Second Chances

 

First Published: Jan. 27th, 2005
Rating: PG
Pairing: Jack/Daniel
Word Count: 7,391

Summary:"No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow." A look at Jack O'Neill through the eyes of someone who has known him for a very long time.


My name is Angus James Carnegie. Those few who know me well call me Gus. Sixty-two years old, I'll be -- next May, and although I was born in bonnie Scotland, I've spent more than half my life here in the States. I'm happy to say that I've never lost my accent. I got my first break working for the National Trust at Falkland Place in Cupar, when I left school at the age of 15, then later I worked at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Over the next fifteen years, I worked in some of the finest gardens in Scotland and England, before emigrating to America when I was in my early thirties.

Originally I came over here to visit with my American Aunt Betsy, but fell in love with the place and, with her as my sponsor, I decided to file for citizenship. I still occasionally miss Edinburgh. There's no place like it for the wind, and the rain, the cheerful weather-beaten faces down the market, and the lukewarm beer down the local pub. Well okay, I don't miss that so much, but mostly I'm content to be right where I am. I'm a grounds man by trade, but these days I make a living as an odd-job man and gardener.

 

I work for a Colonel Jack O'Neill of the United States Air Force. Have done for the past 13 years. When he first hired me, he held the rank of major, and he was a fine looking young fellow, with a pretty little blonde wife and a bright-eyed son. I'd been earning my crust mowing lawns and doing yard work, and so after I was recommended by a mutual friend, he hired me to look after his yard when he was away on missions. Very particular about his roses, he was. The wife didn't seem to care much for roses, or for the wild meadow flowers along the edges of the lawn that he favored.

The boy -- Charlie was his name (and a good Scots name it is), he wasn't interested in the garden at all, as you might expect from a little whipper-snapper like that. He was high-spirited, always trampling the flowerbeds, but I could never get too cross with him. He was 'all boy', but such a polite little man. Minded his mother and respected his father. I heard him call the major 'sir' a few times. I liked that. Children ought to know their place. I find kids these days so rude and cheeky, but Charlie was a good boy.

I didn't really know any of them well back then, though. Came round twice a week for a few hours. Pretty much, I kept myself to myself. Mowed the grass and did a wee bit of weeding and pruning, helped the missus out with the heavier indoor repair work, when she needed me to. But mostly, the major took care of those chores himself when he was home.

It was a nice job. I enjoyed being left alone to get on with it. Been a gardener most of my adult life, I have. Worked for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth herself, for five years. I don't need someone telling me my business. The major never stepped on my toes. I liked that, too.

I saw and heard a lot in those early days. Couldn't help it, working right under the house's open windows and all.

There were problems, like in any family. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and then eventually he was a full bird, and it seemed like he was gone more than ever, sometimes for months at a time. The wife seemed to resent the time he spent away. The boy missed having his father around for Little League matches and PTA meetings, but he always sounded proud of what his father did for a living. They both were proud of him, but there was resentment there, too. It looked like nothing that couldn't be fixed though, at that point.

 

I wasn't there the day Charlie died in that terrible accident. Heard about it on the news that evening, and I can tell you, I was devastated. Couldn't bloody well believe it! Maybe it was foolish, but I felt almost like one of my own family had died.

The colonel had always been so careful about his gun, locking it up carefully in a gun cabinet after cleaning it. I remember having a chat with him one day about it while I helped him paint the ceiling in the den. See, I'm a bit nervous about guns but he said to me "Gus, guns don't kill people, *people* kill people." I guess that made sense at the time. Now though. . . well, let's just say I still hate guns. Poor bastard! Charlie dying the way he had, I thought it was going to be the end of him.

After the funeral, I still kept up with the garden, even though the colonel forgot to pay me for over a month. His head was a mess, poor man, so I made do. Didn't want to add to his worries. The missus came out a few times to chat with me, but as far as I knew, her husband never left the house for weeks. Saw him a few times through an upstairs window. I think it was his son's room; there were little airplanes on the blue curtains. He would stare out of the window, his face a blank mask, hair grown long around his face. He always peered up into the sky like he was looking for something.

