Area 52 HKH

What Is Essential (Part 2/2)

by babs & JoaG

URL: http://www.area52hkh.net/asj/joag/essential012.php
Summary: Daniel's world is turned upside down when Jack is brutally murdered before his eyes until a trip to another planet sends his world spinning once more

"Nyan, I told you those papers were important. Can't anyone around this department follow my instructions without screwing them up? And where's that report on the artifacts SG-4 brought back from P1X-223?" Daniel drew in breath, his anger continuing unabated. "No one seems to be able to do their jobs anymore. I asked you to do a simple task, Nyan. I had more faith in your abilities. If people don't want to work for me anymore that's fine. I'll do the job myself. Is that what you want?" Daniel crossed his arms over his chest watching his assistant and the others in the lab cringe.

"Daniel, I did complete the report. I sent it to you yesterday." Nyan stood up. "We all realize you've been busy. We know that Colonel O'Neill's recovery is taking a lot of your time."

"Are you saying I'm not pulling my weight anymore?" Daniel's voice rose ominously. "I've been doing mine and more. And it looks like I'll need to continue to do so."

He clenched his fist around the dog tag and chain in his pocket. Great, now he was getting a headache; just what he needed, another headache to top off the rotten start to his day. Jack's nightmare had Daniel awake and unable to sleep long after Jack had relaxed and fell back asleep. The headaches he'd been experiencing had only increased in intensity over the past week and he wanted to avoid telling Janet because he knew she was going to tell him he needed to take a break. Didn't any of them understand? Daniel swept the papers off the lab table in frustration.

"Damn it, Nyan, can't you keep anything in order so I can find it when I need it?" He stormed out of the lab, aware Nyan was following him. "Didn't I tell you to get to work?" Daniel turned around. "Don't you think you'd better be working on the report that was due to me yesterday instead of following me to offer some paltry apology?"

"Doctor Jackson?"

Daniel whirled at the voice. Doctor Mackenzie was watching Nyan and him, a frown marring his usual neutral features.

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Everything is under control, Doctor Mackenzie," Daniel said in a tight voice. "Some of my staff has decided to ease up on their workloads." Mackenzie didn't budge. "What are you waiting for? Me to screw up so you can cart me back to mental health?"

"Daniel," Mackenzie said in a low voice, "come with me."

"I'm busy." Daniel felt trapped. Nyan and Mackenzie were both studying him and damn his head hurt.

"I said, come with me," Mackenzie repeated. He stepped between Nyan and Daniel. "I need to speak to you. It's important."

"Go, Daniel. I'll find the report for you." Nyan made a shooing motion. "It won't take long."

Daniel ground his teeth and followed Mackenzie who was walking at a rapid pace through the halls. They didn't even take the elevator but rather used the stairs. Daniel balked at the office door.

"I don't need to see you, Doctor Mackenzie. I'm fine."

"Go in," Mackenzie gestured. Daniel glanced at the psychiatrist, suddenly worried about the man's expression. He wondered if Mackenzie was going to tell him something bad about Jack. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he entered the office and stood in front of the small desk there.

Mackenzie closed the door and pointed. "Sit."

Nausea churned Daniel's stomach like it had when he was eleven and had been sent to Principal Torrecetti's office for punching Big Mouth Billy when he made fun of Daniel one time too many.

"Now," Mackenzie said.

Daniel sat in the chair by the desk and pressed his hands between his thighs so the psychiatrist wouldn't notice their trembling. "Is this about Jack?" At Mackenzie's stare, he continued. "About Colonel O'Neill? Jack's been doing really well at his rehab." Daniel clicked his mouth shut, realizing he was starting to babble.

"I don't want to speak to you about Colonel O'Neill." Mackenzie sat down at his desk. Daniel felt his mouth go dry. He studied the picture on the desk, a smiling Mackenzie with his arm around a woman Daniel assumed to be his wife and a gangly boy who must be his son. All of them were dressed in ski gear.

"You ski, Doctor Mackenzie?" Daniel asked, waving his finger at the picture.

"Yes, I do." Mackenzie nodded and leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk. "You want to tell me what the display in the hallway was about, Daniel?"

"Display?"

"Surely you aren't going to tell me that behavior was characteristic of your normal repertoire of dealing with your staff."

Daniel pushed his hand into his pocket, panicking when he couldn't feel the chain. He found it a moment later and began rubbing the small piece of metal while he schooled his face to show no reaction to Mackenzie's words. "My staff hasn't been functioning at their best lately. I needed to take charge." Damn this headache. His head felt like it was in a vise. He rubbed at his forehead, dropping his hand when he noticed Mackenzie was studying him with interest.

"I'm concerned about you, Daniel. I know you've been helping Colonel O'Neill." Daniel opened his mouth to interrupt but Mackenzie continued. "An admirable trait to be sure but I believe it is interfering with your health and your ability to do your job."

Daniel said nothing, only stared at the floor. None of them understood. None of them understood how important it was that he do it all.

"Daniel? Are you okay?" Mackenzie's voice sounded far off. There was a sound of Velcro and a tightening around his bicep. Daniel looked down in a daze to find Mackenzie pumping a blood pressure cuff.

The other man smiled at him. "I am a physician, Daniel."

He knew that. Daniel knew it, but he couldn't find any words to speak. His head was pounding and the nausea was increasing.

"We're going to get you to the infirmary, Daniel." A firm hand was placed on his shoulder. "No, you just sit still. I'm going to call for a wheelchair."

Nodding, Daniel listened as Mackenzie spoke into the phone, his words a jumble. God, he was so tired. If he could just have a night's uninterrupted sleep he'd be fine. He couldn't get sick, Jack was depending on him. His vision grayed around the edges and he felt strong hands holding him up.

"Help's on the way, Daniel," Mackenzie said, his voice strangely reassuring.

Daniel was falling forward and he heard a shout before his world swirled into blackness.

* * * * *

"Your Braille reading is improving, Colonel O'Neill." Major Wendover's voice was warm with praise. "You have quite a talent for it."

Jack grinned towards her. "Not one I wish I needed to display."

"No, but a talent nonetheless." He heard some papers rustling. "I thought we could do some more mobility training tomorrow. We can go downtown and practice your street crossing. I know you haven't gotten much practice at it on your own yet."

Nodding in agreement, Jack checked his watch. The afternoon had flown by with all the hard work he and Major Wendover had done. Once a week they did therapy at the Academy Hospital. It gave him practice on his orientation and mobility skills, learning to use public transportation to get places, but Daniel usually picked him up on these days. He was tired and wanted nothing more than to go home, put on some music, order some take out, and chill with Daniel.

"Sir, I'd like you to consider attending the program in Tucson." It was a familiar issue between the two of them, the rehab program for blind veterans one she'd explained in great detail. "You don't need physical therapy anymore. You are completely mobile and from all I can see, have regained your muscle tone and strength. It would be an excellent program for you, Colonel O'Neill and allow you to become more independent."

"Yes, Major." Jack wondered if his eyes actually rolled anymore when he used that particular tone of voice. "I need some more time." He knew that at some point in the future he needed to consider attending the program, but there was a finality to going to the intensive rehab program. As long as he only had to have sessions with Major Wendover he could pretend that this was only temporary. Jack hated knowing she was right. He hated knowing he needed to get away from Daniel and learn to be independent once more. But Jack also knew he needed to be able to do more. Daniel seemed quieter than usual and he knew Daniel wasn't sleeping well at night. Maybe he and Daniel could have a long talk about the program in a few days. Maybe he could persuade Daniel to drive up to the national park and they could go for a long walk. Now that his strength was nearly completely recovered, Jack felt the need to use it.

"I understand, sir." Her chair scraped back and he heard the click of her heels as she began to put away some of the materials they'd been using. Jack stood and gathered up the book he was reading, taking it over to the shelf. He heard the door open but the next sound wasn't the voice he expected to hear.

"Hello, sir." Jack nearly dropped the book at the sound of Carter's voice, not Daniel's.

"Carter? What are you doing here? Where's Daniel?" Jack took the few steps back to the table and retrieved his cane. "Did something happen to him?"

"He's not hurt, Colonel." Carter was close enough that he could smell the slight vanilla scent of her shampoo. He could also sense the underlying tone of her discomfort and distress. " But I think you'll want to come with me and see him. He's in the infirmary on the base. Are you ready to go?" She hesitated, "Should I...your arm? Your cane?"

"I can use my cane, Carter. I'm pretty familiar with the hospital. I'll take your elbow when we get outside."

"Okay, sir," Carter said, and he followed her down the halls after a quick goodbye to Wendover. She offered him her arm after they walked through the doors. Carter's steps were hesitant; as if she was afraid he'd fall.

"Carter, you can pick up the pace. I'm capable of walking." Jack regretted the harsh tone he used as soon as the words left his mouth. "Sorry, Carter. I know you're not used to this."

"You're forgiven, colonel." She sighed a little. "I'm not parked too far away."

"We're not going to have to ride your motorcycle are we?" Jack joked.

"No, sir. I'm driving your truck." He felt her arm jiggle a little bit as she tried to hold in a laugh.

They didn't speak again until they were both in the car, Sam's car, not Jack's truck he was relieved to note, buckled in and on the way back to the mountain.

"What's wrong with Daniel?" Jack finally broke the silence.

"He's in the infirmary. I don't know the whole story, sir, but I know he's not in any danger. He was with Doctor Mackenzie and from what I understand he collapsed."

"Collapsed? And this is not a danger sign?" Jack swept his hand to the side, cursing his blindness when he couldn't find Carter's cell phone. "Where the hell is your phone, Carter?"

"It's in my purse, sir."

He heard a zipper and then her rummaging around to find it. The car swerved and Jack put out his hand to brace himself. He still couldn't get used to traveling in a car in the grayness that was now his world.

"Sorry, sir."

Jack relaxed as the car came back under control. He heard a few beeps that meant Carter was trying to drive while dialing. "Give it here, Carter." He held out his hand and the small phone was placed in his hand. Damn, his fingers were shaking and he couldn't remember the layout of the numbers. He took a deep breath. "What can you tell me?" He held the phone, trying to think through his worry.

Carter drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. "As I said, sir, I was involved in an experiment on those crystals we, I mean, SG-9 and I, brought back from the Irissin homeworld. General Hammond phoned me and asked if I could pick you up, that Daniel was in the infirmary."

"I'm not blaming you, Carter." Jack pressed the buttons, remembering the placement and held the phone to his ear. A recording came on telling him there was no service available. They must be driving through a dead zone. He wondered where they were exactly. Jack hated the feeling of helplessness when people forgot to tell him his surroundings. He placed the phone on the dashboard. "I just want to know what's going on."

"It must be hard," Carter said a minute later. "Not being able to... I mean, being... Sorry, sir. I was out of line."

"It's okay to say the word, Carter. I know I'm blind. I know people stare when I walk somewhere using my cane. And it is hard learning to rely on something other than sight to see, but I'm alive, Carter. I think all in all I've got a decent deal."

"Yes, sir." Her breath came out in a whoosh and she sounded happier than she had since she'd come to pick him up. "When we get to the SGC do you need me to assist you?"

"I'll take your arm, Carter. We'll get there faster." Jack tapped his fingers on his knee impatiently. "Will we be at the gate soon?"

"Soon, sir. About three more miles." And he felt their speed pick up a little bit. Jack felt for the phone, dialing the number with more confidence, and sighing when it rang.

"Doc?" Jack asked when Fraiser answered the phone. "Why aren't you with Daniel?"

"Daniel is asleep, Colonel O'Neill. I'll brief you on his condition when you get here."

"His condition?" Jack spoke around a dry mouth.

"Sir, Daniel is resting comfortably and he will be fine." Fraiser sounded slightly perturbed at his continued questions.

"Colonel," that was Carter's voice, "we're coming up to the gate."

"I'll be there in less than five, doc," Jack said and pressed off.

It took them three minutes, Jack calculated. Fraiser had him cornered as soon as he walked through the infirmary doors, which didn't relieve his concern over Daniel's current medical state.

"Please, Janet." Jack rarely used her first name but he needed her to understand. Before he would have been content with a glimpse of Daniel in a bed across the infirmary, but now he needed to see Daniel a different way. Needed to touch him, listen to him breathe.

"Sir, I need to get back to my experiment. We're at a critical stage and..."

Jack shooed Carter away with a grim smile. "Go. I'll make sure you're filled in later."

"Yes sir." She patted his arm once and was gone and Jack was left standing, not sure of where he was in the large space of the infirmary.

"Doc, can I see him?" Jack hated the desperate sound of his voice but the sounds of the infirmary seemed louder than usual. He could hear the beeping of what he guessed to be a heart monitor and there were hushed voices floating from a nearby bed. He heard another doctor, a voice he didn't recognize, mention something about the next twenty four hours being critical. Had Carter lied to him? Smells were overwhelming, antiseptic and medicinal at the same time.

"I'm sorry, sir." Jack reached out a hand at those words, groping for something to grab on to when his knees felt watery. "Here, Colonel, take my arm."

Jack waved his hand until he made contact with Fraiser's elbow, realizing how small she was. She began walking and her footsteps led them away from the voices. "We have Daniel in a bed in the back. Right now he's sleeping, so after we give you a chance to sit with him for a few minutes Doctor Mackenzie and I would like to discuss his condition with you."

"Mackenzie?" Jack wondered what the SGC's psychiatrist was doing involved in Daniel's care.

"Daniel was with Doctor Mackenzie when he collapsed," Janet explained. She stopped walking, guiding Jack's hand to the rail of an infirmary bed. Jack gripped the cold metal in relief. "Daniel's hooked up to an IV right now, sir. You're on his left side so be careful you don't dislodge it."

Jack nodded as he slid his hand along the rail, following it towards the head of the bed.

"I'll be back in five minutes, Colonel," Janet whispered and gave his arm a pat.

Jack listened to the soft tap-tap of her heels. He reached out with his left hand, searching for a place to put his cane. He smiled in relief when he made contact with a small bedside table. After placing the folded up cane on it, he held onto the bed rail with both of his hands. He bent closer to the bed, listening to the even sound of Daniel's breathing. He didn't want to wake his lover but Jack needed confirmation that Daniel was somewhat okay. He felt for the headboard and then slid his hand down, smiling as his fingers made contact with Daniel's soft hair. He trailed his fingers along Daniel's skull across an ear and then to the skin of Daniel's cheek. He frowned as he felt the planes of Daniel's face, wondering if Daniel had lost weight because the bones seemed more prominent than he remembered. Daniel's lips were slightly parted and Jack sighed as warm breath touched his fingertips. He missed seeing Daniel asleep. He used to love to wake in the morning and lie in bed, watching his lover sleeping, his face boyishly relaxed. Reluctantly removing his hand from Daniel's face, he slid his fingers across Daniel's collarbone, noting the fabric was a T-shirt instead of a hospital gown. That gave him a little more hope that Daniel's condition wasn't as grim as he'd first assumed. He brushed his fingers down the sweep of Daniel's arm, using the barest touch, the one he'd learned to use when practicing Braille. He managed to avoid the IV stuck in the back of Daniel's hand and found Daniel's long fingers. He squeezed them gently and then patted the unresponsive hand, knowing Daniel must be exhausted if he hadn't awakened by now.

Fraiser's familiar footsteps approached and Jack straightened reaching for his cane. "I'm ready, doc."

"We're going to meet in the briefing room," Janet answered. "Doctor Mackenzie and I need to speak to the rest of SG-1 and General Hammond as well."

Minutes later, seated at the table in the briefing room for the first time since his return home, Jack came to the realization how much his life had changed. 'Well, duh,' he told himself in wry tones, 'you're blind for starters.' He rested his hands flat on the surface then moved his hands to his lap when he feared the others would see the tension in them. Teal'c sat on one side of him, evidently coming from the gym judging from the slight smell of sweat, while Carter flanked him on the other. She was nervous; he could hear the small squeaks her chair made as she tried to get comfortable.

"Doctors Mackenzie and Fraiser?" General Hammond said off to Jack's left. "Are you able to give us a report on Doctor Jackson's condition?"

Jack was glad Hammond was asking because he didn't know if he had any spit left to talk.

Mackenzie began to speak and Jack was struck by the irony that the man who once kept Daniel in a padded cell was now possibly the man who saved his lover's life. Jack had to admit, despite his own misgivings when Janet requested he speak to Mackenzie as he was beginning to gain strength after coming home from Hannara, that the man knew his stuff. The sessions he continued to have with Mackenzie to discuss the nightmare of his life on Hannara and the ramifications of the disease that had robbed him of his sight were helping him to adjust. Maybe not accept but adjust.

"I asked Doctor Jackson to accompany me to my office," Mackenzie began. "He was acting quite out of character in the hallway outside his lab."

"Out of character?" Jack tilted his head, unable to read Mackenzie's emotions in the near monotone.

"Daniel was berating one of his assistants. Nyan, to be exact. He was drawing a large crowd." Mackenzie drummed his fingers on the tabletop. "He came with me and I asked him a few questions once he was seated in my office. It appeared that he had a headache. He kept rubbing his forehead as if in pain and appeared to have trouble following our conversation. He became pale and I called for assistance. I took his blood pressure which was higher than usual. I spoke to him a little longer. He passed out before the medics arrived."

"Daniel woke up in the infirmary," Fraiser continued the tale. "He admitted he hadn't eaten since yesterday at lunchtime."

"We had supper together last night," Jack said, stunned by what he was hearing.

"Evidently you had supper, Colonel. Daniel didn't eat," Janet reported. "I'm quite concerned about him. He's lost some weight, weight I thought he might regain when Colonel O'Neill was found. In addition his blood pressure is a little higher than usual for him. Right now he's receiving an IV to help with the slight dehydration and the low blood sugar. He's sleeping comfortably. But my recommendation, along with Doctor Mackenzie's, is that Daniel be placed on medical leave for a minimum of two weeks. He's headed towards physical collapse if he doesn't take some time to take care of himself."

"I told him he's doing too much," Jack muttered. "Taking care of me is too much extra work."

"I doubt Daniel would agree with that, Colonel O'Neill," Mackenzie said. "And I believe telling him he shouldn't be concerned with your health and rehab would be a disservice. But Daniel doesn't need the stress of being at work right now. He needs time to adjust to your being home."

"Doc?" Jack turned towards the last place he'd heard Janet's voice. "How long is Daniel going to be in the infirmary?"

"I'll probably release him tomorrow morning after Doctor Mackenzie and I have a little talk with him about nutrition and proper rest," Janet said.

Jack thought of the cabin, wondering if a little vacation there would be permitted. He had a sudden longing to get away too, to forget that he was blind; to not be confronted every day with his inability to do his former job. "Will he be able to go on a vacation, doc?"

"I don't see why not," Janet answered, although Jack could imagine her raised eyebrows.

"Colonel," Carter leaned closer, "Teal'c and I would be happy to assist you with making any arrangements."

"Yes, O'Neill. We have been concerned for Danieljackson for many months." Teal'c placed a hand on Jack's shoulder.

"Thanks," Jack said, still unsure of how to accept assistance from anyone without appearing needy. He gripped his cane. "Doc? Do you think maybe I could go back to the infirmary and sit with Daniel for awhile?"

"I think that will be fine, sir," she answered. "If you're ready?"

Jack rose, unfolding his cane, wanting the sense of independence it gave him even while holding Fraiser's arm. He held her arm just above the elbow once more and swept the cane in small arcs as they began their slow walk back to the infirmary. For the first time since realizing he was blind, he wasn't concerned with what other people thought as he walked through the halls. He didn't care if he was getting pitying looks from former colleagues as he and Fraiser walked. He had a purpose and nothing was going to keep him from Daniel's side.

"Sir, I think getting away is a good idea. Daniel has been on what basically amounts to a roller coaster ride these past months." Fraiser stopped walking. A gentle hand was placed on Jack's forearm. "I know he's glad you're back sir. I know your blindness doesn't matter to him. But if I know Daniel he's second guessing every decision he made from the time you went missing and even from the time since you've come home."

"He feels guilty for this," Jack motioned to his eyes. "For what happened."

"Guilt, grief, joy at your being home. Daniel's life has changed too, sir. I think that Doctor Mackenzie and I are guilty of forgetting that." Fraiser's voice trailed off. They stood in silence a moment before her professional voice was back. "Shall I take you to him, sir?"

"Right behind you," Jack said, taking her arm once more, his mind working. Daniel had been taking care of him these past months; it was going to be Daniel's turn to be cared for.

* * * *

"Will we be there soon, Daniel?" Jack's hand tightened on Daniel's elbow, the only outward sign of his distress. The Colorado Springs airport was extremely busy this day and Daniel was well aware of Jack's uneasiness in unfamiliar situations.

"Almost, Jack," Daniel answered. "Step left, suitcase on the floor." Jack followed him around the obstacle, his steps less sure than usual. "Just have another security checkpoint to go through."

Jack's sigh of relief when they stopped was audible. "You go through first, Daniel."

Daniel nodded before remembering he had to say 'yes' and went through the checkpoint after emptying his pockets. He turned and watched as Jack put his cane on the conveyor belt, quickly followed by his wallet and keys. Jack stood still a moment, gaining his bearings.

"Straight ahead," Daniel said, stepping in front of the metal detector. He hated to see the slight hesitation in Jack's steps as he walked. Jack's hand came up, fingers lightly touching the sides of the detector.

"I'm here, Jack." Daniel offered his arm and felt Jack's hand settle above his elbow. "Three steps right."

Jack nodded and followed, reaching down onto the conveyer belt and grabbing not his wallet first, but his cane. Daniel waited while Jack gathered the rest of his belongings.

"Ready?"

Jack took in a deep breath. "Ready, Daniel."

Boarding the plane was accomplished with a minimum of fuss, although Daniel could tell the stress of concentration was beginning to take its toll on Jack. His lover sat on the aisle seat, his hands gripping his folded cane tightly. He could tell Jack had a headache, could see the tension in Jack's jaw.

"Jack?"

Jack turned his head towards Daniel. "I'll be okay. Just need a little time." He tapped his fingers on his cane. "We have the other one, right?"

"Yeah. You packed it. It's in your carry on." Daniel saw Jack wince as another passenger brushed past.

"Sorry," Jack whispered. "It's just..." he shook his head, "there's too much happening."

Daniel leaned over in his seat. "Okay, Jack. Let's get you oriented." He began detailing the interior of the plane, smiling as Jack slid his hand over to his thigh and rested it there.

* * * * * *

They should have driven, Jack thought as the sounds and smells of Denver International Airport assailed his senses. When Daniel hadn't been able to find a direct flight to Minneapolis he should have suggested they drive. No, not they, Jack corrected. Never they again. He wasn't going to be getting behind the wheel of a car again. His momentary lapse of concentration had him stepping into the back of Daniel's sneakers.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

"It's okay, Jack." Daniel's tone was patient. He warned Jack as they approached an escalator. Jack found the handrail and stepped on. Damn, the glasses weren't helping. Shadow and light seemed to swoop down on him and Jack fought down nausea. Daniel's voice intruded, telling him they were soon going to be stepping off the escalator.

Jack managed to get off without falling and nodded for Daniel to continue. They were in a crowd, Jack could tell. He smelled a mixture of perfumes and aftershaves and then the sour scent of perspiration as he was jostled against someone. He heard an, 'I'm sorry,' and then realized he was no longer holding onto Daniel's arm.

"Daniel?" He didn't raise his voice too loud, not wanting to miss Daniel's voice if he was calling Jack's name.

Jack didn't move, paralyzed in momentary panic. He tried to remember what Gwen Wendover had taught him. Tried to remember instructions she'd given him and couldn't think of a single blessed thing. Damn it, he told himself. He'd faced down Goa'uld, laughed in their snaky faces. Surely being lost in an airport was something he could handle. Jack slid his hand down his cane, assembling it, and sweeping it in a small arc.

"Excuse me," he asked as he felt the heat of another body brush by him, "I'm hunting for Concourse A. I have a flight to catch."

"Straight ahead," the person called as he hurried on his way.

You can do this, O'Neill, Jack told himself firmly. He remembered those first hesitant steps he'd taken outside with Gwen by his side. Get a grip; he took a step forward with his right foot as he swept the cane to the left. Daniel's probably just ahead of you, probably headed back your way. He swept the cane back to the right moving his left foot forward. Were people staring at him? When he and Daniel had gone to the mall last week, he'd told himself they weren't but he still thought they were. That bothered him and he didn't know why. Did people look at him with pity? Did they look at Daniel with pity? God, he could handle anything but that.

Concentrate, O'Neill. Come on. You survived Hannara; you can survive anything after that. Jack paused forcing himself to focus and concentrate just as Gwen had reminded him to do. Okay, okay, Jack breathed, he'd always been good with maps, now all he needed to do was remember the way the airport looked the last time he'd been here. He took another step and yet another, unsure but damn it, he was Jack O'Neill, he was going to conquer this the same way he'd faced down Ra and Apophis.

"Jack!" Daniel's frantic voice carried over the crowd. Jack walked faster, headed towards his lover, smiling as he met Daniel halfway.

"I'm sorry," Daniel said his voice breathless and just shy of panic. "There was this crowd of tourists and next thing I knew you weren't there and I was over here."

"Calm down," Jack reached out his hand, finding Daniel's shoulder without too much trouble. "I found you, didn't I?"

"Yeah, yeah you did." Jack could hear the smile in Daniel's voice.

"I did it." Jack repeated, amazed at his accomplishment. "No problem."

"So, you ready to move it? We've got a plane to catch." Daniel hesitated and Jack could almost imagine him frowning and chewing on his lower lip.

Jack held up his cane. "I'm going to practice with this."

Daniel's breath came out in a gust. "Okay. Let's get going then."

* * * *

Jack settled in his seat in the plane still unable to believe what he'd accomplished. He buckled his seat belt and then tilted his head towards Daniel.

"You doing okay?" Daniel asked.

"Yeah." Jack rubbed his forehead. His head hurt; the work and new sensations since leaving home this morning were catching up with him. "Mind filling me in on the layout?"

"Never." Daniel bent his head close to Jack's and spoke quietly. He squeezed Jack's fingers as he finished his description. Jack leaned back in his seat, turning his palm up on the arm rest, an invitation for Daniel to place his hand there. He smiled as Daniel did so.

"Why don't you try to get some rest? You have a headache?" He could hear Daniel turn in his seat.

"Yeah. Bad headache. Nausea." Jack rested his head against the back of his seat. "Light flashes, shadows." He swallowed, hoping he didn't puke all over himself. He could feel the plane begin its taxi, preparing for takeoff.

