Jack looked up from his coffee, "Of course you can't. Behold today's paper. Believe it or not, it has fresher news."
"Jack, I put it aside because there was a column I wanted to save," Daniel said pouring himself a cup of coffee and sitting down opposite Jack.
"Daniel, I can't be expected to read minds. You leave newspapers all over the place. You'd think you were paper training puppies. Here, read today's." He pushed a section across to Daniel.
"So what did you do with the paper when you got rid of it?"
"Daniel, for crying out loud, move on." Jack looked at the other man's determined expression. "I put it in the recycle bin. That should warm the cockles of your tree-hugging heart."
Daniel started to get up. Jack shook his head. "They picked up the garbage already this morning."
"Have we actually got food?" Daniel asked sitting back down and noticing the crumbs on the plate in front of Jack for the first time.
"Your wife left us a coffee cake. I found it with a note this morning on the porch. We must have missed it last night." Jack thought he saw something in Daniel's expression. "Don't worry. I didn't eat it all. I saved you a piece." Jack reached around and snared a plate off the counter with a medium sized piece of coffee cake.
"Willow left us a coffee cake, an entire cake, right?" Jack nodded. "Well, Jack, this sort of looks like you did a major pig out on MY wife's coffee cake if that's all that's left."
"I saved Douglas a piece too. And, face it, Daniel, you could stand to lose 10 or 15 pounds. I did you a favor." He quickly changed the subject to forestall the rebuttal Daniel was clearly formulating. "I don't understand her leaving us a coffee cake when she refuses to talk to you. Sam, now, Sam is being a lot more consistent. She won't talk to either one of us and she isn't doing anything nice for us either."
"Not to insult your wife, Jack, but when DID she get so full of herself? I mean, there I was, the spell lifted that had made me forget I loved Sam and allowed me to accept her marrying you when she thought I was dead. I'm confused as hell, still loving Willow but back in love with Sam again too. Willow takes off like a priestess of Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi when the Pythia was about to speak." Jack was looking a little glazed over at that particular simile but Daniel plowed ahead. "All because Sam insisted she had to talk to me alone before anything else happened. Then Sam, with absolutely no idea what I'm thinking or what decisions I might have made, announces to me that now I know exactly how she's felt for the past year, being in love with both of us at the same time. She tells me I'm just going to have to live with it, like she has, since anything else isn't fair to you and Willow." He threw his hands in the air. "She just assumed that she knew what I wanted and then made my decision for me."
They had now had about one minute too much discussion about feelings for Jack. He was very relieved when Douglas made an appearance, his hair sticking up and wearing boxers, a half buttoned flannel shirt, and socks. Douglas said very cheerfully, "So how are we are feeling this morning? Sucking down the coffee I see," he added as he picked up a virtually empty pot, poured himself the last dribble, and set about making another. "Thanks for letting me crash here last night. Buffy was pissed off that I wasn't out patrolling with her and if she had run into me all-Guinessed up on top of that, she would have gone ballistic." He looked reflective. "Her snits are pretty impressive actually. I have to stand back and admire them on one level even though I am generally the victim. I can always tell when a bad one is coming because she reverts to calling me Spike." He looked out the window. "The sun's out so I'm stuck here all day. By the time she sees me again maybe she'll be over it."
"Or not," Daniel said gloomily. "Sam's living at my house now along with Buffy. I bet the three of them are sitting around over coffee right now, talking trash about us."
"So, why didn't he go patrolling with you, Buffy?" Sam asked distractedly, looking at the sugar bowl Buffy was pulling toward her with longing. Why was she worried about keeping her weight down? Everybody knew men living alone were basically just bears with furniture. Jack and Daniel were probably subsisting on a diet of carbohydrates and fat: beer, pretzels, potato chips, fries, hamburgers. They had probably both already porked up 10 pounds or more.
Buffy viciously stabbed a spoon into the sugar bowl. "We got in a stupid argument over some poetry reading he wanted to go to. Sometimes I really miss the days when we just beat each other up regularly. It was so much cleaner than all this discussion of 'feelings.'"
Willow didn't even look up but Sam was shocked. "You used to beat each other up regularly?"
Willow said, without taking her head out of the paper, "Buffy, can you say emotionally unavailable?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Oh puleese."
Sam looked at her consideringly, struck by a sudden thought. Buffy was sort of a female Jack in a lot of ways. They operated by focusing on saving the world, ordering other people around to make it happen, and not letting themselves get bogged down in soft, mushy stuff. She started putting Jack's words into Buffy's mouth and they worked. She was trying the reverse exercise, Buffy's words in Jack's mouth, when Buffy decided to elaborate. "You just have a strange idea of how much touchy feely goes on in a relationship because you spent so much time with women as lovers."
At least this wasn't a shock. Willow's past had already come up. These little tete a tetes over the last few weeks had taught Sam that while she had fought aliens on dozens of worlds, she had led a very sheltered life sexually.
"So you and Douglas had this big fight and he decided not to go patrolling with you," Willow restated, suddenly taking an interest in the story. "Do you suppose he went over to Jack and Daniel's?"
"Whatever," Buffy said. She had dumped a lot of sugar in her coffee. Sam was watching her drink it, fascinated.
"If he's over there, I'm glad I left the coffee cake," Willow said decisively, getting up and putting her coffee cup in the dishwasher.
"Hold on here," Buffy said. "You left your wishy-washy, Hamlet-like husband a coffee cake?"
"Hamlet-like?" Sam asked.
"It's Douglas." Buffy explained. "He never used talk like this but now he's continually spouting stuff about literature and poetry. I didn't really want to know that Hamlet is some dude who couldn't make up his mind but there was no avoiding it."
With her new Jack/Buffy insight, Sam said, "You're not really as clueless as you want us to believe are you? I bet you already knew about Hamlet, Ophelia, Polonius, and the whole crew."
