Marking Time by sideburns
Slash:  Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: PG-13
Category: Challenge.  Pre-Slash.
Season/Spoilers: Season 5.  Set after Menace.
Synopsis: It's almost July 8th. Does Daniel have anything to celebrate?
Warnings: None, nada, zilch.
Length:  45Kb

Marking Time by sideburns

July 8, 1965 - Cairo, Egypt, Student's Hospital, Cairo University

"Ssh, Claire, it's all right, just -- just -- breathe, or something, okay?"

Claire Jackson glanced up at her husband and stuck out her tongue. "I could really get to hate you, Mel. Really, I could."

"You'll love me again once our baby is--"

"OUT OF ME!!!"

Melburne Jackson cringed at his wife's contraction-induced yell, then bit his lower lip as his wife's hand gripped his with a strength he would have doubted she, or any living being, possessed. He supposed contractions could do that to a person. For a moment, he gave in to the guilty pleasure of being a man, but then as his wife dropped back against the sweat dampened pillow, his love and concern hit him up side the head.

"Honey, not much longer now, I swear it."

Panting hard, Claire rolled her eyes. "Like you'd know? When was the last time you tried to get a basketball squeezed through the eye of a needle, uh? Now shut up and get me some ice chips before I castrate you."

Mel blanched. Okay, he'd been told women could get a little -- testy, when giving birth, but castrate him? Sheesh. Nevertheless, he immediately reached for the cup of ice chips.

"Push, Claire, one more time."

"FUCK OFF!"

Doctor Ramad simply continued to work beneath the green sheet that kept Mel from seeing his child being born. He had to give the man credit, a cursing woman telling him to "fuck off" failed to disrupt the current job of delivering a baby. Good for him. Especially since all Mel wanted to do -- was run. Instead, he kissed Claire's brow, knowing full well he was taking his life in his hands. Surprisingly enough, she looked up briefly, smiled, then -- screamed bloody murder -- and all hell broke loose.

Suddenly machines started loudly beeping, nurses moved more quickly and more white-garbed women ran into the room. Before he could blink, he was being torn from his wife's side and ushered out into the hall.

"Wait, wait--"

"Doctor Jackson, please, something's wrong. We need room. I'm afraid you'll have to remain out here. As soon as we -- I'll keep you posted."

Then she was gone and the door to his wife and baby was shut -- and he was on the wrong side. Mel ran a hand through his hair, then swiped it over his face. This wasn't happening. Everything was supposed to be fine. An easy birth.

As he stared at the door, he tried to imagine a world without Claire -- but he couldn't. And if they lost their child? Slowly he walked over to a hall chair and sank down.

He and Claire had talked long and hard when they discovered her pregnancy. They'd discussed in depth, how a child would or could affect their lives and dreams. But with the surety of youth, they'd decided that a child wouldn't interfere. That it would simply be a part of their life, a part of making their dreams come true. They'd still take expeditions, travel the Middle East, do everything they'd always planned to do -- only with a child in tow. It had seemed so simple when they'd discussed and planned.

But now. Now they might lose the baby.

"My son," Mel said to no one. Because he had decided that the baby growing within Claire's body was a boy.

Warm silent tears tracked their way down Melburne's cheeks.

"Isn't he beautiful, Claire?"

Claire Jackson, pale and tired, smiled softly at the small wrapped bundle in her arms. "Yes, Mel, he's beautiful. And stubborn too. A good trait with us as his parents."

Mel placed a large weathered hand on the top of the small head and closed his eyes. The downy soft hair thrilled him. His wife and son were fine. Now. But it had been close. They'd nearly lost the baby, but Claire was right, the tiny bit of life was indeed stubborn.

"Mel, what day is it? What day was he born?"

"He was born at one thirty-three, July 8th."

Kissing the small hand waving in the air, Claire said, "And I missed it."

"We both missed it. But you're here and so is he, so if missing his actual birth is what it cost, so be it."

"Good point. But no more. We technically missed his birth, but we won't miss any birthdays, will we?"

"Nope. Each one will be a celebration of what almost wasn't."

The door to Claire's hospital room opened and a smiling nurse stepped in. "Have you decided on a name for young Mr. Jackson?" she asked with a nod of her head.

Claire and Mel looked at each other, then shrugged helplessly. Mel tilted his head and gazed with rapt attention at his son. And a name came to him.

"Daniel. He is -- Daniel."

Claire ran her finger down the soft baby cheek as she asked, "We never discussed -- I thought, maybe -- Nicholas. Why Daniel?"

"I can't tell you, Claire. It just came to me."

Smiling gently, she said softly, "You think our son will be a great prophet, perhaps?"

In a whisper, Mel said, "I think -- maybe -- I do."

