Doctor Daniel Jackson sat on the hospital bed in Isolation Room 4, frowning down at a magazine article published in Archaeology Today that Jack had shown him. The article made a reference to his work with the Stargate Program as well as his work with Doctor Neil Jordan of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.
Ever since the revelation of the still-classified top-secret Stargate Project, we have learned that the name refers to a device found in Egypt in 1929, covered by a massive cartouche. The device and the cartouche were left undeciphered for 80 years until 2009 when an elite group of people already working on the project hired an archaeologist named Doctor Daniel Jackson, a colleague of Dr. Neil Jordan of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.
Jackson, an Egyptology specialist, was considered a radical and ostracized by the archaeological community because of his insistence that the pyramids were far older than was previously believed. Jackson deciphered the cartouche and its symbols, allowing the project to move forward, and even gave the device its name: the Stargate. While the public is still kept in the dark about the purpose of this stargate device, it is suggested that Jackson is familiar with . . .
“Someone’s in trouble for revealing information the Pentagon and the president want to keep secret,” Daniel said absently. He handed the magazine back to Jack. “I don’t know why people keep giving me credit for the Stargate Program. All I did was identify the ideograms on the cartouche as constellations. Anyone would’ve figured that out eventually. Why’d you show me this?”
Jack was silent for nearly ten seconds before he answered.
“A, you named the stargate when you correctly edited the translated inner hieroglyphs. B, I was at that meeting when you showed everyone what those symbols on the inner cartouche actually meant. And C, you drew a diagram on that erase board that showed how to interpret those symbols. Namely, a set of coordinates.” He paused, watching Daniel’s gaze turn inward as he listened to Jack’s words. “You, not Elizabeth, not those other yahoos working on the cartouche and the ‘gate, made the program viable.” He paused again and when Daniel didn’t meet his gaze as he began to shake his head, Jack rolled up the magazine and swatted the crown of Daniel’s head.
“Hey!” Daniel said, rearing back.
“Stop it,” Jack scowled. “Why the hell do you constantly do that?”
“Do what?” Daniel scowled back. He rubbed the top of his head even though the swat hadn’t hurt.
“Refuse to give yourself credit for things your expertise has given immense gifts to. Did some asshole a long time ago ingrain on your psyche that your knowledge was easily copied by others? Whoever’s responsible deserves a swift kick in the head, and if that person happens to be you, for no damn good reason, then you deserve that kick in the head.” He leaned forward, gaze fervent and intensely focused on making sure Daniel looked into his eyes. “Give yourself credit. Everyone else has.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Fine. I helped. Now again, why’d you show me that? It wasn’t to . . . do whatever it was you were trying to do.”
Jack leaned back, studying him. He thought about something and decided to air it. “How do you do that?”
“Do what?” Daniel repeated.
“Intuit what I’m saying? What makes you think I have another reason for showing this article?” He waved the magazine, still rolled up in his hand. It was a light warning. Downplay his importance again and he’d get another swat.
Daniel sighed. “Because you rarely make points with just one reason in mind. There’s always an ulterior motive. I’ve learned a lot about you in the last five years. Most of it by hazardous necessity. You can be very intimidating if people don’t give you what you want.”
Jack frowned. He knew himself and realized Daniel did too and there was no sense in denying it. “And?”
“I’ll grant that you’re right,” Daniel replied. Jack looked smug. “Don’t let it go to your head. But what you’re doing is meant to be a distraction. Particularly because of what will happen over the next two days.” They both grimaced. What will happen was a reference to Daniel’s lethal contamination of delta radiation.
SG-1 had been on a planet called Kelowna and more specifically, in the country of Langara, where the stargate was located. Their president’s representative, Jonas Quinn, had taken Daniel back to the lab where scientists were experimenting with an unstable ore derivative of naquadah known as naquadria. Daniel had wanted to emphasize the danger they were under.
Jonas’ current work had been at a historical site of destruction that had contained references to the derivative mineral ore. Once Daniel had translated the old pages found in several crumbling notebooks, he had felt an obligation to get them to stop working with the ore. Langara was at war with its neighbors and trying to make a bomb out of the ore would result in massive devastation. But the Langaran government hadn’t listened.
While Daniel was watching from an observation room, the scientists’ work had resulted in a nuclear overload and the scientists had been knocked unconscious. The only way to stop the ensuing breach and massive destruction was to get into that room and remove the fission core from their testing device. Daniel had done just that, using his sidearm to destroy the observation room’s window to get inside the testing lab. In so doing, he’d exposed himself to a lethal dose of delta radiation.
Jack was trying to get him to understand why he wouldn’t allow the Langarans to blame the overload on Daniel himself. To show Daniel that he wasn’t just a common member of a team. He was important. Not just to the program but to Jack.
And as Jack sat there looking at him, having Daniel’s blue-eyed stare returned, made him realize just how much he cared for this irritating and exasperating archaeologist. A random thought intruded. His blue eyes were particularly blue against the radiation tan of his skin. They were pretty.
The thought startled him. It hadn’t been deliberately emotive, conjured up from feelings he’d had to bury. It had simply been thought of as if his subconscious was sending him a message.
He remembered the last time his subconscious had done that. Six and a half years ago, on Abydos, as Skaara made fun of Daniel and the emotionally-evocative archaeologist had actually blushed. Jack had thought, the pink set off his eyes. Not long after, he’d discovered that Daniel had known about Charlie’s death and had accurately intuited that the only reason Jack had come on the mission was to set off that damn bomb and be blown to hell with it because the guilt had been overwhelming.
“I know what it’s like,” Daniel had said. “To be faced with a guilt that sucks the life right out of you.”
And Jack now knew why Daniel wasn’t fighting to stay alive. Wasn’t fighting about being blamed. He didn’t care. It was a small thing in the grand scheme of things.
Because he blamed himself for Sha’re’s’ implantation and eventual death. If he hadn’t unburied the gate . . .
“It’s not your fault,” Jack said softly.
“It doesn’t matter,” Daniel said resignedly.
“Yes it does,” Jack said. “But I wasn’t referring to that. I meant Sha’re. She’s why you’re giving up.”
Daniel slowly closed his eyes. “If it weren’t—”
Jack smacked him again but on the biceps this time. Daniel opened his eyes and scowled. “You’re like a broken guilt record,” Jack said angrily. “Take some advice from someone you helped through immense guilt.”
“What?” Daniel breathed tiredly, the scowl lightening to a slight frown.
“Do what Sha’re would want.” The scowl returned. “It’s what I tell myself every goddamn time that anniversary comes up. Do what Charlie would want. At first, the intense, destructive rage I felt toward myself wouldn’t hear that admonition.”
