Her husband came up behind her and circled her waist, pulling her close and kissing her neck. "It's a beautiful bowl of salad," he said encouragingly.
Sam turned her head to look at him. "Jack O'Neill," she said fondly, you're just trying to be nice. You're not even sure salad qualifies as food."
"I can appreciate it as art can't I, even if I don't want to eat it?" He pulled her even closer and said huskily, "On the other hand, you are both beautiful and delicious."
She turned then and put both arms around his neck. "What time did you tell Daniel that we would be there?"
He smiled. "It was vague. Sevenish, I believe. Since it's only sixish now I'd say there's plenty of slack in the schedule."
Sam returned his smile with a very evil smile of her own, slid her arms down from his neck to grab his backside hard. "It's so needy to arrive right on time, don't you think?"
Inevitably they were late, scrambling to get out the door and arrive before the salad course was long over without the salad. As they were going a little too fast down the freeway, Jack said, "This is really weird, you know. I mean I can see Jerry Springer doing a show on couples who are friendly enough with their exes to socialize regularly with them and their new spouses."
Sam considered and said, "But there wasn't really a divorce."
"He was MIA for two years. I divorced him so we could get married but I thought he was dead. There was no animosity, no problems. It was a legal exercise because I didn't want to have him declared legally dead."
"I guess," Jack agreed, "and I suppose the fact that he got together with Willow so fast is the reason he seems so completely to not mind. Or something."
He had no idea his wife was thinking, "Oh yeah. 'Or something' big time."
Willow was scrapping carrots, thinking about how Samantha of "Bewitched" had to fight the temptation to use magic for mundane tasks. When she thought about, it wasn't surprising that the sitcom heroine would have been tempted. All Samantha had to do was wiggle her nose. Unlike Willow, she didn't have to contend with hard to find dried body parts of icky creatures like newts, extensive research in thick books with fading print to find the appropriate spell, or candles all over the place and your husband fretting about the fire hazard being created. In real life, it was just easier for a witch to scrape the carrots like everyone else.
Strong arms suddenly encircled her and gave her a hug. The wretch had deliberately come up behind her as quietly as he could and she hadn't even realized he was there.
"Scare you?" he asked in her ear.
"You're not scary any more," she answered repressively and held up the peeler. "Make yourself useful."
He took it and replaced her at the sink. "So are we having anything to eat with blood in it?" he asked, looking disdainfully at the carrots.
"I've got some muskrat blood in the refrigerator for you. Besides, carrots could be good. Didn't the vampire bunny in 'Bunnicula' and 'Celery Stalks at Midnight' eat carrots? You do know the books I'm talking about?" she asked as she started to take out silverware and paper napkins.
"Will, there isn't a piece of vampire-themed literature I haven't read," he responded. "Not to change the subject but where IS your husband?"
Willow bit her lip "Daniel would kill me if I told you."
Douglas nodded. This was code which told him more or less what his best friend's problem was but enabled Willow to claim to Daniel that she hadn't told Douglas anything.
"One of the really bad headaches?" he asked and ran his long fingers up his own temples under his mane of wavy, Byronesque hair. Thinking about Daniel's headaches reminded him of the dull throbbing in his own skull. "Daniel went to see the doctor?"
"I told him it was pointless. This is all because of that dratted spell. If only I had known that it had side effects for anyone who had died. You being a vampire, Daniel having Ascended, it made it work differently on you. If I had known that, I wouldn't have let you talk me into using magic to kill your love for Buffy. And," she said shaking a finger at him, "if you had told me about your headaches I wouldn't have used it again when Daniel wanted me to rid him of his love for Sam."
Douglas raised his hands defensively. "Hey. They weren't that bad. Nothing compared to the headaches I got from the chip the Initiation put in my skull before it was finally disabled never really connected the headaches with the spell." He put the carrot peeler down and came back over to her. He put his arms around her and pulled her close. "Forgive me Will. You know how much Daniel means to me. I would never have done anything to hurt him. You forgive me?"
She patted his back and looked up at him, "Sure."
Douglas released her and said, "Daniel still hasn't given up on trying to solve this through science."
She shook her head. "Silly man. He's married to a witch and his best friend is a master vamp, the infamous Spike no less," she nodded at Douglas, using his discarded nickname, "but he doesn't believe in magic."
Douglas corrected her mildly, "That's retired. Retired master vampire."
She ignored him and continued, "Actually Daniel didn't go to see a doctor again. He just went to finally fill the prescription he got the last time."
"Lots of luck," Douglas said. "Like it's going to help at all."
Willow laid her hand sympathetically on Douglas' sleeve. "We could work on making your headaches go away if you would let me."
He squeezed her hand. "My head hurting is a lot better than my heart half killing me all the time. I don't want to risk that. Don't worry about it."
"So is Corinne bringing the dessert you volunteered for? Do you know what it is?" Willow inquired, setting down 8 Blue Willow plates on the kitchen table, ready to carry outside. She didn't ask where Corinne was because Douglas and Corinne had quit arriving anywhere together. The couple had developed a battle of the wills over who did the driving.
