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The wind teased and played with Sha’uri’s hair as she danced in the desert sands. She laughed, that teasing, tantalizing sound that was uniquely hers, throwing her head back in delight. She was so beautiful, so carefree. Daniel’s heart was full as he watched her. She always danced as if no one was watching. He envied her that unselfconsciousness.

“Sha’uri,” he called, his voice carrying clear and strong in the Abydos night. But she didn’t hear him. On and on she danced, twirling and swooping high and low to music only she could hear until her robes became twisted around her, tighter and tighter.

“Be careful,” he shouted. But still she didn’t hear him. The wind grew stronger, whipping her glorious, thick hair across her face and twisting the robes tighter still, wrapping her body and covering her face. And suddenly she wasn’t dancing, she was lying in her grave, the cold, heavy Abydonian sand pouring over her body as Daniel’s team helped lay her to rest, and he could only scream silently as he lost her forever ...

“Sha’uri!”

Daniel woke knowing he had been dreaming. He’d dreamed he same dream many times in the two months since his wife died. It took him a few seconds to orient himself. Night time; warm, comfortable bed; off-world. He was in a guest house on P6X-797, the planet of the Sann’ai. Across the room from him, Jack should be sleeping, but Daniel was pretty sure his crying out would have woken him. It was too dark to see anything. Daniel swallowed hard, waiting for his breathing to even out. The dream left him bereft and aching every time. It was a familiar pain. He turned onto his side, facing Jack.  He couldn’t be certain, but he felt as though Jack was watching him, silently offering what support he could, respecting his privacy and grief. There was a bone-deep comfort in knowing he was there.

“I’m okay,” Daniel said quietly into the darkness. “I’m okay.”

He wondered who he was trying to convince.

>>>> 

“I’m going to be the size of a house by the time we leave here.” Jack tucked into his third sweet pastry of breakfast and eyed the fruit platter in front of Daniel greedily.

“There is such a thing as self-restraint,” Daniel offered, sucking the last of the pulpy goodness from a fruit that looked a lot like a kiwi but tasted nothing like one.

“I am not familiar with this self-restraint of which you speak,” Jack replied, licking his fingers. “Damn, but the Sann’ai are good cooks.”

“I am pleased you like our food, Jack.” Kelta, leader of the Senn’ai, 70 years old and feisty as hell. Jack had taken to her immediately and the feeling was entirely mutual.  She sat beside him on one of the long benches that flanked the huge dining table in the communal hall.

“Oh, I like it all right. A little too much. You’ve gotta stop being such great hosts.”

Kelta laughed, creasing her deeply lined face. She was a stout, short woman with masses of gray hair partly hidden under the bonnet worn by all the Sann’ai women.  Motherly and matronly, she nevertheless ruled her people with uncompromising strength. Daniel wondered, not for the first time, if Jack had been drawn to her because she reminded him of his own mother.

“We like to welcome our guests and treat them as we would wish to be treated,” Kelta said, reaching for a not-kiwi. “It is our way.”

“And I like your way,” Jack replied. “I like your pastries even more.”

Daniel smiled. Jack could always make him smile, even when he’d almost forgotten how to.  Jack’s affection for these people was infectious. It was obvious that home, family and community meant everything. It was a wonderful life and Daniel envied its simplicity. Everything in his life seemed so complicated just now. As well as dealing with Sha’uri’s loss and Teal’c’s role in it, he was trying to cope with his confused reaction to Ke’ra. He’d been attracted to her, to her intellect and inquiring mind. Pity about the whole Destroyer of Worlds thing. As Jack said one night over beers shortly after she went back to her life of forgetting, “You sure can pick ‘em, buddy.”

Jack had been Daniel’s rock since Sha’uri’s death. He’d been there for him in his very own Jack-like ways. Daniel had stayed with him for a while. “Fraiser will have my ass if you don’t eat,” Jack had said by way of explanation. He’d listened while Daniel went over and over her death and never once told him to shut up. He’d even let Daniel play a selection of his “weird ass” world music CDs and never complained. And Daniel was certain Jack had been behind the choice of this particular mission. Sure, Sam had talked up the high probability of naquadah deposits, but Daniel reckoned the milk-run nature of the visit had been the real vote winner. He could almost hear Jack’s “He needs to get back to it, Sir. No dramas. No distractions,” to Hammond.

Jack was right. He did need this mission. It was a chance to get back to doing what he loved. It offered the chance to forget, if only briefly, that his world had been torn apart.

“Kelta, I was wondering if you have a written history of your people that I could study.” Daniel gathered up his and Jack’s plates, causing Jack to shoot him an aggrieved glance. No more pastries. He took some fruit instead.

“Nothing is written, Daniel. We carry our history in our hearts and minds and pass it on to our children through the Speaking.”

“The Speaking?”

“When the moons are full we gather in the name of the Goddess and speak of our past. That is how we remember.”

“So ... nothing is written down?”

“It is not necessary.”

“You can’t beat a good book,” Jack said, inspecting and sniffing a small, pink fruit. “Ask Daniel. He’s read thousands of them, ninety-nine per cent of which would put you to sleep in seconds.”

Daniel gave him the look, just because.

“Although I’m sure they are riveting if you’re into that kind of stuff,” Jack offered in mitigation.

Kelta looked from one man to the other. “You tease him, Jack. I have seen this. It is good. There is much love between you.” She tapped Jack on the shoulder affectionately before rising and heading for the kitchen.

Daniel shook his head and waited for the inevitable crass remark or denial in response but it never came. 

Jack toyed with the fruit. “I should check in with Carter and Teal’c,” he mumbled and waved vaguely in the direction of the guest houses.

Daniel nodded, having the niggling feeling that something important had just happened and he’d missed it.

>>>> 

Daniel had felt restless all day and he hoped an early evening walk might settle him down and bring a good night’s sleep. After walking for a while without any plan of where he was going, he realized he was heading to the site of Sam’s mobile lab. Before him, the countryside rolled gently away, eventually leveling out to a wide flood plain in the distance. As he crested the rise, he could see for miles. He took a moment. It was quite a view. All he could hear was the gentle shushing of the long grass and the jaunty chirrup of a creature that was probably something like a cricket.

“I could get used to this,” he said, on a sigh.

“Really? I’m not sure I could.”

Daniel jumped. He hadn’t heard Sam’s approach.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.” She laid an apologetic hand on his arm as she caught up to him. They set off together for her lab, at the bottom of the hill.

“It’s okay. I think I’m here and paying attention to everything and then suddenly ...”

“You’re not.”

Daniel smiled wryly. “Yeah.” Sam got him. He was so grateful for her friendship. She didn’t ask the questions or supply the platitudes that everyone else seemed to think were okay when it came to a grieving widower. She was just there, being Sam.  It was a huge relief to spend uncomplicated time with her.

Sam nudged his shoulder as they walked. “I couldn’t live here. I mean, it’s great but I miss my power shower too much. And Cass bought me a foot spa for my birthday.” She sighed, longingly. “God, I’ve been wearing these boots too long.”

“I love it when you go all girly on me,” Daniel teased, knowing that the teasing was fine.

Sam shot him a sideways look and bumped his shoulder a bit harder.