“How’d you get past it?” Daniel asked.
This time, it was Jack’s turn to blush, though he didn’t think it would show through the tan. Then Daniel’s brows rose and Jack realized it did show. “Dammit,” he blurted, scowling for a second, but it quickly smoothed out as he said, “How’d I get past it? You.”
Daniel’s eyelashes fluttered in disbelief. “Me? How? I’m responsible for your getting injured in the last—”
Jack smacked him for the third, hard, across the knee. “Do I need to give you a black eye to get you to quit it?”
“Go ahead,” Daniel said, the resigned tone in his voice now a mainstay. “It won’t help. But how the hell did I help you?”
“Martyrdom doesn’t become you,” Jack said. “Get that ‘I deserve it’ tone out of your voice. Right now.”
Daniel suddenly shouted, “What difference does it make?” He blushed with another kind of guilt. “It’s more than her death,” he said much more softly.
“The guilt?” Jack asked. Daniel nodded, and Jack immediately thought that Daniel had cheated on her, but then dismissed that notion because it wasn’t in his character. Or . . . maybe . . . he had, but not on purpose. There’d been that psycho bitch Shyla. Then Kyra-slash-Linea. And Jack remembered the private revelation that his anger at Daniel had been jealousy. Until now, he hadn’t understood how.
“I didn’t love her the way a typical man would have,” Daniel revealed. “I loved her but . . . not quite enough. I spent the last eight months on Abydos glued to the cartouche hall. My work,” and he made air quotes, “has always been a passion, and I get seriously tunnel-visioned.”
“You don’t say,” Jack said in a light sarcasm.
Daniel gave him a guilt grimace. “It’s what destroyed my relationship with Sarah. And it was on its way to doing the same thing with Sha’re. I was even on Kasuf’s bad side because I wasn’t fulfilling my husbandry duties.”
Jack winced. “Getting her pregnant?”
Daniel grimaced again and nodded. “It sort of killed my sexual attraction toward her because every time I was with her for that specific purpose, I . . . you know . . . failed.” Then anger began to color his face. “She then got pregnant by that son of a bitch, all to make a host with powers. It’s fucking sick.”
Jack’s brows went up. Daniel didn’t swear. It just wasn’t his thing. So when he eventually gave in to the impulse, it meant something. This time, it was due to the broken guilt record, however justified about Sha’re. Jack didn’t blame him, but he knew if the situation had been reversed, he’d have blamed himself too for uncovering the ‘gate.
“Lack of prescience isn’t grounds for guilt,” he said, contradicting his own thoughts. Daniel opened his mouth to speak but Jack held up a hand. “Hang on a minute. No one can predict an action will happen except in specific situations.” He held his arm out to the side and dropped the magazine. “Gravity. I know if I drop this, it’ll fall.” Daniel offered up a small grin, the first one Jack had seen in days.
Jack then decided to give a little hint of what was on his mind. “If I were to kiss someone in front of Hammond, I’d get a reprimand two seconds later. If it was a guy I’d plant it on, I’d get booted.” Daniel managed to look both surprised and angry and Jack nodded in agreement. “It doesn’t matter that the DADT was dropped. It doesn’t matter that there are equal rights for gay people. The military has frat regs. Break them in front of brass and you’re asking to be court-martialed and booted out with a dishonorable discharge. And there go my retirement benefits.”
Daniel looked a little confused.
“Sorry, but all that was to demonstrate how some things have a result easily predicted. But unburying a ‘gate isn’t one of them. There are too many variables, too many what-ifs. It’s easy to predict a scientific result. It’s less easy but still almost certain when giving situational results. Unburying a ‘gate and predicting what will happen next is all about uncertainty. What would happen if I leaned over and kissed you?”
Daniel blurted out, “You’d get contaminated,” then blushed to high heaven at the thought of Jack kissing him. He swallowed hard and revealed, “Because I’d kiss you right back.”
The silence in the Iso room was deafening.
“I’m gonna have to edit some video when I leave here,” Jack said sighing. But there was a blush on his cheeks too. He wasn’t going to talk about what Daniel just said. He couldn’t. He was stunned into shocked silence on the subject. Even though he’d started it. He waited to see if Daniel would start that particular ball rolling, but when he didn’t, Jack didn’t either. There were things to think about first.
“I gotta see Hammond,” Jack said, standing. “We’re not letting you take the fall. You’re . . .” Dying. “Innocent.”
Walking down the corridor on sublevel 28, Jack was suddenly hit with another prescient inevitability. People with delta radiation poisoning died. Badly. He ducked into the latrine up on his right, went into a stall, locked it, then gripped the top end of the door with white-knuckled hands and shook the door hard. The grief he’d been shoving aside on the grounds that it wasn’t over hit him like a ton of bricks. He gritted his teeth in an open-mouth grimace and breathed hard as he fought back tears. He screamed “No!” in his head as he continued to shake the door . . . right off its hinges.
“Enough!” Hammond said, rising to his feet. He’d reached the end of his patience. “You’ve just earned yourself a reprimand.” Jack deflated into the chair before Hammond’s desk without asking. Hammond rarely raised his voice, having been raised to believe that doing so was a loss of self-control and utterly inappropriate. Sometimes, his mother had told him, there are times when it’s required to shock another person into ceasing whatever wrong thing they’re doing. “I understand your outrage and grief, Colonel.”
Jack thought, “If you only knew . . .”
“Doctor Jackson is a valued friend and member of this facility, but even he would reject the death of others just to save his own life.” He sat down. “Thirty days, no pay.”
“Yes sir.” He felt deflated. Filled with sorrow and anger that couldn’t be openly expressed. Again. The PTSD from this was going to bite down hard and rip his throat out.
“I’m not giving you an Article 15, but you could have easily earned it. Do you understand?”
“Fully,” Jack responded woodenly.
Hammond’s face softened. “As I said, I feel the same way you do, Jack. This is bad. And I want to save Doctor Jackson’s life, too, but I cannot sanction an op that will throw lives away. Not for one man, however indispensable to us and the program.”
At that moment, Carter came rushing in, cheeks reddened with excitement. “Sir,” she began, then said, “Sirs.”
“What is it, Major?” Hammond asked.
“They found something else in Antarctica. Not just the Ancients’ outpost but a type of box made of naquadah and if the translation is correct, it’s a mega-sized recorded database. If there’s a medical database within it . . .” She didn’t need to spell it out.
Jack sprang to his feet. “Get it up here and to the Iso room!”
