A Matter of Choice

Author: Orrymain
Category: Slash, Angst, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  2 - late in the season
Spoilers:  None
Size:  145kb
Written:  November 21-27, December 1,8,22, 2003, January 19, 2004  Revised:  January 14, April 7, May 1, August 1, September 1,29-30, October 2-3,5,9-10, November 2,5, 2005
Summary:  What happens when your old life runs smack dab into your new one?  That's a question Jack has to answer, and his choices may cost him the one thing he values most -- his relationship with Daniel!
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, “Wish Upon a Star,” “Echoes of the Past,” and “Adjustments and Parameters”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Suzanna, Drdjlover, Tina, Michele, Starshadow, Saki, Sentarla, Tamara, Gail, Allexandrya, QuinGem, Claudia, Linda!

A Matter of Choice
by Orrymain

“Wow!  I can't believe we are really here on a ... a ...”

“Romantic getaway?” Jack asked as he pulled his Love in for a kiss, one that caused Daniel to let out a moan of pleasure.

“Gawd, you're good at that,” Daniel sighed, nestling his head against Jack's shoulder.

The two had gone on trips together before, first as best friends, and since becoming lovers, to Los Angeles to celebrate Daniel's birthday and to New York City for a lecture given by one of Daniel's Anthropology professors.  This trip, though, was their first real holiday together, a romantic vacation where they could be free to be in love and show it unconditionally.  They had both agreed that this vacation would be one without worry, one in which the only thing that mattered was loving and being loved by each other.

Jack and Daniel had two weeks off, two weeks of 'freedom' as they called it, and they had big plans.  Ostensibly, friends thought Daniel was in Phoenix for an exhibition exploring Mayan culture with some sightseeing tacked on.

To the rest of SG-1 and close friends, Jack was “tagging along” to “make sure Daniel eats and let him abuse me with lectures I'll just sleep through.”

To everyone else, however, Jack was traveling with Daniel in order to go fishing at Saguaro Lake, which was renowned for both bass and carp catches, and just happened to be located near Phoenix.

Jack had joked with his co-workers that he had a goal to “fish in every state. I haven't hit Arizona yet, so this is my chance to catch a big one!”

“Little do they know, Danny, that I have the big one right here in my arms,” Jack said lovingly after they shared a kiss in their hotel room.

--

“Where should we go first?” Daniel asked after they had unpacked.

“Bed,” Jack replied half seriously and half jokingly as he kissed the top of Daniel's head.

“You have such a one track mind, O'Neill,” Daniel chuckled lightly.

“And you don't?” Jack challenged with big, lustful eyes.

Daniel snickered, “Well, uh, actually, I was hoping you'd say that.”

“I didn't come here to look at rocks, you know.”

“Oh, but you will,” Daniel stated mischievously.

“I was afraid of that,” the older man groaned teasingly.

“But ... first things first,” Daniel said softly.

Daniel leaned in for a kiss that enflamed their passion, and quickly, they made their way into the hotel bedroom where they made a deep and satisfying love that lasted for quite some time.

====

“Now that's the way to start a vacation,” Jack laughed as he and Daniel finished getting dressed a few hours later.

“No arguments from me, Babe,” Daniel said with a grin.

Jack scooted up to his lover, pulled him in close, and asked, “You mean we actually agree on something?”

“Oh, yes, most definitely, yes,” Daniel responded, and then followed up with a kiss.  He put his hands around Jack's neck, playing with the back of his lover's graying hair.  “I love your silver-gray hair, Jack.”

A minute later, their teasing had turned into a serious gazing, an exchange of love and devotion.  Jack and Daniel often communicated with their eyes and bodies.  Verbal language was simply one way they exchanged their thoughts, but now, their eyes and hands spoke the loudest.

In the same climatic moment, both smiled and uttered softly, “I love you.”

The two laughed at their amazing unison-speak and then kissed before finishing dressing and heading out to dinner.

====

As they walked, Jack took Daniel's hand.  Daniel's head turned to face his lover, who was grinning.  This felt good to both men.

“I'm not used to this, Jack,” Daniel admitted shyly.

“Do you want me to let go?” Jack asked hesitantly.  ~Say no.~

“Gawd, no.  I'm not ashamed of us.  I just meant ... well, being with someone, walking down the street or ... or staring over a dinner table ... holding hands and ... I mean, I've only really done it a couple of times, and neither of those mattered,” Daniel confessed quietly, his head now staring at the carpet as they walked.

“Get used to this, Danny.  This,” Jack said, holding their hands together as they walked through the hotel lobby, “is forever.”

Daniel smiled sweetly, grateful that Jack O'Neill loved him.

====

“Reservations for O'Neill,” Jack said proudly.

“Party of two?” the maitre'd asked.  Seeing Jack's nod, he beckoned, “Follow me, please.”

“I'd like a cozy spot, something quiet,” Jack asked, slipping the man a tip.

The superbly dressed maitre'd glanced at Daniel and nodded, leading the couple to a secluded corner of the hotel restaurant.

“This is perfect, Jack,” Daniel commented.

Jack thanked their guide, and when he turned back, Daniel had already sat down, taking the seat with his back to the wall.  Normally, Jack sat in that position, a result of his Special Ops training since it prevented anyone from sneaking up on him and also allowed him to keep a covert eye on what was happening in front of him.

“Danny ...”

Knowing exactly what he had done, Daniel pleaded, “Please, Jack, I want to spend time with you, not Colonel O'Neill.”

Jack was still a bit uneasy, so used to naturally being on guard, but Daniel's plea cut into his heart.

“I can't deny you anything,” Jack spoke quietly as he sat down.  He reached across and took Daniel's hand, saying, “I'm glad we're here.”

“Me, too,” Daniel replied with a tender smile.  ~Thank you, Jack.~

Jack let the subject of who sat where drop completely, especially since there were other ways to be observant -- reflections in glass, quick glances, listening for movement.  He quelled those urges as much as possible, knowing that his lover deserved as much of him as he could give.

~Time to put the colonel in check,~ Jack thought to himself as he picked up his menu.

====

“I'm stuffed,” Daniel chuckled.

“You were a good boy.  Ate your steak, your veggies, and even all of your Chocolate Mousse for dessert.  I'm proud of you,” Jack teased.

Daniel gave his Love a warning glare as they enjoyed a glass of wine at their table.

Jack was holding Daniel's right hand with his left atop the table.  Each was caressing the other's hand, enjoying the touch and sensation of this rare freedom.  Neither one of them worried about being seen.  It was one of the reasons they'd picked this location as neither knew anyone who currently resided in the area.

“Jack!  Jack O'Neill!”

The loud voice came from across the room, and suddenly, Daniel felt the loss of contact from Jack's hand.

~What?  Why?~  Daniel thought to himself as he automatically withdrew his hand off the table.  As he looked toward the three men approaching, he felt his heart sag.  ~I don't think I'm going to like this.~

Hearing his name surprised Jack, and letting go of his lover's hand had been a reflex reaction.  Even though he and Daniel were on a romantic vacation, they couldn't risk being seen by friends or co-workers.  The excitement in the voice clearly indicated that it belonged to someone who knew him, and therefore, Jack had no choice but to withdraw his hand.  At least, that's what Jack had told himself.

Jack twisted his body around to see who was calling out.  His face first expressed surprise and then shock as recognition set in.

“Holy Small World!  Larry Hampton!” Jack exclaimed as he stood and embraced the man.  He turned to the other two men, exchanging brief hugs with them as well.  ~This is a trip!~

The foursome was loud, gregarious, and full of smiles as they chatted away, each excitedly talking over the other one.  Their pleasure from being united was obvious.

Meanwhile, Daniel sat quietly at the table, not really sure what to do, silently thinking, ~Old buddies, I guess.  Gawd, sometimes I almost forget Jack is military, but listen to them.  One minute in, and they are trying to outdo each other with old war stories.~

“I knew it was you, Bud; knew the back of that head anywhere, even if it is a little grayer,” Larry spoke.

“You mean you recognized the stubborn, bullheaded part of me?” Jack teased.

“Well, you have to admit, Jack, it's your best side,” another of the men spoke.

“Just leave the gray out of it,” Jack teased.

~It's silver, and I love it,~ Daniel mumbled silently to himself, feeling like he had become invisible.  “Hello?” he dared to speak.  He saw Jack look back and start to say something, but then Larry pulled on his arm, distracting him. ~Right.  I'll just sit here and drink my wine.~

The reunion went on for another five minutes, mostly small talk and jokes about recognizing each other.  Daniel sipped his wine nervously, feeling out of place and, he had to admit, a bit abandoned on the first night of their romantic getaway.  Except for that one moment, Jack hadn't even looked back at him since the trio appeared.

Finally, one of the men asked, “So what brings you here?”

“Here?  Dinner!” Jack answered.  ~Oops.~  **Danny, I'm sorry.**

“Funny, Bud, real funny, but we meant here, in Phoenix.  Aren't you stationed at the Springs?” Larry asked.

“Yeah, I am.  We came ...” and that's when Jack finally turned around and faced his partner, who hadn't responded to his non-verbal apology.  ~Better try this again.~  “Daniel, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to ignore you.”

“That's okay; I was just enjoying my wine,” Daniel responded as he twisted the glass around in his hands.

~Crap, I'm in trouble; nothing I can do about it now, though.~  Jack looked back at the trio.  ~Okay, think, O'Neill.  Can't tell these guys the truth.  How can I explain having dinner with a geek, adorable as he is?~

The normally quick-thinking colonel was surprised at the difficulty he was having trying to come up with a cover.

Finally, Jack said simply, “Guys, this is Doctor Daniel Jackson.  He's a friend.”

Daniel stood up.  He gave Jack a small glare at the introduction as he walked over to the strangers who had just invaded his life.  He decided to ignore the issue of who he was as much as possible and simply extended his hand out politely.

“Daniel, these are three of the greatest guys to have served in the Air Force -- Colonel Larry Hampton, Colonel John Mendolson, and Colonel ...”

“Nope, Bud, still a major -- got busted,” the former colonel replied cockily.

“Busted?  For what?” Jack asked in surprise.

With pride, the man answered, “Slugged a major general for being a moron.”

Jack flinched, but continued on, saying, “Major Mike Sorelli.”

Daniel shook their hands and said, “Pleased to meet you.”  ~Not really, but what else can I say?~

The three gave Daniel what the young man thought was a funny look, as if questioning what on Earth Jack would be doing having dinner with someone who looked like Daniel did.

Daniel kept his face a polite mask, hiding the disdain he was feeling.

~You think you've got me pegged -- long-hair geek, gay, and why is your macho friend hanging out with me.  That's what you're thinking, all three of you.  It's written all over your condescending, smug faces.~

“So ... Doctor Jackson, you're ... you can't be in the Air Force,” Larry asked, quickly proving Daniel right by his look and arrogant tone.

“Definitely not, not with that hair,” John laughed.

“Not exactly.  I'm a civilian consultant.  We ... work together,” Daniel replied, glancing at Jack who evaded his look.

“Work together?” Mike asked in an astonished tone of voice.  “Now that I have to see.  You going soft, Jack?”

“Me?  Never.  Danny...iel is a specialist, a cultural expert,” Jack explained.

Skeptically, Larry challenged, “You need a cultural expert to kick butt, Bud?”

The look on Hampton's face was mocking and close to contemptuous as he glanced towards Daniel.

Jack sighed, “No, but it's complicated.”

The three men gave Daniel a final glance before letting it go, choosing to concentrate on their reunion with Jack.

“Hey, Bud, how long are you going to be in town?” Sorelli asked.

“About two weeks, Mike,” Jack answered as he stood with his hands in his pockets.

“Anything important?” Sorelli inquired, wondering if Jack was on Air Force business.

“No, nothing important,” Jack said with a shrug.  “Just needed a break, that's all.”

~A break?  Well, glad I could tag along to be a part of his 'break',~ Daniel thought in frustration as he continued to be nearly invisible.  He could understand Jack wanting to catch up with old friends, but wished he would put it off to another time.  ~Tonight was supposed to be special.~

The man leaned over and whispered in Jack's ear, “So, why the geek? You babysitting, Bud?”

~I heard that.  I can't believe Jack was really friends with these guys,~ Daniel thought as he glared at Jack.

Unfortunately, the older man didn't notice Daniel's look.  It would have been difficult for him to notice since he was  making sure not to look at Daniel as the reunion continued.

Larry Hampton, however, did notice the archaeologist's facial expression and asked, “Something ... wrong, Doctor Jackson?”

The man's tone practically made the question a dare, and in a flash, Daniel's head snapped over towards the virtual stranger.

~Yes, my lover is ignoring me and ... forget it.~  He looked down at his glass of wine and uttered, “No, I ... no, nothing's wrong.”

Mike took hold of Jack's arm and led him off a few feet to the side, looking back briefly at Daniel.  Although speaking in a low voice, Mike's words were easily overheard by all.

“What say we blow this joint and let the good doctor look after himself for a while?  He's gonna cramp your style, and we have plans you just don't want to miss!”

His voice low, Jack answered, “I came here with him, Mike.  I can't just dump him like that.”  ~I don't want to, either.  Crap, how am I going to get out of this?  These guys would not understand that I'm ... that Danny and I are ... oh crap!~

“You sound like he's your girlfriend or something,” Mike Sorelli teased.  “C'mon, it's been years, Bud.  What's the problem?” he asked, his eyes urging Jack to come with them.

“You haven't changed, have you, Mike?  Always the smart remark,” Jack replied, joking as he racked his brain for a way out of this mess he'd suddenly found himself in.  ~There's no way out.~

“What can I say?  Bring your little friend along if you want,” Mike cajoled.

~Little?  Excuse me?~ Daniel thought.  **Jack?**

“Daniel?” Jack called out at the same time as Daniel's silent communication.  Hesitantly, Jack faced his lover, his shoulders hitching with an unspoken question.  **They wouldn't understand.  It's just one evening.  It's no big deal, right?**

~You know what, Jack, I don't understand, either.~  Daniel's heart ached.  Jack didn't sound like he cared much who he spent his time with, but Daniel did care, so he planned his next move carefully.  He returned the few steps back to their table, finished his wine, and then said, “Sure, Jack, whatever you want.  It's not like we were doing anything special, is it?  I mean, like you said, we're not here for anything important, just ... needed a break.  Right?”

Jack looked at Daniel for a moment, knowing his lover's sarcastic comments were meant to tell him something, but he couldn't figure out what, primarily because he didn't want to focus on it for long, which was the same reason he continued to ignore Daniel's discomfort.  If he didn't look at his lover or allow himself to be tuned in, Jack could ignore the problem, so he thought. These three men were his friends, buddies, pals -- guys from his past.  The fact that they were from his very macho past completely escaped Jack.

Daniel sat back down, feeling miserable.  At the same time, the maitre'd walked over and asked the men to take a seat so as not to disturb the other patrons.  Instead of huddling around the small booth, the three grabbed Jack and pulled up chairs to sit at the table across from the booth.  Jack looked back at his partner briefly just in time to see Daniel take a giant breath.

The archeologist looked rather vulnerable sitting alone in the booth, and Jack felt a twinge of guilt.

~Right,~ Daniel thought, determined not to let these idiot friends of Jack's get to him.

Eyeing his lover nervously, Jack began justifying his actions to himself, thinking, ~Come on, Danny.  Give these guys a chance; after a while, you'll all like each other.  Besides, I haven't seen the guys in years, and we're not talking a lifetime here, just one night.~  Jack's internal debate convinced him that there would be plenty of time for him and Daniel later.  Within minutes, Jack had turned his back to Daniel, laughing loudly with his friends, their arms around each other as they recalled old times.  Daniel was all but forgotten.  ~Geez, I'd forgotten what a hoot these guys are.~

As they laughed boisterously at a risque joke, Larry suggested, “Hey, Bud.  What do you say we move this little reunion up to our room?  It's my brother Pete's birthday, and we have a stripper booked.”

Daniel looked up in alarm. This was turning out to be even worse than he'd thought.  Surely, Jack wouldn't go along with that.  He watched in total disbelief as Jack grinned at his friends.

~Well, this has been a great night so far,~ the younger man thought.

Not only had Jack not responded to Daniel's earlier words and allowed himself to be seated at a separate table, now it seemed as though they were going to spend the entire evening watching a bunch of morons drool over some naked girl.  It was not a prospect Daniel was looking forward to.

