Daniel blinked and shook his head slightly. He did better with alcohol than he had done when he first met Jack, but he was still not a regular drinker. He dropped his head again and regarded the brandy in his glass with suspicion.
"Daniel, I'm serious. Look at me," Jack said, with a definite tone of command.
Reflexively, Daniel complied. "What do you want to talk about?" he asked. Inside a little voice was saying, "Please don't lay the whole Sam thing on me, please, please, please."
"Sam, interestingly enough, seems to have the same general cold and exhaustion you have."
"I didn't think she was back yet?" Daniel said. Now he was confused.
"She's not. I talked with her right before she left and it was quite obvious the two of you had had some sort of a falling out. Do you want to tell me what it was about?"
"No," Daniel said, baldly.
"Let me hazard a guess. You didn't like her taking the engagement ring."
"Hell, she's engaged to you. You're the most important thing in her life. Why shouldn't she take it?" Try as he might, Daniel couldn't keep the bitterness completely out of his voice. He took a large swallow of the brandy and coughed.
Jack waited until his coughing fit had subsided. "Daniel, I got engaged once before and I'll tell you right now, it was a whole other experience. Sara was so excited. She showed the ring to everyone. She was bubbling over with wedding plans. Sam couldn't wait to get out of the store. She jammed her hand in her pocket like it was covered with the famous heartbreak of psoriasis. I have to ask myself why spending $2,000 on a ring for a woman left her weepy and tired?"
Daniel sighed. "Jack, I don't think I should be talking about Sam with you. I think that's a conversation you should have with her."
"Maybe, if I was going to get a straight answer." He scooted forward in his seat so that their knees were almost touching. "Daniel, I love the woman. I want her to be happy and she isn't. I need to find out what's going on."
"Jack," Daniel said slowly. "I can't speak for Sam, for what's going on in her head. All I know is that she told me that there was something really difficult you were facing now and that she had promised you that she wouldn't tell anyone what it was. She is very worried about you and very unwilling to hurt you in any way, particularly now."
"Do you love her, Daniel?" Daniel had tried to steel himself for that question which he thought had a strong probability of coming at him, but found that he still wasn't prepared.
He put his head in his hands. "Jack, it totally surprised me. She always had Jack's property stamped on her forehead, at least by the time Sha're was gone and I even allowed myself to look at other women. I never let myself even consider it. The kids though, knowing that our counterparts produced them, it made me start turning over the possibility in my mind of the two of us together. I'm running on again, huh? Yes, Jack, I love her, more than I loved Sha're, more than I've ever loved anyone in my life."
"You have her kids, sort of," Jack said.
"So I should let you have her–-everybody gets something. Is that the proposal on the table?"
"That sounded sort of stupid," Jack said.
"Look, this is fruitless really. She's the one making the decision. Jack, I do want you to know one thing. You've always been very important to me. I love you like a brother. It's really bothered me the distance between us of late, particularly since you got together with Sam. Whatever happens with her, if you're facing something tough, I want to be there for you. The alternate reality Uncle Jack was a big deal in the older two kids' lives since the family only relocated to Abydos about 5 years ago. I know Mitch and Mary Clare would want to be there for you. Please let us be your family."
Jack looked at Daniel for a long minute. His brown eyes appeared moist and Daniel thought, Jack doesn't trust himself to speak. At last he stood up and Daniel stood up too. Jack hugged Daniel hard for just a moment. "We're a social species aren't we Daniel? It's like the way monkeys have to have other monkeys to pick things off them. I've made the mistake of trying to go it almost alone and putting the virtually entire burden on Sam which isn't fair to her. I'll be in touch, Space Monkey."
He left and Daniel sat unmoving in his chair for a long moment, the brandy forgotten, wishing that there was some unseen power that could hear him, that could answer the plea in his heart and make it all right for all of them. He'd have to ask the kids to pray for him. They definitely believed someone was listening.
When Sam got back at last, she went looking for Daniel and didn't find him. She had spent way too much time mulling over the situation and didn't have confidence in anything any more. She wasn't even sure that if she did break it off with Jack, Daniel would still want her. She was in that uncertain frame of mind when she got a call from Jack.
"How did the mission go?"
"It was the worst. The locals have less appealing personalities than Osama Bin Laden, Teal'c was obsessing unhappily over Ishta, Cam was pissed at me, and Alcalde had the runs the whole time."
"That good, huh? Well, I've got something special planned to help take your mind off it."
Sam groaned inwardly. She really didn't think she could fake a good time with Jack, but she wasn't going to end it with him until she talked to Daniel. There was no point in breaking Jack's heart if it wasn't going to serve any useful purpose. "Jack, I don't know…"
"I'm not taking no for an answer. I want you to get all dressed up and come by my condo at 7:30 sharp."