“Already on its way, sir,” she said, grinning. “We’ll be able to save his life!” Then she sobered. “Even if we have to put him in one of the stasis pods for a while.”
“What?” Jack snapped. “Why?” But he knew why and thought it even as Carter explained.
“No one else understands the Ancients’ language, sir.” She said to Hammond, “I’d like to help him search for the cure, sir. The Ancients had to have found a better way to deal with radiation.”
“Go ahead, Major,” Hammond said. Jack turned, then paused, looking back at Hammond. “Go,” said the General. But he too was excited for their resident archaeologist and linguist. He said a prayer to the Lord above.
With a mask over his face, Daniel sat in a comfortable therapeutic chair designed for dialysis. He was receiving a blood cell transfusion and two tubes for red platelets and red cells were operating simultaneously. At the same time, Janet stood by with a series of shots aimed at reducing symptoms or to replenish the proteins in his bone marrow and thyroid function. A nurse came in with a silver tray containing a narrow spatula and . . . a tube of acrylic paint.
Daniel raised a brow. “Radiogardase,” Janet said, equally masked. “AKA, Prussian blue.”
“I didn’t think that would work against delta contamination,” he said.
“It does, but not as effectively. Still, whatever means we can use to siphon off most of the radiation will help. You don’t have any infections yet and I’m hoping it stays that way, but it’s unlikely. Your close contact with delta will result in system infections and eventual shutdown. But I’m not giving up.”
“Hence the pin cushion treatment?” Daniel asked. “It’s hard to concentrate.”
“Doubly so,” Janet said. “Both your treatments, as well as the radiation side effects, aren’t allowing you to focus as much you’re used to.” She tapped the tablet he held in one hand and the stylus in the other. “Any success yet?”
“You’ll know when I do,” Daniel said. “Sort of. I’m linked with Sam’s database in her lab. Any highlights I make on this tablet will be put on a list for cross-referencing against the limited English-Ancients language dictionary I’ve been compiling since Heliopolis.” He made a face.
“Pain?” she asked, eyes widening. “You shouldn’t have any at this juncture.”
“I’m getting nauseated,” he said.
“Just one more shot for now,” she said, injecting the syringe’s needle into his arm. “For your stomach to fend off ulcers. Nausea should abate in a minute or three.”
He nodded, then dropped his tablet and grabbed a plastic bowl just in time to vomit into it. Wiping his mouth afterward, he swished a mouthful of antibacterial mouthwash and spat in the same bowl. A nurse took the bowl from him and he gave her an apologetic look. Three nurses were attending him who stayed nearby at all times. It was the first time he’d had so much medical attention since the day he’d broken his right femur during a dig in Montana.
The hill he’d been working on had suddenly broken off from the valley shelf and he’d come rolling down with tons of dirt to slam into a small Caterpillar earthmover. Later it was explained that the area had been suffering from a drought—the dig team could tell. Still, no one could have predicted that the entire hillside would collapse.
Daniel caught himself in the memory, hating that his attention span was deteriorating. He refocused on the data within the tablet, translating what he had determined to be a table of contents. When he found the relevant section, On Materialized Medical Necessity (all of their wording was like that), he flagged it as Mandatory, and that the oddly numbered section further on in the database would be the focus. He now had to forward through massive sections to reach the relevant data. He hoped there was something there.
Daniel woke from a painkiller nap to find Jack sitting next to him, reading a magazine and with a white mask over his mouth and nose. Daniel’s was also, and parts of his forearms were bandaged along with his entire neck. He didn’t itch, which he was grateful for, but the stinging pain was annoying. The painkillers helped, as did the constant treatment injections. The bad pain had come from a spinal tap needed to measure the contamination. Thankfully, that had taken less than a minute but that minute had seemed to stretch into an eternity. The test results were equally as bad. The marrow was slowly deteriorating. The bleeding and loss of white blood cells would speed up soon.
“Whatcha reading?” he asked.
Slightly startled, Jack unfolded the magazine to show the front. Omni. The headlining article and picture said, “The New Frontier of DNA Engineering.”
Daniel smiled slightly. “I bet the engineering part of that headline was what grabbed your attention.”
Jack shook his head and tapped at a smaller blurb that read, “The Fate of Frozen Heads.”
Daniel grinned. “Grisly.”
“Yep. And distracting.” He was about to ask how Daniel was feeling but decided against it. “Carter’s got your entire lab working on the translations.”
“And?” Daniel asked, not all that interested. He’d been having a dream about Jack. About telling him something. He wondered if he should make the dream a reality.
“It’s slow-going. No mention yet of radiation which Carter says is a problem since your dictionary doesn’t have an equivalent in Ancient.”
“Hardly. We’ve never found a set of ruins that indicated a radiation fallout.”
Jack set the magazine aside. “How’re you doing?” he asked, contradicting himself.
Daniel was about to explain but ditched the intent. “About the same only worse.” Jack sighed at the same time he did. “I’ve been thinking about . . .” He rolled his eyes as a wave of pain swept through his entire body, lasting only two seconds. The waves were coming in regular 30-minute intervals. He felt Jack’s hand on his bare-but-bruised shoulder. He hated that it hurt, like rubbing a bad bruise. Jack’s touch shouldn’t hurt.
“About . . .? About what?” Jack pressed.
“Us.” He waited, but Jack’s face went stony. “You and me. Our friendship. Our . . . relationship.”
“Um . . . we don’t have a relationship,” Jack said, making air quotes. He felt a sudden spread of warmth in his chest and neck.
“No,” Daniel said. His eyes welled up and he cursed at this thin veneer of emotional stability. “But I wish we did.” Jack’s eyes widened. A lot. “I know. Not the time or place, right? But if not now, when?” Jack’s mouth worked to say something but stopped. Three times. “That bad?” Daniel asked.
“No,” Jack said hurriedly. “Not bad, per se. Just . . . unexpected. Alarming, maybe. And . . .” He shook his head. “We’re not . . .” Made for each other.
“I know,” Daniel said, and his speech became stilted with two- to five-second pauses. “But just in case . . . there’s no cure and . . . I’m stuck . . . in a stasis . . . pod for . . . years to come, if not . . . forever. Figured . . . I’d . . . tell you.”
“Tell me what?” Jack asked, face going hot. Then without waiting for Daniel to answer he said, “No. Maybe you shouldn’t.”
“Now or never,” Daniel said softly. The silence was deafening. A few minutes passed before he said, “I love you, you know.”
Jack felt his face grow hotter. “Right backatcha.”
“You can say it. The world won’t end.”
“I know,” Jack sighed. “It just feels pointless. You’re gonna get treated and then we’ll both wish we’d kept our mouths shut.”
