Missing in Action

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Angst, Drama, Action/Adventure, H/C, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  6 - October 11 - November 27, 2002
Spoilers:  None
Size:  130kb
Written:  January 5-7,10,20,22,25, 2004  Revised for consistency:  February 8-10, 2007  Revised for timeline:  March 24, April 8,12, May 1,26, 2008
Summary:  Jack is ordered to lead a rescue mission in Iraq and is reported killed, leaving Daniel behind to try and pick up the pieces of his life.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  This was a whim; all in fun.  I don't have anything to do with them legally!
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) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  StarShadow, Drdjlover, Claudia, Suzanna, Lissa, Melissa, Jo, Keri!

Missing in Action
by Orrymain

“But, Sir, that's not my bailiwick anymore.”

“Colonel O'Neill,” the fifty-something General Armstrong began.  “You are the only one with the know how and intel necessary to get in and out safely enough to accomplish this mission.”

Jack faced the bald-headed man.  General Franklin Armstrong had never visited the SGC before, nor was he interested in touring the facility now.  Instead, he had come to the Mountain for one reason -- to enlist Jack in a highly sensitive, top secret operation.  Their meeting was held early in the day, behind the closed doors of General Hammond's office.  Only the two Generals and Jack were present.

“Sir, I can tell you what I remember; I'll draw you a map, but my duties and responsibilities here ...”

“...can be terminated, Colonel.”

Jack locked eyes with the no-nonsense General and knew he was losing the battle, not that he ever really had a chance, but he had to try.  He didn't want this mission, not one bit.

“Colonel, this is not a request,” Armstrong continued.  “It's an order from the President of the United States.”

“Yes, Sir,” Jack spoke, standing at attention, feeling the need to be military since he was most definitely being ordered to do something that he didn't want to do.

“You don't need to know the details yet.  You'll be told what you need to know when you need to know it.  For now, all you need to know is that they are holding a prominent VIP hostage, and we're keeping it under wraps for as long as we can.  Your job is to go in and extract the VIP.”

“Understood, Sir,” Jack acknowledged.

“From now on, Colonel, everything you do and say is subject to scrutiny.  This is to be kept in the strictest of confidence.  Do you understand?” Armstrong questioned forcefully.

“Yes, Sir.”

“General Hammond will cover your absence from the SGC.  Your cover will be a TDY to McMurdo for an exercise scheduled to take you outside of communication range for a week.  This should give you plenty of time to complete your mission.  You depart at 0900 hours tomorrow morning.  Until such time, I advise you to act as normally as possible under the scope of the TDY.  Major Carlson will coordinate with you shortly about your needs for the mission.  Any questions?”

“None, Sir.”

“Dismissed, Colonel.”

Jack saluted the two generals and exited.  He wasn't happy.  This TDY was not the type of temporary duty assignment he wanted anymore, especially not this particular one.

The nightmares had lessened over the years, but every now and then, one still managed to wake him up, sweating and screaming for help.  Daniel had coaxed him back to reality only a couple of months ago, Jack's memory recalling the stench and filth of the Iraqi prison where he had once been held.  Now, Jack would have to go back, back to a hellhole he wanted only to forget.

====

It was late in the day.  Jack had made all the necessary arrangements with Major Carlson, and the usual procedures were put in place for whenever Jack was off-base on another assignment.  Nothing stood out or seemed unusual to any of the personnel.

Jack strolled into Daniel's office, closing the door.  It was normal.  He did it all the time.  He perused the shelves of artifacts, finally picking up a multi-colored stone type statue, holding it in his hands as he took a seat on a stool near Daniel's work table.  He studied the object briefly, but, mostly, he watched his lover work.

“Jack, what are you doing?”

“Just watching,” Jack replied as he smiled, bobbing the object he was holding in his hands.

“I have work to do,” Daniel advised.

“Am I stopping you?”

“Yes!”

“How?”

“By sitting there and looking ... sexy and gorgeous!  You're very distracting!” Daniel replied with a smile.

“Oh,” Jack responded as he grinned, a glint in his eye as well as he stood up and placed the artifact back on the shelf before walking out.

Daniel frowned.  He hadn't anticipated Jack actually leaving.  Normally, Jack would have stayed and 'played', annoying Daniel in ways that only Jack could.

“Miss me?” Jack asked, smiling as he reentered the office only a few seconds later.

Daniel gave his Love a big smile, the one that said Jack was his everything, and that was all the answer that Jack needed.  For the next fifteen minutes, until he had to finish up some paperwork, Jack 'annoyed' Daniel, much to the pleasure of both men.

====

At the end of their shift at the SGC, Jack and Daniel were making their way to their vehicles in the Cheyenne Mountain parking lot.

“What do you want for dinner?” Daniel asked, reaching into his pocket for his car keys.

“Surprise me.  Let's go to the apartment tonight.”

Daniel stopped, not expecting that response.  Jack hated his apartment. He didn't really hate it, but it was a symbol of the lie they had to live, of their hiding in plain site.  He actually liked the place and they'd had a lot of great times in the cozy loft-like space, but Jack rarely was the one who suggested they spend time there.

“O...kay.  Why?”

“Variety is the spice of life,” Jack quipped in a forced manner.  “I'll meet you there in a couple of hours.  I have an errand I need to run first.”

Jack smiled and walked to his truck.  He turned and nodded as he got in and drove away.

Daniel was still standing where he had stopped.  He sensed something was wrong, but he couldn't figure out what or why.

**Jack, what's ...** Daniel began.

**Not here, Danny, please.  Let's just get to the apartment,** Jack interrupted, cutting off his soulmate's questions.

====

The night began quietly.  Daniel made a tasty steamed sparerib dish that included a robust sauce made from salted black soy beans.  They also enjoyed a fruit salad and mashed potatoes.  Afterwards, the couple snuggled cozily on the sofa, listening to opera.  They touched and kissed, and just enjoyed the night, two lovers in each other's caring hold, chatting off and on about inconsequential nothings that were the everythings of their world during the day.

When Jack got up and went to the bathroom, Daniel decided to stretch for a minute himself.  He walked out onto his balcony, taking in the beauty of the starry night.  He looked out onto the parking lot and became alarmed not to see Jack's Ford F-350 truck in its normal spot, nor anywhere else in the lot.

A couple of minutes later, Jack walked up behind his partner and slid his arms around the young man's waist.  Jack kissed his nape and took in Daniel's scent, letting it fill him up with love and memories.

“Jack, your truck.  I don't see it,” Daniel spoke, worried that it might have been stolen.

“We need to feed you more carrots,” Jack tried to tease.

Daniel turned to face the older man.  He started to say something, but Jack cut him off with a hungry kiss.

“But, Jack, your tru...mmmmph ...”

Daniel's concerns were met with another kiss, Jack's arms pulling his lover in even closer.

Jack smacked his lips and teased, “What's up, Doc?”

“You are not Bugs Bunny, Love,” Daniel chuckled.

“Yeah, my ears aren't long enough without a costume.”

Growing serious again, Daniel spoke, “Jack, I didn't see yo...mmmmh,” though another kiss silenced his statement.  “Jac...mmmph,” Daniel began again, failing to get out a word.

“Bed,” Jack whispered.

“But the parkingggg...mmmph.”

Daniel gave up.  Jack obviously didn't care about the fate of his truck, and after all those kisses, Daniel was eager to show Jack exactly what was indeed up!

====

Daniel sat on the end of the bed, facing the still slumbering Jack, with his arms wrapped around his bent knees.  He'd awakened a half hour ago, the sense that something wasn't right overwhelming him.  A glance at the clock showed him it was 3 a.m.  He knew he should try and go back to sleep.  He had a busy day scheduled, but he also knew that he couldn't sleep.  Instead, he continued to study his sexy and often complex soulmate.

As he sat, Daniel replayed the night in his mind, culminating with their lovemaking.  It had been soft and tender, slow and seemingly timeless.  It was as if Jack had been trying to drink up every second of their time together, soaking it up as if it might be their last.

As much as Jack had chased away Daniel's fears of being abandoned, he could feel those old demons returning, causing him to wonder if this was Jack's way of saying goodbye.

~Stop it, Jackson.  Jack loves you, and you are going to have the forever he keeps promising.~

After a few more minutes of silent contemplation, Daniel moved forward, leaning over Jack, and began to kiss him gently, their lips pressing together as his left hand caressed Jack's neck slowly.  Daniel's tongue slid inside Jack's mouth as the other man began to rouse, his hands coming up to rub Daniel's back as they kissed.

“Hey,” Jack said softly as he woke.

“Hey,” Daniel repeated before kissing his love again.

Then the two simply gazed into each other's eyes for a moment.

“I love you, Danny.”  Without pausing, Jack began to move off the bed, saying, “Let's take a shower.”

“A ... a shower?” Daniel asked hesitantly.

Jack nodded and headed for the bathroom, turning on the water, adjusting the temperature until it was to his liking.  Then he reached for his lover's hand, and together they walked into the shower and closed the stall door.

The water beat against Jack's back as he drew Daniel towards him, beginning kiss after kiss.  And then, Jack began to talk between the kisses.

“Mission ... <kiss> ... three days, maybe four ... <kiss> ... a week at the most ... <kiss> ... not safe, Danny ... <kiss> ... Love you so darn much ... <kiss> ... don't want to go ... <kiss> ... love you.”

“Jack ... why go?  I mean, why?”

Jack shook his head, his left hand caressing Daniel's cheek, “VIP ... <kiss> ... don't know much more myself ... <kiss> ... orders ... <kiss> ... no choice unless I retire.”

Daniel leaned against his partner, who held him securely, the water beating down against both of them now.  He realized now what he had sensed.  Jack must have known about the orders all day.  This night was a silent farewell, not as he had feared a few minutes before, but rather a 'just-in-case' for them both.  It was also a covert night.  Daniel now understood why Jack's truck wasn't in the parking lot.

“Truck? ... <kiss> ... Home?”

Jack nodded.  He had left his house looking very lived in -- lights, music, and he'd even arranged a phone conversation with the magic of electronics.  Then, he'd slipped out and made his way to Daniel's apartment.

“Where?” Daniel asked pulling back a little to look into Jack's eyes.

“Geez ... <kiss> ... friggin' Iraq ... <kiss> ... never wanted to go ... <kiss> ... back there.”

Daniel blinked.  It was a nightmare; it had to be.  Jack had been imprisoned in Iraq years ago.  He'd been tortured, and worse.  It had taken more than a decade to fade the scar from his time in captivity, and even now, the scar, though faded, was still there.

“I don't like it, Jack.  It's not ... <huge kiss> ... right for them ... <a nibble on Daniel's right ear that made him moan softly> ... to be able to order you to go back there ... and stop distracting me!  I'm angry, and I have a right to be, too!”

Daniel remembered a nightmare Jack had had their first week together as lovers, and he remembered the promise that he had made to his lover, telling him that he would never have to go back to Iraq.  It made Daniel angry to know that that promise, made so many years ago, was being broken, and there was nothing he could do to change it.

“Shhh, we can't talk about it.  You understand that?”

“Gawd, I hate the military.”

“Love you,” Jack said -- two words that when combined with eyes that bore deep into Daniel's soul spoke paragraphs.

“Jack?”

“Forever and always, Angel.”

====

“Doctor Jackson, is it possible that the Teltrons have learned more about this Kessex Device than they are letting on?”

Daniel's hands were folded on the table of the briefing room, tightly clasped over the open folder of his pre-mission reports.  He was staring downward, totally oblivious to the question General Hammond had just asked.

It had been nine days since Jack had left on his 'TDY', which meant Jack was at least two days overdue, if not more.  There hadn't been any word from him at all.  The only thing Hammond had said was that the training exercises had been expanded and that Jack would be gone a while longer.

The day before had been Jack's birthday, too, and the archaeologist had celebrated the occasion alone, staring at two cupcakes he'd purchased at the store.  Symbolically, he'd eaten both, blowing out a lone candle on the cupcake that was his soulmate's.  He'd held in his hand his most special birthday gift that he'd purchased for his Love -- season tickets for the Colorado Avalanche -- and promised that they *would* use them.  The day had not been the happy day he'd been hoping for.

Though consumed with worry, Daniel concealed it from everyone.  He recalled Jack's words vividly.

“Danny, the risk in this is higher than ever.  It goes beyond what we went through a couple years ago with Harry and the rogue NID unit.  Don't take any chances while I'm gone.  Remember, our places are bugged, and I think we're being followed.  They might even have the entire team monitored.  I shouldn't even be here, but I couldn't not come, not tonight.”  Jack had put two fingers over Daniel's lips, stopping the younger man from speaking.  “This goes against your nature, but *don't*, I repeat, do *not* ask questions.  Just go with the flow, Danny, no matter what Hammond says.”

The words sent a chill down Daniel's spine, even now as he sat in the briefing room.  He remembered Jack's last words before slipping away from their secret rendezvous.

“Trust me, Danny, my life could easily depend on your ability to not let on.  These people don't want anyone to know what is happening over there.  They'll do whatever it takes to keep it quiet, so zip it, Love.  Please.”

