AN: Here it is... The end... I hope you enjoy it, even though some of you are gunning for more.
It's a long time before Jack turns to Daniel, only to find the younger man already staring at him. "Why? Why did you do this?" Daniel's insistence on having Jack over seems less innocent the more Jack thinks of it. He knows the emotional fallout of this meal will stir up more pain that he thinks any of them really deserve, possibly more that any of them can withstand. Daniel must have known that as well. Jack couldn't understand why Daniel of all people would put all of them through this.
Daniel looks down at his forgotten dinner plate. His voice is soft and controlled, but it's still laced with emotion. "Because you deserved to know." He sighs. "And you wouldn't have listened otherwise."
Jack doesn't want to acknowledge any truth in Daniel's words, but he can't deny them. Sam and Daniel both tried to contact him. And he hadn't listened. "You could have tried harder." He thinks of his son, an obviously troubled kid, who had no warning who would be at dinner. "That wasn't fair to do to him."
Daniel laughs ruefully. "Carter's known you were his father since the day he was born. He'll be fine."
"You shouldn't have brought me here, Daniel." Even knowing there was something alive to prove that he and Sam had once found each other wasn't enough to comfort him. It hurt too much. He couldn't imagine why his friend, at least someone he had always thought was his friend, would want to hurt him that much.
"Why did you leave her, Jack?" Daniel's voice is laced with such pain that Jack knows without question that Daniel truly loves her. And Jack's sure that she loves Daniel too. Despite the circumstances, they've made a life for themselves, for their family. They deserve that much, that small measure of happiness in life.
"Because I knew she'd never be happy with me." There's more truth in his words than he expected and he feels the knife in his heart twist a little deeper. They could blame it all on him, but he was the one who really lost out in the end. Daniel is living the life that Jack wanted.
"She loved you so much, Jack. You were the whole world to her. Didn't you know that? Everyone else did. How could you have ever thought she would be happy without you?" Daniel's words sound like a question, like he's really curious, but Jack knows better. He hears the accusation before Daniel says it. "Unless you never really loved her at all."
Jack's blood boils and he feels a rage he never has before. "I loved her, damn you, more than you know. I will love her until the day I die." If only he'd ever been able to voice those same words to Sam, what a difference it might have made.
Daniel shakes his head like he doesn't believe the words, but he won't look up to meet Jack's eyes. "No. If you loved her even a little bit you never would have left like that. Not when she needed you so badly."
Jack stands up, angry and distraught and hurt and embarrassed that he'd abandoned the woman he loved and their son. "Maybe you don't know her as well as you think. She's stronger than any of us. She doesn't need anybody."
Daniel looked up, his cold stare piercing right through Jack. "No, Jack, you're the one who didn't know her. She wasn't stronger than any of us. She just pretended to be because she thought that was what you wanted."
A wave a nausea rolls over Jack as he remembers the scar on her wrist. He drops back down into his chair because he's too weak to go anywhere. "When did she do it?" He doesn't know why he asks. He doesn't really want to know.
"She took a bottle of sleeping pills the day she found out she was pregnant." Daniel's hard stare turns soft as water fills his eyes. She left me a note that said she just couldn't face it without you and she didn't think a baby shouldn't have to come into the world alone." Daniel's face contorts as he tries to force words around the tears. "She was so angry when she woke up in the hospital. She swore she'd never forgive me for saving her." Daniel shrugs. "I thought she forgave me after a while. But then Carter was born and he looked just like you from day one and she couldn't handle it. She snuck out of the hospital that night and cut her wrists."
Jack waits in the silence for the rest, knowing that it's as hard on Daniel to tell it as it is for him to hear it.
"Teal'c found her that time, thank God." Daniel smiles, an odd expression with his face wet with tears. "I've never seen Teal'c as angry as he was that night. He couldn't understand it. He said she had no business involving herself in people's lives if she was going to disrespect them by doing what she did. He hasn't said a single word to her since. He won't even stand in the same room as her."
Jack feels only more pain as he realizes the extent of the domino chain that he started. If only he could have answered those calls she made to him, calls he now knows were desperate. If only he'd realized that she had needed him, so much more than he'd ever believed. If only he'd stayed in her arms that night, the way he'd desperately wanted. If only he could have trusted in her smiles, the smiles he hadn't believed she meant.
"I wish I could change it, Daniel. I'd take it all back in a second." He's never felt such regret as he does at this moment. He can barely breathe under the weight of his mistakes.
"I love her, Jack. I always have." Daniel looks down and Jack knows he's scared to admit it, even knowing that he won her. "But it's not right, Jack. She doesn't love me, not like that."
Jack snorts, finding humor in Daniel's statement. "She wouldn't have married you if she didn't." He's sure the reason she decided to live after all was because of Daniel, because of the man she would marry, because she loves him.
"It was loyalty, Jack. That's all. I didn't leave her. I took care of her son when she was too depressed to get out of bed. She got so upset every time she looked at Carter. It went on for years, Jack. I'm sure that's why he's as messed up as he is." Daniel shrugs. "I think Sam was afraid I'd leave her too, that maybe by marrying me she could keep me from abandoning her."
