The next morning, Sam couldn't work. Her mind simply could not focus on the task at hand. She'd gotten no sleep to speak of last night, lying awake all night thinking about Daniel and what he'd confessed. When all this began, she'd considered a number of things that might happen as a result of their plan to make Jack jealous, but this was something she could never have foreseen. They really needed to talk about it, but Sam still didn't know what to say. The truth was that she was a little nervous about facing Daniel. But he was her best friend, and he was hurting. What kind of friend would she be if she pulled away from him now? They could find a way to get through this.
But how was Daniel going to feel if she and Jack ever did get together?
Another hour had passed before Sam finally decided that she had to at least go to see how Daniel was doing. When she got to his office, however, she found it empty, the lights turned off. Hadn't he come to work today?
Sam was in the process of dialing the front gate to see if Daniel ever arrived when Jack came in.
"When you weren't in your lab or anywhere around there, I decided to check here," he said. "I see that I was right."
Sam put down the phone. "Sir, didn't Daniel come in today?"
"No. He called Hammond this morning and requested the day off. He didn't say why, just that it was a personal issue. I tried calling him at home and on his cell, but he didn't answer."
Sam's eyes closed, her heart aching for her friend. She knew why Daniel had requested the leave. He felt that he couldn't face her.
"I'm betting that you know what's going on," Jack said, "and by the look on your face, I'm also betting that it isn't good. I could tell that something was wrong last night. Did you guys have a fight?"
Sam blinked away tears. "No," she whispered. "No, we didn't have a fight. I can't talk about it, Jack. It's personal."
"Well, since it seems to be adversely affecting a member of my team, I'd say that gives me the right to know, Carter."
The use of her last name made Sam realize that Jack was definitely not happy. The look on his face confirmed it.
In that moment, Sam realized that there was one really big advantage to being a civilian and that now was the time to use that advantage.
She lifted her chin and frostily said, "With all due respect, Colonel, it's none of your business. Now, if you will excuse me, I've got work to do." She strode past him, never looking back and, therefore, never seeing the surprised expression on his face.
When the knock came on Daniel's door that evening, he feared that it was Sam. He was tempted not to answer, but anyone who knew his car would know that he was home, having seen it in his parking space.
Bracing himself, Daniel opened the door to find not Sam but Jack on the other side, which was almost as bad.
"Daniel," the man greeted.
Several seconds passed without anyone moving.
"So, are you going to let me in or are we going to have this conversation in the hall?" Jack asked.
With a weary sigh, Daniel stepped aside, allowing the older man to enter.
"So, what's going on?" Jack questioned. "And don't tell me nothing's wrong. I'm not so stupid as to believe that. I pressed Sam about it, and she basically told me to go jump in a lake, though not in so many words."
"It's personal," Daniel replied shortly.
"Personal. Yeah, that's what she said. Well, I've already figured out that 'personal' means that something is going on between you two. She said you didn't have a fight, but I'm not sure I believe her."
Daniel turned away and went to a window. "No, we didn't have a fight," he said in a low voice.
"But this is about your relationship, isn't it."
Daniel closed his eyes. He might as well say it and get it over with. Maybe this would result in something good. Maybe it would end with Sam getting Jack after all. At least two people would be happy, then.
"It's over," Daniel said in a sad, quiet voice.
"Me and Sam. It's over."
Jack stood unmoving, shocked by the announcement. During these days that they'd been dating, Daniel and Sam had seemed so happy. He'd seen them smile more often than all the previous years combined.
"Why?" he asked.
"Does it matter? It's over. That's all that matters."
There was no mistaking the deep pain in Daniel's voice. Jack stepped up to him.
"Daniel, I don't know what happened between you, but there must be some way it can be fixed. Okay, so I was pretty mad about the whole thing to begin with, and I'll admit that I didn't want to see it at first, but you guys make a great couple. You're perfect for each other and make each other happy." Jack paused. "And it was nice seeing you move past losing Sha're. I know how much you loved her."
Daniel's eyes closed even tighter against the tears. He felt a hand upon his shoulder.
"Don't give up, Daniel," Jack said gently. "Fight for her. Don't let her get away. Take that from someone who knows what it's like to lose the woman they love because they didn't fight to keep her. I don't want you to live with the same regrets I still have about Sara. There's not a day that goes by that I don't wish I hadn't given up so easily. That's what you'll feel if you let this end without a fight."
Daniel moved away a few paces. "You don't understand, Jack. Sam never loved me. She loves you. It was always you." He drew in a shaky breath. "And I know that you love her, too."