In retrospect, Daniel wondered if Jack had been trying to protect him, and not himself.  If something went wrong, and 'they' thought Daniel knew, they might try to silence him.  He sighed, knowing he could do nothing but wait.

“Doctor Jackson?”

“Wha...what?”  Daniel slowly tuned back in to the meeting, his genius mind somehow able to call up what the general had asked moments before when only his subconscious had been paying attention.  “Oh, yes, it is.  They're very intelligent, as capable of translating the monolith as we are.  I wouldn't be surprised if they do know more about it, especially since they've had access to the monolith longer than we have.”

“Very well.  Let's be sharp out there.  I don't like the feeling I'm getting about these people holding out on us, or what that could mean.  SG-1, Colonel Jeffries will be leading your team until Colonel O'Neill returns.  Dismissed,” Hammond ordered.

Daniel glared at Colonel Kevin Jeffries.  He was a bit of a military wonder with a reputation of getting the job done no matter what the cost.  He had moved up the ranks quickly and was looked upon as someone who would go far in his career.  The SGC would just be a pit stop for the man as he journeyed up the military ladder.

Jeffries addressed the team, saying, “I look forward to working with you all.  I'm no Jack O'Neill ...”

“Indeed,” Teal'c interrupted stoically.

The colonel overlooked the intrusion and continued, “... but I hope that in time you'll learn to ...”

“In time,” Daniel interjected assertively, “Jack *will* be back, and you'll be gone.”

Without waiting for a response, Daniel exited the room and headed for his office.

Sam and Teal'c exchanged a look, both concerned about the archaeologist.

“Major Carter?” Jeffries called out.

“Yes, Sir?”

“Is he going to be a problem?” the officer inquired.

“No more than usual, Colonel,” Sam responded with a tiny smile.  “He's the best, after all,” she added.

“Best or not, I won't tolerate any lip, not from any of you.”  Jeffries faced Teal'c without the least bit of intimidation in his expression and stated, “So, if you need to take care of anything, I suggest you do it before the mission.  I know SG-1's reputation.  It's remarkable, but it doesn't excuse the lack of respect or protocol.  Please make sure Doctor Jackson understands this.”

Jeffries turned and walked out before Sam could acknowledge his order.

“MajorCarter, why has O'Neill not yet returned?” the Jaffa questioned.

“I don't know, Teal'c,” the blonde answered with a long sigh.  “The general said the TDY was extended.”

“Is that not unusual?”

Sam flinched and acknowledged, “I suppose so.”

“DanielJackson is worried.”  As Sam nodded, Teal'c added, “As am I.”

“Yeah.  Me, too,” Sam admitted regretfully as the two left the room.

====

Three more days passed with no word from Jack.  The Air Force now claimed he was on an assignment and was out of communication, whatever that meant.  That was all they would say.

Daniel went through each day numb, following a routine that meant less and less to him.  He had tried to communicate with his soulmate via their special non-verbal link, but it had been useless, not that he had expected it to work, since Jack would have had needed to be within close proximity for it to be successful.

Colonel Jeffries had taken over SG-1 as if he owned them, spouting orders and claiming the kudos for the 'jobs well done'.  With each mission, he seemed to be settling in more and more.

Daniel admitted the new leader was capable and had good instincts, but he wasn't the leader of SG-1.  He shouldn't be there.

SG-1 had only one commander, one colonel to lead them. ~and his name is Jack O'Neill,~ Daniel thought to himself as he now sat, listening to the latest mission assignments being discussed.

That afternoon, Daniel was working on deciphering a new section of the monolith when General Hammond, his expression solemn and somber, appeared at his door.

~This is the part of my job I hate the most.  Notifying family.  Especially when I have to deliver news like this to someone I think of as a son.  I wish I could make this easier on him,~ Hammond lamented internally.  “Son,” the general called out calmly as he approached slowly.

~Gawd, no.~  Daniel's heart sank from what he saw in the general's eyes.  It couldn't be true.  There was no way it was true.  “No,” was the only word he spoke, and it was so soft Hammond had barely heard it.

With eyes full of sadness, Hammond began, “It seems there was an accident during the training exercises.  Jack was ...”

“Noooo!  I don't want to hear it!” Daniel uncharacteristically bellowed, standing up and actually backing up a step or two towards the wall.

“I know how you feel, Son, but you have to hear the ...”

“I'm sorry, General Hammond,” Daniel spoke sternly, fighting back his emotions.  He had feared the news the general was trying to deliver, but he wouldn't accept it, especially not in the way it was being told -- a cover-up, some ridiculous story so far from the truth that it sounded like a fairytale.  “I know you are doing what you think you have to, but I'm not interested in military lies.  Besides,” he paused, choking choked back the tears, “You don't know Jack like I do.  He'll ... he'll be back!”

At that point, Daniel tuned out of the conversation.  While the words of consolation were genuine, the rest of the general's words were all lies, ordered lies.  He didn't want to hear the untruths that were suffocating him.

The young man's heart was pounding, his blood pressure rising rapidly.  His head hurt.  His entire body ached as it had never done so before.  Daniel felt like he was going to explode.  He was prepared for Jack to be hurt, maybe even badly injured, but not this, not dead.

Before the general could finish, Daniel hurried out of his office and the SGC, the tears already falling.  He felt sick, nauseous as he never had before.  He didn't leave the Mountain, but went topside to a spot where he and Jack had sometimes taken their breaks.  He collapsed onto the ground and buried his head in his hands, rocking back and forth as he sat, the tears turning into bereaved cries.

“No!  No!  No!” the aching archaeologist repeated as he rocked himself back and forth, unable to keep his emotions inside.  He looked up at the sky and started screaming, “What more do you want from me?  You take everything I love!  What did I do to make you hate me so much?  Why?  Why?” Daniel asked from his soul.  “Why do you keep punishing me by taking away what I love?  Why not just take me?  Why give me all these lives if you're going to cut out my heart?” He sobbed, “Jack ... My Jack ... Miiiiine.”

The cries continued and then softened.

“What did Jack ever do?  What did Sha're?  Take me ... please, take me,” Daniel cried into his hands, feeling more lost and alone than he ever had.

====

Eventually, Daniel wiped his eyes with the sleeves of his jacket and stood up.  He couldn't stand to be there any longer, in their spot.  It hurt too much, so he began to walk around, almost aimlessly.  His arms were self-hugging, moisture still dripping from his eyes.  Everything hurt, and, yet, he was numb.  It couldn't be true, but it was.

After a while, Daniel found himself in the spot where he had sent the Nox the signal about the Tollan years before.  He sat back down, wanting to marvel at the magic of the Nox, their technology and knowledge, but it didn't matter anymore.  Nothing mattered.  His knees drawn up to his chest, he rested his head against them.

It was several minutes later when Sam finally found her friend.  She'd been searching for him for quite a while before an airman had reported that he had seen Daniel exiting the area.  Watching him for a moment, her heart cried over his despair.  She would need to be focused.  Daniel needed her to be.

Taking a breath, fighting her own tears of loss over the death of her commanding officer, Sam went to Daniel, knelt down, and leaned her forehead against him as she said, “Daniel, I'm so sorry.”

“No,” Daniel repeated, not really acknowledging Sam's presence.

“I just can't believe it, that he'd die so ... I'm sorry, Daniel,” Sam repeated as she put her arms around her grieving friend, knowing there was nothing she could say.  All she could do was be there, and she would be because Daniel was more than a friend; he was her family.  ~Geez, I hope I can do this, be strong enough for him.~

====

Two days after the Air Force's 'lies' had been released, there had been a memorial, but Daniel barely remembered it.  He went through it on automatic pilot.  He said words, words from a best friend, but inside, his heart spoke phrases and devotions of an eternal love.

Everyone wanted to hug Daniel, to give their sympathies, knowing how close he had been to Jack, but the young man couldn't handle it.  He said nothing to the Chulakian.  He didn't need to.  The big Jaffa stood between his friend and the SGC personnel, and when the service was done, Teal'c made sure Daniel got away without the intrusion of others.

Since Hammond's announcement of Jack's death, things had been a blur for the young man, and Daniel was grateful for his friends' help.  Sam had stayed as close to him as he would let her, especially since she was one of only a handful of people who knew the truth about his and Jack's love.  He was thankful to have one person he didn't need to pretend with.  It was only with Sam that he could let go, not be on guard, and not worry about the consequences of his emotions.

Teal'c had spent most of his time being a protector, keeping everyone away from Daniel.  Though the Jaffa did not know about the romantic relationship between the two men, he did know they were best friends, family, and shared a bond as close as two brothers who honored each other with their lives.  Thus, he stood guard, aware that Daniel needed privacy more than anything else.  No one got to Daniel unless the young man agreed to it first.

Just as had always happened when Daniel had 'died', SG-1 was given the task of going through Jack's house.  Of course, Sam and Teal'c knew that meant Daniel.  What neither of them, nor the Air Force, knew yet was that the house was Daniel's, anyway.  Jack had willed everything he had to his lover.

Daniel had known it, but it didn't really matter.  He had done the same thing with his possessions, Jack being his beneficiary.  Still, it was irrelevant because the two had a pact.  They would not live without the other.  It was only a matter of time, of making sure and of taking care of agreed upon tasks.

The archaeologist's heart ached, and his body cried out in agony from his loss.  Each day was a torment greater than anything he had ever felt.

~I can't take this anymore. I ... I have to know the truth,~ Daniel determined late this night.  ~If you're really gone, Jack, I have to know.~

The lover's pact had a caveat to it -- if one 'died', the other had to be absolutely sure before following through.  It was a promise not to act in haste.  Difficult as it might be, Daniel vowed to be true to their agreement.

====

At 9:15 p.m., Daniel knocked on General Hammond's front door.

“Doctor Jackson?” the bald-headed man asked in surprise.

Apologetically, Daniel stated, “I'm sorry for not calling first, but I need to talk with you.”

The major general nodded and stood aside for Daniel to enter the home, but the young man shook his head and motioned towards the street, where his car was parked.  Without questioning the action, Hammond followed his Head of Archaeology to the street.

“General, I need to know,” Daniel requested simply.

“Son, you know everything I do.”

Looking into Hammond's eyes, Daniel responded, “Yes, Sir.  I do.  At least, I did ... until whatever went wrong, went wrong.”  He hoped Hammond would see the silent message -- he *did* know Jack's mission was much more than a regular training mission.  ~Tell me,~ he certainly urged.

The general studied Daniel carefully.  He saw the dried tears and the tired eyes.  He knew Jack and Daniel were closer than most; he tried not to think about that or what it might mean, or what his deceased second-in-command might have told the younger man, in spite of direct orders not to say anything about his mission.

~He wants to tell me,~ Daniel thought as the air palpated with suspense.  “Sir, I need to know.  It's ... important.  I know what military is, what orders mean.  I'm not, uh ... asking just because I'm ... curious or something.  I just ... I need to know.  Please.”

Hammond walked around the car, Daniel following about two steps behind.  Stopping by the driver's side of the door, the general turned and faced the end of the street.

“Have you ever looked at that giant oak up close, Doctor Jackson?  It's really something.”

“No, Sir, I can't say I have,” Daniel responded, his arms folded in front of him.

~I hope this is the right thing to do.~  As the two men walked, Hammond pointed to the tree, ostensibly talking about it.  Instead, what he said was, “A little over a week ago, an operative who was working with Jack on his mission was found, barely alive.  He reported that he saw Jack killed.”

“How?” Daniel asked, desperately trying to detach himself from what he was hearing.

“Son, you don't want to know.”

“Yes, General, I do,” Daniel insisted, his hands gripping his arms to help maintain his composure.

Hammond let out a big breath.  He didn't like hearing it, and repeating it was even worse, but he knew the bond between Jack and Daniel was a strong one, and it was that tie that had brought Daniel to him now.  It had always been unique between his two leading members of the SGC's flagship team.

“They executed him.  Shot him in the head,” Hammond spoke frankly.

~Hang on.  Don't lose it here.~  Daniel closed his eyes as he turned around to avoid Hammond's gaze.  His breathing became erratic and his hold on his body tightened.  He shook his head, asking, “How ... how can he be sure?  I mean, are you sure?”

“There's no reason not to believe him.  He had been held in the prison with Jack. Apparently, Jack had helped him to escape, but didn't have time to get out himself.  The guards witnessed the escape, and while they weren't able to get to the man, they did get to Jack.  He was shot on the spot.  I'm sorry, Son.  I wish it wasn't true.”

“Gawd,” Daniel exclaimed.  Then he turned to the general, saying appreciatively, “Thank you ... for everything.  I ... I have to go.”

“Doctor Jackson ...” the general called out, but Daniel didn't respond.  He ran to his car, quickly starting it and speeding off.  ~Son, I wish it wasn't the truth.~

Not seeing, not thinking, Daniel drove as fast as he could, as far as he could, until his body couldn't contain itself any longer.  He pulled over to the side of a desolate road and collapsed to the ground, throwing up violently before breaking out into a haunting round of mournful sobs.  His lover was dead.  His soulmate gone.  His life was over.

Hours later, exhausted, Daniel fell asleep, not caring whether he ever woke up again.

