A Road Not Taken - Part Twelve


"Dear Jack,

"I can't believe it. I was never expecting this, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand I feel free... and on the other, tossed aside. I wish I knew which was right.

"I'm sorry, Jack. I just realized I haven't explained myself. My birthday was yesterday, a Wednesday. Thank you for the book, by the way. My social worker came over in the morning - which I was not expecting - and told me to dress nicely. When I asked her what this was all about, she merely smiled mysteriously and said that it was a surprise, her birthday present to me if you will. I just shrugged and went upstairs to change.

"She drove me to the county courthouse, and we ended up before one of the family court judges before too long. Miss Waters answered some questions, I answered some questions, no objections were raised... I don't completely recall how everything went, but at the end of it all I was declared emancipated from the state. Legally, I guess I'm considered an adult, in charge of my own destiny. When we walked out of the courtroom, Miss Waters turned to me and told me happy birthday with a very large smile on her face. All I could say in response was a quiet thank you.

"I really don't know how to feel about this. It's not something I was looking for. At the same time, I can't say I'm bothered by the prospect. Except for what I have with you and Sam, I've pretty much been on my own since the accident - this just formalizes it. Is this normal? I'd like to think it is, considering I wasn't expecting it, but I'm not in the right frame of mind to figure it out just yet.

"A thought just occurred to me. I guess this means the only thing I have to worry about is my school schedule when it comes to your wedding. I don't have to ask anyone's permission. I guess that's a plus, huh?

"I think I'm going to wrap this up, Jack. I have some things I need to work out. Let me know how your new training is going.

"Your friend,


* * * * * * * *

"Dear Daniel,

"I'm glad you were able to pick up that job at the library. Although I'm willing to bet it's just an excuse so you can read more books. You'll have to let me know when you find the interesting stuff. And don't mind the junior librarian's attitude - she's just jealous because you're younger, healthier, and smarter than she is.

"I'm so glad this means you'll be able to go with me to Florida next June for Mark's wedding. Considering the discussion we had at graduation, I don't think I want to be stuck down there without anyone to back me up, although I wouldn't miss this for the world. I should just be finished with my three-week course, so I'll be fine on that front.

"Your schedule is just packed after school gets out, isn't it? First Jack and Sara's wedding a week after finals, then those three-week summer courses, then going back to Florida with me to Mark's wedding, and then another round of summer classes. When are you going to find time to breathe? Just kidding; I wouldn't be any different if I weren't at the Academy.

"Thinking of the Academy, I have to say that things aren't quite like what I thought they'd be. I'm not as surprised as I would have been if Dad hadn't sat me down to warn me, but it's still thrown me a little. I don't care what anyone says, Daniel, or what year it's supposed to be, but there's still some discrimination going on. Not enough for me to make a fuss over, but enough to know it's going to be an obstacle for a long time to come. I just hope I end up in a command that appreciates me for my talents and doesn't give a rip about my gender.

"What I wish Dad would have warned me about was the other kind of grief I've been getting. A few of my instructors seem to think I have every intention of trying to coast into the Air Force on my father's coattails. I mean, just because my daddy's a general, a bunch of people think that I want to lord it over them. Would you believe I'm not even the one who first mentioned Dad's rank? It was one of my instructors, who read my name and thought I looked familiar. Ever since, I've gotten a lot of attitude. It's taken everything I've got to not return it full measure. It's not that I've never gotten this before, but I didn't think it would be so prevalent here at school, not at this stage of the game.

"I decided to join the swim team, and am considering the fencing team once I've taken the course. When I was looking through the list of intercollegiate and intramural activities I had to choose from, I noticed hockey and couldn't help but laugh. Jack and I had some interesting discussions about the subject while you were in the hospital. Oooo, I suppose I should call him Lieutenant O'Neill. Officially, he is my superior officer. Of course, so is my dad. But calling him General Carter is just weird.

"I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving break and coming back to Los Angeles. Most of all, I'm looking forward to seeing you and Dad again. I really miss you. You wouldn't believe how much. So don't be surprised if you get more letters than you expected. And I want you to write as many as you want, no matter how many that is.

"For now, I should probably get going. Lights out is coming up quick. I'll write again soon.