Valley of the Kings - Egypt - July 8, 1970

Daniel bent over his project and just as his father had taught him, he blew gently. He was sitting on the ground, in the shade of a canopy, his skinny bare legs splayed out in front of him. A breeze ruffled his soft straight hair and cooled the sweat on his skin. With small, but knowing fingers, he traced the design on the bit of pottery in his hand. He'd been gently brushing and blowing the centuries of dust from what appeared to have been a bowl and now he smiled as the design of a great warrior took shape.

"Mommy, mommy!"

Claire Jackson looked up from her work table and smiled fondly at the boy. "What is it, Daniel?"

"Lookee!" He turned and held up the shard his father had allowed him to work on. "A soldier, mommy. A great soldier." Daniel scrambled to his feet and holding the piece of pottery carefully aloft, he ran to his mother's side. "See," he pointed with one stubby and dirty finger, "a soldier."

Claire looked at her son's work and her smile widened. "Why, I do believe you're right. Good work, honey."

Staring avidly at the revealed design, Daniel said with awe, "But not -- like us, mommy, not us."

Frowning, Claire took the piece from his small hands and peered more closely. It was a strange piece, now that she could really see it. Worth investigating further, perhaps? Getting up, she hurried out from under the tent and towards the dig site and her husband -- completely forgetting the boy she left behind.

Daniel wanted to follow, but the actual dig was off-limits to the five year old. He walked to the edge of his work space, hand on one of the poles and watched.

It was hours before anyone thought of him.

Days before anyone remembered the significance of July 8th.

Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado - July 6th, 2002

Daniel Jackson sat on the hospital bed and waited patiently for Doctor Frasier. Today, the cast was scheduled to come off, thank God. Daniel closed his eyes and tried to block out the sounds coming from the other side of the infirmary, namely SG-8 complaining, as usual. They'd just returned from a messy mission and Doctor Frasier was insisting on complete physicals for all of them. All Daniel could think was better them then him. Of course, with his broken wrist, he hadn't been on a mission for over five weeks. What a shame.

"Daniel, you ready?"

Surprised, Daniel opened his eyes to find himself looking into the concerned browns of Frasier. He blinked a couple of times, then nodded. "I was ready four weeks ago."

Smiling as she lifted his arm, Janet said, "Ah, but your wrist wasn't. But the X-rays look good, so let's get this thing off, shall we?"

"You mean I get to help?" he teased.

"Ha-ha."

Fifteen minutes later, his wrist was free of the cast, his arm was covered in a fine powder, and Janet was deftly touching and testing the area around the break.

"Okay, make a fist for me, Daniel."

He did, with some difficulty. She clucked, then prodded a bit more. "All right, now spread your fingers out like this," she held out her own hand to show him, "then wiggle all five."

With a groan of impatience, Daniel did as instructed. It wasn't like he'd been having any problems with his fingers.

"Good, good. Now flex your wrist like this," she again gave him an example, "up and down, two times."

He flexed, stiffly, but everything seemed to be working. "Satisfied, Janet?"

"Any pain?"

"Nope."

"Well, I do believe I can sign you off as once again fit for active duty."

"Yoohaw," Daniel said dryly.

Catching his tone, she glanced up and gave him a sharp look. "Everything all right, Daniel?"

"Everything's fine. Just fine. I can go?"

Her hand on his shoulder, she gave him a little shake. "Daniel? Come on, this is Mother Janet here. Spill."

"Mother Janet?"

"Daniel? Talk to me."

For exactly forty seconds, Daniel considered it. But at forty one seconds, he discarded the idea. What was there really to say, anyway? He smiled and shook his head instead. "Nothing to spill, Janet. Thanks, though. Catch you later."

He hopped off the bed, pulled the sleeve of his black sweater down and strolled out of the infirmary, leaving a worried and puzzled Frasier behind him.

Daniel hurried through the halls of the SGC, eager to get back to his office. Since breaking his wrist, he hadn't really been out and around, preferring to work either at home, or the security of his office. His routine consisted of getting to and from the elevator as quickly as possible in order to avoid as many people as possible. To avoid -- Jack.

Since the whole debacle with Reese and her lovely little pets, he and Jack hadn't exchanged more than a few words. SG-1 had been on two missions without Daniel and seemed to manage quite nicely, thank you very much. Of course, they'd brought back all the work for Daniel to do, but hey, wasn't that why he was here?

He arrived at his office and walked in, closing the door thankfully behind him. He somehow had felt that maybe, well, they'd come pretty close to losing the SGC and thus, their world, had the replicators gotten loose. Daniel felt that it was altogether possible that the members of the SGC blamed him. He sat down and unconsciously flexed his left hand. He was fit for duty now and he wondered what would happen next.

