Spoilers: Through "Threads."
Recipient: maevebran in the sd_ficathon, back-up.
Prompt: Sam and Daniel dealing with Daniel's second Ascension.
Summary: It's a rare weaver who works with a single thread.
She was tip-toeing. He wasn't sure for how long, but the more he stared at his paperwork without getting anywhere, the more he started noticing the regular soft shuffle past his office door. He didn't have to look up to know whose steps they were.
He finally gave up when he realized he was counting the minutes between passes. At the first tell-tale tip, he called out in a sing-song, "I can hear you!"
Sam froze mid-toe, still out of sight. He only counted till five before her sigh preceded her entrance. "Hey, Daniel, how's it going?"
He shook his head and smiled. "Don't even try, I've been hearing you for the past --" his eyes flicked to his computer clock and he blinked rapidly "-- uh, wow, is it really that late?" He stared at the digits.
Sam chuckled. "I was starting to wonder if you were ever going to go home."
"Me?" His eyebrows shot up. "Who's the one haunting the corridors? At least I'm working, you know." He gestured vaguely at his desk, avoiding Sam's knowing look. "Sort of."
They both knew from long experience that the battle of "Who's Working More?" would never be won and tended to get that conversation out of the way quickly these days. "Quite a pile you've got."
He sighed. "Yeah, I'm still catching up from..." He lifted a hand, fingers waving at the ceiling.
Sam stiffened. "Yeah, I guess so. Me too. I mean, not from being, you know, but other, uh..." She copied his move but her face grew pink, and he immediately felt ashamed. Who was he to be complaining about being alive when Sam had lost her father? Not to mention...well, the less he thought about that the better.
He reached over the desk and let his hand fall just to the side of hers, not wanting to push. "I wish I could've been there for you."
Her head shot up. "Daniel, don't ever feel guilty about that. You were kind of busy at the time."
"If I had figured it out faster, maybe I could've come back in time to help..." But even as he said it, she was shaking her head.
"No, because if you did, that would mean you were never coming back to me- us," she amended. "Dad wouldn't've wanted it that way." Her eyes were remarkably clear.
He changed the subject. "So, what brings you to my hallway?"
She shrugged. "I know it's silly, but I needed to check on you. We haven't really..."
He smiled. "Is this going to be like last time? Because twenty questions seems a little pointless when I haven't lost my memory."
"I didn't just ask questions!"
"And it wasn't just twenty," he retorted. "Come on, Sam, what's up?"
She was silent, her bottom lip just slightly tucked in; then, whatever decision she'd made bolstered her and she pulled over a stool to sit on, replacing her folded hands on the table between them. Daniel didn't realize he was staring at her until she startled him by looking him square in the face.
"I read your report," she said.
He'd been wondering about that, if she had already done it and wasn't affected, or if she was putting it off, knowing what she'd find and trying to avoid the details. Given everything that had happened in the past few weeks, he wasn't sure what effect learning about what her doppelganger had been up to would have. He'd thought about censoring the report, but once he got started, the details of their engagement came quick and clear, and he'd ended up with a near word-for-word transcript.
Speaking out loud would be good. "Oh," he repeated. Carefully, he collected the spread-out paperwork into a pile and set it to the side. "Where do you want to start?"
"How about somewhere above ground?" she said quickly. "My house?"
He nodded and they took off, stopping only at the locker rooms. She'd clearly known exactly what she wanted to do but hadn't yet changed out of her BDUs, and her lack of confidence in his response worried him. He made sure to follow her closely, just shy of tailgating, through the dark streets.
Once inside, Sam headed straight to her kitchen. "Coffee?"
"Please. Uh, better make it decaf if you've got it. I should sleep at some point tonight." He shrugged off his jacket and settled on an armchair.
He heard the grin in her voice. “Sure it's really you? The Daniel I know would never take consideration for something so trivial as REM cycles.”
“Nothing like ascending to a higher plane of existence to give you some perspective.”
He could see her head over the counter as she worked. "You know none of it was your fault, right?"
She froze with a hand on a cabinet, just a moment, then continued. "I know. But you can't stop me from feeling like it is, a little."
He let the peace of her home reign. He'd never figured out how she managed to keep things so bright and warm with the hours she worked. He probably spent as much time away as she did, and while you wouldn't call it untidy, his place always felt vaguely foreign, unused. Sam's house felt like Sam.
She set the mugs on the coffee table, along with a package of Oreos. "Can't say no to sugar," she said, sitting on the couch and plucking out a cookie.
"Just don't tell Teal'c." At her raised eyebrow, he explained. "The day after I came back, he presented me with a list of, ah, dietary suggestions. Thinks I'm a little too well-padded," he grumbled as Sam lost the battle with her laughter.