“No,” Daniel said, suddenly sniffing through tears and a clogging nose. “Dammit.” He saw the emotion in Jack’s eyes and it made him feel worse. “I don’t want to keep it quiet. To pretend. I’m done pretending, no matter how this turns out.”
It was Jack’s turn for halted speech. “Daniel, I can’t . . . we . . . It’s just . . .”
Daniel raised his hand to pinch the bridge of his nose and found that his wrist was also bandaged. And he couldn’t feel the bandage. That was bad. “The world won’t end because we love each other.”
Jack huffed out a breath. “That’s not the problem. Yes, I love you. Yes, I’d like to be together. But if you get better, then what? The regs are more open but frat regs aren’t. It’s about the color of authority and me being your superior officer because we’re on the same team.”
“Jack, you’re not the kind to harass.”
“No, but that’s how it would be interpreted anyway. I’d be court-martialed and you’d get fired.”
“Not if we . . .” Daniel began but stopped himself. Not if we got married.
Jack grinned but it only showed in his eyes. “Jumping the gun a bit, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Why not?” Daniel asked. “We’ve been friends for years.”
“Yeah, but not as . . .” Jack swallowed. “You know.”
Daniel let out a breath through his nose. “Lovers. You can say it. The world won’t end. Again.”
“Smart ass,” Jack said reflexively. The comment was so normal that they exchanged a moment of normalcy. It then transited into heartache because the situation was so very far afield from normal. Very quietly, Jack said, “I don’t want you to go.”
Daniel let the lovers moment pass. That was a subject for another time, providing that he lived and it didn’t do either of them any good to talk about what was currently irrelevant. They’d shared their feelings, and typically at a time when things were desperate and shit needed saying.
“Why do some people wait ‘til other people are on death’s door before they start being honest?” he asked.
Jack shook his head as he looked away. “Stupidity, most likely.” He made a face. “I’ve a history.”
Daniel felt the energy in his body slipping away. No more translations today. The only thing he could do was listen, which was a talent, not just a skill. “Tell me.”
Jack sort of shook his head and waved a dismissive hand. But he said, “Sara and I had been going out for about six months. Neither of us had gotten to the I Love You stage but I think we were feeling it. Then I got orders to head to Kuwait during Desert Shield.”
He paused, then said, “We’d already heard through internal channels about some nasty shit the Iraqis were pulling so we had to re-sign next-of-kin death benefits forms. She drove me to the base and we sat there in the car. Saying nothing. But I was thinking, ‘Tell her, stupid. Just tell her.’ Then I thought, ‘Would it be worse for her if I told her then died?’”
Jack grinned slightly. “We got out of the car. I hugged her. I turned to leave but then suddenly grabbed her hand and said those deadly three words. She stood there stunned, watching me go through the gate. Then she shouted it back to me, in front of maybe thirty guys going in with me.”
Daniel grinned. “How’d that go?”
“I got all the usual teasing but underlying all of it was a bit of envy and jealousy from the guys who didn’t have girlfriends or wives.” Jack’s expression grew sad. “I met Kowalsky on the flight over. He was assigned to my team.” Then his face darkened.
“Guy named Cromwell was our team leader. Frank Cromwell.”
“The guy who was with you when the black hole . . .”
Jack nodded. “Bastard got us marked by Iraqi secret police. I got shot in the leg and he ordered the rest of the team to leave me behind. I spent four months in an Iraqi prison. Kowalsky carried guilt for years until I told him that by himself, he couldn’t have gotten me out.”
“I bet he said it didn’t matter. That he should’ve thought of something, disobeyed his team leader.”
Jack gave him a wan smile. “Pretty much.”
Daniel didn’t ask him to continue. He suspected the rest of that tale was sad. But Jack didn’t leave it there.
“When I got home, I had problems. Sara and I nearly broke up a few times because I was incapable of sharing my feelings. Then the PTSD leveled out and we got married. Charlie was my lifesaver. Got me to open up. When he died, it was like my ability to love Sara and share our mutual grief died with him.” He shook his head. “When that Unity crystal took his shape, it was like I was getting a second chance to make amends, both with him and with her.”
Daniel didn’t bother to tell Jack that Charlie’s death wasn’t his fault. Nothing could change his mind in the same way that Daniel would always blame himself for Sha’re’s abduction and eventual death.
“Guess we both still have scars . . .” he said, his voice fading. “But I still . . . love . . .”
He slumped unconscious and Jack shot to his feet. “Help! He’s unconscious! Help!”
Daniel had fallen into a coma. After four days, his system indicated organ shut down if he wasn’t put into stasis so he’d been transported to the Antarctic. Standing in front of the pod, Jack heard Carter talking to him but it was as if she was in another room instead of standing beside him setting the controls. The pod’s observation window was clouded with something like ice but wasn’t ice. Daniel’s eyes were closed. He looked like he was sleeping, but for all intents and purposes, he might as well be dead.
Jack felt something dark clamoring to rise from the depths of his soul. Something angry. He kept telling himself to let the deep things stay deep. But when it came to love, to children, to the helpless, he lost his temper at the slightest notion of giving up on them. Carter’s expression, and Teal’c’s, said they understood. They’d been there before and might be again. Losing his temper would be understandable . . . now and then. He had to at least put on the façade that he was fully in control. That would work until Hammond scheduled them for a mission and tried to replace Daniel.
The only thing that Jack knew would help him through this grief was the revelation that another linguist had found something in the medical section of the Ancients’ database. A set of chemical formulae for something called naquadah sickness. Since unmined naquadah emitted an atypical form of radiation, perhaps it would work against delta.
Teams had been assembled and were now working on producing the medication. Since it might also work on other forms of radiation, their work was put on high priority. If it weren’t for that level of importance, Jack wondered just how long it would take the teams to reach the medication stage. In the meantime, all Jack wanted to do now was to leave the planet.
“He is not listening,” Teal’c told Carter on their hop flight back to Peterson air base. They sat together while Jack sat several seats away on the opposite side of the aircraft. “He is in his own world right now.”
“I know,” she said. “It’s just . . . I know how he feels.” She looked at Teal’c and amended, “We know.”
Teal’c bowed his head but said, “For O’Neill, it is very personal. He has known Daniel Jackson longer. They have a shared history of grief.” Sam looked slightly confused. “Skaara and Sha’re.”
She made a face and nodded. “He’s requested leave, and to spend it on Abydos.”
Teal’c nodded. “I believe General Hammond is considering it.”
Sam’s brows rose at his tone. “You think he’ll deny it?”
“I do not know. It is possible that General Hammond may believe work to be a more productive form of handling grief.”
