BREATHLESS BY DARCY


Slash: Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: PG
Category: ER
Season/Spoilers: All
Synopsis: Jack and Daniel find that living together is more difficult than they imagined.
Warnings: None
Length: 159 Kb

 

“Jack, have you seen my keys?”

"Where'd you leave them?" Jack looked up from his perfect cover of reading the morning paper as Daniel hurried around the house in search of the elusive item. He knew Daniel hated asking for help, so he figured the man had to be desperate, and even though Jack felt a twinge of sympathy, there was no way he wanted to miss the perfect opportunity to answer in his typical sarcastic, smart-ass tone.

“If I knew where I left them I wouldn’t be looking for them, would I?” Each word was enunciated as if speaking to a child.

“If you’d put them in the same place every time you came home this wouldn’t happen. I always know where mine are.” The sarcasm was gone, replaced with a flippancy guaranteed to rile.

“I thought they were in my pocket,” Daniel muttered, absently patting down his jacket.

“No, they were on the coffee table. I threw them in the tray with mine.”

The smug words caused Daniel to close his eyes and mumble what Jack assumed was a barely coherent, semi-silent ten count in a wholly unfamiliar language.

“And you were going to mention it... when?” The blue eyes popped opened and flared with anger.

“I just mentioned it.” Jack made a show of turning the page to avoid the patented Jackson glare.

“After I’ve been running around for ten minutes.” The voice was steady with controlled anger and the eyes were still blazing.

“Let that be a lesson to you. I can see why you’re always late.” It wasn't as if Jack didn't realize he was being an ass, sometimes he just couldn't help himself.

Without a word, Daniel turned and Jack watched him snatch the keys from the tray in the hallway and head out the door.

“You’re welcome!” Jack triumphantly yelled after him.


“You’re late.” It was 8:30 pm by the time Daniel arrived home that evening, a full two hours later than his projected ETA.

Daniel nodded in response as Jack took the chicken casserole out of the fridge and set it on the counter, turned on the oven and relieved his weary partner of his laptop and pack of books.

“The translation took longer than I expected.” The coat and gloves came off next as Daniel haphazardly jammed the gloves into the pocket and flung the jacket over the back of a chair. "Don't touch those," he groused, shooting Jack a daring look.

“I wasn't going to," Jack whined, tearing his eyes away from the 'out of place' items. "I saved you dinner.” It had been one of those rare occasions where Jack's meeting had finished up early and he'd had time to throw together a homemade meal.

“Thanks, but I ate at the mountain.” Daniel rubbed his hands together in an effort to warm them.

"Ah." Hiding his disappointment, Jack turned off the oven, picked the casserole dish off the counter and shoved it back into the fridge. He decided against mentioning the fact he hadn't eaten yet. He had been waiting for Daniel. "What'd you have?"

"I don't know... something Italian."

"Did you eat in your office?"

"Does it matter?" Daniel audibly sighed.

“No," Jack quickly conceded. "Are you okay? You seem a little... tense?” He wasn't trying to start an argument, he was only making conversation. Strong hands went to Daniel’s shoulders and began to knead and manipulate.

“We need to talk.” Daniel momentarily relaxed into Jack’s ministrations before pulling away.

Talk? Jack didn't like the sound of that. “Okay. Living room?” He led the way with Daniel trailing after him. When he sat down on the couch Daniel remained standing. Another bad sign.

“How long have you been living alone?” Daniel bit his bottom lip as he waited for an answer.

“What?” Jack frowned. The question wasn't what he'd been expecting and the lip thing was always unnerving.

“It’s a simple question. How long?” Daniel wasn't cutting him any slack.

“I don’t know. Eight years, I guess.” Jack's frown deepened. Knowing Daniel, it was probably a trick question but Jack had no idea where it was leading so he had no choice but to answer honestly. It would be so much easier to think if Daniel would tuck that damn lip back in where it belonged. He debated mentioning it but quickly thought the better of it.

“When two people share the same house, there needs to be compromises and concessions by both parties. Do you agree with that?”

A light went on. “Oh for cryin’ out loud, is this about the damn keys?”

Daniel raised a finger to the distracting lips. “No. Not just the keys. You don’t like the way I do the dishes, or the laundry, or the fact I don't put things away the second I'm done with them. You don't think you're a little... anal?"

"No, I don't." Jack huffed indignantly and folded his arms defiantly across his chest. "I do things a certain way because, after much trial and error and many years of experience, I've found what works best."

"You make lists for everything." Daniel challenged, folding his own arms, proving two could play at this game.

"Lists are helpful," Jack countered. "You'd be much more organized if you made a list once in a while." He unfolded his arms to point a finger in Daniel's direction. "You might have even remembered your notes at last month's Alliance Summit." He stopped short of adding 'take that' and sticking out his tongue.

There was a long awkward silence before Daniel responded.

"Thank you for bringing that up, Jack. Making a point by reminding me of that embarrassment. That's good. It says a lot about our relationship." Bowing his head in defeat, Daniel's brows arched over the rims of his glasses. When Jack didn't immediately reply, Daniel turned and stalked out of the room.

Hmm... that Alliance crack had sounded so much better running through his head than it did spewing out of his mouth. Jack marveled at how often that seemed to be the case. He shook himself out of the introspective musings and went into the kitchen just in time to stop Daniel from reaching for his 'out of place' jacket.

"Don't go. I'm sorry. I can't help it. It’s a military thing.” Jack reached out for his partner.

Daniel hesitated. “Well, it’s not my thing. If you don’t want me here, just say so."

A look of genuine shock crossed Jack's face. "I do, I do want you here. Of course I want you here. It's just... just give us, give me, a little time to adjust." Jack rubbed his hand over Daniel's forearm. "Can you do that?"

When Daniel spoke, it was very softly. "You're not trying to adjust. You're trying to get me to do everything your way. I can't change who I am, Jack, and I won't."

"I don't want to change you. I just want you to get a little more... organized." Oh crap. Wrong thing to say if the look on Daniel's face was any indication. He wished he had a list right now. A list of what to say and what not to say when trying to soothe a ruffled archaeologist. He rarely got it right.

"This was a mistake." Daniel resumed working his bottom lip and pulled his arm away from Jack's hand.

