daniel accepted the first spoonful of ice chips gratefully.  He moved them around in his mouth, savoring the feeling of cold and wet, then opened his mouth for more.

“Must taste pretty good, huh?” Jack watched closely, content to offer some comfort, no matter how small.

Daniel closed his eyes, enjoying the refreshing taste of the simple ice.

~Mmm.  Gawd, that's good.~  “You have no idea, Jack.”  ~Throat feels much better, like I can finally talk and know what I'm saying.~

“Jack, I love you so much.” Daniel felt his eyes fill with tears.  ~Gawd, it feels so good to say that.  I couldn't for so long.~  “Do you know that, Jack?  That I love you, and that it hurt not to be able to tell you?  I wanted to tell you for days.”

Jack was on his feet immediately, ice chips set on the bedside stand, momentarily forgotten.  His fingers stroked his lover's wrinkled brow.

“I love you too, Angel, but you've been asleep for most of that time.  It's only been a day, Love.”  Jack's finger caught the tears that flowed down Daniel's cheeks. “Hey, where's all this coming from?”

“Couldn't tell you be...fore,” Daniel's voice cracked.  “Wanted to tell you, but the breathing tube.”  Daniel's cracked voice turned into a sob.  It hurt, but he didn't care.  “I was so scared.  Needed you to know.”

“Danny, I know you love me.  Shhh,” Jack continued to caress Daniel's cheek, wiping away the tears.  “Easy, Love.  It's okay.  I was scared, too.  But you're doing so much better.  You need to stay calm.  Breathe, Angel.”  Jack felt his own tears building.  “I love you, too.  Remember, forever and always.”

Daniel smiled at the sound of the three simple words, the comfort and love that flowed through those three little words.

~Jack's here.  It's all right.  He knows I love him.  It's all right now.  He knows.  Calm.  I need to calm down.~

Daniel drew in a deep cleansing breath, grimacing slightly.

“Tell me what happened.  I don't even remember what you told me before.”

“Why don't we do it later when you're feeling better?”

“Please, Jack.”

“My curiosity man.  I love you so much,” Jack leaned over and kissed Daniel's lips.

“Gawd, Jack.”

“I know.  Okay,” Jack sighed as he settled onto the bed more comfortably, “the abridged version for now.  The mission, our LAST mission,” Jack emphasized.  “Well, the friendlies became very unfriendly, and we had to bug out fast.  There was an explosion just before we got to the Gate.  Lots of shrapnel, blood, nastiness like that.  I thought I'd lost you, Danny.”

Jack's voice suddenly died.  He swallowed hard, cleared his throat, and continued, “And then you know, all the usual post chaos stuff -- the infirmary, emergency surgery, and here we are.”
 
“Don't 'memb'r,” the response was weak and slurred as Daniel tired from all the activity and emotion of the last half hour.

“Hey, you rest now, okay?”

Daniel nodded, closing his eyes instantly.  Jack held on to Daniel's hand, content to stay where he was for the time being.  Suddenly, Daniel's eyes sprang open.

“Angel?”

“I love you, Jack.  I love you.”

“Love you, too,” but before the words were spoken, Daniel had fallen asleep.  “Love you, too,” Jack repeated softly.

====

The next day, their eighth since that horrific last mission, had started off well.  Daniel was more awake and alert.  The oxygen had been weaned down to a mere two liters and he was doing well with that.  He had been up in a chair that morning and had even managed to digest some tea and chicken broth which he said tasted “the best.”

The rest of the day was uneventful.  Jack remained at Daniel's side except for two hours when Daniel insisted the older man go home and take care of their girls.

“They need to see you, Jack.  You need to reassure them and ... tell them I love them.  'kay?”

Reluctantly, Jack had left and delivered Daniel's message to the worried beagles.

“He sends his love.  I was ... scared, girls.  Geez, we almost lost him,” Jack had cried in the comfort and safety of his living room.

The two dogs had immediately deluged Jack with a face full of loving kisses.

“I'll deliver those to Danny,” Jack had promised.

After the visit with the beagles, Jack returned to the SGC and found ISO-1 dark and empty.  One of the nurses informed him that Daniel had been moved out to the general infirmary which surprised him.  He knew Daniel had made great improvements over the past twenty-four hours, and this was the usual procedure for an ICU patient.  He also knew that he should be pleased because this move meant Daniel was one step closer to going home.  Yet, somehow, it didn't sit quite right with Jack.

Jack entered the infirmary and immediately found his husband.

~You still look so pale, Danny.~

Daniel lay in “his” bed, the last one in the corner, the one designated “Doctor Jackson's bed” by the medical staff.  It was a well-known inside joke since he was the bed's most frequent occupant.  Daniel stirred from his slumber as if aware of his husband's presence and lazily opened his eyes.

“Hey,” Jack spoke lovingly.

The young man immediately became more alert and immediately asked, “How are the girls?”

Jack smiled warmly as he sat on the edge of Daniel's bed.

“They're good; sent you lots of warm, wet kisses.  They miss you.  We all want you to come home soon.”  He leaned forward to place a gentle kiss on his beloved's forehead.  “You feeling okay?”

Daniel used the control to elevate the head of the bed to a more upright position.

“Just a little tired. They let me sit up in a chair while you were gone.”

“They got you out of bed when I was gone?”

Jack looked around for Janet, prepared to give her a piece of his mind for doing something so important while he was gone.

“Jack, stop.  Please,” Daniel pleaded.

He couldn't deal with negativity right now.

“It's just ... I should have been here.”

“You can't be here for everything.”

“Watch me!”

Daniel sighed, and then Jack took a deep breath.  Daniel didn't need his lover getting wigged out over every little thing.  Jack needed to think about the bigger picture, so once he became aware of what was happening -- his own anger and Daniel's anxiety -- he calmed himself, and put Daniel's wellbeing ahead of his need to be a part of everything that happened during Daniel's care.

“So, how did it go, Danny?”

“It was okay.  Funny how something so simple can just drain you, huh?  Seems so ridiculous.”

“Patience, Love.  You've been pretty sick.  Give yourself some time.”

“That's what I've heard all day.”

Daniel's fingers were making small tickling motions against the palm of Jack's hand, just sort of playing.  He was focused on his actions and almost got lost in the simple pleasure of touching his husband's hand.

“Jack, it will be time for dinner soon.  Why don't you go down to the commissary and get something?  You can bring it back here and eat with me.  I'd really like that.  It'll be ... normal, kind of.”

“That I can do.  You want anything?”  Daniel shook his head.  “You sure?  They probably have some of Carter's blue Jell-O?”  Jack's comment brought a small smile to Daniel's face.  “No?  Okay.” Jack leaned forward to kiss Daniel's forehead once more.  “Rest.  I'll be right back.”

Daniel nodded, closing his eyes, settling back into his pillow, drifting off to sleep.

The remainder of the day seemed to slip by.  Jack ate dinner with Daniel ... well, actually Jack ate dinner.  Daniel sipped half a cup of broth and a bit of tea, then insisted he was full and refused any further nourishment.

Sam and Teal'c stopped by shortly after dinner.  They both shared their most recent activities, as the team had been placed on downtime.  Daniel closely listened to their tales, adding a few well-placed jabs as the team members shared some precious time together.  Daniel faded quickly after thirty minutes, and both Sam and Teal'c dismissed themselves, reassuring Daniel they would return to visit the next day.

Jack lowered the head of the bed, arousing Daniel from his light sleep.

“Jack?”

“I'm right here.  It's time for you to call it a night.”

Daniel opened his eyes and focused on Jack's, grasping his husband's hand.

“Jack, I want you to go home and be with the girls.”  Jack opened his mouth to voice his opposition, but Daniel quickly interrupted.  “No, you listen to me.  I'm tired, and I'll sleep tonight.  It's been a long day.  I really want you to go home and get a good night's sleep in our bed, Jack.  Spoil the girls rotten.  They've been alone for days, Jack.  Let'em sleep on my side of the bed.  Please!  It will make me feel better.”

“That's dirty pool.”

“I learned from the best.”

Jack questioned quietly, “You sure about this?  I don't want to leave you, Danny.”

Daniel nodded, squeezing his husband's warm hand.

“I'm sure.  You're so tired.  I'm worried about you.  I want you to get some sound sleep, in our own bed.”

“You won't be there.  What makes you think I'll sleep?”

“Because I need you to, and so do the girls.”

“More dirty pool.”  Jack smiled slightly.  He held his lover's gaze until Daniel's eyes began to droop, despite his best effort to be firm.  “Okay, if you're sure.  I'm just a phone call away if you need me.  You tell the nurses to call me if they ... well ...”

“Jack, you can't be here for everything.  I love you so much for wanting to be.”  Daniel saw Jack's frustration and pain.  He knew that he'd feel the same way, so he relented a little.

“Okay, I won't let them do anything new while you're gone, and I promise, that if I need anything, I'll call you.  Okay?”

“I'll ... go,” Jack said reluctantly.

“Thanks, Jack.  Give the girls hugs for me ... Love ... love you ... so much!”

Jack felt the grasp on his hand loosen as Daniel closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep in a matter of seconds.  He laid Daniel's hand on the bed and pulled the blankets up to cover his husband's chest.  He placed one more kiss to Daniel's forehead.

“Sleep, Daniel.  I love you, and I'll see you in the morning.”

Jack turned in the doorway of the infirmary to glance back to that famous bed in the corner.  He thought back to the events of the day.  All in all, day eight had been calm.

~ Almost too calm.  Everything was so critical up until today.  I have that nasty feeling in my gut, that unsettling something is going to happen tightness.  No, everything is on the upswing.  Look at him, sleeping so peacefully.  I love you, Angel.  We'll be home soon.~

====

Casey walked into the infirmary, ready to start the last of his three twelve-hour shifts.  He was in a good mood, eagerly anticipating a four-day weekend.  After placing his jacket in his locker, he checked the day assignment board.  ISO-1.  No trauma, cardiac, respiratory, sepsis designation, no initials.

~Huh, must be a new admit.~

Oh well, a twelve hour shift in the ICU atmosphere of ISO-1 usually flew by.  That four day weekend was getting closer and closer.  He hurried to report to ISO-1; he knew how much he hated it when his replacement was late after working a night shift.

“Morning, Marie.”

“Hey, Casey.  Glad to see you here.”

Casey recognized the tone of an exhausted night nurse ready to go home and crawl into bed.

“Long night?”  Surprised, he glanced up from his desk in the observation deck down at the patient in the bed. “What's Daniel doing back in ICU?”

Marie rubbed at her tired eyes.

“The evening wasn't too bad.  Started going downhill about 0300 this morning.  Low grade temp 100.4.  Other vitals were fine, but he started complaining of feeling achy, especially his back.”

Casey was incredulous in his tone, “Daniel was complaining?”

Marie picked up on the inference.

“Yeah, I know.  Daniel never complains about anything unless it's really bad.  That's exactly what I thought.  Anyways, I checked out everything I could think of.  Couldn't find anything.  I gave him one-thousand milligrams of Tylenol, did the reposition, back rub thing.”

Marie took a minute to stretch and try to revitalize her own tired body before continuing, sighing from the contentment of moving her body in a relaxing manner.

“It took me a while, but I got him settled down for about an hour.  About 0430, he woke up - same thing.  His muscles were tight and I tell ya, Casey, Daniel was anxious, wired tighter than a drum.  I offered to call Colonel O'Neill, but he refused, said he wanted the Colonel to get a decent night's sleep.”

She paused her stretching to focus on the male nurse.

“Casey, a tip.  Never listen to Daniel when it comes to not calling Colonel O'Neill.”

“Gave you a hard time?”

“Oh, I've never heard some of those words.  Of course, he apologized later, but not without making sure I got the point.”

“The point being to call him at the slightest hint of anything being wrong with Daniel,” Casey said more as a statement than a question.

“Exactly.  Trust me, Casey, I will never make that mistake again, no matter what Doctor Fraiser says.  Anyway, Daniel agreed to let me give him some Zofran and Fentanyl.  He's been sleeping on and off since 0530.  I don't know what's going on.  I can't find anything in his assessment that's dramatically different.”

Marie took a deep breath, her tired brain trying to process the night's events and correlate it with everything she had learned in her medical career.

“He's still on two liters of oxygen.  Lungs are a little coarse.  He hates the nebs and the cough/deep breathing routine with a passion.  He'll do it for you, but you really have to work with him.”

“I remember that from last time I took care of him.  Really can't say as I blame him.  That's got to hurt like mad with all those broken ribs,” Casey added.

“And another piece of advice ...”

“Do the nebs when Colonel O'Neill is around.”

Marie laughed at Casey's tone, a very natural “been there, done that” type of voice.

“Did you know about them, Casey?”

“For a long time.  I take it you didn't.”

“No, not a clue.  I was ... flabbergasted when I saw Colonel O'Neill kiss him the other day.”

“It's been right in front of your nose, Marie.  People don't want to see.  They never have, and they never will.”

Marie tipped her head slightly and reached her hand around to rub the back of her shoulder for a minute.

“Well, Daniel's different when he's around.  You know how he is.  He'll do whatever you ask, but you have to fight him sometimes, but when Colonel O'Neill is in the room, he just tells Daniel to look in his eyes, and it settles Daniel down.”

“It goes against O'Neill's reputation, doesn't it?”  Casey chuckled lightly, adding, “Two-thirds of the base is scared to death of him, but Daniel ... well ...” Casey's voice trailed off.

“I think the word you're looking for is softie.  He's an old softie with Daniel.  What I'd give to have eyes like the Colonel's looking at me with all that adoration.  Anyway,” Marie shook her head to again refocus on work.  “Daniel's left chest tube is draining small amounts of bloody fluid in the Pleurevac.  The right tube was taken out yesterday without incident.”

Marie referred quickly to the computer screen as she continued to fill her replacement in on Daniel's status.

“His abdominal incision looks good, clean and dry.  Sutures are intact.  He's still on a clear liquid diet.  I don't think they'll let him have much else until they figure out what's going on.  Be careful.  He's starting to act like if he doesn't get coffee, he'll be out for revenge.”

Both Marie and Casey smiled.  The entire SGC knew of Daniel's coffee addiction, with a special footnote never to go near him if he had been deprived of the caffeinated beverage for too long.  It was the only time the benevolent Doctor Jackson seemed scarier than the crusty Colonel O'Neill.

“The Foley's still in, much to Daniel's dismay,” Marie continued with a sympathetic smile.  “He wants it out so bad.  No problem with urine output.  Oh, and the Swan-Ganz catheter was removed yesterday.  He still has the triple lumen central catheter in his chest for your IV's.  And,” Marie paused, taking a final look at the screen “I guess that's about it.  I guess that's plenty actually.”

Casey asked, “How's he coping with all this?  He was having a pretty rough time the last time I was in, fairly depressed at times.”

“Day shift yesterday reported a very similar demeanor:  tires easily, unusually compliant, quiet.  They said it was better when Colonel O'Neill was with him.  Big surprise there -- not!”

“Marie, everything is better when the Colonel is here.  I'm surprised he left.”

“Well, I think Daniel convinced him, and Doctor Fraiser threatened him -- again.”

“Still, the Colonel has been known to make his own rules.”

“Yeah, I know.  He, the Colonel, keeps Daniel on the straight and narrow, won't let him wallow in anything for too long.  To be honest, Casey, it's hard for me to really know how things are going right now.  Daniel wasn't feeling very well last night, and he just didn't sleep much, either,” Marie commented.

“Oh, just so you know,” Marie added, “we transferred Daniel back to ISO-1 at about 0500.  I can't put my finger on it, but I just don't have a good feeling about this.  Decided to be proactive.  I wanted to keep a better eye on him.  Doctor Fraiser's been updated, and she'll be in soon.”

“You look exhausted.  Go home and get some rest.  I'm going to go see how our favorite archaeologist is doing.”

He stood to depart.

“Casey,” Marie caught his arm as he rose, “watch him closely.  I get the feeling something ... oh, I don't know, just ... watch him.”

He patted her shoulder as he assured her, “I'll keep a close eye on him.  He means a lot to me, too.”

“He means a lot to a lot of people around here, and the sad part about it is that I'm not sure he really knows that.  Thanks, Casey.  Hope you have a good day.”

“We will.  Get some sleep,” he called over his shoulder as he walked down the stairs to the main level of ISO-1.

====

It was 7:15 a.m. when Janet entered the general area of the infirmary.  She had hoped to be in a little earlier, but somehow she just couldn't seem to get it in gear any faster this morning -- until the phone rang.

Cassandra had been understanding with the early wake-up call, especially when she had overheard Daniel's name being mentioned.  She had begged Janet to update her later today on her cell phone since her mom hadn't been able to say much before heading for the SGC.

“Good morning, Pam.  Do you know which room Doctor Jackson was transferred to this morning?”

“Good morning, Doctor Fraiser.  He's back in ISO-1; Casey's with him.”

“Thanks.  I'll be a little late on rounds here today.  I'm on my pager.”

Janet walked through the corridors of the medical unit, arriving at the entryway to ISO-1.  She noticed Casey at Daniel's bedside, scrolling through the monitor screen.  Daniel lay quietly in the bed; he appeared to be in no acute distress.

“Good Morning, Casey,” Janet said as she went about her business.

She accessed the computer at the workstation on the main level, reviewing various test results and nursing notes.  As she did so, she overheard Casey awakening Daniel to begin his first assessment of the day.  She slid the keyboard back in place as she completed her work at the computer.  Janet moved to stand at Daniel's bedside.

“Good morning, Daniel.”

Daniel opened his eyes and automatically whispered, “Jack?”

“I exiled him for the night, remember?”

“He was here.  Jack?  Where's Jack?”

Janet looked over at Casey for an explanation, if there was one, for Daniel's comments.

“Marie did say Colonel O'Neill was here.  I ... don't know where he is now.”

“Jack?”

“Hold on, Daniel,” Janet said, placing her hand on his arm.  “Casey, see if you can find out if the Colonel is on base.”

“Yes, Ma'am,” Casey moved away.

Janet returned her attention to her patient.

“I heard you had a rough night.  How are you feeling now?”

“I feel like crap,” the weary voice replied.

Janet was surprised.  “Crap” was a word she would expect from Jack O'Neill, but not the more eloquent Daniel Jackson.

“Ohhh-kay.  Can you be a little bit more specific?  Do you hurt anywhere?”

“Where don't I?  Everything aches.  Even my joints are sore, but my back is the worst.  And I want Jack.”

Daniel felt a bit like a child crying for his or her parent, but he was desperate.  He had told Jack to leave, but now he regretted it.  He needed to see those eyes, to feel Jack's hand on his.

“Jack.  I need Jack.”

His voice was demanding and anxious, and a quick look at the monitors showed that Daniel's body was reacting to his need, his pulse increasing, blood pressure elevating.

“Calm down, Daniel,” Janet continued to watch the monitors, not liking the still-rising levels of the injured man's vitals.  She knew she needed to find Jack, fast.  “I'll go see what I can find out, and then we'll continue.  Okay?”

“Jack.  Need Jack.”

“I know, Sweetie.  I'll be right back.”

Janet walked towards the corridor, meeting up with Casey who informed her, “He's on his way.”

“Where was he?”

Casey hesitated a moment.  He had phoned all the obvious and usual places where the Air Force Colonel might have gone with no luck, and then he thought about himself.  ~Where would I go if I needed a few moments away from this craziness and yet still wanted to be connected to my lover?~  So, he had phoned, and Jack had answered.  Looking at Janet, Casey responded, “In Doctor Jackson's office.”

“Okay ... thanks.  Watch Doctor Jackson, Casey.  I want a few minutes with Colonel O'Neill before he sees Daniel.”

“Yes, Doctor Fraiser.”

====

“Colonel, a word, please.”

Janet stopped Jack before he could enter the infirmary, pulling him over to the side.

“What's wrong?”

“Nothing ... yet, anyway.  Jack, what happened last night?  I know Daniel had a bad night, but what were you doing here?”

“I ... come on, Janet.  You really think I'm just going to go home and leave him here ... alone?”

Janet put her hands on her hips.  Her lips were pursed, and her eyes piercing, but her voice was calm, though firm.

“Okay, so tell me what happened.”

“I went home for a while, like Daniel asked me to, but I got restless after a few hours.  I ... Janet I knew I needed to be here, so I came back.  When I got here, he was in pain.  He was miserable.  So help me, Doc, the next time Daniel has a change like that I expect to be called.”

“Why do I have a feeling you let the nurse on duty know that?”

“Because I did.  Janet, that man is my husband, and I love him.  He needs me here, and I don't need a medical degree to know that having me here helps him.  He gets ... He gets scared if I'm not around.  He feels alone.  I would think you'd know that by now.”

Janet glanced back through the doorway and sighed.

“Yes, Jack I must admit you're right.”

“Why?  What happened?”

Jack started towards the door, but Janet reached out to grab his arm, turning him to face her.

“He's fine, Jack.  Well, he feels lousy, and we need to find out why.  But he is scared, and he woke up asking for you.

“I told you, Janet!” Jack pulled his arm away and scurried into the ISO room.

“Danny!  Danny, you okay?”

“Jack.  Hurts, Jack!”

Jack leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on his husband's lips.  His right hand held Daniel's and his left gently caressed his lover's cheek.

“I'm here now.”

“Hurts.”

“What hurts, Love?”

“My ... my back.”

“What part of your back, Daniel?” Janet asked as she once again moved to the spot opposite Jack.

“My lower back and between my shoulder blades.”

Daniel looked back at Jack.  His eyes were misty.

“Daniel, did the medications Marie gave you last night help any?”
 
“Maybe a little bit.  They didn't seem to last long.  Can I have some more ... please?”

~Daniel?  Asking for pain meds?  This isn't good.  He never asks for pain meds.~  Janet didn't like the sound of that at all.  “Let me look you over first.  Then I'll have Casey give you something, okay?”

“Jack?”

“Janet, can we have a minute ... please?”

“One minute, Colonel,” Janet responded, backing away.

“Hey, Beautiful.  What's wrong?”

“I love you, Jack.  I'm so glad you're here.  Need you.  Don't listen to me anymore when I tell you to go home, okay?”

Jack smiled, his face warm with love.

“I won't.”  Jack released a small chuckle from his voice.  “I love you, Angel.”

“Forever and always, I love you.”

“Danny, I know that.  And ... you can show me how much when we go home soon.”

“I love you, Jack.  Love you so much, so very much.   I love you.  Don't listen to me.  Stay.  Always stay.  Love ... love you.”

“Danny, shhh.  Please, relax, okay.  Everything will be all right.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“Love you, too, Angel.”

“Don't forget.”

“I won't, Love, and don't you forget that we're a package deal.   You're my heart and my soul.  Where you go, I follow.  Don't you forget that.  Danny, promise me you'll remember.”

“I promise.  I love you, Jack.”

Jack placed a kiss on Daniel's cheek and whispered into his ear, “We have plans, Danny.  Our children ... what would happen to them if we aren't here to love them?”

Jack dried the falling tears.

“We have big, big plans.  La Mio Bello Stella Cadente.  Te Amo, Angel.  Need you so much.   Can't breathe without you.  Now,” Jack gulped, “Shall we let the Doc get back to making you feel better?”

“Love you, Jack.”

Jack signaled for Janet to return.  She immediately began examining Daniel.  She shone her penlight in his pupils and then asked if he had a headache.
 
“No.”  ~Love Jack.  He knows.  Knows I love him.~

Janet moved her hands down to palpate his neck as she asked, “Does your neck hurt?”

“No.”  ~My Jack.  Forever and always, My Jack.~

Janet looked towards Casey as she spoke, “His pressure looked a little low this morning.  What's his temp?”

“Up a little - 101.5,” Casey replied.

“He had a temp last night, too.  White count's up a little bit today.  How's your stomach today, Daniel?  Feeling sick to your stomach?”

“Yes.”  ~Want to go home, Jack.  Jack is home.  Home.  Jack.~
 
“Let's give him Zofran four milligrams IV now, and grab a Tylenol suppository, six-hundred fifty milligrams.  Casey, I also want to run a comprehensive panel, two sets of blood cultures and a urinalysis with a culture.  If Daniel can give you a sample, go ahead and run a sputum culture as well.”

“Janet, do you have to?”  Daniel knew what was coming, referring to the suppository order.  “Gonna kick a guy when he's down?”

He actually had a small smile on his face, trying to be brave for Jack, but Daniel did not want to go through anything he didn't have to.

“Sorry, but we need to get your temp down.  Trust me, you'll feel better as soon as it's gone.  A prolonged fever will just drain what little strength you have in reserve, and we both know that's not much right now.”  She paused as she considered Daniel's weakened condition.  “Feeling short of breath this morning?”

“Not really.  Still hurts to cough.”  ~Calmer now that Jack knows -- love him ... love him so much.~

“Let me listen to your chest.  Nice slow deep breaths, Daniel.  Nice and easy.”

She moved the stethoscope over his entire chest listening.

“Watch it there, Doc.  That chest belongs to me,” Jack said possessively in a desperate attempt to make Daniel feel better.  Jack looked at his soulmate and spoke softly, “All mine.”