Buffy didn't deign to answer. Sam struck out in a new direction, "Willow, if you're ready to take him coffee cakes, why won't you talk with him? He never told you he wanted out of your marriage."
Willow blew out air and studied the dishwater detergent box as if it held the answers to the secrets of the universe. Finally, she looked over at Sam. "I want him to choose me, not as a default, but really choose me. You screwed that up when you took the decision away from him. Now I don't know if he wants to be with me because he doesn't have any other options or if this is what he would have picked."
"So how does his living at Jack's instead of with you help that at all?" Buffy asked.
"I don't know. I just keep waiting for something to happen that will make what's in his heart really clear," Willow answered hopelessly.
Buffy got up and walked her cup to the dishwasher. As they were standing there together, Willow said so low that Sam couldn't understand her, "Remember Buffy when I told you what would happen if you stepped on Douglas' love after I lifted the spells that were keeping him from loving you and Daniel from loving Sam?"
Buffy looked reasonably guilty. "You're getting close. Real close," Willow warned. She pushed the detergent into Buffy's hands and left the kitchen.
Buffy put the detergent in the dishwasher and started the load. With the cover of the machine running, she came back and sat down next to Sam. "I have to ask. You could arguably have either Jack or Daniel. I mean, I know Daniel loves Willow, but he's loved you a lot longer. So why the hell are you sitting here, mad at both of them."
Sam wasn't all that fond of Buffy but being challenged to explain herself forced her to put her own chaotic thoughts in order and she welcomed the exercise. "I guess I thought I was doing something Jack should appreciate, choosing to stay with my marriage, but his pride was hurt. I went home that night and he said a lot of ugly things. The man has a biting, sarcastic wit and it's no fun having it turned on you, I can tell you. I got mad and that made him even madder. I'm not sure if he threw me out or I left but there I was on the sidewalk with a suitcase in my hand. I don't want to go back to that. I want an apology. I mean the 'I hired a skywriter to declare my love' kind of apology. And even then I don't know."
She sloshed the small amount of coffee left in her cup from side to side. Buffy prompted, "That doesn't explain Daniel."
"I went looking for him and found him in his office at the Mountain. You remember he was sleeping there for a while before he started staying at Jack's. It was like an alien had taken over Daniel's body. Remembering loving me brought back all the hurt too that he felt when I didn't wait for him. For some reason, it really ticked him off that I had told him what we had to do after the spell was lifted without leaving him any decision making. He said I had a tendency to emasculate him." She looked at Buffy. "I'm so used to him being sensitive and understanding. It just did something to me to have him acting more like Jack. So I said some really stupid stuff. It's not that I'm mad at him. Actually I'm acutely embarrassed. I should be apologizing to him and maybe I'm not much better at it than Jack is."
"So at this point, you still think you should be with Jack and Daniel should be with Willow?" Buffy asked.
"About 2/3 of the time anyway," Sam said miserably. The rest of the time, it seemed to her that, if there was any truth in what she had been taught before her mother died and her father stopped taking them to church, in the eyes of God she was still married to Daniel. She wondered if, in wanting to not make people unhappy, she was, in fact, ruining all their lives.
Buffy looked at her thoughtfully. "Then somebody needs to talk to Jack for you. How about me?"
An hour before Sam would have scoffed at that idea but with her newfound insight about the Jack and Buffy thing, Sam nodded. "That may just work. It may just work."
"Hey, Teal'c," Douglas greeted the tall Jaffa happily. "Let me help you with that," he offered and relieved Teal'c of a sack that he seriously hoped had more Guinness in it.
Teal'c took in the scene in Jack's family room. Jack kept his house like a barracks. You usually felt like there was about to be an inspection at any moment. Daniel, on the other hand, liked leaving a lot of artifacts lying around so that if at any moment they were inundated by volcanic ash there would lots of interesting stuff for future archeologists to find. Sort of the archeological professional courtesy theory of untidiness. This was not actually a flight of fancy on Teal'c part but something Daniel had once told him when he was a little over-Guinnessed. The two men were sprawled at opposite ends of the couch. There was a lot of debris on the coffee table in front of Daniel where as Jack, although casually dressed, still had that air of military preparedness about him.
Douglas was back from the kitchen holding four opened bottles of Guinness by their necks which he handed around. He and Teal'c each took an armchair. Teal'c set his bottle down carefully and looked at his friends. "If you will forgive me DanielJackson and GeneralO'Neill, I must say to you that you are looking like defeated warriors who are hiding from the enemy."
"And, if you will forgive me Teal'c, you don't understand," Jack said dismissively.
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "Did I not go back to Chulak and find my wife married to my best friend?"
"Oh yeah," Jack made a face, "Somehow that slipped my mind."
"What am I supposed to do, Teal'c?" Daniel asked. "Willow absolutely won't talk to me, not in person, not on the phone. I haven't tried smoke signals but I'm sure they wouldn't work either."
Douglas said, "But she's talking to me Daniel." He leaned forward, warming to his subject. "I haven't stuck in an opinion at all, just listened sympathetically, because I didn't know what you wanted but if you want her to take you back, which realistically, looks like the only option you have, I could work on her."
Jack saw a ray of hope for his own situation. "Daniel, that sounds like a possible Hail Mary play to me." Daniel looked confused. "Just say yes, Daniel."
Daniel shrugged, "Yes."
Jack held his cell phone away from his ear and stared at it, a little as if it had suddenly turned into a snake in his hand. "Daniel, you are not going to believe this," he said.
"Hummm," Daniel responded, not looking up from a photograph of some hieroglyphs.
"That was Buffy. She wants to meet me for a drink."
"That's nice," Daniel said.
"And the Pope is going to be there with Peyton Manning," Jack added, looking at Daniel through narrowed eyes.
"That's really great, Jack," Daniel said, still looking at the photo.
"Daniel, are you paying any attention to me at all?"