"What's a mistake? Us? We're a mistake?" Jack gestured his finger between them in an effort to push down his anger and mask his panic at the thought.

"Not us," Daniel answered quickly. "I love you, Jack. You know that. I'm just not sure I can live with you. We've had more petty arguments in three weeks of living together than we've had in five years of working together."

Oddly, the admission of love didn't offer much relief. "It's only been three weeks. Let's give it more time." Jack watched Daniel's eyes for a hint of wavering. "Our feelings haven't changed," he added firmly.

"No, not our feelings," Daniel agreed. "But things have changed. You may not want to admit it but they've changed. Before I moved in, you told me I left you breathless, now you tell me I leave you exasperated." The expressive eyes held firm, daring Jack to disagree.

"We need more time." That much was obvious. Surely Daniel must realize that. Jack could practically see the wheels spinning behind the lenses.

"You're right, three weeks isn't long enough."

To Jack's great relief, Daniel relented. "Sit?" Jack patted the couch cushion beside him and waggled his eyebrows with a hopeful look. It was a tried and true method of getting them both back on track.

Daniel must have agreed as he quickly closed the distance between them by joining Jack on the sofa. Smiling, Jack removed his partner's glasses and leaned past Daniel to set them aside on the coffee table. With the specs safely out of harm's way, Jack leaned in to seek revenge on the lip that had been tormenting him for the past thirty minutes. Daniel opened his mouth fully at the prompt and Jack lost all conscious thought of keys and laundry and lists.


The morning sun was peeking through the blinds. By the angle, Jack guessed it was after seven. In his mind, now seemed like a good time to talk. Daniel was burrowed beneath the covers, snuggled firmly against his chest. Last night had been fun and spontaneous and even a bit wild. Clothes had been strewn about the house before they had made their way to the bedroom for an encore. Jack decided he'd leave the mess to further prove the word 'anal' and 'O'Neill' didn't belong in the same sentence. The memory of the night before caused Jack to kiss the back of Daniel's head and squeeze him tight. Daniel had been passionate and vocal with no hint of the earlier argument. Jack smiled down at the love of his life, warm and snug, confident no matter what turn the conversation took, the desert-born archaeologist wasn't going anywhere any time soon. There's no time like the present...diving right in seemed like the best bet.

"Daniel?"

"Hmm?" came the groggy reply.

"Maybe I am a little..." Jack paused for a second, wavering, wondering if talk was such a good idea.

"Anal?" Daniel supplied sleepily.

"Settled," Jack decided on. "But you have issues, too." He winced at his own choice of words. The timing of this may not be perfect but if they were going to air out their differences they might as well get it all out in the open.

"Like?" Daniel barely moved from his comfy spot.

"You live like you're still alone. You work late without telling me. You act like I'm overbearing when I'm really just being... nice."

"Nice?"

Jack frowned. He's a linguist; he doesn't know what the word nice means? And did he have to sound so damn incredulous at the word?

"Yes, nice. You know, concerned, interested... whatever you want to call it." Jack openly sighed, making one of his little talks easier was never one of Daniel's priorities.

"You want me to check with you every time I work late?" The voice below the covers took on a slight edge but surely nothing would lure the warm, slumbering archaeologist out of his cocoon.

It was amazing how Daniel could repeat his words back to him and make them sound nothing at all like his original intent. Jack's 'Danny radar' alerted him to tread carefully. "See, that's exactly what I'm talking about. I live with you, I worry about you..."

"Jack." Daniel pulled away and Jack didn't need to turn on a light to envision the narrowed eyes and furrowed brow.

"No, let me finish. I was going to say, 'and I love you'. Why does that have to be a negative with you? What you call 'checking in', I call common courtesy and concern. When was the last time you lived with someone, Daniel?"

"I don't need you to protect me. I can take care of myself." The sleepy softness was completely gone.

"Yes, you can. Of course, you can. And so can I. That's not the point. The point is you don't have to. We don't have to. We're together. That implies certain things."

The silence from Daniel's side of the bed was deafening.

"Say something." Jack took a chance and ran his finger lightly down Daniel's back.

When Daniel spoke, his voice was quiet and controlled. "I volunteered to accompany SG-4 to Odella tomorrow. To help them out with a meet and greet."

"Why?" The finger stopped abruptly. This was not going the way Jack had envisioned. Seemed the world renowned linguist had nothing to say about personality quirks or the pitfalls of living together.

"Why?" Daniel repeated, stirring beneath him. "What do you mean 'why'?"

"Did you volunteer to get away from me?" One of them needed to be direct.

"They needed help, we have some down time. Don't make more out of this than what it is." Daniel roused himself and sat up on the edge of the bed.

Choking out an accepting 'uh huh' was all Jack could manage.

"Was that an exasperated sigh?" Daniel asked with an edge of sarcasm.

"No," Jack answered honestly. "That was a breathless 'I'll miss you'."


That had been two weeks ago. What Jack wouldn't give to go back in time and fix things. Daniel's tee shirt and jeans still lay on the living room floor from that night... the last time they had made love. Jack's half-hearted attempt to prove he wasn't anal. Daniel was only supposed to have been gone for two days. Two weeks had passed, and although Daniel had returned home from Odella, if the infirmary counted as home. He hadn't returned in the same condition he'd left in. He was sick, perhaps even dying. Jack didn't have the heart to pick up the clothing.

The guilt was overwhelming. He wasn't to blame for what had happened to Daniel on Odella. Not directly. Hell, he hadn't even been there. Guilt was a much more shrewd and subtle foe. He understood it completely. Jack O'Neill and guilt were the oldest and dearest of friends. After all, he hadn't pulled the trigger on the fateful summer day that took his son's life and changed his own forever. Indirect guilt, that was his specialty.

Indirect or not, it still caused a dull, heavy ache in his chest and a tight, constant dryness in his throat. It was obvious Daniel had requested to join SG-4 on the ill-fated mission in order to get away from him. It was as simple and as complicated as that. Daniel had lived with him for less than a month and had already needed a break. Jack couldn't shake the guilt and he couldn't share it, not even with Carter or Teal'c, so he did what he always did... he lived with it and hid it as best he could.

He splashed some water on his face and used a paper towel to pat it dry. Daniel was coming home today. He took a deep breath and practiced a small meaningless smile in the mirror before heading to the infirmary.



