Sunlight was definitely a female of the species. Any doubts he might conceivably have had on the subject had been quickly dispelled by her delight in shopping for clothes. The function of a mere male on such occasions had rapidly been made clear. His task was to tell her that she looked pretty in whatever she tried on and then to pay for it. Spending money had rarely been so enjoyable.
Kantele's opinion obviously counted for more than his. The symbiote was consulted regularly, sometimes Sunlight stood the angel where it could see her and asked questions aloud, sometimes she just piped up with "Kantele says the pink one looks better."
Did she realise that she was sharing her body with an alien? Was she capable of that kind of concept at four years of age? Some kids had imaginary friends and talked to those. Was Kantele just a toy that talked back again?
The smell of fresh coffee drifted across the mall and as if on cue, Sunlight said; "Kantele's hungry."
O'Neill squatted down on his heels and rubbed noses with her.
"And Sunlight, is Sunlight hungry?"
Her giggle was an enchantment of delight.
"Okay, we'll go eat."
It was definitely time for a little something, which reminded him... "Sunlight, have I read you Winnie-the-Pooh yet."
Shake of head.
"Wait until we get home."
He was sure he had a copy somewhere at home. Actually, that was going to be the next problem. Where the devil did Sunlight think home was? For Sunlight to be the age she was, he had to have met Carter on the first Abydos mission and married her sometime during the following year. Either that or he'd made a pass at her within days of her joining the SGC. He hoped the first explanation was the correct one, because the alternative didn't say much for either of them. Or maybe Daniel had deciphered the inscriptions on the gate cover stone a year earlier than in this reality. Or maybe-
Whatever - if they'd got married four or five years ago, then it was highly unlikely that he was living where he was now. Whichever 'he' he was anyway. And he'd thought Carter's explanations of physics gave him a headache...
"Daddy," a voice reminded him sharply, "we're hungry."
Ah, the royal 'we'.
"Okay, boss, let's hit Barnie's."
Selecting cakes was a process that required as much care as choosing clothes, but here he was at least allowed to choose something for himself. Sunlight's preference was a banana shake and a chocolate eclair stuffed with enough cream to give nightmares to anyone concerned about their cholesterol levels. O'Neill ordered a black coffee and a slice of fruit cake and was heading for the till when a hand tugged at his sleeve.
"Kantele wants a fudge brownie."
"And a fudge brownie," he said to the girl behind the counter, spreading his hands in a helpless gesture. "It's for her doll."
Feeding Kantele was an interesting ritual. The angel was placed ceremonially in the centre of the table and allowed to suck the straw of Sunlight's milk shake. Pieces of brownie were broken off, touched to the doll's mouth and then devoured by Sunlight, or occasionally O'Neill. Kantele was allowed a taste of eclair, but most of that ended up over Sunlight's face. O'Neill didn't bother to interfere; half the pleasure of eating anything that big and squishy was in making a mess out of it. It wasn't the flavour that counted so much as the mud pie value.
While Sunlight played with the cream, O'Neill stared stared thoughtfully into the angel's wooden eyes. Somewhere in that head were all the answers that he needed to know. If Sam had Jolinar's memories, then maybe Kantele had Jacob's? Jacob would have known how he and Sam met, when they got married, even what flavour jelly Sunlight liked on her sandwiches.
And it cut both ways, Sunlight had to have Kantele's memories. She'd shared the symbiote's nightmare. How about the rest of it?
"Kantele's full up now."
"Okay." Now that was a handy twist, to have someone else to blame it on when you didn't want to eat any more. Or maybe Kantele was the kind who worried about cholesterol levels. No, symbiotes were supposed to take care of that kind of thing for you.
He cleaned the worst of the mess off with a paper napkin, then went over again with a clean one for good luck.
"Sunlight, can Kantele remember things that Grandpa knew? Say, things about Mommy and me."
"You're both..." Her voice trailed away and her eyes widened in fright.
"Jack, change the subject. Now!"
"Sunlight, how do elephants climb trees?"
"Kantele remembers you dead."
He grabbed Sunlight onto his lap, took her face between both hands and tilted it up to look at him. "How can I be dead when I'm sitting here?" You damn idiot, Jack. Why did you think the symbiote was lying low? Shyness? "Come on, think about that elephant. How does he climb a tree? He hasn't got any hands to hold onto the branches like you and me."