"She said she'd take care of it and I've learned it's not smart to ask any questions that could be construed as a lack of faith." He responded to her raised eyebrows. "Look, she's the way she is. What other woman would still be with me after four years?" He hopped up to sit on the counter, "And you know what?"
Willow didn't know, of course, so he continued, "This is so cool. She'll want to be the one to tell you so don't let on you know but she just got promoted to full professor. You and I both know how much of that was me, if I do say so myself. Her specialty is Victorian poets. Look at the insight I've given her seeing as how once upon a time, I was a Victorian poet." He looked extremely proud of himself.
Douglas went back to the carrots and finished them up. He was helping himself to a Guinness out of the refrigerator when Teal'c knocked at the back door. "I found Corinne out front." Teal'c announced, opening the door for the attractive blonde carrying a scrumptious looking chocolate concoction.
Willow ohed and ahed appropriately over the dessert offering while Douglas focused more on the snug jeans and tight knit top that packaged his idea of something sweet.
Teal'c said, "Here are potato chips" as if he might have shown up with anything else. Willow smiled. Teal'c was no cook, and had a very erratic understanding of the food on the planet even after years with the Tauri. He was always assigned potato chips, a promotion from his initial standard assignment of napkins.
Teal'c added, "I noticed that the grill is not hot. Would you like me to start it for you Willow?" When Willow gratefully accepted his offer, he went back out and Corinne followed him.
"Sometimes I think she is way too interested in Teal'c," Douglas said. He shrugged.
They heard the front door open and Sam called out "Hello. We're here." She appeared in the kitchen a moment later carrying a very large salad bowl. Jack was right behind her with a smallish cardboard box which was filled with something clinking together. He removed any mystery about the contents by immediately pulling out 5 different bottles of salad dressing and putting them on the table. Douglas made a face at Willow. He was a real salad dressing snob and had little use for people who didn't make their own dressing and toss the salad in it thoroughly before giving to people to eat. Willow kicked him in the shins and he wisely refrained from sharing his philosophy on the topic yet again.
Teal'c and Corinne came back in to greet the new arrivals. "Where's Daniel?" Sam asked.
As if she had summoned him, they all heard the car pull into the garage. A moment later, the door into the kitchen from the garage opened and Daniel came in carrying a single long stemmed rose. He made a pleasant, if subdued, greeting to everyone in the room but his eyes were only for his wife. "Hello beautiful," he said to her softly, sliding an arm around her, handing her the rose, and leaning over to give her a quick kiss.
Douglas and Jack exchanged a look as did Corinne and Sam. The men were sharing the thought, "He always manages to do these things and make us look bad with our women," and the women were thinking, "I wish SOME people would take a lesson here."
Willow and Daniel had been married for over a year but he still acted like they were on their honeymoon, pulling one romantic gesture after another out of his hat. Since Daniel was Sam's ex-husband, comparisons between the Jackson's marriage and their own was a dangerous topic Jack and Sam never discussed. Just once had it been allowed to come out in the open between Jack and Sam. The four had gone skiing and Daniel had spent an early morning hour creating a pair of snowmen representing himself and Willow below their window, even writing two lines from a Shakespearian sonnet in the snow, so that it was the first thing she saw when she woke up. Jack and Sam had stood looking at it from their room and Sam said, wistfully, "It must feel wonderful to start the day like that."
Jack was surprised by how her innocuous comment stung. When Daniel had returned after two years MIA, Sam had chosen to stay married to Jack rather than resuming her marriage to Daniel. His confidence in their marriage and Sam's love for him was one reason that this unusual friendship with her ex and his new wife could continue. "Gee honey, I'll have to see if I can find an adult ed course in How To Be Metrosexual when we get back."
Sam looked at him, irritated, "Why do you have to take pot shots at Daniel's masculinity when he simply does something that's sensitive?" She looked back out the window and added, "Believe me, he's quite the… complete… male."
Jack had to do something and rather than argue any further with his wife, he chose a nonverbal option. He pulled her against him and kissed her very thoroughly, backing her up until she was pressed between him and the wall next to the window. Sam was really turned on when he got very dominant and just a little rough in their love making and he gave her exactly what she wanted the way she liked it best. Then he carried her to the bed and did it again, more slowly. They were going to miss their breakfast date with Willow and Daniel but neither cared. Afterwards, he leaned over her on his elbows and she looked up into his strong handsome face with its hard planes and said, "You set the gold standard, you know that Jack."
He brushed his lips with hers and was able to say now, "I'm sorry I can't keep up the level of romantic gestures you got used to when you were married to Daniel."
She cupped his cheek and said, "I'm not complaining."
Willow broke away from her husband, unable to completely suppress a small, self-satisfied expression, to find a vase and put his rose in it. He gave her so many flowers that she had quite a nice collection of containers to choose from. She carried it out and set it in the middle of the table on the back deck where they would be eating. Sam followed her carrying the stack of plates with the napkins and silverware on top.
"Willow," Sam said hesitantly, "I have to ask you something."
"Ummmm," Willow prompted encouragingly.
"Is Daniel okay?"
Willow decided to head this off by making a joke of it. She winked and said, "You ought to know that he's is WAY more than okay."
