ILLUMINATION BY BIBLIO AND PHOENIX E: PART FOUR


Slash: Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: NC-17
Category: Angst.  Drama.  First Time.  Hurt/Comfort.
Season/Spoilers: Season 4. Based around the events of Absolute Power and The Light
Synopsis: The arrival of the Harsesis child causes both Jack and Daniel to see themselves - and each other  - in a completely different light
Warnings: Intense situations.
Length: 640 Kb Download a printer-friendly PDF version of the story


DANIEL

Jack is - stalking me.  Sounds insane to say it, but that's exactly what it feels like.  He can't sit still for starters.  He's making me dizzy the way he's pacing around me, to-ing and fro-ing like he's on some sort of elastic band that only lets him get so far away before it snaps him back again.

He seems to be going out of his way to avoid me while trying desperately not to make it LOOK like he's trying to avoid me.  Considering we've both been alone in the same room for the last three hours you could make a case for the endeavour being more than a lost cause.  Lost causes are Jack's speciality.

What does that say about his interest in me?

Speaking of lost causes: I've spent the last half hour staring at a line of text I've transcribed from this column and for all my focus and effort I'll be damned if I can make sense of it.  Just not computing at all.  None of it is.  Nothing is making any sense.  Might as well be staring at gibberish.  Hell, maybe I am staring at gibberish.  Somebody's idea of a joke.  Graffiti, the Goa'uld equivalent of 'Kilroy was here', or 'for a good time call Hathor'.

My head hurts.   I should be feeling better, but I'm not.  I'm not going to say anything; it's probably nothing.  Nothing a good night's sleep won't take care of.   Sam's dialled the machine down a notch or two, we've probably all got a bit of an edge on because of it.  That's why Jack is acting the way he is, prowling around like he's got a burr up his --

Who am I kidding?  We both know what was going on when I woke up.  Well, HE sure knows, maybe he's not so sure how 'with it' I was - how aware I was, or how much I remember.  We've barely said three words to each other in the last three hours, and we've got three more weeks of this ahead of us. That is unless one of us sucks it up, makes the first move and brings everything out into the open.

Sucks it up? I probably could have put that another way.  Three weeks. Three weeks of Jack, hanging around.  Lurking.  Glaring at me.  Stalking.

I have to take my glasses off.  The light - it's hurting my eyes. Drilling into my head.

"What is it?"  Jack says brusquely.  Sounds like he's right beside me.  God, he was way the hell over - how does he DO that?

"Nothing." I grit my teeth. "It's nothing.   Just a headache.  Had it since - since I woke up."

"You don't look so good," he says, his voice sounding harsh in my ears.  "Don't move."

Don't worry.  Where would I go?

I hear him walking away, rather quickly.  'CARTER!" he bellows down the hall.  "Carter!  Get in here!"

What's he bothering Sam for?  It's just a headache. A right, royal mother of a headache, to be sure, but still, just a headache.  I hear voices and risk opening my eyes to take a look.  Sam and Jack are standing at the entrance to the corridor, looking at me, talking like they don't want me to hear what they're saying.  I really don't care what they're saying.  I'm not feeling so well.

Jack catches me watching them, shoots me a look, and then he's gone down the hall like a bat out of hell.  I haven't got a clue what's in his head. And here comes the other one, smiling warily at me, like she's trying to figure out the kindest way of breaking it to me that I've only got three weeks to live.

Hey, for all I know she could be right.

"Hey, Daniel," she says with a tight smile as she hunkers down beside me.  "How's the head?"

"Still attached, for all the good it does me," I try to grin at her, but don't quite make it.  She puts a hand on my forehead, frowns.

"You feel a little warm, Daniel," she tells me softly.

"Well, it is kinda hot in here."

"No, actually it isn't," she shakes her head.

"It isn't?"  Feels damned hot in here to me.

"Nope," she gives an apologetic shrug.  "The colonel's gone to set up a cot. We're thinking maybe you should lie down, take it easy.  We'll get in touch with Janet, take some blood samples and send them through, just to be on the safe side.  You were here longer than any of us and well -- "

"I was the only one who died."

"Yeah," she grimaces.  "There's that. You experienced the most extreme symptoms.  Maybe your brain chemistry is still a little out of whack."

"You mean more so than usual," I grumble.

"Hey," she says, affecting a lightly offended tone as she gently ruffles my hair.  "Easy with that sort of talk.  We might be a little dysfunctional at times, but we're all still family, right?"

"Yeah.  Sorry."  I tear my eyes away from her and hang my head.  I suddenly can't bear her kindness.  Feel ashamed to feel the unspoken reality of how much she cares or be the undeserving object of her unsuspecting affection.

She doesn't know what I did to her.  But I do.

She knows I'm upset about something but I just shake my head when she gives me a questioning look. It's nothing.  Don't worry about it.

But she does.  They all do.  Worry about me.  Give a damn.  I'm just so not worth the distance they go for me and I suddenly can't stand it.

"Let's get you off your feet and into bed," she says assertively as she starts to help me up, mercifully letting me off the hook.


"What's WRONG with him?"  Jack's voice. Sounds angry.  I'm making him mad.  Better - better try and get up.  Wish someone would open a damned window or something, it's awfully hot in here.

"Janet doesn't know.  His blood-work is fine."  That's Sam, trying to be the voice of reason. I wish her luck. Jack using that tone of voice he's just this side of foaming at the mouth.  Nice mouth.

"Blood-work's fine - what kind of CRAP is that? Look at him - he's burning up over there!"

Really nice, nice mouth.

"He isn't 'burning up,' sir, it's a very low grade fever.  Janet says he had the same kind of fever and was exhibiting similar mental confusion while he was recuperating from Amonet's attack.  You remember how he was, sir."

"Acting like his brains were all scrambled by that thing and then he woke up and started going on about a dream and the kid.   Yeah.  I remember all right.  Janet thinks this is the same sort of deal?"

"Well, she doesn't know for sure, but based on the blood-work and symptoms - "

Nice -- nice mouth.  Mmmmmm --

"Danny?"

Good kisser. Really - good.

"Uh, listen, Major, why don't you - I'll keep an eye on Daniel."

Jack's got a very nice tongue in his very nice mouth.

"Maybe I should find something else to do."

"Maybe you should.  NOW."

"Yes, Sir."

Nice – long – tongue --

"Jesus Christ, Daniel don't do this to me!   I'm only human!"

I'm hot.

"God, I'll say."

I need to go outside.  Get some air.  It's too hot in here.  I'll just go outside and get some air.

I can't hear Jack's voice anymore.  The loss of it aches inside me.  Such a void, opening within me, like the vast emptiness under my feet as I stand on the ledge and look down. It would be so easy to let go, just a few breathless seconds and then -nothing.

Best idea I've had in my life.

"What are you doing out here, Daniel?"

Coming to the end of my road. Nowhere else to go except forward into nothing.  There's no way back. No way to get it back.  No choices; no options. No way to go but down.

"There's always another way, Daniel.  You just haven't looked in the right direction. Turn around and take a look."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"I made a promise."

"Do you think she would want you to do this?  Do you think taking this way honours her?  Don't you think it's time you walked YOUR path instead of hers?  Turn around, Daniel. Take my hand.  Come with me."

I wake with a start. Disoriented for a second, don't know where I am.  Feeling uncomfortable, cold clamminess, realising my clothes are soaked with perspiration, sticking to me.  What the hell?

I'm getting a little tired of this waking up and not knowing how I happen to be in my current location.  Which seems to be lying down in the room Jack and I are sharing.  I look across at the other cot, and even though the light is low I can see it's unoccupied.

A soft mumbling sound draws my attention to the other side.  Jack is sitting on the floor beside me, head pillowed on his arm.  Quite asleep.  He's holding my hand.

My head doesn't hurt any more.  That's right - I wasn't well.  I remember Sam starting to help me up, then someone - carrying me?  They were talking about me.  I had a fever.  Something about Jack's -- mouth?

I feel fine now.  It's quiet.  Wonder what time it is.  Glance at my watch to see only a bare wrist where the watch should be.  Oh yeah. Guess it's still back in the infirmary.

I realise I'm desperately thirsty.  Don't want to disturb Jack, but I have to get up.  Not simply because I need to get something to drink, I just need to get up.  I have to go somewhere. Feel like I'm missing something.  It's a distressing feeling, like an empty space inside me.  A void.  I have to get up - have to go.

I carefully take my hand out of Jack's iron grip and lay his hand, still slightly clenching around nothingness, in his lap. I can't believe it, but he actually doesn't stir as I get up.  I can't begin to imagine how exhausted he must be to be that - out -  I'm actually getting away with - getting away. But it seems I am.

Jack starts to softly snore as I walk out of the room.  It's the strangest feeling - like I'm going in the wrong direction.  I keep wanting to turn around and look behind me even though I know exactly what I'll see.


JACK

It must be three am.  The lowest ebb of the body clock.  Lowest ebb.  I’m tired.  He’s left me again and I’m – tired.  Gonna have to suck it up, though.   He needs me.

I haul myself to my feet, old bones creaking.  Have to work my shoulders ‘til my neck feels right.  Stiff from head to toe.

He has to be in the central complex somewhere.  If he’d gone beyond our room, the perimeter alarms would have sounded.  Ditto if he’d tried to leave the palace itself.  I’ll just retrace my steps all the way back to the gate.

Ha.  Second time in two days I’ve had to sling him over my shoulder and carry him.  I’m surprised I’ve got a stiff neck?  Stiff back.  Knees aching.  There’s no sign of him as I cut through the light room and head towards the gateroom.  Everything is aching.  I feel – old.  Old and weary.

Here.   Sitting on the dais again.  Arms curled around his knees.  Staring up at the Stargate.

“Hey.” Great.  Even my voice sounds old.  I sink down next to him.  Kinda embarrassed by the sigh that wells up out of me.  Sitting close.  Not too close.  Not touching.

“How are you feeling?  I was worried.”  Yeah.  Right.  Try bordering on hysterical.

“That’s news?” Daniel says quietly. “You do that a lot, you know.”

“Sorry,” I’m on automatic apology pilot, “and for - ” I wave a hand.

“You’re sorry?  For –“ he lets it trail off too.

Whatever you throw at me next.

“Jack!” Daniel gasps. “That’s not fair.”

“What?”  More tired than I thought.  Speaking.  Thinking.  If you think out loud, people hear you.  Speaking.  Think before speaking.  Hey.  It’s a concept.  “No.  It’s not fair.  And yes, I’m sorry for that too.”

I finally have all of Daniel’s attention.

“Yep.  Not fair.  Got that.  You’re confused.  You think you’re the only one?  Can’t you cut me a little slack, Daniel?”  I haven’t got the energy to fight.  Really.  “I’m sorry.”  Don’t know how many times I’ve said and thought that in the past few days.  Meant it every time.  “I’ve had enough.”

I feel a hesitant touch at my shoulder and shrug his hand away.  “Don’t.  Don’t.”

I don’t want to be harsh with him.  NOT angry here.  Not angry with him. It’s not his fault, none of it is.  “THAT isn’t fair.  Don’t worry.  I got the message, loud and clear.  Shoulda got it the first time, but I – aww, crap.  It doesn’t matter.  Not important.  Don’t worry yourself about it.”

“The – the first time?”

Not up to a trip down memory lane, here.  Not the time and not the place.  He was dead on the floor in this room.  He pushed me away in this room.  The feelings are too raw and I’m struggling with them.  It’s hard to make peace with another when you’re warring with yourself.

“Not important, Daniel.  Don’t fret yourself,” I hesitate, struggling for the right words, “The withdrawal blows things way outta proportion is all.”  Not gonna forget.  Just have to accept.  Let it go. “I – it’s not about me,” I say finally, “I’m telling you you’ve nothing to – to - ” why is it so hard to say this? “Just concentrate on you.  That’s what’s important.”

“You’re not unimportant,” Daniel begins.