"Buffy wants to meet you for a drink. The Pope is going to be there with Peyton Manning." Daniel said, in exactly the same calm, even tones.
"You are a friggin miracle. You've learned to listen well enough to repeat back what someone says without processing any of it so you can just keep thinking your thoughts. Did this work with Willow?" Jack dropped into a chair across from Daniel, torn between being annoyed and overcome by admiration. He reached out grabbed the edges of the table, lifted it slightly, and dropped it.
"Jack, is there something you want to discuss?" Daniel asked, looking up and making eye contact.
"What did I just say to you?" Jack demanded.
Daniel looked slightly puzzled. "Were you starting a conversation about religion? Has all this caused you to reconsider your agnosticism, Jack?"
"Daniel," Jack said enunciating very precisely. "Buffy, as in Buffy the weirdo girlfriend of our undead friend, just asked me to meet her for a friendly drink. She wants to 'talk.'"
"You don't do talk, Jack," Daniel objected mildly.
"But I do shoot people!" Jack said, his voice rising into a shout and coming across the table at Daniel.
"Okay, okay, no need to get testy. What do you think she wants to talk about?"
Jack said, "It would have to be Sam, right? What else do we have in common?"
Daniel cocked his head considering. "Well you do know Douglas pretty well. She may want advice on her deteriorating romantic situation with our boy."
Jack looked utterly dismayed. "Please tell me you are joking."
Daniel said, "You probably don't need to worry because I would think she would start with me. I am a lot closer to him and she knows me. Have the two of you even met outside of that time at the hospital?"
Jack responded in the negative. And negative was how he was feeling when he made his way to Aggie's to meet Buffy.
Shortly after Buffy left, Willow answered the phone to hear Douglas' voice. "Hey, Red, you busy?"
"Not particularly," Willow answered, idly sorting through the mail Buffy had brought in earlier and dumped on the table next to the phone. "What are you doing?"
"Buffy took herself off with some rather lame excuse. I'm a little suspicious she's meeting some guy."
"You certainly don't sound very upset about it," Willow said surprised.
"It's really getting wearing with her. The love came back all right but it was love I had when I was a different man. It isn't fitting me very well these days. I know she's your friend but do you have any idea how incredibly annoying she is a good share of the time? It sounds crazy but I think it would almost be a relief if she broke up with me."
"So, do you want to come over here and hang out? Watch a DVD or something?" Willow invited.
"Actually, there's a poetry reading at a coffeehouse never the University. Would you like to come with me? I'm a little afraid I might run into Corinne and she would be much less likely to make a scene if you were there," he said referring to the girl friend he had recently broken up with when it got serious with Buffy.
"I like that. Thanks, Spikey." She was the one person who could call him that without it being an issue. She said it so fondly. They had connected in ways back in the day that the others had never realized and some of the memories it brought back weren't all bad.
Willow hung up realizing that she had forgotten to ask Douglas if Sam could come along. She felt bad about it now, leaving Sam all alone on a Saturday night, but, also, somehow she instinctively felt that it might be a bad idea to just show up with her in tow. Douglas was Daniel's best friend after all.
Willow looked down at an envelope in her hand. She must have picked it up when she was fooling with the mail. She tapped it against her fingers. It looked quite official and was addressed to Sam. She went looking for her and found her in the kitchen, eating a respectable sized chocolate brownie. Sam looked up with a very guilty expression on her face as if she had been caught smoking pot. Willow chuckled, "Sam, you are in fabulous shape. There is no reason you shouldn't enjoy chocolate occasionally."
Sam confessed, "It heard it calling me, you know."
"Here, this was in the mail," Willow said, thrusting the envelope at her. "So you finally went down to the post office and had them start forwarding things, I guess."
Sam looked a little sad. "Yeah. I still don't see a resolution in sight and it was really awkward having Douglas get my mail from Jack's and bring it over here."
This made Willow feel worse about running out on her but there was no help for it. "Look, Sam, Douglas called. He's having problems with Buffy and I think he wants to talk with me, one to one. Anyway I am going to go meet him at a coffee house over by the University. You'll be okay here?"
Sam said, "You are really a sweetheart. I'll be fine." She reached up and took Willow's hand for a moment. "This is pretty weird isn't it? In a way we are rivals for the same man but we're living together with less strain than I had living with Jack."
Willow smiled at her and squeezed her hand before moving to the counter to get her purse. "And our husbands who are rivals are living together too," she added. "Even weirder. Have a good evening. I can't imagine I'll be all that late."
Sam sat in the cozy kitchen, with Willow's little pots of herbs and plants she used for magic filling all the window sills and the brightly colored ruffled curtains, and felt very alone. There was definitely a pity party starting and she refused to have any part of it. Looking around for something to distract her, her eyes fell on the envelope Willow had handed her. She reached behind her and took a knife out the drawer as an impromptu letter opener. She had pulled out the three sheets of official looking paper when the phone rang. It was on the other side of the kitchen and she started to get up but then decided to let the machine pick up. She couldn't imagine anyone who would be calling that she wanted to talk with right now. Whoever it was didn't leave a message.
The ringing phone did, however, make her think about messages and she realized that she hadn't checked her e-mail since Thursday. She left the letter lying on the table and went to her bedroom to get her laptop and bring it down.
She had several messages and was soon lost in them, unaware of the time. She was spooked when her concentration was suddenly broken by the sound of someone or something in the house. Someone went up the stairs. Sam smiled to herself. Someone was about to get an unpleasant surprise. They weren't dealing with the typical homeowner here. She thought about calling 911 but told herself she might be heard by the intruder. Her real reason was the welcome thought of some action.