"Hang on a sec, Jack." Daniel patted his hand and then moments later pressed two small tablets into Jack's hand.

"What is it?" Jack asked even as he tossed the pills into his mouth and dry swallowed.

"Dramamine. Janet thought maybe you'd have some problems with motion sickness."

"Okay." Jack nodded and tried not to groan as they took off, hating the closed off feeling building in his ears, dimming another sense.

"Just rest, Jack. You want to take off your glasses?" Daniel tapped his hand.

Jack nodded again, closing his eyes before he removed them and placed them in the pocket of his shirt. He wondered if he'd dream of sunsets and when he was going to forget what the night sky looked like. He felt Daniel touch the back of his hand and curled his fingers around Daniel's, an anchor in his darkness.

* * * * *

"Jack?" Daniel called, keeping his voice low. "We're at the cabin." He reached out to shake Jack's knee and stopped halfway there remembering Major Wendover's instructions about not touching Jack when he was unaware. He called Jack's name again; the trip had taken a lot out of Jack.

"Daniel," Jack murmured, his left hand coming up to wave in the air. Daniel caught it and squeezed gently. Jack rolled his head towards him, the dark glasses shielding his eyes from Daniel's view.

"You plan on getting out of the car anytime soon, lazybones?" Daniel teased, kissing Jack's knuckles before releasing his hand. He watched as Jack pulled his white cane closer, fingers tensing on the handle.

"Give me a minute." A few deep breaths followed the statement.

"I'll get our bags from the trunk." Daniel patted Jack's knee before exiting the car. He stretched before walking to the back, the tension of the past hours catching up to him. For a few moments in the airport, he'd forgotten. Daniel hadn't noticed Jack was missing, caught up in thinking about the work he would be missing while they took their little vacation to the cabin. Seeing Jack walking towards him with the confidence he used to always show in his stride had filled Daniel's heart with pride even while he berated himself for forgetting Jack's blindness. Daniel yanked out the bags, putting two on one shoulder and then holding one in each hand. He'd made a promise to Jack when he brought him back that they would get through this together. He hadn't realized that Jack was going to need to take part of the journey alone.

The sound of the car door opening pulled Daniel out of his introspection. He plastered a smile on his face, closed the trunk, and stepped around to the passenger side where Jack stood waiting.

"Ready, Jack? I have all the bags." Daniel held them up for Jack to see and then realized how stupid a gesture that had been. Jack gave a quick sharp nod, opening his cane and following Daniel's lead.

Daniel turned to wait for Jack by the cabin door. He watched as Jack tapped his cane against the lowest riser and stretched out his hand for the railing. It wobbled when Jack gripped it and Daniel made a note to fix that. Jack slid his foot, feeling for the next step. He made it up the next two without mishap and stood next to Daniel, a triumphant grin on his face.

Jack rooted in his pockets, searching for the cabin keys. His long fingers ran across the door until they found the keyhole. Daniel let out a breath when Jack successfully opened the door.

"The bedroom is upstairs," Jack said. He swept his cane in a small arc and took steps further into the living room. As if he saw Daniel's hesitation, he waved his hand. "Go, Daniel. Believe me, I can find my way around this cabin. I've been coming here since I was three."

"You mean back in the pioneer days, Jack?" Daniel couldn't resist the comment and smiled when Jack broke into a big grin.

"That's right. Yes, we used to come out here in our Conestoga wagon just for a weekend getaway." Jack made a shooing motion. "Now go, get those bags up to the bedroom then I'll give you a quick tour."

Daniel started up the stairs with the bags, stopping three steps from the top. He turned, another need making itself known. "Jack?"

"Right next door to the bedroom, Daniel," Jack called. He was making his way to the kitchen.

Daniel nodded, ran up the rest of the stairs, deposited the bags in the bedroom, and then made a very necessary stop. He finished washing his hands and went back into the bedroom to unpack their clothes. He arranged Jack's clothes in the closets in the system Major Wendover and Jack had worked out, short sleeve shirts to the far left, long sleeved shirts next, and finally jeans and pants. Jack's underwear went in the top drawer of the dresser while Daniel's went in the lower. He carried their shaving kits into the bathroom, placing the toiletries in the exact same fashion they were placed in at home. Gwen Wendover had repeatedly stressed the vital importance of everything having its own place and Daniel was determined nothing was going to mar this break Jack so desperately needed. He gave one last look around the bathroom, surprised at how clean the cabin was considering it hadn't been opened in nearly a year before remembering Jack called one of the people living in the nearby town. The woman and her husband had a cleaning business opening cabins for the people who owned them.

In the bedroom he put their suitcases and bags in the corner on his side of the bed. Daniel closed his eyes after he looked at the remaining items on the bed. His journal, a few books he'd brought along to read, a book of Jack's, and the spare cane. He ran his fingers over the title page of the book, feeling the raised dots under them. Jack wasn't a fast Braille reader but he had made surprising progress. Once Doctor Molinari admitted he doubted Jack's vision would return in any fashion that would allow him to function as someone with limited sight rather than blind, Jack pushed himself harder. Daniel sighed getting up from the bed. He placed his hand in his pocket, relieved to close his fingers over the familiar chain and metal. He rubbed it, ashamed he needed the talisman but unable to bear having it out of reach. He opened the windows on his way out of the bedroom and scanned the floor, making sure nothing could trip an unseeing Jack. Then Daniel plastered a smile on his face and closed the door, praying the next week would be uneventful.

* * * * * *

"Everything okay, Daniel?" There was a change in Daniel's footsteps, his normal gait almost hesitant. He heard the scrape of the chair as Daniel pulled it away from the kitchen table.

"Fine, Jack. I put our stuff away. Same system you and Gwen worked out. I hope you don't mind." The chair squeaked as Daniel moved in it.

Jack shook his head. "Can you help me out with this, Daniel?" Jack ran his fingers over the canned goods he'd asked the Arnnison's to purchase. Daniel was at his side in three quick steps. "I didn't think about bringing my Braille label maker," Jack apologized. He took a breath, smelling Daniel's aftershave, a comfort in itself.

"I can do the cooking, Jack," Daniel offered. His arm brushed against Jack's, his fingers sliding over Jack's where they rested on a can.

"No." Jack raised a finger and wagged it, hoping he was doing it somewhere in front of Daniel's face. "You need a vacation too, Daniel. I just need you to tell me what all of it is. We can organize it." Jack pushed some of the cans to the back of the counter and smiled. "Or I could just open them and pour them into pots and see what we get."

There was a faint chuckle from Daniel at the comment, a sound Jack was hearing far less often than he liked. "Okay, let's see what we've got." Daniel moved even closer and Jack enjoyed the warmth of the other man's body heat. It was short work for Daniel to read the labels and Jack to organize the cans to his liking. They stood at the counter when they finished.

"Daniel?" Jack reached out, encountering Daniel's forearms. He slid his hands up to Daniel's shoulders, frowning at the tense muscles. He missed seeing Daniel. Missed the blue eyes, the mobile mouth. He opened his right hand, seeking Daniel's face. Daniel turned his cheek into Jack's palm and Jack rubbed his fingers across the skin. He stretched his fingers and felt the lines of tension around Daniel's eyes. "Oh God, Daniel." Jack brought up his other hand, pulling Daniel close for a gentle kiss.

Daniel leaned into him; Jack held him close. "You're tired, Danny." Movement against his neck caused him to tighten his hug. "Yes you are. I can tell. Come on, let's go in the living room. You can take a nap."

Daniel turned and Jack placed his hand above his elbow, letting Daniel lead them into the room.

"Sofa," Jack ordered and waited until he heard Daniel sit down. "Stay there."

"You make it sound like I'm your pet dog, Jack." Daniel's grumpiness held a tinge of amusement.

"I'm going to go get a pillow and blanket for you." Jack was grateful he'd brought his cane with him from the kitchen. He knew the layout of the cabin but wasn't sure of the dimensions now that he couldn't see. "I'll be right back."

Jack counted the steps from the sofa to the stairs, then to the bedroom. He opened the chest at the end of the bed and pulled out a blanket smelling of wool and cedar. He patted his way along the length of the bed until he found the pillows and tucked one under his arm. His fingers found the Braille book and Jack decided he'd come back for it once Daniel was asleep. Jack made his cautious way back to the living room. "Daniel?" He kept his voice soft. When there was no answer he stepped closer to the sofa placing the pillow and blanket on the floor. Jack patted the sofa cushion and bumped Daniel's thigh. He smiled as he explored further. Daniel had fallen asleep sitting up, one arm holding up his head.

"No way you're gonna be comfortable like that, Daniel," Jack whispered. He sat on the sofa, reaching down for the pillow and placing it at the other end. He sighed as he got up to go back to the bedroom to retrieve his book, gaining confidence as the mission was successful.

"Okay," Jack whispered to his sleeping lover as he settled on the sofa once more. "Let's see about getting more comfortable." He tugged on Daniel's shoulders and was rewarded with a sleepy, "Jack?"

"Scoot down, Daniel." Jack kept one hand on Daniel's shoulder. He patted the pillow listening as Daniel moved on the sofa and finally settled stretched out with one hand resting on Jack's thigh.

Jack pulled the blanket over Daniel, smiling when he heard Daniel's sigh at the warmth. The cabin was soon silent except for the sound of deep even breathing and the whisper of fingers scanning the pages of a book.

* * * * * *

Daniel stretched his legs, wiggling his toes under the blanket. He sniffed before opening his eyes, smelling woodsmoke and coffee.

"Jack?" He sat up, noticing the logs alight in the fireplace and Jack's book placed carefully on the table. Sounds from the kitchen drifted into the living room and Daniel stood cautiously, stretching by raising both arms over his head. The nap had helped. The headache he'd been battling since their departure from Denver was gone. He grabbed his glasses from the table and walked into the kitchen smiling as he saw his lover at the counter. Jack was preparing a salad for their supper, his fingers curled under as he methodically sliced a tomato. Daniel waited until Jack finished the task before clearing his throat.

"Hey, Daniel." Jack turned to him with a big smile. "I thought we could have something simple. Salad and hot dogs sound okay to you?"

"We're going to cook them in the fireplace?" Daniel couldn't help the eagerness that tinged his voice. He walked the few steps to Jack slipping his arms around Jack's waist from behind. He nuzzled Jack's neck, placing a kiss at the juncture of Jack's collarbone and neck.

"You keep that up, we're not going to be having any supper," Jack murmured. Daniel rested his head on Jack's shoulder, watching as Jack pulled the salad bowl closer and slid the tomatoes into it. He remembered the first days when Jack was back in the familiar environment of his house and finding Jack lost in the kitchen, a look of terror on his face when he couldn't find a glass to pour himself a drink of water. There were still obstacles to overcome, plenty of them, but Daniel thought maybe they were both adjusting. Jack pushed the bowl further back on the counter and wiped his hands on a towel he'd tucked in the waistband of his khakis.

"How's your headache?" Jack turned, his hand coming up to Daniel's face and lightly tracing the skin at his temples. "You feeling better?"

"Yeah, better." Daniel closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation of Jack's fingers against his skin. "Guess I needed a nap after all." He smiled, knowing Jack could feel the change in his facial muscles.

"You realize if I don't bring you back in better condition than when we left, Doc Fraiser is gonna have my head?" Jack chided gently. "Let me take care of you for a little, Daniel."

Daniel nodded into Jack's hand. "Okay." His stomach gave a rumbling growl.

Jack laughed. "First thing on the agenda: feeding. You want to bring the salad and some bowls into the living room? I can get the hot dogs and buns. And then maybe if you eat your meal like a good archaeologist, I'll let you have dessert." Jack waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

"S'mores?" Daniel asked.

"I was planning on something a little more, um, adventurous than that, Daniel."

"Yeah, well, you haven't seen just how creative I can be with melted chocolate and marshmallows, have you, Jack?" Daniel leaned in to breathe against Jack's lips before grabbing the salad and walking into the living room.

* * * *

"I've been thinking, Daniel," Jack murmured as he lay with his head on Daniel's legs.

"Umhm." Daniel continued his slow rubbing of Jack's head, the motion as comforting and soothing to him as it was to his lover. How could he be tired? He was used too far more hours without sleep than he'd had today. Of course the aftermath of his showing Jack just what could be done with s'mores might have worn him out a tad. Daniel opened his eyes and looked down into Jack's face. Jack's eyes were open; the brown iris totally exposed once more, but the light that had always sparkled there missing.

"Thought maybe tomorrow we could go fishing for awhile and then we could experiment with the s'mores again." Jack grinned and then yawned.

"Sounds nice, Jack," Daniel whispered. He turned his head and yawned. "You about ready for bed?"

"Mmm." Jack's eyes drifted closed and Daniel nudged him.

"Move, Jack. I'll get the stuff cleaned up and then we can go up to bed." Daniel stood when Jack sat up.

"I can help," Jack offered.

"I'll take care of it." Daniel kissed the top of Jack's head. "You made supper, I'll do clean up duty. Besides, you've had a long day."

"Daniel." Jack's tone held a warning. "Don't patronize me. I'm blind, not a child."

"I know that, Jack. And you also spent most of the day in unfamiliar situations. Don't tell me you're not tired."

"I won't." Jack leaned forward, grabbing for Daniel's hand and missing. Daniel felt his stomach give a lurch when Jack settled back against the sofa, his face impassive. "I just want to forget for awhile, Daniel. Forget about this," he gestured at his eyes. "Forget about lost opportunities."

Daniel wanted to tell him he couldn't forget. It wasn't that easy. The dreams still haunted Jack at night. Daniel woke up more than once to hear Jack's muttered pleas for his Hannaran master to stop the pain.

He swallowed hard and gathered the debris from their impromptu picnic. He wanted to forget too. Forget his own failure; forget his own responsibility for Jack's current state. Daniel walked into the kitchen with his burden knowing it was a no win situation.

Staring out into the dark night, he was unable to see stars from the window wondering what it was like for Jack. Daniel shoved his hand into his pocket, searching for the chain in its depths. The feel of the familiar shape, the warmth of the metal as it heated from his grip, brought his breathing back under control. He turned on the faucet and plugged up the sink and lost himself in the mundane task of washing dishes.

* * * *

Leaning back in his chair, Jack tilted his head up, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight. The fishing rod hung loosely in his hand and he reached down into the cooler for a soda. Since he'd realized that his condition was permanent, he rarely allowed himself the indulgence of even a beer finding it blurred his remaining senses just enough to disorient him slightly. He turned his head towards Daniel, hearing the scratch of Daniel's pen on paper.

"Whatcha doin', Danny?"

"Hmm?" Daniel's distracted murmur made Jack smile. This vacation was doing them both good, although at night when Daniel spooned up behind him, he could still tell Daniel's weight wasn't what it should be. The Xanax Doctor Mackenzie had prescribed seemed to be helping. The last few nights Jack woke to hear Daniel sleeping soundly, unlike the past few months where Daniel had been restless and often awake far into the night.

"I hope you're not working, Doctor Jackson." Jack used the sternest tone he could muster which wasn't very stern considering how relaxed he felt at the moment.

"Uh huh." Another distracted sound from Daniel and Jack let it rest. He had more important things to do than bug Daniel. Number one was going to be soaking up the sun, letting the light fill him until he could recall with crystal clarity the sight of a bright blue summer sky. He could distinguish light and dark but he wasn't really able to see sunshine like before. It was more a sensing of light. The gray world he now inhabited was simply less gray than it was when it was dark. It had rained their first two days at the cabin; he'd never minded the rain before he lost his sight. He'd always been able to find something to do. But although Major Wendover assured him he was making remarkable progress with his skills, reading Braille was still a laborious task. He listened to books on tape a few times but was determined to be able to read again. Of course it wasn't as if he and Daniel hadn't found things to do to occupy their time, spending most of the first full day there in bed getting reacquainted with each other's bodies.

Daniel had finally left him alone in the kitchen the second day. Jack had imagined Daniel walking around with a perpetual frown of worry the entire day, or at least every time Jack disappeared into the kitchen to make them a meal. No wonder Daniel's blood pressure was high, Jack thought. In his last session with Doctor Mackenzie, the psychiatrist had brought up the possibility of doing some sessions with Daniel and Jack together. Jack knew Daniel would benefit from the sessions, but he wasn't sure if he should bring the possibility up here at the cabin or wait until they got home. Jack let his thoughts drift back to home and the SGC. General Hammond was expecting an answer from him within two days of their return.

"You're the best we have on training new recruits on what it's like to go through the Gate, Jack," Hammond had said a few weeks ago. "I'd like you to consider the position I'm offering you." There had been no pity in Hammond's voice, simply an offer for Jack to continue working somewhere he loved, doing a job that was of the utmost importance.

Definitely a conversation he and Daniel needed to have; Jack made a mental note. He took a swig of soda, glad Daniel didn't insist on diet sodas the way Carter always did whenever they had a get together. A light tug on his line had him alert in a second. Jack sat up beginning to reel in the line. Felt like a big one from the pull he could sense. He heard Daniel's feet plunk down on the deck beside him.

"You have something, Jack?" Daniel sounded slightly breathless and excited.

"No, Daniel. I thought I'd just reel in my line for the hell of it." Jack grinned. "Of course I have something. Get the net."

He felt Daniel's arm brush against his as he reached for the net at Jack's feet. "Got it," Daniel breathed. Jack stood, feeling Daniel move with him, so close he could feel the warmth of Daniel's skin through the material of his long sleeved tee shirt.

"Can you see it, Daniel? It should soon be coming to the surface. I don't have much line left." Jack stopped reeling a moment, letting line play out between his fingers. The boards of the dock creaked as Daniel took a step closer to the edge. There was a little shuffling noise as Daniel knelt on the dock.

"Should I put the net in the water, Jack?" Daniel asked.

"Can you see the fish?" Jack asked him. The line under his fingers was wet and Jack could smell the lake water as the line wound back onto his reel.

"I see it. I think I see it." Daniel's voice was fainter than it had been a moment before and Jack imagined him leaning down closer to the water to see beneath the surface. "Looks big, Jack."

"Put the net in," Jack instructed. "As he's coming up towards the surface you kinda scoop him in." He took a step back, knocking his leg against his chair and hearing it clatter to the dock. "Get him?" There was a swishing sound as Daniel put the net in the water and moved it. The weight and pressure was suddenly gone as Daniel lifted the net out of the water.

"Smallmouth bass," Daniel announced. "Nice size."

Jack held out his hand and Daniel grasped it gently. "Careful, Jack. The net's just in front of you." Jack felt Daniel's fingers tighten on his and he got to his knees. He skimmed his fingers along the metal handle of the net.

"You know it's a smallmouth bass?" Jack asked, continuing his fingers along the rim, feeling the dripping netting beneath them.

"I read, Jack," Daniel said. "Figured if you were going to have me come fishing I should know what kinds of fish there are in the lakes." Daniel guided Jack's fingers to the fish. "What are you going to do with him?"

"Put him back." Jack let his fingers linger a moment on the cool wetness of the fish, amazed that he could feel the scales on his fingertips. He removed the hook with a skill borne from years of practice and then scooted back a little, sliding his fingers back to the handle. He lifted it slightly. "Okay, Daniel?"

"Yeah. Straight ahead and then lower it," Daniel said. Jack nodded at the instructions. He felt a slight wiggle in his hands as the fish left the net.

"Thanks, Daniel." Jack pulled the net back and placed it on the dock. He felt a supreme sense of accomplishment and couldn't help grinning.

"You're welcome, Jack." Daniel stood up. The boards bounced under Jack's knees. "Need a hand?"

Jack stretched it up without comment, feeling warm fingers grasp his hand once more and pull him up. He slid his foot forward, knocking it into his overturned chair. Jack bent down to right it.

"You always let them go, Jack?" Daniel asked.

Jack shrugged before nodding. "Most of the time. Hell most of the time I don't catch anything. It's not like I have to worry about it too often."

Daniel laughed and Jack found himself laughing along. For the first time in a long time, things were starting to feel right again. Jack felt for his chair and then sat down again, yawning.

"Jack?"

"Daniel?"

"You mind if I head back up to the cabin?" He could hear Daniel gathering his books. "I think I'm going to take a shower."

Jack waved a hand at him. "Go on up. I'll be up in a little while. I'm going to just enjoy the view." There was a little intake of breath from Daniel at his comment. "I can't see it, Daniel. But I can feel it. I need to absorb it."

"I under...well no, I don't. I can't understand but I do." Daniel bent down to give Jack a kiss.

"I know you do, Daniel." Jack placed his hand on Daniel's cheek, feeling a bit of heat from what might have been a little too much sun. "I'll be up soon. And if you feel up to driving, I thought maybe we could go out for dinner. The Lumberjack Lodge is about forty five minutes away."

"You want to go out?" Daniel asked, a tone of mild disbelief creeping into his voice.

Jack did want to. He'd resisted all of Daniel and Major Wendover's attempts to get him to eat in a restaurant since his return to Earth. He couldn't hide forever. It was time he learned to live again. "Yes. I want to." Jack fingered his watch. It was fifteen hundred. "We could leave about seventeen hundred. We'd get back here before it's too late."

"I'd like that, Jack." Daniel was smiling. He could tell. Daniel's voice always sounded lighter when he was smiling. "You want me to take some of this gear up with me?"

"We can leave the chairs here overnight, but yeah, you wanna grab the net and the cooler? Just hang up the net on the hook on the porch."

"Will do." There were some sounds of scuffling feet and a huff as Daniel lifted the cooler. "I'll be out of the shower by the time you get up to the cabin," he called as he walked away.

Jack waved a hand over his head and then settled back in his chair to relax. He drifted awhile, drowsy in the afternoon heat. His shin began to itch and Jack bent forward to scratch it, his fingers coming in contact with the raised scar left from one of his Hannaran master's whippings. It had been a miracle. Maybe he hadn't been able to see it before, but he could see it clearly now even if he was blind. Daniel's finding him was nothing less than a miracle. The fact he was alive, sane and functioning, was a miracle. Hiding away, wishing he was dead, was a waste of the time he'd been granted. The Hannarans who kept slaves, the priests on that planet he couldn't even remember the name of, they were the ones who won if Jack didn't go on with the business of living. He had so much. The chance to do a job he'd love and be good at, Carter and Teal'c and their support, health, and Daniel. He'd almost lost it all, almost died alone as so much trash but he hadn't. By some unexplained, undeserved miracle he hadn't.

Moving his foot, Jack felt for his fishing rod. He dropped his hand to the side of his chair and felt his tackle box. His cane was hanging over the back of his chair. Although he knew his way around the interior of the cabin, getting around outside was still a bit of a challenge. Jack opened his cane, gathered his rod and tackle in the other hand, and walked back towards the cabin, his steps surer than they had been earlier in the day.

The shower was shutting off as Jack opened the door. His tackle box and fishing rod were carefully placed to the left of the door next to the net. Jack folded his cane and placed it on the chair right inside the door, not needing it inside the cabin. Jack rubbed at his face. He was going to need his own shower before they ventured out. There was still time. He needed some water after the being in the heat. Jack walked towards the kitchen, keeping count of the paces under his breath. He touched the doorway as he passed through and then his right foot caught on the edge of something and he was tumbling helplessly to the floor. It had been one of the first lessons Major Wendover had taught him. Falling 101 he'd dubbed it; it had come in handy more than once and Jack had taken more than his fair share of tumbles as he learned to navigate through his darkened world.

Nothing hurt more than his pride, Jack decided as he did a quick assessment. His hand stung a bit where he'd hit it on the floor but a quick touch with his fingers confirmed it was nothing more than a slight brushburn. He reached out, wondering what he'd tripped over. His fingers felt plastic and Jack realized it was the cooler. Daniel must have put it on the floor and forgotten about it. He placed his hands back on the floor ready to push himself up. Feet pounded down the stairs.

"Jack?" Daniel called while still in the living room. "Oh God, Jack." Daniel's voice was frantic. "You okay?"

Jack hadn't gained his feet before he realized Daniel was kneeling next to him. Shaking hands touched his shoulders and then his head. "I'm fine, Daniel. Just tripped." He pulled up his hands to cover Daniel's slightly damp ones. "Trust me. It's not the first time I've fallen. It won't be the last."

"You tripped," Daniel repeated and Jack felt a jerky movement as Daniel pulled away. "You tripped," it was a whisper now. He heard Daniel breathe in and hold it for a few seconds. "The cooler. I forgot to put the cooler back where it belongs."

"Daniel?" Jack didn't like the sound of anguish in his lover's voice. He smiled, hoping Daniel was looking at him. "Hey, it was an accident. I told you I'm fine."

"You could have hit your head on the table," Daniel said, his voice a monotone. "I...I didn't remember."

"It's okay." Jack tried to reach out but Daniel was moving away chanting a soft, 'No no no no.'

"Daniel? Hey, Danny." Jack wasn't prepared for the sound of Daniel scrambling away from him.

"Stay away," Daniel cried out. "Don't."

Jack froze, listening as Daniel's footsteps retreated to the living room. God, please don't let him go outside. Jack knew he'd be able to track Daniel anywhere in the cabin but if he went outside Jack didn't know if he'd be able to find him. He heard pacing and pushed himself to his feet, walking into the other room.

"Daniel, come on, why don't we sit down?" Jack urged. He walked forward until he encountered the sofa. But the pacing was continuing along with muttering Jack couldn't quite hear. He headed towards the sound, hoping his presence would calm Daniel down. Jack cursed his blindness; unable to see he was also totally unable to assess Daniel's mental state.

"Danny?" Jack waited until the footsteps grew closer and reached out to try to snag an arm.

"Don't you see, Jack?" Daniel was backing away again and Jack let his hands fall uselessly to his sides. "Don't you see?" His voice rose and cracked. "No, no. You can't see. You can't. My fault. This is my fault."

Jack swallowed hard, his heart pounding with fear for Daniel who was sounding dangerously close to a breaking point.

"I shouldn't have believed them. Should have gone back. But I thought, I thought you were dead, Jack."

The pacing stopped and Daniel's voice was coming from one area now, the wall nearest to the stairs. Jack began to approach him, wondering if Daniel even realized Jack was in the room with him.

"I thought you were dead. They said you were. Found the boot and the packs and the tags. I should have gone back, demanded they tell me where you were."

"Daniel, you thought I was dead. All the evidence showed I was." Jack slid his foot forward and felt Daniel's foot. He could picture Daniel's position, on the floor, hunched against the wall. Jack lowered himself to the floor.