“Yours,” Daniel whispered back.

“Hush you two.  Okay, it's a  little diminished.  Let me get this gown down.  I need to look at the chest tube sites.”

Janet reached for the snaps, but Jack jumped in.

“I'll do that.  It's one of my specialties,” Jack chimed as he winked at his lover, still trying to cheer him up.

Janet had no objections.  As insufferable as Jack O'Neill could be, there was no discounting the calming and reassuring effect he had on Daniel Jackson.  Things were on a bit of a downward spiral, and if Jack could assist in keeping Daniel's frame of mind the least bit positive, that would be a plus.

Jack unsnapped Daniel's gown at the shoulders and pulled it down just below his waist.

“Good.  Left side looks good,” Janet said just before she palpated around the site where the right chest tube had been recently removed. “Looks okay.  That bother you too much?”

“Not too bad.”

Janet smiled.  Daniel wasn't even looking at her.  His eyes were locked onto Jack's seeking solace and support, both immediately given.

**It's going to be okay, Danny.  I'm right here, and nothing bad is going to happen to you.  I won't let it!**

Jack stopped himself from frowning, realizing Daniel hadn't heard his unspoken thoughts.  He was truly afraid the injuries had taken that from them forever.  Undaunted, Jack passed his message along with his eyes, and saw the message had been received.  Jack could see Daniel's soul in the younger man's blue eyes.

Casey returned with the medications Janet had ordered.  She gave him further instructions and then requested that he page Doctor Warner to review the latest chest X-rays when processed.  Then she continued her examination of Daniel.

“Incision here looks good.  Nauseated, but no vomiting, right?”  Daniel shook his head.  She nodded at Jack, “Sorry, Colonel.  No more ogling your husband.”

“Ah, you're no fun, Doc,” Jack said as he pulled the gown back into its position and re-snapped it at the shoulders.

“Any pain in your pelvis or flank area, Daniel?  No new pain with the catheter?”

“Janet?  Has anyone ever told you that you ask more questions that I do?”

She couldn't help herself.  Janet laughed, as did Jack.  She also knew Daniel's good humor, even if it was a cover, was only because his husband was at his side.

“Sorry, professional hazard.”

“Likely story,” Daniel said, followed by a sigh.

“Are you going to answer my question, Doctor Jackson?” Janet smirked lightly.

“You mean, other than the normal pain and the fact that I want it out right now?  No, there's no new pain with the catheter.  Gawd, I hate those things.”

Janet moved to the end of the bed and pulled the sheet and blanket free from underneath the mattress to expose his lower legs.

“No pain in your legs when I flex them like this?”

“Janet, for crying out loud, it's my freakin' back that hurts, not my legs!”

Daniel snapped harshly, his frustration evident in his voice.  The good humor had disappeared with all the poking, prodding, and unceasing questions.

“Daniel,” Jack said calmly, “She's just doing her job.”

Janet silently replaced the covers over his legs, watching him with a very critical eye.  “Want to tell me what that was all about?” she asked.

Daniel cracked his eyes open and sighed.  ~Way to go, Jackson.  You did it again.  Piss off your doctor.  Bite her head off.  Good move there.~

“I'm sorry for yelling at you, Janet.  I don't know what's wrong with me.  I'm just tired.”

“I'm not sure that's all that's going on.”  She reached for a pair of gloves from the dispenser at the bedside.  “Ready, Casey?”

“Whenever you are, Doc.”

“I want to look at his back, so let's roll him on his right side.  There's no chest tube on that side anymore, so it should be less painful.  Jack, move back, please.”

“You got it, Doc.  You catch that, Daniel?”

“Yeah,” Daniel replied shortly, preparing himself for the pain that would come with the movement.

“Here you go, Daniel.  Let me do all the work.”  Daniel lay on his right side supported against Casey's body, breathing through the raw pain radiating from his chest.  “Slow and easy, Daniel.  Won't be too long.”

Casey put his hand on Daniel's left shoulder and rubbed in a circular motion of support.  “Slow and easy.  Just breathe,” he stated calmly.

“Watch the hands, pal,” Jack leered at Casey.

“Gawd, Jack!”

Jack winked at Casey, asking him to go along via his facial expression.

“Hey, no one touches that beautiful body of yours like that but me.  I have dibs.”

“Dibs?  We're not in high school,” Daniel complained.

“I don't know.  Sometimes, I think this place is nothing but a big playground, and you're my very own toy.”

“Oh, gawd, Jack.”

Daniel wanted to laugh ... or blush ... or maybe cry.  He really wasn't sure which.

Janet's fingers palpated down the entire length of Daniel's spine.

“Does this make it hurt worse, Daniel?”

“No.”

“You're going to feel my stethoscope back here now.”

She leaned closer to her patient, moving her stethoscope over his posterior chest, then replaced her stethoscope around her neck.

“Tylenol and KY are right there, Doc,” Casey nodded to the bedside stand to Janet's left as he commented.

Janet prepared the suppository, then addressed Daniel, while moving blankets down to mid-thigh area, “You're going to feel a little bit of
pressure, Daniel.”

“Just think about the kind of pressure I'm going to ...”

“JACK STTTTTTTOP!  GAWD!”

Janet  inserted the suppository.  “All done.”  She smiled at Jack and mouthed, “Well done, Colonel,” and then removed her gloves.  “Would you like to get off your back for a while, Daniel?”

When Daniel nodded, Janet obtained two pillows from the nearby chair and stuffed them behind his back for support.

“Just lie back.”

Then she placed another pillow between his knees, replacing the covers.

Janet moved around the bed into Daniel's line of vision.  Her hand brushed the hair back off his brow, her concern for him very evident in both her actions and observations.

“Casey's going to give you some more Fentanyl. That and the Tylenol should make you more comfortable.  I want you to try to sleep for a couple of hours.”

“Thanks,” came the muffled reply as he laid back, raising his hand as much as his weakened body would allow.

Janet sighed, shaking her head.  She knew she couldn't blast Jack out of the room, so she didn't even try.

“Please, Colonel, make him sleep.”

Jack nodded as he took his spot on the edge of the bed and held Daniel's hand.  He brought it to his mouth and kissed it, and then held it to his cheek to wipe away his falling tears.  Daniel was already sleep, and Jack was praying hard that he'd wake up feeling better than when he had fallen asleep.

Janet and Casey moved away from the bedside toward the doorway.

“Watch him closely.  Something's not right.  I want to be paged for any changes.”

“Any idea what's going on?” the male nurse asked.

“His chest X-ray looks a little hazy over on that lower right.  He's a little diminished there, too.  Thanks, Casey.”

Janet smiled as she moved to wash her hands and then leave the area.  Her smile quickly faded as she departed the room.  ~I don't have a good feeling about this at all.~

Janet's intuition, that little voice in her head, her gut instinct were all on high alert.  Something was off.  She had learned early on in her medical career to listen and trust this instinct, and it had served her well.  She needed to consult with both Doctor Warner and the radiologist.  Maybe, together they could come up with an answer.

====

Janet returned from her brief meeting with Doctor Warner and Doctor Ryan Hunter, the base's radiologist, her frustration mounting.  The three doctors had all viewed the new chest X-ray, comparing it to those taken over the past eight days.  Nothing conclusive could be derived from the latest film.

~Possible pneumonia, possible infection... those were already on my list of culprits.~

Both of her colleagues balked when Janet threw out the idea of a possible hidden piece of shrapnel as the source of this latest crisis.

~'It would have shown up on a previous film by now.'~  She could hear their comments in her head.  Well, maybe it wouldn't.  She'd certainly seen stranger things in her practice at the SGC, and, in fact, she had come to expect the unexpected.

Two decisions were derived from their meeting of the minds.  Doctor Warner had agreed to examine Daniel in depth, to provide a valued second opinion and perhaps add some new insight; and they'd agreed to reconvene at 1300 when they could review not only the labs that had been obtained earlier in the morning, but the new chest X-ray that was scheduled for noon.   Hopefully, something would point them in the right direction as to the source of Daniel's latest crisis.

====

Janet was not the only one who was frustrated as the events of the morning unfolded.  Jack had just about reached his limit.  After receiving the first dose of pain medication that morning, Daniel had only been asleep for two hours before he abruptly awoke, startling Jack from his light doze in the bedside chair.

“No ... Jack, watch out ... Jack ...” Daniel's head rolled back and forth on the pillow at the same time that his arms flung out above the bed in random motion as he called out anxiously for his lover.  His legs were fighting against the sheet covering them, seemingly restraining them.

Jack was instantaneously out of his chair, one hand grasping a wildly-flailing arm, the other hand stroking the sweaty troubled brow.

“Danny.  Danny, Love, it's okay.  You're safe.  It's me, Jack.  Open your eyes.”

Jack watched as Daniel's eyes fluttered open and then closed again.

“Jack?”  A weak whisper came forth from dry, cracked lips.

“You just keep saying the right name when you wake up, and life will be good!”  Jack glanced at Casey, who had come to stand at Daniel's bedside upon hearing Daniel's cries.  “Casey, he's so hot!”

Casey touched the back of his hand to the side of Daniel's cheek.

“Let me get a temp, then we'll page Doctor Fraiser.”

“Jack?  Jack, I need to get off my back.  Help me, please.  It hurts so bad,” Daniel pleaded, desperation in his voice, tears in his eyes.

“Okay.”  Jack caressed Daniel's pale cheek.  “Let's move you on your right side.”

Daniel moaned, biting his lower lip to help squelch the pain as Jack shifted him onto his right side.  He felt Jack's hands slip beneath his right hip and pull backwards, thereby securing his position.

“Better?”  Jack saw Daniel nod his head, trying to control his fast breathing, and then moments later, he saw Casey return.  “Casey's going to take your temperature, Love.”

“Hurts, Jack.”

“I know.  Let Casey put the thermometer in.  It's going to be okay, Danny,” Jack spoke as he gently ran his hand through Daniel's short hair.  “Do you want me to rub your back?  Would it help?”

Daniel again nodded silently, eyes squeezed tightly shut.  He heard the electronic beep of the thermometer, then felt it slide from between his pursed lips.

“It's back up ... 101.6.  Doctor Fraiser's on her way.”  Casey's voice filtered through the pain.

“Jack,” Daniel spoke anxiously.  “It hurts.  Gawd, just shoot me.”

“Danny, what hurts?”

Daniel's breathing mimicked that of a woman in labor: fast, short choppy puffs of air burst from his lips in an attempt to excise the overwhelming piercing torment from his body.

Before he could answer, Casey returned to Daniel's bedside.

“Daniel, you've got to slow your breathing down.”  Casey firmly held onto Daniel's shoulder, attempting to hold his attention.  “You're going to hyperventilate.  Slow down.”  Casey made no progress with Daniel and looked to Jack for help.  “Jack ...”  The use of Jack's first name indicated the level of Casey's concern and just how much he cared about Daniel.

Jack leaned forward, placing his face mere inches from Daniel's.

“Daniel!”  His voice was forceful, demanding.  “Daniel, listen to me.  You've got to slow your breathing down.  Think slow, calm, relaxed.”  His fingers gripped Daniel's chin, his voice daunting.  “Open your eyes, Daniel.”

Daniel could hear Jack's desperate pleas.   ~Oh, please.  I can't do this. Oh, Jack ... help me ... my back ... chest ... hurts so bad ... Jack!~

The grip on his chin tightened, and Jack's voice echoed in the archaeologist's head.

“Daniel!  Open your eyes.  THAT'S AN ORDER, Daniel!  NOW!”

Daniel peered into worried brown eyes.

“Good,” Jack said with a smile and a more tender tone.  “Now, take a deep breath.”  Daniel attempted to pull away from Jack's grip.  “I'm bringing the Colonel out, Danny.  You need to do what I say -- NOW!  C'mon, Love.  One deep breath ... for me, Danny.”

~For Jack ... have to keep Jack happy ... hurts ... Jack wants me ... gawd ... for Jack.~

Finally, Daniel did as Jack “ordered,” knowing that Jack seldom used his “Colonel O'Neill” voice on him unless he meant business.

~Must be bad.  I'm not just ... gawd, not just whining.  Hurts, Jack.~

“That's it, slow and easy.”  Jack breathed a deep sigh of relief as Daniel complied.  “Slow and easy ... Good ... Nice and easy.”  His thumb slowly rubbed at Daniel's chin as he spoke soothingly.

Janet's shoes clicking on the concrete floor announced her arrival. “What's going on?”

Casey moved to offer his findings.

“Daniel woke in severe pain.  His temp is 101.6.  He's restless, anxious, and started to hyperventilate.  Vitals are unchanged.”

Janet began another assessment.

“Daniel, tell me what you're feeling; where it hurts.”

“My back, between my shoulder blades, a little bit down from there.  It's ... bad, Janet,” Daniel admitted as his breathing increased.

“I'm going to get you some medicine to help the pain.”  She turned to Casey.  “Give him another one-hundred micrograms of Fentanyl IV and get another six-hundred fifty milligram suppository of Tylenol.  We've got to get this fever down NOW.”

Casey left the bedside to obtain the medications.  He was glad neither Jack nor Daniel could read his thoughts because right now, he was worried -- very worried.  When he returned with the drugs, Janet had just finished listening to Daniel's lungs.  He administered the medications as instructed and soon, Daniel's breathing slowed.

Daniel's eyes remained closed, the ever-present lines of pain dissolving from his face.  Jack laid his head down on the edge of Daniel's bed, his tears sliding silently into the linens.  Watching Daniel suffer so much was killing him.  Daniel never asked for drugs.  He never complained, and yet that's what he'd been doing all morning.  It was just too much to process.  Jack felt Janet's hand on his shoulder.

“Jack, we'll figure this out.  I know how hard this is.  I'm doing everything I can.”  Janet tried her best to be reassuring.

Jack lifted his head to watch Daniel, unashamed of the tears that tracked down his face.

“Figure it out soon, Janet.  He can't take much more.  I ... can feel him slipping away.  Do something, Janet.  He's counting on you and ... and so am I!”

====

The noon hour had come and gone, and things were going downhill. The new chest X-ray revealed the density in Daniel's lower right chest to be growing in size.  Janet ordered his antibiotic therapy increased to cover the possibility of pneumonia.  Since his breathing was getting more difficult, the amount of oxygen Daniel was receiving also increased.

With Jack at his side like always, Daniel awoke from his drug-induced slumber at 1 p.m.  He was restless, pale, and had a fine sheen of sweat covering his body.  He also continued to complain of unrelenting upper back pain, and then new symptoms began to further cloud the picture: severe nausea with intermittent bouts of vomiting, continued fever alternating now with chills, a new non-productive cough which only added to Daniel's misery, as that exacerbated his chest pain with the tubes and fractured ribs.

Daniel couldn't get comfortable, and Jack's efforts to massage the pain away proved futile as well.

~Do something, Jack!  You always fix things.  Please fix it.~

Ultimately, Daniel chose to remain on his right side, curled in as tight a fetal position as he could attain, quiet, walled off from those around him, seemingly accepting the pain with mute tears seeping from his blackened eyes.

Jack was frantic.  Daniel was in an ever-increasing amount of pain, and nothing seemed to help to the point that Daniel had finally requested that they just leave him alone.  Helplessly, Jack watched his soulmate retreat into a dark, silent place that even he couldn't reach.  He knew Daniel was counting on him, that he was the young man's personal “Mr. Fix-it,” but right, now, Jack couldn't do anything to ease his husband's pain.  Jack began to pace in the room.

~I hate this.  I need to be able to help him, but not even just being here helps.  What is wrong?  He was getting better, and now ... oh, Danny.  I wish I could trade places with you.  I would if I could, Angel.~

Janet suddenly appeared in the room.  She approached Jack, a weary, worried air present in her demeanor.

“We're going to get another CT scan of his chest and abdomen.”  She ran a hand through her hair, the action reflecting her level of frustration.  She exhaled loudly.  “There's got to be something we're missing.  We'll be moving him soon.”

Jack quietly acknowledged this latest bit of information.  He had little else to offer.  Janet was well aware of his deep despair with the entire situation.  Now was not the time for words of anger or accusation.

Janet moved to Daniel's bedside.  “Daniel?”  Her hand lay on his left arm.  “Daniel.  Can you open your eyes for me?”  Small slivers of blue appeared.  “We're going to get another CT scan of your chest.  We need to find out what's causing you so much pain.”  He offered no response to her news.  “Do you understand me?”

“Mmm-uh.”

“Casey's going to give you some Ativan.  It will help you relax a little.”

Daniel saw Jack hovering over Janet's shoulder.  Seeing his husband always made Daniel feel better, but right now, Daniel saw beyond the smile and brief wink Jack had given him, a gesture of support at the idea of Daniel relaxing.  Daniel saw his lover's pain and heartache.  He wanted to smile, to comfort his husband, to tell him everything would be all right.

~Tired.  Make me believe it, Jack.  All right.  It will be all right.~

“Daniel, we're going to need you on your back for the test.  Jack, help me here?”

Daniel closed his eyes in silent protest at the prospect of being moved from his current state.

~Please, just leave me be.  Don't make me do this.~

Jack's voice quieted his turbulent thoughts.  “Danny, we're making progress.”  ~This has to be progress.  Please let it help him.~  “Work with me.”

Daniel allowed Jack and Janet to assist him when he suddenly shouted, “SHZYBALNAK!”  Excruciating pain had exploded from deep within his right lung.  He felt like he had been stabbed.  It was the worst pain he had experienced thus far and  literally took his breath away.

Janet looked at Jack in confusion.

“It's one of those forty-plus languages, Janet.  I'm sure you can ... translate.”  Jack mocked a cough.

 ~Noooo ... stop ... don't ... can't breathe ... can't breathe ...~

Daniel's eyes popped open, wild and unfocused.  He began to frantically struggle.  His respirations were fast and short, his head rolling back and forth, and his arms pulled from both Jack's and Janet's hold.  Daniel's body and legs were flailing in desperation.

“No ...  Can't breathe ... Jack, I can't breathe ... hurts so bad ... help...” Daniel heard a faint voice.  It seemed so far away.

“Daniel!” Jack shouted.  Panic-stricken, Jack looked at the feisty doctor. “What's happening, Janet?”  Fear was evident in Jack's voice, and in his eyes.

“Casey, get Doctor Warner and a team in here ... STAT!” Janet's intense voice rang out.

“Jack ...  Help me ... can't ... can't breathe ...”  Daniel's voice was getting weaker.

He felt an oxygen mask placed on his face, further increasing the restrictive sensation.  There was a flow of the cool oxygen on his face, but it provided no relief for the air hunger he was experiencing.  Daniel felt as if a tight band was squeezing his chest, caving it in.  He physically could not draw in a breath.  He was fading, and he could feel it.

~No ... fight, Jackson ... try...~

Daniel locked eyes with Jack, a very terrified, thoroughly overwhelmed Jack.  He could no longer force air from his lungs to form words.  He silently mouthed, “Help ... Can't breathe.”

Daniel could hear his heart beating, echoing in his mind.  ~This is so strange.~  He saw a flood of new personnel entering his room.  He felt his gown being ripped from his body -- a cold draft in the room combined with the sweat that covered his chest to send a chill through his body.

His focus slowly floated to the figure hovering over his body.  It was Janet, stethoscope in place, listening to his chest.

“Bag him, he's not moving any air.”

Daniel felt hands lift his head off the pillow, tipping his head back and extending his neck.  The oxygen mask was removed, replaced by another that forced air into his mouth.  He weakly shook his head in an attempt to remove the hands.

“It's okay, Doctor Jackson.  Just let us help you breathe.  Let us do it.  Relax.”

 ~Relax? ... hurts ... stop ...~

Doctor Warner arrived in the room, immediately asking, “What ya got, Janet?”

“Respiratory arrest.  We were repositioning Daniel onto his back.  He became acutely restless, agitated.  Had an acute onset of severe pain, dyspnea.  He kept saying he couldn't breathe.  He's become dusky, diaphoretic, you know, clammy.”

“Doctor Fraiser, he's extremely difficult to bag.  I can't seem to be able to get any air into him.”

Janet looked to Doctor Warner, grateful for his presence which meant the opportunity to get a second opinion.  She was too close to Daniel and wanted the comfort of another view from someone she respected.

“I couldn't hear much moving on the right again.  Another pneumo?”

“Maybe.”  Doctor Warner considered the idea and then issued orders to the staff.  “Get me a sixty cc syringe with a ten or fourteen gauge needle, long, three and one-half inch if you got one, NOW.  Betadine, quick.”

The doctor maneuvered Daniel's right arm out of his work position so that it extended up next to his head.  A nurse held the arm there while another handed the doctor a bottle of the dark maroon fluid.  He snapped on a pair of gloves and squirted the fluid onto Daniel's right chest.

“Here you go, Doctor.”  Casey extended his hand holding the object. “Ten-gauge needle on there for you.  Need some lidocaine?”

“No time,” came the urgent response.  Doctor Warner felt the rib structure on Daniel's lower right chest.  “Big needle stick on your chest, Daniel ... right now.”

He then pushed the needle into Daniel's chest at a ninety-degree angle and began to pull back on the syringe.  Daniel bucked and writhed as the needle entered his chest, his body literally held down by numerous nursing personnel.

 ~No ... don't ... that can't be a needle - hurts too much ... it's ... it's a knife.  Take it out ... this is torture.  Jack ... he'll help me.  Jack, make them stop, please.~

Janet's voice penetrated through the overwhelming pain.

“Daniel, I know it hurts.  Hang in there just a bit longer.  This will let you breathe again.”

She observed as her colleague advanced the needle into her patient's chest.

“There you go, Janet. There's the source of the fever and pain,” Doctor Warner commented on the thick, milky pale yellow fluid that was filling his syringe.  “He's got an empyema.  Any easier to bag him?”

“Yes, Sir,” the nurse at Daniel's head replied.

“Thought so.  Get me another sixty cc syringe.”

Jack watched as Doctor Warner removed the full syringe and reconnected the empty syringe, all the time leaving the large needle imbedded in Daniel's chest.

“Run that to lab.  Do a gram stain and culture on it.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Someone get me a blood pressure,” Janet ordered.  “He's got good spontaneous respiratory effort now.   Get that non-rebreather oxygen mask back on him now.”

Casey called out the vitals -- “BP's ninety-six over forty.  Heart rate is one-eighteen.  SAT's ninety-five percent on the O's.”

“I want OR-1 set up for an emergency thoracotomy now.  Let's get ready to move!”

“Yes, Ma'am,” Casey acknowledged, doing as instructed.

Doctor Warner continued to withdraw the milky-yellow fluid into the second syringe until it too was full.  “That should hold us until we get to the OR.”  He looked at Daniel.  “Daniel, I'm going to take that needle out now.  It's gonna hurt a bit.”

Warner removed the syringe and needle from Daniel's chest, holding a four by four dressing over the puncture site.   He motioned for one of the nurses to relieve him.  It was Marie who took over, continuing to maintain the pressure.

“Janet, if you're okay here, I'm gonna go scrub,” Doctor Warner stated, noticing Janet looked pale from all her efforts and the emotions involved.
     
“We're fine here.  Go.” Janet paused slightly.  “Hey, Skeet,” Janet called out, calling the doctor by his nickname, “What do think about getting that chest CT?”

“I doubt it would be of any value.  It would only cause an unnecessary delay.  You know me, Janet.  I think like a surgeon.  We just need to get in there, take a look, see what he's got going on.”

“Yeah, okay.”  She nodded in agreement.  “We'll be there soon.”

“Okay.”  Doctor Warner touched Jack's arm as he moved from the bedside to depart the room.  “I'll talk to you when we're through, Colonel.”

Jack stared silently at Daniel as Doctor Warner left, too overwhelmed to offer a response.

“Jack, let me explain some things.”  Janet's voice penetrated through the fog that filled Jack's mind.  “I don't have much time.  We need to keep moving.”  She sighed.  “I think you've heard those words before, haven't you?”

“Come and sit, Jack.”  Jack began to protest, wanting to stay at his husband's side.  “We're not going far.  Just sit here.”

Janet pulled Jack into the bedside computer station; Jack continued to watch the activity surrounding Daniel as he sat.

“Jack ...”  Janet's hand touched the side of Jack's face.  His eyes met Janet's.  “We've got to take Daniel back for a third operation without delay.”

Jack's eyes closed tightly, and he hung his head down.  Janet gave him time to absorb this new information before she continued.

“You saw the fluid that Doctor Warner aspirated out of Daniel's chest.  That fluid tells us that Daniel has an infection in his chest.  It is probably what caused the fever and the breathing problems he's had over the past twelve hours.  There's a pocket of infection somewhere in that right chest.

“Doctor Warner needs to do a thoracotomy.  That means he'll make an incision to open up the right chest.  He'll need to explore that area to find the source of the infection and clean it out.  When we're done, Daniel will go back to the ICU.  We'll have to place another chest tube in that right chest during surgery.  I'll be with him the whole time.  I'll come find you as soon as we're done.  I promise.  Go be with him now.  We'll be taking him to the OR very shortly.”

Jack stood and walked the short distance to the bedside.  Daniel's eyes were closed, but he was breathing on his own.  Jack touched the pale, sweaty face, but Daniel didn't respond.