"He sits on an acorn..."
"And waits for spring. That's right." Thank God he'd told her the same old jokes that he'd once told Charlie. He was not going to lose her. This was a fight between him and the universe, and it was getting personal.
"And how does he get down from that tree? Remember that one?"
"He sits on a leaf and waits for autumn."
"Got it in one." Now with a bit of luck, he could remember enough corny jokes to get them back to the car park. Then a quick trip to the swings, before going over to Jacob's place for more serious matters.
O'Neill stepped back to avoid being run down by a tearaway toddler with a baby buggy and watched as Sunlight sprinted round for her third go on the slide.
"Cute kid," said a familiar voice beside him. "Never knew you had it in you."
"Harry, what are you doing here?"
"Can't I just drop by to be sociable? Maybe I'd like to meet the family."
"It'll be a cold day in hell," he said without any real animosity. Being rude to Maybourne was as much habit as anything else.
"She's a weakness, Jack. She'll make you vulnerable."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You should have left her on Argos."
"Is that a threat?"
"No, but you know you've got enemies out there."
Sunlight slid down with whoop and ran round for another pass without sparing him so much as a glance. How could something so simple and wonderful as a child bring so much pain with it? The fear of losing her was so intense that it was all he could do to remain still and allow her to run by him.
"Why do you hang around, Harry?"
"It makes life marginally less boring. Besides, you helped me get out of jail."
"Yeah, but I was the one who originally put you there."
"True." Maybourne shrugged. He held out a large paper bag. "I brought a teddy. Decide for yourself how many safety tests you want to run it though."
O'Neill cocked an eyebrow at Maybourne and stuck out an arm to intercept his daughter as she raced past yet again. "Sunlight, present for you."
Sunlight scooted to a stop, looked up and took a hasty step backwards.
"Don't let him hurt me!" She grabbed O'Neill's left leg and clung tight. "He'll take me away."
He had the brief pleasure of seeing Maybourne completely nonplussed. "Jack, what in hell have you been telling her?"
"Nothing. Now get the hell out of here."
Was this kind of thing going to happen every time he took her out? He bent down and stroked Sunlight's hair.
"It's all right, Sunshine. No one's going to hurt you as long as you're with me. Come on." He picked her up and held her close, feeling the fast beat of her heart against his chest. How many shocks could the child take? She was resilient, but they were coming thick and fast and she was so very young. Her hair was soft against his cheek and for a moment he closed his eyes, allowing himself to concentrate on the feel of her in his arms, the warm scent of her skin and the living sound of her breathing. Sunlight might need him, but he needed her too.
When he looked up, Maybourne was gone, but later, under the wiper of his pick-up he found a note.
Jacob's apartment was neat and tidy, or at least it had been until Sunlight and Daniel started constructing a Roman villa out of cardboard boxes. O'Neill could hear complaints from the hallway to the effect that if Daniel only had a decent supply of toilet roll tubes, he would have started on the hypocaust by now.
"Take her to the zoo if she wants a hippotamus," he called out.
"It's an underfloor heating system, Jack," Daniel called back.
"Can you get that much gas from a hippo?"
Jacob reached out and shut the study door with careful deliberation.
"Have you told Sam yet?"
O'Neill ran fingers through his thinning hair. "No. I'm still not sure that it's a good idea."
"If you don't tell her, then I will. She has a right to know."
Teal'c, standing tall beside the bookshelves, said, "I do not see why you regard it as such a problem, O'Neill."
"You don't, huh?" How could they all be so obtuse? He was so tense that it was threatening to burst out of him in one great rush. He wanted to shout, scream at them from the rooftops.
"She is very fond of Cassandra," Teal'c added.
"Oh yes, she loves Cassie." He fought to keep the sarcasm out of his voice, but didn't quite succeed. "She sees Cassie about as often as you see Rya'c. Every Saturday or Sunday afternoon. When you're not off-world."
"I pledged my allegience to the Tau'ri."
O'Neill held out a hand, palm up, by way of apology. "I know it wasn't easy for you. I don't want to land Carter with having to make that kind of decision."
