A DINNER OF HERBS BY BIBLIO: A CURSE AND A BLESSING PART THREE


Slash: Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: NC-17
Category: Established Relationship.  Humour.  Romance.
Season/Spoilers: Season 5.  Everything up to "The Tomb."
Synopsis: "Better is a dinner of herbs, where love is." Maybe Jack and Daniel don't get to have everything, but what they do have, they have together and for them, that's pretty damn good.
Warnings: None.
Length: 262 Kb  Download a printer-friendly PDF version of the story.


"What's the big emergency?" Jack demanded the instant he and Rambo Jackson had cleared the event horizon. He watched Daniel with palpable dislike as he trotted down the ramp to say hi to the General and Teal'c, and hug Carter, who was flushed, smiling and avidly curious.

There were in fact a lot of people in the gateroom, all of them flushed, smiling and too damned nosy, from the glorious smirking leader of Stargate Command on down.

"I killed Jack!" Daniel announced happily. "Twice!"

Teal'c, who considered himself to be Daniel's personal trainer, bowed in graceful acknowledgement, looking gratified.

Smug bastard, Jack thought.

Carter's smile hit the kilowatt range and she snuck in another bear-hug, which she knew wasn't allowed, not right there in front of Jack. Daniel knew it wasn't allowed either, but he still made a point of hugging her back.

Dissing. This was what Jack got for going off and leaving Daniel all alone in a nasty, scary, dark room in the middle of a nastier, scarier, darker ziggurat. Daniel had bitched about this so inventively and so persistently, Hammond had decided for the sake of Jack's flagging sanity, he should take Daniel off-world for a couple of days on exercise.

This specific exercise was expressly designed to prove to Daniel he could take care of himself without anyone around to hold his hand or his gun for him, even when it was dark, nasty and scary and he felt bitchy about it`. Basically, to shut him the hell up. Also, as a welcome corollary, to stop Jack venting proof of his flagging sanity all over the base.

Of course, killing Jack a couple of times – okay, two out of three times – had given Daniel a whole new interest in taking life. Jack didn't like to think of his limp corpse as positive reinforcement, but there it was.

"That's our boy!" Hammond beamed, jovially patting Daniel on the shoulder.

"What's with the reception committee?" Jack asked loudly as he muscled his way in among the mutual adoration society at the foot of the ramp, none of whom seemed particularly enthused by his presence. He had to stamp on Carter's foot to shift her. "Throwing a party?"

The thirty or so SFs milling around the gateroom with apparently fuck-all to do except smirk knowingly, snorted with laughter.

Not nice laughter.

Jack glared at them on general principle, making sure he made eye contact with a few individuals here and there in the crowd. Plenty to worry about, he projected at them. Taking names, here.

"Why don't we proceed with the debriefing?" Hammond asked smoothly, gently urging Daniel along.

De-briefing? Jack thought sourly. Hah! Chance would be a fine thing. Daniel had been attacked by principles or something equally stupid at a very inconvenient time. Not that Jack wanted to encourage Daniel to shoot him dead every time he was sarcastic or anything, just because it turned him on to be hunted down and killed like the hound he was. Really, really turned him on.

Daniel had flatly refused to fuck him, even though he'd never been fucked in combat. He'd also never been fucked off-world or in a tent, and Daniel hadn't just refused, he'd pointedly separated the sleeping bags Jack had resourcefully zipped together as a subtle indicator of his intentions.

That and leaping on Daniel naked and screaming 'Geronimo!'

Jack was still annoyed, especially as Daniel had deliberately killed him again just for the hell of it. This was the one and only time - okay, not the only time - the only serious time he'd tried to seduce Daniel off-world. Apart from 688 of course, which was an aberration. Something about being out there in one of ET's area codes turned his honey into Frosty Pants.

Jack's sanity was still teetering on the brink, here!

And why was everybody smiling? Why was money changing hands? Why wouldn't Daniel fuck him on demand? All these questions and more remained unanswered as they gathered round the briefing room table.

Carter and Teal'c cut him out and took seats either side of Daniel, leaving Jack on his own on the opposite side of the table.

Not that he cared or anything, even if they did look sickeningly smug and he was going to get them for that and anything else he felt like.

"Can we start with the part where I killed Jack?" Daniel asked brightly.

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed.

"That won't be necessary." Hammond smiled beneficently at them all. "We've been reviewing the mission footage throughout."

"Footage?" Daniel said weakly, blushing as he shot a deeply reproachful look at Jack, who apparently should have known telepathically that they were on Candid Camera.

"Courtesy of Colonel Ferretti and SG-2," the general replied blandly.

Jack straightened up abruptly. Ferretti? Ferretti? Shit! He could not have been that horny! Not horny enough to miss SG-2 crashing through the undergrowth.

Could he?

He looked over at Daniel, who was wide-eyed and biting his lower lip, something Jack liked to do for him.

What was he thinking? Of course he frigging could!

Shit!

"There was some concern expressed about Daniel," Carter murmured diplomatically, with a warm, reassuring look at Daniel.

"Many of the personnel of Stargate Command wished to know 'what the hell' you were doing to DanielJackson, O'Neill," Teal'c blandly elaborated.

Knowing full well what in hell Jack had been trying to do to him, Daniel's blush hit his hairline.

"Why?" Jack asked blankly.

"Why?" Daniel said at the same time, belatedly realising what went on inside a darkened, zippered tent in the middle of an alien nowhere could hardly have been making the cover of the Cheyenne Chevron base newsletter.

Casting his mind back over the past two days, Jack could definitely remember some pissiness about his alleged doting, and a snippy accusation he was a magazine-loaded dickbrain at one point, but that was about it. For him and Daniel, this was pretty much same old, same old.

"Your T-shirt!" Carter mouthed to Daniel, with pantomime subtlety.

Daniel's mouth worked silently for a moment while he tried to work out what to say to that.

"Which T-shirt?" Jack asked, frankly puzzled by Daniel's reaction.

"The one I bought for Daniel. The one with…er…Skippy on it," Carter blurted.

"Skippy? Skippy who?" Jack asked blankly. This wasn't the T-shirt Daniel had thought it was real funny to write HELP ME on in big bloody letters and wave at the MALP from behind Jack's back? This was some other allegedly amusing T-shirt? Jack didn't know who Skippy was. Why was it even supposed to be funny?

He hadn't been laid in two days. Nothing made sense to him.

"Skippy is the Bush Kangaroo," Teal'c supplied gravely. "This item of clothing is a gift to celebrate DanielJackson's ritual slaughter of you, O'Neill."

Oh, that was nice. Nice to know whose side they were all on. Jack glared at his so-called subordinates. Daniel and Carter both straightened up and glared defiantly back. Teal'c was already straight; in his case it was more a question of increasing the implicit threat in his customary loom. Jack turned to the general, gesturing sarcastically at the Three SG-1 Stooges.

"A timely reminder, Major," Hammond apologised to Carter. "I'll have the tapes back to you, ASAP."

"Thank you, Sir," Carter said gratefully. "I'll check you off my Skippy distribution list. Sgt. Siler is getting a little antsy. It's his turn next."

Jack was starting to feel like he was in the Twilight Zone.

The door to the briefing room opened and Dammit Janet marched in and took the seat beside Jack. He was surprised to find himself adrift in a tide of embarrassment. Both Carter and Fraiser were blushing, fidgeting and staring fixedly at any and every thing but each other. Jack scented something interesting he could make Carter's life at least a living hell over. He couldn't upset his S.O., because Daniel stayed upset and consoled himself going to sleep with a good book instead of Jack, while Janet Fraiser had latex-covered access rights to his butt every time he looked at her funny.

Jack was nothing if not prudent.

Carter was in for it though, that went without saying. A man had to have some pride.

"What's going on?" Jack snapped, adding the 'Sir' after a long enough pause to let the general know he meant business. This provoked the usual reaction. The general ignored him.

"I have good news!" Hammond informed Daniel cheerily. "I'm standing SG-1 down, effective immediately."

"Sir?" Daniel asked, startled.

"I've been engaged in a lively correspondence with a delightful lady who instructed me to release Dr. Jackson from his duties effective from 1500 hours today." Hammond shot a long cool look at Jack. "She also helpfully brought to my attention a potential breach of security. It seems Tessa and Kayla have been cc'ing emails to their 'Uncle' Jack. And 'Uncle' Jack cc's…"

"Mom," Jack groaned, sagging dramatically to bury his face in his hands. "Aw, Jeez! What now?" Wasn't the family's imminent pilgrimage to the Little House in the Ozarks suffering enough for any man?

"Apparently your Aunt Ruth missed you, Colonel, and decided one more day without her special boy was one day too long," Hammond replied with aggravating good humour. "Naturally, I sent a car to pick your family up from the airport. If you show some hustle, you'll might make it home ahead of them."

"They're here?" Daniel asked excitedly, snapping bolt upright, his face lighting up.

Jack suppressed his instinctive hormonal response with some difficulty. Damn Daniel for being so goddamned hot anyway!

He took a moment to regroup and think cold thoughts. Ten seconds of naked Ruth wilted his erection entirely.

A threat-assessment was called for. Like, now.

Ooo-kaaay. Could have been worse. Could have been Wales, which was on the cards for the family vacation before Ruth decided they were all going to The Land Of The Big Red Apple. If the alternative was two weeks of his Mom fixating on male voice choirs and Daniel practicing Bore Da on the sheep, with a side-trip to Bath because Kate wanted to look at old dresses, then Jack could take this. Since the plan was that they'd all fly into Springfield and take a rental car out to Mansfield, he would have to pitch a tent in the garden to take them here, but…he smiled wolfishly at Daniel.

He had to work on the off-world thing, but Mom and Aunt Ruth definitely counted as a combat situation, so he was going to get fucked in that tent whatever it took. Two out of three was not bad, and he got the added satisfaction of getting one over on Mom for the first time in his entire life.

"Thank you for the invitation, O'Neill," Teal'c bowed his head graciously. "It will be my honour to meet your family."

"I'm bringing dessert," Carter said brightly.

"Buying," Fraiser muttered, looking girly.

Carter blushed again, making like 'Air Force Major Barbie!'.

Surprised again by their telegraphed embarrassment, and frankly curious, Jack glanced at Skipper, who avoided his eyes, twiddling with her stethoscope.

"And I'm bringing wine," Fraiser told Daniel.

"Spirits," Jack insisted loudly as Daniel regrettably got into the party spirit, gushingly thanking everyone. "Lots of spirits."

"My chilli always goes down well," Hammond said complacently.

"Comes up even better," Jack mumbled. His was the voice of some very bitter experience from the SGC's New Year Extravaganza. He smiled sickly when the general shot him a cool look, hoping he hadn't heard that. Hammond would make extra and hog Jack's beautiful barbecue.

"Cassie is dying to meet Aunt Ruth!" Fraiser said brightly. Being tweetie-bird chipper seemed to be catching this morning.

"As am I," Teal'c agreed. "She appears to be a woman of great wisdom and compassion."

"Ruth?" Jack gasped incredulously.

They all looked at him with varying degrees of disappointment and disapproval, Daniel in particular, throwing in a triple-whammy with a side order of hurt reproach.

Jack was embarrassed to find himself going red. He was also annoyed with himself for his apologetic mumble to Daniel. He smiled at Daniel and felt a hell of a lot better when it earned him that achingly sweet smile of Daniel's he loved and couldn't ever get enough of in return.

I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it. Jack went to his Buffy place for a moment, ruefully channelling his kindred spirit Spike.

"I'm looking forward to talking with Mr. O'Neill – with Joe," Carter announced. "He's a man who really understands about tools."