I've never been married, never had kids. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose one. Don't want to imagine it, either. No one should have to bury his own child. There's something fundamentally wrong with that. I was raised to believe in an afterlife, and that death is only the beginning of our eternal spiritual life, but I don't think such platitudes would have meant a damned thing to Jack O'Neill or his wife right then.

One day, about three months after the boy's death, I was working at the front of the house, weeding the path, when a big black car drew up. Two Air Force officers got out and went into the house for a while.

A couple of hours later, the colonel came out and told me that he was going away soon. He told me that this time there was a good chance he wasn't coming back, and that his wife would be paying me from now on.

He cut his hair short again and started leaving the house early each morning. I was often arriving as he left. I guessed he'd been reactivated, though I would never come right out and ask. Other times, I heard them rowing, even when I was right at the bottom end of the yard. There was a whole lot of sadness in that house.

She finally moved out the day after he left on that mission. Went to stay with her dad, I understand. I was sad to see her go. Not because I was fond of her; actually I'd barely spoken to her the entire time I worked for them. No, it was because I always feel sad when a family breaks up. I don't think she blamed him for what happened, but he blamed himself enough for both of them.

Before she left, she told me that she was thinking of putting the house up for sale. I thought about maybe digging up his roses and taking them home with me. Didn't like the idea of someone neglecting them. They'd meant such a lot to him, you see, those roses had. There was even a white one called 'Charlie'. We were both very fond of that one. But I never did it. Never dug up his roses.

Good job, too!

 

I was pruning back the cherry tree when he came home after the mission. I was bloody glad to see him get out of his truck, I can tell you! Something was different about him. At first I assumed that it was the thrill of coming home from a mission he hadn't expected to survive. But as time went on, I could see that it was more than that. He seemed rejuvenated. I even saw him smile a few times. Wish I knew who, or what, had put that little smile on his face, but it didn't really matter, so long as it stayed there.

Over the next year, there were a lot of changes.

He bought himself a smaller house on the other side of town, closer to Cheyenne Mountain, where he worked, and the missus moved back into the big house. He gave me the choice of staying there or coming with him. Well, I was getting a bit older, and the new garden was smaller, which was as good an excuse as any. So, I recommended a friend of mine to the missus. Far as I know, he still works for her.

Right after the move, he retired from the Air Force with the rank of full bird colonel. I don't know what he did for a living as a civilian, as he never saw fit to tell me, but he still left the house early each morning, and I still got paid regularly, so I didn't much care. I helped him to build a platform on his roof, and he put a telescope up there. I asked him once what he looked at. Don't much care for stargazing myself, and I don't even pretend to know the names of all the constellations. I certainly had never heard of the one he told me he looked at, called 'Abydos'. Still, it seemed to make him happy, and I was all for that.

Sometimes he would have old forces buddies over for a barbeque. He kept telling me to put down the hedge trimmers and join them, but it didn't feel right tome. I was his gardener. It wasn't right to socialize. I remember one guy called Kowalsky, who came to talk to me about the azaleas while I was putting away my tools in the shed. 'Charlie', I think his name was. I wondered if the colonel had named his kid after the guy. They seemed to go way back, from what I could tell.

Anyway, Kowalsky was a nice laddie. And boy, did he know his azaleas. I was sworn to secrecy about that. I believe his exact words were, "Jack ever finds out I grow these babies, and I'm coming after you in the night with a handgun, mister!" Even though I knew he was joking, I never thought to betray his secret to the colonel.

It was a busy time for me. He had a lot of ideas and plans for his new house, and I was happy to help him remodel. He made the place a real home, warm and welcoming. We opened up the old chimney so that he could light a fire in the hearth.

He hadn't let me dig up any of the flowers from the old house, so I went to a specialist grower and bought him our favorite white rose for his birthday. The look on his face was enough to have me scampering for the garden shed before he could hug me or anything. We planted the rose right by the deck, so he could look out at it everyday.