"Major Carter does not have to give up anything in order to see her daughter."
"How about her career, her reputation and her independence? You don't get it, do you? Sunlight is my daughter. Why the hell do you think I got her on record as Kynthia's child? I've fathered a bastard. So what? I get called a few names, some yaddaheads even think I've done something clever. Sam admits to being the mother of my child and that's it. Sunlight's four. That means Carter and I have been screwing one another virtually since we first met. Doesn't matter if Sunlight's from another reality. Carter can't tell that to anyone outside the SGC and even some people within the SGC will choose not to believe it.
"Half the base knows how I feel about her. Hammond's come within a hair's breadth of splitting up SG-1 for that reason alone."
"And Sam?" Jacob asked.
"How the hell should I know. I don't ask and she doesn't tell."
All right, so he did know, but they'd fought it so hard to suppress their feelings that he was no longer sure what was left of the burning thread that had once existed between them. He'd wrestled his own emotions into being purely platonic, they even stayed that way for weeks, sometimes months at a time and then some chance event would reignite his desire for her as though it had never been away.
How did Sam feel now? Don't ask, don't tell.
"And it gets even better," he added. "How about a little bit of emotional blackmail?
"Hey, Sam, here's a little girl who desperately needs you, thinks you're her mother. She's having a few problems with the memories of her symbiote, but you know about Tok'ra, you're the perfect person to administer a bit of TLC there too. Of course, you can't be a Saturday parent to her, the parents she remembers are happily married. Wouldn't want to cause too many conflicts between her memories of the two realities, would we? Could cause all sorts of stresses and nightmares.
"Hey, wait, I've got the perfect solution - move in, marry me. Sweet."
He meshed his finger together tightly in his lap, squeezed until the pain gave him something to focus on.
"What if Major Carter wishes to marry you?"
Why was Teal'c always so damn calm and reasonable about things?
"If she wanted that, then she'd have transferred out of SG-1. We can sleep together or we can work together. Not both. Carter's chosen SG-1. If I try to force her into any other option, then I'm going against that choice."
There was silence, broken only by the faint sound of tumbling cardboard boxes as part of the villa succumbed to structural stresses.
After a lengthy moment, Jacob said: "Jack, suppose it had been Sam who encountered Sunlight in the gate room. How would you have felt if she'd hadn't told you?"
His fingers hurt worse than ever. Time to let go.
"Okay, so she's a grown woman." He reached blindly for his cellphone. "She's probably with Cassie right now. I'll ask her round here this evening and tell her then - but not until Sunlight's asleep. Once she sees Sam... Is it okay if Sunlight and I stay here tonight?" He was dithering, he knew he was dithering, but couldn't seem to stop. "I'm still too chicken to take her home. I don't think she knows my place and she seems happy here."
Jacob took the cellphone from his nerveless hand, and dialled.
Round about five o'clock, Hammond arrived, having spent most of the day with his family.
O'Neill grabbed him as soon as he was through the doorway.
"Did Janet give you the personnel list?"
"Hold your fire, Colonel. I've got it." He tapped his breast pocket. "Why the sudden rush?"
"Let's just say I suspect the universe of having a warped sense of humour." He gestured down the hallway. "Tread carefully. I'm not quite sure what Teal'c's been teaching her, but I think the alien minefield is currently to the left and the Jaffa base is that box by the kitchen door."
A fully-armed Jaffa emerged from the base. Admittedly it was a very small Jaffa, but it did have a staff weapon that looked suspiciously like a rolled-up newspaper.
Hammond blinked in surprise, then gathered himself together. "Hello, Sunlight, I've come to see your father."
O'Neill grinned at his reaction. "Disconcerting, isn't it? Daniel got the same treatment, but she didn't seem to know Teal'c. I think the symbiote does though."
"Does it talk much?"
"Not a word. Easiest Tok'ra I ever encountered." He negotiated most of the minefield successfully, but died on the borders of known space when hit by a section of egg-box. In death, he was avenged by Hammond who got into the spirit of things and returned fire with an assorted selection of paper death-gliders.
Finally reaching the sanctuary of the study, O'Neill closed the door to protect them against a returning air assault and flopped into an armchair.
