Title: Outside Looking In
Author: Annerb
Summary: Daniel wonders when exactly he started watching Jack and Sam like a train wreck in progress. 10th in the DC Series. Follows 'Saying It'.
Rating/Warning: Older teens, language
Categorization: Drama, Sam/Jack

Outside Looking In

Finding Context

"I'm going to Vegas," Daniel announces.

Jack's eyebrows shoot up, his body twisting slightly on the bar stool as he turns to look at Daniel. "One last romp before you leave the galaxy?" he asks.

Daniel rolls his eyes. "I convinced Sam to meet me there for the weekend." He's been doing the rounds the last few weeks, taking his leave of all the important places and people on Earth. It's why he's here in a wood-paneled Georgetown bar, sipping some local microbrew that makes his teeth ache. Jack, for all the weirdness, is the one he's least worried about leaving behind. Sam, on the other hand… "I thought it would be a good idea to get her head out of the sand at least once."

He glances at Jack to see if he has a comment to make about Sam's new job, or her emphatic, even for her, dedication to her post. All Jack does is make a non-committal sound in the back of his throat and turn his body back towards the bar.

"Carter in Vegas," Jack says after a while, eyes slipping distant as he takes a swig of his beer. "Now that would be something to see."

Clearly Jack has no better idea about what prompted her move to Nevada in the first place than Daniel does, or at the very least has no intention of talking about it. Daniel knows he could push, but he likes to think he's learned a few things working around Jack for the better part of a decade.

"I bet she makes a killing at the tables," Daniel observes, nudging the conversation in a seemingly new direction. He figures Sam can probably count the cards or whatever it is MIT mathematicians do to cheat at Blackjack.

Jack shakes his head, bottle hitting the bar with a decisive thunk. "She won't gamble."

Daniel frowns. "She's played poker with us."

Jack's eyes track to the television, apparently incredibly intent on the highlights from this afternoon's Nat's game. Yeah, right. "That was for fun, and with friends."

Daniel isn't sure he sees the difference.

"It's the math," Jack says, sounding completely certain. "She knows the odds down to the decimal place. It sucks all the fun out of it." He pauses, fingertips digging along the edge of the beer label. "No one likes to know just how high the odds are stacked against them." His lips twist as if he's laughing at some private joke he's made, but it's the bitterness right underneath that surprises Daniel.

He wonders for the first time if he should worry more about leaving Jack behind than he has.

"Well. It's Vegas," Daniel says. "I guess that only leaves getting her drunk and getting her laid."

He's watching carefully, but Jack doesn't betray even the slightest twitch.

"Take her to Mandalay Bay," Jack eventually says, empty bottle rolling between his palms.

Daniel blinks. "What?"

"They have an aquarium. She'll like that."

Jack nods to himself as if agreeing with the assessment, and raises his hand to the bartender for another beer.

Sam Carter in Vegas is not quite the obvious match Daniel somehow assumed it would be. It's not helped by the fact that she's a little squirrelly, peering around at all the crowds like a TV with the noise up way too loud. Like she's just come up out of total sensory depravation and isn't adjusting all that quickly.

It's not like Sam has ever been a party girl, but she's fun if you manage to get her far enough away from work, get her mind shifted to that gear. For some reason, Daniel is having a harder time of it than usual.

They're standing in the casino of the Venetian. (They both agreed not to set foot in the Luxor. It seemed more of a Jack and Teal'c thing anyway, and Daniel's feeling hyper-aware enough of their absence as it is.)

Sam is eyeing all the tables suspiciously, lingering near a roulette table. "Do you know just how atrociously bad the odds are in roulette?" she asks.

She says it a little too loud, earning nasty looks from some of the players. He can see a nearby pit boss's head lift and turn in their direction.

Daniel shrugs, not particularly worried that they are about to get in Vegas-style trouble. "Big risk, big pay-off," he comments. Or so they say.

Sam watches the people casually stepping up to the tables and plopping their bets down like she's a little in awe of them. She shakes her head. "It's crazy."

Risk isn't an unknown entity to Sam, particularly when stacked against a big payoff for the planet, but Daniel is suddenly reminded that she's actually an insanely cautious person in the other parts of her life.

"So, what should we do?" she asks, dragging her eyes away.

Clearly they will not be gambling. Damn Jack anyway. Daniel can just imagine his smug expression right now.

The image tickles a memory at the back of Daniel's mind.

He turns to Sam. "I have an idea."

Daniel shouldn't be surprised. Sure, Sam had been a little reluctant at first as they approached the aquarium, but now that he's got her here, she looks captivated staring at the sharks circling above her head. Back at the bottom of the food chain. Or maybe it's just good to get her focused on what she's been slaving to save for so long. They all tend to get tunnel vision after a while.