"I can't wait to meet dear Kate!" Hammond said brightly.

"Me too!" Fraiser agreed.

"You got all of this from Tessa and Kayla cc'ing emails to their Uncle Jack?" Uncle Jack asked incredulously. "All of you got all of this?" His mom was spreading faster than an email virus.

"The Internet is an amazing thing."

Amazing only in the sense it had General George Hammond, custodian of the Stargate for cryin' out loud, gushing. Jack was not a www fan, not since his Mom discovered AIM and webcam.

Daniel stood up, glancing eagerly at the door he was already sidling gently towards. "Can we?" he asked Hammond hopefully, jerking his head meaningfully in the direction of O-U-T-Out.

Smiling fondly, the general graciously assented and Daniel made like Roadrunner.

"Meep meep." Jack hauled himself painfully to his feet, scowled darkly at his treacherous teammates and stormed out in his lover's wake.

"Tomorrow at eight!" Hammond's cheerful hail caught him at the door. "Lt. Colonel Ferretti says you can count on him for filming."

Ferretti?

"I'll make VCDs for everyone," Carter cheerfully offered.

Everyone? Why did that sound so much like a threat?

Ferretti?

Ferretti and Aunt Ruth?

Jack's doom had come upon him.

 


Daniel was quite pleased to make it to Jack's place ahead of Jack, which served him right for dissing Daniel's 'girly' vintage jeep. He looked eagerly ahead as he carefully made the turn to the front of Jack's house.

Ruth was sitting comfortably in her wheelchair, flirting desperately with two extremely large, burly, broadly grinning SFs. There was no sign of Kate and Joe.

Daniel parked the jeep haphazardly and jumped out.

"Gorgeous!" Ruth hollered, holding out her arms.

Daniel vaulted up onto the path, stooped and hugged Ruth until she kissed him. And pinched his butt.

"You need to move faster than that, Dr. Jackson!" one of the SFs teased. "Ruth honed those reflexes on Colonel O'Neill."

Both their grins widened.

"We heard about the party, Doctor. Colonel Ferretti is filming this joyous family occasion, right?" the other SF asked anxiously.

"Sure," Daniel said vaguely, dropping to his knees to take Ruth's hands in his. "Are you okay?" he asked anxiously. Ruth looked tired and pale.

"Just excited, sweetheart," Ruth reassured him, pulling one thin hand free to stroke his face. "I missed you, boy," she told him caressingly.

The boom of a big, bad truck announced Jack's arrival.

The SFs watched as he expertly parked in a space any sane human being would have hesitated to aim a bicycle at.

"Offensive driving," one of the SFs commented knowledgeably.

"You're telling me!" Daniel, a frequent passenger, agreed vehemently.

Jack bounded up onto the path. "Dismissed!" he ordered, smouldering dangerously.

The SF's looked at one another.

Jack scowled ferociously. "Now!"

Manfully containing their disappointment at not getting to witness this touching – literally - family reunion, the SFs prudently withdrew, bidding fond farewells to Ruth, and as a parting shot, an assurance she and Lt. Colonel Ferretti would get on like a house on fire.

"I love it when you're masterful," Ruth cooed at Jack.

"I don't," Daniel said flatly. He didn't want anyone encouraging Jack to behave like, well, Jack. He had his hands pleasurably full with his colonel as it was. Doting was bad enough, but doting and masterful? If Jack got any more pushy, Daniel was going to tell him he was turning into his Mom.

"Darling!" Kate tore around the side of the house at a dead run.

Daniel jumped up, hurdled the bed of whatever those odd-looking crumpled yellowy flowers were, and scooped Kate into a massive hug, which she returned with enthusiasm, squealing ecstatically. She kissed him soundly and he had some difficulty putting her back down.

"I love you too."

Jack's reluctant mumble revived Kate as if by magic. She nimbly side-stepped Daniel and smiled with misty, maternal pride at the touching tableau before her.

"Not a word!" Jack snarled, awkwardly balanced on his knees, gently petting Ruth's frail back as she clung to him. "From either of you!" His head snapped back suddenly. He sniffed the air suspiciously.

"Those lovely boys George sent to pick us up stopped off at Safeway for us," Kate observed blandly. "We laid in a few essentials."

"Onions?" Jack said coldly, attempting to peel Ruth off, a heartless act of rejection she strenuously resisted.

"God knows I've tried everything else on you," Ruth complained bitterly, looking up at Jack and batting her tear drenched lashes.

Jack reared back, looking alarmed.

"It works when he does it," she said mournfully, twinkling at Daniel.

Daniel was annoyed to find he was no more in control of the blushing thing than he ever had been around his beloved, merciless old reprobates.

"Where's Dad?" Jack asked edgily, peering behind Kate.

"Your summer house has woodworm," Kate informed him with relish. "He was muttering about the lawn, too. Something about poison ivy. He's out back, prodding things with his stick." She jerked her thumb behind her.

"What?" Jack yelled indignantly, gracefully leaping down from the path and taking off at a dead run for the garden, his long legs stretching out.

Long, long legs. Tight, tight ass. And all Daniel's. Just watching, Daniel's whole body went 'Woof!'. He always had the same response to Jack. The better they got to know each other, the better the sex got. That, and all the practice. After two days of being cut off, Daniel was in the mood to practice now. Jack was talking about the two of them sleeping in his tent while the folks were here. How hard could it be to get another 'Geronimo' moment out of him?

He very much wanted Jack to make love to him under canvas. He wanted Jack to make love to him period. It had been way too long since they last made love. Two days. Two entire days. That translated to forty-eight hours. Two thousand, eight hundred and eighty minutes. In Daniel's considered opinion, that was around two thousand, eight hundred minutes too long to be cut off.

Of course he'd had to refuse Jack during the mission. Jack would have been disappointed in him if he'd caved. They each relied on the other to keep them honest. Well, Jack more than him for some reason. In fact he…um…Okay, Jack relied on Daniel to keep him honest, and hard as it was, and it usually was, especially when he got a good look at Jack's ass…

What was his point?

Masculine voices were raised in loud, vigorous disagreement.

Kate enjoyed herself thoroughly slowly patting Daniel down for the keys, plucked them from his jacket pocket, kindly advised him he should never wear tweed in her presence again, patted his ass fondly and ordered him to scoot.

Daniel duly scooted, with a little wave to Ruth.

"Typical!" Ruth complained loudly. "Just leave us wimmin folk with all the work!"

"Us?" Kate blew a raspberry. "All you do is yell orders! Jack gets his volume from your side of the family."

"You're not exactly honey-toned yourself, sweetheart!" Ruth accused Kate indignantly. "And he gets his bossiness right out of your gene pool."

"Bossiness?" Kate gasped as she stalked up to Ruth's chair.

"If she asks about the insurance, call the cops!" Ruth pleaded as Kate wheeled her briskly up to the door. "Jack gets everything!" she warned Kate. "So you can just put the handbrake on before you park me at the top of the stairs!"

Irate O'Neill voices were echoing loudly in argument, counter-argument and creative insult all over the property. Daniel strolled around the side of the house, smiling fondly. He loved all of them, and he was so happy to have the family with him at last.

He couldn’t wait for the party tomorrow night. Sam, Teal'c, Cassie, George and Janet would get such a charge out of meeting Kate and Joe. And Ruth, of course. Once met and never, ever forgotten.

Daniel was confident Ruth and Lou Ferretti would get on a like a house on fire. The party would be a blast. Just what they all needed to lift them into the vacation spirit.

"Son!" Joe called joyfully as soon as he saw Daniel, taking a few eager steps towards him. "How are you?"

"I'm good." Grinning, Daniel walked right into the proffered hug, which gratified Joe.

It also gratified Jack, who smiled at him, stepped around Joe and leaned in to kiss him gently on the mouth.

"Don't mind me," Joe said politely.

Jack blew a raspberry, sounding alarmingly like Kate.

"He's his mother's son alright." Joe winked at Daniel. "Which one of you boys is sleeping with Ruth?" he asked cheerfully.

"Tent," Daniel and Jack said at once, then broke off to grin at one another.

"Does this summer house look like it has woodworm to you, Daniel?" Jack demanded, remembering his original grievance.

"Summer house? I thought it was a storage shed," Daniel commented, blatantly stalling for time.

"Shed?" Jack queried politely.

"Dump?" Daniel suggested placidly.

"A dump with woodworm!" Joe hooted triumphantly.

A peremptory rap at the window had them all turning to meet Kate's angry gaze as she stepped out onto the deck. "What the hell is this!" she yelled, waving a sheet of paper accusingly.

"I don't know!" Daniel yelled back.

Kate's face softened.

"Neither do I!" Jack realised.

"I faxed you the booking form for that fly fishing thingy I was checking into, son," Joe hissed. "The one from missouritrout.com!"

Jack blanched, then he and Joe moved as one man to hide behind Daniel.

"The creek is near Mansfield!" Jack said defensively.

"Which one?" Joe was momentarily diverted.

"The Ozarks are full of creeks. Trust me, we'll find one!"

Daniel turned on his heel and marched over to the deck. Kate stood up on tip-toe to give him a soft kiss of commiseration, waved him in, then pointedly closed the window on Jack and Joe.

"Doesn't do to let them get complacent, no matter how hot they are," Kate announced, grinning. She waved insouciantly at her crestfallen guys, then turned her back on them. "They're going to Mansfield."

"They will enjoy the Little House Pilgrimage," Daniel said firmly. "For Ruth's sake."

Kate beamed approvingly. She slipped her hand into Daniel's. "How are you, darling? Happy?" Her eyes, so like Jack's, were warm with understanding. "Are you? Happy with Jack?" she asked searchingly. "If you're waiting for me to apologise for interfering, Daniel, you'll wait in vain," she added crisply, firing with both barrels before he could actually get a word in. "I love my Jack. I love you. I won't stand by and see either of you unhappy if I can fix it."

"There's nothing to fix!" Daniel protested, feeling like he'd just been hit by the maternal Mack truck, doing nought to running their love-lives in much less than sixty seconds. "We're doing good!"

"Work then? Or the two of you having to live this way, with no one knowing you're lovers?" Kate suggested indefatigably, not about to quit messing with his mind until she got her chance to play Mommie Dearest. It was downright frightening to see her mentally going down her checklist of potential relationship disasters.

"That is a strain," Daniel confessed manfully, feeling he had to throw her a bone of some sort before she chewed him up and spat him out. "I don't like not being able to talk about this with anyone. I don't like that Sam and, um, Murray," he gave Teal'c's cover identity carefully, "can't know we're together. I don't like that there's nothing we can do to change this. I know the secrecy is for Jack's sake, that he can't come out and keep his command."

Daniel shrugged it off because he'd accepted this was the way it would have to be when they began their relationship and he was not about to cut the ground out from under Jack's feet. It was an injustice he couldn't fight from the inside and it was a compromise he and Jack had both chosen to make. "It's pretty isolating, you know?" Daniel cut right to the part that bothered him most day by day.

"I know, honey," Kate soothed him, squeezing his hand tight and giving him love for 'fessing up to her like a good boy. "You can talk to Jack about it though." There was a slight questioning lilt to her voice.

"I can," Daniel agreed, surprising her a little. Jack had decided almost on day one of them getting together that he had certain inalienable relationship rights and chief among them was getting into everything that concerned Daniel. Jack was certainly giving all those keenly honed interrogation skills of his a good work-out, and when that didn't work, he flaunted his ass all over the house in skin-tight jeans and no shirt, finding something to do that entailed bending over a lot and making the sweat flow, just a little, just beading his shoulders and spine and…um…Kate was looking at Daniel interestedly. "He won't apologise for interfering either," he added hurriedly, going red.

