At his right side, Teal'c's tall and familiar presence was reassuringly solid. Daniel stole a quick sideways glance at him, resplendent in a pale grey morning suit. Teal'c's head turned a fraction, and he acknowledged Daniel's look with a respectful nod of his head. Daniel managed a small, nervous smile, before returning his attention to the ceremony. It was almost over now, both the ceremony, and his life as a single man. His days of loneliness were finally coming to an end.
Only one other thing was missing. Only one other thing could have made the day perfect. If only it were Jack standing beside him as his best man.
He hated so much that it had come down to this, having to choose between Aly's feelings and Jack's. Daniel still didn't know why Jack disliked her so much. Surely it couldn't have been that he was jealous of the time Daniel spent with his girlfriend? In the end there'd been the inevitable fight, and Daniel had asked Teal'c to be his best man. So now everyone that Daniel cared for in the world was there to see him get married. Almost. Everyone except Jack. He'd been invited, but hadn't even bothered to show up.
"Does anyone here present know of any reason why this man and this woman should not be joined in holy matrimony? Speak now, or forever hold your peace," Father Patrick intoned.
There was the usual moment of uncomfortable silence, while the congregation shuffled its feet and coughed nervously. Daniel smiled reassuringly at his wife-to-be, and she smiled back, brown eyes sparkling with joy and happiness. Of all the things Daniel liked about Aly, her eyes were what attracted him most. She had incredibly beautiful eyes. Whiskey-colored, and so full of warmth. Looking into her eyes felt like coming home.
As the priest opened his mouth to continue, the church doors in the back of the sanctuary flew open with a crash, and Jack O'Neill hurried in, eyes wide, hair wild around his head, his breath ragged from running.
"Stop! Wait! Did they get to the 'speak now' part yet?" he demanded. He stopped half way up the aisle, bent at the waist with his hands on his knees, panting harshly through his open mouth.
In the front row, George Hammond turned in his seat and scowled at his friend, who had clearly lost his marbles. In fact, everyone in the church was staring at Jack in disbelief.
"'Cause I have a reason," Jack wheezed as he finally reached the altar and faced off with a very angry Daniel Jackson. "Daniel, can we do this in private?" he asked in a low voice, reaching for his former friend's elbow.
"What the f...." Daniel bit back his angry retort in deference to their surroundings as he jerked his arm free. "What do you think you're doing, Jack?"
"Only stopping you from making the biggest mistake of your life, Daniel," he hissed, trying to keep their conversation between themselves.
"Daniel?" Aly whispered urgently. "Tell him to go away! He's not welcome here!"
Daniel's eyes narrowed, and he glanced at the priest. This was too embarrassing. He couldn't do this in front of everyone. He was going to have to deck Jack, and that'd be best done without an audience. "Can you give me just five minutes, Father?"
The priest nodded and watched in amazement as Daniel dragged Jack by the arm into the vestry at one side of the sanctuary. The door shut with a slam, and everyone in the tiny church jumped out of their skins.
Just on the other side of the thin wooden door, Daniel abruptly turned to his friend, doing his level best to keep his voice down, and spit out, "Okay, you inconsiderate, arrogant bastard! What the hell gives you the right to come in here and disrupt my wedding? Who exactly do you think you are?"
"I'm your friend, and I... I care about you, that's who I am. Damn it, Daniel. It's time for you to start listening to me."
Daniel took off his glasses, pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off the impending headache, and placed them on a small side table. "I'll listen when you say something I can believe," he stated flatly. His earlier wish that Jack could be there had been granted, but now he understood the old saying that you should be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. "Daniel, just listen to what I have to say. Please. I've been trying to contact you for days, but you wouldn't return my calls."
"And so you come here now, for crissake? What could you be thinking?" Daniel sniffed. "And anyway, I had nothing to say to you. I still don't." He turned away, took a couple of steps towards the door, and then whirled back, fury radiating from every pore. "Did you honestly think I would postpone my wedding just so that you could get back here from Denver to try to talk me out of it, Jack? Are you insane?"
Jack seemed to sag a little, leaning on the back of a chair for support. "Just... please, listen to me." He was dishevelled, sweating, still out of breath, and something in his face begged and pleaded with Daniel for understanding and a little time. He collapsed into the chair and turned worried eyes on Daniel's face.
Daniel took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh. It was obvious that Jack wasn't going to go away until he'd said his piece. Maybe he owed it to the man to listen to what he had to say.
Daniel sat in another vacant chair and raised his eyebrows expectantly. "Okay, Jack, I'll give you three minutes, but that's it."
Three minutes to vent, then he was going back out there and getting married, come hell or high water.
6 Months Earlier Outside Daniel Jackson's House
Daniel pulled up to the curb and switched off the engine. For a moment, he just sat there, staring at his house. The Air Force cleanup team had done a good job; there was no evidence that anything had happened there or in the street. The debris of the surveillance van had been taken away, the scorch marks on the grass made by Osiris' weapon had been dug out, and the sod replaced. All was now peaceful.
Daniel sighed as he took his keys from the ignition. He really didn't want to go inside. This was his house and had been for several months, but it would never be a home to him. Home was about family to Daniel. Home was a place full of laugher and love, things he hadn't known for longer than he cared to remember.
He was so tired. The thought of trying to sleep filled Daniel with dread. He hadn't wanted to admit to Jack and the others that he'd been struggling with the plan to capture Osiris. It had been painful to live though his ill-fated relationship with Sarah night after night. But he'd said nothing.
Getting out of the car, he slowly made his way up the path to his front door. Seeing Sarah today, in her right mind, without the Goa'uld Osiris inside her, had been harder than Daniel could ever have imagined. He remembered how much he'd cared about her, how much he regretted not being the man she needed him to be. They might have made a life together, if only he could have dragged his eyes out of his books and looked at her face once in a while.
Now it was too late, too much had happened. Sarah was under a psychiatrist's care, and it was doubtful that she would make a full recovery. Daniel had told her he would help her get through this nightmare, but in reality, there was nothing he could say or do to make it right.
Which only served to remind him of Shaur'e, and how badly he'd failed her, too. Had they managed to get his wife back, and successfully removed Ammonet, would she too have been left damaged like Sarah? He'd never know now.
"Excuse me. I'm sorry to bother you, but I could use a little help here."
Daniel turned to identify the source of the refined female voice, and nearly stumbled. For a moment, his train of thought and reality blurred, and he could swear he was looking into the eyes of his dead wife. Stupidly, he stood there while he blinked, took off his glasses, wiped them, and replaced them on his face. Mercifully, the image of Shaur'e receded, and he could see more differences than similarities.
When he'd moved there, the house next door had been vacant. He hadn't noticed any signs that someone had moved in, but then he *had* been a little busy. The woman was standing on her porch, struggling to get the key in the lock and balance several boxes and carrier bags. She had honey-brown skin, and a mass of curly black hair that framed delicate features. Her brown eyes were enormous, fringed with long black lashes. But she was much slighter than Shaur'e had been, shorter, her figure less full. Daniel shook his head, dispelling any last lingering memories of things he would rather forget, and jumped over the low hedge separating their two properties.
Daniel arrived just in time to catch the top crate as it slipped from the teetering pile. Carefully he placed it on the floor, noticing that the box was open, and that there appeared to be a canopic jar poking out of the top.
"Oh, good catch!" said the woman, relief evident in her English-accented voice. "Some of the things in there are absolutely irreplaceable."
Daniel detected another faint accent alongside the British, but it was so subtle, he couldn't be sure.
He liberated the rest of the crates from the woman and waited until she'd managed to get the door open. "Would you like me to help you take these inside?" he asked, fully expecting her to refuse. After all, she didn't know him. She had no reason to trust him.
But she surprised him. "Could you? Oh, that would be lovely. My kennel name's Allegra Sagira Sadiq, by the way. Friends call me Aly."
Daniel frowned at the reference to dog breeders. He suspected it was just some odd English turn of phrase. He'd once known a girl when he'd studied at Oxford whose parents had bred Irish Setters. She'd owned one whose kennel name was 'Alvira, Dante's Inferno, Colliston Water the Second'. She'd called it 'Pookie' for short.
"Nice to meet you, Aly. I'm Daniel," he replied. "Daniel Jackson."
"Nice to meet you, too, neighbor," she returned in her lilting accent.
As she walked down the hall, with Daniel trailing along behind, he found himself smiling. Now he was sure. Going by her surname, this woman was probably of Egyptian decent.
He surreptitiously checked out the visible contents of the crate he carried, but this one seemed to be filled with kitchen equipment and cups.
"Sagira. That means 'little one', doesn't it?" he asked. For the first time, Daniel noticed how petite she really was, not much taller that Janet Fraser, and therefore well named.
"Oh," she said, obviously surprised. "You speak Egyptian?" She paused at the living room door, allowing Daniel to squeeze past.
"I spent some time there," he offered noncommittally, putting the boxes down on the floor.
She was standing in the doorway, arms wrapped tightly around herself, a huge smile lighting up her face. "Well, isn't that marvellous! I was born there, you know. My mother was a Brit and went to Egypt straight from college back in the mid-60's. She worked on a dig in the Valley of the Kings. My father was a native worker, and they fell in love there. Isn't that romantic?
Daniel found a reluctant smile creeping over his face. "Yes, yes, I suppose it is. But I noticed you said 'was'. Past tense?"
Her face sobered as she wrapped her arms a little more tightly around her narrow waist. It was a gesture with which Daniel was well acquainted. "Dead, ten years now. I'd just completed my doctorate at Oxford when they were killed." She stared at the floor, and for a moment, Daniel wondered if she might be crying, but when she looked back up at him, she was smiling, eyes bright, but dry. "Plane crash. They were flying out to be there for my graduation."
"I'm sorry," said Daniel, thinking about his own parents. "Mine died when I was eight, in a freak accident at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York."
Aly's mouth made a small 'o' of sympathy at that. "Oh, I am sorry, Daniel," she murmured. She walked over and patted Daniel on the arm. "A right pair of bookends we are, then, I guess."
She smiled at him as she looked up into his eyes. "Listen, as soon as I'm settled, you must come over for dinner, so we can swap stories."
For the first time, Daniel noticed the disarray around him. He felt embarrassed for loitering in her house, taking up her time, when she obviously had so much to do. It was odd, because it usually took him such a long time to warm up to people, but he felt like he already knew Aly.
"I'd better..." hitching his thumb over his shoulder, Daniel began backing towards the door.
"Yes, and thanks! Big help. Would have dropped the lot, if it hadn't been for you."
"It was no problem. I'll ... er.... I'll see you...."
"Later, when I'm all unpacked. Nice to have met you, Daniel."
"Yes, same here...thanks."
Daniel finally reached the front door and headed out into the bright late-afternoon sunshine before he could make any more of a fool of himself. He had no idea why he'd gotten so tongue-tied. Maybe it was the resemblance to Shaur'e, maybe it was all the talk about Egypt and being orphans.
Whatever it was, Daniel felt like an adolescent boy when, at the end of the path, he snuck a peek over his shoulder, only to see Aly watching him. He waggled his fingers at her in a little gesture of good-bye, and when she returned it, he was delighted to feel his heart lift and do a little flip-flop of joy in his chest.
He smiled as he let himself into his house. Aly was pretty and smart, they had some things in common, and he already knew she was kind. It was a good beginning for a friendship that he thought he needed very badly.
Inside the house, he checked around and saw that all the mess had been dealt with. There wasn't so much as a fragment of broken pottery left on the floor. There were several gaps in his collection of artefacts, but everything that had been destroyed had been removed by the clean up team. Everything else was back in place.
Wait... not everything.
Daniel went over to the coffee table and picked up the silver framed photograph of Shaur'e. It usually sat beside his computer in the den. Looking down into the smiling face of his wife, Daniel suddenly felt very lonely. He sat on the couch, hoisted his feet onto the coffee table, and pressed the frame to his chest.
"Miss you, baby," he whispered, lifting the image to his lips and kissing the beloved face. He traced Shau're's features with the tip of one finger. "Miss you so damned much."
Even now, four years after she'd died, he sometimes woke up in a cold sweat, shaking and crying, reliving the day Apophis had taken her. He tortured himself with thoughts of what he could have done differently, how he could have prevented any of it from happening. His short-sightedness had cost the lives not only of his wife, but ultimately, of his family and everyone on his adopted homeworld.
No one had talked to Daniel much about her after his return from the plane of ascension, and for that he was truly grateful. The burden of that memory was almost too much to bear. Daniel continued to come in to work, continued to try and help in the fight. But inside, he felt dead. Except he was sure the dead couldn't feel so much pain, or be so damned lonely.
One Week Later Daniel's Study
Daniel had once again managed to put his past behind him, and bury himself in his work. He was at home, tapping away furiously on his laptop, when his doorbell rang. He considered ignoring it. The distraction was unwelcome.
The report he was composing was proving very hard to write, considering how angry he was. He still couldn't believe that the alliance he'd helped forge over the last six years was falling apart. Perhaps it'd been stupid to believe that the Tokr'a and the rebel Jaffa would cast aside centuries of hatred in a few short years. But, damn it, he'd been so sure, so hopeful, that it would work.
This time they'd been lucky, and there had only been a few casualties. He shivered as he remembered how close Sam had come to being one of them. Even when they'd found her and brought her home, it'd been touch and go for a while. He couldn't even begin to imagine how scared she must have been, being hunted through the woods by one of Anubis' Super Soldiers.
He was so sick of living with the constant fear of losing one of his friends, all of whom were his adopted family. If Sam had died... or Jack....Oh, God, if Jack had died! Daniel didn't even want to think about what he'd do if he lost his best friend.
Sam was the one whose body was injured, but her teammates were in pain, too. Hammond had told them all to go home and get some rest, but sleep had eluded Daniel. Even though his body told him it was the middle of the night, it was actually mid-morning. Gate travel did that to you. Messed around with your internal clock.
The doorbell sounded again, and Daniel swore impatiently. Whoever was on his front porch was determined to see him. He saved the report and conscientiously closed the computer down. No point in leaving classified material visible to any Tom, Dick, or Harry.
"Aly! Hello!" he said in surprise on opening the door. She grinned apologetically up at him from the bottom step, obviously on the verge of giving up and leaving. She turned to reveal the white coffee mug in her hand. Daniel looked at it inquiringly as she thrust it forward.
"This is going to sound so corny, but would you believe I've run out of sugar?"
Daniel raised an eyebrow, but he couldn't help grinning at his attractive neighbor.
"No, really, I have," she laughed. "And I can't drink tea without it. I'm sorry, Daniel. I can see you were busy, and I've interrupted you. I'll just drive to the store...."
"No, it's fine," Daniel assured her. He found himself reaching for her arm. His report should have been finished hours ago, but he was still too wound up to concentrate on it. He needed a break, a distraction. "Come in, please. I think I have some sugar somewhere."
"I don't want to be a bother."
"Oh, please," he told her, "you're no bother." He took the cup from her hand and stepped back to let her enter.
