Title: Clone Alone
Author: tafkar
Summary: Daniel, still grieving over the death of Jack, receives a visit from Jack's younger clone.
Category: Angst, slash
Spoilers: Through Season 7
Rating: PG (for a little bad language...sorry, no sex)
Archiving: Always welcome; just let me know you have done so.
Disclaimer: This story is based on Danvers' Clone series, and specifically A Clonely Existence, but I'm told it can be read on its own. (However, you really should read Danvers' story, because it's brilliant.) The clone!Jack/Daniel dialogue is taken from her story.
Thanks to: Dirty Diana and Fenriss for the beta (and Diana for pointing out a big hole that needed to be filled), and Danvers for all the inspiration and support, and for letting me play in her sandbox.

 

CLONE ALONE

The phone was ringing when Daniel walked in the door to his apartment.

“Hello?” he said, propping the phone between his ear and shoulder while he went through several weeks of mail. Overdue subscription renewal for Biblical Archaeology Review, late power bill, overdue phone bill – in fact, it was scheduled to be cut off tomorrow. Better get on that.

“Daniel, it’s me.”

Daniel dropped the mail on the end table. “Hey, Sam,” he said with a little sigh.

There were, of course, a few minutes of small talk, the usual “How’s DC?” and “How’s the SGC?” Daniel settled himself on the couch and played along, trying to keep Sam away from the topic at hand for as long as possible. They both knew why she’d called.

“So. I hear you’re going to have a visitor this week,” Sam said.

“From what I hear, we’ll have several,” Daniel said. “The Tokra have sent an emissary, and we’re still working on a treaty with the Enarians…”

“You know what I mean,” Sam said.

Daniel sighed. “Yeah. I know what you meant.”

Once upon a time, there would have been a slight hiss on the phone line as both of them sat silently. New digital technology made everything so clear that Daniel swore he could hear Sam’s teeth grinding.

“You can’t stay there,” Sam said.

“It’ll be okay.” Daniel picked at the afghan on the back of his couch.

“Daniel.” Her throat sounded a little constricted. “It’s not. It’s going to kill you. You can’t stay.”

“Sam, if it were us – how would you feel if you were coming back to see the SGC after 10 years away, and everyone you knew was gone? It’s not – it’s not fair to them if I were to run out on them.”

Sam was silent for a minute. Then she said quietly, “Is that what you feel I did? That I ran out on everyone? That Teal’c -”

“No. I understand. I know how hard it was to be here, after –“ It was funny. The team had managed to recover from Daniel’s death, but Jack’s death was the blow that stopped them all. “I don’t blame you. You know that.”

Sam’s voice got even quieter. “Do you want me to come out there?”

“Oh, God, no,” Daniel said quickly. “No. I know you don’t want to be here for this.”

“No, I don’t,” Sam said. “But I would. For you.”

Daniel smiled, just a little. SG-1 might have been dead, but Sam was still willing to guard his back. “I know. Thanks.”

There were a few seconds of silence. “Phone works both ways, Daniel.”

“Yeah, I know.” Daniel said. “I’m sorry I haven’t called.”

“I just wanted to remind you,” she said. “Please call me. Let me know how it went, okay?”

“Sure. Bye, Sam.”

“I love you,” she said, as if it could close the miles between them.

“Love you, too,” Daniel said, and hung up.

He looked at the bills on his end table. Maybe he wasn’t in such a rush to pay the phone bill, after all.

---------------------------------------------------

Daniel had always escaped his problems by throwing himself into his work. The past two years had been especially productive.

He was in the midst of an especially difficult Benarian translation when he heard a cough from the doorway. He looked up to see Colonel Paul Davis, looking nervous, like he always did before he was going to proposition Daniel.

“Hey,” Daniel said.

“Hey,” Paul responded. It was the same little dance they did, sometimes two or three times a week. They would make small talk, Paul would ask him if he had dinner plans, Daniel would say no, and they would go out to dinner – maybe that little Italian place – go back to Paul’s apartment, and have sex. If Daniel drank enough over dinner, he could shut off that part of his brain that kept whirring, thinking about translations and diplomacy and all the ways he’d failed Jack, and lose himself in the sensation for a few hours.

