Messages of a Friendship

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Angst, Missing Scene/Epilogue, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  2
Spoilers:  The Broca Divide, Prisoners, Need, Message in a Bottle
Size:  212kb
Written:  November 26,30, December 7,9-11, 17-18,22, 2003, January 3, 2004  Revised:  January 14, April 4, 2005, August 5,13, 2006  Revised for consistency:  January 20, 2007
Summary:  As Jack fights for his life, and Daniel struggles to save him, Sam makes a decision that will change their lives forever.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s), “Echoes of the Past”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Tina, Suzanna, Sheryl, Charlotte, Linda, QuinGem, Claudia!

Messages of a Friendship
by Orrymain

“It's so exciting, Jack,” Daniel spoke, his eyes shining with the thrill of discovery. “Imagine, leaving behind a record, a history of your world and having someone finally discover it.”

“You don't know that's what it is,” Jack replied, trying not to let his lover get too enthusiastic.  ~Don't want ya to be disappointed, Dannyboy.~

“I know, but I can dream, can't I?” Daniel asked, wonder in his tone and expression as he slipped on his BDU jacket.

Jack smiled and concurred, “Yeah, you can.  I'm glad you're having fun with your toys.”

“Jack!”

Jack laughed, “You and Sam enjoy your playground.  I'll see you later.”

Jack turned to exit the locker room, but Daniel, knowing no one else was around, suddenly grabbed his lover and gently shoved him against the door, his mouth demanding access to Jack's.

~Wow!~  Having granted entry to Daniel's tongue, Jack enjoyed the unexpected ravishing, which was wet and powerful.  “We need to get you toys to play with more often,” he said happily after the kisses ended.

“Jack?” Daniel spoke, his right hand rubbing up and down along Jack's chest.

“Love you, my little archaeologist,” the colonel intoned quietly.

“I love you, too,” Daniel replied and then kissed his soulmate again.

“Go play with Sam.  I'll dream about you, but don't stay up all night,” the colonel advised.  ~At least not with her,~ he silently smirked.

“I won't,” the younger man promised, eager to get a closer view of the new artifact, but equally sad that he didn't have time to ravish his partner even more.

After another quick kiss and whispering a furtive promise to finish what they had started, Jack left the area, whistling as he headed off to check out of the SGC.  He wasn't thrilled about going home alone, but he loved seeing Daniel when he was truly excited about a find, and Daniel was definitely intrigued by the object SG-1 had found on P5C-353, a lunar-like planet that required them to wear spacesuits in order to survey the landscape.

While they had been there, the flagship team of the SGC had located an orb that was emitting an energy of some sort.  Daniel thought it might be a record of the long-gone inhabitants of the world, a sort of time capsule.

“Imagine your civilization is facing a major cataclysm. The end is coming; you know it.  Wouldn't you leave something behind?  Something that told everyone that came after you who you were?” Daniel had asked with excitement in his voice.

The orb had markings all over it and had emitted small amounts of radiation.

Sam was also eager to study the power source, anticipating what it could mean for Earth.  So, after listening to both of his scientists, Jack had ordered them to bring the object back to the SGC for further observation.

After an initial examination of the artifact in one of the SGC labs, Sam and Daniel had convinced Hammond to delay SG-1's next mission for one day so that they could do more studies.  It had been after this that Jack and Daniel had talked in the locker room.

====

“You look happy, Sir,” Sam said, watching her CO practically skipping down the hallway.

“Hmm ... well, yes and no.  Make sure you get some sleep, Captain, and when you ignore that order and you and Daniel stay up all night, please make sure he eats,” the colonel requested.

Sam chuckled, “I'll try, Sir, but you know how he gets.”

“Feed him, Carter,” Jack said more softly than his original comments.  “I'm counting on you.”

Sam smiled a bit bashfully upon seeing Jack's tender side.  No matter how angry her CO sometimes got at the team's archaeologist, she knew he cared greatly for the other man.

“I'll do that,” the blonde promised.  “I'll go to the mess and get some food to take into the lab before we start.”

“Thank you.  Have fun,” Jack intoned as he walked towards the elevator.  ~But not too much fun with *my* Danny.~

Sam smiled and changed her direction to go to the commissary to pick up more nutritional dry food stuffs for later.  She knew her CO was right.  Daniel would become so involved in the object that he'd forego all nourishment except for cup after cup of coffee and the Twinkies stash he had tucked away under lock and key.

~You do take care of him, Sir, don't you?~

====

Sam and Daniel worked through the night, trying to unearth the mystery of the orb.  A few hours in, Sam pulled out her stash from a cooler bag -- a sandwich, an apple, and some chips.  She set it in front of Daniel and smiled.

“Oh, thanks, Sam, but you didn't have to.  I'm really not hungry,” the archaeologist spoke, only briefly looking at the food items.

“Daniel, eat,” Sam requested a bit more formally than usual.

“Geez, you sound like Jack.”  Daniel heard her snicker as she walked away, and the light dawned.  “Oh, please, tell me he didn't.  Sam!”

The embarrassed young man sank low in his chair, knowing Jack had badgered his second-in-command into treating Daniel like a child.  It was bad enough when Jack hovered over him, but to bring Sam into it was going too far.

“You know the colonel,” Sam teased gingerly.

“Yeah ... mother hen.” Daniel sighed.

Sam laughed, “Well, you know, he ...”  Sam stuttered, and Daniel saw something he couldn't define in her eyes.  “He feels responsible for you.  Eat, so I can keep my rank,” she joked as she began to eat her own midnight snack.

Daniel took a bite, and when Sam wasn't looking, he couldn't hold back a smile.  For all the frustrations he felt about Jack's ridiculous protectiveness, inwardly he liked it.  Until Jack, no one had ever cared enough about him enough to go to such lengths to make sure he took care of himself.  Truth be told, aggravating or not, it felt nice.

In between bites of his food, Daniel laughed, trying to picture the hard-nosed colonel approaching his 2IC or the big Jaffa, which Daniel also knew he had done in the past, and ordering them to make sure he ate and slept.

~It couldn't be easy for him.~  Another smile appeared on the young man's face.  ~Gawd, I love you, Jack.~

Daniel's smile grew with his silent thoughts.

“Daniel?” Sam called out.  “What are you thinking about?”

Taking a quick bite of food in order to give himself a moment to think of an appropriate answer, Daniel finally responded, “Orders.”  Inwardly, he added, ~And that promise Jack made.  I really should go home soon and wake him up.~

Sam shrugged, though quietly she wondered, ~That's a cryptic response.  I wonder what ... no, stop wondering, Samantha.~

Daniel smiled at his friend again and contently went back to his meal.

====

“Good morning, Campers!  Sleep well?  I did,” Jack quipped as he walked into the lab, bright and chipper, causing Sam and Daniel to wince.

~Crap, it can't be morning,~ Daniel thought as he caught a glimpse of his lover near the doorway.

Neither of the scientists had realized it was morning, and neither was happy with the orders Jack had just given for them to get some rest.  They wanted only to continue their probing into the mysteries of the orb.

**Jack, we have so much to do,** Daniel communicated via their non-verbal communication, a special, silent way of expressing themselves that was growing as their romantic relationship strengthened.

**Don't argue with me, Love,** the older man mentally requested.  Teasingly, he added, **It's beddy bye time for scientists and archaeologists.**

**But, Jack ...**

**Danny, I want you to know I lied just now.  I didn't sleep well without my Danny blanket.  I love you, and we need you on this mission.  Now please go get some sleep,** the older man requested via their special communication.

**Jack, I love you too, but ...**

**No, Danny.  I need you, and you need your rest.**  Jack smiled, and playfully suggested, “When we get back, you can ... visit.”

Resigned to their fate, Sam and Daniel got up to leave the lab, but just then Lieutenant Graham Simmons, who was assisting them, reported an EM spike from the orb.

As the orb's radiation levels grew to unsafe parameters, Jack ordered Daniel to go to the control room and have the planet dialed, intending to return the orb.  Meanwhile, he and Teal'c removed the object and hurriedly moved through the corridors of the SGC towards the gate room.

By the time they reached it, the Stargate had engaged, but just as Jack and Teal'c were about to follow through with their plan, the object suddenly grew spikes.  One of its long spears sticking out from it pierced through Jack's body, literally forcing him upward and pinning him against one of the concrete walls.  He was held in place several feet off the floor.

~Wha...what's happening?~  From the control room, Daniel stood, totally stunned.  Apart from his frantically beating heart, he was motionless, his eyes wide in astonishment and his mouth hanging open.  **Jack?**  Daniel's numb shock began to recede enough for his fear to kick in.  His anxiety levels spiked, growing as rapidly as the orb's spears had done.  **JACK!**

Jack couldn't hear the silent call, his connection with Daniel apparently severed by the piercing pain of the orb's spear.  The lack of that connection left the younger man feeling lost and alone.  In fact, he couldn't recall feeling so afraid in a long while, not even during his withdrawal from the sarcophagus.  He loved Jack so much, and his lover appeared to be dying in front of his eyes.  What was worse, he couldn't react or respond the way he wanted to.  To SGC personnel, he was Jack O'Neill's best friend.  That gave him certain freedoms, but not the ones that he desperately wanted.

~Gawd, I want to hold you, Jack.~

====

Their initial attempts to free Jack had failed, and now Daniel had managed to tear himself away from the gate room, and Jack, to meet with Sam and Hammond in order to try and figure out a plan of action.

During the meeting, Daniel's remorse surfaced as he apologized, “General, I don't know what to say.  I wanted the artifact to be something wonderful.”  He was so sad, and both Sam and Hammond could see it.  ~It's my fault, again.~

The anguished archaeologist was certain that everything was his fault.  His Love was suffering, feeling an unknown pain, all because he had to bring back some artifact.  Even as he stood facing the general, Daniel's anguish grew until he felt almost numb from his guilt.

“You have nothing to apologize for, Son,” the general reassured.

~Yes, I do.  Jack, I'm so sorry,~ Daniel silently lamented, not feeling the least bit consoled or convinced by the general's words.

====

Daniel had gone back to the control room as Sam worked with Janet.  He stood, arms folded, watching his lover.  He wanted desperately to go to Jack, but he didn't trust himself not to give away the truth of their relationship.  Plus, Janet had insisted, and Hammond agreed,  that they allow only essential personnel in the room because of the danger.

~Essential personnel?  He needs me.  I ... I need him,~ Daniel lamented as he stared at his lover, unable to help and unable to comfort either Jack or himself.

====

A bit later, as Sam headed to her office to retrieve some notes, she heard two airmen talking.  She caught enough of their conversation to be deeply disturbed by it and so stopped to listen.  She remained hidden from their sight as she watched them from the edge of the corridor corner.

“Man, did you see him?” one airman inquired.

“He's practically drooling over O'Neill,” the second airman spoke, letting out a snort of disgust.

“They are definitely doing it,” the first man replied.

“You'd think they'd try and hide it better.  What do you think the colonel sees in that dweeb anyway?” the second asked.

“Hey, they say he's saved the world,” the first airman explained, looking upward at the ceiling at the 'ridiculousness' of the situation and then laughing.

“Yeah, sure he did.  C'mon Frank, the guy's a bookworm.  Pretty, too.  That must be what O'Neill sees,” the second man replied, a nasty smirk on his face.

“Personally, I don't care, but I don't think it's right.  I'm not sure I want to trust my life to a couple of ...”

~I think that's enough.  Someone else might hear this,~ Sam thought, picking that moment to make herself known.  She rounded the corner and asked pointedly, “Shouldn't you two be doing something somewhere else ... *now*”

“Yes, Ma'am,” both airmen responded, each snapping to attention and wondering where she had come from.

“Then *do* it,” Sam ordered, using her best Jack O'Neill impersonation.

Shaking her head as she watched the airmen disappear down the hallway, Sam then continued on her way, finally reaching her lab and going inside.  She paused, considering the conversation she had overheard.  It hadn't been the first one she'd witnessed since the orb had taken Jack hostage, and that is what was bothering her.  She knew Daniel had been doing his best to cover up his emotions, but it was obvious from what she had seen and heard, that his feelings for Jack could only be hidden so much.

There had been gossip about Jack and Daniel from the very beginning of SG-1. Their good-natured bickering and banter, Jack's protectiveness and propensity to touch the younger man, Daniel's unending trust  -- all resulted in endless amounts of gossip, but it had never reached this level before.

~If this continues, the colonel could be court-martialed, and ... gee, I don't want to think about what some of those Marines might do to Daniel.  I've heard them make threats about what they'd do if ... stop it, Samantha.  You don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill,~ Sam thought as she pondered what to do.  “But I have to do something,” she spoke aloud, afraid the situation would soon be out of hand.

An idea began to form in Sam's mind, and as it developed, her certainty that it would work grew.  However, there was no way she could proceed with her plan without Daniel's permission.  She hoped she had the courage to pull it off.

~I wouldn't like doing it, but it might be the only way to protect them,~ Sam thought about her plan.  She sighed, ~People have gossiped about that, too.~

Grabbing her notes, Sam returned to continue her work with Janet.

====

Sometime later, Sam returned to the control room.  She had begun to wonder if maybe she'd overreacted.  Perhaps things hadn't progressed as much as she had thought.  However, as she focused on her work, she heard another nasty conversation between two airmen who hadn't seen her enter the area and didn't realize she was working at a nearby consul.

“Jackson's had it so easy.  If O'Neill dies, his goose will be cooked,” one of the airman whispered, though not quietly enough to avoid being heard.

“What are you talking about?” the second man questioned.

“Don't you know?  The colonel is doing Jackson,” the first man answered.

“I don't believe that,” the second responded.

“It's true,” the first maintained.  “They've been at it for at least a year.  Jackson and that long hair of his -- looks like a woman.”

“Do you have proof?”

“Just look at them.  I tell ya, it's a disgrace to the uniform.  Of course, Jackson should be in a dress anyway, but O'Neill -- he needs to be locked away in Leavenworth.  Maybe if Hammond finds out, we can finally get some real men in here.”

Still not believing the prejudiced accusations, the second airman challenged, “If it's true, how come no one has reported them?”

“O'Neill,” the first man answered a bit flippantly.  “You know,” he said, jutting his head out a bit.  “... his reputation.  Everyone's afraid to cross him, but I'm not.  I'm tired of him making a mockery out of the Air Force.”

“You're going to the general?” the second man asked.

“Not just like that.  There are better ways,” the first airman replied, but was interrupted by the arrival of Sergeant Walter Davis into their area.  “I'll tell ya later,” the man said, then left the control room.

Sam knew she had been right after all, and after hearing this latest gossip, she knew time was of the essence.  After checking on her CO in the gate room, she went in search of Daniel to discuss her plan with him.

====

Unable to focus on his work at the moment, Daniel was standing over his desk with his arms folded as he stared blankly at a reference book.

As she stood in the doorway of the archaeologist's office, Sam could see that he was lost in thought.  His dried tears were visible as well.  Unfortunately, if she could see them, she knew others could, too.

“Daniel,” Sam called out gently, walking in and then closing and locking the door behind her.

“Sam,” Daniel greeted in a subdued tone of voice.  He noticed her actions, which were unusual, but didn't think all that much of it.  After all, he was used to Jack frequently doing the same thing.  Suddenly, though, a chill set over him.  ~Is he dead?~  His face suddenly grew even more pained as he asked, “Sam, did something happen to Jack?”

“There's no change, Daniel,” the captain assured her friend with a tiny smile.

“Oh,” Daniel replied quietly as he stared back down at the mess on his desk.

“Um, Daniel, I need to ask you something,” Sam stated as she walked nervously towards her friend.  After Daniel looked up, she clarified, “Actually, I need your permission to ... well, to do something I wouldn't normally do.”

Daniel shook his head in question, having no clue what his friend was thinking about.

Sam paced the room, her hands and arms flinging out occasionally as she tried to speak with her friend.  She even mimicked her CO, picking up an artifact here and there, but quickly putting the relics back when she realized what she was doing.  She told herself to stop being a coward and to get on with it.  It proved to be easier thought, then done.

“Um, Daniel, you see ... you're my friend, and the colonel, well ... um, he's my friend, too, and as your friend, I feel it's my duty to ... be your friend.  I mean, you're my family, too, and I ... I want to do what's right ... to protect you ... because you're my family, and that's what families do ... right?”

“Sam, I don't have any idea what you're talking about,” Daniel responded.  ~Is that what I sound like to Jack sometimes?~

“I know,” Sam sighed.  “Daniel ...”  She turned to face him, both certain and uncertain that she was doing the right thing.  ~Just say it, Samantha.~

“Sam, something *is* wrong with Jack, isn't it?” the despairing archaeologist interjected.

“No, I mean ... you know as much as I do.  Oh, for crying out loud!” the blonde exclaimed as she once again mimicked the leader of SG-1, causing Daniel to release a tiny smile.  ~Get on with it, Coward,~ she told herself.  “Daniel, I ... I know how close you and the colonel are.”

“Best friends,” Daniel acknowledged quietly, looking down to avoid making contact with Sam's brilliant blue eyes.

“And ... more,” Sam said hesitantly.

Daniel looked up and observed Sam's nervousness.  Her fidgeting was increasing, and she, too, wasn't eager to make eye contact.  He knew something was up, but he couldn't pinpoint what it was.

Finally, Sam drew a large breath, braced her hands on the worktable that separated herself from Daniel, and informed him, “Look, um, I've known since Hadante, Daniel.  He ... remember when he took off your glasses?  Daniel, you don't let anyone that close to you.  No one could do what the colonel did, say what he said to you, and you ... well, you just stood there like it was the most natural thing in the world.”

Daniel's breathing was becoming more rapid.  His hold on himself tightened.  His eyes again evaded Sam's.  He turned around, walking over to one of the bookshelves, where he stared at artifacts that he couldn't even focus on.

~She can't know,~ the anguished lover bemoaned.

Sam continued, “Then, after what happened with Shyla, he was so protective.  We all wanted to help you through the withdrawal, but the colonel, he kept us all away, against Janet's advice.  He wouldn't let anyone get close to you.”

“I ... I didn't want anyone to see me,” Daniel responded meekly, his grip on himself having become so tight that his arms were beginning to hurt.

“I know, but I also know it was more,” Sam maintained confidently.  “I saw you two in the storage room, Daniel.  It wasn't that the colonel held you, it was *how* he did it.”  She walked a few steps closer to her teammate, but still, a few feet separated them.  “Daniel, I'm not ... I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable; that's not why I'm bringing it up now.”

“Then why are you?” Daniel asked, still facing the bookshelf, his back to the captain.

Sam looked over towards the closed door.  She really didn't want to have to say this, but she knew she didn't have a choice.

“Why, Sam?”

“Because people are talking, and talking too much around here can lead to problems,” Sam confessed.

Daniel turned and finally faced his friend, seeking out her eyes for the truth.  In response, Sam tried to smile, but at the moment, there was little to smile about.

Walking another step closer, Sam explained, “It's getting a little out of control.  There's always been gossip, not just about you two, but all of us.  It's human nature, but, Daniel, you're ... it's just getting out of hand.”

The archaeologist looked down, fully aware that his worry over Jack was obvious to anyone who could see him.  He had tried in vain to hide it, but he loved his partner so much, he just couldn't suppress it as much as he needed to in a military base.

“What did you want to ask me?” Daniel questioned unsurely.

“I would never do anything to hurt you; you know that,” the captain spoke emphatically, making sure her eyes were locked on to her friends.  “Daniel, I was thinking maybe I could take some of the focus off of you.  'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is volatile, and dangerous.  It would be less risky if the gossip was about ...” Sam hated this, but she knew she had to protect Jack and Daniel.  “... fraternization.”

Daniel blinked, his mouth opening from surprise, and asked, “What?”

Sam closed the gap between them and put her hand on Daniel's arm as she answered, “If they think there's something going on between me and the colonel, they might ignore what they think is going on between you and the colonel.” She paused, knowing her friend was unsure and apparently unprepared for her suggestion.  “Let me help you,” she pleaded.  “Please, Daniel.”

“What ... do you want to do ... exactly?” Daniel cautiously inquired, wondering if he was now in that twilight zone that his lover so frequently joked about.

“Play it up a little.  I don't know.  I'm not really good at flirting, and I'm not sure how to do it with my CO, but we need to get the gossip-mongers looking at me and away from you.  Would that be okay?” Sam queried.  Her only response was a stare.  ~Maybe this wasn't a good idea, but if he says no ...~  She stopped her morbid thoughts and assured, “I won't do it if you don't want me to.  I would never ever do anything like this without your permission.”

Daniel sighed, walking around the woman as he responded, “I don't know, Sam.  It's hard enough to keep up the pretense as it is.  Gawd, it's a nightmare, having to pretend that there's nothing but ... but hockey and pizza between us, especially when all I want to do is be with him every minute of the day.  There's enough lies as it is.  I don't know if I could cope with another one, and I'm not sure it would be fair to you either.  You're military, Sam,” he reminded, turning around to face her again.

Having turned around as well, Sam replied, “Daniel, think of the colonel and his career.  If you're outed, you'll probably get to keep your job.  I'm not saying it would be easy, but you wouldn't have to face what he would.  Do you know what would happen to him?”

Daniel visibly bristled, responding, “Of course, I know.  What do you think I am ... clueless?  I know better than anybody what the stakes are.  Do you think I want to see Jack in Leavenworth?”

Sam saw how agitated Daniel had become and regretted upsetting him, especially now when he was so concerned about Jack.  It hadn't been her intention to make matters worse.  She truly only wanted to help two people she cared about very much.

Gently, Sam reached out and touched Daniel's arm again, saying, “Daniel, please listen to me.  I love you both.  You know that.  I just want to help take some of the pressure off for a bit and make it easier on you.  The regs stink.  We both know that, but they're there, and we can't change them no matter how much we want to, at least not yet.  Please let me help you.”

Daniel took a deep breath, thinking, ~I guess I don't have a choice.  It doesn't matter how I feel about it.  I have to think about Jack and what's best for him.~  A moment later, he nodded his assent and spoke a quiet, “Okay, Sam.”

