Area 52 HKH

Everything

by WordGeek

URL: http://www.area52hkh.net/asw/wordgeek/everything.php
Summary: "If someone had told me when I started the Stargate program four and a half years ago that someday I'd be in a sexual relationship with Colonel Jack O'Neill, I'd've told them they were certifiable."

Fuck yeah, this is gonna be a good one.

He's breathing in shallow pants now, harsh and fast and a little desperate, like he's trying to latch onto an elusive, tickling sneeze, but can't... quite... get there. "Ungh... gonna come!"

This is the best part right here, watching him. God, he's beautiful...

I won't let myself finish before he does. "Come for me, baby, love watching you lose it, love doing this to you."

His eyes are open, centered on me, just before the orgasm takes over, before his ass clamps shut around me, trying to pull my insides out through my dick. I won't, though, not till he's done; I wanna watch it all.

"Ja-ack," he breathes, and I feel all the tension release in his upraised legs. They're now so much dead weight on my shoulders, sliding down to land in the crook of my arm. The only tension left in his body is in his arms, his hands; the left, cupping his sac, the right, gripping the base of his cock with near white-knuckle intensity. "S-slow--"

And I do, thrusting now at one-third speed. Aaaall the way out and aaaall the way back in, the last inch a shove that rocks him back on his shoulders. Then aaaall the way out and aaaall the way back in, with my signature shot at the end. Lather, rinse, repeat. We discovered this trick about a year ago. Somehow this prolongs it for him, makes his climax go on and on and on, splattering a shitload of semen all over his chest, wringing him dry.

Makes me feel fucking powerful to be able to make him come this way. And I'm man enough to admit it.

After a couple of minutes, when he can't stand the pressure building up in his balls, he'll release the iron grip on his dick and start stoking it with a feather-light touch, still trying to keep his orgasm at bay for as long as he possibly can.

Wait for it...

Ultimately he fails, and when his hand speeds up, and his eyes close, I accelerate to keep pace, until the last couple of thrusts are more like prostate punches, and he throws his head back, arches up, and howls. "AAARRRGGHHH!" It seems to go on forever, spurting high and strong as he wrings his dick mercilessly, his abs bringing him up almost sitting.

"Love making you scream," I whisper as I take in his sweat-gleaming skin. I can't even describe what it does to me, how it makes me feel to know I've turned him into a writhing bundle of pleasure like this. I keep gently pumping until the dribbling and the aftershocks have stopped, then slow it down even more, just enough to keep me on that edge.

"I don't scream," Daniel pants pissily, "I growl. And stop smirking. And what have I told you about pet names?"

"Can we not talk about this now? I'd like to come too, if ya don't mind."

"Well do it, then! What the hell ya waitin' for?"

"You know what I'm waiting for, Daniel," I tell him in my filthiest voice as I lean down and lap up a blob of come from his cheek. The scent of it surrounds me, and I'm so horny from watching that display, I'm practically blind. I release his legs, and they slide free heavily, then return of their own accord to wrap around my lower back. My hips keep stroking, but I'm laying on him now, which bends him double as I kiss him deeply.

He pushes my shoulders away, breaking the kiss, and I imagine I can hear the squelching sound of our chests separating after being glued together by his jizz. He swirls it with his fingertips until I'm evenly coated with it, then lightly pinches both my slippery nipples until his fingers slide off, and then he does it again. And again. The sensation shoots straight to the base of my dick each time.

I close my eyes and let my head fall back, just savoring it all. His strong legs wrapped around me, heels digging into my butt, his magic fingers causing tiny pinpricks of pain/pleasure, his body so warm and welcoming, like I belong right here.

And then he's talking. Usually not English, and we learned right quick not Arabic, either. But other languages, he knows 'em all, and I don't have the vaguest idea what he's saying most of the time, but it doesn't matter, 'cause he's using his soft, sexy, post-climax voice, and it's deep and arousing and perfect. Might be conjugating verbs, for all I know, but it's the frosting on the cake for me.

"Use your nails," I manage, just as my climax hits me. He pinches me ruthlessly, and that extra bit sends me flying. I push harder at the end, as if I was sending my come deep, deep inside him.

I don't scream, but I might whimper in a completely manly way.

Either I collapse, or he pulls me down after it's over, and when I come to, he's got his arms and legs wrapped around me, and he's petting my hair and trying to kiss me gently awake. That's the most perfect moment in my life, right there-- totally spent, completely cherished, and held tight by my man. It's everything.

"I know you're awake," he accuses softly.

"M'not."

"Are."

"Like it here."

"That's real nice, Jack, but you're fuckin' heavy."

My arms and legs are pure jelly at this point, but I find some tiny reserve of strength and heave off him, flopping ungracefully onto my back. Eyes closed, I reach out, just to be able to touch him, to make that connection. "Sorry, baby."

"Ja-ack," he warns, snuggling up to me as he hauls the covers over us. We're both horribly sticky, but neither of us care. Morning will come soon enough.

"Sorry. Sorrysorry."

"You're not."

"No, not really," I admit.

*****

I wish I knew what the hell was with the pet names all of a sudden. The last couple of weeks it's been, 'Bring me another beer, will ya, honey?' and 'Come for me, baby'. It's disturbing.

"I'm not your wifey, Jack," I state categorically for the record as I pull the condom off his softening dick. This statement loses some of its credibility, of course, since I'm currently plastered up against his side with my head on his chest, barely alive after my near-crippling orgasm. God, he's good. I toss the condom somewhere over my shoulder, and I hear it splat on the nightstand. Oops. Deal with that tomorrow, I guess.

I have to stand firm on this point, though, or he'll turn me into the little woman for sure. I shift some so I can make eye contact while I'm chastising him, but Jack's already snoring. It's bizarre how much I've come to relish that racket...

I snuggle back under the covers, figuring there'll be plenty of time to discuss his annoying endearment habit in the morning, since I don't see this problem clearing up overnight. Besides, he's fucked me half to death, and all I want to do is sleep.

If someone had told me when I started the Stargate program four and a half years ago that someday I'd be in a sexual relationship with Colonel Jack O'Neill, I'd've told them they were certifiable. Of course he's not the hardass he once was, or maybe I've just finally figured out Jackspeak. A little of both, maybe. At any rate, here I am, a couple of nights a week, sleeping in his bed after spending hours doing many, many other interesting things all over his house. On the floor in the entryway. In the bathtub. Over the back of his couch. And there was that one time on his kitchen counter that was just...

Don't get me wrong; he still drives me around the bend at work, but he's an animal in bed, and that's no small feat at his age. He leaves me completely and beautifully fucked every time.

And it's really nice to share a bed with someone again. I missed that. A lot. Shau're will always have a place in my heart, but this... this was completely unexpected and out of the blue, and I'm starting to wonder how I ever managed to live without it.

*****

"You're up freakishly early." He's freshly showered, his hair still wet in the back, and completely, deliciously naked, walkin' around my bedroom. I wanna lick him all over, but he's got his determined face on, and I'd be six kinds of a fool to engage him before coffee. He pulls stuff out of the third dresser drawer --his drawer-- and starts getting dressed as he talks.

"You're tellin' me," he gripes, sliding his legs into the powder-blue jock I really like. I watch him adjust the strap around his waist and then the ones along the sweet curves of his ass, then he reaches deep inside the front to settle his boys comfortably into the see-through mesh pouch. Have mercy...

"I promised I'd check over Nyan's translation of the etchings SG-9 brought back from P4C-591 before they head back out this morning." He's talking to himself now, but I don't care, long as I can continue to get an eye full. "If it's a Germanic root like he thinks it is, we may want to take a look at it." Yeah, uh-huh, whateverthehell he just said. He unfurls a pair of jeans and then the long lean legs and the beautiful bare backside are hidden away, too. Damn it.

"Uh-huh," I manage out loud, which is pretty good, considering the fact that he's sticking his ass way out, looking underneath the dresser for his shoes, and he's naked under those jeans, and I'm harder now than when I woke up. I mean, come on, Daniel's pert little ass, packaged in those nut-crushingly tight Levi's? How am I not supposed to want to bite it? "Ah... Daniel?"

He's searching around under the bed now, and as soon as he stands up--

"Yeah?"

--his crotch is right in front of my face. I grab him by the hips and pull him towards me, crashing my face right into him.

"Jack!" he splutters, falling over me as he loses his balance.

"How 'bout a quickie before you go?" I ask his dick.

"Meeting!"

"Blow job?"

"Jack!"

"Just a nibble!"

He's laughing now. "NO!"

"One. Tiny. Suck!" He wrests himself out of my greedy grasp, red-faced and half-hard. My hand strokes the increasing bulge in his jeans; it's so hot, knowing that sexy blue number is underneath. I'll bet the head's already outgrown the waistband, and I gotta see that, wrap my tongue around it. "C'mon... y'know ya want to."

He leans in for a deep, minty kiss, one that threatens to disengage my entire swallowing mechanism, and I think I'm gonna get some for sure. When he comes up for air, he bumps his nose with mine and whispers, "Later. I gotta go. I'm already late. Want me to help you with the bed before I leave?"

"Dan-iel," I complain. He's talking laundry, so I've given up, but my dick never got the memo.

He finally finds his shoes under the other side of the bed and perches guardedly on the edge to slip them on, probably anticipating some kind of sneaky countermove on my part. "And speaking of public displays of affection--" he starts.

"Were we sp--?"

"Yes we were. The whole," he waves his sneaker around the room, "baby-honey-sweetheart thing."

I prop my head on my bent arm and regard him seriously. "You settled on a favorite one yet? I kinda like 'em all--"

He turns and regards me just as seriously, and I know I'm in trouble. "None of them. You've gotta stop, Jack. One day, you're gonna slip and let one of those words fly in the field--"

"Danny, honey, have you finished your translation of the spiky temple thingy?"

He tries hard not to crack a smile as he drags a plum-colored muscle shirt out of the drawer. "Yeah. Just like that."

I make like I'm considering it. "I'm very good at compartmentalizing," I decide.

"Hah! You messed up big time yesterday. Could you have been any more obvious?"

"Yest--"

"In the elevator with Sam and Jacob. When you--"

I reach over and push his glasses up his nose, which he sits completely still for, just like he did yesterday.

"Yeah. That."

"Y'think Jacob suspects?" I ask, completely straight-faced.

"How should I know? I didn't see his face; he was behind me. But I don't see how the hell he could possibly not suspect, and Sam too. It was an incredibly intimate move for my CO to make."

Yeah. About that... "You know I love you, right?"

He's started to move away, but that stops him cold, and he plops back heavily onto the bed. "Wha-what?" Floored, he just blinks at me for a minute. "You do? You never said any--"

"Have."

"Haven't."

"I'm sure I mentioned it."

"Nope," he insists staunchly. "We've been doing this..." he flaps one hand around at the corners of the room, "whatever this is, for nearly a year and a half, and you've never once said the 'L' word."

"Lesbian?"

He waves. "The other one."

"You sure?"

He's glaring now. "Positive. I'd've remembered."

"Oh. M'ybad."

"Why now?"

"Why now what?"

He waves his hand impatiently again. "Y'know."

"The I love you thing?"

"Yeah, that."

I shrug. "Seemed like a good time."

He stares at me for a long time and then shakes his head. "You're crazy, y'know that?" he accuses fondly.

I snake my hand behind his neck and pull him down, rolling onto my back as I kiss him so he'll get dragged on top of me. Didn't used to like feeling his weight on me, but I'm really starting to love it. Pressing me into the mattress, anchoring me. Being present.

It's gentle and lazy and slow, and I can feel the snap on his jeans digging into my belly. We've rolled far enough that his legs are straddling mine, so I pull a knee up to add some influence to the proposal --I don't have an 0800 meeting, and I'm not terribly invested in his-- and besides, Daniel's fully participating now, rocking his hips against my leg in a completely deliberate way, so I'm thinking I'm making some progress getting into these tight jeans. "I do love you, baby," I whisper into his mouth.

Whatever he says at that point is more moan than words and gets devoured in the next kiss anyway. When we pull apart again, he's right there over me, covering my body completely with his. I can see my nose print on one of his lenses and what must be a cheek smear on the other. "You're gonna need to clean your glasses," I report affectionately.

Daniel blinks. And blinks again. "Um... me too."

"Me too?" I don't wear glasses.

"Y'know... the, um, other thing."

"Ah. Sweet." I'm amused that he can't manage to say the words out loud. I am not amused that my seduction --with a proclamation, no less, something new for me-- hasn't apparently aborted the Nyan thing, because he's pulling away. "Where ya goin'?" I protest. I might actually be whining at this point, but I'd be well within my rights, I think. I mean, I've got a pretty obvious boner here.

He throws a thumb over his shoulder, like Cheyenne Mountain's just in the other room, then sets about wiping the lenses on his shirt. "Nyan. Eight o'clock. Don't you have to meet with the General about some planet/mission/paperwork of your own?"

I grab my robe from the back of the bedroom door and shrug into it as I follow him toward the front door. "Yeah, probably."

"What's gotten into you?" he frowns, slipping his keys into his pocket, along with his cell phone and wallet.

"Nothin'. Just horny, I guess."

"Yeah?" he smiles, sliding his arms around me and cupping my ass as he waggles his eyebrows. "How 'bout we both sneak away early tonight and call out for Thai?"

The eyebrow thingy would look perfectly ridiculous on anyone else, but it's Daniel, and therefore pretty cute. I'd eat my own left arm before telling him that, though. Come to think of it, he'd probably feed it to me.

I grab his asscheeks in both hands and squeeze as I yank him toward me. "That works."

He kisses me again, and then he's gone.

*****

Jack's not here.

At first, I assumed he was pulling a prank, some kind of surprise or something. Almost anything's possible after his utterly shocking 'I love you' announcement this morning. But his truck's in the driveway, I used my key to let myself in, and he's not in the house anywhere. His cell is still sitting in its charger on the nightstand, which explains why he didn't answer it all day. I hadn't thought anything of it at the time, but now...

I call the SGC switchboard, but his desk phone just goes to voicemail. I ask to be transferred to Hammond's office, but his assistant says he's on a call and can't be disturbed. Feeling more flustered by the minute, I call Sam's number, hoping she'll still be in her lab, and sure enough she answers on the third ring.

"Carter."

"Hey, Sam, it's Daniel. Have you run into Jack at all today?"

"No, I haven't seen the Colonel since we got back from the Tobin system yesterday. Why?"

"We were supposed to, um, catch a movie, but I let myself in when he didn't answer the door, and I checked the house; he's not here."

"Have you tried his office?"

"Yeah, he's not answering there either."

"Maybe he forgot--"

"Sam, his truck's in the driveway!"

"Okay, that's not right."

"No, it's not. I'm worried that--"

"Yeah, I got it," she replies, finally understanding my unvoiced concern. NID.

"I'm coming back in to talk to Hammond. There's no obvious sign of foul play, but it just feels wrong."

"I'll get Teal'c and meet you there."

"Thanks."

As I drive back to the mountain, my heart's pounding as I mentally revisit Jack's house. There was no sign of a struggle at all. There were dishes in the sink from yesterday's pizza, and the bed was still a mess from last night, which is so not-Jack, it's not funny. He changes the sheets every morning, so they're fresh when we get home, and only sex could make him leave dishes in the sink after a meal. It's almost like he just --I don't know-- walked away.

Once back at the SGC, I don't take time to change out of my street clothes, and by the time I jog to Hammond's office, his assistant is gone for the day. Sam's rounded up Teal'c, and we sit together, waiting in the briefing room for the General to get off his call.

After what seems like ages, he sets the phone in its cradle and motions to us through the window. Sam and I sit in the chairs the General indicates, and Teal'c takes his usual stance just behind Sam.

I fill them all in as succinctly as I can. "I didn't see any signs of a struggle at Jack's place, and his truck was in the driveway, exactly where he parked it last night. I was wondering..." I lower my voice. "...have you sent Jack on another undercover mission, like the one last year for the Tollan and the Asgard?"

Hammond shakes his head; I think we all remember that mission as a Very Bad Plan. It's certainly on my top ten list of times I'd rather forget. "No, son, nothing like that. In fact, early this morning, Colonel O'Neill requested a leave of absence, effective immediately."

"What? No." I'm so completely stunned, I think I've probably stopped breathing. "No, that's not possible."

"I know you two are close friends, Doctor Jackson, but even the closest of friends need some space once in a while."

"No. You've got to understand; Jack wouldn't do that. Not without telling me." This can't be happening.

"I'd assumed he'd be speaking with each of you after he contacted me. I take it he didn't get in touch with any of you?"

"No, not a word," Sam confirms, her expression as shocked as mine.

"O'Neill mentioned nothing of the sort to me."

I just shake my head. This isn't happening. It's not. It can't be. "H-How long? How much leave did he ask for?"

His eyes are kind, almost pitying, as he looks me in the eye and says one word that cuts through my heart. "Indefinite."

I hear Sam's gasp beside me, and I swear I can hear Teal'c's eyebrow lifting.

"As of now, I'm standing SG-1 down for one week; I hope to have a temporary replacement for him by that time. I'll wait for a while before I make any permanent arrangements."

I'm so stunned, I can't move. It's not until I feel Teal'c's hand on my arm that I even try to stand up. I know they're both talking to me as we move through the corridors, but I can't make myself listen, and eventually, I'm on the surface, signing out against their advice to let one of them drive me home.

Home.

Not to my apartment, that's for sure; I haven't really lived there for more than a year. Lately I spend more than half my time at Jack's house, and that's become home to me, ever since we got back from Netu, and Jack was released from the infirmary.

Jack needed someone to help out while his leg healed from the staff wound, doing errands and stuff. Sam and her Dad took off as soon as Janet cleared them, and Teal'c wanted to spend his downtime with Dreya'c and their son, so that left me to do Colonel duty. I didn't mind; it was nice not to be alone for a change, even if it was with a curmudgeonly Jack O'Neill.

It started off just like any other time we've helped each other out, Jack watching TV and complaining bitterly about Janet's no-beer-while-on-pain-meds rule, while I parceled out the drugs and got some food into him and tried to do a little real work on the side.

But that time was different; Jack himself was different. There was virtually no complaining, and I actually saw him pick up a magazine twice the first day. On the second evening, --not even waiting for half time, if you can believe it-- Jack spontaneously started talking about the visions the Blood of Sokar had given him, belying the fact we'd all pretty much claimed amnesia in the debriefing.

He spoke of visions of his dead son trying to get information from him about the Asgard, and of how they ground the memories of his little boy's accidental shooting death into Jack's heart like a spent cigarette butt. He spoke so softly as he spilled his guts, I had to move closer to hear him.

After he finished, he asked me what I'd seen in my drug-induced vision. I hesitated to tell him, because just thinking about it kind of spooked me.

On Netu, I'd overheard Sam and Martouf talking about the visions they'd had. Based on that, and knowing Apophis' sense of irony, I'd have expected him to use a vision of my late wife to seduce me into telling him what he wanted to know. Instead, he conjured a 'Jack' to find out where Shau're's child was. It was upsetting for reasons I didn't really want to think about.

But Jack was quietly insistent, said it was only fair we should both come clean, like digging the infection out of a festering wound, allowing it to drain. His manner was so uncharacteristically sincere and open and gentle, I guess I was kind of hypnotized by it, so I told him everything.

When I finished, he said, "I'm sorry," and then he slowly leaned over, and to my complete and utter astonishment, he kissed me gently on the mouth.

I didn't pull away; I was too surprised to really react to the startling move. Even as his face was getting closer, and then his warm lips pressed against mine, I didn't move. Maybe on some subconscious level, I'd been wanting Jack to kiss me, to make good on the idle foreplay I'd often read into many of his innocent actions and words over the years. But I never really expected him to make a move, not in a million years, and there were almost that many good reasons for not doing it now.

I sat on my ass in total amazement. "Jack?" I licked my lips, the taste of him strange, yet somehow familiar, too. My head was spinning, and my stomach was filled with both excitement and dread.

"You looked like you could use it," he shrugged. But instead of glancing away and diminishing the import of his words, he continued to keep the eye contact until I was forced to blink under his scrutiny.

Living the nightmare of Netu had been a soul-shredding hell; reliving it wasn't any better. "I'm pretty sure I look terrible," I said nervously.

"Not to me." Not really a smile, more a quirk of the lips. "Never to me."

And that was it. He had me with those simple words.

There wasn't a lot of talking; it was mostly kissing and moaning and groping. We never made it completely out of our clothes, much less off the couch, and it ended rather abruptly. It was an inauspicious first time, marked by desperate and inelegant hand jobs, and no small amount of embarrassment, at least on my side. I tend to be rather... loud.

I figured it was just reaching out for comfort; after all, who didn't need some after that mission? And I think I was prepared for it to go no further than that, with nothing said about it on either side.

But over time, it became so much more. He became more--more human, more sensitive, and as I learned this morning, there was a real romantic hidden beneath the Jekyll and Hyde of his Special Ops/Homer persona. We slept together that first night --no, really, we slept-- and then we spent the next morning taking our time, getting to know one another intimately.

But there had never been much discussion about any of it. It just was.

We've never sat down and talked about what our relationship was supposed to be, and we didn't try to map out which days I'd come over, or who paid for the takeout. We were as careful as we could be, considering the circumstances, but the fact of the matter was, the more we were together, the more we wanted to be, and the importance of everything else paled in comparison.

At home, Jack's dogtags stayed in a pile on the nightstand, and he never once made me feel guilty for coming between him and his oath. And although sometimes the job seemed to push us to opposite sides of 'policy', and I'm thinking specifically of the Enkarrans, here, but there've been others, we always found our way back to one another. We're together because we both want to be, and we haven't wasted any time talking about what could happen if we were caught.

I don't know what you'd call what we have. What we are to each other. But I sensed this morning that it might be changing, evolving. Because out of the blue, Jack told me he loved me, after more than a year and a half, and completely without warning. I was looking forward to coming home early tonight to explore that a little more. It'd come as a complete surprise, and I was stunned beyond belief, but excited as hell.

Now, faced with the possibility that I might never get a chance to say those words back to him, I'm completely ashamed that I didn't tell him while I had the chance that I've felt the same way for a long time.

*****

It's 3 AM, and I've gone through the entire house. No notes, no subtle 'I've been taken' clues, nothing. The only thing that's missing is the robe he was wearing when I kissed him goodbye in the hallway. I check the answering machine for the fifth time in case he called while I was out in the yard earlier. None of the neighbors saw anything unusual yesterday, other than the fact that Jack never left for work.

I'm convinced he didn't leave voluntarily. Now all I have to do is get General Hammond to believe it, too.

If I do that, we'll be completely outted, with no way back. How long do I wait? Would Jack want me to take our secret with me to my grave to preserve his reputation, even if it means leaving him behind, probably in the hands of the NID?

And how do I live with myself then?

*****

I got about an hour and a half's worth of fitful sleep last night. My eyes are gritty, and my stomach is one big, roiling knot; I'm not sure I'm even going to be able to keep this coffee down. I don't know why I wasted my time even trying to sleep; I've gotten so used to Jack's snoring, on the nights we spend apart, I never rest well.

Jack's gone, and I don't buy the 'leave of absence' thing. I've decided to tell Hammond the truth about us; something about this situation stinks, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of it. I can't imagine why the NID is making a play for Jack now, unless--

--they've caught us.

That's it. It's got to be. Maybe we missed a bug, or they've used infrared, or some kind of technology that's over my head. They might even have film of us, audio, certainly. They'll probably play it at Jack's trial.

I think back to the scene in General Hammond's office yesterday; he seemed genuine when he spoke to us. I'd hate to think he's in on whatever's going on, but if it were a case of saving the entire Stargate Program by sacrificing one of his men... the needs of the many and all that.

I stand in front of the closet and wonder; what does one wear to an outing? There's no way around it, I'm going to have to tell Hammond about me and Jack, just so he'll understand there's a problem. There's a risk that what I have to say will end Jack's career.

I almost hope Hammond's in on it; once they know that I know, maybe I'll get sent to wherever it is they're keeping Jack.

*****

"Is he in?" I ask Hammond's assistant. Cathy, I think her name is.

"One m-moment," she stammers before buzzing Hammond, which might indicate complicity in some nefarious goings-on, or it may just be she's not used to seeing me in anything other than baggy BDUs or the rare pair of khakis. I picked out a pair of black jeans, and the pale blue V-neck sweater Jack gave me for Christmas last year. It's a combination that's had Jack lusting to get in my pants through dinner and a movie on more than one occasion, so I guess I've finally managed to put a dent in my clueless geek reputation after all.

Closing Hammond's door behind me, I cross the room to shake the General's hand and then sit when he offers. I hope I don't look as nervous as I feel.

"What can I do for you this morning, Doctor Jackson?"

"Have you heard from Jack since we spoke last evening?"

"Nothing since I received his email yesterday morning."

"Email? You didn't speak to him in person?" I should've asked this yesterday, but I was too stunned to think clearly. I feel so stupid; this changes everything. "You can ask for an indefinite leave of absence with just an email? There aren't... forms?"

"Ordinarily, there are several forms, and in all but the most dire of circumstances, notice is required, but as you know, Colonel O'Neill isn't known for his adherence to the book. He explained in the email that he had matters of a personal nature to take care of that had come up suddenly, and he'd be in touch. He has more than ninety days of personal leave time accrued, which, due to his record of service, I have granted, in spite of the suddenness of the request. Saving the world does allow for some leniencies. I imagine he'll be touching base with us long before that's used up."

I'm not getting any negative vibes from him, so I'll have to assume he's still one of the good guys. "General Hammond, I don't buy the leave of absence story, particularly since he didn't contact you in person, nor did he contact me. It's not possible that he'd just leave like that."

"Doctor Jackson--"

"No, please, hear me out, General," I interrupt, my heart pounding. "I'm his partner, and I didn't receive any email from him; in fact, he didn't leave me any word at all." It occurs to me as I say that, I hadn't as of about 4:00 yesterday afternoon, but I haven't checked it today; I've been too worried. Another stupid mistake.

He frowns, annoyed confusion taking the edge off his grandfatherly demeanor. "I know SG-1 is a very close-knit team," he says patiently. "I've seen all of you go through a hell of a lot together in the last four and a half years. It's only natural you'd start to feel almost like family." He's working up to a 'so if you'll excuse me...' I can just feel it.

"Yes sir, just exactly like family; Jack and I are partners in the most personal sense." I've never said anything like this before, not even inside my own head, and it's both surreal and thrilling at the same time.

It's clear he still doesn't get it though, so I draw him a picture. "We're lovers. As good as married." I've got Hammond's attention, finally. Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, we can get down to the business of finding Jack. "And you can believe me when I tell you that Jack wouldn't leave me. Not like this. Not without one word to me."

To his credit, his features are schooled, his expression shows only comprehension, not repugnance, which I anticipate will be the default reaction of most of the other military types here on base. If he was shocked, he wouldn't show it; he's a consummate professional.

"May I ask how long?"

"Right after we got back from Netu. A little more than a year and a half." Nineteen months, starting at a time when I was ready to sink into a dangerous depression after I lost Sha'ure.

I see him process that this isn't some, 'we survived Hell, let's fuck to celebrate' situation. A year and a half gives our relationship standing. Legitimacy, if not legality, at least in this country. As the fact of it sinks in, I'm hoping his next move will be one that will help me get my lover back and not to start some kind of disciplinary hearing.

"I see. I'll hold off on the congratulations until we get to the bottom of Colonel O'Neill's disappearance."

YES! The relief is probably screaming off me in waves; I'm sure he can see it. To his credit, regardless of whatever his personal feelings about Jack or me, or the fact that we're together, his primary concern is the welfare of his people. "Thank you, sir." We talk at length about the weeks leading up to Jack's disappearance, and I answer all of his sensitively worded questions. I can see nothing out of the ordinary, nothing suspicious, nothing that would give us any clues as to what the hell has happened to Jack.

"I'll make some calls, Doctor Jackson, see what I can dig up."

"Thank you," I say sincerely as I stand. He extends his hand, and I take it. "I think it might be time for you to call me Daniel. I imagine when we find Jack, he'll be retiring again. I expect we both will." I'm thinking positively here.

"Let's not rush into things just yet," he tells me with a gentle smile. "I would strongly suggest though, that you tell the rest of your team; bring them up to speed on these newest developments. We're going to need their help before this is over, and they can't work blind."

I've been so worried about Jack, I haven't really considered how the hell I'm going to tell Sam and Teal'c about us. I guess I always figured if and when we decided to come out, Jack would handle it, since he's the one with the military issue.

I'm pretty sure doing this on base is a bad idea. General Hammond is sending a team to Jack's house to sweep for surveillance equipment, so I guess that'll be as safe a place as any to do it. I anticipate yelling. There's no point in delaying the inevitable, so once I get to Jack's house, I call Sam.

"Carter."

"Hey, Sam, it's me."

"Daniel. Have you heard from the Colonel?"

"No, no I haven't, and that's why I'm calling. I've been to see the General--"

"Already? Wow. You're moving early."

"Yeah, listen, I'm here at Jack's place right now. Can you see if Teal'c's free and swing on by?" She's going to kill me for this nonchalance later.

"Ah, sure. Just lemme tell the General--"

"He-ah, knows, Sam. This is kinda like a briefing."

"Oh."

There's a long pause while she tries to decipher what that might mean. I really don't want to try to do this over the phone. "Yeah. So...?"

"Yeah, okay, I'll... just give us a few minutes to change."

"Great. See ya soon." I hang up, feeling like the ten kinds of heel I am, and wondering if our friendship will be able to withstand this.

