Thinking of Jack reminded George of the message. He left the bathroom and pulled his jacket out of the hall closet, rummaging around in the pocket until he found what he was looking for; a small, hand-penned note. Sitting down on the sofa, he unfolded it and began to read.
Dear General Hammond.
Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm supposed to call ya 'George'. Never did feel comfortable with that!
Anyway, thing is, sir, Daniel and I have something we want to tell you. A confession of sorts, and now that you've retired, we felt this would be the most 'opportune' moment. Daniel told me to write that - I have no idea what it means
George leaned back, smiling. If he closed his eyes, he could almost picture doctor Jackson poking Jack in the ribs, and Jack yelping out a protest. Shaking his head indulgently, George continued reading.
I was gonna just write to you about this, but Daniel said it was the cowards way out and that the least we could do was tell you in person. Guess he's right (but don't tell him I said that).
So the thing is, Daniel will be here in Washington next week. I figured we could all get together, meet up in that nice Steakhouse a couple of blocks away from the Whitehouse. The one you recommended when I took the job here? How does 1900 hours sound on Saturday? My treat?
Hope you won't be too pissed off with us.
All the best
George carefully refolded the paper and placed it on the coffee table. He had a fair idea what this was about. One didn't become the commander of a top-secret military establishment without having some observational skills. Not that either of the men had ever made it obvious, but George had figured it out years ago.
All those missions gone bad, where one of them had been injured, or lost, or presumed dead, and the other had sat vigil at a hospital bed, or went for days without sleep or gone toe-to-toe with anyone who even suggested calling off the search, be it himself, or even the President of the United States. Oh yeah, what these two men shared went way deeper than friendship.
George was a traditionalist at heart but not a homophobe. Even if he couldn't understand the attraction, he could understand the connection and chose to turn a blind eye, so long as he deemed there was no danger to the mission, the Base or National Security. Those boys had never given him cause to regret that.
The door bell rang, and George stood a little stiffly, stuffing the carefully folded note into his pocket as he shouldered into his heavy coat. He was pleased that Jack and Daniel felt comfortable with finally letting him in on their secret. He could have called Jack and just told him that he knew. But to be honest, he was looking forward to seeing the two men again, no matter what the circumstances. And of course it would be a lot of fun watching Jack O'Neill squirm.
He tugged open his door and followed the taxi driver carefully down the icy path, pulling his collar up against the flurry of snowflakes.
The Steakhouse seemed very busy for such a cold and blustery night. People hurried across the parking lot, heads bent into the wind as snow whipped into a maelstrom around them. George leaned forward in his seat to pay the driver then tugging his coat tight around his middle, he got out.
There was already a queue forming outside the door and he didn't relish standing out here at the mercy of the elements. Fortunately, he didn't have to wait long. Daniel came out of the brightly lit restaurant and beckoned him inside.
"We booked a table, sir," he grinned, leading George through the throng. As they reached the alcoves at the back, Jack got to his feet, extending a hand in greeting.
"General! Good to see you again, sir."
"You too Jack, and for God's sake son, can't you call me George?"
"Nossir! Ain't gonna happen."
Daniel pulled out a seat, and George sat. Jack waved to the pretty blonde waitress who came to take their drinks order. "What'll you have General?"
George scanned the list of imported wines and beers, surreptitiously glancing between the two men sitting opposite him. They seemed perfectly calm, perfectly relaxed, but George Hammond could see right through them.
"I'll have a scotch," he decided, handing the wine list back to the waitress, "on the rocks, please."
"Good choice sir!" Jack enthused, obviously please to be able to go straight to the hard stuff. "Gimme a JD will ya?" he grinned at the waitress who nodded and turned to Daniel.
"Same here," the man said, not meeting her eyes. George hid his grin behind his hand. Jack Daniels huh? If that was supposed to be a hint then it was about as subtle as a brick.
Jack took the bunch of menus from her and passed them out. "Now you can have anything you want from this menu, sir. Knock yourself out. Price is no object yadda yadda. My treat."