"Jack, please. I don't think I'd be much fun."
"Nonsense. You heard me Colonel. Be there." He hung up.
Sam was too tired to rebel although the entire time she was changing into a simple black crepe dress with a swingy, flared skirt that ended just above the knees, she was thinking, things are going to have to change after the wedding, if there is one. I'm NOT spending the rest of my taking orders in my private life.
She arrived on time as directed and noticed the Catering by Antoinette van in the driveway. She was encouraged to think that at least there would be good food and lots of nice touches. Antoinette was a marvel. Cam had gotten to know her when she waited on him repeatedly at Cracker Barrel. He had ended up being one of those who had invested in her little catering company and it was a howling success. Antoinette didn't just bring you food, she supplied flowers, candles, and whimsical touches like two turtle doves cooing together in a cage for an anniversary dinner. Antoinette opened the door and Sam's smile got even broader as she took in the spiked hair, midriff bearing top, belly button ring, and low cut jeans, incongruously topped with a BBQ apron around her neck and tied at her waist that proclaimed, "Dad Loves to Cook."
"Hey Colonel," Antoinette said, "come on in. General O'Neill said for you to get comfortable. He had to leave for a little bit."
Sam trailed after her into the house and started to follow her into the kitchen. "Nope. You're supposed to be having an elegant experience. The way I fling food around you'll end up with something on the front of that spiffy dress. Let me bring you a glass of wine and you have a seat."
Sam went to sit in the living room and look at the beautifully set and decorated table. A tray of hors d'oeuvres rested on the coffee table and Antoinette quickly appeared with a glass of Pinot Noir. Sam was still not excited about the evening but her spirits had been lifted a little.
Cam went straight to Daniel's from the Mountain. He always felt better about everything when he walked into this warm, noisy house. There always seemed to be extra children around and something happening. Mitch or Catherine or both would fling themselves at him, Jake would give him a low key but pleased greeting, and sweet Mary Clare would blushingly greet him. Then there was his true friend, Daniel. More than one Bible verse his granny had made him memorize about friends ran through his head and he thought how true they were when applied to Dr. Daniel Jackson.
However, this evening when he let himself in—no one expected him to knock--he found everyone but Mary Clare in the back of the house in the kitchen. Jake and Mitch were helping Daniel clear the table, that is everywhere but where Catherine was sitting. A plate with a mound of peas was in front of her and she was sitting with her arms crossed and a defiant expression on her face. "Can't make yourself taste the peas, but you aren't willing to give it up on dessert?" he asked her.
She nodded her head emphatically. "It's chess pie," she whispered.
"Oh, I see," he nodded solemnly. Chess pie was a Southern standby. Over the past year, Daniel's kids had wheedled a menu out of him heavy on biscuits, cornbread, grits, country ham, and other childhood favorites of his. It was just one more reason he loved coming there. Chess pie was as special favorite, but Daniel's little ones didn't get dessert if they hadn't eaten a reasonable meal and at least tasted everything on their plate. "How about if you pretended the peas were pills and popped them one at a time. I bet you could just swallow them without chewing."
He heard Daniel suppress a snort behind him. "Will we have a possible need to do the Heimlich maneuver on her then?" Mitch asked. He sounded almost hopeful. The boy was very impressed with the procedure, having seen a movie where a boy saved his little sister from death by executing it.
"I don't think so," Cam said. "What do you say?"
Catherine screwed up her face and downed 8 peas in rapid succession. Trying to hide a broad smile, Daniel brought her a slice of pie and took her plate. She disposed of it in short order with a blissful expression on her face and then ran off with Mitch. Jake also left. Cam said, "Everybody's eating kind of early aren't they?"
"Jack called. He asked me to come over and talk with him at 7:45. Jake and Mary Clare will watch the kids."
"7:45. Not 7:30 or 8:00?"
"Right. I guess timing really matters. He's got something going on that I promised to help with." Cam raised an eyebrow. "I don't know any details, but he said he wanted 'moral support' for a difficult conversation and it would be really good to have me there. He asked me to dress up a bit. I think his words were 'at least a nice sweater.'"
"That's weird," Cam said and helped himself to the last slice of pie.
"Did you even ask?" Daniel laughed. "I bet you didn't eat your peas."
"I never order them," Cam said. "There are some advantages to growing up." He leaned comfortably against the counter and started to eat his pie. "Where's Mary Clare?"
"Up in her room. She refused to eat dinner and I didn't want to make an issue of it. She's been very withdrawn and unhappy, I guess since Mitch's birthday party."