~Maybe I'm overreacting.  These guys are Air Force; maybe ... maybe Jack thinks he has to go along with their ... whatever it is.  Yeah, that must be it.  We could go and slip out early.  Jack will get tired of them soon,~ Daniel convinced himself.

They all rose and headed off to the room, but Jack hung back and waited for Daniel.

“Danny, you don't mind us going with them do you?  We won't stay long, Babe, I promise.  Then it'll be just you and me and a bottle of the most expensive wine I can buy,” Jack assured.

~He is just playing along.  It'll be okay.~  Daniel smiled in relief and responded, “It'll be fine, Jack, as long as we don't stay too long.  I have plans for you.”

Jack smiled in anticipation, his eyes saying more than he could with words at the moment.  He wished he could kiss his Love.  Daniel's lips were positively calling to him for attention, and Jack was anxious to respond.

====

Within an hour, the party was in full swing.  Pete had shown up as scheduled with a couple of his own friends, wearing leather jackets, do-rags, and gloves.

~Bikers?  Gawd, can this evening get any worse?~  Daniel glanced at the two burly men.  ~Gawd, yes, it can.~  The tattooed bikers were staring at him intently, eyeing him from his head to his toes.  ~They're ... leering at me,~ he thought, the intense ogling making Daniel's skin crawl.

A couple of girls had been invited, and the stripper had arrived now as well.  She was a petite blonde with short hair and an even shorter IQ who went by the ridiculous handle of Bubbles.  Daniel just shook his head.  He felt like he was in a cartoon and an extremely dumb one at that!

The speechless linguist sat in a chair by the window, leaving Jack to get reacquainted with his buddies.  The older man had been drinking all night and was getting louder and more crude.

~I wonder if that is what he was like before,~ Daniel pondered.  ~No, before he had Sara and Charlie, but ...~  Daniel sighed.  ~All those missions away from home and family, just Jack and these ... buddies.  Gawd, how did Sara cope with these morons?~

Daniel shuddered at the thought as he continued to watch the action.  He'd only briefly met Sara once, but from what Jack had told him, he couldn't imagine her enjoying the company of these people.

~What is he doing?~  Daniel leaned forward in disbelief, seeing Jack leer at the stripper and laughing when she pulled Pete into an erotic caress.  Jack was doing more than just playing along, trying to keep his 'straight guy' military cover, and Daniel didn't like it one bit.  ~Okay, this is just a bad dream, that's all.~  Jack was whooping and hollering just as much as Larry and the others were at the intimate contact.  In fact, Daniel noticed Jack seemed to be leading the pack.  This was not the man Daniel had fallen in love with.  ~If this is a game, Jack, it's time for it to end.~

“So, Doc, how's it hanging?” Mike asked as he sat on the arm of Daniel's chair, barely managing to stay upright.

“It's hanging just fine thanks,” Daniel replied, a little uncomfortably.

Swaying, Mike was practically sitting on Daniel's lap, making Daniel a bit nervous.  The archaeologist leaned as far to the right as he could to remain out of Mike's way.

“You don't seem to like the girls much, Doc.  Is there a reason for that?  I can cater to all tastes you know, and you are very, very cute,” Mike said, winking and swaying towards Daniel again.

“Cute?  I'm cute?  How long did it take you to come up with that line?  I'm anything but cute,” Daniel responded, physically pushing Mike back to a more upright position.

“Don't sell yourself short, Danny, you're a very sexy man,” Mike said, his bad liquor breath making Daniel cringe.

Seconds later, Daniel cringed in another way when Mike placed his hand on Daniel's thigh, caressing and moving it inside.

“My name is Daniel, and *get* your hands *off* me, you moron. Take a hint, I'm *not* interested,” Daniel said, pushing Mike forcefully off the arm of the chair.

An inebriated Jack heard Daniel's raised voice and it sobered him somewhat. Concerned, he managed to extricate himself from the grip of the stripper, who was currently trying to get him to take his shirt off.

“Is everything okay, Daniel?” Jack asked as he approached.

**So now you know I'm alive?**  Angry, Daniel stood and answered, “Yes, I'm fine, or I will be if your friend here takes the hint.”

“Mike?” Jack asked, looking at his friend who was still on the floor.

Mike raised his hands in innocence and then got up, justifying his actions by claiming, “Hey, I was just kidding with you, Doc.  No *hard* feelings.”

“Sure,” Daniel replied sullenly, seeing Mike wink at him again, something Jack didn't observe since he was also looking at Daniel.  ~No hard feelings.  Gawd,~ Daniel sighed as he sat back down.

“I'm gonna get some of that action, Bud.  Come on,” Mike urged as he walked off toward the stripper.

Jack watched Mike walk away, but then sat down on the arm of the chair where Mike had been moments earlier.

“What was that all about?” Jack asked quietly.

“Like you care?” Daniel snapped.

“Daniel!” Jack refuted.

With a sigh, Daniel answered, “Seems your buddy swings both ways ... Bud.  Thought he'd get lucky with me.”

“What?” Jack asked in disbelief.  “I'm sure he was just kidding, Daniel.  Mike's as straight as they come.  Don't take everything so seriously,” Jack chuckled, his Mr. Jealousy temporarily held at bay, certain it had been a simple misunderstanding.

“You weren't over here, Jack,” Daniel responded angrily.  “He was serious, and I don't like being groped by total strangers.”

Jack was certain Daniel was imagining things.  He knew Mike was straight and argued, “Danny, you're overreacting.  Mike's like that with everyone.  He doesn't mean anything by it.  Now come on over, and join in the fun.”

“This may be your idea of fun, Jack, but it's not mine, and I've had enough ... fun ... for tonight.  I want to leave,” Daniel announced sternly.

Jack sighed, “I can't leave yet; it would be rude.”

“Rude?  Rude?” Daniel spat as he stood up.  Looking down at Jack he harshly reminded his lover of the facts.  His voice was low, but the anger was unmistakable.  “We're on vacation ... together.  Remember? You came here, to this city, to this hotel, and to that restaurant with me.  We were going to have a nice romantic dinner tonight, just the two of us.  Rude, Colonel O'Neill?  I don't think it's my manners that have been lacking tonight.  Do what you want.  I'm going back to the room.”

“Danny, wait!” Jack shouted, but Daniel was already out of the door.  ~Crap!  Why is he always so sensitive?~

“Let him go, Bud,” a smiling Larry encouraged as he and one of the woman ambled over to Jack.

Part of Jack knew the smart thing to do would be to follow Daniel, but his drunken mind couldn't quite process the information.  Before he knew it, Jack was being led back to his so-called friends who all downplayed Daniel's sudden and dramatic departure, assuring him that the 'geek' would have forgotten his tantrum by the next morning.

--

Outside the door, Daniel paused, a bit surprised and hurt that Jack hadn't followed.

~Aren't you coming?~  Daniel waited a couple of minutes, but when his lover didn't appear, he slowly walked back to their room.  ~This isn't how I thought this night was going to go.~

As he entered the elevator, the younger man felt very empty, and it was a feeling that he didn't like.  More than that, Daniel didn't like the stranger that was his lover.

~Who are you?  I don't know that man in that room, and ... he's not someone I want to know.~

====

Back in their room, Daniel took a shower and read an archaeological journal he had brought with him.  As he closed it after reading the last article, he let out a snort.

//Flashback//
“All packed, Love?” Jack asked as he walked into Daniel's bedroom.

“Just about,” Daniel responded, a huge smile on his face as the lovers exchanged a look and then shared a kiss.

“What is this?” Jack asked, staring at the contents of Daniel's luggage.

“Uh, those would be shirts,” Daniel answered.

“Not those ... that!” Jack said, pointing to and then picking up a magazine that was between the shirt and some underwear.

“That's a magazine.  It's, uh, actually quite fascinating, Jack.  It's about some of the underwater activities archaeologists are ...”

“Daniel, I'm sure it's fascinating, but why is it in your luggage?” Jack asked, his eyes wide.

“Uh, so that I can read it?” Daniel answered as a question.

“No, no, no!” Jack said, tossing the magazine onto the bed.  He scooped up his lover for a tender kiss and added, “I'm going to keep you so busy doing this ...”  Jack kissed Daniel again.  “That you wouldn't even have time to read your name on the label.  Hurry up and finish,” Jack said, heading for the door.  “I get to check in with Carter and make sure she knows not to get carried away with being in command for a mission.”

Daniel chuckled as he returned to his packing.  Staring at the magazine, he picked it up.  He looked over at the doorway and then back at his luggage.

~Well, maybe while you're in the shower, I can squeeze in an article,~ Daniel thought as he put the publication back into his suitcase.
//End of Flashback//

“Well, Babe, I read more than my name; I read every single word of it,” Daniel said to the emptiness of the room, letting out a sad sigh afterwards.

====

It was well past midnight when Jack entered the hotel suite he shared with Daniel.  He was slightly drunk, but not so much that he didn't know that he was likely to have the door slammed in his face, or perhaps Daniel's knuckles.

Instead, Daniel was quietly lying on the bed, curled up on his left side, wearing pajamas.  Jack took a deep breath, partially relieved there would be no argument and feeling full of guilt at having allowed Daniel to leave the party alone.

Quietly, Jack took off his clothes, noticing Daniel hadn't moved an inch.

~You're faking, aren't you, Danny?  I think you're wide awake.~

Gingerly, Jack got under the covers.  He spooned up against his partner, his arm wrapping around his Love.  He kissed Daniel's nape, as his hand snaked under Daniel's pajama top to caress the smooth skin.  Slowly, Jack's hand started to go lower, to reach under the bottoms, but Daniel's right hand stopped him.

“I'm tired, Jack.  I want to go to sleep,” Daniel spoke in a dull voice.

“Danny, I want you,” Jack replied in a husky voice.

Unmoved, Daniel dryly stated, “You seem to be good at picking when and where you want me, Jack; it's my turn now, and I say ... no.  I'm tired.”

“Danny, don't be like that,” Jack pleaded.  “You know I didn't mean to hurt you earlier.”

“I'm glad you know you hurt me.  It moves me that you've taken a moment to acknowledge that, not that there has been any kind of apology or anything.  No, of course, not.  You just push yourself into bed, say you want to have sex, and, oh, by the way, I didn't mean it, and that is supposed to make everything all right?” Daniel asked pointedly.

“No, of course not, but it's over.  Let's not ruin our trip,” Jack urged, in full denial of his blame at the situation.

“I don't want to make love with you tonight.  I don't even want to have sex with you tonight.  I just want to sleep,” Daniel said.

“Daniel ...”

“Goodnight, Jack,” Daniel said as he moved Jack's hand off of his body and shifted slightly forward.

Jack sighed, having received the message loud and clear.  It hadn't escaped his notice that his normally shy lover had spoken the word 'sex' twice, and both times, the word had been spoken without emotion or the slightest hint of his normal adorable embarrassment.  Sadly, on this night, making love with Jack had been deemed as something so detached from Daniel's heart that it had been discussed as if Daniel had been talking about some ancient civilization.

An hour later, however, Jack was still wide awake, staring at the back of his lover.  He was used to being close to Daniel when they slept.  The distance was killing him.

Jack braved a move and spooned into Daniel again.  He sensed Daniel was about to say something and move away, but Jack cut him off.

“Please, Danny.  I ... I just want to hold you, okay?  That's all.”  Daniel didn't say anything, but Jack felt his lover's hand relax.  He snuggled as close as he could, hopeful that now he could get some sleep.  “Thank you,” he whispered as he shut his eyes.

====

In a rare switch of their roles, in part brought about by his alcoholic intake of the previous night, Jack didn't wake up until 9 a.m., and when he did, he found he was alone.  Quickly putting on a robe, he dashed out to the living room, relieved when he saw Daniel standing on the balcony that overlooked the mountain scenery.

Jack closed his eyes and breathed a huge sigh.  Then, he walked to Daniel, putting his arms around him.

“I'm sorry, Love,” Jack spoke softly.  “They're old friends, Air Force buddies, and I just didn't know how to get rid of them.”

“You didn't try, Jack.  Besides, it's not that.  It's just ... gawd, Jack, I felt like you didn't even know I was there.  Actually, it felt like you didn't want me to be there,” Daniel confided.

“Danny, I love you.”

“Loving me doesn't mean you wanted me to be there,” Daniel responded sadly, his eyes dull from the empty feeling he still carried within him.

Jack leaned his forehead against Daniel's right shoulder and closed his eyes, regretting his actions of the prior evening.

“I was dumb, okay?  I didn't know they'd be there,” Jack tried to explain, his rationalization lost on his soulmate.

Daniel turned and looked at Jack, shaking his head as he accused, “You're not dealing with what I said, Jack.”

~What does he want from me?~  Frustrated, Jack repeated, “Danny, I'm sorry.  Okay?”

“Sure,” the younger man replied, walking away as he self-hugged.

As Daniel sat down on the sofa, Jack ran his fingers through his hair in frustration, finally asking, “Danny, what do you want me to do?  Ignore them?”

“Better them, than me,” Daniel said, a bit too much like a child for his liking, but not being able to help himself.  He was tired of the battle currently being waged.  ~I was looking forward to this vacation, to ... to being with him.~

“It's over, Danny.  It was one night,” Jack said, his voice full of anxiety.

“Was it, Jack?” Daniel challenged as he looked up at his lover.  “I didn't know who you were last night.  You were like a stranger to me.  Geez, Jack, I didn't even like you last night,” he added honestly, looking away from the older man.

Jack walked behind the sofa where Daniel sat and began to massage his partner's shoulders, his fingers well aware of the knots and tenseness in his soulmate's body.

Reflexively, Daniel moaned from the pleasure of the touch, sighing, “That feels good.”

“There's more where that comes from, a lot more.”  Jack leaned over and kissed Daniel on the cheek.  “Look, I'm going to take a shower, and then we'll spend the day doing whatever you want.  Okay?”

“Sure, Jack.  Whatever you say,” Daniel agreed, though his response was still a bit distant.

Jack headed for the shower, knowing it was going to be a very long day.  Daniel may not be pushing him away, but he wasn't exactly being friendly, either.

====

After a quick and all-too-quiet lunch for Jack's taste, the two men went to a local museum.  Daniel rambled on about the various displays, but while Jack wasn't really listening to the words, he was listening very carefully to what Daniel wasn't saying ... to the expression, or lack of expression, on his face and in his tone.

~I have to get us back on track,~ Jack silently lamented.  ~But what?  And how?~  Unfortunately, Jack didn't see much of an opportunity to get back into his lover's good graces while they were staring at rocks, and Daniel had no desire to leave the museum until it closed at 6 p.m.  “Okay, so that was fun.  How about a quiet dinner somewhere?”

Daniel shrugged, and that's when Jack made his move, entering Daniel's personal space as they stood outside the museum.  Jack raised his left hand and moved Daniel's shaggy hair off his face so he could see easily into his eyes.

“Danny,” Jack said softly as his fingers slid through his lover's hair, “I'm truly sorry, and I really do love you.  Please, Love, let's get back on track.  I love you so friggin' much I can't see straight.”

Jack leaned in and kissed Daniel, who responded only slightly, but that was all Jack needed.

“Love you so much,” Jack said as his arms moved around Daniel's waist, pulling the young man into him.  Slowly, Daniel's arms went around Jack's waist just as Jack's kiss grew deeper.  Involuntarily, Daniel let out a small noise, a pleasing sound that made Jack smile.  “Geez, I love you.”

~Gawd, I can't fight him.  I ... I don't want to.~  As his eyes bore into Jack's, Daniel was ready to give in, to let the events of the night before truly be over, but first, he had a warning for the older man.  “Don't ignore me again, Jack,” Daniel said strongly.  “I ... I won't let you do that.”

Jack nodded, feeling happy that they  were back together and also relieved that Daniel was expressing his emotions and sticking up for himself, something Jack was actively working on getting his lover to do regularly.

“Dinner and a nice walk?” Jack asked hopefully as he continued to hold his Love in full public view.

Daniel nodded his agreement, and they walked down the city block, their arms around each other's waist, giving themselves a few minutes to let go of the day and get back into the joy of being with each other.  Jack was grateful for the fairly easy reprieve, and Daniel just wanted to enjoy their love and contentment.

====

“Mmmm,” Jack sighed after the latest long, lingering kiss he and Daniel shared near a water fountain at a park.

It was late, almost 10 p.m., but it was still nice out, and they were enjoying the clear night air and the feeling of being alone together.

“Jack,” Daniel began to ask as they walked leisurely back to the hotel, “they called you Bud.”

