What's So Great About Atlantis

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Angst, Drama, Missing Scene/Epilogue, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  8 - July 20 - August 3, 2005
Spoilers:  Prometheus Unbound, Stargate Atlantis: Rising, Past and Present (minor), Hathor, Torment of Tantalus (minor)
Size:  138kb
Written:  January 28-29,31, February 1,4,7,10-13,20,23-24, 2005  Revised for consistency:  March 18, 2007
Summary:  Can the lure of exploring Atlantis cause a fatal rift between Jack and Daniel?  How will Daniel feel when the shoe is on the other foot?
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Hanky warning, so I've been told!
2) 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.**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s), “Atlantis or Bust”
5) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Suzanna, Claudia, Alison, QuinGem, Drdjlover, Linda!

What's So Great About Atlantis
by Orrymain

“Daniel, how many times do we have to argue about this?”

“Jack, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“I thought you didn't want to go.  Isn't that what you said when Weir took the original group through?”

“Jack ...”

“ISN'T THAT WHAT YOU SAID?”

“Yes, and I meant it.  I didn't want to go, and I was just teasing you in the control room when they were leaving, but ...”

“But what?” Jack asked pointedly.

“Part of me was serious, just a little,” Daniel spoke rapidly, looking off to the side for just a moment.

“Which part of you is it that you want to take with you to Atlantis?  No, wait, let me make a suggestion.  You take your mouth, and I'll keep your ...”

Jack pointed just below Daniel's mid-section, earning him a look of disdain from his husband.

“You have to at least listen to me.”

“No, Daniel, I don't.  We've been through this.”

“It's different now,” Daniel argued.

“How?  Tell me how!”

“They ... they made it through.  There was something there worth finding.  I ... I feel it, Jack.”

“I'm so glad,” Jack mocked.

“Jack, be serious.”

“DANIEL, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?”

“Let me go,” Daniel answered softly, his blue eyes searching deeply into Jack's brown eyes for some glimpse of understanding and permission.  “I love you, and I promise I'm coming back to you, our home, and our forever, but please, Jack, support me on this; let me go.”

He found neither understanding or permission as he continued to search his husband's eyes.

“No!” Jack barked unrelentingly.

“Jack!”

“I SAID 'NO'!”

Jack grabbed his coat from the hall closet and stormed out of their house, leaving Daniel standing in the living room.

It was only eight in the evening, but this had been their third argument over the mission to Atlantis in as many days, and both were growing weary.

On Jack's part, everyone who was anyone at the SGC had been begging to go on the mission.  He was sick and tired of it.  There hadn't been this much commotion since people vied to fill his spot on SG-1.  The last thing he needed was for his husband to be one of that throng.

On Daniel's part, while most of him wanted to stay home with Jack, there was a piece of him that was desperate to go.  He had been kidding, mostly, about the original mission.  There had been too many questions then; too much uncertainty and risk which at this point in his life, he wasn't willing to take; but now, the situation was a bit different.

After going through the Gate, the original team had reported back.  All was well.  Atlantis, in some form or another, was really out there.  Daniel's scientific self was, as a result, having a difficult time fending off the urge to explore this mythical place.

For any archaeologist, it was a dream come true, but for Daniel, it was more than that.  He knew that if he got to explore Atlantis then somehow, everything would be worth it; it would be a satisfaction that would forever bury the disdain he had endured from his academic colleagues, from his own grandfather, even from Jack early on in their relationship.  While Daniel knew Jack respected him, he wasn't always convinced that Jack respected his work.

It was a battle Daniel had fought internally for a while, but as soon as he had heard about the mission to the Pegasus Galaxy that would be undertaken using the Prometheus, his curiosity got the better of him. He was absolutely positive that nothing could or would go wrong during the voyage.  He'd be gone for a little while, but not that long, and he would make it home safely.  He was confident of that.

Daniel's problem was that Jack didn't share his confidence, and he wasn't willing to risk his lover, or their life together.  Consequently, Daniel believed Jack was being unreasonable and stubborn.

~This isn't over, O'Neill.  You are going to listen to me.~

====

“Hey, Jack, haven't seen you in here much lately,” the bartender at O'Malley's said.

“Yeah, well, been busy.”

“What'll you have?”

“A double.”

“A double what?”

“Surprise me.  Just ... make it strong.”

“Coming right up.”

~You aren't going anywhere, Daniel.  Argue until you're blue in the face if you want, but you are staying in our galaxy.~

====

“I'm still hoping he'll let me go,” Sam said over the phone.

“Sam, nothing personal, but ...”

“I know, Daniel, and you are the most qualified to go.”

“It's just I don't think he'll let all three of us go.”

“Teal'c isn't really that interested,” Sam said.

“There's too much happening on Chulak. That's his main concern these days.”

“It is his home, Daniel.”

“I know, but sometimes, Sam, I think about those times when he's put Jack's life at risk.  I guess I shouldn't say anything.  He's like a ... a brother, but when it comes to Chulak, he's pretty focused, and nothing else seems to matter.”

“I think we're all like that about certain things, depending upon what we care about the most.”

“I guess you're right.  Sam, the opportunity to see Atlantis, it's ... it's every cultural expert's dream.  How many times do we get a chance like this?  Jack's being so stubborn, though.  He acts like he can't even comprehend how special this mission is, that it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”

“Daniel, he understands that.”

“No, I don't think he does.”

“The truth is that his reasons for not letting you go have nothing to do with ... science, except for biology maybe,” she chuckled.

“Samantha Carter, I can't believe you said that.”

The blonde colonel giggled.  She'd come a long way in her acceptance of Jack and Daniel's relationship.  Even just two years ago she wouldn't have been able to tease like that, but once the couple got married in Canada in November 2003, she began to feel more at ease about discussing the relationship, or, in this case, teasing about it.

“Hey, a girl has to have some fun!”

“Right.”  Just then Daniel heard the door open.  “Um, Sam, I have to go.”

“Good luck, Daniel.”

“Thanks.”

Daniel hung up the phone, placing it next to him on the sofa.  He debated standing up, but Bijou had her head on his thigh, and he had been petting her the entire time he'd been on the phone.  Looking at the mama beagle, he saw her eyes were closing again after she had sneaked a quick look at Jack as he entered the living room.

“Hey,” Jack said.

“Hey,” Daniel responded.

“Where's Katie?”

“Upstairs on the bed the last time I saw her.”

Jack nodded, looking around.

“Danny, I'm sorry.  You can be angry with me all you want, but I won't okay you going on that mission.”

“Jack, you have to ...”

“I don't have to do anything but love you and keep you safe, and that's what I'm doing.  I'm tired, and I have a meeting at 0730 so I'd really like to get some sleep.  Are you coming?”

“I'll be up in a minute.”

Jack stood there for several seconds before moving toward the stairs. He didn't get far, though, before he stopped and turned around to face his husband.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too, Jack,” Daniel immediately responded, a smile on his face.

“Come to bed, Danny,” Jack asked, extending his hand out in invitation.

Daniel gave Bijou a final pet, gently scooting her off his leg.  He stood and walked to Jack, taking his hand.  Jack squeezed it, and for a moment, they just stood there, gazing into each other's eyes.  It was a quick reaffirmation of their nation of two.

“I'm not angry,” Daniel said, “but I am disappointed.”

“I'm not angry, either,” Jack replied, raising his left hand to caress his lover's cheek.

Daniel smiled, and then the lovers kissed, their passion growing with each second of their union.

“Jack ...”

“Bed, Danny.”

Their argument tabled, the lovers adjourned to their bedroom where they first evicted poor little Katie, relegating her to sleeping on her beanbag downstairs, and then made love, preparing themselves to face another day ... together.

====

Daniel's eyelids fluttered open.  It took him a moment to focus, but only a split second to realize he was alone.

“Oh, for crying out loud.  Jack?”

Daniel hated waking up alone, something Jack knew all too well.  He sat up, bringing his hands to his eyes to rub them.  That's when he noticed the note taped to the dresser mirror.  He stood up and walked to it, yanking it off the mirror to read it:

D.

Had the early meeting and wanted to get in a round of boxing with Teal'c first.  Meet you at 1030 hours in the commissary.

J.

“Well, that was ... emotional,” Daniel said, crumpling the note and tossing it into the wastebasket.

The archaeologist took a shower and dressed for work.  Unlike Jack, he didn't have to report in until 9 a.m.  When he got downstairs, he let Bijou and Katie outside and went to the kitchen, debating whether or not to eat something.  Not being especially hungry, he finally decided on a few bites of cantaloupe.

When he was done, he headed for the door to leave, and then he smiled.  On the door was a giant red heart.

“I love you, forever and always,” was written on it.

Daniel ran his fingers across the writing and then gently removed it from the door.  He hadn't been in a particularly good mood, but now, it was as if the sunshine had come out and the rays of the sun were warming his heart.

“If you only knew just how much you're a part of me, but I don't know how to tell you.  Gawd, I love you, Jack, even when I think you're being a mule.”

Smiling, he safely stowed away the heart and then left for the Mountain.

====

“Um,” Daniel looked around the commissary, “thanks for the, uh, note.”

“Just speaking the truth,” Jack said as he took a bite of blue Jell-O.

“Writing.”

“What?”

“Technically, you wrote it.”

“Sometimes, Daniel ... just, sometimes!”

Jack grinned.  From the beginning of time, Daniel both amazed and frustrated him.  This was one of those combination moments - part of him wanted to kiss his lover silly and the other part wanted to strangle the younger man for being so technical.

In the end, the two shared a smile, enjoying their break together.  The time passed too quickly, however, and soon it was time to go back to work.  As they stood up, Daniel asked, “So how many times did Teal'c knock you down?”

“Daniel, are you implying I can't beat Teal'c?”

“No, not implying anything.  Of course, it could be worse.”

“Worse?” Jack queried as they approached the elevator.

“You could have been playing ping pong.”

“Very funny.”  The elevator doors closed, and Jack pressed the button for the twenty-eighth floor.  He looked at his husband and saw a smirk on his face.  “You think you're cute, don't you?”  Daniel simply smiled brighter, and Jack grunted in frustration.  “I need a vacation,” Jack teased.

Daniel coughed, getting up his nerve as he folded his arms in front of him.

“Jack, about Atlantis.”

“Not again,” Jack sighed.

“There's no good reason for not letting me go.”

Jack looked at his lover incredulously.

“Tell me you didn't just say that.”

“Jack, you know what I mean.  It's not like we're going through the Stargate to some unknown world.”

“No, you're just flying around in some ship, and if something happens to it, how exactly are we supposed to get you home?  Answer me that, Daniel.  The Tok'ra aren't exactly offering their assistance much these days, so you tell me how we are supposed to be able to rescue the rescuers.”

“I thought you relished your role as Mister Positive,” Daniel challenged.

“No, Daniel,” Jack said a bit dryly.

The elevator doors opened, and Jack walked out, Daniel on his tail.
 
“C'mon, Jack!” Daniel urged.

“Still no, Daniel!” the brigadier general responded.

“It doesn't even have to be on a permanent basis.”

**Oh, it better not be.**  “I didn't let you go in the first place; what makes you think I'm gonna change my mind?”

As they walked the corridors, their high-intensity discussion never eased up, not even when Sergeant Davis approached with something for Jack to sign.  The lovers paused in the hallway while Jack signed the paper and then continued towards Jack's office.

“Because ...”

Daniel struggled to come up with a reason.

“Can you *try* to do better than that?” Jack challenged.  ~Not that it will do you any good.~

His hands on his hips, Daniel retaliated, “Because they're gonna need somebody who can translate Ancient; I'm the most qualified person left on the planet for the mission.”

“Which is *exactly* why you're gonna stay right here.”

Daniel was getting desperate, and their argument was about to slide from the intelligent to the childish pout.

“Because I'll quit!” the linguist challenged, his lips pursed and eyes wide as he stared Jack down.

Though wrapped up in their intense banterous discussion, Daniel knew as soon as the words had left his mouth how stupid he was sounding.  This was not the way to make his point, as Jack was more than willing to point out.

“Why don't you just hold your breath?  You haven't done *that* in a while,” Jack countered, fully prepared to let his lover act out any childish pouting arguments he wanted to.  ~Then you'd turn blue; you look so good in blue.  Hmm ... blue skin?  Nah, erase that thought.~

Just then, they reached Jack's office, and both were surprised at what they saw.  Sitting in Jack's leather chair was Lieutenant General George Hammond.

~Maybe this charade is finally over.~  With a delighted tone and expression, Jack said, “General!”

“Jack.  I let myself in; hope you don't mind.”

“Absolutely not!  Welcome.”

“Thank you.”

“Miss the chair?”  ~Say 'yes' and you can have it back, and the office, and all the paperwork.  Say you're coming back, George!~

“Actually, I do.”

“Want it back?” Jack asked hopefully.

“As a matter of fact, I do.  My new one just isn't the same.”

“That's not *exactly* what I meant.”  ~Crap!~

“Doctor Jackson; nice to see you again.”

“Likewise.  We miss you around here, Sir.”  Seeing Jack's indignant look, Daniel flinched slightly, then asked the general, “So, to what do we owe this pleasure?”

“I came to ask if you'd be interested in joining the mission to Atlantis.”

“You did?” the lovers asked in unison.

Jack was ready to kill his longtime friend while Daniel couldn't believe that he might get his opportunity after all.

“He's the most qualified person on this planet, and the mission commander needs someone who can translate Ancient.”

“Really?” Daniel asked.  **Told you, Jack.**

**Shut up, Daniel.**  “ With all due respect, Sir, I think you should tell the mission commander that I need Daniel,” he moved his left hand down towards the spot where they were standing, “right here,” Jack insisted.  ~He's not leaving the planet without my okay, and I'm not giving it.~

“You just did.”