They arrived at the equipment and Sam began gathering up her gear.

“Need a hand?” Daniel was pretty sure the answer would be no. Sam’s “stay away from my stuff” attitude was legendary.

“I’m good. Teal’c has done most of packing up. We’re pretty much good to go.”

Daniel looked around. “Where is Teal’c?”

“He got a better offer. Haylem asked if he’d like to check out the Sann’ai hunting equipment. He was hardly going to turn that offer down.”

Sam snapped the lid shut on a collection of soil samples, pulled off her protective gloves and straightened up. “That’s it. I’ll come back in the morning and pick up the rest of it.”

They turned to head back up the hill.

“How’s it looking?” Daniel asked. The success of the mission didn’t rest entirely with the rate of naquadah deposits, but it would be the first question Hammond asked.

“Well, it’s too early to tell for definite but I’d say it’s looking pretty promising. Initial results suggest a higher concentration of naquadah than my computer model predicted. Can’t wait to get back to the SGC to run a full analysis. I’m really hopeful.” She smiled.

They walked on in silence for a while as the sun began its slow journey to sunset, turning the sky a startling shade of burnished orange.

“Could you really live here?” Sam asked, after a while.

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s great in theory. What’s not to love? A peaceful, historically agrarian, matriarchal society with a rich tradition of oral history and a passion for storytelling? All those rumors, lies and fairytales.  It should make a perfect home for someone like me.”

He could feel Sam’s eyes on him. “Should?”

Daniel shrugged. “I guess I’ve kind of forgotten what home really feels like.”

Sam stopped in her tracks. “You don’t feel at home with us?” She wasn’t accusing, but the hurt in her voice came through loud and clear.

Daniel closed his eyes. How to explain. “Don’t think ... I mean ... You, Teal’c and Jack are like family to me, and don’t think I don’t know that. I just haven’t felt like I have an affinity to a place for a long time. Not since ...”

“Abydos.”

“Abydos.”

Sam nodded, her eyes full of understanding. “I don’t like to ask how you’re feeling. It seems  ... inane.” She shifted uncomfortably.

“I’m doing okay for the most part. It’s just that sometimes I’m not okay and I’m learning that that’s okay, too. One day at a time. Or a moment at a time.”

Sam leaned in to plant a gentle kiss on Daniel’s cheek. It was her way of saying everything that she was unable to say. Daniel understood that. He understood how complex matters of math were far easier for her to deal with than complex matters of the heart. “That was probably against the regs,” she said, her voice a little rough.

“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Daniel said, easing their way out of the emotional minefield.

They smiled ruefully at each other and headed for the village.

Sam stooped to pluck a blade of long, sweet grass and twirled it between her fingers. “Know what? The Colonel could definitely live here. He’d fish and hunt. Chop wood for the fires. It would be his off-world Minnesota.”

Daniel smiled. “I guess he could, when the time comes to retire. There’s really nothing keeping him on Earth. He’d be happy enough with the simple life here. No Simpsons, though. Could be a dealbreaker.”

“You think he’s ready to retire?”

“No. I don’t think so. He hasn’t said anything, at least not to me.”

“Me either.”

“I can see him somewhere like this, though. Quiet. Peaceful. Perfect dog country.”

“Perfect retired Colonel country.”

“Pretty much ... perfect.”  That triggered something that had been niggling at Daniel since they got here. “I’d still like to know how the Sann’ai have stayed safe. This is a cartouche world but there’s no evidence of Goa’uld activity at all, and seeing Teal’c didn’t faze them one bit. There was none of the usual running for the hills or frightened stares of recognition.”

Sam shrugged. “Maybe they’ve just been lucky. Even the Goa’uld can’t be everywhere all the time.”

Daniel pursed his lips. “Maybe. I just think there’s more to the Sann’ai than meets the eye.”

“What? You think there’s something sinister, or ...”

“No. Not sinister just ... more. I don’t know. My radar’s a little off. I’m not exactly bringing my ‘A’ game at the moment.”

“You’ll get there, Daniel.” And she sounded so confident, so sure, that Daniel almost allowed himself to believe her.

As the cluster of houses with smoke curling from their chimneys came into view, Daniel’s thoughts returned to the idea of Jack staying here when he finally hung up his combat boots. He mentally pictured himself saying goodbye at the Stargate as he, Sam and Teal’c left Jack here for the last time. They’d hug and make a joke about calling and sending letters.

He’d said goodbye to Jack in front of the Gate once before, a lifetime ago, when Sha’uri was alive and in his arms and a new life beckoned. It had been unexpectedly hard to see him leave then. It would be that much harder now, after years of unlikely but important friendship. He wasn’t sure he could do it again. And why was he even thinking about this crap? Loss, that’s why. Grief. This is what grief was. This was what grief did. It was an unforgiving, merciless companion.

Unsettled and distracted, he was relieved when they finally reached the village and Kelta’s grandchildren ran to meet them, grabbing their hands and chattering away ten to the dozen, pulling them towards the newly lit campfire.

He didn’t have to dwell on the thought of saying any more goodbyes.

>>>>> 

The evening meal was served by the fire. While the adults dished up the food – a delicious, thick stew with unlikely looking purple root vegetables and unleavened bread -- the children played the off-world equivalent of hide-and-seek until they were called to eat. Some games were the same the universe over.

Jack sat with Kelta. Daniel was too far away to tell what they were talking about, but judging by the gestures Jack was making with his hands, it had something to do with the ones that got away. Sam and Teal’c chatted quietly to a couple of village elders. Daniel hoped Teal’c was okay. They’d settled into an uneasy accord after what happened to Sha’uri. Daniel didn’t blame Tealc, but he wasn’t sure Teal’c believed it.  Their friendship was a hard thing, but there was a beauty in it that Daniel didn’t think Teal’c could see. One day, he hoped.

Daniel found himself sitting beside Anyar and Dellar, a young married couple who had been fascinated by SG-1 since their arrival. They were curious about everything.

“Your world, Daniel, is it very like ours?” Anyar poured Daniel a cup of the local brew – more Hoegaarden than Heineken, Jack had proclaimed upon first tasting – and turned beautiful, violet eyes on him.

“In some ways. We have rich lands and rivers, huge forests and open plains, vast frozen expanses.”

Anyar smiled. “It sounds beautiful.”

“Much of it is. What isn’t is mainly down to us.”

“Perhaps one day we can visit your world. Your ... Earth.” She was so eager, so excited to learn and explore, it made his heart hurt. He’d been like that once. It felt like a lifetime ago.

“Perhaps.”

“Do you hunt and fish, Daniel?” Dellar asked, picking up his drink with one hand and taking his wife’s hand in the other. Daniel didn’t need to be an expert in body language to read that gesture correctly. Jack had delighted in pointing out to Daniel that the young woman had a crush on him.

“Ah, no. Jack would be the one to talk to about those things. I prefer the supermarket.”

“Supermarket?”

“A vast unlikeable place where the parking’s free and simply being there costs you your soul.”

Anyar frowned. “Then ... why would you want to visit such a place? And what is parking?”

