Tribulations

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Romance, Holiday, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - February 14, 2008
Spoilers:  Stargate Atlantis episodes: Tabula Rasa, The Seer, Be All My Sins Remember'd, Quarantine, Outcast, Trio, The Kindred Parts 1 & 2, The Last Man, Search and Rescue (all minor)
Size:  52kb
Written:  April 7,11-12,15-16,19, May 11,17-19, July 10-12, 2018
Summary:  Celebrating Valentine's Day with a night out, Jack and Daniel run across an unusual site that threatens to interfere with their romantic evening.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~

Tribulations
by Orrymain

Of late, things were hectic at the Jackson-O'Neill residence, but that was normal for Jack, Daniel, and their brood of eight.  Most recently, Daniel was away on an overnight business trip in Salt Lake City and together, the couple was prepping their first major dig for their company, J-O Enterprises.  Tonight, though, was all about their love.  The soulmates left behind the joy of raising their children and the stresses of J-O's dig in Egypt in favor of a night on the town.  After all, it was Valentine's Day and that meant romance.

With the brood divided up between Sara and Janet, the plan for Jack and Daniel was to enjoy a meal at their sentimental favorite restaurant, go dancing at their local same-sex bar of choice, and return home for a passionate night of lovemaking.

The evening was young and Jack and Daniel were waiting for the waitress to place their order at O'Malley's.  They were chatting, talking about silly and lighthearted things like Daniel's latest conversation with a plant and Jack's current growl fest between he and his truck's exhaust manifold clamp.  Jack lost the battle and his truck would be headed for a professional repair place in the near future.  The lovers laughed at their craziness.  It felt good, too, to let go of obligations and everything serious for just one evening.  All that mattered right now was their nation of two and simply having a good time.

“Steak?” Jack asked.

“One or two?” Daniel chuckled.

“Don't even go there.  I'm trying never to think about those armbands again.”

“Because of Freya?”

“You said her name!”

“I thought we could have a little fight and then, uh, well, you know,” the younger man mused lustfully.

“That kind of stimulation we don't need.”

“Actually, Babe, if you recall ...” Daniel paused as he raised his eyebrows and grinned.

“Okay, so there was a perk, for a minute.”

“So, steak?”

“O'Malley's makes the best.  We could have ...”

“Jack,” Daniel spoke seriously as he outstretched his arm across the table and tapped on Jack's arm.  “Listen.”

“Voices.  I hear voices.”

“Yes, one very familiar voice.”

Jack honed in on the sounds and lost his smile, something Daniel noted.

“She's supposed to be ...”

“Yeah, for at a few more months.”

At that moment, the waitress came over and Jack hastily ordered steaks with all the fixings for both he and his husband.  Then he stood, as did Daniel.  They turned a corner and sure enough, there was Sam, playing pool and winning, as she usually did.

“Carter?”

The woman literally dropped her cue stick onto the ground.  Her eyes were wide and she stood with her mouth slightly open.  In short, she looked horrified.

“Sam,” Daniel said as he walked over to his friend.  “Are you okay?”

“Yes.  No.  Maybe.  I don't know.”

“That makes perfect sense.  Uh, we just ordered dinner.  Why don't you join us?”

“No, I couldn't.  You must have plans.”

Now standing next to Daniel, Jack replied, “Carter, you and I both know those plans just went out the window, at least for now.  Join us.”

It was an order, not a request, which Sam immediately realized.  She spoke a soft, “Bye, Guys” to the men she was competing with and trailed the couple to the table, although she wasn't as steady on her feet as Jack and Daniel were.

Once seated, the waitress returned, having seen a newcomer at the table.  Jack ordered the same meal for her as he and Daniel were having.  Sam also ordered drinks for all three.

Jack leaned forward and questioned, “Carter, why aren't you where you're supposed to be, at least for another few months?”

“I was fired.”

“Fired?” Jack and Daniel echoed in unison.

“Sent packing.  Guess, really, guess, who replaced me?  I dare ya.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look.  It was clear their teammate and friend wasn't completely in focus.  Her eyes were darting all over the place and her speech wasn't as precise as usual.

“Sam, how many of those have you had?”

“How many of what?”

“The drink.”

“What drink?”

“The one in your hand.”

Sam looked down and giggled, “Oh.  I don't know.  I stopped counting at one.”

“Jack ...”

“Yeah.”

Jack waved over the waitress and changed their order from dining in to take out. They didn't want to risk a tipsy Sam saying something she shouldn't while under the influence.  Instead, they picked up their order and headed to Sam's house.

====

“Daniel, coffee,” Jack ordered once the three were safely inside the woman's home.

“I don't need woffee ... hoppee ... um ...”

“Right,” Jack sighed as he helped his 2IC sit on her sofa.

“I'm okay, Sir.”

“Carter, you're not okay.  Why aren't you in Atlantis?”

“They feated me.  No, I mean they ...”

“Jack, coffee first, questions second.”

“I guess you're right.”  Jack gently yanked on Sam, pulling her up as he said, “Sorry, Carter, but you're about to get a cold shower.”

“Do you want to call Janet?”