“I'll see you soon.  I love you, Angel.  Don't forget, Danny.  It's my life, too.  Yeah, I know.  Dirty pool.  So yell at me later.”  He bent down to kiss his husband's forehead.  “I'll wait for you.”

And with that, Daniel's bed was wheeled out of ISO-1, down the hall and around the corner to the OR.  Once more, Jack was left all alone and waiting for his husband's return.  Forever and always seemed like a distant dream.

====

“Hey, Teal'c,” Sam said, tapping on the Jaffa's door, which had been left slightly ajar.

“Come in SamanthaCarter.”

“Am I ... disturbing you?”

Sam noticed her teammate was surrounded by candles, and while he no longer had to Kel-no-reem, he meditated daily.  It looked to her like he was about to do that now.

“No, is there any change with DanielJackson?”

Brushing back a tear, she answered, “No, he's on his way to surgery now.  Janet ... she let me talk to him just for a minute.  He's so weak, Teal'c.”

Teal'c sat silently, Indian-style, surrounded by his candles.  Sam noticed now that he was holding something.

“What's that?”

“It is a Malgoream Meditation Crystal.”

“Malogream?  The Malgoris from PR8-229?”

“Yes.  DanielJackson extracted this during his dig there last year.  He said it was sacred to the people of Malgoria, that they believed it had great healing powers.  To this day, the Malgoris use these crystals to meditate and pray.”

“Daniel could use our prayers.”

“Would you care to join me, SamanthaCarter?  We can meditate, and then look after O'Neill.”

Sam nodded, wiping away another tear as closed the door and then sat down across from Teal'c.

“I don't really know what to do, Teal'c.”

“Close your eyes.”

Teal'c reached out and took Sam's hands and joined them together, with the Malgoream Meditation Crystal between them.

“Focus on DanielJackson with your heart and your mind.  See him strong.  Hear his words.  Feel his touch.  In your soul, you must pray for his wellbeing.”

The two felt the power of love, and prayed that it extended to their teammate and friend.  A few minutes later, they closed the door to Teal'c's quarters and headed for the OR, knowing their CO would need their strength.

====

Jack stood up from his chair, arms extended over his head, back arched as he attempted to stretch out muscles which had become stiff and tight due to inactivity.  He had a pounding, throbbing headache, aching neck muscles, an acid bath churning in his stomach, and his entire body was filled with worry and tension.

~How much longer?  I am way too old for this.  Let's face it, waiting sucks.~

He turned back to his two teammates, his family.  They had joined him shortly after Daniel had been whisked off to surgery, and that was almost two and a half hours ago.

Time had slowed to a crawl.  One hour into the surgery, Casey had appeared in the room to deliver a message.

“Doctor Fraiser wanted to give you an update.   Daniel's vitals are stable, and he's tolerating things as well as can be expected.”  Jack started to interrupt, but Casey held up his hand.  “She said she knows you are all anxious.  She'll make sure to keep you updated.”
 
A second update was delivered at the two hour interval -- “He's stable.  We'll have more information soon.  Be patient.”  That was thirty minutes ago.

~Yes, waiting sucks.~  Jack looked over at Teal'c and Sam.  They, too, looked weary, tired, beat.  ~I gotta get outta here.~  “I'm going to take a walk into the corridor.  I can't just sit here, waiting, any longer.”
 
Jack exited ISO-1 where they had been waiting.  They were there, and not in the observation deck of the OR, because the particular OR being used this time around didn't have an observation deck to accommodate viewing or procedures.

Jack walked down one hall of the infirmary, then a second and a third, walking off nervous energy and tension.  ~Walk.  Just walk.  Don't think.  Just walk.~  He soon found himself in the hallway outside the surgery complex.  He knew his lover was just inside the door.  ~Danny.~

Jack felt the tears forming in his eyes.  He suddenly lost all his strength and resolve.  He turned his back to the wall and slowly slid down until he felt his backside hit the cold concrete floor.  He leaned his head against his raised up knees and then folded his arms over his head, his thoughts focused on his partner in a surgery suite just beyond that door, and his heart in agony over what was happening to his soulmate.

~Danny, Angel.  This is so not what we had planned.  We were supposed to retire, enjoy our lives together, out in the open, no more hiding, no more secrets.  Children.  What about our plans for kids, yours and mine?  Come on, Daniel.  You've got to hang in there.  Please. You have to do this for me.  I won't survive without you.~
 
“Jack?”
 
Janet was on one knee, kneeling beside him, her warm hand resting on his shoulder, noting the fine tremors beneath her touch.

Jack's head snapped up at the sound of her voice.  “Janet?”  His voice was anxiety-ridden, apprehensive.  “Is he okay?  Please tell me he's okay.”
 
Jack stood as Janet lent him a supportive hand.

“He came through the surgery fairly well.  Let's go find Sam and Teal'c, and I'll explain.”  Jack looked over his shoulder back at the doorway to surgery.  “You can't see him just yet.  Doctor Warner's still with him.  It's okay.  Let's go get Sam and Teal'c.”
 
Sam and Teal'c rose from their chairs as Jack and Janet entered ISO-1.

“Janet?” Sam asked, the anxiety in her voice mimicking that of Jack's.
 
“Please, all of you sit down, and I'll explain what is happening.”

She took a deep cleansing breath. ~Take your time, Janet.  Slow.  Go slowly.  They're all wound up, worried.~

“Doctor Warner made an incision here,” she demonstrated the location on Jack's chest, her finger running along Jack's lateral chest at the nipple level, “about eight inches in length and opened up Daniel's right chest.  We found a pocket of infection in his lower chest.  We drained it, irrigated it thoroughly.  Then we explored the pleural space, the lung space, within that side of his chest.  We found two small pieces of shrapnel, about two centimeters in diameter.  We removed them, irrigated the entire right chest cavity and closed the chest.

“We then placed another chest tube on that right side.  The surgery itself disrupts the normal negative pressure that exists within the chest.  This negative pressure is what allows the lung to remain expanded.  The chest tube is needed to re-establish the negative field within the chest and will help to re-expand that lung.  We'll leave the chest tube in for a few days, and then it can be removed.  Do you understand what I've told you so far?”

All three nodded silently, allowing her to continue.

“Good.  Chest surgery of this type is extremely painful post-operatively.
So while he was in surgery, we also placed an intrathecal catheter for pain control.  Let me explain.  This catheter is placed into a space within the spine.  A constant infusion of pain medication is delivered through this catheter.  We can adjust the amount of medication Daniel receives.  This will allow us to better manage his pain as he starts to recuperate and become more active.  He'll be able to do all the breathing exercises and move with a minimal amount of pain.  Hopefully, it will shorten his recovery time.

“Right now, Doctor Warner is working on getting Daniel extubated.  We hope to be able to remove the breathing tube while he's in post-op recovery and leave it out.  It will be better for him physically and emotionally if he is able to breathe on his own.  If he's unable to maintain his oxygen levels on his own, or if there are other complications, we will need to re-intubate him and put him back on the vent; but we're hoping that we won't need to do that.”  She took a deep breath.  “Okay, questions?”

Jack replied immediately with the only question that mattered to him at the moment, “When can I see him?”

Janet smiled and answered, “Let me go check in with Doctor Warner and see how we're doing.  We'll be bringing him back to this room as soon as we can.  I'll be right back to let you know how things are going.”

She stood and headed back towards the  OR when she heard her name.
 
“Janet?”

“Yes, Jack?”

“Thanks.”

“You're welcome, but, remember, I also have a personal investment here.  He's my family, too.  I'll be right back.”

====

Jack sat contently at his husband's bedside, gently holding his hand, watching him sleep.  Daniel had come back from surgery without the breathing tube, a major accomplishment.  He had been settled, and Jack had been allowed to stay with him, not that he had any intention of being kept away.

Janet had explained that Daniel would sleep through the night due to the sedation he had received.  She wanted him to sleep, as he had been so sleep-deprived prior to this last surgery.  It would allow him to begin to heal, to begin the long road to recovery.  Janet had left Daniel's bedside with orders that Jack also use the bed afforded to him and get some rest or he, too, would be sedated.

Jack smiled as he remembered Janet's words of warning.  Actually, they were words of love and concern and for once, he intended to follow her orders.  Kim, Daniel's nurse for the night shift, had been instructed to wake him if there were any concerns or if Daniel awoke.

Jack stood.  He leaned over and gently kissed his husband's forehead.

“Sleep, Love.  Rest,” he whispered.  “I'll be just over here.  I'm not far.  I love you so much.”

Forever and always once again seemed within their grasp.

====

Sounds.  No, not sounds.  Voices.  Though faint and distant, they crept into the thick, willowy white cocoon that enveloped him in a blanket of warm comfort and safety.  The voices were persistent, though, rousing him from his slumber, coaxing him back to their world, inviting him to communicate, to participate, to interact.  No.  Just one voice.  One sweet voice, a voice he adored and cherished, summoned him to return.

“Daniel?  Daniel?  Can you hear me?”

The voice was but a whisper, close to his right ear.  Warm, gentle fingers caressed his forehead and cheek.

“Please Daniel.  Open your eyes for me.  It's been too long.”

Jack watched anxiously as his partner's eyes fluttered, then bright blue eyes hesitantly peered through half-opened lids.  A sigh of relief escaped just before a genuine smile spread across Jack's face.

“Hey there, Beautiful.  Geez, what your soulful eyes do to me.”

Daniel's throat was dry and parched.  He opened his mouth, but his voice would not cooperate.  His fingers weakly tapped on the bed, seeking his lover's warm grasp.  Jack noted the movement, his hand moving to cover Daniel's.

“It's okay.  Don't try to talk just yet.”  His voice cracked as he sought to comfort and calm his lover, tears filling his eyes.  “I've missed you so much.”

Daniel slowly nodded his head, moving his fingers beneath Jack's hand in acknowledgement.

~Jack.  Missed you, too.  Was I asleep?  I don't remember ... again.~

Janet suddenly appeared over Jack's shoulder.

“Daniel.  I heard you were awake.  Welcome back.”

Daniel's eyes rolled closed briefly.  ~So tired ... Jack's here ... I'm safe ... just going to close my eyes for a minute ...~

“Daniel?”  Daniel's eyes opened slowly in response.  “Daniel, I need you to stay awake for a few minutes while I check things out.  Then you can go back to sleep, okay?”

~No.~

Daniel attempted to roll his head away from the offensive and painfully bright light of Janet's penlight.  Her commands to squeeze her hands and move his feet were weakly, but successfully followed.  The cold stethoscope's presence on his chest was only slightly annoying to him.

~Let me rest ... so tired ...~

He drifted off, conscious of a warm hand on his cheek and a kiss placed on his forehead.

“It's okay.  Go back to sleep.  I love you.  I'll be here when you wake up.”

~Jack.  My Jack.  Loves me.~

====

“Any change, Colonel?”

Jack stood, seeing the General enter Daniel's room.

“No, Sir.  He's holding his own now that he's awake, or was awake.  He's asleep at the moment.”

“Jack, this may not be the time or the place to bring this up, but I've been requested to ask you and Doctor Jackson to reconsider your decision to leave the SGC.”

“Sir, with all due respect, not a chance in Netu.”  Jack sat down and took hold of Daniel's hand.  “We have plans, General, and they don't include being fired at by the Jaffa, ribboned by Goa'uld snakeheads, or suffering through any more weird alien viruses.  We're done.”

Hammond nodded.  He understood Jack's feelings, but he was being pressured to find a way to keep his flagship team together.  Still, this wasn't the time to push the Colonel about the issue.  He stood over Daniel's bed, watching the young man for a minute or two, as if by doing so he could give his Head of Archaeology more strength.

The General's affection for the injured man was genuine.  Most everyone knew he thought of Daniel as a son, although after Daniel had reverted to childhood for a week a year or so earlier, the relationship had been a bit redefined.

~Be strong, Daniel.  I still think of you as my grandson, and I'd have a hole the size of Texas in my heart if you died.~  Hammond gathered together his bravest voice as he addressed Jack again, “He'll be fine, Jack.  Think about what I said, and I'll check back on Doctor Jackson later.”

“Yes, Sir,” Jack said, not missing the mist visible in Hammond's eyes.

~Not a prayer, Danny.  From now on, it's just you and me.~

Jack watched his friend walk out of the room, and spoke quietly to his lover.

“Grandpa says you have to live.  It was in his eyes.  You don't want to disappoint him, do you?”  Jack sniffled in spite of his best efforts not to. “It was such a crazy week, Danny.  You and me ... kids, terrorizing the SGC, but remember all that love?  Uncle Lou ...” Jack trailed off, remembering how the two men as young boys had believed not only that Hammond was their grandfather, but that Lou Ferretti was their uncle.

“Remember the party they gave us?  All those presents.  Wow, Danny.  You can't turn your back on that.  Live, Angel, for me ... for our girls ... for the human kids we're going to have real soon, and ... live for Uncle Lou and Grandpa!  Please, Angel.  Please.”

Jack rubbed his cheek against Daniel's hand a few times, his tears falling against Daniel's skin.

“J'ck?”

“Shh, Danny.  You're not supposed to talk.”

Daniel was barely awake, but Jack's anguish and tears had woken him.  He had heard the tender plea.

“Grandpa George here?”

“Yes, Angel, he was.  He wants you to get well.”

Daniel gave a slight nod, and whispered a raspy, “Love you, Jack.”

“I love you, too.  Now, sleep, before Janet kicks me to kingdom come for waking you up.”

Daniel's eyes closed immediately, and Jack felt more at peace than he had since the crisis that had led to the third operation had begun.  He wasn't sure if it was Daniel's words, or the calm visit by ... Grandpa George.

====
 
Daniel looked up to watch as Casey hung another of his numerous IV antibiotics.  Janet had explained that this multiple antibiotic therapy was necessary to purge his lungs of the nasty infection that had precipitated his chest surgery just two days ago.

Noting the inquisitive eyes of the much beloved archeologist observing his activity, Casey smiled.

“How are you doing, Daniel?  Getting tired?”

Daniel had been sitting up in the bedside chair for just over an hour now.

“Maybe just a bit longer?  Feels good to be out of bed.”

Casey laughed.  “I can understand, but we don't want you to push yourself too hard too fast.  Remember you were already up for an hour and a half this morning.”

“I know.  Hard to believe that I can get so exhausted just sitting in a chair.  How am I ever going to get any work done when I can barely tolerate sitting?”

“Hold on a minute.  You need to remember how far you've come.  You just sustained a major insult to your system with extensive injuries, then an extensive infection and a surgery.  Give yourself a break, Daniel.  You can't expect to be up running any races quite yet, especially not with work.”

Daniel sighed.  “I guess you're right.  I just want to get out of here and go home.”

“You keep doing your exercises and cooperate with nursing, the nutritionist, the physical therapy people, well, just the whole medical team, and it will happen.”  Casey noted the quiet, introverted demeanor return to his patient.  “Daniel,  it will come.  You've got to believe that.  I think you're doing great.”

“And I'll second that.”  Jack had entered ISO-1, having just returned from a short briefing with the General.  “You are doing great.  You've got to give it some time, Daniel.”

Daniel remained silent, face pale, eyes downcast and sullen.

Casey laid a warm hand on his shoulder as he said, “Time to get you back to bed, let you get some rest.”

“Great idea, Casey.”  Jack's lilting, lightly playful mood continued.  “I don't know about our linguist, but I've got big plans for the night.  A little dinner, a little conversation, the ever exciting bed bath, a good night's sleep.  Tomorrow, we're off to greener pastures.”  Daniel's eyes looked up to meet Jack's.  “Oh, that's right, Daniel.  Play your cards right, and tonight will be your last night in the ICU.  Fraiser's thinking you can move outta here tomorrow and into your own private room in the infirmary.  Sounds good, don't you think?”

“I want to go home.”

“One step at a time.  Patience, Dannyboy, though I know that's never been a strong point with you.”

Casey saw his opportunity to stop the decline in his patient's mood.  “Colonel, help me out here?”

“Be glad to.”

Casey and Jack each reached for one of Daniel's arms, assisting him to stand from the chair.  Jack maneuvered himself to stand directly in front of his partner, extending his arms securely under Daniel's arms, supporting him as Casey moved to check all the monitoring equipment.

“I've got all the lines, chest tube is clear.  Slow and easy, Daniel.”

“Just a second, Casey.  Give us one minute ... please.”

Casey backed away, staying close in case he was needed, but far enough to afford the two lovers some intimacy.

“Come here, Danny.” Jack gently pulled Daniel to his chest, wrapping his arms firmly around his lover in a big hug.  “I've been waiting so long to hold you like this, even if it's only for a brief minute.  Geez, this feels so good!”

Daniel turned his head to rest it on Jack's strong shoulder, sinking into the comfort and love of his husband.  It felt like heaven to him, like he was home.  He didn't want to move.  He wanted to stay like this, secure in Jack's arms.

Jack's voice was a melodic whisper in Daniel's ear, like a beautiful song that he never wanted to end  -- “I've missed you, more than I could ever tell you.  I love you so much.  My angel.  Geez, Danny.”

“I love you, Jack.  Gawd, I love you.”

They stood enjoying the closeness of each other, this special time coming to a close too soon for both of them, but Jack knew Daniel was too weak to continue standing so he forced himself to end it.

“Okay.  Let's get you back to bed.”

“No, not yet.  Please, just another minute.”

Daniel did his best to hold his husband to him.  He really needed this --  the security, the peacefulness, the oneness -- of being held by Jack.  It filled him with a new desire to get out of the infirmary as soon as he could ... so Jack could hold him in their own him, in front of the fireplace, with their girls nearby in their beanbag.  Oh, how Daniel wanted that.

“One more minute,” Jack agreed, unable to deny his soulmate.  He kissed the side of Daniel's neck, and very gently squeezed him in a loving reassurance.  “My life.  My heart.  My soul,” Jack whispered.  “Forever and always.”  It was so soft that only Daniel could hear his words.

Daniel gently pulled back.  “Me, too.”  They looked into each other's eyes.  They hadn't been able to do this for way too long.  “Jack ...”

Jack smiled.  He had to be careful.  He had to make sure Daniel was secure in his arms, but he knew what his lover wanted, so slowly, gently, he moved forward, bringing their lips together in a full kiss that had both tingling with love and desire, not for sex, but just for the feel of the other and the joyful bliss that was their life together.

“Mmm.”  Daniel laid his head against Jack's shoulder again.  “Like that ... lots.”

“Me, too,” Jack whispered.

Jack held on to his husband for another few seconds, but he could feel Daniel beginning to sink down a bit, having stood for too long than he had the physical strength to do.

“I love you, Danny.”

“Love you, too.”

“I know.  Now,” Jack's voice grew louder and firmer, “time for bed.”

“I wish.”

Jack smiled, hoping Casey had missed the comment.  

Jack helped to maneuver his soulmate back to the bed and assisted him to lay down, covering his legs with the blankets, as Casey got the wires and tubes situated.  Jack leaned very close to his partner's face.

“You keep fighting.  Keep believing.  It's going to be okay.”

Daniel's eyes were now closed, as he adjusted to the increased pain the simplest act of movement brought.  He nodded his head.

“For you, I can do that, but don't go far.  I'll need your help to make it happen.”

Jack smiled warmly as he answered, “I'm not going anywhere.  We'll get through this together.  You know our motto.  Together ...”

“Unbeatable,” Daniel said.

“You got that right!”

====

The next afternoon, Daniel had been moved to a private room within the infirmary.  Janet had hoped to remove most of the monitoring equipment, but in the end, had erred on the side of caution and safety.   Daniel's chest X-ray taken that morning concerned her.

“It's still a little too hazy.  It's just not as cleared up as I'd like it to be,” she had explained to Jack.

As a result, the right chest tube and nasal cannula oxygen remained in situ.  She also informed Jack and Daniel that the IV's would infuse right up until the day Daniel was discharged.  She did, however, make one concession - the despicable Foley catheter had been removed prior to the transfer, with the condition that Daniel use a urinal until he had gained back the strength required for frequent trips to the bathroom.

“Okay Daniel, just a couple more, then we're done for today.”  Jack held Daniel's right leg in his hands.  “Uh-uh. You're tensing up.  Just breathe, relax the muscles  ... That's it, Love.  Let me do the work ...”

“J'ck ... not ... the kind of ... work ... I like ... to let you ... do.”

Jack smiled at the innuendo and the little smirk he saw on Daniel's face.  Refusing to be distracted, he kept on with his physical therapy work, helping his lover's body to heal.

“Good,  much better ...  Okay, for a count of ten.”

As he initiated the count, Jack slowly manipulated the leg and began to flex the right leg up toward Daniel's hip, then slowly rotating it outward.  He returned it to an extended position and then laid it flat on the bed.

“Excellent.  You're doing much better.”  He rubbed the tightened calf muscles as he smiled at his partner.  “Ready?”

“Slave...driver ... mean Colonel ... no won...der Airman are ... scared to death ... of you.”

“You just keep that attitude, Dannyboy.  This is nothing.  Now, come on, concentrate.  Last one for today.  One, two ...”

The count began as the limb was once again maneuvered in the familiar pattern.  Daniel kept his focus on the ceiling tiles over his head, slowly breathing through the cramps that always accompanied the stretching exercises that had become a twice daily ritual while he had been restricted to either his bed or the bedside chair in the ICU.

His face was covered with sweat, and his body ached as muscles left idle for too long protested against the measured movements.

“Done, Jack?” came a weak, breathless plea.  “No more, please.  Tired.”

Jack smiled, tenderly wiping his lover's sweat-covered face with a dry towel.

“Yeah, okay, Daniel.  We're done for today, but remember, tomorrow we go down to the PT department for a whole new workout.  No more lying around in bed for you.  I heard Teal'c had a hand in designing something a little more challenging for you.  Treadmill, weights, barbells, a little pool work once the tubes are all out -- should be interesting, don't you think?”

“Oh, yeah.  Challenging, interesting.  I'm raring to go.  Can't wait.  Can I just rest for a bit first?”

Daniel closed his eyes, breathing more relaxed and even.

Jack reached to the pitcher of water on the bedside table.

“How about a drink?”

Daniel nodded and said “Thanks” as Jack handed him a glass of water.  He swallowed a couple of mouthfuls of the cool liquid, then lay quietly, eyes closed.

~Dizzy.  Why am I so dizzy?  Heart feels like it's fluttering in my chest.  Just go slow.  Lay still, and it'll go away on its own.  Slow easy breaths ... slow ...~

Daniel lay quietly, the dizzy feeling transitioning to nausea.  A hot sensation flooded his entire body and then a cold sweat covered him from head to toe.

“Jack?”

Daniel's voice was faint as he floundered a weak hand on the bed, seeking out his husband.

Noting the flush, wet, pale complexion, Jack quickly gripped the white hand.

“Daniel?  What's wrong?”

“I don't feel so good.   I'm dizzy, feel sick to my stomach.  My heart's racing.  Don't leave me, Jack.”

“Hey, I'm right here.  Lay still and I'll get help.”

Jack reached over to the phone laying on the bedside table and dialed the preset code for assistance, waited a few seconds for the line to be answered, and then spoke in a low, controlled voice, “It's Daniel.  Something's not right.  Get Fraiser in here now.”

He put the phone back in its cradle, then returned to sit on the side of his partner's bed.

“It's okay.  They're on their way.  I'm right here.  I love you.”

Daniel fought to control his panic.

“It's getting harder to breathe.  Gawd, I don't want to do this again.  Jack, it's too hard.  I can't.”

Tears streamed from the corners of his eyes as terrifying memories of recent events flashed through his mind, memories of severe breathing difficulties, needles, tubes, blood, scalpels, surgeries, incisions, pain, never-ending overwhelming pain.

“Not again,” Daniel said, his voice barely audible.

He felt Jack's cool hand wipe at the tears, then move to his cheek, as the older man reassured him as best he could, “It's gonna be okay, Love.  Just relax, breathe slow.  I love you, Danny.  I love you so friggin' much.  This will all be history soon.  We'll be home, with our girls.  You'll see.  Stay strong.  You can do it.”

The door to Daniel's room burst open to reveal Janet, followed closely by two of her nurses pushing a cart of equipment.  She grabbed Daniel's clammy wrist, feeling for a pulse, Jack standing away from the bed to allow her access.

“Weak, irregular.  Get the monitor on,” she addressed her staff.  “What happened, Colonel?”

Daniel felt a cold chill, as his gown was quickly unsnapped and pulled down to his waist, then patches pushed onto his chest.  An oxygen mask was quickly placed over his nose and mouth, the plastic flow of cool air easing his distress just a bit.  Though his eyes remained closed, he focused on Jack's voice.

“We just finished his stretching exercises.  He was tired, said he wanted to rest a bit.  Then he got really pale, flushed, like he is now.   And real sweaty.  Said it was a little harder to breathe and that he felt like his heart was racing.”

“Looks like v-tach, Doctor.”

Janet's voice was tense as she responded, “I agree.  Still got a pulse, though.  Daniel?  Can you hear me?”  There was no acknowledgement from her patient.  “Let's move.  I want him back in ICU.  Let's move him back to ISO-1.  Daniel?  You're going to feel the bed moving.  Just breathe, nice and slow.”