"You ready?"

Daniel nodded at the ground as he stood up from the wheelchair and took a shaky step toward the elevator. He pulled the insidious green oxygen tank behind him like a stubborn, unruly pet. The sound of it rolling across the tiled floor grated on Jack's last nerve. He already hated the ugly necessity with a passion normally reserved for spiders and snakeheads, not inanimate objects.

By the time they were able to glimpse sunlight Daniel was panting, struggling to catch his breath.

"I'll get the chair," Jack offered quietly, nodding to a nearby Airman.

That Daniel didn't seem to notice, much less object, bothered Jack far more than the irregular breathing sounds. His lover had been back from Odella for two weeks with no sign of improvement. Fraiser hadn't offered much hope for the healing of Daniel's deteriorated lungs, not without a trip back to hell for a sample of the gas that had initially caused the damage.

As it stood, Daniel needed oxygen 24/7 and couldn't walk more than a few paces without gasping for air. The scenario reminded Jack of his Uncle Art who had smoked like a chimney and spent the last years of his life with severe emphysema. As a teen, Jack remembered avoiding his favorite uncle for months at a time in an effort to steer clear of the distressing sights, sounds and smells of the respiratory illness. He never forgot the pity he felt watching his uncle's independence lessen as his dependence on the oxygen tank grew.

Except, this wasn't poor old Uncle Art. This was Daniel, his Daniel, who a few weeks ago had been a vibrant, healthy man. Jack closed his eyes and took a deep breath before resting a steadying hand on Daniel's shoulder. "We're okay. We'll be okay."

A silent Daniel lowered his head and allowed Jack to wheel him across the parking lot to the truck. With a boost, Daniel managed to get into the passenger seat. Jack set the tank on the floor beside him then fastened the seatbelt across an eerily silent, complacent Daniel's chest. He folded up the wheelchair and threw it in the back. It would probably come in handy.

With a grim, false smile set firmly in place, Jack turned the key in the ignition and snuck a glance at his quiet friend. "Happy to be going home?" He winced at his own question. 'Happy?' Would Daniel ever be happy again? The word 'home' stuck in his throat as well. Did Daniel consider Jack's house 'home'? The three weeks prior to the mission hadn't exactly been the best of times. Jack couldn't stop himself from wondering if Daniel felt trapped because it would be impossible for him, in his current condition, to live alone. The stubborn, independent archaeologist was out of options. Whatever Daniel wanted, Jack silently vowed, even if it meant relocating to Daniel's apartment.

It wasn't just the physical. As disconcerting as the decreased lung capacity was, that wasn't the biggest problem. If only he had been there, he would have watched Daniel more closely, would have made sure... Jack stopped himself abruptly. It was a useless game, one he didn't have the luxury of immersing himself in. As near as they could figure, the gas that was eating away at Daniel's lungs had been discharged in the ruins the archaeologist had been exploring. The details were sketchy. All Jack knew for certain was that two children were dead with Daniel as the only witness. And Daniel wasn't talking.

Earth had been banned from any future relations or return visits to what Jack now referred to as O-HELL-A. Jer-rod, the leader of the village, held Daniel directly responsible for the children's deaths and had cut off all ties with the SGC. Technically speaking, it was no great loss. Earth was far more advanced than O-Hell-a. The Odellans had nothing to trade and nothing to offer.

Nothing other than a sample of that goddamned poisonous gas.


They'd been home less than a week and Daniel showed no signs of improvement. If Jack were being honest with himself, it was obvious the opposite was true. Daniel was deteriorating before his eyes. He didn't smile or read or eat and he rarely slept without tortured dreams. Tonight was no exception.

"Daniel, wake up!" Despite his frail state, Daniel was feisty as he kicked and clawed his way through the reoccurring nightmare. His pitiful hoarse cries of "no, no," tore through Jack's soul leaving him as breathless as his tortured partner. This time it took a full three minutes to reach Daniel's consciousness and calm him down.

"Kora. Mallie."

The words were quiet and clear as Daniel stopped thrashing and sat up on the bed, his shoulders hunched and trembling. It was the first time he had spoken after one of his nightly, torturous dreams.

Jack decided to take full advantage. He sat up straight, his back heavy against the headboard and pulled Daniel over to him until Daniel's back rested against his graying chest. He gently ran his fingers through the short brown hair, pushing the damp strands off his lover's forehead.

"Kora and Mallie?" Jack repeated Daniel's soft words and waited. When no explanation was forthcoming he took the bull by the horns. "Tell me, Danny," he urged. "Please, for god's sake, tell me."

And finally, Daniel did. The story came out jumbled and blurred but Jack pieced it together as best he could.

"The people of Odella were warm and friendly," Daniel started, still breathing heavily. "They reminded me of the Enkararans. I liked them immediately." The wheeze in Daniel's chest made him sound like a man twice his age.

Jack nodded but didn't put much stock in the fact Daniel had taken an immediate liking to the Odellans. It was rare to meet races Daniel didn't take a shine to.

"I met with the magistrate, Jer-rod, to ask permission to visit the sacred ruins." Daniel paused until Jack gently rubbed his shoulder in an effort to urge him on. "Jer-rod informed me the ruins were off limits to the Odellans, no one had visited them in his lifetime. No one had visited for as long as anyone could remember. The gods had deemed them unholy."

Jack sighed, imagining how that bit of intel must have fueled Daniel's curiosity.

"I reasoned with him. I wasn't Odellan. The gods wouldn't hold them responsible for the actions of an outsider. He was reluctant but finally agreed." Daniel paused again, coughing and then inhaling a raspy breath of air before continuing.

"It happened so fast. I pushed them out of the way and took the brunt of the gas myself. But they were young, their lungs so small. They were gasping and choking. I dragged Kora out and ran back in for Mallie. She was already unconscious on the temple floor. I managed to drag her outside before I collapsed. They're dead, Jack. Both of them are dead." With the words, Daniel raised his hand and ran it through his hair. "I killed them," he sighed softly, his voice waffling between contempt and confusion.

"You didn't kill anyone." Jack's voice held firm while his hand moved in constant motion, rubbing up and down Daniel's forearm.