Jack tilted his head, mentally dismissing the moniker as he explained, “Just a dumb nickname.  You know -- Bud, Buddy.  Larry started it on our first mission together.  It never really stuck, though; just he, Mike, and Johnny mostly.”

“Are they stationed here?” Daniel asked about the trio.

“No, weird fluke,” Jack answered.  “Larry has family here, and Mike and Johnny decided to join him on a family vacation of sorts.  They've all stayed pretty close over the years.  I don't think Mike has any other family, and Johnny's never mentioned anyone.”

“And you?” Daniel prodded.

Jack looked off into the distance, eventually replying, “You know the story, Danny.  I cut myself off from everyone; always kept Sara and Charlie private, but after ...”  Jack coughed, trying to bury the emotion of Charlie's tragic death as he continued.  “... I just didn't care, until you, Love.”

Jack placed a kiss on Daniel's temple.

~I like that.~  Daniel smiled, and then leaning in towards his lover, he asked, “How long are they here for?”

Jack responded, “A few more days at least.  I'm not really sure, but I had my reunion, and now I'm all yours.”

~I hope so.~  Daniel didn't say anything verbally.  ~But ... I thought you were already mine.  Isn't that what you've told me?~

Daniel felt strangely upset that suddenly he felt second to old service pals.  It wasn't jealousy, Daniel decided; it was worse than that.  For the first time, he didn't feel important to Jack, and somehow, that was more disturbing than anything else.

====

The next day, Jack and Daniel spent the morning at the Bead Museum learning about the history, culture, and artistic significance of beads.  It was a quirky thing, but they had a good time.  After lunch, they decided to go to the Turf Paradise Race Course to watch a couple of horse races.

Horse racing wasn't a particular favorite of either man, but neither had a big interest in beads, either.  Early on, Jack and Daniel had decided they'd always try and do some new things, to experience places and events for the first time, together, on their vacations.

The bead trek had been selected by the luck of the draw; that is, they had mixed up a group of brochures of places they'd never imagine going to, and then Jack had drawn the 'lucky' winner.  The track had come about by turning on the television under the guise that, 'The first advertisement we see for a place or event we haven't been to is where we'll go.'  An ad ran within two minutes of turning the TV on for the upcoming horse race.

After the third race, they decided to watch one more and then spend a quiet evening in their suite.

When the fourth race was over, and they were heading toward the exit, the lovers heard a voice neither wanted to hear.

“Hey Bud, I don't believe it.  Small world,” Larry called out.

~*I* don't believe it, either,~ Daniel sighed as he and Jack turned to see Larry, John, and Mike eagerly coming their way.

“Win some loot, Jack?” John asked enthusiastically.

“Didn't bet, Johnny.  I'm too smart for that,” Jack commented, glancing at Daniel and instantly seeing his displeasure at being in the company of the three men again.

“Chicken's more like it,” Larry laughed boisterously.

“Yeah, well, I prefer safer bets,” Jack responded.  “Don't really know much about the horses.”

“How about you ... Danny, isn't it?” Larry asked with a half-hearted smile.

“Daniel, and no, I don't really know anything about racing either,” the archaeologist replied dully.

“Too bad,” Larry stated, turning back to face Jack.  “Hey, we're just headed out for a night on the town.  We know this great girlie joint.  Right up your alley, Jack.”

Jack stepped on his heels for a second and stole a glance at Daniel, who had folded his arms around himself.  He cursed the Fates for putting him in this position.  He didn't think Daniel would be so forgiving if he spent a second night with his buddies, and Jack had to admit, he really didn't want to spend the evening getting drunk and salivating over women.  He just didn't want to lose face with these men.

~Danny's more important.~  Shaking his head, Jack answered, “No, I don't think so, guys.”

“Come on, Jack,” Larry urged.  “You'll have a great time.  Danny here can come, too, if that's what you're worried about.”

“Daniel,” the young man repeated sternly.

“Yeah, whatever.  For old times, Jack,” Larry pleaded mischievously.  Quietly, he added enticingly, “There's this one girl -- wow ... you have to see her.  I mean she's built, with a set of ...”

“Larry,” Jack said, trying to cut off his old friend.  “We have plans for tonight.”

“We?” Mike asked, giving Daniel an odd glance.

“Yeah, well, Daniel ...” Jack sighed, feeling totally unglued, having no clue why he was having such a hard time communicating these days.

“Not your thing, Doc?” Larry asked with a tone of accusation in his voice.

“Watching women be exploited?  No, not really,” Daniel answered with his own air of accusation.

“They get paid well,” John argued defensively.

“Maybe,” Daniel acknowledged, looking down at the floor for a moment before staring John in the eyes again.  “I wouldn't know, but what I do know is that I don't need to watch some girl undress to get what I need.”

“Maybe you'd prefer Chippendales,” Mike battled back.

“Mike ...” Jack began, his words cut off as he was distracted by his lover's retort.

“Maybe I'd prefer you to just go away,” Daniel mumbled, looking off towards the track.

“No humor, Doc?” Mike asked, covertly winking at Daniel as he had done the night before.

“My humor is just fine, when I hear something funny,” Daniel replied curtly.

Jack flinched a tad at the exchange, feeling that it was getting a bit out of hand.  He didn't like the Chippendales crack, but on the other hand, it was just the way guys, particularly these guys, talked.

“Hey, come on, guys, Daniel's my ...” Jack paused just a second, before continuing, “best friend.  He's okay.  He, we just aren't into that.”

“You used to be, Jack,” John noted calmly.  “Or ... oh, I get it.  You just don't want your *friend* here to be left out.”

“Yeah, we can understand that,” Larry agreed.  “But I still don't quite understand how you two work together.  Explain that again, Jack.”

“I told you, Larry,” Jack answered.  “Daniel's a cultural expert.  What we do is classified, but his skills come in very handy.”

“Need someone to cover your six, Jack?” Larry challenged skeptically.

“He has backup,” Daniel said sharply.

“I guess what you do isn't really dangerous,” Larry mocked.

“Yeah, uses tinker toys instead of MP-5's,” Mike chimed in.

Jack was wishing the entire discussion was only a nightmare.  He had felt lucky that Daniel had forgiven him for the restaurant incident, but he had a hunch it was going to be another lonely night tonight the way things were going.

“Yeah, we get it,” John laughed.  “Hard to imagine you going soft there, Bud.”

“I'm not going soft.  It's classified, that's all,” Jack said defensively.

“The ge... Danny here works on classified stuff?” Mike inquired.

“DANIEL!” the archaeologist said with a raised voice.

Daniel's patience was ending.  He didn't understand how Jack could ever have palled around with these guys, and he certainly couldn't comprehend Jack's failure to stand up to them.

**Jack, let's go.**

**Sure, Danny.  In a minute,** Jack agreed.  ~As soon as I figure out how to get us out of this without looking like a ...~

Jack's thoughts were silenced when Mike chimed in a bit harshly, saying, “Whooooa.  Sensitive there, eh?”

“My name is Daniel.  Is that so difficult for you three supposedly intelligent military goons to understand?” Daniel lashed out.

**Danny ...**

**I'm tired of this, Jack.**

“Good grief, it's only a name.  Calm down,” Larry advised antagonistically as he got back into the conversation.

“So, Jack, you coming?” Mike asked.

“We have other plans,” Daniel reiterated strongly.  ~I am not going anywhere with these idiots.~

“Who are you -- his mommy?” John sneered.

“No, I'm his,” Daniel looked at Jack, not sure how to describe their relationship at this point.  ~I'm not sure what we are right now.~  He opted for the easy route, continuing, “friend, and as we came here together, I'd like to think we'd leave together, but then again, that's up to him.”

Daniel stared at Jack, but all he saw was his partner's profile as Jack was looking at his three Air Force comrades.

Larry laughed, “So Bud, what's it to be?  An evening of delicious babes and catching up with your buddies here or a spot of babysitting?”

Jack coughed and bounced once on his shoes, his discomfort evident.

~Not sure, Jack?  Fine.~  Seeing Jack's hesitation, Daniel shook his head, stating, “Go ahead, Jack.  I'm going back to the hotel.”

“Daniel,” Jack called out as the younger man turned and walked away.

Looking over his shoulder, Daniel responded, “Have fun, Jack.  Don't mind me.”  Daniel glared at the three intruders on their life, his ire growing with every second.  Right now, he just didn't care what they thought about him, Jack, or their relationship.  Angrily, Daniel added, “Besides, I have a headache.”

Jack blinked, stunned by the announcement and not knowing what to say in response as Daniel continued on his way.

“A headache, Bud?” Mike queried.  ~I'll bet, and I want some of that.~

“You know, scientists,” Jack replied quickly.  “They get a lot of headaches from reading so much.”

“Yeah, reading those betting forms requires a lot of concentration,” Mike teased nastily.

“Let's go, Jack.  I'm telling you, these women are ...” Larry began.

Jack let himself be led away by his three buddies, wondering when he had lost control of his own life.

~What am I doing?  All I have to do is stop walking and start running after Daniel?  Why aren't I doing that?  It's stupid, O'Neill.  It's because I don't want them to think I've become weak.  Crap, I just don't want to lose face with my buddies.  Okay, just one more night.  That's it, and then Danny and I will have the rest of the week together.  One more night. I can make him understand.  I have to.~

====

Jack dreaded opening the door of the hotel suite.  Actually, he hoped the door would open.  He thanked his lucky stars when it did, and slowly he made his way to the bedroom where Daniel sat on the bed, his back to the headboard, reading a book he had purchased upon returning to the hotel.

“Have a good time?” Daniel asked as if Jack had just returned from a hockey game in Denver.

“No, not really,” Jack admitted.  ~What's going on?  Why isn't he yelling at me?  Maybe he understands now; yeah, that's it.  He's going to apologize for getting huffy.  Okay, that's good.~  Jack sauntered over to the bed and sat down next to Daniel, their shoulders touching, though Daniel hadn't reacted to his lover's proximity.  ~Okay, I guess I'll make the first move.~  “Are you mad at me, Danny?”

Daniel closed his book and tossed it to the edge of the bed.  He folded his arms and leaned his head back against the headboard as he turned to look at his lover.

“Mad?  No, Jack I'm not mad.  Ask me if I'm disappointed.  No, don't ask because I'm going to tell you.  Disappointed?  Yes, Jack, I'm disappointed.  You made your choice, and that's your right.  I'm only surprised it's taken you this long to make it.”

~Choice?  This long?~  Confused, Jack replied, “I don't know what you're talking about.  I didn't know they'd be here; it's just a little reunion, that's all.”

Daniel let out a nervous laugh and intoned a bit sadly, “I expected it to happen at some point.  I mean, it had to, right?  It always does, but ... but it's okay, Jack.  Really, I'm fine.”

“Daniel ...”

“I'm fine, Jack.  I'm ... fine,” Daniel assured.

~Fine?  Oh, no you're not.  Let's see if I can explain this one more time.~  Jack sighed and then said, “Danny, they're old friends.  I can't believe you're jealous of them.  They ...”

“Jealous?” Daniel laughed haughtily.  “No, I'm not jealous.  You've made my position in your life very clear.  I know where I stand now, and, uh, actually, I should thank you for that.”

Frustrated and confused, Jack replied, “Where you stand is that you are in my heart.  You're it for me, Danny.  I've told you that over and over again.”

“Maybe you believe that, Jack, but actions speak louder than words.  You spent your evening with strangers rather than be with me,” a resigned Daniel stated.  ~I knew it wouldn't last; nothing ever does.~

“They aren't strangers; they're war buddies, and that makes them a little special,” Jack argued.

“And what am I?  You say you love me, want me, are ... are proud of me, but I guess that only means when we're alone, and obviously, that's not as important as being ... special,” Daniel refuted.

“No, that's not what it means.  Danny, it's complicated,” Jack groaned.

“Complicated?  Jack, if you were worried they'd out you, that it would ruin your career, that would be one thing.  But ... you're not thinking about that.  I don't even think it's entered your mind.  You don't want your friends, your ... buddies to know about us be...because ... because I'm not like you or them.  You're ashamed of me, Jack ... or maybe it's just ashamed of yourself for thinking you're in love with ... with a geek,” Daniel said, getting up off the bed and walking to the dresser, leaning against it as he self-hugged.

“NO!  Daniel, I love you,” Jack declared from his spot on the bed, unable to understand why everything seemed to be going wrong.

“Keep saying it, Jack, and maybe you'll convince yourself, but right now, I really am tired.”  Almost to himself, the weary archaeologist repeated, “I am tired.”  Relaxing his posture, Daniel returned to the bed and got under the covers.  “I'm going to sleep now, Jack. I suggest you do the same.  I'm sure your buddies have something planned for you tomorrow.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, Daniel.  Will you stop blowing this up into something it's not, and listen to me?”

“Something it's not?” Daniel asked, turning back over and staring up at Jack. “What is wrong with you?  How would you like it if I'd done it to you?  Look, I don't want to discuss this now.  You ... made your choice, and now I have to make mine, but at the moment I'm tired, and I might say something I'll regret.  I don't want us to end up ... to end up hating each other.  Don't push it, Jack.”

“And what's that supposed to mean?  You're making this sound like ... like we're breaking up or something.  What is so blasted wrong with me spending some time with some old friends?  We don't have to be joined at the hip, you know!” Jack argued, raising his hands upward over his head at the same time.

“Be quiet, Jack,” Daniel ordered.  “Just close your mouth before you swallow your foot and choke!”

“That's funny, Daniel.  Get that from the Comic Section?” Jack snapped.

In spite of being tired, Daniel's anger was growing.  He wanted to go to sleep, to accept what was the inevitable, and move on as peacefully as possible.  Now, though, Jack was making that nearly impossible.

“Don't you get it?  I'm not interested in anything you have to say about it right now.  Nothing you say will change the way you acted this evening.  You can't make it go away with one of your famous apologies,” Daniel retaliated.

Jack's response was instantaneous as he said in a loud voice, “Famous apologies?  What is that supposed to mean?”

Sitting up, Daniel snapped, “You know, Jack, where you say you're sorry about a thousand times, look at me with that googly face of yours, and try to charm me with your Irish smile.  When that doesn't work, you try to seduce me; *and* when that doesn't work, you spend your paycheck on something totally ridiculous.  Then you expect me to say everything is fine, and we just move on and forget whatever it is you've done lately.”

“I like buying you things,” Jack responded softly.

“Jack,” Daniel said with exasperation.  “Gawd, Jack, you don't understand.  Why can't I get you to see it?  I want *you*, not anything you could buy for me.  Yes, I appreciate what you do, the things you give me, but they don't mean anything.  *You* ... you mean everything.  I want you to treat me like I matter, to listen to me.  I want to come first, not be second to hockey and war buddies.”

Taken aback and still confused by the entire situation, Jack quipped, “Geez, it's like being married.”  From the moment he uttered the words, Jack wished he could have bitten his tongue off.  ~That's not what I mean.  What the blazes is wrong with me.  I'm being an idiot.  Daniel's right.  Not once, but twice, I've treated him like he didn't matter.  But he does.  Danny is the only real thing that does matter.~  He looked over and saw that Daniel's eyes were full of unshed tears.  That last remark had hit him hard.  ~No, Danny, I didn't mean to say that.~

“Well, I guess that's something you'll never have to worry about with me, isn't it?” Daniel responded, a bit of melancholy flowing through him.

“Danny, I'm sorry. I didn't mean ...”

Daniel scooted down on the bed, pulling the covers tightly over him, and added, “For what?  Saying what you really feel?  Don't apologize for that.  At least you're telling the truth now, and that's something.”

Jack reached over and touched Daniel's arm, rubbing gently as he spoke, “Daniel, I don't want to fight with you.  I want you.”

“That's nice, Jack.  I'm glad you have time for me now, but for the tenth time, I really am tired and want to go to sleep.  Please don't touch me tonight.”

Slowly, Jack pulled his hand back.  He paused for a few seconds and then got off the bed.  For a minute, he watched his lover, but then he wandered into the living area and sat on the couch, his mind wondering where he had gone so wrong.  Daniel didn't get it, what Jack was going through with this little unexpected reunion.  The problem was ... Jack didn't either.

~I made a little mistake, inserted my foot in my mouth.  Okay, so I do that sometimes, but breaking up?  Over a couple of days spent with old buddies?  What if that shoe was on his foot?  What if ...~

In deep denial, Jack continued to rationalize his behavior and convince himself that Daniel was overreacting to the situation.