Daniel reached for the translation he'd finished earlier and as he did, his gaze fell on his desk calendar. July 6th. That meant he'd missed July 4th. He hadn't been home at all two days ago, having spent the night here, hence no sounds of fireworks to remind him. If there'd been a celebration at the SGC, he hadn't been aware of it. General Hammond had been on vacation, so there'd been no back-yard barbecue as in past years. Daniel missed that.

The Fourth of July had always been the closest thing to a birthday celebration that he'd really ever had. He reached over and pulled the calendar towards him. Daniel smiled at himself. Oh, yeah, like July 4th had been declared a holiday for him? But as a boy, it had been fun to pretend that the fireworks were his birthday celebration. Not that he hadn't had a party once. Hell, twice. His tenth and eleventh birthdays. The foster family he'd been given over to for those two years had actually cared so he'd had a cake and presents. Best two Julys he could remember.

On Abydos, birthdays were only celebrated at certain times, such as a boy's journey into manhood. Or a girl's into womanhood. There'd been other significant birth days, but in his year on Abydos, he'd not had any of them. His birthday had come and gone like it always had -- unnoticed.

In the last five years, oddly enough, they'd either been nowhere near Earth on his birthday, or had been in pretty dire straits at home. Daniel ticked off each year:

July 8, 1997 -- oops, still on Abydos

1998 - Oh, yeah, Nasya, Sam and Jolinar. No time for birthday celebrations then. But they had been on Earth on July 8th. Just kind of busy trying to save Sam's life.

1999 - Ooh, okay, on Earth again, but dealing with Seth. Daniel figured it was enough of a celebration that he got out alive that time.

The great new century, the year 2000 (okay, the new century didn't really begin until 2001, but hey, it had made for a great pretend birthday). Let's see -- oh, yeah. Euronda. He could skip memories of that one. The first time Jack's real opinion of him had surfaced -- more or less. Let's move onto last year --

2001 - busy saving a brainwashed Teal'c, which brought him to -- 2002.

Slowly Daniel fingered the number eight on the calendar. He really needed to talk to Jack. He was two days away from turning thirty-seven.

Thirty-seven. Almost forty. In three more years.

My, how time flies when an archaeologist is having fun.

It took Daniel two days to get up the nerve to do what he should have done five weeks ago. But the nerve did finally present itself and on his birthday, he found himself approaching Jack's office. The door was closed, but he knew (because he'd asked) Jack was inside. With some trepidation, he raised a hand and -- knocked.

"Enter."

Daniel closed his eyes at hearing Jack's voice, then with a deep breath, he opened them, turned the handle and entered.

"Jack."

"Daniel."

Damn him, he hadn't even looked up from his paperwork. Daniel counted to ten, then sucked it in. After all, he was here to -- apologize.

"Jack, I just dropped by, I was in the neighborhood and thought, wow, long time no see and maybe I should say -- I'm -- sorry."

The pen in Jack's hand froze. Daniel held his breath.

"Sorry? For what, Daniel?"

Bastard. He still hadn't lifted his head. Daniel clenched his jaw, then tried to relax. It wasn't working.

"I'm -- sorry -- for what I said ... uh, Jack? Could you fucking look at me?"

Okay, that worked, that got the bastard's attention.

"Daniel, did you just say 'fucking'?"

"Yes, so?"

Jack put the pen down and sat back in his chair. "So nothing. Just never heard you say that -- word -- before. In fact, I don't think I've ever actually heard you--"

"Oh, for crying out loud, Jack, get over it."

Jack's scarred eyebrow rose. "I didn't ask you here, Daniel," he said, his voice cold.

"No, you didn't. Big surprise." Daniel could feel the anger leaking through and that was a bad thing. Somehow he figured that apologizing with anger would negate the apology. He held up a hand in supplication. "Okay, okay, I'm backing up here. Look," he said, as he schooled his expression, "I came here to apologize for what I said in the "Gate room, when you -- when Reese, I mean," he sighed and tried again.

"I should never have said what I did. I know you were doing what you needed -- to do. You had no way of knowing what was happening between Reese and I, and your only concern was ensuring that the replicators were stopped. I understand that. I was -- I -- spoke from hurt and anger -- and I didn't mean -- anything I said. I just wanted you to know that."

Daniel waited. Jack was staring at him, his thoughts unreadable to Daniel. Neither Jack's eyes, nor his body language gave anything away. After a moment, Daniel's shoulders slumped.

"Well, anyway, that's all I wanted to say." He turned away and started for the door.

"You got the cast off, I see."

Daniel didn't turn. "Yes, a couple days ago. Didn't you get the report?"

"It's probably here on my desk -- somewhere."

"Right." Daniel opened the door, stepped out and closed it behind him.

As he walked back to his office, he cursed himself in twenty languages. He was a fool.

Jack stared at the closed door. Daniel had just apologized to him. Daniel had apologized to him. What was wrong with this picture?

Man, that couldn't have been easy, either.