"Well, if you're sure?" She smiled, stepping past him and heading for the kitchen. He was a little surprised at her familiarity with the layout of his house, until he remembered that hers was practically a carbon copy of it. Of course she would know where the kitchen was.
After he invited Aly to sit at the table, it took Daniel a while to find the sugar, since it was not something he used often.
While he opened and closed cupboard doors, Aly bombarded him with questions about his childhood in Egypt and his chosen profession. And in turn, he discovered that she was not an archaeologist like her mother, as he had assumed. She was a writer. She had several travel guides and history textbooks to her credit, but as a sideline, she wrote romance novels for a well-known publishing house.
With a mysterious smile, she refused to tell Daniel her pen name.
"Would I have heard of you?" he asked over his shoulder as he waited for the kettle to boil for the tea he'd offered to serve her.
"I doubt it, Daniel. Not unless you're in the habit of reading historical bodice-rippers!"
He grinned, turning back to the stove. "Well, you're too young to be Barbara Cartland."
She smiled, obviously surprised that he knew even that much about mass market historical romance novels.
Daniel made a pot of Earl Grey, joined her at the table, and poured them both a cup, taking the opportunity to use his antique china cups for the occasion. As far as he was concerned, there was no doubt that tea tasted better out of real porcelain china.
Aly was looking around the tidy kitchen with interest. "Daniel, you seem to have rather a good collection of cookware for a single guy living alone. Call me nosey, but am I to assume that you're one of that rare breed of men that actually enjoys cooking?"
Daniel sipped his tea and smiled. Jack, Sam, Teal'c, Janet... they'd all visited this house in the past and been the beneficiary of Daniel's well-stocked kitchen. Jack pretended that he only noticed how well stocked with beer the fridge was, but somehow he always seemed to manage to show up at dinnertime and happily eat whatever Daniel put in front of him.
"I was always self-sufficient. Which was lucky, since my wife hated to cook. She told me once that I was responsible for most of the weight she put on in the year we were together."
Aly patted his arm in sympathy. "Divorced?"
"Widowed. Almost four years now." Again he felt the familiar, sharp stab of pain and wondered, for about the thousandth time, if it would ever stop hurting.
"I'm sorry. I do seem to have a knack for making you sad, Daniel."
He looked at her over the rim of his teacup, thinking what a nice woman she was, and how much he liked her. She reminded him of Shaur'e not only in looks, but in personality, too. "You don't, Aly. And I know that Shaur'e wouldn't want me to be sad," he said softly, trying really hard not to be.
"Shaur'e. What a lovely name. It must be Egyptian. Does it mean anything?"
Daniel's small smile spread until he was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. "It means fiery. She was well named." He chuckled, feeling real joy at the memory, not hurting for once. "Her father often admonished me for giving her too much freedom, but I loved her for that passion and energy. No way would I have tried to stifle that."
Rising, Aly took the now empty teacups and rinsed them in the sink. "Well it certainly sounds like you were both very much in love. I'm sorry she's gone."
"So am I, " Daniel agreed as he led Aly into the living room.
When Aly tried to stifle a yawn behind her hand, Daniel glanced at his watch and was startled to discover that it was almost 10 PM. They'd spent the better part of the day sharing memories of Egypt and generally getting to know each other.
Although at one point they had adjourned to the kitchen so that Daniel could throw together some pasta for their dinner, he'd been so involved in Aly's stories that he'd been unaware of time passing. The room had grown dark, the only illumination coming from the small fire he'd lit earlier.
He smiled apologetically as she got to her feet, taking the empty wine glass from her. "I think the day kinda got away from us," he grinned.
"Indeed, it did," she agreed, not looking in the least put out. "But I have to say that I've enjoyed myself immensely. It's so good to have someone nice to talk to, don't you think?"
Daniel thought about all the evenings he'd spent alone in his old apartment after missions that had gone wrong. There'd been times when he would've given anything to have the distraction and comfort of a real family to come home to, a sane and normal home situation to take his mind off the walking nightmare his work life had become.
"Yeah," he agreed quietly. "You'll never know," he added in a wistful tone. "I *have* enjoyed this."
Afraid he was sounding altogether too melancholy, he joked, " We simply *must* do this more often."
They both grinned at the old cliché.
Daniel started to walk Aly to the door. Then remembering her original reason for visiting, he ran back to retrieve the cup of sugar from the kitchen. He bade her good-bye, and stood there watching her until she'd reached her own house. Once sure she was safely inside, he quietly closed his own door, locked it, and leaned his forehead against the cool wood.
His mind and heart were a confusing maelstrom of emotions. He liked Aly, *really* liked her. They had so much in common, shared the same dry sense of humor, and he would by lying if he said he wasn't attracted to her physically. There would have been a time in his life when he wouldn't have hesitated to take things further.
And yet, he was doing just that. Hesitating.
He wandered into the kitchen and began absentmindedly rinsing their dinner dishes and loading them into the dishwasher. Sadly, there was no point in pursuing a relationship with Aly, no matter how much he wanted it. His job made that impossible. The classified nature of his work, the long absences, the danger, all made a normal life with Aly or anyone else seem like a pipe dream.
Daniel sighed, bracing his hands on the edge of the sink. Actually, he thought to himself, that was complete bullshit. Plenty of personnel at the mountain managed to balance their family lives and their careers, so telling himself that he couldn't was just an excuse. Of course the fact that he seemed to always lose the women he loved to the Goa'uld could also be used as a smoke screen for his real feelings, but Daniel knew from long experience that it was impossible to lie to himself. Truth was, he just wasn't ready to move on yet.
He put some detergent in the dishwasher and started the machine, wiped down the table and counters, and gave the floor a quick once-over with a broom. When he couldn't put it off any longer, he uncorked another bottle of wine and went to make himself comfortable in the living room.
The framed photo of Shaur'e was still sitting on the coffee table. Picking it up again, Daniel gazed at his late wife's face. "What should I do, Mer-Akh?" whispered Daniel, using the Abydonian endearment for 'Beloved Spirit'. "Tell me what to do." Shaur'e's smiling face stared mutely back at him. He imagined that she looked a little sad, even though she was smiling shyly in the image.
He sighed and replaced the picture on the table. Perhaps he was destined to go through the rest of his life alone. Did each man only get one shot at true love?
Well, screw it. Maybe he'd just get drunk tonight and not think about any of this.
The doorbell interrupted his musings. Thinking it might be Aly returning, he opened the door with a wide grin on his face.
His nocturnal visitor's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Expecting the pizza boy?" asked Jack O'Neill, with a hopeful smile of his own.
Daniel's smile faded down to a resigned smirk. "Jack, it's after ten. What the hell are you doing here?"
Jack shouldered past him, stepping into the house in a whirl of cool evening air and spicy aftershave, pressing a six-pack of Guinness into Daniel's hands. "I got stuck, Daniel. Needed help to write that dammed report," he complained.
He pulled out one of the bottles and headed for the living room. "Oh, be a pal, and just stick those in the fridge, will ya?" he said over his shoulder.
Daniel stared down at the remaining bottles in his hands and sighed. There was little point in arguing. He knew that Jack wasn't really there for help with the report, or even to share beer with a buddy. Jack would never admit it out loud, but almost losing Sam had left him badly shaken. He needed to be with his best friend.
And as much as Daniel hated to admit it, he was well aware that he needed the very same thing. His day spent with Aly had been a nice distraction from the harrowing memories of SG-1's recent past, but what he needed right now was to be with his family. Jack. Jack was his family, or at least a huge part of it.
Daniel shoved the beer onto the top shelf of his fridge, closed the door, and took a deep breath before joining Jack in the living room. He felt as if he were poised on the edge of a new chapter in his life, and he wanted to talk about it. He just didn't know how to start.
Jack was examining Aly's wine glass when Daniel came in, holding it up to the light and squinting at it with interest. His eyes met Daniel's over the rim.
"Lipstick? Why, Doctor Jackson, have we been entertaining a lady friend this evening?"
Daniel let out the breath he'd been holding in a whoosh. Good old Jack, cutting right to the heart of the matter! He took the wine glass from Jack's fingers and smiled. "Don't know about you, Jack, but I certainly have."
Jack's own grin seemed a little forced. "Well, good for you, Daniel. About time. Details?"
"Nothing to tell. She's my neighbor. I was just being...."
"Neighborly?" supplied Jack helpfully.
Jack twisted the cap from his beer bottle and tossed it towards the trashcan, missing by a mile. With a wink, he raised the bottle to his lips and proceeded to gulp down the contents in several long swallows. When the beer had all disappeared, he smacked his lips, and let out a huge belch. At Daniel's raised eyebrows, he shrugged. "Looks like I've got some catchin' up to do."
With a smile, Daniel handed over the second bottle he'd been concealing behind his back.
Jack grinned at his obvious wisdom. "That's what I love about you, Daniel Jackson. You are a gentleman and a scholar, and you know me so well."
Daniel flopped down on to the sofa and poured himself another glass of wine. "And here I was, thinking it was my good looks and sex appeal that you found irresistible," he joked, raising his glass in a small salute.
Jack's face sobered for a moment and then the grin was back. "Wouldn't know about that, Danny." He raised his beer in a return salute. "Geeks are *so* not my type!"
Two hours later, Jack had drained his last bottle of beer, he'd visited the bathroom twice, and he'd now started in on Daniel's wine. Both men were pleasantly mellow, if not yet actually drunk. The gentle bantering and camaraderie had trailed off into comfortable silence, as they both stared into the flickering fire, lost in their own thoughts.
"Do you ever think about Sara?" Daniel asked suddenly, draining the last drop of wine from his glass.
Jack reached for the almost empty bottle and refilled Daniel's glass. "My ex-wife, Sara? Sure, I think about her sometimes. Why?"
Daniel leaned back against the sofa and closed his eyes. "Do you ever wish, you know, that things had worked out... I don't know, differently?"
"Wait. I'll be right back." With some effort, Jack got up, and made his way into the kitchen to retrieve another bottle of wine. When he came back, he was partially leaning on the furniture, in an effort to stay upright. He handed the bottle to Daniel and watched as his friend uncorked it and poured them another generous amount.
Jack leaned back into the sofa cushions, his eyes watching the wine as he swirled it around in his glass. "Sure, I won't lie to ya. I have regrets, Daniel," he said quietly. "Things I should have said and done. Things I should never had said or done. But I'm real sure, at the end of the day, she's better off without me."
"I'm sorry." Daniel kept his eyes shut. "Do you still miss her?"
Jack turned to examine Daniel's shadowed profile. "The first year we separated, we'd just lost Charlie, too, and I missed her like hell. Then as time went on, it got easier. Now, it only hurts bad once in a while. I get by."
Jack noticed the picture of Shaur'e on the table. He reached out and picked it up. "But then, Sara is still alive, isn't she? Theoretically, I could pick up the phone and talk to her whenever I wanted."
Jack replaced the photo and laid his hand on Daniel's knee. "Daniel, if this is about your lady friend, all I can say is that Shaur'e wouldn't expect you to stay celibate for the rest of your life."
"I know." Daniel's eyes finally fluttered open. "But I'm scared. I don't know if I can do this again. I'm not sure I have the strength." His eyes fell, his gaze locking onto Jack's hand, still resting on his knee. "I'm so lonely, Jack," he confessed in a hoarse whisper.
Jack's hand tightened on his knee, squeezing reassuringly. "Christ, Daniel, you need to get laid in the worst way. You should take a chance with this neighbor...."
Daniel jumped to his feet. "Jack, this isn't about sex! It's about love. It's about sharing your life, your woes, your triumphs with someone outside that damned mountain. Don't you ever wish there were someone waiting for you when you come home?"
"Of course I do. Sometimes," Jack said. He set his glass carefully on the table and reached for Daniel's wrist, tugging him back down onto the sofa. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make light of it."
Daniel tore his eyes from Jack's fingers, which were still wrapped tightly around his wrist, to his face.
Jack cleared his throat. "See, I came to terms with being alone a long time ago," he continued. "I don't think I'll ever be with anyone again. In a relationship, I mean." He allowed his hand to slip away from Daniel's arm.
Daniel nodded, and then frowned, clearly not understanding. "Why are you so sure? Maybe someday...."
Jack reached for his glass but didn't raise it to his mouth. He seemed to be struggling with something. Fighting some inner battle. Emotions played across his face as he absently rubbed his thumb repeatedly over the lip of the glass. "I'm sure because... I'm already in love with... someone, Daniel. But the 'relationship' can't go anywhere."
"Ah!" said Daniel quietly. He'd wondered when Jack would finally get around to telling him this. For quite some time, he'd known, or at least suspected that Jack was hiding his true feelings towards Sam. His two friends had never acknowledged anything out loud, but the way they looked at each other, the way they worried themselves sick when one of them was missing or injured.... "I understand," he said reassuringly.
Jack turned his head and troubled whiskey-colored eyes met his. "You do?" he asked in surprise.
Daniel reached for Jack's hand, squeezing it tightly. "Yeah, I've suspected for a long time. And for what's its worth, I *do* know why you can't act on it, but I still think it sucks. The rules are stupid."
Jack was staring at their joined hands in confusion. "You knew, and you never let on?" he croaked. "All this time, you never said anything. If I'd thought there was a chance..."
Daniel released Jack's hand and leaned back on the sofa, a small sad smile on his lips. "Well, I figured it was none of my business."
Jack's eyes snapped up, a slight frown creasing his brow, but the look of momentary confusion was quickly masked. "None of your... oh! I see. You thought it was... " he trailed off.
"None of my business," Daniel finished for him, nodding. "I don't even pretend to understand the non-fraternization rules, but I know both you and Sam believe they exist for a reason."
"Yeah," sighed Jack, straightening up. "Sam and me..." he snorted a wry laugh, "Commanding officer, same team, all that shit. It would never work, for more reasons than you'll ever know."
Daniel offered a reassuring smile. Because he wasn't military, Daniel believed that Jack and Sam could have made it work if they'd really wanted to. He wasn't sure why they hadn't at least tried, but now Jack had waited too long, and Sam had fallen for Pete Shanahan. It had to happen that she'd find someone eventually. Jack looked tired, worn out. Daniel was sorry that he'd started this subject.
Jack shrugged and got to his feet, stuffing his balled up fists into the pockets of his jeans. "I should go. It's late...."
Jack had been drinking, and a cab would take too long to show up at this time of night. But apart from that, Daniel didn't want to wake up to an empty house again. He desperately wanted to share breakfast banter with Jack.
His friend hesitated, and then nodded. "Okay, but I get first dibs on the shower in the morning."
"Deal," said Daniel, feeling happier already.
"So now we got the embarrassing mush out of the way," Jack flopped back down on the sofa again, "how about you fill me in on this gorgeous woman you found living right next door?"
Daniel glanced at the wall clock, which proclaimed it to be well after midnight. It was going to be a long night, but he didn't mind a bit.
One Week Later
Sam was sitting up in bed when Daniel entered the infirmary. Nearly a week had gone by since the alliance had broken apart, and she was well on the road to recovery. She smiled at him warmly, eyes locking onto the paper bag he carried.
