One of a Kind
All publicly recognisable characters and places are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret Productions. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognised characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Warnings etc.: This is a little bit of angsty comfort that is set six months after Forever in a Day. It therefore contains major spoilers for the events of that episode.
Colour drained from Daniel's face. His wine glass froze halfway between the banqueting table and his mouth, and his eyes were fixed on some distant point across the crowded room.
Jack leaned towards him in concern. "Daniel? You swallow something that didn't taste like chicken?"
Daniel made no response, forcing Jack to swivel round in his seat to see what Medusa-like creature had frozen his teammate to stone. For a moment he saw nothing unusual. The room was crowded as he'd expected given the importance of this particular wedding to these people; it wasn't every day two tribes were united by a marriage. His eyes scanned over the bride and groom, who were clearly enthralled with one another despite the political arrangements that had brought them together. Most of the guests were gathered together in small family huddles, complimenting one another on their finery and making whatever passed for small talk on this distant planet. Young serving boys skipped nimbly between the adults, filling wine glasses and offering platters filled with bites of sweet and savoury foods.
And then suddenly he saw her.
Sha're? Jack felt his stomach twist at the sight of her being guided across the room on the arm of a handsome young man who clearly worshipped the ground she walked on. She was a vision of beauty, dressed in crimson silk with a heavy golden necklace at her throat. The candlelight shimmered off her dusky skin and gave a rich red glow to the tumble of long black hair.
That couldn't be. Sha're was dead. He'd seen her still-warm body moments after Teal'c had delivered the fatal staff weapon blast that took her life. He'd stood guard at the mortuary door as Daniel had prepared his deceased wife for the ritual burial on Abydos. And he'd been part of the SGC honour guard as Kasuf and Daniel had said their final farewells to the woman they loved as daughter and wife.
As Jack turned back to his teammate, he saw Daniel was trembling. Instantly, he shot his right hand forward to prevent the obvious accident from happening. He curled his fingers around Daniel's hand, tightening the archaeologist's precarious grip on his wine glass. Daniel jerked round to face him, raw emotional pain across his face.
"Careful, you nearly spilled some," Jack said. The gentle comment was accompanied by a searching look that communicated his concern far more eloquently than his words ever would. "You okay?"
Daniel peered down at Jack's hand curled around his own as though he had no memory of what had just happened. He swallowed hard, then slowly pulled his hand free of Jack's, while still clutching the wine glass. He inhaled noisily, then tipped the glass to his lips and downed its contents.
Almost immediately, he was coughing and choking. The wine was far stronger than anything served on Earth, and it was rough around the edges too. Jack rubbed Daniel's back as the younger man gasped for breath. Concerned wedding guests began to shoot them anxious looks, but Jack merely waved nonchalantly with his free hand. "Doctor Jackson's never been good with booze. There's nothing to worry about."
A wheezy breath told him Daniel had finally got his respiratory system back under control. One of the young boys had somehow managed to slide under Jack's radar and refill Daniel's glass, but as Daniel reached for it, Jack caught his hand. "Why don't we get some fresh air?"
His eyes still watering from the coughing fit, Daniel's gaze swept the room. "Wouldn't that be a bit rude? I wouldn't want to offend..." His voice trailed off miserably.
Jack glanced round. To his right, Teal'c was surrounded by a group of adoring young women, who were listening in horrified fascination as he explained the procedure involved in tattooing his skin with gold. Somewhere across the room, Carter was sitting with another group of women, apparently doing some kind of sisterhood bonding thing. "I don't think we'll be missed," he said. He stood up and then helped Daniel to his feet.
"I'm fine," Daniel protested.
"Sure. Whatever," Jack replied, keeping a firm grip on Daniel's arm. In his opinion, anyone with the pallor of Daniel's face was not to be relied on to stay vertical. They worked their way through the crowd and then out into the crisp cool air of early evening. Daniel didn't protest as Jack led him down the side of the meeting hall to the seclusion of a walled garden that he'd found earlier in the day. They settled themselves on a wooden bench and spent several silent minutes gazing up at the stars that were just becoming visible in the darkening sky. Peaceful and companionable though it was, Jack knew he couldn't let it last forever.
"So," he said slowly, sliding a sideways look at Daniel. "You do know that wasn't Sha're in there, right?"
"Yeah." Daniel gave a wry smile that vanished almost as soon as it had formed. "But just for a moment there, when she... when that woman was walking across the room..."
"Yeah," Jack said, remembering how gut-punched he'd felt, and how it must've been a thousand times worse for Daniel. "Trick of the light?"