The bedrails were brought up and locked in position, the brake on the bed was released, and it was moved through the doorway out into the corridor and down the hallway.

“Janet?  What's going on?”

Jack had joined the trio pushing Daniel's bed down the hall, and he was desperate to understand what was happening to his husband.

Janet responded quickly, but with a harsher, edgier tone, “He has an dysrhythmia ... his heart is beating in a funky pattern.  He still has a weak pulse, though, so that's good.  And no, I don't know why yet.”  She sighed deeply and glanced over to Jack's anxious eyes.  “I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to bite your head off.  I'll get it figured out.”

~I have to figure it out.  Come on, Daniel.  We've gone through too much to lose the battle now.~

The bed in place in ISO-1, the nursing staff began to reconnect monitors, and they took a portable chest X-ray.

“BP's eighty-two systolic, Doctor; weak radial pulse,” Casey informed Janet.

“I want a stat EKG now,” Janet directed.  “And prepare to cardiovert him.  Put a call into cardiology as well as Doctor Warner.”

“Doctor Fraiser, he's in respiratory arrest.  Wait, there's no pulse.” Casey's voice was steady, but alarmed in tone.

“Dang it, Daniel.  Start CPR.  Bag him.  Let's give him a fluid bolus.  Looks like he's still in v-tach.  Defibrillate at two-hundred.”

Jack watched as Casey meticulously aligned his hands over Daniel's sternum and pushed down for the first compression of CPR.  A loud cracking noise resounded through the room, reaching down to Jack's core, causing him to shutter and flinch.

~Ah, Daniel.  Those ribs were just starting to heal.  It starts all over again.~

Jack felt nauseous as he considered the agony his soulmate had lived through, and would have to suffer through yet again, but it hadn't yet hit him what was really happening.  Daniel's ribs were the least of Janet's concerns at the moment - this was a fight for Daniel's life, now, in the moment.

“Colonel, stand back.”

Janet's order wasn't to be messed with, so Jack slowly moved away, standing up against the wall.

“We're charged.  All clear!  Do it!”

Daniel's body flopped wildly as the electrical charge surged through his body.

~Danny?~  Suddenly, Jack made the connection.  His lover wasn't breathing anymore.  **Danny, hear me.  Please!   DANIEL!**

“Still v-tach.  No pulse.  Continue CPR.  Let's give a lidocaine bolus one hundred milligrams IV push.”

~This is just a bad dream.  No, it's worse than that -- it's a  nightmare, a full fledged “stop the world, I want to get off” nightmare.  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  Daniel had been doing well.  The Doc didn't even flinch at the talk about me taking Daniel home in a few days.  My gut -- my gut told me it was too good to be true.~

Jack's mind was racing in disbelief at the most recent developments.  He watched the chaotic array of activity unfolding in front of him and felt even sicker.  So many people, so many trays of medical instruments, so much equipment.

~Just how many people can fit into ISO-1?  No, I can't watch any more. This is so NOT happening.~

Jack slowly sank down against the wall.  He laid his head in his hands, covering his eyes, arms bent and resting on his knees.

**Angel.  My angel.  Don't leave, Danny.  Stay.  You said all I had to do was ask you to stay ... remember?  STAY.  Stay, Angel.**

“Defib again at three-hundred.”

“One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand ...”

The count of CPR loomed heavily in the background.  Jack cringed.  Just the sound alone was unnerving.  Add to it the chaotic banter back and forth of a resuscitation in progress, too many voices, most of them loud and frantic, monitors continually alarming, and the sounds were terrifying.

“One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand.”

“One more time at three-sixty.”

In the middle of all the chaos and sounds was Jack's beloved husband, Daniel, suddenly a limp, lifeless body on a cold white mattress.  Tears welled at the simple thought that Daniel was buried in there somewhere, the main focus of all this disorder.  It seemed so surreal, so unfair.

A small warm hand grasped Jack's left shoulder.

“We just heard, Sir,” Sam's voice whispered softly in his ear.  She looked up at the confusion.  “Maybe we should wait outside?”

Jack abruptly moved back upright, his wet reddened eyes fiery.

“I'm not leaving.  I didn't leave last time.  Why would I leave now?”

“Yes, Sir,” came the meek response.  “What happened?”

“I ... I don't know.  Something about a weird heart rhythm.  Daniel can't breathe, so they have to breathe for him.  Medicines, and that electric shock thing, that defib thing ... all that blasted mumbo jumbo.  They don't talk English, Carter.   How do you expect me to know what happened?”

“Sir ...”

“All I know is one second, I'm holding his hand, telling him I love him, and next ... the next second someone's doing CPR, and his body is ... flopping all over the place.”

Jack paused, taking a deep breath, his hands covering his mouth as he said, “I don't know what happened, Carter, but it's not good.”

--

For Daniel, one minute everything was fine, and then he couldn't breathe.  He had focused on Jack's voice.  Jack, his Jack.  Always strong.  Daniel listened to his lover's words, trying to hang on to them.

He heard Janet order Jack away.  “Colonel, stand back,” she had said.  ~No, want Jack.  Need Jack, Janet.  Tired, so tired.  Need Jack.  Jack!~

Reluctantly, Jack had faded into the background, almost becoming one with the wall.  His muscles were constricting, his heart pounding with fear.

“Come on, Danny.  Daniel!  Live!  DANNY!” Jack's shouts seemed pale compared to the noise made by Janet and her team as they fought to bring Daniel back to life, but Daniel fought to keep them in the forefront of his brain.  Then Daniel experienced something he could barely fathom.

--

“What?”

Daniel looked around, stunned.  He was in the infirmary, but he was drifting upwards towards a bright light.  He headed towards it, feeling a force drawing him to it.  He glanced down for just a moment.  His body was on the bed.  Janet and her staff were slaving away, trying to keep him alive.  There, against the wall, was Jack, pleading, begging Daniel to live.

~Ah, Jack.  My Jack.~  Daniel wanted to go back to his body, but he looked again at the light.  ~Wow, it's so beautiful.  It doesn't hurt here. There's no pain, and it's ... gawd, it's so peaceful.~

“Hi, Daddy,” a small but firm voice called out to him as he entered the light.

Daniel turned to his right and stared at the young boy.  He instantly recognized the child from photographs and old home movies.  He couldn't speak.  Daniel didn't understand what was happening to him.

“You have to go back, Daddy.  Dad needs you,” the boy nodded back beyond the light.

Daniel turned and saw the shape of his lover, slumped against a wall.  Sam and Teal'c were physically bracing him up.  He looked tired and lost.

“It'll be okay.  I want to meet my siblings.  You promised, remember?”

Daniel turned back to look at the boy and finally found his voice, “Charlie?”

Wearing his favorite baseball cap, Charlie smiled, a sweet, endearing expression on his face.  Daniel noticed how much the boy looked like Jack, and not just Jack the man, but the young Jack that had been Daniel's brother for a week the year before, the only difference being the hair.  Charlie's hair was shaggy, like Daniel's used to be.  Young Jack's hair had been more like the adult Jack's, short and even a bit spiky.

“Dad can't live without you, Daddy.  You have to go back.”

“There's too much pain.  It ... hurts.  Nothing hurts here.”

“It will be okay.  I promise.  Dad will get you through the pain, just like always.  Dad always finds a way to make it better ... doesn't he?”

Daniel smiled as he remembered, and then he nodded, “Always.”  He looked towards Jack and saw his lover's tears.  “Jack, don't cry.”

“Daddy, go back, and I want you to do something for me.”

“Wha...what?”

Charlie walked to Daniel and took his hand.  He placed something in it, and then closed Daniel's hand into a fist.

“Grandma said she wanted my sister to have this.”

“Your ... sister?”

Charlie nodded.  “Your daughter ... yours and Dad's.  She really wants her to have it.  It's all she has.  That's what Grandma said.”

“Grandma?”

Charlie nodded, and then more urgently spoke, “You have to go now, Daddy.  I know it hurts, but ... Dad will make it better soon.  I promise.”

Charlie threw his arms around Daniel, embracing him tightly as he spoke with a confidence that was very much like Jack's, “Everything will be okay.  My dads are all the best, and I'm lucky, because I have three.  Tell Dad I love him, and I'm sorry I was stupid that day, and ... and thank you, Daddy, for making Dad feel happy again.  I love you, Daddy.”

Charlie pulled back and walked slowly backwards.

“Charlie?”

“Go back.  Hurry.  You have to hurry now.”

Charlie kept walking backwards,  the light fading as he moved.

“I love you, Charlie ...”

“I love  you.”

--

“I have a pulse.”

Janet's strong voice resonated throughout the room.  Jack was instantly on his feet, his hand wiping across his eyes briefly, walking towards the bed, attempting to see into the center of all the activity.

“Good, sinus rhythm, no ectopy.  Getting stronger.  Someone get me a blood pressure reading,” Janet ordered.  “Spontaneous respiratory effort.   Get that non-rebreather oxygen mask back on him now.”

Casey called out the vitals.  “BP's ninety-six over forty.  Heart rate one-twenty.  SAT's ninety-five percent on the O's.”

Unconscious, Daniel looked so torn and broken.  Jack sighed as he observed the damage of the last few minutes.

The same chest tube exited from Daniel's right lung, a small rivulet of blood trickled from beneath the loose dressing, running down his chest to pool on the rumpled sheet on which his lover lay.  New red marks appeared on Daniel's left chest and to the right of the sternum, a result of that electric defib thing.  Daniel's sternum was also reddened, presumably from the CPR.

~Ah, Danny.  You'll probably have new bruises all over you by morning ... and you will be here in the morning.  Come on, Love.  Keep breathing.~

Suddenly, Daniel's voice drew Jack's attention from his thoughts.

“I love ... you.  Love you.  Love ... Charlie?  Love you.”

“Charlie?” Jack stood straight for the first time in minutes, his heart rejoicing at the beautiful sound of Daniel's voice.

“Daniel.  Hey, welcome back ... again.”

Janet smiled in relief, moving closer to examine Daniel's pupil's reactions.

“Charlie?” Daniel spoke, confused.

Jack couldn't stay back any longer.  He walked in between Casey and Marie and took Daniel's right hand as he called out to his husband, “Danny?”

Seeing Janet's nod, the medical team backed away.  Only Janet remained at Daniel's bedside, opposite Jack.  Sam and Teal'c, each sensing that whatever had happened had been intensely personal, left the infirmary, motioning to Janet that they were leaving, but would be back later.

Daniel looked up at Jack, blinking his eyes several times.

“Charlie?” Daniel asked, his voice trembling.

“What about Charlie?”

“Loves you.  He's sorry.  Sister,” Daniel shook his head, still confused, his mind jumbled with thoughts and images as he tried to put the illogical into some rational order.

“Daniel, open your fist,” Janet instructed, having seen the young man's left hand clenched together.  She had tried to open the fist, but couldn't.

“Fist?” Daniel looked down and back at Jack, and then he opened his hand.

“Daniel, where'd you get that?” Jack asked, looking at the object in total disbelief.

“More to the point, how'd you get it?” Janet inquired.

Daniel began to breathe harder, and Janet reviewed the various monitors, concerned.

“Danny, it's okay.  Shhh.”

Jack placed his left hand on his husband's cheek.

“Jack, it's my ... my mother's wedding ring.”

Jack looked at the ring stunned.  Gently, he took it from the shaking palm of Daniel's hand.  Jack studied the simple diamond ring.  When he looked up, he exchanged a look with Janet who shrugged.

“Jack, he had nothing in his hand five minutes ago.  Excuse me,” Janet backed away, giving Jack a chance to talk to his husband, but adding, “calm him down, Colonel, quickly, or I'll have to sedate him.”

Still holding Daniel's hand, Jack sat on the edge of the bed and spoke reassuringly, “You have to be calm, Angel.  Tell me what happened.”

“I don't know.  I just ... he was standing in front of me.  He ... he called me Daddy.”

Jack smiled.  “That's who you are.”  The older man swallowed, seeing the tear that fell from his husband's eye.

“He ... he ... he ...”

“Take your time, Danny.”

“He said I had to come back.  It hurts, Jack.”

“I know, Love, but it'll get better.   You lean on me.  I'll help you.”

“He said you'd make it better because you always do.  Jack, he said to tell you he loves you and that he's sorry that he ...”

Seeing Daniel's hesitancy, Jack spoke, “Just say it, Danny.  It's okay.”

Daniel swallowed hard, “He said he was stupid, and he's sorry.  And he loves you.”

“And you, too,” Jack smiled.

Daniel nodded.  “That's what he said.”

“Danny, what about the ring?”

“He handed it to me ... pu...put it in my ... in my hand and said Grandma wanted his sister to have it.  Our ... our daughter, Jack ... it's what he said.  Jack, it's my mother's ring.  I'd know it anywhere.  Daddy had it engraved.  Look inside it.  It should have their initials.”

Jack looked inside the ring and let out a nervous sounding laugh as he read the simple inscription, “M.J. and C.B. - My Everything.”

“Gawd, Jack,” Daniel sniffled, more tears falling.

“I'll keep this safe for you, okay?” Jack asked, putting the ring in his shirt pocket.  He leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on Daniel's lips.
“Angel, don't you dare leave me again.  That's an order.”

“Yes, Sir, Colonel, Sir,” Daniel tried to tease.  “Hold me, Jack.  Gawd, just hold me.”

Daniel was still hooked up to several medical gizmos as Jack thought of them.  He couldn't risk pulling his lover up, but Daniel's need was great, and nothing mattered more than that.  Jack gently lay down on the infirmary bed, lying on his left side, and slipped his arm over Daniel's shoulders as tenderly as he could.  He leaned his head against Daniel's cheek so his lover could lean into him.  Jack could feel Daniel trembling from his experience.

“I've got you, Danny,” Jack spoke as Daniel tried his best not to cry, but couldn't hold back.  “Love you so much.  Shh, my love.  Everything's okay now.  I'm here.  I've got you,” Jack continued to whisper.

A few minutes later, Janet walked back into the room to check on her patient, surprised to see Jack lying next to Daniel on the narrow bed.  She started to speak up, to ask Jack if he was out of his mind, but then she looked at the monitors and saw that Daniel's vitals were solid, and her heart went out to her friends.  Silently, she backed away, deciding to give them a few more minutes to calm each other.

====

After a while, Daniel had calmed and fallen asleep.  Jack placed a kiss on his cheek and got up from the bed.  He didn't know if anyone had seen them or not, nor did he care.

Eventually, Janet came in again, smiling to see Jack at his usual seat in the chair next to Daniel's bed.

“What in Netu just happened, Janet?” Jack's weak and bereft voice asked.

“He used up another of those nine lives.  It happens sometimes, Jack, but his vitals are strong now.  He should be fine.”

“Should?”

Janet smiled and continued to review the readouts from the equipment.

“I think he'll be fine now.  I'll be back later.”

“You aren't going to try and kick me out?”

“Would it do me any good?”

“No.”

Janet nodded and left the couple alone.  Jack kissed Daniel's hand.  He held the ring Daniel had mysteriously clenched in his fist.

“Charlie?  Thank you for sending him back.  Thank you, Son.”

====

Daniel's recovery was progressing nicely, and he had been moved, again, out of the private ISO room back to his “favorite” bed in the infirmary.  Normally, Janet would have let Daniel keep the private room, but they'd had an outbreak of medical injuries and the room was needed for more severe cases, so Daniel was back in the infirmary.

The various machines and catheters that had kept him alive and monitored his body had been removed for the most part.  A single IV continued to infuse, providing a source of supplemental fluids as well as a site for the infusion of a multitude of IV antibiotics.  The right chest tube remained, a painful testament to the virulent persistent infection present in his right lung.

“The culture reports on the fluid from your right lung are back.”

Janet sighed, breaking eye contact with her patient, disappointment evident in her mannerisms.  Daniel's heart sank, his vision of having the chest tube removed and returning home shattered as she continued.

“We need to change your IV antibiotics again and continue them for at least another four days, and the chest tube has to stay in for at least that long as well.  I'm sorry, Daniel.  I know that's not what you wanted to hear.”

He closed his eyes.  ~I can't do this any longer.~

She saw the anguished look on the young man's face.

“We have to do this.  Your white count is up a little bit more again this morning.  That's three consecutive days now.  This particular infection is incredibly resistant.  Aggressive antibiotic and pulmonary therapies are the only way we're going to finally cure the infection.”

Daniel could feel the tears beginning to well in his eyes.  He pulled his left arm up to cover his eyes, his breathing slow and controlled.

~No more.  No more.~  “Janet, I'm tired of this.  It's been so long.”

Janet bowed her head in frustration, her heart aching with concern for both Daniel's physical and mental health.

“I know.  I understand that you're tired, and that you're sick of being sick, but right now, there are no other options.  I know it's hard for you to believe, but you ARE getting better.  You've come so far.  You just have to be patient for just a little bit longer.”
 
His voice remained quiet and restrained as he repeated, “I want to go home.”

“Not just yet.  You rest for now.  We'll talk more about this when Jack gets back.”
 
“I WANT to go home!”

Janet took a deep breath, trying to regain control.

“Daniel, technically you died.  Your heart wasn't beating normally.  You've had three surgeries and a massive infection.  You need time to recover. It's only been two weeks.”

“I want to go home.”  His reply was frail, meek and subdued.  Daniel sighed, turning his head to the right, sinking into his soft pillow, tears flowing.  His next words were barely a whisper.  “I want to go home.”

Janet felt drained.  She sighed and walked away from Daniel's bed.  She knew Jack was meeting with General Hammond, the General making constant attempts to change Jack's mind about retiring by keeping him involved in numerous “transitional” activities that were more a ruse than anything else.  She considered calling him down, but before she could make her decision, Jack appeared.

Entering the five-bed ward of the general infirmary, Jack immediately knew something was amiss.  He saw Janet fast approaching him,  a stern worrisome look on her face.  He quickly glanced over towards Daniel's bed, even as Janet pulled him toward the far corner of the room.

~No new monitors or medical gizmos, no alarms blaring, nothing more than the normal lights on the panel.  Didn't look like much of anything had changed.  But Janet has that look ...~  “What's wrong?”

“I just finished talking with Daniel.  His culture reports came back.”

“And?”

“And Daniel's white count is up again this morning, not dangerously elevated, but I can't disregard a three-day bump in his WBC's.”

Jack grasped her upper arms, his frustration and worry mounting, as he repeated for the hundredth time in the past two weeks, “English, Janet. English.  Tell me what that means in English, so I can understand.”

“I have to readjust his antibiotics, discontinue one of them, and start another new one.  He needs at least four days of IV antibiotic therapy before I anticipate we'll see any really big change.”  She sighed.  “Jack, I have to leave the chest tube in during this time as well.”

Jack silently bowed his head at the dreadful news, closing his eyes.  “THAT I understand.”  He mimicked Janet's sigh.  “How much more can he endure, Janet?”

Jack reflected back to his conversation with Daniel the previous evening when his lover had spoken with great anticipation at having the chest tube removed.  It would mean diminished  pain, more mobility, greater independence, and improved compliance with new physical therapies.  Its upcoming termination had meant so much more to Daniel -- a renewed sense of new hope.

Home had been within his grasp.  His voice was free and excited as he had stated, “I'll be one step closer to going home, Jack.  Isn't that great?”

Jack sighed as he remembered the anticipation in the voice and the sparkle in his lover's eyes when he had said that.  Back to the present, Jack gave his attention to Janet once again.

“You told him?”

“Yes, and I'm afraid he didn't take it very well.”

“What do you expect from him, Janet?  He's just human, and he's been to hell and back recently.  He's tired.”

“And he's devastated, dejected, and depressed.  I'm very concerned about his mental state right now, Colonel.  He's been through a major trauma, a major insult to his body AND his mind.  He's used to being independent, self-sufficient, strong, healthy.  Now he's weak, dependent, having to rely on others to complete the most basic, simplest tasks and personal cares.  His body has been through a hellish torture.  When he looks at his reflection, he sees someone different.  He sees a stranger.”

“I know.  He's not smiling anymore,” Jack spoke somberly.

Janet looked over at the young man who was trying to lock out the world from under the covers of the hospital bed.

“I'm afraid he'll give up, Jack, stop fighting, just close his eyes and drift away.  I can only do so much.  YOU can only do so much.  We need him to fight, to hunger, to want.  We need his drive, his spirit, his tenacity to get him healed and well again.  We need him to ... to be the Daniel we know.”

“I don't know what to do, Doc.  Tell me what to do.” Jack pleaded, himself at the end of his rope.

Jack was tired, too, and feeling a bit defeated.  He had rarely had a moment to comfort himself.  Every second of every day was devoted to Daniel, to making sure he was fighting, to giving him strength and encouragement to carry on.  Jack began to wonder if he had any reserves left to give his ailing spouse.

“Just keep doing what you've been doing.  Be supportive, attentive to his needs.  Encourage him, strengthen his resolve by showing him yours.  Help him combat his fears.  Be a shoulder to cry on, give him a hug when he needs one.  Encourage him to keep trying.  Reassure him that he WILL get home.  And I promise you that my staff and I will do the same.  Be his husband and let him know you're still here.”

Jack pulled her into his arms and hugged her tightly.

“Nice pep talk, Doctor Fraiser.”

Janet smiled as her head rested against Jack's chest.  “I care about you and Daniel.  You're family.”  She pulled back, looking up into Jack's eyes.  “Besides, that's the way it's going to be.  You two don't call me 'Little Napoleon' for nothing.”

Jack smiled, giving Janet an innocent “Who, me?” look.  He gave her a small kiss on her cheek.  “Thanks.  I'll be over with Daniel.  Give us a few minutes alone, okay?”

Silently, he approached the bed in the corner.  Its occupant lay quietly, head turned to the wall.  Jack sat down on the edge of the bed, the back of his hand catching Daniel's tears as they streamed down his cheek.

“Hey.”  The patient on the bed offered no response, remaining totally still in his bed.  “I spoke with Janet.  She told me everything that's going on.”  Still no response.  “C'mere,” Jack reached his hands under Daniel's shoulders and around his back, “I need a hug.”

He carefully pulled his compliant partner up off the bed and onto his chest, head resting in that special place on his shoulder.  Maybe the physical connection would do what words couldn't.

“I'm sorry, Danny.  I know how disappointed you are.  I am, too, but it's just a little delay, that's all.”  He felt the sobs erupting from deep within his lover, heartbroken, gut-wrenching sobs.  “Go ahead and cry.  Let it all out.”  His hands rubbed slow gentle circles on the quivering back.  “It's gonna be all right.  I promise you.  We're together, Love.  Just a few more days of this nightmare, and then we're home free.”

He looked over the shuddering shoulder of his partner and watched as Janet injected what he knew was a sedative into Daniel's IV port.

“Shh.  We'll be home soon with our girls.   Home -- sounds good.  Just you, me, Bij, and Katie.  We'll make smores, listen to opera, and ... just hold each other.  A few more days, Angel.  Just a few more days.”

Jack continued to rock the precious weight within his arms until he felt the respirations become steady and even, as Daniel fell asleep within the safety and love that was his partner.  Jack didn't let go.  He'd never let go.
 
====

“Hey there Beautiful,” Jack chirped as he entered the infirmary.

“Hi,” Daniel beamed when his husband walked in and gave him a big kiss without hesitation.

“Gawd, I can't believe we can do this.”

“Beeeeeeee-lieve it,” Jack said with attitude, kissing Daniel again as he sat down on the bed.

“How are you feeling today, Love?”

“Wonderful!  You're here now!”

“I'd be here all the time if ...”

“Jack, we talked about this.  The girls are scared.  They need you.”

“You need me.”

“And you're here now,” as Daniel spoke, he intertwined his hand with Jack's.

“I can't wait to bring you home.”

“Janet says a couple more days.”

“No, Janet says another week, Doctor Jackson.”

“Oops, you've been caught,” Jack laughed, seeing Janet looming over them.

“Days,” Daniel said sternly.

“A week, Daniel.  You've got major injuries healing here.”

“I want to go home.”

“And you will, Daniel, next week!”

Janet walked away shaking her head, but she mumbled loud enough for Jack and Daniel to hear her parting words, “Honestly, you two are incorrigible.  Nag!  Nag!  Nag!”

Daniel chuckled, as did Jack.

“I want coffee,” Daniel pleaded.

“I don't think so, Love!”

“Chocolate!”

“Nope.”

“Chinese ... anything.   Please, Jack!”

“Daniel, no!  Not until we get you home.  Oh, NO you don't, Doctor Jackson,” Jack leaned in and kissed his husband who resisted for all of two seconds.

“No fair!”

“No fair?  You were doing the pouty face, lip and all.”

“I don't pout,” Daniel laughed.

“Geez, I love you!”

====

“Jack, get over here and kiss me,” Daniel demanded when Jack walked into the infirmary.

It had been thirteen days since the attack, and Daniel's recovery was slow but steady.  At the younger man's insistence, Jack had been going home nights to tend to their dogs, and on this day, Jack had some Air Force retirement business to attend to so he had been later than normal in visiting his husband.