"Those'd better not be grapes, Daniel," she admonished pointing to the bag. "I've had more than enough of those to last me a lifetime."
"Let me guess... Jack?" Daniel asked, holding the bag just out of her reach. She didn't have to answer. It was a safe bet. Jack *always* brought grapes. Or Jell-O. Green Jell-O, his own favorite, even though everyone knew Sam's preference was for the blue.
Sam scowled at him, and he relented, dropping his offering of oatmeal raisin walnut cookies onto the bed. She pounced on it, her head almost disappearing inside the bag as she fished around for one with glee. She emerged a moment later, happily munching.
"You look good," said Daniel trying to slip his hand inside the bag to steal a cookie, only to have it slapped away. "Ow!" He shook his hand. "And you're back to your old feisty self, I see."
She cocked an eyebrow at him, tongue darting out to lick a cookie crumb stuck to the side of her mouth. "Feisty?" she said. "That evokes images of some freckle-faced kid in pigtails and a gingham dress trying to get home against all the odds. I'm not sure I like being the 'Dorothy' of SG-1."
Daniel managed to snag a cookie and duck back out of range. "How about Alice then?"
"As in, 'Through the Looking Glass'," Daniel explained.
Sam held the bag of cookies close to her chest, noting that her friend was getting ready to make another pass for it. "So that would make you what? The white rabbit? Always rushing around, always late."
Daniel scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm not always late. Jack sets his watch five minutes ahead of time so that I *appear* to be late, that's all," he sniffed.
Sam nodded sagely. "Teal'c would, of course, be the Cheshire Cat. Very enigmatic. Very deep. And the colonel...."
"...would be the Queen of Hearts!" Daniel finished with a snicker.
"Who's a queen?" said Jack from the infirmary door.
Both heads turned to watch him approach.
Daniel noticed the brown paper bag he was carrying and grinned. He and Sam exchanged a knowing look, sharing a little private moment.
Jack reached the bed and tossed down the bag, where it landed with a splat beside Sam. His eyes narrowed at the look that passed between his two teammates, but he must have decided not to press for details of the private joke. "Queen?" he reiterated.
Daniel shrugged. "Lewis Carroll. Which of his characters are you most like?"
Sam was poking the damp squishy bag with one finger. It looked like the colonel had surpassed himself this time, bringing her green Jell-O *in* a bag.
He noticed the look on her face and tried to appear apologetic. "Sorry, I kinda sat on the grapes. Some might still be salvageable..."
"Thanks," she said with a roll of her eyes. "I think."
"And to answer your question, Daniel, I think I'm most like Tweedle Dum. And you, of course, would be Tweedle Dee."
Daniel was about to make a witty retort, when another visitor arrived. Pete was staggering under the weight of an enormous bunch of flowers.
Jack glanced down at the messy paper bag, which was oozing green goo, and then back at the red roses. He narrowed his eyes at the rapturous look on Sam's face.
With eyes only for his girlfriend, Pete squeezed past Jack to lean forward and give her a kiss, laying the roses in Sam's waiting arms.
Daniel couldn't help watching Jack's face for signs of discomfort, but if the colonel was having issues, he hid it well.
Pete straightened, and smiled at the other men. "Hey, guys. I'd kiss y'all too, but they tell me there're rules against that around these parts."
Sam slapped him playfully on the arm, biting her lower lip and grinning up into Pete's face.
Jack remained unaccountably silent, apparently not picking up on the intended humor of Pete's remark.
Daniel felt like the temperature in the room has just dropped a few degrees. Getting to his feet, he cleared his throat. He understood that Sam and Pete would want some privacy. "Well, I'd better get a move on. Grocery shopping waits for no man."
He tapped Jack lightly on the shoulder.
Jack dragged his eyes away from Pete. "Huh?"
"Didn't you tell me you had, uh... stuff to do?"
Jack frowned and returned his steely gaze to Pete, who had begun sweating. "No, I didn't say that."
"Yes, you did." Daniel poked Jack hard in the ribs.
His yelp of surprise brought two of Fraiser's nurses into the room, which in turn led to Jack and Daniel's eviction, since the infirmary staff was absolutely fanatical about the one visitor per bed rule.
As they walked towards the locker room, Daniel cast Jack a sideways glance. "You okay?" he asked quietly.
Jack stared at the floor as he walked. "You think he's good enough? For Carter, I mean. Do you think Shanahan's *it*?"
Daniel couldn't see Jack's face clearly, but he was sure Jack was fighting back the green-eyed monster. "What *we* think isn't really important, is it, Jack?" he said softly.
"No, I guess not." Jack stopped and turned to face his friend, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Listen, I've got some paperwork to catch up on. I'll see you later, okay?" And with that he turned and strode off down the corridor, leaving Daniel alone.
With a small sigh, Daniel continued on his way, hoping that one day, Jack might be able to confide in him about what he was struggling with. He hated to see Jack hurting and wished that his friend could move on from his hopeless, impossible feelings for Sam.
That Night Albertson's Supermarket Colorado Springs
At that hour, the aisles of the grocery store were almost deserted. Normally, Daniel tried to shop as quickly as humanly possible to avoid the crowds, but at eight-thirty on a Saturday evening, barely a half dozen people were there, so he could take his time.
He lingered, reading labels, browsing the shelves for good bargains. At one point, he was so deeply immersed in studying the cooking instructions on a frozen chicken pot pie, he didn't even see Aly until she nudged his shopping cart with her own.
"I've been walking up and down just behind you for several minutes. I think the store manager was about to throw me out for being a stalker," she giggled.
"Oh, hey, Aly." Genuinely pleased to see her, he tossed the pie into his cart and fell into step beside her.
She was checking out the contents of his cart with interest. "A frozen TV dinner? You? I *am* surprised. Your kitchen hinted that you might be a bit of a gourmet chef, so I thought you'd make your own."
"I cook from scratch whenever I can," he told her with a smile. "But unfortunately, I'm going out of town soon, so there's no point buying fresh ingredients. They'd just spoil in my fridge."
SG-1 was on standby status until Sam was fully recovered, but Daniel had been asked to go off-world with another team. The mission was scheduled to take only a few days, by which time Sam should be back on the active duty list. Daniel didn't want to risk coming home to a fridge full of moldy science experiments.
As they reached the checkout, she began unloading her own purchases. "Well, in that case, you must eat with me tonight," she announced. "I simply cannot allow you to choke down..." she peered at the frozen pie with mock disgust, "...Stouffer's Genuine Homestyle Chicken Pot Pie," she shuddered theatrically, "when there is a far better alternative at my house."
Daniel hesitated for about two seconds. It was a casual dinner invitation from a friendly neighbor. Nothing more. He happily accepted with a small nod.
Outside in the parking lot, he helped Aly load her shopping into her car and then followed her home.
He took a moment to pop into his house, put away his perishables, and grab a couple of bottles of wine. In the hall by his front door, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and froze. Who was that stranger staring back at him? He looked... well, he looked terrified, actually. Sighing, he stuck his tongue out at his reflection. He didn't want to be scared. He wanted to be ready to let go of the past, and move on.
Impulsively, he set the wine down and went back to his bathroom. He ran a comb through his hair. Then he undid his belt and tucked his tee shirt into his jeans, letting the denim outer shirt he was wearing remain loose and unbuttoned. He quickly brushed his teeth, ran his electric razor over his face, and even put on another layer of deodorant, steadfastly refusing to ask himself why he was bothering. It wasn't a date, it was just dinner. After all, nothing was going to happen.
Once he finally stepped outside, locking up his house behind him, he stood on Aly's porch for a full five minutes before plucking up the courage to knock and then walk in, as she'd asked him to do earlier.
"I'm in the kitchen, Daniel, come on in," she called out.
He made his way through the house, stopping to examine with interest almost every piece of Egyptian pottery and statue as he went. Since his last visit, Aly had been busy, and now there were no packing crates lying around. His eyes flew to a large display unit in the hall where, nestling among several other interesting pieces, he saw the canopic jar he had spotted the day they met. He put down the two bottles of wine he was carrying and reached hesitantly for the jar.
"It's a reproduction," Aly explained from behind, and Daniel's hand dropped to his side, as he whirled around to face her. "Anubis was guardian of the Necropolis. He was the guide of the dead as they made their way through the darkness of the underworld. As a patron of magic, it was believed he could foresee a person's destiny. In this role, he was the announcer of death. Charming, huh?" she asked with a grin.
"Oh, yeah, he was that," Daniel muttered darkly as he followed her into the kitchen, casting one last look over his shoulder at the dark blue jar. A shiver went right through him. It was more than a little unsettling to have his work-life intrude here, in this place, which could ideally become a sanctuary to him someday. But the very things that drew him to Aly were the same things he had to deal with at the Mountain. He was going to have to be very careful what he said around her.
Soon all thoughts of work had vanished as he helped Aly prepare their food. They made a good team, working side by side in the kitchen as though they'd been doing it for years, and never once got in each other's way. Daniel had never met a woman who liked to cook as much as he did. They drank his good wine as they worked, and it and the company relaxed him so much, he found that before too long, he'd told Aly his life story. Well, up to the point where it all became classified, anyway.
"And you still believe you're right?" she asked curiously, setting the two plates of broiled pork chops, mashed potatoes, and steamed mixed vegetables down on the table. "Despite being laughed out of academia and having your hypothesis discredited?"
Daniel slipped into a chair and lifted his knife and fork. He'd never been a fan of pork, but the way Aly cooked it, the savory smell of it had him drooling. "Yeah, I do. What do *you* think?" He was genuinely interested to hear what she made of his 'insane' theories about the age of the pyramids.
"Well, it certainly is an interesting theory, Daniel. I'm sure if my mother were here right now, she'd be bombarding you with questions. I'm afraid I just don't have enough knowledge on the subject to intelligently agree or disagree. But if you believe you're right, then there must be some truth in it. You'll simply have to educate me, I guess."
Daniel grinned and tucked into his dinner. It was going to be another long night.
2 Weeks Later SGC Infirmary
Daniel hesitated in the doorway. He'd never seen the infirmary quite so busy. Briefly, he considered turning back, but this was something he had to do. Taking a deep breath, he walked over to the last bed.
"Doctor Jackson!" Simon Wells exclaimed in surprise, trying to sit upright.
"Hey. Please, just call me Daniel." He smiled reassuringly. "So I hear you're gonna make a full recovery?"
"So they say," Wells muttered, sounding none too pleased about it.
Daniel had expected this. It was why he'd come. "You talk to your wife?" he asked.
"Yeah." Wells face lost that haunted look, which was just what Daniel had been aiming for.
"I never asked you when she's due."
Simon's eyes took on a faraway look, as though he were trying to imagine how different his life would be once the baby arrived. "A couple of weeks. They say I should be out of here by then."
Daniel's smile was genuine. "That's great."
The man looked exhausted. Unwilling to overtire him, Daniel began to back away from the bed. "I just wanted to see how you were doing, so ..."
"She's dead because of me."
Ah, there it was. Daniel moved closer, shaking his head. " No, no. She's dead because a Jaffa shot her. She was doing her job. The same way you were doing yours, when a Jaffa shot you."
"I can't make it feel right."
"It wasn't right. Nothing about it was right," said Daniel firmly, "but it also wasn't your fault." He met and held Simon's eyes until the young man finally nodded.
A few minutes later, as he left the infirmary, Daniel hoped his words had truly reassured Wells, who had enough to worry about, without carrying any guilt about Janet Fraser's death.
Daniel had intended to go home, get some rest, but he soon found himself standing outside an isolation room. He placed one hand on the metal door and took a deep breath.
He'd come back through the gate on one end of a gurney carrying Janet's body. Medical personnel had taken over as he'd stumbled down the ramp, leaving him standing there. He'd been shaking and so damned numb that when they'd brought Jack's unmoving body through a few seconds later, he could do nothing but stare as the stretcher carrying him disappeared from sight.
He'd stood there in the gate room for a long time, unable to process what he'd just gone through. Even when he'd seen the tears streaming down Sam's grimy face and the devastation in Teal'cs eyes, he'd not been able to take it all in.
When he'd heard the news that Jack was alive and would completely recover, Daniel had gone into a supply closet, locked the door, and wept all alone, not allowing anyone to see his deeply emotional state. For the first time, he faced how much Jack O'Neill meant to him, way down deep in his heart. Why, he'd chided himself, do we never tell our friends how much we love them, before it's too late?
And now Daniel stood poised outside Jack's room, prepared to do just that. Jack was probably going to slap him upside the head for his troubles, but he was going to go in there and tell him. He was going to say something like, Jack-you're-the-best-friend-I've-ever-had- and-I-love-you-you-big-asshole-don't-you-ever-get-yourself-hurt-like-this-again-or-I'll-fucking-kill-you-myself-okay?' Then he was going to simply die of embarrassment, 'cause tough guys didn't talk about love and feelings. But he was damned well going to do it anyway and just let the fallout happen.
He pushed the door open a fraction, peeking his head around to see if Jack were awake and gasped in shock. Jack was not only awake, but he was standing up, and Sam was right there too! They had their arms around each other. The colonel had his face buried in the major's neck!
Wide eyed, Daniel blushed furiously, quickly back-pedalling out of the room, struggling with shock, disappointment, and an embarrassing chagrin that he hardly understood. God, he'd unwittingly intruded on a private moment, and he hated that, too.
They didn't seem to have noticed him, so he let the door close silently.
As he walked slowly back to his office, he was ashamed to find that he was also angry and jealous, and that all of those feelings were mainly directed towards Sam herself. Wasn't she supposed to have moved on? She'd found a man of her own, Pete Shanahan, a man she was allowed to be with. Damn it, she wasn't supposed to be hanging onto Jack!
Maybe it was stupid and petty, but Jack had always been the one to offer comfort to Daniel. In fact, he was the only person Daniel would accept it from. He'd gone in there, looking for reassurance, and yes, comfort, even though Jack was the one physically wounded. He'd half expected to end up being hugged to death as they mourned Janet together. And on some subliminal level, he'd been looking forward to it. Hoping for it.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Damn! He'd thought he was all right with the idea of Jack and Sam as a couple. Now he wasn't so sure he'd accepted it.
He envied Sam that closeness, and Daniel was confused by the strength of his feelings. The idea of his two friends being in love had actually pleased him at first. Sure, he'd been saddened that they couldn't do anything about their feelings, and had to keep each other at arm's length. But then maybe that was exactly why he *had* been okay with it. Because the stupid rules meant that they couldn't have each other.
And what exactly did that mean? Why did it hurt so much now to think of them together?
Things had been a little strained between him and Jack before Daniel's ascension. And although it was obvious that Jack was glad to have him back since SG-1 had found Daniel on Vis Uban, it hadn't really gotten that much better. They'd never really succeeded in regaining that old closeness they'd enjoyed in their early days as friends.