“Okay then,” Sam spoke, relieved to end the conversation and move on to figuring out how to deal with the orb.  “We need to get our staffs organized.  We'll figure out the solution.  Colonel O'Neill will be fine.”

“Will he?”

Sam smiled, speaking with certainty as she replied, “Yes, we're SG-1.  He's going to be okay.  Janet will patch him up and then you ... you can take him home.”  The captain felt very uncomfortable.  She didn't understand Jack and Daniel's relationship.  She wasn't sure she even approved, but she couldn't deny that they were her family, and her loyalty to them was without question.  Daniel needed her to be strong and focused, so she would be.  “I'm going to talk to Janet for a few minutes, and then we'll get the staffs together, okay?”

“Okay.”  Daniel nodded as Sam walked towards the door.  “Sam?”  Once she turned around, he added, “I ... I love him.”

~I wish he hadn't said that out loud.~  Sam looked down, then back up at Daniel.  She smiled, acknowledged the feelings by responding, “I know,” and then exited the office.  ~Just stay focused, Samantha.  They're family, like brothers.~

Daniel wasn't sure if he had done the right thing or not by going along with Sam's plan.  Since he hadn't heard any of the latest gossip, he had been totally unprepared for Sam's comments.  Still, she was their teammate and friend, and he believed her motivation was true.

~I hope it was the right choice,~ the archaeologist thought about his decision.

Though still uncertain, one thing Daniel was certain of -- just as Sam was trying to protect both Jack and Daniel, Daniel would protect Jack and his career, even at his own expense.

====

With the infectious properties of the orb spreading throughout the SGC, Daniel's anxiety increased.  He needed to be with his lover, but he couldn't.  Like an unmovable stone, Teal'c had planted himself next to Jack, and Daniel couldn't think of a way to get him out of the room.

~Gawd, it's hopeless,~ Daniel bewailed silently.  **Jack, I love you.**

Daniel heard nothing in response.  Normally, the telepathic-like communication between Jack and Daniel was its strongest when one was in jeopardy, but the orb seemed to have severed it.  Daniel returned to the information they had gleaned from the alien object, determined to find the solution to save his lover.  He would lose himself in the research.  He would find an answer.  He had to. The alternative was too horrible to imagine.

~Jack is my life.  Without him ... NO!  I can't and I won't think that.  Jack *will* be okay.  We'll go home and ...~

Daniel couldn't finish his thought.  His worry for his lover was so great he couldn't even form a happy thought.

====

Sam had spent hours with Janet and other members of her team trying to solve the puzzle herself.  She had also made frequent visits to the gate room, making sure she had been seen, trying to let her emotional side shine through.  She was all for femininity, but flaunting her emotions on base was foreign to her.  She knew she had to be subtle, yet obvious.  It was a delicate balance she was striving to reach.

With each visit and emotional conversation she had with others, Sam noticed more and more personnel watching her.  The gossiping was evident, often subsiding as she approached the chit-chatters.  With Daniel focused on the translations and having chosen to stay away from the gate room, it looked like Sam's plan was progressing nicely.

~Now, if we can only figure out how to turn this thing off,~ Sam thought, knowing her actions were all for naught if they couldn't save her CO.

====

“I ... I  think what we thought was gibberish on all the computers was actually the aliens attempt to communicate with us,” Daniel theorized as he paced, feeling more hopeful than he had ever since this whole ordeal had begun.

Daniel was currently in the control room with Sam and General Hammond, trying to persuade them he was right.

“Maybe,” Sam hesitantly agreed.  She could see the hope in Daniel's eyes and didn't want to take that from him.  Still, she had an obligation to point out the possibility that Daniel was wrong.  “But the symbols you're seeing could also be from the random files from our earlier research.”

“No, see, that's impossible,” the archaeologist refuted, holding his left hand up in front of his chest.  “See, I didn't start working on this sequence until *after* the computers went down.”  ~Come on, Sam, help me out here,~ he pleaded silently.

“Assuming you're right, what are they trying to communicate?” Hammond asked skeptically.

“We...well, they could be saying take me to your leader for all I know.  I have no idea,” the concerned male scientist spoke.  “The point is that they're trying.  We haven't even begun to consider that what we're up against here is an alien intelligence. We've treated it like a ... a disease, like a plague.  Not once have we stopped to listen,” he argued forcefully.  

There was no way Daniel was giving up on this.  If they could get through and find out what it wanted, then maybe they could save Jack.  Yet, he was also frustrated, knowing that he didn't have a point of reference to use in translating the language used by the orb.

As they discussed the situation, Sam suggested that perhaps the orb was trying to talk to them through her CO.

“Communicate with the organism through Jack?” Daniel asked, pondering the idea internally.  ~Maybe that is what they're doing.~

The three agreed on a plan, and then Sam went to the gate room to inform Jack what was going on.  As she talked, she could feel the eyes watching her.

~This plan is going to work, but this is also too good of an opportunity to pass up.  They're watching,~ Sam inwardly observed.  Speaking more tenderly than was necessary, she talked with Jack while trying to make her eyes speak of something more than the friendship and respect she truly felt for Jack O'Neill.  ~Okay, here goes,~ she thought as she placed her hand in his, knowing that would definitely get the base talking.  ~Fraternization may be against the regs, but military personnel love to speculate.~  She hoped her CO would understand her actions when they got the object to disconnect itself and were able to explain what was going on.  ~I hope you'll understand, Sir.~

====

When their plan worked and they successfully managed to establish communication with the orb, Daniel didn't know whether to be overjoyed or worried.  They were a step closer to freeing Jack, but they weren't there yet.  He couldn't blame the inhabitants of the orb for not wanting to die but at the same time, he just wanted his lover back.

Hammond informed the life force that the base's self-destruct was counting down and then requested, “If you would allow us to restore our communications, we could stop that from happening.  We would survive.”

The life force responded, “O'Neill desires this as well.  He wishes to live.”

The life force inside of Jack looked at Daniel, making eye contact, and for the first time since the orb had pinned Jack to the wall, Daniel heard his lover speak to him.

**I love you, Danny.  I don't want to leave you,** Jack communicated.

Daniel returned the gaze, replying, **I love you, too, Jack.  I'll find a way.  I have to.**

“But what of us?” the life force asked, concerned about their survival.

~Think, Jackson.  Come on ...~  Daniel's mind worked quickly.  He had to save Jack, and himself.  “P4G-881!” he exclaimed excitedly.  “It's primordial, lots of oxygen and sunlight like this world was a quarter of a billion years ago.”

“Sir, we can't open the Stargate without the computers,” Sam reminded.

“You would send us there?  Through your Stargate?” the life force asked through Jack.

“We would,” Hammond assured the alien.

“For what reason?”

Hammond answered, “So that we both may survive.”

Sensing the major general's sincerity, the alien life force gasped and threw Jack's head back.

Not sure what that meant, if Jack was dying or if the life force was going through some kind of transition, Daniel grew desperate, his voice pleading, “We'll take you there ourselves.  Please!”

Anxiously, Daniel and the others waited to see what would happen.  All of a sudden, the power in the gate room went out, then came back on.  At last, the spear removed itself from Jack's body.  The life force went to the orb and reconnected to it.  Jack's body took the glowing orb to the engaged Stargate and tossed it through as Daniel and the others watched.  Then, Jack fell backwards onto the ramp.

As quickly as possible, Sam and the general aborted the auto-destruct while Daniel and Teal'c ran to Jack and helped him up.  Daniel said nothing for a moment, his left hand gently placed on Jack's upper arm.

Finally, the young man spoke, “Welcome back, Jack,” unable to contain a smile.  **Are you okay?**

**Danny, I had the weirdest experience,** Jack responded as his lover and Teal'c helped him out of the gate room and towards the infirmary.

Daniel smiled, wishing he could hold his soulmate, but content for the moment to be at his side.

“That wasn't a dream I just had was it,” Jack asked as they made their way through the corridors.

“O'Neill, do you not remember?” the Jaffa asked.

“Oh, I remember,” Jack responded.  “That's the problem,” he jested.  After a moment, he spoke, “Teal'c, thanks for sticking around.”

“It was my place,” the tall, dark man replied.

“Yes, well, thanks anyway,” the colonel said appreciatively.  “Daniel?”

“I'm okay,” Daniel responded.  “It's just ... been a long day, or two.”  He gave his lover a tiny smile, but inwardly, he thought, ~It was my place to be at Jack's side, not Teal'c's.  It'll never happen, will it?  We'll never be able to be free.~

**Danny?** Jack called out mentally, sensing his lover's distress.

**I was just worried.  I'll feel better after Janet checks you out,** Daniel intoned just as they reached the medical area.

“I must kelno'reem,” Teal'c announced, bowing his head and taking his leave of his friends.

“Don't use any rotten candles,” Jack teased.

~He's fine,~ Daniel thought with relief.  ~At least, his sense of humor hasn't gotten lost.  Uh, wait a minute -- is that good or bad?~

====

Janet conducted a full examination of the SGC's second-in-command and was happy, yet amazed, that he was suffering no ill effects.  The life force of the orb had left Jack slightly weakened, but unharmed.

“You're free to go, Colonel,” Janet stated.

“So I'm fine?” Jack inquired, buttoning his shirt.

“As good as you ever were ... Sir,” the woman doctor smirked, her eyes a bit playful and suggestive.

“Perfect then,” Jack replied smugly, though it, too, was said playfully.  As Janet chuckled, he added, “Thank you, Doc.”

Jack hopped off the bed, smiling at Daniel who hadn't left his side.  Both nodded at Janet and then walked out.  Daniel's arms were folded, and Jack could easily sense the stress still churning inside his lover.

“Just another hour, Danny, and then we go home,” Jack whispered.  ~And I'll make good on that promise.~

Daniel nodded, and the two quickly made their way to the briefing room where Hammond was waiting for the team, sans Teal'c, to do a quick debriefing.  When it was done, he gave SG-1 seventy-two hours downtime to recoup before their next mission.

“Jack, take it easy for the next few days,” Hammond said warmly before heading back to his office.

“I will, Sir,” Jack replied to the man's back.

“He was worried about you,” Daniel stated softly.  “We all were.”

“Let's get out of here,” Jack suggested firmly, wanting to embrace his soulmate and remove every ounce of stress from the younger's man body.

“Who's arguing?” Daniel asked, smiling for Jack's benefit.

~Okay, he's definitely still bothered by something.  I'm fine, so I wonder what I missed while being the tail to the wall's donkey,~ the older man pondered as they walked swiftly to the locker room, a trek that was completed silently as was the time spent changing into their civvies.

====

“Danny, how about we just relax upstairs for a while?” Jack asked when the lovers arrived at his country-styled house.

“I'd like that,” Daniel agreed.

The two lovers settled in on their comfortable bed, snuggling and cuddling as they talked about the orb and the events that had transpired.  Daniel was still unusually quiet, but Jack decided his soulmate just needed a little time to process everything that had occurred.  The events with the orb had taken a toll on both of them.

~I'm tired, too,~ the older man sighed as his eyelids fluttered shut, and he entered the world of sleep.

====

At roughly seven o'clock that night, Jack walked out of the study where he had been paying bills.  Entering the living room, he took note of his lover standing on the patio outside.

~Self-hugging again,~ Jack sighed.  Heading for the patio, he was determined to find out what had his partner so upset.  ~Okay, Danny, you're holding out on me, and that's not acceptable.”

When he reached his lover, Jack put his arms around him, holding him close.

Daniel sighed contently and leaned his body into Jack willingly, his head resting against Jack's left shoulder, where the spear of the orb had once inflicted so much pain.

“Oh, does that hurt?” Daniel asked, raising his head off his soulmate's shoulder.

“No, Love.”  Jack kissed Daniel's temple, then gently pushed Daniel's head back onto his shoulder.  His hands then maneuvered their way under Daniel's blue shirt to feel the soft skin that made him shiver with delight.  “Talk to me, Danny, and don't even try to out-maneuver me.  I know something's bothering you.  Tell me.”

The younger man wasn't trying to hide anything from his soulmate; it was all just a matter of timing and of readjusting to their world together, pushing out all the bad that seemed to threaten them from time to time.

“I felt so helpless, Jack,” Daniel admitted.  “I just stood there ... in the control room ... for the longest time.  I just ... stood there, watching you.  I was afraid I was going to lose you, and we've ...”  He chuckled, “Gawd, I think like you now.  That song -- 'We've Only Just Begun -- that's how I feel, about us.”

Jack smiled, placed a kiss at the base of his lover's neck, and replied, “You saved me, Danny.  You made the connection, and Carter made it work.”

“Sam,” Daniel said dryly.  He pulled out of Jack's warm embrace and walked into the house, over to the fireplace, and stared at the empty hearth.  He was self-hugging again.  ~I have to tell him.~

“What about Carter?” Jack asked, confused as to why his second-in-command would be the topic of conversation as she apparently was.

~Just say it,~ Daniel sighed to himself.  “She knows, Jack.”

“Knows what?”

Daniel turned to face his lover and answered, “About us.”

Jack turned his head slightly to the right, wondering if he was really hearing what he thought he was.  He stared deeply into the younger man's eyes, looking for the joke that had to be there.  Within a few seconds, though, he knew there was nothing lighthearted about his Love's remark.

“You told her?” the older man asked incredulously.

“No,” Daniel answered succinctly and then bit his lip.

“Then how?”

“She ... she just figured it out,” the uncomfortable archaeologist spoke as he held onto himself.

“No way,” Jack said, dismissing that notion as a possibility.  “C'mon, Daniel, you're just being over sensitive or something.”

“Jack, she knows,” Daniel refuted forcefully.  “She told me.  She, uh ... she wanted to help.”

“Help?  Daniel, what the blazes are you talking about?” an exasperated Jack asked.

~Help me from getting you court-martialed,~Daniel answered internally while studying the carpet, his hesitancy and nervousness obvious as he remained silent.

“Okay, let's go,” Jack ordered, heading for the entranceway.

“Go?” the younger man questioned as he turned to follow his lover's movements.

“Go!” Jack insisted, getting his jacket from the closet.  “Daniel, now!”  He could hear the sigh, but didn't say anything further since he could hear Daniel moving closer.  At the door, Jack turned and shook his head.  “Danny, get your jacket.”

“I'm not a child, Jack,” Daniel argued.

“Then get your jacket,” Jack instructed, not wanting his lover to get a cold.  ~Once we get this settled, I have plans for us, and you having a cold isn't part of them.~

Daniel rolled his eyes, opened the front closet to retrieve his jacket, and then followed Jack to the truck.

“Oh, wait,” the archaeologist called out, turning back towards the house.

“Wait for what?” Jack shouted as he stood between the door and the interior of the truck.

“I forgot to lock the door,” Daniel confessed.

“Just leave it,” Jack responded.

~I can't believe him.~  Daniel hurried up the steps to the porch, then opened the front door, locked it, and made sure it was securely shut.  As he headed back to the truck, he said, “Jack, you shouldn't leave your front door unlocked.”

“Look who's talking?” Jack bantered.  “You leave the apartment door unlocked all the time.”

“I do not,” Daniel denied.  “I don't bolt and latch it, but the door itself is locked,” he said, opening the door and stepping into the vehicle.

Jack whined, “You should always latch it.”  He started the truck and saw his lover's expression.  “Okay, sometimes I don't lock my own door.”

“You should,” Daniel insisted.

“You're right,” Jack admitted as he pulled out of the driveway.

The levity was short-lived, however, as soon the two men focused their thoughts again on Sam.  For Daniel, he was lost in feelings of inadequacy.  If he had been stronger, Sam wouldn't have needed to cover for him.  For Jack, he was just plain confused as to how the captain could possibly know about their love affair.

Thus, the ride to Sam's was done mostly in silence.  As they neared her house, Daniel glanced at his soulmate, trying to find words that were escaping him at the moment.  He wasn't sure how to explain their friend's revelation, nor was he sure why she had ultimately done what she had.  Part of him wondered if Sam liked Jack and maybe even wanted him for herself.

~How could I compete with a woman?  He was married, after all,~ the confused man wondered, dismissing the possibility that Jack might even have similar doubts or wonders since, Daniel himself was actually still married.

Daniel shut his eyes, dismissing the thought that his fellow scientist might have ulterior motives for her actions.  Sam wasn't like that.  If she knew the two men were romantically involved, which apparently she did, then she would never make a play for Jack herself.

~Would she?~

====

“Jack, maybe we should have called first,” Daniel wondered as Jack drove up to the front of Samantha Carter's house.

“We're going in, Daniel,” Jack insisted.

“But ...”

“Unless you want to tell me everything yourself,” the older man challenged. As Daniel let out a discontented breath, Jack stated, “I didn't think so.  Let's go.”

The lovers walked up to the front door, and Jack knocked on it.  It only took a few seconds before the homeowner opened the front door.

“Sir?  Daniel? ... um, come in,” Sam greeted, totally surprised at seeing her two colleagues standing at her door.

It was almost 8:30 p.m., and Sam had been relaxing, reading a technical journal by the fireplace.  She was casually dressed in form-fitting jeans and a white blouse with a lacy emerald v-neck trim.

“Hope we aren't interrupting anything, Carter.”

“No, I was just reading,” Sam answered, noticing Daniel had walked quickly over to the mantle, folded his arms around himself, and seemed to get lost in his own world.

“Is something wrong, Sir?” Sam asked, though she kept glancing over at Daniel, something which didn't go unnoticed by her CO.

“I hope not.  Carter, Daniel says ... well, he said you ... that you,” Jack stammered, something he very rarely did.  He fidgeted and then called out, “Daniel, tell her.”

Daniel turned and began his own round of stammering, saying, “I ... tol...told him that you ... when you, uh, came in my office ... I mean ...”

~Oh, geez,~ Sam thought, realizing what was happening.  She looked at Jack and acknowledged, “Yes, Sir, I do ... Sir.”

Immediately, Jack suggested, “I think maybe you'd better drop the 'Sir' for a while.”

“Yes ... Jack,” Sam responded as she looked down at the carpet.  Then she recommended, “Maybe we should sit down.”

“Yes.  Sit.  Good idea, Ca ... Sam,” Jack intoned as he flinched over switching from 'Carter' to 'Sam'.

The colonel sat down on the sofa, smiling at his second-in-command.  Daniel followed suit, but purposefully left a couple of feet between himself and his lover.  Sam, meanwhile, sat on a chair that she scooted over to face the sofa.

For a few minutes, the three teammates sat in an unsatisfying silence, all avoiding the subject that was on the table.

“Oh, for crying out loud, this is ridiculous.  Carter, do you know or not?” Jack asked pointedly.

“Yes, Sir,” Sam confirmed.

Still disbelieving, Jack asked, “How?  When?”

“Hadante.  You got in Daniel's personal space in an ... intimate way ... Jack, and he didn't seem to mind.”  Sam glanced at Daniel, who was evading her gaze again.  “Um, well, then after Daniel became addicted to the sarcophagus, and he was suffering through withdrawal, I noticed the way you held him in the storage room.  It was ... very personal, Sir ... I mean, Jack.  During his recovery, you shut the rest of us out, as if Daniel was your ... well, like he was your responsibility, more than just being his CO.”

Sam felt very uncomfortable, swallowing hard as she concluded her rationale.

“Oh, I see,” Jack said and then glanced at Daniel.  “So, Sam, how do you feel about ...”  He motioned to Daniel and then himself, thinking, ~Geez, I hate these types of conversations.~

Sam took a deep breath and then answered, “To be honest, I don't know.  It's not my place to judge you, but you're my family and my friends, and I won't let either of you be hurt simply because ... well, because you've found something together that I don't understand.”  Sam leaned forward, eager for her friends to understand her position.  “Sir, Daniel, SG-1 is a team, but we're more than that.  We're a family, and families help and protect each other, and that's what I tried to do at the SGC.”

“What exactly did you do?” Jack asked quietly, not truly certain he wanted to know.

“Daniel was upset.  He was worried about you, and ...” Sam began.

“I didn't hide it very well, Jack,” Daniel interrupted, though his words were almost inaudible.

Jack felt both sadness and despair in his lover.  Since Sam knew the truth now, he reached over and took hold of his lover's hand, causing the young man to look up at him in surprise.

“It's okay, Danny.  If the situation had been reversed, I doubt I would have been myself either,” Jack spoke softly, earning him a sweet smile from the younger man.

~Oh, wow,~ Sam thought as she sat back and watched this amazing connection happen right in front of her eyes.  She'd never heard Jack O'Neill sound quite that gentle before.  It was as if she had witnessed her CO melting, becoming an entirely different person right in front of her eyes.  ~Or maybe that's who he really is,~ she wondered.

Now, Jack and Daniel were lost in each other.  They were still sitting apart, with only their hands touching, but their unity was unmistakable.  It almost caused Sam to shiver herself from the raw emotion and electricity that filled the air.

“Sir,” Sam intoned, desperate to get beyond the moment.  “I asked Daniel if he would be upset if I tried to draw the attention away from him.  I overheard several discussions, gossip, really, but the ... it was more than just the usual chatter that we hear all the time; it was turning vicious.  I felt it was safer if the personnel were concentrating on me, rather than on Daniel.”

“What exactly did you do?” a curious Jack inquired as he continued to hold Daniel's hand in his.

“Smiled a lot ... at you, and looked sad and droopy-eyed at the right moments ... and I ... sorry, Sir, but I held your hand quite a bit ... Sir,” Sam stated, turning red-faced and feeling totally juvenile.

“I see,” Jack acknowledged and then turned to look at his lover.  “She really asked you if that was okay?”  Seeing Daniel nod, he questioned, “And you said 'yes'?”

“I didn't want to, but ... I had to try and protect you.  They'll court-martial you, Jack,” Daniel answered.  “I couldn't let that happen, especially because of me.”

Jack countered, “It's against the regs to get involved with someone on your own team as well.”

Sam clarified, “Yes, Sir, it is, but of the two offenses, it's the one that will draw the least amount of concern.  If anything, it will be officially ignored, but unofficially encouraged.  Let me help, Colonel.  When it gets like it was yesterday and today, I'd like to help.”