====

Awaking on the ground, without a clue as to where he was, Daniel slowly pulled his body back into his car.  He took time to focus, shuddering as the memory of the night before jolted through his body.  As he looked out the windshield, he knew what he had to do.

--

It was past dawn when Daniel arrived at the home he had shared with Jack, but instead of the loving, safe haven it had been since his first day back from Abydos, the country-styled structure once considered a palace to him, now seemed like nothing more than a chamber of horrors, full of memories that served only to make him feel more numb and more empty.

With an eerie calm that was a mere cover for the agonizing pain he felt inside, the archaeologist walked to the gun cabinet and unlocked it, his mind racing with thoughts of his loss and the pain that Jack must have suffered before his death.  He couldn't stand the torment.  His head throbbed, and he could barely see through red puffy eyes that were swollen from their hours of watery release.

Daniel rubbed his left hand across his eyes, trying to dry them as his shaking right hand held the pistol.  He sank down to his knees, removed the safety, and began to raise the gun upwards.

~I'm ... coming, Babe.  I love you so much.  Please be there, wherever there is,~ Daniel thought.  He swallowed hard, his hand shaking just slightly.  ~I don't want to live without you, Jack.  I can't ... not without you.~

Suddenly, the door knocker began to bang urgently against the front door.  The hits were hard and fast as the object banged on the door.

“DANIEL!  Daniel!” a female voice seeped through the door.  It was Sam, her hands pounding on the door, slamming the knocker against its wooden structure.  She was shouting, her voice pleading for her friend to respond.  “Daniel.  I know you're in there, and I know you're awake.  Open the door, Daniel.  DANIEL!”

Slowly, the angst-ridden archaeologist's hand relaxed against his side.  He looked around as Sam continued to call out to him.  He thought about getting up, answering the pleas, but why?  His life was over.  Maybe if he waited, just waited, she would go away.  He was lost in his despair, so much so that he never heard Sam use her picklock to enter the home, nor did he hear her footsteps as she approached and knelt down by his side.

“Oh, Daniel, I'm so sorry,” the blonde said with a tender yet strained voice at the same time that she carefully took the gun from Daniel's hand and then replaced the safety.

“Sam?  He's ... he's really gone.”

“I know,” Sam said.  “I think I'll put this away.”  She arose and placed the gun back in the cabinet.  Seeing the key in the lock, she turned it while thinking, ~I'm not sure what to do.~

Sam stared at the key to the gun cabinet, considering her options, one of which was to put it in her pocket for safe keeping.  It was obvious what Daniel had been about to do, and it was something she had feared, but she couldn't stay with her friend 24/7, and to not return the key would be saying that she didn't trust Daniel.  He just needed time.

~A lot of time,~ Sam sighed to herself.

The other side of it was that if Daniel really wanted to get into the cabinet, he could break it open fairly easily.  Besides, there was probably more than one key.  There really wouldn't be much of a point in trying to hide the key she now held in her hand, so she placed it on the table.

Returning to her friend's side, Sam put her arms around him and drew him into her shoulder.  This was a rare moment.  Daniel never lost control in front of anyone but Jack, but the emotion was too great.  Besides, what did it matter now?  It may have been delayed, but his life had ended the moment his lover had been murdered in the Iraqi prison.  So, he cried into Sam's shoulder, defeated, alone, and feeling nothing but the draining of his life force.

Sam knew there was nothing she could say or do, and she knew what Daniel had been about to do.  It was something she had feared for the last couple of weeks, watching Daniel perform more like an unfeeling robot rather than his usual compassionate self.

“Why are you here, Sam?” Daniel asked with a cracked voice as he cried.

“General Hammond called me.  He didn't really say much, just that he thought you needed a friend.  He ... he said you'd been confronted with the truth of the colonel's death.  I'm not sure what that means, but I knew what he wanted me to do,” Sam answered.

The major had spent hours trying to find the archaeologist, driving all around Colorado Springs, stopping frequently by the house.  It's how she knew Daniel was home, having just gone by a few minutes before.  She had just decided to just camp out by the house when she spotted the Silver Fox.

For a reason she couldn't explain, Sam felt a desperate need to get to her friend fast.  Holding him now, she was thankful that for once, she followed her instincts, essentially breaking in to her commanding officer's home.

~I've lost the colonel.  I'm not going to lose you, too, Daniel,~ Sam had thought when making her decision to illegally enter the home.  Jack and Daniel, Teal'c, too, were her family, closer than her blood relatives were, even now that the Carters had reunited and were closer than they had been in years.  ~Family is about love; we're family, too.~

Silently, Sam held her friend gently, hoping her presence was providing some small comfort.

Time passed, and, honestly, Sam wasn't sure if it had been hours or mere minutes.  It just seemed a long time, the two of them on the carpet, Daniel crying for a while, then becoming deathly silent as she continued to do her best to console him.

Finally, though, Sam asked, “Daniel, are you hungry?  Why don't I make us something to eat?”

“No, thank you,” the grieving man responded in monotone, looking off into nothingness.

“Daniel, I wish there was something I could do.”

“Go home, Sam.”

“I can't do that, not right now,” Sam responded.

Daniel looked at her, promising, “I won't ... do anything now, if ... if that's what you're afraid of.”

“What I'm afraid of is leaving someone I care about alone at a time when he shouldn't be alone.  The colonel would never forgive me if I did that ... or if I didn't make you eat and take care of yourself.”

“The colonel is dead,” Daniel said dryly, his eyes void of emotion.

Sam looked down.  She knew there was no response to that, except to try and do what her CO would want, and that would be to take care of his lover, so Sam swallowed and took a deep breath, and prepared to battle Daniel if necessary.

“I'm going to see what's in the fridge, and then you're going to eat, and after that, we'll ... well, we'll deal with whatever comes next.”  Sam stood.  Stooping over, she reached down and took hold of Daniel's hand.  “Come on.  Why don't you go upstairs and change clothes while I fix breakfast?”

Daniel didn't resist, rising to his feet and doing as Sam wanted.  His mind was already forming his plan.  He couldn't hurt her, so he'd play the game a little while, act normal, as normal as any other grieving person on Earth, and then, he'd do what he needed to in order to find peace.  He would join his soulmate in whatever was beyond a mortal existence.

====

Upstairs, Daniel changed without much thought, except that he picked up one of Jack's tan flannel shirts and put it on.  It wasn't a perfect fit, but he could wear it, and he could smell his lover's scent on the shirt, the aroma of the older man's aftershave present in the woven cloth.  He didn't know if it was real or in his mind, but he didn't care.

~I miss you so much, Jack.~

--

Back in the living room, Daniel looked around the once comforting abode.  It was full of Jack's things and a few covert souvenirs of their time together.  Some of Daniel's things were there, too, but hiding in plain sight meant they had to be careful what was visible or might stand out.  He had graced Jack with a few well chosen 'gifts' over the years, the gifts a cover for Daniel's things being on display in the home.

~Gawd.~

Suddenly, Daniel knew he had a task to accomplish before he joined his lover in eternity.  He couldn't just leave their possessions behind.  He had to make sure they went somewhere that mattered, be it to friends, museums, or maybe even be sold to benefit a good cause.

~The shelters.  You'd want to  help the children, if possible.~

Daniel also knew it would be too much to ask Sam to work it out on her own, so he decided he would get their affairs in order, itemizing every artifact and possession they owned, directing Sam what to do with each.  It would take some time.

~I'll do it as fast as I can, Jack.  I ... I think you'd want me to do this.~

The archaeologist decided he would act his way through however long it would take to get the arrangements organized, so that no one would worry.

~I should make sure things at the SGC are handled, too.  Then ...~  Daniel blinked, closing his eyes.  **Jack, I love you.**

Daniel figured that would be the last time he ever tried to communicate something to his lover silently, though he realized it was a sad attempt to be connected while he remained in this realm of existence for a while longer.

“Daniel ...”

“Smells good.  Thanks, Sam,” Daniel spoke, giving out a small smile as he walked to the table.  ~Normal.  You have to make Sam, and everyone, think you're okay, that ... gawd, that life goes on.~

Sam put down the plate of sausage, eggs, and biscuits on the table in the dining nook and then brought over a pitcher of orange juice, as well as a cup of coffee.  She saw the smile, heard the 'normal' tone of Daniel's voice, but she felt strangely chilled.

“Dig in,” Sam encouraged, smiling back at Daniel.  As she ate, she knew it was Daniel's eyes that were spooking her.  He was sounding normal, thanking her for what she had done.  He was saying all the right things, but his eyes were distant and empty.  ~Sorry, Daniel, but I don't buy this act.  Too quick; too drastic.  I'm going to keep an eye you, a close eye,~ the blonde determined, vowing to keep a close eye on her friend for as long as was necessary.

====

Daniel reviewed the contents of the file he had first created five days ago.  He flipped through the pages of belongings.

~Pages -- our lives relegated to a few pieces of paper,~ Daniel thought sadly.

Since the breakfast with Sam, Daniel had successfully followed through with his plan.  At work, he had covertly inventoried his office, straightening it and making notes.  It had been nothing overt, but just enough so that whomever took over for him would have an easy time of sorting through the relics and his notes about the current workload.

Daniel had made sure his files on his staff were up to date and had even put in a couple of recommendations for commendations and promotions for the civilians who had done an especially outstanding job.  At home, he had prepared the file of possessions, room by room, outlining what should be done with them.  He left nothing overlooked, giving names and addresses of friends who might enjoy certain articles.

Since he had no life, the man on a mission had worked most hours of the day on the file.  While he'd made sure not to work too late at the Mountain, not wanting to draw attention to himself, at the house and the apartment, he'd stayed up virtually all night, sometimes getting just one or two hours of sleep.  It was all he needed and all he wanted, since each round of slumber eventually brought on a nightmare.

At last, it was done.  Daniel made a few additional notes, mostly about the house, his loft apartment, the Silver Fox, and Jack's truck, which still sat in the driveway of their home.  Finally, the young man gave the instructions for his funeral.  None.  He wanted nothing but to be left alone in peace -- no memorial, no remembrances, nothing.

“Please, just let me go quietly,” Daniel mumbled while he finished up that particular request.

Closing the file, Daniel sighed.  He left the study and went into the living room, where he stared at his fish.

“You'll like Sam.  She'll take care of you.  I wrote her a note.  She won't let anything happen to you.  I promise,” Daniel pledged.

At that moment, Daniel noticed the automatic feeder was almost empty.  When he went to refill it, he realized he was out of fish food.  Grabbing his coat, he headed for the nearest pet store for what he was sure would be the final time.

====

The archaeologist just made it inside the store before they closed their doors at nine o'clock.  He made quick time, purchasing the premium fish food and paying for the purchase.  He nodded at the employee who opened the door, allowing him to leave.  He had been the last customer and, upon his exit, many of the front lights were shut off or dimmed.

Just after he pressed the button on his remote to disengage the alarm to his sporty car, his Silver Fox, he reached for the door to open it, but froze instantly when he felt something in the small of his back.

“Don't panic, Doctor Jackson.  I'm not here to do any damage, but don't turn around,” the voice warned.

“Who are you, and what do you want?”

“Who doesn't matter, and what ... well, I'm doing you favor.  The 'what' is that I want to give you some information.”

“Just ... say what you have to say and let me go.” Daniel requested, not really caring if the man did or not.

“You don't sound so feisty, Doctor.  Jack told me you were a fighter.  Snarky was his word.”

“Jack?  Jack is ... dead.”

“Says who?”

Daniel's breath caught for a moment before he let it out, “Look, just let me go.”

“Jack O'Neill is alive, Doctor Jackson.  He's alive just as you and me,” the mysterious stranger revealed.

“No, he's not.  They shot him.”

With a sneer, the man responded, “That's a government fabrication.  Jack accomplished his mission.  He rescued that girl and saved two of his teammates from being captured.  Unfortunately, his luck ran out, and he was caught.”

“You're lying,” Daniel claimed anxiously, his breathing becoming more audible from the nerves that were becoming jumbled within him.

“Why?  Why would I do that?”

“I don't know, but he's dead,” Daniel reiterated.  “They said he's dead.  There was a witness.”

“Right.  Come on, Doc.  Jack said you were sharp.  Are you really gonna buy that garbage the upper echelon doles out?”

Daniel said nothing as his breathing became even more labored, and his heart beat a bit erratically from his current confusion.

“Jack committed a cardinal sin.  He got caught.  Just like on TV, the precious government you work for has slit his throat, cut him out of their records, and disavowed any knowledge of his existence.  They've written him off.  They're going to let him die in that sty.”

“How do you know this?” Daniel asked, a strange feeling growing in the pit of his stomach.  ~He must be lying.~

“I just do.  If I didn't have pressing business elsewhere, I'd get him out myself.  But ... money calls, so it's up to you, Doctor Jackson.  Jack seems to think you are some kind of genius, so I suggest you use that brain of yours and get him out of there before he really does die.”

“If what you are saying is true, he has friends who ...”

“No, Doctor Jackson,” the man interrupted sternly.  “One word, and they'll kill him themselves.  You're being watched.  Don't you know that?  Hasn't Jack taught you anything?”