Dressed in his dress blues, Jack had set Daniel's heart to fluttering.  In fact, Daniel's eyes nearly popped out of his head at the sight of his sexy husband.

“Gawd, Jack,” Daniel leaned in for their best kiss yet since he had awakened, “You should have warned me.”

“Why?  I like watching you get all crazy.”

“But we're in the blasted infirmary.  Gawd, you're so sexy.  I want  you.”

“Angel, according to Janet, you ...”

“Yeah, well tell ... that ...” Daniel looked down at his waist.

“Oh ... well, um, maybe this will help, ”Jack looked around the infirmary covertly.

“Oh, Jack, gimme!” Daniel closed his eyes as he took a bite of the Clam Sycee that Jack had smuggled in, “And it's not even the New Year.  Thank you, Jack!”

“Every day is a new year with you, Love,” Jack said with certainty and then started to laugh.

“What's so funny?”

“Just thinking ... it's a good thing they took that Foley out the other day!”

“Jack, you are so going to pay!”

“I can't wait for you to make me!”

“And I will, Colonel.  You are keeping those dress blues!”

“Oh, yeah,” Jack raised his eyebrows in affirmation as Daniel ate another bite of the Chinese food Jack had smuggled in.

Catching the sound of Janet's heels tapping against the cold floor of the corridor leading to his location, Daniel just knew the petite doctor was about to enter the infirmary.

“Gawd, Jack, your jacket!” Daniel demanded, urgently adding, “Hurry up!”

Jack quickly took off his jacket and placed it strategically over Daniel's mid-section, hiding the food and ... other ... protruding objects.

“Hi, Janet!” Daniel smiled, his tongue licking his lips.

“Hi, Doc,” Jack smiled sweetly.

Janet stared at the two men, and at the Colonel's jacket.  She coughed once, and gave Jack the evil eye.  Without saying a word, Janet turned and walked into her office, mumbling as she went.

“Oh gawd,” Daniel laughed.

“I love you, Space Monkey,” Jack laughed.

“I want more, Jack.  Bring me more.”

“Danny, I shouldn't have brought you this.”

“But you love me so you'll bring me more,” Daniel spoke, a devious gleam in his eye.

“Angel, don't press our luck here.”

“More, Jack,” Daniel said, not pouting, but using a seductive look that only Jack ever saw.  The young man pulled his lover close and introduced his tongue inside Jack's mouth.  He held them close for a long kiss, one of their longest since the ordeal had begun.  “More, Jack.”

“Oh, yeah, definitely more,” Jack said as he increased the aggressiveness of the kiss.

“Chinese.  More Chinese,” Daniel insisted.

“Whatever you want, Love.”

“I want Chinese.”

“Your wish is my command.”

“Promise?”

“Daniel, if you want your precious moo goo whatever, shut up and kiss me.”

Daniel laughed as he obeyed.

====

Jack heard words he didn't recognize as he walked into the infirmary, laid a brown paper bag on the table and sat on the side of the bed.  Sure enough, his husband was speaking in some strange dialect.

“Hey, try English.”

“I can't,” Daniel pouted.

“Oh, not appropriate for others to hear, eh?” Jack asked as he sat on the side of the bed.

“Not exactly,” Daniel admitted, still pouting.

Jack saw the cause of the problem, and reached over and took hold of Daniel's hand.

“Janet said it might be awhile before the swelling goes down.”

“I want to wear my ring.  I don't like it on my wrist; it ... looks funny.”

“I know,” Jack sighed.  “Here,” Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out a longer chain, “I'm just not sure you should be wearing anything around your neck right ...” Jack's words were interrupted as Daniel grabbed the chain with the ring Jack had just looped onto it and put it around his neck, “... now.”

Daniel closed his eyes and sighed, “I like this better.”

He looked down.  The chain was a little long and the ring hung just over his heart.  He held it with his hand.

“Jack?”

The older man knew exactly what his husband wanted.  He put his hand on Daniel's which was over the ring, and he leaned forward closely and whispered, “Forever and always, I love you.”  They sealed their words with a gentle kiss.

After a minute, Jack spoke, “I brought you something, but shhhh.”

Jack put his fingers to his lips to indicate silence and covertly looked around the infirmary to make sure they were alone, and then he opened the bag.  Daniel salivated at the sight of what he knew was Chinese food.

“Jack?” Daniel's voice seemed to smile.

“If Janet catches us, we're doomed.”

“I love you,” Daniel said as he opened his box of Moo-Goo Gai Pan and ate a bite.  “Oh gawd.  I've died and gone to Heaven ... again,” Daniel tilted his head with a slight smile.

“I'll keep watch.  Don't overdo it, Daniel,“ Jack warned his husband as he walked to the infirmary door.  He gave his lover a few minutes and then returned, “I think that's enough.”

“I couldn't eat very much of it, though,” Daniel said sadly, “but what I did, gawd, Jack, thank you!”

Jack leaned in for a kiss, disposed covertly of the “evidence” and then spent the next several hours with his husband before calling it a night.

“I miss the girls.”

“They miss you, too.”

“I feel empty without them.  That's crazy isn't it?”

“No, they're our girls. You'll be home soon.  I love you, Angel.”

“I love you, too, so much, Jack.”

====

“This is so frustrating.  Why can't I go home?”

Janet rolled her eyes, tired of the discussion she'd had once per hour over the last two days.  Daniel was better physically, but mentally, he was up and down.  She was still concerned, knowing how important it was to his long-term recovery for his mental state to be positive.

“Daniel, how many times have we been through this?”

“I don't know.  I'm not counting.”

“Well, start!”

Janet smiled, then turned and walked out of the infirmary.

“Well, start,” Daniel mimicked a tad sarcastically.  ~Be calm, Jackson.  BUT I WANT TO GO HOME!  I want my own bed.  I want to snuggle with Jack.  I want to feed my fish.  Gawd, I want to play with the girls.  I just ... want to go home.~

====

Jack pulled into his parking place at the SGC.  He got out, walked to the passenger side of the truck, and prepared to pick up the large box he intended to take inside.

Looking around, he muttered, “Now remember what I said.  If you've ever been quiet in your lives, be quiet now!”

Gently, Jack carried the box inside the SGC, into the elevator, whistling as it went to the infirmary floor.  He continued to whistle as he walked down the hall.

As he passed an Airman, the Airman stopped, “Can I help you with that, Sir?”

“No, thanks,” Jack said rapidly as he continued towards his objective.

Jack cased the infirmary.  He was glad there were no patients other than Daniel present, but he also saw Casey doing some kind of inventory on one side of the room.  Jack swore under his breath, and then sighed.

“Quiet,” he spoke again to the box, putting it down for a second and going to the doorway.

He saw Daniel was asleep, so he let out a “pssst” to catch Casey's attention.

“Hemmings,” Jack whispered, motioning him over.

Casey put down the medical equipment and walked into the corridor.  Jack cleared his throat as he glanced around, finally looking the male nurse in the eyes.

“I need you to get lost.”

“Excuse me?”

“Out ... for, say, ten minutes?”

“Um, Sir, Doctor Fraiser ordered me to ...”

“Hemmings, please.”

“Why, Sir?”

Jack looked down at the box as he explained, “It's a ... surprise.”

“A surprise?”

“Come on, Casey.  Do a Colonel a favor, will ya?”  Casey stared at Jack as he picked up the box.  “Please.”

Seeing a hole in the box, Casey leaned his torso to the side so he could see in and smiled, “If Doctor Fraiser catches you, Colonel, she'll fry your behind.”

“Make sure she doesn't catch me,” Jack said as he turned and walked over to Daniel's bed.

He sat the box down and removed the lid, “Now listen.  You cannot make a sound.  You can't touch.  You have to just ... be beautiful and smile.  Okay?”

Jack stood and leaned over to kiss his husband, and then urged, “Danny, Love, wake up.”

“J'ck?” Daniel yawned.

“Hey, how's my sleeping beauty?”

“Sleeping, or I was,” Daniel laughed as he talked.

Jack looked over towards the door and back at Daniel.

“I brought you something.”

“More Chinese?” Daniel perked at the thought.

“Not exactly,” Jack stood back up and picked up the box, nervously putting it on the edge of the bed.

“What's in the ... OH MY GAWD!” Daniel grinned.  “Come here ...” Daniel reached out his arms.

“Danny, I don't think that's a good idea.”

“Come here,” Daniel reached out again, his eyes begging.

Jack sighed, “GENTLY” he whispered in a forceful whisper, lifting Bijou out of the box and placing her next to Daniel.

“Oh, Bij,” Daniel cried, the tears beginning to fall.

Jack lifted Katie out of the box and held her, petting her as Daniel doted over the mama beagle for a couple of minutes.

“Okay, change of dog here,” Jack picked up Bijou with one hand while he put Katie where her mother had been, nestled between Daniel's body and his arm.

“Oh, Katie.  I love you,” Daniel whispered as they nuzzled together.

Jack nervously stood by.  If Janet caught him, he was doomed.  He had never taken his life in his hands to this extent before, but Daniel loved their beagles more than life itself.  The two dogs were their children, and if there was anything that could get Daniel over his depression, it would be a visit by Bijou and Katie.

After a couple more minutes, Jack's nerves wore down.

“Okay, that's it.”

Jack let Bijou give Daniel a goodbye kiss and then put her back in the box.  Then he took Katie from Daniel and put her in the box next to her mother, smiling at them.

“I love you, Jack.”

“Danny, I love you so much, and right now I wish I could stay here and hold you, but ...”

“Take them home.  I'll be home soon, too.”

Jack saw a new shine in Daniel's eyes.  ~Mission accomplished.~  “Yes, you will,” Jack said as he leaned down for a kiss.  “I'll be back!”

“Counting on it.”  Daniel smiled brightly.  “Bye, Girls.  I love you.”

Jack exited the SGC as covertly as he could.  He still wasn't sure it was the smartest thing he could have done for a patient still recovering and subject to who-knows-what kind of post-operative complications, but he knew it was the best thing he could have done for Daniel, his husband, the man needing and wanting to know his life was still there for him.

The look in his soulmate's eyes, the smile on his face, the sound of life in his voice -- Jack smiled as he spoke aloud to the girls and whomever might be listening, “It was the right thing to do ... for Danny!”  With a quick rubbing of the beagle's ears, Jack continued his drive home.

====

“Hmmm,” Daniel crooned as he awakened with a smile at the feel of his lover's lips.  “Missed you!”

“I love you, Angel,” Jack repeated before taking his lover's mouth again.

“Are the girls okay?”

“Yeah, they woofed all the way home.”

Jack smiled, noticing a definite change in his lover as a result of the beagle's visit.

“Thank you, Jack.”

“Stop thanking me!”

“But I can't help it.  I ... I needed to see them.”

“I know you did,” Jack caressed his husband's cheek as he spoke softly.

“Daniel.  Colonel,” Janet said, approaching the bed.

She was pleased to see that Daniel looked much brighter than he had the last time she'd seen him, even noticing more color to his cheeks.  Everything about him seemed healthier.

“Hi, Janet.”

“You're here late, Doc.”

“I had some tests to check.”

Janet frowned as she looked down at the bed.  Jack and Daniel's eyes went to the blanket, and then to each other as they heard Janet cough.

“I'm going home now.  When I get back here, I would strongly advise that ... the evidence ... be gone!”

She turned and left without saying another word.

“Oh, gawd.  We're doomed.”

“Doomed is right,” Jack said, heading for where he knew the bed sheets were.

“I'm sorry, Jack.”

“Sorry?  What for?” Jack spoke as he returned to the bed.

“I should have looked while you were gone.”

“Daniel, you're recuperating, not cleaning.”

“Need a hand, Colonel?” Casey asked, grinning as he walked in.

“You see Fraiser?”

“Oh yeah.  She had fire in her eyes.”

“Great.”

Unable to hold in the humor of it all, the three broke out into laughter as Jack and Casey changed Daniel's bedding, taking the stray strands of dog hair with them.

====

“I WANT to go home!”

“Daniel, do we have to go through this again?  Let me say it again ... for the one-thousandth time.  You died.  You've had three surgeries.  You need time to recover.  It's only been two weeks.  Maybe I'll stick this on a tape recorder and you can listen to it over and over again.”

“Come on, Janet.  I'm tired of being here.  I ... I need Jack.”

Janet chuckled lightly in exasperation.

“Jack is here 24/7, and you know it.”

“It's not the same as being home, and we can't ... I mean ... I want ... oh, gawd.”

Daniel was turning red, his blush deepening.
 
“Soon, Daniel.”

Janet tried to be understanding.  She knew how hard it was for her two friends, limiting themselves to a few kisses, hugs, and tender touching.

~I remember what it was like ... I think ... Then again, it's been so long I may have forgotten.~

“Hey, why is my husband blushing?  What'd you say to him, Doc?” Jack smirked.  He hadn't seen Daniel blushing since this nightmare had begun.  ~You're so beautiful.~

“Surprising news,” Janet said in an amazed tone.  “He wants to go home.  Just a few more days.  Jack ...”  Janet tugged on his arm sleeve and took Jack aside.  “Listen, I know you want to take him home.  He's going to do that pouty thing that we all collapse under, but I'm not being stubborn for no reason.  I'm not saying 'no' so that my reputation as 'Little Napoleon' remains intact.  He still needs our care.  Please trust me on this.  Just a few more days.”

“Has he really been that bad?”

“Well, at least he's snapped out of the depression.”

~Amazing what two beagles and some Chinese food will do.~

Jack grinned, knowing what the visit from the girls and a bit of normalcy had done wonders for the man of his heart.

“And don't think, Colonel, that I'm not aware of how you did that!”

Jack's grin faded, but only slightly, especially when Janet smiled back at him.

“Anyway, Jack, please don't let him talk you into doing something we could all very possibly regret.”

Janet's eyes were full of warning, but Jack saw it had nothing to do with power, only love and genuine concern.  Jack nodded and went to be with his husband, working hard to fend off the constant pleas to be taken home.

====

“Hey, Daniel.”

“Sam!”

“You look so much better today.”

“I feel better.  I'm sorry I've worried everyone so much.”

Sam shook her head as she spoke, “So help me, Daniel, if you start to feel guilty about almost dying, I'll ...”

“You'll what?”

“Eat these myself!”

“Sam!”

Daniel's face was full of awe.  Sam had brought him a half dozen of her famous chocolate chip walnut cookies.  He had always loved them, and no one made the deserts like she did.

“I don't think you should let Janet know that you have them, but I couldn't resist!”

“Thanks,” Daniel said, and then took a bite.  He moaned with delight.  “Chocolate!”

Sam chuckled, but then she heard Janet's voice flowing through the air.

“Daniel, Janet's coming.”

She watched in amazement as Daniel quickly stuffed the cookies into a bag he was now keeping at his bedside.  Just as fast, he used a towelette to wipe his face.

“Residue?”

“Nope!”

“Hi, Sam.”

Sam burst into laughter, as did Daniel.

“Okay,” Janet looked at the two suspiciously.   “I don't want to know, do I?”  Two guilty heads shook.  Janet nodded in defeat.  “I think I'll ... go back to my office for a while, and you and I will talk later ... Major!”

====

“Cassie's been so great, Danny.  We need to do something special for her to say thank you.”

“Maybe we could ... General Hammond.”

Jack looked over his shoulder to see Hammond and another General he didn't recognize walking towards them.  Jack stood.

“Doctor Jackson.  Colonel O'Neill.  This is General Eastman.  He has a request.”

“Gentlemen, we'd like you both to continue on at the SGC.  You're expertise is ...”

“Excuse me, General,” Jack interrupted.  “I don't know how many times I have to say this, but I'm retired and ...” Jack looked at Daniel and received a nod in confirmation, “and Daniel has resigned.  That's about all there is to say.”

“Colonel, men with your knowledge and experience in this program are too valuable to lose.”

“Aren't you forgetting something, General?”

“Forgetting something?”

Jack looked at Hammond.

“A slight ... complication, even if we decided to come back, which we haven't, and won't.”

“What do you mean, Colonel?“

Hammond stood back.  He had tried to tell his superiors about the relationship between Jack and Daniel, but they didn't want to hear it, nor did they want to accept the resignations of the two men.

“I mean ... this, General.”

Jack sat back down on the bed and locked eyes with Daniel.  Seeing the permission he sought, he took his lover's hands in his, brought them to his mouth and kissed them.  Then, Jack reached out with his right hand to touch Daniel's cheek, softly caressing for a moment, just before the two inched their way together, finally brushing their lips together forming a unison of one.

Their kiss deepened as their tongues sought out the other's mouth.  The intensity was magnetic, their faces melded with the other's  They hadn't actually kissed with this kind of passion since the accident, but it felt wonderful.

The visiting General coughed, but Jack and Daniel were on their own time table these days, and when they broke apart, it was when they were ready.

“I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too, Jack.”

Jack looked over at the visiting General.

“That's what I mean, General, and I won't give this up.  Like I said, we're done.”

The two Generals exchanged a look and then exited.

“Jack, do you think ...”

“No.  Do you?”

Daniel shook his head.  “No.”

The two smiled and kissed again.

====

Six days after “dying,” Daniel sat quietly at the edge of his bed in the corner of the infirmary, only now he was dressed in loose-fitting sweatpants with a warm loose-fitting button-down fleece shirt.  They were blue, of course.  Jack loved his lover in blue.

Jack bent down at Daniel's feet, applying socks and soft leather fleece-lined moccasin slippers.  Jack took this quiet moment to ponder over their situation.

~Hard to believe it's only been six days since the last small relapse.~

That first day had been demanding.  Daniel had been severely depressed and despondent as the most recent combination of antibiotic therapy had been initiated, but Jack had steadfastly refused to abandon his faith and his fight that Daniel would regain his health.

By day two, Daniel's body had begun to respond to the therapy, as both his pain and fever were greatly reduced.  Day four had seen such overwhelming improvements that the remaining chest tube had been removed late in the day, earlier than Janet had thought possible.

~And so far, so good. No further complications to louse up our plans to go home.~  Jack patted Daniel's leg as he smiled up at his lover.  ~Yes, indeed.  Six long days ...~

Six days of nebulizer treatments and the dreaded “cough and deep breathe” exercises.

Six days of sitting in a bedside chair three to four times a day, graduating to standing at the bedside with assistance, then on to brief walks in the hallways of the infirmary, increasing the distance of these walks, little by little to improve endurance and strength.

Six days of improving nutritional intake and dietary changes, from ice chips to a now more restricted diet of soft, high-caloric, high-protein meals.  Six days of “Just drink the Boost, Daniel.  I don't care if it tastes like chalk.”

Six days of daily chest X-rays and lab work, round-the-clock IV antibiotics, IV steroids to improve pulmonary status and IV sedatives to enforce requirements for sleep and rest.
 
Six days to learn about the necessity of home antibiotic therapy upon discharge and to arrange for nurses to deliver home IV infusion therapy.

Six days of physical therapy sessions, learning exercises and stretching techniques to strengthen muscles idle for too long, and to learn of a continued PT program that would require daily returns to the SGC for out-patient therapy.

~Ah, yes, my love.  Six long days.~
 
Standing, he laid his warm hand on Daniel's cheek, finally asking the question Daniel had been waiting to hear for days, “Ready to go home, Daniel?”

“Not quite yet, gentlemen,” came the authoritative reply from across the room.  “We have just a couple more things to cover before you can go home.”
 
Jack  hung his head and cringed.  ~The Napoleon Power Monger voice.  Ah, Janet.~
 
Her heels clicked on the cement floor of the infirmary as she made her way over to stand at the bedside.

“I know the nurses have gone over most of the instructions for your discharge over the last day, but I have a few things to add.  Daniel, you have got to take it easy and rest.  You push yourself too hard, and you'll be right back here, and I know that's not what you want, right?”

“Take it easy and rest, Janet.  I can do that.  I want to go home and stay home, believe me.”

“And you have to eat a decent diet as well.  At least three meals a day, with the supplements and vitamins we've been using here.”

“Yes, I remember the diet lectures.”

“And, Colonel, no strenuous activity for at least six weeks.  We understand the meaning of 'strenuous activity', right?”

“Six weeks?” both Jack and Daniel asked rather loudly.

“Do I need to remind you of all the injuries Daniel sustained?  He needs time to heal.”

Daniel's voice was quiet as he asked, “But, Janet, six weeks?  Seems like a long time.  I can't wait that long.  I mean, six weeks?”

“You know, I really don't know why I even bother setting any time frames with you two anymore.  You never listen anyway.”  She sighed and continued.  “Alright.  No sooner than four weeks, and I'm serious.  You're going to have to take things slowly, play it by ear after that.”

Jack was quick to reply, grateful for the reprieve.

“Four weeks we can do.  Yup, four weeks.”

“Speak for yourself, Jack.”  Daniel's eyes spoke loudly.  ~Gawd, four weeks is a lifetime.  I need you.~

Jack leaned over and whispered into Daniel's ear, “Do you want to get out of here or not?”

Daniel smiled as he quietly answered, “Definitely.”

Jack winked.  ~Four weeks my ... mikta!~

An orderly arrived with a wheelchair for Daniel.  He stood with the assistance of his partner and his doctor.

Janet hugged him tightly.

“I'm so glad you're getting well and going home, Daniel.  You cut it just a little too close for comfort this time, Doctor Jackson,” she said with a  cracked voice.

He sat in the chair and looked up at Janet, holding her hand.

“Thank you Janet.  Seems like so little to say when I owe you so much.  I wouldn't be here without you.  I'm grateful, even if I am a lousy patient.”

Janet chuckled, reached down, and kissed his cheek.

“Take care of yourself and him, too.”

He squeezed her hand one last time as he promised, “I will.”

Janet stood and found herself immediately enveloped in a gigantic hug, a strong hearty embrace.  It was one of the few times Jack O'Neill was demonstrative in public view with someone outside his team.

“Thank you, Doc, for giving him back to me.”

“I'm glad he's on the way back, too, Jack.  You take good care of the good Doctor for me.  Daniel's first follow-up visit is in five days.  I'll see you both then, if not before, during the PT.  Any questions or concerns before then, you call me here or at home, no delay.”

“Gotcha.  We'll see you in five days.  Let's go get some sunshine, Daniel.”

She watched them as they departed the infirmary.  ~That was just a little too close for me, Daniel.  And I really should have insisted that you stay in the infirmary for another week, but what's a doctor to do when faced with 'the pout' and 'the Irish smile'?  Do I dare hope for a complication-free recovery?~  She sighed, a prayer whispered in her heart.  ~God Bless you both.~

====

Jack helped Daniel into the house.  His husband was still a little unsteady, and probably should have stayed in the infirmary a few more days, but he had nagged Jack and Janet to come home.  He missed his house, the girls, and lying next to Jack; and when Janet had failed to use her “trust me” speech on Jack after Daniel's last nagging attempt, Jack knew it was safe to bring his soulmate home.

Daniel made his way into the living room and was surprised not to see Bijou and Katie wagging their tails at the door.

“Jack?  The girls,” Daniel said, afraid something had happened to them.

“Oh, I'm sorry.  Relax, Love.” Jack gently nestled in behind his lover, putting his arms around him, careful not to press too tightly on the still healing ribs.  “I took them over to Mrs. Valissi's this morning.   I thought maybe you should have a couple of minutes to get your bearings first.  Otherwise, I knew you'd want to see them right away, and they'd be breaking down the patio door trying to get to you.”

“Thank you, Jack.  I do want ... gawd, Jack, I need to see them.  I barely got to touch them when you brought them to the SGC.”

“I know.  Here, I want you to sit down and rest for a couple of minutes.  I'll bring in your bag of goodies from the Doc and then go get the girls.  You want anything?”

“Just you, and the girls ... and ... gawd, some aspirin.”

“Another headache?”  Daniel nodded.  “Janet said that would be normal for a while.   She has something in her little happy bag that should help.”

“Happy bag?”

“Happy juice, happy pills, happy bag.”

Jack shrugged as he quickly retrieved the bag, along with other items, and took the bag to the counter.  He spread out the contents, causing Daniel to shudder at the sight.

“I hate pills,” Daniel said softly.

“Yes, I know, but we're not taking any chances.” Jack took a deep breath and then glanced over at his husband.  “It's better than IV's in the infirmary, Love.”

“Yeah, I guess you're right.”

“Guess?”

“You're right.  It's better ... a lot better.”

“Okay, so ... no chances ... agreed?”

Daniel smiled, seeing the fear behind the look on Jack's face.

“Agreed, Babe ... no chances.”

After making sure Daniel was settled, Jack retrieved their beagles.  Stopping on the porch, Jack knelt down and talked to the girls.

“Listen, he's going to be okay, but he's real sore.  We almost lost him, Girls, so ... we need to be really gentle for a while.  I know you want him to know you love him, but try not to jump too much.  He needs you, though.  Loves you tons.  Ready?”

Two bright faces and wagging tails gave Jack his answer, so he took off their harnesses and opened the door.

“Remember, be gentle!  Oh, and don't forget,” Jack laughed, “He's bald -- not a hair on his gorgeous head, but he's still the sexiest thing in the universe.  Come on!”