Daniel never spent the night.

Today was different from every other day. “How would you like a few days off?” Paul said abruptly.

“Are you offering to take me away from all this?” Daniel asked, eyebrows raised.

Paul didn’t smile. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be here this week.”

Daniel rested his forehead on his hand. “That’s become a common refrain.”

“Look, you can take leave. I’ve cleared it with Peterson; he thinks you’ve been working too hard anyway.”

“Paul, I appreciate your attempt to shelter me, misguided though it might be, but I’ll be fine.”

Paul shook his head. “Daniel, you know that's not true.”

Daniel closed his eyes. Give me strength. What was even worse than Jack’s death was all the people who tiptoed around him after, who said “How are you?” in that particular tone that let him know they expected him to fall apart at any moment. Coming from Paul, it was somehow worse, too close. “I. Am. Fine. It will be fine.”

Paul nodded, obviously not believing him for a second. “Okay. Well, they’ll be here tomorrow.”

Daniel watched him leave, then walked over to the coffeepot. Coffee. He needed coffee.

---------------------------------------------------

He was still working on the translation for SG-7, his back to the door, when he felt a presence in his office, a familiar one. He looked up at the blank wall. “Jack?” he said. He was used to feeling Jack’s ghost in the room, by now.

“Daniel,” Jack’s voice said.

He’d felt Jack’s presence, but Jack had never spoken before. He turned and looked – and there was Jack, hair a little long, but otherwise looking even better than he had on the day he died.

He couldn’t breathe. “Oh my god.” It was him. It was him. He wasn’t really dead. Maybe it was like that time with Sha’re, or Shifu, where he’d lived a year of his life that never actually happened.

“No, just me,” Jack said, with an airy wave of his hand, as if they’d only seen each other a few minutes ago. Daniel suddenly noticed the little changes – it wasn’t just that Jack’s hair was longer; it had no gray, and all the wrinkles in his face had somehow been ironed out.

It wasn’t his Jack. It was the clone. Caffeine, sugar and work had kept him up all night, and he’d been caught unawares. Little clone, all grown up. Clones all over the station now – his clone too, probably Sam’s clone and Teal’c’s clone rattling around, all wondering what had happened to the world they’d left behind.

“Jack,” he said. For a moment, depression overwhelmed him. He had to perk up – how would it feel to arrive back home for the first time in ten years and have everyone’s reaction be, Oh, it’s you? He took a deep breath, and tried to put on a cheerful, welcoming face for this intruder, the ghost of his lover. “Of course. No one told me you’d arrived.”

They stared at each other for a minute, and then Jack hurtled forward and wrapped his arms around Daniel. He smelled just the same – musky-sweet – and the feel of his cheek, of his body, was everything Daniel had missed for so long. Don’t leave me, don’t leave me, don’t ever leave me again, Daniel thought. I need you.

Then a bit of Jack’s long hair tickled Daniel’s cheek. This is not your Jack, Daniel thought. He laughed a little, and patted Jack on the back, trying to break out of the hug before he lost his composure entirely.

Jack let go. “Sorry,” he shrugged. It was the same familiar shrug, the same familiar turn of the head. He felt an icy calm come down.

“It’s good seeing you again. You look so…so grown up.” He laughed at himself. Of course Jack was grown up. He’d had ten years to grow.

Jack began talking, but Daniel didn’t hear the first words, too busy drinking in every bit of this Jack he never knew, this Jack who was missing the scars and the war wounds and the gray hairs – “every one of which,” he would say, “is your damn fault.”

“You look good,” Jack said.

Daniel almost laughed. Jack had always commented on Daniel’s looks, had always talked about how young he was. Now Jack was the young one. “I’m old, Jack,” Daniel said.

“No, you’re not,” Jack said.

I am. I aged a hundred years the day you died. “Well, I feel old. The knees aren’t what they used to be.”

They stared at each other for a minute. Daniel knew he should say something, but the only things running through his head were come back. Come home with me. I saved your sweaters, and your hockey stick is still sitting behind the front door where you left it. Your razor is still in the coffee cup sitting on the bathroom sink.

