A Road Not Taken - Part Nineteen


"Dear Daniel,

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I'm afraid Jack was injured on his last mission. His parachute didn't open and he fractured his skull. Apparently it's been almost two weeks since it happened. I'm not sure about the rest, or why his recovery is supposed to take as long as I've been told, but I think you understand the classified nature of his work.

"I know you must be busy getting ready for your trip to Wales this summer, and Jack said something about you possibly going out to California for a friend's graduation, but please take a little time and write to Jack. He's going stir crazy over there. The tone in his voice has screamed that during the couple of phone calls he's made, even if he didn't say the words. I think he's trying to keep me from worrying about him.

"Daniel, did something happen while you were in Athens? Jack hasn't gotten a letter from you since you left to go on your spring break, and he keeps asking me if I've gotten anything. I don't know what has him so worried. Don't you usually send your letters directly to him? I've only received the few you've sent here, usually with the presents you've mailed.

"Thinking of presents, Charlie really liked the building blocks you sent him for his birthday. How did you get them to look so much like the old stone blocks they used to build the pyramids? I read him the story you sent along that explained how they were built; I wish I'd had a camera to capture the look of fascination he had on his face. Mind you, that could have been the tone of my voice, but I'd prefer to give credit where credit is due. That, and I found it pretty fascinating myself. You do know how to tell a good story, Daniel.

"I hope things went well for you and your friend in Athens. You didn't have to send the package early; I think it would have made it here on time even if you'd waited until you got back. But thank you for the consideration. I only wish Jack could have been here. At least he was for Christmas. He was right - being a day late didn't matter. I should have seen that. He was home and he was safe. Which is more than I can say at the moment.

"I'd better stop now before I depress you. Good luck on your trips, and be sure to let us all know how you're doing from time to time. Thank you in advance for putting Jack's mind at ease. I know you will.


"Sara O'Neill"

* * * * * * * *

Sam fidgeted with the sleeves of her graduation gown as she waited for the lengthy speech the dean was giving to finish before the graduates would be announced. She'd spotted her father in the front row of the crowd as she'd walked by during the students' entrance, her heart breaking one more time when she remembered that Daniel couldn't be there. It was one of the few times she regretted Stanford's quarter system over the traditional semesters and summer sessions other universities usually used. It had pushed her commencement date to the middle of June, and her friend was already in Wales as part of the archaeological dig he'd signed up for.

Finally, forty-five minutes later, all the speeches were over and Sam had her masters degree in hand. "I hope you understand just how proud of you I am," Jacob said as he engulfed his daughter in a hearty embrace.

Sam returned it enthusiastically. "I do, Dad, and it means a lot. I'm glad you could be here."

"I worked out this particular leave months ago. I wasn't about to miss my little girl getting her degree." He grinned at her. "So what's next?"

"Summer session of ROTC," Sam replied, then laughed at the scowl her answer produced. "And then I start work on my doctorate in the fall. I'm hoping to get some of my preliminary research done for my thesis before September."

"Well, don't work too hard. Summers are supposed to be fun. Have you heard anything from Daniel?"

Sam shook her head. "Just the letter he sent right before he left. It came with a cute little drawing of me on my tip-toes reaching for a ring that's just past my fingertips. The caption underneath says 'The Brass Ring Is Almost Yours'."

Jacob chuckled. "That sounds like something Daniel would send you."

"Yeah, well, it beats the teasing he added in his letter. Reminded me I was still a doctorate, masters, and bachelors degree behind him." Sam frowned. "Makes me glad I double majored at the Academy," she grumbled.

"Daniel really has figured out which buttons to push, hasn't he?" Jacob asked, laughing. "Come on. Let me treat you to lunch." The two of them left the auditorium, Sam waving at a couple of friends as they did.

After their meal the two of them spent the afternoon touring Palo Alto, Sam pointing out some of the better sights. Father and daughter also shared supper that evening before separating so Jacob could finish unpacking the bags he left in his hotel room. They arranged to meet for breakfast at the restaurant just off the lobby of the hotel and said good night with a final hug.

Sam had just settled into her comfy armchair with a large glass of lemonade and a book when her phone rang. Her brows furrowed in confusion as she answered it. "Hello?"

"Sam? Is that you?"

"Daniel!" Sam cried with a sudden grin.

A muffled crackling dimmed Daniel's chuckle. "I did get all the numbers right then. How are you doing?"

