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In the Reign of Darius

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"So," Jack said to Daniel. "The lions' den this time, eh?"

It was recent shorthand, delivered quietly after Daniel's gaze and his had met across the crowded room and Daniel's team had been absorbed into the jumble of personnel and Jack had crossed the space and come close enough for only Daniel to hear. It meant that he'd gotten the initial reports, that he knew some of what had happened in the dungeons on Celestis. They stood in the main room of the SGC infirmary -- he'd ordered the shield deactivated and the area cleared for direct beam-in; the bugs had done a number on Odyssey's sickbay, and they had a lot of injured up there -- and in the midst of the professional bustle, gurneys, medics, equipment, questions, orders, it was as if they'd stepped into a private bubble, shielded from the noise and activity, where nothing existed but the two of them.

"Yeah," Daniel said. His gaze stayed locked on Jack's. His eyes shone with intimate warmth, but his expression was pleasant, composed, professional. He expected Jack to slap his shoulders, give him a shake, congratulate him, maybe risk shooting him one intense, loaded look before turning away to compliment the rest of SG-1 and the Odyssey crew on a job well done. He didn't get that Jack wasn't here as the general, that Jack could have authorized the brief shield deactivation from the command center in the Pentagon, that there was no general here, that even Landry would wait until his people were settled and medically cleared for visitors before he made his congratulatory rounds. He didn't get that the reason Jack was here was him.

Jack closed the last of the distance between them and wrapped Daniel in his arms.

Daniel stiffened in surprise, then tried to be manhuggy about it, tried to pat his shoulders, a quick squeeze-and-release. Jack shifted his grip, arm around waist, hand on head, fingers threading through hair, face buried in the skin between neck and shoulder. For another three seconds, Daniel resisted, stubbornly protective of appearances. Then he let out a low oh, god sound, and embraced Jack's embrace.

In the way Daniel's body fit itself to his he could feel everything that wasn't in the reports. The joints and tendons strained from his being hauled around by the arms half-conscious, ribs bruised in the shape of boot toes, the banged-up hip and knee from being thrown onto a stone cell floor, the near-dislocated shoulder that somehow hadn't popped out when something flung him against a wall. The deeper, lingering quiver in soft tissue, the sick resonance left behind by pain delivered on a cellular level, the clinging hum of torture by something like a ribbon device. It ebbed, some, as he pulled Daniel close. His body drew it off like electricity, grounding it.

Softly, against Daniel's ear, he said, "This was the next time."

"Yeah." Daniel's voice was hoarse and shaky, the way your voice got when you'd been hanging on by a thread and found yourself suddenly, shockingly, safe. "But I got up. We all got up."

"Yeah," Jack said. He was shaking too, overwhelmed with relief and pride and love. "You did."

Daniel's flightsuit smelled of embattled spaceship, the scents of breach sealant and burned circuitry and fire-suppression chemicals that got into stowed gear so that even freshly issued uniforms reeked of damage control. Daniel smelled of Daniel, hair and skin and sweat, the sweetest scents Jack knew, the smell of home. Jack shifted him even closer, breathing him, feeling him, no intention of letting go until his backbrain began to believe that Daniel was really here. The hug blew past blinkworthy into inappropriate and kept going, and Jack kept holding him, grounding him, until he couldn't feel that quivering hum anymore, until the residual tension had gone from Daniel's shoulders and back, until his own heart had stopped trying to crash through his chest. All the while personnel swirled around them with supplies and clipboards, slings and IV bags, wheelchairs and BP cuffs. It was V-E Day, it was V-J Day, but nobody was celebrating 'til the wounded were settled.

Daniel took the opportunity to speak close against his ear without being overheard. "They fucked Odyssey up the ass with replicators."

"I know," Jack said, "and I'm hangin' 'em out to dry with it."

Daniel tensed again. "You're disbanding them?"

"Nah. Devil we know. But the 'A' stands for 'advisory' again. Bye-bye operational control."

Relief flushed the surprised stiffness from Daniel's dense frame, leaving Jack's arms full of limp exhaustion. "That's it then," he murmured. Jack could feel him trying and failing to summon the will to draw back, make a joke or feign a fainting spell or do whatever else he could think of to excuse the absurdly extended hug. "No more squeeze play."

Jack chuckled, and then laughed outright when he could feel Daniel's eyebrows go up. The IOA had been the monkey on his back for two years, they were standing here perilously close to outting themselves in the middle of a crowded military infirmary, and Jack's giddy amusement wasn't a reaction Daniel could make sense of. "Until the next bunch of incompetent bureaucrats gets a hand in," Jack said. "But I think you're missing the bigger picture here." He pulled back, buried both hands in Daniel's hair, gave his head a gentle shake. "Daniel. The war's over."

It took a few seconds for the personal message to get through, and then the smile that spread across Daniel's face was as big and wide and uncontrollable as it was that day in the gateroom when he stepped through the ranks of SFs and Jack lost it and hugged the stuffing out of him. "I guess it is."