“I *want* to get on with our Valentine's,” the silver-haired man whined.  “I'll handle it.”

“Back in the day ...”

“I know, but with eight kids, I think we're beyond the scuttlebutt.”

“Good point.”

“Believe it or not, Love, it happens sometimes: law of averages.”

Daniel lightheartedly corrected, “It happens a lot, Jack.”

Jack proceeded to Sam's bathroom and turned on the cold water in the shower.  He looked at Sam, who was propped up against the door with a sloppy expression on her face.

“Sorry about this,” Jack stated.  He helped her off with her jacket and then escorted her to the shower.  “Have fun.”

Sam's face scrunched as she spit out the water.

“Carter!”

“Sir, why are you in my shower?”

“Keeping you from falling down and hitting your head.”

“Okie dokie wokies.”

“*Daniel, how's the coffee coming*?” Jack shouted.  While Daniel shouted his answer, Jack continued to keep his 2IC from hurting herself with a slip and fall.  He kept her there until her expression changed and her eyes began to focus. It wasn't until she uttered words that weren't slurred and messed up that he helped her out of the shower.  “Please tell me you can put on something dry on your own.”

“I think I can manage that, Sir.  Thank you.”

“We'll be in the kitchen.”

Getting a nod, Jack went to his husband and waited for Sam to join them.

====

Dressed in an oversized shirt and jeans and her hair uncombed from her shower, Sam made her to the kitchen where her friends made sure she drank both coffee and Gatorade.  Though not hungry, she found herself eating muffins and Reese's Peanut Cups, a combination she liked, which surprised all three.

Finally, the colonel was able to shake off her inebriation well enough to talk about her time on Atlantis and her reassignment.

“I should have known,” Sam sighed.  “Woolsey showed up to do my three-month evaluation.  The ironic part of it all was that he apparently just went through an appraisal himself and was told he was a bit too much of an ...”

“Let me guess,” Jack interrupted.  “Buttinski?”

“I wouldn't have said it quite that way, but more or less, yes.  Naturally, even though he told me that he was just there to observe, he couldn't help himself.”

“Did you hit him?” Jack only half joked.

“I think John was tempted,” Sam responded while referring to Colonel Sheppard.  “I tried my best to ignore Woolsey.  We had a lot going on.  Did you hear about the Replicators?”

“I got some Intel.  That was when the Wraith showed up, offering not to feed on you, for the moment.”

“The Replicators were a large threat to them, too.  Sheppard had a relationship with Todd; uh, that's the name we called the Wraith who, geez, helped us, sometimes, in a way.  You'll like this, Sir.  Woolsey was trying to take over and call the shots.  I knew I needed to speak with the Wraith.  I hadn't met him yet.  I started to leave and Woolsey didn't move an inch.”

“You invited him to go with?” Jack guessed, hoping his 2IC would try to teach the civilian a lesson about butting into her command.

“I did.”

“He squirmed like a worm on a hook.”

“He did.”

“Better than decking him.”

“John thought so.”

“It was entertaining, until the Wraith made his own little joke.”

“The Wraith have a sense of humor?” Daniel queried in total surprise.

“It depends on your point of view.  After he agreed to all my demands in how things would be if we worked together to defeat the Replicators, he held out his hand to seal the deal with a handshake.”

“Don't think so,” Jack responded.

“Woolsey couldn't wait to leave.”

Sam quieted as her mind reflected on that time on Atlantis.

“Carter?”

“I had a tough call to make.  A Hive ship was en route and Todd's ship was already over the city.  There was a visionary, a man named Davos.  He had amazing accuracy.  He shared one of his visions with me.  In it, Atlantis was destroyed,”

“Mumbo jumbo.”

“I don't think so, Sir.  I could have evacuated the city, but if I had, so many people would have been left unprotected.”

“Didn't we talk about this before you accepted command?”

“Yes, but talking about something isn't the same as actually encountering it in a real life situation.”

“You stayed,” Jack stated, his comment not a guess.

“We stayed and the vision wasn't for that moment.”

“That's the problem with mumbo jumbo, you never know if it's today, tomorrow, or ten years from now.”

“We, uh, waste a lot of energy trying to guess the future.  I mean, turn right instead of left, and things change.”

Nodding, Sam admitted to Jack, “It did teach me one thing, or maybe I should say it increased my understanding.  I understand now why you were always so determined to save those worlds, whether or not they were endangered because of us.”

“It's never easy.”

“Um, Sir, you'll like this, too.”

“You kicked Woolsey out?”

“Almost.  As I said, he was desperate to get command, that busybody thing of his.  I told him, and this is a direct quote, to 'shut up.'”

“Bet that didn't go over well.”

“No, neither did my threatening him with removal, but I did because I'd made the call to cloak the city and I didn't have time to argue with him.  I knew my people would back me.”

“Good for you,” Jack praised.  ~Be the leader, but always make sure your people have your six.~

“You know what gulls me about Woolsey.  After all our clashes with him, at the end of the day, he tries to apologize.”

“He does do that,” Daniel agreed dryly.