“There's a risk, Captain.”


“I'm aware of that.  It's my choice,” Sam said confidently.  She then nodded at Daniel, who wasn't looking at her.  She looked at Jack, silently trying to get him to understand that Daniel needed to have someone to rely on when he wasn't around.  ~Let me do this, for Daniel.~

Jack received the message and smiled as he replied, “Thanks, Carter.  Look, nothing changes, and if you ever think it has, that it's affecting my leadership, I expect you to tell me.  In fact, I order you to.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Okay,” Jack said as he clapped his thighs.  Standing, he asked, “So we're good to go?”

“I'm fine, Sir.  Yes,” the captain confirmed as she stood and gave him a little nod.  “Daniel?” Sam paused, making sure he was listening to her.  “I won't do this if it makes you feel uncomfortable.  It's your life, and you mean ... I ... I only want to make things easier, but if it ever crosses a line, I need to know you'll tell me.”

“I will, Sam.  Thank you,” Daniel promised as he, too, stood up.  “I ... I needed you at the base, Sam.  I don't want Jack's career to be hurt because of ... of ...”

“I understand,” Sam said, smiling warmly at the archaeologist.  “Uh, would you two like some coffee or ...”

“No, it's been a long couple of days.  We just want to go home,” Jack said.  “Carter, home is ...”

“Where your heart is, Sir,” Sam completed for her CO.  “Have a good downtime.”

“You, too, Sam,” Daniel spoke as Jack opened the door to leave.

Daniel walked towards the truck, not realizing his lover had lingered behind.  Quietly, Jack waited a few moments before turning back to say one final thing to Sam.

“Carter, Daniel means more to me than anything on this Earth.  Thank you for watching out for him,” Jack said.  He didn't wait for a response or any kind of acknowledgement, but hurried, instead, to catch up with his lover.  “Gonna cream your butt at chess tonight, Danny.”

“Right, Jack,” Daniel chuckled as he opened the truck door.

From her door, Sam watched the lovers drive away.  In many ways, she was relieved to have the secret out in the open now, even though she still didn't know how she really felt about the intimate relationship between the two men.  Hearing and seeing her CO in a different way was a revelation to her as well.  She closed her door, locking it behind her.

Although unsure about many things, the captain believed every word she had spoken -- SG-1 was a family, and no matter what, she would do everything in her power to protect them, regardless of the risk to her own career.

====

“Danny, where's the toothpaste?” Jack shouted from the bathroom later that night as they prepared to go to bed.

Getting no response, Jack walked out into their bedroom, buttoning his white pajama top as he made his way.  He stopped for a minute, seeing Daniel sitting, slumped forward slightly, on Jack's side of the bed.

The younger man was already in his light blue pajamas.  His glasses were on the nightstand, and he was staring down at the floor, his hands pressing against the sheets of the turned-down bed.

~Angel.~  Jack took a breath and crawled into the bed on Daniel's side, scooting over towards his lover.  He reached up to touch Daniel's back, urged, “C'mere, Danny,” and then tugged on his lover's left arm a little as he lay back.

Daniel twisted to his left and lay on top of his lover, his head on Jack's right shoulder.  He was happy that Jack was holding him tightly.

“I'm good as new, you know,” Jack assured, making sure his hold was secure, knowing that's what Daniel needed.

“I know.”

“You saved me,” the older man reminded.

“Sam and Janet did most of it,” the archaeologist responded quietly, automatically negating his own contributions to the effort.

“You made the connection and realized that the alien life forces were in the orb.  If you hadn't done that, Carter couldn't have done her thing,” the colonel pointed out.

Daniel sighed, “I should have been stronger.”

“Daniel, listen to me.  Remember what Carter said ... about the withdrawal?” Jack questioned.  Feeling his lover's nod against his shoulder, he requested, “Think about what she said.  Did it sound like I was behaving rationally?”

“I don't know what you mean,” the younger man admitted.

“Danny, I forcibly took you out of the SGC and brought you home.  It was against Fraiser's advice, MacKenzie's orders, Hammond's wishes, and everyone else's common sense.  I dragged you out of there, and locked you away here, and I refused to let anyone near you,” Jack reminded sternly.

Daniel shifted slightly, his hand undoing the buttons to Jack’s pajamas so his fingers could gain full access to Jack’s chest.  Jack had a hairy chest, and Daniel thought it was the sexiest thing he'd ever seen, except for Jack's silly Irish grin.

“Do you remember, Danny?” Jack asked.

“A little.”

The older man continued, “My point is, I was an idiot.  I'd do it again, without hesitation, but it wasn't logical.  Geez, Danny, do you know what that looked like?  What I did went way beyond my rights or responsibility as your CO.  It was way more than the action of a friend.  What I did was with all the emotion and all the rights of someone who loves you.”  He placed a kiss on Daniel's shaggy hair.  “So you see, My Love, neither one of us is ever going to be normal when the other is in jeopardy, because we love each other, and loving means ...”  He paused, considering his words, and then continued, “It means we worry, and that's not always easy to hide, especially when the other is in pain of any kind.”

Daniel finally looked up into Jack's eyes, asking, “So ... you're not mad at me?”

“Mad?  For crying out loud, Daniel, I love you.  Why should I be mad?” Jack responded, surprised by the question.

That's when the light dawned for Jack.  Daniel hadn't been able to hide his love for him as much as he thought he should have been able to.  Then he had allowed Sam to help them, more or less admitting to the relationship.  At that point, the archaeologist had been sure that Jack would be angry or upset at Daniel's weakness.

~That's not all you're worried about, is it, Love?  What would be next in that equation?  Me, flying the coop.  Well, don't even think it,~ Jack silently vowed.  “Danny, you are one crazy, beautiful human being,” he said, raising his hands to cup his lover's face.  “I'm not going anywhere.  I love you, for always.  You did everything you could to protect us and to save me.  I'm not mad, upset, or disappointed.  What I am is proud and happy that for some reason you've picked me to give your heart to.”

Daniel blinked as he replied, “I thought you'd be angry.”

“I love you, Danny.”  Jack brought their mouths together and kissed his Love.  “Danny, I don't care if the whole world knows about us.  You're my life, and someday, we're going to tell the world.  I'm not ashamed of us.  Are you?”

“No, of course not,” Daniel instantly responded.  “I love you, Jack.”

“And I love you.  Now, to the really important stuff.”  Jack ran his fingers through Daniel's hair.  “Where the heck did you hide the toothpaste?”

“Toothpaste.  Oh ... I forgot to buy some.  I used the last of it,” the archaeologist admitted.

Harshly, Jack replied, “Daniel, how am I supposed to go to sleep with grimy teeth.  I could get a cavity.”

“I'm sorry.”

“A cavity could mean pain.  Do you know what mouth pain feels like?” Jack inquired as if Daniel had just jabbed a knife into his abdomen.  He began to shout, carrying on and on about Daniel's forgetfulness and describing how it would be his fault if Jack's teeth rotted.  It went on for three minutes, as Daniel sheepishly listened to Jack's ranting.  Finally, the colonel shouted, “Do you know what this means?  This total lack of concern on your part?”

Daniel shook his head, saying meekly, “No.  What?”

“It means I have to do this ...”

Jack flipped Daniel over and began tickling him furiously.

Daniel squirmed, laughter erupting from him.  He never asked Jack to stop.  It felt good to have real feelings after the numbness of the last few days.  The release of laughter and giggles went on for a couple of minutes.

“You crazy geek.  I love you so much, Danny,” Jack intoned as the two settled again.  “You're everything to me.”

After they shared a passionate kiss, Daniel asked, “You were kidding about the toothpaste?”

“What's a cavity when I have you to take care of me?” the older man mused.

Daniel gave his lover a big smile as he wrapped his arms around Jack's neck.

“One of these days,” Jack began seriously, “you're going to know that we can fight and disagree, or be in a lousy mood, or whatever -- you're going to know, Danny, that it doesn't change our love.”

“Jack, I ...”

Jack put his hand over Daniel's heart and spoke, “That little boy that got so hurt is always afraid that he's going to get left behind.  It's not going to happen, Daniel.  It will never happen.  Do you hear me?  I ... love ... you, and that will *never* change, not ever, not even if you did forget to buy toothpaste.”

“Jack?”

“Yes, Love?”

“You know how they say that when people fall in love, they start to pick up each other's traits and habits?” Daniel asked.

Jack pursed his lips, nodded, and said, “Yeah, I've heard that rumor.  What about it?”

“You've picked up one of mine,” the archaeologist announced.

“No way,” Jack replied, jutting his head back and shaking it.

“Way.”

“Never happen.”

“But it did,” the younger man insisted, nodding his head up and down.

“I don't believe it,” Jack refuted confidently.

Daniel insisted, “It's the truth, Babe.”

“Prove it,” the older man challenged.

“Shut up.”

“Oh, now that's going over the line.  What does that mean?” Jack asked.

Daniel smiled and answered, “It means you talk too much.”

“Me?  No way,” Jack responded, denying the accusation.

“Way.”

“Not true, Danny.”

“Jack?” Daniel asked.

“What?”

“Shut up, and make love to me.  I've waited long enough for you to finish what you started in the locker room,” Daniel stated lovingly.

“Oh, I do love the way you think.  It's so ... so ...”

“Jack?”

“Right.”

Jack and Daniel renewed their love, with joy in their hearts, happiness in their souls, and stars dancing overhead as their bodies climaxed from their joining.  Life was good in Colorado Springs, at least for the moment!

====

“Hey, Jack, that second-in-command cutie sure has the hots for you,” Norm Foster teased as he joined Jack and some other men in the commissary for lunch a few days after the incident with the orb.

“Carter?” Jack asked.  ~A cutie?  Well, I guess she's pretty enough, but hot?  Carter?~ he thought, unable to see past the green BDUs that he normally saw the woman wearing.

“That's it, Colonel,” Mike Bishop laughed.  “Play it cool.”

“Yeah, frat rules and the like, I guess you have to be careful, but you can tell us, does she deliver as good as she looks?” Jake Petrocelli asked with a leer in his eye.

Jack practically spit out his coffee at Colonel Petrocelli's suggestive question. His first instinct was to set the guys straight, but then he remembered the game his 2IC had come up with and realized he should probably play along.

“Well, you know, anyone with any brains, especially in the Air Force, wouldn't kiss and tell,” Jack replied as he winked at the trio and quickly took another sip of coffee.

The three took Jack's comment to be an affirmative answer, all of them nodding and chuckling knowingly.

“I'll bet she's hot stuff in bed,” Mike stated, raising his eyebrows.

“Uh, let's not jump the gun, Fellas,” Jack intoned seriously, trying to tone down their assumptions.  “I'm not bucking for a court-martial here.”

“Give it time, Jack,” Jake urged.  “I saw how she was when that thing attacked you.  She was gone, really worried.  I imagine all you'd have to do is point and she'd take real good care of you.”

Jack stared at his coffee cup and asked, “Is this coffee?  Tastes more like glue.”  He put his finger in the coffee, hoping to distract the three men from their suggestive conversation.  ~Thinking of Carter like that is like thinking of having sex with my sister, if I had a sister.~

“Heck, for a while, everyone was talking about you and ...” Mike stopped short, exchanging looks with the other two men.

Jack knew they were talking about Daniel.  Suddenly, playing the game became more important.  He found he didn't really care all that much if he got court-martialed, but he knew Daniel would.

~Stupid regs.  Okay, O'Neill, you can do this acting thing.~  Jack feigned innocence.  “Me and who?” he asked and then sipped more of his coffee.

“Never mind, Jack.  You're way too macho for that crap.  So, what's the real story with you and Carter?”

“Hi, Jack,” Daniel greeted, surprising his lover and the others.

“Daniel?  Thought you had a meeting,” Jack caustically responded, realizing this was a perfect opportunity reaffirm his 'macho' image.

“It ... was cancelled,” Daniel responded hesitantly, seeing the funny looks he was getting and hearing the tone in his lover's voice.

“Sit down,” Jack invited.

Daniel took the only seat available, the one across from Jack and next to Jake.

“So, what's the topic?” Daniel asked, feeling strangely like the odd man out.

Jake smacked his lips as he took a bite of salad and, with his mouth full, answered, “Jack and Captain Carter.”  Almost as a tease, he added, “She's hot stuff, wouldn't you agree, Jackson?”

“That would be Doctor Jackson to you, Jake,” Jack quickly corrected.

Jake slowed his chewing as he looked at Jack and Daniel, as if pondering if he might had been wrong to dismiss the rumors about them so quickly.

“It's okay, Jack,” Daniel interjected, not wanting to cause a fuss.  He was used to not being taken seriously, and he'd been teased more than most during his lifetime.  ~This is nothing new.~

“No, it's not okay,” Jack insisted.  “You're not military, and those degrees mean something.  People need to show some respect, especially here.”  He glared at Jake and then realized his words weren't doing much to dispel the notion of a relationship between he and Daniel.  He decided to stretch the truth a little.  “You know General Hammond has insisted that all the civilians on base be addressed by their proper titles, if they have one, and you definitely have one.”

It was Mike who reacted next.  Though he couldn't recall seeing any specific orders coming from the general on this subject, he did recall an incident not long ago where a civilian had complained about being treated badly.  He also realized it wasn't a smart move to question orders from the base's second-in-command, and that did sound like the type of thing Hammond would order.

Mike held his hands up and grinned as he apologized, “Sorry, *Doctor* Jackson.  She is hot though.”

Daniel looked at Jack, who very slightly motioned with his head, the only further warning he could give about the characters they were lunching with.

“Yeah, hot,” Daniel agreed, as he snapped a piece of carrot in two.  ~Why is he sitting here with these three morons?~

“You're a lucky man, Jack,” Jake smirked.

The archaeologist had heard about all he cared to.  After the incident with the orb and the discussion with Sam about their relationship, Jack and Daniel had spent two days together, just loving each other.  Unfortunately, now they were back at the Mountain, and the reality of their newly launched game, of Sam acting as a love decoy, pretending to have feelings for Jack, and vice versa, had begun to grate on him.

~I wish we'd never started this ... game,~ Daniel lamented.  He hadn't realized that the tiny looks, small gestures, and whispered words between Jack and Sam would be so hard to take.  What's more, the entire base seemed to be catching on without much help from the supposed couple.  It was like a wildfire burning out of control.  The more Jack and Sam sat together or exchanged glances, the faster and wilder the stories about them became.  ~This isn't the kind of game I want to play.~

As Jack's best friend and a close confidant of Sam's, Daniel was the one who a lot of personnel turned to for information, or sometimes, just to tease.  The talk about Jack and Daniel had subsided, or at least lessened, almost instantly.  Realizing this, the younger man had thought his lover and friend could cut back a little on the openness of their 'romantic' actions.  Sam, however, didn't realize that Daniel was serious about curtailing the game and figured that the longer they continued the charade, the better it would work.  Jack simply teased his lover about being jealous.

~Jealous.  Right, Jack.  I'm jealous,~ Daniel sarcastically lamented as he sat in the commissary, listening to the conversation about the supposed affair.

The archaeologist felt a mixture of anger at having his feelings ignored, regret at having ever agreed to the deception in the first place, and frustration at not being able to reach across the table and kiss his lover right here and now.

~I'd like everyone to see who he really loves,~ Daniel thought, showing an unusual confidence for the moment.

Before his emotions took him further into despair, Mike's goading request brought Daniel back to the moment.

“Come on, Jack, details,” Mike prodded.

“No hedging,” Jake added.  “Like Mike said, we want the real story.”

“Well,” Jack coughed, “what can I say?  Carter is ... Carter.”

“You're being too modest,” Mike said.  “I'll bet you have her doing *anything* you want.”

“No, I just don't like to kiss and tell, that's all.  Carter has a right to privacy,” Jack pointed out.

“But you've been there, haven't you, Jack,” Jake asked pointedly.  “A little one-on-one.”

“Been there?” Jack asked, trying to act as dumb as he could about the innuendo.

Daniel was still chewing the piece of meat he had first put in his mouth. This conversation was not to his liking at all.  He could sense Jack was uncomfortable, too, but he wasn't sure if that was because of the questions or because he had joined the group at the table.

“You're being sly, Jack, and that's not like you,” Norm chimed in, finally done with his pie which had been the focus of his attention during most of the conversation.

~How do you know what I'm like?~ Jack wondered.  “Look, I told you, I don't ...” He saw the leering faces.  They weren't going to be satisfied until he said something more concrete.  “Okay, okay, she's good, very good.  We've had some good times, very spine-tingling.”

“I always knew you had a thing for her.  It was obvious by the little looks you kept giving each other.  You're the man, Jack.  Finally defrosted the ice-maiden, eh?” Mike laughed haughtily.

“Yeah, well, you know me, when I want something bad enough, I won't stop until I get it,” Jack chuckled, until he saw his lover's stare.

The three men, however, ate it up, totally buying Jack's statements.

“Hey, we gotta go,” Norm said, standing.

“Keep us posted, Jack,” Jake requested with a nod.

“Yeah, give us the black book entry.  We have a pool going,” Mike remarked as he walked away.

“A pool?” Jack asked incredulously.  “On what?”

“I'm sure I don't want to know,” Daniel answered agitatedly.  Now that the other three men had gone, he put down his fork and stared his lover in the eye. “Spine-tingling?”

“Antarctica.  It was cold, Danny!” Jack exclaimed innocently.

“Oh, I see,” Daniel replied skeptically.

Jack noticed the icy tone of voice and saw the doubting expression on his lover's face.

“You know something else?” Jack asked.

“No, why don't you enlighten me?” Daniel responded snarkily.

Jack opined, “It's suddenly very cold in here, too.”

“Cold?”  Daniel picked up his mug, intentionally slurping his coffee.  “Ah, warm.  Only warm thing I'll be touching today.”

“Get a grip, Daniel.  It's only a game, one you consented to.  In fact, it's one we're playing because of you,” Jack accused with a low but raised voice.

Hurt at that remark, Daniel smiled weakly, looking off to the side, as he spoke, “Thanks, Jack.  Thank you very much for reminding me that the risk to your career is all because of me and my weakness in not being able to act like I don't give a crap what happens to you when some alien life force decides to use you for some ... some pin cushion!  I really needed that thrown in my face right now.”

“Danny, that's not what I meant,” Jack responded sharply.

“But it's what you said.”

“For crying out loud, stop being so sensitive.  I happen to ...”  Jack looked around, noticing there were way too many people watching, trying to hear what was being said from the intense looks being expressed.  “It's a friggin' game.”

“I *know* that, Jack, and it's fine, really.  You go right ahead and have fun,” the younger man suggested angrily.

“You think I'm having fun?”

“Oh, I *know* you're having fun.  It's written all over your face every time one of these guys tell you that you're 'da man'.  I never knew it was possible to strut around the room while sitting down, but you sure do,” Daniel retorted.

Jack raised his eyebrows in disbelief as he asked, “What's that supposed to mean?”

“Look, just forget it. I don't want to talk about it anymore, at least not here.  It's not getting us anywhere,” the younger man opined with a tone of annoyance.

“Well, I do want to talk about it, so let's hear it,” Jack demanded.

Harshly, Daniel asked, “Why is everything always about you, Jack?  Gawd.  Shouldn't this be about Sam, too, and her reputation ... or is the truth that neither of you care about that anymore?”  He paused, looking around the room, seeing the stares, but not caring.  He knew people would wonder about the disagreement taking place, but he also knew they couldn't hear them.  “You wanna hear it, Jack?  You got it!  I think it's becoming perfectly obvious to me that out of the two supposedly high priorities of your life, your career is *the* most important,” He snorted in a sarcastic laughing sound.  “I rank a very poor second, and I'm probably lucky that I rate that high.”

“That's garbage, and you know it,” Jack said, also noticing the looks being directed their way.

“Do I?  You know that I'm finding this hard, and yet you think it's worth it.  You don't care that the way you are playing the game hurts me.  Jack, it's not the game itself, because you're right.  It's all because of me, but you aren't going for a field goal, you're going for the touchdown.  You only need three points, not six, but your macho man attitude can't see that, can it?  As long as you and Sam don't get found out, that's what's important, isn't it, Jack?” Daniel questioned sternly.

Jack nodded sarcastically as Daniel stood and walked away.

~Stubborn, infuriating geek.  Geez, I love him,~ Jack thought in a combination of anger and desire as he stood and went about his business.

====

Late that afternoon, Daniel entered one of the rooms used for storing artifacts until they were sent to Area 51.  He planned on adding two relics to the 'to be shipped' inventory, but became distracted when he saw an object taken from P3T-141.  It was reminiscent of Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love and fertility.

“Right.  Who needs fertility, but love?  Maybe that's just a joke,” the archaeologist mused sadly.

“Looking for love in all the wrong places, *Doctor* Jackson?” a strange voice spoke.

Daniel turned, surprised to see Norm Foster standing there.

“Feeling jilted?  O'Neill dump you?” Norm accused as he walked threateningly towards Daniel, causing the archaeologist to back up slightly.  “*Two* assets are better than ... one,** he stated, looking downward at Daniel's mid-section.

“I don't know where you're getting your information, but you're wrong, about all of it, and I'd suggest you get back to your duties,” Daniel spoke, his breathing more rapid as he tried not to panic.

“I have a lot of duties to *handle*, but right now, I'm on my own time,” Norm spoke, backing Daniel all the way into the wall.  “Let O'Neill get his jollies with Carter.  I'll ease your pain,” he said, raising his hand and bringing it to rest at the side of Daniel's shaggy locks.

“Doc, everything okay in here?” Lou Ferretti called out.

Quickly, Norm leaned over and whispered, “You rat me out, and you'll regret it; so will O'Neill.”  He turned, all smiles, and greeted, “Major Ferretti, I was helping Doctor Jackson with his artifacts.”

Lou stared at Daniel, sensing the tale was just that -- a tale.

“Isn't that right, Doctor Jackson?” Norm asked, looking back at Daniel, daggers of warning in his eyes.

“Yes, uh, that's right.”