Bijou and Katie barked excitedly as they ran into the house and jumped up onto the sofa.

“Hey!” Daniel said, a huge grin on his face.  “I'm so happy to see you two!”

Bijou and Katie were amazingly calm, Daniel thought.  They were both just sitting on the cushion next to him, leaning as close as they could, desperate, but happy looks on their faces.

Daniel looked at Jack accusingly.

“What did you tell them?”

“To be gentle.”

“Screw gentle!  Come here, you two!  Gawd, I need you.”

Daniel motioned for the dogs to jump on him, so they did.  Jack saw Daniel react to a painful twinge, but from past experience, Jack also knew the love Daniel was getting far exceeded the price of the pain, so he let the reunion go on until Daniel looked at him several minutes later.

“Okay ... now would be good.”

Jack knew that meant Daniel must really be hurting, so he immediately went into command mode.

“Bijou! Katie!  Beanbag -- now!”

The girls gave Daniel a last kiss and did as told.  Jack stood and went to the sofa, looking over his shoulder at the dogs.

“Thanks, Girls.”

“Want something for the pain?”  Daniel nodded.  “Okay, I'll go get ...”

“No, I want you to hold me.”

“What do I look like,” Jack smirked lightly, “a pain pill?”

“Yes.”  Daniel nuzzled into Jack's protective hold, “a big fluffy, comfy ... Jack?”

“Hmmm?”

“I love you.  Have I said that lately ... that I love you?”

“In the car ... about ten times, but I'm not complaining.”  Daniel took a breath and asked softly, “Are we done, Jack?”

“Yes, Danny, we're done.”

“Family?”

“Oh, yeah.  Babies ... two of 'em, and two older ones later on.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, Angel.”

“Even though I'm bald?”

Jack laughed as he commented, “Teal'c thinks you look great.”

“Jack?”

“Ah, Danny, I love you, shaggy, bald or ... whatever.  You're beautiful.”

“I'm bald.”

“And beautiful!”

Daniel leaned into Jack as close as he could, speaking very softly, “I really died, didn't I?”

“Used up another one of those nine lives, I'm afraid,” Jack gulped, ”but,” he kissed Daniel on the temple, “now, we start that life we've been wanting for so long.  No looking back.”

“No looking back,” Daniel repeated, barely getting the last word out.

Jack looked down and smiled, placing another kiss on his lover's head.  Daniel had fallen asleep on his Jack pillow, so Jack gently leaned them both back slightly, and made sure his arms were snugly around his love, and while Daniel slept, Jack enjoyed hearing the sweetest sound he had ever heard -- the sound of Daniel's breathing.

====

“Jack?” Daniel yawned, walking into the study.

“Daniel, for crying out loud.  You aren't supposed to be walking around like that without me.”

“I'm sorry. I woke up and ...”

Jack had already walked over to his lover, taking him into his arms, as he completed the sentence, “And you missed me?”

“Yes.”  Daniel placed his head on the familiar shoulder that said 'home' to him.  “I missed this, Jack.”

“Me, too.  Do you need anything right now?  Headache?  Bathroom?”

“Both ... and you.”

Jack kissed him gently, and then assisted Daniel with his needs.  Jack had sat with his lover for quite a while on the sofa after he had fallen asleep, but then he had scooted out and laid Daniel out on the comfortable couch.  He had placed a blanket over him, making it snug.  Having placed a kiss on his soulmate's forehead, Jack had gone to take care of some household chores, things that had been ignored over the last few weeks.

Daniel's needs attended to, they returned to the study.  Jack still had the bills to pay, and Daniel wanted to be with him, so Jack got his lover settled on the sofa in the study and then returned to the desk to continue his task.  They chatted as Daniel relaxed and Jack wrote the checks.

“Danny, any ideas what we can do for Cass?”

“Not sure.”

“Well, it needs to be good.  You know, I did a little survey around the house and outside while you were asleep, and there's really so little we need to take care of.  I didn't ask her to, Danny, but it looks like she did a thorough cleaning job -- even washed the dog house.”

“Sounds like Cass.  She'd want you to not have to worry about anything except ... me,” Daniel said softly.  “Why don't we just ask her?”

“I thought you were the genius?”

“Why?”

“Because if I know Cass, she won't want anything.”

Daniel took a breath and let out a small “ouch.”  He saw Jack react, but spoke quickly.  “No, I'm okay.  I just did one of those deep breaths I'm not supposed to do.”

“Danny ...”

“Sorry.  I forgot.  I was ... thinking.  Let's ask Janet.”

“Now that's my genius!”

Daniel looked down at the ring that now hung on a chain he wore around his neck.  He preferred that over the bracelet, especially now that he was home.  It also reminded him of something.

“Jack?”

“Yes, Angel?”

“Can you ... I mean, can you come here?”

Jack darted up in a flash, rushing to Daniel.

“What's wrong?”

“Nothing.  I didn't mean ... I just ... I ...”

Daniel sighed.  He'd lost the ability to talk.  His nerves had just stood up like hairs on the back of the neck.

“Okay.  You maybe wanted this?”  Jack put his arm around his spouse, and tugged him close.

“Yes, that's it.  Jack, that ... dream.”

“It wasn't a dream, Angel.  People don't have dreams and then wake up holding a ring that was buried with their mother.”

“He called me Daddy.”

“I know.”

“Jack, I liked it.  It felt good, even if it was scary, except ... there, in that light, it wasn't strange, and I wasn't afraid.”

“Maybe this is one of those things we shouldn't question.  There is no way in the world, Daniel, that we could explain that ring, so maybe we just need to accept the miracle.”

“Was Charlie buried with his red ball cap?”

“No.  Why?”

“Because he was wearing it.”

“Sara has it.”

“Does she?”

Jack tilted his head slightly as he responded, “I ... assume she does, but ... I guess I really don't know.”

“What did you do with the ring?”

“I put it in the safe.  Do you want to see it?”

Daniel nodded, so Jack went to the safe they kept upstairs and brought the ring back downstairs.

Before he looked at it, Daniel said, “Jack, I remember Mama talking about a small scratch inside her ring.  She got it during a dig when she injured her hand.  Is there a little scratch inside the ring?”

Jack looked at it carefully, and then handed it to Daniel.  Trying to remain calm, he looked at the ring, at the initials he knew were there, and sure enough, there was the scratch, just as his mother had described.

“We definitely shouldn't try to explain this,” Daniel said.

“I couldn't if I tried.  It defies logic.”

“And science.  But I ... I believe, Jack.”

“So do I.”

Daniel looked at his husband for confirmation.  They wouldn't question this anymore.  They'd just accept.

“This is for our first born daughter.  I don't know how we'll explain it, but it's for her.”

“Agreed.”

“Hey, it's a nice day outside.  Why don't we go sit out with the girls for a bit?  I'll finish the bills later.”

Seeing Daniel's nod, Jack returned the ring to the safe, then he and Daniel spent a lovely afternoon in their backyard, snuggling and playing with their beagles.

====

“Snack time,” Jack said, a smile on his face, as he walked outside where Daniel was reclining on one of the lounge chairs.

Daniel sat up a bit straighter, a big grin on his face in anticipation of the goodie Jack was bringing him, but the grin quickly dissipated.

“Ensure?”

“Just what the Doc ordered.”

“This is ... for old people.”

Jack laughed as he sat down on a chair adjacent to the lounger.

“No, it's not.  It's just like one of those power bars you love so much.”

“I want real food.”

“Your body is still healing, Danny, and you need nutrients.  We cheat enough as it is, so drink up.”

“You sound like Janet.”

Jack spoke seriously next.

“You've lost a lot of weight, Daniel.  Please don't argue.”

“No fair turning serious.  What are you having?”

Daniel looked over at his lover and broke out into a huge smile.  Jack also had a can of Ensure for himself.

“We're in this together, Love.”

“Jack?”

“Hmm?”

“Come here.  Hurry.”

Jack quickly got up from his chair and moved to the lounger, sitting carefully on the edge.  He reached out to touch Daniel's face.

“Is something wrong?”  His face was full of concern as he saw Daniel nod.  “What?”

“You're not kissing me.”

Jack suddenly stopped the check he had begun making of his husband's body and let out a small chuckle.

“Oh, Danny.  What am I going to do with you?”

“I have a long, long list of suggestions.”

Both men laughed, and then shared a kiss or two or ten before settling back to enjoy their Ensure snack drinks.

====
 
~Light ... infirmary lights ... no, too bright for that.  Warmth and light ... sunshine.  Sunshine?  There's no sunshine in the infirmary.~

Daniel opened his eyes, squinting against the bright light streaming through the patio doors.

~Home!  That's right ... I'm home.~  He brushed the crisp deep blue sheets and comforter.  ~My bed, mine and Jack's.  Feels so good.~

He closed his eyes, burying his head deep within the soft comfort of fluffy, soft pillows that smelled like Jack.

~Home.  What a great word.~  He opened his eyes again, confirming his lone presence in that bed.  ~Where's Jack?  Oh, yeah.  Jack's such an early riser.  Must be morning.  Time to get up. ~

Daniel attempted to sit up, forgetting about his recent chest injuries.  He immediately flopped back to the bed, pain searing through his chest and abdomen, momentarily stealing his breath away.

~Ah, crap.  That hurts so bad.~  He lay still for a minute, taking deep breaths attempting to control the deep pain.  ~Okay, idiot, now let's do it the way the nurses told you to.~

Gently, the young man rolled onto his left side, angled his right arm in front of his chest, hand flat on the bed, and pushed with his right arm until he had enough momentum to sit at the side of the bed.

~ That went well, a little dizzy, not too bad.  Uh-oh.  Bathroom.  Gotta get to the bathroom NOW.~

He had struggled with control of his bladder ever since the catheter had been removed over a week ago.  He knew he had a very short period of time to get to the bathroom once he felt the urge to urinate.  One of the nurses had discreetly informed Janet of the problem after one of his earlier “accidents” while he was still a patient in the infirmary.

“Don't worry, Daniel,”  he could still hear her words.  “Your bladder is learning to function on its own again.  Give it some time.  If you're still having problems after a couple of weeks, we could do some further testing to see if there has been damage to the urethra.”

~Further testing?  Urethra?  That sounded like it could be very painful.  I'll make do, thank you very much.~  His thoughts returned to the present.  ~Bathroom, NOW, Daniel.  No time to waste.~

He stood slowly, on shaky, weak legs.  He carefully made his way to the bathroom with slow, measured steps, praying he would arrive in time.  He flung open the door, his target so close to his reach, mere feet away. The door banged loudly against the wall.

~Oops, didn't mean to do that.~

He continued on, determined to meet his objective.  He could do this.  After all, he'd been doing this since he was a toddler.

~Almost there.  Hurry, gotta hurry.  Not too much time left.  No, please, no ...~

He stopped in the middle of the bathroom floor as he felt a warm rush of fluid streaming down his leg.

“Daniel?  Danny, you okay?”

Jack appeared in the bathroom doorway, breathing fast due to his mad dash up the stairs to the bedroom after hearing an ominous crashing sound while in the kitchen below.  He observed Daniel, tears silently running down his cheeks, standing in the bathroom, a large, pale yellow puddle of fluid surrounding his bare feet.

“Angel, it's okay.”  Shifting to stand at his partner's side, Jack cradled Daniel in a tight hug.  “Don't worry about it.  We'll get you cleaned up.”

Daniel sank into Jack's embrace.

“I hate this.  I feel like I'm two years old.”

“Shhh.  They told us it this could happen.  You're alive, Danny.   Geez, I'm grateful for that.  This is so not a big deal.”

“I'm sorry, but I hate it.  I hate it so much.  I hate the weakness, the loss of control, the lack of privacy.  I hate everything about this.”

“I know you do, but it's only temporary.  It will pass.  You'll get your strength back.  You're already getting better, a little everyday.  Stand here for just a minute, okay?”

Jack released him, walked to the closet and returned with two towels, using one to cover the puddle and the other to wrap around his lover after removing his pajamas.  He guided Daniel to the toilet and had him sit while he drew a warm bath.

Returning to his lover, he kneeled down beside him, reaching an arm up to gently rub his shoulder.

“You've got to give it some time, Daniel.  You haven't even been home for twenty-four hours yet.  Be a little patient, huh?”

Daniel silently nodded, his head sinking onto Jack's shoulder.  Jack held his disappointed lover to him, his hands soothing the emotional ache away.

They remained huddled together for the few minutes it took to fill the tub, and then Jack began to unbutton Daniel's pajama top.

“Let's get you in the tub.  It'll feel good to soak for a bit.  Have to keep that arm dry like Casey told us.  That IV PICC line thing can't get wet.  We'll get this done, get you dressed, and then have a little breakfast before the nurse comes to start your first antibiotic of the day.”

“Jack?”

“What, Love?”

“You sound like a freakin' nurse.”

Jack thought for a moment, realizing his lover was right.

“You know something, Danny.  After the last couple of weeks, I almost feel like one, but that's okay because ... I watched them.  I watched them work so hard to bring you home to me, so if I sound like them, that's okay.”

“Gawd, Jack.  I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.”

Daniel stood, and with Jack's assistance, stepped into the tub, gently easing his weary body into the warm, soothing shelter of the water.  Jack washed the battered body of the man he loved and continued to reassure him.

~You're being too hard on yourself.  We need to stay focused on the good stuff, like being alive and together.~

“Okay, time for breakfast.”

“I'm not hungry.”

“Oh, no you don't, Dannyboy.  That ain't gonna fly.  Breakfast ... first of three meals of the day.  Remember what Fraiser said?  You'll eat some breakfast and behave yourself.  I have no intention of sitting in that hard torturous chair at your bedside in the infirmary ever again.”

“You're mean,” Daniel whined as a smile appeared on his face.

“People fear me.”

“I don't.”

“Thank Heaven for that.  Relax for a couple minutes while I get the towels and clothes, okay?”

Daniel closed his eyes, sinking back and letting the warmth envelope his chest.  ~Thank you, love.  This feels so good.~  “I'm just gonna close my eyes for a few minutes.”

“You do that.  Be right back and then ...”

“I know ... breakfast.”

They had a leisurely day, Jack doting on Daniel, spoiling him rotten, just as he had always promised to do.

It was early evening when Jack and Daniel were huddled together on the living room sofa, watching “Charade” on a cable channel when there was a knock on their door.

“Stay here, Beautiful,” Jack said, gently scooting out of Daniel's hold.

“T!  What brings you here?” Jack asked as he opened the door and welcomed the Jaffa in.

“I wish to see DanielJacksonO'Neill.”

Jack smiled again at hearing the name.

“You know, T, when you said that that day, it ... well, it was what I needed.  Thank you.”

Teal'c simply nodded and Jack led him into the living room.  Daniel started to get up, but Jack quickly cut him off by sitting down immediately and grabbing the young man's hands.

“You'll have to forgive Daniel for not getting up, but he's supposed to rest.”

“I'm fine, Jack.”

“No, you're not.  Getting there, but hardly there yet.”

“Hi, Teal'c,” Daniel said, finally relenting to Jack's wishes, leaning back comfortably against the sofa cushions.

“You look well, DanielJackson.”

“Hey!”

Teal'c stared at Jack as if to say “once a week is my limit,” so Jack just blinked and cleared his throat.

“So, what brings you by, Teal'c?” Jack repeated.

“I wish to give you this, DanielJackson.”

Teal'c reached out and placed the Malgoream Meditation Crystal in Daniel's hand.

“Teal'c, I gave this to you.”

“And it has brought me luck.  I wish now to pass on that luck, as is the rite with the Malgoream Meditation Crystals.”

When Daniel had given the crystal to Teal'c, he had relayed the history and legend of the one-inch green-colored crystal.  According to folklore, when the Malgoris used their crystals for a crisis and had a successful outcome, they would pass their crystal on to someone else so that they could experience the power of the item.  It was said that the healing power of the crystals increased with each passing.

“I don't understand.  It ... brought you luck?”

“You are well, are you not?”

Daniel blinked several times, deeply touched by gesture and the emotion behind it.

“Yes.  Thank you, Teal'c.”

“I must return to the SGC.  I am accompanying SG-9 on a mission in four hours and must prepare.”

“Good luck, T,” Jack said, standing to walk their friend out.

“See you later, Teal'c,” Daniel said, the crystal snug in the palm of his hand as he spoke.

When Jack returned, he put his arm around Daniel's shoulder and asked if he were okay.  Daniel smiled and nodded, and then he said, “I'll have to pass this on one day, maybe even today because ... I don't need luck.”

“Daniel, we all need luck.”

“No, Jack.  You see, I have everything I need, everything I want, right here.  I have you.”

“Angel ...” Jack barely was able to speak the word as he leaned over for a kiss.

They returned to their movie, and then went to bed, snuggling close as always.  Daniel quickly fell asleep in the safe haven that was his lover's arms.

====

“Hey, you're up early.”

“I'm tired of beds,” Daniel whined, dressed in his burgundy pajamas and blue velvet robe, “and I want some REAL food today, Jack.”

Daniel walked towards the refrigerator and then wobbled.

“Whoa.”  Jack was in front of Daniel, holding him up in a flash.  “Hey, you okay?”

“Hmm-mmm,” Daniel leaned into Jack's warm body.  “Janet said this was normal, too.”

“I know, but just ... making sure.  Nothing hurts or ...”

“Jack, I'm fine, just a little weak, that's all.”

Jack held Daniel close, not ignoring the fact that Daniel seemed to be clinging to him.  Jack had no objection.  He wasn't planning on letting Daniel out of his sight or range of touch for any length of time.

**I'd be happy to stand right here, holding you, for the rest of our lives.**

“No, Jack, we're not going to stand here forever.”

“Danny!” Jack exclaimed, his voice excited and yet almost crooning.  His hands went to Daniel's upper arms as he stepped back to look at his husband.  “Hey, you heard that?”

“If I didn't hear it, how could I have responded to it?”

“Angel” Jack grinned, but now his tone was soft.

“Oh, gawd.  It's the first time since ...”

“... since you woke up.  I've ... experimented.  Thought maybe we'd lost it.”

Daniel looked panicked.

“NO!  I don't ever want to lose that.”

“Hey ... we didn't.  We just proved that.”

Daniel's breathing was more rapid.  His near-telepathic connection that he often had with Jack was precious to him.  He suddenly felt anxious that it was gone, or at least diminished.  Seeing the nervousness, Jack reacted.

**Calm down, Danny.  Hear me?  I love you.  I'll ... even clean the fish tank.  I promise.  Okay?**

Daniel's face had a huge grin as he reacted to Jack's words, “Gawd ... I heard that, too.”

**Then tell me!**

**I ... Jack, how about we go to a museum every day for the next year?**

“I don't think so, Dannyboy.”  Jack laughed.  “One a month, and that's all you're getting from me.”

**One what?**

**Museum, My Love.**

“Oh, Jack.  We still have it, and you don't even have to clean the fish tank.”

Daniel leaned back into his lover, relief finally filling his body.

“Love that connection.  Maybe someday someone will explain it to me.”

“I don't want it explained.  I just want it to BE!” Daniel said with desperation.

At one time, he had been very curious about their unique ability.  He'd started to study it, but then he backed off, afraid of understanding something that he wasn't sure was meant to be understood, so now, he never questioned it; he only cherished it.

“Me, too.  Now, about that real food you wanted!”

“Waffles,” Daniel's mouth watered, “with lots and lots of syrup.”

“Is that on the approved list of Doctor Janet's food?”

“Waffles ... with lots and LOTS of syrup,” Daniel whispered into Jack's mouth as he kissed him.

“Waffles and a bottle of syrup coming right up!  You go sit down.  The girls are out for a while.”  ~So ... since when do we listen to the Doc on stuff like this?~

“You think they understand?”

“Don't they always?”

“Yes.”

Daniel laughed as he took his seat and happily Jack-gazed as the older man prepared their breakfast!

“Danny?”

Jack suddenly paused his actions.

“Yes?”

“You're hungry?  Really hungry?”

Daniel grinned.

“Hungrier than ... Sam is for chocolate during that time of the month.”

Jack laughed loudly and continued his preparations.

====
 
One day later, in the wee hours of the morning, Jack woke to a strange eerie feeling that something wasn't quite right.  ~Daniel!~  He quickly rolled onto his back to see his lover lying supine, his hands above his chest, fingers playing with his wedding ring, the silver chain suspended lazily, the silver sparkling in the moonlight.

“You all right?”

“No.  My ring still doesn't fit.”

Daniel sounded depressed, and he hadn't stopped his actions, working to get the finger to fit.

Jack laid his head back into his pillow, heaving a sigh.

“Daniel, you just got home two days ago.  Remember, Janet said it will take some time for the swelling to go down.  C'mere, you need to get some sleep.”

Jack lay on his side, spooning his lover.

“Feels so good to hold you.  Just give it some time, Danny.  Sleep.”

====

“Doc, I have some errands to run today.  Thought I'd drop by for the exit exam.”

Daniel had been home a week, and Jack finally felt it was okay to go out for short periods, leaving Daniel home alone with the girls, so he was on the phone with Janet hoping to schedule some time with her so he could move forward with his resignation from the Air Force, something that seemed to be taking much longer than he had anticipated.

“I'm sorry, Colonel.  We're swamped today.”

“How about tomorrow?”

“I don't think that'll work, Jack.  We have briefings all day.”

“What's going on, Doc?  I've been trying to get you to do this exam ever since Daniel came home.”

“Uh, nothing, Colonel.  We're just ... busy.”

“Janet ...”

“Maybe you should talk to General Hammond, but right now, he's keeping us busy.  Speaking of which, I have to run.  How's Daniel doing today?”

“He's fine ... just fine!”

The words had been barked as Jack hung up the phone.

Janet felt the sting of the disconnect on the other end.  ~Sorry, Colonel. I'm just following orders.~

====

“It looks ... funny.”

Jack put his arms around Daniel's waist as they looked into the mirror on the bedroom wall.

“We need to give it a trim, give your hair some style.”

“I wouldn't exactly call it hair, Jack.  It's more like ... stubble.”

“Time, love.”

“I'm so sick of everything taking time.”

“Danny,” Jack whispered.

“I know.  I'm sorry.  I'm ... whining.”

“You're entitled.”  Jack kissed the side of Daniel's neck.  “Hey, how about a short walk down the block with the girls?  It'll give you a change of scenery.”

“Could we?”

“Sure.  Nothing on Fraiser's list about going for walks.”

Seeing the bright smile on his husband's face, Jack felt another renewal.  They still had a ways to go, but slowly, things were getting better.

~One day at a time.  That's what we need to remember.~

====
--Two Weeks After Daniel's Return Home
====

Jack walked over to the couch where his lover lay, sprawled, sleeping. ~Ah, Daniel. This is not going to work.~  Jack rubbed at his forehead in an attempt to relieve the pounding in his head.  ~Long, long day... and it's only 7:30 a.m.~

They had just finished arguing about breakfast.  Daniel was refusing to eat or drink anything.  His words had been uncharacteristically harsh --  “I'm not hungry, Jack, and I'm not gonna eat just to satisfy this new obsession you have concerning my diet.  Just get off my back.”

More cruel words had been exchanged in the heat of the moment, and Daniel had retreated to his present location.  Jack reached out and tapped Daniel's shoe.

“C'mon, Daniel, wake up.  We've gotta go.”

Daniel glared up at Jack and slowly rose from his position on the couch, following Jack out the door.

Jack had known from the get-go that it was going to be a very difficult, never-going-to-end kind of day.  A part of him was hoping it was just Daniel having to be up early for his medications and treatment appointments, but their argument hadn't been snarky or banterous; instead, it had been angry and sarcastic.

The downturn had begun just after midnight.

For Daniel, the night had been a bizarre mosaic of nightmares, restless tossing and turning, and uncontrolled pain and nausea.   He had refused any medications due to the severe nausea.  Jack's numerous attempts to offer comfort to his lover were rejected.

**Leave me alone.**

Whether spoken or unspoken, Daniel had shunned all of Jack's advances, rejecting any and all offers of comfort, including the physical.

Instead, Daniel had reverted to a method of coping he had developed as an abandoned young child, long before he met Jack, retreating to a place deep within himself where no one else could enter, a place of solitude and isolation, where he could simply withdraw from the outside world, curled up in a fetal position, suffering in relative silence.

Jack hated that place.  It was dark and silent and definitely unhealthy for the man he loved ... and it wasn't any fun for him, either.

~Okay, Danny.  Just for a while, but then it ends.  We've come too far to live in that desolate place for long.~

As a result, neither of them had slept for more than an hour as the first light of day had crept through the blinds of the bedroom window. Jack had crawled into the shower, grateful to put the events of the night behind him, ready to move forward with at least part of the day's planned activities.

He had taken a large swallow of his coffee, which he had purposefully brewed a little darker this morning, as he had reviewed the itinerary for the day in his mind.  Daniel was scheduled for his weekly check with Janet at 8 a.m., then on to a hydrotherapy session.

~That's one good thing -- at least I don't have to fight with him about seeing Janet today.  After last night, he'd be seeing Janet if I had to forcibly carry him into her office.~

Jack had heard the shower come on in the master bathroom.  ~Better check on him.~  “Daniel,” Jack had called as he entered their room.