“'Sorry I tried to kill you.  I thought it was for the best',” Jack mimicked as he recalled how Woolsey argued to deep-six the archaeologist once upon a time.  “He's a weasel.”

“So, he was against your staying in command of Atlantis when he left,” Daniel assumed.

The blonde answered, “He said he was fine with it and he left me alone at that point.”

“No one to fight with after he left, eh?”

“With Rodney around?” Sam mused.

“What happened?” Daniel asked.

“There was always something, but I guess the next big thing was when I had to referee between McKay and Colonel Ellis.“

“Of the Apollo,” Jack noted.

“Yes.”  Sam continued, “He and Colonel Caldwell arrived at our request.  The Replicators had to be taken out and we thought we had a shot at it.  We had a couple of options, but I had to run interference between those two for a while.  They were each voting for a different option.  McKay was being his usual arrogant self and Colonel Ellis was annoyed because he could tell McKay was, uh ...”

“... talking out of his wazoo?”

“Pretty much.”

“Who'd you back?”

“I gave McKay ten hours to get his option ready to go and then I told Ellis if he
ever talked to any of my personnel like that again, he'd never be invited back.”

“She may be blonde, Danny, but you'd better listen to her.”

Sam acknowledged, “He got the message.”

“This was that tracking mechanism, right?” Daniel queried.

“That was the preferred option, McKay's project, but the other was to use the plasma beam device the Asgard developed.  Both the Apollo and the Daedalus were retrofitted and ready to go.  McKay was right about the problem with that option.  The device could destroy the Replicator ships, but the Replicators would be out in open space, neutralized, but still there, giving anyone access to them.”

“McKay was all mouth,” Jack stated.  Seeing Sam's odd look.  “I read the report. You went with Plan B.”

“The Replicators had thirty-eight ships at the beginning.  We neutralized seven of them.  It was taking too long and the Replicators pulled back.”

“Safety in numbers,” Daniel remarked.

“Well, you've read the report.  McKay came up with an idea ...”

Jack mused, “A Replicator magnet: true love among the Legos.”

“It was crazy.  It was dangerous.”

“And McKay played with fire and you're darn lucky it didn't get everyone on Atlantis killed,” the general responded in all seriousness.

“You know McKay.”

“Carter, I would have sent him packing.  He *built* a Replicator.”

“A stripped-down version and it did the job.  The Replicators were, for the most part, out of business.”

“If you're arguing the ends justifies the means ...”

“No, but I'm not sure you would have acted any differently, General, if you'd been in my shoes.”

“Maybe not, but he'd be begging to go back to Russia after I was through with him.”

“Actually, McKay did have his own issues to deal with.  I don't think that's in the report.”

“Do tell.”

“He named it, the Replicator.  He called her Fran, and the truth is, it was the Replicator who enhanced the plan and made it work.  Rodney's creation came to life to him, in a way.  That memory will always be with him.”

“Yeah, well.”  Jack looked at his lover, regretting their evening together wasn't going as planned.  “McKay got his act together after that, I presume.  No more craziness.”

“You're mocking me,” Sam jested.  “McKay doesn't change.  He has moments, but he can't help himself.  He, um, tried to update the quarantine system.  It locked down the entire city.  We were all separated because of his ... tweaks.”

“Ah, we love tweaks.”

“You know the worst thing about being in command wasn't McKay's tweaks or arrogance.  I think it was having to deliver all the bad news.”

“I hear ya on that one.”

“I hated telling Colonel Sheppard about his father's passing, but there were more deaths.  They couldn't always get home in time for funerals or worse, to say goodbye to a dying mother or spouse.”

“That's been the cruel thing from the beginning of ... war.”

Sam returned to the prior topic and lamented, “I can't blame Rodney too much for the decisions he made.  I've been there myself and I've had to live with some bad choices.  He meant well.”

“As always,” Jack replied somewhat insincerely.  “He and Doctor Lee should have to work together all the time.  I think I'm going to remember that, if the opportunity ever comes up.”

Daniel was amused, but he still chastised, “Jack.”

“You're here, so McKay must have fixed his tweaks,” Jack stated.

“After Doctor Zelenka managed to turn off the power and stop the self-destruct.”

“Ah.”

“That was good,” Daniel agreed.

“It was a malfunction.”

“Caused by McKay.”

Sam shrugged, not wanting to speak her thoughts aloud.  Her own unintentional tweaks-gone-bad tended to soften her criticism of fellow scientists.  As she tossed away memories of places like K'tau, the colonel changed the subject.

“We all make mistakes.  I made a bad one on M5V-801.  It's a mining planet and they were experiencing multiple tremors on a daily basis.  We, rather Sheppard, McKay, and Doctor Keller, tried to get them to relocate, but they wouldn't budge.”

“I'm waiting for the mistake,” Jack advised with a smile.

“I'm getting there.  I wanted to try again.  Obviously, they needed to move for their own safety.  John wanted me to go in his place.”

“I've got this one,” Jack interjected.  “He, like me, isn't that great when it comes to negotiating skills, at least those not conducted by weaponry.”

“That was his reasoning, Sir, so I went.  McKay fell into an underground room, a mining chamber.  We intended to return to the Gate to get help.”