"That's my boy!" Kate crowed. "I told him to take care of you or he'd answer to me."

"He believed you." Daniel grinned reminiscently. They'd had to buy a new coffee table after some energetic interference from Jack had resulted in them rolling right off the couch.

Kate beamed up at him and kissed him roguishly. "You're a good boy."

Daniel shot Kate a cool look. Jack was rather fond of calling him 'boy' too. Except when Daniel was fucking him, and then he tended to howl 'YesYesYeeeesYES!YEEEES!' and oddly, 'boy' never came into it.

"Where's Ruth?" he asked as they trotted up the stairs. He stooped and picked up two suitcases. Then he put them down, rapidly and without shame. "What in god's name have you got in here?" he demanded in astonishment. He wasn't a weakling, but jeez!

"I've got nothing to wear," Kate complained, eyes twinkling.

"I'd leave them for Jack, but he'd kill himself before he admitted he couldn't lift them," Daniel muttered grimly. He had to carry the suitcase awkwardly balanced against his leg, both hands clutching the handles. "You've never heard of wheels?" he asked sarcastically.

"The suitcases wobble," Kate said casually, "And I never have the least difficulty getting a big strong man to help me." She batted her eyes.

Daniel ground his teeth. When he staggered into Jack's bedroom and dropped the case, unfortunately literally, his hands throbbed, reddening with the pressure. No wonder the damned SFs were smirking when they sauntered off. "Ruth?" he reminded Kate.

"She's lying down. Nothing to worry about, sweetie, she's just tired and doesn't want to miss dinner with you boys. She needs more rest these days than she's prepared to admit, stubborn old…" As she spoke, Kate strolled over to browse along the dresser, fingers gently skimming the picture frames. There were only three. One of Jack, one of Daniel, and one of Charlie. Kate looked up at Daniel, her velvet eyes wide and shimmering with tears.

"I had the frame made for Jack's birthday," Daniel said quietly, sitting for a moment on the bed, remembering how scared he had been, offering the present in love and praying it wasn't a small cruelty. Jack had told him the first night of his return from Abydos he couldn't forgive himself for Charlie, so he fought to forget. He kept his few treasured photographs and Sara's letters in a shoebox in his locker at the SGC, not at home.

The photograph had been a risk, a simple statement from Daniel he understood Jack's past and accepted it. Nothing more. No pressure on Jack to talk to him about it or anything. Just an acknowledgement. Jack had said nothing when he opened his present. He'd just carried it away and it was there on the dresser when Daniel changed for bed. His tacit acceptance was all the acknowledgement Daniel got, but even that from Jack was a gift.

"I still miss him," Kate whispered. "Every day I open my eyes and think of my boy and Charlie. You saved his life," she said directly. "Do you know that? After Charlie…he was dead inside. Then he met you." She smiled softly. "Joe and I, we thank you for that. We got our boy back, not the same, but better in some ways for knowing you. Trying to live up to your expectations changed him, I think."

Daniel didn't know how to answer this, so he kept quiet, respecting Kate's silent remembrance. She'd never said a word to him about being unhappy over Jack choosing to be with him, had in fact denied it vigorously to Daniel's face, but he would still wonder from time to time. When they'd reached a point of comfort with each other where it was okay to talk about these things, Jack had told him Kate and Joe loved Sara too. Daniel still held to his conviction it must never have been in their plans for Jack to wind up with another guy instead of his wife. It had certainly never been in Jack's.

He was lucky the family were so loving and accepting because it couldn't have been easy for them all to see Daniel reach Jack where his wife, loved by them all, had failed.

Kate carefully carried all of the photos over to the bed and sat beside Daniel, taking his picture from the three. She held the frame in her hand as she tilted his chin this way and that. "Who took this? They have a good eye," she admired. "The camera loves you."

"Jack took them." Daniel decided this was as good a time as any to earn himself a hernia and headed briskly for the door, determined to avoid further embarrassment until he could get Jack in here to draw Kate's fire. Kate was insatiably nosy and Daniel was…well, Jack said modest when he was feeling charitable and ridiculously shy when he was mad. Or turned on. Nothing in fact turned him on faster than Daniel being, quote 'ridiculously shy'.

"What I said," Kate called smugly after him. "The camera loves you."

Daniel was just picking up the second suitcase when the front door was flung open and smacked him in the head. "OW!" he yelped, staggering back.

"Shit! Daniel! You okay?" Jack grabbed him by the lapels and hauled him upright, ruffled and indignant. "Dad is driving me nuts! He's so goddamn bossy. I'm forty-six, for god's sake. If I don't know how to screw by now, I never will!"

Daniel wasn't sure how to take that comment, but with an O'Neill on either end of it, was not about to ask.

"I need a hug," Jack announced rather than asked, hauling him in close to kiss his throat. He wrapped his leg around to hook Daniel just that bit nearer. He did this every time and always denied it when Daniel called him on it. Possessive? Jack? No!

"Sneaky little buggers!" Jack complained bitterly. "They couldn't wait one lousy day? I go to them, they don't come to me! They know that! And now, they're not only here where they're not supposed to be, they've got the entire SGC, who they're not supposed to know, camped out in their inbox. And they're throwing a party? Why don't they just shoot me?"

"Too easy. And assassins don't cater," Daniel suggested. One of Kate's remarks came to mind. "Do you like this jacket?" he asked modestly.

"I love this jacket," Jack answered promptly. "As much as you love my hockey cap."

Oh. It was that bad, huh? "I can feel the love," Daniel said dutifully, feeling quite deflated about his old favourite. Jack was the only one who didn't rag him about his wardrobe, but he got the cold shudders every time he thought about Kate and Sam taking a tour of his closet.

"I should damn well hope so!" Jack said briskly, grinding his hips powerfully into Daniel's. "It's been so long since you felt the love I'm amazed it hasn't shrivelled up and dropped off."

"Two thousand, eight hundred and eighty minutes," Daniel confided, sighing, feeling quite shrivelled too.

"My god!" Jack bleated. "The eighty is pushing the envelope."

Daniel heard Kate's light steps and quite deliberately slid his hand between them to squeeze Jack's crotch. Jack wheezed and sputtered in shock as he rose to the occasion with flattering promptitude. His steely glare dissolved when Daniel licked his lips and leaned in to rest his head on Jack's shoulder. "I like tents," he whispered, nibbling Jack's ear.

"Thank God!" Jack groaned with heartfelt sincerity, clutching him urgently as he felt just how much Daniel liked tents. They were both getting fairly emphatic around hip level. "I've got to get back to Dad. I've left him alone with the rods too long as it is." He kissed Daniel, a quick, hard kiss, then hustled for the door. "Did I mention the erection jokes?" he asked plaintively.

"Please don't," Daniel refused promptly.

"Spoilsport," Kate sneered as she trotted past him into the kitchen.

Daniel darted after her, grabbing her hand as she reached for the refrigerator. "Ah!" he warned, holding up a reproving finger. "Don't mess with my kitchen."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Out."

"How rude," Kate commented disapprovingly, planting her feet, crossing her arms aggressively over her chest and eyeing him speculatively.

"You're a guest. I'll make you anything you want. Just get out from underfoot," Daniel ordered firmly, sure he could handle Kate. He'd had a lot of experience repelling Jack's advances. Something about the sight of him pottering around in the kitchen barefoot punched Jack's libido into overdrive and after they'd had sex on a bed of wilted lettuce dressed with fresh chillies and croutons, Daniel had put his foot down as soon as he got the ice cubes off his ass.

"Quelle surprise," Kate drawled. "The bookworm turns. Think you can take me, boy?"

Daniel went with a tactic that had never failed on his colonel. He dropped his head, looked uncertain, nibbled gently on his lower lip and glanced up through his lashes. Which he then 'batted'.

Kate bit her lip too, then she hugged him hard and kissed his chin. "You're such a sucker, sweetheart," she informed him tenderly. "And now I've got you, I may as well make the most of it." She leaned back to look up into his face, her own quivering with amusement. "You're cute when you're panic-stricken and cornered."

Daniel decided a diversion was called for. All he needed was to come up with one. Kate was fondly patting parts of him she shouldn't be, practically daring him to raise a protest. He was damned either way.

"Get your own!" Jack snapped, looming up out of nowhere. He plucked his mother away from Daniel, kissed her soundly, and set her down on her feet in the dining room.

"If there was any justice, you'd share," Kate told Jack, brooding darkly over her special boy, all six feet two inches of him smug and sweaty.

"Coffee!" Jack ordered in a lordly manner.

Daniel stepped neatly aside, graciously gesturing at the coffee pot. Eyeing it, Jack didn't seem particularly enthused.

"Or you can shift the suitcases," Kate suggested gently.

Daniel glared at her. Jack had been working in the garden for several minutes. He was sweaty. He needed to rest up or he'd be wasting precious sexual tension on manual labour.

"You're spoiling him rotten," Kate accused him.

"I am not!" Daniel vigorously denied this unwarranted allegation. He was just horny.

"What he said," Jack agreed, moseying out of the kitchen in search of a more manly challenge than making cafetière coffee.

A pained grunt and a muffled curse told them he'd just fallen over one.

"Gotta love those combat-honed reflexes," Kate observed loudly.
 



So Daniel was spoiling Jack a little. So what? It made Daniel very happy, and that was all that was important so far as Jack was concerned. Daniel loved having someone to take care of and he did it so well. It went without saying Jack's sole motivation in playing along was giving Daniel what he needed. As often as possible. As long and hard and deep as he could.

He felt a very specific load lifting.

Daniel liked tents!

All the quantitative evidence gathered so far from a motley assortment of off-world missions suggested the exact opposite, but Jack was desperate. He was taking Daniel's word for it, along with anything else he could get.

"What the hell have you got in these suitcases, Mom?" he growled as he limped down the hallway, the case banging painfully off his shin with every step.

"Presents," Kate called back.

"Presents? I like presents." Jack felt marginally more charitable.

"They're not for you."

"Nice to feel wanted," Jack bitched, lumbering into the bedroom to heave the case onto his bed. He stalked back around to the kitchen, where Kate was hovering in the doorway like a vulture, keenly watching Daniel's ass. Jack sighed, side-stepped his mom, caught his darling neatly around his waist, kissing the nape of his neck, which always made him shiver.

He took a personal time-out and extracted Daniel from the grey tweed Geek at Gap jacket, barely repressing a shudder. He tossed the jacket to his mother, who fielded it neatly and carried it away at arm's length. This left Jack with the slim, strong, supple body he loved so much clasped close. Daniel looked fabulous in these chinos. They emphasised his slender waist and hips, and the ripe curve of his ass. The lighter grey of his shirt made his eyes glow.

Daniel twisted in his arms, straining up to kiss his cheek. Jack loosened his hold, hands comfortably clasped together over an enviably flat belly as he rested his chin on Daniel's shoulder, nuzzling at the sensitive spots on his throat. Daniel reached up to clasp his hand round Jack's neck and they stood that way for a while, enjoying the privacy while it lasted.

He thought Daniel looked really happy, and couldn't find it in him to be annoyed with his folks for springing this on him. God alone knew what Mom had been telling Tessa and Kayla's Grandpa George, but he'd deal with that at the party, and knowing Ferretti, with wide screen and stereo surround sound.

"Mom brought you presents," he complained, grinning as a tremor of laughter ran through Daniel's slim frame.

"Have you felt the weight of the other case? They can't all be for me," Daniel protested.

"They're not," Kate tossed out lightly as she took full advantage of their mutual distraction to sidle up to the refrigerator, got a good grip on the door and yanked it open. Her broad, approving 'Jack loves Daniel' smile faltered as she leaned over and investigated the contents of the freezer too. This took her some time. "Wow," she said uncertainly. "That's some labelling system you boys have got there."