Hammond took the swivel chair by the computer. "Exhausting is she?"
"No more so than a battalion of Jaffa. I may have to retire just to keep up with her."
"Do you mean that seriously, Jack?"
O'Neill shrugged. "I'm considering it as an option."
"The SGC needs you."
"So does she. What would you do in my position?"
Hammond sighed. "I don't know, Jack. I truly don't know." He pulled a batch of computer print-out from his pocket. "Here's the personnel records. Dr Fraiser said she could virtually track the history of the other reality just by what injuries and diseases she'd treated you for. She's removed all personal details for obvious reasons. What you see there is just names, ranks, dates of service, next of kin and current status. She's divided people into living, dead, and ill with the virus as of the time the records were downloaded."
O'Neill scanned rapidly down the list, then flung all the pages on the floor in disgust.
"I knew it! I damn well knew it! You retired last year. Guess who took over as commander of the SGC?"
"I already looked. Brigadier General Maybourne. The NID finally got control." Hammond caught O'Neill's eye. "You retired before I did."
"Yeah, I noticed that, though it looks as though I got called back in on a couple of occasions, presumably when they had a dirty job that needed doing." He retrieved a couple of sheets from the floor and checked through them. "Carter never joined the air force, she's a civilian scientist. Took a couple of years off when Sunlight was small, then came back and worked at the SGC until she died. Daniel died of the virus. Cassie's fine. Teal'c disappeared from the records a couple of years ago with no explanation given - chalk another kill up to the NID. This reality isn't as pretty as the Emerald City. Still think we need to go there?"
"Yes, I do," Hammond said. "The death rate from that virus is way too high for us to risk an outbreak here. We need to be able to fight it effectively."
O'Neill helped himself to a ballpoint pen from Jacob's desk and started doodling on the back of the personnel listing. "We'll need environment suits to reduce the risk of infection."
The pen doodled a gallows with noose suspended from it. "I always thought I'd make a lovely corpse."
"You underestimate Kantele."
He added a body dangling from the noose and scrunched up the paper to start on a fresh sheet. "A smart snake?"
"Dr Fraiser took a blood sample from Sunlight this morning. Her immunoglobulin levels are way above normal."
"If she filters it out of Sunlight's blood, there's enough to provide several days worth of protection for three or four adults."
O'Neill tossed the pen in the air and snatched it back again in mid-descent. "Four."
"Teal'c won't need it and I'm not sending Dr Fraiser. It's an unnecessary risk. You all know how to take blood samples."
"Four. And I need that mirror doo-hickey."
"I thought Sunlight came via a device in Ma'chello's laboratory?"
"She did. I'm betting they have a quantum mirror but no control device. I want the mirror and the controller, and I want them here."
"You know I can't allow it to be used outside the mountain. It's too great a risk."
"And Maybourne can't go inside the mountain without getting arrested. You owe me a favour, George, and I'm calling it in. If I've got to cope with a General Maybourne, I want someone along who knows the territory."
"Better the devil you know than the devil you don't?"
"Let's just say I don't trust anyone Sunlight's scared of."
Debriefing occurred as soon as Sunlight was finally asleep. O'Neill sprawled on the sofa. Teal'c sat cross-legged on the floor and Daniel occupied the armchair. Jacob stood, apparently unconcerned at being without a seat in his own living room.
"Well, kids, whaddya get?"
Daniel looked thoughtful. "If I ask her a simple question in Finnish or Goa'uld, she'll understand it. She doesn't understand Latin or Russian, but she's okay in Coptic. Always replies in English, though."
"She holds her staff weapon in the correct manner. When I shot her at one point, I suggested that we use a sarcophagus to revive her. She said-"
"We do not use the sarcophagus?"
"Indeed, O'Neill. But when I asked her who 'we' were, she replied that it was her and myself."
Further speculation was prevented by the ringing of the doorbell.
"Carter," said O'Neill, "right on cue."
"Are you going to tell her?" Jacob asked, as he went to open the door.
"I said I would, didn't I?"
"It's not that we doubt you, Jack," said Daniel.
"Like hell. Just let me work round to it, okay?"
"Hi, Dad." They could hear Carter's voice down the hall. "What's up? You sounded like it was something important."