“Not if he insists on replacing Daniel.”
Teal’c blinked with agreement. “Indeed.”
Jack rested his head over the top edge of his seat and stared at the typically-gutted interior of a military transport. He was cold, even with his Air Force-issued parka, and thought that visiting Skaara on Abydos might be a good thing, apart from relaying the news. He hadn’t seen Skaara in over two years, not since he had been freed from that goddamn snakehead. He tried to think non-Daniel thoughts but it was impossible. Revelations made between them wouldn’t allow it. It was a constant food-for-thought intrusion into his structured state of mind.
He heard the sound of Carter’s and Teal’c’s voices and told himself to go sit with them. But he couldn’t. He didn’t want to risk getting mad at something they’d innocently say. In fact, if he could only head directly to the gateroom after landing, it would be a load off his mind. But he had to see Hammond. He had to get the green light. If he didn’t, though he couldn’t see why not, there’d be one stipulation to returning to team duty: no one replaces Daniel. If Hammond tried, Jack would . . .
He sighed to himself. No, he wouldn’t quit. He wasn’t that immature or fully off-kilter because of Daniel’s status. If the situation were reversed . . . well, Daniel would work on the problem until he dropped of exhaustion. He’d just have to warn Hammond that anyone who was assigned would face the impossible task of earning Jack’s seal of approval.
When the three members of SG-1 arrived in the briefing room, Hammond exited his office and gestured angrily at the observation window. “The stargate is shut down.” Carter did an about-face and left for the control room but Hammond held up a hand. “Not an error, Major.”
Jack was only mildly disappointed. He’d had second thoughts about seeing Skaara. “I’m sorry but we lost Daniel.” That would not go over well. Even if Jack managed to get the words out of his mouth without losing some sort of control, even in front of the young Abydonian.
“What happened?” Carter asked Hammond.
“We had an unexpected guest and until I’m satisfied that she, or it, is gone, I’ve had the gate’s power disconnected.”
“Who showed up?” Jack asked.
“The being you reported contact with on Kheb. Oma DeSala. It or she came through the gate, sans wormhole connection, and security reported seeing her in Doctor Jackson’s office and the infirmary. She then went through the ceiling and hasn’t been seen since.”
“Antarctica,” Jack said. “We left too soon.”
“What can she do there?” Hammond asked.
“I have no idea,” Jack said. “She isn’t made of matter. She exhibited the power to control lightning and that was it. She can’t release Daniel from stasis so I have no idea why she’d go there.”
“Are you certain?” Hammond asked.
“Yes. Has the team in Antarctica reported her presence or any error with the pod he’s in?”
“None as yet, Colonel.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jack said, turning away and rubbing his face with his hand. “This is all we need.”
“I am giving a period of twenty-four hours before I resume full operations. Go home, Jack.”
“And my leave?” Jack asked.
“Planetside. Starts today. Thirty days, as requested.”
Jack closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. “Thank you, sir.”
“Major Carter has some projects to complete and Teal’c has requested he begin training interested personnel in the Chulak version of martial arts.”
“Yeah?” Jack asked Teal’c, who bowed his head.
“It is called T’chula. I am at the master stage. Bra’tac is one level above myself.”
“Nice. When Daniel’s cured, we’ll both take your class.” The room was silent. Jack glared at all of them. “He’s coming back. I won’t allow any other alternative. Sir, I’ll see you in thirty, unless Daniel returns before then.”
“Take care, Jack,” Hammond said with a nod.
No one in the briefing room said aloud what they were all thinking: would Jack be behaving this way if it was Carter or Teal’c in a stasis pod? The answer was a resounding yes. There was just a little more to it with Daniel because of their shared history.
27 Days Later
Jack set the last brick in place on the roof of his house where he had built a small wall. Now the telescope would stay put no matter the wind speed. The one thing he hated was coming up to look on a spot he’d carefully calibrated only to find it had been moved by the wind. Of course, the telescope would be put away in winter, but in the spring, summer, and fall, he had every star recorded and their paths charted.
As he looked through the lens to make note of a galaxy past the dog star, Sirius, he heard a car drive up. He had a flashback to six years earlier when Hammond had sent for him after the attack in the gateroom by Apophis. Was it about Daniel this time, too? Unlike the time before when he hadn’t budged from the roof, he walked to the ladder and looked. It was Carter and Teal’c.
“Come up and look,” he said. “Got the wind wall in place.”
“Your phone’s not on, Sir.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. Needed space.”
“We’re heading to Peterson, sir, then to the Ancients’ Base.”
Jack was on the ground before her sentence ended. “Daniel?”
She nodded but was carefully restrained. “Janet’s meeting us there with the bio team.”
“You sound doubtful. What’s up, Carter?”
“Janet’s just worried that too much damage was done and the medication won’t work.”
“I believe it will work,” Teal’c said.
“From your lips to God’s ear, Teal’c,” Jack said, clapping the man on the shoulder.
Jack was reminded where they were going as he showed up in the S4 Supply office to grab the mandatory items on the trip list: one parka, one pair of insulated boots, one thermal shirt, one thermal set of pants, three pairs of thermal socks, and two pairs of thermal gloves. All but the parka, boots, and gloves were worn under their normal uniform. As soon as the transport plane touched down and taxied down the Ice airstrip, the chill wind seeped through the cracks of the plane and sent an icy chill over Jack’s face.
After disembarking, a shuttle waited to take them one mile west where the new station, named Tau’ri Ice Station, awaited to take them below ground. The station above ground looked no more than a long L-shaped building similar to what the Air Force’s McMurdo station had looked thirty years before. It was purely camouflaged. What awaited below was far more advanced.
Jack expected to find the three hollowed chambers they’d previously discovered, with one of the chambers holding three stasis pods partially encased in ice. What he found was a fully functioned lab system, with the walls of ice carved back by thirty feet. The chamber where the pods were found was now part of the lab, having been unearthed completely and their energy cores exposed to reveal a large complex of consoles that edged the cavernous room.
“You guys have been busy,” Jack said, his gaze locked on the pods. He followed Doctor Janet Fraiser and her team of four to the pods and watched as they set down their thermal-protected medical cases. Two men came from the left and judging by their insignia patches they were scientists assigned to the Tau’ri station. They unfolded a large table and helped Janet and her team set up their medical lab.
Carter said, “We’ve been helping the science team assigned here to examine the Ancients’ chair and platform.”
“We?” Jack asked.
Carter shrugged. “Yes, sir. I asked permission to assist. Teal’c came down to help too but . . .” She gave the Jaffa a look and he nodded once. “Junior doesn’t like the temps.”