"No, yes. We left you, Jack. We left you. I heard your screams. I knew they were killing you. I knew."

"You were hurt, Daniel. You couldn't stay." General Hammond had briefed Jack on that last disastrous mission before Hannara.

"It should have been me. * Me * Jack. Not you," Daniel yelled. "I was responsible. * Me *. "

"Daniel." Jack touched Daniel's foot, sighing when it was jerked out from under his fingers.

"This is my fault. My fault you're blind. Oh God, Jack, if I could take your place I would."

"I know."

"You don't know. You don't, Jack. They were beating you on that fucking planet, throwing you away like garbage, and I was living my life here." Daniel leaned forward. Jack could feel the heat from Daniel's body, the gust of his breathing. "You don't know. I failed you. Like my parents, like Sha're. You were dying. And I was ready to start living again." Daniel's breath was coming in short, hard bursts. "If I'd insisted we go back, maybe we'd have found you sooner. The disease. Jack, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It should have been me."

"Daniel," Jack walked his fingers along the floor until he touched Daniel's sweat pant covered leg. He moved alongside him putting an arm around Daniel's shoulders. "I would never, ever, wish this on you."

"I was laughing, Jack. You were just around the corner and I was laughing," Daniel whispered.

"And that's okay, Danny. It's okay." Jack pulled Daniel closer, hating the sound of the harsh painful breathing.

"You're blind." There was the sound of hard swallowing and Jack felt warm tears drop on his hand. "You're blind, Jack, and I'm so sorry."

It wasn't pity, Jack knew. Never pity from Daniel. Jack pulled him tight against his chest, holding on as sobs began to shake Daniel's frame. He rocked them both, murmuring a soft 'shh,' and stroking Daniel's back and hair. "We're gonna be fine. Gonna be fine."

He had no sense of how long they sat there, only that the brighter gray began to turn into the darker gray. Daniel's breathing had changed into the even rhythm of sleep but still Jack sat with him, holding Daniel as he went through his own personal darkness. The body under Jack's hands tensed and Jack realized Daniel was awake.

"Hey, Danny," Jack whispered.

There was no answer, just a squeeze to his waist.

Jack moved his hand, brushing damp hair away from Daniel's forehead. "You feeling okay?" Daniel's head nodded against his chest.

"Just, you know, tired." Daniel tried to sit up but Jack kept him in place a few moments longer. He covered Daniel's fist with his hand.

"What is it, Daniel?" Jack asked. "What's in your hand?"

"You were gone." The fist opened and the chain and dog tags Jack had found months ago in Daniel's pocket was dropped into Jack's hand. "It was all I had left. A reminder of my own stupidity and arrogance. I didn't want to let you go. It was all they found."

"Guess carrying my boot around would have been a little hard, huh?" Jack smiled, keeping his fingers on Daniel's face, relieved to feel a smile form. He sobered then. "Daniel, if I had a choice I wouldn't be blind. But don't ever take the burden of guilt on yourself. Don't. You did what you had to do, what I would have ordered you to do." Jack paused to kiss Daniel's forehead. "Do you remember when I first came back? You told me everything would be fine because we'd make sure it was. * We *, Daniel. We're a team. A hell of a team."

"Sorry," Daniel whispered after another nod under Jack's hand. "Sorry I sort of lost it."

Jack hoped he wasn't going to just undo all the progress of the last few minutes with his next suggestion. "I think when we get back home you and I should see Doctor Mackenzie together. Or you can go alone if you want. I think it might be a good idea, Daniel."

There was a long silence and then a quiet 'okay.' Jack squeezed his shoulders.

"You think maybe we could get up from here, Daniel?" Jack asked. "Otherwise my ass is going to be permanently numb."

Daniel's weight shifted and soon Jack was pulled to his feet by his lover. He heard Daniel yawn.

"Sorry, Jack," Daniel said and promptly yawned again. "I sort of ruined the dinner plans."

Jack shook his head. "We can go tomorrow night. How about we go in the kitchen? You need to drink some water. You probably have a headache, you're starting to dehydrate. I can make some soup. Then we can turn in."

"Lead the way, Jack." Daniel yawned. "Sounds good to me."

Jack listened to Daniel's soft breathing as they lay in bed. One of Daniel's arms was flung across Jack's chest and Jack tangled his fingers in Daniel's hair. People made a big deal of courage. Jack had heard whispers as he walked past some of the people in the SGC. Too bad Daniel's courage went largely unnoticed, believing in Jack when Jack had nearly lost belief in himself, continuing to do his job when his world fell apart yet again. Daniel murmured in Abydonian and Jack smiled.

"I love you too, Daniel," he whispered before closing his eyes and summoning up Daniel's smile in his dreams.

* * * * * * * *

"Daniel, time to rise and shine." Daniel groaned and turned over in the bed, pulling the pillow and the blankets over his head for good measure.

"Go 'way." Daniel reached out to push Jack away. "It's too early to get up. We're on vacation."

"It's 0900." Jack was persistent if nothing else. "There's coffee and bacon and eggs waiting for you downstairs."

It was a losing battle. Daniel finally threw the covers down from his head and glared at Jack. Of course the glare didn't do any good when the person you were glaring at couldn't see you.

"I'm giving you the evil eye, Jack," Daniel pointed out as he sat up.

"That's one better than the two I have." Jack shrugged before leaning in closer and touching Daniel's arm. "You sleep well?"

"Yeah, yeah I did." Daniel covered Jack's hand. "I'm sorry about last night." He studied the blanket, noticing there was a little moth hole in it.

"I think you were a little overdue for it, Daniel." Jack lifted his hand, finding Daniel's face. He ran gentle fingers over Daniel's eyes, along the temples, and then finally down to Daniel's lips. "Carter told me how you kept going all those months. You never took time to grieve. It's not surprising it all was gonna come crashing down sometime."

"I guess there's nowhere to go but up, huh?" Daniel kissed Jack's fingertips.

"You and me," Jack whispered then he cleared his throat. "Now, are you going to get your butt outta bed?"

Daniel tilted his head. "Just how long have you been up, Jack?"

"Since about 0500. I was reading." Jack stood up. "I thought maybe today we could go for a walk in the woods and then take our time driving to the Lumberjack Lodge. There are a couple of antique shops on the way if you want to go in them." Jack sounded hopeful.

"Sounds good, Jack. I'll be down soon." Daniel got out of the bed. "Won't take me long."

Less than an hour later they were tramping through the woods near the cabin, dead leaves crunching underfoot. Daniel walked slightly ahead, on the lookout for any possible hazards while Jack followed using his cane. They were quiet except for an occasional warning; Daniel not wanting to ruin the peace of the forest with words and also knowing the concentration Jack was exerting. Hiking in the forest wasn't the same thing as a trip around the grocery store or mall. Daniel took in the early summer colors of the foliage. Here and there, violets peeped from underneath branches, a little burst of purple in the green and brown. A bird flew overhead, a splash of yellow against blue. He tried to imagine the world gone dark and couldn't. As they lay in bed last night, Jack told him his world wasn't a dark cave, but rather a foggy gray that darkened and lightened according to his surroundings. There was so much color in the world; how could Jack cope with it being gone? 'Stupid question, Jackson,' Daniel told himself. He dealt with it because he had no choice. Jack was never one to give up. Faced with the choice of death whether of body or soul or life, Daniel knew he'd choose the same as Jack. Jack's words this morning telling him he was grieving were true. There was hope, Daniel knew, because at some point acceptance was a possibility. He had no doubt he and Jack would reach it; they were beginning to grasp it now.

"Daniel, stop," Jack called out. He had to resist the urge to take the few steps back to Jack's side and stood waiting until Jack reached him.

"Everything okay?"

"Fine," Jack smiled. Daniel studied him and knew it was the truth. "I want you to try something, Daniel."

"You're not going to have me gather some bark and twigs and make us lunch are you?" Daniel joked.

"Nah, we'll do that tomorrow." Jack laughed. He held his cane in front of him, standing tall and sure. "No, I want you to close your eyes."

Daniel obliged. "Okay, eyes closed, Jack."

"Now, be," Jack ordered.

"Be?"

"Be."

Daniel shrugged and kept his eyes closed. A breeze he hadn't noticed before whispered against his skin and he could hear it touching the highest branches of the trees surrounding them. Birds chirped from far off, probably deeper in the woods where it was cooler. There was a whiny buzz at his ear and he raised his hand to wave it away, feeling the lightest brush of the insect against his arm. Sweat trickled down the back of his neck itching when it dried. Jack's breathing was strong and even beside him and he could smell Jack's aftershave and the insect repellent they both wore along with the heat of Jack's body. Daniel licked his lips tasting salt. Above them tree branches creaked in the wind and there was a sudden sound of leaves shaking. A squirrel, Daniel guessed, jumping from one branch to another. He smiled as he heard the chattering confirming his guess. More whining buzzes and a slight sting as a mosquito bit his forearm. So much for the insect repellent working. Rustling again but this time in front of them and not in the trees. Jack's hand tightened on Daniel's and much as he wanted to, Daniel resisted the urge to open them. He scarcely breathed wondering if there were bears in these woods. He could hear the sound of first one foot and then another being placed delicately upon the ground and breathing that wasn't his or Jack's. There was another step and then a pause before he heard leaves scatter and the sound of something large running. His face felt hot and he swallowed hard a few times digging his fingernails into his palm. Jack shifted beside him and moved closer.

"Now you see what I do." The whisper tickled his ear.

"It's beautiful, Jack," Daniel whispered back, opening his eyes. Jack was smiling at him and Daniel brought his hands to Jack's face, cupping it between them. "Your world is beautiful. Thank you."

Jack turned his head, kissing Daniel's palm. He stepped away then, switching his cane's position, and they started walking again.

"Jack?"

"Yeah, Daniel?"

"Um, are there bears in this forest?"

"It was a deer, Daniel. Trust me, it was a deer."

Daniel twisted in his seat at the Lumberjack Lodge. The walls were filled with old photographs he wanted to examine more closely. This place was definitely more upscale than Daniel expected. He looked at his jeans and shirt and then noticed the other diners were dressed the same way. Jack had asked to be seated near the fireplace and, even though it was a summer evening, the cheerfully burning logs provided a needed warmth in the dining room.

Jack had his menu on the table, his fingers curled around it. A perky waitress soon came to their table, placing two water glasses on it along with a basket of crackers and cheese spread.

"Anything for you gentlemen to drink?"

"Ginger ale," Jack said.

"I'll have the same." Daniel looked at Jack who sat ramrod straight in his seat. He waited until the waitress left. "Jack?"

Taking a deep breath, Jack pushed the menu away. "So what are the possibilities?"

Daniel nudged his foot against Jack's under the table as he began to read the menu to his lover. Jack moved his hand to Daniel's knee and squeezed it gently, a small gesture of thanks. He knew Jack was nervous. They'd stopped at three antique shops along the way. Jack had made it into the first two but said he'd stay in the car at the last one; the narrow aisles and constant being on guard wearing down his defenses. Daniel came out to the car to find Jack dozing in the sun. He'd been ready to suggest they head back to the cabin but Jack was determined to eat at the restaurant.

"If you keep that up, Jack, I'm not going to be able to keep reading," Daniel shifted in his seat at Jack's continued massaging of his knee. Jack grinned, his eyes fixed slightly to the left of Daniel's face.

"I'll take my chances."

"You'll starve," Daniel retorted and continued reading the selections to Jack.

"Daniel," Jack teased, "you of all people should know man does not live on bread alone." Jack smiled at his lover with what he hoped was an appropriate leer while continuing his massage.

The waitress was back with their drinks a few minutes later.

"Are you both ready to order?" She paused with her pen in hand.

"Jack?" Daniel covered Jack's hand and stopped the massaging. "You know what you want?"

The waitress turned to Daniel after Jack's nod. "What will your friend be having?"

Daniel looked at Jack and opened his mouth ready to set the woman straight. A warning squeeze from Jack had him closing it the next second.

"I'll have the trout almondine, filleted please. Baked potato, sour cream and butter, and the house dressing on my salad," Jack answered for himself. "Daniel, what are you going to have?"

Taking a deep breath, Daniel placed his own order, waiting until the waitress left to lean across the table. "She should know better."

Jack shrugged. "It's over, Daniel. Let's just enjoy our evening, okay? It's not worth getting upset about." He smiled and moved his hand on the table, finding Daniel's and clasping it. "Relax, Daniel."

The meal was delicious, the atmosphere peaceful and laid back. Daniel hummed along with the tape as he drove them back to the cabin.

"Daniel?" Jack shifted in his seat. "I want to talk to you about something."

"I'm listening, Jack." Daniel clenched his fingers on the steering wheel although his voice sounded calm to his own ears.

"I'm going back to the SGC." Jack turned his head, his unseeing eyes fixed on the dark forests they passed. "General Hammond would like me to come back and do training with new recruits."

"That's great, Jack." Daniel smiled in relief. Jack was beginning to put his shattered life back together.

"You haven't been through the gate since my...since I've come home, Daniel. I know you miss it. I think you should consider going back on an active team."

Jack was right. He did miss it. He missed the excitement of discovery, the adrenaline rush he got when he touched an artifact on another planet. But Jack, Jack needed him here at home. Daniel didn't speak, his thoughts in turmoil.

"Daniel?"

"I'll think about it, Jack," Daniel said.

"I'm going to be okay, Daniel. Major Wendover told me about a program in Tucson for blind veterans. I'll get more training there," Jack continued. "She said she didn't think I'd need to stay for more than about a month since I've already had some training."

"Oh." Daniel's mouth was dry. It was all he could say. He turned into the lane that led to the cabin.

"Daniel?" Jack said nothing until Daniel parked the car and turned off the ignition. "Hey, Danny." Jack undid his seatbelt, sliding over on the seat and touching Daniel's arm to orient himself. "You can't guard me forever. You've gone above and beyond, Daniel. But there are parts of this journey I have to take alone. You can't be with me all the time. It'll tear you apart. You need a break. In all the years I've known you, you've never had high blood pressure."

Daniel turned his head into Jack's hand. "I'm scared."

"Yeah, I know, but it's the right thing for both of us," Jack whispered.

"I know." Daniel kissed the warm callused skin of Jack's palm. "I know."

* * * * * * *

Tomorrow they had to go back to the real world, Jack sighed as he and Daniel sat on the dock. Major Wendover had told him as soon as he gave her the go ahead she'd make the arrangements for him to attend the rehab center in Tucson. He hadn't known if bringing up the possibility of his going there last night was his wisest decision. But damn it, Daniel wasn't going to able to care for Jack all the time. He knew Daniel was tired. When Doc Fraiser called him in to her office a few weeks ago, the day of Daniel's collapse, and told him how high Daniel's blood pressure was, Jack knew then. He couldn't be dependent on Daniel no matter how much Daniel wanted it. It wasn't fair to either of them; their relationship had always been one of equals. Jack wanted it to continue to be. The independence he had gained over the past months wasn't enough. He needed more. He needed to learn he was able to get along without Daniel so that he could be there for Daniel.

This little vacation had been a good thing. Daniel was learning to let go and some of the wounds that had been festering had been lanced. They were ready to move on: to accept, to realize this was a new life. The future for the first time in months looked like something they could handle. Would handle. They had each other. What more did they need? Jack gave a half snort at the philosophical turn his thoughts were taking.

"Jack?" Daniel leaned his head back against Jack's knees, his voice sleepy.

"Just thinking, Danny." Jack rubbed Daniel's head, enjoying the feel of the strands sliding through his fingers.

"Yeah?" A yawn followed the question.

"You, me, the future. Where we go from here."

"Is this where we ride off into the sunset together?" Daniel's tone held wry amusement.

"I'm not ready for that yet. We're far too young." Jack leaned forward to kiss the top of Daniel's head and inhale the scent of spice and coffee that meant Daniel.

They sat in silence; Jack's world slowly darkening.

"Tell me what it's like Daniel. So I don't forget," Jack whispered.

"The sky is red and orange in the west, Jack. High clouds like wisps of cotton. There's blue too. Sort of bright but with dark edges. Oh, I can see a star." Daniel's voice trailed off.

"Planet, Daniel. Probably Venus," Jack said.

"I'm not very good at this, Jack, sorry," Daniel apologized. "'Night doesn't fall, but moves up from the valleys.'"

"Who said that?" Jack asked, knowing it was true.

"I don't know." Daniel shrugged his shoulders, the movement feeling odd against Jack's knees. "I read it somewhere. It's dark on the lake Jack. The trees on the far shore are in shadows but the sky is still bright."

"I miss sunsets," Jack blurted out. He hadn't ever wanted to burden Daniel with the losses but this seemed a night for honesty and sharing of the load. "I miss seeing the sunset and watching the stars."

"What else?" He swore he could hear Daniel swallowing.

"Trees. All the shades of green. I miss seeing Carter's face when she gets all excited. Teal'c's disapproving glances when I open my mouth and say something he doesn't agree with. You. I miss seeing your eyes, Daniel. I miss your smile." Jack stopped and clenched his hands on the armrest of his chair. "I don't want to forget what things, what * you * look like."

Daniel shifted against his legs and Jack heard the creak of wood. Daniel was turned around, his hands on Jack's thighs. "You remember Charlie, don't you, Jack? Still can pull up his smile?"

Jack nodded. "Sometimes I can. I can see him in my dreams. Not when I want to."

"Then when you need to, dream, Jack. Dream of sunsets and trees and stars. And when you can't remember, I'll use my words to describe it for you. I'll paint you pictures for your dreams," Daniel said fervently. "I'll be your eyes when you need me to."

Jack fumbled and finally managed to get his hand around Daniel's neck, to gently caress Daniel's nape. "Thank you. Thank you, Daniel."

The sounds of twilight sang in the darkness: the song of the wind in the trees, the hum of insects, the distant cry of a loon a lake or two away.

"I want to see you, Daniel," Jack whispered, his mouth against Daniel's cheek. "I want to see you my way."

"Then come." Daniel stood, pulling Jack up by his hand. Jack didn't bother undoing the cane, instead placing his hand above Daniel's elbow as they walked the short distance to the cabin. They didn't stop downstairs but instead went straight to the bedroom.

"Don't," Jack said as he heard Daniel begin to unzip his pants. "Wait for me." Jack stripped off his own clothes, shivering in the cool air. He folded them, placed them on the chair, so he wouldn't trip on them if he awoke in the night. He walked to Daniel and tugged Daniel's shirt out from his jeans. "Let me do this."

Daniel's breathing quickened and Jack slid the shirt up over Daniel's torso, his hands skimming warm skin. Daniel raised his arms and Jack pulled the shirt off over his head. He folded it quickly and put it on top of his own. His fingers fumbled at Daniel's jeans, having trouble unbuttoning them, but hell, he had trouble doing it when he could see. He managed to get the button undone and then tugged on the zipper smiling in satisfaction at the sound. Daniel's hands covered his as they pulled the jeans over Daniel's hips and down his legs. Daniel stepped out of them. Jack didn't bother folding them, just tossed them on the back of the chair.

"Bed now." Jack's mouth was dry. Daniel's breathing seemed very loud in the room. He stepped past Jack, the warm bare skin of his arm brushing against Jack's chest. There was a creak of bed springs and Jack turned, following Daniel onto the bed. He stretched out next to Daniel, propping himself on one elbow.

"I'm here, Jack." Daniel touched Jack's hand, then slid his hand up Jack's forearm. Jack shivered and moved again, maneuvering himself into a better position to touch Daniel's body.

"Daniel, oh God, Daniel, you are so beautiful." Jack ran his fingers over Daniel's face, eyelashes soft beneath his fingertips, the prickle of stubble because Daniel hadn't shaved, the line of Daniel's nose. Jack touched Daniel's lips and then bent to kiss him. His lips were slightly chapped beneath Jack's and he tasted of salt and the Coca Cola he'd drunk earlier. Jack came up for breath, grinning when he heard Daniel's groan.

"Patience, Doctor Jackson, patience," Jack chided, already turning his attention back to getting reacquainted with his lover's body. He skimmed his hands over Daniel's shoulders, the muscles hard and strong. There was a mosquito bite on Daniel's right bicep and Jack rubbed it, feeling the heat of the swelling. He swept his hands down Daniel's arms, the fine hairs tickling his fingers. Strong wrists, strong, slender fingers, calluses from pens and pencils on Daniel's fingers, the tiny bump on the left pinky from when the finger was broken. Why hadn't he ever noticed all the things that made Daniel Daniel? He moved his left hand to Daniel's torso, touching the appendectomy scar, so small now, a crease in the skin. Daniel's legs slid up on the sheets, a swooshing sound and his breath came in little pants between words murmured in languages Jack didn't know. Thickened, raised skin beneath his right hand, a broad slash across Daniel's ribcage near his heart.

"What happened?" Jack whispered.

"It's..." There was an audible swallow and beneath Jack's hand, Daniel's heart beat faster. "When you...Sam and Teal'c wouldn't let me go back."

Jack closed his eyes, feeling the heat of tears. He'd never known how bad Daniel had been wounded. He placed his hand flat over the scar; it stretched the length of his palm. "I didn't know, oh God, Daniel, I didn't know."

"It doesn't hurt anymore." Daniel tried to sound light-hearted. "Doctor Warner was proud of his handiwork."

"You could have died," Jack whispered. He bent down to brush his lips over the scar.

"I didn't. I didn't die, Jack. You didn't die. We're alive."

"Thank God." Jack rested his forehead against Daniel's chest, breathing in the scent of warm skin, clean sweat, and woodsmoke. "Thank God."

He moved his hands again over the smooth skin of Daniel's hips and to the soft creases at the tops of Daniel's thighs.

"You're a tease, Colonel O'Neill," Daniel said with a gasp.

"Shhh. Concentrating here, Daniel," Jack murmured. Daniel's thigh muscles tensed under his fingers and Daniel moved his leg as Jack touched the back of his knee. Jack grinned, one of Daniel's ticklish spots. The hair on Daniel's calves was softer than Jack expected and he ran his hand upwards again, feeling goosebumps form under his hand. And then it was back to Daniel's ankles. He felt heat under his fingers when he touched Daniel's left one and remembered Daniel had twisted it earlier in the day. He trailed one finger across the arch of Daniel's foot and then over his toes. Jack got to his knees, touching Daniel's hips once more. He reached out to the bedside table, cursing when his questing fingers couldn't find the lube.

"Here, Jack." Daniel placed it in his hand and settled back on the bed, his tone totally matter of fact. Jack flipped the cap back and squeezed some of the gel onto his fingers, rubbing it so it warmed up.

He leaned down, seeking Daniel's lips, not judging his aim very well. It didn't matter; Daniel turned his head, his lips coming up to meet Jack's. Jack moved his hand between them, grasping Daniel's cock, feeling it hot and heavy in his hand. He rested more of his weight on Daniel, pushed his legs between Daniel's. His tongue swept the inside of Daniel's mouth while he slid his hand along the length of the now engorged cock.

"Oh wow, Jack," Daniel gasped, thrusting upwards with his hips.

That's my linguist, Jack thought. They found a rhythm easily. Jack had done this with his eyes closed more than once. Their bodies melded to one another, an intensity Jack had never experienced. There were soft moans, the sound of sweat slicked skin sliding against sweat slicked skin, the salt taste of sweat, the feel of heat warming Jack's body, and then the hot spurt of Daniel's semen as he came with a shudder.

"I love you, Jack," Daniel whispered. He wrapped his arms around Jack's neck, rubbing his hands through Jack's now sweat dampened hair. He pressed his lips against Jack's temple. "I love you so much." He shifted and turned over.

Jack rested his head on Daniel's shoulder, flicking out his tongue to lick the back of Daniel's neck. He rubbed a hand over Daniel's shoulder, loving the feel of the hard muscle that quivered at his touch. Gliding his hands down the expanse of Daniel's back, Jack let his hands rest a moment on Daniel's hips. He moved his hands carefully downward, reaching for the lube once more, spreading some on his fingers, and then his own cock. He moved forward towards Daniel's head. "I don't want to hurt you, Danny."

"You won't," Daniel answered, his voice sure. "I trust you, Jack."

Jack took a deep breath, scared of making love to Daniel for the first time in their relationship. Since his blinding, he hadn't tried this. Daniel had taken the lead and Jack had wanted it that way. His fingers felt clumsy as he moved his hands over Daniel's ass. He let out his breath as he touched Daniel and then carefully inserted a finger then two. Daniel moved as he scissored his fingers, letting out a groan.

"Go ahead, Jack," the whisper floated back.

Jack moved slowly until he was wholly inside Daniel. Muscles tensed around him and Jack shivered. He pulled out a bit and then thrust back in, feeling Daniel's muscles tighten around him again. He'd done this any number of times with Daniel, but it had never been so intense, so many different sensations, and then Daniel was moving with him. Jack's heart was pounding so hard he swore he could hear it in his ears. He thrust in one last time and Daniel was tight around him, so tight Jack thought he would explode until he finally came in a hot rush. He fell forward, putting his weight on Daniel, grateful that Daniel could hold him. Tears formed in his eyes and he couldn't hold them back. He pressed his face into Daniel's shoulder and wept.

"Jack? Jack?" Daniel's voice sounded far off. He couldn't move, and the tears wouldn't stop. "Jack, just pull back a little. Let me up. Okay?"

Jack obeyed the voice. Daniel slid out from under him. He heard footsteps go into the bathroom, running water and then Daniel was in bed beside him once more, coaxing him to his back. Warm water was wiped over his lower body and then the blanket was pulled up over him. Daniel was right beside him, a softer washcloth with cooler water being wiped over his face.

"Sorry." Jack gestured towards his face where the tears continued to flow. "Sorry."

"Don't be. Don't be sorry, Jack." Daniel settled next to him, pulling Jack's head to his shoulder.

"It was. That was incredible, Daniel," Jack shuddered and Daniel pulled the blankets up around them. "And oh God, oh God, Danny. I'm blind. I'm * blind *." Jack wrapped his arm over Daniel's waist, holding on tightly. "I miss seeing, Daniel. I miss it." Months of fear and loss overwhelmed him and Jack held on tight trusting Daniel to hold him through the storm.

It didn't last forever, just as Jack knew it wouldn't. He lay against Daniel, who still held him, listening to the sound of the breeze as it rustled the curtains. Loons cried on the lake. He'd needed the release Jack thought; needed to grieve in safety with Daniel who would understand and let him do it without comment.

"I love you," Jack whispered. He touched Daniel's face, a sense of regret filling him knowing he wouldn't see Daniel's smile again except through his fingertips. But it was more than he deserved, more than he thought he'd ever have again. Love didn't need eyes to see. It just needed the heart. Jack smiled.