“Why do you care?”

“He's saved my skin more than once.  I owe him, and I'd hate to see him go under this way.  Look in your car, on the seat.  See that?”

Daniel noticed a large envelope on the seat of the car.  He wanted to ask how the man managed to place it there without the car alarm going off, but he decided to let it go.  Obviously, the man had covert training, just like Jack.

“Yes, I see it.”

“Everything you need is there -- maps, names, currency, even a ticket, one way, of course.  Use it, and you have a chance to save Jack.  Ignore me, and he'll be dead within a few days.  He's not doing well,” the man advised.

“How could you know that?”

“Stop asking me questions I can't answer; and don't forget, tell anyone and you sign Jack's death warrant yourself.  Don't assume anyone is safe.  They want Jack to disappear,” the messenger warned.

“I don't understand why.  He's saved the ... he's done so much.”

“Get him out of there, and he'll do more.  He got caught, and that's a sin in this line of work.  If he gets out, they'll drill him for days to make sure he's not compromised, and then they'll welcome him back.  It's just the way of the business ... and it's a nasty, ungrateful business.”

“But why the witness?  Why say he died?”

“It keeps people from looking.  They think Jack doesn't have a family.  They spun a tale, and everyone bought it.  They weren't counting on you.”

“Me?” Daniel questioned in surprise, wanting to glance back and get a lot at the man, but resisting the temptation to do so.

The man chuckled, “You're his ... best friend, aren't you?”

“Best friend,” Daniel acknowledged, mourning in his voice.

“And his family.  Never thought Jack would go for that stuff, but, criminy, you just never know in this world anymore, and regardless of what the man does in his private life, he's saved my life, and I can't ignore that.  They aren't counting on you, Doctor Jackson.  They know you're close, but even the darkest of the black don't want to acknowledge what can't be asked or told.  Take advantage of their lapse, before Jack runs out of time.”

~Could he be telling the truth?~  Daniel swallowed hard.  The man knew about his relationship with Jack and that surprised him.  He wasn't sure what to say or ask, but finally opted for, “Are you sure he's alive?”  Only silence stirred in the air to his question.  “Hello?”

Cautiously, Daniel turned, but saw nothing -- no movement, no sounds -- only blackness.  Quietly, he got into the Silver Fox and drove away.

====

After driving for a few blocks, Daniel pulled over and opened the envelope, carefully studying the contents.  He replayed the stranger's remarks about being watched, and he knew exactly what that meant.

~It must be true,~ Daniel thought as he restarted the car and headed for the house.

====

Once home, Daniel filled the fish feeder and then went to the study, where he locked away the files he had prepared.  Then he went upstairs and packed a small bag.

Sitting on the bed, Daniel reviewed the envelope's contents one more time, memorizing as much as he could of the detailed maps, the locations of weapons he would need, contact information, Jack's location in the prison, and even the schedule of guards.  Whomever the man was who had startled him in the parking lot, he certainly had done days worth of preparation in acquiring and accumulating the information he had passed on to him.

Daniel sighed as he stood and went to the closet, pulling out their special keepsake box, a treasure chest of souvenirs and special things that he and Jack had collected over the years.  He looked at the photos and put on the Mickey Mouse ears briefly.  He pressed the dried red rose to his heart and kissed the fake dog tags they had once had made up on a vacation.  Each of the tags had their names on it and a picture of them engraved on one side.

“I love you, Jack,” Daniel whispered, holding back the tears as he put the memory box away.  A few minutes later, he took a final look around the home he loved.  “Goodbye, house,” he said, as if bidding farewell to a beloved friend, and then he locked the door and headed for his first destination.

====

~Wow, it's late for a visitor,~ Sam thought as put down her glass of wine to answer the door.  “Daniel?” she asked, surprised to see her friend on her doorstep.

“Hey, Sam,” Daniel greeted cheerfully, giving her a kiss on the cheek as he walked into the house.  “You did it again, didn't you?” he laughed.  “You forgot our date?”

“Date?”

“Oh, Sam.  That's so like you.  If it's not related to work, your mind goes to mush, but it's okay.  I planned something special.”  Daniel looked around and spotted Sam's coat hanging against a dining room chair and her purse on the sofa.  He took the coat and picked up the purse, taking both to her.  “Come on, we're already late.”

Sam started to say something, like 'Have you lost your mind?' but then she saw a look in Daniel's eyes.  When he nodded his head slightly, as if to confirm her suspicions, she put her coat on and followed him to his car.  He opened the door for her, and a minute later they were driving away from her home.

“Daniel?”

“Sam, it's okay that you forgot,” the man spoke, looking at her with steady eyes that asked her to go along with the conversation.

“I ... feel just horrible, Daniel,” Sam responded, playing along.

The two continued the charade until Daniel pulled off the side of the road on the highway that led to Denver.

“Our date begins here.  I have something for you to see,” the archaeologist intoned as they exited the Silver Fox.  Routinely, he looked around as they walked several yards from the parked vehicle.  “Sam, I did my best to check for bugs, but I couldn't be sure.  I couldn't take chances.”

“Daniel, what's going on?” Sam asked as the two faced each other.

“He's alive, Sam.”

“He?  Daniel, what are you talking about?”

“You can't tell anyone, or they'll kill him,” Daniel advised strongly.

“The colonel?” the blonde asked, stunned by the revelation.  “Daniel, how do you know this?”

“I ... I can't tell you, but I'm going to get him, and I thought I should tell someone.”

“This doesn't make any sense,” Sam remarked.  “Are you sure you're all right?”

Doing something he didn't often do, Daniel reached out and took his friend's hand as he answered, “Sam, Jack's alive.  He completed the mission.  He did what they asked, and he got his team out, but he was captured.  They faked the story about his death so that no one would ask questions.  I have to go get him, Sam, or he'll die in that hellhole of a prison.  You have to believe me.”

The determined man smiled; then released her hand.  He had hoped the steadiness and bond of friendship the two shared would communicate to Sam that he was perfectly sane.

After several moments, Sam nodded and asked, “Where is he?”

“Iraq.”

“I didn't know, Daniel.”

“No one was supposed to,” the archaeologist replied.  “Sam, I think they're watching all of us.  You have to be careful; you can't give anything away.  Check your house, your car, the Silver Fox, but just ... don't tell anyone.”

“I should come with you; you'll need backup,” Sam suggested, ready to go.

“You can't.  It would stand out too much.  Just ... be ready if I need you, okay?”

Hesitantly, Sam agreed, “Okay.”

“Okay,” Daniel acknowledged.  “We have to play this out when we're in the car.”

“Date?” Sam chuckled light.  “Just as long as you pick up the tab.”  More seriously, she asked, “What's your plan?”

The archaeologist began, “If they're watching me, I'll have to lead them on a chase.  I'm ... not going direct.”

Nodding, Sam continued to listen to her friend's dangerous plan for the rescue of his lover.

====

At the Denver Airport, Daniel and Sam got out of the car, pretending to get his luggage from the trunk, though he had only the one duffel bag.  They walked away from the vehicle and whispered their good-byes.

“Take care of my fish and the Silver Fox for me?” Daniel asked hopefully.

“You know I will, and you take of yourself.  Bring him home,” Sam requested, then placed a kiss on Daniel's cheek.

“Goodbye, Sam,” Daniel spoke solemnly, a small smile on his face.

“Daniel ...”

“Sam, he's coming home with me, or ... I'm not coming home.  Do you understand that?  Can you?” Daniel questioned, his eyes telling the story even more than his words could.

~I wish I ...~  Sam sighed, “No, because I don't know what it feels like to ...”

“... love someone more than life?”  After Sam nodded, Daniel continued, “Well, I do, Sam.  Jack is my life.  Maybe you don't understand that, but it's the truth.”  He paused before continuing, “If we don't get back, there's something in the study, locked in the desk drawer.  Okay?”

“But you'll be back, Daniel ... both of you,” Sam insisted.

“We'll be back,” Daniel agreed, smiling again as he handed her the keys to the car and the house, then slowly backed away and entered the airport lobby.

Sam walked back to the sports car and slipped into the driver's seat.  She'd always loved the car, especially when she and Daniel covertly went to the speed track and raced it, something Jack was kept in the dark about.

~I'll take good care of you,~ Sam promised the car, knowing it was Daniel's Silver Fox, a automotive representation of Jack O'Neill.

====

Three days later, Daniel managed to make contact with the men named in the documents the stranger had left for him in his car.  It was a band of three men, all for hire, and none fond of Americans.  The leader was a scar-faced man named Yasin.  The other two were Atheer and Zarife, both of whom eyed Daniel with great hatred in their eyes.  Fortunately, their love for the dinar, the Iraqi form of currency, was greater than their disdain for foreigners.

The men had contacts on the inside of the prison complex, ones willing to look the other way for the right price.  Timing was of the utmost importance.  They would go in late at night, grab Jack, and head for the border as quickly as they could.

Daniel paid them half of what was promised up front.  The rest would come when he had Jack in his arms, away from the desolate concrete facility.  The leader of the three-man band handled the contact with their cohorts on the inside, but Daniel was thankful he spoke the language well enough to listen in.

Knowing the languages the natives spoke gave him one of the small advantages he had. The men weren't aware that Daniel spoke both Arabic and Kurdi well enough to understand most of what they were saying in private.  He didn't trust the men, so knew this hidden 'secret' might keep both himself and Jack alive later on.

Under the darkened cover of the night, Daniel and the men entered the prison while their contacts conveniently looked the other way.  Jack's location had been verified at a high price the night before.

As the rescuers made their way through the corridors, they could hear screams in the distance.  Daniel felt sick, sensing the screams were from tortures being inflicted upon inmates.  He had to remain focused on rescuing Jack, so Daniel tuned out the anguished cries.

Reaching the small cell, Yasin opened the door.  It had been left unlocked by one of the guards, another 'paid for' service.  Daniel and the Zarife went quickly inside while Yasin and Atheer watched the corridors.

Daniel barely recognized his lover as he scurried over to him.  Jack was  lying in a near fetal position facing one of the walls in the rectangular shaped room.  It was roughly seven feet by ten feet long, and it was filthy, the smell being unlike anything Daniel had ever taken in before.  His heart finally began to beat again, now that he saw his lover was alive, but it still ached from the obvious signs of torture.

“Jack,” Daniel said as he knelt down to the floor, placing his left hand on Jack's upper arm and rolling the older man onto his back so that he could look at Daniel.  “Jack ... gawd.”

Jack's face was bloodied and swollen.  His clothes were stained from the dripping blood of injuries and other bodily fluids.  He could barely open his eyes.

Daniel could more easily hear the screams now and he realized men were being tortured only yards away from their location.  He didn't want to think about exactly what was happening in those rooms, or that the same thing had no doubt already happened to his soulmate.

“Danny,” Jack said with a hoarseness of voice.

“It's going to be okay.  We're going home.”

Jack coughed violently, his body nearly convulsing.  The band of men signaled to Daniel.

“We have to go,” Daniel stated, adding, “You need to be quiet, okay?”

“You're so beau...”

“Jack, be quiet,” Daniel insisted.

The men signaled Daniel that someone was coming, but Jack continued to speak, saying, “Danny, you remember when ...”

“Jack, be quiet,” Daniel ordered, finally forced to cover his lover's mouth with his hand, whispering, “Please be quiet.  Shhh.”  A minute later, he helped the older man up, urging, “Come on, Jack.  You have to help me.”

“Danny ... are we going somewhere?” Jack asked, obviously not really aware of what was happening.

The archaeologist theorized that his lover probably thought he was hallucinating, not believing Daniel was really there.  He'd done the same thing himself during difficult moments.

“We're going home, and you have to be very quiet, Jack.  Covert, remember?  Shhh.”

“Covert?  Yeah, I remem...” Jack's word were cut off with another agonizing cough, but he managed to shuffle along as his lover slowly led him out of the cell that had been his home for the last few weeks.

Jack was thin, too thin in Daniel's opinion.  It was also hard for him to move, but he did, his left arm painfully holding on to Daniel as they made their way back out of the prison.  As they approached the exit, an alarm went off.

“We must hurry,” Yasin warned in broken English as they moved swiftly through the doors to the night air.

====

The rescuers and Jack got into a truck and drove swiftly away from the Iraqi prison.

Yasin stated, “They will be after us now.  We must head for the mountains.  Hide there.”

“No, go for the border,” Daniel ordered.

The leader refused, insisting they wouldn't make it, now that they had been discovered making the escape.

Jack was coughing again, leaning against Daniel who held him securely.

“Going home?” Jack asked incoherently.

“Yes, soon.”

====

A few hours later, Jack, Daniel, and the trio of men were hidden in a cave in the mountains of Iraq.

“You will be safe here for a few days,” Yasin spoke.

“Where are you going?” Daniel inquired, not sure he approved of what was happening.

“If we do not return to our homes, they will become suspicious.  We will be back,” Yasin responded.

With that, the men were gone, leaving Jack and Daniel alone.  They had supplies for three days -- food, medical equipment, blankets and the like.