====

Hours later, Jack took out a shot of whiskey from the hotel mini-bar and quickly downed it as he returned to the couch.  His mind wandered back years in time, to a moment right after Charlie was born.  Charlie was Jack's life then, but some old pals had shown up then, too, and as he had done last night, he had let them take him away from his family.

When he had returned, Jack and Sara became embroiled in a similar fight as the one Jack and Daniel had.

“Grrrrrr,” Jack grumbled as he remembered their fight and Sara's words that night:

“Jack, you're a father now.  It's not just you and me anymore.  You can't go out on a whim and expect me to tolerate it like I used to.  I deserve better than that, and so does our son.”

Jack had known Sara was right, and it wasn't long before Jack had sent his old pals on their way and settled into a home life that was happy and loving.  He had never really been that wild.  In fact, all in all, Jack was pretty tame growing up and in his Academy life, but there were a couple of sets of buddies, friendships forged in the line of duty to their country, creating a bond that went beyond the normal, where Jack had an image that he always felt he had to keep.  With those people, Jack was strong, witty, and emotionless.  He covered up any real emotion with humor and by being one of the boys.

Jack leaned back on the sofa and something else entered his mind, a conversation with Daniel about Charlie Kawalsky.  His lover had never understood how Jack and Kawalsky could have been best friends, since Kawalsky had been so different than he.

Shaking his head, Jack recalled his last real conversation with his friend, when Jack asked for his stereo in jest.

~Kawalsky.  You didn't even know me, not really.  Daniel does.  Geez, he knows me better than I know myself.  Why am I acting like this?  I love Daniel.  He's everything, but ... But what?~  Jack took a swig of his drink as he returned to justifying his recent actions.  ~They're the guys; Danny needs to cut me some slack.  It was only a couple of nights, for crying out loud.  What's so wrong with that?~

Jack retrieved another drink from the mini-bar, not caring what it was.  He opened it, and downed it with one long gulp.  He closed his eyes as his mind continued its internal bickering.

~Sara didn't understand either.  Crap, it is like being married.  Married? To Daniel?  What a thought.~

Ignoring the warmth that thought gave him, Jack sighed and walked back to the sofa to get lost again in his memories and thoughts.

====

“Jack?”

Jack turned his head towards the bedroom where Daniel stood, arms folded, dressed in a navy blue shirt that caused Daniel's blue eyes to shine, making Jack's heart flutter at the beauty before him.  ~I am an idiot.  Look at him. He is so beautiful.~

“Didn't you sleep?” Daniel asked quietly.

Jack faced front again, and shook his head, answering, “No.”

Daniel slowly walked over to the sofa and sat down close to his lover and asked softly, “Not at all?”

“You didn't want me to touch you,” Jack whined.

With a tiny, sympathetic smile, Daniel reached out and took Jack's hand, their fingers entwining.  He lay his head against Jack's shoulder.

“I love you, Jack, but you have to choose what world you want to live in, and the thing is, I don't think you even realize what you're doing, or what the risks and consequences are to your actions,” Daniel remarked.

“I don't, Danny,” the older man admitted.  “I'm sorry.  I've sat here all night, and I don't see what's wrong, not really.”

With a sigh, Daniel nodded slightly and replied, “I know, and that's why I can't be angry, at least not for long.  You're not trying to hurt me.  You just are.”

Jack grimaced at the comment and responded, “I don't want to hurt you.  Danny, they're just old friends, nothing more; and they're a little different.  I don't know how to mix them and you,” he admitted.

“Don't,” Daniel instructed as his fingers gently rubbed against his soulmate's.  “Jack, I don't like them.  I don't want to ... socialize with them.  Babe, if you want to spend time with them, then do it, but be honest with yourself.  They don't like me, either, and they don't care that you think I'm 'okay', as you said.  If you want to be with them, go, and I'll spend my time at places that matter to me.  There's a lot to see here.”

“This is supposed to be our vacation, Danny.  Just you and me,” Jack replied.

Softly, Daniel intoned, “Yes, I know that.  I thought maybe you'd forgotten.”

Feeling defensive again, Jack pulled away, stating, “I'm going to take a shower.”

“Sure, Jack,” Daniel stated.  He sat back on the sofa, feeling more alone than ever.  His lover was clueless, and Daniel seemed unable to explain it to him.  He was afraid Jack might never understand the consequences of his actions.  ~We're running out of chances, Jack.  I don't know how much more of this I can take.~

====

An hour later, Jack finally emerged from the bedroom, having showered and dressed.  Daniel was reading the book he had begun the night before, though it didn't seem to Jack that he had made much progress.  The older man took a calming breath and took a seat next to his Love.

“How about a trip to Sedona?” Jack asked.  He saw Daniel look up, surprise at the suggestion etched on his face.  “It's supposed to be beautiful there.  Let's rent a car and get out of the city for a while.”

Daniel looked deeply into Jack's eyes.  They were both trying hard not to fight.  This was one of those turning points, and Daniel knew he had to make a choice -- end his relationship with Jack now, or try to move forward.  It was clear that each of them wanted their romantic getaway to get back on track, so the younger man smiled, closing the book and setting it on the coffee table.

“Okay, Jack.  I'd like that very much,” Daniel answered.

The lovers grabbed their coats and headed to the door, but before opening it, Jack reached out and took a hold of Daniel's left arm.

“I love you, Danny.  Don't ever doubt that,” Jack spoke, his eyes reinforcing the softly-spoken words.

Daniel blinked and replied, “I don't, Jack.”

Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple, and they both knew it.  Both heard the unspoken words that circulated through the air.  This wasn't about love.  It was about choices, decisions, and paths.  Jack's worlds had unexpectedly collided, and he hadn't an inkling that it would mean leaving behind a life he had once cherished.

====

Their day in Sedona was heavenly.  The landscape was every bit as picturesque as the brochures had indicated.  They held hands the entire time, except for when they were wrapped up in each other's arms admiring the panoramic view.

“It's breathtaking, Jack,” Daniel commented as he leaned back into his lover's hold.

“It sure is,” Jack said as he took in the expanse in front of them.

“The brochure said it was named after Sedona Schnebly, the wife of one of the early settlers.  Would you believe they chose it because it was short?”

“What do you mean?” Jack inquired.

“Well, the town had gotten its start back in 1876 when a man claimed squatter's rights under the Homestead Act.  The place he chose had been the home to Tonto Apache Indians.  They, uh, had been captured a year earlier and left behind some gardens and a spring.  So this man, J.J. Thompson, built a log cabin and set up a place to live.”

“His wife was Sedona?” Jack assumed.

“No,” Daniel chuckled.  “She came a little later.  After Thompson settled, he called the place Indian Gardens.”

“Logical,” Jack said.

“Yes, it is.  With time, more settlers moved in, they built irrigation ditches, grew orchards, and, well ...”

“Civilization arrived, right?” Jack surmised.

Daniel nodded and continued, “The old cow trails and paths became dirt roads and more settlers came.  The first to move near Thompson was Abraham James, and he actually gets the credit for naming a lot of the sites in the area.  He was good with words and ...”

“Sounds like someone else I know,” Jack teased and then kissed his soulmate's nape.

Daniel smiled, feeling more at peace than he had in the last couple of days.  This was how he'd imagined their vacation would be, and he soaked in the good feeling of beings in Jack's arms and the feeling of being loved.

On the verge of being distracted from his tale, Daniel shook himself slightly, as if to wake from his tender dream, and continued, “Anyway, uh, James named Bell Rock, Church Rock, Steamboat Rock ...”

“Sounds like the man rocked,” Jack chuckled, as did Daniel in response.

“Over the years, some of the names have been changed, but James' contribution was a lure to people in those days.  More people came.  Back then, Sedona was known by a couple of names.  I mean, there was Indian Gardens which became Camp Garden and then Oak Creek, simply because of its location.  The people were lured by this, Jack,” Daniel explained.

“Red Rock Country,” Jack spoke with awe as his eyes explored the terrain in front of them.

“It's what attracted Schnebly -- the red rocks along with the forestry, and there was the creek with a vast water supply, and a lot of land for the taking,” Daniel remarked.  Nodding as he considered the area, he added, “It was a great place to start a new life.”

“So, how did it end up being called Sedona?” Jack inquired.

“Schnebly was a leader, of course.  He built a beautiful home, and others came and built homes, but they had one little problem,” Daniel explained.  “Mail, or lack thereof.”

“No mail service?  They ran out of ponies?” Jack laughed.

Daniel chuckled at his lover, and then told him, “Well, they had mail, but it was slow and irregular, so Schnebly filed with the government to have a post office placed in their area.  You'll like this, Jack.  They actually suggested several names -- Schnebly Station, Red Rock Crossing, Oak Creek Station ...”

“Those all sound like good names.  What was wrong with them?” the older man asked.

“Too long,” Daniel revealed.  “They wouldn't fit on the cancellation stamp,” he chuckled.

“You're kidding?” an amused Jack asked.

Daniel shook his head, saying, “Finally, Schnebly's brother suggested Sedona.  Schnebly himself wasn't sure about that at first, but his brother explained that a name gives a place its character and is symbolic of that place.  That convinced Schnebly who turned to his wife and told her that a town was about to be named after her.  The government approved it, and,” Daniel shrugged, “out there is Sedona.”

“Beautiful name for a beautiful place.  I like it, Danny,” Jack commented.

“Me, too,” Daniel sighed contently.

“Come on, Love.  We'd better get a move on if we want to take that helicopter ride,” Jack urged.

“I can't wait to see all of this from the air,” Daniel said in anticipation.

Holding hands, the couple went on their way, enjoying this special day together immensely.

====

By the time Jack and Daniel returned to Phoenix, it was nearly 11 p.m.  They were full of good feelings and the wonder of their day in Sedona.  The couple had managed to completely forget about the trio that had invaded their vacation prior to this day.  The only thing that mattered was that they were together, and they were in love.

The soulmates snuggled for a while, then they made love, and fell asleep cuddled together.

Over the next two days, Jack and Daniel visited many of the Phoenix mainstays and took another day trip to the Wine Country, with stops at the little township of Elgin and ending in Nogales on the Mexican border.  This was the vacation Daniel had dreamed of.  He was Jack's, and Jack was his.

Sadly, at the end of the second day, they stopped in the hotel bar for a nightcap, and once again, the trio appeared.

Jack saw Daniel wince as they sat at the same corner table as they had before.  He also remembered Daniel's words from their earlier conversation about life decisions, that Jack had to make a choice as to what he really wanted.

~There is no choice, Danny,~ Jack thought silently as he studied the suddenly drawn face of his lover.

“Hey, Boys, out for a late night round of fun?” Larry asked jovially.

As business-like as he could, Jack responded, “Just got back actually, and we're about to call it a night.”

“It's still early, Bud,” Mike cajoled.

Jack saw Daniel cringe at the use of the 'Bud' nickname.  If he were honest with himself, Jack had to admit he didn't like it, either, and never had; but it was one of those guy things he couldn't stop once it had started.

“Let your friend go upstairs, Jack,” Larry urged.  “I have something even more special to show you tonight.  Her name's Katrina, and you are going to love her.  I told her about you.  She's hot, Jack, and she wants to meet you.”

Daniel looked at Jack with an expression that concerned the older man.  There was no anger in Daniel's eyes, nor any jealousy, but there was acceptance, almost an expectation.  Jack held his ground, not wanting to hurt his lover again.  He wanted that resigned look in Daniel's eyes to go away.  He wanted to see that shine that had been there just a minute earlier when Daniel's blue eyes had shone with love.

“No,” Jack answered flatly, looking at Daniel.

“Ah, come on.  Remember that gal in Kuwait?” Larry prodded.  He smiled when Jack looked up, his breathing suddenly more rapid at the recognition.  “This gal has her beat.  She's for you, Jack.”

Larry continued to push, totally ignoring Jack's discomfort; Daniel was once again invisible, being completely ignored by the trio.

Jack took an audible breath, shook his head, and said, “You don't understand, Larry.”

Jack reached for Daniel's hand and held it tightly, but was taken aback when his old buddies only laughed and slapped him encouragingly on the back.

“We know, Jack,” Larry said.  “You're covering his six.  We figured that out the first night.  You don't need to play.  Let's go.”

Jack stared at Larry, wondering what the heck they were thinking.  He was, after all, holding Daniel's hand, right there in public.  Their dismissal of his action as being a cover-up stunned Jack so much that it put him into an uncharacteristic haze.  He had been certain that his action would shock his old friends, but, instead, he was the one in shock as he processed the fact that his friends simply thought Jack was somehow protecting Daniel.

~I don't get this,~ a frustrated Jack thought.  ~Why are they making excuses for me?  I'm holding Daniel's hand, caressing it, and they think I'm playing a game?  Crap!~

“Come on, Bud,” Mike said, grabbing Jack's arm and pulling him up abruptly, causing Jack to let go of Daniel's hand.

“It'll be a real night to remember,” John added, grabbing Jack's other arm and starting towards the exit.

**Jack?**

**What the heck ...**  ~I don't get this.  Why don't they just call me names, and walk out the door?  That's what I thought they'd do -- look at me with disgust and not want to be around me.  Why do they think I'm protecting Daniel?  Protecting him from what?  We're in Phoenix, for crying out loud, not off-world.~

Jack was so confused and lost in his thoughts that the next thing he knew, he was being led out the hotel door and away from Daniel, away from his heart.  He knew he should have stopped, but he felt trapped between two realities.  It was a rare moment of indecision for the normally in-control Air Force colonel, and it was one that he already regretted by the time his friends had him in the hallway.  Once again, Jack had slipped into denial, minimizing the importance of his actions.

~It's just one more night, that's all,~ Jack lied to himself.  ~This will be it.  Danny will understand.  Geez, we've just had two great days, and nights, together.  I'll never see these guys again.  Yeah, Danny will understand.  Danny always understands.~

====

For a few moments, Daniel sat, resigned to his fate of being alone forever.

~No, wait.  I keep saying Jack has a choice to make, and he does, but ... but I have a choice of my own to make.~  Daniel's heartbeat quickened as he came to this realization, and his mind began working rapidly.  ~Am I being fair to Jack by putting all the choices and decisions onto him?  He's told me time and time again that he'd ... well, he'd ... he'd fight for me.  Okay, well, if I'm half of this relationship, then ... then shouldn't I fight for Jack, too?~

Daniel downed the last of his drink as he made his decision and then quickly ran out of the restaurant, through the hotel lobby, to finally catch up with the foursome just as they were hailing a cab.

“Change your mind, Doc?” Larry asked, seeing the shaggy-haired man jogging towards them.

Jack turned in complete surprise to see Daniel standing a few feet away.  The younger man was taking quick breaths as a result of his mad dash to reach the group.

“As a matter of fact, I did,” Daniel answered.  “I want to see this ... Katrina.”

John laughed, patting Daniel's back, and said, “Give the other side a try, Danny; you might just like it.”

~The other side?  I'm married, you idiot.  Gawd, I don't want to think about that.~  “Yeah, right ... and it's Daniel,” Daniel reminded as he took a seat in the cab.

**Danny, I ...**

**What?**

**Nothing,** Jack sighed, the silence of their minds even more deafening than the silence between the two men inside the taxi.

Daniel stared out the window, thinking, ~You can say that again, but I made my choice; at least, for now.  I'm in love with you, and I need ... I have to try and keep us together.  One more night.  It can't be all that bad.  One more night, that's all,~ Daniel sighed as he tried to convince himself that everything would be better in the morning.

====

Two hours later, the five men were several drinks into their second bottle of vodka.

“Only thing the Russians ever created that was worth a dime,” Larry harped as he finished a drink.

Daniel didn't like the conversation.  For that matter, he didn't like the bar.  Of course, he didn't like the company he was with, either.  What was worse, though, was that he hated the curvaceous, buxom blonde that was leaning over, rubbing against, and now sitting on his lover.  Jack was enjoying himself way too much in Daniel's opinion, and after a few more drinks, Daniel's rationality was long gone, replaced by an inebriated green streak that rivaled Jack's Mr. Jealousy.  It was made worse by his wondering if this was what happened the last time Jack had been out with these buddies.

~Just how far would you go, Jack, to prove yourself to these people?~  Daniel shuddered.  “No, I don't think I want to think about that right now.~  He glared at his lover for a moment.  “Jack!” Daniel called out, having enough of the entire situation and wanting his lover to disentangle himself from the sexy woman atop him.

John leaned over and shouted above the music, “Leave him alone, Doc.  He's busy showing the young lady the finer points of mouth to mouth.”