Sam looked slightly exasperated. "You know what I mean. Jack says that he has had a couple of bad headaches for which the doctors on the base can't find any medical explanation. Even though I don't see as much of him now that I'm not stationed at Cheyenne Mountain any more, I've noticed that every time we get together he's got one. He's got one tonight, right? "
Willow was really delighted to be interrupted when Daniel opened the back door and came out carrying the cordless phone. "It's Buffy."
Willow made her apologies to Sam and walked to the end of the deck with the phone. "Hey Buffy. It must be 2:00 AM over there. Is everything okay?"
"I didn't even notice the time. I pretty much live my life at night anyway." She paused and there was the sound of ice clinking.
"Willow, I'll get right to the point. The euro supply is a little low at the moment and I want to keep the call short. Do you think your husband would okay with it if I came and spent some time with you?" Buffy surprised Willow by asking.
"Buffy, what's happened?" Now that Willow thought about it Buffy's voice seemed a little thick. Was it tears? Had she been drinking? Maybe both.
"It's a very long story and I can tell you about it when I get there but the executive summary is that Angel and I just aren't working out. I knew better when he followed me to Europe. I knew that I wasn't done becoming me to the point where I should be making a long term commitment but he forced the issue and I was too weak to fight him on it."
"Buffy, you know how sorry I am. You and Angel will always be the ultimate love story and I really wanted it to work for you. But about coming here for a long visit," Willow hesitated. "The thing is Spike," calling him Douglas wouldn't communicate well with Buffy in her current state, "is my husband's best friend and, to tell you the truth, probably mine too. He's here all the time. I wouldn't think…" she trailed off.
Buffy asked with a tone in her voice that Willow couldn't define, "Is it that you think he wouldn't want me there or you think I wouldn't want him around?"
Willow blew air out. What did she mean? "I don't think it would be a problem for Douglas in one sense. I mean he is COMPLETELY over you." She knew that for reasons Buffy knew nothing about. "Except, Buffy he's changed so much. You'd have to promise not to interfere with him being who he has become. Corinne doesn't know anything about his past."
"Corinne?" Buffy sounded a little strange.
"Yeah, Corinne Neumeister. They've been together about 4 years. She knows he's different. How could anyone be that close to someone without a heartbeat and no body heat and not notice, right? She thinks he has a "syndrome" that corresponds to the classic vampire myth. But she doesn't know he is the myth." Willow thought for a moment. There was another issue she couldn't mention. "Can I tell him that you promise to respect his privacy, not say anything about his past to anyone?"
"Sure," Buffy replied, "of course, I promise."
Willow ended the call then saying, "Let me talk to him and I should ask Daniel too. I'll get right back to you. Take care of yourself, okay?"
Sam had gone back in and the other end of the deck was now occupied by Daniel, Jack, and Douglas. Jack had started grilling steaks and a portabella mushroom for Corinne who was a vegetarian, while the other two, both looking a little washed out, leaned against the railing. As she walked toward them, Douglas was muttering something about Corinne sticking to Teal'c like a mustard plaster. Daniel clapped his friend on the shoulder and said, "She's enjoying you acting jealous that's all. You do tend to take her for granted."
"Oh yes, Mr. Sensitive, thank you so much for your little lessons in how to manage our women," Jack said sarcastically.
Willow thought it was a very good time to interrupt. "I'm sorry Jack but I need to talk with Douglas and Daniel."
Jack said, "Hey, I'll go get another beer." Daniel put a hand on his arm and said, "No need to leave, right Doug?"
Douglas nodded and Willow said, "Well, okay then. Buffy wants to come and visit with us for an extended stay. She promised me she wouldn't say anything to Corinne or anyone else about you and the past."
Douglas was looking at her completely stunned. "Why? I don't understand?"
"She said there were big problems with Angel."
Douglas shook his head, "Of course. I meant why would she want to come here knowing I was here? I mean, you did tell her I was around a lot?"
Willow asked, "I told her but she didn't seem to care. When you think about her coming here, you've got to also think about whether seeing her might trigger, you know," she needed an inspiration to put this across without Jack getting it, "pain for you from the way it was before. So you are alright with her being then?"
Douglas answered, well aware of what Willow was really asking, and also looking for a way to keep Jack in the dark, "We learn from pain, right? Sure, have her come."
Willow looked at her husband then. "Is it okay with you Daniel?"
Daniel looked at Douglas for a moment obviously worried, then seemed to accept his decision. "Okay."
Willow said, "I'll call her right away. I think she was anxious for an answer." Willow went back in the house to look up Buffy's number.
Jack had kept quiet through the exchange feeling a little like an interloper. Now he asked, "This is the woman that you used to be in love with right Doug? The one who beat you up whenever she was in a bad mood and never thanked you for what you did for her and then dumped you? I have thought over the years I'd love to meet her, just out of curiosity. She sounds like she ought to have horns."
Daniel put a hand to his head and made a small moan. "I've got to sit down," he said in a pain laden voice. Douglas and Jack looked at him with concern.
Jack said, "It's one of those headaches, right?"
Daniel didn't need to answer. Douglas said, "Did you take any of the prescription?"