"Great. I had a good day today. I spent the afternoon showing Dad around town." She paused and frowned slightly. "Wait a minute. Isn't it something like five o'clock in the morning where you are?"

She could hear a slightly embarrassed clearing of the throat before Daniel responded. "Well, yeah. But I was up anyway."

Sam blinked. "Why on Earth would you be up so early?"

"I've been volunteering to help out the farmer that's letting us use one of his outbuildings to camp in since the dig borders his property. It's right next to the site. Besides, I wanted to congratulate you."

"Oh, Daniel, you didn't have to do that. You should have slept in."

This time Daniel's chuckle was clearer. "I only would have gotten maybe another hour. This is more than worth it, trust me. So, how did the commencement go?"

Sam grinned. "Oh, you know, same old music, boring speeches, long line to get to the stage. I wish you could have been here for it."

"Me too, Sam. But your dad was there?"

"Yeah. He said he arranged his leave a long time ago for this. It really made me feel good."

"What about Mark and Julie?"

Sam sighed, her smile fading. "They couldn't make it. Mark sent me a letter saying he had a company function this weekend he couldn't afford to miss if he was serious about promotion opportunities."

"I'm sorry, Sam," Daniel said quietly. Sam could just picture the sympathetic look on his face. "Now I really wish I could have been there."

"No, it's okay," Sam refuted, forcing her tone to be lighter. "My dad was here, and you called. It's still been a good day." She took a deep breath and released it. "Have you heard anything from Jack lately?"

There was a little bit of a pause before Daniel allowed the subject change. "Yeah, last week. He's on light duty for a while, and he's not happy about it. He says he's just fine and wants to get back to work. If they're going to coddle him they should just send him home."

Sam laughed. "He doesn't sound like a very good patient," she noted.

"I'd hate to be his doctor," Daniel agreed. "It scared me a bit when I got that letter from Sara. But she was right about Jack wanting to hear from me. The last letter I got before I left Chicago had a page and a half worth of ranting about doing a better job of keeping in contact." He laughed softly. "He apologized for that in this letter. Seems he finally got the letter I wrote as soon as I got home from Athens. Of course, then he had to gripe about the military mail system."

"Oh, of course," Sam said with a smile. "I'd be more surprised if he didn't."

"There's that." Daniel sighed. "I wish I could talk longer, but I need to get back to the dig site and do some preparations for what we're working on today. That, and I'm not sure how much more my credit card can take."

Sam's brows furrowed. "What do you mean?"

"I'm charging this on one of my cards. I wasn't about to let my host pay for it, even though he offered when he heard why I wanted to call. It was nice of him though."

"Yes, it was." She sighed. "I guess I'll say goodbye then, Daniel. Thank you so much for calling. And thanks for the picture. I didn't need the ribbing you gave me in your letter, but I guess I can live with it."

Daniel laughed. "I thought that might get you. Thanks for taking it in the spirit it was intended. And I'm glad you had a good day. I'll write again soon."

"You better. Bye, Daniel. Have a good day."

"Bye, Sam. Pleasant dreams."

Sam hung up the receiver and gave it a smile. Only Daniel would have gone out of his way like that to congratulate her. She snuggled back into her chair and went back to her book, the warmth from her friend's gesture making her smile linger for a long time afterward.

* * * * * * * *

Time went by at its usual pace, fall semester seeing Sam and Daniel throwing themselves once again into their schoolwork and Jack once again into the field. That December, Daniel finished his anthropology masters as planned, and Jack was at the graduation ceremony as promised. After it was over, the Air Force major waited for Daniel to finish speaking to one of his professors before coming up to offer his own congratulations.

"This makes three, doesn't it?" Jack asked, grinning.

Daniel returned the expression. "Masters degrees, yes."

Jack shook his head. "And I thought it was hard enough to get just one."

Daniel chuckled. "It's good to see you, Jack."

Jack pulled him into a brief, tight squeeze before pushing him back and looking the student over critically. "It's good to see you, too, but don't you eat anything? You look... skinny."

"I am skinny," Daniel said. "There's not much I can do about that. I have more important things to do than spend all my free time pumping iron in the gym."

"You don't have to do that," Jack said with a touch of distaste. "But eating would do a world of wonders."

"I eat, Jack, I promise." He looked around the auditorium briefly then sighed. "And speaking of which, why don't we get some lunch?"

Jack's brows furrowed. "There's nothing else you have to do?"