Jack rose from behind his desk and started for the closed door, his intention -- unknown to him. He stopped halfway. There was no point in going after Daniel. None.

Janet Frasier sighed as she looked at her desk. Too much paperwork, not enough time. Not to mention she hated paperwork. Well, at least she could separate out the stuff she needed to do, versus that which an airman could file. She sat down and dug in. Twenty minutes later she had two nice stacks in front of her. She picked up the last piece of paper; the file copy of Daniel's return to active duty report, and frowned. She was really worried about Daniel.

Deep in her thoughts about her favorite archeaologist, Janet rose and took the paper over to the file cabinet. She pulled out the drawer marked I-J, then flicked through the hanging folders until she got to Daniel's. She pulled it, absently opened it, and dropped the paper inside. Before she realized it, she'd removed the file. She walked back, sat down and thoughtfully perused it.

A few minutes later she dropped the file, still open, onto her desk and sat back. She rubbed at her eyes and shook her head. It was altogether possible that Daniel Jackson was her most frequent visitor and patient. Everyone could joke about it, but the truth sat in front of her. Janet looked around her and her gaze fixed on the calendar. July 8th. She frowned, then glanced down at Daniel's file.

July 8th.

Today was -- Daniel's birthday.

He wasn't getting a lick of work done. Big surprise. He simply couldn't stop thinking about Daniel. Or hearing Daniel. Or picturing Daniel, and as Jack pictured the Daniel that had stood in front of his desk not so long ago, he stood straight up, shocked.

Daniel had looked -- like hell. Worse. And Jack had seen Hell.

God, why had he been so hard on Daniel in the last months? Why? What was driving the coldness, the harsh words? And more importantly, how could he change his behavior? Would he be able to get their friendship back?

Did he want Daniel's friendship back?

"What kind of question is that, O'Neill?"

A truthful question, he decided.

Jack sat back down. For some reason, Daniel's friendship had become -- threatening, so Jack had simply gone into his typical self-defense mode. The fact that it was tearing him apart did nothing to stop the gut reaction. The fact that it was apparently tearing Daniel apart -- did nothing to stop his actions either.

Jack lifted his pen and went back to signing reports and requisitions.

"His birthday? How have we missed this, Janet?"

"I don't know, Sam, but we have."

Teal'c watched the two women from his spot against the wall. Birthdays were not celebrated on Chulak but here on his second home, they held great significance. On Earth, birthdays required round colorful objects called balloons, objects he'd often seen being carried through the halls of the SGC, usually attached to another requisite: flowers. Birthdays also required a birthday cake and presents.

Teal'c had found himself stumped by the gift O'Neill had given Ferretti last March on his birthday. Apparently Ferretti coveted something called meadowmuffins so O'Neill had purchased a box for his friend. Teal'c had found that concept confusing as the beautifully packaged delicacies turned out to be mounds of cow manure. Humans were strange.

He stepped away from the wall and addressed Major Carter. "I believe, if we go back and check our mission records, we will discover that during each of DanielJackson's birthdays, we were either off-world or in difficulty here on Earth, Major."

Janet cocked her head at her friend. "Sam?" she asked, fully expecting Sam to immediately remember each of Daniel's past birthdays.

Frowning, Sam finally nodded. "Teal'c, I think you're right. Which means, we have a few birthdays to make up for." As she spoke, she fingered the slender gold chain around her neck as she spoke, remembering that it had been a birthday gift from Daniel.

"And how do we do this, Major?"

"Well," Sam said, as she glanced helplessly at Janet, "it's early yet. If we work hard and fast, we can have a party arranged for tonight." Then with a pleading look, she added, "Can't we, Janet?"

"Hey, this is the SGC. We can do anything. Especially if women are in charge."

"I like your thinking, Janet."

Teal'c thought it was only slightly unfair that they were leaving him out of the equation, especially since he was planning to supply the balloons. And perhaps -- the cake.

Daniel took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes tiredly. Well, at least he was done with this set of translations. Too bad they did nothing to enhance their knowledge of the Goa'uld. On the other hand, the insight into the Rojarns and their way of life could be very valuable. To someone -- somewhere. He sighed and stretched his back, listening as his vertebrae popped. Going back to work, he signed off his report, stood up and headed next door to copy his grand opus.

As he walked down the hall, an airman passed by bearing a large bouquet and balloons that brightly declared 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY!'. Daniel found himself turning around and watching as the young man continued his walk, balloons swaying gently in the air. The airman turned into one of the labs, and a moment later, a squeal of delight could be heard. Daniel smiled faintly, then continued on. He made his copies, then returned to his office and shut the door.

Normally he would have hand-delivered his report to Jack, but considering their last meeting, he decided to stuff the report into one of the SGC envelopes to join General Hammond's in his out-basket. An airman would be by later to deliver in-going mail and pick up the out-going.