That year away had put more distance between them than Daniel had first imagined, and now it seemed that Sam had taken his place in Jack's affections. Overtaken might be a better word. Hadn't Jack admitted being in love with her? That had to come before friendship, didn't it?
Daniel leaned against the cool cement wall just inside his office, his head lowered in thought. Was that what was terrifying him? Was that what was making his heart hammer in his chest, and sweat burst forth from every pore? Was he really so shallow that he'd begrudge them even the briefest moment of happiness for fear of losing his friend Jack? Apparently.
Without turning on the lights in his office, he decided to change his direction and retraced his steps to the infirmary area.
Minutes later, Daniel found himself in the intensive care room, which was mercifully empty and in darkness, except for one spotlight directed at the center of the bed.
He stood and stared. This was the very bed from which they'd told him he'd ascended. Funny, he had no real memory of dying, of "going all glowy," as Jack called it. Daniel remembered the accident and subsequent horrific pain. He recalled feelings of deep regret. He remembered hallucinating a whole conversation with Jack and Oma out on the ramp. But any recollection of the moment he'd given up and let go of his corporeal life still eluded him.
He'd always prided himself for being a fighter, and yet, he'd apparently just given up and left them. He'd left his friends, his family, behind and gone with Oma. Why had he done that?
He backed away from the table, into a dark corner next to a supply cabinet, and slid into a chair there, his mind and heart in a whirl of thoughts and emotions.
Surely he'd had a choice. Couldn't he have fought harder to live? What could possibly have been more important than Jack, and their team, more important than his job, the contributions he made, could still make?
A brief flash of memory assaulted him. Janet's face, stricken with grief and disbelief at Jack's words, "Jacob, just let him go. It's what he wants."
Daniel himself had had a choice when he'd left this earth, but his friend Janet had not had that luxury. Overwhelmed with sadness and loss, Daniel fought back the onslaught of bitter tears. She hadn't even known what hit her. She'd never seen the blast that ripped her from this world.
With no one to comfort him, no one to tell him it was not his fault, the guilt and painful, raw grief rose and overwhelmed him. He sat there for a long time, silently crying.
And later when the documentary reporter came in looking for him, he was surprised to find that he actually wanted to talk to him. He wanted to tell him all about how amazingly brave Janet Fraiser had been, and how it should have been him who'd died.
It should have been him.
A Few Days Later The Windmill Restaurant Denver
They were having lunch at a very exclusive eatery, next door to one of the best art galleries in Denver. Daniel still couldn't believe that she'd suckered him into paying.
"Daniel, what on earth does an archaeologist *do* at Cheyenne Mountain?" Aly asked, spearing a piece of sesame chicken from his plate and quickly stuffing it in her mouth.
"Hey, eat your own food!" he groused good-naturedly.
"Ah, what I do is classified. So I can't tell you," he grinned. "Well, actually I could, but then I'd have to kill you."
"Very funny!" She rolled her eyes at his attempt at shtick.
Ignoring the way he tried to fend her off, she expertly swooped in to steal another morsel of his meal. "But in all seriousness, Daniel. NORAD? And archaeology? Non sequitur."
"I did mention my second degree is in linguistics, didn't I?" He blinked at her, keeping a studiously innocent expression on his face as he reached over and quickly helped himself to a forkful of her Caesar salad.
Aly dabbed her mouth delicately with her napkin. "Ah, now that makes a little more sense," she said, dropping the napkin onto the table. "So, what? You're an interpreter? Translator?"
He shrugged. "Read my lips," he joked with a smile. "I. Can't. TELL. You."
"All right, 'Mr. Mystery', keep your shirt on," she grinned back. She looked him up and down with an appreciative eye. "And such a handsome shirt it is, too," she murmured.
Daniel felt his mouth go dry at the blatant interest in those eyes.
He nodded at the waiter, who brought the bill. Casually, he tossed his credit card onto the silver tray. As he watched the waiter leave, Daniel remembered how he'd needed General Hammond's staff to run interference for him when he'd applied for that card. Being 'dead' for a year really put a kink in your credit rating. His mind far away from their table and from his companion, he smiled at the memory of Jack saying those very words.
Fortunately, rank had its privileges, and arrangements had been made for one Doctor Daniel Jackson to literally become a card-carrying American again. Ultimately, Daniel had been able to buy his new house. It wasn't that he'd minded living at Jack's place. He'd always felt strangely at home there, but he hadn't wanted to get too comfortable. That would've been far too easy to do.
The soft voice interrupted his reverie. "Penny for them?"
Daniel glanced up, self-conscious about being caught daydreaming.
Aly smiled, reaching across the table and covering his hand with her own. "Daniel, you look so sad. Is there anything wrong?"
His eyes fell to where she was touching him. He shook his head, unable to answer her question honestly. "I'm fine. I guess I'm still missing Janet." He hated using Janet's death as an excuse, but it was easier than trying to explain to Aly that he was actually missing his other friend, who happened to be very much alive.
Jack was back in Minnesota at his cabin, taking a well-deserved vacation and recovering from the staff blast that had almost killed him. Daniel had driven him to the airport and waved him off. Jack had been gone less that three days, and inexplicably, Daniel already felt restless and edgy.
Aly was watching him from across the table, and he felt heat rise in his cheeks. He liked the way she looked at him. She cared about him, and he liked that a lot, too.
"Janet? Oh, your colleague who died! You must've been very close?"
Daniel's small smile was full of pain. "Yes. Yes, we were close. I was there when she died. It happened too damned fast, and I... I wasn't able to do anything to save her." Taking off his glasses, Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose. "You think you're prepared for it. For the loss, I mean. But in the end, it still takes you by surprise. It still knocks your legs out from under you."
He felt her insinuate her small fingers around his hand, and his first gut reaction was to pull away. He just wasn't used to having people touch him because they wanted to comfort him. Except Jack. Jack never had accepted Daniel's personal boundaries.
"What happened, Daniel?"
He turned his hand under hers, so that they were palm to palm, letting his fingers interlace with hers, in defiance of his inner turmoil.
"It's... also classified. I'm sorry, Aly. I'd tell you if I could... It's just...."
"I know, you'd have to kill me. It's okay. I understand, Danny."
"Daniel!" he rasped, dropping her hand like a hot potato. The words burst out of him before he could consider them or give it any kind of thought. "It's Daniel. Not Danny."
Aly's startled apology was interrupted when the waiter returned with Daniel's card and their bill. Daniel signed the credit card receipt, and they stood up to leave.
Aly seemed to know instinctively when to ask questions, and when to leave things be. It was one of the things he really liked about her. She'd never pushed him to be or say something he couldn't.
After they gathered up their jackets at the coat check station, she took his arm as they headed across the street for the parking lot, and again he had to fight the urge to pull away.
She stopped walking as they reached the sidewalk, forcing him to do the same. "Daniel?" They turned to face each other.
"Are we dating?"
He thought about that. They'd been going out to restaurants, shopping, theatres, and art galleries for weeks now. He almost always paid. Did that mean they were dating? "Well, I guess maybe we are, now that you mention it. Is that a problem for you?"
"No, just checking," she said with a soft, musical laugh. "I like to know where I stand." She slipped her hand back through the crook of his arm, and they continued on their way
Back home, Daniel walked Aly to her front door. He watched her slip her key into the lock, and actually stood there like an idiot and wondered what he was supposed to do now.
He'd never been very good at the dating game. Actually, he'd never really dated anyone at all.
Sarah Gardner had just kept showing up at his office at the Oriental Institute and things had progressed from there. She'd made all the moves. Shaur'e had been given to him as a gift, and although he'd always hated that aspect of Abydonian culture, he couldn't deny that he'd never regretted a single day of his marriage, and he'd quickly found himself deeply in love with his wife.
But this thing he had with Aly, this apparently had been dating, and he was clueless about the etiquette involved. He had no idea if he was supposed to kiss her goodnight, now that they'd agreed they were a couple.
Once again, the decision was made for him. "Goodnight, Daniel." Her hands on his upper arms, she got up on her tiptoes, leaned forward, and pressed a chaste, closed mouth kiss on his dry lips. "Call me tomorrow?"
Before he could react or say anything intelligent, she slipped inside, and he was left alone on the porch.
The only thing he was aware of was an immense feeling of relief. He stood still for a moment trying to analyze that. It annoyed the hell out of him that he couldn't seem to make his own moves when it came to women. All his adult life, he'd just let them lead, almost like he'd never truly been committed to them or to the relationships.
He wanted it to be different this time. He wanted to *want* this woman. And perhaps he did, he mused. Maybe it was just fear that was holding him back. After all, he *was* attracted to her, no denying that, both to her personality and to her body, but he just couldn't see himself in a long-term relationship with her right now.
With a small sigh of frustration, Daniel went home, wondering what the hell he could do to get his feelings for Aly to come alive. But even before he'd reached his own front door, he was already thinking about Jack at his cabin, all alone in the northern woods. Suddenly his heart was filled with a strange yearning. God, how he missed him!
Four Weeks Later SGC - Daniel's office
Daniel was damned sure Aly was the person he was going to be spending the rest of his life with. She was funny, intelligent, witty, well read, well travelled, beautiful, caring and understanding. He'd finally gotten over his original shyness and naiveté, and although their lovemaking was far from earth shattering, it was sweet and gentle and more than enough for Daniel.
He'd tried not to compare Aly with Shaur'e, who'd been both passionate and fiery. His wife had not only been open and responsive to everything they'd done, both in their daily life and in their bed, but many times she'd been the one with the original, fun ideas for them to share. She'd made him laugh, delighted him, and made him feel like he was the only man alive. It was hard to believe he would ever find a soulmate like that again, and to be honest, he wasn't even sure he wanted to. He could never replace Shaur'e in his heart. All he felt he needed now, all he hoped for, really, was to find someone to share the part of his heart that was left.
He'd loved and adored Shaur'e with the same fire and passion she'd lavished on him, but ultimately, all he'd been left with were some warm memories and a whole lot of heartbreak and pain. Maybe it was better this way. Maybe he couldn't give himself 100% this time. It didn't seem to matter. He *was* happy again.
It was enough.
He'd already given her a key to his house, and most nights he came home to a nice glass of wine and a hot meal, during which they would share interesting conversation, followed by a long, languid soak in the tub. Then they would make love into the wee hours.
She rarely asked him about his work anymore, but clearly she didn't believe his cover story at all. Occasionally, she would push for information, but always seemed content to let the matter drop when Daniel got tight-lipped.
He knew it wasn't fair. He knew a woman as intelligent and curious as Aly would always feel uncomfortable with his silence, and he wondered how that boded for their future together. There were plenty of personnel on the base, both male and female, who were in long-term relationships. He wondered how they coped with the inevitable questions. He supposed that they just laid down ground rules and stuck to them. Or perhaps they whispered secrets to their better halves in the dark of the night, making them promise not to tell a soul? In time, he would come to trust her completely, and then he would re-evaluate how to handle the classified nature of his work. For now, he didn't know what to say, so he mostly said nothing.
Things were still a nightmare at work. He believed that it would all come to a head very soon. There was a real danger that Anubis might be the one Goa'uld they couldn't beat, especially in light of the Super Soldier firepower he now commanded, and for the first time in a long time, Daniel was really scared. He hid it well, but inside, he just wasn't convinced they could win this time. Everything seemed to hinge on finding the Lost City, and therefore everything seemed to hinge on him. He was the one they all looked at to solve the ages old mystery. No pressure or anything!
The situation with Jack and Sam seemed to have settled a bit. Not that he'd been around Jack much recently to make that observation. He'd managed to spend some time with Sam, though, and while he would never ask her outright, he was pretty sure she'd let go of any hope.
When she spoke about Pete Shanahan, her eyes sparkled, and she simply could not keep a small smile from her lips. Daniel supposed he looked the same way, when he talked about Aly.
He felt ashamed about the strength of his earlier anger. Right now, he felt he should be worrying more about how Jack was coping. He was still alone, still in love with Sam, and still hurting. But somehow, he just couldn't bring himself to raise the subject with Jack. He wasn't being a very good friend right now. What with all the extra hours he was putting in lately, he barely had enough time to spend with Aly, let alone Jack.
It was mid-afternoon, and Daniel was having trouble making sense of the work on his desk. He'd skipped lunch and drunk too much coffee, and his head was thick with an energy-sapping boredom and fatigue.
With a disgusted grunt, he pushed aside the huge pile of research notes, videotapes, and reference books that littered his desk and got painfully to his feet. Seven hours sitting at his desk had put a major crick in his neck that would develop into a full-scale migraine if he didn't do something about it soon.
He headed for the gym and gave himself a really good workout, feeling the unused muscles protest at the unaccustomed exercise. Within a matter of minutes, he was drenched with sweat. He managed an hour, first on the treadmill and then on the weights, before he had to admit defeat and head for the shower.
Daniel was humming something totally tuneless when he became aware of a presence at his side. The base showers were usually deserted late in the afternoon, which was why Daniel tended to use them then, so he was a little surprised to have to share.
The water blinded and deafened him, so he did his best to ignore the person next to him, singing a little louder to hide his self-consciousness.
"Daniel?" the voice at his side shouted. He breathed a sigh of relief. It was only Jack! "Is that the great Sachmo you're butchering?"
Daniel reached for the faucet and switched off the cascade of water. "...and I think to myself... what a won-der-ful wooo-oooorld!" he warbled.
And Jack finished with, "Oh, yeeeeeeah!"
Daniel couldn't help but meet Jack's smile with one of his own. It'd been too long since he'd actually spent any time with Jack off base, and he missed him like hell. Jack was spending more and more time in closed meetings with General Hammond, he'd been sent to Washington a couple of times, and he'd even met the new President. More often than not, SG-1 went out without their beloved leader.
"Got any plans for tonight, Danny?" Jack asked, ducking his head under the spray to soak his hair. It sounded like a pre-cursor to inviting Daniel over for beer or something, and much as he would have loved that, he'd promised to take Aly to a concert. They had tickets. Bloody expensive tickets.
"Yeah. Got a date with Beethoven. Denver Symphony, up at Red Rocks," he said, trying to sound cheerful as he wrapped himself up in his dark blue towelling robe.
"Ah, too bad!" replied Jack, making no attempt to hide the disappointment in his voice. "Never mind, then. I was gonna suggest the team get together at my place. It's been far too long since we all got together and just hung out. Another time, maybe?"
Daniel crossed his hands over his chest and hugged himself, at a loss to explain why he suddenly felt like such a big shit. "That'd be great Jack," he mumbled, tying the robe's sash tightly around his waist and bending over to retrieve his shower gel.
"Actually, how does Saturday afternoon sound?" Jack plucked the gel from Daniel's fingers and squeezed out a generous dollop. "I'll do barbeque. Why don't you bring what's-her-name?"
"Aly, her name's Aly." Daniel frowned, irritated that Jack could never seem to remember his girlfriend's name. Like it wasn't important or something, or of no interest to him. The thought hurt Daniel more than he cared to admit.
"Yeah, bring Aly, and Sam can bring..."
"Pete." Daniel supplied shortly. He was sure Jack was just being difficult.