“I’m fine,” I interrupt.  “Little tired, is all.  Rough coupla days.  A little stressed out, here.  Just give me some time.  Things will get back to normal soon.”

“Normal?  How can we - you said -- you said you were in love with me.”

“That’s my problem, Daniel.”

“Don’t worry myself about it?” he snaps. “Too late.”

“You were dead.  You died right in front of me.  I’m not trying to make excuses, here, I was wrong to – I shouldn’t have been mauling you like that.”

“Mauling?  Jack, it wasn’t – I didn’t know where I was – I –“ Daniel sounds distressed.

Didn’t mean for that to happen.

“You didn’t choose.  I’ve had some time to think, and that’s the worst part about it.  I feel like I invaded your privacy, Daniel.  Saw things you never meant me to see.  Not only have we not been on the same page, here, I’ve been in a completely different book.  Ignorance is no defence, but I swear, I didn’t realise you didn’t remember until you told us so.”  It’s quite comforting, talking into your knees.  Easier than trying to talk staring into those eyes and seeing all the pain you put there.  “It wasn’t fair.  If I’d thought for a SECOND I was making your choice for you.”  I laugh suddenly.  Not a happy sound.  “If I’d thought at all.  You didn’t bring this on yourself.  It’s my fault.  Only mine.  You’ve made your choice now.  I know where I stand.  Everything is clear.”

“NOTHING is clear.”

I jump up.  “I’m tired, Daniel.  I’m gonna try to get some sleep.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“That’s IT? Daniel bursts out.  “You’re just leaving me?”

“There’s nothing more to say.  My feelings aren’t your problem, Daniel.”

“You’re not listening to a word I say.”

“I’m LISTENING!  I don’t ONLY listen to you when you say what I want to hear.  I heard you JUST fine when you told me to get the hell away from you.  I’m a fucking repressed control freak and I got NOTHING you want.  I GET that.  I HEAR you.”

He flinches back like I slapped him.

“No!  No.  I’m sorry.  Daniel, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean that.  I don’t know what the hell I mean.  I’m too damn tired to – I’m not trying to hurt you.  I love you.  All I know is I can’t go on like this.  I thought I could, but I can’t.  I’ve been eating my heart out over you as long as I’ve known you and I just can’t do it anymore.  It isn’t fair to either of us.  I’m hurting you and I have to let it go.  I have to let you go.  He told me, but I wasn’t listening.  I thought he meant I could let go in you.”  I stop and smile for him.  “We can be friends.  I miss that.  I miss my friend.  We can get it back.  I can be the friend I should have been from the start, if you’ll let me.   Just think about it.”

“Jack.”  Daniel jumps up and takes a few steps towards me. “Jack, please.  Please don’t walk away,” he pleads.

My hand almost grazes his cheek before I pull it back to my side.  “Hey.  Quit your worryin’.  I’ll be fine.  Came too damn close to losing you, on top of everything else.  I don’t know where the hell I am or what I’m doing or saying just now, but I’ll be fine. I’ve got my limits too, Daniel, y’know?”

Then I shut him down and out.  I can’t bear that stricken look on his face and there’s nothing I can do to give him comfort except get out of his way for a while.  I want him so badly it’s hurting, twisting my gut like a knife.

“Ahh, talk to me tomorrow.  Can’t help but be morbid at four am.”  I nod vaguely and turn away.  “Try me tomorrow when I’m making sense.”

I’m almost out the door before the soft murmur reaches me.

“I didn’t choose. The choice was made for me.”

I know.  I know.  It hurts I can’t take it back for you.  You’ve no idea how much it hurts.

“And now you’re choosing for me too.”

I’m crawling into my cot when the words come clear.  Daniel made his own choice in the gateroom, didn’t he?  He pushed me away.  He said no.  Emphatically.  I go to him and do my best to let him know it’s hard on me right now, but I’ll be able to live with his choice.  Try to be what he wants me to be.  I’m trying to live with his choice, not choose for him.

Daniel uses language precisely.  He said I was choosing for him now, NOT that he had made his choice.  I was choosing for him, giving him that out, telling him we would just be friends.

Christ.  Oh, Christ. There’s a chance.  There’s still a chance.  He DOESN’T remember.  He wasn’t rejecting me AGAIN.  He doesn’t KNOW about the first time.  Didn’t remember the balcony, what he wanted from me.  Then, I thought he loved me too.  I thought there was a chance.  I thought we could get it back, make it right between us.

There IS a chance.

This all went wrong when Daniel chose Sha’uri over me, when he stayed with her instead of returning with me. It was so simple I didn’t see it.  It was right there in front of me the whole time.  I’ve never forgiven him for choosing her, and I’ve never trusted him not to leave me again.  Afraid.  All this time.  I’ve been afraid to let him choose because I was afraid he wouldn’t choose me.  That’s what Shifu was telling me.  I just wasn’t hearing him.

I have to let Daniel choose now.  I have to let go of my fear and trust him.  That’s all.  I have to KNOW.  Let him come to me, come of his own free will.  Either way ends me.  If he chooses to be with me, we go on.  If he doesn’t -- I can’t live in this fear any more.  We have to make an end, and I have the hope it’s a beginning.


DANIEL

"Bastard!"  I choke as I slam my hand down on the first key on the DHD.  The chevron on the gate glows.  Can barely see it; can hardly make out the symbols on the pedestal in front of me.  I wipe my eyes with an angry hand.

Wouldn't do to misdial.  Might end up somewhere I was actually SUPPOSED to be.

"Stubborn, loudmouthed, thick-headed - BASTARD!"  Two, three, four, five.  Hit them in quick succession, then the sixth.  Only one left.  Reaching for it.

I don't make it.  Hand, covering mine, pulling it away, pulling me around.

"What are you doing, Daniel?"  Sam says to me, the concern on her face deepening almost painfully as she takes in what she's seeing.

"I'm getting the hell out of here," I mumble, wiping my eyes again.  Trying to pull my hand free, get back to what I was doing.  But she won't let go.  Won't let me - won't let me leave.

"I can't stay here.  I have to go.  There's just - it doesn't - I - I can't -- "

Can't think, can't talk, can't stay.  Don't have any more options. No more choices.  On the edge. Can't get it back.  He won't let me try.  Have to go - nowhere to go.

Sam grabs me by the arms, is dragging me away from the DHD.  Trying to get me to look at her, to listen.

"Daniel, you CAN'T do this.  You can't leave.  None of us can leave here. Not yet.  It's too soon.  You go through that gate and you'll DIE.

"You say that like it's a bad thing."  Letting go, going over the edge, don't care.

Falling, but not far.  She catches me, stops me, strength, such strength in the arms surrounding me, supporting me.  Always knew she was strong but had no idea, never suspected how much she cares about me.

"Damned right it would be a bad thing," she scolds me, her voice almost shattering with the force of her emotion.  "You're dying on me over my dead body.  You'll have to drag me through that gate right along with you. You're bigger but we both know I can beat you up, so let's just call it even and stay right here, okay?"

"What - what about -- "  I snuffle into her hair.  Can't even say his name.

"What about him?"  she snorts.  "Beat him up too.  He's tough, but he's slowing down. The knees.  I can take him.  No problem. Mop up the floor with him."

I can feel myself starting to smile as she gives me a reassuring squeeze. "Good thing Teal'c isn't here," I murmur.

"He doesn't scare me either," her voice is lighter, teasing me.  "Tactics.  Come up on him from behind, hit him on the head, then take him.  Just got to use what you know and go for it."

There's more to what she just said. So much more.  More to everything.  Much more than I know, remember.  Too many pieces missing from my picture.  Gaps in my memory, understanding, the emptiness, the void.

Why do I keep coming back to the edge?  What's drawing me there?  Why do I feel I have to go there, and yet - am so unwilling to allow myself see what's waiting for me there?

My head is splitting again, reality fractured by images, voices, feelings, fragments of memory surging up at me from the darkness, dancing about in unconnected frenzy, making no sense and mocking me.

We're sitting on the ground.  Not sure how we got there, but Sam is beside me still, her arm around my shoulders as I sit cross-legged clutching my head.  Coming back, it's all coming back.

"What's going on?"  I'm scaring her again.  "Daniel - are you okay?"

No.  No.  Not okay.  Remembering. I'm remembering. Oh God he was - I was - on the edge - nothing he could do but stand there and watch.

I was going to jump.

I remember everything now.  What I said to him. What I did to him.  Might have been the withdrawal effect upping the tempo, but the words were mine.  Can't blame the music this time.  I composed that particular sad symphony.  All me.

I'm right back where I was when he found me. Standing on that ledge, all but letting go.  Same damned place.  Nowhere to go, no escape from what I've done.  No choice. No choices left.

Between the two of them, they've made them all for me.

I rest my chin on my knees and stare bleakly at the gate in front of me.  Maybe if I stare at it long enough it'll throw me a clue. Or finally take pity on me and fall down on me and squash me flat.

I owe the good woman beside me some sort of explanation.  Owe her a lot more than that, but I figure I'll start with the small stuff and gradually work my way up the list.

"I'm - I won't insult you and say I'm fine."  I answer her quietly.  "Some things were said and done - probably - no way to make it right now."

"Daniel," she pats my shoulder gently.  "Before you say any more, there's something I want to tell you.  Something maybe it's time you knew."

I'm puzzled by the strange, confident tone of her voice and turn to her.  Earnest eyes affix me as she continues speaking.

"The colonel and I - the whole thing was a mistake, right from the beginning.  Not that it was even - anything - really.  Except a really, really bad idea.  It wouldn't even have occurred to either of us, probably, except for - "

She breaks off, a shy, grimacing smile on her face.  "How do I explain this?"  she mutters, frustrated.

I shake my head, trying to - I don't want her to be uncomfortable.  She doesn't have to - it's - it's not necessary.  Not like it matters.  Water under the bridge, now.

"You don't owe me any explanation, Sam," I try to reassure her.

"Yes I do!" she returns stubbornly.  "Besides, I want to explain. You have to know that we never meant to hurt you - either one of us.  It was just a stupid mistake we made because - because - well - because those other Sams and Jacks were getting together we wondered if maybe we were missing out on something!"

She glares at me defiantly, as if daring me to say something.  Not if my life depended on it.

"At least that's the way it was for me," she continues, her voice a little softer. “The colonel may have had - other - additional reasons.  Actually, I think that's pretty likely.  Not for me to say, though.  But I have my suspicions."

She peers at me again, trying to gauge my reaction.  I've got nothing to say.  Whatever Jack gets up to is none of my business.  He was pretty clear on that, last I heard from him.

"I'd never thought of him that way before, but seeing the other me - kissing him," she frowns and shakes her head. "I don't know what I was thinking.  Maybe it worked for them, but it never could have worked for us.  They might have looked like us, Daniel, but they weren't - weren't us.  Any more than we are them.  They were completely different people. Completely different.  And the main reason for that - they'd never met YOU.   You make a difference wherever you go.  You certainly made a difference in us.  We forgot that.  We forgot about you.  We didn't mean to, Daniel."  Her eyes are getting wider, more distressed, filling with penitent tears.  "We - I - I never meant to hurt you."

"It's okay, Sam," I soothe.  Her distress is making me uncomfortable.  She's not at fault for any of this, but I don't know how I'm going to make her understand she's needlessly feeling guilty. What's gone wrong between Jack and I - she's utterly blameless.

"You didn't - this goes way back.  Before we met you, even. Nothing to do with you.  The damage was done a long time ago.  Just took this long to finally -  finally - "

I can't say the words.  Saying it will make it so.  Even though I know it is, if I don't say it, I don't have to face it.

"Daniel, listen to me!"  Sam shakes me, trying to get me to look at her.  "You can't do this to yourself.  Not again. You can't just - give up!"

"What?  What are you talking about?”