It was too good, seeing her smile, so he sipped his coffee quietly while she enjoyed the moment. When she settled down, her posture was looser than he'd seen all night. "So."
He gestured for her to continue.
"I don't know, Daniel, you tell me where to start. You're certainly blasé enough about it all."
He couldn't stop the snort of laughter. "I have to be." She looked confused. "No, seriously, can you imagine actually trying to deal with all of the crap that's happened to us? We'd go insane."
"I deal with it," she protested.
"No, you don't, not really." He shook his head. "I mean, really think about it for a minute. We take care of what's stopping us from doing our jobs, but we can't afford to do more than that."
"Well, here's me trying to make a chip in the ice," she said. "Not to sound trite, but if there's one thing I've learned from all this, it's that you can't hold back your questions and admissions, because sooner or later, it'll be too late for them at all." She looked at him seriously. "Usually sooner. Sometimes more than once."
He swallowed. "Is it the Ascension or what came before it that you want to talk about now?"
"Before." No surprise. "I want to know about her."
"You read the report."
"Was that everything?"
He shrugged. "Maybe. I think so." The conversation anyway. No way to convey the - oh, hell: "No way to ever really show what it was like. You know how those go. But you've been through it, with Fifth."
She nodded. "You can't tell whether it's real or not, when they make an effort. And you spend half the time convinced that you must be right, and the other half equally certain you're going crazy."
"There was never any doubt it my mind of the difference."
"She made you think she was Oma Desala, for a little while," Sam pointed out.
He raised a finger. "Very briefly, and she never tried to make me think she was you. That never would've worked, anyway."
"I guess Oma was more believable in the situation..."
Shaking his head again, he replied, "Even if the situation were different, I would know."
"How? Assuming she didn't say something to give it away?"
"Her eyes," he replied simply. "Clichés aside, hers were shallow. I couldn't see anything of you behind them. Well, mostly."
Oops. She sat forward. "What does that mean?"
He sighed. "You remember the part about her sharing some of your personality?" She nodded. "Well, it wasn't entirely a lie."
He tried to cover his silence with a cookie, but Sam was having none of it. "You can't leave me there, come on!"
"How would you describe me, if someone asked you what I was like?" His glasses were sliding down his nose; one of these days, he'd have to get a style that didn't do that.
Too used to brainstorming sessions that could take them to Fiji and back (figuratively), Sam didn't question the subject change. "Curious. Stubborn. Brilliant. Kind. Do you want me to keep going, Mister Ego?"
"No, that's good, thanks. And I'd use the same answer for you, but I'd call the first two a relentless pursuit of knowledge."
He could see that she'd caught on. "She kept going even after learning about Dakara."
"Exactly. And that's actually how I was able to turn the tables."
"Yeah, weird as it seems to say. But it wasn't really her I understood, it was you. And I, uh, used it against her."
There didn't seem to be much else to say about that. Daniel thought the explanation would resolve things, but Sam still looked pensive. "You would have done the same in my place."
"Yeah, of course," she said, a little too quickly. Her shoulders were squaring up again. "Need a refill?" she asked brightly, reaching for his half-full mug.
He stopped her wrist. "Sam. Don't push it away."
"Funny, coming from you."
He winced. "Yeah, I wondered if I'd be eating that dish."
She was watching his hand, and he realized his thumb was tracing circles on her wrist. The contrast between them distracted him. "How do you stay so fair-skinned?"
She looked at him incredulously. "You die, Ascend, and come back to life, and all you want to know is my skin regimen?"
"You're amazing, Daniel," she said, withdrawing her hand. He missed having something to hold immediately, but at least she didn't try to stand again. "Seriously, and don't give me the repression thing again, how can you not have trouble processing that?"
His turn to get up now; he shoved his hands in his pockets and began to pace. "At this point, it's all kind of a blur, you know? It's like...remember when we relocated the Celians?"
"Ugh, do I ever. Nothing went right on that mission."
"Right, exactly, and at the end of the day, when we were covered in mud and trying to fit everything into the one tent that didn't leak, Jack opened up his MRE and said with completely sincere enthusiasm, 'Sweet, steak!'?" There was a sting in his hand and he realized he'd been gesticulating. Not wanting to risk the mantle's edge again, he crossed to join Sam on the couch.
She chuckled. "Yeah, I do. After the mission, he couldn't stop talking about how it was the best meal he'd ever had."
Daniel grinned. "We had steak MREs for a month."
"I was so ready for chicken again."
"But you get what I mean, right?"