"You don't understand. They followed me. They wouldn't have been there if I hadn't been so stubborn. I could have shoo'd them away but I didn't. I liked the company." Daniel's head was bowed so low his chin rested on his chest. "They died because I liked the company," he repeated.

"It was an... an accident." Jack choked on the word. An accident. Visions of his own unforgivable past mocked his choice of words.

"You know what I'm talking about. You understand." Daniel was coherent enough to catch the hitch and the implication.

"It's not the same thing."

"It is. You've always told me you let down your guard and you lost Charlie. Well, I let down my guard and I lost myself. Kora and Mallie... Sha're, Sarah, Skaara, all of them. I lost everything."

"You're going to blame yourself for all of that?" Jack was incredulous. Seemed guilt was a mutual friend.

"I opened the Stargate. You've said it yourself; you always give me credit for it. All evil that comes via the 'gate is a direct result of that."

"You honestly believe..." Jack's voice trailed off as he stared at his lover's bowed head. "That's just about the most egotistical pile of crap I've ever heard."

"It's true." Daniel raised his eyes. "I let the genie out of the bottle and there's no putting it back."

One look at Daniel and Jack knew not to argue the point. Better to change tactics. "Okay, then what about the good, do you take sole credit for that, too?"

"Good? What good?" Daniel scoffed, the bitterness of the words causing him to choke and sputter. When the coughing subsided he continued. "We didn't do any good. That's just what we tell ourselves so we can sleep at night."

"Knock it off! Wallowing in self pity doesn't become you." Daniel was lost in his own private hell, a place Jack had resided in and understood all too well. If Daniel weren't so sick Jack would have grabbed him by the collar and given him a thorough shake.

"If we wouldn't have gone to Odella those kids would be alive. There's a fact for you. No disputing that, is there?" Daniel coughed through a sarcastic chuckle.

"Don't do this to yourself," Jack pleaded. "It serves no purpose."


The morning after Daniel shared his Odellan nightmare he had to be rushed to the infirmary via ambulance. It was his least favorite form of transportation and Jack tried to avoid it whenever humanly possible. This time it had been unavoidable.

"Help me, Jack. I'm drowning." Daniel had uttered those words from the living room sofa just before he lost consciousness and Jack hadn't wasted a second in calling for a fully equipped ambulance.

That had been twelve hours ago.

So how could they all sit so calmly and comfortably around the briefing table acting out the same old mundane routines... sipping coffee, making small talk, treating the day like any other?

Hammond was wasting precious time on pleasantries and Jack was getting seriously pissed. He didn't give a fuck about Major Richards's wife being pregnant or Sergeant Kelly's recent promotion. He wanted to stand up and scream the fact that Daniel was laying a few floors below them battling for every raspy breath. Drowning in his pain and in his own phlegm. Drowning.

But he supposed they knew that.

He glanced up at Hammond's patient features and carefully folded his hands to keep them from throwing something across the room, or worse yet, wrapping them around someone's neck and squeezing.

It had taken five long hard fought hours for Jack to convince Hammond another trip through the 'gate to Odella was a safe and reasonable option. Another day was wasted in getting himself assigned to accompany SG-4 on the mission. Major Richards had apparently established a good rapport with Magistrate Jer-rod before Daniel had unwittingly set off the booby trap inside the damn temple and... Jack let the thought trail off in an unsuccessful attempt to stop his brain from adding 'and killing the children'. The general didn't trust Jack and SG-1 to act rationally if the Odellans didn't willingly cooperate in handing over a sample of the gas. Smart man that George Hammond.

Hammond may be smart, but Jack was determined and not too proud to pull out all the stops and call in every last marker. The one concession Jack had made in returning to Odella was the fact he would be accompanying SG-4 rather than leading SG-1, with Major Richards officially in charge of the mission. Jack might have eventually won that argument as well but more time would have been wasted. Besides, he needed Carter and Teal'c in the infirmary, standing watch over Daniel.

Closing his hands into fists under the table relieved enough of Jack's anger to allow his face to appear relaxed and normal to everyone around the table. Daniel would have known. His team would've known. A quick glance towards the head of the table confirmed that Hammond knew.

"SG-4, you have a go."

Hallelujah, finally! Before Jack could jump up, Hammond announced SG-4 would depart at thirteen hundred hours. What the hell? Jack schooled his features and glanced at his watch. Two hours away. At least he'd have time to say goodbye to Daniel and offer some hope.

"Colonel, care to join us for lunch?" SG-4 minus Hughes, their archaeologist, was gathering up their paperwork when Richards extended the invitation.

Lunch? Would he like to join them for lunch? They're going to eat fucking lunch? It suddenly occurred to Jack the mission wasn't a priority because they had already written Daniel off. Maybe not consciously, but there it was. Fraiser had reported earlier that even with a sample she doubted they'd be able to help Daniel, his lungs were irreparably damaged.

She may be right, but what other choice did he have but to try?

So Hammond was humoring him. Logically, Jack understood. If it had been a member of another SG team he might have also deemed the mission a bit foolhardy and most likely a gigantic waste of time. But this was Daniel, their Daniel... his Daniel. They owed him that much. And Jack owed him so much more.

"No, thanks, not hungry," he uttered, proud of the civility he was able to muster while his fists continued clenching violently under the table.

Raging would only prove Hammond's point.


Jack spent the next two hours in the infirmary. Daniel was in and out of consciousness, his skin white and pasty.

Openly holding Daniel's hand seemed natural and acceptable. He wasn't given a second glance by Fraiser or the medical staff. It was unnerving and served to remind him just how sick and close to death's door Daniel was standing.

It was almost time to go. Jack checked his watch and pulled his chair closer to the bed. "I'm going back. Do you hear me? I'm going back to Odella. You need to hold on. For me. Can you do that, Daniel? Please, for me. For us?"

If Daniel could hear him, the begging tone probably wasn't inspiring much confidence. Jack raised Daniel's limp hand to his lips and gently kissed it. The gesture did nothing to stir Daniel. Fear bubbled up inside, paralyzing him and he found himself unable to let go of Daniel's warm hand. Worrying about whether it would be warm and pliable and holdable when he returned. He willed himself not to go down that road unless forced to by circumstances. Daniel wasn't the only one drowning.

