The red brilliance of sunlight filtered through his eyelids teased him toward waking. For long moments he hovered, enjoying the dream--sunny beaches, blowing sand, tossing waves, and a warm, heavy body pressing his into the yielding firmness of the mattress. Fondest, most tender fantasy.
Then rough dampness teasing a nipple, moist breath disturbing the hair on his chest reminded him that, fantasy or not, this was no dream. Eyes still closed, Jack allowed his mouth to stretch into a lazy, happy grin. No dream--or the best of dreams. The kind that stayed forever.
Daniel shifted slightly, snuffling gently against Jack's chest. His long fingers stretched, then curled possessively around the most tender part of Jack's body, and Jack finally let his eyelids drift up. The early morning display passed unimpeded through the slanted skylight, gilding the beautiful line of the body blanketing his with a delicate, rosy glow. He loved waking like this--draped in Daniel's sleeping weight, the two of them bathed in the glorious sunrise.
A long, slow breath signaled Daniel's waking progress. Those fingers tightened, thumb stroking absently. The teasing tongue was joined by gently suckling lips.
Jack's deep chuckle bounced his living blanket. "Whoa! Good morning to you, too!"
Daniel favored a hardened nipple with one final lick, then lifted his tousled head, smiling sweetly into Jack's face. "Morning. Kiss?"
Laughing again, Jack wrapped eager arms around Daniel's body and pulled the other man up so he could align their mouths. "Always. Any damn time you want."
Long, intimate seconds later, their lips finally separated. They nuzzled gently along bristly jaws, lick-teasing the rims of ears, nibbling on necks and shoulders.
"Love you, Jack," Daniel whispered, breath raising shivers on the shoulder he'd dampened. "So glad you came looking for me."
Jack tightened his arms again, pulling the shaggy head close under his chin. "I went looking for you the day you left, Danny. Just took way too long to find you."
Daniel stilled, then nestled as close as he could manage. "I... I needed not to be found for a while, Jack. Needed time to... accept."
Jack nodded, squeezing even tighter. "I know. Just wanted you to understand."
Daniel tugged away, and Jack let him lift himself onto his elbows. Vivid blue eyes examined him solemnly. Then the older man was treated to a gentle smile. "Message received, oh distinguished colonel."
"Not any more, Dannyboy," Jack laughed. "Just plain old Jack."
"Maybe Captain Jack."
Smile stretching again into a foolish grin, Jack nodded. "Yeah... C'mon, shopkeeper. I wanna run before you head for the Parchment."
"And you get to go play with your new sweetheart."
"Hey, you're all the 'sweetheart' I need."
He loved a lot of things about his new life, but this was one of his favorites. Running along the early morning beach, brisk ocean breeze lighting every nerve ending, the warmth of Daniel beside him soothing and calming--nothing in his experience had ever been so sweet.
After an invigorating thirty minutes, they trotted in off the sand, angling across the boardwalk toward Brand's Deli and Bakery, and Daniel's finished attic apartment. They ducked into the deli as Derek Brand turned the "Closed" sign over to start his day.
"Hey, guys. Fresh coffee, cream-cheese Danish just out of the oven. Hungry?"
"Oh, yeah!" Jack grabbed a pair of mugs and headed for the coffee dispenser.
Mopping his face with his towel, Daniel laughed and laid claim to one of the small, round tables, sliding into a fancy, metal-framed chair. "Thanks, Derek. They smell wonderful. We'll take one..."
"One--shut up, Jack--each."
Jack plopped a fragrant mug in front of his stingy love and himself into the chair on the opposite side of the little table. He produced a credible attempt at a pout. "I'm a growing boy!"
"You know the definition of middle-aged, don't you?"
Jack narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Do I want to?"
"Someone who's stopped growing at either end and started growing in the middle."
"Yowch! That was mean."
Daniel laughed and lifted his mug, eyes drifting closed as he apparently absorbed the fumes directly through his skin. Jack remained appropriately silent as his partner experienced the morning Ritual of the Bean.
"So, Jack," Derek said, setting two plates of fragrant pastry on the table, "how's it going with the new venture?"
Daniel rolled his eyes. "You had to ask..."
Jack noted the double occupancy of his plate and rubbed his hands together, grinning broadly. "Oh, she's a beauty. Been refurbished and repainted. Just gorgeous."
"Ernie hanging around to teach you the ropes?"
"Yup. I've had some experience, but never with something this big. And the Pacific--well, it wasn't very well named."
Derek spun one of the neighboring table's chairs around and sat backward, straddling the wrought-iron back. "You don't ever want to forget that, Jack," he said quietly. "That's one hell of a big puddle, and peaceful it isn't. I lost my dad to that ocean."
Jack sobered. "I'll keep that in mind. I plan to enjoy the hell out of my retirement, not use it as a short-cut to a hole in the ground."
Daniel's eyes were fixed on the pastry he was dismembering. "Just remember... you don't have to risk your life to have fun. Diving backward off dunes should be exciting enough for you."
"Hey." Jack reached across to cup a tanned cheek. "I've got lots to keep me happy these days." Serious blue eyes lifted to meet his gaze. "Just fun, Danny. Promise... I'll take every precaution."
Daniel's expression softened into a smile. "I know you will. I'll kill you if you don't."
Jack laughed and raised his mug in a salute to the other two men. "Gotcha, boss. Play, but no risks. I'll behave."
Derek stood as a pair of customers entered the deli, flapping a hand at his two tenants as he settled into his business day. Jack finished his breakfast, enduring Daniel's teasing about the second Danish, and giving as good as he got over the third mug of coffee.
Finished, they quietly took care of their own dishes and table, then waved to Derek, slipped out the door and trotted around the corner to the outside stairs.
Jack grinned appreciatively as he followed Daniel's charming derriere up to the attic. What a deal... lovely big open space attic, and over the top of a deli. Rent covered breakfast. Sweet.
Jack resisted the adolescent urge to skip down the pier. There she was. Beautifully white, with Danny-eyes-blue trim. And all his.
The Sea Monkey. He laughed happily. Guess he had a set--Sea Monkey, Space Monkey. What else could a man want? He'd known the boat was destined to be his the second he'd seen the name stenciled on the bow.
He waved at the grizzled head that appeared over the rail.
"Hey, Ernie! We set to see some water today?"
"If you're up for it, we're set. C'mon... get your landlubber rump up here and get a lesson in reading the weather. Lesson number one for survival on the open ocean."
"Yessir!" Jack saluted sharply, then climbed on board and settled down to learn survival on the sea.
"Thanks so much." Nell smiled at the elderly woman. Thanks, indeed. The sweet little thing had just purchased twenty of the hottest from their soft-porn shelves. Hidden depths.
She shook her head as the woman clutched her bag of titillation to her bosom and bustled toward the door. A small yelp from near the front wall made her brows arch.
"Oh, Daniel... Did you fall, dear?" she called mockingly as the door chimes heralded the departure of their surprising customer.
"Fall, hell! She pinched me!"
Grinning, Nell moved out from behind the counter and down the length of the tall shelves to the front of the store. Her partner was perched on the second step of a ladder, supposedly working on his new mural. Currently, however, he was twisted around, backside to the wall, free hand protecting said asset and a look of outrage on his face.
She laughed outright at the expression. "Oh, God, Daniel. I figure we should charge a cover fee for the hours you spend up on that ladder. It displays one of... er... your best assets at a very convenient height."
His already pink cheeks flushed a deeper red. He scowled at her, and turned back to his brushes.