“Missed you,” Jack said.

This was torture. If he didn’t have his eyes open, it could be his Jack, saying that, saying he missed Daniel after the two years apart. He desperately tried to play his way through the rest of the conversation, all the while chanting the mantra in his head, This is not your Jack. He lost his grip for a moment, reached out to cup Jack’s cheek, but caught himself and turned it into a tug on Jack’s new long hair.

“I didn’t imagine it would be like this,” Jack said. “It was better in my mind.”

“I’m sorry,” Daniel said, freezing. He wasn’t sure he could take much more. “ I had this stupid idea that you'd be old and take one look at me and think, wow, that's a piece of action I would like to be a part of.”

Daniel felt his throat grow tight. Old, young, doesn’t matter. I always wanted a piece of that action. He reached out toward Jack.

“Actually, this situation pretty much sucks,” Jack said.

No, no it doesn’t. You’re here. Daniel stroked Jack’s cheek. Jack caught his hand and asked, “What?”

You make me wish things I shouldn’t be wishing. He didn’t know he’d said it aloud until Jack responded, “Naked things, right?”

His lips, his lips were the same. Everything was the same. Daniel leaned in to kiss him. Don’t do it. Don’t.

Jack solved the problem by closing the gap. His kiss was just what Daniel remembered, everything he’d missed for the past two years. He didn’t want to let go. He didn’t want to stop.

But Daniel did, and that’s when he broke the news of Jack’s death to his dead lover’s clone.

It was inevitable that it would lead to a fight – Daniel and Jack always fought. They always made up, always came together again, except that last time. This Jack was angry that he hadn’t been told about that Jack’s death. I felt like I’d died, inside, Daniel wanted to say. I couldn’t bear to talk to you and have you not be him. “We couldn’t; we all promised we’d let you have your own lives,” was what came out of his mouth.

Daniel tried not to break down, and he managed until the moment Jack turned, saying, “I gotta go. I have to get out of here.” Exactly like that night, two years ago, in the middle of another fight.

“Jack, don’t go!” Don’t go. Don’t get in the car. Maybe this time I can stop you. “I…”

“What?” said Jack, impatiently, as Jack would have done.

“I’m sorry.” I’m sorry I let you walk out the door, let my own stupid ego get in the way. I’m sorry I never got to tell you I was sorry. Please let me do it all over again. Please stay this time. Please, I promise I won’t flop down on the couch with a copy of Arnold ’s book on the Pyramids and give you the cold shoulder. Please don’t storm off and get hit by some drunk driver. “Sorry…” He could barely speak.

“I’m not him!” Jack snapped, and Daniel remembered exactly where he was and who he was speaking to.

“I know that. I just –“ want you to stay, want you to be with me, every day I “miss him.”

“Well, he’s gone, Daniel,” Jack said.

Daniel sat back on the desk, all the air rushing out of him at once.

“There’s just me,” Jack continued, “and unfortunately I still…I still…fuck.”

Jack fled the room. Daniel stared after him.

I still…I still…

Still…care? Still…love you?

He’s gone, Daniel. There’s just me.

He could hear Jack, still in the hall, talking to Paul. He walked out and looked at him, as if he were storing water against a drought. Then he suddenly realized they were both staring at him.

“Uh…Jack, did Paul tell you he’s the new SGC second in command?” Probably not the best thing to blurt out, but probably better than You’re right; let’s run off to a 24-hour Massachusetts drive-through chapel and make it official, which was the only other thing he could think of. He kept staring, couldn’t stop looking, and suddenly realized they’d said the other Daniel was missing.

“We’ll help you,” Daniel said, knowing that his words were probably coming too soon or too late, a dead giveaway that he’d barely heard the conversation. Jack shrugged away the help and stalked off.

Daniel sighed and leaned against the concrete wall, staring at the floor. Paul reached out, and touched his arm. “Daniel – let’s go back into your office.”