"I love you," Jack whispered as he gave Daniel's hand a final squeeze and mustered the courage to unfurl his fingers and walk away.

Carter and Teal'c were waiting outside the door as per Jack's request. "Don't leave him alone." He tried using his command voice, making it an unnecessary, unemotional order but his voice cracked with the effort.

"We won't, sir." Carter patted his shoulder.

Jack cleared his throat and his emotions. "Not for a minute. He needs someone with him when he wakes up. And if something happens I don't want him to be alone or with strangers." Jack's biggest fear was of Daniel dying alone, calling out his name, not understanding his absence.

"Daniel Jackson shall not be alone, O'Neill." With the words, Teal'c made good on his promise and disappeared through the double doors leading to the infirmary, and Daniel.

"I'm glad you're going, sir. You're Daniel's last hope." Carter's eyes were red and tired. "I should be going with you."

"No. You stay here. If he wakes up make sure he knows I'm on Odella. Make sure he knows we haven't given up on him." Jack embraced her, hugging hard, comforting himself as much as he was her.

"I will. Good luck and Godspeed, sir." She turned away abruptly in an unsuccessful effort to conceal her emotions.


O-HELL-A didn't look like hell at all. Instead it looked clean and pleasant, not at all what Jack had been expecting.

The Stargate was a twenty minute walk from the village. Sergeant Kelly took point while Major Richards walked beside Jack to discuss a plan of action.

"When we get to the village I'll go in and speak with Jer-rod alone. They've posted guards around the temple since the... a... incident. If he doesn't agree to let us inside we can start negotiating with some of the medical supplies and trinkets we have permission to trade. If that doesn't work..."

"No," Jack interrupted.

"No?" Richards stopped abruptly.

"No," Jack said calmly. "I'll meet with this Jer-rod guy."

"Colonel, are you forgetting who's in charge of this mission?" Major Richards looked him in the eye.

Since Richards didn't raise his voice Jack didn't either. "No, MAJOR, I'm not forgetting anything." Jack stared back and waited to see how this was going to play out.

After a tense moment, the SG team leader nodded slightly.

As Jack had suspected, Richards wasn't going to give him any trouble and neither were the rest of SG-4. Jack was not only the leader of Earth's flagship team since the inception of the program, but he'd been second in command of the SGC for quite a while and they probably hadn't expecting him to come quietly and play nice.

With all eyes on him, Jack barked out his orders. "I'll meet with this Jer-rod guy and tell him why we need the gas sample. I'll give him everything we brought to trade. Sergeant Kelly, get back to the Stargate and wait for us there. Stay out of sight, be ready to dial us out in a hurry in case the negotiations don't go well. Hughes, Murphy, you go to the temple. Stay out of sight and wait for me there."

"What if Jer-rod says no?" Richards asked uncomfortably.

"Not an option." Jack looked grim. "I wont' be taking no for an answer. Not this time."

"You have your orders. Go," Jack snapped when SG-4 failed to move. He noted the worried looks Richards's way. It pissed Jack off that it took the major's nod to get them moving.

"This way." Richards took point as Jack followed and tried not to wonder how Daniel was holding up.

Fifteen minutes later they entered the largest building in the center of a quaint, clean village. Jack didn't have the heart to be impressed by the neat rows of houses and the colorful flowers that lined their path. He imagined the village through Daniel's eyes and could see the fascination. In a matter of minutes they were standing in front of Magistrate Jer-rod who looked neither surprised nor pleased by their unannounced visit.

"Major Richards, why have you returned?"

"We come in the spirit of friendship, Magistrate," he started. When Jack cleared his throat the major paused to introduce him. "Magistrate Jer-rod, this is Colonel Jack O'Neill."

A wave of the hand was the only acknowledgement. "You and your people are no longer welcome on Odella. You shall go back through the Ring to your own village. You shall not return." He waved again, this time as way of a dismissal.

"We've come to trade." Richards reached into his backpack to pull out one of the universally approved items on the SGC barter list.

"We have no wish to trade with you. You will go." Jer-rod sounded determined.

"That's okay." Jack interrupted, grabbing the pack from a surprised Richards. Shit. They didn't have time for niceties. "We don't want to trade either. This is for you." Jack dumped the entire contents of the pack onto Jer-rod's desk. The magistrate picked up a piece of piece of colored glass and stared at the rest of the trinkets as if they were treasure. "It's all yours. A gift."

"An offering to make amends for the one called Daniel's trespasses." Jer-rod's face lit up with understanding.

"Trespasses? What?" Jack took a deep breath and calmed himself while Richards cast him a nervous glance. "Call it whatever you like. It's yours, all yours." Jack was surprised when Jer-rod slightly bowed his head in agreement. "All we need is a moment in the temple ruins to get a sample of the gas."

"The temple is off limits. That will not change. Was it not enough the one called Daniel lost his life at the hands of the gods? You are a foolish, disobedient people."

Jack fought to maintain his composure. "The one we call Daniel is not dead but he will be if we don't get a sample of that gas. We don't want any trouble and we don't have any quarrel with you or your people. We're going to go down to those ruins, get what we came for and then we're going to leave. You tell your guards to let us pass and no one will get hurt."

"It is impossible." Jer-rod stood up and folded his hands across his chest. "You saw for yourself. It is against the will of the gods that you should be there. You saw the result of their displeasure. Your friend has suffered the consequences of his actions. Why must you continue to provoke them?"

Jack leveled a severe, sincere gaze at the magistrate. "Look, Jer-rod, we don't want to provoke you or your gods. We just need to test that gas. We'll be in and out of there before you or the gods know a thing about it. We don't have time to debate this with you." Jack glimpsed Richards who stood expressionless at his side before continuing. "I don't want to hurt anyone, really, I don't. But we're taking that gas with or without your permission. Now have your guards stand down and we'll be out of your hair in no time."

"You have no right." The magistrates face twitched with anger.

"Colonel! Colonel O'Neill!" Hughes was winded, as if he'd just sprinted the two miles from the temple ruins. Maybe he had.

"I thought I told you to wait and stay out of sight." It crossed Jack's mind SG-4 needed a good talking to about following orders and the chain of command.

"Colonel, you don't understand. I saw him." Hughes was bent over taking in huge gulps of air.