"It's really beautiful, Daniel." She moved back a few feet to get the entire effect. He'd created an image of their coastline, with those beautiful white driftwood logs and their wonderful, steep dunes. But the dunes faded into a hazy, distant suggestion of triangular shapes--surely the pyramids of Egypt. The effect was stunning--comfortable reality fading into the mists of fantasy; mundane merged with exotic.
He smiled down at her. "The murals were a great idea, even if I did fight it. And I've got an idea for the other wall as well. I'll show you the sketches when I take a break."
"Great! And we've sold all of the mugs. You'd better take time to paint some more of those before starting on the other wall."
He sighed, shaking his head wearily as he turned back to the wall. "Ah, Nell. And me just a simple shopkeeper."
She laughed again. "Yeah, right. If I ever believed that, I've known better these last couple of months."
He turned to stare down at her. "Nell..."
"Oh, yes, I know. Mind my own business. As if Teddy hasn't said it often enough."
His smile didn't quite brighten his eyes. "Maybe you should listen. What I... was doesn't matter. I am a simple shopkeeper now."
"Um hmm, and Jack's just a dune-buggy pilot. Oh, and soon to be pilot of a sport fishing boat, right?"
His smile had vanished. Somber blue eyes drilled into her. "Yes." His voice was firm, implacable.
Shaking her head, she flopped a hand at him and headed back for the register counter as the chimes signaled the entry of a group of noisy tourists. She'd figure it out. Eventually.
"Wow. You trying to put me out of business, Daniel?" Teddy loped his long, thin body through the shop, head twisted to keep the now-finished mural in sight.
Daniel looked up from the counter, fingers preserving his place in the daily accounting. His shy smile brightened his face. "No chance. You like it?"
"Really great, man. Those designs--the wall and the mugs... You've got a real thing for that Egyptian stuff, don't you?"
Daniel's smile froze, then he nodded, eyes sliding away from Teddy's gaze. "Um, yes. I do. Exotic, you know?"
Nell emerged from the back room and ducked around the counter to grab her significant other. "Hey, mutt. Good day?"
For a moment, Teddy's attention remained fixed on the other man's averted face. Then he turned and wrapped his arms around his lover, indulging in a wet, noisy kiss. "Great day. One customer... she actually bought something... then the rest of the day to paint. Best kind of day."
She laughed, shaking her head ruefully. "Good thing I'm not eaten up by ambition."
He kissed her again. "If you were, somehow I don't think you'd be lovingly tending a bookstore in Seaside, Oregon."
"Busted," she giggled. "Want coffee? We're out of pretty mugs, but you can stand one of the plain ones for now."
As he settled with his mug of fragrant brew, the door chimes rattled aggressively, and Daniel's face lit up.
"Ah, Jack, I presume," Nell teased.
Daniel shot her a little grin, then slid past her around the end of the counter, just in time to be swept up in Jack O'Neill's exuberant grasp.
"Avast, Matey!" Jack yelled. He smacked Daniel's laughing mouth with a noisy kiss. "Ahoy!"
"I take it you had fun today," Daniel laughed, returning the enthusiastic hug.
"God, yes! First day you can take, you've gotta come out with us, Danny. It's incredible! Way better than Lake Michigan!"
He once again favored Daniel's soft lips with a hearty kiss, then released him and swaggered toward the coffee bar. "Brew, Wench! I'm parched!"
Nell cocked her head at him, then leaned languidly against the wall, arms crossed over her breast. "Ah, Captain Jack... I think there are a few things we need to get straight before your next voyage. Like... there are no wenches here."
He looked wounded. "Sure there are. In my world, all wimmin are wenches, dontcha know?"
"In my world, men can lose vital body parts for an attitude like that."
"Even ship captains who are about to take you out to dinner?"
"Hmmm..." She tilted her head, considering him through narrowed eyes. "Well... I might be convinced to consider a bit of a probationary reprieve. Contingent, of course, on the nature of the dinner on offer."
"Shit, you're starting to sound like Daniel. Couldn't you just say, 'it depends on what you're feeding me'?"
She laughed up at him and stretched her mug-laden hand out toward him. He grabbed the mug and saluted her, than sank onto a stool, pulling Daniel down on the neighboring seat.
"How's the Vista Sea Café sound? Nice, sit-down meal, but we don't have to change. I wanna celebrate, not torture myself."
Daniel and Nell exchanged slightly guilty glances. "Well... we could close early. Just this once?" he offered apologetically.
She nodded, patting his hand. "No one's been in for the last hour... maybe no one would notice."
"That's settled, then!" Jack drained his mug, then reached into the front of his jacket as he stood. "And I've got just the thing for your door..."
And as he left the shop behind the other three, he carefully checked that the door was ready to lock when closed, then meticulously hung the little placard in front of their usual "Closed" sign.
The four of them drifted down Beach toward Broadway, chatting and enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. The Indian Summer still held the chill of autumn at bay, and Jack tossed his head back to savor the warm ocean-scented breeze.
"Enjoy it, Jack," Nell laughed. "This is the Pacific Northwest. Winter will find us, never fear."
Daniel smiled down at her. "Wouldn't enjoy this if we had it all the time, Nell." He paused, swiveling around to view the shops and restaurants lining the streets. "I love the winter here. It's quiet... private with all the tourists home."
She elbowed him in the ribs. "Not so good for the balance sheets, though."
His smile widened as he resumed progress toward the Vista Sea Café. "True. But summer comes back. You just have to appreciate what you have while you have it."
She dropped her gaze to the sidewalk, shaking her head in fond bemusement. "What a philosopher, Daniel. Have you always been like this? Just, take things as they come?"
Jack slid his arm around Daniel's waist, sensing the other man's sobered mood. "Guess I had to learn to see things that way."
Her eyes lifted abruptly and her head tilted as she attempted to meet Daniel's averted gaze. Jack shook his head, attracting and holding her attention with steady purpose. She apparently understood the warning.
For a few awkward moments, they were silent. Then Daniel sighed deeply and again smiled at Nell.
"Guess we're driving you crazy, aren't we."
She grinned and bounced a bit. "Oh, yeah. My mom always said I'd die of curiosity some day. Just never figured my doom would arrive in such a nice package."
"Hey!" Teddy objected mildly. "What're you doin' looking at 'packages,' woman. You're spoken for."
She applied her talented elbow to his hip. "Just because I'm no longer in the market doesn't mean I can't window shop. Two nice packages, if it comes to that."
Jack used his free arm to grab her in a gentle headlock. "Just saved that one, wench."
Jabbing his ribs with her fingers, she escaped, snarling playfully. "I just upgraded to lobster, Cap'n. A few more slips of the tongue, and you're going to be buying me the restaurant."
He snaked his arm out and gave her a quick little hug, then released her. "Can't. Spent my limit on my new baby."
Her grin turned wicked. "Oh, you'll be able to afford it out of the new revenues from Parchment."
Jack arched his brows in query. Teddy was also looking confused. Daniel... Daniel's cheeks were slowly turning ruddy under his summer tan.
He knew there was a trap there somewhere, but Jack couldn't resist walking into it. "New revenues?"
Nell bounced again, laughing mischievously. "Oh, we've got a new attraction. It'll last as long as I can keep Daniel busy on those murals."
"The murals?" Sure, they were pretty, but... "You gonna charge people to look at the murals?"
She shook her head vigorously. "Oh, no. Gonna charge them to look at Daniel standing on the ladder painting the murals."
Jack felt his jaw drop, then he burst into laughter. Daniel was shaking his head, cheeks flaming.
"Lovely little old customer today--about maybe sixty--bought an armful of... very hot reading material." Nell was sputtering with laughter. "Then c...couldn't resist the entertainment as she left the shop."