Jack snorted and partially unzipped his jacket. “Don’t blame it.” He looked around and had to side-step a few times as personnel walked past, doing . . . whatever the hell they were doing. Eventually, he snagged an empty packing crate and set it up against a wall near the pods so he could watch. Since he wasn’t in charge of the station and hadn’t yet been snagged by the guy who was—a Colonel Stanley Hightower—he figured his only duty was to wait for Daniel to be taken out of stasis and given the treatment Janet and her team had produced. Then Daniel would be flown back to the SGC’s infirmary—provided he could be moved.
In other words, provided the treatment worked and had no ill side effects. Jack began to think of Charlie and how the remorse was still there but not quite as sharp. How Daniel had unknowingly helped him through that pain. Jack then thought there’d been a few other moments in his life where this aggravating man had helped him. More than that. He’d . . . saved him. But from what? Loneliness? No. It was a lot deeper than that. And when he was finally awake, healed, and back to whatever normal was, Jack had to tell him and hang the consequences.
Daniel couldn’t believe it as he was confronted with yet another fossil encased in a strange substance that resisted all methods of excavation. “What is this damn stuff?” he growled. He looked around him at the hill he stood upon, surrounded by dry brush, drought-ridden bushes, and the edge of the pine forest to the left. To the right, a barren valley.
And again, following the question he’d asked repeatedly, the people he’d heard moving around him were nowhere to be seen. One moment they were there, talking, unearthing, handing him tools, and the next they’d disappeared.
He squatted back down to try and use his tools again but the long bone he’d found was no longer there. Something told him it had been moved and he was to try to excavate another long bone several yards down the slope.
He grabbed his tool set and moved on. The scene repeated twice more and aggravation was followed by a mist and a change of both daylight and season.
It was suddenly night and he wasn’t on a hill. He was in the middle of a paved street, surrounded by houses filled with light. A side street to his left showed more houses. Daniel frowned and walked toward them to read the street sign. The street he was on said “Field” and the side street read “Spring.” His frown turned into a scowl as he looked around him, trying to find something familiar. He looked back up at the sign and was taken aback because their names had changed.
The main street read, “Wandering” and the side street read “Willow.” Daniel let his arms lift and fall in exasperation and he began to walk down the main road, looking at the names of other side streets hoping to find one that read, “Oriole Rd” or “Robin Dr” because that would lead him to . . . Jack. Once he realized that’s who he’d been looking for, he kept searching. It would take him forever because he didn’t have a car. Or a map.
And he thought, “Why don’t I just fly?”
He took a few running steps and jumped. He flew up, hovered a bit, and came back down. Again and again, until the jumps grew longer and higher. He found a blue kiosk in the middle of a green and it had many newspapers and a map stand. He grabbed a map for Colorado Springs and after locating Robin Drive, he began to jump. People below him looked up and seemed both nonchalant and amazed as if seeing him in the air was surprising until they realized that it was him doing it. It didn’t make sense, but he wasn’t jumping around for these people. He had to find Jack.
Somewhere around Jump 100-something, he found Jack’s street, dropped to the ground, and began running. He knew he’d find it. On and on, he ran. And then finally, he saw the black Dodge Ram King Cab with the silly hula girl on the dash. Jack had gotten it because it had reminded him of Charlie. His son had seen one of the hula girls in a store and the way she wobbled had made him laugh. He’d been about five years old at the time. It had taken Jack six years after Charlie’s death to be able to think of something his son had liked and smile about it instead of plummeting into a depression of remorse and grief.
Daniel walked to the front door, thinking all the while that this was knowledge no one but him and Sara knew about Jack. Jack, normally a brick wall of pain no one could get through, had been able to open up to Daniel on Abydos. And then to Sara after the Unity crystal had taken Charlie’s form.
Daniel knocked, feeling warmth everywhere on his skin. He knocked again and looked at his hand. It was glistening with a sweat sheen. He realized that the warmth he felt was abnormal. It was night, and the temperature felt like fifty but his skin and body said 104°. He shivered then as the external temp warred with his internal temp. He suddenly felt dizzy and turned the doorknob. It opened. He staggered inside and went right instead of left. Not to the couch in the living room but to Jack’s bed. He fell upon it, hoping Jack would find him soon. The fever was gonna kill him and he had to tell him something before he died. He had to tell him . . . tell him . . . tell him . . .
Pain. Pain. Pain.
Then it lessened. And a thirst entered his brain telling him to get up and drink a gallon of icy water.
Get up. Get up.
Who was he? Stupid, you know who you are. No, those weren’t his thoughts. Other people were talking.
“Jack,” he said. Something, a memory, said, “Tell him.”
“Daniel?” came Jack’s voice.
“I love you,” Daniel mumbled, but it might have come out as “I’ll view.”
“Doc!” Jack called and was hushed.
“Not so loud, Colonel,” said a woman’s voice.
Daniel wanted to open his eyes but there was a damp cloth over them. He reached up to remove it but someone’s hand stopped him.
“Daniel,” said the woman. “Leave the cloth where it is. We need to be sure that your medicine hasn’t caused a problem with your corneas.”
“What?” Daniel asked, hating how weak his voice sounded. “Corneas?” He left his hand over his eyes. “Since when does a fever mess with the eyes?” No one answered and he wondered if he’d asked the question out loud. “Jack?”
“I’m here,” said Jack’s voice.
It didn’t sound right. It sounded . . . tight? Emotional? That wasn’t Jack, except when he was upset. “Why’re you upset?” he started to ask but all that came out was “Why.” He suddenly remembered it all. The heat of his skin, the thundering headache, the lower back “fire,” then . . . nothing.
“What happened?” he asked as he realized that the only thing that ached was his stomach. “Water,” he said, only it was more of a demand. He felt a straw at his lips and he sucked down blessed, blessed cold water.
“Not so fast,” Janet warned, taking the straw away.
“I know,” Janet said. “You’re dehydrated. I’ve got you on an I.V. You can have water in small cups throughout the day. Colonel? No more Big Gulps.”
Daniel detected humor in her voice, not reprimand. Which said volumes. He wasn’t sick anymore. “What happened?”
“We found several sections of the database that related to radiation sickness,” Sam said.
Daniel reached up blindly and felt her take his hand in hers. He squeezed. She squeezed back, then let him go. “So what’s with the blindfold?”
“The database indicated that the medicine has a thing similar to snow blindness,” Janet said, “only it makes everything too bright. So for the first six hours, you wear the blindfold. Even so, barring an accidental peak, the infirmary has very little light right now, just enough to let us see what we’re doing.”
