Story Notes: I wrote this about, oh, a year ago, and just stumbled across it on my hard drive. And Fj told me to post it. Just putting blame where it's due ;)

"What are you the most afraid of right now?"

Jack considered the question solemnly, wondering when the mood had changed from teasing, light-hearted frivolity to profound personal inquiries. He scrunched up his face to show what serious thought he was engaged in, feeling a crease form between his brows.

What was he most afraid of? The most salient concern, the one he'd dealt with every day of his life for the last five-plus years, was the Gou'ald. Of course, sometimes, especially times like this, it seemed pretty stupid to be afraid of the Gou'ald: they were so cheesy, so overblown, like they had studied cheap comics since infancy to construct the ideal 'Made For Killin' Supervillian. They sashayed around in costume jewelry proclaiming themselves gods even though it was pretty damn obvious to all but the galaxy's most primitive knuckle-draggers that they weren't. They had ostentatious fashion sense - if you could call it that - and their vanity, their love for show went so far that they made their soldiers walk around in bulky, shiny metal shells. For all the cover it provided during battle, they might as well have had huge red and white targets painted on their backsides.

On the surface, the Gou'ald just didn't seem to pose any kind of credible threat. But they were, and that was part of the danger. Behind that pathetic display was brute force, and a lot of it. They were manipulators, those Gou'ald, and they took advantage of their outlandish appearance and ridiculous mannerisms the same way they took advantage of a host's body.

That was the other part of the threat, of course: their ability to become a part of the crowd, to become... anyone. Jack lived in a state of constant paranoia, even when he was around the people he trusted the most, because how could he be sure that the person he so fully trusted was actually that person? Gou'ald symbiotes didn't carry along big neon signs identifying their hosts, and God knew they were pretty damn good at passing themselves off as the actual person. The choices that Jack had made, him and the people closest to him, meant that they spent much of their lives in situations where they could become the enemy, the powerless slave of the enemy, in the blink of an eye. Condemned to a sort of living death or, even worse, living with the knowledge that you had failed a friend and abandoned them to that fate. That scared the hell out of Jack.

Of course, that wasn't the only thing. The most contemporary worry, certainly the most trendy, had to do with the current world atmosphere. For Jack, whose main focus had been so intensely directed so far outwards for so long, acclimating to the idea of a direct threat from within his own planet was disorienting. It was also disturbing. He'd signed up initially to protect his country, and through the SGC had ended up protecting the world, even those people in the world who wouldn't mind seeing him dead. A large part of him wanted to go over there, grab a couple of those bastards and scream at them "What are you doing? Don't you know that there are more important things out there then this? Don't you know that we're out their risking our asses every day of our lives just so you're alive to carry on this godforsaken grudge match?"

They didn't know, of course. No one knew, except for a few people in the Russian government and of course those associated with the SGC. It looked like a lot of people when you saw the actual list of individuals - and Jack had seen it, even though some of the names had been lined out - but compared with the actual population of the planet it was a drop in the bucket. The vast majority of humanity had no idea how fine a line stood between ignorant survival and violent invasion, and that was exactly how Jack liked it. The world was already in such a mess; imagining what would happen if the truth got out actually made him feel sick. All the people who had turning towards religion for strength and comfort, all the people already up in arms and committing horrible atrocities in the name of their god, those confused and looking for answers wherever they might be... Even a single leak would quickly become a river, a torrent, a flood that would beat anything Noah had seen. The chaos and havoc that could be wreaked without a Gou'ald even showing his face or firing a single shot... it was unimaginable, and it was scary.

All of the above tied into one main fear; like most sentient life forms, Jack was afraid of death. The last true undiscovered country. The Great Equalizer. No matter who you were, what you'd done or hadn't done, if you were rich or poor, good or evil, famous or just a face in the crowd, death was one experience that everyone shared. What happened next just depended on what you believed in, and for Jack, whose belief and faith were questioned - and reaffirmed, and questioned again - daily, it was a frightening concept. He'd been dead before, after all, and remembered nothing about it. There was nothing there, just a blank hole in his memory, almost like falling asleep. No long tunnel, scenes from his past flashing before his eyes, bright light at the end, pearly gates or palace of flames. Nothing. Was that because there really WAS nothing, that dying was just like floating away into blank nothingness, or did he not remember anything because he wasn't MEANT to remember anything?

There was really no answer, not one that would satisfy him in any case. If he asked the right people he might hear medical anecdotes, wide-ranging myths spanning a variety of cultures, scientific, physic, even metaphysic evidence backing an array of theories, but no answers. What Jack didn't know he expected someone else to know, and the idea that in this matter everyone was equally clueless was alarming. The truth was alarming: he would never really know until it actually happened.

So the answer to the question was multi-faceted, wasn't it? He was afraid of a lot of things: of dying, the how and where and when of it, and that it might happen while he still had things left to do. He was afraid of failure where the Gou'ald were concerned, and also where his friends were concerned, because he had already failed enough people for this lifetime and the next. He was afraid of loss, of having the few good pieces of his life that he'd scraped together fall apart in his hands. But what he was afraid of... that hadn't exactly been the question, had it? No, what he had been asked was "what are you the most afraid of RIGHT NOW." And that was easy. There was only one thing at this moment that could beat even the Great Equalizer.

"I'm afraid of the morning," he said, letting his forehead go smooth again.

Her eyes narrowed as she deciphered what he meant, and then she nodded to show her understanding. She looked towards the window; the pane was dark now, but in a matter of mere hours it would be bright with daylight. He hadn't drawn the shades, so the light would spill through the air onto the carpet, invading their privacy, tearing through these dark, placid, gratifying moments of nescience and thrusting them back into reality. He knew that when morning came they would have to get up, out of this bed, and deal with the consequences of their actions. Like responsible adults they would need to tally up the damage done, somehow without weighing it against guilty joy and pleasure because in that case the damage would always be found lacking. Decisions would be made when the sun came up, decisions that would bring pain and heartache, anger and angry words, feelings and actions that would make them both curse their own sentimental stupidity. There was a certainty to it, and there was a factor of the unknown. In a way, the morning would be like death: uncharted. Undiscovered. And that was exactly how Jack wanted it to remain.

For now, at least, it was dark. He could imagine that the dawn was a long way off, that if he tried hard enough he could make the calming, concealing darkness last an eternity. He closed his eyes, staring up at the perfect blankness behind the lids, and working by touch alone pulled Sam's body tighter against his own. She moved obligingly, stretching one long leg across his and resting her head on the juncture of his chest and shoulder. Her hand was resting, fingers splayed, against his side; fluidly she increased her reach, draping her arm across him possessively. She shared his fear, he could tell. She knew there would be consequences. He couldn't ignore them, deny them, or make light of them. Neither could Sam. What had been done had been done. Regrets would come soon enough. What they could do - all they could do - was enjoy their transgression while they could.

Jack opened his eyes, moving from absolute to semi-darkness. He vehemently didn't want to fall asleep, but as soon as the lids popped open they began to drift shut again. And he knew with the same kind of sinking sensation in his heart that the next thing he saw would be the harsh rays of sunlight stabbing into his bedroom. He would probably wake up alone; Sam was a chronic early riser whether on or off-world and would likely be long gone before his alarm went off. And from then on, everything would be different. He would never again be able to look at her without remembering the way she had looked at him.

Not that he would ever want to forget.

Jack's eyes closed fully, and sleep settled into his brain like a thick fog. Sam's breathing was already deep and even, exuding such peace and calm that he wondered if he was overreacting. After all, was Jack's last thought before slipping into blankness, if the morning was anything like death, he would never really know until it actually happened.

"Good night."

The End

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