Reconstruction by Brionhet
Disconnected Part Four
Slash:  Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: R.
Category: Angst. Drama. Hurt/Comfort.
Season/Spoilers: Season 4.  No particular spoilers.
Synopsis: Healing takes time and attention.
Warnings: Non, nada, zilch.
Length:  283Kb

Reconstruction by Brionhet

Brushing his hand gently across the cover of the journal, Jack O'Neill gazed blindly out through the window. The clatter of the carpenters' tools barely penetrated his bemusement.

...I feel so out of sync with everything. The other faculty members resent me; the students can't figure out why they're stuck in my class. And there's that constant toothache in my knee, just brightening every day...

... Forward, Daniel. You have to think forward. The past can't be retrieved. No matter how much you might... Damn it! Think forward...

... Why can't I make this life seem real? I feel like a bad actor in an inept play. Nothing really seems to matter...

... I hate this thing! Hate it! Sometimes I just want to throw it away, and stand up and run run run! Then I take an incautious step, and reality slams into my gut. Well, actually into my knee...

Damn. Daniel had obviously been so unhappy. And there had also been...

... I could call. Wonder what they're doing? Did Sam finish her bike? Has Teal'c figured out Gilligan's Island yet? Does Jack... [line scratched out] The general would tell me; I could call. I know the number. It's right there trembling on the tips of my fingers. But if I call... If I call, it'll just bring it all back down on my head. [two empty lines, then small, unsteady letters] ... I'm so lonely...

The telltale blisters betrayed the tears he'd shed over the page. Damn.

"...Jack?"

He heard the hesitant fear in the soft call. Guiltily returning the journal to the drawer in the end table beside the couch, he hurried back to the bedroom, sparing a quick glance for the two men busily repairing the damage he'd done to Daniel's door.

Daniel was half sitting, leaning on his left elbow, anxious eyes fixed on the door. Jack caught his breath at the sight of him, the curves of his body brushed with the late morning sun.

"Jack?"

"Right here..." He moved quickly to the bed, sinking down to sit facing the other man. "Just supervising the repairs." His hands were irresistibly drawn to cradle Daniel's stubbled cheeks.

"Repairs?"

"Mmmm." The response was smothered as he leaned in to taste Daniel's lips. Two tender kisses and a brief scratchy nuzzle, and he sat back again, drinking in the smile he'd brought to that lush mouth.

"The door?"

"Ah... yeah. Figured I broke it, I'd better see about getting it put back together again. Afraid the latch and lock are pretty well shot."

"It wasn't even locked!"

"Yeah, well... I was a bit... firm."

Oh, he loved those giggles. Just really needed to express his appreciation.

Another few intimate moments later, they pulled slowly apart, eyes still hazily engaged, bodies warm with the heat of gentle arousal.

Jack sighed, regretfully stroking Daniel's cheek. "Much as I wish we could explore where this might go, Carter and Teal'c are expecting to meet us for lunch."

Daniel turned to stare blindly into the sunlight. He caught his lower lip between his teeth, then heaved a deep sigh. Turning back to gaze into Jack's face, he brought a finger up to slide gently across the other man's lower lip.

"I thought you'd gone."

"Yeah, so I figured. No way, Danny. No way. I've run and run from you; hurt you so much. No more. Time to stop tearing things apart and start building."

"Building..." Somber blue eyes searched deeply into determined brown. "I'd like that."

"I'm working hard on making up for lost time, here. Time for another deposit..." Leaning forward, he placed another tender kiss on a willing mouth.

Ah, another of those dimpled smiles. Hell of a receipt.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor beside their impromptu banquet table, Sam toyed with the last crust of her sandwich, gazing around the cluttered room. This had been a good idea-scrounging a meal at Daniel's rather than braving another too-public gathering. Scrambling together the makings of sandwiches, sorting out glasses and beverages, counting forks and plates-mundane actions that had quickly leached away the stiff caution with which they'd been treating each other.

This place spoke so strongly of its occupant. She would have known it was Daniel's home the second she walked through the door. It was buried beneath a clutter of esoteric objects-presumably authentic, rare artifacts juxtaposed with modern mementos; pictures of Egyptian sites and natives; and books. Thousands of books, stacked, piled, jumbled on shelves, ledges and tables. All reflections of the spirit of the man.

Taking a deep breath, Sam let her eyes shift to meet the gaze of the dear friend sitting across the food-strewn coffee table.

As the four had satisfied the pangs of hunger, the awkward discomfort had gradually reasserted itself. Time for some honesty. Long past time for some honesty.

"Daniel..." Damn. This was hard.

His mouth pursed, he looked down for a moment. When his sad blue eyes lifted to again meet hers, his chin had firmed with determination. "Sam... Sam, why did you leave? I thought..." a momentary quiver, resolutely brought under control. "I thought you were... You couldn't... Did I disgust you that much?" The anguish in his voice broke her heart.

"Oh, no! No, Daniel!" Scrambling to her feet, she moved around the table to sit beside him. She grabbed his hand, urging him to turn to face her, to see the earnest truth in her face. "I... Oh, God, Daniel. You... They... They were going to take me. You let them..."

He jerked his hand away and lurched to his feet. "I... Sam, I c... couldn't let them..."

She caught his hand again, tugging him back down. "I know, Daniel. I know. Being... you... there was no way you could ever let something like that happen to anyone-not if you could stop it. But... Oh, God, I felt so guilty. I'd look at you, so... so destroyed, and I'd think, 'It should have been me! Should have been me.' It ran around and around in my head, until I couldn't think about anything else. When my dad asked me to help the Tok'ra, I grabbed it like a life preserver. I'm so ashamed... I just left you to deal all by yourself."

"I thought... You couldn't even bear to look at me."

"Guilt, Daniel. Not disgust; never ever disgust." She leaned forward and kissed his pale cheek, then wrapped her arms around him. After a moment's hesitation, she felt him mirror the action, arms tightening almost painfully around her body.

"I missed you." The whisper barely reached her ears.

After a long moment of mutual comfort, they separated, grinning damply at each other, sniffing in concert. With a watery little laugh, she gave him another quick hug, kissed his other cheek, and let him go.

"So... We good?"

"We're good."

"Daniel Jackson, I, too, wish to tender my deepest apology for leaving the SGC while you were injured."

"Ah, Teal'c, that was kind of an emergency. Why should you need to apologize?"

The big man stood, lifting his chin and gazing over Daniel's head. The stiff parade-rest body attitude revealed how deeply troubled he was.

"My motives for leaving Earth were not purely based upon the need to attend my son. I felt... I feel that I failed you deeply."

"Teal'c... How did you fail me?" Daniel's voice was gentle. "How could you possibly have stopped what happened?" As he spoke, his gaze shifted to meet Sam's, then the colonel's. She realized that, though he was speaking to Teal'c, he was offering absolution to all of them.

Teal'c's proud head dropped, his eyes closed briefly. "How can one say how a different course of action would proceed? Had I acted more quickly upon hearing the natives' approach; had I resisted them more aggressively; had I freed myself more quickly..."

Awkwardly, Daniel stood and moved to stand beside the Jaffa.

"Teal'c, you're just a man. Pretty much a hell of a man, it's true, but in the end, just a man. You're not Superman; you can't lift tall buildings and leap from planet to planet in a single bound."

Teal'c's eyebrow rose quizzically. "In fact, with the aid of the Stargate, I can."

Daniel laughed softly. "Okay, I'll concede you that. But..."

Hand on Teal'c's shoulder, he turned to face the other two.

"Please. Please can we leave this behind? We all did and said things that we regret. But can we please let them die an unlamented death? Something t...terrible happened to me, but none of you could have done anything to prevent it. I... I really want..."

"Daniel..."

"Jack, don't you start! Building, remember? Time to leave the bad stuff in the past, where it belongs. You said you were ready, so let's build. I've missed you all-so much; more than I can possibly explain. I don't want this... horror hanging over us for the rest of our lives. Please." He sank back onto the couch. "Time to move on."

The colonel's mouth slowly stretched into a grin. "I'm in." His arms spread outward, encompassing all of them. "We move ahead. We think forward."

A weight she hadn't consciously recognized lifted from Sam's heart. It was never going to be that easy, but...

"If you can, I can try." She grinned sheepishly at Daniel. "Just don't be surprised if I have trouble resisting the urge to throw my body down over any mud puddles you might need to walk across."

Sam considered that wide smile a personal triumph.

"F'r chrissakes, Carter. I never suspected this penchant you have for the..." flourish of a hand, "...Grand Gesture."

"Sorry, Sir. Out of uniform only. Promise."

"Besides, any mud puddle throwing activity I reserve to myself."

"Jack!" Daniel's smile had graduated to convulsions of honest-to-God giggles. "Sam! Please. I can... I'm sure I can manage to survive walking through my own mud puddles."

"Such measures are not efficient, Daniel Jackson." Teal'c's face assumed its grimmest intensity. "Should the need arise, I will be glad to lift you over any puddles of mud or other detritus which you encounter."

Daniel succumbed, tumbling over on the couch, shaking with laughter.

The colonel stared suspiciously at Teal'c, eyes narrowed.

"Okay, Teal'c. Confess. You've been spending your spare time with Feretti, haven't you?"

A little howl emerged from the cushions of the couch. And the corners of Teal'c's mouth curved smugly upward.

The ninety-minute drive back to the Mountain was largely silent. Carter drowsed in the back seat, and any clues to Teal'c's thoughts were smothered by the darkness.

Jack himself felt an odd mixture of giddy triumph and depressed disappointment. Daniel-he had Daniel back. But not really-not all the way back. He should have been sitting in that back seat, shoulder providing a pillow for Carter's drooping head.

Damnit, he should have been more persuasive. Daniel didn't belong tucked away in some hyper-secret training facility. He was made to fill a larger space in cosmic destiny. And he was supposed to pursue that destiny side by side with Jack O'Neill. Damnit!

Their afternoon had been a joy. They'd paid a brief visit to Daniel's physical therapist, who had taken one good look at a hot and swollen knee, applied ice and heat, delivered some stern instructions, and cancelled the scheduled session. Then they'd pulled the jeep into a little jewel of a park, commandeered a couple of shady benches, and talked. Just talked about meaningless nothings and basked in the pleasure of being together again, largely back in sync with each other. Daniel had entertained them with "stupid student" stories; students were apparently pretty much the same at a top secret military training facility as they were at any university in the country, other than the added behavioral quirks imposed by military conditioning. Some of which actually increased the silliness of their actions. Jack had contributed his own "stupid trainees" stories, culled from the various periods in his life when he'd reluctantly agreed to instruct. Experiences and incidents which had previously simply been annoying or irritating suddenly assumed an aura of hilarity when shared with an appreciative audience. Sam had delighted Daniel with lab gossip, much of which had been meaningless to Jack. Teal'c had surprised the two officers by conveying a fond message from Adair Heidepriem, who had apparently gotten wind of their expedition to the Academy and cornered the Jaffa with the intent of imprinting her wishes on his brain. His high opinion of the abrasive archaeologist was obvious. He had committed to memory an impressive list of ongoing linguistic and cultural projects which Heidepriem evidently figured would serve as irresistible lures for a disenfranchised Daniel Jackson.

But Jack hadn't been so happy with the farewell scene. As the shadows had stretched over the tiny park, they'd drifted back to the jeep. That was the first time he'd asked the question.

Full dusk had fallen by the time Jack guided the jeep to the curb outside Daniel's little house.

"So, Daniel. You coming back with us?"

Silence.

"Jack..."

"Come on, Daniel. It's obvious that we're going to be able to fix all of this. You should be back at the Mountain; back in your place at the SGC."

"Daniel." The insecure plea in Carter's voice fell strangely on his ears, so unlike her usual forthright manner. "We need you back."

"I can't." There was an odd tension in his voice. "How can I come back? I can't even walk without those crutches. You want me to come back so I can sit behind a desk while you go through the Gate with someone else? I... I couldn't stand that."

"But you'll get better. You're already getting better." She was definitely wheedling.

"C'mon, Daniel. You know you're dying of boredom, just teaching those brain dead airmen day after day. You know you miss us, and you miss the excitement, and the terrific bits of junk we bring back through the Gate for you to play with. You know you want to come back..."

The silence was electric. Daniel sat staring straight ahead, hands fisted. In the strange, stark illumination of the brightening streetlights, his face was leached of all color.

"Danny..."

"Jack! I can't, okay?" His breathing was harsh; O'Neill could see the fine tremors beginning to course through his body. "I can't even think about going through the goddamned Gate without starting to shake! It won't matter if I get better! It wouldn't matter if I could outrun Teal'c. I just can't face going through that Gate again."

Damn. Damn damn. So, a lot more damage than even he'd figured.

The fraught silence hung for another moment; this wasn't going to help anything.

"Okay, Daniel." He made his voice as gentle as he could. "It's okay. There's gonna be plenty of time to work at this. C'mon. I'll come in with you."

A quick glance into the back seat kept Carter and Teal'c from offering to accompany them. Once Daniel was extricated, and poised on his crutches, he finally met their eyes, his own hesitant and apologetic. Carter shifted her legs underneath her, and pushed herself up onto her knees, reaching out to give him an awkward hug.

"We can come back, right?"

A smile broke through the tension in his face. "Oh, yeah. You can come every day if you want."

"I do not believe this will be possible, Daniel Jackson."

Daniel laughed a bit. "I know. I was just... well..."

"Making sure we knew we were welcome?"

He grinned down at her, and nodded. Balancing on his good leg and one crutch, he reached across her to grip Teal'c's offered hand.

"I'm so glad you came; so sorry I ran away without letting you know where I was. Guess I needed some pouting time."

"We know what you needed, Daniel. We're just really sorry you had to find it by yourself."

She gave him another quick hug, then slithered back down into the seat.

"C'mon, Dr. Jackson. Let's get you inside. We've got a long drive ahead."

Daniel was suddenly shy. "Ummm... You don't have to escort me, Jack. I can take care of myself."

Jack lowered his voice, speaking just for Daniel's ears. "Oh, I know that. It's just that the good bye I have planned isn't something for anybody else to see..."

Daniel pivoted around to look at him. Wide eyes searched his face; a soft mouth curved upward. "Ah, I see. Do come in, Colonel O'Neill."

As they passed through the doorway, Jack eased the newly repaired door closed, then leaned back on it. He knew his face was wearing a goofy, triumphant smile. A very effective one, it seemed. Daniel, lower lip caught between his teeth, stared at him for a moment, then moved close and leaned forward to offer a soft kiss.