A clattering beneath the window caused Daniel to tense. "Jack?"

Jack sighed. "Raccoons, Daniel. It's not a bear, trust me." He laughed as Daniel grunted and snuggled up next to him.

"Dream, Jack," Daniel whispered a moment later. "Sleep and dream."

* * * *

Jack bit back the urge to yell as Daniel fiddled with the radio in the car once again. He knew Daniel was as nervous as he was about the enforced separation. No, scratch that; Daniel was more nervous. Daniel's breakdown and the week at the cabin had only brought home to Jack how necessary it was for him to become independent. Although Daniel's blood pressure was down considerably, it was still higher than it should be. Despite Daniel's belief he could do it all, Jack knew he couldn't and didn't want to be responsible for Daniel's eventual collapse if he kept going at his current pace.

Major Wendover had been her usual matter-of-fact self when Jack announced he was ready to attend the program in Tucson. The arrangements were made and so a week after their return from the cabin Daniel was driving him to the air base where Major Wendover would accompany Jack on the flight to the rehab center.

The current plan was for Jack to spend six to eight weeks doing intensive therapy. She'd already gone over the program with him. More orientation and mobility training including traveling independently through a city, continuing to practice and learn Braille, a skill at which he was adept, and most importantly, independent living skills. Jack was able to get around his home, able to go to the mall, and get around the SGC as long as he had someone with him. But Daniel insisted on doing most of the cooking except when Jack opened a few cans to dump them in a saucepan. It was all the little things Jack used to take for granted-doing laundry without help, going to a store and buying his own things with no assistance from someone, being able to be alone in the house without Daniel worrying about him every second. He wanted a relationship with Daniel like they'd had before, a relationship of equals. He needed this program, but more importantly Daniel needed this program.

Cold air filled the car as Daniel opened his window at the checkpoint of the base. He heard Daniel rustling some papers and then the guard's, 'Have a good day, sirs.' Jack saluted, habit ingrained as he knew the guard's was.

"Well," Daniel said as he parked the car, "we're here." His fingers drummed a tattoo on the steering wheel. Jack leaned forward groping for Daniel's fingers and covering them with his own.

"Yeah, we're here." Jack rubbed Daniel's knuckles, the skin cold beneath his hand. "I guess I'd better be going. Can you see Major Wendover?"

"There's a walkway to the hangars, Jack. She's standing on it," Daniel answered. Jack could hear the fear tingeing Daniel's voice.

"I think maybe we'd better say goodbye here." Jack moved his hand to Daniel's face, hoping no one was watching and then not caring if they were. A kiss was planted in his palm. "Ah God, Danny, I'm going to miss you."

"It's not really that long, Jack," Daniel said. "And we both know it's the right thing for you."

Jack smiled. "It is the right thing, Daniel." He sighed turning his head away from Daniel.

"Jack," Daniel whispered, and Jack felt Daniel tug at his hand. "I want you to have this." Something was pressed into his palm and his fingers curled over it.

"But this is..."Jack fingered the piece of dog tag and chain Daniel had carried all the long months Jack was missing. He knew what it cost Daniel to give it up. It had become Daniel's worry beads, a nervous habit Daniel acquired and continued even with Jack's return.

"I want you to have it," Daniel repeated. Jack didn't need his eyes to know the expression on Daniel's face; a stubborn set to his jaw Jack would never have trouble remembering.

"Thank you, Daniel." Jack closed his hand around the metal again and pushed it down into his pocket. He held his cane. "I'd better be going."

There was a whispered 'Yes,' from Daniel and Jack pushed the door open. Daniel got out the car too and met Jack on the passenger side, handing him his bag which Jack slung over his shoulder.

"I, uh, have to go, Jack. I have a briefing to give SG-12 in a few hours." Daniel's voice was very low, almost as if he was talking to the ground.

"Yeah." Jack cleared his throat. He undid his cane and smiled hopefully in Daniel's direction. "Want to get me oriented? Wouldn't want to miss Major Wendover."

"Sure, Jack." Daniel was trying to smile, Jack could sense it. "Straight ahead. Just walk straight ahead. You won't miss her."

Jack began walking, pausing when he heard the car door shut behind him. Then he squared his shoulders and walked forward into the unknown.

* * * *

Daniel couldn't believe how nervous he was as he walked along the white cement path that bisected the grounds of the VA Medical Center in Tucson. He glanced down at the map in his hands, looking for the Blindness Rehab Center building. He had an appointment with the leader of Jack's Visually Impaired Specialty Team in ten minutes. The team was going to work with both Daniel and Jack for the next day or two and Doctor Reyes had wanted to explain to Daniel what to expect before they began.

The path led straight to the front doors of the Rehab Center and Daniel walked inside, the cool air-conditioning sending a chill down his back. He went straight to the reception area and announced himself, and was quickly escorted to Doctor Carl Reyes' office.

"Doctor Jackson," the short, swarthy man said as he got up to shake Daniel's hand. "I'm glad you could make it this afternoon. You've had a good flight?" He offered Daniel a seat and Daniel gratefully sank onto the thickly padded chair.

"Thank you, yes," Daniel said, thinking back to the military flight he'd flown on and grateful for Major Wendover for having taken care of all the details for him.

"So have you seen the colonel yet?" Reyes asked as he took a folder from the corner of his desk and opened it.

"No, I just arrived here a few minutes ago. Will Jack be joining us?" He hoped the eagerness in his voice wasn't too obvious. It had been six and a half weeks since he'd driven Jack to the air base and seen him board the plane with Major Wendover. He was dying to see Jack but at the same time he was anxious about the amount of progress Jack had undergone while he'd been away.

He'd spoken to Jack on the phone several times, eagerly calling him each night the first few days of their separation. But Jack had been tired after his therapy and had begun losing patience with Daniel's ceaseless questions. After Jack had jokingly threatened to ask General Hammond to send Daniel off world to a nice, quiet, relaxing archaeological dig to get him to stop calling him every night, Daniel had limited himself to a phone call or two per week.

"No, this will only take a few minutes." He smiled brightly at Daniel a moment before returning his attention to the folder.

"Now, Colonel O'Neill has told us in great detail what his routine at home was before coming here. My job, over the next two days, is to help both you and the colonel change that routine to make the transition easier for the two of you when you take him home."

Carl Reyes closed the folder and folded his hands on top of it, looking at Daniel intently. "You understand the reason why the colonel came to us, do you not?"

"Yes, of course. To help him become more independent, more autonomous in his day-to-day life."

"Then you do understand, Doctor Jackson, that you must allow him gain that independence?"

Daniel frowned at the words. "I don't understand."

"From what I understand you have been solely responsible for your friend's well being. You've cooked the meals, done the housework, laundry, shopping, provided entertainment. As much as the colonel attempted to do these things, you would take over the tasks and finish them yourself."

Daniel nodded, frowning at what had just been said to him. "He was very ill when he came home, Doctor Reyes. Yes, I helped take care of him, I cleaned his house, I cooked for him. Then Jack undertook some training with Major Wendover at the Air Force Academy Hospital when he got stronger. But there were so many things he couldn't do. I mean, how the hell do you leave a blind man alone in a kitchen?"

Daniel heard the tone of his voice and cringed inwardly. He remembered how scared he'd been one afternoon when he'd walked in and found Jack trying to heat up some soup. Jack had turned the burner on but had placed the saucepan on the wrong one and it had been glowing red hot with Jack's hand only inches away. Daniel had always made it a point after that to be in the kitchen if Jack insisted on heating something up.

"I know the thought is a little unnerving," Reyes said. "But like a child who has to eventually be left alone to walk to school by himself, your friend will have to be given the freedom to feel comfortable again in his own house. That includes leaving the house and going out into the city. By himself."

"Yes, of course, these are some of the reasons Jack came here."

"Colonel O'Neill has worked very hard to overcome some of the fears and inhibitions that were instilled in him over the past months, and-"

"Doctor Reyes," Daniel interrupted, not quite sure he liked where this conversation was going. "Are you accusing me of having hampered Jack's progress?"

"To be totally honest? Yes." Daniel opened his mouth but before he could say anything, Reyes continued. "It's a normal reaction to protect someone you care for, especially when they suddenly become vulnerable and reliant upon you. But you haven't done your friend any favors and have hindered some of his progress."

Daniel felt his face burn at the words, recalling how he'd been ready to do everything for Jack, often even when his lover had insisted he could do it himself. He sighed. Reyes was right, on many occasions Daniel had seen he could do things much more quickly and efficiently and had many times brushed Jack aside and not let him try. He tried to ignore the headache that was beginning to sprout in the back of his head.

"Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'll go and see if we can find our good colonel. I'm sure you're anxious to see him." Daniel nodded, standing up and walking to the door behind Carl Reyes and feeling like an idiot. "Don't worry," Reyes said kindly. "Tomorrow we'll be going through everything in fine detail together and you'll be much more at ease when you see the progress your friend has made. I'm sure you'll be confident that he can take care of himself and can go back to being on his own."

Daniel felt his heart drop when he heard Reyes' words. Had Jack confided in his doctor that he wanted to live alone? Of course Daniel had been with Jack almost every free moment he had, returning only to his apartment to pick up his mail and feed his fish. Even after Jack had returned to work at the SGC Daniel had continued with the routine they'd developed. Did Jack now feel that he didn't need Daniel anymore? Daniel's elation at seeing Jack was gone and what he really wanted to do was rush back to his hotel room and think over everything he'd just heard.

They returned to the reception area and he waved Daniel to a chair. "If you'll wait here, we'll find Colonel O'Neill for you. It shouldn't be too long."

He nodded, too shocked to say much else. Daniel thought about Reyes' words and realized the man was right. His worries of the past few weeks came crashing down on him. Unable to sit still, Daniel got up and began pacing before the plate glass windows.

Daniel had been behind Jack's decision one hundred percent when Jack had decided to undertake this intensive therapy. At the time, the thought of an independent Jack had been an encouraging concept. But as time without Jack wore on doubts and anxieties began niggling at Daniel's confidence. Returning nightmares, and his subsequent waking up alone in their bed, had constantly reminded him how close he'd come to losing Jack forever. Visions of Jack struggling to learn new skills amongst strangers had him yearning to rush here and stand by his side. He realized how he'd unwittingly had Jack on a leash all of these months, afraid that if he wasn't constantly by his side Jack would do something to hurt himself again.

But worst of all were the added fears that an independent Jack wouldn't need him anymore and Reyes' words just seemed to compound those suspicions. Jack's blindness was Daniel's fault in a roundabout way and the renewed nightmares had begun to chip away at Daniel's belief in Jack's acceptance of his limitations. Jack had never blamed Daniel for leaving him behind. Hell, he never had to. Daniel had held enough guilt for the both of them. But Daniel had done all he could to try and make life easier for Jack and now it seemed like he'd been doing the wrong thing.

Unable to bear the confines of the room and needing to escape the sudden onset of his headache, he walked to the receptionist and told her he'd wait outside. He stepped into the sweltering heat, sneezing several times as he caught whiff of perfumed blooms in flowerbeds near the entrance. He checked his watch and realized he'd missed his dose of antihistamines. He patted his pockets and realized the pills were in his bag in the hotel room.

The sun beat down on him mercilessly and he walked to the meager shade of a nearby tree. He leaned against it, looking towards the glass doors of the building he'd just left to make sure he could see if Jack arrived. He stuck his hands into his pockets, feeling very discouraged and depressed.

He heard footsteps crunching on gravel behind him and turned, seeing two individuals walking slowly across the grounds. One was a woman who was obviously being given training on how to walk on uneven ground, the instructor following a few steps behind watching her progress. Daniel observed them for a few moments, wondering if Jack had gone through the same training in the same spot.

He heard more footsteps coming behind him on the cement path, the pace fast and confident. Daniel looked again through the glass doors to see if Jack had been found and, seeing the reception area still empty, he sighed and turned to look around the grounds. A man breezed by as another sneeze rocked him and Daniel thought maybe he should go back inside and get away from the irritating perfumed blooms and heat.

"Daniel?"

The footsteps had stopped and the familiar voice came from behind him. Daniel nearly tripped over his feet in his hurry to turn. The man who had walked so confidently by him... that had been Jack?

"Jack!" Daniel exclaimed, seeing the relaxed and smiling features before him.

Before he knew it, he was hugging a sweaty, enthusiastic Jack who was squeezing the life out of him in his excitement. Daniel hugged Jack back just as eagerly. He felt Jack's fingers move to his head and muss his hair before they traveled the length of his face.

"I'm so glad you're here," Jack said when he finally pulled back. "Hey, can we get out of this heat? I think I'm starting to melt." He tugged at Daniel's arm and with a sure step led him back towards the Rehab Center. Daniel opened the door, the blast of frigid air immediately cooling the sweat on his body.

"Ah, I see you found him," Carlos Reyes said to Daniel as they stepped inside. "You two have any plans?"

"It's almost suppertime," Jack said as he turned in the direction of the doctor. "Maybe Daniel could take me out to eat? We could go back to your hotel room and talk a while, if you'd like." A shiver of anticipation went down Daniel's spine and this time it wasn't caused by the air conditioning.

"Sure... but are you allowed to leave the premises?" he asked.

"Hey, I'm not in jail here," Jack quipped.

Reyes laughed and went to the reception desk. He made a notation in a ledger and returned to them.

"Okay, colonel. I've logged you out. Just remember the 11 pm curfew, okay?"

"Yeahsureyabetcha," Jack said, waving indolently in the man's direction. He tugged impatiently at Daniel again.

He led Daniel out of the grounds of the Medical Center with a sureness and ease that Daniel certainly didn't have. They walked silently down the street for several blocks until Jack turned into a small, cozy restaurant.

They were greeted warmly by the waitress and Daniel surmised that Jack and possibly others from the Center were regulars here. The place was half full but as it was still early Daniel suspected that it would begin to fill up soon.

"The ribs here are to die for," Jack said as he reached for the water the waitress had just placed before him. Daniel decided to take Jack's word for it and chose the ribs.

"So, tell me about what's been happening back home. It feels like forever since I spoke to you."

Daniel sat back and looked at Jack, who was tanned, relaxed, and looked totally at ease even though they were out in public. He hadn't seen Jack so self-assured since the day Jack had supposedly died. A lump formed in his throat and he had to swallow some water before even attempting to speak. Doctor Reyes had been right. Jack had needed time away from Daniel in order to get his self-assurance back, forgetting in his despondency that Jack had just had nearly seven weeks of rigorous training to get to where he was.

Trying to sound cheerful, he told Jack about the usual goings on at the SGC; Siler's latest mishap and Janet's frustration with the accident-prone technician, Sam's newest experiment and Teal'c's current hobby. In terms Jack would understand, but wouldn't sound suspicious to anybody who could overhear, Daniel recounted the latest planets that had been visited, the discovery of a new mineral that had the scientists drooling, a visit from the Tok'ra, and SG3's subsequent mission with them.

When their meal was brought to them Daniel ate with little appetite although the food was delicious. Jack ate with gusto, unashamedly eating the tender ribs with his fingers, which was probably why Jack enjoyed this particular meal. Once Daniel had run out of things to say, Jack spoke of the training he'd had over the past weeks and of the little bit he knew to expect in the coming days.

Daniel's headache was getting worse and he was now almost dreading the next two days. He was glad when the meal was over and he simply listened to Jack as they walked back to where he'd parked his rental car.

He drove the short distance to his hotel, and with Jack's hand resting on his arm, he guided him to his room.

Once he shut the door behind them, Jack tightened his hold on Daniel and pulled him towards him. Jack put his arms around him once more and unerringly found his mouth and kissed him warmly, momentarily pushing away some of the remorse Daniel had been harboring since speaking to the doctor.

He kissed Jack back with ardor, reveling in the taste, smell, and feel of the man he loved so very much. He lost himself in the sensations of Jack's tongue and hands reacquainting themselves with his body. His pants were starting to feel a little tight when Jack suddenly pulled away.

"You've lost weight," Jack said accusingly, pushing back so Daniel was at arm's length.

"Huh?" Daniel said, blinking and trying to get his brain working around why weight loss had anything to do with kissing and groping and a hard on.

"What the hell have you been doing to yourself?" Jack's hands passed over his ribs and shoulders before moving up to his face, his fingers softly flitting over his features. "You've got a headache, haven't you? Is that why you've been so quiet since you got here?"

"I'm fine, Jack." Daniel couldn't quite understand Jack's accusatory tone and moved away from him. He wrapped his arms around his chest and went to sit on the bed. "I didn't get much sleep the past three nights because I was trying to finish a translation before flying here." Which was partly true, except that he hadn't slept much mostly because of his recurring nightmares of Jack's death. He knew deep down that his subconscious fear of losing Jack had reawakened due to their separation but knowing it didn't stop him from feeling it.

He saw Jack still standing by the door and belatedly realized that Jack had no idea of the layout of the room. Quickly he got up again and took Jack's arm, guiding him around the two double beds and showing him where the door to the bathroom was situated.

Jack walked into the bathroom and stood before the sink. "Where are the drinking glasses?" he asked. Daniel removed the sanitary wrapping from a glass and filled it with cool water. When he went to hand it to Jack, his lover simply wrapped Daniel's fingers around the glass, held his forefinger up in the air indicating he wanted Daniel to wait, and stepped out of the room.

"Where's your stuff?" Jack asked.

"My bag's on the bed right in front of you," Daniel replied. He watched as Jack sat on the bed, found his carryall and began rummaging through it.

"Jack, what are you looking for?"

"Tylenol. For your headache." Jack found Daniel's toiletry bag and felt around in it. Daniel sighed, putting the glass of water down on the table by the bed and sitting beside Jack. He could see the blister pack of Tylenol and refrained from telling Jack exactly where it was.

"What's this?" Jack asked as he took something out of the bag. He shook the small container of pills and turned towards Daniel, bottle extended. "I thought you were off of these?" Jack demanded as he held the bottle of tranquillizers accusingly before Daniel.

"I was. I am."

"I repeat, Daniel. What the hell have you been doing to yourself? I go away for six weeks and you can't take care of yourself properly during that time?" Jack threw the pills back into the toiletry bag and swore when he missed and the container rolled onto the floor.

"What?" Daniel snapped, his temper fraying as he picked up the pill bottle while trying to process why Jack was nagging. He'd kept the pills with him since Mackenzie had prescribed them months ago but he hadn't bothered taking any. And maybe Daniel's blood pressure had been borderline high for the past three weeks but Fraiser was keeping a cautious watch on it.

"From the moment I got here I've been accused of doing everything wrong. First Reyes, now you." Daniel dropped the pills into the toiletry bag and threw the bag into his carryall. "Maybe you'd like to call up Fraiser and General Hammond and see if they have anything to add while we're at it."

"What do you mean, Reyes... what did he say?"

"Oh, nothing much," Daniel said sarcastically with a short laugh, "except that I managed to screw you up more than you already were." Daniel ignored Jack's surprised, 'What?' and got up, pacing the length of the small room.

"Oh yes! Surely you knew? It seems that I took too good care of you these past months. I held you back when I should have been encouraging you to go out and play in dark by yourself."

Jack began to speak but Daniel raised his voice, drowning him out.

"Here I was thinking we'd come so far, that you'd come so far, and it wasn't bloody good enough for that man. He said I didn't allow you to explore your limitations, to experiment. That I held you back!"

Daniel slammed his hand on top of the dresser in anger then shook his hand as the pain exploded through his palm and radiated down his arm. He could hear Jack speaking to him but he didn't want to hear the words in his anger.

"What right does he have to say those kinds of things?" Daniel shouted as the words came tumbling out of his mouth. "He doesn't know what you went through all those months in captivity! He didn't see what condition you were in when we found you on Hannara! He didn't sit by your side and see you with a feeding tube down your nose! He didn't see you try to take your first steps on your own! He wasn't there whenever you woke up screaming, thinking you were back on that damned planet!"

He went back to pacing the length of the room once more. Jack had gone quiet, sitting hunched up on the bed, his head slowly following Daniel's progress as he stomped back and forth.

"Damn it! He doesn't know the pain I went through those first six months when I thought you were dead. You... you... you came back and you were so sick and then you were getting better and I wanted to help and I just ended up making everything worse."

"Danny..." Jack's voice was soft and filled with pain. That more than anything managed to get through Daniel's anger and he stopped pacing, standing in front of Jack.

Daniel couldn't speak for a moment as he tried to slow his breathing down. He couldn't stop shaking and he knew he was losing control and had to try and calm himself.

"You didn't make anything worse, Daniel." He felt Jack's hand on his arm and he shook it off, moving away from him.

"You know, I even screwed up the grieving process, according to Mackenzie." Daniel laughed sarcastically. "He said I bottled everything inside and didn't let it out. That I needed to express my anger and pain. What the hell does he know about pain? About losing people? Don't you think I'm an expert on that by now?"

"Daniel, please. You didn't lose me. Remember that."

Daniel ignored Jack's words and exploded, his arms waving wildly in his agitation. "Why did you tell Reyes you didn't want me in your home anymore? You might be back with me now but it sounds like you sure as hell want me out of your life!" Daniel stood there panting staring at Jack, who stood up to face Daniel at this last outburst.

"I didn't!" Jack countered loudly as he took two steps towards Daniel. "Well, yes I did," he continued more softly, "but you know I couldn't tell him the truth." "Truth? What's the truth, Jack? You want to be independent so you won't need me around in your life as much? You've had a pretty good start since you seem to be tired of me already and seeing that you couldn't stand to have me call you every night you were away while I was worrying myself sick over you. What is it, huh? Should I even have bothered to come here today?"

Daniel stepped backwards, moving away from Jack's approach and then suddenly Jack was standing before him looking lost. When Jack moved his leg forward, reaching blindly with his hand, searching for something with which to reorient himself in the room, Daniel suddenly realized why Jack was here at the Center. "Oh God, Jack, I'm sorry!" Daniel cried. He quickly went to him and led him to the bed, his anger quickly overshadowed by concern. Keeping a tight hold on Daniel's hand, Jack put his other hand down on the bed and seated himself. He tugged on Daniel's arm, indicating he wanted Daniel to sit beside him.

"Tell me about Reyes," Jack asked softly as he placed put his arms around Daniel. "What exactly did he say to you?"

Shaking his head and pulling away, then remembering Jack couldn't see the movement, Daniel said, "No, it's nothing, it's okay. I'm just tired." Jack loosened his hold but kept Daniel's hand clasped in his. "I think I overreacted," he said in apology for his outburst. Daniel's anger had fled, and he found himself exhausted and unable to think clearly. For a fleeting moment he selfishly wanted Jack to leave so he could curl up and burrow under the covers, hiding from the world of hurt he suddenly found himself in.

"I don't think so, Daniel. I know you and you rarely get this worked up over nothing." Jack reached back on the bed and groped around until he found the toiletry bag. He went through its contents more slowly, finding the Tylenol and handing the blister pack to Daniel. "You're saying Reyes accused you of being too over-protective?"

"That would be one way of putting it, yeah," Daniel said as he removed two of the pills from the pack. He got up to get the glass of water he'd brought in earlier and washed the medication down, his hands still shaking from his outburst. He felt nauseated and the water just seemed to have made it much worse.

"Did you ever stop to think that maybe I wasn't ready to do all the things Reyes had expected me to do before I came here?" Jack asked. "That I was more than happy up until now to let you take care of me? It took me a long time to get my confidence back and three months ago I know that I'd never have been able to do the things I've just learned. I made the decision to come here when I knew I could handle things on my own and I certainly don't regret one minute that I've been here."

"On your own?" Reyes' earlier words came back to Daniel as he sat back down on the far end of the bed, making sure he was far enough from Jack that they wouldn't touch. "You told him you wanted to live alone, didn't you? Because he said something about my going back to my apartment and giving you back your freedom."

"Oh for crying out loud. Was I expected to tell him that we're lovers?" Jack toed his shoes off and pushed himself back on the mattress until he was leaning against the headboard. "Of course I had to say that living alone was one of my goals. And it still is. I need to be able to do things for myself when you're not around." He pulled the pillows from underneath the bedspread and shoved them behind his back.

Daniel nodded to himself, remembering that he and Jack had discussed this before. But having heard it come from a stranger had been like a slap in the face.

"I know you're afraid for me, Daniel. And I'm sorry I pushed you away but you were getting obsessive and I thought that a little distance would help. I was wrong; I didn't realize how much you needed to talk to me."

"I just wanted to hear your voice," Daniel admitted.

"I realize that. And I've been so busy trying to get my life back together that I never really gave a lot of thought as to what you had gone through all these months. I'm sorry, Daniel. Truly sorry."

Daniel hated to hear Jack apologizing for simply trying to survive. When Jack patted the side of the bed, Daniel shifted until he was sitting shoulder to shoulder with Jack.

"But now you have to let me do the things I've been doing all my life. I just have to do them a little differently now."

"It scares me, Jack. I lost you once. I just don't want anything to happen to you."

"I know." Jack pulled Daniel back into his arms and this time Daniel didn't resist. He turned onto his side and laid his head on Jack's chest, hearing his heart beating steadily beneath his ear.

"But every time you go off world, how do you think I feel, knowing I'm not there to watch your six?" Jack asked

"But I have Sam and Teal'c to watch out for me. Who'll watch out for you now?"

"You will, Danny. You will. And remember, your place is where it's always been. In my heart, my soul, by my side, and not in front of me leading the way." Jack brought his hands up and ran his fingers through Daniel's hair, the sensation soothing and familiar.

"But I didn't do that good a job the last time, did I, Jack?" Daniel whispered. "I wanted to die when I thought you'd been killed. Losing you was worse than losing Shau're. At least with her I knew there was always the chance I wouldn't get her back. But you were taken from my side and it was my fault."

"It wasn't your fault," Jack said quietly as he rubbed circles on Daniel's back.

"You were gone, that's all I knew. I existed, nothing more. It took a long time for Sam and Teal'c to finally get through to me and remind me I still had a family with them. We were on Hannara when that happened and suddenly food began to taste good again, the air smelled wonderful, I was happy, and for a moment or two I didn't think..."

"Of me?" Jack asked in a small voice.

"Yes." Daniel raised his head and kissed him before continuing. "Then I saw the outcasts and the food I was eating at the time didn't taste so good anymore. I ran to give my meal to one man who was obviously sick and struggling and suddenly... my life was turned upside down again."