"Jack's got something he wants to discuss with you."
"If it's about P43-" She stopped abruptly as she came into the living room and saw everyone. Her hand flew to her face. "Did I smudge my make-up?"
"No," Daniel assured her, "you look fine."
"Then why are you all looking at me like that?"
Realising abruptly that he was still occupying the whole of the sofa, O'Neill swung his legs down and went to stand by the window. A few cacti survived in a bowl on the window-sill, the only plants hardy enough to survive Jacob's long absences off-world. Maybe, with most of the Tok'ra gone, Jacob and Selmak would be spending more time on Earth now.
He stared out the window and tried to imagine Jacob's world. What was it like to share your body with another mind? The very idea was repellent. Residues of nightmare still clung from the time Hathor had strapped him down and placed a goa'uld where it could enter his body. Any time he wanted to conjure up stark terror, he could do it by replaying that moment. The feel of the creature in his mind...
"Carter," he turned round and smiled brightly, "we have a slight Tok'ra problem."
Instantly, she was all professional attention. "In what way, Sir?"
"Did Janet and Cassie tell you about..."
"Your little girl? Yes, but I got the impression there was a lot Janet wasn't saying. Or possibly didn't want to say with Cassie around. Are you trying to tell me she's Tok'ra?"
He nodded, not trusting in words.
"That's not possible, Sir. No Tok'ra would take a host that young."
Taking one end of the sofa, Jacob gestured to his daughter to sit down.
"One did, Sam," he said gently. "He had good reasons."
"The catch," O'Neill said bluntly, "is that she's starting to access the symbiote's memories and she's too young to handle them. It's okay as long as-" Was that a cry he'd just heard? "Hang on. Carter, stay right there."
There was no light on in the bedroom, but a nearby streetlamp cast enough light through the curtains for him to see by. There was a small ball curled up under the sheets.
"Daddy?" Her voice was small and muffled. "Where's Mommy?"
"I don't know. Come here." He sat on the edge of the bed and waited for her to crawl out for a cuddle. "I'll try and find Mommy, I promise."
He knew the rest of the routine now. The song helped her settle down. Who knew, maybe it helped the symbiote too.
"The other night, dear, as I lay dreaming,
Was there someone standing in the doorway behind him?
"I dreamt that you were by my side,
Please don't let it be Carter. Dear God, don't let it be Carter.
"Came disillusion, when I awoke, dear,
"You were gone, and then I cried.
Okay, she's asleep. Tuck her in and then turn around.
It was in his face. He knew it was in his face from the surprised look on hers. The need, the loneliness, the aching emptiness of his bed at night, she'd seen it all.
"Colonel, if you're looking for a mother for her, I'm not volunteering. I'm sure she's a lovely kid, but I'm not ready to tie my life down yet."
Smile, you son of a bitch, smile. "No sweat, Carter. I don't think I could handle two blondes in my life at once."
The colonel could be really irritating when he wanted to. Blondes indeed. No, that wasn't really fair; he'd never yet used the words 'dumb' and 'blonde' in the same sentence. He wasn't intimidated by her IQ: the only impact that it had on his behaviour was that he'd back her call in anything involving science - and the current problem was in an area she knew something about. She could at least offer him that much help.
"Sir, have you tried talking to the symbiote?"
He waved a hand at her, shooing her out of the room.
Irritation warred with curiosity.
"Can't I just take a look at her?"
He mouthed the word: "No."
This was ridiculous. She'd been happy for Janet to adopt Cassandra, but that didn't mean Cassie wasn't still important to her. You didn't have to be a full-time mother to love a child. Aunties were useful too and any child of the colonel's, regardless of its origins, was one she'd want to know. SG-1 were family.
"Colonel-" Damn, she hadn't meant to say it that loud.
The girl - what was her name? Sunlight? - twisted round on her pillow.
O'Neill sighed, reached into a pocket and pressed something into his daughter's hand. "You have to give Sam the letter," he said gently.
Leaving the child on her own, he came over and sat on the floor, leaning back against the open door, arms wrapped loosely around his knees, head tilted back as though he hadn't a care in the world. His smile was casual, relaxed.