She nodded, tucking a leg beneath her as she turned to face him. "Taking the silver lining and running with it, yeah. Still, this was a lot bigger than the Celians."
"Sure. Bigger silver lining, too."
"I guess saving the universe a few times over would have that effect."
"Among other things," he added without thinking, but she didn't seem to notice.
"God, we were so naive back then."
"We'd been through the wringer a little," he countered, resting his elbow on the couch's back. The relocation project had been three years into the program, after all. In the end, the Celians had found their own way and made their work pointless, but it paved the way for future efforts.
Sam shrugged. "We thought so, at the time. Now, all of the early stuff seems..."
"God, no. They're still life-defining events. Just..."
"Distant," he concluded. He wondered when that had become so. Was it after the first Ascension that he'd started to let go, after so long? Earlier? Only now?
Sam interrupted his thoughts. "What are you thinking?"
"You were right, earlier, you know."
"It happens. Which part?" she teased.
He smiled. "About me having changed, and not just in my coffee habits."
"Although that was a big tip-off."
"Daniel, we've all changed." She leaned over and squeezed his biceps. "That's different, for one."
"Nice to know you...never mind." He plowed past her curious look. "I'm grounded now in a way I don't think I've been in my entire life. When she was pretending to be Oma, she said my choice to Ascend or not was more difficult this time."
"That wasn't Oma," Sam reminded him.
"No, I know, but she was already in my head, and she...I don't know, sifted some things around without meaning to. I figured a few things out up there. In the midst of all the wrestling control from evil machines stuff, of course."
Sam's face was open, and, he realized, a lot closer than he'd thought. She didn't seem to notice, brow slightly crinkled as she tried to suss out where he was going with this point. He couldn't help but compare the eyes he knew so well, whether they were alight with discovery, dark with anger, or creased with pain, to the cold and soulless Replicator's ones. When he'd realized, back on her ship, that it wouldn't take him a second to tell the difference between them, he'd known why the choice was harder now.
He swallowed, hard, and licked his lips, missing the far away coffee mug. "Look, Sam, I...wasn't going to tell you this, not now anyway, so I'm going to stumble through it. The silver lining I talked about, that extra push...the thing I'm taking away from all of the past few weeks is you."
Her eyes widened in surprise, then confusion. "I don't..."
"I realized," he drove on, "that - and I know I'm going to sound like a selfish ass - that I had to save Earth not for the planet's sake, not for the SGC's, but so that you could live." He took a deep breath and took the hand resting on her thigh. "Because you had to be there for me to come back to."
Now he'd gone and done it, and sure enough, the doubt and self-recrimination was creeping back into her face. "Daniel, you can't -"
"I know, I have spectacularly bad timing, and I'm not expecting you to, to anything." He held tight to her hand when she tried to draw gently away. "I just think you should know that I'll be here if you ever do."
Sam, his Sam, turned her head away a moment, then came back. "Daniel...I wanted the General to give up on you."
King as he had been of them all night, this non sequitur made him blanch. "What?"
"It had been a week. I asked him more than once to authorize a memorial service."
"O...kay. Sam, for all you knew, I was really dead. For real."
Her smile was hanging on by a very thin thread. "General O'Neill kept saying you'd come back, and I wanted to believe him, but I couldn't. I considered you gone."
"So you think I should be having this conversation with Jack?" He tried to joke her tears away, but they still loomed.
She finally looked up at him. "That doesn't change things? That I was so quick to write you off?"
He shrugged. "No." Grounding, again, but she could see that. "Death and purgatory didn't change how I felt." When she didn't answer, he tentatively brushed a thumb across her cheek. "Like I said, if it's too soon for you, or you just don't know right now, that's fine. If you know you'll never...well, it'd be nice of you to tell me, but I'll be okay. Well, mostly," he added. "In any case, I'm here for you. All right?"
She blinked, and her damp eyes became clearer. "I don't des-"
"Don't say that."
"Fine, Mister Bossy." When the grin snuck back into her face, he relaxed and let it spread to his. "But you're right, it is...too soon for me. For anyone."
He nodded. "I understand."
"But, um. Keep that door open, okay?" She squeezed the hand he'd forgotten he was holding.
"Yes, ma'am." He stretched his arm back over the couch and blinked at the clock across the room. "I may have been wrong about that sleep thing tonight."
Sam picked up her remote. "Movie? We've got enough time for one before we need to head back."
"Why not?" He rotated to face the television while Sam slid the cookie package down the table. She settled back closer, tucked into his outstretched arm.
"Just don't pick anything involving sharp blades."
He knew it wasn't what she meant, but that was okay, too.