The knock at the door is Major Philip Patterson, and he's got a gaggle of techs behind him. I nod at the SGC ID he flashes me and stand aside to let them by. He deploys them, and they scour the house efficiently, wielding doohickeys and gizmos that rival Sam's.

Oh, for cryin' out loud, I'm channeling Jack...

"Doctor Jackson?"

I stop on my way to the kitchen. "Yes?"

"May we speak privately?"

He's as tall as Jack, but a little heavier. Jet black hair, hazel eyes, and every inch a soldier. "I was just going to make a pot of coffee," I say, pointing over my shoulder.

"Lead the way."

Once we're out of earshot of his team --although, these guys hunt for snooping equipment, doesn't that make them professional snoopers?-- then I decide the 'privately' was probably for my benefit. "What can I do for you, Major Patterson?"

"I understand from General Hammond that you reside here in Colonel O'Neill's home on a regular basis?"

Ah, here it comes. I grind the beans I've measured then begin to fill the pot with water. "I'm here several nights a week, yes," I reply as offhandedly as I can. It feels odd to finally be admitting it, especially to people I don't even know. I can't help but wish it were under better circumstances.

"I will make every effort to be as discreet as possible during our investigation, sir, but I have to ask you a few questions."

I'd hoped we could keep it in the family, and SG-1 would handle the investigation, leaving these guys to just scan for bugs; I guess that was too much to hope for. Obviously, Hammond's taking this seriously, though, so I'll give them whatever they need. You'd think Don't Ask/ Don't Tell would apply, since he's essentially asking about Jack, but I guess it doesn't matter at this point.

It would've been the same if it had been a civilian investigation, the same questions, but maybe not the same prejudice. I sigh audibly, push the button on the coffeemaker, then turn to lean back against the counter as the coffee begins to brew. Instinctively, I want to cross my arms, but I've been told that I sometimes convey defensive body language; I definitely don't want to do that in this situation, so I slide one hand into my pocket, and lean casually on the counter with the other. "Of course. I understand."

"When was the last time you saw Colonel O'Neill?"

"Yesterday morning, about 7:30. I had an 8 o'clock meeting with a colleague." I'm wishing now that I'd lingered longer, maybe taken Jack up on that blowjob. Maybe I'd've still been here when they came to take him.

"Do you usually carpool to the mountain?"

"Very rarely; only if one of the cars is in the shop, or the weather's bad, and it would make sense to do so. We've tried to be discreet, Major." I may not outrank him, but my lover does, and when we get him back...

"Of course, sir. Have you noticed anything that might seem out of place or missing altogether?"

I decide I hate this man. I wonder if the military teaches their investigators to be this cold, or if that's just the kind of man he is. Would he be any gentler, any more sympathetic, if I were a woman whose husband had suddenly disappeared? Would he have been any more compassionate if there had been children involved? Why is it assumed that I'm not scared and hurting?

"Um. Jack's robe is missing, the one he was wearing yesterday morning. There were dishes in the sink from the previous night's dinner, and the bed was unmade, both of which were highly uncharacteristic behavior for him. And... his dog tags were still on the nightstand where he usually leaves them." I take a steadying breath. They're around my neck now, and that's where they're going to stay until I find him. "Other than that, everything was as it should be."

Patterson eyes the empty sink pointedly. "I gather you washed the dishes; did you also make the bed?"

I don't like where this is headed. "Of course."

"Are the original sheets still on the bed, sir, or have you washed them too?"

"And just why is that important?"

He hesitates for a moment, and I suspect he's used to saying 'Just answer the question, please', but I can see his thought process as he decides to answer mine.

"We need to test for traces of a possible third party," he says almost apologetically.

"You won't find any," I answer tightly. We never talked about expectations of fidelity, but I know Jack was faithful to me; of that, I'm one hundred percent certain.

"I'm sure you're right, Doctor," he says, maintaining unblinking eye contact. "But have you washed the sheets, sir?"

"I didn't have time to," I answer just as coldly. He just stares at me. It's clear what he wants, and although he's afforded me some courtesies up to now, he has his orders. "I'll get them," I say tightly. I grab a plastic bag out of the drawer behind me and head for the laundry room with the Major right behind me. He's afraid I'm going to tamper with the evidence somehow. I wonder if they've dug through the trash to find the condom I threw away this morning.

As I ball them into the bag, a cloud of Jack's scent --of our scent-- wafts out at me like a punch in the gut. I want to lash out at Major Patterson and his private questions and his sly innuendo and his team of obedient lackeys; I want them out of Jack's house --our house-- and I'm willing to throw them out bodily.

I turn and thrust the bag at him and see that his cronies have gathered near the front door. "If that's all?"

He takes the bag and joins the others. There's lots of muttered conversation I can't hear, then he turns to me as his men file out. "My team could find no surveillance equipment of any kind on the premises or in the yard. Thank you for your cooperation, Doctor," and he's out the door too.

I go back in the kitchen and pour myself some coffee with hands shaking from the adrenaline of unreleased anger. Jack and I are 'out' in a big way now, and there's no turning back. I wish I could let myself think about what life will be like, once he and I retire and can live together full time, but I can't allow myself go there yet, not while he's missing.

I sit down at the dining room table to wait for the other shoe to drop, the big important one. I wonder if there's a way to do this that won't cause irreparable harm to the friendship the four of us have built in four years of saving the world?

Most of the way through my first cup, I hear the knock at the door, then Sam's voice calling out my name.

"In here," I reply, my heart thudding into my guts. This is it. I hope Teal'c will be able to keep her from killing me. I hope he'll want to.

"You have procured donuts," Teal'c observes as he strolls into the dining room. He removes the flamboyant cowboy hat that conceals his gold tattoo and sets it on the table, where it can be reached quickly if someone non-SGC shows up unexpectedly.

"Sure did." On my way home from the Mountain, I picked up some donuts from the Krispy Kreme that's near Jack's house; I swear he moved there just for the proximity. I'm not kidding myself; they're a bribe. "Thought I might've caught you guys before breakfast," I reply weakly.

"There's always room for donuts," Sam says, selecting a honey-glazed one and setting it on the small plate in front of her.

"Yeah? I thought that was the marketing campaign for Jell-O?"

She shakes her head and swallows a bite. "Un-uh. There is definitely a limit as to the amount of Jell-O one can consume before the gag reflex kicks in," she assures me just before pulling off another big bite of donut.

I'm gonna miss having her as a friend.

"Coffee?" I ask, reaching for the pot. Sam nods, her mouth full of sticky donut. "I know, juice for you, Teal'c." He inclines his head, fully into his lemon filled selection. He's the only person I know who can eat one of those and not get powdered sugar all over himself. I think the sugar's probably afraid of him.

Whenever Jack eats them, I always have to lick the sugar off his lips.

Jack's missing. And it's another punch in the guts.

I grab a glass and the juice pitcher out of the fridge and set them in front of Teal'c. Hospitality out of the way, I sit and fold my hands on the table, hoping their shaking isn't too noticeable. I wish I knew how to do this. I wish Jack were here. Sam's eyeing me nervously. She's not stupid; she knows something's up.

"General Hammond and I spoke this morning at length. To make a long story short, I was able to convince him that the email he received, purportedly from Jack, was just a red herring; Jack did not leave voluntarily."

"He requested an LOA in an email?" she asks incredulously.

"Yeah, raised a red flag for me too," I admit. "I feel pretty stupid I didn't think to ask that yesterday."

"It never occurred to me. The General seemed pretty confident at the time that the Colonel's request was genuine, though."

"Well, that's because he didn't know what I know," I say softly, still looking at my hands. I'm such a coward.

"C'mon, spill," Sam demands, taking a sip of her coffee as she watches me.

From the corner of my eye, I see Teal'c set his donut down, almost as though he senses what's coming.

God, I wish my stomach would settle down. "I'm sorry, there's just really no gentle way to say this, and we've got to get past it, so we can figure out where they've taken him--"

"Daniel," Sam frowns, all business now. She doesn't use her command voice very often, but maybe it's easier this way.

I let out a nervous breath. "Jack and I are lovers."

The room is absolutely still and soundless. I finally lift my eyes to meet her shocked gaze and wait for the fallout.

"What?" she whispers.

Does she really want me to repeat it? That would just be pointless and cruel; I rephrase it, less brutally I hope. "We're together. We're a couple."

"That's..."

I see the word choices flash across her face --wrong, revolting, disgusting-- before she settles on one.

"Against the regs."

I have no argument for that one. "Technically, yes." And now I'm sure without a shadow of a doubt that she'll be the one to turn us in. It doesn't matter anymore, not as long as I get him back. "But that's really neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is, Jack's missing, the NID's probably involved, and we're wasting precious time arguing fine points of military regulations. Now I know telling you this way has probably hurt your feelings, Sam, and for that I'm sorry, I really am, but the fact of the matter is, Jack's in trouble, and he needs our help!"

Slowly, she pushes her mug away, then the plate with her half-eaten donut on it. She's looking down at them, her expression one of imminent nausea, not meeting my eyes. "I can't--"

"Please, Sam! Nothing's changed, not really. We're friends, we're a team, those things don't change just because Jack and I are together."

"You mean because you fuck each other," she states flatly, still not looking at me. "Stress relief, right?"

I'm surprised by her coarse language, but I'm not gonna let that throw me. I glance at Teal'c to see how he's taking it, but his expression's unreadable. "We have a physical relationship, yes, but it's more than that." Much more. "We're partners in every sense of the word, and I know he wouldn't just leave me like this. Something must've happened."

"So what, was I just some kind of cover for you guys?" she bites off. Her lips are pressed into a grim line, and she's clenching her teeth. "All that flirting," she manages, "he deliberately came on to me, what? To give the rumor mill something to work on, so he could fuck you without suspicion?"

I know what she's referring to; the whole mountain knows the poorly-kept, 'leave-it-in-the-room' secret. "Sam--"

"I need to get out of here." She shoves her chair back and stands. "Teal'c, can you--?"

Teal'c hasn't said a word during any of this. "I shall obtain alternate transportation."

I hear the door slam and then the gunning of an engine. "That went well," I mumble.

"It did not," Teal'c replies seriously. "Indeed, it went most poorly."

We're both silent, listening to the sound of Sam's angry withdrawal, and then the savage silence afterward. Teal'c seems content to wait until I'm ready. After a while, I don't know how long, I close my eyes and ask for the second barrel. "Okay, you're next."

"You seem surprised by Major Carter's reaction. When you and O'Neill started your...relationship... did you not consider her feelings in the matter?"

"No," I tell him honestly. "Not for a moment. It was never about her. It wasn't about taking sides, or undermining the team, or stealing the guy she's been flirting with for three years. It's just... what had to happen. It was inevitable, I think."

"So you say. And yet, would you not feel just as betrayed, had it been the other way around?" His voice is gentle, but there's stinging chastisement underneath it.

Maybe I deserve it. Maybe I should've backed away from Jack when he kissed me that first time, told him he was mistaken, that I didn't swing that way.

But I didn't back away. And I'm not sorry that I didn't.

"I dunno, maybe." I sigh again. This is bad, real bad. About what I expected, of course, but still bad. "I'd like to think that if the situation were reversed, I'd keep my emotions and my prejudice to myself, at least until we knew whether or not Jack's even alive!" I hear my voice crack, and I take another slug of luke-cold coffee as a distraction, to help keep me focused. "Will you help me find him, Teal'c?" I don't know what I'll do if he says no.

After a long moment, where I'm pretty sure he's about to turn me down, he inclines his head. "My skills are at your service, Daniel Jackson."

"Mine too."

My head whips around and there's Sam, standing in the doorway, looking windblown and a little teary. "Sam...?"

She holds up a hand, her thin lips telegraphing her barely restrained anger. "When we find him... I'm punching you both out cold," she warns, and I don't doubt her --or blame her-- for a minute. "But I'm in."

I get up, and she meets me halfway, and we hug till it hurts. I figure only the fact that we've been a team so long is letting her help me in the face of her own feelings of betrayal. "Thank you," I whisper. And then, "I'm sorry."

She pulls away, frowning. "No, you're not."

She's right. "I'm not gonna apologize for my relationship with him, but I can feel plenty bad for the way it's hurt you." I look over at Teal'c. "Both of you."

"We must spend no more time on pointless recriminations, Daniel Jackson. O'Neill's life may very well be in danger."

"You're right." I go to the fridge and pull out two beers, despite the early hour. Sam takes hers gratefully, resuming her former seat. "Where do we start?"

Sam takes a deep drink of the Guinness before she answers. "Have you noticed anything strange about the Colonel's behavior around you lately? Anything unusual or out of the ordinary?"

I uncap my beer, opening my mouth to answer, then stop abruptly. "Sam..."

She reaches across the table and takes my free hand in hers, squeezing it to the point of pain. "Stop it. It's not like I've never seen a gay couple before. We don't have time to be delicate about this; the Colonel may be in real trouble."

"I know," I agree, squeezing her back. I hope I'd've been as forgiving, if our situations were reversed. Talking about Jack and me is counterintuitive to me. Secrecy has been paramount for the last year and a half, to the point of avoiding each other on base, just so the personal familiarity we have doesn't seep into our work relationship; we haven't always been successful with that.

And then there's the uncomfortable fact that she's had a thing for Jack almost since the beginning.

I take a deep breath, letting it out audibly. "I suppose... he's been more affectionate the last few weeks..." Surprising me with hugs that took my breath away, his teeth scraping the back of my neck, biting me almost to the point of leaving marks. "And then, um, yesterday morning as I was leaving for the mountain, Jack... told me he loved me." I see her jaw clench, but her eyes widen in surprise.

"Is that unusual?"

"Well, yeah," I shrug. "We've been together a year and a half, and that's the first time he's ever said it."

"What?!" She looks at me incredulously.

"It's--" I feel like I have to defend us, the way we are, the kind of couple we are. "We're not like that. It's just--" How do I explain this? Why do I have to? "There's a reason they don't write love songs for gay people, Sam. It's just... not like that. There's no hearts and flowers with this, it just... is."

"O'Neill knows you are allergic to flowers," Teal'c interjects helpfully.

"Yes, I'm sure that's why, Teal'c," I answer distractedly. "He's thoughtful like that."

"I didn't even know you were gay," Sam says quietly. "Either of you." She's got a death grip on that beer bottle, so she's not at all as calm as she's letting on. It's clear she doesn't understand the kind of relationship we have, but it's more than that; the friends and teammates she thought she knew are turning out to be completely different people. It's bound to be a shock, I suppose. Her disappointment and resentment are --sadly-- completely understandable.

"I mostly wasn't. Now..." I shrug. "I don't think it's really about gender, about where you fall on the Kinsey scale. It probably started out mostly for comfort, and I was okay with that, with what we did. Of course, when he kissed me, it completely melted my brain synapses, so maybe I can claim diminished capacity..."

I smile nervously, but I can feel them looking at me as I address my next words to the beer bottle in my own hand. Even not meeting their eyes, it's still difficult to get the words out. "But then there was the next time, and then the time after that, and it was obviously about more than just comfort..." I let Jack into my body the third time we were together. I don't know if that makes me easy or not, but I guess it officially marks my defection from the ranks of the strictly heterosexual. In any case, I can't see how that's relevant to finding Jack. "I don't think those details really matter in this context. Suffice it to say, we have a healthy and mutually satisfying sex life; so no, I don't think he's left me for someone else."

"I wasn't suggesting--"

"Not directly, Sam, no, but it's one possible scenario; the crew Hammond sent to search the place was clear on that. I know I must sound like every naïve SO who's ever lived, but I truly don't think Jack's cheating on me." I look up and shrug. "The timing's wrong. If he were gonna stray, I don't think he'd bother telling me he loved me." My voice cracks again, and I try to wash it away with beer that tastes like Jack's kisses. I'm going to lose it in front of them if I don't change the damned subject somehow.

"So. What are our other options?" I bleat desperately.

After half a beat, Teal'c offers, "Perhaps O'Neill has a dark secret from his past which has suddenly come to light, forcing him to leave so as not to bring harm to his loved ones."

Sam and I look at each other, then at Teal'c. Sam finds her voice first. "What, ah... what secret is that, Teal'c?"

"That is unknown to me."

I'm confused, but I feel I should say something. "Well, I--"

"Conversely, it is conceivable O'Neill has made an unwholesome arrangement with shady characters, and upon refusing to heft the small equine in recompense for the evil one's favor, he has been abducted to be made an example of by the power-hungry group."
Sam and I just looked at one another, and then the idiom unravels. "That's, um... that's 'pony up', Teal'c," I correct gently. "And I really don't think Jack's run afoul of the mob."

"As you wish," Teal'c says somberly, leaning forward as he steeples his fingers. His expression is ominous. "Amnesia, then," he offers.

"Amnesia?" I croak.

"He has forgotten who he is and wanders the night, not knowing to whom his heart belongs."

"Teal'c--"

"No," Sam says, "I've got this one." She turns to Teal'c and says firmly, "Lifetime... is television for women."

Teal'c does that single eyebrow thing he does, and announces, "I find the stories most heartwarming."

I spray out the mouthful of beer I'd intended to swallow, and Sam pounds on my back.

"You okay?"

I block her pounding fist and nod. "Yeah. Yeah, I think so." Sam regards me with a critical eye, lest I have a relapse, as she helps me mop up the mess. From the corner of my eye, I catch Teal'c's sly grin.

"I'm gonna hit the head," Sam says, excusing herself.

I'm not sure, but I think the big guy was covering for me. I raise my beer in wordless thanks, and he proffers his OJ in reply.

*****

I can't believe Teal'c's been watching Lifetime. I just know the Colonel's gonna blame me for this. Of course, it seems to have finally gotten Teal'c off his Oprah kick, so I suppose it could be worse. Still, when this latest crisis is over, I need to sit Teal'c down and explain to him that these are just movies, intended for entertainment, and not anything approaching real life for the Tau'ri. Heartwarming, indeed.

I glance in the mirror as I wash up. God, I'm a mess. I splash cold water on my face, easing the tightness from my earlier tears. As I dry off, I realize the heaviness in my stomach is almost gone. This has turned into one hell of a suck-ass day, but not for the reasons I first thought. I feel like I'm living through some strange twist of the quantum mirror on acid. It's beyond unbelievable. Daniel and the Colonel. Jack.

Jack and Daniel. I feel like such a blind fool; I mean, the signs were all there. It's more than odd to realize it, but I feel a kind of strange relief, in a way.

From the hallway outside the bathroom, I can see Daniel and Teal'c have pushed the donuts aside and set up Daniel's laptop on the dinner table. They must be waiting for it to connect to the SGC network. Daniel's elbow's on the table, and he's propping his forehead on the heel of his hand.

When have I seen this pose before? Oh, yeah. After his wife died. I don't know how he handled it when he was in the privacy of his own home, but I caught him a couple of times in his office, when he thought he was alone and had let his brave face slip, and the grief that was lying just underneath it peeked out. The rest of the time, he kept it bundled tightly to his heart, where no one could see it, while he made like everything was all right; he wouldn't let anyone close enough to help him.

Except, apparently, the Colonel. Jack.

"Checking my email again," Daniel says tiredly as I come into the room. "Just in case." He doesn't look like he slept at all last night, and judging from the bags under his eyes, he spent more than a few hours of it crying. For the Colonel. His lover.

Dear god, it's just so hard to imagine...

I nod, then start clearing the table of used coffee mugs and plates, just to have something to do; three of us watching his email download is two too many. I finish what was left of my beer and slip the bottle into the recycling bin in the corner, still stalling.

Look at him, sitting there. He seems right at home in the Colonel's space, as though he owns it; I guess in a way he does. There was a time once when I thought- maybe someday the Colonel and I would finally--

Okay, really no need to go there now, or ever again. It's clear the Colonel has made his choice, and for whatever reason, it wasn't me. I don't understand it --not that he picked someone else, I'm not that vain, but that he picked a man-- but there's no time to cry over the 'what might have beens'. Maybe I'll give myself that luxury once we find him.

I told Daniel I was going to knock them both out cold, and I intend to. The Colonel harder than Daniel, though; the fucker deserves to have his nose broken, and I'm the woman to do it. It was his doing, this game of 'inappropriate feelings chicken' we've played all these years, each daring the other one to retire for something we'd never even attempted to consummate. We'd seen other Carters together with other O'Neills, and I just assumed...

But I think I always knew he'd never retire for me.

And he's retired for Daniel once already; they had history before I ever came on the scene...

I was shocked, absolutely; who wouldn't be? And hurt on a personal level. The shock wore off quickly, and I've pushed the hurt aside to deal with later. But the bigger wound, I think, is that they didn't trust Teal'c and me enough to tell us what was going on. Jack took a risk by taking Daniel to bed, that it wouldn't affect the team dynamic, that his involvement with someone under his supervision wouldn't sway his command decisions in the field.

Oh, my god, the Gadmeer! How could he have pushed that button, knowing his lover was on board...?

Damn it, Teal'c and I had a right to know! It was selfish and dangerous to keep us in the dark; that's why the damn regs exist in the first place!

The sound of a strangled sob behind me tells me Daniel has the email confirmation he didn't want. His chair pushes away, and he leaves the room without looking back. My eyes meet Teal'c's, and he just nods once.

On the other side of the pass-through, I see Daniel standing in the living room, staring into the Colonel's back yard --their back yard, I guess-- with his hands crammed down deeply into his pockets.

I look over Teal'c's shoulder to read the words on the screen:

"I feel like a first-class heel for doing it this way, but the issue hasn't changed for me. Maybe once I get my head together... Crap. Who am I kidding? You deserve better. For what it's worth, h, I'm sorry and ily. J."

I follow him down the steps to the living room and stand quietly behind him. "Do you understand the message?"

He shakes his head and shrugs at the same time, multiple gestures of hopelessness. "I guess. Seemed pretty clear to me."

"Daniel, I know the email was supposed to be private, but if there's any hint, anything he's deliberately saying in an atypical way that might give us a cl-"

"There are things we can't do, Sam," he says tightly, like the words are being ripped out of him. "Ways we can't... love each other. Things that Iraq made impossible..." He pauses to catch his breath, to try to stay on top of the emotion, and his words blaze unwanted graffiti across my brain. 'Ways we can't love each other...' Shit.

"I told him I didn't care, that what we had was enough. At least it was enough for me..."

God, it's killing him. I can see it in the way he's holding himself. And having to talk about things that are so intimate, so personal, is only making it worse. I wish I didn't have to intrude, to make him explain it...

I wish I didn't have to hear it, to know what they did. What they couldn't do...

I step closer so I can whisper; maybe it won't hurt him as badly. "How can you be sure the message was really written by the Colonel?"

Daniel turns to look at me, and I can see there are tears standing in his eyes; he's frowning hard, trying to keep them from falling. "Yeah, um..." He swallows quickly and then wraps his arms around himself and that's a familiar gesture, too; it's how he keeps himself from flying apart.

"The 'h' was probably shorthand for... 'h-honey'... He'd, um... started using pet names for me, every time we were together..." His frown loses it's footing, and he looks as if he's finally ready to let go.

I step closer and put my arms around him, and he grabs onto me, holding me hard. I feel the sob break in his chest, but there are no tears on my shoulder. I don't know how he's keeping them inside. I'm crying for him, maybe he'll see it's all right to let them go. "I want him back," he whispers shakily into my neck.

I bite my lip to keep my own tears in check. "We'll find him," I promise.

*****

You deserve better.

He really did leave me; it was intentional. Deliberate. Calculated.

ily, J

I love you. The words I couldn't say. Why would he say them to me and then just walk out of my life?

Because I didn't say them back?

Maybe it's time for that gay love song after all...

*****

"I've figured part of it out," I announce to the other three in the briefing room. Once Daniel told me the Colonel's contact with Hammond was via email, I knew we had a trail we could use.

General Hammond listens intently, as always. Daniel's slumped beside me, frowning, and Teal'c's across from him; the Colonel's seat next to Teal'c is conspicuously empty. Ever since Daniel got the Colonel's email, he's been withdrawn, and with good reason, I suppose. Nobody likes getting a Dear John letter. I've asked the General to exclude the SFs who are usually present during briefings, to give Daniel some privacy. I hope he'll find my news at least somewhat encouraging.

"Which part have you figured out, Major?" Hammond asks.

I turn to address him. "I back-traced the path of the email to the originating post office within the SGC's secure network. Just minutes before the Colonel's message was sent to you, the internal email server took a hit for a fraction of a second."

"A hit?" The general leans forward, interested. "What kind of hit?"

"Well, remember last year when Thor came via the gate? He wanted someone dumb to help figure out their Replicator problem--"

"I remember, go on."

"Just before the wormhole opened, Thor shot a pulse through that took all our systems offline, so we couldn't close the iris, and he could come through."

"This was the same kind of pulse?"

"Of much shorter duration, but the same kind, yes, sir."

Daniel finally perks up. "Are you saying Thor took Jack? Why?"

"O'Neill once threatened to take Thor fishing," Teal'c surmises levelly.

Daniel's brows shift into a frown again; doubtful, he cocks his head to the side. "And what? Thor suddenly cashed in on the rain check?"

"We could send someone to check the Colonel's cabin in Minnesota," I suggest quietly. "See if he's there."

"That's ridiculous," Daniel snaps. "Let's say Thor wanted to experience fishing first hand, couldn't wait to get his knobby little fingers into a bait bucket. Jack could've explained that very easily as a diplomatic mission and had the SGC's blessing. He certainly wouldn't've had to take a sudden LOA to do it. Besides, it doesn't explain the emails."

"Emails, plural? You got one too?" Hammond asks.

"Yeah, I guess it was delayed by the server glitch or something." Daniel's mouth is puckered up in aggravation.

"May I ask what the content of the message was?"

"The message was of a personal nature, General Hammond."

"It's okay, Teal'c," Daniel says softly, his voice sounding hollow. "Basically, Jack apologized for leaving with no notice, based on an utterly mistaken impression that I was unhappy with the status of our relationship." He looks down at his hands, clenching them tightly and forgets we're all in the room. "Idiot."

"Perhaps it is not O'Neill who wishes to leave Earth; perhaps it is, in fact, Thor who came in search of O'Neill."

"For what purpose?" Hammond asks.

I'm such a bonehead; I don't know why I didn't think of it before, but Teal'c may have a point. "Cloning," I spit out. Everybody looks at me, so I hastily add, "When I was with Thor, trying to outthink the Replicators, it came up. They've been cloning themselves for hundreds of years. Clones of clones. Diminishing returns."

Daniel looks at me like I've lost my mind, and speaks very slowly. "And they would want Jack because...?"

"They needed new blood?" I say, realizing how silly it sounds as the words tumble out of my mouth.

"It is widely known, Major Carter, that aliens abduct nubile young women for this purpose," Teal'c says dismissively.

The entire room pauses half a beat, weighing the possibility that he might be basing this statement on some kind of actual knowledge from his time with Apophis, before Daniel speaks up. "Wait. Don't tell me," he says with a sigh. "National Enquirer."

"No," Teal'c supplies smugly. "The Glimmer."

I'm thinking I'd better have that talk with Teal'c tonight. "Y'know, maybe the fact the Colonel was able to take the Ancient download makes him somehow special in their eyes." They're all just staring at me. "It's a theory," I stress. I didn't feel this dumb with Thor. "I don't think the Ancients would've just left that thing lying around, where anybody could stumble into it. We know it skipped right over Teal'c, because he's Jaffa. I'll bet it scanned the Colonel, found him at least partially compatible, and then..." They're all just staring. "It's. A. Theory," I remind them all stiffly.

Hammond speaks up. "Why the email then?"

"Perhaps to stall for time. For the... experiments," Teal'c adds mysteriously. "They may return O'Neill, once they are completed."

"Can you scan for a ship in orbit?" Hammond asks. He seems to be taking the possibility seriously, as outrageous as it sounds.

"I can scan for an Asgard energy signature, yes, but Thor would only be in orbit if he planned to return the Colonel."

"Why don't we just call him and ask?" Daniel asks tiredly. The bags underneath his eyes are worse now. Either Teal'c or I have been with him every minute since he read the Colonel's email earlier this morning; he hasn't had a moment to himself. I can't imagine how hard it is, keeping his feelings inside this way. "Instead of all this wild and colorful speculation, why don't we use the communicator Thor gave Jack last year, and just ask him?"

"Do it," Hammond orders.

I call down to the Armory on nineteen and within minutes, an airman brings the teardrop-shaped communication device to the briefing room. I activate it and barely a split second later, Thor's holographic image appears at the opposite end of the table. "Greetings," the little gray guy intones.

"Did you take Jack?" Daniel demands without preamble. So much for diplomacy.

"Yes, at his request."

We're all stunned into total silence.

Daniel finds his voice first. "Why?"

"O'Neill has an untreatable, deteriorating physical condition."

From the corner of my eye, I see Hammond signal Teal'c under his breath, "Get Fraiser down here."

Beside me, I can see all the blood drain from Daniel's face. "What?" he says at the same time I say, "Why can't it be treated?"

Thor addresses his answer to me. "I have been treating O'Neill in secret since establishing the treaty with the System Lords one point six of your years ago. This has lengthened his life expectancy somewhat, but his condition has continued to deteriorate to the point that the treatment will no longer work."

"What's wrong with him?" Daniel's voice beside me is soft, treading gently on the bleeding edge between disbelief and horror we all walk, when someone we love is slipping away.

"O'Neill's brain was permanently damaged when he received the download of the Ancient's database."

"Oh, my god."