Well, he was caught up. Amazing what five weeks of being Earth-bound could do for an over-worked archaeologist. Time to head home.

He checked his email and was surprised to see no new orders. He'd fully expected some word about a new mission now that he'd been declared fit for duty. With a small frown, he logged himself off-duty, powered down, grabbed his jacket, and after turning off the lights, he walked out, locked the door, and headed for the elevator.

Twenty minutes later, he was on the road and on his way home.

This wasn't working. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't shake Daniel from his thoughts. Damn it. He shouldn't really be surprised. It had become increasingly difficult to get Daniel out of his mind. Didn't matter what he was doing, somehow Daniel would pop up. Hell, he'd shown up in Jack's shower that very morning. Talk about giving an Air Force colonel a heart attack? And he'd been naked too. A naked Daniel in his shower.

Jack closed his eyes and the vision of a naked Daniel, a wet naked Daniel, popped right up. Amazing. Think about a naked Daniel and what did you get? A naked Daniel. And as suddenly as Daniel was there, Jack was just as suddenly feeling -- threatened -- again.

How could a naked Daniel make him feel threatened?

Jack looked more closely -- not exactly a hardship. Daniel was -- beautiful, his body a joy to behold.

Okay, that wasn't a good thing. A colonel in the United States Air Force should not be thinking that his archaeologist, his naked archaeologist, was a joy to behold. Not that Jack was exactly -- straight. He wasn't. Not all the way, anyway. But still, he'd had excellent practise over the years in not noticing good looking naked men.

Which finally explained why a naked Daniel was so threatening to Jack.

All his carefully constructed blinders, the stuffing down of natural instincts in order to be an Air Force officer, suddenly weakened? Oh, yeah, that made Daniel Jackson a very big threat indeed.

Jack needed a drink. Badly. He grabbed his jacket and headed out. He got as far as the elevator when Carter yelled his name. With some trepidation (after all, Carter yelling out his name in the halls of the SGC was not normally a good thing) he turned.

"You yelled, Major?"

Carter hurried up to him, her face slightly flushed. "Yes, Sir," she said, only a bit out of breath. "Do you know what today is, Sir?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. Today is Monday, Major Carter. Monday, the eighth of July. Now you know why I'm a colonel."

Carter gave him the patented look, the one that said what she, as his subordinate, could not, then said, "Yes, Sir, it is Monday, the eighth of July. It is also -- Daniel's birthday."

"Daniel's birthday?" Jack repeated dully.

"Yes, Sir, Daniel's birthday. Today, Monday, the eighth of July."

"Daniel's birthday," Jack said again.

Carter waited.

"Have we -- ever--"

"No, Sir, we have not. As Teal'c pointed out, we were either in trouble off-world or we were in trouble -- right here at home. Somehow -- his birthday always slipped right by us."

"I -- see."

"We've celebrated yours, mine, the General's, we even did that surprise party for Teal'c, remember? But never so much as a card for Daniel."

Jack's gaze grew distant as he said, "They don't celebrate birthdays on Abydos either--"

"I know, Sir."

Jack dropped his gaze down to Carter. "So what's the plan, Major?"

Sam frowned, then looked up at Janet. "He's logged off-duty."

Janet lifted her head from her preparations. "So? That just means we move it to his place. Works better that way."

She grinned. Sam smiled back.

Daniel poured himself a glass of wine, then headed out to his balcony. It was almost sunset. He sat down on the chair that just fit in the small space, put his feet on the rail, and took a sip of his drink. As he watched the sun set, he toasted himself.

"Happy birthday, Doctor Jackson."

As the sun dipped behind the building across from Daniel's, he realized that for thirty-seven years, he'd been doing nothing but marking time. Which seemed strange, considering everything he'd done with his life.

No, that wasn't right. Everything he'd done with his life had, he realized now, been done in order to avoid -- people. Live people.

Maybe the reason had something to do with the eight years of coming in second with his parents, he mused. Or the years that followed, being mostly invisible with all but one of his foster families. Was that why he'd stayed on Abydos? Because he'd found another foster family that had loved him, where there was none on Earth?

Now that would be pathetic, a word he would never have used to describe himself at even his worse moments.

Daniel scowled as his fingers tightened around the glass in his hand. He'd done a pretty good job of screwing his family on Abydos, hadn't he? Yeah, top notch job. Daniel heard a snapping sound and with surprise, glanced down at his hand. He'd broken the glass.

"Well, shit." He stood up and headed to the bathroom and his first aid kit.

Several cars and two vans pulled up on Daniel's street. Lights were extinguished, car doors opened, then slammed shut, and with much shushing, over thirty people, arms laden with stuff, made their way into Daniel's building. The entire group ignored the elevator and began the climb up to their friend's apartment. When they were all in the hall, Sam put her finger to her lips.