"Friends forever,


* * * * * * * *

Jack sighed as he slid into the shadowed corner booth in his usual hang out when he wanted to unwind with some of the guys. It had been an intense two weeks, and alcohol was definitely in order. "We made it back again, boys," he said to his three companions once he'd taken a long drink from the beer he'd brought back from the bar.

"No thanks to Klutz-boy here," the rugged-looking man across from him said with an elbow to the ribs to the other man to his left.

"Hey! That rabbit came out of nowhere!" the newly-dubbed "Klutz-boy" protested. "And if I remember correctly, that little incident let us take out a couple members of the other team."

"Christ, Kowalski, just because we were lucky doesn't justify you overreacting," Jack said with a roll of his eyes.

Kowalski scowled. "And I suppose you would have done better?"

Jack smirked. "I did. Where do you think that rabbit came from?"

They all laughed at that, even the target. "I think Charlie owes us a round for that near-miss," the man to Jack's right said with a grin.

"Hey, yeah, Tommy," Charlie's bench partner drew out, grinning wickedly. "A round of shots, on you." His left elbow followed his gaze to his left. "Top rail."

"Fine, Frank, as long as that means you'll stop planting your elbow between my ribs!"

A half hour later Tommy and Charlie were dancing with women they'd managed to talk in to it, leaving Frank and Jack alone at the table. "That didn't take them long," Jack commented, smirking at the sight of two of his teammates swaying back and forth almost to the beat of the slow song coming from the jukebox.

Frank snorted. "They're trying to get lucky, and they figure if they keep hanging out with the two unavailable guys it'll never happen."

"How's Corrinna, by the way?"

"Happy we got married before I came to Florida. She says she doesn't even want to imagine the hassles you and Sara have been going through." Frank grinned. "So how bad has it been?"

Jack shrugged. "Not as bad as I expected. The Saturday after this is all over I'll be in my dress blues in front of a preacher. Then I get two weeks of leave before I join whatever unit I'll be assigned to. Everything cleared while we were out in the middle of nowhere these last two weeks."

"I suppose that promotion you got when you left Colorado helped," Frank said, a twinkle in his eyes.

Jack shot him an irritable glare. "Oh, yeah. The pay hike from second to first lieutenant was enormous. I'm independently wealthy."

Frank laughed at the sarcasm dripping from his friend's tone. "Aren't we all? You're just lucky those two weeks you used to hang out in California at the drop of a hat didn't hurt you promotion-wise."

"I wouldn't have given a damn if it did. It was too important." Jack buried his gaze in his beer as he took a long drink.

"You never did tell me why you went, just that you did. What was the big deal?"

Jack took a long pause as he considered his answer. "A friend needed me."

Frank narrowed his eyes. "And it was worth risking your career advancement?"

Jack nodded. "More than worth it."

"So who is this friend of yours? I don't think you've mentioned him, and I know I haven't met him."

Jack stared his friend in the eye, a rare completely serious look on his face. "You have to promise not to bug me about it."

Frank was confused. "Sure," he agreed with a nod, a little weirded out by the whole thing. "If it's that important to you, I won't give you grief."

"His name's Daniel. He was in a coma, and I was contacted in hopes that hearing a friendly voice would help him come out of it. I talked to my CO and was on a plane the next morning."

The other man narrowed his eyes slightly, still confused. "So why did you have to go? What about his family?"

"Not an option, and it was his foster father who put him there." The whole incident still pissed him off when he thought about it.

"No girlfriend, wife?"

Jack sighed. "Look, Frank, he was fourteen years old. He's pretty much been a stranger in a strange land since I met him, and his social worker thought since we were close I might be able to reach him. Daniel means a hell of a whole lot to me, and I would appreciate it if you didn't go around telling people about him. He's eight years younger than I am, and I don't need the grief. And neither will Daniel when he comes down here for the wedding next May. Can I count on you to keep your trap shut?"

Frank nodded, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Yeah, Jack. Your secret's mine. Kid's pretty special, I take it."

That made Jack smile. "Certified genius. He's sixteen and in his freshman year at UCLA on a full ride scholarship. He's studying archaeology."

"Wow," Frank murmured, impressed. "Can't wait to meet him."