Jack let his hands drift to Daniel's waist, then slide around to his back. He pulled the other man's body close, deepening the kiss, then breaking away to nibble along a smooth jaw.

He had to ask again. "Danny... Come back with us. With me. We can build so much better together than apart."

Daniel buried his face in Jack's neck. "Can't, Jack. Please... please don't ruin this. I just can't."

Jack sighed, tightening his hold, lips nuzzling their way back to Daniel's mouth.

"Okay. Okay, for now. How often are you going to let me come see you?"

"You heard..." A lick along Jack's own jaw, a nibble on his earlobe. "Every day. Mmmmm... Twice a day."

"God, I wish. I'll come every time I can wangle two days in a row, OK? I haven't forgotten that we're building, here. We need lots of time for that."

Daniel settled his head on Jack's shoulder. "...lots of time."

"Right. Tons and tons of time..."

Long, intimate moments later, they eased apart, panting and hazy. Daniel dropped his head back onto Jack's shoulder.

"Damn. I gotta drive back to the Mountain. You are definitely not good for my concentration."

"You could let Sam drive."

"Not my jeep!"

Daniel laughed softly into Jack's neck. Then he straightened, shifting the bulk of his weight back onto the crutches, and stepped back. The happiness on his face darkened.

"Jack... You do know that the Gate isn't the only thing I'm having trouble with, right?"

O'Neill lifted an eyebrow at him.

"I love you, Jack. I want you. But..." He looked away briefly, then moved close again. Balancing on one crutch, he reached for Jack's hand, tugging it close, then pressing it against his own groin. His soft, unresponsive penis didn't even twitch.

Jack pulled his hand gently away, then cupped Daniel's anxious face between his palms.

"Time, Danny. We've got all the time we need. And if all we ever do is cuddle and kiss... Well, I'll try to be content with that. But I don't think we're going to have to make do. You'll find it again. And I plan to dedicate myself zealously to helping you with the search."

He kissed, licked that luxurious lower lip, then kissed again. Satisfaction warmed him as he felt Daniel's mouth curve into a smile.

Sighing, Jack finally let the other man go.

"Damn... I really do have to go. Much longer, and Teal'c will come charging in here to rout whatever it is that's holding us captive. Just one more thing..."

Daniel tilted his head in query, lip once again caught between his teeth, brows arching above the frames of his glasses.

Jack grinned, brushed the backs of his fingers tenderly over Daniel's cheek, then leaned forward to whisper.

"I love you, Daniel Jackson."

As the jeep rolled to a stop outside Carter's town house, he turned to wake her, once again struck by the wrongness of her head tilted uncomfortably due to the lack of a proper shoulder to pillow it.

No, this battle was far from fought. Given time and perseverance, water could grind a mountain to dust.

Daniel leaned against the door, one hand spread to gather the last vestiges of warmth from the wood. Jack's warmth; Jack's body against his door.

His thoughts were tumultuous. Incandescent joy at what had been given back to him formed a pulsing mass in his throat. It felt like his chest was going to explode from sheer happiness.

But that joy wasn't without cost. The hard-fought peace and safety of his life was quivering around him. Sam, Teal'c and Jack-oh, Jack!-threatened that safety.

Could he go back? Could he abandon the comfort and peace?

Not yet. Maybe not ever.

But there was Jack. Having miraculously been granted the most hopeless, desperate wish in his heart, he couldn't possibly bear to give it up.

But he just couldn't go back.

"Incoming traveler!"

Hammond strode into the control room, unconsciously blocking the racket of the claxon from his mind.

"Identification?''

"Not yet, Sir. Wait! It's SG-1."

"Hmmm. They're a few minutes early. Better notify Fraiser."

The kawhoosh of the activated Gate smothered the technician's acknowledgement. For a moment, nothing. Then Carter strode briskly through the Gate, hurried down the ramp, and positioned herself in the corner of the Gateroom, adjacent to one of the entries. She was followed immediately by Teal'c, who copied her unusual behavior almost precisely. As the two fixed their gazes on the still active Gate, Hammond was struck by their odd expressions-expectation, concern and, he could swear, amusement.

After a few moments, a third figure emerged from the Gate. It had to be Thompson, because it certainly wasn't O'Neill. But there was nothing recognizable about the archaeologist other than the obviously feminine shape of her body. She was entirely engulfed by what appeared to be grey-brown mud. Entirely.

Hammond gradually became aware of the odd behavior of the guards in the Gate room. They were recoiling, backing away, with hands and arms lifted to cover their lower faces. Teal'c's arm rose to point firmly, authoritatively at the corner of the room most distant from the position he and Carter had assumed.

A very cowed mud person crept into the indicated position.

Finally, the fourth member of the team stepped calmly through the event horizon and, just as calmly, joined Teal'c and Carter in their corner.

Curiouser and curiouser. Briskly, Hammond strode to the stairway down to the Gate level. As he moved past O'Neill to enter the room, he was nearly overwhelmed by an amazingly repulsive odor. A familiar odor. Skunk. The biggest, smelliest skunk he'd ever had the misfortune to annoy.

"What the...!"

"Little alien encounter, Sir." O'Neill's voice was deliberately bland, but Hammond could see the faintly malicious gleam in his eyes.

"Encounter?"

Carter's ingenuous expression didn't impress him. "We were surprised by a large creature, Sir. Very large. Fortunately, it turned out to be harmless, but it was as frightened by us as we were by it. Dr. Thompson tried to approach it."

"It... regurgitated upon Doctor Thompson." Teal'c was better at concealing his amusement, but Hammond wasn't fooled.

"Think you're going to have to get the Gate room decontaminated, Sir. Oh, and maybe fumigated." Still bland.

"And I don't suppose any of you thought it might be wise-not to mention kind-to allow Dr. Thompson to bathe before you dragged her back through the Gate?"

"Figured we should get her back as soon as possible, General." The insincere concern dripped off O'Neill's voice. "I think maybe a few high powered hoses might be the best next step. Just a suggestion, Sir."

Snapping his outraged mouth shut, Hammond delivered the order to the nearest guard. It was, of course, the only real option at this point. He could hardly allow Thompson to dribble alien vomit through the halls of the SGC. And, also of course, Hazmat precautions were now a necessity.

Then there was SG-1. Their resistance to anyone being assigned to fill Dr. Jackson's place was turning out to be a major problem. They didn't defy him, they obeyed orders, they scrupulously carried out their duties. But passive rebellion could be more effective and disruptive than outright defiance. And they were as passively rebellious as hell. Damn.

Jack slid through the door as quietly as he could manage, easing into a seat in the uppermost row.

The scene was oddly archaic; an old fashioned banked lecture hall, high, dusty windows casting bright sunlight over the backs of the heads of students scattered through the seats, and onto the enthusiastic speaker at the base of the well.

Jack's smile grew as he watched Daniel describing the intricacies of the Egyptian writing systems he loved so much. He doubted anyone else in the room got it, but knowing Daniel so well gave the lecture an entirely different sense. This showed him how thoroughly the Daniel he cherished was still there, undimmed by the anguish of the last few months.

As the students, finally released, made their ways up the aisles to the doors, Jack stood, stretched, and moved lazily down toward the podium. Daniel was engaged in a discussion with a couple of young women, apparently unaware that their interest didn't have much connection to ancient languages.

'Dream on, sweeties,' he gloated. 'Taken. Engaged. Snarfed. Permanently off the auction block.'

"Jack!"

He was smugly pleased to see those blue eyes light up as Daniel spotted his visitor.

The two young women turned to glare. He grinned at them, then gripped Daniel's shoulder in greeting.

"Hey, Daniel. Nice to know that Egyptian stuff hasn't changed."

"As if you'd know if it had. Ah... Lieutenants Arrons and Miers, Colonel O'Neill."

They delivered the expected salutes, then reluctantly departed, casting final glances at their handsome teacher as the double doors swept closed behind them.

"God, Danny. Slaying them in the aisles!"

"Jack... They're my students."

"Oh, yeah? Someone should remind them." With a laugh, Jack collected the ragged stack of books and papers from the table beside the podium and tilted his head toward the door behind Daniel, brow lifted in query.

Daniel added a carousel of slides to the top of the stack, secured his grip on his crutches, then moved to open the door into the tiny preparation room behind the lecture hall.

As the door closed, isolating them in the small, dim room, Jack dropped his burden on a convenient counter, slid his arms around Daniel's waist, and nibbled on his ear.

"Jack!" The laughter accompanying the protest suggested a significant degree of insincerity.

"Mmmmm." Carefully turning the body in his arms, he delivered his first deposit of the day, full on that hyperactive mouth.

"So, Danny. How about I take you out to dinner?"

Jack had selected the restaurant before driving to the Academy. It was the most up-scale eating establishment he could find. He figured Daniel deserved some high quality wooing.

The meal had been terrific, their conversation light, happy and meaningless. Now, over coffee and some magnificent sort of dessert chocolate, Daniel's expression was warning him that things were about to get serious.

The blue gaze was fixed on the surface of his coffee, watching the reflections shift as he stirred. His mouth had turned pensive, pouting slightly as he thought deep thoughts.

Finally, Daniel lifted his head, locking his eyes with Jack's. His voice was very soft, very private.

"Jack..." He paused, biting his lip. "Jack, that first night we... Why did you..."

Color touching his cheeks, he let his voice trail away. He lifted the cup and took a sip of the still too-hot coffee.

"Why did I pat you on the butt and run, leaving you naked on the floor?"

Daniel gasped and choked, face blooming pink.

"Ah... Y... yeah. I guess that's what I was trying to ask."

Jack favored him with a quick grin. "Sorry. Guess I could have expressed myself a bit more... obliquely."

Daniel's eyebrows arched. "Obliquely? Just what have you been reading, Jack?"

"Hey! No insults, Dr. Know-It-All! I know words. I know lots of words."

Daniel's sweet, indulgent smile threatened to distract him from a path he knew they needed to follow. Jack let his answering smile fade. Dropping his gaze to study the folds of his napkin, he forced himself to drag the conversation back on track.

"I've had way, way too much time to spend trying to figure out the answer to that question, Daniel. You know me-I'm not much for thinking. It took me a while to sort of understand what was going on in my head."

"Jack... You don't have to... We could wait; talk about this later, somewhere more private."

"Ah..., no. I think maybe this is a good time and place. We need to keep this kind of quiet and unemotional, you know? After I manage to get out what I need to say, then we can go to your place and do the yelling and screaming part."

He took a deep breath. He could do this-owed it to Daniel to explain. But he really did hate this talking stuff.

"Okay, let's start with this. You weren't the first guy I did that sort of thing with."

Daniel's mouth flexed in one of his quirky little grins. "I'd figured that out. Good thing, since my notions about what I wanted were all pretty vague."

"Yeah? Seems to me you did more than all right, Danny. Way more than all right."

This earned him a shy smile.

"Well, I was pretty motivated."

"Oh, yeah. I really love the way you concentrate, Daniel. Anyway. I'd had an odd assortment of encounters with guys ever since I was a teenager-you know, locker room stuff, that sort of thing."

"You did that stuff in the locker room?"

Jack grinned and tapped his finger against his lips. "Shhh. Quiet and unemotional, remember? And no, not really in the locker room, sort of as a consequence, okay? But the thing is, there was never anything involved other than horseplay and kind of scratching an itch, you see? For the other stuff-the stuff that wasn't just physical, it was always girls."

"So, men were for fun; women were for serious?"

"Yup. Boring and conventional, but that's pretty much the way it was. Y'know, what really screwed me up was what you said later-that thing about my whole problem being my own masculinity. I really hated that; made me mad enough to... well, we know what it made me mad enough to do. But as soon as I made myself really start to think about things, I knew you were pretty much right on target. I guess I think a lot more traditionally than I thought."

Daniel looked away. "So, when you came to my place that night, you really did just want a good time; you weren't after..."

"Daniel." Jack reached across and gripped Daniel's arm. "Danny, what I'm trying to say here is that I hadn't even thought about what it was I was after. Just knew that you made me hotter than hell, and that you were putting out signals that made me think you'd be willing."

An astonished gaze bored into him. "Signals? What signals? I thought I was keeping everything so secret!"

"Well, seeing as how I was beginning to look pretty hard for signs you were available, it's not too surprising I picked up on things. Relax, Daniel. It's not like you were obvious or anything. I don't think even Carter and Teal'c suspect anything."

Daniel still looked unconvinced, but Jack pushed on. Couldn't allow what was essentially in insignificant side issue to give him the excuse not to say what he needed Daniel to hear.

"What we shared that night... I'd never, ever had that kind of experience, Daniel. Never. With women, you don't have that sort of equal partner thing; with men, it was always kind of rough-what did you say? A wrestling match, with some interesting perks. But I don't think about things, Danny. Never think first; just go with habit and feelings. When you tried to get snuggly with me-tried to kiss and cuddle-it set off all kinds of alarm bells in my head. Bells that I just didn't want to deal with. So I sandbagged you. Distracted you so much that, at least for a while, you wouldn't notice the things I wasn't giving you. Then, when you actually said the 'L' word... Well, from that moment, you can consider me to have been on the run. Running right over the top of you, trying to get out that door and back to my notion of my normal place in the world as fast as I could manage. Didn't even know what I was doing, not then, not the next day when you tried to explain why you didn't want to repeat the night's 'entertainment.'"

Daniel's eyes were directed downward again, fixed on the cup he held between his tense hands.

"The 'L' word... That's the problem, right?"

"Oh, Daniel. You concentrate really well, but sometimes you don't listen worth a damn. That Jack-the man who didn't think about stuff like this-he wanted nothing to do with putting the notions of 'sex with a man' and 'love' in the same thought. He's pretty much gone. This Jack has done so much thinking about this his brain is starting to leak out every time he blows his nose. And this Jack is so okay with this idea it makes him want to do really stupid stuff. Like dancing in the rain with an umbrella and an ugly cop. Like leaning out fourth story windows and yelling. Like sending out announcements to every person he knows. This Jack has an agenda. He's going to make sure that his Daniel gets at least one kiss in every day they are together; he's going to make damn sure that his Daniel knows that, not only is he perfectly happy with the 'L' word, he's pretty delirious with the 'A' word as well."

Daniel's eyes were perfectly round. So was his mouth.

"Ah... Th...the 'A' word?"

Jack leaned as close as he could across the table, and whispered, "Adore, Daniel. I adore you."

Daniel's eyes snapped shut; he gulped visibly. "Uhhh... ummmm..."

Jack leaned back and signaled to the server.

"Time to get private, Dr. Jackson."