She crept silently out of the kitchen through the living room which was still dark and into the dim vestibule. She noticed that the burglar had turned the lights on up the stairs. The unanswered phone call had evidently convinced him that there was no one at home. Best to snag him down here. She ducked back inside the archway into the living room and decided to jump her target just after he passed by her hiding place. She grabbed some sort of pre-Colombian statute thing off a table close by and held it in her left hand. After about 5 minutes she heard steps back down the stairs and she tensed, ready for her moment.
Things definitely did not go according to plan. Somehow her target knew she was there. When she went to take him out, he dodged, swung a heavy duffle bag at her, and grabbed the hand with the statue. They wrestled for a moment, lost their balance, and were struggling on the floor when Sam and Daniel mutually recognized their opponent. They were laying full length against each other on the floor, his weight pinning her down. The jolt of desire that went through both of them was massive and unexpected. He was looking directly into her eyes and, although the light was very dim, she knew that look.
A matter of moments later, he rolled off her onto his back and pressed the heels of his hands to his face. "I'm sorry Sam. I wanted to get some of my stuff. I called and there was no answer so I was just hoping I could drop in, get what I needed, and be off before anyone came home. The way you were lurking, I thought.. I don't know what I thought."
Sam leveraged herself up slowly, and by the time she was standing, she was under control. "No problem," she said lightly and walked toward the kitchen, Daniel trailing after her. "Can I get you something to drink? A beer? A cup of tea?" she offered.
Daniel stood quietly for a moment, rubbing the back of his neck, his eyes closed, and considered her offer. "You know, I really would like a cup of tea. Way too much Guiness lately."
He sat down at the table while she fooled around with the kettle and locating tea bags and mugs. He noticed the sheets of official looking paper on the table and turned them slightly in his direction to glance at what they were. Suddenly, he picked them up and began to read them really intently. Sam turned around and was very irritated to see him reading her mail.
"Daniel, that's none of your business," she said, trying to take them from him.
"Oh, I beg to differ, Sam," Daniel said coldly. "Just when were you planning on telling me about this?"
"What ARE you talking about," she asked mystified, still trying to get the paper.
He grabbed her wrist and looked at her hard. Apparently what he saw convinced him she was innocent and his expression changed then, got very soft and tender. "Sam, read this." He handed it to her. "There was some irregularity about that divorce you got. We're still married."
Her beautiful blue eyes were huge in her face. "Really?"
"I'm not a lawyer but they actually try to put it in pretty plain English."
She read the pages three times before she put them down, her hands shaking. "Oh my God, Daniel," she gasped. "What does this mean for all of us?"
He shook his head and suddenly seemed to focus on all the little pots in the window. "You know, I don't feel right talking about it here, in my Willow's house. Let's go somewhere."
"Where?" Sam asked, touched, despite her own interests, by his consideration for his wife.
"I've got a key to Douglas' place and I know he's not there. Okay?"
"Okay," she agreed and started to leave the kitchen.
"Best not to leave this lying around," Daniel said, handing her the letter.
Jack found Buffy at the bar. She was wearing something extremely skimpy under a long black leather coat. She and Sam might both be blondes but the image couldn't have been more different. A slightly inebriated guy was trying to hit on her and she was completely ignoring him. When she saw Jack, she shot a sideways look at her would-be suitor and rolled her eyes. "Do you really want a drink right now because, if not, I'd just soon walk a bit?"
Jack nodded and followed her out the door. There was a park across from Aggie's and Buffy suggested they walk there. Jack was surprised at first until he remembered some of Douglas' wilder stories about her. "Looking for vampires?" he asked, only half joking.
"I'm always on patrol. It's what I am," she said. She reached into an inside pocket, took out a wooden stake and tossed it to Jack. "Just in case."
"What do you want to talk about?" Jack asked, cringing a little in anticipation of the answer.
"I don't WANT to talk about it. Lord, I really hate endless yakking about feelings. Every time I'm in a crisis, somebody wants to take time out from being attacked by way too many bad guys to consider some sort of emotional issues they're having." She picked a stick up from the ground and starting whacking at things as they walked along.
"You're a military guy. I bet you know what I mean when I say you got to do what you got to do. Here you are with everybody looking at you to save the day and, at the same time, everybody else is always all upset that when you made the command decision you didn't treat their feelings with kid gloves." She took a particular vicious whack at a lamppost and the stick broke in half.
Jack was absolutely struck by the truth of what Buffy was saying. Maybe she wasn't as weird as he had thought she was. And, another thought, maybe this negative image he had of her, which was based on Douglas' stories, was not fair at all. Who knows what people said about him?
"The thing is," Buffy resumed, "I told Sam I would talk to you about her, so sooner or later we're going to have to do it."
Suddenly, four really messed up looking guys came at them from nowhere. Jack had never seen Douglas in game face but Daniel had described it to him and so he recognized the vampire in full battle mode. He and Buffy fought more or less back to back and it was incredibly exhilarating. He had been behind a desk for too damn long. Despite the fact that his body was aging on him, he was very proud at how well he held his own. He dispatched one with a stake through the heart and was so fascinated by how he crumbled to dust, sort of like a third zat shot, that he nearly got taken down by the other guy. Buffy had dispatched her two but before she needed to help him, he managed to take his second attacker out.
They stood panting a little and getting themselves together. Jack looked at Buffy and said, "That was great. I feel better than I've felt in weeks."
Buffy said, "And no one was asking us to talk to them or negotiate with them, right?"
Jack put an arm around Buffy and said, "I think we need to go get a large beer." She agreed and they strolled off together back to Aggie's in complete harmony.
In the tavern, they found a booth at the back and spend hours talking about fighting and strategy and a surprising variety of other topics. Jack had to be careful to fudge the details of classified stories but he was beginning to think that in addition to sending ensouled vampires through the gate, they ought to recruit slayers too. Never once did the discussion descend into techno-babble, art, or feelings. Jack couldn't believe how well Buffy got him and Buffy felt exactly the same way. At last, he walked her back to her car. It wasn't until he watched her drive away that he realized they never had actually discussed Sam.