Daniel swallowed. He and Jack had never really talked about what Daniel had gone through; most of Daniel's energy had been spent trying to get Jack to talk about his own horrible mistreatment on Hannara.

"When you found me," Jack said as he shifted on the bed to make himself more comfortable, "I thought you were a dream, a figment of my imagination. I thought I'd totally gone crazy. You know how when I got to Hannara I'd lost my memory for a while. When I began to remember who I was, I bided my time for either a rescue or a chance to escape. Every time I did manage to escape, I'd be found, beaten, and punished."

Daniel held his breath as he listened to Jack. He'd barely spoken to Daniel of his time as a slave, although Daniel knew he had discussed it at length with Mackenzie.

"It was thoughts of you that kept me going when I got sick. I knew you were on Earth, either worried or grieving for me. But I kept getting sicker and sicker. When I finally heard your voice, felt your hands no me, I thought I'd totally flipped. But I'd decided then and there that if I actually were going crazy, then I chose to be with you in that dream world."

Daniel closed his eyes, trying not to imagine the pain Jack had gone through because of him.

"I'm sorry," Daniel whispered, his worry and exhaustion of the past weeks catching up with him.

"Don't," Jack said. "Please, don't. I don't blame you any more than I would blame Teal'c or Carter. We know every time we step through that wormhole that something like this can happen."

"Damn it," Daniel said. "I even managed to screw up our reunion."

"No, you didn't. If anything, you brought up a couple of issues we should have talked about a long time ago."

"I love you so much," Daniel said as he closed his eyes, relishing the feeling of being held in Jack's strong arms.

"I know. I love you too."

Daniel felt Jack's lips on his forehead. The next thing he knew, Jack was shaking his shoulder. "Daniel, wake up. I have to leave soon."

"What? Jack?" Daniel squinted at Jack, seeing that he was in an unfamiliar room. It took him a few seconds to remember where he was and why he'd come here.

"It's nearly eleven. I need to get back," Jack said with a gentle smile.

"Stay?" Daniel begged as he watched Jack sit up and feel around for his shoes.

"I wish I could. But it probably wouldn't go over very well when the staff learned I spent the night with my best friend, huh?"

"Oh, right," Daniel said, disappointed. He sat up, rubbing his eyes, wondering why he was so tired. "I'm sorry I fell asleep. I'll drive you..."

"No, I'll take a cab," Jack said as he stood up.

"Don't be silly," Daniel began, but quieted when Jack put a finger up in Daniel's direction.

"Daniel, I can take a cab. This is what I came here to learn. To be able to do things on my own. You're tired, it's ridiculous for you to get up and drive me back. Besides, it feels good to be able to do this and to show you that I can."

Jack walked to the telephone and dialed a number from memory. He gave the cab company the name of the hotel and hung up the phone.

"Be at the Center at 0800 tomorrow, okay?"

Jack found Daniel on the bed and leaned over, kissing him goodbye. Daniel put both arms around Jack and regretted that he had to leave. Jack pulled back and pushed Daniel back onto the pillow. He watched as Jack made his way to the door and left. He listened to his fading footsteps walked down the length of the hallway.

The insistent ringing of the phone was the next thing he was aware of. He rolled onto his stomach and reached for it, managing to grunt a greeting into the receiver as he glanced at the clock. It read 8:15.

"Daniel." Jack's voice was much too energetic at this time of the morning.

"Jack?" He realized all of a sudden that he was supposed to meet Jack and the team of specialists sometime this morning. "Um, what time was I supposed to..."

He heard Jack laughing. "Fifteen minutes ago."

"Shit!" Daniel exclaimed, sitting up in bed.

"I'm sorry, I should have realized you were exhausted and called you earlier. Look, make it for 0900, okay? You'll have just enough time for a shower and a bite to eat."

"Yeah, okay," Daniel replied as he began rummaging one handed through his bag looking for clean underwear. He couldn't believe he'd fallen asleep on top of the blankets and hadn't woken up once during the night.

"See you soon?"

"Right, I'll be there in a little bit," Daniel said before he hung up the phone and rushed into the shower.

- - - - - -

The day flew by as Daniel and Jack worked side by side. Daniel was learning tips and tricks that would help him ease Jack into the new habits he had learned over the past weeks. Daniel couldn't get over at how Jack had taken to everything and completed many of the tasks with an ease that Daniel feared he himself would never had mastered had the tides been turned.

He understood now why Jack had been insistent that Daniel not call him every night. He could see how hard Jack had worked and had most likely ended his days in exhaustion. As they said their goodbyes to Jack's team as they left the Center on their way to a late supper, Daniel rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ease some of the tension that still remained.

They ate in quiet companionship, Daniel finally having a chance to go over Jack's words of the previous night.

"About last night," Daniel said halfway through their meal.

Jack tilted his head slightly and Daniel knew he had his full attention.

"I guess I kind of over-reacted."

Jack smirked and said, "Ya think?"

Daniel raised his eyebrows at Jack and then frowned when he realized the action was lost on his lover. "Anyway, I just wanted to apologize and say..."

"It's okay, I understand."

"I just hadn't realized that I'd..."

"I know. Me too."

"Or that you..."

"Or you..."

"So we're okay?"

"Better than."

"Good."

Daniel took a sip of coffee, having finished his meal. He checked his watch and realized they had a couple of hours before Jack needed to return to the Center for his last night there. He smiled as he thought of Jack's 'graduation' the following day. He decided maybe they could do a pre-celebration in the remaining time they had together.

"Jack?"

"Yeah, Daniel."

Daniel leaned forward and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Wanna go back to my hotel room and play, 'let's find the lube'?"

"Thought you'd never ask."

- - - - - -

Daniel took a sip of beer and placed the nearly empty bottle back on the kitchen table. He was dividing his attention between watching Jack preparing supper, and watching Sam nervously eyeing Jack. Daniel smiled. Except for an occasional hesitation when Jack forgot where he placed a utensil, one would never know that he was blind.

"Sir, are you sure you don't want-" Daniel quickly shook his head, waving his hand urgently to forestall the question, but it was too late... "any help?"

"Thanks Carter," Jack replied as he tapped the spoon against the pot, following the metal till he found the edge. "I have everything under control. Besides, I know Daniel's been watching me like a hawk."

"Moi?" Daniel asked in a hurt voice. "I'm just sitting here minding my own business. Anyway, we're safe. You're not making toast." He kept his voice light, but he was worried knowing that the pot of pasta was soon going to have to be emptied and with Jack sightless... Daniel glanced at the timer and mentally counted down the seconds till it was set to go off.

Jack laughed at Daniel's comment. Jack's first foray into the kitchen alone had become a joke between them, although for a while the memory had been unpleasant.

Actually Jack had gotten a lot of practice in the kitchen recently. Since Daniel had returned to working fulltime at Cheyenne Mountain Jack had taken up cooking mostly out of boredom. But he was going back to work tomorrow and this was a celebratory dinner with their friends. Daniel still wasn't comfortable if Jack had to be around anything dangerous, like boiling water or a hot oven, but he knew he needed to let Jack do these things or else Daniel would undermine Jack's confidence in himself.

Daniel jumped despite himself when the timer rang and Jack unerringly hit the button, shutting it off.

"Teal'c, why don't you open the wine? We're nearly ready to eat," Jack asked as he put on a pair of oven mitts and maneuvered the heavy pot of pasta towards the sink.

With bated breath, they all watched him slowly drain the water from the pot, his head averted to the side to avoid the hot steam. After orienting himself, Jack managed to tip the pasta into a waiting bowl and then poured the homemade spaghetti sauce over it. Carefully picking up the large bowl containing their supper, he headed for the table.

"A little to the right," Daniel offered, removing his beer bottle from the empty space on the table which Jack had prepared earlier.

"Thanks," Jack said as he unerringly aimed for the allotted space.

Jack put his hand out and searched for the back of his chair, pulling it out from the table. Daniel marveled at how at ease Jack appeared to be. Daniel waved to his friends to help themselves as he broke off a piece of his Italian bun and buttered it. When the bowl reached him, he dished some pasta onto Jack's plate before serving himself.

"Colonel, I brought you a couple more of those audio books," Carter said as she straightened in her chair and took her napkin from the table.

Jack grinned at the news. "Thanks! I really enjoyed the last two you brought."

- - - - - -

Jack felt a faint puff of air as Daniel rushed by the couch where Jack lay as he listened to the hockey game on the radio. He removed his earphones and sat up. As this was the third time in the past thirty minutes, Jack decided to follow him. Although Daniel had assured Jack he was fine the previous occasions he'd rushed out of the room, Jack began getting an uneasy feeling.

Daniel had been sitting on the floor beside Jack, papers spread out on the coffee table before him. Jack had put the earphones on so as not to disturb Daniel's concentration. It had been a quiet, enjoyable evening, both men engrossed in their activities.

The past three weeks had been a time of regrouping, getting into yet another new routine with Jack being back at work. They'd been busy this past week and this had been their first relaxing evening in a while.

He heard Daniel head for the bathroom and as Jack neared he could hear the faint sounds of retching coming from behind the closed door.

"Damn," he swore as he knocked softly and warned Daniel he was coming in. He heard rustling sounds as Daniel shifted and Jack realized he was making room so Jack wouldn't trip over him.

"Hey, not feeling well?" Jack asked, swallowing down his own sympathetically queasy stomach as Daniel heaved once more in answer to his question. Careful not to jostle him, Jack reached out until he touched Daniel's back. His light cotton shirt was damp with sweat and Jack gently squeezed the straining muscles beneath his hand.

When Daniel flushed and sat back with a groan, Jack got him some water and handed it to him. He heard Daniel spit the water out after rinsing his mouth. Jack held his hand out for the glass once Daniel had finished. After returning the plastic container back onto the vanity when Daniel returned it to him, he knelt beside Daniel.

"I think I ate something that didn't agree with me," Daniel complained as Jack lightly traced his fingers around Daniel's jaw.

"I feel fine so it wasn't my cooking," Jack replied, thinking back to the hamburgers and salad he'd made them for supper barely two hours ago. He felt Daniel's mouth stretch into a slight smile then took his hand away when Daniel's breathing began to speed up.

"Oh God," Daniel moaned before he began heaving again. As Jack listened to him throwing up, he felt useless as there really wasn't much he could to help ease his suffering. Daniel sat back against the wall when he finished. Jack slid down the wall to sit beside Daniel and they remained there in silence, Jack feeling Daniel's body shudder with an occasional shiver.

"I think I'm done," Daniel said after a few minutes.

They stood up and walked back to the living room where Jack grabbed the ever-present afghan from the sofa and placed it over Daniel once he was seated.

"Thanks."

"How long has this been going on?" Jack asked as he took a seat beside Daniel.

"I was fine until just a little while ago. It hit me all of a sudden." He felt Daniel turn towards him and Jack knew Daniel was looking at him. "Are you sure you're feeling okay?" Daniel asked.

Other than a slightly queasy stomach that Jack was sure was simply a result of having heard Daniel puke his guts out, Jack felt fine.

"I'm sure," he replied. He felt the back of the couch lurch as Daniel dropped his head back onto it.

"Good."

Before Jack could say anything else Daniel suddenly swore and rose quickly. As Daniel rushed for the bathroom, Jack headed for the phone. He dialed the infirmary and asked to talk to the doctor on call. He frowned at the news the answering nurse gave him, and after having described Daniel's symptoms and listening to her carefully he hung up the phone and went in search of his ailing lover.

He met Daniel in the hallway as he came out of the bathroom.

"I just called Fraiser," Jack informed Daniel as they stood in the hallway. "Seems she was unavailable. She was in the bathroom vomiting."

"She's sick too?"

"Yep, seems like half the mountain caught some kind of intestinal virus. It's been spreading like wildfire in the local schools and one of the cooks in the commissary came down with it yesterday afternoon. He went home early but not before spreading all his lovely germs."

"I ate my lunch there yesterday," Daniel moaned, dropping his forehead against Jack's shoulder. Jack had been away from the SGC yesterday. He was thankful at the moment for having gone to a meeting in Denver with General Hammond.

"Let's get you to bed," Jack suggested. He realized Daniel must be feeling horrible when he didn't complain and let Jack lead him to the bedroom.

Jack pulled the bed sheets down while Daniel stripped and put on his sweats. He then emptied the plastic wastebasket and put it near the head of the bed. When he heard Daniel slide under the covers he sat down beside him and reached out for Daniel's thigh. He gave it a little squeeze and asked, "You gonna be all right?"

"Yeah," Daniel answered weakly. "Gonna sleep, okay?"

"Sure," Jack said before bending down to kiss Daniel's cheek. The skin beneath his lips felt slightly warm and he hoped Daniel's fever wouldn't rise too high. The nurse had informed him that Daniel would be feverish and weak for the next forty-eight hours but that it wasn't necessary to bring him to the infirmary unless he became dehydrated.

First step, Jack thought to himself, was to make sure Daniel had something to drink. He retrieved a bottle of water from the fridge then opened a couple cans of sodas, leaving those out on the counter for the time being. He went into the bedroom and put the water on the bedside table on Daniel's side of the bed.

Jack returned to the living room, abandoning the hockey game for one of his books. He attempted to trace the words on the pages before him but his attention kept straying back to the bedroom as he kept straining to listen to sounds of distress. He hadn't been there for more than twenty minutes when he heard Daniel rushing for the bathroom once more.

Jack sighed, thinking that it was going to be a long night.

- - - - - -

Daniel lay shivering under the covers, his body covered in a cold sweat and his clothes damp from his recent bout of nausea. He knew he should get up and change but he just didn't have the energy to do so.

He heard Jack moving around the house and realized he was locking everything up. After a short while he heard Jack enter the bathroom, then he came into the bedroom, stopping right inside the door.

"I'm not sleeping," Daniel said when he realized Jack was listening attentively.

"Can't sleep?"

"No," Daniel sighed. Between the frantic beelines to the bathroom, his aching body, and now chills, sleep had been the last thing he'd been able to achieve.

Jack came to the bed and sat on the mattress beside Daniel. He put his hand to Daniel's forehead before gently stroked his cheek.

"Here," he said, handing Daniel a thermometer. Daniel took it and stuck it in his mouth. Jack kept his hand on Daniel's cheek while they waited for the results. Eventually a pleasant voice informed them that he had a fever of 101.2. Great, no wonder he felt lousy.

"Think you can tolerate a couple of Tylenol?" Jack asked as he put his hand out. Daniel got up on his elbow and handed him the thermometer. He waited while Jack slid two pills onto his palm and handed them to Daniel. Sighing, Daniel swallowed them down with a sip of water.

"Try to drink a bit more," Jack urged.

Daniel took a couple of larger swallows, feeling the water slide down and settle uncomfortably in his stomach. He shivered again and curled back under the covers.

"Want another blanket?" Jack asked.

"Yes, please," he answered, wishing they had an electric blanket or two to warm him up.

Jack went to the closet and returned with a spare blanket and spread it over Daniel. The weight of the blanket didn't do much to warm him up but it helped a bit.

Daniel watched Jack take his clothes off, getting ready for bed. Daniel suddenly worried that Jack could catch whatever bug it was that he'd caught.

"Maybe I should go back to my apartment," Daniel said as Jack finished folding his clothes. "What if you catch this thing from me?"

"It's probably too late now," Jack answered as he slid under the covers beside Daniel. "And anyway, I wouldn't want you by yourself when you're feeling this lousy."

Daniel thought Jack was probably right. His germs were probably all over the house and if he left now it would probably not make any difference. Anyway, he didn't think he'd be capable of driving home right now.

Jack slid his length along Daniel's back, spooning up behind him. The heat of his body felt wonderful, easing some of his shivers. He lay there quietly, listening to Jack's soft breathing in his ear.

His stomach began to churn sickeningly and Daniel wondered how it could keep rebelling even though there was nothing left to expel. The familiar feeling of nausea swept over him and he scrambled out of bed, heading for the door. Before he took two steps, he began retching and he quickly turned and grabbed the garbage can Jack had placed by the bed earlier.

"Daniel?" Jack's voice sounded worried and Daniel couldn't answer him yet, face still in the garbage can, his breath coming in panting gasps before another bout of heaving assailed him.

"Damn it," Daniel exclaimed softly when he was able to, sitting down heavily on the mattress. "There go the Tylenol."

"Get back into bed," Jack said as he slid over to sit beside Daniel, removing the container from his hands. Daniel did as ordered, his body-heat having been captured by the sheets and blankets warming his fevered body. Jack went to the bathroom and returned a minute later placing the now clean garbage can by the bed once more.

Daniel turned to Jack as the older man got into bed. "We'll try the Tylenol again a little later, okay?" Jack asked gently. Daniel nodded his head, forgetting for a moment that Jack couldn't see him but not having the energy to answer him when he did remember. Jack cupped the back of his head and Daniel closed his eyes, trying to sleep.

Sleep was a mixture of strange, vivid dreams and a restlessness of body aches and pains he couldn't escape from. Jack was there each time he woke with either medication, water, or room-temperature soft drink. The night dragged on and on, and Daniel felt bad because he knew he was preventing Jack from getting any rest. The only good thing was that he'd been able to keep the pills and liquids down.

The last Daniel remembered was watching the sun come up, the room getting progressively lighter. When he opened his eyes again, he was alone in bed and the blinds had been pulled down all the way to cut out the sunlight. But Daniel could see that it was late morning because the sun was shining through the edges of the window.

He sat up slowly, needing to pee. His legs were weak and rubbery as he made his way to the bathroom. He took the opportunity to brush his teeth, washing the foul taste from his mouth.

He went looking for Jack, searching the living room, kitchen, basement, and back yard. By the time he'd decided that Jack wasn't in the house, Daniel felt like he'd run a marathon. Debating between the bedroom and the couch, Daniel opted for the couch so he'd know the moment Jack got back home. Daniel wondered where Jack might have gone. Hammond had ordered the base on total stand down, with only a skeleton staff to welcome returning teams, so Jack wouldn't have gone to work, would he?

The sound of the front door opening woke Daniel out of a light doze. Although the nausea wasn't that all-consuming at the moment, his head throbbed and his whole body ached. He pushed himself up and peered blearily at Jack, who was heading for the kitchen, a plastic bag hanging from his hand.

"Jack?" Daniel called out. He saw Jack pause, his head swiveling towards him before he changed direction.

"Hey, Daniel," Jack said in greeting as he placed the bag carefully near the stairs before stepping down to the living room area.

"Where'd you go?" Daniel asked, sitting up all the way as Jack reached him. He put a hand out to guide Jack towards him, taking pleasure in the feel of Jack's hands as they flitted over him, which was Jack's way of checking him out.

Jack's fingers were cold against Daniel's skin as they pressed against his cheek and forehead. Jack's face scrunched into a slight frown telling Daniel that his fever was probably up.

"We ran out of Tylenol so I made a quick run to the store," Jack explained. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"

"Yeah, I guess," Daniel said feeling guilty that Jack had had to go out because of him. "I'll get up in a minute." The thought of actually getting up and walking didn't appeal to him. He lay back down on the couch, feeling a little bereft when Jack stood up and went to put the groceries away. He closed his eyes, listening to Jack moving around the house, only to open them again in surprise when Jack placed a blanket over him and handed him a pillow. He gratefully pulled the blanket over his shoulders, its warmth reminding him how chilled he was.

The thermometer was waved in front of his face and with a sigh he took it and stuck it in his mouth. Jack felt around until he was situated before Daniel, and seated himself on the coffee table. Together they waited for the thermometer's verdict: 102.4. Geez, was that bug ever going to let go of him?

Pills and a glass of liquid seemed to magically appear in Jack's hands. Daniel sipped at the apple juice realizing Jack must have just purchased it. Daniel felt so tired and miserable. He laid his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes. The glass was removed from his hands and Jack's fingers threaded through his hair. A gentle kiss on his temple and the whispered words, 'Go to sleep,' were encouragement enough make him smile before obeying the directive.

Daniel dozed fitfully, partially aware of Jack puttering away in the kitchen. The sounds of domesticity were reassuring rather than invasive. Drowsily he wondered what Jack was doing but he was too tired to get up and look.

He was aware at one point of Jack's hands on his face again but didn't bother opening his eyes to acknowledge him. When sometime later he did finally rouse enough to sit up and take notice of the world once more, he saw Jack sitting in the chair beside him, computer on his lap, busily working.

Jack's head swiveled immediately towards Daniel and Jack removed the earphone from his ear disconnecting himself from his talking software.

"You awake?" Jack said softly, obviously not wanting to wake Daniel if he had only been shifting around in his sleep.

"Yeah," Daniel sighed. He looked around the room, noting that it was late afternoon. It was pouring rain outside and a corner lamp dimly illuminated the living room. Daniel must have slept on and off most of the afternoon.

"How are you feeing?" Jack carefully placed the laptop on the chair behind him and then felt his way to the couch. Daniel sat up all the way, making room for Jack. The movement sent a slight chill through his body and he realized that he'd been sweating; his clothes and blanket were nearly soaked.

"A little better," Daniel admitted. His head didn't hurt and his joints and muscles didn't ache as much whenever he moved. He did feel very weak and lightheaded though and leaned into Jack, enjoying the feel of his arm around him.

"Think you can eat a little something?" Jack asked after handing him the thermometer.

For once that day the thought of food didn't make him ill. He nodded into Jack's shoulder and then sighed with relief when the thermometer informed them that Daniel's fever wasn't far from registering normal.

"Do you feel strong enough to take a quick shower first? You'll probably feel a whole lot better afterwards."

"Yeah, that's a great idea," Daniel agreed, wanting to get the feel of illness off of him. He got up and headed for the bathroom, Jack following along behind him. Jack took Daniel's damp clothes and within seconds Daniel was under the refreshing stream of water. He simply stood there for a while enjoying the sensation of the warm water running off his body. When his legs began to shake he made short work of washing himself and turned the water off.

He stepped out of the shower and was surprised to see Jack standing before him with a large bath towel spread open in his hands. He enveloped Daniel in its soft warmth and quickly toweled him dry. Clean sweats were neatly folded on the sink and once he'd gotten into them Daniel was then led into a freshly changed bed.

A tray bearing Jello, dry toast and clear broth waited by the bedside. A few magazines and a novel Daniel had begun reading a while back sat beside the tray along with Jack's Walkman with three of Daniel's favorite CDs.

"What's all this?" Daniel asked with a smile as Jack tucked two pillows behind his back.

"Just a few things to help while away the time," Jack answered as he sat beside Daniel. He picked up the tray and placed it on Daniel's lap. "Unless you feel like going back to sleep," Jack added.

"No, I think I'm pretty much awake right now," Daniel answered as he took a cautious sip of the warm chicken broth. His stomach gurgled at the intrusion, then quieted.

"I don't think I can eat much of this," Daniel said as he nibbled on a piece of toast.

"Eat what you can," Jack urged as he sat beside him.

Two more sips of broth and two half pieces of toast later the now familiar nausea swept over Daniel. He pushed the tray back onto the table and laid his head on the pillows.

"You okay?" Jack inquired, worry tingeing his voice. Daniel tried to control his breathing, fighting back the sickness.

"Yeah," he lied. He was grateful to Jack for making this illness easier on him but felt guilty at the thought of Jack having to take care of him all day long. He would have been better off at home alone without having placed this extra burden on his lover.

"Right," Jack said sarcastically.

The bed dipped as Jack crawled over Daniel and then strong arms pulled him against Jack's chest. Daniel leaned his head against the strong, warm body, feeling strangely safe and secure as he was held. He wondered if it was a remnant of childhood, of needing to be held when not feeling well. He felt embarrassed at the thought; he was a grown man. He should be whining and complaining about his illness rather than snuggling up to his lover.

When the nausea eventually began to subside, Daniel knew he had won a small battle with the virus. He pulled away from Jack and sat back against the headboard.

"Better now?"

"A little," he said, although the sight of the congealing broth on the tray threatened to make his stomach start churning again. "Um, do you think you could take the tray back into the kitchen? I don't think I can eat anymore."

Jack got up and made his way to the table, his fingers passing over the toast, probably wanting to know how much Daniel had eaten. "Try to drink some liquids," Jack ordered as he turned towards the door. As he left, Jack's right leg bumped into the chair by the bed, and the cup containing the broth tipped off the tray and smashed on the floor.

"Shit," Jack exclaimed. When Jack bent down to test out the damage, Daniel quickly jumped out of bed and stopped him before he placed his hands on some of the sharper pieces.

"I'll clean this up," Daniel said, pulling Jack up and away from the mess. He felt guilty for having asked Jack to take the food away; he should have done it himself. Jack had done more than his share for Daniel today.

"You're sick, Daniel," Jack argued. "You shouldn't be doing this."

"Jack, I can do this. You've done enough for me. Just go, relax. I'll take care of this." He carefully guided Jack away from greasy liquid and broken glass, following Jack into the kitchen for a wad of paper towels. He carefully cleaned the mess up, dumping everything into the garbage can still sitting near the bed. The odor of the broth made his nausea worse. As he stood, his head swam dizzyingly for a moment and he swayed until he got his balance.

He dumped everything into the kitchen's garbage can and rinsed out the smaller garbage pail before washing his hands, trying to rid himself of the sickening smell.

He went looking for Jack and found him in the living room, sitting quietly in his favorite chair, his computer on the floor at his feet.

"Jack, are you okay?" Daniel asked, worried that Jack might be sick.

"I hate being so damned clumsy," Jack burst out, slapping his hand on the chair's armrest.

"Hey," Daniel said as he stood near him. "It happens, Jack. And it'll happen again, count on it. Anyways, you weren't always that graceful when you had your sight. Hell, look at me. How many times have I tripped or dropped something? I remember you saying once that I broke more drinking glasses than Charlie did."

Jack frowned at Daniel's words. "Yeah, but you shouldn't have to clean up my messes, especially when you're sick."

"Geez, you cleaned up my mess last night; I don't see why I can't do the same for you," he said as he sat down on the couch beside Jack. The older man continued to brood for a while, then leaned forward and picked up the TV remote and turned the television on. They both sat there listening to the Simpsons until Daniel's headache returned forcing him to curl up on the sofa. Soon he was feeling dreadful once more and he suspected his fever had returned with the setting of the sun.

Unable to stand the sound of the comedy show playing on the screen and unwilling to take away Jack's enjoyment in the show, Daniel shuffled his way back to the bedroom. The sheets were cold and he shivered as he drew the blanket up to his chin.