Daniel was saved the problem of explaining further when Kelta rose from her seat and clapped her hands. Silence descended at once. “Children, it is time for rest. Tomorrow is feast day and will be busy and joyous so ... shoo, shoo. And go with the Goddess.” One by one, the children ran to her and hugged her before leaving with their mothers.

In the quiet that followed, the remaining adults gathered closer around the fire.

“Our new friends,” Kelta looked in turn at her four guests. “It is our delight to have you with us. It is our custom to share stories with new friends, so Parelle will tell you of his love for our land, if you would enjoy the sharing.”

Kelta’s gaze rested on Daniel. She’d figured out early on that he was the one into all this stuff, and she seemed to think that what Daniel said on such matters went, even though Jack was the man in charge.

Daniel looked across at Jack, whose upturned palms said, “Whatever you say”.

“We would like that very much,” Daniel said, smiling.

Parelle, a thin, wiry man of indeterminate age, rose to his feet and began to speak. After ten minutes or so, it became obvious that, as Jack would say, “The guy doesn’t know when to shut up.” While the Sann’ai paid rapt attention, even though it was obvious they’d heard it all many times before, Daniel saw Sam politely stifle a yawn and Teal’c’s jaw clench. Maybe he was trying not to yawn, too, in his implacable Jaffa manner. While the subject matter of the discourse was good, the delivery was not, and Parelle sounded an awful lot like Mr Magoo.

Daniel dipped his head to hide a smile, and when he raised it he caught Jack looking at him. Jack raised his eyebrows and silently mouthed, “What the fuck?” and grinned. Jack’s smile was a thing of beauty. It transformed his whole face, crinkling his eyes and softening features that had become as familiar over the years as his own – strong, straight nose, eyes that could be as warm as a summer day and as cold as a Nordic winter, angular cheekbones. Lost in his own thoughts, Daniel realized he was staring. Before he turned his gaze away, he realized Jack was also staring. They briefly caught each other’s eye and smiled, equally chagrined. It was a moment, there and gone, but it left Daniel warmed through rather than embarrassed and before he had any time to examine that further, Parelle had finally stopped speaking.

Everyone applauded and Parelle soaked up the adoration, and just as Daniel began to look forward to turning in for the night, Kelta was asking if SG-1 would like to share a story with their new Sann’ai friends.

Sam looked anxiously at Teal’c, who turned his unreadable gaze on Jack, who looked to Daniel for rescue. There would be no getting out of this.

“Um ... what would you like to hear?”

Kelta clapped her hands in delight. “Tell us your story, Daniel. Tell us of your life.”

Daniel swallowed. “It’s really not that ... I’m nothing special.”

“We are all special in the eyes of those who love us, Daniel. Is that not right, Jack?”

Jack’s face, so open only moments ago, immediately closed off. “If you say so, Kelta.”

“I do! Come, Daniel. Speak of those you love and have loved.”

Daniel was aware of the concerned looks Sam was throwing his way but he couldn’t say no to this. He wasn’t sure how quick to offend these people were, and there was more at stake here than his own feelings. Across from him, Jack regarded him carefully. It was hard to get a reading on him. That unsettled Daniel more than anything.

Slowly, Daniel rose to his feet.

“I am Daniel Jackson. I lost my parents when I was a child and I lost my wife very recently. I loved them very much.  I have a grandfather who didn’t want to take me in when I needed him, and because of that I felt lost for a long time. Sha’uri, that’s my wife, found me. She had eyes as bright as day, and a temper as fierce as a raging fire.  She was beautiful and smart. I was proud to be her husband.” He stopped there, his throat constricting, and had no idea what to say next or how to say it.

It was then that he became aware of Teal’c moving silently to his side.  While Daniel struggled to find the words, Teal’c supplied them for him.

“Sha’uri was a fearsome warrior, brave and true of heart. Her spirit blazed brighter than any sun and her memory will endure longer than any star. And she loved Daniel Jackson very much.”

Tears sprang unbidden to Daniel’s eyes. He couldn’t be here anymore; he felt the weight of everyone’s gaze and it suffocated him to the point where he couldn’t breathe.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I can’t ...”

Legs heavy, breathing ragged, he stumbled away from the crowd and the memories.

>>>>> 

Daniel drank deeply from the cup by the well. The water was cool and sweet and eased the fire of failure that burned his throat. These people valued stories. To them, they were as valuable as currency, and he hadn’t even managed to throw his ten cents into the storytelling pot. He’d walked out on everyone. He was pretty sure that was a big Sann’ai no-no.

Crap.

He wiped his mouth, rinsed the cup and headed for his guest house. He refused to go completely AWOL by embarking on a night-time walk in the woods, although the thought of getting away from everyone for a while was very tempting. At least by retreating to quarters, they’d know where to find him. And they would come to find him. It was just a question of who would volunteer for the task.

 Once inside, he lit the torch by the door from the fire that burned day and night in the center of the house. The two beds, with their springy mattresses, pillows of down and covers of animal pelts, were separated by a table and chairs. He sank gratefully into the chair close to his bed and closed his eyes, thinking back to the scene he’d just walked away from and the way Teal’c had come to his aid. He was so lucky in his friends. They’d held him together when all he’d wanted to do was fall apart.

“Hey.”

Daniel opened his eyes. Jack was hovering by the open door.

“Hey,” Daniel said, all hope of quietly forgetting what had just happened vanishing with the sight of the concern etched on Jack’s face.

“You all right?”

“Not really.” He accompanied the words with a resigned sigh.

Jack nodded and wandered into the room, pulling off his cap and scrubbing his hand through his hair. The short, silver strands stuck out every which way. It was endearing in a way Daniel couldn’t possibly have articulated if anyone had asked.

“Tough topic,” Jack said, wincing a little and rubbing his right knee as he eased into the other chair.

“You know, it’s ironic. Words are supposed to be my thing. Suddenly, they were very far from my thing.”

“Oh, tish, Daniel. If Kelta had asked you for chapter and verse on Egyptian mythology with particular reference to its validity as a belief structure there would have been no problem.”

Daniel blinked. “Wow. That’s ...”

“What? I do listen to your ... words ... sometimes.”

“You were going to say ramblings, weren’t you?”

“No.”

Daniel tilted his head and raised his eyebrows.

“Yes.”

Daniel smiled and then huffed a laugh, and, as he breathed out, the tension and unhappiness  that had infused his body since he’d left the aborted storytelling session left him. He sighed heavily. “I screwed up. I should have talked about how I joined the SGC and traveled to other worlds and met cool people like, oh, hello Sann’ai. I should have emphasized the importance of our meeting, given  that Sam thinks there’s naquadah to be had. I took my eye off the ball.”

“Maybe. But that’s not what they wanted to hear. And Kelta’s as good as said the naquadah’s ours if we want it.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah. Never underestimate the power of the O’Neill charm, Daniel.”

“Never would. What do they want in return?”

Jack stretched his legs and pointed his toes. It was a giveaway sign that he was tired. “Not much. Our friendship, a chance to exchange histories, learn about homeopathic medicine. That kind of stuff.”

Daniel unzipped his jacket. The small fire was keeping the little house very warm. “They don’t want protection from possible enemies?”

“Nope. Never mentioned.”

“They’re very certain in their security but with no obvious signs of any real weapons or protective systems. Doesn’t that seem a little ... odd?”