A group of kids scramble by, shrieking and pointing, drawing Sam's attention. She stares at them for a moment as if they are just as foreign as the fish.

It looks a little like she's just waking up.

For all Jack O'Neill liked to pretend to be as thick as mud, he has good instincts about people, and about Sam Carter more than anyone. Years of close command relationship, Jack would probably claim, but Daniel's beginning to seriously doubt that.

No one likes to know just how high the odds are stacked against them.

Daniel tries to shake the memory of the bitter twist of Jack's lips, telling himself he's just getting nostalgic, looking for problems in his friends' lives where there are none. That maybe part of him, as much as he can't wait to see Atlantis, likes to think that he's indispensable to his team in a way he hasn't been to anyone in a long time.

Sam steps up next to Daniel, linking her arm with his. "Thanks, Daniel. I wasn't sure I'd like this, but I really, really did." She shrugs, looking embarrassed like she needs to come up with some plausible, practical reason for her pleasure. "Water must mean more, living out in a desert."

"It was Jack's idea," he admits, just to see how she'll react.

"Oh," she says, turning her face away for a moment. When she looks back at him, her expression is blandly neutral. "Where do you want to eat? I'm starving."

Daniel feels a little ding of some strange connection being forged at the back of his mind, but chooses to ignore it, instead getting into a hearty argument over which restaurant to pick. He complains about all of her choices until she manages to forget herself and threaten him with an Indian burn. Daniel laughs, slings an arm over her shoulders and tells her the first choice sounded fine to him.

Rolling her eyes, she wraps her arm around his waist and calls him a filthy name. He tries not to see the sheen of his approaching departure in her eyes.

By the end of dinner, she's loosened up, her smile and offbeat comments appearing with more and more ease. And maybe this is why Daniel really dragged her here, looking for one small sign that she's going to be okay before he takes off.

Of course, he's regretting that when she drags him to the Stratosphere and bullies him onto the roller coaster. (And who in the hell exactly decided putting a roller coaster on top of a skyscraper would be a good thing?) Then again, Daniel has never been the adrenaline junky Sam is. She doesn't scream, just keeps her eyes open wide against the rush of air, her hands loose in the air like she has a death wish.

It gets under his skin, that look on her face. Scares him in a way the ride never could.

Their last day in Vegas he finds himself trying to pull a bit more information out of her during lunch, but she just isn't giving an inch, and frankly he's got a lot more on his mind.

It still nags a bit as he gets into the cab, but he pushes it away. His teammates are all grown up now. They'll have to deal with their issues on their own.

He has a ship to catch.

One he doesn't plan on missing. Not for anything.

Send a Signal

Daniel thinks of it sometimes with longing, how very different his life might be right now if he'd turned his back on Vala's rattlesnake smile and just kept walking out of that briefing room. If he'd actually managed to board the Daedalus for Atlantis.

He certainly wouldn't be sitting in a DC restaurant trying to decide just how screwed the SGC is now that Vala has managed to make the Secretary of Defense hate them even more than he had before.

Of course, if he hadn't been lured in by Vala, hadn't let himself get sucked in… Maybe they never would have...

No, he can't go there. The past is the past. The Ori are real, and no amount of sticking their heads in the sand will change that. Not anymore.

He just hopes the Secretary of Defense will realize that too.

Vala doesn't seem too concerned herself, practically bouncing in the booth as she looks over the menu. At least she wasn't pouting anymore. Daniel had adamantly refused to sit next to her in the booth, instead crowding in next to Teal'c. Teal'c had given him a vague look as if accusing him of cowardice.

Of course, it isn't until Jack arrives that Daniel realizes his fatal mistake.

"Fellas," he says with a nod, sliding into the only available seat. Right next to Vala. "Miss Mal Doran."

Vala's eyes go wide, sliding up next to Jack, her arm wrapping around his. With a wink and an inappropriate amount of leaning, she says, "Hello, handsome."

"Vala," Daniel snaps before he can think better of it.

Jack glances from Vala to Daniel, not missing a thing to judge from the way his eyes light up like Christmas come early. He grins down at Vala. "Daniel's reports don't do you justice."

Vala shrugs, flipping her hair over one shoulder. "How could they?"

"How indeed?"

Thanks be to everything holy, Daniel has a little bit of luck left, the waitress picking that moment to appear and take Jack's drink order.

"Oh, yes. I will have one of those too," Vala says smoothly, clearly already forgetting their earlier discussion about not drinking alcohol.

"No, she won't," Daniel says, refusing to get dragged into another staring contest.

Vala falls back against her seat, arms petulantly crossed over her chest, mumbling something that makes Jack choke.