She sighs and lays her head on my shoulder. " You can't give up, Daniel. You just can't. It would be wrong, and you know that.  The same way you always seem to KNOW. You do.  You always know. I've never met anyone like you. I'll admit, sometimes you drive me crazy, and I don't handle it well, but whether I like it or not, there's no way I can deny that you do.”

"Daniel, you have this GIFT," she says the word with quiet reverence, like she's describing some kind of - blessing.  "This - sense.  You look at things, see things - somehow you always know what's RIGHT.  You know what to do, you see what has to be done. And you get it done. I've watched you, all this time.  You don't care who you have to fight, what you have to do.  You've stood up to System Lords, generals, alien tyrants, narrow-minded politicians - stood up to us, even - time and time again.  You've kept on going, kept on fighting, you don't give up, don't back down, don't take no for an answer.  You've gone right out there and done the right thing when no one else believed in you - and you've done it even when you've known you'd probably die doing it.  You'll fight to your last breath to do the right thing by every single person in this universe.  Every person - but one."

"I don't know what you're talking about," I say and turn away from her.

She's not having it.  She grabs me by the shoulder and hauls me around to face her once more. "Oh yes you do!"  she asserts stubbornly.  Not letting me off the hook this time.  "You know damned well what I'm talking about.  Only one person in your book doesn't rate you giving your all for.   YOU - Daniel.  You won't raise a finger to defend Daniel Jackson.  You'd lay down your life in an instant for a total stranger but you just stand back and let Daniel - let him get hurt."  Her kind, blue eyes are overflowing with tears.  "That's not right, Daniel," she pleads with me.  "Don't let this happen to my friend.  He's worth fighting for.  Do the right thing by him, please. Do what you know you HAVE to do.  FIGHT for him!  Not for me, not for that man out there, even.  For you!"

I stare at her stricken, tear-stained face astonished. Fight - for ME? Always another way? The way I never considered?  No one can take except where I allow it.  Abnegation is a form of surrender.  Refusing to choose - not the same as not choosing.

I couldn't bring myself to choose between them. So I refused to choose at all.  Allowed myself to be claimed.  Told myself I was happy living with the consequences of my own refusal to stand up for myself.

I can hardly blame Jack for following a precedent I'd already set. How could I expect him to respect me when I didn't respect myself?  What right did I have to scream at him for keeping me powerless when he stood there and watched me give it away without so much as a whimper to whoever would grab it first?

All he did was take over for Sha'uri.  And I let him - the same way I let her.

Sam's right.  She's right.  I do have another choice after all.  The choice I always had.  I know what I have to do.  I've always known.  It's just - this is the first time I CHOOSE to see it, and to do it.

What have I always known?  What have I always turned away from?  What have I not let myself see?  What do I choose to see now?

Him.  Always him. It wasn't just the gate I came to the mountain to find, it was him.  When I went through the gate with him the first time I was on the right track.  Letting him go, not seeing - not letting myself see the truth - that's when I lost my way.

I've been stumbling around in the dark ever since.  No more.   The truth blazes brightly inside me.

Love him.  I love him.  It's the truth. It's right.  It's right for me.  I can't turn away from it, can't walk away from it.  Can't put it aside.  Not even for her.  I did it once before and it was wrong.  Can't keep on making the same mistake.  Can't.

Won't.

I grab Sam, spin her around and plant a big kiss on her startled mouth.  "Thank you!" I tell her warmly.  "You're - you're right.   I don't know how to thank you.  I'm going - I have to - I know - that is I mean --"

I'm burbling. She looks up at me, her nose crinkling with a smile as she makes a show of fanning her face.  "Wow, is it hot in here?" she teases me.  "Careful or you'll make a girl sorry she opened her big mouth."  I KNOW she's definitely having me on me now as she winks at me and broadly leers.  "You wanna TALK some more, you know where to find me."

"Don't YOU start with me," I grumble and drop her abruptly. She giggles and rolls away as she hits the ground.  I'm on my feet, dashing away from her, don't stop to look back as I hear her, even though I carry her support with me as I go.

"Good luck, Daniel.  Even though I know you won't need it."


Jack's not sleeping.  Lying down but not sleeping.  Somehow I'm not surprised.

I burst into the room, stand breathless in the doorway as he turns to look at me.  I'm breathing hard with anxious courage, my body trembling with recklessness.  I'm - pumped.

It's taken me four long years to get to this place.  To finally face a moment I almost let slip away to become lost in the tumult of time and painful memories.  I gave my life away and have lived every subsequent moment for everyone else but me. Have done every single thing since for every reason except the one I should have.

Because it was what I needed to do. Me.  Daniel Jackson.

Jack's lying there, looking at me, a puzzled expression on his face, as if he's seeing me for the first time.

He has no idea he's absolutely right.  However, I'm about to throw him more than a clue.  It might be too late. I might have waited too long, said too much. Let too much water under the bridge that I've finally figured out I want and need to cross.  Maybe I finally crossed a line there's no taking back.   I'll just have to deal with it if it comes to that.

It doesn't matter.  I have to do it.  However it turns out is not the point.  The point is - it's what I have to do.  It's what I want to do.  For me.

I realise I'm still standing there, staring at him. So does he. I'm so worked up I'm vibrating - blinking furiously.  Shit.  Not now!

Still blinking past the moisture in my eyes I just make out he's getting ready to say something.

No you don't.

"Shut up!" I snap at him.  He cocks a startled eyebrow at me, but says nothing. "You had your say already.  It's my turn.

"I made a mistake a long time ago and I'm not going to keep on repeating it.  I'm taking my life back.  You - " I say pointing a finger at him, "don't get to tell me what I choose to do with it. What I want, what I feel - who - who I love.  Who I choose to be with.  Not up to you or anyone else what I feel.  Just so you know."

He's not saying a word.  Just staring at me, eyes getting darker, more unreadable.  I can't tell what he's making of what I'm telling him, don't know if this is good news or bad.  Well, if I'm in for a penny, might as well be in for a pound.  The worst he can do to me is shoot me.

"Should have said so a long time ago, but I didn't.  I'm sorry, but I didn't know.  I don't get to take it back or do it over again, so I'll do it now.  Maybe it isn't better late than never but -- "

I can't even see him now, can barely breathe with the emotions surging through me.  So much to gain, so much to lose.  My life, my fate all tied up in a few words. Words I should have said a long time ago, now so significant that they're crushing me before I have a chance to get them out.

"I love you," I gasp.   "Not going to fight it - or you - anymore. You  - choose to - be - I want  - be - be with you - you - wanted - always  - "

I can't say any more.  Can barely stand.  Have to leave, have to go - had the courage to tell him, but suddenly haven't the strength to face his rejection.

As much as I deserve, for everything I've put him through.


JACK

"I love you," Daniel gasps out. "Not going to fight it - or you - anymore. You  - choose to - be - I want  - be - be with you - you - wanted - always  - "

The words barely have a moment to impact before Daniel turns abruptly on his heel and makes like a gazelle out the door.  Given his predominant emotion appears to be sheer terror, I don’t waste time on words of my own.  Old?  Who’s old?  He’s fast, but I’m MOTIVATED.  I catch him a fair distance down the hallway, spin him towards me, stoop and straighten with him draped safely over my shoulder.  Then I turn on my heel and – kinda – well – okay.  I’m swaggering.  Bite me.

“J – Jack?”

He sounds breathless and his voice is a little muffled.

“Um – you can put me down.  Any time.  Really.”

I shift my grip a little, making him squeak.

“I don’t think this is the approved Air Force lift, Jack.”

I can’t say anything.  I’ve had my turn.

“Pretty sure your hand shouldn’t be – there.”

No.  No.  Gotta put my hand up to that one.  Metaphorically.  And literally.  In fact, I’ve got QUITE a handful right now.  Kind of a perfect fit.  A suggestion of pertness that certainly bears further investigation.

“Jack?  Jack!”

It’s hard to sound dignified and authoritative from that angle but Daniel is giving it his best shot.

“Okay, Colonel.  You asked for it and you’re gonna get it,” Daniel threatens.

“OW!”  He pinched me. The little shit actually pinched my butt.

“OW!”

I smacked his.  Hard.

“Wanna kiss it better?”

A grin breaks out.  Your wish is most emphatically my command, Dannyboy.

I kick the door shut behind me and let him drop to his own two feet in front of me.  He’s blushing furiously.  It’s definitely easier to be bold and wanton when the two of you are cheek to cheek, as it were.  Now he just looks desperately uncertain.

Looks like I feel.

He tells me he chooses me and then he runs away again.  One sign.  I just need one definitive sign from him that it’s okay – that I can – that I’m welcome to put my hands on him.  I want him so, and I’m afraid to make another mistake.  Afraid to drive him away from me again.

Daniel stares back at me.

Come on, Daniel.  Let me in.  Please.  I know you remember the gateroom even if you don’t remember the – the other.  Don’t make ME – please.

Then his eyes widen with  - shock?  Recognition? Sorrow.  “Oh no, Jack, no.  Oh God, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean – I didn’t.”

He closes the vast distance between us in three steps and slowly lays his head on my shoulder, sighing.  And now, NOW I’ve got him, lock my arms around his back and try to hug him inside my skin with me.  I’ve got a fight on my hands.  Daniel’s desperate attempt to reassure me he didn’t mean a word of it is putting my creaking ribcage at serious risk.  The effect is only slightly hampered by all the sniffling.

“Daniel?  Dan?”

“Are you alright?” he murmurs tenderly into my shoulder.  “Getting a little damp, here.”

“I’ve got something in my eye,” I say cautiously.

“I meant me!”  He pulls back suddenly and stares at me in wide eyed astonishment.  “You definitely have something in your eye, Jack.” Then he gives a judicious nod.  “Tears.”

I’ve got no idea what to say, and have even less when Daniel reaches up a tentative hand and wipes away the – er - suspect moisture.  He has this softness in his eyes I’m not used to.  Whatever he’s seeing on my face is - is pleasing him.

“I love you,” I blurt out.  So suave is not currently my middle name.  Big deal.  He doesn’t seem to mind.

Daniel smiles shyly at me. He has the sweetest smile in the world, and I see it so rarely.  “I love you too.”

“Daniel.  I want to talk to you.  About – I’ve got a lot on my mind.  Stuff you really need to know.”

His face is falling.  “I know, oh God, I know.  I remember.  I’m so sorry,” his voice is an aching whisper, “What I put you through – I don’t know where to begin.  I thought you’d say no.  I was SURE.  Too late.”

I hush him with a finger across his lips.  “You’ve got nothing to answer for.  Nothing!  Do you hear me?  This is about me.  Things I want you – need you to know.  I learned a few lessons from Shifu myself.”

Daniel jerks back from me, eyes widening.

“You’d have been proud of me.  I haven’t sweated so much since we did Chaucer in English Lit,” I say dryly.   Then I sidle a little closer and whisper in his ear, “And I was hoping we could adjourn the conversation to the bed.  I strongly suspect I’m going to need a lot of reassurance to get through my tale of woe.”

“Tactile reassurance?” Daniel clarifies.

“That’d do it.”

We both turn and look at the bed.  Cot.  Daniel looks profoundly unenthusiastic.  I can’t find it in my heart to blame him.  As highly motivated as I am, I can’t see any damn way we’ll fit on that cot, not with the level of interactivity we’d both like to test out.

“Gimme a sec,” inspiration has struck.  I pounce on my radio.  “Carter.  Carter, come in!”

“Sir?” Carter sounds a little startled.  “Is everything all right?”  And anxious.

“No,” I say flatly.  “Sitting on the floor last night keeping watch over sleeping beauty here has done my – er – my -- ” my mind’s gone blank.

“Knees,” Daniel hisses.

“KNEES no good whatsoever.”  I can hear a snort through my radio.  “Carter?”

“Static, Sir.  Do you want me to ask for some ice packs?”

No!  I want you to ask for a big comfy bed so Daniel and I can have sex.  Talk.  I mean talk.

“Back!”

“What?”