That rooted Jack to the spot.
"This thing with me and Sam should never have happened," Daniel said. "It was a mistake right from the start. It's you two that belong together. All you need to do is go ask her, and she'll be yours." The last few words came out more than a little shaky.
Daniel wiped away the single tear that had escaped. "I-I can't talk about this anymore. Just leave, Jack. Go and be happy with Sam. You both deserve it."
Unable to be in the same room as the man anymore, Daniel hurried away to his bedroom and shut the door. He slowly sat on the bed, his head lowering onto his hands. God, this hurt. He felt like his heart was going to explode from the pain. When Sha're died, he'd thought that he could never hurt that much again. He'd been wrong.
Daniel didn't know how much time had passed when he heard the bedroom door open. He didn't look up as Jack came in and sat on the bed a few feet away.
"You're wrong, Daniel," the man said. "Sam and I don't belong together."
"Please don't insult me by lying, Jack. I know that you love her."
Jack sighed. "Yes, you're right. I do love her. I have for a while now. But love isn't always enough, Daniel. I found that out a very long time ago. Even if Sam and I did get together, I wouldn't lay odds upon it lasting very long. We're just too different. Oh, I know that in those other two realities, she and I were a couple, but that was them. They weren't the same people as us." There was a long pause. "And neither of those Sams had you in their lives. You and Sam could have a whole lot more than just love. You already do. I meant it when I said you were a great couple. You've got everything it takes to make a relationship that lasts."
Daniel shook his head. "No. No, we don't. Maybe you do need more than just love to have a successful relationship, but love is necessary, and that's the one thing we don't have, not . . . not both of us."
"Are you sure?"
Daniel let out a sad sigh. "Yes, I'm sure." At last he lifted his head and looked at Jack. "You told me not to give up on Sam, but you're the one who shouldn't give up, Jack. You could be wrong. You and Sam could be good together. And she feels things for you that she'll . . ." his voice broke, "that she'll never feel for me. You shouldn't let that get away." Daniel got up from the bed. "I'd really rather be alone right now, Jack."
The colonel hesitated, then rose to his feet. He felt torn. He was hurting for Daniel, yet, at the same time, he couldn't help but wonder if the man was right. Could he and Sam have a future together? But how happy would such a relationship be with the thought hanging over their heads that the man they both considered their best friend was being hurt every time he saw them together? Dammit. Why did everything have to be so messed up? Two men being in love with the same woman never resulted in a happy ending for all.
"I'm sorry, Daniel," Jack said, having no other words. He left the apartment and drove around for over an hour, thinking about everything that had happened. At last, he headed toward home. He was halfway there when he changed his mind. He called the base and learned that Sam had left for the day. He then changed directions and went to her place. He sat parked outside for a solid two minutes before finally getting out and heading up the walkway.
When Sam looked out the window in the door to see who it was, she was surprised and dismayed that it was Jack. Reluctantly, she opened the door.
"Sir," she said, maintaining a formal tone.
"It's still 'Jack', Sam," he responded. "May I come in?"
Sam let him inside.
"I just left Daniel's," he told her. He turned to her. "He told me that your relationship is over."
Sam couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice. "He did?"
"He told me some other things as well."
Sam began to worry that Daniel had spilled the beans about the whole charade. "What did he say?"
"That you never loved him, that it was me you loved."
Sam blushed brightly.
Seeing her reaction, Jack continued. "We've never talked about this thing between us since that stuff with the Zartarc test. I have thought about it . . . a lot."
"But I came to realize that, regulations or not, you and I probably wouldn't work out. What do we have in common? What would we talk about? Where would we go for fun? You don't like most of the things I do, and I don't like or just plain don't understand most of the things you like. This is why I didn't come to you after you left the Air Force. I really wasn't sure if starting something with you would be a good idea."
Sam felt a new ache growing in her heart alongside the one for Daniel. Jack was telling her that they'd never be together.
"I told some of this to Daniel, and you know what he said? He said that I shouldn't give up on a relationship with you. The guy's heart is shattered into a million pieces, and he's telling me to go after you."
Tears welled into Sam's eyes. "How is he?"
"Not good. He's in a hell of a lot of pain. He loves you an awful lot, Sam."
Sam turned away. She felt horrible about how much Daniel was hurting, knowing that it was because of her.
"Was he right, Sam?" Jack asked. "Do you not love him?"
"I-I do love him as a friend. He's the best friend I've ever had."
"Then you're saying that you're not in love with him. In that case, I'd sure like to know why you started dating him. If you ask me, it was pretty cruel to date a guy who's in love with you but you don't love back."