“Yeah,” had come the reply from within the shower stall.

“Doin' okay?”

“Yeah.”
 
“Better get a move on.  Janet's expecting us at eight.”

The water had been abruptly shut off with a slamming sound, the shower curtain shoved open in anger.

“How could I forget?”

The response had been dripping with sarcasm, Daniel's face fraught with the grim reality of the day's schedule.  Daniel had reached for the towel Jack held out on one finger, snatching it away to cover his body.

“What sounds good for breakfast?”

“Nothing's what sounds good for breakfast.”

Jack had sighed in frustration.  ~This is definitely going to be a bad day.~ “Sorry, Love.  Wrong answer.  You have to eat something, if for no other reason that you can't take your meds on an empty stomach.”

Daniel's deep blue eyes had glared a silent response, so Jack had relented just a bit in response.

“Okay.  Something easy,” looking at his watch, “and to go if we want to be on time.  You know, there is definitely a correlation between the size and quantity of needles she sticks in your backside and the number of minutes you make her wait for you; but you're a scientist, a theorist.  You already know that.”

And so the day had begun.

The ride to the mountain was accomplished in uncomfortable silence, Daniel sipping on a mug of hot tea, his one concession to Jack that morning.  The pills had been swallowed on the way out the door and the toast had been thrown out the window of the truck after one bite had been consumed.

Having little choice to react any differently at the moment, Jack drove on, remaining quiet, sneaking a concerned look at his brooding companion every now and then.

It was a little after eight when they entered the infirmary, greeted by Casey Hemmings.

“Colonel, Daniel.  Good to see you.”

“Yeah,” Daniel looked around, his hands on his hips.

Casey glanced at Jack, who stood behind Daniel, a questioning look in his expression.  Jack merely nodded silently.

“Doctor Fraiser's expecting you in Exam Room D today.  I'll help you get settled.  We'll be doing some lab work and taking a chest X-ray.  She'll be in to see you when we're done.”

“I'll be back in a few minutes.  I'm going to go grab a cup of coffee, check in with Carter and the General.”

Daniel continued to stare at the wall, his answer short --  “Fine.”  ~How dumb do you think I am, Jack?  I know you're going to find Janet.~  He followed Casey down the hallway to the exam rooms.

Jack found Janet in her office, paperwork strewn out all over her desk.  He rapped on the door.

“Got a minute?”

“For you, Colonel?  Goes without asking.”  She immediately noted his lack of sarcastic response, the concerned look in his eyes, his overall weary appearance.  “What's going on?”

“Daniel's with Casey.”

“And ...”

He drew in a deep breath.  “And ... something's not right.  He had a long night last night, only got an hour of sleep, tossing and turning, and ...” Jack sighed again, “nightmares.  He was hurting, Janet, but he wouldn't take anything.  Something's not right.”

“Did he have a fever?  Any vomiting?”

“He was nauseous, but never threw up.  He didn't have a fever.  At least, I don't think he did.  Daniel would hardly let me near him.  I did manage to get his meds down him this morning, but it was a fight.  He's not eating.  He drank a cup of tea on the way in, but that's it.  Doc, he actually opened the window on the truck and threw out the toast.  Took one bite and tossed it.  He pulled one of his 'just-leave-me-alone' isolation kind of things.”

“Okay, Jack.  I'll do a thorough exam this morning.  Don't panic.”

“I'm worried.”

“I know, but let me take a look before you start going overboard in the concern department.”

“I'm going to check in with Carter and the General.  Call me when you're done.  I'd like to be there when you talk to Daniel.”

“Of course.”

====

“Carter ...” Jack said as he entered her lab.

“Sir!  I didn't know you'd be in today,” Sam said, putting down a small rectangular box she'd been holding.

“Daniel.  Tests.  Doodads.  You know,” Jack said, his tone flat as he reached out to touch the box.

“Not just a box, I assume?”

“Not exactly, Colonel.  We think it's a transphase ...”

“Carter,” Jack held out both hands as if fending off an attack, “I'm retired.  I don't really care.  That was just ... conversation.”

“Sir, is something wrong?”  Hearing Jack's sigh, she asked.  “Is Daniel all right?”

“I don't know.  No.  Maybe.  He's with the Doc.”

“Yes, I know.”

“You do?”

“You just told that me that.”

“Oh.  So ... when do you take over SG-1?”

“Um ... well ... you'd have to talk to the General about that, Sir.”

Jack nodded, and looking around the office absent-mindedly, he asked, “Teal'c's on that mission with SG-3, right?”

“Yes.”

“Tell the big guy 'hi' when he gets back.”

“Will do.”

Jack turned and walked out, leaving Sam very concerned about Daniel.  She made a mental note to check in with Janet before the day was out.

====

Jack returned to the infirmary ninety minutes later to find Janet studying two chest X-rays.

“One of those Daniel's?”

“Actually, they both are.”  She pointed, “Today's and last week's.”

She continued to study both of them, tracing her fingers back and forth, comparing the two.  Jack quietly observed her, not wanting to distract her thoughts.

“Unfortunately, there's not much difference between the two.  His ribs are healing, but I would expect to see this haziness clearing up, especially after another week's worth of IV antibiotics.  It just isn't happening.”

“So that means ...”

“Well, Colonel, that means we leave the PICC line in his arm, change his antibiotic regimen again, and try another week's worth of therapy, and I'll see him again in a week for another full exam, see if we've made any progress.”

“And if not ...”

She pulled both X-rays off the screen, turning to go to her office where Daniel was waiting.

“Let's go talk with Daniel.  Then I can explain it to the both of you.”

Jack held her arm, halting her movement.

“Janet.  I really need to know what you're thinking here.  You and I both know Daniel doesn't need to have obstacles thrown in his way right this minute.  Tell me what you're thinking.”

“Okay.  If his chest X-ray improves next week, then we're right on track.  We'll stop the IV's and continue with the oral antibiotic therapy.”

She let out a deep breath, meeting Jack's worried look.

“And if not?”

“That's where things get tricky.  I consulted again with Doctor Warner. We reviewed the labs and chest films.  The lack of improvement on the chest films is disturbing to both of us.  That consolidation in his right lung may just be a nasty bacterial infection, requiring a more extensive and intense course of antibiotic therapy to achieve a cure.

“On the other hand, Doctor Warner's concerned that the consolidation may actually be a collection of fine shards of the shrapnel that we previously removed from Daniel's chest.  That shrapnel was composed of an alien substance that's radiopaque, meaning it doesn't show up on X-rays.  The only means to make a definitive diagnosis is to perform a needle aspiration and possibly another thoracotomy.  We may need to go back in for a second look, re-culture what's there, irrigate and debride.

“But like you said, Colonel, that information is not for Daniel's ears.  He doesn't need any more to worry about.”

Jack nodded, and the two went into the other room to join Daniel.

Janet knocked once on the door and entered the examination room, followed by Jack.  Daniel lay on the bed with his head elevated on pillows, a small bag of IV antibiotics hanging from the IV pump stand at the side of the bed, the tubing snaking around to infuse into his PICC line in his left arm.  Casey turned from his location at the computer station as they entered the room.

“The first antibiotic's got about an hour left to infuse.”

Daniel's somber expression darkened his voice tight and demanding. “The 'first antibiotic'?  What do you mean 'the first antibiotic'?  I'm only supposed to be getting one today, then the line's supposed to be pulled.  Janet?”

“Thanks, Casey.  I got it from here.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

He quietly exited the room, pulling the door closed behind him.

“Janet?  What's going on?”

“Daniel, if you'll just calm down for a minute, I'll explain.”

Jack had moved the chair in the room next to bed and had taken a seat, laying his hand on the blanket-covered leg of his irate, short-tempered husband.

“Easy, huh?  Give her a chance.”  Daniel attempted to pull his leg away, but instead Jack's hand tightened to form a grasp.  “Daniel, you need to calm down.  No one can talk to you when you're in this frame of mind.”

Daniel stopped his movements on the bed and lay his head back in the pillow, eyes closed tightly, frustration evident in his manner.

Janet proceeded to explain that the lack of improvement on the chest X-ray necessitated another week of IV antibiotic therapy.  She reinforced the need for continued rest, a good diet and attendance at daily hydro- and physio-therapy sessions.

“And I want to start you on another new medicine.  It's an anti-depressant.”

Daniel immediately sat up on the bed, his body a frenzy of activity, his voice frantic.

“No.  Absolutely not.  Janet, I'm fine.  I am NOT depressed.”

Jack stood from the bedside chair, grasping his partner's shoulders, attempting to keep him on the bed.

“Whoa there, Dannyboy.  Take it easy or you're going to pull out your IV.  Just slow down.  I'm right here.”

“I am NOT depressed, Jack.  I'm not.  I don't need that medicine.  Please, Jack.  Listen to me.”  He pulled at Jack's grasp on his arms. “Please, Jack.  Let me go now.  I'm okay.”

“Daniel?  I can't let you go until you calm down.”

Janet picked up the phone on the desk, a response to Daniel's agitation.

“Casey?  I need four milligrams of Ativan with some flush in Exam D stat.”

“No!  You are not going to sedate me.  I don't need that either.”  Daniel observed Janet exchanging a look with Jack, seeking his support for her plan to drug him out of his mind.  “No, Jack.  You are NOT going to do this to me.”

Janet turned to observe her very upset patient on the bed.

“Daniel?  I want you to calm down.  It's okay.  We can discuss this later.  Just take it easy.  Let Jack help you lay down now.”

There was a faint knock on the door as Casey arrived, carrying a syringe with two small bottles of saline flush.

“Janet, no.  Please don't do this to me.”  Seeing no response to his pleas, he turned to Jack.  “Please, Jack.  I'll calm down.  I can calm down.  We can talk, calmly talk.  Just please don't drug me.”  ~Please don't do this to me.  I have so little control as it is.  Please don't ...~

Casey stood silently at the entrance to the small room, syringe in hand, taking in the conversation and activity of the three parties.

“Casey, just leave it on the counter.  I'll take it from here.”

“Yes, Doctor.”  He placed the medicine on the counter as directed and exited the room.

“Okay, Daniel.  Convince me why I shouldn't give you the Ativan.”

Daniel closed his eyes briefly, sighing for the brief respite he had achieved.

“I'm calm now, Janet.”  His voice was still tense, wavering in its tone.  “See, Jack.  I'm calm.  We can talk now.  Tell me what you need to tell me.”

“I think it's you that needs to tell us, Daniel.  Tell us what all this is about.  All the acting out, all the anger, all the hiding, the defiance.  Tell US what's going on.”  Janet spoke sternly.  “I've got to be honest with you, Daniel.  I'm very concerned not only with your physical state, but your mental ... your emotional state as well.”

Daniel seemed to crumble before their eyes.  The tears welled, his lower lip quivered, and his hands seemed to tremble a moment.  His voice was faint, weak.

“Everything's so out of control.  Don't you see?  I have no control.  I'm still sick.  I don't want to be sick anymore.  I want to be better.  I want to FEEL better.”  He covered his eyes with his trembling hand.  “I'm scared.  Jack, I'm so scared.” Daniel looked over at his lover.

The room was dead silent.  While Janet focused on her patient, Jack focused on his husband.

“It's going to be okay, Danny.”

“Help me ... please?”
 
Jack sat on the edge of the bed and reached to gather his lover into his strong arms, his voice as calm and steady as possible, “Everything's going to be okay.  I love you.”

Daniel laid his head on Jack's shoulder and buried his face into Jack's neck.  Silent tears fell, Daniel's body trembling in his arms. Jack gently rubbed his lover's back.

“We're here to help you, Daniel.  You've just got to let us in, let us help. I want you to be well.  Janet wants you to be well.  You've got to accept that you need us, that you need our help to get there.  You can't do it on your own.”

Janet moved over to her friends, her hand joining Jack's as he continued to rub Daniel's back in small circles.  “It's okay to need help, Daniel.  I promise, we'll help you get better.  Just let us help.”

Daniel nodded his response, his head still hidden beside Jack's neck.  Jack looked up to Janet.

“Daniel, can you lay back now?  Jack can stay, he doesn't have to leave.”

Daniel lay back on the bed, silently wiping the residual tracks of his tears from his face.

“We need to finish the antibiotics.  It's going to be late afternoon before they're completed.  I'm going to call and cancel your PT for today.  I'd rather that you rested.  Will you let me give you a little Ativan?  Jack said you didn't sleep last night.”

“Please.  No drugs.”

“I'll only give you a small dose.  I'll wake you once the antibiotics are completed.  Then you can go home with Jack, if you promise me that you'll abide by my instructions.”

“Jack?”

The older man sighed, reaching out to caress Daniel's left cheek for a moment.

“Just a tiny dose, okay?  Only one.”

Trusting Jack's decision, Daniel quietly nodded, closing his eyes as he squeezed Jack's hand.

“Good.”

“Small dose, Janet,” Jack warned, both with his voice and his eyes.

She nodded and reached for the sedative-filled syringe, injecting a small amount into the port on his IV.  She smiled down at her charge as she said very calmly, “Sleep, Daniel.  I promise I'll wake you, we'll finish our talk, and then you can go home.”  He nodded again.  “Call me if you need me, Jack.”  She exited the room, pulling the door closed behind her.

“Jack?”  Daniel's voice was weak and slightly slurred.

“Right here.  I'm right here.”

Jack's hand, no longer required to secure his lover safely on the bed, gently caressed the pale, warm face.

Daniel's droopy eyes struggled to open as he requested, “Please stay.  Don't leave.”

“Not going anywhere.  Just close your eyes and sleep.  I'll be right here when you open them.”

Daniel nodded slightly, eyes closed, drifting off to sleep.

====

“Jack, it takes time.”

“TIME?  GIVE ME A FRIGGIN' BREAK, GEORGE!  I want out.  I want to retire.  I've submitted by resignation as required, but it seems to be stalled!  And Doctor Fraiser refuses to do my exit exam.”

“Doctor Fraiser is extremely busy ...”

“Then let Warner do it.”

“Jack, everything takes time.”

“I'm being railroaded, General.  You know it, and I know it.  Well, I have news for the United States Government.  I am retired and happily married ... TO ANOTHER MAN, and none of that is going to change, so you might as well put the papers through.”

“Colonel, why don't you try and calm down?  I'll see what I can do.”

“Thank you, George.”

Hammond hung up the phone, shaking his head.

~I'm trying, Jack, but they don't want you to go.  I'll do my best, but believe it or not, I have to follow orders, too.~

====

“I love you, Jack,” Daniel leaned over across the counter to kiss his husband.  “I've been a real pain in the mikta, haven't I?”

“Just getting even for all my temper tantrums,” Jack teased, reaching out to take Daniel's hands in his, caressing it as they touched.

The two were waiting for the casserole to finish for dinner.

“I'm sorry I was so difficult.  I didn't realize what was happening to me.”

“I know, but you're making good progress now.  You had a nasty bacterial infection that wasn't helping any.”

“I was still ... mean.”

“Just scared.”

“I took it out on you.”

“I'm your husband.  You're supposed to.”

“I'm supposed to love you.”

“You do.”

Daniel grinned as he emphatically agreed, “Oh, yes, I definitely do,” and then he paused for a moment before continuing, “Jack, about the drugs.  Thank you for supporting me in that. You know how I feel about them.”

Jack had agreed to only a couple of doses of the anti-depressant drug, and only when his lover seemed to be at the very end of his rope.  Instead, they used their love to get through, which proved easier each day as the antibiotics chipped away at the bacterial infection that had plagued the young man for a week, causing the temporary spiral into depression.

“I know, Love.  I'm the same way,” Jack said as he leaned over for another kiss.  “You're doing so great, Danny.  I love you so friggin' much.”

They kissed again, both moaning.

“Gawd, I don't care about dinner anymore.  Jack?”

“We can ... snuggle.”

Daniel grinned again.

“Snuggling is good.  Very good even.”

Jack put the casserole on warm, and arm and arm, the two lovers went upstairs to snuggle together in their king-size bed.

====
--Six Weeks After Daniel's Return Home
====

Jack popped open the bottle of champagne.  He was dressed in a burgundy silk shirt, three buttons undone at the top, and black pants.  He stood near the fireplace, by a table he'd placed there to hold the goodies for the night -- champagne, St. Julien's wine, chocolate truffles, strawberries, chips, and more.

~Might be overdoing it a little, but so what?~

“Jack?”

Jack turned to look towards the stairs.  He smiled, the biggest, brightest, happiest smile he'd had in the last two months.  Standing three steps up on the stairway was the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen -- his Daniel.

Dressed in a navy blue silk shirt and black pants, Daniel's smile was as big and happy as his husband's.  His eyes were sparkling and lively.  The bangs of his recently grown hair wisped lightly over his forehead.  The young man had regained the pounds he had lost during his struggle for life, once again looking healthy and fit.

“Hey, Beautiful,” Jack said, putting down the bubbly and walking to the stairs.

Daniel walked down the last few steps and into the arms of his spouse. He thought Jack looked positively delicious.  His lover's chest hairs sneaked out just slightly from the loosely fitting shirt.  He took in the little wisp of hair that stuck up just a tad at the back of Jack's head, and the piercing chocolate brown eyes that set his soul on fire.  Jack was wearing Daniel's favorite cologne, and it made the young man shiver as he took in the scent of his husband.  To Daniel, nothing on Earth was more breath-taking than his husband.

“Oh, Angel.  I love you so much,” Jack said just before kissing Daniel in a full, passionate kiss.

Daniel's arms went up around Jack's neck.  He played with Jack's collar for a minute, and then ran his right hand down alongside Jack's neck and down his chest.

“Love you, too.  Gawd, I'm so happy.”

“Me, too.”

They kissed again.  Jack cupped Daniel's face, and reached up to stroll his fingers through Daniel's hair.

“It's all back now, just like before, as silky and smooth as ever.  Let's have some champagne.”

Slipping his arm around Daniel's waist, Jack walked his lover over to the fire and poured them both a glass.

“To you, My Love, and all our tomorrows.”

“To us, and our forever.”

They clanged their glasses, and hooking their arms around each other, sipped their drinks, followed quickly by a kiss.

“Let's sit down, Jack.”

As Daniel lit the candles that were scattered all around the room, Jack turned off the lights and then sat down on a large, fluffy comforter he had brought in earlier.  He carefully arranged the pillows to places he knew would be the most comfortable for the two of them.

“Jack, did you turn the phone off?”

“Off and unplugged.”

Daniel smiled, then paused, and asked, “What about the cell phones?”

“Off and buried in Katie's play yard.”

“Jack!”

“Just kidding.  Doors are locked, the girls are comfortable in their house, phones are taken care of.  It's just us.”

Daniel moved to the spot Jack had created for him and sat.  At the moment, they faced each other so they could enjoy their drinks.  In between sips, they kissed.

Jack asked softly, “Do you, by any chance, know that I happen to be absolutely crazy about you?”

“I hadn't noticed.”

Daniel's smile was big and bright.

“Well, I am.”

Jack brushed their lips together yet again, the taste of Daniel filling up his soul.  He ran his tongue over Daniel's moist lips and then worked his way inside his husband's mouth, eagerly exploring every facet of the area.

As they kissed, Daniel put down his drink.  He leaned into the kiss, putting his hands on the sides of Jack's head.  He slipped his fingers through the fine strands of Jack's silver-gray hair, moving his hand to the back.  Eventually, he let his left hand drop down, going under his lover's arm and wrapping around Jack's back, caressing for a moment.

The intensity of the kiss caused both men to begin to moan.

“Whoa, Danny.  We're about to alter our agenda.”

“Agenda?  Oh.  Reschedule it.”

Daniel moved in for more, ready for a passionate round of lovemaking.

Jack was willing to go along, except they had planned this night for weeks.  Still, his lover seemed to be running at full steam towards what was intended to be the dessert of their evening, not the appetizer.

“Angel,” Jack said at the first opportunity, “what ... never mind,” Jack said, his resolve lost until suddenly Daniel seemed to remember.

“Oh, our romantic evening.”

“We could go straight to ...”

“No,” Daniel placed a kiss on Jack's neck as he leaned against it, Jack's arms around him.  “We planned this, and I want it.  I just ... love you.”

“Dance with me, Angel.”

“Oh, Jack.  We haven't danced in months.”

“Time to change that.”

They stood, and Jack put on the CD.  It had become “their” song -- Celine Dion's “Because You Loved Me.”  They danced remarkably gracefully.  They fit well together, and they'd learned over the years how to move as one.  For a long time, as they turned in motion with the music across their living room, they simply gazed into each other's eyes.

When the song ended, another began ... and then another.  For six songs, they held themselves together as one.

“Thank you, Love.”

“Jack, let's not wait so long.  I like to dance with you.”

“Me, too.”

Jack captured Daniel's mouth for a kiss before they returned to their spot where they sipped more champagne.  After a while, Jack began to fidget with the chain Daniel had worn around his neck for two long months.

“I almost lost you.  Geez, Danny.  I'm so tired of almost losing you.”

“But you didn't, and you won't ... not ever.”

Jack gently lifted the chain over Daniel's head.  He unfastened the hook and removed the ring, holding it tightly in his hand.  His eyes were moistening.  He brought his fist up to his mouth.  Opening the fist a tad, he kissed the ring, his eyes closing as he did so.

“Jack?”

Daniel's voice was soft.  He was emotional, too.  He'd waited so long to have his ring on his finger, and this time, he'd never take it off.

Jack took Daniel's left hand in his.  He squeezed it as he brought it to his lips for a kiss, just as he had done a moment ago with the ring.

“I'm so proud of you, Danny, for how you pulled through this.  Heaven knows this wasn't easy.  The pain was like torture for you.  There were times I looked at you and thought you were lost in some big machine, almost like when that entity merged into Carter.  I thought you might be swallowed by it.  But you proved again how resilient and courageous you really are.  You battled back, and you did it with strength and humor and ...” Jack shook his head in amazement, “and love.”

Jack took the ring and slid it carefully onto Daniel's finger.  It was a perfect fit.  Both men sighed happily, seeing the ring slip into place.

“Forever and always, Danny, I love you.  I'm so grateful you didn't give up.  You're my heart and soul, and the very best part of me.  Thank you for loving me, and being my Angel, my very special, most precious Angel.”

“Oh, Jack,” Daniel said as they kissed.

Jack's hand held Daniel's firmly in his, the thumb caressing soothingly.  He looked down and took off his ring, handing it to his husband.  Daniel closed his eyes as he held the ring, savoring the symbolism it embodied.

“The circle of our love is so huge, Jack,” he finally said.  “I don't know anymore where it began.  I only know that it keeps growing.  I don't know that I've been so courageous.  Gawd, I think I just whined and complained a lot, but I couldn't let go.  I couldn't give up because every time I opened my eyes, you were there.  You're always there, Jack.  I count on that.  I guess I always have, even before we were lovers.”

Daniel slid the ring back onto Jack's finger.  He held it in place for a moment, tracing it with his finger, years worth of memories racing through his mind.

“My husband, my everything.  Forever and always, Jack, I love you so freakin' much.”

“We're back on track, Love,” Jack said, his voice trembling slightly.  “Your beautiful hair is just like always, and now we start our lives.”

“No more hiding.”

“Not ever.”

The lovers snuggled closer together, shared a few chocolate covered strawberries, and then they gave in to their passion, making love in front of the fire.  They had survived another nightmare, and now they could look forward to beginning their family.

====

“Danny, I'm home,” Jack said cheerfully as he walked into their house, both arms loaded with bags of groceries.

“Here, let me help.”

Daniel reached out and took a couple of the bags, though Jack's first instinct was to stop him.  Daniel smiled sweetly.

“I'm okay now, Jack.”

“Almost,” the older man responded.  “I'll go get the rest of the groceries.”

The bags of food stuffs put away, Jack finally had the chance to kiss his lover soundly.

“Hmm.  I love you, Danny.”

“That's good ... since we're married and about to start a family.”

“Geek!” Jack teased, slapping Daniel's rear end playfully before kissing him again.  “So, anything special you'd like to do this afternoon?”

“Well, everything's been so serious lately.  You know what I want to do, Jack?”

“No, tell me.”

“I want to ... play.”

Jack positively beamed.  His husband had come so far.  When they had first met, play was the furthest thing from Daniel's mind, but now, here he was, initiating play.

“Okay.  What?”

“Our trains, and this time, I get the overpass, and so help me, Babe, you knock off my caboose, and you won't get my caboose, if you get my drift.”

Jack laughed, and then he and Daniel pulled out their train sets, the ones given to them by members of the SGC when they were kids for that magic week, and proceeded to play for the rest of the afternoon.

====
--Two Months After Daniel's Return Home
====

“Oh, for crying out loud, General.  We did our bit.  Daniel almost died -- AGAIN!  We're retired.  Done.  Through.  Finished!”

“Jack, I know how you feel, but this is vital to the security of Earth.”

“Why is everything suddenly vital, General?   Get Ferretti, or Carter ... or whomever, but Daniel and I don't work here anymore.”

Jack paced the General's office at the SGC.  This wasn't a conversation he had been expecting to have.