Daniel was about to answer when an out-of-breath blur crashed into him, nearly knocking him over. "Oh, God, Daniel, I'm sorry! I meant to be here earlier, and then I got a call from Arizona and it took longer than I was expecting, and..."

"Whoa, Mel! Slow down!" Daniel said to the babbling brunette in his arms. He gave her a hug and pushed her back to arm's length.

"I'm sorry I missed the commencement," Mel said softly.

Daniel chuckled and shook his head. "It sounds like you had a good reason."

"Depends on who was calling from Arizona," Jack interjected.

Mel scowled at the older man for a moment before her expression turned confused. "And you are..." Her voice trailed off questioningly.

Jack didn't even bother to hold back his smile. "The name's Jack O'Neill. You may have heard of me."

The brunette returned the expression, an impish twinkle flaring up in her eyes. "I may have heard the name once or twice," she conceded.

"Do I need to make formal introductions then?" Daniel asked, amusement lighting his features as he looked between his two friends.

"Oh, heavens no. The name's Melisande Severin, dear sir," Mel announced with a horribly fake southern accent. "But you... you can call me Mel." She offered a hand, palm down.

"Why thank you, little lady," Jack returned, his southern accent even worse. He took the offered appendage and kissed the back of her hand.

Daniel rolled his eyes. "You guys are going to make me throw up."

The other two just laughed.

A throat being cleared behind him made Daniel turn around. "Um, excuse me," the newcomer said awkwardly, pushing his turtle shell-colored, plastic-framed glasses further up his nose. His shaggy black mop atop his head threatened to fall into his face. "Uh, Daniel, I don't mean to interrupt, but I want to say congratulations for getting your anthropology masters. Oh, and thanks. I really appreciate what you're doing for me."

"You're doing me the favor, Robert," Daniel said a touch shyly, a light blush creeping across his cheeks. "I should be thanking you."

"No, no, you don't have to do that," Robert said quickly, his eyes darting nervously over to Jack and Mel. "But I'm, uh, interrupting. You go ahead and spend time with your friends. Just, um, congratulations." The young man left hurriedly before Daniel could say anything more.

"So who in the world was that?" Jack asked, staring off after the disappearing student.

Daniel shrugged. "That's Robert Rothman. He's going to be my research assistant while I work on my anthropology and linguistics doctorates."

Jack's eyebrows rose. "You're accepting help? Whatever happened to the paper not being yours if you didn't do all the work yourself?"

Daniel sighed. "I believe I said that it wouldn't really be mine if I went to my professors every time I had a question. This is different."

"All Robert's going to do is Daniel's legwork, really," Mel explained. "Daniel will tell Robert what he needs, and Robert will dig it up."

"Why don't you do that for him?" Jack asked the lean brunette.

Mel's eyebrows rose. "Do I really need to list the reasons?" She sighed when the questioning look never left the older man's face. "One, my specialty's in geology, not in anthropology or linguistics. Basically, unless Daniel could tell me specifically what book or resource he needed, I'd probably be lost. Two, I have my own doctorate to work on, thank you very much. And since I'm not a genius like Daniel, I have a long, hard road ahead of me. As in, three or four more years, depending on my specialty. Three, and this is the most important thing, I absolutely despise book research. I hate doing my own, much less anyone else's. I know it's important, I know it's vital, I know there's no way around it, but give me a hands-on site anytime. Too many words and my eyes cross." She made a disgusted face.

Daniel smirked. "That answer your question?"

Jack sighed. "Yeah, I guess."

"What exactly do you have against Robert, anyway? He didn't even talk to you."

"Well..." Jack hedged, flinching slightly under the piercing blue gaze of his best friend. "Aw, gees, Daniel, he's a geek. A total bookworm. Just... not my type of guy."

"Jack, I'm a bookworm. And I can't count how many times you've referred to me as a geek in your letters." Daniel's eyebrows lifted as he waited to see how his friend was going to dig himself out of this hole.

Jack squirmed uncomfortably. "That's only on the surface, Daniel. I know what kind of guy you are outside the books."

Daniel's expression grew extremely serious. "That's exactly the point. You don't know Robert, so you have no right to judge him. I'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't. You don't have to like him, or even want to get to know him at all, but don't judge him."

Mel sighed sadly as Jack nodded. "All right, Daniel. No more names, no more judging. I didn't mean to bug you like that."