"She pinched me!"
Daniel's expression of outraged virtue was more than mortal man could bear. Jack and Teddy collapsed on the sidewalk, laughing. Nell was bent over at the waist, hands propped on her knees, adding to the general merriment.
Daniel crossed his arms and tilted his chin up, haughty offense expressed in every line of his lean body. "Laugh it up, clowns. You'll pay. Jack, you keep this up, and you're going to be sleeping on your new baby. And that's just the first payment."
Still heaving with mirth, Jack looked up at his lover, easily catching the teasing glimmer in blue eyes. "Oh, God, Danny. Okay. Any second now." He wheezed, choking down the eruptions of hilarity. "Just hang on... *hic*... Oh, shit. *hic*.
Jack could feel the chuckles beginning to shake through Daniel's body as the younger man took charge of him, hauling him to his feet, patting his back and soothing with mock tenderness.
"Hang in there, Jack. We're almost there. You can just... I don't know, hold your breath while you're drinking a glass of water or something."
Body convulsing in another hiccup, Jack glared up into guileless blue eyes. "Hey, Nell... *hic*... You wanna give me a bunch of tickets to your new attraction? Bet my riders'd be... *hic*... real interested."
Once again laughing, he caught the body that flung itself against him, intercepting gently flailing fists.
Nell loved the warm, slightly battered wood of the shelves. Strangely, considering her lack of enthusiasm about most things domestic, she really enjoyed this daily pre-opening task. It soothed her soul, sweeping her cloth-covered hand over the dark wood, handling and adjusting their displays and Daniel's lovely placards. Communing with her store.
She moved to the final low case. One more to polish, then a flip of the sign, and their official day began. Of course, she and Daniel had been here for several hours already. He'd done his normal morning tasks, then perched himself on one of the tall coffee bar stools with his delicate brushes and a new case of mugs. She glanced up and smiled at the sight of the top of his head, bent over a black mug onto which he was stroking careful, golden patterns. God, that man could concentrate when he wanted to. She could probably scream and he wouldn't notice.
She hummed softly as she polished. They'd had such a lovely time last night. Jack had somehow slipped right into their small group, as if there'd been an empty slot, just waiting for him to arrive. She suspected she knew exactly what that slot had been. Even if she hadn't fallen for Jack pretty much immediately, she'd have welcomed him gladly for the happiness he'd brought to a certain pair of brilliant blue eyes.
Sighing as she swept the last bits of dust off the top of the shelf, she stuffed her cloth into a pocket, pulled the door open and reached for the sign. An abrupt interruption in the sunlight startled her, and her head jerked upward sharply, eyes meeting the intruder's dark, stern gaze. For a tiny moment, she contemplated trying that scream thing.
Then the man stepped back, and she straightened. Just a customer, waiting for the shop to open.
A customer in uniform. Actually, three customers in uniform.
The man in front--the one with all the stripe-things on his arm--nodded briskly at her.
"Ms. Parks." It wasn't a question.
She nodded silently, then backed up as he stepped into the shop. The other two men followed.
"Master Sergeant Nathan Bass, Ms. Parks," he said as his eyes swept the shop, pausing slightly on the new mural, the hand-painted placards. And settling on the bowed head of the man sitting behind the coffee bar.
"Uh... Can I help you, sir? Were you looking for something special?"
"Thank you, but I've already seen what I came for." He strode toward the back of the shop.
Nell's temper began to stir. She didn't appreciate being so obviously dismissed in her own shop. And she definitely didn't like what this stiff-assed bastard apparently thought he was taking home with him.
Clenching her hands, she moved quickly after Bass, ignoring the two men who'd stationed themselves inside the shop's door.
Daniel was still oblivious, concentrating on the final strokes of his design. He sighed and placed the finished mug gently on the counter surface, setting the brush to join its brothers in his shallow cleaning pan.
He glanced up as he stretched, then froze, gaze fixed on the sergeant.
"Who the hell are you?"
Nell's jaw dropped. She'd never heard her gentle partner's voice sharpened with that kind of cold anger.
"Master Sergeant Nathan Bass, sir. United States..."
"... Air Force. I noticed." Daniel's voice was softly vicious. "NID, maybe? What the hell are you doing here?"
"I've come to take you..."
"The hell you have! I'm not going anywhere with you or anyone else!"
"Doctor Jackson, my superiors feel..."
"I don't give a damn about your superiors!"
"...that you haven't been adequately debriefed."
"Debriefed! I left all of my notes, all of my journals... Everything. Five years of my life, I left for you bloodsuckers! More than seventy unpublished papers stored in the main computer."
"My superiors feel th..."
"Fuck your superiors!"
Nell's brows shot up. She'd never heard that particular word come out of Daniel's mouth.
"My resignation was completely legitimate, every stupid governmental string tied. My responsibility is finished!"
"Your departure was unexpected, Doctor Jackson..."
"Not Doctor! Just Mister Jackson! I left that behind as well. There's not a thing left for me to tell your damned superiors. And I am not going anywhere with anyone wearing a uniform!"
Bass's spine stiffened. "All right, Doctor Jackson. Let us be completely honest. My superiors are concerned that you might be a security risk. They are unwilling to allow you to continue unsupervised."
She'd thought Daniel had been angry before. Now his jaw was clenched, his body shaking with fury.
"God damn you all! Why do you think I'm doing this? I left it all behind! Everything that I spent my life creating, I left. Unlike the United States Government, my promises matter to me. There is no way I could possibly return to my previous career without either lying to my colleagues and students, or violating the non-disclosure agreement that I signed. I can't bear to do the former, and I won't do the latter!"
"That's Mister Jackson! Doctor Jackson is dead. And Mister Jackson isn't going anywhere with a bunch of military assholes. I am no danger. You and your goddamnned 'superiors' can just leave me alone!"
"Get the hell out of my shop!"
There was a moment of jagged silence, then the Sergeant nodded, mouth tight with displeasure. He turned and stalked out of the shop, collecting his flunkies with a jerk of his head.
Stunned, Nell stared slack-jawed after the departing soldiers. Then she spun toward Daniel.
He was still shaking, face white as beach sand, eyes still locked on the closing door. His hands were gripping the edge of the coffee bar so tightly that for a moment she expected the edge molding to crack off under the pressure.
And there was a tear running down each of his ashen cheeks.
Her breath caught in her throat. "Daniel?"
For a second, she thought he hadn't heard her. Then dazed eyes shifted to meet hers. She could almost see the flash of electric anger behind the blue irises.
Then he squeezed his eyes shut and dropped his head down to rest on the countertop. "Damn! Oh, damn, damn, damn!"
She reached a tentative hand toward his shoulder. Convulsively, he jerked away. His head snapped up, eyes darting back and forth, teeth clamping cruelly on his full bottom lip. He was panting slightly.
Abruptly, he ducked around the end of the counter and charged toward and up the spiral staircase to the loft.
Nell stood motionless, gazing after her vanished partner. She understood almost nothing of what she'd just heard. But she knew pain when she saw it. She also knew fear.
Exhilarated after several hours of terrifying tourists by dropping them backward over dune cliffs, Jack strode jauntily down the dock, heading for the Sea Monkey. He loved his 'job' with Mike Davis's 'Pacific Dune Buggies.' Who could argue with the thrill of ripping over that sand, half a dozen squealing passengers sure that they'd be rolling tires over transmission down the next precipice he roared over? Almost as fun as fighter jets.
He jumped lightly over the rail and down onto the Sea Monkey's deck. "Hey, Ernie! What's for lunch?"