“Colonel O'Neill, you don't seem to grasp the gravity of the situation,” General Franklin Armstrong said.


Armstrong was the same three-star general who had ordered Jack to go back to Iraq a few years ago.  Jack had almost died on that mission, not to mention become addicted to drugs for the second time in his life. Needless to say, Armstrong was not someone Jack cared for or respected.

“Jack.  Call me, Jack.  I'm RETIRED!”

“Colonel,” Armstrong continued, “Your request for early retirement is hereby unapproved.  You are ordered to ...”

“SCREW THE ORDERS.  I have done everything my country has asked of me, and more.  I'm done!”

“Jack,” Hammond tried to calm the flaring tempers, “the threat to Earth is real.  Intel reports a massive Goa'uld build up.  We need our best team to head up the offensive, to infiltrate the enemy encampment.”

“And ... there's an 'and' in there, General, and I just KNOW I'm not going to like it.”

“And we need Doctor Jackson to meet with the Hedronix.”

“NO!”

“Jack, the Hedronix people may be our only chance.  They have technology that might help us, and unlike some of our other allies, they've been willing to share ... to a point.  They have a rapport with Doctor Jackson.  They trust him.  We need him, Jack.”

“No!”

“Colonel O'Neill, I realize ...”

“You don't realize anything.  By the way, have you noticed THIS?” Jack flung his left hand up in the General's nose, waving his ring finger animatedly.  “This, General, is my wedding ring.  Do you happen to know WHO I'm married to?”

General Armstrong coughed, moved around Jack and nodded to Hammond, “George, you want to handle that one?”

Jack glared at Armstrong until he heard Hammond call his name.

“Jack, the higher ups feel that ... exceptions can be made.”

Jack turned around, listening but not liking what Hammond was saying.

“Your files will be handled with ... a certain discretion.”

“You mean they're going to look the other way?  General, a lot of the people who work here know about Daniel and I now.  You really think they are going to allow this?”

“They will do as they are ordered to do, Colonel O'Neill,” Armstrong said sternly.

“Look, what happens next time the Goa'uld or someone else out there mounts an attack?  I have bad knees. Daniel, he ... he's still a little shaky.  We are not putting our lives on hold for the United States military any longer.”

“You may not have lives to worry about, Jack, if you don't help,” Hammond responded.

Jack picked up one of the desk chairs and then slammed it into the ground in frustration and anguish, “We want a life ... no more hiding.  Can't you understand that?”  Jack shook his head as he paced the room, “The answer is no, and if you can't handle that, then you do what you need to do, but you can't force me, not anymore.”

Jack turned and walked hurriedly out of the office, leaving the two Generals behind.

====

Jack and Daniel had visited a greenhouse a few days earlier and picked up some new plants, tall ones, to line a section of their backyard.  Daniel was pruning the plants, wearing outdoor gloves, and working diligently with great focus on his task.

“Daniel, it's just one mission, but it could be the most important one,” Sam pleaded.  ~Of course, they want more than one.  Why am I doing this?~

“We're retired, Sam,” Daniel said as he cut away a small, dead section of a leaf.

“I know that, but the Hedronix won't trust us.  They want you, to hear you say that we'll honor our word.”

“I'll send them a telegram.”

“Daniel!”

Daniel looked up and sighed, “Sam, we're ... 'out'.  I mean, there are a lot of people who are talking about Jack and I.  He can't go back to that.  It's ... against regulations.”

“Technically, yes.”

“And that means ... what?”

“It means Washington is willing to overlook the Colonel's ...” Sam groaned, “They are going to flag his file, and yours.  Classify them.”

“Which means?”

“They are going to look the other way.  He won't be hurt, Daniel.”

“Sam, Jack wanted to retire a long time ago.  I made him stay in.  I said we had to find the Lost City.  I told him that Earth needed us, that we had to wait until we were safe.  Jack,” Daniel laughed softly, “He only wanted us to be happy, to live our dream.  I promised him, Sam, that we'd get out after we found the Lost City.”

Daniel paused as he reflected back on all of their plans.  “It's taken too long.  I know we're close, very close, but ... it's just enough, Sam.  This is my house, Sam.  Jack is my husband.  I can't hide anymore, and I don't want to.”

“The military isn't asking you to.”

“Aren't they?  Aren't they going to tell Jack not to wear his ring, not to hold me, not to show favoritism?  Sam, he's not ever taking that ring off again.”

Sam walked up to her friend.

“Daniel, I know how you feel, but there aren't that many people who know about you and the Colonel.  It was ... contained, early on.  The personnel who were in the infirmary have been ... talked to.”

Daniel stared at Sam.

“You mean threatened and coerced into silence?”

“Ordered to forget anything they saw or heard while you were in the infirmary.  The orders have come from the top.  Please, Daniel.  If you saw the intel, you'd understand.  This buildup is beyond anything we could have imagined.  We thought it was over, but it may be only just beginning.”

“This isn't one mission, Sam.  It can't be.  What do they want exactly?”

Sam shuffled her feet a little as she began to explain, “They want SG-1 back in action, just like always, but they have certain missions already planned that would take us to hot spots where we can hopefully put some dents in the progress of the Goa'uld without alerting them that we know what they're doing ... and they want you to negotiate with the Hedronix, to convince them we are their allies so we can exchange more technology.”

“How long?” Daniel stared at the plants blankly.

“Six months.”

“Carter,” Jack said dryly as he entered the yard.

“Hello, Sir,” Sam said, putting her hands in the pockets of her brown leather jacket.

Jack looked at Daniel, and then back at his former 2IC.  He knew exactly why Sam was there, and he wasn't happy about it one bit.

“Carter, don't take this the wrong way.  I love you like a sister, but ... get out.”

Sam opened her mouth half way, as if she was going to say something, but then she rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet a couple of times before looking at Daniel for a split second and then nodding.

“I'll be in touch.  Take care, Daniel.   Colonel,” Sam said, walking by the silver-gray haired man and making her way through the house to leave.

Jack walked to the edge of the patio deck and looked at Daniel who stood self-hugging staring at the plants.

“Double-teaming?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“I hope you said no.”  Daniel nodded.  “We've done our time, Daniel.”

“And more.  I know that.”

Jack exhaled loudly and then walked onto the lawn and stood in front of his lover.  He caressed Daniel's face with his hands.

“I almost lost you, Danny.  I don't think I could live through that again.”

“I know.”

“Do you?”

“I said 'no', Jack.”

Jack stared into Daniel's eyes as he spoke, “Then why are you looking at me like that?”

Daniel swallowed.

“Jack ...”

“I don't want to hear it, Daniel,” Jack walked around, stopping at the patio door and turning back.  “We are not going back, and that's final!”

Jack entered the house, disappearing from Daniel's sight.  Daniel moved to the patio deck steps and sat down.  He looked up towards the Heavens and asked softly, “Why?  Why do you keep taking it away from me.  Why?”

====

It was only fifteen minutes later when Daniel walked upstairs and found Jack sitting on the edge of the bed.

“No, Danny,” he said without looking up.

“Six months, Jack.  That's all they want.”

“This time.  The price is too high.”

“Jack, we're going to have a family, right?”

“That's the plan,” Jack said as he finally looked up at Daniel who stood in the doorway.

“Then ... don't we have to keep our world safe for them?”

Jack closed his eyes.  He wanted his P-90.  Right this second, he felt like he could kill the entire human race without flinching.

“Daniel ...”

“We have to, Jack.  How could we live with ourselves if ...”

Jack stood and stared at his husband and shouted “NO!” and walked by him and back downstairs where he went to the kitchen and took out a beer, taking two quick swigs before sitting down in his favorite chair.

The next thing Jack knew, Daniel was holding his right hand as he sat on the edge of the sofa.

“We don't have a choice.”

“Yes, we do.  I won't watch you die again, Daniel.”

“I'm not going to ...”

“Daniel,” Jack leaned forward and angled himself to face his spouse, “you were dead, on that bed, for days.  Machines kept you alive.  No!”

Jack stood up and walked over by the bookcases.

“Six months, Jack.  Then we'll have forever.”

“What part of 'no' don't you get?  I'm retired.  We're going to travel and go on boring digs and have kids.  I can't hide anymore.  Don't ask me, to.”

“Sam said they were going to ...”

“Oh, I know.  Leave it to the Brass.  They're going to let us live our lives, and how many others still have to suffer, living a lie?”

“Jack, we may not have a world to raise our kids in if we don't help.”

“What are we ... super men?  Daniel, we're human.  We aren't gods.  We can't be there all the time!”

“But, Jack ...”

“No.  Danny, why are you arguing with me?  I thought you wanted this .. us?”

“I do.  Gawd, Jack, you know I do.  It's just, we have to do what's right.”

“Don't give me that line.  I swallowed it for years.  I can still hear you ... 'just a little longer'; 'one more year, maybe two'; 'not yet, Babe, we need to stay in a little longer'.  NO MORE!”

“But ... Jack, we owe it to them!”

“To who?  You told me once that we don't owe them anything, and you were right.”

“I was upset then.”

“And you aren't now?  Have you been lying to me?”

“Jack, don't go there.  You know this isn't about us!”

“THEN WHY ARE YOU ARGUING?  WHY DON'T YOU WANT US TO LIVE OUR LIVES NOW THAT WE HAVE THE CHANCE?”

“Don't yell.  Jack, I want our life together, but we won't be able to live with ourselves if we do nothing when they need us.  It's only a few months more.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, NO, DANIEL.  I WON'T DO IT, and maybe you'd better take a deep look inside and find out why YOU want to!”

Jack turned and headed for the front door.

“Jack, stop!  Please don't leave.”

“You're either lying to me or to yourself, Daniel.  Better figure out which,” Jack bellowed as he headed out the door.

Daniel closed his eyes.  He was exhausted.  It had only been eleven weeks since he had almost died, and he didn't really feel up to par yet.  He also knew he and Jack didn't have a choice.  They had to go back.

====

Three hours had passed.  Daniel had finished his pruning and caregiving of the plants.  He'd spent some time going on a dig with Katie in her play yard, and then tossed the ball for Bijou several times.  He paid a few bills, and ignored a phone call from General Hammond that had come in about twenty minutes after Jack had left the house.

Feeling a bit grungy, the young man decided to take a shower.  He stood totally still, his eyes closed, letting the hot water massage his chest.  It felt good, but he found himself wishing Jack were there with him, holding him.  He imagined them under a waterfall of warm rain, and then he felt the hands, the strong and loving hands of his husband.

“I love you, Jack.”

“Love you, too, Space Monkey,” Jack said, kissing Daniel's nape and massaging his chest.

Jack's hands began to glide along Daniel's torso, squeezing a couple of Daniel's most sensitive and sensual spots.  Daniel moaned and leaned back into Jack.

“You're mine, Danny, and we're a family.”

“Six months, Jack.  That's all.”

“It'll be more.  They'll want more.  They always do,” Jack said, at the same time inserting his finger inside his husband, causing Daniel to moan.

“Just ... six months.  We couldn't live with ourselves, Jack.  You know that ... gawd,” Daniel spoke at the sensation of two fingers twisting and turning against his prostate.

“Tired, Danny.  Tired of hiding,” Jack inserted a third finger.  “Love you so much.  I want us, our life, our dreams.”

“I do, too.  Gawd, I do.  I just ... gawd.  How do we face our children if we haven't done everything we could?  The Hedronix, Jack.  If we can secure that, there's hope.  They like us.  They aren't ... aren't ...”

“... holier than thou like the Tollan?” Jack asked as he entered his lover with his length, giving Daniel time to adjust before he began to move slowly back and forth.

Jack's hands gently ran up the sides of his lover's body as he moved inside of Daniel, and as his pace increased, he took hold of Daniel's shaft and began to stroke it, rubbing back and forth, matching the in and out movements of his own shaft inside of the younger man.

Daniel's hands reached forward, pressing against the wet shower wall.  His breathing became more labored, as did Jack's who was grunting from his efforts.

“Jack.  Pro...mise me ... just one ... thing,” Daniel spoke as he shifted his body a bit to take in more of his husband.

“What?” Jack gasped at the precise moment his length banged powerfully against Daniel's prostate causing the younger man to cry out Jack's name loudly in pleasure.

“I'll ... I mean ... we'll quit ... if you really don't want to go back ... then ... oh gawd ... love you, Jack,” Daniel was fighting to maintain some control over his brain cells as Jack thundered inside of him, “... just think about ... our child...ren ... fu...ture.  Just ... think about what I said ... pr'mise me.”

“I pro...mise,” Jack stuttered his oath amid the grunts and groans of his labors.

Finally, the two were beyond talking, and in a few more seconds, Daniel came in Jack's hand as Jack exploded inside the younger man, both of them working hard to breathe, holding on to each other.  Barely able to stand, Jack turned Daniel to face him.  He cupped his husband's face and kissed him.

“I love you, Danny.”

Daniel fell into Jack's embrace, and with the water still falling, he lowered them both to sit in the shower stall, collapsing onto each other. Jack's hold on Daniel was tight.

“Danny, you don't even remember the explosion.  You don't remember dying ... again, except for what happened with Charlie.  You didn't watch you being a puppet to a room full of machines ... a virtual pin cushion to needles and IV's.  You couldn't breathe.  You couldn't do anything.  They shaved off your beautiful hair.  The list of things Janet was worried about could fill one of your journals.  Geez, Danny, you weren't there to watch your life, our life, just ... slip away, inch by inch. You're running low on those nine lives, Love ... too low.  It killed me, Angel.  There were times when I thought ... when ... I love you, Danny.”

Daniel's head rested against Jack's shoulder.  He felt Jack's agonizing pain.  He knew what it was like.  He'd almost lost Jack a few times in the past.  It was an excruciating hurt that couldn't be described.  They had done their time.  Jack had succumbed to Daniel's wishes over and over.  It was Daniel's turn.

“Jack, let's retire.”

“Now?”

“Hmm-mmm.  Now.”

“You don't want to go back?”

“I want to be with you forever and always.  You're my priority, Jack.  I love you.”

“Love you, too, Angel.”

====

“No, Sam.  We're not coming back,” Daniel said firmly in the living room of his home.

“Daniel, I'm not trying to nag.  You know how much I love you and the Colonel, but look at this intel.  Just ... look at it.  Review the latest communication from SG-9 about the negotiations with the Hedronix.  We need you.”

Sam held out the files in her right hand, urging Daniel to take them, but the archaeologist backed up two steps, shaking his head, “No.  Sam, years ago, you told me yourself that I if I wasn't careful I might work myself out of the best relationship I ever had.  I realized the other night that I was on the verge of doing that again.  Gawd,” Daniel turned and walked towards the fireplace, “there I was, arguing with Jack, defending the cause.  How could we proceed with our plans if we hadn't done everything we could?”

“Exactly.  Daniel ...”

“No, because Jack's right.  There will always be a reason.  Sam, Jack is my life.  He's my number one priority.  He wants out.  This time ...  This time Jack is getting what he wants.”

Suddenly, Jack entered from the backyard.

“Colonel?  I didn't know you were home, Sir.”

Daniel turned towards the patio, surprised, and moved forward to greet his husband who had been out running some errands.

“Hey, Beautiful,” Jack said, kissing Daniel and putting his arm around his waist as he looked at Sam.  Jack explained, “I got a new supply of dog food, Danny ... that's why I came in the back way.”  Looking over at his former teammate, Jack asked, “Carter.  How's it going?”

“Not so good, Sir.  I'd better get back.  General Hammond wants ... I'll see you guys later,” she said as she turned and walked towards the door.

“Carter,” Jack called out.  “Tell Hammond we'll be in tomorrow to discuss it.  No promises.”

“Jack?”

“Tell him, Carter.”

“Yes, Sir,” Sam said as she closed the door and left.

“Jack?” Daniel turned to face his husband.

“You think we should do this, Danny.  I can't deny you anything.”

“But, Jack, it's not what you want and ...”

“Yes, it is, because all I want is you.  Six months.  We'll give them six months, and then we'll see where we stand.”

“Jack ...”

“But before they get their six, we get tonight, and I swear, Danny, one day, we are going to walk away and not look back!”

Jack kissed his husband soundly, and then led him upstairs where they  made love all night long.

====

“Six months, General.  We'll do what you want.  We'll try and stop the Goa'uld again, Danny will work his magic with the Hedronix, and maybe we'll even uncover the Lost City, but then we're done.”

“Welcome back, Colonel, Doctor Jackson.”

Jack sighed.  ~Jackson-O'Neill.~

====

“Let's go tell the team.  Why don't we start with Carter?”

“Okay.”

Jack and Daniel worked their way to Sam's office.   As they approached, they heard raised voices so they stopped just outside the door.

“Sam, we need this.”

“No, Dad!”

“I don't understand why you're refusing to help.”

“Look, Dad, if this is so important to the Tok'ra, then go through the official channels, but you won't do that because right now the Tok'ra don't even want to deal with us, do they?  They've walked away from the alliance, practically slamming the door in our faces, except for times like these -- when you want something.  Well, Dad, if you want this, then make an official request of General Hammond and the Pentagon, and if they order me to help, I will.”

“Order you?” Jacob looked at his daughter in surprise.  “Sam, I'm your father, and I'm asking you to help.  Since when do you play so hard to get?”

Sam tossed the book she'd been holding onto a lab table, and then angrily responded, “Since the Tok'ra stopped caring!  Actually, Dad, I take that back.  The Tok'ra have never cared.  Colonel O'Neill is right about all of you!”

“Wait a minute, Sam.  I'm as human as you are!”

“To a degree, but you're also Tok'ra now, and quite honestly, it seems to me your number one loyalty is to them!”

“Funny, the Tok'ra accused me of being too loyal to the Tau'ri not long ago.  They were wrong, and so are you, Sam.  I'm walking a fine line, but I'm trying to help everyone.”  Jacob approached his daughter.  He stared deeply into her eyes and spoke quietly.  “Sam, Colonel O'Neill is wrong.”

“No, he said it years ago.  I just didn't want to hear it.  None of us did.  Let's forget for the moment that the Tok'ra are abandoning the alliance with Earth, an alliance we need, by the way, and let's forget that you've gone off with them instead of staying here, with your family.  Let's forget that, Dad, and think just about the Tok'ra themselves.

“The Tok'ra are as bad as the Tollan were.  You make me sick with your postulations about being our friends and allies, but all you do is flaunt this technology and 'we're too young' business in front of us all the time ... except when you need us.  Like now.  The alliance is a bust.  You've left, but here you are, not to see me, but to get help ... with that,” Sam pointed at the item Jacob had brought to her to analyze.  “At least the Nox and the Asgard are nice about it, and they actually have helped us without making us beg.”

“Sam, what's got you in such an uproar?”

“Gee, Dad, you have to ask?  Maybe you'd better take a closer look at just who you are now!”

“Sam, for the last time.  I AM your father, and I demand an answer.”

“Daniel.”

For a split second, Jack and Daniel thought maybe she had seen them outside the door.  They looked at each other, both wondering if they should go in, but then Sam continued, and the two men held their ground just outside the office.

“Dad, if it weren't for Daniel, you, the Tok'ra, the entire human race on Earth, and half the peaceful universe wouldn't exist today.  He's saved us all, and the one time ... the ONE time he needs you, what do you say?  'Sorry, we're busy!'  Wrong answer, Dad, and I can't forgive that.”

“Sam, Doctor Jackson is fine.  He didn't need us.”

“He almost died, Dad.  He DID die.  Janet brought him back not once, not twice, but three times.  He stayed in that coma twice as long as Janet thought he would and battled an overwhelming amount of obstacles to make that recovery.  The point is that you could have spared all of us the possibility that he might have died ... for real.”

“Sam, Daniel is one man.”

“Daniel is family.  Gawd, you are so self-involved.  The Tok'ra have lost sight of the power and importance of the individual.  Well, I'm tired of defending you to the Colonel and the rest of Earth.  I won't do it anymore, and from now on, Dad, if you want something done, then you'll go through the official channels, and Dad, if we can spare the time, we'll get to it ... just as soon as possible.”

Outside, Jack had put his arm around Daniel's waist, and he was holding him close.  In fact, the more Sam had recalled their recent nightmare, the closer Jack held his husband, until finally he placed a kiss on Daniel's forehead.

“Jack, we're not supposed to do this here.”

“I don't friggin' care,” Jack said, moving them both forward into Sam's office, revealing their presence.

“Hey, Jacob.  Carter!”

“Sir!  Daniel.”

Sam smiled, moving around her lab table to give Daniel a hug.

Jack glared at Jacob who didn't miss the smug look in the Colonel's eyes.

“Glad to see you're doing well, Doctor Jackson,” Jacob spoke calmly.

“Thank you.”

“Carter, we have news!”

“You're back!” Sam beamed, hope on her face.

“Yes, we're back ... for a while ... short term, right, Daniel?”

Daniel nodded as he reaffirmed their decision, “We said we'd come back for six months.”

Jack looked again at Jacob, asking, “Anything wrong, Jacob?”

“No, Jack.  Nothing's wrong.  Excuse me.  I have to go talk to George.”

Jacob shook his head at his daughter as he walked out.

“Way to go, Carter!” Jack said proudly.

“You heard?”

“We were coming to tell you that we met with General Hammond, and we agreed to a limited return ... six months anyway, and then we'll see what happens,” Daniel said, glancing at Jack.

“You two were a little loud.  Did you really ask the Tok'ra to help?” Jack asked, having been unaware of Sam's attempts on Daniel's behalf.

“Yes, Sir.  I thought of it when you were still in the coma, Daniel, but the General had already tried to contact them.  I went a step further and contacted Dad privately.”

“Oh, a private doohickey for emergencies?”

“Yes, Sir,” Sam acknowledged hesitantly.  “He wouldn't come, Sir.  He was in the middle of ... something important he said.”

“I'm sure it was, Sam.”

“No, Daniel.  Everything is always important to the Tok'ra.  They could have spared Dad ... or someone for a few hours.”  Sam's look and tone had been harsher than Daniel could recall seeing.  “Look, I love him.  He's my father, but ... they owe us more respect than that.”

“Agreed.  So, what can you tell us about this first mission Hammond wants us to go on?”

“Well, Sir ...”

The trio huddled around some diagrams Sam had as she relayed information about the anticipated mission.  She felt glad to have SG-1 whole again!

====

“Jack, are you ready?” Daniel asked as he walked downstairs.

It was their first official day back at work, and they were driving the Silver Fox to work.  As Daniel stood at the base of the stairs, Jack sat against the arm of the sofa, his right hand tracing the spot where his wedding ring sometimes was, the ring Jack had removed only minutes before, putting it back inside the velvet pouch that would protect the ring as it was kept in Jack's wallet.

Daniel walked to Jack, took his hand, and kissed the imprint of the ring, “Soon, Jack.  We're counting down now.”

“We were almost there.”

“Almost.”

“Back to the Funny Farm,” Jack said, standing, brushing his lips briefly next to Daniel's and heading for the door.

“Jack.”  Daniel reached out, stopping Jack's movement.  Daniel moved in for a proper kiss and then put his arms around Jack's neck.  “I'm making you a promise, and I'm going to trust you to use it wisely.”

“Danny, you don't ...”

“Shhh.   Listen.  For years, you've wanted to retire, and I've convinced you to stay, and now, again, because of me, you're ... giving in ...”

“No, Danny.  I'm not giving in.  I don't want you to think that, to feel ...”

“... guilty?”  Jack sighed.  “Jack, I know why you got so upset when we fought, and I think I know why you gave in.”

“Because I ...”

“Because you knew I was putting you first, so you decided to put me first.  Gawd, Jack, the problem with loving each other so much is that we both keep trying to do that, to put the other first, but ... but most of the time, somehow, you end up doing the giving.”

“I like making you happy.”

“Jack, our dream, our life together, that makes me happy.  The SGC ... it's important, but so are we.  Listen, I do think we need to finish this with the Hedronix and find the Lost City, and I don't know what comes after, but ... Jack, the day you really want to leave, when that voice inside you says 'enough', we go for real.  The next time ... no looking back.  You just tell me, and we go.  It's my promise, okay?”

“They'll talk you into it.”

“No, Jack.  They won't.”

Daniel's voice was so firm, his eyes so focused that Jack was almost overwhelmed with the sincerity.  Daniel kissed his husband.

“Even if tomorrow you decide that we can't do this, then we walk, Jack. I promise.”

“Geez, I love you.”

“I love you so much.  You ARE number one with me.  I need you to know that, and that's why I'm making this promise, and it's why I want you to use that promise.  You'll know when, Jack.  I trust you to know when.”

Daniel moved in for a kiss that threatened to ignite a passion that couldn't be squashed.

“Hmmm ... that's not a good thing to be doing before going to work, Love.”

“Sorry.”

“I'm not.”  Jack squeezed Daniel into him as they kissed again.  “Come on, Love.   Let's go save the world ... again!”

“It never gets old, Jack.”

“No, it doesn't.”

With another kiss, Jack and Daniel left their home, with a renewed commitment, not to the SGC, but to each other.  Their days at Stargate Command were numbered now, and both knew it.  It wouldn't be long until the Jackson-O'Neill's would make all their dreams come true!

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