It was good to see him smile again.

Sometimes, I'd catch him looking up at the sky, and there would be a deep sadness about him, but on the whole, he seemed content. Life settled down to a nice, predictable pattern, and all was well again.

 

The colonel helped me rake the dead leaves that fall, and he talked to me a lot. Proper conversation, too, not just a nod and a wink and a passing of the time of day. I told him about my days as a junior gardener at Buckingham Palace, and how the Queen had walked past me one day and stopped to ask a question. I still can't remember what she asked, as I'd been stuck dumb the moment she looked at me. He laughed so hard, I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel!

Then he told me about the time he got shot down over Iraq and spent four months as a prisoner of war. My God, the man has balls, I'll give him that, but despite the outward bravado, I could see how hard that experience had been on him. He left out a lot more than he ever told me, I'm sure.

Then one night, the long black car turned up again, and he was off on another mission. I got the impression that this one was just as dangerous as the one the year before had been. I suppose he must have been very good at what he did, otherwise why would they have kept reactivating him?

Again, he told me that there was a chance he wouldn't make it home from this one. I had been following the news, and couldn't think where he could be going, but I knew better than to ask. I'd already worked out that he might have been based at NORAD, but he sure as hell didn't work there. Maybe it was his muttered comment about 'fucking sand gets everywhere' that gave it away. I figured maybe Iraq again, or Egypt, maybe.

He wasn't gone for long that time, though. And when he came back, he told me he'd decided not to retire. I think despite the sand and the danger, he liked being in the uniform again. There was a new sense of determination about him, a renewed vigor. It was good to see. And he was happy, truly happy again.

It was about that time that I first met Daniel.

There was a connection somehow between Daniel and that last mission. He introduced himself to me as an archaeologist. I still don't know how they hooked up, but I always got the impression that the colonel had brought Daniel back with him, from his mission to the Middle East. He was an incredibly handsome laddie, with big blue eyes and long floppy brown hair that he was constantly tossing back from his face. He wore glasses; gold rimmed ones that gave him an air of authority. Without them, he just looked like a wee lost boy.

Daniel didn't have anywhere to live at first, so the colonel let him use his spare room. Almost right away, I could see how close they were, how connected. It fairly sparkled in the air between them. Whatever they'd been through, whatever they had survived, it'd forged a bond of friendship so strong, it seemed that nothing would ever break it.

I didn't find out till I got to know Daniel better, but the poor lad's wife had been kidnapped out there, and the colonel was helping him find her. I hoped they'd get the poor lady back. It didn't bear thinking about what could happen to her. You hear stories about the way they treat women as chattels over there.

Both men seemed lonely and spent a whole hell of a lot of time together. It made sense that they'd found a common bond, since, after all, the colonel had lost his family, too. But eventually Daniel found an apartment of his own, leaving the colonel listless for days after he moved out. I think he really missed the company, but I understand that the arrangement couldn't go on indefinitely. People might talk.

 

Flowers fascinated Daniel. He told me he'd been brought up in the deserts of Egypt, and then fostered at the age of eight, after his parents had died. Most of his foster parents didn't have gardens, and after that, he'd been in school for lots of years, so he'd never had a chance to have a garden of his own. He loved to sit outside, watching me work with the flowers and was always so full of questions. And he loved the roses, too, especially the white one. I liked that.

Before long, the colonel was joining us out there, and that's when he started telling me to call him Jack. 'Course, I couldn't do it. Wouldn't have been right, what with him being my employer and all. The American's are strange in that way. They don't seem to have the same boundaries we have in the UK.

Never the less, those boundaries did begin to blur a little, thanks to Daniel. The man had such an open, friendly personality; it was impossible to stand on ceremony with him. I swear, the Queen herself would have been asking him to just call her Liz!