“I did ... I did?  You, Sir?”  ~Double crap!~

“Yes,” the three-star general said and then stood up.  “Request denied.  Doctor Jackson, you're with me.”  Hammond addressed his SGC replacement again.  “I'll have the chair shipped to Washington.  You can requisition a new one.”

“I'll do that, Sir.”  ~Wonder if Carter can create a hologram of Daniel?  It can go on the mission.~

Hammond moved past the two as he walked into the hallway.

Looking at Daniel, he said, “We leave tomorrow,” and then to Jack, he added, “Oh, and I'll be taking Walter, too.”

~What else do you want, the kitchen sink?  Okay, take Walter, but leave My Heart here!~

With Hammond gone, Jack stared at his husband.  A bit nervously, Daniel glanced at his lover, cleared his throat, and then, unable to find the right words, walked out, leaving Jack alone.

Jack walked to his desk and stood silently for a moment.  He'd lost the argument.  Daniel would be leaving on a mission to another galaxy in less than twenty-four hours.  It wasn't a one-way trip, but there were dangers involved, and not only was Jack not going, but neither were Sam and Teal'c.  Daniel would be alone; and what if something did happen?  There were more questions than answers about this trek, and Jack wasn't happy.

He sat down in his chair and stared at the walls.  There was no recourse for him, except to accept Hammond's orders.  He had to admit he wasn't thrilled at having been overruled, especially since Hammond knew about their relationship now.

~How could you do that to me, George?~

====

Daniel fidgeted with his keys as he looked around the living room.  Jack's truck was in the driveway, but his lover was nowhere in sight.  He wasn't really worried because the beagles were gone, too, as were their harnesses.

~He must have taken Bij and Katie for a walk or maybe to the park to play for a while.~

Still, it was dark out, and it was almost eight o'clock, which was an abnormal time for either of them to be walking the girls.

Daniel walked into the study to check the mail, but he couldn't concentrate.  All afternoon, he'd been torn between feeling overwhelming joy and excitement over the possibilities that lay before them and feeling guilty that he'd gotten his way and was going to Atlantis after all, knowing Jack didn't want him to.  He was also a little angry that Jack couldn't be supportive about the trip, nor was he able to understand the value of his work.

Daniel tossed the mail back onto the desk and went upstairs where he  changed into a pair of jeans and a black turtleneck sweater.

Next, he went to the kitchen to fix something to eat.  After some debate, he settled on something quick -- a can of vegetable soup and a salad.  Once cooked, he sat at the counter and ate his light meal as he read an article in the newspaper.

Forty-five minutes later, Daniel was sitting on the sofa, his feet up on the coffee table and his laptop on his lap.  He was doing some quick research on the Book of the Dead which was unrelated to the trip to Atlantis.  Ten more minutes passed, and Daniel looked at his watch.

~Okay, Jack, this isn't funny.  If you were going to be gone ...~

Just then, he heard the door open and the pitter patter of paws on the entranceway floor.

“Woof!” Bijou called out.

“Hey, Girl, come here!” Daniel beckoned, closing his laptop and putting it on the coffee table.  “That's my girl,” he said, leaning forward to pat the mama beagle.  “Let's get this off.”  Daniel removed her harness, but looked around with concern.  “Jack, where's Katie?”

“She's ... Katie, get over here.”

“Woof,” the youngest beagle said, suddenly appearing from the entranceway.

“I guess she went exploring.”

“She likes the plants in that room.”

“Yeah, she does,” Jack said dryly, something that Daniel noticed instantly, along with the emotionless expression on his lover's face.

For the next several minutes, Daniel played with their precious beagles. Knowing he was leaving for an unknown period of time, he felt it was important to spend time with them.  When he was done, and the beagles were happily romping with each other, Daniel looked for Jack, finding him in the study, reading his latest 'Flight Journal' issue.

“Jack.”

“Daniel.”

“You're angry.”

“What was your first clue?”

“Oh, I don't know, maybe the fact that you can't look me in the eye,” Daniel responded as he folded his arms across his chest.

Jack threw down his magazine and looked up, his eyes looking steadily into Daniel's eyes.

“There!  I'm looking you in the eye.  Happy now?”

“Lose the sarcasm, Jack; it doesn't become you.”

“Yeah, I'll lose it, along with my husband,” he said, looking away.

“That's not what's happening, and you know it!”

“Do I?  I'm sorry, but how many times is it that you've died?  Once? Twice?  Five times?  How many, Danny, because I've lost count!”

“Don't exaggerate; I'll be fine.”

“And how many times have I heard that?  Your idea of fine is a lot different from most people's.”

“Jack, it's not like I called the general or anything.”

Jack looked up at his spouse again and accusingly asked, “Didn't you?”

“No ...”  Daniel paused, having suddenly realized how he might have ended up on the mission without directly volunteering for it.  “Not exactly,” he concluded.

“Technicality?” Jack asked.

Daniel knew he'd been caught -- sort of.  He sighed.

“Jack, I did not ask General Hammond to put me on the mission.”

“Then what did you do?” Jack asked, still sitting on the sofa, something that kept him from getting angrier than he already was.

Daniel leaned against the edge of the desk, moving his hands to grip the rim.

“All I did was answer his questions about mission requirements.  I wasn't really sure why he was asking; I mean, I didn't know.  I still don't know ... I mean, oh gawd.”

“Daniel, try the truth.”

“He asked me a few questions about the Ancients and potential personnel who would be qualified to go on a mission such as this.”

“So you sent the general an email that said, 'hey, I'm the only one qualified'?”

“Not exactly.  Jack, there really isn't anyone else.  What did you want me to do ... lie to him?”

“I wanted you to put your family first.  You have different priorities now, Daniel, or at least I thought you did.”

“You don't think I know that?  Gawd, Jack, you're my life.  You and the girls have made me so incredibly happy, and ... I can't wait until we're through with all of this and adopt children like we've talked about.  I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize us, but I'm still Doctor Daniel Jackson, and I still have the need to do my job.  It doesn't lessen what I feel for you.  It doesn't take away anything from our relationship.  In fact, it can only add to it.”

Jack shook his head, finally standing up.  He walked to Daniel and said softly, “I thought you were Doctor Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.”

Daniel's heart cracked in two.  He loved the hyphenated name, the name they'd agree to share when they left the SGC behind, but it was still new, and they weren't yet free to proclaim their unity to the world.

“That's not fair, Jack, and it has nothing to do with our jobs, with my job.  I'm an archaeologist, an anthropologist, and a linguist.  I research ancient cultures and try to learn from them so that we make ours better.  It's who I am, and like I said, it can only make us stronger.”

“Words, Danny.  Those are very nice, colorful words, but it still means you're going away, and it still means you might not come back.”

“This is something I need to do.  Why can't you see how important this is for me?  I don't want to be sitting here in ten years time, wondering about it all, regretting lost opportunities.  This is important, Jack.”

“And I'm not?”

“Of course, you're important, but I don't see why you're trying to make this mission and my love for you two mutually exclusive things.  Jack, I know you love me, that you naturally want to protect me, and ... I love that; I do, but I can't keep myself wrapped up in a bubble, just in case something goes wrong.  Life in itself is wonderful and dangerous and exciting.  Don't take that thrill, that adventure, away from me.”

“Like I could?” Jack asked as he picked up his magazine.  “It's clear you're going, that you've always intended on going.  What I feel doesn't matter to you.”

Jack calmly walked out of the study, Daniel giving chase as he refuted his lover's words.

“You're wrong; what you think and feel is more important to me than anything; I just told you that, but, Jack, if you stop me from going now, what will happen the next time I'm needed somewhere?  Will you stop me then, too?  Where do you draw the line in the sand?  You can't always protect me.  Besides, I've been trained by the best,” Daniel said, a tiny smile on his face.  “You need to trust in my ability to protect myself.”

Jack stopped, still in the hallway.  His back was to Daniel.  He snorted and looked down and away; then he turned to face his lover.
 
“You really do want to go,” Jack said in a tone that was more resigned than anything else; it wasn't a question, but a statement, and one that caused Jack's soul to ache in so many ways.

“Yes, I do, but I'll be back.”

Jack nodded, digesting all that Daniel had said and trying to balance it with what he felt in his heart and soul.  He swallowed and took a big breath before he spoke again.

“Have a safe trip, Danny.  I hope you find the discovery you're looking for, and that it keeps you warm during your voyage.”

Jack disappeared from Daniel's view, leaving the archaeologist feeling anything but warm.  He sighed, “That went well ... not.”

====

When Daniel went up to their bedroom sometime later, he found Jack rolled over onto his right side, the covers pulled up to his neck.  He sighed, but quietly changed into his pajamas.

~This isn't how I wanted to spend this night.~

“Then you shouldn't have said you'd go to Atlantis.”

Daniel groaned from Jack's response to his silent thoughts.  Sometimes, as much as he loved their silent communication, it was an intrusion, like now.  He slipped into bed and under the covers, saying, “Jack, it was an order,” as he got himself situated.

“And since when do you follow orders?”  Suddenly, Jack turned over to lay on his back.  Sharply, he continued, “Don't answer that, Daniel, because I know the answer.  You follow orders when it's convenient, when it's what you want.  You could have told Hammond 'no'; you could have at least tried to say 'no', and then at least I'd be able to ... You know what?  Just forget it.”

Momentarily giving up, Jack returned to his previous position.

“It's not that simple.”

“Stay here; go to Atlantis.  Sounds pretty basic to me, Daniel.”

“Jack, why are you so upset about this?  It's a mission.  We've both gone on missions alone before.”

“THROUGH THE STARGATE!” Jack shouted, shifting so that he was sitting up, his back against the headboard.  “We've gone on missions to worlds where there are Stargates, and if something happens, we always have some kind of backup to get home, eventually.  You're going to the Pegasus Galaxy, Daniel; if something goes wrong, there will be no one there to help, and no way of getting you back.  Why don't you understand that?”

“You're scared,” Daniel said softly.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jack semi-yelled, jumping up out of bed and changing clothes quickly at the same time he kept on talking.  “Yes, I'm scared.  You're my husband.  You're going away, Danny, to some place where I can't keep you safe.  You want me to say 'it's okay', well, I'm sorry, it's not okay.  Yes, I know we're still going on missions alone, but nowadays, it's mostly you.  That's fine.  Go; have your fun.  Explore Atlantis to your heart's content, and when you get done, Daniel, I hope you make it home.”

“Jack, you're blowing this out of proportion.”

The frustrated general had walked a few steps towards the door, then stopped.

“I hope you manage to spare a thought for your family while you're gone, too, though we wouldn't want to interfere with your work,” he spoke sarcastically.

Jack walked out the door, and immediately, Daniel jumped out of bed and followed him.  He yelled his lover's name as he reached the hallway.

The older man was halfway down the stairs when he stopped and looked back at his husband.

“Don't worry, Danny.  I'll be here when you get home.  The girls and I aren't going anywhere; but right now, I'm going for a drive.”

Daniel watched as Jack moved out of his sight.  He felt cold, but he also felt trapped.

~Why is this so hard for you to understand?  It's one freakin' mission.  I'm not leaving you for something better.  There is nothing and no one better than you.  I'm just ... I need to see what's there.  I'm coming home, for crying out loud.  Crap!~

Daniel went back to bed, hoping Jack would return, and they could make up.  He didn't want to leave on the mission with all this anger and distance between them.

“I love you, you idiot.”

====

Three hours later, Jack returned to their master bedroom.  He stood in the doorway, staring at Daniel who was lying on his left side.

“I love you, Danny.  I know you want this, but if I could keep you from going, I would.”

“Why?” Daniel asked, rolling over.

“Too risky.”

“Jack, the SGC is all about risk.”

“You'll be alone.”

“I'll be okay.”

“Why do you have to go, Danny?  What's so great about Atlantis that it's worth risking everything we have and hope to have in the future?”

Daniel sat up, leaning forward as he raised his knees up slightly.  He rested his arms over his kneecaps and struggled to find the right words.

“Jack, I love you.”

“If you loved me, you would take my feelings into account.  It doesn't matter that you think I'm being unreasonable, it's how I feel.”

“I could say that, too, Jack.  If you really loved me, you'd understand how important this mission is, or at least accept that it is that important to me.”

“You're not going to find the meaning of life there, Daniel, because the meaning of life is right here,” Jack said, placing his hand over his heart.

“I *do* know that.  You've seen into my soul, Jack, but there also has to be a place for me to find the answers to questions I've been searching my whole life for.  This is an unique opportunity.  Jack, I swear, I was kidding before when Elizabeth took her team through.  *That* was risky because they didn't know what they'd really find.  They didn't know if they would be able to come back.  Now, though, we know Atlantis is there, and we can bring them home.  We're ... exploring, just ... seeing what's out there.  SG-1 is about exploring, remember?”

“It's not a recon, Daniel, it's a friggin' rescue mission because we *don't* know what's out there.  After we disconnected the Stargate, we have no clue what happened to those people.  You have *no* idea where you're going or what you're getting into.”

“We never really do.  The SGC is all about taking educated risks, and this is no different.  It's my job, Jack; in part, this is why we haven't retired.”

“Of course, it is.”

“Jack ...”

“No, Daniel, I can't support this.  You want to go, you go.”

Daniel looked off to the side, shaking his head.  Closing his eyes, he sighed as he stated, “I have to do this.”

“Who's stopping you?  Not me!  It seems I have no say in the matter.”

“I *asked* you.”