“Carter.”

“I should have ordered Doctor Keller to stay back or at least to approach the opening from a different spot.  Instead, we both crawled on our bellies to the opening and then ...”

“You both fell in?” Jack guessed.

“Yes, Sir.  Bad judgment on my part.”

“You lived to tell about it and it was still McKay because he fell in.”

“Jack, you can't blame Rodney for everything.”  Daniel looked over at Sam, who was staring at him.  “I didn't mean you made a mistake.  I ... gawd.”

Sam chuckled lightly, “It's okay, Daniel.  It was my mistake.”

“A good leader recognizes and acknowledges their mistakes,” Jack put forward to the blonde.  “None of us are perfect, Carter, including McKay, *especially* McKay.”

“Thank you, Sir, but that mistake led to McKay trying to be macho.”  Sam smiled.  “He was starting to fall for Doctor Keller.”

“I don't see it.”

“Jack, do you even know Doctor Keller?” Daniel inquired.  “I mean, I don't.”

“Nope, no clue what she looks like, but she's a doctor.”

“So?”

Jack shrugged and emitted a smug smirk.  He was happy to not answer or explain his comment.  It would take far more thinking than he cared to do at the moment.

“That mistake,” Sam sighed.  “I broke my leg.”

“Sam, you okay?”

“Daniel, she didn't do that yesterday,” Jack stated.  “You okay?” he asked Sam while keeping a straight face.

“Yes, I'm fine.  I had great care and it beat almost dying from forgetfulness.”

“I'm not following,” Jack admitted.

“Sorry, everyone on Atlantis except for Teyla and Ronon were infected by a bacterial disease.  It caused amnesia that became worse over time and was ultimately fatal.  We were lucky we got through it.”  With a sigh, Sam put forward, “All things being equal, I'd rather have the broken leg and know who I am and what I'm doing.”

“You should have gotten word to us,” Jack chided about the physical injury.

“Thank you for your concern, Sir, but I was the base commander.  I couldn't call home to my team leader.”  Suddenly, Sam conceded, “I should have, though.  I should have come back to Earth.”

“Carter ...”

“Sir, as angry as I am about being replaced, I'm just not cut out for command.”

“Sam ...”

“Daniel, when I was hurt, I was so focused on my pain that I let McKay take the lead.  You would never have done that and neither would the general.”

“Carter, leaders lead with different styles.  Our experiences are not the same.  What matters is getting out.  You got out of the mess, and I don't believe you just lied on your duff, now did you?”

“No, I guess I didn't.”

“Work to live or give up and die.”

“That was pretty much the case,” Sam agreed.  “I was on crutches for a few weeks, but it was a clean break and there weren't any complications.”

“Teal'c didn't mention your broken leg when he was there,” Jack remarked.

“I was off the crutches by then and I didn't want him to worry about me.  He had an interesting time with Ronon.”

“He did say Ronon was ...” Daniel began.

“... interesting,” the lovers said together.

“He was able to coach Ronon,” Sam maintained.

“They had to duke it out, verbally and physically, until they found respect for each other,” Jack stated.

Daniel mused, “The tater tot conversation ended with Ronon pulling a gun on Teal'c.”

“Don't forget the sparring match.  Carter, did you really get between those two giants?  All five-feet-eight of you?”

“They'd been at it for over an hour, and it's five-feet-nine.”

“That's like a minute for the rest of us and that's a powerful inch.”

“Well, with the Wraith taking over the Midway station, they had a chance to bond and that ultimately helped Ronon in his IOA interview,” Sam mused as she referenced the International Oversight Advisory that had control over Atlantis.  “We were lucky Teal'c and Ronon made it to the SGC.  The thought of those bloodsuckers out in the open on Earth is a little too creepy for me.”

“It's too bad we lost the station,” Daniel noted.  “It was a great idea, and it was Rodney's,” he said as he raised his eyebrows while facing his lover.

“Yes, I'm aware.”

“Okay, you had your battles.  I can't say I envy you dealing with bloodsuckers like the Wraith,” Jack remarked.

“Well, they have their quirks,” Sam returned.  “Todd came through at times.  He provided a kernel, no pun intended, of assistance when Michael abducted Teyla as part of his plan rule the galaxy.”

“Sounds like an overconfident, arrogant, no good snakehead to me.”

“Except this one wants to drink your blood for dinner,” Daniel reminded.

“There's that,” Jack sighed.  “Only a kernel?”

“If there wasn't something in it for him, he didn't like to bargain.”

“Figures, but you got through that mess, too.”

“Not then, Sir.  Michael still had Teyla, but I guess we did walk away with a bonus.”

“Carson Beckett.”

“You read my report.”

“Carter, when you retire, you get bored sometimes,” Jack claimed.

“You miss it, Sir.”

“Maybe when the kids are asleep, for a minute.”  Jack sighed, “The Beckett clone: is he any better off than ours?”

“Jack, ours weren't clones.  They were synthetic versions of us.”

“I'm not a scientist, Daniel.  I haven't a clue what the difference is.  All I know is ours ended up dead.  Last I heard about Beckett, he's spending time in the deep freeze.”