The taciturn sailor peered up at him from the galley, face troubled.
"Hey, Jack. You got any idea why some stiff-rumped military types might be roaming around looking for Colonel Jack O'Neill?"
Jack froze. "What?"
"Three Air Force bozos. Colonel O'Neill."
"Goddamnn it! When? What did they want?"
"'Bout an hour ago. They were looking for you, but askin' questions about your boy Daniel. Doctor Jackson, they said."
For a moment, Jack stood thinking, then he shook his head sharply.
"I gotta get to the store, Ernie. Those bastards come back, you..."
"Why not tell me yourself, Colonel O'Neill."
Jack spun to face the man standing on the edge of the pier.
"No colonels here, Sergeant. Just an old retired ex-military man. So... wanna tell me what you're doing making an ass of yourself around here?"
The man's brows jerked together briefly, a quick scowl distorting his face. He lifted his foot to step down onto the deck. Jack waited until he'd committed his weight to the stride.
"I don't remember inviting you on board, Airman," Jack snapped.
The man tried to arrest his forward momentum, but was defeated by inertia and gravity and landed in a clumsy heap on the deck. Jack's lips quirked in a smug little smile. Served the asshole right.
"Graceful. I see the Force's training regimen is going to hell."
The Sergeant lurched to his feet, aggressively facing up to Jack. Jack's lips stretched into a wider smile at the irritation in the other man's eyes as he realized that he did have to look up into Jack's eyes. Scowling fiercely, the man jerked himself to attention and snapped a regulation perfect salute.
"Master Sergeant Nathan Bass, Sir. Colonel O'Neill, I've been sent here on a very important matter."
"Oh, yeah. Every NID officer I've ever met thinks anything he's concerned about is a 'very important matter.'"
"Sir, I'm not with the NID. I'm attached to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon, and I think you'll agree that they're not likely to overestimate the importance of this situation."
Jack let his mouth twist into a mild sneer. "You haven't been around long, have you, Sergeant? Only the Joint Chiefs believe that crap." He stepped closer to the shorter man. "And I'm thinkin', you've got about ten seconds before I toss you over the side. You'll have a lot of fun getting the salt and... other stuff out of that monkey suit. What the hell are you here for? And how the hell did you locate me?"
"Actually, Sir, we're not really here for you, though recalling you to duty has been discussed."
A flash of anger rippled up Jack's spine. "Not a fuckin' chance, Airman. I've done my part. I'm out, and I'm stayin' out. And when you say you're not here for me, I'm assuming that you're after..."
"Doctor Daniel Jackson, Sir."
"Not a chance in hell! The U.S. Air Force has just about destroyed that man's life, and there's no fuckin' way you're going to put a hand on him!"
"Sir, he was never debriefed. And there are some who..."
The sergeant hesitated as Jack grabbed a pristine lapel in his right hand and glared into his face. The flash had grown into a torch of fury.
"Who what, you slug? Let me guess. They think he's a security risk, right? They want to lock him up in some government approved little facility where they can milk him dry and make sure he never talks to anyone outside their control, right? Well, you can just get your kiss-ass butt back to Washington and tell them to get the fuck out of his life! There's not a man in the entire U.S. government or military who is less of a security risk than Daniel Jackson."
"Colonel..." To his credit, the quiver in Bass's voice was almost indistinguishable. "Jackson was involved in a top-secret operation for nearly five years. He simply can't be allowed to..."
"And you, you stupid moron, have just said more about that operation in one sentence than Daniel has said in three years. It's the brain-dead flunkies like you that pose the risk."
Bass scowled into Jack's contemptuous face. "My superiors don't agree. The U.S. military..."
He choked into silence as Jack's left hand clenched into his other lapel. For a moment, Jack's panting, furious breath scorched the shorter man's face. Then his hands jerked harshly, shaking the captive body.
"The goddamn U.S. military took shameless advantage of that man. They grabbed him when he was completely vulnerable... dangled an irresistible lure in front of him at a time when he had nowhere else to turn. Then they used him up and threw him away." Jack's hands flexed again, jerking the other man's head forward and back. "They squeezed every bit they could out of him, then tossed him away with his life in ruins. I am ashamed to have participated in what my country and my service did to the finest man I've ever met."
Another angry shake. "Pay close attention, Sergeant Bass. Because this is the last word on this matter. You and your two musclebrains are going to pack your little bags and get out of this town. You are never going to harass Doctor Jackson again. And the next members of your little club who show up here are going to get a lot better acquainted with this fine ocean than they ever wanted."
He finished with several additional shakes of the Sergeant's body, then shoved the man viciously toward the rail.
"Now get your sorry ass off my boat."
Bass staggered, then regained his feet, turning to glare at Jack. "Sorry, Colonel. I don't take my orders from you, and the men who do give me orders were very clear. They don't want Jackson running around shooting his mouth off. One way or another, he's going back with me."
Jack roared in fury and lurched for the other man. He jerked to a stop only because Ernie had inserted his short, solid body between him and his target.
"Easy, Cap'n," Ernie murmured. "Let 'em go; then we'll take care of things."
Jack glared at the Sergeant over the old captain's shoulder, then backed off a step, snarling.
Ernie turned toward the angry Sergeant and gestured toward the dock with the heavy-duty fishing rod he held.
"Better get goin', moron. Don't wanta have to get Jack here off the hook for takin' your stupid head off. There's the door. Use it."
Bass maintained his angry glare for another few seconds, then jerked his lapels straight and pivoted sharply toward the pier.
Jack would never be able to swear exactly how it happened. It looked completely accidental. But seconds later, an almighty splash signaled the meeting of Bass's body with the surface of the Pacific Ocean, and Ernie was muttering some sort of apology for letting the pole in his hand tangle with the Sergeant's perfectly polished shoes.
He and Ernie watched with malicious pleasure as the two Airmen scrambled to drag their sergeant from the water.
Jack shook his head contemptuously, gaze running up and down Bass's shaking body. "Just goin' to hell. Beat it, Sergeant. You're not welcome here."
Bass shook as much water off his hands and arms as he could, then met Jack's stare, his own dark eyes blazing with incoherent fury.
"He'll be going with me, Colonel," he spat. "And there's not a damned thing you can do about it."
He spun on his heel and slopped down the pier, the two Airmen trailing behind.
Jack watched the three men leave, feeling the fury and belligerence drain out of him. What the goddamn hell was he going to do about this?
He dropped his head, thinking about Daniel, who had created a kind of peace here for himself. And, he dared to hope, happiness, especially since Jack had found him. Damned if he was going to let the Air Force or anyone else destroy this haven.
A glimmer of an idea tweaked at the edges of his mind. Thoughtfully, he lifted his eyes again, staring after the now vanished men.
He needed to get to Daniel. Bass had probably begun his daily work at the Parchment, which meant that Danny would be pretty unhappy. The fact that Bass had come to Jack meant that Daniel hadn't cooperated, and that meant there'd been a scene.
But first... A slow smile stretched his lips, and he reached for his cell phone. Oh, yeah. What do you do when the enemy mounts his big guns? Go for bigger ones.
Running her hands through already-tousled hair, Sam Carter stared glumly at the assessments scattered over the surface of her desk.
How many of these damned things had she been through? They were beginning to run together--just one big, featureless universal soldier.
Not a standout in the bunch. Which didn't bode well for the brand new, built-from-the-ground-up SG-1. She'd shepherded a dozen potential team members through the Gate over the last few months, and hadn't felt the slightest urge to take any of them a second time.
Exhaling sharply, she leaned back against the wall, closing her overused eyes. Somewhere out there, just waiting to be discovered, had to be someone who could... well... replace... um... substitute for...