"I know you didn't, Jack," Daniel said with a small smile, telling the other man he was forgiven. "Just keep it in mind for the future, okay? Who knows what kind of person is hiding underneath the mask?"

"You know, I didn't realize you'd become such good friends with Robert," Mel said thoughtfully, looking off in the direction the man in question had gone.

Daniel shook his head. "Oh, I'm not, not really. We mainly just talk about school and work, things like that. He got his bachelors degree in anthropology this last spring and now is going for a masters in physical anthropology. We'll see where he goes from there."

Mel gave him a knowing look. "I told you being more social would be good for you. Thanks to your new research assistant you won't have to always have your nose buried in a book."

"Not that he won't be doing that anyway," Jack said, his smile as knowing as Mel's. "How many papers do you have published now, fifteen, twenty?"

"Oh, please," Daniel replied with a roll of his eyes. "It's only three."

"That were all quite well received if I remember correctly," Mel added, grinning proudly.

Daniel shifted his gaze between his two friends and gave them a mock scowl. "Could we just go get something to eat?" he complained, his eyes twinkling with appreciation of the pair's approval of his work even as subtly as it was expressed.

Jack threw an arm around his shoulders while Mel wrapped an arm around his waist. "Sure!" they said in unison before dragging him off.

Once they were out in the parking lot after having forced their way through the crowd, ignoring Daniel's numerous protests, Jack dragged them to a halt and looked around. "So where to now?" he asked the woman on the other side of the scowling graduate.

"Oh, I know just the place. There's a restaurant not far from here that has the best chicken salad," Mel replied with an impish grin.

"Uh, guys? What about where I might want to go?" Daniel protested.

"Do they have anything involving beef? I'm hungry enough to eat a whole side of cow," Jack said, again ignoring Daniel. Mel nodded enthusiastically.

Daniel sighed, the corners of his mouth beginning to twitch upward. "You got kicked out the last time we were there," he reminded the young lady pinning his right arm to his side with her body. He probably could have pulled it free, but the body parts involved would have left him blushing furiously and a major target for teasing.

Jack's brows furrowed and leaned forward to look the woman in the eye. "Is he right?" Mel shrugged. "Then why did you suggest it?"

"It's been more than enough time; I'm sure they'll let me back in. It's not like it's the first time I've been kicked out. In fact, I think this makes nine all together."

"Oh, well if that's all." Jack again started dragging the three of them off while Daniel just shook his head. The three of them proceeded to have an amazingly fun time.

* * * * * * * *

Late the next March, Sam sat at her desk finishing up some of her ROTC paperwork. It was tedious and repetitious, basically a general pain in the tush. She brightened when she realized she only had one form to go; she'd brought along a letter she'd just received that morning from Daniel that she hadn't had a chance to read yet, and was hoping to get to before her shift was over.

The door chimes rang, making Sam instinctually raise her head. She smiled when she heard two male voices conversing, although she couldn't make out exact words. Sergeant Michael Walters was the secretary for San Juan's ROTC program. She couldn't help but enjoy the irony of a man in a traditionally female role in the military. She also couldn't help but wonder who the man had pissed off so royally as to scrape up this particular assignment.

Sam finished her paperwork for the day then totally forgot everything involving the office around her as she let herself get absorbed in the multi-paged letter her best friend had sent her. She smiled when she read about how Mel was doing at the university in Arizona where she'd transferred to finish her geology doctorate, shaking her head at the outlandish quote he'd shared. Mel was definitely a piece of work. The blonde had to laugh out loud when Daniel shared the trouble he was having with a group of freshmen girls who wouldn't stop following him around the library every time he needed to go there. What made it even more amusing was that he didn't seem to understand why they were doing it. He just didn't get how attractive he was.

Sam sighed and shook her head. She really shouldn't think of Daniel that way. It didn't matter how attractive he was or wasn't; he was her friend, her best friend. She'd nearly wrecked their friendship once because she'd let herself think that way about him, even if it was just a spur of the moment thing. Forcefully pushing such thoughts to the back of her mind, she went back to reading the letter.

It was time for her to leave once she'd finished. Sam filled out her time sheet and headed for the front desk, the route so familiar she paid no attention to her steps as she put her books and Daniel's letter into her duffle bag as she walked. Thus it was that she was completely surprised when she crashed into a warm body before she could reach the reception desk. "Sorry about that," she blurted, quickly scrambling to grab her bag that had slipped off her shoulder to the floor.

"No, no, that's okay," a male voice responded. "I should have been paying more attention."