Daniel stiffened slightly.

"It speeds up retrieval," Jack said defensively. This was true. It had been a looong time since his fridge had yielded up only beer and furry guacamole.

"It's amazing how you boys have all the boxes stacked to fill the space so neatly and managed to get them into alphabetical order," she commented brightly. "That takes real talent. Dedication. A complete absence of any kind of social life."

"It's not his fault," Jack snapped. "He's trained to alphabetise dirt. Archaeologists do that. Organise stuff. You should see my sock drawer." He sensed he had been tactless when Daniel trod heavily on his foot and squirmed away.

A rich chuckle announced Dad's presence. He seemed to be enjoying the show.

All three O'Neills gathered together as Daniel made the coffee, his long, sensitive fingers fairly snapping with unspoken indignation.

"Isn't he adorable?" Jack mouthed at his mom.

"A darling!" Kate mouthed back.

"I heard that," Daniel muttered resentfully.

"You were supposed to," Joe said solemnly. "Kate doesn't blame you, Daniel. She blames Jack for not giving you someone better to do."

Daniel did a double-take as he processed what Joe had said, turning to look at them, lips parted in confusion. Jack found this extremely erotic, as always. Daniel's unfailing innocence tended to plunge straight to his balls. It felt gooood. Way too good for the family audience.

"Jack is too damn cheap to take you dancing," Kate grumbled.

"Dancing?" Jack asked incredulously. "With Daniel? Apart from the fact he makes the average orang-utan look co-ordinated, I might just as well take a pass through the base wearing my 'Can't Even Think Straight!' T-shirt. Cut down on the SFs' commute time to bust my ass for Leavenworth."

"Well, bowling then," Kate snapped. "Whatever. You're still too cheap to take our boy out."

"He gets paid more than I do!" Jack protested vociferously.

Kate's face lit up. "I can't believe you landed yourself a sugar daddy this close to retirement!" she gloated.

"Will Ruth want coffee?" Daniel interrupted hastily, smiling reassuringly at Jack.

Not that Jack was self-conscious about his age or anything. Why would he be? Just because his lover was young, looked younger and was completely gorgeous to boot. Daniel being mistaken for his son that one time was no reason to get his pantyhose in a twist or hide out at home. None whatsodamnever. He liked staying in. It was more discreet than being out in the street for those moments when he just had to goose Daniel.

Daniel bought none of these excuses or any of the others Jack tabled, but he liked staying in too and was very amenable towards, e.g., reassuring Jack he found him attractive, sexy and desirable no matter how old and infirm he was.

"She was sleeping like a baby," Kate said fondly.

"Ruth's getting old," Jack said quietly.

"That she is," Joe agreed, turning to take a seat at the dining table. "She loves to tell everyone she's in vulgar health."

"There was never a truer word spoken," Jack said vehemently, taking two of the mugs from Daniel. His mom seemed to be waiting expectantly for something more, gazing up at the cupboards. "No cake, Mom. Your hips are spreading."

Kate gasped, instinctively glancing down. "They can't be! What the hell am I doing Tai Chi for?"

Jack avoided Daniel's ironic look. He hotly disputed every unwarranted accusation that he was getting fat and lazy. He mowed. He clipped. He cleaned his stuff here and Daniel's scary stuff at the loft. He had skills. He put up shelves that didn't fall down. He made decorative pots and remembered to phone the kid who did the windows and stuff. He washed his truck. His work was never done, he had dishpan hands and he still had to eat second-rate cake in the commissary when Daniel's back was turned and at least four floors up.

Daniel still gave him hell on general principles.

Health grounds. Hah.

He slumped into his seat feeling justifiably aggrieved. Daniel took the chair next to him, giving his thigh a friendly squeeze. This reminded Jack of the reason he put up with Daniel's domestic bliss-out. He got Daniel.

"How are you boys doing living together?" Joe asked thoughtfully. He toasted Daniel with his mug. "Good coffee," he praised.

Good mugs. Historically themed. Daniel's general jones for pyramids had reached all kinds of unsuspected domestic avenues. "He has taste," Jack announced gloomily.

"So do you," Daniel retorted unkindly. "You're only bitching because my definition of taste doesn't include miniature attack helicopters."

"Daniel?" Joe prompted, calling time on the brewing disagreement.

"Jack is…" Daniel trailed off, chewing his lip.

"Jack is what?" Jack nudged him.

"Pushy."

"I am not."

"Really? How would you categorise your behaviour when I'm trying to take my shower?" Daniel asked interestedly.

"Sharing saves water," Jack responded smoothly. And he got to have some slippery soapy sex to start off his day right. It kind of took the edge off the fact that under Daniel's malign influence, he was starting to do stuff; sensible, mature, grown up stuff like check the fibre content of his cereal even when Daniel wasn't with him in the store. Jack had always been of the opinion you picked the cereal with the best toy and the TV dinner that cooked quickest. Now he read food labels and had to do nutritional calculus to figure out the fat content, knowing anything over the magic five grams would earn him a lecture when he got home.

All in all, he was inclined to believe that Sara had gone a lot easier on him than Daniel was prepared to. Daniel took the nurturing thing so far and no further and was as likely to tell Jack to do something himself as do it for him. Doing the something in question very slowly and badly usually meant Jack wound up having to do it again, only better and quicker.

If he'd known going in that Daniel's slightly flaky adorability was strictly skin deep, he'd have hired a damned maid.

"And the interactive shaving experience?" Daniel prompted, nudging him with a very sharp elbow.

Unbeatable eroticism. And strictly consensual. Fondling Daniel's foamy jaw got his honey horny too. "You're not a morning person," Jack explained reasonably.

"He seems to have managed just fine for the last sixteen or so years, son," Joe reproved him mildly.

"I don't know how you have the nerve, Daniel," Jack bitched, ignoring his Dad. "Weren't you the one who got me to try out that Minoan warrior grooming ritual?" The one with the knife, the bowl and the scraping. Screaming too. He remembered the screaming.

Daniel's ears went pink. He obviously remembered the screaming too.

"He's always making me try these weird-ass sexual techniques out of the history books," Jack complained. The folks made soothing noises.

"Fun?" Kate prompted.

Well, duh? Jack jerked his head significantly at Exhibit D.

"I beg your pardon. Ask a stupid question," Kate apologised hastily.

"All I can say is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it," Jack observed complacently. He said, okay, he whimpered, growled and hollered a lot of other things while he and Exhibit D. were doing it, none of which he was prepared to share with his dear grey-haired old mother in case she emailed them to the Franklin Mint newsgroup at Usenet.

"So you boys are happy?" Joe asked, smiling warmly at them both.

Jack glanced at Daniel, whose face lit up, his warmth punching Jack right in the heart. Daniel's hand slid back onto his thigh, fingers gently kneading. Promising.

"It's embarrassing how happy we are," Daniel admitted softly.

The folks relaxed in a way that drew attention to the minute tension even Jack hadn't seen. Kate and Joe looked smilingly at one another, sharing a wordless exchange of complete, intimate understanding.

"We were worried for you," Kate said simply. "You've only been together a few months, but it's long enough for the strain to show."

"Way to fill us with confidence, Mom," Jack said sarcastically, finally grasping the real reason he was currently clasped so tightly to the loving bosom of his family was so they wouldn't strain themselves spying on him.

"Neither of you boys are exactly used to the guy-on-guy thing," Joe added, reaching for Kate's hand.

"Neither are you!" Jack objected vehemently, glaring at the obvious gender gap, who stuck out her tongue at him.

"And we're not talking about our sex life," Daniel interjected rapidly.

Kate pouted. "Damn!"

"Your mother thinks it's hot," Joe snorted. "Two guys together."

"Not when one of them is my son!" Kate protested, making an 'ewww' face. "Teasing apart, I'm just interested in the mechanics of it in general. Purely for research purposes, of course. Jack and Daniel are my first live subjects, as it were. I can ask questions and I'm sure they'll be happy to answer them in detail for me."

"What?" Jack asked carefully. A whole lifetime wasn't long enough to get used to the way he'd think he was prepared for everything his folks could throw at him and they still blindsided him each and every time. He wasn't taking any risks when the context was his and Daniel's sex life, even if his part in it made him mom blench.

"I don't want to know." Daniel agitatedly refused to be drawn into the thickening plot, showing good instincts for once.

Joe nodded approvingly. "Keeping him on his toes, son?" he asked Jack lightly.

"On his back, I hope," Kate said dulcetly, eyes sparking sly humour. "Or do you prefer…"

"Knock it off, Mom," Jack fired off the ritual protest, for what little it was worth. Kate could take them both without breaking a sweat.

"Kate is something of an expert on guy-on-guy sex," Joe announced proudly, beaming into Kate's eyes.

"I am," Kate agreed. "My mouse gets a good work-out."

"She reads stuff. On the Internet. And talks about it. Got her own handle, even though she knows Myra Pendergast - you remember Myra?" Joe prompted Jack.

"No," Jack said flatly, "and I agree with Daniel. We don't want to know."

"Myra is this Jimjunkie who's always arguing Jim would never, ever bottom," Joe went on, oblivious to the protests.

"I tend to think Jim does whatever Blair tells him," Kate observed pointedly, smiling sweetly at Daniel.

"I don't know who these people are or why you'd be reading about them on the Internet," Daniel interjected quietly, "but I can tell you they're wrong. It isn't like that. We..." He turned earnestly to Jack, his eyes very soft. "aren't like that."

"It's easy," Jack agreed, more to reassure Daniel than his mom. "You wouldn't believe how easy it is. Once we stopped freaking over that simple fact, we were fine."

"Freaking?" Joe asked, frowning.

"You didn't mention freaking, and god knows I call you often enough!" Kate accused them, bridling.

"Email," Daniel added.

"Fax," Jack said coldly.

"Write," Daniel suggested. "And you send me text messages on my cell phone."

"Daniel isn't used to the maternal stalker thing," Jack smirked at his offended mother.

"You do fulfil most of the legal criteria for a stalker," Daniel agreed, alight with sly humour.

"We could get a restraining order with one phone call," Jack promised solemnly. "With Dad as a material witness."

"Hostile witness!" Kate snapped.

"Not particularly," Joe casually disagreed.

"Nobody loves me any more," Kate sniffed.

"Nope," Jack said cheerfully.

"Don't change the subject! Back to the freaking," Kate ordered, a grin tugging at her lips.

"Daniel falls asleep thirty seconds after sex." Jack selected an obvious guy thing at random.

"Why?" Kate demanded, shocked.

"Because he can," Joe said involuntarily. The three men exchanged a quick, knowing look.

"It sounds…" Kate began.

"Normal," Daniel interrupted. "Um…" He bit his lip, which assisted him to think and Jack believed generally froze everyone else's synapses in their skulls, his most of all. "Jack likes the way I smell," he offered self-consciously.

Jack certainly did. He had no difficulty tumbling into boneless sleep in tangled, sweat-soaked sheets, covered in a sticky, greasy, mutually achieved mess, to awake to a room reeking with sex and satiation. He loved Daniel's sleep-tasting mouth. He loved to swallow when Daniel came. He'd never expected to like plunging his tongue deep into Daniel's ass.

There was no mystique to sex, apart from how good it was and how often they wanted it.

They loved each other and it was all easy.

"I don't have to bolt for the deodorant the minute I wake up," Daniel went on.

Too busy having sex again.