The atmosphere in the jeep was charged. Jack could almost hear Daniel panting as he fought to control himself; he was acutely aware of the tight excitement of his own groin. Once the car was parked, he swept Daniel out of the vehicle and up the path to the house without, he thought, ever letting his feet touch the ground.

They were in each other's arms the moment the door closed behind them. Kissing, nipping, stroking. Hands managed to remove articles of clothing, flinging them blindly away. Feet shuffled, seemingly without conscious guidance, into the bedroom.

Jack gradually became aware of a potentially serious problem. They'd made it to the bed, were stretched out side by side, shirts gone, pants unfastened and lowered, briefs lowered-and firmly impeded by the footwear still stubbornly clinging to their feet.

Actually, Daniel had managed to shed one shoe, but Jack's boots were going to require a focused effort. Groaning with frustration, he gave Daniel one more fierce kiss, then sat up to deal with the problem. Okay! Boots gone! Britches and briefs gone! He turned to gently remove Daniel's remaining shoe, and cautiously peeled away the Velcro holding the knee brace in position. Then he carefully slid the slacks and briefs over his feet, and turned his attention to the elastic bandage supporting the knee. Finally, finally, he sat back and gazed down at his nude lover. His flushed, slightly sweaty, panting-and completely unaroused lover.

Oh, Daniel.

He looked up to meet Daniel's gaze, and saw the tears washing those eyes. Tears Daniel was refusing to let fall.

"Jack..." Daniel reached for him.

Jack moved up beside him and took him into his arms, nuzzling through the long, tousled silk of his hair.

"I can't! Oh, Jack. I want you. You make me feel wonderful-hot and mindless. But it just doesn't work!"

"You mean, you haven't... since 423?"

Daniel's head shook back and forth against his shoulder. "Didn't want to until now. I haven't felt like... trying anything. Now I want to... I want to! But nothing happens!"

"You feel good, right?"

"Oh, yeah. You make me feel wonderful."

"Okay, so we'll just take things slowly-see if we can wake up the machinery."

A damp giggle vibrated against his shoulder. "You make me sound like some of Sam's high tech equipment."

"Yes, indeed. Very high tech; very, very rare and valuable. But I don't think I'm going to be calling Carter in for a consultation. We have all the brainpower we need right here. So, let's try debugging procedure Number One, shall we?"

He kissed a laughing mouth, then began to lick and nibble his way down Daniel's body, pausing to pamper a couple of sensitive nipples along the way.

Finally, he took Daniel's flaccid penis in his stroking hand, looked up into blue eyes dazed with passion, and bent to kiss and suckle. Daniel's small cry went straight to his heart.

"Danny... Daniel!" Jack gently shook the sleeping man's shoulder.

"Whuuh mmmnnf. Mmm?"

Jack laughed softly. Some things never changed.

"Daniel? C'mon, wake up, big guy."

Drowsy blue eyes finally fluttered open, gazing groggily up at him. Jack grinned, then leaned in to snatch a kiss.

"You are such a morning slug, Dr. Jackson."

"Mmmmf." Sniffing nose. "Coffee?"

"Right here." Jack waved the fragrant mug just out of the other man's reach. "But you gotta get reasonably vertical before I let you have it."

Daniel struggled to sit up, then squinted at the large-number display of his bedside clock.

"Jack! It's 5:30 am!"

Jack transferred the mug's handle into Daniel's morning-clumsy hand.

"Yup. Sorry about this, but I've got a noon briefing. I sort of cheated-didn't really have two days in a row off. But I was starting to pine; couldn't have Fraiser start looking at me funny as I gradually faded away, could I?"

Daniel looked up at him, then set the mug down on the bedside table and reached out for a proper hug. Very willing, Jack folded the other man in his arms and met his mouth eagerly.

"Can't have you pining," Daniel murmured against his lips. He kissed again. "But you'd better miss me."

Jack laughed, cautiously nuzzled a bristly cheek, and sat back up. "No problem there. C'mon-if you get up, we can go to breakfast before I have to head back to the Mountain."

Jack helped him into the bathroom, then was gently but firmly excluded. He returned to his own mug of coffee, listening to the sounds of normal morning activities.

The night before had been both delicious and disappointing. Daniel had never achieved any kind of erection, though despite moments of frustration, he certainly seemed to have enjoyed himself none-the-less. And he'd brought Jack to mindless heights of ecstasy. He was a very talented lover, and an extremely quick learner.

Jack smiled to himself. He'd never before considered the advantages of having a genius for a lover. "Quick study" didn't even begin to cover it.

A muffled call brought his head up.

"Jack? Long as you're here, I could really use some help with my shoes."

"Your wish, etc., oh gracious sir."

He shared Daniel's laughter as he knelt and dealt with the shoes. Then, looking up into a happy face, he asked The Question.

"Danny-come back with me?"

The smile vanished; the eyes diverted from his.

"No."

"Please?"

"I can't, Jack. I can't."

Jack stood and pulled the other man to his feet.

"Okay. But I'm not going to stop asking."

Troubled eyes met his. Daniel leaned in to kiss once more.

"Let's go to breakfast, Jack."

Daniel sat in his office, contemplating his folded hands and thinking about the last fifteen or so hours.

Happy. He'd been happy nearly every minute he was with Jack. Even through the insecurities raised by Jack's confessions; even in those moments when he knew he wasn't going to be able to perform sexually.

And to hear Jack pronounce those words of love...

But he just couldn't go back; couldn't look into all those knowing faces; couldn't sit and wait while Jack and the others risked their lives. Mostly, just couldn't face living in the shadow of that Gate.

Gradually, he became aware of the shaking of his tightly clenched hands. Deliberately, he fought to still their tremors. When they were behaving themselves at last, he swiveled his chair and reached for the conveniently placed coffee pot. Time to get on with the life he'd chosen.

"Incoming Traveler! It's SG-1, Sir."

"Right on time for once."

Hammond was embarrassed to realize he was holding his breath. Archaeologist number two. Surely this one would work out. He'd chosen the young man carefully; he was courageous, clever, but quiet. Specially selected to pass under O'Neill's strafe radar.

This time they came through two by two-Carter and D'Angelo, then O'Neill and Teal'c. Hammond met them at the base of the ramp. All four were covered with dust and bits of rock. Their faces and hands bore small scratches and bruises.

D'Angelo wouldn't meet his eyes. Just stood sort of hunched and still.

"Colonel?" Hammond addressed O'Neill as the colonel stepped past his two subordinates and off the ramp.

O'Neill's brows rose, and he pivoted deliberately around to stare at D'Angelo. The youngster met his eyes, face frozen into that characteristic deer-in-the-headlights expression. His head began to shake back and forth, back and forth.

"I... I... They...." He gulped. "N-n-n-not m-my f-f-f-fault!"

"Of course it wasn't your fault, Dr. D'Angelo," O'Neill soothed, sounding like a man comforting a naughty, slightly stupid puppy.

"N... n... Urgh!" D'Angelo abruptly burst into tears and ran from the Gate room.

O'Neill turned back to the General, one brow raised. "He touched. Bad boy."

"He touched. Just what did he touch, Colonel O'Neill?"

"Damned if I know. Don't think he's really cut out for field work, though."

With a vaguely smug smile, he strolled toward the door and the showers, followed closely by his loyal accomplices.

"C'mon, Danny. You can push harder than that." Low grunts, panting breaths.

O'Neill braced the bare foot in his hand, providing resistance as Daniel sweated over his exercises. That had been one of his best ideas-tagging along and getting clued in to the PT Daniel performed every day. Daniel welcomed the occasional opportunity to complete the regimen at home, rather than going to his therapist. And it gave Jack terrific opportunities to handle his favorite body in all kinds of new ways.

"Ow! Jack... You're worse than Terry!"

"Put some effort into it, Daniel. You want to get rid of that brace or not?"

He was favored with a fierce glare, and renewed grunting and pushing.

"Yeah! That's my boy."

"...Not...your...boy, you bully!" And a final, energetic shove tipped Jack over onto his back.

"Hey!" Laughing, he rolled over and grabbed his gloating partner, wrapping his arms around the supine body and putting his fingers to good use.

"Jack!" Bubbling laughter and writhing on the mat. "Jack! Quit!"

"Oh, no way, you sneaky archaeologist. Bully! Bully, am I? I'll show you bully!"

His tormenting fingers burrowed under the waist of Daniel's sweats, heading for the exquisitely sensitive skin just above the creases at the tops of those long legs.

"Jack! Nononono!" Shrieking laughter.

Jack rolled over on top of the wriggling body, fingers merciless. His hands roved over Daniel's flat tummy, teasing the edges of his groin. With a small heave, he rolled them both onto their sides, gaining access to that smooth, muscular back. Mercilessly, he ran the fingernails of his right hand down the valley of Daniel's spine, barely touching the skin. Daniel heaved and whooped, breathless with hilarity.

"Woo hoo! Still champion!" Jack crowed.

His hand slipped from spine to underarm. His second hand snuck to that hyper-sensitive spot just under Daniel's ribcage, tormenting enthusiastically. His victim's helpless laughter rang through the small living room. Then those wriggling fingers crept around hips and onto the smooth, round buttocks.

"NO!" The body in his arms convulsed fiercely; the cries no longer held laughter-only mindless terror. Daniel's delirious twisting abruptly mutated into a desperate attempt to free himself.

Jack lurched to his knees, hands flying to grip Daniel's shoulders.

"Daniel! Danny! It's me-me! You're okay, you're fine."

"Nonononononono...!" Daniel's face was crumpled, eyes crunched shut, tears running back into his hair. He was shaking violently rolling back and forth, fighting against Jack's hands.

Jack slid his arms around the quaking body, pulling Daniel close, rocking and crooning.

"Jack! Ja... nonono... no..." His voice was fading, struggles slowing.

"Here, Danny. I'm right here. Right here." He continued to rock and soothe; gradually Daniel's hysteria eased, his shaking calmed. Eventually, he turned his head to bury his face in Jack's shoulder.

"...jack..."

"Right here." Loosening his grasp, Jack gently pushed Daniel away, looking into stunned blue eyes.

"So what was that all about?"

"Uh... I... I guess we found a... a hot spot."

"Ya think? I'm sorry, Daniel. I didn't even think..."

Daniel laughed, a bitter edge to the sound. "Neither did I. Uh... Somehow, I... No one has... I... H... how many more little surprises do you suppose I've got buried in my whacked out psyche?"

"Daniel... You're not crazy. You've never been crazy; just kind of... of..."

"Stressed? I don't think we can blame this on a little stress, Jack."

"So, you're just temporarily a bit whacked. So you don't like to have your butt touched. I can deal with that."

Daniel slumped, head drooping. "Can you? For how long? You might as well have started a relationship with a... a... defective eunuch."

Jack couldn't contain the convulsive burst of laughter. "Oh, God, Danny. You're one hell of a specimen of a eunuch!"

"Jack... this isn't funny!" Indignation brought Daniel's chin up.

"Oh, yeah?" Jack continued to laugh. "... eunuch... Oh, God!"

"Jack!" Daniel launched himself furiously at the other man. Jack caught him, fending off the mock-angry blows, still laughing. He wrapped his arms around Daniel's body, rolled him over, and latched onto his pouting mouth.

Daniel heaved beneath him, still putting up a token fight. Jack simply tightened his hold and began to make creative use of his tongue.

A few moments of sulky resistance, then capitulation. Hands roved beneath sweaty T-shirts, up over slick chests. Kiss broken long enough to shed the shirts, then re-engaged with tender concentration. Hands, again, sneaking under string tied waistbands; pushing fleecy fabric down over hips. Finally, naked bodies pushed as close together as possible, rubbing, sliding.

Oh, God, Danny. Oh, God.

Jack gradually noticed that his ass was remarkably cold. In fact, there was definitely a breeze dedicated to refrigerating his backside.

Ah, but his front was wonderfully warm. He breathed in the warm, earthy scent of his favorite archaeologist, then slitted his eyes open. They shot the rest of the way open as he realized that he and his archaeologist were sacked out, in the altogether, on an exercise mat in the middle of Daniel's tiny living room. And that morning sun was slanting through the curtained windows, gilding a lovely rump which he currently wasn't allowed to touch. Rats. And that the apparent breeze across his butt was, in fact, exactly that. The draft that snuck in under the front door.

Holy shit. It'd been a long time since he'd been wiped out enough to pass out on the living room floor.

"Hey, Danny." His voice sounded scratchy. He grinned as he recalled a bit of yelling the night before.

Daniel wriggled slightly beneath him, snuggling closer.

"G' t' sleep, J'k."

"Did that, Danny. Rise and shine; I think you're about to be late to class. Ow!" Daniel's head shot up so rapidly that he whacked Jack in the jaw.

"Ow! Oh, damn. Damn. What time is it? I'll never make it!"

Rubbing his jaw and chuckling, Jack heaved them both to their feet.

"Allow me to introduce you to the advantages of conserving shower water and time."

"Jack, if you're thinking what I'm sure you're thinking, that's definitely not going to get me to work on time!"

"You're no fun. C'mon; if I help, you'll make it."

He took a moment to again appreciate Daniel's backside as he hurried to the bathroom. Not only was it a very enjoyable aspect, but the increased ease of movement was most obvious from this vantage. He really was improving; he'd be able to ditch the crutches soon, and the brace wouldn't be that far behind. Yeah.

"Here you go, Dr. Jackson. Time to spare."

Daniel gathered up his belongings as Jack strolled around to the passenger side to help with the still-involved extrication process.

As he stabilized on his feet and wrestled his shoulder bag into position, Daniel looked up at Jack with a blinding smile.

"Thanks for coming, Jack. Any idea when...?"

"Nope. Next time the General gives me a coupla days. I'll call before I come, if I can."

Daniel grinned. "I don't know... I kind of like the surprise."

Jack took a deep breath. "Daniel..."

Daniel's brows arched in question.

"Umm... Daniel, have you, you know... talked to anyone? A therapist?"

Blue eyes shifted away; Daniel's mouth pursed in mild annoyance. "Promised I would."

"So... did you?"

"Yes, for what it's worth." He brought his gaze back to meet Jack's. "Jack... It's just pointless. They don't know anything. They sit there and expect you to spill your guts... about stuff I can hardly talk to you about. I hate it. And they just sit there, faces like... like... custard pies! I just hate it."

Their very public situation kept Jack's expression of commiseration restrained; he reached over and gripped the other man's shoulder strongly. "I know, but... They're supposed to be able to help with stuff like last night."