Daniel rolls his eyes.  Oh!  Sorry.  Brain isn’t functioning too good.  Blood supply is busy elsewhere.  Closer to floor level, you catch my drift.

“And - and I think I’ve fused a couple of vertebra from carrying Daniel around.  He’s no featherweight, you know.”

Did I mention how resilient Daniel is?  A few minutes ago he was weeping on my shoulder, now he’s glaring at me.

There’s a fair amount of static at Carter’s end.

“Carter!  You still there?” I demand.

“Sir,” she sounds a little shaky.  “I – I know where I can lay my hands on an air bed, if that would help.  It would certainly be more – more comfortable than a – a cot.  Easier on your - back.”

“Can’t be too careful with lumbar support,” I agree firmly. “And God knows, Daniel can generate enough hot air for -- ”  I realise this isn’t the most tactful thing to say to the love of your life as you try to lure him into your bed for the first time.

Daniel isn’t glaring.  He’s staring.  At my mouth.  Licking his lips.

“I’ll get right on it, Sir.”

“Me too,” I say vaguely and throw the radio in the general direction of the cots.  I make a last ditch effort to do the decent thing and talk FIRST.  “We need to talk.”

“We need to kiss,” Daniel contradicts.

“Talk,” I insist.  I can’t tear my eyes from his lips either.

“Kiss.”  Daniel drops his head, blushing, then looks up shyly through his lashes.  “I haven’t been able to get that kiss out of my mind.”  Daniel steps a little closer and slips a tentative hand behind my head.  Then he removes his hand, shoots me an embarrassed look and pulls off his glasses, tossing them at the nearest cot. When his hand slips back behind my head, he’s apparently slightly more confident I’ll find him desirable.

It melts my bones.  I wrap my arms around his waist and pull him to me so he can feel for himself just how desirable I find him.  “I feel ridiculous saying this to you, Daniel.  I mean, our usual MO is awkward silences and not looking at each other when we have to be sincere about what we’re feeling.  So forgive me if it doesn’t come out right.  You’re drop dead gorgeous.  This does present a SLIGHT problem.  The glasses don’t help; on or off, I find you irresistible.  You – breathing – is enough for me.” I’m very conscious of my actions in the gateroom.  “I’d say lots and lots of unbelievably hot sex would help,  but being completely honest here, it won’t.  It will make me very happy – so damn happy I’ll just want lots MORE unbelievably hot sex.  I just want you knowing that, going down.  IN!  Going in!”  I correct desperately, giving him an embarrassed look.  “Sorry.  Mind in the gutter, here.”

“You talk too much,” Daniel tells me tenderly, and somewhat unfairly, given his track record.

“I don’t know how YOU have the nerve to call ME on – “ I grumble, at which point Daniel pounces, kissing me ferociously.  Pounces so hard I stagger back and hit my head off the door, which makes me yelp.  Daniel takes instant advantage of my parted lips, pushing his tongue vigorously down my throat, and staying put through sheer dogged persistence, desperate suction and clashing teeth.

Meanwhile I’ve got one hand clamped to his butt while the other has the back of his head in a death-grip in case he has any stupid ideas, like breathing.  The rest of my body is relentlessly trying to climb inside his skin through a kind of ecstatic sexual osmosis.  I’m groaning, gasping and moaning, shuddering and clinging desperately as black spots flash in my eyes.  We HAVE to stop for air, tearing our mouths apart a couple of inches and wheezing pathetically at one another.   Daniel’s eyes are enormous.  Stunned.  I have never embarrassed myself so thoroughly in front of another human being in my entire life.

I’m having the time of my life.

“L – l - love you,” Daniel gasps, caressing his forehead against mine.  “Clothes.”

“Wh - ?”  His lungs are younger than mine.  That’s all I can manage by way of verbal communication.

“Skin.”

“B - bed?”  As in, we don’t got one.

“Floor.”

“Yes?”  You certain you want to make love with me?  We can wait until you are certain you are ready for physical intimacy.  My hard-on aside, there’s no rush.  I do happen to be crazy in love with you.

“NOW.”

We stagger over towards the cots like drunken sailors, kissing all the way, steer in between them, stoop, reach behind, yank, drop sleeping bag on floor.  And again with the other one.  Bed.  Daniel shoves my jacket off.  Pillow.  Hands fumble at T-shirts, pulling free, pulling up, we pull apart, breathing hard.  T-shirts smoothly over heads, lips meeting, tongues stroking.  More fumbling.  Belts, zips, pants.  Down.  Have to pull apart again.  Frigging laces.  Frigging boots.

Ahh.  Skin.

“Beautiful.”

“Slowing down, Daniel.”  My God, kid, you need to get out more.

“So you’ll be at my side, not leaving me behind.  Staying with me,” he sighs.

“Long as you’ll have me,” I pull him to me and we kneel side by side on our makeshift bed and do some creative zipping.  I look at Daniel’s eager, nervous face and he smiles sweetly at me, catching at my heart.  “You deserve better than this for our first time.  A couple of Air Force sleeping bags and a cold, hard floor.”

“Jack, the only thing harder than that floor is me, and I have to tell you, if you don’t hurry up, I’m starting without you.  You want to get romantic, I swear, when we get back, you can drag me off to the honeymoon suite of the tackiest motel you can find – “

“Theme rooms?” I interrupt.

Daniel senses he may have bitten off more than he can chew.  He nods, eyeing me cautiously.

“The Big Easy Motel, Bar & Grill!  Vegas, here we COME!” I whoop, tumbling him down beside me.

“Oh, God,” Daniel whimpers, reading my evil intent.  “They’ve got an Egyptian room, right?”

“A tomb with a view.”  I give him a hurt look.  “There’s no reason to suspect the hieroglyphs are anything other than tasteful and historically accurate, though I admit the sarcophagus may leave something to be desired.”  Daniel looks terrified.  “It vibrates,” I say kindly, before nibbling a very tempting ear.

Daniel whimpers again, with pleasure this time, and takes the opportunity to bite my shoulder.  “I knew you were teasing!”

I find a sweet spot just behind Daniel’s ear that makes him writhe when I probe it with my tongue, and I’m very glad he can’t see my face.  No point upsetting him until we get there, and if he prefers, we can check out the Aphrodite suite.  I have no objections to seeing Daniel rising naked from the foam.  The vast shell bed is lifted straight from the painting, though Danny is a little on the slender side for Botticelli.  He may not forgive me until the day we die, but he offered.  It’s his own fault.  Daniel did say the tackiest.  This place is so tacky it’s magnificent.  In fact, it’s so magnificent he may not get over the shock until – “Hand.”

“Just checking.”

Special Forces trained, here!  The day an archaeologist beats me in the field is the day I retire.  We’ve both had time to assimilate the unforgiving nature of the terrain, now Daniel is checking out my topography, hoping to avoid his sure and certain fate.  All’s fair in love on cold floors.

“Get over it, Daniel.  Your butt is younger than mine.”

“Yours has more - padding,” Daniel says sweetly, pinching said padding damned hard, making me yelp again.  His face is so endearingly naughty as he steals a breathtaking kiss, he’s almost impossible to resist.  Almost.  The floor is DAMNABLY hard and he’s the one keeping his pert little derriere on it.

“My knees are shot.  My shoulder hurts.  My back hurts.  I think I concussed myself on the door when you threw yourself at me.  And you bit my tongue.”

“That was an accident and anyway I kissed it better.  Why don’t you just spit it out, Jack?  I’m a lot more comfortable to lie on than the floor!”

“Softer.  Warmer.  Silkier,” I growl.  “Trembling.  Perfect.  So damn – HOT - oh, God, DANNY!”  I’m on him like a force of nature, kissing him madly, tracing the soft muscles ridging his abdomen with awed, shaking fingers. Up to his chest, grazing a nipple.  He gasps and arches into my touch, his own hands roaming all over my back, kneading my butt as he kisses my neck, shoulder, jaw, eyes.

“JACK!”

“Sorry.  Hand slipped,” I tease, uncurling my fingers from his eager erection.  Danny’s fingers clamp urgently over mine, his wide, strained eyes pleading.  I hold the hard, heated length of him in my hand and stroke him confidently, my touch firm and sure.  As Daniel’s long, elegant fingers close gently around my shaft and anxiously search out a rhythm that does for me what his groaning into my mouth tells me I’m doing for him, I realise even this intimacy between men is new to him.

Daniel does it for me.  He doesn’t need to do a goddamn thing but be here, wanting me, writhing desperately against me. Loving me so much even I believe he means it.

I roll onto my back, lifting him over me, my appreciative hands clamped to his buttocks, urging him closer to me.  Laughing at his surprise.

“Prick,” he murmurs against my lips.

“Virgin,” I whisper back, parting my thighs and wrapping my legs around his.  So I’m a pushover.  So sue me.  Four years he’s been celibate, and maybe with his track record, it’s about damn time he got some choices in if and when and how he makes love.  “Danny, kinda got the engine running, catch my drift?  You wanna put it in gear, here?”

“How do you – I mean – um - ” Daniel falters.

“Danny, trust me, whatever you do is fine.  Just remember you’re dealing with a man who so far has proved conclusively that your being fully conscious is more or less optional in sex.  Do with me as you will.”  A thought occurs. “I did check for a pulse FIRST.  Honestly.  In case you were wondering,” I add anxiously.  “I don’t want you thinking I’m DESPERATE or anything.  I mean, you WERE breathing.”

Daniel dissolves into helpless laughter, collapsing against my chest, shaking like a leaf, not coming up for quite some time.  I hug him close and thoroughly enjoy the gusts of warm breath snorting into my neck.  When he does emerge, his whole face is alight with laughter – and love – and a few tears.  “S – so romantic!”

“You’ll always be conscious,” I promise him with simple pride.  I wriggle my hips suggestively against him, remind him he’s got unfinished business to attend to here.  “By the end, anyway.” I pause, mull it over.  Honesty is always the best policy.  “Or, maybe not.  I am forty five, you know.  But definitely in the middle.”

“Jack.  Shut the hell up and kiss me.”

The little chokes of laughter are cute too, and Danny might be many things right now, but nervous is no longer one of them, as he rocks his hips carefully against mine.

“Mmm,” I say smugly, then joyously suck Daniel’s tongue out of his mouth and into mine as he explores the pleasures of friction between like-minded lovers.  Careful rocks into confident, once he’s sure he won’t break me and yeah, all the embarrassing groaning means I don’t actively hate it.  Then we rock it up a notch from confident to excited – both of us - and from there to OH MOMMA!  My sweet little Dannyboy does the wild thing like you wouldn’t believe, pounding my willing, welcoming, horny old bones into the floor.  I’m getting bruises on my bruises and loving every frenzied second, howling encouragement every time he lets me up for air and making him laugh every single time.  Wild gives way to ecstatic, pleasure spiking through me more intensely with every thrust until I can hardly bear it.

Danny screams my name and convulses against me, his back arching, driving him against me one more time; I lift, spin, fall for him, HARD, howling “DANNY!” as the top of my head comes off.  We collapse in a sweaty tangle of arms and legs, heaving chests, and salt-tasting kisses, pleasure shocks still ghosting through us.

“Love you.  Love you, Jack.  Love you.”

“Me too.”

Daniel chuckles into my chest.  “That’s not news either.  Do you love me though?”

“Hey!  Owning my heart and making free with my body doesn’t give you licence to mess with my mind.  Don’t get cocky.”

“You’re right,” Daniel apologises in a small voice.  “I should show more respect, even when it’s just the three of us, all alone.”

“Three?” He’s worn me out so, I can’t keep my eyes open.  If I wasn’t so blissed out I wouldn’t have been dumb enough to stick my head in the noose.

“Me.”  Daniel kisses my chest.  “You.”  He kisses the hollow at the base of my throat.  “Your ego.”  He kisses my lips, laughing again.

Gloating over just how good I’ve made him feel, I still have to retaliate.  I got some pride.  I roll him beneath me, ruthlessly ignoring his protests, kiss him soundly, tell him I love him very dearly.  And then I heartlessly fall asleep on him.  Literally on him.