He pulled his cell phone off his belt and found her call in Recent Calls. When she answered, he said, "We never did talk about Sam."
"When you're right, you're right," she said.
"How about tomorrow night, same time, same place?" he suggested.
Douglas and Willow sat in his car in front of her house for a long time. He had her laughing so hard her sides ached. "You are the funniest men I have ever known, you and Jack, although he tends to go more for curmudgeon humor. It's not that you tell jokes. It's just the way you talk about ordinary things. There are times when Daniel's basic 'everything is a flipping serious issue and possible platform for some sort of sermonette on the right thing to do' can get really old." She could tell Douglas was going to feel obligated to defend Daniel and she hastily said, "You know how much I love him and I think it's wonderful how much he cares about everything. But you know, sometimes it's a little like living with Mahatma Gandhi or something."
Douglas said, "But the up side of that is that he is so sensitive about your feelings and he tries so hard to never let you down."
Willow leaned back against him and sighed. "I know. I wish I knew how all this was going to come out."
Douglas said, stroking her hair, "He'd be nuts not to do everything to get you back. You are exactly what any sane man would want. Beautiful, winsome, brilliant, sweet, brave, kind. I've wasted a lot of time chasing after Buffy but I'm finally coming to see that I don't need a hard edged, emotionally shut down sex kitten. I don't know why it took me so long to realize that you are the kind of woman a man really needs."
Willow was profoundly touched. Her ego had suffered severe buffeting ever since she had fallen in love with Daniel. The whole time she had been with him, happy on the surface, underneath this sense of being a second choice had been gnawing at her. Now Douglas was saying he would choose her over Buffy if he could. Her mind played with that scenario. She, like Sam, would have two terrific men mad for her. Sam made it seem like it made you all unhappy but like a poor man listening to a rich man complaining about the burden of wealth, Willow wasn't sure she wouldn't like to see how that particular burden actually felt.
Sam followed Daniel down the stairs to Douglas' small basement apartment. She'd never actually been there. He'd moved out of Cheyenne Mountain just a few weeks ago when he had started getting involved with Buffy. She was really curious to see it. It was quite a surprise. Douglas had a real flair for decorating on a shoe string. He made good money for his work on SG-1 and she wasn't sure why he was so frugal about his home décor choices. Maybe it was the challenge of it. But the place was absolutely charming in a sort of raffish, art nouveau, bohemian way.
The couch was an oriental-like cushion affair, a little like someone had taken a big overstuffed couch and removed the legs. It was strewn with cushions and there were more piles of cushions near by. Candles were on almost every surface and framed posters of Aubrey Beardsley prints graced the walls. Daniel dropped the key on a little table under a gilt mirror next the door and sank down to the couch. Sam hesitated and sat down on the same couch but as far away from Daniel as she could get.
"This letter, it doesn't really change anything, does it? I mean if we're together, it still destroys Jack and Willow," Sam finally said.
"Maybe we should get over ourselves," Daniel retorted. "Yes they will be hurt but they'll live. I'm not everything in Willow's life and you are not everything in Jack's. Plus this divorce thing basically says to them that they have been living a lie. On top of everything else that's happened, maybe the genii won't go back in the bottle."
"You're just rationalizing," Sam said, picking up one of the cushions and kneading it relentlessly.
"What are you afraid of Sam when you think about being with me?" Daniel asked suddenly. "Because if I'm rationalizing, it seems to me that you are too."
She started to cry then. Somehow she got out, "We were so happy. It was perfect. We didn't fight. Everything was so beautiful and then it was all taken away." She looked up at him through a haze of tears. "It keeps happening with you Daniel. Douglas once told me that he had spent his life as love's bitch. Maybe you're death's bitch."
Daniel didn't say anything for a moment and then he scooted over to her and took her in his arms. She had subsided to hiccups by then. He wiped away her tears with his thumb and then ran it across her lips. He started to butterfly kisses across her face and down her neck, one hand digging into her hair and the other gliding down her arm, around her waist, pulling her across his lap. She was having trouble breathing and clutched at his shirt. Finally, he came back to her mouth and kissed her, tenderly at first, and then fiercely. "Be my wife again, Sam," he said softly against her mouth.
When Douglas came home, nothing was that out of place but things were a bit off. Either there had been a break in or Daniel had been here. Nothing was missing and there was a faint smell in the air. He picked up a couch cushion and pressed it to his face. Sam AND Daniel, huh? His protectiveness of Willow made him angry at his friend but, at the same time, he felt like a drowning man who had just glimpsed a life preserver one wave over. If Daniel was stupid enough to choose Sam over Willow, that was his mistake. Maybe, then, he had a chance with Willow.
He was turning all that over in his mind when the door opened and Buffy came in and announced, "Spike, we need to talk."
Interesting. The other early snit warning signs were not there but she was calling him Spike. "I'm all ears," he responded leaning against the wall. Forget the amenities and let's get this over with.
"It isn't working very well with us, is it?" she asked, twisting a button on her leather coat.
"Luv, I'd like to be able to disagree with you but you're right." He stepped a little closer and pulled her against him. "How about one last kiss and we call it quits."
She laughed and said throatily, "I've never had better sex with anyone else and I doubt that I ever will." They kissed very thoroughly and, for a moment, almost succumbed to the idea of one last something else before they pushed apart.
Douglas chucked her under the chin and said, "Sad to say, sex doesn't turn out to be what's really about though, does it?"
The next day, around lunch time, Douglas was awakened by his best friend shaking him awake impatiently. "Whaaat?" he said woozily.
"Douglas, it's 11:30. Rise and shine."
"There a bleeding fire or something?" he asked, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
Daniel leaned against the door jamb as Douglas swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "I'm a vamp. I'm supposed to sleep during the day. Didn't you read the manual?" he grumped.