A good couple of years after I met him, I found out that his wife had died. I didn't get all the specifics, but I suppose the kidnappers must have killed her almost right away. All those years they spent searching for her, and she'd probably been dead the whole time. Still, in one way, it must have been a relief to finally know that. If the poor woman were still alive now, she would barely have been recognizable to Daniel. You hear stories about the slave trade, and how a woman's body can be used. Doesn't bear thinking about.

Still, it was terribly sad. The colonel went with Daniel back to Egypt to bury the poor girl. I assume it was Egypt anyway. I saw a small photo of her once, and she certainly looked Middle Eastern. He talked about a ceremony to free her spirit and send it to the afterworld or something. I'm a lapsed Catholic myself, so I'm no stranger to ceremony. I say, whatever gets you through the pain is all right with me.

The colonel tried very hard to occupy Daniel's time after that. I think he remembered how lost he'd been after his wife left him. There were lots of barbeques and parties over the next few months. I met the other two members of the colonel's team for the first time. The big guy called Teal'c was quiet, barely ever spoke, and when he did, it seemed very profound. I liked his quiet dignity and strength. The blonde woman reminded me a lot of the colonel's ex. Except that she liked roses. She seemed very smart. Way smarter than the colonel, anyway. Perhaps more in Daniel's league.

I wondered if the colonel had ever though about fixing her up with Daniel. They looked quite bonnie together. She seemed to like him well enough, but I didn't feel much chemistry there. If anything, they seemed to act like siblings when they got together, always nudging each other and whispering back and forth. They both seemed to crave the colonel's favor. Yeah, looked like sibling rivalry is what they shared.

Between her and the colonel, yes, there was a definite spark. But of course, there was no way anything could happen there. They were both officers on the same team. 'Rules is rules', as my father used to say. But Daniel - he was a civilian, so he wouldn't have to abide by those rules.

The colonel was off on missions a lot after that. I won't lie; I often wondered what the hell they really did in that Mountain. I heard the major tell someone that she worked with radio telemetry or something like that. It didn't really fit with what I already knew, but as it was clearly a cover story, I kept my mouth shut. Whatever they did, it was dangerous, and it was important. That was more than enough information for me.

 

I had a key to the house by then, so that I could see to any problems that might crop up while he was away. I liked to check the pipes frequently, in the winter. Nothing worse than coming home to find your pipes had burst, and you had a flood on your floors and no hot water. So I cared for his home as if it were my own. Good job, too! There was this one time when he was gone for three whole months.

I got worried when I hadn't seen him for a few weeks and called Daniel. He came round to make sure I got paid, but he couldn't tell me anything. Just that the colonel was trapped 'behind enemy lines', as he put it, and that they were all working very hard to get him home again.

Well, they got him home, all right, but I have to say, I was worried about him. He came outside, into the garden that first evening back, holding two glasses of whiskey. I'd been getting ready to go home, after spending most of the day fixing a fence that had blown down in the gales, but when he handed me a glass, I took it and drank to him. He shook his head and said, "Nah, not to me, Gus. To the future, and to all the missed chances."

Half a bottle of Glenfiddich later, it turns out that while he was trapped, he'd met some woman, but had to leave her behind. There was a chance that she might have been pregnant with his kid, but he had no way of finding out. He couldn't stay with her, and he couldn't bring her back with him. Poor bastard. He really has no luck at all with the women in his life. He didn't say that he was in love with her, and I think he was more in love with the idea of having a family again, but we never spoke of it again after that first night.

Fortunately, he had Daniel in his face, trying to take his mind off his woes. Seemed like the guy lived there sometimes. By this time, I was more or less there every day, doing something or other. I don't think the colonel really relied on me all that much, but he did enjoy having someone to talk to who wasn't connected to his job.

We compared American football and English soccer while replacing the fallen roof tiles, hockey and basketball while replacing the guttering, baseball and rugby while laying a new deck. He confided that Daniel was useless at car mechanics, and hopeless when it came to sports, and I often wondered what exactly they DID have in common beyond their work. They were a strange pair and no mistake, but there was no denying that they had a deep affection for one another.