"It is good to see you again, O'Neill," Teal'c says. His skill at diplomatically diffusing tense moments grows by leaps and bounds with each additional day they are stuck with Vala. "You seem in great health."

Vala mutinously disappears back beneath her menu. When Daniel returns his attention to his friends, they are having a little staring contest of their own.

"What?" Daniel asks.

Teal'c blinks, looking away. "I was simply thinking it has been far too long since we have all dined together."

Daniel nods. "It's just too bad Sam couldn't be here too."

Teal'c gives him one of his rare smiles, and Daniel is aware that he is completely missing something.

"Yes," Vala pipes up, clearly deciding that silent pouting is getting her nowhere. "When will I meet this famous Samantha Carter? I'm beginning to think she doesn't actually exist."

"Oh, she exists," Jack says, something just the slightest bit odd about his tone. When Daniel looks up from his menu though, Jack merely looks bored and slightly pained. "I'm the one who has to read through piles and piles of research reports with her name on them. She's figured out how to torture me from 3,000 miles away."

Daniel smirks. "She always was an overachiever."

Vala leans forward, her fingers playing with the straw of some tall, fruity drink that couldn't have been there a moment before. How the hell had she-?

"I can't wait to meet her," Vala says.

Daniel stills, considering it for a moment, Vala and Sam in the same space. His mind begins to fry a little bit with the possibilities. They are nothing alike, really. Probably wouldn't even know what to do with each other. As enemies, they would no doubt scorch the atmosphere, but as allies…it's even more unthinkable. He thinks the planet can only pray for polite indifference.

Jack seems to be realizing the same thing, his eyes growing wide.

Vala takes a long pull on the pink concoction in front of her and jabs her finger at her menu. "Now, someone explain to me why I would want to eat shoestrings."

Destination Where?

Daniel will be very happy never to see another alien hamster for all his days. Or even a regular Earth hamster for that matter. One of them had nested in his closet, shredding three priceless texts to create a bed for the next great generation.

Jack was furious, the added delay of unexpected hamster babies almost making him miss the noon transport. For a while there, Daniel was sure Jack was going to bust out of the Mountain, risk of world-wide hamster infestation be damned.

Daniel had been far too distracted by keeping Vala from stealing him blind to really think about it at the time, but Jack had seemed a little overly tense. And not in a 'the world is about to explode' way. Or even the 'I have politicians on my ass' way. Just antsy. More in a 'will there be cake left in the commissary by the time this briefing is done?' way.

Maybe Nellis has awesome cake.

Daniel shakes his head, and refocuses on making sure that Vala is behaving herself. They really should have just eaten on base, but Teal'c so rarely had time on Earth these days it seemed mean to make him eat commissary food. The down side is that even without the damn bracelets, Vala is still tied to him while they wait for the effects to wear off.

Daniel still remembers far too well what happened last time they took Vala out in public.

Daniel glares across the table at her, but Vala simply bats her eyelashes in innocence. Yeah, right.

"I have missed this restaurant," Teal'c says, smiling at the waitress as she delivers his meal.

"Yeah," Daniel says. "I'm just sorry Jack couldn't come. I tried to talk him into it, but he had some hokey excuse about meetings."

Vala makes a dismissive sound at the back of her throat.

"What?" Daniel says, his patience, as ever these days, far too brittle.

Vala just makes a big show of placing her napkin carefully in her lap, sliding Teal'c a knowing glance.

Teal'c takes a moment to relish a bite of his steak. "I am sure O'Neill had more important matters to attend to."

"Yeah," Daniel says, digging into his pasta. "Something about meetings in Nevada." He frowns, the conversation from the harried afternoon coming back to him in bits and pieces. "Over the weekend."

Wait. What?

He looks up at Teal'c, his brow furrowing. Teal'c gives him that ridiculous grin of his again.

Just because Sam happens to live there now doesn't mean… After all, friends can visit each other. Of course, they don't usually feel the need to outright lie about it. Daniel tries to remember Jack's expression, if he'd imagined the panic there.

"You don't really think they're…," Daniel says, not quite able to even articulate his suspicion.

"For many weeks now," Teal'c says, looking not remotely surprised.

Holy crap. Daniel puts down his silverware with an indignant clank. "That sneaky bastard."

Vala tilts her head, straw twisting between two fingers. "He's a little slow," she observes to Teal'c as if Daniel isn't even here. "It's cute in a pathetic sort of way."

Daniel grabs his phone and jams his finger in his free ear in a feeble attempt to block her voice out. The call goes straight through to voicemail, and he tries not to think too hard why that might be.

He waits for the beep. "Jack. This is Daniel. Did you honestly expect me to believe…I mean, sight-seeing?"