As he stood there contemplating how annoying Jack could be, he watched the subject of his musings as he soaped himself up with his hands and then stepped under the spray. For some reason, Daniel found the way the soapy lather followed the contours of the muscles of Jack's back strangely fascinating. It flowed in completely different patterns on a male body than on a female. Only that morning he'd shared a shower with Aly. While he'd greatly enjoyed the outcome, he hadn't really spent a great deal of time looking at her body. Only touching it with his eyes closed.
Involuntarily, his hand came up and reached out towards the curve of Jack's ass. Shocked when he realized what he was about to do, he dropped his arm and took a quick step backwards. Blinking furiously to make his eyes behave themselves, Daniel decided to flee the showers before Jack noticed anything. "Sure, we'll be there. Four o'clock?"
"Make it three-thirty," Jack called after him as he made his escape.
In the quiet of the locker room, Daniel quickly got dried off and dressed before sitting down to tie his shoelaces. Why the hell had be been staring at and thinking about Jack's body while he showered? It was only about the millionth time they'd been in there together. He'd never had the urge to trail his fingers over Jack's wet, soapy skin before.
Daniel got to his feet and shook his head. There was probably a perfectly plausible explanation for it. He'd gone a very long time without female companionship, and now, suddenly he was having sex frequently. Perhaps his body just reacted to any naked skin now. Maybe things would calm down once he got used to being in a physical relationship again. Yes, that was probably it.
Satisfied that he wasn't losing his mind, Daniel slung his jacket over his shoulder and headed topside without waiting for Jack to emerge from the shower.
Saturday dawned bright and beautiful. Daniel helped Aly load the potato salad, home made coleslaw and case of wine she had insisted upon supplying into his car.
When they arrived at Jack's, they saw that clearly the colonel had decided to make it into more than just a team event. By the time they got there, there was no room in the driveway, and several kids were playing softball in the yard.
Daniel parked by the curb out in the street, killed the engine, and undid his seatbelt. He noticed that Aly stayed still, staring out of the window.
"Hey, you okay?" he asked, concerned by her silence.
"I'm just a little nervous, Daniel," she replied, chewing on her bottom lip. "This is the first time I've met your friends, and I want to make a good impression on them."
He smiled, reaching to undo her seatbelt for her. "They'll love you," he stated confidently.
Rather than ring the bell, Daniel led Aly around the back of the house, to where several SG personnel were already gathered.
He spotted Teal'c right away, sitting in a lawn chair next to George Hammond. They were both watching the Rockies/Dodgers baseball game on the small portable TV Jack had brought outside to the deck. Daniel grinned. The General was a rabid Colorado Rockies fan, and it looked like he was well on his way to corrupting the Jaffa, too.
His eyes searched for Jack, and found him exactly where he expected him to be, at the other end of the deck, beside the gas grill. He wore a cheesy chef hat, and a black apron with appliquéd red chili peppers and the suggestion, "KISS THE COOK, HE'S HOT STUFF," emblazoned across the chest. He looked less than happy, as he tried to get the gas flame adjusted to his satisfaction. Several people had already come by to offer assistance, only to be impatiently waved away. It was always personal with Jack.
Daniel slipped his arm around Aly's tiny waist and steered her towards the lion in his den. Might as well get it over with right off, so they could all relax and enjoy themselves.
O'Neill whirled around, eyebrows raised in silent reprimand. When he saw who had dared to interrupt him, his face cleared and a wide smile replaced the scowl. But no sooner had it appeared, than it faded when his eyes moved from Daniel to the diminutive woman at his side.
"Jack, I'd like you to meet Allegra Sagira Sadiqm," Daniel plunged in, not even trying to keep the pride out of his voice. "Or Aly for short. Aly, this is my friend, Jack O'Neill."
He expected Jack to make some witty joke, about how such a beautiful woman had ended up with a homely geek like Daniel. He had his equally witty rejoinder all planned. Instead, there was a moment of awkward silence, then Jack shook her outstretched hand.
"It's nice to meet you, Jack," Aly said politely, gazing way up into his face with an equally polite smile.
Being just as polite, Jack said, "How do you do?" The small smile on his lips totally failed to reach his eyes.
Daniel frowned in confusion at all that politeness. This was weird, even for Jack.
"Will you excuse me for a minute, Aly? Daniel? " Jack backed away from them. "I need to go inside and get the meat." He turned and loped off across his deck and into the house.
Daniel stood next to Aly as they both watched Jack's retreating back.
"Well, that went well," Aly stage-whispered. "Not."
Daniel didn't understand. Why the hell had Jack bolted like that?
"Hey, Daniel, been here long?"
He whirled around at the sound of Sam's voice and tried to wipe the scowl off his face. Sam was looking fantastic in a pale blue pastel sundress and strappy white sandals. Daniel rarely got to see her in anything other than fatigues, so it always came as a bit of a surprise to see her looking so... feminine.
Beside her, a very nervous looking Pete Shanahan smiled back at them.
And suddenly, Daniel worked out why Jack had bolted. It had nothing to do with Aly at all. Jack must have seen Sam approaching with Pete. He must have realized that he wasn't quite as prepared to make nice with Sam's boyfriend as he'd thought he would be.
"Oh, no, we just got here, actually," Daniel said, glancing over his shoulder towards the house. He wanted to go see if his friend was all right. "Um... sorry, Sam, this is Aly, the lady I've been boring you all silly about for weeks. Aly, this is Sam Carter and her friend, Pete Shanahan."
"How do you do?" Aly enthused, looking genuinely interested. "Daniel has told me so much about you, Major Carter. He says you're an expert in radio telemetry?"
Sam smiled at Daniel indulgently and launched into her well-rehearsed cover story speech. Daniel fidgeted and glanced over his shoulder again. Jack still had not emerged from the house. "Guys, I have to use the bathroom. Will you look after Aly for me?"
Aly tutted and slapped him playfully on the arm. "I'm not a child, Daniel. I can look after myself. Go ahead and... use the loo. I'll be right here when you get back."
She knew. She knew perfectly well that Daniel was going in search of Jack. And she didn't mind. Impulsively, Daniel leaned forward and dropped a kiss on her smiling lips. How the hell had he gotten this lucky twice in a lifetime?
Inside, he unsuccessfully searched in every room before finally guessing where Jack would be. Making sure no one was watching, he climbed the ladder at the side of the house. Sure enough, there was Jack, up on the observation platform that he'd built several years before. He was slumped against one wall, sitting on the floor with his knees drawn up, his head cradled in his hands.
"Jack?" Suddenly, Daniel didn't know what to say.
Jack's eyes were bright with unshed tears as he looked up. "Fuck, Daniel! I came up here for some privacy."
Daniel hesitated for only a moment, then slid down the wall to sit next to Jack.
They sat in silence, watching the fluffy white clouds go by, and listening to the buzz of chatter from the back yard, along with an occasional burst of laughter.
"I'm sorry." Daniel wasn't quite sure what he was apologizing for, except that he was sorry for Jack, for his loneliness and for his pain. He wanted so much to ease that pain, to hug Jack and offer him comfort. How many times had Jack done that for him? How many times had his friend held him, and rocked him?
Finally, when it became apparent that Daniel wasn't going anywhere, Jack lifted his head and turned to face him. "I thought I was prepared," he said in a tight voice. "I kept telling myself that I could do it. I guess I was expecting a bit much."
Daniel saw the pain in Jack's eyes and couldn't hold back any longer. He reached out and slid his hand into Jack's hair. "C'mere." He cupped the back of his head and pulled him close.
Jack stiffened for a moment, then he seemed to crumple, his whole weight and the weight of the world he carried pressing Daniel back against the wall.
"It's so fucking *hard*," he said into Daniel's shirt. "I don't think I can do it anymore!"
He held Jack tightly, gathered up under his chin, aware that his friend was trembling. He didn't know what else to do. It killed him that he couldn't do something, anything to take away Jack's pain. It wasn't fair! Jack had given so much in the service of his country. He'd suffered so much. Didn't he deserve happiness? Why had he had to fall in love with the one person he couldn't have?
"Yes, you can," Daniel whispered, his lips ghosting across the warm hair beneath them. "One day at a time. You can do it. You owe it to yourself to let go, Jack."
Jack straightened up, swiping the back of his hand across his eyes. "Guess so," he said flatly. He took a deep breath. "Everyone seems to be moving on. Making plans. Getting a life. I suppose I should, too."
Daniel patted him on the shoulder. "It *will* get easier, Jack. Meanwhile, if you ever need to talk..."
Jack nodded and got to his feet. "Yeah, thanks. I'll bear that in mind." He reached down with one hand and pulled Daniel up with him.
That had sounded like a brush off to Daniel. He bit his lower lip with concern as he watched Jack descend the ladder. Sure, things had been a little off between himself and Jack for a while, but they were back on track now, weren't they? Why was Jack shutting him out?
By the time Daniel reached the bottom, Jack was nowhere in sight.
A Week Later Jack's House
Daniel had been invited to Jack's house to watch another Rockies game. As Ally was out of town visiting friends, he'd been thrilled to get the invitation. He was missing spending time with his friend and had to admit that he was more than a little worried about Jack's state of mind after the barbecue. Not only had the host managed to avoid spending any time with Sam and Pete, he'd also somehow avoided Daniel and Aly.
Daniel arrived spot on time, carrying a bottle of expensive wine and a six-pack of Coors. He was rather surprised to discover that Jack had cooked. He smelled the mouth-watering aroma of garlic the moment he stepped into the house. Jack took his coat, hung it up for him, and ushered him into the dining room.
Jack had spent some time setting the table with matching dishes and cutlery, wine glasses, napkins. There was even a small candle jammed into the neck of an empty wine bottle.
Daniel felt his eyebrows rise, but tried to school his features back into impassivity. "Wow, Jack, this is... impressive."
Jack pushed out a chair with his foot, and Daniel slid into it. "Yeah, well, it's been a while since I made an effort, and man cannot live on pizza, beer and Chinese food alone, you know!"
"That's true," Daniel replied, fiddling with the silver napkin ring at his place setting. "But beer is a major food group, right?" He got the impression that there was more going on here than met the eye, but he was happy to wait for Jack to explain.
"Later, you lush!" Jack joked, opening the oven. "Food first, then beer."
The meal was delicious, if simple. Jack had never claimed to be a gourmet cook, but even he couldn't mess up spaghetti, salad and garlic bread. There was Rocky Road ice cream for dessert, after which Jack poured them both a cup of coffee. They went back into the living room to sit in front of the fire.
"You mentioned beer, I believe?" Daniel teased, sipping the aromatic and very expensive Arabica blend.
"Getting there, Danny." Jack grinned, leaning back in his chair and kicking off his shoes.
Daniel was surprised to see that jack was sockless. A small smile began to play at the corner of his mouth. Jack had gone to a great deal of trouble to make this a pleasant evening for them both. The same amount of work had obviously not gone into his laundry. It was so typically Jack-like, it made his heart swell with the warm normalcy of it all.
In fact, Daniel felt so relaxed and happy at that moment that he decided the time was perfect to make his little request. He's been looking for the right time to break this news to his friend, still not really sure how he would react to it.
"Jack, I want to ask you something."
Jack carefully placed his mug of coffee on the table and leaned forward smiling. "Sure. Shoot."
Daniel reached into his pocket and pulled out a small square box. Opening it, he laid it on the table and turned it to face Jack. His smile was expectant, and he watched Jack's face for a reaction.
Jack blinked. He cleared his throat. He reached for the box hesitantly, and then withdrew his hand without touching it. "This is... a little... sudden? Do I need to answer now, or can you give me a few minutes?" he quipped, finally raising his eyes to look at Daniel. It was, again, so typically Jack-like to joke about something as serious as this.
"Jesus, Jack, do you like it? Too small, too big, what?" Daniel asked with concern. "Do you think Aly will like it?"
Finally Jack's fingers closed on the box, and he lifted the solitaire diamond engagement ring from its white satin nest. He slipped it over the top of his wedding ring finger, but it stopped before the first joint. "Too small." he murmured.
For the life of him, Daniel could not tell if he was joking. "Jack?"
"It's... beautiful, Daniel" Jack said shortly, placing the ring back into the box and closing it with a decisive click. "She'd be nuts not to love it." He used one finger to push it back towards Daniel.
Daniel frowned as he slipped the ring box back into his pocket. Things were not going quite as he had planned here. "So I was wondering, hoping actually, that you would, you know... Would you..." He waved his hand hopelessly in the air. "Jack, please?"
"Gonna have to spell it out for me here, Danny."
"Best man! Will you be my best man?"
Jack smirked at him. "Gee, I sure hope you do a better job of proposing to Angie than you did with asking me that."
"Aly." Daniel said flatly, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. Was Jack being deliberately obtuse? Wasn't he going to break any minute and hug the crap out of Daniel? Slap him on the back and wish him all the best? Tell him it would be the biggest honor of his life to stand at his side while he got married?
"Whatever," Jack sighed. He got to his feet. "Need t'piss. 'Scuse me."
Daniel watched Jack's disappearing act with a mixture of anger and frustration. Jack had only met Aly once, but there had definitely been tension in the air. He couldn't figure out for the life of him what Jack's problem was.
He waited until Jack returned and sat down again to continue. "You never answered me."
Jack fidgeted, crossing his legs and uncrossing them again, finally leaning forward. "'Bout what?" His eyes were glued to the TV screen, where some televangelist was trying to save his soul.
Daniel heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Me. Aly. Ring. Best man?"
"Ah," said Jack noncommittally, taking a swig from his beer. "That!"
Daniel was growing more edgy by the minute. This wasn't happening the way he'd pictured it would. Jack was supposed to be happy about the upcoming nuptials and pleased to have been asked to be best man. Right now, he just looked like he wished the Asgard would beam him up. "Jack, is there something wrong?"
Suddenly Jack was up and pacing. "Look, Daniel, I'm pleased for you. Really, I am. But I just think you need to give this more thought. You know, take some more time..."
"Time? What the hell is that supposed to mean? We've been dating for months!"
"Eight weeks, Daniel! You don't know each other that well."
"We know each other perfectly well, thanks! For crissake, Jack, what is your problem?"
Jack stopped pacing and knelt down on the floor in front of Daniel, reaching for his hand in a gesture strangely reminiscent of the one Daniel had planned on using with Aly the next day. "I don't want you to make a mistake, Daniel. I'm just not sure that Amy is the one for you."
"Aly! Her name is Aly. And, yes! Yes, she IS the right one. She makes me happy, Jack. She makes me smile."
"Does she make you scream out her name when you come?" Jack blurted.
Daniel snatched his hand away like it had been burned. "That's...! That's none of your goddamned business," Daniel spluttered, flushing bright red with embarrassment. Jack had no right to ask such personal questions. There was no way Jack O'Neill would ever know what Daniel screamed or moaned when he came, or even if he DID scream or moan. No way!
"Sorry! I'm ... I'm just sayin'...."