“And I said no -- N - O -- no!”

“But General Hammond needs me, Jack.”

“SO DO I, in case you haven't noticed.”

“Jack ...”

The older man shook his head and raised his right hand, shaking it vehemently.

“This is pointless.  You've made up your mind, and you don't friggin' care what I think any more than it matters to you that I *don't* want you to go.”

“Hammond *ordered* me.”

“We've been through this!  If you asked him to assign someone else, he would, and you friggin' well know it!”

“Fine, I *want* to go, but I'll be back!”

“Sure, you will, and then what?  What's the next big mission, Danny?”

“This is it ...”

“THEN WHY AREN'T WE RETIRED?  THEY'LL ALWAYS BE SOMETHING ELSE!”  Jack turned around in a circle, then looked back at his husband. “No more.  I'm not arguing anymore.  I love you, but I wish you could at least look at this from my side.  It's obvious you haven't a clue.”

“Jack, I do ...”

“No, you don't, or you couldn't go.”  The lovers stared at each other.  ~Okay, Danny.  You want to hear it; you can hear it.  Let's see if it makes a difference.~  Softly, Jack made his request.  “Don't go.”

“Jack, that's not fair.”

“Screw fair.”  Jack walked over to the bed, sitting on the edge.  From his heart, he spoke his request.  “Don't go.  *Please* don't go.”  Jack put his hand on Daniel's cheek, his thumb caressing gently.  “Please, Danny, stay here; don't go.”

Daniel's heart broke in two.  He felt so conflicted, and yet, he was so certain that his choice was the right one.  He just had to make Jack understand, that's all.

“Jack ...”

~I didn't think so.~  The older man nodded several times, but said nothing; neither did Daniel, not knowing what to say.  Jack stood and walked to the dresser.  Turning to look at his soulmate, he said, “Watch your back, Danny.”

“Jack, stop!”

Jack again walked out of the bedroom, and again, Daniel leaped up out of the bed and ran, catching his lover at the door.

“Where are you going?”

“Somewhere ... anywhere.  It doesn't really matter, does it?”

“Jack, why are we fighting?”

“Because right now, I'm madder at you than I've been in a very long time.  Goodnight.”

Jack left the house, not returning that night.  Daniel spent the night on the sofa, with Bijou and Katie snuggled into him, flip-flopping about whether or not to go on this landmark trip through the stars.

~Maybe I shouldn't go if it makes Jack this upset.  He's my husband, and he does have a right to be heard, but ... but he's overreacting.  This isn't a dangerous mission.  Well, okay, it's a little dangerous, but not any more than any trip through the Stargate.~

Round and round the thoughts went, and as the sun rose, Daniel had come to a decision.  He knew that if he pulled out of the mission, he'd be doing it solely to keep Jack happy, and for a while, maybe it would; but in the end, Daniel feared it would do more harm, than good.

~I'd resent you for it, Jack.  I'd try not to, but I know I would, and it would eat away at my love for you until ... I have to go, Jack, for us, as well as for myself.~

====

The next morning, Daniel got up and prepared to leave on the mission. He wished Jack had come home.  Leaving things so unsettled between them was disturbing.  He decided to leave Jack a note.

J.

I have to go.  Please understand, My Love.  I hate not being able to see you before I leave.  My going has nothing to do with my love for you which is stronger and deeper than it's ever been; you are my everything.  I wish I could have found the words to make you understand that this is something I have to do for me … and for us.

I WILL be back.  I promise.

I will miss you.  I miss you already.  I missed you last night, so much.

I love you, forever and always, My Silver Fox.

D.

Daniel put the note on Jack’s pillow and went downstairs.  He kissed the two beagles goodbye.

“I *will* be back.  Jack's ... he's overreacting.  I love you, Girls.  Take care of him.”

Still full of regret at the way things had been left with his husband, Daniel headed for his car, but when he opened the door, he smiled slightly, seeing a note on the car seat.

~You couldn't leave it like this, either, could you, Love?~

He picked up the paper and unfolded it.  The note read:

D.

I wish you would understand how dangerous this mission is.  I don't want you to go, but I do know how much going means to you … so …

What's that old saying …

If you love something, set it free; if it comes back to you, it's yours.  If it doesn't, it never was.

Well, I’m setting you free to do what your heart is telling you that you must do.  I don't want you worrying about me, when you should be concentrating on other things.  We'll be okay; we are okay.  We have things to discuss, but when you get back, I will be here, waiting for you, if that's what you still want.  I'm just old bones; I know Atlantis is a magical place of new and exciting things for you.  I can't stand in your way.

I will miss you.  I do already.  I missed you even as we were arguing last night.

I love you, forever and always, La Mio Bello Stella Cadente.

J.

Daniel had tears rolling down his face as he finished ready the note.

“You're not old.  Gawd, I'm going to yell at you for that, and ... and I'm yours, Jack, and I will be back, My Love.”  Daniel folded up the note and locked it up in the glove compartment.  He wiped away his tears and started his sporty silver car, the one that reminded him so much of his husband.  ~I will be back.  I *will* be back.~

Daniel drove, not to the Mountain, but to the base where he'd be meeting Hammond and others to board the Prometheus and head for the Pegasus Galaxy.

Meanwhile, Jack sat quietly in his office at the SGC, where he'd been all night.  He did nothing but sit, staring at the walls, not focusing on anything.

~I can't compare to the discoveries that are out there.  What chance do I have?  Not much, Danny.  If you go now, you'll go again.~  He took a deep breath.  ~Be safe, Angel.  Come home to me.~

====

“Sir, I have the results of ...”

“Put it in the pile,” Jack said to his former 2IC.

Sam slowly walked to the pile of folders on Jack's desk and added hers to the top.

“A ... little behind ... Sir?”

“Walter's not here; they'll keep.”

Jack had yet to look at Sam.  He was still staring at the wall.

“Daniel will be fine, Sir.”

“Of course, he will, Carter.  Excuse me.”

Jack stood and walked by Sam, heading out into the corridors.

~This is not good.~  She hurried after the base commander.  “Sir ...”

“Carter, what do you want?” Jack asked sharply as he turned around.

“Is everything all right?”

“No, Carter, it's not.  Is there anything else?”

“No ... Sir.”  She watched Jack enter the elevator.  ~Definitely not good.~

====

Later that morning, Jack made a phone call to their neighbor, Mrs. Valissi.  He'd received the early reports: the Prometheus had lifted off on schedule and were on their way to the Pegasus Galaxy.

The argument with Daniel the night before, and even those of the last few weeks, had taken a toll on Jack, and right now, he couldn't stand the thought of going home, to their home, just yet.

“Mrs. V, could you look after the girls for a couple of days?”

“Of course.  General, is everything all right?  You sound ... well ...”

“There's a lot going on.  Daniel is ... out of town.”

They talked for a couple of minutes, and the senior citizen gladly agreed to make sure Bijou and Katie were taken care of.

Jack hung up the phone, staring over at the photos of family on his wall.

~You should be there, too, Danny.  Dang military regs.~

Jack temporarily questioned his decision about not going home, but after a couple of minutes, he held firm.  He couldn't stand the idea of returning to the house, knowing Daniel wouldn't be there.

~I just need time to adjust, to get used to ... crap, sleeping alone in our bed.  I don't want to be sleeping alone, Danny!~

====

“Uh, Colonel,” Technical Sergeant Laura Bates said, beckoning Sam to approach.

They were just outside Jack's office late that night.  Sam was coming to check on Jack, something she knew Daniel would want her to do.  She had no idea about the details of the fight, but she knew they'd had one, just from Jack's actions earlier that day.

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“We just received a status report about the Prometheus from our tracking stations.”

“And?”

“We've lost contact with it.”  Sam took the report.  “Could you ... tell the general?” she asked hopefully.

“That bad?”

“Colonel, he's been a bear; I mean, even more than normal.  Walter can handle him, but ...”

“Don't worry, Sergeant.  I'll take care of it.”

“Thank you, Colonel.”

Cautiously, Sam entered Jack's office.

“General, do you have a moment?”

“Carter, I thought you had a life now.”

“Pete's working on a case.”

“Yeah, so's ...”  Jack stopped and glanced at the blonde standing in front of his desk.  “What's that?” he asked about the paper in her hand.

“Sir, we've lost track of the Prometheus.”

Sam was stunned.  Jack's only response was to pick up his pen and sign his name to a report.

“Walter will give me grief if I don't get these done.  Is there anything else?”

“Sir, Daniel ...”

“Daniel's where he wants to be.”

“Yes, but ...”

“Carter, dismissed,” Jack said in command tone.

Reluctantly, she nodded and left his office, knowing her friends were in deep trouble, in more ways than one.

====

After signing several reports, Jack tossed the pen down, having no clue what he'd just signed.

~I told you, Danny.  How can we rescue the rescuers?  Don't you understand that my life is over if you don't come home?  Maybe ... maybe even if you do.  I'm a distant second to the mysteries out there that fascinate you.~

Jack stood and began to pace his office.  He walked into the briefing room a minute later and stared out at the Stargate.

~It's different when we're out there together.  What's next, Danny?  They'll always be something, something I can't be a part of, something you have to do ... 'for us'.  Right.  'For us'.  That's crap.~

Jack put his right hand behind his head and neck and rubbed.  He had a headache.  He felt inferior to Daniel's work.  It seemed strange, to feel second-rate compared to a job, but it's how he felt.

He was also scared for his husband.  If the Prometheus was lost, the Air Force had no way of getting to them.

~Shuttles.  What a joke.~

He walked back towards his office, stopping to stare at the flags that were there.  Jack loved America, just not the politicians and the red tape.  He loved the freedom he had to make his own choices.

~Choices.  I wonder how you'd feel if it was me going off to do something ... 'for us'?~

The klaxons blared, announcing the return of SG-19.

~Hi ho, hi ho, it's back to work I go.~  He shook his head.  Even his sarcasm and jokes fell flat without Daniel nearby to roll his eyes or give him an 'oh, please' stare.  ~Live, Danny.~

====

“I thought maybe I'd find you here,” Sam said, entering Daniel's office.

Jack was there, playing with a wooden bowl Daniel had extracted on some dig or another.  It was mid-afternoon of the following day.  Jack had 'disappeared' from his office ninety minutes earlier, and Sergeant Bates had again sought out Sam's help in locating him, although this time the news was happier.

“Sir, he's okay.”  When Jack looked her way, Sam smiled.  “They've reported in.  There was an incident with some alien named Vala.  I don't have all the details, but somehow or another, she got control of the Prometheus.  The rest of the crew was on an al'kesh, except ...”

She paused, then sighed.  Jack still hadn't said anything, but even through the stoic exterior, she could see his heartache.  Sam wished she knew more about their fight, so she could help, though at the same time, she sensed that whatever had happened had hurt both of her friends, and only being together again would solve their problem.

~Words wouldn't help, would they, Sir?~  Sam took a couple of steps towards the base commander.  “She took Daniel prisoner or something, but he regained control.  He's fine, Sir.  Vala's escaped, however.  Um, because of a run-in with some Goa'uld ...”

“Goa'uld.”

It wasn't a question.  Jack had expected something to happen, so he wasn't the least bit surprised.

“Yes, Sir; again, I don't have all the facts, but there was a battle, and the Prometheus sustained heavy damage to the hull.  General Hammond has aborted the mission as a result.”  She paused again, watching as Jack put the bowl back onto the shelf.  “Daniel will be home by tomorrow night.”

“Thank you, Carter,” Jack said and then exited.

Sam walked to the bowl and picked it up.  She looked around Daniel's office.

“Oh, Daniel, what the heck is going on?”

====

With the Prometheus on its way back to Earth, Jack was headed home to visit with Bijou and Katie.  He called Mrs. Valissi on his cell phone as he drove to let her know that she didn't need to check up on the girls that day.

When he arrived at the country-style house, he went straight to the patio door, letting the girls in.  They knew something was wrong, but were happy to see him.  Jack played with Bijou and Katie for over an hour and then let them back outside.

~I feel lousy,~ he thought as he stared at the kitchen.  He wasn't very hungry, and he had a throbbing headache.  ~His fault.  If I could get any grayer, I would.~

He decided to go upstairs and relax for a while.  When he walked into the bedroom, he noticed the note Daniel had left him on his pillow.  Picking it up, he read it, then sighed.

Lying down on the bed, Jack pondered the mess that currently made up his life with Daniel.

~How do I make you understand how you leaving made me feel?~  Then Jack got an idea.  He read the note one more time.  “Forever and always, Danny,” he said out loud.

Moments later, he fell asleep, holding the note over his heart.

====

Very early the next morning, from his office at the SGC, Jack initiated his plan.  It had to be precise.  He had to do it just right.  Phrasing was everything.

“It's Jack O'Neill.”

“Jack,” the man said.  “Long time no hear from.”

“Yeah, well, life changes.”

“I understand you're a brigadier now.  Congratulations on the cozy desk job.”

Jack tapped his pen on his desk.

“Yeah, it can get a little ... boring.”

“But it's safe.”

“Too safe, and boring.”

“You know, if you're bored and want some action, I have something right up your alley.  It's important, time-sensitive, and definitely not boring.”

“I'm sure you have someone else in mind.”

“Of course, but you're the best, and only you could handle this as smoothly as we need it.  Come on, Jack; that's why you called, isn't it?”

“So ... you need me.”

“Okay, Jack, you need words.  Yes, we need you.”

“The line is secure.  Give me the details.”

A few minutes later, Jack concluded the conversation.  He made the necessary phone calls and set up the schedule for his temporary replacement at the SGC.  He also arranged to borrow some equipment, preferring to use his own 'tools' at this stage of the game.  An airman would make sure the items of choice were transported to the proper place, and Jack would take it from there.

