The night sky was clear and the stars twinkled down through the blackness; the moon casting a silvery glow over the ground below. Jack settled back in the comfy chair atop his roof and took a long gulp of the beer he held as he stared up into the darkness. It had been only a matter of hours since they had arrived back from P1X465 with the body of Daniel Jackson but it seemed like days. His mind skittered away from the personal stuff; he didn't want to think about it. He focused on the work; on the mission.
As a first mission back in the saddle, Jack figured it was an unmitigated disaster. He'd lost a man; two members of his own team were injured. Jonas had bruised ribs and a sprained wrist; Sam's arm had been sliced badly. He also knew the brass didn't have the same opinion of the mission. From their perspective the confirmation that the Unas didn't belong on the planet was a positive; they could mine the naquadah. The discovery of the alternate universe travelling machine was less welcome.
Hammond had already set wheels in motion to prevent a reoccurrence of someone coming through the rift. A team had been sent back immediately to deal with the body of the Unas and secure the chamber. Sam had warned that they had no idea if blowing up the device would open a permanent rift between universes. She had suggested that they left the cavern intact but the tunnels leading from it caved in. A warning would greet an alternative universe traveller that they would be unable to leave the cavern and would be better to try to their luck elsewhere. Hammond had agreed. No-one would have to face another duplicate version of someone they had lost…
Jack sighed. It might not have been their Daniel who had been killed but he recognised that the effect on SG1 had been just as profound. The team had made their way back to the Stargate in silence; Teal'c had carried the body. Jack had walked beside Sam and felt as though each step widened the chasm between them again. It was clear to anyone with eyes that the experience had shattered Sam, even though she had tried her best to maintain her military bravado through the debriefing. The story she had relayed about the other Daniel; how he'd been trying to find another universe to replace the life he had lost, to atone for his mistakes had been painful to hear - more for what she didn't say than for what she did. She'd left out the more personal details and Jack hadn't corrected her. She'd left the base uncharacteristically early and he knew she'd gone home to grieve again; for the Daniel they had lost on P1X465 and more importantly, for their own.
His own grief clutched at him, brought the bottle back to his lips. Jack hadn't known what to say to her; what could he say to her when he was consumed by his own resurrected pain and loss? He had wanted to continue to work, bury it like last time, but Janet had over-ruled him on the basis that Sam and Jonas needed a week's downtime for the pain of their physical injuries to ease. Jack snorted. It was going to take more than a week for Sam to recover from what happened but maybe…maybe the base, at least, would be back to something approaching normal. Everything had seemed muted and serious at the SGC when they had arrived back with the body.
A breeze washed over him; crisp and cool. It ruffled his hair and sent a shiver through him. He should move, he thought tiredly. Go back into the house and get into his bed; try to sleep and forget the visit from the alternative Daniel as though it was a bad dream; another nightmare to add to the rest. The man's death; his revelations about the relationships in his universe…
'It was always you she loved.'
It didn't mean anything, Jack told himself, ignoring the hope that Daniel's words had evoked. The archaeologist had been speaking about his own Sam and Jack, and God knew what a messed up triangle that was.
'You know Sam and I chalked that night up to just the need to be with someone and we would have probably moved on, stayed just as friends, but she ended up pregnant. Maybe your Sam didn't.'
Had his Sam and Daniel…Jack thrust the thought away before he could complete it. His jaw tightened. It wasn't any of his business if they had; Daniel and Sam had both been free and single. Hell, Jack thought furiously, Sam had had no idea how much he loved her back then – he'd made damned sure of that – and after witnessing him with Laira on Edora, if she had turned to Daniel for comfort, he could understand it, couldn't he?
'You never were there for her when she needed you. I was.'
There was an element of truth in the bitterly spoken words that had Jack taking another long gulp of his beer. Daniel had always been there for Sam in the past. It was easier for him as a civilian to hug her when she was upset or offer a shoulder for her to cry on. No matter how much Jack wanted to be there at times, the need to protect her from gossip and the hint of impropriety, held him back more times than not. He wasn't stupid either; he knew it held her back too. But then there had been their Daniel's 'death.' She had needed him then and he had pushed her away, in truth, too consumed by his own emotions than concerned about their reputations.
He had missed Daniel too much himself; the younger man's departure had left a raw wound and he'd done what he usually did; he'd pushed it into a far corner in his mind and refused to look at it. Comforting Sam, being there for her, would have meant facing all of that. Just the thought had filled him panic but it wasn't just facing up to his own grief he had avoided. He had felt guilt; over what had happened on Kelowna, for Daniel's radiation, for Daniel's decision to leave them. How could he comfort her when he was responsible? He couldn't bear to look in her eyes and see her disappointment in him, to see her hate him for taking away Daniel. He rubbed his eyes tiredly. The air stirred beside him and his muscles tensed as he sensed a presence. He lowered the bottle from his lips.
'Daniel.' The name left his lips in a resigned whisper. He looked over and saw his best friend sat on the roof beside him. His Daniel in all his Ascended glory. Jack wasn't in the mood to talk to him; he tipped his bottle at him. 'I thought you were gone again?' He said sulkily.
