Author's Notes:

The only change in the recent update was to bring the alternate endings in as chapters consistent with guidelines.

Family trees for reference if it's been a while since you read the predecessor stories in the series:

Jack was married twice to Sara, now deceased; son Charlie from first marriage, now deceased

Sam and Jack were married and divorced in between his marriages to Sara; one son Johnny

Sam and Daniel were married and divorced after her marriage to Jack; one son Jake

Sam was married to Brad Smith and divorced after her marriage to Daniel; one son Jonas

Daniel was married to Iona (of Lisseth), now deceased; children are Chiona, Trina, Jak, and Tealk. Daniel adopted Iona's daughter Seline

Seline married Mindo, now deceased; one son Danny

Sam and Teal'c were married until very recently when he died; no children together

Jake Jackson and Seline are engaged.

This story was written strictly for the purpose of entertainment. No attempt has been made to copyright any characters which may not have been originally created by the author, and no profit is made from this work of fiction. Any original characters and the stories themselves are the property of the author.


Sam's steps coming down the stairs were leaden as if her feet were so heavy that, once she lifted one, it had no choice but to slam back down immediately, overcome by gravity. She had been up for over 24 hours and every cell in her body craved sleep but it wasn't going to happen for a while longer. Jack was sleeping, thanks to sedatives she didn't dare take herself, and he wouldn't need anything for awhile. Now it was time to join the search for their missing son.

The police had not been helpful with Johnny's disappearance. At his age, it took a lot longer before they would act. When talking with them, their words were correct and polite but their nonverbal communication had screamed the message that they thought Johnny O'Neill was a self-indulgent rock star who had probably gone off to do drugs somewhere or indulge in some sort of orgy with willing groupies. The police were far more interested in asking questions related to the tampered brakes in Jack's car, the car that would have been on its way to a junkyard, totaled, if it hadn't been in some police holding area for evidence. The tampered brakes had killed Jack's wife, Sara, and come damn close to killing Sam and Johnny.

Sam was genuinely sorry for Sara's death, a sweet woman who had made Jack happy for years, and Sam was sure she'd cry for her at her funeral. Right now, though, what had her tied up in knots was the fact that Johnny had been driving the car and been the unwitting instrument of whoever had messed with the brakes. She had seen Johnny's face afterwards. She had heard him call his father 'Dad' for the first time in at least 8 years. Sam imagined that a desperate need to make amends had been responsible for this little crumb of a concession. Unfortunately his father had been too numb at the time to even notice.

Chiona, Daniel's oldest daughter, stood at the bottom of the stairs, and when Sam reached the bottom step, Chiona said, urgently, "Are you going to look for Johnny? You have to let me come. He'll need me. He needs forgiveness but he won't be able to believe that his father can forgive him." Without her saying it, they both completed the thought to themselves, "Especially since Johnny has never been able to offer forgiveness to Jack." Suddenly Chiona looked stricken. "Jack will forgive him, won't he"
Sam rubbed her eyes. She leaned heavily against the banister, doubting her ability to keep standing unaided. "Oh, Chiona, of course, Jack will forgive him. As for looking for him, Daniel's already out looking, with no idea at all where to look. It's amazing. Johnny didn't have a car and he's famous. You wouldn't think he could have gotten very far without someone noticing him but last time I talked to your father, Daniel's come up empty." She laughed mirthlessly. "I have to admit the image of Daniel who hasn't operated a car in a decade or more driving all over Minnesota isn't maybe all that comfortable." She shook her head. "I don't know that my driving around aimlessly would help. I was thinking of getting ideas from Jake and Jonas as to people he might have contacted and making some calls." Her two younger two sons, one with Daniel and one with her third husband, were expanding their successful careers into film from rock star and television star respectively as they were making their first movie in the Mediterranean.