Daniel got to his feet, nearly knocking Jack over in the process. "I think I should leave. I don't want to fight about this, Jack. If you can't be my best man, I'll ask Teal'c. "
Jack got slowly to his feet, a terrible sadness in his expression. "Please, Daniel. Take a little more time to decide. This is your whole life we're talking about here. Please?"
Daniel ducked around Jack and grabbed his coat from the rack. "Fuck you, Jack. I'm asking Aly to marry me tomorrow. I don't need any more time to think."
The two of them stood and glared at one another. "I'm sorry you can't be happy for me, Jack," Daniel said in a low voice, a deadly calm coming over him. He hated having to choose between his best friend and his girlfriend, but when it came right down to it, the chance of having a normal family life again was all that mattered to him now.
"I'll ask Teal'c if he'll stand with me. I'm sure *he'll* be honored."
When Jack didn't answer, only continued to stare at him, Daniel put his coat on and moved to the front door. Fortunately, he'd only had one glass of wine with dinner, so he could still drive himself home. Decision made, he strode out, slamming the door behind himself.
A Few Days Later Daniel's House
Daniel slammed his front door shut, gaining some small modicum of pleasure out of the aggressiveness of the act. He was angry at Jack for being Jack, for being in command, for being the only one allowed to take risks. He was angry at himself, too, for not seeing it coming, for not being quicker, for letting Jack stop him reaching the ancient database and sticking his head in the damned thing.
Even if Jack hadn't been his best friend, and able to read him like a book, the colonel was a soldier, trained to read body language. Daniel knew his intentions must have show in his stance and more obviously in his eyes.
And now it was too late. Now Jack was once again slowly dying before their very eyes and he didn't know what to do. He didn't know how to make it right.
God, why hadn't it been him?
Daniel had wanted it so badly. Craved it, actually. Having all that data unravelling inside his head was Daniel's idea of 'research heaven'. He was sure he could have accessed the information required. He could have done it! But Jack had beaten him to it, almost throwing Daniel to the ground in his determination not to let him make that sacrifice.
Arrogant, selfish, annoying son of a bitch!
Daniel ripped his coat off and threw it at the couch, kicking it savagely when it fell to the floor. He paced up and down, trying desperately to regain some control. The anger had already begun to dissipate, leaving only bone-chilling, paralyzing fear behind.
Daniel slumped down on the couch and held his head in his hands. He rubbed fiercely at his forehead, swallowing down the huge lump in his throat. Jack was going to die. Oh, God, Jack.... and they were still barely on speaking terms after their argument.
He felt like he was living two lives. First there was the dreamlike life, where he was in a wonderful relationship with a fantastic woman. She was normal, sane, and beautiful, and she loved him and made him feel alive. And then there was his real life, the one most people would think of as pure science fiction. The one with monsters and bad guys. The one where friends got killed, where bad things really did happen to good people. Regularly.
"Jack, it should have been me!" he yelled, lifting a sofa pillow and hurling it across the room. On impact with the far wall, it toppled over a small urn, which shattered into a million tiny pieces against the wooden floor. It had been almost three centuries old, but Daniel couldn't bring himself to care.
His eyes fell to the image of Shaur'e still sitting on the coffee table. With a deep breath, he snatched it up, pressing it against his heaving chest. "I can't lose him again, Mer-Akh. I can't lose him," he moaned.
He pulled the frame away from his chest and scanned his wife's face. Shaur'e gazed silently back at him.
"It isn't fair! It isn't fair that one of us always has to make the sacrifice. I'm so fucking tired of it all," he whispered.
When would it all end? When would they all get some peace from the nightmare?
He needed Jack.
Needed to see him.
Needed to talk to him, and make sure he was still all right, to patch up their silly fight.
He couldn't bear the thought of his friend sitting at home all alone, sorting things out, maybe writing final goodbye letters. God, he couldn't let Jack face that alone. Scooping up his discarded jacket, Daniel headed for the door.
Outside, Aly stood with the spare key he had given her poised, ready to unlock the door, and only narrowly avoided stabbing Daniel in the chest with it.
"Oh, Daniel, sorry!" she hastily dropped the key into her purse. "I didn't think you were going to be home until later."
Daniel pushed past her, stepping out onto the small front porch. He was barely aware of her presence. All he knew was that he had to get to Jack, and he had to do it now.
Aly put her hand on his shoulder, looking up into his eyes with a worried expression. "Daniel?"
Daniel's frown just grew deeper. "I'm not staying. I have to go. Jack needs me," he said abruptly. He turned his back on her, eyes already fixed on his car.
He did glance at Aly as he opened his car door. She was still standing on his porch, her arms tightly folded around her waist. She mostly looked confused. At least, he hoped he hadn't offended her too much. He just had to get the fuck out of there. He gave Aly a little wave, which she didn't return, and got in the car.
The sound of his cell phone halted him just as he slid into his seat.
"Hello? Oh, hi Teal'c. No, I have no idea where Sam is. You bought what? Donuts? Sure, I'll pick you up. I was heading over there anyway. Give me ten minutes."
He started the car and headed out of the drive without so much as a backwards glance.
Two Weeks Later SGC - Base Showers
Daniel stared at his reflection in the locker room mirror. A stranger stared back at him. When had be become so disconnected from everything? When had he stopped *feeling*?
Jack was still in Antarctica still held in suspended animation, and despite his constant badgering and petitions, Dr. Weir was too wrapped up in her own agenda to be of much help getting him back. The fallout over Earth's big battle in space washed over Daniel's head, and he found that he couldn't concentrate on anything for worrying over Jack.
He should be ecstatic that they had won - hadn't he been afraid they couldn't beat Anubis? Shouldn't that be foremost on his mind?
He just wanted everything to go back to what passed for normal. He desperately needed his vision of home and family to become reality.
So he proposed.
He asked Aly to be his wife, to run away with him and get married, as soon as possible. He needed to have something tangible to move towards to take his mind away from the terrible impotence he felt over his inability to help Jack.
Miraculously, she said yes, though not to the idea of eloping. She insisted on doing it up right, having a white dress and flowers and a church and all the trimmings.
So Daniel threw himself into the preparations, burying himself in work and wedding plans so he could exhaust himself. But it didn't work. He still had the nightmares. He still saw Jack's face in his dreams, eyes hurt and confused, and staring back at him from behind a crystalline wall of ice.
'Goodbye, my dear friend', Jack had said, just as the ice had claimed him. 'Aveo amacuse'. Daniel had never heard such sadness and finality in two words before. He'd promised Jack and himself that it wasn't goodbye. Hadn't Jack taught him that they never left anyone behind? He'd get Jack home somehow. Even if it killed him.
Three and a Half Months Later
SGC - Gate Room
Daniel had spent the last three days smiling. His face ached. He hadn't smiled this much since... well actually, he couldn't remember ever smiling this much.
Jack was back.
Jack was back, and he was his usual, snarky, sarcastic, annoying self. Not even the promotion to the rank of Brigadier General had put a kink in his irreverent attitude, and Daniel simply could not have been happier.
Jack was back. And Daniel's wedding to the most beautiful, amazing, intelligent woman in the galaxy was only a week away! He still was stunned that things were finally working out right.
Currently, Jack was standing behind a podium, looking absolutely fantastic in his Class A's, making a surprisingly good speech to his troops. Daniel couldn't drag his eyes away, almost as if he were afraid that should he do so, Jack would disappear again. Suddenly he understood why Jack had spend so much time staring at him those first few weeks after they'd found him on Vis Uban.
Sam stepped up to accept her own promotion, and Daniel felt a surge of emotion. Look at them, he thought to himself. So happy, so at ease with each other. Jack's eyes were no longer filled with pain when he looked at Sam, only pride. Was it possible that Jack had finally let go? Daniel hoped so. He really did. Jack deserved to be as happy as he was.
When the ceremonies were over, and the gate room had emptied, Daniel lingered there, staring at the gate, the "door to heaven," as that first erroneous translation had called it. More like a gateway to hell sometimes. He wandered up the ramp and reached out to touch the cold, alien metal.
"What would my life have been like without you?" he murmured.
"Probably a whole lot longer!" A familiar voice said from behind.
Daniel turned slowly, eyes involuntarily raking Jack from head to foot. "Maybe. But a whole lot more boring."
Jack reached past Daniel and laid his own hand on the gate. "It's all changing isn't it?" he asked softly. "SG-1. You. Me. Teal'c. Carter. Everything's moving on."
Daniel couldn't stop himself from covering Jack's hand with his own. "You're going to do fine, Jack. Things have to change, or else we'd never learn anything new."
Jack's eyes were bright in the dim light of the gate room. "Yeah, I suppose." He slowly pulled his hand free and stuffed it into the pocket of his trousers. He rocked back on his heels, regarding Daniel's face with an inscrutable expression. "Beer tonight? My place. You and me."
Daniel blinked. Had General O'Neill just given his first order? He found himself smiling and snapping to attention like a raw recruit. "Yes, sir, General, sir!" he barked, a warm flush of joy washing over him at the sound of the new title.
Jack just winked at his silliness and walked down the ramp. "1930 hours, Jackson. Don't be late."
"I won't," he replied softly, his pre-arranged date with Aly completely forgotten.
Perhaps Jack was ready to accept Aly as part of Daniel's life. He knew better than to hope Jack would reconsider his decision not to be best man, but perhaps he would be willing to attend the wedding? Daniel smiled as he walked out of the gate room. Thank God he had been given a chance to fix things. Life just wouldn't have been the same without Jack.
They spent a pleasant evening drinking Guinness and eating carry out food. It was just like old times. Daniel deliberately didn't mention Aly's name. There was no point in bringing it up until Jack was a lot mellower.
Finally, Jack excused himself to go to the bathroom, and Daniel got up to fetch more snacks from the kitchen. The phone was ringing when he came back into the living room, but he let the answering machine pick up. He was startled when the caller's voice echoed out of the speaker.
"Hi, O'Neill, its er... its Pete here. Pete Shanahan? I have the information you need. You want me to email a copy of what I have, or should we meet up? Give me a call at 884-2335. I'm here till midnight."
Daniel frowned at the machine in confusion. What information could Pete have for Jack? He hadn't even been aware that the two men spoke to each other.
A movement caught his eye, and he looked up to see Jack hovering in the doorway. "That was Pete," he stated unnecessarily, as it was obvious Jack would have heard the message. "Something about emailing information...?"
"Yeah, just a little project we're working on," Jack hedged. He turned to head back to the kitchen. "I'll get the beer," he called over his shoulder.
By the time he returned, Daniel was beside himself with curiosity. "So you're not calling him back?"
"It's not important. It can wait." Jack handed him a beer, flopped down on the couch, and used the remote to flick the TV on.
Somehow, their easy banter and mellow mood had evaporated. Daniel was suddenly afraid to mention the wedding, but if he didn't do it now, another opportunity might not present itself.
"Jack, will you be there?" he blurted, nervousness making his voice shake. "At my wedding? Will you come?"
Jack took a deep breath, let it out in a rush, and closed his eyes. Clicking off the TV, he turned in his seat a little. "Still going ahead with it, is she?" His expression was inscrutable.
Daniel blinked. What an odd thing to say. He wondered if Jack were making one of his ill-advised attempts at humor, so he decided to try to deflect whatever was going on in his friend with some wittiness of his own. "Yeah, she's still insane enough to want to spend the rest of her life with a geek like me," he replied, eyes intently scanning Jack's face for some clue, anything to tell him how Jack really felt.
"I have some things I have to do," Jack murmured, refusing to meet Daniel's eyes. "I'm going out of town for a couple of days..."
"But you'll be back by Saturday?" Daniel prompted hopefully. Whatever Jack was doing, surely it couldn't have been more important that attending his best friend's wedding.
"I'll.... try," Jack said softly. "I can't promise anything."
"Jack!" Daniel leaned forward, reaching out to lay one trembling hand over Jack's. "Please! It would mean a lot to me to have you there."
Jack stared down at Daniel's hand. He blinked a couple of times. "Daniel, there's something I want to tell you. Something important. Thing is, I don't think you're going to believe me."
Daniel licked dry lips. He saw fear in Jack's eyes, and deep, deep sadness. Somehow, he just knew that whatever Jack was about to say, he wasn't going to like it.
"Then don't tell me. Please, Jack, don't spoil my happiness. Can't you wait until after the wedding?"
Jack looked up, his eyes dark and unreadable. "When I'm sure, Daniel, when I'm one hundred percent sure of the facts, then I'll tell you. No matter what. I hope our friendship will survive it, but I owe it to you to tell you the truth. And you owe it to me to listen."
Before Daniel could answer, the phone rang again, and Jack hurried off to take the call in his bedroom. Daniel watched him go and chewed on his lower lip. What the hell was going on with Jack, and what could be so awful that it might put their friendship at risk? A feeling of impending doom settled around his shoulders like a shroud, but he shook it off with determination. Nothing was going to put a downer on his plans. Absolutely nothing!
One Week Later
Church of the Immaculate Conception Vestry Room
Jack was a mess.
His baggy blue jeans were splattered with mud, his Nike's caked in it. He wore an old gray tee shirt under a nondescript checked overshirt that looked like it had been used for painting or gardening. Daniel couldn't be sure, but the T-shirt looked very similar to one he'd seen Jack sleep in. His face had three days growth of beard on it, and his hair stuck up in wild, uncombed spikes.
Daniel took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh. It was obvious that Jack wasn't going to go away until he'd said his piece. Maybe he owed it to the man to listen to what he had to say.
He sat in another vacant chair and raised his eyebrows expectantly. He would give Jack three minutes. Three minutes to vent, and then he was going back out there and getting married, come hell or high water.
"Good night, was it?" he asked when Jack remained uncharacteristically silent.
"It was no different from any other night I've had recently," Jack answered, finally looking up. He looked so tired, exhausted even, that for a moment, Daniel forgot his anger.
"You look like shit, Jack. Did you run here across a field?"
Jack looked down at his soggy jeans and dirty shoes and shrugged, "Actually, yes, since you ask. Shanahan's car broke down. I ran through that damned boggy cemetery out back in order to get here in time. It's been raining..." Jack trailed off at Daniel's impatient sigh.
"But you would prefer the 'why' to the 'how', I take it," Jack continued. "Have you heard of a man called Charles Preston?"
Daniel frowned. Whatever he'd expected Jack to say, this wasn't it. They were supposed to be talking about Aly, and what was so damned important Jack thought it was worth interrupting their marriage ceremony for, not about some stupid private art collector.
With another long-suffering sigh, Daniel nodded. "Of course. He's been in the news a lot over the past few years. He's a multi-millionaire playboy who 'acquires' priceless antiquities and artefacts for his private collection. Sometimes, let's just say, I've heard his methods are less than honorable."
Jack slumped further down into the chair. "That's one way of putting it," he said, running a hand through his messy hair. "The Denver PD has been trying to pin something on him for years, but he's been way too clever for them. He has the reputation of being absolutely ruthless, and they say he stops at nothing to get what he wants."