"Ssh, he'll hear us." She looked over Janet's head and said, "Sir? You're up."

Jack nodded, straightened his leather jacket and with exaggerated military precision, marched up to his friend's door and pushed the buzzer.

The Bactine tumbled to the floor as Daniel's door buzzer sounded. Cursing, Daniel bent over and retrieved the plastic spray bottle, set it back on the sink, then checked his own first aid. Not bad, he thought, as he looked at the bandaging. The cuts hadn't been horrific, but definitely stung like a son of a gun. He left on the bathroom light, fully intending to return in order to clean up the mess and blood after he got rid of the pesky salesman at the door.

He walked into the living room, then down to the front door and swung it open.

"Hey, Daniel," Jack said with a smile.

Daniel frowned. "Um, Jack. What are you--"

He never got any further as a crowd of bodies suddenly appeared behind Jack, all yelling, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DANIEL!"

Jack, suddenly a bit flustered, stepped aside and let the crowd pass him. Before Daniel could do or say anything, he was being swept up to his living room by the mass of happy, laughing people. Balloons swayed and bumped gently against his face, the scent of flowers that could have overwhelmed him, were replaced by the odors of delicious foods.

As the people began to move away, to take platters and bowls and bags into his kitchen, to set more wrapped presents than he could ever remember seeing, on his dining room table, Daniel looked about him, his expression dazed. He watched, open-mouthed, as Janet and Sam began to clear his dining room table and bottles of liquor were set out. He observed Ferretti putting the gifts on his piano and stunned, he watched General Hammond bring out two trays of finger appetizers, unwrap them and set them down on the coffee table. All kinds of chips and dips joined the liquor on the dining room table, as did platters of sandwiches, Buffalo wings, vegetable trays with dips, fruit trays, bowls of various salads, and platters of what looked liked barbecued chicken and ribs. Birthday-themed plastic plates, cups and utensils took their place on the small table to the left of the kitchen door.

As Daniel watched members of the SGC bustle about his home, he noticed that all the food on the dining room table seemed to move out in a circle, but that the center of the table remained empty. He was puzzling over that when Teal'c entered from the kitchen carrying -- a birthday cake. A three-tiered birthday cake. A huge, round, three-tiered birthday cake.

Daniel could feel his face heat up and his eyes start to sting with hot moisture. He didn't understand anything.

Jack kept himself on the fringe of the flurried activity and finally found himself able to unobtrusively lounge against the far wall. He could see Daniel a few feet from him, expression showing his amazement as his apartment was transformed into a party palace.

Jack found himself unable to tear his gaze from Daniel. As he watched the man, he saw the flush of red start at Daniel's neck and creep up to the younger man's cheeks. He watched Daniel swallow and noted with surprise how difficult the motion was. Then Daniel blinked -- and blinked again, and Jack watched in shock as Daniel took off his glasses and quickly rubbed at his eyes before putting them back on.

Something happened to Jack in that instant, something -- momentous. An epiphany. No, not an epiphany, but several of the damn things.

No one had ever done this for Daniel before.

No one. And--

Jack loved Daniel more than his own life.

Jack had to admit that the last epiphany was a big one. An 8.0 on the Richter Scale of epiphanies.

Jack O'Neill was in love with Daniel Jackson.

Well -- that sure explained a hell of a lot.

Jack shook himself out of his recent revelation and concentrated on Daniel once again. The gang was still busy preparing things for the party (most now diligently decorating Daniel's home) and none had yet noticed the discomfiture of their intended recipient. To Jack, it looked as though Daniel would not be able to hold back the tears for much longer.

Tears.

Jack had seen those blue eyes go bright with unshed moisture more than a couple of times over the years, but Daniel had never let them fall. Couldn't let them fall. Jack was going for a record number of epiphanies. He slinked past Carter, snicked a couple of beers from behind the General, then walked over to his best friend. He stood so that Daniel was blocked from view and smiled at him. Jack put everything he had into that smile as he offered the bottle.

"Looks like you could use this, Danny," he said quietly.

Daniel, who'd blinked when Jack stepped in front of him, obscuring his view of his guests and their activities, now looked up the inch or two difference between their heights. He glanced back down at the bottle and slowly took it. When he didn't drink any of it, Jack gently pushed from the bottom of the bottle until Daniel's arm rose.

"Go on, take a good swig," Jack encouraged.

Daniel, gaze fixed on Jack, nevertheless did as he was told. He took a hefty swallow, scrunched up his eyes, then gave a little gasp as the cold beer moved down his throat. Before he could say anything, Jack took his elbow and guided him out of the apartment and into the hall. But he didn't stop there. He kept them both going until they were in the stairwell. When the fire door closed, he sat down on the top step and indicated with a twirl of his finger, that Daniel should join him. Moving with some hesitation, Daniel sat down.