"Any idea why?" Cam asked. He already knew the answer. He just hoped Daniel didn't.
"She won't talk to me or the other kids. As much as she squabbles with him, she and her twin are really close. If she won't tell Jake, it worries me."
"Do you want me to talk to her?" He sure didn't want to, but he was a soldier and he knew that you didn't really get to chose all your missions.
"Would you? That would be great. I'm unhappy enough on my own without looking at her being miserable too." They exchanged a silent look.
"I'll go talk to her then," Cam said and put down the empty plate. He squeezed Daniel's arm before he left. "Sam came back just fine, if you might have been wondering."
He knocked on Mary Clare's door. "Mary Clare, it's Uncle Cam. Can I talk to you?"
There was movement in the room and the door was unlocked, but not opened. He took that as a yes and entered cautiously. She looked at him over the top of a pillow she was hugging to her chest and jerked her head at a rattan chair in front of her desk. He had barely seated himself when she blurted out, "I saw you kissing Dr. Lam and I know you saw me while you were kissing her and I also know why you think I'm unhappy."
"Okay," Cam said. "Is there anything left for me to say here?" He was trying to tease her, but it fell flat.
She buried her face in the pillow and her voice was muffled. "Look, you think I have a big crush on you, but it isn't just a crush. I love you. I'm too young for you now; I know that. That's what I've spent the last month coming to terms with--that and planning out my life. BUT the difference between 26 and early forties is completely different than between 18 and late thirties. We'll go our separate ways, but I'll still love you. If it's supposed to be, we'll find each other some day."
Cam was speechless. What was he supposed to say? Finally, he said, "You know I care about you and I doubt that I have ever been more honored by anything than to have you feel this way about me, but I don't want you wasting time thinking about me and ignoring the fellows your own age that could make you happy."
Mary Clare looked up at him, blushing furiously but determined to have her say. "I know who I am and what I want and I have to be true to that. Please go back downstairs, okay?"
Daniel pulled up to Jack's. Unlike Sam, he did not rejoice at the sight of the Catering by Antoinette van, although it would be good to see Antoinette. Jack had not said anything about a meal and he had already eaten once. He wondered if he could go in the bathroom and do the bulimia bit. He doubted if he could eat another bite, even of Antoinette's delicious food. He wondered briefly if Antoinette was the one Jack wanted his support in talking with, but that just was too far out to even consider.
He knocked on the door and Antoinette opened it and then stepped aside to show him Sam sitting in the living room, looking stunning. He gave his coat to Antoinette and stood awkwardly, tongue tied. It was the first time he had seen Sam since he had told her he was walking out on her.
The silence stretched out and he saw Antoinette flashing in and out of the dining room, depositing dishes. She reemerged with her coat and an envelope. "The meal is on the table, the dessert is on the kitchen counter and I'm going to leave now. Colonel O'Neill said that NO ONE was to clean anything up and I was to come back in the morning to do it. He also asked me to give this envelope to both of you."
Sam took the envelope, perplexed, and they both watched Antoinette briskly go out the door and hop in her van. "What does it say?" Daniel asked and crossed to sit on the couch with her, but as far away from her as possible.
She opened it, scanned it, scanned it again, and tears began to run down her cheeks and splash on the paper. She handed it to Daniel and picked up a cocktail napkin and started dabbing her face. Daniel read the note out loud.
I can't be happy if the people I love aren't happy. You two belong together. Please spend the evening figuring that out. Sam, the ring was expensive so put it under the mattress. DO NOT CLEAN ANYTHING UP. YOU'LL PISS OFF ANTOINETTE.
Daniel slid over next to Sam. She was crying in earnest now and it tore at his heart. "I decided that I had to be with you, no matter, what," she got out between sobs, "but I thought you might not want me any more and I didn't want to hurt Jack if there was no point. At least one of us had to be happy."
"Know this," Daniel said, taking another cocktail napkin and handing it to her with one hand while he kept the other wrapped around her. "I will never not want you and I will never stop loving you."
She turned a tear stained face up to him. "Can we really be together then?"
Daniel picked up her hand and carefully removed Jack's ring. He set it on the table. He pulled a chain out from under his soft blue cashmere sweater and there was a sapphire ring dangling at the end. "This is my mother's. I was going to give it to you as soon as you broke it off with Jack." He pulled it off over his head, unclasped it, and slid off the ring. He dropped to the floor on one knee and said, "Will you marry me?"
"Oh my love, as many times as you want, in as many realities as we ever find ourselves in," she said. He put the ring on her finger and she pulled him up, into her arms and began kissing him. He gloried in how much better kissing without any guilt felt. From that point forward, the evening was magical. They did NOT clean anything up.