Jack knew Daniel wouldn't mention how good they made each other feel. Jack was more used to long-term relationships than Daniel, but he could honestly say Sara had stopped looking at him the way Daniel did long before Charlie was born. When Daniel looked at Jack, right before bed, or over dinner, or while they were watching a movie, whatever, he wasn't thinking about anything but sex, it was right there in his eyes, so alive in his tight, needy face. He wanted Jack, wanted to do him right there when the mood was on him, and he wasn't always too bothered about what Jack wanted.

That was just fine with Jack. It was just…guys. He got it. He was it. He got to that same place way more often and Daniel never, ever refused him. Never complained it was embarrassing or difficult or he didn't feel like it. They'd look, and want, and fall into it, into each other, unable to stop.

No pretence. No mistakes, misunderstandings or miscommunication. Daniel got into it, got into him, with a hum of happy appreciation that made his toes curl. He loved Jack's body, loved to be with him, never hid how much Jack was wanted and needed, how sexy he found him.

Daniel's enthusiasm made Jack feel like a complete stud without a word said, even when it went wrong and they got hurt a little, or didn't like something, or laughed when they shouldn't.

Sex wasn't polite. It wasn't clean. It was noisy, pushy, messy and fun. They were both aggressive when they felt like it, and that was fine too. Sometimes they got so wrapped up in what they wanted they forgot the other guy. Sometimes it felt like they forgot the world.

What surprised Jack, married for twelve years, was how open they were. They didn't hide anything in sex, least of all each other. When they were good, when they were going for it, it showed. Everything showed.

"Yeah," he said softly, smiling at Daniel. "We're happy."

Even when things were bad their instinct was to be together. Daniel had been hurting over that whole stinking mess with Chaka and the Unas and the war he'd maybe started and there was nothing Jack could do to fix it. All he could do was be there, and be glad Daniel hadn't made him beg. He was sick with relief that first night back, when Daniel came over anyway without being asked, walked straight into Jack's arms and clung to him, telling him how sorry he was Jack got hurt. He wasn't shut out. Daniel had turned to him, needed him close. They lay side by side, Daniel rigid, his body corded with tension, exhausted, his mind racing between snatches of uneasy sleep, but needing Jack right there with him.

Jack hadn't pushed sex because Daniel hadn't wanted it, he'd just wanted Jack. A constant, Jack had realised. A place of safety, one thing Daniel could trust when he couldn't trust himself. They got through the worst of the nightmarish doubts, what ifs and confusion, Daniel's gradual acceptance there weren't always answers, got a little interested again… then a lot interested...pushy…

Daniel liking tents was the best news Jack had heard in weeks. If his darling liked tents, the odds were he'd knock Jack on his ass and take him if he didn't move quick enough. All they had to do was survive a pleasant dinner en famille.

Speaking of which. "What's for dinner?"

"I know a cue when I hear one." Kate shoved back her chair. "I was told to get out from underfoot," she sniffed, eyeing them haughtily. "We're going to unpack."

"That means 'heel', Dad," Jack pointed out helpfully. He stood up to gather the mugs, correctly interpreting Daniel's cool look to mean he was about to be helping out however Daniel chose to make him help. "Nag," he accused the minute his folks were out of earshot.

"I didn't say a word," Daniel protested, skipping a few steps when Jack took a swipe at his ass.

"You don't have to," Jack complained as he turned on the faucet to heat the water for the dishes. "That's how you get me." He tapped his head with a mug. "Psychology."

"I don't have any idea what you're talking about," Daniel denied. He nibbled his lip, standing in the middle of the kitchen looking at nothing in particular. "I don't have any idea what we're eating tonight." He walked over to the refrigerator, looking guilty and conflicted. "I may have to defrost," he apologised to Jack.

"Mom can tell, you know. Ask her about frozen lasagne some time."

Daniel sagged.

Jack decided tactile assurance would be welcome and was not mistaken in this. Daniel returned his gentle kiss with enthusiasm, locking his arms tight round Jack's neck as he basically ate Jack alive. Jack loved the way Daniel did that, those long, elegant fingers clenching painfully tight in his hair keeping him right where Daniel wanted him, the other hand sliding down to clamp over his ass.

They clung together, biting at one another's mouths, laughing a little.

"What?" Daniel asked when Jack leaned back to look at him.

"I love to see you smile." He loved Daniel relaxed, playful, teasing, laughing, fierce in concentration, raging at the injustice of the world, indignant with the fools who had to have their way instead of the truth. He loved the way Daniel's face changed, mischief heating to sexy, achy, needing. Do me. Do me now. "Bathroom," Jack snapped, shoving hard at Daniel's shoulders.

Daniel turned and bolted out of the kitchen, moving noiselessly along the hallway, Jack hard on his heels. He froze at the corner, letting Jack take point.

Jack eased across to the far wall to watch and listen. The folks were chatting, moving about the room, his mother's light, quick steps everywhere. He nodded and slipped in through the bathroom door. Daniel crept past him, turning as Jack eased the door closed and slid the bolt home.

A beat later Daniel's body slammed into his, crowding him hard against the door, Daniel's arm across his shoulder, pinning him. The wood was cool and smooth beneath his cheek. Jack bit his lip as moist, limber pressure heated the nape of his neck, delicately stroking his skin like the sweep of an artist's brush, making him shiver. His cock filled fast enough to make him light-headed, bursting just from this, the touch of Daniel's tongue.

He heaved back, spinning to grab Daniel, wrenching at his belt buckle, tearing into the impeccably creased pants to free his flushed, swollen cock, jerking hard as his hand closed over it.

Daniel shoved into him again, rocking him back on his heels, his breath gusting hot and agitated against Jack's throat as he shoved the jeans down over Jack's hips to eagerly grab his cock. A deep sigh of satisfaction welled up from him as Jack thrust roughly into his tight grip, hips jerking hard.

Jack pumped Daniel fiercely, without finesse, each of them leaning their weight into the other, crowding close, their breathing harsh and laboured as they joyously fucked each other's hands.

The thing that always amazed Jack was the heat. He still remembered the first time he'd fumbled in Daniel's pants and found not warmth and the gentleness he associated with his friend, but heat; aggressive, wilful heat.

Daniel burned against the palm of his hand, his balls heavy and sensitive, making him hiss and writhe with every soft stroke.

Jack pressed his thumb into the sensitive head of Daniel's throbbing cock, smearing the pearly drops of fluid, his grip sliding more easily over the avidly straining flesh, twitching against him when he got it just right, got Daniel so turned on he lost it like this. Daniel snarled wordless displeasure as Jack slowed his pumping to look at Daniel, see the pleasure he was giving. Jack obligingly tightened his grip, his hand quickening as he pulled Daniel's pleasure from him. Hips humping urgently against him, Daniel groaned wrenchingly.

Jack clapped his hand over Daniel's mouth, terrified his mother would hear them jerking off. Daniel's tongue was hot, probing pressure against his palm. He snatched up Daniel's hand in turn to suck his fingers, something Daniel really liked him to do, squeezing them against the roof of his mouth with his tongue, rubbing them the way Daniel liked to have his cock rubbed.

There it was, that soft hum telling him he was doing Daniel good.

His body was tensing as he thrust desperately into Daniel's smooth, sliding grip, feeling that tight twist just right, just there where he needed it most, the constant, massaging pressure from strong, knowing fingers. God, it was good, it was so fucking good and getting better every goddamn time. They loved to touch, to hold, wrists aching, fingers cramping on slippery, scalding skin as they worked each other hard.

Small shivering shocks were surging through Jack, prickling his skin, tightening his heaving body, shaking him, slamming him into Daniel again and again, his force, his focus narrowing, deepening…He knew nothing but Daniel, heavy and loving and taking, so dear to him, so close, filling his senses, wracking his body with pleasure, taking him to screaming point.

He couldn't brace himself against the pressure crushing his body, spiking down…

Jack threw back his head as he convulsed and came, slumping against the door as his cock jerked and spurted into Daniel's sweaty, slippery palm, greedily cupped around him. His knees cast the majority vote and he dropped, grabbing Daniel's hips to take him into his mouth, take him all the way in one long practiced glide, tongue crowding his pounding cock, sucking fiercely as Daniel clutched his head and thrust into him, fucking his throat. After a few seconds of straining desperation, Daniel's hips arched as he pulsed salt slickness over Jack's waiting tongue. Jack swallowed, drinking him deep, taking everything Daniel had to give him.

Nothing new there.

Urgent hands pulled him up and into a hungry, plunging kiss, bruising pressure met and deepened as they drove into each other desperately.

Daniel tore himself free abruptly, trembling body fighting for stillness as he dropped his head to rest on Jack's shoulder, holding him tight, pushing into him restlessly. "God, I missed you," he whispered. "Jack, my Jack."

"Me too, Daniel," Jack murmured against Daniel's hair. Hearing his name from Daniel like that, it was all the endearment he needed. There was something very wonderful between them when a famine of only two days could produce a feast of fun like this. It was damned good to be so wanted by a man who was wholly with him.

The way it had to be.
 



Daniel felt supple and sated, his movements loose and light as he smoothed the cream silk sweater down. Jack liked this one, especially the way the soft collar opened to bare his throat and the long, loose fabric skimmed and clung to move with his body. For Jack, he teamed it with the equally thin pale grey sweats and bare feet.

It was a subtle invitation.

Daniel liked to dress casually at home, happily pottering around in bare feet and loose clothing Jack enjoyed too. It was odd how they hadn't learned to be apart yet, not really. Daniel wasn't conscious of a need for reassurance. It wasn't an urge to check up on Jack or anything. He was pretty sure. He was comfortable where Jack was. Relaxed and…easy. He could curl up on the couch with his feet braced against Jack's thighs and not even notice the TV. He'd tune in if Jack spoke to him, but mostly they just sat, Daniel reading or working, Jack watching TV, often pulling Daniel's feet into his lap, stroking him idly through the fabric of whatever he was wearing.

Daniel had quietly added to his wardrobe when Jack had bought him this sweater, handing it to him crumpled in the plastic bag from the store, embarrassed and hiding it in brusqueness. He'd teamed the sweater with these exact sweats and they'd made love in front of the fire, Jack sliding into him, taking him deep and slow, the soft silk rubbing and rubbing between them when Jack's weight lowered, the chafing driving him out of his mind…

Maybe it was a little kinky, but Daniel liked Jack to toss his books and glasses, push him down hard on the couch, without warning, hold him down, hands held above his head, their fingers entwined, his body pinned beneath Jack's. They would lie that way, Jack eating his mouth, letting him feel the weight and strength. The need. Jack would whisper what he was going to do to him, every damned thing…He would wrap his legs round Jack's hips, shove at his jeans, urging Jack on with his heels dug hard into the tight, flexing muscles of his ass as he drove into him, the butter-soft denim rubbing between his thighs. It drove him wild.

Taking a final self-conscious look in the mirror, Daniel decided Jack would read his intentions for the night just fine. The only slight drawback was Kate wouldn't object to his outfit either. Or to his plans.

As he closed drawers and tidied his closet a little, Daniel thought about how the sex had somehow energised him, the charge of it leaving him feeling alert and alive, his body tingling and…and clean. A lot of that was from the heat and sheer life in Jack's eyes, the pleasure on his face where Daniel was growing used to finding sometimes tense watchfulness. It was a fine thing to know Jack felt so very much for him, but it was hard to burden him with problems he would have hidden and dealt with alone before now. He was learning a lot of these relationship lessons kind of after the fact. Jack had struggled more with them at the beginning but as they settled, as they began to get used to each other in all these small, intimate, interconnected ways, Jack's greater experience, the mistakes he'd already learned from in life, were beginning to tell.