Daniel's voice was just loud enough for Jack to hear. "Jack, I didn't know I had that particular problem until last night. And if I had, the last thing I would have wanted to do was discuss it with some stupid MacKenzie cousin. I'm not turning my butt over to a shrink. I can just imagine what kind of therapy they'd suggest!"

Grinning, Jack squeezed the shoulder under his hand. "Well, I can certainly see why you might be reluctant."

Daniel smiled back. "I'd a hell of a lot rather work on this with you than with a brainless therapist, anyway."

"Oh, I'm ever so up for that," Jack smirked, enjoying the rosy hue that swept over Daniel's cheeks at the double entendre.

Then he let the smile fade from his lips, Time for another shot. "Daniel... Come back with me?"

The happiness faded from Daniel's face; his gaze dropped to Jack's chest. "No. You saw... I'm still so far from all right, Jack. I just can't go back."

"You're better every time I see you, Daniel. And the things that are still a problem... well, they'd get better a lot faster with me to help full time. Please don't give up on yourself, okay? And I'm not going to stop asking."

A sweet smile rewarded him. "I feel less like giving up every time you visit. Keep asking, Jack."

Heaving the bag higher on his shoulder, he turned and walked toward his office.

Daniel rubbed his fingers firmly into his temples. Were they always this dense? There were days when he wished he could take a zat gun to his entire classroom of recalcitrant students. Surely entering the armed services didn't automatically mean losing any sense of intellectual adventure? No... obviously not. There was always Sam.

Leaning back in his chair, he let his mind wander back to his last two days with Jack. A smile teased at his lips. He'd begun to meter his life by those visits. The days between were just what he had to do to fill the time before the next time he could be with Jack.

The smile faded as he thought about The Question. Jack always asked. Always just before their time together ended. And he always answered the same way.

But his conviction was fading. As his knee began to function more like a working part of his body, as Jack's attentions rediscovered the passion that used to exemplify the way he approached life-he was waking up. Beginning to want more than safety and peace.

But there was still that shaking terror whenever he let himself think about stepping through the Stargate. Could he ever do that again? And could he possibly return to the SGC if he wasn't able to go through the Gate?

Not ready. Still not ready.

"Offworld activation!"

Hammond furrowed his brows as he noted the influx of personnel, not-so-casually eyeing the activating Gate. He felt his teeth grate together as he moved down the stairs to the Gate room.

So, who was the sacrificial lamb this time? Ah... Arthurs. Six and a half feet tall, craggy, crude. Should give O'Neill a run for his money. Maybe a bit of physical intimidation would do the trick.

The Gate exploded into life, settled a moment, then spit out SG-1, one after the other. Carter. Teal'c. O'Neill. And...?

O'Neill turned at the top of the ramp, yelling, "Arthurs! Move your butt!" as if he believed the other man could hear him through the wormhole.

Finally, the fourth member of the team lurched through the interface. Hammond felt the collective held breath of the unusually large number of observers as they all leaned forward a few inches, intent on the action on the ramp.

Arthurs staggered to a stop at the top of the ramp. His shaggy black hair was plastered down with sweat and what looked like blood; his oversized frame was shaking violently. Blood streaked his once-immaculate uniform, though none of it apparently his. From the base of the ramp, Hammond looked up into a face suffused with terror.

"Colonel O'Neill?"

"Little encounter with a couple of Jaffa who objected to us leaving, Sir. Nothing too hairy."

"And Dr. Arthurs?"

"Ah, well. He was kinda underneath. I thought these guys were told something about Goa'uld and Jaffa, and stuff like that."

Shaking his head, muttering uncomplimentary commentary, he led the way out of the Gate room, Teal'c and Carter, smiling serenely, on his heels.

As the final chevron of the incoming wormhole locked into place, Hammond turned a stern eye on the crowd in the control room. Surely not all these people had business here?

Few eyes met his; most managed to look relatively busy.

Grunting in annoyance, he stepped up to the transparent observation window. And held his breath. What would it be this trip?

They stepped through all together, but the tall, thin woman between Carter and Teal'c didn't wait for the others to accompany her down the ramp. And she'd been talking even as she'd emerged from the wormhole. Yelling, actually. At the top of her lungs.

Hammond caught part of it.

"...stupid, arrogant dictator! Goddamned moron... fatbrained Hitler...!"

There was a lot more; Hammond could only gawk, mouth hanging open, as the woman stalked out the Gate room door, haranguing all within range. Her voice echoed long after she'd passed out of range of the Gate room.

Hammond turned back to SG-1, still standing, relaxed, at the top of the ramp. Leaning forward, he addressed the microphone.

"Colonel O'Neill?"

"Ah... 'Fraid we didn't get along, Sir."

With a falsely apologetic smile, he once again led his faithful little army off toward the showers. Hammond prayed that Dr. Apostolopolous would have finished before they got there. He really didn't like cleaning SGC blood out of the locker room floors.

Gripping the float firmly, Daniel kicked his way across the pool, trying to keep his eye out for dangerous predators under the surface of the water.

"Yow!" Toes! No tickling in the pool! "Jack, you bastard!"

Jack's laughing face emerged from the pool, water plastering his hair flat, running in rivulets down his cheeks.

Daniel abandoned the board to go on the attack, wrapping his arms diagonally around Jack's neck and chest, rolling him over into the water.

Jack spluttered to the surface, laughing and choking.

"Shit, Daniel. When did you get so damned strong?"

"You should try supporting yourself with your arms for a few months." The water convulsed as Jack attempted to free himself. "No, you don't!"

Changing tactics, Jack threw himself backward, tipping them both back under the water.

Detached, they popped out, laughing so hard they had trouble treading water.

"Tickling a man who's doing his laps is totally dirty pool, you shark."

"Yeah! Shark!" Jack lunged at him, snapping his teeth. Daniel, still half incapacitated by laughter, grabbed him and shoved his head under the water, submersing himself at the same time. They reemerged splashing and dowsing each other, noisily and with very little noticeable skill.

"Hey, you two!" Terry, Daniel's therapist, stood at the side of the pool, laughing. "O'Neill, I thought you were supposed to be doing my job?"

"Boring!" Jack returned to his favorite weapons-tickling fingers.

Daniel was gasping with hilarity. "Jack! Enough, enough! I give!"

"You better believe it." Jack grabbed him and dunked.

Hair still wet, they walked together out of the shower room. They were still fighting the tendency to erupt into little giggling fits.

"Hang on a second, Danny. I need to have a word with Terry-be right back."

"I can't come along?"

Jack grinned affectionately at the patented Jackson Pout. "Not this time, little boy. I'll just be a second."

Leaving Daniel standing impatiently by the glass exit, he ducked back into the little office occupied by the therapist.

"Hey, Terry. Just wanted to really make sure."

"Make sure? What's the problem, Jack?"

"No problem, if you give me the answer I want to hear. You said he didn't need the hardware any more, right?"

"Yup."

"For good? No backsliding expected?"

"Not unless he does something really stupid, and I can't see that happening. So yes-he can get rid of the crutches and brace."

"Sweet! Thanks, Terry." With a jubilant wave, he trotted back to Daniel.

"C'mon, Dannyboy. We've got a special trip to make this afternoon."

Daniel's eyebrows arched. "Oh? Where are we going?"

"It's a surprise. Don't flap your jaws, Daniel; just get your rear into the jeep and wait and see."

Of course, Daniel had probably never kept his mouth shut and waited for a surprise in his adult life. Jack figured maybe it was because he'd never had much in the way of happy surprises as a kid. He spent the entire drive pestering Jack. By the time the jeep pulled into a parking lot high in the Rockies, he was into full pout mode.

Jack turned and looked at him, feeling his own face soften into an affectionate smile.

"Okay, Daniel. Time for your surprise. Out of the jeep."

Still pouting, Daniel did as he was told. Jack went to the back and pulled out the implements he'd tossed in before they'd left Daniel's house.

"Jack? Why did you bring those things?" Daniel's distaste for the crutches and brace was clear.

"We've got ourselves a little ritual to take care of here. You'd probably call it a rite of passage."

Holding the sticks of metal in one hand, he slipped his other arm around Daniel's waist and led him up the gently climbing trail from the parking area. He'd picked this place out weeks ago. Fifteen minutes later, they stood at the top of an apparently bottomless cliff.

Eyeing the cliff edge uneasily, Daniel clutched Jack's jacket tightly.

"Uh... Jack, what are we doing up here?"

Jack dropped the metal sticks on the ground at their feet, grasped Daniel's arms and turned the other man to face him. Gently, he leaned forward and kissed him.

"Time to cut some tethers, Daniel."

He released Daniel, then reached down for one of the crutches. Holding Daniel's eyes for another long second, he moved to the edge of the abyss. Then, with a shout, he turned and threw the crutch over the edge.

"Jack!" Daniel's stunned face and gaping mouth were irresistible. Jack had to kiss him again.

"Get rid of them, Daniel. You let them sit in the closet, and they'll be right beyond the edge of your sight every day of your life. Throw them away." He moved back to the cliff edge.

Excited indecision was sparking in those blue eyes. "It... it's not exactly ecologically... uh... friendly."

"For once, who cares? Sometimes, there are other things that are important. Do it, Daniel; slam this door behind you."

Daniel gazed, wide eyed, into his face. Then he stooped and grasped the other crutch. Moving carefully to stand beside Jack, facing out over the cliff, he stood for a moment, staring down at the metal stick, running a finger over the edge of the arm support. Then he lifted his head, grasped the crutch tightly, and flung it as far as he could out over the cliff.

Turning, he limped quickly to grab the brace, then returned to Jack's side. Lifting his clutching hand up and back, he threw the despised object with all his strength, shouting, "Yes!" at the top of his lungs.

Yes! Laughing with joy, they flung their bodies into an ecstatic hug, kissed fiercely, then stood tightly together, arms wrapped around each other, gazing out over the edge of the cliff.

"You do realize that we're hugging and kissing right out in front of whoever might be looking, don't you?"

Jack laughed and nuzzled Daniel's hair.

"Yeah, though I don't think too many folks are going to just drop by, do you? But we'd probably better move this party indoors."

"In a minute." Daniel cradled Jack's face between his palms, then leaned in and kissed him tenderly. "I love you, Jack O'Neill. Thanks for knowing I needed to do this."

"Okay, time for some of our personal version of therapy, Danny."

The drowsy, unintelligible murmur vibrated into Jack's shoulder. Carefully, he rolled them both over, then propped himself on his forearms, looking down into Daniel's sleepy face.

"Mmmmwhat?"

Jack grinned, then teased a kiss onto soft lips.

"Gotta little work we have to do, here."

Daniel's increasingly alert eyes assumed a wary aspect. "Work?"

"Yup. I love you, Daniel. But it's going to start whacking at my delicate ego if you freak out every time my hands stray to your backside."

Daniel's face tightened. He turned his head to stare out the bedroom window, mouth pursed.

"Time for a bit of desensitization. Or maybe it's sensitization-I never really figured that out. Anyway, you've beaten the knee; we're working on most of the other problems. But you still can't stand to let me touch your bottom. And Daniel, it's a really nice bottom-I really want to touch."

Daniel turned back to face him, expression troubled.

"How? I... I can't help it, Jack. It's just... Every time... How?"

Jack kissed him again. "I've got a pretty simple idea; just go with the flow for a bit, okay? Just do what I tell you to."

He could feel Daniel's anxious eyes on his back as he made a quick trip to the bathroom. Ah, yes. He had seen it. Just what he needed.

Returning to the bedroom, he showed Daniel his prize-a nearly full bottle of baby oil.

"I'm not asking why you've got this in your cupboard, Daniel..."

"It helped with the chafing. The brace..."

"Ah, well, that means that I can use as much as I want, right? You don't need it any more."

A self-satisfied smile brightened Daniel's expression. "Nope. Never need it again."

Jack grinned down at him. "Well, I wouldn't be too quick to decide that." He winked, then went to work on the cap of the bottle, and poured a generous amount of the colorless oil into the palm of his hand.

"Okay, Danny. Just stretch out and relax. I intend to pamper you to my heart's content, and I expect you to apply your usual concentration to the task of enjoying yourself, right?"

Daniel smiled mischievously, then reached his arms above his head, arching his frame in a full-body stretch. As he settled back into the nest of the sheets, he favored Jack with a feline smile.

"Pamper away, oh slave."

"Hmmm. Well, we'll see about that."

Jack started with Daniel's chest, shoulders and arms, massaging gently, sensually. He favored those long, elegant fingers with special attention, working the oil into each one individually. The neck also received careful moments. And, of course, a kiss to that tender mouth as he passed.

Then he moved to the feet. Also long and elegant, and deserving of concentrated effort. Each toe, then the arch, then the bony ankles received his careful ministrations.

Another palmful of oil, and he was ready for the calves and thighs, slowly kneading his way upward until he was spreading oil over the sensitive skin in the creases at the tops of Daniel's thighs. He diverted for several moments of self-indulgence, palming a gently twitching penis and quivering testes. They'd made some noticeable progress with that problem, though Daniel still hadn't achieved a full erection or a real ejaculation. But there was definitely a slow awakening taking place. One day... and soon, he thought.

Daniel was purring. Eyes closed, head flung back against the pillows, he was reveling in the exquisite attention Jack was lavishing on his body. Time to up the ante...

Jack moved carefully up to stretch out beside the other man, leaning over to rub his nose in the film of oil he'd left on Daniel's neck.

"Danny." He kept his voice very soft, barely a whisper.

"Mmm?"

"C'mon, Danny. Time to turn over."

Blue eyes opened; a crease formed between formidable brows.

"Over?"

"Yup. Wouldn't want you to end up well done on one side and rare on the other, would we?"

Daniel's tongue darted over his lower lip. Ah, an invitation! Jack accepted, and kissed the newly moistened mouth.

"Over, Danny."

One last exchanged glance, then Daniel cooperated with Jack's efforts to roll him onto his tummy.

Another application of oil, and Jack began to follow the same pattern he'd explored on Daniel's front side. He began with those surprisingly broad shoulders, worked to soften the now tense muscles in Daniel's neck, traveled down long arms. This time, he kept up a constant murmuring monologue, talking about how beautiful Daniel's skin was, how much he loved the muscles the effort of carrying his body on those crutches had added to his upper arms and shoulders, how much he enjoyed watching Daniel talk with his graceful hands.

Then, again, the feet, retracing the path he'd followed moments before. As his hands traveled up the backs of Daniel's legs, he could feel the increasing tension in the body under his hands.

He began to include small progress reports amongst his words of admiration, gentle descriptions of where his hands were, and warnings that he was nearly ready to caress those quivering buttocks.