"That's not possible," Daniel insists, his voice getting stronger as he tries to fight Thor's words with the facts, as he knows them. "Jack had his quarterly physical just last week, and Fraiser didn't find anything wrong with him."

"That's because there wasn't anything wrong," Janet reports indignantly, striding into the room. "Colonel O'Neill was in perfect health." She comes to a stop near Thor's end of the table, towering over him, and drops the Colonel's file onto the table with a resounding thud, then plants her hands on her hips. She's livid.

If Thor notices Janet's fury, he isn't letting on. I've seen even the Colonel back down when she gets that tone in her voice. "That is because his condition was masked from your equipment."

"Is that so?" Janet says, crossing her arms. "I'll need you to explain to me the precise nature of his condition, how it manifests, what protocols you've tried--"

"Where is he?" Daniel interrupts. His voice has taken on a completely manufactured calm.

"The third planet in the Tyr system. It is uninhabited."

"What's the gate address?" Daniel's still steady, but there's an edge to his voice, one I've only heard a handful of times.

"There is no gate there. O'Neill insisted on this criteria specifically."

"If it's uninhabited, who's going to take care of him?"

Thor stares at Daniel, but only blinks, and that says it all, really. The Colonel went there to die. And that cold lump's back in the pit of my stomach.

"Take me there."

"It was O'Neill's express wish that you not follow him. He did not even want me to let you know he had gone."

"You sent the emails, though," the General interjects. "Why?"

"Although he has said nothing to me, I sense that O'Neill is miserable. I felt that since I could not cure him, the least I could do was let him be with those he felt closest to for the little time he has left. I could not break my oath to him, but I could leave you clues that Major Carter would recognize, and that would lead you to me."

"If he didn't dictate them, how did you know what to say?" I ask stupidly.

Daniel glances at the Asgard, and in perfect synch, they answer together, "He talks in his sleep."

*****

God, this is a nightmare. Worse than if he'd left me for someone else. "Why would he do something this stupid?" I mutter under my breath.

"He did not wish to be a burden to you as he died."

It had been a rhetorical question; I'd assumed that was why. "That's not a decision he gets to make on his own," I say tightly, looking up from my lap. I turn to Hammond. "I hereby tender my resignation from the SGC, effective immediately." Before he can respond, I look to the other end of the table. "Now, take me to Jack, please."

"No! Daniel, you can't!" Sam says, grabbing my arm.

"I'm not doing any good here, Sam. I joined to find my wife, I found her, and now she's dead. I'm not going to let Jack just walk out of my life; he's too important to me. Without him, there's nothing here for me now."

"What about your search for the Harsesis?" Teal'c asks seriously. "Have you given up on your search for Shau're's child?"

Okay, that hurts. When we found the baby on Kheb, I had some juvenile notion that I could keep him safe, that with Jack's help, I could raise him as my own. But Oma Desala showed me she had a better way to protect him, and I had to let him go, knowing I might never see him again. But I can't think about any of that now. "I've had to accept that Shau're's baby is better off where he is; Oma can take care of him better than I can. And Jack needs me now."

"Doctor Jackson, the SGC needs your skills."

And now the guilt trip starts. "I'm sorry, General Hammond--"

"You truly can do nothing to help him," Thor interjects.

"It is only O'Neill's brain which has been damaged; could not a sarcophagus be used to make it whole once again?"

Sarcophagus is a dirty word around here, the ill effects well known. "I certainly don't recommend that particular addiction, but it's better than the alternative," I say. We all look at Thor hopefully.

"The sarcophagus can only repair damage at the cellular level, which is akin to the treatment I have been giving him up to now. O'Neill's brain has stopped responding to that; the part of his brain that was damaged initially has already started to lose cohesion."

"It's disintegrating?" Sam says, obviously shocked.

"That is essentially correct. To my knowledge, there is no way to halt the progression of damage, once it has reached this level. In a very short time, the areas around the injury will begin to break down as well, until too many are affected, and his body suffers a total system shut down."

"Like cutting off a gangrenous foot to save the leg..." Janet mutters to herself.

"Would that work?" I ask Janet, my heart hammering painfully against my ribs. I hate the analogy, but I'm desperate.

"I have no idea," Janet huffs, gesturing angrily at the alien. "Doctor McCoy here won't share his case notes!"

"If I understand you correctly, you wish to know if there would be benefit achieved by removing the damaged portion of O'Neill's brain."

"Yes."

"It is unknown whether there would be enough brain matter left for O'Neill's identity to still be viable in his previous capacity, or if he would more likely be reduced to a healthy body without consciousness or intellect. Additionally, I know of no way to separate O'Neill's consciousness from his body; your brain structure is very different from our own. I offered O'Neill a cloned Asgard body into which we could more easily transfer his consciousness, but he declined quite vehemently. Perhaps you can persuade him better than I."

Then he calmly turns to Janet as though he hasn't just slid a knife into my heart. "I will momentarily transmit O'Neill's medical records to your computer."

"If we all work together, maybe we can think of something; Janet's at least as dumb as I am," Sam offers helpfully. "Okay, that didn't come out quite right..."

Everyone's bustling around me. Sam's whispering to Teal'c, and Janet's moved to the terminal in the back of the room, waiting for Thor's records. The scene has taken on a strangely hopeful tone I'm almost afraid to hold onto. "Look, I'm all for trying to figure out a better way, but does Jack have that kind of time?"

"It is impossible to say with certainty. The Asgard have never before encountered one such as O'Neill, who could take the download in the way he did, nor the unfortunate resulting damage; I would estimate he may have another seven of your days of reasonable lucidity left."

"Lucidity...?"

"As his brain tissue continues to break down, more and more of his memories and abilities will be affected. Fine motor control will most likely be first to fail, followed by higher brain function. Later, he will lose gross motor control as well. In the final stages, it is very likely that he would no longer be able to recognize any of you."

This is so much at once... god, I don't even know where to start. Jack's dying. He's dying, and I'm not there. He's alone... no one should have to die alone.

I think I may be sick...

"Seven days isn't much time, for all the research that's going to be involved," Sam interjects, glancing across the room at Janet. Seven days... he'd be too far-gone to save at that point, wouldn't he?

"I don't know yet," Janet complains without turning around. She's peering into the monitor at the information Thor just downloaded and can't spare her attention. "It's a shame someone didn't bring me into the loop a couple of years ago. General, I may need to bring in a specialist or two--"

"Whatever you need, Doctor," Hammond agrees quietly. How far is he willing to go for Jack? How many of the SGC's resources can he allot to make one man well? Or just... to make him comfortable... God, no, please, this can't be happening--

"Can you put him in stasis, would that buy some time?" I ask desperately. Seven days... he'll be dead in seven days...

"I am afraid not. The action of the stasis chamber would hasten his demise considerably."

"Your Dad!" I turn to Sam, aware of the anxiety in my voice and the trembling of my hands as I try to keep myself together, frantically trying to think of anything that might help. I turn back to Thor; I'm grasping at straws, and it probably shows. "What about the Tok'ra? A healing device--"

"That technology also acts upon the cellular level."

"There has to be something we can do!" I told myself I could hold on, that I wouldn't cry in front of all of them, but I don't know how much more I can take; this just keeps getting worse and worse...

"Can you bring him here?" Sam asks, taking my hand in hers. She can see I'm losing it. I squeeze her hand in both of mine, gratefully acknowledging the support.

"I would prefer not to do that. I gave O'Neill my word I would abide by his wishes and allow him the dignity of death on his own terms. Do you not believe all sentient creatures should be allowed dominion over their own existence?"

Sam shifts in her seat. "Well, y-"

We're not going there. "No. Not when there's someone else to consider," I state in a voice I hope is steadier than it feels. I don't have any secrets anymore; Jack saw to that when he ran out. He should've known I'd do anything to find him, even if it meant exposing us. "I don't know how Asgard society handles pair-bonding, but here on Earth, when a couple decide to share their lives with one another, they also share in the decision making. Especially decisions like this. Jack didn't do that. He decided to take himself out of the game, without even giving me the courtesy..." I pause when my voice breaks, to try and swallow the lump down, but my throat's so dry, it's impossible. It's all I can do to force out a strangled whisper. "Jack walked out and left me behind. I don't accept that. I can't." Sam passes me her coffee cup. It's cold and too sweet, but it's wet, and I sip it gratefully.

"He will be most displeased," Teal'c observes quietly. I wish I had half his composure.

"Too damned bad," I snap irritably. "I am most displeased. He made a unilateral decision without consulting me. Without even giving me a chance. Without giving us a chance."

"I understand O'Neill's decision, Daniel Jackson. He did not wish to appear weak to you. It is the warrior's way."

"Do you think I CARE about that macho bullshit? Whatever time he has left, I want to be with him. I can't cure his condition, no, but I can provide for his needs!" If they think they're going to talk me out of this, they're crazy. I grind my teeth and kiss the rest of our privacy goodbye. "And I can love him, even after he doesn't remember who the hell I am!"

*****

Thor's fix was failing. It had never been meant to be more than a patch, and now that was peeling off like a bad retread.

The Ancient head-sucker I got intimate with back in our second year did more damage than anyone knew. When Thor came to Earth to mediate the Protected Planets Treaty last year, he put me up on the rack and had a look around. I can't remember everything he told me that day, but I got the gist of it. He offered me a nifty clone body with a hundred year warranty, but it only came in that one utilitarian body style, and he wasn't altogether sure he could scoop out enough of my personality to still be me, even in the shorter, gray package.

So I made do, complaining of dodgy knees, when I knew the issue was far worse, just to get a couple of days downtime so my little Asgard buddy could secretly beam me up and put another patch on my brain to let me function a little while longer. But I wasn't stupid; I knew I was on borrowed time.

That's when we got our little field trip to Hell. Coupla slugs of the Blood of Sokar, and it was every 60's cliché you could imagine all rolled into one-- head swimming, psychedelic lights, the works. As usual, Daniel's quick thinking helped get us out of there and into Teal'c's loving hands, no thanks to Aldwin. The debrief was bland and uninformative --the Tok'ra attitude that everybody's expendable really rankled me, but Hammond didn't let me spout for too long; it's old news.

I spent thirty-six hours in the infirmary for the staff wound in my leg, and then Danny took me home --I told him he owed me for wronking down on that tourniquet so hard. It was halfway through a televised game I wasn't even watching when I started spilling my guts. I convinced him to spill too, and as I listened to him talk about Apophis' little scenario, where I was dishing him all this insincere flattery in an effort to get him to spill the location of Shau're's kid, I realized the reason Daniel was having such a hard time of it was because he had feelings for me, just like the ones I'd had for him ever since the first trip to Abydos.

So I kissed him. Right on the mouth. Ten minutes later, we were necking on the couch like teenagers. When I came up for air, both of our shirts were off, and my hand was down his pants. He was hard, and so was I There wasn't a lot of conversation, but I managed to ask, "You gay?"

"Huh? W-what? Gay? Yeah, sure, if you say so. You?"

"Bi."

"Okay, well, that um, certainly seems... ohgodJack, tighter, like this... ungh- seems like it could work..."

Anyway.

When Thor pulled me out that last morning, after Daniel left for work, I wasn't expecting him, and he got the works-- ratty bathrobe, unshowered, unshaven, encrusted with Danny's come from the night before. I'd known for a while I'd eventually stroke out, but I thought I had more time. Apparently not.

"I am sorry, O'Neill, that I was not able to find a solution to your problem." He was sitting on that throne of his, the one with all the egg-shaped thingys on it.

"Yeah, me too. I could've done with a few dozen more years... things were goin' pretty good."

"My scan indicates the presence of foreign material of a biological nature on your body, O'Neill."

I pulled the bathrobe tighter, my fingers catching on the stiff coating of jizz Danny left me. "So," I said, subtly changing the subject as I padded barefoot over to a window, "picked out a nice quiet planet for me?" I was trying to sound enthusiastic, but I really could've used a couple or three days to say goodbye, y'know?

And Danny... I've gone back and forth about telling him what's going down, but I guess this is for the best, even though I feel like a first-class heel for doing it this way. He's really better off not knowing, not seeing what's gonna happen to me. This is the only way I can protect him from that. He deserves so much better...

"I have selected a planet in the Tyr system. We shall be there presently." Thor twiddled some of those egg-shaped thingys, and suddenly I was in some kind of black jumpsuit, smelling sweet as a rose. "Whoa! Warn a guy!" I wish he'd've asked first; I wouldnt've minded smelling like Daniel for a while longer.

And then in no time, we were in orbit over a planet which could be Earth, except the landmasses are arranged ass-backwards. So. This was where I was gonna spend the rest of my days. The ones I can remember, anyway. Sweet.

*****

I've assured Doctor Jackson that I will authorize any resources Doctor Fraiser or Major Carter feel are necessary to support Colonel O'Neill's condition. I've also told him I will grant him a leave of absence, but that I would not accept his resignation at this time.

Watching him earlier today, as he found out about Colonel O'Neill's condition, I was struck by the grim similarity to my own experience, when Helen and I were told she had inoperable pancreatic cancer. I would have done anything, paid any price, for her to be cured.

And toward the end, when the pain got so bad the doctors had to nearly double her Oxycodone, the delirium it caused meant that when blessed release finally came in that dimly-lit hospice room, as I held my beloved Helen in my arms, she didn't even know I was there.

I wouldn't wish that kind of heartache on my worst enemy.

*****

So. Day two, and I'm all by myself --duh-- minding my own business, sitting on the bank of this pristine lake. Thor and I managed to make something like shorts in his fancy fabricator-thingy, as well as shirts and loafer-like shoes, so I'm comfortable, if not terribly fashionable. Got my line in the water, with no real expectation of catching anything. But hey, what the hell else do I have to do? It's not like I need the fish for food; Thor left me with a crate load of brightly-colored little cubes, which are every bit as nasty tasting as they look, but which will apparently sustain me for the duration. He also whipped up this fancy rod and reel that probably would've cost close to a K-buck back home. It's a beautiful day, there's no grass to mow, no chores to do, no paperwork piled up waiting for me. Heaven, right?

Far from it.

No Daniel.

God, I miss him. I keep telling myself it would've been worse if we'd had a tearful goodbye scene, because I know for a fact I would've been the one crying. He and I, we've got this really great, casual, intense... relationship, I guess you'd call it, goin' on. We're tight; we can get inside each other's heads. And the sex is nothing short of... Well, it was fantastic.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared and resentful. I had a pretty sweet deal set up, with Daniel staying over a couple of nights a week, and it was really starting to grow on me in a forever kinda way. For all the crap that had come before, for both of us, somehow together... we made sense together. It was a good life, and I wasn't done with it yet. Thor did the best he could-- above and beyond, probably-- so I'm not mad at him, it's just... fuck. Guess it'd sound pretty sappy if I said I wanted to wake up beside him every single day, huh?

Daniel, not Thor.

Aw, crap. I just need to just get the hell over it and be grateful for what time we did have together. Not like I've got too long to mope about it.

*****

"Okay, you've got the vitamins, right? And you're sure you're okay with giving the injections--"

"Janet, I--"

"No, let me run through this, make certain I'm not forgetting anything. The, uh, generator to run the respirator and--" I finally hear what she's not saying, and I pull her towards me, folding her small frame up in my arms and muffling her frantic chatter against my chest.

"I'll tell him you love him too. I promise," I whisper into her hair. I feel her body shaking as she hugs me back, her professional distance in complete and utter shambles. I hold her until she starts to pull away a few moments later.

"You better," she sniffs angrily, dabbing at her nose with a tissue she's produced from one of those deep, scary pockets.

I look around at the stuff piled around me. I can't think anymore. If I've forgotten something, we'll have to do without it, because every cell in my body is screaming, and I just need to hold him. Thor must know it's time somehow, and I feel a tingling warmth, different from being transported by rings, as the briefing room disappears around me.

*****

I must've fallen asleep at some point, because I awaken with a start, and pretty damn confused, to boot. After a moment, memory kicks in, and I remember I'm on Gilligan's Planet --balmy days and just-chilly-enough-to-need-a-jacket nights-- but then I think I'm hearing sounds coming from the direction of my hut. My first thought is that I'm starting to lose it already --Thor hadn't been able to tell me exactly what to expect-- but then my second thought is, his scan was wrong, because this planet suddenly has people on it.

Then I hear what sounds like a sneeze and then another, and right after that, I know what the hell's going on, and I start to see red.

Abandoning my pole, I follow the sound up the path, and there's Daniel, surrounded by a couple dozen crates, setting up a two-man tent right next to the little structure Thor left for me.

"What the HELL are you doing here?" I bellow at the top of my lungs. Doesn't even startle him; he just keeps right on with what he's doing.

"Oh, hey, Jack."

"Answer the question!"

He's all innocence. "Thought you might like some company."

"Well you thought WRONG!" I shout. "I made it pretty fucking clear I wanted to be alone!"

He doesn't even pause in the tent set-up. "Ye-ah, sorry to mess up your perfect plan, but I'm here now, and my ride's left, so I guess I'm here to stay."

It's obvious Thor broke his word to me, and now Daniel knows everything. You can bet Thor's skinny little grey ass we're gonna have a few words about that. "Do you NOT understand what's gonna go down here? My brain is essentially melting, Daniel. Gonna be pouring out my ears like runny Brie any time now."

He stops, hands on his hips, fixing me with a withering glare. He's wearing our regular SG-1 offworld cammo gear, tac vest and all, which he strips off in rough, jerky motions and throws to the ground. "To quote a famous man, 'Yeah? So? But? Therefore?'. In case the part of your brain that contains the memories of our last year and a half together has already started to liquefy, I'll take this opportunity to remind you --we're PARTNERS. We take CARE of each other. Sickness and health? Any of this sounding familiar?"

Sickness and health -pah! I don't remember taking any vows. "Why the hell are you so stubborn?" I yell.

"Why are YOU?" he yells back, throwing his jacket to the ground too; it's way too warm for this, even this late in the afternoon.

"Damn it, Daniel! I was trying to SPARE you!" My hands are balled into tight fists at my side, so I don't pop him one. "You shouldn't have to be tied down to taking care of a goddamn freakin' VEGETABLE!"

"Yes, I know. Very selfless of you to leave me high and dry the way you did, thanks so much for that. But really, all it means is when you get to be that far gone, you probably won't recognize me anyway, and you won't remember making this stupid decision to LEAVE ME without a fucking WORD, so I'll stay in my own little tent until you're too weak or too damaged to fight me anymore, and then I'll take care of you anyway, and you won't know the difference, so I. Win. And besides, from what I understand, you don't have very long; I probably won't be tied down much past next Thursday."

"I don't WANT you here!"

"Too fuckin' BAD! You're the one who got all romantic on me the other day, so deal with it."

Ohhh, nice try, but no cigar. I give him my most disgusted Colonel dismissive expression and turn away from him. "You're not WANTED here, Daniel," I shoot over my shoulder. "Now go home!" I'm going back to my fishing; maybe that'll give him the message.

His quiet voice interrupts my plans. "Tell me the last year and a half was all a lie, and I'll go home right now."

Easy. I turn to face him and let him see my inner sleazebag, digging around to find something that will hurt him enough to make him hate me. "It was all a lie, Daniel, just to get into your pants."

Bingo. Home run hit outta the park. He looks like I just killed his dog. "You're a fuckin' liar, you lowlife bastard," he spits at me.

"Go HOME, Daniel," I shout again. I stalk back out to the water's edge and make myself comfortable in my fishing chair, resolutely refusing to turn around. With any luck at all, he'll follow his anger at me to its logical conclusion and get the hell off my planet.

*****

God, he's an infuriating son of a bitch! I just wanna punch him in the face. Why is he being this way? We have so little time left, and he wants to spend it arguing and being furious at each other; how demented is that?

I was content with what we had, but it's different now; Jack changed my world when he used the L-word. There's no telling what might've happened that night, how our relationship might've changed. It could've been anything, everything. But we're out of time now, and this is all we have.

I know he's lying about what I meant to him; I can feel it. Look at him, just sitting there on his little beach, pretending to fish. Unacceptable. Disgusted, I leave the tent in shambles and follow him.

"God damn you! You had no RIGHT to make that choice for me! We should've talked about it--"

"Talked about WHAT?" Jack yells back over his shoulder. He's attempting to get his fishing line back in the water, but it's tangled or something, and he's picking at it impatiently. "You're a young guy, you've got a lot of years left, and you're important to the program. However long I have, it'd be a waste of your life being tied down taking care of me."

"Isn't that my decision?"

"My brain, MY decision."

"Well, if you ask me--"

"I didn't ask you, Daniel. You just keep butting your nose in where it isn't wanted!"

"--it seems like your brain's already on the fritz. Why not take the cloned body Thor offered you?" He talked right over me, and didn't hear a word I said. I hate when he gets like that.

"Because then I wouldn't be me. I'll be some strange, big-headed grey naked guy with no dangly bits, sitting in a ballcap over at Area 51."

"Oh, you're vain and a purist?"

"No, I'm a hedonist! The Asgard have no genitalia, or hadn't you noticed? What the hell would be the point of living forever, if I could never bring you off again?" He throws down his fishing pole in apparent disgust and folds his arms over his chest, eyes firmly affixed to the horizon.

"Don't you dare make this about me. I'm not the one who's giving up."

"You can only choose to give up it there's something still worth fighting for. Thor gave me the prognosis--"

"Yeah, and Janet's at the front of the line ready to kick your ass for trusting someone else with your medical care, by the way."

"There's nothing anyone can DO!"

I shove both my hands way down deep in my pockets; otherwise I'm gonna knock him out of his chair and stomp on him. "Actually, that's not true either."

"Oh- what? The whole 'partial brainectomy' deal? Forget that."

"Why?"

"Why? Thor didn't tell you? There's only a 25 percent chance that'll actually work in the first place, plus there's no way they can tell ahead of time which stuff they're flushing, that's why. I could wake up from that with everything I need to know to fly an F-302 except for the teensy little bit about how to control the inertial dampeners. Or I could wake up and not remember anything about the Stargate Program. Or anything past my sixteenth birthday." He shifts in his chair, lowering his chin to look into his own lap. "Or you, for that matter." I see him swallow and take a deep breath. "And that's not acceptable."

"It's acceptable to me," I whisper hoarsely, suddenly fighting a huge lump in my throat, now that a lot of our initial rage has been yelled off. "I'll take those odds. Because I'm not sure I wanna live in a universe you're not a part of."

"Aw, Danny, for cryin' out loud..." he turns his face away from me, and I think maybe I've got a toehold. Stubborn man.

"You've been my hero for longer than I really want to admit, y'know."

"That's not--"

"What? Important? Your fault? It is. Because the man I admired would never do this. This is quitting. The Jack O'Neill I know can't even spell surrender."

He grimaces. "Oh, I've got news for ya, I can't spell a lotta things, and they let me be a Colonel anyway."

"Jack--"

"Daniel, you don't have the right to barge in here and invade my home."

"Actually, I do," I report smugly. "And I'm not really invading it, so much as adding to it. General Hammond gave me his blessing. He sends his regards, by the way."

"Hammond?" He's listening now, even though he doesn't want to be. I toe a stone loose, send it skipping into the pond, and I can feel his eyes watching me.

"You didn't think I got here by myself, did you?" I slip my hands back into my pockets and appraise him casually. "I told Hammond we were as good as married --thanks for making me do that by myself, by the way-- and that you'd never leave me voluntarily, because we're partners. Teal'c knows too. And Sam-- watch out for her, she's more than a little pissed. And who else? Um, there was a Major Patterson and his crew who swept the house for bugs, he knows, he took our sheets to test for the presence of a third party. And let's see, I think Walter suspects..."

Jack shakes his head. "I can't believe you talked Thor into--"

"Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, Thor likes me best now."

"Oh?" He turns to fix me with a suspicious glare. "And why is that?"

"Because it turns out you're a coward and not the brave Tau'ri he and the rest of the Asgard thought you were." I see Jack's mouth tighten; I may be onto something here.

"Sounds like you and Thor are real buddies all of a sudden," he says icily.

I can see the vein in his temple throbbing, and I know it's a win. "We're very close. I'll probably have sex with him before all this is over."

"Okay, that's just disgusting."

"I dunno, I kinda owe him for the ride..." I shrug offhandedly. "He has those long, skinny fingers, with the deliciously knobby knuckles. I'm pretty sure I could take his whole hand..."

"Over my dead body!" He's clenching his teeth now.

"No, not necessarily. We could do it right now, and you could watch. Would that turn you on?"

"You will NOT have sex with Thor!" He's on his feet now, looming over me and looking murderous.

"And how are you gonna stop me, Jack? Huh? You've decided to crawl off and die feeling sorry for yourself, leaving me alone. Am I supposed to throw myself onto your funeral pyre? Didn't you take your whole 'Danny shouldn't be tied to a dying man' scenario to its logical conclusion? Of course I'm going to be with other men. Comfort sex. Maybe a whole series of men, since I've had such lousy luck with committed relationships."

"God! Why the hell are you doing this?"

I'm frowning at him openly now. "Why do you think? I'm in love with you, ya moron, all of you," I flap one hand at him to indicate a head to toe area, "even your stupid, selfish, self-centered macho pride that couldn't let me take care of you."

He's agitated, and I'm hoping that's a good thing, but at this point, I'm not sure.

He seems to shake it off though, and he's grimly resolute now. "You need to go home, Daniel. "He grabs me by one elbow and makes an effort to propel me towards his hut and all those supplies I brought. "Right now, before..."

"Before what?" I wrench my arm away from him. "I already told you; I can't. Thor's ship is gone, and there's no gate on this planet, remember? You're welcome to search through my stuff, Jack, but you won't find a communicator of any kind."

Without a word, Jack stomps off alone to search through the crates, looking for a radio, one of Thor's egg-thingys, any kind of a com device. When he stumbles across the sizable quantity of lube I brought, along with the sexy blue sweater he likes, he stops cold, holding the offending articles up, bottle of lube in one hand and a fistful of cashmere in the other, and looks up at me expectantly.

I'm leaning against a tree, just watching him be stupid. I shrug. "Thor said there weren't any convenience stores here, so I planned ahead."

"Planning a little party, were ya?"

I shoot him a smile. "Yeah, no condoms anymore, though. I figured since there won't be any more physicals where your DNA winding up deep inside of me might be a problem, we could live it up and just do it raw, go for the whole experience while we still could. Live life to the fullest, as they say."

Still clutching the Astroglide and powder blue knitwear, he thumps down hard, right on the ground --that had to have hurt his bony ass. He seems resigned to my being here finally, so maybe we've wasted all the time we're going to, and we can move forward now. "There must be a way for you to contact them once I'm dead," he says tiredly.

I stroll over to where he is and lower myself gingerly until I'm sitting down right next to him and wrap my arms around my knees. "What for?"

"So you can leave. Go on home." He grimaces. "Have sex with men who aren't me."

I try to resist cuffing him on the side of the head. "Home's where you are, you ass. There's nothing for me back there. You're all I've got, and I apparently won't have you for very much longer. No, I figured I'd just as well kick back and live out my life here. The Asgard aren't a taxi service, Jack. Once you're gone --once you're dead-- I'll bury you, and mourn you, and grow out my beard and hair, and then I'll be a proper hermit. I brought lots of books, a gross of pens and another of pencils, and two whole crates of blank journals. And... I'll have my memories."

Jack snags a bottle of Astroglide from the ground where the carton popped open and holds it up. "And enough lube to keep you happy, apparently."

"Apparently."

*****

We sit on the cold ground for a long time, and I feel pretty stupid. "So. Not going back?"

"No."

"No other guys?"

"No, Jack."

"Then why'd you say all that?"

He gives me a look, like, 'and they let you be a Colonel?' "To get you jealous; to jerk you out of your morbid self-pity, why else?"

"How'd you know that would work?"

He shrugs, looking away. "Didn't. Of course, your reaction to the thought of Thor fisting me was a pretty strong indicator."

"D'oh!" My eyes slam shut in a desperate try to avoid the image that he so helpfully seared into my brain just now. I'm such an idiot. "I can't believe I was jealous... I don't even know what that's supposed to mean."

"That you're a throwback?" I catch him glaring at me. "I mean... that you're old-fashioned?" He shrugs. "Guys like you and me aren't known for emotional entanglements and lifelong commitments, Jack. We're just no good at it."

He's quiet again, waiting for me to work it out. But I can't. Maybe part of my brain's already gone. I dip my head and blow out a breath, pulling up a handful of grass, just to have something to look at that's not him. "If I wasn't gonna... y'know, if things were different... I would've wanted that for us."

He's studying me now; I can feel it. "Committed?"

I shrug, like it doesn't really matter, 'cause he's looking at me sideways, as though I've got something on my nose. "Yeah."

"Committed is more than just keeping your dick to yourself, Jack. It's also about sharing burdens. Like this one." His voice breaks. "You shouldn't have had to go through this alone."

I glance up at him, and there're tears standing in his eyes. "God damn it!" I point at the wetness. "That right there! That's why I didn't want to tell you; I don't want your fucking pity!"

"It's not pity! Can't I be sad for you? For us? For what we're missing?" He's on his feet now, stalking away. He's furious. "Do you know what it did to me, Jack? First, you telling me you love me, and then disappearing off the face of the earth?"