DANIEL

Jack weighs a ton.  I feel as if I'm being flattened right into the floor, My back is pulverised, I've long since lost all feeling in my ass, but right at this moment I've never felt more at peace with myself or life in general.  Never felt happier.  Ever.

Ever.

It hits me heavier than the man snoring on top of me how I've never, ever been this happy.  Not even when I thought I was as happy as I could ever be.  Not even with --

Sha'uri and I only ever had one serious fight the whole time we were together.  It started strangely, came out of nowhere, bewildered me and left a bad taste in my mouth long after we left it without ever having resolved it.

Or me ever figuring out what it was all about in the first place.  Until this very minute, that is.

It happened in the cartouche room.  I'd been spending more and more time there, pouring over the symbols, wondering. Nothing any more focussed than that.  Although the thought of uncovering the gate - trying some of the addresses out - was - was there, every once and a while.  Not that I would have.  Not that I needed to.  Just thinking about it.  Nothing more.

Sha'uri hadn't been spending as much time with me in the room as she used to.  Was growing less indulgent of my fascination with it.  She wanted me to leave it, although she never came out and said as much.  She didn't have to.  I knew.

That's why I was so surprised to see her that day, even more surprised by the way she - let me know why she'd come.  What she wanted. Wonder if I should tell Jack that this isn't exactly the first time I've made out on a cold, hard stone floor. And boy, did we ever boogie. What we did was pretty - unconventional - for us, anyway.  Oh yeah.  It was something.  And yet - it wasn't.

Not that it wasn't good. It was good.  Like always, yet had a funny, desperate undertone to it.  Just something strangely wild and yet incomplete.  Got even stranger right after we finished.

Instead of immediately curling up beside me as she always did Sha'uri sat up, turned and looked at me like I'd just done something wrong.  I'd let her down somehow. That was when she said it.  A few cryptic and yet disturbing phrases I never understood.  That is, until now.

"Why do you never look at ME when we make love, Danyiel?"  she said to me with deep sorrow in her eyes.  "Why are you never with me, even when you are here? When you look at me, who are you really seeing?"

I - I shouted at her.  Ashamed to recall it now.  I remember being very angry.  Feeling as if what she'd just said - wasn't fair. What was she talking about, not being with her, not looking at her, I was at her side practically thirty six hours a day, did everything she wanted, didn't question, restrict, demand - what more could I do, what more could she want?  She had me - I was there.  She had everything I had to give.

Except the one thing she really wanted.  I didn't understand that, then.  Not then, not the next day or any of the days after that one.  Didn't get what she was saying, what she was asking of me.  Didn't understand why she tried to hide the fact she was crying when I came home the next day from starting to uncover the gate.

I get it now.  I loved Sha'uri. But not the way I love the man currently making a pancake out of me.  With my full and fervent blessings. Worlds of difference between the two.  A difference that makes - all the difference.

All the time I was with her I really wanted him and never knew it.  But she did.  God, she did.  Especially after I let her slip through my fingers and be taken away again when I had the time and the chance to save her.

And all this time I've been with him, I've tried to be in love with her the way I should have been. The way - the way she wanted me to be.  Not letting myself see or have the one I wanted all along. Because it would have been - wrong.  Wrong for me to have what I wanted, when I couldn't give her what she wanted.

She deserved far better than anything I was ever capable of being for her.  Yet I know she forgave me for everything, at the very end. She trusted me with her child.

Maybe it's time I finally forgave myself as well.

"Finally," Jack mumbles sleepily into my ear.  "Figured it out, did you?  Took you long enough.  And they say I'm the dense one."

I could swear I didn't say that out loud.  Positive I didn't.  Like that makes the slightest bit of difference.

"I thought you were sleeping," I tell him fondly as I kiss the side of his face.

"Who can sleep with all this thinking going on?"  Jack grumbles, sighs and pushes me further into the floor.

"Ah! Ow!  Hip!  Hurt!  Floor!  OW!  MOVE!"

"Don't gotta yell!" Jack grins as he shifts his weight off me.  Oh lord, feels good to be able to breathe again.  And yet, for all it wasn't exactly the most ideal position to be in, I feel suddenly, strangely bereft with the loss of that comfortably compacted feeling.

Somehow Jack knows this.  He doesn't say anything as he draws me into a tight embrace.  I'm equally tacit as I become gradually reacquainted with my ass.

"Sorry about that," Jack finally says as he reaches around and gently massages my butt.  "We should probably get up."

"Probably," I sigh regretfully.  It just feels so good.  Feeling him.  Feeling him feeling me.  I don't want to go.  Not - not yet.  It's too soon to leave this place.  I know he's feeling the same way.

"Do you forgive me?" I hear myself saying.

Jack's hand freezes.  He pulls back until he can see my face.  His dark eyes scan my features, searching, assessing.

"What kind of a question is that?" he says finally, in a slightly apprehensive voice.  "Forgive you for what?  There's nothing to forgive."

I said those very same words to her once. Nothing to forgive.  Only pain unwittingly inflicted without malice.  Only suffering caused by an unwillingness to look at the truth.

No one truly meant any harm, though so much came all the same.  For all our good intentions.

"I had a dream once where I told you the only reason I joined SG-1 was to find my wife.  When that was no longer possible - when she was gone  - I had no reason to be on the team.  So I was leaving."

"Leaving?" he echoes softly, the pain he feels from even the suggestion I would do so plain in his expression.

"Then I had another dream," I continue doggedly forward, determined to finish.  So he will understand.  "It showed me that was a lie.  Everything I believed about myself - every step I'd taken since we - parted - all of it was a lie. Even what I told Shifu, the reason I'd convinced myself I was doing everything I was doing.  Walking my path to honour Sha'uri's strength.  Not true.  I was trying to atone for having failed - failed both of you.

"I should have seen it sooner, when I didn't choose again, on Abydos, when I could have saved her - brought her back to Earth in time - but I didn't.  And I STILL didn't see it.  Until trying to continue to live that lie and trying to carry the consequences of another's fate took me out onto that ledge."

He's staring at me, stunned.  I don't even think he's breathing.

"It wasn't the lie that took me to that edge," I tell him softly.  "It was the truth. I couldn't live the lie one more instant.  Just couldn't do it anymore. Couldn't take another step that wasn't at your side.  I - I finally chose.  Knew what I wanted. What I had to do. Who I really wanted to be with. Had always wanted to be with.  But it was too late.  I'd waited too long.  The choice was no longer mine to make.  Option expired, no chance for renewal. I was convinced I'd lost you at the same moment I finally figured out I couldn't live without you.  So I didn't want to.  You came just in time.  A few moments more -- "

I can't finish.  It scares me to realise what almost happened. Not as much as it scares him, though.  He shudders and crushes me to him.  Doesn't make a sound as he clutches me fiercely and I hold on to him with equally terrified desperation.

Almost - but didn't.  Didn't.  We're both alive, both here.  Both exactly where we want to be.  No misunderstandings, no confusion.  No obstacles, impediments, complications. The path before us is free and clear.

The radio on the cot several feet behind us crackles and pops.

"Sir?"  Sam's voice issues out of the instrument.

"It's too far away."  I say to Jack.  "I can't reach it."

"Me either," Jack nods and just looks at me.

"Guess that means one of us is going to have to get up."

"Yup."

"You're the one she wants to talk to."

"Daniel?"  Sam says again.  "Uh, are you guys – um – awake?"

I could swear I just heard her giggle.

"Static," Jack deadpans.

Static my ass. I'm going to be killing me one know-it-all major as soon as my colonel takes his hands off me long enough to let me get my hands on her.

As Jack groans and finally gets up I'm suddenly thinking about noise.  As in specific kinds of noises.  Quantity, volume.  Wondering about how far sound travels in this place.  Having a sinking feeling that as soon as we see Sam's face both Jack and I are both going to wish we were dead.


JACK

I’ve shaken my kids off in the light room to give me room to do the colonel thing; I’ve just finished my Sit Rep for Hammond and now it’s Janet’s turn.

“How’s morale, Colonel?”

“Everyone is doing better, Doctor.”

“Any physiological symptoms I need to be aware of, Sir?”

“Daniel is stabilising.  The fever spiked and broke, he got a little sleep.  His mood is settling too.  I could put it down to the narcotic, but we have managed to talk about a few things – he’s starting to remember – and I think he’s beginning to put recent events in perspective.  I’m far less concerned,” Janet graciously allows me the world class understatement, “than I was.  Carter is completely normal, no after effects whatsoever from the short withdrawal we experienced on the beach.”

“And how are you, Sir?”

“I said.  Daniel and Carter are fine.”

“YOU, Sir,” Janet insists.

“A little tired,” I admit.

“I can see you, Sir,” Janet reminds me.

“A lot tired.”

Silence.

“Completely exhausted,” I sigh.  “Mentally, physically, emotionally.  Take your pick.”

“I want both you and Daniel to rest as much as possible, Sir.  That’s an order, by the way.”

“Did I say a WORD?”

“I can see you.”

“Oh.”

“Daniel had the most prolonged exposure to the narcotic and to the withdrawal.  You’ve experienced milder withdrawal symptoms, but you’ve also sustained several severe emotional shocks, beginning with Barber’s suicide.  Take a load off, Colonel.”

“That an order?”

“Yes, Sir!”

“Janet?  Can we get some privacy?”  I’ve got something weighing on my mind.

“We’ve got it now, Sir.  Medical privilege.” Janet chuckles malevolently.

“I need to apologise for my unconscionable behaviour toward you in the Infirmary.  I know you were doing everything you could to help Daniel and I’m truly sorry I said otherwise.  Not gonna take the easy way out and blame the addiction, either.  For what it’s worth, I’m  - I am sorry,” I say quietly.

“Thank you, Colonel.  That means a lot.  I – I was hurting too.  We came SO close,” Janet sighs.

“Too close.”

“Now, about Daniel, Sir.  Do you have those stats I wanted?”

“I’ve been monitoring his vitals,” I suddenly hear ‘static’ behind me and turn just in time to catch my second in command, Major Samantha Carter, USAF, PhD, giggling and ostentatiously checking the pulse of my mission specialist, Doctor Daniel Jackson, PhD, PhD.  Also giggling and looking distinctly naughty.

“Have to check for a pulse FIRST, Daniel!”

“I beg your pardon?” I intone with freezing disapproval.

The two of them dissolve into helpless laughter.  I hope to God I’m not blushing when I turn back to Janet.  I can’t believe I was dumb enough to leave the goddamn channel open on the radio.  Rookie mistake.  She must have heard EVERYTHING.  No.  No.  She wouldn’t.  Not Carter.  No way.

“Why don’t you two children just run along and play in the nice light room?” I suggest sternly.

“’K – ‘Kay.  W – w - we b – b - better put it in gear, Jack,” Daniel stammers, holding onto Carter for dear life.

“We left the engine running!” Carter gasps and they make a run for it.

I turn slowly back to Janet.  “I forgot to mention one side effect.  They’re acting like five year olds.”

“Sir, do you have a temperature?  You look a little flushed.”

I wind it down rapidly and beat a strategic withdrawal.  Carter heard a lot, and what she didn’t – crap – she did.  She heard everything.  You can hear a pin drop in the deathly hush here and with all that enthusiasm – gasping, moaning, howling, screaming of specific names – she could hardly fail to miss it.  What the hell could she do?  Bang on the door and ask the colonel to kindly have his ecstatic illicit sex without the sound effects?

Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

She heard EVERYTHING and now I have to walk right through the light room.  Past her.  Past him. I can’t even pull the colonel thing, under the circumstances.  I’m actually quite touched to see a little of ‘Sam’ and to know that my loving Daniel is absolutely fine with her, but still, I got a reputation to maintain.  The only thing I can do is whip up the trauma, make them feel like crap.  They think they can take Jack O’Neill?  They don’t have kids.  They know NOTHING.