“Okay,” Daniel said. Since Sam had been holding his right hand, he lifted his left. Another hand took it and he knew right away that it was Jack’s. All he wanted to do was pull on it until Jack was in his arms. He caught snatches of the dream he’d had, searching for Jack. He had to tell him something before he died. Only now, he wasn’t dying. Except he still had a truth to tell. Just not in mixed company. “Hungry,” he said when he wondered if his long silence was worrying.
“Ice chips only,” Janet said. “In a few hours, you get vegetable broth. Then we’ll see how the cure is going before meat broth is on the menu.” He groaned. “Now, I’m gonna insist you sleep. Everyone has to let him sleep.” She emphasized the last sentence.
“Jack, stay,” Daniel said, not letting him go.
“Fine, one person,” Janet said.
Daniel waited until the footsteps retreated. He tightened his grip on Jack’s hand. He wanted to bring it to his lips and kiss his hand but he didn’t. He had a list of things to do and say and that wasn’t on it. He added it though.
Jack was quiet.
“I need to tell you something,” Daniel said. And Jack said the exact words at the same time. Daniel swallowed. “Who goes first?” He felt Jack’s free hand brush his hair from his forehead. He’d never done that before. Did that mean . . .
Jack was quiet again.
“Jack?” he ventured.
Jack cleared his throat several times. Daniel recognized the sound. Emotion was in his voice and he had to clear his throat so it wouldn’t mess up what he wanted to say. “You go,” Jack finally managed.
“Okay,” Daniel said, then suddenly felt heat rising to his cheeks because he was afraid of rejection. “This is gonna be hard,” he said, “but since I damn near died, it has to be said.”
“Sure,” Jack said.
Daniel then suspected that Jack knew what he was gonna say. But that didn’t make any sense. How could he suspect?
“I . . . love you.” He said the last two words in a rush and felt the blush in his cheeks spread to his ears. Then in his rapid speech added, “And maybe you might, I mean, it isn’t just about, I mean, that I care, but it’s deeper than that.” Silence followed as the seconds stretched into a minute. Then two. “Say something,” Daniel said, dread in his voice. “I can’t unsay that, no matter how much you might—”
“I love you too,” Jack said. “You do know that we’ve said this already?”
“Yes, but not alone. No, not just . . . out there. No.” Daniel rubbed his face, careful of the eye cover. “I think maybe I’m still dreaming. I kept thinking I had to tell you I love you before it was too late.”
He realized that Jack’s hand had never left his forehead and hair. His fingers moved again, threading through his hair repeatedly as if he was calming him. The touch said a lot more than just I love you. No matter what he felt inside, there was no way in hell he could show Jack how he felt. Not for a long time.
“It’s the dream,” Jack said. “You know how those deep ones are. Make you think it was real. Plus . . .”
“Fraiser said you might have temporary amnesia. Bits and pieces. It’ll pass.”
Daniel sighed with relief. Silence was heavy. He waited a minute, then asked, “Now what?” He was suddenly aware of the stale tackiness in his mouth and ran his tongue over his front teeth. He made a disgusted sound. “God, I need to brush my teeth.”
Jack began to chuckle, then to outright laugh. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said. Then Daniel felt him bend toward him and place a kiss on his forehead. “I love you, too. Be back soon.”
After he’d left, Daniel couldn’t get the feeling of that kiss off his skin or out of his mind. The words sounded familiar. Had they said them before? “Is this feeling real?” he asked himself and before he knew it, he was fast asleep.
“I love you too,” Jack blurted.
“—want me . . . to.”
He realized that Jack’s hand had never left his forehead and hair. His fingers moved again, threading through his hair repeatedly as if he was calming him. The touch said a lot more than just I love you. No matter what he felt inside, there was no way in hell he could show Jack how he felt. Not for a long time.
“Now what?” he asked, then became aware of the stale tackiness in his mouth and ran his tongue over his front teeth. He made a disgusted sound. “God, I need to brush my teeth.”
Jack began to chuckle, then to outright laugh. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said. Then Daniel felt him bend toward him and place a kiss on his forehead. “Be back soon.”
After he’d left, Daniel couldn’t get the feeling of that kiss off his skin or out of his mind. Love. And he kept thinking, “Is this feeling real?” until he was fast asleep.
Lying on his side, Daniel slowly rose out of a deep sleep. He didn’t know how he knew but as he awakened, he sensed someone was sitting beside his bed. Before opening his eyes, he stretched out an arm and sought Jack’s hand. Another hand gripped his but it wasn’t Jack’s. Even so, he felt a calming comfort in that hand. Only two others besides Jack gave him that feeling of comfort and they were Sam and Teal’c. Her hands were slender but strong and this hand was large and overwhelmed his own.
“Teal’c,” he said, opening his eyes and offering a slight smile. To his amazement, Teal’c matched the smile.
For the millionth time, Daniel’s emotions warred with each other as he felt both amusement and aggravation. “When will you get it through your head that you’re supposed to use my first name? Besides, it makes no sense to me that to show honor, you would use ‘Daniel Jackson’ instead of ‘Doctor Jackson.’ You call Jack ‘O’Neill’ and Sam ‘Major Carter.’ So why call me Daniel instead of my professional name? Is it because I’m not military? It can’t be because we’re close. After all, you feel the same way toward Jack and Sam.”
Teal’c frowned thoughtfully. “I quite honestly do not know, Daniel Jackson. Using your name without your title feels appropriate.”
“Okay,” Daniel said and squeezed Teal’c’s hand before withdrawing it to scratch at his nose. While his other hand lay under his cheek and was, therefore, closer, he didn’t want to move it. He was too comfortable. “But it’s been over five years. Isn’t it time to use our first names?” Teal’c gave him a mildly reproachful look and Daniel waved his free hand. “Okay, okay, I withdraw the question. But after another five years, I’m gonna insist you call me Daniel so prepare yourself.”
Teal’c tipped his head to the side in acknowledgment.
“Where’s Jack and Sam?”
“O’Neill is in the gym and Major Carter is off base testing her motorcycle.”
Daniel grinned. The Indian motorcycle she’d been rebuilding. Testing was only half the reason she would be riding it. He was surprised that she had been given the time . . . which reminded him. He looked at his wrist and saw that his watch was gone. “What time is it?”
Teal’c looked at his own watch. “It is seven-fourteen.” Which said that his watch was digital. Teal’c related the time according to the type of clock. If he’d had a clock face instead of digital time he’d have said, “It is seven hours and fourteen minutes.”
“A.M. or P.M.?”
It had been June 18th the last time he’d seen a clock, before the coma. “How long was I in stasis?”