====

Late that afternoon, the Prometheus had returned safely to Earth. Hammond remained aboard, but Daniel was eager to return home and had left for the SGC as soon as possible. He was positive Jack would be worried.

“Sam,” Daniel called out, seeing her scurrying down the corridor.

“Daniel, I'm glad you're back, and I want to hear all about it, but I have to go.”

“What's going on?”

“SG-13 is pinned down on P39-754.  I've got to go.”  She hurried on her way, but looked over her shoulder.  “I'm really happy you're okay.”

“Thanks,” he responded, his voice full of concern.

Daniel headed for Jack's office, but found it empty.  He saw Laura Bates nearby.

“Laura, have you seen Jack?”

“I think he's in the gear-up room, if he's still on the base.”

“Gear-up room?”

“I'm not sure what's going on, but he told me he'll be out of touch for several days.  Colonel Stanton is going to be in charge while he's gone.”

The archaeologist backed up a couple of steps and then ran to the gear-up room, feeling his stomach clench in apprehension.

“Jack!”

~There he is.  Geez, I love his voice.  Be calm, Jack.  You have to open his eyes, and you can't do that if you cave now.  Tough it up, O'Neill.  It's for his own good.~

Jack was sitting on the bench, tying his bootlaces, and trying his best not to react to the presence of his very much beloved husband.  He had timed this exodus from the SGC with great precision, his heart telling him that Daniel would come to the Mountain before going home.

“Daniel, you're looking well,” he said a bit dispassionately.

“I'm looking ...” Daniel sighed, his chest heaving from his run.  He looked around and saw they were alone.  He had known Jack would still be annoyed with him, but he'd hoped the older man would have at least been pleased to see him.  “Jack, what do you think you're doing?”

Jack stood and reached for his vest.

“I'm going ... out of town, Daniel.  You see, someone needs help, and I'm providing it.”

“Why?”

“Why?” Jack asked in disbelief, fastening his vest as he spoke.

“You know what I mean.”

Jack picked up the rest of his gear and walked a few steps towards his lover.

“I miss being on the front lines.  You know me and paperwork; we don't mix very well.  I have to go.”

“Jack ...”  Daniel pushed his way in front of Jack, blocking the door from opening.  “Where are you going?”

“I can't tell you that.”

“Why?  You have to tell me why you're going on this ... mission.”

“It's a calling.  I feel ... compelled.  The mystery and excitement of it all is too much for me to ignore.  It's what I've trained for my whole life.  I *know* you of all people can understand that, especially considering your most recent assignment.”

A chill ran down Daniel's spine as he looked into his husband's angry brown eyes.

“Jack, this is a stupid way of making a point.”

“Well, I've never been all that bright.”

Jack pushed Daniel's arm away and opened the door.  With a last stare, he walked out and down the corridor.

**This is stupid, Jack.**

**Well, what do you care?**

**Jack ...**  Daniel ran out of the room.  People were milling about, but he didn't care.  As soon as he caught up with Jack, he grabbed his arm, intending to pull him into a side room.  “Jack, get in here.”

“Daniel, I don't have time to make you feel better.”

“Fine.  Do you want to have this out here ... in the corridor ... now?”

Jack looked at the personnel, some of whom were staring.

“Sure.  Let's.”

**Jack, so help me.**

Jack grunted, finally relenting.  He and Daniel walked into a storage area, ignoring the prying eyes that were watching them.

“Okay, we're alone.  What do you want?”

“I want to know why you are doing this,” Daniel said angrily.

“How many times are you going to ask me that?”

“Until you give me a decent answer.”

“I already told you,” Jack insisted.  “I'm needed, and apparently, I'm the only one who can pull it off, so I'm going.”

“And just why did you request this, Jack?  *How* did you request it?”

“I didn't request anything, Daniel.  I was just talking with someone, that's all.  You know how that is; they ask my advice, my opinion; one thing leads to another,” Jack said, scrunching his nose in a sarcastic expression.

“Jack ...”

“Daniel, I don't have time to humor you.  I know you understand my position.  It's why you went to Atlantis -- because you were needed and were the only one who could do the job.  Right?  Well, that's me, now.”

“It's not the same thing.”

“It sure in Netu is; it is *exactly* the same thing, whether you admit or not.  Goodbye, Daniel.”  Jack turned and walked out, but as he went down the corridor, he had to say one more thing.  **I am glad you're safe, and I do love you, Danny.**

**Jack?**

Daniel waited, but it was in vain.  His lover wouldn't respond again.  Feeling very alone, he slowly headed for Level 18 and his office.

====

Days passed, each of which was torture for the archaeologist.  There had been no word from Jack, and all Daniel could do was sit, worry, and think.

It was the fifth day, late in the afternoon, when Sam dropped by Daniel's office.  She was worried about her friend, and she suspected that he hadn't eaten or slept much since Jack's departure.  At least, he didn't look like he had.

“Hey.”

“Hi, Sam,” Daniel responded quietly.

“How about getting a drink at O'Malley's when we check out of here?”

“Don't you have a date with Pete?”

“Later.  Come on, Daniel.  You need some air.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Just a hunch.”

“Why not?  Sure, Sam.  I could use ... a drink.”

====

Sam glanced at her watch as she and Daniel sat at the bar.  They'd been there almost an hour, and yet, her friend had barely said one word.

“Daniel, what's going on with you and the general?”

“Apparently, nothing much.”  He took another drink from his glass and then bowed his head.  “He didn't want me to go on the rescue mission to Atlantis.”

“I know he wasn't too happy about it, but I'm sure you can understand why,” Sam said, then taking a sip of her drink.

“Yes, I can.  What I don't understand is why he can't appreciate just how important that mission was to me; and it wasn't that risky, Sam."

“Actually, it was.  Daniel, he didn't know if you'd be back.”

“Yes, he did.  There wasn't anything ...”

“Dangerous?  You were going someplace that no one else has ever been, in a ... vessel that's never been tried in, uh, that specific situation before.”

The two were having to choose their words carefully and were grateful for years of friendship that allowed them to communicate in vague terms and still know what the other was saying.

“It's not like it's ... new, and the, uh, source is trusted.”

“Yes, and we tested it, but Daniel, things go wrong, and he has a right to worry about you.”

“I'm not saying he doesn't, Sam, but I was coming back; this wasn't a long term ... assignment.”

“Daniel, we aren't sure exactly how long it would have been, and you know it.  We don't have a ... fleet, so what if you had gotten there and the only way to ... save the ... people was to stay there, or what if something happened to the vessel?  There was a degree of uncertainty, and when the mission is re-approved, there will still be a risk.”

“The program is about risk.”

“Yes, it is.”

“You're on his side,” Daniel said, finishing off his current drink and motioning to the bartender for another.

“Since when is it about sides, Daniel?  Besides, I'm on both your sides.”

“Are you saying you wouldn't have gone?  I seem to recall a few weeks ago that you were trying to convince Jack to let you go.”

“I realize that, but as much as I wanted to go, when the decision came down that I wasn't chosen, a part of me wasn't as upset as I thought. Why do you think I didn't really fight for it?  I, uh, brought up now and then, but I hardly went to battle for it.”

Sam smiled at her friend.

“Pete,” Daniel said.

“Pete.  I'm not alone anymore, Daniel.  I'm lucky because since Pete has clearance now, we can talk about certain things.  We discussed this, and he supported me in my quest to be assigned to the team, but we also talked about how he'd feel.  I'm lucky, too, because he's a cop, and he risks his life everyday.”  Sam paused and took a drink of her beer.  “The point is, Daniel, understanding the risk doesn't mean having to like it, and being used to taking risks doesn't mean it's a rationale for undertaking dangerous missions.”

“But ...”

“Pete knows and understands my risk, just like I know his, but it doesn't mean either one of us is happy about it, but it's us, and we have to make the best of it.  He asked me a simple question when I had to decide whether to keep pushing for the assignment.”

“What question?” Daniel asked as he nodded to the bartender, signaling for another drink.

“How would I like being left behind while he went undercover for a month or two with potentially no contact?”

“Oh,” Daniel sighed, not really wanting to think about it.

“Sometimes, it's not easy to follow our desires.  I wanted that mission, but I guess, I didn't want it enough.”  She paused, her hands twirling her glass around on the bar.  “Daniel, I don't mean to say we're the same in what we want, but ... Haven't we both been looking for something all our lives, and ... well, haven't we found it?  I don't know, Daniel.  I don't think I can walk away from that, not now.”

Daniel closed his eyes, then took a drink.  He didn't want to hear Sam's words, words that were making sense, but yet were at odds with his feelings to some extent.  Plus, right now he wasn't at all sure he and Jack could get through this.  He did know that he was certainly going to try, even though he was angry and hurt.  He looked up at Sam, the worry in his eyes evident.

“He's gone, Sam.”

“He'll be back.”

“He did it to punish me.”

“I'm sure that wasn't his intention, Daniel.”

Daniel looked at Sam, but said nothing.  Instead, he pulled out his wallet, and plopped a twenty-dollar bill onto the counter.

“This should cover the bill.  Say 'hi' to Pete.”

“Daniel,” Sam called out to the archaeologist's retreating back.

She sighed, then turned to finish her drink.

====

“Woooooof,” Katie whined, putting her head on Daniel's thigh.

He was sitting on the sofa, just staring.  It had been seven days since Jack had left on the mission.

“Sorry, Girl,” Daniel responded quietly, his hand gently rubbing against the beagle's ears, only after a few motions, Daniel sighed deeply, and his hand ceased its motion.

Katie looked at Bijou who sat on the other side of Daniel.  Two pairs of sad eyes stared at each other, and then at Daniel who stared at nothing.

~Am I wrong?  Okay, stop with the denial, Jackson-O'Neill.  Jack's gone, just like I was, and what I'm feeling now is what he was feeling while I was gone, but couldn't he have just told me that?  Okay, okay.~

Daniel stood up and walked to the fireplace.  Bijou and Katie both sat up on the sofa, watching him very closely.

Sam's words at O'Malley's echoed through his brain, and yet, he still wasn't able to process it totally.  He was still sure he was right.

~I was coming back.  It wasn't going to be that long, just a few ...  Gawd, I don't really know how long.  Sam's right, but he shouldn't have done what he did.  That was wrong.  I thought we had more trust and faith in each other than to do something that stupid.~

Bijou's and Katie's heads turned toward the door, but they didn't move. They could sense the tenseness in the air.  Jack smiled at them, acknowledging their presence.

“Daniel.”

Daniel had heard the door; more than that, he had sensed Jack's return even before the door had made a sound, but he was so full of emotions, he didn't know what to do or say.  Slowly, he turned around, facing his husband.  Daniel's self-hug was tighter than it had been in quite a while.

Jack winced at the sight.  He was still angry with his lover, but he had never wanted to hurt Daniel.

“Jack.”

“Bij, Katie, outside,” Jack said firmly, moving towards the patio door.  He bent over and patted them for a moment before letting them out. “Good girls.  I missed you.”

Closing the door, Jack moved opposite of Daniel.  They were separated by several feet, both somewhat on guard.

“You're looking well,” Daniel said.

“I survived.”

“The mission was a success then.”

“Yes; took a little longer than I expected, but it's done.”

“I'm glad you're safe,” Daniel said, talking very fast and formally.

The conversation was distant, their voices a strained calm.

“Daniel,” Jack said, closing the gap between them a little bit.  He wasn't reassured when Daniel took a few steps back.  “We have a choice to make.”  He saw Daniel's eyes and how moist they were, but the younger man didn't say anything yet.  “I know we are both ... upset with each other, so this is the choice.  We can go back to the SGC and just try to get through the days, or we can go to Minnesota, to the cabin, and try to put us back together.”

“I have a meeting with General Hammond.”

“And I have an entire military complex waiting for my decisions.  What's your choice, Danny?”  Jack took a few more steps towards Daniel, and yet, there was still a foot or two in between them.  “I love you, but I admit, I'm still angrier than I've been at you in a long time; maybe even angrier than I've ever been at you.  I'm guessing you feel the same way about me.  We both made choices in the last couple of weeks we need to come to terms with.  The question is, do you want to do that while we're battling the Goa'uld and the paper movers in D.C., or now, alone, before ...”  Jack paused, looking down.  A minute passed; then another.  He looked back up at Daniel.  “We have a choice to make,” he said softly.

Daniel continued to gaze at Jack in silence, then he looked over at the door.  Bijou and Katie were sitting quietly.  Their tails were still, their eyes sad.  Jack and Daniel's 'children' were waiting for Daniel's decision, too.

“The cabin,” he said after a few more moments.

Jack nodded.

“It's late, and I ... I feel like grime.  I'm going to take a shower.  Why don't we leave in the morning?”

This time, it was Daniel who nodded.

Jack backed away, then turned and went upstairs.

Daniel walked to the back of the sofa, still self-hugging.  He was scared. Times were dark, and he was afraid the light would never come back.  He remembered his life before Jack O'Neill had come into it and trembled.  He wasn't going to lose Jack without a fight.

~No, I'm not going to lose him at all.  We can get through this.  We've gotten through much worse.  I just need to make him realize the truth, that's all.~

====

“Thanks, Mrs. V,” Jack said as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“Jack, is everything all right with you and Daniel?”

“We just ...”  Jack saw Daniel walk into the master bedroom and smiled.  “We'll be fine,” he said in a mixture of confidence and hope.

“Give Daniel my love.”

“I will.  Goodnight.”

“Mrs. Valissi?” Daniel asked.