I trudge into the light room to find two very wilful, still giggling children, two pairs of big blue eyes daring me to make something of it.

I stop in front of them.  Start to speak.  Stop.  Hang my head a little.  Make it obvious I can’t make eye contact.  The giggling stops.  Defiance shades into apprehension.  I lift my weary head and give them a long, hurt look.  And they fall for it hook, line and sinker.  I’ve never pulled the weary old man act on them before.  Big blue eyes fill with guilt and dismay as I turn and walk slowly away, ignoring a tentative “Sir?” and a hesitant “Jack?”  Bless them.

It won’t take Daniel long to work out how he can make it up to me, but Carter is going to have to get creative.  Can’t hardly wait.

When I get into our room, I realise where all the naughtiness came from.  The two little ones have been revisiting the scene of the crime.  Exit two single cots, enter one king sized air bed, conveniently situated next to the wall, pillows provided, and sleeping bag cover temptingly turned down, ready for action.  Bless Carter’s wicked little heart.

Janet has forgiven me.  The pillows are from the Infirmary.  I’m guessing my abject emotional state got me the sympathy vote.  Crap.  No wonder she picked me up on it.  I must be starting to look as bad as I feel when I don’t watch myself.  Daniel will fret if I’m not careful.  Both the kids will fret.  Daniel only remembers some of it, it’s not fair on him for me to be pathologically over-protective.  I can be it, just can’t act it.  And I gotta watch myself from shading too far in the opposite direction.  Even Daniel couldn’t take me perky.

Ahh, the hell with it.  They made this bed, I’m gonna lie in it.  I was ordered to take it easy.  I can’t take it any easier than being naked and horizontal.  I shuck my uniform and dive in.  No point being gentle.  It’s going to be seeing a lot of action.  Daniel has four years of celibacy to make up for and I’m a randy bastard.

Just let me rest my eyes for a minute.


“Jack?”

“Mm-hm?”

“Are you awake?”

“Uh-uh.”

“You’re not awake?  I see.  Well, I might be able to see if you’d come out from under there.”

“Uh-uh.”  I’m nice and cosy in here unless you’re willing to make a better offer.  I snuggle deeper while Daniel formulates his strategy.

“I can get naked.”

“Lap.”  I lift a tempting corner of the cover.

“No.  I am not a child.  I’m not sitting in your lap.”

I yank the cover pointedly back down into my cocoon.  He managed just fine on the floor earlier.

“Oh, for cryin’ out loud!” Daniel snaps.  I hear a lot of encouraging activity, including an Abydonian curse apparently wished – cursed? - on all combat boots.  “If you tell a living soul!” Daniel threatens.  Then gasps with horror.

Gotcha.  Don’t mess with the best, my love.

I emerge from under the cover, unfortunately bearing no resemblance whatsoever to Aphrodite rising from the foam, dispose myself comfortably among the pillows, and smugly await the delivery of my naked archaeologist for some quality lap time.  Daniel is in fact already naked, eyeing me with fond dislike.  Guess the honeymoon is over.

I’ve got the home field advantage and I press it.  Time for Daniel to learn the true depths of the horrific ordeal to which I was subjected.  Don’t want him thinking I take him for granted.

“If you worship those worthy of worship, who've transcended complications, lamentation, and grief, who are unendangered, fearless, unbound: there's no measure for reckoning your merit.”

Daniel freezes a step too close to me to be safe, and I pull him down onto my lap before he can utter a protest.  He protests quite a lot once he’s actually on my lap, but given his head snuggles straight onto my shoulder and he starts playing with my hair, I don’t take it too seriously.

“I don’t know what that means,” he murmurs, before nibbling my ear.   He gets me all excited, then breathes huskily, “Go on.  Admit it.  You made that up.”

Sneaky.  I approve.

“I didn’t,” I say smugly. “And I DO.”

“You do?  You do what?” I don’t think Danny got enough to eat.  He’s taking bites outta my jaw.

“Know what it means.  I worked it out.”

“Smart guy,” Daniel whispers in my ear.  “I’m completely impressed you remembered it all.”

He’s teasing.  I know he is.  I – I know.  Just catches me a little on the raw.

“Smarter than me, Jack.  If you weren’t, I’d still be fully dressed and making WICK jokes from way over there.”

I stiffen.  In more ways than one.

Daniel chuckles.  “Right in front of George. I don’t know how you dared!  I do know only you could have gotten away with it.  You’re a handful,” he sighs, kissing me sweetly.

I allow myself to be soothed.

“You want to explain that cryptic remark?”

“I could explain, but then you’d only understand my explanation, not what I said,” I say crisply.

“I guess so,” Daniel gives me a surprised, admiring look.  And a somewhat more passionate kiss.

I cave. “Okay.  You’ve won me over with your awesome powers of persuasion. That cryptic thing?  That’s you,” I admit. “According to Shifu!” I add hastily, just in case he thinks I’m getting all sensitive on him, grinning as he blushes furiously, sweet lips parting in surprise. Not in invitation, but I sneak in anyway, making him laugh.

“It’s just that we like you, me and Shifu both.”  I give him a tragic look.  “Do you have any idea what I’ve been through for you, Danny? I’ve suffered.  Big time.  Zen style. The little bugger outsmarted me.  Had to sweat.  Had to WORK for you.  Had to think things through.”  I lean my forehead against his, and confess a terrible secret.  “I  - I got in touch with my FEELINGS, Danny.”  I hang my head and own up to the worst, the very worst of all.  “It was terrible.  I went down fighting, I really did.  You have to believe me.  But in the end – I - I had to TALK about them!”

Daniel tries heroically to stem the tide, but the little chokes of laughter get away from him.  He laughs and laughs until the tears come.  Not many, but he looks and feels a lot better for both.

I stroke his hair back from his brow and soothe us both by slipping my fingers into the silky strands.

“It’s taken me a long time to realise this and it’s been – difficult – to face, Daniel.  Some of what you told me changes things, but I still want you to know the truth.  I never knew myself until Shifu made me take a good, hard look.  I’ve been afraid of losing you from almost the moment we met.”  Daniel shifts convulsively in my arms, and I quieten him with a finger across his lips.  “No, Daniel, please.  Let ME speak.  I’ve never forgiven you for staying on Abydos, for choosing her over me.  I made sure I never gave you a chance to not chose me again.  I had to call the shots for both of us, on my terms.  When you started to pull ahead of me, I pushed you away before you could leave me behind again.”

“Shifu told me the wounds that did not heal were me, that I returned to the same crap, the same craving over and over again.  I couldn’t let it be, I couldn’t let it go, I couldn’t move on.  I’ve learned my lesson.  I let it go. I forgave you, and I forgave Sha’uri for taking you from me.  Me not trusting you, being scared and taking it out on you without ever telling you why?  Let myself off the hook about that too. As for the future  - it’s all about trust. Me respecting you enough to allow you to make up your own mind.   Okay, I was hoping you'd choose me, but I had to let go of that and let you - do the coming.”  I don’t think that came out quite right.  “I even got the stuff about being selfless, but hell, Shifu is only two going on sixty four.  He never factored in your partially naked body sprawled all over the place.  I fell off the wagon.”

“I didn’t choose.  I was chosen.  All this time, God – I –“ Daniel’s voice is choked.

“It makes me feel a lot better.  I put my faith in you and you came through for me.  You chose ME, Daniel.  You’ll never know how much that means to me.” I kiss his brow gently.  “And you have to let go too.”

“Deny the battle,” Daniel whispers, an odd glow in his eyes.

“It’s not as catchy as the let go thing, but yeah, essentially.  Are we – are you okay with this?  Really hoping this was a one shot deal, here.  Y’know?  Back to inarticulate, awkward silences.  More my speed.  Getting in touch with your feelings wears you out.  We can talk some more if you like,” I offer heroically, “Or we could go for some physical therapy.”

Daniel looks as if he doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  “Of a – of a sexual nature?”

I brighten right up.  The worst is over and he’s still on my lap, talking about sex.  “I’m thinking primal scream.  Catharsis.”

“Cathartic sexual therapy?”

“Yes, please.”  I give him my best sultry look.  “You like words.  I can give you lots and lots of words.  Good words.”

“Are you coming on to me, Jack O’Neill?”

“Depends.  Is it working?”

“Gimme.”

Thankfully, Daniel has apparently agreed to table any serious response until we’re both up to more discussion.  Or possibly until he thinks I’m up to more discussion.  I’m probably kidding myself here, but I’d also like to think the sight of my naked body does enough for him to have played some small part in that decision.

I have no idea how well this will be received, but Daniel is a linguist and he may just be impressed by MY only claim to linguistic fame.  I take a deep breath.  “Just a snippet.  Just to get you warmed up.”

“Foreplay,” Daniel murmurs suggestively, licking a warm trail over my cheekbone.

I take another deep breath.  “And here's a new trick, Mr Knox -- Socks on chicks and chicks on fox.  Fox on clocks on bricks and blocks.  Bricks and blocks on Knox on blocks.”

Daniel kneels astride me, wraps his arms around my neck and kisses me fervently.  “More!”

“Try to say this, Mr, Knox, please -- Through three cheese trees three free fleas flew.  While these fleas flew, freezy breeze blew.  Freezy breeze made these three trees freeze.  Freezy trees made these trees' cheese freeze. That's what made these three free fleas sneeze.”

Daniel starts to let out those delicious chokes of laughter again.

“Sex and Seuss.”

“You never cease to amaze me with all YOUR talents, Jack O’Neill.” Daniel hesitates.  “Charlie?”

I nod at the gentle question.  I read them to him so often I memorised them.

“And you’ve got me.  Got me cold.  I can’t do that,” Daniel admires.

“Well then -- bring your mouth this way.  I'll find it something it can say.”

My linguist leans in for his kiss and tells me he loves me without having to say a single word.

Except ‘Mmm’.


DANIEL

It feels so good to be alive.

Another simple truth I hardly understood until now. It's funny how a lot of things are suddenly coming clear.  All I had to do was let it go and let it happen.

Sam elbows me sharply in the side. I catch Jack's exasperated eye as I turn and swiftly punch her in the arm.  He's thoroughly disgusted with the pair of us.  Says he prefers the more 'mature' company of Loren 'cause we're acting like five year olds'.

So, what of it? So what if we are? We're having FUN!  I don't think either one of us got to do this stuff when we were kids and it was okay to act like we were five.  Or ten. Or just like every other kid who wasn't some kind of freaking genius. Too busy 'living up to our potential' to cut loose and have fun.

Sam and I have both come from a past stripped of innocence by loss and the 'otherness' of our very being. We know what it feels like to grow up way too soon. To have to be something we're not ready for way before it should have been required of us.  This is something Jack can't relate to  - our sudden, mutual need to let all the barriers fall away and just - cut loose.

But it's more than that.  Not simply the two of us trying to pack too many lost years into a few carefree weeks.  This is about Sam and me doing our own version of making up for lost time between us. We've got a few things to work out.  We've found our own unique avenue of expression.  Jack's just going to have to deal with it. And take being assigned the role of 'designated parent' with his usual quiet aplomb and generous grace.  What does he expect?  He's been calling us 'kids' for the past four years.  We're finally living up to the billing.

Mind you, he's awfully cute when he's sulking.

Sam rolls her eyes in a derisive response to the blow. "Pfffft!"  she snorts.  "That all ya got, dirtboy?  I hardly even felt that!"

OW!  Felt that!  God, can she PUNCH!  From the way he winced, even Jack felt that one.  Loren is so shocked he's stopped chewing.  Sitting beside Jack, his eyes wide with puzzled apprehension at the spectacle of two grown-ups wailing on each other with ferocious gusto.

"Cut that out!"  Jack growls.  "Settle down and eat your lunch.  You keep this up I'm gonna have to separate you."

"She started it!"  I tell him indignantly as I give Sam a healthy shove. Not quite tumbling her off her stool, but damned close.