"I didn't--"

"You shocked the hell outta me!" he says, not waiting for an answer. "I was perfectly happy with things the way they were, and then you dropped that bombshell on me as I was walking out the door. I could barely concentrate the whole day, thinking I was part of a real couple again, and how cool was that, even if it was only in secret. I left early when I couldn't reach you by phone, thinking you'd set up some kind of surprise at home. And when I got there, and your truck and phone were there, but you weren't, I started to go crazy, thinking maybe the NID--"

He's working himself into a lather, and it occurs to me I shoulda probably searched him for weapons instead of wasting my time searching his stuff for a com unit, 'cause he's mad enough now, it's entirely possible he's gonna shoot me.

"--I knew I had to tell Hammond and Sam and Teal'c about us, so they'd believe me, instead of the damn email, and then Patterson came--"

"Whoa!" I call time out, brushing dirt off my ass as I walk towards him. "Email?"

"Thor sent them, one to Hammond asking for an indefinite LOA and later, one to me saying you felt like a jerk for leaving, but the issue hadn't changed for you."

"Issue?"

"Bottoming."

"Ah." Fuck. Hammond, Carter, Teal'c, everybody knows. Suddenly I'm glad I'm dying on an uncharted planet rather than having to face them all, knowing they know about Daniel and me, and all our personal business.

"I had to tell them, Jack. I needed their help to find you. I couldn't believe you'd just up and leave me, what we had together, without a word... especially after you said you loved me."

"I didn't know Thor was gonna take me this time," I say weakly.

He looks at me like he's trying to decide whether or not to risk asking the next question. We both lose, and he asks it. "If you'd've known?"

I turn away, muttering my shame. "I probably would've kept it to myself."

After a long minute, Daniel grunts softly, "You're a selfish bastard, y'know that? But it doesn't really matter how much you hurt me now; I'm not leaving you to die alone."

"Even if that's what I want?" I don't look at him. I can't.

"Even. I'll move the tent farther away, if you want. Thor says you've only got about a week, so you shouldn't even remember who I am in another couple of days. You'll need help with hygiene at that point."

I close my eyes tight. Leave it to Daniel to get down to the nitty-gritty, stuff I hadn't had the guts to ask myself. "Why are you doing this?" I whisper. He's killing me with kindness, and I'm not sure I can take much more.

I hear him behind me. "Because I believe everyone deserves the right to die with dignity, Jack, and you won't have that, lying in your own filth on an uninhabited planet in the middle of fuckin' nowhere." He moves beside me, his voice softer, which is ridiculous; it's not like there's anybody who'll overhear us. From the corner of my eye I can see that his shoulders are stooped, his hands in his pockets. It's his 'all out of fight' posture; I should know; I'm the one who's put that look on him more than anyone.

"And even if it was all a lie, just to get into my pants, and you feel nothing at all for me, I don't regret any of it, because at some point during the last couple of years, I fell in love with you. And that made me feel pretty damn good."

*****

I've moved the tent and my pack to a clearing out of sight of Jack's hut. I've had to leave the cases of medical supplies and equipment where Thor beamed them down; I don't have a hand truck to move them easily, and it would be pointless to lug them one at a time today and then have to lug them back day after tomorrow. Dusk's approaching fast, so I figure I need to start gathering stuff for a fire.

Jack strolls over about half an hour later and follows me back and forth from the clearing to the edge of the woods where I'm picking up kindling, just ambling along with his hands shoved into his pockets like it's a walk in the park instead of an alien world. The place he's come to die. "That was some speech," he says softly.

"No speech," I counter. "Just how it is."

"You're pretty good with a guilt trip."

"I learned from the best."

"Yeah? I didn't know you'd ever met my mother."

I look up then, frown, and go back to gathering wood. "Emily Bernstein, my foster mother when I was an impressionable eleven-year-old and living in Brooklyn. The woman was a travel agent for guilt trips. Nobody better." I dump my armload of sticks near the tent and go back for some bigger branches and some large stones, if I can find them. Jack follows me into the woods and takes the branches I hand to him. "I didn't know either of your parents were still alive; you never talk about them."

"My Dad passed away before Charlie was born, but my Mom's just too mean to die."

I don't know what to make of his being here; after all, I moved far enough away for him to forget I'm even around. Then I remember how frighteningly prophetic my words are; in a couple of days, he will probably have forgotten I even exist, much less remember I followed him to this godforsaken planet. And here he is, following me around as if nothing's wrong, like we're taking a stroll through Home Depot or something.

"I imagine General Hammond will make it a point to visit your mother personally; he thinks a lot of you." I stop in my search for stones for the fire pit when a sudden thought hits me. "Is your ex still listed as your next of kin, or your mother? I'm afraid I didn't take time to clear my stuff out of your house, so one of them'll come across some things which might be embarrassing to find..."

"My mother wrote me off when she lost her grandson, and Sara knew I was bisexual when she married me. She wouldn't be surprised to find I'd taken a male lover since the divorce."

"I see."

"And she's not listed as my NoK anyway. You are."

I've stopped walking to turn and stare at him, and he nearly runs into me. "What?" he asks quietly.

"I... I don't know what to say."

He shrugs, pointing helpfully to a large round stone beside the trunk of the tree right in front of me. "Nothing much to say, Daniel. It's not like you're gonna be able to collect on it, since you've condemned yourself to playing 'Thoreau at Walton's Pond'."

Why don't I understand this man? How is it possible I've known him for almost five years, slept with him for nearly two, and he can still come up with things that shock me? "Walden," I correct him automatically. "It's Walden Pond."

"Yeah, whatever. You gonna pick up that rock, Daniel? This wood's gettin' pretty heavy."

I have to put down the smaller rock in order to heft this new one with both hands, tuck it against my chest, and then pick up the smaller one again. Realizing I can't carry any more, I head back toward the tent to dump my armload and watch him unload his. "When--"

"Right after we started sleeping together."

He says it so matter-of-factly, I'm stunned speechless and can do nothing but stare at him. Suddenly, the grim reality all hits --we're stranded on a planet bazillions of miles from home, and the man standing in front of me, the person I love, is going to be dead inside of a week. I do the only thing I can. I reach for him.

*****

He's got me by the back of the neck, and I don't fight it when he pulls me in. One minute he's kissing me, and his tongue's in my mouth, and the next, we're on the grass with most of our clothes either pushed up or shoved down. It's nearly as uncoordinated as our first time, and there's symmetry in that that Daniel would be surprised to know hasn't escaped me. I roll us so he's on top, and his dick's grinding into mine, hardening up, coming alive, and I lay back with my arms over my head and let him do most of the work.

He's beautiful, braced over me, the almost setting sun glinting gold off his hair. I see he's wearing my tags, and it's just wrong the kind of turn-on that is for me. I wish we'd taken time to at least take our boots and pants off, cause I'd really like to be able to wrap my legs around him right now, hold him close to me, all skin and sweat. I can feel his belly against mine, and that's almost as good, but-

"Daniel-"

"What?"

"You wanna slow down, maybe get naked, find some lube?" I've got a bottle of it in my pocket from when I was riffling through his stuff, but I can't get to it.

He groans and slows down, then leans forward to kiss me. Tight space, lotsa friction, and I'm completely hard now. "Need you right now, Jack," he whimpers against my mouth. He's humping me, speeding back up, back arching as he plows my belly, tags swinging below the rucked up edge of his shirt. The needy sounds he's making with every thrust wrap right around my balls, and I can feel them pulling up close with his every breath across my face. He's closer to the edge than me, and I hear his climax building hard and fast. Suddenly, his eyes slam shut, his head rolls back with a sharp intake of breath, and I know he's hanging on the brink. Then his slick warmth coats me, greasing the way, and it's so wet, so fucking sweet, I tumble right after him, pulse pounding in my ears, blocking everything else out. I might be yelling, I'm not sure.

It seems like a long time before I can hear again, and my throat's so dry, it hurts. It's just about then that I feel his warm tears sliding down my neck, and I clue in to the fact that he's trying to do it in secret, so I put my arms around him and hold him tight. "Aw, Danny..."

He lets the sob out; it's huge and rocks me back a little with the force of its escape. He kneels up over me, his face angry and red, and he's leaking tears. "You stupid son of a bitch!" he accuses through clenched teeth. All of a sudden, he grits his teeth and punches my shoulder, hard, making me yelp in surprise.

"God damn you dying on me!" he screams as tears course down his face, and he pummels me like a madman. The only thing I can do is try to block his wild punches until I can get a grip on those hammering fists of his. "Fuck you, Jack!" He fights me, still crying and trying to punch my lights out. "How DARE you do this to me?"

I've never seen Daniel like this, and it scares me; I actually wonder if he's gone off the deep end or something.

Finally I capture his wrists and roll us so I'm on top. At this point, were both covered with tears and spunk and snot, and his fists are still tight, but at least the screaming stopped when I rolled on top of him. He's just crying now, deep, wracking sobs, and I wonder if this is the first time he's let himself cry about any of the bad shit. I realize I never saw him cry for Shau're, and I wonder if maybe this is the result of him trying to keep it all inside for so long.

"Danny!" I just want him to open his eyes and look at me. He's stopped struggling, so I let go of his wrists and frame his face with my hands and start talking, soft and low, attempting to get through to him. I have a weird flashback of holding Charlie's face this way, trying to soothe his fear and pain from the road rash he got from his first time without training wheels. Speaking softly to him, and not really saying anything other than 'Dad's here and you're not alone'. I think how completely ass-backwards that is, because all too soon I won't be here, and Daniel will be alone, and that's the fucking point. None of it's fair, and none of it's right, and he doesn't deserve this.

Suddenly he grabs my shoulders and pulls me down, his arms locked around my neck like a vise. I shift, trying to hold him the same way; our cheeks are mashed together, and I'm trying to stroke his hair, but he's laying on it, so I'm mostly just kind of patting the top of his head. I'm aware he's muttering, but my ear's jammed against his cheek, and I can't understand any of it. I shift again to free my ear, and then I can make out what he's whispering brokenly against my neck like a mantra.

"Please, baby, I don't want you to die! Oh, god, please don't die, baby..."

I'm so stunned by his use of the forbidden endearment, I can hardly breathe. But I've also got an armful of sticky, weeping, broken Daniel, and that's never happened before. I don't know what to do, so I do the only thing that comes to mind and pull away so I can kiss him quiet. It takes a coupla minutes before he finally joins in, but the little hiccup every once in a while is a reminder that this is not a remedy of any kind, because he's still hurting. It's palliative, but that's all.

Finally I pull back, but not too far, just in case. "Better?"

"No," he mutters, not able to actually look me in the eye. "I'm sticky and stuffy and hugely embarrassed." He wriggles his ass around experimentally. "And I think there's ants in my butt crack."

I manfully resist the urge to laugh and add helpfully, "And you've lost your glasses." We disengage and locate the glasses and finish stepping out of our clothes and shoes. "Lake outta be pretty chilly by now, but it's the best we're gonna get for clean."

We dump our clothes near my hut, make our way to the clearing where I'd been fishing, and wade in. The bottom's sandy, unlike my pond in Minnesota, which is lined with about six inches of pretty disgusting muck. Daniel steps in tentatively, only as far as his knees, and tries to splash water up to clean off his chest and rinse the crawling things off his ass. After a fruitless minute or so, he joins me in the water up to our chins, and we scrub each other off. I'm tempted to pull him to me --I've always wanted to get him into the water-- but the sun's gone down, and the water's really cold, even for a Minnesota native; Desert Boy's teeth are already chattering.

I push him out in front of me, and when we get to my little hut, I crank up the portable heat thingy Thor gave me and throw a blanket around him. I dry off best I can with another blanket, and it doesn't take much convincing to get him into my bed to get warm. It's not much bigger than the bed in my guest room at home, and this makes snuggling a blessed requirement. In no time, he's asleep on my shoulder. I try to stay awake as long as I can to savor this, but the adrenaline's worn off, and I can feel the crash coming.

*****

I'm starting to wake up, and I fight it, trying to stall as long as possible. I'm warm and naked, plastered up against an equally warm and naked Jack. I just need time to stop for a while; I've only known he's dying for about twenty-four hours, and I know I haven't had time to assimilate everything yet; I'm probably mostly in shock.

Both his arms are around me, holding me against him. I can feel his heart beating against my cheek, and his breath against my hair, and his legs are tangled with my own. I have never felt more peaceful, nor more desperate. I think about maybe ending it this way, gently and together, and I wish I'd've thought to ask Janet for something that would let us go to sleep together and just let it all be over... I wonder if that makes me a bad person, or just a crazy one.

"I'm glad you're finally awake," Jack whispers.

Crap. I don't want to fight with him anymore, and we will; it's inevitable. Cracking an eye open, I can see light coming in the opaque panels that should've been windows. It's morning, but just barely. "Not. Go back to sleep."

"Done sleepin'. Got things to do. Big, important things."

"Like what?"

"I want you to top me before I'm too far gone."

I can't believe this; how badly does this timing suck? "No."

"It's what I want. Can't a guy have a last wish?"

I tuck my head more firmly under his chin. "Don't pull that crap with me. I am in no way qualified to help you work through any PTSD issues you might have during or afterward. Go back to sleep."

"Does any of that really matter now?"

"Jack--"

"Please, Danny," he whispers, his arms tightening around me, his knee between my legs. "Give me this. I wanna do it."

"Yeah, well, it doesn't look like I'm gonna be able to accommodate you, sorry."

"I can fix that."

And then he's under the covers using his mouth to persuade me. It's warm and loving and personal, and after all the fighting we did last night --what the hell time is it, anyway?-- it's nice to have the intimacy. I try hard to push away the mounting pleasure --he's trying to push his tongue into the slit, insinuating it under my foreskin, around and around the way he knows I love-- but Jack's a master at this, and it's difficult to ignore him when he sucks in my balls at the same time he gets a spit-slicked finger inside me. Dear god, his mouth is magic...

I think maybe it's time for a change of tactics; if I come now, I won't be able to get hard again for a while--

He lets my testicles go with a loud slurp and sucks my dick into his mouth again. I arch up, forcing my cock deep into his throat, which also changes the angle of his finger inside me. The blaze of light that shoots through my ass, straight into the root of my dick, is like a Roman candle. One or two more of those, and it's all gonna be over.

But he's onto me and pulls away before I can get there.

I groan and try to push his head back between my legs, but he throws the covers off and twists around, and then the next thing I know, he's on top, straddling me. My cock's cold and slippery as all of a sudden he leans over to kiss me, and before I know it, there's pressure--oh god-- and it's him, and he's trying to spear himself on my dick.

"Jack, no!" I'm trying to pull him down into another kiss or push him off, anything, so this doesn't happen, but let's face it, he's got leverage and training, and I'm only human. Feeling his thighs and balls rubbing across my dick is turning out to be pretty convincing.

"Quiet down! I'm trying to concentrate here!"

And then my dick slips into Jack's body just a fraction of an inch, more of a pop, really, as the head pushes past the first ring of muscle. It's so tight, my god! It's amazingly hot in more ways than one, knowing he wants this, wants to try. I see him wince and close his eyes and then his nostrils flare, and he wiggles his hips and settles onto me a little more fully, using gravity to open himself on me.

I know exactly what he's experiencing; this is one of my favorite positions. I know there's nothing I can really do to assist this gradual stretching process, other than to be quiet and let him handle it. I notice his dick's completely soft right now, but that'll change when I'm fully inside, and he can play with the angles some. Once he finds his prostate... Jack calls it 'dick dancing', where I'm just about completely oblivious to the owner of the dick inside me and just centered around the way it feels to have his cockhead stroking my gland over and over.

Jack gives another push and lets out the breath he'd been holding, and I feel his asscheeks resting on my thighs. "You okay?" I manage. My dick is completely inside him now, something I thought could never happen, and it's the hottest thing ever - I don't know how I haven't come already. I study Jack's face, at his changing expressions, as he clenches experimentally --god!-- and then releases.

"Yeah, I'm good," he says tightly, eyes still closed. But I can see the lines of strain around his eyes, and I know he's lying. I reach for his soft cock, but he pushes my hand away. "I gotta drive this, Danny."

"We don't have to do it at all, Jack--"

"Want this. Wanna do it this way. Just... just gimme a minute, willya?" He closes his eyes for a couple of minutes, while I lie there and savor being inside Jack O'Neill. God only knows where his mind is, but I'm thinking about privilege and trust and need, when all of a sudden, he shifts off me. "Change places," he orders, giving me a gentle shove. He lies on his back and pulls his knees back toward his ears. "Do it. Fuck me now. Lube's on the floor."

God! He's laying there spread wide open like the Red Sea, and my dick wants what he's offering more than anything, but my heart isn't so sure. I lay a gentle hand on his thigh, skimming lightly over the hair, marveling in this show of trust. "Jack, let's take it slow, okay?"

"I'm open now. Need you to just shove it in while I'm still loose."

I should stop. Jack has issues, big ones, and this is wrong, I don't care what the circumstances are, last wish or not--

"Stop thinking, damn it! Just do it!"

I grind my teeth and reach for the bottle of lube. "Figures you'd be a pushy bottom," I grumble.

"That's it, push it right inside my bottom," Jack says sweetly as he watches me grease up and get into position.

I knee up the bed between his legs like I'm gonna follow his directions, then at the last moment I scoop up his dick with my mouth, exerting strong suction along with heavy tongue action all along the bottom of it. His back arches, and I slip my hands under his ass and roll him back onto his shoulders, raising his hips up to my mouth. I drop his dick and nuzzle my face into his scrotum, groaning loudly as I mouth his balls. He moans, grabbing onto my head as I tug on them gently a few times with my lips, then return to his cock which is good and hard now. Once his hips start up a thrusting rhythm, once I know he's invested in this, I lower his hips a little more and aim in. Sure enough, my cock slides right on inside, like his ass was custom made for me.

"Jesus," he bites off as I sink all the way inside. I can feel my balls snug up against his ass, and it's hot and tight in there, more amazing than I ever thought possible. To know I'm actually inside him... something I thought I'd never have. We'd never have.

I wish we'd been able to do this in the comfort of our own bed. I wish he'd let me take my time with him. I wish...

"Hey," I whisper, waiting for his eyes to open. They do, and they're wary. I ease his legs the rest of the way down my arms and then release them so I can bend down to kiss him. Slowly, deeply, the closure of our circle, I push my tongue into his mouth. I feel his legs encircling my back as his body relaxes around mine. He groans as I pull out of the kiss in order to touch base again. "You okay?"

"Fuck, yeah," he says, sounding a little surprised. "Yeah, it's all good," and he gives me a squeeze with his ass to prove it.

My turn to moan. "Jack..."

"Will ya get goin' already?" He wraps a warm hand around my neck and smiles. "Fuck me..."

With that kind of invitation, how could I refuse? I arch my hips to pull out and then settle in slowly, watching Jack's face for any sign this is going bad, and then again and again, until I hear the gasp that tells me he gets it now. Keeping that spot in mind, I push up on my arms and aim for it with each successive thrust, losing myself in the rhythm and the needy noises he's making, sounds that say he wants this as much as I do.

I pause the onslaught to regain my knees, getting us closer, making the angle sharper, the penetration deeper. Needing to be completely over him, inside him, part of him...

I'd told Jack I didn't need this, that I was content with bottoming exclusively. And I know I meant it at the time. I did. But driving into him now, pushing deep, making him grunt every time I tag his gland, seeing how beautifully spread open he is for me, I can feel a possessive growl building inside me that I'm not sure I'm going to be able to stop.

He's reaching for his dick, sheathed between us, hot and hard. For me. "Race ya."

I watch his face as I continue to thrust, and it's clear he's completely on board with this now. When I see the moment catch for him, I concentrate on the sensations I've been trying to distance myself from so I didn't blow too soon, and they tumble through my consciousness, gathering speed, pushing me to close my eyes and let it overtake me completely. But I want to watch him, I need to see it, to capture this moment in time, so I struggle to keep them open as I come right behind him, the growl loud, even to my own ears, filling his body with everything I have.

Successive thrusts are different, his channel now slippery with my come, warm and possessive. The intensity of the aftershocks is killing me, but I can't stop-- just one more, and then another. God, he's beautiful when he comes. Open, relaxed, peaceful.

I did this to him.

I bend to kiss him, feeling his legs encircle me. I'm still inside him, warm and tight and slippery and good, and I wish I could get hard again right away; I need to go again.

He assures me he's fine, and at least he doesn't appear to be freaking out; he hasn't tried to kill me, so I'll have to believe him. For my part, I'm still not sure I believe he let me fuck him. It was so sudden, and it was over so quickly, I didn't really get a chance to savor it. Perhaps after we bathe, he'll let me take my time and make love to him instead. Long and slow, over and over and over. I want that. I need it now.

We cuddle and kiss for a while on the tiny bed in the barren hut, and it makes my heart ache, knowing Jack was going to end his days in this dreary place, alone. I can't make this utilitarian building into a home, but if nothing else, he will not die alone.

We finally disentangle, kissing and touching like this was the first time. Or maybe the last.

We're both ravenous, but all he has to eat is what Thor left for him --dry multi-colored chunks of tasteless Styrofoam-- so we raid the supplies I brought with me, powerbars and Poptarts for immediate consumption to stave off starvation, tossing aside several MREs for after we take a morning swim.

The sun's been up for a while, so the water isn't nearly as cold as I remember it being last night, and we take our time. There is fondling and kissing and a retaliatory game of dunking before we retire to the blanket on shore to dry off in the sun. And I want him again. Right here in the open.

If there weren't an imminent, grisly death sentence hanging over our heads, I think this would be a pretty sweet life.

*****

As we get closer to the structure, I hear quiet voices. Another two steps, and I see them, just as Teal'c's warning arm comes down in front of me, bringing us to a stop.

Oh, my god, they're kissing...

They're lying nude beside a large body of water, Daniel on his back, the Colonel leaning over him, weight on his forearm as he bends to deliver a gentle kiss. The Colonel pulls Daniel's hip toward him so they roll together, and as Daniel throws his leg over the Colonel's hip, stretching up to meet him, the Colonel possessively palms Daniel's butt. It doesn't look needy and desperate, more tender, like... sleepy afterglow, maybe, and why the hell am I watching this?

I remember my promise to Daniel, that when we found the Colonel, I was gonna belt him. I remember wanting to very, very badly; it was all that kept me together those long hours before we found out Thor had taken him, and that he was sick. Dying. I can't find that anger now, just a deep sadness. It's glaringly obvious what they feel for each other, and the pall of the Colonel's imminent death is a palpable presence.

Without getting any closer, I call out, "Colonel?"

His head jerks up as he rolls to cover Daniel from an unknown threat. He squints, I wave and beside me, Teal'c bows.

"Oh, for cryin' out loud!" I hear him grouse. "Can't a guy fuckin' retire in peace?"

They exchange hurried words and then Daniel struggles out from under the Colonel, dragging the blanket with him at the same time. The Colonel complains loudly, but finally lets Daniel have the blanket they'd been making out on to wrap around himself.

Once free and covered, Daniel jogs toward us excitedly, holding the blanket around him like a toga. "You got something?"

I wince. "We've got something, but it's far from perfect," I tell him. I see the frown darken his short-lived joy, but he doesn't ask any more, because bringing up the rear is our glowering, naked CO. I wonder if he realizes that his scowl loses something in the context of nudity. I keep my eyes glued to his left ear as I say, "Sorry to interrupt, Colonel."

"Drop the Colonel bit, Carter. You see any birds on this uniform?" he asks, holding his arms out, inviting me to check it out, which I steadfastly don't.

"Oh, yes, sir!" I confirm brightly. I'm tempted to snap off a crisp salute, but under the circumstances, I'm not sure he'd appreciate the joke.

Daniel slaps him on the chest with the back of his hand, smirking, "You asked for that one."

"Well, if you hadn't hogged all of the goddamned blanket--"

"Hah! You were the one who said, who needs clothes, Danny, race ya to the water--"

"It's a deserted planet! If ya can't run around naked on a goddamned deserted planet--"

"I do not believe there is benefit to be gained by continuing this conversation in this manner," Teal'c says sternly, giving the Colonel the evil eye as only he can.

Sufficiently chastised, Daniel says, "Tent's about a quarter mile that way, guys." He aims the still fuming Colonel toward a small metal structure in the other direction. "Give us a few minutes, huh? We'll meet you there."

As Teal'c and I make our way to the area Daniel indicated, I overhear the Colonel voicing his great displeasure at being interrupted. "What's goin' on, Daniel? Hammond dropping by next?"

"I doubt it; the man does have a secret agency to run, after all."

"Yeah? How do you explain why all of SG-1's suddenly got SO much time to track me here to Gilligan's planet?"

"SG-1 is down two team members, Jack; Hammond put them on stand-down until a new leader and a new linguist could be found. Where did you put the pants I was wearing yesterday?"

For god's sake, they quarrel like the Bunkers; how did I never see that before? We find the tent, which is only partially set up, and the makings of a fire pit. Just for something to do, Teal'c and I busy ourselves finishing the camp set up. I can't even hazard a guess as to how the Colonel --and it's real hard to think of him as that, having seen him so blatantly out of uniform just now-- is going to take the news we brought with us.

*****

As we await the arrival of our teammates, Major Carter has begun the process of brewing the caffeine substance the Tau'ri find so desirable at all hours of the day, and in every season of the year. Apart from its ability to warm a chilled body, I find little to recommend it; the taste is abhorrent. However, I have noticed the others, particularly Daniel Jackson, find its qualities soothing. Ingesting it seems to be an activity of community and of reassurance, more than anything else.

I can hear the others approach; indeed, it would be difficult to miss. As they get closer, their bickering seems to be a continuation of their earlier argument.

O'Neill takes a seat on the ground near the fire opposite from me, as is his usual spot when we are offworld. He pours the steaming beverage into one of the cups Major Carter has laid out, and passes it to his mate. Although he is still frowning and complaining, directing much of his displeasure toward Daniel Jackson, he nevertheless tends to his needs first. This is often the way it has been. In times of need, O'Neill is always the first one Daniel Jackson calls out for; indeed, they have been connected in some fashion since before Chulak; it was clear to me even then.

Much of O'Neill's earlier anger has finally dissipated, and as the rest of us settle around the fire to partake of the beverage, I am struck by the notion that SG-1 has become almost a family of sorts. Not an obedient family, but a fiery and outspoken one, as was my own.

"You wanna tell me exactly what the hell they're doing here, Daniel?"

"Why don't you ask them yourself?"

"Because I want you to admit you knew they were coming."

Daniel Jackson regards O'Neill sternly, unperturbed by his wrath. "I hoped they'd come. I had no way of knowing for sure if they'd find anything useful in the time we had left." He continues to glare at O'Neill and adds quietly, "And I'm not going back with them."

I watch the interchange with interest, continuing to be amazed they could look past their frequent and fundamental disagreements to actually become friends, much less to select one another as mate.

"Sir? If I may?"

O'Neill's attention shifts to Major Carter now, and he regards her with a steely eye. "Only if you cut the 'Sir' crap."

"Okay... Jack. When we found out Thor had taken you, and he believed your condition to be untreatable, we started examining all the options."

"Thinking outside the box again, Carter?" O'Neill waggles an accusing finger in her direction as he narrows his eyes in mock anger. "I keep telling you you've been hanging around Daniel too long."

She is smiling, but I wonder how much truth there is the affable expression. She has worked steadily, without rest, with both the Asgard and the doctors of the Tau'ri, to arrive at this improbable solution, to try to save a man she has feelings for, even though he has turned his affections toward another. That the other is also a friend is undoubtedly a source of pain for her as well; Daniel Jackson is someone with whom she could have confided her anguish, were it not he who was the object of O'Neill's affections in the first place. It is an uncomfortable situation for all concerned. I am uncertain where my allegiance should lie; they are each my friend.

"I think I'll take that as a compliment, then," she says with great dignity. I have much respect for Major Carter's strength of character.

"You do that. Has it occurred to any of you that this is what I want? To be able to do this my way, without all this drama?"

"It has occurred to me, O'Neill."

"I was counting on that, T. Couldn't talk any sense into these two, I take it?"

"Indeed not. We are under strict orders from General Hammond to explore all possible alternatives to allowing you to die an honorable warrior's death."

"I see," O'Neill states with profound sadness. He stares into the fire for a short time, presumably coming to terms with what I have told him, that he is expected to do his utmost in return for the extreme effort being invested on his behalf. Finally, he sighs deeply, realizing that it is all out of his hands. "So, kids. What do we have, and what do we need?" My admiration for O'Neill has never been greater.

Major Carter speaks. "We have a forty-five year old male with a mortal brain injury."

"We need a miracle," Daniel Jackson interjects quietly. He does not look at O'Neill; rather he seeks solitary comfort in the beverage in his cup. It was his passion that brought about the desperate measures we are now discussing. Having rejoined his mate, he has regained his composure and is attempting to remain stoic for O'Neill's sake. I admire the depth of his passion and his ability to utilize it well.

"We think we have something close."

"Thor?"

"Not exactly, Daniel. After some strenuous um... negotiating on General Hammond's part, the Asgard have reluctantly admitted that a rogue scientist named Loki has been doing experiments on humans from many planets, including Earth, trying to find a way to bridge the gap between Asgard physiology and our own, in an attempt to solve their cloning problem. He's apparently responsible for most, if not all of the alien abduction and flying saucer sightings for decades."

Was this not what I told them in the briefing? The Glimmer is seldom incorrect.

"Penegal of the Asgard High Council gave General Hammond his most solemn assurance that some ten years ago, Loki was apprehended and punished for his unauthorized experimentation. No abductions have occurred since that time, as he has been imprisoned on their home world up until now."

"I'm afraid to ask--"

"I'm not." Daniel Jackson leans forward and looks Major Carter in the eye. "What can Loki do? Can he repair the damage to Jack's brain?"

