Daniel's death wasn't the worst thing that happened to me. People close to me have died before..Charlie, Kowalsky, Henry Boyd. It's the aftermath that was bad this time. The guilt, the blame I poured on myself. And, what was worse, this time, I wasn't the one who suffered most. Even when Charlie died, my own spiral of shame and self-pity had effectively blinded me to Sara's grief. But this time, I didn't just feel my own loss, but Sam's and Teal'c's and Janet's and Hammond's.. pretty much the entire base missed and mourned Daniel Jackson. And there were that few who believed that if I hadn't pushed Jacob to let him go at the end, Daniel would still be there, maybe in a chair, maybe on a machine, but still there, our conscience. I tried to explain that he wasn't really dead, he'd ascended, but no-one cared. It just seemed to make them even more angry with me, because they believed I didn't care as much as they did, because I didn't mourn him.
Can't say I blame them.
Bit by bit, day after day, the sorrow and loss and blame weighed down on us, especially the four...I mean three... of us, and between us and six months after he died, the pain was worst than the day he left.
And it WAS my fault. Not just that I'd pushed Jacob to let him die, although I couldn't help wondering if I could have come up with a better argument to make Daniel stay, as damaged as his body was. It was the choices I'd made that day. To go with Teal'c, rather than Daniel. To allow Daniel to go off with Jonas. To not listen to Sam's niggling doubts about what exactly they were doing with the naquadria. I went through all the decisions I'd made that day, seeming unimportant and trivial at the time, choices that had led to Daniel's self-sacrifice.
And every time I replayed that day in my head, analysing every tiny alternative, I'd end up thinking of the moment I heard the explosion and heard Sam say over the radio she was going to check it out, and I told her to be careful, not knowing Daniel was the one in danger. She came running up a few moments later, pale and shaken, calling 'Colonel', and behind her, Daniel equally pale, but resolute, stoic, holding his hands out, away from himself as if he'd burnt it, pulling sharply away from Sam, afraid she might reach out to him, her eyes pleading with me to help him, solve this, tell her what to do to save him.
Only I didn't know, and neither did she, and I don't know who she has a harder time forgiving, me or her.
And then one day, yesterday, as I replayed the scene for the one thousand, three hundred and ninety sixth time in my head, I was distracted by something in the corner of my room. It was just a disturbance in the air at first, like a heat haze, then it coalesced, into a white cloud, than finally solidified.
"Hello Daniel.". Okay, so I wasn't completely shocked. I'd known he'd come back at some time. I mean, that's what his kind does, isn't it?
Besides, I had to maintain the O'Neill cool demeanour.
"Neat trick." I said.
"Thought you'd like it." He said, grinning even wider. The cool O'Neill demeanour cracked. Thank god, Daniel! Just the man I needed to see right then. I reached forward to pull him into a hug, muss his hair, just touch him...and my hand went right through him.
"Yeah, I can't take solid form." Daniel told me.
"And no-one else can see me either."
"So if anyone catches me talking to you, I'll have to go through that whole 'are you insane' stuff again?"
"Okay, Daniel, its good to see you, I mean that, but you didn't just drop in for a chat, did you?"
"Well sort of."
"So, what's this about?"
"Jack, I've seen you. All of you. Teal'c, Hammond, Sam.."
"Yeah, Sam isn't doing well." I told him, wincing. "I don't really know how to help her." I admitted.
"Well, you could stop blaming yourself for a start."
"But it was my fault." I said, sitting down heavily on the bed, all pretence swept away. I could never hide anything from Daniel. Sooner or later, he always knew.
"Jack, this wasn't your fault."
"If I hadn't ordered..."
"Ordered nothing!" Daniel snapped. "You know damn well that if I hadn't wanted to do anything you ordered me to, I wouldn't have done. I never did anything I didn't choose to do, Jack."
"I know, but I made choices that day, and they were wrong, and since then, nothing's been right. Teal'c's turned into an over-protective mother hen who insist on checking and double-checking everything, Janet spends all her time talking with everyone she can get hold of who might have been able to save you, in case it happens again, Hammond's seriously considering retirement, and Sam..."