"No, I wasn't watching where..." Sam's voice trailed off as she straightened to her full height, her duffle once again on her shoulder. She quickly took in the Air Force uniform, medium brown hair, rugged features, square chin, and bright hazel eyes that held a spark of danger in them. Her breath caught for a moment, then she shook her head and smiled. "I was putting my books away and wasn't watching where I was going. Guess I'm too used to being the last one out of here." She stuck out her hand. "Lieutenant Sam Carter."

"It's nice to meet you, Lieutenant Carter," the man replied with a matching expression. "I'm Lieutenant Jonas Hanson. I've just been assigned here to assist Captain Bruckner for the next six months. I was just finishing up my initial paperwork."

Sam's smile got wider. "I'm assisting Captain Mancini while I'm going to Stanford for my doctorate in theoretical astrophysics. Guess we'll be working together, at least for the next quarter."

If anything, Hanson's smile just got sexier in Sam's opinion. "Looks like. Guess there are some perks to this assignment after all. I'm off duty until tomorrow morning; would you like to grab something to eat?"

"That actually sounds really good."

"I hope you're okay with motorcycles. It was such a nice day today I left my car at my apartment."

Sam grinned wickedly. "And that sounds even better. Lay on, MacDuff." She gestured toward the front door as she tossed her time sheet on the vacant reception desk. She never saw the slightly confused look her last comment generated.

Jonas held the door open for her then waited for her to lock it. "Any suggestions for dinner?"

"There's a nice Italian place close to campus. It's only a few blocks away."

"Italian it is then."

The two of them made their way quickly to the newcomer's motorcycle where Jonas stored Sam's duffle in one of the saddlebags, then the two of them were off. Both were extremely happy with the evening, and looked forward to spending more time together. They were sure it was the start of a beautiful friendship.

* * * * * * * *

May came quickly that year. Daniel was more than happy to see it come, as he'd successfully defended his doctorate dissertation and would be receiving his doctorates in anthropology and linguistics at the spring commencement. Sam had sent along her congratulations, her conflicting schedule not allowing her to be there for the event. Mel had done the same, the geologist unable to afford the airfare from Arizona. Jacob had also backed out at the last minute due to an emergency he was unable to go into because of its classified status.

Daniel sighed as he sat in the auditorium waiting for the speeches to end and the graduates to be called. He already knew Jack couldn't be there; his friend had warned him he'd be on a long-term assignment at least until August and wouldn't be able to write again until then. Sara had sent a letter of congratulations in his stead, and included a finger painting Charlie had made of himself digging in the dirt like the boy's father had told him his uncle Daniel did for a living. It was now in a frame on his desk, and Daniel smiled whenever he looked at it. Jack's family had also sent along their well wishes, and all the letters he'd received ended up being quite overwhelming. He never suspected that many people cared.

The announcement of the spring semester graduates brought Daniel back to the present. He went up to the stage when his name was called, accepting his degrees with a smile and a handshake. As he started to walk back to his seat, his gaze wandered over the crowd, stopping on a lone figure standing in the back near the doors. He froze in amazement for a moment, moving on when the graduate behind him cleared his throat in irritation.

Jack was here? Why? What was wrong? Questions drowned out the rest of the ceremony, leaving Daniel seated while the rest of the throng stood and milled about afterward. He jumped when someone took the seat next to him.

"Easy, Daniel. I don't bite. Unless I have to that is."

Daniel turned his head and gave his friend a quizzical look. "Um, don't take this the wrong way, but why are you here? I thought you were on assignment until August."

Jack shot a quick glance around them then stood and gestured for Daniel to follow. "Not here. I can't tell you much, and it can't be here in public."

"Okay, Jack." Daniel rose to his feet and prepared to do as requested.

"Daniel!" a voice called, quickly followed by a man in formal professor's robes hurrying over. "I'm glad I could catch you before you left. Congratulations." He offered his hand to shake.

Daniel smiled as he took the offer. "Thanks, Doctor Jordan. That means a lot coming from you." He pointed to his unexpected friend. "I don't think I've ever had a chance to introduce you to my friend Jack O'Neill. Jack, this is my mentor, Doctor David Jordan."

The two men shook hands and shared a polite smile. "A pleasure to finally meet one of the close friends Daniel's told me all about," Doctor Jordan said. "I'm glad you could be here on such an important day for him."

Jack nodded. "I'm glad too. I didn't think I was going to be able to make it."