"Okay, Danny, here we are-just me, buddy, it's just me." Very gently, he ran one hand over Daniel's right buttock. He saw Daniel's hands clench into the pillows, knuckles white with anxiety.

"Just old Jack, Danny. Just Jack. Here we go again." His left hand stroked the left cheek. Daniel gasped tightly, body shaking slightly.

Jack let his hands move to Daniel's lower back and waist, still massaging gently, still talking constantly.

"Listen to me, Danny. There's nobody here but me, and I'll never do anything but love you. Nobody here but me."

He continued to knead the gradually relaxing back, then moved his hands lower, now rubbing and carefully massaging that smooth, rounded bottom. He very deliberately avoided touching the skin around that clenched cleft. Small steps; that could wait.

Daniel was panting, still gripping the pillow tightly, but he wasn't flipping out. And he was listening to Jack. Focusing on the caressing words. Very slowly, his hands relaxed; his body's shaking eased.

"Oh, yeah. That's my Danny. You're gonna be fine. We're gonna be just terrific. Just relax, feel how much I love you."

"Jack?" Daniel lifted one hand, obviously groping.

Jack leaned down and placed one deliberate kiss on each cheek, then shifted up to lie beside Daniel, intertwining his fingers with those of that reaching hand, rolling the slick body over so he could cuddle close. Daniel was breathing hard, but there was a brightness in his eyes that owed nothing to tears.

"You did great, Daniel. We can beat this, just like we're beating everything else. You are going to be just fine."

Morning sunlight found them still entwined, Jack's head pillowed on Daniel's shoulder, their clasped hands resting on Daniel's chest.

Jack lazily rubbed his cheek against Daniel's smooth skin.

"Ow, Jack. I really don't want to have to explain to Terry why I've got whisker burns on my chest next time he tosses me in the pool."

Jack chuckled, stilling his movement, but not lifting his head.

"Let him wonder. I figure he's got the hots for you, anyway."

"Jack! Not everyone wants to go to bed with me!"

Now he did tilt his head up, grinning into Daniel's scruffy face.

"I did warn you about that jealousy thing, didn't I? I dunno-maybe I'd better investigate chastity belts or something."

Daniel sputtered in amused outrage. "Chastity belts! As if I'd..."

Jack shut him up by smacking a noisy kiss on his lips. "I know you wouldn't, Daniel. I just can't help figuring everyone can see what I see when I look at you. And if they can see it, I don't see how they can not want it."

"Jack..."

"Don't worry, Danny. I'm workin' on it. If you can kill the monsters you've been fighting, I can tromp on one little green eyed monster."

Daniel sat up, tipping Jack over onto his back. He leaned over to deliver a soft kiss, followed by a sharp nip on Jack's upper lip."

"Ow! Cannibal!"

"Didn't seem like such a small monster last time I saw it. Promise me, Jack. I don't ever want to live through that again, okay?"

Jack sat and gathered the other man close, rubbing his cheek against Daniel's tangled hair. "Not a chance; he's way dead."

They cuddled for another few minutes, then Daniel sighed and pulled away.

"We're kind of late this morning; no time to go out for breakfast. You're faster in the bathroom. I'll start coffee while you shower; then you can fix breakfast while I get ready.

"Sounds doable." Jack stood and stretched, enjoying the view as Daniel headed for the kitchen and his beloved drip coffee maker.

Daniel extricated himself from the passenger side of the jeep, reaching into the back for his bag. He managed it much more gracefully these days.

"Daniel?"

He ducked down to look at Jack through the open window.

"Come back with me."

Daniel caught his lower lip between his teeth, hesitating for a moment.

"No."

"Please?"

"I can't, Jack."

For a frozen moment, their eyes remained locked. Then Daniel stood, turned and walked away, down the path toward the Academy's classic buildings.

The klaxon began to shrill as Hammond was preparing to send SG-4 on a routine reconnaissance mission.

"SG-1's code, Sir," echoed over the P.A.

Damn. SG-1 had only gone through the Gate three hours ago.

Hammond moved to the observation window, staring down at the activated Gate with a touch of dread. He was peripherally aware of the four members of SG-4 moving to stand beside and behind him, leaning forward eagerly as they awaited the arrival of SG-1.

Sparing them an annoyed glance, Hammond picked up the telephone and alerted Fraiser.

Carter stepped casually through the Gate, followed almost immediately by O'Neill and Teal'c, Dr. Lim's drooping body suspended between them. They moved to the base of the ramp, Lim's feet waggling in mock-ambulation, a foot off the floor. His face was the color of celadon china.

With a small jerk, Hammond spun away from the observation window and hurried to the Gateroom. He reached his goal just as O'Neill and Teal'c gently placed the small anthropologist on his feet.

Lim headed straight for the open blast door, but he didn't make it. Just short of the door, he dropped to his knees, and vomited all over the meticulously polished boots of the (very large) marine guard stationed just inside the entrance to the Gateroom.

In the ensuing moment of shocked silence, Lim slowly lifted his dazed, horrified gaze to meet the icy outrage in his target's pale blue eyes. The marine drew a deep breath-every person in the room knew Lim's fate was certain.

"Sergeant Flowers!" Hammond put every iota of command presence he possessed into his voice.

The marine's chilling gaze lifted from Lim's still-green face to meet Hammond's fierce eyes. He clearly expected to be given permission to redress this assault.

"Sergeant, you are dismissed to... er... adjust your uniform."

Those frigid eyes rotated downward again; the marine's body wavered between the official imperative to follow orders and the private need to avenge the dishonor to his once-immaculate footwear.

The arrival of Dr. Fraiser settled the matter. She moved directly to Lim's side, favoring Sergeant Flowers with the kind of look that would cow any soldier on the base.

Hammond breathed a sigh of exasperated relief as Flowers finally stalked from the room, trailing outrage (and scraps of vomit) every foot of the way down the corridor.

Finally, Hammond pivoted around to spear O'Neill with his stare.

"Colonel..."

O'Neill's finger shot up to his pursed lips; his head shook slightly. "Shhh, Sir. Don't want to embarrass the good doctor..."

And, trailed by Teal'c and Carter, he followed Flowers down the hall, meticulously avoiding the trail the Sergeant had left in his wake.

This time, he met them at the bottom of the ramp. They were right on time; he nursed the forlorn hope that for once things had gone well. He was definitely running out of candidates for that fourth spot on the team. The last chance was glowering from behind him.

He'd sent them on a follow-up mission to P5D 997-a world where Daniel Jackson and SG-1 had already established a fine relationship with the natives. Surely, surely they couldn't find a way to deconstruct yet another archaeologist on this calm, friendly planet!

The four members of the team hopped sereney through the event horizon. Hammond felt his eyebrows climb. O'Neill had a pleased smile on his face. Carter looked cool and unruffled. Teal'c... was Teal'c.

And Dublin... Dublin's face was interestingly painted with intricate, asymmetric blue patterns. She did not look serene. And the expression on her face wasn't even closely related to a pleased smile.

"Colonel O'Neill! Pardon my language, but what the hell...?!"

The smile widened. "Spring festival."

"As I recall, your first visit also fell during the spring festival. But none of you returned painted in woad!"

"Ah, well, that's because D... We figured out about the deal before the face-painters reached us. D... We were able to persuade them that we could honor their festival by observing, rather than participating."

"So why does Dr. Dublin look like she's planning to audition as a smurf?"

The smile had stretched to an spuriously affectionate grin. As one describing the awarding of a particularly indulgent gift, he replied, "We thought she'd get a kick out of really experiencing the native culture. And after all, we knew the celebration was completely harmless."

Once again reduced to mouth-hanging outrage, Hammond just stared at O'Neill, speechless. Finally, he turned to look at the afflicted archaeologist. "Dr. Dublin?"

Her voice was low, vicious and monotonal. "It doesn't wash off. It's indelible. And it's a full-body job."

"Ah. Umm. Well, perhaps Dr. Fraiser... Why don't you get to the infirmary and see if she can help you."

Watching her stride stiffly from the room, Hammond shook his head, then turned back to his errant premium field team.

"Colonel O'Neill, you absolutely astound me."

O'Neill's eyes arched, his mouth smirked. "Can't let you get bored, Sir, can we?"

The small demon lurking behind the General stepped past him, and slid into the space between him and the smug colonel.

"Well, O'Neill. Next time you get me." Dr. Heidepriem's voice grated like heavy-duty sandpaper. There wasn't a shred of friendliness in it. "And you can bet your stupid butt that it won't be boring!"

Was that a hint of uncertainty in O'Neill's face?

"Ah... you don't go through the Gate, Doctor!"

"You've found the right prod to goad me into giving it a try. You ass."

O'Neill exchanged slightly stunned glances with Carter and Teal'c, then turned his gaze back to Heidepriem.

"Bring it on, Dr. Hideyhole!"

The operation came off almost without a hitch. The wheelman spun the vehicle sharply against the curb, and the pickup team jumped nimbly out to grab the target.

"Sir!"

"Dr. Jackson!"

The three uniformed men surrounding the target dropped their belongings and leaped to defend their professor.

"Wait!" Jackson tried to prevent impending violence. "Don't!"

Restraining two of the defenders, Pickup Number One announced, "We have come to kidnap you, Daniel Jackson."

Beginning to laugh, Jackson moved between Pickup Number Two and the remaining Airman. "It's really okay, Lieutenant Harris. They're my friends."

"That's what you think, Cutie," growled Number Two, putting the archaeologist into a (rather loose) headlock. Jackson was laughing so hard he failed to put up even a token resistance.

Number One released his two captives. "Do not attempt to follow. We will be forced to punish you."

He turned, grabbed the captive's feet, and helped Number Two toss him into the back seat of the vehicle. Number Two followed the target into the back and, with an assist from the near side of the vehicle, Number One leaped completely over the open-topped jeep into the passenger seat. Immediately, the wheelman ripped away from the curb, leaving the three luckless defenders gazing after the abductors, mouths hanging open.

Jack was grinning gleefully as he floored the jeep's accelerator, tearing across the partially full parking lot and out onto the street.

From the back seat, he was treated to breathless, uncontrollable laughter from both kidnapper and victim as Carter and Daniel sorted out their various extremities. He kept his eye on his captive via a strategically aimed rear-view mirror.

"Oh, D... Daniel!" Carter was having enough trouble breathing through her mirth; speaking was apparently a challenge. "Y... y... your f... face...!"

Daniel was as articulate. "G... god, those," gasp "th...those poor m... men!"

From the passenger seat, Teal'c's voice rang with disapproval. "They should be chastised! They were very ineffectual at protecting you, Daniel Jackson."

Daniel dissolved once more into paroxysms of laughter. "T... Teal'c. Oh, Teal'c." He dragged himself up into a sitting position. "You really don't have any idea, do you? You s... scared the hell out of them. They didn't have a prayer."

"Are they not in training for service to the SGC?"

"Ah, yes. Possibly. But I th... think we'll sort of... ease them into knowing what's waiting for them. You... um... you aren't easily assimilated all in one gulp." He was still chuckling, leaning his head against the seat back. "So, you're kidnapping me, are you? Just what dire fate lies in store?"

Carter elbowed him. "Oh, the worst. So bad, we won't tell until we get there."

"Ah. Well, guess I'd better work on stiffening my resistance, hadn't I?"

"Yep. Here. This might help." She reached behind the seat and hooked out a thermos. Coffee.

The dreadful torture was waiting in a small, nearby town. As they'd driven through on the way to The Academy, they'd spotted it. An old-fashioned country fair. Their plan had been created on the spot.

The snatch had occurred at ten hundred hours. The trip back to the little fair had consumed only thirty minutes.

They'd spent the last of the morning and the early afternoon subjecting their hapless captive to as many rides as they could trick him into experiencing. He'd apparently enjoyed all of them. Well, all but the surprisingly wild roller coaster.

Deciding to let their spinning heads settle, they strolled over to investigate the carney games, laughing at the absurd stuffed toys and Kewpie Dolls offered as prizes.

Teal'c wielded a huge hammer and bopped a bobber so hard against the bell at the top of its column that the whole structure had vibrated for three minutes. Daniel had shown a delicate and astoundingly accurate hand at the ring toss, winning a half dozen cheap, gaudy bracelets. They were currently dangling and chiming on Sam's wrist.

"God, I haven't seen an authentic Kewpie Doll in more years than I'm willing to admit." Jack had to be forcibly pried away from the Balloon Pop. They'd finally convinced him that he didn't really want to put one of the silly, smirking things on his desk at the SGC. But he was plotting. He could sneak away and win her. She'd been crying his name.

Abruptly, he forgot all about Kewpie. Now, that he had to have.

"Okay, no balloons. But I'm going to spend some time here."

"Jack... Uh, why?"

"None of your business, Dannyboy." He pointed to a place to his right. "You just stand over here; remember that you're a prisoner."

With a fond grin, Daniel acquiesced, moving to the corner of the Rifle Shoot booth and settling to watch.

Jack stepped up to the counter, pinning the pimply kid on the other side of the barrier with a gimlet eye.

"Okay, kid. How do I win that?" He pointed at the object of his desire.

"Jack!" Daniel laughed. "Why on Earth do you want that?"

"Silence, you captive," Jack grinned at him. "How?"

"You gotta hit ten in the top row." The kid indicated the uppermost row of targets-bobbing shapes, spinning, moving back and forth and ducking up and down behind a horizontal barrier.

"Great. And it's, what, three shots for a dollar?"

"Yep. Fifty cents each, or three for a buck."

Jack tossed down a dollar. "Okay, let's see how she shoots."

The kid tucked the bill away, then handed him a rifle. Jack looked it over, tried the sight, then fired three deliberate shots. The first was a miss; the second tipped the edge of one of the lower targets. The final hit a bobbing duck dead center.

"Mmm hmm." Jack grinned down at the gun in satisfaction. "Sight is a touch high, a bit too far to the left. Trigger is sluggish. But it's doable." He looked up at the kid again, then freed one hand to reach into his pocket, pulling out a handful of bills. "Here's four; that gives me 10 shots and two to miss."

The boy smiled and shook his head. "You can try, mister."

Still grinning, Jack raised the rifle, then deliberately fired ten shots. And ten targets from the bobbing, twirling top row fell.

"Yeah!" He hefted the rifle over his head. "The winnah!"

He passed the rifle back to the gaping kid, and claimed his prize. Daniel, laughing again, was shaking his head in a combination of indulgence and wonder.

They turned from the booth just in time to watch Carter, standing fifteen feet away from the Baseball Toss booth, rear back and fire a crashing fastball over the counter. The sound of tumbling bottles signaled her success.