Daniel was not going to break down. He would not fall apart in front of Paul – Paul might think Daniel was letting Paul into his life, and that could only go poorly. He shrugged Paul’s hand off. “I’m going for a walk. I’ll talk to you later.”

---------------------------------------------------

I have to ask him to stay, Daniel thought. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t his Jack. The universe had given him another chance, a chance to make things right. This was better than the second chances he’d been given any of the many times he’d died. He’d make it right, this time. I can’t stand living without him any more.

Daniel’s walk took him down to level 16. The security cameras were all in operation, and the security guards, knowing the Asgaard were hovering over the base, had taken this opportunity to grab a cigarette. Daniel was glad he wouldn’t have any explaining to do. He’d go to Jack – drag him into the nearest supply closet, or something, for a long talk, or maybe a short one. He looked over the screens, looking for Jack, who had been looking for the other Daniel.

Where would he go, if he were in the other Daniel’s position? He was unsurprised to find that his clone was standing in the infirmary, where he’d – both of them, in a way – had died twelve years ago.

My God, I was skinny! That was Daniel’s first thought. This young Daniel was lean and lanky. Daniel rested one hand on his soft stomach, feeling self-conscious and envious of his clone. His double’s hair was short, though, shorter than Daniel had ever worn it. Daniel remembered when he was 25. That had been the year he’d been working on that dig in Libya , completely against US regulations, after sneaking across the border from Egypt. His hair had been in a braid halfway down to his ass – that is, until it had fallen into a citronella candle one night. The braid was unsalvageable, and he’d smelled like a burned sheep for weeks.

His younger counterpart had his arms wrapped around himself, and Daniel realized he was standing in the exact same position. There was an eeriness to it, like staring into a mirror.

He saw Jack enter the room. There was no audio, but he didn’t need any. He knew when that Daniel began crying, because his face was also wet. He saw the young clone try to push Jack away, and saw Jack ignore the other Daniel’s gesture and hold him as he cried. He felt a flash of hot hatred for the other Daniel. The other Daniel got the hot body and had a life away from this mausoleum lately known as the SGC, exploring the universe instead of sitting trapped behind a desk with decomposing books. The other Daniel got Jack.

Jack was the only one who ever ignored Daniel when he tried to push them away. Jack was the only one who could push his way back in. And Daniel wanted his Jack back.

He stood in the middle of the security room, staring at the screen, and gnawed on the side of his thumb, long after the two clones had left the picture.

---------------------------------------------------

The briefing room was dark when Daniel entered it; he probably wasn’t the only one whose routine was thrown off by the arrival of the clones. He watched from above as his double, his younger self, walked through the Stargate, head bowed.

Daniel suddenly realized how many more Jack-less years his clone would have if Daniel decided to take Jack’s clone away – decades more than Daniel would have. It was obvious his duplicate needed that Jack as much as Daniel had ever needed his own Jack, as much as most people needed air. No matter how much Daniel wanted Jack, he couldn’t take him.

He couldn’t hate the other Daniel now. He could only feel empathy, feel what it must be like to learn that news all over again, fresh and new. He wanted to bring the other Daniel back to his office, talk to him, try to comfort him, but after his conversation with Jack he couldn’t imagine the results would be any good.

He sat in the briefing room, brooding, and stared at the Stargate long after the other Daniel had gone. He wished he could walk through the Gate like the other Daniel had. He envied the other Daniel, envied all the opportunities he had. He wished his life was beginning, instead of ending.

He heard steps on the stairs, and instantly recognized them. Jack came up the stairs, looking dazed and sad. He didn’t seem to notice Daniel as he looked around the dim room. Daniel stood up.

“Hey,” Daniel said.

Jack turned, looking surprised. In this half-light, Daniel could almost see the mature man he’d lost, instead of the young man standing in front of him. “Hi,” he replied, his voice soft.

Daniel immediately thought of his counterpart. “Is he okay?” Daniel asked.

Of course, he knew the answer, even before Jack shook his head. “No, but he will be. Right? Tell me he’ll be okay.” Jack’s eyes were pleading.

Daniel pressed his mouth shut to cut off the laugh that nearly escaped at the very concept of being “okay”. When he had control, he spoke. “Yeah, he’ll be fine.” After all, at least he still has one Jack left.