"But you're here, and that's all that matters." Jordan turned his attention back to Daniel, missing the way Jack's face closed off at the comment. "When you come in next Monday, the Reynolds collection should be ready to be sorted and catalogued. I thought I'd give you fair warning."

"I've been waiting for that," Daniel said with a touch of excitement. "The funerary urns Andrew Reynolds was rumored to have found outside of Karnak are supposed to be incredible."

"I knew you'd like that." Doctor Jordan glanced over at Jack who was unconsciously looking over the crowd a bit impatiently. "Well, I should make the rounds before everyone leaves," he said with a sigh. "You have a good time with your friend, and I'll see you on Monday."

Daniel nodded, also glancing over at Jack who gave him a short smile. "All right, Doctor Jordan. Thanks for all your support."

Jordan grinned. "You're more than worth it, Daniel. I'll talk to you later." He nodded at Jack and moved on to another group of students.

Daniel turned his attention to Jack. "We can go back to my apartment if you want."

"That should be fine," Jack replied, relief just touching his eyes.

"What can you tell me, Jack?" Daniel asked a while later as he handed his guest a full, steaming coffee mug.

Jack took it and leaned back in his seat on the couch. "Not much." He took a small drink and sighed. "I lost over half my team."

The simple statement made Daniel's jaw drop. "Half? How?" he asked after he pulled himself together.

"We ended up in the wrong place, and it was like walking into a hornet's nest." The shutters began to close over the major's expression.

"I don't understand. Did you take a wrong turn, get the wrong information?"

"We were exactly where we were told to be, and that's exactly where the enemy was waiting for us. My first instinct is to suspect a leak." And the shutters were closed completely.

Daniel gazed at his friend for a long, silent moment while he stared at his mug. "What are you going to tell Sara?"

Jack frowned but didn't look up. "I got home last week. Sara kept asking questions, said I'd feel better if I talked about it. She said she didn't need all the details, but maybe if I talked about how it all made me feel..." He snorted and shook his head, one corner of his mouth turned up in a sarcastic smirk. "Like that's going to bring anyone back. I couldn't take it anymore, and I knew you were graduating today, so I swung transport on a military plane and got here just in time to catch the ceremony. Congratulations, by the way."

"Thanks." Daniel's gaze dropped to his own coffee mug. Something was different about his friend, and he tried to think what it could be. He knew the deaths of his teammates bothered Jack quite a bit, even if he hadn't said so, but there was more to it than that. Normally Daniel would be able to pick up on the way to get through to Jack, to get to the heart of the matter and make the other man put it in perspective. This time Daniel wasn't so sure Jack even wanted him to try. Something about Jack O'Neill's time in Special Ops had started to harden that part of him.

"Hey, you okay?" Jack asked, his voice softer, more like the Jack O'Neill Daniel had known before. "You look like you're thinking too much."

"Maybe I am," Daniel conceded with a tiny smile. "You've changed."

Jack didn't even bother to play dumb. "I had to change. It's rough out there."

Daniel nodded, finally looking up from the hot liquid. "But you're here."

"Either in thought or in person I always will be. That's not how I've changed."

"I know." Daniel's smile grew. "Let's not worry about that anymore. You're here, and that's what counts. You'll fix the why later. Shall we get some lunch?"

Jack let his dark thoughts and emotions fall back in his mind and grinned. "That sounds great. And the triple doctor picks the restaurant."

Daniel shook his head as he took both mugs to the sink. "Triple doctor, Jack? Isn't that a bit immature?" He glanced over his shoulder with a smirk. "Even for you."

Jack gave him a haughty look. "It's an accurate description. You have three doctorates, Doctor Jackson. There are more letters after your name than there are in mine."

"Okay, Jack, whatever you say. It's still not the correct terminology, but I don't feel like arguing the point with you." He brought Jack his coat then put on his own. "Let's go eat."

"Eating's good." Jack stood, slipped on his jacket, then took his friend into a brief, tight embrace. "No matter what happens in the future you stay safe, do you hear me? Stay safe." He stared at Daniel with an intensity that matched his sudden change in tone until the younger man nodded. His grin returned. "Good. Now that that's settled, let's go." He walked toward the door.

Daniel shook his head briefly then followed. He had a feeling that was the closest Jack was going to get to dealing with his emotions on this issue, but his friend should be all right. For now he'd just enjoy the unexpected company. The two of them then went out and had a great time.

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