"I can't wait to introduce him." Jack looked at his watch then threw back the last swallow of beer in his pilsner glass. "I need to get going. Obviously Charlie and Tommy won't be providing any more entertainment for the evening." He gestured toward the door where their two companions were leaving with their new lady friends. He chuckled and shook his head.

Frank's eyebrows lifted at the sight. "I'm feeling a little ditched, but Corrinna will appreciate the early night. I take it Sara's anxious to see you?"

Jack smiled. "Actually Sara's visiting family in Colorado until Saturday. I just need to get home and get a letter ready. I haven't been able to contact Daniel for three weeks, and I don't want him to worry. That, and I'm sure I've got a few letters of his to catch up on."

"Damn, Jack, that kid is important to you." He stood and gave his friend a shooing motion. "Go on, get out of here. You've got a friend waiting. See you on base tomorrow?"

"You bet, Frank. And thanks." Jack gave the other man's shoulder a hearty slap and left. Frank was right; he did have a friend waiting - and he couldn't wait to get to it.

* * * * * * * *

Sam walked through the terminal at LAX, carry-on slung over her shoulder, her eyes searching for the familiar form of her father waiting for her in the crowd. Her flight from Denver had been delayed for three hours thanks to the snowstorm going on there. All she could think of now that she was in Los Angeles was just how much she wanted to see a friendly, familiar face, to be welcomed with warm, open arms and told how much she was wanted. Her father would be more than good for that.

She made it all the way to the seats near where people were standing in line to pick up their tickets without finding the man she was looking for. Sam sighed and flopped into an open seat. If she stayed in one place, her dad was more likely to find her quickly. He'd warned her he had a meeting that he couldn't be sure would be over in time, but she'd been hoping everything would work out in their favor. Obviously, things hadn't turned out that way.


The whispered sound of her name behind her had the young woman leaping to her feet and spinning around before she could truly say she'd registered the source. Her eyes widened and a huge smile lit up her features as she took in the almost-shaggy dark blond hair, tucked-in, buttoned-up flannel shirt, well-worn jeans, and most importantly the brilliant blue eyes sparkling behind the wire-framed glasses. "Daniel!" she cried, dashing around the short row of seats and practically throwing herself at her friend.

Daniel's smile grew as he returned the fierce embrace. "It is so good to see you, Sam. I missed you at Thanksgiving." He laid his cheek against the soft sunlight-colored hair of his friend.

"I had to go see my uncle Irving. He's gotten so old, and I'm not sure how much longer he'll be with us." Sam buried her face in Daniel's shoulder at the reminder of the urgent phone call from her father. Jacob had known how much she'd always cared for her mother's brother-in-law, and had been more than happy to adjust her flight plan to take her to Boise where the older man was recovering from an unexpected heart attack. He'd met her there, and they'd spent the holiday with the last connection either of them had to the late Mrs. Elizabeth Carter.

"You don't have to apologize. Your dad told me. And he was supposed to tell you I understood and would be there for you if you needed me."

"He did. I just didn't want to remind myself that..." Sam's voice faded away and she squeezed Daniel a little tighter.

"I know," he whispered gently, rubbing her back softly. "And I don't blame you for not mentioning it in your letters. Just... I want you to know you can talk or write me about it any time you want."

Sam nodded against his chest. A part of her noted that he really needed to eat more. "I've always known that, Daniel. Thank you." She took a deep breath and released it, using the action to pull herself together. "So where's Dad?" she asked as she pulled away.

Daniel smiled shyly. "Actually, he asked me to come pick you up. His meeting started late, and he's not sure when it's going to end, so he lent me his car and told me to come get you."

She laughed. "So were you nervous? This is the first time you've ever done any serious driving, isn't it?"

The young man nodded, blushing. "I haven't really needed to before. I'm just glad I'm used to your dad's car."

"Considering that's the car you used to learn to drive in the first place, I'm not surprised. Where are you parked?"

Daniel interrupted her attempt to pick up her duffle bag by doing it himself. "Not too far," he answered, beginning to lead the blonde cadet away as he adjusted the shoulder strap. "I managed to find a place in the closest garage."

