Summary: While Daniel was gone, things got complicated
Appendix L was before and after pictures of the clone's liver. Doc Fraiser was getting as bad as Daniel or Carter. What did she think--he was going to check her work? Even assuming Jack was willing to invest thirty or forty minutes reading the MRIs it's not like he was going to catch a mistake. That's why he'd been saddled with a boatload of geniuses in the first place, wasn't it? So that they could tell him what was going on and he could believe them, and they could all get on with--whatever.
But this--this was a spectacular waste of time, unless he wanted to stare at O'Neill Mark II's internal organs, and he sure as hell didn't.
"Uh, Jack? You busy?"
"Nope," he said, and vehemently tossed the file into his outbox. And then--irretrievably too late--he remembered that it would be better to be busy. With anything. Anything at all. Cursing himself, Jack looked up.
Daniel stood in the doorway looking timid and hopeful. Aw, hell. Jack thought longingly of pictures of his clone's liver. Daniel shuffled forward. "I was hoping...we could, you know, talk."
Jack sighed. He'd done everything he could think of to avoid this. No escape this time. "Sure. Have a seat." He sounded ungracious, he knew, but Daniel ignored that and shut the door before sitting down in the spare chair.
"We need to talk," Daniel said again, unnecessarily.
Jack nodded, not looking up from the piles of papers laid out on his desk.
"Jack! It's me. Really--Really me."
"Yeah. Yeah, I know."
"I remember everything. It's all there, right up until. You know."
Jack nodded again. He desperately wanted to look up. He desperately wanted to disappear.
The silence stretched out, but before it got too awful Daniel said, "Look, I know things weren't--I mean, you and I--"
"It's not that!"
"Things weren't good between us--"
They'd been good enough. Oh, God, Daniel, you can't think that I stopped loving you.
"I miss you, Jack."
"Yeah. Yeah. I miss you, too."
"Then why are you avoiding me?"
"I'm not avoiding you."
Daniel raised his brows slightly and considered that. "So. You putting in for time off the first week I get back is just...what? A really wild coincidence?"
Jack winced and hoped, fleetingly, that a claxon would go off announcing an unscheduled gate activation or maybe a foothold situation. "Things got. You know. Complicated."
"Yes, complicated! All right? We didn't plan it that way, it seemed very simple at the time, but it all got complicated!" Jack wished that would end it, was enough of a grown-up to face the fact that it wouldn't. "Look. You've been reading the mission reports, right?"
"So you know what things were like. Here. When you were. Um."
"When you were not here."
"It wasn't a great year."
"No," Daniel said, meaning, 'I'm sorry.'
"I kind of--See, I wasn't doing very well after the whole Baal thing."
"After Kanan kidnapped you."
"Yeah. That." He took a quick look at Daniel, who was being patient and supportive and impossibly reasonable. "I wasn't doing real well."
"You said that." Daniel winced. "Sarcophagus addiction."
"Yeah. That wasn't the worst of it, actually."
"The medical report didn't look too bad. Well, bad, but you were ok."
"No. No, it wasn't ... bad." But Daniel still looked worried, and Jack didn't know how to reassure him without getting into things it would be better not to talk about. "I was just. Losing you. Again."
"I'd been keeping it together pretty well, up till that point. Really. I mean, you know. I was ok. But, ah, after--"
Daniel leaned forward. He was reasonable. Kind. Jack wished he were somewhere else. "I don't understand. Why?"
"You were there, Daniel. Floaty, ghost you. The whole time Baal had me, you were there."
"Oh, my God. You're kidding. I was--"
"Why? I mean, what was I doing?"
It occurred to Jack that he hadn't been overreacting in trying to avoid this conversation. "Trying to get me to ascend? Mostly?"
It was an outrageous statement. Jack, ascending. Yeah right. But Daniel just nodded. "Oh. Um, that's not in the report."
"Hell no. I don't make a habit of including my hallucinations in my reports."
"You kept trying to convince me that you couldn't interfere, but you told SG1 how to get me out."
"That's not in the report either." Daniel's eyes didn't give away whether or not he believed what Jack was saying.
"You didn't tell them you were telling them. That would be a dead giveaway."
"Oh," Daniel said doubtfully. "Right. So. When you got back, you...."
"Weren't doing very well."
"Yeah. You keep saying that."
"I think. I think I must have scared Carter pretty good. I mean, you know how these things look sometimes."
"And we'd just lost--you. And then I got sick, and then I was missing, and then." Jack closed his eyes. "Danny--She wasn't trying to take your place. It wasn't like that. Carter was just. Worried."
"Sam? Wait, are you saying--Sam?"
"She wasn't trying to take your place." Jack realized he was pleading, was terribly afraid that Daniel wouldn't hear it, that he would be angry with Carter, jealous or something, and she hadn't done anything wrong.
"Yeah, you said that," Daniel murmured, standing up and pacing the tiny office. "So you two have been--"
"Not since Abydos. We haven't--" Jack stopped, feeling ill. Abydos wasn't something any of them talked about--or thought about, even. He wasn't even positive Daniel knew what had happened. He hoped he did, because he wasn't going to be able to tell him. "Not since then."
Daniel was nodding slowly, his eyes closed.
"We were worried," Jack said softly. "We didn't know where you were."
"Well, hey. I might have shown up at any moment. How awkward would that have been?"
"It wasn't like that, Daniel! We'd just lost Abydos! We couldn't find you! We didn't know--anything! Anubis was still expanding and you were gone and we didn't know!"