Jack followed Daniel’s lead and unzipped his jacket, too. “They’re just living their quiet lives on their quiet planet. Perhaps they think they have nothing of any value so who the hell would bother them?”

Daniel ran a hand over his face. “Perhaps you’re right. I can’t help thinking the Abydonians probably thought the same thing though.” He lapsed into silence, his gaze drawn to the dancing flames of the fire. “Ignore me. I’m over-thinking this. I’m over-thinking everything.” He frowned. Rising from the chair he took off his jacket, unlaced his boots and lay down gratefully on his bed.

“Daniel,” Jack shifted in the chair to half-face him. “Cut yourself some slack. You recently lost your wife. You’re doing just fine.”

Daniel placed his hands behind his head and laced his fingers together. He stared at the ceiling. “You didn’t think I was doing just fine with Ke’ra.”

“You got between my gun and my target which, in the Jack O’Neill Book of Do Not Do, is on page one.”

“You were going to shoot her.”

“Maybe I was. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to. The point is, I needed the tactical option and you took that away. That’s why I was pissed.”

Daniel considered the craftsmanship in the ceiling joists. These people were talented.

“You weren’t pleased that I got close to her.”

“She was the Destroyer of Worlds, Daniel. Not exactly ideal girlfriend material.”

“You’re choosing my girlfriends now?”

“Someone’s got to look out for you. You do a shit job of looking out for yourself.”

Jack shucked his jacket but kept his boots on. Making sure his P90 was close at hand, he lay down on the bed with a barely concealed groan of delight.

Daniel turned and looked at his friend. “You do look out for me,” he said, softly. “You all do. It means a lot.”

Jack said nothing for a while. “You ... mean a lot. To us, I mean,” he added hurriedly.

“I’ll remind you of that the next time we’re stuck in some endless, circular philosophical argument that escalates into name-calling and shouting.”

“You do that,” Jack said, his voice fading out.

Daniel spent long minutes watching Jack as he slept. Jack always slept well, regardless of their situation. Daniel guessed he’d learned to sleep anywhere and at any time, given how vital rest was for a successful mission. He wondered if Jack dreamed, and, if he did, what he dreamed about. Did he long for the lost happiness of Charlie and Sara? Jack’s personal life seemed to have died with his son and marriage. As far as he could tell, the man had no girlfriends. He’d never questioned the fact; they led impossible lives, with little time for conventional relationships. Jack was no stranger to losses, something they had in common. One of the few things they had in common. Theirs was an unlikely friendship, forged in unlikely circumstances.

But it mattered. Jack mattered to him.

I want you to be happy, he said silently, across the space between them. You deserve to be happy.

He fell asleep thinking about Jack.

>>>>> 

Daniel stretched to work the kinks out of his back and massaged the base of his spine with both hands. The midday sun was beating down strongly and he took a long drink of water from his canteen. He pulled his boonie down more firmly on his head in an effort to protect the back of his neck from the sun and splashed some water on his face, letting it drip from his chin. He liked the heat and the challenge of physical work. It reminded him of red-hot, back-breaking days on digs when he’d ended up so exhausted he could barely find his way to his tent.

“That is the last of the wood, Daniel. It is safely stored for the cold months. Thank you for your help. It is not the most exciting of tasks.” Dellar placed the last of the logs on the pile and dusted off his hands.

“Happy to help. Anything to keep me from thinking about what a fool I made of myself last night.”

Dellar took a drink and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. “You were not foolish. You were sad. We were all very sorry to hear that you have lost so much in your life.”

Daniel shook his head and absently played with the lid on his canteen. “It’s kind of you to say so, Dellar.”

Dellar looked positively taken aback. “We all know loss and understand, Daniel. I am not being kind. You should be kind to yourself.”

Daniel found a smile for him. “The Sann’ai are a wise people.”

“Not wise. Old.  We are an old people.”

Daniel slowly fixed the lid back on his canteen. “Dellar, your people have been here for a long time. Have you ever faced attack from other races?”

The idea seemed shocking to Dellar, who paused in wiping his hands on his shirt. “No.”

“You’ve never faced hostility from anyone coming through the Circle of Light?”

“Why should we? We are a peaceful people who seek nothing from anyone. We are happy as we are.” He picked up a broom and began sweeping up bits of bark that had fallen from the logs into a neat pile at the corner of the woodshed.

“When we came through the Circle, you weren’t afraid of us. You greeted us without weapons.”

Dellar laughed. “Of course. You are our friends.”

“But you didn’t know our intentions when we arrived. We could have meant you harm.”

“But you didn’t.”

Daniel tried hard to hide his frustration; Sann’ai logic was a hard thing to break down. He didn’t want to push too hard and risk losing the friendships they’d forged.

Dellar leaned the broom against the sturdy wooden structure – the Sann’ai built things to last. “Come, Daniel, the midday meal will be ready. It is sempan soup today; Anyar’s favorite. She will be waiting for us. And then we must prepare for the evening feast as we celebrate the harvest.”

“Of course.” There would be no more questions before lunch.  “Soup it is.”

>>>>> 

It was getting late. The feast table had groaned under the weight of delicious food and the dancing had just ended. A gloriously, happy, rowdy time was had by all. Teal’c had been grabbed by the children, who taught him their traditional harvest dance. Sam had been twirled around the floor by Dellar while a miffed-looking Anyar looked on. And Jack and Daniel sat with Kelta and happily watched the evening unfold. Now, they were sitting at the communal hall table, sipping the strong herbal tea that finished every meal.

“Tomorrow, I will take you hunting, Jack,” Kelta promised, eyes shining.

“Nothing I’d like more. Unfortunately, no can do. We’re shipping out. Time to go home.”

Kelta looked horrified. “But you cannot go. You have more stories to share, and you have not yet helped us hunt a gadeen. Pah.” She waved a dismissive hand. “You cannot go. I have spoken. One more day at least. We have an agreement to discuss. How can we discuss this when you are not here? Or perhaps this thing contained in our soil is not so important?” Sneaky. Daniel liked that; Jack, apparently, liked it even more. He grinned.

“All right. One more day, but we have to clear it with our leader. If he says no, we’re out of here. Carter, routine check-in is due in 20 minutes. Tell General Hammond we’d like another 24 hours but we’ll have everything sewn up good and tight by the end of it.”

Sam nodded. “Yes, Sir.”

“Teal’c, keep her company and swing by the kitchens on your way back. Snag some of those appley pastry things, just in case we need a midnight snack.”

Daniel hid a smile.

“Size of a house,” Jack mouthed, as Kelta laughed.

“Oh, Jack. You bring such laughter.” She raised a hand to Jack’s face and cupped his cheek, her face suddenly becoming serious as she studied him more closely. “But you hide sadness. Like Daniel. Tell me of your sorrow.”

Daniel could almost feel Jack’s visceral need to withdraw from her touch. He tensed on Jack’s behalf. Jack kept his pain sealed and hidden from nearly everyone.

“Oh, you don’t want to hear about that.”

“But I do. We are friends now, no? Friends share. I am sure you have shared your sorrow with Daniel.”