Daniel pulled out the medical kit and began to try and clean his lover's wounds as much as he could.  The weakened colonel continued to cough, and his hot skin was indicative of a fever, too.

Jack winced as Daniel did his best to bandage and clean the injuries.

The younger man also gave Jack some morphine, but, as he did so, he cringed, seeing needle marks in Jack's right arm.

“Oh, gawd, Jack.  What did they do to you?”  Daniel sighed as he ran his fingers through Jack's dingy silver-gray hair.  ~They've hurt you, so bad, but ... you're going to be okay.  I love you so much.~

Jack was asleep, and Daniel thought that might be a blessing.  He held his lover in his arms, keeping him as warm as possible, blankets securely wrapped around the older man.

====

The hours passed, the night becoming the wee hours of a new day.  Daniel continued to rock his lover in his arms, holding him securely until he, himself, finally lapsed into sleep; that is, until Jack's screams woke him.

“No ... I won't tell you anything!” Jack shouted, his head moving back and forth in a shaking motion.  “Colonel Jonathan O'Neill, serial ...”

“Shhh, Love.  It's okay now.  Wake up, Jack.  I'm here.”

Jack struggled to open his eyes as Daniel spoke softly.  The younger man used a cloth to try and dry the sweat oozing from his lover.  He took a bottle of water and put a little on a cloth and dabbed it around Jack's face, putting some on the man's lips.

“You're safe, Jack.  We're going home soon,” Daniel said confidently.

“Danny?”

For the first time, Daniel felt like Jack was in the present.  Jack couldn't focus, his right eye squinting to see, his left still swollen.

“Yes.  It's okay now.”

“Wh...where?”

“Still in Iraq ... in the mountains.  We almost got caught, so we're hiding out for a couple of days, but then we're going home, and Janet will fix you up,” Daniel promised, his eyes focused on his battered lover.  Stroking the older man's cheek, he professed tenderly, “I love you, Jack.”

“Danny?”

“Shhh ... just relax.  I'll take care of everything.  Close your eyes.  Go back to sleep now,” Daniel encouraged as he leaned down and kissed Jack's forehead.

Within seconds, the older man was asleep again.

====

Later that day, in the early afternoon, Jack began to shiver and shake, confirming Daniel's worse fears.  There was no longer any doubt that Jack's captors had kept him drugged.  The signs of withdrawal were dawning.  His injuries kept Jack from fighting much, but the sweating and the shakes were in high gear.

“Morphine.  Give me morphine,” Jack pleaded.

“I can't ... gawd, Jack, I can't,” Daniel spoke with a pained voice as he clung to his partner, continuing to hold him.

Jack had gone in and out of coherency, sometimes realizing Daniel was there, and at other times believing it was just a dream.  He would scream at the torture his mind replayed, and without morphine, the actual pain was increasing as well, but Daniel didn't dare add to the drugs that were already in Jack's system, not now.

“Help me,” Jack pleaded, his voice cracked and broken, harsh and rasped from screaming at the agony his body felt.

“I am.  I'm doing everything I can.  We'll be home soon.  I love you, Jack.”

“Drugs.  Need drugs.”

“No, you don't, and if you were aware of what was happening, you'd know that.  It'll be okay.  Just ... trust me.”

Jack's right hand slowly moved to grab Daniel's brown jacket, “Hel...p me.”

“I love you, Jack.  Love you so much,” Daniel repeated, over and over.  His love was all he had to give now.  “We'll be okay.  It won't be long now,” Daniel said as he rocked his frightened love in his arms.

“Please.  I'll do anything you want.  Tell me what you want me to do!”

“I want you to live, and come home with me.  Gawd, I need you,” the younger man declared.

“What do you want me to do?” Jack begged more forcefully.

“Jack, I can't give you any more drugs.  I ... I won't.  They wouldn't  help you,” Daniel claimed.

“You're as bad as them.  You don't care about me.  If you loved me, you'd help me.  You want me to die!” Jack barked angrily.

“That's not true.  They've messed with your mind,” Daniel stated, full of anguish for what his lover was going through.

“No, you'd give me the drugs if you loved me.”

“Jack, you know better than that.”

“You just came,” Jack coughed again, “to watch me die.”

“Oh, My Love,” Daniel stroked Jack's hair as the older man went into a coughing fit, “I ... I travelled thousands of miles, crossed the ocean, and have spent days scrounging around this hot desert just for you, to bring you home.  Why would I do that all of that if I wanted you to die?”

“Then give me the blasted drugs!”

“You'd never forgive me, Jack.  Gawd, what they must have put you through.  It's going to be okay, Love.  We're going to get through this.  I'm going to help you beat this addiction, just like you helped me.”

“I hate you.  You're lying to me.  GIVE ME ...” Jack tried to move, to lunge towards the medical pack that was on the other side of his lover.

Daniel outstretched his arms in front of Jack, stopping the forward momentum, not that Jack could have moved much farther.  His condition was serious, and he was very weak.

The archaeologist tried to speak calmly and reassuringly, “It's okay, Babe.  I understand your anger ...”

“Don't give me that psych garbage.  You understand nothing!  This ... it's not like the sarc, Daniel.  It's worse, and you don't have a clue what this is like,” Jack accused, grabbing his lover's shirt and trying to pull him down.  “If you love me,” he struggled to speak, “then help me.  Give me ... the drugs.  And if you're not gonna help me, then get the heck away from me and leave me alone.”

“That's the withdrawal talking,” Daniel spoke calmly.  He even wore a half-smile as he spoke, a smile that said how much he loved Jack and would be there for him.  “You want to yell at me?  Yell, but you can't get rid of me.  I won't budge, not an inch.  There's nothing you can say or do that will ever make me walk away from you.”  He stroked Jack's sweating brow gently.  “So, do your worst, Colonel.”  He smiled more fully now.  “I love you, so ... yell away, if you must.”

Jack glared at him and then simply turned his back, fighting to get out of Daniel's hold.  His battered body shuddered and trembled more and more.

Daniel reached over and gathered Jack up in his arms again.

Jack protested and tried to shake him off, but Daniel didn't let go.  He was never going to let go again.

====

The next morning, Daniel heard the men coming back.  From the edge of the cave, he listened as Yasin and Zarife plotted.  Realizing they were ending their conversation, he hurried back over to Jack.  He was glad he hadn't let on that he knew their language.

When the men entered, Daniel stood up, greeted them, and asked, “So, do we go now?”

“Change in plans.  We go.  You stay,” Yasin ordered as he pulled out a gun, while Zarife moved slightly behind and to the right of Daniel.

“Why?” the archaeologist asked.

“They are still searching.  You will be captured again.  You tell.  They will kill us.”

“No, we won't say anything,” but even as he talked, Daniel knew it was pointless.

“We want your money.  You will pay now,” Yasin ordered, waving the gun in front of the Americans.

Then, in a move that would make Jack proud, Daniel kicked the man behind him in the groin and moved around the leader, who had been caught off guard.  He placed Yasin in a choke hold, yanking out his own gun that he had tucked in his shirt.

“Now, you listen to me.  We're getting out of here *now*.  You *are* going to take us across the border, and *then*, you can have all the money.  I don't freakin' care about your precious dinars, but I will kill you if you don't help us now,” Daniel spoke coldly in Arabic.

The scientist knew that, like most people, these men had underestimated him.  No one but Jack O'Neill knew how capable he was when he put his mind to it.  Jack had trained him intensively on Special Ops skills, both physical training and tactics.  It was something that had begun years ago, heightened by the events of the rogue NID operatives when the colonel had once gone undercover to learn the identities of the double agents.

Daniel pressed the gun to the man's temple, warning, “Last chance.  I don't have time to worry about you.  What's it going to be?  Your blood, or the money, *after* you get us across the border?”

“Those are big words,” Yasin accused.

“Believe this,” Daniel spoke matter-of-factly.  “You see that man lying there?  That's my whole life, wrapped up in a neat package.  That's it.  There's nothing else.”  He paused at the truth of his words.  He pushed the gun so that it jabbed just a tad against the man's head.  “I would die for him, and I would most certainly kill to save his life.”  He took a breath and sneered, “You are nothing to me; he is everything.  Are you understanding what I'm saying?  If you don't keep your end of the bargain, you *will* die.  Those aren't words.  That's a promise.”

Daniel's words had been spoken with a cold air about them.  They hadn't been strained or forced, and there had been no hesitation.

“You win,” the leader relented, realizing Daniel meant what he said.

The archaeologist took the leader's weapon and then those of the other man.  He ordered them to carry Jack out of the cave.  Daniel picked up a pack of supplies and a couple of blankets, and then they all got into the jeep the men had come in. Obviously, the men had intended to leave Jack and Daniel behind from the beginning.

Sitting in the back, Daniel wrapped Jack up as warmly as possible, and leaned him against his own left shoulder, glad Jack was unconscious at the moment to not add to the confusion of the situation.

“Now, get us across the border.  I don't care how or where exactly, just as long as we don't get stopped.  I'm sure you know of a place ... don't you?” Daniel questioned, cocking the trigger of the pistol he held covertly in his hand, aimed at Yasin, who was seated behind the wheel of the jeep.

“Yes,” Yasin responded as he started the jeep.

====

The trip across the desert was a bumpy one.  Jack groaned, but didn't wake.  It had taken two hours, but at last they crossed the border, in a remote area, totally undetected.

“We are across,” Yasin announced.

“Take us to the embassy,” Daniel demanded.

The leader began to balk, but Daniel raised the gun.  His eyes were cold.  They hadn't come this far to be stranded in the desert of a strange land.

Doing as instructed, Yasin drove to the American Embassy, where Daniel handed over the money as promised.  He watched the two men scurry away hurriedly, and then he carried his unconscious soulmate inside, where he identified himself and Jack to the personnel.

“We'll have to ask you some questions, Doctor Jackson.  If you'll come this way ...”

“No, I'm not leaving him.”

“I'm afraid you don't have a choice,” the man in charge stated.

Not wavering, Daniel instructed, “Call the President.”

“The President?” the questioned in disbelief.

“You know, that guy who lives in Washington D.C., in that big White House on Pennsylvania Avenue?  Tell him I want to talk to him.”  Seeing the man hesitate, Daniel barked, “Do it!”

Daniel glared, his eyes focused sharply on the Embassy personnel, his voice strong and clear.

Something in Daniel's eyes made the man in charge nervous.  He left the two men alone without responding.

~It'll be okay, Jack.  We'll be okay.  I promise,~ the archaeologist pledged to the colonel of his heart.

====

Thirty minutes later, the man returned and was suddenly much more accommodating.  He didn't attempt to separate the two men again.  Additional medical personnel were brought in to tend to Jack's more urgent needs.

Daniel watched closely.  He wouldn't feel relieved until Jack was in Janet's care.  He wanted out of the Middle East.  They may be in the American Embassy, but he was nervous and untrusting.

“A transport has been arranged to take you and Colonel O'Neill back to the States this afternoon.  Doctor Benjamin will accompany you on the flight along with a nurse.  In the meantime, I'll have some food and clean clothes brought in. You can take a shower, if you like, and wash up in there.”

Daniel nodded, pleased with the new tone of the staff.

Before leaving the room, the man spoke, “I don't know who you are, Doctor Jackson, but whatever it is you do, it must be something pretty important.  We've been told to do whatever you request without hesitation.”

Daniel saw the disbelief in the man's eyes.  It was clear he'd been ordered to cooperate fully and that probably didn't happen very often, or so quickly.  The archaeologist wasn't about to argue.  He rarely used his contacts for gain, but, in this case, it had been necessary.  Looking at his lover, he knew it had been essential for their survival.

====

The plane trip proved to be difficult.  The doctor wanted to give Jack morphine and other drugs to fight the pain and relieve some of the symptoms of the drug abuse he'd been subjected to, but Daniel refused.  They had several arguments over it.

~I don't trust you,~ Daniel thought.  As a result, Daniel never left his lover's side, not that he would have, anyway.  ~I have to stay awake; can't take chances with you, Babe.  No chances,~ the weary man thought as he fought off a yawn.

Jack and Daniel had both suffered through withdrawals in their pasts.  Fighting drugs with drugs was something they both hated.  Without Janet's presence, the younger man was hesitant to allow a stranger to introduce any more toxins into his lover's system.  Thus, he held his ground.

Daniel held onto Jack, too, not really caring what the doctor and nurse aboard the flight thought about it.

====

Daniel was relieved when the plane finally landed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.  An ambulance was waiting, and just fifteen minutes later, he and his lover entered the infirmary of the SGC.

~Gawd, I'm actually happy to be here.~

Some Embassy members and those 'in the know' had argued to tend to Jack's injuries in Washington D.C., but Daniel had refused.

~No way am I trusting his life to people I don't know.  I trust Janet.  Jack ... trusts Janet.

As soon as he had confirmed that his soulmate wasn't in any immediate danger, Daniel had insisted they go straight to the Springs, where they now were.

--

After taking some tests and doing an initial examination, Janet took Daniel aside and stated, “He has a fight on his hands, Daniel.  Some of the wounds are infected, and there is some internal bleeding.  We're going to operate in a few minutes.”