Sam merely smiled and followed. When they reached the doors that would take them where they needed to go, she paused for a moment and turned to face the young man at her side. "You know something, Daniel? I'd say this was the best Christmas present I could have asked for." She linked her arm through his.

He gazed down on her fondly. "I couldn't have said it better myself, Sam." And the two friends were off.

* * * * * * * *

A week later, after Sam, Daniel, and Jacob had shared a delicious Christmas dinner, the elder Carter sighed as they lingered over their desserts. "I have some news for you," Jacob said, looking back and forth between the two teenagers.

"What is it, Dad?" Sam asked as Daniel looked on, curious.

"I'm being transferred to Langley, out in Virginia."

There was a brief moment of silence as that piece of information sank in. "When?" his daughter asked.

Jacob sighed again. "About a month's time. Basically just enough for me to settle things here and set things up there."

"Oh," Sam said softly, her eyes dropping to her plate.

Daniel looked from father to daughter and back again. He knew what was bothering both of them, and he knew he needed to say something to relieve their guilt. "I've heard things are nice out in Virginia." Okay, it was a bit lame. But he was flying by the seat of his pants on this one.

"Yeah," Sam agreed half-heartedly, understanding Daniel's motivation. "Lots of beaches, and a mild winter. Not like we had in Dover."

"Or Ohio, I'm sure," Daniel added.

"Right, or Ohio."

"You kids are something else," Jacob said with a chuckle. "I'm just sorry I can't take you with me, Daniel."

Daniel smiled. "That would be kind of difficult, what with me having spring semester to finish at UCLA. It would be an expensive commute."

Sam rolled her eyes as she nudged her friend with her elbow. "Oh, please," she scoffed. "I just wish I could be in two places at once for my vacations. Having you go to college near where Dad was stationed worked out perfectly for me."

"I liked it too," Daniel said softly.

Sam sobered quickly and laid a gentle hand on his arm. "I don't like the idea of leaving you here all alone, Daniel." Her voice was subdued and filled with a growing sorrow. Things were beginning to feel like they had when she'd had to leave Wheatland so long ago. Apparently California wasn't the place she and Daniel were meant to stick together.

Daniel shrugged. "It was bound to happen sometime, Sam. You and your dad are both in the military, and that means you have to go where they send you. It wasn't likely you'd be able to come out here all that often once you'd graduated from the academy, whether your dad was here or not. And I've got a lot of school ahead of me yet, not to mention what happens afterward. As long as we do what we can to keep in touch, it won't matter where we are. We'll always be together where it counts, in our hearts." He gave her a small, somewhat shy smile.

She returned it, neither one of them noticing Jacob leaning back in his chair and grinning a mile wide at the sentiment. "You're right, Daniel. And we'll have phone calls and visits to look forward to as we get older and earn decent-sized paychecks and places of our own."

Jacob couldn't help but laugh. "Decent paychecks? In the military? I thought you paid closer attention than that, Sammy."

"It'll all work out fine," Sam continued, ignoring her father. "Now, I believe we have one last Christmas tradition to finish up. Right, Dad?"

"You bet, Sam," he said, rising to his feet, quickly followed by the other two. "We've got Christmas dust to spread on the fire to make sure the wishes we put in our Christmas wish stockings come true." He led the way out of the dining room with his head held high, Sam giggling and Daniel wearing an indulgent smile as they fell into step behind him.

* * * * * * * *

The next five months flew by, Daniel's mailbox filled with more letters than normal as Sam seemed determined to make up for the fact that she was spending her spring break with her father in Virginia. Jack had also increased his correspondence as his wedding date grew nearer. But he wasn't nervous, no, of course not.

Jack paced anxiously in the airport as he waited for Daniel's plane to land. There were still a couple of days before the wedding, and this reunion was definitely the highlight of them. But he wasn't nervous, no sir-ee.

Wait! Was that Daniel? No, no, couldn't be. Jack hadn't heard his flight announced yet. Must be a little eager to see his friend, especially considering it had been over two years.

But he wasn't nervous.

Jack released an explosive breath and flopped down onto the nearest seat, nearly landing on a little old lady as he did so. Oh, who was he kidding? He was a complete wreck. He only hoped his younger friend could help him get his act together before he completely embarrassed himself in front of both Sara's family and his own.