"No. The damage is too severe, the deterioration too advanced. What he can do, is --you're not even gonna believe this-- grow a physical 'old-style' brain using Jack's healthy brain tissue and stem cells from his own bone marrow. When it's ready, he'll transfer only the undamaged part of Jack's intellect into it, then do a hot-swap. He's apparently the only one of them who took their cloning problem and started looking at it from a backwards engineering standpoint. None of the other Asgard scientists are working with primitive models like Jack's."

"Primitive," O'Neill snorts. "Is this the part where I cackle hysterically, or just sit here and be quietly offended?"

"Stick with quietly offended, Jack; I'm trying to listen to Sam. So what you're saying is that this Loki-person will grow Jack a completely virgin brain and then transfer only the healthy parts of his mind into it, and then transplant it back into Jack's body?"

"It's a really high-level overview, and we're grossly oversimplifying it, but yeah, that's essentially it."

Daniel Jackson looks hopefully toward O'Neill while his mate feigns surprise. "Oh, do I actually have a say in this?"

"Stop being an ass. Remember the runny brie?"

"Like I could forget about it for a single moment?"

I see the shadow cross Daniel Jackson's features, closing down the hopeful expression that was there moments ago. His gaze returns to his cup. "That was what I'd been trying for; obviously I didn't succeed."

O'Neill mutters something under his breath and reaches for Daniel Jackson's free hand, which he does not give willingly. There is a brief scuffle for the hand, which O'Neill succeeds in retaining, clasped tightly in his own, followed by a long silence that seems to settle the matter. The touch is possibly what causes his next words to sound less caustic than they otherwise might. "Did anybody happen to ask this Loki fella some sciencey-type questions? Like... what are my chances? What are the side effects? What -exactly- is the downside of this whacked-out plan?"

Major Carter does not seem to be pained by their gesture of intimacy, and for that I am glad. "Both Janet and a Doctor Jane Bender who was, up until thirty-six hours ago, a preeminent neurosurgeon residing in Nova Scotia, Canada, specializing in traumatic brain injury, have been working with Loki under Thor's strict supervision, and they've mapped out what seems to be a reasonable model."

"Do. Tell."

"Well, obviously, the configuration of an Ancient's brain is somewhat different than that of a contemporary human's brain, and that's what caused the mismatch in the first place. Your brain is similar enough to an Ancient's brain to have triggered the device, but the receptors aren't in the places they're supposed to be. The majority of your brain damage is located almost exclusively in the left parietal lobe. We're theorizing that the language center, which is located in the temporal lobe, is located in a different position in an Ancient's brain, closer to where our left parietal lobe is.

"Doctor Bender and Loki figure they can isolate the damaged area, leaving 87 to perhaps as much as 92 percent of your intellect intact. They're wary of attempting a total reproduction, because of the likelihood that the neurotransmitters --the chemicals the brain cells use to communicate with each other-- have been affected by the necrosis of the brain tissue in the damaged area. There should be no problem with physical coordination or vision or hearing. By all estimations, you will most likely continue to be very high functioning."

I believe I understand the meaning of the term in its strictest sense; indeed, Major Carter's expression is an honestly hopeful and encouraging one. But it does not appear as though O'Neill is heartened by her use of the term in this context. He does, in fact, look most unhappy. At some point, while Major Carter was speaking, Daniel Jackson edged into O'Neill's personal space, their shoulders touching, and now it is he who is holding O'Neill's hand in both of his.

"What's the rest of it?"

Major Carter takes a deep breath and glances toward me. Would that I could give O'Neill the report in her stead... her reluctance is clear.

"There's still no way of determining ahead of time which skills and memories will be lost permanently. Brain matter can't regenerate. When one part is damaged, it stays damaged forever. Sometimes, the brain will figure out an alternate pathway of its own, given time; depending on which skills are lost in the transfer, you may be able to relearn them with negligible loss of efficiency."

O'Neill looks up from studying their intertwined fingers and says gently, "One of the things I've always liked about you, Carter, is that you're always so intentionally careful with your words."

"Jack, don't."

"I need to hear all of it, Daniel, even the parts Carter doesn't want to tell me."

She runs her hands through her hair while she avoids meeting anyone's eyes as she formulates her reply. "The Asgard are familiar with the process of downloading the intellect of one of their own into another clone body. It's quick, painless, foolproof. But in your case, they're working with --their words, here-- a 'primitive model', and that opens up some variables in the equation..."

"And they don't know squat about the emotional side." O'Neill is guessing, but it was not a difficult leap in logic for him to reach the conclusion Major Carter was trying so very hard not to speak aloud.

She seems relieved she did not have to voice it. "No. They don't, not a clue. Thor can't even remember when it was dropped from the protocol, it happened so long ago."

There is quite a long silence while this latest fact is digested. "So, I could wind up a forty-five year old male with a nifty new brain, who gets off on torturing small animals for kicks?"

"God, Jack, just stop it." Daniel Jackson has released O'Neill's hand and now sits, arms folded tightly across his chest, hunched over the fire as if he could close in upon himself.

"Or worse than that, I could wake up completely normal on the outside, with absolutely nothing at all inside." All is silent while O'Neill considers what he has heard. "All this time, I thought I was the Scarecrow... turns out I'm gonna end up being Mister Spock."

"Jack--"

"Save it, Daniel. Just..." O'Neill gets up and walks around the campsite in no particular pattern, unable to be still. He turns back to face us, and he is angry. "Right now, there's apparently a smoking hulk of a '57 Chevy double parked right where my left Perry-something's supposed to be, and I just don't get it. How the hell is this shiny new plan any different from what Thor wanted to try on me in the first place?"

Once again, Major Carter calmly meets his objection. "To use your analogy, Thor's model simply removed as much of the smoking hulk as possible, leaving you with the original chassis you were born with. If he missed any of the damaged bits, you'd be back where you started within a week. Loki's plan gives you a brand new chassis, and therefore, a higher overall success rate."

It appears as if Major Carter's choice of explanatory models has made it easy for O'Neill to see the important difference. "But the same body style," O'Neill stresses with a jabbing finger, aimed at his own chest. "I'm really attached to this body style."

Major Carter seems relieved. "That's understandable, si- Jack."

O'Neill is quiet for a moment, apparently thinking, then frowns deeply at Major Carter. "A brand new brain?"

"I know it sounds like a bad Star Trek script, sir, but it's all we've got. At least it's something. It's a chance. It's better than doing nothing at all."

"Is it? I guess a lot of that depends on what I have left when it's over." O'Neill looks to Daniel Jackson, who remains silent, guarded, then to Major Carter once again, then to me. "I'll only do this on one condition." It is clear by his body language he is addressing this strictly to myself and Major Carter. "Assuming I actually live through this INSANE plan, I want your word as an officer, and yours as First Prime, that whatever else I might lose in this transaction, you'll remind me about Daniel and me."

"Jack--"

"Don't 'Jack' me! That's the deal, Daniel. Take it or leave it."

Daniel Jackson steadily regards his mate, then lifts his chin. I have seen this expression before, in an underground bunker on Euronda "Don't you want my word too, then?"

"What the hell for? For this, I don't trust you as far as I can throw you."

In the silence that follows, I remind him, "I am no longer First Prime of Apophis, O'Neill."

He shifts his gaze back to his mate before he replies. "That's okay, T. You can be my best man. That's like being my First Prime, only there's cake."

*****

Daniel's in the Colonel's hut when I find him, busy shoving things into his pack with a brutality I've seldom seen. "You about ready to signal for pick-up?" I ask, carefully out of striking range.

"Jack's brain's already starting to go," he announces flatly, as he crams muddy BDUs into the main compartment.

"How do you figure?"

"Hello? Asking Teal'c to be his best man? If that was some roundabout way of asking me to marry him..." He frowns, shaking his head. "He's an ass."

Looks to me like Daniel's touched by what the Colonel said, and that embarrasses him. It's never been clearer to me that these men are meant to be together; they care for each other so deeply, it's like they hurt as one. "But you love him," I accuse softly.

Abruptly, he stops trying to force the zipper on the pack and ponders that for a minute as he looks off into the distance, frowning, like he can hardly believe it himself. "More than is even reasonable for a supposedly sane individual. All we have in common is the bad science fiction show we seem to have been living in these last five years. We don't agree on most things, really; we have fundamental differences of opinion about all the really important stuff--"

He's making sweeping gestures with his arms, a sure sign he'll go on for an hour if I don't stop him. "And yet?" The gestures stop as suddenly as they started, and his voice goes so soft, I have to strain to hear him. "If he doesn't make it through this, Sam..." I see him grit his teeth and look away, unable to voice the rest.

I wish I felt that what Thor and Loki have found will be a help to them. The odds are bad, and if the Colonel dies on the table, he and Daniel will have lost the few days they would've had together, away from the SGC, where they could just be themselves.

I close in and rub my hand between his slumped shoulder blades, 'cause I don't know what else to do except let him know I'm here.

*****

They've been in my little hut for twenty minutes, for cryin' out loud, and now she's giving him some kind of freakin' backrub? "Carter, can you give us a minute?"

She turns and plants her hands on her hips, frowning at me, and I tense, waiting for the blow Daniel said she promised to give me. I won't duck it; I more than deserve it. "Y'know, Jack, it'd be a lot easier for me to remember to drop the 'Sir', if you could manage to drop the 'Carter'."

I snort a relieved chuckle and pull her into a hug, squeezing tight. "You're absolutely right, Sam." She hugs me back, and I give her a peck on the top of her head before I release her, and she scoots out the door.

"She was pretty mad, y'know," Daniel says softly from across the room. He's changed into that sexy blue sweater, the sleeves are pushed up, and he's got on those nut-crushingly tight jeans I love so much. I feel severely underdressed in the plain shorts and shirt Thor manufactured for me. He's fiddling with the fastenings on his pack, just so he doesn't have to look at me. "She was gonna deck the both of us."

"May still."

"You 'bout ready?"

Will he never stop fiddling with that damned bag and look me in the eye? "Not really."

"Thor will get all the stuff--"

"'Cause I'm so worried about that bitchin' reel he made for me..."

Finally Daniel glances over his shoulder, checking me out to see whether or not I'm kidding, and I shoot him a smirk, which he returns, making those deep 'worry creases' between his eyebrows fade for a brief moment. "Listen," I add softly. "If I come out of this some kind of drooling vegetable, I want your word you'll end it."

He turns away again and nods. "Yeah, sure. Whatever you say."

"Great, thanks," I drawl, not even attempting to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. "Knew I could count on you, buddy."

"Jack, you already know I'm gonna tell you anything you wanna hear, just so you'll go through with it."

"I know."

He turns and looks at me finally. "So why--"

I shrug. "Just stalling."

"Ah."

Silence. Long and thick and painful. I'm looking my fill, y'know, just in case, and he's never been more beautiful to me. I suppose I could be prejudiced. "So... y'think maybe I could get a--"

Before I can finish the sentence, he's across the hut in two long strides and shoving me up against the metal wall, kissing the life outta me, letting me feel the hard planes of his body up against mine. I let myself get lost in him for just a few moments, holding him, feeling him holding me back, hands moving, squeezing, breathing him in.

It's everything a goodbye kiss should be.

*****

Thor's beamed us all up at once, and the Colonel and Daniel split off from Teal'c and I immediately. Presumably, another beam got all the crates and simply sent them to a holding area, because I don't see them here with us.

We seem to be in an operating theater of sorts, a platform surrounded by vertical orange beams, probably indicating a sterile field. Loki is already inside the field, while Thor looks on from an elevated control panel. I hadn't really thought about it before, but I can actually see a difference between them --shape of the head, breadth of the shoulders-- I'd be able to tell them apart at this point, even without hearing them speak. Maybe there is more than one body style...

From the corner of my eye, I check out Daniel and the Colonel; he's speaking in low tones, and he's running his hand up and down the side of Daniel's arm. Daniel's nodding and frowning a little, his arms are folded tightly across his chest, and I can tell he's just barely holding on. My heart aches for both of them because of the impossible situation they're in and the choices they've had to make.

I feel like we're intruding, all four of us, but particularly Teal'c and I, so I turn to look out of the viewing port closest to me, nudging for Teal'c to do the same. Then I try to ignore the fact that I can see them reflected in the surface of the port as they move into each other's arms.

*****

"So. Kiss for good luck?"

I look at Jack like he's already lost his mind, shooting a glance over my shoulder, where Sam and Teal'c are pretending not to watch us. "I already gave you a kiss for luck, remember? That's how I got all this beard burn under my lip." I'm torn; I want to kiss him and so much more, but I really don't want to make this any more difficult for Sam than is absolutely necessary.

He frowns for a moment, like he's considering it. "Don't remember. Must be the brain damage."

"Ja-ack..." He grabs my belt and yanks me to him, resting his hands on my hips as my groin comes to rest against his. I'm not hard and neither is he, but that's not surprising, really.

He's talking softly; all the urgency's in his eyes. "Daniel, everybody on this ship already knows we're a couple, some of them have actually seen us cavorting in the altogether, and Thor is probably crankin' out the DVDs in the back room as we speak, for cryin' out loud. They've all been sworn to secrecy. I just need to know you're gonna be waiting for me on the other side of this."

I don't think I've ever seen him look quite so vulnerable. His gaze is steady, but concern darkens his eyes. I believe he'd resigned himself to his own imminent death, and this crowded, hurried, desperate attempt to intercede in the inevitable has thrown him for a loop. His eyes plead with me for reassurance I feel unqualified to give.

I have no idea how Hammond's going to handle all this, or whether it's even up to him. I suppose Jack and I should've talked about what the Air Force might do with respect to a court martial and maybe even jail time now that we're out of the closet, but there wasn't any opportunity to do that, and I'm not going to bring it up now.

I take his face into my hands, fingers meeting along the fine hairs on the back of his neck. His cheeks are scratchy with whiskers just coming in gray, the skin underneath weathered, like a map, marking every minute of his life, every endurance, every joy, and every trial. As I bring our lips together, I try to convey my hope, my strength, my belief that he will make it through this, because he has to. Because I need him to. All of this in my kiss. It is a witnessed event, not something we've ever had the luxury to do, not something it would ever have occurred to me to long for. And yet, as I kiss him now, feeling his lips part, tasting him so intimately, so different from how we usually are toward one another when we're around them --the friends-only act-- knowing they're watching us, it give the kiss more weight, a deeper meaning somehow than any hurried kiss in the shadows. There is no shame in this; it's both a promise and an oath, and those who witness it help to bind us together. There can be no denying what we are to one another, what we've committed to being, now that we can love each other openly.

This isn't the tentative kiss of a new relationship. I know what Jack likes, and I take his tongue into my mouth as easily as I take his cock into my body. It makes us one in a very personal way, as we devour each other, needing to be inside one another, totally committed.

Our relationship has been at this level for a while, although never voiced. I decide to voice it now, giving it form and substance and truth. "I love you, Jack, so much, and I'll be here for you, whatever happens."

I think I see his eyes fill with tears, full of pain and regret and sorrow. "That's... Jesusfuck! I wish this wasn't happening now," he whispers brokenly. "So much I need to say. So much I wanna give you." His words are whispered huffs against my face, desperate, agonized.

I long to give him reassurance that will let him rest easy, sure that I'm holding nothing back. "I know, Jack, I've always known. We'll have time for all of that once you're well," I promise him as I move in for his neck. I've always wanted to bite his collarbone, mark him as mine, and this seems like the perfect time. I cup the back of his skull, to hold him in place while I kiss down along his jaw and then feast upon his neck, making my way unhurriedly to my prize. I bite gently at first, until he understands what I'm going to do. When I feel him stretching his neck out, I take that as consent and roll the skin between my teeth, then suck hard. I imagine I can feel the blood vessels bursting beneath my lips.

When I release him, I pull away to survey the damage I've done to his body. The bruise is huge and purplish; seeing him marked this way sends a jolt of pleasure straight to my cock. I'm gasping a little, but so is he, knowing this will be a tangible reminder of our place with each other, so he won't forget. "We'll have time for everything, Jack. I promise."

We're just petting each other at this point. Nothing to say that hasn't been said, and I can feel everyone's eyes upon us, along with the weight of Jack's dread. I turn my head to ask Thor what's next, and instantly, I'm wrapped in an Asgard beam with the SGC's briefing room at the other end.

I'm not sure what I expected, but going from holding Jack in my arms, the taste of his skin still on my tongue, to suddenly being wrenched away and deposited at work is more than jarring. "What the hell...?" My arms are suddenly encircling nothing, and I'm more than devastated by the loss; it feels as though we were ripped apart.

Sam and Teal'c are with me, and the pile of crates and packs in the corner is probably the sum total of all our junk. I know Jack didn't want me to watch them 'scooping out his brain', but I thought I could at least stay with him till he went under! "NO!" I yell toward the ceiling and the Asgard ship I know is in orbit somewhere far above.

The noise of our arrival and my angry shout have brought General Hammond out of his office, with heavily armed Marines brought to bear. Sam moves into my empty embrace, and I hold her gratefully. I can feel Teal'c at my back, supportive, wary, blocking us off from the approaching SFs.

I turn us away from them to face the wall and against Sam's hair I whisper, "Oh, god, Sam, I wasn't ready." I suspect she already knew that, since she's clutching me ferociously and has buried her face in my neck. I can feel her shoulders shaking as her tears soak my sweater, and I realize I wasn't the only one putting on a brave front for Jack.

As I stand there trying to comfort her, I want so badly to be able to cry for him, too, but the truth is, I'm a little afraid that once I start, I won't be able to stop.

*****

So. I feel perfectly fine. I'm pacing around the SGC infirmary, waiting for the next batch of tests, and not being shy about getting underfoot. I was sure Fraiser would kick me out for the annoyance factor alone, but no such luck. If I didn't know better, I'd say she was sweet on me.

And it's taking forever. Guess I've been hanging around Thor too long, 'cause all of Fraiser's toys seem to work really, really slooow.

Apparently, Thor kept me for four and a half days, then beamed me --unannounced-- straight into Hammond's office, with the Asgard seal of approval all but stamped on my ass. All the measurable things had been measured back up on the ship, and I'd tested out at the top of my class. Jack O'Neill, Valedictorian of Tau'ri 101.

"It's just as Thor here explained it, General," I said with my best offhand shrug and lopsided grin. "Somehow, he and that Loki fella managed to give me back most of my marbles," I spread my arms wide, as though to encompass the whole world, "and I'm good as new."

Hammond thanked Thor, and then when we were alone, he looked at me with a wary kind of patience, like you'd show to a kid who'd pulled one prank too many and was now asking to be taken seriously for class president. "They did some kind of before and after imaging of my brain, and he swears the Colonel stuff's all there," I offered earnestly, sliding my hands into my pockets and rocking on my heels real casually, as though this was any other discussion and not a decision about whether or not to institutionalize me. I felt like I did when I was sixteen and had to interview with Pops Murtaugh for the gas jockey position at the Esso station in town. Sweaty and nervous and just plain not good enough.

"I'm glad to hear that, Colonel. Nevertheless, I'm going to want you to be escorted to the infirmary for a complete checkup before we make any kind of final determinations," he stated sternly. I understand his concern; he's got no way of knowing I'm the real thing without Fraiser's okay. Even after that, there's really no way to test for forgotten memories or skills that aren't up to par. I mean, how do you know what you don't know? There's just no way to identify ahead of time if something vital's missing until I try to do something I've done a thousand times before and screw it up. Not a real confidence booster, if y'know what I mean. But it's what I have now. I'm counting on the fact that even damaged, I'm still valuable to him in some capacity.

"I understand, sir," I replied as stoically as I could. "Perfectly reasonable precaution." As I followed the SFs up to Fraiser's domain, I weighed my options. If they can't see their way clear to keeping me on with SG-1, then I'll have to dust off my lucky fishing hat. Not like I've got a lot of alternatives, y'know.

*****

It's two long, tedious days later, and although I've been sprung from isolation, I'm still jumping through hoops. I've got a guard everywhere I go, and everybody's looking at me like I'm about to sprout a second head or something. I was called to the briefing room, so I guess this is supposed to be the grand unveiling. I can almost hear the drum roll...

Carter and Teal'c file in, looking as if they're on their way to a funeral, and take seats across from me as though they're afraid what I have might be catching.

"Sir."

"O'Neill."

"Kids..." It's creepy. What's everybody know that I don't know? Daniel shuffles in with his ever-present coffee cup, has a quiet word with my SF, who takes off, and just like that, I'm chaperone-free.

He takes the chair beside me with a soft, "Hey, Jack," like this happens every day, and since when do SFs answer to Daniel Jackson? And just when did I enter the Twilight Zone?

I turn to look at Hammond and Fraiser in Hammond's office; he's unreadable, and she's just shaking her head.

Crap.

"Before you flip out completely," Daniel says quietly, scooting his chair in, "we don't know anything either."

I'd be more likely to believe that, if he and Carter weren't shooting coded eyeball messages to each other across the table. "I feel FINE!" I shout under my breath. "What the hell's the damn secret, for cryin' out loud? Either I'm good to go, or I'm not!"

"Actually, sir, there's the matter of national security. If you're judged to be too damaged to continue going into the field, they may feel you're too much of a security risk to just let go."

Yeah, I was afraid of that. I may never see daylight again. "Area 51, here I come," I mutter.

"Perhaps they will let you retire off-world, O'Neill. Somewhere peaceful and remote, where you can pester the fish each day."

"Thanks, T," I grimace. I know he's trying to be helpful, but I just can't see myself living out the rest of my life in exile on some backwater planet, knowing everything back here's going on without me.

"Speaking of peaceful and remote, Jack," Daniel says urgently as he returns Carter's glare, "before they get in here, I just wanted--"

Daniel never gets to finish what he's gonna say, because just then Fraiser and Hammond come into the room. Carter and I stand, they sit, and I'm thinking I've got to liven up this wake fast. "Twenty bucks says it was Professor Plum in the Conservatory with the candlestick. Anybody?" I look around the table to a sea of worried faces. "Ah. Tough room."

Hammond smiles a little as I take my seat. "It's good to know you've still got your trademark sense of humor, Colonel."

"Such as it is, sir."

"Doctor Fraiser?"

"Well, the tests we've been able to run, along with what Thor's told us, amount to a qualified verdict of 'perfect health'."

"YES!" I pump the air in victory. Fraiser and Carter jump, and Hammond's lost his patient smile. Oops. I address the room in general, "Sorry," and settle back into my seat like a good little Colonel.

"Go ahead, Doctor," Hammond says, shooting me a warning with his eyes.

"The original damage to Colonel O'Neill's brain was primarily in the parietal lobe, with some peripheral injury stretching into adjoining areas. Thor has assured us that the area of recall corruption was minimal and confined to more recent memories, say, the last few years. Unfortunately, our understanding of how the brain stores memories is still quite rudimentary; there's simply no way for us to corroborate that finding, nor any way to repair the loss."

"You have no memory at all of the last two years, Colonel?"

"Not exactly, sir, it's just that it starts gettin' kinda spotty right around the whole Sokar thing. Those years aren't completely gone; there's just a couple of blank places in 'em big enough to park a--"

"'57 Chevy in?" Daniel's peering at me innocently over his coffee cup. He takes a sip, then sets the cup down, folds his hands, and looks at me expectantly. Weird how he knew just what I was gonna say...

"Ye--ah, I'm thinkin' maybe a two-door Nomad. Larkspur blue." The silence in the room is deafening, and they're all staring at me. "What? I like blue."

Some kind of unvoiced charge goes around the room. I'm not sure where it started, but Hammond ends it with a nod to Fraiser to continue. "The good news is that most of the Colonel's skills seem to be intact, since the clear majority of those were learned at a much younger age. There are several mild, stroke-like aftereffects which are very minor and should be no more than an annoyance."

I scramble to get in a couple of brownie points in an effort to look earnest and responsible and y'know, not too brain damaged. "Colonel Reynolds has checked me out on the range sir, and I score in the high 230's, so that's still working. Unfortunately, although I understand and can correctly explain the equations necessary to compute velocity, for instance, I'm apparently having some difficulty with the simple underlying math involved. Like... division. So that's, y'know, pretty much grounded me from flying." I'm trying to stay upbeat, but I won't deny knowing I can never fly again is a pretty hard pill to swallow.

"My-um, handwriting's gotten worse, if that matters. Oh! And I've been killing the downtime in between the Doc's tests, reading the mission reports for the missing time period, to try to fill in some of the blanks. I should be caught up in a couple of days, General, and ready to go back into the field." That should do it. Enough disclosure to show I'm playing nice, not enough to ground me from gate travel. I hope.

*****

He's sitting beside me, ready, eager and on the edge of his seat, calmly reciting a history we no longer share, one that he can get caught up on just by reading mission reports. The cold lump in my belly spreads throughout my body, engulfing me in weariness and dread. He didn't get the '57 Chevy clue, barely even paused.

He doesn't remember.

We've been intimate for more than eighteen months and made love in every room of his house as well as on some godforsaken planet, and it's like it never happened for him. The wave of rejection I feel washing over me is killing. It's irrational, I know; he can't help that he doesn't remember. And yet there's a tiny voice inside my heart that says if he really loved me, if our time together had been truly important to him, somehow, he'd know. On some level, somewhere that wasn't damaged, in his heart or his gut, he'd know...

It's then I notice the chain around his neck, mostly hidden by his shirt. He must've gotten a new set of tags, in anticipation of staying with the SGC. And somehow, that hurts more than anything else. My hand runs across my chest where his real dog tags have rested since he disappeared ten days ago, all that I have now of the 'us' that was.

They're all looking at me. Waiting for me to say something, to claim Jack as my lover. Maybe pull out a PowerPoint presentation with graphs and charts, with a short film clip to top it off, and effectively put an end to a career that obviously means so much to him.

And I can't do that.

General Hammond breaks the silence. "Do you have any memories leading up to your being beamed into my office two days ago?" He's digging, priming the pump on my behalf.

Jack's shaking his head, frowning a little, like he's trying to catch onto something vague, tangential. "Thor told me he beamed me out when he thought he couldn't patch me up anymore... and then somehow SG-1 pestered him to try another way, which evidently worked, thanks to some Loki character, so hey-- thanks, kids, for bein' a pain in Thor's bony gray ass." He's grinning at all of us as his eyes circle the table and take us all in. "Celebratory barbecue at my place, soon as I get sprung!"

Another moment of awkward silence, and all I can think about is that Teal'c's amnesia prediction was grimly prophetic. I can feel Sam's gaze boring a hole in the top of my head, psychically poking me to open my mouth and just tell him. Janet clears her throat, and I'm not sure if that's directed at me, or if she's trying to call Sam off, but it doesn't matter. I can't move. I can't make myself reach out and take his hand, to try to jog his memory through touch. His military breeding is too ingrained; he'll recoil out of sheer habit. I can't put myself through that kind of public rejection, I just can't.

I kick myself for not demanding that they let me talk with him alone before this meeting. I wonder at my own temerity; would I have been able to take his rejection even in private?

"A celebratory barbeque sounds like a splendid idea," Hammond says gently. His eyes flicker to me as he says, "Take the long weekend for a little team bonding, and report for your next mission Monday morning. It's good to have SG-1 back, Colonel. Dismissed."

*****

"You're going to tell him, aren't you?" Sam pulls up alongside me, matching her stride to mine, and Teal'c takes the other side. It's obvious they've been lying in wait for me to come out of Hammond's office.

"No, Sam, I'm not. And we can't talk about this here."

"He made his wishes on the matter quite clear, Daniel Jackson."

"Yes, he did." I pull Sam aside at the T-junction of the corridor, and Teal'c closes ranks so people passing will grant us a wide berth. It's obvious that nothing will end this scene short of full disclosure, so I lower my voice even further and try to get it done. At least the camera's at the end of the hall and not right in front of me like the one in my office. "Jack was obnoxiously clear about his feelings on the matter. But that was after he knew I'd outted him, and his choices were all gone."

"What difference does that make?"

"All the difference in the world, Sam. Jack had resigned himself to having to retire again, because he'd violated the DA/DT stupidity and now that was out of the bag. But since --for him-- the last two years essentially haven't happened, no violation has really occurred."

"That's ridiculous!"

"It's not. I asked Hammond what would happen, if I told Jack about us being lovers, and we resumed our relationship. He said it'd put him in a really bad place, especially now, with the NID rattling their cages back in Washington, and he'd probably have to insist Jack take his retirement. Since Jack has no memory of us being together, Hammond's willing to look the other way; that way, Jack can't be charged with anything." She's looking at me like I'm a madman. Maybe I am, but I don't have the time to get into this now. "Look, I have to go, I have to get to Major Patterson, see if he'll agree to have a convenient memory lapse too..."

"I don't get it," Sam says urgently, her hand on my arm. "You've been through so much to fight for him; how can you just let him go like this?" I can see she really doesn't understand.

"Because I love him." I hear my voice crack, and hold on tight to what little control I have left as I stare her down.

"I have given my word, Daniel Jackson, that I would be his 'best man', that I would ensure he was told of your true relationship, in the event the knowledge of it was lost to him."

"I know, Teal'c, I know." I look down at my hands and twist the file I've been holding on to into an unrecognizable manila tube. I hadn't counted on having to give a lecture on sexual mores of the Tau'ri, but I can understand why he has questions; it doesn't make any sense to me either. "This country, this military, doesn't allow two men to love each other. They have rules, and we broke them. They could charge him with conduct unbecoming, Teal'c, and throw him out with a dishonorable discharge. Is that what you want for him? Is that a fitting end for a career officer, a brave warrior, to be ridiculed and reviled? That's how the Tau'ri treat gay men and women, Teal'c. It's why I told you it had to be a secret."