Sam noticed Seline, Daniel's stepdaughter, for the first time, standing close by, when she said, "I called Jake and told him what's going on. He said he was going to get with Jonas and make some calls so that's already happening"
Sam looked at her gratefully. "Thanks Seline. I guess it hasn't paid off yet"
Seline grimaced. "From what Jake said, Johnny doesn't really have a lot of friends. Jake and Jonas think it much more likely that he's just gone into a hiding hole somewhere. We talked about whether they should come here but there's only a week of shooting left for Jake – Jonas has got a couple more – and there would be big contractual problems if either of them just took off. So, for now, they're just making calls and we'll see what state Johnny's in when we find him. Jake'll do whatever his brother needs, of course, but there's no point in making a huge amount of trouble if that really isn't going to help Johnny."

Chiona threw up her hands. "So what do we do?"

"I don't know," Sam said helplessly. "I just don't know. I can't remember when I last ate something. Let me get some food, just sit down a little. Maybe I'll have an inspiration." Inside her head, she wished intensely, for just a moment, that she was June Cleaver and that Ward would be here soon to take over all the big problems.

She started to move slowly toward the kitchen but impulsively turned back to Chiona. "I know you care about Johnny a lot and I really appreciate your willingness to help him anyway you can."

Chiona's face crumpled and, fighting tears, she made the first friendly gesture toward Sam to date, hugging her tightly for a minute and saying softly, "It will be all right. It has to be. I swore when my mother died, I wasn't losing anybody else." Sam nodded and went on to the kitchen. The two women came in behind her and insisted on fixing her something to eat and a cup of tea. She cross-examined them about what they had eaten and when. In the end, the three sat companionably sipping tea and nibbling at sandwiches while the morning light began to come in the window and the younger Jackson's and Seline's baby Danny slept on upstairs with the sedated and heartbroken Jack. Sam couldn't help but find some solace in the way that she, Teal'c, and her sons, Daniel and his children with Iona, and Jack and Sara had all come together since Daniel's return to form some sort of odd but warm extended family unit.

Suddenly, Seline held up her hand. Unlike the other two who didn't have little babies, part of her was always listening. "I think I hear someone coming." Heralded by her warning, the front door opened and the women listened as someone came in. All were hoping that it was more than one someone, that Daniel had returned with Johnny, but all secretly feared that he hadn't. They wanted to prolong the moment when there was hope as long as possible and no one moved.

Then a huge smile bloomed on Chiona's face. She alone faced the door. As the others turned to discover what she saw, she burst from her seat and ran across the room to throw her arms around Johnny and hold on like she would never let go. Johnny closed his eyes for a moment and seemed to be savoring the embrace but then he very gently disengaged her. "I'm all right, really," he reassured her.

Sam felt so good, not only to see Johnny, but also to see that he wasn't using the situation to take advantage of Chiona. In her relief at seeing him, Chiona had broken all the rules of her late mother's people on the far off planet where Daniel had raised his family. Johnny was the one who was taking the responsibility of remembering those rules now. Sam was disturbed to realize how low her trust of her son had fallen that she would even expect him to use the situation to manipulate the girl, who was still learning the ways of this planet.

Daniel emerged from behind Johnny, put his arm around his daughter, and pulled her away. The realization of what she had just done was breaking over her and she was clearly embarrassed. Daniel asked, "How's Jack?"

Sam shrugged. "We've both been there, right?" Grief for Teal'c washed over her again and she paused a moment. "I got him to take a sedative so he could get some sleep." She got out of her chair and crossed the kitchen to her son. "Johnny, he doesn't seem to know what's going on around him, not really. If he seemed distant to you at the hospital..."

Johnny made a dismissive gesture. "Don't worry about it, Mom." He raised anguished eyes to hers. "I'm really sorry if I worried you. Does..does he know that I was driving?"

Sam grabbed Johnny and held him tight. It was all so much easier when they were little and the problem was a skinned knee. "Johnny," she said, "Jack would never blame you for what some assassin did to the brakes. We probably would both be dead if I had been driving. You're younger. Your reflexes are faster." She pulled back and held him at arms' length, looking him over, taking in his exhaustion. "Take a sedative, honey. I wouldn't ordinarily endorse it, but you need rest. Everything will look different after you've had some sleep."

Johnny shook his head. "I doubt it but I don't think I can remain standing much longer." He turned to leave the kitchen, his mother with her arm around his waist. "Daniel, thanks for coming after me."