Daniel was sitting in a chair at the table, his crossed arms on the table and his head resting on them. He didn't open his eyes when he answered, "Oh yeah. I didn't want to believe this was magic induced or that if it was it should make a difference, but, like you've already found out, drugs barely touch it. I don't know how you've been able to stand it. But you haven't had many of these sharp stabbing pains yet, right? Doug, this is the absolute worst I have experienced so far."
Douglas realized Daniel had forgotten Jack was there. He needed to limit the damage quickly. "Hey Jack, would you mind getting Willow?"
"I will in a minute," Jack answered. "I want to understand something here. It sounds like you are both having headaches because of magic? Why am I just now finding this out?" For a moment, he wasn't their friend; he was the base commander. He made eye contact with Douglas. "If you are not 100, you are a liability to the team and should stand down from missions until it's corrected."
"Excuse me 'sir,'" Douglas said with exaggerated and bogus deferentiality. "I've had these headaches since before I even came to SG-1. I've had one at some point in every mission I've done and obviously it hasn't kept me from being effective. If I was having one that bad," he gestured toward Daniel, "or thought I was going to, I WOULD stand down." He looked at his friend, motionless and resting on the table. "Don't you think we could discuss this at a better time?"
They were facing each other, Daniel temporarily forgotten, so it surprised them when suddenly he said, "Jack…please… take…Sam…and… go…home.
"Jack, please do what he asks," they heard Willow say. She had just come out of the house in time to hear Daniel's words. She rushed to her husband and was kneeling at his side, her hand on his forehead.
Douglas said, "I think everybody needs to go. Let Willow cope with him. I think any noise, anything at all going on in the house right now is painful for Daniel." Jack was looking stubborn. "Please, General, whatever you think needs to be said, can be said tomorrow."
Douglas took the responsibility for gathering up Corinne and Teal'c and shepherding them out. Jack came into the kitchen, put his arm around Sam and said, "Daniel's got a monster sick headache. Willow thinks it's better if we all leave."
Sam turned huge blue eyes on Jack, "He's going to be okay right? They are going to take him to the doctor or something?"
Jack had kept her moving while she questioned him. He didn't talk until they were in their car and out of the driveway. "Evidently a doctor isn't going to help. The headaches, and Douglas has them too in a milder version, are the result of magic. You wouldn't know anything about some sort of spell that affect both Daniel and Douglas?"
Jack took his eyes off the road just long enough to see that his wife was white as a sheet with her hands twisted together in her lap. "Damn it, you do."
"Of course not," Sam disagreed. "How would I know anything like that?"
"You should see yourself, Sam. You are a lousy liar." His voice went softer. "Honey do you think I don't know you still care about Daniel and want to protect him? You were married to him and you thought he died. You love me, you're committed to me, but no one can just turn off feelings of love."
Sam muttered, "Never say never."
Jack took another look at his wife, "What was that?"
Sam said only a little louder, "Really Jack, there's nothing for me to tell you. Please just let it go. Please."
A week later, Sam had just returned from the airport and was shifting through the mail when she heard a car drive up. She smiled, anticipating Jack coming through the door. She really had missed him. There were major deadline pressures right now at work and she knew all she had to do was tell him about it to feel better. He would be funny and extremely positive about her ability and what she could accomplish. Expecting Jack as she was, she was surprised to hear the doorbell ring.
When she opened the door, there was Willow on the door step with her salad bowl and a bag which she assumed had the abandoned bottles of salad dressing from the previous weekend. Sam smiled at the redhead whose return smile was a little forced. "I hope you and Jack didn't decide you wanted a salad any time lately." Willow said. "We were holding your dressing hostage."
Sam said, "Actually I've been in DC and if you think Jack would make a salad on his own, you don't know him as well as you think you do."
"I'll just put these in the kitchen for you," Willow said and without waiting for an answer went ahead of Sam to the back of the house.
Sam followed Willow into the kitchen. Willow turned and surprised her again by requesting a cup of tea. There was something rather odd and forced about the whole thing.
Let's take the tea out on the deck," she suggested and they adjourned there. It became immediately apparent that Willow had no interest in the tea when she set it down on the little round table and didn't touch it again.
Sam made polite conversation waiting for Willow to come to the point. She and the little witch had always been cordial but Sam still loved Daniel and Willow knew it. It was a barrier they hadn't really gotten past. Finally Willow said, "Sam, I have to ask you to stay completely away from Daniel. The spell I did to make him lose his love for you is what's causing these headaches. I didn't know that it would be a problem for anyone who had died. It isn't really a usual situation and the book didn't mention it." She looked at Sam. "I'm just making excuses for myself, aren't I? It makes me feel terrible that I have the man I love because of a spell I should never have performed on him."
Sam said carefully, "So you evidently think that proximity to me triggers the headaches?"
Willow nodded, "The bad ones, yes. I'm afraid, though, that now they are starting to happen without a trigger. But still it's worse when you are around."