"What about Sam?" Daniel asked, looking concerned.
"She's retreated into herself. She can't seem to stop grieving, and she hates me for not grieving like her."
"She doesn't hate you, we both know what she feels about you." He reminded me, the memory of a thousand late night conversation hanging in the air between us, the kind where nothing is really said, but everything is known.
"Yeah, but that was before you..."
"Before I died? I know she's in a state. We were close, brother and sister practically. The problem is, she thought there was less chance of me dying then anyone, because I was a scientist, not a soldier, so she could safely get close. If it had been anyone else, she would have coped, got over it."
"Well, I don't think she can cope. She's coming close to having a breakdown, Daniel, and I don't think that would have happened if anyone else had died. She's used to death. I just wish.."
"Wish what, Jack?" he said intently, but I didn't notice the sudden edge to his voice. "Do you wish it had been anyone else but me?"
"Yes...no!" I shouted suddenly realising what I'd said, and remembering that Daniel was no longer my friend, but a god.
Time went back. Not snapping straight back like last time, but rewinding around me. Sort of the difference between DVD and tape. I saw flashes, Daniel's final moments, Janet trying to save him, Sam sobbing by his bedside, Hammond's desperate messages to Jacob, Daniel calmly telling me about the horrible death facing him, back and back, until I was eventually standing by the Stargate, on the planet where Daniel had begun to die, next to Teal'c, listening to some administrator drone on.
I tensed suddenly. It happened now. The explosion had just gone off, and I had just heard Sam say she was going to check it out, and any minute now I'd hear her calling me. I strained to listen.
Only it wasn't Sam calling, it was Daniel. It was Daniel who came running round the corner, frantic, and Sam behind him, pale, holding out her hands as if she'd burnt them.
"Don't touch me, Sir." She said calmly, as I stepped towards her. "I'm radioactive."
The bottom fell out of my world, and this time it really was my fault. I'd told Daniel I wanted an alternative to him dying and he'd given me one.
I was going to watch Sam die instead.
"Tell me exactly what is going to happen." I asked Janet. I'd tried to explain that this wasn't going to happen, that this was the wrong way, that this had happened before, only Daniel had died then, but the only person in the world who understood what I was talking about was dying in the next room, and I wasn't going to let her waste her last hours solving another problem for me.
"Sir, you don't really want to know." Janet said, fighting back her own tears.
"Yes, I do." I insisted. "I need to know what's going to happen to her, how I can stop it."
'You can't stop it' I heard Daniel say in my head.' you can only watch and wait'. I looked around for him, but the only Daniel I saw was vociferously arguing with Jonas about what, exactly, Sam had done. I heard the word sabotage, and my anger flared up briefly, and I realised Janet was talking to me.
"There'll be tremors, convulsions, and ataxia. Surface tissue, brain tissue and internal organs will inflame and degrade, that's called,"
"Necrosis, I know." I said, remembering Daniel's composed, clinical listing of the same symptoms.
"Well, based on the dose of radiation she got, all that will happen in the next ten to fifteen hours, and if she doesn't drown in her own fluids first, she will bleed to death and there is no medical treatment to prevent this. All I can do is give her painkillers." Janet finished, choking on her misery.
"Does she know?" I asked gently.
"Sir, she's the one who told me all that. All I can do is confirm her diagnosis."
Janet, finally pushed beyond her limits, pushed past me, calling for someone to find a radiation expert, anyone, just get him here. I went into the infirmary, to face what I'd done to the woman I loved.
I'd felt nothing until now, not after the first cold shock of terror when I first saw her. It was as if my entire system had shut down long enough to get her here, to safety. But now, standing in the doorway of the infirmary, watching her, sitting on the edge of the bed, intently reading her own monitors, as if this was one of her own experiments, I broke down inside. I felt all the walls and defences I'd built up over the years crumble and fall. She was everything, al I had, all I wanted or needed, and she was about to die, and I couldn't even touch her for fear of hurting her.
'I'm going to die the minute she does.' I said to myself.
She saw me, turned and smiled at me, and I smile back, determined to be strong for her. I could lose it afterwards.