"All the more reason you should tell O'Neill, so you may fight this injustice together."

Big picture, I remind myself, shaking my head at his sweet naiveté. "He needs to be out there fighting the Goa'uld, Teal'c, not trying to paint a rainbow over United States military policy."

"This isn't what he wanted," Sam says, resignation in her voice.

"No, it's not. It isn't what I wanted, either, Sam, but it's what we've got. He's alive, and he's more whole that any of us had a right to hope for, and we can't lose sight of what a miracle that is. Jack's given his whole adult life to the Air Force. He should get to leave it on his own terms, not tossed out on his ass!"

She's caught by the logic; I can see her struggling with it. "Didn't you see him in the briefing, Sam? He can't wait to get back out there. I can't take that away from him."

"He. Loves. You."

My teeth clench; I just need to hold on. "Loved, Sam, past tense. For all we know, the part of Jack that was in love with me was part of what was left in Loki's scrap pile." She recoils like I hit her, which I'm tempted to, if she doesn't drop it.

"God, Daniel, you don't just stop loving someone overnight," she whispers tightly. "Sooner or later, he'll remember what he felt for you."

"Maybe," I snap. God damn it, why can't she let me have just a shred of dignity? "But what is that, compared to the opportunity to explore other worlds, huh? What do I have to offer him that tops that?"

"Did you not tell Thor that you and O'Neill were a mated pair?"

"That's--" I take a breath and hold it, studying the file in my hands again, willing the angry tears away --god, do they think this is helping me?-- then let the breath out slowly. "If it was meant to be, Teal'c, it'll happen again on its own. But as of right now, Jack's a free agent." I turn toward Sam and whisper, "I won't try to compete with you, Sam."

I push between them, as much to get the hell away from them as anything. I know they didn't mean to hurt me, but this conversation was gruesome and morbid, and I'm cold all over. I have to get out of there.

I head to my office to call Patterson, to try to salvage Jack's career, because if Patterson doesn't agree to forget what he knows, then I have to go to Jack and tell him the bad news-- after his valiant struggle to overcome a mortal brain injury, he's being discarded by politics anyway.

I'd rather cut off my right arm than have to do that to him, knowing what being in the service means to him.

*****

I'm sitting here looking at a pair of jeans that're way too short for me, and underwear I wouldn't be caught dead in, even if they were my size. In fact, I've got an entire drawer full of clothes I don't recognize. Shirts with no sleeves, cutoffs so full of holes, any wearer would probably get arrested. But it's the powder blue jock that has me mesmerized, the pouch made of a fine mesh that's probably nearly see-through once it's being worn and stretched, as it gently cups the heavy balls inside it... Jesus.

I happened across this unsettling discovery while I was looking for a pair of clean socks, so I could head out to get groceries for tomorrow night's shindig. Now the trip to the store is scrubbed, so I can try to figure this mess out.

So. I perform a systematic search of my house, room by room. All of the 'public' areas seem fine, but in addition to the drawer full of clothes that aren't mine, I come up with toiletries in my bathroom that I don't remember buying. Three different flavors of shower gel? Conditioner, if you can believe that. A hair brush on the counter. A second toothbrush --Power Rangers?-- in the cup, all snuggled up with mine. No secondary toothpaste, so we apparently share that, and isn't that just an adorable thought? A second razor, but no separate shave cream. Next logical move is the bottom drawer of the nightstand and --BINGO!, shoot me now-- several interesting-looking, battery-operated gizmos I've never seen before that are frighteningly self-explanatory.

Sitting on the bed surrounded by all the damning evidence, the picture's pretty damn clear; there's been sex goin' on here, and a lot of it. We're talkin' economy sized lube. Jumbo box of condoms, the ultra-thin, non-spermicidal kind. And have I mentioned the fuckin' sex toys, for cryin' out loud?

The worst part of this is, despite all these intimate memory-joggers, I don't have the faintest recollection of who it is I'm nailing. Worse than that, I don't have any way to find out who fits into that powder-blue jock... I feel like the Prince in the Cinderella story, except I can't just hang out at the local gay bar and ask all the patrons to try on the jock to see if it fits.

This makes me so vulnerable in so many ways.

I'm thinking it's probably just one guy, though; the presence of all his stuff nestled in such a homey and intimate fashion amongst mine seems to point to that. Must've been over here pretty frequently, too, for him to need to leave clothes here. The shared toothpaste gives the whole thing an air of permanence, of a commitment or something.

And god help me, I can't help but feel a pang of loss for something I can't even remember having. Jesus Christ, I'm envious of myself.

But keeping clothes here seems kinda, almost... unbelievable, really, considering the risk. I don't understand why I'd do something that outrageously stupid and careless, unless my brain was more messed up than everybody originally thought. It's only a matter of time before I'm found out. I should quit while I'm ahead, while I can still retire on my own terms and keep my pension.

Damn it! I'm not ready to give up the SGC yet; I have to keep going through the gate, to keep an eye on my kids, on Daniel. I kinda feel responsible for him. I have ever since... practically forever, I guess. God, I've got a soft spot for him.

More than that, if I'm honest. I look at all this stuff and I wish...

Doesn't matter at this point. What's done is done. I'd hate to think about one of my team coming through here, like we did when we thought Daniel had died on the planet with the blue fish guy. They might not have noticed the clothes were wrong, but it creeps me out to think they'd go through the stuff in my nightstand. No way that looks innocent; it practically screams 'gettin' busy', and that's not something my team needs to know about their CO.

I gather all of it up --even the toothbrush and the sexy blue number-- and bury it all in the bottom of a trash bag, which I plan on dumping somewhere anonymous. I can't risk someone coming across any of it; I've still got a job to do.

*****

"Sorry I'm late, Major. I had trouble getting out of the mountain." I slide into the booth, leaving my jacket on. I'm still cold, and this isn't a social call; I don't expect to be here that long. The bar is crowded and noisy, and for this, that's a good thing.

"No problem, Doctor Jackson. Hope you don't mind, I kinda started without you."

"I can see that." I catch the eye of the waitress and point to the Major's beer, then indicate 'two'. He watches me with a keen eye, and I'm reminded of how badly I wanted him out of our home. Jack's home now. I swallow that bit of bile and disappointment, and try for a reassuring smile.

The waitress shows up with two bottles of Guinness draught and a glass for me, and I hand her a twenty. "Keep it." Then I take my time pouring the beer into my grossly tilted glass, just like Jack taught me, as I wonder at the odd coincidence of Patterson favoring the same brand of beer as my lover.

Ex-lover now? Oh, god!

I need to go somewhere alone and just get drunk for a couple of days and cry it all out, or I'm never going to be able to move past this.

"What did you want to see me about, Doctor?" He's relaxed, but his eyes are wary, and I realize he's got no reason to help me.

"Please, call me Daniel. And I need to ask a favor of you."

He drains his glass and starts to pour the new one. "Thanks for this," he smiles as our eyes meet. "Next round's on me. What kind of favor, Doctor?"

"An unofficial one." I feel like a bug under a microscope; he either lives his job, or he's still on the clock. "Daniel. Please."

He eyes me again. "Okay. I'm Phil." There's a subtle shift in his body language. "What can I do for you, Daniel?"

I nod, accepting the change in his demeanor. Maybe this will work after all. "I suppose you heard that we found Jack?" I ask, lowering my voice barely above a whisper.

"I did," Phil replies quietly, taking his cue from me. "I heard he was off with the... you-know-who. I'm sure you're very relieved."

"Yes, I am, thank you. Are you aware of why Jack was with them?" He's in mid-swallow and shakes his head. "It's being kept quiet for reasons that will become clear to you. I hope I can count on your discretion."

"Absolutely." He seems sincere, a far cry from the hardass who grilled me in Jack's kitchen, and he holds a damning piece of evidence against Jack. Even if he's inclined to help me with this cover-up, 'Exhibit A' may already be too far into the system to reclaim.

I take a deep breath, let it out, and then belt down a significant portion of my Guinness. It occurs to me I'm going to need to start drinking something else, something that doesn't taste like Jack. "Jack had a rather serious --make that fatal-- brain injury. The... friends he was with were able to... effect repairs to the extent that he's no longer in mortal danger."

"My god..."

"Yeah." I shrug, knowing how outlandish even the abbreviated version sounds. "Unfortunately, there's a period of Jack's memory that was lost in the... reboot." I pick up my glass and bring it to my lips, ready. "Specifically, the last two years." I sip, waiting a beat to see if he gets it. Blank look. "Jack doesn't remember... us." I take another deep drink, glad I asked him to meet me at the bar around the corner from my apartment; I'm not going to be fit to drive soon.

"Are you... no, of course you're not kidding. My god, Daniel, that's--"

"That's good for Jack," I interrupt his well-meaning words before they have a chance to encourage my much-too-close-to-the-surface self-pity. "Because it means that technically, those two years, and therefore the break in regulations never happened." He's looking at me, taking my measure, and I wait to see what he'll do. I really hope my hands aren't shaking. I hold my breath, hoping that will still the trembling in my belly.

"You'd do that for him?" he whispers incredulously.

Crap. Just his expression's killing me, and I have to look away. Please, god, don't let me cry here. I study the beer in my glass; the scent and the color and the texture of it on my tongue are all powerful reminders of what I've lost. If I focus on simply getting the words out, and not on how they're literally making me bleed inside, maybe I can get this done.

"His career is important to Jack; I screwed that up by coming out to Hammond when Jack disappeared. The General's assured me he'll look the other way, as long as Jack remains ignorant of our former relationship, and we don't resume it. Major Carter and Teal'c have agreed to keep silent, and Hammond's going to talk to Fraiser, therefore the only remaining issue is--"

Patterson clears his throat and meets my eyes steadily. "I don't know what you're talking about, Daniel," he says evenly. "My team and I have begun performing routine screenings of all high-ranking personnel in the mountain. Colonel O'Neill's residence was first on the list, due to his being 2IC, but I can assure you that all personnel will be screened in the coming weeks."

And I can breathe now.

Patterson has not only agreed to the ruse, but also cooked up a believable cover for his team's visit to Jack's home, all in one breath. I can't believe I've been this lucky. "Thank you," I whisper. Relieved tears are burning the backs of both eyeballs, and I'm not going to be able to hold them off for long. "I-um... I need to go--"

"I understand," he says as I slip out of the booth. He extends a hand, and I shake it automatically. "If you just wanna talk sometime..." he shrugs. "Y'know, about... stuff. Give me a call."

I nod, biting my lip hard, and pull my hand away, knowing he couldn't have missed the tears that just spilled down my cheeks. I blindly leave the bar, glad for the dim lighting, and feeling like I just walked away from a funeral for my best friend and the other half of my soul.

*****

I tried to get out of Jack's celebratory barbeque, but he wouldn't take no for an answer.

His hair's more silver than before. I have no idea how Thor and Loki were able to do what they did and return him five days later with a full head of hair. And I haven't a clue why the hickey I gave him is gone already. I wonder if he'd seen it, if that might have jogged his memory about us.

It's hard being here in Jack's house again, trying to be just one of the team, listening to all the inconsequential conversation that an SG-1 get-together generates. After the anguish of coming out under the worst possible circumstances, of laying our lives open to the scrutiny of strangers, it's difficult to try to squeeze back into someone I'm not anymore. For a few days, it was more than just sex between friends. I was Jack's lover, his partner; I was part of a couple, publicly. And although I'd never given it a moment's thought before, once it happened, it was big and important. Life changing.

And I foolishly allowed it to define me in the privacy of my own heart.

So here I am, ruthlessly divorced, just 'the team linguist' again; it's quite a demotion. And it hurts; even after spending most of last night crying my eyes out after I left Patterson, it still hurts. My god it hurts...

I try to laugh at the jokes, and help Sam make fun of Jack's charred meat, but I long for things to be the way they were even before we came out, when it was just the two of us in secret. On team nights, after the others went home, Jack would take me into his arms on the couch and kiss me stupid, and then we'd move to the bedroom and get naked and get down to some serious fooling around.

Awash in memories I can't control, I can feel my eyes starting to sting. I've got to get out of here. I excuse myself to hit the head, just to throw cold water on my face and try to snap out of it. It's late. We've finished dinner, and Jack refused help cleaning up, so all I have to do is say my goodbyes and leave.

When I get back to the living room, it's empty, except for Jack, who's gathering the bottles for recycling. He glances up with a smile that shatters me with its easy familiarity. "Hey."

I can feel my heart speeding up, my whole body's going into overdrive. "Hey," I choke back.

"Carter said she had a headache, so she and T hit the road."

"Oh. Okay." It's more than transparent as excuses go, but Jack doesn't seem to notice. Sam did this on purpose; she set it up so we'd be alone.

Damn her.

My god, he's good-looking. All that silver hair, it's a good look on him... I really need to touch it, to kiss him... "Um, can I help you in the kitchen?"

"Nope. It's all done. Dishwasher's runnin', and I'll get the rest of these in the morning."

Déjà vu. That's what he used to say so we could get right down to the kissing. This feels so awkward. Worse than a first date. I blow out a hopeful, nervous breath and point over my shoulder toward the living room. "You, uh... wanna watch a movie or somethin'?"

He grins and grabs me by the back of the neck, squeezing a little, and the touch sends electric goose bumps down my arms. His hand feels cool and damp from having been in the water, and I think I might die, waiting to see what he'll do next. Part of me wants to just slam him up against the wall and take his mouth, let that show him what he's forgotten. Another part lets the need show in my eyes, willing him to see it --see me-- and take me here, now, with no words at all, any way he wants it.

My goose bumps turn into a flush of arousal as I feel his warm chest along my arm, and his beer-scented breath in my face. My body's so sensitized to his, it's not funny; it's already curling into his, expecting intimacy, and I'm hard, hoping, praying that just our proximity will be enough to give him a clue. God, Jack - remember!

"Actually Daniel, I'm beat. I think I'll hit the sack. You're welcome to crash in the guest room if you want. We can go out for a big breakfast in the morning. What d'ya say?"

And there it is. The clear and unmistakable sound of 'just friends'.

I find a smile and shrug, just like my heart isn't breaking. "Thanks, Jack, but it's late. I think I'd better go on home."

After we say our goodbyes, I sit in my car and watch the house go dark, one room at a time, as he closes up for the night. Something inside me won't let me leave until I see the light in the bedroom wink out. I imagine his nightly routine, as familiar to me as my own. Tossing his shirt into the hamper -three points!-- then taking a piss and brushing his teeth. He'll see my toothbrush, the Blue Power Ranger one, of all things, and he'll remember. 'Ninja Danny' is a ridiculous nickname, but it was a private joke between us, and maybe it's enough.

Please, Jack, remember us. I'm holding my breath.

But there's no call on my cell --Daniel, get your ass back here and into bed with me, where you belong. There's only silence, seemingly made louder when the last remaining light --the lamp on the nightstand I used to leave my glasses on-- goes out.

I pull my coat around me tightly, turning the collar up around my ears, and I wonder if I'll ever be warm again. I drive away from the curb without looking back.

On the way to an apartment that hasn't been 'home' for a long time, I try not to think about Jack alone in our bed, or the enormous bed I'll be climbing into, also alone. I try not to think of what we could've become, if we'd had the time.

It's the same kind of desolate sadness I felt when he told me there was no foundation to our friendship. He'd been lying that time --undercover-- and boy, I made him pay for that one. But this time it isn't a performance, and there's no fourth act plot twist. It's real, and it's what's left. Traded for a reprieve from a death sentence, it's what we have now; a deep and affectionate friendship.

And I try to convince myself that will have to be enough.

*****

There's more wrong with me than they suspect.

I'm laying here in my bed, heart pounding, and drenched in a cold sweat, having narrowly escaped making a raging fool of myself. I'd put down the occasional left hand-right hand confusion along with the fact I can't make change for a dollar anymore, down to Janet's 'stroke-like side effects'. I've had to switch to using plastic forks in case I don't notice I've thrown the flatware in the trash again, but that's just an annoyance, it's not humiliating. How the hell can I explain away the fact that I nearly pulled Daniel into my arms tonight? And not for just a friendly, 'glad-to-be-alive' hug either.

Somehow, my hand reached for him --I swear to god, without a single signal from my brain to do so-- and grabbed onto the back of his neck in the most intimate and familiar gesture I've ever slipped up with. I couldn't miss his look of shock and probably revulsion, before I managed to pry my hand off him. He practically ran for the door to get away from me.

I bring my hand to my face and sniff it, pleased that it still smells of his aftershave. The scent goes straight to my dick, which, if I'm honest, is always half hard whenever he's in the same room with me. I inhale deeply, and I can feel myself lengthening from the weird cologne mojo. I take a few experimental dry tugs, picturing Daniel, and oh yeah, it's just about... right... there. One swift tug on my balls, and I'm coming all over my belly.

The high doesn't last very long before the shame kicks in, though. I wipe myself off on the edge of the sheet and roll over out of the mess. Punching the pillow ruthlessly makes me feel a little better, and I struggle to get to sleep if for no other reason than to quiet the evil voice in my head reminding me I'm hopelessly attracted to a completely straight man.

For some reason, the attraction I've always had for him seems stronger since the Loki business; maybe the little gray rascal chopped off my self-restraint center or something. All I know is, I have to keep all these annoying little side effects a secret, or they'll ground my ass from gate travel, and then who'd watch out for him?

I just need to force myself to do my watching from a safe distance, that's all. No more touching. At all.

*****

The return to normal SG-1 operations was delayed somewhat by my trip to Chicago for Doctor Jordon's funeral, but that gave me time to gain a little needed distance from Jack, and some perspective, maybe.

Nevertheless, it was a long fucking week, and I'm wrung out. Seems like I did all my sleeping on the flights to and from Chicago. But I guess it's better than sleeping in a cold, empty bed.

Hard not to feel like a complete and utter failure, the way things turned out, an ex-lover snaked and missing, and an old rival ribboned to within an inch of his life. Never would've happened if I hadn't gone back there. It's all my fault.

The rest of SG-1 apparently enjoyed downtime while I was at Professor Jordan's funeral, although Teal'c seems to think I owe him some kind of restitution because Jack made him go fishing. I think the big guy needs to grow a pair and just say no from now on.

I'm sitting here, staring into my locker, wondering why I didn't just call in sick today, and then I notice Teal'c standing right next to me. I sigh tiredly, but don't look up. "What?"

"You should know that before I was coerced into accompanying O'Neill with his fishing, he first invited Major Carter to engage in this act."

He makes it sound like sex. Which it always was, when I went along... But it's not my problem anymore, is it? "That's nice," I reply neutrally. But Teal'c continues to glare down on me, and the heat in his stare is nearly enough to ignite my hair. "What's your point?"

When he doesn't reply or move away, I finally look up. He's doing the eyebrow thing, which still freaks me out a little. "They're both adults, Teal'c," I snap, kicking the locker door shut with my foot. "I told Sam I wouldn't stand in her way, and I meant it."

I stand, shrug into my jacket, and snatch my vest off the bench. When he doesn't move, I shoot him a glare of my own. Finally he lets me by, and we're silent all the way to the gateroom. I'm not sure why he thinks I should care, especially after the way Jack dismantled Teal'c's cell, so I couldn't call for further translation support. "Goodbye, Daniel."

You know what, Jack? Bite me.

*****

Five more seconds with good ol' Major General Bauer, and he'd've been minus a few major teeth, and I'd have finally gotten the court martial I've so long deserved. But it would've been totally worth it. Bullet point summaries, my ass.

It was even worth spending time with Harry Maybourne, just to see Kinsey looking down the barrel of my gun, and then to pull the rug out from under his plans to take over the SGC. The whole 'Kinsey for President' thing makes my skin crawl, but at least we've got Hammond back where he belongs; we'll worry about the slime ball getting into the White House some other time.

The good news is, after three weeks and eight missions, I seem to have gotten my wits together enough to keep my cool around Daniel, confining my inappropriate groping to the privacy of my dirty little mind in my own lonely bed. And if I let my guard down, and imagine he and I are more than friends, that's my business. Sad, I know, but we all have our secrets, and as long as the whole x-rated thing stays inside my head where it belongs, it can't get me thrown out of the Air Force on my ear.

Unlike Blue Thong Guy.

I'm equal parts anxious and terrified that the owner of the blue jock will suddenly surface. There's a good chance Thor knows who it is, or he could probably find out, but I don't have any way of contacting him without the SGC's involvement, and no real way to justify talking to Thor without arousing their concern about whether or not I'm having some kind of funky relapse. The less they're thinking about that the better, in my book.

So I'm playing a waiting game. My heart shoots straight into my boots whenever the phone rings, or there's a knock at the door. I can't seem to conjure up a face, or a voice or even a-- y'know. Just nothin'. I get the feeling we had more than a casual arrangement, even with the whole DA/DT thing hanging over my head, and if I've managed to get that close to another human being with my history of relationships, the thought of losing all that due to some stupid brain damage is... gutting.

Part of me wishes he'd just show up and to hell with the fallout. I feel like my body's going through some kind of skin withdrawal. I just-- I need... God damn this sucks! But maybe that explains why I nearly made a move on Daniel the other day. Poor guy. He's been making himself scarce ever since I grabbed him.

Yeah. Skin hunger, that's probably it. That, and I make a mental note not to have any more team parties for a while. That should do it.

*****

There's nothing here to translate or research, nothing that will make that crumpled piece of paper make any sense. A hastily-scrawled note in Jack's handwriting, covered in what Janet swears is his blood, tossed through the gate and warning us away from P4C-970. It's beyond weird, but really, not in my bailiwick to try to figure out. It's just an excuse.

I'm grasping at straws, needing to keep busy. I stay at the mountain as long as I can every day, working myself into a stupor, just so that I won't have to spend any more time at my apartment than I absolutely have to. So I can sleep undisturbed. Most nights I awaken, arm or leg extended, reaching out for Jack's warmth across the expanse of cold bed, for contact that will never come again.

Once in a while, I can shut my mind off and roll away toward the wall and fall asleep again, pretending nothing has changed, this is one of the few nights I sleep away from him just for appearance sake, and by this time tomorrow, I'll be lying in the warmth of his arms again.

But most of the time, I can't fool my brain, and the full force of the loss hits me fresh. It's over. Odd, having an ending without having had a breakup. I wonder sometimes if that would've been easier to take after some kind of defining moment. Just tell him we used to be lovers once, let him get shocked and disgusted, maybe some yelling that he never wanted to see me again. Nice, sharp, definitive break. Would my mind --would my body-- stop reaching for his in the night?

Every time I close my eyes, I can see him on Thor's ship, and my belly fills with guilt. "I just need to know you're gonna be waiting for me on the other side of this." I promised Jack I'd stand by him, that I'd be with him, no matter what, and god, I meant it, but I thought we'd be talking about some kind of trial, some embarrassing publicity, and if worse came to worse, maybe some jail time. I never thought... Shit. I wasn't prepared to see him embracing the service with such zeal, and I was completely unprepared to be so totally forgotten in the wake of it.

As we assemble in the gate room for each mission, I've begun to hang back a little, watching Sam take the place that used to be mine at Jack's side. And it's almost more than I can take, seeing Jack give his fleeting smiles to her.

I don't think I've ever felt more alone. I know I have to stop hoping he'll suddenly have an epiphany and remember us. I need to move on. What do I have to do to fall out of love with him, so this stops hurting?

*****

Daniel was pretty angry at me for trying to set them up at the Colonel's barbecue, so I haven't tried that again. But Teal'c and I have to stand by and watch them taking such great pains to avoid each other; if it weren't so sad, it would be funny as hell. Daniel's determined not to say anything to him, and sometimes it seems like the Colonel's almost hiding behind me.

Teal'c's about ready to knock their heads together, and I don't really blame him. I know we promised Daniel not to say anything, but I don't know how much longer either of us can just stand by and watch this.

*****

I head for the apartment door still reading from this month's copy of Archeology Today, trying to finish the last paragraph of the article I was reading. The doorbell rings a second time as I finish and toss it onto the counter by the door that serves as the pass-through to the kitchen. The man's face looks familiar, and it's a struggle, but I pull his name from a memory that's not yet completely scabbed over and still sore to the touch. "Major Patterson."

He smiles. "Thought we'd gotten past that, Daniel."

"Yes, of course." I step to the side, allowing him to enter. He did me a pretty big favor; I probably owe him for that. "What can I do for you, Phil?" I close the door and eye the bag he's carrying.

He holds it out to me. "These never made it to the lab; you have my word on that." His expression is earnest and caring, and I wonder where the hardass Major is, the one who interrogated me in Jack's kitchen.

I take the bag, knowing what's inside. Still, there's an obscene pull to look, and I can't keep myself from opening it. Every tiny movement I make seems to cause Jack's dog tags to skitter warmly across my chest. Each touch of the metal against my skin hurts somewhere deep inside, but I haven't been able to make myself take them off. A puff of mint green peeks out at me from the darkness of the bag. "I..." traitorously, my eyes begin to burn, "... thanks."

In my haste to escape the bar before I completely broke down, I'd completely forgotten to ask him if these sheets could somehow be lost or disposed of. My throat nearly closes now as I hold them, and I try to shake it off, these remnants of a life I once had. "Thanks for this," I manage as I loop the handles of the plastic grocery bag over the closet doorknob. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with them.

"Wasn't a problem," he says genuinely. "We have to stick together, y'know."

"I-I'm sorry, we...?"

He shrugs offhandedly. "Those of us of alternate persuasions."

Oh, god, is he coming on to me? "I see."

"You do?"

"Maybe..."

He shrugs and slides his hands into his pockets, relaxed and completely unthreatening. His voice is gentle, his eyes kind. It's really difficult to reconcile his manner now to the Major I first met. "In the bar the other day, you looked like you could use a friend. A distraction, maybe?" He shrugs again. "Something to pass the time until the hole in your gut heals?"

"Ha." It's more of a strangled sob than an actual laugh, but it's hard to speak with my teeth so tightly clenched. I find I can't actually look at him, either.

"Are you waiting for him?" he asks softly.

"Waiting?" I smile nervously. Maybe it's a grimace. "For Jack to remember us?" I didn't expect to ever see this man again, let alone be standing in my living room with him talking about the hole in my gut that's bleeding out my very life force. "What's that old saying? Um... if you love something, set it free?" I hang my head, swallowing down the threatening tears, and shrug as I jam both hands in my pockets. "I've done that. I set Jack free. Waiting would be pointless." My voice cracks, and I studiously look at my feet, desperately waiting for the stinging behind my eyeballs to dissipate.

I see his shoes move into my field of view, and his intimate proximity forces me to raise my eyes, knowing what I will see. He hesitates just a moment before he leans in, giving me plenty of time to bail. I'm pretty sure my mouth is forming the word 'no', but he doesn't seem daunted by the possibility of a rejection. As his face comes closer to mine, my gaze alternates between his mouth and his eyes, and it's the wrong mouth and the wrong eyes, and I don't know why I don't just step back or push him away or just fucking say something and

the first feel of his lips on mine is sin and punishment, and it makes me feel dirty. I hear a whimper, and I know it's me, and I'm ashamed that I'm not stronger. He pulls away just a little, and everything in me wants to tell him no

but my lips don't work --can't work-- and this time, when his lips impact mine, I open for him, letting his tongue have its way with me. In my pockets, my hands are tight fists, which I could easily use to make him stop or bring him closer, but they do neither. I stand there and let him have me with neither protest nor consent, and I know if I continue to silently allow this, it'll be a short journey to bending over for him and letting him have me completely, and I don't

want this --don't think I want this-- and yet, I can't seem to move. He fits his arms around me and brings our hips in line as he deepens the kiss; for just a moment, I'm warm again, and a moan escapes me, which he takes for lust and maybe it is, or maybe it's horror at what I'm doing --what I'm letting him do-- and

the kiss feels good, but it also feels wrong. It's not the mouth I'm used to getting lost in at all, but I make no move to stop him, so I think on some level, maybe I want this. I want this man to come into my home and take away all my choices and give me warmth in exchange for the liberties he's taking, and what does that make me? But the comfort is temporary and the chill grips me once again as he

ends the kiss, and his eyes are fixed on mine as he pulls away. Although I don't know him well, somehow I know he's disappointed in me. "You are." His voice is rough, and his eyes have gone dark, and there's no mistaking the fact that he's hard against my thigh, which is a terribly personal thing to know about someone, and I wonder if he's embarrassed.

"Are?" I croak, resisting the urge to lick my wet and tingling lips.

"You are. Waiting. For him."

It's an accusation, albeit a gentle one, and I'm instantly on the defensive. "N-no, I... can't be. There's no point in it; Jack doesn't even know I'm alive." The god damned tears are back, and I clench my teeth to keep them at bay. I'm confused why I allowed this, and terrified that I liked it. I didn't think I was gay; I thought it was just Jack. I'm probably so far in denial, it's not funny. "I know I need to move on," I insist, "it's just--"

He cups my cheek with his hand, and I try hard not to lean into the comfort it offers. I don't want anyone's pity, let alone this stranger's. His thumb brushes away the tears, which must've escaped in spite of my best efforts. His eyes are kind, his hand gentle and affectionate, and it seems like I've been cold for so long. Maybe it's not pity. I think... I think maybe I could want this.

I could let myself want this.

"You're not ready," he pronounces in a soft whisper, stepping back just a bit. "Don't rush it, Daniel. When you're ready to move on, you'll know. I think we could be real good together. So let me know, huh? If nothing else, I still owe you that beer."