~I can see that, you goon.~  Daniel shoved the man away, angry at his intrusion in his life.  He shouted across the table again.  “Jack, I want to leave now!”

Not fighting the intoxicating effects the liquor was having on him, Jack was engrossed with the tonsillectomy he was performing and didn't even look up. He knew his pals were watching, and Jack had an image to protect.  Even though just hours earlier, he'd been prepared to abandon that image with his old comrades, their influence and Jack's intake of liquor were now prevailing over Jack's love for Daniel.  He didn't even allow himself to think about how Daniel would feel, seeing and witnessing his behavior.  The truth was that Jack kept telling himself it was just one more night, and everything would be fine in the morning.

Daniel stood up, but quickly grabbed the table for a moment.

~Okay, let's do this a bit more slowly.~  Daniel swaggered over to his lover.  “Jack!”  When there was no stop to the so-called romance, Daniel decided slow and steady was not the way to go, quickly pulling the buxom female off of his lover.  “I want to go back to the hotel now.”

Undaunted and smiling, still in a bit of a stupor, Jack responded, “Sure, Dannyboy.  I'll meet you there later.”

Jack got up and pinched the blonde's rear, causing her to laugh.

In that instant, Daniel hated his lover, but his mind wasn't thinking properly, the alcohol having taken over an hour ago.

“Fine,” Daniel mumbled, mulling over his choices.  He could either leave, which would mean going back to the hotel on his own, wallowing in his defeat and abandonment, or, Daniel laughed to himself, ~there's always an 'or', isn't there, Jack?~  Or he could beat Jack at his own game.  ~Yeah, let's see how you like it, Colonel O'Neill,~ Daniel smirked inwardly.  ~Let's see if ole Mr. Jealousy cares.~

Daniel wasn't sure he even cared at the moment what Jack thought.  His lover was acting like a womanizing fool, and Daniel didn't particularly want to be around him.

“Right, and that's why I'm about to do the same thing,” Daniel mocked to himself, and yet, he couldn't keep from doing it.

Daniel had imbibed more than his limit.  He felt numb, at least inside his heart and soul.  He decided he wanted to feel, and he really wanted to give Jack a taste of his own medicine.

~Yeah, Jackieboy, let's see how you like it,~ a drunken Daniel challenged silently.

Downing another drink, the young man spotted another buxom dancer, one with long black hair and piercing black eyes.  She was scantily dressed and, for a few seconds, Daniel was reminded of Sha're.  Gregarious laughter from the table, however, soon brought Daniel back to the present.  The 'stacked' blonde had Jack's shirt unbuttoned and was pawing him as she kissed him.  Jack made little effort to stop the kiss since his buddies were urging him on.

~Yeah, well, two can play at that game.  It's just one night, right, Jack?~

Daniel took yet one more drink, stood up, swaggered over to the other dancer, and, without a word, kissed her.  John saw and punched Mike on the arm, pointing towards the new action.

“Way to go, Doc,” Mike laughed, prompting Larry to look at Daniel and the dark-haired dancer.

Suddenly, Jack became aware of a diversion.  At first, he was relieved, thinking the charade could end.  He pushed the blonde aside to look around and see what was happening, only to discover his lover “dirty dancing” with some shapely and well-endowed woman.  They were sharing kisses and intimate touches.  Jack's blood pressure rose dramatically as he watched.  In seconds, Mr. Jealousy surfaced.

~That's it!~  Angry, Jack pushed the blonde off of his lap and went over to Daniel.  He grabbed his arm, asking “What the heck are you doing?”

“Hey, Lover Boy.  Just having a good time ... just like you.  She's built, or didn't you notice?” Daniel asked with a seductive smile.

Daniel's words were slurred, and he was having a hard time standing still, but he refused to let Jack see that his little game wasn't real.  Besides, the dancer he was with seemed eager to help him stand, her hands on his behind, cupping his butt cheeks.

“Let's go, Daniel,” Jack ordered sharply as he began to sober some, thanks to the adrenaline rush his jealousy had given him.

“No, I don't think so, Bbbbbuddddd.  I'm having a good time now.  You go play with Kaa...Ka...the bimbo, and I'll play with mine,” Daniel snickered, smiling sappily at the woman.

“You're so cute,” the dancer said as she kissed a willing Daniel again.

Just then, the trio surrounded Jack, encouraging him to return to their wild party.

“Hey, Kat is lonely over there,” Larry baited.  “Come on, Bud.  She's eager.  Bought and paid for.  Don't pass it up.”

“Yeah,” Daniel laughed.  “Have a good time, Bbbbbbbbudddddd.  I plan to.” Turning his attention to his partner of the moment, he added, “We're going to have a real good time.”

Jack pulled away from his old buddies without saying a word, and, thinking Jack was back in the fold, the three men returned to their partying.

A minute later as he stood seething, Jack's pulse raced when the girl whispered something in Daniel's ear that made him blush and giggle while he leaned in closer and pressed her body against his.

“Get your hands off him,” Jack growled, pushing in between Daniel and the dancer.

“What's the matter, Jack?  Afraid I'll find out what I'm missing?  Big macho he-man can do whatever he likes, and I have to put up with it?  A few 'Sorry, Dannys' and we kiss and make up?  Well, guess what, Babe?  You've picked the wrong man to play around on.  I don't share, Jack.  I never have, and,” Daniel reached over and drank out of a bottle of Tequila that sat on an unoccupied table, “I'm not gonna start now.  Go back to your friends and your bimbo, and do what you like.  I'm glad she does it for you.  I hope she's worth it.”

“Daniel, nothing happened.  It was just a kiss, for crying out loud!” Jack argued.

“That's the difference between you and me, Jack,” Daniel said agitatedly.  “I don't care if you just kissed her or if you slept with her.  Cheating is cheating, and you obviously care so little for me that you can do it in front of my face.  Gawd, Jack, you're flaunting it.  I mean that little to you that you could do that to me?”

Jack reached over to touch Daniel's arm, but Daniel pushed him away, taking another swig from the bottle, and then speaking loudly, “Get away from me, Colonel!  I'm gonna have a busy night, and you aren't on my agenda for the evening.”

Moving away, Daniel began to dance with the brunette, ignoring Jack's presence.

“Okay, Dannyboy, you want to have fun.  So will I!” Jack said and then returned to Katrina.

====

Some time later, Jack looked up to see what Daniel was doing.  He spotted him in a corner booth with the girl.  She had her hands all over him, and he seemed to be enjoying it.  Daniel's face was flushed, his hands in her hair while he was kissing her neck.  Jack felt his anger rise, and he got up quickly, intending to put a stop to the rendezvous in the dark corner.

Larry glanced up and grabbed Jack's arm, pulling him back down again as he suggested, “Hey, maybe the Doc isn't so queer.  Leave him alone, Jack.  He's obviously enjoying himself over there.”  Larry laughed, “Didn't know he had it in him.  Bet he didn't either.  Hey, now you don't have to protect him anymore, Bud.  He's growing up.  Just shows it's never too late.”

“Late?”

“Gotta admire him; she's a wild one, but she looks pretty satisfied,” Larry said in an admiring tone.  “Looks like the Doc has discussed how to tango, man style.”

Jack glared at Larry, but said nothing, especially since Katrina had retaken her place on his lap and begun kissing him again.

~It's a nightmare; it's a friggin' nightmare.~

====

About an hour later, Larry and Mike went up to the bar for some more drinks. They spotted Daniel along the end, talking to a tall man with blonde hair. They looked like they were having an intimate conversation.

“Hey, Doc! Thought you were having a good time with the sultry maiden over there.  You switched sides already?” Larry inquired teasingly.

“Why, you interested?  Have I got something you want, Larry?” Daniel asked in a low voice.

Daniel was way past his limit for drinking.  In fact, he was surprised he even remembered Larry's name.  Actually, he had to think a minute what his own name was.  All of his inhibitions were being thrown to the wind.  He couldn't care less what anyone thought of him.  The only thing the drunken linguist wanted at the moment was to make the pain go away, to forget everything and everyone.

“Are you crazy?  Me, no!  I'm a ladies man through and through, just like Bud.”

Daniel let out a snort and said, “Yeah, just like good ole Bud.”  Then he felt the hand of the man next to him on his lower back.  They'd been talking, sort of, for a while.  “Bet you're not a ladies man, are you, Steve?”

Steve couldn't believe his luck.  He'd come in for a laugh, to see how the other half lived.  He didn't expect to find someone this gorgeous in some Phoenix mid-town joint.  This night could turn out to be much more interesting than he'd thought.

Steve moved closer to Daniel until their lips were almost touching and whispered, “What is it you want?”

Unshaken by the man's proximity, Daniel answered truthfully, saying, “I want to forget.”

With sadness in his heart, Daniel picked up his glass and took another a drink.  His eyes were dull with unhappiness and loneliness that Steve didn't see or care about.  He watched Larry pick up a new bottle and turn around.  He also saw the leer of lust in Mike's eye.  There was no way of mistaking it.  Mike was definitely interested, but Daniel wanted no part of the crude Italian.  Daniel wasn't ignoring Steve, however, something that made the handsome man very happy.

Larry and Mike went back to their seats, laughing and joking as they sat, though Mike continued to covertly watch Daniel.

“Hey, Jack!  Looks like you had a near escape with your buddy there,” Mike taunted.

Jack looked up, pushed Katrina off his lap, and reached for his drink.  He was frustrated, tired, drunk, and angry.  The game had lost its appeal long ago, but the military man was blinded by jealousy, image, and not wanting to be the first to give in.

“What are you talking about?” Jack asked sharply.

“Danny *Boy*!,” Mike answered tauntingly.  “Seems he's not too fond of the ladies after all.  He's up there giving a tonsillectomy to a guy at the bar.”

“What?”  Jack was enraged and shook the arm off that was holding onto him.  “I'll kill him,” he shouted, storming over to the bar.

As he got nearer, Jack observed that the man had his arm around Daniel's waist, and his other hand was playing with his hair.  Before they even noticed he was there, Jack's Mr. Jealousy acted with quick and point-blank action.  His fist caught the man on the jaw, and just that fast, it was over.  Steve went down with a cry of pain.

“Stay down, or I swear I'll kill you, or maybe worse, I'll make you wish you were dead!” Jack threatened as if he were addressing Apophis and the safety of Earth was at stake.

“What do you think you're doing?” Daniel asked, fuming at Jack as he went to help the man up.

The shock of Jack's actions had managed to shake him out of his drunken haze.

“Get away from him, Daniel.  You are so pushing me tonight.  What the heck is wrong with you?” Jack accused.

Daniel rose and agitatedly replied, “Me?  You self-righteous, egotistical, macho ...”  Daniel was beside himself, his anger at Jack at an all time high.  “Gawd, you make me so angry.  You are so full of yourself.  Who do you think you are, some self-proclaimed Adonis?  Flash a smile, and I come running?  Give an order, and expect me to follow?  You don't own me.  Get a clue, Jack, and when you find it, it won't be with me.”

Daniel was about to say more, but looking into Jack's eyes he saw that they were icy cold.  He knew what his lover was capable of and didn't want Steve to get any more hurt than he already was, not because of him.  Daniel stopped himself from speaking again.

“You're coming back to the hotel with me, now!” Jack ordered.  “Don't even try my patience, Daniel, because I won't be responsible for my actions if you argue with me.”

Daniel was going to point out that if Jack wanted to try getting heavy handed with him, then he was quite capable of defending himself, but he decided that he didn't want to create an even bigger scene than had already happened.

“Fine!  I'll go back to the hotel, but I'm not going with you.  I don't want to be anywhere near you, Jack, not tonight, maybe not ever.  Stay here with your friends, and do what you like.  I don't care anymore.  Gawd, Jack, I really don't care,” Daniel said, his energy about zapped.

“Daniel!” Jack called out as Daniel brushed by him.

The younger man turned around and gave Jack a cold look as he threatened, “I mean it, Jack.  You follow me, and you won't see me for the dust.  Now get the heck away from me.  You've got your wish, I'm leaving.”

With that, Daniel turned and walked out the door.

As Jack began to hurry after his angered lover, Larry came up and started tugging him back to his seat.

“Let him go, Jack.  I don't know what the game is, but the Doc's a bore.  The night's still young.  Katrina's waiting.  Come on.  Come on, Bud,” Larry said, tugging on Jack's elbow.

“Yeah, why not?”  ~There's nothing left for me anyway,~ Jack thought as he reluctantly went and sat down.  He took another drink, hoping it would block out the aching in his heart.  ~Like that would ever be possible.  Danny ...~

====

Opening the door to their hotel room as quickly as he could, but stumbling because of his drunkenness, Daniel finally ran inside, moving quickly to the bathroom, where he sank down in front of the toilet and threw up.

The archaeologist emptied his stomach until it hurt, and then crawled over to the bed.  Barely able to pull himself onto it, he curled up on the bedspread, pulled a pillow close, and began to cry.

~Over.  All over,~ Daniel sobbed in his mind.

Daniel pulled the pillow close and then rolled over onto his back.  As the tears rolled down his cheeks, loneliness consumed him.  He had trusted Jack, relied on him.  He'd let Jack convince him that there was a life out there, a forever even for someone like him.

Daniel had believed, or at least, he wanted to, but now, it had proven to be just another sham.  Like his parents, his grandfather, his reputation, his Sha're -- Jack was gone, and the dream of what might have been with the military man was nothing but wind.

~There's nothing.  I ... I have nothing.~

In a moment of desperation, Daniel pulled the pillow over his face and held it there tightly until he couldn't breathe any longer.

====

At 8 a.m. the next morning, Jack sheepishly entered the hotel room, prepared to beg for Daniel's forgiveness yet again.  His heart stopped when he saw Daniel packing.

“Danny?”

Without looking up, a very subdued Daniel stated, “It's okay, Jack.  We don't need to make a scene or argue.  We did enough of that last night.  In fact, I think we pretty much said it all.  You need to spend time with your friends, and I need to get out of here before I forget who I am.”

Jack rushed forward, grabbing the shirt in Daniel's hand, and urgently tossing it back into the drawer.

“No,” Jack refuted loudly as his heartbeat thundered inside of him.  “Last night was a mistake, Danny.  I want to spend time with you.”

Daniel smiled a melancholy smile as he shook his head.  He turned towards the dresser as he let out a sound that was a bit of a sniffle, but was hidden behind the sound of blowing his nose.

Strongly, the younger man replied, “Well, that's too bad, because I don't particularly want to spend time with you.  To be honest, I don't even want to spend time with myself.”

Daniel grabbed the shirt back out of the drawer and rammed it into his bag, letting his actions reveal his anger while keeping his words restrained.

Becoming a tad desperate, Jack toughened his stance, taking on his colonel persona as he ordered, “You're not leaving, Danny, so you might as well put your stuff back.”

“I think I'm old enough to make my own decisions, and I've decided that I want to go home,” Daniel intoned.  “Last night you ordered me to leave, and now you're ordering me to stay.  Can't you leave the colonel back at the base, just for once?”

“Daniel ...”

“You can't order me around, Jack.  I'm not a possession.  Besides, I'm not really much of anything, anyway.  I'm just a ... a geek who sneezes a lot and studies rocks.”

Jack became concerned with Daniel's tone and its lack of emotion.  He walked towards his lover and turned him so that they were facing each other.  Jack had known he had some groveling to do, but he hadn't really expected things to be this dire.  With his hands on his lover's shoulders, he asked, “Danny, what happened?”

“Nothing important; nothing at all,” Daniel replied as he stood back and continued his packing.  “Just ... go away.  Like I said, we don't need to make things worse.  We said everything we needed to last night.”

“Last night was ... Daniel, you were letting that guy touch you,.  You were way out of line,” Jack accused as his jealousy resurfaced.  “I should have broken his neck while I had the chance.”

Daniel's anger was beginning to stir as he responded, “Oh, that's just great.  You mean it's okay that you were doing exactly the same thing, because it was with a woman, but because I was doing it with another guy, that's much worse?”

“No, I ... I ...”  Jack groaned.  “That's not what I meant, Daniel.”

“You're not ready for a long-term, committed relationship, Jack.  Last night proved that to me ... or ... maybe it's just me you don't really want,” Daniel confessed.

“Daniel, that's garbage.  You know how I feel about you,” Jack countered.