'I've been around.' Daniel admitted.
'Well, go away.' Jack said firmly.
'I'm not going.' Daniel shot back.
'I don't want you here.' Jack retorted.
'Yes, you do.'
'No, I don't.'
'Yes, you do.'
'Are you going to do this all night?' Daniel asked huffily, crossing his arms over his torso.
'Just…' Jack sighed and leaned his head back on his chair, 'go away, Daniel. I'm not sure I can handle talking to you right now.' He grimaced at the admission, the hint of vulnerability and went on the attack. 'If you want to help someone, why don't you go be with Carter?'
'Because I'm not the person she needs to be with. It's always been you.'
Jack's gaze shot back to Daniel. There was a long moment of taut silence.
'You're really not going to ask me, are you?' Daniel murmured eventually.
Jack's eyes snapped forward; into the night sky and endless nothingness. 'It's none of my business.'
'Oh, I think we both know that's not true.' Daniel changed position, sitting up straighter, his legs crossed under him. His gaze never wavered from Jack. 'You have to know nothing happened.'
Jack remained silent.
'God, you can be a stubborn son-of-a…' Daniel began frustrated.
'Hey.' Jack objected. 'Watch it!'
'You said it yourself, Jack. What happened between that Sam and Daniel wouldn't happen here.'
'You were both pissed at me about the rogue mission.' Jack couldn't stop the words tumbling out.
'Yeah.' Daniel agreed. 'We were and we were hurt.' His blue eyes met Jack's unguarded. 'But neither of us would ever, ever…you have to know that.'
Jack lifted the bottle to his lips.
'You're really going to let him come between you and Sam?' Daniel asked incredulously. 'You're really going to let him come between you and me?' His voice rose with each word. 'He wasn't me.'
'Why are you so bothered about this, Daniel?' Jack asked roughly. 'You're not even here anymore.'
'You know that's not true.' Daniel exclaimed hotly.
Jack flushed, ashamed. Daniel had stayed with him during the experience with Ba'al; had been there for him. The younger man was right; Jack knew it wasn't true. 'Sorry.'
'Well, that's a start.' Daniel said dryly. 'He really got to you.'
Jack didn't disagree.
'Don't you trust me?' Daniel asked. 'Or Sam?'
'Of course I do.' Jack shot back immediately. 'This isn't about trust.' He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees; his eyes avoided Daniel's. 'You and Carter…you'd be good for her.' Better than himself. The thought drifted through his mind like a poison arrow.
'I'd be awful for her.' Daniel contradicted him. 'I'm not the one she's in love with, and besides, I'd never do anything to hurt my friendship with you that way.'
'And you've never been tempted, even when you've been pissed at me?' The question was out of Jack's mouth before he could recall it back.
'You're talking about when you pushed us away?' Daniel sighed heavily. 'I guess I'm just going to have to show you.'
Jack's head swivelled round to meet Daniel's determined gaze. 'What d'ya mean show me?'
'This.' Daniel reached out and grasped his shoulder. The world shifted around them; fading away and new colours bleeding in.
Jack found himself standing beside Daniel in a familiar apartment; Sam's. The one she had before she'd bought the house. It had been tiny; a bed in one corner, a two-seater sofa in another with a small TV. To the back, there was a tiny kitchenette and breakfast bar with a door leading through to a cramped bathroom.
'Daniel,' Jack said cautiously, 'what are we doing here?'
'You'll see.' Daniel said, folding his arms across his chest.
Jack leaned back against the wall and waited. He didn't have to wait long. The front door of the apartment was flung open and Sam entered. Jack's eyes ran over her; the old hairstyle bringing a smile to his face before it fell abruptly at the tears streaming down hers.
'She's just seen you leave Earth supposedly to return to Edora.' Daniel commented quietly. 'Don't worry. She can't see you.'
Jack watched silently.
Sam shrugged out of the leather jacket, throwing it on a hook by the door before she went directly to the bed. She curled up on top of the brightly coloured blanket and sobbed.
Jack's breath caught in his throat; she was so upset; so devastated and it shattered him to think he'd hurt her so much.
'She'd only just worked out she loved you.' Daniel said, watching the shifting emotions in Jack's brown eyes.
'I didn't realise…' Jack's voice fell away. He had a strong urge to find someway to reverse time, take it all back, anything to take away the pain he'd caused her.
There was a knock at the door. Sam sat up in the bed, desperately rubbing away her tears as she shuffled to the edge of the bed. The knock came again.
'Sam, it's me; Daniel.'
Jack looked at the archaeologist stood beside him as Sam hurried over to allow his younger self entry.
'Daniel.' Sam tried and failed to smile. 'What are you doing here?' She let him close the door as she wandered back into the living space.
'I thought I'd drop by, see how you are.' Daniel said simply.
'I'm OK.' Sam insisted, her back to her friend and unknowingly facing Jack.