Sam said, "I feel guilty about this too. He would never have asked you to do this if I hadn't chosen Jack." She had an unsettling thought. "You not going to say anything to Jack are you? He thinks I chose him over Daniel on an even playing field. It would shake his confidence in our marriage, I think, if he knew that one factor in my decision was knowing that Daniel had a way to recover that he didn't."
Willow sighed. "There's no need to tell Jack anything. Make up excuses for not socializing with us. It might not be a permanent situation. I'm researching the spell and trying to figure out a way to cure Douglas and Daniel."
Sam was startled by this new thought. "Douglas has headaches too?"
"They are not as bad as Daniel's. He only had me ratchet his love for Buffy down to something easy to recover from, not blow it away completely. And Buffy hasn't been around. I'm actually quite worried about her coming to stay with us for awhile but Douglas insisted that I go ahead and do it."
Sam looked at Willow sympathetically. "Could be tough but it will confirm one way or the other whether proximity to the former romantic object makes a difference. When does Buffy arrive?"
Willow looked at her watch. "Douglas went to pick her up. She should be landing about now. I guess I'd better get back home for the welcome to Casa Jackson dinner."
Sam reached over and squeezed her hand. "Don't worry. It's very important to me that Daniel be okay. I'll stay away."
When Buffy snared her bags from the belt and started to wrestle three separate pieces of luggage toward the door, she ran right into Douglas. At first she didn't realize she had collided with Spike. Despite seeing him looking very different when he had been in London a year or more ago, she still carried him in her mind as a better looking version of Billy Idol. But the hands that steadied her were very cold and when she looked up, it was definitely Spike.
"Willow had something to take care of and she asked me to pick you up. No problems?" he asked, taking one of her bags away from her.
"No problems," she responded, trailing behind him as he headed to the parking garage. All the close in parking spaces were roped off and empty. "Must be the terrorism thing," she observed.
"Yeah," Douglas said, "I think giving the terrorists their own parking spaces is just a tad optimistic. Being nice to them is probably not going to turn them around."
Buffy didn't think that sally at humor was particularly worthy of comment and they ended up with no conversation from there forward until they pulled into Willow and Daniel's driveway. Only Daniel's jeep was visible through the open garage door. Willow wasn't back yet. They trooped into the house, Douglas stopped her from closing the door forcefully and generally tried to minimize the noise. The reason became apparent when they found Daniel lying on the couch, looking distinctly unwell.
Douglas greeted Daniel softly and led Buffy back to the spare bedroom. He left her there to dispose of her luggage and went back out to Daniel. Buffy came out to find him sitting on the edge of the sofa next to Daniel talking to him quietly. "You haven't seen her at all since last weekend, right?" he was asking.
"No but Willow thinks that things have progressed too far for that to matter much now. She's really worried that Buffy being here is going to cause your situation to worsen in the same way. She," he stopped abruptly when he saw Buffy.
Douglas stood up. "Is there anything at all I can get you?"
Daniel smiled wanly and said, "No. Buffy's here now and Willow will be back shortly in any case."
"I'll just toddle off then. I'll be at Corinne's. Call me over there if there's anything I can do." He nodded at Buffy. "Hope you enjoy your visit and all," he said over his shoulder as he left.
They had a quiet dinner later after Willow returned. Willow paid little attention to her friend, her focus being completely on her husband. He seemed to rally after they ate and Willow took advantage of that to cuddle with him in a big overstuffed armchair while they watched something on the History Channel. Men seldom ignored Buffy but she was almost invisible to Daniel. He was polite but his gaze was always on his wife. Buffy was a distinct third wheel and felt quite alone by the end of the evening. Her former best friend had a new best friend in her husband and her most devoted admirer was hanging with someone named Corinne without a second thought for her.
Two nights later, as Buffy was helping Willow set the table for three, she asked, "I thought you said Spike was always underfoot."
Willow said, "Normally he is but Corinne is finishing up a major paper. She regards him as a sort of good luck charm. They read it together, line by line, and she says somehow she sees everything more clearly. He likes it because it makes him feel useful and it appears to have other, um, benefits as well."
Buffy dropped the stack of plates in her hands on the table with a rattle and sat down hard. "Willow, I don't know what to do. I never thought it would be this hard to simply get his attention."
"What do you want it for?" Willow asked.
Buffy said, "I need him to be happy again. Look Willow, he loved me so much, I can't believe that there isn't anything left. I know I can make him happier than some self-involved English professor.
"She is an extremely difficult woman and I do believe if you treated him half as well as you did Angel, you could make him happier. But if you want him, you're going to have to make him fall in love with you all over again," Willow said to Buffy. "And the things that made him fall for you in the first place when he hated himself deep down and basically just wanted to be punished aren't going to work now."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Buffy said, really knowing the answer.
"You can't treat him like dirt."
They stared at each other for awhile and then Buffy looked away. "Will you help me Willow? You know him now. I don't know where to start."
Willow looked at her thoughtfully. "That depends on your reasons. What's going to happen to him if he does love you? How do you feel about him?"
"While I was struggling with the whole Angel thing, I think I finally grew up. I am ready now to be with someone and that's Spike. I love him." Buffy saw Willow's skeptical look. "I do, I really do."