The only thing Jack would not tolerate was being pushed away. He pushed back, and hard, until he had his way. Daniel wasn't sure if it was a weakness or a strength he allowed himself to turn to Jack and not away, but he didn't probe too closely because it was something Jack needed from him. They weren't always wise and they weren't always right, but being close to Jack, well, that was right.

Daniel cut himself some slack and allowed himself to enjoy his happiness. He preferred to be doing, moving, opening himself to possibility and the certainty of chance. It was too easy to keep himself safe, to keep control. He needed to be out there, taking risks, learning everything he could, growing, making a difference. He needed Jack with him every step of the way and it seemed he had him. Things had never been easier between them at work, their understanding effortlessly harmonious.

After checking around one last time, Daniel headed out of the bedroom. Jack had made several supply runs for the bare essentials of a night under canvas, while Daniel had hidden the contents of the bottom dresser drawer in the basement. Neither of them wanted Kate reading out instructive passages from their books to them over dinner.

Daniel had felt it was only prudent to research the 'guy-on-guy' thing thoroughly, particularly when he was dealing with Jack's determination to try everything in the 'Gay Kama Sutra' right along with Jack's little ACL problem and his stubbornness about ignoring it. Jack had also done a lot of instructive reading before they got together, but Daniel prided himself on being fully up to speed and endlessly creative about keeping the pressure off Jack's knees.

Sex had started out good and continued to defy the law of diminishing returns by getting better and better.

"Hi, honey!" Ruth hailed him when he crossed the hallway towards the kitchen. She was sitting surrounded by the presents Kate was wrapping, which he and Jack weren't allowed to see. Joe was snoozing gently on the couch.

Daniel smiled, sincerely glad Ruth looked so much better. Kate had assured him and Jack individually and together that Ruth was fine, just excited, and looking at her pink cheeks and broad smile now, he decided to accept that. What with Jack close by to be tortured and her pilgrimage to Laura's house in Mansfield to look forward to, Ruth was like a terrier with two tails. He'd never seen her happier.

"How's it going?" he asked Jack as he strolled into the kitchen to find him in some kind of sauce-stirring fugue. The lights were on but the colonel wasn't home. He waved his hand in front of Jack's glazed eyes. "Jack? The sauce?"

When Daniel blew in his ear, Jack landed from whatever planet he was currently orbiting. "Not lumpy," he replied informatively.

Daniel leaned into Jack's broad back and took his time about checking the pan, sniffing appreciatively at the darkly bubbling contents.

"Madeira sauce?" Jack asked. "Isn't that a little wussy?"

"Not after you reduce the alcohol," Daniel explained patiently. "It's sultry and intense." He uncovered the steaks he was marinating in balsamic vinegar, garlic and spring onions, wincing reflexively at how little time he had to infuse some sharpness to cut across the sweet richness of the Madeira sauce.

"We should have gone with pizza," Jack insisted stubbornly.

Daniel looked at him coolly.

"I am holding a spoon," Jack complained, waving the little wooden spoon in evidence. "I am stirring."

Daniel looked at the spoon Jack was brandishing. It seemed oddly familiar…"Isn't that the one we use for…Jack! That's not exactly hygienic," Daniel hissed. This particular spoon got covered in…stuff. Lots of…stuff.

"What?" Jack sneered. "We wash it after it's been in action. I say 'we'…" He scowled at Daniel, refusing to give ground on one of his favourite bones of contention.

"I'm not having the dishwasher argument again," Daniel said briskly as he strolled over to select vegetables from the stacked wicker baskets, another of his innovations Jack wasn't too keen on. "I have a dishwasher." He kissed Jack's cheek as he passed him. "You." He glanced at the spoon and deliberately looked away, refusing to give Jack more ammunition about his alleged fussiness. Good kitchen hygiene wasn't fussy.

"What are we having?" Jack asked eagerly as Daniel began to inspect the vegetables.

Daniel shooed him back to the sauce.

"And are you doing anything weird to it?" Jack added.

"Define weird?" Daniel slid the vegetables into the sink and started to wash them.

"Caramelised? Charred? Confetti? Honey-glazed? Julienne? Jus? Pancaked? Pureed? Roasted? Stuffed? Truffle-scented? Wilted?" Jack reeled off rapidly.

"Examples of which you've scarfed down and whined over when I wouldn't give you a third helping," Daniel retorted unsympathetically. "I'm mashing the potato," he offered by way of a palliative. He was mashing the potato with butter and horseradish in a vain attempt to add piquancy to a bland defrost dinner menu. He was also planning to thinly slice the vegetables and sear them in the griddle pan. Jack liked the criss-cross effect, even on zucchini, which he claimed he hated.

As Daniel peeled and prepared the potatoes, Jack eyed him suspiciously, still stirring and whining about his spoon, his wrist, his knees, his back…

"You can sleep on the couch if you're feeling so elderly and decrepit," Daniel offered generously.

"Decrepit?" Jack echoed in aggravated astonishment.

"I can supply you with a dictionary definition if you'd like, but there's no point fighting now if we can't…um…vent," he reminded Jack regretfully, jerking his head meaningfully at the folks cosily ensconced in the living room. There was no chance of Daniel being thrown down and pinned to anything under Kate's watchful eye. Unless she was the one doing the pinning.

Daniel shot the living room a nervous look.

"Point very much taken," Jack agreed crisply. "We'll pick this up at 'decrepit' once we hit the sleeping bag," he promised meaningfully.

As tempting as it was to idle here fantasising sliding into Jack and fucking him forever, Daniel reluctantly decided to change the subject, very conscious of the family audience, probably eavesdropping their collective asses off, ready to shout out advice on positions. "Wine?" he enquired.

"If you want me to." Jack was puzzled but apparently willing.

Daniel looked at him in confusion. "Want you to…what?" he probed carefully.

"Is this one of those discipline scenarios?" Jack asked in an undertone, obviously drawn to the idea. "I whine, you tell me to shut up, I get laid?" He thought about this. "I could tell you to shut up, then I get laid," he suggested. There was another brief pause while Jack thought some more. "I could tie you up, tell you to shut up, then I get laid."

"Wine to drink," Daniel explained after a brief pause to recover from way TMI. Their sex lives were resolutely vanilla, mostly because they weren't very good at some of this stuff. It was all great, they always had a blast, and while they were endlessly enthusiastic, they weren't going to win any awards for technique.

They tried new positions for intercourse that didn't work, one in particular where his attempts to help Jack hit the right spot had resulted in a fit of laughter and accusations from his beloved he sounded like an air traffic controller.

Keeping the books handy for quick reference during tricky bits in sex was a habit they needed to break, but while so much of the 'Gay Kama Sutra' lay unexplored, it wasn't going to happen any time soon.

Daniel couldn't rim to save his life. The whole concept struck him as irresistibly funny and he cracked up every time, Jack laughing with him.

"Oh. Wine." Jack looked and sounded disappointed. "Grolsch," he ordered.

"Grolsch is not wine unless they've radically altered the requirement for grapes. I was thinking Cabernet Sauvignon," Daniel contradicted. "The Arrowood Sonoma," he decided. "The ninety-six. It's a special occasion," he reminded Jack self-consciously.

"Eighty bucks worth of special?" Jack protested. "Mom?"

Daniel turned his back on him.

"I can't stir the sauce and crawl through the 'wine cellar' at the same time," Jack sighed. "At eighty bucks a pop, even I know the wine needs to breathe. At eighty goddamn bucks. I know the feeling," he grumbled sotto voce into the saucepan. "Guess I'd better haul ass." He made no discernible move out of the kitchen, glancing instead at Daniel, his face lazily speculative. "Can I tie you up?"

"No."

"At least think about it," Jack insisted resentfully.

"I did," Daniel answered pleasantly. "And the answer is still no. You can't tell me to shut up either. I don't tell you to shut up." Which was true. "I merely point out your childish displays are counter-productive."

"I've been accused of being elderly, decrepit, whining and childish in…" Jack made a production job of checking his watch. "In under two minutes. You notice I refrain from calling you a repressed vanilla know-it-all in retaliation?"

"You forgot to add cheap to your list of my supposed allegations towards you," Daniel said coolly.

"I forgot to add extravagant to my list for you," Jack snarled.

Screw the audience at home. They met up in a clash of hormones and hips.

"I need the bathroom," Daniel whispered urgently, reaching up to bite Jack's ear.

"I need the goddamn tent," Jack groaned, clutching Daniel to him. "Lick my spoon!"

Daniel opened his mouth.

Jack sagged. "Can't you for once just lick the goddamn spoon and not worry about food hygiene?"

Daniel smoothed his fingers over Jack's shirt, futzing with the buttons. "Sorry," he said mildly.

"For not being quite the flake I thought you were? Don't be silly, Daniel."

"I would have just said 'for being so organised'," Daniel chattily informed his tactless colonel as he peeled himself away, having to tread heavily on Jack's foot to convince him they really had lost the moment and it was his fault.

"For being scary-organised," Jack amended, showing willing and hovering blatantly. "It's just the way you were trained," he made excuse. "And because you have so much stuff. Having to keep it in two places, it's easy to lose track. I get that."

"You were trained too," Daniel tossed out as he picked up his zucchini and began to slice it into long strips. "And you have stuff of your very own." Daniel had never, in his life, been drunk enough to race up and down the yard zooming model jet planes and little rockets.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jack asked after a moment.

"It means it's too long since you boys got laid," Ruth said pleasantly, walking stiffly into the kitchen. She pinched Jack's butt as she passed him to close in and kiss Daniel. "You're both full of grits and vinegar, bathroom breaks notwithstanding."

"Bathroom?"

"Breaks?"

"Don't ask!" Jack told him urgently.

"I don't want to know," Daniel shuddered.

"Neither did we," Ruth smirked. "I'm too damn old for that kind of excitement."

We were quiet, Daniel thought weakly, looking fixedly at a countertop littered with distressingly phallic vegetables.

"Someone's ass was knock-knock-knocking on heaven's door," Ruth observed gleefully.

Jack hurled his spoon into the sink and spinelessly ran for it, calling something about grabbing the wine as he made for the basement at top speed. This was a classic example of something Jack insisted was a strategic withdrawal, which was apparently Air Force-speak for running away.

Jack was trained, all right.

Ruth rinsed the spoon and leaned over the saucepan, inhaling ecstatically. She lowered the spoon and began to stir at a stately pace.

Daniel's knife slowed but he said nothing, trusting Ruth not to have taken on more than she could handle. He kept an unobtrusive eye on her.

"Good boy," Ruth said fondly after a few minutes of friendly silence. "Nothing pisses me off quicker than fuss."

"I guessed," Daniel admitted.

"You'd know something about that," Ruth observed shrewdly.

Daniel put his knife down and turned to lean against the counter top. "I guess so," he said, surprised both by Ruth's perceptiveness and his own realisation. "I never thought of it that way."

"Attention is good, honey. We'd die without it. Just has to be the right kind of attention," Ruth sighed. "Kate and Joe are great. They're family, you know? They let me do more than I should because they know it psyches me out and I stop myself for their sake. Slick as snot, the pair of them," she grinned approvingly, eyes wicked.

"Jack can't," Daniel sighed. "He won't even try. If I do something stupid he plants himself right in front of me and turns into the original immovable object." Unfortunately without volume controls.

"He doesn't want you hurt," Ruth said serenely. "My boy figures you've been hurt enough. We all do."

"I…" Daniel protested.

Ruth turned as he spoke, hugging her arms round her chest, her head dropping, glancing to Daniel and as quickly away. She stood in the too-familiar stance, a silent, gentle challenge.

He swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. "I don't know family," he said quietly. "Not since my parents died." Not the way Ruth meant. The only 'family' he'd hung onto was SG-1. Jack.