Of course, that was the problem, wasn't it? There was no such thing as a replacement for Jack O'Neill. Or a substitute for Teal'c.
Just as poor, hard-working Robert Rothman, good as he was, had never been able to banish the shadow of Daniel Jackson.
She tipped the legs of her chair back to the ground, shaking her head ruefully. She was very fond of Robert, and he probably came as close as anyone could to doing Daniel's job, but like the colonel and the big Jaffa, Daniel simply couldn't be replaced.
Sighing with resignation, she reached for another group of files. One way or another, she was going to have to choose.
The muffled twitter of her cell phone broke the silence. She glanced at the clock. Great... she'd managed ten additional minutes. And who was calling on the cell, rather than her office telephone?
Standing and arching her stiff back, she began rummaging through the pockets of the jacket she'd tossed aside when she'd arrived that morning.
"Gotcha, you noisy little thing!"
"Hey Carter! Miss me?"
"Sir! Nice to hear from you!"
"It's 'Jack' now, Carter. I'm outta the Air Force business."
"Then it's Sam as well, S... Jack." She paused for a moment. "Sir... did you find him?"
"Oh, yeah, Sam. I found him. Been happily living in sin with him for the last coupla months."
"Sir! Uh... should you be telling me this?"
"Don't see why not. Nobody around here cares whether anyone's asking or telling, and I don't give shit what the Air Force makes of it."
"Ah... Okay, Jack." She shook her head, bemused. A flashing image of the two of them curled up together teased her internal eye, and she was surprised to feel a rush of heat sweep through her. 'Woof,' as Janet would say.
"You going to tell me where he went? I... We all really miss him."
"You don't need to tell me that, Sam." His voice was gently scolding. "We've all been moping around for three years. I'll tell you where we are, and one of these days soon we'll both tell you all about it. But right now I need a helluva favor from Hammond--and I need it right now. Since I don't have the clearance to get through to him any more, I'm hoping you'll convince him to give me a call."
"A favor? Thought you were washing your hands of us, S... Jack."
"Not of you, Sam. Or the general. Just the U.S. Military, and we're having a big problem with that right now."
"You do know they're retiring him, don't you?"
"Yeah. So I heard. It's a shame, but he's already hung on a long time past when he'd originally planned. He was ready to retire when the bunch of us made that first little... trip. And I've got a really good suggestion for a last act before he walks out that door--something that will make a difference. Just ask him to give me a ring, okay? A lot's hanging on it."
"All right. But only if you tell me where the two of you are! 'Fess up, or I'm going to forget the way to Hammond's office."
His laughter tickled her ear. "Believe it or not, Seaside, Oregon. Dannyboy's running a goddamn bookstore."
"What! Holy Hannah! But..."
"Later, Carter. We'll explain it all later. Just get that message to the general, okay? He's been happy, especially these last couple of months. Now everything's lookin' like goin' to hell. I really need Hammond's help."
"You got it, Jack. And I'm holding you to the big expose`."
"Thanks a bunch, Sam. Lookin' forward to it."
She sat motionless for a long moment after the little phone's signal died, dealing with the turmoil in her gut. Oh, Daniel. That brilliant, flexible, superbly educated mind, that questing spirit. Running a bookstore?
Then, firmly refusing the tears that wanted to gather in her eyes, she reached for her office telephone and dialed Hammond's extension.
Pushing through the shop's door, Jack paused and let his gaze sweep quickly around the room.
"Jack!" Nell leapt to her feet and hurried around the counter. "Jack, these men... they..."
He caught her and gave her a quick hard hug, then pushed her out to arms' length, taking note of the sick panic in her eyes and the tear trails down her cheeks.
"Yeah, Nell. I know." He scanned the store one more time. No Daniel in sight. "Where is he?"
Her head swiveled, eyes lifting to the balcony.
"Ah, gone to ground, has he?" He patted her shoulder gently. "Ease up, honey. No way am I letting them touch him. Pour me a couple of those mugs full; get one for yourself. Then sit down and relax. Leave this one to me."
She nodded jerkily, then pulled away and hurried to pour the coffee. He smiled slightly as he watched her concentrate on the task. In her way, she loved Daniel as much as he did. Her urge to protect him warmed Jack's heart. Daniel had found himself the best kind of family here.
His brows twitched together. The best kind of family. And there was no way Jack was letting anyone destroy it.
He kissed Nell's damp cheek as she passed him the mugs, then took a deep breath and climbed quietly up the narrow little staircase.
He knew exactly where he'd find Daniel. The archaeologist had created a small private space at the back of the balcony amidst the old, rich books he loved. It was a tiny shadow of the nest he'd had at the SGC--a few small artifacts, three framed pictures, and a half dozen of his precious texts, set on a shelf over a small scholar's desk.
Jack paused, grimacing in sympathetic regret. Daniel was sitting with his hands clasped tightly together and resting on the desk. His head was bowed, forehead propped on the entwined fingers. Every line of his body was eloquent of tension and distress.
The sun-bleached head jerked upward, eyes darting to meet Jack's.
"Jack..." His voice was soft and strained.
"Damn bastards." Jack set the mugs down on top of one of the folders that lay on the desk, dropped to one knee and pulled Daniel's taut body into his arms. For long moments, they clung together, sliding down to sit, wrapped around each other, on the floor beside the desk. Jack rocked gently, stroking his hands over the tight muscles of his lover's back. Gradually, he felt those muscles loosen, felt the body in his arms relax.
"C'mon, now, Danny. Up you go." He urged the other man back into the chair, then perched his own hip on the edge of the desk. "Hey, buddy..." He ran both hands tenderly through soft, flyaway hair, coaxing Daniel's head up. For a few seconds, he looked into turbulent blue eyes, then he leaned forward to offer a soft kiss to each eyelid, and a not-so-soft kiss to that lovely mouth.
"Jack... I... A sergeant..."
"I know, Danny. They slobbered all over my boat, too."
Daniel's gaze slid away from Jack's, his chin dropping again. "C...can they..."
"No way in hell am I lettin' them take you anywhere, Daniel. No way in hell."
Blue eyes flicked back to regard his face, more than a hint of anger seeping through the fear and pain. "Jack, no one knows better than we do that, if they want to, the people behind this sort of thing can do any damned thing they want."
Jack tightened his mouth and shook his head. "No, Danny. Not this time."
"Just how do we stop them?"
"Trust me, Daniel. I won't let this happen."
Daniel wrapped his arms tightly around his chest, body beginning to rock slightly in the hard wooden chair. "God, I just wanted to get away! Just wanted to get something back. Some peace... a chance to find me again. Why couldn't they leave me alone?"
Jack reached for those elegant hands, tightly clenched on Daniel's biceps, and tugged them free. "C'mon, Danny. Trust me. Can't you trust me to take care of this?"
Those blue eyes speared him once again. "You do know that they probably followed you to find me, don't you?"
Jack winced and looked away. "Yeah, that had occurred to me. Or maybe they found you the same way I did. But they were gonna come some day, Daniel." He kissed the tip of one long finger, then released Daniel's hand to grab a hot mug and press it against the palm. "Here... this fixes everything, right?"
Reluctantly, Daniel chuckled slightly. "Somehow I don't think coffee will fix this particular problem. Not even this coffee."
"Daniel." He waited until he had the other man's full attention focused on him. "Daniel, I've got something on the move to spike Bass's guns. I really do think I can fix this. Trust me."
"What? And what about the next time they decide to take one of us out of circulation?"