"Sure, Johnny," Daniel said softly.

Then Johnny added, in what would have seemed like an after thought if not for the deep feeling in his voice. "Chiona, thanks for worrying about me." He and Sam went slowly upstairs.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS Jack got up mid-morning and sat in the kitchen, nursing a cup of coffee, and sending out a serious "leave me be" message. This was a different man than the one that had allowed Sam and Daniel to hold him at the hospital. Mayborne, his black lab, was the only one allowed to offer physical comfort. He lay next to Jack, his head resting on his foot. Jack announced that he was going fishing. Daniel's Jak went to stand by him and asked, with uncharacteristic shyness, if he could come too. The offer brought a very slight smile to Jack's face and he accepted.

Daniel and Sam sat together at the same kitchen table that afternoon. Jack and Jak had come in to escape the midday sun and get some lunch and gone out again. Looking out the window they could see the boat and the man and the boy out on the water. Daniel, with a slightly concerned expression, observed, "I don't think a sport where being quiet is important is designed for my boy."

Sam put a hand on Daniel's where it rested on the table and squeezed slightly. "Your children seem to be very good at picking up on people's moods and adjusting their behavior to fit. He's the best medicine we have for Jack right now."

Daniel looked at her hand on his and had to fight very hard not to shake it off as if it was a leech or a poisonous snake. He had to get away from her or he would succumb again. His children needed a stepmother who loved their father so that she could come to love them as her own. He didn't want to hurt Sam but he had to get her to back off. Lately, she seemed to find more and more reasons to touch him. Instead of taking her hand away, she scooted her chair closer. "Terrific," he thought. Searching for a way to throw some cold water on the situation, he said, "So how's your work, Sam?"

The question had the desired effect. She sighed heavily and moved her hand away. "I probably don't have any any more. I've just been treading water since you came back. For the last five years I've been doing research in conjunction with a sort of think tank in California. When you came back and Manifest Destiny reared its head, I turned my grants over to other people." Manifest Destiny was their name for the doctrine a powerful group was trying to put into place that would give the Tauri permission to take whatever they needed from more primitive planets by force if necessary. "Since then, I been reading journal articles, doing some work on papers I had begun but basically standing still. I worked SO hard to reestablish my scientific career after I took time out when the children were babies and I was successful, which when considering my age by then, was sort of amazing. But now…" she trailed off.

"But now what?"

"I don't know. I wonder how important it really is. I made a LOT of money off my autobiography and I was smart about investing that and what I made off some of the other more commercial things I did during my 'basking in the limelight' days. It isn't money that's kept me working the last few years…" She looked up from the patterns she was tracing on the table, noticing that she had unconsciously doodled something rather disturbing. She casually dragged her napkin forward and changed the topic. "Daniel, how dangerous do you think it's gotten for our families? I keep thinking about the brakes."

Daniel said, "Somehow I think the brakes weren't the work of the big boys behind Manifest Destiny but rather some enthusiastic amateur that happens to agree with the powerbrokers we're fighting. I mean, anyone of us could have been in the car, could have been killed. If it had been one of my younger kids or, like it was, Sara, the result would be just as likely to win us public sympathy and make our position stronger as hurt it."

They both sat quietly for awhile, each in his own, not particularly happy, thoughts. Sam stood up and carried her mug to the sink and rinsed it out. Daniel followed with his. Each moved in the opposite direction than the other anticipated and suddenly she was full up against him. His treacherous body immediately responded and she knew it. She turned very quickly, before he could make himself move away, and put her arms around his neck. "I don't know why you have to pretend you are indifferent to me when so clearly aren't," she said, looking very sad. Daniel didn't want to have this conversation, ever actually, but certainly not now in the middle of Jack's kitchen with people all over the house.

The wisdom of that judgment was immediately proven when Johnny's voice came from the doorway. "What is it with you, Daniel? My dad needs her. Do you just want everything that's his because he's more of a man than you'll ever be?"