"I'll make you some coffee and warm up some blood," Daniel offered laughing.
"Least you can do, Jackson," Douglas said and stumbled into the bathroom.
As they sat over the coffee and blood, Douglas asked, "Okay, Danny, what is it?"
Daniel seemed to be searching for the right words but then just blurted out, "You don't need to talk to Willow for me after all. I've decided that as much as I still love her, it just isn't going to work."
Douglas loved Daniel as deeply as one straight man can love another and that love made him make one last effort to prevent his friend from making what Douglas thought was a big mistake. "Are you sure? Sam's okay but she doesn't have half the sweetness that Willow does."
"I'm sure," Daniel answered. He looked speculatively at Douglas. "Maybe this is one of those 'speak for yourself John Alden things.' Maybe you ought to be selling yourself to Willow instead of me."
"I actually met John Alden once," Douglas said.
"You're not that old," said Daniel refusing to be taken in.
"No, of course not. But John Alden got bit. Finished out his life as a vamp. Told me that speaking up for himself to Priscilla was the best move he ever made. They were very happy together for several years before he lost her to some disease, I forget what."
Douglas got up to get another cup of coffee. He added, "Buffy and I called it quits last night."
"Then maybe it's all falling into place for you," Daniel said hopefully.
"Maybe. That still leaves Jack and Buffy out in the cold though. Sam'll have trouble with Jack being alone."
Daniel bit his lip. "I know. We want to keep this to ourselves for a while. We thought maybe if some more time passed, Willow and Jack might start to find ways to compensate. And, maybe, to tell the truth, we're just big cowards. Neither one of us want to see the look we are imagining in their eyes when we tell them."
The women didn't convene for their typical weekend coffee klatch that morning. Buffy had gone back out patrolling after breaking up with Douglas and slept into the afternoon. Sam, on the other hand, woke early feeling energetic and went for a 5 mile run. Willow spent the morning, puttering around in the kitchen, baking things. It helped her focus. She then decided she needed something new to wear and spent the rest of the day at the mall. She told herself she needed some jeans but something led her to a very short little dress with a plunging neckline.
As noon came and went and Buffy was still out cold, Sam started getting more and more anxious to call Buffy off her mission to talk to Jack. The phone rang about 1:30 and she let it keep ringing hoping that it would wake Buffy. She finally picked up after 5 rings. There was silence on the line and she said, sharply, "Who is this?"
Daniel said, "It's me, Sam. I just wanted to make sure it was you before I said anything. I tried your cell but I think the battery must be dead."
Sam asked, a little shyly, "When are we going to, um, see each other again."
Daniel answered softly, "It's all I can think about. I talked to Douglas. We can use his place again. How about you meet me there about 8:00."
Sam agreed happily and said goodbye. She deflated quickly when she thought about the need to talk with Buffy, to get her to abort her mission on Sam's behalf with Jack. What she didn't know was that there was no need to tell Buffy anything. Buffy had picked up the ringing phone right when Sam did and heard the entire conversation. Buffy came and found her at her computer after she showered. "So you're choosing the boy wonder," she said, plopping down on the edge of the desk. Seeing Sam's confusion, she explained, "I heard the whole thing."
"I don't really appreciate you eavesdropping on my conversation," Sam said stiffly.
"Do you really have a leg to stand on in the sneaking around department? You are making a huge mistake, you know," Buffy said, impelled by some urge she didn't completely understand to prevent Sam from messing up her life.
"I don't think so," Sam said, in a friendlier voice. Buffy was clearly trying to be helpful. "Look, please keep it to yourself for now. We're trying to buy time, hoping something will come along to make this easier for Jack and Willow."
"Maybe something has happened. Douglas and I broke up last night. There's always been a little something there with him and Willow. Maybe… I don't know. Still, I'd better stay in town a little longer, make sure it's okay for Willow before I take off. AND I am not so crazy about seeing Angel again. That's still really over."
They sat quietly for a moment. Buffy looked at Sam a little challenging. "So I take it you wouldn't mind if I went after Jack?" Buffy asked.
"He's old enough to be your father," Sam said, mildly repulsed.
Buffy agreed unconcerned, "Maybe 25 years or so older but throughout most of history that would have been a very normal thing. Point is, he isn't my dad. He's extremely hot and absolutely brilliant at all the things that matter in my world."
Without realizing it, Sam mimicked Willow's words about Douglas. "Don't hurt him, Buffy. He seems really tough but he can be hurt and he has been, more than any man deserves to be. You treat him badly, I'll make you sorry."
"What is it around here anyway," Buffy asked somewhat cryptically from Sam's point of view, "the love police?"
Two weeks went by with overtones of a French bedroom farce. Sam had to spend some time in DC but when she was in town, she and Daniel made flimsy excuses to allow them to sneak off and spend hours rediscovering each other. Jack started patrolling fairly regularly with Buffy without sharing the fact with Daniel or Douglas. Douglas hung out with Willow, making her laugh, eating her cooking, and telling her how wonderful she was. He even wrote her poetry which she discovered was incredibly gratifying. Of the three couples, they were the only ones who were open about the fact that they were spending time together but they had a long history as good friends and time in each other's company didn't lead to anyone jumping to any conclusions.
Daniel took Sam to Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Sunday between Masses. They sat at the back and he turned toward her, holding her hand. "Sam, when I was in hiding those two years, I came to understand something that is very central to me now. The fact that there are so many false gods, beings like the Goa'uld or even the Ascended with powers far beyond or own, doesn't mean that there isn't still truly a God. The inadequacies of all the others, their pettiness, their inability to love us unconditionally, all the limitations I still had when I was Ascended, just points out what the true God is by contrast. If we're going to be together, you have to know I'm looking for spiritual answers in places like this."
Sam said, "I think I knew that you were searching. I'm fine with it if you're okay with where I am."