The stairway was narrow and in order to fit, their bodies had to touch as they squeezed together. Jack felt the warmth of Daniel and he smiled, then quickly took another swig of his own beer.

"Won't they be mad?" Daniel said, his voice sounding hollow in the stairwell.

"No. We'll go back inside in a few. They're still decorating. I figure we have about ten minutes. Enough time for you to collect yourself."

Daniel nodded and took another swallow. When he was done, he wiped his mouth, then braced his arm on his bent leg, the bottle dangling from his fingers. Jack gazed at the arm so close to his. He smiled at the soft blond hair that dusted the strong arm, at the slender fingers working the brown bottle. Then, with a start, he noticed the bandage around Daniel's palm.

"You hurt yourself," he said, indicating the wrap with his own bottle.

"Nothing. Just a cut."

"Daniel, you only left the SGC a few hours ago and you were fine when you left, or I'd have heard differently."

"I had an accident with a glass. No biggie. I suppressed the burning desire to call Janet and an ambulance."

"Oh, look, Daniel. This is me -- chuckling."

Daniel didn't look, he just snorted.

"So, when was the last time you had a birthday party, Daniel?" Jack asked in an attempt to make awkward conversation.

"Don't remember. Maybe -- ten. No, one when I was ten, and again, with the Andrews, when I turned eleven."

They were both silent while Jack digested the information. He'd been pretty certain of what he'd hear, but still, hearing it was a strange blow. How many other things had Daniel missed in his life? Things that he, Jack O'Neill, had taken for granted? Jack thought back to the Daniel Jackson he'd first met and he grinned. The guy had been totally clueless. Totally. A real geek, but damn, Daniel had been like this -- puppy. Yeah, that was a good description. Jack glanced over at his friend and realized that while the puppy had most definitely grown up and into a sleek, intelligent -- what, a retriever? Yeah, a Lab. A golden Labrador Retriever, he was still -- in many ways, that puppy.

"Why'd they do it, Jack?"

Daniel's question brought Jack up hard.

"Do what?" he asked dumbly.

"The party. Why'd they do it?"

Daniel was staring at the bottle in his fingers and Jack gave in to an urge. He reached out and placed his hand tenderly over Daniel's, stilling the nervous fingers in the process.

"Well, it seems, according to Teal'c and confirmed by Carter, that every time in the last few years that your birthday rolled around, we were -- kind of -- busy, you know?"

A smile tugged at the corners of Daniel's mouth as he said, "Oh, yeah. Save the world and all that junk."

"Precisely. Not to mention saving our own asses. Kind of heady work, takes one's mind off of the really important things, like -- birthdays."

Daniel's grin appeared and he promptly snorted again.

"You know, Daniel, you really have an elegant snort. It's kind of -- cute."

"You know, Jack, you're really -- weird."

"Yeah, I know. But weirdness comes with the territory."

"What territory would that be, Jack?"

"The I love Daniel territory. Loving stubborn, intelligent, incredibly good-looking archaeologists always make Air Force colonels weird."

Jack's hand was still on Daniel's and after his little speech, he was glad to note that Daniel made no move to slip his hand out from under Jack's. Afraid of what Daniel might say, Jack went on, his words coming fast and without thought.

"You don't owe me the apology, Daniel, for what happened with Reese. I rushed in there, gun blazing, because Carter said you were in trouble. Reese had thrown you against the wall once, I couldn't begin to guess what she would do if she were really angry. And the room was full of those -- replicators." He bowed his head as he said softly, "At that moment, the moment I broke in, the fate of the world was most definitely not what I was worrying about. Well," he added, "maybe peripherally."

"You know, you really are a piece of work, O'Neill. I don't think I'll ever understand you."

Jack might have been worried, but Daniel's voice was soft and there wasn't even a hint of anger. Encouraged, Jack said, "That's a good thing, isn't it? I'll always keep you guessing. It'll keep our relationship from getting old."

Daniel finally turned to him. His face gave nothing away, which reinforced to Jack that the puppy really was, for the most part, gone.

"Our relationship, Jack?"

"Yeah," Jack said quietly. "Our relationship. The one I'm praying we get started, maybe after your party."

"So what you're saying is that you're like one of the boys in grade school. The ones who tortured the girls they liked, right? Gave them spiders on Valentine's Day, squished frogs on their birthdays, that kind of thing?"

"Daniel," Jack said patiently, "this isn't grade school and you're not a girl, in case that escaped your notice--"

"Oh, I noticed that all right. Just wasn't sure you had."

"Believe me, Daniel, I notice on a daily basis that you're a man." Jack closed his eyes for a moment and sighed deeply before opening them again. "Oh, yeah, I noticed. And I got you a new leather jacket for your birthday, but if you have to have a squished frog, well, I know where I can get one."