He jumped when Jack's cool fingers touched his cheek, pulling him out of a light sleep. The damned thermometer was handed to him again and he began hating the sound of it when it informed them that he had a fever of 102.7. Damn, but he'd felt almost human for barely an hour today. Jack handed him more Tylenol and water and he angrily swallowed the pills. He was fed up with being sick. His head throbbed mercilessly and he couldn't find a comfortable position in bed. He was hot and pushed the blankets away, only to wrap himself in them again when he began shivering.

Daniel snapped at Jack when told to try and drink more liquids and then felt contrite when Jack left him alone in his misery. Was it only a few hours ago when he'd contemplated that he should have been whiny and complaining instead of grateful that Jack cared? He lay in the large bed, lonely and sick and miserable. So when Jack finally came to bed, Daniel meekly submitted to the thermometer and yet more pills. He drank double the amount of water than he felt comfortable with and then spooned up against Jack's warmth.

The night seemed long and endless, his fever and headache preventing him from sleeping deeply, only falling into a restful sleep once more when the sun began to rise. He woke up again late in the morning drenched in sweat but with his headache gone and with an actual appetite. He still felt wrung out and shaky but much better than the past day.

Daniel took a quick shower and followed the smell of coffee to the kitchen.

"How are you feeling?" Jack asked as Daniel poured himself a cup of the hot brew.

"Lots better, thanks." He sat down at his usual place, and smiled as he saw Jack had already placed apple sauce, toast, jam and a bit of cheese on his plate. Jack walked by Daniel's chair and leaned over to kiss him good morning.

"Hmm, no fever," Jack said when he came up for air.

"Except the one you're trying to start," Daniel answered back with a smile before taking a sip of coffee as Jack took his seat beside Daniel.

Daniel cleaned his plate and enjoyed the feeling of not being queasy. He felt much better after his meal, although he figured it might be another day or two before he felt one hundred percent.

"Sorry for having been such a pain," Daniel said to Jack as he put his dirty dishes in the sink and rinsing them out.

"Well, you're my pain so I guess I'm stuck with you," Jack quipped.

"I'm just glad you were here with me, Jack. I mean, I know it wasn't pleasant for you but it meant a lot to me having you take care of me." He realized how Jack had been there for him each and every moment with medication, food, water, and love. It hadn't mattered that Jack couldn't see; he had more than been able to anticipate Daniel's needs.

"Daniel, with everything you did for me when I got back from Hannara this was nothing. You know I'm here for you, always."

"I know, Jack," he answered, leaning over and kissing Jack. "Thank you."

- - - - - -

"Daniel, you in here?" Jack paused at the entrance to Daniel's office, he could hear the hum of his lover's computer but no other sound was forthcoming.

"Jack." Daniel's cool tone indicated that he wasn't pleased. He must have received General Hammond's email already. Damn, Jack had wanted to talk to Daniel first himself.

"I gather you're not happy with my decision?" Jack stepped into Daniel's office, the dim interior a welcome change from the bright fog of the hallways.

"I thought you'd changed your mind. I thought you were content to stay on Earth and not go offworld." By the way Daniel's voice echoed in the room, Jack knew he had his back to Jack. Yep, he was pissed.

"I am content, Daniel. It's not a matter of stepping through the Stargate; it's putting the nightmare behind me once and for all." Jack's cane touched one of the rollers of Daniel's chair and he reached out, feeling the material beneath his fingers. "I *need* to go back to Hannara. It took a lot of sweet talking but General Hammond's agreed to let me go. And you know that Mackenzie is all for it; hell, he'd accompany me himself if he thought he could get away with it."

He heard Daniel snort; more than likely their resident shrink would need one of his medical cohorts to help him deal with the aftermath of offworld stresses were he to make the trip. The doctor had confided in Jack that he was glad he never had to travel to other worlds, staying on Earth was hard enough, thank you.

"I got the email, Jack. The briefing is scheduled for two hours from now." Daniel's voice was still curt but Jack knew he wouldn't be mad for long. "Damn it, Jack. I seem to be screwing up everything we learned in Tucson. You know, the whole independence thing. And I know you can do this, Jack. I mean, look at how well you took care of me when I was sick two weeks ago. I know you can do it, Jack. It's just...I don't want to see you hurt again."

"Daniel," Jack said softly. The chair moved beneath his fingers as Daniel turned towards him and Jack took a step back. He felt Daniel's knee press against the side of his leg. "I know this is going to be hard on you, going back there and remembering how they treated me. Hell, I know it's going to be hard on me, too. But I really want to do this. I hope you understand because I'm really going to need your support there."

"I hate the idea of going back there and I hate it even more knowing you're going too." Daniel sighed loudly, then his warm fingers pressed against Jack's hand. "But you know I'll back you up one hundred percent."

"I can do this. With you alongside me, Daniel, I can do anything."

* * * *

Jack leaned against the cool cement wall, trying to appear relaxed and nonchalant, even though his heart was racing. He'd stuffed his hands into his BDU pockets so he wouldn't have to continuously wipe them down his pant legs. There was a constant background noise in the room; the whine of electric current and machinery, boots shuffling, and soft murmurs, but it wasn't enough to drown out the one set of footsteps he was avidly listening for.

The Stargate would be activated in a few minutes and he would finally be stepping back to the world that had both enslaved him and freed him. General Hammond had been all for it, especially seeing how diplomatic relations had been at a standstill for months after Daniel had rescued Jack from near certain death. The Hannaran Councilors had been embarrassed, some outraged, and a few had even harbored hostility towards the Tau'ri, and President Griffor had been hard-pressed to keep order. Diplomatic posturing had resumed a few short weeks ago and the general had thought that now was the perfect time for Jack to make a re-appearance.

Of course when Jack had hesitantly approached Mackenzie about wanting to return to Hannara the psychiatrist had encouraged him to do so. He felt that Jack needed to confront his fears. But what Jack really wanted was to show those bigwigs on Hannara that there was life after illness. Daniel wanted him to talk about stopping slavery but what Jack was more interested in was preventing people from becoming outcasts. However in the end, the two were one and the same.

So here he stood with his former teammates and Lou Ferretti. Jack was glad that Colonel Rivera wasn't accompanying them on this trip. He had nothing against SG-1's current leader, and he knew that he was a good man, but he was more comfortable with Lou. Besides, the Hannarans had insisted the original team be present for this banquet, along with members of SG-9 who were currently involved with the newly convened negotiations.

A loud rumble began and Jack knew the Stargate had begun rotating. A rapid tattoo of footsteps caught Jack's attention and he pushed off the wall, anticipating Daniel's entry into the room. He smiled and adjusted his sunglasses; some things never changed. Daniel's timing was impeccable; Sgt. Davis had just begun calling out the chevrons as Daniel walked up to Jack.

"Glad to see you could make it," Jack quipped.

"Lou wanted me to take a P-90; I had to turn around and fill out the paperwork," Daniel sighed.

Jack raised a hand and reached for Daniel's shoulder. He found the gun strap and followed it down to the weapon itself which was held loosely against Daniel's chest. That had been a concession that Jack had won; they were going to Hannara armed to the teeth. Daniel had argued against bringing weapons until he was blue but Jack had countered that there were people on the planet who dealt with human lives, throwing them away like refuse once the slaves couldn't keep up with their chores. If SG-1 were to encounter any of those slave traders Jack wanted to be absolutely certain none of his friends went through the ordeal that he had.

"I feel naked wearing BDU's armed with only a knife and a cane," Jack admitted as he lifted Daniel's gun and checked the clip. Satisfying himself that all was in order, he let it fall gently against Daniel.

The Stargate kawooshed and the grey fog surrounding Jack momentarily turned into a bright grey fog. He had never noticed how loud the sound of the gate was before, nor how their footsteps sounded as he heard first Teal'c, then Ferretti and Carter, start up the metallic ramp.

"Ready?" Daniel asked softly as he offered Jack his arm.

Jack took his folded cane out of one of his BDU pockets. "No," Jack said. "You know how I hate to make speeches. Do you have our bags?"

Daniel snorted as Jack clasped Daniel's arm.

"Teal'c has them," Daniel answered as they began to walk towards the portal he knew was waiting before him. Jack was glad that he and Wendover had gone over this room during the past two weeks. He knew exactly how many steps it took to get to the very edge of the vortex.

He could feel its energy inches from his face and he stopped, marveling at how different it felt when active.

"Let's get this show on the road," Jack said with an assurance he was far from feeling.

"Meet you on the other side," Ferretti said. Jack heard the faint plop of bodies disappearing into the wormhole. Teal'c and Carter had followed Lou in and Jack squeezed Daniel's bicep in warning before he took a step forward and into the roller coaster maelstrom he hadn't experienced in months.

Jack stumbled as he stepped onto the hard-packed ground and suddenly he couldn't tell up from down. He would have fallen if hands hadn't caught him. He tried to right himself but couldn't seem to make his legs work. Bile burned along his throat and he swallowed it back down, coughing at the sensation.

It took a few seconds but he finally realized he was sitting down on cool grass, leaning against a very hard, warm bulk. An arm had a secure hold around his waist and the vertigo he'd experienced finally began to disappear. He could hear voices chattering above his head, calling his name. He waved his hand in irritation.

"Ack! Ack!" he said loudly, wanting them to quiet down. "I'm fine, just got a little dizzy for a second. Teal'c, you can let go now."

The hold around his waist loosened a little and Jack pulled away, dragging his feet under him. Hands helped him up and he swayed slightly before regaining his balance. He dusted himself off, making a show of it, then said softly, "Daniel?"

"Here." He felt Daniel put something in his hand and as he curled his fingers around the object he realized it was his cane. He gripped it with his right hand and with his left caught Daniel's arm. As they began walking down the dirt path, Jack sweeping the ground before him with his cane, he leaned close to Daniel and asked, "How big an audience?"

"The transport is just arriving now, Jack. Don't worry, nobody saw."

"That's a relief. They'd probably think I started partying before the banquet."

"You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. It's funny, I never got that kind of a reaction going through the gate before."

"Maybe next time you might try taking Dramamine... you know, for motion sickness? I'm sure it would work fine for gate sickness."

Jack reached back and swatted Daniel's butt lightly with his cane. He bit his cheek to stop from laughing as he heard his lover yelp, wishing he could have seen his expression.

- - - - - -

Jack was almost sorry he hadn't taken any Dramamine as the Hannaran transport went up and down hills and swerved along curves. The smells coming through the open window were sickeningly familiar and his stomach had begun churning again at the memories they invoked. They were passing farms, the unique odor of animal dung reminding him of the hours he'd spent hip deep in the stuff in the compost house as punishment. The man who had bought him thought his herd of sheep-like deer more to be more precious than the human lives he'd purchased to care for them.

"Sir, are you all right?" Carter asked quietly beside him.

Jack turned towards Carter on his right, trying to breathe through his mouth.

"Yeah, peachy," he said. "I just hate that smell," he confided after a moment. He laid his head back on the seat cushion and continued in a low voice so that Laewin couldn't hear. "I tried to escape one day when my owner was planning a dinner party for very important guests. Not that I realized I'd screwed up his plans at the time but let's just say he wasn't happy about the uproar. I got up close and personal with a lot of that stink for my troubles."

"We're nearing the city limits," Daniel said as he stroked Jack's thigh. The scent of animal dung soon disappeared, although its memory lingered in the back of Jack's nose. He sniffed a few times hoping to clear his sinuses.

Once he'd gotten the wasting sickness, probably due to his weakened condition, his owner had dumped him at the city's outskirts along with two others who were ill. His trip down shit alley had caused many of his open wounds to get infected, thus lowering his immune system even more.

The large van-like transport slowed and Jack could hear the familiar sounds of the city. Jack had never thought he'd be back here on Hannara and tried to ignore the shivers that coursed down his spine at the unpleasant memories. When their transport came to a stop and Laewin and the driver had gotten out, Daniel quickly whispered the layout of the hotel before them. Good, there were no steps and he opted to not use his cane and allow Daniel to discreetly lead him inside.

"Dj vu. Looks like we got the same suite as the last time," Daniel intoned as Jack entered the room, stepping onto plush carpeting. He could tell from the echoes in the room that it was vast.

"I will return for you in good time for the banquet," Laewin said. "The weather remains fair; do you wish to walk through the market once more or would you wish to be brought by conveyance to the palace?"

"If you wouldn't mind, Laewin, could we go by conveyance?" Sam asked.

"Of course not," Laewin replied. "Please, enjoy yourselves and be welcome."

The door closed softly behind the Hannaran.

"Thanks Carter," Jack said gratefully. "I really didn't relish the idea of going through that crowd in order to get to the Palace." As much as he had believed he was over much of the pain he'd experienced here, he realized that he still had many issues to get over.

"That's what I thought, sir." She came close to him and asked, "Would you like a guided tour of our room?"

"Sure," Jack said as he snapped open his cane. As he took her arm he psyched himself for the arduous duty of memorizing the layout of their room, a necessary evil since they were scheduled to be here until at least tomorrow afternoon.

"Okay, the door is two steps behind you and one to the left. Straight ahead is the bathroom and there are six bedrooms attached to the living quarters, three to each side."

"Lead on, Dorothy," Jack said as he took one step forward and began counting.

- - - - - -

"And I'm sure you are familiar with your own people," President Griffor finally said, leaving Jack's head swimming with the multitude of names he'd had thrown at him in the past fifteen minutes.

"Colonel O'Neill," a familiar voice sounded to Jack's right. He turned his head towards the voice and smiled. "Major DiCarlo. How are they treating you here?"

"The Hannarans are a lovely people, sir," she answered. "We've been enjoying our stay here very much and I'm pleased to say that negotiations have been proceeding even more quickly that I'd expected. President Griffor and her staff have been very accommodating and I'm sure General Hammond will be happy with what we've managed to accomplish in the past two weeks."

"Good, good. And have you managed to visit any of the sites I recommended you go see?"

"Jack?" Daniel asked in a questioning tone.

Jack ignored Daniel and waited for the major's answer.

"Yes, sir, we did actually. Hannara is a beautiful world and the countryside is very reminiscent of Earth."

"Yes, we have tried to keep our world unspoiled," one of the councilmen said from behind Jack who had very obviously overheard. "We pride ourselves with our clean cities and sweeping landscapes."

"We did find a few places quite interesting. I thought maybe you'd like see what we found, sir." She took his hand and placed a folded sheet of paper into it. Jack smiled when his fingers encountered the embossed print of Braille on it. He placed the paper into his pocket.

"Thank you, major. I'll be very interested to see if we had the same tastes."

Their party continued on through the massive room with Jack keeping a hand on either Daniel or Carter to guide him.

"What the hell was that about?" Daniel hissed in Jack's ear.

"Tell you later," Jack replied as they came to a stop before another group of guests.

It was very disorienting and disconcerting; he was surrounded by voices and music and at no time did he have any idea exactly where he was in the room. He was totally dependent on his friends to steer him in the right direction.

Finally soft chimes rang out announcing that their meal was ready. Being the guests of honor they filed into the room last after the President and Jack suspected that all eyes were on them. His legs were shaking as he kept a discreet hand on Daniel's elbow, who described the room in a low voice as they made their way to their assigned seats.

"If you reach out you'll be able to touch the back of your chair," Daniel told him when they finally came to a stop. Jack did so and managed to pull out the heavy chair and seat himself in it without knocking into the table.

"There are three forks to your right and two spoons on your left. You'll be handed a knife with your dinner plate. Water glass is approximately a foot away, in direct line with your right hand. The wine glass is just behind it. Napkin is right in front of you where your plate is going to go. Don't pick it up yet," Daniel admonished as Jack lifted a hand. "Wait till the President takes hers."

Jack heard a rustle of cloth along the elongated table and was reaching for his napkin before Daniel gave him the go ahead. Servants walked along behind them and began serving them a variety of dishes. Jack waited until Daniel described each dish before eating.

"You might want to skip this one," Daniel said at one point.

"Why," he asked curiously.

"Our meal looks suspiciously like escargots. Except they're still moving."

"Gross," Jack said; glad for once that he couldn't see what was in front of him. So far everything had been very delicious and different from the plain fare he'd had to eat on the planet. "People are eating these things?"

"Well, the Hannarans are. And Teal'c seems to be enjoying them, although I think Sam is looking a little green."

He felt Daniel's arm brush his own and Jack asked, "What?"

"Ummm, nothing, except that your meal's trying to escape." He heard a clattering sound and realized Daniel had dropped the snail back onto his plate. Jack sat stiffly in his seat after that until the plate was removed, afraid that the creatures would start crawling over him.

The rest of the meal passed by uneventfully and Jack was finally called upon to speak. He reached for his water as President Griffor formally called for her guests' attention.

As his fingers accidentally knocked over the glass, he realized belatedly that someone had moved his glass. He patted the area before him trying to find the goblet before it rolled off the table.

"He cannot see!" a voice exclaimed across from him.

"We were told he had been cured of his ills!"

"Blind!"

"Lies!"

The words echoed up and down the table, everyone talking at once.

"Daniel, what just happened?"

"I don't know," Daniel said in a bewildered voice.

"I think they didn't realize you were blind," Carter said from his left.

"Ya think?" Jack groused as the President tried to quiet everyone down.

Jack pushed his chair away from the table and stood. The people nearest him quieted down and soon the whole table became silent.

"Yes, I can't see," Jack began when he knew he had all of their attention. "I'm blind. I never hid the fact from anyone," he continued. "I wear these," he said as he removed his sunglasses and folded them, placing them carefully in a vest pocket, "because it makes some people uncomfortable to talk to me. I wasn't trying to hide this disability from any of you.

"You all know my story, I'm sure. In a nutshell, I was taken from my team on another planet, sold into slavery here, and became an outcast when I contracted your wasting sickness." A few persons mumbled here and there and Jack waited a moment for the room to quiet again.

"I'm here tonight to prove to you all that there is life for those who are outcasts besides what they're forced to endure. Most of the outcasts are so because of illness or bad luck. We can help you take care of these people and show you how to bring them back into a productive life. Even those with the wasting sickness can be helped. Even the blind can be taught. Look at me." He spread his hands open and smiled.

"Danny, are they looking?" he hissed out of the corner of his mouth.

"Oh yeah," Daniel answered back.

"You need to start with addressing the fact that some of your people deal with slavery. Abolish slavery and you'll cut the number of outcasts in half."

The table erupted in angry voices and Jack slammed a hand down forcefully.

"I was a slave here for six months!" he yelled. "Don't you dare try and tell me slavery doesn't exist. Do you know what's worse than people dealing in the selling of human lives?" Jack took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He spoke softly. "It's those who turn their eyes away when they know what's going on before them."

In rapid fire he pointed towards three familiar voices at the table. "You, you, and you," Jack said. "You visited my owner's farm one day. I heard you all talking and laughing while I was hip deep in manure, hidden from sight." He pointed to the first one again. "You were talking about a new shipment of your favorite wine you'd just bought and how it was sour."

"You were smoking that damned pipe," Jack said to the second voice who was now wafting thick smoke his way, "and saying how your wife had just bought you a new hunting dog as a surprise. And you," Jack said turning to the third, "said that something should be done about the way the owner of that farm managed things."

He slipped a shaking hand into his pocket and removed the piece of paper DiCarlo had given him. Flattening it on the table before him, he turned his head as if he were gazing at the people sitting at the table.

"Well, here's your chance to do something about it. Here I have the names of some of those who deal 'in the flesh' as you call it. Of course there are only a few on this list but if you begin with these I'm sure you'll eventually root all of them out and, in the end, put a stop to both slavery and those who are outcast.

Several voices began shouting but President Griffor finally yelled over them, demanding silence.

"Colonel O'Neill, I would very much wish to hear these names."

Jack ran his fingers along the words printed before him and began reading them out loud. He smiled with grim satisfaction when Roshail, his former owner, was third on the list.

- - - - - -

Jack walked into the hotel room loosening his tie with relief. He was glad that that ordeal was over with.

He'd gotten to speak with Major DiCarlo before leaving the palace and had congratulated her and her team on a job well done. President Griffor had thanked Jack privately. She had been trying to convince her Councilors for years to clean up the vermin who traded in slaves but most had wanted nothing to do with it. Jack's speech had publicly embarrassed them all and she was sure that his words that night had incited them all enough to start doing something about the problem.

As he walked into their bedroom, Jack was very conscious of Daniel's continued silence behind him. He knew Daniel was hurt because Jack hadn't confided in him and Jack figured he had some major apologizing to do tonight.

He unbuttoned his jacket of his dress blues and slipped it off his shoulders, refraining from throwing it onto the bed, knowing he'd have to search for it later in order to put it away. He walked to the closet fumbling for the door handle. As he hung the jacket up he heard the bed squeak as Daniel sat down on it.

Jack turned and aimed for the slight sound, pleased when he found Daniel unerringly. He ran a hand over Daniel's shoulder, the soft silk of Daniel's suit warmed by the skin beneath it.

"You mad?" Jack asked as he brought his fingers to Daniel's neck and stroked his cheek. Daniel turned his face into Jack's hand and kissed his palm.

"Not mad, just a little disappointed you didn't confide in me."

"I'm sorry, Daniel. I knew you'd be upset but you had so much to worry about before this trip that I didn't want to burden you with this little vendetta of mine. Coming back here couldn't have been that much fun for you either."

"I wasn't worried," Daniel replied as he brought his arms around Jack's waist and leaned forward, pressing his face against Jack's abdomen.

"Yes you were. You kept grinding your teeth whenever I brought the subject of Hannara up."

"I did not," Daniel protested, still leaning against Jack.

"Did too."

"Did not."

"Did."

"Didn't."

"So you don't mind that I asked DiCarlo to keep an eye open?"

Daniel took a deep breath and pulled away. "I'd be lying if I said yes, I don't mind, but I understand what you were trying to do." Jack felt Daniel's fingers move to his hips and squeeze slightly before he pushed Jack away.

"It's late. Go shower first; I need to put a few papers in order. We should get to bed soon since we need to get up early tomorrow morning to meet with President Griffor and her Cabinet."

Daniel was right, it was late and Jack was tired. As he sat down on the bed to untie his shoes, Daniel kissed the back of Jack's nape.

"I'm really proud of you, Jack."

He wished he could see Daniel's face at this moment, but the love he could hear reflected in his voice would do.

- - - - - -

"Hey there." Daniel spun in his chair at the familiar tapping of Jack's cane on the cement floor. He smiled at his lover, knowing that even if Jack couldn't see it, he could hear the difference in Daniel's voice. Well at least that was what Jack claimed.

"Hey yourself." Daniel watched as Jack felt for the extra chair Daniel kept at his desk. "How'd the meeting with the representatives from P2R-115 go?" He stifled a yawn by turning his head into his shoulder.

"You know, yadda, yadda. Talked a little, schmoozed a little." Jack gestured widely with one hand and Daniel grabbed the small vase he'd been given as a gift by the ruler of the last planet he'd visited.

"You schmooze?" Daniel grinned. "I'd like to see that."

"It could be arranged, Daniel." Jack grinned back, his eyebrows waggling. He pressed the button on his watch and sighed when it announced the time. "You want to catch a quick lunch? I have a lecture in fifty minutes with some new recruits. I get to tell them all my little secrets."

Yawning again, Daniel sighed too. "Sorry, Jack. I have a translation I have to get done by one." He yawned once more and closed his eyes as Jack's hand unerringly found his forehead. "I'm not sick."

"Why don't you go to your apartment after you finish the translation?" Jack held up a hand as Daniel opened his mouth. "I know General Hammond told you that you have some time off coming. I'll meet you there and we can go out for dinner somewhere nice. I'm sure Carter will drop me off at your place. It's not out of her way."

"I should..." At Jack's small 'humph' Daniel gave in. "Okay, I'll see you at the apartment later."

"I thought maybe we could do some Christmas shopping after dinner." Jack stood, gathering his cane, and waiting for Daniel's reply.

"Sounds good, Jack," Daniel said, already turning back to his computer. He shook his head as the door closed behind Jack. They'd both come to terms, to peace, with Jack's blindness. After the trip to Hannara Jack had seemed to gain even more confidence. Daniel smiled as he thought of the letter Jack received earlier in the week. Jack would be going to school again. He'd been accepted in the program to receive a guide dog, although he wouldn't be going for the training until the summer. Reaching for his cup of coffee and gulping down the now cold brew, Daniel studied the pictures on his screen. Maybe after they went for dinner and shopping Daniel could persuade Jack to partake of dessert. With that happy thought, Daniel began attacking the translation with renewed energy.

* * * * *

"Carter, you about ready to go?" Jack listened as she fiddled with some gadget or the other. A few hours lecturing to new recruits and a morning spent with some off-world diplomats had Jack looking forward to a few days away from the SGC. He'd heard how tired Daniel was earlier, the weariness in his voice unmistakable. They'd both been busy over the past month and the thought of a dinner neither of them needed to cook or pull out of boxes was very appealing.

"Okay, sir. I'm ready." Carter was by his side, pulling Jack out of his thoughts of the evening ahead. She waited for him to unfold his cane and then offered her arm. He took it, using the cane along with her arm. She chattered on about some sort of experiment she was running and Jack was lucky to understand one word in three.

He interrupted when she took a breath as they boarded the elevator. "So, Carter, you ride your motorcycle today?"

"As a matter of fact, I...oh no," Jack smiled as he heard her gasp. "Sir, perhaps General Hammond could arrange for transportation."

"Why? You have an extra helmet don't you?"

"Yes." The word was drawn out and suddenly laughter filled the elevator cab. "You planned this, didn't you? You waited until we had a warm day and then you figured I'd ride the motorcycle. You sent Daniel home on purpose." The accusatory tone she was striving for was ruined by the grin he could tell she wore.

"Carter, Daniel thinks motorcycles are dangerous when you can see. I don't think he'd be thrilled I was riding it when I can't see."

"Huh," Carter grunted as they exited the elevator and began walking to the parking lot. "Did I ever tell you how he drove when Janet and I accompanied him to Egypt?"

"Ah, his speed demon persona?" Jack asked. He could just imagine Carter's eyes rolling at the comment.

"Are you sure you want to do this, sir?" Carter stopped walking and Jack folded up his cane.

"I'm sure, Carter." Jack took a deep breath as she placed a helmet in his hands. He placed it on his head and kept one hand on Carter's shoulder as she got on the bike, following her instructions to mount the motorcycle himself. He let her adjust his legs and felt her touch something on his helmet.

"Can you hear me, sir?"

He gave her the thumbs up and grabbed hold of her waist as she started up the bike.

"Hang on, sir," sounded in his ears and Jack closed his eyes, although he didn't know why. He wondered if this was really such a good idea as Carter accelerated around a curve and picked up speed.