"How old were you?" Ruth asked, walking forward to take his hand.

"Eight. It was an accident," he added hurriedly. "I…I don't…"

"No," Ruth agreed, squeezing his hand. "You don't have to talk about it. I'm old enough to believe with all my heart in a person's right to privacy."

"I was young enough to learn."

"I figured." Ruth patted his hand consolingly. "There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to make a decision someone else doesn't okay first. Being powerless - it eats you alive if you let it, and all the while people tell you how lucky you are, how much worse it could be." She looked up, eyes fierce and over-bright. "Every time I walk into the Senior Citizen's Centre I see how much worse it could be for me," she said starkly, shuddering.

"Brooklyn Family Intervention Centre," Daniel supplied in return.

"Forgive me, Daniel. I can't - we none of us can believe you weren't just snatched right up," Ruth said distressfully. "Such a sweet boy."

"I was fostered," Daniel said stiffly. He'd had no choice. Nick had refused to take him, and he'd refused to let anyone else. Placements lasted so long and then you were moved on and someone took your place. You hoped you found a place. Sometimes, he'd had to wait. It was hard to live in apology for his very existence, not allowed to be more than the sum of his case file.

"Your family?" Ruth asked, fighting not to get angry. She looked at Daniel's tight face and then she was angry, shaking with it, tears spilling as she hugged him fiercely. "I love you, boy," she whispered, patting his back.

"I love you too, Ruth." Daniel gently returned the hug, conscious of Ruth's fragility.

"We want to see Charlie," Ruth murmured against his shirt. "We don't want to upset Jack but we've never been to see him since he was buried. We miss him so. It wouldn't be right to be so close and not see him."

"I understand."

"And Sara." Ruth looked up at that, eyes very bright. "I might never get another chance, honey. I had to come. Will you…we don't want to hurt Jack."

"I think he'll understand. He…he still loves Sara," Daniel admitted quietly. "We can talk to him about it tonight."

"Thank you," Kate's voice echoed softly from the doorway. "He listens to you."

"I won't make him…" Daniel began.

"We wouldn't ask that of you," Kate frowned. "Just make sure he feels okay about us going. We need to talk to Sara, it's so long since we saw her and Mike."

"Sure," Daniel agreed easily. "It'll give me time to pack."

Kate and Ruth looked at one another, Ruth stepping back to stare at Daniel. "You don't want to be with us, Daniel?"

"It's for the family," Kate added.

"I don't think I should," Daniel said awkwardly. The last thing Jack would want to do was introduce his lover to his wife. He'd never taken Daniel to visit Charlie's grave either. Daniel understood that Jack's family was private to him and left it strictly alone. They'd talked in the early days of their friendship…he liked to think he'd helped Jack to cope, especially after Sara had burst back into his life in the worst of circumstances, stirring up all those feelings. "I'm not family." Not for this.

"Excuse me?" Kate snapped.

"How do you think it will make Sara feel to have a stranger intruding on such a private family occasion?" Daniel said directly. "She'd have to wonder why I was included - a work colleague of Jack's - and if she had any idea of the truth, that Jack and I are lovers, it could only hurt her. I think it's best for everyone if I stay away."

"I doubt Jack will agree, son," Joe called, walking into the crowded kitchen. He folded his arms across his chest, looking stern for once. "And neither do we."

"Come to see Charlie at least," Kate urged.

Daniel shook his head. Only if Jack wanted him there. Jack would ask if he did. "I love that you would think of me as family, all of you. I'm truly grateful. I just don't think it's right, so please don't ask me."

Ruth squeezed his hand, pulling a little face. "Promise, honey. Out, you two!" she ordered briskly. "Cooking, here!" Kate stiffened, ready to argue on, but Joe took her shoulders and steered her out of the kitchen, still grumbling under her breath. Ruth waited until a heated, low-voiced discussion started in the living room, then smiled ruefully up at Daniel. "Sorry, hon, truly. I'm way up there on the preaching part of life, but the practice is sometimes a stretch. We won't hassle you about it. I guess you're just so much a part of us now we can't separate out the part of you that isn't ours."

"It's okay, Ruth, really," Daniel assured her. He was not about to make this a problem for himself and Jack. They'd never fought over Charlie, and Daniel didn't want to hurt Sara any more than he wanted to be hurt himself.

It was a simple fact that he would always be Jack's second choice. He loved his wife, end of story. He would never have chosen to be with Daniel if Sara hadn't left him. As happy and settled as Jack was now, he'd fought being with Daniel to the last ditch.

Daniel shied away from his own tangled feelings over Jack and Sha'uri because he couldn't deal with this sense of rightness when he was with Jack, as if Jack completed him. It hadn't been there with Sha'uri. He had loved her dearly and always would, but their short time together had been about adjustment, to the strange new culture he had to learn to be a part of, to Abydos itself, and to one another. Daniel missed Sha'uri, but he ached for Jack.

He just…he felt more for Jack, as if every part of him was open to Jack, touched by him.

As hard as it was for him to face, Jack wasn't his second choice. He didn't need to be reminded of his true place in Jack's life. They were happy as they were, just being together. He wouldn't let inchoate, pointless regrets threaten that.

Ruth sighed, slumping against him. "Dammit. Never crossed this selfish old bitch's mind it would hurt you. Forgive me, Daniel?" she asked appealingly, taking the opportunity to pat him again.

"Nothing to forgive," Daniel promised, politely removing her hand from his ass.
 



Jack strolled into the kitchen with the Sonoma-whatsit to find Daniel being molested by Ruth. "Keep your hands where I can see 'em" he ordered her briskly. "Dad?" he called. "You want to do the honours with the wine?"

"Wine?" Joe complained loudly from the living room.

Jack shot a triumphant look at Daniel. "See? I told you. Beer and pizza would have been just fine." He put the wine down, noticing that Daniel was pretty quiet. He'd only been gone ten minutes. He would have been quicker, but he wanted to check some colour illustrations in chapter seventeen of…Dammit! What was he thinking? Ten minutes was long enough for the old reprobates to start World War Three.

He headed out the kitchen and onto the stairs down into the living room just as his parents reached the bottom of them, looking up in surprise. "What did you say to him?" he asked briskly, going on instinct. His meddling mother flushed guiltily and shot a look up at Dad. "Leave him alone," Jack ordered curtly.

"Watch your tone with your mother, son," Joe warned him, frowning heavily.

"Watch yours with Daniel!" Jack flared. "He loves you guys and he doesn't have a single defence against you. If you hurt him, he stays hurt, okay?" he added in a milder tone.

"Fair enough," Joe agreed, still frowning at Jack. "Even if you are totally overreacting."

Kate smiled mistily. "He's protecting Daniel. I wouldn't have him any other way." She sniffed and stepped forward, slipping her arm around Jack's waist. "We want to see Charlie, darling. Daniel doesn't think he should be there. That's all." She buried her face in his chest, pressing a gentle kiss against him when he automatically hugged her.

"We need to see him, son. And Sara. We miss her, Ruth especially. We want you to be with us, and Daniel too. He's family now," Joe said quietly.

Jack kissed his mother's hair, set her away from him and loped back up the stairs. Ruth took a good look at him, grinning like a fiend as she handed him the spoon and headed for the hills. It took her a while, the spirit was willing but the flesh…

Daniel was doing something complicated to the vegetables involving the griddle pan smoking. "Can you get the window, Jack?" he asked distractedly above the muted roar of the extractor and the sizzle of cooking food.

Jack did so. He wasn't in the mood to shout declarations of love and commitment over the shrill of the smoke alarm. He checked the saucepan and lowered the heat, flipped the steaks Daniel was pan-frying, then gave the garlic and spring onions a quick stir. Daniel murmured vague thanks. "I'm in love with you," Jack announced. He kissed the back of Daniel's neck.

Daniel jumped and a slice of zucchini catapulted from his spatula to land on Jack's shoulder. "Oh. Sorry!" Daniel snatched up the zucchini and tossed it on the drainer, turning back to his griddle at once. He began to lay each strip of the thinly sliced vegetables precisely at the opposite angle to the way it had started.

Jack watched the back of Daniel's neck for a while. So much for the tender romantic gesture.

"I'M IN LOVE WITH YOU!"

Daniel turned at that to kiss his cheek. "Me too," he said softly, his sweet smile faltering as he brushed self-consciously at the zucchini-damp spot on Jack's shirt. "Could you set the table?"

"MOM! GET YOUR ASS IN GEAR! YOU WANT TO EAT? SET THE DAMN TABLE!"

"BITE ME!" Kate yelled back.

"The folks haven't been back to Colorado since the divorce. I understand they can't be this close to Winter Park and not want to take Charlie flowers. For the record, I want you with me when we go." Jack guessed he'd called this part right at least when Daniel flushed, avoided his eyes, took a deep breath that was probably visible from Winter Park and got his supportive game face on.

Now for the hard part.

He didn't want his wife and his lover anywhere near each other. It would be like a kick in the gut to Daniel, who wasn't Mr. Secure on a good day, and Sara was anything but dumb. She might be involved with whatshisface but she would be devastated to realise Jack was involved with another man too. He doubted he could hide the way he felt from Sara any more than he could ever hide from Daniel. In any other man, she'd understand, see past the stereotypes. In her husband…he wasn't about to put her through that unless he had absolutely no choice.

Doubly so for Daniel. They'd known going in none of this would be easy. Neither of them had expected to wind up with another man and he wasn't about to have Daniel believing he was making do with him only because he couldn't do better. That was bullshit. He hadn't chased a woman since Sara had left him. Since Daniel came back into his life. He didn't know which of those was true. Maybe both. Daniel had filled up all the emptiness inside, he knew that. He'd been stoned when he got horizontal with Kynthia. Carter was enough for two other Jack O'Neills, but not for him. Neither was Laira. He got wasted on moonshine before he had sex with Laira. He'd given her a choice she couldn't take and then he'd walked away. He couldn't walk away from Daniel and he had tried.

It made Jack very uneasy to think about what would have happened if he'd still been with Sara when Daniel came back into his life. Sara was always quick, always perceptive, like Daniel. He wondered if she would have seen how attracted he was to Daniel, how much he wanted to be with him, and if she would have realised quicker than he had what it meant.

He didn't want to think about that, so he didn't. It was too damned confusing and he and Daniel had the odds stacked against them as it was. It was real simple. This was his life now. He wasn't who he'd always thought he was, but he was pretty much okay with that, because he got to be with Daniel. Daniel was worth the trade off. Jack didn't doubt that and he was damned if he'd let Daniel.

Jack understood why his folks had assumed…they loved Daniel as much as they loved Sara, and they clung to him all the more because they'd lost Sara. They didn't want to choose but Jack had to. He loved his wife, but he was in love with Daniel, he was with Daniel, and his loyalty had to be here.

"You feel up to letting Mom take the jeep?" he asked casually. "That way we can bail when they go visit Sara and Mike." He hoped Daniel would get it, that it would be enough. He didn't want to make a big thing of something that had never been an issue for them. "They can make their way back here from Sara's place easy enough while we head over to your place to pack, then we can all meet up back here to get the stuff ready for the party."

It wasn't perfect, it maybe wasn't easy for Daniel to hear and wonder about the why, but it turned out to be enough. The slight tension around Daniel's eyes left him completely and he leaned in to nuzzle his cheek affectionately against Jack's. Peachy.

"Thanks," Daniel sighed.

"You're smouldering," Jack observed conversationally.

Daniel brightened, shooting him a distinctly flirty look.