“I asked her to look after the girls.”

Daniel nodded, but still said, “We aren't taking them with us?”

“I don't think we should.  Do you?”

Daniel shook his head and walked into the bathroom to take his own shower.

**I know we can fix this, Danny.**

**Me, too,** came the reply from the shower.

====

When Daniel walked out of the shower, he saw Jack lying on his back, looking right at him.  Jack's left hand was behind his head, his right resting on his chest.  The covers were pulled up, over Jack's waist.  He was shirtless.  Daniel didn't know if his husband was wearing pajama bottoms, or sweats, or just boxers, or nothing at all.

Daniel blinked a couple of times and went to the drawers to decide what to wear for his night's slumber, or unrest, whichever the case might be.  He put on a white, sleeveless undershirt and a pair of boxers and walked towards the bed.  Just as he was about to get in, he took off the undershirt and tossed it to a nearby chair.

Jack smiled.  It wasn't bright or particularly happy, but was a satisfied expression.

Daniel climbed into the bed, also lying on his back.  He looked over at Jack, who smiled a bit more warmly.  He reached out with his left hand and touched Daniel's shoulder.

“C'mere, Danny.”

Daniel hesitated, then swallowed nervously, fighting to keep his many and varied emotions in check.  He moved over to their usual position.  Daniel was atop his Jack pillow, his left leg hooked between Jack's.  Jack moved his left arm to caress his lover's back while Daniel's left hand gently rested on Jack's chest.  Seconds later, almost as a reflex action, Daniel's fingers began to play with the silver-gray chest hairs that he had always found so sexy and alluring.

“I'm going to fight for you, Danny.”

The words eased some of the pain in Daniel's soul.  He knew now that they'd find a way, somehow.

“No need to fight; I'm already yours.  I will always come back to you, Jack,” Daniel responded, hoping Jack would know that he was answering the question from the note that had been left on the car seat prior to his leaving on the mission.

“That's good to know.  I wanted to see you before you left, but if I had been there, if I hadn't left the house, Danny, I never would have let you go.  I'm sorry, but that's the truth,” Jack said, giving Daniel the reassurance that he knew Daniel was answering the question in the note.

Both men smiled, each knowing that the notes they had left had been found and read.  In a strange way, no matter how much they had argued and disagreed, and even though Jack had needed distance, the notes were an acceptance of their differences, and a reminder that when Daniel returned, the couple would fix whatever it was that had gone wrong.  Jack and Daniel were forever, and nothing could or would ever change that.

“I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, too.”

“Do you?”

Jack heard the uncertainty in the younger man's voice and held him a little tighter.

“Daniel, just because I'm mad as sin at you doesn't mean I don't love you.”

“Ditto,” the younger man admitted.  Then something caught Daniel's attention.  “Jack?”

“I'm fine, Danny.  Just a scratch,” he said, referring to a tiny cut near his right elbow.  Daniel looked up at him.  There was no distance in this moment, just love and concern.  “Little skirmish, but that's the worst of it.”

“Promise?”

Jack's hands warmed his lover's back.  He nodded briefly.

“They didn't get their hands on me.”

“No, just a knife.”

“For one second, and that was his last second.”

“Oh.  No other, uh ... damage?”

“None.”

Daniel settled back down.  He couldn't help himself.  He stretched and placed a kiss on the tiny injury.

“Thank you, Love.”  Daniel was out of words; truth was, so was Jack.  “Night, Danny.”

“Night, Jack.”

====

Their drive to Minnesota was quiet, the truck filled mostly with instrumental music, jazz, and the occasional news of the public radio station.  When they arrived, they took in their duffel bags and unpacked the necessary items.

When the lovers had talked, it was about trivial things -- current world events, the latest sports results, and even the weather. Now, they stood facing each other in the living area of the cabin.

Both men were dressed in short-sleeve shirts, Daniel's a taupe V-neck one and Jack's a round-neck gray one. Each wore faded blue jeans and Nike sneakers.br>
Daniel's arms were folded across his chest.  It was a self-hug, but not as tight as it had been back in Colorado Springs.  Jack stood with his hands in his jeans pockets.

“So,” the older man said.

“So,” Daniel repeated.

“Danny, I have a suggestion.”

“I'm listening.”

“It was a long drive; we're both still tired. How about we enjoy the nice weather, fix some snacks, have some wine, and just let tonight pass?”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed instantly, almost stepping on Jack's last word.

Both knew they were avoiding the fight, but in a way, they were also laying some groundwork.  They were sticking it out, proving to themselves and to the other that they weren't going anywhere.  Their marriage was worth fighting for; in fact, their marriage was secure.  They had just derailed and needed to get their caboose back on the track.

Being together, holding each other, and just feeling the other's warmth helped to rebuild the track, and thus, both were content to enjoy a quiet night.

They sat opposite each other in front of the fireplace.  Between them was a snack tray and a bottle of St. Julien's Jack had covertly packed and brought with them.

~Gawd, he's thinking of me even when we're fighting.  I love him so much, the unreasonable mule.~

Jack poured the wine, filling their glasses.  He held out his glass and made a toast.

“To us - because we've survived.”

Daniel held out his glass and said, “To us - because we love and are loved.”

Jack smiled, and then they clinked their glasses together and sipped their wine.

After a few minutes, Jack said, “You're too far away, Danny.”

“Yeah, it's, uh, kinda cold over here.”

The younger man moved to sit next to his husband, who quickly enveloped him with his arms and pulled him close.

“We've come a long way, Jack.”

“You didn't run.”

“You aren't yelling.”

After several seconds, they looked at each other.

“Tomorrow,” they spoke simultaneously, knowing that the next day they would face their demons, and that was when they'd have to be their strongest.

Daniel would have to fight the urge to flee, and Jack would need to control his temper.  It would be a challenge, but right now, they were content to cuddle, still feeling separated, but yet, gaining strength in their forever as each minute passed.

====

The next morning, they ate a light breakfast, and then Jack washed the dishes.  When he walked out of the kitchen area, he moved to the sofa where Daniel was sitting.  He extended his hand and asked, “Would you like to take a walk?”

Daniel's mouth opened slightly, and he blinked a couple of times, but then he reached out and placed his hand in Jack's.  Jack closed his hand over Daniel's and smiled.

Daniel stood, and the two went to the door, immediately noticing how warm it was outside.

“It's gonna be a hot one,” Jack commented.

“It'll remind me of Egypt,” Daniel replied.

Jack took hold of Daniel's hand, and the two set out on their walk, not saying anything for several minutes.  It was a strange feeling, their raw emotions being suppressed while they took in the loveliness of the area, but also, in an odd way, it was therapy.  It was like they were making sure the other was really there with them, alive and well, and in the moment.

“Do you understand now?” Jack asked.

That was not a question Daniel had expected.  “What?” he queried in a confused voice.

Jack stopped their forward motion, still holding on to his husband's hand, and spoke, “I'm not asking if you agree, but I'm asking if you understand?”

Daniel's blue eyes peered into Jack's brown eyes as he responded, “When you were gone, I was miserable.  I didn't know when you'd be back.  I worried something might happen, and I'd never see you again, and the worst part was that I didn't even know where you were.”  Daniel nodded in small motions, then sighed, “Yes, I understand.”

“Danny,” Jack began, turning to square off with his lover.  “The Pegasus Galaxy is a name, a very faraway name to me.  No one's been there, except for Weir's team.  The Prometheus has never been that far, and Asgard hyperdrive or not, it was untried.  I had no way of knowing for sure that you'd make it home to me.  I understand that, to you, it was no riskier than any trip through the Stargate, but to me, you were chancing much more than being hurt.”

“Us.”

“Our forever.”

“But, Jack, the hyperdrive is tried, by the Asgard,” Daniel refuted.

“Not in the Prometheus,” Jack rebutted.

The lovers were about to fight, and they both knew it.  Yet, it was too early, and they weren't ready for it.  They hadn't even kissed, and they needed to, badly.

“Jack ...”  Daniel reached up with his right hand and placed it at the base of Jack's cheek.  His thumb moved gently along Jack's jaw line.  “Kiss me.”

“Danny ...” the older man began.

“Oh, shut up, Jackson-O'Neill,” Daniel ordered, choosing not to wait and diving in to devour Jack's mouth.

It felt sweet and warm as their lips connected and their tongues began to move in unison.  Jack’s heart was filled with love, his soul receiving the unspoken message that Daniel had sent by using their married name, and the kiss itself reinforcing that message: Jack and Daniel are forever.

Both let out sounds of pleasure.  Jack's right hand raised to the back of Daniel's head, his fingers gliding through the small strands of the younger man's silky hair.  Breathing heavily, they stopped, their lungs desperate for air.

“I love you, Jack.  Don't forget that.”

“I won't, if you won't forget it, either,” Jack stated.

“I'd never forget that, Jack, not ever,” Daniel said with a smile.  A moment later, the smile faded as reality set in.  “We're ... going to fight now.”

“I know.”

“It's going to get ugly,” Daniel assumed.

Jack nodded as he agreed and added, “We're both furious with each other, Danny.”

They needed to argue, to air their differences, and to resolve the anger both were harboring.  Still, they were in love, and no matter how much they needed to express their varied emotions, it hurt them to do so.

“But ... we'll ...”

Jack smiled, then said, “Yes, we will.”

“Are you sure?” Daniel questioned a bit vulnerably.

“Positive,” Jack promised.

“We'll hurt each other.  What if we say something that ...”

“Hey!”  Jack cupped Daniel's face.  “Hey,” he repeated more softly.  “Not going anywhere, ever.  Are you?”

“No, this is my home,” Daniel said, his hand over Jack's heart.

“Okay, then.  We lay our cards on the table,” the older man suggested.

Nodding, Daniel agreed, “We can't keep anything in, Jack.  This is too important.”

“We say it all, get it out, all of it,” Jack said, his right hand sweeping out to his right to emphasize the concept.

Daniel sighed, “There may not be an answer.”

“Or it might take a few days,” Jack offered.

The archaeologist licked his lips and kissed Jack again.  This time, their arms wrapped around each other.

“Gawd, too many clothes,” Daniel complained.

“We'll take care of that later.”

“No matter what, Jack, when we go to bed at night, we sleep together.  We hold each other, like we've done the last two nights, even if we ... we want to ...”

“To strangle each other?”

“Yeah, that.”

“Deal,” Jack agreed.

“Deal,” Daniel repeated.

Jack took a step backwards, but he also had a hold of both of Daniel's hands.  Their grip was tight.

“We'll make it through.  This is just a little dent, and now we're going to undent it.”

“Get back on track,” Daniel stated.

“Yeah.”

“I'm mad at you, Jack.  You had no right to make your point that way.”

“Danny?” Jack said.

“What?”

“I can't fight holding your hands,” the general remarked, looking down at their joined hands and letting out a long sigh.

“Then ... let go.”

“I'm not sure I can.”

There was a vulnerability in Jack's eyes that Daniel didn't often see, so he said, “Well ... I guess ... I mean, maybe ... you could, uh, hold me some more.”

~That's why I love him.~  Jack smiled.  They still weren't ready to fight, and this fair fighting they were apparently trying, without discussing it first, was new.  “Let's table the fight for a while.”

“Okay.”

“But let's remember the ground rules so we don't have to repeat them,” Jack suggested.

“Done.”

“C'mere, Space Monkey,” Jack said warmly, taking Daniel into his arms and holding him tighter than ever.  He closed his eyes and buried his chin in Daniel's shoulder.  “Geez, I love you.”

“I love you, too, so freakin' much,” Daniel declared as the two stood, embracing each other, not moving for a long time.  “I didn't mean to hurt you,” he sniffled sometime later.  He had no idea how long they'd been standing there, but neither did he care.  “I just wanted to go so badly, Jack.  I've been waiting for this a long time.”

The lovers pulled apart, slowly, their hands still joined.  Then Jack took a big breath and released Daniel's hands, an ache going through his body from this separation.  Immediately, the younger man crossed his arms over his chest, as he, too, felt a pain flowing through his body from the loss of contact.

Though both had thought their argument would be delayed for another day, they now realized that, in fact, the fight was about to commence.

“Daniel, I know you're an archaeologist.  I realize that digging in dirt and finding toys to play with is your passion.”

It wasn't taking long for the anger to begin to surface.  Daniel was already wincing from Jack's trivializing of his profession.

Jack continued, “I also understand that as an anthropologist, discovering old secrets about people who were alive in an era we can barely comprehend, fascinates you.  But at what price does that passion come?  Is it really so important to find out first-hand what Atlantis is like if it means never coming home?”

“Never ...” Daniel was beside himself. “Jack, it wasn't a one-way mission.”

“YOU DIDN'T KNOW THAT!”

“We take risks everyday.  Yes, it's new technology *to us*, but it's not new to the Asgard.  I don't know why you're so obsessed about this.  At least when I went, you knew how long I'd be gone.”

“I did?  Tell me, Daniel, when exactly was the Prometheus supposed to return to Earth?  I must not have gotten that memo, because I don't remember a return date being given.”

“Well ...”  Daniel paused, not really sure what to say because now that he thought about it, the mission had been open-ended.  “Well ...”

“Did it escape your attention, Daniel, that it was a volunteer mission?  That each and every person who was ultimately selected for the trip had volunteered, including you?”

“Jack ...”

“What?  Come on, Daniel, you're a friggin' genius.  Are you really going to stand there and tell me you thought this trip wasn't any different from the average trip through the Gate?  Is *that* what you want me to believe?”

“I ... yes; I mean ... gawd, I don't know what I mean.”