* * * * * * *

Daniel opened his balcony doors. Jack had called about an hour ago letting him know he'd be leaving with Sam as soon as she finished up her experiment. Despite it being the end of November the weather was unseasonably warm and he enjoyed standing on his balcony in shirt sleeves. Daniel was looking forward to seeing the Christmas decorations and lights when he and Jack went shopping later. He felt a momentary regret as he realized Jack wouldn't be able to experience the visual treat of colored lights.

It was still fairly quiet in his neighborhood at this time of day, people still at work or doing after work errands, so when the motorcycle pulled up in front of his building Daniel found his eyes drawn to it. He frowned. That looked like Sam's bike, but surely Sam and Jack wouldn't have come home on...he crossed his arms over his chest as he saw the riders get off the motorcycle. Shaking his head, Daniel watched as Jack took off the helmet and handed it to Sam. She opened a compartment and handed Jack his cane. Daniel could see them talking and Sam pointing to the balcony. He waved to her and saw her moving Jack so that he was facing Daniel. Jack's head tilted back and even from this distance Daniel could see the huge grin his lover wore. Jack gave a wave in Daniel's direction and then tilted his head down to talk to Sam once more. She shook her head and waited while Jack made his way into the building before getting back onto her bike and speeding off.

"Hi, Daniel," Jack said as he let himself into the apartment. "Guess you saw how I got home."

"Yeah I did." Daniel crossed the room to Jack, drawing him into a hug and capturing his lover's face between his hands.

Jack brushed his fingers over Daniel's face and then lowered his head to meet Daniel's lips.

"You're cold," Daniel chided, pulling away after a quick kiss. He smiled, loving to see Jack so happy. "Was it fun?"

"Is this where you look disapprovingly at me and think I'm crazy?" Jack tilted his head before pulling off his glasses and placing them in his pocket.

"No, this is where I ask you if you had fun and tell you I love you." Daniel grinned as he wrapped his hands on Jack's leather jacket.

"It was incredible, Danny. Like flying," Jack whispered. "And for awhile I could forget." Jack touched his temple. "It was incredible," he repeated.

"Then I'm glad," Daniel whispered back. "Come on, we have reservations at Dominick's at five thirty. But it's only three now."

"You gonna show me some other ways to fly?" Jack followed Daniel through the apartment.

"I might be able to oblige, Jack." Daniel laughed as Jack wrapped his arms around him and fell backwards onto the bed with him.

"Daniel?" Jack pulled his legs onto the bed and sat up, touching Daniel's shoulder. Daniel sat up in alarm, concerned at Jack's sudden change of mood.

"Jack? Is something wrong? Did you get hurt?" Daniel studied Jack unable to see anything physically wrong with his lover.

"No, it's not that." Daniel could see Jack swallowing hard and his concern grew but he waited, trying to be patient.

"When I was a slave on Hannara," Jack began then shook his head, starting over. "When Roshail dropped me off at the outskirts to the city once I started getting sick, I was sure I was going to die there. And all I could think was that I'd never see your face again." Jack twisted, pulling Daniel into his arms. "I've never told you all I went through, Daniel. I don't want you to know. But MacKenzie says the reason I got through it was because I must have had something to hang onto, something to believe in." Daniel closed his eyes as Jack ran gentle fingers over his face. "When I came back, when you found me, and I thought all was lost, you were there for me."

"Always, Jack," Daniel whispered. "You'd do the same for me."

"I love you, Daniel. I know I don't say it often, but I wanted you to know. Our plans..."

Daniel placed a finger on Jack's lips. "Our plans are just different than they were, Jack. Not worse, not better, just different. We're just taking a new road, one we didn't expect to explore."

Jack sighed and shifted, sliding down in the bed, encouraging Daniel to place his head on his shoulder. "A new adventure, huh, Daniel?"

"Does it matter as long as we're together?" Daniel countered, knowing the answer in Jack's heart as well as his own. He pushed up a little, staring at his lover's face, the beautiful brown of Jack's eyes, the small smile on Jack's lips.

"You know, Daniel, it's funny how things work out," Jack said, rubbing his hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Sometimes I think I see better now than when I used my eyes. Now I see with my heart."

"What do you see, Jack?" Daniel rested his hand on Jack's chest, closing his eyes.

"I can see the good in people, Daniel. Maybe this is the way the man upstairs has chosen to remind me of that. That the world, the universe isn't always an ugly place." Jack gave a small laugh. "And love. I can see love when you touch me, in all those little ways you're here with me."

Daniel turned as Jack kissed his temple, moving up to meet Jack's lips with his own. "We're two damn lucky guys, you know?"

"I know," Jack murmured. "Believe me, I know."

* * * * *

"Hey, Danny, wake up." Jack shook his lover's shoulder. A quick press of his watch button confirmed his suspicions. It was already going on five. Daniel had fallen asleep on Jack's shoulder soon after they'd gone to the bedroom. With no book handy to read, Jack had taken a quick nap too. Beside him, Daniel stirred. "Come on," Jack shook again.

"Huh?"

Jack smiled at the rough voice. "It's almost five. Didn't you say we have reservations at five thirty?" The bed dipped as Daniel got out, muttering under his breath. He heard the sound of water running in the bathroom. Jack slid out of the bed himself, cautiously bending over to retrieve the jeans he'd shed earlier. He patted the floor, finding his shoes without difficulty. The water shut off and soon Daniel was back in the bedroom. He knew people thought Daniel was pokey sometimes but when Daniel needed to move he could. He heard drawers opening and shutting and something muttered in Abydonian.

"Need some help?" Jack asked as he finished tying his shoes.

"I'm fine," Daniel said, coming to Jack's side. He touched Jack's wrist, turning it. "Fifteen minutes. Not too shabby."

"You think we're going to make it to Dominick's in fifteen minutes?" Jack reached out to stroke Daniel's arm. Daniel had put on one of his polar fleece shirts and Jack smiled at the luxurious feel of the material under his fingertips.

"We will if you stop touching me like that," Daniel replied. Jack took a deep breath, following Daniel from the bedroom. He picked up his cane from the small table right inside the door and pulled it open as Daniel locked the door behind them.

"There are a lot of people at the elevator, Jack. Including Mrs. Thomson and Richie." Daniel leaned in closer to speak to him. "Stairs?"

"Stairs," Jack agreed. He stopped at the top of the first flight, reaching out a hand to find the railing. "You go first, Daniel," Jack requested. He could use the sound of Daniel's footsteps to help judge his own steps. Listening carefully and using his cane to find the edge of each step, Jack made his cautious way down the stairs behind Daniel, grinning in accomplishment when they made it to the garage level. He took Daniel's elbow as they began to walk towards Daniel's car, trusting Daniel to guide him. They didn't speak, their footsteps echoing on the cold cement floor, the smell of oil and exhaust fumes in the air. Jack sighed as he sat in the passenger seat, pulling his seatbelt across his shoulder and buckling it before Daniel even had the keys in the ignition. Jack closed his eyes as they began moving, relaxing as Daniel maneuvered through the Friday evening traffic.

"So, Daniel, any ideas on what Carter and Teal'c would like for Christmas?" Jack began, smiling as he heard Daniel's slight huff.

"You never change, Jack." The sound of the turn signal had Jack bracing his hand on the door. "I know what I'm getting them. You'll have to figure out what you're getting them on your own."

"Aw, Danny. That's no fair. Help a blind guy out here." Jack tried for whining but he couldn't help grinning as he teased so he figured his plan wouldn't work.

"Sorry, Jack." Daniel's voice held amusement. Jack felt the car slow and then a shift as they began to back up.

"Well, what did you get them last Christmas?" As soon as he spoke the words Jack knew they were a big mistake. The car had stopped moving and Jack reached out to place a hand over Daniel's where it rested on the steering wheel. He could almost feel Daniel's arm vibrating with tension.

"We didn't have Christmas last year, Jack." Daniel's voice was very low. "We-Sam, Teal'c, and I-it just wasn't the same. We all worked so some of the other staff could spend time at home with their families." The fingers under Jack's hand tensed and then released their grip on the wheel. "We'd better get inside if we want to be on time for our reservations," Daniel went on.

"Wait," Jack ordered. He rubbed his thumb across Daniel's knuckles. They sat in silence for a few moments, Jack listening to Daniel slowing his breathing. "You okay, Danny?"

"Yeah." Jack relaxed as he heard the calm and assured voice once more. "Yeah, Jack. Come on, let's get inside. I'm hungry."

* * * * * *

Picking up his glass of water and taking a sip, Daniel watched as Jack ran his fingers across the Braille menu, his lover's lips moving silently as he read. He knew what Jack was going to order; Jack always ordered the same thing but he supposed Jack was using the opportunity to practice his skills. Jack's foot nudged his under the table and a strong hand was placed on his thigh. Daniel smiled and covered Jack's hand, squeezing it while he read his own menu.

"Are you ready to order, sirs?" The waiter appeared out of nowhere.

"I'll have the chicken marsala. Side salad with the house dressing," Daniel gave his order and waited for Jack.

"Fettucine Alfredo. Side salad, ranch dressing." Jack closed the menu and held it in the direction of the waiter.

"You need to live a little, Jack," Daniel teased lightly as the waiter walked away. "Try something different."

"I like their fettucine alfredo, Daniel." Jack reached for his glass. Daniel frowned when Jack's hand shook.

"You okay, Jack?" Daniel asked, alarm bells going off in his head.

Jack took a sip of water. "Headache," he muttered. Jack pulled off his dark glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Headache and hungry."

"You should have said something. We didn't need to come out tonight." Daniel was relieved to see their waiter coming back with rolls and salads.

"Just need to get some food in me, Daniel." Jack put his glasses back on, a movement that never failed to clench Daniel's gut. Although Jack didn't wear his glasses when he was with his teammates, he never went without them in public.

After the waiter placed their salads and rolls on the table they ate in comfortable silence, relaxing from the stress of the workday. Daniel shivered as Jack's foot nudged against his under the table and glanced around the restaurant before reaching out and squeezing his lover's hand in a warm grasp.

* * * * *

"Why don't we split up, Daniel?" Jack stood by Daniel's side in the busy mall. "Meet back in front of the fountain by Starbucks in two hours?" Despite the Christmas music and the sounds of the shopping crowd, Jack was able to hear Daniel's hesitant sigh.

"You sure?"

"Daniel, I've done this before, remember?" Jack couldn't keep a slight bit of hurt and exasperation from his voice. He smiled hoping to alleviate Daniel's concern.

"I know." Daniel sounded more confident. Jack could imagine Daniel licking his lips before he spoke again. "It's seven now. Nine o'clock at the fountain?"

"Yep, sounds good." Jack nodded and pulled open his cane. "See you then, Daniel."

Forty five minutes later Jack had almost all of his shopping done. Carter had been easy, all he had to do was go into one of those shops where they sold bath stuff and tell the clerk what he wanted: vanilla scented stuff for a female co-worker. It had taken him all of ten minutes and most of that was waiting in a line he thought would never end, because of course, he got behind the one person whose credit card couldn't be approved. He contented himself with listening to the conversations going on around him. He went to the video store and found a clerk there who found all the DVDs of old TV shows Jack thought Teal'c might like. And now he was stuck. Jack found a bench and sat, unable to think of a present for Daniel.

He reached up under his glasses to rub at his eyes. They'd been itching ever since he'd been in that bath shop and the perfumes of many of the shoppers weren't helping either. Sighing, Jack told himself to relax. He closed his eyes and tuned into the sounds swirling around him. A woman and her teenage daughter sat down on the bench behind him and began a long heated discussion about the appropriate gift for the girl's boyfriend. A man held a conversation with his wife about the best toy for their only child. All around him there were sounds of the holiday season. A book didn't seem like an appropriate gift for all Daniel had done for him these past months and he couldn't think of anything special enough for a present. How did you pick a present for the person who meant the world to you anyway?

Jack checked his watch and stood. He still had an hour before meeting Daniel. Maybe he could find something, anything to express what he felt. He'd never realized what a visual exercise shopping usually was. He'd just have to rely on his other senses to guide him to the right present this year.

* * * * *

Daniel chewed on his lower lip as he glanced at Jack as they drove home in the heavy traffic. Jack hadn't spoken since he'd asked Daniel if they could go to his house instead of Daniel's apartment and that had been right when Daniel met him in the mall.

A young teenager who decided to pull out from a side street had Daniel slamming on his brakes.

"Sorry about that," Daniel muttered, looking over at Jack.

"I always hated driving in holiday shopping traffic." Jack smiled before turning his head toward the window.

"When did you drive in holiday traffic? I seem to remember you always foisting off the job on me."

"That's because I hated to drive in it," Jack said, grinning and then he rubbed at his eyes, a motion not missed by Daniel.

"You still have a headache?" Daniel asked. If necessary he was ready to drive Jack to the SGC to have him checked out.

"Nah," Jack shook his head. "Told you that was just hunger. My eyes itch though. I think it was all the perfumes and stuff in the mall."

"We'll put some drops in when we get home," Daniel answered. A nod was his only reply and he turned his attention back to driving. Thankfully the traffic was thinning out as they got closer to Jack's home and they were pulling into the driveway less than ten minutes later.

"You sure you're okay, Jack?" Daniel asked as they got out of the car.

"I'm sure, Daniel." Jack got out and waited as Daniel came around to the passenger side. "You need some help carrying anything?"

"I've got it all," Daniel announced. "Let's get inside though. It's cold out here." He followed Jack to the back door like he'd done countless times before. And then it dawned on him--they were a team again, equals and partners.

"I'm going to take the packages up to the spare room. We can worry about wrapping them later. And don't worry, I won't peek, Jack." Daniel teased as he walked past Jack who was already starting the coffee maker. He was surprised when there was no smart aleck remark to his comment but figured Jack was concentrating on his task. By the time he came back downstairs, Jack had a fire started and was sitting on the couch, his feet up on the coffee table.

"Hey." Daniel sat down next to him, sighing as Jack put an arm over his shoulders. "You've been awfully quiet since we left the mall. Did something happen?"

Jack shook his head, still silent. He squeezed Daniel's knee and then patted it when he got up to go to the kitchen.

Daniel sat, staring into the flames, puzzled by Jack's silence. Something was obviously bothering his lover. He turned to watch Jack walk back into the living room with their coffee mugs.

"Thanks," Daniel smiled as he accepted the mug. He took a sip watching as Jack sat down and settled into a more comfortable position.

"It's like old times," Daniel finally said when the silence stretched into minutes.

"Old times?" Jack turned to face him.

"Old times," Daniel repeated. "I was following you up the steps with the bags and I realized we're a team again, Jack. You and me."

"You forgot I was blind," Jack finished.

"Maybe not forgot but I didn't think about it." Daniel put his coffee mug on the table. "What about you, Jack?"

He watched as Jack leaned forward feeling for the coaster and placing his mug on it. Jack let out a deep breath as he moved back. "It's not what defines me anymore, Daniel. I'm finally Jack O'Neill again. Not Colonel O'Neill, former leader of SG-1, not that poor Jack O'Neill who was a slave and came back a broken man." He brought up a finger to Daniel's lips. "You never believed I was someone different; didn't believe I was broken beyond repair. You believed in me when I couldn't. You were determined I would mend." Jack sighed. "I can't ever repay you for that."

"I didn't do it for payment, Jack. Love doesn't require that." Daniel squirmed. He did for Jack what Jack would have done for him. It was as simple as that.

"I couldn't find a gift for you," Jack murmured. Daniel had to lean forward to catch the words and sat back stunned.

"A gift?"

"I found a gift for Carter and for Teal'c. Heck, even Cassie and the doc. But I finished my shopping and I still don't have anything for you." Jack opened his hands on his thighs, his head hanging down as if he were staring at the floor.

"Jack." Daniel placed his hand on Jack's, pressing his palm into his lover's. "I don't need a present." He mimicked Jack's previous motion and touched a finger to Jack's lips. "No. It's your turn to listen to me. I do not need a gift from you. Why would I need a present this Christmas when I have you? Last year, Jack, last year I thought I wouldn't survive to see this Christmas. Not that I would have ever done anything stupid but I just didn't care. My heart felt as frozen as the ground outside. When we stepped through to Hannara I was going to come home and turn in my resignation from SG-1. God, Jack, I have you, a living breathing miracle. You've taught me more about courage and what it means to be alive since you've returned than I can ever say. I don't care about gifts. I care about * you. * You, Jack. We have each other. How could money ever buy anything close to that?" Daniel stopped, his voice hoarse from passion.

"Danny," Jack's voice matched Daniel's for hoarseness. He brought his hand to Daniel's face and Daniel closed his eyes at the familiar touch. Skilled fingers fluttered over his eyelids, his nose, his cheeks, his lips. Daniel flicked out his tongue, tasting Jack's skin, soap, salt, and cold.

"Jack," Daniel whispered, moving his head back, allowing Jack to touch his neck. Jack's hair tickled his nose and he pushed back against the sofa cushions, arching up as Jack moved his hands lower, sliding them up inside Daniel's shirt. "Jack." He ached with need and covered Jack's hands with his own, helping Jack with the task of unbuttoning Daniel's chinos.

"Patience, Doctor Jackson. Patience," Jack murmured against Daniel's stomach.

"Not tonight, Jack. Not tonight. Told you I wanted dessert." And then he found himself unable to speak, reduced to grunts and moans as Jack applied his special touch to providing the last course.

* * * *

"Guess we should go to bed, huh?" Daniel's sleepy voice sounded in Jack's ear.

"Uh huh." Jack ran his hand over Daniel's naked back, enjoying the texture of the smooth skin. He made no effort beyond that. The fire was warm on their bodies and Daniel's thigh rested heavily over his own legs.

"So," Daniel whispered, "bed?" Jack heard a huge yawn accompany the words.

"Yeah," Jack agreed, "bed."

"Ow." Daniel shifted, turning in Jack's loose embrace.

"Did I hurt you?" Jack pushed himself up when Daniel moved.

"No. Something was digging into..."

At his lover's trailed off sentence Jack reached out, searching for Daniel's arm. He ran his fingers down to Daniel's hand feeling a bit of chain and metal.

"Daniel?"

"I didn't know you still had this," Daniel whispered. Jack couldn't see his expression of course but he had no trouble imagining the look of shame on Daniel's face.

"I haven't been without since you gave it to me." Jack felt the piece being placed in his hand. "It was important to you."

They were sitting so close Jack could feel Daniel's shrug.

"Don't pretend it didn't matter. You told me you carried this because it reminded you of your failing. That's not what it means to me, Daniel."

"When they told me you were dead, I couldn't believe...it didn't seem possible this was all that was left of you." The chain was placed back in Jack's hand.

"You know why I carried this, Daniel? So I could be reminded of your faith in me. So I could stop feeling sorry for myself and remind myself not of what I lost but what I still have." Jack opened his hand, feeling Daniel place his palm on top of his own. "And I have so very, very much."

"Maybe it's time to focus on the future," Daniel murmured.

"I think you're right." Jack stood, reaching down a hand for Daniel. He counted silently as they took the seven steps toward the fireplace. "You want to do the honors? Or should I?"

Slender strong fingers interwove themselves with Jack's. "I think these honors we deserve to do together," Daniel said as they tossed the links into the fire.

Daniel leaned into Jack and Jack brought his arm up around Daniel's shoulders. "To the future. To new dreams."

"To new dreams, Jack."

* * * *

The distinct sound of Daniel's Thunderbird roaring up into the driveway sounded clearly over the strains of soft ambient music that was playing on Jack's stereo. Jack smiled as he put his book away and stood up. He'd never thought he'd become adept at reading Braille but the more he practiced the easier it got. Of course he was far from becoming a speed reader but he was concentrating less on the forms and more on the actual words these days.

He walked towards the front door and was halfway there when Daniel rushed in. Frigid air brushed by Jack before Daniel could shut the door. Several sneezes greeted him as he put a hand out and touched Daniel's damp jacket.

"Bless. Catching a cold?" Jack asked worriedly as Daniel removed his jacket and hung it on the doorknob.

"Allergies," Daniel replied, his voice very nasal and hoarse. "God am I glad to be home," he announced as Jack reached out for him. Daniel stepped into Jack's embrace and Jack wrapped his arms around him in a hug. Drops of water dripped onto Jack's shoulders and he felt Daniel's hair. It was wet.

"You're wet!" he exclaimed.

"It's snowing out in case you haven't noticed," Daniel teased as he hugged Jack hard. He sniffed loudly. "Geez but the city looks bare and dark now that everyone's taken their Christmas decorations down. But better this than the planet from hell I just got back from. Would you believe that my antihistamines didn't do a damned thing out there?"

He pulled away and blew his nose. Seconds later he sneezed again.

"You sound miserable," Jack said as he urged Daniel into the living room.

"I'm feeling a lot better, believe me. Some kind of allergen on the planet affected all five of us and we spent the last four days so stuffed up that we barely got any sleep." Daniel's words were punctuated with sneezes and subsequent nose blowing.

Jack heard the rustle of cloth and a loud sigh as Daniel sat down on the couch. Jack walked to the bathroom and retrieved a towel, then returned to the living room and threw it in the direction he thought Daniel was in.

"Heads up," he called.

"Thanks."

"You must be tired. I thought you weren't due back until late tomorrow," Jack said as he sat down on the couch beside Daniel, feeling for Daniel's thigh, then moving closer until his own was touching Daniel's.

"Yeah," Daniel replied, clearing his throat. "We were all so fed up of not being able to breathe that we packed up early. I just need a good night's sleep. Janet said the allergens will dissipate in several hours. In the meantime, I have to suffer."

Jack laughed and reached for Daniel's arm. With one hand he slowly followed the line of Daniel's arm and moved past his shoulder and up his neck. His fingers traced the outline of Daniel's lips a moment, feeling the dry, chapped skin around his nose.

"I missed you," Jack said. "Welcome home."

Then he pulled Daniel down to him and welcomed him home properly.

Daniel enthusiastically showed Jack how he appreciated the welcome until he had to pull back and sneezed once more.

"Damn," Daniel complained before he blew his nose again.

"Bless," Jack said for the umpteenth time. "You hungry? It's not quite suppertime but I could order out?"

"Ummm, would you mind if I took a nap and we ate later?" Daniel's words were punctuated by a yawn and a sneeze.

In answer, Jack shifted to the edge of the couch and patted his thigh. Daniel quickly stretched out on the couch and laid his head on Jack's lap. Stroking his fingers through Daniel's still damp hair, Jack massaged his scalp gently, then moved to his temples, stroking away the tension and fatigue he knew Daniel was experiencing.

"Want me to turn the music down?" Jack asked when a particular song sounded a little loud in the quiet room. When Daniel didn't answer, Jack lowered his head and listened. Daniel's breathing; although loud and raspy as he was obviously breathing through his mouth, was also deep and rhythmic. Jack reached for the afghan he knew was on the back of the couch and tenderly covered his sleeping lover with it.

Careful not to disturb Daniel, Jack placed his feet onto the coffee table and laid his head back, listening contently to the soft music and Daniel's snores. His eyes were itchy and he rubbed at them on and off.

He dozed for a while and woke up with his butt nearly asleep and his legs on the verge of cramping beneath Daniel's weight.

His watch told him it was after five, so he decided to call their favorite Thai restaurant and order something spicy. The heat of the food would more than likely help unclog Daniel's sinuses.

He managed to slide from underneath Daniel without waking him, hearing Daniel sigh softly and settling himself more comfortably on the couch. Jack stretched and shook his legs, trying to get the blood flowing again. He walked to the corner and groped the side table for the lamp, turning it on so that Daniel wouldn't wake up in the dark.

The sudden flare of light sent agony into his brain, forcing him to shut his eyes and palming them. He rubbed them again, feeling the itch that had plagued him earlier.

"Ahh," he mumbled to himself, grimacing. What now, an eye infection?

Cautiously opening his eyes, he found they were tearing slightly. He wiped them with the back of his hands and when he found they didn't hurt, he picked up the phone to order their supper. Not wanting to wake Daniel, he made it to the steps leading to the kitchen when Jack realized something had seemed different.

Normally he could differentiate between dark and light. As he'd turned from the softly lit room the rest of the house had appeared dark, as usual. It was the grey fog that had seemed different for a moment.

He slowly turned back towards the living room and realized there was substance before him. His world of shadows actually *had* shadows in them. He blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes, wondering if he was imagining things.

His attention was drawn to a bright glow off to the side and he moved towards it. The pain assailed his eyes again and he swore as he turned his head away, squeezing his eyes shut. Involuntary tears slid down his face and he snuffled as his nose reacted to the tears.

The pain receded and he opened his eyes again, gasping as he actually made out a large white blur contrasting against something black. Heart pounding and breathing quickly, Jack took a few steps forward, almost walking into the coffee table, and moving aside as his leg grazed it.

He knelt and put out a shaky hand, feeling the soft wool of Daniel's cream-colored sweater. He wasn't dreaming! He could see it plainly outlined against the black that was his couch.

Daniel was warm and solid beneath the sweater, his chest rising with every breath he took. Jack lifted his hand and he saw the blur of his fingers. He wiggled them then moved his hand from side to side, grinning widely as he was able to follow the movement. He scanned the room, which still appeared to be a vast miasma of indistinct shapes and colors. Colors! He could see that what he'd thought to be black was actually the deep maroon of his leather couch. There was something orange and black on the wall, and the brown of his stone fireplace was still just a blur. But it was a brown blur.

Daniel coughed and shifted restlessly. Jack turned his focus to the smudge he knew to be Daniel's face. His heart beating wildly in his chest, he rubbed at his eyes several times, willing them to see.

For a moment Daniel's face came into sharp focus then resumed its fuzzy outline.

"Oh God, thank you," Jack whispered, heartened at the glimpse he'd seen of the beloved features before him. He got off his aching knees and sat on the coffee table, pushing the bright yellow blob of a towel where Daniel had thrown it earlier. He sat there watching Daniel sleep. Over the next few minutes his eyesight ebbed and waned in clarity but each time it fuzzed over it remained sharper than the previous.

Daniel sneezed several times in succession and then groaned. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand, sniffling loudly several times.

"God, Daniel, that's disgusting," Jack said. He reached for a box of tissues on the end table and nudged Daniel's arm with them.

Daniel opened his eyes and took several tissues from the box, blowing his nose. Jack could see that his eyes were red-rimmed, bloodshot, and tearing. His nose looked raw and red from the constant irritation of blowing it and he was still breathing through his mouth.

"You look terrible," Jack commiserated.