"Yes!" Jumping in delight, she ran up to the counter and pointed. "That one!"

Jack shouted with glee when he spotted her prize. The two of them huddled over their gleanings, removing the helmet and weapons belt from her Spaceman doll and transferring them to Jack's new friend.

"Perfect! Come here, prisoner. You're about to suffer your punishment!"

"Oh, you mean that damned roller coaster wasn't my final humiliation?"

"Nope. Just softening you up. C'mere-stop waffling." Still grinning foolishly, he wrapped his monkey's impossibly long arms around Daniel's neck and passed the equally long legs around his torso to Sam. The velcro on hands and feet secured the creature's perch against Daniel's shoulder, and the two conspirators stood back to appreciate the effect.

"Yeah!" Jack crowed. "Space Monkey!"

Sam was laughing too hard to agree.

Daniel looked into the gray face of his new passenger, a thoughtful pout to his lips.

"You know, guy, if we put our heads together, I bet we could figure out a way to ditch these guys and escape."

"No way, Danny!"

"Indeed not. I have been assured that one of the features of these events is a variety of unusual foodstuffs. I am particularly intrigued by the 'elephant's ear' we observed upon passing through the Gate."

"Right!" Sam wrapped an arm around Daniel's waist, careful not to dislodge his fellow prisoner. "Food! You get bread and water."

"You guys ever ponder the fundamentally unfair nature of the universe?"

Jack's eyes slitted open; he rotated his head against the tree trunk just enough to take in the surprising spectacle of his military brat, spit-and-polish second in command sprawled on her back, arms akimbo, the remains of her second foot-long-with-everything slowly disintegrating on the grass beside her. His mouth curved upward.

"Can't say as I have."

"Just which inequities are you contemplating, Sam?"

He had to twist his head a bit further to bring their hapless prisoner in view, as they were sharing the same tree trunk. Daniel was leaning bonelessly against the rough bark, his friend (who had somehow acquired the euphonious name 'Jacko') still wrapped around his body. The two of them had commiserated vocally with each other as they consumed their meager meal. Jacko didn't seem to have actually eaten much, though Daniel had discussed the cruel deprivation visited upon them, even as he'd devoured his own hot dogs-had it been two or three?-with every external sign of enthusiasm.

Carter rolled her head over to look at them. "Well, there he goes. After-what? How many now?"

Daniel grinned. "I think this will be numbers seven and eight."

"Right. Do you know what would happen if I were stupid enough to gobble eight elephant ears?"

"You mean, other than the barf you'd get all over my jeep?"

She treated him to a small scowl. "Actually, that would probably be part of it. Then there would be the diabetes from the incredible excess of sugar I'd be consuming. Not to mention the damage to my cholesterol levels and my arteries. And of course, the never-to-be-underestimated significant additions to certain parts of my anatomy. In short, total physical disaster."

Daniel smiled lazily down at her. "We'd love you anyway, Sam."

"Posthumously, I'm sure. But look at him. He could eat those blasted things all day long, and Junior would take care of the sugar, the fat, the cholesterol, the arteries. And that's not even beginning to mention the totally unfair accident of male vs. female metabolic rates. Just totally unfair."

Jack laughed out loud. "Sorry, Carter. I'm afraid that's something you're just going to have to live with. And do me a favor-don't decide to 'test' it, okay? I really don't want to have to deal with the barf thing."

She grinned, then pushed herself into a sitting position, groaning as her over-full stomach objected.

"Daniel, you'll never guess..."

He raised an eyebrow at her, too lethargic to utilize any additional muscles in response.

"Next trip through the Gate, who do you think is our fourth?"

He sat up straighter, interested despite himself. "Who's been with you all this time?"

"Ah, well, we've been sort of trying out a variety of guys."

Carter snickered. "What he means, Daniel, is that we've kind of cut a path through the archaeological staff. They... um... well, they haven't done so well."

He stared at her for a moment, then turned wide blue eyes toward Jack. "Just what have you been doing to my staff, Jack?"

Jack smiled at the unconsciously possessive question; Daniel didn't seem to have noticed what he'd said. "Nothing! They can't cut the mustard, it's none of my doing!"

"Ja-ack!" Jack's smile stretched at that characteristic two-syllable rendering of his name.

"I have found the individuals appointed to accompany us to be quite unsatisfactory, Daniel Jackson." Hands both occupied with the sticky confections he'd been enjoying so much, Teal'c gracefully folded his legs, lowering himself to a cross-legged position beside Carter's feet.

She grimaced at the sugary treats, one hand rubbing her over-stretched belly. "Teal'c, I really just don't know how you can eat those..."

"A most satisfying confection, Major Carter. I believe the commissary at the SGC should begin to offer elephant's ears."

"About the archaeologists... They're all good people! Surely you could find one of them..."

"Well, I have hopes for this next one." Carter was suppressing laughter. "Somehow, I don't think she'll be... deterred by some of the things that the rest have had trouble with."

"So... who is this... super-archaeologist?"

Jack's smile widened to a grin at the unconsciously resentful note in Daniel's voice and the incipient purse of his lower lip.

Carter flopped back onto the ground, no longer attempting to choke back her laughter. "Adair Heidepriem."

Daniel's jaw dropped; he sat forward and twisted around to meet Jack's glinting gaze. "Dair? But... but she's always sworn that she'd never set foot through the Gate! Just what did you do to change her mind?"

"Dunno, Danny. She did say that we'd finally found the right argument..."

"...prod, Sir. She said 'prod.'"

"Thank you, Carter. ...the right 'prod' to persuade..."

"...goad, Sir."

"Shut up, Carter. ...the right 'prod' to 'goad' her into going through the Gate."

"B... but what was it? The 'prod,' I mean."

"Damned if I know."

"Well, it might have something to do with the... adventures... the rest of the archaeologists have had."

Daniel's gaze was fully accusatory now. "Jack, what the hell have you been doing to my archaeologists?"

As the jeep crested the final ridge, Jack glanced one more time at the rear-view mirror, smiling in satisfaction at the sight of Carter's tousled blond head pillowed on Daniel's shoulder. And his head resting on hers, tumbled hair scattering in all directions. And Jacko nestled comfortably against his opposite shoulder.

He was swept by the mild confusion of deja vu, and suddenly recalled that other drive through the dark, and a head missing the shoulder it needed. His smile widened. One after the other, things were beginning to fall back into their proper places.

He gloated silently at the utter success of the day's operation. Not only had the four of them had a great time, but he'd been delighted to sit and watch Carter regale Daniel with the archaeologists' tales of woe-one Stargate story after another-and to see not a single indication of distress from their own archaeologist. Daniel hadn't even noticed, hadn't realized what a milestone he'd passed.

Now if he could just be brought to realize how far he'd come...

As the jeep coasted up to the office of the small town's only motel, Jack reached into the back seat to gently shake Carter's shoulder. He was treated to the sight of two pairs of dozy blue eyes.

"Shake a leg, Carter. We're here."

She sat up and looked foggily around. "Here?"

"Hotel. You know, shower, bed, sleep-that boring stuff."

Teal'c had already extricated himself from the passenger seat, and was rummaging in the back.

"O'Neill, you must return Daniel Jackson to his home. Shall we make arrangements for your accommodations?"

"Ah..."

"Teal'c, I think the colonel can stay at Daniel's place."

Surprised, Jack met her innocent gaze.

"Well, you've been visiting pretty regularly; I figured you'd been staying with him, right?"

"Ah... well..."

"Yes. He has." Daniel's decisive voice startled him.

Carter grinned at O'Neill, then pulled her duffle from the back of the jeep.

"Have fun, guys." Was that a wink? "See you tomorrow."

"Umm... Yeah. Okay. Breakfast?"

Daniel, now in the passenger seat, yawned prodigiously.

"Better make that brunch, Sir." Laughing gently, she leaned over and kissed Daniel's cheek. Then, with a final amused glance at O'Neill, she shepherded her large companion toward the motel's door.

As O'Neill guided his drowsy companion up the now-familiar path to Daniel's front door, he grinned to himself. His door, actually. He was very fond of that door.

Once inside, he maneuvered Daniel's back against his door and leaned his own weight against the other man's body, appropriating a leisurely kiss.

"'Yes, he has'?" He nuzzled a conveniently placed jaw line. "Just what do you suppose she's figured from that, you over-educated moron?"

Daniel's laughter vibrated under his body. "You don't really think there was much left for her to figure out, do you? Besides... we'd never be able to fool her for long."

Hands cradled Jack's face, pushing him away. The warm voice sobered. "And I'm really, really not up for some sort of long-term subterfuge, Jack. I want... I need honesty, at least among the four of us. Even if we never actually say it, I want them to know."

Jack ran his hands up and down Daniel's flanks, gazing affectionately into serious blue eyes. "Well, she didn't seem exactly upset, did she? I'm pretty sure our naughty major winked at me."

Daniel's laughter bubbled up again. "Cheeky!" His hands dropped to Jack's shoulders, tugging, angling for another kiss. Which, of course, he received.

A moist moment later, Jack sighed, and whispered, "Bed."

"Oh, I don't think so."

Startled out of his sensuous haze, Jack straightened and stared at his love. Sweet, tender mouth slightly pursed, eyes diverted in demure modesty.

"No?"

Cuddling Jacko to his chest, Daniel shamelessly fluttered his eyelashes at the Space Monkey's namesake.

"I really don't think my bed is big enough for all three of us, do you? And poor Jacko's just been uprooted from his nice secure home..."

"Hanging from a hook in a carnival shack!"

"...and dumped into a strange place. No, I really don't think I can leave him alone tonight, do you?"

Jack advanced, fierce intent clear in his body attitude.

"Besides, we really couldn't do anything... well... intimate in front of him, could we?"

Strong hands clamped onto Daniel's arms, an inexorable force marched him down the short hallway to his bedroom.

"Jack! Not in front of the baby!"

Jack woke to the glow of morning sunlight filtered through sheer curtains. And to the warm, beloved weight of Daniel's body sprawled half on top of his own. Rubbing his cheek slowly along the top of a tousled head, he smiled in utter contentment.

Jacko's shiny black eyes regarded him from the monkey's perch, hanging from the post of the bed's headboard. Jack grinned at him.

"Have a good show, Space Monkey?" he whispered. "Hope you learned something."

They'd had a wonderful, sweaty time. Jack had performed his now-ritualized "therapy," rubbing and pampering a beautiful bottom to the accompaniment of purring, wriggling appreciation. Then Daniel had taken control, and thoroughly enjoyed himself making an extensive, exuberant task of inspecting, then playing with, Jack's body. By the time he was finished, Jack had been so wiped out, he didn't even remember actually settling down to sleep.

Daniel himself was getting so close. His body was responsive and easily aroused; he achieved full erection quickly and eagerly. He hadn't yet been able to finish, the erections fading before he reached completion. Those little frustrated moans were the only things that marred their time together. But it was so obviously just a matter of time. He'd get there. And he was taking full advantage of what he was able to do.

The tickle of eyelashes on his collarbone warned Jack that his love was waking. He slid his arms around to enfold Daniel's body, hugging gently, and coaxing a kiss.

Daniel cooperated, then pulled away, pushing himself up to gaze into Jack's face. Jack treasured the sweet smile that spread over that lush mouth.

Daniel lifted one hand to stroke Jack's cheek. "Jack... Do you know... Have I told you how happy you make me?"

The grin felt like it might crack his cheeks. Jack tightened his grip, pulling Daniel fiercely closer. "And have I told you that there's nothing more important in my life than making you smile like that?"

Daniel tucked his head under Jack's chin and returned the fervor of his hug. For a moment, they shared the warm glow of a moment of perfect affection. Then Daniel pulled free and stretched luxuriously.

"It's almost ten, Jack. Maybe we'd better call Sam and Teal'c about breakfast."

Jack laughed. "Yeah. Something tells me they actually got to sleep a bit earlier than we did last night."

Daniel blushed as he joined in the laughter, then sat up and reached for the bedside phone. Which he handed to Jack.

As Jack searched for the number and dialed, he listened to Daniel scolding Jacko.

"Hey, it was good for him! Give him a good, useful education!"

Daniel tsked, shaking his head. "Probably scarred him for life. And just what good to you think he's going to get out of that kind of education?"

Jack laughed again. "I see your point; he's not liable to be able to put any of it to use, is he? Ah! Carter. Did you have a nice sleep? Oh, yes. I think you could say that we slept like... er... babies. Ready for breakfast?"

"I'll be right back, okay? Just have to pick up... something. I'll be right back."

Carter's eyes were demurely fixed on her knees. "Certainly, Sir. We'll be fine right here." Then she spoiled the effect by glancing up at him and grinning.

"Shit, Carter. You are really cruising for it, you know?"

She laughed. "Better go get that... thing... you forgot, Sir. And say good bye to Jacko for me while you're at it, okay?"

Shaking his head, he followed Daniel up the path. She was going to be a handful.

Inside the door, he pulled Daniel close for one final embrace. And for The Question.

"Danny... Daniel. Please, please come back with me?"

Daniel leaned back, somber gaze fixed on Jack's face.

"I... I can't, Jack. I'm just not ready."

"Daniel, you are. You've come so far, left almost all the crap behind you. You're good again. Please. Please; I hate only seeing you two or three times a month. I want you every day, and every night."

Distress tightened Daniel's face; his teeth closed on his lower lip.

"Stop! Don't do that!" Jack's sharp vehemence startled both of them.

Surprised, Daniel pulled away. "What? Don't do what?"

"Don't... bite your lip like that. I hate it."

He had no intention of explaining why, despite the confused inquiry on the other man's face. Couldn't explain how the sight of those sharp teeth clamped on that vulnerable lip invoked a scene that haunted his worst nights.

"Ummm... okay. I'll try not to." Daniel's hand stroked along Jack's jaw. "But the answer is still no, Jack. I just don't feel ready to face all... that... yet."

Jack pulled him close again. "All right. But I'm not going to stop asking, you know."

He felt Daniel's smile curve against his neck. "It would break my heart if you did."

Daniel wandered aimlessly back into the bedroom, nurturing the warmth of Jack's parting embrace.

Pulling Jacko away from his bedpost, he sank onto the rumpled mattress, looping the silly creature's velcroed arms over his head. Gently, he cuddled the nappy body close, rubbing his cheek on the top of the hard plastic helmet.

"What do you think, Jacko? Are we ready for a permanent threesome?"

Unfocussed gaze fixed on the sunlight diffusing through his sheer curtains, he felt a wave of loneliness sweep through him.

"I want you every day, and every night."