"Do you know what that means?"

"It means we held on and it paid off. It means it didn't last the rest of our lives. It means we can ... revisit some options we ruled out." He smiled again, more softly: "It means we can rest for a little while."

"Right on all counts," Jack said, "but it also means this" -- and he gentled his hands, and tilted his head, and leaned in.

Daniel's eyes went dark with surprise and warning, blinked astonishment when Jack's face kept coming, then slid closed as Jack's lips touched his. Jack brushed mouths with him, breathed, brushed; closed his eyes, and softly kissed.

The room fell silent. Daniel's lips parted. Jack held there, not pushing. Daniel let out a breath he'd bated for a decade and pressed forward to claim Jack's mouth, fill it. For a few seconds there was nothing but kiss -- warm lips, wet tongue, hungry possessiveness, gobsmacked relief, melting tenderness. Then the bustle reactivated, sound and motion started up again, business as usual, and when Jack drew back to look into Daniel's eyes, no one was taking any notice of them at all.

Well, almost no one. From somewhere off to his right he heard a sharp, victorious "I knew it" and a stream of self-congratulatory babble from Mal Doran, and an indulgent, affectionate rumble from Teal'c. From the left he heard "Well, hell, in that case" from Mitchell, and a low chuckle from ... hey, how about that: Carter. The soft wet smack of a kiss, a hum of appreciation tearing into a groan of pain, a strained "Whoa, OK, maybe not so much on the mouth" and an "Oh, ow, sorry, yeah" that sounded half repentant and half choked with laughter ...

It was all cute and funny as hell and the last thing Jack was interested in right now. He kept looking at Daniel, and Daniel's face broke into a brilliant smile, so wide and bright it filled Jack's field of vision and lit the corners of the room. Jack stepped away to hold him at arms' length and drink it all in. He smiled, too, shy at first and then letting it open out, get as big as it wanted to be, as big as Daniel's. Daniel beamed back, trying hard to dial it down and failing pathetically. He was pitiful when he was dazzled. Being what dazzled him -- what he let himself be dazzled by, in open, in public -- made Jack feel like the king of the galaxy. He knew that his own face was the picture of goofy adoration, expression completely ungoverned, and for the first time in years, he did not care.

A low "Sirs" from close by opened his awareness out to the medic standing ready to start Daniel's intake.

He gave a squeeze and dropped his hands from Daniel's shoulders. "I've gotta dot some tees and cross some eyes," he lied amiably, with another step back, and gestured a go-ahead to the lieutenant. "But I'll see what I can do about springing you tonight."

"No," Daniel said. He stood unmoving as the medic tried to guide him away.

"'No'?" Jack echoed.

"I'm fine," Daniel said, and his eyes crinkled with amusement as Jack's blank surprise twisted into you have got to be shitting me disbelief that he was actually pulling the 'fine' line. "Really fine, Jack. No air quotes. A little fatigued. A few bruises." With quiet emphasis, he clarified: "Nothing broken." He held Jack's gaze for a second, making sure that Jack understood -- it took Jack the whole second, but once he did, his irritation evaporated -- then turned to the medic and said, "Thanks, Lieutenant, but I'm signing myself out. Is that a figure of speech or is there actually something I can sign? So that I can, you know, take responsibility? I don't want you guys to get in any trouble." The medic shot Jack a look of Sir? What the fuck?, and Jack shrugged: he sympathized, but he wasn't the base commander, and there hadn't been a whole lot he could do about Doctor Jackson when he was. The medic called over the new CMO, and Daniel politely, patiently, inexorably negotiated his own release while Jack stood with his arms crossed and enjoyed the show.

When it was done, Daniel turned that calm, charming, implacable authority on him. "No more 'later,'" he said. "No more 'maybe tonight,' 'maybe next week,' 'maybe next year.' No more delays, no more excuses, no more opportunity for the next thing to come along and fuck it up. War's over, Jack. We're going home."

An hour later Daniel had him naked in their bed in the Springs, halfway between a warm shower and a gentle orgasm. Four hours later, replete after pad thai and a doubly intense round of sex, Daniel was cuddled up against him, nuzzley and warm and drowsing, and Jack was filling out the retirement papers in his head for the last time. Six weeks later, the papers were filed and awaiting approval, and Daniel and Carter and Teal'c were on their last mission as members of SG-1. Mitchell was rarin' to get back and get started with the new team he'd put together, Mal Doran had reacquired enough of her old chutzpah to sneak off when diplomacy got boring, the Tok'ra chanting was showing no signs of ending, and instead of putting a bullet in the poor wretch of a host for old times' sake Jack was letting this whole Baal thing play out the Tok'ra way, because however slowly the clock was ticking, it was ticking towards freedom.

Six months after that, Jack woke up comfortably warm with Daniel curled around him in their bed for the two hundred and fourteenth day in a row, and started to believe that happily-ever-after might be possible after all.

Or, at least, no more impossible than any other impossible maneuver they'd pulled in the last twelve years.