“When I left Atlantis, he was still in a stasis chamber,” Sam advised.  “Doctor Keller's determined to find a way to prevent an organ shutdown.  It's been hard on Rodney.  He and Carson were very close.”

“He's a clone.”

“With all of Carson's memories and every fiber of his personality.  I know you had a hard time with our synthetic others, but they were real, Sir.  Maybe it was a battery pack that kept them functioning, but they gave their lives for us.  Doctor Beckett's clone acted as heroically as he would have in the same circumstance.”

“Okay,” Jack responded simply.

After a pause, Daniel remarked, “It's interesting how many circumstances repeat themselves in some ways, from galaxy to galaxy.”  He paused and elaborated, “We were sent back in time a few decades and John Sheppard was sent forward thousands of years and both situations were caused, at least in part, by solar flares.”  Seeing the pointed expressions of both Jack and Sam, he grinned and admitted, “I guess I miss it, too, sometimes, mostly at night, on the roof deck, looking up at the stars.  I read the report.”

“I didn't believe John at first,” Sam admitted.  “He'd been missing for twelve days and he just showed up.”

“How could you doubt him after what SG-1 went through?” Jack asked.  ~I wouldn't have trusted him for a second.  You know that, right?~

“Well, our experiences weren't exactly the same and we'd just gone through the clone experience with Doctor Beckett.”  Sam smiled and added, “Also, I just thought about how you'd react to all of it.”

Daniel was amused, and so was Jack, at least a little bit.

“In the end, I did what you did.”

“I wasn't there.”

“General, with all due respect to your skepticism and preference for completely logical and rational explanations, ultimately, you trusted us, whichever one of us it was.  We were a team ...”

“Are,” Jack interrupted.  “We *are* a team, Carter.  That doesn't change, regardless of current and future assignments.”

Sam nodded and corrected her remark by saying, “We are a team, and your gut told you to follow our instincts, most of the time.”

“Most of the time,” Jack echoed.

“Unfortunately, things didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped,” Sam sighed as she bowed her head and took a deep breath.  “The timing had to be right, but they off a little.  There was an explosion.  Lieutenant Edison was able to return and tell us what happened, but he couldn't verify if there were survivors or not.”

“You sent a rescue team?”

“I led it,” Sam clarified.  “We found McKay and Major Lorne and were able to rescue them.  Colonel Sheppard and Ronon were still covered in debris.  To top it off, Michael arrived and attacked.  We pulled back to the jumpers.  Don't say it, Sir.  Yes, we left them behind.  We would have been wiped out if we didn't.”

“I didn't say a word,” Jack noted.

“Sometimes that says more than words,” Sam returned.  “The Daedalus arrived and found Colonel Sheppard and Ronon.  They were able to beam them on board at the same time our puddle jumpers were able to enter the bay.”

“What happened, Sam?”

“Your basic odds-are-against-it-but-we're-doing-it-anyway rescue mission.  Colonel Sheppard shouldn't have been released from medical.  His injuries were notable, but he ... he's a lot like you, General.  He may dislike 'The Simpsons' and not be a beer drinker, but he has your wit and your determination when it comes to something he's set his mind on doing.  Sir, you never forget leaving someone behind.  He left someone behind early on in Atlantis.  He wasn't going to let it happen again.”

“Lieutenant Ford?” Daniel asked.

“Yes.  John told me while he was unconscious on the planet, he had a dream or vision of the lieutenant.  He feels like he failed him.  He couldn't fail Teyla, too.”

“You found her,” Daniel stated as a fact.

“He did and she had her baby before they were able to leave.”

“And it all turned out happily ever after,” Jack interjected.  “Knowing that, Carter, why did they send you back here?”

“Sir, did you know they found the last Ba'al clone?”

“Carter, I'd like to kick that clone in the balls and that's about all I want to know.”

“The Tok'ra are extracting the symbiote.  They want us there for the celebration,” Sam advised.

“I didn't get the memo.”

“Yes, you did,” Daniel asserted.

“No, I didn't.”

“You did.”

“Not.”

“So,” the archaeologist maintained.

“Daniel, I did not get a memo about kicking Ba'al's balls to the moon,” Jack insisted.

“You did, Jack.  I gave it to you this morning.  An airman dropped it off.  I think you put it down between the sales ads and the funeral plot letter.”

“Ah, yes, I remember now.  The perfect place for Ba'al, between spam and death insurance.”

“Anyway, General Hammond has requested we attend.  He wants all four of us,” Daniel told his lover.

“Carter, you said you got fired?”

“I did, but not after they lured me back here.”

“They promised you a promotion?” Jack asked.

“No, the lure was the extraction.”  Sam took a breath, settling herself as her ire grew again.  “When I arrived at the SGC, Mister Woolsey met me at the ramp and told me the IOA wanted someone with a different skill set than I have; someone 'more suited' to the job.”

“A civilian,” Jack sighed.

“Who is it, Sam?”

“Woolsey.”

“Oh, for crying out loud.  Tell me you didn't just say that.”