"I'm going to believe you on that and I'll help you get him back. I can almost promise you that it'll happen," she said, adding "Maybe really soon," as she thought about the need to cure the headaches if they started to get as bad as Daniel's. But Buffy," Willow was looking at her in a way Buffy had never had directed at her personally from her gentle friend, "if you hurt him, if you throw his love back in his face, I will never, NEVER forgive you. I won't be your friend any more and you don't want me as an enemy."
Sam felt a little like a stalker. Even since Willow had come to see her she had been consumed with a desire to see Daniel, to know for herself he was okay but, of course, she couldn't do that. She had had all kinds of discussions with herself about it. Maybe Willow was just really jealous and there was no connection at all between Daniel's headaches and the spell. Willow was just looking for an excuse to keep her away from him. Maybe it was okay to talk to him on the phone just not see him in person. Maybe if she could see him but he couldn't see her he would be fine. She finally did convince herself of the last suggestion and set out to make it happen, knowing the whole time that her behavior was distinctly unbalanced but unable to stop herself all the same.
When she and Pete had been engaged, they had talked once about the proper way to conduct a stakeout and she tried to remember what he had told her. She rented a car that was completely unlike her own and had tinted windows. Early in the morning, she parked across the street and down the block from the house that she and Daniel had once shared. She remembered how, when they had been married, Daniel had a morning ritual, which included dashing out to get the paper, usually only partially dressed, because he wanted to take it back to bed for awhile with a cup of coffee. He wasn't adverse to robes, he just didn't know where his was half the time. That stirred some memories she had managed to quash over the last couple of years. The paper spread all over the bed, Daniel reading intently, and her doing little but seductive things to try to distract him. Running her fingers up the inside of his thigh. Massaging his foot. Threading her fingers through his hair. It didn't usually take that long to get him to look at her and once their eyes connected and he saw the desire in hers, the paper was forgotten. They had gotten very good at decrumpling the paper to finish it later.
The first morning she apparently got there too late because the first sign she saw of Daniel was his car pulling out of the garage. Then she was out of town for several days before she could try again. The next time she was successful. He emerged from the house in sweats, barefooted and bare-chested. He did look good. She hadn't seen that much of him since they had all gone swimming together the previous summer. It brought back memories of all of him naked. She absolutely refused to think about that and instead concentrated on how he looked healthy, sprinting to the mailbox without the least sign of problems.
She watched Daniel leave for work and then she called Willow.
"How's Daniel doing? Any more headaches?" she asked anxiously.
"He's only had three of the really bad ones since we saw you last," Willow said. "That's about half as many as he was having."
"Do you know what triggered them?"
"There seems to be a sort periodicity to it. We've been charting them since shortly after they started. It seems like he would have about one a week no matter what. All the others seem to have involved seeing you."
"So he's fine this morning then," Sam asked to confirm that if she saw him and he didn't see her, there was no problem.
"He was just great actually," Willow said dreamily.
Sam thought 'too much information.' She knew exactly what had happened.
That evening she broke a rule she had made for herself before she and Jack got married. She actually thought about Daniel while making love to Jack. She was tremendously upset and frightened too by what was happening to her mind.
Willow hung up the phone slowly, her mind already somewhere else. She had pages and pages of notes on the desk she had scribbled while talking to Giles. The man was a consummate researcher and he had come through for her once again. It appeared there was no way to fix the headaches without reversing the spell but it looked like there was a clear way to do that. It also looked like there was a huge risk. Giles was fairly certain that the side effects that the two had experienced because they had previously died might indicate that very serious things were likely to happen if the spell was reversed, up to and including, leaving them brain dead.
There was one positive. This was a spell she knew she could do without invoking the help of supernatural beings. Doing so bothered Daniel deeply. He had told her that at least some of the old gods whose names she had chanted were really Goa'ulds. There was no way any Goa'uld could have been doing anything from perhaps hundreds of light years away to make a spell work but the spells still had been effective. Daniel told her this was evidence that at least part of the time she was projecting onto something else when it was really all her. Daniel said that the God that actually ruled the universe was a force that you couldn't manipulate. He was in charge, not the creatures He created. Any lesser being might have more power than a human but did not deserve to be worshipped. The faith Daniel had found during two years of hiding when he was MIA left no room for doubt in his mind about any of this. Willow wasn't on board yet with all that Daniel now believed but she had gradually come around to his point of view as far as the magic was concerned. This was a good thing since the strain on her marriage would have been intense otherwise. Willow had begun to only use spells that manipulated supernatural energy directly and had found that she could reshape others to follow this paradigm. Daniel said whatever the magic was it was really a natural force and what she did was akin to Ben Franklin fooling with electricity without having a complete scientific explanation for it yet. There were still some things Willow hadn't figured out how to do but she didn't want to return to the way she had done things before. It felt wrong now.
She looked out into the living room where Buffy and Douglas were watching an episode of "Forever Knight" on cable. Douglas was doing a sort of MST on it that had Buffy laughing hysterically. In looking for chinks in the Corinne/Douglas relationship Buffy could exploit, Willow had suggested that she give Douglas a chance to indulge in some lowbrow pop culture. Although he enjoyed the intellectual compliment implied in the sorts of things Corinne talked to him about and expected him to understand and he really did enjoy poetry, Corinne absolutely never stooped to soap operas, the SciFi Channel, or the WB. Daniel was also not one for things like old episodes of "Renegade," about "a good cop betrayed by other cops gone bad." Daniel had been on a mission to get Douglas to use his excellent brain ever since they had gotten close.