The soon-to-be bridegroom buried his head in his hands and gave in to the urge to wallow in self-pity, however temporarily. He'd just gone through a year of intensive training the like of which he'd never even imagined before and a wedding was getting to him? It was times like this that he felt there was something seriously defective about him. The only thing that made this state he was in remotely bearable was that Sara wasn't much better, although her calm act was a bit more convincing.

Jack stayed that way for a long time, lost in his thoughts and various horrible scenarios about how his wedding day could go. When he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, it startled him so much he nearly jumped a foot into the air. "What the hell?" he practically shouted, only just keeping himself from using the self-defense moves he'd learned through his training.

He spun to face the person next to him and felt every ounce of his tension fade away. "Daniel!" he cried, throwing his arms around his younger friend.

"It's good to see you, too, Jack," Daniel replied, his voice a bit muffled by Jack's shoulder.

"You're a life saver, I want you to know this," Jack said, grinning, as he pushed back to arm's length.

"Um, okay," the younger man said, confused.

"No, I mean it. Now that you're here, I think it just might be possible to survive this upcoming weekend of insanity. All this wedding stuff has driven me to the edge."

Daniel's eyebrows rose. "Short trip," he muttered. He relented at Jack's glare. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry. But you can't tell me that your friends here haven't been helping you out."

Jack scoffed. "Not by half. Tommy and Charlie are too busy trying to convince me I'm too young to condemn myself like this, that I need to sow some more wild oats - or at the very least go on one last wild, orgasmic binge. Frank thinks this is hilarious, and has thoroughly enjoyed sitting back and watching the show. His wife Corrinna has been better about it, but she's been busy helping Sara. You're the only one I knew I could count on to keep a cool head and have a sympathetic ear." He smiled at the pleased grin his declaration produced on his friend. "Besides, Sara's family is showing up tomorrow for the rehearsal. I need to have someone one hundred percent in my corner, someone who won't think it's funny to tell my soon-to-be in-laws about the time I dressed up in women's clothing to avoid getting caught off base after curfew and ended up stumbling into the compound half-naked after accidentally cutting through a local dog breeder's rottweiler pen. Those things are vicious."

Daniel couldn't help it; he laughed. He laughed at the story; he laughed at the image of Jack dressed up in a woman's ragged and torn dress trying to explain why he was wearing it and wasn't in bed; he laughed at the aggrieved tone his friend had used; he even laughed at the glare Jack was now shooting him for his loss of composure. "Come on, Jack," he managed to gasp out. "You have to admit this is funny!"

Jack glared at him for a moment longer. Then the corners of his mouth began to twitch upward. When Daniel collapsed into the seat Jack had previously been sitting in, it was the last straw. The brown-haired man gave in to the urge and joined his friend in raucous laughter, both of them ignoring the looks they received from the crowd surrounding them in the airport. He had to admit, this was a welcome release. He'd been right about Daniel - he was just what Jack needed.

Finally, the two of them calmed down. "Come on," Jack said, wiping the tears off his face. "We have to get going."

"Where?" Daniel asked, picking up his carry-on bag and reaching for his suitcase.

Jack slapped his hand away and took the suitcase himself. "First, we'll get you settled in at my place. Then, we're off to the place we ordered your tuxedo from so you can have a final fitting. My family should be getting here later tonight, but they're all of Frank's opinion - let's just sit back and laugh while Jack goes slowly insane. Or not so slowly," he grumbled. "Anyway, we'll come back later and meet them here. Beth and my mother will be joining the ladies at the hotel, while Dad and the guys will be with us at the house. Sara's taking the superstitious custom of not letting the groom see the bride before the wedding just a little too seriously. She's decided I can only see her at the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner before the wedding. She moved into the hotel this morning while I was at the base finishing up the last of my paperwork now that I'm done with my Special Ops training."

Daniel smiled. "Wow, Jack. Sounds like you've had your hands full."

Jack reached over and gave him a quick one-armed squeeze as they continued walking. "Yes! That was why I wanted you here! That's exactly what I've been looking for. I really missed you, Daniel. You wouldn't believe how much."

"Oh, I might have an idea," Daniel said softly as Jack continued to ramble on about what had been happening in Florida.