"You don't understand. It wasn't like that."
"Then what was it like?"
"It was a hoax!" Sam exclaimed, whirling about to face him. "It was never real. After I left the Air Force, I thought that you'd say something about us, but you never did. How was I to know that you were having doubts about us? You never talked to me. Daniel volunteered to play my boyfriend to make you jealous." Feeling excruciatingly embarrassed, Sam turned away again.
Jack was utterly shocked by the revelation. The whole thing had been an act put on in an effort to make him jealous and drive him into making a move on Sam? No, it hadn't all been an act. It might have been for Sam, but Daniel's feelings were very real.
He spoke that last thought aloud. "Well, you may have been acting, but, obviously, Daniel wasn't."
"He was at first," Sam whispered.
"Are you saying that he fell in love with you somewhere along the way?" He got a faint nod from Sam. "Well, I'm guessing that wasn't part of the plan," he responded bitingly.
"Please, Jack," Sam pleaded, now crying in earnest. "Don't you think I feel bad enough about this? I would never in a million years want to hurt Daniel."
Jack sighed, curbing his anger. "I know, Sam. I'm sorry." He came up to her and turned her around. Seeing the pain and tears on her face, he gently took her into his arms. Welcoming the gesture of comfort, Sam wrapped her arms about his waist.
Outside, Daniel stood frozen in place, watching through a crack in the drapes as Jack and Sam stood in each other's arms. He'd gotten up the nerve to come to Sam and talk to her about the whole thing, to let her know that he'd be okay. When he saw Jack's car parked in front of her house, he'd almost left, but some masochistic part of him made him come up and look in the window.
He'd been wrong. He wasn't okay. He was anything but okay. Jack and Sam were going to be a couple, and he'd have to watch every day as their relationship progressed into something that he wanted with Sam more than anything in the world.
Spinning around, Daniel hurried back to his car and drove away.
Sam was attempting without much success to get her project finished when a call came requesting that she come to General Hammond's office. When she got there, she found Jack and Teal'c there as well.
"I must inform you that Doctor Jackson has requested an indefinite leave of absence," the general announced.
"What?!" Sam and Jack exclaimed.
"I tried to find out the reason for it, but he would not tell me. I was tempted to deny his request, but he made it clear that, if I did, he'd resign."
"Oh, no," Sam gasped.
Hammond's eyes focused on her. "I'm not one to pry into the personal affairs of people under my command, especially if they are both civilians, but it's obvious that whatever happened to make him do this was pretty serious. Doctor Jackson is an extremely valuable member of this program, and I don't want to lose him. So I would suggest that, whatever problem led to this, you do your best to fix it. I won't file the paperwork until Monday. That gives you four days, including today, to do something to convince him to stay. If any of you need to leave the base to accomplish that, you have my permission. In fact, you can consider yourself off-duty for however much time it takes you to convince him not to leave."
Jack, Sam and Teal'c left the general, heading immediately for the privacy of Daniel's office.
"Dammit!" Jack cursed loudly once the door was closed.
"This is all my fault," Sam whispered brokenly. "I should never have agreed to do it."
"Of what do you speak?" Teal'c asked.
Haltingly, Sam explained the whole thing to him, too upset about Daniel to feel embarrassed. The frown on the Jaffa's face clearly expressed what he felt about the situation.
"You must speak with Daniel Jackson," he stated firmly.
"I don't know what to say!" Sam cried. "I don't know what to do to keep him from leaving."
"Perhaps it is time for you to examine your true feelings for him."
Sam stared at him. "What do you mean?"
"When I believed that you and Daniel Jackson were lovers, I observed you closely. The happiness I saw when you and he were together was not false. The pleasure upon your face when he touched you and when he kissed you was not an act."
Sam blushed crimson. "I-I. . . . Okay, yes, it did feel good. I've really enjoyed all the time I've spent with him lately. And . . . and, okay, so I admit that having him hold me and kiss me was . . . really nice. But I am a woman, after all, and Daniel is very attractive. What woman wouldn't enjoy being held and kissed by him?"
Jack was staring at Sam, the truth dawning. He'd always prided himself on his instincts, on his ability to spot things that were off. That's why he'd been so shocked to find out that Daniel and Sam's dating had been a ruse to make him jealous. He couldn't understand how his instincts had failed to detect that something was amiss. Maybe there was a reason why they had, that reason being that beneath Daniel and Sam's act were genuine feelings for each other, feelings that neither of them had been aware of before.