“Janet, I insisted we come back here.  Did ...”

The petite doctor gave a small, reassuring smile as she answered, “The delay didn't hurt him.  We'll get him through this, Daniel, but it's going to be a long week.  Now, I know you won't sleep, but please try and get some rest while you can.  Colonel O'Neill will need you tomorrow, and the day after, and you won't be able to help him if you can't stand up on your own two feet, will you?”

Daniel nodded and watched as Jack was prepped for surgery.  Knowing Janet was right, and facing the harsh truth that he hadn't even closed his eyes in two days, he reluctantly took his place on 'his' infirmary bed, the one slated for him so often, and succumbed to sleep.

====

When he awoke, Daniel blinked several times, feeling something in his arm.  He looked and realized he was hooked up to an IV.  He started to get up.

“Hold on a second, Daniel,” Janet shouted from across the room, hurrying to him.  “You were exhausted, and I'm guessing you haven't eaten in a while.  I just wanted to take some precautions.”  Smiling as she removed the IV, the physician stated, “You didn't know I did this.  You needed it.”

“Jack?”

“He's fine for now.  He's in ISO-2, and I've already set up a bed for you in there.”

Daniel didn't question Janet's actions.  He knew that she had long ago realized that the two were inseparable when one was injured.  She didn't know about their love affair of the heart and soul, but she knew their friendship was strong, and while she sometimes argued to do what she believed was best for her injured or sick friends, she had stopped questioning their devotion to each other years before.

The archaeologist listened as Janet walked with him to ISO-2.  She explained Jack's injuries more fully, noting that they had stopped the bleeding.  He was undernourished, and was he definitely going through withdrawal.  Unfortunately, until they could stop the spread of the infections they were still battling with antibiotics, they couldn't deal directly with the withdrawal.

Janet explained some alternatives and her rationale, saying, “For now, we need to save his life first.  That's the priority, because, obviously, if we can't do that, the drugs don't matter.  So, we fight the spread, and then we tackle the disease inside him.”

“Okay ... if you're sure.”

“I am,” Janet promised.  “If you need anything, holler.  You know the routine by now, Daniel.  Someone will be in and out periodically.  I called General Hammond.  He'll probably be down to see you soon.”

“Where's Sam?” Daniel asked, surprised his friend wasn't around.

“SG-1 is on a mission off-world.”

“SG-1 is here,” Daniel said forcibly.

Janet smiled, acknowledging, “Yes, of course.  What I meant to say was that Colonel Jeffries, Sam, Teal'c, and Lieutenant Alcazar are off-world.  They've been gone for two days and aren't due back for another day, to the best of my knowledge.”

“Thanks, Janet.”

“There are some clothes in the closet.  You might want to change,” the doctor suggested.  “I'll be back later.”

Daniel nodded and watched Janet leave the room.  He walked to Jack's bedside and sat down, taking his lover's hand in his.

“I love you, Jack,” Daniel whispered before changing his clothes.

====

“Doctor Jackson, how are you doing?” General Hammond asked upon entering ISO-2.

“I'm fine, Sir.”

“Doctor Fraiser has given me a report on Colonel O'Neill's condition.  I'm sure he'll be fine.  Are you sure you're all right, Son?”

Self-hugging, Daniel smiled, answering.  “I am now,” as he looked over at his soulmate.

“You should have told me what you were doing.  You are aware of that,” Hammond said in a mixture of concern and reprimand.

“I couldn't, General, and I think you know why.”

“I'm recalling SG ...” seeing the look of indignation on Daniel's face, the general reworded his sentence even before finishing it.  “I'm recalling Colonel Jeffries and his team from P29-JJY.  They should be back within a few hours.”

“Thank you, General,” Daniel spoke, allowing himself this rare moment of selfishness, wanting and needing his friends to be nearby.

“It's good to have all of SG-1 home,” Hammond said warmly.  He smiled and then turned and walked out.  ~They are a resilient bunch, and darn if I ever cross that boy.  I don't know how he managed it, but I'm glad he did.~

====

Daniel felt something touching him.  It felt familiar -- strong, warm.  It felt like his lover.

“Jack?”

Daniel moved his head up.  He had fallen asleep sitting in a chair by Jack's bed.  His arms had rested on the side of the bed and his head had been resting on them.  Jack's fingers were combing through Daniel's hair, gently massaging, and that is what had awakened the younger man.

Jack had come to, lucid for the first time since arriving back in the States, and seen his sleeping lover.  He hadn't been able to resist the soft locks of hair that he had longed to touch for so long, so he had reached out and caressed, drinking up the softness of his love.

“Hey,” Jack said weakly, still in pain and low on energy.

“I love you, Jack.  I love you so much,” Daniel said, needing to say the words even though they weren't in a safe place for espousing their devotion.

Jack tried to smile, fighting the pain as he replied, “Love you, too ... Space Monkey.  How'd I get here?”

“I ... we got you out.  It's okay, Jack.  You're safe now.”

Jack knew there was a story behind his lover's words, a big one, but his body was ripe with pain, and the memories of his torture began to flood through him, igniting a new round of torture.  He began to shake slightly.

Daniel took his hand and rubbed his palm gently against Jack's face, comforting, “Shhh.  It's okay.  It's okay.”  After a moment, he explained, “Janet's taken you off the drugs now because the infections are under control.  They drugged you, Jack, so ... we have to ...”

“Geez, Danny,” Jack moaned, his voice full of fear and remembrances of a nightmare he'd already gone through once in his life.

“It might not be so bad.  I'll be here,” Daniel reassured.

Jack smiled, saying,  “Then I have all I need.  You ... you're my best drug.”

“Great.  Now I'm an addiction,” Daniel tried to tease.

“Definite ... addiction.  Best kind.”

**I love you,** Daniel said mentally, afraid to risk verbalizing the words again.

**Me, too,** Jack responded, earning a smile from the younger man as they reconnected through their very special and private communication.

“Daniel,” Sam called out as she rushed through the door.  “I'm so happy to see you!” she exclaimed, hugging her friend.

“Nice to see you, too, Carter,” Jack whined, watching the embrace.

“It's nice to see you, too, Colonel.  Janet said you'll be up and around in no time, Sir.”

“That's good to know,” Jack said.

“Daniel, are you all right?  I mean, it couldn't have been easy.  What happened?” Sam questioned curiously.

“I'll tell you later.”

“Tell her now,” Jack requested.  “I'd like to know myself.”

“Later, Jack.”

Sam remarked, “I have to go do my report.  Teal'c should be in soon, too.  I want details, Daniel.” she said, leaving the two alone again in ISO-2.

“You came after me?” Jack asked.  After Daniel nodded, he questioned, “Alone?” Seeing another nod, he spoke aloud, albeit softly, “I love you, Danny,” as he reached out his hand to his lover.

Daniel took his lover's hand and sat down again on the bed, saying, “Later, Jack. I'll tell you everything when I get you home.”

Jack winced again from another jab of pain, but he was determined to get through it without letting the withdrawal get the better of him.  He'd already done this once, and that was once too often.  Daniel had gone through it, too, and he knew it wouldn't be fun for him either.

Jack focused his mind on the present, on going home, on defeating the drugs that threatened his mind.  He knew he could do it.  After all, he had Daniel, and that was truly all he ever needed to survive anything life could throw his way.

====

The next few days were tense.  Jack struggled to overcome the call of the drugs. With Daniel constantly at his side, the older man remained determined not to give in, and he hadn't.  He dealt with the shakes and the sweats without lashing out.  He knew the drugs were his enemy, not his friend.  He wanted nothing to do with them.  His physical injuries were slowly healing.

~Let me see if I can keep him a couple more days, at least.~  Janet knew he was on the mend when Jack began to bellow more and more about wanting to go home.  “Sir, you're not ready yet.  We still need to watch that burn closely.”

“Don't remind me,” Jack said sharply.

“Well, until I'm satisfied it's healing properly, you're not going anywhere, so bark all you want,” Janet stated sharply as she turned and exited.

“Jack, how'd that happen?” Daniel asked, looking towards the sole of Jack's right foot.  After Jack grimaced, he sighed, “I'm sorry.  Forget I asked.”

“No.  They wanted information.  They just ... lit a fire.”

“Gawd, Jack.”

“Not enough to kill or do permanent damage.  Just enough to hobble.  Everyone hobbles there,” Jack said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

Daniel saw the anguish in Jack's face.  It was too early to go there.  They needed to be alone, truly alone.  Both knew that, and they exchanged a look of understanding.

====

“Be careful, Jack,” Daniel ordered as his lover walked gingerly into the house, a house he had thought he'd never see again.  He looked around, shaking his head.  Then he looked back at his lover.  They were finally alone, and right now, Jack needed one thing and one thing only -- Daniel.  ~He makes me feel so special, with just one look -- that look.~

Daniel smiled and walked into the warm body of his partner.  Both closed their eyes.  They'd held each other briefly, covertly at the SGC over the last week, but never freely, always afraid of being caught, always mindful of the cameras.  At long last, the lovers were free to love and comfort each other.

Jack began to feel a release, and Daniel sensed it.  They shifted slightly, and Daniel took the lead, holding Jack close to him.  The older man was always so brave and strong, always taking care of Daniel, or his team.  Right now, though, he was the one who needed some tender loving care, and Daniel was the only one in the universe who could provide it.

Daniel's left hand rested on the back of Jack's head, holding it firmly in place against him as Jack leaned into the younger man, nuzzling in against his neck.

“We're home, Love.  Home.  Just us.  You can let go now.  It's safe.”

It truly was safe at the house.  Sam and Teal'c had, at Daniel's request, swept the house earlier, inside and out, making sure there were no bugs or hidden equipment.  With Jack back, Daniel was confident whatever might have been in place had probably been removed, but he had to make sure.  He was right, though they did find a bug still attached to Jack's truck, probably forgotten from before the mission.

“Let's go upstairs, Love,” Daniel suggested, knowing they both always felt a certain calm from laying together on their own king-sized bed.

Over the years, the couple had shared much more than just sleep and lovemaking on their bed.  It was a place of security, freedom, and unity.  Their hearts and souls were present on their bed.  Memories of unhappy childhoods and lives ended too soon had been shed and mourned there, and hopes and dreams for a future of forever expressed.  It was a place of promises and visions of tomorrow.  It was their place, and, now, they laid together, Jack resting his head against Daniel's shoulder, Daniel's hold on him tight, firm, and full of love.

Words weren't needed or required yet.  They needed only the feel of each other.  The weeks ahead would have plenty of time for words.

“I thought I'd never see you again,” Jack admitted hesitantly.

“I know what you mean,” Daniel admitted, placing a kiss on Jack's head after he spoke.

“Not yet, Danny.  Please.”

Daniel rubbed his chin against Jack's forehead and squeezed his lover's arm gently for a second as he agreed, “Okay.  Not yet.”

The time would come when Jack would spill, as would Daniel, but it wouldn't be today.  Today they needed only to know they were together in their nation of two.

“I wish we could ...”

“Too soon.  You need to heal, Jack.”

“You're my medicine.”

“I'm right here.”

Jack sighed, a happy, contented acknowledgement that Daniel was there, that it wasn't simply an elaborate dream created by his mind as a coping mechanism.

“I love you, Danny.”

“Love you, too.”

====

On the fourth day of the couple's return to their home, at about 2:15 in the morning, Daniel awoke alone.  The couple had yet to talk about Iraq, neither having spoken a word about what had transpired there.  They'd talked about hockey and museums, about their friends and world news.  They briefly mentioned gossip from the SGC, but whenever it got too close, one or both of them backed off and shifted the discussion.

Jack's body was healing, the bruising going away, and the scars ebbing.  The burn on his foot had been successfully treated, and he wasn't hobbling around as much anymore.

The government was pressing for information; that is, when Jack and Daniel answered the phone, and that hadn't been often.  General Hammond had called, both as a friend and as their boss.  Sam and Teal'c had come by, and Jack had gone to the Mountain for a checkup.

Daniel walked outside, seeing Jack seated on the patio deck.  He sat down, putting his arm through his soulmate's, taking hold of his right hand.

Leaning his head against Jack's shoulder, Daniel sighed, “Missed you.”

“I woke up.”

“I figured as much.  Kinda obvious, you know.”  Daniel noticed his lover's taut expression that was covering up some strong emotion.  “Nightmare?” he asked.

“Started to.  I think I scared myself awake before it got too far,” Jack answered straightforwardly.

The time was coming for honesty and truth, to release the pain.  Daniel wondered if it was now, this night.

“He called again, when you were shopping earlier,” Jack stated cryptically.

“Hammond?”

Jack shook his head, clarifying, “Armstrong.  They want to know what happened over there.”

The archaeologist sighed, “You're going to have to tell them.”

“I know, but I ... Danny ...” Jack stopped as he began to lose control.

“Jack, let's go.”

“I can't go back to sleep yet.”

“No, let's go to the cabin,” Daniel suggested

“Cabin?  The cabin,” Jack repeated, a peace coming over him that felt calming.

“We'll just put a couple of things in the car and go,” the younger man suggested.