"Gee thanks," Daniel grumbled, wadding the tissues when finished and tossing them onto the coffee table.

"And I am so not picking those up," Jack said, eying the sodden mess.

Pressing his lips together to hold back a smile, he watched Daniel's face when the realization of what Jack had just said hit him. Daniel's eyes widened and locked onto Jack's as he lifted his head off the couch.

"Jack?" he whispered.

Jack let the grin explode onto his face. "I can see, Daniel." He'd tried to shout the words but they came out as a strangled whisper. "I can see you," he said again as he reached out and caressed Daniel's cheek.

Daniel sat up in a blur and grabbed Jack's arms.

"You're not joking, right? Jack, you're not teasing me?" Daniel's voice was shaking and held a quality Jack had never heard before.

"Truth. I can see. God you're so beautiful," Jack said as tears slid down his face.

"How?" Daniel cried out. "When? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Just now. It just happened now."

Daniel hugged Jack to him in a crushing embrace. Jack could feel Daniel trembling until Daniel pulled back and placed both hands on the sides of Jack's head, staring at him intently.

"You can see," he said in an awed voice. "You can really see- Jack! We have to tell Janet." Daniel's words were nearly tumbling out of his mouth in his excitement. "Get your jacket, no wait, stay there, I'll get it. I'm taking you to the infirmary after I call Janet." Daniel stood up and raced for the phone that was on the floor by the stairs where Jack must have dropped it earlier.

Jack got up and hurried after Daniel, the world tilting sickeningly as his brain was bombarded by input from an organ it hadn't used in months. Jack managed to grab Daniel's hand, stopping him from using the phone while holding on for dear life and managing not to topple sideways. With his other hand he covered his eyes.

"Jack?" Daniel put an arm around Jack to hold him steady.

"I'm all right. Just can't move too fast or else I get a little dizzy."

"Let me have the phone. Jack, you're not all right."

"Not yet. Please, I want to just enjoy this without having to look at the infirmary walls for a while. Let's just see how far my sight improves first, okay?" He lowered his hand and looked at Daniel. He could see the worry and exhaustion lining his face.

"But you might need medical attention. Jack, it's been months... you have to have your eyes looked at."

"I will, Daniel, but not right at this minute. All I want to do is get something to eat and just look at you." He smiled and caressed Daniel's nape. "God you are such a sight for sore eyes."

Daniel chuckled, ducking his head.

"Is Thai okay with you?"

"Huh?"

"Supper. I was gonna order something spicy. Unless you want something else..."

"Yeah, sure, that's fine."

Jack pressed the on button and peered at the blur of numbers on the handset before him. Sighing, he closed his eyes and let his fingers search out the numbers and dialed the restaurant from memory.

"Jack?"

He snapped his eyes open at the worry in Daniel's voice.

"Still blurry, it comes and goes."

After calling in the order for their supper, Jack led Daniel back to the couch. He tossed the phone on the coffee table and leaned against Daniel, savoring the feel of his warm body against his.

He could see! He couldn't seem to stop grinning and when he turned to look at Daniel, he could make out tears running down his cheeks.

"Hey," Jack said softly as he raised a hand to wipe them away.

"What?" Daniel lifted a hand to his face and looked at the dampness on his fingers in wonder. "Sorry," Daniel sniffled self-consciously. "I didn't realize..."

"No, don't be. I don't know whether to cry or laugh myself. C'mere," he coaxed, turning so that he was sitting sideways on the couch and Daniel was lying between his legs. After a few minutes, Daniel twisted so he was facing Jack. His words were soft but Jack could tell that Daniel was worried by the way his words began tumbling out of his mouth the more he spoke.

"Jack, we really have to call Janet and tell her. Maybe you need special treatment, or be kept out of the light, or have to keep your eyes covered, or take medication. Please, let me call her. Look, we can invite her for supper, and..."

As much as Jack wanted to spend time alone with Daniel he knew deep down that Daniel was right. It felt like he'd been blessed with yet another miracle and he thought that if he blew any chance of maintaining his vision because he was being stupid right now, Daniel would never forgive him. He sighed and reached for the phone lying a foot away. Handing the phone to Daniel, he watched as Daniel called Fraiser. Jack could hear the faint ringing from the receiver which was only a few inches from his head.

"Janet?" Daniel said after they both heard Fraiser answer. "Janet, I know it's really short notice but you have to come over." Jack heard her tinny voice as she replied, the words muffled. "I know, but it's Jack. He... oh God, Janet, please." Daniel's voice suddenly thickened and he pulled away slightly, hunching up on himself. "He doesn't want you to but you really need to look at him. He... he..."

"Danny?" Jack said, hearing the distress in Daniel's voice. He hadn't realized how troubled Daniel was at Jack's refusal to seek immediate medical consultation. Daniel had begun shaking and couldn't seem to go on. Jack plucked the phone from Daniel's hands while Daniel turned his face against Jack's chest. Fraiser's voice was demanding what was going on.

"Hey doc," Jack said when Fraiser finally took a breath. "Look, it's really nothing serious. Something did happen and Daniel thinks you should have a look at me."

He winced as her tone of voice rose demanding to know what had happened.

"Well, it seems my eyesight just came back."

Jack pulled the phone away from his ear at her ear-splitting, "What!"

"I really don't want to go in to the infirmary tonight and Daniel's too tired to drive me there anyway."

Daniel's head came up at Jack's words and Jack blew Daniel a kiss in response to the glare Daniel threw his way.

"I just ordered some takeout so at the least you'll get a free supper for your trouble," he said, ignoring her, 'I'll be the judge of that.' He hung up when she informed him she'd be right over.

"Thank you," Daniel said simply. Jack squeezed him in reply. They lay like that, holding onto one another, trying to relax until Fraiser showed up. Jack could feel the tension in Daniel's body whereas Jack himself was totally at ease.

"It'll be fine," he whispered in Daniel's ear.

He thought Daniel had begun to relax but felt him start when the doorbell rang. Daniel jumped off the couch and ran for the door. Jack got up more slowly and had reached the steps by the time Daniel had ushered Fraiser in.

Jack saw her look at Daniel but his eyesight chose that moment to fuzz out on him. He thought she was giving Daniel the once over and for a moment Jack felt guilty that he'd regained his sight at this particular time when Daniel didn't need the added stress on top of his exhaustion.

All thoughts of guilt flew out the window when Fraiser descended on Jack and quickly ordered him to sit so she could examine him. She sat before him on the coffee table and placed her bag beside her.

The dratted penlight came out and he winced in expectation of the pain he knew it would impart. He wasn't disappointed and quickly brought up a hand to rub at his eyes. "Sorry, I know you're photophobic at the moment but I really need to look at your eyes, sir," she said as she placed a hand on his knee.

Jack nodded and steeled himself. He looked for Daniel and saw him standing off to the side, his arms curled around himself, a picture of uneasiness.

"Okay," he said, gritting his teeth. The light flashed once more and he forced his eyelids open while Fraiser examined his eyes carefully. Tears were streaming down his face from the pain when she finally clicked the penlight off. He dropped his head into his hands, seeing spots of lights dancing behind his eyelids.

"I don't believe it," she told him as the couch beside him dipped. A warm hand touched his nape and massaged it gently. Jack raised his head, eyes still closed, and leaned against Daniel's welcoming bulk.

"You are one lucky son of a bitch, sir," Fraiser said. Jack cracked open his eyes and saw the huge grin on her face. "I think tomorrow morning will be soon enough to set up tests. I'll make an appointment with Doctor Molinari for a more in-depth exam. Now, tell me how this happened."

Jack sighed and recounted the events of the past hour to her. She listened attentively and then suggested he try focusing on objects up close to prevent nausea and dizziness. He shouldn't attempt to actually look at everything as a whole until his brain got used to the fact that it was seeing again. He could probably expect the symptoms to last another two or three days and to expect headaches. Doctor Molinari could probably give him more detailed information after his examination tomorrow.

The doorbell rang once more and Daniel got up to pay for their supper. Jack moved slowly into the kitchen, never realizing before he could get motion sickness just by walking. Seeing his discomfort, Janet prescribed some Dramamine for him.

Supper was a strange mix of giddiness on all of their parts. Although elated, Daniel was clearly exhausted, despite his nap. He was uncharacteristically clumsy, dropping his utensils repeatedly and knocking over his glass of water. But at least he'd stopped sneezing and appeared to be able to breathe through his nose. Jack caught Fraiser looking at Daniel a couple of times and he vowed to get Daniel into bed the second she left.

As the evening went on Jack's sight continued to improve. He couldn't get over how white the rice was, how vibrant the red of Fraiser's sweater, how blue Daniel's eyes were despite the red rimming them. He never remembered colors being so brilliant and contrasting, or soft and rich and pleasing.

The kitchen was illuminated solely by the light over the sink and even though muted, it brought out highlights in Daniel's and Fraiser's hair. Jack was mesmerized by it and blushed when Fraiser caught him staring at her.

"Sorry," he mumbled, "it's just all so..."

"Overwhelming?" she supplied.

"Yeah. And incredibly beautiful," he added, glancing at Daniel and smiling when his lover looked away self-consciously.

Seeing Daniel stifle a yawn, Fraiser got up and said her goodbyes. Jack accepted the Dramamine from her but had no intention of taking any since they'd make him sleepy. Anyway, Jack had plans and he didn't intend to spend them sleeping. All of them included Daniel watching over the next few hours.

- - - - - -

Daniel swiped at the irritating hand that was tickling the back of his neck. He heard a soft chuckle and he groaned. It couldn't be time to get up yet, could it? He'd been having such a wonderful dream and hated to come back to reality. In his dream Jack had regained his vision and suddenly the world seemed more than okay.

Catching the scent of coffee, hel cracked open an eye and saw Jack sitting on the bed waving a cup of coffee under his nose. He rubbed his eyes after turning onto his back and pushed himself up into a half-sitting position, stuffing the pillows behind his back.

"Morning sleepyhead," Jack said as handed him the mug of coffee.

Daniel grunted, glancing at the clock as he sipped his hot brew and saw that it was after ten.

"Sorry to have to wake you but I do need you to drive me to the Air Force Academy hospital. Fraiser phoned a little while ago; she got me an appointment with Molinari at 11:30."

"What appointment?" Daniel asked him, his brain still sleep-fuzzy and lamenting the dream he'd been pulled from.

"Daniel?" Jack said in a teasing voice. "Do you remember anything of last night?"

Daniel glanced up at Jack, noting the smile on Jack's face.

"Just being really tired," he admitted.

"You don't remember calling Fraiser? Her coming over and checking me out? Her making an appointment with our resident eye doctor to check out my..." Jack waved both hands towards his eyes and Daniel suddenly realized that Jack was looking at Daniel. Really looking.

"You mean it wasn't a dream?" Daniel demanded as he bolted upright, spilling coffee down his arm in his haste to sit up. The smile on Jack's face turned into a wide grin as Daniel quickly placed the dripping mug onto the bedside table and wiped his arm on the bed sheets.

"No dream, Danny. It happened."

The jumble of memories suddenly fell into place and Daniel recalled the previous evening. A feeling of relief swept over him and he felt almost dizzy from it. He eyed the clock, figuring he had time for a shower and breakfast before needing to leave the house.

When Jack joined him in the shower, Daniel helped Jack celebrate their good fortune. He brought Jack to a shuddering climax, then when he gained his own orgasm, he saw Jack watching him intently.

"It's one thing to know I've made you happy," Jack whispered as Daniel regained control of his breathing. "But seeing you come has got to be one of the most beautiful things in the world. If this sight thing ends up being temporary, at least I'll have been blessed with these memories of you."

Speechless, Daniel simply put his arms around Jack and held him close.

An hour later he sat quietly in a corner of Molinari's darkened office, watching as the ophthalmologist ran test after test on Jack's eyes. His lover submitted to all without protest. Jack admitted to strong lights still hurting his eyes but the pain had diminished tenfold since last night.

Doctor Molinari got up and snapped the overhead lights on, then turned his chair so he was facing both Jack and Daniel. Daniel wished he could get up and touch Jack, give him his physical support for the verdict they both were anxious to hear.

"I can see no sign of the microorganisms in your eyes, although they were still in evidence five weeks ago when you had your last checkup. As you know, we've been unable to figure out exactly how they caused the loss of your sight and we weren't even sure if they were responsible for it. But the fact that they're gone and your sight has returned is irrefutable evidence that the two are related.

"Now, the sensitivity to light, the dizziness and discomfort you're experiencing at the moment, will most likely disappear in the next couple of days as you begin to adapt to seeing once more. Spatial disorientation will most likely continue for a week or so, including blurred vision and headaches. As to the quality of your vision, colonel, I believe you will most likely make a full recovery."

Daniel released the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and caught Jack's relieved look as their eyes met. He brought his attention back as the doctor continued speaking.

"I don't want you trying to read or using a computer for the moment, and I'd minimize the use of the television also. If you feel you're straining to see, or the attempt is tiring you, simply close your eyes and go back to your training for a while. I'm putting you on medical downtime for one week and then we'll re-evaluate you at your next visit. And needless to say, driving is out of the question."

Doctor Molinari stood up and Daniel did so too. As Jack thanked him and shook his hand, Daniel stepped forward and did the same. They were both grinning like idiots as they made their way back to the parking lot and Daniel's Thunderbird.

As Daniel pulled into Jack's driveway, he saw Sam's car parked in front of the house. Both she and Teal'c weren't in sight but Daniel suspected he'd find them on the back deck. Jack had made the trip from the hospital with his eyes closed, unable to stand the quickly flowing scenery. As Jack stepped out of the car, eyes carefully glued to the ground, Daniel quickly came around the front and took Jack by the arm, pointing towards their friend's vehicle as Jack raised his eyes.

Daniel realized that neither of them had called and told either of their teammates the good news. He figured either Janet or General Hammond must have done so and he hoped they wouldn't be too upset about not hearing it from either Jack or himself. He acknowledged how everything had happened so quickly in the past 18 hours and last night his brain hadn't been firing on all cylinders due to his fatigue.

They made their way into the back yard and weren't surprised to find Sam and Teal'c patiently waiting for them, seated on the back stairs despite the light dusting of snow. Both stood as they spotted Jack, their gazes nervously fixed on him.

Stopping, Daniel allowed Jack to move ahead. He smiled to himself as Jack went straight to Sam and mussed her hair, saying, "New do, Carter? You never mentioned you'd changed your hair."

"Congratulations, colonel," Sam told him, her smile as wide as Jack's. "It's wonderful news." She looked over Jack's shoulder at Daniel and included him in her good wishes. To all of their surprise, Jack grabbed Sam and hugged her. "Thanks Carter," Jack said softly as he let her go.

Jack turned to Teal'c, who was also smiling broadly. He took Jack's arm in a warrior's greeting. "I am very glad to see you have regained your sight, O'Neill. Will you be rejoining SG1?"

Trust Teal'c to come straight to the point. Sam ducked her head in discomfiture then raised it quickly to hear Jack's answer. Actually so much had happened since Daniel had woken up four hours ago that he hadn't even had a chance to think about Jack returning to command SG1. But Molinari's news had been so positive that the prospect was very encouraging when he thought about it.

"We'll have to wait and see about that," Jack answered. "Although I flunked some of the tests this morning, the doc said I'll probably get my 20/20 back. But I won't jump the gun. But if things do work out, I'm afraid you might get stuck with me."

"Sounds like a plan," Sam said, while Teal'c merely bowed his head.

"You guys wanna come in? It's kinda chilly out here." Jack turned and made for the front of the house, quirking his mouth at Daniel as he passed by him. Daniel watched Jack run up the few stairs leading to his front door and his heart leaped at seeing the old, unbridled energy let loose.

- - - - - -

Daniel smiled as he pulled in the driveway. A light from the living room cast a golden glow over the snow covered ground. It felt good to be coming home. He zipped up his jacket and opened the car door, his breath coming in a gasp at the sudden change in temperature. He hurried up the walk, sighing as the door opened under his touch. Hanging his jacket on the coat tree, Daniel took off his steamed up glasses. A quick glance at the living room showed him Jack wasn't there. Daniel walked to the sofa, finding a half empty carton of fried rice on the coffee table along with the TV remote. He placed his hand against the carton, finding it cold. He grabbed it and took it to the kitchen with him. Rummaging in the drawer for a fork, Daniel then took a few mouthfuls of the rice before opening the refrigerator to place it inside.

The smell of coffee reached his nose and he noticed the coffee maker was on and almost full. Pouring himself a cup, Daniel tugged at his tie. A day of sitting in meetings with representatives from P7Y-003, and translating their very complex language, had left him exhausted. Daniel walked towards the bedroom taking the mug with him. He felt disappointed when he didn't find Jack in their bed. He looked at the bed longingly but resisted the temptation to stretch out. Another gulp of coffee fortified him. There was no note and Jack's truck was in the driveway so Jack was somewhere around the house. A scraping sound had him tilting back his head looking at the ceiling. Grinning, Daniel finished the coffee in two more quick swallows and changed into a warm pair of sweat pants and a heavier sweatshirt. He pulled on his oldest pair of sneakers, the ones Jack said should be buried somewhere off-world so he didn't have to look at them every day they were home, and took the mug back to the kitchen. Daniel pulled down the Thermos from the top shelf and filled it with the rest of the hot coffee. Hooking two thermal mugs in one finger and cradling the Thermos in the crook of his arm, he went out the back door.

"Hey," he called softly as he stood at the bottom of the ladder to the roof. When there was no response he shrugged and scrambled up, not surprised to find Jack standing stock still staring up into the stars. He placed the mugs and Thermos on one of the chairs. He snagged a blanket and went to stand next to Jack, just nudging him with his body.

Jack pulled his gaze away from the stars looking at Daniel a long moment before he managed to speak. "Hey."

"I brought up some coffee for us." Daniel gestured and then sighed as Jack snaked his arms around him to envelop him in an embrace. "Wondered where you were."

"Just looking, you know." Jack touched cold fingers to Daniel's warm cheek and Daniel closed his eyes as he leaned into the touch. He kissed Jack's palm before turning to look up at the stars himself.

"Beautiful night, isn't it?"

"Beautiful," Jack agreed. Daniel studied his lover's face as he once again lost himself in the night sky. There was a look of wonder on Jack's face that Daniel rarely saw. The starlight bathed them both in a silvery light.

"I missed this," Jack said, his voice low and rough.

"I know." Daniel responded. He brought his hand up to touch Jack's face, the small scar near Jack's left ear. "I know."

"What did I ever do to deserve such a miracle?" Jack jerked his head, his eyes glittering in the soft light.

"I don't know, Jack. I only know it was a miracle."

"Fraiser and Molinari ran some more tests and sent them to the Hannarans." Jack didn't meet Daniel's eyes as he spoke and Daniel squeezed the cold hand in his. "Major Wendover sent a report back that the rehabilitation center is up and running. She's working with a young woman there who is interested in figuring out a Braille system that works for the Hannarans."

"That's great news, Jack." Daniel tugged on Jack's arm, urging him to sit on one of the chairs. He poured Jack a cup of coffee, passing it to him with a smile. Jack settled back in his chair, sipping at the coffee and tilting his head back every now and again to look at the stars.

"Danny," Jack said and then stopped, leaning forward to place the mug on the roof and his head in his hands. Alarmed, Daniel scooted off his own chair and knelt before the man he loved.

"Jack? What's wrong?" Daniel ran his hands up Jack's arms, concerned at the slight vibration he felt.

"Nothing," Jack murmured before looking up and cupping his hands around the face of his kneeling lover. "Nothing, it's just overwhelming sometimes."

Daniel smiled and turned, settling on the floor with his back resting against Jack's legs. He tilted his head back and sighed as Jack began carding his hair with one hand.

"Thank you, Danny," Jack whispered. "Thank you for everything. For believing, for taking care of Sara, for being here, for not giving up on me."

"Jack, I love you." Daniel squirmed, uncomfortable by Jack's gratitude. It wasn't as if Jack hadn't supported Daniel too throughout the long months. "I love you," he repeated, hoping Jack understood.

"Yes, Daniel." A feather light kiss was placed on his hair and Daniel sighed.

Sitting in the cold night on Jack's roof wasn't the smartest thing they'd ever done Daniel decided some minutes later as he began to shiver despite the coffee he was drinking.

"Let's go inside." Jack shifted, his knees knocking against Daniel's shoulders. "You're getting cold."

"And you're not?" Daniel grinned as Jack grimaced as he stood. "I think I could hear your knees creaking." He gathered up the Thermos, hooking it through his fingers and watched as Jack got the mugs.

"Just wait, Daniel. I seem to remember it's not too long until you reach that big four oh." Jack wagged a finger and gestured for Daniel to go down the ladder.

"So," Daniel said as they walked back in the house, "you have any ideas on how to get warm?"

"I can probably think of one or two." Jack grinned back and gave a pinch to Daniel's ass.

"I'm thinking a shower would be nice." Daniel lowered his head, flirting with Jack over the tops of his glasses.

"I'm thinking that's a very good idea, Doctor Jackson."

"Why thank you, Colonel O'Neill."

* * * * * *

The glow from the bathroom light they always left on overnight spilled into the bedroom and Jack smiled down at his lover. At Daniel. At Daniel who was smiling back at him with love in his eyes. Miracle. It was the only word he could find for his amazement.

"Jack?" Daniel asked, his eyes scrunching up in question.

"I'm fine, Daniel." Jack smiled back. He brought one hand up to slowly trace the line of Daniel's jaw. "Just enjoying the view."

"Like what you see?" Daniel mock frowned.

"You could say that." Jack grinned back. He slid down in the bed, resting on his side. Daniel couldn't quite hold back his yawn. Get Daniel warm and dry after some creative showering and it was never very long before the man was half asleep.

"Hey Daniel?" Jack kept his voice light. He'd learned early on when he returned from Hannara that discussion of what Daniel had felt and experienced when Jack was presumed dead was dangerous ground. But right now Daniel was relaxed and Jack was determined that over time he was going to start pushing for some more of those details. An exorcism of sorts.

"Huh?"

"What did you do with my telescope? You know, when I was missing." He could hear Daniel swallowing and saw the swift look of sorrow and remembered pain pass over Daniel's face.

"Sam took it down for me. I, uh, I couldn't go up there," Daniel whispered. "She said she'd do it." Daniel turned, seeking out Jack's embrace. "I could hear her crying downstairs while she did it. And I couldn't bring myself to help her with it." Daniel shuddered beneath his hands and Jack kissed his forehead, not saying a word because there were none that could erase the memory.

"Teal'c packed it up and I carried it into the basement," Daniel continued. "I hope that it's okay down there."

"Yeah, it will be just fine." Jack kissed Daniel's forehead again, pulling him closer, wishing his body could convey what words could not. Another shiver coursed through Daniel's body and Jack could feel hot breath on his neck. He remembered going to Daniel's apartment when they thought he had died on Nem's planet and the pain of all the little things, remembered the feeling of loss as he touched each small item. And that had been before he and Daniel were lovers. Knowing Daniel, his view of his inability to help Carter dismantle the telescope was that he was weak. Jack squeezed tight, the solidness of Daniel's body reassuring and strong. He inhaled Daniel's scent, his world righting itself once again.

Daniel moved, pushing away a little, and Jack opened his arms in understanding. Daniel always got restless when he was half asleep, maneuvering until he got comfortable. Flopping onto his back, Daniel flung one arm up over his head and the other across his stomach. Jack grinned and began a mental countdown. It wouldn't be long now. By the time he reached five, soft breathing that wasn't quite a snore reached his ears. Jack pushed himself up in bed in order to get a better view of his sleeping lover.

'Don't touch,' Jack ordered himself, even though his fingers twitched. He let his eyes drift across Daniel's face, down to his T-shirt-covered chest which moved in a slow regular rhythm with his breathing. The fingers of Daniel's left hand extended then curled into a loose fist. A long sigh and Daniel turned onto his side, facing Jack. He brought his arms to his chest, curling his hands under his chin. Jack smiled at the view. Ambient light highlighted Daniel's hair, turning it silver in patches. There was a soft mumble and another sigh. Jack slid down in the bed, keeping his eyes on his lover. His eyes drank in the sight. Unable to resist any longer, he reached out one finger and traced the lines at Daniel's eye, letting his finger slip down across his cheek and then brushing over Daniel's slightly parted lips.

Losing and then regaining his vision had taught Jack to now treasure every sight. He was fascinated with color, with the small things he'd always taken for granted. Daniel licked his lips once and then took a deep breath. It hadn't been the big things Jack had missed when he'd been on Hannara, when he lost his vision. He'd missed the sight of Daniel, hair still on end drinking his first cup of coffee in the morning, the look in Daniel's eyes when he was able to communicate with an alien race, the way Daniel scrunched up his nose when he was reading a book, the reflection of firelight in Daniel's glasses, smiles that were only shared with him. They would have made a life for themselves, had adjusted to the changes his blindness had meant for them. But Jack couldn't help being grateful beyond belief for the restoration. He continued watching, wanting to store up these visions of Daniel for a future time. A half-forgotten memory of Sara reading a book to Charlie flitted into his mind.

- - - - - -

"Dad? I'm not a baby anymore, I can read myself." Jack had cuddled up beside Charlie on the bed, touching his finger to Charlie's lips while Sara continued to read aloud.

"Shh...your mom likes this book." Jack had pulled his son into his arms and inhaled the fresh clean scent of little boy wondering how much longer he was going to be able to hug his child.

"'It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.'" Sara had looked up from the book, tears in her eyes as she met Jack's.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Charlie had asked with all the exasperation a nine, almost ten, year old could muster.

They hadn't had an answer for Charlie, not one he would have understood. And the next week it was too late to give any more answers to those mysteries of life.

- - - - - -

Jack blinked once, twice, clearing his own vision as he watched Daniel sleep. He didn't know if he would have been able to answer Charlie now. How did you explain love that filled your being with mere words? He closed his eyes, Daniel's soul imprinted on his inner vision more surely than anything his eyes showed him.

What was essential? Jack and Daniel, that about summed it up. He brought up his hand to rest it on Daniel's cheek, smiling as he breathed in unison with his lover. The time he'd been blind had been a gift, Jack realized. He hadn't known it at first, but he knew it now. He didn't need his eyes to see Daniel, he never had. They saw each other with their hearts, they always had after that first fateful meeting. Warm skin under his fingertips, the scent of sandalwood and coffee, soft puffs of breath, warm and moist on his neck. Jack smiled, closed his eyes, and embraced the night.

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