Daniel got to his feet and walked over to the tiny window, clearing a small circle in the condensation with the heel of his hand. "Jack, what the hell has any of this got to do with me and Aly?" he said, peering out into the churchyard.
"Preston has been watching you for years." Jack's voice was flat and emotionless. He sounded faintly disconnected from the proceedings. "Way back when you hooked up with the SGC? He thought you'd dropped out of sight because you'd made some huge archaeological find that you're keeping under wraps. He's been trying to find out what you have ever since."
That brought Daniel up short. It sounded like a work of fiction, too weird to be true, but he had no reason to doubt Jack's sincerity. The thought of being watched, spied on, sent shivers up his spine. Especially if, as Jack seemed to be suggesting, it'd been going on for years.
"Oh, my God," he said, turning his back on the view to look at Jack.
"Gets worse," said Jack ironically, brushing at some invisible lint on his leg. "He found out that you work at the Mountain and figured that whatever you had, it was also in the hands of the military, which meant that he couldn't get to it easily. He needed someone close, someone right there on the ground who could get access to you and your work." Jack looked up at Daniel expectantly, obviously hoping that he'd put two and two together and work the rest out.
"You're saying... you're implying that... Jesus, Jack, what the hell *are* you saying?" Daniel took a small step towards his friend.
"Her name is Angela. Angela Preston. She's his daughter, Daniel."
Daniel's eyes went wide. His mouth fell open. "Aly?" he whispered under his breath, finally getting it, finally understanding exactly what Jack was trying to tell him. "God... no! That's... that's... I don't believe you. I won't. That's just stupid, Jack!"
"I have proof-- pictures, taped phone calls, the works." Jack spread his hands wide in a gesture of supplication. "Look, I'm... well, I'm sorry is all."
With a strangled sob, Daniel turned back to the window, pressing his forehead against the cold glass, trying to clamp down on his rioting thoughts. Outside in the yard, a gentle rain was falling, despite the summer sunshine. The muddy path glistened in the bright light, blinding him. This couldn't be happening. This wasn't real. Not again. Please don't let it be happening again.
"Daniel, I'm so sorry. I didn't want to have to ever tell you this stuff."
Jack's voice was low and filled with sympathy, but Daniel couldn't turn around and face him. He just couldn't.
A movement outside caught his eye. He watched in paralyzed shock as his fiancée slipped out of a side door, and hurried across the courtyard towards the cemetery and woods beyond. She'd taken a few moments to shed her white wedding gown, and was now dressed in a black shirt and trousers. Presumably she'd worn them under the gown. Daniel's shell-shocked brain applauded her forward thinking. She must have always assumed this was a possibility.
For one stupid, insane minute, he considered letting her go, letting her disappear into the woods. It was a coward's way out, but at that moment, his mind simply couldn't face the alternative. He wasn't sure he could stand to see her again, ever. Wasn't sure he could look into her eyes and see nothing there but loathing and greed.
But Daniel was no coward. Never had been. "Look," he said flatly, pointing through the window. "She's getting away."
He felt the heat of Jack's body press against his back as Jack stood just behind him and peered out the tiny window over his shoulder.
"Shit! That is *so* not gonna happen!" Jack growled. He drew out his gun from his shoulder holster and threw open the vestry door.
For a moment, Daniel just stood there, watching Jack give chase. If it weren't for the evidence he'd seen with his own eyes, he'd be sure this was all a mistake. He stood rooted to the spot, wanting to go after Jack, but his legs refused to work.
This couldn't be happening! This wasn't real! He would wake up any minute, and it would all be a dream. A very bad dream. His fingers curled into fists on either side of the window as he watched in mute horror as events unfolded in the courtyard.
Jack yelled, ordering Aly to freeze, turn around, and put up her hands. Daniel watched, horrified, as Aly stopped running at the sound of Jack's voice, then whirled and aimed her own gun right at his head.
"JACK!!!" Daniel was moving, through the door, across the courtyard, towards his friend. Time slowed to a crawl as he watched Jack dodge Aly's bullet, going down on one knee, then aim his own gun. Daniel's eyes tracked the trajectory of Jack's gun to its target and had a split second to realize that Aly was no longer aiming at Jack. Now the gun had swung round and was pointing right at *him*..
He didn't have anywhere to hide. Totally exposed in the middle of the courtyard, he waited for the noise, for the pain. For the end to come.
Then a thunderous noise echoed off the courtyard walls, and Aly's body seemed to fly backwards. Arms and legs flaying outwards like a rag doll, she hit the wall of the building next door and slid down it.
Daniel found himself moving again. Reaching her supine figure, he fell to his knees, mindless of the muddy wet grass and his rented tux. Her eyes had rolled back in her head, and a bloom of dark red blood pooled on the ground beneath her. He gathered up her limp body into his arms, cradling her, rocking her, surprised to hear a high keening wail coming from someone. "Aly, Aly, Aly..." Daniel cried. The wail was his own.
Jack was beside them then, down on his knees in the dirt, pressing two fingers against her carotid artery. He shook his head, meeting Daniel's horrified eyes for just a second. Quickly and efficiently, he scooped up her gun, throwing it across the courtyard and into a bush. Then he tugged Aly's limp body out of Daniel's grip, laid her down flat again, and methodically began CPR.
Daniel watched him work steadily in absolute shock. "You... you shot her. You shot her, Jack." He looked up blankly at his friend. His vision was out of focus, eyes streaming with tears.
"Daniel, snap out of it! I need some help here, for chrissake!"
The harsh tone drew Daniel out of his near catatonia, and he stared down at Aly's white face, her lips tinged with blue. Jack was right, they had to try to save her, and they were both trained for this. They had to try. He took over breathing for Aly, while Jack continued to do chest compressions.
The sound of raised voices made Daniel look up. People had begun to spill out of the church. The voices seemed to come from a long way away so focussed was he on saving Aly. After a couple of minutes, Daniel heard approaching sirens, and supposed someone must have called 911. Deep down inside, he knew there was no hope, that she was gone. But if they could just keep going a little longer until the ambulance arrived... if he and Jack could just keep breathing and keeping her heart pumping, maybe... He refused to stop, ignoring the sympathetic eyes of the onlookers.
Finally, the fire department EMT's spilled into the courtyard and took over the CPR. Daniel backed away, watching in horror as the medics checked carefully for a pulse and went about doing what they were trained for.
Daniel rounded on Jack and demanded, "What have you done? What the *hell* have you done, Jack?" His face was a mask of rage and pain.
Brooking no argument, Jack clamped his hand around Daniel's wrist and tugged him to the farthest corner of the courtyard. "Daniel, it's no good. She's gone," he said in the gentlest voice he could manage. "I had no choice. She had a gun."
"Jesus, Jack," Daniel moaned. "You shot her! You fucking killed her!"
It was just like last time. Just like with Shaur'e. Shot dead right in front of him. Nothing he could do. Helpless to prevent it.
"Damn it, Daniel, the bitch was a plant!" Jack shouted.
"Shut up!" Daniel screamed back at him, eyes glittering with rage "I don't want to hear it! You're.... you're lying! Why would you say that, Jack?"
Their raised voiced were drawing unwanted attention, and Daniel glared back at the assortment of colleagues and friends who had been invited to share what should have been one of the happiest days of his life.
He saw that the police had arrived on the scene and were talking to Hammond. Daniel supposed they would come looking for him next. He couldn't face that.
Even as the thought rose in his mind, Jack took him by the arm, dragging him around the side of the building and even farther away from the confused scene.
"Look, Daniel, I'm sorry, but she was one of the bad guys!"
"No - no, she couldn't... why? Why are you saying this?" Daniel asked again, not wanting to believe what Jack was telling him. Refusing to believe it. His words came fast, tumbling over themselves "What are you trying to tell me, Jack, that my relationship with her was all a sham? Is th-that it?" He was shaking now with rage and hurt, fingers curling into fists at his sides, face contorted out of all recognition.
"I couldn't prove it right away. She was a real pro." Jack winced at his choice of words, but it was too late anyway.
Daniel's fist slammed into his jaw with nerve jangling force, and he tumbled backwards onto the ground. Daniel was right there with him, snarling, pounding at Jack, using his strength to power the blows, again and again and again.
He was ranting, voice raw with tears and anger. "You liar! You . . . you fucking liar!" he accused, pull Jack upright. "You hated her right from the start, didn't you? You were jealous of the time I spent with her!!"
A trickle of blood broke from the side of Jack's mouth where the first blow had connected, and dribbled down Jack's chin. "No! It wasn't that, Daniel. I was scared," he choked out, struggling against the vice-like grip. "Scared you'd get hurt again!"
Daniel's face was a mask of pain, wet with tears, as he glanced from Jack's face to the stretcher carrying his fiancé's lifeless body towards the waiting ambulance, "Well guess what, General?" he spat right into Jack's face. "I AM hurt again. You fucking bastard!"
With that, Daniel released Jack's shirt with a shove and staggered back towards the crowd of people still filling the courtyard. She'd loved him. He was sure she'd been in love with him. You can't fake that, can you? Why was Jack doing this? Why?
"Daniel... fuck, I'm sorry." Jack choked out. He got slowly to his feet, clutching his abused ribs in pain. "She had everyone fooled right from the start."
The anger that had carried Daniel this far was dissipating. He stopped walking and hung his head, turning back to face Jack. "But not you, huh?" he said flatly. "She didn't fool you for a moment, did she?"
Jack reached one hand out tentatively toward Daniel. "Maybe, for just a while...." he admitted.
Daniel's hand rose, too, in a mirror image of Jack's gesture, and then dropped to his side. After what he'd just done, he felt like had no right to reach out to Jack now. "How did you know?"
"There was just something that didn't quite add up," answered Jack, staring over Daniel's shoulder. "My instincts have kept me alive on more than one occasion. I should have listened to them. But this was you, Daniel. I wanted you to be happy. So I kinda ignored them. I thought it was just... my *feelings* clouding my judgment."
Suddenly Daniel felt cold and shocky. What had begun as fine tremors, now escalated into a full-on case of the shakes.
Jack drew back. "I have to go talk to the cops, give a statement and stuff. Will you be okay here?"
Daniel began to answer with his usual 'I'm fine', but then he realised that he was far from fine. "I just need a few moments alone, then I'll come talk to them, too," he answered, leaning heavily against the wall. Now that the initial shock was wearing off, he felt exhausted. Totally drained, as if there were nothing left inside him.
A Few Hours Later
Jack pulled his truck to a halt outside Daniel's house. "Want me to come in with you?" he asked when Daniel just sat there, staring out of the window.
Daniel still hadn't managed to look Jack in the eye since the shootout, but he couldn't bear the thought of going into his house alone, not when it contained so many painful memories for him. Nodding mutely, he got out of the truck and followed Jack up the drive. He didn't even object when Jack took his keys from his trembling fingers and opened the door for him.
No sooner had he stepped across the threshold than the full force of the day's events finally hit him. He took a hesitant step towards his friend. "Jack?" he croaked, in a tiny voice. He was losing it, and he knew it.
It didn't matter if he had the right or not, he needed Jack. With a ragged sob, he reached out, almost falling into his arms, and Jack was there for him, ready and willing to take his weight.
They stood fused together for the longest time, Daniel's face buried in Jack's neck, his sobs gradually tapering off until only the occasional sniff broke the silence.
"Jesus, if only there had been some other way!" Jack whispered, propping Daniel's weight up as Daniel leaned heavily into him. "I'm so sorry, Daniel. So sorry!"
"I feel like such an idiot," Daniel whispered, turning his face into Jack's neck as if to hide there from the world. He could feel Jack's cool fingers at his nape, stroking the short hairs at the base of his skull, then deeper into the longer hair at the back of his head. "I feel like a complete fool!"
They rocked together for a while longer, both comforting and being comforted. Neither of them spoke until finally Daniel pulled back enough to see Jack's eyes. They were huge and red-rimmed, luminous with unshed tears.
"Why is it always you, Daniel?" Jack asked, genuine entreaty in his voice.
"I wasn't really in love with her, you know." Daniel blurted, his voice barely above a whisper. "I wanted to be in love. I fooled myself and everyone else into believing it, but at the end of the day, I was just in love with the idea of being in love. I was so sick of being alone. I wanted a home, a *real* home and a family."
"God, Danny." Jack couldn't look into those eyes a moment longer. With a small groan, he pulled Daniel into a fierce bear hug again. "I didn't know you wanted it that badly." Long moments passed again with neither of them speaking.
Daniel had been so sure that the feelings would come eventually. He'd believed that he'd grow to love Aly as much as he'd loved Shaur'e. She'd looked like Shaur'e, smelled like her, acted like her, and reminded Daniel so much of her that it had been almost inconceivable to think he wouldn't fall for her.
And yet he had not.
"God, Jack! Isn't there someone out there who wants me for who I am, not what I can give them?" Daniel pleaded as he pushed back a bit in an effort to put a little space between them.
Jack looked absolutely stricken as his hand reached up to cup Daniel's trembling jaw. He took a shaky breath. "Of course there is, Daniel. Of course there is."
Daniel turned his face into the warmth of Jack's palm, grateful for their friendship, aware that their closeness in that moment was the only thing he'd truly been able to feel in months.
"That someone is right here," Jack whispered. Then he leaned in close, brushed his lips gently over Daniel's, and pulled back. The thumb he ran over Daniel's lower lip was wet with Daniel's own tears.
For a split second, Daniel felt a sense of peace descend upon him, like nothing he'd ever experienced. Then the realization of what Jack had just said and done slammed into him. He gasped and his eyes shot open in shock.
Jack shook his head, eyes screwed tightly shut. "Oh, God, I'm sorry!" he said in a strangled whisper.
Without another word, he made a bolt for the door, leaving Daniel staring after him.
2200 Hours, Later That Day
SGC Briefing Room
Daniel was alone in the briefing room when Sam arrived with Pete. Sam went right over to him and gave him a hug. "Daniel, I'm..."
"Sorry. Yes, everyone keeps saying that to me," Daniel said quietly, pulling back from her embrace. He patted her shoulder, looking into her concerned blue eyes. "Thanks, Sam." He knew she really cared, but he felt disconnected from everything. Apart. Alone. He'd spent the last few hours staring at his bedroom ceiling, unable to sleep, thoughts and memories whirling around inside his head, until he'd wanted to scream at them to all just shut the fuck up!
He'd been having flashbacks to the scene in the church courtyard, when Jack had shot Aly, and when she'd hit that wall, already dead.
He remembered it and felt... absolutely nothing.
He should feel something, right? Shouldn't he feel like his heart had been ripped out? Like his life was over? Like... like he'd lost something precious?
And then there were the other flashbacks. Flashbacks to the moment he'd realised that Aly was about to shoot Jack. When he's seen her gun aimed right at Jack's head.
He remembered *that* and felt his chest contract with dread and fear. The panic squeezed his heart in a vice-like grip and left him weak and shaking.
And he remembered the moment when Jack had kissed him.