Jack looked a little relieved, and still a little worried. You’re in love with him and you don’t even know it, Daniel thought. He’d never imagined the clones would stay so fixated on their old lives. He thought they’d relish the chance to start over. Instead, it looked like that Jack and Daniel, at least, had spent so much time thinking about the ones they’d left behind that they’d missed what was right in front of their noses. “And you?” Jack asked, looking closely at him.

Take me away from here. Take me back with you. I’ll do anything – I’ll timeshare you with the other Daniel – just don’t leave me again. “I’ll be okay,” he lied.

They stared at each other for a moment. Daniel thought about kissing him, once more for old time’s sake, as his eyes burned with withheld tears. He knew it would only hurt both of them, but it was so hard to keep this distance, not to try for one last time, even if it wasn’t quite with his Jack.

“I think Thor might have a thing for me,” Jack said abruptly.

It seemed so incongruous, so inappropriate, so far away from anything Daniel had been thinking, that he couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re kidding.” It felt so strange to laugh again – he didn’t think he’d truly laughed, a real laugh, once since Jack died.

“Seriously. I think he has a thing for me. There’s been inappropriate touching,” Jack said.

Daniel laughed again. He let the feeling fill him for a moment, an echo of what it had felt like to be happy. Number 67 on the very long list of things he missed about Jack: his pointed sense of the ridiculous, one that no one else could match. “Maybe he’s having a mid-life crisis,” Daniel said.

“Maybe,” Jack said. Daniel longed for something more, for Jack to continue the banter, joke about how he’d have to re-live the midlife crisis now that he had a younger body. There was too much between them, though – too many unmet expectations, too many needs unfulfilled.

He couldn’t do anything to encourage Jack to stay. The other Daniel needed him.

“They’re waiting for you downstairs,” Daniel whispered, almost unable to get the words out.

Jack met his eyes. “I don’t want to go,” he said.

It took everything Daniel had not to run to Jack, to grab him, hold him and say, Yes. Yes. Don’t go. I need you. Please stay. Instead, he stood paralyzed.

“But I guess I have to,” Jack said, and began walking out. Daniel felt his heart crumble as Jack began to walk by. Then Jack stuck out his hand. Daniel smiled, reflexively, as he shook it.

Somehow, the handshake turned into a hug. Once again, reality seemed to blur, and Daniel felt like he was back in his Jack’s arms. He stroked Jack’s back slowly, carefully, trying to memorize every curve and hollow. If Jack didn’t let go soon, Daniel would never let him leave. “Jack? You have to go now.”

“I know,” Jack said, letting go. “I know.” He straightened his shirt as he stepped away. “Well, it’s been a pleasure, Dr. Jackson.”

Daniel felt like he’d been hit. That was exactly what the other Jack had said two years ago, just as he’d slammed the front door. There was a rushing noise in his ears as he tried to keep his feet. He missed Jack’s next few words. “…see how it’s going with you and Colonel Davis. You might even consider trading in for a younger guy. A thirty-five year old Jack O’Neill is a beautiful thing,” he said.

Daniel started shaking. “You know about Paul?” No one knew about Paul. How could he figure that out so quickly?

“I know a lot of stuff,” he said with a snide grin. “Gotta go. See you around.”

He raced down the stairs. Daniel stepped toward the windows of the briefing room, looking out at the Stargate. The clones all stood there, grouped around Thor. Most looked as if they were huddled around their own misery. Jack spoke to Thor briefly; in a moment, the Gate opened.

He’s gone, Daniel. There’s just me.

Daniel stared after Jack. Jack looked up at the briefing room, the blue glow of the event horizon shining off his face. Daniel couldn’t tell if Jack saw him or not. As Jack turned back toward the blue shimmer, Daniel reached out, as if he could somehow reach through the glass and grab Jack, physically stop him from leaving.

The last Jack O’Neill in the universe walked through the Stargate, leaving Daniel well and truly alone.