“And the coma?”
“That’s only five weeks after the coma. The last date I remember was June 18th. That’s one week missing.”
Teal’c raised an eyebrow. “You were unconscious for one week after receiving the curative.”
Teal’c frowned in thought. “I believe Doctor Fraiser used the term ‘curative.’”
“Huh,” Daniel said. “That’s a new one on me.” Teal’c tipped his head slightly, confused. “Sorry. It’s a different phrasing for ‘That’s new to me.’”
Teal’c nodded. “Noted.”
“Teal’c, why haven’t you begun using contractions?”
Teal’c again looked thoughtful for a moment. “I regard your language no differently than I regard your names. It would be disrespectful to begin using contractions.”
Daniel snorted a laugh. “That makes no sense, but hey, it’s up to you.” Teal’c grinned. Daniel added slyly, “One of these days, perhaps when you’re old and gray, you’ll drop the respect and consider it as given.”
“Old and gray?”
“Old with gray hair.”
Daniel turned a little and pushed himself to a sitting position. “I, uh, need to use the bathroom. Help me stand up.”
“Are you not advised to use the portable pan?”
“Nope. And even if I was, I’m using the toilet no matter what.”
Teal’c nodded. “Indeed.”
Daniel swung his legs over the side of the bed, shivering slightly as the cold metal bars of the bed touched his warm legs. He then realized he was wearing clean blue scrubs instead of a backless gown. Thank god for small favors, though he shuddered to think of how they got the pants on him. Sometimes it sucked having friends see you in the altogether.
Teal’c helped him walk to the bathroom—which wasn’t inside his infirmary room, but several yards down the hall. By the time Daniel got back to the bed, he was gritting his teeth in exhaustion. “Dammit,” he said, sitting back down. “I need to work out.”
“That is in your prescribed routine to return you to full health.”
“Is it really?”
At that moment, Jack walked in and after taking a long look at Daniel, he said, “How come you look more sweaty than I do?”
“Bathroom excursion,” Daniel said.
Teal’c said, “I believe it is time for my kel’no’reem.”
“Okay,” Daniel said. “Thanks, Teal’c.” The Jaffa bowed his head to Daniel, glanced at Jack, and left.
“Was it something I said?” Jack asked as he took the padded wooden chair Teal’c had been using, leaned back, and propped one foot on the edge of the bed.
Daniel shrugged as he grabbed the remote control for the bed and raised the head of it so he could sit up. Once done, he adjusted his pillows and lay back. “So who’s gonna see to my exercise routine after Janet releases me?”
“Before she releases you,” Jack said. “The Ancients’ also had a recovery routine for those who’d been in the hospital for several weeks getting the radiation treatment.”
Daniel grinned at ‘treatment.’
“Nothing. So who’s got the honor of gym duty?”
“Teal’c,” Jack said in a tone that said the answer should’ve been obvious.
Daniel nodded. “I’m starving. Can’t I have something solid to eat?”
Jack shook his head as he looked at his watch. “You dinner should be arriving soon. Fraiser has the mess hall delivering your food at precise times.” Daniel grinned. “And when you’re through, I’ll help you back to the latrine to brush your teeth. I put a brush and tube in a glass on the sink.”
“Is that whose that is?” Daniel asked. “That’s why I’m winded. Had to piss. Teal’c helped me down and back. I didn’t realize I would be so weak.”
“You lost a lot of weight,” Jack said, grimacing. “Best weight loss plan ever. Get radiation sickness.”
Daniel’s brows rose as he pushed back the covers and lifted his scrubs shirt. He didn’t have a slight tummy anymore and his ribs were slightly noticeable. “Holy shit. No wonder I’m hungry.”
At that moment, at precisely 7:30, a corpsman entered the room with a rolling bed cart. “Sir,” he said to Jack. “Here’s Doctor Jackson’s dinner. I’ll be back in an hour to grab the tray.” He then left. On the bed cart was a green tray with a lid. Jack rolled the cart over the bed and lifted the lid. It held a bowl of yellow broth and three packages of crackers.
“For fuck’s sake,” Daniel grumbled. “At this rate, I’m never gonna get back in shape.”
“Trust me,” Jack said. “You’ll have enough food to work it off when the time comes.”
Daniel frowned. “Why the fussy routine?”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Fraiser didn’t mention it?”
Daniel sighed. “Mention what?”
“You’re not fully recovered,” Jack said uncomfortably. “You have six more shots to go through. One each day. The medicine is reduced each time, according to the plan sheet I saw.”
“But I feel fine,” Daniel said, even as a little perspiration wet across his brows.
Jack shook his head. There was a cup on the tray next to a small pitcher and inside the cup were two capsules. Jack emptied the cup and then filled it with water. “Here,” he said, and handed Daniel the pills. He then gave him the water.
Once Daniel took the pills, he started to pick up the bowl of broth but it was hot. “Dammit.” He picked up the metal spoon and began to eat while Jack opened the packages of crackers. In five minutes, the food was gone. Daniel not only felt full he was exhausted. He lay back and sighed, rubbing at his stomach. “Okay. I see how my eyes were a hell of a lot bigger than my stomach.”
Jack gave him a crooked grin. “Maybe you’ll listen to me when I tell you stuff?”
“Don’t I always?” Daniel asked rhetorically.
“Not really, no,” Jack said ruefully.
Daniel blinked at him. He ran a scenario in his head about the probable questions, statements, and answers that could possibly follow and realized that Jack was right. “Well. Um. First, I’m sorry. Second, I’ll change that. Third, if I fall back on old habits, slap me upside the head.”
Jack let a slow toothy smile spread across his face. “You’re giving me permission to smack you?”
“Yep,” Daniel drawled.
Daniel burst out laughing and then groaned as the muscles in his abdomen protested. “Don’t give me ideas.”
Jack added a raised brow to his smile. “Tempting.”
They looked at each other silently for a bit. Daniel reached out his hand and Jack took it. “How about we start with a date first.”
It was Jack’s turn to blush but he said, “Breakfast, lunch, or dinner?”
Daniel’s smile matched his. “A, breakfast implies staying the night and maybe that’s a third or fourth date scenario. B, lunch isn’t really a date to me. So C, it’s dinner. Have anywhere in mind?”
“Mind if I surprise you?”
Daniel squeezed Jack’s hand and felt it returned. “Not one bit.”
Jack sighed, still smiling. “I like this plan. Done.”
“In the meantime . . .” Daniel began hesitantly. “Do you wanna talk about what’s happened between us?”
Jack grimaced. “Not really. Whaddya say we just roll with it?”
Daniel smiled. “Done.”