Four hours, lunch, and one tuxedo fitting later, Daniel and Jack were sitting in the older man's living room watching a baseball game on television. "So how's life in California?" Jack asked during a commercial break after he'd retrieved a soda for Daniel and a beer for himself. "Anybody at UCLA able to keep up with the Great Brain?"

"I've learned a lot this year," Daniel said. "I took a full course load, and I'm glad I did."

"You would," Jack murmured with a smile as he took a long pull from his bottle. "So you're going back for a couple three-week courses?"

"One three-week course, two classes," the younger man corrected.

Jack nodded. "And then you're turning around and flying back down here for Sam's brother's wedding. Busy summer."

Daniel took a large swallow of his drink before answering. "Yeah, I guess so."

Brown eyes narrowed as Jack realized that Daniel wasn't saying something, but a knock at the front door stopped him from pursuing the matter. Just before Jack could answer it, the door opened and Frank Cromwell stepped inside. "So how is our Nervous Nelly this glorious evening?" the stocky man said expansively, his grin a mile wide.

"You're a prick, Frank," Jack said darkly, scowling.

"True," Frank agreed lightly.

"I don't need this kind of crap right now," Jack growled, his scowl deepening.

"True again."

"I should deck you."

"Probably. But yet, you haven't."

Jack released an explosive breath. "Remind me again why I consider you my friend?"

Frank clapped a hand on the slightly taller man's shoulder. "Oh, admit it, you couldn't live without me. Now how about offering your guest a beer?" He was about to move further into the house when he saw Daniel staring at the standing men. "Hello, who's this?" he asked, gesturing toward the teenager.

Jack shot a look back over his shoulder. "This is Daniel Jackson, my friend from California I told you about. Daniel, this is Frank Cromwell, prick extraordinaire and my best bud from training. I told you about him in my letters."

"Pleased to meet you," Daniel said softly, giving the newcomer a slight nod.

"Take it easy on him," Jack whispered fiercely into Frank's ear.

Frank blinked at the protective tone. He knew the kid was special to his friend from the few conversations they'd had about him, but he never expected Jack to aim that kind of attitude toward him. "Good to meet you, too, Daniel," Frank said, giving Jack a shove toward the kitchen as he moved completely into the living room. "Jack, who should be getting his good buddy a beer about now, has talked quite highly of you. It's nice finally meeting you face to face."

Jack gave Frank one last speculative look. "You'd think Corrinna never let you drink at home, the way you're so demanding the second you walk in my door," the taller man said as he went to get his friend the beer he wanted.

"Corrinna's my wife," Frank explained in deference to the confused look Daniel gave him.

"Oh, I see," Daniel said, his expression clearing. "Jack mentioned you were married, but he never said what your wife's name was. So did you just finish Special Operations training too?"

Frank grinned again. "Yep. Me and Captain O'Neill in there were partnered up pretty much all year."

Daniel's eyes widened as Jack came back into the room. "Jack's a captain now?" he asked, startled.

"You had to go and ruin my surprise, didn't you?" Jack said as he slapped the unopened beer bottle into his fellow officer's hand. "I was going to show him my bars later tonight."

"Like you told me?" Frank shot back.

"Jack?" Daniel asked. "You got promoted?"

Jack smiled at him. "Yeah, a couple days ago. I finished Special Ops training at the top of my class, so they rewarded me with a promotion. I really was going to tell you later."

Daniel nodded, returning the smile. "I believe you."

Frank looked shocked at that. "You do?" he asked.

Jack gave the man an elbow to the ribs. "I've never lied to Daniel, and if I can help it I never will." His tone was completely serious, and Frank merely gave him a short nod of understanding.

"That's really great news, Jack," Daniel said, not missing the significance of the exchange. "I'm proud of you."

"Thanks, Daniel."

"So what have you been up to out in California?" Frank asked, sitting in the recliner next to the couch where Daniel had remained seated.

The teenager shrugged. "I just finished my freshman year of college at UCLA," he said dismissively, then gave Jack an apologetic look. "I'll be taking two more classes there when I get back, and then I'll be heading for Chicago after my friend Sam's brother's wedding."

Frank's expression became confused as Jack just blinked at the new information. "What's in Chicago?" Frank asked.