"And your answer to that is abstinence? How was that supposed to help?"
"What did Sam say about this? Oh, my God, Jack, tell me you didn't just--just dump her!"
"What? Of course not! Daniel, we were depressed, we were worried. We didn't want to!"
"You know this? You talked to her about this? You didn't just assume?"
Jack blinked, wondering how he'd lost control of this conversation and unsure what direction it was going. "I'm sure. Believe me."
Daniel slumped heavily into the chair. Jack felt like shit. "Look, Daniel. You know I'd never. I mean, my feelings for you. It's not Carter's fault."
"Oh, God! Sam!" Daniel sat up sharply and snatched up Jack's phone. Before Jack knew what he was doing, Daniel was saying, "I'm in Jack's office. We really need to talk to you."
It just got worse and worse. But he couldn't let this go. The longer Daniel was unclear about the way things stood, the worse it was going to be. "Daniel," he said softly. "Carter was never a replacement for you, and I'm not, I can't, I won't go back to you and abandon her."
Jack had almost forgotten how much he missed Daniel's 'You're being an idiot, stop embarrassing me' look. "Of course we're not abandoning Sam. She is one of us. She is my best friend--"
"I thought I was your best friend."
"No, you are the love of my life. Sam is my best friend. She's a reliable comrade, a descent person--she covered for us for years, and she was there for you when I dropped the ball. She's been in love with you for--forever. So, no, we're keeping Sam. You know, assuming she'll have us."
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, she and I were never, ah, together. She may not want to be with me. We may have to take turns, especially at first."
"Take--Are you out of your mind? You and me and Carter?"
"You're still calling her Carter?"
"What next? Invite Teal'c?" It was only after the words were out that Jack realized that it wasn't a wise thing to say. Daniel was considering it. Of course he was considering it. He was completely insane. He would consider anything at this point. "No!"
"Oh, my God," Jack muttered, burying his face in his hands.
Daniel sighed extravagantly and folded his arms to wait. As though he were being reasonable and Jack was talking gibberish.
Jack closed his eyes tightly and tried not to think about the endless days when the hopelessness went on and on, even after Janet had said his brain chemistry was fine and he'd 'recovered' from the sarcophagus. He tried not to think about Daniel telling him he wanted to die, and tried really, really hard not to think about Daniel getting his butt kicked out of heaven because Jack had demanded he get involved in the fight with Anubis.
Daniel was still being obnoxiously patient and Jack was still trying to melt into the floor when Carter came in.
"So. What's up?" She looked nervous and miserable, and Jack felt, suddenly, really bad. Well, worse then he'd been feeling before, which had been bad enough. He hadn't meant to hurt her. But there was no way around it now, no way to spare either of them. Really, when you thought about it, it would have been much better if Loki hadn't sent him back. Or sent him back just a little later so the damn clone could have this conversation.
Daniel glared at Jack for a moment, waiting for him to do something. But Daniel's solution was patently stupid and Jack didn't know what to say and the Asgard weren't going to beam him out...so he groaned and hid his head again.
Scowling, Daniel stood up and caught Carter in a hug. "He loves you, you know." It was a whisper, but it was tiny office, and Jack could hear it just fine.
Carter shook her head. "Daniel--it's ok. It really is. We--I love Jack, but we're not enough for each other. It's ok. Really. I understand." Her voice was steady, but far too thin. Carter didn't deserve this. Damn it all.
"What about Jack and me? Are we both enough for you?"
She gasped and looked hastily away. "You didn't--you didn't get him to agree to this?"
"Yeah. Well. It's becoming clear it isn't up to him. It's up to us."
"Shut up, Jack," Daniel said, and proceeded to say the most amazing things to Carter. Mushy things. Romantic things. Flattering things. It was a ridiculous, sentimental snow job that was embarrassing to listen to--made more mortifying by the fact that Daniel obviously meant it and Carter seemed to believe it. Jack tried not to listen.
When Daniel finished, Carter was smiling and blushing, but she waved a hand at Jack and muttered, "Yeah, but--"
"Jack, do you mind sharing us?"
"Oh, do you want my opinion now?"
"Jack. Do. You. Mind?"
"Mind? Hell no. That's not the problem." He tried to think of a problem. "Do you have any idea how much shit will hit the fan if we get caught?"
"We're not going to get caught. Jack. If you and I disappear or if you and Sam disappear, it's suspicious. If several of us disappear, it's teambuilding. We couldn't ask for better camouflage."
"You have to admit it, he's right, sir."
"You call him sir?"
And Carter, damn her, actually smiled and muttered, "Well, not in bed."
"So all that's left is to talk to Teal'c."
"No, he's right, Sir. Jack. We need to talk to Teal'c."
Jack looked at them. Calm. Happy. Both of them, not the least embarrassed or worried or hurt. He realized, with a start, that he was not responsible for making a decision because they had already made it. It was done, this personal, personal decision he could not just take charge of.
Which might be just as well--he had no idea what they should do instead. And the idea didn't sound, in itself, so awful. Not to have to make a choice between them or turn both of them away. He would give almost everything for that. But. It would be more reassuring if they would come out and tell him how they were going to make it work. Ha. The one time they wouldn't blather on about every facet and implication!
On the other hand, did he really want them to bother him with details? Was now a good time to start wanting to know? "Ok," he said. "I guess we better call him, then."
Daniel dropped a kiss on his head before reaching for the phone.
Next: Group Dynamics