“The whole 'exhaustive' evaluation thing was a ruse.  They spent all of two hours with me before dismissing me.”  Sam hung her head as she concluded, “The IOA doesn't need an excuse.  They wanted me out, and I'm out.”

“Nothing changes,” Daniel responded in frustration.

Jack questioned, “Do you want me to check into this?  I could make some inquiries and get Woolsey's butt expelled.”

“No, it's done.  I don't believe it's me per se.  I think the IOA wants the military out, now that the Replicators aren't the threat they once were and Michael is dead, I think.  The Wraith aren't posing a problem right now, either.  Maybe there's more going on than they want to admit.”

“It's a control thing,” Jack opined.  “They think Woolsey will do their bidding without causing problems.”

“I agree,” Sam concurred.  “He's always followed his own version of the rule book.”

“Do you think he will, follow the rules?” Daniel questioned.

“I don't know.  He's not exactly my favorite person,” Jack conceded.  ~He's right there with Ba'al and Kinsey.~

“I can't say I'm very fond of him, either,” Daniel sighed.  “But you know, there's a difference between being a person who lives by the rule book in a ... normal situation and one who tries to follow the rules in a place that doesn't really live by the rules.  Maybe he'll surprise us.”

“You're being gracious,” Sam suggested.  “He was ready to kill you.”

“Yeah, I know, but he didn't know what I knew about the Ori.  He just saw what I was.”

“Limited vision.”

“Babe, you weren't totally convinced, either.”

“Yeah, well, I did what you wanted me to in the moment.  I knew you were in there.  It's that whole having to protect the universe thing.”

“It's history,” Daniel returned, pretty much ending the brief back and forth that centered around the incident when Daniel became an Ori, even looking like them, in his quest to finally end the war with the devilish group.

“Let's just hope Woolsey finds his cojones and doesn't allow the IOA to destroy Atlantis.”  Jack stood and began to put on his black leather jacket as he inquired, “Carter, where's Shanahan?”

With a shrug, the blonde answered, “Denver, I guess.”

“You haven't told him you're back?” Daniel surmised while standing and taking a hold of his own black leather jacket.

Standing, Sam answered, “I didn't tell you guys, either.  I haven't told anyone.”

“Sam.”

“Carter, I ordered you to get a life years ago.  You got one and it's Valentine's Day, for crying out loud.  What happened?”

“You know what happened, Sir.  Besides, I have a bad track record with guys.  Ending it was really for the best.”

“I don't think Pete believes that,” Daniel negated.

“We had an argument while I was still in Atlantis.”

“Arguments are part of life and most relationships,” Jack countered.  “Daniel and I argue constantly, or we used to.  We still argue, differently.”

“He's better off without me.”

“Gawd, you sound like me,” Daniel put forth and shook his head at her words.  “Sam, call Pete.  Maybe you can talk out your differences.”

“He only wanted to know how long I intended to stay on Atlantis.”

“He missed you,” Jack put forth pointedly.

“I guess.”

“And you didn't miss him?” Daniel queried.

“No, I mean, yes, I did ... a lot, but I'm career Air Force and who knows where I could be assigned next.”

“Carter, no one is going to reassign you from the Mountain unless I send you to some outpost somewhere.”

Sam let out a tiny smile.  Her commanding officer's threats were no longer an intimidation as much as they were humorous highlights that indicated the intensity of a situation.

“I liked being in charge of Atlantis.  It's different there, more autonomous.  Sheppard liked to think he was in charge, and I let him except for when it was time to reel him in, or McKay.”

“I still have a hard time believing you survived more than a day with that guy.”

“It wasn't always easy, but it wasn't like I had to deal with him everyday, either.  I let them run with their ideas, unless I couldn't, which happened sometimes.”

“You hid out?”

“When it got to be too much, I worked on my motorcycle.  Geez, my bike.  It's still there.”

“Better get it back before the big guy with the hair hijacks it,” Jack suggested.

“Ronon,” Sam clarified.  “I'll check on it tomorrow.”

“Back from the detour,” Jack spoke with a nod that advised the original topic was not forgotten.  “Shanahan.”

“Sir, I'm not sure we should be talking about this.”

“Carter, we should have talked about a lot of things a long time ago.  I didn't want to think about your psyche because I was focused on Daniel.”

“I could be ... challenging, sometimes,” Daniel acknowledged with a slight grin.  “But you know that, Sam.  We couldn't have gotten through all those years without you.  You should call Pete.”

Daniel picked up Sam's phone and held it towards her, though she didn't take it from him.

“I've hurt him.”

“Not on purpose, on purpose,” Jack claimed, his words exactly as he meant them.  “He's still out there, circling and waiting.”  Jack took the phone from Daniel and extended it out towards the woman.  “Call the man, Carter.  Tell him you're home and then let whatever's going to happen, happen.”

“Or not, but you should tell him you're back,” Daniel put forth.

With a sigh, Sam took the phone and nodded.

“For what I hope is the last time, Carter, get a life, a real one, and stop drowning in quicksand.”

“I'll try, Sir,” Sam replied while noticing Daniel putting on his jacket.

“Sam, I'm sorry if we're being pushy, but we care and we just want you to be happy.”