Daniel was truly disappointed that the brief period of Johnny appearing to join the ranks of considerate human beings was already at an end. He started to move away from Sam but her arms tightened around his neck and she said, with more anger than he had heard in her voice toward any of her sons, "You are so far out of line, Johnny, and on so many levels. Your dad was married to Sara for over, I don't know, 35 years total. He was married to me for one. It's going to be a long time before he's ready, if ever, to think about another woman in his life. You think wives are like horses? You wear one mount out and you immediately switch to another?" Her voice got even stronger as she warmed to the subject. "You make it sound like he has some prior claim on me. I'm not part of a harem, Johnny." She took her eyes off her son and looked at Daniel. "Your words to Daniel are despicable and totally undeserved. Have you already forgotten how he was there for you last night?"

Johnny made a sound something like a growl and strode away. Again Daniel tried to move away from Sam. "Wait a minute, Daniel, because I have something to say to you too."

Daniel found himself regretting the loss of invisibility. "I don't want hear it Sam. No matter how long it takes for Jack to get over Sara, there'll be a part of you patiently waiting. I don't work for a temp agency." He, rather roughly, removed her arms and went out the back door onto the porch at the rear of the house.


When Jake arrived, severely jet lagged, the day after his shooting ended, he found a different house than the noisy, happy one he had left. Baby Danny seemed to be the only smiling, laughing human in the neighborhood. The youngest Jacksons, Trina, Tealk, and Jak, were very quiet and subdued, as if they were afraid that any noise would set something off. The second day Jake was back, Jack said a total of 12 words from the time he appeared for his coffee until he went to his room at night. Jake was counting. Jack spent the daylight hours out of the house, mostly fishing. If he wasn't fishing, he was hiking through the woods. Jak was with him most of the time. The dog trailed along behind both of them and had elevated Jak to junior Jack status.

Johnny sat playing his guitar absently and watching his father and Jak from the porch when they were in view out on the water. He did not ask to go along. Jake watched the dynamic for a couple of days and began to understand. Jack didn't invite Jak or the dog. They invited themselves and he allowed their presence. Johnny couldn't do that. He had to know he was welcome before he exposed himself to rejection. Jack would gather up his gear and be leaving and Johnny would be there, waiting for something to which Jack was oblivious. Jake almost thought Jack didn't really perceive the rest of them as more than shadows. What was real was a lovely woman, laughing, walking by side him in his head.

Jake's father was very abstracted. When Daniel wasn't teaching his children or doing his daily run and exercises, he was buried in a book or absorbed in something on his laptop. Jake realized almost immediately that this was especially true if his mother was anywhere around. Daniel was almost rude in his patent desire not to interact with Sam.

Johnny was, in contrast, blatantly rude in his behavior toward Daniel. Chiona knew he was hurting and clearly was trying to make allowances but every time he was nasty to Daniel, she struck back because Daniel's method of handling it was to ignore Johnny. Johnny always gave as good as he got so there was no comfort coming from that relationship for either of them.

His mother and Seline both seemed to be dominated by worrying about everyone else, trying to smooth things over. Seline had been busy over the last few months learning to cook with Tauri food and Tauri kitchen equipment and kept coming up with marvelous meals and delicious baked goods. The younger children clearly enjoyed them but the adults she was trying to comfort showed as much interest in the food as they would in eating sawdust.

Sam was absolutely delighted to see Jake, almost as delighted as Jake's fiancé, Seline, although obviously for different reasons. At last Sam had reinforcements for the little team she had formed with Seline. There was no need to send Jake into a phone booth with a self-destructing tape player. He saw his mission immediately and accepted it without any explicit briefing.

Johnny shot Jake down before he could even get his troops off the beaches. The carnage was complete. Jake first tried to talk to his brother about the upcoming tour for the band. Johnny had always been much more firmly in control than their manager, Troy, who frequently complained about being a figurehead and a thinly disguised gofer. Johnny said Troy was making the arrangements and didn't seem interested in even speculating about what those would be. Then Johnny started in on Daniel and Jake had to defend his father. Johnny decided that Jake had gone over to the dark side and that was the end of that. Jake realized, bemused, that Johnny had transferred at least some of his obsessive protectiveness from Jake to Jack. It wasn't pretty when watched from the outside, Jake realized, and thought about Phoebe and all the others who had tried to talk to him about Johnny over the years.