Status Unknown

Daniel sees little of Jack and nothing of Sam over the next two weeks, giving him no chance to confirm or deny his suspicions. Not that he really needs it. It's pretty damn clear when he takes the time to actually think about it. It's not like he even wants the details, he just feels like a dog with a bone, unable to stop chewing away at it.

Maybe he's just looking for something to distract him from Vala's constant, grating presence. Or so he tells himself.

When Sam finally transfers back, he figures he'll have plenty of opportunity, but with the constant trying not to let the Ori swat them like flies, Sam remains fairly inscrutable, even for her, and frankly Daniel's heart isn't in it. (He refuses to believe this could have anything to do with the way they lose Vala. She's alive. This he knows. She's too slippery and self-absorbed to have just given up her life like that. Not without a plan.)

Then Mitchell goes missing, and one day Sam comes onto base more pissed off than Daniel can remember seeing her in a long time. Maybe since Bauer made her almost blow up the planet. Or that time Hammond kept them from giving Jack and their new alien friend the backup they'd promised.

"Is everything okay?" Daniel dares to ask.

Sam's head snaps up from the lunch she isn't eating. "Wonderful," she says, shooting them a brilliant smile dripping with poison. "Why do you ask?"

Even Teal'c looks a little alarmed.

She calms down pretty quickly, but practically moves into her lab.

Daniel and Teal'c don't even want to hazard a guess. Mitchell may just be the lucky one, missing on an alien planet.

Daniel's phone rings, and he reaches for it without looking away from the tablet in front of him. "Hello?"

"Hey, Chuckles," Jack says on the other end. "How's it going?"

"Chuckles?" Daniel asks, wondering if Jack has gotten into the rubber cement again.

"Sure. We call you that sometimes, right? Good old Chuckles. Chucky, Chuck, Chuck-Bo. Dr. Chuckypants."

Oh dear God. It's going to be one of those conversations, Daniel can already tell. "Do you need something, General?" Shaming Jack into remembering his position rarely works, but Daniel's desperate enough to try.

Jack seems to take mercy on him. "Any word on Mitchell?"

"No, nothing yet." Which Jack would know, being The Man as he's always reminding them he is.

"Oh. Something will turn up."

Daniel somehow really doubts Jack called for a pep talk. "I'm sure it will."

"Otherwise…things are good?"

"Sure," Daniel says, spinning in his chair to grab a book from his shelves.

"Teal'c's not acting up?"

It's possible Jack is just in one of his moods, in which case Daniel knows the best strategy is to just humor him and hope it runs its course fast.

"You know how he gets," Daniel says, playing along, one eye still on the books in front of him.

There's a bit of a pause on Jack's end. Daniel's just beginning to hope this conversation is already ending when he speaks again.

"And Carter?"

Jack's voice is bland and nondescript and completely unremarkable, which only makes it less so, and Daniel thinks he's finally gotten to the real point of this bizarre call. He should have known.

He sighs. "If you want to know how Sam is, why don't you just call her?"

"Whoa," Jack says, instantly trying to backtrack. "I'm just trying to make conversation here."

Right. Things are beginning to make a sick sort of sense. "Why don't you just tell me what happened?"

"What makes you think something happened?"

Daniel rolls his eyes. "Oh, I don't know. Maybe this insane call. Or the fact that Sam's been slamming around her lab for days."

"She has?" He sounds like some bizarre mix of hopeful and scared to death, and Daniel can't believe this is his life.

"Oh for God's sake," Daniel breathes, but Jack has already pushed onto whatever inane topic he's using for cover. Something about the appalling lack of anything resembling a decent coffee shop within shouting distance of the Pentagon.

Since Daniel enjoys his sanity, he lets it go with relief.

Still, he finds himself following Sam back to her lab the next day after they get Cam back. He tells himself this has nothing to do with Jack or his call. Someone would have to be blind not to see her mood after all. And honestly? He's curious. Because from the outside this looks as messed up and half-assed as it's always seemed.

She's doing her best to shrug him off, but he hasn't been her friend for the better part of a decade for nothing.

"You're happy, aren't you?" he asks her once he's got her cornered.

He watches the play of emotions on her face, none of them simple, and it's that horrible feeling of watching something you've just always known was coming finally happening, like some great unavoidable tragic ending, reading Romeo and Juliet and convincing yourself the ending just might be different this time, right before he drinks the hemlock.

But then something happens. Her expression smoothes out, the complication falling away and she just looks…certain.

"Yeah," she says. "I'm happy."

Somehow, he thinks she actually might be.

Very, very early the next morning, Daniel gets another call from Jack. "Hey, you know that envelope I sent you a while back? When Carter first transferred back to the SGC?"