Buffy had also drawn him into discussions about the world they knew so well, inhabited by vampires and werewolves, demons and warlocks. It had been a strain for him to avoid ever talking about that side of his life with Corinne and that had also pulled him to the Jacksons and Buffy.
Willow had been right about the way to get his interest. Even though Douglas' headaches were beginning to worsen, he had started coming over more and more frequently.
Those were only two of the tactics from a lengthy game plan Willow and Buffy had put together and it was working really well. It was time for Buffy to try to introduce a physical dimension and see where that went. Willow picked up her purse and said good bye to Buffy and Douglas. She was meeting Daniel for dinner and Buffy would have the house to herself and Douglas for phase two.
The next morning, in fact the next several mornings, Buffy looked like the cat that ate the canary. Willow purposely did not ask her what had happened and stopped Buffy from sharing. She didn't want those images, whatever they were, when looking at her friends.
Buffy's confidence slipped when Douglas refused to stop seeing Corinne. He was honest with Corinne from the beginning about Buffy and Corinne professed not to care. He told Buffy that she was a lot of fun but he had four years invested in Corinne that he didn't want to throw away. Buffy began to get very grumpy, particularly unwelcome because it coincided with Daniel's worst headache to date.
In the past Daniel had always been all right within 24 hours. 24 hours came and went and there was no noticeable improvement. Willow consulted with Douglas. She called Giles. Both advised her that although medicine couldn't cure him there might be something they could do with the symptoms. The second day, Daniel was almost unconscious. Douglas carried him to the car and all three of them took him to the emergency room.
Douglas called the Mountain to explain why neither he nor Daniel would be coming in to work. Willow concluded that must have been how Sam found out and showed up at the hospital where Willow found her trying to get information from the attending physician.
"Please leave," Willow asked her, barely polite.
"I have to be here. I have to know, as it happens, how Daniel is," Sam explained close to tears.
"You'll make it worse. You have to leave." Willow insisted.
Sam was too concerned to think about what she was saying and blurted out, "I've been close several times and as long as he doesn't know I'm there it doesn't matter."
"You've been close several times," Willow said, her voice rising, "and he doesn't know you're there. Have you been stalking MY husband?"
Without thinking, Sam snapped, "He was my husband before he was yours." She realized she was not helping things and said in a more conciliatory voice, "I'm not trying to mess with your marriage but, Willow, I still love him. I never stopped. I have to know he's okay."
It was at that point that Jack came through the door behind them and the doctor came through the door in front of them. "Ms. Jackson," he asked.
Willow came forward. "Please step into one of the consulting rooms with me." He indicated the small rooms at the back of the emergency room for private discussions with family.
Sam stepped closer and indicating the others with her hand said, "Please, we all care about him. Please tell all of us how he is."
The physician looked at Willow and she nodded, "There is serious cerebral hemorrhaging. I have to be honest with you and tell you that I can't explain it. But if we don't relieve the pressure on his brain caused by the bleeding, there could be serious brain damage. I need your permission to operate."
Douglas said, "Is he going to die?"
The doctor looked at him somberly. Willow quickly said, "Douglas is my husband's best friend. He has as much right to hear this as I do." Douglas put his arm around her, bracing himself or her, it was hard to say, for what they were about to hear.
The doctor said, "I honestly don't know. He is in a very serious condition, particularly since I don't know the cause. Without knowing the cause, it's hard to cure him. BUT I had a patient in here a couple of months ago with cerebral hemorrhaging from a stroke. His brain didn't spring back like it should have after I operated to remove the blood. I'd never seen anyone whose brain looked like that survive. Three weeks later, he walked his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. They had an army in here praying. Ms. Jackson, given the condition your husband is in right now, I strongly suggest prayer. If you would want me to go ahead with the operation, there are some consent forms that need to be signed."
Willow left with the physician. Buffy went to Douglas and took his hand in hers. Jack went to Sam. He didn't like what he saw. She was pale and shaking. He drew her into his arms and said, "Sam, I heard that. Daniel's died or almost died so many times. We have to believe he'll be okay."
When Willow came back, Douglas took her hands and said, "We have to talk."
"I know what you're going to say," Willow said. "But the physician thinks that after he operates to remove the blood, if the bleeding stops, Daniel will make a full recovery."
"If the bleeding stops," Douglas said. He looked back at Buffy. "Buffy, can you come here." When she joined them, he said, "There's something the three of us need to discuss. Let's go down to the cafeteria," he suggested looking over at Jack and Sam.
They sat around a table at the back of the cafeteria out of earshot of any other customers as long as they kept their voices down. "Buffy, you've been acting like you're interested in me lately. What's up with that?"
Buffy was taken aback. He wasn't playing by the script in her head. "Obviously I like to be with you," she finally admitted.