Daniel dipped his head. He knew more about Jack’s losses than anyone at the SGC, probably more than anyone anywhere. Jack didn’t talk much; you learned the silent language of Jack-speak over time by simply being there. When he did talk it was like he was allowing a rare and precious glimpse of his soul. Daniel was immediately transported back to Jack’s house in the Springs, the night after he came back from Abydos.

I’ll never forgive myself but sometimes I can forget. Sometimes.

It hurt Daniel to recall the pain in Jack’s voice that night. But he had opened up to him, just as Daniel had opened up about his feelings for Sha’uri. It hadn’t been the beer talking, either. The mutual trust had been there from the beginning. That trust had been the basis of the friendship that had followed. It underpinned everything.

“My son killed himself with my personal gun,” Jack began, haltingly. “I was careless and he paid the price. I lost my marriage shortly after that. Both of those things were my fault. I didn’t deal with any of it very well. I was in a dark place.”

Kelta stroked his face gently. “And Daniel found you there and brought you back into the light.”

Jack’s mouth opened but no words came out.

“It is unspoken, but it is seen and understood, my friend.” She patted his face one last time and took her hand away. “I bid you good night. Rest well.”

They watched Kelta supervise the final moments of the clean-up and soon found themselves alone in the hall. Daniel waited for Jack to say something, anything, but the long, slow silence went on, and the longer it went on, the less Daniel knew what to say. For a long time, they sat side by side and watched the flames from the great log fire paint dancing shadows on the walls. The shapes were soothing and hypnotic and Daniel allowed himself to be captivated by them, rather than struggle over the right words to say to Jack.

 “We should turn in,” Jack said, finally.

They rose together and began the short walk back to the guest house. The night air was clear and still and Daniel drew in some deep breaths.

“She was right,” Jack said, ambling along slowly, briefly touching shoulders with Daniel as he stumbled slightly on the uneven ground. “You did bring me back.”

Daniel looked up at the unfamiliar alien night sky. No Orion, no Great Bear. No Abydos. “You brought yourself back.”

Jack stopped dead in his tracks. “You believe that?”

Daniel had wandered a couple of paces ahead but now he stopped and turned back to face Jack. “Jack, you’re the strongest man I know. You made the decision to live, and I know I’ve never said so but ... I admire you so much for that. I know the pain you were in.”

“And who pushed and shoved and forced me to confront things about myself on that mission, huh? I was ready and willing to die Daniel, hell, I wanted it so bad I could taste it, and I didn’t care who I took with me. Who smacked me upside the head with the realization of what my actions would mean, not just for me but everyone around me?

Daniel blinked. “I’ve never thought of it that way. I just ... I just wanted you to live.”

 “I got that,” Jack said, quietly. “You took a staff blast for me. I just never knew why. I hardly even knew you then, and I was a closed-off asshole. I didn’t get it. ” His eyes were soft, full of a tenderness Daniel had never seen before. It took Daniel’s breath away. A gentle wind blew, stirring the colorful embroidered banners that hung outside every house, each one indicating the family name. 

Daniel searched desperately for an answer that would explain the connection he’d felt to Jack from the very beginning. “Because ...”

“We have the green light for another 24 hours, Sir.” Sam and Teal’c appeared from the direction of the Stargate. “General Hammond says...”

Daniel didn’t hear any of it. He knew Sam was speaking but he couldn’t take his eyes off Jack, who kept sending unreadable glances Daniel’s way throughout the conversation.

“Because ...”

>>>>> 

When Daniel woke, Jack had already left the guest house. Daniel had woken later than usual; he’d slept badly, his night disturbed by dreams of his parents, in which he was a young child, skinning his knees painfully as he clambered over rock on a dig but unable to make them understand that he was hurt. He rarely dreamed about them and when he did it left him unsettled and off-kilter. He took two aspirin for the bleary kind of headache that often followed poor sleep, washed, changed into a clean T-shirt and hurried to breakfast.

Anyar told him that his friends were checking out the icehouse where the food was kept and that he should join them as soon as he was able. Picking up a couple of pieces of fruit, he made his way to the edge of the village.

Jack, Teal’c and Sam were inspecting a barrel full of fish awaiting salting when he entered the icehouse, while Kelta looked on with pride.

“Daniel,” Kelta said, warmly. “Good day.” She frowned. “You are unwell?”

“Just a headache. I’ll be fine. The aspirin, um, medicine that takes away pain, will kick in soon enough.”

“Then a walk in the open air will aid your recovery,” she said, taking him by the hand. “Come.”

Daniel looked at Jack.

“You too, Jack.”

Jack looked at Daniel.

Kelta would brook no argument and, all things being equal, it was best to give in gracefully. “Carter, Teal’c, some of the elders want to talk informally about the treaty. Make friends. Make notes. Make sure you come find us if we’re not back in a couple of hours.”

Kelta took Jack’s hand and towed him away, pulling Daniel along with her other. They’d gone two dozen paces when she came to a halt, dropped their hands and looked at Daniel.

“You have many questions about our people, Daniel.”

“Um, yes. It’s my job to ask questions.”

“It is time those questions are answered.”

“That would be ... most helpful.”

Without another word, Kelta walked ahead of them into the woodland that surrounded the village. After sharing a shrug, Daniel and Jack followed. Another couple of dozen paces in, Kelta stopped again.

“You have shared something of yourselves with us. Now, it is our turn to share that which is most precious and sacred to us, as is the way of friends.”

“It’s all getting a little Oprah around here,” Jack said as a whispered aside to Daniel. “Kelta, where are you taking us?” he added, unconsciously checking his P90.

Kelta took in the gesture in the blink of an eye.  “No weapons will be needed where we are going. Do you not trust me, Jack?”

Jack pulled his hand away as if it had been burned. “Sorry. Force of habit. Of course I trust you.”

“Good. It is not far.” And she set off again.

They’d walked about a mile through woodland when the terrain became steeper and trickier to navigate. They climbed slowly, Kelta sure-footed and certain of the way, although there was no obvious trail. For her, it was an oft-trodden, familiar path. Daniel watched Jack mentally logging their route and noting the position of the sun, constantly surveilling their surroundings.

“I don’t think there’s anything to fear here,” Daniel said quietly, breathing harder as the climb began to take its toll.

“Maybe. Maybe not. It’s all a bit mysterious, don’t you think?”

“I like mysteries,” Daniel smiled.

“Well, I don’t. They make me antsy.”

“Relax, Jack. This could be useful intel.”

“I hope there are facilities where we’re going. I need to pee.”

Before Daniel could respond, Kelta pointed ahead. “We are here.”

Here turned out to be the entrance to a cave cut into an escarpment. The entrance looked unpromising, dark and half-covered in vegetation. Kelta took their hands in hers and spoke quietly. “This is a solemn place. No visitors have ever been brought here. But you,” she squeezed their hands, “need to be here. To meet Ethera.”

“Ethera?” Jack and Daniel spoke in unison.

“Our Speaker. The heart of the Sann’ai.” Kelta’s eyes were shining with pride. “Come.”

Bending down, they followed Kelta inside. It was cool, dark and dank, unremarkable. They stood for a moment, allowing their eyes to adjust to the low light.