---------------------------------------------------

Getting tickets on the next flight to Minnesota was expensive, but Daniel didn’t mind the hit to his bank account – it wasn’t like he did much with the money anyway. Paul was happy to give him leave, effective immediately. He wanted to get away from everyone and everything, be alone at the cabin by the lake with a couple of bottles of wine and his ghost. Funny – when Jack was alive, it took a team of Clydesdales to drag Daniel up to that damn cabin, and now that he was gone, Daniel couldn’t stay away.

He tossed his carryon bag in the back seat of the car rental and pulled out his digital music device, setting it to play through the stereo. Navigating his way out of the airport was automatic by now; he could almost do it in his sleep, which was lucky in this instance. The first song that came on was Massive Attack, and he flipped to the next track, not ready for the tears the song would bring. The next track was Nina Simone, which wasn’t any better. He pressed the “next” button again, and was rewarded with an aria from one of Jack’s old opera CDs, something sad and lonely from Debussy.

What have I put together here – “Music to Slit Your Wrists By, Volume 8”? He turned the device off, in favor of NPR.

Not two minutes from the airport, his cellphone rang. He picked it up. “Hello.”

“Hey, it’s me,” said the female voice on the other end of the line.

Daniel sighed. “Hey, Sam.” It was past midnight in Minnesota , which meant it was well after one where Sam was. She wasn’t even trying to hide the fact that this wasn’t a social call.

“I just wanted to let you know, I’m coming up tomorrow morning,” she said casually.

Daniel navigated smoothly onto Highway 5. “That’s great, Sam, but I’m not in Colorado .”

“I know,” Sam said, her voice cheery. “I’m flying into St. Paul tomorrow. I need to wait for Teal’c’s flight to get in, but we’ll be at the cabin in time for – well, maybe not breakfast, but definitely brunch.”

“Teal’c?” Daniel asked, floored.

“It’s not like you ever get up early enough for breakfast, anyway, unless one of us is there to drag you out of bed,” Sam babbled.

“He’s not – he’s halfway across the galaxy, Sam!”

“He decided he needed a vacation. By a lake,” Sam said.

“He hated the lake, Sam,” Daniel said.

There was a long pause. “It’s worth it to him to see you,” she said.

“Sam, this is all very nice of you,” Daniel said. “But I just want to be alone right now.”

“And you will be,” Sam said brightly. “You’ll be alone with us.”

Daniel sighed, rolling his eyes. He thought of yelling at her, being impossibly rude, but just didn’t have the energy. “Fine. Bring extra toilet paper. And whiskey,” he said, hanging up and turning off the phone.

---------------------------------------------------

By now, he’d figured out how to get a fire going in the wood stove fairly quickly. The last of the wood Jack had chopped was sitting next to it. Maybe Daniel could get Teal’c to chop some while he was there.

He uncorked a bottle of wine, took a glass, and sat down at the kitchen table. Propping his feet on another chair, he stared at the glass for a moment, then shoved it across the table. It teetered on the edge. As he took a swig from the bottle, he heard the glass crash to the floor and shatter. It gave him an odd feeling of satisfaction.

When most of the bottle was gone, Daniel pillowed his face on his arms and cried.

---------------------------------------------------

“What the hell are you doing, Daniel?” he heard Jack’s voice ask.

He turned around, and there was Jack, standing in the middle of the living room as if he’d never walked out. Same laugh lines, same mostly-gray hair, same leather bomber – everything.

“Jack?” Daniel said.

“Yep,” Jack said. “It’s me.”

Daniel flung himself into Jack’s arms. They held each other for a moment.

“You look like shit, Daniel,” Jack said bluntly.

Daniel shrugged. “I’ve been working a lot lately.” Suddenly, everything came rushing back, and he shoved Jack away. “You son of a bitch. You died on me. You died! You’re not supposed to die. That’s my job.”

“Yeah,” Jack shrugged. “Sorry to steal your thunder.” He grimaced. “The dying was easy. I just can’t seem to get that resurrection part down.”

Daniel wanted to hit him. “You left me. You left me here alone. You died,” he whispered angrily.

“Yeah,” Jack said. “Let’s talk about this for a minute. The part where I died. I’m the one who died, Dr. Jackson, not you.”