====

Within minutes, the lovers were in the Sliver Fox , en route to their hideaway, their cabin.

After a bit, Jack realized they weren't going to the Colorado cabin, a place they rented and often went to for weekends.

“Danny?”

“We're going to our cabin.  It's where you need to be right now,” Daniel asserted without question as he sped down the freeway toward their Minnesota paradise.

Jack leaned his back against the seat, smiling at his lover and saying, “Thank you, Danny.”

“I love you, Jack.  Go to sleep for a while.”

Jack nodded, mumbling, “Love you, too ... so friggin' much” as he fell safely into sleep.

====

Three days later, the couple watched the sunrise at the edge of the lake.  Jack leaned back into Daniel's hold, Daniel's arm holding his lover securely.  So often it was Jack who held Daniel close, but now it was Daniel's turn to take care of his soulmate, something he treasured being able to do.  Jack needed him to be the strong one right now, and he was doing just that.  It shined through in every part of their time together.

“I think I'll fish for a while,” Jack spoke contently.

“Why?  It's not like you'll catch anything,” Daniel teased.

“Hey, I'm a good fisherman.”

“Right.”

“I am, too,” the older man insisted.

“You're a loving fisherman!”

“What does that mean?” Jack asked, tilting his head upwards to look at Daniel.

“It means that even when you catch them, you throw them back,” Daniel answered with a smile.

“I do not.”

“Do, too!” Daniel insisted.

“Not!”

“Too!” Daniel maintained with a smile.

Jack sighed, “They have a right to live unless they need to be eaten for our survival.”

“I know,” Daniel agreed.

“I got her out, Danny,” the colonel spoke out of the blue.  “Some ... princess daughter of some foreign dignitary somewhere.  She had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they grabbed her, put her into that hellhole.”

“She's safe now,” the younger man replied softly.

“We got her out, but Nelson,” Jack scoffed, continuing, “the idiot dropped his weapon.  Can you imagine that?  He dropped his blasted gun, and it went off.  The whole place became a zoo.”

Daniel's hands caressed Jack's abdomen as the older man talked.

“We almost made it, but there were too many.  I made sure Carruthers and Nelson got out, but I ran out of time.  Next thing I knew, I was on a slab somewhere, handcuffed, stripped naked, with a knife at my throat.”

Daniel didn't stop his caresses, but his eyes closed as the words began to come forth from his lover.  He dreaded the pain that he knew would be forthcoming, both Jack's and his own.

“Geez, even there I could hear the screams.  Screams.  There was no place to escape that.  Day or night, the screams.  Nightmares and screams.”

“Jack, you're safe.  The screams are gone,” Daniel reminded.

“For me, not for them.”

Daniel kissed Jack's temple and held him tightly.  He had no comeback, but in his mind, he thought simply that at least Jack was safe.  How he needed Jack.  Jack was air for his lungs.  He hated that others were still suffering, but he had no answer for that, no solution, so he held Jack in his arms and counted his blessings, his blessings of one -- Jack.

“They asked a lot of questions, but I only did the usual.”

“Name.  Rank,” Daniel deduced.

“Blah blah.  Yeah.  The screams. I could hear them, no matter how hard I tried to drown them out.  I could hear some kind of device pounding ... and then more screams.  Finally, they gave me these pajamas to put on, and led me to a cell.  They took off the handcuffs and threw me to the ground and shut the door.  They gave me a blanket, and that was all.  One lousy blanket in a cold, damp cell.  The next day they came in.  They had this whip.”

Daniel cringed.  He'd seen every inch of Jack's body, including the lash wounds.  His heart ached for what he knew had happened.

“I wouldn't tell them anything, so they used it.  Geez, that hurt,” Jack admitted, though he tried to relay the information dispassionately.  He wasn't able to, though, flinching as relived the torment.  “Every blasted day, it was more of the same.  Questions and more questions.  Name, rank, serial number.  Sometimes they'd blindfold me, keep me in the dark, voices wandering all around me, echoing anti-American sentiments, asking, always asking more questions.  Geez, it was like the friggin' Twilight Zone.

“And that's what I thought about to stay alive.  I imagined Rod Serling's introduction, 'Imagine a place of cold and hunger, where life is only a blanket and four cement walls.'  Crap, that was hard, but I did it.  Played episode after episode in my mind, but it didn't stop the beatings.

“I tried to escape once, and that's when they burned my foot.  They asked more questions that I refused to answer.  And then, geez ...”

Jack began to shake at the memories, his eyes closing as he recalled his torture.

“It's okay, Babe.  You're home,” Daniel said as he placed his chin against Jack's head and gently rocked his lover, tears leaking from his eyes.  “Safe now ...  I promise.  They can't hurt you anymore.”

Jack regained his strength by borrowing some of his soulmate's, and after a minute or so, he continued his story.

“That's when they held me down, Danny.  They held that match in front of my face and close to my skin all the way down my body.  They lit the match and ... let it burn ... into my foot.”

“I love you, Jack,” Daniel said with a broken voice.

“And that's what really kept me alive.  When they were done and threw me back into that cell, you were always there, holding me.  We talked, Danny, all the time.  After a while, the dream was all I had.  I knew the government wasn't going to get me out after the first week.  I didn't believe I'd ever be here with you again.”

“I wasn't sure we'd be here again either,” Daniel admitted softly.  “You had burn marks in your arms.  Was that from that ... time?”

“No.  They would burn cigarettes in my arm and stomach.  They did all the usual, Daniel -- beatings, threats of rape.”

“Jack?” Daniel questioned, though he hated to ask.

“No, they wanted to know what I knew.  I was still a bit too valuable to be tossed to the wolves, but they used it, the threat of not having their so-called prison protection.  Then they started with the drugs.  Crap, I hate that stuff.  Felt like my grandmother's pin cushion!”

“I'm sorry.  Gawd, Jack,” Daniel said anxiously, feeling helpless and wishing he had magic words to make it all better, but knowing he didn't, he just said what was in his heart.  “I love you so much, and I just wish I had these big, wonderful words that could make it all better, to make it disappear.  No one should go through that torture.  I wish you hadn't had to suffer through that again.”

“Me, too,” Jack took a deep breath that actually calmed him.

He'd survived another nightmare and now Jack was back in his heaven, with Daniel, and that is what mattered to him the most.  He turned and looked at the younger man.  He brought his right hand to caress his lover's face, and then he kissed him.  It was a strong, passionate kiss.  Since his return, they had made love once, soft and tender, but Jack was still healing, still hurting so they had mostly just held each other, making their touches and kisses as powerful as they could.

Jack suddenly felt a relief that he couldn't identify.  It stunned him.  He had expected to break down, spend hours as a crumbled mess in front of his love, but once he had faced the demons and nightmare of his weeks of suffering, he felt strangely cleansed.

“It's okay now,” Jack said.  “I mean, it will be.  Danny, I need you so friggin' much.”

Jack kissed his partner again, gently pushing him back to the grassy ground, his kisses gaining momentum.  Daniel's hands reached to Jack's neck and fingered against the older man's skin, pressing, caressing, and rubbing gently as their passion continued to spike.

“Love you, Jack.  Gawd, I want you,” Daniel gasped between kisses, his arms going behind Jack's back, pressing them together even more.

The couple had waited a long time for this moment, a time when both knew their love would explode in a wild, fiery joining of their bodies.  Daniel worried it might still be too soon, but he was on fire, and looking into Jack's eyes, he knew Jack was, too.  There was no turning back, and they'd only just started with a few hungering kisses.

Like two rumbling volcanos, Jack and Daniel made love, practically ripping off their clothes.  They were smarter now, most always prepared, and sure enough, Daniel had some lube in his jacket pocket.

“That's my Danny,” Jack said with pride when Daniel had pulled it out.

“Well ... we ...” Daniel had spoken between kisses, “never seem to follow logical patterns.”

“Always prepared, just like the Boy Scouts,” Jack had laughed as he had prepared his lover with the liquid substance.

It was a union where each feeling reminded themselves they were alive, their bodies quivering and pulsating from their contact, a pounding and throbbing that brought pleasure to both.  Each needed their turn, to claim and be claimed, each thrust and impact engraving the one to the other.  Their sweat-soaked bodies twisted, curved and commingled together, finding positions of delight until finally each was exhausted, happily drained of their energy.  Their climaxes had been jolting.

As had often happened, Daniel temporarily lost the ability to talk clearly, his genius mind speaking more in jumbles than in sentences, and, for the first time in weeks, they laid in their customary position, Daniel's head resting serenely against Jack's shoulder, their arms and legs still wrapped around each other.

“Gawd, I was afraid I'd never hear this again.”

“What?”

“Your heartbeat.”

Jack smiled, knowing that -- listening to the sound of Jack's heart beating -- was something Daniel had cherished from the beginning.  It had always made the younger man feel safe somehow.  The funny thing for Jack was that he had just realized that holding Daniel made him feel safe, or maybe it was just being together.

“Danny, your turn.  Tell me.”

“Now?”

“You don't have to.”

There was a time when Jack wouldn't have been able to give Daniel that gift of time, but that was mostly because in years past, Daniel would have retreated, tried to hide, even deny his own suffering.  They'd come a long way, and what Jack felt certain of now is that Daniel would tell him, when he was ready.  Just as Daniel had waited for Jack to know 'when', Jack would wait for Daniel.

“Later.  I just want to listen to your heart, okay?”

“Okay, Angel.  I love you.”

Jack felt alive, truly alive, and it felt good.  Looking up at the late morning sky, he once again thanked the Heavens for the wonder that was Daniel Jackson.

====

The lovers spent two more blissful days at the cabin in Minnesota before returning to their home in Colorado.  Their first full day back, Jack had called General Armstrong and made an appointment to meet with him and his staff to finally answer their questions.  He had also called Janet to set up a checkup for the next day.

The colonel had talked with General Hammond, enduring the usual tongue lashing for having not kept the leader of the SGC informed as to his whereabouts, but, underneath it all, it had just been routine.  Jack knew full well that the general was aware of where he and Daniel had disappeared to. If he had really wanted to, Hammond could have easily pulled them back in.  So, he endured the verbal reprimand and swallowed his apologies.

That night, Jack was stargazing on the roof deck when he heard a noise and turned to see Daniel walking to him, holding a large manila envelope.

“What's that?”

“Us,” Daniel answered as he handed over the item, then went to their favorite spot against the house and sat down.

Jack joined him and opened the envelope.  Inside, there was a smaller, sealed envelope with Sam's name on it and a large file.  Jack opened it and reviewed it, looking briefly at Daniel once or twice as he did so.  After a minute or two, he replaced the file back into the big yellow container and looked again at the small envelope.  Choosing not to open it, he put it with the file and placed it on the ground next to him.

The older man put his left arm around Daniel's shoulder and tugged him close, and then he leaned over and kissed him.  With a motioning nod, Daniel smiled, and moved into Jack's hold, mirroring Jack's position at the lake.  Daniel now sat in front of Jack, leaning against his lover's right shoulder.  It was now Jack's arms wrapped around Daniel, his hands snaking under the younger man's black tee shirt to warm and massage his smooth skin.

“It was a nightmare, Jack.  They said you were dead; had a witness.  I tried, but ... it's no good without you.  Nothing matters without you here to whine and bellow at me.”

“Whine and bellow?”

“Whine and bellow,” Daniel repeated with sincerity and a smile!

“What's with the witness?”

“I don't know.  I think it's just a story they created.  They wanted us to believe you were gone, and since they didn't have a body, they needed to give us something, so they fictionalized a witness.”

“What'd he say?” Jack queried curiously.

“That they ... that he saw them execute you ... a bullet in the head.”

“Ah, Danny,” Jack sighed as he held his lover closely, knowing the hurt that untruth must have caused him.

“Jack, I didn't know at first.  They kept the cover story alive, that you were missing on that TDY.  Then they admitted you were on a mission, but that was it.  I knew General Hammond knew more, so I went to him one night.  I'm sorry, Jack.  I had to.  I just needed to know.”

“It's okay, Angel.  I know.”

“He told me as much as he could, about the witness.  I was so upset that I don't even remember leaving.  I drove for hours, but I don't remember any of it, except ... when I got home, I knew I had to be with you.  I was going to keep the pact, Jack.  You were dead, and I couldn't go on.”

Jack closed his eyes.  Sometimes he hated the military and this was one of those times.  He dreaded what might have happened if Daniel had succeeded in following through with their pact, a pact that said they wouldn't live without the other.  It had been made by silent mutual agreement, and then sealed with a painful verbal discussion after Hathor had been killed a few years earlier.

“What happened, Love?”

“Sam.  I had the gun in my hand, Jack, but she was pounding on the door.  The general had called her, and she had spent all night looking for me.  You'd be ... proud of her, Jack.  She ... she did everything you would have wanted her, to.”

“Red roses for a lifetime,” Jack said softly.

“It wouldn't be enough.”

“Definitely not enough,” Jack agreed emotionally.

“Anyway, I started thinking about our possessions and what would happen to them, so I decided I needed to take care of everything first, so I did.  I ... made that file and listed everything important ... where it should go ... and what I thought Sam should do with the house and the apartment.”