“Home Makeover obviously haven’t been in the neighborhood recently,” Jack said. As they got deeper into the rockface, the cave opened out and Daniel and Jack were able to walk upright. Further in still, it started to grow lighter and the air drier, the complete opposite of what was expected. And then, without warning, they were in the most beautiful space Daniel had ever seen. The high ceilinged cavern was bathed in an impossibly soft, white light. Running through the center was a small, babbling stream that danced over smooth, perfectly-oval pebbles, and beautiful flowers of all colors cascaded down the walls. Daniel reached out to touch. “It’s like ... Tok’ra crystals,” he said. “Or some similar technology. It’s stunning.”

“You are welcome here, Daniel and Jack.”

They turned as one to see a tall woman with waist-length white hair standing beside a white marble sculpture of the Stargate. Willowy, and ethereally attractive, she bowed her head gracefully.

Daniel stepped forward and bowed his head in return. “Ethera?” he asked.

“You have questions about the Sann’ai?”

He did, lots and lots of them, although he found most had vanished in the face of such an unexpected find. “Yes. I have. This,” he waved a hand and turned around to get a 360-degree view, “is amazing.”

“It is a special place.”

Daniel wished desperately for his video camera, currently sitting in his pack in the guest house. “We have seen caves like this before, created by a race known as the Tok’ra.”

Ethera glided towards them, her long, white silk dress moving with the fluidity of water. “I do not know of the Tok’ra. Only of the Sann’ai.”

“You are of the Sann’ai?”

“I am Speaker. My purpose is to keep the people safe from harm. To maintain a harmonious balance in this world.”

Daniel licked his lips, sensing answers at last. “How do you do that? Keep the people safe?”

“I speak hearts, Daniel.”

“Speak hearts?”

“I sense and see. That is my function.”

“Function.  Interesting choice of words,” Daniel muttered, thinking aloud. “Maybe not human. Maybe created for one purpose.” He turned to look at Jack, who seemed happy for Daniel to continue taking the lead.

“You are not Sann’ai. Your purpose here is to protect them. Wait ... are you able to sense when the Gate, the, um, Circle of Light is to be activated?”

“I speak hearts. Intentions are clear to me. I see and know.”

Daniel’s heart pounded, his mind raced. This was incredible. “So ... can you stop the Gate from activating if you sense danger? Is that how you protect the Sann’ai? Are you somehow linked to the Circle? You have some psychic connection to it?”

Ethera neither confirmed nor denied. Daniel turned to Kelta. “Does Ethera warn you when she feels the threat? What do you do? Do you carry on with your lives, or, or, do you take action, just in case those who wish you harm get through?” So many questions. He knew he was talking too fast, his thoughts racing and spilling over each other, but he couldn’t help it.

Kelta looked towards the Stargate sculpture. Beyond it was another cavern, just like the one they were standing in. Daniel simply hadn’t seen it, having been so engrossed with his immediate surroundings.

“Tunnels. A series of tunnels and caverns where you can hide until you’re sure the danger has passed.”

“We have everything we need here,” Kelta said. “We are safe. Thanks to Speaker.”

“That’s some early warning system you’ve got there,” Jack said, trailing a hand in the water of the stream.

“So ... you knew we bore no ill-will when we arrived because Ethera allowed us through the Gate.” Daniel affirmed.

“As I said, Daniel, there was no need for us to fear you.” Kelta turned her attention to Jack. “Come with me. There is much of interest for you here.”

Jack followed Kelta as she led the way to the next cavern. “Find out what you can,” he said quietly to Daniel as he passed. “Holler if you need help.”

Daniel watched them disappear. His head was spinning. There was so much he wanted to know.

“You seek answers.” Ethera spoke softly, her green, almond-shaped eyes resting on Daniel.

“You’ve been most generous in sharing information with us, Ethera. We’re grateful.”

Ethera took a step closer to Daniel. “But those are not the only answers you seek.”

“I, um ...”

“Your heart us full, Daniel. There is much love.”

Daniel swallowed. Ethera’s gaze was penetrating. It wasn’t hard to believe her claim that she saw the unseeable.

“My wife,” he said, struggling to say more.

“Your love for her is great, that is seen and known. But love is not confined. Love does not restrict. Your heart is open and beautiful and full. You must embrace that.”

It was easy to lose himself in her voice and eyes, in the crystal clarity with which she saw. But Daniel was confused.

“I don’t ... I haven’t stopped loving my wife just because she’s gone. That is not our way. She is, and always will be, in my heart.”

Ethera smiled and it was possibly the most serene thing Daniel had ever seen.

“You will see clearly, Daniel.”

She bowed her head again.

Daniel didn’t understand. He couldn’t make sense of anything, his need to know more of Sann’ai culture subsumed by his love for Sha’uri and her loss, his confusion and desperation. Whatever it was Ethera was seeing, Daniel wasn’t.

“How?” he blurted. “I don’t understand?”

“Because,” Ethera whispered, the word seeming to fill the cavern, resonating through his body with a warm, tingling sensation, echoing deep in his soul. It was the most beautiful, calming feeling, akin to drifting in a warm, benevolent sea, and he closed his eyes to give himself over to the sensation completely. When he opened them again -- he had no idea how much later – Ethera was gone, and he was standing alone.

He sat on a marble plinth beside the stream and tried to take stock of what had just happened but he struggled to make sense of anything. It was pretty hard to sort through his thoughts when one word whispered in his mind over and over ... Because. He leaned down and splashed water on his face, hoping the shock of it would jolt him to full awareness.

Standing up, he took in as many details of the cavern as he could, made some quick notes and sketches in his journal and set off in search in Jack and Kelta.

>>>>> 

Daniel asked so many questions of Kelta on their return journey to the village that, as they reached the edge of the settlement, she threw up her arms in desperation and jokingly pleaded with the Goddess to strike him mute. At least, he hoped she was joking. He could be a little full on at times.

Kelta’s antics made Jack smile. “I’ve made the same plea myself, Kelta, many times.”

“Those aspirin you spoke of earlier, Daniel. Do you have any to spare for an old woman with an aching head?”

Daniel winced an apology. “Sorry. Sorry. I get carried away. There’s so much I want to know.”

Kelta sighed with the world-weariness of one who had to explain what to her was obvious. “Ethera protects us. We are kept safe by the powers she has and have been for as many generations as we have existed in this place. We do not question who she is, or what she is, or where she came from. We do not need to. Ethera is. That is enough for us; I hope it is enough for you.”

“But ...”

“Daniel ... I think what Kelta is trying to say is that you should adopt the ‘there are more things in heaven and earth’ philosophy here and leave it at that, and I think she’s right.”

Daniel couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. “Jack, there’s technology in that cavern that could have multiple uses in terms of protecting us from the Goa’uld.”

Jack shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head from side to side. He did that when he needed to ease the growing tension in his neck. Daniel felt an argument coming on.

“I know that,” Jack said, evenly.

“Then why are we even discussing this? And why am on this particular side of the fence when it’s usually you over here and me putting the case for ignoring our standing orders in favour of the needs of the few?”