He nodded and then said, "There's something I would really like to do, Sam. I'd like us to renew our vows, pledge ourselves again. A place like this seemed like a good choice but a beautiful spot out in the middle of trees and flowers seems just as much a cathedral to me if you'd prefer."
She smiled at him with her heart in her eyes. "This is fine Daniel." She nodded toward the altar. "Should we go up there and kneel?"
"I don't think we have to unless you want to?"
She shook her head slightly. "Okay, then, let's do it."
He hesitated a moment and then began softly, "Before God, I promise myself to you Sam completely and totally. You will come before all others in this world and I will never betray you or never leave you. If sickness or misfortune come to us, I will still be there. I promise to share everything with you and never lie to you. I promise to love you all the days of my life."
She wiped away a tear. "Daniel, I promise myself to you, in everything I am and everything I have. I promise you truth and faithfulness and to always believe in you, no matter what happens. I promise to be there in sickness and in health, when there is plenty and when there is nothing. Everything I have will be yours. I promise you my love to the end of my days."
A priest, entering from the sacristy, saw the couple at the back of the church, their heads bowed, as they murmured softly. There was something very special about them and he left the sanctuary quietly so as not to disturb the sense of blessing that hung in the air.
Willow was a brilliant woman, up to Sam's speed in her own way. She read the handwriting on the wall after awhile in Douglas' behavior. He wasn't pushing Daniel any more but, it seemed, showing her his own interest. She knew how deep his friendship ran with Daniel. He wouldn't be hanging around Daniel's wife in a quasi-dating situation if he didn't know it was all right with Daniel.
They were watching "Charmed" together when she switched off the TV suddenly. "Hey," Douglas protested, "it was just getting interesting."
"Douglas, we need to talk," she said. "Daniel's decided he wants Sam, hasn't he, and you know it?"
Douglas tried to look uncomprehending. "Where are you getting that?"
"You are writing me poetry. You would never do that if I was in the compartment marked 'best friend's wife.'"
He took her hands and looked at her ruefully. "We were hoping to keep it from you a while longer. Daniel knows how I feel about you and we hoped, I hoped, that maybe if I could make you care about me a little, it would be easier when you found out."
He looked at her tenderly, worry written large on his face. "How are you feeling Willow?"
She sighed. "Oh it hurts. I won't pretend that it doesn't. But it isn't like I'm just finding out about it. Ever since the spell starting causing problems, I've felt I was living on borrowed time. And there are compensations," she added, freeing a hand and putting it to his check.
He clasped her other hand a little tighter. "There's more. I think the deciding factor for Sam and for Daniel was finding out that there was some irregularity in Sam's divorce from him. She was notified that she was still married to Daniel."
Willow was stunned. She thought she had figured things out but this had certainly never occurred to her. "So we weren't ever married?"
"Sam saw a lawyer and he confirmed that's what all this meant," Douglas agreed. He was still watching her face anxiously. "Daniel is very upset about the way this happened. He'll always love you. You do know that. He will be unhappy that you heard this from me instead of him but that was the risk we took when we decided to delay telling you anything."
Willow said, "I think I am going to be very angry or something about the divorce thing later but for now there is only thing on my mind. This means we are as free to kiss each other as any two people could possibly be, right?"
Douglas didn't waste a second acting on her hint. He brought her hand up to his mouth and kissed her palm. He nipped at the heel of her hand and trailed kisses up her arm to her neck. He bit her gently on the neck, the reminder of what he was capable of but would never do to her, very thrilling. He framed her face in his hands and kissed her eyelids.
"Kiss me on the mouth, damn it," she said and he laughed and complied.
Daniel came to see her the next evening. At first he had a problem looking her in the eyes. Regret and guilt were written all over him. "Willow, I am so sorry," he stammered, "I never meant to hurt you. I…"
She put her hand over his mouth and stopped him. "Daniel," she said, on the edge of tears, "my sweet Daniel. I know that. In a way, I created all the unhappiness for myself by doing a spell on you I should never have done."
Tears were rolling down his face now and he clasped her in his arms and they held on to each other for a long time. When he released her, she said, "I know it's a real cliché but it is very, very important to me that we stay a part of each other's lives, friends, all of us. Not just you and me. Douglas is your best friend and I've really come to care about Sam."
"I would really like that," he said smiling down at his little redhead.
Jack and Buffy had dropped into Aggie's for a drink and something to eat. She stopped to talk to one of the waitresses who had become a great favorite of theirs and Jack headed back to the men's room. Just past the bank of pay phones at the front of the hallway leading back to his destination, he saw a couple leaning against the wall and kissing. They were lost in each other and didn't notice him at all. For a moment, he couldn't process who it was. He saw the woman's red hair and the shaggy head on the man with the SG camouflage jacket but it just didn't make sense. He stepped back behind the phones and then stepped forward to look again.
He changed his mind and went back to the bar. Buffy noticed the thoughtful expression on his face and said "What's going on?"
He shook his head and steered her to a booth at the very back. She sat down and he slid in next to her. She looked a little surprised but not unhappy at this new seating arrangement. Finally he leaned toward her and said, "I just saw Willow and Douglas making out in the hall past the pay phones."
Buffy looked completely unphased by this news. Jack said, "I really have come to respect the guy and I can't believe he'd be doing this with his best friend's wife."
He half rose as if he was thinking of going back and defending Daniel's marriage for him. Buffy put her hand on his arm. "Daniel knows."
Jack raised his eyebrows and his voice, "Daniel KNOWS. Just what are you telling me?"
Buffy shrugged. "Douglas and I broke up. I told you that. Douglas has been around Willow constantly. Daniel was over at the house last night when I came in. I was beat and went straight to bed and haven't seen Willow to talk to her about it yet, but feature this. Daniel was sitting in a chair and Willow and Douglas were on the couch, holding hands. You connect the dots."
"Where was Sam?" Jack asked.