"Him? Him, who?" Jack didn’t' bother covering his irritation.

"Kora, sir, I saw Kora."

Kora, the..."

Yes, sir, the dead kid, I saw him playing near the tree line. I only caught a glimpse but I'm sure it was him."

"How sure?"

"Positive, sir."

"What the hell is going on here? Start talking." Jack shot Jer-rod a withering glare.

Flustered, the magistrate wiped his face with a cloth. "Your Daniel is an adult. He made his choice. The gods have spoken and pronounced their sentence."

"Don't," Jack ordered holding up his finger for emphasis. "Just don't. The kid, Kora, he's alive?"

"Yes, the children live." Jer-rod's shoulders slumped slightly and Jack recognized the universal sign of defeat.

"How?" Jack's eyes narrowed but his voice remained calm.

"There is healing medicine found here on Odella."

"Medicine?" Jack was incredulous. "You mean there's an antidote? A cure? You bastard!" It was all he could do to keep from strangling the man.

"We'll need this medicine." Jack felt Richards's hand firmly grip his shoulder, the major's voice full of calm determination.

"You will go now." Jer-rod must have known it was a long shot but gave it one more try. "Daniel said your people would never take what we did not freely agree to. He had a good heart; I felt we could have been friends."

Jack had enough. He moved away from Richards' calming presence and waved the P-90 in Jer-rod's face. "Yeah, Daniel's a great guy, you'd love him and he'd love you too. He would. But make no mistake, Jer-rod, I'm not him and I don't give a rat's ass about you. I want the antidote and I want it now." He felt no empathy at the fear that registered in the magistrate's eyes.

"As you wish." With that, Jerrod summoned a woman from the outer room and after much whispering, she bowed, turned and left the room.

"Colonel, do you want the gas sample as well?" Hughes asked.

"That I will not allow," Jer-rod interrupted. "It is against the sacred wishes of our gods. The guards will happily give their lives to protect what is holy."

Jack mentally weighed the odds. Gunning down hapless, unarmed guards with automatic weapons wasn't exactly what he had in mind. These people weren't enemies, aside from their screwed up religious beliefs they hadn't done anything wrong. The gas had been a long shot at best. Fraiser had said it would take weeks to have it properly analyzed and Daniel had days at best. "No, we'll take our chances with the cure. Radio Murphy at the temple and tell him to get back to the 'gate. As soon as we have the antidote we'll head back and get this, this... cure to Fraiser." He stopped short of adding, 'if it's not too late'.

Precisely one hour later an older woman stood before Jer-rod with a sack filled with what appeared to be some kind of roots. Jer-rod nodded to the woman, took the sack from her and handed it to Jack. "Now you will take your leave."

"This is it? What do you do with it?" Jack raised an eyebrow at the offering.

"Leave now or I will call my guards."

"Sir..." It was Richards; the major was smart enough to know they'd officially worn out their welcome.

The old woman. She'd know. Jack bolted out the door leaving the competent major to take care of the awkward farewells.

Jack chased her down the mud street and found she was more than happy to explain the process. The roots needed to be burned slowly in close proximity to the 'suffering one'. Close enough to allow the breathless to breathe in the healing smoke.

"How long?" Jack asked, attempting to get as much info as possible for Fraiser.

"For as long as it takes the sufferer to breathe easy." The woman's eyes shone with compassion as she spoke.

"Is this enough?" Jack opened the bag to show her the contents, forgetting she was the one who packed the bag in the first place. "He's very sick."

"It is enough." She patted his hand reassuringly.

"He'll get well?" Jack recognized the pleading tone but needed to hear this woman say it. For some reason, he trusted her.

"If he is worthy." She continued patting his hand and Jack swore she winked at him.

"He is. He's very worthy."

"Then he will get well," she said simply, withdrawing her hand.

Jack nodded in gratitude and jogged back to the Stargate, praying this wasn't some elaborate hoax to get them to leave Odella.


Jack didn't care that he looked like a madman pounding down the ramp waving a bag of roots, screaming at airmen to get the hell out of his way. His only thought was to keep Daniel alive.

"Colonel?" Hammond looked as baffled as the rest of them.

"Richards can explain, sir. I have to get this to the infirmary." Hammond stared after him as he rushed past; there was no time for niceties and protocol. Not with Daniel's life at stake.

When he reached the infirmary he found Fraiser, Carter and Teal'c surrounding Daniel's bed in what looked like a countdown, a deathwatch. Fuck that.

Daniel looked horrible and sounded worse, each breath a heroic struggle. Carter was holding his hand. Flushed and feeling a bit foolish Jack held up the bag of roots and tried to sound more confident than he felt. "I have the cure."

Three pairs of eyes fixed on him. Two filled with hope, the third shining with pessimism.

"What is it?" Fraiser took the bag from his outstretched hand and peered inside. The skepticism turned to pity. Damn it, he didn't need her pity; he needed her to have a little faith.

"It's some kind of healing root." Jack tried not to sound defensive but they were wasting valuable time. "It cured the children on Odella," he added impatiently. "The kids Daniel thought were dead."

"It looks like a turnip." Fraiser clearly wasn't impressed as she opened the bag and picked up one of the 'vegetables' with a gloved hand.

"It cured the kids," Jack muttered again, feeling far less optimistic than he had on the other side of the 'gate.

"Did you get a sample of the gas, sir?" Apparently, Carter didn't have much faith in the turnips either.

"No. Look, Daniel's dying, what's the harm in trying it?" A little bit of hope was better than no hope at all.

"Colonel, you know as well as I do we can't start burning alien vegetation of unknown contents in the middle of the SGC. We have no idea what this is. You said yourself the Odellans were uncooperative. Maybe if we burn this it'll turn out to be poisonous and more people will be affected. I can't authorize this. I'm sorry."

She had a point. "Okay, how about we use the isolation room. We could seal it up with nobody in there but Daniel and the... uh, turnips. Everyone would be safe and we could still give it a try." The desperation rang through loud and clear.

Fraiser nodded hesitantly. "It's a possibility. We could try that." She took his arm and steered him toward the door, out of Carter and Teal'c's range of hearing. "Are you sure that's what you want, Jack?"