“Anytime you need my help, you just call.  Ouch, look at the time.  Outtahere!” Norm said, breezing by Ferretti.

Lou walked forward and asked, “Doc, you okay?”

“I'm fine.  Uh, I just need to ... to put this a...away, that's all,” Daniel stammered as he put the relic back down.  He then moved to log in the two new pieces.  When he was done, he looked over toward the door, noticing Lou was standing there.  He smiled, saying, “I, uh, didn't know you were still here.”

“General Hammond likes us to keep up on things.  I was observing your procedures.  It might come in handy one day,” Lou said with a smile.  ~And I didn't buy that story Norm tried feeding me.~

“Oh, okay.”  Daniel smiled nervously as he nodded.  He walked to the door, but before going through it, he said, “Thanks.  Uh, there's no need to ... uh ...”

“No worries, Doc,” Lou assured.  “Like I said, I'm just here observing,” the major stated.

Nodding, Daniel left the special area and went directly to his office.  He'd managed to avoid his lover since their disagreement earlier, and now he couldn't wait to get home.

~At least I don't need to worry about running into Jack or moronic Marines in my apartment,~ Daniel silently thought.

====

Three hours later, after showering and changing into his civvies after a very long day, Norm headed for the door, surprised when it didn't open.

“Hey!” Norm called out.

“Have a problem, Norm?” Lou called out as he moved out from behind a row of lockers.

“Ferretti, what's going on?” Norm asked.

“You and I are going to have a little chat about respect and minding your own crappin' business,” Lou said as he walked towards the man.  “If you don't *learn* from our ... chat, then we'll have to another one.  I may even have to call in a backup.”

“What's this about?” Norm asked, still trying again to get the door open.

“Keep your hands to yourself, Foster, and especially keep your mitts away from Doctor Jackson,” Lou ordered, punching the man in the abdomen, causing him to keel over.  He quickly brought the man into a choke-hold position and added, “For the record, he didn't say anything to me.  All I had to do was see you and your disgusting mug hovering over him like that.  Yeah, I saw a little more than I let on.  I don't want to see the Doc embarrassed.  Now, listen good, Moron.  No repercussions, or you'll be the one to pay.”  Lou pushed the man away, kicking him with his foot, causing Foster to fall hard against one of the benches.  “This was just a little chat.  Next time, it won't be so little.”

Lou walked to the door and tapped on it.  It opened, revealing a very menacing Jaffa standing guard.

“Was your chat successful, MajorFerretti?” Teal'c asked, glaring at Norm Foster, a promise in his eyes that he wouldn't hesitate to go after Foster if he didn't learn from the 'chat' with Lou.

Lou looked over at Norm, who was just standing up, gripping his abdomen, and replied, “I think so, Teal'c.  So, about this kelno'reem business?  How does that work?” he asked as the two walked off, leaving Norm Foster to lick his wounds in private.

Major Lou Ferretti was a close friend of Jack O'Neill's, and he liked Daniel, too.  He'd heard rumors about Jack and Daniel and simply dismissed them as one of the more outlandish rumors circulating about his friend.  After all, at various times, base gossip had put Jack together with Samantha Carter and even Janet Fraiser.  While generally the rumors were harmless, he wasn't about to let anyone take advantage of Daniel, who with his slender build and long, shaggy hair was often taken to be of questionable sexual orientation.  Lou didn't have a clue about which sex Daniel preferred, but he did know Daniel was married to a beautiful woman.  More than that, he knew Daniel to be a caring and passionate person.  He didn't think twice about joining forces with Teal'c to protect Daniel against ignorant Marine predators like Norm Foster.

“Thanks, Teal'c,” Lou said as they arrived at the elevator.

“DanielJackson is an honorable person, MajorFerretti.  Please let me know if my services are required further,” the Jaffa spoke, then bowed his head as Lou jumped happily onto the elevator.  “I will be most happy to continue ... the chat.”

Lou laughed and promised, “Will do,” as the doors to the elevator closed.

Teal'c turned to head for his quarters, catching a glimpse of Foster as he headed for the elevator himself.  He stared, a stoic expression on his face, as the man skirted by him, not going any closer than was necessary.

The Jaffa continued on his way, a smirk on his face for just a brief moment as he walked on.

~Indeed, it will be a pleasure,~ Teal'c thought about setting Foster straight if he ever approached Daniel again.

====

When Jack arrived home, he found a message on his answering machine.

“Jack, I have to work tonight, so we have to cancel our plans.  The ... game will have to wait.  I'll see you at work tomorrow; and please don't call.  If you interrupt me, it means I'll have to stay up all night because this really does need to get done by morning, so ... you know how you nag.  Goodnight.”

Jack erased the message and walked to the kitchen.  He made a couple of sandwiches, one roast beef and one ham.  He grabbed some coleslaw and took a couple of beers out of the refrigerator.  Nourishment in hand, he climbed up to the roof deck.  Sitting on one of the deck chairs, he uncapped one of the beers and took a swig.  It was freezing cold outside, but, to Jack, that didn't matter.

“Hey, Stars, looks like it's just you and me tonight, and why not?  If I'm going to get the cold treatment, I might as well really be cold,” Jack stated.

“Hi, Fish,” Daniel said sadly, alone in the cold of his apartment.  He carefully fed the swimming creatures and watched as most swam to the top of the tank to eat their meal, but then he saw one lingering near the bottom.  Standing motionless, his arms folded across his chest, he studied the lonely fish as if he had never seen such a creature before.  “You're gonna die, Fish,” he stated after a while, finally turning and walking away.

The young man went to his kitchen to prepare dinner.  Opening the cabinets, he did nothing but stare for quite a while.  Finally, he reverted back to childhood, making two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  He took them along with a bag of Doritos into the living room.

As he walked, holding his food, Daniel's mind went back to the fish, the very lonely, hungry fish.

“Dead fish,” Daniel sighed as sat down on the sofa, putting the food on the coffee table.

Daniel sat hunched forward, holding the first sandwich in his hand, yet not taking a bite.

“I guess I'm not really very hungry,” Jack and Daniel said at the exact same time, though in different parts of Colorado Springs.

Having put his sandwich back on the small plastic deck table, Jack leaned back and stared at the stars, thinking again about how cold it was outside.

Having put his sandwich back on the coffee table, Daniel leaned back, his eyes focused on the ceiling, his body unusually cold in the comfort of his apartment.

After a few minutes, the archaeologist looked over at the fish tank.  He just couldn't stop thinking about the small orange lifeform.  After a bit more time passed, he stood and went back to the closet.  He pulled out one of the smaller fish bowls he sometimes used when working on the fish tank.  Carefully, he took some water from the tank and netted the lone fish, after which he put some feed in the small bowl, watching with sadness as the little fish ignored it.

“Dead fish.  You're lonely.  It's that other orange fish that died last week, isn't it?  I'm sorry.  He got sick.  Wasn't his fault, Fish.  He didn't want to die. He didn't mean to leave you behind.  It just ... happened.  That doesn't really matter to you, does it, because you'd bonded with him.  He became part of you.  I understand.  I could buy a new orange fish, but it wouldn't help, would it?  You want the other orange fish.  I'm sorry.  He's gone, and as much as I wish I could, I can't bring him back for you.  So ... Fish, I guess you're going to sink down and die, aren't you?  I'm sorry, Fish.”

After several more minutes of staring mindlessly at the fish, Daniel intoned, “I guess I should do my work.  I don't want to make my message to Jack ...”

“... a lie?  Do you really have work to do, Danny, or did you finally lie to me?  Do you truly have to ...”

“... work.  I have to get it done, so my message to Jack won't be a lie.  I never knew doing what I love could be so ...”

“... lonely.  I'm so lonely tonight, Stars.  I miss him, My Danny.  I don't understand this.  I don't know why he's making this out to be a big deal.  I love him, not Carter.  It's a game.  For crying out loud, I'm doing it all for him, for our love.  Well, if he wants to be alone, he can stay at his apartment forever and work.  Maybe I should just go to the cabin and ...”

“... Fish, I can't believe I'm relegated to sitting here talking to a dying fish.  How much further down is it before I hit bottom?  Jack just doesn't get it, Fish.  He just doesn't ...”

“... Understand what, Danny?  You keep saying that I don't, and you're right, I don't.  But why does it have to push us apart?  Why aren't you here?  Why am I sitting here ...”

“... alone.  I feel so alone.  Why aren't you here, Jack?  Gawd, I told you not to come.  I'm pushing you away, but I don't want you to go.  I only want the hurt to go away, not you.  Don't leave, Jack.”

Daniel opened his backpack full of books and notes that he had brought home from the SGC and started to work, desperately trying to make the message he had left on the answering machine the truth.  Unable to stop himself, though, every few minutes, he ended up staring at the fish.

“Big Fish didn't mean to die, Little Fish.  Sometimes, Big Fish don't realize how much they can hurt you.  They don't mean to.  Big Fish loves you, even still, I'm sure of it.”

Daniel moved off the sofa to sit on the floor, so that he was eye level with the orange fish.  He put his fingers to the bowl and tapped on it briefly, and then slowly lowered his hand to his lap.

Jack tapped on the telescope, trying to adjust the focus to his liking.  He stared through the lens at the constellations, seeking comfort but getting none.

“So, Fish, do we sit here and be lonely and ... die, or do we accept that Big Fish is just Big Fish, and no matter what, we know we love Big Fish, and he doesn't mean to hurt us?  He loves us.  Gawd, I love him.  I guess it doesn't matter if I hurt a little, does it?  I mean, my entire life, I've sacrificed.  I've never been happy.  Why should I be happy now?  Maybe ... maybe just being ... content for a while ... maybe that's all I can expect.  He doesn't mean to hurt me.  He doesn't love her.  Does he?  No, I know he doesn't.  The thing is, someday he might, because ... like we both know, Little Fish, eventually Big Fishes leave little fishes.  I'm so ...”

“... Sorry, Danny, but what you're doing and what you're saying makes no sense to me.  I'm just so sorry ...”

“... For both of us, Little Fish,” Daniel sighed.

Daniel closed his books and went to bed.  He turned the heat up high, not comprehending the chill that filled him.  He slid under the blankets, even adding another one that he normally kept in the closet.  Still, he felt only cold as he slept through the night.

Several miles away, Jack fell asleep under the stars, trying with all his might to feel only the cold of the night and not the cold that was inside of him.

--

The next morning, Daniel found Little Fish dead.  He gave him a proper burial, reciting a small eulogy.

“Here lies Little Fish, who only wanted someone to love him first, just for once.  Goodbye, Little Fish.  I guess we both dreamed too high.  But ... thank you for reminding me.  I overreacted, expected too much.  I love him, Little Fish.  I forgot that I need to just ... go along; that's the rule: don't make waves and just ... go along.  I ... I can endure some unhappiness if it means he won't send me away, like everyone else has that I've loved.  Rest in Peace, Little Fish.”

Daniel flushed the toilet, put on his jacket, and headed for the SGC.

====

In the corner of the SGC parking lot, Daniel sat in his car, listening to the radio, which was playing Barry Manilow's, “I Made it Through the Rain.”

The archaeologist sighed, “It sounds more like a hurricane than a storm to me, and I hope it ends soon.”

The anguished man closed his eyes, knowing he had a very important decision to make.  Little Fish had reminded him of his vulnerability.  He might not like it, but at the moment, he just wanted to hang on to the good in his life, to Jack, at least for a little while.  He hoped Jack would tire of the game, or that somehow, he'd finally understand.

~Gawd, Jack.  I can't do this forever.  Please ... give me the strength to hang on before what we have is ... flushed down the toilet,~ Daniel lamented.

Feeling choiceless in the matter because of his love for the Air Force colonel, Daniel decided to try and endure the hurt for a while longer in the hopes that his lover would see the light.  No one had ever made Daniel feel the way Jack always did.  Being in Jack's arms was the most incredible, wonderful feeling the archaeologist had ever felt, and he didn't want to lose that.  He didn't want to lose Jack.

====

“Hey, Daniel,” Sam chirped, a big smile on her face as she was about to pass her teammate in the corridor.

“Hi, Sam,” Daniel responded in a subdued tone.

“Are you okay?”

“Just a little tired.  I'll see you at the briefing,” the archaeologist greeted, wanting to get on with his scheduled task.

“Sure.  Say, have you seen Colonel O'Neill?”

“No, not yet,” Daniel answered, his shoulders slumping a little in defeat.

Unfortunately, that little sign when completely unnoticed by Sam.

“Well, when you do, will you ...”

“Sam, I have to go.  I'll talk with you later,” Daniel spoke, hurriedly continuing on his way.

~They must have had a long night,~ Sam thought to herself as she watched her friend round the corner.  ~Don't go there, Samantha,~ she reminded, turning and continuing to her lab.

====

“Jack, I'm sorry,” Daniel said a few minutes later as he entered the colonel's office.  “I overreacted, and ... I'm sorry.”

Jack stood up and brushed by his lover in order to shut his door.  He turned off the security camera and approached his lover.  With a smile and sparkling eyes, he kissed his lover for the first time in twenty-four hours.

“Hmm, you taste good,” Jack sighed.

“You, too,” the younger man intoned as his hands rested gently at Jack's waist.

“It was just the game, Danny, but if you've changed your mind, tell me now, and it will never happen again.”

Daniel shook his head, saying, “No, we need Sam and ... the game.  It's just ... I didn't know it would be so hard to listen to it.  I'm sorry,” he said, going along and taking all the blame.

Still, the archaeologist hoped Jack would shoulder some of the responsibility as well.  It hurt when he didn't.

“It's okay,” Jack assured as his hands warmed his lover's neck.  They kissed again, after which he confided, “I missed you last night.”

“I missed you, too ... and, I really did have to work.  It wasn't a lie ... just a ... a convenient tool, I guess,” the dutiful scientist admitted.

“I got the message,” Jack said before kissing Daniel yet again.  ~We have a lot of kissing and fondling to make up for.~  “Briefing is at 1100 hours.  You ready with that research we need?”

“Yes, it's all done.  I have to go,” Daniel stated as he pulled back a few steps. “I just wanted you to know ... you know.”

“I love you, Danny.”

“Love you, too.”  Blinking a couple of times, Daniel backed up another step before turning and walking out the door.  ~That wasn't so hard.  I love him.  We'll ... be okay.  Just ... go along, Jackson.  He's worth it.~

====

The next day, Daniel entered the infirmary.  He had a headache and wanted to get some aspirin from Janet.  As he entered, he heard some nurses talking.  He stood outside the door, thinking that he recognized some of the voices, though he wasn't positive.

“The captain was all eyes.  Did you see her looking up at Colonel O'Neill when that thing had him pinned to the wall?” one female gossiped.

“They had the gate room closed off,” another of the nurses, named Shirl, responded as she held a chart in her hands.

“Yes, but I had gone into the control room to see Sergeant Davis, and it was on the screen.  I swear, Gals, she has it bad for O'Neill,” the first woman insisted, laughing at the same time.

“I can't say I'm surprised,” a third woman, a technician, commented.  “She's always bucking to be at his side.”

“Oh, and I forgot.  She actually held his hand ... reached for it and took it.  I about fell down, right there in front of the general,” the first gossiper added.

“Maybe it was the terror of the moment,” Shirl offered, trying to give Sam the benefit of the doubt.

“If that's the case, Shirl, how do you explain those goo-goo eyes she gave him this morning?” the technician asked.

“Or that hand holding from yesterday?” the first woman inquired.

“Hand holding?” Shirl asked, not having heard that story.

“It happened in the commissary.  I saw them myself,” the first woman stated.

“They actually held hands in the commissary, where anyone could see them?” Shirl questioned.

“They sure did,” the first gossiper affirmed.  “I guess the colonel cares more about her than regulations.”

“She's lucky.  He's dreamy,” the second woman spoke a bit dreamily.

~Yeah, just dreamy, and a real peach of a guy to be holding hands with one of our good *friends* in front of everyone,~ Daniel bewailed.  His headache was worse, but all he wanted now was to get as far away from the infirmary as he could.  ~This is a freakin' nightmare.~  He turned, bumping into Janet.  “Sorry.”

“Did you need something?” the redhead inquired.

“No, thanks,” Daniel answered quickly, side-stepping Janet and hurrying back to his office.  ~Actually, yes, I do.  A loyal lover, a government that doesn't have asinine rules, a Goa'uld zapper -- have any of those?  Gawd, I'm sounding more like Jack every day.  Jack -- you didn't have to hold her hand.~

The more Daniel processed what he'd heard, the angrier he became.  Jack's actions had gone too far and for no reason.  Going along just wasn't acceptable to the young scientist, not anymore, not after what he had heard and the way it made him feel.  With a full steam of ire, he headed for his lover's office, determined to be heard at last.

====

“DANIEL, CALM DOWN!” Jack shouted, unprepared for the 'attack' he was undergoing.

“YOU WERE HOLDING HER HAND, JACK!  That's what they said,” Daniel accused, his hostility towards his soulmate undeniable at the moment.

The two were squaring off in Jack's office.  As usual, the door was locked and the security equipment off.  Jack was standing by the wall, near the mounted camera, while Daniel was a few feet in front of him, by the colonel's desk.

“I was *not* holding her blasted hand.  They exaggerated!” Jack exclaimed a bit tentatively.

“Oh, really,” Daniel replied skeptically as he folded his arms in front of him.  “What did happen, Jack?”

“WHAT?  Oh for ... Daniel, listen to me,” an exasperated Jack requested.  “Carter was in the commissary having breakfast.  There were a few people around so we figured we'd give them a little show, just facial stuff.  You know, a look or wink, or something.  She asked me to pass her the salt.  I reached for it and bumped her hand.  We sort of turned to each other, I guess.  It was just a split-second.”

“Very logical,” Daniel spoke.

“That's what I thought,” Jack replied.

“Except, uh, for one thing,” the archaeologist stated as he looked downward.  Looking back up at his Love, he asked pointedly, “Jack, if Sam's hand was already by the salt, why did she ask you to pass it to her?”

~Geez, why did she?~  Jack was stunned, having not even thought about that.  He fidgeted and ran his right hand through his brown hair.  “I don't know, but she did.”

“Right, Jack.”

“Daniel, I am *not* lying to you,” the older man maintained.  His response was a cold stare and seeing Daniel's backside as the archaeologist headed for the door to leave.  “STOP RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE.”  Jack ran to the door and stuck his right arm out to prevent Daniel from opening it.  “This is ridiculous.  I'm not lying.  It's just a game, and you know it.”

“Move your arm, Jack,” the younger man demanded.

“You're not leaving,” Jack stated firmly, not moving his arm one inch.

“What part of 'move ... your ... arm' do you not understand?” Daniel challenged, speaking very slowly and distinctly.  ~If he wants to act dumb, I can play along.~

“You are *not* going anywhere,” Jack said again, then questioning in a raised voice, “*Do you hear me*?”

“Oh, I hear you, Colonel O'Neill.  The real question, though, is, uh ... do you hear me?” Daniel asked.

“What?” a confused older man queried.  The next thing he knew, he was on the floor, courtesy of his lover.  Daniel had grabbed his right arm and flipped him, the move having taken Jack totally by surprise.  “Ouch!  What the ... DANIEL?”

“I guess you underestimate me, too, Jack.”

“Danny, that hurt,” Jack whined, getting up and rubbing his back side.

“Get Sam to kiss it and make it better,” Daniel sarcastically replied as he turned and walked out, slamming the door behind him.

~Sometimes that man can aggravate me so much that I ...~  Jack sighed, stopping his thought.  He loved that man.  ~Salt -- all this over salt.~  He groaned.  ~Why did she do that?  Women!~

====

“CARTER!” Jack bellowed, entering the lab where his 2IC was working.

“Sir?”

Standing with his hands on his hips, Jack asked, “Why'd you ask me to pass the friggin' salt when it was right next to you?”

“Salt?” Sam asked.  She racked her brain, trying to figure out what her CO was asking; then it suddenly came to her.  “Oh, well, Sir, I saw some of the nurses had walked in, and I figured it would be a good way to create some ... well, you know ... Sir.”

“Fine,” Jack replied brusquely.  “Go tell, Daniel,” he said, waving towards the door with his right arm.

“Sir?” the blonde asked, her eyes widening a little.

“Never mind.  I'm just having a ... bad day,” Jack replied and then walked out of Sam's lab, deciding to try talking with his upset lover.  ~This is just crazy.  Salt.  It's a friggin' condiment.~

====

“Good afternoon, Jack,” Lou greeted jovially as he saw his friend approach.

“What's so good about it?” the colonel snarled.

“Got a burr under your wings?” Lou asked.

Jack let out a groan, saying, “Yeah, a snarky one.”

Lou chuckled, “I ran into the Doc earlier, literally.  He wasn't his usual conversational self.  Of course, I was on the floor.”

“Sometimes he can't see even with his glasses,” Jack mused, his comment having double meaning.

“Especially when he's not looking where you're going,” the major replied with a playful chuckle.  More seriously, he asked, “Everything okay.”

“You know me and Daniel,” Jack replied.

“Disagreement on a mission,” Lou assumed.

“You might say that.  Later, Lou,” the colonel intoned, patting his friend on the shoulder before moving on.  ~Disagreement on just about everything right now,~ he thought to himself as he headed for Level 19.

As Lou watched Jack walk away, he chuckled to himself, ~Those two are gonna drive each other crazy.  At least the Doc doesn't sneeze as much anymore.  Jack always hated that.~

====

“Don't tell me you're busy.  Just sit there and listen,” Jack commanded, shutting and locking Daniel's office door and then turning off the security camera.  “Nurses.”

“Nurses?” the archaeologist echoed as he sat at his desk, the lamp highlighting the book he was perusing.

“Yes, nurses -- those blasted, gossiping nurses.  Carter saw them walk into the commissary and thought she'd play her own game,” Jack revealed.

“The salt?”

“The salt,” Jack affirmed, nodding slightly.  “Now, can we move on, please?”

Daniel thought for a moment, smiled, and replied, “Sure, we can move on.  You move on, *out* of my office, and I'll move on to the next page of my book.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, Daniel, it's a blasted game!  Get over it, or I'm calling the whole thing off ... and *now*!” Jack exclaimed, the veins in his neck bulging from his rage.