Daniel turned around and walked away several steps.  His brain was jumbled with reasons why he should have gone.  Then he turned around again and faced the biggest reason for why he shouldn't have gone.  Still, he wasn't ready to concede.  The expedition to Atlantis hadn't been that dangerous; he was sure of it.

“Don't just stand there, Daniel, say something!”

“Okay, it ... it didn't have a set return date, but it wasn't going to be forever.  One month, maybe two.”

“Or three?  How about four?  What if the hyperdrive stopped working?  What if you got there and found some ... nebulous something that trapped you?  What if you met up with some intergalactic hoodlums?”

Daniel flinched, his hands reflexively moving down to cover his groin.  He didn't even realize what he'd done.  Jack was taken aback.

“Daniel, what exactly happened to postpone the trip?”

“Happened?”

“Yeah, you were only gone a day or two.  The only message I received was that there had been a problem, and the damage to the hull was precluding the mission from continuing.  So, what was the problem?”

Daniel evaded Jack's gaze.

“Well,” Daniel said, scratching the side of his head with his right hand.  “It, uh, well, we sort of met up with a ... um ...”

“An intergalactic hood?” Jack asked sharply.

“Her name was Vala.”

“HER?  HER?”  Jack closed the gap and was in Daniel's personal space.  “Her?” he repeated for the third time.

Of course, Jack already knew about Vala.  He hadn't lied; he had never received the details, but Sam had told him about her commandeering the Prometheus and getting rid of all of the crew except for Daniel.

“Um ...”

“Daniel, why did you just ...” Jack looked down at his lover's mid-section.  “Danny?”

“She ... kicked me ... there.”

“Daniel.”

“We ... were fighting.  She had sent out a distress ... sig...nal.”

“Oh, no, not the damsel in distress thing again.  So help me, Daniel ...”

“We had to try and help, Jack.”

“Is that what Hammond said?”

“Well, I ...”

“You convinced him, didn't you?”

“It was a distress signal, Jack.  What choice did we have?”

“Right.”  Jack moved away, trying to contain Mr. Jealousy from shifting their fight from one of anger and hurt to one of anger, hurt, and jealous rage.  He turned to face Daniel again.  “So ... you helped her ... and?”

“She, uh, sort of ... stole the ship.”

“Stole the ship?”  Jack saw Daniel's nod.  “And Hammond and ...”

“They, uh, were on the al'kesh.”

“Al'kesh?  You were on ...”  Jack's anger was on the rise again, seeing his lover's reaction.  It couldn't have been all that straight forward if Daniel was having such difficulty.  Mr. Jealousy was poised to emerge and cause havoc if Daniel didn't answer Jack's questions the right way.  “You were still on the Prometheus.”

“She thought I was a...attract...attractive.”  Jack's eyes widened.  “But she was in a ... a ... you know, one of those Super Soldier things.”

“Daniel, my head hurts.”

“Vala, I'm not sure really who she is, but she was trying to sell the Prometheus for some naquadah.  We fought.”

“You won, of course.”

“E...ventually.”

“Daniel, you've got that look.”

“The 'I'm sorry I brought that up look?'”

“No, the other one.”

“Oh, well ... she ... we ... fought, and I ... gawd.”

“Blast it, Daniel, will you just spit it out?  This is like trying to extract teeth: painful and hard!”

“If you'd just stop yelling at me for a minute, I might be able to think!”

Jack stared, waiting; then he challenged his lover again.

“Well?  You've had time.  Now tell me.  What's there to think about?”

“Jack, you're being ridiculous.”

“I DON'T FRIGGIN' CARE!” Jack shouted, throwing his hands up in the air.  “Daniel?  What ... is ... there ... to ... think ... about?”

“She kissed me.”

“I'm sorry, I must be losing my hearing, or my mind.  Did you just say you kissed her?”

“No, I said she kissed me.”

“And this happened *because*?”

“We were wrestling around on the floor, and it just happened, heat of the moment and all that.”

“Sweet.”

“Jack, it wasn't like that.”

“No?  I'm sure you weren't cold on that ship.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“It means what it means Daniel.  You have a habit of getting involved in these little moments.”

“What are you accusing me of?”

“You have a brain, use it!”

“I'm not listening to this, anymore.”

Daniel quickly turned away and began to leave, but Jack grabbed his arm forcefully, spinning him around.

“I don't think so, Dannyboy!  You're going to stay right here and explain what the heck is going on, instead of heading for the hills.  You owe me an explanation.”

“Why?  You never listen to me anyway.  You've already got it all worked out in your head, so let me save us both some time.  An alien takes over the ship and seems to have a thing for me.  I figure, what the heck, might as well go for it, you know, stuck out in the middle of space and all.  There's nothing better to do; might as well get down and dirty, it might make the time go faster ...”

“This isn't a joke, Daniel.”

“Isn't it?”

“Oh, for ... Daniel, you're the one having a hard time telling me what happened out there.  You act guilty.”

“The only thing I'm guilty of, General, is loving a jerk!”

Daniel turned and walked away, leaving Jack to bake in the hot sun.

~Okay.  Vala is the alien in distress, but he wouldn't do anything to hurt us.  He's hiding something, though.  His eyes weren't looking into mine.  What are you hiding, Danny?~

====

Daniel had walked straight back to the cabin, his mind rumbling from the battle with his lover. He stood, with his arms folded tightly across in his chest, on the dock, the water now rippling with the sun's reflection. The lake looked inviting and caring, which was the exact opposite of what he thought of his husband at the moment.

~This is wrong.  We shouldn't be arguing about Vala.  Why are we?  Because you acted like an idiot, Jackson.  You feel guilty, and you let that take over.  Gawd, no wonder he's thinking the worst.~

Meanwhile, Jack walked around for several minutes, his mind also turning over the words they'd yelled at each other.  When he got back to the cabin, he saw Daniel on the dock.

The younger man heard his husband and turned to face him, the two exchanging a long, hard look.  Still, neither budged.  Finally, Jack walked inside.  A few minutes later, Daniel followed, though their fight would not be resumed just yet.

====

The next two hours passed by silently, each man lost in his own thoughts. Jack had cut some wood in preparation for the coming fall season, and Daniel fixed some sandwiches for dinner, not being in the mood to cook a meal.

“Are you just going to sit there and sulk?” Daniel asked about fifteen minutes after they'd eaten their sandwiches, a meal also eaten in silence.

“Okay, Daniel, let's get back to it, only this time, let's take it step by step.”  Jack stood up, standing at one end of the sofa to face Daniel who stood at the other end.  “First, you leave your family without so much as a backward glance, and then you stand there and tell me that while I was worrying myself sick over you, you were playing tonsil hockey with a space hoodette!”

Daniel rolled his eyes at Jack's terminology.

“Gawd, Jack, I told you.  That's *not* what happened, and I didn't leave without a backward glance, although you did.”

Jack ignored that last dig, asking, “So what did happen?”

“I thought she was a super soldier at first.”

“I confuse women with tall, black, metallic things all the time,” Jack quipped in anger.

“She was wearing one of their suits.  They aren't exactly gender-specific.”

“Go on.”

“She ... it said that I was attractive, and I ...”

“Well, that's all right then.  Women are out, but killing machines are fine.  Why didn't you say so in the first place?  A little romance with a unisex drone is okay.”

“Will you listen to me?” Daniel asked in a raised voice.

“All I've done is listen to you, and it's gotten me nowhere.  I should have never let you go in the first place!”

“Let me go?  You're my husband, Jack, not my keeper.”

“That's exactly who I am, Daniel.  After all, someone has to do it.  You obviously can't be trusted to go anywhere on your own.  Why does this always happen to you?  Do you have to bat your intergalactic eyelashes at every passing oddball?”

Try as he might to suppress him, Jack's 'Mr. Jealousy' was demanding to be heard, and in response, Daniel's temper flared.

“How dare you!  Are you calling me a ...”

“If the shoe fits!”

One of the things Daniel hated most in the world, was being accused of cheating on the one person he cared the most about, by that person.  When Jack got like this, Daniel often found himself shouting back and then just wanting to get away until the older man regained his logic.

“Get away from me Jack!”

“Where is it you want me to go?  Besides, we're far from finished with this discussion.”

“We are until you calm down. This fight isn't about Vala.”

Daniel headed for the bedroom, but Jack moved to block his path.

“I don't think so, Daniel.  You're going to stay right here until we have this out.  I'm not letting you slink away and avoid the issue.”

“Slink away?  Jack, we made ground rules.  If I wanted to leave, I'd do it, by walking out the door.”

“This isn't my fault, you know.  You're the one who kissed the princess!”

“She wasn't a princess, and ... oh forget it.  I'm tired, and I'm going to bed.”

“No, you're not.  We're going to finish this now.”

“No, we're not.”

“Daniel ...”

“Jack, I'm not the little woman in this relationship, and you can't order me around.  I said I'm tired, so I *am* going to bed now.”

“For once, I think I can tell you what to do.  This is too important Danny, and if it means you're mad at me for the next year, we *will* get this sorted out.”

“Fine.  If my lord and master wants to tell me what a naughty boy I've been, there's obviously nothing I can do about it.”

“Don't try sarcasm on me, Danny.  I wrote the book.”

“That's not something to be proud of.”

“Yeah, well, you know me, I'm a bit dense and thick in the brain.  My family is the most important thing on this Earth to me, Daniel.  I'm not going to let you or anyone else jeopardize that, so you'd better find a chair to get comfortable in because you're not going to bed until we sort through this mess.”

“I'd rather stand, if you don't mind.  I can do without you pacing and towering over me -- classic tactic to unnerve the defendant.”

“Don't be so melodramatic.”

“That's what's happening here, isn't it -- a trial?  I'm the defendant, and you're the prosecutor.   Would you like me to get a Bible and take an oath?”

Daniel walked towards a bookshelf that did actually have a Bible on it.

“What I want you to do is to get a grip, and tell me what the heck happened out there.”

“I've been trying to do that, but all you do is bellow and accuse me of cheating ... AGAIN!”

“DON'T ... don't yell at me, Daniel.”

“We're fighting, Jack.  IF I WANT TO YELL, I'LL YELL.”

“THEN I WILL, TOO!”

“FINE!” Daniel shouted.

“WELL ... FINE!”

The two stood, glaring at each other.  Then, Daniel sighed.

“Jack, we are tired, and I don't want us to say things that we don't mean.”

“Danny, whose idea was it to try this fair fighting business?”

“I don't know, but I want to go to bed,” Daniel responded, turning and going into the bedroom.

Jack, meanwhile, pulled out a beer and sat on the sofa, shaking his head at the situation the lover's were going through.

====

It was an hour later before Jack joined Daniel in their bed.  As he settled in, Daniel moved just slightly while he rested on his left side.

“Danny?”

Daniel rolled over and looked at his husband.  A moment later, he was lying on Jack's chest, like always.

“Still mad, Danny?”

“Very.”

“Me, too.  We haven't even touched the surface.”

“Tomorrow.”

“I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too, Jack.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

====

The next morning, Daniel had skipped breakfast and taken a walk. Jack hadn't eaten anything, either. About 10 a.m., Jack noticed his lover standing off at the side of the dock, arms crossed, just staring.

Jack walked to his lover, reaching out with is right hand, his thumb sliding along Daniel's nose and down to his cheek.

“You have the cutest nose.”

“Jack,” Daniel said, looking down and away, almost blushing.

The movement caused Jack's hand to fall downward, and now Jack stood with his hands in his jacket pockets.

When Daniel looked back, he saw Jack's Irish smile. He nodded, understanding that it was time, again.

“Okay, Danny, I'm listening.  Tell me about Vala.”

“As I was saying last night before you started yelling, I thought she was a super soldier, and she, uh, said ...”

“You were attractive.  I got that.  Let's move ahead.”

“It ... she took off the helmet.”

“Nice for you.”

“Jack, do you want to hear this?”

“Sorry.”

“No, you're not, but anyway, it wasn't a drone, it was a girl.  Well, she, uh, she slapped me, and then asked me if I wanted her to kiss it better.”

“Sexual healing?”

“Do you want me to tell you, or not?”

“I'm all ears.”

“Obviously, I told her 'no'.”

“Obviously.”

“Then she sat on my lap.”

“All the better to see you with.”

“You are really getting on my nerves, Jack.”

“Maybe because I'm hitting a nerve.”

Daniel wanted to scream.  After that tender moment before the fight had resumed, it had taken them just thirty seconds to get their fury back up to full speed.  It was as if they had never stopped arguing the night before.

“She sat on my lap and healed my wound.”

“Wound?  You didn't mention a wound.”

Jack was taken aback.  He hadn't heard anything about this before.  Reflexively, he looked his lover up and down, wondering if he'd missed something.

“I guess I forgot.  It was nothing.  I got burned, and she healed it.”

Apparently, Daniel was fine, so Jack's concern fled and his sarcasm resurfaced.

“How Nightingalish of her.”

“That's not a word, Jack.”

“Well, excuse me, Mister Linguist, I'll try to remember that.  Now can we get back to it?”

“Gawd, you're infuriating!  I managed at some point to get a zat ...”

“Whoa!” Jack said, crossing his hands in front of him.  He knew Daniel wasn't hurt now, but he wanted more details than what the younger man had provided thus far.  “Back up.  What wound, and how did you get it?”

“Jack, it was nothing.”

“WHAT WOUND?”

“She had me tied up, and ...”

“Oh, the dominatrix and her slave?  Have fun?”

“Yeah, she was into slapping,” Daniel replied sarcastically.   Then he closed his eyes, trying to shake off his growing displeasure before continuing.  “She had me tied to a chair.  When she couldn't get the access code, she flashed some ... something, and it burned me on the arm.”