"Something like that," Daniel agreed softly.
Silence enveloped them again - soft and gentle against their skin. Then somewhere in the garden an insect rubbed its hind legs together, creating a melodious rhythm. Another creature chirped softly in counterpoint. Tall grasses added a sibilant harmony. Jack let the sounds relax him, surprised to find himself welcoming the peace after the noise of the wedding celebration. Beside him, Daniel rubbed at his forehead as though he was in pain.
"Need some Tylenol?" Jack offered.
Daniel shook his head and gave a gruff snort. "I don't think Tylenol can fix this."
The cryptic comment was the first time in weeks that Daniel had referred to his emotional pain. His teammates asked how he was doing, of course, but mostly he brushed them off with a brave smile and brittle gratitude for their concern. He wasn't the kind of guy who wore his heart on his sleeve. And those who didn't know him might never suspect he'd been recently widowed. Jack hadn't missed any of the signs, though. The bloodshot eyes from the secret tears. The sudden out-of-character behaviour with the first pretty young woman to cross his path. Oh yes, Jack knew how deeply Daniel was hurting. And it frustrated the hell out of him that there hadn't been a damn thing he could do to make it better. Except for now perhaps.
He tried to make his question sound as casual as possible. "So, how long has it been? Six months?"
Daniel didn't look at him. "Six months, two weeks and three days."
"Ah," Jack said.
Daniel glanced at him, eyebrows raised. "Ah?"
It was Jack's turn to look away. He peered down at the gravel beneath his boots, noting how the vivid blues and greens he'd seen earlier had lost their brightness in the fading light. "You're still at the counting stage." He scuffed the toe of his boot through the gravel, leaving a shallow indentation. "I used to do that. After Charlie... died."
"Oh." There was a long pause, then Daniel asked, "When did you stop?"
Jack shrugged. "I'm not sure. One day I suddenly found his birthday was almost here and I hadn't realised. I guess it was four, maybe five years, after he'd been gone."
A long, slow breath escaped from Daniel's lungs. "I miss her, Jack."
"I know." There was nothing else to say. No comfort he could offer other than sitting under the stars on an alien planet and just being there.
Daniel was gazing into the dark as he spoke. "Sometimes I think about breaking into Area 51, going to the Quantum Mirror and searching through all the alternate realities until I find one where she's alive. Then I could just step through..." He gave a bitter laugh. "But then I remember that other version of Carter - the one that was married to the other you, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember," Jack replied. How could he possibly forget? Trapped in her grief, she'd wanted him to be the same as the Jack O'Neill she had loved and lost. He'd known instantly that he couldn't step into a dead man's shoes even if he'd wanted to, but it had taken a kiss for her to figure it out.
Daniel blew out a breath. "Even if I found her, she wouldn't be any more real than that woman just now. At least, not in the sense that really matters. She'd just be another look-alike."
"Your Sha're was one very special lady," Jack said, remembering the way the shy girl of his first visit to Abydos had turned into a bold young woman capable of sucking her husband's face off in public. He wondered if Daniel realised the display had been mainly for the benefit of Carter - a clear sign to the Earth woman that Daniel might have been born on her planet, but he now belonged to Sha're and Abydos.
"Yes, she was," Daniel agreed. Jack glanced at him, and saw that his teammate's face had softened into an expression of fond remembrance.
"It does get easier," Jack offered quietly.
"Does it?" Daniel asked, gazing up at the stars.
"You don't ever forget, of course. You don't ever stop missing them. But that pain in the middle of your chest..."
"The one that feels like an empty black hole?"
"Yeah, that's the one. That goes away eventually. At least, most of the time."
"I wish I could believe that," Daniel said.
"Trust me," Jack replied.
Daniel turned and looked at him, and just for a moment Jack felt as though it was his soul being weighed, in the same way Daniel had once placed a feather on a scale for Sha're. He held his breath, suddenly afraid of what his friend might see. Scared he might be found lacking in some way. But then Daniel exhaled, his breath a white mist in the cold evening air.
"I do trust you, Jack," he said. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't."
The comment sent a warm glow through Jack that took him by surprise. But then he saw Daniel shiver. "We should get back inside," he said.
Daniel sighed, his attention once more on the stars.
Jack followed his gaze and guessed what Daniel was thinking. Somewhere out there was Abydos. Sha're's final resting place. And, one day, it would be Daniel's too. Hopefully not for a long time, though. "You ready for this?" he asked as he stood up.
The expression that flickered across Daniel's face was a strange mix of sadness and determination. "I'm getting there," he said. And he joined Jack on the short walk back into the wedding feast.
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