Daniel rubs at his eyes, not even bothering to complain about the ungodly hour. Jack is impossible to derail when he's in this kind of mood. "You mean the one that says 'Do Not Open Under Penalty of Death'?"

"Yes," Jack says. "Exactly. You now have permission to open it."

He does, stumbling blindly around his apartment until he finds it in the random drawer he tossed it in. Inside is nothing more than another white envelope, a piece of paper or something inside.

Daniel holds it up to the light. "What is it?"

Jack ignores him. "Dump it on Carter's desk before she gets in, will ya?"

"Jack. This isn't study hall. I'm not passing notes to your-."

But Jack has already hung up.

So help him, if he ends up tugging Sam's braids one day, he's running off to the join the Tok'ra.

Later, he finds Sam humming in the locker room as she laces up her boots.

Empty Pockets

After the blow up or whatever it was, Sam doesn't bother to pretend with him anymore. Daniel thinks he might have liked the pretending more, because it makes it harder for him to remember he doesn't want to know. His friends' sex life is none of his business.

Oh, great. There's an image he's never going to be able to scrub from his mind.

Then the Ori plague hits and there's no time for those thoughts, disturbing or otherwise.

People are dying, Landry failing fast, and their only ally is losing his own battle quicker than they can ever hope to solve this. Daniel has lived through a lot of impossible situations, but something about watching Orlin crumbling, killing himself to fulfill a promise no one asked him to make, is hitting way closer to home.

Daniel sees the way Sam is no longer just exhausted, but beginning to doubt the stability of her own feet. Only it's not like he can say anything about it because working themselves into the ground is the only chance Earth has. They need Sam Carter to pull this off.

More importantly, they need her to believe it.

He tracks her down in her lab, but comes to a stop in the doorway at the sound of voices. Sam is where she always is in a time of a crisis, hunched over her lab table, her back to the door. A quick glance confirms that she's alone.

Daniel takes another step, about to announce his presence, when Sam speaks.

"I'm sorry this derailed our plans," she says, one hand rubbing the back of her neck as if fighting off a headache.

"Carter," Jack's voice chastises, and it's only then that Daniel notices the phone by Sam's elbow, the speaker light lit up. "You're saving the world. I thought we agreed this is the sort of thing we don't apologize for."

"Right," she says without any humor, her focus still glued to the machine in front of her.

She works in silence for a while, longer than most people would be comfortable not saying anything on the phone line. He wonders how often they do this, feeling an unexpected twinge in his chest, like they are pretending Jack really is there, hovering over his team like before.

"How are you?" Jack eventually says. This is more than simple small talk, rather a pointed inquiry into her health.

"I'm fine," she says, more automatic than genuine as she leans close over something on the table in front of her.

"Would you really tell me otherwise?" Jack asks, his voice sharp. Daniel wonders if he's been sitting there trying to analyze what Sam isn't saying just by the rhythm of her breathing.

Her shoulders tense. "I'm not showing any symptoms. Dr. Lam suspects some connection to the plague that wiped out the Ancients, so we might be immune because of what happened with Ayiana." A small comfort, knowing Jack and Sam, at least, are safe.

"And Daniel?"

Daniel starts a bit at hearing his name.

Sam pauses, her hands bunching with the worry she doesn't let leak into her voice. "I'm keeping an eye on him."

"Just hoping he has a little Ancient-fu left over, huh?"

She turns her head to one side, her lips twitching, but the smile doesn't stick. "Pretty much."

"Sam-," Jack begins to say, but Daniel sees the way she flinches, quickly speaking over him.

"I'm fine," she insists.

There's a deliberate, heavy pause at the other end, and Daniel can practically imagine Jack's expression as he tries to ferret this out.

Jack doesn't have the benefit of seeing Sam sitting there, see the fact that she's actually pretty damn close to losing it, like one more push from Jack might make it all crumble down.

Then again, maybe Jack doesn't need to see it to know.

"I'll let you get back to work," he says, voice brisk, but not angry.

Her shoulders relax. "Thank you." She reaches for the phone to hang up, but pauses when he speaks again.



"I'm still getting these tickets reissued for a later date."

Her hand curls around the phone, knuckles pressing white. "That seems a little…premature, don't you think?"

"No," Jack says, his voice firm, his unshakeable confidence in her audible even across thousands of miles of phone line. "It's called optimism, Carter. Well-founded optimism."

Sam's head drops forward for a moment. "Okay."

"Now, get your ass back to work, Colonel."

Her head lifts, her back straightening. "Yes, sir."

"I'll see you soon."

"You will," she says, and this time, Daniel thinks she actually believes it.