Daniel was delighted to spend time with his son and Daniel and Jake had wonderful long conversations about all sorts of things as long as Jake didn't bring up any of the dynamics with the people around them. Jake loved talking about Lisseth. Daniel didn't try to make it out to be perfect any more than Seline did but Jake was beginning to think he could be happy there. He discovered, to his surprise, that the customs about restricting contact between men and women were suspended when it came to practicing martial arts. The motivation for the women as well as the men of the Blue People to be ready to kick ass was tremendous. Daniel, Seline, Chiona, and the children drew him into their near daily training sessions and, after a couple of pairings with Seline, he knew the wedding date was going to have to be moved up.

With a 2 for 2 loss record in the relationship repairing department, Jake turned with a complete lack of confidence to Jack. He asked Jak to stay home one morning and he attached himself to Jack as he headed toward the water. "You don't mind if I come along, do you?" he asked his stepfather. Jack didn't say anything which Jake took as a not minding. They got in the boat and Jake said, "I've never done this before. Can you show me what to do?" No response was forthcoming again.

Jake picked up a rod and reel and began messing with it, making no effort at all to understand it. He hoped that would get a response. When he had it hopelessly fouled up, Jack took it away from him and spoke for the first time. "Just watch."

Those were the last words he was able to get out of Jack for the next two hours. He began to talk about Johnny, about his concern for him but he was getting nothing back. This was actually so like dealing with Johnny himself when he was a fugue state that Jake mentally reviewed what had worked for him over the years with his brother and came up with a plan. He stood up and started rocking the boat back and forth. Jack, startled by this incompetent boating behavior, yelled, "Damn it. Stop that and sit down."

Jake didn't stop or sit down and managed to capsize the boat in just a few more moments. The water was very cold and he came up gasping, but in no danger of drowning since it was only about 5 feet deep. "You idiot!" Jack barked at him.
"Are you here in the world with me and listening now?" Jake asked. Jack made a half lunge at him in the water but was too weighted down by his clothes to be very effective. "Everyone says to leave you alone with your grief. Poor Jack. That would be just fine if you were the only one who was hurting."

Jack was now looking at him like he was crazy and spat out, "I'm not having this conversation." He began to move toward the capsized boat.

The younger, and stronger, man, clamped down on his arm and said, "Oh but you are. Johnny is a mess. He feels guilty because he was driving. He needs you to forgive him and he has no idea how to ask for that. You've been in battles before. You stop and lose focus over the body of a fallen man you might lose others who are still alive and under your leadership." Jake was rather proud of himself for that analogy. One of the things he had been talking with Daniel about had been the exploits of SG-1 and he used that new knowledge. "You've got a chance to reclaim Johnny. Anger is the flip slide of love. He hasn't been indifferent to you all these years. He's been angry. If you keep pushing him away, he'll get angry again in self defense." He let go of Jack's arm and struck out to the boat and began to struggle with uprighting it. Jack joined him and they completed the recovery process without any more conversation.

Jack was silent the rest of the afternoon and evening but it was with a difference. His eyes weren't looking into some internal distance. They were watching. He observed Johnny's unhappiness and the tension between Johnny and virtually everyone else except little Tealk who seemed to be able to occasionally get a smile. Jake could tell he also picked up on the fact that there was something very wrong between Jake's mother and father. He was clearly assessing the terrain and making plans although the others didn't really seem to pick up on it as Jake did.

Jonas found a less depressing scenario when he arrived the next day than the one that had met Jake. It was still quiet and there was still tension but when he asked where Johnny and Jack were, Trina pointed toward the water and he saw two men fishing, one with long blonde hair pulled back out of harm's way and the other, straight and military in his bearing.