"Do they sell lobster here?" Daniel asked excitedly, only to flinch suddenly and gasp out a curse a second later after what looked like a sharp kick in the shins under the table.
"I said the General could have anything he wanted. You can have a sirloin and be happy." Jack growled.
George looked with amusement between the two men. Still doing their comedy double act despite living in different states. It was just like the old days, and George began to really relax. The boys were in no hurry to confess, so he resolved to kick back and enjoy himself.
Three courses and several rounds of drinks later, George was feeling mellow and replete. He'd been listening the Jack and Daniel's banter with fatherly amusement for the last hour and a half, but now seemed like a good time to broach the real reason he was here.
"So Jack, about that note you sent me?"
He watched as Jack's smiling eyes sobered, and sought out Daniel's. The younger man shifted uncomfortably in his seat, looking totally absorbed in the contents of his coffee cup.
"Yeah…" Jack finally said hesitantly. "About that…."
"You said you and Daniel had a… confession?"
Jack licked his lips and cleared his throat pointedly. Daniel refused to look up, had in fact developed an obsession with the saltshaker. "Danny?" Jack nudged him with his elbow.
A better man might have chosen this moment to come clean, and admit that he had already guessed the nature of their confession. A better man might have let the boys off the hook. But George was thoroughly enjoying himself. He watched Daniel's eyes find Jack's beseechingly, and get no quarter. He guessed that the two men had tossed a coin for this… and that Daniel has lost.
"Um, okay. Well you see it's like this…" Daniel placed the saltshaker in the middle of the table and pointed at it uncertainly. "…Suppose something you thought you knew, turned out to be something you didn't know at all?"
George leaned back in his chair. "Well now that's an interesting question Doctor Jackson," he replied, eyeing the saltshaker with amusement. Was it just a coincidence that Daniel had chosen to use the somewhat phallic shaped condiment to illustrate this tale? "Are you going to tell me that this salt shaker actually contains pepper?"
Jack snorted rudely and shook his head. "Way to go Daniel. There's subtle and then there's…downright cryptic!"
"Well I don't see you jumping in to help, Jack" Daniel complained loudly, making a few heads turn towards them in the crowded restaurant.
George leaned across the table and whispered "Gentlemen, perhaps we should take this discussion outside? I sure could use some fresh air."
Daniel looked a little freaked by the suggestion, which confused George. Surely privacy would be more suitable for this kind of confession? Then Jack tipped the saltshaker over and got to his feet.
"Honestly sir, we both thought telling you this in public might save our asses from the severe tongue lashing you're bound to give us." Beside him, Daniel got reluctantly to his feet, righting the toppled condiment.
"It's not going to be easy to tell you this, General."
Again, maybe George should have come clean, but he'd never seen Jack O'Neill quite this flustered. "I can see that, son. Why don't we take a stroll through the park?"
They settled the bill, and Jack was true to his word, paying not only for George's meal, but for Daniel's too. George couldn't help but notice that Daniel made absolutely no protest about that.
Outside, the snow has stopped, leaving a light sprinkling of powdery flakes on the sidewalk. Already the white was shading to sludgy grey where many feet had trodden on it, but there wasn't enough to make the going treacherous. They walked in companionable silence, George in the middle between the two men, until they reached the entrance to the park.
Jack held open the gate, and as George stepped past he heard Daniel whisper, "I don't know if I want to do this Jack."
Jack's reply was drowned out by the sound of a bunch of kids having a snowball fight. George stood and watched them for a while, half listening to the urgently whispered conversation behind him. Finally, when the kids moved off, he turned to find Jack standing with his hand on Daniel's cheek, a reassuring smile on his face, and Daniel was smiling back.
"He won't freak Danny, I'm sure of it."
George cleared his throat loudly and both men jumped apart guiltily. "Gentlemen, perhaps it would be better if you just told me.
Jack sighed and walked over to a deserted park bench. "Perhaps you had better sit, sir." He gestured to the bench, and Daniel hurried over to wipe the light dusting of snow away. Oh dear, they really were worried about this weren't they?