Yes, Daniel definitely helped him through a dark place in his life. The colonel has always had a lot of friends, a lot of buddies, but I don't think he was ever as close to anyone as he was to Daniel. In some ways, I think they were too close.

 

That Christmas, I noticed something odd.

I'd been a little worried about Daniel, who always seemed so down at that time of year, so I was paying close attention to him. Otherwise I may never have noticed.

The colonel threw a Christmas party, and everyone in the state seemed to have been invited. I almost didn't go myself. The invitation was addressed to 'Angus J. Carnegie and Partner'. I didn't want to go alone, not to a party where there would be so many couples and families, but I didn't really have much choice.

So, I was trying to lay low, hiding out in the kitchen with the cherry brandy and mince pies, when I overheard a conversation in the dining room that I shouldn't have. Everyone had spilled out into the garden to build a giant snowman, leaving the house silent and empty, except for me.

Me, the colonel, and his second in command, that is.

She'd already told me to call her Sam, but she was a major in the Air Force, so it was hard not to use her rank. Then again, I couldn't really imagine the lassie in a uniform. She wore such floaty, feminine clothing off duty.

I'm not the type that likes to eavesdrop, but there was no way out of the kitchen without making my presence known to them both. So I pressed myself back into the shadows, and hoped they would go away soon so that I could come out.

They were talking about 'armbands' and something that sounded like 'Zatark detector'. None of that made any sense to me, until they started talking about their 'feelings'. The long and short of it was that despite the rules, the colonel and the major had developed some kind of affection for each other.

She was demanding to know exactly *what* it was he felt for her. He was definitely being evasive. I got that. I really did. His first wife left him after their son died; his next serious relationship ended with him having to abandon his girlfriend behind enemy lines, possibly pregnant. He wasn't keen to commit again. Relationships were not high on his list of priorities. I really did get that, and I was surprised that she didn't seem to. If she really cared that much for the man. . . ?

Finally, someone else came into the room, and they stopped talking and left. As soon as it went quiet, I came out of hiding, only to find that the dining room wasn't as empty as I'd hoped. It'd been Daniel who'd interrupted them, and he was still there, both hands pressed to the tabletop and his head hanging down. He looked defeated, and it was obvious that he'd heard as much as I had.

That's when I noticed.

Daniel was heartbroken. He didn't want this relationship between the colonel and the major to happen.

I tried to believe it was because Daniel was in love with the major, but I still felt no spark between them; hadn't seen any longing looks, or secret smiles. They were just good friends, I was sure of it.

Then I told myself that it was because Daniel was lonely and relied on the colonel for company; that he needed the undivided attention, and it was certainly true. But not the whole truth.

And finally I let the truth surface.

I kicked myself. Of all people, how could I have missed this? Of all people who had come to know Daniel and the colonel over the years, how could I have failed to see how much Daniel loved him? I suppose I assumed that because Daniel was married when I first met him, and obviously happy, that the laddie was straight.

And the worst thing about it, the thing that really made me mad at myself? Mine was the one shoulder he*could* have cried on.

You see, the reason I came to this party alone was not because I have no partner. I was just afraid to bring him with me to a military affair. I was afraid of being the 'butt' of homophobic jokes. Lawrence and I have been together for sixteen wonderful years, and although I wasn't ashamed of him, I liked my job too much to risk 'coming out' to my military employer.

Poor Daniel. He didn't have a snowball's chance in hell with the colonel. I'd have bet my life on it.

 

The next few months were terrible. Something happened that forced a wedge between the colonel and Daniel. I have no idea what really happened, but I think perhaps Daniel came clean and confessed to the colonel how he felt, and to say that things got frosty would be an understatement. Daniel didn't come round nearly so much, he never stayed over any more, he was even absent from more than a few of the barbeques the colonel held.

I felt bad for the colonel, I really did. In pushing Daniel away, he was ending the very friendship that had sustained him for years. I wanted to tell him he was being stupid, but it wasn't my place, you see. I was still his employee, even if he did occasionally confide in me.