"Looks like it worked." Jack forces a smile, hiding how much more pain Daniel's words cause. He doesn't want to think that his betrayal caused her to marry Daniel out of a desperate fear that she would be alone. But at the same time, he could see her coming up with marriage as the best solution to her problem - the problem of not wanting to lose all her friends.
Daniel stands up and crosses the room. Jack watches as he goes into the living room, pulls a book from the shelf, and then returns. When he lays the book on the table, it opens to a page in the middle, revealing a small piece of paper wedged inside. Daniel nods at it. Jack unfolds it and stares curiously at an address, the only thing on the paper.
"What is this?"
Daniel shrugs. "It's whatever you want it to be."
Jack says nothing as Daniel walks away, hearing his friend's footfalls following Sam's earlier steps. He stays there for a while longer, trying to figure out what the hell he's supposed to do. Giving up on any further explanation, he tucks the slip of paper into his pocket as he leaves the house.
Backing onto the street, he glances up at one of the windows. He sees her face there, beautiful and haunted, staring intently down. But he knows she's not looking for him. She looking for their son, clinging desperately to all she has of them, of their love. He looks down and pulls away, knowing he'll never be there again.
He waits a week before he can't take it anymore. Every morning during that week, he'd gotten out of bed, thought about his son, wondered how Carter and Daniel were doing in Crete, and then stared at the paper he'd left on his night stand. He had no idea what it was, but he knew Daniel wanted him to go there or, at least, Daniel wanted to give him the option of going there. And he'd never been known to resist bait when Daniel dangled it in front of him.
So a week after that fateful dinner from hell, he packs a cooler full of water and sandwiches, puts on his sunglasses, and climbs in his car for the trip. Jack glances at the address one final time before shifting his car into gear and heading off. He has no idea what he's looking for in North Dakota, but despite everything, deep down, he still trusts Daniel.
His destination is nearly sixteen hundred miles away and he has plenty of time to think during the two days it takes him to get there. Unfortunately, thinking is the last thing he wants to do. He cranks the volume up on the radio to drown out any thoughts that might try to occur.
His whole body is stiff as he parks his car on a nearly empty street. He looks around and wonders just what the hell he got himself into.
There's a visitors center, surprising for a town with a population of 500. He glances at the maps and information available, wondering why Daniel felt compelled to send him to an empty town whose biggest attraction is the promise of eighteen fishing lakes within an hour's drive. He thinks Daniel just wanted to get him out of town so that he would never bother either Carter again.
He smiles pitifully at the woman behind the counter and feels obligated to buy a fishing guide. With his purchase in hand, he gets back in his car. He's going to give the town one more circle and then he's going to fly to Crete and ask Daniel just what the hell he was thinking making an old man drive across the country for no particular reason.
Oddly enough, half a block later, Jack notices the large lot on the right hand side of the street. The pavement is overgrown with grass and is completely empty, except for a dilapidated warehouse. The sign on the building reads " McClusky Municipal Airport." He doubts they fly to Crete, but he turns in anyway.
The warehouse serves as the smallest hangar he's ever seen. It's also the most deserted. He looks around for someone to help him, but there's no one. He thinks it's probably better that way. Whatever Daniel wants him to find has been kept hidden from Sam and Jack knows that means it's something Sam wouldn't approve of, and therefore something the average person would also take exception to.
The door isn't even locked. If that's not an invitation, he doesn't know what is. Shaking his head, he ducks into the musty building.
If there's one thing left in life that Jack O'Neill is sure of, it's that whatever is under the tarp in front of him, it's sure as hell not an airplane.
He takes a deep breath before he crosses to the far end of the warehouse to get a better look. His gut is quite talkative suddenly and it's telling him that this is exactly what Daniel wanted him to find and that he's going to owe Daniel big for this. He pulls off the tarp, knowing both that he probably shouldn't and that he couldn't stop now if he wanted to.
And then he finally understands what Daniel meant. It is exactly what he wants it to be. Rather, it's the means to the ends he wants.
He doesn't really have a choice when it comes right down to it. He stares at it, laughing at himself when he realizes he was wondering if twenty years had damaged it when the damn thing had survived thousands of years without a scratch.
He's still laughing as he finds the control for the doors, opening them wide onto the overgrown runways. He doesn't need a runway.
He climbs in and takes his seat, smiling when the jumper hums to life under his light touch. He steers it out into the open, knowing it won't be there long enough for anyone to investigate. There's an excited tingle running through his veins.
God, he misses this.
Then he closes his eyes and thinks back to when it all when wrong.
He's got his chance to change it, to take it all back, just like he wanted. He won't let her down again.
Not when he has a good idea of the extraordinary future they can share with their son.
AN2: FYI, just in case anyone finds Sam to be OOC, I just wanted to give my two cents... Personally, I think they play her too strong on the show. This was the perfect opportunity to see her lose that strength. As anyone who has ever suffered from depression knows, it strikes even the strong and independent and I think losing Jack and having his baby (in this universe) might have been enough to push her past her limits. I believe that she draws some of her strength from Jack and from their bond, so losing that would devastate her. So I hope you enjoyed the angst-fest with a happiest possible ending thatwouldn't ruin the whole thing.