"She wasn't around." She took in Jack's impatient glare. "Jack, she and I have not really hit it off all that well. She doesn't exactly confide in me."
"So you were going to tell me about this when?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Are we going to keeping rehashing this because I'm starting to feel a sudden need to go home."
They sat for a moment, Jack staring into his beer. "Look, Jack, I don't know what Sam's going to do but aren't you just a little tired of living in a constant feeling frenzy?" She picked up her purse. "Let me out, huh?"
Jack stood and she brushed past him but then turned. She put both arms around his neck and pulled his head down. "Here's another possibility to think about," she whispered and then she kissed him. People in the vicinity were watching, entertained, and a couple of guys whistled. It was that kind of kiss. Then she left.
Jack drove home, suddenly feeling like everyone else knew something he didn't. Daniel was in the kitchen, drinking a cup of tea. He had noticed that Daniel had cut way back on the alcohol lately and suddenly that seemed like a sign of something too.
"Daniel, I want to know what's going on. All of it, not just the version in the official press releases." Daniel looked at him, warily, not sure what he was supposed to say. Jack decided to help him out. "I saw Douglas and Willow kissing and Buffy thinks you know about it."
"Jack, you should hear this from Sam," Daniel said slowly.
"Hear WHAT exactly," Jack asked and then pushed Daniel back down when it looked like he was going to get up to call her.
"Okay. Maybe it is best that we get it out in the open now. Sit down."
Jack just looked at him. "I said, sit down, Jack."
Daniel's tone of voice was very unDaniel and Jack responded without thinking to the unaccustomed note of command. "Sam was notified about two weeks ago that there was an irregularity in the quickie divorce she got from me. We're still married, Sam and I." He waited for Jack to take that in. "So Willow and I and you and.."
Jack cut him off. "I can do the math." He added slowly, "Why didn't she tell me, right away?"
"I found out at the same time she did. And I guess it knocked us off the fences we were straddling. We decided that as much as we loved each of you, we needed to be together. But we were so afraid of the damage it was going to do. We delayed hoping that maybe more time apart would make it less of a change. That something else would happen, I don't know what, that would make it easier. And that worked for Willow. She and Douglas have had a deep friendship for a long time and this gave it a chance to become something more. But," he hesitated.
"I'm still screwed," Jack finished.
Daniel visibly winced. "My lord, Jack, I've counted you one of my closest friends. You are like my older brother. I didn't want this. That was why I took the potion in the first place. So when she chose to be with you, I wouldn't be making problems for myself or for the two of you."
They sat, Jack studying his hands and Daniel his tea. Daniel said after awhile, "I've always hated those reporters that stick microphones in front of people who have just lost their whole family in a house fire and ask them how they're feeling. But, damn it, Jack, how are you?"
"It doesn't hurt anywhere near like Charlie," Jack said. "That's got to be a good sign. In fact, it just feels like a background level of sadness that was already there got even harder to ignore. I'm really a whole lot better at people than I let on Daniel," he laughed a little, "and I think I was reading the signs."
He tipped the chair back and put his hands behind his head. "We had fun together, we supported each other, but mostly it was very physical." He looked at Daniel a little defiantly. "Mind blowing sex, actually Daniel." He brought the chair back down and leaned forward. "The thing is, I guess it was really like a two year date. We weren't growing together and I think in the marriages that last, you see the two people grow together to form two halves of a whole. You and Sam share like that Daniel. Sam and I never did and never would."
He stood up. "That's about all the discussion on the subject I can tolerate. The best thing you can do for me is to stay away from me for awhile and, for God's sake, Daniel, keep Sam off me. I'm not ready to talk to her."
Jack left then and went back out to his car. He went to Cheyenne Mountain and did mindnumbing paperwork for hours. Then he called Buffy and asked her to meet him.
They stood together, leaning against their cars and looking out across the city. "Where can we find the most vampires," he asked her.
"LA is loaded. Especially since Angel and his operation left," she responded not needing to ask why he wanted to know.
"I've got nothing on the calendar that can't wait for a couple of days and I've decided to take a couple days off and go to LA. You want to come with me," he asked.
She laughed, delighted. "I'm not going to hit on you for rebound sex, Buffy," he announced. "That would be stupid and not fair to you. But maybe a couple of kisses might help a man feel a little more appreciated and sometime down the line, well, we could see what happened."
She laughed again and walked into his embrace, sliding one hand inside his shirt and the other around his neck. They went over estimate, with maybe a 5 kiss overrun, but they stopped. They got in the car and went to LA where they had a thoroughly satisfying couple of days of taking out the baddies.
A year later, they all sat at a huge round table that Sam and Daniel had put in the middle of the large country kitchen in their new house. The conversation had been about some interesting developments in relations with the Jaffa and the mission Teal'c was on to his people. Buffy had just come back from Chulak and was filling everyone in. She had turned her slayer network over to Giles, Angel, and Zander to run and come into the Stargate Program through the Initiative. She was officially "on loan" which allowed her to, in fact, work under Jack's command. There were a few comments at the Mountain about the General's "child bride" but Jack didn't give a damn. He was having a great time and felt younger than he had in years. The subject of the conversation was classified and Willow lacked clearances but Douglas refused to keep secrets from his wife and Jack had let him get away with it.
Jack scoped the group and then said, "For sure, I'm calling Jerry Springer." No one had to even ask what he thought was Springer-like about the scene in front of him. Three couple sat in harmony, three endings and three beginnings represented. Sam was a little farther from the table than the others because of her late in life, third-trimester belly, leaning against the arm her husband had on the back of her chair. Buffy had her hand high up Jack's thigh under the table. He was going to either have to remove it or make their excuses and leave early. Willow and Douglas had their hands together on the table, their fingers woven together.
Willow said quietly, "It would nice for Springer to do a show for once in which everybody was really happy." No one disagreed.