"Oh!  You rotten LIAR!" she sputters, flinging aside her lunch before flinging herself at me.   "Get ready to kiss the floor!"

"Bring it on!  You don't scare me!" I yell as she pushes me over backwards.

That's not true, she scares me lots.  I'm glad she actually likes me, or I'd be in serious danger of getting severely thumped.  However, I have an ace in the hole.  I can run for my life like nobody's business.  Years of practice, especially the last four.  If I can get to my feet she won't see me for dust.

Problem is, she damned well knows it too.  I let her get that arm-lock on me she's going for, I'm not going to be going anywhere.  Shit!  She's strong!  If I don't do something soon there's definitely some floor kissing looming in my immediate future.  Ah well, desperate times call for desperate measures.  She has this vulnerable spot - if I can just reach -

"Come on, Danny!"  Jack urges as he gets to his feet and moves toward us. To referee or gloat, not sure which.  He's grinning though, getting into it.

"Gonna let a GIRL beat you up?"  he jeers.

"Wouldn't be the first time, Jack!"  I gasp.  "What, you want me to hit a lady?"

"I'm no LADY!"  Sam crows.  "I'm a MAJOR!"

"Why don't you bite her?"  Jack shrugs, trying to be helpful.

Hmmm.  Now there's a thought.  No.  She'd just bite me back.  That would hurt. However, I don't have to.  I've reached my objective. Left side. Right there.  Give it a good poke --

"SHIT!"  she cries out, laughing and reflexively cringing away from my prodding finger.  Letting go, shifting her weight just enough for me to --

Dump her on her ass, scramble to my feet and take off like a mad bunny on speed.  Which I proceed to do with all alacrity and despatch. Not to mention a certain element of desperation. No way she's got a prayer of catching me.  Nobody can run for the hills like me. I take the gold every time in the hundred yard mad dash for safety in the survival Olympics.  I'm good at fleeing.  Still alive, aren't I? Right now I'm going for breaking a few personal best speed records.

"You're dead, Jackson!"  she calls out from behind me.  Way behind me.

"Have to catch me first!" I look over my shoulder and holler back at her.  Which is why I don't see Teal'c until I've run right into him.

As immovable objects go, Teal'c is a fairly impressive one. Who am I kidding, he'd make a great wall. I don't even shift him as I hit him full on.

I'm still seeing stars by the time Sam, Loren and Jack catch up to us.

"Hiya, Teal'c," Jack calls out.  His voice has a slight edge to it.  "Whatchadoin?"

I'll leave it to Teal'c to field this one.  Much too busy trying to force my collapsed lungs to function once more.  If it wasn't for Teal'c holding me up I'd be on the floor.

"I am assisting DanielJackson," he declaims in what for him is as close to a matter of fact tone of voice as he is ever going to get.  Which still sounds like 'Sermon on the Mount,' but that's Teal'c.  "He appears to be having difficulty breathing."

'Hit the wall," I wheeze.

"Ran right into you, did he?" Jack says sceptically.

"Indeed," Teal'c affirms.

"Might be easier for him to breathe if you weren't squeezing him so tight."

Oh, more than an edge.  Jack's getting testy.  Also, for the first time I'm becoming aware Teal'c has a grip on me bordering on - emphatic.

"I am merely ensuring he does not fall down."

That's nice.  I think.  Wouldn't mind sitting down right now, though.  I'm getting a bit confused by the by-play.  Not to mention the suddenly challenging protectiveness Teal'c is giving off in waves.

There's something going on here.  Looks like, as usual, I'm the last one to know.

"Thanks, Teal'c, but I'm okay, now," I tell him as I lift my head off his shoulder.  He instantly releases me as I show him I can stand on my own two feet.

Loren steps in front of Jack, who was swiftly closing the gap between us.  His bright, young eyes are full of questions as they fasten on our large friend.

"Did you bring it?"  he demands.

"I did," Teal'c tells him gravely.

"Cool!" the boy enthuses.  Jack shrugs, completely avoiding any responsibility for being a bad influence, then it occurs to him he has a question of his own.

"Bring what?" he asks Loren.

"ICE CREAM!"

"Snacks!"  Jack says with a wide, anticipatory grin, his former issues evidently forgotten in lieu of an impending opportunity to indulge himself.  "Hope you brought enough for everyone."

"Me too," I affect a mournful glance at no one in particular.  "If you didn't, Sam will beat us up and eat it all herself. She can take us all, you know.  Told me so.  Excuse me, I have to GO now."

I only just evade her fist and take off at a dead run down the hall, the major in hot pursuit. The wall that walks like a man safely behind me so there's no chance I'll be running into him again any time soon. I'm also fully aware I've just stuck Jack with the explanation. Sorry Jack, you're on your own.  Busy running, here.


I'm sitting in front of the gate when our paths cross again.

I don't know what it is.  I can't seem to stay away from this thing. Just keeps calling me back, like it's got one more secret it wants to whisper in my ear.  All I have to do is keep on coming back for more.

I know all about secrets.  I've got a big one, one I've been carrying around for far too long.  Seems like this is the proper place to finally let it go, and release someone else from its obligation as well.

"I am pleased to see you are well, DanielJackson," Teal'c says quietly, still managing to startle me.  He's standing right by my side, and I didn't hear him make a sound as he approached me.  My long, dark, silent shadow.  Loyal to a fault, protector, defender, custodian of my deepest shame, the uncomplaining bearer of the burden of needless guilt he took for my sake.

An undeserving casualty of my unwillingness to choose.  I understand now why I truly needed to remove him from my existence during the time I spent in the realm of could have been.  He was the only one who knew my secret.  The only one who knew the awful truth.  I had to make him disappear.   It was the only way I could bury what he knew with him.

It's time to set all three of us free.

"Hey, Teal'c," I motion for him to sit down beside me.  "Good to see you, too."

He doesn't move, but continues to stand over me.  He studies me carefully, like I've seen him examine me many times before.  I'm never quite sure what he's looking for, exactly what it is he's seeing. As he's yet to tell me, I guess I'll go on not knowing.

"You have changed," he announces finally.  "That which was troubling you no longer does so."

No it doesn't.  And you, my friend, are a very observant man.  Scarcely a newsflash, though.

"Jack and I have - connected.  Come to an understanding. It's - it's good."

I don't know what to tell him because I'm suddenly not sure how much he wants to know.

"I am pleased for you," he says quietly.

He is.  He means it. I'm suddenly even more confused, and not at all sure why.

But I put it aside for another time.  I don't want to talk about Jack right now.  I beckon to him again to join me on the floor.  This time he nods and complies.

He assumes a position close to me with efficient grace, then turns an expectant gaze upon me.  He knows I'm about to tell him something, but he won't ask.  He waits until I'm ready to give.

This isn't going to come out right, but I have to say it now or it's not going to come out at all.

"We've got some unfinished business, the three of us," I begin quietly.  "You, me - and Sha'uri.  It's time we settled up and closed the book.  For good."

His dark eyes are grave, deep pools of inscrutability.  He's trying not to let me see what he's never wanted me to know.  How much it's hurt him - to have to hurt me.  Always, because of her.

"You're not to feel bad about choosing her," I tell him frankly. Start at the beginning.  The first black mark he etched on his soul for my sake. Wipe it away.  Once and for all.  "You didn't even know who she was and besides, you were simply the instrument. The agent of another's will.  The blame is his, not yours.  I don't want this from you - let it go."

He blinks, but otherwise doesn't move.  Carved of ebony he stares at me, his aspect as immutable as his being.

"The business with the Hammer," I start again.  "I want you to let that go as well.  That wasn't even really about you, it's something Jack and I have to settle. He saw a chance to - he made me to do it because he needed me to prove - " I have to stop for a minute.  This one is hard.  I DID blame Teal'c for the longest time, somewhere in the deep recesses where I put things I can't afford to let myself look at.  It's only very recently I realised what actually happened that day.  Why it really happened.  I've been figuring out quite a few things in the wake of Shifu's lesson.  This is one of them. But certainly not the least of the things I've finally seen the light about.

"You were not at fault, you were simply an - opportunity - to force an issue. I understand that now.  So should you.  Let it go."

He still says nothing.  We both know I'm not done yet.  There's more.  This one - this is going to be the hardest one of all for both of us to face and let go of.  But it's the last strand holding this triangle of sorrow together.  Guilt has fettered the three of us for far too long. We can't move on from this place until I sever the bonds.

"I figured it out," I tell him finally.  "I know you've known since you went to Abydos with me, but I've only just let myself see it.  I can't tell you how sorry I am for forcing you to make a choice - never should have happened.  If I hadn't waited - if I'd brought her straight back to Earth with me - but that would have meant - choosing between them again.   Couldn't.  Didn't.  Waited.  Waited until circumstances chose for me.  Could have saved her.  Didn't.  Let Apophis take her back. Let it fall to you to finally settle it - once and for all - to make a choice I was too cowardly to make when I should have."

This finally moves him so profoundly he can no longer hide what he's feeling. He looks distressed, as if he's beginning to speak but I hold up my hand to stop him.

"No.  I have to get this out.  Please."  He regards me with dark eyes of concern but remains silent.

"All this time I've been blaming everyone else for Sha'uri's death.  Blaming the Goa'uld, the fates, hard luck, bad timing.  Blaming you.  All this time you took the rap for killing her, when you knew what really happened.  Took it and never said a word.

"Well, my friend, I don't deserve the sacrifice and I'm taking it back from you.  You might have been forced to pull the trigger but Sha'uri's death is my fault.  I should have taken her home when I had the chance.  If I had, she'd still be alive, and you wouldn't have had to kill her for my sake.

"It's not your fault.  I told you at the time: you did the right thing. You did - but it never should have come down to you.  You had no choice - you did the only thing you could have, because when I had the chance I didn't do everything I should have.  Everything I could have. You knew this, all this time, and yet - you never blamed me for what I made you do.  I don't know what else to say to you except I'm sorry, and it's time we finally both let go of Sha'uri and let her rest in peace."

He doesn't say anything. Just nods.  He places a huge hand on my shoulder, turns his face away. As I study his strong, impassive profile I see something extraordinary.

A faint glimmer, at the corner of his eye.  So slight, so barely formed it is almost imperceptible.  The mere breath of a tear, glistening hesitantly against the support of the lid.

Before I have a chance to see any more he rises and glides quietly away from me.

Thank you, my friend.  I hope your road is lighter now that you don't have quite so much to carry. Good-bye, Sha'uri.  I did love you.  As truly as I could. However we came to be, I don't regret it.  I don't regret you.  Maybe it shouldn't have been, but I will always cherish what was.  What we did have the chance to experience together.  I will always cherish and remember you, but it's time to stop walking the path of atonement.  Time to step out of your shadow and into his light.


"Danny?  Danny - where the hell are you?  You gotta come and see this!  Teal'c is playing tag with Sam and Loren.  No foolin'!  Damndest thing I ever - I think this place is driving everyone nuts.  DANNY!  Where the - oh, what, back to staring at this thing again?"

"Jack," I murmur as he thuds down beside me.  Not much grace, but plenty of enthusiasm.

"What's so fascinating about this thing anyway?"  he complains as he screws up his face at the gate.  "Just a stupid old Stargate.  I can think of better things you could be staring at," he leers expectantly at me.

"Only staring?" I ask.

"It's a place to start," he grins. "So you gonna give up this thing you have with the gate and let ME chase you around the place for a bit?"

I shake my head. "I think I've done enough running for a lifetime."

"Okay," Jack ventures, trying to gauge my mood like he's surveying an enemy's fortifications for the best way to breach the walls.  I guess I've made him do a lot of this sort of thing lately.  I'll cut him a break this time.

"Tell you about the dream Shifu gave me, if you like."

"The dream?"  He lights up like a wino who's just found a twenty dollar bill.  "No foolin’?"  Then he stops to consider the consequences of getting what he's been after for ages.  Something I have been obstinately insistent he's not going to be getting.