That thought led to another. Though the idea of Sam being in love with Daniel was painful, it didn't hurt nearly as much as it should have, not like it did in the beginning. Why? Perhaps it was because Jack's instincts had been right yet again, and he and Sam really weren't meant to be.
"Go talk to him, Sam," he said softly. "Don't let him go."
Daniel laid a shirt in the suitcase. He picked up another from the pile on the bed, carefully folded it, and placed it atop the previous one. He was running away, choosing the only path he believed he could take. The archeologist thought about the vision that Sha're gave to him through Amaunet's ribbon device. In that vision, he quit the SGC and had planned to go off and find the farthest dig he could. That vision was now becoming reality. He hadn't exactly quit the program, but he was now packing, intent upon going off to a distant dig. He still had some friends in the archeological community and had called one of them last night. He was told about a dig that would really benefit from his knowledge and expertise, one run by people who would have no issue with Daniel's past.
Daniel couldn't wait to leave, to lose himself in work thousands of miles away from the Stargate, from the battle with the Goa'uld . . . from Sam and Jack. After several months of hard work, he was sure that he'd feel better and would be prepared to return to the SGC and resume his role in helping fight the Goa'uld. If he was lucky, his feelings for Sam would fade to the point where he could watch her with Jack and not feel like he was being stabbed in the heart with a knife. And if not. . . . If not, the SGC would carry on fine without him. His vision self was right about that. The program didn't need him. He could say goodbye to it forever and rededicate his life to his first passion: archeology. Perhaps in time, he would regain his standing in the community, especially since he would never again say one word about alien landing platforms, something that had turned out to be true.
And this would be so much better for Jack and Sam, too. Daniel knew that, as long as he was around, they'd feel guilty about their relationship, which couldn't help but put a strain on it. With him gone, they wouldn't have to feel bad every time they were together in his company.
Yes, this really was the best solution for everyone.
Daniel stiffened upon hearing a knock on his door. By now, Hammond would have told Jack, Sam and Teal'c about the leave of absence, and Daniel knew that the person knocking was one of them. He'd been hoping that he would get out of here before one of his teammates showed up. He should have known better.
With a sigh, Daniel went to the door. He looked out of the peep hole, his heart sinking upon seeing Sam. Jack would have been easier to deal with.
Really wishing that he could somehow avoid this, Daniel opened the door. He didn't say anything, just standing aside to allow her entrance.
"General Hammond told us that you've requested an indefinite leave of absence," she said.
Daniel nodded, not meeting her eyes. "Yes."
"So, you're running away."
Daniel's eyes flickered up to hers for a moment, seeing both anger and pain there.
"I think it's for the best," he responded softly.
"Best for who?"
"For everyone. You and Jack will feel better not having me around to watch you . . . together. You'll be free to start a life with each other without feeling guilty. And I. . . ." Daniel shrugged. "I'll feel better, too."
Instead of soothing her, Daniel's words made Sam even angrier. "Why are you so certain that Jack and I are going to be together?"
Daniel finally met her eyes. "I saw you, Sam," he admitted in a tone of heartache. "I went to your house last night to talk. Jack was there, and I saw you together. You were . . . in each other's arms."
All of Sam's anger drained away. "Oh, Daniel."
He turned away, moving into the living room. "I just can't watch it, Sam. I know I'm being weak and a coward, but I just can't watch you with Jack. I-I . . . I care too much for you."
Sam followed him into the room. "Daniel, you have it all wrong. Jack and I were hugging because I was upset about you. I told him everything, Daniel, about the plan to make him jealous. He knows it all."
Daniel shook his head. "It doesn't really change anything, Sam. You're in love with him, and he's in love with you. In time, you'll be together, and I don't want you to feel bad every time you see me. With me not around you'll be a lot happier."
Sam was about to object when she spied something on the floor, a box full of books, more books stacked beside it. She looked around and saw still more boxes. A horrible, sinking feeling filled her.
"You're going away."
Daniel saw what she was looking at. "I'm going on a dig in Egypt. I'm leaving tonight. I'll be gone for at least a few months, so I figured there was no sense in continuing to pay rent here. A moving company is coming tomorrow to pack up the rest of my stuff and put it in storage. I just want to pack the important things myself."
The pain inside Sam began to grow. Daniel was leaving, going away to a distant land. And, once he left, they'd probably never see him again. He'd never return.
Daniel was walking away from her, his shoulders stiff.
"I need to finish packing, Sam," he said in an emotionless voice. "I don't have a lot of time."
After a couple of seconds, Sam followed him into the bedroom. The sight of the half-filled suitcase made her feel like a part of her was dying inside.