"So you were that kind of little boy."

"Weren't you?"

"Nope. I gave them books, leaves or flower petals," Daniel said with a touch of pride.

Jack snorted. "Figures."

"Dickhead."

"Putz."

"So you love me?"

"Yep."

"But you were, what, afraid?"

"Oh, yeah, seriously afraid, Doctor Jackson. You're a scary guy."

Smiling now, really smiling, Daniel said, "Emphasis on the guy part. For you, for us, in the SGC, that is the scary part."

"We'll handle it, won't we, Danny?"

"Will we?"

They were both still looking at each other, eyes boring into the other's soul. Jack could see the very real question in Daniel's eyes and he nodded. "Yeah, Daniel, we will, because this is the SGC and damn it, what we do isn't what anyone else in the entire world does. We're -- entitled. We'll be discreet, we won't shove it into anyone's face, but by God, neither will we let the military keep it from happening." He grinned sheepishly and added, "So there."

"I don't suppose," Daniel said smartly, "that it occurred to you that maybe I don't feel the same way?"

"My ego is huge, Daniel. No, it didn't occur to me. Nor will it. You do feel the same way." He ducked his head, afraid to let Daniel see his shame as he said, "That's why you're still here, why you've toughed it out, no matter how things looked between us."

"Oh, really?" Daniel asked, one eyebrow rising in amused humor. "And here I thought I'd become addicted to saving the world and all."

"No, addicted to -- me."

"You do have a huge ego. For a putz."

"No, I'm the dickhead, you're the putz."

"Right. Sorry." Daniel carefully removed the beer bottle from his hand, and after setting it down, he let the fingers of his right hand slide between Jack's. "You are a dickhead, Jack, but that hasn't stopped me from falling for you and it's altogether possible that this birthday is shaping up to be my best ever."

"HA!" Jack crowed, "You do love me."

Daniel leaned in close. "Yeah, Jack, I do. So what are you gonna do about it?"

Jack searched the handsome face so close to his and he took in the soft breath that fanned his cheek. He knew exactly what to do. He turned just enough -- and kissed Daniel.

Daniel's lips were soft and slightly moist and he tasted of beer and more. So much more, and all delicious. Jack could smell Daniel's after-shave and he wondered, abstractly, if he smelled as good as Daniel. He doubted it. Nothing could.

The kiss escalated as Daniel truly joined in and somehow Jack got rid of his beer and managed to get both arms around and over Daniel, who did the same. Jack pulled, almost unconsciously, then he turned and spread his legs a bit, which allowed Daniel to bring one leg up, knee bent, to rest sideways on the stair. Their bodies were meshed together, almost one now and Jack moved his hand up to cup the back of Daniel's head. He deepened the kiss, if that were possible, and suddenly both men were moving into each other, the kiss becoming almost frantic, as if both men acknowledged that for now, this was as close as they could get, as deep inside the other as time and location would permit.

Jack felt so many emotions swirl through him as he delved deeply into Daniel's mouth and soul and that was odd, because usually, when kissing, he only felt pleasure and the beginning release of sexual needs. But now, he felt a strange protective love, a protection far and away greater than any he'd ever shown Daniel before. This was -- almost -- an obsession. A need to ensure that nothing and no one ever hurt Daniel again -- especially Jack O'Neill. As he acknowledged what he was experiencing, he accepted with surprise, that he was somehow getting the same protective feeling back from Daniel. Sweet.

They finally parted, reluctantly, and with eyes shining and lips slightly swollen, they looked at each other and grinned.

"I suppose we should get you back to your party -- I suppose."

Daniel nodded, his gaze firmly fixed on Jack's mouth. "I suppose," he said wistfully.

Laughing softly, Jack rose and extended his arm down to Daniel, who took the offered hand and rose easily, sort of. With a smug grin, Jack nodded at Daniel's groin and asked, "Got a problem, Danny boy?"

"Yeah, and if you're good, you can take care of it later."

"Promises, promises."

They moved through the door and into the hall. As they approached Daniel's front door, he said, "You know, Jack, I always keep my promises."

Jack tugged on Daniel hand until the younger man stopped. Brown eyes gone serious, Jack said, "Yeah, you do, Danny. You do."

"Should we -- I don't know, go after them?"

"Janet, it's only been a few minutes. They'll be back. They obviously needed to talk. You know how things have been since -- Reese."

Before Janet could respond, the front door opened and a moment later, both Daniel and O'Neill stepped up into the living room. That was all the crew needed.

Standing quickly, they all smiled and yelled again, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DANIEL!" Seconds later, Daniel was surrounded by well-wishers, and if anyone noticed how Jack hovered near Daniel's back, his body almost touching the younger man's, they wisely kept silent.

FINIS
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sideburns, 2002.
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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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