Jack stormed out of Daniel's office, leaving the younger man alone and worried.  He didn't want to lose Jack, but he feared he had.

“Call it off?” Daniel said softly, suddenly folding his arms into a self-hug as he stood up.  He walked to one of the shelves that was full of artifacts, picking up a small, circular object.  It was new, just brought back by SG-11 the night before.  ~You didn't even look at it,~ he sighed.  The object resembled a ball.  It had Jack's name written all over it, but the older man had done nothing but yell at the archaeologist upon entering the office.  ~Call it off?  You're an idiot, Jackson.  Go along.  Remember, just ... go along. Now, he's ... he's gone.~

====

Later that evening, Jack stared through the telescope in the cold night air.  He had considered going after Daniel, but being angry, had decided against it.

~Let him stew a while.~  Of course, that meant Jack was stewing, too.  In fact, Jack was miserable.  He was cold, alone, and desperately missing his lover, the man who always made his heart warm and glad to be alive.  “Crap, this isn't worth it.”

“It's not?” Daniel asked, his voice soft and panicked upon hearing the words.

Jack looked over, surprised to see the younger man standing there, and remarked, “I didn't hear you.  Geez, I'm getting old ... or ... something.”

“It's not worth it?” Daniel asked, unable to think about anything but the words he had just heard.  With his heart pounding mightily, he stood nervously at the edge of the roof deck, about to turn and run.  He felt his world about to collapse all around him.  ~He ... doesn't love me anymore.~

“No, it's not.”

“Oh, I guess I'll ...” Daniel began, twisting around slightly as he prepared to leave what was left of his contented world behind.

“In fact, it's downright stupid, letting you stew.  Dumbest idea I've had in days; no, make that weeks,” Jack admitted.  “I'm dying here, Danny.  I miss you.  Where the heck have you been, anyway?”

“I ... I don't understand.  You just said it wasn't worth it,” the archaeologist spoke, his heart becoming a lump in his throat.

Jack replied, “I told you, it's not worth it.”

“Then why say you miss me?” a very confused Daniel asked.

“Because I do,” Jack grunted from frustration.  Thinking the physical distance between them wasn't helping any, he walked towards his lover and questioned, “Danny, what's wrong with you?”

“You just said that ...”

“We already covered that ...” Jack groaned, standing back a step or two.

“But I thought ... you said ...”

Frustrated, Jack threw his hands up into the air and ordered, “Daniel ... STOP!”

Daniel froze like an ice sculpture, and Jack realized they were definitely not on the same page.

Jack sighed, “I'm sorry.  That didn't come out right.”  He took a breath, then suggested, “Let's start over.  What I meant was that earlier I told myself I was going to stay here all night and let you stew because I figured you deserved it.”

~Gee, thanks, Jack.  Want to twist the knife a little more?  Hang on.  Maybe he's not leaving me?~  Daniel looked up at Jack,  “You were?”

“Yes,” the older man acknowledged, adding, “but I had just come to the conclusion that getting some stupid sense of satisfaction from you being miserable wasn't worth it because, frankly, I'm miserable when you're miserable, so, in case you didn't notice when you so quietly climbed up to the roof, I was putting the cap on the 'scope because I was about to go get you and take care of this ridiculous situation.”

“Take care of it how?” Daniel asked softly, his face a sketch of vulnerability.

“By doing this ...” Jack said, taking his lover into his arms and then kissing him with zest.  He tugged Daniel close, making sure the younger man would feel secure.  “Get the message?”

“I'm still confused,” Daniel admitted as his arms went around Jack's waist as he attempted to process what the older man had said.  “Jack, in my office, you said you were going to call it off.”

“Yeah, and I'm thinking it's a good idea, too,” Jack opined.

“But you just ...”

“Okay, stop.  Danny, I get the impression we're still not on the same page.” Since Daniel refused to meet his gaze, Jack placed his right hand under Daniel's chin and pushed it up, forcing Daniel to look at him.  “What do you think I meant?”

“Us.”

Jack grimaced and sighed, “Danny, for a genius, sometimes you're not so smart.”

Daniel nodded his head to one side and looked back down, so again, Jack used his hand to bring Daniel's face up to his level.

“Listen to me,” Jack requested firmly.  “I meant call off the game with Carter; it's not worth it.  Danny, I didn't lie to you.  I wouldn't do that.  She saw some nurses and thought it would help.  I didn't know that until I asked her this morning.”

“I know,” the archaeologist confided.

“You do.”

Daniel revealed, “She asked me earlier if everything was all right between us, and I asked why wouldn't it be.  That's when she told me that you had asked about the salt.  I'm sorry, Jack.  I thought you ... that maybe you really wanted her.”

With a huge sigh, Jack responded, “Danny, this game isn't worth it.  I won't risk you.  I love you.  Do you understand that?  It's not worth losing you!”

Daniel leaned into Jack, who embraced him eagerly, and intoned regrettably, “I'm sorry.  It's my fault, again.  Gawd, I hate being jealous.”

“And I don't want you to be jealous either.  This game is over,” Jack declared.  ~Nothing is worth you hurting like this.~

“No, Jack,” Daniel refuted.  “We've talked about this, and we both know we need Sam.”

Jack moved so they could look into each other's eyes.  They needed that extra communication.  Too many harsh words had interfered with their love recently.

“Yes, we have, but this is twice in just one week that we've fought over this ... game,” Jack reminded.  “Danny, we fight enough over our differences.  Everyone knows that.  Lou was joking about that earlier.  We disagree on a lot of things, but why are we adding something to that mix ourselves, something we don't have to?”

Daniel flinched, but only briefly, and responded, “Because I love you, and I need you, and sometimes when you get hurt, I don't hide that very well ... and ... and because I don't want to live without you, Jack.  If they find out about us, they might take you away from me, and I can't handle that.  I just can't.  I can't.”

“Danny.”  Jack took his Love into his arms again, thought quietly for a minute or so, and then relented just slightly.  “Okay, we'll keep playing the game, but, Love, I won't fight with you anymore, not about this.  It's a game.  I am *not* in love with Carter.  I *don't* friggin' want Carter, and I for sure as heck don't need her.  I *do* love you, want you more than I have words to express, and need you more than air to breathe.  You got that?”

With a broad smile on his face, Daniel acknowledged, “Yes, I got it.”

“Good.  Can we go to bed?  I'm tired,” the older man sighed.

“Oh, tired.  Okay,” the younger man said, his disappointment evident in his drooping face.

“Not *that* tired, Danny,” Jack replied as he smiled promisingly.  He would never be too tired for 'that'.  ~Geez, he's beautiful.~

“Oh,” Daniel responded, a big grin coming to his face.

“What am I going to do with you?” Jack teased as they began down the ladder.

“I can make a list, Jack,” Daniel offered softly.

“Would it include putting my ...”

Crickets chirped in the night as Jack and Daniel reunited in a consummate chorus of their bodies.

====

“Excuse me, Sir,” Sam spoke as she smiled flirtatiously, having bumped into her CO in the commissary.

Daniel suppressed a sigh and moved over to the food counter.

“No problem, Carter.  In fact, it was my pleasure,” Jack said boastfully.

As the two continued a round of flirty banter, Daniel selected his food and found a table where he watched the action, the smiles, the nods, and the body bumping.  He observed as others in the large room watched.  Everyone was buying the interplay between Jack and Sam.

~How blind people are.  They see what they want to see,~ Daniel thought as he quietly ate his food.

In fact, by the time Jack joined him, Daniel was almost done with his meal.

“Sorry, the game,” the colonel pointed out.

“I know,” the archaeologist intoned.  “Your food is probably cold.”

“Probably,” Jack agreed.  “How about we go out tonight and get a decent meal?”

“Sure, anything you want.”

“Danny, are you okay?” Jack inquired, sensing some melancholy in his lover.

Daniel nodded as he answered, “Just tired.  Worked on getting that research together all night.”

“You want to skip dinner?”

“No, I have to eat,” the younger man said with a tiny smile on his face.

“Good.”

====

“Daniel, do you have that text from the plaque on Prensa?” Steve, a civilian specialist in anthropology asked.

“Sure, Steve, it's right here ... somewhere,” Daniel answered, searching his desk for the item in question.

“Well, while you're looking, Daniel, what's with O'Neill and Carter?”

“What?” Daniel asked, glancing up at the man.

“They're having an affair, right?  Even though it's against the rules.  Man, that guy has balls,” Steve commented in awe.  He saw his boss' wide-eyed stare and explained, “What I meant was that he has a lot of nerve going against regulations like that.  She's a looker, but he's really bucking the system.”

“I wouldn't know,” the archaeologist replied, going back to his search.

Steve casually stated, “I thought you were his best friend.”

“Best friend?” Daniel asked, trying to focus on the translation he was looking for.  “Yeah, I guess.”

Steve responded, “Then don't you know?  Oh, I get it.  You can't tell.  Man, I'd love to know the stories he tells you.  Have you seen Carter on her bike?  Wow, Mama!”

Daniel sat up straight and intoned firmly, “Steve, when I find the text, I'll bring it to you.”

“Okay, sure,” Steve agreed.  Smiling, he called out, “Thanks, Daniel,” as he disappeared into the corridor.

Daniel sighed.  Every time he turned around, it seemed someone was asking him about his lover and his friend.  If that wasn't happening, then every time he turned around, he was witnessing another display himself.  He was tired.  It had been three weeks of the agonizing game, and he hated it more than ever.

~Get over it, Jackson.  You have to protect him ... even if it hurts.  But who do I have to protect him from, a court-martial or Sam?~  The archaeologist stood and decided to take a walk topside.  ~I need some fresh air.  It's so ... stale in here.~

As he headed for the exit, Daniel saw Norm Foster walking his way.

“Doctor Jackson,” Foster acknowledged formally.

Daniel nodded, just wanting to pass by the man.

“Ah, about what happened,” Foster began, halting his forward momentum.

“Look, I ...”

“I was out of line.  It won't happen again,” Foster said, then quickly went on his way when he saw a group of Marines approaching.

~Right.  I wonder what brought that on?~ Daniel asked himself, not believing the man was sincere.  He entered the elevator going up.  Just as the doors closed, he realized the answer.  ~Lou.~  He knew better than to try and thank the man, certain Lou would deny knowing anything about Foster's change in attitude, insincere or not.  In addition, it would only embarrass both of them.  Still, as he pressed the button for the desired floor, he thought, ~Thanks, Lou.~

====

As the work day was ending, Jack had spent some time in the recreation hall, demonstrating some evasive maneuvers to some still 'green' airmen.  Afterwards, he went to the locker room and took a shower.

“Way to go, Jack.  I always knew you had it in you,” Kevin Owens shouted as Jack walked out of the shower a few minutes later, a white towel covering the lower half of his body.

“Well, you know what I always say, Kev, if you've got it, flaunt it,” Jack laughed, doing a little shimmy of the lower half of his body as he moved from the shower section into the locker area.

Daniel had entered the locker room while Jack was in the shower.  It only took him a couple of minutes to change into his civvies as he was anxious to evade the chatty gossipers of the SGC.

“Hey, Daniel,” Jack said upon seeing his soulmate, though he immediately sensed something in Daniel's eyes that he couldn't quite glean.

Curtly, the archaeologist responded, “I'm ready to go, Jack.  I'll be in my office.”

Daniel walked out, leaving Jack to dress into his street clothes.

~Okay, what did I miss now?~ Jack wondered as he crossed the room to his locker and began to change.

====

“Okay, spill it,” Jack demanded later that night.

“There's no *it* to spill,” Daniel denied, his tone almost totally devoid of emotion.

“Danny, you were a statue in the truck all the way home, and for the last three hours, all you've done is sit here on this sofa like a couch potato,” Jack claimed.  Without pausing, he continued, “And don't try telling me you've been reading.  You may have been turning pages, but if you've been reading, you're the fastest speed reader on the planet.”

“But I've ...” the younger man began.

“Daniel, it's upside down,” Jack revealed.

“Wha...what?”

Jack pointed at the volume in his lover's hands and clarified, “The book, Daniel.  It's upside down.”

Daniel looked at the book and sighed, closing it and tossing it onto the coffee table.  He crossed his arms, wishing he could just disappear into the comfortable sofa.

“Spill.”

“It's ...”

“... nothing,” both men said at the same time.

Sternly, Jack responded, “Bull, Danny.  Whatever it is, is something, not nothing.  Out with it.”

“Jack ... I'm not jealous,” the younger man claimed.

“That's good, because you've got nothing to be jealous about,” the frustrated lover responded.

“I know.”

Jack prodded, “So, the problem is ...?”

Daniel sighed, “It's gone too far.  You like it, Jack; so does Sam.  The problem is that neither of you recognize that fact.  You're hiding behind a word, and the word is 'game'.”

“Daniel, if this is going to work, we have to play with it,” Jack spoke about the dangerous game of innuendo.

“I know that,” Daniel replied.  “It's just ... sometimes, it's all the time.  Does it have to be every second of every day?”

“I'm not going to argue, Danny,” Jack stated, walking into the kitchen to retrieve a beer.  When he returned, he stood by the counter.  As he opened the bottle and prepared to take a drink, he added, “It's been your choice all along, to play or not to play.”

“Stop making this all or nothing,” Daniel replied, standing up and walking to stand behind the sofa, as if the barrier of the sofa would provide him some degree of protection from the hurt he was feeling.  “I told you, it's not about jealousy, not anymore.  Jack, I know you love me, okay?  That's not what this is about.”

“Then what?” Jack asked between swigs of his beer.

“It freakin' hurts, okay?” the archaeologist admitted.  He looked away, then back at his partner and continued, “Watching you with her, listening to all that ... that ... rubbish at the SGC, it just ... hurts.  It's too much, Jack.  It doesn't need to go as far as you two are taking it.”

“We're not doing anything extreme.  It's all just words.  You're overreacting again,” Jack lightly argued, not understanding his lover's continued resistance to something he continually said he supported.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Daniel replied softly and then took a breath of compliance.  ~Just go along, Jackson.  Go along, or you'll lose him.  He doesn't want to admit the truth to himself.~

“I know so,” Jack said, smiling.  He put down the beer and walked behind the sofa, where he put his hands on his soulmate's upper arms and turned him forty-five degrees so that they were standing face-to-face.  “Now, you didn't eat a bite, so how about I make us a sandwich or something?”

“Okay, fine,” Daniel agreed, nodding.

Jack kissed his lover and then declared as strongly as he could, “I ... love ... you.”

“I know, Jack.  I love you, too,” Daniel responded.  He sighed deeply as Jack returned to the kitchen.  ~It's not about love.  I keep telling you that, and you keep not listening to me.~

This was the third time Daniel had tried to get Jack to understand that the game was being taken to an extreme that wasn't needed, at least not at the moment.  All of his attempts had been unsuccessful.  He just couldn't get his lover to acknowledge that listening to gossip about him with someone else wasn't fun.  Daniel's heart was ripping apart, bit-by-bit, and he didn't know how to stop it.

====

“Sir, I was wondering if you could help me with this ... inside,” Sam requested, sporting a very sultry smile.

SG-1 was participating in a planning session for a training exercise, along with SG teams 4, 6, 7 and 9.  Also present were General Hammond and a slew of SGC personnel.

Jack, Daniel, and Teal'c had been reviewing criteria for first contact situations when Sam approached with some papers in her hand.  Daniel noticed that as she had leaned over closely in front of Jack, several of those present were watching.

Jack answered, “Sure, Carter, always happy to assist.”

“It should only take a quick moment, Sir,” Sam noted.

“Quickies!  My specialty,” Jack replied jovially.  He winked at Norm, who was sitting at another table.  ~She's good at this.~

As Jack and Sam walked out of the area, the room was buzzing with chatter, and it wasn't about the upcoming training.

“Daniel, we have to know what's going on. Tell us,” Joan Everson whispered.

“I don't know anything,” Daniel responded sternly, getting up and crossing the room to chat with Lou Ferretti.  “Hi, Lou.”

“Hey, Doc,” Lou replied.  He looked over at the door and commented, “You know I don't care what Jack does, but he's taking a lot of chances these days.”

“What do you mean?” Daniel asked.

“Him and Captain Carter,” Lou answered, shaking his head.  “It's no skin off my nose whether they're together or not, but the general's here.  A little discretion might be a good thing.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Daniel lamented.  ~There's nowhere to hide.~

As Daniel walked back to discuss something with Teal'c, Lou thought to himself, ~I don't know what kind of game Jack and Captain Carter are playing, but I don't believe for one second that they are a couple.  There must be a logical reason why they trying to make everyone believe they're having an affair,~ Lou looked over at Daniel, ~and the Doc knows why.  Okay, I don't need to know the details; I'll play along.~

====

That night, as they prepared for bed at the apartment, Daniel again broached the subject that was causing him so much pain these days.  In spite of his 'go along' attitude, he just couldn't stop trying to get Jack to change how he was playing the game.  How could he, when Jack didn't even comprehend that his game style was painful to the man he loved?

“All I'm asking is, would it hurt to lower the temperature a little?” the archaeologist inquired, trying to use an analogy his soulmate might understand.

“Daniel, I'm not a thermometer.  For the hundredth time, we're playing a game.  We have to take advantage of those situations when they pop up,” the older man claimed.

“Jack, even Lou noticed.  You were flaunting your ... fraternization in front of General Hammond.  That's taking it too far.  Can't you see that?” Daniel asked as he stood by his side of the bed.

“Stop being silly, and let me kiss you silly,” Jack requested as he smiled seductively at the younger man, an Irish grin on his face.

“If it were reversed ...”

“That's even sillier,” Jack chuckled, waving his left hand in front of him and moving it downward to dismiss the ridiculous idea.  “Come on, Danny, I'm tired of arguing about this.  Let's kiss,” he suggested as he crossed the room and followed through on his idea.  Though the younger man 'cooperated', Jack could tell he was less than enthusiastic about the contact.  “Daniel ...”

“Jack, you don't understand,” the archaeologist maintained.  ~Gawd, I sound like a freakin' broken record.  Why don't I just give up?~

“You're right, I don't understand, but I do know how I feel about this.  If we're going to fight then ...”

“Gawd, stop it.  You win.  I won't say another word.  Not one,” Daniel acquiesced, tired of all the fighting and discord.

“Good.  I love you all speechless,” Jack lightheartedly spoke, just before starting another kiss.  “I love you,” he said as he embraced his partner and began whispering a slew of sweet nothings.

Daniel listened, the words warm and tender, but he was cold, very cold.

====

Just before they fell asleep, Daniel atop Jack's body like normal, though he wasn't doing the usual twirling of the older man's chest hairs, Jack sighed.  He knew there was a distance between he and his lover, whether he vocalized it or not.

“Danny, tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  We both have to work, but can we call a truce on this difference of opinion we've been having lately?  I'd like us to enjoy the day, once we're done at the Mountain, anyway.”

“I ... I bought a turkey, Jack.  It's at the apartment,” Daniel admitted.  “It's just a small one.”

“That's all we'll need.  I love you,” Jack intoned.

“I love you, too,” Daniel responded, though the frustration was still simmering within both men.

====

As the Mountain the next day, Jack signed his name, flipped the file folder shut, and tossed it into the out bin.  Taking a breath, he leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling.  Though he had been the one to request the 'truce', the look in his soulmate's eyes this morning had jolted him.  Daniel had said nothing, and he'd acted as normally as possible.  Still, the conflict was still there.

~We can't avoid the unavoidable.~  Silently, Jack's mind talked to his lover, though he was certain Daniel was too far away to hear his thoughts.  **Forget the truce.  I'm sorry.  I don't understand why you're so upset.  I'm just doing what we all agreed to, but, My Love, I felt that coldness last night, and I saw that look in your eyes this morning.  Enough is enough, Danny.  I'm taking matters into my own hands.  This game is over.  It ends now.**

Jack stood up, intending to go to Sam's office to tell her to stop the game, but as he reached the door, Sergeant Davis appeared.

“Excuse me, Colonel.  General Hammond wants to see you on the double,” Davis stated.

“Thank you, Sergeant.”  Jack immediately headed for the general's office.  He thought the summons was odd, since Hammond wasn't supposed to be at the Mountain on this day.  He tapped on the open door and asked, “Sir, you wanted to see me?”

“Close the door, Jack,” Hammond instructed.

“You look serious, General, and why aren't you with your family, carving up the bird?”

Ignoring the reference and pointing at the chair in front of his desk, the major general instructed, “Sit down, Jack.”  He took a breath and then continued, “There's been an incident on base.”

“Incident?” the colonel questioned as he sat with his hands lightly joined in front of him.

“One of the civilians working in another area was severely beaten last night,” Hammond intoned seriously.

“Who?”  Jack leaned forward, taking hold of the personnel file the general was moving towards him.  ~Blair Winters?~  “I don't believe I know him.”

Hammond acknowledged, “He's fairly new, still awaiting clearance for the SGC.  He's been working on some special projects until the paperwork comes through, and then he'll be joining us.”

“You said he was beaten?” Jack inquired, curious about the details of the incident.

“Yes, and his attackers didn't make a secret of it.”

“They?” the colonel queried as he reviewed Winters' file.

“Gay-bashing, Jack.  Apparently, Blair's sexual orientation isn't exactly military, and he wasn't hiding that.  They got to him in the parking lot.  The only witness willing to say anything said that the attackers were in Marine uniforms, and that they were loud, warning Blair and those of his kind that they weren't welcome at Cheyenne Mountain,” Hammond elaborated.

“What about the videotape?”

Hammond answered, “We're working on it, but they picked the right area.  It was dark, and their backs were to the camera.  The problem, Jack, is that there have been other less severe incidents over the past few weeks.  I need you to pay attention to anything out of the ordinary.”