“You certainly look fine now.”

“She used some miniature Goa'uld device to heal me.”

“Goa'uld?  She's a Goa'uld?”  ~Why doesn't he tell me this stuff from the beginning?~

“No, but apparently, she used to be a host to one.”

“So what happened next?”

“I managed to get free while she was doing something else.  I picked up a zat and stopped her.”

“Not for long apparently.”

Daniel sighed out of frustration, once again deciding that the best practice at the moment was to ignore Jack's continued sarcasm and wisecracks.

“That's when the al-kesh turned up.  She wanted to raise the shields, but I wanted to hail the ship first and find out more about it.  When I was moving to the consul, she kicked the zat out of my hand. She hit me; I hit her; she said we could just have sex, then ...”

“Whoa, there, Dannyboy.  Sex?”

“Sex.  You know Jack, Part A inserts into Part B and ...”

“Cute.  Go on.”

“We fought.  She pulled my ears, I shoved her against the wall, and she, uh, well, she hit me in the ... well, let's just say in parts you'd better hope aren't permanently damaged.”

“Ouch,” Jack said impulsively.

“With a fire extinguisher.”

“Double ouch,” Jack responded sympathetically, his hands moving downward to cover his own sensitive area.

“It was a nasty fight, Jack; hard.”

“Hard?”

“Jack, for heaven's sake, you know what I meant.  We both threw punches.  She kicked me again, and I landed on the floor.  I was exhausted.  That's when she kissed me.”

“And did you kiss her back?”

“What do you think?”

“I don't know what to think.”

“No, Jack.  I want you to tell me what you think I did.”

“No.”

“No what?”

Jack looked steadily into his husband's eyes.  He trusted his lover, and he knew the truth.  Not even Mr. Jealousy could get Jack to deny something his heart knew was true.

“No, Danny.  I don't think you kissed her back.”

Daniel swallowed hard as he saw the sincerity in Jack's eyes.  It was a momentary calm, another brief instant when they knew they'd survive this crisis.  It was only a few seconds, but it was an important passage of time when the two men connected with their souls.

“Good, because for once you're right.”

“How gracious of you,” Jack retorted, the steam of their fight quickly regaining its momentum.

“What?”  Daniel shook his head, then continued.  “I was on the deck, and she jumped on me.  Like I said, it was a grueling fight, and I was worn out, and ... it ... it, uh, hurt, from where she kicked me.  She pulled me up and placed these kisses on me.”

“Kisses?”

“Jack, don't go crazy.  They were short and quick.  I didn't kiss her back.  I just ... I guess I didn't do anything.  It was only a few seconds, and she was so nuts that I didn't know what else to do.  It was over practically before it had begun.”

“Then what happened?”

“I called her a fruitcake, and she head-butted me.”

“Strange how you seem to have that effect on me, too, sometimes.”

“Very funny, Jack.  How do you manage to walk around with a straight face?”

“Practice.”

“So, have you heard enough?  Did I pass the test, or would you like to accuse me of sleeping with SG-15 next?”

“I was worried, Daniel.  I have a right to know what happened while you were out there.”

“So are we done with this now?”

“I don't think so. You think I'm angry because of some quickie with Bala.”

“Vala, and it wasn't a quickie.”  Daniel saw Jack's glare.  “I mean it wasn't anything, not really.”

“Daniel, what's your problem?”

“Excuse me?”

“You tell me why I shouldn't be jealous of little Miss Super Soldier Not?”

“Because nothing happened.”

“Then why are you acting like this?”

“Acting like what?”

“Like you've got something to hide.”

“Jack, I'm not hiding anything.  I've told you the truth.  We fought.  She kissed me.  I zatted her, twice, I might add, though, of course, not in rapid succession.  She's fruitier than Fruit-of-the-Looms, Jack.”

“I'm convinced.  Why aren't you?”

“Are you trying to make this worse than it is?”

“I'm trying to understand why my husband can't look me in the eye.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You're not looking at me, Daniel.”

“Jack, you're crazy.”

“And you love me.”

“BECAUSE I'M EVEN CRAZIER.”

“BUT YOU LOVE ME.”

“YES.”

“AND I'M CRAZY?” Jack shouted.

“YOU'RE A NUT CASE, O'NEILL.”

“And you love me.”

“JACK!”

Jack moved inside Daniel's personal space.

“Danny, if I'm so crazy, and you love me so much, why is it you expect me to believe that nothing happened with Vala?  You're telling me nothing happened, and your reason for that seems to be because she was a fruitcake.  Yet, you're not looking at me.  You're staring at my face, but your eyes aren't looking into mine.  You're not lying to me, Danny, you're lying to yourself.”

“SCREW YOU, JACK.”

Daniel walked by Jack and began to jog into the woods.  Jack stared at the lake.

~I know nothing happened, but what I don't know is if that's because you didn't want anything to happen, or you just didn't have the chance.~

====

Two hours later, Daniel walked through the door of the cabin.  Jack was sitting on the sofa, pretending to read a magazine.  The reality was, he hadn't turned a page in forty-minutes.

Daniel stared for a moment, then went and sat down on the sofa, though he and Jack were separated by two feet.

“You're way off the mark, Danny.  I'm not upset about Vala, but I think you need to tell me the truth.”

“She's a fruitcake.  I hated it when she kissed me.  I didn't want her to touch me.  I zatted her after she kissed me, and I zatted her because she wouldn't shut up when we were waiting for the crew to return to the Prometheus.  I don't like her.  I don't have any desire to see her again.  The kisses were nothing.”

“But?”

“But ... I ... I guess I reacted a little,” Daniel hesitantly admitted.

Jack smiled a little inside.  He'd suspected this, but knew that Daniel needed to face this demon himself.

“Jack, there's never been anyone but you.  Even that rebound thing, when I was so scared.”

“The destroyer of worlds,” Jack sighed.

“She wasn't that anymore, but she's not the subject.”

“No, she's not.  So about Vala ...”

“I've never reacted to anyone but you.  I mean, since ...”

A shadow fell across Daniel's eyes, and Jack drew him into a hug.  Daniel had loved Sha're, and though he had come to know that it wasn't the ideal marriage, while on Abydos, it had been as good as it could have been, even though Jack was always on Daniel's mind there.

“Danny, I know.  You don't have to qualify everything.  I know our history.  You loved her, Angel.  You don't have to apologize for that, or rationalize it.”

“Jack, there was ... I hate her.”

Jack strengthened his hold.

“The witch doesn't count.  She's a frozen popsicle, and that wasn't you reacting to her.  Let that go, Danny.  It was meaningless.”

Five minutes went by as Jack held on to Daniel, and Daniel let him.  He wanted to be comforted.  Sha're was dead, but in his heart, he still regretted that she had never found her true love, like he had with Jack. He wished she'd been happy, because he was happy now.  After the initial mention a couple minutes ago, Daniel didn't give Hathor much of a thought.  He and Jack had gotten drunk after she had raped him, and with Jack's love, Daniel had long ago buried that nightmare.  He had been reminded of that nightmare with Vala, but it was Sha're that held his focus nows.

“Sometimes, Jack, I feel like I should think about her more.  She never had a chance.”

“I know,” Jack responded, his hand running through Daniel's hair briefly.

“There's no one to remember her anymore.”

“We remember.”

Daniel pulled back and looked into Jack's eyes.  He smiled slightly and nodded.  They could remember; it's part of what made their relationship so good.  It wasn't always so easy, but for the most part, Jack and Daniel each respected their past, and those who were such a part of it, like Sha're and Sara.

Finally, Daniel drew a deep breath, ready to move on.  He pulled back slightly, but the lovers were still touching and Jack still had a hold on Daniel.

“About, uh, well, about Vala ... Yeah, it was, uh, kinda exciting I guess.  The ... the, uh, fight, was so intense and ... aft...afterwards, I just felt sort of ...”

“Stimulated?”

Daniel looked at Jack, only this time, blue eyes did look into the soul of the brown eyes they adored so much.

“It scared me, Jack.  I felt guilty, and I hadn't done anything except ... Jack, I swear, it wasn't a reaction to Vala.  I have no attraction to her at all.  It was, I mean, I was stimulated by the adrenaline from the fight.”

“It's okay, Danny.”

“Is it?”

“You're telling me the truth about your feelings, right?”

“Gawd, yes.”

“Daniel, I'm not going to get upset because you had a split second of a bodily reaction during some crazed fight.  It doesn't mean anything ... does it?”

“Not one freakin' thing.”

“Okay, now that we've settled that.  Let's get back to the real topic.”

The two moved apart again as they readied for the next phase of their fight.

“Which is?”

“That I'm angry at what got you on that ship in the first place.  I'm angry at your total lack of consideration for me.  You're not alone anymore, and it is beyond me how you can so blatantly disregard my feelings and wishes.  I asked you not to go; begged you, in fact, and it meant nothing to you.  This mission was more important than everything we've built up together, and that makes me wonder exactly how much of you I really have.”

“How much of me?  You have all of me: my heart and my soul.  You know that, Jack.  Isn't that what we just got done talking about?”

“No, that was biology.  This is you, your soul.”

“And you have that, but to even have a soul, I still have to be able to do my job, and my job sometimes means that I go into situations that might not be safe.  You of all people should know that; and for your information, I did consider not going.  It was the hardest decision I ever had to make, but Jack, if I had given in to you, I'd have resented you for making me give up the chance of a lifetime.  That resentment would have put a wall between us, and I couldn't let that happen.  Besides, they *did* need me.  So tell me, Jack, what would you have had me do?”

“I'd have you take my feelings into account.  There were plenty of others who could have gone in your place, but you wouldn't have it.  Did you even check to see who might be qualified and want to go?”

“Jack, no one was qualified but me.”

“So you're indispensable?”

“On that mission, I was needed.”

“Daniel, your reasons for going had nothing to do with your job and being needed, and everything to do with my telling you not to go.”

“You think I went just to spite you?”

“Did you?”

“No.  I'd never do that, Jack, and you know it.  Unlike you.  *You*, however, went on that other mission just to spite me, didn't you?”

“Lives were depending on me.”

“Lives were depending on me, too.  Just because I'm not a soldier doesn't mean I can't save lives.  We haven't heard anything from Elizabeth and her team.  For all we know, they could all be dead.  I was needed there.”

“To do what?  Read some symbols?”

Jack tossed aside his magazine and stood up, walking towards the kitchen area.

“Yes.  Can you read them?  Jack, what if they were in a situation where their rescue depended on having someone around who could translate Ancient?  Who was the general going to get to do that?”

“He would make do with the next available person.  Danny, what if you weren't here?  What if you were bedridden and couldn't have gone anyway?  Do you really think the Pentagon would have delayed this mission just to wait for you?”

“I don't know.”

“You *do* know.  They may have wanted you, and yes, I admit, Daniel, you are the best one qualified, but if you weren't available, they would gone with Plan B and said 'Bon Voyage' anyway.”

“You don't know that,” Daniel said a bit defensively as he stood, crossing his arms as he faced Jack.

“And you don't know that they wouldn't have.  Daniel, as valuable as we are to this program, we aren't the center of its universe.  When we quit, it's going to go on, and that is the truth.”

“I'm not arguing about that, Jack.  We aren't discussing our retirement or the SGC in the grand scheme of things.  We're talking about one mission, a single rescue trip to the Pegasus Galaxy, to save people who may have needed my expertise in reading Ancient.”

“That's a rationale, Daniel.  You *wanted* to go!  You've always wanted to go.  I saw your face when Weir's team went through the Gate.  If I'd have agreed, you'd have gone with them, even if you were teasing at the time.  How do you think that makes me feel, Daniel?  I'll tell you how I feel.  I feel like the person I love most in the world doesn't love me half as much back.”

“That's not true!  I didn't go then even though a part of me did want to. I didn't go because I knew that it was a one way mission, and I that would mean I would never see you again.  That's not an option for me anymore, Jack, to go on a mission that would split us up.  I can't do that; that's why I stayed; that's why all I did was tease you about going.  I do love you, more than anything.  You need to have some faith in me.”

“Faith?  Okay, Danny, you're the one who always likes to ask questions, well answer me this one.  Why haven't you trained anyone on Ancient?”

“I have been.”

“You have?” Jack challenged.

“Yes, as much as ... as ...”

“Exactly.  It's where on your list of priorities?  Megan Williams is sharp. You keep telling me that when we retire, she'd be the natural one to take your place.  Have you taught Megan any Ancient?  Any Ancient at all?”

“A...little, but I've taught others.”

“People who don't have a chance to be the next head of the department.  People who take three times as long to learn those strange languages we keep running into.  You're teaching them, but at what speed?  A snail's?”

“Gawd,” Daniel turned around.  He walked to the door and banged his  head against it a couple of times.  “I ... I thought I was doing my best to train them.”

“But you haven't been.  Daniel, I'm not saying that even if you had been putting all your energies into teaching them that any of those people would be even half as good as you.  You're a genius, a linguistic expert of experts.  They will never have your talent, but the day is going to come when you won't be going through the Gate, and when that day comes, you have to make sure that Williams or whoever else is there is ready.  But if you had put the time in, then maybe Hammond wouldn't have been quite so ready to overrule me.  Why, Daniel?  Answer the question: why haven't you been putting the effort into training your staff in Ancient?”

Daniel turned around and took a big breath.

“You know the answer, but I swear I didn't.  I didn't realize I was ...”

“Holding a trump card?”

“I guess so,” Daniel reluctantly admitted.  “Gawd, I feel so guilty.”

“I don't want you to feel guilty, Danny; I just want you to see things from my corner of the world.”