For a lot of months, his was not a happy house. I still helped out with the odd jobs, we still talked, but the spark had gone from the colonel. When he laughed at my jokes, I could tell it was forced, and he almost never joked himself anymore. I missed seeing Daniel lounging on the deck, missed listening to their banter. Now that I thought about it, the love had always been there, right from day one, for anyone who had the eyes to see it. It was such a shame that the colonel couldn't accept Daniel for who and what he was. But I've seen it happen before, and it didn't really surprise me.

Straight guys don't react well to suddenly finding out that an old friend is actually gay. There's always a feeling of betrayal. It's happened to me. I was never brave enough to be up front about my sexuality, and when my male friends found out. . . . well let's just say I found myself with a lot *less* friends than before.

These days, gay guys have it so much easier. They don't have to feel ashamed and try to hide their feelings or needs. In the dark days of my youth, I've been spat on and beaten for daring to find men attractive. I know those attitudes still exist today, I'm not that naïve, but things are easier now, there's no denying it.

Which is all well and good, but it didn't really help poor Daniel. He'd fallen in love with a straight guy, one who bled cammo when he cut himself, and even though I knew the colonel loved him in his own way, he was definitely heading for a whole raft of heartache.

In the long run, however, it turned out that it was the colonel who was in for the heartache.

I'll never forget the day he came home and told me that Daniel was dead.

 

We'd been fitting a new shower in his bathroom before he was called away on a mission. I was just finishing the last of the tiling when he came in and stood in the doorway. His face was white and drawn. He just stood there, hands shoved way down deep in the pockets of his jeans, and blurted it out. "Daniel's dead, Gus. He was killed. . . killed in the line of duty."

They were harsh, cold, impersonal words that couldn't begin to hide the pain and despair I saw behind the professional mask. I reached out and laid my hand on his shoulder. I couldn't think of anything else to do, anything at all to say. What do you say in these circumstances? 'I'm sorry' seemed so inadequate. I wanted to cry. But it's not in my nature to breakdown in front of another man. In the privacy of my own home, I would cry for Daniel. I would raise my glass in tribute to him and say a prayer. But right now, I fought back the tears and tried to think how to help the colonel get past this.

He looked so lost, like he had when his son died, like when his wife left, when he came back from those three months of exile. I knew about Daniel. I was sure he did, too. But neither of us was at liberty to talk about it. That was the moment I decided not to let our respective positions get in the way. He needed to talk this out. He needed an friendly ear to hear his pain. He needed *me*.

I threw down the towel I'd used to wipe my hands and led him into the kitchen. Been around the place long enough to know where he kept the good stuff. We got through a bottle and a half of finest quality double malt that evening.

I took a huge risk and told him about Lawrence and me, with my heart pounding in my throat at the thought of what he might say or do to me. And you know what? He already knew. He'd known for bloody years!

They had me checked out, the Air Force I mean. His work was very sensitive, so anyone who had access to his home had to be thoroughly vetted. I sat therewith my mouth hanging open in shock. I'm not going to claim that I wasn't a little bit pissed off about that. But I suppose national security comes before my privacy.

I asked him why he hadn't said anything, and he said it'd never come up, and anyway, it didn't make any difference to him. I believed that, I really did. I was so stupid to be afraid all that time. The colonel didn't care about labels and tags. He liked what's inside of a person. And I felt ashamed that I'd ever doubted that fact.

The whiskey made me bold, and I asked him about Daniel. I asked him if he knew how much Daniel had loved him, and he let his face drop into his hands. For the longest time, I didn't think he would answer me. Then slowly, very slowly he raised his head and looked me right in the eye.

"Gus, I'm a selfish bastard," he sighed, shaking his head. "I told him I couldn't be with him while I was still in the Air Force. I told him that the oaths I swore the day I put on the uniform meant more to me than he did. I told him that I wouldn't retire to be with him so long as there was a clear and present danger to the country."