She ends the call, and Daniel slips back out into the hall.

For now, Sam Carter is back on track, and they have a miracle to catch.

Daniel has never actually seen Sam be okay about being kicked off base before. There's no mistaking it though, as a pale-faced but clearly relieved Carolyn backs up her still weak father's demand not to see Sam back on base for at least a week.

"Or two," Carolyn says, arms crossing over her chest.

There are a million reasons Sam could have come up with to argue against the order, things still needing to be done, the possibility of unexpected outbreaks, the fact that they might still need a cure, that there won't always be a prior around to sacrifice himself for them. Only Sam doesn't claim any of these, just nods once and turns to leave the room.

Carolyn gives Daniel a pointed look.

"Uh, I'll give her a ride home."

Landry smiles. "You do that."

Daniel catches up with Sam out in the hall. "Going home?" he asks, still not really believing it.

Sam nods, and this easy acquiescence is frightening enough, even without the fact that she looks like a feather could bowl her over. She pauses by the elevator, leaning into the wall.

"I'm going to see Orlin in the morning," she says, her voice quiet.

Daniel manages not to wince, thinking of Orlin in that home, his mind and memories gone. He wants to tell Sam not to go, to put herself through that right now, but he knows better than to even suggest it.

"Let's grab some take-out and go to my place," he says. "We can crash on the couch and drink too much beer."

"Daniel," she says, and he can already hear the denial in her voice.

"Sam," he counters, knowing somehow that she really shouldn't be alone tonight. "Humor me."

"Ok," she agrees. "I just need to make a quick call, okay?"

Less than forty minutes later, they are dutifully crashed out in Daniel's living room, the remains of Indian food cooling on the coffee table. Most of their attention is riveted by the rapidly dwindling supply of cold beer.

The only answer is alcohol after all, and, sure, it's never worked before, but this might be that one time it does. Really.

Daniel still has Jack and Sam's conversation stuck in his head, the way it sounded almost identical to how they've always sounded. Which either means he's still missing something that he's always been missing, or things haven't changed between them as much as he thinks they have.

"What happened between you two? While I was…gone the first time?" Something had been different when he came back, and for a while he'd been convinced that had just been him, his memories settling back into place, but in light of their relationship now he suspects it was something else all together.

He expects her to play dumb, but they've both been drinking. Otherwise he never would have asked the question in the first place.

"I think…," she says, her voice quiet. "I think we were dating."

Daniel blinks. "You think?"

She laughs, something gruff with an edge of bitterness. "I would have vehemently denied it at the time, but yeah. I think we were dating."

Only Jack and Sam could be confused about something as simple as whether or not they were dating. He gives her an incredulous glance, and she closes her eyes, shaking her head.

"It was hard after you…left. I was devastated and pissed, and Jack refused to show any inkling of emotion as usual. He wouldn't mourn or explain to me why he let you go in the first place, and we just couldn't even talk to each other for a while. We just walked around each other. But of course that couldn't last."

"So you started dating instead?"

She makes a face. "Well, you weren't here, and Teal'c would rather gnaw his own arm off than interfere and Jonas was just…completely clueless. So it was easy to assume we were fooling everyone, including ourselves. We were sort of the only thing human we each had left, you know?"

Daniel has long since reconciled any guilt he felt over his choice to ascend, but he knows perfectly well that Sam will probably never completely forget that pinch of abandonment. She can respect his choice, but will probably never understand it.

She sets her beer aside. "We just started calling each other every day and eating dinner together sometimes and watching movies, and then he was helping me with projects over at my house on the weekends."

Daniel can almost imagine the slow spiral of denial the whole thing had been. He wondered if he'd watched any of it, what it must have looked like from up there. Had he worried? Been relieved?

"Nothing physical ever happened," Sam is quick to add, and Daniel bites back a laugh at the panic in her voice even now, her fear that anyone might possibly think something untoward had happened between them at any point. As if they hadn't run ragged over the spirit of the law long before. But he knows they don't see it that way.

He thinks with all the baggage they lug around between the two of them, it's a minor miracle they've gotten to the point they're at now.

Sam leans back in her chair, face lifting to the stars. "I think for a while we almost convinced ourselves it could work, that we could be part of each others lives like that and not have disaster strike. There were no slips, no real lines crossed, but then a mission would go bad, something would break, and I'd overreact, slam around the base like a lunatic. Or he would. We must have been so embarrassingly transparent."

Daniel still remembers much later when they lost Sam on the Prometheus, Jack's brittle anger. He must have being seeing echoes of that dying relationship still, can only imagine how bad it might have been during the height of this thing.

"But still…those close calls weren't enough for us to come to our senses. We just couldn't stay away from each other."