“Yes, Sir,” Jack acknowledged as he placed the file back on the general's desk.  Then he stood and headed for the door.  ~I have to make sure Danny is okay.~

“Jack?” Hammond called out a bit tentatively.  When the colonel turned, the major general spoke again, his tone cautious and caring.  “We have to keep this quiet.  No one is to know about the incident, but ... ”  He stood and walked closer to his second-in-command.  “Jack, we've all heard rumors.  This place is a rumor mill.  I'm not saying anything about anyone, but based on the information we've received, our civilians are at risk.”

“Our civilians?” Jack asked hesitantly.

“Take care of your team, Colonel.  I'm afraid until we catch the perpetrators of last night's attack that Doctor Jackson is one of those at risk,” the general stated pointedly.

“Daniel's ... married, Sir,” Jack reminded.

“I know that, but I'm sure you've heard the rumors.  Facts aren't the issue with these men,” Hammond stated.

“Thank you, Sir,” Jack intoned and then quietly left Hammond's office.  ~Helluva reason to not be enjoying Thanksgiving.  Crap!~

====

Sitting at his desk several minutes later, Jack hunched over, folding his arms across the edge of the desk.  He leaned his head against them and sighed as he inwardly thought his apology.

~Sorry, Danny, but the game has to go on.  I have to do everything I can to keep them away from you.  If I stop the bit with Carter now, they might start talking about us again.  I can't let that happen, not now.  This Winters guy is lucky to be alive.  We'll get through this.  It's only a game.  Just a game.~

Just then, Jack's phone rang.  He picked it up, listening to the holiday wishes from his second-in-command.

“Yeah, thanks, Carter.  Gobble, gobble to you, too,” Jack spoke flatly.  He took a deep breath as he reminded himself that Daniel was safe, and he'd stay that way.  ~It's Thanksgiving.~  He looked at his watch and grimaced.  ~Nah, that's enough.~

Closing up shop, Jack headed for Level 18, entered his lover's office and, with a grin, spoke, “Time to enjoy ole Tom, Danny.”

“Tom?” Daniel asked.

“The bird.  Let's go,” Jack said.

“Jack, we still have three more hours,” Daniel reminded after checking his watch.

“It's okay.  Carter's checked out already, Teal'c's ... doing something, and it's silent as a mouse around here.  Come on.  That can wait,” Jack insisted, motioning towards the work Daniel had strewn out on his desk.

“Uh, actually, it can,” Daniel agreed.  “Happy Thanksgiving, Jack.”

“It'll be happier when we ...”

“Yeah,” Daniel interrupted with a smile as he closed his books and readied himself to leave.

====

Their one-day holiday truce was a success, but the next few days continued on with much the same type of activity that had become their norm prior to that.  Daniel, completely unaware of the gay-bashing incident, no longer tried to convey his feelings to his lover.  Instead, he watched in silence with a stone face as Jack and Sam held pinky fingers one day.  He said nothing when Jack patted his 2IC on the back, letting his hand drop to her derriere in front of the nurses in the infirmary after their post-mission exams.  Then, he held his tongue when several others continued to ask him about the 'affair' between his lover and his friend.

Daniel was miserable.  He didn't want the game to end, but he needed it to be more realistic.  He thought to himself that as it stood, Jack could be court-martialed for fraternization violations, and if he was going to be busted, it might as well be for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'.  As he sat in his office pondering the situation, he was called to the general's office.  When he arrived, all of SG-1 was there, as well as SG-3.

“We have a situation with the people of Prensa.  We're going to have to go in covertly and make them think we are following their rituals.  Only three people will be allowed to attend this rite that Doctor Mitchell has told us about,” Hammond announced.

Steve Mitchell was the same 'Steve' who had asked Daniel about Jack and Sam a week or two earlier.  He was an anthropologist with a degree in Ancient Civilizations, similar to Daniel's, but not quite as involved.

“Colonel O'Neill, you and Captain Carter will go in as the representative of Earth, and the captain will be your ...” Hammond paused, not liking the word, “consort.  You'll have to act out the part as much as possible.”

“Not a problem, Sir,” Jack replied, winking at Sam, who pretended to be shy and smiled back accordingly.

“Doctor Jackson, you will go as the ...” Hammond looked at Steve, “what was that called, Doctor Mitchell?”

“The Dingolem,” Steve answered.

“A dinga...ling?” Jack echoed.

“The word is 'Dingolem', Colonel,” Steve spoke.

“Which means?” the colonel inquired.

Steve explained, “Well, in their language, it means ... I guess the best translation would be something like extra hand, or third wheel.  The idea is that the Dingolem is the doer of the consort's bidding, while the consort is obligated to do anything the leader desires.”

“Now, that is going to be fun,” Jack said as he rubbed his hands together, noticing that SG-3 was totally engrossed in the little production he and Sam were putting on.

“Swell,” Daniel said dryly.  ~He gets to play with Sam in public view, and I get to be the ... third wheel and watch.~  Inwardly, he snorted, ~Sounds like what I do every day.~

“This mission is of the utmost importance,” Hammond announced.  “Doctor Mitchell.”

Steve stood up and gave his presentation to those in attendance.  As he did so, Jack and Sam continued to exchange little glances, claiming they were practicing.  Meanwhile, Daniel attempted to ignore them both, not that he could.  Inside, he wasn't sure how much more of the game he could take.

====

The mission to Prensa had only been seven hours in length, but during that time, according to the local customs, Jack and Sam had to remain in constant contact.  To pull apart would mean a disavowing of their union, so they had held hands during the entire visit to the planet.

Daniel noticed Jack squeezing Sam's hand several times, and he couldn't help but notice how she leaned against her CO quite a bit.  The worst part, however, was that Prensa custom required kisses, lots of them.  Fortunately, the mission was a success, and the Tau'ri had passed the rite.  They would not have to go through this again.  However, as a sign of good faith, three Prensa inhabitants would now have to go to Earth and participate in some ritual of Earth's choice.

Thus, Jack and Sam had to continue the game in front of the entire SGC.  This was the near-breaking point for the archaeologist.  Having to watch yet another kiss between his lover and good friend, Daniel felt like he might throw up.  It was just too much.  Jack was smiling, Sam was smiling, the personnel were grinning, and Daniel just wanted to die.

~Gawd, Jack, if that were me, you'd have the M-5 out, ready to fire,~ Daniel thought quietly as he watched the sneers and leers.

When the Prensa people returned to their home world, Jack and Daniel went home.  While Jack showered, Daniel drowned his sorrows in a large glass of wine.  He followed that up with another large glass.  He might have had a third, except that Jack came downstairs and began to cuddle with him.

They went to bed early and made love, though it was one of their quieter and more 'tame' lovemaking sessions.

Daniel needed time to process.  He loved Jack, and he wanted him desperately.  He knew that Jack felt the same way.  This wasn't about their love; it never had been.  What it was about was understanding and respect.

~I have to do something.  I just ... I don't know what to do,~ the anguished young man lamented as he struggled to fall asleep.

Jack was already asleep, not realizing anything at all was bothering his soulmate.  He had assumed their unusually calm lovemaking had been because both of them were extremely tired, which was true, at least in part, but was far from being the total truth.

There was a barrier beginning to be built between the two men.  Although Daniel knew this and could find no way to stop its construction, Jack had no clue and believed that his relationship with the younger man was solid.

~Why can't you see what you and Sam are doing is hurting me, hurting us? Why Jack?~ Daniel cried out silently to his lover, before finally succumbing to a restless sleep.

====

Three days after the Prensa mission, Daniel had endured more of the same game playing at the SGC.  It was awful, but his only choices were to break up with Jack or endure the torture.  He had chosen the latter and so, the lovers had moved forward.  Their love for each other was too big to ignore, and the game being played was only to protect that love.

~Why can't I let go of the pain?  Why can't I just go along like before?  Why can't Jack realize the impact his actions have on me?  Why, why, why?~ Daniel asked himself over and over again as the time passed by, sometimes in agonizingly slow periods.

Daniel sat with his back leaning against the headboard of their king-size bed. His naked torso was visible above the comforter that hung in place from just below his waist.  He had his knees drawn up slightly, using them as a support for his journal that he was writing in.  Only a small book light lit the room.

Jack was asleep next to Daniel.  He had endured a long day at the SGC, having been called in early at 4 a.m. to deal with some crisis.  His agenda for the day had him going non-stop.  He hadn't arrived home until 9 p.m. and almost fell asleep during a late dinner with Daniel, who had waited for him.

Daniel fingered through Jack's hair for a minute, slowly and carefully enjoying the texture of the short strands and gently caressing his lover's forehead.  Then, he leaned over and placed a kiss on Jack's forehead.  It was a slow kiss, Daniel's lips pressed to Jack's skin for several seconds.

~If you only knew how much you mean to me.~  When he stopped the kiss, Daniel turned his head sideways to lean against Jack's, and he whispered, “I love you, Jack, love you so much.”

Daniel's head turned again to Jack's forehead, and he kissed his lover again. Then he went back to his original position against the headboard.

Jack moved, a little smile appearing on his face.  He mumbled, “Danny,” as he turned towards the younger man.  His eyes never opened, but his right arm reached around in search of his partner, finally resting atop Daniel's right thigh.  His foot hooked around Daniel's right ankle, as if to secure the younger man in place.  Jack's face was nuzzled into Daniel's side, like a puppy seeking comfort and warmth from its owner.

Daniel smiled and again ran his hand through Jack's hair.

“Danny,” Jack mumbled again, though Daniel realized his lover wasn't really awake.

“Shhh, My Love.  Sleep.  I'm here.  I'll always be here, Jack.  Shhh,” the younger man soothed.

After a couple of minutes, when Daniel was sure Jack had settled, he refocused on his journal.  It was difficult to write, with Jack holding on to his various body parts, but Daniel hunched forward, resting the journal on his lap and managed to write down his thoughts.

When he was done, Daniel leaned back, the journal still on his lap.  He studied his sleeping soulmate for several minutes, remembering the countless ways Jack had shown his love for Daniel during their first few months together.  Finally, he closed the journal and placed it in the nightstand.  He gently scooted down under the covers and nudged Jack onto him.

More often than not, Daniel fell asleep on his Jack pillow, but tonight, he was happy to have Jack as his warm blanket.  Daniel never closed his eyes, but he gently caressed his lover throughout the night, until the music of the alarm clock went off to start a new day.

====

“Daniel, lunch!” Jack stated boisterously as he entered his lover's office.

“I can't Jack.  I have a couple of things I have to do.  I'm sorry,” the archaeologist stated sincerely.

“Ah, Danny,” Jack whined as his entire body slouched.

Daniel smiled confidently as he spoke, “You'll survive.  Ask Teal'c.”

“He's off with some of those new recruits,” Jack chuckled.  “You know, he's good at training; has a knack for it.”

“They respect him,” the younger man noted.

“They're scared to death of him, and that's the secret to most military training -- fear!” Jack mused only half teasingly.

Daniel rolled his eyes, then suggested, “How about Lou?”

Jack sighed, “He went off-world this morning.  I know.  I'll get Carter.  We'll put on another show.  It'll be fun.”

Daniel looked down, trying not to react, but folding his arms in a self-hug as he stared at the work on his desk.

Jack picked up some artifact and began to play with it, not noticing his lover's change in posture as their conversation continued.

“How long is that blasted meeting of yours tonight?” the older man asked.

“I should be home about eight-ish.  What are you going to do until I get home?” Daniel questioned.

“My neo-ritual,” Jack said tossing around some artifact he had picked up off a self.

Daniel laughed, “You and your rituals, and put that down.”

“America is built on rituals, and you are so demanding,” the older man intoned.

“Go play with your ... wings or something,” Daniel teased as he looked at the Air Force insignia on Jack's green BDU jacket.

**I'd rather play with you,** the colonel silently communicated with a seductive grin.

Putting down the artifact, Jack laughed and walked behind his lover.,  He leaned over, positioning himself so he could see the door in case anyone walked in.

“Hurry home, Love.  I have plans for us tonight,” Jack spoke softly just before placing a quick kiss on Daniel's nape and exiting the office.

~He's a nut for taking chances like that,~ Daniel thought.  ~Sometimes I think he really wants to be caught.~  He smiled.  ~Maybe that's one of the reasons why I love him so much.~

====

A while later, after some intense concentration on his research, Daniel felt a headache coming on.  He checked his office 'stash' and discovered he had run out of aspirin, so he decided to go to the infirmary and get some painkillers.  As he entered, he saw Marie Hill, fresh out of medical school and a recent addition to the SGC nursing staff.  She was young, pretty, and had a lovely disposition.  She also had a major crush on Daniel, something Jack had immediately noticed and pointed out to the younger man.

“Hi, Daniel,” Marie greeted, positively beaming as she walked over to him. “What can I do for you?”

“Um, I have a headache, Marie, and it won't go away.  Can you give me something?” the archaeologist asked as he stood with his hands in his pockets.

“Now there's a loaded question,” Marie laughed, walking to a cabinet, pulling out a bottle and removing a couple of pills.  She handed them to Daniel and noted, “They'll take a little while to work.  How about in the meantime I give you a quick head massage?  I'm told I'm very good, and it'll help.”

“Thanks,” Daniel spoke appreciatively as he hopped onto one of the medical beds.

Marie stood in front of him and began to knead his temples, giving him a bright smile as her fingers worked their magic.

~She's right,~ Daniel thought silently as he sighed from the relief the massage was providing.  He closed his eyes.  ~She is good,~ he inwardly decided as he felt the tension melting away.

Daniel lifted his head up, trying to get greater access to the source of his comfort.  Soon he was lost in the moment, his headache slowly but surely receding.  It felt so good that he wondered if maybe getting a full body massage wouldn't be something he should consider.

As she massaged, Marie's smile faded.  She felt the archaeologist's tension, and she truly cared about him.  She wondered why he didn't seem to care about her.  She was a good person, and she really liked him.

When Marie finished, Daniel opened his eyes and looked at her.  She was so close and looked so sad that he moved to give her a peck on the cheek to reassure her.  He wanted her to know that although there couldn't be anything between them, they could always be friends.

Daniel knew how it felt to feel empty, like you could never truly be happy.  Marie had that same look, of wanting and needing love, but not being able to find one that would last.  The new nurse was a nice person, and he didn't like to think of her being sad because of him.

As Daniel began to pull away, Marie touched her hand to the back of his head and gently pulled him in.  For a moment, he allowed the kiss to continue.  It was good to be wanted and cared for, but then he realized how wrong it was. He was admittedly very much in love in with Jack O'Neill, and no matter how rough things were at the moment because of the game, he would never betray that love.

As Daniel slowly pulled backed, ending the kiss, the two heard a cough from behind them.  In an instant, the archaeologist jerked backed, twisting around to see who was there.

“Sorry, Doc,” Mike stated insincerely with a grin.  “Didn't mean to interrupt.”

“You didn't,  It's, uh, not what you think.  I ... I was just thanking her for helping me.”

Mike laughed, “Yeah?  Well, remind me not to do anything for you in the future.  I might end up getting a tonsillectomy.”

“Can I do something for you?” Marie asked sharply.

“No thanks, Hon.  I was just passing through.  You carry on with the ... medical,” Mike jeered, then turned around and left, continuing to chuckle as he disappeared from sight.

“I'm so sorry, Daniel,” Marie apologized, her head bowed.  “I shouldn't have done that.”

“It's okay,” Daniel replied, getting off the bed.  “It happened.  Let's, uh, just put it down to both of us feeling a little ... um ... let's just forget it.”

Daniel saw the woman's face drop and realized how hurt she was.  The game was out of hand with innocent people now being drawn into it and getting hurt.  He knew he never would have allowed the kiss to happen except for his despair over all the flirtations between Jack and Sam.  For Marie's sake, he had to make sure she understood that there couldn't be anything between them and that what had happened was a mistake.

“Can you take a break, Marie?  We need to talk,” Daniel stated gently.

“I can get away for a few minutes,” Marie answered with a smile and hope in her eyes.

Daniel sighed, “Let's go to the commissary.  I could use a cup of coffee.”

“I'd like that,” the hopeful nurse responded, smiling again.

====

In the commissary, Mike and some others were seated at a table when Jack joined them for a break, asking, “What's up, guys?”

“On your own, Jack?  Carter given you the boot already?” Mike jested.

“Nope!  She's busy somewhere, salivating over a doohickey.  We're not joined at the hip you know, and keep it down, it's supposed to be a secret,” Jack spoke as he looked around the busy room.

“You're not the only one with something to hide,” Mike snickered.

“I'm sure I'm not,” Jack responded.  ~Wonder what he means by that.~  Jack took a bite of his blue Jell-O, then added, “Besides, if you guys keep talking about me and Carter, I'll be in Leavenworth before you know it.”

“Don't worry, you have some competition for the gossip mill, if what Mike says is true,” Norm stated with a sneer.

“That's good to know; maybe it'll take some of the heat off me.  Who's the lucky guy?” the colonel innocently asked as he stared at his latest bit of the gelatin, wondering if it looked more like a cloud or a crown.

Mike answered cryptically, “None other than our famous Doctor Jackson.  Who'd have thought he had it in him. I wasn't sure that he even liked girls.”

“Stop beating around the bush, and get to the point,” Jack scowled, angry at the insinuation without even knowing what the gossip was.  “What's Daniel done now?”

Mike began to regale Jack with the scene in the infirmary, adding to it and embellishing the actual facts a great deal.  The brief kiss was now being related as having been the greatest joining of lips and tongues since the creation of mankind.

As Mike was telling his tale, Daniel and Marie entered the commissary.  Having already decided that he needed to talk to Marie alone in order to be able to let her down gently, Daniel had quietly steered her to a table at the other side of the room.  Deep in conversation, he didn't notice Jack approaching until he felt the strong grip on his shoulder.

“Daniel.”

“Jack,” the younger man said as he looked up at his lover.

“Could you come with me, please?” the colonel requested sternly.

“Um, sorry, Jack.  I need to talk to Marie first.  We can talk later,” Daniel answered, not wanting to delay his conversation with the nurse.

“NO!” Jack barked, his look cold and without expression.  “This can't wait.  I want you to come with me *now*!”

~Okay, I don't know why he's acting like a bear, but I'm not his puppet,~ Daniel thought.  Forcefully, he replied, “And I said I need to talk to Marie.  Whatever it is, I'm sure it can wait a few minutes.  Maybe Sam can help you out.”

Jack's jealousy was something Daniel was just fully becoming aware of. His lover had a green-eyed monster within him that could send King Kong running for his life.  It had begun with little jokes and quips, but they had argued over Jack's possessiveness a few times, and it was Jack who had noticed Marie's flirtatiousness with Daniel from the start.

Looking at Jack now, Daniel could see that Jack's Mr. Jealousy was taking hold of him, even though they were at the SGC, so Jack's next action wasn't all that surprising to him, though it still made him very angry.

Jack leaned down and whispered in Daniel's ear, “Either you come with me now of your own accord, or I'll drag you out.  Is that what you want?  I'm telling you, Daniel, I'm in no mood for this at the moment, and you will be coming with me, one way or the other.  Do I make myself clear?”

“Marie, I'm very sorry, but I have to ... accommodate the colonel,” Daniel spoke sarcastically.  “Can I have a rain check?”

“Sure, Daniel,” the disappointed female responded, though she wore a cute smile on her face.

“Thanks, and we will talk.  I promise,” Daniel assured, wishing they could have finished their conversation now.  ~We don't need to make a scene, though,~ he lamented, noticing how active the commissary was at the moment.

Jack tugged on Daniel's elbow and headed out.  Sighing, Daniel gave Marie one last apologetic smile and then followed his lover, in silence, to Jack's office.

====

Daniel stood with his arms folded firmly across his chest as he listened to Jack relaying Mike's story about the kiss.  He was amazed how blown out proportion and exaggerated Mike's story was.

“So?” the colonel asked expectantly when he was done.

“So?  What?” Daniel replied, not wanting to even dignify the fictional account he'd just heard.

“Daniel, you were kissing a nurse like there was no tomorrow.  You must have *something* to say for yourself,” Jack spoke, moving to the door and locking it, having forgotten to do so immediately upon entry since he was so upset.  ~Did I turn off the camera?~ he wondered, glancing up to make sure he had.  ~He gets me so crazy sometimes.~

Finally, the younger man rolled his eyes and asked in disbelief, “Jack, don't tell me you believe that ridiculous fabrication?”

“Then what was that little téte-a-téte about?” the older man inquired.

“I wanted to make sure she understood that there couldn't be anything between us,” Daniel answered.

“Try saying, 'There can't be anything between us.'  Simple.  Easy.  Quick!” Jack snapped.

“Wait, wait, wait!” Daniel spoke anxiously, raising his right hand up with one finger pointing upwards.  After a pause, he asked, “Jack, why is this suddenly about Marie?  I mean, uh, you know there's nothing going on between her and me.  I *know* you know it.”  He saw his lover stewing over the insinuations he'd been told.  Mr. Jealousy was in control, battling with the truth of the overall situation.  “It's your guilt, Jack.”

“Guilt?”

“Jack, listen to me,” Daniel requested, walking a few step towards his lover.  Think about how you feel right now.  Mr. Jealousy is fuming over something that I promise you has been highly exaggerated.  Put yourself in my place, seeing what you *know* is the truth between you and Sam.  It may be a game, but I'm watching it, every single freakin' day,” he sighed.  “Can't you ...”

“Daniel, we've done this,” Jack said, putting an end to that part of the conversation.  He had been prepared to end the game, but he couldn't now, not with the attackers of Blair Winters still on the loose.  Besides, his Mr. Jealousy was still making him a bit irrational.  “We're not going over it again. I have nothing to feel guilty about.”

“Yes, I think you do,” Daniel replied.  “Sam.  I think inside of you somewhere you know that you're pushing it, for no reason other than to be the King of Cheyenne Mountain and the talk of the water cooler.”

“You're wrong!” Jack maintained.

“Am I?  Then why do you keep doing so much more than you need to?” Daniel queried.

“IT'S THE BLASTED GAME!” Jack argued.

“No, it's not,” Daniel refuted, staying amazingly calm.  “It's your gigantic ego.  You need the winks and catcalls from those jarheads to make you feel like you're a man!”