“It couldn't have been easy.”

“No, it wasn't.  I ... I almost burned our things, Jack, but then I decided I couldn't.  Somehow, it would be like ... like killing you ... and me ... by my own hand, and I ... gawd, I just couldn't.”

“I'm glad.  I couldn't do it either, Danny.”  Jack placed a gentle kiss on Daniel's nape, one of support, not seduction.  “So what happened?”

“My fish were hungry,” the younger man mused lightly and, in retrospect, gratefully.

“Our fish.”

“Fine.  You're cleaning out the tank next time, Jack,” Daniel instructed firmly.

“Okay,” the older man agreed.

“Okay?”

“Hey, right now, I'd clean your car.  I'm ... geez, Danny, I'm glad to be alive.”

Daniel smiled and replied, “Okay, our fish were hungry, so I went to PetSmart, and there was this man.  I don't know who he was, Jack, but ... he knows you ... very well from the sound of it.  He said you'd saved his life and ... Jack, he knew about us.”

“How?  Daniel, I've never told anyone that you don't know about.”

“I don't know, but he did,” Daniel stated.  “He told me you were alive, and he gave me maps, names of contacts, and dinars.”

“So you brought in a team?” Jack asked, hoping that what Daniel had said days earlier in the infirmary had been a misunderstanding, that his lover hadn't gone after him alone.

“No.”

“NO?” Jack said a bit loudly.

“Jack, he said they'd have you killed, that no one could be told.”

“Daniel, are you telling me that you went over there ... *alone*?” Jack asked, upset at the idea.

“I had to,” the younger man responded.  “They would know if I went over with a team.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, you could have been killed,” the older man bellowed in disbelief.

“Jack?”

“What?”

“I was going to die anyway, Jack,” Daniel reminded.  “It didn't matter.  I had nothing to lose ... nothing ... and if there was the remotest chance that what he was saying was the truth, then I had to take the risk.  I told Sam and no one else.”

Jack sighed as Daniel recounted the events in Iraq -- the rescue, the hiding out in the cave, the drive to the American Embassy, the flight home.  Jack remembered only a small piece of it, a fragmented memory or two of Daniel holding and comforting him.  Except for that, his memory picked up with his recovery in ISO-2.

“My hero,” Jack expressed as he kissed Daniel's nape.  “Thank you, Love, for rescuing me.”

“I don't want to do that again.  Do you understand?” Daniel questioned sternly.

Jack chuckled, “Yes, I understand.  You did good, Angel, real good.”

“They underestimated me.  Gawd, why does everyone do that?”

“It's the glasses, and your beauty.”

“Jack, stop that,” Daniel couldn't help but chuckle a little.

Jack was nibbling on Daniel's earlobe, pausing to express, “But you are so beautiful.  They just see that and get lost.”

“Jack, no one thinks I'm beautiful except for you.”

“Ah, but you're wrong,” Jack asserted before nibbling some more.

Daniel sighed contently at the contact that he had feared he would never feel again.  Jack began placing little kisses along the side of Daniel's neck, the younger man moving his head slightly to give his lover more skin to kiss, soft noises of pleasure escaping from his throat.

“So beautiful,” Jack repeated in between kisses.

“You're prejudiced.”

“Heavens, yes,” Jack admitted.  “But it's still the truth.”

Daniel smiled, turning his head to look into Jack's eyes.  He brought his right hand to Jack's left cheek and caressed.

“We were lucky, Jack.”

“Very,” Jack admitted softly, his hands still massaging Daniel's abdomen.  “Angel, *my* Angel,” he said as he leaned in for a kiss of devotion.

“Jack, do you have any idea who the man could have been?”

“I don't want to sound cocky, but I've saved a lot of lives, Danny.  He had to be Special Ops from what you've said, but there's still a lot of possibilities out there.  What I don't understand is how he knew about us.  You're sure?”

Daniel nodded, affirming, “He said it, Jack.  He didn't just imply it ... he said it.”

“Was there anything distinctive about his voice?  Or, I know you didn't see him, but did he seem ... I don't know ... any impressions at all?  Or manner of speech?  Anything that would make him stand out?”

Daniel was shaking his head, answering, “No ... he ... he used a word I hadn't heard in a long time, though.”

“What word?”

Daniel thought for a moment and then responded, “Um ... oh, yeah, 'criminy'.  Haven't heard anyone say that in years.”

Jack chuckled.

“Jack?”

“John Westerly is the only one I can think of.  He said that all the time, but I haven't seen him in years; in fact, I'm not sure he's still alive.”

“How would he know about us?  Jack, he acted like he'd seen you, talked to you?  I mean ... he said things about me.”

“I don't know, Danny.  It could have been someone trying to take the attention away from their real identity.  We might never know, but whoever it was, I owe them one, a very big one.”

Daniel leaned in for a kiss, suggesting, “Let's go to bed.”

“A man with a plan; I like that.”  The two got up and started to walk to the ladder when Jack turned and picked up the large envelope.  He sighed, “I guess we should keep this.  It was a good idea, Danny.”

“We should go over it.  You might not agree with everything.”

“Somehow, Love, I don't think I could argue with any of it.  What'd you tell Carter, in the note?”

“That we loved her and were thankful for her friendship, and that I hoped she'd forgive me someday -- things like that.”

“Let's, ah, lock this away somewhere.”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed and then climbed down the ladder.

Jack looked up at the stars, smiled, and intoned, “Thanks, not just for Danny, but for some good friends.  Just ... thanks.”

“Jack?” Daniel called from below.  “You okay?”

“I'm supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” Jack expressed happily.

“Oh, gawd, not Mary Poppins!”

“Now, Angel, you know I can't help it because you're ...”

“Jack ... don't!”

“... perfect in practically every way.”

“Gawd,” Daniel laughed as Jack began to tickle him, having climbed down the ladder a few moments earlier.

The two laughed all the way up the stairs to their bedroom where they made love again and prepared for the trials of the upcoming day.

====

At the end of the next day, Sam unlocked the door to her home and was totally stunned as soon as he stepped inside.  Everywhere she looked, there were flowers, all kinds of flowers in various arrangements.

On her desk, was a large bouquet with a letter sitting in front of it.  She recognized the writing as her CO's.

“Carter, Daniel told me what you did, all of it.  Well done.  If I could say what I wanted, I'd make a mess, of me and you, so I'm hiding behind the pen.  After doing some quick intel, I happen to know your plans for Thanksgiving involved making love to your motorcycle.  Get a life, Carter.

I talked with Hammond.  Effective immediately, you're on downtime until 07 December.  Use the time well because when you get back, I'll be back, and you know what that means -- trees, trees, and more trees!

Seriously, thank you for protecting 'my life', and I know you know what I mean by that.  And it comes from ...  you know, at least, I hope you know.  Enjoy your trip!”

“Trip?” Sam asked aloud.

The blonde then noticed the ticket folder with her flight itinerary inside.  Apparently, she was about to fly to Hawaii.  She grinned happily.  She'd been talking about going there for the past year.

“Holy Hannah!” Sam exclaimed, realizing she only had a day to pack and get a few pre-trip chores done because her flight departed on Friday.  Briefly, she paused, considering returning the ticket.  Then she shrugged, thinking, ~Nah.  He wouldn't let me anyway.  Sometimes I'm glad he's as stubborn as my father.~

A knock on Sam's door interrupted her thoughts.  Opening it, she was surprised to see Daniel.

“Hey, Sam, I just wanted to bring you these ... flowers?” Daniel asked, suddenly noticing the flowers in her living room as he peered over Sam's shoulder.

Sam motioned for Daniel to come in, asking, “Do you believe this?”

“Jack?” Daniel asked with wide eyes.

Sam shrugged a yes, questioning, “He didn't tell you?”

“Not exactly.  I mean ... he mentioned flowers, but he didn't say ... flowers!”

Sam laughed, “And a trip to Hawaii for a week.  You two are too much.  You really shouldn't have.”

“You'll have fun, and I didn't, Jack did,” Daniel acknowledged.

“So, it wasn't your idea?”

“No, I didn't have a clue, but I'm not surprised,” Daniel admitted as he handed his batch of fresh flowers to Sam.  He shrugged, excusing, “I guess they seem kinda a puny compared to ...”

Daniel waved his hand all around Sam's house.

“No, not at all.  They're beautiful.  Thank you both,” Sam responded happily.  “You two really know how to make a girl feel special.  Daniel, if you didn't know about Hawaii, why aren't you surprised?”

“He was ... happy that you ... did what you did.  He, uh, he's ... it's hard to say ... he's just ... grateful, Sam, that's all.”

“Boy, he must be a romantic devil.”  There was a pause, and Sam's smile grew, “Daniel, you're blushing!”

“Gawd, Sam, I've never known anyone as romantic as Jack.  You wouldn't believe some of the things he does.”

Sam shook her head.  The Jack O'Neill she knew was the one who would bellow and bark and have someone reassigned to Elmendorf for crossing his path.  Sure, she knew the kinder Jack, the one who cared about kids and being decent to your fellow man, but this Jack, the loving, romantic Jack, was a stranger to her.  Looking at Daniel, however, she knew it wasn't a unique situation, that he must spoil Daniel rotten with romantic gestures.

Daniel was beaming and still blushing.  Sam found herself feeling envious for a moment, not about Jack, but about feeling so loved by someone.

~No one deserves that more than you, Daniel,~ Sam opined.

“I have to go, Sam.  I just wanted you to know ... well, thanks!  I know it wasn't easy on you, but I appreciate that you were there for me, for us.”

“You're welcome.  Do you and the colonel have plans for tonight?”

“Um, well, sort of.”

“Yeah?  What?” the blonde asked with curiosity, but when her friend turned about five more shades of red, she found herself blushing.  “Oh, gawd.”

“I really gotta go,” Daniel responded with a happy shrug.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Daniel.”

“You, too, and ... hang loose, Sam!” Daniel said with a cute smile that showed off his dimples..

“Bye!” Sam called out, smiling widely as her friend hurried to his car that was parked on the street.  ~My goodness, you do blush, Daniel,~ she laughed.  Then she repeated, “I don't even want to think about what those plans are.  Get *out* of my head.  Oh, gee,” she laughed, putting a sofa cushion over her face as she sank onto her couch.  “It's like thinking about my parents having sex!” she exclaimed to the air, laughter still coming out.

--

As Sam laughed, Daniel eagerly made his way home, anxious to make those blushes pale in comparison to the main events of the evening.  He had been touched that Jack had followed through and thanked Sam, and what Sam didn't realize was that by doing so, in such a big way, it reminded the younger man just how much Jack loved him.

Expressing his thanks to his second-in-command in such a way wasn't something normal for Jack.  Daniel had seen the note on the desk and read it quickly.  His heart had swelled with love, knowing what was between the lines, the things Jack couldn't write on paper but felt in his heart.

“Gawd, Jack, I love you so much,” the archaeologist said as he continued the drive home.

====

At the house, Jack smiled at his handiwork.  His checkup had gone well, and Janet was pleased with his progress.  The general was satisfied with his explanations and happy to have his flagship team back to its original form.  Even General Armstrong apologized and thanked Jack for his, “heroic and valiant efforts on behalf of a grateful nation,” although Jack thought the words made him sound deader than driftwood.

Now, his lover would be home soon.  They'd been apart for six-and-a-half hours, and that was almost too long.  He couldn't wait to scoop Daniel up into his arms and make love again.  He felt happy to be alive and grateful that Daniel was his.

As the door opened, Jack grinned.

“Hey, Babe,” Daniel greeted, a grin on his face.  Like Sam's house, their home was full of flowers, only these were red roses, strewn all around, something Jack had done to varying degrees a few times before.  “Jack, you didn't have to.”

“Which is why I did,” Jack replied as put his arms around his Love and kissed him.  “I missed you.”

“Missed you, too.”  After they kissed again, Daniel stated, “I saw Sam.”

“Yeah?”

“She thinks you're romantic.”

“Because I sent her flowers?”

“Because you sent her *flowers*!” Daniel clarified with a grin.

“Oh,” Jack laughed.

“And because I blushed,” the romantically shy younger man acknowledged.

“When?”

“At Sam's.”

“I know that, but when, I mean why?” Jack questioned.

“Because she said you were romantic.”

“Why would that make you blush?”

“Because I started thinking about how romantic you are and how you make me feel, like ... right now,” Daniel said, after which he leaned into Jack for another tender kiss.  “I love you so much, Jack.”

“I love you, too, Angel.”

“We're going to have a terrific Thanksgiving tomorrow, Babe.  There's so much to be grateful for this year.”

“Amen to that, Love,” Jack agreed.  “I, uh, think we should start celebrating tonight and *express* our thanks to each other now.”

Grinning, Daniel replied, “That's My Jack.”

“Forever and always, Angel.”

“Forever ... and always, My Love,” Daniel replied with eyes that were shining with love and full of want, just as Jack's were.

In their own special celebration of the upcoming holiday, Jack and Daniel dropped down to lay upon their bed of rose petals, where they made love yet again, each finding joy in the life of the other and their never ending cup of love.

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