“It's not about you, Jack.  I ... I may have been wrong here, about the teaching, but that still doesn't negate the need for me to have gone on the mission.  I'm not the only one who needs to see the big picture here.”

“You don't get it, do you?  How can we get through this if you don't understand your own actions?”

“My own actions,” Daniel said dryly, his anger rising once again.  “You have got to be kidding me.  You still don't understand my point of view; and what about your own actions, Jack?  What you did was far worse, and you know it!”

“I don't think so.  You're just trying to turn the tables and make me out to be the bad guy.”

“Are you out of your mind?  Let me tell you something, General Perfect. I did what I did because I was needed.  Forget the training issue because even if I had devoted every second of every day to educating my staff, I would *still* have been the best one qualified for this mission.  Do you understand that, Jack?  I ... was ... needed!  General Hammond asked for my help, MINE, and I wasn't going to let him down.”

“But it's okay to let me down.”

“Gawd, shut up!!  Just shut the heck up!  I've listened to you, and now you'll listen to me!  You've gone on and on about my supposed lack of caring about you, how I selfishly left you and went off on a whim, risking my life and us.  Well, what about you, Jack?  Why did you go on your little trip, huh?  To save Earth?  For the greater good of all mankind?  I don't think so.  You went purely and simply out of spite.  I'd gone on the Prometheus, and you stamped your feet and had a temper tantrum; thought you'd show me that two could play at the same game.  That's the truth, Jack, whether you admit it or not, so how dare you stand there and portray yourself as the injured party, like I'd deliberately set out to hurt you.  The only one who deliberately set out to do anything, was you!”

“You're ...”

“Be quiet!  I'm talking.  Look close; you'll see my lips move.  When they stop, then you can talk.  You opened this can of worms, Jack, so you can just deal with the slime.  I am not going to stand here and take all the blame for this situation.  Whatever I did, rightly or wrongly, was not to hurt you, but what you did was deliberately set out to hurt me.  Tell me, Jack.  Did you get this phone call out of the blue, or did you call someone.”

“Daniel ...”

“Right.  You called them.”

“I did *not* ask for the mission.”

“Don't con me, Jack.  You may not have said the words, but you manipulated the conversation that took place, didn't you?  WELL, DIDN'T YOU?”

“YOUR FRIGGIN' LIPS HAVEN'T STOPPED, SO HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO ANSWER?” Jack yelled, waving his hands around.

“I'm right, and you can't stand that, can you?”

“All right.  I placed the call, and yes, I wanted you to feel what I was feeling, like my heart had been cut out of my chest, like my lungs had been stuffed with a cork.  I couldn't breathe, Daniel, so yes, I set it up.  Happy now?”

“This isn't a contest, Jack. This isn't about who can hurt who the most.  It's about you not giving two-cents about my work and thinking that I should meekly follow wherever you go and whatever you do.  Well, I'm sorry, but if that's the kind of partner you want, then you've picked the wrong man.”

“Will you listen to me?”

“No, because I've stood here and listened to you bellow, and I'm not going to put up with it anymore.  You were wrong; there's no gray area here.  It's black and white.  I hurt you, and so you decided that I deserved a little in return. There is absolutely no excuse for that.  It was childish and beyond contempt.  It's everything you're accusing me of being, and if you can't see that, then you really are as stupid as you pretend to be.  You don't hurt the people you love, Jack, not intentionally.”

“Are you finished, Daniel?”

“Are you?”

“You still don't get it.  Yes, I admit it, Danny.  I was angry and hurt, and part of me wanted to hurt you back.  I wasn't thinking straight at the time.  I'm still not thinking straight.  All I knew was that you'd gone, and deep inside, I ached like I never had before.  I wanted to tear the SGC apart with my bare hands.  I wanted to scream and shout, tell the world to go hang itself.  You weren't listening to me, and for our future, I had to try and find a way to tell you.  Then I thought of this guy I know, and he mentioned the upcoming mission.  I thought, what the heck, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.  It was the wrong thing to do.  Is that what you want to hear?”

“It's a start.  At least you can see what an idiot you've been.  I don't understand you.  I don't understand any of this.”

Daniel's shoulders slumped, and he stared dejectedly at his shoes, not knowing how to make this better, how to make Jack understand just how much he'd hurt him.  Jack moved to where his lover stood and placed a finger under his chin, lifting Daniel's head so they could see each other's eyes.

“I'm sorry, Daniel; I really am.  What I did was wrong and careless, but you have to listen to me.  I was so afraid for you.  The one big difference that you're not comprehending is that I knew exactly what I was getting into, but you didn't.  Babe, you still aren't seeing that you were going into an unknown with an uncertain chance for survival.  You think that because we have this big honkin' ship, equipped with Asgard brainpower, that we're invincible to whatever is out there.  Danny, the Pegasus Galaxy is a far, far, faraway place.  If something went wrong, I probably wouldn't have been able to find a way to get you home.  Can't you see that?”

Daniel looked at the pain in his husband's eyes.  He reached up and clasped Jack's hand, holding it near his cheek.

“All this is just because you were scared for me?”

“Daniel, you weren't going on a planned mission through the Gate.  You hadn't sat in a briefing that morning and gone through all the available data, weighed up the pros and cons, made sure you had backup in place.  You went in blind, into a situation that could potentially have been life threatening with no one to cover your six.”

“Jack, the general ...”

“Yes, I know you didn't want to let Hammond down, and I know that Atlantis is all that you've worked for.”

“Do you?”

“Your time will come, Danny, and that time will be when we know it's secured, and you can do the job you're trained to do.  None of this is because I think you're incapable of looking after yourself.  It's because I love you, and without you, life just isn't worth living.”

“Jack, risk is a part of our jobs; it's ... part of who we are.”

“Yes, when there's backup, when there's an 'or', when ... I'm there.”

Daniel blinked several times as he gazed into Jack's eyes.

“I ... I wanted to go.”

“I know.”

“I thought we were safe; I really did.”

“And look what happened, and only a day out.  All I'm asking is that you stop and think about those you'd leave behind if something did happen, and that when you consider the pros and cons of a mission, that you realistically evaluate its dangers; that's all.”

Daniel sighed.  Then he closed his eyes and rubbed his cheek against Jack's hand.

“I didn't, did I?”

“No, Angel, you didn't.”

“I was so excited about seeing Atlantis.”

“Yes, you were.”

“And then we ... played our little game.”

Jack smiled and nodded.

“Yeah, that banterous 'let's drive each other crazy' game.”

“We know each other's buttons,” Daniel said.

“Danny, you knew I'd never say 'yes'.”

“I know.  Why else would I threaten to quit?  Gawd, you've been wanting us to retire forever.  What kind of a threat was that?”

“One that was part of a word game,” Jack answered.

“You told me to hold my breath.”

“Well, if you did,” Jack said, moving his hands to wrap around his husband's waist, “you'd turn blue, and you know how I feel about you and blue.”

“Gawd, Jack,” Daniel said, a tiny yet bright smile on his face.

He hadn't sent any signals from his brain to his body, but in another second, he leaned into Jack, his head resting on the strong and comforting shoulder he always relied on to be there.

“I was surprised to see the general in your office,” Daniel said.

“I was hoping he'd come back to reclaim his job.”

“Jack, I swear, I didn't know he was going to ask me, but once he did, the ...”

“The thrill took over,” Jack sighed, adding, “and the game suddenly became a potential for something wonderful, that your genius just had to explore; and once it became a reality, there was no time to really think about the pros and cons.  Right?”

“I'm sorry, Jack.  I convinced myself that it was a certainty.  I'd be gone a few weeks, make all these exciting finds, save Elizabeth and those who went with her, come home, and ...”

“Pick up where we left off.”

“And I'd have people's respect."

“Danny, you have people's respect."

Daniel shook his head.

“No, I don't, Jack.  Even you, sometimes ...”  He sighed.  “I know we joke about rocks and dirt, but sometimes, it hurts, Jack.  I mean, it's my profession; it's what I do.  I know it's better; you've made it better, but still, even when you do it ... lovingly, it ... sometimes ...”

“I'm sorry, Danny.  I really do respect you and your work.  I thought you knew that.”

“I do most of the time.  Just sometimes ... old insecurities,” Daniel admitted.

“I can't guarantee I'll catch myself all the time, but I won't tease you anymore.”

“No, Jack, don't change.  All that teasing is ... it's good for me.  I mean, it's who you are, who we are.  I don't want you to change, and like I said, most of the time, I ...”

“Like it?” Jack said, a little smile on his face.

“Listen, Fly Boy, I wouldn't go that far.”

The lovers shared a quick look.  Normalcy, their style, was on the horizon.  Then Daniel sighed as he stated what Jack already knew.

“I didn't see the potential risk.  I thought I was safe.  It was a bit like that time on Ernest's planet.  Sometimes the possible knowledge to be gained makes the risks look smaller than they really are.  I'm sorry I didn't see that.”

Jack's hands snaked under Daniel's shirt, caressing the skin.  Daniel moaned from the touch.  It was their first real tender moment since before the mission.  He could feel Jack's love, and he knew Jack could feel his.

“Danny, I'm not asking you to put yourself in a bubble.  Every time you go through the Gate without me, I cringe inside, but I know that I've done everything I could to cover your six, and I've ... I've tried not to overreact.”

Daniel chuckled, and pulled back just a tad.  He brought his right hand up to caress Jack's cheek, then moved it down to rub just under his neck.

“Actually, Jack, you've done great.  Sometimes I can feel you wanting to ... grab me and ... and pull me back, but you haven't.”

“I don't like it, Daniel, but I can't stop you from going through the Gate, but if something does go wrong, I know I've got Carter and Teal'c out there with you, and a legion of military personnel on my end to try and fix it.”

“But between here and Pegasus, there's nothing but a wing and a prayer.”  Daniel sighed.  “The pros and the cons.  I'm sorry, Jack.”

“Me, too, because I was wrong to do what I did.  I knew it the moment I walked away from you at the base, but by then, the plan was set, and I couldn't let them down.”

“You really were needed.”

“I'd been there before, and I knew one of the principals.  It made the plan easier to handle.”

“Jack ...”

“Danny, listen to me.  If we get more data, if we can figure out backup, if we weigh the pros and cons, and can get them to balance like we do when you walk through the Stargate, I'll kiss you good-bye and be your biggest cheerleader on the next expedition, if that's what you want.”

“I want ... I want you to make sure my six is covered, and then we'll talk about it.”

“There'll be another mission.”

“The funny thing is, even with another mission, right this second I'm not sure I want to go.  I need to think about it.”

“We'll think about it.”

“Jack, I'm tired of thinking.  We've both made some really bad mistakes, and we're both sorry, and now I think we need to ... you know.”

“Oh, yeah, you know,” Jack said, a gleam in his eye.  “I love you, Daniel Jackson.”

“Daniel Jackson-O'Neill, and Jack, I take that very seriously.  You *are* all I want; you *are* the most important part of my life because you are my life.  Atlantis would be nothing if you weren't here to tell me I was prattling on.”

“I love to hear you prattle,” Jack said, his face inching closer to Daniel's.

“Can I get that in writing?”

“I don't think so.”

Both laughed, and then they kissed.

“Jack?”

“Daniel?”

“Will you wear the little skirt and the tight-fitting sweater?”

“What?” Jack asked, totally confused.

“When you're my cheerleader.”

“Cute, Danny.”

“Yes, you would be: love your knees,” Daniel said with a smile that warmed Jack’s heart and ignited their passion.

“Let's ... you know,” Jack said.

“You know what I want, Jack?”

“What, Danny?”

“I want to kiss you like I've never kissed you before.  I'm not going to miss one piece of skin.  I'm going to ravish you, General, so completely, so totally that you won't remember your rank.  You not only won't know your name, Jack, you won't be able to think.  We're about to have mind-blowing sex, Husband, and it may take you days to be able to move again.  My hands are going to ...”

Jack's body was already reacting.  It was rare for Daniel to speak verbally about sex, especially like this, but when he did, Jack knew he'd be headed to a state of euphoria that would rival an explosion of the sun.

Things were heating up in the Minnesota cabin, and that's exactly what Jack and Daniel wanted.

====

“So do you think General Hammond will head the next mission?” Sam asked as she and Daniel walked the halls of the SGC.

“I don't know.  He was pretty excited about this trip.  I hope he does.”

“I'd sure like to go.”

“Maybe you will.”

“We've already been through this, Daniel.  You'll be the one to go, and you should.  You're the best one qualified.  Besides, I know you want to go.”

They'd arrived at Sam's lab, and Daniel stopped in the doorway.  His hands were in the pockets of his blue BDU jacket.  He looked at Sam and smiled.

“Oh, I don't know, Sam.  What's so great about Atlantis anyway?  Ancient outpost, old mysteries, a few symbols to translate, rescue some people.”  He shrugged.  “I mean what's that compared to ...”

Daniel looked around and moved forward, whispering into Sam's ear.

The blonde colonel turned crimson red, her eyes widened, and her mouth opened wide.

Daniel pulled back and grinned, his eyes smiling with delightful mischief.

“I mean ... is there really a choice to be made?”

Still grinning, Daniel turned to head for the elevator, leaving a stunned Sam in the doorway to her lab.

Nervously looking up at the security camera, she gulped.

“No, no choice at all.  Holy Hannah, I wouldn't even leave the bedroom.”

Sam's eyes looked around, and she brought her hand to her mouth.

“Gawd, how am I supposed to work now?”  Suddenly, a stream of images flowed through her mind.  “Daniel!  Daniel Jackson ...” she yelled, as she hurried to the elevator.

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