"The University of Chicago. I've transferred there for the second half of their summer session as well as the fall semester. I just finalized all the details before I came here."

"Why are you transferring, Daniel?" Jack asked. "Aren't you happy at UCLA?"

"UCLA is all right," Daniel said quickly. "But the University of Chicago has the better programs for what I'm going to school for, not to mention access to the Oriental Institute."

"What are you going to school for?" Frank queried, a little lost. He realized there was some nonverbal interplay going on between the other two men in the room, but he had no idea what it was about.

A bit startled by the unexpected question, Daniel jerked his head to look at the man who had asked it. "Oh, um, I'm double majoring in linguistics and archaeology with an emphasis in Egyptology."

Frank blinked a few times and finally took the time to give Daniel a thorough once-over. "How old are you again?" he asked a touch incredulously.

"Sixteen," was the prompt response. "But I'll be seventeen in July."

"You have got to be kidding," Frank muttered.

"Nope," Jack said cheerfully, giving Daniel a look that promised him the subject would be visited again later. "This is Daniel 'Super Brain' Jackson, genius of the highest order."

Daniel blushed even as he silently acknowledged his friend's look. "I am not, Jack."

Jack shook his head as he moved to flop down next to the younger man on the sofa. "Don't give me that. I've known you for a long time. I mean, how many languages do you know?"

Daniel's blush brew deeper. "Um, eighteen," he said quietly, dropping his gaze to his lap when he saw Frank's jaw hit the floor.

"Trust me, you're a genius of the highest order." Jack looked at an utterly stunned Frank. "He's modest," he explained unnecessarily.

Frank fought to recover his equilibrium even as he fought the urge to laugh at the frustrated look Daniel wore. "I can see that."

The three of them sat and talked while the television went ignored in the background until Jack was supposed to meet his family at the airport. Greetings were shared all around, and once again Daniel was Jack's only full-time supporter. But they all had fun, and everyone looked forward to what the next two days would bring.

* * * * * * * *

"I can't believe I'm nervous. I've lived with Sara for a year now, on top of dating her for... more years than I'm willing to admit to. I haven't seen her for one whole day, and now I'm getting nervous?" Jack frowned as he paced back and forth in front of the pews in the Catholic church the wedding was to take place in the next day.

"Just proves you're whipped," Frank said sedately from the front pew he was slouched in.

Jack glared at him. "You're not helping."

Frank gave him a shit-eating grin. "I'm not trying."

Daniel rolled his eyes as Jack's father and brothers snickered, while the priest looked on with a smile. "Jack, you'll be fine," the youngest of the group said calmly. "This is the rehearsal for tomorrow's ceremony. That's what's making you nervous, not seeing Sara. When she gets here, that's the cue for everything to start, that's all."

"Thank you, Daniel," Jack said sincerely. "I needed to hear that."

"You take all the fun out this, kid," Frank said, smiling to take the sting out of the comment. Daniel merely shrugged.

Just then, Sara and her entourage came in. As soon as introductions were made, everything started rolling.

"Before we begin," the priest said, quieting the crowd, "may I ask who here will be participating in the ceremony?"

"Of course," Sara said. "My bridesmaids will be Jack's sister Beth, my older sister Ruth, and my cousin Eileen. My maid of honor is my younger sister Tracy." She shared a smile with said younger sister.

Jack gave his wife-to-be an unseen gentle smile then cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah. My groomsmen are my buddy Frank Cromwell, my brother Gabriel, my brother Chris, and my best man is my best friend Daniel Jackson." Daniel looked at him with a start of surprise. He was sure that Frank was going to be Jack's best man. Jack grinned at him. "Surprise," he said softly.

The priest gazed closely at Daniel. "And who will be signing the paperwork?"

Sara and Jack shared a look. "Um, actually that's something we meant to ask you about," Jack said a bit hesitantly. "What constitutes being a legal adult?"

The priest blinked. "Why do you ask?"

"I'm sixteen," Daniel said shyly, saving Jack an awkward explanation. He could see his friend was trying not to embarrass him but still get the answer he needed. "But I've been emancipated by the state of California. So I can legally sign contracts and things of that sort, at least in California. I'm guessing Jack and Sara don't know how it works here."