"Sir, I know they're saying I committed sabotage, but I never..."
"I know. Don't worry. Daniel's on a quest to prove your innocence, and you know what he's like once he gets an obsession. He won't let go until he's wrung the truth out of the double-dealing, back-stabbing bastards."
"Sir, my father.."
"Is on his way. We've contacted everyone we know. We'll find a cure. This isn't going to kill you, I promise you." I meant it, even as I knew there was nothing we could do.
"You can't promise something like that, Sir." She told me, and she I could see she knew what was going happen to her, and that I couldn't stop it.
"Then how about this. I promise you I won't leave you, not for a second, not until.... I won't go, Sam. I won't leave your side. not unless you want me to."
"I want you to stay, Sir." She said. "I'd rather be with you, when I died."
So I stayed, and we talked, trivialities leading to serious issues, and back to trivialities again. We cleared up old misunderstandings, and old jokes and we remembered everything good and forgave everything bad. But bit by bit, the sores spread over her body, and soon it was too hard for her to talk, so all I could so was sit here and chatter inanely, about everything and anything, just so that the last thing she would ever hear would be the sound of my voice. Somewhere in the background, I was aware Jonas arrived, and Daniel came and told her she was cleared of sabotage, and told her,
"This will not be your last act on official record."
She smiled and nodded, and he left, and Teal'c came in, and paid Major Carter his respects, the first time I'd ever seen him cry, and little by little she slipped away from me, and all the time her blue eyes stared silently into mine, even as they turned dark, and I waited, waited for her to ascend, as Daniel had.
Her eyes closed, but I couldn't let her go yet. I called her.
"Sam, wait! There's something I have to tell you."
She opened her eyes, one last time.
"I think you already know." I told her. "You know I love you. You're everything, Sam. I know you think I loved Laira, and Sara, but there was only ever you, Sam. Just you, my love."
I leaned forward, as close to her as I could get, and I heard her whisper one word.
"Daniel." I called, and the Daniel from this reality looked up, but it wasn't him I wanted. "Daniel!" I called again, and he materialised. "Change it, Daniel."
"You did before! Change it!"
"Someone has to die, Jack, you know that!"
"Then not Sam! I've lived through that now, I've learnt whatever lesson this was supposed to teach me, but not Sam!"
"Not Sam? Not me? Who, Jack? Who dies today?"
Time went back again, Sam was alive again, and stopped, and I found myself standing in a room, surrounding by bodies in a radiation suit, my hand burnt.
"Oh God, Sir, what have you done?" I heard Sam say, staring through the broken glass of the observation gallery. She started to climb down.
"Don't touch me!" I called. "I think I'm radioactive."
There was no anger, no fear, no horror. This time, all I felt was acceptance. I'd die, but everyone else would live. That was how the way is should be, that was the best solution. I was as calm and cool as Teal'c normally is. It was Sam who was upset, Daniel who was angry. When he heard I was charged with sabotage, he went ballistic.
"I promise you, this will not be your last act on official records." He told me.
"Daniel, he's not going to die." Sam snapped.
"It's okay, Sam, I know." I told gently, as Daniel tactfully left.
"I told Janet not to tell you."
"Sam, I knew anyway, it doesn't matter."
"It does matter!" she shouted, and I realised she was in tears. "Damn it, don't you.." she turned away, and ran out the room, straight through Daniel...floaty white cloud Daniel, that is.
"She's upset." He said. Since he died, Daniel's become the master of understatement.
"At least she'll survive."
"Yes. Look, she's pretty much been expecting this since the day we met. It's not as if we ever.... Too much has kept us apart."
"You love her."
"There's no shortage of people who love Sam. You do." I reminded him as his double ran past the door, calling Sam's name.
"Not like you do."
"She'll be loved and protected. She won't miss me after a while."
"I forgot, you've never seen Sam when you're missing, or in danger, have you? She changes. She becomes frantic, dangerous. Nothing gets between you and her." He told me, as I lay down. I was suddenly very tired. "She'll defy any law, shoot anybody, do anything to get you back. She may not make clumsy, stumbling declarations of love in Anise's machines, but actions speak louder than words, and her actions scream that she loves you."