“I *am* a man!”

Nodding his head, the archaeologist responded, “I know that, but do you?”  He paused, then moved one more step forward.  “Gawd, that's it!”  He paced around the office nervously, his breathing increasing, and his blood pressure shooting upwards.  He didn't want to think about this possibility.  After all, it was Jack who had begun their relationship.  ~But if it's the truth ...~  He sighed.  “Maybe,” Daniel spoke very quietly.  “Maybe you don't want this, Jack.  Maybe ... you aren't as sure of yourself as you think.”

“Oh, for crying out loud.  I LOVE YOU, YOU IDIOT!” Jack shouted, raising his arms halfway up.

“Maybe, but maybe that's not enough.”

“Daniel, you are not turning this around into some crazy emotional roller coaster.  I know how I feel, and I know what I want.  That's you!” Jack claimed.

Daniel turned to face Jack and asked, “But am I enough, Jack?  I mean, maybe being in love with another man isn't as okay with your psyche as you think it is; and now, with the guys praising your ... your ... machismo,” Daniel cocked his head as he spoke, “you are suddenly remembering how that felt.  Maybe you miss it.  Do you want to make love to her?”

“Daniel, so help me, I'm going to smack you!” Jack threatened.

“Well, it wouldn't be the first time,” the younger man recalled.

“What in Hades are you talking about?”

“The Touched,” Daniel answered softly, recalling their first visit to the Land of Light when Jack had attacked Daniel in the control room.

“Daniel, come on.  That was some crazy virus, not me,” Jack reminded, knowing that his actions were not truly his own, but rather, the effect of the virus that plagued the planet.

“I know that, but Sam went after you, and you fought for her.  Sam and I have only ever been friends, and yet, you ... you punched me, Jack, right there in the control room.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, Daniel, you are driving me insane.  Give me a break,” the older man requested.

“I'm driving *you* insane?” Daniel asked incredulously.  “You are so full of yourself, it's unbelievable.  You think this is still a game?  The only person you're kidding is yourself, Jack, because I'm sure not falling for it.  It started as a game, with what I thought was a friend trying to help us out, but it's gone way beyond that.  I've tried over and over again to make you understand how ... the game is affecting me.  Feeling wise, it's no different than how you feel now, after listening to Mike's lies.  Still, you turn away from that and refuse to see how similar the two situations are.”  He shook his head as his heart's anguish doubled.  “You're loving every minute of the game.  If I thought for one second that it was just you loving having the guys slap you on the back and say what a big man you were, I could live with that, but it's much more than that, and I can't believe you can't see that!  You're not that dumb or that blind!”

“Daniel, you've gone off into one of your fantasy worlds again,” Jack responded, ignoring all the truths of his soulmate's argument.

“Oh, great Jack!  That's just great.  Whenever I say something you don't like or understand, it's just me being flaky and obtuse.  Do you even respect me, just a little?” the archaeologist challenged, having been pushed too far, so that now a growing ire was raging within him.

Jack intoned, “That's a stupid question.”

“Maybe, but you didn't answer it.”

Frustrated, Jack answered, “Of course, I respect you.”

“Care to try it with a little more conviction?” Daniel inquired.

“Danny, don't go there,” an exasperated Jack stated.

“Why not?  I've tried to tell you that I know we need the game.  I've admitted that I was jealous for a while and that I realized that was just me overreacting.  Jack, I've admitted my mistakes and that I'm not strong enough to hide my love for you all the time when there's a crisis.  If that makes me weak, than I guess I'm weak and not up to your Special Ops skills. I can't hide behind hate.  I don't know how,” the younger man confided.

The phone rang, interrupting the debate.

Jack angrily grabbed the phone, stating, “O'Neill, and this had better be important ... <grunt> ... DO YOUR JOB, Captain Wells, and keep me advised,” he snapped, slamming the phone down with a clang.

“Problem?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, you,” Jack responded, turning and leaning back against his desk.  He brought his hands to his face and rubbed downward, taking a huge breath as he did so.  Then, looking at his upset lover, he stated strongly, “You're not weak, Daniel.  I don't fault you for anything, so stop trying to make it sound like I do.  I told you we'll end the game.”

“You aren't listening to me!  Gawd, did Sara go through this?  Did you treat her like the little woman?  Was it the same dictatorship you seem to want between us?”

Standing up straight, Jack walked a step forward, angrily refuting, “You know that's not true, not with Sara, and definitely not with you!”

“Then why aren't you hearing what I'm saying?”

“I said we'd stop the game,” Jack repeated.  ~Though it may mean you being creamed to a pulp, but if you're going to be this thick-headed ...~

“WE FREAKIN' NEED THE FRIGGIN' GAME, COLONEL,” Daniel shouted.  “WILL YOU STOP BEING DEFENSIVE AND ACTING LIKE YOUR GIVING IN, WHEN WHAT I WANT YOU TO DO IS LISTEN ... L - I - S - T - E - N.”

“I know how to spell the word, Daniel,” Jack quietly replied.

“And do you know what it means?”

“Danny, I'm not some ditzy blonde, you know,” the older man quipped harshly.

“Ditzy blonde?  Maybe that's what you'd like me to be, some frail little thing who needs you.  What is it you always say?  That I'm beautiful -- is that what you want, Jack?  Maybe you wish my name was Danielle with the gender that goes with it!”

Having had enough of the foolishness, Jack moved quickly to Daniel and kissed him.  The union was long and hard, full of both passion and possession.

“Did you hear that?” Jack questioned.  “Were you listening?  I could care less what sex you are.  Have a sex change, and see if I care.  Dress in drag, and see if I care.  Get your body tattooed, and see if I care ... no, well, I might care about the tattoos.  Danny, I fell in love with you.  Your gender has nothing to do with your heart and your soul.  I love your body, every inch of it, but the part of you that owns me for eternity is here,” Jack said as he put his hand over Daniel's heart.  “You *are* beautiful, and, yes, I repeat  beautiful, because it is -- one very definitely sexy and beautiful body, and, okay, that's a wonderful perk.  For the record,” he continued sternly, “when I tell you that you're beautiful, which you are, more often than not, I'm talking about all of you -- the blue eyes that look like the heavens, the nonregulation shaggy hair that's so silky and inviting, the smooth skin I can't caress enough -- but also the spirit that loves and gives, the heart that cares and sacrifices -- all of you, Danny.  All of you is beautiful to me.”

Daniel took a huge breath as he gazed into his soulmate's eyes.  How did everything get so messed up anyway?  He loved Jack so much, and hearing such a heartwarming declaration tugged on his heartstrings.  Still, he couldn't deny their problems, especially the very big communication gap that was threatening their loving world.

“Jack, I'm sorry.  I know you aren't that way.  It's just ... you can't hear me, and I don't understand why.  That hurts almost as much as the hurt from the intensity of the game.  I don't even know what I mean anymore.  I keep trying to find a reason for your denial, for why you're so freakin' blind to the truth here.  Don't you have a clue what this is all really about?”

“No, Danny,” Jack softly intoned, shaking his head.  “I'm sorry, too, because I don't want to hurt you, and you're right, I don't have a clue why you're so dang upset when you admit you know it doesn't mean anything.”

“Okay, well, for the record, the kiss with Marie meant nothing.  I had a headache and went to the infirmary for some aspirin or something.  I guess you were right; she, uh, likes me.  She kissed me, and what I was guilty of, Jack, was not pulling away from her so fast that she'd feel like a total idiot. She's a nice woman, and I couldn't hurt her like that.  And ... uh ...” Daniel sighed.

“And, uh ... what?” Jack prodded, ready for Mr. Jealousy to return.

“To be honest, I guess I just needed a minute away, to think there was some peace away from this; not you, Jack, but from the hurt.  I was wrong to allow the kiss, but so are you, Jack.  What's so frustrating is that ...”  Daniel paused, shaking his head at what he was about to say.  “I can't even be that angry at you when I know you don't even know what you're really feeling, that you don't see the truth.”

“I wish you were talking sense, but to me, it sounds like gibberish.  You might as well be talking Goa'uld,” Jack responded.

“You know what else bothers me?  This ... game -- it's turned into something that is all about what you want, what will help you to look macho with the Marines.  I'm just an afterthought in the entire process.  Oh, I may be the reason for it, but in the game itself, I barely figure into the equation.  Even Sam hasn't really given any thought to what this is doing to me.”

“Daniel ...”

“No, Jack, it's the truth.  You're getting your cake and your pie, and you're eating both.  You have Sam and me.  I gave you the perfect excuse to flirt with her, with my full blessing, and somewhere deep inside, I can't help but think that both you and Sam are thinking, 'Oh, it's just Daniel, he won't mind.  Gee, he's too preoccupied to notice what's going on'.  I'm sorry, Jack, because I ruined it for both of you.  You see, I did notice.”

“Danny ...”

Daniel walked close to his soulmate and intoned, “When Sam told you about what she had done and what she wanted to keep on doing, you didn't exactly put up a fight.  I don't think you even considered how it would affect me over the long haul.  Yes, I agreed.  I still do.  But ... Jack, you accepted too fast.  You didn't question it, not really.  In fact, you're letting your second-in-command take a very big risk for you, in the name of protecting our relationship.”

“She ...”

Daniel put his hand on Jack's cheek, interrupting his lover's response, and begged, “Try to hear, Jack.  Does that sound like you, to be so accepting of that risk, and if it doesn't, then maybe you should try and ask yourself why.  You wanted this to happen Jack.  In fact, you were glad it did.  I don't blame you, not in the least.  Sam's a beautiful, intelligent, independent woman.”

“You're wrong, Daniel,” Jack stated, yet having no other words at the moment.

Daniel turned around and began to self-hug.  He bowed his head for a few moments and then he faced the wall.  He was afraid to turn around to face his lover.  He felt confused, his own thoughts jumbled up inside his head as he searched for the truth himself.

~Gawd, I don't know what I mean anymore,~ the archaeologist bewailed.

One moment, Daniel believed Jack was just being clueless, then the next he felt like it was just the macho military lunacy that was controlling his lover's actions.  Then, he worried Jack wasn't really prepared for a same-sex relationship, that the years of military and 'men are men' living was more deeply entrenched in the colonel than either had ever considered.  Finally, he feared that maybe Jack did love Sam, or at least, was curious about her.

~I can't think!  It's all messed up in my mind.  What's real?  What's the truth?  Does he love her?  Is he afraid?  Does he miss that silly macho crap? Is he just ... dumb?~ Daniel agonized silently.  His theories were jumbled, and his worry mounted.  He didn't know which was right, if any.  He just knew they had to keep searching, to fight their way through this, if it was possible.  ~Maybe he should ... find out the truth.~

“Daniel, I ...”

Still facing the wall, the younger man quietly suggested, “Perhaps you should put us all out of our misery, and sleep with her -- get the curiosity out of the way.  Then, maybe, we can get back to normal.”

~Has he lost his friggin' mind?~ Jack asked himself.  “Daniel, you're speaking nonsense.”

Daniel chuckled, “Listen to you.”  He turned to look at the colonel.  “I just told you to sleep with Sam, and you didn't yell at me.  Doesn't that tell you something?”

“It tells me you've lost your mind,” Jack quietly insisted.

“No, Love,” Daniel spoke.  “Jack, you love me.  I know that, but somewhere inside of you, you must believe you're missing something, or ... or maybe it is just that macho prick attitude, the he-man, the Air Force image.  Maybe to be military means you have to love the thrill of the chase more than the thrill of the emotion.  I mean, you can hardly chase me around the commissary, and no one is going to tell you that you're the man for loving me, are they?  In fact, if anything, the people will make you feel like you're sub-human, a defect, and Jack, isn't that what this is really about?”

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

“Being a man -- a normal, red-blooded, American macho, sex-crazed male.  Isn't that what you've known for most of your adult life?” Daniel challenged.

“Okay, Daniel.  I'm getting angry again.  I don't know how to get it through that thick skull of yours that this is all pretend.  You say you know, but then you drag out that garbage.  You know, because you admit you know, that I don't want Carter, that I *do* want you, and then you tell me to sleep with her.  Who's the confused one here?”

“Jack ...”

“No, you talked, and I stood here.  Now it's your turn to listen,” the older man commanded.  “I love you more than I ever thought I could love anyone, with the exception of Charlie, and yet, you show absolutely no faith in me.  I'm the one who should be angry and rightfully so.  I am doing *everything* I can to get *everyone* in this antiquated military to believe I care about someone I *don't* care about, not in that way.  Do you have any idea what it is doing to me to play that up, to tease Carter about stuff that doesn't do one thing for me?  Why don't you just get off that high horse of yours, just for once, Daniel, and come down with us mere mortals.  You might find your view of the world changes a bit.”

“Your words of love and romantic gestures are underwhelming.  Please, don't let me stop you while you're on a roll.  Go on, say the words that will convince me!” Daniel requested as his own ire increased.

“So help me, Daniel, you'd better back off right now or ...”

“Or what?  You'll hit me?  Or will you walk out on me because I'm saying things that are a little too close to the truth for you?” Daniel accused.

Jack shook his head, backing away as he stated, “I don't want to fight, Danny.  This is crazy.  I love you.  Don't you believe that?”

“Of course, I believe that, Jack.  I just told you that I know you love me.  Did you hear what you said a minute ago?  You said that you stood here while I talked, and then you told me to stand here and listen, but, Love, you didn't say that you listened, only that you stood here.”  Daniel turned, exclaiming, “Gawd, I don't know what to do!”

“Neither do I,” Jack sighed, approaching his lover and putting his hands on Daniel's upper arms.  “You're my life, Danny.  I don't even have the words to tell you how much I love you.”

“This isn't about love,” Daniel repeated for he was sure was the fiftieth time. He turned to face Jack, saying, “I love you too, more than you could possibly imagine.  You're rooted deep inside me now.  Every breath I take is because of you.  You're just not getting what I'm trying to say, and so I ... I think we should have some time apart to get everything into perspective.”

“I don't want ...”

“Jack,” Daniel sighed, putting his hand on his lover's chest and rubbing up and down gently.  “It's not just about what you want.  It's ... it's us and ... and what we need.  I don't want this, either, and I don't want you to think that this is any reflection on how I feel about you, but I don't know what to do to get you to hear me.  I just think it's something we need to do if we're going to make it to tomorrow.  You keep doing what you're doing with Sam, and ... and maybe do what I suggested and ...”

“Danny, you are the *only* one I want to make love to.  For the rest of my life, you're it.  *No* one else gets to touch me.  Is that clear?” Jack asked, looking into his heart's eyes.

Daniel smiled despite his mixed feelings.  Just hearing Jack say with conviction and passion that he was the only one that would have the privilege and the honor of making love with him, made his heart soar.  Still, it didn't change his mind about needing a break.

Staring back into his Love's eyes, Daniel lovingly stated, “Jack, I ... in my heart, I know that, and I'm happy you feel that way, but ...”

Jack cringed at hearing that simple little three letter word.  He knew that he would not like what his lover said next.

“... I still think that we need a break,” Daniel opined.

“Geez, you really are driving me out of my mind!  You're talking about breaking up?  We did that once.  It didn't work,” Jack reminded.

“I know, but the reasons were different, and yes, I think a break might be a good idea,” Daniel sadly sighed as he headed for the door, desperately needing a breath of fresh air.  “Um, just to be clear, Jack, I'm not really saying we should break up, just that we should take a break from each other,” he clarified as he reached for the doorknob.

“NO!” Jack shouted as he pulled on Daniel's arm.  “We are *so* not going there.  That's it.  I'm making an executive decision, Daniel, and I don't friggin' care about the fallout.  This game is *over*.  I'm not playing anymore.  If you don't know that I love you, totally, completely, then forget it, I'm not going to continue the game.  It's *done*, and if that doesn't convince you, I'm retiring ... now!”

 “Jack!  Gawd,” Daniel went to the tiny sofa in Jack's office and sat, placing his head in his hands.

Jack sighed, rubbing his hands through his hair, and then he went and sat quietly by Daniel.  Neither said anything, but in the tradition of their friendship, they sat with their shoulders touching.  Several minutes passed, the two not moving or saying a word.  Sometimes, silence said more than anything else.

Finally, Jack broke the emptiness of the air and pronounced, “I love you, Danny.  I know you think that I'm enjoying this game too much, but you have to believe me.  I'd rather be out there telling them how much I love you.  I don't want Carter in any way, and I don't know how else to tell you that than to say it.  Geez, we sound like a broken record,” he lamented, their words replaying over and over as they fought and debated the issue that was tearing them apart.

“Yes, I know, and for the twentieth time today, I love you, too, Jack, and ... I know.  It's just ...”  Daniel exhaled, long and loud, and then sat back, his head touching the wall.  “I hate being jealous, and for a while I was.  I mean, I was really jealous, but, mostly, it just hurts, and no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to get through to you, that we need the game, but that you're playing too hard.  I don't know how else to get you to see what I see.”

“I'll try, Danny, but I'm sorry, I just don't.  I meant what I said.  I'm not going to lose you because of this, so like I said before, we either go on together and stop this fighting, or the game is done, because I won't give you up.  We aren't going to end because of this thing,” Jack maintained.

“Jack ...”

“Daniel, we keep fighting over this ridiculous game.  We can't keep taking stupid chances like this.  We're too important,” the older man stated.  “We mean more than any game.”

“I know,” Daniel conceded, inwardly thrilled Jack had stopped him from walking out the office door.

Jack's phone rang again, and knowing General Hammond had wanted to meet with him today, the colonel stood and answered it.

Jack sighed as he hung up, “That's Hammond.  We have a briefing with some of the Brass.  You still have that meeting tonight?”

“Yes, it's important.  You still doing your neo-ritual?” Daniel inquired.

“That's the plan,” Jack said a bit more lightheartedly than he'd said anything else in the past several minutes.

“Okay.”

“Danny, are we okay?  I have to know,” Jack stated earnestly.

Daniel stood, walked to his lover, and kissed him, after which he affirmed, “Yes, we're okay.  Hold me, Jack.  Just for a minute.”

Jack held his lover tightly and with gratitude.  The kiss had been a warm one, full of love.  Both men knew they'd survive this argument.  It was minor on the scale of big-time Jack and Daniel disagreements.  Still, arguing was always draining on them emotionally, and this one had been no exception.  This holding of each other, this hug, was a reaffirmation that they would make it through, even if they didn't yet know how.

“I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too, Jack.”

====

After Jack left, Daniel stood in silence for almost twenty minutes in Jack's office. He had had idea of how to get through to Jack, so now he had a decision to make.  Did he risk trying one more time and suffer the hurt that he'd feel if it failed?  It was one of his toughest decisions ever, but, after debating it for a while, he resolved that he had little choice but to gamble on the plan working.

~I can't just go along, not anymore.  Please, Jack.  Let this work.~

Daniel went to the locker room and changed from his blue BDU jacket to his own brown jacket.  Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his car keys and left the SGC.

====

Forty minutes later, Daniel walked into the house he shared with Jack.  He went upstairs and pulled out an envelope that he had hidden at the bottom of a dresser drawer.  In it were a few photos the soulmates had taken of themselves with a Polaroid camera recently.  He reviewed the photos with love, smiling at their silliness as well as their caring.

After returning the photos to their hiding place, Daniel ambled over to the nightstand that was on his side of the bed.  He stood in front of the wooden piece of furniture, self-hugging for a few minutes.

~It's the right thing to do, and it may be my last chance,~ Daniel thought as he took his journal from the drawer.  He opened it, rereading an entry about his love for Jack O'Neill.  Then he sighed as he thought, ~Please hear me.~

====

Daniel walked downstairs to the study.  On Jack's desk sat the latest edition of the National Geographic, which had arrived the day before.

“Neo-rituals,” Daniel said softly.

Jack had a favorite routine he loved to practice.  He'd take a beer and a bowl of chips to the study and relax on the couch while he read his favorite publication from cover to cover.  In the background, he'd play some classic Jazz music.  It was something Jack had done ever since moving into the country-style home after returning from the first mission to Abydos.

Daniel opened his journal and quickly reviewed his last entry from the night before.  He added a bit more and then he placed a pen at a specific point towards the top of the page.  He pressed the journal to make sure the pages wouldn't move nor would the book close.  When he was confident the journal was secure in its place, the archeologist returned to the SGC.

====

Jack whistled that evening as he entered the study, prepared to enjoy some private time.  He hadn't seen Daniel since their fight in his office at the SGC, but he was sure they'd gotten through this bump in the road.

~Fighting leads to great make-up sex,~ Jack smirked as he prepared for his neo-ritual.

Jack's meeting with Hammond and the Brass had been unusually painless, perhaps because it had been cut short.  When it had concluded, the general took Jack aside, letting him know that they had arrested the three Marines responsible for Blair Winters' beating.  The three had admitted to the assault and were being held in custody.

Jack was happy to hear the news.  It was one less thing to worry about, or so he briefly thought.  Remembering the disagreement with Daniel earlier, he had considered talking to Sam and stopping the game.  He still didn't get Daniel's problem, but when he wasn't working so hard to ignore it, he had to admit to himself that he could see the pain in his partner's eyes.  That pain pierced his own heart.

In the end, though, Jack's concern that the Marines might not be alone won out. Maybe others were out there, participating in similar activities, some of which might not have been reported.  The more he and Sam played the game, the safer Daniel would be.  Thus, Jack decided to continue as they were.  It wasn't an easy decision, but it was the only one he felt at peace with.

Now, the Air Force colonel was home and about to enjoy his ritual of choice.  It was one of the small, personal pleasures Jack allowed himself.  Daniel never disturbed him during his neo-ritual, and the phone was always turned off.  Everyone deserved a few moments to themselves, and this was one of Jack's.

After putting down his refreshments and fluffing the pillows that rested on the comfortable couch, Jack walked to the desk to pick up the current National Geographic issue.  Seeing Daniel's journal, he was surprised.  The younger man rarely left it out in the open like this, especially when he wasn't home.

Instinctively, Jack started to call out for his lover, until he remembered Daniel wasn't home.  He also knew that when he and Daniel had left the house that morning, the journal hadn't been there.