"Until I came back."

She nods. "You started remembering everything, had so many questions, and the bubble burst. We couldn't pretend anymore."

"So you broke up."

She laughs. "You're giving us way too much credit, Daniel. We just stopped. Stopped calling, stopped seeing each other, stopped being within ten feet of each other off base. We never even talked about it because there wasn't anything to talk about, right?"

Jesus. These two were even more fucked up than he'd ever realized.

She rubs at her forehead like fighting off a headache. "But it was hard. Much harder than I would have thought. Because before…maybe I could convince myself it was just infatuation, the thrill of the illicit, or even if it was something more serious, I was still convinced it never had a chance of working. Jack can be the most obnoxious person on the planet when he wants to be."

Daniel snorts. Truer words were never spoken.

"And me…when I'm not clueless, I'm just a giant mess. We all know that."

"But it worked," Daniel observes.

"Yeah," she says. "It actually worked. And that just made it even more impossible to let go."

"Until Pete."

She winces. "Until Pete," she agrees, toasting her beer to the ceiling and taking a deep swig. "My last ditch effort not to let this thing rule my life."

Jack hadn't ever seemed put off by the Pete thing. Clearly he wasn't super-excited about it, but he never said a word that could be misconstrued as even slightly disapproving, not even after Pete was caught having his FBI buddies check into her background. Daniel recognizes it now as relief on his part, beneath the disappointment. In retrospect, Jack reacted in what was probably the most supportive way he could—he gave her enough space to practically drown in.

With Pete in the picture, he supposes there was far less chance of a relapse.

Sam grabs Daniel's arm, her face close to his with the intensity only a slightly tipsy person can really pull off. "I don't know if you'll believe it, or if anyone ever will, but I didn't call things off with Pete because of Jack."

"Then why did you?"

She blinks, like maybe this is the first time anyone has ever actually asked her that. "He kept trying to manage my life, change things. Not just my job or my schedule, but me. And for a really long time I went along with it. It wasn't even until my father met him that I started to see it."

Daniel tries to imagine it sometimes, that first meeting between Jacob and Pete, if things had been as obvious to her father as they had been to the other people in Sam's life.

Sam frowns. "I guess I thought maybe I needed to be changed. Maybe that was why everything was always so messed up. Because something was wrong with me."

Daniel closes his eyes, feeling the room swim around him. He isn't sure if the churning in his gut is from the beer or exhaustion or the feeling that Sam has never really understood her own worth outside making miracles.

Opening his eyes, Daniel watches her pick at her beer label, the gesture so familiar. "Do you still believe that?"

"What?" she asks, almost as if she's forgotten he's even in the room.

"That you need to be changed?"

She looks uncertain for a moment. "I hope not. I really, really hope not," she says.

Daniel watches her drain her beer and tries not to feel foreboding.

By the time he wakes the next morning, the couch having cut strange patterns into his cheek, Sam is long gone.

When she comes back at the beginning of the next week, she's relaxed, focused, and recharged. He doesn't have to ask to know where she's been.

This, at least, is different. Sam Carter with a life.

It suits her.

Finding the Words

It was inevitable, Daniel supposes. Jack would, one day, have to come to the SGC, and Daniel and Teal'c could finally have their revenge for being kept out of the loop. Watching Sam squirm and Jack strut around like a smug bastard is pretty much endless fun. Almost as much as watching Cam's utter confusion. Daniel supposes he should feel bad about that. He really doesn't though.

There's an undeniable shift though, as they sit through the briefing. It's not just everyone shifting into work mode, but something more. Sam becomes increasingly perplexed, and Jack quieter and quieter, a black cloud gathering over his head.

Storm on the horizon, Daniel thinks. He has no idea if this is something as simple as Jack's history with Baal, or something else entirely.

When Sam holds Jack behind, Daniel's first instinct is to tease her about making out in storage closets, but one glance at her face convinces him to cut his losses.

Daniel just wishes it felt more like a surprise, and not something that feels depressingly inevitable, like maybe the good days are more of a rarity than they should be.

He turns and walks away.

Jack shows up in Daniel's lab after about thirty minutes. "Daniel, I need you to do something for me," he says, sweeping into the office in typical Jack O'Neill whirlwind fashion.

Daniel ignores the request, giving Jack a critical look. "Is everything okay?"

"What?" Jack asks, looking confused, though honestly that's almost a cheat at this point, he has it down so well.

"With Sam," Daniel clarifies.

Jack says, "What?" again like he's lost the thread of the conversation. They stare at each other, the battle of the stubborn.

Daniel sighs. This is a battle he's been losing for years.