"Let me keep the secret for now--and if this works, it's as close to a permanent solution as I think we can hope for. Just... don't panic. Trust me."
A slow smile gradually curved Daniel's lips, warming his eyes with the glow of tender affection. "You know, I really shouldn't need you to tell me five times."
Jack mocked a small sulk. "Well, I wasn't going to say anything..."
Daniel set the mug on the desktop, then stretched up to lick, then kiss Jack's pouting lips. "I trust you, Jack. I love you. Just... please don't let them ruin what we've got here."
Jack smiled... 'what we've got.' He liked that. "Promise. We should be able to beat them off for a day or so, and that's all the time it should take. Now, come on. Let's get a late lunch at Nathan's. Nell won't mind if you leave her for an hour or two." He smirked slightly. "Though I suspect that, once she recovers from the shock, you're going to have to be ready for the third degree. She's seen enough today to keep her busy for months!"
They shared one more lingering kiss, then carried their mugs back down to the shop.
Jack gently rubbed his jaw against the hard curve of Daniel's jaw, gaze fixed unseeing on the threatening clouds visible through the skylight. Twenty-four hours. Oh, what time hath wrought.
He snorted softly, tightening his hold on Daniel's restless body. Where the hell had that come from? Some dim recess of the adolescent part of his mind, still held prisoner by stern middle school teachers and half-comprehended prose, he guessed.
"Hey, Danny. You awake?"
Daniel slowly lifted his head off Jack's chest. "Um, yeah. Haven't really..."
"Haven't really slept much. I know."
Daniel's gaze ducked away. "Sorry," he whispered.
"No sorry, Daniel. It's okay. And this is gonna be okay. I called in the big guns. Bass is gonna be history."
"Big guns?" Round blue eyes met his. "What big guns?"
Jack tugged him back down. "The biggest. Won't know what hit him."
He could almost feel the curiosity pushing worry and fear into the background.
"Tell me, Jack. You going to make me worry all day?"
"Gonna make you wonder all day," Jack whispered wickedly. "Keep your mind off the worry."
"Not a chance, Dannyboy. If my old man coulda disowned me, he'd've done it a long time ago." Hugging tightly, he snuffled in Daniel's tousled hair. "And now, nasty Pentagon flunkies or not, we're gonna get these lazy butts out on that beach. Blow some cobwebs out."
Jack decided to hang around the store, foregoing the little ocean trip he and Ernie had planned. In the course of their morning routine, he and Daniel had discovered that Bass had spread himself around the day before. Nathan, the folks at the post office, Annie, who ran the little specialty coffee shop where Daniel bought his snooty, hideously expensive coffee--all had experienced the charm and grace of the Pentagon flunky. And when the two of them eventually reached Parchment, Nell had revealed that the man had returned after their departure the previous afternoon.
The man was becoming a major pest. Jack's work to divert Daniel's attention had been unraveled the second Nathan had asked about Bass. The archaeologist was once again tense and irritable, forehead creased, formidable brows furrowed over tired, frightened eyes. He'd laid out his brushes to work on the new mugs, but after ruining two, he'd given up, and was now sitting, staring into the dark, uninformative surface of the fragrant liquid in his own mug, which had been filled and emptied several times. Jack figured the caffeine jitters weren't helping his mood.
Nell had spent the morning puttering among the shelves, unable to settle to any task for more than a few minutes. She'd obviously figured out what a fragile edge Daniel was walking, and was keeping her usually rampant curiosity under control, but Jack could see what a toll her self-control was taking on her nerves.
And as bad luck would have it, they'd had no customers since flipping the sign on the door. Nothing to provide a distraction.
When the sharp, jangling chime of the door announced Bass's forceful entrance, it was almost a relief. He'd brought additional muscle with him this time... four large, blank-faced Airmen.
Slowly, Jack rose to his feet, hand on Daniel's tense shoulder, holding the other man still. A quick squeeze, and he moved smoothly from behind the coffee bar and down through the aisle in the middle of the store. Bass stood at parade rest, chin tilted up, jaw clenched as he watched the older man's leisurely approach.
"I told you, Bass. He's not going anywhere with you or any of your little buddies. He's a private citizen of the United States, and you have no right to take him anywhere against his will. You sure as hell don't have any damned right to incarcerate him, seeing as how he's never done an even vaguely illegal thing in his life."
"Sorry, Colonel. You know better. The authority of the Joint Chiefs, and his period of employment by the U.S. Air Force say otherwise. Military authority overrides civil law... you know that better than anyone. He goes with me. Now."
Jack slowly shook his head. "I don't think so. Military law overrides civil authority in times of war. You gonna explain to all of us..." His gesture included Nell, "... just which war we're currently fighting that involves Daniel Jackson?" His mouth curved in a slow, disrespectful smile. "And just for the record, he was employed by the United States government, not the Air Force."
The door chimes rang. Jack's smile grew, his brows climbing in astonishment, as the bells shimmered again in the room's tense air. And again.
Bass spun around as a line of people filed through the shop's door. Teddy led the group. Then Derek, Annie, Ernie, two of the clerks from the Post Office, Katy from Daniel's favorite beachside café, the bouncer from Jack's favorite bar, three of the waiters from the Vista Sea Café. One after another, they filed past the rigid bodies of the intruders, ranging themselves to either side of Jack across the middle of the store. Nell, tears glistening on her cheeks, stepped up beside Teddy, shoulders back, eyes glinting in challenge.
Jack felt a gentle touch on his shoulder, and shifted to let Daniel slide in beside him.
"Well, Bass, all of us..." Jack gestured to either side, "... say 'Go to hell.'"
The muscles along the sides of Bass's square jaw were jumping and twitching. His mouth was tight with anger. "Come on, Colonel O'Neill. You really don't want any of these good people to get hurt, do you? Doctor Jackson, are you going to let these folks stand between you and doing the right thing?"
"There's nothing 'right' about what you want, Sergeant." Daniel's voice was low and hard. "That uniform just doesn't give you the right to do any damn thing you want. You touch any of these people, and you're in jail. Whatever you think you have the right to do to me, it's assault if you hurt anyone else. And you get the same for that as anyone, despite those stripes on your sleeve."
On cue, more chimes as two uniformed police officers entered the shop.
"Problems here, Nell, Daniel?"
Never breaking eye contact with Bass, Daniel shook his head slightly. "Not yet, Pete." Jack tightened his fingers around the hand that slipped into his. He could feel the fine shivers that ran through Daniel's body.
Pete nodded, pursing his lips as he surveyed the five airmen. "Well, I think maybe we'd just better make sure." And he and his partner calmly walked past Bass and his henchmen to join the barricade of bodies surrounding Daniel and Jack.
Rigid with frustration and anger, Bass shook his head sharply. "None of this makes any difference, Jackson. I have my orders, and you've got thirty seconds to comply. You come, or we take you, understand? All this bluster means squat! If the heads of this country's military forces say you come, then God damn it, you're going to come!"
A glint of wan sunlight reflecting off highly polished metal caught Jack's eye. His grim smile widened as he recognized the nature of the glistening black limousine now parked across the street.
"You care to tell us again just where your authority comes from, Sergeant Bass?" he asked, voice deceptively smooth and friendly.
Sensing impending victory, Bass smiled grimly and pulled a folded paper out of his breast pocket. "The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States of America."
"Hmmm. Joint Chiefs..." Jack's brow furrowed as he shook his head. "Pretty high up there."
"The highest, Colonel!" Bass snapped.
Jack allowed his most predatory smile to twist his lips. "Ah... Not quite, Airman."