He smells a trap.  He's got good instincts. He's also got a fatal flaw.  When it comes to me, he's a lot more curious than he is cautious.  Gets him every time.

As will I.

"It's not a lot of metaphysical mumbo jumbo hocus pocus crap I'm not going to get and is just going to make my head hurt, is it?"  he asks me suspiciously.

"Nope," I reassure him as I stand up and pull him up after me.  "Matter of fact, you should find it really interesting. I was the smartest guy in the world - "

"Oh - no delusions of grandeur, here," he scoffs as he slides his arm around my waist.

"Wait, it gets better!"  I figure one good hand deserves another, but mine is going a little further south.  He doesn't seem to mind.  "I had all these people working for me and we built this huge underground high tech mission control bunker. Biggest damned big screen TV on the planet.  And you should have seen my chair.  It was cool.  Big chair. All the bells and whistles and then some.  Even made coffee. Seriously.  Would have given both Captain Kirk and Jean-Luc severe chair-envy."

"So, you had a fancy hole in the ground and a big seat," Jack pats my ass to reassure me he wasn't meaning for me to take it as a personal comment.  I don't.  We keep walking down the hall and I do a little patting of my own.

"Yeah, I launched this satellite weapons system up in orbit and then I used it to take over the world."

He stops walking, turns and gapes at me.  "You? Doing a Doctor Evil?  Doctor Evil Jackson?"  He's grinning from ear to ear.  "No way!  Did you do the thing with the finger?  What about the cat?  Tell me you had a cat!"

He's so hopeful I almost lie.  "Nope.  No finger.  No cat.  No Mini Me  either. Sorry."

"Eww." Jack makes a face.   "Wasn't going to go there.  No cats, huh? I knew it," he shakes his head sorrowfully.  "I knew a perfectly good megalomaniac’s fantasy would be wasted on you.  Bet you didn't even posture and make tacky speeches."

No. No tacky speeches.  No words could quite cover what I did. That's a small detail I don't plan on sharing with him.

"Was I in it?"  he asks hopefully as we start walking again and cover the rest of the distance to our room.  Like I ever had any doubt that's where we were headed.

"So what was I doing?" he asks in response to my affirmative nod.

"Bringing me flowers," I breathe as he pulls me into him.

"Flowers?"  he peers at me suspiciously.  "Flowers?  Why would I do a dumb-ass thing like that?"

My colonel the romantic. Time to play a little fast and loose with the truth.

"Because, I guess, you heard Paul - Major Davis - brought me chocolates."

"Davis?"  Jack roars.  "That sneaky rat bast - "

He breaks off in mid rant and glares at me.

"You are lying through your teeth, aren't you?"

I can't hold it in anymore.  I start laughing.  I'm practically helpless as Jack groans and tosses me back on the mattress.  "Should have known you'd - you've been winding me up this whole time, haven't you? 'Doctor Evil Jackson'!  As if!"

Not the whole time.  Most of it was true. But he doesn't know that.  And now he'll never ask me about it again.  Which is pretty much the way I want it. Jack's curiosity is rivalled only by his tenacity.  He'd worry this particular bone for the next ten years if that's what it took for me to finally break down and tell him what happened.  That's something I have no intention of ever doing.  I know it's probably unfair of me.  After all, he didn't get to hide his deliberately genocidal moment from me on Abydos.  But there was a vast difference behind why we both pushed our respective buttons.  He sought to destroy in order to preserve and protect.  I did it because I felt like it. And I could.

It's bad enough I have to live with seeing that part of myself.  No reason he should be subjected to it as well.  He has a certain high opinion of me I haven't the heart to disabuse him of.  Maybe someday I'll actually become the person he thinks I am.   I can think of worse goals to strive for.

He seems to have utterly forgiven me my little deception.  It would appear he's decided he has better things to do with his time than talk.  More than fine by me.  He rips off his T-shirt and flings himself down on top of me.  Kissing.  Lots of kissing.  Definitely better than talking.

I know the same bright burning, the singing sense of rightness rising within me as his touch inflames both my body and my soul.  He burns, he shines, together we're incandescent. More than seen the light - we are the light.  As long as we love, we'll always see our way clear.

It's still a long, uncertain road, but as long as we walk it together, we'll get where we're going.  He leads, and I pick the direction.  He holds the sword, I have the compass.  He blazes the trail, and I can see where we have to go.

Teamwork in the fullest sense of the word.  What Shifu said, about a man ultimately travelling his chosen path alone, might be true. But nowhere is it written that path can't run right alongside another one.  Going in exactly the same direction.  Crossing, for a time.

The time stretching from now 'til the rest of our lives.

His hand pauses in its welcome meandering across my torsal topography. After a short pause he pulls out of a deep and prolonged kiss I was rather enjoying to draw back and give me a slightly anxious glance.

"Whatcha thinking about?" he queries carefully.

"Nothing," I respond carelessly before I fully comprehend the apprehension in his eyes.  He's worried about something.  Deeply.  I'm confused about his concern, but before I have a chance to ask him what's wrong he tells me.

"If you say so," he returns without conviction.  "It's just sometimes you go to this -- place.  You're here, and then the next minute you're somewhere - I guess it's somewhere you don't want me to go. Feel like you can't - I wouldn't want to know.  That's okay," he says quickly, looking away so I won't see the sudden flaring of fear in his eyes, "I guess you've -- well -- we've all got stuff we're not proud of.  I just wanted you to know - you don't have to - I mean - it doesn't matter what it is. You've seen me at my very worst and yet, here you are. You like me anyway.  Go figure.  I don't want you thinking you can't -- You don't have to do this on your own, anymore," he blurts out at me defiantly.  "You're not alone anymore.  I got broad shoulders.  Use 'em.  I can handle whatever it is you've got.  Not scared to go with you, anywhere you need to go."

He means it. He wants to know.  He wants to help.  He loves me. Whatever I think is the very worst I could be is nothing to him.  He doesn't see the stains and spots.  He just sees - me.  The brilliant reality of his fierce, honest faith in me illuminates my soul. That's when I know.  When I truly understand.

I'll tell him everything.  No reason I shouldn't.  Every reason I should.  I have nothing to lose except a burden I don't need.  'Doctor Jackson' might be in me, I might carry the memory of his existence, but he has no power over me. I can take the lesson and move on from the teaching.   I will never be him.  No danger of that ever happening.  Not now. All I have to do is look at the man before me, see what he sees when he looks at me.

Daniel.  I'm Daniel.  Not the worst man in the world.  Certainly not the smartest.  But definitely the luckiest.  Maybe I don't have a cool chair and a big screen, but I got something the doctor didn't get, for all he thought he had the world by the short and curlies.

I got the colonel. By finally not fighting the one battle I could never, ever lose.  Up yours, doc. Score the only victory that matters to DAN-iel.

"What's so funny?"  Jack peers suspiciously at me as I start to chuckle.

"I'll tell you later.  I promise.  Right now I'd like to engage in a little research.  Test out a premise advanced by a friend of mine."

"Oh?" Jack says warily.

"Yeah," I look up at him and deliberately, slowly run the tip of my tongue across my lower lip. He gulps and shudders as his eyes track the movement with hungry anticipation.

"I want to find out if it is really better to have a big – long - wick.  What do you say, Jack, are you up for a little -- experimentation?"

His wide, lascivious grin tells me everything I need to know. I'm talking science he can understand, and he thoroughly approves of my methodology. Completely dedicated to the task of proving the premise.  He's got a hell of a wick.  And that's no joke.  The immediate future promises to be very - illuminating.

"About the results, though," I murmur as his lips hover close to mine.  "Hands - too full - to take notes.  Gonna have to be an oral report."

"Best kind," he breathes into my mouth.

Mmmmmm hnmmmmm --


EPILOGUE

"Do you trust me?" he breathes as his intention burgeons in his dark, desperate eyes.  I know what he's asking of me.  Know what he needs to do.  Never done this, never thought and now, and yet, as I look, see, feel, feel him touching me, kissing me, surrounding me with his reality; hot, heavy warmth - his taste, his smell, the sound of his harsh, rapid breathing - swarming my senses inflaming my mind --

Not enough.  Not enough to simply feel him everywhere outside on my skin.  Barriers - no barriers.  Walls.  All my life, I've needed walls between me and everything else.  Now, the walls that protected me are holding me back.  Keeping me from knowing him, understanding.  Need to take him in, need to feel - need to know what he is.  Need him to --

"Do you trust me?" he groans again, hand trembling, making me shiver as it roams purposefully across my sweating skin.  Feel him touch - never been touched - not there - should be afraid, he is and yet he can't help himself, he needs this as much as I do.  Needs to know me, to be by breaking through, pushing forward - thrusting - GOD!

Fire erupting, shooting, turning me to flame as his fingers push, explore, reach inside me.  Not enough.  Not enough for either of us.  He's kissing me frantically, mad with his passion, heaving, heavy hardness ramming into my stomach.  I clutch him, feel him throbbing, sticky, vital.  Hear him cry out, feel him quake with the sensations as I touch him, stroke him.  Hold him in my hand, feel him but it's not enough, I need more.   Need more of him, all of him.  NOW!

So close, so close to having what we've both been wanting, needing in each other.  Only one thing left we both must do for each other.  Something we've never been able to before.

Surrender.

"Danny?" he moans into me as his kisses consume me.  He's desperate, insane, pleading, must have and yet cannot take, can only ask, must wait for me to give; he must let me open to receive him.

"Yes," I answer him with everything I am, my body trembling, aching and willing beneath him, must have, must feel, must know but can't unless he accepts, shares, enters within.

Sensations, brilliant, blinding, bursting through as he - oh God, filling, moving, deeper, not familiar but not pain oh, anything but pain  - more - more - don't hold back - don't be afraid - not hurting me, won't hurt me - love - love you --

"Oh God!  Oh Jack!"

"Sorry - sorry!  I'm hurting you.  DAMMIT!  Danny  - I'll - I'll stop --"

"NO!  I'm okay, I'm okay!  Don't - don't stop. God, don't stop.  Please!"

Reaching up, pulling him down, pulling him in, farther, deeper, more; reassuring, kissing, stroking.  Move toward, open wider, it's okay, love you, know you love me.   Know it now, like I never did before.

Falling further into me, he's falling away from reason, taking me along for the ride.  I'm soaring on the crest of his insistent, pounding rhythm, becoming singing fire in answer to his naked desire.  He's pure, glorious, primal, his entire awareness concentrated, given to me, driving into me, all of him deep inside me, farther, further, coming closer, drawing me with him, spiralling steadily upward toward the edge.

Close, so close to falling.  I'm swelling with his life, aglow with his light must look up, must see.  He's gasping, grunting, his face - so  - so - beautiful - never seen him like this before, so utterly open, exposed to me, stripped of all pretence by the honest power of his passion.  His familiar features roughly twisted in a mask of pleasure, so raw and yet so - magnificent.  He's - he's magnificent.  His eyes are tightly closed, chest heaving and labouring as he rocks and thrusts.  Sweat streaming down his undulating, sinuous body, tears tracking his flushed, red face.  Reach up, touch, taste.

"Love you."

"Danny!  Danny - I - GOD, OH GOD --"

He's screaming, sobbing, his joy, his love calling me further, asking me, telling me - I'm standing on the edge - the abyss beneath me - never let myself let go - not like this - what's waiting - don't know.  Don't have to go, can hold back, can still feel without letting - without letting all of it go.  Didn't - couldn't with her.  Always held something back. Couldn't let it all go. Couldn't let myself fall.

Standing on the edge.  Suddenly, no fear.  What's waiting for me down there?  Him.  He'll be there; he'll catch me.  What am I protecting?  Why am I holding back?  What have I got to lose?  Nothing to lose.  So much more to find.  Wait for me, Jack, I'm coming.

I call his name as I open my eyes and jump.

FINIS

Back to Part Three

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