Jack grins, and at least that's a good sign of sorts, if he hadn't been in the middle of asking Daniel for a favor. "Carter's in her lab. Just go get her and I dunno…distract her with geek things. Babble at her. Whatever. I just need fifteen minutes alone in her lab."

"Jack," Daniel complains, but he's already striding out the door like a man on a mission.

"Thanks!" he shouts back over his shoulder.

Daniel rubs at his forehead. Running off to join the Tok'ra is looking better and better by the moment.

Daniel has no idea what Jack was up to in Sam's lab, and frankly he doesn't want to know. But they all make it off base and through dinner without any incident, so it couldn't have been too disastrous.

In fact, Daniel manages to almost completely forget about all of it by the time they are halfway through the first movie. (Something called The Predator that reminds Daniel too much of off-world missions to ever be entertaining. The entertaining part is watching Teal'c and Cam debate the feasibility of the dubious tactics employed. "Super-human, Teal'c," Cam defends. "Super." Teal'c raises an eyebrow at Cam as if reminding him just who he is talking to. "Oh," Cam says. "Point taken.")

Cam has his feet up on Sam's coffee table. "Yo, Jackson," he says, shaking the empty popcorn bowl.

Daniel gives him a dubious look. "Looks like you need to get more popcorn."

Cam gives him his most charming farm boy smile. "My favorite part is coming up." He shakes the bowl again. "Please?"

Daniel rolls his eyes and grabs the bowl. On the threshold to the kitchen he comes to a stop.

Jack and Sam are doing the dishes.

Daniel's seen them do the dishes a million times, separate and together, whether bent low over an alien stream or divesting someone's fridge of the mold-infestation of yet another extended off-world stay.

This isn't anything like that. It's not even that they are doing something so explicit, just that the way they touch each other seems loaded with so many other things, not the slightest gesture taken for granted.

They are shoulder to shoulder, Sam washing, Jack reaching in to take a plate from her to rinse and dry, their hands lingering just a little too long in the soapy water. Sam murmurs something, her head tilting towards him, and Jack's mouth falls open with feigned umbrage, his fingers flicking suds at her in retaliation. She flinches back with a small sound of protest, and, if this were any other day, any other place, Daniel would have been sure this is about to devolve into an all out battle that would require a heck of a lot of clean up afterwards. But Jack catches Sam's handful of soap foam mid-air, their eyes meeting. He leans into her, his thumb sliding down her wrist as he says something right into her ear. She smiles, slides him a look, and says just loud enough for Daniel to overhear, "Only if you were really, really lucky."

Apparently whatever had been wrong earlier is no longer bothering them. In fact, all evening they seemed at ease, catching each other's eyes and beaming brightly at each other. Well, maybe not beaming in Jack's case. But looking smug as hell at least. Daniel saw the way his fingers occasionally found her hip when she passed near.

It's a little creepy, to be honest. But the surprising part is how easy it all looks.

Daniel wonders when exactly he started watching them like a train wreck in progress, a rubbernecker unable to look away from the scene of a horrific accident. Because as he watches them tonight, he realizes he's been waiting a long time for this to swing around and bite the team in the ass. He thinks maybe it's one of those things he picked up while ascended—the first time—because he's fairly certain he'd been too self-involved before then to even notice this strange thing between them.

"You done staring yet, Daniel?" Jack asks, his attention still completely and unapologetically riveted to Sam. She's the one to look startled, glancing back over her shoulder at Daniel, her cheeks tingeing slightly pink. But to her credit, she doesn't step away, doesn't surrender an inch of her ground like she's earned it. Daniel doesn't doubt she has. Each painful millimeter.

"We need more popcorn," Daniel says, holding up the empty bowl as proof.

Jack shares a wry glance with Sam, drying his hands off before carefully wiping at the small suds clinging to her cheek. "Popcorn," Jack says, and it's like the little moment never happened. "I'm on it." He turns to the cupboards and digs through like he knows exactly where everything is.

Sam is still looking down at her hands as she washes, but Daniel can make out her reflection in the window. She's happy.

Daniel is forced to consider that maybe he's been bracing himself for a crash that already happened a hell of a long time ago. None of this is carnage, it's them finally climbing slowly back out.

As the evening stretches on, he lingers. At first because he's learning to watch them in a new way, but later because he can see it's driving them nuts and what else is a friend for, really?

It's near midnight when Sam drops a hand on his shoulder, fingers digging in. "Daniel. I love you. I would gladly give my life for yours. But if you don't leave, I'm going to kill you myself."

Well, if that doesn't say it all right there, Daniel doesn't know what could.

He leaves them to their thing.


It's the way he looks at you
That says to me
This isn't over
From the outside looking in

-Soldier's Daughter by Tonic