Jack solemnly pointed his finger at the vegetables, which appeared to be spontaneously combusting. "Are we caramelising on purpose here?" he asked innocently. Daniel followed the finger, took in the unfolding disaster, snarled evilly and coldly ordered Jack out of the kitchen.

He found everyone gathered around the dining table, making with the cutlery, place settings and glasses. Not eavesdropping, not them, no way, busy, busy. He glared at each of them, milking the upper hand for all it was briefly worth. He'd never managed to make the folks feel this guilty in his life. One little pout from Daniel and they felt like murderers.

Jack decided he liked them anxious and malleable and was in no rush to put them out of their collective misery. Loving them was irrelevant. He didn't want and didn't need them interfering in his intimately personal life. They didn't know Daniel like he did, didn't realise how he took things to heart.

Naturally, he was obligated to exploit the situation for all it was worth, the moment a suitable opportunity arose in which he was required to compel their co-operation. Their appallingly imminent pilgrimage to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in Mansfield would no doubt present an embarrassment of exploitable opportunities.

A stream of low-voiced curses in a variety of languages rolled out of the kitchen.

"He's very fluent," Joe said admiringly as he poured the wine.

"Do you need the fire extinguisher?" Jack called, sticking his head through the doorway. A soggy strip of zucchini hit him in the face with a wet splat and slid down his nose. Jack peeled it off, looked at it, then neatly deposited it in the trash, giving his infuriated linguist as wide a berth as his very small kitchen allowed. "How about a pizza?" he called loudly as he got behind Ruth.

Daniel's impassioned reply lasted several minutes.

The O'Neills, appreciating a good show, took their seats and watched Extreme Cooking with lively interest.

"Turn the heat down!" Kate advised.

Daniel forcefully expressed his opinion of her advice.

"Twenty-three languages!" Ruth boasted proudly.

"I think I should get the sprinklers serviced," Jack mused at the top of his lungs.

Daniel loudly touched base with a few more languages.

"What's a mikta?" Joe enquired, absolutely enthralled.

A lot of clashing indicated dinner was about to be served whether they liked it or not. Everyone swung round and stared into their wine glass as if it contained the mysteries of the universe.

"Hungry?" Daniel asked pleasantly as he emerged with two impeccably arranged plates, each with a tastefully arranged tower of vegetables drizzled with the rich berry-coloured sauce, artful mounds of mashed potato oozing butter and the perfect steaks still sizzling. He served Kate and Ruth first, smiling, then stalked back into the kitchen. He came back with another two plates, slid one in front of Joe, then stood looking down at Jack. Everyone looked right back. Daniel hesitated, then placed the plate in front of Jack with a definite flourish.

Jack chuckled and caught Daniel round the waist as he moved towards the kitchen again. "You've got no idea how close I came to getting a nuked pizza there," he snorted. He let Daniel go to fetch his own dinner out to the table, hiding a grin when he noticed Daniel was checking how much each of them had eaten. He was paranoid about his cooking for no reason known to man.

"Oh, I think we do, son," Joe sniggered, winking at Daniel as he took his seat.

"Daniel is obviously very good for you, darling," Kate said approvingly.

The depressingly good influence nibbled a strip of healthy, vitamin packed carrot, looking modest and unassuming. He only got away with it because he was sweet, gorgeous and incredible in bed.

"You're not looking nearly so porky," Ruth added supportively.

Daniel snorted, trying and failing to turn it into a cough. "Jack isn't fat," he protested in a slightly choked voice.

"Thank you," Jack said ironically, recalling a dozen different 'importance of good nutrition' tirades right off the top of his head. This from the man who thought an apple was an adequate breakfast.

"Not any more," Ruth muttered.

"Have you talked about tomorrow?" Kate asked brightly. "I'm dying to see Daniel's loft."

"Not that you were listening at the door or anything," Jack said sarcastically.

"You haven't got a door," Kate observed with a blank look over Jack's shoulder.

"That's irrelevant," Jack snapped.

"We can all go after we've been to see Charlie," Joe said pacifically.

"And Sara," Kate added smoothly.

Both Jack and Joe were ready to tell her to leave it alone, Ruth was scowling…

"We've made our decision," Daniel said with unwonted sternness, frowning at Kate. "Which you know perfectly well."

Everyone looked at Kate. She looked very hard at Daniel, fought herself over whatever it was she was dying to riposte with, then smiled sweetly, slicing serenely into her steak. "Of course, sweetheart," she said lightly.

"I'm really starting to dislike you," Jack darkly informed his darling. Daniel's bare toes caressed his shin apologetically. Jack sniffed disparagingly, but stretched his leg out to encourage greater interactivity. Daniel's foot obligingly curled around his ankle. Jack just wanted to wrap himself around Daniel and get fucked six ways from Sunday.

He looked up and caught his dad's ironic eye, then grinned. Yeah, yeah. So Daniel got his own way. So what? If Mom couldn't stand up to him, Jack wasn't about to apologise for not being able to either. Daniel wasn't a pacifist. He just picked his battles. Ninety nine percent of the time he blithely followed where Jack led, just happy to be along for the ride. When he said no, he meant it. His mom had just accelerated up the Jackson learning curve.

"Why did you get in touch with General Hammond?" Daniel asked after several minutes of silent, contemplative eating. He seemed very aware of the fact everyone was watching him.

"We missed you," Ruth said promptly, smiling warmly at Jack.

"Er…" He did actually miss Ruth too. She got his heart pumping faster than the damn snakes did. Not that he worried. Or anything. Just because…Ruth was fine. Fit and well for her age. Compos very much mentis. Really.

"Your mom was worried about you," Joe added.

"We were only gone for two days, right?" Jack asked Daniel, who nodded, wide-eyed. "Just checking."

Kate scowled at Joe. "Oh, and you weren't worried?" she asked witheringly. "Who was up at night walking the floor wondering what was upsetting Daniel so much he didn't call? And why our darling boy couldn't fix it?"

"Nothing was upsetting me," Daniel informed Jack in a chatty, private aside.

"And if it was, I could fix it," Jack agreed with definite confidence.

"I think your mom is mad because we're frustrating those aggressive maternal instincts of hers. We're just not dysfunctional enough to give her anything to do," Daniel confided.

"We need to remember to fuck up every once in a while, so they think we're still learning something," Jack advised with the ease of long experience. "Take Mom's edge off."

"That's a good suggestion," Daniel dimpled at him in a way that promised if Jack went on being a good boy, he'd get all the tent-related favours he deserved later.

"Who wanted to shove her nose into Jack's business and embarrass him in front of his friends?" Joe retorted.

"I just wanted to see you boys." Ruth prudently put some distance between herself and the developing marital row. "Sara and Charlie too."

"George is delightful!" Kate snapped.

"Sam knows her tools, and that Janet, she's a dry one," Joe said admiringly. "And young Cassie is a sweetheart."

"She is?" Jack and Daniel said as one. Everyone looked at them. They looked at each other. "She was." Jack felt the need to explain further. "We hope she will be again."

"Hormones," Daniel said vaguely.

"Lots of hormones," Jack agreed.

"You've been corresponding with all our friends?" Daniel asked brightly, heroically exposing his position to enemy fire. More or less metaphorically.

"I'm looking forward to meeting dear Murray," Ruth confided, sighing gently. "He has a lot of time for the elderly and allegedly infirm. His culture reveres the wisdom of people who've got a few years and a little experience under their belt."

"His…"

"Culture?"

"Jaffa." Ruth shrugged. "Who knew? I always thought it was just a place you got fruit."

"I for one can't wait to hear about it. I've never been to Africa." Kate shot Jack a meaningful look.

"Should be interesting," Jack observed. Neither had Murray. He ignored his mother's blatant attempt to pin the blame for her safari-less state firmly on his shoulders. Despite what she might think and insist to everyone who'd listen, her life hadn't come to an end in lieu of motherhood.

"Everyone has been emailing you?" Daniel persisted gently. He looked slightly alarmed.

Jack thought he was hugely underestimating the threat.

"We wanted to meet all the people and see all the places you describe so eloquently to us, sweetheart," Kate said gently.

"I told you that you would only encourage them if you answered," Jack complained to Daniel. "I said ignore them, and hope they go away."

"You were five minutes late calling on Ruth's birthday and Jack had your neighbourhood cops and two hospitals on speed dial," Daniel informed the family.

"Jack!" Kate beamed at her beloved son with fond maternal pride.

"I can't believe you emailed the general," Jack said bitterly, refusing to be embarrassed about showing mild concern for his erratic family, who'd collectively been scaring the shit out of him for about four decades.

"I didn't," Kate answered placidly. "The steak is delicious, Daniel. The spring onions add a certain piquant sharpness to the sauce. Very well done."

"Thank you." Daniel smiled at her gratefully.

"It's very good," Ruth praised.

"Better than that stuff you smother the steaks in," Joe told Kate tactlessly.

"I emailed Tessa and Kayla and told them I was their Uncle Jack's mom," Kate went on, firing a look at Joe that suggested she'd deal with him later.

"Those are two smart little girls," Joe admired. "They accused your mom of being a hacker, demanded photographic evidence of your relationship and threatened to sic the CIA on her."

"They meant the FBI but their hearts were in the right place, bless them," Ruth approved.

"Photographic evidence?" Jack asked warily.

"Your mom was able to furnish them with a lot of evidence, son," Joe said happily. "The girls forwarded some of the photos to their Grandpa George 'cause they knew he'd find them funny too."

"He did," Kate added, grinning fiendishly. "And he kindly got in touch with me. He remembers us well from granting you leave on your previous visits. George was kind enough to offer our best wishes and our email addresses to all your closest friends and I'm happy to say they all got in touch very quickly."

"And we've stayed in touch," Joe added.

Daniel seemed happy to hear everyone was getting along so well. He was alone in that. Jack was mildly horrified.

"George suggested the party," Kate went blithely on. "So we could put faces to the email addies."

"We're so looking forward to it," Joe added happily.

"That nice Colonel Ferretti is going to film the party for us and send copies to everyone so we can all enjoy it over and over and over," Kate gloated offensively.

Strike mildly horrified. Try terrified.

"It'll be a real family occasion. Samantha asked her dad but doesn't know if he can make it. He's away on a business trip. George is bringing his girls, Janet is bringing Cassie and Dominic, Lou is bringing his wife Emily and the twins."

"Lou?" Jack bleated. They were on first name terms? Already? His mom was spreading like the plague.

"That nice Colonel Ferretti," Daniel supplied without irony.

Jack looked incredulously at Daniel. The only person Jack knew who had a worse crush on Daniel than he did was Louis Jr. His twin Katie was probably only a dead heat. A chunk of her heart was devoted to some blond kid called Hanson. Of course Katie and Cassie had only had to hear once the fondly expressed hopes of their mothers they'd make friends to succumb to a violently, mutually expressed loathing that erupted more often than Mt. St. Helens. And after watching his son and heir athletically tackle Daniel to the ground fourteen times during an impromptu football game on the last SGC picnic, irrespective of whether Daniel had the ball or not, and taking his own sweet time about getting back up, that nice Colonel Ferretti had observed philosophically to Jack it could have been worse. Daniel could have had clue.

Jack buried his face in his hands.

 

Back to part two of Passion PlayOn to part two of A Dinner Of Herbs

If you enjoyed this revised version of A Dinner Of Herbs, please do write and let me know.  It was a nerve-wracking experience to say the least to re-write such a well-known and for some, fondly remembered story.  Even a simple 'thank you' or 'I enjoyed this' is an important message to send.  Thanks so much.  Biblio.

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Biblio, PhoenixE, babs, Brionhet, Darcy, Devra, Fabrisse, JoaG, Kalimyre, Marcia, Rowan and Sideburns, 2001-2008.
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