As he spoke, the door chimes rang yet again, announcing the entry of a young man wearing the dress blues of an Air Force captain. The captain glanced quickly around at the surprising array of people inside the small store, then stepped past the other five soldiers and placed a briefcase on top of one of the low cases. He dialed the combination, popped the case open, and removed an envelope. Envelope in hand, he moved briskly to face Daniel.
"Doctor Jackson." He saluted smartly. "Captain Aaron Anderson, Doctor. It's an honor to meet you."
Slightly stunned, Daniel automatically extended his hand. Anderson shook it firmly, then placed the stiff cream-colored envelope into Daniel's fingers.
"Compliments of the President, Doctor. I've just been transferred from D.C. to Cheyenne Mountain, and detoured through here to deliver this. And to convey greetings from General George Hammond and Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter."
Daniel stared at the rich paper of the envelope, eyes round, mouth gaping slightly. "Th... the President?" Then his head snapped up, happiness sweeping over his features. "Colonel? Sam got promoted?"
"Oh, yeah... didn't I mention it?" Jack was grinning at Daniel's confusion. Surreptitiously, he crossed the fingers of the hand not occupied holding Daniel's. Oh, please, let this have worked! "Open it, Danny," he urged gently.
Sobering, Daniel dropped his gaze back to the stiff envelope. Slowly, his long fingers teased the flap free, carefully preserving the seal over the pointed edge. He drew the single sheet of heavy stationery out of the envelope, held it for a moment in a shaking hand, then gently unfolded it. The presidential seal at the top of the page was clear to every eye in the room.
The protecting friends and neighbors gathered around, shielding him from the five men hovering at the outer end of the store. Jack spared the fuming Bass a single smug glance before slipping both arms around Daniel's waist and pulling him close, peering over his shoulder to share the letter's contents.
Dear Doctor Jackson.
I am pleased to convey to you the gratitude of the people of the United States of America, along with my personal admiration and indebtedness.
For five years, you offered selfless service in the effort to preserve the safety and freedom of your countrymen and the rest of the peoples of your world. During those five years, you contributed far more than most men could in ten lifetimes. Your unique skills and abilities will be sorely missed by the people who have been privileged to benefit from them.
I am very sorry that you've chosen to leave, but I understand. And rest assured that my confidence in your discretion and loyalty is complete.
I am fully cognizant of the personal cost exacted by your commitment, and am deeply apologetic. There is no reward your country could offer that would adequately compensate for what you've lost in its service.
However, inadequate as it may be, I do offer that which you and the other men and women with which you served have worked so very hard to preserve: the freedom to live your life in peace and happiness.
Rest assured that the remainder of your life will be free of interference or harassment from the agents of your government. Live your life in comfort and security, Doctor Jackson. Your country is grateful.
The signature was the familiar authoritative scrawl.
"Way to go, George," Jack murmured.
"What?" Nell was tugging anxiously at Daniel's sleeve. He lifted dazed eyes from the letter and met her gaze. Silently, he held the stiff paper out for her to read.
Jack wrapped his arms more tightly around Daniel's waist, grinning and laughing, rocking their bodies gently back and forth. "I promised, Danny. The big guns," he whispered.
Daniel's head dropped back against his shoulder, face tipped toward Jack's chin. Jack could see the moisture threatening to spill from those blue eyes.
As Nell's squeal ripped through the air, Captain Anderson reached again into the open briefcase. Pulling a page from the case, he turned to Bass.
"Sergeant Bass, you're finished here. I'd suggest you contact your superiors; you'll find your orders have changed significantly. This..." He handed the paper to the sputtering sergeant, "... is a copy of the letter I've just presented to Doctor Jackson. Copies have been sent to all chiefs of staff, to the commander of the NID, to the Speaker of the House and to the Vice President, with instructions that the content of the letter be read into the Records of both houses. The President is prepared to take any action necessary to ensure that his wishes in this matter are honored."
"But..." Bass's eyes scanned over the words on the page. "But he's..."
"You're dismissed, Sergeant Bass. Take my advice... don't pursue this. The only one who will suffer if you do is... you."
After a tense moment, Bass stepped back, came to attention and saluted. Then he pivoted and stalked out the door, followed by his little parade of airmen.
The room erupted in cheers as friends and neighbors grabbed Daniel and Jack, kissing and hugging, shaking hands and slapping shoulders. And passing that marvelous piece of paper from hand to hand.
Laughing happily, Jack finally managed to drag his partner out of the clinging celebration. Daniel was still basically unresponsive, stunned and euphoric with relief.
Captain Anderson was standing apart, grinning at the riotous happiness of the small crowd. Jack held out his hand, smiling into the young man's face.
"You have no idea how grateful we are, Captain."
Anderson grasped his hand in a firm grip. "Just the messenger, sir. The red telephone lines did a bit of burning between Colorado and the Oval Office. General Hammond rousted the President at the crack of dawn."
Jack laughed and shook his head. "Hammond's a good man. A fine man to serve under."
Daniel finally stirred and extended his own hand. "Thanks so much, Captain Anderson."
"Most welcome, Doctor. I'm just sorry I finally swung my transfer to the SGC too late to serve with the real SG-1."
"And the general." Daniel's affection and regret colored his voice. "He's a great commander. Things would have been very different with another man in command. I just hope..."
Jack tugged him closer. "Not our concern any more, Daniel."
"Yes it is, Jack," Daniel insisted. "Sam and the others are still serving there. It matters."
Jack sighed, shaking his head ruefully and exchanging a long-suffering glance with the captain. "Some people figure they're responsible for everything."
Daniel's elbow impacted with his ribs. "Shut up, Jack."
The captain laughed. "Well, I'm really looking forward to my new post. Mind, I'm scared spitless of my 'tryout' with Colonel Carter. She's been chewing up candidates for her team and spitting them right back out. I'm hoping to be the poor, lucky first man to pass muster."
Jack clapped him on the shoulder. "If it means anything, son, I'll pass on my recommendation."
Anderson shook his head. "As a messenger? Not sure that's exactly the qualification she's looking for."
Daniel's happy smile broadened. "I can't believe she's a colonel! And that you didn't tell me, Jack." He turned accusing eyes on his partner.
"I figure we should get her to tell you all about it herself."
Daniel's already grinning face lit up. "That would be great, Jack. Would... do you think she'd come?"
Jack hooked his arm around Daniel's neck, jerking the other man into a headlock and vigorously scrambling his hair. "You moron. How'd you fool everyone into thinking you were so smart? Sam's been moping after you for three years. Given half an ounce of encouragement, she'd be here in ten minutes. Sheesh!"
Daniel emerged ruffled and laughing. "So... we could manage a whole ounce if we tried."
"I'm willing to contribute a gallon, buddy. Time for the bunch of us to put things back together, I figure."
After casting a wary glance behind him, Daniel stepped carefully down from his ladder. He plopped his brush into the water tray, then stretched thankfully. He'd never appreciated the kind of toll painting walls could exact from the human body.
He smiled into Nell's smudged face. She'd been reorganizing the shelving in response to the subject matter of his second mural, and some of the pesky dust she'd found lurking at the backs of the lower shelves seemed to have found its way onto her round cheeks. Laughing, he wiped his finger through one smudge and smeared it on the tip of her nose.
"I think so. What do you think?"
She hugged his waist enthusiastically. "Gorgeous. But don't you think you could stretch the painting out for a few more days? Business has never been better."
He laughed, shaking his head. Business had been good, but he doubted it had anything to do with him perched on a ladder slopping paint on the wall.