"Daniel, please," she begged. "Please don't leave."
Daniel looked at her, and she saw the tears on his face.
"I have to, Sam. Don't you see that? I can't stay. Please don't ask me to."
"But I don't want you to go. Just the thought of you leaving. . . ." Sam began to cry. "God, Daniel. Please don't do this."
Unable to bear seeing her tears, Daniel turned away, which was why he was totally unprepared for what happened next. In an act of desperation, Sam rushed across the distance between them, spun Daniel around, and pressed her lips against his. Daniel stiffened in shock. But he could not fight the feelings that welled inside him at the touch of her mouth on his. With a tortured groan, he crushed her against him. His tongue thrust into the heat of her mouth, and he was suddenly kissing her with ravenous hunger and need. Sam kissed him back with equal passion.
Daniel took a step back. His legs hit the bed, and he found himself falling upon it, Sam on top of him. Neither of them paid any attention to the sound of the suitcase hitting the floor.
The feeling of Sam's body like that upon his shattered the last remnant of Daniel's control. He rolled on top of her, pressing her down into the bed with his full weight. Sam moaned into his mouth and bucked upward. His body responded, and he ground himself against her.
Sam was wild with desire. It ran rampant through her, taking control of her mind and body. She could feel Daniel hardening against her, and there wasn't anything she wanted more desperately than to feel him inside her. She began tugging at his shirt, trying to get it off, but Daniel stopped her.
"God, Sam, please," he rasped. "Don't do this if you don't really want it."
Sam captured his face between her hands and looked straight into his eyes. "I want it, Daniel. I thought it was Jack that I wanted, but I was so wrong. I want you, not him. I want you."
Staring into her eyes, Daniel saw the truth in her words. He didn't need anything more. His mouth came crashing back down onto hers in a heated kiss. After a few seconds, she resumed her effort to get his shirt off. With his help, it went flying across the room. He removed her top, her bra soon following. And then his mouth and hands were on her breasts, making her cry out and writhe in ecstacy.
Daniel pulled Sam's nipple deep into his mouth, unable to stop the tide that was sweeping the two of them forward. He got her pants unfastened and pulled them and her panties down. Sam struggled to get them and her shoes off. Then she attacked Daniel's pants, managing to get them and his boxers down his hips. They were completely gone a moment later.
Daniel was back on top of her, sweat-dampened skin sliding against hers. His mouth fell upon hers. She opened herself to him fully, telling him with her body what she wanted. Heeding the silent plea, Daniel thrust into her deeply. Sam moaned loudly, an echo of his own sound of rapture.
Going slow was something that was beyond both of them, this first union of bodies so intense that they could do nothing but ride out the storm. The feeling of being inside Sam's body was so exquisite to Daniel that it was almost pain. He was very rapidly rising to culmination, but he didn't want to go over the edge without her. He did not know that the sensation of having him moving within her was sending Sam on the same rapid journey to climax. He altered his position and the cadence of his movement in an effort to bring her with him. In the next second, she began shuddering in his arms, her body gripping him tightly. He let loose with a cry to match hers and came inside her.
Forever seemed to pass in those seconds of exquisite ecstasy. As it ended, they lay gasping and shaking, too weak to move. It was Sam who recovered first. She pulled Daniel's head up and took his mouth in a long, deep kiss. He returned it with thorough intensity. And then his eyes met hers, filled with so many questions.
Sam smiled up at him, cupped his cheek, and whispered, "I love you."
Daniel's chest tightened painfully. He wanted to believe her so badly, but he was afraid to.
Seeing his doubt, Sam continued. "I've been such an idiot, Daniel. I thought I was so in love with Jack, that he was the one I wanted. I couldn't see the truth, that, all this time, I've been falling in love with you, right from the day we met. When we were pretending to be in a relationship, it felt really good. Every time you touched me or kissed me, I wanted it to happen again. But I was blind to what that really meant. It wasn't until I thought I was going to lose you that I realized how empty my life would be if you left." She touched his face. "I love you, Daniel, you and only you."
With a smile of joy, Daniel pressed his lips to hers.
"I love you," he murmured against them.
Reluctantly, they separated, but only for the seconds it took to get under the covers. It may have been the middle of the day, but neither of them had any intention of doing anything except exploring their newfound love.
And that is what they did, making love twice more before the sun set. From the bedroom phone, Daniel called the airline and canceled his flight. Later, as Sam made dinner to feed their starving bodies, he called his archeologist friend and explained that his plans had changed and he wouldn't be going on that dig after all. There was no longer any reason to run away.