"All yours, Carter. This is what you get for not following orders." His expression shifted, became tauter, harder. "You are not to speak to the symbiote, nor are you to discuss anything prior to today. That is an order. Am I making myself clear?"
Hearing the undertones in his voice, but not knowing their origin, she replied automatically. "Yes, Sir."
O'Neill's eyes closed; he might have been dozing on the porch on a warm, sunny day. She wasn't fooled for a moment. The colonel could be at his most dangerous when he appeared most relaxed. What she wasn't sure of was what the danger was supposed to be.
Sunlight - yes, that was it, Sunlight on Water - pulled at the leg of her denims. The child was dressed in a pale pink nightie with a large, friendly-looking rabbit appliqued on the front. In spite of the rabbit, there was an elfin quality about her, some combination of her slender build and fair hair, combined with the lost uncertain look on her face. She was so young, that was the first thing that struck home. It shouldn't have been, but it was. Somehow, Sam had subconsciously been expecting a child the age Cassie had been when she first knew her; but Cassie had been eleven and Kynthia's daughter was far less than that.
How could the colonel, who never failed to spend time with any child who passed through the SGC, have left Sunlight on Argos? He must have been to see Rya'c more often than he'd visited his own daughter. Did he really care so much about what people thought of him? Now Sunlight was alone, with her mother dead and a father she barely knew.
The colonel still hadn't moved and her nerves were screaming a warning. What was the danger?
Or was he simply letting her dig her own pit to fall into?
She crouched down to child-height.
"Hello, little one."
O'Neill's eyes didn't even open. "Her name is Sunlight. Use it."
"Sunlight, I'm sorry, I-"
Abruptly, Sunlight thrust something into Sam's hand and bolted. Straight to Jack, who already had his arms open to catch her. As he held the sobbing child, she could hear him murmuring to her, a gently flowing stream of nonsense and reassurance. There was a focused intensity to him that excluded everything outside the protective circle of his arms. Inside that circle was a world that only existed for the two of them, and Samantha Carter, whoever she was, didn't exist in that world. It was as though she'd been offered initiation into some exclusive sect and had flunked the initiation rite without even realising there was one.
There was something in her hand. A piece of paper. She felt, rather than saw, O'Neill's eyes on her.
His voice was impossibly gentle. "Don't read it here. Go back to your father. I'll stay here tonight and see her through the nightmares."
Father and daughter. For an instant, she felt it: the need to be with someone who was always there for you, whose love was safe and secure - Dad. Then, as she turned through the door, it struck her; O'Neill hadn't said if she had nightmares. He'd taken them for granted. Instinct screamed at her, "Go back" but he had told her to go and this time she did as he asked.
"Well done, Sam." Daniel's voice was sympathetic, but laced with a liberal dash of sarcasm.
"Would someone mind telling me what I did?"
Dad patted the sofa beside him. "Shut the door, sit down and read the letter."
When she sat beside him, he wrapped an arm round her shoulders and drew her close. "It isn't easy on you, Sam. Jack's got something he's wanted ever since Charlie died. I've got something I thought I might never have, but you're just landed with a dilemma."
"I don't get it."
"You will. We've already read the letter."
The letter? The piece of paper that Sunlight had given her? She unfolded it curiously, noting the crease marks and the wear on the folds.
"Dad? This is your handwriting."
She felt, rather than saw his shrug. "It is, and it isn't. Read it through to the end."
It only took a minute, a minute which dragged endlessly into the silence that followed it, a minute during which she tried to unravel the tangled skein of truth and fiction and work out what it meant for her. Her father ruffled her hair gently, something he hadn't done since she was a little girl.
"How can I be what she wants? I don't know her."
Not one parent lost, but two. Not just a family lost, but a world. How did Jack do it? How did he find the way to reach through to her? How did he create that world that Sunlight fled to for protection?
"Major Carter," Teal'c was an oasis of reasoned calm, "there is no crime in being different from one's self in another reality. You do not have to be Sunlight's mother, any more than I have to be first prime of Apophis. We are both individuals."
With her father's arm still supporting her, it was easy to remember how much she'd missed Mum when she died. Did she want to step into that gap in Sunlight's life? Could she?
"She was scared of me..."