But... ?

I don't speak, and I don't try to stop him as he moves to the door and lets himself out. When I hear the latch click behind him, I sink to my knees as a moan escapes, and this time I stop trying to hold the tears back. They burn like acid, and the sobs that bring them are audible and cutting. I'm not sure which is worse, my allowing him the liberty he just took with me, or his refusal of what more I might have allowed.

I don't do rejection well; I never have. It's why I don't let too many people in.

What the fuck's the matter with me? Sex isn't what I'm looking for, I know that. I survived years of abstinence while I looked for Shau're, and it's only been a couple of weeks since I lost Jack. But... I can't deny that it felt good to be held. For those few moments, I knew I was wanted, and that's heady stuff.

I'm humiliated that I'll apparently trade my body for simple companionship. Standing, I toss my glasses onto the counter behind me, wiping at my wet face with the hem of my t-shirt. God damn, I'm easy; if there's a dick within ten miles, I'll apparently sidle up to it and bend over.

Fuck.

I stagger into the bathroom to brush my teeth, desperate to get rid of the taste of him, the reminder of my-- what? Indiscretion? It's not really a betrayal; if I've set Jack free, aren't I free as well? Free to let the first man who asks walk away with everything I am...

I rinse out my mouth and peer at my face in the mirror. Eyes red and puffy, nose inflamed and still dripping. Lips swollen from letting Phil Patterson French kiss me.

A few weeks ago, I had everything I wanted-- a couple of good friends, an important and interesting job, and a loving partner. Now...?

Now I'm alone, and my days are filled with the calisthenics of arranging my schedule so Jack and I don't collide, either in the commissary, or on our way home from work. That's what I spend the majority of my time doing, avoiding Jack.

God, I miss him...

As I fall into bed --alone-- I'm thinking I owe Phil Patterson yet again. He saw I was vulnerable, and he stopped. A lesser man would've probably pressed the point, taken advantage of my weakness. There's a lesson there; I need to move on, yes, but I need to take control first.

Phil's right. I'm still not ready to let Jack go.

*****

They say practice makes perfect. If that's the case, I probably only have about three hundred and fifty-seven more peanut butter sandwiches left to make before I start spreading more of the peanut butter onto the toast than onto the palm of my hand.

If I'm lucky.

Or maybe it'll never get better. Maybe I'm condemned to lick peanut butter off my hand for the rest of my days, however many there are. Now there's a depressing thought.

Stroke-like side effects, my ass.

I finish washing my hands, then cram the hastily made sandwich into my mouth and grab my coat, keys, and a can of Coke, and head for the mountain. Apparently there's some kind of emergency on Abydos, a big bag o' wind or something, and we have to be there an hour ago.

Yeah, I know. It sounds hokey to me, too.

*****

At first, it seemed like it was just the Colonel that Daniel was avoiding, but during the last few weeks, he's gradually started to pull away from Teal'c and I, too. He gets like this when he's distracted by a problem, kind of aloof and cold; then when he hits a breakthrough, he's so excited, he's like Speedy Gonzales, arms waving and talking a mile a minute, trying so hard to get you to share in his enthusiasm, you kinda get caught up in it.

I'd like to think he's on the verge of a discovery like that. Something that would put that sparkle back in his eyes.

As we wait on the ramp all geared up and ready to go, all except our fearless leader, Daniel seems more restless than excited, and I'm concerned he's heading for a big disappointment. So close on the heels of losing the Colonel, I'm worried what he might've built himself up for, that it might be one loss too many.

There's got to be some scientific explanation for the phenomenon Kasuf reported seeing in the desert. Something that isn't Daniel's wife coming back from the dead.

*****

Daniel and Kasuf have taken the boy into one of the larger tents to try to figure out what's what. The whole thing reeks, if ya ask me; I mean the kid was just born two years ago. I've never been any good about guessing ages, but this Shifu kid looks to be about the same age Charlie was when... Yeah, okay, let's not go there.

Daniel thinks of the kid as his responsibility; I can see it in his eyes. Just like when we were on Kheb, and he thought he was getting all these really cool powers so he could protect the baby. When Daniel Jackson makes a promise, he lives up to it or dies trying.

Oh, here he comes, hands on his hips and overflowing with reasonableness, just daring me to tell him he can't do this. Well, I got news for ya, Doctor Jackson-- I can be Mister Reasonable, too.

I just look at him for a long minute. Wouldn't do to let him win too easily. Then I give Carter a nod. "Get a message to Hammond. Let him know who we're bringing." Fraiser'll give this Shifu kid the once over, and we'll see what's up. If he's got a Goa'uld bomb in him, let Daniel hear it from somebody else.

*****

Daniel was on pins and needles the whole time Fraiser was doing her thing. Even when the Doc gave the kid a clean bill of health, Daniel was reluctant to leave Shifu long enough to brief Hammond. I managed to convince him Feretti would make a excellent babysitter and sent Lou to the commissary with a twenty and instructions to introduce Shifu to pie.

Twenty minutes later, Daniel's sitting across the briefing room table from me, digging his heels in. He's probably trying to figure out how to get papers, legal custody, so he can raise the boy himself. Naïve fool, he doesn't stand a chance. Once the NID hears about this, the kid'll get a one-way ticket to Area 51, or worse, the Tok'ra'll make off with him. No way in hell that kid's walking outta here without help.

*****

The cloud that Shifu transformed into seems to hesitate at the event horizon, and for a moment, I think I can see his face, and in it, a striking resemblance to my beautiful wife. And then he's gone, and the gate goes dark.

I can feel all of them looking at me --Teal'c and Sam and Jack-- curious stares demanding I tell them what I dreamed. If they only knew.

"You have chosen a path that leads to me because of this?"

"Yes."

"You must release your burden before you can find your own way again."

I turn and leave the control room, hoping they'll all give me some space, because I really can't talk to anybody right now. I change quickly and leave the mountain, and after checking the gas gauge to see that the tank's full, I just start driving.

Unlike a regular dream, which fades upon waking, I remember this one with the kind of clarity you feel in your gut. I remember hurting all of them, each in turn as they tried to stop me. First Teal'c, who perhaps sees me more clearly than either Jack or Sam, and was quickly clued in to my madness and lust for power. Then Sam, who went along, giving me the benefit of the doubt until I put her away for good. Finally Jack, who tried to raise a warning flag in the beginning, but who accepted the reassignment with minimal protest, because he couldn't bring himself to do what he knew it would take to stop me. Right up until the end, when he thought maybe he could. But by the time he finally pulled his weapon, it was too late.

After Jack emptied his clip uselessly into the shield that protected my station, I cleared out the bunker and told him how disappointed I was. "Why aren't you behind me on all this? I mean I'm finally taking your position. Let's build weapons! Let's kick some Goa'uld ass! I thought if I could be more like you, you'd... that we could be together again. There's nothing stopping us now, Jack. We don't have to hide; we can love each other openly."

To my dying day, I'll remember his look of utter disgust and revulsion.

Release my burden, indeed.

Well, I'd wanted a big, defining moment, and I guess I got it. I'm halfway tempted to call Patterson, but he seems like a pretty decent guy, and apparently... I'm not.

*****

I really didn't like the look on Daniel's face when he left the control room, but it took me a few minutes to shake Hammond. Daniel's not in his office, so I call up top, and sure enough, he cleared the checkpoint thirty minutes ago. Damn it! I've got a bad feeling about this, like he's in trouble. It's a stretch of my responsibilities as his CO, and it may even be over the top for what's acceptable for a friend to stick his nose into. But then, there's that soft spot I'm not supposed to have, where it fits very nicely.

*****

Jack's called my cell three times in the last twenty minutes. When it stops ringing this time, I turn the phone completely off and toss it onto the passenger seat. I open the windows all the way and inch down a little further on the accelerator. It's too late in the season for driving with the windows open, but maybe if I can chill the outside of me, I won't notice the cold on the inside anymore.

The drive to Denver takes me a little over an hour. This is a stupid idea; everyone who's looking for anonymity heads here, but this is something I need to do, and I don't really have time for a lot of time-consuming subterfuge.

The bar's dark, and the music's loud. From my seat near the end of the long counter, I can watch the people come and go without it really looking like I'm doing that. After an hour of pointed disinterest in the couple of women who've tried to catch my eye, I'm nursing my second drink and just about ready to pack it in on a really stupid idea, when I see him.

He seems to be alone. I hold his eyes a second too long before casually glancing back out at the dance floor. I feel the disturbance of air as he takes the seat next to mine and orders himself a drink. The music is loud, and the driving beat is starting to give me a headache, but every time the guy next to me moves, his leather coat creaks. The smell of the leather is a sense memory, and I'm getting hard.

"Can I buy you another?" He leans in to make himself heard over the music, and the leather creaks again.

I give him a none-too-subtle once over then meet his blue eyes. "Depends."

"On?"

I take a deep sip of my drink. "A number of factors." There's more casual eye contact, and I hope to god he's not a cop. The closely-cropped gray hair was what I was looking for; it could just as easily mean cop as military. All of his features are wrong, but I can manage to not notice them for the purposes of this exercise; the top of his head is all that really matters.

"My place is a block west of here."

I finish my drink and toss a bill on the bar. "Show me."

There's no small talk on the way to his one room flat, and I take in the sparse furnishings and yellowed lighting without comment. I don't want to think about its similarities to Jack's hut on Gilligan's Planet, or why this guy's living this way.

He cups me through my jeans, squeezing gingerly, then closes in and looks like he's headed for my neck with his mouth. I block him easily with my shoulder. "Uh-uh. Don't need that."

We're nose to nose now, and I wish he were a few inches taller. "Why don't you tell me what you're looking for, pretty boy?"

"Let's keep it simple. No complications."

He squints a little and gives me a knowing smirk. "You just lookin' for a little something on the side, is that it? Got a few Daddy issues you wanna play with?"

"You talk too much. How about you do something useful with that mouth, hmmm?"

"You're the boss."

"Yeah. Apparently, I am. How much?"

"Fifty. And I don't care how pretty ya are, I don't swallow."

I peel off some bills and set them on the table by the door as he heads for a straight-backed chair across the room and starts to shrug out of his coat. "Leave the jacket on."

He raises an eyebrow, which is eerily reminiscent in the dim light and my dick throbs once in recognition. "Suit yourself."

He sits with a sigh, then motions me over with a jerk of his head, and he strokes me again through the jeans as I tuck my glasses into my jacket pocket. I let him open my pants, thinking of other hands that have touched me there and have been that intimate with me, and I stifle the gasp when this stranger leans forward and takes me into his mouth.

He doesn't have Jack's skill, nor his knowledge of what I like, and the surroundings are all wrong, but the leather of his jacket smells familiar, and I peer through my lashes at the grey head bobbing in front of me, and that makes up for a lot of it. I close my eyes and conjure the right surroundings and the warm brown eyes I need to see.

It's quick, and there's not much finesse, and when it catches, and I'm about to come, I push his mouth off, and he finishes me by hand. I turn around before I've even caught my breath and put myself back together.

And as I let myself out, I don't look back. "G'bye, Jack."

*****

SG-1's officially on four days stand-down, but when I got home from the bar last night and listened to the message Brad Michaelson left on my voicemail about the writing they'd found on P4X-347, I jumped at the chance and invited myself along to check it out.

As mornings go, this one wasn't bad. I finally let go of Jack's tags last night before I showered off my trip to Denver and dropped them into the top drawer of my dresser. I slept better than I have in weeks, and even the absence of his tags against my skin isn't making me melancholy. I guess that counts as progress. Even running into Jack in the control room doesn't cause the anguish it used to.

"You outta here?"

"Yeah, can't let SG-5 have all the fun."

"You sure you wouldn't rather spend a couple of nice relaxing days fishing?"

There's still a twinge there, but it's bearable. "Sorry, Jack. Brad says there's amazing stuff there. The room is literally filled with writing. You sure you don't wanna come?"

"Oooh, writing..." He waggles his eyebrows like he's considering it and shrugs. "Nah, maybe I'll see if I can get Teal'c to come with."

"Ye-ah, good luck with that after last time."

"Okay, I'll admit, last time he got a little--"

"Cranky?"

"I was gonna say mosquito-bitten."

"And..."

"Cranky, well, yeah, that too, I guess." He scuffs his feet a little and looks up, suddenly hopeful. "I'm sure Carter'll come, though."

"No, she won't."

"Yes, she will."

He's using the 'hurt puppy face', now, and as always, it makes me chuckle. "Oh, y'think?"

"Daniel, it's fishing."

I'm smirking, now. "Bet she won't."

"Twenty."

"You're on."

This feels good, just like the good old days. Shifu was right; I just needed a new path, and Denver was a step in the right direction, I just need it on a bigger scale. I've got some leave time of my own coming to me, more than a month, I think. When I get back from 347, I'm going to talk with General Hammond about taking a LOA of my own; have some no-strings attached sex until I can't taste Jack anymore. Until I forget what it felt like to make love to him. Clean slate.

Then when I get back, maybe I'll give Phil Patterson a call and collect on that beer he owes me.

*****

Daniel's livid. I know he's annoyed at having to cut short his little field trip with all the cool writing, but Barber's dead, for cryin' out loud. Waited for the wormhole and just-- Christ. Let's show a little decorum, shall we?

I don't think I've ever seen him quite this pissy before, like somebody's put itching powder in his skivvies. He's always short with me when I pull the dimwit act once too often and been happy to call me on it. But in the four years we've been working together, I've never seen him go off on Hammond like that.

Despite a couple of missed elevator connections, I manage to catch up with him just as he's signing out this time. "I'm FINE, Jack!" was all I got before he stomped away.

Except he wasn't fine, not by a long shot, and when he didn't show this morning, I went looking for him.

Seeing him standing on the wrong side of his balcony, holding on, but just barely, like it was an afterthought... I never would've pegged Daniel for the type; I mean, what's he got to kill himself over? I tried to sound casual, like the professional crises-dealer I'm supposed to be, but everything reasonable and reassuring that I should've said, completely escaped me at that moment. Knowing all he had to do was let go and there'd be no way I could reach him in time; all I could think about was grabbing him and holding him and never letting him go.

"You don't even know what I'm talking about."

I didn't have a fucking clue what he was talking about, but I would've said anything to get him off that balcony. Then something clicked, I'll probably never know what, and he seemed to come to and realize how precarious his position was. He managed to hang on long enough for me to drag him over the railing and back into the apartment, but he was a conversational null. I kept talking, trying to keep him with me as I wrestled him out of those see-through pajama bottoms of his and into the BDUs he left the base in last night, but he just stared straight ahead, silent tears streaming down his face. Usually, when you ask him a question about any of his doodads and knickknacks, he won't shut up, but the one time I actually wanted him chattering my ear off, I got nothin'.

"C'mon, Daniel, stay with me..."

His eyes were still open as we staggered to his elevator, but he was nothing but dead weight by the time we got to my truck. He passed out before I'd driven two blocks and no amount of shouting would bring him around. "Aw, Danny, please don't do this to me..."

Fraiser met me at the gate with a pair of orderlies and a gurney, which was a good thing; Daniel's no lightweight, and I wasn't sure how much longer my knees were gonna hold out. Then machines and wires happened and beeping, and all I kept thinking about was, why would he do something like this?

*****

Teal'c and I are in the gateroom, all decked out in our biohazard gear, and the Colonel's not far behind us. It's the first chance I've had to talk to Teal'c alone since the Colonel brought Daniel back in. "We've got to tell him, Teal'c. If Daniel dies--"

"We can do nothing to prolong Daniel Jackson's life, other than what we are doing, Major Carter. We must go to the planet and find the shadow I discovered on the tape, and to measure for all things that might have caused Daniel Jackson and SG-5 to sicken. If we tell O'Neill that it is his mate who is in the infirmary dying, do we not further incapacitate him with his own emotions?"

"What are you saying? Ignorance is bliss?"

"In this instance, ignorance will allow O'Neill to function unencumbered by the guilt he will most certainly feel for having forgotten his feelings for Daniel Jackson, and for the anger he will undoubtedly feel toward us for our part in the deception. Would you give him all of that now, when he has no way to respond to it?"

I should probably be concerned that Teal'c's grasp of the situation is more logical than mine, but there's no time for anything other than a nod of agreement before the Colonel joins us, zipped carefully into his hazmat suit, and we move out.

*****
I was only back on Earth for a couple of hours when I started to lose it, tearing Fraiser a new one and banging up the place. Apparently, it's the same thing that Daniel and SG-5 have-- had. Doc said the last member of SG-5 died a couple of hours ago, and Daniel's sinking fast.

So, Daniel, me, the kid on the planet, and probably Teal'c and Carter, too, since Hammond says they're not answering the phone, are all addicted to something on that damned planet. Fraiser's pulled my blood and run all of her tests, and now she's reciting some gobbledy-gook I can't really pay much attention to, for all the weird shit that's suddenly in my head. This is a real bad time for me to be fantasizing about me and Daniel, I can tell ya that. Double X-rated stuff that would've fueled my jerk-off fantasies for months.

"...his EEG's sporadic"? What the hell did that mean? This whole mission's fucked up right outta the gate. So, back to the planet it is. I grabbed my jacket and vest and tried to take note of the instructions the Doc was hammering into me while they got him ready and started wheeling him down to the gate room. Christ, they even had two nurses wrangling his boots on, for cryin' out loud. He's unconscious; does he really need boots? Send you his vital signs, yadda, yadda, yeah, sure. Roger that.

The plan was to push Daniel through the wormhole on the gurney, but when the heart monitor they had him on stopped making the friendly beeping sound and switched to the flat tone, I completely lost all good sense, threw him over my shoulder, and started running up the ramp.

The landing on the other side isn't so graceful, but that's the least of my problems, since he's not fucking BREATHING! "Daniel... Daniel." I slap at his face, willing him to breathe, move, something. "Come on, come ON. Dammit. Daniel. Let's go, come on. CARTER! TEAL'C!" When the kid comes around the corner, I figure he's gotta know where they are. "Where are my friends?"

"With the light."

"Get 'em for me, will ya?"

"They won't come."

"Well, TRY!" The kid jumps and runs away, but he's probably right; they're mesmerized by that damned light. Carter usually does all the medical stuff, but Daniel can't wait. I close my eyes to try to remember how to do this; if I remember it wrong, I could kill him. ABC, I chant to myself-- Airway, Breathing, Circulation.

I tilt his chin up and start the breathing/compression cycle, then lean over to listen. There's a small sound, like a slow leak, but that's it. "Aw, don't do this to me... breathe, damn you!" I run another cycle --god, I hope I'm doing this right-- then stop to listen again.

Nothing. Not even the escaping air sound this time.

I go at it again, hard enough to snap a rib, letting my fear and anger drive me. I'm not losing you, not after everything we've been through! I start the process again, but go instantly still when I think I hear chest sounds. It must've been some autonomic thingy, because whatever it was I thought I heard, it's gone again. Halfway through the next cycle, he gasps once, but I keep going in case it was a fluke. Not taking any chances.

Before I can pull away to listen at the end of the cycle, his tongue's in my mouth and suddenly it's kissing, not CPR. Startled, I start to pull away, then his arms come around me like some kind of octopus, and suddenly we're wrestling and kissing. I'm stronger, because he was, well... dead. I push him away more assertively, and I see his eyes are squeezed shut, and he's crying.

"It's okay," I tell him, breathless from the workout. I don't remember everything Fraiser told me, but I remember enough to know that we're dead without the damned light. "Just take it easy, we're back on the planet with the palace. Gimme a minute, and I'll take you back for another hit off the light."

He pulls away, stronger than I gave him credit for, and rolls away from me onto his side into a tight ball. His sobs are deep and low. "Please... lemme die."

For some reason, the plea hits me harder than finding him on the balcony, or showing up here flatlined, and I stagger back onto my butt with the force of hearing it. I touch my lips with shaking fingers, and it's almost like I can feel his tongue still probing my mouth with delirious intent--

Oh, god... not a fantasy.

The memory of him. Of us. Of what we were...are...to each other slams into me. The taste of his mouth, the feel of his tongue, both so familiar, so much a part of me-- I don't know how I could possibly have forgotten.

I rub his hip, more for my own reassurance than his, I guess, and the familiar handhold is there. My fingers are certain of the topography, and I have held Daniel this way with self-assurance and skill; I know this in the depth of my soul.

I close my eyes, hoping for a rush of sweet memories, but nothing comes. Only the sound of his voice, 'Please...' begging for more or harder or faster, and the only thing I'm really sure of is that I wanted this, needed it. I asked for their help remembering, in case Thor and his buddy vacuumed it all out.

He seems to be okay for now. I think he's stopped crying, so it's probably safe to go in search of the others. "You wait here, baby. I'll be right back."

Loren's standing outside the light room, wringing his hands. "I'm not allowed to go in there."

"Oh, for god's sake." And there they are, their eyeballs glued to the damned light fixture. "Carter!" I grab her and give her a shake. "Carter, wake up."

"You're back, sir. When?

"Teal'c?" I give him a good thump on the arm. "Teal'c! Come on. Yeah, come on out of here right now." They follow me out into the main room, where Daniel's sitting with his head down on his folded arms.

"Daniel Jackson."

I take a seat beside him on the steps, staking my claim. "Yep. Had to bring him back; it was the only thing gonna keep him alive."

"Daniel, you okay?"

Daniel raises his head, spares me a quick glare, then addresses Carter. "Yeah, Sam, I'm fine. You guys okay?"

"We have not left the planet, Daniel Jackson, and have therefore not felt any ill effects."

"So," I say jovially, rubbing my hands together in forced glee. "Now that we're all here, and we're all fine, maybe one of you'd like to tell me why it is that nobody told me, when I gave specific orders that somebody should TELL ME!"

I'm looking straight at Daniel, but he just continues to glare at me. Then I share the love. "Anybody?"

*****

This would not have been how I wanted Jack to find out we'd kept stuff from him. "Why didn't you tell me?" he yells at Sam. "You gave me your word as an officer!"

Sam straightens, frowning just a little. "Daniel asked me not to. Since you couldn't remember, your career could be salvaged and--"

"And you listened to him!?"

"Not at first, no," she admits cautiously. She continues with some annoyance, "And besides, you asked for my word, but I never actually gave it to you." She straightens her shoulders and levels a stern gaze in Jack's direction, packing some indignant outrage of her own. "And I don't really think, 'be sure to remind me of the illegal affair I'm having with my male civilian subordinate' counts as a legal order. Sir."

Good for you, Sam. "It's not her fault, Jack--"

But Jack waves me off. "Touché, Major." He turns his headlights on Teal'c. "What about you? Any confusion about the whole 'I want your word' thing?"

"Indeed not, O'Neill. I understood fully what your intensions were in requesting such notification."

"Yeah? So how come you didn't? You were supposed to be my best man!"

Teal'c doesn't intimidate easily and calmly replies, "Daniel Jackson did, in fact, make a compelling case for our agreeing to the deception."

"Oh, for cryin' out loud, I ask for a simple favor--

"Can I just--"

"Keep in mind, sir--"

"... as a dying wish--"

"Am I still in the room?"

"Indeed you are, Daniel Jackson."

"Shut up, Daniel."

"What--?"

"Shut UP Daniel!"

Where have I heard that before? "Okay, y'know what? Fuck you. I'm outta here." I head outside, to put as much distance as possible between me and the yelling. It's cold and gray and damp, and I don't seem to have a jacket. My teeth are chattering, but I'm determined, and I make it most of the way to the second statue before Jack catches up to me. Idiot. Sam probably made him come.

"I'm not talking to you," I announce over my shoulder. I'm nothing if not proactive.

"Dammit, Daniel, what the hell did I do?"

"You didn't remember."

"Hey! I remembered eventually! I should get partial credit!"

"Want me to see if Hammond's got a medal he can give you for that?"

"How about you start with why the hell you're pissed off at me?"

"What, did you think I'd just fall into your arms?"

"Well... yeah."

I don't bother to hide my distain. "Sorry to disappoint."

"Y'know, I'm not really getting why you're even allowed to be pissed off; I was the one who was lied to--"

"Lied to? You think I set out to get dumped?"

"Dumped. What?"

"Just forget it." I stop at the base of the enormous statue and look up, amazed at the perfection of the structure. There are no signs of erosion from the elements at all, almost as though they were erected yesterday. I fold my arms across my chest to still the shivering. "Y'know, without my glasses, these kind of looked like giant stone sphinxes with big, fat, protruding lips, but when you get closer, it's easy to see they're a kind of raven-lion creature with a human guard standing between it's great paws. I'd started to translate a part of one of the columns in the palace, which described them as warning totems which--"

Suddenly, Jack grabs my shoulders and spins me, slamming me back against the rough-hewn stone paw. "Do you understand just how close you came to buying the farm on that balcony?"

He's frowning and growling, and frankly, I've had enough of his indignant fury to last a lifetime. "Not close enough, apparently!"

"What?"

I'm struggling to push him off, but I'm leaning back past my center of gravity, and I can't get any leverage. "You should've let me jump," I manage through gritted teeth.

His eyes go wide; he's shocked, but not enough to let me go. "God, Daniel, are you tryin' to kill me?"

"Let me GO!" I order through clenched teeth. Having him this close to me, touching me, bathing my face with his breath, when he clearly pushed me away just a few minutes ago in the palace gateroom, is too torturous to take. How many times does he get to reject me?

He could kill me with his bare hands, easily, in any one of a dozen ways, and it would all be over. "Just let me go!" I continue to struggle, hoping he'll act on instinct and put me out of my misery, as I shift my weight to my left leg, delivering my right knee to his groin with as much force as I can.

But he presses the full length of his body to mine and deflects the blow easily. "NO! Not until you explain to me what the hell's wrong with you. You're acting like a... a--" He stops suddenly, hands clamped onto my biceps, squinting hard as though he's trying to remember. "Depression. Anxiety," he mutters. "Uh, neurological... thingys. Addiction. Withdrawal. Withdrawal!" He heaves me bodily off the statue, his expression intense as he shouts right in my face. "We need to get back to the palace RIGHT NOW. My back's killing me, and I think I broke both my damned knees gettin' your heavy ass back here; don't make me carry you again," he amends, eyes narrowed in warning, granting no quarter.

I yank my arms free of his bruising grip and stomp toward the palace, with Jack right behind me. When we get there, I see the gate's been activated, and Sam's talking to the General. At least it's warm in there.

"He's right here, General." She turns to me. "Janet called in, wanting to know your status."

She steps aside, and I take the mike, rubbing my freezing arm with my free hand. "General Hammond. I-um, don't really remember much after yelling at you. Sorry about that, by the way."

"That's all right, son. We're just glad you're all right; we thought we'd lost you. How're you feeling?"

"Actually, sir, I was feeling pretty bad out there with the statues--" I look over my shoulder to Jack, who nods agreement. I make room for him beside me.

"Better now, though, right?" he asks me.

Oddly, I'm not just warmer, I'm feeling more calm, too. "Ye-ah, why is that?"

"Because we're addicted to something here inside the palace," Jack theorizes, "not just on the planet." He turns to Sam, jamming a finger over her head at the light room just beyond. "It's gotta be that god damned light! Carter, get in there and figure out how to shut it the hell off!"

"We're approaching our thirty-eight minute window, people," Hammond says evenly. "Is there anything you need?"

"Glasses," I tell him, since I still have the mike. Sam pokes me, and I relay, "Um, food and supplies. And my coat. Looks like we're gonna be here for a while. Oh! And that little remote computer thing I couldn't make work before."

*****

So, Carter's dialed the gizmo down a second notch, and we're none the worse for wear. Loren seems to feel better for having spilled his guts, Teal'c's happily back on Earth, the lucky bastard, and we've sorted out the supplies the SGC sent. Carter, Daniel, the kid and I are apparently guests in a Goa'uld opium den for the next three weeks. The kid's glad for the company and is peppering all of us with nonstop questions about Earth. We've kinda gotten into the habit of taking in foundlings and orphans over the years, but what are ya gonna do? We can't just leave him here. Wonder if Janet-- nah, she's got her hands full already.

So. Three long, awkward weeks ahead of me, of watching Daniel translate column after column after column of Goa'uld script, knowing we used to be lovers, once upon a not really all that long ago, and for some reason I don't understand, we aren't anymore.

Well, I know I can't do that. I can't just... leave it this way. Somehow, I've got to try to put my life back together. Our lives.

"Daniel? You got a minute?" I see his shoulders sag visibly. Not very encouraging, if ya ask me.

"Yeah. I was, um, wondering when we were gonna have 'the talk'."

"There has to be talking?" I wince as I step fully into the room and shut the door behind me.

He shrugs and moves toward one of the windows all the rooms in this wing of the palace have. The place is built like a fortress, the walls fifteen inches thick, the windows are four feet tall and kinda pointy at the top, like a medieval castle. The lighting in the place reminds me of this bar I used to go to in San Francisco back in the seventies...

He's facing away from me with his hands crammed into his pockets, and he doesn't look all that much less depressed than he was a couple of hours ago, but Carter assures me that everything is working A-okay, light-wise.

I don't even know where to begin. I stand in the middle of the room Daniel's picked out as his for the duration, and I don't know what to say to him.

"Nothing has to change," he says softly.

"What?"

"Actually, to be more precise, nothing can change."

I sigh wearily and let my chin fall to my chest. "Daniel, it's been a rough day. Y'think we can dispense with the riddles, just this once?"