I knew my mouth was hanging open, but I was just so surprised. I thought he was going to say that he couldn't be with Daniel at all because he was straight. My face must have registered my shock, because he put down his glass and laid a hand over mine.

"Before you have to ask, no, I've never been with a guy before, but it doesn't matter, Gus. It was *Daniel*. Didn't matter what sex he was, it was just Daniel!" He looked confused and resigned all at the same time. I felt the tears prickle the back of my eyes and forced them back. "I loved him so fucking much, and I never told him, and now it's too late! "He drained the last dregs from his glass and slammed it down on the table. "I pushed him away with a load of bullshit and lies, and you wanna know why?"

I nodded, but to be honest, I already knew the answer.

"I was afraid," he whispered. "I was afraid of fucking it all up again. Of losing him, just like I lost Sara, and Charlie, and Laira!"

Yeah, that's pretty much what I'd thought.

I slept on his couch that night and woke up the next day with a head the size of a large melon. I was concerned that it would be awkward, remembering our conversation, but it wasn't. He appeared the moment I sat up, groaning, and passed me a glass of water and two aspirin.

"There ya go, Gus -- breakfast!" he said.

Later, once our stomachs had settled a bit, he cooked a real breakfast, and we talked a bit about Daniel. He said that if he ever got a second chance, he'd tell Daniel he loved him. I believed he'd do it, but there's no such thing as second chances, is there? God, if only. . .

My father died when I was nine. I was brought up to keep my emotions buried deep inside, like a 'real man'. I always wanted to tell him that I loved him, and I forgave him for walking out on my mum and me when I was born, but I never did it. Regrets? Yeah, I have them. We all do. Jack O'Neill probably has more than most.

Give the man his due, though, he didn't throw in the towel and walk away from it all. He stuck with his team, even accepted a new member, though I think that was hard for him to do. No one could replace Daniel, not in his heart or in his life. I never met the guy who took Daniel's place on the team. Major Carter told me be was a decent fellow, and I don't doubt it. She doesn't 'take' to just anyone, you see.

Still, the colonel was never the same after that. Like 'a ghost walking among men', as my old grandma used to say. He never fully connected with anyone or anything, not anymore. Did the job, and did it well, from what I know. But Jack O'Neill was dead inside. I could see it clearly, and I hated it. But what could I do? The light had gone from his life.

All I could do was hope that one day, he could forgive himself for all the loss he'd suffered. One man shouldn't have to bear so much. I went home every night to my Lawrence, and I thanked my lucky stars for the blessings I had. Happiness is so fleeting and fragile an emotion, like the petals of a rose, something to be cherished and protected. If anyone deserved a second chance, it was Jack O'Neill, but fate is seldom that kind.

 

Epilogue
Ten Months Later

I finished pruning the rose bush and sat back on my heels to survey my handiwork. Already there were several large white buds getting ready to burst into bloom. The garden was looking fair braw, as we say in my neck of the woods. The first flowers of spring had all but died back, and the summer bedding added a splash of color to the verdant green of the lawn. Next to the white rose, a smaller bush nestled. This one would be a bonnie shade of red. It was called "Danny Boy" and I'll never forget the look on the colonel's face when I told him that. I almost had second thoughts about my wee bout of sentimentality in buying it for him. But he smiled and told me to go plant it next to the white one.

This time of year never failed to remind me why I chose gardening as a profession. The air was heavy with the promise of a late spring rain, and I felt the faint whisper of a breeze ruffle my hair, what's left of it! I love the spring. Of all the seasons, it touches my romantic heart the most. Life bursting forth again after its long sleep, fresh and new and as yet untouched by the 'slings and arrows' of life.

I got stiffly to my feet, cursing old age and arthritis, and began to collect up my tools. The colonel was due back home after another mission, and could turn up any time now. I wanted everything stowed away before he got there. The garden had to be perfect for him.

A soft voice from behind startled me, and I whirled around, dropping the rake in shock when I saw the man smiling fondly at me, like it hadn't been a year since I last saw him. Like nothing had happened. Like he hadn't died!