“Because sometimes interference is not the way to go.” Jack took a step towards Daniel, emphasizing his words with a cut of his right hand. “Because exploring who or what Ethera is and what she can do could put these people at risk and destroy what they have, which is something pretty fantastic, and in this case I’m not prepared to do that.” He was up in Daniel’s face now, so close that Daniel could feel the warmth of his breath, see the flecks of green in his eyes, the hints of gray in his three-day growth of beard. “Are you?”

“I ...”

“Good. That’s what I wanted to hear. And, by the way, Carter and Teal’c don’t need to know about this.”

“What?” Daniel could feel the anger welling. Sam would love to get her hands on whatever technology was in that cavern.

“We’re leaving in four hours. I’m happy with the naquadah agreement, Carter’s happy with the prospect of long hours ahead in her lab working on those samples and Teal’c’s ... fine as he is. All in all, it’s a pretty damn good mission outcome.”

“Since when do we withhold information from each other?”

“Since there is no need to share on this particular occasion. Now, please, can we move on?”

They were toe-to-toe, gazes locked and bodies tensed. Daniel knew Jack well enough to know when he wasn’t going to back down, and this was one of those times. Daniel raised and then dropped his hands in defeat. “Fine.” This conversation was far from over though.

Jack breathed out a deeply-held breath and looked like was about to say something but thought better of it and simply shook his head instead.

“Let us meet your friends and discover what has passed between them and the elders, then we will share the midday meal before you leave,” Kelta said, quietly. Her voice came as a shock. Daniel had forgotten she was there. Disagreements with Jack were intense and all-consuming.  So much of what he shared with Jack was intense and all-consuming. There were times, and this was one of them, he wished what they had between them was simpler, less complex.

Kelta laid a gentling hand on Daniel’s arm as Jack stalked off into the village. “Let this be, Daniel,” she said. “Consider instead the words the Speaker shared with you and only you. That is the most useful knowledge you will take from this place.” She patted his arm and turned to follow Jack.

Feeling his headache start to build again, Daniel could only follow them both.

>>>>> 

Lunch was only minutes away but Daniel wasn’t hungry. It was only a matter of time before someone sought him out, and he could guess who it would be. He took refuge in the guest house and started to pack up his stuff, anything to distract from the conversation he would have to continue with Jack at some point.

“Hey,” Jack. Damn. Daniel wanted a little more time to gather his thoughts. “Gadeen steak for lunch. Teal’c’s salivating. It’s not a pretty sight.”

Daniel stuffed his journal into his pack. “I’m really not hungry.”

Behind him, he heard the door close.

“Daniel ...”

“Look, you’ve made your decision and I’ll abide by it because that’s the way it has to be. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Jack crossed the room and perched on the edge of the table, inches from Daniel’s day pack. He sat quietly for a few moments, playing with an ornate wooden carving of a gadeen  --  a goat-like creature on steroids, as described by Jack. “Daniel, we’ve had lots of conversations when we’ve been on opposite sides of the argument over the years. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always wanted you on my team. I think this is probably the first time we’ve been on opposite sides when the polarity has been reversed though.”

Jack ran his hands gently over the carving and placed it down carefully. His hands had always held a fascination for Daniel. Those hands had killed and they’d held him while he cried. They summed Jack up – an enigmatic contradiction.

“I’m not sure why you’re pushing this so hard,” Jack said, exasperation leeching through his studied equanimity.

“Because there is useful tech here that should be investigated and utilized and because I hate keeping things from Sam and Teal’c and. It’s not how we do things, Jack.”

Daniel felt Jack’s eyes boring into him. He picked up a book and shoved it hard into his already full pack.

“That’s not it, though, is it? At least, that’s not all.”

Daniel wrestled with the contents of his pack but it was futile; too full, too unwieldy. He pushed it away in frustration. And all the time, Jack watched and waited.

 “All right. You want to know why I don’t understand your stance on this? Because that technology could be used to save lives and I thought that you, of all people, would understand why that means so much to me.”

“Because you think something like that could have saved Sha’uri?”

“Yes. Possibly.”

Jack said nothing and the longer he said nothing the more uncomfortable and upset Daniel became. He felt as though he were breaking, that something deep, deep inside was cracking open, and he couldn’t allow that to happen because if it did he would fall into the gaping cavern and be swallowed alive.

“Daniel ...”

Daniel held up a warning finger. “Don’t ... don’t say anything.”

“Daniel.” Jack rose slowly from the table and walked around to where Daniel stood. Daniel couldn’t look at him. He didn’t want to see concern in his eyes, or worse, pity, but he was close, so close that Daniel could feel his warmth, and Daniel suddenly felt so cold.

“I know you arranged this mission for my benefit and I’m grateful for that but I’m no use to you or the team. I’m not ... thinking or seeing anything clearly. Ke’ra was a symptom of that, I can at least see that much now. She wasn’t Sha’uri, but I wanted her to be. She was strong and fiercely intelligent and ... I see Sha’uri everywhere and in everything. I should have had the balls to pull myself off the team after what happened on Vyus.” He was only aware of the tears sliding down his cheeks when Jack reached up to wipe them away. Those hands ...

“It’s okay,” Jack said, softly, so very softly. “I didn’t realize ... I should have pulled you. That was on me, Daniel. I thought this mission would help. I’m sorry. Take some time. Take whatever you need.”

That was just it, wasn’t it? What did he need?

Jack’s hand squeezed his shoulder and stayed there. It felt warm and reassuring, and it was so easy to give into the comfort offered. Slowly, not reluctantly but with that fear of falling and being swallowed alive very real, Daniel rested his head on Jack’s shoulder. He let out a stuttering sigh as his head settled and tentatively brought his arms up to wrap around Jack’s waist. And, god, it felt good. It felt right. They’d hugged before but this felt different. It felt as necessary as breathing. Lost in his own feelings, Daniel became aware that one of Jack’s hands was tenderly cupping the back of his head. Strong fingers brushed Daniel’s neck, bringing a stifled cry as Daniel burrowed further into Jack.  Jack’s other arm came up and around Daniel’s shoulders, holding him secure.

 “It’s okay,” Jack said again, turning his head to mouth the words into Daniel’s hair.

Daniel closed his eyes and as he did so the word Ethera had whispered rushed through him, tendrils of sound drifting and wrapping themselves through his body until he was filled with the kind of inner peace he hadn’t felt since those first, happy golden days on Abydos, and thoughts that had been so cluttered and hazy were suddenly cut-glass clear.

“Because I love you,” Daniel said softly.

 “What?”

Maybe Jack hadn’t heard him. Daniel swallowed hard. What if Jack had heard him and didn’t like what he heard and was offering him a way out?

“You asked me why I took that staff blast back on Abydos. Because I love you.”

Pressed up close, Daniel felt Jack’s heart race. He didn’t dare move because to move would mean the world would have to continue turning and he’d have to see the look on Jack’s face and deal with the consequences of his emotional recklessness.

“I know that,” Jack said, gently.

“No. No you don’t.  I’ve been so confused. So many feelings for Sha’uri and for you, all entangled and indivisible.”

Jack eased him away, holding him at arms’ length, but holding on, not letting go. Daniel was so grateful for that.

“But now ...?” Jack’s eyes were guarded but Daniel saw a glimpse of something he finally recognized as hope. He’d seen that look before but had never known it for what it was.