"He's dying, right? There's nothing else you can do for him?" He found himself unnerved by Fraiser's use of his name rather than his rank. It left no doubt this was the eleventh hour for Daniel.

"He has very little time left." She gripped his forearm for emphasis.

"Then we should try it, we have nothing to lose." He wished she'd let go. He didn't want the physical comfort. Daniel wasn't dead yet.

"Are you sure it's what you want?" When he didn't answer she continued. "He'll be alone in there," she said quietly. "If he dies, he'll die alone."

Daniel wasn't afraid of much but that was one fear he had expressed. "Nothing could be lonelier than sensing your life slipping away and no one there to care." Daniel had shared that thought after a raucous night of lovemaking that seemed like ages ago and Jack had silently vowed that particular fear would never be realized.

"I'll go in with him."

"I can't allow that, sir."

"I'll wear a suit."

"Colonel, we can't risk anyone else's life. This, this... cure, is a long shot at best. You must know that." Fraiser's voice held a pleading undercurrent of its own. She wanted him to accept Daniel's fate, to give up false hope, but that wasn't going to happen, not until Daniel had breathed his last rusty breath.

And, yeah, he did understand it was a long shot, but it still hurt to hear her say it out loud. "I'll sign a waiver." After all, Daniel excelled at long shots.

"General Hammond will never go for it." Passing the buck wasn't one of Janet Fraiser's typical qualities. Watching Daniel dying wasn't any easier on her than it was on the rest of them.

"Not without your approval." Jack quietly filled in the blanks.

"I'm sorry. I won't risk losing both of you." At least she had the decency not to deny it.

"We'll say our goodbyes here while you get the iso room ready." Jack held Fraiser's gaze, determined to give Daniel one last chance.

Fraiser nodded and left abruptly. Jack had no doubt she needed to get Hammond's approval before burning the turnips. He also had no doubt she'd convince Hammond of its merits whether she believed it could work or not. And Hammond, smart man that he was, rarely overruled the good doctor.

Jack stood a respectful distance to give Teal'c and then Carter some privacy. Teal'c leaned over Daniel's bedside, and for a second, Jack thought the Jaffa was going to kiss the unconscious man's forehead. The sight brought unexpected tears that Jack successfully blinked back. Instead, Teal'c whispered something in Daniel's ear and patted him briefly on the shoulder.

Carter showed no such restraint. She cupped Daniel's cheek and then kissed it before tears escaped and wet Daniel's face. Jack turned away at the sight and waited for her to finish. They both touched his shoulder in a show of support on their way out.

When he was alone with his partner he sat on the edge of the infirmary bed and took Daniel's hand. "Hey, how ya doing? Sorry about that. You know how sentimental Teal'c is and how weepy Carter gets." Jack chuckled bravely before pausing to grab a damp cloth and wipe a few beads of sweat off Daniel's forehead.

"We're going to try something different to help you breathe better. It's a root we found on Odella. An old, mythological wive's tale of a cure. You're gonna love it." Jack squeezed Daniel's hand. "I wish I knew if you could hear me." He decided to proceed under the assumption Daniel heard and understood every word, if only to make it easier on himself.

"To give you this treatment we need to put you in the isolation room. It's nothing dangerous, just Fraiser being extra cautious. You know how she is. Anyway, the point is, Carter, Teal'c and I will be in the observation room watching, right there with you. Every step of the way. You won't be alone."

Jack waited a second, hoping to let that sink in to Daniel's brain. "One more thing I want you to hear," he squeezed the limp hand again, "those kids on Odella, Kora and Mallie, they're not dead. Do you hear me, Daniel? Hughes saw them playing. They're alive. You didn't kill anyone. Yep, they were cured, just like you're going to be." He tried for lighthearted with the last words hoping the tone would stir something inside.

Before Jack stood up to leave, he kissed the side of Daniel's head just above the ear and whispered a casual 'love you'. He wanted Daniel confident and hopeful, not scared and lonely. With one last backward glance, Jack steeled himself with a stoic look of determination and headed up to the observation room to wait it out with the rest of them.



"Colonel?"

"Huh?" It was Carter nudging his shoulder. Fraiser had long since returned to her regular infirmary patients and duties. Hours had passed. Shit, he must have dozed. "What?" He sat up straight and peered through the glass into the iso room.

"Is it my imagination or does Daniel sound better?"

After cranking the volume up to the max on the intercom, the three of them went silent and listened intently.

"Daniel Jackson does indeed sound stronger," Teal'c finally declared.

"Get Fraiser!" Jack had thought the same thing but needed confirmation to be sure it wasn't a case of wishful thinking. He jumped to his feet and stood close to the glass, staring down at the miracle below.

Genuine hope flowed through him as he watched Fraiser, gloved and masked, hurry into the room to take Daniel's vitals. She quickly covered her shocked surprise with a smile and a thumbs up to the crowd of three in the upper deck.

"I don't know how or why but his vitals are stronger and his breathing is easier. We won't know for sure until we run a few tests but something's definitely going on here."

"The vegetable is having a positive effect on Daniel Jackson, O'Neill." Teal'c stepped up beside him.

"Good work, sir." Carter closed the gap on his other side as the three of them stared down at their teammate.

"The root doesn't appear to be affecting the air quality. If everything checks out you should be able to visit soon." Fraiser glanced upward as she gave the good news.

Two hours later the three healthy members of SG-1 surrounded Daniel's bedside wearing surgical masks. He'd been in and out of consciousness for the better part of the day but this time was different. This time he began mumbling.

"We're here, Daniel." Carter moved to sit on the edge of the bed and leaned in, stroking Daniel's forearm to soothe and ensure him of their physical presence. They all leaned in closer to decipher his murmurs.

"Something smells." Daniel muttered softly, his nose wrinkling in disgust.

The three teammates laughed heartily in relief at the coherency of the words.

"Hey, don't knock it." Jack fiddled carefully with the glass container housing the smoky root. "It saved your ass, buddy."

"Indeed, it is the healing medicinal vegetation O'Neill retrieved from Odella to repair your damaged lungs."

"Smells like turnips," Daniel groused ungratefully before rolling onto his side and falling back to sleep.


"I want to go home."

"We are. We're going home," Jack enthused.

"My house, Jack. I want to go to my house."