“Yeah, you love me, when it's convenient, when your friends aren't around,” Daniel repudiated.  “Well, I'm not going to settle for anything less than what I've always wanted.  Then again, maybe that's why I've always been alone, but I won't settle, Jack.  Even when I doubt it myself, I have to have some feeling of permanence, but you don't want that, or you couldn't have done what you did.”

“It didn't mean anything,” Jack protested.

“Gawd, Jack, you just don't get it.  If you don't want that, a relationship with respect and caring that means more than ... than ... drinking buddies or a buddy ...”

Daniel looked down, unable to finish his thoughts.  He hadn't wanted to get angry or upset.  Before they were lovers, the two men had been best friends, and while he wasn't sure that was still possible, he at least wanted them to be friends.

“Danny, I love you,” Jack claimed, his left hand moving to clutch his heart.  “Not one minute has been less than perfection, and you know it.”

“Heaven knows I love you more than life itself, Jack, but I won't be played for a fool, and I won't have your indiscretions shoved in my face.  I'd rather be alone.”  Daniel looked down, saying, “It's not hard, really.  I've had lots of practice at it.”

Daniel knew he was lying to himself, but he had always known he wasn't good enough for Jack, that his handsome and sexy lover would eventually want out.  It had always been too good to be true, so it was time to let go, before they hurt each other even more.

Frustrated, Jack snapped, “Will you stop playing the victim!  Geez, Daniel, you sound so whiny.  Poor me.  He left me for a few hours to have some fun with friends, and that's enough to end a relationship?  Just who isn't ready for commitment, Daniel?”

His face reddening with rage, Daniel turned and walked three steps towards the older man, loudly responding, “How dare you?  Whiny?  I'm just facing facts.  You don't want me, Jack, not the way you think.  If you really loved me like you say, you couldn't make out with some girl in front of me.”

“IT WAS NOTHING!  HARMLESS!  Why can't you see that?” Jack shouted.

“And why can't you see that when you're committed to someone, it means you give them everything you are?  I want you, Jack, all of you, not just pieces; but you have to want me, too.  You have to want the good with the bad.  And ... and more importantly, you have to want me first, just like I want you.”

Daniel felt so helpless.  For a linguist, he so often couldn't find the words he needed or wanted to express himself properly, and this was one of those times.

“I just want to go home, Jack, and move on with my life.  It shouldn't be difficult.  After all, we're not ... married.”

Jack let out a disgusted snort as he harshly replied, “Danny, stop throwing that in my face.  You know I didn't mean it the way it sounded.”

“That's just the thing -- you never mean anything, Jack, do you?”  Daniel suddenly calmed, his next words soft and resigned to what had to be.  “It doesn't matter.  You've made your choice, and it's not my fault that you just don't want to admit it.  Let me make this clear for you, though.  It's over, Jack.  I'm leaving,” Daniel said, placing his socks and underwear in his suitcase.

“Daniel, we need to talk about this.  I want you, in every way.  I'm sorry.  I'm so, so, sorry,” Jack spoke apologetically, seeing his life slipping away from him and feeling desperate to stop it from happening.  It was just beginning to dawn on him that he really might lose Daniel.  ~I can't let that happen.~

“Sorry doesn't cut it this time,” Daniel said as he lashed back at his lover.  “You always think that you can say you're sorry, and everything will be fine.  You think I'm a saint who can forgive and forget all the time.  Guess what, Jack?  I'm not a saint, and I don't have some endless well of forgiveness like you keep saying I do.  No, Jack, this time I can't do it.”  Daniel's eyes bore into Jack's, blue and brown gazing at each other in want and desire and yet confused and mired by mistrust and divisions of loyalty.  “Who do you think I am, anyway? I'm not perfection, Jack; I'm ... I'm just a man, and I ... I hurt ... and this time ... gawd, this time, I almost did things I can't forgive myself for doing because I was so hurt and angry at you.”

Daniel packed some more clothes into his suitcase and then looked back up at Jack, saying, “I can't do it again.  I'm not strong enough to sit by and watch you be one of the boys.  It tore me apart, Jack, and what hurts still, is that you don't get it.  I love you, but you made a choice.  You chose them.  I'm leaving while I still have some dignity left.”

“You're not running out on me, dang it!” Jack said in a raised voice.  Calmer but forcefully, he added, “We need to talk about this.  You're not leaving this room until we have.”

“I don't need your permission, and we have talked about it, talked about it until I don't have anything else to say.  As you said, we're not married,” Daniel reminded, throwing Jack's words back at him again.

“I'm sorry,” Jack sighed, genuinely regretting his prior comment.  “I shouldn't have said that.  It was a horrible thing to say, Danny.  How many times do I have to apologize for that?”

“Yes, it was a horrible thing to say, and you don't have to apologize for saying what you feel in your heart.”  Daniel sighed, “This is getting us nowhere, Jack.  Don't you see?  We're too different.  It's not even what happened last night, not really.  Things like this just remind me how far apart we are.  I know you love me, and God knows I love you, but it isn't enough.  I'm giving you an out, Jack.  You'll thank me for it in the end.  Please ... please just let me go.”

~Not a chance.~  Desperate to delay his lover's departure, Jack suggested, “Let's talk about last night.”

“I don't want to,” Daniel said dryly as he continued to pack, only he was moving in slow motion, his packing taking ten times as long as it should have.

“Tough.  I do,” Jack stated definitively.

“And that means what?  That you're some god, and we have to do what you say?  Move over, Apophis, Jack O'Neill's in town.”  Incredulously, Daniel remarked, “Geez, Jack, I'm surprised you can even move this early in the morning.”

“I didn't say it was easy, and what about you?  Did you come back here last night?” Jack asked, accusation in his tone and entire demeanor.

Daniel shook his head, answering, “I left the bar, like I said.”

“Did you come back here?” Jack inquired pointedly.  Jack saw Daniel's hesitation, and his Mr. Jealousy took over, leaping to conclusions.  He hadn't seen Daniel get into a taxi, but as he thought back, he recalled seeing both the brunette and Steve exit right after Daniel had.  His veins bulged as Jack yelled next, “Did you sleep with her, or geez, with him?”

Daniel's blue eyes darkened with anger as he answered, “How dare you ask me that!  What about you, Jack?  You and that ... that ... that ...”  He couldn't finish.  He was tired, angry, emotionally drained, and hung over.  He was also just plain miserable.  ~I want to go home.~

“I asked you first,” Jack retorted lamely.

Daniel sneered, “We're not children, Jack.  This isn't some dumb game.”

“Then don't act like a child,” Jack responded, waving his left hand in front of him.

“I'M NOT!” the younger man shouted.  “You're the one who was all over that girl and letting her be all over you.”

“I was with the guys,” Jack gingerly said in his defense.

Yelling, Daniel asked, “SO?  WHAT THE CRAP DOES THAT MEAN?”

“It means it was nothing.  It's what guys do!” the older man responded gruffly.

“We're guys, Jack, and in case you haven't noticed, we've never done that before,” Daniel reminded as he tossed his last shirt in his suitcase.

Jack's anger peaked as he grabbed the suitcase and pushed it off the bed.  Daniel laughed, but it wasn't light or fun-sounding; it was dark and full of disbelief at just how low they were at the moment.

“That's real adult of you, Jack,” Daniel admonished.

“And you were an adult last night, Daniel?  What morals were you practicing when you slept with that hooker ... or the gigolo?”

“Both!  In fact, we did a ménage a trois!” Daniel announced flippantly.  “Is that what you want to hear, Jack?” he yelled before throwing the pants he was holding against the wall and then slumping down onto the bed in weary defeat.  “I didn't sleep with her, or him, or anyone, okay?”

“Oh, no?  It sure looked like you were planning to,” Jack spoke, his jealousy still in control.

The jealousy was inflamed by his own guilt that he hadn't yet admitted to.  Jack didn't want to see what Daniel had been trying to tell him from the beginning, nor did he want to admit that his old world wasn't the smartest one in the world.  In the end, as Jack let his accusations fly, he failed to see that Daniel was at the end of his rope.

Daniel stood up again, walked to the window, and stared out aimlessly, his arms folded and his breathing labored as he struggled with their discussion.

“Come on, Danny; be honest.  You slept with one of them, didn't you?”

“No, Jack, I didn't.  We walked out, and I realized what I was doing.  Steve went on his way, and I gave the girl some money and told her to go home.  I got in a cab and threw up all over the back seat, and then I came back here and threw up some more.”

“Danny ...”

“Don't, Jack, just don't.  I know you had sex with that girl.  I knew this day would come.  It's done, okay.  Let's just ... end it now.  I can't do this anymore.  Please, Jack.  Stop.  Gawd.”

With tears threatening, Daniel silently picked up the suitcase and its contents.  He dumped all the items inside and then closed it, intending to walk out.  Jack had other ideas as he blocked Daniel's path with his arms spread wide, moving them as Daniel tried to get around him.

“Please, Jack, I want to go home.  Don't make this harder than it is.  I have to go, Jack. I have to go now, while I ... while I can,” Daniel pleaded.

“No!  If I let you walk out of here, you'll leave me for good.  We'll be trapped in some ... nightmare that we won't know how to get out of,” Jack said emotionally.  “I know you, Danny; you don't do these things lightly.  I won't lose you; I'll do whatever it takes to get you to listen to me, even if I have to tie you to the chair.”

Jack put his hands on Daniel's shoulders, rubbing both gently, and with his best teasing smile said, “I love you, you geek.”

Daniel stared at Jack, knowing he was trying to be lighthearted, to bring back some normalcy into their conversation, but as much as he wanted to give in, he knew he couldn't.  Jack still didn't understand, and Daniel cried inside at what was happening to his soulmate.

“Do you?  You have a funny way of showing it, making out with bimbos, sleeping with them,” Daniel said as he struggled to hold back the tears, feeling a strange combination of righteous anger, indignation, and abandonment.

“Danny, I'm sorry. I tried to tell them.  You saw that,” Jack replied, his eyes begging for understanding.

“You took my hand,” Daniel reminded quietly.  “They laughed, and you left.  Tell me what I'm missing, Jack.  Besides, your actions last night speak louder than anything you could say now.”

“Oh for ... Daniel, I did not sleep with her.”

“Right.  Let me go, Jack,” Daniel demanded.

“I didn't,” Jack maintained.

“And where did you spend the night?” Daniel inquired curiously.

Jack coughed.  He felt like such a heel.  Everything he had done had been to protect his image, an image that, in reality, meant nothing.  And who was he projecting this meaningless image to?  To three old friends who in the end, really didn't mean that much, either.  How could he explain it, and how on Earth could he expect his lover to believe him?

The older man knew he had acted like an idiot and was genuinely sorry for his behavior, but he couldn't understand why Daniel was refusing to accept his apology.  Daniel always accepted his apologies.

“Danny, please don't make this more than it is,” Jack appealed.

“You cheated on me, Jack, and more than that, you made a choice, a choice to ignore me and leave me behind for your friends.”  Daniel walked up to Jack and kissed him, something that shocked the older man, considering the discussion they were having.  “I love you, but I won't let anyone treat me like that, especially not you.  I can be ignored in the Springs.  Actually, I can do that anywhere, but I won't ... I won't let you do it, and I won't cheapen myself with petty affairs, not mine, and not yours.”  Daniel backed away and spoke softly, “It's okay.  Really.  I'm ... used to it, and that's not playing the victim. It's just the reality of my life.”

“Danny, I made a mistake.  Why can't you just accept that and ...” the older man began, only to be cut off by his lover.

“Jack,” Daniel interrupted.  “I put a pillow to my face,” Daniel confessed.  “I pressed it against my face until the only sensation I had was numbness.  That wasn't your fault; it was mine.  I turned into someone I hated, and I didn't want to feel anymore.”

Stunned and full of concern, Jack drew Daniel into a hug.  It felt incredibly good to each of them, but yet, it was strained.

“Danny, please tell me you ...”

“No,” Daniel answered as he pulled back.  “I knew what I was doing.  Everything that happened last night sickened me, and I didn't want to think about it, and gawd, I didn't want to feel angry or jealous or hurt or ... or anything.  I wanted it to stop, and it did, for a little while.  Jack, we aren't forever.”

“Yes, we are,” Jack insisted, terror gripping his heart.  A knock at the door interrupted the conversation.  “They'll go away,” Jack stated, anxious to stop Daniel's departure and continue their discussion.

“No,” Daniel responded gently, pulling away and going to the door and opening it.  “Perfect,” he laughed humorlessly, walking away as Larry, Mike, and John entered the hotel room.

“Forgot your jacket, Bud,” Mike yelled out to Jack, holding out the garment in his right hand.

“His name is Jack,” Daniel stated, agitated by the continued use of the moniker.

“To you, maybe,” Larry said arrogantly, causing Daniel to shake his head as he looked towards his lover.

“Going somewhere, Bud?” John asked, seeing the suitcase.  “Thought you were staying for a couple of weeks.”

“He is,” Daniel responded.  “I'm leaving, so the four of you can go play with your dolls in whatever sandbox you want to.”

“Hey, Doc, we know how to make a sandbox, and the dolls we play with are *hot*,” Larry spoke with a grin.

“Larry, stop, and no, he's not going anywhere,” Jack said with determination.

“Give it up, Bud.  Let him go.  He's not like us, and you know it,” Larry replied.

~Not like us.~  Jack stared at the man, stunned.  ~Us.  Not ... like ... us.~

In that split-second of time, Jack finally got it.  The Clue Bus had smashed into him, head first.  Daniel wasn't like his old buddies, and that made all the difference in the world.

Jack realized he was treading a thin line, but now that he finally comprehended the fullness of his nightmare, he knew he'd win Daniel back.  After all, Daniel loved him.  The younger man had admitted to that over and over again during their fight, and he knew that he loved Daniel, more than life, and certainly more than a handful of Air Force jocks.  With both barrels armed, Jack let loose with his artillery, at long last able to see himself and them in a crystal clear light.

“Thank heaven he's not like us,” Jack began thankfully.  “Gawd, we aren't good enough to shine his shoes.”

As Daniel stared with his mouth open at his lover, Larry smirked, “You've been drinking too much, my friend.”

“No, Larry, I just woke up.  Geez, what was I thinking?  I almost threw my life away, and for what?” Jack sneered, more to himself than to anyone in the room.

“Listen, Bud, I'm not sure ...” Larry began, quickly cut off by Jack, who had a lot to say and this time was determined to say it.

“Jack.  My name is Jack.  His name,” pointing to his lover, “is Daniel, and ... he's my best friend.  He's also my lover, my partner, and my heart.  The concept may be foreign to you, but I love him, and when I say we aren't worthy of shining his shoes, I mean it.  He's saved this world of ours in more ways than you can imagine.”

Jack was just warming up.  He hated speeches, but right now, he was about to make an exception.  He walked up into Larry's personal space and stood nose to nose with him.

“A geek?  Yeah, he's a geek,” Jack admitted.  “Multiple PhDs, and I'm proud of every initial after his name.  He's saved my life, and that of my team, on more than one occasion, and I have news for you, Larry, news for all of you.” Jack looked at each of the trio, his eyes commanding their attention.  “If weren't for Daniel Jackson, you'd all be dead.”

“Of course, we would,” Mike sneered.

“I know you probably don't believe me,” Jack continued.  He looked at Mike and said, “Of course, if the proof were right in front of you, I'm not sure you'd have the intelligence to believe it.”  Turning back towards Larry and John, Jack added, “Wish I could tell you, but it *is* classified.  This man can go places and do things you can only dream of.  He's a scholar and an explorer.  More than that, he cares.  Geez, Larry, you know something crazy? If someone walked in here and pointed a gun at you, he'd jump in front of you and save your life, and he doesn't even like you.”

Jack suddenly choked a little as he looked at Daniel and gave a small smile, “He'd save a fly.  He has so much compassion for life, any life.  And yet, life hasn't been kind to him.  Not even ... me.”

Daniel blinked, and Jack flinched, turning back to Larry and the other two men.  He regained his composure and continued on with a vengeance.

“Geek?  Oh, yeah, he's a geek who can and has covered my six as well if not better than any of you ever did.  What's more, I think he could take all of you, if he wanted to,” Jack stated with certainty.

“I doubt that, Bud,” Mike sneered as he eyed Daniel closely.

“Shut up, Mike, or I'll let him show you.  I trained him.  Don't let the long hair fool you.  He's more of a man than all of us put together.  He's more than all of us in most every way,” Jack spoke softly.  “Did I say I'm proud of him?  I don't tell him enough.”  Jack faced Daniel, unafraid to let him see his misty eyes.  His voice cracked as he spoke, “Danny, I'm more proud of you than I can ever say.  Proud, very, very proud.”