They backed away from the wall and examined the new painting. He'd chosen to parallel the design of the first wall, but to evoke a completely different mood. As before, he'd begun with an image of the Oregon coast. But this time he'd chosen to depict the beach up the coastline a bit where the soft sands gave way to stark rocky cliffs and spires. He'd elected to paint the beautiful and awe-inspiring region under a lowering, stormy sky. The image was as stark and majestic as the first mural had been bright and warming.
As in the Egyptian mural, this image faded from the realistic coastal scene into a misty, ethereal skyline, this time hinting at the silhouette of a stark and glowering castle, enthroned on a rocky precipice and blanketed in roiling gray clouds.
Nell shivered deliciously. "Whew. Not some place I want to visit for the holidays!"
He laughed down at her, then began to gather his materials. "That's the whole point of fantasy, I think."
She nudged him with her shoulder, laughing in gentle mockery. "You should know."
Shaking his head, he moved toward the back of the store with his hands full of brushes and paint, leaving her to complete the reshelving of their fantasy and science fiction stock in the shelves beneath the new mural.
He and Jack had spent long hours discussing the problem of just what to tell their friends about the dog and pony show the previous week. They'd finally decided that there was no solution--they would just have to fend off each query as it came. They were both confident that they'd be up to the task of resisting Nell's investigative attempts, and none of the others would be nearly as persistent as she.
He hummed softly as he performed the rather therapeutic task of cleaning his brushes. As he carried the now pristine implements back to the cupboards under the coffee bar, his eyes glanced briefly at the newest addition to Parchment's décor--that astounding piece of heavy stationery, with its unmistakable seal and that scrawled signature. Nell had insisted that it be framed and hung behind the counter.
A shiver of warmth flushed through him. Jack astounded him. To have the chutzpah to request help directly from the President... He smiled in happy reminiscence, thinking of the hours of gratitude he'd lavished on his colonel.
They'd started this whole thing with 'I'm sorry' sex. He figured'thank you so much' sex was even better.
The door chimes rang aggressively, followed immediately by Jack's happy, ringing voice. Somehow, only Jack managed to make those hollow metal tubes produce precisely that excited sound.
"Danny!" he shouted. "Got a surprise for you. Get your butt out here!"
Daniel popped his head over the top of the counter as Jack swept Nell's dusty body into an enthusiastic hug. Jack wasn't alone. With a thrill of shock, Daniel recognized the close-cropped blond head that followed his lover through the door. And that sweet alto drawl. And the sun reflecting off that shiny pate.
"Sam!" He leapt to his feet and hurried toward the front of the store. "Janet! Wh..."
His words were choked off as he was engulfed in three enthusiastic hugs. Sam, Janet and a frighteningly adult Cassandra lifted him completely off his feet in their exuberance.
He hugged one after the other, joy bubbling uncontrollably through his entire body and tying his tongue in knots. Sounds were coming out of his mouth, but he didn't think they were making much sense.
"Hey, you piranhas! Back off before you smother my archaeologist!"
Laughing, the three women reluctantly released him. He could feel the grin threatening to split his face in two as he pivoted around, looking at one after the other, stroking a cheek, gripping a shoulder.
"I... Oh, God. I missed you so much. Sam! Janet!"
Eventually, he looked past the three women to see Jack, arm slung around Nell's shoulder and grinning smugly at the circus in the middle of the aisle. And beside him, General George Hammond, looking paternal and indulgent.
"Sir! It's so good to see you!" he exclaimed, breaking free of the three women to accept Hammond's proffered hand. "I... there aren't words... What you did for me..." Frustrated, he shrugged. "Thank you."
Hammond's smile widened. "Son, I can't think of a more appropriate act with which to finish my career in this country's service. Thank you for asking, one last time, for my help. And Doctor Jackson..." His pale blue eyes twinkled. "... No linguist on the planet has ever found an improvement over 'thank you.'"
Daniel gripped the hand in both of his. "'Thank you,' then."
"You're most welcome," Hammond chuckled. "And I have something for you."
With his free hand, he offered a folded piece of paper.
Daniel exchanged a glance with Jack, who shrugged, mystified. Then he accepted the paper, which he could see was a piece of Air Force stationery. Unfolding it, he scanned the symbols it carried, and felt his smile widen.
Raising his head, he grinned at Hammond. "Thanks, Sir. Nice to know he's doing okay."
"He who?" He felt the shift of air as Jack moved to his side.
"Teal'c," Daniel said softly, gaze again fixed fondly on the message. "It's a note from Teal'c."
"Hey! Big T! Give!" Jack insisted, hand extended imperiously.
Playfully Daniel pulled the message to his chest. "It's for me."
"Share and share alike, Dannyboy. That's the deal. Hand it over."
Grinning mischievously, Daniel handed him the missive.
"Shit! What is all this crap?"
Daniel laughed, gently elbowing Jack in the ribs. "Serves you right, nosey parker."
The note was written in Goa'uld.
Giving the General's hand one final squeeze, Daniel turned to the final visitors. "Robert!" He gripped his old friend's shoulders, chuckling at the muffled sneeze. "And Captain Anderson?" The final visitor nodded, grinning. "So... passed that test, did you?
Anderson laughed. "Looks like."
Sam stepped to the captain's side, gripping his shoulder. "We figured he should get familiar with the family right from the start. Sort of the final facet of his screening."
Daniel laughed at Anderson's rolled eyes. "Your fourth?"
She grimaced. "So far, more virtual than actual. I'll find him."
"Or her," Cassie inserted, scowling at her second mother.
"Or her." Sam hugged the youngster to her side.
Daniel stared, bemused, at the tall young woman. "Cass... you..."
"I grew up," she scolded. "Somebody ran off, and has no grounds for complaint about what he missed."
He tucked his head down. "You're right, Sweetheart. I'm so sorry."
She wrapped her arms around him, hugging tight. "You're forgiven. Long as you don't do it again."
"Hey!" Jack's voice silenced the chatter. "I'm closing this store for the rest of the day!"
"Jack!" Daniel protested. "You can't just decide to do that!"
"Today I can. I'm closing Teddy's gallery, too."
"Button it, Danny. Get your jacket. You, too, Nell. And call Teddy. We're moving this party to the dock. Move it!"
Daniel and Nell exchanged helpless glances, then obediently headed for the back room and their jackets.
Jack laughed, glorying in the stiff wind tugging at his hair. The bow of the Sea Monkey cut neatly through the water, dashing salty spray back onto the deck. The muted clatter of Ernie's activities floated from the galley. The old sailor was rummaging around in the galley, preparing lunch for the mob Jack had escorted onto the boat. Jack's hands lovingly caressed the smooth surface of the boat's controls. He couldn't even imagine a better way to spend a holiday with people he loved.
It was a hoary old adage, but he couldn't help it. All was finally right with his world.
He could hear the excited, happy chatter from his friends, old and new, as they caught up and got acquainted. And among them, that most loved of voices, bright with joy. He hadn't heard such unreserved happiness ringing in that voice for far too long. He wasn't sure he'd ever heard it.
He glanced over as he felt warmth against his left side. Daniel's vivid blue eyes smiled at him as he pressed his body close to Jack's side.
"Happy. Relieved." Daniel caught Jack's left hand, pulled it to his lips and dropped a gentle kiss on the backs of the fingers. "Free."
Jack tugged the hand loose and wrapped it around Daniel, pulling the other man close and returning his grip to the boat's controls, trapping Daniel's body between himself and the control panel.
"Oh, yeah," he whispered into long, flying hair. He tucked his check tightly against the side of Daniel's head, rubbing his wind-burned skin against those silky strands, and gently aimed the big boat straight into their future.
|Summary:||Past meets present; do Jack and Daniel have a future?|