"What about you?" Sara's mother Alice asked.

Daniel shrugged self-consciously. "I never thought about it. I didn't think it would ever come up."

The priest considered it. "I'm not sure to be honest with you. It may be best if we have someone who's over eighteen do the signing to be sure."

Jack looked at Daniel a touch stricken. "It's okay, Jack," Daniel said softly. "It doesn't matter who signs the papers."

Jack nodded. "As long as you remember you are my best man."

"I don't think I'll ever forget."

* * * * * * * *

The wedding ceremony went by in a blur for everyone involved. Once it was over, congratulations were given, hands were shaken, and pictures were taken. Then it was time for the reception dinner.

Daniel, as best man, gave the traditional pre-meal toast. It was a short piece, thrown together at the last minute when Frank told him about the age-old custom, but it was eloquent and touching as had been intended. Sara's sister Tracy followed it with a humorous anecdote that told the gathered crowd much more than Sara ever wanted them to know about her childhood.

But what really stopped things in their tracks was when Sara's father Mike stood up just as everyone was prepared to start eating and proposed a toast of his own. "Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honor of being the bride's father," he began. "Jack and Sara have been together for almost five years now, a relatively happy five years I'm happy to say. I wish I could also say that I had been a witness to all of those years. But as some of you know quite well, I'm known for being a bit of a hard-ass, especially with my girls." He paused as half the room chuckled, including the man's three daughters at the head table.

"I remember when Sara came to me half way through her senior year at Colorado State. She said she had some news for me, something she wasn't sure I'd like very much. You can imagine the kinds of things I was thinking. Illness, drugs, pregnancy... the list goes on. But then she straightened to her full height, looked me straight in the eye, and said, 'Dad, I'm dating a cadet from the Air Force Academy. In fact, we've been together for over a year now.'

"I was speechless. This was the big news? But she wasn't done. 'I know you never wanted me to get involved with a military man, but you don't know Jack. He's sweet and funny, and treats me better than any of my old boyfriends. Don't condemn him just because he's military, okay?'

"It eventually came out that Sara was afraid that I'd cut her off because of her relationship with Jack O'Neill. Imagine her surprise when I started laughing! She'd hidden her relationship all that time for nothing! My problem had never been with the military; her sister had dated a man who joined the Army while she was a senior in high school and ended up running off with another girl while he was overseas. I only wanted my girls to wait until they were older before making a commitment like that. Apparently Sara had gotten the wrong message.

"I had her bring him home to meet her mother and myself, and I knew that my daughter had made a good choice. She was happy with Jack, and that was all I'd ever wanted. Now, I look at my daughter and her new husband, and the love and happiness that they both share, and I'm content." He raised his glass. "To my beloved daughter Sara and my new son Jack. May your life together be blessed." The now-blushing bride and her groom returned the salute, and the meal began.

Later, once dinner had been finished and the dance begun, Daniel sat off to the side watching the festivities, a small smile on his face. "What are you doing over here?" Jack asked as he joined his friend. "Aren't you enjoying yourself?"

Daniel's smile widened as he turned it toward his companion. "Of course I am, Jack. I just needed to take a little break from the crowd."

Jack nodded. "I know what you mean. I feel the same way. Just be glad you're not the center of attention."

"Trust me, Jack, I am."

"What happened to being my one hundred percent supporter?" Jack asked indignantly in response to the smirk that accompanied Daniel's last comment.

"You didn't honestly expect me to keep it up once you were safely married, did you?" Daniel asked with a little laugh.

Jack scowled. "I should have known."

The teenager couldn't wipe the grin from his features. "Yes, you probably should have."

The Air Force captain couldn't keep up the act and began to chuckle. "I'm really glad you're here, Daniel. You make a nice balance to the raw belittling I get from my Air Force buddies. Much more intellectual."

Daniel shrugged. "You're the one who keeps calling me a genius of the highest order. Would you expect any less?"

"No. In fact, I think I'd be disappointed if you sank to their level." Jack grinned.

"And that's nothing compared to how I'd feel."

Jack laughed and threw his arm around Daniel's shoulders, and the two of them sat back and watched the dance go by until they were pulled back into the thick of things. The rest of the night was a blazing success.

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