'No,' Daniel approached her cautiously, 'you're not.'
Sam's head bowed as the tears started again. 'No, I'm not.' She turned and accepted the hug Daniel pulled her into; crying into his flannel shirt as he rubbed her back.
Jack could see the archaeologist was just as upset as Sam; tears glinted in the blue eyes behind the glasses.
'I miss him already, Daniel.' Sam said brokenly. Her words muffled as she pressed her face into his shirt.
'I know. Me too.' Daniel eased back and looked down at her.
She looked back up at him.
Jack held his breath as he watched the couple in front of him. They exchanged another watery smile and stepped back from each other.
'I could stay.' Daniel offered.
'No, I'll be OK.' Sam replied. 'But thanks.'
'I'd better get going then.' Daniel said, pointing at the door.
Sam took a deep breath. 'Thanks for dropping by, Daniel.'
'For what it's worth, Sam, I think he's an idiot.' Daniel muttered.
Jack shot the older version a questioning look.
'Well, I did.' Daniel said defensively. He gestured for Jack to continue watching.
Daniel patted Sam's shoulder awkwardly and walked out, leaving her alone in the apartment. She brushed the remaining dampness from her cheeks as she disappeared into the tiny bathroom.
'Seen enough?' Daniel asked Jack.
'Yeah.' Jack said gruffly. He felt Daniel's touch on his shoulder and the world shifted again.
They ended up on Sam's porch; the one attached to her house. Jack looked down and found he was wearing a jacket, shoes, his cell phone was in his pocket and he'd been divested of the beer bottle.
'Couldn't this be construed as interfering?' Jack asked Daniel, a little panicked.
Daniel smiled. 'You brought us here, Jack, not me.'
'Daniel.' Jack stopped, unsure how he apologised for his earlier behaviour.
'It's OK. Just…be there for her. She needs you.'
Jack nodded. 'I can do that.'
Daniel stepped back off the porch step, gesturing behind Jack.
Jack's eyes followed the direction Daniel was waving and landed on Sam's front door. He took a step forward and stopped. He couldn't do it; he was her CO; there were regulations…he had no idea what to say, how to comfort her…he couldn't do it.
'Daniel,' Jack turned back and realised he was alone. 'Great. That's just great.' He considered his options; he had his cell – he could call for a cab, go home. His eyes moved of their own accord back to the door. A brisk breeze ruffled his hair; sent the strands astray. 'OK, OK.' He pressed the doorbell and waited. His heart pounded as the door opened.
'Sir?' Sam's eyes widened at the sight of Jack on her porch.
Jack took in her lack of attire; the way her hands went to hastily pull together the lapels of the robe she wore over what he glimpsed were a vest top and pyjama bottoms. His eyes settled on her face; on the damp trails across her cheeks, the pink nose and reddened eyes. She'd been crying. Had she curled up on her bed and sobbed like she had in the memory Daniel had shown him? His heart ached at the idea of her crying alone like that again. 'May I come in?' He asked softly.
Sam stared at him incomprehensively before his words seemed to register. 'Oh. Of course.' She stepped back and he entered the house, moving past her, down the hall into the den. He vaguely heard the click of the front door and a moment later, Sam joined him in the room.
Jack wondered desperately what he should say as she hovered just inside the doorway, her arms tightly crossed over her chest. She looked at him bewildered as he continued to stand there silently.
Sam sighed heavily. 'Was there something you wanted, sir?'
You. The urge to say it out loud teased at him and he shoved it away. 'I wanted to see how you were.' He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket.
'My arm's fine.' Sam replied cautiously.
'I wasn't talking about your arm.' Jack replied impatiently. He swallowed, moistening his dry mouth. His guarded brown eyes met hers. 'It was a rough day.'
She ducked her head. 'I'm fine, sir.' She couldn't hide the wobble to her voice and as her eyes met his defiantly, he glimpsed the yearning she couldn't quite hide. Jack felt all the doubts and uncertainties slip away; she wasn't fine and she needed him. He took a step toward her and closed the gap between them.
'C'mere.' His arms gathered her into him, careful of her bandaged arm.
Sam resisted for a second before she shifted; her body curling into his, her head resting on his shoulder as he pressed his into the curve of her neck, breathed in her scent. He felt her arms sliding under the jacket; her fingers clutching at his shirt before her arms locked around him. His hands urged her closer, one sliding up her back, his fingers tangling into her hair. They stood holding each other as though it was exactly where they were meant to be; as though the rest of the world didn't matter. Jack closed his eyes as a sense of peace swept over him. He was right where Sam needed him to be; where he needed to be.
'I guess what I'm trying to say is…you're going to be alright.' Daniel said.
'How do you know?' Jack had to ask the question; had to seek the reassurance.
'You're just going to have to trust me.' Daniel said.
'I can do that.'
Jack silently thanked Daniel one last time. Standing with his arms filled with Sam, with hers fast around him, he finally felt the truth of Daniel's promise spread to the depths of his soul: he really was going to be alright.
Author's Note: Thank you all for reading!