He turns then, and when I glance up, his expression is soft, open, so that's a good start, anyway. I think. "After Thor returned you to us, and Janet finished running her tests, we all met in the briefing room, do you remember?"

I drag a chair over and straddle it backwards, trying to get off my feet and rest my aching knees. My body may never forgive me for the abuse I put it through these last twelve hours. "Yeah. So?"

He alternates between looking at his feet and making fleeting little bits of eye contact, trying to read me without giving anything of himself away. "You sat there, all eager and excited, telling the General how ready you were to get back to work. Each one of us dropped hints, Jack, big ones, even Hammond. You didn't even blink."

"Daniel, what part of 'brain damaged' do you not get?"

He's irritated now, the sadly patient expression betraying how my actions have hurt him. "That's not the point," he snaps. "What the hell was I supposed to say, sorry, Jack, screw your career and your reputation, because it's more important that you're screwing me?"

"Hell, yeah!"

Daniel huffs, shaking his head, pushing his hands deeper into his pockets and his emotions with 'em. One day, I'm gonna have the base laundry sew all those pockets closed; maybe then he'll stop thinking he has to hide everything he feels.

"I couldn't take that away from you." It's a pronouncement, more than anything else.

"Daniel, will you stop being so fuckin'... noble... and just listen to me for once? I didn't remember us. I'm sorry as hell, but you can't tell me you're taking that personally! The way I saw it, the SGC had two options-- put me back into the field, or send me to a Quonset hut with bars on the doors and windows, in some remote corner of Area 51. Period. My primary goal was to not get sidelined--"

He crosses his arms over his chest, closing himself off even further. "I see."

This is so not going well. "No, you don't see, because you didn't let me finish. I couldn't afford to get sidelined. I needed to be able to keep on goin' through the gate. To keep an eye on you, keep you out of trouble." I swing up out of the chair and approach him, lowering my voice as I get closer. "Do you have any idea how long I've had a rather dangerous, not to mention unbecoming, soft spot for you?"

"Trouble? Soft spot?" He blinks a few times really fast. "Like for a homeless and wayward puppy?"

"You're bound and determined to make me pay for this, aren't ya?" The chin-tilt thingy he does confirms that. He can be a real bitch when he wants to be; I do remember that much.

"Well, I'm sorry, Daniel, that I didn't remember us after my four-day, alien brain surgery, but the minute you kissed me out there," I indicate with one thumb pointed over my shoulder, "on the floor of the gate room, I sure as hell wised up, didn't I?" I'm standing about two feet away from him at this point, actively resisting the urge to shove him right up against the wall and kiss him stupid.

He smirks a little at the joke, though, and I'm hoping that's a good sign. "Doesn't matter. Nothing can change from the way things are now, Jack. After the briefing, I talked to Hammond. He'll look the other way, as long as we steer clear of each other." He looks at me with eyes that have lived the sadness and accepted it. "It's over."

"I don't want that, and neither do you!" He winces, and for half a second, I regret bellowing at the top of my lungs.

"Please don't make this any harder than it has to be. It hasn't exactly been--" He stops himself just in time, and I'm not sure what I'm seeing in his eyes.

He looks away and shrugs, so I finish it for him. "Easy? To what? Get over me?" He turns back toward the window again as he wraps his arms around himself even tighter and hangs his head.

"God DAMN it!" I holler. "This isn't my fucking fault!"

"It's nobody's fault, Jack, it's just the way things are. The way they have to be." He's not bellowing, but he's never been a shrinking violet and he's letting me have it, but good. "I'm not sorry I outted us, because you'd have been dead without Loki, but I am sorry you had to get stuck here with me this way. I promise I'll try to stay out of your way--"

"NO! You listen here!" I'm bellowing again, and I don't care. Sometimes it's the only way to get through to him, and I simply don't dare to touch him. "I may not remember many of the details, but I do know this-- you and I were damn good together, and this... so-called solution of yours sucks ass!"

"Eloquent, as usual, Jack," he mutters to the window. But his curiosity's got the better of him, and he turns a little to the side, speaking to me over his shoulder. "How much do you remember?"

Thank god for his inquiring mind, the one that can't leave an enigma alone. Maybe I can offer the mystery of my broken brain to keep him interested until I can win him over again with my legendary charm. "Bits and pieces," I shrug, "I remember Gilligan's Planet. And asking Carter and Teal'c to tell me about us if something went wrong. Because when doesn't something go wrong? I remember I didn't ask you to tell me, because I knew you'd pull some crap like this."

He's frowning, now. "Like what?"

"Oh, like believing you're not as important as the Air Force," I snap, "which is totally screwed up! I've given them way too many years of my life as it is, pretending to be someone I'm not, and now that damn Ancient headsucker's taken most of my memories of you and me..."

I plunk down heavily on the end of his bunk to ride this out; it's all I can do at this point, since he's closed himself off; it's what he does when he's hurting. I don't blame him, I guess. Elbows on my knees, I lean forward, trying not to crowd him with my body language or stare, hoping he'll feel safe enough to close the gap between us himself. Hoping he'll want to.

"You don't remember... any of it?" he asks softly.

Hardly anything, but damn it, I don't want to hurt him any more than I already have. "I knew there was someone... in my life. In my bed. That first day they let me go home, I found... y'know... stuff." I'm busying myself with the fascinating flap on my watch, and I'm hoping he'll just... go with it and not make me spell it all out.

"Stuff?"

D'oh! "Yeah, some clothes and hair conditioner and this really hot blue jock and... other things," I finish, mumbling.

I glance up, and he's smirking. "Y'mean Big Jon?"

I'm horrified, and he's about to giggle. "You named it?"

"No," he chuckles, crossing his arms. "You did. We got one of those clone-a-willy kits, and you--"

"No." I've already closed my eyes; please, I beg silently, don't make me start singing. "No, no, no."

"Oh, yes. It's a clone of your dick."

"That's... just..." Embarrassing. Humiliating. Obnoxious.

"Hot?"

I swallow hard, and I hope it wasn't really as loud as it sounded as I'm strangling on my own spit here. "Yeah, kinda."

He snorts softly and sits beside me on the bed. This close, his scent's achingly familiar, and I'm having a hard time keeping my hands to myself. I want to hug and squeeze and stroke and pet him, and I can't tell if any of this talking is making any difference at all, if he'll ever welcome my touch again. I feel like part of me's died, knowing I used to have the freedom to relate to him in all the familiar ways lovers do, and that's gone now.

He ruffles the hair at the back of his neck, a nervous gesture he's had as long as I've known him. "Um... Sunday afternoons, usually."

"Ah," I nod knowingly. Who am I kidding? I don't get it. "Um, what about 'em?"

He's trying not to smile, but the memory obviously pleases him, and he can't help himself. "Well... after we'd spend all morning... y'know... and you were still horny but out for the count, you'd get me to put on the blue jock, and then you'd tie my hands to the bedposts and use Big Jon to--"

"Oh, Jesus..." I may actually be panting.

"Yeah." He nods. "His name actually came up a few times."

"We were--?"

"Busy? Oh, yeah." He's nodding emphatically, now.

"Shit." I feel like crap. Less than crap. "I got rid of all of it. I didn't know, Daniel, I swear, or I would've--"

"Would've?"

I look over at him, and this time he doesn't look away. "We wouldn't be sitting here now, we'd be-- I dunno, vacationing on the Riviera or something."

He looks away, then, down at his hands. He's worrying a torn cuticle that's gonna bleed if he doesn't leave it alone. "What are you saying?" he asks softly.

What does he want? A proposal? I never even proposed to Sara, not really. Just kinda shoved a ring box at her. I get the feeling there's a right answer here, and not comin' up with it is gonna cost me big. I want whatever we had together back, but I don't know what that was. How am I supposed to know what he wants? Was he happy with the way we were? Was it enough for him?

I take a chance and take his hand in mine, intertwining our fingers, stilling the cuticle assault before blood loss can begin. "You matter. We matter." Since he hasn't jerked his hand away, I escalate and squeeze it a little. Let my thumb stroke his knuckle. His hand's not huge, but the fingers are long and tapered, the nails short and well cared for, and I imagine him using those hands on me. I wish I could remember what it felt like.

"This has gone on long enough, Danny. I've lost a lot of memories with this stupid brain thingy, memories that were important to me, like... Sundays, for cryin' out loud." I pause, breathing deep, searching for what to say, something that'll be enough, anything, everything. I sidle my ass a little closer to him, which he allows. "Let me buy you another blue jock, a whole drawer full of 'em in every color." I squeeze his hand again, somehow trying to push every ounce of my own conviction into him, right through his pores. "Make new memories with me."

He looks at our hands where they lay clasped together, and I can feel the weight of his decision as he tries to determine if I'm worth taking another chance on. "You're going to lie to Hammond?"

My heart actually jumps in my chest, something I haven't felt, or don't remember feeling, for a long time. "No. No more lies. When we get sprung from here, I'm gonna tell him the truth, that I've found something --someone-- I can't live without. He can decide how he wants to play it from there."

I can't tell if that's what Daniel wanted to hear or not, so I keep going, letting the words free, hoping they won't work against me. "I don't want to hide anymore, Danny. I looked at all that stuff, the clothes, the lube, your fucking blue toothbrush, and it killed me to know that I had that kind of intimacy with someone--" my voice breaks, but if I don't say this now, I'll lose my nerve and then I will lose him. I lower my voice to a whisper and push on, "It tore me up that I couldn't remember who it was. I never would've dared to hope..."

But he's not moving. His expression is still carefully neutral, and he won't meet my eyes. It's not enough. Whatever it was he was waiting to hear, this wasn't it. He hasn't moved a muscle, and yet I can feel him pulling away from me; I don't know what to do, how to get him back, and I'm desperate now.

"If you're done with me, if you've gotten over us..." Fuck... Makes me sick to my stomach just thinking I could be this close and still lose him, simply because I don't know what words will reach him. "Whatever you decide about us... I've spent the majority of my life living a lie, and I'm tired of it. If they want me, they'll have to deal with it."

"You're going to give the Air Force an ultimatum?"

I hate that he won't look at me, won't let me see his eyes. "I don't have any delusions that I'm important enough to them as all that. Hammond'll probably laugh in my face before he kicks me the hell to the curb. But I want you to know that you're not last, and not second best, and that you're not less important."

He pulls his hand away, gets up slowly, and moves back to the window, arms wrapped tightly around himself as he stares out into the darkness. The silence grows legs, and I've run out of things to say.

"There wasn't this much talking last time," he says quietly.

"I--" These abrupt left turns are killing me. "Last time? What?"

"We kinda fell into it and things just... happened between us. That's why there needs to be talking this time."

"This time?" Okay, that sounds promising, like he's waiting for me to say the magic word, like he's hoping for it. If I only knew what it was. "Sweet. How come?"

"Because it's not just two guys having secret, convenient sex anymore, Jack. They all know we were doing it."

"Ye-ah... Aaaaand?"

"And... that makes it different. Even if we both resign from the SGC the minute we get back, everything's already changed."

What the hell's he talking about? Can I get a program, here? "And that's bad? If it wasn't any good--"

"No, it was fine."

"Just... 'fine'?"

He waves it away. "The sex was great; that's not the point."

"It seems like a pretty important point," I argue. He doesn't answer, and I know I'm losing him; I can feel the gap between us spreading wider by the second. If this keeps up, it'll swallow me for sure. "Weren't we happy together?" I ask desperately.

"We were," he says softly. "I was."

"Then--?" I'm so frustrated, I could shoot something. I don't know what he wants. I couldn't play these games when I had a whole brain; I don't stand a chance in hell now. Despite my earlier decision not to touch him until he was ready, I know I've run down the clock, and I'm fresh out of ideas. Time to escalate, go for broke. I come up behind him, taking him gently by the shoulders and whisper into his hair, "You know I love you, right?"

There's a sharp intake of breath, and before I know what's hit me, he's turned and we're kissing. Two steps forward, his back's to the wall, and I'm pressed up against him. The full body contact is firing neurons or photons or something, and memories are flooding in and --holy shit-- I remember the feel of him in my arms. "Yes. God, yes." The joy of it explodes somewhere inside me, and I can't get enough of him.

His beard's scraping me everywhere, my cheeks, under my lip and --oh, fuck-- my neck, sending shivers straight down to my dick. I say it again as his teeth find my earlobe, because it is the magic word. "I love you... God, I love you." I may never stop saying it.

*****

Jack's body's hard against me, hot and alive where he covers me, in sharp contrast to the cold stone wall at my back. It's familiar and right, and he remembers he loves me!

"Love you, too. God, Jack--" I kiss him again, deeply searching his mouth's familiar landmarks, and I suck on his tongue when he offers it. There's so much I need to tell him, things I need him to know. "I didn't realize until that last day, until you said you loved me, that it had already become more to me," I pant, desperate for air, but not willing to stop kissing along his jaw, his throat. "And then when I came home, and I couldn't find you..."

I pull back just a bit and stare into his eyes. "I want it to mean more than just sex." It's presumptuous of me and I know it. But it's what I need now; what I want for us.

I don't know what I'll do if he doesn't want the same thing.

"It does. God, Danny..." He takes my face in his hands, and his eyes are urgent and sad. "It's everything." Then he pulls me close, and I can feel his heart pounding against my chest as his arms crush me. "Don't ever let me forget this, baby. No matter what." He pulls away again, squeezing my arms painfully, and he's frowning, angry for the lost time and the nearly lost opportunity as he shakes me a little for emphasis. "Promise me," he growls.

I needn't have worried. "I do. I-I promise."

*****

"The yelling's stopped," Loren observes helpfully.

We're in what I take to be the dining hall, with the Monopoly game from VIP-4 spread out between us on one of the long marble tables. The General sent us a crate full of entertainment stuff, and snacks to help while away the time we're stuck here; not surprisingly, Loren wanted to try all of it immediately. I pop another fudge-covered Oreo into my mouth and roll the dice.

Still, even this far away from the sleeping quarters, their angry voices drifted out occasionally. I haven't heard any sounds of discharged weapons, or breaking furniture, so I figure that means they're both still alive. Sill, the silence is deafening, now that the yelling's stopped.

The Chance cards are always kind to me. "Take a ride on the Reading," I read to the room at large, "if you pass Go, collect $200." I move the pewter racecar game piece across the board as Loren hands me the yellow bills. It figures I'd have to play offworld just to get to use the car; Teal'c is a stubborn man, and trust me when I tell you, a pouting Jaffa is a scary thing to behold.

"Do you think we should check to see if they're all right?" Loren asks, looking agitated.

How do I explain to this kid that's just the way they are, the way they've always been? That the fighting's probably foreplay? Judging from the picture of his parents he's shown me about a hundred times, he was pretty young when they died. My guess is he hasn't had the official 'Birds and the Bees' talk yet, but that is so not in my job description.

"No, Loren, I think they're probably fine. Your roll."

*****

When Daniel and the Colonel finally wander out late the next morning, probably driven out of Daniel's room only by sheer starvation, they make a valiant attempt not to glow. They fail spectacularly, of course, and probably don't even realize they're sitting too close together. I send Loren on an errand, so I can have a private word with them. "You guys utterly fail at discreet, y'know."

To my surprise, it's the Colonel who blushes as Daniel smirks into his coffee.

"Uh huh... o-kaaaay, well, with that little piece of TMI, I'll see you gents later."

"Where you goin'?" the Colonel asks, around a mouthful of Oreo.

"I'm gonna take a long soak in a black marble bathtub the size of New Zealand."

"You figured out the plumbing," the Colonel guesses as I start gathering up my stuff from the latest goodies the SGC has sent.

"Yep."

"I call dibs!" Daniel's actually looking hopeful that I'd give an inch about this.

"Drop dead, Daniel. I've spent the past two days keeping that kid amused, and I'm all Monopoly-ed out. It's your turn to baby-sit. The showers should work on the same principal, and I've left detailed instructions here." I toss them the tablet we were keeping score on and finish gathering up my stuff. "Janet sent me a bottle of bubble bath and three smutty books, and I'm gonna go have some private 'Major-time' all to myself." They're speechless. I wish I had Loren's camera.

Daniel raises a finger. "Um, I don't suppose you'd let--"

But I saw him comin' a mile away, and shout over my shoulder, "No, Daniel, you can't watch."

"Aww." On the other hand, Daniel has pouting down to an art form. It's probably a good thing Loren's stuck here with us, or I might just have let them watch. Would've served them both right.

As I slip down into the silky bubbles, all the way up to my chin, I'm glad this all happened when it did, before my infatuation with Jack had a chance to become something more. At least I won't waste any more of my time waiting for him to retire. Maybe when we get back, I'll put out a subtle word with a few people, let them know I'm in the market; it's about time I got a real life, one that doesn't need batteries.

*****

Later that evening, the Colonel wanders into the 'orgy room', the one with a six-foot fireplace at each end, furnished with velvet-covered divans of all colors. I can only imagine what must've gone on in here once upon a time "I'm gonna see if I can get Hammond to give you some kind of medal for meritorious service in the face of alien plumbing."

Smiling, I lean back in my chaise and fold the book closed, saving my place with a finger. "A tiny gold adjustable wrench with cluster?"

"That's exactly the one!"

"Thank you, sir, I'm sure my dad will want to zip right home to see you pin that one on me."

"I should hope so." Then he's digging through the boxes of paper towels and soap and bath tissue, mumbling something I can't quite hear.

"I'm sorry, sir, were you talking to me?"

He sighs deeply. "I said, I don't suppose Fraiser sent anything, y'know, addressed to me, did she?"

I've been waiting for this. "Y'mean something in a plain, brown wrapper?" I reach beside my chair and toss him a small package, which he catches easily. "I didn't want to leave a bottle of Astroglide and a box of condoms lying around for Loren to find and ask a lot of questions about. Just in case you hadn't gotten to that chapter yet in your discussion of the birds and the bees. And the stallions, of course."

"Ah," he winces. "Of course. And how thoughtful of you to tell him to ask me about that."

I don't even try to hold back the smirk. "Anytime, sir."

He turns the package over in his hands, then slips it into his pocket, unopened. He takes a perfunctory look around the room, carefully not looking directly at me. "Look, Carter... about all that--"

"That?"

"Daniel. And me."

"Oh. That that."

"Yeah..." He looks perfectly miserable. "I guess I should try to explain..."

I move the Snickers wrapper I've been using as a bookmark and fold my hands across my closed book, watching him expectantly. I've never seen him so nervous.

He clears his throat twice, just to get started. "Um, first of all, you should know that I, uh, I never set out to intentionally become... involved with him. It just kinda, y'know... well, one thing sorta led to another and-- Not that I'm apologizing for that, it's... he's... the best thing that's ever happened to me." He's pacing back and forth, still not looking at me, his hands moving nervously, first into his pockets, then fluttering about as they wave a non-explanation toward me as he stops to clear his throat once again. "What I mean is, I should --I do, I really do-- apologize to you for the other stuff. The being, y'know, less than Colonel-like, and all the ah--" He clears his throat yet again. "Flirting. And such."

He looks wretched and contrite, and I decide to put a stop to his confession before I start to feel sorry for him. "Oh, save it, Jack."

He's brought up short. "Wha-Jack?"

I set my book on the table beside me and get up to fix myself another cup of tea from the pot on the sideboard, not sparing him a glance. "We went through all that on the planet Thor found for you, remember?"

"We did?"

I turn to face him, absently stirring my tea. "You're trying to tell me you don't remember me decking you?"

"You-- you what?"

I tilt my head, as if I'm appraising him carefully. "Y'know, that's about the same look you gave me right after I busted you in the mouth for all the Zartac bullshit." I flex my right hand. "My knuckles were bruised for a week." The look on his face is priceless. Serves him right. I sip the tea and take it back to my chaise to make myself comfortable. I can feel his eyes following me every step of the way, confusion bubbling up all around him. Surprisingly, getting one up on him like this was even more satisfying than actually kicking his ass would've been.

"Carter..."

"Just make him happy, and we'll call it square. That work for you, Colonel?"

There's a quirk of a smile at the corner of his lips that says he gets it. "That works just fine, Major." As he passes behind me, there's a gentle squeeze on my shoulder. "As you were."

*****

We're scheduled to go home tomorrow. Sam's gonna turn the device back to the last notch tonight, and then we'll pack everything up and put paid to Jack's 'palace by the beach'. It's been an interesting three weeks.

I've barely scratched the surface translating the writing on the columns. There's enough text here to keep me busy for months. I've been thinking it'd be great practice for Nyan, maybe rotate all my people through for a couple of days each. Part R&R, part Goa'uld 101. I haven't come up with anything earth shattering, but you never know what could be around the next pillar. Of course, once we get back, and Jack has his talk with Hammond, they might not even be my people anymore, so we'll have to wait and see how that goes.

Jack got bored pretty quickly of the game selection the SGC sent, so he put in a request for bats and gloves and balls of all description. He and Loren turned the gateroom into a basketball court for a while, and then when the sticks showed up, they even played a bastardized form of street hockey, which looked more like shuffleboard to me, using the inlaid designs on the floor as goals. It was worth the racket they made just to see Jack on inline skates-- poetry in motion.

A couple of times, he dragged Sam and I into the fray, and the four of us played baseball using a fifty-foot stone Moai as home base; probably not what the indigenous population had in mind when they carved the great stone figures, but then Jack's not really known for his reverence for the beliefs and ceremonies of alien cultures.

Last week, Jack even talked Hammond into letting Teal'c come back for an afternoon of touch football. Jack wants Loren to have exposure to all the major American sports, so he won't be labeled a geek. I hope Jack doesn't plan on keeping him; it sure would put a crimp in things to have a kid around the house...

Thanks to Janet, Jack and I have already made some new memories. It's not every couple who gets two first times, and we've spent hours getting to know each other all over again. I took him slowly and gently this time, and we made love as a celebration of our future together, and not in the shadow of a horrific death sentence. I've never felt closer to him.

As I rolled on the condom, though, I had a moment of sheer panic when it looked like he was going to question it. After all, we'd done it raw on Gilligan's Planet, and we were weeks away from any kind of medical exam. I waited for him to say it, to ask, but he evidently thought better of it and pulled me down to cover his body with my own, and I kissed him gratefully. If he ever does ask, I'll have to tell him, of course; anonymous blowjobs are low-risk, but not no-risk, and I won't take that chance with him, not just to save face.

But if he's willing to let it go, I have no desire to relive my little bout of stupidity in Denver. To have been that desperate, to think I could purge Jack from my heart and soul with a poor stand-in that way, is purely humiliating, and under the circumstances, I was lucky the experience didn't kill me. The shame of the act was apparently more than my withdrawal induced paranoia and depression could handle, and remembering what I'd done the night before with a total stranger drove me out onto the ledge of my balcony, seeking blessed oblivion. If Jack hadn't come by when he did, hadn't been able to get through to me...

It frightens me how hard I tried to stop loving him. I realize now just how impossible that is; he's too much a part of me.

I guess we'll know by this time tomorrow how General Hammond's going to handle the fact that Jack and I are together again. I'm nervous, but incredibly proud that Jack's not going to hide us, that he's sure enough of us to be willing to take a stand this way. God, I love him. But perhaps more astonishing than that, I know he loves me. And our friends know and support us, and maybe that's the most surprising thing of all.

*****

Hammond didn't care.

Well, it wasn't that he didn't care, exactly, but since the NID wasn't watching his every move like they were just before Bauer bulldozed in here, and which, coincidentally, left Hammond in a sweet little autonomous place, by the way, he seemed willing to leave it up to the four of us to see if we could make it work. We're taking it one mission at a time, but so far, so good. Turns out Daniel and I argue just as much as we did before we were living together. No big announcements were made; we just took a long weekend and quietly moved him out of the apartment he never really lived in anyway and moved him in with me, where he belongs.

Team nights are a lot more interesting now, since Carter finally loosened up and started bringing that Pete guy along. He's an A-OK guy, once ya get to know him, a lot more fun than that stuffy Faxon spud. And, to be fair, Carter only had to take the three of us aside once to remind us we were being a tad overprotective. Mostly Daniel, now that I think on it. But hey, we all just wanted Shanahan to know he better treat Carter right, or, y'know, else.

And Teal'c found a Star Wars buddy down in the Armory, um, Lucy, I think, which was good for a few chuckles. Lieutenant Ben Lucy. They've got an ebony and ivory thing goin' on, they were made for each other-- intense, competitive. You should see 'em spar. And on game night, Risk takes on a whole new meaning when they end up the last two on the board. One part talkin' shit, two parts posturin', side order of eyebrow just for good measure. Have I mentioned intense? Whew.

Tonight's just us, though, three years together, and still goin' strong. We don't count that little six-week hiatus where Danny was being all stupid and noble before the Pleasure Palace put us back on track. And thank god it did. I still can't remember a lot of what I lost in the brain dump, but we've more than made up for it, I think. Life's too uncertain in our line of work to waste time.

Last month we nearly blew ourselves up pushing a phony Goa'uld asteroid right through Earth, and just last week, we all narrowly missed being nuked to death by some Kelownan bozos when their fancy new bomb went haywire and jumped the track. Barely ringed out in time. Accidentally got that Jonas fella too, just cause he was standing right there. Not sure what we're gonna do with him, since there's no planet for him to go back to, but it's better we learned about the Naquadria's instability now, before the Pentagon got their greedy paws on it, and we blew our own planet up. When I think about how close we came to just gating there... But Carter wanted to take the newly repaired cargo ship on a shakedown cruise, and that --and Teal'c's quick reactions-- got us out in the nick of time. Incredible stroke of luck.

Or --and I'll never admit this to Daniel-- maybe someone up there's lookin' out for us.

I still can't make change for a dollar, but the team's in good shape, both Carter and T have gotten themselves a life, and Daniel and I are together in every single sense of the word. Pretty sweet, if ya ask me.

*****

Fuck, yeah, this is gonna be a good one.

He's breathing in shallow pants now, harsh and fast and desperate, like he's trying to hold it off, drag it out some more. But we've been screwing for nearly an hour, and maybe he can keep edging like this all damn night, but I need to fucking come.

I press him back into the pillows, giving me a greater angle of penetration, and I lean in, fucking him so thoroughly and so deeply, our bodies are virtually one. Seeing him spread open beneath me, so willing and needy, his dick nearly purple, and his shaved balls pulled so snugly into the cock ring that the skin's all shiny. Makes me wanna eat him alive.

I want to say something, tell him what loving him has given me, but all I can do is push up with my toes and sink further into his welcoming heat, letting out a groan that's more like a shuddering growl and hope he knows the act of loving him has taken all my words. He's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, and he's mine, and I will be forever grateful for that.

He knows what he does to me, knows I can only maintain control for so long, and when that breaks down, instinct takes over. No matter how loving and gentle I've tried to be up to that point, when it goes this long, eventually the lust makes it rough. He wants that, to see me lose control, says it makes him feel alive like nothing else, knowing he can reduce me to seething carnal need this way. He encourages the possessiveness of the act for his own reasons, which I cannot fault. It isn't possible to say no to him, anyway.

I bend to kiss him before pushing up on my arms for the final drive, and he grins, knowing it's come to the point where I can't string two words together. He flips the snap on the cock ring, and then we're both growling as he takes himself in hand.

He's watching me, taking in the way I move, the sounds I make as I love him. He says it's the best part. "Give it to me, baby, love watching you lose it, love doing this to you." My vision starts to gray at the edges, and I'm winded and desperate for air as the sensations begin to crest. I live for this man, the way he makes me feel when he gives himself to me this way.

His back arches, and he holds his breath as he comes, his ass clamping down on me in rhythmic waves, then he grabs me by my nape and pulls my head down for another brief kiss, a clash of teeth, as he offers his throat. It is that act --that gift-- that takes me over the edge, and as I gasp and suckle helplessly at his flesh, I empty my own offering into his body, feeling it slick the channel with each thrust. The sensations are almost more than I can bear, and yet I can't stop myself from just one more, and another after that.

My lungs are screaming as my body thrums with joy, and I'm wiped out.

How could I have been willing to walk away from this relationship? From this man who means more to me than my own life?

"You okay, there, Danny?" Jack chuckles beneath me.

I'd like to formulate a snarky response to this, but all I can manage is a gasping, "Fuck you."

More chuckling, bordering on outright hilarity, and the shaking is starting to get annoying. "Sweetheart, such language."

I arch my hips and thrust in again, tagging his gland one last time, making him hiss, and his dick lurches helplessly between us. "You were saying?"

His nostrils flare and he gives me a lopsided smirk. "Sorry, honey, don't remember." I growl and roll my hips again, which is slightly less threatening since I've started to go soft, and he groans, "Oh, yes, I remember now. Love you, baby..."

"That's better," I say smugly, starting to pull out. As endearments go, I've actually grown pretty fond of that one.

"No. Stay," he says, pushing at my elbows when I begin to shift off him. "Please."

"Uh uh. Too heavy."

"Just for a minute," he says, wrapping his arms around my neck to hold me in place. "This is the best part."

"Hah," I counter smugly. "You say that about all of it."

"It is. It's all the best," he whispers, his gaze more intense than I've ever seen it. "Just stay, will ya? Stay in there and just kiss me."

He crushes us together and offers his mouth, and I can do nothing but take some of my weight onto my forearms as I capture his lips with mine. He's right; it's sexy as hell, all this warm skin contact, his legs wrapped securely around me, knowing I'm still inside him...

He's everything to me. Everything.

-End-

Author's Note: Alpha and Beta thanks to Jude once again for her tireless attention to detail, and the usual apologies for my widespread semicolon manslaughter. All remaining mistakes are entirely my own.

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