"Hello," he said. "I'm Daniel. You must be Angus? "All the color drained from my face. This fellow looked like Daniel, he sounded like Daniel, but he couldn't possibly *be* Daniel. Then the colonel appeared at his side.

"He's having a few memory problems, Gus, but your old eyes ain't deceiving ya! It really is Daniel."

I opened my mouth to speak, but only a small squeak came out. "But. . . but. . . but he's dead!" I babbled. Clearly he wasn't, but I couldn't get my head round that fact yet.

Daniel smiled widely. "That was exactly *my* reaction when Jim here told me I had died."

The colonel cast him a withering glance. "Now I *know* you're doing that on purpose." He turned back to face me, but I hadn't managed to drag my eyes from the 'Daniel clone' yet. "Gus, Daniel was only 'presumed dead'. We never actually found his body," the colonel said softly. Suddenly bursting into a huge grin, he looked right at Daniel again and said, "Well lookit - we sure found it now!"

I reached out a finger and poked Daniel squarely in the chest, assuring myself that this really was Daniel Jackson. Daniel's mouth framed a little 'ouch' shape, but he smiled back at me calmly. I blinked, but he was still there. Oh, my God! It was true. He was back, he was alive, and. . . and the colonel was grinning!!!!

"Jesus, Joseph and Mary! " I gasped "You're getting a second chance, colonel!".

The colonel smiled and nodded. "Yep. Gonna help him regain his lost memories, Gus. ALL of them."

I nodded. Oh yeah, he was going to do it. He was going to tell Daniel how he felt. I would have loved to been a fly on the wall for that little scene "It's good to have you back, Daniel." I told him. "You were sorely missed." And Daniel offered me an enigmatic little smile.

I bent, picked up my spade and rake, and walked down to the shed shaking my head in wonder. By the time I'd put away all my tools and cleaned the lawnmower, they'd gone into the house. I know I shouldn't have done it, but I crept up to the deck and peered into the living room. Daniel was standing at the fireplace looking at the pictures on the mantelpiece. The colonel was behind him. As the patio doors were slightly ajar I could clearly hear what they were saying.

"Listen, Daniel. I meant what I said earlier. You can drop the whole 'Jim' thing. It's getting real tired ya know. We were friends, close friends."

Daniel had been fingering a book on the mantelpiece. Without turning, he picked up the book and began to flip through the pages. "How close?" he asked, his attempt to look nonchalant destroyed by the tremor in his voice.

The Colonel moved up behind him, reached round and took the book from his fingers. "Turn around, Daniel," he said so softly that I had to strain to hear. Daniel obeyed, and they were so close that their chests almost touched. I felt heat crawling up my neck and face, but I didn't move away. This was more than I could ever have wished for my colonel, and I wanted to feel part of it somehow. He was more than my employers now, he was my friend and I wanted to see him happy.

"*Very* close," the colonel whispered, leaning in just that little bit more, so that their lips touched softly and clung.

Daniel's eyes closed and he sagged against the colonel in relief. "That's what I hoped you'd say," he breathed.

The book fell to the floor when the colonel slid his hands upward, framed Daniel's face and stared into his eyes for the longest time. "Won't lie to you here, Danny. Before. . . before you. . ." he rolled his eyes skywards, ". . . went all glowy, we never got this far. If you think you remember. . ."

"Shhhh," Daniel silenced him with a gentle kiss. "I remember that I loved you. That's all I need to know."

I watched for a little longer, until their kisses began to grow more desperate. Then I quietly slipped away, carefully avoiding the creaky plank we'd been meaning to fix since last year. As much as I was enjoying the show, I'm no pervert. Time to give them both some privacy.

As I pulled on my seatbelt, I was reminded of a quote my grandma had often used. 'No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow. '

It was good to know that second chances really did happen. I had no idea what the future would bring for them, but I hoped I would be around for enough years to see them live happily ever after.

 

 

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