Jack began to close the book.  He never read Daniel's journals.  The two had established a trust between themselves from the earliest point of their friendship.  Daniel didn't worry about Jack trying to sneak a peak or looking at something while he got up for food or whatever.  His journal was an extension of him, and Jack would never dream of teasing about it or abusing the special trust between himself and his partner.

It was this trust that Jack dwelled on which prevented him from closing the book.  It had been left open, atop Jack's magazine.  The pen was set in place, like a marker.  Two words appeared below the pen, and they had been written in all capital letters across an entire line, as if begging for attention.  The words were, “IT HURTS.”

~Okay, you want me to read this.~

Jack sat down on the office chair by the desk.  It was clear to him that Daniel had left this for him.  It was a message, something the young man apparently couldn't say verbally.

~Or maybe it's something he's been trying to say, but I'm not hearing, and this is his only other way of telling me, with the written word, his journal.~

//From the Personal Journal of Daniel Jackson//
IT HURTS.

I guess it shouldn't, but it does.  I know we need to play the game, that our lives might depend on it, but, gawd, watching them together, it hurts.

Yesterday, I saw her at lunch, sliding her hand across the table.  Jack reached out with his and sort of nudged it gently, rubbing back and forth, that big Irish smile going full tilt.  She actually blushed.  The Marines bought it.  Boy, did they buy it.  The looks.  The whispers.

Maybe I'm being selfish, or maybe it's just that I'm too sensitive.  Maybe always being left behind and ignored growing up is making me less tolerant.  I don't know.  I keep trying.  He says it's all for me, but if it's for me, than why am I so miserable?

Maybe I'm completely overreacting to something that is nothing, but it's hard.  There's gossip about them everywhere, and I know that was the idea, the whole reason for it, to distract everyone from me, from the rumors about Jack and me.  But, gawd, it hurts.

The decoy has the whole base fascinated.  Everywhere I go, they ask me, “Hey Jackson, what's the scoop with O'Neill and his second?”

They all want to know, and I have to play along and smile, and say I don't know anything, but no one believes me.  They keep prodding, their curiosity rising every time Jack and Sam heighten the game.

I guess that's the thing.  Why?  Why can't he see that every time he looks at her like that, that it ... it ... it hurts, like a piece of ground has given way, or a piece of my heart being chiseled into nothingness?

Why do they have to play it up so much?  I mean, nothing is happening right now.  We're as safe as we could be.  Three weeks ago people were sold on the idea of some fling between them.  Everyone is talking about the fraternization rules and how much they are bucking the system.  The diversion worked, so why do we have to keep upping the stakes?  Why go for a touchdown when a field goal will work?

I find myself wondering how Jack would feel if the situation were reversed.  I tried to get him to understand with Marie.  That was a silly, nothing kiss.  I was wrong, but he was instantly jealous.  Why can't he see that the pain and hurt he felt from Mike's exaggeration of the truth is how I feel watching the game play out in front of me?

What if Sam and I had to pretend to play the game?  What if he was the one who had to listen to Lou teasing me about “the gorgeous babe” and wondering if we'd “done the deed” yet?  How would he feel if he had to watch me flirt with Sam all the time?  How would he feel if Sam were hooking her pinky with mine all the time?

How would you feel?  Could you just go along, day after day, listening to the sleazy innuendos, watching the sly smirks, the raised eyebrows, and worse, could you bear knowing it was way more than was necessary?

I love Jack with all my heart.  He knows that.  I trust him.  I've always trusted him.  I'm not worried about the game becoming real, at least not anymore.  I have to admit that for a while, I got scared that the decoy had become the prize.  After all, Sam admitted she had a crush on Jack once.  Who wouldn't be a little hesitant knowing that?

He's beautiful.  He's so tall and strong, and, oh, man, he's handsome.  Did I say sexy?  Wow!  In dress blues, he takes my breath away.  Actually, Jack most always makes me breathless.  His piercing eyes and that charming smile disarm me from a mile away.  Who wouldn't want him?

I've watched so many staring at him.  I know some of the women wish he was theirs, some of the men, too; but he's mine, and I'm not going to give him up, not even if I have to find a way to deal with the hurt on my own.

He's intelligent.  No matter how hard he tries to get people to think he's dumb, My Jack is one smart guy.  I know the truth, and I won't let him get away with the dense bit, not if we're being serious.

He's protective, too.  Even when I want to strangle him for all the mother henning and overbearing hovering, I have to admit, I love him even more for caring so much about me.  No one has ever cared about me the way he does.

Who wouldn't want Jack?  Everyone wants him, but ... he's ... he says he loves me, and I believe him.

So, after a bit of jealousy, which I hate to confess I felt, and after a bit of irrational worry that the game wasn't a game anymore, I finally remembered the truth.

Jack loves me as much as I love him.  He comes home to me, not her.

Yet, maybe he'll tire of me.  Maybe I won't have a choice.  I never have before when I've had to move on.  I can't lose him, so if I have to, I'll just go along, and let the game play on.  I'll sit back and let My Love do whatever he thinks he has to because I trust him to do what's best for both of us.

Still, it hurts, and I don't know how to get him to understand without him thinking that I'm thinking it's something that I know it's not.  It's just that it hurts.  How many times do I have to say that before it matters to him?

IT HURTS!

How can I get Jack to see that what he's doing now has gone beyond what is necessary, that he's taken the game to a place it doesn't need to be, at least not right now?

How can I tell Jack that his jokes with Lou and all the others make me feel sad and alone?  How can I let him know that I need it to stop without him feeling bad?  I don't want Jack to feel bad.  He's just doing what he thinks he has to, for us.

Jack, what if it was Norm patting me on the back, saying “You're the man, Daniel” and winking because he thinks Sam and I just spent a half-hour locked up in my office?  How would you feel, sitting there at lunch, listening to joke after joke, day after day?  Jack, can't you put yourself in my place, just for a few minutes?  Or how would you feel if it was Norm, wanting me?

I love you, Jack, and I trust you with all that I am.  I know you aren't interested in Sam in that way, but if you could see the last several weeks through my eyes, how would you feel?  Why don't you understand, Jack?  Why?
//End of Daniel's Personal Journal//

Jack closed the journal for a second to gather his thoughts and emotions, and then, opening the journal, he gently placed the book back as he had found it.  He grabbed his beer and walked outside to the patio deck where he sat down on the steps.  He found himself reflecting on the events that had transpired since he had been taken over by the life force of the orb.

~Go along with Danny flirting with someone else?  No, I'm not sure I could.~  Jack snorted, “Not sure?  I'd have killed him after the first week.”

Jack remembered the surprise revelation that Sam had known about his relationship with Daniel for quite a while and that she had wanted to help protect Daniel from the gossip mongers at the SGC, and, he had to admit, his second-in-command was looking out for his career as well.  They had decided to play the game, to use Sam as a willing decoy to draw attention away from Daniel and onto her.

The colonel recalled all the flirtations, the touching of their bodies, the verbal rhetoric, the 'big talk' with Ferretti and others.  He reviewed the innuendo that he himself had suggested, only to then hear it relayed back to him, the stories increased by the constant retelling to be much more than what it had began with.

As he sat on the steps looking over the backyard, Jack replayed the arguments with Daniel, and finally, he heard his own words.

~Dang it, he's right.  I didn't listen to him,~ Jack admitted.  He had stood there, humoring his lover, but not really listening.  He, Jack, had decided that he was the one in the right, that Daniel was jealous, paranoid, and overly sensitive.  ~I didn't *hear* a single word you said, except when you said we needed a break,~ he thought about Daniel's brief threat to end the relationship.

“That's when I listened,” Jack groaned, shaking his head.  ~But even then, all I heard was you threatening to leave, not why you wanted to leave.~

Jack thought about the journal entry.  A couple of times, Daniel had gone outside of his 'conversation' with his journal to address Jack specifically.  The message was loud and clear.

“I wonder why he said that about Norm?” Jack asked the grass as he stared at it.  ~Nah, it's nothing.  He's just drawing an example for me.  It seems I need pictures in order to understand the words.~

After a few swigs of beer, as he continued to ponder everything, Jack had an epiphany.

“O'Neill, you are a blasted idiot!  You'd suck at this game if the shoe were on the other foot.  You are so lucky Daniel forgives your lunatic characteristics!” Jack took a final swig of his brew.  ~It's so simple.  I've been playing a game that I thought hurt no one, but the truth is, I'm hurting the one person in this world I swore I'd never hurt.  I'm, crap, courting Carter right in front of him.  Geez, if he did that to me, I *would* shoot him.  Well, I'd shoot the ...~ “I am so full of crap.”

Jack stood, knowing what he needed to do.  Daniel's pain was too great to ignore.  The threat Jack had decided to protect him against was minor.  They'd just be even more careful from now on.  He also knew he had to proceed carefully.  There were a lot of people indirectly involved with this charade, and what he did now had to be done not to hurt anyone, especially not Daniel.

====

When Daniel arrived home that night, Jack acted perfectly normal.  He wined and dined his lover just as he had planned on doing before their big fight in his office.  It was a special evening for the two of them.  He prepared one of Daniel's favorite pasta dishes.  Then they cuddled, both of them by some silent, mutual agreement pretending the day hadn't happened, except for their night together.

Daniel gave an inward sigh, realizing his plan hadn't worked.  Resolving to at least enjoy his evening with Jack, he pushed the disappointment aside.

Jack spoke about their love and their future together, even suggesting they think about their first vacation together; that is, their first official vacation as a couple.  They'd been on many trips together, even after becoming lovers, but this would be a romantic adventure, full length, for the first time.

The time passed way too quickly, and then they made love and fell asleep, snuggled together in their bed.

====

About 3:30 a.m., Daniel awoke and slowly disentangled himself from Jack.  Jack felt the motions and called out, “Danny?”

“Go back to sleep, Babe.  Just getting a drink.  I'll be right back,” the archaeologist promised with a smile.

“Hurry,” Jack replied, already back to sleep before Daniel could respond.

Daniel walked downstairs and took a few sips of orange juice, mostly so he could say he hadn't lied, but then he walked to the study.  He saw the journal still atop the National Geographic, just as he had left it.  He sighed, not knowing if Jack had read it or not.  He assumed he hadn't though, because everything was in place, and Jack hadn't said anything about the articles in the magazine like he normally would have after his ritual.

The sad young man closed the journal and took it with him back to the bedroom, placing it in its spot in the nightstand drawer.  Sadly, he got back into bed, figuring he just wasn't meant to be anywhere near happy in his life. No matter how hard he tried, there was always some cloud hanging over him.

Daniel rolled over on his left side, his back to his lover, but within a few minutes, Jack scooped him next to him, a protective arm around Daniel's waist.

The younger man whispered, “Gawd, I love you” as he placed his hand over Jack's and tried to sleep in vain.

====

“Hey, Carter, how goes the ... whatever it is you're doing?” Jack asked as he rubbed his hands together upon entering Sam's office.  He closed the door behind him.  He was smiling, but a bit nervous.  Within seconds, his hands were in his pant pockets.  ~I'm not gonna like this conversation.~

Sam was surprised by Jack's entrance, and stuttered at first, “I'm ... ah, well, it's coming along nicely, Sir.”

“Good.  Good.  Good,” Jack said looking around at all the doo-dads that adorned his 2IC's office lab.  “Your office isn't nearly as fun as Daniel's,” he observed.

“No, Sir, I'm sure it's not,” Sam laughed, reading a bit more into Jack's comment than he had intended which flustered him for a moment.

“Carter, you're a good friend.  Daniel and I ... we ... well, we really appreciate this little game we've been playing,” the colonel spoke.

“Well, it's like I said, Sir, we're ...”

“Drop the 'Sir', Carter,” Jack stated pointedly.

“Sir?”  When Jack glared, Sam acknowledged, “Yes, Sssss..., um, Colonel.”

Jack ran his right hand through his hair as he paced Sam's office.

“Is there something wrong, Sss...C...Jack?” a now very nervous captain asked.

Jack answered, “We've done a good job with the game.”

Sam nodded, pleased with herself, and responded, “I've heard the rumors.  They're definitely buying it.”

“We've done too good of a job,” Jack surprised Sam by saying.  He was solemn, almost grim, staring his 2IC in the face with a sincerity that he could tell disarmed her completely.  “Way too good of a job.”

“Daniel?” the blonde inquired.

Jack confirmed, “He knows there's nothing, but at the same time, we're flaunting us, I mean you and me, the make believe us.  Oh. for crying out loud, Carter, you know what I mean.”

“Yes, Sir.  We ... have to stop then,” Sam stated decisively, not wanting to hurt Daniel in any way.

“We can't,” Jack replied, moving a couple of steps closer to his teammate.  “Look, we need you.  That is, as long as you are willing to help, there's a need, but we've gone too far.  Actually, I've gone too far, and I'm going to fix it.  We just need to keep it low profile.  We don't really need to flirt, Carter, not like we have been.  No more stories, no more ...”

“Stories?”

Jack flinched, then admitted, “Yeah, well, like I said, I've gone too far.  Don't worry, nothing that would damage your virtue or anything, but certainly, I colored it a lot.”

Sam blushed and coughed, looking around her office, trying not to face her CO.

Jack continued, “Anyway, just let's keep it on the low burner, let those stories or whatever become a memory.  You okay with that?”

“I'm only doing this for ...” Sam began.

“Daniel, I know.  I'm going to fix it, Carter.  You can count on that,” the colonel promised.

Feeling guilty, Sam asked, “Should I say something to him?”

“No, he'll feel bad.  You know how he is.  Daniel takes the blame for everything, even the weather,” Jack tried to quip.  “Let's just let the dust settle a little.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Enjoy your doo-dads, Carter,” Jack stated as he exited the office.

====

The next day, Daniel arrived home at Jack's house ahead of his partner, who had been training new recruits all day.  He put on the coffee and decided to write in his journal for a while since the house was quiet.  He took his coffee and went upstairs, placing a couple of pillows behind his back as he prepared to write in his journal, which he had retrieved from the nightstand.

Opening it, Daniel was surprised to see a piece of paper fall out.  He unfolded the paper, and read it:

“How do you tell someone you love with all your heart that you're sorry?
How do you tell someone who is your heart that you made a mistake?
How do you tell someone, the only someone who matters, that you love him with every fiber of your heart and soul?

How do you explain that sometimes it's easy to get carried away?
How do you explain that sometimes vanity reigns even when it means nothing?
How do you explain that sometimes you forget that the only really important thing is that someone special?

I don't know how ... except to say I'm sorry.
I don't know how ... except to ask for your forgiveness.
I don't know how ... except to let our eternity together speak for me.

I don't know how ... except to say that I'm human, and dense.
I don't know how ... except to say that I let myself get caught up in words that matter not.
I don't know how ... except to say I love you, only you, forever you.

My heart and my soul are yours.
My heart beats for you.
My soul thrives for you.
My body hungers for you.
My blood flows only for you.

You are my life, my joy, my reason for being.
Thank you for trusting me with your words.
Thank you for trusting me with your soul.
Most of all, thank you for trusting me with your heart.

Thank you, My Love, for finding a way to tell me I was hurting you.
It helped me to find a way to tell you how sorry I am.  The problem is fixed.  No more touchdowns, My Love, and we already have more field goals than we need for quite a while.  I understand now.  I promise I do!

I love you.  Forgive me?”

Blinking back the tears, Daniel closed the journal and rested his head back against the pillows and the headboard.  He smiled, suddenly feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.  Everything would be fine now.  He was sure of it.

~Thank you for finally hearing me.~

====

Jack arrived home late and was greeted with an enthusiastic smile, hungry kiss, and warm embrace from his happy lover.

“I don't think I could ever take this for granted.  You feel so good, Danny,” Jack intoned as the two enjoyed their hold on each other.

“You, too.  I fixed dinner.  Did you eat?” Daniel asked.

“No, I couldn't wait to get home to you.  What gourmet meal did you make for us tonight?” the older man inquired.

“Pizza,” Daniel laughed.

“Domino's?”

Daniel nodded, and the two laughed as they headed for the kitchen to warm the pizza that had been delivered by the pizza place an hour earlier.  They spent their dinner discussing the trainees, the next mission, and their weekend plans.

Afterwards, they watched a documentary on Egyptian myths.

“Well, that was good for a laugh,” Daniel opined as he turned off the television.

Jack responded, “Sometimes, I wish we could write a letter to the director, or something.”

“Yeah, or something.  Let's go to bed,” Daniel suggested as he turned for the stairs.

Suddenly, Jack grabbed Daniel's arm, turning the younger man to face him, and said, “Someday, everyone will know that your theory was right.”

“I doubt it, but I'm learning to live with it.  After all, I have you to remind me that what others think isn't really what's important, but what we know ... that's what matters.  Isn't it?” Daniel asked.

Jack got the double message, smiled, and spoke softly, “Bed.”

The two walked upstairs and then Daniel headed for the bathroom.  As Jack changed his clothes, he saw Daniel's journal, open once again, a pen marking a spot.  He looked to the bathroom and smiled, and then he sat on the edge of the bed and read the notation.

//From the Personal Journal of Daniel Jackson//
Forgiveness is highly overrated.  What matters is love and the future.  I love you.  If you need the words, then, yes, I forgive you, but what I hope you need more is just me and our love, and I hope someday, that it's enough, for both of us.  You are what matters most to me.  I love you.
//End of Daniel's Personal Journal//

As Jack looked up, he saw his lover.  As Daniel watched, he took the journal and put it in the nightstand.  Then he took his lover into his arms.

“Enough of the covert writing in journals and notes.  I made a mistake, a really, dumb, silly mistake.  I got carried away with all the rah-rahs of the guys, and I have to admit it felt good to hear them think I was, geez, it sounds horrible, but getting some from my second.  The problem is, I don't want any of what Carter has to offer except for her friendship and military skills.”

“I do know that, Jack,” Daniel replied.

“I'm sorry, Danny, that I didn't get it sooner, that you had to stand by and watch me act like a silly teenager, that I wouldn't hear you even when you tried to tell me, because the tragedy is, none of it meant anything,” Jack continued. “I love you, Daniel Jackson, just you, and I plan to make you happy for the rest of my life, as long as you'll let me.”  He took the opportunity to kiss his lover with a deep kiss.  “And there's one more thing I need to tell you.”

“What?” Daniel inquired.

“A while back, Hammond ordered me not to say anything, and, you know me, Danny, I went into protector mode ...”

Daniel shook his head, not knowing what Jack was talking about.

“Um ... have you heard about Blair Winters?” Jack inquired.

The archaeologist nodded, answering, “Yes, he was supposed to join my staff, but he was in a car accident.”

“No, Danny.  He was doing special projects awaiting clearance, and he was attacked by some self-righteous Marines who thought his kind didn't belong anywhere near the Mountain,” Jack confided.

“His kind?” Daniel asked curiously.

“He's gay, openly, and he's not the only one who'd been threatened over the past couple of months,” Jack explained.

“I didn't know.  I hadn't heard anything about that at all,” Daniel replied.

Jack expounded, “Hammond and the other big wigs sealed it pretty tight.  You can't tell anyone, Danny, not until it hits release, if it does.”

“Jack ... you aren't trying to tell me all those arguments were just an act?” the younger man asked.

“No.  No, Love, I'm not.  I was a first class jerk, but, I did consider stopping the game a couple of times; that is, until I heard about Winters.  Once Hammond told me, I had to protect you.  In fact, even after Hammond told me they'd arrested the men involved, I decided I had to keep you safe.  I didn't understand the hurt you felt, or how much I had gotten into it, but I was going to stop, Danny.  I don't know if that counts for anything,  but I swear to you, I was about to march up to Carter's lab and ...”

“It counts,” Daniel interrupted softly.  His hand massaged Jack's chest as he leaned in for another kiss.  “I know you love me, and that Sam is our friend.  I ... I ...”

“Love me?” Jack asked with his Irish grin.

Daniel nodded and affirmed, “Everything's fine now.  I can feel it, Jack.  We're okay.”

Daniel leaned his head against Jack's left shoulder, his forehead snuggled into Jack's face.  He loved that.  Jack made him feel safe, protected, loved.  His arms were long and strong and wrapped around Daniel like a clinging vine, a very much wanted clinging vine.

Jack added, “Just so you know, I talked to Carter, and she's fine.  I apologized because my idiot behavior affected her, too.  So, we're all good to go, right?”

“Right,” Daniel acknowledged.  “Uh, actually, I need to tell you about something that happened.”

Jack's alarm bells rang, and somehow, he just knew.  He listened as Daniel told him about the incident with Norm Foster and that he suspected Lou had 'talked' to Foster.

“I'll make sure he never comes near you again,” Jack spoke.

“Babe, don't,” Daniel requested.  “Listen, Lou did ... whatever he did, and since then, Foster has left me alone.  He's, uh, even been polite, not very sincere about it, but polite.”

“Okay, I'll get him transferred,” Jack suggested.

“Jack, if you do that, he'll just ...”

“Do it to someone else,” both men said together.

“Exactly.  He knows he's being watched at the SGC, and as long as knows that, he'll ...”

“Leave everyone alone,” Jack completed for his lover.

“Exactly.”

Jack sighed, wanting to do more, but knowing Daniel was right.  He would, however, quietly make sure that Norm Foster was never assigned to any
time or duty that included Daniel.

~Thanks, Lou.  I owe you one,~ Jack silently thought.  He smiled as he nuzzled his chin against his lover's shaggy hair and asked, “Want to go lay down?”

“I like it right here,” Daniel sighed, completely content for the first time in weeks.

“I love you, Danny.  Never doubt that,” Jack assured as he caressed his lover's back.

“I never did, and ... I love you, too.”  Then Daniel decided there was one thing he'd give up Jack's strong hold for, but only one.  “Jack?”

“Hmmm?”

“Make love to me,” Daniel requested with loving and wanting eyes.

Yes, some things were definitely worth moving for, and lovemaking with Jack was one of them.  As the two merged their bodies in an explosive symphony, Jack and Daniel's nation of two grew stronger, another layer having been added to their shield of love!

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