"That's it," he asked, looking her straight in the eyes. "I'm entertaining you?"
Buffy knew somehow that this wasn't the time for games. That a world depended on her answer. "I love you. There. Now you can throw it in my face like I did to you and I'd deserve it." She looked so vulnerable and hopeful.
"I don't love you yet but I can in roughly five minutes." He said cryptically.
Willow said, "Douglas, it could leave you a vegetable."
He shrugged, "Whatever. But if it doesn't, you'll know it's safe to use it to save Daniel."
"I have everything in the car," she said after a long moment. "I'm a real Girl Scout I guess."
Buffy was mystified but afraid to ask for any clarification. She just hung on to Douglas' hand. Willow spread what she needed on the backseat and sat facing Douglas with Buffy watching from the front of the car. When she finished, he let out an agonized yell and then slumped unconscious in the seat. Both women were dismayed. Buffy leapt out of the car and yanked open the back door to get to him. When he came to a minute later, he was cradled in Buffy's arms and Willow was leaning over them with tears running down her face.
"Hey Will," he said to his friend and then he looked up into Buffy's face. There was all the love in the world in his eyes and Buffy laughed out loud and then kissed him like she wanted to inhale him and never let him go.
Finally, Willow tapped on his back and then thumped on it to get his attention. He looked at her happily and said, "Use it on Daniel. He'll be okay." Willow left the two of them in the car and went back into the hospital.
Before she made it to the emergency room, Sam accosted her, "We have to talk."
Willow groaned. She was about to possibly hand Daniel over to this woman that, now that she thought about it, she didn't really like and Sam wanted to talk. "Later. I need to get to Daniel."
"Now," Sam said, sounding very much like a colonel. "You have the reverse the spell."
"Because YOU say so?" Willow said. She was furious to have Sam telling her to do something she had already decided to do, as if she, Willow, was too selfish to do it on her own.
"You can't risk his life just because you're afraid that if you remove spell and he regains his love for me, you might lose him to me," Sam said harshly.
"I suppose you think he would never have married me if it hadn't have been for the spell," Willow said with cold fury.
"We both know damn well if it hadn't for the spell, he would be with me," Sam said, and then immediately put her hand over her mouth. What was she saying?
"For your information, Colonel," Willow said all emotion drained from her voice. "I've already decided to reverse it. Douglas just had me do it for him to make sure that it wouldn't leave him brain dead. You didn't know that was a possibility, did you?" She pushed Sam aside and went on down the corridor. Turning the corner, she ran into Jack. She was very ashamed later to realize that, for that brief moment, she was glad that he had clearly heard everything.
After the operation, Daniel was in intensive care and she was only allowed five minutes. Five minutes was barely enough. He was drugged and completely out. She did a spell to put them inside a shell of privacy and then she went through the ritual. She thought he moaned but nothing seemed to have changed. The nurse came in and said gently, "Ms. Jackson, you need to leave now. Your time is up. You can come back in at 12:15."
Sam was sitting in the waiting room, hunched over, her arms wrapped around her. She was in a private world of misery, oblivious to everyone else. On some level she had dimly realized that she hadn't seen Jack for quite awhile but she was too far inside herself to process that.
Jack sat down next to her and just looked at her. He might have been there ten minutes. She really had no idea when she finally noticed him. He didn't take her hand or touch her. There was something very bleak in his face. "Why did you decide to stay married to me after Daniel came back," he asked getting straight to the point.
"Not now," Sam said. "Dead God, not now."
"Oh yes, Sam," Jack said, "now. I have a right to know and a right to know what to expect now that Daniel is going to be in love with you again."
Sam gasped. "You were ease dropping."
"You and Willow were talking, rather loudly, in a public place. My lord, Sam, you might as well have hired the town crier. 'My husband, that poor smuck, is my second choice because my first choice got a brain wipe.'"
"It wasn't like that Jack," Sam said reaching out to him. He brushed her hand away.
"I want an answer," Jack said, implacable.
"Jack, if I had to guess, loving me won't stop him from loving Willow. He'll be in the same place I've been. Loving two people and only able to be with one of them." Jack stood up. "Jack, please don't walk away from me. I have no plans to leave you."
"Maybe it isn't up to you," he said and walked away, out of the waiting room, out of the hospital.
Sam started to rock back and forth, tears rolled down her cheeks but there were no sobs. Willow found her like that and all the anger melted inside her. She sat down and took Sam in her arms and they both sobbed then.
Daniel came to and found himself in a dim hospital room with an IV and monitors. Other than a little stinging where the incision had been on his head, he felt wonderful. He sat up and extricated himself from everything. He quickly found his clothes neatly folded in the little closet and put on his pants and slipped on his shoes without socks. He was ready to leave the room as the nurse came rushing in. She was astounded and, as a result, completely ineffectual in stopping him from leaving the room. He made his way out to the waiting room with the nurse trailing behind and saw them both there, crying in each other's arms. He was confused about what had happened to him but knew that what mattered to him most in the world was immediately in front of him. They looked up and saw him and he looked at their beautiful tearstained faces. He loved them both but his future could only be with one of them. He started across the room toward her.