“Thank you, Daniel, and you two should get going.  I've ruined your night out.”

“The night is still young,” Jack quipped.  “We're still a team.”

“We are,” Sam avouched with a happy expression.  “Thank you.”  As she walked her friends to the door, she gasped, “Your steaks!”

“Warm them up.  Enjoy.”

“Tell Pete,” Daniel offered with a closed grin.  “Goodnight, Sam, and ... welcome home.”

“Thank you, Daniel.”

“Take it easy, Carter.  Be proud of the firing.  You're way too good for the IOA.”

Nodding, Sam watched Jack and Daniel walk down the path to the street.  She felt better and more positive about the future.  She also hoped her friends could get back on track with their Valentine's Day celebration.  As they drove off, Sam locked her front door and stared at the phone in her hand.

~Okay, but if I were Pete, I wouldn't answer the phone.~

====

As the general drove away, Daniel uttered, “Jack?”

“No, Daniel.”

“A little push.”

“As much as I want Carter to get a life, I don't want to be responsible for Pete becoming a black widow.”

“Jack!”

“I don't mean that like it sounds.”

“What do you mean?”

“Carter loves the guy.  You know that, and I know that.”

“But?”

“She has issues and we can't nudge her one way or the other.  Granted, we're responsible for some of those issues.”

“The freakin' game.”

“She offered.  She volunteered.  She said she wanted to help, so we let her.”

“Babe, we jumped at the chance.”

“I know.  It's not easy to realize you can be so self-centered when you believe you're not that kind of person.”

“She did offer,” Daniel repeated softly.

“Look, we can't go back.  We needed her and she was there.  We will never be able to repay her, Danny, not ever.”

“That's very perceptive of you, us, but she needs a nudge.”

“We just gave her one.  Danny, we practically dialed Shanahan's number.  If we do it for her, she won't be ready, and it will fail.”

“Gawd, I hate it when you're right.”

Jack chuckled, “I'm just saying what you already know.  We can put the phone in her hand, but we can't dial the number.  She has to take that step.”

“I want her to be happy, Jack.”

“I do, too.”  After a pause, the silver-haired man suggested, “Angel, we can't do anything more for Carter than we have tonight.  Do you think ...”

“Oh, I think,” Daniel replied lightly.  “It's not too late for some dancing.”

“A little romantic slow dancing coming right up.”

Daniel grinned and anticipated with a smile what the rest of the evening would entail, and all of it was electric in one way or another.

====

The lovers liked the quiet and somewhat secluded same-sex bar they'd long gone to in Colorado Springs.  For many years, it was the one place they could go and be free, even though there was always the risk of being recognized and outed.  Fortunately, that never happened.

Upon entering, Jack and Daniel saw a couple they were acquainted with from prior visits to the bar.  They stopped and chatted with the other men for a few minutes before finding a table.  Since they hadn't eaten, they decided to get some food.  They kept it simple, ordering a plate of chicken wings and steak fries along with their beers.

“Dang, I miss this stuff,” Jack remarked between sips, each sip being fully enjoyed.  ~Have to make the most of it,~ he thought, knowing he'd only have the one beer since he was driving.

“You know, I'm not really a beer fan,” Daniel returned.

“So you've said,” Jack mused as he watched Daniel drink more of the beverage.  “Never mess with a man and his beer.”

“Never mess with a man's man.”

“Quip or threat?”

“It's open to interpretation,” the linguist put forth with a raising of his eyebrows.

“Forget the beer.  Let's dance.”

“Good idea.”

====

Dancing long forgotten, the lovers were cuddling in their bed after hours of passionately joining their bodies together.  Their backs were against the headboard, their nakedness in full view.  Glasses partially filled with St. Julien's wine were in each of their hands and a box of Godiva chocolates, now divested of a third of its holdings, was on the nightstand.  A platter of cheese and crackers was present as well.

“I have something for you,” Daniel announced.

“I see,” Jack replied with a sloppy grin as he reviewed his Love's body.

“Not yet,” the archaeologist advised, pausing to kiss his husband and take another sip of red wine before he put the glass down and leaned over, completely exposing his rear end.

Jack arched his eyebrows and considered an invasion.  It was inviting and he was eager.  He was about to carry out his impulsive plan, when he heard a voice.

“*Don't* even think about it.”

“Spoilsport.”

Ignoring the subsequent groan of sexual disappointment, Daniel returned to his previous position with a wrapped box in his hands.  He held it out towards the other man.

“For moi?”

“Oui oui.”

With great anticipation, Jack opened the box and found it full of small and curious items.  He laughed several times as he took out the gifts and explored them briefly.  First, there was a deck of cards decorated with various constellations.  Then there was a sheet of Forever stamps with planets on them.

“Danny, I have a prediction.”

“Okay.”

“Ten years from now, kids won't even know what a postage stamp is.”

“Hmm.  The younger man's eyelids fluttered a few times as he thought about the possibility.  “No bet.”