Taking a deep breath as he faced the trio of men again, Jack continued, “And, for the record, nothing happened with Katrina last night.  I put on a show for you guys, because for some stupid, moronic reason, I thought I had to.  I let her paw me, and I, oh, for crying out loud, I did it back, all for some pointless, ridiculous notion that I had an image that had to be maintained. Stupid, stupid, stupid!” he admitted as he glanced over at Daniel.

“I realize now that I'm the moron,” Jack continued.  “But now it's time to tell the truth.  “I hated every second of it, but I went to her room and stayed there, on her sofa, all night.  I paid her big bucks to lie to you if asked.  I'm such a stupid, stupid jerk.  You guys don't know what I almost lost, what I may still lose.  Daniel ...”  Jack paused, silently praying that his actions in recent days didn't mean the end.  He sighed and smiled as he added, “Daniel is the best thing that ever happened to me, and like I said, I'm in love with him.”

Jack walked over to Daniel, placed his right hand on his cheek and caressed it.

“Jack ...”

“Shhh,” Jack soothed.  “Danny, I am *so* sorry.  I get it now, and I choose you.  Do you hear me?  I choose you.  Forever.”  Jack leaned in close to Daniel's mouth and repeated, “*You!*”.  Jack kissed his Love.  It was a sound, full kiss that soon ended up with their arms wrapped lovingly around the other.  There was nothing tentative about it.  There was no hesitation about kissing in front of the Air Force men.  Certainly, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' wasn't even a consideration for the lovers.  After another softer, more tender kiss, Jack stated, “I love you, Danny, so friggin' much.”

For the first time since the trio entered their lives, Daniel felt important again.  Jack's eyes spoke even louder than his words.  Daniel saw the commitment as well as the desire and the love.  Now, he couldn't stay angry. He had never wanted to lose Jack; he had only wanted Jack to be honest with himself, and now he was.
 
“I love you, too, Jack,” Daniel said softly, his own eyes misty, too.

After a few more moments of eye-gazing, Jack turned back towards the trio and said, “And now, if you don't mind, and even if you do, Danny and I came to Phoenix to spend some quality time together, just the two of us, and that's what we're going to do, so ...” Jack moved towards the door, opening it as he spoke.  “It's been fun, swell even, but the party's over.  Have a good life.  Don't let the door hit you on the way out.”

“You can't be serious, Bud,” Larry commented in complete disbelief.

“Jack, and, oh, yes, I am,” Jack stated more surely than ever before.

The trio looked at each other, shrugged, and walked out the door, but as Jack was closing it, Larry turned back, putting his hand up to block the door from closing.

“I don't buy it, Jack,” Larry informed Jack.  “You and a geek?  Best friends or lovers, I don't buy it, but if you need to protect him, you go right ahead.  Call us the next time you're around without him.  Maybe you can tell us the real story then,” Larry said.

Jack shook his head as he responded, “Oh, no, Larry, you see Danny and I are forever.  Where he goes, I go, and vice versa.  I'm not protecting him; not sure why you think I am.  Well, actually, I do protect him, as much as I can, and I'll go on doing it because he's my life, and I really don't give a rat's behind whether you believe me or not.  Bye, Larry.”

Larry was about to speak, but Jack closed the door, pushing the man into the hallway.  When it was shut, Jack bolted it and hurried over to Daniel.

“Danny, I meant what I said.  I'm an idiot, a royal jerk, a complete and utter fool.  Geez, how can you love me when I'm such a blockhead?”

“Well ...” Daniel moved within an inch of Jack's lips, “it's the sex, Jack.  I love the sex,” and with that, Daniel's tongue worked its way into Jack's mouth, eager to stake its claim once again.

Minutes later, both were out of breath from a rapid round of kissing and fondling.

“I'm so sorry, Danny,” Jack repeated, his regret over his actions mounting within him.

“Jack, I don't want to spend the next week listening to apologies.  You figured it out, and that's what's important.  I admit it took you freakin' forever to figure it out.”  Daniel chuckled lightly.  “But you did, and ... I love you.  Let's finally have that romantic getaway we've been talking about, okay?”

Jack looked with amazement at his lover and said, “I thought you said you couldn't forgive and forget so easily?”

“I lied,” Daniel whispered, kissing Jack again, his hands fingering through Jack's hair as Jack's arms held him securely in place.  “Jack, I didn't like who we were last night.  I hated us.  I hated us both.  I don't want to do that again, but I think ... I think maybe it had to happen, that at some point you had to decide.”

“Easiest decision of my life,” Jack replied calmly.

“Not so easy, Jack,” Daniel refuted, shaking his head slightly.

“Yes, it was, but you know feelings and me.  I'm a bit slow on the uptake sometimes.  Danny, you said early on that it wasn't about love.  Geez, you know that.”

“I do, Love, I do, and that's what made it so hard.  It was never about us loving each other.  It ... was about living the lives we wanted and needed to,” Daniel clarified.

“It was a different world, Danny.  I loved that world, but, crap, it seems so shallow now; it's just that was my life for a very long time,” Jack explained.  “Military bravado, the tough guy image, being a ...”

“Stud?” Daniel teased, to which Jack shrugged lightheartedly.  “I know,” Daniel acknowledged, holding his lover to him.  Daniel's palm gently held the back of Jack's head to him, causing the older man to let out a long, sad sigh. ~This hasn't been easy for him.~

“They were my friends as much as friends could be in that world,” Jack remarked as he leaned his head against Daniel's shoulder.  “But it was a crazy existence.  I never cheated on Sara, and I would never cheat on you.  I never thought what I was doing was cheating.  Gawd, Daniel ...”

“Friends,” Daniel sighed.  “With friends like that Jack ...”

Jack pulled back and looked at Daniel, explaining, “I didn't realize what I was doing.  I never meant to mislead anyone.  Danny, I loved Sara, and Heaven knows, I love you in ways I never knew I could love.  I'm sorry, Danny.  Out there, all you have are your buddies.  You have to rely on them, and everyone makes assumptions.  Crap ...”

Jack turned around, facing himself and his actions for the first time in his life.

Daniel followed him, and put his arms around his lover's waist, leaning his head against his back.

“That's what your life used to be,” Daniel replied.  “All I ask is that you live in the present, not in the past.”

“I don't deserve you,” Jack sighed, though a smile was on his face.

“Or my boots,” Daniel laughed, prompting Jack to turn around and scoop his lover into him.

“Thank you, Danny, for that endless well of love and forgiveness.  It does exist,” Jack said, smiling again.  “You sure you don't want me to grovel some more, maybe buy you the Taj Mahal or something?”

“Jack, I want you, not gifts.  I don't need things.  I don't need words that talk about the mistakes we both make.  I don't need you feeling like I'm judging you, or making you ... well ...”

“Grovel?”

Daniel laughed, “Yeah, grovel, but what I do need, Love, is you, loving me, holding me; okay, even protecting me.  Jack, I just need your heart.  It's all I've ever wanted.”

“Me, you've got, though I'm not sure why you want me,” Jack stated, feeling the weight and emotional toll of the past twenty-four hours.

“I want you, Jack, because you're beautiful, and you have the kindest heart, and I adore you; but ... you have to listen to me.  We came here to have fun, to be with each other.  Please, let's leave that world behind.  It's not ours, and I want us to live in our world,” Daniel pleaded, his eyes searching Jack's for agreement.

After a moment, Jack smiled and replied, “Okay, Love!  What first?”

“We pack,” Daniel announced.

“Pack?  But, Danny, I thought ...”

Daniel cut off his lover's words with a wet, lingering kiss, and then explained, “The Grand Canyon, Jack.  You promised me we'd go, and I want to go now.”

“You're so demanding, Doctor Jackson,” Jack teased.

“And you love it, too!”

“No, but I do love you,” Jack stated with conviction.  “Danny, how about first we ...”

Daniel grinned, and the couple enjoyed a bit of 'you know' before heading for the Grand Canyon where they would spend a few days enjoying Nature's wonder and their love.  After that, they returned to Phoenix for a couple of days of total pampering in their suite, making love, eating breakfast and lunch in bed, romantic dinners by candlelight, bubble baths, and lots of laughter.  It was everything they had dreamed of when they first arrived in Phoenix.

====

Jack and Daniel's final night in Phoenix was a beautiful starlit night.  The lovers decided to go for a leisurely stroll and enjoy the calmness of the evening.  They were so wrapped up in each other that time slipped away, and before they knew it, it was after nine o'clock.

They were snuggling on a park bench when Jack casually glanced at his watch and exclaimed, “Oh crap!  Danny, we forgot to pick up the film.”

“We can get it later,” Daniel crooned against Jack's shoulder, totally content and lost in the love of the night.

“Danny, we're leaving at 0800.  If we don't get it tonight ... crap,” the older man bellowed.  He leaped up off the bench, giving Daniel a quick kiss as he moved.  “Stay here, Love.  I'll see if I can find a taxi and be back here ASAP.”

“I'll come with you, Jack,” Daniel offered.

“Nah, you're too comfy here in the moonlight,” Jack replied.

“I love you so much, Jack,” Daniel said and then enjoyed another warm kiss with his soulmate.

“Be back soon, fifteen, twenty minutes tops,” Jack promised.  “Don't go anywhere.”

“Hurry back,” Daniel requested as their hands still touched.

Jack ran towards the edge of the park, leaving a contented, blissful Daniel behind.  The young man was lost in the magic of the last week.  After the mess with the trio, everything had been exactly as he had hoped it would be. He and Jack had spent every moment together, and it was all good.

“We fit,” Daniel sighed, an unconscious smile on his face as he thought about Jack.

Daniel replayed their lovemaking of the last two days.  They had experimented and tried some new things, each finding more erotic things to do with each other.  He smiled and even laughed from the pleasure and euphoria of the memories.

~I'm glad we never studied, that we decided to learn on our own.  Gawd, as tempting as it's been sometimes to buy a book, it would make it ... make it seem like school or something.  No, I'm glad we've done it this way.~

Neither Jack nor Daniel had ever read a single book on sex or same-sex techniques.  They learned it all together, experimenting and eliciting joy from each other, and that's how they liked it.

Daniel stood and walked around the area for a few minutes.  There was no one else nearby, so it was just he and the plant life.  He admired the flowers, and was feeling very serene.  Eventually, he sat down on the grass, not far from the bench where he and Jack had sat.  Slowly, he leaned back until he was flat on the lawn; his eyes were closed.  He smiled remembering Jack's touches and anticipating what would soon happen when his lover returned.

“Maybe we are forever,” Daniel said softly, hope in his voice that just maybe he had finally found something, someone he wouldn't lose, a love that would go on and on with time.

“Not forever, Danny *Boy*, but a half-hour ought to do it,” a coarse, gruff voice said.

Daniel's eyes shot wide open, but before he could move, Mike had his hand over Daniel's mouth, and he was straddling the younger man.

“Bud sure has it bad for you, and no one was straighter than Bud.  I just gotta know what a geek like you can do to someone like Bud to turn him.  Of course, I certainly can't miss your attributes,” Mike said as his hand roamed Daniel's body.  Daniel struggled to break free, but Mike's hold was strong.  He remembered Jack's warning about Daniel's abilities, so he wasn't letting up.  “Don't fight me, Doc.  You'll lose, big time.”

Daniel refused to lay still, and Mike hadn't planned on him fighting so hard.  Mike still had one hand trying to prevent Daniel from yelling, and the other hand was trying to keep Daniel's torso from moving.

~Okay, play along.  He'll relax, and that's when I'll make my move,~ Daniel thought as he stopped squirming.

“Better.  You'll like it, Doc.  That Steve fellow couldn't offer you squat, and Bud?  Heck, he never could match anything I had.  He just got lucky, finding you.  But me, Doc?  I've been around, and I know how to play.”  With an evil and almost psychotic leer, he said, “And Doc, you and me are gonna play.”

Convinced Daniel wasn't resisting any longer and that Daniel wanted him, Mike eased up.

~That's it, you crazy cretin!~ the younger man thought as he made his move, shoving the Italian off of him and quickly standing.

Daniel started to run, but Mike chased him down, pushing Daniel onto the grass, belly first.  Daniel was fast, but Mike had been a track and field athlete growing up.  Unfortunately, he could run faster than the slender archaeologist could.

“Fine.  Play it that way,” Mike laughed evilly as he tied Daniel's hands behind his back with a plastic tie.  “Always come prepared, Doc.  I didn't think you'd fight so much.  Must be what Jack likes about you.  I'll bet you're squirrelly.”

Daniel had a hard time breathing.  Things had been so perfect.  Why did stuff like this always have to happen to spoil it?

Mike turned the archaeologist over and unbuttoned Daniel's shirt.

“Leave me alone.  He'll kill you,” Daniel warned.

“Bud?  He won't believe you.  You may make him feel good, but you don't have the history, and with war buddies, history is everything.  That little scene in the hotel room was nothing,” Mike stated confidently.

“He'll kill you,” Daniel threatened seriously.  “You don't understand.”

“Nah, he won't, and even if he wanted to, he'd have to find me first, and one thing I'm very good at is hiding.  Of course, he'd have to know it was me.”  Leaning forward, right up against Daniel's face, Mike said,  “I'll kill him, Danny Boy.  Don't think I won't.”  Moving back up, he continued, “I'm not like Bud.  He's grown soft, but I haven't changed, not one bit.  You open your mouth to do anything but make me feel good, and I'll kill him, slowly, painfully; in fact, I'll dissect him like a frog, and you'll never find the body.”

Daniel started to protest, but then he realized that the man about to accost him was truly crazy.  His eyes were dark and unfocused, and his laugh was haunting.

“Gawd, you're out of your mind,” Daniel observed.

“The only thing I'm out of is a good time, and you're about to provide it, aren't you, Danny Boy?” Mike asked as his hands pressed against Daniel's chest, moving up and down, causing Daniel to cringe at the creepy feeling.

Mike unbuttoned Daniel's pants and unzipped them.  He saw Daniel close his eyes and grinned.

~Gawd, I can't move.  How can I fight him?~ Daniel thought as panic began to boil within him.

“So let's see what you have to offer ... Danny ... Boy,” Mike said as his hand was about to grab hold of Daniel's length.

Daniel's eyes widened, but he said nothing.  His heart beat fast as he prepared to quickly move out of the way.

Mike never saw the fist that landed in his face.  The next thing he knew, he was flat on the ground, Jack's fists pounding unmercifully on him.

Daniel watched, part of him willing to let Jack go on for a moment, but then he knew it was too much.  Jack was going to kill Mike, and that would ruin their forever.

“Jack!  JACK!  Jack, don't!” Daniel shouted several times as he sat up with great difficulty.

Still, Jack continued.  This wasn't Mr. Jealousy in control; this was Jack O'Neill, following through on promise after promise that he would protect his lover, that he would kill anyone who tried to hurt the younger man.  Blow after blow, Jack hit the downed man.  He grunted with each punch, his focus one-hundred percent on the evil he was eliminating from Earth.

“Gawd, Jack!  JACK, STOP.  PLEASE.  JACK!” Daniel shouted, desperate for his lover to hear him.

Jack continued the beating.  He never spoke a word until Daniel's urgent pleas finally reached some part of him.

“JACK, STOP!  DON'T LET HIM WIN!  STOP, JACK!  GAWD, PLEEEEASE, JACK!”

Finally, Jack heard Daniel's voice.  His arms slowly fell to his side, but by then, Mike's face was bloody, and he was barely conscious.  Breathing hard, Jack backed off and went over to his lover.

“Danny, are you okay?” Jack asked as their eyes locked.

“I am now,” Daniel replied, loving the feel of Jack's now-bruised hands on his face.

With a sigh, Jack freed Daniel's hands and remarked, “Crap, you're so cold.”

Again, they gazed into each other's eyes before Jack helped his lover up, buttoning his shirt and ...

“I can do it, Jack,” Daniel chided about his pants.

Mike let out a painful cry as he began to stand up.  Again, he never felt the strong hold that took him from behind.  Jack had his arm around Mike's neck, holding one hand behind Mike's back.

“Jack,” Daniel said softly, knowing it wouldn't take much for Jack to finish the job he had started.

“Do you know why you're not dead, Mike?” Jack challenged as he focused solely on his enemy.

“You're weak, Bud,” Mike laughed in response.