Absently rocking the stuffed toy, he thought about his life, now and ... before. Could he give up this safety? And how long would Jack wait?

Sam tried hard to pretend that she wasn't watching. But that cause was lost. This was shaping up to be one of their more... interesting missions.

The colonel and Dair Heidepriem were facing off. Again. This time over night watch. They'd already been round the barn over provisioning-before they'd even set foot though the Gate. And about setting up camp. And scheduling of activities. And mission priorities. Best Sam could figure, the colonel wasn't doing too well.

"Look, Doctor, all I asked was whether you'd do better with first watch, or last."

"And all I said was 'no.' And I'm still saying it."

"What the hell kind of answer is that? I give you a choice-'A' or 'B'-and you tell me 'no'?"

"No, I won't be keeping watch. Not first. Not last. Not any. I am not one of your airmen; I don't keep watch. That's your job, not mine."

He was beginning to sputter. "Doctor Heidepriem, this is a military operation; you are part of a military team. You take your watch just like the rest of us."

"No, colonel. You are part of a military team. I'm a civilian scientist. And this is an archaeological operation, utilizing military protection. Maybe you need to review the precise implications of the difference!"

Their voices were rising with each exchange. The colonel's face had assumed a brilliant color that couldn't bode well for his blood pressure. Heidepriem's small body was rigid, leaning aggressively toward the much taller O'Neill.

O'Neill sputtered in outrage. "And maybe you need to review the command structure here!"

She smiled wickedly. "Command structure? Are you possibly implying that you are my 'commanding officer'? Because if that's what you're thinking, you are in for a rude awakening. Unlike some people I could name, I have no intention of letting you get away with that one. I. Am. Not. Taking. Watch. Live with it."

Imperiously, she pivoted and headed for the MALP. She waved to Teal'c, who moved to take care of the equipment handling she needed.

O'Neill stood in rigid outrage, face still flaming, mouth hanging open. Watching his team member eagerly providing whatever the beastly scientist asked.

Sam felt an amused smile stretching her lips, then quickly repressed it as her commander's eyes swiveled to her.

"Carter! Get down here and secure this equipment. Looks like the three of us are going to be taking extra watch time!"

Yup. Out-flanked, out-manned, out-maneuvered. And out-bulldogged.

"Get a good sequence through here, Sam," Dr. Heidepriem instructed, hands occupied with the notations she was busily entering into the battered journal she carried.

Sam dutifully swept the video recorder slowly over the inscriptions indicated. Teal'c carefully shifted the shelter he'd constructed over the most interesting parts of the ruins. The shade was a great relief; the air temperature had to be near a hundred degrees. Why had they never done this sort of thing before?

Actually, she knew why. Because Daniel had never asked for it. Dair didn't ask; she calmly instructed Teal'c-over the colonel's outraged protests, of course-to erect the shade device, and to move it as she inspected new areas of the tumble-down little building.

Sam's mouth quirked in amusement. Actually, this was pretty tough for O'Neill; she shouldn't be so entertained by his predicament. Not only was he burdened with a scientist, he'd gotten himself a belligerent one with an agenda. Who had enticed his loyal team members into her camp with little apparent effort.

So maybe Sam had come to see that he needed to learn a few things about the way they'd always done things. Maybe, before Daniel did agree to come back, there were a few lessons the colonel had to take to heart. Of course, she also figured Dair had some things to learn as well.

"Doctor, I need Carter to do a perimeter walk! You can't keep monopolizing her time taking pictures of these stupid rocks!"

Dair lifted her head from her notebook, staring at the wall for a moment before turning toward the colonel.

"You can do the 'perimeter walk,' colonel. I need Major Carter to help me here."

"I think you're forgetting-Carter is under my command. She is a soldier, and if I tell her to do a perimeter walk, that's what she's going to do!"

Dair deliberately swiveled around, eyes sweeping around the edges of the large clearing in which they were working.

"Have you seen any indication that we are in any danger, Colonel?"

"No, but..."

"Then I think Major Carter and Teal'c are better occupied furthering the completion of this expedition's primary task, don't you?"

He was sputtering again. "I think Carter and Teal'c are best occupied doing what I tell them to do, you damned harridan!"

"Well, if you must reinforce your confidence in your superiority by forcing them to perform a pointless task, just because you tell them to, then I suppose I can't interfere. After all, they are actually under your command." She paused for a thoughtful moment. "Well, at least Major Carter is. I'm not so sure about Teal'c."

O'Neill roared in fury. "Carter! Walk that perimeter! Teal'c... Teal'c... ah, do whatever you damned well please!"

He stomped back toward their camp, his muttered imprecations drifting back to them.

Sam lowered the camera, glancing apologetically at Dair. At the other woman's nod, she set the small machine on a convenient rock and gathered up her weapon.

Dair straightened and stretched. She glanced at the afternoon sun, then smartly snapped her journal shut.

"That's enough for today. We're moving into the hottest part of the day; no reason to give anyone heat stroke."

Sam looked up in surprise. There were hours of daylight left. Daniel would have worked until he could no longer see the inscriptions.

Dair's quirky half smile showed that she understood Sam's confusion. "Sometimes DJ has no sense; he needs someone to keep him in line. No way should anyone work through this kind of heat. If we don't finish, we've got tomorrow. I'm sure General Hammond will approve the extension."

"Oh, boy. I'm not sure..."

"What, not sure O'Neill will authorize it?" She chuckled wickedly. "Or not sure he can take it? Since I have no intention of letting him make the decision."

"What decision?" The aggressive tones indicated that the colonel hadn't quite recovered from their earlier contretemps.

Dair stared him down, brows high. "The decision about how long we stay here."

"Two days. This mission lasts two days."

"This expedition lasts as long as is necessary to do a preliminary evaluation of this site, given no indication of any danger to the team."

Sam swore she could hear his teeth grinding. Those were the General's words from the briefing-two days, or as long as the assessment took.

"At any rate, we're finished for the day. Or at least for the afternoon; we'll see about later."

"What? There's a lot of daylight left. Why are you stopping now?"

Scorn touched her features. "Because the temperature is increasing, and it's foolish to court dehydration and heat stroke by working through this heat."

"Damn it! You're just trying to drag this out so you can force me to stay here an extra day!"

She squared up to him, raising her voice. "The hell I am, you tin-pot military prick! This kind of heat is debilitating and dangerous. You don't risk the health of your team by being foolish enough to ignore common sense precautions!"

"Don't you lecture me on taking care of my people, you scrawny bitch! I've been looking out for people under my command for twenty years!"

"Have you? Not very well, by all the signs! Just because Daniel Jackson would have let you get away with letting him work himself into prostration, don't expect me to do the same!"

There was a moment of stunned silence. The colonel howled in rage, then dropped his voice to an electrifying whisper.

"I've never taken anything but the best possible care of Daniel! How dare you suggest that I ever intentionally put his life at risk!"

"Not from where I sit. Half the time you treat him like a bratty kid; the other half you treat him like dirt! He's a grown man, with three times your brains. How the hell could you let him run the risks he does? How could you not protect him better?"

Oh, shit.

O'Neill's voice was rising. "He's part of my team-and by his own choice! Sometimes he has to take risks!"

"Under your command, right? Well, I've got news for you, Asshole! You get away with hell with him because of the kind of man he is, and because he doesn't realize that, most of the time, he's not under your 'command.' Like me, he's a civilian consultant, and that means that he is at least your equal in rank!"

Sam became aware of the large presence at her elbow. She glanced over, meeting Teal'c's dark eyes. His brows climbed toward the emblem on his forehead. Grimacing in amused consternation, she nodded.

"Fifty on Adair," she whispered.

His lips quirked. "I think not, Major Carter."

Sharing mischievous grins, the two of them returned their attention to the main event.

"This is a military operation...."

"Right now, it's an archaeological operation. And under these circumstances, Colonel, what I say goes. You are here to protect me and my operation. Unless and until we are faced with native opposition, that is the situation. So you might as well suck it up, Bozo, because I have every intention of driving that fact into your miniscule excuse for a brain at every possible opportunity! Just as Daniel should have been doing all these years. You are a very badly trained military liaison for an expedition. Since Daniel didn't get you properly trained, then I plan to do my best to attend to the remedial work."

O'Neill was virtually incoherent with rage. "Are you implying that I've intentionally put my team in danger? You... you..."

Realizing that things were getting way beyond out of hand, Sam decided intervention was essential if they were all to survive..

"Sir..."

"Shut up, Carter!"

Well, that went well. Dair didn't even glance at her.

"Not intentionally, no. But I've read all of your mission reports, O'Neill. I know how often you've ignored the information and advice that you should have been using to make decisions. I know how often that dereliction has nearly resulted in disaster."

He was looking more than a little stunned, mouth opening and closing in consternation.

"And I am very aware of one situation which went from dangerous to disastrous, just because you were too arrogant to listen when you should have!"

Oh, God. Very, very low blow. The silence was resonant with shock. The colonel was white as a sheet; even Adair looked stunned.

Without another word, O'Neill spun and strode off into the woods. They didn't see him again until after dark.

And the next day, the conflict had lost all vestiges of the covert. It was war, no verbal holds barred.

Hammond was waiting nervously at the base of the ramp. SG-1 was returning right on schedule, given the additional day Dr. Heidepriem had requested. Good news or bad?

The wormhole settled, and Teal'c strode majestically through, nodding slightly to the General as he passed. He was followed by Carter and Heidepriem. The archaeologist seemed unharmed and unhumiliated. In fact, she looked distinctly smug. Hammond felt a small germ of hope try to expand in his gut.

Then O'Neill stepped onto the top of the ramp, and the poor germ strangled in despair. O'Neill's face was thunderous. His brows were murderously beetled, with a deep vertical crease over the bridge of his nose. His mouth was screwed tight enough to wring lemons.

He stalked down the ramp and faced up to Hammond, shoving his face into his superior officer's personal space.

"Sir! If you... ever... unload that... that... woman on me again, I will not only resign. I will hang myself from the ceiling light in your office!"

He drew in a huge breath, puffed it out furiously, then, dignity wrapped around himself like a shroud, stalked out of the Gateroom.

Astounded, Hammond turned to Carter, whose mouth was trying very hard to escape her rigid control.

"Major?"

"Uh, Sir... The c...colonel and Dr. Heidepriem... Well..."

"What she's trying so hard to put in inoffensive terms, General Hammond, is that the colonel and I have spent the last three days fighting like pit bulls." Heidepriem's mouth curved in obvious satisfaction. "We have some deep, fundamental differences of opinion, and the jackass doesn't seem too willing to learn."

He gaped at her in disbelief, then became aware of uncharacteristic sounds from the woman standing beside Heidepriem. Carter was definitely in the throes of a battle with her unmilitary side.

"Very well, Dr. Heidepriem. I'll be... interested in reading the reports from this mission. See Fraiser's people, then prepare your notes. We'll debrief at 0900 tomorrow morning."

The two women turned to leave.

"Ah, Major Carter... a word, please?"

She paused, then turned back to him. She stood at attention, eyes fixed over his shoulder, mouth quivering in defiance of her obvious attempts to get it under control.

"Would you care to explain what just happened here, Major Carter."

"Well, Sir." She took a deep breath, forcing her wobbling voice to behave. "Dr. Heidepriem got it pretty much right. They-she and the colonel-pretty much argued about everything. It got pretty nasty the first day, but most of it was just... just... two strong personalities with a lot of... of... d...differences in p...perspective. The second day... well... things got a bit more personal. Today was... educational."

"Just what is the nature of those... fundamental differences Dr. Heidepriem mentioned?"

She sobered, and glanced toward the door through which the combatants had made their exits.

"A lot of the trouble centers around Daniel. About his role here, and especially the way the colonel handles him."

"Major, do we have a problem here?"

She frowned for a moment, then met his eyes. "Sir... She's got some good points. But she's as stubborn and opinionated as he is. And she's wrong about some important stuff. There's a lot she's pretty much refusing to understand." The corners of her mouth twitched upward. "Frankly, I think the best thing you can do about this is to let Daniel take care of it."

"Dr. Jackson?" His brows arched in astonishment.

"Yes, Sir. Right now, Colonel O'Neill is... well, he's doing a bit of groveling. And a lot of thinking. I think he and Daniel will work things out." The grin fought to reappear. "As far as the colonel and Dr. Heidepriem are concerned... Frankly, Sir, they hate each other. Alone, either one could probably discuss the things they disagree about perfectly reasonably. Together, they're sort of... combustible."

He scowled at her, noting the renewed quivering of her lips. Then he dismissed her before she completely embarrassed herself.

Watching her scuttle out the door, he reflected that this was one mission report he was actually looking forward to reading. Never thought he'd see the scrapper who could match O'Neill, insult for insult.

But, damnit, that was his last chance to complete his crippled team.

He was out of archaeologists.

His world was narrowed to the stretch and flex of his muscles, the path pounding against the bottoms of his trainers, and the panting breaths of the man pacing him, stride for stride. O'Neill luxuriated in the exertion, the opportunity to abandon thought for the sake of pure physical activity.

Final stretch, up to the porch of Daniel's little house. Five miles. Five miles, and not a twinge from the knee. Daniel's joy was ecstatic and contagious. What little breath he had was spent on blossoming, delirious laughter. Jack grabbed him as they reached the porch, and they tumbled through the door wrestling and choking on breathless mirth.

Jack retained enough sense to kick the hapless door closed as the wrestling progressed naturally into riotous necking on the floor. Daniel's bubbling happiness enveloped them both.

"Yes, yes, yes!" Daniel bit Jack's neck, then kissed his laughing mouth several times in rapid succession. "Made it! All the way!"

"Damned if you didn't." Jack tightened his grip, stilling the wriggling of the body pinning him to the drafty floor. He returned a couple of the kisses, then rolled them over, letting Daniel take his turn absorbing the breeze that oozed under the door.

"And now, you stinky, sweaty archaeologist, I think a bit of a shower is in order, don't you?" His fingers teased the tie free of Daniel's hair, then buried themselves happily in the liberated mass of long, sweat-dampened strands.

"After stretching." Daniel was licking his neck. "Have to stretch."

"Yup. So, on your feet, stretch, then shower! In fact, I vote we stretch in the shower. Always assuming, of course, that you're generous enough to share."

"Oh, yeah!"

The steamy water eased the tension of overworked muscles, but didn't seem to dampen his archaeologist's mood. Daniel was flying high, and was determined to take Jack with him.

So Jack went with the flow, enjoying the slippery brush of skin against skin, giving kiss for kiss, caress for caress--stroking, pampering. Laughing at the tiny pinches of Daniel's teeth on the wet flesh of his shoulder. All under the pounding massage of the streaming water; all brilliantly joyful.