“The future,” Jack grumbled lightly before he refocused on the box of surprises.   Next to be unwrapped was a pair of men's crew socks that celebrated man's original landing on the moon.  “Gotta put these on,” the general suggested as he put on the socks that had an image of an astronaut on the right sock and a rocket on the other.  He stood up and faced his soulmate.  “What do you think?”

“I like it,” Daniel answered in a low, husky voice.

“The socks, Daniel, not my ...”

“I know, I know.”  With a smile, the gift giver observed, “They look great.  How do they feel?”

“Warm and comfy.”  With a hop back into bed, Jack picked up the box and continued to peruse his presents further.  “What the heck?”

“Replacements, in case you lose your marbles.”

The general glared at Daniel until he broke out into a smile.  He opened up the black bag full of marbles, each with some sort of space design on it.  After studying the circular objects for a minute, he tucked them all safely back into the bag and moved on to the next present.

“Hey, this is great,” the child-like Jack noted about the galaxy-theme silly putty that he found next.

“I knew you'd like it.”  With a mischievous grin, the archaeologist pointed at a bagged item.  “Open that.”

“Danny, you are crazy.”

“... which is why you love me.”

“Can't deny that,” Jack said as he held up the underwear designed with space objects, including stars and planets.

“Turn out the lights.”

“What?”

“Babe, turn out the lights.”

Jack did as instructed and howled as the briefs glowed in the dark.

“Angel, you have a dirty mind.”

“I'll always know where to find ... you.”

“You have me memorized.”

“A visual reference isn't a bad idea, sometimes.”

The last item in the box was a Galileo's wooden puzzle that could be taken apart and put back together again.

“Great gifts.”  Jack kissed his Heart and spoke, “Great gifts, Danny.  Thank you.”

“I know they're ...”

“Silly?”

“Different.”

“Unique.”

“Unusual ... for Valentine's Day,” Daniel opined.  “But, what do you get the man who has everything?”

“A box of fun, filled with love.”

“That's ... what I was thinking.”

“Perfect thinking,” Jack expressed before sharing another kiss with his Love.  He put everything back in the box and then put the box on the carpet next to his nightstand since there wasn't room for it atop the furniture piece.  “One sec,” he said, taking a position not unlike the archaeologist's as he leaned over to reach under the bed.  “*Think* about it!  *Think* about it.”

Daniel smiled, but said nothing.  His eyes simply stared at the bare skin until his husband returned to where he'd been and presented a wrapped box in his direction.

“For moi?” Daniel asked.

“Oui oui,” Jack answered with a grin.

With the box opened, Daniel picked up the first item that was also wrapped.  He couldn't believe it when he opened it.

“Socks?”

“Yeah, who would have thunk it?” the man with the silver-gray hair quipped.  ~Great minds think alike.~

Daniel reviewed the socks and echoed the names printed on them before deducing, “These books were all banned.”

“Once upon a time,” Jack acknowledged.

“I'm surprised they aren't blue.”

“Yeah, but all that had was black and white.”

“A representation of print.”

“That's what I figured,” Jack responded.

The archaeologist grinned at the brown owl that would hold his glasses and immediately placed it on his nightstand.  He chuckled in total amusement at a set of magnets that showed beagles in garb which made them resemble famous people in history, including King Tut and George Washington.  The next item was a bit puzzling.

“What's this?”

“Some Zen thing.  Add water and use it to get your thoughts together.”  Jack observed his husband's confused stare.  “Read the instructions.”

With a small laugh, the recipient advised, “It's okay, Babe.  I've seen these.  It refers to Buddhist monks who ...”

“Danny, not my thing.  It's yours.  Have fun.”

Laughing some more, Daniel nodded and, as he put the object back in its wrapping, assured, “I will.  It's a nice gift, Jack.”

“You're welcome.”

There were a few more tiny gifts and then came the last one.  It was in its box and Jack made sure his lover didn't open it until the end.  This gift was very special and he'd given it a lot of attention.

Daniel pulled out the final gift.  It was a book, roughly four-by-three inches in dimension.  It was full of pages that featured a pre-printed line with the final piece of it handwritten by Jack.  In essence it was a journal, a “Why I Love You” fill-in product.

On one page, Jack wrote that Daniel deserved the Most Beautiful Blue Eyes Award.  On another, he wrote that his soulmate had the greatest taste in lovers.  Another entry was more risque when Jack mentioned a specific body part that he was obsessed with.  It went on and on, from humorous to poignant to racy to sweet and mushy responses.

“It's perfect, Jack.  Thank you.”

“I love you, Angel.  It looks like we were both on the same page this year with our gifts.”

“We have everything we need.  We have each other, our children, the girls ... what more do we need, or want?”

“It's all about the love, Danny, and we have lots of that.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“Happy Valentine's Day.”

“Happy forever and always, Jack.”

The gifts were put aside and the two men went back to their blessed union, full of desire, need, and passion.  It was a wonderful way to end this special day in February.  They hoped one day Sam would be as happy.  No matter what, though, Jack and Daniel were blissfully in love with a family full of joy.  Even with its imperfections and challenges, it was a perfect life.  In Colorado Springs, Jack and Daniel made love and fell into slumber with satisfied hearts and dreams of their forever.

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

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