“There’s not a day I’m not aware of that,” Daniel snapped. “And I have to ask – since you’re dead, why are you suddenly invading my dreams?”

“Courtesy of Oma Dessala,” Jack said, spreading his arms wide. “They may have cast your naked ass out of the Ascended, but I think the old lady still has a sweet spot for you. Now, the fact that she’s granting me this kind of a favor – does that tell you something?”

“What am I supposed to do, Jack? You died. The team is dead. I sit in my office, paging through books and doing translations no one else can understand. My knees hurt, and I’ve already run through your lifetime supply of Ben Gay. I’m old. There’s nothing left for me to do.”

“Shut up and stop whining,” Jack said. “You’re forty-six. You’re not exactly Methuselah. I wasn’t much younger than that when you met me, you know.” He took a deep breath, and cupped Daniel’s face in his hands. “You’ve got work to do. The Goa’uld are still out there, and there’s no one else who can do the job as well as you guys. You need to get SG-1 started again, Daniel.”

Daniel stared at him for a minute. “I wasn’t aware insanity was an issue among the dead,” he responded.

“I’m serious,” Jack said.

“Sam’s got a job at the Pentagon. Teal’c, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is getting an army of Jaffa warriors ready to rebel. They’re a little busy.”

“Sam hates her job,” Jack said, waving one hand. “She’s bored to tears. And Teal’c – he’s got Ry’ac there to handle the day to day stuff, and he’s getting itchy feet.”

Daniel shook his head. “I can’t lead them. I can’t do it.”

“I’m not asking you to,” Jack said. “That’s Sam’s job, and she’ll be good at it. But you know why she didn’t do it in the first place? She didn’t think you thought she could do the job. Both of them were waiting for you. You’re the heart of the team, Daniel. I managed to do some CPR for the year you were gone, but you’re the core. They can’t do anything unless you believe in it, and you’ve spent the past two years shutting them out.”

Daniel closed his eyes. “It’s a lot harder without you, you know.”

“I know,” Jack said, stroking his shoulder. “I’ve been there.” Daniel opened his eyes, and Jack grinned. “Just think of how many more times you’ll get to die over the next few years.”

Daniel looked at Jack seriously. “Will I get to see you when I do?” he asked.

“Every time, Danny.” Daniel wrapped his arms around Jack, and felt Jack’s arms slide down his back. “Every time.”

“I’m sorry,” Daniel said. “I never got to tell you how sorry I was.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Jack said. “It was a dumbass thing to do, go out and drive. I should’ve just swallowed my pride and apologized.”

“You weren’t supposed to die like that,” Daniel said. “It was supposed to happen on some planet out there, somewhere. I was supposed to get a chance to say goodbye.”

“I know,” Jack said, kissing the top of his head. “I know.”

Daniel looked up at Jack. “You’re going to have to go soon, aren’t you?” he asked.

Jack nodded. “Afraid so.” His face had that look to it, the one it got when he was desperately sad and trying to hide it.

Daniel reached his fingers into Jack’s hair and pulled him into a hard, breathtaking kiss. “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you,” he whispered as he came up for air. Jack was saying the same thing.

He felt Jack’s arms slowly letting go of him. “Remember,” he said seriously, “you’re not the one who’s dead. Get the team going again. You’ve got a lot of years left in you.”

Daniel nodded. “I’ll remember.” He heard the sound of knocking.

“That’s my cue,” Jack said.

Daniel felt a little puddle of drool under his cheek, where he’d fallen asleep at the table. “And for God’s sake, stop being such an ass to Davis! Give the poor guy a chance!” he heard Jack’s voice yelling in his head as he sat up.

The knocking came again. It was the front door. Daniel began to get up, then felt something between his fingers. He looked closely. In the bright sunlight streaming through the kitchen window, he could see a few strands of silver hair caught there. He tightened his hand around them and put them in his pocket as he opened the door to the rest of his team.

“Hey guys,” he said to Sam and Teal’c, blinking at them in the sun. “I’m glad you came. I’ve got a proposal for you.”

 

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