"It's a little late to be telling me this now." I told him, squinting against the light. The sores were all over my body now, and I felt lethargic. I suspected Daniel had compressed the ten hours it took for this thing to kill me into a hour, for some reason. I was too worn out to puzzle out why.
"I'll let her tell you, then."
I hadn't even been aware Sam had come in, but she sat on the bed next to mine, one knee characteristically tucked under her chin.
"You've been cleared of the sabotage. Everyone thinks you're a hero." She said, softly. I opened my mouth to say thanks, but I couldn't make a sound. I tried to lift my hand to her, but it wouldn't work. All I could do was lay there, and stare at her. Her hair was a mess, like she'd been running her fingers through it time and again. Her uniform was dusty and crumpled, her eyes red-rimmed. She was pale, and drawn, and there were huge dark circles, but she looked more beautiful than the day she walked in here, brilliant, beautiful, my Captain, my lifesaver.
"I don't know why we wait so long to tell people how we really feel." She said.
Then something happened. Now I was in two places at once. I was lying on the bed dying, but Sam was beside me, and Daniel still lived to care for her, and Teal'c still lived to protect her, and she would be alright. But I was also standing beside the bed, opposite her, staring down at her, kneeling by my side now. And behind her, opposite me, stood Daniel, the Daniel from my reality.
"I know you loved me." She was saying, her voice cracking on the 'l' word. "But I never told you how I feel. I got distracted by other things I thought were important, like regulations, and team dynamics."
Daniel reached forward, putting his hand on her shoulder, but she couldn't feel him.
"She loves me." I whispered.
"I do love you." She told me. "I thought you'd always be here, that I'd always have time."
"She does love me."
"Yes, she does." Daniel told me.
"But now time's run out, and I'm not ready." She told me, sobbing.
"I had no idea."
"I knew before she did." Daniel said.
"All the time we could have had together, and I wasted it all."
"Not wasted." I told her, but she couldn't hear me. "Not one minute spent with you was wasted."
"I need you." She sobbed.
"She needs you."
"She needs me?" I said, incredulous.
"I underestimated her."
"Yes, you did."
"I thought - I didn't think she cared this much."
"I can't live without you."
"She cares as much as you do."
"I can't go on without you."
"She never said."
"She didn't know how to."
"I don't care about anything but you."
"If I leave her..."
"She'll die. She becomes suicidal, reckless, just like you were when you went to Abydos."
"I'll break any rules I have to, I just need you to be alive."
"I survived, maybe she might."
"She'll die , Jack. In three months from now, she'll blow up Osiris's ship, while she's still on board, and she'll die."
"Please, Jack, I'm ready now."
"Stop this, Daniel, don't do this to her."
"Not her, or you, or me? Then who dies? Teal'c? Paul Davis? Jacob? Janet?"
"No, don't do this to me, Jack, ask me, I'll say yes."
"Stop this, Daniel, I get the message."
"You see, you never even had the choice. Teal'c can't die, he has a purpose to fulfil in the future. And you and Sam can't be separated."
"Ask me to go fishing now, I will."
"Is that what all this was about? To prove I made the right choice?"
"You would always have wondered what would have happened if you'd done something different that day. Now you know."
"Jack, I love you, don't leave me."
"Daniel, change it, now!"
We were back in my room, back after Daniel's death.
"It's all back to normal?" I asked, breathless and dazed at seeing Sam so distraught, so close to complete breakdown.
"As normal as can be expected. Stop blaming yourself, Jack, and stop hiding from Sam. The right thing happened that day."
"Daniel, since you've ascended you've become full of crap."
"Jack, you thought I was full of crap before. But, I'm right."
"Yeah, that's what makes this so annoying."
"Jack, one more thing, be gentle with Sam. Give her time, and if you tell her about his, tell her I miss her."
I did, and I told her, and Sam actually smiled for the first time since Daniel died. But I didn't tell her about watching her break down over my deathbed. It's enough that I know. I think that's the right choice.