George planted himself at one end of the bench and waited.
"Sir… General Hammond… um, Jack and I, well we did something… something we shouldn't have done. At least, not on the base at any rate…"
George's mouth flew open in shock. It was one thing for these two men to finally grow big enough balls to tell the truth about the fact that they'd been 'doing the wild thing' for years, but quite another to be hearing specifics. His face must have clearly telegraphed his horror, because Jack stamped down firmly on Daniel's foot.
"Jesus, Daniel. What happened to working our way up to it?"
Daniel hopped around in a tight little circle. "Oh for pity's sake Jack, what is the point?"
Jack flopped down onto the bench, dragging Daniel down beside him. "Look, let me handle this okay?" He turned to face George and the look of dread on his face was almost enough to make the General break and start a belly laugh loud enough to wake the dead. How he held it in, he'd never know. "General Hammond I regret to inform you that I indulged in conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman which resulted in the destruction of…"
"Jack, Jack, Jack. I'm retired. You don't need to make this into a debriefing. Just tell me…"
"Daniel and I were in your office and…"
George leapt to his feet, whirling around to gape disbelievingly between them both. "My office!!!"
Daniel kicked viciously at the snow. "It was Jack's idea. He'd always wanted to try it and his office is too cramped."
"Cramped!!!?" George echoed faintly, regretting bitterly his decision to let them stew.
Jack hung his head. "If Daniel had listened to me for once. I was coaching him you see cos he'd never done it before…"
"Oh don't you dare try to blame me for this Jack. It was your idea. And you didn't have to be quite so forceful about it."
George brought his hands up to cover his ears. "Good God Jack, retired or not, I can't hear anymore of this!" Stuffing his hands deep into his pockets, he headed off towards the gate again. But before he got more than three steps, Jack was at his side.
"Awww, come on George, don't be like that. We're really sorry. And it's not like we didn't replace the damned thing. I mean, you never knew it was a fake right?"
George stopped dead and slowly turned to stare at his former second in command like he'd just grown another head. This conversation was weird even by Jack's standards.
"Jack, what the blazes are you talking about?"
Daniel ducked around them and took a deep breath. "Before Jack got promoted to General and took over running the base, he was 'minding the store' one day while you were in Washington, and he came up with the idea of playing a spot of table tennis in your office using wadded up Kleenex as balls and old mission reports as bats."
George blinked dumbly at the younger man, who obviously took that as encouragement to continue.
"Jack got a little… carried away, and slammed the wad so hard that it ricocheted off the wall and took down that little framed drawing you had on your wall. The one done by Kayla?"
Hammond frowned at the mention of his grand daughters name. He nodded his understanding and Jack took up the tale.
"Damned thing shattered and the broken glass tore the picture to shreds. We tried to fix it, but in the end I had to call in a few markers with the Asgard. They used some of that fancy technology of theirs to clone the thing."
George closed his eyes tightly. "That's your confession? That's why you brought me here tonight to tell me? That you broke a picture frame?" He knew his voice was getting louder, but he couldn't help it. "I don't believe this."
Jack sighed. "We both knew how much that little picture meant to you and we're really sorry, Sir. I shouldn't have been messing around in your office."
George sighed. "That's okay Jack. I just wasn't expecting this to be the big 'thing' you wanted to tell me."
"Oh?" Jack stood shoulder to shoulder with Daniel looking a little puzzled. "What were you expecting then?"
George stuffed his hands back into his pockets and shook his head. He'd gotten it all wrong, and quite frankly; he was a little embarrassed about that. How could he have thought that two men like Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson could be gay? Giving them a small tight smile, he shook his head and began walking again. "Never mind," he muttered.
Behind him, he could hear Jack and Daniel whispering.
"That went well."
"Sure, you didn't think so?"
"Coulda gone better."
"He didn't freak."
"Yeah, there's that."
"So, when are we telling him that we're gay?"
George couldn't help it. He let out a whoop of victory that started dogs barking three blocks away. "I KNEW it!!"