“Now, I see clearly. I’ll always love my wife and I’ve always loved you.”

Jack’s face relaxed, his eyes softening. “Even when I had that hair?”

Daniel laughed. “Even when you had that hair.” He reached up a shaking hand and ran his fingers through the soft, silky strands. “Although I like this look better.”

Jack smiled and shook his head in apparent disbelief. He rubbed Daniel’s arms in rhythmic, comforting strokes.

Daniel thought he still detected some uncertainty in Jack, and why not? Daniel had only just figured this out. Jack would need time. “You think this is too sudden. That I don’t know what I’m really feeling and that I’m grieving and confused, and I get that.” Daniel spoke quickly, needing to get the words out. “But in another surprising case of reversed polarity I really don’t want to talk this to death. I don’t want to dissect every feeling, every thought. I’m guessing that you do, and that’s to protect me more than you, but ... you have to trust me on this. You have to let this happen. Down the road I probably won’t know how to shut the fuck up about it but nor right now, okay?” When Jack didn’t say anything, Daniel searched his face, afraid that too much had been said when he hadn’t even begun to say what he wanted to say. He took a deep breath and carried on. “I’m sure, Jack. I just couldn’t see it. God, there’s so much I want to say to you,” Daniel began, a desperate need to make Jack understand welling up inside.

“Me too,” Jack said, reaching again to brush away the last of the tears from Daniel’s cheeks. There was an aching gentleness to Jack’s caress that spoke of a longing too long denied.

“Were you waiting? For me to do something, say something, I mean?”

“I hoped.”

“How long?” Daniel needed to know. His mind was frantically scrolling back through their history. Did everything about their friendship need re-evaluating, redefining?

“Long enough.”

Too long.

“What happens now?” Daniel asked because he really had no idea.

“Now, we go have lunch, tie up this mission and go home.”

Daniel nodded, his thoughts racing. “And then?”

Jack smiled. “And then ... we talk about that ‘because’ a whole lot more.”

>>>>> 

Daniel looked on as Sam dialled the Gate, surrounded by the chattering children of the village, who had come to say goodbye. Teal’c accepted a pretty sophisticated hunting bow from one of the village elders as a gift, bowing his thanks, while Jack hugged Kelta and promised repeatedly to return on pain of death. Daniel couldn’t take his eyes off Jack. His gaze was drawn to him again and again. He longed to be held by him. It was a visceral, overwhelming need that took his breath away.

As they gathered up the last of their bits and pieces, Kelta fixed Daniel with a smile that could only ever be called knowing.

“Be happy, Daniel,” she called.

“Thank you,” he replied, “for everything.”

Everything.

He turned, stepped into line with his teammates and walked into the blue.

>>>> 

Daniel reached for his first slice of pizza and managed to catch the thin end, heavy with four different cheeses, or so the box said, in his mouth before it collapsed under its own weight. It was delicious. He only just stopped himself from moaning in delight. Beside him on Jack’s sofa, Sam carefully put a piece of ham and mushroom pie onto a plate and inspected it closely before pulling off an anchovy. “These little monsters are the Devil’s work,” she said, pulling a face and pushing the little fishy as close to the edge of her plate as possible.

“T loves ‘em, don’t you T?” Jack perched on the chair across from the sofa, scarfing down his second slice of house special.

Teal’c, who was standing by the fireplace, eyed the pizza suspiciously. “I do not.”

Jack stopped chewing. “Hey, on Star Wars night you said they were ‘most unusual’ and ate an entire pizza by yourself.”

“I was hungry. It did not mean I liked them.”

“Oh. A case of Jaffa fortitude, huh? Plus, if that stew thing you concocted for Fraiser’s birthday was anything to go by, pizza with anchovy is the food of the gods, even if you don’t like anchovies.”

Teal’c’s expression never altered as he said, “There are no gods.”

Jack resumed eating and, mouth full, mumbled, “Lots of dead false ones, though.”

Daniel smiled. He let the conversation go on around him as he ate, tuning everyone out but aware of the ebb and flow of sound. He’d had three beers and was feeling delightfully mellow. Not quite the cheap date Jack had once affectionately accused him of being, but close.

Date.

Daniel’s stomach fluttered. He was staying tonight. Teal’c and Sam would leave and he would stay.  He felt like a nervous teenager. Mentally chiding himself, he turned his attention instead to his teammates. Being here with them, 48 hours after they left the Sann’ai, he felt he was exactly where he should be. It felt right. His life was beginning again.  He was still uncomfortable about not telling Sam and Teal’c about Ethera, but he guessed they all had secrets, not least the ones they kept from themselves. And after all, they shared the biggest secret of all, the Stargate. Of course there were secrets and confidences.

What had they, and what would they, keep from each other?

Now, there was a new secret to keep.

There would be difficult times and choices ahead but Daniel felt a quiet certainty that they would get through whatever was to come because there was love and trust, and in the end, that was what bound them together as a team.

The evening continued with a poker session, naturally won by Teal’c, whose poker face was remarked on by Jack more than once, and the laughter and teasing eventually turned to stifled yawns and long stretches. Teal’c offered to drive Sam home, but she told him to take her to the Mountain instead; the Sann’ai mineral deposit results were due in any time, and, no Sir, it couldn’t wait til morning.

They said their goodbyes in the hallway.

And four became two.

Jack closed the front door with a click that sounded too loud in the expectant silence and Daniel’s heart beat way too fast as Jack turned to him. The gentlest smile lit Jack’s face and his eyes were alight with unguarded happiness.

Slowly, Jack held out his hand. Daniel looked again into Jack’s eyes and saw that quiet certainty that everything would be fine reflected back at him.

Daniel reached out and clasped Jack’s hand.

>>>>> 

 

Because ...

“Because you’re strong, sometimes fearless and always courageous.” Daniel kissed Jack’s neck, eliciting a soft huff of breath that delighted and amazed Daniel in equal measure.

“Because although I want to slap you sometimes, I want to kiss you always.” He moved down Jack’s bed –their bed from now on, he mentally corrected - the sheet rustling softly as he bent to the task of licking Jack’s hardening nipples.

“Because although you prefer oatmeal for breakfast you’re going to make us my favorite waffles instead.” Down he went, nuzzling the delicious fur on Jack’s stomach, prompting a sound that was half-laugh, half-desire from Jack.

“Because you waited and respected my feelings when it was hurting you so much and I was too blind to see it.” He kissed Jack’s hip, licked his way inwards until he nosed into soft, fuzzy hair.

“Because everything, everything we’ve been through has led to this, and it’s worth it.” Daniel kissed the tip of Jack’s penis and sucked gently, once twice, smiling and hardening himself as Jack grunted his pleasure and came. Daniel swallowed everything Jack gave up and continued to kiss Jack’s shaft as it softened, easing Jack down from his breathless orgasm.

Daniel lifted his head and marveled at the sight of a disheveled, replete Jack sprawled on the bed before him. He’d never seen anything so beautiful.

I’m home. This bed. Jack.

T his is what home feels like.

He slid up over Jack’s body, sighed contentedly as Jack’s arms enfolded him and fell asleep.

This time, he didn’t dream at all.

 

ends