It had been the briefest and lightest of touches, but it had ignited something inside Daniel so intense and so deep that even now, several hours later, the memory of it had the power to make his body vibrate. Every time he thought about it, his stomach clenched and his heart rate spiked.
How was it that the death of his fiancée felt so unreal, and yet the memory of Jack's lips on his made him feel so alive? More alive, in fact, than he'd felt in all the months since he'd come back to them.
Sam straightened and looked like she might be about to burst into tears, but Daniel just couldn't bring himself to really care. A moment later, Teal'c arrived with Jack. Daniel watched Jack slip into a chair, waited for him to look up, to acknowledge his presence, anything.
Jack's eyes remained steadfastly glued to the briefing notes he was pretending to read.
Teal'c placed his large hand on Daniel's shoulder and squeezed lightly. "I am sorry for your loss, DanielJackson," the warrior said quietly, "Once again I am reminded of how your wife Shaur'e died by my hand and ..."
"Don't!" Daniel bit off his angry retort, counselling his voice into a more forgiving tone. "It's okay, Teal'c, just, please.... not now okay?"
Teal'c gave his shoulder one final squeeze and slid into his seat with a nod of acceptance just as General Hammond entered and took his place at the head of the table.
"My condolences, son," Hammond said to Daniel as everyone sat down again. "I'm sure you just want to go home, so we'll make this quick. The President has asked that I take this briefing and personally report back to him. Mr. Shanahan, would you care to bring us up to speed?"
On the other side of the table, Pete glanced apologetically at Daniel. "I thought I recognized Angela Preston at the barbeque General O'Neill held a few months back. At first I wasn't certain, as I wasn't working on the case, but when I got back to Denver, I made a few calls and confirmed it. She'd moved into the house next door to Doctor Jackson six months ago."
Daniel's pencil snapped in half, and every eye and the room was suddenly on him. "Sorry," he said quietly, dropping the shattered pencil onto his briefing folder.
Pete cleared his throat. "My colleagues were unsure what Ms, Preston was up to, so I was ordered not to interfere in their surveillance until they could get some evidence linking her current activities back to her father's. However, I did try to stay involved. I began to suspect that somehow Preston must have learned about the Goa'uld. My colleagues had found correspondence between him and his daughter referring to Doctor Jackson's involvement in the case of an Egyptian sarcophagus found in a Mayan temple nearly 8 years ago. "
Jack took over. "Detective Shanahan contacted me a few days ago, and I went to Denver to look at the evidence. There was more than enough to put both Preston and his lovely daughter behind bars, but I wanted to be sure that he wasn't in possession of any classified information before the cops busted him."
Hammond spoke from the head if the briefing table addressing Daniel. "Son, I'm assuming you took no classified materials off base?"
"Just my laptop which contained the report I was working on," Daniel answered shortly. "It's protected with five levels of encryption. Had someone stolen the computer, they would never have been able to open the files without destroying them."
"She got nothin'," Jack stated with confidence. "Daniel's way better trained than that, which is why she had to resort to trapping him into marrying her."
Daniel's eyes snapped up to meet Jack's. "Excuse me? Trap me? I proposed to *her*, remember?"
There was an uncomfortable silence, while everyone in the room looked away from the intensity sparking between the two men.
It was Pete who finally broke the tension. "Doctor Jackson, I had no idea how far she would be willing to go to get information. I'm sorry I didn't tell the colonel sooner. I know it's no consolation, but we now have the evidence we needed to put Preston Senior behind bars."
"So, there's that," Jack quipped.
"All right," said Hammond, getting to his feet. " I'm satisfied that there has been no breach of base security and will report as much to President Hayes. Daniel, go home. Get some rest, son."
Jack found Daniel in the locker room, changed into civilian clothes but staring vacantly into space. He went to his own locker and quickly got changed, keeping one eye on Daniel as he did so. Not until he was shouldering into his jacket did Daniel acknowledge his presence.
"We need to talk, Jack."
Jack closed his locker and silently sat down on the bench next to his friend. "Yeah, I guess we do."
Daniel refused to look at him. "Why, Jack? Why did you kiss me?"
"Shit!" Jack scrubbed his hand over his eyes. "Not here with security cameras all over the place." Getting slowly to his feet he reached a hand out to Daniel. It took a very long time for Daniel to look up at the hand, then further up into Jack's eyes.
Something passed between them.
Something that transcended everything else that had happened.
Daniel reached out and took his hand, letting Jack pull him to his feet. No words were exchanged as they left the locker room, travelled in the elevator up to the surface, and climbed into Jack's truck.
They drove in silence down the mountain, and then through the dark and deserted streets into Colorado Springs. Daniel stared out of the window at the streetlights flashing past; wondering how this night would end. He was desperate to ask but afraid to do so.
Once at Daniel's, Jack made straight for the kitchen, where he poured them both a double scotch from Daniel's secret stash.
Daniel had coaxed the fire to life when Jack entered the living room, handing him the crystal glass without comment. They sat for a moment, staring into their respective glasses. Daniel shifted uncomfortably in his chair. There didn't seem to be enough oxygen in the room.
"I don't know what to tell you, Daniel. It's such a fucking mess!" Jack said sadly.
Daniel took a sip of the potent alcohol, coughing a little as the fiery liquid hit the back of his throat. He rarely touched the hard stuff as a rule, but tonight, he had every intention of breaking that rule. "Start by telling me why you kissed me."
"Can we start with something a little less... complicated?" Jack begged, taking a hefty gulp from his own glass. "I need to work my way up to that."
Daniel swirled the amber liquid around in the glass, seemingly fascinated by the patterns it made. "Okay, then. So when did you first know about Aly? "
Jack took another slug and put the glass down. "At the barbeque. Something was off about her. I watched her, the way she looked at you when you weren't looking at her, and the way she scoped everyone else out. She was threat assessing us all. It didn't sit right with me. I did some digging, followed her a few times, but she was too good. There was never anything I could put my finger on."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Jack glanced up. "You wouldn't have believed me."
That was true, Daniel thought. If Jack told him his suspicions back then, Daniel would have probably have laughed in his face.
"Remember the night of the hockey match when we had that big fight? I was gonna say something then. That's why I went to all the trouble of cooking - to ease the blow a little. But then you pulled out that engagement ring, and I just couldn't do it
Daniel chewed on his lip as he watched Jack struggle with the memories.
"I spent the next four months as a Popsicle in Antarctica, but as soon as I got home, Shanahan called me. He was worried that the bitch was going to go ahead and marry you." Jack glanced up and managed a small smile. "Seems he likes you too much to let that happen, no matter what his superiors had told him. I agreed to go out to Denver and look at what he'd dug up, maybe help out a little with the investigation, speed it up so they could make a bust before she really got her claws into you."
Daniel nodded and placed his empty glass on the table. He should have known something was wrong. Should have trusted Jack more. No wonder Jack had acted so weird about the engagement ring and the whole 'best man' scenario. And then coming back after four months frozen in ice to find that he only had a week until Daniel got married...
"So, finally I knew I'd been right, but I still wanted to make absolutely sure before I wrecked your life again, Danny. There were a few times I nearly blurted it out, but what if I'd been wrong, what if Shanahan was wrong? I couldn't take the risk without seeing the evidence with my own eyes," Jack said quietly, staring sightlessly into the fire.
"Was that what you were going to tell me that night, when I begged you to wait till after the wedding?"
Jack nodded. "Pete thought he recognised her at the barbecue, but it wasn't until he went back to his station house and saw her picture on the incident wall that he made the connection. He was told not to get involved, for fear of blowing a case his colleagues had been working on for years."
"The barbecue," Daniel repeated, eyes losing focus as his mind took him back to the event. He recalled the incident on the roof, the way Jack had clung to him. "You were upset. About seeing Sam and Pete together."
Jack dragged in a huge lungful of air. It was now or never. "Daniel, it wasn't Sam. It was *never* about Sam."
Daniel blinked, tore his gaze away from the scotch in his glass to the whiskey-colored eyes of his best friend. "What?" he said in confusion, throat going dry.
"It was easier to let you think the person I was in love with was Sam. Easier than admitting the truth."
Daniel's frown grew deeper. "You... you're not... not in love with Sam?"
"Nope, never have been."
"But you said... you were.... After Janet died, you were hugging her! I saw!"
Jack reached for his glass and drained it in one swallow. "Jesus, Daniel, do I really have to spell it out for you? I care about Carter a whole hell of a lot more than is strictly professional. If it weren't for the fact that I'm head over heels in love with someone else, Pete might have a fight on his hands. She's one hell of a woman."
Daniel's mouth was hanging open in absolute shock. "The infirmary... the roses! You asked me if I thought he was good enough...!"
"I care about her, Daniel. Don't want to see her hurt. That's all."
"But you... wait! In love with someone else?" Daniel's mind was just beginning to catch up with the conversation. "Not me,Jack? It can't be me."
Jack shrugged and gave Daniel a little grin. "Oops!"
Daniel threw back the contents of his glass and immediately began choking. After several helpful thumps on the back from Jack, he finally got control of himself, dragging off his glasses to wipe his streaming eyes.
"That's why you kissed me!" he wheezed. Daniel's head was swimming. He'd thought it was just grief, and sadness and relief and happiness all rolled into one moment of absolute insanity. He'd thought it didn't mean a damned thing.
But he'd *wanted* it to mean something!
Jack got slowly to his feet. "You were never meant to know, Daniel. Our friendship just means the world to me." His voice caught on the last words, and he had to take several steadying breaths before he could go on. "Do you think you could just forget about the whole love thing, and... you know, just be my friend... still?"
There was such pain in that voice, such fear. Daniel stood up, too, and took a step closer. "No, I can't." How could he ever go back to just being friends when he needed so much more form Jack now? He wanted so much more. He watched a shadow pass over Jack's face. Saw his shoulders sag a little in disappointment.
"I understand," Jack croaked, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to see Daniel's disgust.
"I mean, I can't forget that you love me, Jack." He took another step. "I don't *want* to forget."
Jack gulped, eyes searching Daniel's face. "I swear to you, I'll never let it be an issue, if only you...."
"Jack, shut up!"
"Daniel, please, just give it some thought. Don't shut me out of your life again."
Daniel took one final step, putting him right inside Jack's personal space. "I kept wondering why when I was with Aly, I just wanted to be with you. I didn't understand. Until you kissed me. When you kissed me, it was like the sun coming out after the rain, like a drink of water after a day in the desert. It felt so right."
Jack took an involuntary step backwards. "What... what are you saying here exactly?"
Daniel moved with him, matching him step for step until Jack's back bumped into the wall. "I'm saying, it doesn't matter about the outside. All that matters is what's going on inside. We've been together inside for a long time."
Jack looked very spooked. "Inside? Damn it, Daniel, speak English, will you?"
"I've fallen into every relationship I ever had with a woman. I've never once made the first move. I don't think I ever cared enough to want to."
Jack's eyes were like saucers. He could feel every word Daniel spoke ghosting across his face, they were standing that close. "Um, I think my brain's melted." His eyes seemed to be having difficulty moving any farther north than Daniel's lips.
"I guess this time, I care enough to make a move..." said Daniel, leaning close.
Jack had a split second to realize what was about to happen before Daniel's mouth descended on his in the sweetest, most tentative kiss he'd ever experienced. It left him breathless and light headed.
When Daniel drew back, there was wonder in his eyes. "Yeah," he said softly, "that's what was missing."
Jack felt dazed, confused, and dumbstruck, yet he managed to form the question anyway. Mainly due to the fact that it was a one word question. "Missing?"
"When I kissed Aly. There were no choirs, no fireworks. I thought it was for the best, that I could never have the same intensity again that I'd had with Shaur'e, but I guess I was wrong."
At the mention of her name, Jack pulled back, his face falling into shadow. "Daniel, I would never try to take her place."
"You won't. I'll never stop loving her, Jack. But there's room in here for more than one person." As he spoke, he took Jack's hand and pressed it, opened palmed against his chest.
Jack gulped, overwhelmed with a rush of such intense emotion that he literally had to fight back the tears. "I thought there was no hope. I always knew I'd have to watch you fall in love with somebody else one day, Daniel, and I thought I was prepared for it. But when I started suspecting Aly, I could never really be sure that what I was feeling wasn't just jealousy."
Daniel leaned in again, silencing Jack's words with tiny, teasing kisses, which grew more confident as time went on. His tongue ran along Jack's lower lip, tasting him.
Jack held him by the shoulders, forcing him to listen. "And what about that whole home and family thing Daniel? I can't give you a family."
"Jack, you *are* my family. That's all I want. It's all I need."
Jack groaned, feeling his already shaky legs go even weaker. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I really need to sit down before I fall down. Could we..."
Daniel pulled back, a dazed smile on his face. "Bed?" he asked hopefully.
Jack's hands framed Daniel's smiling face. "You have no idea how much I want that, Danny. But I don't think *either* of us are quite ready for it. But the kissing? That, I can do. Just...sitting down, if you don't mind."
Many hours later, Daniel disentangled his legs from Jack's. How the hell two grown men had managed to fall sleep sharing one narrow couch was beyond Daniel, but managed it they had. He sat up, swinging his feet to the floor and wincing through the inevitable pins and needles in his numb legs.
A soft snore from the man still lying on the couch drew his attention. Jack's face was so relaxed in sleep, the woes and concerns of daily life erased from his features. His hair was mussed and sticking up at odd angles, his white shirt rumpled and creased.
Daniel looked down at the state of his own clothes and grinned. He was actually amazed that he was still wearing clothes at all. There had been several moments when things had almost gotten out of control, but Jack had insisted that there was no hurry. Daniel needed time to get over his loss before rushing headlong into another relationship. Who knew that Jack O'Neill could be such a gentleman? Of course, he'd been right to hold back.
Daniel knew that he was still in shock over the events of the last 24 hours. He'd lost his fiancée. The fact that she'd probably never cared for him didn't make it any easier. She'd been a huge part of his life for nearly six months. He *had* cared for her. And despite everything that told him to the contrary, he was convinced that she'd grown to care for him too. She couldn't have been faking *everything*. He wondered if she'd really been forced into doing what she'd done by her greedy and domineering father. He supposed he would never know for sure.
This time, with Jack, he wanted to be sure. Wanted it to be real, and not just a rebound thing. The fact that Jack wanted that, too, just made him even more positive that this time, it *was* the real thing.
The urge to pee was getting unbearable, so Daniel flexed his legs a little, feeling the rush of returning circulation sting his toes. He was about to get to his feet when he noticed the silver framed image of Shaur'e on the table and bent to pick it up. This time, when he looked into her chocolate brown eyes, he saw no sadness there.
Quietly, so as not to disturb Jack, Daniel padded into the kitchen, taking the picture with him.
"Love you, baby," he whispered softly, pressing a kiss to the glass. "When I think of the past, you're always there. But Jack... Jack is my future. Can you forgive me?"
He tilted the image into the light and frowned. Maybe it was the play of light over the glass, maybe it was the lateness of the hour that made him see things, but Daniel could have sworn that he'd seen Shaur'e wink at him.