The first song from "We Die Free"'s new album took off immediately and with it the entire DVD. There was enormous public sympathy for Jack O'Neill because of his wife's tragic death which didn't hurt his son, Johnny's band. Fundamentally, though, it was wonderful song. Jake and Johnny's collaboration with Chiona and Seline added wonderful new dimensions to the already excellent band. The video began the narrative that was to run through the project with an evocative look at two young lovers from very different places just beginning to notice each other. Seline may not have had Jake's acting experience but all she to do was let her true feelings for him show.

At the last minute, Johnny had taken control of the tour back from Troy who complained mightily but was actually relieved. Troy had gotten rather used to taking a lot of money for a lot less work. Johnny then reorganized things so that they could go back to Minnesota every week or so to give him time with his dad. Jack was gratified but bewildered about what to do with the sudden solicitude from Johnny.

"You know, Daniel, the kid acts like he hates me for years. He doesn't care what happens to me. Now he's really trying to manage my life," Jack said in an uncharacteristic exploration of feelings. Jack was now enough himself that he had resumed his relationships with Sam and Daniel instead of holding everyone but children and dogs at arms length.

"Um, I'll comment on that in a moment, but I seem to be all snarled up here again," Daniel complained mildly, holding out his fishing rod to Jack.

"You just don't the slightest natural aptitude for this do you?" Jack said correcting the problem and handing the rod back.

Daniel ignored the matter of fact insult and returned to the earlier topic. "Jake is really relieved. He never knew what being his own man felt like before."

"I noticed there is something, well actually hostile, between Johnny and Jake at the moment. What's going on?" Jack said.

"You really don't know?" Daniel asked.

"Ya think? I absolutely hate it when people say, 'You really don't know?' If I did know, why the hell would I be asking the question? It's your way of pointing out that you think I'm an idiot."

"You are, you know. All those years that Sam was panting for you and you didn't even notice or do a damn thing."

"What are we going to talk about next? String theory? How to make a good, dry martini? That has nothing to do with anything, Daniel," Jack said, irritated.

"Actually it does, sort of. Johnny has decided that you and Sam need to be together again. It ties everything up in a neat package for him. Problem is, he sees me as the bad guy, the reason you aren't together, now or years ago. Jake's defending me." Daniel shrugged. It's sort of crazy. You and I aren't fighting about it but our sons are."

"My…wife…just…died," Jack said as if that answered everything.

"I know. Sam actually told Johnny that he was acting like wives were horses. The one you're riding gets worn out, you just put your saddle on another one."

Jack looked askance at Daniel. "She didn't."

"Close anyway. Look, Jack, I want to go back to Lisseth. There are plenty of people now carrying the torch for respecting the sovereignty of Lisseth and like worlds. I am not making that much difference. Things have been left hanging there way too long. I've been hearing from Stargate Command on practically a weekly basis. They want me back there since the Blues won't allow any Tauri on planet if I'm not there to watch them. The problem is Chiona and Trina. I think they need to stay here. With their education and experiences they would have problems findings husbands and fitting in but I haven't worked out how yet."

"And Sam wouldn't be there."

Daniel smiled crookedly and cast with completely ineffective vehemence. "Exactly."


It was still making Johnny crazy watching Chiona day after day but not being able to do anything about it. He'd issued his ultimatum and she had opted not to comply. How he wished he hadn't subsequently heard her tell her sister that she loved him and that if he had merely told her that he loved her, she might have been unable to resist the temptation to break the taboos that had been drummed into her from birth. A hundred times a day he pictured doing exactly that. He'd get her to the suite Jake and he typically shared when Jake was with Seline and Danny. He'd pull her down to sit with him on the couch.

"Seline, I hate that things have been so difficult between us and it's all been my fault." This was always a good idea with women, to admit that it was your fault even if you were damn sure it was theirs.

She would protest. "Oh no, Johnny, it's my fault too."

He would change the subject, showing his generosity of spirit. "That doesn't matter, Chiona. What matters is that we can't go on like this. I love." He'd make it be like something he blurted out without thinking and cut himself off in the middle.

"You love what? What are you saying, Johnny," Chiona would ask him, hope shining in her eyes.

He would sigh. "I love you, Chiona. There I've said it. You can laugh at me or try to let me down easy."

Of course, she would say something like, "Oh Johnny, I love you too."