"Look," said Daniel, "imagine that you saw your mother returning from the dead. Wouldn't you be confused? We're pretty sure that Sunlight never saw the bodies, but it's almost inevitable that Jacob did."
"And even as Jacob knows everything that I know," Selmak said, "Sunlight has access to everything that Kantele knows. Jacob, the other Jacob that is, and Kantele believed she was too young to understand the concept of a symbiote and encouraged her to communicate with Kantele as though he were an independent entity in a toy angel. I believe this has helped reduce the degree to which she draws on his memories, but it has not eliminated it."
"But she accepts the colonel." That hurt. She could still feel that sense of exclusion, of not being a part of the family.
Daniel took his glasses off and polished one of the lenses on a sleeve. "I'm guessing, but I think that's because Jack knows himself."
"It's... He knows how he'd react to a child that age, so he just does what he'd do anyway. I guess his counterpart must have been pretty much like him. Your counterpart was different from you - you've never had any experience of young children. Sunlight's bound to sense that."
"Jolinar," Sam said suddenly, not even sure what had triggered the thought. Yes, that was it. Cassie had been scared of Jolinar. "Sunlight's got a symbiote, she can sense that I was once a host. But I wasn't a host in her reality, was I?"
"Apparantly," Daniel twirled his glasses back and forth between his fingers, before putting them back on again, "that was me." He smiled suddenly. "I'm still trying to figure out what kind of relationship I would have had with Martouf."
Now there was a thought. She smiled back at Daniel. "I can imagine. I had problems coping with Jolinar's feelings for him on occasion, but at least he was an attractive member of the opposite sex. Let's just say I got lots of practice in repressing emotions."
Teal'c had that knack of looking like an ebony statue: carved and immovable and very very silent. Daniel seemed to find fascination in cleaning his glasses yet again. Dad just shifted awkwardly on the sofa.
It was Dad who broke the deadlock. "Daniel, are you driving Teal'c back to the SGC?"
"Uh, yes, sure. Come on, Teal'c, it's getting late."
"It is not, Daniel Jackson. But I will come with you."
After they'd said their farewells and let themselves out, an awkward silence settled in their wake.
"Okay, Dad, spit it out."
"Are you sure you want this discussion."
"I think I'm going to get it whether I want it or not. Just how much did you hear?"
"Between you and Jack? Well, you did leave the door open."
Yes, she had, and so had Jack. She could still see him now, sitting back against the door, holding it open.
"Habit," she said.
Never be alone together with the door closed. One of too many unwritten rules that they'd worked out without ever actually discussing them. Never give people the chance to assume you're doing anything that you shouldn't. Never put yourself in a position where you'd be tempted.
"It's... It stops people jumping to conclusions." It sounded lame even to herself.
"And they're not going to jump to conclusions if you go after him even when he just ordered you to stay put?"
"I opened the wrong box."
"Nothing." She shrugged off his encircling arm and went to look out of the window. It was dark outside, the streetlights were too bright to allow night vision to pick out the mountains, but you still knew they were there. Large and solid, they reached for the emptiness of the infinite sky; humans and their lives were mere pinpricks compared to the time they had been there.
Dad said: "I'll draw the curtains."
"No." She gestured at the invisible mountains. "I need some space."
"Sam, you know I've got to ask. Is there anything between you and Colonel O'Neill?"
"I thought you, of all people, trusted me. And you wonder why I go around leaving doors open!"
"Sam." He turned her round to face him and held her firmly by the shoulders. "I trust you; maybe I just asked the wrong question. Do you want there to be anything?"
She twisted free, turned to stare out of the window again, but her reflection in the glass mocked her.
"Dad, please don't ask. Remember when Mum died and you collected all her trinkets and jewellery together and put them in a box? You used to look at them, but not too often, because it hurt too much."
His reflection nodded, reached out a hand to touch her lightly on the shoulder. This time, she accepted the contact, placed her own hand on top of his to hold it there.
"I live my whole life in boxes. You know what it's like working on something that's classified: there are some compartments that you can enter any time, some that you can only open in certain places and some that are so dangerous that you don't open them at all."
"And the one labelled 'Colonel O'Neill'?"
"That one's fine. It's the one labelled 'Jack' that I don't dare open."