“Thank the heavens for that.  But you listen to me, and you had better hear me.  You see, Daniel's good graces only work once.  He's standing there, and that is the only reason you aren't dead.  I won't give him that memory of me turning you into a corpse.”

“Yeah, little Danny can't handle reality,” Mike spat.

Jack tightened his grip, causing Mike to squirm.  Mike tried unsuccessfully to raise his hands to Jack's forearm that held him captive, but he failed.

“I'll make an exception, Mike.  I'll break your neck right here and now.  Come on, Mike, make me do it,” Jack said, again tightening his hold and causing Mike to groan from the pain.

“Then do it,” Mike dared.

Jack's arms pressed against Mike's throat.  The man gasped, struggling for air.

For Jack, nothing else existed in that moment except the compunction to wipe this man off the face of the planet.  He deserved to die.  He was going to die.

~No one, no one,~ Jack thought to himself, ~hurts Daniel and gets away with it, especially when their existence means a continual threat to My Danny.~  As he continued to press against Mike's throat, Jack beckoned, “Just a little more.  One more minute.  You lousy, no good, sicko ...”

“Jack, please don't,” Daniel pleaded.

“See, he likes me,” Mike somehow gasped as his hands tried to fight Jack off.

“You're sick,” Daniel accused the Italian.  “He'll kill you.  You moron, he'll kill you.”

“Try me,” Jack responded, wanting to make Mike suffer so easing up for a moment to let the scene play out.

“You don't have the guts.  You're weak.  All he did was whine and moan about your precious Doc.  Image ... isn't that what you said, Bud?” Mike asked, his voice strained from Jack's grip.

“Let me kill him, Danny,” Jack begged.  “Just one more pull, and SNAP!”

“Jack, I need you.  Please don't do this.  You don't need to do this.  Look at me, Jack!”

Jack was staring at Mike's neck, seemingly unaware of anything else.

“He deserves to die,” Jack refuted, ready and willing to finish the job.

“Jack, please!  Look at me!”  Daniel's voice was distressed.  “Jack, we're forever.  How can we have forever if you're in jail?”

The worry in Daniel's voice finally got through to Jack.  He looked up and saw the fear in Daniel's eyes, fear that he was putting there, adding to the terror that Mike had started.  Daniel relaxed as he saw the change in Jack's posture.  He'd gotten through to his lover.  Everything would be all right now.

“I need you, Jack.  Please,” Daniel repeated for emphasis.

Nodding, reinforcing his silent decision, Jack took a breath before he stated, “You're a disgrace, Mike.  I don't care what you think, but listen to me.  You're gonna live ... tonight ... but I swear on everything holy, that if you ever ... EVER ... touch Daniel again ... if you ever look at him again, I will tear your heart out.  You hear me, Mike?  That man is my reason for living.  He's my conscience.  You hurt that in *any* way, and they'll never find you.  You'll be my personal Jimmy Hoffa.  I'll grind you up and mix you with cement,” Jack promised menacingly.

“You talk big, Jack,” Mike challenged.

Jack sarcastically replied, “You learned my name.  Very good; now remember what I said.  It wasn't big talk, Mike.  It was the truth; I speak the truth.”

Mike let out an arrogant laugh that disturbed Jack, but he glanced at his lover, and as much as he wanted to make Mike disappear, the fear in Daniel's eyes couldn't be denied.  Finally, he tossed Mike out of his reach and quickly closed the gap between he and Daniel, taking the young man in his arms.

Mike laughed at the embrace.

Hearing the evil laughter, Jack stared at his former buddy and promised, “I'll kill you, Mike.”

“Sure you will, Bud; sure, you will.”

“Jack, let's go,” Daniel urged, keeping hold of Jack's arm as he started to move.

With one more death stare at Mike, Jack repeated, “I ... will ... kill you.”

As Mike cackled hysterically, Jack and Daniel returned to their hotel, Jack staying very close to his young lover.

====

“Larry, we need to talk,” Jack said, phoning the man's room while Daniel was taking a shower.

Larry snapped, “Thought you were spending time with your precious Doc.”

“I am, but you need to know something,” Jack advised, keeping his eye on the bathroom.

“Okay, if you say so,” Larry relented, curious why Jack would want to meet with him, considering their last conversation.  “Meet me in the restaurant in five minutes.”

Jack hung up the phone just as Daniel walked out of the bathroom, wearing one of the hotel's robes.

“Feel better?” Jack asked as he embraced his Love.

“Jack, I'm fine.  He didn't hurt me.  I swear,” Daniel promised.

Jack kissed Daniel tenderly, and then held him, “I'm so sorry, Danny.  I didn't know Mike could do that.  He's a lot of things, but I didn't know he ... I didn't know.”

Daniel looked into Jack's eyes and said, “It's okay.  You saved me ... again.”

“I caused it, too.  Me and my buddies,” Jack droned with a regretful sigh, mentally kicking himself for having ignored Daniel's earlier warnings about Mike.

“He's sick, Jack,” Daniel noted flatly.

“Listen, I need to go downstairs for a few minutes,” Jack told his lover.

“Jack?” Daniel said, fear building within him about what Jack might do.

“I'm not going to do anything except talk to Larry,” Jack answered truthfully.

“Jack.”

“Daniel, I have to,” Jack responded.  “You want to come with me?”

“No, I've had enough of your friends,” Daniel stated wryly, having no desire to see any of them ever again.

“Lock the door,” Jack told his soulmate.

“Jaaaaaack!” Daniel whined, though smiling inside at his lover's protectiveness.

“Sorry ... just ... oh, Danny,” Jack sighed.

“I'll be fine.”  Rolling his eyes, Daniel added, “I'll lock the door.  Hurry back, Love,” he said enticingly.

“Geez, that's what you said at the park,” Jack lamented.

“And you did.  I love you,” Daniel stated, having said that phrase first more often during this vacation than ever before.  ~He needs to hear it; he has to know.~

“I have plans for us tonight, or what's left of it anyway,” Jack commented with loving eyes.

“What kind of plans, Love?” Daniel asked seductively.

“Hmm, I was thinking a nice, hot, bubble bath for two,” Jack said with a grin.

Daniel laughed, “Gawd, Mike would die.”

“I don't care if he does,” Jack said dryly.  “I like taking bubble baths with you.”

Daniel chuckled, “Sam would die.”

“Now that I might care about, but I'm not going to tell her.  Are you?” Jack quizzed.

“Na-huh, no way,” an amused Daniel replied.

“I'll be back in a few minutes,” Jack said, kissing Daniel and then hurrying out the door.

====

“You've got to be kidding, Bud ... Jack.  Mike?” Larry asked after hearing about what happened just a couple hours earlier.

“Do I look like I'm kidding?” Jack spoke seriously.

“Is the Doc okay?” Larry asked, genuinely concerned.

“Yeah, he's fine, and he's going to stay fine.  Listen, Larry, the thing that worries me is Mike wasn't afraid; he wasn't the least bit concerned that I was about to kill him.  Larry, he was crazed.  He's sick, and you need to be careful,” Jack warned.

Larry sighed, “Mike was always on the fringe, Jack.  He's always done things a bit outside the loop.”

“Larry, I *will* kill him if he ever comes near Daniel again.  He's only alive now because Daniel was there, and there is no one on the face of this Earth more full of compassion than My Danny.”

“Your Danny?” Larry asked, looking at Jack, still not fully convinced of the relationship, that his hitherto straight friend was in love with another man.

“My Danny,” Jack reiterated.  “I'm telling you this because you may be Mike's only chance.  The only fool is the man who never allows fear.  Well, Larry, I'm full of fear, fear that Mike is going to come after Daniel, just to spite me.”

Jack moved closer to Larry and spoke softly but extremely firmly, saying, “I *won't* let him hurt Daniel, and that's what you have to understand.  If you want Mike to live, you and Johnny need to watch him, try to get him some help.  If he comes after Danny, you'll never find the body.”

“Geez Louise, Jack, you're serious,” Larry said with surprise.

“You're dead right,” Jack said, his tone and eyes like that of the Special Ops colonel Larry remembered.

“You consider the possibility Mike might go after you?” the man asked.

Without missing a beat, Jack answered, “I feel sorry for him if he does.”

“Why?”

“Because Daniel will kill him if he does,” Jack answered casually.

“The geek?  Jack, you just said ...”

“I know what I said,” Jack interrupted.  “But that's the problem, you don't know Daniel.  The three of you think you have him pegged as what, Larry -- some intellectual, cultural geek freak with long hair?  Some cute wimp?  A boy toy?  I meant what I said.  He's saved your life, Larry.  It *is* classified.  Daniel Jackson is a hero, and he is the bravest man I know.  You underestimate him.  Let me tell you something,” Jack said quietly, looking around the room for a moment.  “There have been a lot of ... people who have done the same thing. Most of them are dead now.”

“You make him sound like the Green Hornet, a masked crusader,” Larry chuckled.

“Yeah, that's My Danny, cultural expert by day, super hero by night,” Jack mused before getting serious again.  “I love him, Larry.  I don't want him to live with a death that I cause, nor do I want him to kill, but he *has* killed, Larry, and if someone hurts me, he'll kill again.”

Larry paused, staring at Jack for several seconds before saying, “Wow.  You sure you aren't just pulling my leg, and Mike isn't going to walk out here and yell out 'surprise?”

“If Mike sets foot in this hotel before Danny and I leave, I won't be responsible for my actions,” Jack stated in warning.

Larry finished his drink and then said, “Jack, the Doc's not so bad.  He put up with a lot of crap from us.”

“Yeah, he did,” Jack acknowledged.  Sighing, Jack continued, “Larry, Danny and I, we fight a lot.  It's part of us, and I don't know that we'll ever stop, but what we have is real, and I know you don't understand that.  Believe me, no one was more surprised than I was when I realized how I cared about him, but he's my blessing and my salvation.  I almost lost him because of this macho service garbage.  Trust me, it will not happen again.”

Jack finished his drink and stood up.  He had a final warning to give, and he hoped, it would make a difference.  If not, one day, he knew Mike would pay the price.

“You guys were there for me more times than I can count.  War buddies -- that bond -- it's real, Larry.  We both know that,” Jack stated.

Jack took out his wallet and laid out a twenty dollar bill to pay for their drinks and an excessive tip, and then he looked at Larry one last time.

“I care about you guys,” Jack continued.  “I was part of you, and I'm not trying to say it's not important, but, Larry, there's more to life.  There's another side, and Daniel has helped me to see that.  He's my life now, and he comes first.  I thought for a minute that I could mix the two worlds, but I can't, and honestly, I don't really want to.”

“Jack, I understand,” Larry responded earnestly.

“I hope you do, but my point is this.  Thank you for saving my life; to you, Johnny, and Mike, I'm grateful.  Now, I'm trying to save yours.  You and that way of life is my past, Larry, but Daniel is my present and my future.  There's no divided loyalty, Larry.  I don't want to see Mike destroy himself, but I'll do what I have to do.  Do you understand?” Jack asked pointedly.

Larry stood as he nodded.  He reached out to shake Jack's hand, the message fully received.  He had never seen his old buddy like this.  Truth was, he was a little tired of the old game, too.  He understood, better than he could say, even now.  In fact, he wished that he had Jack's courage to say goodbye to old ways.

“I get it, Jack.  I'll talk to Johnny.  We'll try to help him,” Larry assured.

“You're all he has, Larry,” Jack responded.  “Look, I have to go.  Daniel's waiting, and I,” Jack smiled, “I don't like the idea of him alone right now, not with Mike out there.”

“Take care, Jack.  Tell the ... Tell Daniel goodbye, and that I'm sorry for everything.”

“Bye, Larry,” Jack said, nodding.  He smiled a last time, turned, and walked out of the restaurant bar.  ~Don't take it wrong, Larry, but I don't ever want to see you guys again.  I owe you my life, but I won't let you take away my life.  Contradiction?  No, just a fact.  I love Daniel Jackson, and he comes first.~

====

“Is everything okay?” Daniel asked as he almost leaped into Jack's arms after the older man returned to the hotel room.

“Everything's fine, Danny.  I warned Larry as best I could,” Jack replied.

“I know you did, and maybe they'll be able to help him, but, uh, now, about that bubble bath ...”

Putting the angst of the evening aside, the lovers proceeded to pamper themselves for hours.  Sleep was not part of their agenda.

====

When Jack and Daniel headed back to Colorado Springs, they were stronger than ever.  Neither had anticipated that their trip to Phoenix would have the impact it did, but Jack was grateful it had, except for the part about Mike.

Sitting on the plane, holding Daniel's hand, and studying his lover's face as the younger man slept, Jack knew he wanted more with Daniel than what they had.  He wasn't sure how to get it, for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Sha're, but after the last two weeks of being with Daniel twenty-four/seven for the most part, Jack realized that's what he wanted.

Jack hated the separations they went through, the running back and forth between the house and Daniel's apartment.

~Danny, I want you with me all the time.  Geez, I'm a selfish S.O.B., and I know you could do so much better, but you're mine, and I want that to be forever.  Someday, Love, we're going to figure out a way for us to be together all the time.  Someday.~

Jack looked towards the other side of the plane, thoughts of Sha're invading his mind as he continued his torture of silent thoughts.

~I'm sorry, Sha're.  I love him now.  I'll let him go if that's what he wants, but it'll kill me to do it.  I promised him, so we are going to find you, and so help me, you hurt him, and you'll deal with me.~

Suddenly, the younger man awoke and quickly became aware of Jack's intense expression.

“Jack, you're scowling,” Daniel observed.

Softly, the older man said, “Hey, Sleepyhead.  I thought you'd sleep all the way to Denver, which isn't that far, you know.”

Squeezing Jack's hand, Daniel probed, “Don't change the subject.  What were you thinking about?”  He saw Jack look downward and sensed his lover's hesitancy to answer.  “Jack?”

Jack fidgeted, glanced at Daniel, and then looked down at their hands.  He brought Daniel's up to his mouth and kissed it.

“Tell me,” Daniel requested.

“I ... I was talking to Sha're,” Jack admitted as he met his lover's gaze.

“Oh.  About ... me?” Daniel asked.

“No, about the plane flight,” the older man quipped.  Daniel never took his eyes off of Jack, not needing to verbally chastise him, since his eyes were doing that job.  “Okay, I was telling her that I love you, that we'd find her, and that if she ever hurt you, she'd deal with me,” he reluctantly admitted as he again looked away, unable to face Daniel.

“She'd never hurt me, Jack,” Daniel responded tenderly.

“I know; wish I could make the same claim,” Jack bemoaned.

“Jack, it's over,” Daniel reminded, adding a soothing, “I love you.”

Jack smiled and said, “I'm so lucky, Danny.”

“So am I, Jack O'Neill; so am I,” Daniel acknowledged, love emanating from him.

The rest of the flight was completed in silence and a bit of small talk, but Jack and Daniel never let go of each other's hands until the plane landed.  They picked up their luggage and headed for the long-term parking lot where Jack's truck was parked.  Then, they began their trek towards the Springs.

“I suppose you want to go to the apartment,” Jack said as they approached the city limits.

“Hmm-mmm.”  Daniel saw his lover's sad nod of understanding.  “I have to feed the fish,” he explained.  Smiling, he felt happy when Jack looked at him and grinned with happiness.  “We don't have to be back at the SGC for two days.  I vote we finish off the getaway with a little romance in front of the fire at your house.”

“Our house,” Jack corrected, causing Daniel to blush.  “Sounds like a plan, Danny.”

====

The night before they'd have to go back to work and settle back into their normal abnormal routine, Jack had prepared his dress blues for an early morning meeting and then went downstairs for a snack.  He was seated at the table near the kitchen when Daniel walked up, his hands behind his back.

“Jack, Love, you were wrong,” Daniel said, mischief in his tone.

“Wrong?” Jack asked cautiously.

Daniel smiled, setting a pair of black shoes, shoe polish, and a cloth on the table in front of his lover.

“You are definitely worthy of shining my shoes, and boy, do they need it.  Bring them up for inspection when you come to bed, and if they pass, I'll give you a special,” Daniel nibbled on Jack's left ear, “...treat.”

Daniel turned and walked up the stairs, leaving Jack staring at the shoes.  Though his first instinct was to tell Daniel to stuff it, the promise of the treat was too tempting to pass up.  Instead, Jack laughed heartily in amusement.

“Geez, Danny, what you do to me.”

Jack picked up the cloth and polish and began to shine the shoes diligently, laughing more and more as he did so.

“And don't you ever stop doing it, Danny ... not ever!”

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