Then he would be very diffident, make it clear he didn't want to make her do something she didn't want to do. "Could, could I kiss you just once. I can't sleep at nights thinking about just kissing you." He was having trouble sleeping at nights but it wasn't from thinking about merely kissing her. He was thinking about taking her in every possible position there was to take a woman. He was thinking about putting his mark on her so thoroughly that she never wanted another man. She was an inexperienced virgin. In his fantasies, he taught her to be exactly the woman he wanted in his bed.
So, at that point in his imagined scenario, she acquiesced to just one kiss. It was like the only kiss they had shared so far and left her shaky, just as that one had. Except now that she had his avowal of love, she wouldn't stop him. He would keep kissing her and begin touching her. She would arch against him and he would pick her up and take her into the bedroom and it would be soooo good.

Except something kept stopping him. Something that made him worry that when it was all over, she wouldn't be the same any more. He didn't understand himself but he couldn't get past it.

One evening in Atlanta, he was alone in the suite at the Hyatt-Regency on Peachtree, reading a very interesting book on the physics of the Stargate. Of course, he had told the last interviewer that asked him what he read that he was in the midst of a fascinating graphic novel not a physics tome. Johnny and Jake were both brilliant, genetics didn't allow otherwise, but both had learned long ago to conceal the things that they read and thought about. Johnny had turned his back on the little blonde boy with glasses and voracious intellectual hunger. That little boy got teased way too much.

There was a knock on the door. He didn't even look up. Fans found ways to get to his suite, no matter what phony names he and Jake used to register or what other subterfuges they employed. The knock came again and this time, a familiar voice called out, "Johnny, it's me. I know you're in there."

He shoved the book under the couch cushion and went to the door, opening it with the chain in place just to be sure. He then immediately swept the chain off and opened the door wide. Chiona walked in, not only wearing the Tauri blue jeans she had become comfortable with but a form fitting top that hugged her full figure and had a rather revealing neckline. He couldn't remember her ever wearing anything like that before.

"Can I talk to you?" she asked. "I mean, are you busy, or anything?"

"I wasn't doing anything in particular," he responded, searching for a clue as to what was going on.

She sat down on the couch and waited for him to join her. "Things have been really, well awkward, lately with us, haven't they"
What could he say? He nodded.

"The thing is, I love Danil. He's a wonderful father and I can't let anyone attack him. But, I've thought about it, and I don't want him with your mother any more than you do. She's nicer than I thought she'd be but she still can only make him unhappy. There are at least three widows back at camp that I think would be much better for him."

"Uh huh," said Johnny, definitely feeling out of his depth.

"So, if you could just back off being insulting to my dad, we could work together. It doesn't have to keep being a problem between us."

"So, is that why you came?" Johnny asked. He didn't feel in control of the situation yet.

"Only partly. Danil thinks that, well that, Trina and I ought to stay here. That we've become too educated, too full of questions to be a comfortable wife for most of the men on Lisseth and there really isn't much room for a woman who doesn't marry. He thinks we would be happier here. Trina's all with the program. She would miss us but she is just salivating at the thought of studying in a major university and spending her life doing scientific research."

She paused studying her hands. Johnny prompted, "But what about you?"

"I've thought about doing something with the music. That's exciting. But there's so much more to being a Tauri woman."

Suddenly Johnny realized where this was heading. He felt completely panicked and equally amazed at his reaction. Seline moved closer so that their bodies were touching. And then, sucking in a breath first as if she was about to endure some sort of pain, she leaned over and kissed him. She clearly remembered everything that he had done in their first kiss, because she gave it all back along with some variations she had apparently thought up in the meantime. It was incredibly hot and tempting but by the time it ended, he knew he had to derail her apparent seduction attempt.

"Chiona, this isn't right. You don't want this." He smoothed her hair back gently.

"Don't you tell me what I want," she said furiously. "Do you have any idea how long it's taken me to psych myself up to do this?"

"That's just the point, honey. You shouldn't have to psych yourself up to it. This isn't a shot or an operation."

"Why should you care? You get what you want," she flung at him, still angry but tearing up.