Daniel's hands teased maddeningly at Jack's rising penis, and a bit of tickling exploration revealed mirrored enlivening flesh between the archaeologist's own thighs. Jack smoothed his hands over water-swept flanks, then up to cradle that roaming head, holding it momentarily still for his lips to explore.

Daniel yielded for a few seconds, swiping his hands along Jack's hips and around to hug. Then he pulled free to return to his nibbling feast on Jack's shoulder. He pressed his body close to Jack's, hands braced against the streaming tile, bracketing the other man's head.

Jack's fingers were inexorably drawn back to those sleek buttocks, kneading and flexing, moving Daniel's willing body in a compelling rhythm. The caress of Daniel's rigid cock against his own sent shocks of delight radiating to his fingertips.

The gnawing on his shoulder eased, and Daniel buried his face in Jack's neck, panting breaths growing harsh and fast. Jack felt hands sliding down to his own ass, felt stroking, massaging matching his own rhythm.

The tiny grunts and gasps coming from the shelter under his chin sent splinters of happy electricity through Jack's own body, straight to the focal point between his legs.

Oh, God! Yes! Come on, Danny. Ah!

Jack gripped the body pressed against his own, driving his hips forward, stroking his burning penis more and more frantically against Daniel's own slick skin. And Daniel matched every thrust, every ecstatic twist.

Jack felt it build, build and explode, his cry of release mingling with Daniel's wild, astonished shout of joy.

A hazy moment later, he gradually became aware of cold porcelain under his butt, and a warm, laughing body wrapped around him. Cascades of hot water poured over his face, over the shaggy head nuzzling against his cheek, into his mouth as he obligingly answered kissing lips. He didn't remember collapsing onto the floor of the tub, but he had no objections.

Daniel pulled his mouth away, tilting his head back in the fall of water, happiness and release in every line of his naked body. Jack grinned at him, then pulled him back into a tender kiss. "'All the way,' Danny," he whispered. "'All the way.'"

"Yes, yes!" Daniel wrapped himself around Jack's body, hugging tightly. "God, I feel like I finally cleaned my closet, and found my long lost favorite toy!"

Jack laughed, hugging back. "Well, my favorite toy is getting a bit squashed, not to mention water logged. Suppose we could dry this party off a bit?"

One final hard kiss, and Daniel stretched to turn off the water.

Feather touches on his arms and chest, tiny tugs on his chest hair, shocking breaths over tongue-dampened nipples. Jack slitted his eyes open, then smiled at the sight of Daniel's covert attempts to play.

"Hey, you."

He grinned into the guilty blue gaze that met his eyes.

"Whatcha doin'?"

"Ummm. Well..."

"I hate to disappoint you, Danny, but I'm afraid my toy has pretty much shot its wad. Emptied the cartridge. You have truly plumbed its depths."

Daniel laughed and stretched out against him.

"Please, Daniel, tell me that you aren't ready for another go?"

Another laugh. "'Fraid not. My wad is pretty shot, too. But I couldn't resist..."

"...taking advantage of an unconscious man?"

Daniel reached out and unhooked Jacko from his usual perch.

"Oh, Jacko. Daddy's mad. What shall we do?"

Grinning at Daniel cuddling his 'child,' Jack snuck a hand down to tickle an invitingly bare bottom.

"Jack! Little eyes!"

Growling, Jack rolled over on top of the other man, grabbing poor Jacko and dropping him onto the floor. He stifled laughing objections with his mouth.

Kissing evolved into gentle snuggling, though they were both exhausted beyond any real action.

As they settled toward sleep, Jack tugged Daniel into his arms, pushing the other man's head under his chin.

"Daniel?"

"Mmmm."

"Danny, I really need to know..."

"Hmmm?"

Jack restrained Daniel's drowsy attempt to lift his head. "No. Lie still; this is serious stuff."

"Yeah?" The word was drawn out by a yawn.

"Yeah. Ah... Daniel... Do I ignore you? You know... when we're in the field."

Daniel pulled away and rose up on his elbow.

"Jack?"

"I've been thinking... maybe I... Do I treat you like a kid?"

Daniel looked down at him for a long moment. "Well, sometimes I... There are... Uh, what brought this on, Jack?"

Jack diverted his gaze, embarrassment bringing a flush of color to his lean cheeks. "Well, this last mission, we... she... that... woman came along."

Daniel's brows knitted in confusion. "Woman? Oh, Dair! Sam said she was your next victim."

"Hey!" Indignation chased the discomfort out of his voice. "If there was a victim on this trip, it damn well wasn't that... that... witch!"

Daniel was beginning to laugh. "Witch? Well, I guess there are times when that would apply. Sooo... what did she do to you, Jack?"

"She talked. She talked back! She pushed me around."

Daniel's laughter was now full-blown. He collapsed back down against his pillow, his body quaking.

"She is kind of an elemental force, isn't she?"

Jack didn't join the laughter. "Daniel, she... she said I didn't take care of you. That I ignored your advice, and put you in danger. I never meant..."

Daniel's mirth died instantly. Pushing himself back up, he leaned over to look into Jack's troubled brown eyes.

"She... Jack, Dair is a very bright woman. She's also stubborn, opinionated, and more than a bit arrogant. And she doesn't understand. She just doesn't know what it's really like. She can't bring herself to understand why I might choose what we do over what she thinks I should be doing."

"But she said..."

"Jack, you always take care of me. I've always known that you'd do anything to protect me." He placed a tender kiss at the corner of Jack's sober mouth. "Sometimes... well, there have been times when I... when you were so sure your way was the right way. When I wished you'd listen. And we've been through a pretty bad time just recently. But the other thing... it always meant so much more to me." He stretched out again, nestling his head back under Jack's chin. "From the first day we met, you always made me feel safe."

Jack's hand stroked languidly down Daniel's long back. "I'll try, Daniel. I swear, I'll try to listen more."

Daniel's whispered voice ushered him toward sleep. "No one could ask for more."

"Wish I could stay to help with the dishes, Daniel."

"Right. Sure you do." Daniel grinned at him as he set the breakfast dishes in the sink. "What time did you say that meeting was."

Jack grabbed him for a final kiss. "Smartass. One of these days you're going to get what's coming to you."

Gentle laughter against his cheek. "Oh, I kind of thought I got that last night."

Jack's palm smacked against a rounded buttock. "Naughty, naughty. I'm not sure you're a fit parent for our little Jacko. Such a risqué style of conversation!"

He felt Daniel's lips curve into a smile, then found himself kissed thoroughly. He returned the kiss, nibbled a few times at his favorite pair of lips.

"Daniel, will you come back? Now? Today?"

The other man pulled away, turned his eyes downward. "No, Jack. Not yet."

"Daniel," he urged. "You've come so far! You're fine-healthy, happy, wonderful. But you're still hiding here-just sliding along, hoping no one will notice you. Hiding, Daniel. That's not you; that's some... some... frightened little wuss. Not you. Come back with me."

Daniel's face crumpled a bit. "Not yet, Jack. Not yet."

Disappointment choked Jack's throat. Oh, Danny.

The late afternoon sun streamed through the slanted skylight, elevating millions of tiny particles momentarily into miniscule suns, illuminating every edge in the crowded room.

The warm tingle lingered on his lips, somehow in concert with the sun's dying show. The secure cradling of Jack's enclosing arms still ghosted around his body.

Slowly, pensively, Daniel pivoted around, looking with fresh eyes at the nest he'd built. The little house was crowded with his beloved clutter of artifacts, his comfortable array of books and journals-all familiar. All safe.

That was what his life was. Comfortable. Safe. And... what was it Dair had said all those months ago? Oh, yes. Tweety with boredom. He was... tweety with boredom.

He'd hidden here for months, cowering, licking his physical and emotional wounds-healing. And he'd been bored, and so lonely, every minute of that time. Every minute except the ones that he spent with Jack.

One more rotation; one more look at the insulation he'd put between himself and the world that seemed to take away everything he desired, just as he'd finally gotten a grip on it.

... sliding along; ... hoping no one will notice you.

He let himself hear Jack's plea again. And allowed his spirit to fill with the warmth of understanding how much Jack cared for him. Wanted him close. And also finally truly recognized how much the events of eight months ago had damaged the other man.

That strange little scene the night before-his self-confident, assured Jack sounding so insecure-had disturbed him a little. Was Jack so unsettled that he was questioning his ability to command? That was wrong... just wrong.

He'd been afraid that by returning he'd somehow risk losing Jack; as it seemed he lost everything precious to him. But it appeared that staying away was as dangerous.

Truth was... life gave no guarantees. He wasn't being offered a choice between having what he wanted and losing it; his choice was between cowering in his safe cocoon, and stepping out to take the chances that could win-or lose-everything.

So... What was he doing? What the hell was he doing?

The briefing room was a battle zone. There might not have been any weapons displayed, and no one was actually taking cover, but it was a battle zone none-the-less.

George Hammond surveyed the combatants grimly.

The three sitting to his left bore little resemblance to his once-crack premium field team. Major Carter sat stiffly, eyes firmly directed downward toward her tensely folded hands. Teal'c gazed into space with a deliberate concentration that was uncharacteristically almost rude. And between them, Jack O'Neill sat slouched in his chair, glaring across the table with a malevolence so concentrated that Hammond could swear it dimmed the room's lights.

Facing off against O'Neill, Dr. Adair Heidepriem glared every bit as fiercely, thin, wiry hands clenched into aggressive fists, resting on the small stack of folders before her. Behind her chair, the other six members of the cultural/archaeological staff huddled together. He tried to keep the thought at bay, but it wouldn't be denied-they were cowering.

Hammond sighed nearly silently. This was not going to be fun.

"All right, Colonel O'Neill. There's no secret about why we're all here. SG-1 has been functioning a man short for the last eight months. I'm not willing to allow this situation to continue any longer."

Scowling, O'Neill continued to glare at Dr. Heidepriem.

"Sir, we've been doing just fine..."

"No, Colonel, you haven't. SG-1 is a first contact team. Without a cultural specialist on the team, you can't perform in that function. And frankly, Colonel, you haven't been performing well in that function. You don't need me to point out to you that you've engaged in many more battles than negotiations over the last few months.

"But..."

"Enough, Colonel. It ends today. Today, you settle on a permanent fourth team member." As he spoke the final words, Hammond swept his hand out to indicate the seven archaeologists. The huddle quivered and closed ranks even further.

"General Hammond, are you suggesting that one of my staff should accept permanent assignment to Colonel O'Neill's team? Because if you are, I think you really need to reconsider your options!" Dr. Heidepriem's voice was strident. And she never shifted her gaze from O'Neill's eyes. "O'Neill has managed to intimidate or terrorize every one of them. Not a single one is willing to consider working with him even once more, let alone on a permanent basis."

O'Neill straightened his body, then leaned across the table, snarling at the small woman on the other side. "Well, if they weren't so goddamned incompetent, they..."

Dr. Heidepriem matched his lean. "They are not incompetent! Every one of them is highly qualified, both academically and physically, to do the job. The problem is not that they are incompetent. The problem is that none of them is Daniel Jackson!"

In the utter stillness that followed the invocation of that forbidden name, the intercom signal was piercing. After a jangled moment, Hammond swiveled his chair around and stretched to reach the button.

"General Hammond?" The tinny voice of the outer perimeter security guard shivered in the briefing room air.

"Yes, Sergeant?"

"Sir, you asked to be informed when your package passed the gates."

Hammond felt a tiny, secret smile twitch the corners of his mouth.

"Thank you, Sergeant. That's very good news."

Stuffing that little smile back where it belonged, Hammond swiveled back to face the war zone. O'Neill looked like he'd be glad to reduce the world's supply of archaeologists by one-right now. Dr. Heidepriem's answering glare suggested that the extermination wouldn't be a quiet one.

"Colonel, Doctor, the fact remains that if SG-1 is to continue to perform its designated function, one of these people will be assigned to the team." Another quiver. "Unless, of course, you are willing to take on the position yourself, Doctor?"

This silence was hot, matching the flaming red in O'Neill's face.

"Not a chance in hell!"

"Work with that arrogant shithead?"

The two voices rang simultaneously, the two antagonists leaning another few inches toward each other.

Not for the first time, Hammond fervently wished that the reports for the P3N 223 mission hadn't been so confined to dry facts. He could have sold the real story of Three Days in a Military/Archaeological Meltdown for enough to put his granddaughters through college.

Dr. Heidepriem drew a deep breath, obviously boxing up the worst of her temper.

"General, you do that, and I guarantee that only three people will come back from our first mission."

"Yeah, well, I'm sure I can find some nice chicken-scratchy cave to drop on your head!"

"Colonel! Doctor! Let's have a little professionalism here! Control yourselves!"

After ten seconds of deep breathing, he focused on O'Neill.

"I'm serious, Colonel O'Neill. If this problem can't be resolved, I will have no choice but to break up your team. You can't continue as you've been going."

That got them. Carter's head lifted sharply, blue eyes wide and alarmed. Teal'c turned his intense gaze first on Hammond, then on O'Neill.

"Sir?" Carter's soft plea was directed toward O'Neill.

"Colonel, I have one final option to offer you. You've either 'antagonized or terrorized' our entire archaeological staff. But I've just accepted a new man into the SGC. He's your last chance. Since you can't work with the people we already have, you work with him, or SG-1 is finished. Do I make myself clear?"

Now all three pairs of eyes were directed toward the table's surface. Carter was biting her lip, Teal'c frowning, O'Neill scowling. For a long moment, Hammond let them stew.

As the silence in the room stretched, a bit of commotion from the hallway outside intruded. Happy shouts and laughter-uncomfortably at odds with the atmosphere in the room.

Hammond felt that secret smile beginning to fight its way out again as the chattering and racket came closer.

O'Neill finally seemed to become aware of the noise, lifting his head and twisting around to look in annoyance at the doorway. Just as a tousled head poked around the doorjamb.

"Sorry I'm late, Sir."

Hammond finally let the smile spread across his face. "Welcome back, son."

"Daniel!"

"DanielJackson!"

O'Neill stood and moved to stand in front of the young man in the doorway. Slowly, his face lightened and stretched into a huge smile. Abruptly, he grabbed the other man in a bear hug, then leaned backward and lifted his hands to cradle Jackson's cheeks, grinning uncontrollably into the archaeologist's answering smile.

"This one! We'll take this one!"

FINIS

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Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. These stories are for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. These stories may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author. Copyright on images remains with the above named rightsholders.
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