For the first time in a long time the blue eyes shone with the Jackson stubbornness of old. Jack should have been happy but why did the characteristic have to assert itself regarding this particular issue?

"Oh." Jack barely missed a beat. "No problem. We can do that." He attempted to cover his disappointment with a smile.

"I need to be independent again. I need to take care of myself." Too late. Daniel was already in explanation mode. "I don't mean permanently. Just for now. I'm not trying to hurt you, Jack. Please tell me you understand."

Daniel's sputtering and explaining didn't help the hurt.

"Sure," Jack agreed. "Whatever you want." He didn't understand. He didn't understand at all.

"So, you're okay with this? Like I said, I don't mean permanently, I just..."

Jack waved him off with his hand. "It's fine. I understand. You had a big scare; you need a little down time away from... it all." No point in stating the obvious out loud.

"Exactly!" Daniel enthusiastically agreed. "Do you mind dropping me off?" He jumped off the infirmary bed he'd called home for the last month and gave a weak cough and wheeze for good measure.

"Not at all," Jack lied, wondering if Daniel had decided three weeks of living with Jack O'Neill had been more than enough.


Sleep didn't come easy. Daniel was finally home yet Jack found himself in bed alone. It was sometime after midnight when he finally began to doze.

Someone was in the bedroom.

Instantly alert, Jack feigned sleep, mentally calculating how long it would take to get the gun out of the nightstand and pointed into the intruder's face. On three, he told himself, one, two...

"Jack?"

"Daniel?" Jack breathed a sigh of relief, struggling to switch from Special Ops Colonel O'Neill, to friend and lover, Jack.

"Yeah, sorry to wake you." Daniel sat heavily on the side of the bed. "Can I come in?"

"It seems you're all ready in," Jack observed carefully.

"I mean in there." Jack couldn't see Daniel's face but he got the meaning of the soft words.

"I don't want to be alone. I want to be with you."

"Come on." Jack pulled back the sheet, patted Daniel's side of the bed and turned on the dimmer on the nightstand lamp. If they were going to talk he wanted to see the blue eyes. Daniel did the quickest strip in memory and slid under the covers.

"Thank you," Daniel whispered restlessly.

"For?" Jack reveled in the feel of Daniel's hands on his chest.

"For not giving up on me. Teal'c and Sam told me what you did."

"You'd have done the same for any of us." Jack covered Daniel's hand with his own.

"And, Jack..."

"Yeah?"

"Those kids, I remember something when I was sick..." His voice trailed off, full of optimistic caution. "Are they really...?"

"Yep, alive. They're alive." Jack jumped in immediately to confirm the hope. Shit, he should have known Daniel might not remember that conversation. "I saw them with my own eyes. Good as new, right as rain."

"That's good." Daniel sighed happily, settling in beside him.

"Not that I'm complaining but are you here for a visit or...?" He hated to ask but needed to know.

"I'd like to try again."

Yes! "Good." Jack tempered his reply with a quick one word answer to avoid saying something stupid, his downfall the first time around. Instead of words, he planted a kiss on Daniel's shoulder. His partner's soft murmur confirmed it was the right answer. Maybe if he could avoid talking and become a mute, this living together thing would work out.

"You were right, you know."

"About?" He was right? That was a new one.

"What you said before I left for Odella."

Jack thought hard. "You're... disorganized?" Crap! That probably wasn't the right answer. He should have gone with his gut and stuck with light kisses rather than conversation.

This time Daniel only chuckled at his lack of finesse. "I haven't been this close to anyone in a long time. Living together, working together, it's so different. You understand, right?

"Um, yeah. No. Not really." Jack propped himself up on his elbow. "Tell me."

"It's, it's hard getting used to someone caring so much, that's all." The long pause and the scrunched brow let Jack know Daniel was at least trying.

"Carter and Teal'c care." Jack had all he could do not to kiss the worried look off of Daniel's face.

"I don't live with Carter and Teal'c. And they don't hover like you do."

"Teal'c hovers."

"Not like you."

Jack lowered his head to the pillow and pulled Daniel down with him, wrapping his arms around the warm waist. "I care and you better get used to it. I'm not going anywhere and I'm not going to stop caring."

"I'll be more considerate, I promise." Daniel mumbled the words into Jack's chest hair.

"Really?" It tickled.

"Yes, really." Daniel pulled his head away from Jack's torso and spoke face to face, a smile slowly forming in the corners of the full lips. "You don't have to sound so shocked. Am I that bad?"

"You'll call when you're running late?" Jack carefully thought out his reply.

"Yes." Daniel's finger traced Jack's jaw line.

"You'll actually ask permission before you go traipsing off into some ancient, uncharted ruins?" Jack chose to ignore the stirring below his waist while waiting for Daniel's answer.

"I'll try."

"You'll save me a cup of coffee?" The slender, determined finger began circle his lips but Jack forged ahead.

"I'll save you coffee," Daniel agreed softly.

This was going better than Jack had imagined. "You'll become my sex slave and submit to my every whim?"

Daniel pulled back a bit. "Um, maybe. Tell me the truth, Jack. Do my actions hurt your feelings or do you just blow it off as me being... me?"

"'Maybe on the sex slave thing? Really?" Jack was sad to see the finger leave his mouth before he'd had a chance to taste it.

"I want an honest answer."

Sighing, and not entirely sure what was expected, Jack went for honesty. "Okay. I know you want me to say it doesn't bother me but, sometimes it does." Shit. The blue eyes were devastated by the truthful response. "It's okay, Daniel,” he added hurriedly. “It's my own fault. I'm a little obsessed with you, your eyes, your lips, your smile, and well, you." A little? Who was he trying to kid? It's true, Jack thought. He's young and brilliant and beautiful and I'm...

"Because you think you love me more than I love you?"

How the hell does he do that? Jack tried out a not very convincing "No."

Daniel didn’t buy it. "It's not true. You have no idea. I'm just not as good at expressing it as you are. But I will be. I'll do better."

"It's okay." Jack buried his face in Daniel's neck, breathed in the distinctive scent and whispered in his ear. "So, it's a definite 'maybe' on the sex slave proposal?"

"I'd need more details of what it entails."

"No problem," Jack answered smugly. "I'll make a list."


FINIS

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