"Chiona, I love you and I don't want to hurt you or make you something that you are not," he heard himself saying to his own utter amazement. "You were raised thinking this is wrong. You'd hate me and yourself before it was over."

"Wait just a minute here," she said, "Did you just say that you love me?"

"I know you love me Chiona. I heard you telling Seline. You told her if I would just tell you I loved you, I could probably have you but don't you see, if I did love you, I wouldn't want it that way."

"Johnny, you've known this for weeks. For weeks, you could have run a number on me, isn't that how you say it?" she asked, temporarily sidetracked.

"If you were born way last century maybe," he answered her, amused.

"You could have told me you loved me and had what you wanted but you didn't," she was working it out aloud and ended triumphantly, "Because you really DO love me and you couldn't hurt me!"

"Oh Johnny," she groaned, put her arms around his neck, and kissed him again. And he kissed her and it went on at the junior high make out stage for a long time, Johnny resolutely keeping his hands from wandering.

"We have to stop, Chiona," he said thickly, pulling her away from him. Her eyes were slits, her breasts were visibly heaving in the deep cleavage of her soft green top, her nipples pushing against the fabric, and her full lips were swollen from his kisses. He felt a little like accounts of people who have near death experiences and see themselves from above. This wasn't him, was it?

"So, if we stop, what comes next?" she gasped.

"Jake is supposed to follow my lead, not the other way around but I suppose the boy does occasionally have a good idea." He pulled the ring off his little finger and asked, "You do know what this means, if I give you a ring?"

"Do I look like fell off a mount on my head recently?" she asked.


She punched him. "Don't be deliberately dense. Maybe that isn't how a Tauri woman would say it, but you understand me."

"Will you take it? Will you marry me?" he asked.

"We have to ask Danil and Jack," she said.

"Say what?" he protested.

"If they think this is what I want, they'll say yes. But that's the way it works."

"I understand about the tradition of asking the girl's father for her hand but what has Jack got to do with it? Jake just talked to Daniel when he asked Seline?" Johnny was suddenly seeing himself as the subject of a Cosmo article, "10 Things To Know When Proposing to An Alien."

"That's because Daniel IS Jake's father, as well as Seline's stepfather," Chiona said in a "do I need to draw you a diagram tone of voice." "It's important for both families to accept the marriage."

"Okay, whatever. Daniel and my dad aren't here," Johnny said, stating the obvious. He took in her unyielding expression. "Fine, when we see them this weekend, I ask."

She smiled, stood, kissed him lightly and left. Johnny was left to review what had happened. It had been a humbling experience for a control freak but he had to admit that, on balance, he had rather liked it.


Jack and Daniel were standing on either side of the steps on the front porch leaning against the post. Looking at them together like this, Sam was so struck by the yin and the yang of them. Jack's posture was relaxed, his expression slightly sardonic. He was at rest the way a rattlesnake might be. Very still but very ready. Daniel was all energy and intensity. He was explaining something that mattered to him which could be any number of things. The man's capacity to care about so many people and causes and to be enthusiastic about all manner of ideas, was huge. Daniel was running on, as Daniel did, and Jack was speaking only occasionally, very economically, as Jack did.

She thought about them as lovers then, about how the contrast continued even in the bedroom. Both were wonderful but you'd never confuse them in the dark. Jack had conquered her body while Daniel had worshipped it. She and Jack had enjoyed some of their most memorable moments starting out wrestling. Sometimes she had wanted to win in the beginning but in the end she longed to lose, to have him pin her beneath him. Daniel didn't go in for mock fighting. He was the master of the innovative romantic gesture, of putting her in the mood with something so sweet, or poetic, or erotically suggestive, and then letting it pervade her for hours before he made it into a physical reality that never failed to measure up to the expectations that had been building inside of her.

She could never stop loving both of them but she had to pick one. She laughed at herself a little, the arrogance of that. Her decision would be the beginning of a campaign that she had no assurance of winning. While once hers for the taking, that day had passed with both of them. She played scenario after scenario out in her head but all the while she knew, from the benefit of having lived so much longer than her sons, that real life never followed the script.